Saturday, October 15, 2011

Clyde’s Movie Palace: RV (2006)

starring
Robin Williams
Cheryl Hines
Joanna 'JoJo' Levesque
Josh Hutcherson
Jeff Daniels
Kristin Chenoweth
Hunter Parrish
Chloe Sonnenfeld
Alex Ferris

Written by
Geoff Rodkey
Directed by
Barry Sonnenfeld

Once upon a time there was a nice average All-American type family. The father was a working stiff who just wanted to have a family vacation where they would spend all their time together before the kids grew up and went off to college. He decided the best way to do this was to take the family on a cross country trip together. The rest of the family objected at first but the father's mind was made up. As they traveled out west the family had one misadventure after another. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong so that near the end of our little fairy tale everybody was ready to wring dear old dad’s neck. But as fairy tales go, the family eventually found togetherness and despite all the mishaps and hardships, they found that being a family is truly the greatest thing on earth.

 

Sounds like it would make a great movie with endless possibilities doesn't it? Well, it did back in 1983 when Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo and Randy Quaid got together for the first time to make National Lampoon’s Vacation. As for the Robin Williams version of goofball family takes a vacation, it’s not so hot and instead of endless possibilities we end up on a dead end street. In fact, if you make it to the end of RV, give yourself a courage medal for having made the trip.

Plot wise, there isn’t too much to tell except that unlike Clark Griswold who wanted to take his family on a cross country tour to Disneyland facsimile Wally World, Bob Munro (Robin Williams) eschews the planned trip to Hawaii out of necessity because his boss wants him to deliver a sales pitch in Colorado. Bob then rents an RV and convinces his wife Jamie (Cheryl Hines) that it’s best to take the two kids, Cassie and Carl ('JoJo' Levesque and Josh Hutcherson) and hit the road in an RV. Of course Bob knows nothing about going across country in such a vehicle, and the possibilities of ensuing hilarity are endless. What you’ll find out is that although the movie runs a quick 98 minutes you’ll be worn out from pacing the floor hoping the film will end for about 97 1/2 of those minute. There were more laughs watching the airbag open in the Griswold’s Wagon Queen Family Truckster than in the entire running time of RV.

This is an example of what director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Geoff Rodkey see as being uproariously comedic. Not far into the journey the crapper in the RV gets backed up. Of course Bob has to figure out how to empty it and yes you can pencil in, “this is the part where Bob gets gross waste products sprayed on him.”

Although we can easily predict this occurrence, there was still a chance for the sequence to tickle are funny bone if done with some imagination. Instead we get stuck with Bob and Carl aided endlessly by some other hapless bumpkins who don’t know much more about it than they do. What we get is a crash course in RV plumbing as they change one hose and one connection after another and each time a little more shit sprays on Bob. By the time the sequence is over, I guarantee you’ll be looking at your watch. I looked at the timer on the DVD player and it told me I still had more than an hour of suffering yet to go. By the time the film was over, I was ready to apply for Sainthood.  This is however, what one should expect when you have the director of The Wild Wild West team up with the writer of Daddy Day Care and Daddy Day Camp.  That alone should have been an ominous omen.

Just as the Griswold’s had Cousin Eddie and his weird and hilariously obnoxious family to help out, the Munro’s meet up with Gornicke Family. Unlike Cousin Eddie and family, the Gornicke’s (Jeff Daniels, Kristin Chenoweth, Hunter Parrish, Chloe Sonnenfeld, Alex Ferris) aren’t very weird or all that strange, so of course they are seldom if ever funny. They are simply here to help Bob and the rest of us learn a lesson. 

The lesson we learn is that if you see a PG rating next to a film that’s supposed to be outrageously over the top funny, chances are that it’s not going to be. Yes, you read that right. It is rated PG for crude humor, innuendo and language. In other words, take the doo-doo scene out and you probably get a G rating.

This could almost be any Disney film made in the seventies with Kurt Russell being strong, invisible, or a computer wearing tennis shoes. No, I take that back. Those films were much better and funnier than than this film was, and take my word for it. They weren't that funny.

Perhaps it might have helped if Bob Monroe was a more likable guy at the outset but he is not. Instead of Robin Williams making Bob a funny man, he makes Bob the most obnoxious person you were ever forced to meet. The best way to explain it is that Bob is obnoxious in the way that a Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity would be if they were in this film, not a lovable type of obnoxious the way a Ted Baxter was.

Somebody on YouTube likes Jo Jo.

Cheryl Hines as his wife Jamie doesn’t fare much better. She isn’t obnoxious, but she isn’t funny either. She’s simply there. And why do teenagers in movies these days have to be so obnoxious from beginning to end? One would think that all teenagers totally hate their parents, never do anything they’re told, and their first brain cell is still under development. Is this the same Josh Hutcherson that was so great in Bridge to Terabithia?

If you have never seen this film, then good for you. Avoid it under any and all circumstances. Even if it would somehow save you from death, take your chances with death. If you see it on a video store shelf run away as fast as you can. Don't go near it, and for God's sake don't let your kids or teens bring it home either. If they do take it out in the yard and bury it, quickly. And if the dog digs it up and starts chewing on it, shoot the dog.

Having instituted a special certificate of merit award, I now have another film to lovingly bestow it on. Better second than never. Yes, my friends, RV becomes the second winner of the Poo Poo on you award.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Clyde’s Movie Palace: The Sure Thing (1985)

 

starring
John Cusack
Daphne Zuniga
Anthony Edwards
Tim Robbins
Lisa Jane Persky
Nicollette Sheridan
Viveca Lindfors
Boyd Gaines

Directed by
Rob Reiner

“It could be tonight,' he thought as he stood in the corner, pretending to have a good time. He would meet her tonight. All his young life, he had dreamed of a girl like this. 5'6, silky hair, trim, nubile body that really knew how to move. And soft, deeply tanned skin. Now as for personality traits, she needed only one. She had to love sex and all the time. To arrive at this moment, he had traveled vast distances enduring many hardships. Abject poverty, starvation, show tunes, you name it. From across the room, he saw her. She was perfect. He knew almost nothing about her and she didn't know much more about him. It was exactly how it was supposed to be. He brought her to his room. The lights were soft, the moment was right.”

Okay guys, you can put your tongue back in your mouth and quit drooling. Gals, don’t judge this book by it’s cover. The above passage takes place near the end of Rob Reiner's The Sure Thing but it perfectly encapsulates what this film is about.   Still it’s like putting the cart before the horse.

John Cusack has been one of the most under appreciated actors in American Cinema. Ask any person to make a list of the best actors in the past twenty or so years, and his name is seldom if ever mentioned. I have yet to see him give a really bad performance in any film he has starred in, no matter how dull, lame, or stupefying the material may have been. That being said, The Sure Thing is neither dull or lame, and certainly not stupefying.  As romantic comedies go, it’s a pure delight.

Like many American males in high school, Walter "Gib" Gibson (John Cusack) rates his success not by how he does on the honor roll but by how many girls he's had sex with. Alas, after a productive sophomore and junior year, his senior year in High School has been a vast and barren wasteland. He does have a pick up line that he uses on occasion:

“Consider outer space. You know, from the time of the first NASA mission, it became evident that being in space has a profound effect on the human psyche. You know, during the first Gemini mission, some thought was actually given to the notion of sending up a man and a woman... together.  A cosmic 'Adam and Eve,' if you will.  Bound together in a highly sophisticated nerve center, at the head of the largest, most powerful rocket, yet known, it's giant thrusters blasting them into the dark void, as they hurtle towards their final destination: the gushing wellspring of life itself.  How would you like to have a sexual encounter so intense it could conceivably change your political views?”

You can almost hear the retort from coast to coast: How would you like to get slapped in the mouth?  It’s like the old joke where the first guy walks up to these girls and asks, “you wanna screw?” The second guy tells him, “I bet you get slapped a lot.” And the first guy replies, “yes I do, but I get screwed a lot as well.” Gib would probably have better luck by just going ahead anddispensing with the Star Trek prologue.  But his best friend Lance (Anthony Edwards) is sympathetic towards his plight.

Lance: Hey what is this, Lonely Man Sitting on a Hill, huh?
Gib: It’s over, Lance. It’s gone, I’ve lost it. High School. I started off so hot. Sophomore year: 2 Times. Junior year was excellent: 4 times. And not all with the same girl. Senior year looked like the best. The first day of classes, then nothing.
Lance: What do you mean nothing your Senior year? What about that time with Barbara Devillebis in the high-jump pit. Huh?
Gib: That was you.
Lance: Oh yeah.
Gib: I just can’t motivate myself the way I used to. Maybe I’m past my prime.
Lance: Hey, it’s not you! It’s these high school girls here. They’re simple. They’re never gonna stimulate a complex guy like you.
Gib: Maybe you’re right.
Lance: Of course I’m right. Anyways, after tonight you’ll never have to deal with these simple high school girls again.
Gib: But won’t these same girls be in college?
Lance: Yeah. But it’ll be different.
Gib: Why?
Lance: Because they’ll be college girls.

Lance is headed out to the sun, surf, and excitement of Southern California while Gib is headed to an unnamed Ivy League School in New England to get what he calls a real education.

Gib: I’m gonna miss you Lance.
Lance: It’s your own fault you know, you could be coming out to California with me.
Gib:
Yeah, right. Get a totally bitchin education out there dude. California! You could be coming to New England with me, you know.
Lance: Are you crazy? The Ivy League stinks man. All they got there are those ugly intellectual girls, with band-aids on their knees from playing the cello. No, thank you!
Gib: I’m really gonna miss you, Lance.

In his freshman year of college, things are downright bleak. He is unable to connect with the life style of the East Coast College Girls.

As Gib explains it, “All they want to do is stay indoors, smoke cigarettes and relate. I don’t like them.”

It seems as if everybody except Gib, including Gib's chunky roommate Jimbo (Joshua Cadman), is having sex with someone, leaving Gib out in the cold. Still, Gib writes old pal Lance a letter, initially painting a rosy picture of his life in the East, then finishing it off with a flourish:

P.S. All of the above is bullshit. I’m floundering in a sea of confusion, and total despair. But knock on wood, I still have my health.

There is hope for Gib, but not much. Sitting next to him in English class is attractive clean cut, girl next door type, Alison Bradbury (Daphne Zuniga). It’s obvious he’s attracted to her, although we’re never really sure why because clearly Alison is certainly not Gib’s type.  Well, she is female and she does talk in complete sentences so that much at least fits Gib’s low standards.  But Gib’s foot in mouth disease continues unabated.

“You sure do take a lot of notes,” he tells her in one class.  To which she promptly gives him the old “Go fornicate yourself” look.  A girl like Alison would never ever use the word fuck.  They just think it.   You kind of have to imagine your own thought bubble.

Alison is everything that Gib is not. She’s an uptight ultra conservative straight A student, who does nothing without first jotting down a notation in her schedule book. Her clothes are always neat, pressed, and matched perfectly. There is nary a hair out of place. Alison’s most memorable life experience is the fact that she passed out in Elvis’s bedroom while touring Graceland and once gave her brother a bloody nose.

The chasm separating Gib and Alison is never more obvious then when Professor Taub (Viveca Lindfors) comments on their essays.

Professor Taub (to Gib while holding his essay): I wanted to tell you that I really enjoyed your paper.
Gib: You did?
Taub: Yeah. I don’t remember the last time that I have seen this much detail expressed on “How to Eat Pizza Without Burning the Roof of Your Mouth.” Unfortunately, whatever whimsical qualities that your paper evokes are obscured in a morass of marginal grammar, creative spelling, and..uh..as I believe sausage stain.
Gib: Pepperoni
Taub: Clean it up Gibson.

On the other hand, Alison’s paper is clean, neat, clear, succinct and to the point.  But it has its own problems as well.

Taub: Miss Bradbury, you on the other hand, you express your ideas very clearly.
Alison: Thank you.
Taub: Except that your paper is, well, it’s dry. There’s not enough of you coming through. Loosen up, Alison. Have some fun! Yes, sleep when you feel like it, not when you think you should, eat food that is bad for you at least once in a while. Uh.. have conversations with people whose cloths are not color coordinated. Make love in a hammock! Life is the ultimate experience. Now you have to experience it, in order to write about it. (Alison raises her hand)
Yes, Alison?
Alison (still taking notes): What did you say after hammock?

If I would have had a few more teachers like Ms. Taub when I was in school, I’d be breezing through these reviews instead of squeezing every little syllable out of my meat grinder of a brain.  I mean, how could you dare to disappoint a teacher that tells you to make love in a hammock?

Anyway, Gib is not easily deterred. Hoping Alison will take pity on him, he uses his English struggles to prey on her good nature while she is taking a swim: 

“I’m flunking English. I was wondering if maybe you could help me out. If I flunk English, I’m out of here. Kiss College Goodbye. I don’t know what I’ll do. I’ll probably go home. Gee Dad will be pissed off, mom will be heartbroken. If I play my cards right, I get maybe a six-months grace period and then I got to get a job, and you know what that means. That’s right, they start me off at the drive-up window and I gradually work may way up from shakes to burgers and then, one day my lucky break comes. The French Fry guy dies and they offer me the job. But the day I have to start some men come by in a black Lincoln Continental and tell me I can make a quick $300 just for driving a van back from Mexico. When I get out of jail I’m 36 years old, living in a flophouse, no job, no home, no upward mobility, very few teeth. Then one day they find me face down talking to the gutter, clutching a bottle of paint thinner. And why? Because you wouldn’t help me in English! No! You were too busy to help me! Too busy to help a drowning man!”

A speech that is punctuated with Gib stumbling backwards into the pool and Alison showing how much she really cares by swimming around him. It is only when a waterlogged Gib camps out on the steps that she finally relents and offers to tutor him, scheduling Gib for 8:00 and writing it in her daily planner.

And although an unsuspecting Alison sees her appointment with Gib as a tutoring session, Gib has other ideas, and picks up a few pointers from his more sexually active roommate:

Jimbo: It’s not what you say that counts but how you say it. Use sincerity. It’s the best technique.
Gib:
What?
Jimbo: Come here. (Grabs Gib and pulls him over to the bed, sitting him on it. Then gazes into his eyes)
You know, I’ve never met anyone like you before. Usually when I meet someone knew I feel awkward and shy. But with you it’s different. I can talk to you. You know what I’m thinking without my having to explain it to you in fancy terms. We speak each other’s unspoken language fluently. I love you.
Gib:
Oh Jimbo, that is the most enormous pile of horseshit I’ve ever heard in my life.

And if Gib’s quest to conquer Alison wasn’t difficult enough, there is one more impediment. Alison has a fiancé that is going to school at UCLA. But if it’s an obstacle the one track mind Gib chooses to ignore it. And having had enough of English Literature for one day, Gib manages to get a reluctant Alison to follow him to the roof of the library.

Once on the roof, Gib begins pointing out the constellations to Alison and for the first time she really seems interested. But whereas his interest is in astronomy, her’s is in mythology. So I suppose you would call that finding uncommon common ground, but isn’t that the way it’s supposed to work?

Now, I’m not sure how Gib got into an Ivy league school, but when things are going well between you and your date, one doesn’t have to be a Rhodes Scholar to know that one thing you don’t do is use a bullshit line on her, especially a bullshit line that you yourself described as being the “most enormous pile of horsehsit you’ve ever heard in your life”  less than a couple of hours earlier.

But Gib’s problem is not obstinate ignorance. It’s painfully obvious that he doesn’t know how to express his real feelings about anything or anyone, unless he’s putting it on an English Literature assignment. And Alison lets him know what she thinks of his pick up line by shoving him to the ground and giving Gib a swift kick to finish him off and be rid of him permanently.

Later, on the way to Ms. Taub’s English class, Gib apologizes profusely, and this time, since he really is being sincere, Alison forgives him. Unfortunately, the fates are out to do Gib in again, and Ms. Taub picks up Gib’s paper to read. That would be fine except the paper is actually one that belongs to his roommate Jimbo, and is a letter to Penthouse magazine bragging about his sexual exploits.

Needless to say, writing an essay about your “ten inches of man meat” after having just convinced Alison that the guy on the roof wasn’t the real you, does not go over too well, and in real life, that would be that. But in romantic comedy movie life things are just getting started.

Having given up on Alison, Gib’s best friend Lance comes to his rescue. He has already sent Gib a picture of a beautiful young girl in a skimpy bikini, and calls Gib on the phone on the phone to fill in the details:

Lance: There’s a certain someone I want you to meet.
Gib: Forget it.
Lance:
She’s a very special person.
Gib:
I can’t deal with striking out on both coasts.
Lance:
You’re not gonna strike out. She was just released from parochial school. She’s in her experimental phase.
Gib: Will you forget it Lance.
Lance:
She loves sex.
Gib:
What does she look like?
Lance:
You remember that last snapshot I sent you? The blonde in the string bikini? Get it.
Gib: I can’t right now.
Lance: That’s an order Private Gibson. (Gib runs into his room, past Jimbo and his girlfriend who in the throes of passion are oblivious to him, and retrieves the photograph we saw earlier)
Gib (looking at the photograph):
Yeah.
Lance:
You got it? Good, now look at it. Fixate on it. Are you fixating on it?
Gib: I’m fixating.
Lance:
Are you sitting down?
Gib:
Yes.
Lance: She’s a sure thing, Gib. A sure thing. Now I don’t need to explain the deep significance of those words. I told her all about you and she’s dying to meet you. But you gotta drag your ass out here by the 22nd, because she’s leaving the next day for a semester at sea. So you think you can make it?

I’ll answer Lance’s question for him. Is the Pope Catholic and does a bear....never mind. But you get the point.

Not one to be deterred, Gib catches a shared ride with another couple Mary Ann Webster (Lisa Jane Persky) and Gary (but not the Gary Cooper that’s dead) Cooper (Tim Robbins), who have advertised for companions to help defray the costs of a trip to the west coast for Christmas.

And once in the car, Gib finds that there is one other passenger who has taken them up on their offer. If you guessed Alison, you win the prize. So while Gib is headed out to L.A. to get laid, Alison is as well, in a manner of speaking. She’s going to meet her fiancé Jason (Boyd Gaines) at UCLA. And when Gib gets in the car she’s not a happy camper.

 

I don’t know if you’ve ever made a long long trip across country by automobile or of any other long distance for that matter. I’ve taken a few long trips, and at least one of them turned out to be the trip from hell. And I’ll put my trip from hell up against anybody’s. So I can sympathize, even with the Gary Cooper that’s not dead.  There are far far worse things that can happen to you other than having to sing a few stanzas of 76 Trombones.  Me? I’m partial to hits from the sixties myself, seeing as how when I was growing up I was constantly serenaded by my five sisters every time we got into a car together for a family outing.

It goes without saying that this excursion to the Pacific Ocean will not go well. Gibb and Alison spend most of their time nitpicking, criticizing, and just flat out hating one another. Gary (but not the Gary Cooper that’s dead) Cooper and Mary Ann just want everybody to get along and sing their show tunes. There’s nothing like a rousing rendition of “Aquarius” in the confines of an automobile. It isn’t long before Gib and Alison’s bickering ends up getting under the skin of Gary (but not the Gary Cooper that’s dead) Cooper and Mary Ann, especially when  our quarrelsome duet of Gib and Alison are directly responsible for the Gary Cooper that’s not dead getting pulled over and ticketed by the cops.

But as good as The Sure Thing is before it even hits the road, that’s how much better it is once those wheels start rolling towards Malibu.  In fact, before that point the film has just started which is why I’m leaving it up to you to see how this baby drives down that long lonesome highway.

You don’t have to have a Masters Degree in Romantic Comedies 101 to know where this is all going to end up. But with these kinds of films, getting there is often 90 percent or more of the fun. And The Sure Thing is a blast.

Director Rob Reiner and writers Steve Bloom and Jonathan Roberts take their film where other directors might be tempted to end theirs.  Just when we think Gib and Alison are on the road to romantic bliss, they throw another obstacle in their path, pushing them even further apart than they were before.  It is only when fate and circumstances intervene they have no choice but to try and get along, that they begin to see each other for who they really are.

What I particularly liked about The Sure Thing is that on this trip we see what Alison and Gib can’t see.  It is that he begins to become just a little more like her, and she in turns begins to loosen up and enjoy life, thus taking on some of Gib’s traits. We notice it long before Gib and Alison do. In fact, we actually see it even earlier when Gib apologizes for the incident on the library rooftop. And the screenwriters and Reiner were smart enough to introduce these changes subtly instead of hitting you over the head with them suddenly and having your characters do a 180 degree about face for no particular reason except that it’s time for the movie to end.

When The Sure Thing was released, John Cusack did not have a huge list of movie credits. He had been in Sixteen Candles, and although his turn there as Bryce was hilarious, it was not one where you would say, “Who was that fine actor that played Farmer Ted’s friend?”  The Sure Thing was the first time he had to carry a film, and was one that made many such as myself take notice that there was more to this guy then we had seen previously. He would follow The Sure Thing up with Better Off Dead, a film that has been widely panned by most critics, but is one that I could make a good case for being at least worth watching. Yeah, a review of that film is somewhere in the back of my mind gestating. A couple of years later, when he played Harry in The Journey of Natty Gann, Cusack showed that he wasn’t limited to doing comedic roles.  And since then, he may very well have been the busiest actor in Hollywood.

Daphne Zuniga’s next big role would be in Mel Brook’s Spaceballs as Princess Vespa, a hilarious satirical slant on Princess Leia of Star Wars. And although I really liked her in Gross Anatomy, she would go on to mostly make her mark in televison starring in shows such as Melrose Place and One Tree Hill.

What really makes this film work is the final twenty minutes or so. You can have the best journey possible but if it all flat lines at the end it was a wasted trip. And I have to say, it’s the best ending possible for a film like this, meaning you may think you know how it’s all going to end, but you don’t really.  It’s where smart writing revisits earlier scenes for the big payoff, thus giving more relevance to the fact that what goes around comes around and sometimes it’s not so bad after all.  And that alone would be enough for me to praise any film, but there very are few romantic comedies that gets everything exactly right. The Sure Thing is about as sure a thing as one can get in this genre, and for that reason alone I have no choice but to render my grade of an A. And if they were all as good as this, I’d never complain.

Poor quality on this trailer of The Sure Thing. But it’s all I could find.

You can view more of The Sure Thing by using the clips at the bottom  of the video screen once you watch the trailer.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Clyde’s Movie Palace: True Grit (1969)

Written by Marguerite Roberts
Based on a novel by Charles Portis
Original Music by Elmer Bernstien
Cinematography by Lucien Ballard
Directed by Henry Hathaway

Starring
John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn
Kim Darby as Mattie Ross
Glen Campbell as La Boeuf
Robert Duvall as Ned Pepper
Dennis Hopper as Moon
Jeremy Slate as Emmett Quincy
Strother Martin as Colonel G. Stonehill
Jeff Corey as Tom Chaney

Imagine you’re a fourteen year old girl living in the old west. Imagine that you’ve just fallen down a cavernous pit, and the only thing keeping you from descending into what seems to be an endless abyss is that you have temporarily lodged into a smaller opening that may give way at any moment. Imagine that in the darkened cave beneath you there are bats flying around your legs and feet. Imagine there’s a skeleton lying nearby which doesn’t exactly do wonders for your chances of having an extended life. Imagine that the fall has broken one of your arms, leaving you only one arm to work with. Imagine that you grab a branch to try to pull yourself upward, the branch breaks, and there is one pissed off rattlesnake lurking underneath it. Imagine at the top of the pit looking downward and pointing a gun at you is the man who had just recently murdered your father in cold blood. It is also the very same man you yourself had managed to put a slug into seriously wounding him. There is no doubt that he’s not going to hesitate one second to return that particular favor.

And that was my introduction to True Grit. No, I’m not talking about the movie, but the novel by Charles Portis that would be the basis for this film. The blurb I had read on the back of the book was somewhat similar to my opening paragraph. Of course, so many years later I don’t exactly remember the exact text and not having a copy of the book handy nor a Kindle, although you can buy me one if you choose to do so, I have to do the best that I can from memory. But in things pertaining to True Grit, my memory usually serves me pretty well and you can certainly see where reading about such goings on might just grab your attention.

In the novel, the story is narrated by the elderly Mattie Ross, and tells the story of how at the age of 14, she set out to avenge her father’s death after he had been murdered by a ranch hand named Tom Chaney. Unable to get the law to track down Chaney, Mattie takes it upon herself to find a man with “True Grit” to escort her on a manhunt to find Chaney and bring him to justice. That man turns out to be Rooster Cogburn described by one Marshall as a “pitiless man, double tough and fear don't enter into his thinking”. Mrs. Floyd (Edith Atwater) described him as a “greasy vagabond” and a man who “likes to pull a cork.”  Later, he is described by Colonel Stonehill (Strother Martin)  as “a greasy vagabond, a notorious thumper, and not a man he would care to share a bed with.”

But instead of seeing Cogburn’s love affair with a whiskey bottle as a vice, Mattie uses that to her advantage to get him to let her tag along.

Before Rooster and Mattie can get under way, a Texas Ranger that goes by the name of La Boeuf rides into town looking for her. He has been tracking Chaney for some time because “there’s a woman in Texas who would look favorably on him if he managed to capture or kill Chaney” not to mention the hefty financial rewards. The things you had to do to please a woman in the old west. Nowadays you just have to give them a ride in your pickup truck and buy them a six pack of beer. Oh never mind.

For Mattie though, two’s company and three’s a crowd, especially when it’s an inept Texas Ranger who wants to join the posse.

“If in four months I could not find Tom Chaney (Jeff Corey) with a mark on his face like banished Cain I would not advise others on how to do so.”

Needless to say, the three of them reluctantly end up on the trail together chasing after Chaney and the outlaw he has hooked up with, Lucky Ned Pepper (Robert Duvall).

Portis certainly knows his stuff. The novel was filled with dialogue and dialect which sounded as if it came directly from the era in which the novel took place. Since I wasn’t there at the time I can’t verify it but others have although I’m not sure they were there either.

If Mattie needed to explain her reasoning, or to explain the rationale for her actions, she simply offered up a quote from the bible. It in fact, becomes a bit funny after a while as Mattie struggles to defend and explain certain events by using biblical passages. Still it was the witty, sharp, biting, and often extremely funny dialogue that helped make the book what it was. The question still remained as to whether or not all of this could be transferred to the big screen in a way that would capture the essence and flavor of Portis’s novel, and still remain exciting, suspenseful, and funny as well

When Portis wrote the novel, he had supposedly pictured John Wayne in the role of Rooster Cogburn. Wayne very much wanted the role but Cogburn was unlike any character Wayne had played before. He was the antithesis to the heroic leaders Wayne had played time after time to such great effect. Beyond that, Cogburn was an alcoholic, at times incompetent, and didn’t always play by the rules such as when he talks about “shooting a man without a call to let them know our intentions is serious.”

Then there were the roles of Mattie and La Boeuf. Having met singer Karen Carpenter at a college concert, Wayne wanted her for the role of Mattie. Others such as Tuesday Weld and Mia Farrow were approached to play the role but Farrow would turn it down, later calling it the biggest mistake of her life. But Producer Hal Wallace wanted Kim Darby whom he had seen in an episode of the TV series Run for Your Life with Ben Gazzara. Having just given birth, and going through a divorce from actor James Stacy at the time, Darby turned Wallace down:

"I turned the part down about 10 times, but he wouldn't stop asking,” Darby said. "I had just had my baby, and I didn't think I was ready, so I just kept turning it down. Hal Wallis finally came out to my home to convince me. He said the only time he had ever gone to an actor's home like that was for Richard Burton."

 

Kim Darby and Ben Gazzara in a scene from Run For Your Life, the episode that convinced Hall Wallace she was the perfect Mattie.

So Darby accepted the role. The biggest drawback some may have had with her participation was the fact that Mattie Ross was supposed to be a girl of fourteen. Darby was already 21 years of age. But that is not an insurmountable obstacle because such things have been done in Hollywood before and since and done quite well.

For La Boeuf, the producers chose country singer/songwriter/TV star Glen Campbell; perhaps hoping he would attract a younger audience into the theaters since he was such a popular performer at the time. Still, he had never acted in a film before, so only the final product would tell us if he could do as others have done and overcome inexperience with natural ability.

To direct the film, Wallis and Wayne chose Henry Hathaway who had worked with Wayne in other westerns such as The Sons of Katie Elder, North to Alaska, and the Western/Circus combo film of Circus World.

Although the novel takes place in the area of Arkansas and Oklahoma, True Grit was filmed in Colorado at locations such as Gunnison, Hot Creek, Montrose and Ouray. Again, it was taking liberties because there are more than obvious differences in the topography of Colorado and Arkansas. The question remained if this goulash of acting talent and other ingredients could blend itself into a cohesive and entertaining film experience. The answer is: Yes, it does. It not only meets every expectation that one might have had, it even surpasses it.

Many of the locations for True Grit are just as they were back in 1969 as you can see from these comparisons.

John Wayne was born to play Rooster Cogburn. In many films which Wayne headlined, his overpowering presence and star power would sometimes carry a film out of mediocrity. It was often said by some that for the most part, Wayne was always playing himself. But that’s a copout, and a line often used to explain stars whose screen presence comes naturally and look almost as if they are portraying their screen characters effortlessly.

Because Wayne, with some notable exceptions, often locked himself into the same type of role in so many films, his achievements are often overlooked or derided just because he chose the types of characters he is most comfortable with. All of this is so much b.s. because if Wayne had not become such an accomplished actor, there is no way he could have pulled off what he does in True Grit. In fact, he does it so well that when he makes his first appearance on the screen herding a load of prisoners from the Indian Territory into the jail; it is completely unnerving if you’ve seen many Wayne films at all. And I had.

This was obviously not what one expected a John Wayne character to look like or act like. One eyed U.S. Marshall Reuben J. Cogburn was a mean, cantankerous, grizzled, ornery, stubborn, overweight alcoholic. But he was exactly what the doctor ordered for Mattie’s quest: he was just as fearless as the man said. Yes he had moments of alcoholic incompetence, but pulling a cork tends to have that effect. There was no man who could stand toe to toe with this guy and come out the better for it. However, there was a fourteen year old girl that he couldn’t faze on his best day or worst day if you want to put it that way.

And if anybody was worried about the 21 year old Darby portraying the fourteen year old Mattie they shouldn’t have. I was certainly convinced at the time that she was in her mid teens, perhaps even younger. I actually didn’t find out until much later how old she had actually been.

And just as Wayne IS Rooster, Kim Darby lives, breathes, eats, sleeps, walks, talks and probably farts like Mattie Ross as far as I’m concerned. She was exactly as I had pictured her in the Portis novel although there were two big changes.

Marguerite Robert’s screenplay drops nearly all of the biblical references except for a few scenes where they are slid smoothly into the screenplay, more for comedic effect than anything else. And second, the film is told in real time whereas in the book it is told as events that occurred once in an old woman’s life, an old woman who is reminiscing and waxing poetic.

Obviously, while having the elderly Mattie narrate the story in the novel worked, it is easy to see where it may have had its shortcomings on film, as it would have been necessary to take us out of the action to constantly return to Mattie’s narration. For film, the device was unnecessary. One reviewer said that this was in order to make sure that Wayne remained the star of the film. That's pretty much bologna.

Wayne doesn't even make his first appearance until about twenty minutes in and it’s a brief one at that. Certainly in many scenes the Cogburn character dominates, but there are equally as many where Darby's Mattie manages to go toe to toe and have the last word. And while Mattie's character is in practically every scene once she arrives in Fort Smith, Wayne's character is not.

When Mattie is separated from Rooster and La Boeuf, it is her character that the film stays with. The film doesn't leave Mattie's viewpoint at all until near the very end when Lawyer Daggett finally puts in an appearance-representing Mattie of course.

Much of the same can be said of the biblical quotes which Ross often used to emphasize certain events that were occurring at the time. On film, this would have quickly become redundant, and possibly have made Mattie quite more annoying than she was supposed to be. And while we are supposed to be irritated at Mattie’s ways on occasion, that irritation is brought on more by her naiveté and her childishness. We sometimes overlook the fact that she is still just a kid. I mean who doesn’t cringe when she tries to get Rooster and La Beouf to let her tell the story of the Midnight Caller in exchange for them to quit their drinking. “Let it go. That baby sister, is no trade,” Rooster tells her.

At which point Mattie stomps off into the shadows to sulk. And when she comes up with a silly plan to capture Chaney, we can’t help but laugh as La Boeuf tells her she doesn’t want to know what he thinks about her plan and Cogburn tells her just to get on her horse. It’s not often that Rooster comes out ahead in these little showdowns with Mattie. But he does have his moments.

Another reason why both the novel and film work so well is because Rooster and Mattie are as different as two people can be in just about every way possible. Yet, they are the same in one very important aspect. When it comes to avenging her father’s death and how to go about it, Mattie can be just as tough, just as stubborn, and just as willful as Rooster Cogburn ever thought of being. She will have her way even if she has to get Lawyer Daggett (John Fiedler)  in on the act to do so.

“If you think you can cheat me, you're mistaken. You've not heard the last of Mattie Ross. You may well hear from my lawyer, Daggett,” she tells Rooster when it becomes apparent that he is going to throw in with La Boeuf.

 

So when Cogburn tells us that “she reminds me of me” when Mattie chases him and La Boeuf across a river, it isn’t just another line in a movie. We know exactly where he is coming from because we see it too. “Then we may not get along,” La Boeuf tells him.

And there are the little subtle things Kim Darby does which once again are the small things often overlooked. During the shootout at the dugout, watch her body language and expression as each shot is fired from Rooster's gun. Later, when she confronts Tom Chaney at the stream, her body is literally shaking with both fear and anger.

This of course brings us to Glen Campbell’s big screen debut as La Boeuf. Over the years there have been many who have derided Campbell’s portrayal of La Boeuf, often describing it as awful and mediocre. In the process, they seem to forget that acting was something completely new to him at the time. And frankly, I think much of their derision of Campbell has more to do with the fact that people need some kind of whipping boy no matter what the circumstances may be as much as what is really on the screen.

While it certainly will never be mistaken for any kind of a legendary performance or even a particularly good one, it is not nearly as bad as one would suspect if you believed everything you read on message boards. Some things get passed down and repeated so often that it eventually is ingrained in viewers minds as fact, and even if they are watching the film for the first time you may be judging as much on what you have heard as to what is actually on the screen.

Yes, the awkwardness of a novice actor does stand out in his confrontation with Mattie at the Mornock Boarding House and it is painful to watch. “You’ll push that saucy line, toooooooo fAAr!”

But other than that he acquits himself adequately the rest of the way. For a more honest comparison, watch him in the Monarch scene and then watch the scene in which Mattie comes upon La Boeuf and Rooster sitting at Chin Lee’s making plans and they have a much similar confrontation. There’s quite a bit of improvement. Granted, there was a lot of room to do so but that’s beside the point.  Okay, so maybe I’m grabbing at straws here.

Appearance wise, he is just as someone with a name like La Boeuf who hails from Texas would look like. He is supposed to be nothing more than the pretty boy on the block. When Campbell tells Mattie of his lady in waiting in Texas, Mattie replies, “Well you certainly have the hair combed for it.”

As for Henry Hathaway’s direction, when we finally get our “strangest trio ever to track a killer” underway, the result is breathtaking. Hathaway’s use of Colorado backgrounds in this film is an often overlooked and stunning achievement. With Lucien Ballard’s cinematography bringing the landscape to life, and the scenes blocked and framed in such a way that it makes you want to become a part of the film. Stir in Elmer Bernstein’s sometimes melodic and even more often rousing score as Mattie, Rooster, and La Boeuf cross the Colorado landscape having one confrontation after another, and you may wish for a couple of days in the old west yourself.

But even after all of that, there is so much more to love about this film. There are some moments that I had never seen in a western yet seem incredibly real.

When Mattie comes into Fort Smith with a black man she calls “a worker on our place, Yarnell Poindexter,” they find that the town is full of people and that the shops are closed as everybody has headed down to the park to watch a triple hanging. Even the funeral parlor is closed.

“Man out rustling up some business for himself, looks like” Yarnell (Ken Renard) says after seeing the closed sign on the door. “Seems like we have a lot of time to waste before we see anybody much”

Mattie can tell right away that he is almost salivating at the thought of being able to go to the hanging. In the park we watch as the gallows are prepared. Kids swing nonchalantly on the swing sets facing the gallows. People unfold table cloths and open picnic baskets for lunch. A boy walks through the crowd selling tamales and peanuts just as if it were one of today's modern sporting events. From across the way, Judge Parker watches from the court balcony while an unidentified woman (Connie Sawyer) gives Mattie, Yarnell, and the rest of us all the details on who’s who, what’s what, and what to expect as if she’s the nineteenth century version of Vin Scully.

“They say the hangman is a Yankee. They say he won’t spring the trap on a boy that wore the blue.”

The only thing missing is the super slo-mo instant replay. And when the hanging is over, watch the woman's reaction. She seems quite pleased with it all.

After having watched the men hang, we know positively that Mattie’s mind is made up as far as Chaney is concerned.

“That’s not a fainthearted judge. Tom Chaney would get his due before such a judge,” she tells Yarnell.

And there are many other scenes just like this. One suspects that the boarding houses were pretty much like the Mornock Boarding house where you check in for a couple of quick meals, a warm bed, and the latest gossip going around while the owner might just skimp a bit on the chicken in her chicken and dumplings.

Mrs. Floyd: I was hoping you’d like my chicken and dumplings.
Mattie:
They’re alright. I can’t see twenty five cents in nothing more than a little flour and some grease.

And no matter where this film takes us, it not only looks, feels, and sounds real; it seems as fresh as if it could have just taken place yesterday or the day before yesterday. And most importantly, even most of the dialogue from Portis’s book was left intact by Robert’s screenplay enabling us to hear phrases and words that we may be unfamiliar with, but we quickly become acquainted with their meaning. When a film can draw you out of your world and into its own sense of time and place, then it has succeeded on every level.

True Grit is remembered by some as simply being the film for which Wayne had won his Oscar. It has been derided as that; even to the point of saying that the acting award was as much for Wayne’s entire career as it was for his portrayal of Cogburn. I have no way of knowing why people voted for Wayne in 1969 and frankly, I don’t care. There is no doubt in my mind that his performance as Rooster Cogburn stands alone as a stunning achievement, and to say it in of itself was not worthy is pure hogwash.

I find it quite irritating that the great many things that both the novel and the film offers are often derided and overlooked or considered average simply because people want to remember the film for one thing and one thing only, thus trying to relegate it to some undeserving second class citizenship in the annals of Western films. Portis’s novel, Hathaway’s film, and Wayne himself deserve better than that. Portis’s novel is seldom mentioned these days, which may be even a bigger crime since it too is a true Western Classic. (Clyde note: With the release of the Coen Brothers remake, I’m sure the book has had a revival as well. When I wrote this review, the newest version wasn’t even in the planning stages.) Both are achievements that deserve an A in my opinion. There are no substitutes.

Sometimes when reviewing a film, I’ll often go back and read up on it looking for little tidbits of trivia to throw in. I ran across a four star review that Roger Ebert gave True Grit back during its original release. He ended his review with what pretty much sums up John Wayne, True Grit and my own opinion:

Wayne, in fact, towers over this special movie. He is not playing the same Western role he always plays. Instead, he can play Rooster because of all the Western roles he has played. He brings an ease and authority to the character. He never reaches. He never falters. It's all there, a quiet confidence that grows out of 40 years of acting. God loves the old pros.

Well said.

Clyde’s Movie Palace: The Last Mimzy (2007)

 

 

starromg
Chris O’Neil
Rhiannon Leigh Wryn
Joely Richardson
Timothy Hutton
Rainn Wilson
Kathryn Hahn
Michael Clarke Duncan

Directed by
Robert Shaye

“A long time ago the soul of our planet was sick. People had become isolated and warlike. Our world was frightened. It was dying. But a great scientist was trying to save us. He had tried many times and could only try once more. This was The Last Mimzy.” - Opening Scene from The Last Mimzy.

And thus begins a film that when I first heard the title, it  seemed to be a movie that would hold little if any appeal for me. I mean, what the hell is a Mimzy anyway? The title certainly wasn’t one that would entice anybody to rush down to the multiplex to catch it on the big screen and I only put it in my Netflix queue as sort of an afterthought. I generally will put all the major films that are released into my Netflix queue automatically. Eventually when I get around to shuffling the films around some of them will stay and some of them won’t. As a matter of fact, The Last Mimzy was one of those that went, and went fast.

(Clyde note: These days I very seldom get new releases from Netflix. That’s why God made the Redbox. New releases at Netflix end up sitting in your queue for about six weeks)

And then one day I read the following review: 3 out of 5, it was cute & fun.

Yeah, I know, not exactly a rave recommendation but you have to know that this particular person is a real hard ass in giving out movie praise. Believe me, that’s almost a rave review coming from her. So I quickly shoved it back into my queue and transported it up to the top right behind Bobby and American Pastime which have been on very long wait for me since forever. Do you hear that Netflix? But the question still remained, what in the hell is a Mimzy?

I was soon to find out. We are quickly introduced to the Cleaver family. For our review purposes this edition of the Cleaver family is called The Wilders. First, there’s June…er I mean Jo Wilder (Joely Richardson), there’s papa bear David (Timothy Hutton), and then the two kids Wally and the Beav otherwise known as Noah (Chris O’Neil) and Emma (Rhiannon Leigh Wryn). Obviously going in we know that the film is going to center around the two kids. What can often make or break a film like this is whether or not the youngsters are portrayed as overly precocious annoying brats and know it all's, or if they are portrayed as kids you wouldn’t hesitate to run out and want to adopt as soon as the credits are rolling. So what is the verdict on Noah and Emma? I signed the adoption papers last night.

It’s not that this family isn’t without their problems. David is always tied up with his job, and is constantly having to cut out of family commitments. Obviously there’s the usual message here about family being more important in our lives than anything else but thankfully you aren’t hammered over the head with it in every frame. As a matter of fact, despite the dad’s work problems, the family for the most part has their act together.

That is they do until one day on the beach the two kids find a mysterious shaped case with cryptic symbols that produces all kinds of goodies such as….well there’s….there’s some kind of a thingamabob and a few thingamajigs. And that evening, when Emma awakens from her sleep, she gets out the mysterious case which instantly produces a stuffed rabbit. And although the rabbits name isn’t Bugs or Harvey, it talks quite clearly to Emma.

Noah and his parents can’t hear it and all we hear is a cooing type sound when it speaks. But the strange thing is, it is almost as if we understand that cooing sound as well as Emma does although it is hinted that the rabbit may be communicating with her through telepathy. And it is at this point that the rabbit tells Emma that her name is Mimzy. And so now you know what a Mimzy is. But why is this Mimzy thingamdoohichie here and what does it want? Uh...that's why you are suppose to watch the movie.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking it all sounds way too cute, syrupy and silly and strictly for kids between the ages of four and six. But you would be wrong on that score. We soon find out that the other things that were in the case have their own kind of magic. There are some rocks that Emma can spin like a top and when she does they create one heckuva cool light and laser show. A glowing flat monolith also begins to have it’s affect on Noah making him smarter and faster without ever having one single bionic implant put in him.

It would have been very easy at this point for director Robert Shay to give into temptation and either turn Mimzy into a big special effects extravaganza to razzle dazzle some more buttocks into the theater seats, or he could have the kids doing the usual goofy stuff we’ve seen a million times over such as getting revenge on the school bully, becoming the star athlete at school, or using the powers to win over the head of the cheerleading squad. But Shay and writers Bruce Joel Rubin and Toby Emmerich never fall into that trap, unwilling to let The Last Mimzy become the 21st Century version of The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes or The World’s Greatest Athlete. We are on a journey of discovery along with Noah and Emma, and it is to everybody’s credit that this film never talks down to the audience regardless of what age you may be. The opening scene of Mimzy lifts our curiosity up, and it never lets go until the last few touching moments when we find out exactly what The Last Mimzy really was and why he/she/it paid Noah and Emma a visit.

When the kids do show the powers they have achieved, it is almost incidental. For Emma, spinning rocks that make lights is nothing more than a magic show by her way of thinking, so much so that she even shows the babysitter her "trick". When Noah begins to suddenly overachieve at school, he does it not to show off or to get one up on the teacher. He does it because he can and he doesn’t really seem to realize that he has suddenly been given an extraordinary gift.

Another thing I really liked about Mimzy was the fact that the parents aren’t here as either a punch line for the kids, nor are they here as fodder for the kids to keep putting something over on them. It is obvious that despite the father’s absences, this is a very close knit and loving family. It’s something you don’t see too often in films these days.

All is not totally peaches and cream with the film. Rainn Wilson is on hand as Noah’s science teacher Larry White as is Kathryn Hahn who plays his fiancé Naomi. While they are somewhat necessary to the story line, they have one or two too many unnecessary and odd scenes together that go on way too long and for a few moments slow the pacing of the film down. In fact, it would probably had been better if they had just kept Wilson as Noah’s teacher and axed out the Naomi character altogether. When Wilson is kept busy just being the Science teacher, he does quite well. It’s a minor flaw but it’s one that doesn’t take much away from the overall experience.

Michael Clarke Duncan also shows up later in the film as a homeland security agent. He may seem to be just another character necessary for the plot to move along and may very well be just that. But after watching the film, I think there is another point that Shay was trying to make beyond Duncan just being the usual stereotypical government agent bad guy. In him we see the beginnings of what our society has become and will become in the days ahead if we don’t turn the tide and that at some point we may all be in danger of losing our very soul. What does that have to do with Mimsy? Once you see the film you’ll understand.

I really liked this film. It is a film that was overlooked at the theaters but one might be able to chalk that up to the odd title. I would hope that it would find it’s audience on DVD, especially if you have kids. It’s a film that the whole family can enjoy together and may even want to own. Heck, it’s a film with science, magic, mystery, warmth and love that you can enjoy even if there isn’t a kid within fifty miles of you. I certainly did, and after it was over I felt kind of good inside. And when any film can make me feel like that I have no choice but to give it my grade which for The Last Mimzy is a warm and fuzzy B+.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Clyde's Movie Palace: American Dreamz (2006)

 

Clyde’s Stuff is not the first blog I’ve written and it may not be the last. The first one was something called American Crossroads. It was nothing but politics from cover to cover and was started during the 2004 Presidential race on the old AOL community pages.

After that went belly up and AOL deleted their blog pages,  I worked on some fictional stories. In the middle of one of these stories it became necessary for me to write in depth about the discrimination faced by gay teens, and the fear they had to live with because of hate crimes. This was almost seven years ago, and the story is still around.  Good luck finding it though.  I have buried it in obscurity…at least for now.  It was in fact a sequel to something else I had written. 
 
Shortly after finishing that story I got an email from a reader who complained that she and her husband both worked, they had kids to raise, and the last thing she wanted to be bothered with after a long day was the realities of what was happening in the real world. She insisted she only wanted to be entertained. And she was not alone.

I’ve heard this same retort on many occasions, and it’s one of the reasons I finally threw in the towel on the political front. If most of the populace wants to sit around and watch The X Factor, while trying to stifle a yawn when it comes to how the good old USA is being managed by our corporate owned politicians, legislatures both state and federal, and supreme court justices,  who am I to argue? 

In previous off and on years (sometimes it’s the best of times with me, more often the worst of times with me) when I wrote on Clyde's Stuff, the response I received regarding everything I have written about American Idol completely dwarfs the total response I’ve had of all my political articles put together. That includes a few hundred political essays in my general original American Crossroads blog. (I had the name before Karl Rove stole it. If I had known, I would have kept it.  So what does the past history of my blogging endeavors have to do with American Dreamz? Practically everything.

In American Dreamz, writer and director Paul Weitz unabashedly skewers Bush, Cheney, politics, American Idol, and the public that watches it and other shows like Idol such as The Bachelor, The X Factor, Dancing with the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance, America’s Got Talent, and The Voice all in the same breath. That’s quite a bit of satire to cram into a one hour and forty-seven minute movie, but somehow Weitz manages to pull it all together.

In the parallel world of American Dreamz President Staton (Dennis Quaid) has just been re-elected in a hard fought campaign. Left to his own devices Staton is non functional. In fact, he’s  never read a newspaper. It is his Chief of Staff (Willem Dafoe) who controls his every movement right down to telling Staton what to say through a hidden receiver placed in his ear canal.

One morning President Staton decides to take it easy and do something he has never done before. He is going to read a newspaper.
“We do have one of those around, don’t we,” he asks his assistance. “I’m sure we do, but if we don’t we can get you one.”


Having read his first newspaper, it is an eye opener. Staton becomes addicted and begins reading anything and everything as if he were discovering his first Harry Potter story. And Staton learns from what he reads:
President Staton: Did you know there are two kinds of Iraqistanis? [the First Lady (Marcia Gay Harden)  holds up three fingers]
President Staton: I mean, actually, three?
Chief of Staff: You mean Sunnis and Shiites and Kurds?
President Staton: You knew about this?
Simon Cowell clone Martin Tweed (Hugh Grant) produces, hosts, and judges contestants on his version of American Idol called American Dreamz. He’s shallow, manipulative, and thinks way too highly of himself. His show is the highest rated program on television. When we first meet him he has a girlfriend.

 
She loves him. She does everything for him:
Jessica: (who comes into the room just as Martin is getting the latest ratings numbers from his fax): How are the numbers?
Martin: Incredible. Absolutely incredible.
Jessica: Did you hear what I said? I’m leaving you.
Martin (back still turned): Yeah, I heard. Yeah.
Jessica: I’m not kidding.
Martin (turning around smiling): I know. Look, I think it’s an excellent decision on your part.
Jessica: (looking incredulous): You do?
Martin: You’re a fantastic person and the last year’s been great, really. You’re beautiful, the sex has been wonderful, you’re kind and supportive. You wait for me with dinner when I work late, you’re amazing. And it’s driving me out of my fucking mind! You know with numbers like this, this should be the happiest day of my life. And instead I have to worry about whether I make you happy all the time. Jessica, sweetheart, you make me feel like being a better person. And I’m not a better person. I’m Me.
Jessica: I feel sorry for you.
Martin: Don’t. I certainly don’t. In fact, I envy myself deeply.

Girlfriend or not, Martin will never be completely happy because of one minor irritant. He has to host American Dreamz, something he absolutely abhors.

Each season becomes more of a challenge to find the right contestants to drive his ratings higher because being number one in all demographics just isn’t enough for Tweed. “One can go up, but they must never go down,” he tells his assistants. 

To do this he has to choose the right contestants that Americans can love, identify with, and sympathize with, or hate, despise, and loathe if they so desire.  Bad contestants are just as important as good contestants. Or as Martin tells his young staff of talent scouts:

Let’s go out there and get some great contestants. And I don’t just mean talented. I mean human and by human I mean flawed and by flawed I mean freaks. Bring me some freaks. Let’s make this a show that even I can watch.
Their singing prowess has little or nothing to do with whether they will win or not. Case in point, Sally Kendoo.

Sally Kendoo’s (Mandy Moore) one big dream is not only to appear on American Dreamz but to win it all. Anything less would be considered a major fail. She wants a career, and wants out of the crummy mom, apple pie, baseball, hotdog, boring backwoods town she resides in that even has a shit  sounding name: Padookie, Ohio.
Sally’s Boyfriend Willie (Chris Klein): Sally, this is your dream, you’ve always wanted to be on TV.
Sally: No, I’ve always wanted to be a star.
Willie: Isn’t that the same thing?
Sally: No Willie it’s not the same thing. Any idiot can be on TV nowadays. All you have to do is swap your wife or eat a sheep’s anus or something.
Willie: Yes, yes. But you are going to sing.
Sally: Yeah, I’m gonna sing. I’m gonna sing and I’m not good enough. I’m not good enough! (At which point Sally throws her mirror across the room breaking it.)
Willie: (pointing at the broken mirror) Seven years!
Sally: No, you know what I am? I am the best karaoke singer in this county of Ohio. I am going to go all the way out there, right? And I’m gonna come right back home and lose in the first round because I’m Just….I’m not good enough!
Willie: No way!
Sally: Yes.
Willie: No Way!
Sally: Yes!
Willie: No way! No way! No way! You’re cute. You’ve got a great voice, you got personality. And you got a great voice. And I think you’re going to win the whole damn thing! And for some reason those folks have their head up their stinkholes, and you don’t win for whatever reason, I’m not gonna love you any less. I’m gonna love more because I see your real beauty and I don’t need no TV show to show it to me. Honey, I got some big news today too. I’m being made assistant manager, plumbing fixtures. Assistant manager. And you know what happens next? Manager, plumbing fixtures.

Since Willie laid bared his heart and soul while relating to Sally his deepest innermost feelings, showing her how much he cared, giving her all of his love he could possibly give, Sally wraps her arms around him, kisses him passionately, and they begin to make screw each others brains out.  Well, not exactly. Maybe in some romantic comedy on Lifetime. But baby, this isn’t Reality Television, this is reality life.
Sally: Willie, I think it’s time we broke up.
Willie: What?
Sally: It’s just…I don’t think it’s working anymore.
Willie: Sure, it is. It’s going great.
Sally: Not really. No, your life is here. And my life is….swooooosh…  (points her hand upwards) Or maybe it’s……(imitates plane crashing) But either way see, I can’t take you with me.
Willie: But I love you. I love you damn it; you can’t do this to me. No listen; you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I can’t take it.
Sally: You stay up here and cry. I’m going to go down and greet my fans.
It is no coincidence that this scene is eerily similar to the break-up scene between Martin and Jessica.  Willie decides to join the Army, to find and give new meaning to his life now that Sally has dumped him. So he stops to tell her goodbye for the last time:
Mrs. Kendoo (Jennifer Coolidge): Hello William
Willie: Hi, Mrs. Kendoo. I just came by to say good-bye to Sally.
Mrs. Kendoo: Well, have you up and joined the Army?
Willie: I have, Mrs. Kendoo. I just feel like since Sally dumped me, my life has been meaningless. So, I’m trying to find meaning by defending my country. And I just wanted to tell Sally that.
Mrs. Kendoo: Well, William. That’s very sincere of you. But Sally isn’t here. She’s in New York meeting with agents.
Willie: Agents?
Mrs. Kendoo: They’re folks that uh…They act greedy and mean for you so that you can seem like a nice person.
Willie: But Sally is a nice person. So I’m not going to get to see her then, am I?
Mrs. Kendoo: I’m afraid not, William.
Willie: Well, you just tell her that wherever I am I will be thinking of her. And I got her face tattooed on my arm. It’s from our prom photo.
Mrs. Kendoo: Well, it’s beautiful work.
Willie  is sent to Iraq two weeks after a quick cram course in basic training to become cannon fodder. He promptly gets shot and returns home as a wounded vet just in time for Sally to reunite with him because according to her new agent it will make a better back story for her to win the American Dreamz title.

Omer Obeidi (Sam Golzari) is a terrorist in Afghanistan, training with his cousin in a Taliban camp while at the same time making a training video for other terrorists. But Omer is not very good at terrorizing. He’s mostly a screw up and continually messes up the video shoot much to the chagrin of the director.
His main thrill in life is listening to American show tunes on old records left to him by his mother who was allegedly killed by an American bomb. Later, when Omer is caught listening and dancing to his sound track records by his cousin, is sent to the United States to live with relatives in Orange County, California until he is needed.

Omer’s Cousin: Look, I’ve got some news for you. Your papers came through. You are leaving next week for Frankfort and from there to Orange, County. You’ll be staying at our mutual cousins. They know nothing of your purpose there. You are to just wait until your sleeper cell contacts you.
Omer: When will that be?
Omer’s Cousin: (exiting the tent): Never.
While staying in California with his wealthy relatives, Omer is  mistaken for his cousin Igbal (Tony Yalda) while performing a musical number and given the chance to appear on American Dreamz because Martin Tweed has decided that besides the masturbation inspiring girl from Ohio, he wants an Arab and a Jew.

Later,  President Staton decides to appear at the finals of American Dreamz as a judge after being in hiding for several weeks.  Omer is recruited to blow Staton up and sacrifice  himself by wearing a bomb on stage.  That is if he even makes it to the final.

Grant is great as Tweed. In fact, one almost wishes he hosted the real show. His criticisms of the contestants are biting as he sits in judgment in a chair from the audience as if he is a god telling America who gets to enter the pearly gates and who gets a quick drop down the chute to hell, all the while looking bored with the whole process.
Tweed: It’s up to you America, only you have the awesome power to lift someone up into the heavens and create a new star.
Martin Tweed, Judge Juror Executioner American Dreamz
As Grant plays Tweed, he would be the kind of self-centered ego maniac you would hate living next to you or to be associated with, unless you’re Sally Kendoo, but in the confines of the TV screen he somehow manages to be almost likable.

Mandy Moore has played the bad girl before in a wonderful film called Saved! As Sally Kendoo she’s just as bad, uncaring, self centered and as cold as Boss Tweed. It’s a match made in heaven.  As Gump might say, they go together like peas and carrots.

She wants to win at all costs but is as calculating as Tweed is about how that goal is achieved. In fact Tweed and Kendoo are mirror images of each other as attested to by their similar earlier break up scenes.

Moore does a good job here of reflecting that. When Tweed makes a rare trip to visit her in Padookie, she’s smart enough to know that he isn’t there for her to suck up to him.  He has in fact learned that her reunion with Willie isn’t exactly on the up and up, and that she is using Willie to advance her own agenda on American Dreamz.  But Martin is far from angry about it.
Martin: I heard Padookie was an exciting town, I thought I would check it out. (Sally stares at Martin blankly) That was a joke.
Sally: I’m aware.
Martin: You didn’t laugh
Sally: It wasn’t funny.
Martin: No. But why didn’t you laugh just to kiss my ass?
Sally: I figured you didn’t need me to kiss your ass. I mean, I’m sure you have people kissing your ass 24 hours a day. And I guess like not kissing your ass is like kissing your ass for most people.
Martin: Absolutely right. That's weird; one can become quite detached from reality when one's famous.
Sally Kendoo: Really? That sounds so cool.
Martin: Yeah, it can be.
 
 
 
 
 

Quaid somehow manages to turn Staton's lack of intellectual prowess into a child-like innocence. He is likable, because he doesn’t bathe in his ignorance like it’s a badge of honor.

Unlike his Bush counterpart in the real world, Staton's stupidity does not come from arrogance and having everything handed to him on a silver platter. He's gone through life unchallenged because there's always been someone telling him how great he is and someone else who is more than willing to be at his beck and call.

There's just been no need for him to wise up. And when he does began to read and see things as they really are, it has a profound effect. He wears an ear piece, and Sutter tells him what to say, but he finds it frustrating and phony. Staton compares himself to being a placebo, once he finds out what a placebo is.
 
The real surprise here is Sam Golzari as Omer the Terrorist who thinks he should  avenge his mother’s death but knows he isn’t quite cut out for the job. He just not ready to meet Allah, especially when the guy that gives him the mission tells him he’ll meet him in the afterlife also…..in a number of years that is. The biggest problem for Omer to overcome is that he begins to like it here along with most of the people.  The question Omer asks himself is whether or not you can  hold the citizens of a country responsible for the decisions made by those in power?

Weitz leaves no stone unturned in his skewering of our infatuation with pop culture and celebrity icons, so much so that we will vote for the manufactured image of our president rather than be bothered with the annoying details of how he might actually run the country, or what corporation or special interests groups are pulling the strings of our government leaders. He understands that many in the audience view reality shows as if somehow they are a reflection of real life.

In the wrong hands all of this could have been too heavy handed and dreary, but Weitz keeps things light enough so that we can laugh at ourselves while still giving us some things to think about. But the problem as I have found, and perhaps one Weitz fully didn’t comprehend when he made this film is that way too many Americans are more than willing to laugh at some over exposed nitwit on a reality show, but they aren’t willing to laugh at the biggest joke of all: They’re own over infatuation with those very nitwits balanced by their lackadaisical lip service approach to the who what when where and how they are being governed.

There are a lot of laughs and memorable moments in American Dreamz and you’ll be thoroughly entertained, as long as you have no problem laughing at not only the situation of the world around you but by laughing at yourself also. No doubt there will be many who won’t get the joke.  They will no doubt be offended by the  over the top satirical portrait Weitz has concocted.

They  are the ones who still believe that everything they see on not just American Idol but all reality shows is the real, uncensored and unedited truth to the point that they actually believe they are voting for the best singer/dance/performer  in the country. The others who may be offended, and probably very much so, will be the those who still believe we are operating under a government by the people, for the people, and of the people instead of facing the fact that we are all nothing more than pawns in a government of the corporations, by the power, and for the very rich. And still there will be most of the audience, who will fail to see any correlation between Weitz's film and the real world at all.

It doesn't matter though. I had a good time watching it and I saw enough to realize that for all of its satirical slant, Weitz strikes pretty close to home. So that leaves me no choice but to give American Dreamz my grade and I have decided that American Dreamz is a saucy little minx that deserves a well earned B+.  You’ve now been Omerized!