Tag: steve martin

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Neal Page (Steve Martin), in New York City for a business trip, planned to arrive in Chicago two days before Thanksgiving to be with his family. However, the moment he steps outside the client’s building to catch a flight, things begin to go horribly awry: his taxi is taken by someone else, his first-class ticket turns out to be no good at all, the plane is diverted to land in Wichita due to severe weather conditions… And yet these series of unfortunate events are only the beginning.

Written and directed by John Hughes, “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” hits a magic spot of being holiday-themed movie and a great comedy, full of laughs from beginning to end without sacrificing its quality due to varying shifts in tone. Equally impressive is the picture’s ability to take risks when it comes to the different types of humor. While it is mainly driven by situational and physical comedy, laughs can also be derived from mordant and character comedy.

The latter aspect works well due to Martin and and John Candy’s performances. Candy plays a man named Del Griffith who sells shower curtain rings for a living and is a perfect foil for Martin’s uptight and intolerant Neal, vice-versa. Although having two opposite personalities forced to spend time with one another is no stranger to comedies, the manner in which these characters interact and bond is special.

We get the impression that Neal and Del are essentially good men when apart but when together, the worst is brought out in one of them—not both. Having one character function as a wall against one who reacts in the most dramatic ways in addition to having the duo’s dynamics change subtly throughout the film—not just in the end just because conflicts must be resolved—becomes the heart of the picture. We end up caring about both of them. Notice the emotional impact of the final two or three scenes.

In terms of execution, one element that stands out is the way the writer-director utilizes the camera as a way to see through a character’s eyes. Take note of the sequence that takes place in the streets of NYC as Neal becomes increasingly desperate to book a cab. The camera adopts a subjective view—its movement brisk, energetic, full of alarm. Another sequence involves Neal noticing there is only one bed in the motel room that he and Del have booked. It makes sense that the former is shown to be highly competitive due to the nature of his occupation. Not once is Del shown to be as aggressive.

In addition to its perfectly cast duo, leading performances, and sharp writing, “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” offers a number of colorful characters that never overstay their welcome. The car rental agent (Edie McClurg), the stereotypical hillbilly with a pregnant wife (Dylan Baker), and the man who races Neal for a taxi (Kevin Bacon) are especially hilarious. The movie offers that warm, special feeling of holiday, friendship, and family—seemingly easy to accomplish but many movies of its type end up floundering.

Little Shop of Horrors

Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Mr. Mushnik (Vincent Gardenia) owns a flower shop on Skid Row and manages two employees, Seymour (Rick Moranis) and Audrey (Ellen Greene). Business is not doing so well so the owner is considering to close permanently. Audrey has an idea: they can promote unique-looking plants by the window to lure potential customers. Incidentally, Seymour, particularly interested in strange plants, has just purchased a flower from a Chinese vendor during a solar eclipse a week prior. Seconds after it is placed by the window, customers begin to enter the shop with very enthusiastic questions about its origins and buying whatever is on sale. But success does not come without a price.

“Little Shop of Horrors,” based on the screenplay by Charles B. Griffith and Howard Ashman’s musical, benefits greatly from well-cast actors. Although a bit one-dimensional, even for a musical, I was interested in how fortuitous circumstances will allow Seymour and Audrey to end up together.

We learn about their backgrounds as well as what kind of future might be in store for them through very energetic and well-written songs. Moranis balances vulnerability and geek-chic without coming off as cloyingly goofy. Greene, on the other hand, has to play an abused woman who sports a black eye and an arm cast at work while at the same time being in control of exuding a certain level of charm and wit to prevent us from perceiving her character as weak. Moranis and Greene function on the same wavelength so their romance is believable and one that is enjoyable to cheer for.

The supporting characters shine brightly. One who stands out most is Orin Scrivello (Steve Martin), Audrey’s boyfriend, a dentist who enjoys inflicting pain on his patients–stemming from his sadism toward animals as a child–and is addicted to nitrous oxide. He is a villain because he abuses his girlfriend physically, derives pleasure from it, and never feels guilty about his actions. And yet he, too, is fun to watch on screen with that maniacal laugh brought on by the gas he so joyously inhales and the hilarious Elvis Presley impersonations.

One of the best scenes involves the dentist and Arthur Denton (Bill Murray), a patient who actually enjoys being in pain. As Seymour sits in the waiting room for Orin, he hears screams from the operating room–screams that sounds like two men are engaging in a sexual act. But the scene never comes off homophobic. Seymour is very innocent, very clean-cut and so much of the humor is rooted from his response.

Risks are taken in the way many scenes are executed. With regards to the strange plant, named Audrey II, it can survive only by drinking blood. Seymour, desperate to keep the flower shop open out of loyalty to Mr. Mushnik as well as remaining in close proximity to his crush, feeds it droplets of blood from his fingers. Eventually, though, it has grown so big that it requires to eat entire humans, preferably chopped, to flourish. People do get eaten, but it is more comedic than horrific.

Furthermore, the plant learns how to speak (voiced by Levi Stubbed), commanding “Feed me!” to its caretaker. As the plant grows stronger, the romantic becomes weaker. There is a reason the carnivorous plant is named Audrey II. There comes a point in which Seymour will have to choose between a life of success with Audrey II or a life of simplicity with the original Audrey.

“Little Shop of Horrors,” directed by Frank Oz, is aware of what it has to offer, from fun and colorful characters to bounce-worthy song and dance. These are executed with zestful freshness that when the film switches between light zaniness and dark humor, it feels exactly right.

It’s Complicated

It’s Complicated (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

Jane (Meryl Streep) and Jake (Alec Baldwin) had been divorced for ten years. In that time period, Jake married a much younger woman and Jane established herself as an independent woman by running her own business. But the two began having an affair during their son’s (Hunter Parrish) college graduation and that’s when things began to get complicated (and convoluted). The picture had good focus when it tried to explore the dynamics of the relationship between the two former married couple. There was a certain energy about it that felt fresh because the two actors were clearly having fun in their roles. The script may not have been as realistic as I would have liked but I found myself smiling at the fact that two people of a certain age could still be romantic and have fun. Streep and Baldwin had good chemistry because both were so colorful and both could deliver power in their scenes when they really needed to. I also enjoyed Jane’s relationship with her charming architect played by Steve Martin. Spending time with him made her realize things she’s somewhat forgotten such as letting go of control once in a while and just have fun. However, whenever the film shifted its focus to the impact of the romantic entanglements on the children, I just didn’t believe it. I found it difficult to accept the fact that none of the three children (not including John Krasinski as the future son-in-law who was sometimes amusing, sometimes distracting) had the maturity to accept the fact that former couples can fall for each other again. Haven’t they had past relationships themselves? They didn’t act their age (the youngest was in college) and I cringed at the scene when Streep was forced to explain and justify her decisions to them. I felt like all three of them had the same brain and I wished that they weren’t in it at all. The kids dragged the movie down instead of adding a new dimension to the story. However, I did admire the way the movie ended because, just like the three leads, it handled the complicated situation in a mature way and it was able to impart some sort of wisdom regarding trust and fragility of relationships. Written and directed by Nancy Meyers, “It’s Complicated” offers a nice perspective concerning people in their 50s and what it means to find and rediscover romance. I was glad that it took the time to focus solely on Streep and Baldwin initially and eventually just Streep and Martin. It highlighted the positive and negative qualities of both men and it explained why Streep was torn between them. “It’s Complicated” is not a bad movie because it has charm and is accessible. However, it too often suffered from almost tried-and-true sitcom-like set-ups especially the scenes involving the family.