Who Framed Roger Rabbit (dir. by Robert Zemeckis)


WhoFramedRogerRabbitPosterI can’t quite remember how I found out about 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Growing up, most of my movie news came from four major sources – Entertainment Tonight, Siskel & Ebert, the occasional movie poster you’d see at a bus stop or cinema. If you were really lucky, the production company would sometimes create a “Behind the Scenes”/”Making of” showcase a little after the movie premiered. If possible, I would read the billing block of a poster to see if I could recognize anyone familiar, Just seeing Amblin Entertainment meant you’d have Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall involved. Nothing new there. I knew Robert Zemeckis and Alan Silvestri from Romancing the Stone and Back to the Future. Movies have had mixes of animation and live action – Bedrooms & Broomsticks, Mary Poppins, etc., but the big buzz here was the film planned to somehow involve both the Disney and Warner Bros. animation studios. It was an alien concept for me, because they couldn’t be more different from each other. Historically, animation on the WB side of things were edgy and almost dared to be even raunchy if they could get away with it. Disney, on the other hand, was pristine and extremely  kid friendly. Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse? Daffy Duck vs. Donald Duck, all on the same screen? It was the 1980’s equivalent of asking Marvel (which ironically, is owned by Disney now) and DC (which the WB has owned for decades) to write a single Justice League / Avengers crossover story.

At the time, Steven Spielberg was already well known for blockbusters like the Indiana Jones films and E.T., but did he really have enough clout to bring two major companies together like that? It blew my 13 year old mind and I became completely obsessed.

Around the time Who Framed Roger Rabbit came out, I picked up anything I could find about it. I had Alan Silvestri’s soundtrack, a poster, a stuffed Roger doll, and the video game when it came out. I even read Gary Wolf’s novel. I begged my parents to let me see it, and it was one of the rare times where my Mom took my sis and I to the movies instead of my dad (the major movie buff, who took us to see Robocop twice the year before). I think she went in part to shut me up, and to give herself a break from my nearly 2 year old brother. It remains one of the two best movie related memories I have of her.

In the world of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, humans and cartoons share the same space in Los Angeles. Cartoons live in Toontown, owned by Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye). It’s the story of Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins – Hook, Mermaids), a Los Angeles Private Eye with a bit of a grudge against toons. For a quick buck, Valiant is hired by R.K. Maroon (Alan Tilvern – Firefox, Little Shop of Horrors) to snoop on Acme. Valiant’s work puts him in the path of Roger Rabbit (Charles Fleischer, Back to the Future Part II), after Eddie takes some racy pictures of Acme playing patty cake with Roger’s wife, Jessica (Kathleen Turner, Romancing the Stone). Roger angrily swears they’re still a happy couple and that Acme somehow coerced her before running off into the night. The next morning, Eddie is informed that the Marvin Acme’s been killed overnight. To make things worse, Acme’s Will is missing, leaving the fate of Toontown up in the air. All of the evidence points to Roger, but Roger asks for Eddie’s assistance in clearing his name. Can Eddie save Roger before Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd, Back to the Future) and his pack of weasels get their hands on him?

The production for the film required jumping over a number of hurdles. Zemeckis, himself a cartoon fan, wanted to bring some of the Warner Bros. characters along with Disney characters. Even better, he also wanted to add some of Tex Avery’s classic style to the film. Similar to what he did with Ready Player One, Spielberg negotiated with some of the studios, and while he couldn’t get everyone, he did manage to get Disney, WB and a few others to commit. With this in place, they had to somehow merge animation with live-action in a way that made it look like the cartoons were interacting with their environment.

This would require one really huge magic trick, made up from an assortment of parts.

Since it was around 1986-1987, there really was no CG, yet.. James Cameron made 6 stuntmen in Alien suits look like 600 through the use of Oscar Winning Editing, and the technology that gave us the paradigm shifting dinosaurs of Jurassic Park wouldn’t occur for another 3 or 4 years. For Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the approach was a mix of robotics, puppetry, sleight of hand gadgetry, and a lot of imagination.

The art was handled by Richard Williams and his team, who would go on to win a Special Achievement Oscar for his contribution to the film. They had to draw every cell/frame by hand, on paper and then have them inked. These would then go to Industrial Light & Magic, who would add shadow, highlights and special effects To make things harder, the artists had to work around Zemeckis’ filming style and figure out how to fit the characters into each scene.

Take Jessica Rabbit’s performance of “Why Don’t You Do Right?”, sung by Amy Irving (Carrie, The Fury). At first glance, it seems a really easy shot. Girl steps on the stage, performs and leaves, right? However, there are so many things happening here on an effects level that I still don’t fully understand how they did it after all these years. ILM handled the lighting, from the sparkles in the dress, the use of the handkerchief and the great moment where Jessica blocks the spotlight in her walk from Acme to Valiant. I had to later explain to my mom that the “Wow” I whispered in the theatre during that scene had little or nothing to do with puberty. It was because I hadn’t seen anything like that before with a cartoon, and I’d hate the Academy forever if the movie didn’t win an Oscar for that.

Having cartoons on screen is one thing, but making it feel like they were interacting with people is another. Hoskins was the anchor that tied most of it all together. Having to work with nearly nothing – not even a green screen – and perform the physical actions required of the role was quite a feat compared to what some actors do with the motion capture rooms and digital walls we use today. Near lifesize models of Roger were created to help Hoskins handle some of the physical “grab and move” sequences, and actor Charles Fleischer actually spent time dressed as Roger on set (but off camera, of course) to feed his side of the conversation to Hoskins when filming a scene.

Puppeteers were brought on for moments were toon characters needed to hold objects, such as guns or knives. There is a moment of the movie where you can see one of the holes for the guns that the weasels, but it’s a pretty minute hiccup with all of the great work that was done. For the car sequences with Benny the Cab (also Fleischer), they used a special mini-car with a driver in the back. The car and driver were painted over (still, frame for frame) by the animators.

And ff course, it wouldn’t be a Zemeckis film without Alan Silvestri at the helm, musically speaking. Silvestri’s score for was a mix of detective noir and cartoony antics, which made for a perfect fit for the film. Overall, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is one of those films I cherished growing up, and it’s almost impossible for me to avoid recommending it.

 

 

A Movie A Day #200: A Breed Apart (1984, directed by Philippe Mora)


Sometimes, the story behind a movie is more interesting than the movie itself.

Rutger Hauer stars in A Breed Apart, playing an eccentric environmentalist named Jim Malden.  Malden loves nature but he hates people, with the exception of a local storekeeper named Stella (Kathleen Turner) and her young son.  The local fishermen (one of whom is played by Hauer’s Blade Runner co-star, Brion James) may hate him but they are no match for Malden’s guerilla tactics.  Recently, a new breed of bald eagle has been discovered and Malden is determined to protect it.  At the top of a cliff, there is a nest full of eagle eggs and Malden will not let anyone near them.

Rich collector J.J. Whittier (Donald Pleasence) is determined to get those eggs for himself.  In order to deal with Malden, Whittier hires famous rock climber, Mike Walker (Powers Boothe).  Disguising himself as a nature photographer, Walker attempts to befriend Malden so that he can get to the eggs.  Even as Malden shows Walker why it is important to protect the environment, Walker falls in love with Stella.

With a cast like this, A Breed Apart should have been far more interesting than it was.  It provides a rare chance to see both Rutger Hauer and Powers Boothe playing heroes but neither seemed to really be into their roles.  Kathleen Turner was sexy but saddled with a terrible accent while Donald Pleasence seemed to be in a different movie.  When I watched A Breed Apart last night, I thought it seemed like a very disjointed movie.  For instance, the movie abruptly jumped from Stella and Walker first meeting to the end of their first date.  There was a random scene of Malden putting on war paint, while remembering the sound of helicopters.  War paint combined with helicopters in an 80s movie usually means that someone is having a Vietnam War flashback but Malden’s military background is never mentioned again.  Even Walker’s conversion to Malden’s cause and rejection of Whittier’s money seemed to happen offscreen.

According to Wikipedia, It turns out that there was a reason for all that.  A Breed Apart was filmed in North Carolina.  After principal filming was completed, four reels of film were sent back to Los Angeles.  However, only three reels ever arrived in California.  One reel disappeared and has never been found.  The footage that actually did make it to Los Angeles was reorganized and edited to try to disguise the fact that a huge part of the movie was missing.

It didn’t work.

(ADDENDUM 9/4/2017: Originally, both myself and a lot of other reviewers, were under the impression that one reel of film went missing and, as a result, the film had to be reedited to make up for the missing footage.  This story is presented as fact on Wikipedia, which is where I and I assume a lot of other people originally got it.  The lesson here is not to use an online encyclopedia that anyone can edit for a primary or even a credible source.  In the comments below, Director Philippe Mora has let me know that there was no lost reel and that, instead, there are several different cuts of the film kicking around, some of which are incomplete and some of which are ok.  Since Mora actually worked on the film, he is a far more credible source than an anonymous Wikipedia article.  I apologize to Mr. Mora for the mistake.)

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Accidental Tourist (dir by Lawrence Kasdan)


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I have to admit that I was tempted to be a little bit snarky in my review of the 1988 Best Picture nominee, The Accidental Tourist.  I was going to say that The Accidental Tourist was a perfect example of a genre of film that has always been oddly popular with the Academy, the emotionally stunted man in New England learns to love again genre.

But, then I realized that I was wrong.  The Accidental Tourist does not take place in New England.  It takes place in Baltimore which may be located up north but which is technically considered to be part of the mid-Atlantic.  But, even with that in mind, it was impossible for me to watch The Accidental Tourist without thinking of other New England-set Oscar nominees, such as Mystic River and Manchester By The Sea.

As for the film itself, it’s about a man whose depressing life would be unbearable to watch if not for the fact that everyone around him is so extremely eccentric.  Macon Leary (William Hurt) is a travel writer.  He’s writes books giving people advice on how best to behave while seeing the world.  Throughout the film, we hear snippets of his prose.  Macon warns people about overpacking.  He warns them about arriving late at the airport.  He warns them about not properly planning out their trip.  He suggests that travelers bring a book to read but not too many books.  And don’t bring magazines because they get wrinkled too easily.  Now, to be honest, I liked most of Macon’s advice but then again, I’m OCD and I spend most of my time trying to make sure that everything I own is properly organized and can be equally divided.

A year ago, during a fast food robbery, Macon’s son was shot and killed.  Withdrawing from the world, Macon barely reacts when his wife, Sarah (Kathleen Turner), leaves him.  After breaking his leg while trying to convince his dog to climb down the stairs into the laundry room, Macon ends up moving in with his three siblings: autocratic Porter (David Ogden Stiers), slightly less autocratic Charles (Ed Begley, Jr.) and sweet but neurotic Rose (Amy Wright).

And so it goes.  Even when his agent, Julian (Bill Pullman), starts to date Rose, Macon can’t bring himself to open up emotionally.  Fortunately, Macon meets Muriel (Geena Davis), a quirky dog trainer.  Though it takes a while, Muriel starts to pull Macon out of his shell.  Soon, Macon is spending his nights over at her apartment and bonding with her sickly son.

(Why does every single mother in these type of movies have a sickly son?  Just for once, couldn’t a single mother be portrayed as having a child who is well-adjusted, popular, and healthy?)

But, just when everything seems to be perfect, Macon’s phone rings.  It’s Sarah and she wants to give their marriage another chance…

Just judging from the tone of this review, you’re probably thinking that I disliked The Accidental Tourist.  Actually, nothing could be further from the truth.  While the film’s mix of grim reality and relentlessly quirky supporting character can be a bit overwhelming at first, the film works if you stick with it.  That’s the thing — you have to stick with it.  When William Hurt first stares at the camera with his dead eyes and starts to drone about the importance of not spending too much money while in Paris, it’s tempting to just give up.  But, as the film progresses, it improves and so does Hurt’s performance.  By the time he finally worked up the strength to hold Muriel’s son’s hand while walking the boy home from school, I had tears in my mismatched eyes.

The Accidental Tourist is low-key but rather sweet film.  While the film centers around the performances of Hurt and Geena Davis (who won an Oscar for her work here), my favorite performances came from Bill Pullman and Amy Wright.  I honestly would happily watch a film that was just about their characters.

The Accidental Tourist was nominated for Best Picture but lost to Rain Man.

Horror Film Review: Nurse 3D (dir by Doug Aarniokoski)


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So, last night, my boyfriend and I watched Nurse 3D because, based on the trailer that was released way back in January, we thought that it would be a sexy, fun, and enjoyably lurid movie.  Do you remember that trailer?  In case you need a reminder, here it is:

So, we finally got around to watching the movie and oh my God, you guys — sometimes trailers lie!  I know, I know — it’s a shock.  I’m still struggling to deal with it myself!

Actually, technically, the trailer for Nurse 3D doesn’t really lie.  The trailer tells us that the film is about a nurse who is obsessed with another nurse and who spends the majority of the film wearing only a bra.  And that’s true!  But, somehow, the trailer also makes the film look like it’s a lot more fun than it actually is.  The trailer reveals that Nurse 3D is meant to be something of a satirical tribute to the exploitation films of the past.  What it doesn’t reveal is that the film largely does not work.

In Nurse 3D, Paz de la Huerta plays Abby Russell, a nurse who also happens to be a serial killer.  When we first meet her, she’s wandering through a club in a black lace, see-through dress.  In a narration that de la Huerta delivers in an emotionless drone, Abby explains that men are a disease that has been created in an “alcoholic petri dish” and that is now “infecting innocent vaginas.”

“There is only one cure for the married cock,” Abby tells us, “Only me.  I’m the nurse.”

Abby, we discover, specializes in murdering married men who are on the verge of committing adultery.  Sounds like a good idea for a movie, right?  Well, don’t get too attached to it because, once we get through the opening credits, that entire storyline pretty much disappears.

Instead, Abby becomes obsessed with a new nurse named Danni Rogers (Katrina Bowden).  One night, after Danni both has a fight with her boyfriend (Corbin Bleu) and gets yelled at by a jerk of a doctor (played by Judd Nelson), Abby invites Danni out to a club.  Abby gets Danni drunk and drugged and soon they’re making out on the dance floor.  The next morning, Danni wakes up in Abby’s bed.  When Danni refuses to spend the day with Abby and quickly leaves, Abby reacts by trying to destroy Danni’s life…

And that plot line goes on for a while until, eventually, the filmmakers remembered that this was supposed to be a 3D film and, with the exception of one man hurtling towards the camera after being tossed off a rooftop, nothing in the film has really lent itself to whole 3D thing.  So, suddenly, Abby goes from being coolly calculating to being batshit insane, essentially so that she’ll have an excuse to toss medical equipment straight at the camera.

(I’m going to guess that this all probably looked really impressive in 3D but since we were watching the film in 2D, who cares?)

And then, eventually, the movie ends.

I like what Nurse 3D was trying to do.  The film is obviously meant to pay homage to the classic exploitation films to the past.  That was obvious in everything from the overwritten narration to the hilariously fetishized nurses uniforms to the unapologetically sordid nature of the entire plot.

However, the film’s execution left a lot to be desired.  For all of it’s attempts to celebrate over-the-top exploitation, the film never quite seems to understand what makes those films so memorable in the first place.  Perhaps if Nurse 3D had stuck with being a film about a nurse who kills cheating husbands, the film would have worked.  But, instead, it just becomes yet another film about an obsessive friend who turns out to be a psycho and who, fortunately for her, is lucky enough to be surrounded by people too stupid to pick up on the most obvious of clues.

And it doesn’t help that, whatever the joke was that Nurse 3D was trying to tell, it’s obvious that Paz de la Huerta was not in on it.  In many ways, her character is meant to be a throwback to the great and deadly femme fatales of yesterday but  it takes more than having a good body to be a femme fatale.  You have to have style and that’s totally what her performance is missing.  Scarlett Johansson could have worked wonders with the role of Abby Russell but Paz de la Huerta just seems to be lost.

That’s actually a pretty good description of Nurse 3D.  It started out on the right track but, obviously, it lost its way.

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Back to School #59: The Virgin Suicides (dir by Sofia Coppola)


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For the past three and a half weeks, I’ve been taking a chronological look at some of the best, worst, most memorable, and most forgettable teen and high school films ever made.  We started with two films from 1946, I Accuse My Parents and Delinquent Daughters.  Therefore, it seems somewhat appropriate that we close out both the 90s and the 20th Century by taking a look at a film about both delinquent daughters and accusatory parents.  That film is Sofia Coppola’s 1999 directorial debut, The Virgin Suicides.

Much like Wes Anderson, Sofia Coppola seems to divide viewers and, in many ways, for the exact same reasons.  You either get her films about upper class ennui or you don’t.  Everyone seems to love Lost in Translation but viewers and critics seem to be far more polarized when it comes to rest of her films.  It seems the people either love them or hate them.  Well, you can count me among those who love her films.  (Yes, even Somewhere.)  To me, Sofia Coppola is one of the most consistently interesting filmmakers working today and the dismissive reaction that many (mostly male) critics have towards her films has little do with her talent and much more to do with her gender and her last name.

So there.

In The Virgin Suicides, Coppola tells the story of the five Lisbon sisters.  They live in an upper middle class suburbs in the 1970s.  Their parents — math teacher Ronald (James Woods) and his wife (Kathleen Turner) — are devoutly Catholic and very protective.  The Lisbon sisters are rarely allowed to leave the house and, as a result, the neighborhood boys are obsessed with them.  (Though the film centers on four unnamed boys, there’s only one narrator, voiced by Giovanni Ribisi,  who continually refers to himself as being “we,” as if all four boys are telling the story in the same voice.)  When the youngest Lisbon daughter commits suicide, Ronald and his wife become even more protective.

At the start of the school year, the oldest daughter, Lux (Kirsten Dunst), meets and starts to secretly date the wonderfully named Trip Fontaine (Josh Hartnett).  Lux is even allowed to attend the homecoming dance with Trip but, after she breaks curfew, Mrs. Lisbon reacts by pulling Lux and her sisters out of school and basically making them prisoners in their own home.

(In one of the film’s best moments, we flash forward to see present day Trip talking about his date with Lux. Needless to say, Trip did not age well.)

With the Lisbon sisters even more isolated, the neighborhood boys become even more obsessed with them.  One day, the boys get a note from the girls, asking for their help in escaping.  The boys go to meet the girls, leading the film to its haunting conclusion…

Full of themes of sin, sexuality, repression guilt, redemption, and martyrdom, The Virgin Suicides is one of those films that you don’t have to be Catholic to appreciate but it probably helps.  James Woods, Josh Hartnett, and Kirsten Dunst all give good performances while Sofia Coppola fills the movie with dream-like and sensual images, all designed to challenge the viewer’s perception of whether or not we’re watching reality or just the idealized memories of someone still struggling to comprehend a mystery from the past.

The Virgin Suicides is the perfect movie to end with the 90s on.

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