Last week I was away, and woke up every morning thinking that there was a real possibility I’d see or do or experience something that I’d never experienced before and might be cool and interesting and make me happy.
I think I feel that way about three times a year in real life.
It’s hard to say what to make of this movie.Â When it’s on…it’s on.Â Like when the cast of superheroes bickers over the pronunciation of a word, or when you catch little bits of funny throwaway dialogue, or when you realize that yes, that really is Tom Waits playing the mad scientist and Eddie Izzard playing the disco-loving evil henchman.Â There’s greatness in this movie, which I enjoyed with a TV installed in a corner tv mount to have way more comfort in my room.
And yet, it should be higher.Â The whole comes up a little less that the sum of the parts.
If you haven’t seen it, Mystery Men (based on a comic book which I have never read) is the tale of a group of cut-rate second-class superheroes in a semi-futuristic city.Â When the real superhero, Captain Amazing (Greg Kinnear), is captured by the supervillain Casanova Frankenstein (Geoffrey Rush), the schlubs have to rise to the occasion and save the day.
It’s hard not to love the underdogs.Â They start out as a trio: William H. Macy as the Shoveler, Hank Azaria as the Blue Raja, whose talent, naturally, is throwing spoons and forks (not knives!) with some accuracy, and Ben Stiller as Mr. Furious, whose superpower is that he gets really, really mad.Â But all is not sunshine in the crime-fighting business:
(Sorry; that clip cuts out right before the Blue Raja complains, “When you split the bill three ways, the steak eater picks the pocket of the salad man!”, my most quotable quote from the film, but what are you gonna do.)
When Captain Amazing goes missing, the team has to expand, so they recruit, coming up with a lot of duds and a few gems, including Janeane Garofalo, who delivers one of my favorite scenes:
If I have any complaints (and clearly I do, because we’re only on #98), the movie feels about 20 minutes too long. The Paul Reubens character is pretty gross and unnecessary, and the whole romance between Mr. Furious and the diner waitress (Claire Forlani, as seen above) seems a little tacked on and meant only to flesh out Stiller’s character in a much less funny way than they do for Azaria and Macy. The scene where the Blue Raja finally comes out of the superhero closet to his mother is particularly good.
Little touches like that one add up, so I’ll still always love this, but like I said…yeah, they add up to less than a great movie. But I don’t really mind.
The Internet has failed.Â I can’t find a clip of two of my favorite lines from this movie: “I have seen some bad drivers in my time, but you, miss…you will be awarded a cake,” and the immortal “Wouldn’t…you…like…to be…a Pepper too.”Â Oh well.Â More on Ben in a bit.
If you haven’t seen it, Short Circuit is the tale of a robot designed to be the ultimate battlefield killing machine.Â It gets hit by lightning, winds up in the care of an Oregon hippie chick, then has to convince her and his creators that the lightning strike gave him life and a childlike outlook on same.Â That’s really it.Â There is, of course, the poignant moment when he (he goes by Johnny 5 once he’s sentient) learns about mortality; they should have sent a poet, but they sent Ally Sheedy:
By nobody’s standards, even mine, is this a great movie.Â I saw it when I was 12, which is really the perfect age to have seen it, what with the crude humor, the fun action sequences, and the tantalizingly short Ally Sheedy bathtub scene.Â Steve Guttenberg is nominally the star, but Johnny 5 steals the show, and Sheedy and Austin Pendleton (as the harried military scientist) do their jobs just fine.Â Which brings us to Ben, played by Fisher Stevens in what would be a horribly stereotyped and quite offensive South Asian accent if it wasn’t…well, there’s no getting around it; it is.Â I guess credit to Stevens for trying to walk the tightrope.Â Judge for yourself (watch out, the video has pointless sound effects at the beginning and end):
Let’s just chalk that up to the Reagan era, OK?Â There’s talk every few years that they’re going to reboot this movie (and then I have to lie down for an hour because the whole “reboot” thing HAS TO STOP NOW), but so far, no dice.Â Which is fine.Â All they would do anyway is make the robot more sinister-looking, throw some affable yutz into the Newton Crosby role (probably without even the backing of the Stonecutters), and make Ben either more or less offensive, neither of which would be true to the spirit of the original.Â And I bet they wouldn’t even reboot this fiasco:
Seriously, if you can tell me what the hell is going on in that video, I’ll give you a cupcake. And even in that sea of insanity, the most perplexing things about it are (a) Steve Guttenberg was somehow too busy to appear in the video and sent a cardboard cutout in his stead, and (b) somebody at one point made a cardboard cutout of Steve Guttenberg. (Don’t bother. I already checked.)
Hint as to what #98 might be: Ben Stiller’s second appearance on the list(!).
Congratulations, America. You decided you hated the Patriots so much that you rooted for the New York team. There’s no washing that stench off of you. Enjoy waking up with yourself this morning. You must feel a little like a Hungarian who cheered for the Soviet tanks as they rolled in because they had a problem with the local cops.
OK, there are two things going on with this post.Â First, I owe BunkoSquad.com a good raison d’etre for its comeback from the mothballs.Â Second, I realize that when people talk about this site and what once what and what could have been, it comes back a lot to the AFI 100 Movies countdown.
If you’re just joining us, back when this site had more content, I rashly agreed with myself on a project to watch and review the entire list of the 20th Century’s greatest movies.Â The project slowly but completely turned into an albatross around my neck, as I tried to top each review with a better one, fell repeatedly into a spiral of procrastination and despair, and puttered out about 83% of the way through.Â (Those reviews, for the record, are still somewhere on a hard drive, and can probably be dug out with the proper motivation.)
For the comeback, I’m going to put a different spin on it.Â A few months ago, I went through my DVD collection and a mental image of what my DVD collection would look like if I had a $10,000 Newbury Comics gift card, and made up my own Top 100 list.Â It’s subjective, it’s probably incomplete, and there are some things on it that will have a little something for everyone to think a little less of me.Â I’m not going to do full reviews – just a clip or two, a little background, and a couple of comments.Â So…let’s get started?
100. The Royal Tenenbaums
Is this really my 100th favorite movie ever?Â Well, maybe.Â It’s on the list as a nod to the friends of mine who never give up and never say never when it comes to making me try out new things.Â I watched this not long after it came out and was underwhelmed.Â I’ve learned as I’ve aged that, despite my best intentions, I watch movies largely for the plot.Â A movie that’s thin on plot, but rich with dialogue, character study, and attention to detail, sometimes – well – underwhelms me (anyone who dragged me to give The Big Lebowski (SPOILER ALERT: That’s coming up later in the countdown) another chance can sympathize).Â But when I watched it again about a year ago, after finally succumbing to the horrified gasps of friends who I told I didn’t love it…I kind of loved it.
If you haven’t seen it, it’s Wes Anderson’s 2001 movie about a family of precocious urbane New Yorkers, and the patriarch of the family (Gene Hackman), a longtime cad and bounder who’s long been chucked out of the house.Â He comes back, telling everyone he’s dying, and the family – whose lives have taken many twists and turns – reunites to settle old scores and dredge up as many feelings as a bunch of jaded geniuses can muster.Â I’ve read a couple of comparisons of the Tenenbaum family to the Bluth Family, and it’s not far off.Â The strength in this movie comes from its cast; Hackman is great as the estranged SOB, but smaller roles from Anjelica Huston, Danny Glover, Bill Murray and Kumar Pallana really take it to another level.Â Even if the actors playing the Tenenbaum children – Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow and Owen and Luke Wilson (Owen playing Eli Cash, the Tom Hagen of the family) – are actors that I blow hot and cold with – they do just fine here.
What makes me love a movie?Â In general, its rewatchability, its quotability, its memorable scenes. The jury’s still out how long this is going to hold up over time with me, but I’m definitely going to watch it again. I feel like this is one of those ones I’ll enjoy more each time I see it. Which probably means I’ll have to give the other Wes Anderson movies I’ve been underwhelmed by another chance, too. (I guess that means you, Life Aquatic.) And memorable montages help, too:
Bonus points for the movie for being inspired in part by one of my favorite kid’s books ever. And also for making Royal an almost uniform shade of beige in nearly every scene he’s in. And just for the heck of it, one more Pagoda scene:
Hint as to What #99 Might be: It’s my second favorite movie set in Astoria, Oregon.
You forget that they fall somewhere between “serial killers” and “those annoying earnest little twerps trying to stop pedestrians so they can raise money for what I’d consider mostly good causes if they weren’t hiring these twerps” on the scale of people who the world would be better off without.
Update: Look what arrived on this very post two hours later:Â “I frankly knew about many of this, but in spite of this, I still considered it had been helpful. Very good job!”Â From an IP in Germany! With a link to some stupid site that I’m not going to!
Since my plan to sample every cheese in Monty Python’s Cheese Shop sketch (in order, duh) has been foiled by the seeming unavailability of Red Leicester on this side of the ocean, I had to improvise at the grocery store this morning. The Welsh Red Dragon looked like a pretty good substitute – a sort of crumbly cheddar with ale and mustard seeds. (The cheese is called Y Fenni in general, but when it’s made in a red wax shell, it’s called Red Dragon in honor of the Welsh Flag.) The first bite is a little weird – I don’t recall every having eaten mustard seeds directly before – but it really makes a nice little spicy flavor and a delicious aftertaste. It’s rare that I meet the cheese I don’t like, but I liked this one a lot.
A bunch of third-graders write up a trip to Pizzeria Regina in the North End*. Not one of them feels the need to preface their remarks by telling us they used to live in New York, so they know what they’re talking about.
*Too bad they didn’t take the kids to Bova’s. That place is awesome.