Category Archives: Movies

R.I.P. Sydney Pollack

Legendary director and actor Sydney Pollack

Reports have surfaced that legendary actor and director Sydney Pollack has died after a nine month battle with cancer. Pollack was 73.

I remember Sydney Pollack from great films he directed like Tootsie, the Dustin Hoffman vehicle that was hilarious and touching at the same time. Pollack was also responsible for such award fodder as Out of Africa (starring Meryl Streep) and They Shoot Horses, Don’t They.

Youngsters will probably recognize Pollack not from his directing but from his acting. In his later years, Pollack became a sort of everyman character actor and appeared in many different projects ranging from Will and Grace to last year’s Michael Clayton.

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I Like My Movies Like I Like My Coffee: 8 Great Black Comedies, Part 2

continued from yesterday…

Human Nature DVD Cover

Human Nature: Charlie Kauffman has written some outstanding movies, most notably Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Adaptation, and Being John Malkovich. Somewhere in between his writing successes, he wrote a great movie called Human Nature that not nearly enough people saw. Human Nature combines the talents of Michel Gondry and Kauffman, the great team that produced Eternal Sunshine. What’s different about Human Nature is how… normal it is. Well, it’s normal compared to the mind-erasing hallucinations of Eternal Sunshine and the orchid-snorting of Adaptation.

Human Nature is the story of three people who are trying to figure out what it really means to be human. Patricia Arquette plays a woman with a genetic condition that leaves here covered in hair, so she goes and lives in the wild. Rhys Ifans plays a man who has lived as an ape since he was a boy. And Tim Robbins really loves manners. Now that I think about it, this movie isn’t so normal after all. It’s bitter sweet and more than a little dystopian. I suggest everyone go see it. Also, we don’t call them pygmy chimps anymore. We call them bonobos, but whatevs.

American Psycho DVD Cover

American Psycho: I saw this movie in high school and didn’t get it, but thought I should like it because I didn’t understand what was going on. I knew, on the surface, what the real story was: an eighties-era yuppie played by Christian Bale is obsessed with killing people, especially women. He’s also a narcissistic asshole who likes to lecture prostitutes on how awesome Huey Lewis and the News is. Then the movie ends in a way that leaves you scratching your head. What, exactly, happened here? Who’s fooling who? Also, I love that this movie had a female director.

It’s Bale’s Patrick Bateman that really steals the show, not because of how well-placed he is in the scheme of things, but how misplaced he is. He is, in every sense of the word, a total dork. A homicidal dork, but a dork nonetheless. He’s obsessed with cheesy music and obsessed over New York yuppie things like getting reservations, snorting coke, and his expensive printed business cards. All this obsession is almost endearing, but ultimately funny in a very, very dark kind of way. Oh, and he kills people. Did I mention that?

Happiness DVD Cover

Happiness: Go, right now, and see this movie. Before I even introduce you to the story, go see this movie and come back to me with a report. What did you think? My husband and I have played this game with a lot of people, and are always amused at the great reactions by people who think they’re just seeing some indie Phillip Seymour Hoffman movie. Instead they travel to the depths of the human soul, the darkest of places imaginable in the human spirit. Plus, you know, it’s kind of funny.

Happiness is one of those multiple character movies, where several different people have interacting stories as each of the characters tries to figure out what happiness really means. The aforementioned Hoffman plays a pervert who’s deathly afraid of real women but loves to call them and, well, say inappropriate things. Laura Flynn Boyle’s character could have any man she wants, but chooses the company of… Hoffman’s character. The best character is played by Dylan Baker, a child molester who battles his demons but ends up failing miserably. All in all, this movie is set on full “creep out” mode. It’s dirty. It’s provocative. You MUST see it right away.

The Big Lebowski DVD Cover

The Big Lebowski: Apparently, this movie isn’t for children, because I recall vividly the first time I saw this movie, right after it came out of video. I didn’t like it. I hated it, in fact, but I was only barely a teenager at the time. This movie is not worth wasting on youth who won’t get it. Years later, late at night in someone’s college dorm room, I rediscovered The Big Lebowski and it changed my life. The movie is hilarious, don’t get me wrong, but it’s just the right kind of hilarious tragedy. Nothing seems to go right for The Dude: his car is stolen, then found, then crashed, then beaten, then set on fire. Thugs piss on his rug which “really tied the room together.” His friendships with Walter and Donnie are put on the line.

This movie is like Alice in Wonderland, but with pot, booze, bowling, Germans, and kidnapping. The Dude (the wonderfully red-eyed Jeff Bridges) must travel to all ends of the Earth when all he ever wanted was his rug back. The tale is really labarynthian, almost like a Greek myth set in early ’90s Los Angeles. The whole movie feels like an in-joke, the kind of joke you share with your friends that nobody else understands. You, too, can share this movie with millions of other fans, especially the ones that flock to Lebowski festivals all over the country. I kid you not. These people have conventions. That’s how good this movie is.

Grosse Pointe Blank DVD Cover

Grosse Pointe Blank: The year was 1997 and my parents decided to leave me at home alone all weekend while they went out of town. I was in high school, but insisted that this time alone for two short days would be good for me. However, as Saturday rolled around and there wasn’t anything good on TV anymore, I was starting to get really, really bored. We had the Internet, but we were cruising on ’97 speed pipes, a 56K dial-up connection that tied up the phone lines. About a mile away from the house was a little strip mall with a Wal-Mart, a Movie Gallery, and a small, hometown grocery store. I stopped by the Movie Gallery to rent a movie and ended up with a sweet VHS copy of Grosse Pointe Blank in my backpack. I also brought home some snacks from the grocery store, if that’s important.

Even at my young and impressionable age, I loved Grosse Pointe Blank. The story centers around Martin Blank (Cusack) who apparently freaked out on the night of prom and ran off to join the military, only to be trained as an assassin, now working freelance gigs. He decided to return to Grosse Pointe–a suburb of Detroit–in order to attend his high school reunion. I loved the terrific yet comic violence that was spattered throughout the whole movie. In one scene, John Cusack returns from killing a an assassin sent to kill him. He’s just stabbed him with a pen. He sits down at the bar, and casually orders a drink while glistening with sweat. He thanks the man who gave him the pen. The whole scene is so tragically comic, it’s a near-perfect moment. Makes you wish John Cusack was in good movies again.

I Like My Movies Like I Like My Coffee: 8 Great Black Comedies, Part 1

Publicity Photo from Death to Smoochy

Black comedies are awesome. The first time I knew I really loved a good black comedy was when I saw Dr. Strangelove in high school. It was then that I finally realized the true meaning of both Cold War paranoia and comedy irreverence. To me, there was no greater feat than the one pulled by Kubrick in Strangelove. He managed to instill a sense of foreboding fear while, at the same time, making a movie with Slim Pickins. In fact, Dr. Strangelove is often pointed to as the granddaddy of all black comedy, the coup de grâce of bleak and funny film, the movie that made it all happen. So, without further adieu, I present to you black comedies that I have known and loved, in no particular order:

Death to Smoochy DVD Cover

Death to Smoochy: This 2002 film was widely regarded as a failure as a movie and a total dud in the theaters. Where this movie lacked in coin, it made up for in cultish brilliance. Director Danny DeVito often called this movie a cross between Pulp Fiction and Barney which, in and of itself, makes this movie watchable if for no other reason than to see what those two genres would look like collided. Critics hated the results, but kids like myself, raised on movies like Pulp Fiction and shows like Barney and Friends, were in awe. The story is typical, about the rise and fall of a star, but the trappings are brilliant: the Irish gang, the colorful set dressing, the vengeful murder plot. Good stuff.

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind DVD Cover

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind: George Clooney decided to direct a movie, which often sets movie critics’ faces to grimace. After all, where does some handsome-boy and former TV actor like George Clooney get off in wanting to direct a feature film? All grumbling ceased when the movie came out and was not only funny but visually stunning. Low-tech camera tricks abound, and everyone got the general sense that this Clooney kid knew what he was doing.

Confessions is the story of Chuck Barris, former host of The Gong Show and pioneer of trash TV with shows like The Newlywed Game. In an autobiography he wrote in the eighties, Barris also mentions that, in addition to being a game show host, he was also an assassin for the CIA. This visually stunning movie shows what happens when you mix the intrigue of espionage with, well, The Gong Show.

Dr. Strangelove DVD Cover

Dr. Strangelove: The granddaddy of all black comedy, Dr. Strangelove had a significant impact on me as a teenager. I’d never quite understood Cold War-era nuclear paranoia until I saw this movie. As a child of the eighties, I didn’t really have to. The Wall was already down by the time I began learning how to ride a bike, and the democratic revolution in Russia played softly in the background as I played with Barbies. When I finally saw this movie, I understood why everyone was so crazy back then. It took a black comedy about a situation that could never happen to make me realize why everyone was so afraid of a nuclear war with the USSR.

Dr. Strangelove also began my love affair with George C. Scott, one of those actors I missed out on because of my age. A year later, I saw Patton, a movie that also blew my mind. I often wondered why they didn’t make movies like that anymore. Where there any great actors anymore? Where were the George C. Scott’s of my generation who could chew through the dialogue of Dr. Strangelove, and do so with such depth and sincerity, making the movie’s hilarious premise? While I’m still waiting, I could watch this black comedy again and again.

continued tomorrow…