Weekly Recap 11/18 – 11/24

So I ended up at a gay bar in NE Minneapolis this weekend. Lots of shirtless bartenders.

Movies!

11/18/12 Three Kings (1999)

I have mostly questions:

  • Is this a great looking film or what?
  • Why can’t David O. Russell quite balance dama, comedy, heist and wartime all in one gloriously bipolar package?
  • You think it’s a coincidence Three Kings can’t explain the U.S. presence in the Persian Gulf either?
  • With all this blending of cultures — Americans speaking Farsi, Iraqis listening to bad American tunes — is David O. Russell suggesting this was a period where both sides ran around without direction? Like two nations solely comprised of headless chickens?
  • Is Clooney completely schooling his supporting cast here?
  • Why is this regarded as David O. Russell’s best effort?
  • Why did I go into this expecting David O. Russell’s best effort?
  • Isn’t that an unfair expectation?
  • Why hasn’t Spike Jonze acted since this?
  • Why has Ice Cube acted since this?

11/20/12 Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987) 

A trip from New York City to Wichita to Jefferson City to St. Louis to Chicago is required isn’t it?

Well I sure as hell wasn’t revisiting Thankskilling. 

John Hughes isn’t afraid to show the grimy bunghole of every American town he frequents. There’s always a dingy back alley or a backwater redneck or jerky cab driver everywhere. That is, everywhere except Chicago, which forever holds a place in Hughes’ films as either magical and idyllic (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Breakfast Club) or as a safe retreats of familial protection (take your pick).

Hughes’ writing here is a real detriment, and its something the fantastic work from John Candy and Steve Martin successfully resist. I absolutely understand the conceit of this film is putting this pair through the wringer, but there too many artificial road blocks that are not only forced but telegraphed far ahead in advance. Yes, there’s an expectation from the audience that a Candy/Martin comedy is going to have its shenanigans. But since his premise is already Shit, my flight’s been delayed. Shit, the airport’s closed. Shit, our train broke down (i.e. developments that require nearly no creative thinking), Hughes could have put forth more effort and less time shoving shots of cigarette embers or a swapped Diners Club Card or a hotel room thief down our throats. Metaphorically speaking.

That said, there are some exquisitely staged and photographed two shots here — of course, right? — and I appreciated the effort that went into what’s so often phoned in with comedies; a few seconds of Del Griffith and Neal Page lugging a bulky suitcase across the snow; our dysfunctional pair looking bakc at a blazing wreck and a Chicago sign in the background; as featured above, the glint of a sunset through a bus window behind an impromptu a cappella rendition of “The Flintstones.” In moments like these, Candy and Martin really carry this film on their backs, even as Hughes’ direction veers into the absurd. We get it. Del’s an annoying pig. Excessive snores are more eye-rolling than hilarious or even amusing. Del’s soliloquy amidst the burned car wreckage as performed by another actor would come off as sappy or saccharine or trying too hard but Candy absolutely makes it work. It shouldn’t, but it does, and in spite of Hughes LITERALLY TELLING US WHAT A CHARACTER IS FEELING. That’s talent.

As a final note, I’d be remiss if I failed to point out the similarities to Home Alone:

  • Neal Page’s Chicago suburban home is the McCallister mansion
  • We’ve got appearances from Bill Erwin (as another airline personality) and Larry Hankin (Officer Balzak); and Candy himself was the Polka King of the Midwest if you’ll remember
  • The corny skeleton flashes as Candy and Martin speed out of control on the midnight interstate
  • And of course the obsession with family and all of its magical healing powers

Planes, Trains & Automobiles is certainly a good film, but almost in spite of its creator. As one who will trumpet the virtues of Lost in New York to his grave, I do not admit that lightly.

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