Cyrus: written and directed by Jay and Mark Duplass; starring John C. Reilly (John), Jonah Hill (Cyrus), Marisa Tomei (Molly), and Catherine Keener (Jamie) (2010): Sad-sack John starts dating sad-sack Molly, only to encounter problems with her 22-year-old live-at-home son Cyrus. An enjoyable mumblecore comedy-drama got pitched for its brief theatrical run as a wacky comedy, which it assuredly is not. Indeed, the rhythms of many of the scenes featuring a fish-eyed Jonah Hill are those of horror and not comedy. Marisa Tomei is a lot more striking now that she’s aged out of cuteness — she projects an occasional tiredness of adulthood that’s extremely affecting. John C. Reilly is also good as a guy with his own dependency issues, while Jonah Hill exudes menace and hostility hidden behind platitudes and false bonhomie right up to the final scenes. Recommended.
Kill Bill 1 and 2: written by Quentin Tarantino and Uma Thurman; directed by Quentin Tarantino; starring Uma Thurman (The Bride), David Carradine (Bill), Vivica Fox (Vernita Green), Lucy Liu (O-Ren Ishii), Michael Madsen (Budd), Daryl Hannah (Elle Driver), Sonny Chiba (Hattori Hanzo), and Gordon Liu (Johnny/ Pai Mei) (2003-2004): Quentin Tarantino was forced by Miramax to split Kill Bill into two movies, primarily because it was impossible to sell a 4-hour movie of any genre to theatre chains. This looked for a time like it would be Tarantino’s Heaven’s Gate — filming went on forever, the budget kept rising, and Tarantino was forced because of budget issues to come up with a different final confrontation between the Bride and Bill than he originally intended. But the two movies ended up making a lot of money.
It’s a fascinating movie (s). It’s a triumph of synthetic style over substance; so many different film styles, so many different homages, so little substance. It’s a piece of film entertainment that’s ultimately about nothing but the indiscriminate love of movies and the cool things that happen in them, the cool way they can look and move. The cast is almost uniformly perfect, with Uma Thurman as the vengeful Bride (we only learn her real name towards the end of Volume 2) and David Carradine as the malign, soft-voiced Bill the stand-outs. It’s a love letter to Kung Fu movies, spaghetti Westerns, different film stocks, and pulp of all types from a half-dozen countries. Highly recommended.
Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers: inspired by the non-fiction book by Donald Keyhoe and written for the screen by Curt Siodmak, George Worthing Yates, and Bernard Gordon; directed by Fred F. Sears; starring Hugh Marlowe (Dr. Marvin) and Joan Taylor (Carol Marvin) (1956): The looming inspiration for Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks in both UFO design and anti-UFO weaponry (sound waves, albeit not those generated by the golden throat of Mr. Slim Whitman). The writing, direction and acting are competent, but the star is stop-motion guru Ray Harryhausen, whose UFOs look great and are generally very well integrated into the rest of the footage. Joan Taylor gets a much larger than normal role for a woman in this sort of movie. Recommended.
Trading Places: written by Timothy Harris and Herschel Weingrod; directed by John Landis; starring Eddie Murphy (Billy Ray Valentine), Dan Aykroyd (Louis Winthorpe III), Denholm Elliott (Coleman), Ralph Bellamy (Randolph Duke), Don Ameche (Mortimer Duke), Jamie Lee Curtis (Ophelia), Paul Gleason (Clarence Beeks), and Jim Belushi (Harvey) (1983): Eddie Murphy’s second movie was a comedy hit in 1983. It still shines today, though certain routines will make a person cringe. Originally intended to be a Gene Wilder/Richard Pryor vehicle, Trading Places is the only comedy I can think of that hinges on the commodities trading of frozen orange juice concentrate on the floor of the Stock Exchange. Murphy is young, thin, hilarious, and charismatic. Aykroyd is very good as an upper-class twit. The supporting cast is also good and fairly well-served. Jamie Lee Curtis, trying to change her image as the virginal good girl in slasher movies, does a couple of brief topless scenes. They appear to be real, and they’re spectacular. Recommended.