A midnight-black comedy and a risqué '90s teen movie are on this week's list
Sometimes movies are bad.
I love them unconditionally, but sometimes they are truly heinous. Character motivations make no sense, the plot drags like a dead body in the middle and spotting cliches in the script is like shooting fish in a barrel. (See what I did there?)
A recent conversation had my mind racing to remember which movie first gave me this realization, because when you’re a kid, all movies are good. You don’t care about any of the stuff I mentioned above. You want things to move on a screen so you can look at them. You want loud noises to overload your senses. You want to live in that world, not as an escape from this one, but because you think it really exists somewhere and frankly, it looks fun as hell to visit.
But then one film shatters that reality.
For me, if I remember correctly, the first movie I saw that made me think, “This, uh ... this is not good,” was 2007’s “Spider-Man 3.”
That’s the one where Peter Parker (Toby Maguire) becomes an emo jazz fanatic (???) after getting infected by the symbiote eventually known as Venom. The one where Gwen Stacy is played by someone I now realize is a young Bryce Dallas Howard. The one where Topher Grace plays Eddie Brock. Topher Grace! The scrawny dude from “That ’70s Show!” It’s also the one where Venom is defeated by Parker just ... ringing some bells. Loud bells, sure, but come on. I don’t care if it’s comic book canon or not, that’s just dumb.
It’s a bad film, and it disappointed Young Ryan, who loved the first two Maguire “Spider-Man” films. Now I’m here, jaded and cynical, reviewing films for you. Blame that movie if you hate my recommendations.
I want to hear about the movies you had your first “bad” revelations with. Email them to me at [email protected] or comment below.
This week’s movies are both better than “Spider-Man 3,” I promi—
Actually, I take that back. They’re both more fun than “Spider-Man 3,” and one is definitely “better” than "Spider-Man 3."
The other ... let’s see how this goes.
“In Bruges” (2008)
Netflix, R, 107 minutes
When I was in Amsterdam last month, I took a day trip to Bruges, Belgium.
I would not have done so if I had not seen “In Bruges.”
The film comes from the mind of director Martin McDonagh, whom you either love or hate from his latest effort, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” I didn’t care for it. But I love “In Bruges,” so keep reading either way.
“In Bruges” follows Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson), two hitmen who are waiting for their next assignment from their boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes), after their previous assignment went terribly wrong. The catch: They have to wait for the assignment in Bruges. Over multiple days.
That’s ... all you need to know, really. While they wait, Ray and Ken explore the city. They visit old churches. Take museum tours. Ride boats down the canals. Climb to the top of a bell tower and take in the view. Drink coffee in the city’s main square. Normal touristy stuff.
Ken loves it all, while Ray would rather die. The dichotomy of the two views on the city makes for much of the film’s comedy. When Harry finally gets into the mix, taking Ken’s side of the argument, things get even funnier. The passion these two exude for this (relatively) nondescript and small city is hilarious.
That’s good, because when the film isn’t busy debating over whether the city is a “fairy tale” place or not, things get considerably darker. Ray is haunted by events from his past. He and Ken have run-ins with seedy characters in decrepit hotel rooms. And when the plot kicks in — when the question of “what are they waiting for?” gets answered — the film hits another gear.
Like most of McDonagh’s movies, the characters here aren’t always the most likable. But they are entertaining, and sometimes when a film is written as well as “In Bruges” is, likability is given a pass. This movie will make you uncomfortable to the point where you have no choice but to laugh.
After all, it’s about "f****** Bruges."
“Cruel Intentions” (1999)
Netflix, R, 97 minutes
I try to be a curator with this column. I don’t recommend things I don’t like, and I don’t care about how critically acclaimed a movie or TV show is. If I think some people out there will like it, it’s going in the column.
That being said: Is “Cruel Intentions” a good movie? Debatable.
It’s watchable, for sure, though. I mean, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ryan Phillippe as rich asshole teenagers trying to manipulate the love life of Reese Witherspoon’s shielded sweetheart to win a bet? That’s gold. Selma Blair and Joshua Jackson playing annoying twerp sidekicks? Also good.
But it’s trashy as hell, in a way that either repulses you or calls your name. Did I mention that Gellar and Phillippe are step-siblings, and that their bet involves Phillippe sleeping with Witherspoon, and that his reward for doing so is getting to sleep with Gellar? Or that characters snort cocaine out of vials shaped like crucifixes? Or that there’s a scene where someone is taught how to French kiss? (Because of course there is.)
The film still feels risqué in 2018, a true feat in a time when “Game of Thrones” has cornered the semi-incest storyline market in mainstream media and when most raunchy comedies believe simply throwing sexual phrases at the audience is the height of the form. “Cruel Intentions” actually has a coherent plot and long-forgotten things like character development and consistent tone and a surprise ending that is actually a surprise. The performances from the three leads are played with just the right amount of smirk, too.
It also still feels relevant to the zeitgeist at-large, like how a character is publicly shamed for things they have done in the past while a crowd finger-wags, a scene all-too-familiar on Twitter and other social media sites today. Gellar’s Kathryn Merteuil is the ultimate mean girl you love to hate (or maybe just love), but she’s also surprisingly progressive for a 1999 comedy villain, commenting on the different standards society has for men and women in terms of promiscuity.
My mind floated to this movie after watching a few recent teen movies — many of which are Netflix originals — that have Gen-Zers in a tizzy. They were cute, but that’s all. They were inert. They hit all the story beats you expect, are more “smile” funny than “laugh-out-loud” funny and feature relatable if a little boring lead characters. “Cruel Intentions” is by no means a perfect movie, but at least it goes for it. It tries to be unique and it succeeds. It was the movie every teen lied to their parents about watching, then chatted with their friends about for hours. (It reminds me a bit of “Riverdale,” arguably the hottest network show of the moment, so not all hope is lost for the next generation.)
Is it “good?” I don’t know. But it has complex characters and fun dialogue and music from ’90s alternative rock bands and is fun as hell. Do with that info what you will.
See you next week.