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Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Addams Family Duology (1990 Films)

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The_Addams_FamilyWith a new adaptation in the works, it’s about time to take a look at the two Addams Family movies from the early 1990s. Originally based on Charles Addams’ famed cartoons, the Addams Family were part of a one panel gag for the New Yorker magazine. Addams’ style of humor was to satirize the modern lifestyle in a macabre way. His characters were so popular, they have been brought to life more than once through the famous 1964 TV series and a couple of Saturday morning cartoon incarnations. The one people seem to remember the most are the live-action theatrical films directed by Barry Sonnenfeld and for good reason.

Both The Addams Family and Addams Family Values are the closest thing to a perfect take on the New Yorker cartoon and TV show. I say that because both movies have their own set of positives and negatives. And yet, the negatives themselves can be overlooked for enjoyment value. The cast and crew is having a good time and there is a lot of good writing behind capturing why we love this creepy, kooky, mysterious and spooky family.

addams-familyFirst, let’s talk about the cast, seeing some of them return to reprise their roles the sequel. This is hands down as good of a perfect casting as it will get. Raul Julia is passionate as Gomez, Anjelica Huston is lovely as Morticia, Christopher Lloyd is zany as Uncle Fester, Christina Ricci’s menace to Wednesday is memorable, the list just goes on. Everyone takes a part and really breathes a lot of life into these characters. The chemistry between Julia and Huston is so sexy that you feel like these two have been together through Hell and back. They soak in this lifestyle of dark and misery to the point they relish in it. Everyone’s performance is so good that you almost believe these characters are real.

The only difference in the casting of both films is that for some reason they don’t use Judith Malina for Grandmama Addams in the sequel.  Carol Kane takes on the role and honestly, I think her performance is more animated. No offense to Malina as she does a good job, but Kane’s take is more lively and funnier. That’s not to say Malina is bad as she has a lot of funny moments. It’s a personal preference, but I think both actresses do a good job.

Addams-Family-Trivia-EMGN12Even the look of the movie is good too. The cinematography and sets do a great job noting when to allow the amount of color. When we see the family out in the real world, their Gothic garb stands out as everything is bright and vibrant. When they are home, it feels perfectly bleak and gloomy. These are movies where you could spend hours looking at the sets and marveling at the detail.

Another huge positive is the comedy. Both movies are equally hilarious respecting the campy nature of the 1964 TV series and the darker Charles Addams cartoon. There are jokes and gags that nearly push the barrier of comfort, but still don’t go too far. Some gags are rarely uncomfortable and it’s never taken as being mean-spirited. In the sequel, a villain reveals her family history through a slideshow right before she tries to kill the whole Addams clan. Now that is a clever idea. We see pictures of her killing her husbands in action and it’s played for laughs as oppose to adding the fear factor.

The movie environment also has the ability to push beyond the limits and restrictions of previous incarnations. A prime example is the use of the family’s pet Thing, who is very a disembodied hand who likes to help around the house. Originally seen in a box, we actually get to see the helpful hand run about the whole place and it feels more  like a full-moving character. Special credit goes to Christopher Hart who has to perform with his own hand. I can imagine something like this is not easy to do and I give high marks on it.

So your probably thinking with good things plugging into the production, surly there is a good story to go with all these positive things? Well, as you have noticed, it’s the last thing I think about when remembering these movies. Story is sadly the weakest link in both movies. With the exception of the first one, at least Addams Family Values tries to improve and be more of a plot-driven film. But alas, even Values falls into the same traps as the first.

6cc99b17bda4edc5f793350541e497b9--addams-family--fester-addamsLet’s begin with the first one, because that one feels like the more problematic of the two. Uncle Fester is missing, because of an fight he had with Gomez years ago, and Gomez greatly regrets it. While that’s going on, Gomez’s lawyer (Dan Hedaya) knows of a great fortune the family has and schemes to get it so he can pay off a loan shark (Elizabeth Wilson). As it turns out, the loan shark’s son (Christopher Lloyd) looks eerily similar to the lost brother and plan to disguise him as Fester in order to gain access to the family’s vault. And as expected, the Addams are fooled, but as time goes on, the “impostor” starts to feel right at home with the odd folks. Oh, and there is this added twist where the loan shark plans to double cross the laywer, but it’s only mentioned once never making much of an impact later on.

So, the story is really all over the map here. In fact, we forget about the con and just focus on the family more than the plot. This results in us staying around the house and getting to know these people more. Once in a while, they do head out into the real world to engage in a public auction or, later on, try to fit in with modern life. The scenes of them trying to act within a “normal” society carry the most laughs as folks, opposite to the Addams’ lifestyle, have a hard time gelling with their darker interests. I won’t give too much of the scenes away for new viewers, but it does lead to a lot of hilarious scenes.

But when we jump back to the plot, all the fun and gags take a hard break. When we want to see more of the family, we have to be reminded something is going on and it will lead to a split with the folks. The only positive aspect from this is one crucial change from the cartoon and TV series. In the movie, Fester is actually Gomez’s brother, where-else he’s Morticia’s uncle. This is one thing I do feel is the strength of the movie as Gomez tries to bond with his “brother” who doesn’t seem to warm up to the bizarre oddities.

It’s a shame story is not a crucial as our only carry through the movie are a series of scenes. And these are really well-written. My favorite one is when Morticia gives “Fester” a tour of the graveyard showing the family history. It’s eerie but bittersweet seeing all the tombstones of dead relatives. Everything about it is so pitch perfect. The atmosphere, the mood and even the music is perfectly scored.

The_Addams_Family2I feel bad the story is not that interesting and yet, we get a pile of really good moments struggling for connection. There’s even a set piece of a sequence where they perform a big dance sequence called the Mamushka. Here you have a scene where they pause the plot to do all these stunts and sing. It’s a show stopping moment that makes you wish there were more like it. Ironic as the Mamushka was intended to be longer, but a test screening audience felt the scene was too much resulting in it being cut-down. While no footage has surfaced of the complete Mamushka, you can hear the full version on the movie’s soundtrack. It’s a prime example of when the movie stops to do something with the Addams, it gets interesting.

large-screenshot2And yet when we have the villain come in, it’s not that interesting. She poses as a psychiatrist and tries to convince the family he is the real Fester. On top of that, there’s this “Norman Bates style” motherly relationship she has by trying to maintain a grip of control on him. It’s not that interesting and it’s kind of cliche, because you will know where it were end up. The payoff to her demise is all the more rewarding, but I just felt the villain wasn’t that memorable or posed a huge threat. I just felt Addams Family succeeded more when it just focused on the family.

Addams_family_valuesAnd rightfully so, as Addams Family Values decided to have more focus on the family giving each one more screen-time and a set of subplots. It was darker, funnier, the villain was livelier and improved so much. But it also fell into the same problems most sequels would do and even some from the first movie as well.

Don’t get me wrong, this is much different from the first Addams Family in plot and tone. However, it shares many similar beats, but thankfully it provides enough different ones to avoid being a complete clone or copy and paste. The family gets a new baby named Pubert, who is to the envy of Wednesday and Puglsey as they try to get rid of the new child. A new nanny is hired, a hilarious performance by Joan Cusack, and she immediately has her sights on Uncle Fester, who also has a huge puppy love crush on her. However, it turns out the nanny is really a serial killer named the “Black Widower” that kills her husbands just for their money. Her focus is on Fester’s cash, as opposed to his awkward romance, and plans to kill him off in order to get a share of the Addams fortune.

MSDADFA EC021Yeah, haven’t we been here before? Someone is after the Addams fortune and is using Fester as a prawn to somehow get it. First off, is there another interesting story line to go by? The plot thread with the new baby is interesting, but it’s put aside for Fester to take center stage again. Second, why do these movies have plots centered around Uncle Fester? Don’t get me wrong, I’m aware he’s a popular character, but why not let another Addams take the spotlight. When you boil it down, both movies are really revolving around Uncle Fester. Everything that happens is because of Uncle Fester. And while I really love Christopher Lloyd as the bald-headed and electricity loving kook, I would have appreciated to see more of the family involved. Couldn’t Lurch do something  like become a singing celebrity for teens, Cousin Itt losing his hair or Grandmama Addams getting arrested for fortune telling? (Fun fact: Those two storylines are real episodes from the 1964 series)

1-Addams-family-thanksgiving-counselorsWhile this may sound a little contradicting, the second movie does allow more for the family to do, but only when they are given the chance. Wednesday and Puglsey get more screen time as they get sent away to a summer camp so bight and chipper that makes you want to puke. It gives the two kids more to do as they have different mindsets compared to the more bubbly and air-headed kids attending. I won’t go too in-depth with this subplot, but I will say it does lead to one belly laugh of a payoff. And with Peter McNicol and Christine Baranski playing the harsh, but always happy faced camp counselors, you will love what kind of a “just desserts” payback they get.

i84FfYcljpH9FOO26PdvBWzLGRlAnother improvement is just how darker the humor gets. While the first movie trends the campy nature of the TV series, one can compare the sequel more with the Addams cartoon. The jokes are more macabre from the children trying to kill off the newborn, through a Wilie E Coyote and Road-Runner set up, to a prostitute accidentally baked in a bachelor’s party cake. Again, these jokes are handled in a very light way without pushing the envelope. It might get some sensitive viewers bothered, but it’s not overkill.

d66e7741b244a4b1a24ec3911d63d1c1--addams-family-values-the-addams-familyJoan Cusack is definitely a lot of fun to watch as she goes from sweet and innocent to all out psychotic. It makes it all the more humorous when she has to charm her way to the corpse-looking Fester and seems easier than she planned. It’s clear Cusack is having a blast saving her manic energy for the last act. Thought I do must question why she thinks there is a way to kill an Addams? I mean, isn’t the Addams clan already dead?

Aside from the flaws, you can tell they were trying to make a better movie here. Even director Barry Sonnenfeld seems to have a more comfortable experience, compared to the production stories I heard on the first one. Sadly, Values wasn’t a huge hit at the box-office, but critics did agree it was an improvement in many ways. I do admit, there is much fixed, but I still have some problems with the slight plot rehashing and some family members getting small screen time. But does that mean I hate it? Absolutely not!

14358067_4Both Addams Family and Addams Family Values are equally entertaining and equally flawed. Again, I can overlook the problems to find a lot to be entertained with. It’s popcorn entertainment, but the good kind. I can forgive a lot of the story problems as everyone is really doing a great job bringing these characters to life and having a good time with it. It’s hard for me to say which is the better one as again they have a slightly similar plot and their own pros/cons. Regardless, I love these two movies and without a doubt give my highest recommendation to see them. If you haven’t had the chance, then stop reading and get watching!

Rental Corner: “Star Trek III” strangely muddles yet enjoyable

A tough act to follow...but it was still fun

A tough act to follow…but it was still fun

“Wrath of Khan” placed Star Trek back in place among viewers. It reminded us what made the series so good and even offered a then edgier take of the series. While “Khan” retained the B-movie feel, it did so at a mature pace with gritty death scenes and clever writing in dialogue and character development. For a sequel, it was a tough act to follow up with considering the climatic ending and surprise killing off of a beloved character. Well, they tried with “The Search for Spock” but I can’t say its a total failure. To me, its an entry that has some good elements and attempted to continue the story but there are some aspects that could have been easily improved.

As much as I hate to spoil, but “Search” picks up where “Khan” ended with the death of Spock. Yeah, everyone’s favorite half-Vulcan saves everyone’s life and his body is shot out into space where it lands on the renewed planet made by the Genesis project. But here is where things get nutty. Kirk is told from Spock’s father that his friend is not dead but in fact still living. Apparently, Spock’s body is still moving about while his spirit is inhabited in the body of someone else. I won’t give away where Spock’s soul is hiding but really let that sink in. The body of one is still alive but his idenity (or soul) is entrapped in another person. I guess they are going for some form of supernatural route but it doesn’t pay off as much. Instead of said person take on the personality of Spock, it plays itself as vague from time to time without much usage.

The Genesis planet as it rapidly ages from a nice spring to a harsh winter

The Genesis planet as it rapidly ages from a nice spring to a harsh winter

But there’s other things to worry about the Genesis device did more damage than it could. Apparently, the new planet is affected so deeply that it keeps rapidly growing as one side looks like a fall season but the next minute it turns into winter. Not a bad concept but it doesn’t feel full fleshed out. Even stranger is how the device somehow managed to effect Spock’s body as he grows from a young Vulcan and painfully ages as the planet does. I guess its supposed to be a connection between Spock’s rapid recession from youth to age but again, it doesn’t pay off as much. The body of Spock gets older as the planet moves on to the next form. Its such a strange analogy having the aging of a person be connected to the life of a planet. Somewhere there is the idea of an independent movie along the lines of “The Little Prince.” Last I would expect that to appear in is a Star Trek movie.

And of course, we have the last minute villain in the form of a Klingon commander played by Christopher Lloyd of Back to the Future fame. He commands his crew to the refurbished planet upon learning of the Genesis device and wants to learn of its secret to make a weapon out of it. Ok, let’s break this down. The Genesis device was “absorbed” into the planet so there is no way of knowing if any fragment survived, let alone a hint of it existing in the planet. Maybe the device is in the core of the earth which would have lead to something interesting but they don’t go that route. And its more ironic how Lloyd’s character is searching for answers that don’t exist which makes his character more pointless enough. To top it all off, a character in the film dismisses the Genesis project as a failure when they see the planet rapidly grow as opposed to how “successful” it appeared at the end of “Khan.” This kills a lot of positive ambiguity from the hopeful ending to such a good sequel. A recon like that which tears at the beauty of another film’s grand moment really peeves me sometimes.

Before Doc Brown, would you believe that Christopher Lloyd knew some Klingon?

Before Doc Brown, would you believe that Christopher Lloyd knew some Klingon?

On the other hand, seeing Christopher Lloyd as a Klingon is a lot of fun to watch. He tries to carry this menace to his character and sort of be this equal to Kirk. He can be manic while also subtle at times but something feels missing here. Again, they give a motive to the character even if it does feel illogical knowing he won’t succeed even if he did but in the previous entry, Khan left such an impact that it makes me wonder what it would have been like if he was the conflict instead of Lloyd. It would made “Search for Spock” a lot stronger considering the one-on-one fight between him and Kirk near the end but alas, Khan’s story ended so a villain has to be made. I want to say he feels tagged on but it lingers in-between.

So for all of the confusion, it sounds like I’m making this out to be a mediocre entry. But for its faults, I still feel this is satisfactory. While its not the strongest, “Search for Spock” does make up for it with entertainment value. You do get a funny scene once in a while and some of the special effects are good to watch. Set pieces like the destruction of the Genesis planet and the Klingon battles can be fun while other moments like the Enterprise being destroyed are memorable with plenty of proper build up. And much like with “Khan,” the pace of “Search” is very laid back and quiet so I got no complaints. I think it knew there was no way it could match the epic quality of something so grand and instead channeled the campier yet fun feel of the original series. In a way it succeed but it left me feeling what it would have been like if it was more coherent. Maybe with a stronger opponent and a story that had more logic would have made this entry an improvement but as it stands, its worth checking out if you want some classic Trek campy fun.

Rental Corner: “Million Ways To” be unfunny “In the West”

Just when you thought Family Guy couldn't get more audience insulting....

Just when you thought Family Guy couldn’t get more audience insulting….

Death is not funny. Or at least that’s what “A Million Ways to Die in the West” is trying to counter argue. Let me start by saying that I love dark humor and not a prude that thinks all comedy should be slapstick and pies. I’m welcome to all kinds of comedy be it stupid or sophisticated. But the bottom line is that it has be funny or at least chuckle worthy. I’d go into a history lecture on how comedy must have weight and support to give it a solid punchline but I feel this unfunny, mean-spirited and bloated Seth MacFarlane romp is a fitting example of how not to do a comedy. I went into this movie thinking it wasn’t going to be that bad, however I found myself feeling it was worse than I originally thought it would turn out to be.

Seth not only writes and directs but also stars as the protagonist Albert Stark who lives in a dust hole of a western town that is plagued with cowboy cut-outs, sleazy prostitutes and people dying at the drop of a hat. He’s also a cowardly sheep farmer that has no control over his rampant flock as much as his courage when it comes to a pistol duel. On top of that, his girlfriend thinks he’s such a wimp to the point she runs off with Foy (a twisted mustached Neil Patrick Harris.) To win back her heart, he challenges Foy to a duel and with the help of another gunslinger named Anna (Charlize Theron) Albert trains as good as he can to see he can crack a good shot.

It sounds fine at first until you start to add on the other subplots and story lines that could have been so easily trimmed out but make “Million Ways” unnecessarily bloated. Giovanni Ribisi plays a friend of Albert’s that has a prostitute for a girlfriend (Sarah Silverman) which amounts to nothing but a running joke about how he is a virgin and yet his girl is serving hard customers with her own body. Even unneeded is Liam Neeson as an infamous outlaw that feels more like an extended cameo than as opposed to an actual villain. Apparently, he is Anna’s husband and when he finds out she’s been around Albert, he doesn’t hold back and plans to tear the town to shreds until the sheep header challenges him. In fact, if you cut all of Liam’s scenes you wouldn’t be missing much. When it reaches the 90 minute mark, you think its over but no! They have to add on this pointless plot which didn’t have much of a progression.

The biggest problem I feel with this movie is the character of Albert. He’s annoying and not that interesting. In fact, if you just animated Brain the dog from Family Guy, there wouldn’t be much of a difference between the two characters as they share similar traits. They are losers trying to make out of a dull environment while point out constantly to their friends what is bad about the place they are living in. When Seth was on screen, I didn’t see another character. I kept seeing Brian Griffin. At least Ted worked because Seth’s performance was a voice and the technical work of bring a foul-mouthed teddy bear to live meshed well. Here, he can’t carry the torch of being a leading man and it shows. Once in a while, there can be a nice scene between him and Charlize Theron, but its very fluffed in my opinion. I can see someone like Steve Buscemi or Chris Pine doing the role of a weaselly wimp better but having Seth be the straight man just feels self-absorbed to me.

But hey, maybe the jokes can clear that up? After all, humor is a driving force in comedy as plot is cared little of. That would be the case if there were some actual jokes here. The entire theme of “Million Ways” is that living in the west sucks and that’s all it amounts to. I understand that but the way its delivering these jokes make it unfunny. Characters keep explaining the punchline instead of letting us laugh while they keep repeating previous gags on a repetitive nature. One example is the joke where a man gets his head crushed by a block of ice. The gory execution along makes it horrible but then we cut to the man’s funeral where the reverend mentions how they will fondly have icy drinks in his memory. To which Albert says, “I can’t believe they are using the ice that killed him.” We get the punchline. You don’t have to go out and explain the joke to us. We are not little children. This makes Dumb and Dumber To look sophisticated because at least the Farrelly Brothers knew when to limit themselves.  Even a tasteless shooting gallery joke at the fair with cartoon images of African Americans as the targets cement the desperation here. And as more bodies drop at the tip of a hat, so does our sense of humor. Bystanders fall dead, a corpse gets eaten by wolves and patrons get shot at so frequently that it becomes borderline unbarring to sit through.

I only remember three good jokes that I legitimately laughed at and those three I’m taking with me. One is a joke about currency in the West as a one dollar bill was different back then and two flashback scenes that had a decent payoff. One of them involving a Gilbert Gottfried cameo where he plays Abraham Lincoln that I admit got a good laugh out of me. Compared to the surreal idea of Gilbert being a log cabin President, other cameos like Christopher Lloyd reprising his Doc Brown feel really forced and pointless. I remember Brad Jones and a friend of his talking about this movie in a vlog and mentioning how it would have been funnier if the events of Back to the Future Part III unfolded in this movie. Heck, there’s even a scene when Seth’s character gets away on a train from the bad guys. Wouldn’t it be funnier if it cut to an image of the DeLorean in front of the train right after Liam says “That train will be back” seeing we know what happened to the train at the end of BTTF 3? And that’s just an idea of how much potential is lost here.

My only argument is that Seth is trying to do what Blazing Saddles did for Westerns.  But at least Mel Brooks avoided repetition of saying “living in the west sucks” by giving us a commentary on racism and having characters with a dimension that feel like they were taken out of a western. In a way, “Million Ways” tries to be something akin but tries to do a modern spin which feels out of place. Blazing Saddles was funnier in comparison because it took the period piece setting and really satirized how problematic it was compared to our modern life. Seth’s film is just one joke that is said again and again to the point you would rather dip your head in a bucket of piranhas or spontaneously burst into flames. Because at least that is far more interesting than this dull gulch desert of a picture.