July Blindspot: Swingers (1996)

Release: Friday, October 18, 1996

→YouTube

Written by: Jon Favreau

Directed by: Doug Liman

It is all too easy to assume certain things about a movie titled Swingers. Oh, how does that expression go? The project that launched the careers of both its leads as well as the director is, yes, very much a “dude-flick” preoccupied with the pursuit of happiness via the pursuit of women, but the way in which it extracts genuine, honest emotion out of such simple ambitions is really impressive.

Steeped in the Swing Revival period that swept over America in the late ’90s — a curious echo of the 1930s and ’40s when Benny Goodman was King of Swing — Doug Liman’s break-out comedy is both an homage and a movie of its era. Sampling everything from contemporary revivalist groups like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy to ’50s jump blues icons like Louis Jordan, Swingers builds much of its swagger through its eclectic soundtrack. Luckily there are performances to match the up-tempo musical stylings.

Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau are a comedic dream playing struggling actors in Tinseltown who spend their days looking for work and their nights for a good time. Trent (Vaughn) is the quintessential Ladies’ Man whose sense of connectedness to this earth is defined entirely by his gift of gab. He’s not the type to invest his energy into anything long-term, anything real. The only commitment he knows is to playing the field. His prototypical extrovert stands in stark contrast to Favreau’s Mikey who, six months after the fact, is still reeling from a break-up from a longtime girlfriend whom he left behind in New York in pursuit of his dreams out west.

Whereas Trent only looks forward to the future (and his next cocktail), Mikey can’t stop looking back. His obsession with the past has really done a number on his self-esteem and his ability to connect to others in the here and now. Favreau’s nuanced performance captures the pain of being socially graceless and, perhaps because his character is also uncannily me, should have received more than a Best Newcomer award. His A-list status today may somewhat belie his true talents. The role is proof that Favreau is an actor first and a director second. Who knew the guy could do awkward and repressed so convincingly?

After an impromptu trip to Las Vegas* fails to revive a heartbroken Mikey, Trent and a few other actor friends — Rob (Ron Livingston, also playing a version of himself as a fresh hopeful in the City of Broken Dreams), Charles (Alex Désert) and a boy named Sue (Patrick Van Horn) — decide that enough is enough. It’s time to rally around their fallen comrade. Famously the refrain becomes “You’re so money, baby, you don’t even know it.”

Though it is a collective effort, it’s really Trent who tries to instill in Mikey all that he knows about the “unwritten rules” of the social scene. However, when push comes to shove, none of the advice seems to help. His boy is too much of a “nice guy,” which concerns Trent because he knows nice guys finish last. But Swingers (Favreau‘s first screenplay) posits this is an outmoded attitude, even in the ’90s. “Finishing last” could mean meeting a Lorraine (Heather Graham, whose well-placed cameo suggests that timing is the only thing that really matters). Ever so subtly the tone shifts away from crassness and towards something approaching genteelism. It becomes apparent after awhile that there are actually drawbacks of being a Trent. It’s probably a stretch to call the film socially responsible, but its flirtation with romance is a wholly unexpected diversion.

Swingers is a movie of simple pleasures and it’s decidedly low-budget. On first watch you’ll probably notice some technical stuff like the shadow of the camera-man against the wall as he climbs stairs in pursuit of the actors. Visible boom mics in a number of shots. Some of the effects are badly dated. If you ask me, all of this adds to the purity of the experience. The movie has such a big heart it just barely manages to wear it on its sleeve. Its passion is persuasive. Its enthusiasm contagious. Swingers is a born winner. And the music ain’t bad either.

Curious about what’s next? Check out my Blindspot List here.

* Fun trivia: the scene that takes place on the side of the highway on the return trip wasn’t shot legally. Permits for shooting are required, and the production team neither could afford one nor would have ever been able to acquire one for this particular location for red-tape-related reasons. So Liman had to improvise and make it appear as though they weren’t working even though they were. Apparently as the undercover shoot took place local cops were standing by, just out of frame.

Recommendation: Fun, uplifting, unexpectedly wholesome. You won’t want to throw it on for family movie night, but if you’re going through a rough patch Swingers is one hell of an antidote. Whether you’re a Trent or a Mikey there’s a lot to be gained out of this treatise on social dynamics — and though times have definitely changed, our innate desire to find happiness in another person has not.

Rated: R

Running Time: 96 mins.

Quoted: “So how long do I wait to call?”

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

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.youtube.com 

March Blindspot: Trainspotting (1996)

Release: Friday, August 9, 1996

[YouTube]

Written by: John Hodge

Directed by: Danny Boyle

One of the things I had presumed about Danny Boyle’s iconic drug drama Trainspotting was that it was really bleak, and it was that way from start to finish. Don’t get me wrong — this film is not happy, but I wasn’t expecting so much compassion. I wasn’t anticipating something that has such a reputation for being repulsive and controversial to actually be both those things while proving to be something far more substantial.

Of course Trainspotting has been embraced more by some cultures than it has by others. The film, released three years after Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh’s book was published, has become a cultural touchstone in the UK, which makes sense given its unapologetically brash attitude and self-deprecatory humor, dialogue that pierces through to the soul and yet still somehow comes across charming, even poetic. Really really darkly poetic. And utterly unpretentious at that. Despite the film mostly being shot in Glasgow, Welsh set the story in his native Edinburgh, circa the 1980s.

A densely compacted crop of historic and gorgeous stone edifice gouged into rugged green hillsides that contrast dramatically against the cerulean flats of the Water of Leith to the north, the Scottish capital is actually second only to London in terms of attracting European travelers. Yet underneath this façade of wealth and diversity and leisure lie both literal and metaphorically crumbling infrastructures, themes that take root in both Welsh’s novel and Boyle’s adaptation.

Trainspotting tells the story of a group of youths who struggle to overcome terrible drug addictions and who struggle even more with the stagnation that has creeped into their lives. The characters have become British icons: Mark “Rent-Boy” Renton (Ewan McGregor), “Sick Boy” (Jonny Lee Miller), “Spud” (Ewen Bremner), Tommy (Kevin McKidd) and Begbie (Robert Carlyle, a.k.a. “Crazy Asshole”) are pottering around in the ghettos that have become of the urban development projects that were rife in the 1970s. After infrastructural standards dropped many of the buildings began to deteriorate and become neglected. This crumbling backdrop fills the frame with a sense of pessimism that’s hard to escape.

Around this time as well the proliferation of synthesized heroin was on the rise and drug abuse was starting to become an issue. The introduction of heroin wasn’t so much random as it was evidence of a worsening epidemic as opiates had long been ingrained in the culture, having been brought over to the Scottish shores as early as the late 1600s. Opium use had been fairly widespread, so perhaps it was only inevitable that other, more powerful opiates would become available. When we begin our journey in the film we’re at what feels like a threshold. We’re visiting a community hanging on by a thread as the popularity of heroin and the death toll created by its usage continue to increase.

McGregor’s particularly needle-happy “Rent-Boy,” wanting to make more of his life than thieving from the sick and the helpless so he can get high, acts as the driving force of emotion in a film that’s mostly (and intentionally) numb to such dumb things. (Who needs emotion when you have heroin?) His stream-of-consciousness-like voiceover clues us in to the particulars of being not just being a heroin user, but a heroin lover. Meanwhile his so-called mates around him provide the color commentary — especially Begbie. Begbie, he who “doesn’t do drugs” but “does people.” It’s all a vicious cycle, and the script by John Hodge proves remarkably adept at revealing that harsh reality.

The thing about Trainspotting is how effortlessly it comes across as authentic. It’s authentic, but the writing is so poignant and pained with certain truths about the inequity of the world that you might assume there’d be some level of affectedness that becomes apparent. Not once did I sense the kind of artsy/social conscientiousness that often makes indie darlings, even of similar subjects, targets of derision. There isn’t a false note in any of the performances. The caustic, stinging barbs that is the language in which they speak, while noxious, actually confesses to the humanity that is just begging to emerge from underneath yet another stupor.

If there’s one thing I’ve truly underestimated about this film, it’s that it would ever advocate for characters that are as wayward as these. But it really does want them . . . well, most of them, to succeed. It’s far more of a sympathetic film than I thought it would be. And all of this just makes Trainspotting that much better.

Curious about what’s next? Check out my Blindspot List here.

Recommendation: A movie that moved the needle like this needs no recommendation from me. But to fill page space, it’s good. Addictive, really. I canNOT wait to see the sequel. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 94 mins.

Quoted: “1,000 years from now there will be no guys and no girls, just wankers. Sounds great to me.”

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

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

Blindspot 2017

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Peer pressure strikes again, people. I’m doing a Blindspot list this year. That’s right. Twelve films, one reviewed per month. I’ve seen so many fascinating lists over the past several years and finally I think I’m ready to tackle one of my own. It’s an inspired idea, and someone should get a sticker or something for conceptualizing this popular blog trend. What a great way to discipline yourself into tackling that ever-growing list of Movies I Should Have Watched, Like, Yesterday. It’s also a good way of diversifying your tastes. I’m not sure if any title on this list is a real stretch for me, many of them fall under genres I’m predisposed to enjoying anyway, but the vast majority of this list is comprised of things I know I absolutely should have seen by now — barring one or two curios I’ve been interested in ticking off even knowing they are going to be, in all likelihood, somewhat forgettable. The goal wasn’t to create a list of potentially life-changing films. No matter their relevance or durability, I’m motivated to get started here! I hope you all will follow along with me.

I present to you my Blindspot list for 2017*:


January 

defiance-movie-poster

Release: Friday, January 16, 2009

Plot Synopsis: Jewish brothers in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe escape into the Belarussian forests, where they join Russian resistance fighters and endeavor to build a village in order to protect themselves and about 1,000 Jewish non-combatants.  

Review now available here 


February

alive-movie-poster

Release: Friday, January 15, 1993

Plot Synopsis: A Uruguayan rugby team stranded in the snow swept Andes are forced to use desperate measures to survive after a plane crash.

Review now available here


March**

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Release: Friday, August 9, 1996

Plot Synopsis: Renton, deeply immersed in the Edinburgh drug scene, tries to clean up and get out, despite the allure of the drugs and influence of friends.

Review now available here


April

metropolis-movie-poster

Release: Sunday, March 13, 1927

Plot Synopsis: In a futuristic city sharply divided between the working class and the city planners, the son of the city’s mastermind falls in love with a working class prophet who predicts the coming of a savior to mediate their differences.

Review now available here


May

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Release: Friday, May 17, 1991

Plot Synopsis: A successful psychotherapist loses his mind after one of his most dependent patients, an obsessive-compulsive neurotic, tracks him down during his family vacation.

Review now available here


June

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Release: Friday, July 4, 1969

Plot Synopsis: A mysterious stranger with a harmonica joins forces with a notorious desperado to protect a beautiful widow from a ruthless assassin working for the railroad.


July

swingers-movie-poster

Release: Friday, October 18, 1996

Plot Synopsis: Wannabe actors become regulars in the stylish neo-lounge scene; Trent teaches his friend Mike the unwritten rules of the scene.

Review now available here


August

Imprimer

Release: Friday, January 7, 2011

Plot Synopsis: A cop turns con man once he comes out of the closet. Once imprisoned, he meets the second love of his life, whom he’ll stop at nothing to be with.


September

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Release: Friday, October 23, 1992

Plot Synopsis: After a simple jewelry heist goes terribly wrong, the surviving criminals begin to suspect that one of them is a police informant.

Review now available here 


October

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Release: Friday, August 12, 1983

Plot Synopsis: Cujo, a friendly St. Bernard, contracts rabies and conducts a reign of terror on a small American town.

Review now available here


November

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Release: Wednesday, August 16, 1995

Plot Synopsis: A sole survivor tells of the twisty events leading up to a horrific gun battle on a boat, which begin when five criminals meet at a seemingly random police lineup.

Review now available here


December

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Release: Friday, December 31, 2004

Plot Synopsis: Traudl Junge, the final secretary for Adolf Hitler, tells of the Nazi dictator’s final days in his Berlin bunker at the end of WWII.

* subject to change based on availability 

** not original line-up; I have switched out March and May, in anticipation of the Trainspotting sequel  


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

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

Decades Blogathon – The Craft (1996)

 

We have another first-time contributor to Decades ’16, and it’s Maddison from The Final Scene. Head on over to Three Rows Back for her review of The Craft! Thanks!

three rows back

Featured Image -- 60491996 2It’s the penultimate day of the Decades Blogathon – 6 edition – hosted by myself and Tom from Digital Shortbread! I’ll say it again, make sure to check out Tom’s blog; it’s the best you’ll find around these parts. The blogathon focuses on movies that were released in the sixth year of the decade. Tom and I are running a different entry each day (we’ll also reblog the other’s post) and it’s time to welcome Maddison from The Final Scene. Maddison casts her spell on the 1996 teen horror The Craft.

I can’t express how badly I wanted to be a witch in my early teen years. I surrounded myself with purple crystals, burning candles and glittery spell books from the marked down book bins.

The 1990s seemed to be the idyllic age of witchcraft in pop culture, welcoming such films and shows like Hocus Pocus, Practical…

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Decades Blogathon – Scream (1996)

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Welcome back around to the second week in Decades, a blogathon in which me and my good friend and inspiration Mark from Three Rows Back are asking bloggers to weigh in on their favorite films from decades past, films that were released in a year ending in ‘6.’ We’ve been posting a review per day, re-blogging each other’s posts (with the exception being this weekend where we took some time off). I had the chance to write my thoughts on Shane Black’s newest film, The Nice Guys. If you missed that piece you can find it here.

But today we have an exceptional piece from the one and only Zoë, who’s the genius behind The Sporadic Chronicles of a Beginner Blogger. It’s a site I have been dedicated to for some time now, and if you want to go visit it here you will soon see why that’s the case. She’s here to talk about horror-comedy classic Scream


Scream movie poster

SYNOPSIS: A group of teens are pitted against a masked murderer that tests their knowledge of horror movies. – via IMDB

Thank you guys for letting me indulge in re-watching Scream. I don’t know how I would have motivated it to anyone without this Decades Blogathon 😛

Alright, alright, alright! Let me get to talking to a movie that I absolutely adore. Scream. Gosh, I watched this so many times as a kid I damn near wore out the VHS. I had way too much fun with this all the time. I have always had a soft spot for horror/slasher films, whether they are good or bad. This one? It is one of the better ones. I know that it has been mocked and ragged on for ages, but Craven gave us something beautiful when we got this.

Pretty much everyone knows the intro, I am sure. Not much should in theory be a secret there… I think. Anyway, within minutes, you get the setup. Open with Drew Barrymore making herself popcorn, getting a strange call, which starts funny but ends in a terrifying fashion. Recipe for something amazing. End it with an insanely brutal murder and staged corpse scene? Winning all the way. The Scream franchise touts some horrifying deaths, but hers will forever remain right up there for me, because it really set the tone of what was to come in the movies.

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Scream is way smarter than it is given credit for by most. The movie knows exactly what it is, and doesn’t beat around the bush about it. It is in your face honest, and tackles all the conventions of horrors/slashers up until that point, and yet still masterfully crafts a film that feels fresh and new. Obviously these are things that became more clear to me the older I got. Back in the day, it was all about the silly jokes, the phone calls, and Ghostface. Let’s not even pretend. Then I grew up, and got to see exactly how clever Scream actually is. It’s gory, it balances humour and horror, and it does so with great finesse.

Scream bad movies

As for the cast, I thoroughly enjoy them all. You don’t see many of them that much anymore, because they were the reigning nineties champs, but they all did what they were to do. Neve Campbell was perfect to play sweet, innocent, emotionally damaged Sidney, the virgin, and David Arquette is the absolutely adorable Deputy Dewey, and I will always love him. For reals. What a sweetie. Courtney Cox owned in her role of the bitchy and unscrupulous Gale Weathers. Skeet Ulrich was also the perfect pick for Billy, a little dodgy and strange, but rather entrancing nonetheless. Fan favourite Randy Meeks was helmed by Jaime Kennedy, and his character will always be important to the end. He was the one who told us what was happening, who shared the rules and etiquette of survival and the perfect crime.

Scream Gale gets punched

Another thing I enjoy about this movie is how quotable it is. It doesn’t get old, and you are bound to find someone who recognises some of the obscure references and quotes you can yank out of it. That is something that I always appreciate in movies, the ability to stick with you, via imagery or some infinitely awesome quote. The score also complements the movie every step of the way, and all the little references make this film a little gem. I loved the humour here, too, which at times was really dark, and other times really silly. I am glad that it was Craven who helmed this film, as he balanced this out. Apparently other directors that were considered initially viewed Scream as more of a comedy than anything. Phew. Luckily it didn’t go that way!

Scream rules

Overall, Scream is still a highly entertaining watch, even after all this time, and peddles tons of humour, horror, and gore. If you haven’t seen it (*cough cough* TOM), I would highly recommend checking it out! Obviously I am a fan, and I know I am not alone on that front!

TBT: Fargo (1996)

Get the heck out of here, August. Take all your bad vibes with you. Not that this month has been a particularly bad one for watching movies, new and old alike. But, sheesh, would you just please get out of the way so the fall season can begin? And I’m looking forward to more than just good movies as well as lower temperatures — it’s soon the beginning of football and later, the basketball season. And then, the inevitable cold grip of winter. (Although I will say I don’t get to look forward to anything like my friend in the north Ruth does on that front.) Watching this movie today gave me a taste of what she may be dealing with within the next few months, so my thoughts go out to her. I’m thankful I don’t have to deal with the conditions found in

Today’s food for thought: Fargo.

Chilling out since: Friday, April 5, 1996

[DVD]

So Fargo is an odd one. Not purely because of the content — it is quirky and at times pretty uncomfortable, no doubt about it — but owing more to the fact I could barely react after finally undertaking the journey. High production values, coupled with the Coens’ affinity for quirking out and all that are qualities that I admire about it, but if I have a duty to actually love what I’ve watched, then I’ll have to force the feeling.

And yet, I’m not comfortable saying I dislike it either. I’m frustratingly indifferent to the whole thing. Beyond the peculiar accents that implied lots of vocal coaching for the principals, the wood chipper murder scene and Frances McDormand’s unflappable Marge Gunderson, there’s not much about Fargo that will stay with me. To further muddy the waters, I can’t disagree with its success at the 69th Academy Awards ceremony, being nominated for an impressive seven awards and winning two — one for its original screenplay and another honoring McDormand’s lead performance. In fact I see the film just as deserving of a gold statue for its subtle yet effective production design. That’s the trifecta of achievements that has earned Fargo its reputation over the last two decades, at least as I see it.

Do I blame the reputation itself for my own lackluster experience? Maybe a little, but then that kind of argument feels more like an excuse, an object for me to hide behind because     . . . well, you know, popular opinion can be a hell of a tide to swim against. Fargo is so very Coen-esque, but give me The Big Lebowski any day over the farcical trials of a few northern Minnesotans. Of the two dark comedies, bowling alleys made for a more compelling visual motif than a snow-covered highway. But I get the point. Fargo was never intended to uplift and inspire the kind of ‘happy’ laughter The Dude and his oddball friends do. Fargo is downbeat, its amusement derived from the ineptitude of many of its characters. That and the sheer hopelessness of the winter season.

When Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), a desperate car dealer, hires a pair of thugs to kidnap his wife in an elaborate scheme to extort nearly one million dollars from her wealthy father (his boss), Wade (Harve Presnell), things go pear-shaped for the criminals, leaving Jerry in an awkward position between them and Wade, who is unaware the actual ransom is only $80,000. Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) and Gaear Grimsrud (a particularly nasty Peter Stormare) are transporting the wife when they’re unexpectedly pulled over by a state trooper just outside of Brainerd. The encounter turns ugly quickly when an enraged Gaear shoots and kills the officer and hunts down the unfortunate kids who happen upon the scene moments later.

“Looks like a triple homicide,” deduces a curious Marge the next day. And, yah, I get what is going on here, too. I’m supposed to be mesmerized by her very un-mesmerizing attire, a uniform of brown and gray, vivid when set against a never ending sea of white. No doubt about it, her presence is visually significant, a kind of modest icon who seizes every opportunity to provide the film (or more critically, viewers) a modicum of reason. Her intuition at the scene of this odd crime scene suggests that, aside from her doting husband Norm (John Carroll Lynch), the coalition for reason in Fargo is considerably weak.

I have a high threshold when it comes to films that are deliberately weird. I get along great with Lebowski, find something thrillingly disturbing in A Serious Man, and even accept characters who are meant to be enjoyed less than they are pitied, people like Llewyn Davis. The Coens managed to at least pique my curiosity even if their collaborative effort failed to fully engage me. Emotionally I was kept at an arm’s reach as I witnessed a crime story devolving into a mere battle of wits between Officer Gunderson and that slimy little Jerry fella. Performances from Buscemi and Stormare helped boost my enthusiasm — more so the former than the latter — and offset this sense of duty I felt for having to put up with Macy’s sniveling little scumbag of a car dealer. (Credit where credit is due, though: my frustration with his character is once again derived from his high caliber acting; if he weren’t good he’d have elicited no reaction from me at all.)

For a film that has been as lauded as it has over the years I exited feeling more or less unchanged, as if I were watching the movie with glazed-over eyes. I kind of feel guilty. While I will forever maintain that Fargo was robbed of a production design award — saying I exited feeling unchanged isn’t quite accurate actually, I just felt cold and lonely at the end — I feel similarly robbed, with expectations perhaps unreasonably elevated to insurmountable heights given its reputation as “an American classic.” What did I miss on my first visit? I suspect I’m going to have to go back and watch again because now the guilt is starting to feel a little more like paranoia.

Recommendation: Fargo is the Coen brothers at perhaps their most idiosyncratic. This is a production filled to the brim with strong performances and the filmmakers’ penchant for finding comedy in the funereal. Aside from McDormand’s policewoman I feel like there’s not much to recommend about this film, despite everything I have ever heard about it. But maybe I just need to sit down and give it another chance. Not exactly a prospect I’m looking forward to though. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 98 mins.

TBTrivia: The snow plow that drives past the motel at the end of the film was not part of the script. Signs in the area warned motorists not to drive through due to filming, but a state employee ignored them.

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

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

PSH Blogathon: This is the fun part, sweetheart

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I would like to first give a shout-out to my friend Jordan of the one and only Epileptic Moondancer for providing me the perfect platform from which I can profess my infatuation with the late Philip Seymour Hoffman and his role in Jan de Bont’s exhilarating, special effects-driven Twister. I have been looking for another avenue to venture down when it comes to talking about his simply charming performance in that film, one of the very first few I got to see in theaters. I have Jordan to thank for that.

Born: July 23, 1967

[Character actor]

Role: Supporting

Character:  Dustin ‘Dusty’ Davis

Twister operates under the assumption the viewers are, if not nearly as, then equally infatuated with extreme weather as its central protagonists. It bounces around from one corn belt locale to another in the height of one of the most active tornadic seasons in American history in the summer of 1996. Conveniently frequent encounters with this uniquely violent weather phenomenon ensure Twister rarely has down time. But if there were ever a person, a character who could compete for our attention, by virtue of their own charisma, with the ethereal beauty of cylindrical clouds connecting sky to earth, it would be Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Dusty.

Garbed in loose-fitting clothes, tattered and torn by his own enthusiasm for storm chasing, Dusty is Jo’s team’s identifiable loose cannon. He sports a long and ragged crop of dirty blonde hair kept mostly under control by his hat-hood combination, road-weary eyes hiding behind a pair of aviators (presumably this is the best kind of eye protection when driving down roads presided over by ominous castles built out of accumulating wall clouds). If Bill Paxton’s Bill Harding successfully sucked a lot of the fun out of the chase — and you can bet he did with that temper of his — Dusty was the anti-vaccuum, essentially vomiting gusto for the next opportunity to seek out what Tornado Alley has to offer.

Twister isn’t known for its character development and yet the film is rich with characterization. Bill’s a hothead who has been branded as ‘the craziest son of a bitch in the game,’ while Helen Hunt’s Jo is a stubborn woman whose toughness has been forged out of the tragic weather-related loss of her father at an early age; there’s Beltzer and Rabbit — unremarkable in their own rights but highly energetic contributors to a young team who are gung-ho on making a technical break-through when it comes to predicting and rescuing people from this extreme weather. Similar to his on-screen colleagues Dusty doesn’t undergo change so much as he endures one of the craziest seasons of storm chasing of his career. It’s his pairing with Bill’s new fiancée Melissa (Jami Gertz) that tends to bring out his wilder side, where we get to zero in on this peculiar extension of this team.

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Dusty’s all too eager to introduce the sex therapist to the world of meteorology and storm chasing, providing a handful of scenes in which his enthusiasm far exceeds any slight burgeoning interest Melissa musters for her would-be husband’s former career. “This is the fun part, sweetheart,” Dusty tells her as Bill and Jo go gallivanting off in the red truck towards a purported F-3 tornado, the third iteration of the Dorothy weather tracking instrument in tow. An eye roll from Jami Gertz is the actress’ way of defending against a smile from breaking out on her face. She knows as well as anyone Hoffman is intensely infectious in this movie.

Combined with his pseudo-hippie converted school bus — affectionately nicknamed the Barn Burner, complete with loudspeakers and an atrocious paint job — Dusty is arguably Twister‘s soul and spirit. (He’s the guy I most closely associate with the adrenaline of Van Halen’s ‘Humans Being,’ anyway.) The visual effects are clearly the centerpiece of de Bont’s film, with each tornado ramping up the action spectacle and becoming a character unto itself based upon the ease with which it converts towns into splinters, bridges into dust, corn fields into particles of lovely yellow shit. Not to mention the psychological impacts it has upon the chase team(s): “I’m sorry Jo, I don’t even know if you want to hear this but the NSSL is predicting an F-5.”

But we ought to move beyond the obviousness of Twister‘s visuals. There’s no denying that without Hoffman’s eccentric work here, Twister would be all the worse off for it. It’s one character in a multitude that proves the actor’s dedication to the work assigned to him. It’s something lovers of film and lovers of this film specifically shouldn’t take for granted. The energy is so very specific, yet unfortunately comes at quite an expensive price.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 113 mins.

Quoted: “Repo Man spends his life getting into intense situations, Beltzer!”

“Meg’s gravy is famous. It’s practically a food group.”

“He strolls up to the twister, and he says, ‘Have a drink.’ And he chucks the bottle into the twister, and it never hits the ground.”

“He’s gonna rue the day he came up against The Extreme, baby. Bill, I’m talkin’ imminent rueage.”

“Fashionably late again, eh Jonas? Fashionably late. Gimme a kiss baby!”


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

Photo credits: http://www.emgn.com 

TBT: Matilda (1996)

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Throwback Thursday is here once again, offering up only the most nostalgic trips back in time as possible. This week is certainly no different. We go back to a time and place where children were best seen and not heard from; where it was alright for their parents to be downright nasty to them (even despite one of them being almost shorter than their six-year-old); a time when learning was a privilege and not a right. (That actually doesn’t make any sense, I just needed another sentence in there to make this paragraph longer.) But what does make sense is that this TBT is what I would consider as yet another classic film, and not just because it’s a great book adaptation, either. 

Today’s food for thought: Matilda

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Release: August 2, 1996

[VHS]

Beware, the Trunchbull.

Danny DeVito’s fourth feature film as a director is uncompromising in its refusal to be just another lighthearted children’s movie. This was no young adult adaptation nor even a dark comedy, but rather a film based upon the children’s book of the same name in which a brave young girl learns to use her gifted imagination to overcome the oppression that’s perpetually hurled at her.

The deception is what powers this particular movie; the maturity of the thematic elements is still to this day almost shocking. Unlike other big-screen conversions like Fantastic Mr. Fox, James and the Giant Peach and The B.F.G., Matilda (and to a lesser degree Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) was an adaptation that truly took advantage of the dark, drab atmospheres that Dahl so famously immersed his young readers in. This was due in part to the live-action screenplay and the fact that a man of DeVito’s stature helmed the project.

Matilda (Mara Wilson) was a special girl whose home life was an absolute nightmare. This child epitomized the concept of having an active imagination. In fact, she had telekinetic powers that would prove to be both problematic and liberating. At home with her disgusting parents (DeVito and Rhea Perlman), Matilda often found herself bullied because of her inclination to read. When she’s forced into attending school at Crunchem Hall — a place that with the passage of time seems to only resemble more of a prison barrack than an educational institution — Matilda found friends in a few students and in particular, the kind-hearted Miss Honey (Embeth Davidtz). However, she also discovered her great enemy in the terrible Miss Agatha Trunchbull (an intimidating performance from Pam Ferris that has left me scarred to this very day). The Trunch enjoyed terrorizing students, and was quite effective in keeping the Hall under her thumb. That is until she came across the strange but brilliant Matilda Wormwood.

Dahl’s imagination apparently knew no bounds. He invented The Chokey for chrissake. And those who have watched this film/read the book understand what that horrible contraption was all about. The punishment for disobedience in this particular setting was severe, and here came this young girl willing to defy the odds just for the sake of seeking justice. Justice, in Dahl’s eyes here, being the right to be treated fairly, like any other normal kid at the time would be treated.

But Matilda found herself a target of the evil Trunchbull and victimized by her awful parents at every turn — until one day, enough was enough. One of the beautiful things about this decidedly bleak affair was getting to see the confidence building up in this little girl and seeing where she could most effectively apply her telekinetic energy. There’s no doubt that if there was one thing DeVito got right about his adaptation, it was this uncanny ability of Matilda to outwit her adult opponents. The cat-and-mouse chase through Trunch’s house one afternoon serves as a highlight.

But that’s not all DeVito nailed with his film. As a director, he managed to effect the tone almost perfectly. The book was no light read, just as the film doesn’t pretend to beautify the world. The performances he extracts from his cast are effective in the extreme, particularly those of Ferris and Wilson. DeVito turns in fine work as Matilda’s sketchy car dealer Harry, and Davidtz is wonderful as the shining light, the sole person to truly care for Matilda.

The film is set in appropriately depressing environs, with the Hall and the Wormwood home coloring in the black-and-white impressions we gained from Dahl’s writing, not to mention a handful of other story elements as well.

At the end of the day, Matilda is a wonderful movie that offers up charm and danger in equal doses, and its thematic elements still bear significance nearly twenty years on. As a child this can often be abrasive viewing, but watching this now is more likely to cause chuckles at the sheer overwrought nastiness in characters like the Trunchbull and Harry Wormwood. Therein lies the genius in the Roald Dahl school of thought.

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4-0Recommendation: Matilda is a remarkably mature read for six-to-ten-year-olds (it might be argued its just as good of a read now as it was then) and the film doesn’t abandon the notion. It’s not the nicest Dahl adaptation you’ll find, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a classic. It has its flaws, but those who grew up loving Roald Dahl should have already seen Matilda so many times on VHS that the tape no longer plays properly in the cassette.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 102 mins.

Quoted: “They’re all mistakes, children! Filthy, nasty things. Glad I never was one.”

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

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

TBT: James and the Giant Peach (1996)

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This originally was going to be a randomly selected movie from the 90’s as my TBT of this week; as it turns out this also marks my second review of a Roald Dahl-adapted movie. Hooray for coincidences! Ah, this was such a childhood favorite . . . (apologies for the forthcoming gushing, which will be uncontrollable and overwhelming).

Today’s food for thought: James and the Giant Peach

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Release: April 12, 1996

[VHS]

Few films can offer up the prospect of escaping from reality quite like animated films, and especially animated children’s book adaptations. And especially-especially when said adaptations involve the imaginings of Roald Dahl. With Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory being covered last week, it seems only fitting to rave on about a second successful translation of Dahl’s magical adventures to the big screen.

The man tasked with recreating this story of a gigantic peach that a child uses to escape his oppressive home life is also responsible for The Nightmare Before Christmas, Henry Selick. Why shouldn’t this eccentric, at times creepy, yet ultimately heartwarming fantasy endear as well?

James, as we all know, is this little innocent kid but whose been tragically orphaned by a remarkably horrible shopping outing in London, wherein both of his parents got eaten by an escaped rhino from the local zoo. (Lest I forget to mention it at all, I’ll bring it up now. The description of ‘children’s book’ is a relatively loose term when talking about Dahl’s writing; he employs a dark humor and a much bleaker undertone to most of his books than many other authors tend to, for obvious reasons. It easily distinguishes Dahl as one of the more unique authors of the day.) Since being orphaned, James is now forced to live with his downright despicable aunties; two witches who abuse and neglect the boy on a daily basis — Aunt Spiker (Joanna Lumley) and Aunt Sponge (Miriam Margolyes).

When a miraculous peach begins to grow on their hardscrabble, cliffside property and winds up becoming a peach the size of their house, the aunts are quick to capitalize by absorbing all the media attention and publicity they could possibly get. Meanwhile, life has become more or less intolerable for James and one night he sneaks out and explores this alien fruit. He discovers he can actually get inside of it. When he does, he finds something he never would have expected: giant insects inhabiting the peach. After getting trapped in a web spun by the huge Spider (Susan Sarandon), its not clear if what James is shocked by is the size of these bugs or the fact that they can all speak English. No matter, he calms down and introduces himself. Soon, they hatch a plan to escape from this wretched cliffside, using the peach as their life raft of sorts.

The ensuing adventure sticks into the young, impressionable viewer’s mind like a picket fence in a giant peach as it tumbles away from the evils of Aunt Spiker and Sponge. Along the way, this fierce band of rather silly, egotistical but generally good-natured bugs, spearheaded by the confident James, run into some obstacles that constitute one of Burton’s most inspired narratives ever. His recreation of this mechanical shark-thing in the ocean is not only exciting but just bizarre. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

James and the Giant Peach is filled with strange encounters that bring out the best and, often just as easily, the worst in each of these odd characters. Highlights on most viewers’ lists just have to include Centipede’s brave borderline suicidal exploration of a pirate ship sunken in frozen waters; the battle with the cloud-rhino — a weather phenomenon towards the end of their journey that manifests James’ most primal fear; and all throughout the film, between each ridiculous event, the humorous and insightful banter that primarily occurs between the idealistic Grasshopper and the clumsy and more selfish, although still likable, Centipede. The fact that all of this takes place on one gigantic fruit exponentially increases the fun.

Despite the film’s reluctance to stick to the novel’s particulars — this has been an issue for many of the works adapted to the screen for Dahl, personally (he absolutely despised the way Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory turned out) — the movie pretty accurately renders the characters as charming and memorable as they were in the book.

Perfect voice talent helped to ensure that. The bugs, instead of making you want to traditionally smatter them across the screen using your windshield wipers, pop off the screen — each one endowed with vibrant, distinct personalities. Richard Dreyfuss’ Centipede is hands-down the best of the lot here; then there’s the wizened old Grasshopper (Simon Callow) who imparts his knowledge and experiences upon the rest and, again, is the perfect little ego-check for Centipede (these two have a repartee that’s necessarily in the same hilarious company as that of Woody and Buzz, or Timon and Pumbaa). We have also the delicate Ladybug (Jane Leeves) who is cute and harmless (if they made an evil lady bug or even one with ulterior motives, I think I would be upset); and David Thewlis provides a little color in the background with his Earthworm, though he’s admittedly the most forgettable of the crowd.

James and the Giant Peach is a tremendously effective mix of the adventure element with some rather grown-up material. As a miserably abused orphan, James’ story is hardly a happy one, but of course he is destined for a much more pleasant life after he escapes the clutches of his aunts. When the peach makes its iconic entrance into Manhattan after traveling all the way from England, not even the absurdly off chance run-in with them on the streets below can tear James away from his newfound friends and, most importantly, family.

The conclusion is a little too tidy, but there’s no denying the appeal of all that had led up to the peach getting stuck atop the Empire State Building. While not remaining entirely faithful to the details of Dahl’s vision, Selick’s direction is effective, matured and hopefully will be the only associated with the film adaptation. Please, Hollywood, for once let us bathe in the experience of this lone adaptation and do not resort to unneeded remakes. Keep your hands off this peach!

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4-5Recommendation: Another solid translation of Roald Dahl’s bleak visions of different childhoods, the film version of a young boy who discovers some magic in a very desperate time which allows him to escape his current circumstances is at once dated, timeless, tragic and uplifting. I’m not sure how many have not seen this movie by now, but if you haven’t, it’s a must-see for Tim Burton fans and especially for fans of adventure films. This is a sterling example of imaginative storytelling.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 80 mins.

Quoted: “This is an outrage! You are a disgrace to your Phylum, Order, Class, Genus, and Spe. . . .”

“Say it in English!”

“You, sir. . .are an ASS!”

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

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