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Archive for ‘The Awkward Movie Challenge’

The Awkward Movie Challenge: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

December 01, 2009 By: Category: Greatest Hits, The Awkward Movie Challenge

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According to Netflix, Mike and Jeffrey agree with each other on movies 84% of the time. In their weekly semi-regular feature, The Awkward Movie Challenge, they search valiantly for that sweet 16% that results in big arguments and big laughs.

Jeffrey:

life_aquatic-posterIt’s difficult for me to understand why so many people have such animosity for Wes Anderson. Read the comments on any review of The Fantastic Mr. Fox and you’ll find half a dozen variations on the phrase, “He hasn’t done anything worthwhile since The Royal Tenenbaums.” For those of you keeping score at home, the “nothing worthwhile” in this comment refers to two movies (out of a five film career): The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Darjeeling Limited. I’ll agree, The Darjeeling Limited was a waste of everyone’s time and should promptly be forgotten. But this is only because Anderson ignored the first rule of filmmaking in the official Filmmakers Guide to Making Films: do not let Jason Schwartzman collaborate on your screenplay. Anderson can be forgiven for making this rookie mistake because from what I hear, he ripped up his Filmmakers Guide to Making Films years ago and replaced it with lollipops.

Anderson’s greatest claim to fame may be his introduction of the word “whimsical” to the handbook of movie reviewers’ derogatives. I’m not sure how he came to embody the essence of whimsy, because a surface glance at any of his films reveals a deep undercurrent of sadness. Bottle Rocket ends with one of the main characters getting sent to prison. In Rushmore, no one ends up particularly happy. Hackman dies in The Royal Tenenbaums and Luke Wilson engages in one of the gnarliest suicide attempts I’ve ever seen captured on film. In The Darjeeling Limited, everyone’s an asshole and the movie sucks. The only one that actually fits the characterization of pure whimsy to me is The Fantastic Mr. Fox, and that’s garnering Anderson some of the biggest raves of his career. So go figure.
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The Awkward Movie Challenge: Blue Velvet

September 16, 2009 By: Category: Greatest Hits, The Awkward Movie Challenge

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According to Netflix, Mike and Jeffrey agree with each other on movies 84% of the time. In their weekly feature, The Awkward Movie Challenge, they search valiantly for that sweet 16% that results in big arguments and big laughs.

Mike:

When we last left The Awkward Movie Challenge, Jeffrey and I were caught in a bitter, blood-spewing, movie-critiquing apocalypse over Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, a film most likely never intended to stir up such mutual loathing between close friends. Since then, Jeffrey flew out to the East Coast for the express purpose of discussing his feelings with me in person. Yes, there were tears, hateful words were spoken, punches were thrown (as was dinnerware), but there were also words of forgiveness… and a fair amount of cuddling. Now that the scales have been set level again, Jeffrey and I are ready to continue delivering those movie challenges you crave the way a junkie craves plunging a syringe into his scrotum to deliver that sweet, sweet fix.

BLUE VELVET GER

We’ve decided that David Lynch’s cult classic Blue Velvet (1986) would be the perfect film to kiss and make up to. Lynch is my personal favorite director (some might accuse me of being a bit obsessed, but those people probably just know me very, very well), and I believe that Jeffrey has described Blue Velvet as his all-time favorite film (correct me if I’m incorrect, Dinz). So what, you ask, is the point of evaluating a film that both of us unconditionally love and I’ve been writing about ever since I was a college undergrad constantly inventing new ways to shoe-horn David Lynch references into my term papers? I don’t know. Perhaps the problem is that you ask too many fucking questions. I recommend you sit back and just allow the cool waves of fawning to wash over you like a lilting mountain breeze.

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The Awkward Movie Challenge: Rock n’ Roll High School

August 19, 2009 By: Category: Greatest Hits, The Awkward Movie Challenge

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According to Netflix, Mike and Jeffrey agree with each other on movies 84% of the time. In their weekly feature, The Awkward Movie Challenge, they search valiantly for that sweet 16% that results in big arguments and big laughs.

ramones-posterJeffrey:

August 24th marks the 30th anniversary of Rock n’ Roll High School, the movie that is best known for introducing the world to beloved film star Clint Howard. Also, some band called the Ramones is in it. The three principal Ramones (Joey, Johnny, and Dee Dee) have sadly passed on to that great Gabba Gabba in the sky, but, luckily, director Allan Arkush had the smarts to preserve the young pinheads in celluloid for future generations to enjoy. It would’ve been nice if the film he constructed around them wasn’t painfully unfunny, but I suppose we have to take what we can get.

Rock n’ Roll High School centers around the struggle between Miss Togar (Mary Woronov), principal of Vince Lombardi High, and Riff Randall (P.J. Soles), “rock n’ roller.” After a brief introductory scene in which we meet school brain Kate Rambeau (Dey Young) and football star Tom Roberts (Vincent Van Patten), we join Miss Togar in a school board meeting. While Miss Toger is informing the school board of her intentions to clean up the school, Riff hijacks the P.A. system and welcomes everyone to “Rock n’ Roll High School.” Which is really just Vince Lombardi High School with rock songs on the P.A. The crowd goes wild, because they think she’s going to play some Grand Funk Railroad.

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The Awkward Movie Challenge: Gremlins

August 12, 2009 By: Category: Greatest Hits, Movie Reviews, The Awkward Movie Challenge, Uncategorized

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According to Netflix, Mike and Jeffrey agree with each other on movies 84% of the time. In their weekly feature, The Awkward Movie Challenge, they search valiantly for that sweet 16% that results in big arguments and big laughs.

Unfortunately, this week Jeffrey is being a very, very small baby, and he says he does not have time to provide his contribution, so Mike is taking over the Awkward Movie Challenge, making it considerably less challenging, but a whole lot more awkward.

Mike:

gremlinsIn many ways, I’m a sad specimen. When Gremlins debuted in theaters 25 years ago this past June 8th (the same day as Ghostbusters, incidentally), my friend from down the block asked me if I wanted to see it with his family. I backed out because… well, I was a great big chicken (for more evidence of that, check out the regular feature Things That Scare Me on my site Psychobabble). I was not fooled by that fluffy Gizmo thing being hawked at the local Toys ‘R Us. I knew that he was just the cutesy-pie bait used to lure impressionable 10-year olds like me into some sort of traumatizing orgy of disemboweling and face-slashing.

When I finally saw Gremlins after it debuted on HBO a year later, I didn’t find it particularly horrifying, although I did find it to be highly entertaining. Still, I wasn’t completely wrong in my initial assumption that Gremlins might be disturbing; I was only wrong in thinking it contained material that would disturb me (I was more frightened of humanoid creatures than the kinds of scaly beasties in this film, and I lived in terror of seeing any kind of graphic eviscerating).

An assortment of <em>Gremlins</em> merch.

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The Awkward Movie Challenge: Ghostbusters

August 05, 2009 By: Category: Greatest Hits, The Awkward Movie Challenge

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According to Netflix, Mike and Jeffrey agree with each other on movies 84% of the time. In their weekly feature, The Awkward Movie Challenge, they search valiantly for that sweet 16% that results in big arguments and big laughs.

ghostbusters_posterJeffrey:

2009 is a spectacular year for 25th anniversaries, because 1984 was a spectacular year for movies. Besides Purple Rain, which we discussed last week, it is also the year that brought us Ghostbusters and Gremlins (to be discussed next week). In fact, not only did the last two movies come out in the same year, they came out on the same damn day: June 8, 1984. What a glorious, glorious day to be a 9 year old boy, which is what I was, at the movie theater, trying to decide which one I should see first.

In addition to Purple Rain, Ghostbusters, and Gremlins 1984 also brought us Footloose (February 17), Repo Man and This is Spinal Tap (March 2), Splash (March 9), Police Academy (March 23), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (May 1), 16 Candles (May 4), Bachelor Party (June 19), The Karate Kid (June 22), Revenge of the Nerds (July 20), The Terminator (October 26), A Nightmare on Elm Street and Stop Making Sense (November 16), and the top-grossing film of the year, Beverly Hills Cop (December 5). Not to mention The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (August 15), both Breakin’ (May 4) and Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo (December 21), The Neverending Story (July 20), Romancing the Stone (March 30), and Tim Burton’s first major(ish) effort, Frankenweenie (December 1). Nearly every month of 1984 saw the release of an iconic film that has lived on in cinematic history. Was it the best year for film ever? I have no idea. I just spent 30 minutes on IMDB looking up those dates and I’m not venturing back in for a comparison. But in terms of quality mainstream Hollywood movies that have stood the test of time, I doubt you’re going to find too many years to rival that one.

Now, please note that I use the phrase “stood the test of time” loosely. Very few of these movies stand the test of time in the way that, say, The Godfather or Chinatown stands the test of time. But there is undoubtedly something compelling about them that keeps us watching. Is it mere nostalgia? Or are these movies actually good? In some cases, there’s no question: Stop Making Sense is one of the best music documentaries of all time, and This Is Spinal Tap is the movie that both defined the mockumentary genre and surpasses pretty much every effort since. In other cases, the quality of the film is so overshadowed by its place in culture that it becomes very difficult to look at it with fresh eyes.

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The Awkward Movie Challenge: Purple Rain

July 29, 2009 By: Category: Greatest Hits, Movie Reviews, Movies, Music, The Awkward Movie Challenge

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According to Netflix, Mike and Jeffrey agree with each other on movies 84% of the time. In their weekly feature, The Awkward Movie Challenge, they search valiantly for that sweet 16% that results in big arguments and big laughs.

Mike:

purple-rain

This past June 24th marked the twenty fifth anniversary of the greatest soundtrack ever recorded specifically for a movie. Man oh man, is Purple Rain ever an amazing soundtrack! “When Doves Cry”? That song is awesome. “Let’s Go Crazy”? Even awesomer, especially when Prince gets all Hendrixy at the end of the song. “Take Me With U”? Holy shit, that song is so awesome they don’t even have a word to describe it (you could probably describe it by calling it “Really, really, really awesome,” but that’s four words). “The Beautiful Ones”? “Baby, I’m a Star”? “I Would Die 4 U”? Awesome, awesome, awesome. Yes, there is no doubt about it; Purple Rain is one totally awesome record. Case closed.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the movie for which the Purple Rain soundtrack was recorded (did I mention how awesome that soundtrack is?), which celebrated its own twenty fifth anniversary this past Monday. Purple Rain: the Movie stars Prince as “The Kid”, a wunderkind musician who lives in his parents’ basement and creates music deemed too weird for First Avenue, the Minneapolis club where Morris Day and the Time draw huge crowds by playing music almost exactly like that of The Kid and his band, the Revolution. Except it’s not as good. The Kid meets aspiring singer Apollonia, falls in love with her, and lets her know this by tricking her into jumping naked into a lake. In Minneapolis. In the winter. Shooting her in the back would have been an equally romantic valentine, but then I guess we wouldn’t have gotten to see her boobs. Despite The Kid’s sadism, Apollonia is unable to resist the pubic hairs glued to his chest (or his purple pirate costume… or his Batgirl Cycle…), so she buys him a guitar. When Morris Day gets wind of the budding ingénue, he swoops in to turn her into his personal protégé. The Kid reacts to this news by punching Apollonia in the face.

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The Awkward Movie Challenge: Zardoz

July 22, 2009 By: Category: Greatest Hits, Movie Reviews, The Awkward Movie Challenge

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According to Netflix, Mike and Jeffrey agree with each other on movies 84% of the time. In their weekly feature, The Awkward Movie Challenge, they search valiantly for that sweet 16% that results in big arguments and big laughs.

No one, and I mean NO ONE, needs this much Connery.

No one, and I mean NO ONE, needs this much Connery.

Jeffrey:

Pre-Internet, the only way to learn about cool things if you grew up in a small town in Michigan as I did was to read about them in these magical collections of information called “books” and “magazines.” When I was in high school, there were 2 books that changed my life. The first was the fourth edition of the Trouser Press Record Guide. Trouser Press was an indispensable guide to thousands of “alternative rock” records back in the days when the term alternative rock actually meant something. The second was Danny Peary’s fantastic (and sadly out of print) 3 volume Cult Movies series. Ever since I received the first book as a Christmas present, I’ve made it my ongoing life’s mission to someday see all 200 titles that Peary discusses.

The best thing I can say about Zardoz is that I am now able to scratch another film off that list. To say that Zardoz is a terrible film is like calling Hitler “eccentric.” Zardoz creates its own new category of terrible. It is breathtakingly, incomprehensibly, mind-blowingly bad in a way that must be seen to be believed, but must never, ever be seen by anyone. Mike and I took one for the team, and no matter how tantalizing it may sound after reading our reviews, I beg you: DO NOT WATCH THIS MOVIE. It is so terrible that its title should really stand as a universally-recognized synonym for atrociously bad. If I go to a coffee shop and tell them the ½ and ½ tastes Zardoz, they should immediately lock the place up and send every customer to the hospital. If I am at a café in France and I tell the waiter “Cet croque-monsieur est Zardoz!” he should walk straight back to the kitchen and stab the chef in the throat with an ice pick.

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The Awkward Movie Challenge: The Blair Witch Project

July 14, 2009 By: Category: Greatest Hits, The Awkward Movie Challenge

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According to Netflix, Mike and Jeffrey agree with each other on movies 84% of the time. In their weekly feature, The Awkward Movie Challenge, they search valiantly for that sweet 16% that results in big arguments and big laughs.

Mike:

blair poster Although its reputation seems to have diminished considerably over the years, when The Blair Witch Project premiered a decade ago today, it was considered to be a revolutionary piece of cinema. First of all, there’s the radical way it was produced. Filmmakers Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick set amateur actors Heather Donohue, Joshua Leonard, and Michael C. Williams loose in the woods of Burkittsville, Maryland, for eight days with a camera and sound equipment. The actors were responsible for filming their own scenes and adlibbing their dialogue. Sanchez and Myrick left them little notes indicating the plot developments. All of this cost somewhere in the neighborhood of five grand, but raked in an astounding $248,639,099 at the box office, partly due to a brilliant advertising campaign suggesting that the events in the movie were real (here come the spoilers).

The hoax with the moax.

The hoax with the moax.

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The Awkward Movie Challenge: Ishtar

July 08, 2009 By: Category: Greatest Hits, The Awkward Movie Challenge

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According to Netflix, Mike and Jeffrey agree with each other on movies 84% of the time. In their weekly feature, The Awkward Movie Challenge, they search valiantly for that sweet 16% that results in big arguments and big laughs. Our candidate for Week One: the notorious 1987 flop Ishtar, directed by Elaine May and starring Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty.

Jeffrey:

A sand blast.

A sand blast.

Ishtar is that worst kind of movie: the movie you expect to be unwatchable, but turns out to be merely mediocre. Upon its release in 1987, it quickly replaced Heaven’s Gate as the go-to synonym of choice for overblown box office disaster. It reportedly brought in only $12.7 million with a budget of $55 million, making it the most expensive comedy ever made at the time.

Watching the film, it’s difficult to tell where the money went. Although there are a few set pieces involving helicopters, most of the film takes place in interiors (is that a thing movie people say?) or in the desert … and how much can a permit to shoot in the desert cost? Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman raked in 5.5 million apiece for their performances, which was, apparently, a staggering amount at the time. It still seems pretty staggering, especially considering the fact that they are both woefully miscast.

Make no mistake about it, Ishtar is a bad film. Revisionists will tell you that it’s actually a dryly hilarious satire that was unfairly maligned due to its legendary budget woes and bitter critics. These revisionists are wrong. Is it dry? Yes. Is it hilarious? Not by a long shot. It is, however, not un-hilarious enough to qualify as a fun disaster. Most of the jokes — and there are lots and lots of jokes — drop out of the characters’ mouths and fall to the floor like leaden word balloons filled with a laughless soup (my coffee mug reads “World’s Greatest Simile Writer”).

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