Janeane Garofalo

The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle (2000, Des McAnuff)

As a musical, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle might have worked. When there’s the big Pottsylvanian national anthem scene, director McAnuff finally seems comfortable. He needs a stage; Rocky and Bullwinkle is a road movie. There aren’t any stages. The occasional set piece hints at potential for the format–CGI animated moose and squirrel opposite life action–but McAnuff never knows how to direct them. And there’s something off about the CGI.

Rocky and Bullwinkle’s “real world” is drab and generic. But not drab and generic in the right way to match the “Rocky and Bullwinkle” animation style, which the film opens with. The story has “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show” forgotten in reruns, but then have to be brought over to the real world to help the FBI. Specifically, FBI agent Piper Perabo, who’s supposed to be the perky, adorable female lead.

She’s terrible. McAnuff doesn’t direct his actors at all, so it’s not like she got any help, but she’s all wrong. Her performance, whatever direction McAnuff gives, all of it; she can’t act well off the CGI moose and squirrel. Sometimes they get close, like Rocky’s flying sequence, but it’s never for long.

And since she’s the one with Rocky and Bullwinkle most of the time, it gets to be a problem. At least she’s better than cameoing Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell. They manage to be the worst of the cameos, save John Goodman. Goodman can’t even pretend in his bit.

If any part of Rocky and Bullwinkle worked–be it Perabo, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Robert De Niro, Rene Russo, and Jason Alexander as the live action idiot spies, the endless cameos–the film would be immensely better. It would be a failed ambition. But it’s not ambitious in any way. McAnuff’s direction is catatonic, Kenneth Lonergan’s script isn’t any better–the occasional laughs are all thanks to Rocky and Bullwinkle voice performers June Forey and Keith Scott. The actors look deranged or miserable. The film sets itself up to fail, betting a lot on the successful introduction of the cartoon characters into reality. When it doesn’t come off, the film stalls.

So it’s stalled for acts two and three. It stalls real early.

Thomas E. Ackerman’s photography is flat and muted. While reality is supposed to be, visually, reality, Lonergan’s script is frequently absurdist. He tries for “Rocky and Bullwinkle” type sight gags and puns for the regular residents of reality. It’d work as a musical.

Everything would work if it were a musical. Maybe even Jason Alexander, who’s lifeless and miserable. Rene Russo tries. She almost has a good scene. But there are no hidden gems in Rocky and Bullwinkle. It’s bad.

Moose and squirrel deserve better.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Des McAnuff; screenplay by Kenneth Lonergan, based on characters created by Jay Ward; director of photography, Thomas E. Ackerman; edited by Dennis Virkler; music by Mark Mothersbaugh; production designer, Gavin Bocquet; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring June Foray (Rocky), Keith Scott (Bullwinkle), Piper Perabo (Karen Sympathy), Robert De Niro (Fearless Leader), Jason Alexander (Boris), Rene Russo (Natasha), Randy Quaid (Cappy von Trapment), and Janeane Garofalo (Minnie Mogul).


Wet Hot American Summer (2001, David Wain)

One of the best gags in Wet Hot American Summer is having the twenty and (some) thirty somethings play teenage summer camp counselors. One big problem? Not making the gag clear until the end of the movie. It would have gotten a lot more mileage throughout.

Summer goes out on an awkward note–almost an homage to “M*A*S*H”, which is cute (director Wain loves the eighties homages) but it can’t disguise the lack of an ending. There’s no great finish; instead, there’s a weak exit for erstwhile protagonist Michael Showalter. He’s not the most compelling part of the film, though he’s a fine enough (erstwhile) protagonist, and Wain needs a stronger closer.

Showalter’s story arc involves lusting after Marguerite Moreau and trying to win her from her dolt of a boyfriend (an awful Paul Rudd). It’s nothing compared to Ken Marino’s crazy wilderness trek to meet up with a girl or Janeane Garofalo and David Hyde Pierce saving the camp from a falling piece of Skylab.

Other great little arcs include Molly Shannon’s divorcée getting life coaching from her charges and a camper “running” a radio station.

Moreau is okay. She’s better without Showalter or Rudd. Garofalo and Hyde Pierce are both excellent. Their skill works a little against Summer‘s absurdist nature, however. It’s just not as funny when it’s so well-acted.

Marino’s great, so are Bradley Cooper and Amy Poehler. Christopher Meloni’s fantastic as the deranged cook.

Summer isn’t completely successful, but it’s close enough.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by David Wain; written by Michael Showalter and Wain; director of photography, Ben Weinstein; edited by Meg Reticker; music by Theodore Shapiro and Craig Wedren; production designer, Mark White; produced by Howard Bernstein; released by USA Films.

Starring Janeane Garofalo (Beth), David Hyde Pierce (Henry Newman), Michael Showalter (Gerald ‘Coop’ Cooperberg), Marguerite Moreau (Katie), Michael Ian Black (McKinley), Zak Orth (J.J.), A.D. Miles (Gary), Paul Rudd (Andy), Christopher Meloni (Gene), Molly Shannon (Gail von Kleinenstein), Ken Marino (Victor Kulak), Joe Lo Truglio (Neil), Amy Poehler (Susie), Bradley Cooper (Ben), Gideon Jacobs (Aaron), Liam Norton (Arty ‘The Beekeeper’ Solomon), Marisa Ryan (Abby Bernstein), Elizabeth Banks (Lindsay), Gabriel Millman (Caped Boy), Kevin Sussman (Steve), Kevin Thomas Conroy (Mork Guy), Christopher Cusumano (Medieval Kid), Cassidy Ladden (Mallrat Girl), Madeline Blue (Cure Girl), Nina Hellman (Nancy), Peter Salett (Guitar Dude), Judah Friedlander (Ron von Kleinenstein), Jacob Shoesmith-Fox (Bert ‘Moose’ Flugelman) and Michael Showalter (Alan Shemper).


Bye Bye Love (1995, Sam Weisman)

About halfway through Bye Bye Love, I realized it was reminding me of “The Bradys,” the hour-long drama sequel to “The Brady Bunch.” Two very successful sitcom writers wrote this movie; it’s like an hour-long comedy drama… Only the movie runs about a hundred minutes. It’s way too long.

What’s interesting—there’s not a single laugh in the film, so one has to find interesting things to think about—is the casual misogyny running through it. Sure, Matthew Modine being a philanderer is a bad thing, but one has to look very hard to see a positive female character and ignore some glaringly awful ones. Randy Quaid’s ex-wife, played by Lindsay Crouse, lets her new boyfriend beat her son. Janeane Garofalo, as Quaid’s date, is a “ha ha, she’s so dumb because she’s a feminist” character. Paul Reiser’s ex-wife has this odious husband who calls Reiser the “birth father” of his fourteen year-old daughter. As the daughter, Eliza Dushku’s occasionally awful but the character’s probably mildly honest.

Quaid’s really good when being the dad, bad when interacting with women (it’s the script). Modine’s interesting as the Don Juan; it’s funny to see him in this kind of role. Reiser’s all right as a less engaging Modell.

The biggest draw is Maria Pitillo’s outstanding performance as Modine’s suffering girlfriend. Oh, and Amber Benson’s good….

Wait, I forgot the music… J.A.C. Redford’s score is unbearable.

It’s sort of worth a look as a curiosity, but not really.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Weisman; written by Gary David Goldberg and Brad Hall; director of photography, Kenneth Zunder; edited by Roger Bondelli; music by J.A.C. Redford; production designer, Linda DeScenna; produced by Goldberg, Hall and Weisman; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Paul Reiser (Donny), Matthew Modine (Dave), Randy Quaid (Vic), Amy Brenneman (Susan), Maria Pitillo (Kim), Janeane Garofalo (Lucille), Ed Flanders (Walter Sims), Johnny Whitworth (Max Cooper), Lindsay Crouse (Grace), Eliza Dushku (Emma), Ross Malinger (Ben), Mae Whitman (Michele), Amber Benson (Meg), Cameron Boyd (Jed), Jayne Brook (Claire), Dana Wheeler-Nicholson (Heidi Schmidt), Wendell Pierce (Hector) and Rob Reiner (Dr. David Townsend).


Ratatouille (2007, Brad Bird)

While Ratatouille features Pixar’s finest three-dimensional CG, it also features their worst two dimensional characters. The problem’s apparent from the start–the main character has one conflict and it turns out to resolve itself quite easily in the end. There are other conflicts in the film, but they’re all external to the main character, Remy–whose name is easy to forget because he doesn’t really interact with anyone for the majority of the second act. Ratatouille bored me for most of the film, only really engaging me once it got incredibly manipulative towards the end.

There’s a lot to keep busy with… like I said, the CG is phenomenal and there are some okay gags, but there’s very little content because there are no real character relationships. Brad Bird does some really nice things with composition–and, wow, can he ever fill a movie with lengthy action sequences to hide the lack of substance–he does a really nice focus thing, so nice, combined with the Pixar CG, I had to remind myself they really did nothing more than apply some blur filters in Photoshop or whatever the Pixar rendering program is called.

Bird’s writing does Ratatouille in… he doesn’t create engaging characters, certainly not compelling character relationships–Remy spends most of his time talking to an imaginary friend. In many ways, I felt like I was watching an old Disney formula movie, competently pulled off–disingenuous as all hell.

It’s sad when Pixar movies–which used to mean something, but obviously peaked with Monsters, Inc.–are fake and fluff. It’s all so slight, none of the voice actors stood out. The lead, Patton Oswalt–thanks to Bird’s ineffective characterizations–leaves no impression. The whole thing relies on rats being cute and doing cute things, like having little ladders.

Hey, it worked for “Tom and Jerry,” no reason it won’t work for Ratatouille.

There’s also an odd–and apparent, as a little girl asked about it in the row behind me–absence of female rats in the film… in fact, there’s only one woman in the whole thing, human or rodent. The little girl was asking where Remy’s mother was (while I was asking where the female rats were)… but in the end, it really doesn’t matter. Bird wouldn’t have done anything good with her.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Brad Bird; written by Bird, with additional material by Emily Cook and Kathy Greenberg, based on a story by Jan Pinkava, Jim Capobianco and Bird; director of photography, lighting, Sharon Calahan; director of photography, camera, Robert Anderson; supervising animators, Dylan Brown and Mark Walsh; edited by Darren Holmes; music by Michael Giacchino; production designer, Harley Jessup; produced by Brad Lewis; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Patton Oswalt (Remy), Ian Holm (Skinner), Lou Romano (Linguini), Brian Dennehy (Django), Peter Sohn (Emile), Brad Garrett (Auguste Gusteau), Janeane Garofalo (Colette) and Peter O’Toole (Anton Ego).


Larger Than Life (1996, Howard Franklin)

Larger Than Life is a different film today than it was ten years ago–back then, I remember, it was a big deal Matthew McConaughey starred in the film. There were reshoots to add more of him. Today, the film’s sold as a kid’s movie on DVD, which isn’t particularly appropriate, given a lot of the dialogue and some other aspects. The film was also one of Bill Murray’s last roles before he became “serious actor” Bill Murray. I remember, back then, it was of note because it reunited Murray with Howard Franklin and I really liked Quick Change back then.

I remember liking Larger Than Life well enough when it came out, but watching it again, I wish I could remember why–not because it’s terrible or something, but because I can’t believe I would have appreciated the developing affection between Murray and the elephant (it’s about Bill Murray and a giant elephant). I remember loving McConaughey, who turns in one of the great modern comedic performances in the film. McConaughey was on his way up, but whoever advertised the film couldn’t do anything with it (and, to be fair, it did take McConaughey a lot longer to catch on than anyone expected). But, overall, Larger Than Life is an advertising nightmare. It’s an unabashedly sentimental story about Bill Murray and an elephant. It’s also really, really short. It runs around ninety minutes and it probably needs only another ten or so (fifteen tops), but it does need something to make it gel. Most of the film is Murray and the elephant and various character actors showing up from time to time. It’s sort of a road movie, sort of an Americana travelogue, but also sort of not. There are all sorts of little things, which are supposed to be funny and kind of are funny, but they’re too fast to work. It’s like an experiment in humor or something–Murray, playing an up and coming motivational speaker, gets pissed when he sees Tony Robbins on TV. The scene lasts ten seconds and is the only thing regarding Murray’s character’s professional goals in the whole film.

Franklin sets up his comedic set pieces really well and an obvious complaint is the lack of them after the halfway mark. Larger Than Life‘s got a relatively long first act, short second, and long third. There’s not much funny in the first act, lots in the second, and heart-string pulling in the third (except McConaughey). It’s just too light and not in an unskilled way, but in a “something happened production-wise” way. Quick Change was short as well, but it was busier. Still, Larger Than Life does a lot more right than it does wrong–I just wish there were a decent DVD release.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Howard Franklin; written by Roy Blount Jr.; director of photography, Elliot Davis; edited by Sidney Levin; music by Miles Goodman; production designer, Marcia Hinds-Johnson; produced by Richard B. Lewis, John Watson and Pen Densham; released by United Artists.

Starring Bill Murray (Jack Corcoran), Janeane Garofalo (Mo), Matthew McConaughey (Tip), Linda Fiorentino (Terry), Jeremy Piven (Walter), Harve Presnell (Bowers), Tracey Walter (Wee St. Francis), Pat Hingle (Vernon), Lois Smith (Luluna) and Keith David (Hurst).


Cop Land (1997, James Mangold), the director’s cut

Here’s an interesting director’s cut… it doesn’t change the film overall.

Most director’s cuts, extended versions, whatever, change the effect of the film. Blade Runner is the usual example, but so is something like The Big Red One (though not as much). In many ways, Cop Land is like Touch of Evil. The experience doesn’t change significantly.

Throughout, I suppose Cop Land is stronger. But Cop Land was always exceptionally strong throughout. It’s the ending, that stupid ending, putting everything on Robert De Niro’s narration… and the narration undoes the film. With DVD’s proliferation of director’s cuts and extended versions (for example, I have Gone in 60 Seconds–which features another sixty seconds or so–and A Knight’s Tale extended to watch in the near future and Ali even), these versions are more and more becoming less important. (Wow, what a bad sentence). Thinking further, I think Pearl Harbor is probably the worst director’s cut, since Bay used it to excise the film’s goodness….

Cop Land: The Director’s Cut is a better film. It’s just not a more rewarding experience.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by James Mangold; director of photography, Eric Edwards; edited by Craig McKay; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Lester Cohen; produced by Cary Woods, Cathy Konrad and Ezra Swerdlow; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Sylvester Stallone (Freddy Heflin), Harvey Keitel (Ray Donlan), Ray Liotta (Gary Figgis), Robert De Niro (Moe Tilden), Peter Berg (Joey Randone), Janeane Garofalo (Deputy Cindy Betts), Robert Patrick (Jack Rucker), Michael Rapaport (Murray Babitch), Annabella Sciorra (Liz Randone), Noah Emmerich (Deputy Bill Geisler), Cathy Moriarty (Rose Donlan), John Spencer (Leo Crasky), Frank Vincent (PDA President Lassaro), Malik Yoba (Detective Carson), Arthur J. Nascarella (Frank Lagonda) and Edie Falco (Berta).


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