Monday, May 29, 2006

American Beauty (1999)

Lester Burnham does not go quietly into his midlife crisis, trading his career as a corporate cog for a gig as French fry jockey at a local burger joint. Meanwhile, his emasculating wife Carolyn begins a robust affair with a fellow real estate mogul after sharing the libidinous joys of the local firing range. Ricky, the creepy new boy next door, a video camera-wielding Eddie Haskell on Prozac, leverages the true counterforce for change, slow-burn seducing Lester's disaffected daughter Jane on the one hand, becoming Lester's life coach-slash-pot dealer with the other. Ultimately, however, it's Ricky's father, Marine colonel Frank, who knows the secret of the crying game. Alan Ball's prequel to Six Feet Under (seriously, look closely for the uncredited cameo by Fisher & Sons...) is an effective blend of Death of a Salesman and Lolita (with just a pinch of Sunset Boulevard thrown in for good measure).

While we're on the subject, I had a friend a while back who, whenever spotting an empty plastic grocery sack tumbling in the wind, would say, "It's tough to be a bag." Hard to argue, I suppose.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Pride & Prejudice (1995)

Elizabeth meets Darcy at the Netherfield Ball; noses are upturned and we're off to the races. While Darcy nixes the burgeoning romance of Lizzie's sister Jane with his own pal Bingley, Lizzie stokes Darcy's jealousy (and sates her own arch-but-curious heart) by courting fop-in-disguise Wickham, who has his eye set on anything with a dowry. Sinuous subplots and intrigues work to keep our star-crossed lovers from recognizing that they are, in fact, star-crossed lovers. You know the rest.

The 2005 film version didn't effectively transfer Austen's acerbic social comedy, falling victim to unnecessarily lush production and overwhelming atmospherics: heated arguments during unseasonal downpours; romantic reconciliations upon dewy sunrise-lit meadows; breathlessly whispered passions vs. hurricanes; &c.). By contrast, in the BBC's classic version, calm and stately direction lifts Austen's story right off the page. The actors make the most of their roles, particularly David Bamber as the beguilingly smarmy Mr. Collins, and Alison Steadman as Mrs. Bennet, at times so gratingly comic you could swear she's channeling Terry Jones in Python drag. Colin Firth's career-making turn as Darcy is pitch perfect; the critical moment when he pivots to declare himself to Lizzie is a delirious relief -- and nary a melodramatic thunderstorm in sight.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Destroy All Monsters! (1968)

Those wacky Japanese folk have exiled all the world's giant beasties-who-are-totally-not-dudes-in-rubber-costumes (Godzilla, Baragon, Mothra, Rodan, Gorasorus, &c.) to a remote island imaginatively code-named "Monsterland." (And what a dump compared to that swanky Skull Island, no turn-down service or anything, but I digress.) Undoubtedly cutting short plans to open a theme park featuring Jeep safaris -- See the Monsters in their Natural Habitat!! -- some no-good Kilaaks swoop down from their secret base on the Moon, and set all the creatures loose. Before you can say "Toho" the liberated beasts are smashing up cardboard replicas of London, Manhattan, Tokyo, Peoria, you name it. This is all part of the Kilaak's plan for world domination, right up until the beleaguered Earthlings invent broadband wireless and regain control of "their" monsters. A showdown with Ghidrah (representing the Kilaaks) atop Mt. Fuji decides the Ultimate Fate of Mankind. For all their troubles saving Earth from alien invaders, our conquering heroes are promptly sent back to the critter ghetto that is Monsterland. What's the lesson here?

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Hide & Creep (2004)

Dang it all if small-town Thorsby AL ain't overrun by zombies. On top of that, there's no TV reception to speak of, which means no coverage of the (suspiciously off-screen) flying saucers whizzing overhead. Ah, hell, who cares -- The News has been a hoax since the "moon landing" and everybody knows it. Meanwhile, some non-union actors in pancake-zombie makeup stagger uninvited into strip clubs and barbecue joints, whilst mullet-endowed yokels hunt them down armed with rifles and machetes and, well, mullets. Where's the General Lee when you really need it? When some kind of Space Lady shows up, that's the end. I would spend more time describing the plot, but I can't. Loopy no-budget hybrid of Clerks, Shaun of the Dead, and any given Ed Wood production (be sure to go heavy on the Ed Wood now, y'hear?). Filmed in the scenic college burg of Montevallo. Which might explain some things.