A Movie A Day #210: Who’s Harry Crumb? (1989, directed by Pat Flaherty)


Who’s Harry Crumb?

He is a private detective, the latest in a long line of gumshoes.  While Harry’s father and his grandfather may have been great detectives, Harry is about as incompetent as can be.  He is a self-styled master of disguise but not much else.  He is employed at Crumb & Crumb Detective Agency, solely because of his family background.  When the head of the agency, Eliot Draisen (Jeffrey Jones), engineers the kidnapping of a millionaire’s daughter, he gives the case to Harry because he knows Harry will never be able to solve it.

Who’s Harry Crumb?

He is John Candy, the much beloved and much missed comedic actor from Canada.  As anyone who has ever seen an old episode of SCTV knows, John Candy could be one of the funniest men alive but Hollywood rarely knew what to do with him.  Other than the movies that he made with John Hughes, Candy was always stuck in either supporting roles or in bad comedies.  In Art Linson’s A Pound of Flesh, veteran film producer Linson writes that, because of Candy’s size, some Paramount executives wanted to cast him as Al Capone in The Untouchables.  That is something that I would have enjoyed seeing.  Instead, some actor named Robert De Niro got that role and Candy ended up making movies like Who’s Harry Crumb?

Who’s Harry Crumb? tries to be a mix of comedy and mystery but, due to a weak script and uncertain direction, it does not really succeed as either.  John Candy delivers a few laughs because he was a naturally funny actor but, as a character, Harry Crumb is not that interesting.  Instead, the film is stolen by Annie Potts, playing a duplicitous femme fatale.  Potts and Candy previously came close to working together in the original Ghostbusters.  (Candy pulled out of the role of Louis Tully so that he could play Tom Hanks’s brother in Splash.  He was replaced by his SCTV co-star, Rick Moranis.)  The rest of the cast seems bored and uninterested in what they are doing.  Even Jeffrey Jones, usually so reliable in smarmy bad guy roles, seems bored.

John Candy died just 5 years after the release of Who’s Harry Crumb?, leaving behind two intriguing dream projects, one a biopic of Fatty Arbuckle and another an adaptation of A Confederacy of Dunces.  Sadly, Hollywood never really figured out what to do with this talented comedian.

 

Film Review: Ghostbusters (dir by Paul Feig)


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If you need any further proof that 2016 is a screwed-up year, just consider the fact that Ghostbusters, an entertaining but ultimately rather mild-mannered and innocuous summer action/comedy, has become the center of one of the biggest controversies of the year.

It all started, of course, when the reboot was first announced.  Fanboys reacted with outrage, offended that Hollywood would even consider remaking a film that was apparently one of the defining moments of their childhood.  Then, it was announced that Ghostbusters would feature an all-female cast and it would be directed by Paul Feig, the director of Bridesmaids.  The howls of outrage grew even louder.  Then that infamous trailer was released and even I felt that trailer sucked.  I wasn not alone because the trailer quickly became one of the most disliked videos in the history of YouTube.  Reading the comments underneath that trailer was literally like finding yourself trapped in a production of Marat/Sade.

Suddenly, in the eyes of very vocal group of internet trolls, the reboot of Ghostbusters went from being simply another dubious idea to being a crime against humanity.  And the trolls were so obnoxious that they managed to turn this big-budget, studio-backed production into an underdog.  Here was a movie directed by one of Hollywood’s biggest directors and starring some of Hollywood’s hottest stars and suddenly, it had become David in a biblical showdown with the Goliaths of internet.

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And then it happened.  Earlier last week, Ghostbusters was finally screened for critics.  The first reviews started to come in and they were surprisingly positive.  In fact, they were so positive that I found myself distrusting them.  I found myself wondering if critics were reacting to the film or if they were simply trying to prove that they were better than the trolls who leave obscene comments on YouTube.

Which was true, I wondered.  Was Ghostbusters the worst film ever made or was it the greatest?  Or was it perhaps just possible that Ghostbusters would turn out to be a typical summer film?

With all the controversy, it’s tempting to overpraise a film like Ghostbusters.  Battle lines have been drawn and sometimes, I feel as if I’m being told that failing to declare Ghostbusters to be the greatest and most important comedy of all time is the equivalent of letting the trolls win.

Well, that’s not true.  Ghostbusters is not the greatest or the most important comedy of all time but you know what?  Ghostbusters is good.  Ghostbusters is entertaining.  Especially during the first half, it’s full of laugh out loud moments.  At times, Ghostbusters is everything that you could hope for.

No, it’s not a perfect film.  Paul Feig is a great comedy director but, in this film at least, his direction of the big action sequences often feels uninspired (especially when compared to his previous work on Spy).  The final fourth of the film gets bogged down in CGI and the film goes from being a clever comedy to being just another summer spectacle.  Even the one-liners, which flowed so naturally at the start of the film, feel forced during the final half of the film.  Ghostbusters is good but it never quite becomes great.

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Here’s what did work: the cast.  As he previously proved with Bridesmaids, Paul Feig is a director who is uniquely skilled at creating and showcasing a strong comedic ensemble.  Kristen Wiig plays Erin Gilbert, who is denied tenure at Columbia when it is discovered that a book she wrote on the paranormal has been republished and is being sold, on Amazon, by her former best friend, Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy).  When Erin goes to confront Abby, she not only meets Abby’s newest colleague, Dr. Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) but she also gets dragged into investigating an actual case of paranormal activity..  Soon, Erin, Abby, and Holtzmann are investigating hauntings and capturing ghosts, all with the secret approval of the Mayor of New York (Andy Garcia).  Of course, for PR reasons, the mayor’s office has to continually disavow the Ghostbusters and occasionally have them arrested.  Working alongside the three scientists are Patty (Leslie Jones), who apparently knows the history of every building in New York, and Kevin (Chris Hemsworth), their adorably stupid receptionist.

As written, both Patty and Kevin are fairly thin characters.  Kevin’s the handsome dumb guy.  Patty is streetwise and sassy.  But both Hemsworth and Jones give such enthusiastic and sincere performances that they transcend the stereotypical nature of their roles.  At times, Kevin runs the risk of becoming too cartoonish for even a Ghostbusters film.  But if you can’t laugh at Chris Hemsworth explaining that he took the lenses out of his glasses because they were always getting dirty, what can you laugh at?

Erin is an interesting character and Kristen Wiig deserves a lot of credit for her performance.  Erin is actually given a fairly affecting backstory, centering around how she was haunted by the ghost of the old woman who used to live next door to her.  Erin is a former believer, someone who, in order to succeed in the “real” world, gave up her beliefs and conformed to the expectations of society.  When she actually meets a ghost, it’s more than just a confirmation of the supernatural.  It’s a chance for Erin to finally embrace who she truly is and what she truly cares about.  When she and the other ghostbusters chase after evil spirits, Erin is not just doing a job.  Instead, she’s finally found somewhere where she belongs.  She no longer has to pretend to be someone that she isn’t.  Wiig plays the role with just the right touch of neurotic wonder.  She grounds the entire film.

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But the true star of the film is Kate McKinnon.  Whether she’s cheerfully smiling as a ghost vomits all over her colleagues or cheerfully explaining how easily their equipment could kill them all, Holtzmann is the greatest character in the film and McKinnon gives the best performance.  If Wiig grounds the film, McKinnon provides it with a truly demented soul.

The first half of the movie, which focuses on the relationships between the characters and features snappy and endlessly quotable dialogue, is wonderful and I was thrilled while watching it, convinced that the entire movie would be as good as the first hour.  However, the second half of the film gets bogged down in a rather predictable plot and the final action sequences could have just as easily been lifted from Pixels or one of The Avengers movies.  The surviving cast of the original Ghostbusters all show up in cameos that are, at best, inoffensive and, at worst, groan-worthy.  The end result is rather uneven.  If the film had maintained the momentum of that first hour, it would be a classic.  But that second half transforms it into just another entertaining but not quite memorable summer action film.

That said, Paul Feig is an excellent comedy director and let’s hope that he never gets so self-important that he ends up turning into Jay Roach.  Hopefully, if there is a sequel, Feig will return to direct it and Kate McKinnon will have an even bigger role.

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Until Dogs and Cats Live Together, Your Childhood Will Survive: Ghostbusters (1984, directed by Ivan Reitman)


Harold-Ramis-Actor-300x300I always wanted to be Egon Spengler.

I can not remember how old I was when I first saw the original Ghostbusters but I know I was young enough that “Gatekeeper” and “Keymaster” went over my head.  But I do remember that Ghostbusters was one of my favorite movies from the first time I saw it and that Egon Spengler (played by the much missed Harold Ramis) was always my favorite character.

I know that, for most people, Peter Venkmen (Bill Murray) is their favorite.  It is true that Peter got the best lines and Sigourney Weaver.  But I always wanted to be Egon.  Egon was the one who knew everything.  He knew how to track down and capture ghosts.  He knew that the only way to defeat Gozer was to cross streams.  No matter what happened, Egon was never surprised or scared.  Egon always knew what to do.  Egon did not get Sigourney Weaver but he did get Annie Potts.

Dan Aykroyd’s Ray Stantz never gets as much attention as either Peter or Egon, even though, without Aykroyd, there never would have been a Ghostbusters.  Aykroyd originally envisioned Ghostbusters as being a sci-fi epic that would be a vehicle for him and John Belushi.  After Belushi died, Aykroyd and Harold Ramis rewrote the script and scaled back the story.  Bill Murray took the role that would have been played by Belushi and the famous ghost, Slimer, was created as a tribute to their fallen friend.

As for Ernie Hudson’s Winston Zeddemore, his role was much larger in the original script.  But with each rewrite, Winston’s role got smaller and Peter’s role got larger.  Winston’s role is still important because he is the ghostbuster who stands in for the audience.  He is not a skeptic like Peter but he’s not a true believer like Ray and Egon.  Winston just wants a steady paycheck.

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I remember loving the original Ghostbusters when I was a kid but a new Ghostbusters is being released today and I have read that some people think that it is going to destroy my childhood.  Since the lovely Lisa Marie Bowman and I are planning on seeing the new Ghostbusters tonight, we rewatched the original on Wednesday.  In case my childhood was on the verge of being destroyed, I needed to enjoy it one final time.

32 years after it was first released, the original Ghostbusters holds up well.  With the exception of Slimer and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, the special effects are no longer special but the script is still full of laugh out loud moments, from the opening with Bill Murray testing students for ESP to Rick Moranis asking random New Yorkers if they were the Gatekeeper to “It’s true … this man has no dick” to “when someone ask you if you are a god, you say yes!”  Even the song is still catchy.

As I watched the original Ghostbusters, I realized that my childhood was not in danger of being destroyed.  I hope the remake is good but even if it is terrible, the original Ghostbusters will always be there and it will always be too good to be forgotten.  The original Ghostbusters was both smart and funny enough to survive  a bad sequel, which Lisa and I made the mistake of watching after we finished the original and about which we swore to never speak again.  Ghostbusters will survive a remake.  If the remake is bad, it can be placed in storage with Ghostbusters 2, The Phantom Menace, X-Men: Apocalypse, Gus Van Sant’s Psycho, Batman and Robin, and every other ill-conceived remake, reboot, and sequel of the past 50 years.  If the remake is good, it will be continuing a fine legacy of comedy.  If a new audience enjoys the remake as much as we enjoyed the original, who are any of us to begrudge them that pleasure?

Whether the remake is good or bad, I’m not worried.

My childhood is going to be fine and so is everyone else’s.

Or, at least, it will be until dogs and cats start to live together…

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Back to School #41: Pretty In Pink (dir by Howard Deutch)


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“Blane!  That’s not a name, that’s a major appliance!” — Duckie (Jon Cryer) in Pretty In Pink (1986)

(SPOILERS!)

Blane or Duckie?  Duckie or Blane?  Which one should Andi have gone to the prom with?

That’s the question at the heart of the 1986 film Pretty In Pink.  In Susannah Gora’s excellent book You Couldn’t Ignore Me If You Tried (which, incidentally, has been an important source of information for this entire Back to School series of reviews), a good deal of space and debate is devoted to whether or not Andi (played by Molly Ringwald) should have ended up going to the prom with either Duckie (Jon Cryer) or Blane (Andrew McCarthy).  What’s interesting is just how passionate the arguments on both side of the debate get.  Those in the pro-Duckie camp, like producer Lauren Shuler Donner and director Howard Deutch, frame the debate as almost being a moral one.  Those on the pro-Blane side — people like John Hughes (who wrote the film’s script) and Andrew McCarthy — make a convincing argument that the audience wanted to see Andie with Blane.

Perhaps most importantly, Molly Ringwald — who not only played Andie but upon whom the character was largely based — makes little secret of which suitor she preferred.  Molly Ringwald is pro-Blane all the way.

Myself — well, I’m going to hold off on saying which side I come down on.

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Both Blane and Duckie have their flaws and their strengths.  Blane, for instance, comes from a wealthy family and spends too much time worrying about what his loathsome friend Steff (James Spader, who gives a wonderfully evil performance that justifies why he is quoted in Gora’s book as saying, “I figure I got a lock on this whole teen asshole thing,”) thinks.  But, at the same time, Blane is obviously more sensitive than the rest of his rich friends.  There’s a soulful sincerity to McCarthy’s performance and, until he breaks Andi’s heart by giving into peer pressure, he truly is every girl’s dream boyfriend.

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And then there’s Duckie.  As played by Jon Cryer, Duckie is the type of best friend that we all hope we’re lucky enough to have.  You never have any doubt that he’ll always be there for Andie and it just takes one look at how he’s dressed to understand that Duckie doesn’t care about peer pressure.  Duckie may be an outcast but, unlike Steff and Blane, he’s confident in himself.  And whereas Blane is always wrestling with doubt, Duckie knows that he loves Andie.  And if your heart doesn’t hurt a little when he confesses that fact to Andi, then you probably don’t have one to begin with.  Add to that, as cute and charming as Blane is, you know he’d never break out into a random dance routine.  Blane is no Duckie but, at the same time, Duckie is also no Blane.

And who Andie should take with her to the prom (or if she should even go at all) is an important question because, if anyone deserves to have the perfect prom, it’s Andie.  Not only does she work hard to support her alcoholic and depressed father (the great Harry Dean Stanton) but she has great taste in music (or, at least, she does for someone living in the 80s) and she makes her own clothes.  One reason why we love Blane is because he discovers that, even if Andie isn’t rich, she’s still the most interesting girl in the entire school.  One reason why we love Duckie is because he didn’t have to discover this.  He already knew it.

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The film, of course, originally ended with Blane giving into peer pressure and canceling his date with Andie.  Andie is heart-broken but refuses to surrender.  Wearing the pink dress that she specifically made for the event, Andie still goes to the prom and, as the film ends, she shares a dance with Duckie, the one who, all along, loved her unconditionally.

As is recounted in Gora’s book, test audiences loved the movie but hated that ending.  And so, a new ending was shot.  Blane shows up at the prom without a date.  He apologizes to Andie.  He shakes Duckie’s hand.  He tells Andie that he always believed in her, he just didn’t believe in himself.  (Watching at home, Lisa says, “Oh my God!” and wipes away a tear.)  As he leaves, even Duckie realizes that Andie belongs with Blane.  Andie and Blane are reunited in the parking lot and Duckie goes off with Kristy Swanson.

And you know what?  That ending — that ending is perfect.  Because yes, Duckie did love Andie but Andie loved Blane and the prom is a time to be with someone who you think you’ll love forever.  (Little realizing, of course, that you’ll eventually only think of your former prom date as being that guy who keeps inviting you to play games on Facebook.)  Pretty in Pink is one of the most romantic high school movies ever made and one reason it works is because the ending is all about celebrating that romance.  It may not be realistic and yes, it might even be borderline immoral to allow Blane to be so easily redeemed after breaking Andie’s heart but who cares?

The wonderful thing about romance is that it doesn’t have to make sense.

It just has to be.

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