Thursday, August 26, 2010

My Netflix Pick of the Month

I know this is going to sound incredibly self-serving but hear me out. This month’s Netflix pick is VOLUNTEERS. Yes, my partner David Isaacs and I wrote it but that’s not why I’m recommending it – well, not the only reason.

I always thought the movie was good but uneven. And there were artistic decisions made that I didn’t (and still don’t) agree with. Breaking the fourth wall for the sake of a joke is the one that really sticks in my craw. For the sake of one laugh you completely undercut the jeopardy of the third act.

And the tone is very inconsistent. There’s a bridge building sequence that is extremely well done but looks like a National Geographic film. And then a chase scene through the drug lord’s lair that is some of the cheesiest slapstick this side of the Disney Channel (again, not my call).

So far you must be thinking, this is his pick? All he’s done is rip the film. Again, bear with me.

Recently I decided to screen it. I hadn’t actually watched the movie front-to-back in maybe three home video formats. And I must say, even with its faults, I was pleasantly surprised at how good it was. I like it much better now than I did when it came out in 1985. Usually it's the opposite. Usually I see something I remember really being proud of at the time and go "Jesus! What the hell were we thinking? This is the dog's breakfast!" Not so with VOLUNTEERS.

First off, since it’s a period piece set in the early 60s, it doesn’t look dated the way other movies of the 80s do. There’s no “look at those pants we used to wear” and “did we really think Boy George was cool?” moments. And the comic style is different from today – much more reliance on witty dialogue and storytelling than “block comedy scenes”, “trailer moments”, and shock humor.

But it’s kind of refreshing. Objectively speaking, there are a lot of funny lines that still work. And the premise remains very solid. Tom Hanks as a preppy asshole joins the Peace Corps to avoid a huge gambling debt. In the process he gets involved with wide-eyed idealists, a foreign culture that doesn’t want our help, the CIA, Chinese war lords, Communists, and the looming Viet Nam War. It all builds to a loose parody of BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI. Along the way there’s also romance, brainwashing, political satire, adventure, send-ups of classic films, sex, and big 60s hits like “Wolverton Mountain.”

It’s got a terrific cast. Tom Hanks and John Candy are hilarious and if you love Gedde Wataabe, this is the picture to see!

Like I said, I was surprised.

If everyone on the planet rents or buys this movie I will still probably make less than seven cents, so this isn’t a ploy to fill my coffers. I just think it merits your attention or second look.

Ads for movies today like to include endorsements and raves from critics. So if I may be allowed to do the same…

“VOLUNTEERS… it’s better than I thought.”

“The political incorrectness still holds up!”

“Real good in parts!”

“In the right hands this movie will make a great re-make!”

“Way funnier than THE MAN WITH ONE RED SHOE”!

“Rita Wilson is half-dressed and sweaty in much of this film!”

and finally…

“If you don’t like it you can send it back”.


That Neil Guy said...

Did you read Nick Meyer's book? He dedicates a chapter to Volunteers. I really enjoyed reading it, but then I'm a Star Trek nerd...

carol said...

For what it's worth, I quite liked this movie when I saw it. (I rented it, though. Didn't see it in the theatre.)

I always enjoy a good 'redemption' film, which is what this was at the finish. Tom Hanks' character Learns Something (I think the 'what have you learned, Dorothy' line was pretty funny - assuming I am remembering it correctly)and becomes a better person.

And the bit where the communists are singing the Washington fight song was really funny.

Charles H. Bryan said...

I liked it too -- saw it when it was theatrically released. I think I went twice to see it. And Rita Wilson was pretty good, too; an opinion later shared by Mister Hanks his own self.

One of these days I'll have to go to a theater. Is a ticket still five dollars?

Ron Rettig said...

I actually rented the DVD thru Netflix about 3 months ago and really enjoyed the film. Maybe you two should do an army reserve comedy film?

The Curmudgeon said...

Totally off topic -- but this is an emergency!

Could you use any influence you have to get the Dodgers to pull back waivers on Manny? OK, so maybe you don't have a lot of influence -- but my White Sox are apparently on the verge of making a terrible mistake and this is the only way I can think of to stop it. Could you give me the name of the McCourts' lawyers, too? Maybe we can get them to start a custody battle over Manny and make trading him impossible....

ERIC SCOTT said...

What do you mean by, "Breaking the fourth wall for the sake of a joke?"

Tom Quigley said...

Another ringing endorsement, Ken (which is where I bought my copy from):

"The best of the bunch in the Walmart $5 cutout bin!"

wv: fiturn -- conjunctive verb, as in "Fiturn around too fast, I'll lose my balance"....

Mike said...

I remember really liking this when it came out on cable, though since I was 12, I probably missed any of the references to films it was based on (though thanks to my parents and extended family, I grew up on a steady stream of the Hope/Crosby Road movies, so I remember feeling some of that recognition, even as a dumb kid (and even if that wasn't your intention)

Two things really stand out from the Wikipedia entry, the first of which I'd be interested to see if Ken has any comment on:

1. "the director of the Peace Corps, Sargent Shriver, read the script and complained that the script was spitting on the American flag, and demanded changes in the script. The changes were never made, but by the time Volunteers was released, Shriver was no longer director, and Peace Corps officials were willing to endorse the movie."

2. "Gene Siskel stated that the film had 'two lame performances by its leading actors, the vastly overrated Tom Hanks...and the consistently disappointing John Candy.'" That's just harsh.

I've actually found that I really have a hard time with John Candy comedies some time; like Phil Hartman episodes of The Simpsons, every laugh is tinged with a bit of sadness. Still though Volunteers is now in the Netflix queue and when it shows up, my boyfriend will (a) enjoy it, but (b) definitely give me a "WTF?"

Splenda said...

How about we fix the flaws by doing a remake with Topher Grace, Zach Galifianakis and Jenna Fischer?

benson said...

@ The Curmudgeon:

My reservation is with the price tag. 4 mil to rent him for a month.

The other part of it, don't you think Ozzie will tell him what's what. And again, he'd probably be on his best behavior if he's looking for another contract next year.

Dan Serafini said...

The movie that taught me the Washington State fight song!

blogward said...

Ken - will look out for it, but what happens when they break the fourth wall in a 3D movie? Doesn't this result in some sort of cosmic paradox (I forget the actual term)? Maybe it's called something else, or hey - maybe that's why 3D never catches on for any length of time.

Sandy Koufax said...

Ken, I like the part where you get naked with Rita Wilson.

Mac said...

Good pitch, I'll give it a go.
Always happy to check out some John Candy I've not seen before.

Ref said...

Ken, here's a Friday question. At what point did the Dodgers figure out what a fraud Manny is?

WV: PLAYHOTA = what people in Bahstun think Manny shoulda done! (It was my original WV!)

Pat Quinn said...

Count me in the pile of people who love this movie. It is my favorite Tom Hanks movie.

"Ah yes....Thailand." is something that goes through my mind whenever I make a pratfall.

When I meet someone from Tacoma, WA, it's hard not to ask if they know a Tom Tuttle.

Hanks and Candy had a lot of room to move around in that script...and Hanks took advantage of that and reeled his acting in while Candy took advantage and let it all hang out.

I even enjoyed the subtitle joke that you didn't like...the scene and the actors made it work for a laugh (especially when the lady with the nails leaned over to read) and IMHO it didn't take away anything from the third act.

When you said that it was uneven, my mind went to the Tim Thomerson character, who I thought was good, but was either in one too many scenes or not in enough scenes...he and his 'woody' statue didn't seem in rhythm with the movie, but that might have been purposeful.

Again, IMHO, it was a great script with great comedic character development, top of their game comedic actors, and a forward moving, interesting plot.

bevo said...

Volunteers nearly got me laid. I was 17, I saw the movie at the local theater. Laughed my ass off until they broke the 4th wall.

Aside: Clunker of a scene, which you have explained. It left feeling Volunteers was closer to Top Secret than Airplane in terms of funny.

A week after seeing it, I am on a plane with a group that will spend a year abroad. I am sitting next to a virginal looking blue eyed, blonde hair chick who is on the program too. I mention seeing Volunteers. She says she loved it.

The ice is broken and a steady stream of conversation commences.

As we begin our decent, I panic, and give her a line. She looked at me like was I deranged. So, I replied, "Well, I think I have put in the time."

She paused, smiled, and said, "you had me there for a minute."

Unfortunately, we became friends for the duration of the program.

The Man With One Red Shoe was/is funny. The scene with Jim Belushi following the ambulance still makes me laugh. I fear that if they remade TMWORS, then we would get Mr. and Mrs. Smith, or worse, Salt.

wv: resseva - Latin female singular form of cutting or removing by force.

Tom said...

It's your script, Ken, so I totally get the irritation over breaking the fourth wall...But: If Groucho Marx could talk directly to the audience in 1932 in Horse Feathers ("I've got to stay here, but there's no reason why you folks shouldn't go out into the lobby until this thing blows over"), as an average moviegoer who enjoyed Volunteers very much, it didn't bother me at all.

And as a White Sox fan, let me join in with a plea to keep Manny in L.A. All the Sox need are some relief pitchers who remember their job is to hold leads.

Larry said...

I really enjoyed the film when I saw it in the theatre. Hanks was especially good, and I think Rita is the best Wilson he's ever co-starred with.

DJ said...

Another White Sox fan here -- not that big a fan of the potential Manny move either, but remember, we're a town that loved Dennis Rodman, for God's sake! Yeah, there was the wedding dress, the late nights closing down every bar on Rush Street...but before all the hijinks, Rodman would get 20 boards in the game, then lift weights for two hours after the game. If Manny were to (big stretch, I know) show up every game and give 100%, he'd be crowned king.

Lantastic said...

the fourthwall is broken when tom and the other guy read the subtitles and pretend to see them.

it breaks the suspension of disbelief. It reminds you they are just acting and the show isn't real.

Ralphie said...

Ken, I actually own this on DVD. I enjoyed it very much, especially Hanks' character. "Gloriousky!" still stays with me.

And was there ever another movie not made in WWII where a guy used a Coke to seduce a beautiful woman?

Yeah, the lame scene sucks, but not the worst thing that could happen. For that, read "Adventures in the Screen Trade", by William Goldman.

Tom Wolper said...

Ken, I'm glad you took another look at Volunteers and decided to recommend it. You've been complaining about it on your blog for so long I decided, about six months ago, to get it from Netflix to see just how bad it really is. I was surprised to find out that I found it to be a pleasant and enjoyable movie. Nothing classic, but more enjoyable than most comedies made today.

Joke said...

I may be on record, more than any other semi-regular commenter, as being a colossal fan of Volunteers.

I saw it in its original theatrical release, saw it (and taped it) off cable about a year later, bought it on Laserdisc and now on DVD.

My only real gripe was the inconsistency. Of Tom Hanks' accent. Sometimes he sounded like a beer vendor at Fenway, sometimes he sounded like Tom Hanks, and sometimes he sounded like Wm. F. Buckley.

But the jokes still hold up, and well. Some of "zany" stuff doesn't, but the dialogue crackles.

It helps to have KNOWN (as in having been and still being friends with) guys like Lawrence, and maybe having a bit of that character yourself.

LOVE this movie. And yes, I'll buy it if/when it hits Blu-Ray.

Anonymous said...

John Candy was only 43 when he died far too soon.

He and Steve Martin are great together in PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES.

John Candy would have turned 60 this year.

When Steve Martin was 60, he wrote and starred in Shopgirl.

As Fred Gwynne said in PET SEMATARY - Sometimes, dead is bettah...

A. Buck Short said...

Hooboy! You're a year early. Peace Corps doesn't turn 50 until next year. Coulda had such a back end deal!!! My friends, who actually WERE 60's P.C. are doing the doc. Should I tell them to try to use a clip? I'm sure you'd know who to go to.

WV: explo. Boy do I hate to have my lines stepped on like that by Katherine Bigelow.

Brian H said...

I always found the "Time is money" scene LOL (literally) funny. I probably say "Well then, what is time again?" to myself at least once a month.