April 18, 2009


Clue (1985) is, I think, the kind of movie you appreciate more as a kid than as an adult. From my grown-up mind, it seems pretty hair-brained to try and adapt a board game into a movie. But I remember how thrilled I was to discover, retroactively you might say, that someone had turned my favorite murder-mystery-board-game into a feature film, a comedy no less, with some of my favorite actors!

Madeline Kahn, the underrated, red-headed beauty with that unmistakable voice (Megan Mullally may be her distant cousin), donning a black wig as Mrs. White; and Lesley Ann Warren, who I remembered from the Rodgers and Hammerstein Cinderella. Warren and Kahn both have beautiful singing voices, but neither of them ever really got to do as much with their voices in the movies (at least, not as much as I would have liked). There was Kahn's astonishingly funny and naughty performance as Lily Von Schtpp, the German saloon singer a la Marlene Dietrich, in Blazing Saddles, and Warren's effortless-looking performance as a floozy with a shrill, unsophisticated voice (not unlike Jean Hagen's in Singin' in the Rain) in Victor/Victoria, but as much as their talents were on display in these films, these women were never really given their due.

I think both of them shine in Clue, which isn't a particularly sophisticated comedy. It's not even a very well-thought-out comic mystery, about as subtle as Neil Simon's amusing but misfired Murder By Death. In Clue, Lesley Ann Warren plays Miss Scarlet, and she looks stunning and comfortable playing a cool bad girl, someone who once ran a brothel in Washington D.C. Warren is at her best here because she's not acting the dumb blonde: I think she's funnier when she's smart. And Kahn, as Mrs. White, delivers a subtly insane performance that may not stand out next to Lily from Blazing Saddles or Elizabeth from Young Frankenstein, and yet it's appropriately weird and Kahn-esque.

The plot of Clue is about what you'd expect from a movie adaptation of a game. The six suspects (Colonel Mustard, Mrs. Peacock, Professor Plum, et al) are gathered at an ominous Victorian mansion on a dark and stormy night (the film is needlessly set in 1954 so that it can exhaust the already exhausted limits of the comic value of the Red Scare and J. Edgar Hoover). They are confronted with various crimes (a la Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None) and then it's revealed that the seventh guest, Mr. Boddy, is blackmailing all of them. Pretty soon, Boddy winds up dead, and the task of figuring out whodunit is put on them.

The jokes are hit and miss, and the story itself fizzles out long before the movie ends. But the performances make it worth seeing, particularly that of Tim Curry, as the butler and the man who's ultimately running the show. Curry's energy is unmatched. He's like a wind-up toy that keeps going and going despite all the punishing efforts of the children who are winding him up and laughing every time he runs into a wall or falls on his face. Eileen Brennan, Michael McKean, Martin Mull, Christopher Lloyd, Colleen Camp, and Lee Ving co-star. Written by the director, Jonathan Lynn, from a story idea by John Landis, and produced by Debra Hill. ½

April 11, 2009


I was roped into watching Twilight, the film based on the novel by Stephanie Meyer.
I’ll admit I was gunning for this movie from the beginning, but I think that if it had been a good movie it would have won me over. Instead, I kept wondering when it would end. It felt like watching the WB. It felt like watching rain fall. It felt like bad writing and unimaginative filmmaking. Actress Kristen Stewart (Bella) only has three acting techniques: scrunching up her face, looking around (at anything but at her boyfriend), and not smiling. Robert Pattinson’s character Edward is, of course, far more interesting. In fact I must sympathize with Stewart for having such a boring role.

Having watched numerous other vampire films, it’s hard not to compare Twilight to those I thought offered similar themes with much more humor and imagination. I think one of the biggest problems of the movie Twilight is that it fails to offer characters who grab the attention of the viewer. The villains seem like an afterthought. They appear near the end with very little prior introduction, except a rather tame “feeding” scene where their quick movements are demonstrated by some obvious computer graphics.

Meanwhile, the budding romance is a little too tried and true, and a little too Jack and Rose. The only thing that’s missing is an unsinkable ship. It seems to easy, Pattinson’s whole “I’m pale, I’m dark, don’t love me” argument. And of course Stewart can’t help but fall for that old line, leaving the nice guys out in the cold. There was not enough at stake (if you’ll pardon the pun), for the romance to be of much import. And the film wasn’t scary or suspenseful enough to work on a horror-film level.