Tuesday, September 23, 2003

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I've also watched a gaggle of movies over the last week or two, and this be them:

1967's Clambake, a film which certainly contributed to Elvis' growing dissatisfaction with his movie career and onscreen image; indeed, it was less than a year later that he filmed the legendary 1968 Comeback Special on TV. Taken on its own merits, though, this film actually was kinda watchable, if a bit formulaic. Elvis is placed in another "Prince and the Pauper" type situation as he plays a rich oil heir/chemist who wants to find out if people could like him for who he is, rather than for his money. He trades places with a goofy ski instructor at a Florida hotel, and finds himself in a rivalry with Bill Bixby (wearing hair that looks like it was spray-painted with copper colored lacquer), a playboy boat racer, for the hand of sweet, demure Elvis movie regular Shelley Fabares. Much hilarity and several Elvis songs, some not bad, and some that will leave you slack-jawed in disbelief (there's an Oklahoma-inspired bit with some kids on a playground that has to be seen to be believed), ensues until the climactic boat race at the end, where the truth finally comes out and Elvis gets the girl. This flick looks more 1965 than 1967, and it's often pretty cheesy, but I found it an enjoyable way to kill an hour and a half.

John Woo's 2002 film Windtalkers is well made, and certainly conveys the intense horror of war effectively, but the problem is that what was supposed to be a drama about the secret code used in Word War II (actually the Navajo language) and the Native Americans who were responsible for using it to relay messages on the battlefield becomes the first 30 minutes of Saving Private Ryan rewritten as an action vehicle for Nicolas Cage, who is good but should not have been the main focus of this movie. Christian Slater, of all people, has a pretty good-sized role as well...ah me. I remember when he was top-billed.

Another 2002 film, Pumpkin stars Christina Ricci as a perky sorority girl who falls in love with one of the contestants in a Special Olympics, a wheelchair-bound shot-putter named "Pumpkin" Romanoff. Of course, this causes no end of complications in their lives. Pumpkin is not a dreary drama, thank God, but one of those Farrelly Brothers-type satires that goes by the throw-enough-at-the-wall-and-some-is-bound-to-stick principle, and unfortunately not enough does. It's so inconsistent in its tone and intent that I got real impatient with it, and it has a copout ending to boot. Ricci is good, as usual, but little else here is. There is some interesting use of soundtrack music here and there, though.

I do, however, recommend (very highly) the 2001 William Macy film Panic. Panic is the story of Macy's character, Alex, who has been raised by his domineering bastard of a father to follow in his footsteps as a hit man. As an adult, he has a family who has no idea what he does for a living, and lives a normal life as a upstanding member of the community. Problem is, he's havig a midlife crisis, and he wants to quit, but he can't stand up to his father. He decides to start seeing a therapist, nicely underplayed by the late John Ritter...but when his father hears that he's doing this (and has confided his real occupation to his doctor), he orders Alex to kill his shrink. To complicate things further, Alex falls in lust with a young girl he meets in the therapist's office, played by Neve Campbell. He begins to desperately try to see her, even to the point of stalking. Macy is outstanding in the type of role he specializes in, an average Joe type who is struggling to keep everything around him in line but clueless about how to go about doing so...he's able to create sympathy for what is a pretty unlikeable character. Donald Sutherland is outstanding in the role of the heavy, as is Tracy Ullman, of all people, as Alex's uncomprehending wife. Heck, everybody's good, and this is a first rate film...one of those kinda movies that you hope you'll catch when you're awake at 4 AM watching TV.

And then, on the other hand, sometimes you run across a film like the dumb-ass Formula 51, a Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels wannabe that doesn't come close to the Guy Ritchie/Quentin Tarantino model it aspires to. Basically, it's about a drug, developed by Samuel L. Jackson's character out of legal ingredients and supposed to be 51 more times powerful than any other, that he takes to England, doublecrossing Meat Loaf(!)'s American crime boss in the process. Meat hires an assassin to off Sam and get back the formula. Chaos ensues as Jackson tries to sell his drug to the nutball crime lord, accompanied by a small-time hood who works for him. It's got Samuel L. Jackson, always a plus, but he is saddled with a dumb, mostly incoherent script that asks him to go around in a kilt (which he wears with style), states at the end that no one ever found out why he wears one, and then shows us why in the very next scene! I also thought Emily Mortimer was pretty easy on the eyes as the assassin, even though her role didn't amount to much. Formula 51 is worth watching once, I suppose, but check your brain at the door.

And that be it for movies from me lately!