Category Archives: Pop Culture

The Ship Must Sail Tonight (1957)

I’m currently head over heels in love with this 1957 Danish contribution to the Eurovision Song Contest:

The title means “The ship must sail tonight”, and the song is a duet (obviously)  about a sailor who has to leave his beloved as his ship is taking off. They sing about their sadness to be parting, their vows to be faithful to each other and then go on to ponder on the random nature of our existence, complete with adorably cheesy ship metaphors: We make all sorts of plans in our lives, but our happiness is “only on shore leave”, as the song affirms. I won’t tire you with a direct translation of the song, which was never meant to be understood in the first place: It was unsubtitled, and this was the first time the Danish language was ever heard in the European Song Contest. Plus, the singers more than make up for what’s lost in translation it by way of their elaborate stage show. The picture! The engagement ring! And let’s not forget the final, very long, languid smooch which was actually never meant to be that long: Some stagehand was supposed to signal for the singers to break it up, but failed to do so, and I like to think Gustav Winkler, the male singer, made the best of this omission, laying it on Birthe Wilke big-time. (Is it me or is he really kind of dreamy, by the way, that Winckler? He’s so suave and manly, slipping that ring on her finger!). Also, I’ve heard a rumor that that prolonged kiss was the main reason why the song did not win the Song Contest that year, because it was considered scandalous, but I haven’t been able to find any validation of this. Let’s decide that it’s true, though, because otherwise it doesn’t make any sense that this little gem of a sailor duet wouldn’t have come in first.

“It happened to someone who knows someone you know…You’re next” – Reviewing Urban Legend (1998)

I recently watched the 1998 horror movie Urban Legend. I don’t know what took me so long – I’ve been wanting to see it for a long time. I can actually remember the poster hanging on the wall of my high school cafeteria back when the movie was still in the theatres, or had just come out on VHS or whatever, and being intrigued by it. It’s not that I ever thought the movie looked particularly good, but as I’ve mentioned before I always loved urban legends, so I thought a horror movie based on the subject must be pretty interesting.

After having actually watched Urban Legend the idea of basing a horror flick on urban legend remains the best thing about the flick which, sadly, is not really all that well executed. Probably inspired by the wave of teen horror/thriller flicks that swept the world in the late ’90s (Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer), the movie focuses on a group of college kids at the fictional college Stanley Halls. The kids grow increasingly concerned as it seems a killer is on the loose on campus, killing college students, basing his murders on famous urban legends.

“Turn around, bright eyes”
Like I said, I really like that idea. Our culture has so many great gory legends, they seem to be almost begging to be filmed. And while the college setting was probably chosen chiefly because the movie was to be marketed to teenagers, I also like it that the urban legend horror flick is set in a dormitory milieu. Not only does the college campus serve as the frame of many a popular urban legend (like “Aren’t You Glad You Didn’t Turn on the Lights“, which is actually featured in the movie, and the “Our College Has No Virginal Women” one), college dorms also seem plausible as a setting for urban legends to get spread around.

The movie also has a compelling opening scene: A lovely co-ed is driving home one stormy night as she runs out of gas. She stops at a gas station but is unnerved by the creepy looking gas station attendant who happens to have a weird stutter. As he asks her to step out of the car and urges her follow into a locked garage, she freaks out and maces him, rushes to her car and drives off. Alas, as it turns out the poor attendant was only trying to warn her about a stranger hiding in her backseat. Once she’s back on the road, said stranger emerges, killing the girl with an axe. The plot will sound familiar to most people, and the movie pays great hommage to this famous legend, building up the suspense slowly. In a particularly nice move on the director’s part, the girl is listening to “Total Eclipse of the Heart” in her car, featuring the repeated lyrics “Turn around… turn around, bright eyes”, which I find to be a fun, and not too obvious piece of foreshadowing.

I actually think that most of the murder scenes of the movie are pretty effective. It’s simply a thrill to see these familiar old tales acted out, and the “Scratching Noise on the Car Roof” is very nicely done and quite scary, as is the movie’s rendition of the Flashing Headlights tale.

Hey! It’s that Guy!
The piecing together of these scenes into a movie plot with real, fleshed-out characters, however, goes down less smoothly. Urban legend characters are traditionally vaguely defined archtypes who don’t need any real introduction: The Babysitter, The Killer, The Ignorant Tourist etc. Since the urban legend-teller will usually insist that these are people he knows or at least knows of, we will usually be able to relate to the characters even if we know very little about them. This aspect is of course lost in a movie, where we’re constantly aware that we’re watching a piece of fiction played out by actors. So an urban legend movie is  dependant on our being able to identify with the characters on screen, and this is a huge problem in Urban Legend. The casting consists almost entirely of secondary actors from 1990s tv-shows. Between Pacey from Dawson’s Creek, Toni from 90210, Gersten from Twin Peaks, and Jordan from My So Called Life the H!ITG-factor  gets kind of distracting, and none of the actors really have the presence required for the big screen. I suppose Tara Reid is the one household name among the cast, having starred in a Coen brothers film, but she hardly stands a chance at carrying the movie by herself. The actors also aren’t given much help from the director, Jamie Blanks, who fails to guide his audience sufficiently in the exposition of the film. It took me forever to even figure out who the protagonist was supposed to be, and I never felt that I got to know the characters well enough to actually care about them. I suppose part of this is due to Blanks wishing to keep his audience guessing – will one of the main characters turn out to be the murderer? – but it is ultimately disruptive as it prevents the viewer from truly identifying with anyone.

Coincidence and plot holes
And speaking of the whodunnit aspect of the movie, the big revelation falls somewhat flat. For a while it seemed that the killer would be revealed to be some kind of supernatural power, like a vengeful ghost, and I liked that idea: There is something ghostly in the repetitive, ephemeral nature of folklore. But then the plot took a turn that revealed the murderer to be alive and kicking. And not only is this twist not very interesting, it also reveals a motherload of plot holes in the story.

The thing is that urban legend deaths usually depend on a series of outrageous coincidents – indeed Snopes has an entire section devoted to freak deaths. The killings portrayed in Urban Legend are no exceptions: There is really no way a person could plan something like a reenactment of the Killer in the Backseat, for example. Even if one could plan for the victim’s car to run out of gas in a precise spot, how would one plan for the gas station attendant to have a speech impediment that keeps him from warning the victim? And even if one could plan that how would one plan for him not to have the presence of mind to write down his warning once his voice failed him? Etc. etc. This breaking down of the story perhaps seems nitpicky, but my point is that the plot holes could have easily been avoided: If the director and the writers had allowed for a supernatural explanation of the events, the prosaic planning of the killings would have been irrelevant.

Pop rocks, rollercoasters and remakes
And that’s  my general point with this review of Urban Legend. I know it must seem like a bit of a cheap shot for me to be dissing a b-rated horror/slasher movie from 1998 the director of which did not go on to enjoy a glorious career. But I wanted to review it because I do think that the movie showed some great potential and presented an interesting idea for a horror flick. The writers certainly knew their folklore, and the filmmakers had a fun, meta approach to the subject. In some of the movie’s more succesful scenes, urban legends are casually worked into conversation, thus demonstrating how great a power folklore has over our conceptions of reality: A college professor dares a student to consume the alleged fatal combination of soda and pop rocks, and a guy tries to get our protagonist’s attention by telling her that a woman was killed during the recording of The Ohio Players’ “Love Rollercoaster”. It’s funny and relatable and again; urban legends will never not be fascinating as a subject.

So, while I normally detest the whole “re-make” craze going on in Hollywood these days, maybe it’s time for a re-make of Urban Legend?

I would go see it. And were I to go to the movies by car, I would probably check the backseat twice before closing the car door. So obviously the 1998 movie has managed to do a few things right.

“Every little thing I do” – In Defence of Boy Bands

Out of nowhere I got to thinking about boy bands the other day and about how there aren’t a lot of boy bands around these days. And as I sat down to reminisce with an ‘N Sync video on youtube, I realised that I think that this is sort of a shame.

This is a really weird thing for me to be saying, because I hated boy bands back in the day. I’d like to say that this was only because I didn’t like the actual songs, and while it’s true the songs were not to my liking and that I and much preferred, say, nerding over The Magic Flute in my teens, a big part of my dislike of boy bands was due to my being a bit of a douche as a youth. I’ve mentioned before that I detested anything popular back then, and oh boy were boy bands ever popular in the 1990s. When I was very young it was Take That, then came Backstreet Boys, and Five, and ‘N Sync, and there was also some Boyzone and New Kids on the Block  in there somewhere, and I hated all of it. But then I watched that video the other day, with an open mind and well past most of my youthful doucheness, and you know what? I think I get it now. I get what boy bands are about.  And I approve.

It’s not that I like the song, because the song is every bit as generic as I remembered. It’s not just my crush on Justin Timberlake talking either, although Lord knows I have a thing for Justin Timberlake. No, it’s the dancing. To be more specific, it’s the dancing combined with the singing. Dancing in perfect sync is difficult, doing so while singing is even harder and certainly a lot more complicated than just looking cute while singing a song by yourself in a romantic setting. Being able to pull off perfect in sync dancing and singing is quite a feat and will always be somewhat spectacular and impressive to watch, especially when done by attractive, well-groomed young men. What the boy bands did with their elaborate dancing routines was to send off the signal of a serious effort being made in order to please a female audience. With their performances they created a piece of irresistible fiction about young men teaming up and going out of their way to satisfy a woman, and I suppose ‘N Sync were the ones who were most keenly aware of this. Not only was the band named after their charming synchronic dancing abilities, their videos also tended to revolve around the theme of male subordination – the above video was not the only ‘N Sync video to make use of the imagery of the band being a set of dolls or puppets in the hands of a young woman:

(This video makes no sense, by the way. The beginning is ok, with the puppets on strings, but why do the puppets then proceed to fall on to a moving train when their strings are cut? And where does the blue, zero-gravity room fit into the narrative? Oh, well.)

And you know what, as far as female fantasies go, I don’t think this is a half bad one. Why not indulge in a fantasy for once in which the girl is not trying to get the attention of a distant, aloof, and troubled man? In my day that guy was called Dylan McKay and I suppose his name is Edward Cullen today, and really they’re both bullshit with their furrowed brows, brooding, preoccupied personalities, and tendencies towards substance abuse. Most girls will have their fair share of real-life heartbreak, so why not lean back and be pampered by the fictitious attentions of a perfectly dancing set of good-looking young men? At their best (i.e.: Justin Timberlake) boy bands gave off a care-free, tongue-in-cheek, roguish charm, communicated through a painstakingly prepared choreography and pitch perfect vocals. This had clearly taken endless hours of training and had nothing to do with the amateurism and quick fame of today’s numerous television talent shows. It presented young girls with the idea that they were worth wooing, and that wooing should take the shape of real effort.  I miss that fantasy. And I can’t believe I’m saying this, but here goes: I think we need to bring back the boy bands.

Reviewing MTV’s Plain Jane

MTV’s Plain Jane is one of several tv shows that I’ve become addicted to by  accident, while spinning in front of the tv screens at my gym. Here’s a review.

I’m usually not that into reality shows, but makeover shows tend to reel me right in. What appeals to me about them is, I’m sure, the same thing that appeals to anyone who ever got hooked on a makeover show: The illusion that a quick, easy, and positive, yet radical personal transformation is possible and that you can become a better person practically over night. I call it an illusion because that’s what it is of course – change is difficult and demands hard work. But it’s a nice illusion. Especially when you’re on the spinning bike and the display lets you know just how painfully slowly you’re burning off those calories. So I rate makeover shows based on how good a job they do at selling me this illusion.

Louise Roe - hostess of MTV's Plain Jane

In MTV’s Plain Jane the hostess is English fashion expert Louise Roe. Roe receives video applications from young women, one per episode, who tend to have a plain appearance, and during a short period Roe sets about administering their transformation into hot, well-dressed, stiletto-sporting ladies.  She does this not only by taking them to high-profile stylists and hairdressers and expensive clothes shops, but also by putting them up to several challenges which typically include flirting with random guys in public and forcing the women to confront and overcome some random phobia of theirs, like touching snails or being alone in the dark.

Two days
Does the show do a decent job in selling the illusion that these acts really do transform the young women’s characters? Of course it does, a little. I wouldn’t have watched the entire first season if it weren’t the case. However, I do think there are some aggravating problems with the format of the show. The first and most obvious one is the fact that the entire transformation allegedly takes place during the course of just two days. I get that it must be sensible in regard to the budget of the show’s production to limit the shooting to a few days, but couldn’t they at least pretend that the makeover is spread over a longer period? Like a week or so? A span of two days simply doesn’t seem convincing in terms of personal transformation, not even of the most superficial kind. And especially not of the in-depth kind. Which brings me to the next problem with the show:

The Alleged In-Depth Transformation
The show’s primary object is to change the apperance of the girls – it’s right there in the title. The show is not called “MTVs Fear of Commitment Susan” or “MTV’s Problem with Intimacy Paula”. It’s “Plain Jane”. Which is why I really think the show ought to just focus on getting the girls to look and dress better instead of insisting on taking a faux-deep spin on it all by having the girls conquer their various fears and phobias, as mentioned above.

Especially considering the fact that, once again, the show only has two days to accomplish all this, which is hardly enough time even for a physical transformation. The result is that Louise Roe often ends up doing a half-assed sort of job on the girls. Like with Carrie in the episode “Conservative Jane”. Roe and the crew spend a lot of time conquering Carrie’s deepest fear (I believe it was a fear of the dark, but I’m not sure) instead of spending some time teaching Carrie how to walk in the super tall platform stilettos that they put her in in the last scene of the show. It hardly helps Carrie that she’s faced her phobia and is wearing expensive clothes and make-up when she is walking around with the apologetic and unsure slouch of a kid trying out stilts for the first time. And I’m not even beign catty here: Walking in high heels is difficult – we’ve all been there, with the stilt-walking – and it’s not Carrie’s fault that nobody on the show bothered teaching her.

Another thing is that the crew doesn’t seem prepared to deal with it when they actually manage to accomplish something with their in-depth “face your fears” challenges. In one episode, “Wallflower Jane”, 24-year-old Loreli is made to take a kind of boxing lesson, the emotional impact of which makes the young woman burst into tears. Louise Roe, being a fashion reporter and stylist, understandably has no idea how to handle the situation and as a result she just stands around awkwardly while the poor girl is sobbing her eyes out on international television. I get that the entire point of departure of reality TV is to explore people’s emotions (which is of course also problematic in and of itself, but that’s another discussion entirely), but on a show like “Plain Jane” where the premise is sleek surfaces and the illusion of painless metamorphoses, it’s just incredibly out-of-place and uncomfortable to watch.

Every Plain Jane has a Secret Crush
I’m also not sold on the show’s statement (repeated in the intro of every episode) that “every Plain Jane has a secret crush” the affection of which is pointed out explicitly as the goal of the entire makeover. It simply bothers the feminist in me that the makeover needs to be done for the sake of gaining a man’s approval when it could just as easily have been a question of simply making the young women feel better about themselves and their appearance. I actually think the show works the best when it takes a brief pause from focusing on what the guy in question will like. Like in the episode “Do Over Jane”. Here we meet a young woman, Clare, who has allowed herself to become stuck in a job a s barrista and lost sight of her dream of becoming a professional writer. In a few very nice scenes, Roe helps Clare pick out outfits that will make her look like a business woman, like someone who would be taken seriously if she walked into a publishing house with a manuscript. There was much more dignity in these scenes than in the final scene in which Clare was reuinted with some random failed blind date from her past, sharing an awkward on-camera kiss with him.

The “learn-how-to-flirt-with-guys” challenges that the Plain Janes are put up to are a little less offensive to me, since these could easily be seen as a way of learning how to get the young women to have fun and let loose a little, and these exercises don’t have the approval of one specific guy as their focus. The actual scenes, however, suffer a great deal from being so obviously staged: The allegedly random guys are clearly hired actors, and if I were one of the Plain Janes the idea that the show had to hire people to flirt with me would not exactly make me feel more self confident.

Also, I would like to add that the vast majority of the guys I’ve been involved with in my life haven’t really been that into fancy clothes and expensive make-up. They appreaciate the effort, so they have told me, but several of them have told me flat out that they think it’s sexier when women have their hair tousled and are looking casual and a little dirty. And, preferably, not wearing any clothes at all, fancy or not. Of course the preferences of men change from person to person, but still. I’ve seen little evidence that pretty clothes = endless romantic success.

Long sleeves and broken mirrors
Again: I’m not saying all this simply because I want to expose the show as being stupid and superficial. Of course it’s superficial, that’s what I like about it. It’s all about selling that superficial illusion. And there are a few things that I think the show does really well in this resepct. The best part about it, I think, is Roe’s repeated message to several of the young women that they have to embrace the woman in themselves and stop thinking of themselves as little girls. Women get things done while little girls sit around in schoolrooms and wait to be told what to do, and as all the partitioners on “Plain Jane” are on the wrong side of their school years, I love that Roe makes it her mission to get them to act their age. In one episode, Roe tells a Plain Jane to stop letting her sleaves fall down over her hands, because it looks childish. And in episode “No Risk Jane” Roe walks into Plain Jane Joanah’s bedroom and scolds Joanah for totally neglecting the interior decoration. Joanah is a hoarder, and her bedroom looks like the room of a messy 12-year-old,  packed with defect Chinese-style fans, ugly furniture, stuffed animals, and even a broken mirror. “Do you know what that means?!” Roe says, pointing furiously at said mirror. “Seven years of bad luck?” Joanah replies timidly, to which Roe retorted “Seven years of bad sex!” I thought that was one of the genuinely funny and cute moments of the show, and the interior decoraters that Roe released in Joanah’s bedroom actually did a wonderful job with it.

More of this, and less of the awkward boxing lessons and you’ve got me hooked for another season, MTV. Catch you at the gym.

“There’s Got To Be a Morning After” – The Poseidon Adventure

One of my best and oldest friends has a thing for disaster movies from the 1970s. I love it when people have really specific partialities, and I asked him to try to define what it is that he likes so much about this genre. He listed the following characteristics:

  • The Aesthetics: That certain pastel naïvité that clings to the 70s style, contrasted by horrifying scenes of grave peril.
  • The Evil Capitalist: The fact that there’s always one evil merchant type who tells Noble Craftsman to go against his principle and endanger people’s lives because there’s money to be made here, dammit!!
  • The Exposition: The way the characters always need to be established extremely quickly (background, goals in life, vices), so that you’ll be rooting for them/sad to see them go.

When he put it this way I completely understood what he was talking about, so I asked him over for a Disaster Movie Night, during which we would watch the original Poseidon Adventure from 1972.

“Hell, Upside Down”
The tagline of the movie is “Hell, Upside Down”, and this is a pretty accurate description of what goes on in The Poseidon Adventure. A traditional shipwreck movie at first glance, the movie tells the story of an aged luxury liner that is hit by the enormous wave of a tsunami. However, the story – literally – has a twist, in that the ship is turned upside down by the wave, leaving the survivors to fend for themselves by climbing upwards through the floors of the ship.

A simple, yet really kind of ingenious move by the director. It creates an extra obstacle for the main characters to overcome, aside from the usual flooded rooms and exploding shafts, and it also makes for some great visuals. There’s something so fascinating about seeing a room upside down and the set designers obviously had a field day creating the interiors which all look impressive – but also dangerous enough that you don’t envy the protagonists on their journey upwards through the hull. A great attention to detail is evident, and the characters seem to be constantly surrounded by ledges on which to hit their heads, soaked cables by which to be electrocuted, etc. etc. Also, the upside down set gives the art director’s a perfect excuse to light the actors from below in most of the scenes, which is always a scary effect.

Justice is also done to The Aesthetics, especially in the tsunami scene, in which the noisy shots of the happy, platform-shoed, polyester-wearing passangers celebrating New Year’s Eve are contrasted via crosscuts by the terrifying silent images of the abnormal emerging wave.

Of course all this would have little effect, if you didn’t care about the characters. But mostly, you do care. The exposition creates the characters if not exactly elegantly, then at least effortlessly, and some of the backstories are quite good. The main characters are:

Frank Scott (Gene Hackman), a renegade minister with a modern, positive take on Christianity headed to a position in a new country in Africa; Manny and Belle Rosen (Jack Albertson and Shelley Winter), A Jewish middle-aged couple travelling to Israel to see their two-year-old grandson for the first time; Susan and Robin Shelby (Pamela Sue Martin and Eric Shea), a pretty young woman and her younger brother travelling to meet their parents, Mike and Linda Rogo (Ernest Borgnine and Stella Stevens), a police officer and his former prostitue wife who is struggling to free herself of her sordid reputation and past; James Martin (Red Buttons) a shy bachelor, and Nonnie Parry (Carol Lynley), the singer of the ship’s pop band.

Shelley Winter was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance as the goodnatured and courageous Belle, and she really is moving, although I wish they would shut up about her weight already. Here’s a rough rehash of Mrs Rosen’s dialogue throughout the movie:

Poseidon survivor: “Hey, Mrs Rosen! Climb up this Christmas decoration to safety!”
Belle Rosen: “Oh, but I’m fat! It will break!”

Poseidon survivor: “Hey, Mrs Rosen! Let us pull you up these upside-down  stairs!”
Belle Rosen: “But wait, I’m fat! Do you think you’ll manage?”

Belle Rosen: “I will now save you all through a display of unselfish prowess!
Poseidon survivor: “Oh, but will you be ok? You’re fat, you know!
Belle Rosen: “Oh, I’ll be make it despite my fatness! Fat, fat, fat! Did I mention obesity? I have it!”

And so on. I mean, I appreciate a little forshadowing, but jeez, we get it: Her weight is going to be an issue at some point during the story. Now move the hell on. Oh, and by the way, Chekhov called. He wants a sh*tload of guns back.

Robin is a kid of only about 12 years, and his character feels a bit forced. I can see the potential of having a child in the cast of a disaster movie – playing off the audience’s maternal/paternal instincts and such – but with his courage beyond his years and his precocious lines he seems to have been added mostly to appeal to a younger audience, and this subtracts somewhat from the believability of the movie.

But I’ll bear with Robin, because his sister Susan is friggin’ awesome. I’ve loved Pamela Sue Martin ever since I saw her as the original Fallon Carrington on Dynasty. She was only 19 when she made this movie, but even then she had that certain star quality to her, and she nails her scenes. She kicks ass, pure and simple, and why she never became a huge Hollywood icon is beyond me.

Just look at her. So awesome, even when balancing on the floor of an overturning ship

Her character has a crush on Gene Hackman’s physically fit minister character Frank who plays the role of the obligatory leader among the survivors. There was something about ministers in the ’70s that made them ideal as Hollywood Leading Men in a way that you just wouldn’t see today. Is it the soft, spiritual approach to the world? Or maybe the ministers’ tendency to sport those super trendy turtlenecks? Or both?

You were entitled to a certain air of smugness if you wore a tight turtleneck in the 1970s.

Frank Ross is probably the campiest of all the characters, but I acknowledge the need for a hero in this kind of story. He’s Jack Shepherd, to put it in post-Millenium popcultural terms.

Not sure if I would have picked wacky Ernest Borgnine for the mostly serious part of Mike Rogo, but Mike’s and Susan’s backstory is the most intriguing and moving of them all, I think. I like that their story is rooted in something other than their travelling from one destination to another, and the obstacles that their love for each other have already overcome before they boarded the ship (because of Linda’s prostitute past) makes you root for them all the more. They deserve to make it out alive together, one feels.

The most dispensable characters are Nonny and James. James is supposed to be a comic relief of sorts, but doesn’t deliver, and Nonny plays the trademark Screaming Blonde, except we already have one pretty Damsel in Distress on the set (Pamela Sue Martin’s perfectly adequately screaming Susan), so what gives?

Moses and the Israelites
I know I said that thing about the ‘1970s and Minister Heroes, but to be fair there’s another reason why Gene Hackman is a preacher: There’s an obvious Christian theme running through the story. Moses is casually namedropped as part of the exposition, and Frank Ross clearly functions as a kind of Moses figure with his faith in optimisim and taking action as opposed to the passive, fatalist believer who puts his fate in the hands of God. The ones who make it aboard the Poseidon are (roughly) the ones that follow Ross from the dark bottom of the hull and into the morning light and the salvation waiting for them above.

There’s also an Evil Capitalist early on in the movie, who urges the Noble Craftsman of a captain (Leslie Nielsen in an unlikely part) to steady on despite the captain’s worries for the passanger’s safety. But the Christianity theme is the more dominant one in this particular 1970s disaster movie. ‘There will always be Evil Capitalists dragging us all down,’ the movie seems to say, ‘But will you be ready to try to save yourself when it happens?’. This also lends some weight to Linda’s Mary Magdalene storyline – it’s all about fighting for a second chance at life.

A message you can take or leave, of course. I thought it was ok.

The Morning After
Don’t let the word “adventure” in the title fool you – the movie is pretty gruesome. A lot of people die, often in horrifying ways, and the movie isn’t afraid to kill off characters that have become near and dear to the viewer. When the credits finally rolled, my friend and I were both pretty shook up, when really we’d been expecting to have a good laugh at some 1970s cheese. The music did its fair share here: the Poseidon Adventure score was delivered by grand old man John Williams and features some really remarkable piano music during the scary scenes in the murky, wrecked, upside-down rooms of the luxury liner. The sound is best described as that of heavy objects being dropped on to the keys of a piano, or perhaps as the sound of a pianist slowly dying while he struggles to hit the keys. The effect is incredibly eerie, and the score is the best horror music I’ve heard in a long time.

Like Titanic (1997), The Poseidon Adventure also presented a smash hit song, “The Morning After” by Maureen McGovern, which won the movie its second Oscar Award (the first being a Special Achievement Award for visual effects). The song is pretty much the essence of ’70s easy listening, but I appreciate that unlike “My Heart Will Go On”, it sounds exactly like the kind of song that would actually be played aboard the kind of ship on which the movie takes place.

“Oh, the weather outside is weather” – Reviewing Several Judd Apatow Movies

In case you’re wondering why I’m a little quiet at the moment, it’s because I’ve just started a new job. As anyone who has ever started at a new job will know, it is a super exciting experience, but also an experience that will leave you super tired. So many new impressions, new routines, new everything. To sum up: I’ve been very excited and busy lately, but also tired.

One of the things I’ve been doing to unwind, however, has been watching Judd Apatow movies. The first of his movies I ever saw was Fanboys, which I watched on DVD some time last year and thought it was adorable in all its Star Wars fanboy-liciousness. Then last week I stumbled upon Forgetting Sarah Marshall and liked it even better.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)

It’s funny, because Forgetting Sarah Marshall seems like it ought to be a really clichéd movie. Girl dumps man-boy, man-boy is sad, until he decides to pull himself together thus making himself worthy of New Girl. Be that as it may, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is just absolutely brilliantly executed.

The script is good, but I think it’s Nicholas Stoller’s fingerprints as a director that makes it art. Clearly a master of comedic timing, he excels at squeezing humor into every-day situations and letting the actors’ awkward interaction take center stage, rather than giving way to old-fashioned punchlines. A good example is the opening sequence of this movie, in which main character Peter (Jason Segel) is dumped by his glamorous long-term actress girlfriend Sarah Marshall. He is in his birthday suit when he greets Sarah, and stubbornly refuses  to put on his clothes once she starts to dump him, because that will be, he maintains, like a affirmation that the relationship is over. We’re even treated to a sad, sad, full-frontal nudity shot of Segel in that scene, and kudos to Segel for agreeing to that because it makes the scene so much more touching and so much more hilarious. Like when Peter insists that they should just hold each other for a while, embracing a squicked-out Sarah in all his dangling nakedness.

Stoller also makes the most of the supporting characters, and Paul Rudd really outdoes himself as a stoner surfing instructor that Peter meets when he tries to flee from his sorrow to Hawaii – only to meet Sarah and her new boyfriend Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) there. Rudd is responsible for lines such as

When life gives you lemons, just say ‘Fuck the lemons’ and bail.

as well as this scene which was my favourite scene of the entire movie:

See? No punchline, and no point really, just the wonderful absurdity of the situation, brought out by the actors’ natural gifts for comedy.

Kristen Wiig is hilarious as a yoga instructor who dislikes Peter, and Russell Brand is also quite funny as Sarah’s excentric English new boyfriend, and he’s portrayed with much more nuances and sympathy than you initially expect. I love the catchy, raunchy ballad he writes for Sarah during their vacation, much to Peter’s chagrin:

Mila Kunis, who is always charming (and so hot. I’d be going crazy for her if I were into ladies. I’d pas de deux the heck out of that. I would… Well, actually, that was about all the lesbian Black Swan humor I could come up with. But rest assured that I would be all sorts of into that, were I to swing that way.), plays Peter’s new love interest. She does this very well, and it’s not her fault that the obligatory happy ending is a little less funny than the rest of the movie.

Knocked Up (2007)

This one came out one year before Sarah Marshall, and it isn’t nearly as good. An off-beat rom-com, it tells the story of beautiful, attractive, career-minded Allison (Katherine Heigl) whose life changes as she gets drunk one night and is knocked up by an overweight, unemployed 23-year-old loser named Ben (Seth Rogen).

Judd Apatow directed it himself, and maybe he’s better as a producer than as a director? I did not get nearly as many laugh-out-loud moments out of this one. Which wouldn’t be a problem if it had some emotional impact to make up for it, but it doesn’t.

I was  even kind of offended by this movie, to be perfectly honest. I’m sure this is going to brand me as just “another humourless bitch”, as Joan Holloway would put it, but I don’t really appreciate unwanted pregnancy being made so light of. As a woman, Allison’s situation when she realizes she’s carrying Ben’s child strikes me as nightmare-ish, and I don’t think the movie spends nearly enough time motivating why Allison decides to go through with the pregnancy. Though I am pro-choice, I’m not saying that I think abortion should be taken lightly either – not at all – and if the movie had made it clear that Allison felt that an abortion would go against her spiritual beliefs or whatever, I would have been totally fine with that. Instead, the possibility of abortion is brought up as a mildly amusing plot point. Hmm.

And then they have Allison gradually falling for Ben, which I also really don’t get. I’m sorry, but there is just nothing attractive about Ben’s personality, and Seth Rogen doesn’t have the charm that Jason Segel has to make me understand what the girls see in him. Not that I’m really that into Allison either, mind you – Katherine Heigl doesn’t have the spunk of neither Kristen Bell nor Mila Kunis, and Allison never seemed real to me, as a character.

The only consistently good thing about the movie is its portrayal of Allison’s sister Debbie (Leslie Mann) and her husband Pete (Paul Rudd again). Pete needing a break from his life as a husband and father to go play fantasy baseball with his friends was both funny and really kind of moving and a much better continuation of the Man-Boy Story that is to be found in all of Apatow’s comedies.  I think I would have preferred to watch a whole movie about Pete.

Also, Kristen Wiig makes an appearance once again, this time as a antagonistic television executive, and she is even funnier than in Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005)
Very sweet movie.

Judd Apatow directed this one himself, and did a better job than he would later do with Knocked Up. Surely, though, he owes much to Steve Carell who is so darling in the lead role. Both his acting and the entire tone of the movie is a bit more cartoonish than later Apatow movies, I find, but it works. The movie actually had me caring about the status of a 40-year-old man’s virginity for its entire 116 minutes.

I also loved Catherine Keener, whom I remembered fondly from Being John Malkowich. She’s got that kick-ass quality that Mila Kunis and Kristen Bell share (and that Katherine Heigl lacks), and which makes it plausible that she would have the power to turn the Man-Boy into a Man.

Both Seth Rogen and Paul Judd did their magic in secondary roles (Rogen works much better when he’s not the protagonist), but Romany Malco as Jay was the star among the supporting characters. I loved this scene:

So, yeah – consider this your guide if you’ve yet to discover the Judd Apatow comedies! They’re quite good and have been a great treat for this particular tired career woman.

Touch Wood – “Jesus bleibet meine Freude”

Who knew a cell phone commercial could be this lovely?