Tag Archives: comedy

“You met me at a very strange time in my life.”

Welcome to part 2 of our Point, Counter-Point system.

Who is “our?”

Tyrone Bruinsma of Tyrone Bruinsma Films and myself.  In our first edition, we both had differing views on “Signs.”  I was “pro,” Tyrone was “con.”  I thought it only fair that I get an opportunity to be “con” to his “pro.”  We agreed on “Fight Club.”

I know, I’m the one guy that doesn’t like it…

Anyways…

With less to say and more to do, I bring you Tyrone’s take first…and mine to follow.  Tweeps, if you’re not following Tyrone yet, please hit him up @TBruinsmaFilms. You won’t regret it….

Fight Club-Satirising and Criticising Toxic Masculinity in the Best Form

Written by Tyrone Bruinsma

David Fincher’s Fight Club upon release was not the box office hit akin to Fincher’s Se7en 4 years prior and received mixed reviews due to its extreme content and stupid men trying to replicate Fight Clubs thinking that the film was life coaching them. Upon revisitation almost immediately after and Fincher’s ascension as one of the best filmmakers currently working today with works like Panic Room, Zodiac, Benjamin Button, The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl-Fight Club still stands as Fincher’s most popular, celebrated and widely known films. But why? Many people write Fight Club off as a pretentious, too smart for the room violent and misogynistic work…but it’s not and that’s part of Fight Club genius.

Firstly I want to ask a simple question: what genre is Fight Club? Seems like a simple question…but it’s not. Fight Club isn’t’ really a drama, a comedy, a dark comedy, thriller or even art-house: it’s basically a pure film. Now that dedication to not having a genre is part of the point: non-conformity. See at its base level-Fight Club is about the commercialised, corporate, capitalist system 1999 was for many people and criticises it…but the film is also simultaneously a just advertisement for various products-especially Starbucks and Pepsi. This isn’t’ hypocrisy (although it’s a part of filmmaking for product placements) it’s actually part of an underlying theme of “being a counter cultural item will still make you part of that culture” which technically feeds into the larger picture, but first I want to acknowledge where the film is genius before that.

It’s a David Fincher film so yes: it’s a master class in every sense under his commanding direction. Perfect cinematography, editing, sound, acting, visuals, colour grade, pacing and script. Even in his lesser works: David Fincher doesn’t fail…but now for the long breakdown of the singular theme.

So, Fight Club’s theme was a popular one in 1999: the distaste many had for the then current numb and boring lifestyle of the middle class lifestyle in America. A promise since the Reagan era that had been mostly granted by the Clinton administration was now a point of criticism and four movies from 1999 did just that to different degrees: Office Space was a comedy that mocked the then average 1999 work space, The Matrix was about a system that made you conformity to numb modernity and letter reassessed as a Transgender narrative where the numb system supressed your true identity and American Beauty…didn’t really have a point. For all the praise American Beauty got-it doesn’t’ really have a point, it’s just an above average drama, but it’s pretentious in trying to frame a plastic bag as beautiful and paedophilia as a heroic trait…no really American beauty did that. So what did Fight Club criticise? Well most of these types of narratives were about (and for) mostly middle aged, middle class men and how they should feel angry over being just a “cog in the machine” of capitalist consumerism and encouraged them to rebel…and Fight Club shows the toxic masculine stupidity in that. To use American Beauty as an example: Kevin Spacey’s character quits his job in an insulting rant, needlessly spends on commercial products (an actual hypocrisy) and basically causes stress and pain for his family…thinking he’s entitled to it. Fight Club’s conceit (especially in the character who is the ego

personified of every unfulfilled male of the period and even now) is to show how men with stable jobs, good homes and with no real problems-thinking that lifestyle is a prison and deciding to rebel in the form of a destructive, self-destructive, violent, misogynistic outlet…are toxic males with the biggest false persecution complex. Seriously: all the men in Fight Club have jobs to sustain themselves, needless expenses and their injuries, enough free time to speed fighting and the resources to commit their terrorist plans…and think they’re oppressed class.

And yes, that’s Fight Club’s brilliant little message: if you think that having a stable job, nice home and tons of disposable income means you’re opposed to the point you’re entitled to bring down the “System that has taken advantage of you” through violent, aggressive, destructive and un-intellectual means (and it being ok to be sexist, misogynistic and overly concerned over masculinity), then not only are you feeding the system and allowing it to co-opt you as a tool or an example…but you’re practically a Nazi at that point. Seriously, if you look on it: blaming the “failings” of something you’re a part of on something that never really hurt you and becoming overly aggressive, singular minded drones who are taught to have no purpose is basically tying the mindless rebellion of people doing extremely well to the rise of the Nazi party. And even on individual levels: it’s still saying to every entitled man who feels his hum drum life isn’t fulfilling enough (even though they could do more productive things and afford to) and gives into his ultra-toxic masculine ego as a destructive force is an idiot and makes fun of them for it.

In the truest sense: Fight Club is a satirical film…but it’s not really mocking a genre-its mocking toxic masculine culture. Now-is this a highly summarised version of this argument? Yes-because 800 words is enough to explain it and any other digression would have to be book length (note to self: write book length breakdown of Fight Club). But, next time you watch Fight Club-try and see all the points it makes in criticising toxic masculinity, egos and the connections to consumerist culture. And I get if some people feel it’s a bit over praised and think the violence is too much…but can I stop and ask some of the people who think this movie glorifies violence to remember “Depiction doesn’t not mean endorsement”. Scarface doesn’t endorse drug use, Irreversible does not endorse rape, Starship Troopers does not endorse fascism and Fight Club doesn’t endorse violence. Please understand the context and criticism, because a review bashing a movie isn’t’ an endorsement-that’s only when a critic praises a movie…like how I’m endorsing Fight Club right now.

#MyTake #Clintington:

 

Well, here we are.  Wasn’t sure if I’d ever do this, but here is my first critical review.

Where to begin with “Fight Club”….

I must start out by saying that I KNOW that I am in the minor, minor, minor, minority here in people that DID NOT enjoy this movie.  I used to work at a local news television station in Pocatello, ID.  Little known fact, everybody that works in television loves movies…at least in Pocatello, ID…

Any way…

I was the only person in the station that didn’t fall for this movies’ slick charms.  You must know these facts before I go further:

 

1.I am one of the few people that has always enjoyed Brad Pitt.

2.I LOVE Edward Norton, he was my favorite “up and coming” actor in the 90s.

3.David Fincher’s “Se7en” is probably my most favorite cinematic experience I have had as an adult and his “The Game,” is one of the most underrated thrillers of all time.

I’m supposed to love this movie…I didn’t.

I feel that it’s a movie that got too comfortable fawning over itself with how clever it felt it was.

Some positives I’ll admit this film has:

Say what you want about Fincher, he knows how to frame a beautiful movie.

It offers a number of major belly laughs.

Helena Bonham Carter delivers a very intoxicating performance.

Where I got lost with this movie was the pacing…it starts out great.  We meet our lead (Norton as the Narrator), he has a great voiceover for his thoughts in the moments we share with him.  The orange juice scene still leaves me with more questions than answers (and this is not a complaint). We meet Tyler Durden (Pitt), an electrifying, captivating, energetic character that says and does all of the things that we are thinking, but don’t have the balls to do or say…then we start the actual fight club and instead of heading in a meaningful direction, the movie sort of takes a snooze until the last fifteen minutes of the movie when the Narrator starts to put some pieces together…

I like violent movies…when I am invested in a story among characters that I care about and when the violence can create tension and drama…I stopped caring about the Narrator and Tyler when they decided that the best way for them to figure themselves out was through violence on each other and their fellow men. There is still something very disturbing and wrong to me with the scene in which the Narrator watches two men beat each other’s faces into hamburger, while on the ground, hugging and laughing with each other after…I felt a total loss of any interest–if any that I had–or care for the Narrator and Tyler at that point…I was committed though and made my way through it.

In the end, I feel that this is definitely a movie that will be talked about for its “moments.”  The few that I remember:

The erotic frames in the movie projector’s children’s film-

The “fat scavenging” at the plastic surgery waste sight-

The Narrator fighting and kicking his own ass-

The conclusion and closing line-

I think that people were overjoyed with the moment of truth and felt that it was very clever and shocking.  It kind of annoyed me as I was mentally preparing myself for way more creativity and found that it was disappointing.

That being said, I always feel that good or bad movies should be watched.  Don’t let me sway you, I’m in the minority here after all…you might enjoy it so much that you will do an annual viewing after you have participated in your own annual fight club that you have set up with your friends (if I have to mention it, it happens).

Once was enough for me.

 

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“Felt wrong not to swing.”

I know that this next one is WAY past the 90s. In fact, I did not expect to do this post in quite some time. I hope that all of you are ready for an experiment.

My tweep (for those of you not on twitter the translation is twitter friend i.e. twitter + peep = tweep) Tyrone Bruinsma Films @TBruinsmaFilms (for my other tweeps, if you’re not following him, your loss) thought it would be great to have us write about a film that we disagree on. Point, Counter-Point.

I felt that it should be two as I would like to venture into writing a post on a movie that I did not particularly like as well since that would be something new for me.

This week, I am writing my positive review on “Signs,” and I will share Tyrone’s critical review of “Signs” along with it.

Stay tuned for next week’s. It will be my first critical review…

SIGNS –TWO OPPOSING VIEWS

 

Click here for the link to Tyrone’s Article on his Blog!

WHY SIGNS WAS A SIGNAL OF M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN’S FAILINGS

Written by Tyrone Bruinsma

It’s been often touted that director M. Night Shyamalan made 3 stone cold classics in rapid succession: The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs. Unfortunately I think M. Night’s ONLY good films are The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Split.

To fully summarise: The Sixth Sense was the rare film that was good, financially successful and still a classic, Unbreakable is a completely underrated and better than you thought masterpiece and Split was a junky fun film. And I’m aware A LOT of people love Signs, I mean if you want to watch a video on why Signs apparently works so well: check out this Chris Stuckmann video that I respect but disagree with (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V3Ju05PuiyQ). But I’m not the only one who thinks it’s lacking film, many critics even at its initial release had major issues and seeing as how I heard good and bad things, seeing it a few months before Split and after seeing the god awful The Visit-I was open to it being bad or good…and it’s bad.

Before I get into why Signs doesn’t work and was actually a signal of M. Night’s deteriorating skillset-let me recap the 11 years which M. Night spent on worst years’ lists. Even if you liked Signs:
-2004’s The Village was a completely non-functional film whose story ONLY served for the sake of a twist and didn’t make sense upon re-visitation.

-Then in 2006 he released The Lady in the Water (A film which Disney didn’t’ understand but would green light regardless and he had a nonsensical hissy fit and took the film to another company saying “Disney hates auteurs) which was basically M. Night making fun of critics who called out his issues, made no real scares, had the dumbest and overly contrived plots AND framed M. Night as some Messianic figure whose works would save the world and make him leader of it…yeah…that’s totally not ego-stroking.

-2008 saw the release of The Happening, a laughably bad (To the point it’s a “So bad it’s good film) “horror” film about killer plants that M. Night first said would be a disturbing horror film and immediately ret-coned as a “B-Movie”. This is movie is so broken and dumb that Mark Walberg hates it and during filming, asked M. Night about plot holes and M. Night acted arrogantly about it.

-In 2010 we got one of the worst adaptations ever in the form of a 103 minute version of the first season of The Last Airbender. The movie failed because M. Night’s writing and execution was not fit for this series at all, blaming critic’s for not letting his “art-house mentality” make the movie better. The movie just doesn’t’ work and is pretty much racist for having all the good main characters be white despite the cultures presented in the film. That same year, M. Night produced Devil: another stupidly hilarious film only serving one of the worst twists and history.

-2013 gave us the embarrassing misfire that was After Earth: a sci fi film whose story doesn’t work, has actors giving their worst performances and is completely nonsensical.
-And before he made the ACTUALLY good Split: he made the found footage abomination The Visit which is basically a meta-textual where M. Night tries to explain that ALL the stuff he does and that critics and audiences hate him for is actually genius and hating him makes you an evil, idiot person.

No, I’m not kidding. And ALL of this horrible stuff was set up in his alien invasion film-Signs.

Signs does have a few good elements before I start bashing it. The cinematography is fine (though it’s off and even his films with good cinematography are bad), Mel Gibson’s performance is good and the initial story is good enough. And yes I’m aware about the themes of faith, grief and suffering as religious martyrdom…but the movie truly fails to make that work for me. Wanna know the funniest thing? There’s a filmmaker who makes the theme of faith, suffering and religious sacrifice work and makes it work to emotional effect: Mel Gibson. Yeah, who’d have thought Mel Gibson would be good making films about that? (Obvious Sarcasm is Obvious) But it’s true: Braveheart, Passion of the Christ and Hacksaw Ridge all share the same themes, but unlike Signs…actually have a point to it. Braveheart was about sacrificing yourself for the freedom of your people, Passion of the Christ was about the love Jesus had for humanity and the suffering he endured for it and Hacksaw Ridge was about the punishing trauma a man is willing to go through to save his fellow man’s life. That’s powerful stuff…but Signs doesn’t’ get that emotional, that deep or that impactful, I’ll get to that later but first…everything else.

First of all, the movie isn’t scary. Opening on a blue credit screen with black titles and “horror music” isn’t exactly a good sign (no pun intended). I mean…think of classic ways horror movies have opened: jaws, Sinister, The Thing, Jurassic Park, The Shallows or Zodiac. And if you just wanna talk about title credit openings well…Alien still did it best. But I think I was only scared in the loosest terms twice: once was the alien leg in the cornfield and the other time was the alien on the roof. Any other time there was an attempt at fear or showing the aliens was lame, and even in the alien on the roof scare was made dumb by the little girl’s line about wanting water. And I could tell very clearly from Split that M. Night likes to mix humour with horror, but that doesn’t’ work here…or in any of his other films. Also…the alien’s aren’t scary and don’t have any presence or…sensible biology.

Now-let’s get on to the child actors. Now child actors tend to get a bad wrap…mostly because they’re kids. But in this movie, we have a girl who seems oblivious to everything around her…and a boy who talks like he’s Danny from The Shining, Henry from the Book of Henry and Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory. The main problem is we’ve inconsistent child characters (something that’s common in M. Night’s work) with one that doesn’t seem to do anything or know anything and another who acts like a mature adult who knows everything he’s talking about. And considering Joaquin Phoenix acts like a dumb teen…this is a very weird thing to do. The Happening also had younger characters talk about serious issues and adults acting like children. I don’t know why this is a thing M. Night does…but it doesn’t make sense.

Next is the cinematography, now yes: I did say it’s good…but that comes with a caveat. See M. Night loves long takes and sometimes (like in Unbreakable) it works…however-in this film and in many others: it doesn’t. See instead of having a shot reverse shot sequence for dialogue conversation, he uses and long, drawn out and slow single shot that goes from one side of the long table to the other…but it’s boring, slow and draws attention to itself too much. Considering M. Night’s ego…it wouldn’t surprise me.

That’s the thing: M. Night’s ego is his biggest downfall…along with any other director who gets to that state. Similar to how George Lucas (Only because mentors advised against his worst aspects) made Star Wars and then years later got to make the prequel trilogy with unlimited resources and only yes men

serving him. Well a similar thing happened with M. Night: because the Sixth Sense was a financial, cultural and critical success in one go…he kind of just bought into his own ego and genius. And this means that most of his works (but mostly Lady in the Water and The Visit) are ego trips meant to be these “high class think pieces” that are amazing because he experimented with genre. But here’s the thing: JUST being different without a creative element to back it up doesn’t make it genius. Using terrible framing and over choreographed movements in The Last Airbender wasn’t “being art house”. Having Will Smith act as the least engaging performance he’s given wasn’t “defying genre expectations”. And having the twist in the Village make no sense in universe wasn’t “unappealing to the critics”. Simply put, they were bad creative misfires and you should own up to them-stop blaming everyone else. You’re such an auteur and creative individual, but won’t admit that your choices fail-it’s just everyone else who’s wrong for not liking it.

But now we get to the big, stupid reason this movie doesn’t work-the marriage of plot and theme. The entire theme of this movie is about “Everything happens for a reason”. Mel Gibson’s entire character in this movie is basically learning to accept the pain of his past, the quirks of his family and trust in God that everything will be ok. Now aside from the fact that the loss Mel Gibson suffers basically reduces a female character to a plot point and not…a character, the main issue I gave is that Mel’s character already seems to accept everything. Like his daughter constantly wanting water and leaving it half full everywhere isn’t’ that weird to him, nor his son’s weird maturity. In fact, the only real arch is that he has to see all the coincidences come together at the end to make him a Man of the Cloth again. I’m not against religious stories: like I said-Mel Gibson himself makes them better. But the whole time: the film tells us not to question anything, to just go with it and that eventually everything works out with you coming on top. It might be fine for M. Night who had two failed movies before making it big…but that’s a bad message to tell those who’ve genuinely suffered that “if you just go with everything-it’ll be fine”. There’s no nuance or greyness proposed, it’s just blatantly stated. And all of this comes down to…yes- the “twist”. The fact that we learn the aliens have a weakness to water and that because Mel’s daughter constantly leaves half cups of water on everything…the alien bumps into one and it shows damage…ok…where do I start?

-One: why would an alien race EVER want to invade a planet that’s 70% water and is accessible to every human being in major areas? Fire trucks would be our tanks.
-Two: it’s convenient that the alien just happened to be in the right room with the right cup in the right place at the right time. What if Mel had moved the cups away or the alien got into the basement? -Three: what were the aliens ACTUALLY doing? They showed up, ran around a bit and left. They blew up nothing, showed no interest in humans and mostly acted like cliché monsters not written properly in an alien invasion movie.

-Four: did Mel Gibson’s daughter ONLY do this when her mother died? Will she keep doing it or has it stopped? Because…that just feels like M. Night failing to write an actual female character…again…in the same movie.
-Five: I realised while writing this that Mel Gibson really is M. Night’s insert character and that if M. Night changes nothing an goes with it-he’s coincidentally achieve greatness and become amazing…just like how he directly wrote himself in Lady in the Water.

And that’s really the major problem: M. Night making a wish fulfilment movie about himself. He even makes basic thematic connections by not tying the water to anything. It’s not holy water to imply the aliens as demons metaphor and the wife who died in the movie as Mel Gibson’s loss didn’t die in water- so there’s no thematic tie. If you wanted a better story: Mel Gibson should’ve accidentally killed his wife by accidentally driving her into a lake and she drowns or something and he spends the entire film hating himself and hating his daughter’s problem. We don’t get that…instead we have M. Night inserting himself as the man who killed Mel’s wife…and that’s LITERALLY obstructs the film. It LITERALLY has Signs as a good movie being obstructed by his egotism blocking an actually good film. His unnecessary character, his coincidental plot and narrative framing as a misuse of faith as a story and his overly obsessed showy direction only prevents the film from being good. M. Night-ever since Signs has made egotistical works where HE blocks their growth and only recently with Split.

Overall, if you like Signs: it’s understandable. But I find the pretentious (and M.Night is very pretentious) style and execution for what should be a powerful story about faith is a waste. In my opinion: if you want a crazy alien movie with a twist and very powerful theme-watch Arrival.

signs-crop-circle

I remember hoping that M. Night had another one in him. I was fresh out of college and living in Pullman, WA. We moved there in June and I had been jobless for a couple of months (that never  feels good). I finally got a job as a donut fryer at Dissmores just before the release of this film and I had not gone to a movie for two months (UNHEARD OF)!

This would be the first film that I saw off my dry spell.

I have found that the mood we are in when we see a movie has SO much to do with our enjoyment of it. I’m pretty sure there are some good movies out there that I saw when I was sour and have not revisited. It seems unfair, as it was not the films fault that I was not in the best place mentally to watch it.

The opposite end of that spectrum can be the same.

I was off movies for two months (including Netflix–DVDizzles at the time). I finally had enough money to take my then wife on a date. School was about to start in a few weeks and we had a steady income to help supplement her TA-ship. I was feeling really good and that emotion stayed with me through the experience of this movie.

You all know by now (I hope) that I am a fan of Hitch’s films. His films were rarely about “the explosion.” They were about letting the audience know that the bomb was under a table, but our hero had no clue as the time ticked down…rarely did his bombs go off, but we found ourselves uneasy in our seats watching our hero about to explode.

When I watched “Signs,” I felt those same feelings watching “The Birds,” and “Strangers on a Train,” and “Shadow of a Doubt,” for the first time.

Signs” is not a horror movie.  If it was horror that you wanted, this was not the film for you. It is truly a movie about a man that has found himself in a spiritual trough, who finds a way to dig himself back out again with the help of his family. The “visitors” just give him the motivation to make his life (and his families) relevant for him again.

I am a sucker for movies that make a “full circle.” I like subtle hints that are dropped at the start of films that end up being the tape that keeps the fragmented film together.

Signs” delivered that feeling for me.

I found the tone of the film to be very balanced with its ability to trickle in humor between scenes of suspenseful silence and the rigid unknown.

The persons in charge of casting rarely get the credit they deserve. There are no awards for casting, and if you fail at that, your movie will fail. If you make it work, you’ve made the director’s job SO easy. I feel that M. Night probably had an “easy” production on the shoot of this film.

gibson signs

Gibson’s Graham Hess is played with the right kind of quiet torture that a man who has recently lost his wife would have to hold as he has two kids he needs to keep it together in front of.

Joaquin Signs

Joaquin Phoenix as his brother Merrill steals every scene that he is in, both with humor and the expression of fear that comes with suspense projects.

I think another thing that helped me enjoy the film was how quickly they dispelled the possibility of the “crop circles” being anything other than extra terrestrial. I was skeptical of this when I first saw a trailer, as I knew how people made crop circles…it was dealt with and I was able to enjoy the rest of the movie.

If you can find a creative way to grab my attention and make me jump a little, you sell me.

That damn rotary telephone sold me. Add an intelligent script, great actors, fragments of film, sprinkle with aliens, and a pinch of tape…you’ve gone full crop circle.

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“Yeah, well, I guess they had it coming.”

I grew up watching Westerns. John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda, Glen Ford, Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Scott Glenn, Kevin Kline, Danny Glover, Tommy Lee Jones, Robert Duvall, Kevin Costner, and eventually Kurt Russell, and Val Kilmer (that one’s for a later time).

My favorites were always Clint’s.

My dad and I loved the “Spaghetti” Westerns as we called them, “A Fistful of Dollars,” “For a Few Dollars More,” and “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” Trying to describe the feeling while watching those is difficult.  The movies are about “MEN.”  Men riding horses, men whoring, men shooting guns, men shooting guns at other men.  It doesn’t sound appealing at all when it’s talked about at its rawest description, however, you can’t help but smile while you’re watching them.  I think when you see a hero that is able to “outdraw” three villains and hear most of the gunshots sound like a ricochet, it can be challenging to take the killing seriously.  The movies have a highly entertaining style about them.  The wide shots that cut closer and closer and closer until we’re right at the eyes, the zooms, the moving cameras, and Morricone’s famous scores–entertainment at its highest.

We also watched “Pale Rider,” “Hang ‘Em High,” “High Plains Drifter,” and my second favorite Eastwood Western of all time; “The Outlaw Josey Wales.”

What’s the first?

Unforgiven,” without hesitation.

Rumor has it that Eastwood received the script in 1976, but wanted “To do other things.”  Again, it seems the stars aligned for this movie to be made correctly.

Bill pig farming

Clint plays Bill Munny, a man with a violent past who changed his ways and took up farming in Kansas after he met a woman who has since passed.  He has two children to raise on the farm and he presents as a God fearing man.

In Big Whiskey, Wyoming, two cowboys have roughed up a prostitute by cutting her face with a knife after she laughs at the size of one of the men’s manhood.  Enter Little Bill Daggett played by the masterful Gene Hackman. Daggett is as ruthless as they come.  It’s clear that he has a past similar to Munny’s, but he has turned to upholding the law instead of farming.  He lets the cowboys off by allowing them to pay compensation to the brothel for the injured “whore.”  Outraged, the women of the brothel pool their money and create $1,000.00 bounty for the men that kill the cowboys.

News spreads.  Tall tales of how the prostitute lost one of her eyes in the torture are embellished and the self proclaimed “Schofield Kid” comes to knock on Munny’s withered farmhouse door.  Realizing his farm and children may not make it through another winter, he takes up the job.  He gathers his old partner Ned (Morgan Freeman) and they make their way.

The world that Eastwood was able to create is the realist western that I have ever seen.  The language that is used is raw and modern.  Women aren’t “prostitutes,” they’re “whores.”  They don’t “partake in the pleasures of the flesh,” they “fuck” for money.  It’s very real, plain, and simple.

Watching it with my parents was a challenge.  They’d seen Westerns before…no one had seen a Western like this.  As the credits rolled, I could sense the uneasy feeling that my mother had after watching it.  I loved every second of it.  Over the years I want to believe that my mother has come to realize the rough brilliance of its honesty; I’m not holding my breath. She still doesn’t understand, “why people need to use that word.”

Like “The Shootist,” for John Wayne, “Unforgiven” for Clint is the culmination of his earlier works.  I can’t think of a more perfect “last Western” for him to be in.

Know that this picture plays out through dialogue–correction–excellent dialogue delivered by top actors.  It is by no means boring and the tension builds to a masterful climax well worth the wait.

My dad loved it.

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“There is much to be learned from beasts.”

The timing was perfect…

The timing was right…

Perfect timing…

The right timing…

Timing is everything…

Etc.

That can be said for Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.”

I was a decent reader, but school wasn’t helping.  We were always asked to read boring shit I was not interested in.  Especially through elementary school and junior high.  Maybe I just had shitty teachers…combination of both, maybe.  A shame actually, as I have always had a love for language.

It was in the fall of my sophomore year that I discovered the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker.  The class was Gothic Literature and the teacher was Mrs. Hughes.  It started out just like any other.  We read a few short stories (I remember, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”), we discussed them, we were asked to write an essay that was due in two days about the text, and we were assigned reading to be completed from the novel with a test to be taken in two weeks.

So I opened the book when I got settled into my bed for the evening. I remember being drawn in by the forward (the writer’s name does not come to mind).  They were able to describe the type of monster that Dracula was in so many words without giving anything that we didn’t already know away (he’s a vampire, they drink the blood of the living for food, they have a hold of power over some of their prey, etc.).  I found the descriptions from the written words interesting apart from my viewing vampires in the cinema.  This got me excited to start the story…it got even better.

The next day I was well ahead of the required reading and I was excited to talk to my friend Joseph that was in the class.

“I’m at 82,” I said to him…I was referring to pages.

He had a surprised look, “I read about 54; it’s a good book.”

“Absolutely,” I replied.

For the first time in my life I was excited about the reading time in class as well as the tests.

Between the rest of my classes and soccer practice, I was able to finish the first three quarters of the book early and Mrs. Hughes allowed me to test early.  Two more days and I was done with the book and my tests.  To top things off, I found out on Entertainment Tonight that Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” was to be released in a month.

Perfect timing right?

My friend and I were very excited to see it and we made plans to go with my father…perfect.

So we went to our local theater.  They had a rule.  All R rated features required anyone under 17 to be accompanied by their parents.  I understood it to mean, “an adult.”  They made it clear when we arrived with my friend and my dad that he was not allowed to attend without his father or mother present.

After my father told them what he thought of their business model, we walked out to the video rental store, two buildings down, and rented, “Hook,” instead.  All-in-all a disappointing evening.  I did the next best thing I could three years before the Internet was main stream…I purchased the screenplay at Hastings and read every word.

It’d be a long while before it was released on VHS.  Theatrical release-to-VHS-windows were much longer back in the 80s-90s.  I was the first to rent a copy when it came in.  Films have to take liberties when they are written, but it is the closest adaptation that has ever been made.

Like the novel, the story is told through correspondence between the characters as they describe in their letters to each other the dilemmas that they face.

Oldman as the famous Count, is brilliant.  To see Lydia Deetz as a grown woman playing Mina was a dream. Keanu Reeves was a decent Jonathon Harker and to have anyone other than Hannibal Lecter play Professor Van Helsing would just seem wrong.

Dracula was my favorite book for a time.  The movie was never a favorite, but due to the timing of my first read and enjoyment of the book and to have the adaptation come out just a month later; it felt like fate.  I don’t think I could dislike it, even if it was a sorry work of art, which it is not.  It is the last good film that the great Francis Ford Coppola made and his telling of the story is close enough to what Stoker was writing about.  

I would go on to read many other books in my life.  My tastes would change and I matured and gained a bit of education, reading other books that I now hold higher. That being said, my experience with Dracula will remain unique to me.  Another first that sparked my imagination again and reminded me just how much I love language.

I also find myself to be a “child of the night” as I finish writing this at 11:30pm.

Coincidence?

I think not… 🙂

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“I want HIM!”

By now I would hope you know I love movies.  I love every movie that I’ve written about in some way and as you can imagine, I still love some movies more than others. This next one is one I could not wait to get to, and I had to be in the right place when I wrote it as I think that it will shock you how much I love it, given that it is not deemed a “classic” by any sense of the word; it’s a classic at my house, for reasons I’ll explain shortly.

My Cousin Vinny” was one of the last movies I watched fresh with my entire immediate family (myself, mom, dad, my sister, and my little brother).  I’ve written before about my father.  He was generally a very somber, quiet man that didn’t say much–he laughed less.  To hear it was a treat for all of us and I spent his lifetime trying to be funny enough to make him laugh.  I think that he gave me some pity laughs from time-to-time to make me feel better.  It wasn’t the same, but I’d take them.  There was only one other movie (I’ll get to it eventually) that I remember him laughing at more loudly than “My Cousin Vinny.”

I was talking with friends today about the importance of mood having an affect on how you’ll take in a movie.  If you’re not feeling well, or having a general annoyed feeling, your experience of a great movie could be ruined.  I feel the same goes on the other end.  If you are giddy and feeling great because it had been years since a family was all under one roof together, you might enjoy a “semi-decent” comedy a little more than normal and be ready for a huge laugh.  The ” ” are how some might see it.  My family and I do not, we love it.

I find it to be a very creative comedy about culture clash with a touch of Agatha Christie and enough of the Karate Kid to keep us guessing if he’ll have more lines…spoiler–he does not.

The premise is that two men from New York are taking a trip in their convertible through rural Alabama (Why? We don’t know, but they’re there…deal with it).  They’re accused of murder and resort to inviting the Karate Kid’s “cousin Vinny” to come down and save them in court…hence the title.  Enter Joe Pesci as Vinny Gambini and it was my introduction to the beautiful and talented Marisa Tomei as Mona Lisa Vito.  If you aren’t grinning about the character’s names already, don’t watch this movie…

Pesci Tomei

The only other movie I had seen Pesci in at this point in my life was Lethal Weapon 2.  I was aware of his comedic talent as a supporting actor.  I learned very quickly that Pesci can carry a movie when given the proper material.

The supporting actors in the remainder of the cast are great too.  Lane Smith as Jim Trotter III.  He plays the prosecutor that is smooth and dead set on putting the defendants where he believes they belong.   The ever reliable Bruce McGill (everybody’s favorite “Animal”) as Sheriff Farley.  He has the difficult task of looking like the villain, and then redeeming himself in a very crucial moment–great acting for such a small part; important.  My favorite is Fred Gwynne (everybody’s favorite “Munster”) as the honorable Judge Chamberlain Haller.

Fred Gwynne

The material within “My Cousin Vinny” is always teetering on the edge of farce.  Pesci’s Gambini is a large performance and he was obviously given the freedom to go big as well as Tomei with her Mona Lisa.  Gwynne had the difficult task of watching “the massive” unfold in front of his bench, without playing into it.  His calm, conservative, and southern demeanor amongst a foray of loud thespians (including Lane Smith as the arrogant prosecutor) is what glues the structure of this fine comedy through the projector.

As always, I don’t want to get too specific and give anything away.  Those of you that have seen it and enjoyed already know what I am talking about.  Those of you that have not and want to, should have the right to see it fresh.  Those of you that have seen it and didn’t think much of it are probably not reading this any way.

Know this.  It is a movie that I hold in high regard.  Any movie that can make my father laugh out loud many times and almost choke to death twice…worth a looksy…

 

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“You think anyone can do what I do? You think anyone can make the crap I make?”

For those of you that have read my post on “The World According to Garp,” you remember me stating, “My conservative family (mom and dad) are very interesting to me. They knew that when they first saw this next film (referencing “Garp”), they were watching excellence, even though a lot of the source material made them feel uncomfortable.”

I know…I quoted myself… #PretentiousDoucheMuch ???

My point being, the first time that I saw “Grand Canyon,” I had a similar reaction.  I knew for certain that it was excellence.  It was unlike any movie I had seen before, but I didn’t know how to describe it to my friends or what to say about it.

I remember watching it with my mother.

After the first scene, when Simon (Danny Glover) helps Mack (Kevin Kline) with his broken down car, we kind of looked at each other and thought–this is weird.

Mack ends up in a rough part of town when his car decides to stop on him.  He goes into the gas station to contact a tow truck, when he leaves to go be with his car, he is approached by a thug that has the intent to rob him and murder him.  Simon shows up in the middle of the conversation and just starts to simply do his job like nothing dangerous is happening at all.  Mack and the thug have a similar reaction–wtf???

The villain ain’t having it and approaches Simon now.  Simon just plays it cool and calls it what it is.  He’s here to do a job and help get this man and his car home.  His logic wins out and the thief leaves.  Mack, as you can imagine, is beyond grateful.

It’s one of the best written scenes I’ve seen unfold and the beauty of it is how simple it is. There’s no gun shots, no fisticuffs, just logic and conversation that wins out.

Watching “Grand Canyon” is like watching a series of philosophical conversations amongst friends.  As philosophical as the conversations are, they are not “deep” in a jargon filled sense.  The dialogue and script are brilliant by the great Lawrence Kasdan and Meg Kasdan.  We understand the meaning behind the rants, the statements, and the emotional monologues.  Each character that speaks believes everything that they say along with the people that they are talking to.

The cast is lights out:

Grand Canyon cast

Kevin KlineDanny GloverSteve MartinMary McDonnellMary-Louise Parker, and Alfre Woodard.

Watching these professionals play off of each other is a rare pleasure that most movies never find.  Each one of them is perfect in the roles they are given and the passion of their craft truly shines from each performance.  It was as if all of them wanted to be a part of this movie, rather than doing it for just another paycheck.

When it was all over, I remember not being sure if my mother had enjoyed what had just unfolded in front of us.

The credits started to roll…

The music played…

*A brief pause.*

“Now that was really a good movie,” my mother said.

I smiled.  I couldn’t agree more…

 

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“This whole movie is stuff that I said to him!”

One of Hollywood’s many under-appreciated  actors is in one of my favorite underrated dramadies of all time.

I remember watching “The Hard Way” for the first time with one of my best friends.  He was always a good sport.  He would see movies well before I ever could and he never cared when I asked him to watch them over again with me at my house on VHS.

I think he enjoyed watching my reaction to fresh movies as much he enjoyed watching a movie himself for the first time.

I remember when we were at the video rental store (yes, VHS…get over it) and I had asked him if he’d seen it–picking up the empty case.

“Yes,” he said.  “Michael J. Fox plays Harrison Ford in it.”

*Eyebrow raised.  Jaw slightly dropped.*

“I know,” he said to me.  “It’ll make sense when we watch it.”

And that we did…

Mr. Fox actually plays Nick Lang–a Hollywood action movie star that is looking for a “real” role of a “real person.”  Something with substance.

Enter James Woods (Mr. Under-appreciated) as John Moss–one stern cop that will be tasked with having the spoiled Hollywood actor shadow him for research.

M8DHAWA EC001

Moss is all business–tough, smart, focused, and he has a bit of a mean streak in him after working so many years “on the street.”

I remember watching the trailers for Nick Lang’s movies within the storyline of “The Hard Way.”  I know that they were meant to be heavy on the satire…Michael J. is perfect in a role like that.  His charisma in a comedy when quirks are required is unmatched.  His performance in the trailers are campy, but we buy it because it’s Michael J. after all.

Nick lang

Over the years I have learned to enjoy many of the performances of James Woods.  He is such an interesting actor.  He has the presence to play a leading man and even carry a movie (such as this), but he is great as a character actor as well.

As you can imagine, Moss is very resistant to taking on Lang as his shadow.  Lang is naive to Moss’s detest for him.  I mean, he’s a famous Hollywood actor…who wouldn’t be flattered to have him follow them around all day.  What an honor

Lang’s happy-go-lucky is a great foil to Moss’s cranky old cynicism.

The movie isn’t just another “buddy cop” movie (trust me, I use that phrase lightly).  There is a murderer that Moss has been after for some time.  We get to meet Moss’s love interest and see how she interacts with Lang…I think you’ll be surprised.

Lang’s journey is a real one.  There are real threats, lessons learned, and growth on both sides of the relationship.

I remember feeling like I had seen a very Great! story unfold in front of me.  The film was much better than I expected and I am so thankful that I had a friend that refused to spoil it for me.

…so you know now…

…there’s no way I’ll spoil it for you…go see it…totally worth your time…

 

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“When you use more than 5 percent of your brain, you don’t want to be on earth; believe me.”

I was raised in a very small town in Southeastern Idaho.  Quite conservative as you might imagine.  I was raised Lutheran, but my mother’s background was baptist.  She was very serious about our faith and we were the most faithful damn Lutheran’s in Blackfoot, ID goddammit!

Anyways….

There was heaven, where everyone wants to end up…and hell of course.  I noticed that we always talked an awful lot more about hell.  Probably because nobody knows shit about heaven, but we can all agree that having our souls burnt for eternity for turning our backs to God is quite a motivator…especially to four year olds.  Just sayin’.

Believing that there were any other options for the afterlife was not…well, an option; under our roof any way.

When I got into college, I found that I tested my limits.  Not only with my faith, but with my ability to stay awake at night, and to explore different kinds of movies.  The one that I  found very interesting, and understood why my mother never let me watch it, was “Defending Your Life.”

Late one weekend night when I couldn’t sleep, I turned on the TV in my apartment and flipped through the channels (there were 5 options).  *Commercial, commercial, late night movie…Oh, Meryl, and the guy from “Broadcast News.”*  

I loved the simplicity.  Everyone was in white robes, unless they were an attorney.  The dialogue was great and witty, and I can’t imagine two better actors than Albert Brooks and the Meryl Streep to take on this material. Rip Torn is also fantastic as the man that is tasked with advising Daniel Miller (Brooks) through the defense of his life.

albert court

Basically, Daniel winds up dead and before he can get into heaven, he has to go through a “trial” of sorts.  If you can prove that you truly lived your life without fear, you are worthy of getting in.  The court has every second of your life recorded, including your inner thoughts.  When they show Daniel’s pep talk regarding his salary requirements and the “actual” salary that he sufficed with; lets agree it’s a good laugh.  Being that you may not have lived your “given” life without fear, you would then be sent back to live another life.  Each time you have to defend it.

This would be about where my mother would FREAK!

“What? No! There is heaven and hell.”

End a story.

Right.  Well, this is a movie and I find it entertaining.  I find it to be a creative love story that happens to have a lot of laughs.  I also found the “world” creative and inspired.  You can’t just die and go to heaven.  There is a stop off at a way station where decisions will be made as to your worthiness.

Fair enough, I say, and definitely worthy of a watch.

 

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“Killed anyone today? – The day ain’t over yet…”

I had no idea who Jack Palance was.

What started out as another simple Billy Crystal comedy became something with a bigger heart than most.  It almost lost me in the first fifteen, and then we met Curly.

He had presence like “The Duke” in all those movies I grew up watching.  He walked on screen and every character knew to stay on his good side…behind him.

I remember watching and laughing with my mother and father.

The premise is about a trio of late-thirty-somethings that take Man-cation adventures together once a year.  They start running from the bulls.  The majority of the story takes place on their latest venture, a cattle drive across the the plains of the American West.

My dad kept saying, “That rancher’s a genius.  He got those idiots to pay him to drive his cattle for him.”

idiots

Yes, that’s what my father took away from that movie…and he was right.

The movie has a multitude of great laughs.  There’s some slapstick, there’s some sarcasm (it is a Billy Crystal movie after all), and there is plenty of great one liners.  Palance steals the show and has three great ones.

I found that the majority of the greatness of the movie was the writing of the conversations that were had between the three men: Crystal, Bruno Kirby, and Daniel Stern.  The chemistry between these three men was fantastic and it felt like they were truly friends for the last twenty years.  They rib each other, they know each other’s tendencies, and in the end, they are always there for each other as best friends–that are like brothers–are.

I remember feeling that the movie was going to be pretty predictable, and for the most part it is, but they did manage to throw some curve balls along the way, some of them quite tragic…not “sad” tragic, but tragic in the sense that, “Damn, that was short…I can’t laugh at him anymore.”

I wanted to find more Palance movies.  My mom and dad seemed to know who he was.  I remember my mom telling me that he was known for being a villain.  He appeared to have a bit of villainess in him on the surface for Curly, but in the end, he was just a good “man’s man” that wanted to help people become better at driving cattle.

There is no profound ending and there is some “campy action” that seems out of place for plot-device-sake, but the earlier comedy and interactions make up for it.  If you need a good laugh and you don’t want to spend too much time delving into and analyzing what the auteur was trying to say, try out “The City Slickers.”

The early 90s were known for making a bunch of films with a good laugh.

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“I’m having a thought. Oh, yes. Oh, yes. I’m gonna have a thought. It’s coming… It’s gone.”

I have a confession.  I think the Oscars are bullshit and they were put on this earth for two reasons.  One, to make really rich people feel like they’ve accomplished even more in their lives. Two, to ignite a fire of rage and debate in all of us.

I used to think the Academy Awards meant something.  I mean, it was peers determining which of them had the best performance, directing, writing, picture, etc.  They should know, right?  They’re the professionals.  Then you go back and look at the past winners over time and realize that the “true” winners with lasting power were never picked.

I ramble on…

1990 was an amazing year for film:

Goodfellas” (I’ll get to this one down the road…)

Home Alone” (Thank you John Hughes)

Edward Scissorhands

Pretty Woman

Awakenings

Misery

Ghost

Lord of the Flies

Miller’s Crossing

I didn’t even list the ones I’ve already written about.  Trust me, there are plenty.  But…some things I cannot understand.  How did “Dick Tracy” get left out of the best picture mix…?  How did Al Pacino win for “Scent of a Woman,” but get stiffed for his role as Big Boy Caprice in “Dick Tracy?”  Rhetorical really…but I continue to ponder…

To my mind, “Dick Tracy” is the most underrated “comic book” movie of all time.  I did not say it was the best.  I said it was the most underrated.  You know, the one that is G-R-E-A-T great, but you always forget about it when you are thinking about Superman, Batman, Captain America, Spiderman, Iron Man, etc.

Warren Beatty’s vision was a marvel (pun/jab intended) and deserves all the credit that has been thrown it’s way–and more–over the years.

It was visually stunning (throughout every frame).  It was perfectly cast, had a great script, and stayed true to the source material.  I don’t know if it is true, but in my mind, I like to believe that when Warren was a child he grew up reading Dick Tracy just like I grew up reading about Wolverine and Gambit.  He had to.  The attention to detail was incredible.  The lighting, the costumes, the makeup, the sets, the props…it truly was a world that existed in the pictures of a comic book.

The characters were all larger than life and the photos I’ve added don’t display a quarter of all of the great ones.

“Dick Tracy” was a tricky movie for my mom.  It was rated PG.  I was old enough to watch it.  I had seen way worse in terms of violence and gore at that point in my life…but this picture had one thing in it that my mother had a hard time with.

MADONNA

Yes.  My mother is not a fan of Madonna.  She was a very “controversial” figure in the 80s. I grew up in a small conservative town…Madonna wasn’t very popular to anyone over 30 in  Blackfoot, ID in 1990.  She was skeptical and encouraged me not to watch it, but she relented.  She, however, refused to watch it with me.

Her loss.

Forget about the technical aspects.  We all know the makeup, costumes, lighting, sets, etc. were amazing.  The performance by Al Pacino is the glue that keeps this picture rolling.  Has there ever been a character that is so dangerous in one second and hilarious in the next?  He boogied with Madonna as Breathless Mahoney, which is meant to be a funny scene…but as you watch the scene unfold, you know that Big Boy Caprice is unpredictable and could snap and break her neck for singing out of key if he felt like it.

There is drama, suspense, humor, action, and a little romance too.  I feel that it is a movie that deserves to be in my top 10 list, but I never count it among those.  It’s probably that guilt from enjoying a movie so much that I know my mother didn’t want me to ever see.

Totally worth it…

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