The Scarlett Johansson Project — #8

Well what do we have here? I admit this is an unlikely way to return, but hey it’s Halloween and this I think is as close as it gets to horror when it comes to Scarlett Johansson’s filmography. Sure, there’s the word ‘ghost’ in Ghost in the Shell. She played the luminous Janet Leigh in Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock (2012). And I already covered her role in Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin (check it out here if you like). 

But my mind was made up after watching Chris Stuckmann’s entertaining YouTube review of this cult classic from the early 2000s, a title I’ve definitely heard bandied about and (I think) typically in the context of “stupidest movie ever.”

Yep. My job today is not to defend against such sleights. This is a mercilessly silly movie. Some poor sap gets punched to death by a giant tarantula. An enlarged jumping spider zip lines down a wire and you hear it going “weeeee!” while an earlier scene finds a cat battling one of the first mutated buggers within the walls of a house, leaving cartoonish imprints within the dry wall à la Tom and Jerry. Elsewhere, Scarlett Johansson tases her boyfriend in the crotch while David Marquette must negotiate enraged arachnids and an acrophobic conspiracy theorist (played by 90s holdover Doug E. Doug) atop a cell phone tower. This thing is death by a thousand giggles, I tell ya. 

But I would be lying to you if I said I didn’t have a blast with it. Maybe that’s because I had Chris’ review in my head; campiness is one of those qualities you’re either going to love or hate, and it’s a hard mixture to get right. I think Eight Legged Freaks gets it right, even though I’m not exactly what you would call a creature feature expert or connoisseur of all things camp. So much winking at the audience, so much tongue firmly planted in cheek. And so, so much spider web and guts. 

Unfortunately, not a whole lot of Scarlett Johansson but she does have a couple of really fun scenes and it’s enough for me to justify this eighth installment, with only two more to go. We’ll wrap up the SJP in December, which will be exactly a year after when I was originally going to finish it up. Better late than never, right? 

Scarlett Johansson as Ashley Parker in Ellory Elkayem’s Eight Legged Freaks 

Role Type: Supporting

Premise: Venomous spiders get exposed to a noxious chemical that causes them to grow to monumental proportions. (IMDb)

Character Background: As the teenage daughter of a small-town sheriff (Kari Wuhrer), Ashley can’t catch a break. Her friends circle in particular is a bone of contention with her mom, and her bad boy boyfriend Bret (Matt Czuchry) doesn’t exactly feel the love from his father, incidentally the town Mayor (Leon Rippy), which enables him to run wild. When push comes to shove during a date one afternoon, Ashley takes advantage of the fact her mom has various self-defense weapons lying about the house. She may not like what her mom does for a living, or care much about anything but today she cares about the convenience.

Her ennui-fueled, punk-ish attitude is soon mellowed when the town gets overrun by oversized spiders who have been exposed to toxic chemicals. The creepy crawlers, once the prized jewels of a local collector named Joshua (Tom Noonan), eventually make their way to the Parkers’ house, where Ashley has a first-hand encounter with one of the hairy bastards. The ensuing frantic action largely loses sight of her, the cluttered plot spinning off to address the various confrontations town-wide, including the self-exiled Chris (David Marquette)’s attempt to free a cocooned Aunt Gladys (Eileen Ryan), and Bret’s wayward trip into the mines where the mighty female Orb Weaver is casually liquefying its victims for easier digestion.

What she brings to the movie: A burgeoning affinity for spiders? At just 17 years old, with already 11 films under her belt and a good 10 years before taking up the mantle of Natasha Romanoff a.k.a. Black Widow, Scarlett Johansson would come face-to-face with a bunch of mutant spiders. She also has played a character named Charlotte (in Lost in Translation), which is also the name of the barn spider in the children’s book Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. Freakish, barely-even-coincidences aside, Johansson’s limited performance here ranks among the film’s best. Not a high bar when this isn’t a movie about the characters. Still, she has confidence and swagger, and easily adapts to the goofy, cheesy atmosphere that Eight Legged Freaks emphasizes. Plus her bad-girl persona gives us a glimpse of the kind of edgier roles she would later take on. 

In her own words: [on being “cocooned”] “Oh, it was awful. I have Dean [Devlin] in the background talking, like, ‘Yeah, it’s gonna be fun!’ And everyone else is running around, and meanwhile no one is paying attention to me. I’m like stuck on this wall for hours.”

Key Scene: Apologies for this being a fan edit but it’s the only clip I could find of Ashley’s big moment. I actually kind of love the goofy tribute to Alien in the face-to-face. Also, ew. 

Rate the Performance (relative to her other work): 

***/*****


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 

Top That: Five Movies I Probably Shouldn’t Have Paid to See

I just can’t help myself. I’m debating whether or not to go see The Impractical Jokers Movie in theaters. It seems like this should be an easy ‘no,’ right? Especially when there are some good options out right now (The Lodge; The Photograph; The Invisible Man). Yet I’m having trouble resisting.

For those who don’t know, Impractical Jokers is a hidden-camera, prank-based show that debuted on TruTV back in 2011 and features a group of lifelong friends — Joe Gatto, James Murray, Brian Quinn and Sal Vulcano — who basically go around making fools of themselves in public. The half-hour long show is structured as a kind of game wherein the guys challenge each other to do all kinds of ridiculous things in public, often involving random strangers who happen to be nearby. It’s pass or fail. Whoever ends up with the most failed attempts at the end of the day gets put through one final round of humiliation. It’s all in the name of good, silly fun of course. How they’re going to pull this off in a full-length feature film I’m not sure. I like these guys but do I enjoy their antics enough to sit in a theater for 90 straight minutes of it? Better question: Can I not just wait until this thing comes on TV? Aren’t these shows best enjoyed from the comfort of your couch?

This has spurred me into thinking about some of the other poor decisions I have made when it comes to choosing what to see in theaters. So here is a Top That! post dedicated to this very concept. We’re going to keep this simple, limiting my “mistakes” to a top five rather than ten. Tell me — what was the dumbest thing you’ve spent money on at a theater?


Jackass: The Movie (that’s 1, 2 and 3) (2002; ’06; ’10) You’d think I would have gotten my fill after one or two, but no. I did the trifecta (and I consider these all the same movie pretty much so this all counts as one item). Sometimes I really do miss being in high school. Back then it was fun to gather a crew together and go laugh at these buffoons basically destroying themselves in the name of low-brow entertainment. Even then though I found the law of diminishing returns quickly setting in as we got to 3. I still find it amazing how out of all of this nonsense Johnny Knoxville actually emerged with his body and brain intact enough to go on to have minor success acting in actual movies, some of which really play to his “strengths” as an “actor,” others surprisingly managing to contain him. The same cannot be said for the others, though. Like, I wonder if Chris “Party Boy” Pontius is still running around in his banana hammock.

The Spongebob Squarepants Movie: Sponge Out of Water (2015) All I remember about this sequel to the 2004 Spongebob Squarepants Movie is that the 3D design is the stuff of nightmares. And yet they made this weird design not just a part of the experience, but pretty much the movie’s raison d’être. The story culminates, as you might have guessed, in Mr. Squarepants and friends venturing out of their comfort zone and breaching the ocean surface as they track down Antonio Banderas’ “diabolical” pirate Burger Beard, who has stolen the secret formula for Krusty the Krab’s famous Krabby Patty. A girl I used to live next door to had all kinds of Spongebob posters on her bedroom wall, so it would have made sense if we had seen this thing together. But no, I made the really bad call of tripping out to this one on my lonesome. Why would I ever do this again?

The Simpsons Movie (2007) This totally unnecessary extension of America’s longest-running sitcom apparently came out in 2007. That means I was about 20 years old when I saw this in theaters — old enough to know better. To know my extremely casual fandom of the show probably means I won’t be getting much out of the movie. The plot finds Homer doing Homer things, polluting Springfield’s water supply and causing the EPA to put the town under quarantine. The Simpsons are subsequently labeled fugitives. The only thing I remember about this utterly forgettable event is Homer riding a motorcycle up the glass dome the EPA encases the entire town in, and dropping an explosive device in the very convenient opening at the very tippy-top. Hey, I may not have really cared for the movie but it was a major success, grossing $530 million worldwide and becoming, at the time, the highest-grossing film ever based on an animated show. There’s a happy ending for ya.

Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) In my review of this rather flaccid romance/mystery thingy, I described it as a car wreck. Well, I described the critical response as a car wreck. This really dull movie was the car. The notoriously troubled production bore itself in the final print. The performances are as stiff as Morning Wood. Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey and Dakota Johnson as Anastasia Steele have zero chemistry. The drama is listless and is paced like a snail. I went to see the cinematic adaptation of the book that had gained “global phenomenon” status because . . . well, I was curious. Needless to say, I didn’t do that again. I heard the sequels were even worse.

Movie 43 (2013) Arguably the worst movie I have seen since starting this blog in 2011, and among the first handful of reviews I posted. (Check it out here, if you dare.) The intensely negative buzz surrounding its release was not enough to stop me and a buddy from checking this out. Not for nothing, but this absolute dumpster fire of an “insult comedy,” one that inexplicably attracted a massive cast, became a conversation piece. “Can you believe how terrible that movie was?” I still can’t, actually, no. I lost respect for a lot of the actors involved here. I think we all did.


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

Photo credits: Distractify; Amazon; IMDb

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.

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

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

JCR Factor #6

Greetings one and all. Thanks for joining Mr. Reilly and I for another edition of the John C. Reilly Factor — Thomas J’s latest character study. We move into September and back into drama with a look at a character I’ve only very recently been introduced to.

This month, I have to be honest, is a rather random selection. I’ve been patiently waiting for an opportunity to get to some of his bigger roles, like the glaring omission I still have in the form of his part in Gangs of New York. Perhaps there are other roles he has that I haven’t seen that are a bit more substantive than the last couple I’ve focused on. If anyone has suggestions, I’d glad to hear them and see where I can go next month. To find more related material, visit the Features menu up top and search the sub-menu Actor Profiles.

John C. Reilly as Dan Brown in Stephen Daldry’s The Hours

Role Type: Supporting

Genre: Drama

Character Profile: Dan Brown fits the profile of a typical 1950s husband. The sole breadwinner of the household, he goes off to work each morning at 8 to come home to a wife and child around 5. Soft-spoken, polite and generally easygoing, he seems a perfect gentleman. But beneath the surface there’s an emotional coldness about him, as Dan has been maintaining a distance between himself and his wife for some time. It has gotten to the point where he’s oblivious to his wife Laura’s increasing dissatisfaction with her lot in life as a housewife. On the occasion of his birthday, all Dan can say is how thankful he is of having a loving, caring wife. Whether he’s aware of quite how disturbed Laura has become being left alone at home all day every day, isn’t very clear. But if Dan says he’s happy then that’s all that matters, right?

If you lose JCR, the film loses: . . . not much. I don’t want to say Reilly is miscast here but he could certainly be replaced by just about anyone in this role. Dan is so peripheral he almost doesn’t matter. I watched this movie with the impression he had a much bigger role to play but this particular character simply does not bear much weight on the overall narrative. And it is certainly not a knock against Stephen Daldry’s drama. His film relies far more on the strengths of its female leads than those of the males, hence Reilly’s skill set isn’t really ever put on full display.

That’s what he said: “The thought of this life, that’s what kept me going. I had an idea of our happiness.”

Rate the Performance (relative to his other work):


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 

The Franco Files — #5

ff

Welcome to June, and the fifth edition of The Franco Files! The exploration of James Franco’s contributions to the cinematic world continues, with the oppressive summer heat kicking in with full effect. And man is it getting pretty terrible around these parts. With the sweltering temps we are reminded that the big blockbuster action films have come out to play.

Since roughly the turn of the millennium the task has pretty consistently fallen upon Marvel Studio’s shoulders to deliver those kinds of goods. With the exception of a rare few outsiders — that is, non-comic book revisitations, re-boots, etc — the summer season is really the three-month period we get to look forward to some of our favorite super-powered peeps taking on ridiculously huge problems we couldn’t possibly tackle ourselves. And of course there have been other studios contributing to the influx of caped-hero crusades. (For example, Sony Pictures proudly brings you this brand new edition of The Franco Files.)

I mean, someone has to. If it isn’t Batman or Superman or Spidey, who else is going to save us from randomly impending doom. . . in the form of migraines, cramps, and possible heat strokes? Again, it’s summer. It’s hot. Our ability to save ourselves or to even really react to anything when it’s 90 degrees and 80% humidity has gone out the open window. It’s a truly lethargic time in the year. Maybe it’s good there are so many superheroes making their way to the big screen. We’ll never be bored. (Theoretically.)

Spiderman-harry-osborn-5881256-688-288

Francophile #5: Harry Osborn, Spiderman trilogy

Role Type: Supporting

Genre: Action/drama

Character Profile: As both best friend to Peter Parker and his sworn enemy, Harry is one of the more complex characters in Sam Raimi’s Spiderman. His father, devastated by the loss of his wife after giving birth to Harry, has henceforth looked upon his son with disdain and quietly blamed him for the tragedy by largely ignoring him for most of his life. A bitter divide between father and son has long since been eating away at Harry’s soul, and so it should be no surprise that the fate awaiting this ostensibly good kid would be anything but filled with happiness and success. Quite the contrary. Franco’s deeply embittered Harry would become heir to the Green Goblin suit, the twisted, vengeful alter ego that his father turned to in times of great despair. Doubling as a physical outfit complete with a hover-board and supreme cheese, the Green Goblin represents the darker (well, more mischievous) side of Oscorp as well as one of the worst things about being Spiderman: watching over the city 24/7 will mean not always being there for your best buddy.

If you lose Franco, the film loses: much of the trilogy’s emotional core. It could be argued the on-again, off-again romantic tension with Mary Jane Watson provided the more painful scars, or that Uncle Ben and Aunt May’s dedicated and loving care truly fostered the best environment for Peter to develop into the kind, benevolent young man he becomes. However, its clear the fall-out between best friends Peter and Harry is what provides Peter with the heaviest heart Rather than being a gut-punch, the decay is long and drawn-out, and quite sad. Franco’s charming yet smarmy portrayal of this storied character is plenty responsible for our endearment to both him and this friendship arc. Confusion, bitterness and despair are qualities that tend to define the man, and these are things the actor handles with confidence. Replace him, and who knows how the character would change.

Out of Character: “[The Amazing Spider-Man] arose even before there was time to bury the corpse of the old one and enshroud it in the haze of nostalgia.” While I do not necessarily endorse Mr. Franco’s sentiments, I think this statement is hilarious and somewhat ironic, considering he himself took part in the recreation process of a classic comic. It seems that the notion that there can be “too much Spiderman” is shared even by those in the business.

(Whatever. You and I both know the biggest thing Marc Webb’s version missed out on was the casting of J.K. Simmons.)

Rate the Performance (relative to his other work): 

3-5


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