Procrastrospection: Community

I’m the first one to admit that I don’t necessarily find television shows that strike my interest enough to get me to watch them when their being broadcast. It’s even less likely for sitcoms. Heck, I’m just finally getting around to watching Arrested Development, and this is coming after I just recently got around to giving The West Wing a shot. This is why I was honestly surprised that a quirky little sitcom on NBC actually caught my interest.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This show does have flaws. But, at least for me, the joys of the show outweigh the flaws. Even the fourth season, which was probably the weakest effort, managed to entertain me enough to keep going. I’m going to attempt to extoll the virtues of this program, while explaining why I feel more people should be giving it a chance.

Community (2009-Present?)

Community is a show that, realistically, should never have been able to make it past season one. It’s a quirky ensemble comedy, ostensibly about a group of misfits aspiring to get their degrees from probably the worst community college in the history of education. The stories have been populated with sheer randomness at times, and character development has often taken a back seat to a random joke. Ratings have never been the greatest, and yet, somehow, the show continues to thrive. Heck, Community made it through a season without their original creator, but he was brought back when the show was renewed. Somehow, Community has survived in the face of long odds, and that’s a good thing for the viewers. Of course, it now hangs in the balance again, at the whim of the executives who thought that Sean Saves the World was a viable program, so we’ll see if Community makes it to their long hoped for (and joked about) “six seasons and a movie”.

What follows is an attempt to explain, in bullet-point form, the reasons why I love Community, and why I feel that more people should be watching. If you’ve watched, and disagree, please, engage me. If you haven’t watched, catch an episode in syndication or watch the DVDs, and give it a shot. And, obviously, if you’re in agreement, let’s just keep hoping that we’ll get our #sixseasonsandamovie.

5. The Ensemble Cast Itself

The cast of Community is a strong one, and they’ve all completely embraced the roles as they’ve been laid out. Danny Pudi’s Abed is clearly another in a long line of austistic super-geniuses, but he is able to instill the character with enough warmth and desire to fit in that he isn’t just another cookie cutter nerd. Joel McHale’s Jeff Winger is a lawyer without much of a heart at all, simply trying to steamroll his way through to his degree, until he starts to actually form bonds with the crazy people around him. Jim Rash brings humanity to the long-suffering Dean Pelton, who moves from simply putting together costumes for one-off jokes into a character that the rest of the students actually want to help. Allison Brie and Yvette Nicole Brown play the two sides of the overachiever, one doing it to try and capture popularity and notoriety, the other doing it to prove that she is more than just a mother. Donald Glover’s Troy Barnes may not have had the book smarts of the rest, but he had a deep wisdom and was the heart of the group. Even Gillian Jacobs, Chevy Chase, and Ken Jeong, who have probably gotten the roughest go of anything as far as characterization, have been able to create characters that transcended the stereotypes created for them. While other sitcoms revolve around ensemble casts, it isn’t often that each character, cut from a completely different cloth, can be stitched together by the cast to create a true quilt. It’s why the audience still wants to root for Chang, why there’s a hope that Troy will come back, and why Pierce’s death actually resonated. The fourth season seemed like an attempt by the network to try and make things more grounded in reality, forgetting that the reality of the show relied specifically on the craziness and surreal nature of the entire operation. Dan Harmon returning to the show returned it to it’s roots from seasons 1-3, and it seems like he should be given an opportunity to finish the story he set out to create.

4. Greendale

As much of a character as the actors itself, the school of Greendale provides plenty of story fodder. Whether you went to a community college or a fancy university, there’s something about the experience presented in Community that can resonate. Sure, it’s completely overblown, but the fact that there are often campus-wide games being played, is it really that much of a stretch to think that some school would have a full-scale paintball war just for the rights to register first for classes? Who among us hasn’t wanted to create a blanket fort that stretches through hallways? In fact, for the most part, it’s when the show steps away from the school that it has it’s weakest episodes. The school environment, and the study room in particular, are so integral to what happens in the show, that removing that element is truly opening up a sinkhole at the story’s feet. Of course, making the concept of the show revolve around the college made perfect sense in the first season, but, if they had graduated and completely left, it would have crippled the program. Maybe the conceit of needing to save Greendale wasn’t the strongest reason to keep everyone in the study room, but it certainly worked better than trying to give reasons that they still connected. Yes, they’ve formed a community of their own, but, without Greendale to ground them, the odds of any of these people interacting again go straight out the window. Besides, in many ways, the “Save Greendale Committee” is something that had been established in previous seasons. As often as side characters complained about how the “Greendale Seven” felt they were the most important people at the school, it’s also clear that, because of their importance, they were the only ones who could mobilize in any way to keep the school away from the clutches of Subway. And yes, the whole “Save Greendale Committee” was an in-joke to the network about getting another season, but that’s part of the joy of the show as well, as I’ll explain next.

3. They Do Geek Humor Right

I’ve seen plenty of self-proclaimed geeks trumpet the awesomeness of The Big Bang Theory. They talk about how geeks are being portrayed in a positive fashion on television. I’ve tried. I really have. The problem I run into is that, in BBT, I don’t feel that geeks ARE portrayed positively. I feel like they’re just jokes for non-geek America. I also feel like that show, for all of it’s nerdy roots, likes to spend a lot of time doing winks and nods to the camera, as if to say, “See? We totally made a nerdy reference. See? We’ll mention it again. And again. PRAISE US!”. This is nothing new in television, but it is part of why I just can’t get behind BBT. Meanwhile, Community has more than it’s fair share of nerdy humor, but it hasn’t ever really felt to me like it was simply fanservice for the geek community. Look at the foosball episode. Randomly, in the middle of Jeff and Shirley squaring off, the visuals change to an anime style. And just as rapidly, they switch back, without explanation or dwelling on it. Community has had two different Dungeons & Dragons episodes, and neither show has focused on making jokes around role-playing games. Instead, the jokes are about the characters themselves, with some quick hits that are so inside, most gamers wouldn’t catch them. Those episodes really feel like watching a group of friends playing their own game. Community has never shied away from making jokes that are clearly aimed at the geek audience, but they’ve also never spent time obsessing about how they made a joke for the geeks. A lot of their humor is done in homage, and it just so happens that a lot of the things they’re paying homage to are things that the current generation of adult geeks happened to spend a lot of time with when younger. Even the recent GI Joe episode, which did in fact have some jokes about the conventions of the cartoon, worked more as a way to progress the story, instead of a throw-away bottle episode that happened to be very heavily 80’s cartoon influenced.

2. They Do Romance Right

Admittedly, not all of the time. However, most of the time, when there’s a romantic subplot for the characters, it rings true. In the first season, Jeff spent a lot of energy chasing after Britta. This makes perfect sense, as a straight-laced lawyer attracted to the fiery activist plays into the old adage of “opposites attract”. Eventually, Prof. Slater came into the mix, providing Jeff a more mature woman, someone closer to his life experiences. However, over time, the show has allowed a different romance for Jeff to breathe, and it’s the only one that’s based in mutual respect between the two. Yes, there are levels of creepy to the idea of a Jeff and Annie relationship, but, in many ways, they really do compliment each other. In fact, the drastic age difference is the biggest reason to keep them apart, and, ultimately, if they end up just friends, it wouldn’t be unsatisfying. Troy and Britta even felt somewhat natural for the both of them, especially the struggle for Troy between spending time with his girlfriend and spending time with his best friend. The only times that the romantic element has felt truly forced over the course of Community‘s 5 seasons are when it was done specifically to force story, such as the quick union (just as quickly shattered) in the season finale. Even though these characters are often ridiculous caricatures of real people, they’re interpersonal relationships, both romantic and otherwise, are grounded in a reality that is unmistakeable. After all, even Abed gets to date, and it never feels as though the woman he’s dating is pitying him. Instead, it seems as though the sweetness that is underneath his quirkiness is what’s witnessed by the women he’s interested in. The romance is allowed to kindle on the show because of something more than the superficial, which is the same way real romance happens.

1. The Viewing Public Loves Lost Causes

Think about it. Viewers are responsible for Futurama getting another run, albeit on Comedy Central. We’re the root cause for Family Guy getting a revival (which we’re paying for in our own way). We keep holding out hope that Firefly will return, and, if it wasn’t for the passionate viewers, would there even be thought of a Doctor Who revival? In these days of the internet, viewer response to the networks happens so much more immediately, and the outrage (or praise) flies at light speed. Some how, viewers have continued to keep Community on the air, despite the network having major concerns about viewership, the show moving on without the man who created it, and public departures from two of the stars. This is something that Community even makes fun of, most notably with Abed’s love of Cougartown. While early buzz is that Community is likely to receive an order for 6th season episodes, it is, by no means, a foregone conclusion. The viewing public has continuously supported shows that they love, even if they are simply an incredibly vocal minority. The audience that has embraced Community from the start knows all about Annie’s Boobs, the darkest timeline, and the reason why Troy’s traveling partner is such a big deal. That same audience also has shown that they will make their opinions heard. It remains to be seen whether or not the network will agree. But, after all, isn’t it time that more smart, clever, and non-pandering shows were given an opportunity to shine? Besides, Community has successfully navigated its way through five seasons, which puts them so incredibly close to their goal. The fact that Dan Harmon has outright stated that, if given a sixth season, he WILL make a feature-length Community movie to tie up the story just makes the need to see more of Greendale that much bigger.

#sixseasonsandamovie

Procrastrospection: Office Space

It just makes sense that today, my final day of gainful employment with regular paychecks (at least, for the foreseeable future), I would take the time to look back at a movie that does a lot to showcase some of the things about working in the white-collar world. Yes, it’s a satirical, overblown look, but there are clearly things within the moments presented that resonate, which is part of why the film has become a cult classic. So, let’s step back, and look at a Mike Judge film.

Office Space (1999)

First off, if you haven’t seen this film yet, I don’t know if we can be friends. I mean, we can PROBABLY still be friends, but I might have to sit down with you and watch the movie with you. I feel that strongly about it.

If you want to watch it on your own right now, it’s cool. I’ll wait.

Okay, back? Now that we’ve gotten that taken care of, Office Space is a film written and directed by Mike Judge, and was based on one of his cartoons. No, not THAT cartoon. A different one. One starring a character named Milton. Milton is an important part of Office Space, even though his character is almost never the focal point. The story instead follows Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) through his time as a completely disgruntled employee of Initech. Peter often bemoans his day job, only finding comfort and solace in the moments he spends with his friends, Samir Nagheenanajar (Ajay Naidu), and Michael Bolton (David Herman). He is, of course, terrorized by his coworkers, ranging from an overly chipper receptionist to the caricature of all of the worst management possible, Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole). Overall, it’s a slice of white-collar life, and Peter is clearly fed up with it all.

Things change when he goes (at his girlfriend’s urging) to see a hypnotherapist. Unfortunately for the doctor, and fortunately for Peter, the hypnotherapist passes away before he can pull Peter out of his state of deep relaxation. The newly relaxed Peter proceeds to spend the next day in bed, ignoring calls from his girlfriend (who leaves him), and from his boss (who was expecting him to work over the weekend). This continues into the next week, as Peter sloughs off of work to pursue a relationship with Joanna (Jennifer Aniston), a waitress at a local restaurant.

From that point forward, Peter is shown actually getting positive benefits from consultants brought in to slash the workforce, due to his overall attitude. This culminates in Peter learning that Michael and Samir are on the chopping block, and the three put together a scheme to net themselves a tidy little nest egg while hurting Initech, but in ways that shouldn’t be noticeable. That is, of course, until a misplaced decimal point leads to a total panic. The boys end up returning the money anonymously to the company, which ends up benefitting Milton (who has been the butt of much of Lumbergh’s abuse, and, it turns out, had actually been terminated by the company years before, without anyone actually telling him), who finds the money on his way to burning down the building.

Office Space is a send-up of all of the worst things that people could possibly experience while working in the white-color world, and yet, there are moments that resonate, even if you’ve had the best of all possible bosses. Peter’s admission to the consultants, when they mention his absences from work, that he “hadn’t really been missing it, Bob” strikes chords for anyone who’s ever had a job of any kind. After all, we’ve all certainly had days where the last thing we want to do is go and do what is required to make a living.

Aside from the setting and the way it’s handled, one of the things that helps Office Space stay rooted is truly in the casting. None of the actors really feel out of place in their roles, and a large credit for that goes to the fact that the film wasn’t populated with the traditional Hollywood standard of beauty. Even Aniston is a little dowdy in this film, although she’s definitely falling on the more attractive end of the scale. This makes sense in the grand scheme of things, especially given that, as a waitress, there is often a high value placed on physical appearance. By keeping the cast grounded in the types that wouldn’t seem out of place in an office environment, the film actually finds a way to make the crazy happenings seem a little more grounded.

All told, it’s no real wonder why Office Space has become such a classic, or why it is often quoted. The script is solid, the acting fits the nature of the film, and there’s something to be said about the kind of wish-fulfillment presented in the story. Whether it’s knocking down a cubical wall or the “grass is greener” mentality Peter has towards manual labor, the film resonates.

Besides, who among us hasn’t ever wanted to destroy an office machine that just never does what we need it to do?

Procrastrospection: Jeffrey

Happy start of the Olympics, everybody! Sure, according to a few reports out there, the city of Sochi might not be quite ready for the international spotlight, but what can you expect? It’s not like they had years to get everything in order after winning the bid. With the Olympics in Russia firmly in mind, it only makes sense to review a film such as the one I’ve chosen for today. It’s got heart. It doesn’t want to give up. It’s a gay romantic comedy.

Yeah, take THAT, Russia.

Jeffrey (1995)

Jeffrey (Steven Weber) is your typical young gay man living in Manhattan during the AIDS crisis. Well, typical, provided that the typical gay man living in that situation had given up on sex entirely, out of fear of what could happen. In fact, Jeffrey’s decision even seems to make him pretty happy, which confuses his friends Sterling (Patrick Stewart) and Darius (Bryan Batt). Of course, this wouldn’t be a romantic comedy of any kind without a love interest, and that’s where Steve (Michael T. Weiss) steps in. The chemistry between Jeffrey and Steve is there right from the first moment, but there’s just one catch. Steve is HIV-positive.

The film plays out with Jeffrey both listening to and ignoring his friends, depending on their advice, all while pining after Steve. For his part, Steve is leaving himself out there for Jeffrey to eventually move to. Over the course of the film, it becomes apparent that Jeffrey isn’t swearing off of sex out of fear of contracting AIDS himself, but out of fear of loving someone who is going to die sooner, rather than later, because of the terrible disease. Eventually, as he watches how Sterling and Darius cope with the disease, he realizes that he still needs to open himself up to the possibility of love, and life, even with the risks.

The film is an adaptation by Paul Rudnick of his own off-Broadway play, and elements of that show through the film. The seemingly random clips interspersed in the greater story do call back somewhat to the theatrical origins of the story, as that convention, while present in film, seems to feel more at home on the stage. However, the film keeps the overall elements simple enough, with just enough pomp to let the story flesh out a movie experience, without detracting from the main message.

One thing that stands out to me about Jeffrey is how, at it’s core, it’s simply a romantic comedy. Yes, the majority of the characters are gay, but they didn’t have to be. It could just as easily have been straight couples dealing with these same complications. While the gay community was certainly hit hard by the AIDS epidemic, they weren’t the only ones, and the story wouldn’t have been impacted much by replacing gay characters with straight ones.

That said, part of the reason that the film lingers in my mind is actually BECAUSE of the usage of gay characters. The story is universal, and, in the mid-90’s homosexuality was still largely seen in the media as being very campy, very over-the-top, and always flamboyant. Look at The Birdcage for proof. Yes, Sterling is an interior designer, and delivers a terrific line about being in the “Pink Panthers”. Yes, Darius is part of the chorus of Cats. It’s really in the character of Jeffrey himself where the typical (for the time) Hollywood presentation of gays is turned on its ear. After all, Jeffrey is a pretty average guy, who just so happens to have sworn off sex. Oh, and he prefers to have sex with other guys.

And that, to me, is part of the magic of Jeffrey. It isn’t in the message of living for love, or choosing not to be destroyed by fear. It’s that, in the mid-90’s, someone in Hollywood was willing to take a risk and show that, by and large, gays really aren’t any different than straights. It’s a point that still gets argued (foolishly, in my opinion) to this day. Jeffrey gave a story that is accessible and understandable to anyone who’s ever been afraid to take a chance on love, regardless of sexual orientation. That alone makes it something that should be put on more people’s viewing lists.

Procrastrospection: The Jerk

Every once in awhile, a movie comes along that redefines race relations within the country. This is not one of those movies. In fact, this is a movie that comes along once in awhile, leaping off of a simple piece of a stand-up routine. It’s also a movie that really allowed it’s star to shine brightly, proving that he was more than just a television and smoky comedy club star. That movie, of course, is The Jerk.

The Jerk (1979)

The Jerk tells us the story of Navin R. Johnson (Steve Martin). It begins with Navin homeless, relating his story, including his origins as a “poor black child”. Navin is a bit of a simpleton, and doesn’t seem to realize that he’s actually a white man, who was adopted into a black family. This is underscored by his exclamation of “You mean I’m gonna STAY this color?” when the news of his adoption is brought to him. Navin is also naturally gifted with a distinct lack of rhythm, but a song on the radio seems to speak to him, and he sets out on a voyage to find meaning to his life. Along the way, he gets a dog, invents the Opti-Grab, joins a traveling carnival, and finds plenty to do with his “special purpose”. Eventually, he falls in love with Marie (Bernadette Peters), gets rich, learns that the Opti-Grab makes things worse for people, loses his fortune, and loses Marie, setting the stage for his homeless narration. The film doesn’t end there, however, as Navin is rescued from the streets (and poverty) by Marie returning for him, bringing his family along. The story ends with a rousing dance number, complete with Navin showing his perfect rhythm.

The story of The Jerk isn’t breaking any new ground, as it relates a tale of a man finding the meaning to his life, losing everything, and eventually regaining it. However, it is in the way that the film handles this story, and the way that Steve Martin portrays the simple-minded Navin, that makes the film such a comedic classic. Navin, up to the point where he walks out on Marie (taking everything he needs, including his ashtray, his paddle-ball game, and his dog. Actually, scratch that about the dog) seems to honestly be trying his best to be helpful, he just doesn’t really get the nuances of life around him. In the opening narration, he refers to himself as a jerk, but, truth be told, that really is only applicable in his late interaction with Marie, as the rest of the time, Navin is shown to be considerate and kind, sending small amounts of money back home to his family the entire time he is on his voyage.

Based on a joke from one of Martin’s own stand-up routines, the movie gains it’s life and energy from Martin’s performance. It is his creation of Navin R. Johnson that helped pave the path for Martin’s future success, whether you’re looking at films like The Three Amigos, LA Story, or later efforts like Shopgirl. Martin is able to capture the role perfectly, and, with a character that could have been highly offensive, Martin infuses it with a deep affection and charm that is hard to pass by. The rest of the cast is equally up to the task of filling their roles, most notably with Bernadette Peters as Marie. It doesn’t seem like it would be easy to keep up with Martin’s frenetic energy, but it also doesn’t seem like it would be dull. In fact, the way the film comes across is less about a group of people slaving away to make a finished product, and more about a group of friends having fun riffing off of each other, while a camera happens to capture some of it.

Of course, another thing that makes The Jerk a classic is the highly quotable nature of the film. Whether it’s Navin extolling people to “stay away from these cans”, his realization about the “profit deal”, or oddly touching song about a Thermos for Marie, the film is scattered throughout with lines that are not only ridiculous, but are bound to linger in the mind of the viewer for quite some time afterwards. The film never takes itself too seriously, and the script seems almost as though it was written to make sure that being taken seriously was an impossibility.

In the same way that some stand-up routines have proven to stand the test of time (Cosby’s “Fatherhood”, Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can’t Say On Television”), there are some comedies that also remain, and are funny decades later, both the new viewers, and to people that have seen them previously. The Jerk is one of them, and definitely deserves to be listed as one of the greatest comedies of all time.

Procrastrospection: Black Dynamite

Sometimes, when making the decision about which movie to watch, you compile a lot of information. You look at the actors involved. You analyze whether or not you like what the director has done previously. You might even look at the music director, to see if maybe the score and soundtrack alone will be enough to keep you interested. Other times, you have the barest of information at the time, having only heard a few times how much others enjoyed the film. That was the case for me when I discovered the film I’m reviewing today.

Black Dynamite (2009)

Take one CIA agent. Throw in a plot revolving around avenging this agent’s dead brother, while also stopping a drug from destroying his community. Sounds like a fairly standard action movie, possibly something tangential to the Bourne series. Now, add a heaping spoof of both the era and the style of blaxsploitation cinema, and you’ve got something a little bit more. And a heck of a lot funnier than the Bourne movies. This is the formula that Black Dynamite follows, and does so well.

Starring Michael Jai White (formerly the star of Spawn) as the titular Black Dynamite, Vietnam War veteran and former CIA agent brought back into the fold to solve the murder of his brother, Jimmy. Dynamite discovers that Jimmy was working undercover for the CIA (because of course he was), and that there is currently a plot to plague black orphanages with heroin. Dynamite ties up those loose ends, before discovering that the government (predominantly white, because they’re “The Man”) are also putting out a drug inside of Anaconda Malt Liquor. This drug will target the black community as a whole (well, mostly the men, because of course it will). A further excursion to Kung Fu Island allows Dynamite to realize that the top of this particularly nasty drug chain is the President of the United States. Sounds pretty straight forward, doesn’t it?

In a true homage to the blaxsploitation films of the 70s, Black Dynamite utilizes the concept of “one take” throughout, which leads to “filming errors”, many of which were scripted to increase the comedy. Actors are replaced, stage directions are read aloud, and equipment is often visible within the shot. The actors naturally play the entire thing as being deadly serious, which just creates more comedy, as the ludicrous nature of the film is slammed against the serious presentation of the actors. The story ramps up the ridiculous factor, which forces the “filming errors” to keep pace, but, overall, the film ends up working far better than it would seem on paper. The action sequences are well-choreographed, the acting is just right for the film, and the script is generally solid, even if there are some absolutely groan-inducing lines. There’s just something magical about about hearing an actor deliver their line, immediately followed by “he says sarcastically” in a movie that knows exactly what it’s doing.

At points, Black Dynamite is an exercise in seeing just how much ridiculousness they can put on the screen, but given the style of film, that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The threads that tie Black Dynamite to movies like Shaft, Superfly, and Dolemite are clear, and, what’s even more clear, those threads are laid down with a strong sentiment of love. The filmmakers didn’t set out to point out the foibles of 70s blaxsploitation; instead, they created a film that happened to highlight the unintentional comedy of films from that style, while also making their own love for those films clear.

Besides, it’s been awhile since I’ve seen this movie, and I still hear echoes of “Dynomite! Dynomite!” in my head. That may not seem like a positive thing for this film, but, trust me. It definitely is.

Procrastrospection: Clue

Sometimes, movies will stick with you for the strangest reasons. Whether it be because of a quirk of the plot, the performance (good or bad) of one of the cast, or the simple presence of Tim Curry (admit it, he’s someone that generally sticks), there is just something about the film that keeps coming back from the recesses of your mind. Of course, it helps when something else makes pays homage to the original incarnation, which is exactly what this week’s movie is about. I’ve just caught the Psych episode “100 Clues”, because I’ve been watching the show on DVD when I get around to it, and it brought Clue back to my mind. Not a difficult task, really, as, like I said, there’s just something that makes certain movies stick around, and Clue is one that sticks for me.

Clue (1985)

First and foremost, yes, this is a movie adaptation of a classic board game. However, before you write it off as having nothing to do with the game in question (I’m looking at you, Battleship), realize that the movie Clue is actually a pretty decent crime caper, revolving around murder, just like the game. Heck, the movie even takes the time to explain why all of the characters are in the mansion in the first place. The owner of the mansion, Mr. Boddy (a bit prophetic of a name) has been blackmailing everyone involved, and his butler, Wadsworth (Tim Curry) is trying to get everyone to team up, and report the blackmail to the police. The guests are the well-known Clue characters, Mrs. Peacock (Eileen Brennan), Mrs. White (Madeline Kahn), Professor Plum (Christopher Lloyd), Mr. Green (Michael McKean), Colonel Mustard (Martin Mull), and Ms. Scarlet (Lesley Ann Warren). Of course, that’s not all, as, aside from Wadsworth the butle things (butle is the correct verb for what a butler does, right?), there’s the maid, Yvette (Colleen Camp, in what appears to be a gravity-defying costume). The action takes place in the mid-1950s, against a backdrop of McCarthyism, and all of the characters are desperate to keep their secrets from being leaked out. Naturally, when Mr. Boddy is found dead, it becomes a spirited game of trying to figure out who killed who, with each guest trying to plant the blame squarely on someone else.

The film acts as both a bit of an ensemble piece (looking at the some of the powerhouses cast, it couldn’t really be avoided), while being madcap, a little slapstick, and definitely invoking elements of three-door comedies. From the moment that Boddy’s body is revealed, the action barely lets up. Over the course of the night, more murders are committed, all leading up to the final reveals, as there are, of course, accusations of “It was (insert character name here), in the (insert location here), with the (insert deadly weapon here)”. All in all, the movie is able to stand as a darker comedy set around murder and mistakes, while also playing with the game that it’s based on.

If anything, it’s the endings that really made this movie a bit trickier for audiences to absorb. When it first came out in theaters, audiences couldn’t possibly be sure which of the three endings they were seeing. To make matters worse, people were generally led to believe that the endings varied from showtime to showtime, when, in truth, they were entirely based on which theater you went to. What was potentially meant to be a fun little marketing tool to help promote the movie ended up backfiring a bit, because audiences didn’t want to see the same film multiple times just to see the multiple endings, or, alternately, they didn’t want to see it at all, because they might miss out on the one true ending of the film. Mind you, each ending actually does stand alone, and works to resolve the plot points of the film.

One of the reasons why Clue has stuck around, even after not being treated well upon initial release, was the concept of home video, which not only gave people an opportunity to see something they missed out on in theaters, but, with a film like Clue, allowed audiences to see ALL of the endings in one sitting. This was taken a step further in DVD, where an option existed to watch the film with an ending picked at random. Ultimately, I do believe that Ending C is probably the best, and truest to the concept of the film, as each character (with the exception of Mr. Green) has murdered one other person in cold blood during the course of the night. It is a bit convoluted, but, really, who hasn’t played a game of Clue where they’ve imagined that all of the characters are there to cover for their own crime, and only one person is going to get caught in the long run?

Even with all that, I’m still not entirely sure what it is about Clue that sticks with me. Maybe it’s the cast, and the performances there-in. Maybe it’s the comedic way of handling a murder movie, taking a loving poke at that particular genre (I do love spoofs, parodies, and gentle satires). Or maybe, just maybe, it’s the fact that, deep down, I know I’m a sucker for every single “cult classic” movie I’ve ever seen, and I want to see them brought to wider audiences.

Or maybe it’s just Madeline Kahn talking about flames. That bit never gets old to me.

 

Do you have a movie you’d like to see me talk about? If so, leave a comment, and, if I’ve seen it, I’ll give it a shot!

Procrastrospection: Big Trouble in Little China

Today, I actually spent some time fretting. I seriously thought about reviewing The Fellowship of the Ring. In the end, I’m shying away from that, because I know it would then commit me to reviewing The Two Towers and The Return of the King. Not because I’m concerned about tackling a series of movies that, if watched back-to-back-to-back, would take up most of a day (or a weekend, if you’re talking about the special editions with all of the bonus material. And no, I didn’t shy away from it because it’s Tolkien’s birthday (truth be told, until a friend posted about it on Facebook, I had no idea, because I’m a bad geek when it comes to dates). No, instead, I’m shying away from the film because, well, there’s a movie that just got placed onto the Netflix streaming service that has long been a favorite of mine, and I love when a good coincidence comes together. So, without further ado, let’s move on to this week’s review.

Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

If you were sitting in 1987 talking about this film, there are decent odds that the people you’d be talking with hadn’t seen it, or even heard of it. Big Trouble in Little China didn’t do all that well at the box office. It wasn’t until home video that the film started to take off, which earned it a (much deserved) cult film status. Really, this isn’t horribly surprising when you look at the overall concept of the film. Take a truck driver who’s going to help his friend retrieve his lady love from the airport. Throw in a sarcastic lawyer to be the love interest for the truck driver, and then add a heaping portion of mysticism and magic all wrapped up in a package that seems somewhat like a Western set in Chinatown, and you’ve got your film.

There’s a reason that the film has Western feel to it. That was how it was originally envisioned, before it was dramatically overhauled and modernized, to better match up against Eddie Murphy’s The Golden Child. And yet, even with the huge overhaul, there’s just something about Big Trouble in Little China that sticks with me, even after all of these years. Part of it, certainly, is tied to the performances delivered by the actors. Kurt Russell is Jack Burton, the truck driver mentioned above, a man who’s a hero in spite of himself. Burton seems to stumble his way through the events around him, but comes out of it all not only with the girl, but with the knowledge that he’s helped save Chinatown from a terrifying evil. Kim Cattrall is Gracie Law, the lawyer Jack ends up falling for, and she’s able to step outside of the typical “damsel in distress” tropes to provide a bit of offense of her own. And, of course, you’ve got David Hong as David Lo Pan, the mystical sorcerer who’s behind the plot to kidnap the girls. After all, if Lo Pan can only get a girl with green eyes to marry him, he’ll be granted eternal life (although why Lo Pan never tried to search for his green-eyed benefactor in Ireland is beyond me).

The film seems to play out at first as a standard story about rescuing a fair maiden from evil, but it quickly steps above that. There are some impressive martial arts scenes, generally featuring Dennis Dun as Wang Chi on the side of good, and any combination of Carter Wong, Peter Kwong, and James Pax as Thunder, Rain, and Lightning respectively (yes, Lo Pan’s main henchmen are named after weather conditions, and the reasoning why becomes apparent when their powers are shown). There’s also a generous amount of comedy scattered through the film, often at the expense of our hero, Jack Burton. Whether it’s something simple, like unloading a clip into a weak ceiling or questioning if the black blood of the Earth is supposed to be oil, Burton’s cluelessness about exactly what he’s up against help drive the film. Of course, by the end, both leading men (Burton and Wang Chi) are able to rescue their respective love interests, having defeated evil in this go around, but the anticipated ending doesn’t really make the film worse, even if it was predictable. Sometimes, going with the expected is exactly what audiences need.

Burton is a satire of some of the great heroes of cinema. He’s bold, brash, and more than willing to storm into danger without making sure he knows what he’s facing. The difference between him and the types of characters portrayed by men like John Wayne is that Burton fails more often than not, even if he is able to come out on the winning side in the end. His bravado actually causes more problems than it fixes, and, despite seeming to have grown over the course of the film, he’s still unleashing his hubris on anyone within earshot of his CB signal.

Somehow, though, even with all of that, I still hold on to Jack’s final line from the film. Because, yes, I have caught myself saying “Give me your best shot, pal. I can take it.”