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.

Rating:

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.

 Character:

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.

Rating: 


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.


Screentime: 

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

Character:

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.


Rating: 

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.

Screentime: 

Character/performance: 

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.


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Lucky Alan and Other Stories by Jonathan Lethem (2015)



I really want to like Jonathan Lethem's stories.  I couldn't get into anything from his 2004 collection Men & Cartoons, and I hoped for better luck with Lucky Alan, from which I heard him read excerpts at the 2015 Festival of Books. Of the nine stories in the collection, I'd only feel the need to recommend two: "Their Back Pages" and "The Porn Critic."  The first is a strange story in which a number of invented pre-golden age comic strip characters (a clown, a theater critic, a villain, the king of the phnudges, among others) are stranded on a desert island.  The humor is surprisingly dark, the story is inventive, and it does things I haven't seen before.  The latter is a realistic story of Kromer, a young Manhattanite who gains the reputation of "a Rasputin" or "satyr," eventually becoming the thing he is believed to be.

The problem I have with a lot of Lethem's stories is that, though they often have fascinating imagery, they just feel insincere. They feel like anecdotes that have been told again and again, massaged and perfected, but end up sounding rehearsed.  


Rating: 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Who's the Caboose? (1999) - David Cross #9

First things first, I know I skipped The Thin Pink Line and Can't Stop Dancing.  They seem to be completely unavailable, to the extent that I can't even find a used copy of a DVD on Amazon.  So, for the time being, I'm skipping from #6 to #9.


Director: Sam Seder  
Runtime: 93 Minutes

Who's the Caboose stars Sarah Silverman as Susan, a young stand-up comedian from New York.  A student-filmmaker documentary crew decide to follow her around after their initial subject, a rare fatal disease afflicting the homeless, turns out to be too depressing.  Susan is about to head out to Los Angeles for pilot season, and waits until the night before her flight to tell her boyfriend, Max (writer/director Sam Seder), that she's leaving.  Max follows her out to L.A., where they meet up with her clueless agent (Andy Dick).  Max, a performance artist, constantly complains about how L.A. compares to New York City, before a sleazy entertainment lawyer (H. Jon Benjamin) makes Max the hottest pilot prospect in town.  Max's meteoric rise and fall, Silverman's quest to land a role in a pilot, and the effect on their relationship, make up the rest of the film.

The cast is fantastic, though some of the actors on the poster (Mark Maron and Kathy Griffin) have about a minute of screentime or less.  And honestly, as much as I like most of the comedians in this movie, they're not at their best here.  There were good moments, but overall it seemed like they were trying so hard to be subtle that they ended up suppressing the joke,  And the pacing stalled halfway through, which could be argued to be an artistic decision (Silverman's pilot search hitting a wall mirrored by the story slowing), but I don't think it works overall.  

David Cross plays "Jaded Guy," an actor friend of Max who is disillusioned with Los Angeles and, like Max, spends a lot of time comparing it unfavorably to New York.


Unfortunately, having been unable to find a copy of The Thin Pink Line and Can't Stop Dancing, I don't know if the chain of references between Cross films goes unbroken.  But there is one blink and you missed it reference to an earlier David Cross film:



If you're a die-hard fan of any of the comedians in this film, check it out.  Otherwise you can skip it.