Thursday, June 23, 2005

Gridiron, Buttonhooks, and the Engineering Investigation of 620 Oil Cooler Outlet Design.

The Longest Yard
2005, USA
Peter Segal
35mm

Remade from the 1974 Burt Reynolds movie of the same name, Peter Segal’s The Longest Yard aims for awkward territory in the niche market of the summer blockbuster. In a domain dominated by big-budget sci-fi movies and the various irritating female solidarity films that have been counter-programmed by someone who thinks that the opposite of a testosterone-fantasy about Ferraris and explosions is a quirky story about a fat Latina trying to get into a pair of ugly jeans, movies like The Longest Yard get lost in the shuffle. And rightly so, because the movie isn’t any good. It’s not based on a comic book, nor is it computer-animated and voiced by actors from stupid sitcoms, so I don’t really see how anyone thought it would make any money in a world where the top-rated show on TV is one in which third-tier celebrities ballroom dance for 45 minutes. The Longest Yard stars Adam Sandler as disgraced quarterback Paul Crewe, sort of a football Pete Rose, who gets sent to jail for gambling offences, drunk driving, and Big Daddy. While there, various political intrigues dumbed down to an eighth grade level lead him to form a prisoner’s football team to play against the guards, a premise as ridiculous as Spike Lee’s He Got Game, only thankfully not meant to be taken seriously. At least I think it isn’t. It’s hard to tell, because the film suffers from the same problems that plagued the original version, namely that it’s too stupid to be a drama, and decidedly not funny enough to be a comedy. Unfortunately, while the original film had director Robert Aldrich to provided the few necessary intelligent touches to make the film at least watchable, this version only has Peter Segal, who cut his teeth making frat-boys and their clinically retarded girlfriend laugh with Tommy Boy. A moment that perfectly sums up the film comes at around the halfway mark, where Burt Reynolds brazenly strolls in mid-film, clumsily inserts himself into a scene, announces he will coach the team, and then proceeds to pour out his heart, motivation, and a hefty dose of schmaltz. If it’s drama, it’s drama that’s been written in crayon by a precocious and film-savvy kindergarten student. If it’s parody, they should remember to add some humor next time. Adam Sandler appears to be attempting to make the transition from stupid voices and groin-hits to comedy that contains actual jokes, but it becomes rapidly evident that this is not his forte. He can do smarm fairly well, but so can any video store clerk, and they get paid decidedly less than he does. Chris Rock, as a character named only Caretaker, initially shows some promise, seeming to provide at least a touch of comic relief in the early stages of the film, but he is soon relegated to alternating between awkward expository dialogue and bad jokes said directly at the camera with a grin so wide he could swallow James Van Der Beek’s head. The endearing group of felons Sandler gets to join his team include Nelly, who seems confused as to why there aren’t any scrawny black women with inflatable asses standing around in football uniforms and high heels, and an enormous Indian fellow who looks like a tanned version of Richard Keil from Eegah!. Interestingly enough, we never find out what any of these criminals did to get into prison, presumably because it would be more difficult to root for the home team if we knew that the fullback split a 12-year old girl in half while raping an entire Brownie troop. The guards’ team is a little more interesting that the inmates, as it contains the blind guy from Contact, who takes the film entirely too seriously, as well as either Stone Cold Steve Austin or Goldberg from the WWE. I can never tell the two apart, and I am fairly proud of that. Also, the guards team features former Denver Bronco Bill Romanoswki, who was my favorite player back when I watched NFL games with the obsessive regularity of methadone doses. Romanowski, for those with better things to do on Sundays than to lose exorbitant sums of money to an Italian gentleman named Giovanni, was a 16-year veteran of the league who pretty much paid to play in the NFL, due to the fact that his ‘roid-rage caused him to be fined considerably more every season than he probably earned. This guy was a joy to watch, since at any given moment he could seriously injure anyone on the field, referees and his own teammates included. I think he once broke his own quarterback’s arm in preseason once, and he gave a fellow teammate brain damage during practice by punching his eye out. He fits in perfectly here, where the only interesting parts of the movie come when large men are hurting each other with the pre-requisite extensive foley work and sound design. Everything else is just filler, and annoying filler at that. You’d get more excitement actually watching football, though hopefully if you’re reading this you’re too intelligent for that. If not, however, I recommend checking out old Broncos highlight reels. Watch for the incoherent yelling guy trying to break his coach’s ribcage with his head, and revel in the glory of the Romanowski years.

Carnival of Souls
1962, USA
Herk Harvey
DVD

I’m not one to often get excited about films, as I generally have the same amount of interest in what I’m about to watch as I do in the housework I’m trying to avoid by turning on the television, but I can still remember the excitement I felt when I settled in for my first viewing of Herk Harvey’s classic horror film Carnival Of Souls. After all, this was the director of such unsettling and masterfully tense short films as Jamaica, Haiti¸ and the Lesser Antilles, and Tomorrow’s Spark Plug Day. I couldn’t wait for Harvey to break out of the industrial filmmaking world and into the realm of the low-budget feature. Would he bring the charm and infectious effervescence of Speech: Platform Posture and Appearance, or would he be mired in the static camera work and flat performances that marred his first foray into the industrial film, the ironically poorly punctuated Why Punctuate, whose missing question mark haunted him for the entirety of his career? I was not to be disappointed, as the film affected the young me in much the same way a late night screening of Night of the Living Dead did when I was 13, or the first time I saw Fire Safety Is Your Problem. Shot while Harvey was on vacation from Centron, the film company where both Harvey and screenwriter John Clifford worked, Carnival of Souls has subliminally wormed its way into the collective film consciousness in much the same way as the Velvet Underground has with music, not through direct experience, but by the countless artists it has influenced, and the countless annoyingly black-clad coffee shop losers who pretend like they heard of Lou Reed way before Kurt Cobain talked about him on MTV. Echoes of the film can be seen in the black and white aesthetic of many horror films made since, most notably as the aforementioned Night of the Living Dead, and thematic touches can be seen today, in everything from Final Destination to The Sixth Sense to Harvey’s own The Microscope and Its Use. Carnival of Souls tells the story of a the sole survivor of a car crash, who begins to experience strange visions and bad editing after the accident. Though shot on a shoe-string budget, strong writing gives attentive viewers a lot to contemplate, such as lead Candace Hilligoss’ strangely cold and unsympathetic portrayal of the crash survivor, and there are plenty of genuinely creepy touches that liven up the film. Most striking among these is the film’s score, which is performed almost entirely by an organ than brings to mind images of Anton Lavey stroking his goatee while playing the entrance music for a gang of pinhead midgets at a carnival freak show. While Carnival of Souls won’t scare anybody in today’s world, where our fright centers pretty much only respond to loud noises and Republican campaign ads, the atmosphere must truly be experienced to be believed. I know that’s the kind of thing people say about restaurants that serve really greasy food that tastes like shoe-leather cooked on a car engine block but have a working jukebox and a bunch of Marilyn Monroe pictures on the wall, but it’s true. Watch it for the mood, watch for the creeps, or just watch it because you’re sick of seeing Exchanging Greetings and Introductions for the umpteenth time.

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