Volume 4, Number 37
This Week's Reviews: Barbershop.
This Week's Omissions: Happy Times, Stealing Harvard.
Repertory Review: A Fish Called Wanda.
Capsule Reviews: FearDotCom, Swimfan.
Who Wasn't There
Original Kings of Comedy
BY: DAVID PERRY
With the exodus of the white population from the inner-city, various traditions have been extinguished out of a WalMart level of competition in the suburbs. A recent report on one of these lost traditions recently aired on CNN, where the question was asked, "what has happened to all the barbershops?"
Though recently shown in lurid detail in The Coen brothers' The Man Who Wasn't There, the profession has dissipated to little more than an icon of the bygone 1950s. By the time I moved to a small town, the place where they are supposed to continue to flourish, in 1990, those twisting stripe signs were nowhere to be found.
And yet the barbershop has not completely left the face of the earth: within the small enclaves of the inner-city these tiny shops still serve as a meeting ground for the men of the neighborhood. As one character in the new film Barbershop puts it, the barbershop has historically been the black country clubs, the place where they can relax and chat about the day-to-day life. In most white neighborhoods, losing barbershops means going somewhere else to get a haircut; in these black neighborhoods, losing them means losing a way of life.
This fact does not stop Calvin (Ice Cube), the protagonist of Barbershop, from feeling the strain of trying to run one. Having gotten the shop from his father, a business owner with little interest in keeping up store finances, Calvin sees no choice but to close down the place so that he can pursue his own dream (starting a music studio). Business does not seem horrible, it's just that the place has too many debts caused partly by a slew of staff members.
And what a varied collection of practitioners these people are. Jimmy (Thomas) is a college student trying to constantly prove his knowledge to the rest of the crew; Ricky (Ealy) is an ex-convict trying to prove himself on the workforce; Terri (Eve) is the odd-woman-out with a philandering boyfriend; Dinka (Howze) is a Nigerian immigrant with eyes for Terri; Isaac (Garity) is a white guy trying to show himself to be as black as everyone else; and Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer) is the longtime employee constantly telling the kids why their generation is wrong about everything from life to black figures.
All these people are dependent on Calvin's barbershop (though Eddie seems to see it as more a place to go than as a place to work -- he never seems to have any customers) and yet Calvin has just sold the place to lowlife businessman Lester (David). There was a compromising point between the two: for $20,000, Lester could have the place as long it remains "the barbershop." Lester, smilingly, makes the deal and begins planning the opening of his nightclub called "The Barbershop."
The film takes place during a twenty-four hour period in which Calvin must find a way to get the shop back from Lester before officially closing the place. It is not necessarily a story that is new by any means, but screenwriters Mark Brown, Don D. Scott, and Marshall Todd inject it with enough love for the barbershop milieu that it becomes impossible to not feel some fear that Calvin will not succeed. It is not as much a fear that we he and the gang will be without jobs, but a fear that another reminder of our past is about to be destroyed. Eddie, the curmudgeon elder, is always around to allow the film to gently repeat the impact of closing a single barbershop in a world littered with SuperCuts.
This is not to say that Barbershop is a wholly
commanding work. In fact, a couple of its subplots, including a botched ATM robbery by two
hoods, feel so forced that their presence damages the impact of the main story. Most of
the characters are strong enough to carry a movie on their own, so allowing them to grow
within this story would have been sufficient in establishing the film as a winsome and
enjoyable little film. However, the screenwriters and director Tim Story haven't the
gumption to rely on these sounder elements, instead reverting to moments that are more
akin to Friday than a smart look at the mortality of our past.
Stock & Two Smoking Barrels
|A Fish Called Wanda
BY: DAVID PERRY
Eric Idle, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, and the late Graham Chapman will always be remembered for one thing: Monty Python. In a TV series, some live appearances, and four films, they became immortalized in everything Python and, in most cases, have ridden this fact into everything they've done since.
Jones, Idle, and Chapman all stayed pretty much content with their Python references as their only real mark in history (though, to his credit, Idle did poorly try and do stuff early on to little fanfare). Now, the other three are the ones that have really made a difference. As some people have evidently forgotten, Terry Gilliam is now a film director, bringing us Brazil, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and 12 Monkeys. And the other two, Cleese and Palin, well, they have taken comedy an additional step beyond Python-esque zaniness. Thanks to these two, the world has been introduced to Wanda.
Cleese, at least in my opinion, is the greatest British comedian since Peter Sellers and has done considerably well in his post-Python days. Any BBC/PBS fan can happily sing the praises of his other TV series Fawlty Towers. However, it was not until his reteaming with Michael Palin in A Fish Called Wanda that we really got to return to his glory. While the Fawlty Towers days were great, they were definitely a one-man show more or less, Wanda brought Cleese back to the world of ensemble comedy where everyone held his own, whether it be the lovably bumbling Michael Palin or the abnormally aggressive Kevin Kline.
A Fish Called Wanda is, without a doubt, one of the funniest movies ever made. In the laugh per minute scale, Wanda is up there with unquestionable classics like Some Like It Hot, A Shot in the Dark, and Tootsie. I can safely say that there is not a dull moment in the entire film -- it is a nonstop laugh riot. It's films like Wanda that make me wish Cleese would write screenplays more often.
The film starts with a diamond heist totaling £13 million in jewels. The leader of this heist is George (Georgeson), a British thief who makes the mistake of conspiring the deal with his American girlfriend Wanda (Curtis). She, of course, has the intention of getting the entire loot to herself -- you know, diamonds are a girl's best friend. To make this happen, Wanda convinces George to use her brother Otto (Kline) in the robbery, but, in actuality, Otto is Wanda's wannabe intellectual lover. Rounding out the madcap troupe of robbers is George's stuttering, animal loving friend Ken (Palin).
After the hold-up, Otto and Wanda make an anonymous call to the police and turn in George thinking that they will then run off with the diamonds. But, as fate would have it, George moved the jewels somewhere else because of his doubts in Otto's integrity. Now in jail, George makes sure that Ken has the key to whatever currently holds the loot. Amongst other things, he also gives Ken an objective: to kill the little old lady that can identify him at the crime scene.
Of course, in the flourish of double-dealings and duplicity, an innocent is brought into the fold. He is Archie Leech (Cleese; using Cary Grant's real name for his character's), George's lawyer and a pawn in Wanda's little game of deceit. In the event that George pleads guilty and tries to turn over the diamonds, he'll have to go through Archie and Wanda hopes to intervene in that event.
There is so much more, but it is certainly tough to continue without giving away some of the great jokes. I could mention fish and dogs, stripping and homosexuality -- Cleese's screenplay certainly does -- but that would ruin some great jokes that should remain pure for the first-time viewer.
Every single person in the cast plays their part perfectly. Cleese, of course, does some great work playing the best comedy of Anglo errors. One of the nicest things he does as a screenwriter is that he does not take all the great jokes for himself. In fact, every character has an equal amount of great comedy compared to the costars. And, for the audience, each character is funny in a different way, meaning that the comedy does not get tired with repetition through different sources.
Cleese, as stated, plays the oaf Brit and Palin gets to play the de facto fall guy. These two are funny because they go against that prim ideal we tend to have for the English, a definite outspurt of Python comedy. And the Americans, well they're not that much better as ambassadors. Curtis is that sultry woman that plots for only herself and Kline is the bombastic know-it-all that knows little.
A Fish Called Wanda was followed by a semi-sequel
in 1997's Fierce Creatures. That film attempted to recreate the magic found in
the 1988 original with characters that are almost carbon copies of their precursors. But
that film missed something. I still liked it -- though I was one of the few in the
critical establishment it seemed -- but wanted more. Perhaps A Fish Called Wanda
was so incredible the first time through that little was left to bring up without
recycling old material. Of course, if you're going to recycle material, why not recycle
from the best?
(Dir: William Malone, Starring Stephen Dorff, Natascha McElhone, Stephen Rea, Udo Kier, Amelia Curtis, Jeffry Combs, Nigel Terry, and Gesine Cukriwski)
BY: DAVID PERRY
William Malone, the only person who deserves more blame
than Akiva Goldman for the horrible state of modern Hollywood movies, keeps churning out
clunkers like FearDotCom as if there's some unknowing person out there who still
thinks his movies look like they may be pretty good. Aside from the fact that the film
idiotically uses the website feardotcom.com or the improperly hammy performance from poor
Stephen Rea, the film gets added disdain for the fact that it is nearly impossible to look
at or understand. Of course, based on what happened with Akiva Goldsman's screenplay for A
Beautiful Mind, William Malone might just be on the right route for an Oscar.
(Dir: John Polson, Starring Jesse Bradford, Erika Christensen, Shiri Appleby, Kate Burton, Clayne Crawford, Jason Ritter, Kia Joy Goodwin, Michael Higgins, and Dan Hedaya)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Swimfan, a teenybopper Fatal Attraction,
does for the scorned lovers genre what The Skulls did for elitism and Disturbing
Behavior did for science fiction. Though not a complete waste (Dan Hadeya does, for
example, give an interesting although forgettable performance), this is film built around
dozens of predictable thrills that turn Erika Christensen's Madison Bell into more a Punch
and Judy marionette than a sultry villain. Even as the characters walk around the film's
watery grave (in this case, a swimming pool instead of a bathtub), the formula becomes ten
times more burdensome than any possible homage.
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