Though my weekend was cut short by the Super Bowl and a monster truck rally with my nephew (giant trucks running over things!!!), several films managed to find their way onto my screen. Included in this weekend’s viewing: a cult classic, one that may become a cult classic, an animated version of a wildly popular story, Spanish horror, and Spike Lee. This is the movie weekend that was.
First, I’d like to acknowledge and pay respects to Philip Seymour Hoffman. Sunday, news broke that Hoffman passed away. I’m not one for empty platitudes when stuff like this happens but Hoffman’s death feels different. That’s because Hoffman was legitimately one of the best actors of his generation. Hoffman proved his acting chops every single time he was on screen, whether he was playing a creepy cult leader in The Master, grizzled veteran manager Art Howe in Moneyball, a priest with ambiguous baggage in Doubt, his award-winning performance in Capote, the sexually confused Scotty in Boogie Nights, the smarmy assistant, Brandt, in The Big Lebowski, and countless other roles. I can’t think of a single time that I saw Philip Seymour Hoffman on a screen and I didn’t think, “Wow, what a great actor.” And so this news saddens me. RIP, Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Repo Man (1984)
It’s been some time since I’ve seen a film as delightfully jacked up as Repo Man. It’s a film about a teen who throws away his punk rock lifestyle to become a repo man, just as his entire native city of LA is on high alert for a ’64 Chevy Malibu with a trunk full of radioactive alien corpses. It’s like watching an X-Files episode spoofing Reagan’s America, directed by Iggy Pop. I have to admit that I’m a total sucker for any satire and criticism involving Reagan and the Reagan era, and Repo Man hits it out of the park with its sometimes subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle digs at what the era represented. Most impressively, it was made when all of it was still going on. It didn’t have the benefit of hindsight and I think that’s why I enjoyed it as much as I did. That, and the fact that the entire thing revolves around punk rock and aliens.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Windy City Heat (2003)
A made-for-TV movie for Comedy Central, Windy City Heat revolves around one of the best practical jokes you’ll ever see. Comedians Don Barris and Tony Barbieri convinced their friend Perry Caravello that he should audition for a movie called Windy City Heat. Caravello auditions for the director (Bobcat Goldthwait playing Bobcat Goldthwait, only speaking through a megaphone in the whole film) and casting director (Dane Cook playing a character named Roman Polanski) and gets the role ahead of Carson Daly, who plays himself in the film. The truth is that there is no film called Windy City Heat, and the only person who doesn’t know it is Caravello. The remainder of the film is the making of a fake film, which only Caravello actually takes seriously. While it sounds like an extremely malevolent prank, Caravello’s own behavior makes it hard to feel sorry for him, restoring order to the fun of the film. The fake film revolves around a clichéd Chicago detective in a pseudo-noir, trying to capture the culprit behind a series of sports-related heists. Items gone missing include William “the Refrigerator” Perry’s actual refrigerator and Ernie Banks’ pants. Don’t dismiss it because it’s a TV movie, because the concept is inspired and there are some truly hilarious moments. In fact, the footage of the film that they made alone is worth the price of admission. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to find out that this film has a cult following.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
The Lord of the Rings (1978)
I’ve always heard that Ralph Bakshi’s animated version of Tolkein was quite good, and I wasn’t disappointed. The blend of live action with animation works in a very unique way, particularly in how it gives an extra level of terror to orcs and wraiths and such. Without the benefit of the 10 hours that Peter Jackson had (and many more if you count the extended versions), obviously much of the film couldn’t be fleshed out. But it still seems a really great way to introduce a child to the Tolkein universe. Somewhere, there’s a 1980 sequel that wraps everything up- The Return of the King (1980)- but Netflix doesn’t have it. I will be tracking it down.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Here Comes the Devil (2013)
Spanish horror film Here Comes the Devil tells the tale of two children who get lost on a mysterious hill, and return just a little bit different. That storyline has been done several times, though I’ll give Here Comes the Devil credit for doing it differently than most. And it also succeeds with tone and atmosphere. The problem here is that the story is clunky and it jumps all over the map. It robs the film of its effectiveness. While you could do worse than Here Comes the Devil, it’s not a horror film I’d recommend as any sort of must-see.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Jungle Fever (1991)
It’s odd to watch a movie like this 22 years after its release. That’s primarily because the message, about the complex mix of race relations and gender stereotypes in the world of sexuality, has changed so much in such a short period of time. Or in the very least, social consciousness has shifted so far away from it. We live in a very different world from the one where Spike Lee created Jungle Fever. That’s not to say that the message wouldn’t have been powerful at the time. It’s simply that it’s odd to even think about now, like some sociological relic. More importantly, I miss this Spike Lee. I miss the young filmmaker skillfully busting out top-shelf films like Malcolm X, Do the Right Thing, even Clockers, and yes- Jungle Fever. Somewhere down the line, that guy devolved as a filmmaker.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars