Silver Screen, Silver Tongue: Wayne’s World is Lackadaisical

Wayne's WorldBy Magellan

About the Film

Year: 1992
Cast: Mike Meyers, Dana Carvey, Rob Lowe, Tia Carrere
Director: Penelope Spheeris
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%

About the Word

Definition: lack·a·dai·si·cal  [lak-uh-dey-zi-kuhl] adj. – without interest, vigor, or determination; listless; lethargic

The Review

I tend to skew fairly positive with this column, to the point where I annoy myself at times at how easily I fall into the trap of blindly praising a film for its obvious merits. In a way, I think that’s because it’s simply more fun to be positive, to find things to love in the world rather than critique.

The word “lackadaisical,” then, could portend a sea-change for Silver Screen, Silver Tongue, given its neutral-to-negative connotation. One could use the word as an indictment against Wayne’s World, a movie which glorifies the slacker mentality to an unhealthy degree. And, certainly, there were times watching this movie (revisiting it after several years) when I was underwhelmed by it, to the point that I could have easily scoffed and called the whole effort “lazy.” Many of the jokes are meaningless sight gags or references (the random room full of training men in the donut shop and the Terminator cop who pulls Wayne over, to name only two of many) that do nothing to advance the plot or investigate the characters. What few female characters presented here are either “Babraham Lincoln”s or “psycho hose beast”s. Rob Lowe’s character from the first scene of the movie to the last is nothing but pure, snake-oil evil.

And yet, I love Wayne’s World, so I’m going to steer this review towards a Mega Happy Ending (or a Scooby Doo Ending, depending on how things go). After all, this is an SNL spin-off from 1992. If I wanted meaningful storytelling or nuance, I came to the wrong place. So really, to call this film lackadaisical would seem to miss the point: that it’s just a comedy movie meant to tide you over for an hour and a half and squeeze out a couple of laughs. Then, why do I insist on using that word? Why do I insist on condensing this film down to one word that roughly translates to “lazy?”

It goes beyond the fact that Wayne and Garth are slacker supermen, the likes of which hadn’t been seen to such dazzling effect since Bill & Ted had their excellent adventure. It goes beyond the fact that the “Fight the Man” message is so overwrought and cheesy. It goes beyond the fact that our protagonists can just speak into camera or learn Cantonese whenever they need to in order to drive the plot. The beauty of Wayne’s World is that it makes no effort to put on airs; it makes no effort to be something that it’s not. It does so little to separate itself from the slang, the music, and the social mindsets of its time that in so doing it becomes timeless. It becomes a loving, immaculate capsule of everything that was suburban 1992.

From the very first scene, Wayne’s World takes a firm stance (or whatever you call the opposite of firm stance that still makes a point) in its timeliness. We open on a couple lying in bed, watching TV, flipping through commercials. They pass by everything you would expect: an ad for an arcade with Sonic the Hedgehog playing in the background, an ad for Chia Pets, and an ad for the ubiquitous Clapper. Immediately after these, the woman on the bed flips to Wayne’s World, the show within the movie, with a look of utter glee. Here the film is planting itself firmly in the canon of early-90s culture. Hell, they even make a reference to a Grey Poupon mustard commercial within the first act.

Perhaps it isn’t much of a stretch or even much of a headstrong move, since by this time people were well-aware of the SNL sketches and were quoting them left and right. The catchphrases that cycle throughout Wayne’s World (“Chyeah,” “No Way! Way!”, and of course “Schwing!”) had already permeated the parlance of the time. This movie is nothing but an affirmation of that.

I feel like I still haven’t communicated what I’m trying to get at here: this movie is “lackadaisical” in that it opens with a pre-existing reputation for its characters. It has brought in an audience which is already familiar with who they will be dealing with, and then proceeds to give the audience those exact characters, unchanged, throughout the movie. It doesn’t expect the audience to criticize it for this move, or even care. It’s a hell of a triumph, to string people along through a largely pointless joke-fest like this and still be regarded as a time-honored classic. That’s the subversive beauty of Wayne’s World: decrying, on its surface, artistic bankruptcy and corporate monotony, while itself being nothing more than a repackaging of old jokes and an extension of the entertainment juggernaut that is SNL.

Am I giving Wayne’s World too much credit? Of course I am. Like I said, it’s more fun to see the beauty and the positive in things. Some people may view this film as lazy and trite, but I view it as lackadaisical. It’s possessed of a sort of laziness that belies mental acuity. It’s the kind of laziness that isn’t these performers’ (at least, not Dana Carvey’s) ground state. If you still don’t buy what I’m selling here, let me sum it up in two quotes from Garth and two from “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

I’ll start with Garth. He offers two great moments of wisdom in this film, the first being at the beginning when Wayne is looking in on a guitar he wants to buy. Garth proclaims “Stop torturing yourself, man, you’ll never afford it! Live in the now!” That may seem vapid on paper, but it’s the emotional heart of the movie. It’s the reason everything is so stuck in its time. That quote epitomizes how Wayne’s World manages to turn the tragic flaw of many great films (looking dated) into its cardinal virtue.

Another one from Garth, which requires you to hear his tone, is when he and Wayne are lying on the hood of the car at the airport and he says “Sometimes I wish I could boldly go where no man’s gone before, but I’ll probably stay in Aurora.” Mind you, there isn’t a lick of sadness or defeat in that statement. Instead, it’s a pitch-perfect representation of suburban contentedness, the kind of blissful ignorance that petrifies song upstart intellectuals and drives them to the metropolis. Here, though, that fatalist fear of being stuck in a rut is humanized in the form of our protagonists. We’re shown that knowing who you are and not bothering to change can be a beautiful thing.

I promised a little Queen, and I’ll deliver. Now, most people may just think of the headbanging “Bohemian Rhapsody” scene as a fun moment that doesn’t have much substance. For me, though, that moment is the true introduction of the film’s thesis. By invoking the innocence and enthusiasm of its main characters, Wayne’s World takes the tragedy of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and reinterprets it, turning it into a ballad for the slacker, a glorification of being of the time and in the moment, and refusing to go above and beyond for any reason. Much like this article, it is a moment that pushes aside the negative in an almost comical search for positivity. The two lines that stuck out to me the most were when Mercury sings “Easy come, easy go,” and “Nothing really matters to me.” In the song proper, both of these moments are profoundly sad and defeatist, but when Wayne and Garth sing them with bright eyes and wide smiles, you can’t help but feel happy to just not give a damn about anything.

As the credits roll, Wayne and Garth reappear on screen, and Wayne says “Well, that’s all the time we had for our movie. We hope you found it entertaining, whimsical and yet relevant, with an underlying revisionist conceit that belied the films emotional attachments to the subject matter,” to which Garth responds “I just hoped you didn’t think it sucked.” There’s really no better way to say it than that. Wayne’s World is lackadaisical.

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Silver Screen, Silver Tongue: Memento is Duplicitous

Memento

By Allen

About the Film

 

Year: 2000

Cast: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano

Director: Christopher Nolan Rotten Tomatoes: 92%

About the Word

Definition: du·plic·i·tous [du̇-ˈpli-sə-təs] adj.- deceptive in words or action: warned her not to trust the duplicitous art dealer

 

The Review

 

One does not go into Memento not anticipating a twist. Even if you’ve only seen his Dark Knight trilogy and Inception, you know that Christopher Nolan is no stranger to pulling the wool over his viewers’ eyes. His first big hit, Memento, is the epitome of this filmmaking style, and you come out of it almost violated by how duplicitous it is.

It starts out in medias res, placing you in one of the most intense scenes of the film, but played in reverse. By the time you have a general impression of what happened, the film then spends the next two hours trying to defy your expectations of that intense intro. The plot essentially concerns Guy Pearce’s character Leonard trying to piece together the identity of his wife’s killer, while dealing with his acute short-term memory loss issues. Even the characters are duplicitous and backhanded to Leonard; they spin his case in circles, lead him down incorrect paths, and make him feel like he’s wasting his time. In the brief moments where Leonard does make a breakthrough, it’s unclear if it was of his own volition, or due to the machinations of those around him.

A perfect example of this is Carrie-Anne Moss’s character, Natalie. Natalie latches onto Leonard’s case early on, but she clearly doesn’t have his best interest in mind. Once she realizes that she can come into a room, tell him one thing, leave for five minutes, and return to tell him the opposite thing, she becomes another part of the film’s interweaving web of lies. There’s a scene very late in the movie where she does exactly that, and it manages to both disturb Leonard and the viewer.

Let’s not forget about you, the viewer in Memento. The viewer’s expectations are toyed with exactly as Leonard’s are. Certain scenes don’t make sense until much later in the film, such as Leonard’s obsessive writing of various phrases on his body in ink, or a weird subplot where Stephen Tobolowsky has a similar illness to Leonard. All is revealed in time, but Memento’s ending doesn’t simply deliver a final revelation that makes every scene before it make sense. Rather, since it takes place in forward and reverse order, each scene reveals something about the previous one. Since the entire point that this article hinges requires an intimate understanding of the ending, I’m going to be talking Memento spoilers in the next paragraph, so you’ve been warned. However, if you want the ending to hit you as hard as it did me, watch the film blind. I promise, you’ll be glad you did.

OK, everyone back? Christopher Nolan spent two hours making us think the film was about Leonard’s wife’s killer, when it was really about how obsessed we are with “solving” films like this. When watching Memento, I guessed a new killer every scene or two. That’s just the way it’s composed; each wrinkle in the story reframes the previous events to implicate that someone else was the killer. But who was the real killer? Leonard? Sammy Jankis? Nope, it’s the short-term memory loss. When it’s revealed that Sammy Jankis is just Leonard’s way to reconcile his accidental killing of his wife, you don’t feel like you’ve beaten Memento. It’s beaten you. The very idea that one of the people in this investigation is the killer is fundamentally wrong. Like Leonard, we’re all searching for answers where there are none. And like Leonard, our catharsis comes from finally freeing ourselves of this endless loop and watching the credits. For Leonard, that ending comes from killing Teddy in the opening scene of the film, breaking the chain of violence that Teddy has been leading him down.

The theme of manipulation is prevalent in every scene of Memento, but it never hit me with how brilliant it was until I realized that we are just as much pawns as Leonard is in the film. Sure, it’s a sneaky tactic to subvert expectations, and it’s duplicitous, and Christopher Nolan is a sick bastard, but isn’t that a credit to the film?  The fact that it makes its viewers feel like no other film does is admirable, and even if you’ve only seenThe Dark Knight trilogy and Inception, you know now what to expect from Christopher Nolan films that start where they end.

Silver Screen, Silver Tongue: My Dinner With Andre is Winsome

My Dinner With Andre

By Magellan

About the Film

Year: 1981
Cast: Andre Gregory, Wallace Shawn
Director: Louis Malle
Rotten Tomatoes: 90%

About the Word

Definition: win·some  [win-suhm] adj.-sweetly or innocently charming; winning; engaging: a winsome smile

The Review

When I first started this column, it was in an effort to move beyond quantitative measures of cinematic worth (like star ratings and percentages) and distill the unique, ephemeral feeling I get from watching a particular film into a single article, into a single word. I’m beginning this particular entry in the series by restating my “thesis,” if you will, because I think My Dinner With Andre may be my most challenging subject yet. You see, it’s difficult to take a movie that’s ostensibly about two friends having a conversation and turn that into a detailed piece of film criticism.

And yet, My Dinner With Andre is a film that I feel compelled to talk about, even if it’s just a thousand-word ramble and nothing more. It’s the kind of movie that leaves you feeling awake, more awake than you thought you could. It’s such a difficult feeling to describe because it’s the exact feeling you would get from going through the experience that the characters do: having a vulnerable, meaningful conversation with an old friend that you haven’t seen in years. It’s a feeling of simultaneous fullness and emptiness, your mind reeling from the conversation, your heart aching for the conversations you’ve missed. And, it follows the same path as a conversation with an old friend. The first scene, with Wallace roaming around New York and offering his voiceover, is slow and inconsequential. It’s not unbearable, but it clearly serves as a means to an end, rather than an integral part of the film’s entertainment value.

This flows into the dinner itself, where Wallace sits down with Andre and they exchange pleasantries. It’s awkward at first, but then Andre launches into his tales of world travel and bizarre performance art projects. His stories are wild and fairly pretentious, but the film is well aware of that. Andre puts his younger self down repeatedly, and Wallace smiles politely, just as anyone would do when reconnecting with a friend. The viewer, too, watches this first twenty minutes or so of the film with a polite smile and bated breath, quietly hoping that the conversation takes a more collaborative turn. What’s so bewildering and beautiful about this film, though, is that with each minute that passes Andre’s stories become more engaging and charming. The polite smile gives way to the genuine, the expectation to contentment.  By the time Wallace voices any sort of lengthy reply, it’s almost jarring and uncomfortable. As a viewer, you viscerally feel his sense of exposure and vulnerability, as he speaks his mind to someone as intelligent and reflective as Andre.

Not too long after that, though, Wallace begins to become a more active force in the conversation. The movie settles into a new equilibrium, with the two diners espousing their life philosophies, prodding the other with questions and counterpoints. If nothing else, My Dinner With Andre is a masterful portrait of the art of conversation, with its ebbs and flows serving as the driving force of the film. With any semblance of action or plot stripped away, the viewer is led to invest entirely in the interaction between the two characters. Suspense and tension come to life much the same way they do in normal conversation, in the pause before a peer’s response or the doubt in his eyes.

I’ve recently moved back to college to begin my sophomore year, and My Dinner With Andre keeps popping up in my head. As I see people I haven’t seen for months, but with whom I had formed intimate friendships by the beginning of summer, I can’t help but feel like Wallace at the beginning of this film. Lately, I’m approaching every conversation with a vague sense of dread and curiosity. I’ve developed a fear of awkward, stilted pleasantries and reminiscences, to the point where I can convince myself not to reconnect with one person or the other.

Then, My Dinner With Andre comes to mind. I think about the slow, but fruitful, development of Wallace and Andre’s conversation. I think about the faltering beginnings, and about how those beginnings steadied and deepened as time progressed. Thoughts of the film give me a very peculiar brand of hope, hope that a shaking of hands and a trading of words will stumble its way into something more meaningful. Returning to that restaurant in my mind is enough incentive to strike up a chat with even the most remote of acquaintances.  After all, Wallace approached his dinner with Andre with dread, and he left a changed man.

I know I must be babbling, but it really is a difficult sensation to pinpoint. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as making a genuine, human connection with someone. It’s what we search for all of our lives, a moment of pure vulnerability and honesty, free from judgment and restraint. We all want to be able to put ourselves out there and have that reciprocated. My Dinner With Andre is the nearest facsimile of that sensation that I’ve come across in film. While you, the viewer, may not directly expose yourself and your thoughts to the characters, you watch them do so to each other. You’re immersed to the point that the vicarious pleasure almost feels real. There’s a reason this film isn’t called Wallace’s Dinner With Andre. It’s because it’s mine. I sat at that table. I listened to the stories. I talked philosophy. I made my points. I ate my dinner, with Andre. My Dinner With Andre is winsome.

 

Silver Screen, Silver Tongue: Wet Hot American Summer is Bucolic

wet010adBy Magellan

About the Film

Year: 2001
Cast: Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Michael Showalter, Marguerite Moreau
Director: David Wain
Rotten Tomatoes: 31%

About the Word

Definition: bu·col·ic [byoo-kol-ik] adj.– of, pertaining to, or suggesting an idyllic rural life.

The Review

Summer, for all it’s worth, is officially over. It’s Labor Day weekend, the last day of August, “Back to School” season is upon us, and I just watched Wet Hot American Summer, a now-annual tradition of mine that I didn’t get around to until today. Sure, you could argue that the equinox isn’t for another twenty-something days, but I don’t know anybody who relishes those first couple weeks of September the way they relished those same weeks in July. Things just aren’t the same.

But, I’m sure you’re wondering why I would sit down and watch Wet Hot American Summer every year, beyond it having the name of the season in the title. After all, it’s ostensibly just a heavy-handed pastiche of summer camp movies with a few absurd, surrealist moments to grab for laughs and qualify it as a “comedy.” And, judging by its score on Rotten Tomatoes, any critic worth his or her salt will tell you that it doesn’t even deserve that distinction. So why watch it once, let alone once a year? Well, I could throw the whole “comedy is subjective” argument at you, but it goes deeper than that. I like to return to this film for the same reason that college students like to go home for the summer: it’s a chance to feel like things haven’t changed.

For me, the charm of Wet Hot American Summer isn’t in the jokes themselves, but in the way that this cast brings them to life. The movie takes place on the last day of summer camp, and features a skilled set of comedic actors playing the camp counselors: Michael Showalter, Paul Rudd, Ken Marino, Joe Lo Truglio, Amy Poehler, Bradley Cooper, Elizabeth Banks, Molly Shannon, and Michael Ian Black to name more than a few. Not to mention Janeane Garofalo as the camp director and Christopher Meloni (from Law & Order: SVU) as the creepy cafeteria worker. These are actors that moved on to great things in the world of comedy and film, and it’s great to see them back in their salad days, hanging out and having a good time. Just looking at the movie and its reception among the general populace, you can tell that it wasn’t any of these people’s cash cow, but rather a labor of love.

Scenes in this movie hit and miss, but that’s not a bad thing. Jokes told with friends hit and miss too, with some punchlines landing and some falling flat. It doesn’t matter, though, because when you’re with friends you can just hop back up on your feet and keep riffing. This movie has that same friendly, casual energy about it, as if it knows that it doesn’t need to try being funny, that it can make any joke it wants, play with the characters however it wants, because the entire cast already loves the final product. And, it’s that laid-back, summer-camp vibe that makes this movie so likable and easy to revisit. It’s what lets me forgive and even love some of its more outlandish, surrealist segments (such as the “going into town” montage, where the counselors go from eating ice cream to shooting heroin in a matter of minutes, then return to the camp and remark that “It’s always fun to get away from camp, even for an hour.”). In fact, half of the joy of this movie is using it as a way to sit back and have fun with your own friends, supplanting usual, high school “remember-when”s with “Remember when Ken Marino’s character was being chased by Joe Lo Truglio’s on a motorcycle, but Lo Truglio couldn’t get past that random hay bale in the road?” or “Remember when Paul Rudd’s character threw that tantrum when he was cleaning up his plate?” or especially “Remember when Christopher Meloni’s character talked to that can of vegetables and then had a dramatic training montage with Michael Showalter’s character?” It’s a movie that worms its way into your reminiscences and becomes a part of the world and the state of mind that you call home.

This movie enters your memory and lives there the way real summers do. When I watched this movie earlier today, I was surprised by how many of the slower moments I had completely forgotten, while certain other moments (like Elizabeth Banks trying to make out with Paul Rudd while her face is coated in barbecue sauce) remained indelible, as if I had experienced them myself, mere hours before. Every time I watch this movie, it becomes more idyllic and perfect in my mind’s eye, as the less-than-perfect scenes are filtered out, and my favorite scenes are strengthened and exaggerated. That’s just how fond memories work, really. We’ve all had things from our childhood stick in our mind, like a place that we really enjoyed visiting, or a game that we’re sure had much better graphics when we were ten. Granted, I didn’t watch this movie when I was a kid, but it almost feels like I did. When I watched Wet Hot American Summer today, I wasn’t watching it with fresh eyes. I was remembering the next moment before it happened, and so was the movie itself.  The entire cast and I were equal storytellers. They weren’t part of the movie, but part of the discussion of “remember-when.” Watching Wet Hot American Summer will never again be a present, vivid experience. It will forever be a grainy picture of a joke that made me spew water out my nose at the elementary school lunch table, an echo of a steady stream that I used to dip my feet in as a kid, a waft of crisp, summer air blowing through my backyard. This film is a memory on the screen, a reminder of halcyon days, of calm, careless perfection free from criticism and judgment. Wet Hot American Summer is bucolic.

Here’s the trailer for the film: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RByrRpURS5s

And this is a great scene with Paul Rudd: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ND7yJ7sMosk

Another one with Ken Marino: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=POuH8MGZrJw

No discussion of this movie would be complete without my favorite training montage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V0_WJDige0s

 

Silver Screen, Silver Tongue: When Harry Met Sally…is Taciturn

When Harry Met Sally

By Magellan

About the Film

Year: 1989
Cast: Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan, Carrie Fisher, Bruno Kirby
Director: Rob Reiner
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%

About the Word

Definition: tac·i·turn [tas-i-turn] adj.- inclined to silence; reserved in speech; reluctant to join in conversation.

The Review

As the amateur cinephilic poseur that I am, professing a love for simple, unassuming romantic comedies is frowned upon. That sort of banal, chick-flicky drivel is for girlfriends and moms who’ve never heard of Kubrick and who think Tarantino is just a bit too sweary. At least, that’s what we tell ourselves to feel superior. And hey, we’re not all wrong, some of the rom-coms out there really are tripe. But, a lot of the movies out there really are tripe. It’s all about finding the one movie in the pack that’s worth its salt, the one movie that’s doing the same thing as all the others, but doing it in a completely novel way. It’s all about finding the When Harry Met Sally… of the bunch.

“But wait a second,” you say. “Isn’t it a bit safe to use one of the most acclaimed romantic comedies of all time to make some backwards argument about genre?” Well, yeah, but that’s the point. There’s a reason that this movie is so well-respected. Ostensibly, it’s just another “boy meets girl,” let’s-throw-two-attractive-movie-stars-at-each-other joint. Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) steadily build a friendship, but the audience knows the whole time that they are meant to be together. There’s about an hour of jokes and fun, a sudden conflict in the third act, and then a cheerful resolution, complete with a heart-warming declaration of love. What sets this movie apart is its ability to move beyond the tropes and the predictability by telling the romantic comedy story in a way that other movies hadn’t thought to. And that’s where the word “taciturn” comes in. When Harry Met Sally… is so distinctive because it’s taciturn. It’s quiet. It’s reserved. It’s cozy.

So what do I mean by that, quiet? I mean, isn’t this the movie with the scene where Meg Ryan fakes a thunderous orgasm in the middle of a crowded restaurant? That it is, but that scene is a perfect representation of the tone of this film. It begins as a quiet talk between friends about the nature of men and women, leading Meg Ryan to make her theatrical point that women can and often do fake orgasm. The entire restaurant goes silent, and when she’s finished the silence hangs for a moment, before a woman leans to the waiter and whispers “I’ll have what she’s having.” Sure, that reads like some corny Hollywood rom-com moment, but it’s not played to be sexual at all. It’s detached, and more a subtle commentary on those kinds of overtly jokey scenes than anything else. That’s especially true given that this movie doesn’t have any other moments like that. Most run-of-the-mill romantic comedies will have a few goofy slapstick sequences or embarrassing situations to get the audience laughing, and then it will roll into the neatly tied-up ending. But nobody accidently sees someone else naked inWhen Harry Met Sally… Nobody has a hilarious, racist grandmother. There aren’t any of those broad comedy setpieces. Instead, this movie stands on the chemistry between Crystal (who is playing a much more cynical, reserved character than he usually plays) and Ryan, and the simple question of whether or not men and women really can be friends.

The movie doesn’t need any more conflict than that. That question lies under the surface of the whole film, creating a quiet tension not only in the film, but in the audience. We want these characters to wake up and see that they’re great together, but we don’t want to admit to ourselves that “Men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.” And then it does. Harry and Sally have sex, and as an audience we’re both relieved and crushed. We fully understand the quiet, wide-eyed look that Harry has as he lies, post-coital, next to his former best friend. When the shot pans out and we see that he has one leg out of the bed, we understand the battle raging silently in his mind. By this point in the film, we understand how Harry thinks: he’s cynical, he’s fatalistic. He reads the last page of every book when he starts it, just in case he dies before he can finish it. He never brings girls to the airport at the beginning of a relationship because, as he puts it “I don’t want anyone to say ‘how come you never take me to the airport anymore?’” He thinks too much to be open about the way he feels.

And that’s this movie in a nutshell: it thinks too much to be open about the way it feels. It occupies itself with the question of whether or not men and women can be friends, so that it can avoid what other rom-coms embrace so over-zealously: slamming two compatible people together romantically. Instead, this movie chooses to quietly linger. When Harry and Sally call each other and we get a split-screen shot of them both watching Casablanca, Harry’s half of the screen stays there a full minute after Sally hangs up, turns off the light, and goes to sleep. When they are at the first New Year’s party in the film, they flee the celebrating crowd and quietly kiss on the balcony, staring at each before going back inside. The whole movie is taciturn like that. The soundtrack is a selection of smooth lounge numbers and romantic blues. The movie’s color palate ranges from beige to brown.

The only time this movie chooses to get loud is that climactic end sequence, when Harry runs to the film’s second New Year’s party to confess his love. This time, rather than dragging Sally outside where it’s quiet, he loudly declares what he loves about her in the middle of the cheering crowd. This is what’s beautiful about this movie. In most romantic comedies, this sort of end sequence is either the quietest moment, or just another loud moment in a series of loud moments. In When Harry Met Sally… the rest of the film is quiet pensiveness and reflection. It’s old couples sitting on the couch and telling the camera how they met. It’s Billy Crystal doing funny voices in an empty museum. It’s the five-mile look in Harry’s eyes as Sally lies blissfully against his chest. The speech is the loudest moment, and it makes for one hell of a payoff. It doen’t even last that long either, since almost immediately after they kiss, Harry goes into a rant about how meaningless the song “Auld Lang Syne” is.

And that title, that really says it all. Harry meets Sally within the first five minutes. They part ways, thinking they’ll never see each other again, within the next ten. The rest of the film lives in the ellipses, in the spaces between dots on a page, in a quiet sigh and a far-off stare. When Harry Met Sally… is taciturn.

Here’s that explosive ending: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCqiHZdDnZI

And here’s that equally explosive lunch scene: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-bsf2x-aeE

This scene will give you a sense for the tightness of the script and the direction (sorry for the awful quality): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1TZFsyg-bfY

And the fact that the movie can be given a horror trailer like this should tell you something: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMWpxTK7q2s

 

Silver Screen, Silver Tongue: White Chicks is Surreptitious

By Allen

About the Film

Year: 2004
Cast: Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans, Busy Philipps
Director: Keenen Ivory Wayans
Rotten Tomatoes: 15%

About the Word

Definition: sur-rep-tish-us [sur-uhp-tishuhs] adj.- obtained, done, made, etc., by stealth; secret or unauthorized;clandestinea surreptitious glance.

The Review

What defines a bad film? Is it poor directing, a cheesy script, unlikeable protagonists, or just this ineffable feeling that the director’s vision was compromised in some way? In the early 2000s, plenty of films were coming out that straddled the line between “so bad it’s good” and just bad. In 2004, the Wayans family decided to throw their hat into the ring with White Chicks, a film about two FBI agents who pose as privileged white heiresses to learn about the questionably legal dealings of their millionaire father and a supposed kidnapping plot. However, it loses sight of this premise very early on, and evolves into a gross amalgamation of dated pop culture references, casual racism and sexism, and, unbeknownst to most of its viewers, a fairly dark depiction of how accepting society has become of these things.

The film’s opening scene exemplifies how desperately it tries to force laughter out of the viewer. The two agents, played by brothers Shawn and Marlon Wayans, are undercover as Dominican convenience store owners who attempt to foil a drug smuggling front disguised as an ice cream delivery service. They try to sell their characters to the supposed smugglers by being the most racist Dominican stereotypes I’ve ever seen. Dancing, fake Spanish, prominent facial hair, and even a maraca solo are all standard fare for these bumbling idiots. It’s a scene that appeals to the lowest common denominator of people, who also find the film’s toilet humor and whacky drug humor uproariously funny. After the agents are reassigned to protect the rich Wilson sisters and disguise themselves as the girls, the film begins in earnest. From then on, the plot is unceremoniously left behind for about an hour of awkward romances, horrible caricatures of upper-class society, and humor that feels like it’s trying to mask some dark undertones with a thin bandage.

My problem with White Chicks isn’t that it’s a stupid film or that its female characters are all either exploited damsels or blatant sex objects; rather, it’s that I couldn’t have fun watching it. By making the real Wilson sisters seem utterly clueless to their predicament and portraying their friends as sad bimbos (played surprisingly well by character actors from all over the last two decades of TV), White Chicks feels like it’s trying to make a point about the foolishness of its subjects while also making them seem like innocent people who the media make out to be awful people. It never knows if it wants to be edgy, idiotic, or comedic for the sake of parody. But upon a recent viewing, I noticed another strange aspect of the film.

Around the halfway point, when the film is starting to run out of jokes to make about rich white people, we finally return to the real Wilson sisters as they find out that there are other people posing as them in public. The two girls face the camera, ear to ear, and shout to the viewer, “We’ve been cloned!” It always seemed like a strange scene to me, like something out of Home Alone or some other kid’s film from the 90s. At that point, I had the idea in my head that maybe this film is a little sneakier than we all thought. Maybe it isn’t just trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator and cash in at the box office.

My opinion was confirmed in the hastily-done climax of the film. At a fashion show in the Hamptons, the Wilsons and the agents walk the catwalk in expensive dresses for millions to see. Their rivals, the Vandergelds (who exist only to provide conflict while the kidnapping plot is ignored) attempt to sabotage the show by pouring red paint on the girls. “Hilarity” ensues, and then the Vandergeld’s father (coincidentally played by John Heard, the dad from Home Alone) pulls out a pistol and attempts to kill the FBI agents. As if it couldn’t go any further off the rails, at the last moment, Mr. Vandergeld is joined in this murder attempt by Heath, who is one of his daughter’s boyfriends. At no point does the film address the fact that these two men were able to bring LOADED HANDGUNS into a crowded fashion show, and the film brushes it all under the rug by having them both arrested and/or killed. It’s a chaotic mess of a scene, and it all ends with everyone being happy friends again.

There’s plenty of merit in watching awful films. The communal experience of watching something so shoddily-done with a few friends and talking over the awful dialogue or laughing at the horrendous CG is more entertaining to me than watching the latest AAA blockbuster in a theater. But there’s a difference between finding the joy in bad things and finding the awfulness in awful things. And that’s what White Chicks is; an awful movie with very little fun and a whole lot of crude humor.

I don’t hate White Chicks. It’s a film that knows its audience and plays to their likes masterfully. I didn’t even get to delve into Terry Crews’ put-upon playboy character or the scene where the agents disguised as the Wilsons teach their friends how to fondle a dildo. I could never look past it as more than a dumb comedy, but the way that it masks its cynical, angry undertones is as spottily-done and as inexplicably accepted as the horrendous masks that our intrepid FBI agent protagonists wear to fool the entire film’s cast and audience into believing that they are something that they’re not. Surreptitious, if I do say so myself. But what do you think, dear reader? What differentiates a bad bad film from a “so bad it’s good” film? My personal favorite of the second category is Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift.

I’ve skipped the first 19 seconds of this video so that you all can bear witness to the scene that changed my mind about White Chicks without suffering through the Wilson sisters and their awful Valley girl accents: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=9vVahADAzsI&t=19

Terry Crews is the shining beacon of quality in this film, and this scene where he rocks out in a nightclub after accidentally taking ecstasy is still pretty great: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FWstyHN4Iy4

Silver Screen, Silver Tongue: Annie Hall is Solicitous

Annie HallBy Magellan

About the Film

Year: 1977
Cast: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts
Director: Woody Allen
Rotten Tomatoes: 98%

About the Word

Definition: so·lic·i·tous  [suh-lis-i-tuhs] adj.-anxious or concerned; anxiously desirous: solicitous of the esteem of others.

The Review

Is there really anything left to be said about Annie Hall? We all know that it was the film which marked Woody Allen’s transformation from simple humorist to conscious filmmaker, and it is still widely considered his greatest work (perhaps rivaled in some minds by Manhattan or Midnight in Paris). Lovers of the film hail it as one of the greatest films of all time, while those who dislike it may attack its neurosis or just the general Woody-Allen-ness of it all. So, you’d think that, by now, everybody has made up their minds regarding this simple movie about comic Alvy Singer (Allen)’s love for the ditsy yet endearing Annie Hall (Keaton). Why, then, am I even bothering to write about such a well-established film? After all, it’s not like I’m going to tear into it in a way that nobody has before; I’m one of the film’s starry-eyed, devout proponents. Really, all I want to do is explain what tickles me so much about the film, and what that says about the consumption of film in a broader context.

I, like so many people, am enchanted by the subtle charm of this movie. Right off the bat, Allen introduces the nihilistic, yet oddly light-hearted, humor that pervades the work. Alvy Singer begins by talking directly to the camera about two of his favorite jokes, jokes that have informed his view on life. I’ll put a link down below so you can hear the jokes in his voice, but essentially they reveal two things: one, that life is cruel but we still want more of it; and two, that every sense of belonging brings with it a sense of unease. From the outset this film is one of nervous contradiction: it’s a love story about breaking up, it’s a fatalistic philosophy wrapped in humor. At one point in the movie, Alvy is picking books out for Annie to read, and he tells her the cornerstone of his life’s philosophy, that “Life is divided into the horrible and the miserable,” and that every day you should be lucky to feel miserable, because something much worse could be happening. It’s an odd combination, to have a movie tell you to take advantage of the time you have, while warning you that the universe is expanding and one day everything will come to an end.

So that word, solicitous. By now, and perhaps even before the beginning of this piece, you’ve agreed with the “anxious” half of that definition. After all, this is a Woody Allen film, “anxious” is his middle name. But, it’s the underlying connotation of the word, that someone who is “solicitous” is not just blindly nervous, but rather nervous and eager, that makes it the perfect fit for this film. Like I said, this is a movie of contradictions. On the surface, it’s a man trying to piece through a crushing break-up and whining about it in his New York, educated, liberal way. But it isn’t just about whining; it’s about finding something to be hopeful about. At the end of the film, Alvy writes a play about his experiences with Annie, which ends on a much brighter note than their actual relationship up to that point. The character is taking everything that he knows is hopeless about the situation and trying to create something positive and meaningful. And that’s what this film is so eager to do: to find the one scrap of truth in a mound of cynicism. It weighs itself down with allusions and references to the past, but, at the same time, tries to shed them. As Alvy says to his friend before a game of tennis, “Everything our parents said was good for us is bad: sun, milk, red meat, college.” How do you find what’s good for you, when there’s so many ways you can be hurt?

This morning I went with the other two writers on this site, Allen and James, to go see a showing of Before Midnight, the third in Richard Linklater’s series of movies about two characters just talking to each other for an hour and a half. It was a fantastic film. The whole series is breathtakingly beautiful in its simplicity and its honesty, and deserves a whole article in its own right. I thought one part bore relevance to this article, though, so if you’ll indulge me for a moment I’d like to talk about it. In one scene, Ethan Hawke’s character is talking to a couple other people about a book he’s working on, in which each chapter is told from the perspective of a different person with a different mental condition of some kind that drastically affects the way they perceive the world. One of the other characters in the movie asks him how this story isn’t just a re-hash of the theme of time, which he has used already in his books. Ethan Hawke’s character responds that it’s less about time, and more about perception. And that’s what good filmmaking is. It’s less about time, and more about perception. A film that fully immerses you in the thoughts and voice of another person is a transformative experience.

Annie Hall is that kind of movie. It’s a movie that leads you to the edge of a murky, frightening swamp and dives in. It trudges around in the shoulder-deep mud and muck and, after a few minutes, pulls out a gleaming coin and raises it high above its head, shouting “Look, I found a piece of truth. Please, please look.” It stands there, panting nervously, smiling a hopeful, eager smile. It drips mud from its eyelashes every time it blinks and pants, “Please, please look.” Annie Hall is solicitous.

Opening Monologue and Introduction: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0WtBImIxvjA

The Horrible and the Miserable: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DE3OYSVpycY

Ending Monologue: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-M3Q2zhGd4