Sunday, May 15, 2016

Scary Movie 2 (2001) - David Cross #14

Director: Keenen Wayans
Runtime: 83 minutes        

As a teenager I watched the first four Scary Movie installments, and I remember thinking that Scary Movie 2 was the worst of the lot.  Rottentomatoes suggests I'm not alone in this judgment. (The first four films are rated 53%, 15%, 36%, and 37%, respectively.)  The first Scary Movie (2000) brought the genre spoof back into the limelight.  While of course genre spoofs existed before (and perhaps hit their zenith with Airplane! (1980)) the modern terrible genre spoofs, from Not Another Date Movie (2001) to Meet the Spartans (2008) owe their existence to the massive financial success of the first installment of the Scary Movie franchise.  

The sequel has some of the characters reprising their roles from the first film, which mostly parodied I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) and Scream (1996).  Anna Faris plays Cindy, Regina Hall plays Brenda, Marlon Wayans is Shorty and Shawn Wayans is Ray.  This film is largely based on 1999's The Haunting, which was a remake of the 1963 film, which was itself based on Shirley Jackson's 1959 novel, The Haunting of Hill House.  Anyway, the aforementioned characters, along with a few newcomers (Kathleen Robertson, Tori Spelling, and Malcolm in the Middle's Christopher Masterson), are college students tricked into helping summon the spirits at a haunted house by the pervy Professor (Tim Curry) and his assistant Dwight (David Cross).  Obviously, shit gets out of hand.  

What makes this installment so much worse than the others?  Well, most of the jokes aren't jokes.  There are a couple scenes with an obscene parrot that don't work at all, because what the parrot is saying isn't funny.  Jokes about weed can be funny, but instead we're expected to laugh because weed is being mentioned.  The creepy butler's gross deformed hand is good for a joke or two, but not for gags that last several minutes.  

I have no problem with dumb humor, but there needs to actually be humor in it.

If you want a fun movie that you don't have to take seriously, some of the movies in this franchise are good for that.  But not this one.


The Cross Section:


David Cross plays Dwight, the Professor's assistant.  While the professor is concerned about making sure there are enough cameras in the sexy co-eds' bedrooms, Dwight is pretty serious about proving the existence of the supernatural.  He's wheelchair bound, but determined not to let that slow him down. Whether it's passing out papers or being fellated, he always refuses offers of help by declaring "I can do it myself!"  The character is surprisingly fun, and Cross delivers a good character performance.


Cross gets a good amount of screentime as part of the ensemble cast.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Pootie Tang (2001) - David Cross #13

Director: Louis C. K.
Runtime: 81 minutes

Pootie Tang is based on a sketch from the Chris Rock show, a parody of blaxploitation films, starring the eponymous Pootie (Lance Crouther), an actor, musician, and role model for all children, who fights crime with the power of his daddy's belt which can "whoop anyone's ass." Pootie, who was born too cool for words and speaks in a bizarre slang of his own making, has made an enemy of corporate America, especially LecterCorp CEO Dick Lecter (Richard Vaughn) who plots to steal Pootie's belt and turn Pootie into a shill for LecterCorp's products.  With the help of his friends (including characters played by Chris Rock and Wanda Sykes) Pootie must fight off Lecter and his henchmen, (including future The Wire star J.D. Williams).

Pootie Tang's reputation precedes it, and rightly so.  The pacing was all over the place, the plot jumped around haphazardly, characters appear and disappear without warning.  Which would seem odd, considering that the movie was written and directed by none other than Louis "Louie" C. K.  But as Louie has explained in interviews, he was removed from the project in the editing stage and had no say over the final product.  Yet the final product is still bizarrely fascinating.  The film has a cult following and much of it seems like something that could be made for Adult Swim.  The film isn't so bad it's good, because there were too many talented people working on it at some point or other.  Rather, it's so dumb that it completely removes itself from comparison to other films.  I can completely understand someone hating this movie, but it's strangely engrossing. That said, I still give it one star, because it is a very stupid movie, whose particular brand of stupidity happens to resonate with me.


The Cross Section:

David Cross plays Dennis:

Dennis is one of the actors hired by Dick Lecter as part of his plan to co-opt Pootie's fame and influence by producing his own legion of Pootie Tangs.  He shows up twice in the film, once as part of a training video for prospective Pooties, and again at the opening of the flagship Pootie Burger.  This is a great character for Cross, a nerdy white wannabe actor trying to play a guy who's too cool for words.  I can't help but imagine the blackface scene from Silver Streak as his origin story.


Cross has one brief appearance and one solid scene.  People have won Oscars with less screentime.


Monday, April 25, 2016

Dr. Dolittle 2 (2001) - David Cross #12

Director: Steve Carr
Runtime: 87 minutes

In case you forgot, back in 1998, when Murphy was in decline and starting to do kids movies (he voiced Mushu in Mulan in 1998, and would play Donkey in Shrek a couple years later), Murphy starred in the modern update of Doctor Dolittle (based on Hugh Lofting's series of children's stories from the 1920s, as well as a 1967 musical film starring Rex Harrison).  The movie received mixed reviews but made a crapload of money. (It was the eighth highest worldwide grossing film of 1998, right between Mulan and Shakespeare in Love.)  So, of course, it got a sequel.  Interesting point to note, the 1998 film was rated PG-13, while the sequel was rated PG.

In the sequel, Dolittle is world famous, as we're told through a series of brief gags narrated by the family dog, Lucky (Norm MacDonald, who made the wise choice to remain uncredited).  This narration continues throughout the film, despite usually providing no information beside describing what's happening onscreen, like a film for the blind.  Dolittle comes home from a world tour to his wife and daughters, just in time for his oldest daughter's sixteenth birthday.  Charisse (Raven-SymonĂ©) is more interested in seeing her boyfriend, of whom the doctor does not approve, than having a birthday dinner with her family who are just soooo embarrassing.   We also here start getting the first of terrible attempts at jokes for the parents.  Dolittle got his younger daughter Maya (Kyla Pratt, who stars in the direct to video sequels because holy shit there are three more of these goddamned movies) a chameleon from Mexico, who is extremely overconfident about his ability to change color.  In his extremely thick Mexican accent he talks about how he's going to disappear just "like the baby daddy."  This is just the first in a film long series of jokes that the kids won't get and the parents would roll their eyes at.

Anyway, the plot gets moving when a mafia raccoon and opossum have Dolittle go see The Beaver, in an annoying parody of mob films (the filmmakers seem to think that any premise is funny if it's followed by the phrase "but they're animals"), who requests a favor from the doctor:  a logging company is destroying the forest and he needs the doctor's help.  Dolittle is moved by the destruction and agrees.  Long story short, the doctor discovers that there is a single female of an endangered species of bear in the forest.  He finds a circus bear of the same species, and gets a court injunction to prevent logging while he sees if he can get the bears to mate.  Obviously, the circus bear, Archie (Steve Zahn, from Chain of Fools) is woefully unprepared to live in the wild.  When he first sees the female bear, Ava (Lisa Kudrow), by the river, he remarks that he'd "like to see her wet."  Once again, pointless for the kids, and rather creepy for the adults.

Archie and Dolittle
Of course, the evil lumber mill owners play dirty and almost win, but Dolittle convinces the animals to fight back, as the animals of the world go on strike, refusing to race or perform or even behave.  The mill owners relent, Dolittle and his daughter grow closer, and Archie and Ava make little cubs.  (This, of course, leads to a couple other questions, as Archie has one son and one daughter, who are, besides himself and Ava, the only two members of his species in the forest.)

I'm confused as to why, when going from a PG-13 movie to a PG sequel, they choose a plot entirely about Dr. Dolittle trying to help a bear get laid.  Of all the plots that could have been used, this one seems among the least fitting for the audience being aimed at, and it affects the final product as all the underlying sex jokes are made to go over the kids' heads, but are still unfunny.

If you're between the ages of eight and twelve, this movie will be a lot of fun because there's a bear who likes to say the word "butt" a lot, and farts sometimes.  If that doesn't sound like the highest form of humor, then you'll probably want to stay clear.


The Cross Section:

David Cross is credited as "Dog/Animal Groupie #2."  There are a couple dogs it could have been, but they each have one line and speak in a silly voice.  I'm not at all sure what "Animal Groupie" refers to.  So, basically, there's no notable character, and a matter of a couple seconds of screentime.


Thursday, April 14, 2016

Ghost World (2001) - David Cross #11

Director: Terry Zwigoff
Runtime: 111 minutes  

Ghost World is an adaptation of the Daniel Clowes' comic of the same name.  It follows Enid (Thora Birch, American Beauty) and her friend Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) after they graduate from high school.  They're the prototypical outsiders, cynical and directionless, uninterested in leading the life society expects from them.  They decide to prank call a missed connections personal ad, and follow the man, Seymour(Steve Buscemi), around, eventually meeting him.  Rebecca and Enid drift apart as Rebecca starts focusing on getting a job and becoming part of the adult world, while Enid becomes closer to Seymour, discovering someone who she describes as "the exact opposite of all the things I hate."

The film is fantastic.  The character of Enid and the people around her are rendered with a strong sense of irony, but not mockery.  The insincerity of modern culture, whether it's the self-described "authentic" Blues music of an unremarkable hard rock band (composed of yuppie 20-somethings singing about picking cotton all day long, no less), or the reformed alcoholic teenager giving a speech about responsibility (and later seen drinking from a flask), drives Enid to the social fringe.  Like with her description of Seymour, Enid and people like her define themselves as much, or even more, by what they reject than by what they love.  Enid's attempts at employment end in disaster because she refuses to compromise, her sarcastic treatment of customers at the movie theater (beyond being a vicarious fantasy of everyone who works in the service industry) is just one of the more visible ways in which Enid's identity is incompatible with the 'real world.'

* * *

One other thing I really like about Ghost World is how well it captures the underground comic aesthetic.  Beyond things like color scheme, there's a focus on characters that appear for only a moment, but really stick in the mind.  Minor details make the world strange and slightly grotesque, often without being remarked upon.  For example, in one scene a clearly pregnant woman walks directly behind Scarlett Johansson's character, holding a beer in one hand while smoking a cigarette with the other.

Easter eggs abound
Ghost World is fantastic and I highly recommend it.


The Cross Section:

David Cross is credited on imdb as Gerrold, the Pushy Guy - Record Collector.  He's one of Seymour's record collector friends who briefly (and awkardly) hits on Rebecca.


Cross only appears in one scene, and is never seen or referenced to again.


This isn't a criticism of Cross's performance, rather that the character is not distinctive, and could be played by anyone capable of smarminess. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Swiss Army Man

According to tradition, the history of film started when Leland Stanford made a bet about whether all four of a horse's legs leave the ground when galloping.  That same gambling instinct that has underlain the film industry ever since has stuck again, after Daniel Radcliffe lost a bet and agreed to costar in the soon-to-be-released Swiss Army Man, in which Paul Dano plays a man marooned on a desert island, and Daniel Radcliffe plays a magical farting corpse.  No, seriously.

This looks like it could actually be pretty good, or at least interesting.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Chain of Fools (2000) - David Cross #10

Director: Traktor      
Runtime: 98 Minutes

Chain of Fools is a "heist comedy-romance" and the first feature film by the Swedish creative advertising collective known as Traktor.  Kresk (Steve Zahn) is a down-on-his-luck barber whose wife just divorced him when into his shop walks Avnet (Jeff Goldblum).  Kresk overhears Avnet talking on his cell, admitting that he's the one who robbed the museum the night before, killing two guards and stealing the precious Ming dynasty coins known as the Shiny New Enemies.  Avnet tries to kill Kresk, but through the power of slapstick Kresk gets the upper hand and puts a pair of scissors through Avnet's neck.  Kresk gets help hiding the body from his friend Andy (David Cross) and the two of them steal the Shiny New Enemies for themselves.  Meanwhile, the plot thickens with the introduction of Salma Hayek as Detective Kolko, who's investigating the theft of the coins and falls in love with Kresk, Elijah Wood shows up as Mikey, a teenage hitman who really just wants to make new friends, Paulie, an illiterate mob boss, and Kresk's terrible nephew who promptly swallows the coins.

The characters in the film all seem like suggestions from an improv comedy game, which may also speak to Traktor's history in very short film.  Steve Zahn's a suicidal barber, and if you replaced all his lines with "aw, shucks," the story wouldn't change much.  Salma Hayek's the cop who was also appeared in Playboy.  David Cross wears a "Timber Scouts" uniform throughout the movie, and when we first see him it's at the Timber Scouts store he owns, where he berates a child to tears for not knowing how to tie a box knot before ripping merit badges off the kid's chest.  Oddly enough, suicide is a prominent theme throughout the movie.  A couple main characters attempt to kill themselves, and it turns out that pretty much everyone had at least one parent take their own life, which makes for a really awkward romantic dinner scene.  But through the power of friendship, love, and murdering a bunch of criminals, they all live happily ever after. 

The film has a lot of memorable characters, but it's so packed with them that we don't really get as much as we'd like for most of them. Kresk and Det. Kolko's relationship is completely out of nowhere and unbelievable (e.g. "You seem like a nice guy.  And your parents killed themselves?  So did my dad!  I'm in love with you now.") The characters that we get a lot of are two-dimensional, and are probably better suited to sketch comedy than a feature film.


The Cross-Section:

Cross, with his history in sketch comedy, is a lot of fun whenever he's onscreen, given his wacky character.  

Unfortunately, there are large gaps where the character is not present.



Thursday, March 31, 2016

Let's Talk Business

Here's a fun video by the folks at mental floss showing how a number of common words got their start as much hated corporate-talk.