Paul G — #5

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Last time we were here, Paul was rocking a sweet silver hairdo, the trademark of famed music producer Jerry Heller whom he portrayed in his second collaboration with director F. Gary Gray. Let’s actually take a look at his first experience working with him in the excellent crime/hostage thriller The Negotiator, where Paul takes on the role of a sniveling man caught up in the crisis as one of the hostages. I believe this was the first exposure I had to the actor, so there are two great reasons to check out this dramatic outing.

Paul G The Negotiator

Paul Giamatti as Rudy Timmons in F. Gary Gray’s The Negotiator

Role Type: Supporting

Genre: Crime thriller/action/drama

Plot Synopsis: In a desperate attempt to prove his innocence, a skilled police negotiator accused of corruption and murder takes hostages in a government office to gain the time he needs to find the truth.

Character Profile: A two-bit con-man with a penchant for confrontation, Rudy Timmons finds himself amidst a tense stand-off between hostage negotiator Danny Roman (an excellent Samuel L. Jackson) who has been set-up by members within the Chicago Police Department, possibly within his own team, to look like a murder suspect. Rudy, a sniveling little dweeb, establishes himself quickly as among the more vocal of Roman’s hostages, insistent he be let free and get as far away from this  situation as possible. Roman, unable to trust anyone, counter-insists that he stay right where he is. And in spite of rising tensions between him and the armed man whose credentials remain dubious throughout, Rudy finds himself playing a crucial role in getting to the bottom of this conspiracy.

Why he’s the man: While Paul may not factor into proceedings physically as much as the likes of his talented costars in Jackson, Kevin Spacey and David Morse, he nevertheless makes his presence felt. Ever good at playing that “sniveling little dweeb” type, Rudy’s transition from thorn-in-the-side to quasi-sidekick is exhilarating and that largely comes down to Paul G’s fairly solid grasp on the situation at hand here.

Rate the Performance (relative to his other work):


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Photo credits: http://www.watchesinmovies.info 

TBT: Out Cold (2001)

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As the leaves continue their mass exodus from their branches, I’m reminded that my favorite season is just around the corner. Why winter? A couple of reasons. First of all winter seasonals are some of my favorite beers. Second, winter usually means snow, and snow usually means it’s time to go and hit the slopes. And of course you can’t have ski trips without the aprês ski — very few things go better together than a long day of shredding and then hitting the bar at the bottom of the mountain at the end. Then there’s the other clichés of course: hot chocolate, the turn of the New Year and all that that entails. The list goes on. To mark the occasion I figured we’d take a look at a snowboarding film I remember fondly from high school. I distinctly remember wearing this disc out, well beyond playability I watched it so many times. 

Today’s food for thought: Out Cold.

Getting awkwardly stuck in jacuzzis since: November 21, 2001

[DVD]

For those of a certain comedic persuasion, it doesn’t get much more nostalgic than when you think back on the first time you watched the Malloy brothers’ Out Cold, a low-budget, low-risk, bacchanalia-obsessed film about a group of snowboarders trying to save their rinky-dink ski town from being converted into a commercialized tourist trap.

While the film has all the hallmarks of a direct-to-DVD feature — which I’m fairly certain it was — it goes down like a swill of your favorite Rocky Mountain brew, its outrageous (and numerous) Zach Galifianakis-centered hijinks and small-town frolics producing that oh-so-warm-and-fuzzy feeling buddy comedies are so adept at. Trust me, if you haven’t ever seen the movie it’s not anything you can’t figure out using the above movie poster as a reference. Out Cold is about as silly as they come, but unlike other films of its ilk it has a surprising amount of staying power.

The uniformly memorable cast of characters goes a long way in cementing the film as one of the best in a bunch of very mediocre and unambitious slacker films; Jason London’s Rick Rambis heads up a crew of twentysomethings who have probably spent a little too much time at elevation, for all intents and purposes good kids who have allowed the combination of fresh mountain air and bong smoke dictate every major life decision they need to make — whether it’s properly honoring Bull Mountain resort founder Papa Muntz or figuring out how to tell your crush they’re the only one for you.

Aiding Rick in his inebriated misadventures are Anthony (Flex Alexander), Jenny (A.J. Cook), the endearingly brain-damaged Pig Pen (Derek Hamilton) and his only slightly-more-coherent brother Luke (Galifianakis in his break-out role), and the bar tender Lance (David Denman), who has severe self-esteem issues . . .

Of course there are a few stand-out supporting roles that add some flavor to this Raunch Sandwich: David Koechner plays town weirdo Stumpy, a guy more comfortable in shorts than in proper winter gear and with a penchant for going on rants (be careful what you wish for, Richard); Lee Majors shows up in a small but pivotal role as John Majors, the businessman who poses a threat to Bull Mountain’s stoner status quo; Swedish model Victoria Silvstedt blends nicely into the Alaskan scenery as Inga . . . and of course by ‘nicely’ I mean she sticks out so much it becomes comical. At nearly 6 feet tall and long, flowing blonde hair she is quite the woman. Too bad she’s only a weekend visitor, schtepdaughter to Mr. Majors. The resort, a family business, is now being run by Muntz’ bumbling son Teddy (Willie Garson). And then of course there’s Thomas Lennon being, well, Thomas Lennon.

It may seem odd to give this many people a nod in a movie this small, particularly when considering only a few of them — Galifianakis, Koechner, Hamilton and Denman — leave a lasting impression. Yet Out Cold lives and dies on the camaraderie of its cast; this is very much a festive occasion with more emphasis on penis jokes, practical jokes and even practical penis jokes than story. Sadly Out Cold can’t quite resist the urge to toss in a thoroughly sugar-coated romantic subplot involving Rick and his former gal, who just so happens to stop in at their watering hole one afternoon. Oh, and she also happens to be Majors’ daughter, Anna (Canadian beauty Caroline Dhavernas). What are the odds?

London and Dhavernas share about as much chemistry as Galifianakis shares with his polar bear friend in the early stages of the film. Unable to move on since being stood-up at the end of a week-long fling in Cancun, Rick finds himself pining after his long-lost love to the tune of some seriously overdone clichés that offer up the film’s lamest scenes. Apparently the romance is a tongue-in-cheek reference to Casablanca (though I’ll leave it up to you to determine how successfully that comes across for anyone who hasn’t seen this film). Barring this unnecessary frill, Out Cold does well by its decision to stick to the open slopes instead of heading into the trees where less-traveled narrative paths run the risk of potentially exhilarating or completely losing its audience.

Out Cold is as predictable as they come but the party atmosphere, conjured by a great cast, makes for a highly enjoyable and unexpectedly hilarious package.

Recommendation: One to watch in your early 20s, there’s no doubt about it. Make that late teens. There’s no nudity in this one folks, which is a little odd considering, once again, the party atmosphere. (For whatever reason these guys were aiming at the PG-13 rating. . . presumably to net a larger audience, but . .  eh.) Definitely a great one for early, stand-out comedic touches from the likes of Galifianakis, Koechner and Denman. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 89 mins.

TBTrivia: Very loosely based on Casablanca. It can be seen when Rick has the flashback of him and Anna, when Rick says, “Of all of the bars in all the ski towns in Alaska why did she have to pick this one?” (much like “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world . . .”), when Anna has Luke (Sam in Casablanca) play their song and Rick walks in, and finally in one of the closing scenes when Anna gets on the plane and Rick says, “We’ll always have Pedro O’Horny’s,” which is a direct reference to Humphrey Bogart’s famous, “We’ll always have Paris.”

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Photo credits: http://www.martiperarnau.com; http://www.alchetron.com 

TBT: National Lampoon’s Van Wilder (2002)

Panic time is now over as I have finally found something to talk about this Thursday. (Why don’t I have a DVD plan with Netflix yet? That would surely eliminate some of this stress of finding movies I want to see only to be denied by a limited viewing availability. Oh, wait. That’s right. It costs more money. Yes, I’m poor — I can’t afford that kind of an upgrade, and yes, I will allow you to snicker at me. That’s totally fine.) But once again my DVD library saves me and I don’t have to skip out on

Today’s food for thought: Van Wilder.

National Lampoon's Van Wilder

Refusing to graduate since: April 5, 2002

[DVD]

It might be surprising to some that a film like Van Wilder, a male college freshman’s wet dream, shares the umbrella title ‘National Lampoon’ with the likes of comedy classics such as the Vacation films and Animal House. How could the company have allowed such a degradation of their comedic appeal to happen? Of course, I hold my judgment for what came after the Ryan Reynolds vehicle. There’s a movie floating out there called National Lampoon’s Van Wilder: The Rise of Taj which extends Kal Penn’s redemptive story arc from this film into a full-length feature in which he grows into his own at a fictional England-set university. The less said about that one though, the better.

No, the National Lampoon name wasn’t properly sullied until that film debuted (to an audience of silent crickets) in 2006. Truthfully its reputation may have been done in even before this, as the early 2000s gave birth to a litany of unrelated, increasingly juvenile concepts such as Barely Legal and of course, who can forget N.L. Presents: Cattle CallVan Wilder isn’t particularly revolutionary comedy, demonstrating a keen interest in sexual conquest à la the American Pie franchise while consciously veering away from the more creative situational comedy that produced the Griswold family. Still, with Reynolds starring as the big man at Coolidge College and an emphasis on raucous party-hosting, at least the atmosphere vaguely recalls the scent of John Belushi’s frat house.

Walt Becker’s Van Wilder represented a bright spot in a dark decade when J2 Communications bought the license to the Lampoon name. Even the Chevy Chase-led Vegas Vacation couldn’t bring about the kind of success the original family outings had. The story concerns a young man who, afraid of life after college, perpetually puts off graduating despite a seven-year undergraduate career. He frequently refers to his stay at Coolidge as a “dare to be great” situation, implying that his undecided status is not only intentional but beneficial. How else do you sample all that a major university has to offer?

Of course, his attitude doesn’t sit right with everyone, most notably his father, Van Wilder Sr. (Tim Matheson) who promptly puts a stop on tuition checks when he discovers his son has spent the better part of a decade at Coolidge without earning a degree. Forced to take action to ensure his continued flourishing, Wilder enlists the help of his foreign exchange student/horny assistant Taj Mahal Badalandabad and longtime friend Hutch (Teck Holmes) to plan a semester filled with fundraisers disguised as extravagant bacchanalias. (I still feel like I missed out on the ‘Sue Me, Screw Me Soiree.’)

In full control of his own destiny, Van Wilder is a thoroughly likable young man and that’s wholly due to Reynolds’ comfort in the role. He oozes charisma, optimism and yes, okay, sex appeal but he’s also generous and surprisingly altruistic for a supposed party boy. His knowing winks at the camera — ‘Oh wow, you guys didn’t think that I could pull that off? Me neither!’ — lend the film most of its appeal. Daniel Cosgrove’s Richard Bagg makes up for what Reynolds cannot provide: the film’s obligatory antagonism. Someone has to try to knock the King of Coolidge down a notch or two, right?

As president of Delta Iota Kappa (that’s DIK for short, get it?), Bagg sees Wilder as a threat to his future of attending the prestigious Northwestern University to become a doctor having learned his girlfriend Gwen Pearson (Tara Reid) has been associating with a different social circle when she’s assigned to cover Van Wilder for a story for the campus paper. Cosgrove goes all in, expending a good deal of energy playing this pig of a frat president who winds up on the receiving end of two of the film’s most notorious pranks — one, a scene involving Twinkies and dog sperm (yummy!) disguised as goodies in a false waving of the white flag; the other a highly amusing use of laxatives. The rivalry between Wilder and Bagg is gross and juvenile and ultimately pointless, but damn it if it’s not entertaining stuff.

The most thoroughly unbelievable aspect of Van Wilder is Reid’s journalist Gwen. Not that her stories are outlandish, or that pretty women can’t be journalists. Reid simply doesn’t convince. I buy her story of her movie brother playing hockey for the New York Rangers more than I buy her as a member of the press. But what does any of this really matter anyway? Are we really supposed to believe Wilder’s refusal to graduate is the x-factor in how Coolidge comes together as a community? Would this many people bother to rally around a single student’s cause? A cause that’s in no way health-related nor beneficial to the greater social good. We need look no further than how Van Wilder ends to understand what this particular movie is lampooning.

Becker clearly enjoys mocking the bureaucracy behind higher education. A raucous Hawaiian-themed blow-out brings closure to Wilder’s daddy issues, unites Taj with the girl of his dreams, and finally throws Gwen right into Van’s lap, even if this was a foregone conclusion the moment we first saw the two interact. That the film ends in spectacular party fashion says much about what is expected of the average college student.

Recommendation: It may not rank amongst National Lampoon’s best but Van Wilder is a solid enough addition to the film franchise that expanded the reputation of the humor-based magazine of the same name. From the opening scene this film launches an all-out campaign to offend and disgust in the name of poor taste. If you’re not a fan of that kind of stuff you may as well ignore this. If that stuff sits right with you, this might have been a film you watched over and again before you left for college. Or maybe that’s just me.

Rated: R

Running Time: 92 mins.

TBTrivia: Ryan Reynolds only saw a rough cut of the film before it came out. He hasn’t seen the film since.

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Photo credits: http://www.alchetron.com; http://www.veehd.com 

TBT: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

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Mercifully the month of February comes to an end this weekend. I say this not because of the romantic theme I’ve put everyone through on this feature over the last couple of weeks (I guess that’s bad enough), but because the weather around here has been downright crazy. Last night I put my car in a ditch. Or almost did. I live on one of the nastiest roads in Knoxville and last night I almost fell victim to its twists and turns. Thankfully I was helped out in a matter of minutes. So I’m really ready to move on to some better weather, and hopefully some sunshine.

Today’s food for thought: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

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Erasing painful memories since: March 19, 2004

[DVD]

The fact that Jim Carrey’s unforgettably restrained performance became overshadowed by universal themes of love and heartbreak isn’t a flaw within Michel Gondry’s psychosomatic journey. Quite the opposite in fact. You could say the same for Kate Winslet’s turn as Agent Orange-haired Clementine and to a lesser extent the collective of Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst and Tom Wilkinson. Tremendous performances had a hand in building this production into something memorable but the lasting impact was more a result of everything coalescing together. There are few films that made us feel the way Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind made us feel.

Reflecting upon past relationships, whether they went out with a bang or quietly petered out wasn’t the film’s duty; it has always been our own. Eternal Sunshine isn’t fiction, it’s the brutal truth.

I don’t know if I’m a Joel Barish but there has got to be some part of me that has been, at one point or another. Just the same as the women I’ve dated have reflected some qualities of Clementine, regardless of whether this would ever be something we’d ever bring up. In the film, Joel’s recent ex has undergone an experimental procedure to rid any and all memories of him and once Joel learns of this he wants the very same treatment. In the real world we might jump the gun and label this hardcore bitterness, but screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, along with French director Michel Gondry, expressed it not only as a powerful plot device but an indicator that what once was a beautiful harmony between two individuals had finally reached a critical low point, a proper divorce devoid of the paperwork and legalese.

Dr. Mierzwiak (Wilkinson)’s office personified that which we like to dismiss as a useless emotion. In this dreamscape bitterness and regret functioned, and functioned extremely effectively. As Joel undergoes the procedure at home, with the help of sleazy assistants Stan (Ruffalo) and Patrick (Wood) a switch is flipped somewhere deep in the recesses of his mind that tells him this might be a mistake. He soon begins fighting the process every step of the way in an effort to keep Clementine in his life in any capacity. Anyone who has denied they have done something similar is either a rare exception or is lying to themselves, though understandably (and hopefully) there were less wires and computers involved.

The device is ingenious, but I too would be lying if I said that’s the only thing that propelled Eternal Sunshine into the realm of the classic romantic-comedy (if ever there were such a thing). Describing it like that is like describing one’s relationship as a classic, actually. It’s just awkward and doesn’t feel quite right. Performances and chemistry, yeah they were all in attendance and in great abundance — who knew Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey had the potential together to make Leo jealous? — but let’s dive below the surface. It was the handiwork of those behind the cameras, intertwining the real with the psychological world; juxtaposing Joel’s emotional hangover against evidence explaining it. This was a beautiful relationship insofar as it was properly if not painfully documented. The first encounter on the train to Montauk. The house on the beach, Joel and Clementine sitting on its steps. The pair sprawling out on a frozen lake.

Gondry’s film was as much a visual treat as it was a maze through the mind and heart. Innovative cinematography and set design was largely responsible for relaying an entire spectrum of emotion. I’d also like to back up a bit and not totally neglect Jim Carrey here. My brief address of him earlier isn’t indicative of how I feel about him as Joel Barish. He’d been good before in films I have yet to see (I won’t mention those because, you know . . . embarrassment) but he set a new standard in this one, putting such a distance between his Ace Ventura personality and a character that one might reasonable assert as how he might have been growing up in a desperately impoverished Canadian household, maybe sans the disdain for love and Hallmark holidays. The argument purporting Carrey’s inability to emote was officially rendered invalid with Eternal Sunshine.

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5-0Recommendation: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a unique work of cinematic art. For those into that sort of thing, particularly when it comes to diving into the murky waters of discussing relationship problems — how they begin and how they are resolved — I can not think of too many better than this one. It’s at times pretty heavy but manages to uphold a quirky comedic tone that never allows drama to devolve into melodrama. Performances are universally great and for those looking for a more three-dimensional Jim Carrey may I suggest you give this one a look.

Rated: R

Running Time: 108 mins.

TBTrivia: The voice whispering the above quotation is actually a combination of Kate Winslet’s voice echoing itself, and the voice of an editor working at Focus Features. Apparently, the editor was asked to do a quick voice-over, before Winslet arrived, and it was kept in the final cut.

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Photo credits: http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.imdb.com

TBT: Saving Private Ryan (1998)

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In trying to keep with a theme for this month’s batch of TBT’s, I have failed. 😦 I kind of put myself in a bad spot by opening the month (and the year) with Arnie’s disastrous adventure involving Armageddon in End of Days, a film I didn’t really feel comfortable with “associating” with any others as it’s just so poorly made. Unless I wanted a month of movies that fell well below their potentials I would have to go with some randoms for January. With that in mind, it’s time to get down to brass tacks and explore 

Today’s food for thought: Saving Private Ryan.

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Storming Normandy since: July 24, 1998

[DVD]

Steven Spielberg’s magnum opus is one of those films you can recall precisely where you were when you first watched it. For me, that was crammed into a small bedroom in Columbus, Ohio on a road trip me and a high school friend took in the fall of 2003. He had suggested watching it since he had never seen it, and up until that point I hadn’t been overly enthusiastic over putting myself through something I had heard was so grisly violent. Finally, on the last night of being in town, we slipped the disc into the DVD player.

I’m not sure how many I’m talking to here when I say that if you are anything like I was, reluctant, you have good reason to be if you have yet to experience Saving Private Ryan, particularly the opening half hour. More akin to a form of psychological boot camp designed to test viewers’ resolve than just another confronting scene of blood and gore, the infamous D-Day invasion of Normandy beach cements the film as essential viewing. The reality of war has never manifested as a nightmare so uniquely absurd, what with bodies being engulfed in walls of fire only to emerge as liquefied flesh.

Grenades rendering the very unlucky without a face.

That boy crying out for his mama.

Good thing film can’t tap into our sense of smell and taste; although there comes a point where the blood becomes so much its coppery taste is palpable. It’s also ironic: while wartime violence is something no one should ever witness, this harrowing sequence is history no one can afford to ignore.

After I had made it through this part and the room had righted itself again — I sometimes get the feeling the room is turning sideways whenever I get very uncomfortable in my seat — I felt uplifted, as though I had just achieved something. At the same time I felt callousness as I had this sense that whatever would pass by my eyes next would not be as severe as . . . well, that. There would be continued loss of life and likely there’d be other confronting passages — goodbye, Medic Wade (Giovanni Ribisi) — but I knew even then that Spielberg had crafted something unique once Tom Hanks and his band of brothers gained the hill and bunkers and managed to regroup.

Saving Private Ryan is a title that explains itself but for the sake of coloring the picture: Private James Ryan (Matt Damon) is unaware that his three other brothers have all been killed in battle over the last week, and it is now up to Hanks’ Captain Miller and his company (which is comprised of several names that would later become major players in the entertainment biz, including Vin Diesel) to track him down and ensure his safe return to the States. There’s a tension that somewhat dissipates once we’re off the beach, a transition some have misconstrued as the film losing its strength. That may be true, but only insofar as the opening scenes possess a power that no film can really maintain. Spielberg wasn’t setting out to be masochistic in his choices, nor did he have intentions of frustrating those expecting the bloodletting to continue for two full hours uninterrupted. In his orchestration of the D-Day landing, yes we suffer. And audiences suffer a lot in this sweeping chronicle, but not for nothing.

After the bunkers the narrative distinctly shifts gears, for we move behind enemy lines with Miller et al as they forge ahead through wastelands created by aerial bombings and the crushing weight of Nazi tanks and troops. We escape pervasive, shocking violence but move into a realm that’s arguably more disturbing; the aftermath of war upon civilization. The mission proper gets underway and we move through towns that now bare more of a resemblance to the surface of the moon than anything on Earth, searching for a needle in a gigantic, blood-soaked haystack. Spielberg scatters all kinds of present danger across a steadily sprawling map. From hair-raising sniper shoot-outs to savage hand-to-hand combat in abandoned homes the brutality of war manifests itself in far more personal ways.

The violence doesn’t go away because you . . . excuse me, I . . . wanted it to. Because you want the room to stop spinning like crazy. Because you feel ill. All of these things are symptoms of a person who either watches films too seriously (probably true) or effects of a director whose vision refuses to be compromised. The notion that something has been banned in several countries based on realistic depictions of wartime violence and not because it features a lot of graphic sex scenes necessarily places the film on a short list of extremely disturbing films that are remarkably without great controversy. Rightfully so. Steven Spielberg’s film, though difficult to watch and of the variety that’s good to watch once and be done with, is a cinematic landmark, and quite possibly the standard to which all war films are going to forever be held. Even the ones that have preceded it.

Not that any of this was my immediate impression having randomly thrown this on on a crappy tube-TV in Ohio. It would take me years to comprehend the depravity of its violence, and for me to appreciate how hard it is for a filmmaker to recreate such atrocities with such an unflinching eye, an urgency to tell it like it is.

Who remembers Bryan Cranston in this movie? I don't. I hope I am not alone.

Who remembers Bryan Cranston in this movie? I don’t. I hope I am not alone.

5-0Recommendation: Far from comfortable, Saving Private Ryan is compulsory viewing. An extraordinary achievement in practical special effects and committed storytelling. A powerful vision of the sheer scale and desperation of the D-Day invasion (thanks goes to Mr. Alan Turing for his helping Britain decipher the German Enigma code so they’d know where to invade and when). An altogether unforgettable experience. For all these reasons and quite a few more, you should commit yourself to this film if you have not already. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 169 mins.

TBTrivia: In the German-dubbed version of the movie, one of the actors, himself a German veteran of the Normandy invasion, couldn’t deal with the emotional realism of the film and dropped out and had to be replaced.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.moviezmag.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: The Exorcist (1973)

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I have had this blog for three years now and still haven’t reviewed this?! This surprises me not just because of the infamy attached to this staple of 1970s American horror, but because it is one of my personal favorite horrors ever. Why haven’t I been yammering on about this already?! I blame blogger’s block. But here we are, on another Thursday in October, once again given the opportunity to redeem ourselves. And by ‘we’ I mean me. And by ‘ourselves’ I refer to my more demonic, possessed side. . . 

Today’s food for thought: The Exorcist. 

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Reinforcing the notion that Regan is a terrible name since: December 26, 1973

[DVD]

It’s a shame William Friedkin’s masterpiece of supernatural scares has only gone on to become one of the most parodied films of all time. A shame because the true power of Pazuzu’s icy grip on the throat of a young girl named Regan has so often been overlooked in favor of making fun of a head that spins and pukes at the same time, and that upside-down crab walk.

A shame because this movie used to terrify people and by rights it still should to this day. It’s also a shame, though, that the special effects used in this memorable production haven’t exactly aged well. Modern audiences perhaps should be forgiven for saying ‘no thanks’ when the exorcism phase of a horror movie seems a dime a dozen these days. Unfortunately by passing up on the opportunity to watch The Exorcist these folks are inadvertently missing out on an exorcism done the right way; the disturbing, nightmare-inducing way.

Disregarding the extraneous and inferior prequels and sequels it has spawned, the story centered around a young actress and her daughter’s quite literal descent into hell when Chris McNeil (Ellen Burstyn) began noticing rather bizarre behavioral changes occurring in her Regan. Growing pains associated with the onset of adolescence these were not. Poor Regan is soon revealed as the next incubator for a malevolent spirit.

Elsewhere, an archeologist/priest named Lankester Merrin (Max Von Sydow) has determined his experiences with fighting off demonic possession in the privacy of the possessed’s home are not days of the past. Following his discovery of a pennant reminiscent of the demon spirit Pazuzu, whom he had defeated years ago, Father Merrin is inevitably ensconced in a bizarre case in the Washington, D.C. area, courtesy of another priest having difficulty finding the faith after losing his elderly mother to an illness. Father Karras (Jason Miller) was the first to be contacted by a desperate mother seeking answers to an unexplainable situation. The case is of course, none other than Regan McNeil. She’s rather. . .sick. It’s been determined she needs an exorcism and needs the help of both priests.

If slow-burning horror is what it takes to get under your skin, then William Friedkin has had a movie waiting for you. The director may be knocked a little for applying a liberal amount of atmosphere creation for the first two-thirds of the film. However, the film is titled what it is for a reason, and on that ground alone it did not, does not and should not disappoint. “That scene” is an absolute staple of horror, its tension and emotional involvement hitting into the dark red part of the needle. I hate to reduce a film to a particular scene, but if there ever was a popular title to be reduced to one, it’s this. The beast’s vile behavior and the sounds it made have been difficult to shake for years.

The blame is on the era of filmmaking for a lack of better sound equipment, for surely some of the sound effects have come across more deranged and disturbing on the virtue that they are muffled, tinny and awkward excretions of noise, more aggravating than alarming. Remastered versions have helped improve these issues slightly but one can imagine this film’s potential made in today’s studios. It’s never enough to detract from the levels of nail-biting anxiety, though.

In some ways, perhaps it’s a good thing so many parodies of these moments exist. The more ADHD-prone viewers could use a little bit more of that 21st Century sense of hyperreality to make history more interesting. At least by watching Regan’s head spin right round, right round to Flo-Rida’s song they might be able to appreciate that whatever is being parodied was at one time so effective it spawned these humorous takes on it. Hey, entertainment is all relative anyway so I’m in favor of more people getting caught up to speed with this film’s iconic imagery and settings in any way they can.

It doesn’t get much better in terms of suspenseful exorcisms than this. In today’s horror, the act of exorcising almost deserves its own sub-genre. But there is something truly special about the way it all comes together under the supervision of William Friedkin; the acting, particularly on the part of a young Linda Blair as Regan is superb, urgent and emotional. It’s also an unusually vulgar performance from such a young performer. The pacing lags at the start but intensifies as the situation spirals out of control and into the world of the supernatural, while a chilling, somber tone is never quite escapable.

It’s a shame more people don’t regard The Exorcist as one of the scariest films of all time, because that’s exactly what I think this chilling, suspenseful and at times downright crude chronicling is, one of the scariest things I have ever tried watching.

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5-0Recommendation: Add this one to your queue if you consider yourself a fan of good horror. The pseudo high-concept horror. The horror that can wake you in the middle of the night in a fit of cold sweats as you’ve just dreamt of the vague outlining of a vengeful Pazuzu-like spirit. And fans of the director have undoubtedly had this one in their collection; they more likely have begun many of theirs with this very title. It’s hard to do with horror movies but this is one I have no problem with calling a must-see.

Rated: R

Running Time: 122 mins.

TBTrivia: In the six months following the film’s release, 14-year-old Linda Blair had to have bodyguards following her around in the wake of multiple death threats thrown her way by zealots claiming her character “glorified Satan.”

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Photo credits: http://www.2warpstoneptune.com; http://www.puremzine.com 

The Franco Files #9

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Welcome to October, and the ninth edition of The Franco Files! I suppose now would be a good time to make the announcement. I have decided that I will officially end this thread in December, effectively concluding this feature as we currently know it with 11 entries on December 10. I would continue into next year, but there are a few reasons I’d like to bring this to an end.

First and foremost, I have covered a good bit of ground with James Franco already. At this point I think most of the entries are going to be turning towards discussing new roles (there are a few old ones I would have probably overlooked), so I think it’d be best to keep this as a look back at what he’s done, rather than a constant update on his new stuff. There are regular reviews for that. 🙂 Secondly, there are too many other actors/actresses I would like to shine a spotlight on as well so unfortunately James’ time in the light must come to an end. Third, I think finishing this particular thread in December just makes the most sense. My only regret is not starting it off in January, so that way I would have had a full year dedicated to this. Still, 11 months ain’t bad.

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Francophile #9: Will Rodman, Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Role Type: Lead

Genre: Drama/Sci-fi

Character Profile: Will Rodman is a scientist at the Gen-Sys labs, five years into a project aimed at curing Alzheimer’s, which his father tragically is succumbing to. He’s a hard-working, good man whose work ethic dictates decency, even if his experiment would ultimately lead to a global catastrophe in the form of the simian flu (code-named ALZ-112 in the lab). Under Rodman’s direction, an ape imported from Africa is injected with the virus to ascertain if the brain really does heal itself. When it’s later discovered in another ape — a baby chimp Will takes home — to actually do just that, plus generate increased levels of intelligence and awareness, the next logical step is to apply it to the human brain. Will concocts a stronger version of the 112 formula and labels it 113, and then injects his increasingly despondent father with it, with disastrous consequences. With Will there are many questionable tactics used but ultimately, and given everything that goes down in Rise of the Planet of the Apes‘ brilliant sequel, of course we know that he didn’t mean for any of this to happen. As his bond with Caesar (the baby chimp he saved from death at the hands of scientists wanting to shut down the experiment at Gen-Sys) matures and evolves to the point of a heartbreak, we know this to be true.

If you lose Franco, the film loses: the reason why we care about Caesar in this film. Mr. Franco puts in some hard work to effect a strong relationship forged between man and ape, and in writing that sounds ridiculous but on-screen Franco, man oh man does he sell it. While it really is more about how Andy Serkis is able to capture our hearts that makes the film such a unique experience (that and the top-grade CGI), the basis for Caesar’s ultimate trajectory stems from how he was treated before he truly knew what and who he was. We have to thank Franco for giving Will Rodman enough gravitas to care about him as well as the ape. 

Out of Character: “While we’re acting, [Andy]’s not in an ape suit, he’s in these gray pajama-looking things with censors all over his body and these dots on his face that will help the effects team read his expressions on the computer, so that everything that Andy is doing is captured. So you would think that acting opposite someone like that and trying to think of them as a chimpanzee would be difficult. But, from the first scene we had together on, it[s] easy, because Andy is so good at the behavior and he’s so connected to what he’s doing and — you know, the other actors — that he allows my imagination to take over, and I really can treat him as if he were a chimpanzee.”

Rate the Performance (relative to his other work):

3-5


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Photo credits: http://www.joelederer.com 

The Franco Files – #8

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Welcome to September, and the eighth edition of The Franco Files! Still going strong here, folks. . .even despite my apparent inability to really get going on diving deeper into his filmography beyond the recent things that I have seen him in. Some fan, eh? I know, I know.

Here’s me reaching. Today’s entry is not Franco’s most substantial contribution to film, at least in terms of total screen time. But what he does here is still worthy of mention. Dramatic chops? Check. Actual chops? Yeah, he’s involved in some sort of scuffle here. Mutton chops? Well, you can debate his hairstyle all you want. I’m kind of getting away from my point. . . . Where I was going with this bit was, it’s interesting having seen Franco in all of these significant roles, taking the lead even in some instances, and then switching to watching him dutifully fulfill what’s required of a pretty minor supporting character. I’m sure many out there would prefer him to take on these sorts of roles more often. Me? Eh, I’m not one of ’em. I am, however, willing to take whatever I can get.

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Francophile #8: Marty Freeman, The Iceman

Role Type: Supporting

Genre: Drama/Crime

Character Profile: Originally written for the part of a Softee ice cream truck creepazoid named Mr. Pronge (shudder), which was subsequently changed to a Mr. Freezy truck driver — same name — played by an incredibly effective Chris Evans . . . Franco’s role ultimately becomes that of an even less major supporting role as a meddling middle-man whose relationship with infamously brutal mob boss Roy DeMeo isn’t particularly clear but a connection exists nonetheless. Franco turns up the smarmy factor to effect a seedy character without having to do too much. (Although I wish he had a little more than this.)

If you lose Franco, the film loses (MAJOR SPOILERS): one of Richard Kuklinski’s most offensive moral backtrackings. The murder of relatively innocent Marty Freeman paints the contract killer in the most cold-blooded light possible, as Kuklinski first intimidates the hell out of and then demands a cowering Marty to pray to God before he pulls the trigger. Granted the scene is written fantastically but it still comes down to Franco’s ability to convince us of the terror associated with being on the wrong end of a gun, particularly in a moment as desperate as this.

Out of Character: [Michael Shannon, who plays the lead Richard Kuklinski, on meeting Franco for the first time:] “You know, James is very into poetry. I like James. I met him in Boston at a train station. I was just standing there one day waiting for a train back to New York and this guy walked up with a baseball cap and sunglasses and a big bushy beard and a trench coat. I kind of thought he might be—he wasn’t dirty—but he looked kind of like he might be homeless.”

Rate the Performance (relative to his other work):

3-5


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Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon – The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) – Digital Shortbread

 

Hey guys, here is my contribution to the joint blogathon run by Zoe of The Sporadic Chronicles of a Beginner Blogger, and Rob of MovieRob. I chose to review a Hitchcock ‘classic,’ The Man Who Knew Too Much. It may not be viewed as his single most successful film, but now that I’ve watched it I’m happy to report it’s one perhaps seriously overlooked gem. I loved it.

MovieRob

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Tom from Digital Shortbread wrote the next review for our Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon.  Here are his thoughts on Hitchcock’s remake of his own 1934 movie with the same title – The Man Who Knew Too Much

Thanks Tom for this review!

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The Man Who Knew Too Much

 

 

 

First I’d like to give a big shout-out to Miss Zoe of the absolutely fantastic Sporadic Chronicles. . . blog and MovieRob for hosting me during their impressive and ambitious Hitchcock blogathon. Seeing as I wanted to take part in something that would force me to learn something new about cinema, man, did I find the perfect event! I will be hesitant to admit this, but I might as well here: this is only the second Hitchcock film I’ve seen. I guess I should also ask, do I really hafta turn my movie critic card (that I just had laminated!!)…

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TBT: Accepted (2006)

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Well today, I went from this to that, and that to this and that to that and finally from this to this. It’s been a struggle. While all this dilly-dallying is going on, there are kids going back to school. Or college students preparing to do so. For those people I spare no sympathies because I too was once there. I was once lugging around unreasonably weighty backpacks filled with textbooks I barely cracked all semester. I was once a freshman, riddled with pimples (ew). I was once a senior slowly but surely accepting that all of this — this façade that had come to define who I was for this part of my life — was no longer my reality. Here’s a throwback that actually still manages to recall some of those feelings. This isn’t by any means a technically accomplished movie, but it’s still 

Today’s food for thought: Accepted.

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Release: August 18, 2006

[DVD]

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Bartleby “B” Gaines (Justin Long), a high school graduate falling perilously short of not only his own standards of who he ought to be (or — and how’s this for nursing those cliché withdrawals — who he is destined to become) but those of his parents as well. Bartleby is kind of falling behind as compared to his graduating classmates, and it probably doesn’t help much that he’s named Bartleby.

With frustration and pressure mounting — his parents nagging him at every second, begging and imploring him to get into a “good school” (as all loving and devoted parents ought) and his miss Smarty Pants sister egging on his fears about never getting into college — B finds very little comfort in the fact his other friends are off on a good foot, many of them getting into the first college they applied to. Left in the dust, B comes up with an off-the-cuff plan to establish a fictitious school, one in which walk-ins can sign up for any class as if it were a public health clinic. Classes they so desire in order to set foot on a path that is uniquely their own, and one constructed for their own individual brands of success. How quaint!

That Accepted is plastered with sentimentality and dick jokes — a really weird mix, bro (kind of like vodka and cat food. . .trust me, don’t try it at home) — won’t surprise anyone who happens upon the title and then chooses to embrace its contents. Everything about the process of Bartleby accruing a group of unlikelies for a common cause screams cliched and unoriginal. And that’s precisely what this is. But we aren’t meant to use our heads for this hysterical interpretation of the drafting of high schoolers into institutions of higher education. We’re meant to sit back, laugh and enjoy time going by. That’s a task made easier by certain presences in this film, in particular Lewis Black. And a task also made more difficult by director Steve Pink’s incredibly low ambitions. What could have been a film devoted to revealing the painful truth about the realities of colleges accepting more applications than they have spaces to fill, instead devolves into a raunch-fest filled with overhyped sex, drugs and rock-and-roll jokes.

I wish I were just being cute with that last line. Unfortunately all three of those boxes get ticked with no degree of shame, with a Steve Buscemi-look-a-like fulfilling the rock-star student quota (random). Accepted is a terribly lazy movie, a rehash of several other similar films whose perception of the world may not be any more healthy but are certainly more well formed than this. For the very definition of contrived is now spelt S.H.I.T. (South Harmon Institute of Technology, the fictitious community college B drafts up in an effort to show his parents he is actually attending school and not just. . .yeah, making them up off the top of his head).

Accepted gets high off of making a mockery of the college application process. It features a group of mis-fits — they are unsympathetic in this way as none of our central characters are particularly charming or even likable —  that includes Long’s “B;” (chubby) Jonah Hill’s Sherman Shrader; Maria Thayer’s Rory Thayer (hey, she used her last name!); Columbus Short’s ‘Hands’ (which isn’t nearly as perverse as it may sound); and of course, the token stoner dude, Glen (Adam Herschmann). . . who is conceived of as the dumbest person possibly on this campus. What is his major malfunction? Inhaling too many pot leaves, apparently.

This is a comedy that caters to the lowest-common IQ level and has no qualms with sticking it to ‘the man.’ The man in this case, being whoever decided that four-year degrees are the only ones worth pursuing. Steve Pink actually wisely selected Lewis Black as the mouthpiece for this particular viewpoint. His character, Ben Lewis (who happens to be Shrader’s uncle) can’t help but let his mouth overflow geyser-esque on the subject of educating America’s youth today. He always has an opinion and always has to share it loudly with the rest of us. I’m game for that, but not for the fact that no one seems to take notice of his impassioned gimmickry. Every note that Black hits is loud, but rings false. He couldn’t give a shit either. The script dictates that he should at least try.

Yeah, I can’t (and won’t) be the judge here, despite how much this movie annoys me. Extending one’s own educational background, be it for an extra semester or the pursuit of another doctoral degree, is a noble investment of one’s personal time and the film’s core message highlights the importance of staying in school and improving upon one’s self.

That’s good. That’s actually healthy. Unfortunately what Steve Pink et al chooses to do with his material is not. Rather than portraying a rather mature landscape of alternative-education avenues, his film marginalizes the individual seeking an alternative scholastic path as someone who must have something inherently wrong with them. On top of this film being an amateur production, I disagree with this film on principle. It sends all the wrong kinds of messages and for that reason, this film is bothersome.

Film Title: Accepted

“Oh man, something stinks!” (Yeah, it’s the script!)

2-5Recommendation: Don’t watch this film unless in the mood for some inane comedy, comedy that works much better in other more fully-developed films of the same ilk. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 93 mins.

Quoted: “. . .I got fired for making a shrimp slushy.”

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Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com