In New York City, it’s possible to go from movie house to movie house and see films nonstop 24 hours a day if you’re up to it.*
Recently, from Thursday to Sunday, I saw South Park, American Pie, Lake Placid, The Thirteenth Floor and, finally, Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. Five films in four days. Here are thoughts on four of them…
The scuttlebutt I was hearing from people was “It’s terrible. Go see it.” They were right.
The filmmakers had to have fun making this. Lake Placid is a short, askew little horror-comedy about a giant crocodile in a lake in Maine. Museum researcher Bridget Fonda, fish and game warden Bill Pullman and crocodile fan Oliver Platt converge on the small town nearby to learn why it’s there, and since they’re the stars they aren’t the ones who get chewed into little bits by the croc.
I figured this was the one story writer David E. Kelley wasn’t able to get onto his early-’90s TV show Picket Fences, an intentionally eccentric vision of small-town life. This TV writer also seemed to have a pent-up need to let his characters swear: Betty White, as the only person who lives on the lake, becomes hysterically profane.
I like the details in Kelley’s dialogue: the lake in the film isn’t really Lake Placid, but it’s unofficially called that because the townsfolk liked it, never mind that there’s already a lake with that name.
Lake Placid is not the tightest, best-constructed little film – that’s what Breakdown (1997) was – but it’s entertaining and smile-inducing. It’s more of a chuckle-worthy film than anything. Nothing earth-shattering, but if you ever wanted to see Bridget Fonda hit with a severed head, here’s your chance!
Another hysterical adult-themed movie, American Pie follows a bunch of guys who have vowed to lose their virginity by the end of Prom Night, and the misadventures and embarrassments that ensue because of their goal. It’s slight, but funny. Probably the most interesting male actor is the quiet, sleepy-eyed Chris Klein as a jock who finds his sensitive side while pursuing a girl in the jazz choir. Those two have nice moments together.
The movie also hews admirably to its own logic, such as never referring to a certain adult character as anything other than “Stifler’s Mom.” When a guy named Finch gets deflowered by her, she calls out “Oh, Finch” – and he responds “Oh, Stifler’s Mom…”
Just don’t go to see this film when you really need to urinate or do some other bodily function, because Pie is the movie equivalent of making someone need to go to the bathroom by describing torrents of water cascading over Niagara Falls. In short, it’s uncomfortable.
South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut
You know, this movie really is incredibly funny, but I still can’t decide how much of South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut is genuinely witty and how much is funny just ’cause of its shock value, where animated characters are swearing and discussing sex acts and things like that.
Still, South Park is funny partly due to its fast pace. Ever heard of “faster and funnier”? South Park’s creators understand that, just as the members of Monty Python understood that. And I think it’s such an inspired touch to give entire speeches and song verses to Kenny, the one character whom no one in the audience can understand.
The most consistently good stuff is the catchy and hilarious song score, written by Trey Parker and composer Marc Shaiman, who’s a good match for a film with this kind of brutal, snarky humor. And like the show, the movie can be strangely – very strangely – touching, like when Stan holds down Cartman to keep him from hurting himself too much from electric shocks. It’s not played for laughs; it’s clearly a moment of pain for Cartman, one his friend is trying to lessen. Still, weird.
Eyes Wide Shut
This is quite possibly the strangest ode to marriage I’ve ever seen.
Eyes Wide Shut features Tom Cruise as a successful doctor, married to Nicole Kidman (Cruise’s real-life wife), but he feels inadequate with her. This leads to him infiltrating a mysterious, possibly dangerous cult where high-society people have, shall we say, strange relations.
“This movie,” I remember thinking while watching it, “would only have been made by an artist who’s been married a long time.” The late Stanley Kubrick fit both of those: he was a true film artist, and for most of his life he lived in seclusion with his wife, Christiane (who did the paintings for this film).
Despite its length – 150 minutes – and Kubrick’s stunning visuals and use of music, it’s an oddly simple film, made complicated mainly by Cruise’s character: basically the cult uses his own suspicions about the cult against him, kind of like The Game, until he retreats from it and confesses to his wife about his wanderings. It’s basically a strange way to teach a lesson about the value of married happiness.
(2009 note: Later, I invoked Eyes Wide Shut when I talked about the Stephen King novel Lisey’s Story.)
* A detail I’d learned from the harrowing “Violence” section of Harlan Ellison’s essay “The Three Most Important Things In Life.” kradical and terri_osborne, can you still do movies 24 hours a day in New York? In Manhattan, at least?