Saturday, April 27, 2013

Movie Reviews-The English Teacher, Fresh Meat, Yellowbeard

The English Teacher
directed by Craig Zisk
I always liked Julianne Moore ever since the movies Hannibal and Boogie Nights, which is why I was interested in watching this film. I hadn't seen her in a comedic role before. The English Teacher is a successful mix of comedy and drama. And like (500) Days of Summer, it has a few important things to say about life. Unlike (500) Days of Summer I wouldn't say this was a must see movie but it is unusual in that it actually accepts that people over a certain age still have desires and that people under a certain age aren't necessarily dumb.

I liked the setting and background for this movie. Most of it takes place in a school, a gym, or someone's home. Everything looks and feels very real. The sound levels are well done as well. You can hear everyone. The character motivations might occasionally be described as broad but again they are very true to life. People get lonely and do stupid things. People gossip and try to protect their jobs.

The plot is that Linda Sinclair (Julianne Moore) is a Pennsylvania area high school English teacher. She has incredible zest and passion for her work and her students. But she doesn't quite have that same feeling in the rest of her life. Life is basically passing her by. In a voiceover, an older female narrator (her conscience?, her fear?) explains that Linda is an incurable romantic and thus thinks that any man she meets should live up to the men found in works like "Pride and Prejudice" or "A Tale of Two Cities". Of course most men don't and in one of the film's running gags, when Linda (rarely) goes out on internet initiated dates, she immediately judges and grades the men. Negative comments in red ink appear on screen. No, Linda is happy most days just to go home alone and read or watch TV. And the voiceover says that's just the way it should be, thank you very much.

Things change when she bumps into a former student Jason Sherwood (Michael Angarano). The last she heard Jason had gone to NYU's writing program and on to Broadway but Jason ruefully explains that he washed out of NYU and is under increasing pressure from his father, Dr. Tom Sherwood (Greg Kinnear in an excellent albeit small role) to attend law school. Linda thinks this is a shame because she still believes Jason has real, world changing writing talent. Feeling encouraged, Jason shares with Linda his masterpiece play, something he claims is based in part on his own life. Linda reads it and is transformed by the artistry and tragedy on display. She shares it with the hammy drama teacher Carl Kapinas (Nathan Lane), who can't stop telling everyone about the time he auditioned for Soderbergh, as well as the school principal Slocum (Jessica Hecht) and vice principal Pelaski (Norbert Butz). I really liked Slocum and Pelaski as they reminded me of my own high school principal and vice-principal. Slocum is always calculating the proper political move to try to keep everyone happy when she's not worrying about budgets and lawsuits. Pelaski doesn't know very much about art but does know kids need suspensions and detention and an occasional kick in the behind. And he's happy to oblige.

Based on Linda's and Carl's enthusiasm for the play Slocum and Pelaski decide to allow the play to be cast and performed at the school. Positive it will be a success, Linda even agrees to pay for any cost overruns out of her own pocket. Linda gets Jason to act as consultant and producer. Linda is excited by the prospect of "saving" Jason from law school and working closely with a creative person. And Jason is excited by Linda. And that's when Jason shows Linda how hot for teacher he really is while Linda shows Jason how to make a lady smile. After that obviously things go wrong. The play, Linda's reputation, her job, her career are all at stake. It is an interesting phenomenon that illicit sex can harm or help a man's reputation but virtually never helps a woman's. Them's the breaks. Linda's jealousy and defensiveness don't help matters, either. When you spend too long lying to yourself you lose the ability to tell when other people can see through your lies. Students "coughing" and saying "ho" are the least of Linda's problems.

This was, to me anyway, a surprisingly funny film. It doesn't have any obvious bad guys. It's just a slice of life that doesn't take any sides other than giving the very clear message that whoever you are, whatever you do, you need to get up and enjoy life because it's too precious to waste away. Check this one out. It's not groundbreaking or anything like that but there are worse ways to spend your time.

Fresh Meat
directed by Danny Mulheron
I watched this movie because of Morrison. This was a New Zealand horror movie that with a few changes could have reached the over the top zaniness shown by director Peter Jackson in his classic grand guignol horror film Dead Alive. As in Dead Alive, the protagonist has a secret and doesn't quite fit into their family. You've probably seen this story before. A bunch of would be hard cases decide to take someone hostage only to discover that the hostages aren't quite what they seem to be. This film is a horror comedy but it doesn't quite work well as either one. A few interesting subplots start but then stop before they go anywhere.

The film's protagonist is Rina Crane (Hanna Tevita), a Maori nubile teen who has been sent to a girl's boarding school by her father Hemi Crane (a slumming Temeura Morrison) who intends that his daughter remain virginal until marriage. Well Rina may be only technically virginal or perhaps only virginal in a heterosexual sense as the film opens up with Rina successfully using the old "I don't have any soap" opener with a fellow classmate in the communal shower. Fun ensues. Rina strongly prefers her own gender, something to which her father is oblivious. Hemi is a college associate professor.

For break, Hemi picks Rina up from school and returns her to the family home. At home Rina's mother and Hemi's wife Margaret (Nicola Kawana) is completing shooting the latest TV episode of her celebrity chef show. Hemi is genially jealous of his wife's greater material success. He's worried she may have cheated on him. Hemi believes that his status as associate, as opposed to full professor, is because of racist pakehas (whites) and may have cost him Margaret's respect. But before Hemi and Margaret can get started on their mutually enjoyable rounds of snide insinuations and subdued accusations, Rina discovers a human hand in the refrigerator. It appears that Hemi, Margaret and Rina's brother Glenn (Kahn West) have taken to cannibalism. They were going to tell her but the time was never quite right. The impetus for this came from Hemi, who having read about cannibalism and the Solomites cult, thinks the time is right to reintroduce the practice, for selected people only, of course. To Hemi this practice has religious and cultural utility and has the added benefit of giving him superpowers.
But before Rina can truly get into it with her apparently insane family their home is invaded by four bumbling desperadoes, the multiracial Tan gang. The gang includes leader Richie Tan (Leand Macadaan), who was broken out of prison by his group but looks like the only thing he can lead is the line to the all you can eat buffet, his idiot cokehead brother Paulie Tan (Ralph Hilaga), Johnny (Jack Shadbolt), an even dumber gang member who knows a little something about cooking, and Gigi (Kate Elliot) Richie's putative girlfriend, the group's only remotely intelligent member and Rina's immediate lust object. The feeling may be mutual.

This was a movie that had a few funny moments, mostly provided by Morrison, but it's not something that is a must see or even something you would rent at full price. The Haka makes an appearance in a scene that is both funny and highly inappropriate. However, this film is not as funny as it thinks it is. If you want to experience Morrison in much better surroundings and truly see what a skilled actor he is please check out Once Were Warriors, which unlike Fresh Meat, really is a must see film.

directed by Mel Damski
This is a Monty Python film in all but name as it stars Python players John Cleese, Eric Idle and Graham Chapman. However it also stars Americans Peter Boyle, Martin Hewitt, Madeline Kahn, and Cheech and Chong. So the result is a mix of British and American humor styles that doesn't quite work as well as you might have expected. It's more a collection of skits than a seamless comedy film. There are some places where you will laugh out loud and a few others where you might think, well that didn't really work did it. I recently rewatched this. It wasn't as funny as I remembered it being but we all change over the years, I guess. There are a number of jokes that would be considered extremely inappropriate by today's standards. This film is not GLAAD or NOW approved.

The title character (Chapman, he wrote the film) is a murderous English pirate who's been captured by the English government, convicted of tax evasion and locked up for decades. The character is a parody of both Blackbeard and Al Capone. Despite being in the worst prisons they have, virtually starved to death and tortured daily for information, Yellowbeard has steadfastly refused to tell anyone where he buried his greatest treasure.

Despairing of ever getting their hands on the treasure, the government decides to heed a suggestion by Commander Clement (Idle) and simultaneously increase Yellowbeard's (about to end) sentence by a ridiculous amount and turn a blind eye when the enraged Yellowbeard escapes from prison. The obvious hope is that Yellowbeard will lead them to the treasure. Clement also has a secret agent watching Yellowbeard, Yellowbeard's former first mate Moon (Peter Boyle). Moon has to be careful about getting too close to the over the top savage Yellowbeard as he previously lost a limb when he annoyed Yellowbeard. Yellowbeard is known for being one of the world's most evil men, prone to such atrocities as slicing off victims' lips and making them eat them.

Yellowbeard puts his old crew back together. Strangely he doesn't go after the treasure immediately but rather searches out his wife Betty (Madeline Kahn) and son Dan (Martin Hewitt). It turns out that these two people unknowingly have some information that Yellowbeard needs. And that sets off a great treasure hunt. I liked this movie but it was uneven. Chapman is outrageously over the top. He gets most of the good lines. When he scornfully asks Dan how many men he's killed and Dan replies that he thinks he killed one or two, Yellowbeard angrily responds that Dan will never kill anyone if he goes around thinking! He fondly recounts all the horrible things he had done before he was Dan's age. Cheech and Chong show up as Spanish religious refugees who aren't so holy as not to want a piece of the action. James Mason is a bored and sadistic ship captain who prevents every sailor on the ship (except for himself) from bringing women onboard. As mentioned, this film wasn't quite as hilarious overall as I remember it being but parts of it are quite funny. It was also Marty Feldman's last movie.
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