Flirting with Disaster (1996)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Ben Stiller and Patricia Arquette star as a New Yorker couple with a five-month-old unnamed baby. Stiller’s character was adopted and he thought it would only be right to find his biological parents (Alan Alda, Lily Tomlin) before naming the baby despite disapproval by his neurotic and self-absorbed biological parents (Mary Tyler Moore, George Segal). So the couple headed for San Diego along with a psychology student (Téa Leoni) who wanted to document the expected warm reunion. It’s a shame this film had been forgotten or overlooked by most as a great comedy. I had such a great time watching it because every minute was laugh-out-loud funny, intelligent and had an element of surprise. All characters had a chance to shine under the spotlight and used to the fullest but they were never exploited. They were made fun of but the sense of humor was never mean-spirited. The filmmakers were obviously aware of the fact that the audiences will most likely see themselves in these characters so the material and execution treated them with respect. The jokes were spot-on and the movie seemed to never run out of them. When the movie ended, I found myself smiling and wishing that it wasn’t yet over. I highly enjoyed the addition of Josh Brolin and Richard Jenkins as an FBI couple who wanted a baby. Again, it was easy to target these specific characters due to their sexual orientation but the material did not succumb to stupidity or bigotry to generate cheap laughs that ended just as the next scene was introduced. I liked the scene when the characters were stuck in a confined car and the script acknowledged the fact that not all gay men were into anal sex. It may sound obvious reading it now but one would be surprised that not a lot of people are aware of that. Sure, there were stereotypes but it attempted to break the mold by allowing the characters to think and act like real people. Furthermore, the director had a great ear for dialogue. I thought it was true to life because I often noticed characters talking on top of one another. It certainly is like that in my family especially during the holidays when everyone seems to lose their minds. (Or maybe we’re just too happy.) Astutely written and directed by David O. Russell, “Flirting with Disaster” is a highly successful roadtrip picture. If I were to be stuck with a group of people, I wish to be with them because I related to their quirkiness, neuroticisms, and flaws. This sleeper hit makes movies like Jay Roach’s “Meet the Parents” look pedestrian because movies like that rely more on slapstick to generate laughs.
True Romance (1993)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Written by Quentin Tarantino and directed by Tony Scott, “True Romance” opened with Clarence (Christian Slater) talking about a hypothetical situation in which if he were to make love with another man, it would be with his idol Elvis Presley. From the first scene, we learned that Clarence was a modern guy who was a romantic at heart and in constant search of the one he could fall deeply in love with. When he met Alabama (Patricia Arquette) in a movie theater and the two discussed the picture they just saw in a diner, the two forged a strong connection which eventually led to Clarence killing Alabama’s pimp (Gary Oldman) and accidentally stealing drugs from the mob. Like most movies written by Tarantino, I loved how this film was character-driven and dialogue-heavy but it still kept a forward momentum. Each scene in which two characters were placed in a room and talked about the most seemingly random topics were most revealing, most amusing and most engaging. We were given the chance to understand their motivations, histories, limitations and how they saw their lives compared to how they hoped to live their lives. Despite the characters acting tough on the outside, each of them had a fascinating story to tell. Aside from the opening scene, some higlights include Christopher Walken’s, as a mob boss, interrogration of Dennis Hopper, as Clarence’s ex-cop father with whom he had not seen for years; Arquette and James Gandolfini’s brutal battle to the death in a motel room; and when Arquette reluctantly admitted to Slater that she was a call girl. While the picture had its share of violence, I admired that it did not glorify it. The focus was consistently on the story, how the couple tried to get away from the police and the mob despite the fact that they probably knew that there would not be a way out of their increasingly desperate situation. Nevertheless, since the two really believed in their love for one another, they decided to move forward and there was certain lyricism and poetry even though chaos was happening all around them. “True Romance” wore its love for the movies on its sleeve by excelling at its genre while at the same time breaking from it. Even small roles had a big contribution to the big picture such as Val Kilmer as the ghost of Elvis and Brad Pitt as a stoner. Watching “True Rlomance” was pure joy because I experienced a spectrum of emotion and it made me want to have a dangerous (but chic) adventure of my own.
Ed Wood (1994)
★★★ / ★★★★
“Ed Wood,” directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp as the lead character, fascinated me in so many ways. It tells the story of a director that I’m very unfamiliar with, his strings of bad movies–how he made them, the behind-the-scenes drama, how the audiences reacted to his pictures–and his relationship with Bela Lugosi (played brilliantly by Martin Landau). Even though it had just enough of serious undercurrents, the comedy was consistent from beginning to end. Each character that Depp interacted with, such as his eventual bitter girlfriend Dolores Fuller (Sarah Jessica Parker), life-long partner (Patricia Arquette), and idol Orson Welles (Vincent D’Onofrio) brought multiple dimensions to the table. I’ve never seen Depp smile so much in any role. But yet he doesn’t become another commercial character. In fact, that smile had a certain edge to it, as if he’s smiling in order to distract others from his real thoughts and the secrets he wants to keep hidden. I felt like Burton really captured the era he wanted to portray. From the stunning black-and-white look of the film, the kinds of movies that studios were interested in producing at the time (science fiction films which involve giant animals or bugs that terrorize communities), and the cooky groups of people such as cross-dressers, drug addicts, dimming stars, and dreamers whose lives passed them by. And even though Burton sometimes made fun of Depp’s character from time to time, I still felt as though Mr. Wood’s memory was respected because he was portrayed as a man who never gave up on his dreams of making not just movies but actual art that he’s proud of even if others easily come to label his works as the “worst movies of all time.” I admired his determination to his raise the money himself when no other person or company would fund his projects. That struggle really carried this film through for me because it did not merely portray a series of funny moments just for the sake of laughter. In the end, it did not feel like another movie with a quirky way of telling a story. It felt like a near-masterpiece tribute for a man who was never taken seriously but still succeeded because of his undying spirit.