Jake Kasdan’s Orange County is comedy gold that has since gone platinum, and one of the best examples of basket case comedy blending together with heartfelt moments I’ve ever seen. Kasdan is the son of legendary Lawrence Kasdan, and it stars Colin Hanks (Tom’s spawn) and adorable Schyuler Fisk is Sissy Spacek’s kid which is interesting, but any snarky remarks about nepotism can be shut down simply by how terrific the film is, they went out on their own, showed talent and made something genuinely good. Hanks plays a California surfer bum who has an epiphany and decides its time to go to college, Stanford in particular. Scoring admission proves a challenge when he’s saddled with his deranged family including hopeless druggie brother (Jack Black), emotionally stormy mother (Catherine O Hara, priceless) and manic nutjob dad (John Lithgow, equally priceless). Hijinks ensue as he tries to win over a tight assed Dean (Harold Ramis), hold on to his loving girlfriend (Fisk, the spitting image of Spacek) and babysit big bro. There’s a kind of full moon looniness on display here, an offbeat, near abstract style of comedy that won me over almost immediately, it’s lighthearted, raunchy when it needs to be and almost effortlessly enjoyable. Cameos abound, including Chevy Chase, Ben Stiller, Jane Adams, Leslie Mann, Lily Tomlin, Lizzy Caplan, Nat Faxon and a superb Kevin Kline. A winner.
If you ever feel the need to define ‘tonally fucked” in the cinematic dictionary (if there was such a thing), you’d find a one sheet of The January Man, a warped, malignantly silly crime/comedy/thriller… something. It dabbles in wannabe screwball farce, serial killer mystery, breezy romance, high profile police procedural and as a result of it’s genre flim-flamming, has no clue what kind of movie it wants to be, and ends up a raging, tone deaf dumpster fire. It’s so all over the place that marketing churned out a bi-polar publicity package that at times seems like it’s advertising two completely different films. I used to see it on the shelf at blockbuster leering out at me like an eerie gothic murder mystery, Kevin Kline and Alan Rickman glowering evocatively off the dark hued cover. In reality it’s something just south of Clouseau, as Kline plays a bumbling, overzealous guru detective who scarcely has time amongst the silliness to hunt down a shave or change of clothes, let alone a murderer. Rickman? His odd, awkward artist friend who vaguely helps with the case but really isn’t necessary to any of the plot threads, and certainly appears nothing like his freaky persona does on the cover, suggestive of a villain. There’s another poster floating around on IMDb that is more honest about what’s in store, Kline perched like a loon in a brightly lit doorway while love interest Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio peers adorably around his shoulder in true benign comic fashion. The film wants to be both of those aesthetics and more though, wants to have it’s cake, eat it, regurgitate it against the wall and film that, which is at times what it seems like we’re looking at. The police force brings disgraced cop Kline back on the force to catch some killer, while everyone runs about tripping over their shoelaces. Harvey Keitel is Kline’s brother, now a police commissioner, Danny Aiello the precinct captain, Susan Sarandon Kline’s estranged wife, and so on. Rod Steiger causes a hubbub as the mayor, staging a terrifying meltdown in one scene that goes on for minutes, a curiously unedited, noisy tantrum that dismantles what little credibility and structure the film had to begin with and seems out of place, even by the barebones standards set here. This is a good one to watch if you yourself are making a film and want to see an example of what not to do in terms of deciding on and cementing a certain style, instead of carelessly chucking in every haphazard element on a whim like they did here. Equivalent to a grade school theatre play.
I don’t get the hate for Barry Sonnenfield’s Wild Wild West. I just don’t. It’s like I saw a completely different film than the entire rest of the continent. To my knowledge, there’s me and a couple other friends I know who love and cherish it, and the rest of the world has seemingly cast it out into the cold, inexplicably bashing it no end. Wtf. It’s a rollicking good time, full of a brilliant blend of situational and slapstick humour, lively characters from a great group of performers, incredible production design, and a dash of swash and buckle. It may not have much in common with the 1960’s era tv show its based on, but kudos to it for breaking new ground. Will Smith plays Marshall Jim West, a cocky (there’s literally a small window of freeze frame where you can see his ebony schlock in full glory. And don’t even ask me how I know that), ballsy (ok sorry I’ll stop) secret service cowboy badass who is working a case against some nasty villains who want to use president Ulysses S. Grant for diabolical ends. He’s led to old foe General ‘Bloodbath’ McGrath (Ted Levine in a show stopping, wickedly devious southern psycho role) a confederate lowlife who will hopefully lead him to whoever is kidnapping the nation’s best and brightest scientists for some Bond villain-ish scheme. West is joined by kooky inventor Artemis Gordon (a classy Kevin Kline) and the two embark on a shoot em up quest to thwart the evil plan of Dr. Arliss Loveless (Kenneth Branagh), a dastardly mega villain with plans for America that don’t involve presidents or laws or anything sane. The film is endlessly inventive, wildly funny and parades forth a reel of set pieces, each more amazing than the last until we realize we’re actually watching a fifty foot tall steam punk mechanical spider stomp all over the Utah desert (there’s a priceless story involving that and the film’s odd duck of a producer Jon Peters, which you can watch Kevin Smith regale an audience with over on YouTube). West and Gordon are joined by sultry Rita (Salma Hayek) a Femme Fatale with a hidden agenda who tags along under the guise of damsel in distress. It’s just plain fun and I still don’t get how anyone could dislike it. Witty barbs, raunchy double entendres and sarcastic banter permeate the wonderful script. Nifty gadgets, detailed costumes and clanking machinery speckle the epic production design. An atmosphere of playful fun oversees all of it from beginning to end. Smith and Kline make a dysfunctional buddy duo for the ages, squabbling right up until the last frame. Branagh hams it up so far over the top as the bad guy that he nearly implodes on himself. Levine is deliciously creepy and crusty. Watch for other gem performances from Bai Ling, M. Emmett Walsh, Debra Christofferson, Sofia Eng, Rodney A. Grant and Musetta Vander. If you’ve seen it and already love it, good for you let’s go have a beer. If you’ve seen it and hate it, you’re a silly bum (to put it mildly). If you haven’t seen it, do so, form your own opinion and fall into one of the above two categories. It’s a classic for me.