Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Musings #1: Return of Living Dead, Orpheus, Cobbler, & Why, Charlie Brown, Why?

The Return of the Living Dead (O'Bannon, 1985) is every bit the puerile punk rock zombie romp it's cult favorite status would have you believe it to be. I'd actually been sitting on this DVD for over a decade. While working at GameCrazy in the early-2000's we were giving out copies for some promotion (which now that I think about it is a bit odd as it earns its R-rating and then some!) and I took one. A novice newbie at a medical supply warehouse gets a crash course training session that results in a canister containing a zombified corpse to be breached releasing a toxic gas that brings about a rampaging zombie plague. A group of ragtag misfits adorned in leather, spikes, mohawks, or sans clothes entirely, are coming to pick up their pal there for a night of debauchery but end up dead center in a raucous war zone of reanimated corpses from a nearby cemetery. This is about as fun as zombie flicks get as it doesn't take itself too seriously, has memorable characters, well-done zombie mayhem, and some grisly gore. I ranked it 3/5.

Then I screened Orpheus (Cocteau, 1950) and was blown away. This is the middle film in Cocteau's Orphic Trilogy but the first I've seen. I've already raced out and put the first, The Blood of a Poet, on hold through my library. This is a modern variation on the Greek myth of Orpheus. Knowing little going in I wrongly expected something perhaps more dry or detached, I don't know, Shakespearian dialogue or something, but boy I couldn't have been wronger. This is a fast-paced, pulpy thriller, with romantic intrigue, surreal supernatural spark, and a gorgeous cast and production design. In this world Death is a femme fatale, people can float through mirrors into alternate realities, and more mind-bending developments await around each corner. Cocteau was working on another level entirely and this feels incredibly ahead of its time. Bringing a myth into contemporary Paris could seem absurd but it's done with such relish here that it's magnificent. I scored it 4/5 but heavily considered a 4.5 and may go higher after an eventual second viewing.

Then there's The Cobbler (McCarthy, 2014). Look, I'm a Tom McCarthy fan. The Station Agent is one of my favorites of the 2000's. I also liked The Visitor and Win Win. I even went to see Million Dollar Arm just because he worked on its screenplay. And he's set to make some major waves with Academy Award hopeful Spotlight in the weeks and months ahead. But The Cobbler is batshit insane. It's one of the easiest targets of the year but I was predisposed to look for something to like in it. And it's definitely competently made. It looks good and moves along briskly enough and the filmmaking ain't shabby. But that script is atrocious. It's just bonkers. Adam Sandler, who's much better here in stuff like this away from his own productions (him playing a schlub home electronics installer in Pixels was groaningly bad) plays a fourth-generation shoe repairman who discovers he has a magical piece of equipment that'll allow him to transform into anyone who's shoes he puts on. That idea alone isn't necessarily bad or not worth exploring. But they take it in all kinds of strange directions, there's violence, racist undertones (whenever he wants to steal something he switches into the guise of a black man?), a lousy crime plot that overwhelms the narrative, the untactful death of a parent, and more. The last few minutes has revelations that had me literally shaking my head in disbelief and suddenly felt like an expository dump in the vein of recent Marvel comic films as if a Cobbler franchise was about to be launched. One of my favorites Dustin Hoffman has a small role and is always welcomed even in laughably bad dreck like this but I haven't been this confounded by the ridiculousness of a film in ages. 1.5 of 5.

Lastly, before calling it a night, I watched Why, Charlie Brown, Why? (Jaimes, 1990). Man, this pretty much devastated me. In short the story revolves around Linus and a classmate named Janice who is diagnosed with cancer. Now you might think dealing with a difficult subject would have less bite in the warm, wholesome world of Peanuts -- but the inherent sweetness of the Peanuts' universe made this even more heartbreakingly tender. Janice first notices an odd amount of bruises on her body on the bus, soon after she's forced to leave class due to feeling bad, and then we encounter her next in the hospital receiving treatment for her leukemia. The entire time I was just gutted. But there's one scene particularly that I'll never forget. A bully on the playground sets his sight on Janice, yanking off her hat and mocking her bald head, etc. Linus, seething with rage and disbelief, launches to her defense and tears the kid down with razor-like precision in the most raw and deep moment in the Peanuts' animated canon. The story does end happily at the very last moment but you still feel emotionally rocked and are trying to regain your bearings after. I gave it a 3.5/5 and now having seen it consider it an overlooked Peanuts gem although one I won't be racing to watch again too soon.

No comments:

Post a Comment