Thursday, May 25, 2017

Mary Reilly

Image result for mary reilly 1996 john malkovichI guess because three of the biggest horror novels of all time were written and take place during the 1800’s (“Frankenstein”, “Dracula” and “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”) that particular time period will always seem sinister to an extent (the real life Jack the Ripper murders only enhance this notion).  And at times this piece brings out that seemingly inherent creepiness very well.  There’s some great atmosphere thanks to the fucking awesome set and production design (Stuart Craig and Stephenie McMillan (Harry Potters)).  England/Scotland is in an unrelenting fog, the cavernous house where most of the film takes place has only one resident but still requires five despondent people to manage the upkeep, in one part of the house there’s an elevated wooden walkway over a bottomless pit held up by rattling chains which is just weird, the meat market section of town has blood literally pouring down the walkways, the empty medical theater that should be the scene of intellectual enlightenment is instead used as a hideaway for Jekyll’s fucked up experiment and I could go on and on.  So in terms of visuals this film has mostly got it.

There’s the unusual show of restraint too but that doesn’t mean it’s a slow burn.  There isn’t a build up necessarily to some giant event at the end.  Instead we tend to see the aftermath of a bunch of nasty shit and left to wonder exactly how it all went down.  I really dig this approach because it’s the ol’ your imagination can dream up something far worse than what they can show you on screen.  And in fact when they do present us a murder outright it feels out of place.

Unfortunately the movie’s not that good overall though.  Julia Roberts’ (Conspiracy Theory) acting has been criticized a fair deal in this but I think she does a pretty good job as the incredibly timid and generally frightened of the world servant who has to endure all of the shit her employer throws at her.  Really it’s John Malkovich (Con Air) as Jekyll and Hyde who doesn’t pull off either role.  As Jekyll he’s too distant and monotone while as Hyde he’s like an irritating prepubescent brat.  Plus when he’s Hyde he looks like Tommy Wiseau (Johnny from The Room) and acts like just as much of a dick so that doesn’t help.

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Another issue is Jekyll switches to Hyde and vice versa so much that by the end the idea loses substantial power.  Instead of “oh no who’s it gonna be this time, I’m on the edge of my seat” it’s “oh no it’s this asshole Hyde again, I’m gonna grab a snack”.  All of the transformations are done off screen (accompanied by terrible stock library sound effects) which you might think is a gyp but considering the one transformation we do get involves awful dated as hell CGI I’m ok with it.

But the biggest problem with this picture is there’s no real sense of moving forward.  Having this be more of a romance than a horror film is fine but Mary Reilly and Henry Jekyll never get together or even attempt to.  It’s not that they long to be together and Hyde is tearing them apart, it’s that they go from scene to scene making no headway in a relationship they seemingly both want.  They don’t make any moves because Reilly is too reticent and Jekyll thinks he has a better chance of boning her as Hyde for some reason.  It’s frustrating because we know what Mary sees in Jekyll but he can’t see it himself.  It turns out she has a way too on the nose backstory involving a drunk, abusive and possibly incestuous father (Michael Gambon (Toys)) who apparently was a nice guy sober but a horrid sonuvabitch when sauced.  Get it?  Like Jekyll and Hyde you stupid boobs.  On the other side we have no idea what Jekyll sees in Mary.  Is it purely looks?  Her vast knowledge of housework?  I guess we’ll never know.

Image result for mary reilly 1996The idea of telling this story from the point of view of Jekyll’s servant is a cool one though.  She and the rest of the help know bizarre and eerie shit is going down in the house but only get scant clues.  They’re witnessing this unbelievable medical miracle in glimpses up close so the threat is imminent, not a safe distance away.  This viewpoint makes a lot of sense because it’s a classic way to convey a horror plot.  Don’t follow the monster around constantly but rather see how the monster affects other people’s lives.

And just to sprinkle a little more positive in here towards the end I would say my favorite performance is definitely Glenn Close (Air Force One) as the Madam of a brothel.  She’s so good at the brassy dame attitude and has complete command of any scene she’s in.  They made her face ghostly pale with beaming red lipstick so she pops out at you.  She puts on a nice thick British accent too which John Malkovich doesn’t even bother with.  Close isn’t in the movie very much, a paltry three scenes, but when we get her she’s fantastic.

Image result for mary reilly 1996One other thing of note is the filmmakers went against the mini trend at the time of making more faithful and somewhat realistic adaptations of classic horror books.  But Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein were bombs so when “Jekyll and Hyde” came up Hollywood probably had second thoughts and recalibrated their formula (pure speculation on my part, I have nothing to back this up).  Funny enough Mary Reilly is actually based on a book as well of the same title.  The author, Valerie Martin, turned the old time horror tale into a tawdry romance story and goddamn if you step back for a sec that’s what this really is, isn’t it?  Man that sounds pretty awful when you say it out loud.  But the real question is how faithful is this adaptation of Martin’s novel?  The real answer is I don’t really care.

So this one has a decent amount of good points but also too many bad points.  Stephen Frears (The Queen, High Fidelity) made a beautiful looking movie with visuals that have stuck with me all these years but it’s mainly that the script doesn’t work.  Neither does the extremely bland title.  Unless you’re a big time horror buff there’s no need to see this.

Friday, May 19, 2017


Image result for footloose 1984Big city transplant to Middle-of-Nowhere, USA?  Check.  Angst ridden teen who has trouble with the locals?  Check.  Said teen turns at least a portion of the town around with basically good vibes ‘n shit?  Check.  So this one seems to check all the boxes…or does it?!

Look I’m gonna cut right to it, this thing kinda stinks.  One of the bigger problems is the movie doesn’t know what it wants to be.  Sometimes it’s a musical with choreographed dance numbers and sometimes it’s a dramedy about teen life.  This indecision was a bit distracting and it’s really the famous warehouse dance scene that’s the main culprit.  It comes out of fucking nowhere and makes no sense in any context.  First of all it’s never setup that Ren (Kevin Bacon (Wild Things)) is this virtuoso dancer.  He talks about how he’s into dancing but at like clubs.  It’s not something he’s studied on a professional level (and apparently neither has Bacon because his dancing double is way too damn obvious).  But second, and maybe more importantly, the film never has Ren or anyone else dance like this again for the duration.  So what the fuck was that all about then?  If Ren continued to dance in such a gifted and practiced manner then I would be ok with it.  But to have this solitary moment of Ren going ballistic in an empty warehouse where he bounces off all the shit in there, does a high bar routine and then the movie calmly walks away like it never happened is exceptionally weird.

But you know, there’s something wrong with the whole picture.  It feels as if someone today made an 80’s teen movie and got a lot of shit right like the clothing, the dialogue, many of the situations and etc, but the thing still doesn’t quite add up.  Something’s clearly off that makes it feel like an imposter.  I think it’s a combination of small things like the love interest’s disturbingly real death wish, we never find out why Ren and his mother move to this dusty small town which is a huge goddamn backstory element to leave out, the way they fucked up using the title song by playing it in full over the opening credits then using a snippet in the middle and then playing it in full again at the end when they should’ve saved it solely for the finale, and etc.

Image result for footloose 1984This is one of those movies where I don’t get why it’s remained so popular over the years.  Nothing about it is particularly good guys.  Of the three big 80’s teen dance films Flashdance is an incredibly boring pile of crap, Footloose is maybe alight at best that has an almost fraudulent tinge to it, but nothing is gonna beat the masterful Dirty Dancing.  It’s not only a fun time it’s kinda one of the best movies ever made.  The other two are just sorta dumb and pretty baffling as to how they got and sustained a following.

If you gotta cut loose don’t Footloose, dig on some Purple Rain instead.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Mish Mash 12 (Rocky Balboa, Nine Months, Putney Swope, The Dirty Dozen)

Rocky Balboa
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Better than I remembered.  It’s so endearing and thoughtfully put together.  Yea I know it’s the same basic idea we’ve seen five times before but the unforgettable characters and the devotion to making all aspects ooze with quality is magical.  So few series can pull that off.

And older Rocky is even more interesting than younger Rocky with all of his hard earned wisdom.  You know this guy’s been through some shit but he keeps on fighting.  There’s a great quote in here that defines the movie perfectly: “It ain’t about how hard you hit.  It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”  Rock keeps going no matter the challenges, no matter what life throws at him.  Adrian’s dead, Paulie is still an asshole that leans on his brother-in-law tremendously, his son is uneasy about being in the shadow of a boxing legend and he feels compelled to help anyone in need.  So seeing the character cope with all this and still be as strong and steady as he is thirty years later is inspiring.

Image result for rocky balboa 2006This is a feel good movie that tugs effectively at the ol’ heartstrings.  It’s a wonderful installment that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Nine Months

Image result for nine months 1995 mantisCouple of weird things here: Hugh Grant (Extreme Measures) says “sorry” approximately 837 times, Grant being a child therapist (with apparently only one patient) who doesn’t really want to have kids is more than a bit much, the word “fuck” is said three times (including yelled angrily twice) and this is a PG-13 romantic/family comedy.

More to that last point probably the funniest aspect of the film is the shocking amount of vulgarity.  A lot of the actual jokes fall flat but stuff like having two grown men beat the shit out of a Barney the dinosaur look-a-like and giving little kids lines like “I removed the victim’s brains with an ice cream scooper” is harder than what it feels like the movie was aiming for.  I mean there’s just so much cursing.  More shits and assholes than you’d ever think.

Image result for nine months 1995The last half hour is downright hilarious though when Julianne Moore’s (The Hand That Rocks the Cradle) water breaks and things kick into high gear.  Grant keeps nearly killing people with his car on the way to the hospital and ends up giving all his injured victims a lift.  So even though he’s a terribly reckless prick he does the right thing by giving some help.  Then after that Robin Williams (One Hour Photo) has to deliver two babies at once but, again, there are barriers.  The first is he’s Russian and his English is bad so he can’t give the proper instructions.  On top of that he’s mainly trained in delivering monkey babies, not human ones.  And to pile more shit on Hugh Grant and Tom Arnold (True Lies) are verbally and physically fighting with each other in the delivery room and getting in the doctor’s way.  It’s total fucking chaos.  But believe it or not this cluster fuck of a premise works and at least we’re given a fun wacky ending to an otherwise kinda bland picture.

Putney Swope

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During a big meeting the head of an advertising agency suddenly dies on the boardroom table.  The rest of the execs decide to take a vote right then and there to see who should continue to lead the company.  They end up accidentally electing Putney Swope (Arnold Johnson (Menace II Society)), the only black exec in the room.  He changes everything up by switching the name of the company, hiring almost all black people, and creating ridiculous nonsensical ads.

The movie is an art piece with not exactly a linear story line and all sorts of stream of consciousness type stuff thrown in.  Like the company puts its money in a giant glass box, or a photographer looking for work pitches himself with the same lines in multiple scenes, or there’s one ad that shows a young woman dancing in a totally filthy alley to some groove rock track and she only pauses to say “you can’t eat an air conditioner”.  I think writer/director Robert Downey Sr. wanted to show how terrible the marketing business was so all of the characters are either crooks, ignorant or mean spirited.  Nothing really adds up in this world he created except for a clear dislike of big business manipulating the public.

Image result for putney swopeOverall I liked it but it’s a little out there for me.  It’s difficult to get your arms around which is definitely not a bad thing.  Maybe what’s nagging at me is the message is too in your face.  This extreme approach to get that message out there is interesting though.

The Dirty Dozen

Image result for the dirty dozenWow, what a crazy violent movie.  The premise has to do with a secret military operation during WWII where the allies recruit twelve imprisoned soldiers, whip them into tip top shape and sneak them behind enemy lines to execute a suicide mission.  It’s an excellent pulpy idea that gets the juices flowing.

Everyone is perfectly cast, from Lee Marvin (Point Blank) as the hardcore yet ominously witty Major who leads the squad, to the ever stoic Charles Bronson (Death Wish 3), to the meek Donald Sutherland (Backdraft), to the level headed Jim Brown (Original Gangstas), to the anxious and charismatic John Cassavetes (Rosemary’s Baby), they’re all fantastic.  You really get to know these characters and by the time the big assignment comes you’re seriously emotionally attached.

Image result for the dirty dozen 1967And man the ending is something else.  Our guys must infiltrate a remote French hotel that the Nazis have seized and are using for their own swanky parties.  They gotta sneak around and plant explosives so they can blow the place up and then get the hell outta dodge.  The whole thing is methodical, tense and builds well but then blam, the entire operation goes off the fuckin’ rails.  I don’t wanna say anymore because you should really check it out.  One of the best finales in cinema.

I can’t believe it took me this long to get to this one.  It’s one of the most badass bastards I’ve ever run into.  Watch it.