Posts Tagged ‘Steve Martin’


Feed me, Seymour. Feed Me All Night Long.

The Entire Movie

      

First Commentary by Adam-Troy Castro

Little Shop Of Horrors (1960). Directed by Roger Corman. Written by Charles B. Griffith. Starring Jonathan Haze, Jackie Joseph, Mel Welles, Dick Miller, and Jack Nicholson. 70 minutes. **

Little Shop Of Horrors (1986). Directed by Frank Oz. Written by Howard Ashman, based on the musical by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, itself based on the original screenplay by Charles B. Griffith. Starring Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, Vincent Gardenia, Steve Martin, Bill Murray. 94 minutes. ***

*

Your name is Seymour Krelboyne. You are a born nudnik working a dead-end job in the worst part of town, in an florist’s shop about to go under from lack of customers. But you believe you have the solution: a strange, sickly potted plant with an egg-shaped gourd that somewhat resembles a head. You’ve named it Audrey II, in tribute to your co-worker, a sweet airhead with a knack for mangling the English language. Surely, you tell your abusive boss Gravis Mushnick, putting this discovery on display must be a great way to attract new customers. He is dubious, to say the least. But within minutes of your big unveiling, customers start swarming in, and the future employment seems assured. The only problem is that the plant is carnivorous, malevolent, and so hungry that your gardening hobby soon acquires its own body count.

The original Little Shop Of Horrors, imbedded in its entirety above, was made on a lark, by folks who never expected it to be anything, and who were in fact daring themselves just on general principle to come up with a movie that could be shot on sets built for another movie, on a two-day filming schedule. (It actually took three weeks, if you count the two it took to write the screenplay, the three days the cast spent on rehearsal, and the final two-day frenzied production.)   It was such a surprise success, and object of cult adoration for over the years that followed, that Howard Ashman and Alan Menken used it as the basis for a hit off-Broadway musical, that inevitably brought the story back to Hollywood. 

The 1986 version, made at a budget of approximately 750 times the budget of the original — literally, on such a scale that the moviemakers could have made the original all over again on about the same amount the money the new movie spent on any particular shooting day, before breaking for lunch — is the one that most casual moviemakers know now. Close examination reveals that the new version is, songs and all,  if anything, a smaller-scaled story. But is it a more focused one?

Little Shop of Horrors (1960): Dedicated Weirdness

As often occurs with remakes, the partisans of this version regard the remake with open contempt, treating it as a bastardization of the original work of genius. They call the 1986 version overblown, obvious, and spendthrift of the original’s charms.

One can only wonder if they’ve seen the original lately.

It’s not a bad film (though the wife is – spoiler warning – about to take violent exception to that assertion). In fact, considering the conditions under which is made, it is a surprisingly good film, with clever dialogue, and some remarkably witty character bits. It certainly serves up a lot more incidental weirdness than the 1986 version, providing us in addition to the sadistic dentist and masochistic patient a number of eccentrics that don’t make it to the 1986 film at all. They include Siddie Shiva (Leola Wendorff), a perennial customer who arrives every single day to announce the death of yet another of her poor relatives; Seymour’s crazy hypochondriac mother Winifred (Myrtle Vail), whose mania includes a revolting form of down-home cooking that utilizes patent medicines as food staples; and Burson Fouch (invaluable b-movie veteran Dick Miller), an awfully nice guy who buys up flowers so he can snack on them in the store. There are also a pair of deadpan Homicide detectives, who between them offer an outrageous parody of Jack Webb’s Dragnet that could have been, and in fact eventually was under other hands, a workable premise of a full-length movie all by itself.

”How’s the wife, Frank?”

“Not bad, Joe.”

“Glad to hear it. The kids?”

“Lost one yesterday.”

Lost one, huh? How’d that happen?”

“Playing with matches.”

Well, those’re the breaks.”

“I guess so.”

This is funny stuff now. Audiences in 1960, with Jack Webb’s intonations still in recent memory, would have found it even funnier.

The constant malaprops uttered by both Audrey and Mushnick – neither of whom seem to have ever met a sentence they didn’t have serious trouble crossing intact — are another fine element. And so’s the brief visit from the masochistic dental patient (played by a young pre-stardom Jack Nicholson, who is of course given star billing on every public-domain VHS and DVD pressing of the film). Nicholson had yet to learn most of what he eventually knew about acting, and he was still a hoot and a half as a pervert experiencing heights of sexual arousal while reading a medical journal:   “The patient came to me with a large hole in his abdomen, caused by a fire poker used on him by his wife. He almost bled to death and gangrene had set in. I didn’t give him much of a chance. There were other complications. The man had cancer, tuberculosis, leprosy, and a touch of the grippe. I decided to operate.” Hee hee!

So this is all good. What’s not? Well, to be frank, Jonathan Haze as Seymour, attempting to channel Jerry Lewis and failing miserably. (It’s not funny as intended, in either film, when Seymour trips while running into the store and smashes a bunch of flowerpots while Mushnick rages at his incompetence, but the difference between the first film and the second is that when Rick Moranis gets up, he goes back to being funny, and Haze seems to leave his comic timing in the debris.) The encounter with an insistent prostitute is just plain embarrassing. The plant itself is not nearly as interesting, in that it’s not the voluble chatterbox of the remake but instead a vegetable of few words beyond the insistent, “Feed me!” The plot doesn’t manage to achieve any real comic velocity but instead comes down to a series of strange things happening, until a dull final chase scene that consists of Mushnick and the two cops chasing Seymour around a tire yard. And, finally, there’s ending: a tragic death for Seymour that consists of him deliberately climbing into the plant’s mouth and ends as a bud with his face cries, “I didn’t mean it!”  Today, it gives the impression of being what it likely: a hasty wrap-up by moviemakers who never thought their two-day production would form the basis of an ongoing franchise, and who just did whatever would get them to the title card THE END as soon as possible.

The first film is in short the product of a generous posterity. Its best moments are remembered with fondness, and its worst forgotten or forgiven.

 

Little Shop of Horrors (1986): A Stage-Bound Epic

According to producer David Geffen, the first director approached for this remake was Martin Scorcese. Think on that a bit. What he might have made of it!

It’s actually fortunate that he didn’t, as the team put together by Frank Oz, in adapting the stage hit, made about as good as movie as anyone could have made from the material.

Part of it involves what novelists call “killing your darlings,” the fine art of jettisoning those favorite bits of business that we might recall with affection but which really don’t do all that much in terms of servicing the story. Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, the writers of the musical, had every reason to do this, because any Off-Broadway production lives and dies by narrative economy and therefore can’t survive much in the way of incidental characters who add nothing but oddness. So farewell, alas, to Burson Fouch; we’ll miss you, but you distracted from the stuff we needed to heed. Farewell, Siddie Shiva; we enjoyed your perpetual state of mourning, but it was really only one-joke and you can serve the same purpose as an unseen presence on the other side of a phone.

Most importantly, farewell, Winifred Krelboyne: getting rid of you, and making Seymour an orphan who has lived all his life as Mushnick’s virtual slave, serves several purposes. First, it means we lose that interval when Seymour has to travel across town to get the plant, and return with it; Second, it makes him even more put-upon and therefore sympathetic than he was before; third, it increases the stakes, from Seymour losing a job that wasn’t any good anyway to losing the only home he’s ever had, and then to finding a happiness he’s never known

All of this leaves more room for the character of the sadistic dentist, who is here positioned closer to the concerns of the plot. In the original, he’s just another odd element, incidental to Seymour’s life until Seymour needs a tooth looked at. In the musical, and subsequently in this film, he’s the human Audrey’s ridiculously abusive boyfriend, a guy who really does look to the far from murderous Seymour like one of those people who (as both Seymour and the plant declare in song) might as well become plant food.

This change moves the love story closer to center stage,  increasing our empathy for everybody involved (and making way for one of the funniest Ashman / Menken songs, “Be A Dentist”). Even the appearance of Bill Murray in the masochistic-patient part once played by Jack Nicholson is rendered material; sure, it pops in out of nowhere and leaves just as quickly, but in context it serves as the unsatisfying office visit that stokes the dentist’s rage and prompts him to seize on Seymour as a patient who will react properly to the agony he inflicts.

The increased attention to the Seymour / Audrey I dynamic gave the musical something the original didn’t have: narrative momentum. The original  doesn’t so much build in tension as stagger its way through a series of incidents. The musical makes it a comic race between Seymour getting everything he’s ever wanted, and damning himself beyond redemption. (The fact that in the stage musical and in the original cut of this film, he loses the race, as both he and his girlfriend are eaten, and leave the carnivorous plant to further threaten the world, is immaterial; a disastrous test of that apocalyptic ending led to the happier resolution it enjoys now; and it would be true in either case that it’s the tension being played with.)
  
Your friendly analysts have seen the stage musical – not the original, but a subsequent revival – and must report that the movie accomplishes things it does not. It is perfectly acceptable, on stage, for a soloist to just stand in one place, and belt out the entirety of a song – that is, assuming that it’s a good song, that it advances the story and illuminates character, and that the performer can sing it. A movie musical where most of the story is conveyed via the songs must do a little bit more, and we happily report that the imaginative staging of the songs in the film give them all significant visual power. “Skid Row,” for instance, is here an epic production number detailing exactly why Seymour’s life sucks and how much he’s aware of it; it places him in a milieu where everybody feels the same way, and motivates him about a hundred times better than anything seen in the original film.

“Be A Dentist” not only tells us that Orin Scrivello is a dirtbag who deserves to die, as the play does, but here shows us (with one eye-popping within-the-mouth shot).Giving the plant the power of song as well as the power of speech (both Levi Stubbs) underlines just how Mephistophelean the deal offered by that mulch-fed maniac is, and why Seymour responds to it as he does. Hell, despite the silliness of the proceedings, this viewer always mists up, badly, during the declaration-of-love song, “Suddenly Seymour.” He honestly cannot help it.

(It helps, of course, that they’re for the most part great songs, and that the greek-chorus narrators have a presence that restores much of the strangeness the removal of so many incidental characters has taken out.)

The set is a marvel: one of the largest New York City sets ever built, taking up much of London’s Pinewood studios, it is clearly not a real place but a fine stylized approximation of one. And the plant is terrific. Just the statistics are impressive: for the various incarnations of Audrey II, fifty thousand fake leaves, eleven miles of cable, design assistance from the Atomic Energy Commission, and fifty puppeteers operating it during the finale. None of this would be even remotely enough if it didn’t actually come off as a living thing, but Audrey II does; he’s malicious, cajoling, self-satisfied, evil AND charming, all at once. If you want to be absolutely terrified, reflect that today, he would almost certainly be rendered by CGI…and imagine just how lame that would inevitably be. 

Some enthusiasts believe it a betrayal of the source material (both prior film and stage show), that Seymour and the human Audrey go on to live their happily-ever-afters, and I’m afraid that’s an argument that can’t be won. It degenerates into, “Yes, It is! No, it’s not!” I can only suggest that if the preview audiences were outraged at the original ending where Seymour and Audrey died, it must be because that by then the couple at the center of the proceedings had such genuine chemistry…and that, by itself, speaks volumes.

Neither Rick Moranis nor Ellen Greene went on to the lasting screen stardom they deserved – in Moranis’s case by choice, as he eventually took some personal time off from acting and realized over time that he didn’t miss it at all; and in Greene’s case because the couple of headlining roles she received on screen afterward didn’t achieve anywhere near the same impact. (Unlike Moranis, she’s still performing, and was prominent as an eccentric aunt in the cult TV series Pushing Daisies.) It remains the best film either one has ever been involved with.
 
There have been some vague noises about yet another remake, including from one guy who says he wants to go back to the source material and make a straight horror movie. We are not eager to see the result.

The Leaf-Cutting

1960 version, a remarkable achievement on a shoe-string, but one with dead spots that weaken its flashes of genius. 1986 version, a terrific movie musical, that manages human feeling despite the campiness of its story.

*

And now, the wife plants her own seeds.

Second Commentary by Judi B Castro

Little Shop Of Horrors (1960). Directed by Roger Corman. Written by Charles B. Griffith. Starring Jonathan Haze, Jackie Joseph, Mel Welles, Dick Miller, and Jack Nicholson. 70 minutes. *

Little Shop Of Horrors (1986). Directed by Frank Oz. Written by Howard Ashman, based on the musical by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, itself based on the original screenplay by Charles B. Griffith. Starring Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, Vincent Gardenia, Steve Martin, Bill Murray. 94 minutes. ***

I was eager to see the 1960 Little Shop of Horrors.  I had heard how this cult classic was completed in a few days, on borrowed sets and less than a full shoestring of a budget.  It was a horror/sci-fi/love story supposedly filled with just the right amount of “black humor” to at least get a chuckle or two.  Supposedly.

Then I watched it.  While I can admire the accomplishment I can not tolerate the horrible anti-semitism throughout.  If was just the caricatured characters, I could shrug it off, but no!  This hatred permeates every moment of film.  The language, the mannerisms the set decorations!  They took one really bad Jewish joke and stretched it to a full hour of pain. Do only Jews populate this particular part of skid row?  I did find myself horrified, but not by the sf/horror alien plant taking over the world, that could have been fun!

Move ahead to 1986.  I’m already a fan of this musical and I can’t wait to see what the film brings out.

This film is fun.  The music is catchy, the characters are mostly likeable, and  Audrey II is amazing!   This film never slows down.  It’s a cannon ball shot towards a heavy magnet.  Even by the CG driven films that can wow me today, these effects still play well.  Audrey II’s movement and lip synch are near perfection, but I expect that from a crew run by Frank Oz(whose puppet Yoda still far excels the CG one)!

Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene are the dufus couple you can cheer for.   The chemistry seems natural and even the singing fits the character moments.  This movie had me on the lookout for both these actors for quite some time after.

Steve Martin’s leather clad, sleaze ball, sadistic dentist is so much fun especially when played off of Bill Murray’s masochistic patient.  And, while Jack Nicholson in the same basic part was one of the few bright spots of the earlier attempt, Mr. Murray’s turn just tweaks it up a notch.

Gone from this version is the yidenglish signage, the spinster jewess with the constantly dying relatives (mass murderer???) and the over eager flower muncher.  None of these are a loss felt deeply and the changes actually lighten the entire tone.

As to the SF/Horror elements.  Well they are played out here as before.  Not actually central but not secondary either.  At its heart this remake is a love story, plain and simple.  Who really needs more than that?

 

 

 

 


A movie with a sequel with a remake that had a sequel remake

 

 

First Commentary by Adam-Troy Castro

 Father Of the Bride (1950). Directed by Vincente Minelli. Written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, from the novel by Edward Streeter. Starring Spencer Tracy, Elizabeth Taylor, and Joan Bennett. 92 minutes. ***

Father’s Little Dividend. (1951). Directed by Vincente Minelli.  Written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, from the characters created by Edward Streeter. Starring Spencer Tracy, Elizabeth Taylor, and Joan Bennett. 82 minutes. ***.

Father of the Bride (1991). Directed by Charles Shyer. Written by Nancy Myers and Charles Shyer, from the screenplay by Frances Goodrich and  Albert Hackett and novel by Edward Streeter. Starring Steve Martin, Diane Keaton, Martin Short. 105 minutes. ** 1/2

Father Of the Bride Part Two (1995). Directed by Charles Shyer. Written by Nancy Myers and Charles Shyer, from the screenplay by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hacker and novel by Edward Streeter. Starring Steve Martin, Diane Keaton, Martin Short. 106 minutes. ** 1/2

This one’s a bit convoluted, we’re afraid. A movie with a sequel that was remade that had a sequel that was itself a remake of the first movie’s sequel, although by then fidelity to the original story was limited to the sheer phenomenon of human reproduction. It is also an interesting cultural phenomenon for its own sake, as it presents snapshots of the American family – or at least the way the American family wanted to see itself – at two different points in history, forty years apart.

The originals came from a time where it was polite to pretend on screen that all married couples slept in twin beds, and where suits and ties were so much the official uniform of the American male that Spencer Tracy’s character even bothers to get dressed up while rushing to the hospital in the middle of the night, to attend his first grandchild’s birth. (Imagine a modern grandfather donning more than a comfortable pullover and a pair of jeans for the same occasion, and it’s likely that you’d consider him ridiculously anal.)

The 1990s versions presented a different kind of froth entirely, of the sort all-too-common in its particular era of moviemaking: in that its family seems not just comfortable but ridiculously well-off, and money isn’t even a problem for the young couple, since the future groom and son-in-law is a “consultant” whose services command such a high price that, we’re told, no company can possibly afford his services on a permanent basis.  (And Steve Martin’s character still grumps that he’s not good enough for his daughter.) Indeed, it is hard to watch the scenes where he appears, and not remember another Spencer Tracy uncomfortable-engagement movie, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner (1968),  which brought race into the equation and where the black man who wants to marry Tracy’s daughter is not just a thoroughly respectable fella but a doctor and a world-class  philantropist and an important man and possibly a great one and in all ways so perfect and iconic and perfect and Poitier that, race aside, there is absolutely no remaining room to object to him. Just as that movie would have been a little bit better, a little less like a gift-wrapped sermon, had there been some aspect of the Poitier character  that rendered him a little less of a sterling catch, the Steve Martin Father Of The Bride would have been better if the young man had possessed some attribute, aside from a penis and designs on Daddy’s little girl, that gave Martin’s character some greater reason to be ambivalent about him. Or maybe that’s part of the joke.

Beyond that, there is little in any of these four films worth waxing eloquent about at any real length. They are sitcoms; fun sitcoms and for the most part resonant sitcoms, in that they deal with life’s most important passages and for the most part do so honestly, inserting complications whenever the story needs to be prolonged. In all four films the chief dramatic concern is not how the daughter feels about any of these tremendous changes in her life, but about how her father George deals with them; how he resents the alteration in the universe he knows and comes only slowly to the realization that it’s a good thing. All four films benefit from the presence of a leading man with a special talent for a slow burn.

Father Of the Bride (1950), Father’s Little Dividend (1951)

The chief treasure of this one is Spencer Tracy, long regarded one of the all-time great American film actors, here ably supported by the luminous Elizabeth Taylor as his daughter.  She, however, is not so much playing a character as a MacGuffin: the reason for her father to go so crazy, and to wax rhapsodic with voice-over speeches like, “Who giveth this woman? “This woman.” But she’s not a woman. She’s still a child. And she’s leaving us. What’s it going to be like to come home and not find her? Not to hear her voice calling “Hi, Pops” as I come in? I suddenly realized what I was doing. I was giving up Kay. Something inside me began to hurt. “ It is that, the kernel of human truth, that gives the emotions their weight, and the comedy the resonance of human truth, even when the screenplay is contorting itself into knots to keep the story going; i.e. the rather bloodless crises in the relationship of Kay and her beau, that arrive at key moments in both the first and second films.

Much of the comedy in the first film comes from Tracy’s realization that the wedding he’s expected to pay for has spiraled out of control and the 140-guest relatively intimate occasion he’s hoped for has become a 240-guest extravaganza. But this is not a mere “Money Pit” situation. The increasing size of the occasion is not only an insult to his pocketbook but also an external manifestation of his realization that he’s no longer in control, period. Much of the comedy in the second film comes from his determination to treat the birth of his grandchild as not such a big deal, even as the other grandparents and his wife twist his world out of all recognition in preparation for its arrival.

The one scene we’ll point to in the original is the hidden gem of a dream sequence, which afflicts Tracy on the night before the wedding and which the apotheosis of all anxiety dreams centered on social occasions. In it, Tracy cannot seem to get down the aisle to join his daughter. The floor rebels under his feet, the clothes fall to pieces on his body, and the assembled guests all stare at him with aghast mortification, while he struggles in vain. Who has not experienced a phantasm like this, on the night before a big day? And how perfect is it, that upon waking, he has to be the source of comfort and confidence for his daughter, who is also suffering the pre wedding day jitters?

The one scene we’ll point to in the somewhat more awkward sequel is the climactic crisis, in which the less-than-doting grandfather misplaces the baby and after a suitable interval of panic finds him, and finally bonds with him as a result. Need it be said that the disappearance of a child, due to a grandfather’s momentary negligence, does not play exactly the same way today?

Father Of the Bride (1991), Father Of the Bride Part Two (1995)

Respect for what came before led this viewer to scorn the first of these films in 1991, but let’s be honest: it plays the same notes, and it plays them in pretty much the same way. See, for instance, this voice-over quote from the first film of this incarnation, where Steve Martin expresses the same thoughts Spencer Tracy had forty years before. “Who presents this woman? This woman? But she’s not a woman. She’s just a kid. And she’s leaving us. I realized at that moment that I was never going to come home again and see Annie at the top of the stairs. Never going to see her again at our breakfast table in her nightgown and socks. I suddenly realized what was happening. Annie was all grown up and was leaving us, and something inside began to hurt.”

Steve Martin is as good at a slow burn as Spencer Tracy ever was, and while, as we said before,  the film bends excessively backward to make the prospective and then actual son-in-law the absolute best catch in the history of the universe, it’s nice that some lip service is given to daughter Kay also being an accomplished professional herself. As much as she is expected to support her husband in his career, he will also be expected to support her, in hers. It may be lip service, but it’s also a clear illustration of the changes this sorry old world has seen since 1950, and is not at all a bad thing. In this spirit, I actually like the first film’s pre-marital crisis, which has to do with the “uneasy sexual politics” of buying your bride-to-be a blender as present; after all, anybody who’s ever been in a relationship has also had the well-meaning gesture given the worst possible interpretation at the worst possible moment, and it’s more antidote to any narrative subtext presenting Kay as just a commodity to be given away.

Regarding Father Of the Bride Part Two, we must say: Part Two? Really? You couldn’t do any better than Part Two? You couldn’t figure out some other way to let your audience know that this was a sequel to a remake and a remake of the sequel? Do you really think the audience is that stupid? Granted that Diane Keaton’s first major role in the Godfather movies also involved a “Part Two,” we must express, and express again, our growing disdain with sequels that cannot even be bothered to provide the audience with some form of new title.

The innovation of Part Two, such as it is,  is contriving for Diane Keaton’s fifty-year-old Nina Banks to get pregnant at pretty much exactly the same time that her daughter Kay does. This pushes biological plausibility, but is not outside the realm of human experience, and doubles down on George’s anxiety as the twin blessed occasions approach.

Three things need to be noted about this. First, there is a law, pretty much inviolable, in movie comedies where more than one woman is pregnant: they must always go into labor at the same time, and if possible give birth mere minutes part. That’s a given. and anybody watching this movie who fails to expect it has never seen a movie before.

Second, the movie goes to extravagant and downright embarrassing lengths explaining just how George and  Nina came to conceive the child, treating their lovemaking session as an unusual and surprising development so remarkable that they experience jaw-dropping epiphany of the “you mean, that night…” sort,  when Nina’s pregnancy comes to light, weeks later. Really. The movie comes within a gnat’s eyelash of actively apologizing for any implication that a couple this old might regularly have sex; it certainly treats the occasion as a somewhat embarrassing fluke.

Third, while the sentiment in a sitcom this contrived is certainly easy for someone of sufficiently cynical bent to mock, this viewer falls apart, absolutely falls apart, when both Nina and Kay have been taken away to have their babies, and George bares his heart to the obstetrician, saying, “These women are my life.” There is no apologizing for this.

As for Martin Short’s flamboyant, english-mangling wedding planner, Franck Eggelhoffer, who gets all the outrageous moments in both films: you might find him painful, or you might find him hilarious. I ‘m staying out of it.

The Vows

The originals: dated classics, with a splendid lead performance by Spencer Tracy. The remakes: not quite as good, but not as inferior to the Tracy version as many seem to think.

And now, the wife submits her catering budget…

*

Second Commentary by Judi B. Castro

 Father Of the Bride (1950). Directed by Vincente Minelli. Written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, from the novel by Edward Streeter. Starring Spencer Tracy, Elizabeth Taylor, and Joan Bennett. 92 minutes. ***

Father’s Little Dividend. (1951). Directed by Vincente Minelli.  Written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, from the characters created by Edward Streeter. Starring Spencer Tracy, Elizabeth Taylor, and Joan Bennett. 82 minutes. ***.

Father of the Bride (1991). Directed by Charles Shyer. Written by Nancy Myers and Charles Shyer, from the screenplay by Frances Goodrich and  Albert Hackett and novel by Edward Streeter. Starring Steve Martin, Diane Keaton, Martin Short. 105 minutes. ** 1/2

Father Of the Bride Part Two (1995). Directed by Charles Shyer. Written by Nancy Myers and Charles Shyer, from the screenplay by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hacker and novel by Edward Streeter. Starring Steve Martin, Diane Keaton, Martin Short. 106 minutes. ** 1/2

The greatest compliment I can lend to any film is that I can see a reflection of my life in in its situations and characters. 

This having been said I was not even a wisp of a dream to either of my parents in 1950/1951 and by 1991 they were resigned that I would never marry(oops fooled them). Yet somehow, Father of the Bride (both versions) seemed to play on an unending mindloop throughout 2002 and the year of wedding over-planning. (I challenge all of you to plan a traditional Jewish wedding, outdoors on Christmas Day with a Science Fiction theme that stays under budget!)  Oh: and did I include the fact that I was recovering from major surgery and am highly allergic to many foods and inhalants, especially flowers?  Compare that to the challenges faced in the films and you may begin to see why I hold both films close.

While the earlier films are charming but dated, they reflected much of my parents’s views of life, parenting and the responsibilities of the poor bride’s parents.  The 90’s era films were more frenetic.  The runabout pacing giving less chance for character, but more for Steve Martin fumbling at being dad.  Both Fathers are there for the traditional role of open wallet/shut mouth.  My question, if the 90’s film were such an update, why didn’t daddy’s little angel just move in with the guy?  Why the need for the overwrought garden wedding?  I guess much like my case, it was someone’s dream. (Let Adam tell you my original plans for our marriage).

In the sequels we see the difference in attitudes towards pregnancy over a 40 year span.  In the 1951 film mommy to be is pushed into a larger home, help is volunteered and parties are thrown.  She is not to get overworked, stressed or upset, all of which she does so daddy can come to her rescue.  In the 90’s ,both mother and daughter are going through the joys together.  We see them shopping, comparing notes and harassing their husbands into submission.  The old guy (Martin) nearly collapses under it all and the young father to be heads out assured that all will be taken care of.  Huh?  Of course both must deliver within minutes of each other or the “comedy” falls short.  Huh? again.  What was wrong with the grandparents becoming grandparents?  When my sister had her children, we all crowded out the waiting room.  2 sets of prospective grands, one set of great aunt/uncle, 2 aunts and 2 uncles all to be.  Wouldn’t that scene have been enough fodder for the film?

And of course, they had to add the teary ending to remind you how funny everything was before this point.  PUHLEEZE!

That being said.  I actually enjoy watching the Martin films.  He and Diane Keaton are fun even in the implausible sequel.  But no one can replace ultra father(even without the priest collar) Spencer Tracy.  He made me believe that he was Elizabeth Taylor’s dad  for both films, His rough gruff 50’s guy is just like my own Pop: loud when warranted and soft when needed, just like these films.


Explanation: the next remake column will be a few days later than anticipated, due to circumstances beyond our control (the remake has not shown up as anticipated). Thus, to hold its place, another past movie rant, originally posted on various online locations from April 29 2010. Enjoy. A-TC

I hereby propose an official name for the sinking feeling one gets upon seeing publicity for a movie starring a performer of genuine talent who has made great films in the past but who has taken a paycheck for something you wouldn’t want to watch if somebody stapled your eyelids to your forehead.

The Fraser.

Prompted by the trailer for Brendan Fraser’s Furry Vengeance  — in which Fraser is beaten up by CGI raccoons, and so on — and the cognitive dissonance that comes with suddenly remembering how good Fraser was in School Ties, Gods and Monsters, and even George of The Jungle.

That moment of cognitive dissonance is a Fraser.

To achieve a true Fraser, a movie must be so visibly an appalling waste of talent, from the trailer alone, that you as a member of the audience are left despairing as you wonder whether anybody in the business has ever seen the good films made by the performers and has any idea, whatsoever, how to use them to greatest advantage.

Any trailer prompting a “Fraser” is so complete in its awfulness that the actual movie cannot either redeem it, or render it worse. It is a black hole of suck, in two minutes or less. You can feel the audiences cough in an otherwise silent theatre. You can feel the performers loathing themselves for not being able to get better.

Also, to prompt a “Fraser,” it cannot be an aberration in an otherwise brilliant career, a hiccup in a filmography that will surely return to its previous heights next time; it must be a sad but regrettably accurate barometer of a career’s general direction, even if that career still produces good movies from time to time. The greater the heights once achieved by the performer, the purer the nausea one feels during the Fraser” When Robert De Niro gives you a Fraser, as he does from time to time, it is to that sinking feeling what an underwear yank with a crane is to the high school gym-class wedgie — the ultimate, the platonic ideal. It’s hard to get a taste of him playing Fearless Leader in Rocky And Bullwinkle and then live with the knowledge that he also gave us Vito Corleone, Jake LaMotta and Travis Bickle.

Now, we have to be fair about this. A Fraser-evoking trailer is somewhat more forgivable in the cases of brilliant supporting players who are sometimes stars: i.e., Ben Kingsley, who’s gotta eat (even if Gandhi didn’t always), and Michael Caine, who has always alternated paycheck roles with quality ones (and they’re sometimes the same ones, as per The Dark Knight.)

Think, rather, of Liam Neeson shouting “Release the Kraken,” or playing the lead in The A-Team. Seeing a trailer for The A-Team and realizing that it’s Liam Neeson, Liam fucking Neeson, stepping into the shoes of George Peppard, in a remake of a crappy TVshow decades old, is a downer that may last entirely all the way through the main feature that follows. That’s a Fraser.

But even that’s not the worst of all possible Frasers, as you can cheer yourself by remembering that it really hasn’t been all that long since Neeson’s last good movie and probably won’t be all that long before his next one. A pure Fraser, of the sort that can bother you all day, only increases from repetition, from the realization that the beloved performer who just gave you a Frazier is the same beloved performer who’s been giving you Frasers for years on end.

To wit: almost every trailer for every new movie starring Robin Williams now prompts a Fraser.

As does almost every trailer for every new movie starring Steve Martin.

As does almost every trailer for every new movie starring John Travolta.

See? The Fraser. I think it’s a useful addition to our critical vocabulary.

Upcoming Remake Chronicles will include To Be Or Not To Be, The Wizard Of Oz, House of Wax, Wages of Fear / Sorcerer, The Front Page, Dawn Of the Dead, and the disasters that befell two ships called The Poseidon.