Cade Snyder Takes Your Requests & Dedications! - Part 2
Frogs (1972) - If I was content enough to boil a movie down to one snarky comment, I would say that Frogs is basically The Happening with slightly less production quality and slightly more logic. The film falls into the ’70s B-movie cycle of absurd killer animal movies, with a wealthy Southern family finding themselves the victims of the many animals surrounding them, apparently because the family’s patriarch hasn’t been very respectful of nature. As you can imagine, the movie is fairly ridiculous. The deaths are all hilariously strange: the son who is mummified by sentient moss and spider webs, the other son who is killed by noxious fumes from lizards knocking over chemicals in a greenhouse couple with his own inability to figure out how doors work, the mom lured by a butterfly into getting covered in leeches and bitten by a rattlesnake, and further deaths via crocodile, water moccasin, and snapping turtle. And then finally the frogs, who have been swarming in impressive numbers the whole movie, make the final kill, although the film clearly doesn’t know how frogs would kill anybody, so they just show them piling up around the old man, cut to a wide shot of the mansion, put in the sound of him screaming, and boom, credits, movie done. Perhaps more ridiculous than the deaths or the idea of frogs as ominous (which the filmmakers try to push really hard by cutting to shots of frogs over and over again) is the fact that despite members of his family dying around him, the father of the family still refuses to cancel his birthday party. Even The Beastie Boys weren’t that committed to partying. Frogs isn’t a great movie by any stretch, but compared to other B-horror movies of the ’70s, it stands up fairly well. The film is competently shot and has surprisingly fine acting thanks to a young Sam Elliott and an old Ray Milland (who was certainly at a low point in his career but still an entertaining performer), and to its credit, it at least tries to put some real ideas behind its horror. It’s smart to set the film in the South, considering that Southern conservatives tend to be the most opposed to environmental regulations despite the region’s economic dependence on the environment. The film also plays up some of the racial tensions of the South too, although it somewhat bungles that by taking the three black characters and having them be chased out of the movie by birds, as if the filmmakers didn’t know what to do with them anymore. Don’t expect to be scared or otherwise impressed by Frogs, but you can definitely bank on you and your friends having a few laughs from it. Also, seriously, it’s way better than The Happening. That movie is dumb.
Three out of five suns
The Rutles: All You Need is Cash (1978) - A spiritual predecessor to This is Spinal Tap, The Rutles is a mockumentary on The Rutles, a.k.a. The Pre-fab Four, tracing the route of the band’s career from small clubs in Liverpool to super-stardom and finally to the band’s demise, a route that quite conveniently the career path of another famous Liverpudlian foursome. Monty Python member Eric Idle wrote, directed, and starred in dual roles as Dirk McQuickly, the Paul of the Rutles, and as the film’s narrator and on-screen interviewer, which naturally gives the film’s humor just a hint of Python absurdism, exemplified in various scenes of the narrator struggling to stay in the camera’s frame or in a scene late in the film when the press agent (played by another Python member, Michael Palin) of the band’s record label, Rutle Corps, gives an interview about the stability and security of the company while an unending stream of thieves pours out of the building’s front doors carrying out increasingly large objects and pieces of furniture, until the interview is ended by a thief stealing the microphone. The film isn’t wholly Pythonesque, however, as it is mixed with the comedy style of ’70s-era Saturday Night Live. The film was actually produced by the famed SNL producer Lorne Michaels and co-directed by Gary Weis, who shot many of the shorts seen in the first few years of SNL, and first aired on NBC, and featured cameos from several recognizable SNL faces. These two styles are further mixed with the style of the band the film is parodying, The Beatles, and the various videos and films that they were a part of, with the film doing a fantastic job of recreating the sound of the band in its various periods and the look of their many television and film appearances. The combination of all these elements succeeds in creating a unique, entertaining, and, most importantly, funny film. Appearances from Mick Jagger, Paul Simon, Ron Wood, and even George Harrison (as the interviewer whose mic is pilfered) add to the experience; it’s entertaining in and of itself seeing that these figures can get in on the joke and laugh on themselves. Perhaps the film’s only flaw is the music itself - not because it’s bad, but oddly enough, because it’s too good. The parody songs by Neil Innes (who plays the John character in the Rutles) are very convincing facsimiles of Beatles songs, but aren’t necessarily laugh out loud funny or even any more ridiculous than some of the original Beatles song (which is partly the point), and since many of them are featured in their entirety in the film, they tend to derail the momentum of the film’s humor at times. Otherwise, though, the film is as hilarious as a good episode of either Monty Python or SNL in the ’70s, and it’s a treat for any Beatles fan too…which is basically everybody on Earth, right?
Four out of five suns
Unbreakable (2000)- An anecdote: I remember very specifically seeing the trailer for Devil in movie theaters. When the trailer started, nobody had any particular reactions, and as it went on, still no reactions, until it got to the title proclaiming it based on a story by M. Night Shyamalan. Immediately upon seeing Shyamalan’s name, a guy in the audience groaned loudly, and the entire audience started to laugh, and it was at that point I realized how poisonous Shyamalan’s name had become in film. Devil wasn’t even directed or for that matter written by him, and yet seeing his name was enough to make that entire audience immediately sour on the film. There are a handful of other directors who can illicit the same reaction, like Michael Bay or Uwe Boll, but none of those other directors ever had the critical clout that Shyamalan once did with The Sixth Sense and in the following few years, before he was so thoroughly rejected by audiences. With Shyamalan’s current reputation in mind, it’s interesting to watch a film like Unbreakable and see how solid a filmmaker he once was as well as the seeds of his eventual fall from grace. Unbreakable stars Bruce Willis as David Dunn, a security guard who miraculously survives a catastrophic train crash without any injuries. Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), a seller and collector of rare comics stricken with a rare disease making his bones easily breakable, has theorized that if he is one extreme - very breakable - then there must be someone in the world who is the other extreme - unbreakable - and he sets out to convince David that he is that unbreakable man, the real-world version of a superhero. Unbreakable is a genuinely unique and smart take on the superhero genre, taking the fantastic idea of a super-powered man and putting it into a surprisingly plausible real-world scenario. Willis and Jackson play a large part in this, playing both of their roles completely straight without any hint of irony, both reacting to unlikely circumstances in a very believable and, most importantly, subdued manner. Part of the film’s charm is that it does make subtle nods at comic book tropes, such as the alliteration of David Dunn’s name (a la Clark Kent, Bruce Banner, Peter Parker…), the assigning of color schemes to the hero and villain (David is green, Elijah is purple), David’s weakness to water (an odd choice to be his kryptonite, but still), and the choice of camera angles and framing to mimic comic book panels, but it does all of that subtly, so as not to become too tongue-in-cheek or cartoonish. The grounded nature of the film’s plot and visual style separate it from other superhero movies, and even arguably makes it ahead of its time, five years before Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins started the overall trend in the superhero genre towards more realistic, grittier films. As unique as it is among superhero films, however, it’s not unique as a Shyamalan film, i.e. it has a twist ending, the kind that is synonymous with Shyamalan and that has very much haunted his career ever since The Sixth Sense. In fact, although reviews of the film when it was released were mostly favorable, many reviewers were disappointed with the ending, some even blatantly saying it wasn’t as good an ending as The Sixth Sense’s. In hindsight, this criticism seems unfair; the ending fits perfectly with the film and the idea of opposites and extremes established in the film - if David Dunn is a superhero, there must be a supervillian - and it’s hard to see what other ending could be hoped for. That criticism says a lot about how Shyamalan’s name ended up where it is now, sunken under the pressure of living up to The Sixth Sense, a problem exacerbated by his insistence on putting twist endings on so many films in a row. While the ending isn’t as weak as the critics suggest, there are still other weak points in the writing. A great example is the scene where David’s son, who has become convinced that Elijah is right before his dad has come to accept it, frantically points a gun at his father wanting to prove that he can’t be hurt. The scene, in relation to the relative reality of the rest of the film, comes off as absurd and overblown, a moment of emotion far too extreme and, in light of that extreme emotion, relatively unconsequential to the rest of the plot. Giving David ESP powers also seems at odds with the reality of the film; another draft of the script and Shyamalan could have easily carried the plot along without the ESP, keeping the film wholly grounded in reality. Such problems in the writing don’t entirely derail the film, however (hey, that’s a train wreck pun!); it’s still a unique entry in the superhero genre, and genuinely one of the better films in that genre’s history, and it makes its message about everyday exceptionalism and self-fulfillment quite ably. One hopes that maybe one day Shyamalan can make his way back to making films as assured as Unbreakable, but if the After Earth trailers are any indication, it doesn’t look like that will be any time soon.
Four out of five suns