Back to School #70: Lymelife (dir by Derick Martini)


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Lymelife is an odd but occasionally effective indie film from 2008.  Taking place in 1979, the film tells the story of two brothers living on Long Island.  The older brother, Jimmy Bartlett (Kieran Culkin) has recently graduated from high school and is preparing to enter the army.  (We hear that he’s going to be shipped off to fight in a war against Argentina, which is odd because, to the best of my knowledge, the U.S. has never been at war with Argentina.)  The younger brother is 15 year-old Scott (Rory Culkin), a gentle boy who loves Star Wars and who is doted on by his overprotective mother, Brenda (Jill Hennessy).  Scott’s relationship with his father, Mickey (Alec Baldwin), is far less positive with Mickey feeling that his youngest son is weak and Scott resenting the fact that Mickey is always cheating on Brenda.

As the film opens, a recent outbreak of Lyme Disease has got everyone in a panic.  Brenda, in particular, is terrified that Scott is going to get bitten by a tick and refuses to let him go outside unless every inch of his skin is covered and protected.  Causing Brenda even more panic is the fact that their neighbor, Charlie Bragg (Timothy Hutton), has contracted the disease and has lost his job as a result.  Now, he spends all of his time either outside trying to hunt deer or hiding down in his basement.  His wife (Cynthia Nixon) is forced to take a job from Mickey in order to support the family and soon, she and Mickey are having an affair.

In fact, the only person who doesn’t completely shun Charlie is Scott, though this is largely because Scott has, for years, had a crush on Charlie’s daughter, Adrianna (Emma Roberts).  Adrianna finally starts to return Scott’s affection but then Charlie discovers the truth about his wife’s job with Mickey and things … well, things do not end happily.

Lymelife is a strange film, one that at times almost plays like a parody of a typical indie film.  This is one of those films where a lot of things happen but you’re not always quite sure why they happened and ultimately, it’s hard not to feel like the film is essentially a collection of loosely related scenes, all looking for a stronger narrative.   But, with all that in mind, I still like Lymelife.  Director Derik Martini brings such an intense and humanistic touch to the film’s dangerously quirky storyline and it’s such an obviously personal film that it becomes fascinating in its own way.  Not surprisingly, both Alec Baldwin and Jill Hennessy overact in their roles (and considering that they have the most melodramatic lines, that’s not always a good thing) but, fortunately, Timothy Hutton, Emma Roberts, and the Culkin Brothers all give excellent performances.

Plus, the film’s ending is absolutely haunting, largely because of the wise use of the song Running Out Of Empty, which can be heard below.

Back to School #58: She’s All That (dir by Robert Iscove)


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She’s All That, a 1999 high school-set adaptation of My Fair Lady, has a lot to answer for.

When I, as an impressionable 13 year-old first saw this film, I left the theater believing that high school would be full of random, fully choreographed dance-offs.  That, after all, is what happened towards the end of She’s All That.  After watching as handsome jock Zack (Freddie Prinze, Jr.) spent almost the entire movie changing Laney (Rachael Leigh Cook) from an artist into a Prom Queen, the great prom dance-off made for the perfect climax.

I mean, just check it out:

Imagine how disappointed I was, once I finally did reach high school, to discover that it was actually nothing like She’s All That.  There were no big dance numbers for no particular reason.  I went to five different proms and none of them were ever as much fun as the prom at the end of She’s All That.

So thank you, She’s All That, for getting my hopes up.

As for the rest of the film, it’s a guilty pleasure in much the same way as Never Been Kissed.  I was recently doing some research over at the imdb and I was surprised to discover just how many films Freddie Prinze,Jr. made between 1999 and 2002.  For the most part, they’ve all got rather generic names.  What’s funny is that I probably saw most of them because, back then, I would get excited over almost any PG-rated movie that featured a cute guy and had a hint of romance about it.  But, with the exception of She’s All That, I can’t really remember a single one of them.  But you know what?  Freddie Prinze, Jr. may not be a great actor and his films may have basically all been the same but he had a certain something that, when you were 13 or 14, made him the perfect crush.  There was a hot blandness to Freddie Prinze, Jr. that prevented him from being compelling but did make him the perfect star for a film like She’s All That.

Along with featuring that prom dance-off and being the epitome of a Fredde Prinze, Jr. movie, She’s All That is also remembered for featuring Rachael Leigh Cook as one of the most unlikely ugly ducklings in the history of the movies.  Rachael plays Laney and the entire film’s starting off point is that Zack has made a bet with Dean (Paul Walker, as handsome here as he was in Varsity Blues) that he can turn Laney into a prom queen.  However, it should be a pretty easy bet to win because all Laney has to do is let her hair down, start wearing makeup, and stop wearing her glasses.

Myself, I’m severely myopic.  Usually, I wear contact lenses but occasionally, I may be running late or may not feel like putting my contacts in or maybe I just want to try a different look.  So, occasionally, I’ll wear my glasses and I have to say that, other than a few guys who always make “hot librarian” jokes, everyone pretty much treats me the same regardless of whether I’m wearing my glasses or not.  I do have to admit though that, when I take off my glasses and dramatically let my hair down, I always say that I’m having a She’s All That moment.

Anyway, She’s All That is okay.  I like it but I don’t love it and, to be honest, the film’s main appeal is a nostalgic one.  Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Paul Walker both look good, Rachael Leigh Cook and Jodi Lynn O’Keefe will keep the boys happy, and Matthew Lillard has a few good scenes where he plays an obnoxious reality tv celeb.

And there’s always that dance number!

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Is It Too Late To Hate On Movie 43?


Originally,  I wasn’t planning on ever seeing Movie 43.

Remember Movie 43?  That’s the comedy with the huge ensemble cast that came out in January and stayed in theaters for about a week.  The trailers looked terrible, the commercials looked terrible, and finally, the reviews were terrible.  In fact, the reviews were so terrible (Richard Roeper called it the Citizen Kane of bad movies) that, at first, I was perfectly content never to see it.

However, as time passed, I continually heard Movie 43 referred to as being one of the worst films ever made.  Every 12 months, I post my picks for the 26 worst films of the year and I knew that Movie 43 was one of those films that would either appear on that list or, if it didn’t, I would have to be willing to defend the title’s absence.

I realized that before I could either defend or condemn, I would have to sit through the movie.  After all, I figured, it’s only 90 minutes of my life.

90 minutes that I’ll never get back, I might add.

Movie 43 is an anthology film in which 13 separate comedic sketches are loosely linked together by one overarching story.  For the most part, this is a film that was presumably made both for adolescent boys and for men who still think like adolescent boys.  Most of the humor is derived from bodily functions and there’s a real strain of misogyny running through the entire film.  However, the film’s problem is not that it’s crude and misogynistic but that it manages to be so dull about being crude and misogynistic.  If you think its hilarious when Meg is insulted on Family Guy or when Seth McFarlane smirks after making an anti-Semitic comment, you might enjoy Movie 43 but the rest of us are going to find far less to enjoy.

Oddly enough, there are actually two different versions of Movie 43 in circulation.  In the version that was released in U.S. theaters, the various vignettes are tied together by a story in which an insane director (Dennis Quaid) pitches scene after scene to a callous movie executive (Greg Kinnear).  In the version that was released in the UK, they’re linked together by a story about 3 teenagers searching for the most offensive film ever made.  To be honest, both versions are pretty stupid but I prefer the one about the 3 teenagers, if just because that way I can pretend that neither Dennis Quaid nor Greg Kinnear had anything to do with this movie.

As for the sketches themselves, there’s 13 of them and they are a mixed bag as far as both humor and quality are concerned:

1)      The Catch (dir by Peter Farrelly)

Kate Winslet and Hugh Jackman go on a blind date.  Jackman has testicles hanging from his neck and only Winslet thinks this is an odd thing.  This skit goes on forever.

2)      Homeschooled (dir by Will Graham)

Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts explain how they’re making sure that their teenage son is getting the full high school experience despite the fact that he’s being homeschooled.  They do this through a combination of hazing and incest.  This skit worked pretty well, mostly because of the dedication that Schreiber and Watts brought to their absurd roles.

3)      The Proposition (dir by Steve Carr)

Uhmm…yeah.  So, this is the skit that opens with Anna Faris asking Chris Pratt to defecate on her.  I skipped over it because, quite frankly, life is too short.

4)      Veronica (dir by Griffin Dunne)

Neil (Kieran Culkin) is working the night shift at a depressing grocery store when his ex-girlfriend Veronica (Emma Stone) comes in.  They argue about who infected who with an STD.  Little do they realize that Neil has accidentally turned on the intercom and everyone in the store can hear them.  I actually kind of liked this short skit.  Culkin and Stone had a lot of chemistry and it was well-directed by Griffin Dunne.  Plus, it only lasted 2 minutes and, therefore, ended before the joke got old.

5)      iBabe (dir by Stephen Brill)

The iBabe is an MP3 player that happens to look like a life-size nude woman.  Unfortunately, a fan was built into the iBabe’s vagina and now, teenage boys are being dismembered while fingering and fucking iBabe.  Richard Gere plays the President of the company that makes iBabe.  I’ve never thought of Richard Gere as being a comedic actor and his performance here does nothing to change that.

6)      Superhero Speed Dating (directed by James Duffy)

Robin (Justin Long) goes speed dating and Batman (Jason Sudekis) tries to mess things up for him.  This skit – which also features (and wastes) Uma Thurman, Kristen Bell, and Bobby Cannavale – is so incredibly bad that I don’t even know where to begin.  Between this film and his appearance in last year’s The Conspirator, I’m having to rethink my slight crush on Justin Long.

7)      Machine Kids (directed by Jonathan Von Tulleken)

This commercial parody asks us to consider the children who work inside copiers and vending machines and how they are effected when we criticize those machines for not accepting our dollar.  This was actually so weird that I couldn’t help but love it.

8)      Middleschool Date (dir by Elizabeth Banks)

7th grader Amanda (Chloe Moretz) is having her first “middle school” date with Nathan (Jimmy Bennett) when she starts her first period.  In response, Nathan and his older brother (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) panic.  Believe it or not, this was actually one of the better parts of Movie 43, if just because the scene’s humor comes not from Amanda getting her period but instead from how every male around her descends into histrionics as a result.   It helps that this was the only part of Movie 43 that was both written and directed by women.  It also helps that director Elizabeth Banks is so clearly on Amanda’s side.  The end result is one of the few moments in Movie 43 that doesn’t feel misogynistic. 

9)      Tampax (dir by Patrik Forsberg)

This is another fake commercial.  Two girls are at the beach.  One uses tampax tampons and the other doesn’t.  Guess which one gets eaten by a shark?  As opposed to the previous skit, this bit of menstrual humor was obviously written and directed by a man (and the message, not surprisingly, is “Ewww!  Girls are scary and dangerous!”) but I’m going to have to admit that this one made me laugh if just because, like Middleschool Date, it reminded me of some of the period horror stories that I used to hear (and believe) back when I was younger.  (Though I was raised to be more concerned about bears than sharks…)

10)  Happy Birthday (dir by that noted comedian, Brett Ratner)

Pete (Johnny Knoxville) kidnaps an angry leprechaun (Gerard Butler) and gives it to Brian (Seann William Scott).  The leprechaun’s equally angry brother (also played by Gerard Butler) shows up and violence ensues.  Watching this skit was like being told a joke by someone who has no sense of humor.

11)  Truth or Dare (dir by Peter Farelly and Patrik Forsberg)

Halle Berry and Stephen Merchant are on a first date and Merchant has testicles on his neck…oh wait.  Sorry, that was Hugh Jackman and Kate Winslet’s skit.  In this skit, Berry challenges Merchant to game of truth or dare.  It escalates as the dares get continually more and more outrageous.  Whoops?  Did I say outrageous?  I meant to say stupid and oddly dull.  Watching this skit was like listening to a someone who has no sense of humor continue to tell a joke even though everyone else has already guessed the punchline.

12)  Victory’s Glory (dir by Rusty Cundieff)

In this parody of “inspirational” sports movies, Coach Jackson (Terrence Howard) speaks to his basketball team before they play their first game against an all-white team.  The gist of the speech is that Jackson’s team is going to win because they’re black and the other team is white.  This skit started out strong but, like a lot of Movie 43, it ran on for a bit too long.

13)  Beezel (dir by James Gunn)

This was actually my favorite part of Movie 43.  Unfortunately, since Beezel shows up in the middle of the end credits, I get the feeling that a lot of disappointed audience members had probably already walked out of the theater before it even began.  Beezel is a cartoon cat who has an unhealthy obsession with his owner (Josh Duhamel).  When Duhamel’s girlfriend (played by Elizabeth Banks) catches Beezel masturbating to pictures of Duhamel in a swimsuit, Beezel responds by plotting her demise.  Beezel was actually the only part of Movie 43 that truly felt edgy and unpredictable.  This is largely because this segment was directed by James Gunn, one of the few truly transgressive artists currently working in mainstream film.

So, here’s the question: is Movie 43 the worst film of 2013 as so many critics have claimed?  A few isolated moments aside, Movie 43 is pretty bad.  Even the parts of the film that do work can’t hope to compete with the pure horrifying incompetence of that parts that don’t.  However, thanks largely to James Gunn and Elizabeth Banks, it’s still a smidgen or so better than Tyler Perry’s Temptation.  (For all of its failings, Movie 43 never suggests that AIDS is God’s way of punishing wives who stray.  Nope, for that message, you have to go to Tyler Perry.)

Movie 43 is not the worst film of 2013.

It just seems like it.