Musical Sequence of the Day: “Notorious” from Donnie Darko (dir by Richard Kelly)

For today’s musical sequence of the day (which is a temporary feature that I’m doing until Val’s internet is working again and she can return to doing her music videos of the day), we have the “Notorious” scene from 2001’s Donnie Darko.

In this scene, Sparkle Motion performs onstage while, miles away, Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) burns down the house of creepy motivational speaker, Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze).  Playing throughout this scene: Duran Duran’s “Notorious.”

Why does Drew Barrymore hate Sparkle Motion?

This is the second scene from Donnie Darko to have been featured in this series.  Check out the “Head Over Heels” scene here.

(And yes, one reason why I love this scene is because I very much related to it.  Sparkle Motion is perhaps the most realistic part of Donnie Darko…)

Musical Sequence of the Day: “Head over Heels” from Donnie Darko (dir by Richard Kelly)

Hi, everyone!

Well, Val is having some internet issues so it’s going to be a few days until she’s able to do another music video of the day.  So, until she returns, I’m going to fill in with some of my favorite cinematic musical sequences!  These are scenes that made brilliant use of music.

And what better way to start things off than with the Head Over Heels scene from 2001’s Donnie Darko.  Directed by Richard Kelly, this scene not only makes brilliant use of the Tears For Fears song, Head Over Heels, but it also manages to introduce every character and set up almost every important relationship in the film.

It’s brilliant but I always find myself wondering what Drew Barrymore had against Sparkle Motion.

To quote Val, “Enjoy!”

Film Review: Love and Other Drugs (dir. by Ed Zwick)

There is exactly one genuinely effective and emotionally (and intellectually) honest scene in the new film Love and Other Drugs.  It’s a scene that features people who actually have Parkinson’s talking about living life with this disease.  As they speak, they are watched by Anne Hathaway who is playing a character who has Stage 1 Parkinson’s.  Their words brought tears to my eyes but, at the same time, it also reminded me that, unlike them, Hathaway (who smiles throughout the entire scene like a Miss America runner-up) was merely playing someone with Parkinson’s.  It was hard not to think about the fact that while the people speaking are still dealing with the disease today, Hathaway is off shooting her next film.

That’s the type of film that Love and Other Drugs is.  It’s the type of film where the slightest amount of reality only serves to remind the viewer of how fake the rest of the movie is.

The movie stars Jake Gyllenhaal, who I will always love because he will always be Donnie Darko.  That’s why it pains me to say that Gyllenhaal’s over-the-top performance in this film is just a little bit awful.  He’s playing a compulsive womanizer who becomes a salesman for Pfizer in the 1990s.  The first fourth of the film is pretty much made up of him fucking every girl he meets and then abandoning her afterward.  However, the film suggests we shouldn’t hold this against him since apparently, every woman in America is presented as being a giggling, simple-minded whore.  Except, of course, for Anne Hathaway who is presented as being a depressed, angry, and sick.  Gyllenhaal falls in love with her and the subtext here, I guess, is that Gyllenhaal is redeemed because he’s willing to love a girl with a terrible disease.  So, in a way, Anne Hathaway’s character having a terrible disease is the best thing that could have ever happened to our protagonist.

At the same time this is going on, Gyllenhaal is trying to sell a new drug called Viagra which, once again, gives director Ed Zwick an excuse to show a bunch of frumpy women going nuts over a drug for men who can’ t get it up.  Interestingly enough, we don’t see any of the men with limp dicks obsessively taking the pills until all the blood stops flowing to their brains.  Gyllenhaal does have a scene where he can’t get it up but Hathaway (who doesn’t even get upset — now, that is confidence!) still manages to get him off after listening to him talk about how difficult it is to be a rich, white boy.  Later on, Gyllenhaal is tricked into taking Viagra (by a woman, naturally) and he ends up having to go to the ER with an erection that everyone tells us is very impressive.  They have to tell us because we don’t actually get to see it or any other cocks in this film though Anne Hathaway’s boobs are listed in the end credits.

Love and Other Drugs is one of those films that it so overwhelmingly bad that I’m sure it’ll have some passionate defenders who will probably bitch and moan about this review.  So, allow me to say a few things to them now so I won’t have to waste my time replying — when a movie introduces a bunch of senior citizens getting on a bus to go to Canada to get affordable medication just so that Jake Gyllenhaal can later chase the bus down in his Porsche and shout about how much he loves Anne Hathaway, the movie has got some issues.  When a movie features Anne Hathaway responding to getting a breast exam from a fake doctor by then agreeing to fuck the fake doctor, the movie has obviously been made by men who have never given one thought to the reality of breast cancer.  When a movie insists that Hathaway’s promiscuity is due to her being emotionally damaged but Gyllenhaal’s identical behavior is presented as being cute and funny then that essentially makes this movie a sexist fantasy.

As I said earlier, Jake Gyllenhaal gives a performance here that is just bad.  He’s miscast here.  The off-centered vibe that made him the perfect Donnie Darko doesn’t work here and he reacts by smiling during the comedic scenes and screwing up his face all weird-like during the dramatic ones. 

Anne Hathaway — who was so brilliant playing me in Rachel Getting Married — actually gives a pretty good performance but she’s constantly betrayed by the movie’s script and direction.  I was first diagnosed as being bipolar nine years ago and I can say that Hathaway perfectly captures both the shame and the defiance that comes from having a socially unacceptable disease.

The rest of the cast is made up of character actors playing thinly-drawn stereotypes.  Hank Azaria, however, has a few good scenes as a hedonistic doctor but then you have to deal with Gabriel Macht who plays a rival salesman who just happens to be Hathaway’s ex and a psycho.  Why do filmmakers never realize that giving their fantasy figures psychotic ex-boyfriends does nothing more than trivialize the entire plot?  For the entire film, I sat there and wondered, “But why would anyone go out with someone that evil in the first place?  Other than the fact that it’s convenient for the plot?”

I saw this movie with my very good friend Jeff and my sister Erin.  Since Erin is a pharmaceutical sales rep, I asked her how accurate this film was.  Erin smiled and replied, “Well, there is a company called Pfizer.”  I also asked Jeff if this movie was a realistic portrayal of how men see the world.  He declined to answer. 

Love and Other Drugs attempts, all at the same time, to be a romantic drama, an over-the-top comedy, a recreation of history, a political/social satire, and a well-intentioned piece of social advocacy.  Taken individually, each of those genres is difficult to pull off successfully.  Toss them all together and it’s nearly impossible.  Yes, it could be done but not by director Ed Zwick.

10 (Plus) Of My Favorite DVD Commentary Tracks

It seems like I’m always taking a chance when I listen to a DVD commentary track.  Occasionally, a commentary track will make a bad film good and a good film even better.  Far too often, however, listening to a bad or boring commentary track will so totally ruin the experience of watching one of my favorite movies that I’ll never be able to enjoy that movie in the same way again.  I’ve learned to almost always involve any commentary track that involves anyone credited as being an “executive producer.”  They always want to tell you every single detail of what they had to do to raise the money to make the film.  Seriously, executive producers suck. 

However, there are more than a few commentary tracks that I could listen to over and over again.  Listed below are a few of them.

10) Last House On The Left (The Original) — Apparently, there’s a DVD of this film that features a commentary track in which stars David Hess and Fred Lincoln nearly come to blows while debating whether or not this movie should have been made.  The DVD I own doesn’t feature that commentary but it does feature a track featuring writer/director Wes Craven and producer Sean S. Cunningham.  The thing that I love about their commentary is that they both just come across as such nice, kinda nerdy guys.  You look at the disturbing images onscreen and then you hear Cunningham saying, “We shot this scene in my mom’s backyard.  There’s her swimming pool…”  Both Craven and Cunningham are remarkably honest about the film’s shortcomings (at one point, Craven listens to some of his more awkward dialogue and then says, “Apparently, I was obsessed with breasts…”) while, at the same time, putting the film’s controversy into the proper historical context.

9) Burnt Offerings — When Burnt Offerings, which is an occasionally interesting haunted house movie from 1976, was released on DVD, it came with a commentary track featuring director Dan Curtis, star Karen Black, and the guy who wrote the movie.  This commentary track holds a strange fascination for me because it, literally, is so mind-numbingly bad that I’m not convinced that it wasn’t meant to be some sort of parody of a bad commentary track.   It’s the commentary track equivalent of a car crash.  Curtis dominates the track which is a problem because he comes across like the type of grouchy old man that Ed Asner voiced in Up before his house floated away.  The screenwriter, whose name I cannot bring myself to look up, bravely insists that there’s a lot of nuance to his painfully simple-minded script.  Karen Black, meanwhile, tries to keep things positive.  The high point of the commentary comes when Black points out that one actor playing a menacing chauffeur is giving a good performance (which he is, the performance is the best part of the movie).  She asks who the actor is.  Curtis snaps back that he doesn’t know and then gets testy when Black continues to praise the performance.  Finally, Curtis snaps that the actor’s just some guy they found at an audition.  Actually, the actor is a veteran character actor named Anthony James who has accumulated nearly 100 credits and had a prominent supporting role in two best picture winners (In the Heat of the Night and Unforgiven).

8 ) Cannibal Ferox — This is a good example of a really unwatchable movie that’s made watchable by an entertaining commentary track.  The track is actually made up of two different tracks, one with co-star Giovanni Lombardo Radice and one with director Umberto Lenzi.  Lenzi loves the film and, speaking in broken English, happily defends every frame of it and goes so far as to compare the movie to a John Ford western.  The wonderfully erudite Radice, on the other hand, hates the movie and spends his entire track alternatively apologizing for the movie and wondering why anyone would possibly want to watch it.  My favorite moment comes when Radice, watching the characters onscreen move closer and closer to their bloody doom, says, “They’re all quite stupid, aren’t they?”

7) Race With The Devil Race with the Devil is an obscure but enjoyable drive-in movie from the 70s.  The DVD commentary is provided by costar Lara Parker who, along with providing a lot of behind-the-scenes information, also gets memorably catty when talking about some of her costars.  And, let’s be honest, that’s what most of us want to hear during a DVD commentary.

6) Anything featuring Tim Lucas — Tim Lucas is the world’s foremost authority on one of the greatest directors ever, Mario Bava.  Anchor Bay wisely recruited Lucas to provide commentary for all the Bava films they’ve released on DVD and, even when it comes to some of Bava’s lesser films, Lucas is always informative and insightful.  Perhaps even more importantly, Lucas obviously enjoys watching these movies as much as the rest of us.  Treat yourself and order the Mario Bava Collection Volume 1 and Volume 2.

5) Tropic Thunder — The commentary track here is provided by the film’s co-stars, Jack Black, Ben Stiller, and Robert Downey, Jr.  What makes it great is that Downey provides his commentary in character as Sgt. Osiris and spends almost the entire track beating up on Jack Black.  This is a rare case of a great movie that has an even greater commentary track.

4) Strange Behavior — This wonderfully offbeat slasher film from 1981 is one of the best movies that nobody seems to have heard of.  For that reason alone, you need to get the DVD and watch it.  Now.  As an added bonus, the DVD comes with a lively commentary track featuring co-stars Dan Shor and Dey Young and the film’s screenwriter, Bill Condon (who is now the director that Rob Marshall wishes he could be).  Along with providing a lot of fascinating behind-the-scenes trivia, the three of them also discuss how Young ended up getting seduced by the film’s star (Michael Murphy, who was several decades older), how shocked Condon was that nobody on the set seemed to realize that he’s gay, and why American actors have so much trouble speaking in any accent other than their own.  Most memorable is Young remembering the experience of sitting in a theater, seeing herself getting beaten up onscreen, and then listening as the people sitting around her cheered.

3) Imaginationland — As anyone who has ever listened to their South Park commentaries knows, Matt Stone and Trey Parker usually only offer up about five minutes of commentary per episode before falling silent.  Fortunately, those five minutes are usually hilarious and insightful.  Not only are Parker and Stone remarkably candid when talking about the strengths and weaknesses of their work but they also obviously enjoy hanging out with each other.  With the DVD release of South Park’s Imaginationland trilogy, Matt and Trey attempted to record a “full” 90-minute commentary track.  For the record, they manage to talk for 60 minutes before losing interest and ending the commentary.  However, that track is the funniest, most insightful 60 minutes that one could hope for.

2) Donnie Darko — The original DVD release of Donnie Darko came with 2 wonderful commentary tracks.  The first one features Richard Kelley and Jack Gyllenhaal, talking about the very metaphysical issues that the film addresses.  Having listened to the track, I’m still convinced that Kelley pretty much just made up the film as he went along but its still fascinating to the hear everything that was going on his mind while he was making the film.  However, as good as that first track is, I absolutely love and adore the second one because it features literally the entire cast of the movie.  Seriously, everyone from Drew Barrymore to Jena Malone to Holmes Osborne to the guy who played Frank the Bunny is featured on this track.  They watch the film, everyone comments on random things, and it’s difficult to keep track of who is saying what.  And that’s part of the fun.  It’s like watching the film at a party full of people who are a lot more interesting, funny, and likable than your own actual friends.

1) The Beyond — This movie, one of the greatest ever made, had one of the best casts in the history of Italian horror and the commentary here features two key members of that cast — Catriona MacColl and the late (and wonderful) David Warbeck.  The commentary, which I believe was actually recorded for a laserdisc edition of the film (though, to be honest, I’ve never actually seen a “laserdisc” and I have my doubts as to whether or not they actually ever existed), was recorded in 1997, shortly after the death of director Lucio Fulci and at a time when Warbeck himself was dying from cancer.  (Warbeck would pass away two weeks after recording this commentary).  This makes this commentary especially poignant.  Warbeck was, in many ways, the human face of Italian exploitation, a talented actor who probably deserved to be a bigger star but who was never ashamed of the films he ended up making.  This commentary — in which MacColl and Warbeck quite cheerfully recall discuss making this underrated movie — is as much a tribute to Warbeck as it is to Fulci.  Highpoint: MacColl pointing out all the scenes in which Warbeck nearly made her break out laughing.  My personal favorite is the scene (which made it into the final film) where Warbeck attempts to load a gun by shoving bullets down the barrel.  The wonderful thing about this track is that Warbeck and MacColl enjoy watching it too.