MARRIAGE IS A CRAZY THING: Reviews of The Crazies and Date Night

Two movies have recently opened that deal with marriages in crises, though the approach couldn’t be more different.
The Crazies is a remake of the cult favorite by the same name originally made by legendary filmmaker George Romeo who seems to have a thing for ending the world. How closely this remake follows the original I can’t say since, sad to also say, I haven’t seen the original. But this is an effective, nail biting, edge of your seat horror movie with a sharp script by Scott Kosar and Ray Wright (from Romero’s original) and solidly directed by Breck Eisner who has taken the wise choice of letting the movie work on its own terms rather than going over the top with a show-offy style some directors would use to let the audience know just how brilliant they are. Timothy Olyphant plays a sheriff of a small, quiet, boring town who needs him as much as Mayberry needed Andy Griffith. Radha Mitchell plays his newly pregnant wife. For reasons unknown, one day, out of existential nowhere, people in the town start losing focus and fading out (like turning down the volume on the TV) and then coming back with a vengeance, slaughtering anybody and anyone they come into contact with. It spreads like a virus, which makes sense, since the cause is a biological weapon created by the government which was being taken on a plane to be destroyed; except, inconveniently for everyone involved, the plane crashes (don’t you hate when that happens). There’s one exceptionally creepy scene where Olyphant walks main street and it is eerily quiet, too quiet, even for this dusty town whose “you are now entering” and “you are no leaving” signs are back to back. The government soon arrives and starts quarantining everyone, with people who have a high temperature being segregated from those without, and the writer and director do some interesting things here in using the Holocaust as a metaphor for this round up. Mitchell has a temperature (because she’s pregnant, not because she has a virus), so she is separated from Olyphant. And the plot then becomes Olyphant and his deputy rescuing his wife and another woman and trying to get to safety. Of course, it makes no sense for Olyphant to rescue his wife since he doesn’t know what is going on and could actually be making things worse, but what can you do? If he doesn’t, you don’t have a movie. It also has some issues in that the symptoms of the virus seem to vary at times depending on the needs of the authors. But all in all, this is one of those solid entertainments that thrills, chills and fills the time quite entertainingly.

Date Night also posits a married couple in danger, though this time the couple aren’t newlyweds (they have two kids that won’t let them have sex). It’s basically the same idea as Woody Allen’s Manhattan Murder Mystery in which a couple’s marriage has turned uninteresting and boring until they become involved in some dirty dealings and find their lives in danger. It’s true that Date Night doesn’t come up to Manhattan Murder Mystery’s level (Allen’s characters are a bit more interesting and the way the story unfolds is a bit more clever), but at the same time I feel that Date Night has gotten a bad rap from the reviewers. It’s not the greatest thing since sliced bread, true, but it’s also a perfectly entertaining piece of fluff and one could probably do worse with very little effort. The main charm of the movie comes from Steve Carell and Tina Fey who have great chemistry together and really feel, as my friend said who accompanied me, as if they are a true married couple. They have the ability to barely move the corners of their mouths and say millions, and the twinkle in their eyes don’t hurt. Their characters have reached a crisis point in their marriage: it’s become boring and even worse, they’re too tired to have sex. They each desperately want their marriage to work, but don’t know what to do about it and are too scared to bring the subject up for fear that would only make things worse. So they go on a date into the big bad city of Manhattan and pretend to be someone else in order to get a table at a restaurant (apparently a worse crime than killing someone these days—it’s a nice little reoccurring gag). But the people they are pretending to be turn out to be involved in a blackmail scheme involving Mafiaso Ray Liotta (no surprise there) and corrupt DA William Fichtner. In the end, the couple kind of decides that maybe it’s best to be boring, banal and settled. The movie never rises above what it is, puffy entertainment, with a script (by Josh Klausner) and direction (by Shawn Levy) that gets the job done, but little more. But it’s certainly as good as Hot Tub Time Machine with the added advantage of being funny without being afraid of strong women or homosexuality: Carrell is manly and secure enough in his sexuality to admit that Marc Wahlberg’s pecs even turn him on.


I’ve been watching a lot of bad movies lately. On purpose, sort of. I don’t normally watch bad movies if I know ahead of time that they are bad movies, but through a series of circumstances I’ve been confronted by more than usual lately. They have their use. One might think of them as the sherbet one eats between courses in a fancy meal, something that cleans the palate for the really good stuff.

Every Wednesday, I go to some friends house for bad movie night. This week it was peril in the air week and we watched Turbulence, an action movie about Ray Liotta playing a psychotic (I know, I know, a bit redundant) serial killer who manages to kill all the pilots and police officers on a plane leaving only a flight attendant, Lauren Holly, to land the damn thing. All I could think is, I don’t remember Doris Day in Julie or Karen Black in Airport 1975 being so annoyingly helpless (yes, believe it or not, this is not the first movie about a flight attendance having to land an airplane, though it’s doubtful there’s enough yet to make a genre all its own–at least, let’s hope not). Brendan Gleeson plays another psychotic criminal though what is even more criminal is his poor attempt at a Southern accent. Ben Cross from Chariots of Fire is on hand as a pilot who looks like he’s had that Rupert Everett type non-face lift face lift. As the movie goes on, one can see what probably went wrong: the producers spent so much money on the special effects, they didn’t have enough money to pay a good screenwriter or hire a good director. Art is full of little trade offs. Wouldn’t you love to be able to read minds as the different actors watched this movie? I keep thinking of the night Jay Leno had Hugh Grant on after his being picked up while receiving a blow job from a prostitute–the first thing Leno asked was “What were you thinking?”

The week before I saw Candy, that oh so controversial movie from 1968 from the oh so controversial novel by Terry Southern. The movie has Richard Burton, Walter Matthau, Ringo Starr, James Coburn and Marlon Brando as the various men trying to bed the virginal teenager Candy Christian played by nymphet Ewa Aulin (who ain’t half bad), though it seems awfully odd that she has a Swedish accent when she’s John Astin’s daughter. The story never makes sense, though Brando is very funny as a fake guru. What’s interesting here is how times have changed. In 1968, Candy would have been seen as a symbol of sexual liberation, that she was someone all men wanted to bed and it was her fault because she was so sexual and innocent. Today, it’s a film about pedophilia and a bunch of men who want to rape a teenager.

And to finish it all off, I saw Xanadu. Where to begin, what to say. Michael Beck says that the Warriors opened all sorts of doors for him in the movies that Xanadu then closed, which isn’t fair. He was never that good an actor. As the people who introduced the movie said, he was a triple threat: he couldn’t sing, he couldn’t dance and he couldn’t act–so of course let’s cast him in a musical. I went with a friend and we commented how we would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when this movie was being put together. The ideas had to come from coke induced production meetings. There’s no other possible explanation (or at least let us pray there are no other explanations). It’s as if everyone agreed to find the kitchiest, campiest choice in a scene and double it. It’s mind numbing and oh so much fun. One can’t look away. There’s a charming moment when Gene Kelly dances with Olivia Newton John (obviously choreographed by Kelly himself) and an animation sequence by Don Blum which would have worked well in a different context (and what an interesting way to have an actor who can’t sing and dance sing and dance, animate him). It’s the kind of bad movie that has a following and Xanaduians were there in force, clapping in rhythm at the big climactic skating dance number. This is a movie that has to be seen.