The Vintage Revisits: Go

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I’ve been familiar with Go’s poster since I scoured the shelves of Blockbuster back in ’99. My mind assumed it was an edgier Can’t Hardly Wait with tons of ecstasy. There is indeed a fair amount of drug use but I didn’t expect the dark levels it would reach and the amount of humor it would be balanced with. Heavily influenced by Pulp Fiction the plot jumps in time and point of view following four individuals on a Christmas Eve filled with sex, lies and raves.

Breaking it down the three main plots, Ronna was the strongest but also astonishingly depressing. Having her story line first, being the most bleak as she’s about to get evicted, is set up for a drug bust and is involved in a hit and run, really throws you into a dark tone that can only get better. It really readjusted my expectations of this movie’s poster. When we’re first introduced to the down on their luck coworkers at a run down grocery store, I thought it was moving into Clerks territory as they play games naming dead celebrities to pass the time but once drug dealing gets thrown into the mix, shit goes down fast. Sarah Polley as Ronna and Timothy Olyphant as Todd (the best looking drug dealer in LA) are the highlights of the ensemble especially since I didn’t know Olyphant could pull off creepy so well. Polley is fantastic even though I don’t buy her as a teenager. I didn’t know she and her friends were supposed to be 17 until subsequent research after the fact but her unconvincing age doesn’t hurt the film. By the time her segment ends with such a dour cliff hanger, I was quite strapped in for what the movie would deliver next.

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Following is Simon (Desmond Askew), a British douchbeag who takes a trip to Vegas with his three American mates who get into some rough situations due to his stupidity. It made me like Ronna even more because her predicaments were mostly out of her control and she did her best to resolve them within her desperation. At every turn, Simon does the opposite of he should, almost intentionally getting into trouble. His friend Marcus (Taye Diggs) gets caught up in his antics which lead to some unexpected instances of racism. I didn’t foresee Marcus having to call out so much racist bullshit from his wigger friend Tiny (Breckin Meyers) or the patrons of the casino who assume he’s a bathroom attendant or valet. I give leeway Marcus for stealing the car but Simon touching the strippers and shooting the bouncer deserves all the wrath that befalls him.

The Adam (Scott Wolf) and Zack (Jay Mohr) segment was the most ridiculous to me. Partially because I find it hard to believe the police force would use B list actors for drug busts or that acting officer Burke (William Fitchner) would have this elaborate scheme to try to get these guys to sell his products and most of all that Adam and Zack are a couple. It delves weirder and weirder with the unexplained sexual advances from Burke and his wife (played by Jane Krakowski). It’s set up to seem like they want a four some but then is faked out by the sales pitch which makes the inappropriate advances more baffling. I also thought it was some offhanded 90’s gay joke that they were a couple and until halfway through their adventure when they talk about sleeping with some other guy. Their plot also seems unresolved since maybe their hit and run was recorded by the cops or maybe not and it doesn’t matter. They just exit into the morning.

Even with the plot holes, the film moves swiftly with such interesting characters that it’s easy to let those things slide in the moment. Every story is constantly side lined but that’s life and it’s rounding out these characters, usually for the worst. No one is without sin and few experience repercussions. I’m ok with that because life’s never fair and in the end Ronna and her friends are back at their terrible job waiting for the next holiday to come around. It’s a high energy film with great ancillary characters (Katie Holmes isn’t the best actress but is delightful in short bursts). This movie could only be made in 1999 when ecstasy was popular enough to be a central plot device but Go genuinely well made and manages its dark and comic moments in a way other films fail. I’m looking at you Very Bad Things.

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The Vintage Reviews: Detroit Rock City 

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Detroit Rock City is a movie overshadowed by its influences as well as what would proceed it. It’s a period piece road comedy about four friends in 1978 driving to Detroit for a KISS concert with every roadblock imaginable thrown their way. It’s Rock and Roll High School meets Mallrats, the heights of the 70’s and 90’s colliding. There’s the broad comedy and classic rock score and directed like a comic book as if you’re whooshing from colorful panel to panel. There’s enough weird moments for me to get behind it but when you think that Dazed and Confused had come out 6 years earlier being the best 70’s movie of the 90’s, this falls short. Not every bold choice I agree with and I may not find all the big slap stick funny but it’s committed to being strange and has remarkably little to do with KISS for a KISS movie so I can’t complain.

The main reason I checked out this movie because it appeared to have the essence of Fanboys, a favorite of mine which is very similar in concept you just replace the nouns and dates to four friends in 1999 traveling to Lucas Ranch to steal Star Wars: Episode One. The film also stars Sam Huntington, who will be playing the same teen angst ridden role forever I guess. I may be in the minority for loving the forgotten Star Wars tribute movie but I can at least use it defend my case why I feel it excels over Detroit Rock City. One complication is the characters’ ages. I love teen movies, and so does this film. There’s heavy influence of the 80’s classics like The Breakfast Club when Lex (Giuseppe Andrews) is climbing over a vent as it plummets to the ground while trying to break into the concert. There’s innocent jokes like that but then in contrast  contains strong sexual themes that feel inappropriate for a film about minors. Both Fanboys and Detroit Rock have a male strippers scene which I guess is a trope of male road movies. In Fanboys the friends’ van breaks down and they end up in a gay bar where they must strip if they want help (there’s not a ton of logic in either of these). In Detroit Rock, Hawk (Edward Furlong), in a desperate attempt for money to scalp tickets, he enters amateur stripping competition at city’s local Chippendales. The main difference between these two is one has an extremely underage boy. I’m on board with the Fanboy’s crew because they’re also supposed to be mid twenties and I’m not going to say no to a naked Jay Baruchel. But Furlong is supposed to be 16 taking his clothes off for adult women. It gets even more awkward when I woman propositions him for sex then gives him the money he “would have one in the contest.” I don’t know if Michigan has more lax statutory rape laws but that’s messed up especially if the gender roles were reversed. In comparison Fanboys has a scene where Windows (Baruchel) meets up on their journey with the girl he’s been online dating with and she turns out to be twelve and he rightfully freaks out. That movie is quite aware that “underage” is a phrase we should all know and isn’t just referring to women.    

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Women is a great way to segue into my next topic. These are both bro movies, the male bonding over a shared passion so the female characters are more parceled out. The upper hand Fanboys has is Kristen Bell who is an actual main character, one of the guys as well as a love interest. She is smarter, more resourceful and can kick all their asses. Detroit Rock provides a love interest closer toward the third act for each friend, some more fully formed than others, like innocent high school crush Beth (Melanie Lynskey) or disco dancer Christine (Natasha Lyonne). I like the female characters because they have some agency and stick up for themselves like Christine who squashes the boys’ advances who believe she should “put out” just because they gave her a ride. At the same time a lot of the women are damsels in distress when Christine is later rescued by Lex from being raped(?) by some chop shop mechanics or burn out Trip’s (James DeBello) air headed blonde who he saves from a convenient store robbery. It’s hard to complain about these characters when they have some of the most interesting actresses portraying them. If anything I want to see more of them. All fade away as the boys get closer to entering the concert. Storyline are unresolved but at the same time, this movie is about a KISS concert and the women are only B plots to the main event.

My overall critique in general is this movie has a really strong third act and if that section had been more of the film, I would have loved it. The first act mostly consists of Jam (Sam Huntington) feeling the wrath of his overzealous Christian mother portrayed by (Lin Shaye) who burns their KISS tickets (first setting the plot in motion) but also taking Jam to a boarding school in the next county which his friends must bust him out of. These wrenches in the story are resolved surprisingly quickly which makes me wonder why it’s even there. Hawk and the gang easily catch up with Jam in “the next county” and have no problem tricking the head priest so he can escape. It doesn’t help that it’s the least funny scene next the Hawk vomiting on stage for a Monty Python level of time. Plus closer to the beginning there’s a chase sequence with three of the boys and a gross school security guard, Elvis (Miles Dougal), which felt very Ferris Bueller but later Lex has another chase scene as the security guards at the concert are trying to catch him. I think one scene of a fat dude chasing a high schooler is enough and the latter felt more logical. The enjoyment of the third act is seeing the kids on their own adventures which I didn’t expect to be so strong because most films falter when the core group breaks up but here it worked because each scenario was like it’s own unique short. When they reconvene at the end for a momentous, unexpected solution, it was exciting as they each had grown with their arc but are still dumb friends.

I still prefer Fanboys over Detroit Rock because of its more cohesive narrative. Detroit Rock peaks and valleys throughout feeling both generic and specific at the same time. Fanboys is all about Star Wars, not a scene goes by that’s not steeped in reference or mirroring but the fact that these kids love KISS could really be replaced with any band. Which is fine because I didn’t want to have Gene Simmons shoehorned into scenes but makes the driving subject of the film seem unimportant. At times a bit over directed, you can sense the passion of the filmmaking and I applaud Adam Rifkin’s intentions. I’m fine adding it to the cult 90’s status in the vein of Empire Records or Can’t Hardly Wait of movies that take place all in one day and got the rights to some awesome songs. A wide range of characters underscore by Bowie and ELO is alright by me.  

The Delightful Bafflement of Domino

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Originally when I conceived this piece it was after watching Smokin’ Aces which made me realize I have an affinity for faux artsy action films. I had seen RockNRolla the other week and I noticed the pattern of similar films that sprang up in the mid to late 2000’s. They’re all bounty hunter/hitman centric with a touch of the mob and have a colorful but gritty aesthetic no doubt inspired by the popularity of Guy Ritchie’s early work. I thought to round out these two choices I’d rewatch Domino, Tony Scott’s 2005 semi-biopic about model turned bounty hunter Domino Harvey, and that where everything got eclipsed. Domino is a mess of film from a writing, directing, editing and acting standpoint and I love it. It’s nearly unwatchable yet so fascinating that I always have to stay till the end just to see if it can make it to the finish line. Placing it in the context of these other films that have their own imperfections, it’s easier to see why Domino fails in so many categories.

All these films are about low level crooks getting caught up in mob dealings and big money. With RockNRolla it’s the cockney “Wild Bunch” who steal for hire for billionaire Russians or a double crossing mob boss. In Smokin’ Aces it’s multiple factions of assassins from neo-nazis to Latino mercenaries all convening to take out a celebrity magician hiding at a penthouse in Tahoe. Domino Harvey (Keira Knightley) is an attractive, well off girl who is bored with her life of wealth and status so becomes a bounty hunter essentially because she’s a natural born badass. While the two prior films may sound crazier, they’re having fun with their quirky characters, Domino instead wants to be dramatic and pretentious in the trashiest way possible. She’s every character in Aces rolled into one and she gives no fucks. Speaking of characters, all of these have overstuffed casts. Rolla and Aces kick off with a big run down of all the players are and their objectives. It’s overwhelming at first but there’s enough reminders to keep you on track of who is killing who. Domino starts off in the middle of the film, you’re thrown right into a shoot out, well, Domino is recounting it to FBI agent Mill (Lucy Lui) and that narrative binding is a whole other issue. It’s a gripping start that does a decent job at laying out our heros but as the film back tracks, it feels the need to constantly be expanding on each character’s back story in the most unsubtle ways. This is a movie that is mostly backstory and when you reach the actual plot, over an hour has gone by in this fever dream.  There’s no such thing as subtext in a Scott film as Domino will tell you every single piece of information about herself and her friend Ed (Mickey Rourke) and love interest Choco (Edgar Ramirez). On top of that there’s actual text on screen repeating what she’s said in case you missed the significance.

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The best way to describe Domino is too “artsy” to be mainstream and too dumb to be arthouse. It’s caught in this strange nebulous of off the wall style but with overtly stated themes and writing choices like the example above. Why I call Domino “unwatcable” is because it can actually be physically jarring to watch. Like many of Scott’s later films, it’s all shaky handheld cameras and fast edits. The camera never holds for more than a few seconds and is so disorienting. All the colors are bleached out, oversaturated yellows and greens that feel like the film is melting in front of you. There are scenes where this should be effective like when the Domino and her crew accidentally trip on mescaline. Where the already unfocused camera movements would seem apropos, Scott opts to make the visuals even blurrier. Smokin’ Aces uses a similar saturated color palette, everything feels overexposed in the California sun but at least has a tougher reign on its editing. The movie can manage to remain static on a monologue where Domino can’t have a second of dialogue before cutting to someone’s hand or a goldfish.

Though I can’t quite tell you the importance of hands, the goldfish imagery is one of the themes specifically referring to Domino’s daddy issues that she constantly brings up. One of the weaknesses of the movie is all the subtext becomes text. Besides the character herself pointing out Ed is her father figure to Brian Austin Green yelling to her face that she’s got daddy issues, the goldfish is meant to represent her deceased father because that was his last gift to her. On top of having a goldfish tattoo (though really a coy Lui point out), she keeps a few fish around as she bounty hunts. At one point the fish dies which we as an audience would recognize as a bad omen but just to make sure, Domino says “we should’ve stopped when my goldfish died”. Why a movie like Domino gets so much flack is because it takes its metaphors so seriously and spoon feeds it to you thinking it’s clever. A serious tone is what ruins movies like this. RockNRolla succeeds the most because it’s so happy go-luck for a crime story and Aces roughest moments are when Buddy Israel (Jeremy Piven) is pontificating about illusion and reality or Ryan Reynolds stares emotionally at the camera. Domino treats every line of voice over with the same level of profoundness and delivered with an unprecedented level of angst from Knightley. Somewhere in Richard Kelly’s script is a comment on white privilege and an obsession with fame with the use of the reality TV side plot or the unrelenting references to 90201 but nothing really comes to fruition. Instead Domino at the end is proudly telling a young black girl that she “saved her” without an ounce self awareness. At least RockNRolla’s privileged child screw up manages to be a drug addict and menace to society. That I believe.  

 
Domino flipped a coin both in and outside of the film. “Heads you live, tails you die” is the anthem that rings throughout symbolizing that in every situation she and her crew run into, they are faced with the 50/50 chance of survival. I’d say that means this movie is about chance but in the finale she states “my destiny was life” so I give up. Either way Scott also took a risk with making such an unconventionally visual film. He’s putting his work out there but alas, it comes up tails. There is a silver lining though, it also lands on heads. Even with the copious missteps, it’s a delightful trainwreck that only comes with pure sincerity. While it may give me motion sickness, it’s worth it for the teen angst car crash sex and five minute scene dedicated to Jerry Springer and Mo’Nique just a taste of the madness. I would have loved to see the TV show this movie was meant to be as seen by the 70’s style opening credits showing nostalgic snapshots for characters we have yet to meet to the spin off with Ladies of the DMV. There is a bizarre, tonally unhinged world you’re thrown into here. RockNRolla may have the sheen and levity and Smokin’ Aces has the fun gun play but Domino has got it all and more. It’s a movie I want people to experience as you break down scene by scene what’s wrong. It sets a high bar for bad movies that not even Tony Scott’s other films can reach but maybe everyone should try just a little bit harder.

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The Boss Review

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I don’t know Paul Feig’s secret but he holds the key to Melissa McCarthy’s success as her second big screen attempt (after Tammy) with husband Ben Falcone directing and co-writing is a disappointing blunder with a misguided plot and mean spirited tone. The Boss never finds its footing with scenes ending abruptly and without a laugh. For a film that should be about a business savvy woman down on her luck who rallies together a girl scout as a way to regain her success, the movie spends little time with the actual troop. Besides getting derailed with physical gags of McCarthy’s Michelle Darnell falling or being thrown against a wall, the film jumps between scenes with Claire (Kristen Bell), which the film can’t decide if she’s an A plot or a B plot, and the villain Renault (Peter Dinklage) who takes up most of the finale even though he only drifts in and out of the film never feels like a real presence. The Boss veers away from being Troop Beverly Hills and tries to be a white collar crime Adam McKay feature and sadly bombs in the process.

The Boss has an amazing start. The opening sequence setting up Michelle’s backstory of how she got her emotional distance issues and strive to succeed is cute in the way that it’s exposition but the real excitement comes with seeing her on top of the world, rapping with T Pain at a sold out arena. We go from this high energy music video to Michelle’s luxury office afterwards where she has this brilliant back and forth with her bodyguard Tito (Cedric Yarbrough). This is the most fun the film has and the only instance of good camera work. It’s all downhill after the movie gets rid of dance sequences and Tito and now every angle is reduced to straight on single shots (probably to allow the maximum amount of improv) and TV show esque establishing shots of Claire’s apartment. Most of the humor in the film is so negative. The comedy of “who’s on my baseball” is great because it’s a dumb, innocent bit. Later it’s scenes of Michelle telling an uptight mother that she should go “fuck herself” over and over again. Michelle is supposed to be a flawed character but R Rated comedies seem to have this issue when they’re given the freedom to be “edgy” they become a harsh roasting of characters. I like the over the top fight scene between the Dandelions and Michelle’s Darnell Darlings because it’s fantastical and stylized for the hell of it but harassing eleven year olds for their looks is plain uncomfortable.

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I maybe could have been more accepting of this if these tween scouts were actual characters but aside from Claire’s daughter Rachel (Ella Anderson) who is extremely bland and a tall, menacing blonde named Crystal (Eva Peterson) we don’t know any of the girls from either faction. I expected a recruiting montage as Michelle weeds out the best of the best to join her Darlings but it all happens over night. These girls are a plot device and in the scheme of the movie are a distraction from core rivalry between Michelle and her ex-lover/business associate Renault. Maybe if the marketing hadn’t leaned in so heavy on the girl scout aspect, I wouldn’t have honed in on that as the central focus because in retrospect that’s only the middle of the film. The first third is Michelle’s rise and fall due to insider trading and the last third is her trying to steal back the contract she signed to Renault giving up control to her company. Pairing all that with a side plot of Claire’s job working for an underused Cecily Strong and dating cubical companion Mike (Tyler Labine), there’s so many movies happening at once.   

 
At least I can say this is better than Tammy, because I did find actual jokes to laugh at but as the movie spirals out of control things became less and less enjoyable as it became so senseless. This could have been a sweet yet vulgar comedy like Neighbors but it’s bogged down with plot as well as moments that go nowhere. There’s a whole scene with Kathy Bates as Michelle’s former mentor where she goes and asked for forgiveness as well as investment in her brownie troop. That scene is frankly pointless, isn’t funny and I can only guess is to expanded on Michelle’s character but it’s so unnecessary if Bates is only going to be around for 5 minutes. She’s not even affected by the whole Renault buying the company in the end. I wanted to like The Boss because I love Melissa McCarthy. She is such a presence on screen and has moments of comedic genius but this is no Spy. While I’d love to see her being a no-nonsense, intelligent titan of industry like she is here, there needs to be better writing and filmmaking to support her.

Cinema’s Southern Belles with Bette Davis and Marlene Dietrich

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I recently had the opportunity to double feature some golden age of cinema classics with 1938’s Jezebel and 1941’s The Flame of New Orleans. Both are vehicles for two of the hottest stars at the time, Bette Davis who won an Oscar for her role as Julie and Marlene Dietrich with her beauty and comedic chops on display, and are movies harkening back to the height of the Southern power in pre-Civil War New Orleans. Both actresses play confident, high society women not afraid to take charge of situations as a means of getting their way. Scandalous for the 1800’s and the 1930’s, these ladies use their intelligence to manipulate the men in their life either for power or out of defiance. They’re films about fighting the system but with radically different outcomes. It’s interesting to see the portrayal of women and people of color at this point in film history and how filmmakers reflected our nation’s past as well.

I began with William Wyler’s 1938 romance drama Jezebel. Set in 1852 New Orleans, the titular character is actually Julie (Davis), a wealthy socialite betrothed to banker Preston (Henry Fonda) making them both the talk of the town but her tempestuous way end in a broken engagement. Most of the film is Julia trying to win Preston back through schemes and egging on fellow admirer Buck (George Brent) all amidst an outbreak of yellow fever rampaging the South. I don’t want to call Jezebel a rip off of Gone With the Wind considering it came out a year before the groundbreaking film but it’s probably why this film is overlooked and why I didn’t find it as compelling as it should be. Both take place in the Antebellum South, starring an outspoken female that break gender and social norms but is still caught in a love triangle and in the end is left with nothing. Gone With the Wind is one of my favorites and difficult to top since it’s so epic and awe inspiring, but Jezebel takes place on a smaller scale. It’s more contained with its relationships and parts of the film feels very claustrophobic as you’re trapped in this uncomfortable plantation home. These films have similar aspects but separate tones and goals that make me think it’s not a straight theft but that brassy Southern Belle love triangles were just a popular genre in the 1930’s.

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The stand out of this movie is Bette Davis as Julie who I’ll take over Scarlett O’Hara any day. From Julie’s stunning entrance as she dismounts her untamed stallion, spouts off witty dialogue than catches her dress with her riding crop you’re immediately spellbound by her presence. The way she defies her parents by mingling with her guests in her “unacceptable” equestrian outfit, to talking down to her fiancé who skipped the party for work and the ultimate F-U of purchasing a scandalous red dress for Olympus Ball. Much like O’Hara she is quite selfish in her motives but she’s manages a greater likability due to her intelligence and maturity. Both have a knack for manipulation. Pres reminds me a lot of Wind’s Ashley Wilkes type with his soft demeanor and goodwill and Buck is the Rhett Butler, more rugged and ready with a pistol. By the end of the film, Julie gets neither of these men, Buck dying in a duel to protect her honor and Pres stricken with the plague. Julie’s punishment for ruining these lives out of her own selfishness is being left with nothing but a gloomy fate awaiting her.

Yellow Fever is Jezebel’s big set piece instead of the Civil War. The illness turns New Orleans into a madhouse that raises the stakes of this once more contained story. When Pres contracts the sickness, Julie offers to accompany him to the containment island where he will surely die. It is both punishment and redemption. It’s her moment of selflessness because she spares Pres’ new wife Amy (Margaret Lindsay) from this death sentence because she knows she stronger, and better versed in navigating a Creole island than the young yankee. Due to the production codes of the time, it’s hard to imagine her being able to get away with being the cause of Buck’s death and the shame she brings upon her house. It’s a powerful moment as Julie is carted off with all the other dying men, accepting that her life is over and has lost everything.

Even with the edition of yellow fever this film doesn’t come close to the excitement of Wind but it does manage a similar level of racism. The film has better treatment of its slaves at least because Julie is perceived as a “friend” to them. She converses with them as equals even if they respond with that cringe worthy dialect. The only upside I could think of was how many black actors got work from this film. There’s a lot of black speaking roles and extras in this movie than most films today. It’s disappointing the the type roles these actors were subjected to but like Hattie McDaniel said “I’d rather play a maid on film than be forced to work as one in real life.”

As much as I complained that Jezebel is a copy of Gone With The Wind, so many modern romantic comedies feel like a copy of The Flame of New Orleans. With tropes as broad as the a runaway bride (The Graduate) to as specific as the sexy con artist (Heartbreakers) it may not be the genesis of these ideas but it’s interesting seeing them in a 1940’s context. You get the added bonus of screen legend Marlene Dietrich playing the sultry single lady out to find a man and her fortune. There’s grand comedic set pieces and the witty almost racy banter you’d want from that decade of filmmaking.

Just like Jezebel we’re transported back to mid 1800’s New Orleans with an intelligent female protagonists playing the game of a man’s world. They very greatly in tone as Claire (Dietrich) rather than being a tragically chastised character for her cunning ways instead finds true love on her own terms. In the film Claire is conning the affluent Charles (Roland Young) in hopes for marrying him for the safety and comfort of money but in the process falls for the dashing but poor sailor Robert LaTour (Bruce Cabot). We’re always meant to be on her side where in Jezebel we’re supposed to despise Julie for manipulating the men in her life. Here it’s played for laughs as Claire has to keep up the ruse of her true identity by doubling as a fake cousin and sneaking in and out of places. She is trying to balance so many lies but we want her to win out either way whether it’s getting the money or the true love. Her line “women have to do things for a lot of reasons” sums up her motivation of trying to survive the patriarchy and she’s utilizing her beauty and sexuality to get what she needs.

The Flame of New Orleans is played all as an adult fairy tale with the voice over in the beginning setting up the whimsical story we’re about to witness to the over acting with Claire fainting to get attention and having a side character be a monkey. This film is filled with charades of mistaken identity and miscommunication which in movies today feel like a cheap ploy but for 1940 are fun in their innocence and sincerity.

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Most refreshing for a film of this time is the black characters in that they are well rounded and the film manages to make me question if they were even slaves (which they would have been in 1840). Most romantic comedy leading ladies have the “best friend” who assists them in their hunt for a man. Claire’s maid Clementine (Theresa Harris who also appeared in Jezebel) is her closest companion and helps at upholding the ruse but seems to be doing so out of friendship rather than obligation. She is never disrespected by Claire or anyone else in society and over the course of the film both turns a profit and meets a fine gentleman (the trope that the best friend will fall in love with someone connected to the main suitor!). Even Claire’s driver gets his own scene where after the meet cute between Claire and Robert in which her carriage is overturned, the next day he’s up recounting the story to an intently tuned in crowd. The most satisfying of all this compared to most films of this era is the black characters aren’t using that reprehensible slave dialect. These are respectfully written characters which is impressive for a film set pre-Civil War.

Jezebel and The Flame of New Orleans very much hold up by today’s filmmaking standards even though their gender and racial views may fall short. Blacks are slaves and the women’s main concerns are about men but is that much different from films we see today? The only way to be nominated for an Oscar if you’re black is to be in an oppressive period piece and most films can’t pass the Bechdel Test. It feels like we’ve progressed and stayed the same simultaneously. I want to see more characters with the assertiveness of Julie and more playful relationships like Claire and Clementine. Considering how many remakes studios can churn out, I’m hoping we can get to these forgotten classics at some point.

 

The Vintage Challenge: Worst Films Since You Were Born

My friend Jeremy and I play these really ridiculous movie ranking games mostly to stay connected since we live 2,000 miles from each other. The most recent challenge proposed by me was list the worst movie from every year since you were born. Only caveat was that they had to be movies you’ve seen and remember well enough to confidently say they were the worst film of that year. Because I haven’t watched a movie for my weekly The Vintage Revisits, you instead get some insight on the disappointing cinema I’ve subjected myself to in my 24 years on this earth.

1991: Sleeping with the Enemy

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This movie is so boring and generic. It’s Julia Roberts scared for 90 minutes.

1992: Encino Man

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So many choices of Pauly Shore movies for this list. Congrats, Encino Man.

1993: Super Mario Bros

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First of many bad movies I watched for a podcast. How Did This Get Made introduced me to this very hot mess of a movie. Goomba still haunts me.

1994: It’s Pat

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To be honest, I only saw half of Pat but surprisingly I liked most of the movies I’ve seen from ’94. Way to go year.

1995: Theodore Rex

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Another HDTGM pick. This movie manages to make dinosaurs lame.

1996: Mr Wrong

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I watched this after seeing Finding Nemo because I wanted more Ellen. Should have stopped with Ed TV.

1997: Speed 2: Cruise Control

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I’ve still never seen the original Speed but as a kid I was allowed to see all of Sandra Bullock’s PG-13 movies.

1998: Phantoms

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Peter O’Toole’s career is not as prestigious as you would think though I’ll take Phantoms over Creator any day.

1999: The Haunting

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CGI ruined horror movies.

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Big Characters, Small Comedies: Fun with Doris and The Bronze

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It’s strange to think a movie about a foul mouthed, former Olympic gymnast and a movie about a hoarding spinster pining for a younger man would have so much in common but this past month has produced two indie comedies lead by unique personalities where these characters embark on a journey of emotional growth. In The Bronze Melissa Rauch plays the brassy, athletic has-been Hope Ann Gregory living in the shadow of her former glory until she is roped into training a fresh Olympic hopeful. In Hello, My Name is Doris Sally Field’s titular character after the death of her mother meets a handsome thirtysomething at her job played by Max Greenfield and decides to reinvent herself to gain his affection. Both films are about women living in the past being compelled forward due to a youthful influence that inspires them. One may welcome change more than the other but each film is about exiting your comfort zone and boldly reintegrating with society. In these otherwise low key indie films, these bigger and broader characters personify those themes but are not so over the top that we can’t relate to their foibles and hardships.

Hope is definitely the more outrageous character as probably less of us have encountered an arrogant bronze medalist than a crazy cat lady but the headspace the latter movie puts us in can feel quite outlandish. Doris brings us into her fantasies as she fills her work day with dreams of steamy encounters with John which we see come to life on screen. Her obsession with cheesy romance novels leads to her imagining the highly unlikely scenarios of a shirtless Greenfield making out with Doris in the break room. For a mostly grounded film, director Michael Showalter brings flourishes of fantasy with scenes like that in an otherwise mundane world. Oppositely, Hope is already living the delusions of grandeur as she believes she’s still the celebrity she was 15 years ago. Her home of Amherst, Ohio keeps that dream alive by honoring her as the hometown hero at all her favorite eateries (which is her top priority). Rauch is able to play this character so big because it’s understandable why a small town may tolerate such an ego.

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Wardrobe plays a significant role in these characters’ personas. Partially why I’d consider Doris a heightened character is the loud fashion choices she makes. Costume designer Rebecca Gregg’s choice in bright cardigans and patterned headwraps makes Doris bounce off the screen in a sea of gray cubicles. Her clothes lend to the delightfully eccentric nature of a character willing to pick up oddly shaped lamps from the side of the street. As much as her family and coworkers find her strange when she ventures into Brooklyn with John where the hipsters find her style exciting and dub her a “true original”. It’s a subplot of Doris’ emotional growth as she gains confidence from being accepted into this youthful community. Costumes also play a large role in The Bronze but opposed to the vibrancy of Doris, Hope insists on only wearing her aging tracksuit from her one shot at the Olympics. Her refusal to wear anything else is one of the symbols of her resistance to move on. We see her maturation when she is able to shed the tracksuit and where normal clothes. Also the colors for her signature outfit  pop but because of their overt patriotic colors. It’s a film set in a midwestern town in Ohio where Hope is very proud to reside in. Her few positive qualities come from her commitment to the hometown that honors her and it’s very much meant to represent the community and simplicity of the heartland.

Aside from the environment and style that informs these characters are the people they interact with that set their journeys in motion. Hope first resists training newcomer Maggie Townsend (Haley Lu Richardson) for fear of losing her thunder but once they begin their mentor/mentee rapport, she realizes the passion she has for coaching and is able to develop beyond just reminiscing about her past in her dad’s basement. She is able to provide a service to the community she cares so deeply about. Doris feels she never got a chance to flourish because of her loyalty to her mother. We learn she stayed home caring for her mother and her brother was given all the opportunities which she held resentment towards. Her friendship and fictionalized romance with John invigorates her to reclaim the identity she feels so robbed of. With her new interests she’s also let’s go of the unnecessary baggage in the form of her mother’s house that she’s been hoarding for years. There is a similar arc in the movies of learning to let go of the past but also that these driving relationships don’t work out. After Maggie wins gold at the Toronto games, she abandons Hope to join a more prestigious gym. While the town is devastated, Hope realizes it’s an opportunity for her to reinvigorate her community but this time in a positive manner. She assumes part ownership of the local gym to coach more enthusiastic youngsters. Doris’ prospects go south with John as she inadvertently sabotages his relationship with his girlfriend and finds it hard to forgive her. The movie ends on a positive note because even though she has not won over the guy, she gained self confidence to improve her own life. She sells the house and quits her job, not knowing what may lie ahead of her but optimistic to take on the future.

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I love that indie comedies give the opportunity for such bold, weird characters to carry a film. Everyone around them is a straight man to their odd choices and while it’s easy to see how these films could have divulged into a drawn out Saturday Night Live sketch yet these characters feel multidimensional through earnest performances and world building around them. As Doris yells at her brother in the film “maybe you’re the crazy person and I’m the normal one” and considering how fun it is to be in the mind of these characters, I wouldn’t mind being a little crazy sometimes.