The Man Who Killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot

Release: Friday, February 8, 2019 (limited)

→ Redbox

Written by: Robert D. Krzykowski

Directed by: Robert D. Krzykowski

With a title as extravagant as The Man Who Killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot it’s hard not to build up some extravagant expectations. Maybe you’d assume this is an adaptation of an obscure graphic novel you’ve never heard of, something akin to V for Vendetta, or a righteously vicious midnight movie where the last one left standing is the audience in ovation.

Well, hate to say it but if you’re in bloodlust right now this movie just won’t do. Robert Krzykowski’s directorial début is more of a melancholic character piece than a slicked in dudesweat thrill ride to the edge of sanity. The good news is that it’s well worth seeking out, you just may need to be in the mood for something more quirky than straight-up crazy. This is a movie that unabashedly marches to the beat of its own idiosyncratic drum, and in so doing it largely and surprisingly steers clear of the expected, i.e. bloody machismo.

The story tells of the eventful life of a mysterious man named Calvin Barr and focuses on him in two different eras. The flashback-heavy first half gives us a glimpse of who he was, a young American spy/assassin sent on a highly classified and dangerous mission into the heart of Nazi Germany to take out the Führer. He’s played here by Aidan Turner who offers a convincing younger visage. By way of a small supporting turn from Caitlin Fitzgerald it also teases the life he might have led had he never shipped out.

All of this is filtered through the memories of Sam Elliott‘s world-weary, retired veteran in the present day. It is this version of the character we first meet, nursing a whisky at a bar. As he stares the drink down like it owes him money he disappears into his thoughts, taking us with him. After the war Calvin returned with some pretty big secrets and so retreated to a small town somewhere near the Canadian border where he’s spent most of his time minding his own business, contending with the occasional carjacking punk and the pebble that just won’t get out of his boot. His golden retriever has remained his most trusted confidante. If self-exile looks lonely, the feeling is certainly no reward for someone who ostensibly saved western civilization (and who will end up doing it twice).

At least it’s peaceful. But then all that gets trampled on by the Feds (Ron Livingston and Rizwan Manji) suddenly appearing on his doorstep. They’re seeking the legendary Nazi-slayer for his help in bringing down the one they call Bigfoot, whose (yes, actual) existence would be nothing more than a pretty cool photo op for any passerby were it not for the deadly virus the creature is lumbering around with. Calvin, finding himself once more exploited by Uncle Sam, must confront his painful past and the unsavory prospect of doing things he swore he’d never do again. What more of himself is he willing to sacrifice to someone, something that never says thanks?

The Man Who Killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot is preoccupied with grand concepts of heroism, legends and myths and how a lot of mountains are made out of mole hills when it comes to the way we preserve and pass down stories through the generations. Krzykowski doesn’t wax too philosophical on any of those ideas but they’re perceptible enough. What I found much more intriguing (and more pronounced) is the story’s attitude towards violence, what it does to the perpetrator, morally and emotionally. The journey is almost a shying away from violence rather than an enthusiastic march toward it. Yet an air of inevitability seeps into every scene. The Great Mustachioed One may not dominate the screen in movie minutes but he’s clearly the one in charge here, his down-home style of acting the ideal fit for the tone Krzykowski is uh, gunning for. Elliott has more gravitas than the rest of the cast combined — and yes that does include The Abominable Snowman, whose sickly appearance is both grotesque and just the teensiest bit sad.

Oh. Deer.

Recommendation: A far more mellow movie in action than its title suggests, The Man Who Killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot works best as a meditation on aging, regret and the ravages of time. Features a very sturdy, introspective Sam Elliott performance at its core, which goes a long way in helping us stay connected. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 98 mins.

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.cinema.pfpca.org

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 

Addicted to Fresno

Release: Friday, October 2, 2015 (limited)

[Vimeo]

Written by: Karey Dornetto

Directed by: Jamie Babbit


This review is my second contribution to Mr. Rumsey’s Film Related Musings. I’d like to thank James for giving me the chance to take a peek at this one! 


In her fifth feature film Jamie Babbit fixates upon life in a Californian town where nothing seems to happen — nothing good, anyway. Attracting an impressive cast of almost exclusively comediennes — Natasha Lyonne, Judy Greer, Molly Shannon and Aubrey Plaza — the film regrettably misuses the talent it has been afforded by stranding them in a dispassionate and thoroughly unconvincing narrative that will have viewers actively searching for the comedy.

Addicted to Fresno concerns two sisters working as hotel maids in Fresno. Lyonne is Martha, a hard-working, upbeat woman who is determined to make something of her life in these doldrums, while her older sister Shannon (Greer) has recently been released from sex rehab and is trying to put her life back together by working a steady job. Unfortunately Shannon can’t fight temptation and ends up sleeping with a hotel guest who she accidentally kills in an ensuing struggle. Desperate to keep her job, she enlists Martha’s help to get rid of the evidence, insisting she was raped and that it was not, in fact, consensual sex.

When the pair try to pass off the corpse they have concealed in a hotel hamper as a dog they want buried, they invoke the irritation of two local pet cemetery owners who insist they be paid $25,000 to keep quiet. Oh, and the money must be delivered in three days. Martha, once again bailing her sister out of a tough situation, reluctantly turns to robbery. It’s a harebrained scheme that will involve a porn shop, where they make off with a hamper filled with sex toys they will later sell to a lesbian softball team that just so happens to stay at the hotel. Convenient. (Not so convenient is their realization that porn shops don’t carry much cash in the register.)

The plan goes from bad to terrible when they find themselves still short of their total and decide that an upcoming event — a Bar Mitzvah — hosted at the Fresno Suites will help them considerably. Meanwhile, Martha strikes up a friendship with Kelly (Plaza), a Krav Maga instructor who gets denied a few first dates as Martha attempts to keep the other situation from spiraling out of control. Kelly may be cool, but she isn’t cool with being perpetually put off for the sake of Martha’s unapologetically reckless sister.

Greer channels more than a hint of her deranged Archer personality, Cheryl Tunt (or, is that Carol?) but the key difference here is that . . . well, other than being a live-action character, Shannon just isn’t funny. If she’s not all sour grapes over the fact that Edwin (Ron Livingston), is reluctant to keep having an affair with her and would rather end his current marriage and be with her than have it both ways, she is sabotaging her sister’s personal and professional life. Martha may be the more empathetic character, yet her older sister is both the center of attention and whom Babbit intends for us to eventually embrace. Come the film’s conclusion we can’t bring ourselves to do anything of the sort. Instead we wonder how and why Martha has put up with this for so long.

Plaza fares better in an understated role as the fitness instructor who takes an immediate liking to Martha. Rather than reigning queen of the deadpan here she plays it straight (so to speak), although increasing her screen presence would have helped offset the unpleasantness pervasive throughout. Molly Shannon is frustratingly superfluous, adding a couple of lines to contextualize the life of the victim of Shannon’s sexual aggression earlier in the film but absent is her spunky personality. I do need to single out Edward Barbanell who, playing Fresno Suites Executive Maid Jerry, manages to convert his real-life Down Syndrome into comic relief that works fairly well.

Unfortunately Fresno‘s reliance upon raunchiness, save for a scene in which a member of the hotel staff happens to find herself in the right place at the right time when dildos begin raining down the laundry chute, doesn’t translate into many laughs. The cast is clearly having a field day with the material — it would be hard not to with this many funny women on the same set — but sadly we feel out of the loop watching on, trying to justify how a hotel staff could possibly overlook this kind of a farce, one that is happening right in front of their eyes. I suppose I’m focusing on the wrong things, but then that wouldn’t likely have happened if there was something else to entertain my overactive imagination.

Addicted to Fresno is a relationship comedy with few addictive properties. Under almost any other circumstance, that would be a plus but when it comes to entertainment, we should be left at the end eager to come back for more.

Recommendation: As a comedy, this doesn’t offer much in the way of originality. Featuring a central character that’s too easy to loathe, the film misjudges raunch and vulgarity and misses some opportunities to explore both romantic and familial relationships on a much deeper level. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 78 mins.

Quoted: “It’s hard letting go, isn’t it? If only Pop-Tart could have spoken up and told me what was bothering her. But turtles can’t let you know what’s going on, can they? Robots can’t, either . . .”

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.fastcompany.com 

TBT: Office Space (1999)

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Hey guys. . . .what’s happening? Here’s another T.P.S. report for your reading pleasure. As a blogger, I have a fair amount of time to get what I have to say out to you, my loyal and lovely readers. I can slack off whenever I please, bust ass when I feel like really getting stuff done in a timely fashion. There are very few rules and regulations governing my blogging life. Most importantly of all, I have no bosses looking over my shoulder whenever I write something. (If I find a more substantial job soon, that won’t always be the case. But hopefully my future editor will be cool.) I, forever the idealist, want to petition the concept of working for a living, though. Anyone who’s ever had the “joy” of being stuffed into a cubicle for 8 straight hours Monday through Friday can’t deny the inevitable sense of feeling like a slave to their desk/computer after a certain amount of time. I’m not saying I have the boldness to do something like this week’s main character does but I can empathize with how he’s feeling. I honestly don’t know who can’t with this week’s edition of TBT

Today’s food for thought: Office Space

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Release: February 19, 1999

[DVD]

A comedy steeped in the doldrums of being a cog in the corporate engine, Mike Judge’s Office Space became a sensation in a hurry. It’s uncanny ability to dramatize the monotony of the work day is pretty much unmatched by any film since, and not only that, its sense of deadpan humor operates on such a high level it’s become one of the most quoted films of all time. It has its feet firmly planted in reality so most of us can relate, yet it also contains scenes that seem to come straight out of a dream we all have had about that time we quit in spectacular and dramatic fashion. All of this blends together to form one of the most satisfying and re-watchable comedies of the ’90s. And yeah, possibly of all time. 

There’s no secret to its success. Judge’s film is so reliant on its criticism of the work place that it almost could be considered a snuff film. However there’s a universal appeal to the despair Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) and his coworkers Michael Bolton (David Herman) and Samir (Ajay Naidu) experience working as low-level programmers at the soul-sucking entity that is Initech. Filled with an assortment of memorable and quite frankly bizarre characters, the story is one many have always looked towards for comfort in their ironically similar routines as they split their time between work, watching films and making sure they have enough copies of the T.P.S. reports.

Peter is an increasingly dissatisfied and disenchanted employee at the Houston-based company, and finds his everyday life a chore with each and every passing minute. His girlfriend is a self-absorbed prig who makes him regularly visit an occupational hypnotherapist, his boss is none other than a droid named Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole’s most iconic role without question), his friends are far too settled into their dull career choices, and his willpower is equal to that of Milton’s I.Q. — exactly zero. There comes a point, however, when enough is enough for Peter, and following a bizarre incident during his latest visit with his shrink, he’s thrown into a state of complete relaxation and mental clarity.

He stops showing up to work after one too many requests for his presence on the weekend; he refuses to answer Lumbergh’s many, many ensuing house calls and voicemails; he finally gets up the nerve to ask the pretty waitress (Jennifer Aniston) working at a restaurant called Chotchkie’s, located very close to his place of work, to lunch one afternoon. Quite simply, one day he just stops giving a damn. He finds a kind of inner peace that gives the viewer a reason to cheer for this otherwise downtrodden protagonist.

The film seems a little cultish in its unabashed revelations of what’s said behind closed doors — it would seem only the most disillusioned general laborer would truly identify with the sudden change in fortune for Peter Gibbons, but that’s not necessarily true. Office Space is written in such a way that a more general audience who appreciates good comedy can latch on to the themes presented. It’s easy to picture software companies or any job that requires employees to stuff themselves into cubicles all day five days out of the week as being joyless, monotonous environments in which spirits are crushed and only feelings like depression and regret stagnate to unhealthily high degrees. Depending on how disenchanted the viewer is with his or her own work experience the lead characters here will seem more or less like heroes.

But no one can deny that the film is an intelligent and refreshingly simple one dedicated to proving that it’s more important to be satisfied with who you are and what you do than it is about conforming to standards and fitting in. That’s not to say everything that occurs is an example one should take from the film and try to apply in a real-world setting. Pulling a Peter Gibbons would most likely result in immediate termination. Approaching a cute waitress during the middle of lunch rush could lead to a slap in the face. . .or a cold shoulder. Not really. But, also. . .possibly yes. Money laundering is a definite no-no.

It’s less about what these people do than about what their actions represent that has made Judge’s pre-turn of the millennium film a cherished production in the eyes of many. So go on, smash a fax machine if you’re having a particularly shitty day. The greatest thing about Office Space is the usage of such simple objects to represent universal truths and experiences.

Some advice for the Bill Lumberghs of the world: if you ever find yourself contemplating taking shortcuts in your duties as it pertains to the well-being and employment status of your workers; if you snatch away our Swing Line staplers as though you were kidnapping our children; if you ever dare send us another copy of a goddamn T.P.S. report; if you so much as rearrange our desks one more time, consider yourself more than fairly warned. The next day you show up you could find your building burning to the ground.

Damn, it would feel good to be a gangster.

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4-0Recommendation: The film is one I’m pretty confident every one has seen at some point. If you haven’t, you have just lost some points with me. 🙂 In all seriousness, if you haven’t checked it out yet, you’ll be glad you did.

Rated: R

Running Time: 90 mins.

Quoted: “What would you say. . . . . . you do here?”

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 Conjuring

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Release: Thursday, July 18, 2013

[Theater]

James Wan applies his skillful story- and suspense-building techniques without missing a step in this intense supernatural thriller based on the first-hand accounts of world-renowned paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, respectively) in Harrisville, Rhode Island.

Chances are, most people by now are at least aware of the infamous Saw franchise. Wan, along with Aussie Leigh Whannell, are responsible for inspiring the gore-obsessed into action — examples being the likes of The Collector/The Collection, Hostel, and Vile — by penning and directing it’s first installment in approximately two weeks. Tensely paced, poorly acted, and clearly low-budget, the original Saw was still a remarkably creative story despite it’s obvious pitfalls (aside from the bad acting, that film is incredibly gruesome).

Not long ago I had resigned Wan and company to be forever rooted in the torture-porn genre having spawned a series that ended up lasting seven (I think?) films; but The Conjuring is definite proof that Wan at least has a talent even when not spending lots of money on extra blood syrup and props that look like intestines and other body parts. His newest creation, steeped in factual accounts of real “demonologists” and real townsfolk, is maybe more disturbing than the sheer torture value of Saw. It is an incredibly realistic, believable story even for those who simply do not believe in the goings-on of the supernatural variety. The Conjuring is truly a frightening film, and I have not been this uncomfortable in my seat since watching The Exorcist.

What works to this particular horror film’s advantage is the structure of the story. This movie builds and builds and builds, creating enough tension to make even the quietest of door creaks seem like an impending disaster; when a light bulb flashes out, your stomach lurches. Then, of course, clap – clap.

The story details the events occurring on the property of an old farmhouse bought by the Perron family, wherein supposed demonic forces dwelled and had their way with virtually every resident who’s ever been unfortunate enough to live between these walls. Roger and his wife Carolyn are rather satisfied with their new slice of life in the quiet town of Harrisville, Rhode Island, but soon their five children begin seeing and feeling strange things all around the house. These incidences slowly step up from being strange bumps in the night to full-fledged attacks upon the walls — but no one can see anyone or anything in the rooms in which this is happening. Portraits and paintings come crashing off of walls, terrible looking bruises form on Roger’s wife’s skin, and one of their youngest daughters is the first to have a personal encounter with a powerful spirit.

Wan is also careful in his consideration of the inclusion of the Warrens, as he gradually weaves them into the narrative string as things go from bad to worse at the Perrons’ home. They are first shown presenting samples of their work to lecture halls, explaining that what they do is real work based on science, despite the fact that they are quite often dismissed as “kooks.” After attending one such lecture in the wake of a particularly bad night at home, Carolyn convinces the Warrens to come take a look at their property and see if there really is something to be worried about. Initially quick to dismiss their situation as simple “old house noises,” Lorraine is the first to experience first-hand the power of the supernatural presence around the yard and inside the home.

As a duo of investigators, Wilson and Farmiga are rather convincing. Often these roles in these kinds of movies are completely inept, cardboard cut-outs of real people who eventually become helpless bystanders as the spectacle of demons and evil forces unfolds. But in The Conjuring, they are real humans with real skills and real emotion. Though this movie is still not devoid of a few moments of wooden acting — it is set in the early ’70s and more than a few times the dialogue comes across clumsy and forced — everyone involved here are very good, and it’s easy to feel terrible for them as the drama and fear continue to mount. Ron Livingston as Roger Perron, while not encumbered with the heavy-lifting (that’s definitely down to Wilson and Farmiga), serves as a loving, devoted father who simply becomes speechless at the inexplicable activity in his home. Similarly, all the children are very good in their respective roles as well as they all become affected in their own ways.

The Conjuring makes a good case for the “less is more” mantra — one might not actually believe this is directed by one of the dudes who made Saw because this is a somewhat bloodless ordeal. Somewhat.

By not showing us exactly what is there (for a long time anyway); by applying technologies used by these expert paranormal investigators to pick up other aspects (audio, UV lighting, etc); by simply cutting the cameras away at the right moments 9 times out of 10, it is next-to-impossible for us to not fill our own imaginations with the worst possibilities of what is going to come next. The resulting emotions that I experienced were exhilarating, they were signs of a director really doing his job. For me, it is quite easy to overlook the typical jump-scares present in all horror films, and these are certainly littered throughout this film as well. The good news is that these are not the worst things to fear or that these are all you have to worry about. You experience some pretty messed-up things in this movie, and I really don’t want to explain it away A) for spoiler alerts and B) because I don’t like talking about it because it gives me the heebie-jeebies.

If 2004’s Saw was Wan getting his violence fetish out of his system (hey, The Purge did assert that we all have some kind of need or desire to commit or engage in violence, right?), here’s his tribute to the bizarre and unnatural. The Conjuring is a work of remarkable maturity for the young director, as well as finally being a (mainstream) horror film worth seeing. From a filmgoing standpoint, I believe this is a film that many of us have been waiting to see for a long, long time. It’s one of the shining examples of what makes horror an avenue worth pursuing if you’re involved in the entertainment industry as well.

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4-0Recommendation: This film recalled some of the chronology of William Friedkin’s masterpiece as it continued to build in suspense and drama to a point where fainting might be an acceptable audience response — but it diverged from many films in that it was bolstered by strong performances and beautiful cinematography. Those who appreciate all of the above are in for a treat here. Those who can’t get enough of horror, well, I needn’t say more. Either way, we’ve got another “Must-See” on our hands.

Rated: R

Running Time: 112 mins.

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