Tag Archives: James Caan

CAPSULE: CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS (2009)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: ,

FEATURING: Voices of Bill Hader, , , Andy Samberg, , Mr. T

PLOT: An inventor develops a machine that makes food rain from the sky, rejuvenating his hometown’s formerly sardine-based economy.

Still from Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (2009)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Despite a visual smorgasbord of semi-surreal culinary situations—checkout the 3-D food avalanche with corn, pizza slices, and tortilla chips, for example—it’s only slightly weirder than your average kids’ movie.

COMMENTS: I believe that future generations will look back on our current Toy Story/Pixar age as one of Hollywood’s golden ages of children’s entertainment. Studios are spending extravagant sums on imaginative projects, and investing their resources not only in animators but in scripts as well. Today, the top-notch children’s films are aimed at crossover audiences, and the challenge of writing for dual audiences of kids and their parents has resulted in some of the tightest, cleverest and funniest scripts of the past decade. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs may not be the pinnacle of the current crop, but it is one of the peaks. The story concerns a hapless inventor who stumbles upon a machine that allows him to generate sophisticated menus from water molecules in the upper atmosphere. This innovation eventually turns around the fortunes of his native island (a tiny speck found hiding under the “A” in “Atlantic Ocean on the map), which formerly had an economy and cuisine entirely built around sardine fishing. (Some of the best jokes revolve around the island’s sardine culture, including a local celebrity coasting on his childhood fame as a diaper-wearing canned-fish mascot). Throw in father/son tensions, a conniving mayor, and an intern weather girl/romantic interest who stumbles onto the raining food story and the script has more than enough meat on it—that’s not even factoring in the delightful sauce of Mr. T in a supporting role as an overenthusiastic cop. The technology predictably goes awry, leading to the brilliant eye-candy set pieces: a hail of cheeseburgers, a pancake flopping onto a schoolhouse, a giant atmospheric meatball that serves as a sort of Death Star, and a small army of chicken carcasses, among other fantastic moments. The pacing is sharp, laughs plentiful, and the sights bizarre enough to keep you hungering for more.

Part of the idea is to satirize American over-consumption; and while the spray of foodstuffs falling from the sky may nauseate adults, it will likely have the opposite effect on tykes in the audience, who will fantasize about the jello palace and ice-cream snowball fights, and whine to be allowed to wallow in the candy bins. Messages about being true to your nerdy nature and the sometimes subtle nature of parental love may digest better, but it’s essentially non-nutritive entertainment. That’s not a problem; nothing’s worse than a preachy kids’ movie, and watching a cartoon should be more like eating sticky candy than mushy vegetables.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“….has a bloated, claustrophobic finale that is, in one respect, downright weird (witness the giant walking headless chooks)… Family flicks, however, are under no obligation other than to entertain, and this often very funny film certainly meets its obligation.”–Annette Basile, Film Ink (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by kengo, who told us the film ” had my ‘weirdy’ senses tingling on a number of occasions.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

138. DOGVILLE (2003)

“To take ‘Dogville’ primarily as the vehicle for this [anti-American political] view, however, is to make it a much less interesting movie than it is… Mr. Von Trier offered, ‘I think the point to the film is that evil can arise anywhere, as long as the situation is right.’ It is the pervasiveness of that evil — the thoroughness of the film’s pessimism — that may seem most alien of all to doggedly optimistic American sensibilities.”–A.O. Scott quoting Lars von Trier in his New York Times article on Dogville

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Paul Bettany, , , , , Philip Baker Hall, Chloë Sevigny, , Siobhan Fallon,

PLOT: Tom Edison, who fancies himself an intellectual and a moralist and dreams of becoming a writer, is bored with life in the tiny, isolated mountain township of Dogville, until one day he comes across a beautiful, refined young woman who is fleeing gangsters for unknown reasons. Tom falls in love with her and convinces the town to take the woman in and hide her; they agree that the woman, Grace, will do chores for the townspeople to earn her keep and gain their trust. But the more the self-effacing Grace offers to the people of Dogville, the more they abuse her forgiving nature, until they have turned her into the town’s slave; then, the men who were searching her out arrive…

Still from Dogville (2003)

BACKGROUND:

  • Dogville is the first movie in a proposed trilogy from von Trier entitled (ironically) “America: Land of Opportunity.” The second in the series, Manderlay (2005), was shot on a similar minimalist set, also narrated by John Hurt, and featured the character of Grace (played by Bryce Dallas Howard). Manderlay was not as well received and was a financial flop. The third film has not been announced. Von Trier refuses to fly and has never been to the United States.
  • Von Trier set up a reality-show style confessional booth next to the set where (sometimes disgruntled) actors could enter and speak to the camera. This footage was edited into the 52-minute documentary Dogville Confessions, which appears as an extra on some DVD releases of the film.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The shot of Nicole Kidman lying in the truck bed among the apples, seen through the transparent canvas, is probably the film’s most beautiful image. Dogville itself, however, is the film’s most memorable image: a single blank set, with house walls and gooseberry bushes indicated on the floor with chalk.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Think that maybe Dogville may not be such a weird movie? Imagine you are about to pop this DVD into your player when your friend with the most ultra-conservative movie tastes walks in the room and asks what you’re about to watch. You respond, “Nicole Kidman plays a saintly woman fleeing mobsters who’s taken in by a small American town and used as a sex slave. Oh, and it’s shot in a warehouse with the buildings painted on the floor.” If your friend doesn’t immediately leave the room muttering “sounds too weird for me” then congratulations! Your most normal friend is a complete and utter weirdo.


Misleading original American release trailer for Dogville

COMMENTS: What director has a lower opinion of humanity than Lars von Trier? An acid moral parable, Dogville is almost weirdly ultra-rational, in Continue reading 138. DOGVILLE (2003)

46. THE DARK BACKWARD (1991)

“The script was original, it had this carny/circus thing which I’ve always associated with Hollywood.  Let’s face it, it’s a freakshow out here, it’s a circus, we’re all on the merry-go-round.  And this cartoonish, kind of weird sensibility this film had, it was almost like a weird childhood memory of these local television shows I remember watching as a kid…”–Bill Paxton on why he was attracted to the script of The Dark Backward

DIRECTED BY: Adam Rifkin

FEATURING: Judd Nelson, , Wayne Newton, ,

PLOT: Marty Malt is a garbageman and aspiring stand-up comic with no talent and no confidence.  One day, a third arm begins to spontaneously grow out of his back.  Although his act hasn’t improved, the gimmick is enough so that greasy agent Jackie Chrome takes interest in him and his accordion-playing, garbage-eating buddy Gus.

Still from The Dark Backward (1991)

BACKGROUND:

  • The Dark Backward was the first script written by Adam Rifkin, who was only 19 years old at the time.  He would direct the film six years later at age 25.
  • The title was selected by opening the complete works of Shakespeare to a random page (the quote comes from “The Tempest,” Act I, Scene II: “How is it/That this lives in thy mind? What seest thou else/In the dark backward and abysm of time?”
  • James Caan reportedly agreed to appear in the film only after an insistent Rifkin called him at the Playboy Mansion.
  • Judd Nelson auditioned for the role by performing Marty Malt’s comedy routines, in disguise, at open-mike nights in Los Angeles.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  Probably, one of the many images of Marty’s third arm, whether he displays it to the audience by mechanically spinning around after delivering another lame joke, or as doctor James Caan examines the embryonic fingers sprouting from the his back.  Individual viewers’ mileage may vary, however; you may be indelibly grossed out by the orgy with three morbidly obese women, or by Gus’ nauseating midnight snack of rotting chicken.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The premise alone—the world’s worst stand-up comic becomes a success after he sprouts a third arm from his back—immediately qualifies as weird.  For better and worse, director Rifkin doesn’t shy away from going whole hog into grotesquerie, churning out a first feature that looks like a technically polished version of an early John Waters film.

Clip from The Dark Backward

COMMENTS: If a therapist laid The Dark Backward down on a couch and psychoanalyzed Continue reading 46. THE DARK BACKWARD (1991)