Recently Rated Movies 2009 #1

The Killer That Stalked New York (1950)
Director: Earl McEvoy
Cinema 4 Rating: 6

I tuned into this one partly because it starred Evelyn Keyes, who died midway though 2008, but also because it was the one film in TCM's scheduled night of movie epidemics that I had not seen. While I do not normally indulge in, or really care for, the medical thriller genre, this one seemed like it might pose to be interesting, and I was certainly not disappointed. Killer has a noirish feel from the beginning, without actually following through fully on its dark promise, but it is an extremely engaging chase through the streets of New York, as a doctor, the police and even a T-Man pursue a woman who may be unknowingly carrying smallpox through the city. Keyes is the blonde target, a nightclub singer, who picked up the disease in Cuba while attempting to smuggle a pair of diamonds into the U.S. This one moves pretty quick, darting from location to location, so look quick for a bit part played by Jim Backus, who only recently had begun winning the world over with his voicework as Mr. Magoo (and would eventually bring us another famous multimillionaire, Thurston Howell III, on a certain TV island).

If you think the film is merely more Hollywood fear-mongering over a potential epidemic, keep in mind this story was actually based upon a real event in 1947, where smallpox was carried into New York City by a man so unknowing of his fate, he was dead long before they discovered the virus with which he was stricken. Only two people died in total, but over 6 million were vaccinated in the wake of his death, which was a record at the time (could be now too, but finding out this tidbit is really not important to me right now...) But the movie is really only inspired by the outbreak... there was no chase, no diamonds, no smugglers, no nightclub singers, no shadowy angles incurred and a dramatic conclusion at gunpoint over the streets of New York. That's the movie world, and really, the ultimate reason I tuned in to the movie. I was there for the noir feel and a lot of tough-talking dialogue. If I wanted real world diseases, I'd go hug one of my neighbors.

Hot Rod (2007)
Director: Akiva Schaffer
Cinema 4 Rating: 6

I keep reading reviews of Saturday Night Live where people are praising the hell out of Kristen Wiig (whom I do enjoy) and pretty much leaving the rest of the cast on the trash heap, including Andy Samberg, one third of the team that is really keeping SNL going with the Digital Shorts run, and has the Emmy to prove it. I am going to hold back on my evolving opinion of the problems with the show, most of which have nothing to do with the actual cast, of whom I enjoy the talents of several of its members, but mainly in the movies. Bill Hader, for example, has been everywhere lately, and while I like a couple of his characters on the show, I like him far more on the big screen, such as in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, where he collects at least a half dozen decent laughs, if not huge ones. But I am discovering that Samberg has become my favorite on the show, if only for the Digital Shorts, since he is not used often in the main portion of the show. So, if you are enjoying the shorts, know that his efforts are usually conceived and completed via the efforts of his two partners in crime, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer, collectively known as The Lonely Island. The question, though, since they are usually relegated to just a handful of minutes on each telecast of their regular job, what can they do in with a full-length feature film?

And thus, we arrive at Hot Rod, which I knew I would end up seeing on my own, since my significant other no longer has any form of tolerance for SNL at all. (I usually watch it early on Sunday morning before she gets up.) For a kid who grew up in a neighborhood where we indeed had our own Evel Knievel fanatic, and for whom we would construct rickety ramps and grab garbage cans for him to jump his crappy bike over, the world of Hot Rod is amazingly familiar to me. Perhaps this adds a little more innocence to the film than it deserves, especially given that most of the people in the film, even the ones we are supposed to like, pretty much behave like cads. But there is a genuinely infectious performance by Samberg, who portrays a sad sack of a neighborhood hero who is a good deal more of a laughing stock than he and his friends are aware. I was struck by how much Samberg's character reminds me of the way that I think Adam Sandler's characters are supposed to appear, if only Sandler weren't more of the sort of thug that I despise. This has always been my problem with Sandler: while many of my friends have pretty much rolled over and spread them for him, I have always identified him as less of an adorable man-child and more of a immature hood with barely repressed violent tendencies who was desperately in need of hospitalization at a very young age and onward into adulthood.

Not so with Samberg's character, who is harmless except to himself, obsessed as he is with self-immolation and scores of broken bones, thanks to his tireless pursuit of fame as the world's greatest stuntman. Thankfully, he has a great supporting cast behind him, with Taccone, Hader, Ian McShane (who seems to be having a ball being engaged in a constant, exceedingly violent father-son struggle with the would-be daredevil), Sissy Spacek, and, unbeknownest to me before watching it, Will Arnett as the sleaziest, smarmiest boyfriend of a would-be love interest ever. (And please don't ask me to get started on the effect that Isla Fisher has on me in even the smallest roles...) Not great, even for stupid-smart comedy (not to be confused, either, with smart-stupid comedies like the Apatow lot), but there are a couple dozen, pretty good absurdist laughs here, if not more. Thank a script knocked out by Pam Brady, who recently did Hamlet 2, which also came very close to being terrific (if not for one very specific problem), and merely ended up slyly satisfying. And Hot Rod has one thing that most comedies these days are definitely lacking: an ultimately innocent (though knowing) charm. For this feeling alone, exceedingly rare these days, I will watch Rod Kimble jump his silly moped again and again...

Comments

Samberg is excellent, and the digital shorts are as you said the highlight of every episode. I'll have to move this up in my queue. Will Arnett helps with that.

Also, it may just be me, but the last half of the first paragraph of your writeup for The Killer... is missing, but is printed after the Hot Rod writeup.
Rik Tod said…
I hope I am not the only one who has trouble with Blogger's editor. If you want to change the font, and then add italics, and then change the color of those italics, and then justify full, that's what sometimes happens. Sections get whipped elsewhere in the article, and then you have to strip the modifications and start from scratch.

Don't ask me what happens when you try to add more than one picture to a post. Oy...

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