Sunday, September 18, 2011

Rating the DVD menu

Last night, I saw my first nudity ever in a DVD menu.

At least, I'm pretty sure I can say that with confidence. I've seen plenty of movies with plenty of nudity, but none that gave up the goods in the clips they show you on a repeating loop while you're trying to choose which of the DVD options to select.

Such was the case with Old School, however.

It was my second time seeing Old School -- the first for my wife, else it'd probably have been a lot longer before I saw it again -- but my first time was in the theater, so I had never previously been exposed to its DVD menu. And indeed, featured prominently in the loop of footage is the two co-eds who take their tops off right before their prospective lubricant wrestling bout with Joseph "Blue" Pulaski (Patrick Cranshaw). You know, moments before the old man keels over and dies. (And for the purposes of gender equality, the DVD menu footage also includes Will Ferrell's ass while he's streaking across the quad.)

It definitely caught me by surprise, and never have I more wanted to leave a DVD running on its menu screen for an extended period of time. Kidding, mostly -- actually, it was a tad awkward because my wife was there, so I had to avert my glance just to be proper.

I don't know why I should have been so surprised by it. After all, once you've decided to rent/buy the movie, you've basically committed yourself to its R rating. There's no longer a need to keep things PG for the widest possible audience. And to prove that in other ways, there's also footage during the DVD menu of Frank the Tank's wife (Perrey Reeves) getting her blow job lesson with a carrot.

But I guess maybe I thought the DVD menu should tone it down. I don't know, maybe the DVD got left in the player overnight, and the next day, just by turning on the TV to watch Spongebob, your young/son daughter would be exposed to carrot fellatio and 19-year-old naked breasts, about to be covered in KY jelly.

What really made me laugh, though, was that the movie also included a warning, the likes of which I hadn't previously seen. That's right, after warning us about the illegality of piracy, the DVD also warned us that the movie contains adult content and should be watched by appropriate audiences only. That's the kind of warning you see on TV -- I most recently remember seeing it on AMC's The Walking Dead -- not on a movie DVD. So not only is it strange in its own right, but it's especially strange given that we'd already been exposed to about as much adult material as we could handle in the DVD menu itself.

A few more thoughts on my second viewing of Old School ...

... and co-starring Jeremy Piven, as "the dean"

I'm not usually one to complain about miscasting. I'll make many observations about a movie that didn't pass muster, but one I'm not very likely to make is that a particular actor was the wrong choice for the role. It happens from time to time, of course, but not all that often. I may criticize their performance, but I won't necessarily jump to the conclusion that the filmmakers should have gotten someone else entirely.

However, Jeremy Piven as Dean Pritchard is one of those times.

Sure, Piven can play priggish, and sure, Piven can be a prick, which probably comes easily to him, because I understand he's quite the prick in real life. For some reason, though, I don't really see him playing "the dean."

For one, he's a bit too young -- which I guess is sort of the point of the role, that it's somewhat ridiculous that this guy the main characters once picked on is now the authority figure, with the opportunity to do the same to them. But also, the character we knew him most often as at the time was much more like one of the protagonists, a guy who would have been comfortable wisecracking alongside Ferrell, Vince Vaughn and Luke Wilson. It seemed strange that they put dorky glasses on him and turned him into a vengeful pipsqueak, and I guess I never felt comfortable with the choice.

Except the fraternity stuff

The reason I said earlier that I wouldn't have revisited Old School for awhile, had my wife already seen it, was that I felt it was only a partial success the first time I saw it. However, as I was watching the first half-hour -- and laughing quite hard -- I found myself wondering what I hadn't seen in it.

Then I remembered: "Oh yeah, the fraternity stuff."

I think it's fair to say that everything in Old School that's not directly related to their fraternity is really funny. Everything that is related to the fraternity doesn't really work.

I'll start with the exception to that rule: The scene where the three main characters have panty hose over their heads, and drive around in a large black van kidnapping their pledges. That scene works perfectly, and has the perfect choice of music to accompany it: Metallica's "Master of Puppets." Totally outside-the-box choice, which makes it all the more effective. (Rick Gonzalez getting tackled into the fountain is terrific physical humor.)

I think two of the parts that don't work have to do with the bad visual effects related to actor Jerod Mixon. Mixon is a very large individual, and director Todd Phillips chooses to involve him in two visual gags that are kind of a goof on his size, but just look strange on screen. One involves him getting pulled off the side of a building when the cinder block attached by a rope to his penis falls through a grating. Another involves him doing an improbable flip over a pommel horse in a gymnastics competition. Both incidents look absurd because the effects are so terrible. Better not to have attempted those jokes in the first place.

However ...

Is that Rob Corddry?

Without the fraternity scenes, I wouldn't have noticed Rob Corddry as one of the non-students in the fraternity. He's there, trademark clump of hair in the middle of his bald spot and everything.

What was funny wasn't that he was in the movie -- Corddry has since appeared in several films with several of the same cast members. It's that his part was so small that he didn't even have a line. It's funny to think that only eight years ago, Corddry was a small enough name that they didn't even throw him a bone with a short bit of dialogue. Less they had to pay him, of course.

"It's kind of all over the place"

I was interested to see if my wife's take on Old School would align with my own lukewarm take, and it turns out it did. "Lukewarm" is perhaps too strong of a word (even though it's a weak word by nature) -- however, it's true that neither of us like it as much as most people seem to.

My wife summed it up best: "It's kind of all over the place."

Old School really is going in several different directions at any one time, and the result is a bit of feeling of schizophrenia. For starters, sometimes the film treats Luke Wilson's character as the protagonist, but others, it seems to be more about the character arc of Frank the Tank. As a result, secondary characters in both plots get shortchanged. Ellen Pompeo, quite charming as Wilson's love interest, disappears for long stretches, and the film doesn't feel like it contains a proper resolution for Reeves' character, the recent bride and soon-to-be-ex-wife of Frank.

However, what I really do appreciate about it is how many quotable lines there are, and how many great set pieces. As a series of individual moments, Old School is an absolute blast.

And yeah, there are a couple nice pairs of breasts as well ...


Travis McClain said...

The first time I recall seeing nudity in a DVD menu was Boat Trip (unrated edition). That was the first time we had seen the movie; it was a rental. So before we've seen anything beyond the trailer, we've already had an eyeful. That set the tone in a hurry! (For the record, I dig Boat Trip if for nothing else than Sir Roger Moore.)

I've seen Old School only once; I think it, too, was a DVD rental but maybe it was on HBO back when we were subscribers. In any event, I liked it alright though I confess that I'm not big on "college antics" movies; I found Animal House tedious, for instance. (Strangely, Van Wilder is not only one of the few such movies I do like, but it's one of only two National Lampoon movies I can name that I really enjoyed.)

I think its haphazard structure can best be described by saying the fraternity stuff was the whole point of making the movie, and the rest of it--the bookend content about deciding to go to college and then sorting out the aftermath of doing so--was little more than the pretext for filming outrageous, Jackass-inspired shenanigans. Actually liking the "story" part of the movie is probably more of a bonus in this instance than anything.

It's currently #957 out of 1290 movies on my Flickchart. It had its moments, but I'm content with the one viewing. But now it's occurring to me I still haven't bought Boat Trip...

Vancetastic said...

It's funny, my "one thing" I like about Boat Trip is Rosalyn Sanchez, who I think is absolutely gorgeous and also a pretty nimble comedienne. However, that really IS the only thing I like about it. (Oh yeah, you reminded me that Roger Moore is kind of a hoot.)

Animal House tedious? For shame! I won't debate you on it, just tell you you're wrong. ;-)

Travis McClain said...

I liked Boat Trip well enough, but I still think of it as an inferior version of Out to Sea. (Yes, I'm aware that Out to Sea was, itself, derivative of movies at least as far back as the Hope/Crosby/Lamour "Road" movies, but mentally I think of the Lemmon/Matthau movie as the paradigm for that milieu.)

I think the issue for me with Animal House is that I side with the dean. As a student, I would have resented classmates like those guys and I have little patience for people who are disruptive purely for the sake of being disruptive. I dislike people whose sole "enlightenment" is to tell everyone else to quit taking life seriously. I readily agree that we need a healthy perspective on life and that often we become overwhelmed by minor things but the flip side is that there's nothing profound about clinging to immaturity no matter how well dressed up it is as "young at heart."

It's true there are people like the dean who become power-mad and need a dose of perspective, but so too do the morons like those frat boys need to learn that there are times when it actually is inappropriate to party. Just because their offense is more innocuous makes it no less egregious.

Vancetastic said...

It's funny -- I've never actually considered Animal House in that light, but I agree it does make a certain amount of sense to analyze it that way. However, I would counter-argue that I don't see Animal House as a movie where the fact that I'm rooting for the guys in the Delta House plays a significant role in why I enjoy it. Like Old School (only far far better in my opinion), that film is as great as it is because of a number of great set pieces and John Belushi at the peak of his comic powers. And speaking of that dean, John Vernon gives an absolutely terrific performance in that mustache-twirling role.