November 3rd, 2009

FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION (2006) ***

Movie stars on the set of their latest film start to hear rumblings of possible Oscar nominations.  They all deal with the news in a variety of different ways.  Eventually, none of them get nominated but they enjoyed the buzz while it lasted.

 

I’m a big fan of director Christopher Guest’s work so I was looking forward to this flick.  With For Your Consideration, Guest eschews his usual mockumentary style and gives us a straightforward comedy.  Surprisingly enough, I missed his shaky-cam aesthetic.  Out of his quartet of comedies (which include Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, and A Mighty Wind); I think this is the weakest of the lot.  It’s still pretty funny though.

 

The film really cooks when it’s sending up the pressures of the Hollywood system.  The scenes that work the best revolve around the faux Entertainment Tonight TV show and the studio “suit” (Ricky Gervais) who undermines the director’s vision in order to sell more tickets.  A lot of the on-the-set stuff doesn’t really work, which is a shame because that’s what makes up the bulk of the movie.

 

For Your Consideration is lightweight material to be sure; but the dynamite cast really delivers.  John Michael Higgins gets some big laughs as the clueless publicity man (“The internet?  Is that the one with e-mail?”); as does Eugene Levy as the idiotic agent.  Hands down the funniest performance comes from Fred Willard, who plays an entertainment show host.  Willard also gets the best line in the entire film when he says, “You know what they say about blind prostitutes… you really have to hand it to them!”

PROM NIGHT (1980) ** ½

A bunch of children play a demented game of Hide and Seek called “Killer”.  When all their horseplay leads to a little girl falling out of a second story window to her death, the kids responsible make a pact with each other not to tell anyone about the incident.  Six years later, the kids are all now in high school and getting ready for the prom when a crazy person starts making obscene phone calls to the group.  During the “Disco Madness” prom, a killer wearing a black ski mask stalks the hallways of the school picking off the teens one by one.

 

Prom Night is one weird fucking movie.  It’s the only film in history that tried to capitalize on Halloween and Saturday Night Fever at the same time.  Now I say “capitalize” not rip-off because the plot is actually closer to Black Christmas (the killer makes phone calls, something Michael Myers was incapable of doing).  The filmmakers were capitalizing on Halloween by having that film’s star, Jamie Lee Curtis play the lead Scream Queen.  Prom Night also tried to cash-in on the Saturday Night Fever market by having wall-to-wall disco dancing.  Unfortunately, by the time Prom Night came out, disco was dead.  The filmmakers made an honest mistake, but you can’t really blame them because this flick was made in Canada, a country that has traditionally been a little slow when it comes to the latest trends. 

 

Prom Night is not a great slasher movie but it has moments of greatness.  It’s one of those movies that you still kinda don’t mind warts and all because what it gets right, it gets very right.  The opening scene where all the kids scare the chick out of the window is genuinely unnerving and is full of chills.  The final Stalk and Slash is competently done and culminates in the bravura scene where somebody’s head gets chopped off and it goes rolling a good twenty feet.

 

In the thespian department, Jamie Lee does another fine job although the screenwriters don’t find anything really significant for her to do.  (She also starred in the much better Terror Train later in the year.)  Then there’s Leslie Nielsen as the principal.  Just the fact that he is in this movie and not playing a bumbling buffoon is funny all by itself.  (This was the same year as Airplane, so Leslie hadn’t fully made that transition to comedian yet.)

 

The first and last half hour or so of Prom Night is pretty tight.  That only leaves the mercilessly shitty mid-section.  I don’t know how director Paul (Humongous) Lynch crammed so many inane red herrings into one small timeframe, but he did.  Not to mention the fact that it takes an entire HOUR for the killer to hack anyone up.  You also have to contend with the gratuitous scenes of disco dancing, which is scarier than anything else in the movie.  (Get a load of the fake version of “I Will Survive”.)  

 

Prom Night was followed by three unrelated sequels (except for the fact that they took place at “Hamilton High") that for my money are all better than this one.  There was also a 2008 remake that you shouldn’t concern yourself with.  Lynch later made the immortal Die Hard at a Beauty Pageant movie, No Contest.

FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940) ** ½

A newspaper editor grows tired of the increasingly boring news stories coming out of Europe.  To liven things up, he sends a reporter who doesn’t know Jack Shit about foreign diplomacy named Jones (Joel McCrea) over to Europe to get a fresh take on things.  While in Holland, Jones uncovers a nest of spies in an abandoned windmill.  No one believes him naturally but the spies (who are trying to start up another World War) learn of Jones’ meddling and try to kill him.  He also ends up falling in love with the daughter of the villain, which predictably complicates the situation.

 

Foreign Correspondent is a mixed bag.  Although much of the movie is dull and bland, there were several things that I quite enjoyed about the film.  I liked the early scenes of the brash McCrea hobnobbing and schmoozing with a bunch of stuffy European types.  The scene where he flirts with a hot dignitary chick while she’s giving a speech is pretty funny too.  The majority of the film is just too stilted and bloated to be truly effective.  The running time clocks in at an even two hours and the flick would’ve been a lot better off if director Alfred Hitchcock had been more judicious about the pacing.

 

Although the film goes on for far too long and kinda fizzles out towards the end, Foreign Correspondent is still worth a look if you’re a die hard Hitchcock fan.  The Master gives us a few impressive scenes that showcase his trademark knack of combining murder and humor.  The highlight comes when a cold-blooded crooked cop played by Edmund Gwenn (Kris Kringle from Miracle on 34th Street!) tries in vain to push McCrea off a tall building.  This scene is a good example of one of Hitchock’s major themes:  Killing someone is a lot harder than it looks.  There’s also a pretty graphic (for the time) shot to the face in there too.

 

Hitch’s next was Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

 

Suggested Drinking Game:  Take a shot every time someone says “Foreign Correspondent”. 

ICE STATION ZEBRA (1968) **

A Russian spy satellite goes down in the Artic and submarine captain Rock Hudson gets the job of intercepting it before the Commies do.  He hops in his sub with British spy Patrick McGoohan and they high-tail it north to retrieve that sumbitch.  However there is a traitor in their midst who makes their mission even more difficult.

 

Director John Sturges is used to these all-star Men on a Mission movies having previously helmed The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape.  Like those films, Ice Station Zebra features a great ensemble cast; featuring everyone from Jim Brown to Ernest Borgnine.  It’s just a shame that it isn’t in the same league as those two classics.

 

I didn’t care very much for Ice Station Zebra but I must admit straightaway that submarine movies just aren’t my forte.  Because a big chunk of the movie takes place in a sub, that means there are lots of scenes where guys stare at blips on a radar screen and holler out things like “80 feet!” and “Thin ice!” over and over again.  I hate shit like that.  Sturges does get a lot of mileage out of the claustrophobic submarine setting and uses a lot of tilted camera angles to convey an adequate sense of motion-sickness though.

 

Ultimately, the thing that sinks Ice Station Zebra is that it’s too long for it’s own good.  The flick lumbers on for almost two and a half hours and it’s a pretty long slog.  It certainly doesn’t help when most of the action is weighted towards the end of the film either.

 

The performances almost (but not quite) save the flick.  McGoohan looks to be having fun as the wily James Bond-ian secret agent and Borgnine gets a few laughs playing a rascally Russian who talks like Boris Badenov.  It’s Hudson though who gives the best performance of the flick.  Rock also gets the funniest line of the movie when he says, “We operate on a first name basis here.  My first name is Captain!”

SWEET JESUS, PREACHERMAN (1973) ** ½

After an opening sequence showing the bloodthirsty hitman Holmes (Roger E. Mosley from Magnum P.I.) killing people in a variety of ways (pushing their car into a speeding Semi, electrified gate, burning them to a crisp, etc.), the plot begins.  Holmes gets sent by his kingpin boss (the always great William Smith) to pose as a preacher in a poor black community to snuff out the competition.  He also puts a greasy Senator (Michael Pataki) in the pocket of the Mob after convincing his flock to vote for him.  When the phony baloney preacher gets a bit too big for his britches though, the Mob comes after Holmes.

 

I got a kick out of the initial premise of a tough guy assassin pretending to be a saintly preacher.  I mean here is a man of the cloth who grabs his secretary’s ass and holds a staple gun up to someone’s eye when they call him a “jig”.  This premise could’ve been awesome.  Alas, the filmmakers felt a need to put a message at the end of the movie.  They also threw in one too many subplots (like the cops who kill a young boy and cover it up) that get in the way of the fun. 

 

A few bar fights and shootouts aside, Sweet Jesus, Preacherman was considerably low on action.  That means you more or less have to enjoy the acting.  Luckily, everyone brings their A-Game to the table.  Mosley does a good job playing both sides of his character and carries the film with style and charisma.  I also dug seeing Marla Gibbs from The Jeffersons in a serious role too.  For me, the movie really belonged to Smith and Pataki.  They play sleazy white guys like it’s nobody’s business.  The duo was also in the minor classic Grave of the Vampire the next year.