queue de grâce lucky number seven kicks off today and we get off to a flying start with frank l. anderson and barry poltermann's the life of reilly (2006).
full disclosure: i love charles nelson reilly, so i was predisposed to enjoy this. it is the documenting of the final performance of reilly's one-man show, save it for the stage. it turned out to be the final public performance of reilly's life. it begins with him trading on the running joke that people were constantly surprised to find he was still alive and i was immediately struck by the fact that i am exactly at the other end of that spectrum - i am always sadly surprised to recall that he actually died in 2007. in my mind, he is one of those people that cannot die. the man's outsized joie de vivre was his stock-in-trade and it seems impossible to me that it could ever be snuffed out. case in point: as the credits were rolling, i caught myself saying out loud to myself, "that is a funny man". present tense. it is hard to tell how younger/uninitiated viewers might feel about this one, but i thought it was fantastic. for an hour and a half, reilly takes you on a guided tour of his personal history, replete with alcoholics, lobotomies, his mother's galloping racism, encountering homophobia in show business, acting classes and burt reynolds and makes it, by turns, poignant, insightful and hilarious. picture spalding gray with a more-than-academic appreciation for camp and you're on the right track. growing up in the seventies as i did, my first exposure to the man was watching him on game shows with my grandmother in the afternoons. i was aware of him as a personality first and i am sure it was the same for a lot of kids in my generation. to stop there, though, does the man a terrible disservice. he was incredibly witty, a generous performer and, in retrospect, probably the first person to make me at least vaguely aware of the idea of gay. as a little straight kid growing up in southwest oklahoma, that is a significant door being opened. those milestone moments when you learn that this person that is so different from you in some ways is not really so different in a lot of others can never be underestimated. it was never explicitly stated (and he took some flak from people who thought he should be more declamatory about it, but it's really none of their damn business). the cultural climate still truly didn't allow for it and i don't remember talking about it with anyone but it registered subconsciously. it registered that i had nothing to fear from it and i'd hang out with this guy any day because he is bananas. so he was much more than a personality. he was an unwitting ambassador, at least for me, a true actor and a magnificent storyteller. all of which is on full display in this endearing portrait. it's a potent reminder that it really is our stories that tie us together. thanks, joe. this was a great way to begin.
and then, just as we are getting things going, joe throws a computer-generated bucket of cold water all over the proceedings with stephen sommers' g.i. joe: the rise of cobra (2009).
certain elements of the plot aren't so outlandish. i am indeed convinced there is a shadowy cabal at work, their sinister machinations endangering us at every turn. it's just that they are out to destroy film, not steal advanced weapons technology. everyone involved in this project quite obviously hates movies and are working to see a world in which they are eradicated. simply put, this is one of the most simple-minded pieces of shit i have ever seen. from the opening titles informing me that this was made in association with hasbro, it is clear that this is a parade of checks being cashed and action figures being marketed. there are more ridiculous accents in it than ten tommy wiseau interviews. i could never quite get a fix on the reading level this was aimed at. nothing anyone said or did was too complicated for a third grader to understand and yet there were too many impalings and white-hot iron masks being applied to faces for it to be for children. i can only assume that it was made for grown men with the brains of a nine year-old. the plot is incidental - bad guys doing bad things, good guys trying to stop them. it's basically just an excuse to break glass, blow things up and employ more half-assed computer animation than a saturday night on the syfy channel. cgi joe: the rise of my blood pressure would have been a much more apt title. it was just one shopworn cliche after another. if you remove every stock camera movement, musical sting, plot device, piece of fight choreography, and hackneyed line of dialogue you would have been left with about four minutes of explosions and the eiffel tower being eaten by weaponized dust mites. lest you think i exaggerate, here is every word spoken, in sequence, during an explosion-punctuated five minute-long section near the end:
alright, keep tight boys.
all guns on that cannon.
i just lost my wingman!
retargeting joe submarine.
i've got a shot!
pulse cannon fault. pulse cannon fault.
cannon now offline.
the whole damn system's down!
i'm trying to bring it back online.
now you die.
chart a course up to the ice pack.
take out the word "joe" and this could quite literally be any science fiction movie battle sequence, any time, anywhere. you could pick just about any five minute section and get a similar result. i have no idea how they got some of these actors to be in this thing. oh wait, yes i do. stinking fat checks, that's how. joseph gordon-levitt makes an appearance as a mad scientist that is half trent reznor, half darth vader, half freddy kruger (yes, the movie is 150% ridiculous). he wears an enormous face mask most of the time so to communicate the fact that he is speaking he looks like a bobblehead doll. channing tatum's acting "skills" and lack of charisma make it seem like someone put clothes on a football. never before have i found myself thinking i would rather be watching hayden christensen. yes, that bad. you know how voiceover artists go in and record about five hundred radio spots in three minutes? i swear that was the approach they took with every scene jonathan pryce was in. they must have only had him for an afternoon. this was supposed to be pure escapism but it failed miserably at that because all i could think for two hours was that i live in a world where this grossed 150 million dollars. horrible. i suspect joe only put this in the queue because the title has his name in it. what? was joe dirt (2001) not streaming?
can't get worse than that, can it? hmmm...let's see. how about a return trip to baz luhrmann's moulin rouge! (2001).
this is the first time it's happened in this experiment that i have been assigned to watch a film that i have already recently viewed. i decided to just go with it and see what came of it. you never know. i might find something altogether new. you can read what i said about it when jon originally assigned it to me here. beware of rick springfield's ass. unfortunately, i don't have a lot to add to that. i would like to mention that the title sequence with the fanfare, conductor and orchestra is a great idea and that ewan mcgregor is an easy guy to like. when he's not taking part in the overheated buffoonery of the piece he actually puts across a lot of genuine feeling with just a simple smile and an earnest gaze and it's easy to believe his chemistry with nicole kidman. it's still not enough to overcome the film's myriad, agitated faults.
ok, so day one was all about over the top, in one way or another. perhaps day two will tone it down a little bit and we will settle into a more subtle and dignified groove.