Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Another old Childhood Movie

Sorry about my lack of starting the rest of the notes. I think it's something I've been procrastinating on considering it's a new thing to start apart from the white keys. And this has my attention now because I only watched it last night.

The last time I watched Mousehunt was when I was in my early teens, about thirteen. It was a movie my paternal grandparents had when I was younger (it came out in 1997). I remember sleeping over a number of times and watching it before bed with my cousin Jeremy.

They gave me their VHS of it to me at some point early in the last decade, but I never watched it much by that point. Yesterday, even though I still have the VHS, I tried locating the DVD of it and was unsuccessful. When I tried watching it on my VCR - I still have one - it had stopped functioning for the first time in thirteen years. So with no other options, I went the online way and let my adult mind take it apart.

It's my kind of film in terms of comedy thanks to the levels of absurdity almost constantly thrown in. And my kind of absurdity is, get this, limited to a point. Really. I tried watching Airplane! with my mother once. I found the entire thing, which almost everyone thinks is comic absurdity at its most hilarious, silly and ridiculous. Really. I guess there comes a point in the absurd where it looks completely invented and unnecessary and rather childish. Mousehunt has a lot of absurd scenes, but they're built up as a short comedy of errors ending in an absurd, impossible way rather than quick scenes that are really simple gags. For example, main character Ernie chases the mouse into the chimney flue. Lars gets a flashlight when he gets stuck; it stops working while the mouse disappears and opens a gas valve. Lars strikes a match, sending himself flying backwards into a china cabinet and Ernie fire-streaking into the night sky, looping over into the frozen lake. Someone in air traffic control mentions brass instruments and there's a sudden scene of the cockpit transformed into a brass band. Uh-huh.

The film's premise is relatively simple. Two brothers own an out-of-date string factory after their father dies. One could care less and would rather sell it. Turns out their dad left them an old house which turns out to be a missing architectural masterpiece. They need money after one loses his restaurant and the other's wife throws him out. They set up an auction for affluent bidders to buy the house. There's a mouse in the house. It needs to be removed.

The film has its positives and negatives. It builds the humour up very well. There are a lot of extra little moments that are quick but funny (e.g., Ernie is trying to hit the mouse with a broom in the kitchen, and in doing so flips a bowl into his face). Lars' high-pitched voice is something to laugh at now and then. Then again, the scenes are often kind of jumpy, sometimes too sudden. At the end of the film, a ball of string cheese rolls to the two brothers at the end of the belt, and when Ernie notes that it's cheese, they look up and - whoa! the mouse is shown in all its glory - and then out of nowhere the factory is now a string cheese factory, in full operation, with everything basically resolved. The mouse is a taste tester.

The mouse itself is quite a tenacious character, performing a lot of things that are virtually impossible. I mean that in the physical sense, because the mouse is obviously for the film's sake got human-level intelligence. That or the brothers' father's spirit has transferred into it, which has risen in my mind once or twice. What I wonder is how the mouse inserted the end of the vacuum hose into a sewage pipe, or how it took Caesar's remote camera, routed it through tiny holes and over narrow pipes, and tied it to the winch on his van? It couldn't possibly have weighed enough to depress the handle of the device. Then again, it caused one of the most memorable scenes of the film.

It's camera angles that cause some of the best moments for me. Lars' hammer head flies off while he's nailing new shingles on the wall, causing a bucket to fall off the roof onto Ernie. Yeah. The way the camera lazily pans over the edge on a slight curve to look down on him on the ground with the bucket on his head? Man. Caesar being dragged through the floor is pretty funny on its own, but the close-up of the side of his head half-in the floor, moving relentlessly forward, is ridiculously funny. It's such an unusual, absurd scene. It's the kind of thing I could imagine and write, but seeing it is another crazy thing altogether. Add in his weird headgear too.

There's no doubt that the mouse was computer-generated half the time. It changes colour and fur all the time. Otherwise the film has an interesting backdrop. I would think it takes place in the late 1970s (Ernie notes that the house, being built in 1876, is a centennial, so therefore a hundred years old) yet it even says on Wikipedia that it has an 'indeterminate time period between the 1940s and 1970s.' I could see their wardrobe dating from the forties. The acting is pretty good, especially Maury Chaykin and Vicki Lewis. I base that off the way they're both so different from other roles they've done. In Chaykin's case, I think of Twins from 1988. The nine-year age difference aside, Burt Klane and Alexander Falco are not close to the same person even in looks to me. Probably the mark of a good character actor. And as I've noted before, Lewis couldn't be more different from Beth in NewsRadio. It's kind of funny because when I first saw the cast photo of the show - long before I saw the show itself, which I've gotten back into, hugely - I immediately pictured her as a sarcastic, pompous character more in common with Jennifer from WKRP thanks to the April character on Mousehunt (which at that time was the only other place I was aware of seeing her). What kind of gets me is that April seems a lot older than she is with all that greed and pomposity, whereas Beth seems closer to my age with her more playful, quick-witted presence in the radio station. When one of the Belgian hairdressers' hair catches fire, she pulls that satisfied, condescending smirk off perfectly.

To avoid doing what I did with my reviews on Matilda (in which I over-examined things that weren't particularly relevant for a family film as those "things" are usually what make it work) I'm just going to leave it there. It has a healthy amount of the absurd (in that it doesn't go to far for me, it makes some small kind of sense, and yet you get it immediately in the first scene) it pulls off all its storylines all right, the acting is great (I obviously have a bigger thing for redheads than for that type) and it's still great to watch again at my advanced adult age of twenty-three.

Story: B+
Comedy: A
Acting: A-

Red Cloud
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