Friday, April 01, 2011

White Elephant 2011 Super-Post!

Right back where (or at least when) it belongs, it’s the 5th Annual White Elephant Blogathon! The brainchild of Lucid Screening’s Ben Lim, who has since moved on to work for the good folks at The Criterion Collection (, White Elephant has quickly become a yearly tradition for the blogosphere’s most fearless and foolhardy souls. In case you’re new to the whole White Elephant thing, here are the rules as laid down by Ben back in ’07:

1) Submit the title of a movie that you want someone else to review (preferably something available via Netflix).
2) Review the movie that you get assigned and post the review on April 1.
3) Have fun!

This year’s crop of movies is more eclectic than it’s ever been, with some notorious garbage, some cult favorites and curiosities, and even a handful of legitimate classics in the bunch, although there will no doubt be some debate over which movies fall under which category.

So instead of playing a prank that could jeopardize your job or land you in hot water with your significant other, celebrate April Fool’s Day by checking out this year’s White Elephant reviews.

I'll be updating this list over the next few days, so check back throughout the weekend to sample the goodness the White Elephant has to offer this year.

Now, without further ado, this year's White Elephant lineup!

Simon Abrams hangs with Ice-T in Surviving the Game!

Jim Bach tackles Southland Tales!

Kent Beeson witnesses the epic battle of the ‘Stache vs. the Tongue in Runaway!

Josh Bell gets stung by Scorpion Thunderbolt!

Andrew Bemis goes running with The Devils!

Christianne Benedict gets tangled up in Exte: Hair Extensions!

Steven Carlson shudders at the touch of Myra Breckinridge!

I go back- wayyyyyyyyyy back- in time with Caveman!

KC Costanzo tears the cover off Unmasking the Idol!

Dennis Cozzalio argues for (or against) The Life of David Gale!

Jose Cruz goes pro with Amateur!

Andy Fernandez orders up Le Boucher!

Jaime Grijalba recibe ordenado por El Cardenal! (note: in Spanish)

Ivan Lerner gets into Big Trouble!

Matt Lynch walks the plank with Cutthroat Island!

Michael May recounts The Legend of Boggy Creek!

Ripley McCoy does the bedpan two-step with Patch Adams!

Victor J. Morton IS Cool As Ice!

Joe Neff powers up with Electric Dragon 80000V!

Cole Roulain gets Three O’Clock High!

Caroline Shapiro looks into Feeding Boys, Ayaya!

Stacia investigates the mysteries of Deadlier Than the Male!

Philip Tatler takes on Triumph of the Will!

Patrick Williamson says Welcome Home, Soldier Boys!

Bryce Wilson cracks open the Diary of a Cannibal!

White Elephant Blogathon 2011: My Review of Caveman (Carl Gottlieb, 1981)

When I learned that I would be reviewing Caveman this year’s White Elephant Blogathon, I was relieved to draw a movie that I could actually watch with my fiancée and kid, unlike so many movies I’ve reviewed in the past. Yet at the same time, I was a little conflicted about the movie itself. I knew that I had seen it as a child, but I was hard-pressed to remember much about it, aside from the phrase “zug-zug,” which seems to be Caveman’s best-known bit. Moreover, I was a little uneasy about reviewing a movie of such modest ambition, since while it would be an easy sit, there isn’t a whole lot of meat on the movie to which one can apply critical insight, much less write something of interest to more than a handful of people.

Caveman, directed by Carl Gottlieb, is a lowbrow comedy, and it aspires to be nothing more than that. There’s a well-worn critical adage that it’s impossible to debate comedy and eroticism, since one’s tastes for both are subjective. This goes double for a movie like Caveman. While one can appreciate some forms of comedy without necessarily finding them funny- hell, Jacques Tati’s films are so intricately engineered that one is too busy marveling at the direction to laugh- the truth is that a movie like Caveman has little to offer but guffaws. So in the end, if Caveman is funny to you, it works, and if it’s not, it doesn’t. What can I say? It worked for me.

Much of this is because it’s so unashamedly silly. From beginning to end, Caveman takes the low road comedy-wise, but the tone is so good-naturedly goofy that it’s infectious. Leading man Ringo Starr has little to do but mug for the camera, but he does it well and lets his hangdog charm do the rest. And the rest of the cast is just as committed, especially Dennis Quaid as Starr’s none-too-bright sidekick, who ends up taking even more abuse than the hero.

Of course, your mileage may vary depending on your taste for slapstick and barn-door-broad gags. Caveman is full of gags aimed at the average grade-school-aged boy, which may be why it’s becoming one of my son’s favorites. It’s the kind of movie in which the heroes, having just discovered fire, fend off an enemy by burning his butt. It contains multiple appearances by a most clever dinosaur who not only howls at the moon at night but also crows like a rooster at dawn. And would you be surprised if I told you that there’s a scene in which Starr, Quaid, and company track through a big pile of dinosaur poop? I didn’t think so.

Then again, Caveman is so sincere about its desire to little more than silly fun that it’s aged surprisingly well. I recently bemoaned to a friend of mine that silliness is in short supply in contemporary comedies, which are so set on being smart and hip that they can’t quite commit to the jokes. Compare Caveman to 2009’s misbegotten Year One and you’ll see the difference- while Year One is just as full of lowbrow gags and egregious contractions of history as Caveman (if not more so), it never musters up the nerve to go all the way with its comedy, and consequently feels less like a movie than a tossed-off sketch by the Apatow Company All-Stars. At least when Caveman unleashes a dumb joke- which, let’s face it, is pretty frequently- you get the sense than it means it.

Now, I don’t want to oversell the merits of Caveman. It’s not a great movie, and much of my affection for it comes from how much it feels like the product of a bygone era in comedy. But I’ll be honest- it’s a hard movie to dislike. For one thing, it lacks many of the more mean-spirited impulses that usually characterize slapstick. As a result, the movie is surprisingly gentle in tone, making it (with a few minor exceptions) pretty solid family viewing, complete with a fun impromptu musical number around a campfire. Also, the stop-motion dinosaurs are a lot of fun- strangely, the unsophisticated animation gives them more character than a more technically proficient rendering, allowing them to come off less as photorealistic dinos than overgrown house pets. And somehow, thirty years ago, Gottlieb got away with making a “dumb” comedy in which 99% of the dialogue was delivered in a nonsensical invented language, and without subtitles to boot. Is there any way this could happen in today’s Hollywood climate? Not a chance.