Monday, November 21, 2011

#65 – Blazing Saddles

(1974) Rated R for copious amounts of N-bombs

Genre: Hilarious racism in the Old West

The plot:
Oh, give me a town with no skin colored brown
Where the horse thieves and train robbers play
So the sheriff is black – no chance sending him back
Better get along to save the day!

Home, home in Rock Ridge
Where the Methodists stab you and ditch
Where the slaves are released, but we treat ‘em like beasts
And their labor makes us filthy rich!

So why is it on my list?

It’s over-the-top to make a point.  Racial stereotypes are both hilariously played straight and subverted to ultimately point out how stupid they are.  Blazing Saddles manages to make a creative and intelligent satire of racism that doesn’t feel like it’s beating you over the head with the moral – you’re in on the joke!

It’s my favorite Mel Brooks film.  I find Brooks’ movies to have some good scenes and lines, but this one stays funny to me throughout its 93 minute entirety.  Nervous laughter abounded!

It has Gene Wilder in it.  For some unfathomable reason, I have seen too little Gene Wilder in my life… this film helps remedy that hole.

Any weak spots?

It may be too wacky.  The finale shoots the fourth wall to pieces and may suspend your disbelief to the breaking point.  It’s one thing to ride off into the sunset like any self-respecting Western should end… but, in a limousine?

In conclusion:
The primary reason why I believe this movie stands above other Mel Brooks comedies in my eyes is that, in the end, Brooks was actually trying to say something rather than fish for a few yucks and guffaws.  Granted, you’ll have plenty of those, but at least you’ll come away from it actually, y'know, thinking!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

#66 – Last Night

(1998) Rated R for doomsday sex

Genre: Unusually upbeat apocalypse

Trend: Rose over 30 slots on my list

The plot:
Thirteen, twelve…
Take one last look at yourself
Eleven, ten…
Last-chance moments for all men
Nine, eight…
Swallow and accept our fate
Seven, six…
Set things right, attempt to fix
Five, four…
Love is knocking at the door
Three, two…
When all ends, who stands by you?
One, none...
Kiss the world goodnight, my son

So why is it on my list?

It’s about the end of the world.  For an unexplained reason (something to do with the sun, as nighttime is bright as day), the whole earth will cease to exist at midnight of a particular day.  Everyone in the world knows about it.  But how will they live in face of inevitable death?

It uses less to tell more.  The movie only follows a handful of characters… none of whom are scientists or politicians.  Instead, we have teachers and electricians.  The budget isn’t wasted on flashy special effects that would take away from the pathos.  In other words, Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich fans need not apply.

It explores wish-fulfillment and a lack of inhibitions.  Each character has a different goal they believe they must achieve before midnight.  The question is, whose shoes do you fall into?  Do you want to gather all your family around you?  Or be left alone?  Engage in nihilistic sex with anyone and everyone?  Or perform one last bit of art for a dying world?

In conclusion: Though I am not a fan of Sandra Oh (sorry, I just don’t buy “love at first sight” with her – and mainly for personality reasons), the rest of the cast is solid.  I mean, David Cronenberg acts in it!  And if you don't know who that is, I feel sad for you.  It’s a Canadian movie, which gives it a slightly unique ambiance.  Unless you’re Canadian, in which case it probably feels normal to you.  Finally, for a film about the destruction of earth and every human… it’s actually quite funny.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

#67 – Ed Wood

(1994) Rated R for excessive Dracula swearing

Genre: Optimistic biography of a quirky writer/producer/director/actor

Trend: Gradually dropped, but then sharply rose upon re-watch

The plot:
Vampires, wrestlers, chiropractors,
To enlightened minds, are actors
Living diff’rent, brave lifestyles,
Persecuted and reviled
So he wears angora sweaters;
Does that quirk make him less better
Than those cutthroat film producers?
Transvestite, sure, but no loser
His “B” movies are reminders
To love life and leave off blinders

So why is it on my list?

It celebrates the life of someone considered a joke when he was alive.  Ed Wood was a movie maker who was voted “the worst director of all time.”  Nowadays, his movies are realized to contain a special charm in spite of their horrible quality.  In other words, so bad, they’re good.  It’s great to see someone so beat up by the world finally get some positive attention in society’s collective memory.

It’s an interesting movie about a man who made movies about what he found interesting.  Why make a movie about the world’s worst director?  Because he was an utterly fascinating man, that’s why!  Ed would cast his buddies in his films, which were always about some hare-brained idea that he thought was pure genius.  And, as a broke crossdresser, Ed freely admits that he’s nice to everyone because he can’t afford to lose friends.

It has Dracula, octopi, and aliens, oh my!  Nothing beats good, old-fashioned sci-fi, amiright?

In conclusion: Between Tim Burton’s direction and Johnny Depp’s performance, even those who have never heard of Ed Wood will likely find at least some cinematic charisma in this film.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

#68 – The Truman Show

(1998) Rated PG

Genre: Paranoia-inducing reality TV: the movie

Trend: Steadily dropping, but holding fast to its current position

The plot:
Inspire men by living life!
One catch: relinquish all your dreams.
Don’t look at her – we’ve picked your wife,
And ratings keep you center screen.
The world’s a stage, and you’re the lead;
Reality through cardboard sets.
Is love an act concealing greed?
Is freedom fenced inside regret?
It’s all for you; we do insist.
How dare you spit in your god’s eye?
Well, if you really must resist…
A special show: tonight, one dies!

So why is it on my list?

It was my favorite movie when I was younger. This was probably the first movie I could ever call my “favorite” at one time.  It’s clearly fallen a lot since number one, but I still enjoy watching it from time to time.

It’s a clever critique. Is watching other people live their (fake) lives really so rewarding?  Does not your own life dissipate in direct correlation to the amount of time you spend in front of the TV?

It changed my life. Not for the better or worse, but for the paranoid.  Seriously, it took years before I stopped being (playfully) suspicious of my friend’s and family’s motives.  Maybe I never went to the Grand Canyon; it was just staged in front of some billboard!

In conclusion: The Truman Show is funny, sweet, and, most importantly, creative for its time.  Jim Carrey does get a little over the top at parts, but what did you expect?  He’s much tamer here than in many of his other films, anyways.  Just be prepared to start looking for hidden cameras in necklaces of strangers…

Thursday, June 30, 2011

#69 – The Muppet Movie

(1979) Rated G

Genre: Puppet musical road trip

Trend: Roughly maintaining its position

The plot:
A frog chases rainbows to make movie gold
A bear ducks thrown fruit from bad jokes he has told
Together they travel America’s roads
Pursued by a doctor who eats legs of toads
Soon, dogs, pigs, “whatevers” are quick to join hands
While singing and swinging to Doctor Teeth’s band
One last obstacle stands between their dreams:
The horrid Doc Hopper, whose frog-eating schemes
Are foiled by courage (and insta-growth pills)
The Muppets then head to the Hollywood hills
But what plot to give to their first feature flick?
Begin with a banjoist frog in a crick,
Then introduce friends of all species and shapes,
Depicting their songs, romances, and escapes!

So why is it on my list?

The songs are ridiculously catchy. My favorite is the wistful “Rainbow Connection,” but “Movin’ Right Along” will burrow into your subconscious and take up residence like some obstinate gopher. Fortunately, they are all very witty and full of fun, as befitting of the Muppets.

The humor. It’s a fast-paced road trip starring frog and bear puppets. I smell a recipe for shenanigans!

It reminds us that life is like a movie. Write your own ending. Keep believing, keep pretending.

In conclusion: You should know by now if you’re a Muppet fan or not. Still, if you’ve only seen the recent movies (without Jim Henson’s direction), then give their very first film a try to see what made them popular in the first place.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

#70 - Zombieland

(2009) Rated R

Genre: Snarky zombie post-apocalypse

Trend: Slightly dropping on the list

The plot:
Through tainted meat, Mad Cow Disease
Turned clowns and humans to zombies
Yet Facebook’s founder made it out
Obeying rules like some Boy Scout
He meets a tough guy with a scheme
To take one taste of Twinkie cream
Odd couple? Yes! But soon, there’s four
Two sisters with slick tricks in store
This boy-meets-girl-meets-walking dead
Her pretty face snares curly head
A quad squad forms and makes its base
In William Murray’s ritzy place
I’ll tell no spoilers (lips are sealed)
Just know this: he regrets Garfield
Pacific Playland’s where the flick
Ends up; now watch it – quick, quick, quick!

So why is it on my list?

A fresh take on a tried genre. Many zombie apocalypse movies follow the same formula laid out by the original Night of the Living Dead. Undead roam, everybody dies. This movie manages to make the end of the world look so humorous and adventurous, that you’ll wish it happened to you!

It gets funnier on rewatch. Some movies are good but too exhausting to watch over and over again. Then, there are those gems whose lines get better (and more quotable!) each time. This is one of the latter.

It makes you want even more. Now, I hear that a sequel is in the works. Will it rock or suck? Who can say? But I know that Zombieland, with its incomplete list of survival rules, allusions to other survivors, and open world of endlessly entertaining possibilities, definitely whets the appetite of the imagination.

In conclusion: If you’ve ever enjoyed a zombie thriller, check out this zombie rib-tickler. But if blood and gore isn’t your cup of tea, skip the opening credits – the rest of the film is much tamer. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

#71 – Akira

(1988) Rated R

Genre: Psychic psychological horror anime

Trend: Slightly rising on the list

The plot: So there’s these Japanese kids driving futuristic motorbikes through the city of Neo-Tokyo. It’s Tokyo number two because a fifth grader (Akira) detonated it with his mind and started World War III. Hormones, I tell you. But this biker punk (Tetsuo) has the same psychic powers and, before he can start World War IV, gets kidnapped – I mean, “confiscated” – by the government.

Tetsuo decides manslaughter is small potatoes and seeks out the Akira to learn how to disintegrate entire metropolises by blinking. Akira’s dissected, frozen body parts have nothing to teach, besides “don’t get dissected and frozen.” Tetsuo’s arm is blown off by a cannon… in space. Tetsuo becomes the first self-propelled astronaut and rips it to shreds.

Tetsuo furthers his career by becoming a psychic-astronaut-surgeon-engineer-ballerina and bonds random mechanical debris to form a new hand. A young man with psychic powers who used to be good but lost hold of his sanity and turned murderous, losing an arm in the process and replacing it with a mechanical one? That was a Star Trek plot, right?

The movie ends with a giant monstrous blob baby, the big bang, and heavy doses of symbolism. Watch or Wiki it for yourself!

So why is it on my list?

It has a history. Akira was very influential in raising American attention to Japanese anime. I myself am more of a manga fan than anime, but as that old song about the horse and carriage goes, “You can’t have one without the other.” Where anime goes, manga follows, and vice versa. (Akira itself is based off a series of manga.) Thus, I owe Akira for being a gateway drug paving the way to many other Japanese delights.

The storyline gripped me. Akira begins in post-apocalyptic Tokyo. Things only get crazier from there! Between burgeoning psychic powers and cyberpunk machinery, there are more than enough breathtaking scenes to satisfy any fan of anime and/or sci-fi. In fact, a major theme is if the biological and technological can coexist or are, by nature, at odds. The ending raises further questions about life finding new ways to propagate itself… and whether that brings hope or horror.

It was a work of art. Akira begged audiences at the time to see that cartoons can tell serious stories, too. Furthermore, great care was obviously taken in animating both the characters and environment – quite groundbreaking at the time. To this day, it looks a bit dated, but has aged surprisingly well. Akira is so well crafted, that it still manages to revolt viewers with its unashamed graphic imagery, yet mesmerize them with sleek and just plain cool futuristic wonders.

In conclusion: If you like adult anime, pay your respects to one of the great elders. If you can’t stand images such as fingers with mouths or kids with old people’s faces, you might want to stick with Ponyo.