"I know better than they do": Movie Reviews, Week #8 - The Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy
Posted on: July 1, 2011 by gregoryeverett.
It is I, Greg Everett, coming to you once again from the fringes of irrelevancy with a movie from 1996. Now, if you’re Canadian, and of a certain age, you may remember a sketch comedy show called The Kids in the Hall that ran on CBC from 1988 – 1994; admittedly, you probably didn’t like it or watch it, but goddamn it, you remember it, right? Right?! It was produced by Lorne Michaels, the same man who brought us Saturday Night Live, and starred, in no particular order, Kevin MacDonald, Mark McKinney, Bruce McCulloch, Dave Foley, and Scott Thompson. Some memorable sketches and beloved recurring characters meant The Kids in the Hall achieved a bit of mainstream popularity, but they were more or less relegated to cult classic status. And that isn’t a bad thing at all; The Kids’ particular brand of humour is geared far more toward a vanguard of devoted weirdoes. Which is why you’ve never heard of their 1996 feature film Brain Candy, and why I’m here today to tell you about it.
Director: Kelly Makin
Writers: Norm Hiscock, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin MacDonald, Mark McKinney, Scott Thompson
Starring: Kevin MacDonald, Mark McKinney, Bruce McCulloch, Dave Foley, Scott Thompson
There’s no sense listing who played who because, in sketch show fashion, the Kids play a variety of characters in an ensemble cast. I can, however, give you a synopsis: Roritor, a leading pharmaceutical company, is hemorrhaging profit, and so guts its research and development labs; Dr. Chris Cooper, leader of an R&D team, offers up his untested cure for depression in order to preserve his job and his laboratory. The drug, dubbed Gleemonex, works by chemically isolating the patient’s happiest memory and locking them in it. All is well, especially for Dr. Cooper, as the world enjoys the benefits of eternal happiness and he enjoys the benefits of inventing such a wonder-drug, but things change quickly when early test subjects fall into comas of happiness, frozen in memory loops, and Chris must take responsibility for the world he created.
I make no bones about it: watching a movie based on a sketch comedy show, and a particularly bizarre sketch comedy show at that, is risky. I’ve actually avoided watching Brain Candy over the years because there seem to be only two ways the formula can work out: a regular format episode stretched over feature length time, or a feature length movie that scrambles to fit the haphazard elements of the show into a weak framework. But hear this: The Kids in the Hall pulled it off. What they created is a feature length film with a plot that really sounds like the plot of a feature length film: the synopsis I’ve given could stand tall as a drama, and looking at it in isolation, it’s a wonder they made something funny out of it all. However, funny they make…err...did…fucking syntax.
[caption id="attachment_1673" align="alignnone" width="640" caption="Jesus, look at that fucking syntax!"][/caption]
For Brain Candy, rather than trying to shoehorn in characters like Gavin, the Chicken Lady, the Headcrusher, Buddy Cole, and Rudy the-John-Wayne-impersonating-pimp, the Kids adapted archetypal figures for roles unique to the film. Bruce McCulloch’s Cancer Boy and Mark McKinney’s Gruff Croatian Taxi Driver slip through the filter unaltered simply because they fit the film perfectly; the rest of the well-known characters from the television show survive merely as elements of, say, Scott Thompson’s naïve and good natured old lady, Mrs. Hurdicure, or Bruce’s crude, self-centered marketing exec, Cisco. It may sound like I’m trying to justify ‘the dilution of the series’ to hardcore Kids fans, or vice versa, but let me make myself perfectly clear: if you loved, or even liked, the tv series, you will enjoy this film. And if you didn’t like, or have never seen the tv series, you will enjoy this film. This paradox is made possible by a simple fact: this is a funny movie.
Strong sketch-com sensibilities remain throughout Brain Candy, and it’s the blending of the elements of story-telling and humorous exposition that makes this movie work. Rather than focusing strictly on the story line, which would require a lot of artifice in order to ensure the quota for bizarre characters and ridiculous plot devices was met, the film branches out, showing us what the world is like before and after the drug by creating a whole city of side-characters and mini-scenes. At the same time the plot line is not just a means of grounding a silly film; the primary characters are just as ridiculous as those on the fringes, and a ludicrous situation can arise from a board meeting as easily as from the cops surprising a clandestine gay orgy in a park bathroom. Dr. Cooper goes on a national talkshow to explain how his drug works and ends up shaking his hips “like a young Tom Jones.”
[caption id="attachment_1674" align="alignnone" width="640" caption=""Okay Doc, wiggle us out!""][/caption]
As far as the actual mechanics of movie making go, surprisingly enough (although really, it’s only snobbery on my part that makes it so) Brain Candy is air-tight. There are no pacing problems, but that’s hardly any wonder when you’ve got sixteen years of sketch comedy under your belt (director Kelly Makin’s experience clocks in at much less than that, having worked on the tv series from 1992 onward). The camera work and framing, etc. are, for the most part, run of the mill, but that’s to be expected: a comedy should always be more about what’s happening on screen than the way it’s captured. What’s surprising is that as the film progresses, complex framing and shots begin to really compliment the plot as everything sort of falls apart (thanks to Gleemonex); for the best example of what I’m on about, check out the final confrontation between Don, CEO of Roritor, and wonder-drug creator Dr. Cooper.
The thing that makes Brain Candy a really solid overall is its sense of compromise: the Kids didn’t try to force sketch-com across media barriers, but at the same time they didn’t sacrifice sketch-com to make a feature length film. What they did was write an “A then B then C” story and added the word ‘but’: “Dr. Cooper creates Gleemonex, but look at all this other stuff; then Roritor makes Gleemonex available over the counter, but look at all this other stuff;” and so on. I was impressed time and again at how the Kids include scenes you would expect to find in a plot of this sort, such as scientists scrambling for ideas to get funding for their labs, and then take them to even more bizarre places than you would have guessed (and I can guess at some pretty bizarre places, I mean im-PRESSED). I was also impressed at how the movie made no attempt to ride on the coattails of the tv show: there are polite nods and a couple of cameos, but aside from that Brain Candy is a complete standalone. And well worth the hour and twenty-eight minutes it takes to watch.
“I know better than they do”: Movie Reviews, Week #7 – Dark City
Posted on: June 23, 2011 by gregoryeverett.
In the halcyon days of youth fellow Fanboy’s Closet contributor Josh Green and I used to take a trip to the video store weekly (in retrospect, I think it was more likely bi-daily, but I’d like to maintain the illusion that we had some sort of social life). If you rent a video once or twice a month (I guess I should use the past tense; I honestly wonder what people are doing in Blockbuster when I walk by there, because NO ONE rents movies anymore) you’re looking at either new releases, ‘life-list’ movies (“I’ve always wanted to see this!”), or old favourites. When you go rent a few videos more than once a week, you’re culling the clerk’s high school a/v projects before too long. Even falling back on series won’t last you till the buzzer; Christ, there are only four Terminators, four Die Hards, three Godfathers: movie franchises used to fizzle pretty quickly, thank god we have SAW now. The point I’m ambling around towards is that once we’d exhausted all the movies we’d been wanting to see, the movies we were ambivalent about, hell, even the movies we’d heard of, we started really scrounging around. And every once in a while we came out with a gem. That’s how I first came to see New Line Cinema’s Dark City (1998).
Director: Alex Proyas
Writer: Alex Proyas (three other people are credited but I’m going to take a stab and call them overwhelmingly ancillary)
Starring: Rufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland, William Hurt, Jennifer Connelly, and Richard O’Brien
Before I jump straight in, I’d like to spend a few words discussing why the aforementioned names should make you really excited about this movie. Proyas directed The Crow (1994); still need more? He also did I, Robot (2004). What did he do in between? A short film and an Australian feature length comedy about a garage band. In my opinion, this puts him about as close to a 100% hit rate as directors get. Okay, okay, Rufus Sewell has done shit all, but that just makes his lead performance in Dark City that much more of a pleasant surprise. Kiefer Sutherland, regrettably of 24 fame, but remember when he was in Flatliners? And come on, William Hurt, whom you’ve seen in everything but remembered from nothing except as General Thaddeus ‘Thunderbolt’ Ross in The Incredible Hulk (not his fault). Jennifer Connelly, star of everything from Labyrinth to Salvation Boulevard. And Richard O’Brien. From whence is that name familiar? He wrote and starred in Rocky goddamn Horror Picture Show.
[caption id="attachment_1650" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="This shot is a work of art."][/caption]
So maybe you don’t get worked up as I do about the people involved and the things they’ve done before. Why should you, having never sat through the credits, care about Dark City? Maybe my synopsis will suffice: John Murdoch (Sewell) awakens naked in a bathtub with no memories. It appears that he has committed a murder, one of a series targeting prostitutes and characterized by a pattern carved into her flesh. He gathers the artifacts of the life he can’t remember (clothes, briefcase, papers, etc.) and flees into the city. Inspector Frank Bumstead (Hurt) has been assigned to the case of the serial murders, replacing Detective Walinksi, who was driven insane while working on the case. As Murdoch flees Bumstead and attempts to contact his estranged wife Emma (Connelly) through his psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Schrieber (Sutherland), he is pursued as well by Mr. Hand (O’Brien), a member of The Strangers, a sinister group of pale, bald headed men possessing supernatural powers. Murdoch and Bumstead soon realize that the city is perpetually dark, and that everyone is struck comatose each time the bell tolls twelve. Everyone but Murdoch, with his power of Tuning (the same power The Strangers use to change the city around him) and the good Dr., who’s role is larger than it first appears… I’m stopping here. I want to tell you more; I want to tell you everything that happens and discuss the implications, but I can’t. You need to watch the movie, because you may think you know what type of movie it is when it starts, but jesus, by the end you won’t know where you are.
[caption id="attachment_1651" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="Emma Murdoch and some Strangers"][/caption]
I like this movie a lot. A lot. Since first I saw Dark City it’s always managed to make the “top ten movies I can think of at the moment” list. It’s tough, because I’d like to say something bad about it, to criticize it in some way so that this review isn’t weighted so hard in its favour. But I can’t. The cast is so iron clad that I can’t say anything bad about the acting; even Kiefer’s accent and mode of speech, while a little over the top, fit his character perfectly, and I consider it a solid tribute to Peter Lorre (if you’ve seen Casablanca, he plays Ugarte; if you haven’t, what the hell is wrong with you?!). And as I mentioned briefly, even relative unknown Rufus Sewell puts forward a great performance as one of the most idiosyncratically likeable unlikely heroes I’ve ever seen. The set design and the aesthetic of the movie are impeccable: this is one of those instances where a writer/director (Proyas) had a very strong vision and you can tell it was realized because the film plays so well. The dark city of Dark City is deliciously Art Deco, and the cinematography takes full advantage of the shots this sort of setting can provide; see the ‘Automat’ scene for evidence, there’s some breathtaking framing. I don’t think I’ve mentioned special effects in any review to date, but they’re worth mentioning here, because they are minimalist, and because of that they are perfect. Just perfect.
[caption id="attachment_1652" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="The Automat: Where Symmetry is King"][/caption]
The thing about Dark City is that it has a great story on a straightforward level; it’s a detective flick, a horror movie, it’s thrilling and there are big reveals. But because the characters are just as oblivious as you are to the bigger picture, they are asking all the same questions you are, and you find yourself thinking about some more significant things than the plot itself. John Murdoch explores the importance of memory to identity, and vice versa; Inspector Bumstead is broken down as the reality and institutions to which he is dogmatically loyal crumble around him; Emma Murdoch struggles under guilt from infidelities that may never have happened; and Dr. Schreiber plays God, but against his will. There are some large philosophical questions here, and I don’t hesitate an instant in naming this Proyas’ masterwork; it simply drips with vision and cerebral exertion.
So please, readers, get your hands on Dark City somehow. It’s an hour and forty minutes, at the end of which you will be contemplating the nature of the human soul. It’s a drop in the ocean, I know, but I have a copy here (yes, an actual copy that I paid for and hence own, piracy watchdogs) that I am more than willing to lend out; you could spend an evening really enjoying yourself and expanding your mind. Or you could do the opposite, and go see Green Lantern.
Honestly, folks, I don’t even think I’ve done this movie anything remotely close to justice. It is truly great.
[caption id="attachment_1653" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="The cringing Dr. Schreiber messes with Murdoch's brain"][/caption]
Okay, so... I admit it. After watching the Thor movie last week (it's really good - in a few words: entertaining, as good as the Iron Man movies I'd say), I've decided that you all should look into reading Fear Itself.
Basically, because I enjoyed the movie quite a bit, I can say that I've become sorta sucked into the whole Marvel thing (well, the whole Thor thing, anyway) and, as such, considering much of Fear Itself revolves around Thor being manhandled by his Dad, Odin, dragged back to Asgard for his insubordination, and a whole bunch of hammers being given out to a whole buncha bad guys, this series has piqued my interest.
If this cover doesn't appeal to you at all, then don't get the book. The cover says it all (except...there's also Nazis).
All I will say about Fear Itself in this lil' quickie is that, by issue #2, things have heated up enough to keep me interested for the next 5 issues - it's only a 7-part with only 2 parts out by now, and it'll be very easy to find, pick it up : ).
A brand new comic written and illustrated by the amazingly talented Nate Simpson, Image's latest book, Non-Player, features what is honest-to-God some of the best art I've ever seen in a comic. Well, maybe THE prettiest art I've ever seen in a comic... look:
It's a little squished, but trust me, when you hold this $3 comic in your hands, it will melt your eyeballs.
The story, in a quick nutshell, is that the main character (skinny redhead lady) plays a full-virtual reality WOW-type game in between applying to jobs in the real world. The game world she plays in is an absolutely gorgeously rendered, lush, insanely detailed eye-gasm. The "real world" of Non-player is equally amazing. Simpson lets us glance a few panels of the outstanding-looking dirty future/"dystopia lite" super city that the girl lives in. And there was a bit of mention of "pre-incident tech". So, i'm guessing Simpson is alluding to some sort of apocalyptic turning point that happened in the real world which we'll likely find out about at a later date.
Just buy this book, it's gorgeous AND ACTUALLY interesting : )
Why Megaman Kicks Ass!
Posted on: March 8, 2011 by admin.
Riddle me this: What do Megaman, Gundam, and Starscream all have in common? One incredibly awesome video, that's what! I learned about this yesterday Via Topless Robot and it's just...well see for yourself...
If you didn't just have a nerdgasm in your pants then you're on the wrong site! This video was done by Counter656, and if you'd like to see more of his amazing videos you can check out this Youtube page or his website (be warned, it's in Taiwanese). I don't about the rest of you, but I'm definitely a fan and can't wait for the Sephiroth vid that he's promising next!
Fanboy Film Mini's
Posted on: October 1, 2010 by admin.
Superman/Batman: Apocalypse Mini-Review
Based on ‘The Girl from Krypton’ Story arc in Batman/Superman, Batman discovers a mysterious teen-aged girl with super-human powers and a connection to Superman. When the girl comes to the attention of Darkseid, the evil overlord of Apokolips, events take a decidedly dangerous turn.
The voice acting
Alumni Kevin Conroy, Tim Daly, Susan Eisenberg, and Ed Asner all return to voice characters that have become synonymous with them. Conroy and Daly play especially well off each other, bringing a warmth and familiarly to Batman and Superman that makes you believe these are two friends who have known each other for years. Summer Glau also makes her DC Animated debut, and does a superb job as Kara Zor-El, an amnesiac girl who has escaped the destruction of her planet and finds herself in an unknown world, trying to cope (a role very similar to her Firefly character).
Credit can go to the Batman/Superman comic arc for this, but the adaptation to film has been excellent, and is both character driven and action oriented. Rarely a dull moment, the movie keeps you on the edge of your seat as you watch it unfold, with tons of nods for the comic fans. I was thoroughly entertained the whole time.
Though DC direct videos usually do a good job in animating their characters, I wasn’t especially impressed by this. Supergirl was alright, but both Batman and Superman were drawn too plastic for my liking, and look like they’d had some work done. Darkseid was also less impressive, and though physically imposing, his face reminded me of something you’d see on a happy meal toy.
Darkseid’s Voice Actor
Andre Baugher’s take on Darkseid didn’t do it for me. The voice came off as weak, and didn’t have the powerful rumble that I normally associate with Lord of Apokolips. That’s not to say it was bad, it just wasn’t impressive to me. Perhaps if he reprises the role in the future, I’ll come to like it better.
The story is excellent, even if you’re not a fan of Jeph Loeb’s work, and the voice acting is amazing, with seasoned veterans slipping into their old roles like a well worn pair of shoes. This movie is a must for any comic fans, and a good introduction for those who might be curious to see what all the fuss is about. This is the 9th release in DC’s direct to video repertoire, and as always it failed to disappoint.