Aladdin (1992 - DVD)
Though I remembered liking Aladdin a lot when I was younger, even back then I was bothered by its more glaring logic and storytelling flaws. The entire plot hinges on Aladdin wishing to be a prince, and then trying to hide the fact that he's not really a prince from Princess Jasmine. The problem is... why is Aladdin not really a prince when that is what he wished for and it was not on the Genie's list of "quid pro quos"? Why, then, were Jafar's wishes to become a sultan, then a sorcerer, and then a genie granted in full if Aladdin's was not? (And why is it so much worse to become a prince through wishing for it then by being born to the right people?) The movie even has the audacity to suggest that Aladdin should make his third and final wish to be a prince again, when it didn't apparently work the first time.
But here's a more alarming concern: In the beginning, Aladdin is homeless and we see the effects of poverty on the people of Agrabah when he hands over his hard-earned (stolen) bread to two hungry children rummaging through garbage. In the special features, the writers said they added this scene to put Aladdin's thieving antics into perspective so it wouldn't seem like they were glorifying that behavior. But it's too evocative. From that moment on, we're expected to believe that Aladdin's wish to date a princess and the (rich) princess's marriage troubles are somehow far more important than children facing poverty and starvation.
We're also supposed to think Jafar would somehow make a worse ruler than the Sultan, even though there's not really any reason to. Sure, maybe he won't do anything to help the poor, either, but he wouldn't be doing anything less than Jasmine (who witnessed the marketplace firsthand and learned nothing from the experience) and her oblivious father already are.
If you take the beginning of this movie, up to the part just after the Cave of Wonders collapses but before Aladdin wakes up and rubs the lamp, you have an amazingly excellent short. A short with a depressing ending, but still, a great short. Exquisite animation, beautiful coloring, a solid well-structured story, and since you've come to care about Aladdin a little as a character, a genuinely exciting sequence of him trying to escape the collapsing cavern on a flying carpet.
But then the Genie appears and everything veers offcourse. Yes, the Genie is the perfect outlet for Robin Williams's eccentricities, but he's not enough to make me completely forget the first half of the story.
According to the special features, the script went through an overhaul because the Disney execs hated the original draft. It seems like one more rewrite of the second half could have tightened up some of these issues.
At least the movie's songs are iconic and memorable, and they showed some restraint in only having 5, which is more than I can say for some other animated musicals I've seen lately.
Caesar and Cleopatra (1945 - Theater)
Of the three Cleopatra movies I saw in an art musuem theater, this one was the most different. It doesn't attempt to tell the complete story of Caesar and Cleopatra, as it doesn't get anywhere close to their deaths, and Marc Antony is only briefly mentioned but never shown. Instead, it's like a single chapter out of their lives played like a romantic comedy. Cleopatra herself is portrayed as a really comical goofball and Caesar is kind of goofy sometimes, too ("It's a Roman nose!")
You would also probably easily guess this movie was based on a play (George Bernard Shaw's 1901 play, Caesar and Cleopatra, to be exact), even if you didn't know that it was before seeing it. In many ways, it feels much more like watching a chamber play than a movie, with characters often gathered into one set for large periods of time exchanging witty dialogue.
It's enjoyable, but was a little hard to follow at times. Some things I wasn't entirely clear on, like why Caesar went to that island and why an army suddenly invaded it. All three movies depict the scene of Cleopatra being brought to Caesar rolled up in a rug, but it's the least effective in this film since in the others, it was how they met, but here they've already met by the time it happens, so it kind of feels like it was thrown in there just to have it happen rather than to advance the story.
Cleopatra (1963 - Theater)
Of the three Cleopatra movies I saw lately, the 1963 version with Elizabeth Taylor was definitely the best. Some things that didn't make a whole lot of sense in the Cecil B. DeMille and Gabriel Pascal versions are explained much more clearly here.
Here's the only problem I had, which is not really the fault of the movie itself: It's four hours long, and the art museum decides to show it on a Friday night. Yes, the end of a long work week, when I'm tired, and sitting for four hours is going to make me fall asleep no matter how good the entertainment in front of my eyes is. I doped myself up on caffeine before going in, and still felt myself nodding off by about the last 30-45 minutes. I'm going to blame this on not being able to see the movie under more convenient conditions, but after discussing it with my partner, Crawl, it is very well possible that the second half of the movie, after Caesar is assassinated, isn't quite as good as the first half. It's like the Marc Antony stuff needs to be there, even if it's not as interesting.
But I would like to revisit this movie again sometime under more favorable conditions. It's epic, beautiful, and the lavish production values are wowing. Cleopatra's entrance parade when she visits Caesar in Rome is no doubt what inspired the Prince Ali Ababwa sequence in Disney's Aladdin. But it's even more amazing to see it done with real people and objects.
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003 - DVD)
Along with "Rango", I'm beginning to think director Gore Verbinski is so in love with his main characters (or maybe just Johnny Depp in particular), that he forgets that he has to give the audience a reason to love them, too. I have a tendency to sympathize with villains in fiction as it is, but this is one case where I really can't find any reason not to. Why not just let the "bad" pirates become human again? Is that too much to ask? They don't even have to kill anyone for the "blood sacrifice", Will Turner could have just offered a few drops and had it be done with. Oh, but they mutinied Captain Jack Sparrow and left him stranded on an island. I guess that's why we're not supposed to like them. Except that Sparrow is such an ass that I wonder why it is that other characters are always willing to go to the depths of the earth to help him.
Can someone also explain to me how they knew they needed Bootstrap's blood to break the curse? Or why they would just assume anyone with the last name of "Turner" would be related to him? Or why they all just quit fighting in the end when capture by the British meant death anyway?
The movie is also so drawn out in parts (particularly the fighting scenes near the end), that my mind got dulled and I began missing important details. I somehow totally didn't notice Sparrow pocketing a coin near the end and thought the big "twist" was that he had been an undead pirate all along, too. Someone else had to tell to me what really happened.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006 - DVD)
It seemed to me that the entire point of this movie, along with having a squid-faced villain, was to figure out how many ways you can turn pirates into human hamsters. I'm not kidding. Early in the movie, there's a part where people are rolling around in a giant "hamster ball", and then later on, a scene where three of the main characters are fighting on top of, and running inside of, a giant hamster...I'm sorry...water wheel as it rolls across an island.
The fight scenes in the first movie were drawn out. In this movie, they're about 200% more cartoony. Yeah, the hamster stuff, plus Johnny Depp running around and pole vaulting with a giant shish kabob on his back.
The movie takes on a much more dramatically serious tone when Davey Jones finally appears, and speaking of which... How did Sparrow trick Will Turner into getting onto the Flying Dutchman? Okay, I understand what happened is that he tricked Will into thinking that wrecked ship was the Dutchman, and when the real one showed up so that Davey Jones could recruit its dying members into his crew, Will got captured. But how did Sparrow know that ship was there? And how did he know that Jones would show up to it at that particular moment?
Oh, that's right, he has a magic compass that tells him how to find exactly what he wants. But, wait! The movie establishes that the compass is not working for him. So is it or isn't it? Who knows?
(BTW, Qwipster's review of this movie is pretty freakin' great! His analogy to the giant wheel and the heart in the jar of sand are spot-on.)
South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999 - DVD)
In retrospect, I don't know what made me purchase this movie since South Park has never really been my cup of tea, and even though I saw the movie before I bought it, I remember thinking it was okay, but not great. I also remembered thinking that the "What Would Brian Boitano Do?" and "Uncle Fucker" songs were really funny, but the movie had too much singing overall.
The rewatch...pretty much just reconfirmed everything I had remembered. There is so much singing in this movie, that I'm tempted to think Matt Stone and Trey Parker were trying harder to show off their songwriting skills than to be funny. Was it even necessary for Big Gay Al and the Mole to have songs?
Some of the jokes are the same things I remember from the cartoon. I can understand the fans wanting to see some of those standbys on the big screen, like Kenny getting killed, which is also worked into the plot, but having Stan vomit every time he tries to talk to Wendy gets kind of old. The Saddam Hussein stuff isn't quite as funny as it used to be, but I guess we can all blame George W. Bush for that one. Sometimes, other jokes don't make much sense: What did this movie have against Conan O'Brien, anyway?
The funniest South Park I've ever seen was the Guitar Hero episode of the show, which was pure genius. The movie, though bigger and longer and uncensored as the subtitle promises, isn't quite on that same level. There is one part, however, that still makes me laugh hysterically to this day:
When Satan threatens to ditch Saddam Hussein, Saddam attempts to convince Satan he can change with a song and a (really ridiculously) goofy little dance. When he's done dancing, he says something like, "Look at how mature I am now!" That reminds me so much of certain internet people, it's almost not funny.
What About Bob? (1991 - DVD)
What surprised me most about this movie is the direction Richard Dreyfuss's character went. Early on, I could see the ending coming. You know, dad realizes he's too caught up in his work to spend proper time with his family, Bob's zany antics somehow make him own up to this, he learns his lesson, changes his ways, and everyone realizes they love dad the most and they don't need Bob so much anymore.
The only catch is... the movie doesn't go this way at all. I guess it took a twisted mind like director Frank Oz's to finally do this sort of plot and have it turn out the way it does.
The only problem is that sometimes Bob really does seem rather creepy or annoying. It's a price you have to be willing to pay for the hilarious double-whammy of an ending.
Zoolander (2001 - DVD)
The first part of my review: Zoolander is a comedy about an aging (and totally clueless) fashion model superstar (Ben Stiller), and his rivalry with a hot new upstart (Owen Wilson) who has just displaced him as "Male Model of the Year". Derek Zoolander decides to leave the modeling business after losing to his rival, Hansel, and somehow ends up unwittingly involved in a plot to assassinate the new Malaysian Prime Minister. Like many goofball comedies of its type, it's not something you watch for the story, but it does have moments of hilarity and an abundance of celebrity cameos. Sometimes, what seems like a throwaway joke can end up coming back in a big way (such as Zoolander's inability to turn left).
One rather strange decision was to reuse the "tiny cellphone" gag from Saturday Night Live, and if I hadn't by sheer coincidence rewatched The Best of Will Ferrell right before seeing Zoolander, I don't think I would have even known what was going on when characters started talking into little black rectangles on their thumbs. Somehow, the SNL sketch communicated more clearly what that object was and thus made it a lot funnier.
The second part of my review: WTF, Ebert?! Okay, alright, I know a lot of that was reactionary to 9/11, and I can understand thinking that of all the things the Malaysian Prime Minister would do, it's a bit unrealistic that he attends a fashion show that supports the very industry he's fighting against (though I don't even think that's a point made in your review). While I can't think of any examples of a presidential assassination plot in any comedies before Zoolander (though I wouldn't be surprised if one exists), there has definitely been one since: the Get Smart movie with Steve Carell.
And c'mon, if there really are (or were) sweatshops in Malaysia, then why is that something that should not be mentioned? If I didn't know better, I'd say it almost sounds like you're making excuses for the 9/11 terrorists. Perhaps if people talked about these issues more, rather than treat them as though they're taboo, there wouldn't be a need to slam airplanes into buildings.
Captain N and the New Super Mario World (1991 - DVD)
Of all the video game-themed 80s/90s cartoons I've revisited lately (including the Super Mario Bros. Super Show, The Legend of Zelda, and Super Mario Bros. 3), this one has held up the worst. The artwork and animation is much sloppier on this show than any of the others. I thought the Super Show felt aimed at preschoolers, but the Super Mario World cartoon is even more blatant about it with its ludicrous "lessons" like "ice is frozen water", "fast food is bad for you", and "don't run away and join a gang". Not to mention its ridiculously overwrought "anti-technology" and "anti-progress" stance. Might I remind this show's writers that without technology, video games would not exist?
At first, I thought I wouldn't be as bothered by the cavemen in the Super Mario World cartoon as a lot of other people are, and I actually laughed at the part where two of them didn't know what to do with the wheels Mario gave them. But then the show introduced Oogtar. Oogtar looks like Bill from the Bill & Ted cartoon and talks in surfer lingo. He's a classic example of the 1980's "mistake" character (Scrappy Doo, Wheelie & Daniel, Post-Season 1 Slimer), and it's not just that he's annoying, he's a really horrible character. In the Christmas episode and the episode where two of the Koopalings go to school, Oogtar's obnoxious behavior is ramped up so much, I was actually rooting for him to get eaten by a dinosaur.
Plots and ideas are cannibalized from earlier shows big time, including a Captain N episode where someone is too short to play basketball and wishes to be taller. The wish goes awry and the characters must reverse it. Yes, Captain N Season 1 did this exact same plot!
Almost every Captain N segment ends with a deus ex machina, and has villains that don't even come from any NES games. Other moments of stupidity and WTF?! include Pit shooting an arrow at Maid Marian to save her from a fall (don't ask), the infamous Surfer Dude Alucard (along with Oogtar, what is this show's obsession with that??), and Mother Brain being defeated by a giant cake (not making this up).
Part of what made the Super Show work is that every episode was a parody of something in pop culture, so you'd want to watch to see what would be parodied next. Likewise, from what I remember of Captain N Seasons 1 & 2, you'd want to watch to see what game world would be featured next. But when every episode of Super Mario World is just Super Mario World, you start to feel like more than one or two of these isn't necessary. And when half the episodes of Captain N aren't based on any NES game that actually exists, and the other half fuck it up so badly you want to crawl under your seat and die, then this entire concept falls apart at the seams.
The two stars I am giving this set is generous and is based almost entirely on the fact that I laughed for about three days straight over the giant cake incident.
Saturday Night Live: The Best of Will Ferrell (1995 - DVD)
I want to say that this set is more consistently funny than some of the "Best of SNL" DVDs I watched last year (Gilda Radner, John Belushi, Christopher Walken), but like all of them I've seen so far, it contains some gems and some duds. The gems: The Blue Oyster Cult "Cowbell" sketch (which is also on the Christopher Walken DVD), Robert Goulet crooning rap songs, The Harry Carey Show where he interviews a scientist played by Jeff Goldblum, and an "Inside the Actor's Studio" sketch where Alec Baldwin does a mean Charles Nelson Reilly impression. There is also one Celebrity Jeopardy segment (I'm a little disappointed there was only one, but I'll take what I can get), and a Night at the Roxbury segment with Jim Carrey (the best one I remember seeing).
There is also a montage in the middle where short clips from various sketches are shown, including one where Ferrell pulls out a miniature cellphone that had me in hysterics. The only problem is that I wish that whole sketch could've been on here. The special features include two Will Ferrell interviews on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, one where he's in-character as Robert Goulet the whole time, and one where he's dressed in nothing but a speedo.
The duds include one of those damn "lov-ah" sketches with Rachel Dratch that I detest, and I've never been a fan of the Spartan cheerleaders, but since they seemed to be somewhat popular, I guess I can't complain too much about their inclusion (at least there's only one of each).
I also have to mention that about 25% of the sketches on here feature somebody breaking character and laughing when they're not supposed to.