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3 Stars Movies

The sour overpowers the sweet in About Last Night…

Even though I think I have to casually give Edward Zwick’s About Last Night… only three stars here, there’s a lot to commend it. There’s no high concept or clever hook to slap on the poster: no one falls in love with their maid or the magnate destroying their small business, no one gets amnesia and falls in love with the wrong sibling from the wrong side of the tracks.

“Get me a gin & tonic or I’ll kill you.”

As a sincere romantic dramedy built on top of a David Mamet play, About Last Night… can’t help but fight its schizophrenic nature. Mamet’s trademark macho aggression keeps piercing through, and the sourness often overpowers the sweet. Several Letterboxd reviews note that the film hasn’t aged well, and while I don’t disagree, I think it’s pretty clear that Bernie (Jim Belushi) is telegraphed as a pig, and if not a virgin, then at least a pathetically insecure liar. That the ostensibly more evolved Danny (Rob Lowe) entertains Bernie’s boasting is a sign of his naïveté, and Bernie’s bad influence is part of what causes his relationship with Debbie (Demi Moore) to fail.

But just when you think this is a unicorn amongst donkeys — a rare non-H.E.A. — the coda in which Danny and Debbie reconcile, while still keeping everything else in their lives that led to their breakup, feels inauthentic. About Last Night… does not compare favorably to Marty (1955), where the protagonist rejects his toxic friends in favor of a healthy relationship with a woman he loves and respects.

Categories
4 Stars Movies

Like a pizza in the rain: Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild

You know you’ve graduated from Movie Buff into Old Movie Buff when you start saying “they don’t make movies like this any more”… but what if they really don’t make movies like this any more?

Catching up on Jonathan Demme’s filmography with Something Wild and Married to the Mob has really brought home the realization that midbudget romantic comedies/dramas have disappeared, especially any suffused with this much personality and quirk.

“Like a pizza in the rain, nobody wants to take you home”

David Byrne & Celia Cruz

Something interesting is happening in the background of every shot, and every supporting & background actor is an eccentric. A simple shot of Jeff Daniels making a phone call has a fascinating person simply standing in the background, a quick scene of buying a used car features John Waters, a New York City diner and a Virginia gas station are staffed by eccentric personalities, and a quick shot of Daniels and Melanie Griffith leaving a motel includes some background action of a family unloading a car that looks wacky enough to be its own National Lampoon Vacation movie. When today’s streaming/A24/Blumhouse financing model strictly limits the cast and locations of movies, a movie like Something Wild may not even be possible any more.

And of course Demme dipped into his deep rolodex of music buddies for an amazing soundtrack lineup, including: David Byrne, John Cale, Laurie Anderson, The Feelies, Sister Carol, and more.

Categories
1 Star Movies

Girls and Their Unicorns: Ridley Scott’s Legend

Ridley Scott’s 1986 fantasy experiment Legend features a very young Tom Cruise (before he was “Tom Cruise”), costarring opposite vats upon vats of glitter. Cruise’s performance is bizarre and high-pitched, composed of crouched poses and unfocused stares. But to be fair, how else would any actor portray an uncivilized wild-child with a weirdly mundane name like Jack? Mia Sara is unmemorable as Princess Lily, save for the spectacularly plunging neckline she sports in the second half of the film (during which many parents were no doubt covering the eyes of their innocents).

There is plenty of very pretty cinematography to be enjoyed, but this blogger regrets to report that Legend is awful and almost painful to sit through. I recall loving the roughly contemporary fantasy film The Dark Crystal (1982) as a child, but ruined the pleasant memory by watching it again as an adult and discovering it to be tedious and condescending (with, granted, some incredible puppetry and art direction). Perhaps if I had seen Legend as a kid I might feel similarly.

Tom Cruise in Legend
That nice Cruise boy

The entire plot hinges on the kinds of typically arbitrary rules that characterize the fantasy genre. Pay attention, kids: only a virgin can touch a unicorn, it seems, but alas, they should never do so, lest the sun set forever and the world be consumed by The Lord of Darkness (Tim Curry). What’s a virgin, you ask? Shush.

Not inconsiderable running time is taken up with awkward slapstick involving midgets, de rigueur in every movie fantasy since Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits. Speaking of, Gilliam’s dark romp is by far the best of the 1980s heyday of fantasy movies — a genre not to return to prominence for almost two decades until the lucrative franchises Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, His Dark Materials, and The Chronicles of Narnia.

Mia Sara in Legend
Girls and their unicorns! This can only end in tears.

Even the old-school optical special effects are crummy, for which it is no excuse to say the film came before the age of CGI. The unicorns’ rubber horns visibly wobble, and a fluttering Tinkerbell-like fairy creature is a painfully obvious little lightbulb mounted on a wire discernible even on a low-resolution TV screen. No inch of skin is left unpainted with glitter, and never have bubble machines worked so overtime since The Lawrence Welk Show. But perhaps the most puzzling detail of all is in the sound design: unicorns sing whalesong, evidently.

All sorts of questions arise as screenwriter William Hjortsbertg’s plot comes to its trainwreck conclusion: What happens to The Prince of Darkness’ evilly goading mother? In comparison, Roger Avary and Neil Gaiman’s brilliant Beowulf script did not fail to explore the vast Freudian story potential of a monster’s manipulative mother. And where did the last surviving unicorn find its mate at the end? Did the unicorn killed earlier in the film revive somehow, and if so, why? Even Disney’s Bambi didn’t chicken out by resuscitating the murdered mother.

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