Monday, December 22, 2014

Eyes Wide Shut (tidbits)


Hey everyone, just a quickie for the holidays here.  It wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t do at least a little something.  So Eyes Wide Shut is it.  The thing is there’s been so much written and said and hypothesized about the film that I don’t have anything of real value to bring to the conversation.  Instead these are a couple of tidbits I noticed this last time through (this was my third or fourth viewing).

1. Disgustingly rich doctor Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) drinks the ol’ classic of the everyman, Budweiser, in two separate scenes.  Not only does he drink one of the cheapest and widely found beers but he also drinks it out of a can!  I guess Bill sticks with what he’s comfortable with during a very fucked up time in his life.  It’s such a small detail but I love it.

Hard to tell in this scene...

...but in this one you can see what he's crackin'

2. Bill and Alice’s apartment is really cluttered.  Every single table has a whole bunch of shit stacked up on it.  The thing is the place doesn’t feel that dirty (maybe because there isn’t crap scattered all over the floors?) but they’re a bit of a messy family.  You would think the place would be like a sterile perfectly kept museum with it being in posh upper Manhattan.  This sorta falls in line with the Budweiser thing in that this is an attempt to make this wealthy family relatable on some level.  It’s like see they leave crap everywhere just like you and me.  I mean I don’t identify with them pretty much at all but I totally appreciate the effort.


Look at all that shit on the table

The dresser, the vanity and even the window sill has stuff on it


A little difficult to see in this picture but if you watch the movie
it's clear the bathroom is overloaded with toiletries

3. The NYC streets seemed more noticeably like sets this time around.  They got the look and feel pretty good in my opinion but at the same time it did feel like Bill was wandering around the same two block area over and over.  You could however chalk this up as more evidence that the entire movie feels like a dream (or that it is a dream).

Amazing looking sets

They fuckin' nailed it...except there's slightly less people than
the real NYC

4. Why did the costume store owner pretend to barge in on his daughter and those two Asian Johns?  He could’ve given Bill his tux, cloak and mask without going into that other room.  But was the owner pretending to find his daughter with some dudes or did he not really know?  Maybe he needed to go in that room for the mask or the tux?  Who knows?

What if Bill crashed the party in that kimono back there?
Maybe they would've been cool with it and adopted that look
instead of the tux and cloak thing.   

5. At least half of Tom Cruise’s dialogue is repeating the previous line of who he’s currently in the scene with.  I wonder if that was on purpose and means anything. 


"What if I told you it was all fake"
"Fake?"

There are so many other things I could bring up, like I love how in the billiard room scene Sydney Pollack admits everything and nothing at the same time, what was the point of that daughter character suddenly saying she loves Bill after her father died, Harvey Keitel was originally cast as the Sydney Pollack character but pulled out because of scheduling conflicts, etc.  With this picture it’s all up in the air.  It is whatever you want it to be and that’s powerful filmmaking.  This is one of my favorite Christmas movies and also one of my favorite movie movies.  I hope your Christmas ain’t like Bill and Alice’s.  Don’t go wandering off and sneak into an ultra secretive cult orgy extravaganza thing.  I know it sounds like fun but it could cost you your life, or at least make you feel real weird about what you just witnessed.

Anyway, Merry Christmas, happy holidays and all that shit.  Thanks for stopping by and taking a minute with me.  See you next year!  

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Foxcatcher

This is Bennett Miller’s third strike in my book.  Moneyball was frustrating and I remember Capote being pretty whatever.  Foxcatcher, while his best effort, is not very good either.

The story involves super rich John du Pont recruiting Olympic gold medalist brothers Mark and Dave Schultz to head up a wrestling program.  John knows nothing about the sport but pretends to and even bears the title Head Coach.  As these things go there’s eventually rifts, drugs, erratic behavior by du Pont and so on. 

It sounds like this should be interesting but Miller turns it into such a slog.  One of the biggest problems is that the focus isn’t so much on du Pont but the Schultz brothers.  This doesn’t make sense to me.  Mark Schultz goes through a bunch with him living in the shadow of his older brother, looking up to du Pont like a father figure at first and becoming a MMA fighter for UFC.  That’s all good stuff.  But this should be about the drug addicted, totally self-absorbed, awkwardly social lunatic with serious mother issues, John du Pont.  Even though du Pont is in most of the film it feels like we’re teased with him and don’t get the man full on.  He’s used more simply as a tool to move the story along.  We don’t explore nearly enough of his psyche.    

Steve Carell’s (Hope Springs, Dan in Real Life) performance epitomizes the movie itself.  He plays it dry and monotone.  When there’s some emotion Carell never raises his voice or changes the look of the top half of his face.  His mouth does all of the moving.  He comes off too much like a robot.  I went to go look at some footage of the real John du Pont and there was more to him than how Steve plays it.  Granted, the footage I saw is of du Pont desperately attempting to portray a certain image and establish an identity but in the movie Carell doesn’t act any differently in front of a camera crew where he should pretending to be charismatic.  I think there’s potential here though and Carell seems capable of pulling off a serious dramatic role.  The thing is he needs a better director to help guide him through.

Channing Tatum (She’s the Man, The Eagle) delivers the best performance as Mark.  Whether he’s hurting or happy he’s intense and you feel for him.  He just wants to establish his own thing and gets the opportunity with du Pont.  Unfortunately his life turns into a bit of a mess and Tatum goes through all of the emotions great.  I liked him from 21 Jump Street but this one shows he can act with the big boys if he wants to.

Mark Ruffalo (Zodiac, 13 Going on 30) plays it straight.  He does fine but they don’t show us anything that makes this character stand out.  He’s a family man, he loves his brother and he’s supposed to be a helluva wrestler but there’s only one very brief part that shows this off.

Bringing it back to Bennett Miller, I kind of can’t stand his filmmaking style.  Visually he doesn’t put a lot of interesting stuff in the frame most of the time and filters the entire thing with a grayish tone.  Not only is it sorta depressing but he also likes to use a fair amount of static shots, which I’ve actually been championing more use of, but in this case it just makes the scenes more tedious to get through.  He likes to have the characters sitting there silently for long stretches too which doesn’t help.

This movie is really serious and kinda boring.  I wasn’t totally engaged and found my mind wandering which is weird because I was able to predict several key events that ultimately unfolded later (I knew nothing about John du Pont, the Schultz’s or Team Foxcatcher before watching this).  Thinking back on the picture for this Talkin’ I’m having a hard time remembering how things unfolded and why because the whole thing turns into a blob in my mind.  I mean look at the plot description I wrote, it’s pitifully vague.

Miller does seem to be improving because I liked this the best of his three majors but at the same time I have a good number of issues with this film.  Stick a fork in Benny, I’m done with him.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving Breakfast with Michael Douglas








“Prepare to die of delight!”

Who the fuck wouldn’t want to wake up to Michael Douglas making you breakfast on Thanksgiving morning?  Part of what I love about this scene is that I can’t tell if he actually kinda knows how to cook or if he has no goddamn clue what he’s doing.  Mike hams this one up big time with his over the shoulder egg shell tossing and midair French toast flipping ‘n shit.  It’s so precious. 

This is from Don’t Say a Word and is the most memorable part of the film.  It’s another Thanksgiving movie taking place almost entirely on the day of.  Thanksgiving pictures are rare enough to begin with but even fewer take place on the actual holiday.  Unfortunately this thriller from Gary Fleder (Kiss the Girls, Homefront) is terrible.  I don’t have the energy to give it a full review so here’s the gist: the plot makes no sense whatsoever and all of the characters, except Mike’s, are poorly written and developed.  It’s a little fun, especially in the beginning when you have no idea what’s going on, but as things develop it gets quite bad.  The ending is almost laughably appalling, almost.

But whatever, this one very brief scene is a nice moment.  Hope no one kidnaps your loved one tomorrow forcing you to pry information out of a demented young woman’s mind.  When would you have time to eat turkey and stuffing and all that shit?  That would really put a damper on the day.  Well anyway, happy Thanksgiving everyone!      

Monday, November 24, 2014

Son in Law

To say Pauly Shore just kind of happened is sort of insulting to the man because he had worked for a bunch of years in stand up and had his own show on MTV before launching into movies.  But at the same time even if you had been following him since his show, for which he got some national exposure, it still must’ve been surprising to suddenly see him in Encino Man two years later.  And then from that sidekick role it also must’ve been pretty weird to see him star in his very own vehicle just one year after that.  This was before the internet we all know today so to shoot that quickly to stardom basically the old fashioned way is a little crazy.

And so we have Son in Law, arguably Pauly Shore’s biggest break.  The story involves Midwesterner Rebecca (Carla Gugino (Snake Eyes, The Watchmen)) going off to college in the totally wild and rambunctious state of California.  Unfortunately she doesn’t adapt well and when her favorite horse doll gets sat on and broken she decides to call it quits.  Crawl (Pauly Shore) steps in to save the day though and persuades Rebecca to stay.  He teaches her how to relax and be a free spirit and in return she invites him to her family’s farm in South Dakota for Thanksgiving dinner.

*Side Note: Now you know why I’m talking about this one, it’s a Thanksgiving movie.  There are so few movies that highlight this holiday which is kind of a shame.  I’m glad it hasn’t been commercialized to death like Christmas or, to a lesser extent, Halloween but I wouldn’t mind seeing more pictures use Thanksgiving as a setting.  It’s just a great unpretentious holiday.  Anyway…

There are a couple of things that don’t add up from this setup.  First, this is a movie college.  The halls are overflowing with people trying to get to their room or their class, there are naked people just strolling around, there seems to be a party happening all the time in the dorms, there are kegs of beer being drank openly in the dorms, every inch of the rooms are decorated with all sorts of wacky crap and etc.  This college never has and never will exist in real life.

The next problem is the timeline.  Rebecca wants to drop out on Halloween which means she’s been there about two months.  Then Crawl intervenes and turns her whole life around by Thanksgiving.  That’s only about three weeks.  This girl completely changes her attitude and look (including buying all new clothes, cutting and dying her hair and getting a tattoo) in an extremely short period of time.  It’s not impossible but it’s such a tough sell considering how downhearted she was.  She’s not even remotely the same person and from the info we’re given drugs aren’t a factor in this dramatic change.

Ok fine, so then they go to the farm and the fish out of water story continues except Crawl is now the fish.  He shocks these very reserved farmers with his loud wardrobe, loud mouth and ADD behavior.  The guy has such a hard time focusing on any one thing and constantly makes these annoying sounds.  He’s a child, an obnoxious, boisterous, but well intentioned child.

The title comes from Rebecca’s old boyfriend (who didn’t go to college and stayed in South Dakota) wanting to propose to her but Rebecca asks Crawl to do something about it.  Crawl’s solution is to announce that Rebecca is already engaged…to him (Crawl).  They decide to keep up the front until the holiday is over and it’s time to go back to school.  But I don’t see the point of adding this into the plot.  The fish out of water thing along with the finding-your-true-self thing was enough really.  The fake engagement does end up figuring into the story, which I’ll give credit for, but they could’ve easily not had that angle in there.  Rebecca could find out any number of ways that her old boyfriend is a cheating asshole and that she can be true to both her Midwestern roots as well as her newly adopted Pauly Shore/surfer dude lifestyle.

You might’ve noticed I didn’t mention that Rebecca eventually realizes she loves Crawl.  It’s because that incredibly typical element to these types of pictures doesn’t happen.  Instead Rebecca and Crawl continue to lie to their family about the engagement all the way through to the end.  There’s no kiss or confirmation that the two main characters fell in love with each other.  They only mildly hint at it throughout the film.  That’s such a risky move and one that probably didn’t pay off with the audience.  I gotta admit it’s different though.                

Before I wrap this up I want to point out how terrible the boyfriend’s plot is to make Rebecca run back into his arms.  First thing he does is drug the chick he’s currently banging (Tiffani-Amber Thiessen (Saved by the Bell)) and Crawl.  Then he makes it look like the two had sex by, uh, throwing a blanket over them with their clothes still on?  Whatever, then Rebecca finds them and gets upset.  This is such a bullshit plan because, aside from the despicable act of drugging innocent people, he didn’t stage the scene correctly and didn’t ensure that Rebecca would catch them together.  She accidentally sees them in the barn so any number of people in the vicinity could’ve made the initial find.  And finally this scumbag boyfriend character proposes to Rebecca literally minutes after she finds Crawl with another woman.  He had to have thought in his head “this is the perfect moment to ask for her hand in marriage”.  What a fucking psycho.

So how does Son in Law stack up?  As far as the comedy goes it’s not funny pretty much at all.  The weird thing is that there aren’t a lot of actual jokes.  The filmmakers relied almost completely on Pauly Shore’s Weasel character to say things in a kooky way, dress outrageously (which means like a late 60’s/early 70’s rocker guy, so not that crazy), get in unusual situations (like stick this guy on a farm in the middle of nowhere) and overall clash with every other person in the movie.  It’s all a personality and not your typical setup and payoff routine.  In five minutes you’ve seen everything this character has to offer so to hang with him for ninety is a bit trying.

There’s also the classic lead-gregarious-character-brings-others-around-him-out-of-their-shell arc.  Crawl takes these stuffy, boring and complacent Midwestern folks and makes them realize that they can be carefree, fun loving and hip just like him.  Like Rebecca, her family turns their attitudes and values around practically overnight.  It’s more unbelievable than when Rebecca went through the same transformation.  There’s a strange side to this version of the trope though.  The family picks up Crawl’s behavior but Crawl doesn’t appear to pick up much of the family’s in return.  I think the only thing he learns is that farming is harder than he thought?  But even still he sucks at it on day one and then all of a sudden becomes good on day two.  So there isn’t much of a struggle there.  I dunno, another thing the filmmakers oddly left out.

This isn’t the worst picture ever and Pauly Shore isn’t the worst comedian ever either but I wouldn’t recommend it.  Even as a 90’s relic it’s a tough one.  Unless you’re really starving for a Thanksgiving movie don’t bother.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th

Just like Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy this one goes through the making of every Friday the 13th including the TV series and the 2009 remake.  Even though I don’t think the Fridays are quite as entertaining as the Nightmares there’s still plenty of outstanding filmmaking and horror insight to soak up.  We’re told how the hockey mask came about, we find out what the different actors brought to the role of Jason and how the whole damn thing started to begin with (they wanted to make a ripoff of Halloween).

I really like these comprehensive docs because when you examine all of the installments back to back it paints an extremely interesting picture.  My favorite parts are hearing the different director’s approaches and where they wanted to take the series.  Every film has its own frame of mind and it’s great to hear them explain the decisions they made and how they feel about it now looking back.

I would love to see more of these type of all-inclusive documentaries.  Of course the other big one in horror would be the Halloweens.  But what about action?  There could be Lethal Weapon, Dirty Harry, Die Hard and, eventually, The Fast and the Furious ones.  I know I would eat that shit right up and I’m sure a lot of you out there would too.

One last thing I feel I have to mention is that this movie is six and a half hours long.  But if you take it in bite sized pieces it goes down easy.      

Monday, November 10, 2014

Harefooted Halloween: The Witches

What I Liked: The first half is pretty dark, especially for a kids movie.

All of the makeup effects look great even though they can get kinda cartoony at times.

Anjelica Huston (The Addams Family) gives an over the top performance as the Grand High Witch that’s damn fun to watch.  She has a spooky witch look to her to begin with so the casting was spot on for this role.

The supporting players are excellent.  Bruno’s father was particularly entertaining.  The guy is such a dick with his constant complaining and arrogant attitude.  I could watch a whole film of just him and the Grand High Witch sharing awkward scenes together.

What I Didn’t Like: Unfortunately the second half really turns on the kid movie-ness with cute mice animatronics and general shenanigans.

This may seem kinda mean but the lead kid who plays Luke is not a very good actor.  He’s better when he doesn’t say anything because I do think his facial expressions are good.  However, he’s…uhh…sorta terrible with his dialogue.

The makeup and costume job they did for the Grand High Witch looks outstanding but we only get it for one scene.  It would’ve made sense to have her come back into her natural gruesome form at the end for the finale.  But they didn’t do that which leads to the next problem…

*Spoiler on this last point* There’s no final battle.  I guess it’s just how the book went (this was based off Roald Dahl’s book of the same name) but it doesn’t work very well, at least in film form.  The thing ends kind of unsatisfactorily with one of the supporting characters killing the Grand High Witch in her tiny rat form.  That’s bullshit.  Luke’s grandmother should’ve fought her.  She would’ve settled a decades old score by getting payback for the pinky the witch took from her (that’s another problem, albeit a minor one, we never learn how the grandmother lost her pinky to a witch).  I’m sure budgetary restraints plus an effort to follow the book prevented a bigger and more fitting ending from materializing.

Overall Impression: I remember this being kinda creepy when it came out and all these years later a bunch of that creepiness remains.  The first half is really good and surprisingly dark. 

I love that they start by telling us how witches work in this movie’s universe.  They throw in a lot of great details but some of them don’t even come into play, like that witches have no toes.  Really though, the atmosphere is well set.

The bravado of this picture is kind of astounding if you step back for a minute and think about it.  I mean one thing they do is kill off the parents after introducing them at the beginning of the film (that’s not a spoiler by the way).  That’s one of the ballsiest moves I’ve ever seen in a kids movie.  Usually if the parents are dead then they died before the movie starts and they totally could’ve done that here.  But no.  They wanted you see them alive and well and then kill them off a minute later.

There’s also the Grand High Witch’s maniacal plot of killing off every child in England.  She doesn’t merely want to murder more children than the year before, she wants to exterminate them.  This notion along with how the Grand High Witch rallies the crowd with sweeping speaking power and the eastern European accent and well…she’s Hitler essentially.  I wonder if that was how Dahl wrote the character or if that’s what they intentionally went with for the film or if it was unintentional or what.  And I really don’t think this is a stretch.  This character is clearly modeled after Hitler.  Again, kinda dark for a kids movie if you ask me.

If you also throw in shit like the kids convulse while they turn into mice and the Grand High Witch pushes a baby carriage down a hill potentially to its death just to lure out Luke from hiding then you got a pretty tilted production.

It’s no surprise that this wasn’t a hit and that it remains somewhat obscure to this day.  It doesn’t get romanticized like other non-hits from the same era like The Monster Squad or Near Dark.  Instead this one got quietly swept under the carpet.

Look, The Witches is no masterpiece but the first half alone is worth checking out for its eerie and somewhat unconventional setup.  If you’re looking for something that isn’t very scary but at the same time has a bit of a nasty edge then this just might be the ticket.