Despite my better efforts, there are some huge gaps in my film-watching repertoire. Gaps which, since 90% of my friends are just as film-nerdy as I, I am constantly given sh*t for. Which I super deserve. So, with summer in full swing, I’ve decided to get to work on catching up on these gaps.
This week, I check out 2001’s “Wet Hot American Summer” just in time for the Netflix series, and 1975’s “Dog Day Afternoon” just in time for me to be WAY behind the curve.
WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER
I’m not going to lie, I totally decided to review this movie spur of the moment because I really wanted to watch the Netflix miniseries. And, you know, why would I watch a movie if I can’t squeeze upwards of five page views out of it? This film is famous for being a critical and commercial flop, staring a bunch of people who would later become gigantic successes, and eventually finding its place as a cult classic. So, did I side with the critics of its time, or the fans of today? Let’s find out!
The film, directed by David Wain and written by Wain and Michael Showalter, stars just so many people. The main cast includes: Michael Showalter (Coop), Janeane Garofalo (Beth), David Hyde Pierce (Henry), Paul Rudd (Andy), Christopher Meloni (Gene), Ken Marino (Victor), Marguerite Moreau (Katie), Michael Ian Black (McKinley), Bradley Cooper (Ben), Amy Poehler (Susie), and LIKE, A LOT OF OTHER PEOPLE, YOU GUYS. The plot follows a single day (the last day, in fact) at Camp Firewood, a summer camp in 1981. The film was loosely based on the summer camp experiences of Wain and Showalter as teenagers in the 1980’s. Oh, and there’s also a motorcycle chase, a falling satellite, a talking can of vegetables, and no I am not making any of this up. This movie is batsh*t insane. And I kinda love every moment of it.
Again, like “Fast Times” this film has a bunch of subplots that I’m going to address one by one. The first involves Michael Showalter and his feelings for Marguerite Moreau, who is currently dating the biggest jerk in the universe Andy, as played by national treasure Paul Rudd. Showalter and Moreau grow closer together as the day progresses, and Showalter goes through a kickass training montage to become the kind of guy she wants, but she winds up staying with Rudd anyway because he’s Paul freakin’ Rudd. Ok, I know the film gives an actual reason, but it didn’t need to. “He’s Paul Rudd” is the only reason I would have needed. Showalter pulls off an excellent balance of relatable and dorky, creating a really endearing character. Moreau is a bit less interesting as a character, but she definitely holds her own on screen. Paul Rudd is celluloid wonderment.
Plot 2 focuses around the camp director played by Janeane Garofalo and her blossoming relationship with associate professor Henry Newman played by David Hyde Pierce. Oh, and then Pierce discovers that a chunk of a space station is falling towards the camp and everyone might die if they don’t do something about it. They wind up saving the day with a jury-rigged device and a D-20. Did I mention that I love this movie? Garofalo is really funny, and her chemistry with Pierce is fantastic. Also, Pierce’s performance is phenomenal. His complete straight-faced delivery of some ridiculous lines really sells the bit.
Ok, lightning round time! Plot 3 features Ken Marino trying to make it back to camp to sleep with Marisa Ryan as Joe Lo Truglio chases him down via a motorcycle. It is joyously slapstick-y in the best way. Plot 4 centers on Christopher Meloni’s Vietnam Veteran camp cook and his struggles to overcome his own personal problems. Every moment of this plot is beautiful. Plot 5 deals with Bradley Cooper and Amy Poehler attempting to put on the best damn talent show Camp Firewood has ever seen. Poehler and Cooper bounce off each other really well, and Cooper himself is absolutely trying his ass off in this part and it absolutely pays off. Also, the subplot with Cooper and Michael Ian Black is fantastic and hilarious.
Just go watch this movie. I love it in a way words can’t describe. It’s hard to write a review of a good comedy without just repeating all the funny parts, which I really don’t want to do in this case. Go experience it for yourself.
FIVE out of five stars.
DOG DAY AFTERNOON
Ok, so this is about as far removed from “Wet Hot” as you can get, tonelly. Is it hard to jump from goofball comedy to dark drama? Yes. Can I do it? Like, probably? Also, important thing to note, this review is being written on an iPad from a hotel room in Prescott, Arizona at 7:30 in the morning. Just wanted to let you know why this will probably be shorter than normal.
The film, directed by Sydney Lumet, was based on true events, although the film itself credits a Life Magazine article about the events by P.F. Kluge as its source material. The film stars Al Pacino as Sonny Wortzik, a bank robber who gets caught up in a tough series of circumstances after his attempted robbery goes wrong. The film was a serious awards contender the year of its release and took home the Oscar for best original screenplay which it definitely deserves.
The plot is basically one long scene, taking place around and inside the bank in one long day. This actually really helps the film, as you can watch the time of day go from morning to afternoon to night over the course of the movie. In a movie like this, that takes place in a single day, that progression of time is crucial and can make it feel like something is happening even when nothing is. The film has a really fantastic pace to it, even if it is a bit overlong. Sonny’s continued attempts to turn things around progress logically and the stakes escalate nicely. I’d especially like to give credit to how doomed and fatalistic the tone of the film comes out. When Sonny describes his plans to his hostages, it doesn’t even feels like the film believes it’s going to work. Every moment is filmed with the unspoken belief that everything is only one second away from completely going to hell. This adds to the inherent tension of the film, and for a standoff movie, it’s already pretty tense.
The cast is good, but this is entirely Pacino’s show. His portrayal of Wortzik is likeable enough to give the audience Stockholm Syndrome as we are trapped with him in this situation as well. His partner Sal, played by John Cazale, is excellently portrayed as someone who clearly isn’t cut out for this situation. All the hostages are fantastic, and they all are believable in the way in which they react to Sonny throughout the course of the film. Also, shout out to the awesome Lance Henriksen as FBI Agent Murphy, because Lance Henriksen is just so great.
I also wanted to address how progressive this film was, especially in its portrayl of LGBTQ characters. Not only are gay and transgender characters present, but the film is not afraid to show them as imperfect people. Pacino’s character clearly does care about his significant other, but that doesn’t mean his character can’t have a history of abuse and poor desicion making influencing his current actions. I think this progressiveness in character portrayl is mostly due to the fact that this was based on actual events. It’s wierd to think that, in the 41 years since this film was released, I can’t think of many gay characters in film as complex as Sonny Wortzik.
Four out of five stars.
Well, that’s it for this week, ATTICA, ATTICA!! See you all next week, I’m going to go fondle my sweaters. …Well I’m sorry if those don’t make any sense, it was hard to find good quotes for these two films, ok?