Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Eight Crazy Nights

76 Wasted Minutes

What's it about?

Tonight's nostalgic pic is "Eight Crazy Nights" (Columbia Pictures, 2002). Davey Stone (Adam Sandler) is a public nuisance during the holidays, getting drunk, dine-and-dashing, stealing from his neighbors, and ultimately destroying Dukesberry's holiday decorations, giant ice sculptures in the shape of Santa Clause and a menorah awkwardly placed by one another in the center of town.

Honestly, this is probably just Adam Sandler before SNL

He's swiftly caught and almost sentenced to prison when a 70-year-old man named Whitey (also voiced by Adam Sandler) offers to take stewardship of Davey while he referees youth basketball, a sport which Davey dominated in his youth.
The moment this guy comes on screen, abandon all hope of entertainment.

Davey quickly begins to cause headaches for Whitey, but after being reunited with his childhood sweetheart, Jennifer (Jackie Titone, later married to Adam Sandler in real life) and her son, Benjamin (Austin Stout), Davey begins to take an interest in teaching the boy how to play basketball.
Generic character model, meet generic voice actress.

This is cut short when Davey's trailer is burned down leaving him homeless.
The movie depicts this as arson, but veterans of trailer park fires know that it didn't have to be.

Whitey takes Davey in to live with him and his sister, the equally diminutive Eleanore (ALSO VOICED BY ADAM SANDLER).
Just when you think that the movie can't get any worse, it doubles down.

Just when it appears that Davey is starting his upward climb, he begins to slide again. Can Davey get his life back on track and help the people he loves?

Some background

This is a "Happy Madison" production, and as such it features Adam Sandler and quite a few of his "Saturday Night Live" alumni in various roles, as well as several of his friends who turn up in minor roles, mostly animated to look like their real-life counterparts, including Kevin Nealon as the Dukesberry mayor and Jon Lovitz in a brief cameo.

Yep. That's Jon Lovitz all right...

Other stars associated with Happy Madison show up as minor cameos, including Carl Weathers and Tyra Banks.

The bad

Hey, remember when Adam Sandler made funny movies? They were weird, loud, and a little bit offensive, but they were funny! That was over by the time this came out. THIS MOVIE IS HORRIBLE. Let's break down why:

The Cast

Adam Sandler plays the three main characters in this movie: Davey, Whitey, and Eleanore, and while I can laud his performance of Eleanore (it's pretty good), the character and voice performance of Whitey is outright insulting. The character's voice is irritating, as it's just Adam Sandler doing a falsetto. If you haven't seen the movie, you might not realize just how annoying this character sounds. Most of the cast are not professional voice actors, and unfortunately, it's pretty noticeable. Hey, who's that who does the outwardly racist performance of the Chinese restaurateur? Why, it's our good friend on-the-record xenophobe and Republican apologist Rob Schneider, doing a funny voice! Look how funny!

"Screw this movie." -Roger Ebert, probably.

Screw this movie.

The Animation

At first glance, you'll marvel at how good the animation in this movie is. It almost looks like a Disney "renaissance" picture, with soft colored linework, solid character models, and that colorful style. On second look, you'll begin to notice something seems amiss, but it's still good; it looks a lot like the animation and character design from 1999's "The Iron Giant." Still a good movie with decent animation, right? On the third look, it hits you: Whatever the voice actor is emoting, the characters seem dead-eyed and unreactive. Every character looks like they're using the same deadpan expression, ranging from "tired" to "extremely tired," to "oh crap, they forgot to draw on the eyelids." In short, it looks better than it has a right to be, but still isn't as good as it first appears.

You'll know what I'm talking about when you see it.

The Music

While the singing was happening (yes, this is a musical to an extent), I remember thinking, "this isn't very good." But after the movie was over, I couldn't remember a single one, except Sandler's reprisal of "The Chanukah Song" that plays over the end credits. This was common for animated films of the time: Stretch out the time of your extremely short, animated movie by adding messy and unnecessary musical numbers (see: "South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut"). If anyone complains about the lack of quality, just say "that's the joke, plebian!"

The Holiday

Look, I get that there aren't a lot of Chanukah movies out there. I get that there are other religions and faiths that are underrepresented during the Christmas season. But here's the rub: If you're going to make a movie to address this, why not make Chanukah the theme? This movie goes out of its way to mention Judaism, Chanukah, menorahs, and dreidels, and then puts all of this stuff in the background and basically ignores it for the entire movie. The most religious thing in the movie is the town's mall -- I'm not making that up. Whitey goes to the mall to clear his head. A drunk Davey breaks into the mall and is assaulted by hallucinations in the form of store logos (real stores with real product placement in this movie, by the way, although many of them have since gone out of business… RIP KB Toys…).

People "of a certain age" will recognize these brands.

Whitey in his lowest moment goes to a darkened mall and gets sympathy from the store logos. Even the whole town meets at the mall at the end to cheer Whitey. It's just… bizarre (and a little bit icky). It's so bad, in fact, that when Davey finally has his emotional epiphany it's hard for the audience (or at least me) to feel anything.

Don't watch with kids

This one's not for kids. It's clearly meant to be an adult comedy, with some swearing and very adult gross-out humor (way too much of it), which is ironic because this is exactly the sort of lowbrow tripe many kids like. You won't be having fun, but your kids would because of all the dirty stuff that isn't original or funny.

Why would you watch this? Sorry, I mean, where can you find it?

As of this writing, "Eight Crazy Nights" is streaming on Amazon Prime video for no extra cost but do yourself a favor and skip it.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

The Coneheads

Thanksgiving leftovers (specifically, your xenophobic uncle's fantasies)

What's it about?

Tonight's nostalgic pic is "The Coneheads" (Rankin/Bass, 1983). The planet Remulak is the seat of a vast intergalactic empire, headed by Cauldra, the "High Master of Eight Galaxies."

Cauldra. I didn't forget to credit the actor: The actor is not credited.

In an effort to expand the empire, Cauldra assigns two of his loyal subjects, Beldar (voiced by Dan Aykroyd) and Prymaat (voiced by Jane Curtain) to travel to a new planet, Earth, and conquer it.
Aykroyd's cartoon characters are always depicted as fat, but he was quite svelte when this was made...

Along the way to the United Nations building in New York City the two get lost (mostly due to Beldar's incompetence) and crash their ship into the ocean. Escaping the crash, the two find themselves stranded on the alien world, and quickly chased by a pack of stray dogs. Making their escape they take refuge in a trailer park, hiding in a television repair shop owned by Louie Boucher (Bob McFadden).
Hm... doesn't look like Sinbad...

Louie is down on his luck, unable to repair the newer, more advanced Japanese televisions. Beldar demonstrates that he can fix them quickly and easily and is hired by Louie "under the table" to repair them, because they are in America and everyone deserves a fair deal, recalling when his grandfather immigrated there from France. The two cone-headed aliens tell Louie that they too came from France, establishing their cover in America. Forced to live among the humans while trying to build a communication device to contact Remulak, the two find themselves becoming parents, buying a home, living in the suburbs, and trying to blend in with suburban society while awaiting rescue.
Meeting the neighbors.

Some background

If you don't know, this was a failed pilot for a television show based on the popular "The Coneheads" sketch on the "Saturday Night Live" variety show of the 1970s. The core cast are all original members of the cast of SNL, including Aykroyd, Curtain, and Laraine Newman reprising her role as the daughter, Connie.

Young Connie can't cope.

It was written by Tom Davis (a famed SNL writer for DECADES) and developed for television by Davis and fellow SNL alum Al Franken (who would go on to be a United States senator for a while).

The character and production models were developed by legendary artist and illustrator Jack Davis, mostly known today as one of the main artists of classic "Mad Magazine." His influence shows, but the edges of his art are softened, and the lighting is quite a bit brighter than what he is typically known for.

If you don't know, Davis was quite old when this came out, so this is what he thought "cool" kids wore.

The animation was provided by Rankin/Bass affiliates in Japan, headed by Masaki Izuka, who seems to have worked for the Topcraft studio, although I cannot confirm whether Topcraft was the studio responsible for this, although they are direct collaborators in other Rankin/Bass classics like "The Hobbit," "The Return of the King," and "The Last Unicorn" (Masaki Izuka worked on all three). I only bring it up to remind readers that Topcraft would eventually disband and reunite under the name, "Studio Ghibli," a name that has some weight in the animation industry. Needless to say, the animation in this project is top-notch, much better than it has any right to be given the low-budget source material.

Another "fever dream" from my youth

On a personal note, I saw this when I was a kid, and I don't think that I quite knew what I was watching. Mostly I was shocked to learn that this was a short half-hour pilot, as in my mind I recall it being a longer mini movie. So long, in fact, that my eight-year-old self got bored watching it, having already seen the Coneheads on reruns of SNL.

Not good, but not bad, either

This is a weird show; not exactly terrible, but also not great. The ideas are rushed through with the end goal of setting it up for a sitcom style program (that obviously never materialized), and it seems to reprise most of the punchlines from the television show like it's checking them off a list. Unfortunately, if you're familiar with the sketches, this leaves very little left to explore.

This scene screams, "Hey everyone, remember when we did this? Eh? Eh?"

If you're completely unfamiliar with the Conehead property it might seem interesting, but I have to assume that they were banking on the sketch's popularity and the recognizability of Aykroyd, Curtain, and Newman, and this really doesn't add anything new to experience outside of the animation (which I cannot stress enough is better than it should be). Making matters worse, the producers added a really, really bad laugh track like this was filmed before a live studio audience. The absurdity of the laugh track is actually one of the funniest parts of the pilot.
It would have been funnier if the producers just had someone screaming "LAUGH TRACK! LAUGH TRACK!" in the background every time a joke is dropped.

If at first you don't succeed

Eventually, parts of this story would be adapted into a feature-length film which (thankfully) adds more jokes and situations for the characters to explore.

Safe for kids... but why bother?

There's no swearing (well, not in any earth language, anyway), but there are several adult situations, although they are explored through the lens of weird alien beings which really reduces the offensive nature to zero (this was 1980s television, after all). Oddly, if it had been picked up it would have been more "adult" than most other cartoons at the time, beating "The Simpsons" by at least five years. There is one on-screen birth, but it's obscured from the viewer and is also produced via weird alien anatomy.

Yes, they birth through their cone heads.

Honestly the most disturbing thing in the entire episode is Beldar's weird wire-trimmed porn mustache (which the character had in the original SNL episodes, but which has been scrapped in every iteration since).

Where can you see it?

You won't find this pilot commercially available anywhere, but you can usually find it on YouTube and also for free at Archive.org if you're interested:

Check it out here

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

The Country Bears

The Three Bears. Plus three more. And a guitar.

What's it about?

Tonight's nostalgia pic is "The Country Bears" (Disney, 2002). The band "The Country Bears" have been broken up for over 10 years, and their biggest fan, Beary Barrington (voiced by Haley Joel Osment) is just your normal fifth grader: He's imaginative, he's curious, eats raw unprocessed salmon, he's covered from head to toe in fur…

Yep. Normal pre-teen.

His brother Dex (Eli Marienthal) convinces him that he's adopted.
Sure, you hate him now, but just wait until you get to know him.

His parents (Stephen Tobolowsky and Meagen Fay) won't give him a straight answer.
Yes, THE Stephen Tobolowsky!

He feels like an outcast, so much so that he runs away to go to Country Bear Hall, the original stage of the band, only to find it closed and on the verge of being foreclosed upon by nefarious banker Reed Thimple (Christopher Walken).
Can they win the battle of the bands and save the community center? Oops, wrong movie.

Easily my favorite part of the film.

The CB's former manager, Henry Dixon Taylor (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson) reveals that they're six years behind on payments and it will take $20,000 to save it from Thimple's wrecking ball.
Bears deal with bear problems.

Beary convinces Henry to get the band back together for a concert to save the hall, and he reluctantly agrees, getting the band's (human) drummer Roadie (M.C. Gainey) to get the tour bus out of the barn.
He seems more of an intimidating monster than any of the vears.

Pretty sweet ride, all things considered.

Meanwhile, Beary's parents report his disappearance to the police, officers Hamm and Cheets (Daryl "Chill" Mitchell and Diedrich Bader, respectively).
These two are basically the physical comedy in the movie.

The two begin a manhunt while Beary helps to round up Fred Bedderhead (Brad Garrett) and his brother Ted (Diedrich Bader again), Tennessee O'Neal (Toby Huss) and his lady bear love Trixie St. Claire (Candy Ford), and Zeb Zoobler (Stephen Root). Can Beary bring the Country Bears back together and find a place to fit in before Reed Thimble smashes the hall into toothpicks?

Some background

This movie was directed by Peter Hastings, an experienced writer and producer best known for animated projects, and this film, while live action, seems almost cartoonish in its design, but at the same time, it feels very natural.

In case you don't know, this movie is based on a Disneyland ride, "The Country Bear Jamboree," which opened in 1971 and closed in 2001 (one year before this film). Versions of the ride apparently still exist in foreign markets (Tokyo Disneyland, for example). So, it's odd that they would send this to market with no tie-in existing.

It was nice to see Daryl "Chill" Mitchell again, who was always a terrific comedian and character actor. I thought to myself, "you never see him anymore -- I wonder why." Sadly, there's a reason for this: This film was his last appearance before a motorcycle accident made him paraplegic and unable to act.

There are a lot of musical cameos in this film, from industry giants like Elton John, Willie Nelson, Queen Latifah, The Brian Setzer Orchestra, Bonnie Raitt, and Don Henley, to barely footnotes like Xzibit, Wyclef Jean, Don Was, Krystal Harris, and Jennifer Paige.

I don't know who "Krystal" is, but her Botox-frozen face and painted-on eyebrows was more unsettling than any of the animatronic bears.

The good

For people who can't stand CGI effects, you'll be happy to know that there aren't any here. Everything is practical, and the only computer-assisted effects in the movie are the animatronics, which for the most part are incredibly good, thanks to the technical know-how of the Jim Henson Creature Shop. The characters themselves bear little resemblance (see what I did there) to the amusement park characters, the animation aesthetic swapped for a more realistic one, but they still retain key features and wardrobe choices.

Zeb Zoobler is by far the most recognizable (it's the hat).

There were a few moments in the movie that made me laugh heartily, although they were more "WTF" moments than because of any of the planned scripted humor. Christopher Walken is a standout here, being delightfully weird with his ridiculous Walkenisms.
Need I say more?

The bad

Wow, there's a lot of bad to get through. The music that this movie revolves around is competently written and performed, and entirely forgettable. You're not going to be humming these tunes after seeing this movie. That's pretty bad for a film with at least five fully performed and realized musical numbers. This isn't a musical in the traditional sense, mind you: There are musical performances, but characters don't break out into song on a whim -- they're performed on stages and in night clubs.

The music remains on stage where it belongs. Lots of music, on lots of stages, unfortunately.

The bears' voice actors are rarely the ones singing the musical numbers, and it is painfully obvious when you hear Bonnie Raitt and Don Henley singing a duet from bears that absolutely do not sound like them the rest of the time.

The plot, if you didn't figure it out, is almost exactly the same as "The Blues Brothers." And "The Muppet Movie." And "The Muppets" movie. These are all much better films overall, although it took this movie to make me realize that "getting the band back together" is actually a tired and stale film genre at this point.

Ow, my feelings

Overall, I thought this film was fine. It's not the best of its kind, but it's also not a total wash. The cast is superior to what I was expecting, the animatronics were effective to watch for the most part, Christopher Walken was oddly entertaining, and there's just enough weird moments to make me laugh. I also liked that the jerk of a brother, Dex, realizes that he loves his "brother bear" by the end.

Safe for kids... probably.

There's no swearing, no drug use, no violence, but there is nudity as most of the main characters are full frontal bear.

Bear-naked ladies.

Yep: Another bear pun. Can you bear it? It's perfectly suitable for young children. There is one racist joke in the entire film, but as it involves Pandas I'm not sure how to feel about it.

Where can you find it?

"The Country Bears" is currently streaming on Disney+, as of this write-up.

Bear-ly approved.

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Almost Heroes

The Adventures of Slow-ass and Jerk

Well, with it being 25 years old and its two leads now lost to time, I figured that it would be a good time to review this.

What's it about?

Tonight's nostalgic pic is "Almost Heroes" (Warner Bros, 1998). Leslie Edwards (Matthew Perry) rushes to save explorer Bartholomew Hunt (Chris Farley) from the hangman's noose; the rotund pathfinder is about to be hanged for drunk and disorderly conduct.

Spoilers: Not the highpoint of Chris Farley's career.

Edwards needs Hunt's expertise for a particular purpose: He's trying to beat two other explorers (some losers named Meriwether Lewis and William Clark) to be the first "Americans" (I use quotes out of respect for native people) to make it to the Pacific Ocean overland.
Spoilers: Not the highpoint of Matthew Perry's career, either.

In order to achieve this feat, he employs a rag-tag group of misfits including an unhinged French trapper named Guy Fontenot (Eugene Levy) and his native slave-wife Shaquinna (played with unparalleled beauty by Lisa Barbuscia).
Eugene Levy always excels as an awkward character, even a misleading jerk.

Human perfection, or an incredible simulation?

Despite numerous setbacks brought on by the affluent Edwards's naivete and the group's collective congenital stupidity, they brave animal attacks, the elements, confrontations with natives, and rival explorers like the hair-obsessed villainous Spaniard Hidalgo (Kevin Dunn).
Kevin Dunn as the seemingly temporally displaced conquistador Hidalgo.

Some background:

This movie was directed by actor, comedian, composer, writer Christopher Guest, who is known for directing his "mockumentary" films like "Waiting for Guffman" and "A Mighty Wind," but who is probably best known as heavy metal rocker Nigel Tufnel from the parody group "Spinal Tap."

"My films go up to eleven."

I say this, because the man has some comedy chops, and combined with a great cast you would think that would spell comedy gold, but it just… Doesn't. More on that later.

I missed this film in theaters back in the day, and only saw it when it was released on VHS for rental so many, many years ago. After the runaway hits "Tommy Boy" and "Black Sheep" the world was clamoring for more Chris Farley, and this is certainly that... It's just too bad that he died before this film was released. Yes, this is one of the last pieces of media starring Chris Farley, and it's mostly forgotten, which breaks my heart. Matthew Perry was an established sitcom god at this point, as "Friends" was going strong and had just taken the top sitcom spot from "Seinfeld," which had wrapped recently. This was during the late 90s boom of large corporate video stores, and it seemed like any movie of this pedigree was able to make its money back in new release sales. Nowadays it seems like a lost film, but there might be ample reason for that.

The good

First, the good... I must admit that I'm struggling here to recall anything worthwhile in this film. There are moments that are funny and elicited a few guffaws from yours truly, but they are VERY few and VERY far between. In particular, I loved Don Lake as the general store owner, Elias.

I didn't recognize him at first, what with the hair and lack of mustache and glasses.

The Chris Farley pratfalls (several with an animatronic eagle) are somewhat visually interesting.
There aren't even as many animal encounters as you'd expect.

The absolute funniest moment for me was the senior citizen indigenous people who save the crew at one point.
These guys were my favorite part.

Lisa Barbuscia is basically eye candy in this movie, but wow, what eye candy she is -- I'm not trying to be sexist, but she is basically a flawless human form in this movie.
Mmm... I'll just leave this here. Don't worry: You also get to see Eugene Levy's cheeks.

You'll note here that I am not lauding how funny the movie's dialogue or overall comedy situations are. Yeah.

It's so bad...

This movie is pretty awful. I can't sugarcoat it, and I'm sorry. Matthew Perry's schtick throughout his career is that he's a witty and slightly sociopathic but otherwise normal white man who is put into awkward and insane situations. In this movie though, he comes off just as dumb and clueless as the other characters, who are ALL dumb and clueless, and the joke is mostly lost.

Yes, they're running on corn. Yes, it's supposed to be funny, somehow.

Most of the jokes are simple grossout humor that conveniently leaves out the gross reveals. As someone who mostly despises this, the lowest common denominator of humor, it's sort of a mercy, but with no visual payoff, why have the references to it in there at all? Chris Farley basically just does his overly physical pantomimes and extreme overreactions to normal circumstance, which can be entertaining but isn't particularly witty or especially funny if you've seen his better films. To top it off, the film doesn't even lean into the "exploration" aspect of its script, with very few shots of the epic vistas and travelling scenery one would expect.
The films spends so little time soaking in the scenery that you might miss it.

As such, even though 99% of the film takes place in the great outdoors, it feels very small and constrained despite the beauty of the scenery it was filmed in.

Safer for kids than you would probably think.

While this film is rated PG-13, there's almost no swearing (I think that the word "shit" is said a few times), and nudity doesn't get any more graphic than a buttock or side-boob.

Once more. Mmm... what was I saying?

There's no tobacco use to speak of (despite taking place during frontier times), although there is quite a lot of drinking and a persistent casual dismissal of alcoholism. There are numerous gunshots and some swordplay, but there is very little blood and no onscreen deaths (or deaths at all that I can recall). Honestly, I don't really understand why this film is PG-13 and not PG, other than overly cautious producers at the time. The cast is somewhat diverse, but the movie does reference slavery (and rightly should for the time period it occurs in) and refers to the native people as "Indians," but that was a common term used at the time -- just be aware of it if you're watching it with people sensitive to the situation.

Where can you find it (as if you'd want to)?

As of this review, "Almost Heroes" is streaming on a variety of platforms including the Roku Channel and Tubi, but I watched it on YouTube Premium at no additional cost. It's not essential, it's barely tangential, but it's there if you have a couple of hours and need something playing in the background.