Get Out

get-out-movie

2017

Blumhouse Productions/QC Entertainment/Universal Pictures

Directed and Written by Jordan Peele

Produced by Jason Blum/Edward H. Hamm, Jr./Sean McKittrick/Jordan Peele

Years and years ago I was having a discussion with a Caucasian friend of mine. Over copious amounts of alcoholic beverages we discussed movies and he suddenly popped up with a question that had been plaguing him for some time and he felt he could ask me instead of some other black people of his acquaintance as he felt I wouldn’t take it the wrong way. He said that when he went to see horror movies, the black people in the audience were laughing at the terrible things happening to the characters in the movie. Why were they laughing? It confused him because they were, after all, horror movies. Who laughs at horror movies?

My answer: “They’re laughing because white folks do things in horror movies that you’d never catch black people doing. We don’t fool around investigating the supernatural or the paranormal. We don’t think it’s fun or cool to party in graveyards. We don’t go down in the dark basement where we know damn well the killer is hiding. We don’t think it would be a groove to go spend the weekend in a haunted house or at some remote camp where a buncha murders were committed. We don’t go back for our buddy/girlfriend/boyfriend/mother/father if they trip and fall while running from the killer. We don’t go back for the dog or the cat. We don’t split up when we know there’s a mad killer on the loose so that he can pick us off one by one. Got the picture?”

Despite my flippant answer there have been a considerable number of outstanding horror movies with black protagonists. I’m thinking of “The Beast Must Die” “Ganja & Hess” “The People Under The Stairs” “Candyman” “Demon Knight” “Attack The Block” and “Night of The Living Dead” come to mind. GET OUT can be added to the list and may eventually be at the top. It’s a dynamic debut film from Jordan Peele who directs with the confidence and expertise of a much more seasoned director. Psychological horror and social satire are skillfully blended with a dash of comedy mixed in just enough to give us a chance to relax a bit before being plunged back into the nightmarish situation faced by Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya)

01-get-out-w710-h473

Chris is invited by his girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) to spend the weekend at her parents house. Chris is somewhat apprehensive because he’s black, she’s white and she has not told her parents she’s dating a black man. But she assures Chris that her parents are super cool and everything will be just fine.

Film Title: Get Out

And her parents Dean and Missy (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) do indeed turn out to be pretty cool. Oh, sure Dean bends over so far backwards to show that he’s “down” and sympathetic with black people in such a way that it in itself is borderline racist while Missy is just a little too insistent that Chris allow her to hypnotize him to cure his smoking addiction.

Film Title: Get Out

Chris at first is relieved to see a couple of other black faces at the Armitage estate in the form of the maid Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and the groundskeeper Walter (Marcus Henderson) until he has a chance to talk to them. As he tells his best friend Rod (Lil Rey Howery) they do not act like any black people he’s ever known. Rod of of the opinion that Chris should never have gone up there in the first place. And as the weekend goes on, Chris starts to think his boy just may be onto something. He meets Rose’s brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) who doesn’t bother to hide his creepy hostility toward Chris. And the Armitages host a party where most of the guests seem to know way more about Chris than he’s comfortable with. And that’s all you need to know. It’s not that GET OUT is a movie full of unexpected twists and turns. In fact, the trailers you’ve seen have told more than they should but there’s plenty left in GET OUT to be surprised with. But that is due more to the gradual building of suspense as the weirdness increases. GET OUT isn’t a movie that depends on violence and gore to make it’s point. It actually gets pretty deep in it’s use of horror movie tropes to examine race and racism while telling an entertaining story at the same time. It doesn’t beat you over the head with social commentary on race relations but there’s enough there to give you something to think about and discuss after you leave the theater.

Daniel Kaluuya holds the center of the movie just fine as our likable protagonist who is an everyday guy thrown into a situation way over his head. His character has some psychological baggage that helpes to round out the character and explains some of the choices he makes later on in the movie. But the MVP award has to be shared by Betty Gabriel and Lil Rey Howery. Betty Gabriel’s Georgina is without a doubt the scariest character in the movie and she made me jump more than once.

Film Title: Get Out

Lil Rey Howery provides most of the movie’s comedy, ruthlessly stealing every scene he’s in. Chris calls Rod during the weekend to keep him up to date on the increasing weirdness and later on, Rod takes a more proactive role which leads to probably the funniest scene in the movie, one that he shares with Erika Alexander who plays a police detective.

get-out-jordan-peele-must-watch-03

So should you see GET OUT? Absolutely. It’s a fascinating piece of work that has been compared to the best episodes of the classic “Twilight Zone” and “The Stepford Wives” and deservedly so. It’s that good. By all means, go see and enjoy.

Rated R

103 Minutes

The Hateful Eight

the-hateful-eight-poster1

2015

Film Colony/The Weinstein Company

Written and Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Music by Ennio Morricone

Cinematography by Robert Richardson

Produced by Richard N. Gladstein/Shannon McIntosh/Stacey Sher

I frequently get into arguments with people who tell me that in order for them to enjoy a book or movie or TV show they have to be able to like or relate to the characters. And that’s fine. Me, I’d rather understand their motivations. I don’t give a penguin’s pizzle about liking the characters or relating to them. I want to know why they’re doing what they’re doing. And I don’t need to like them either. In fact, most of my favorite movies, TV shows and books have thoroughly unlikeable lead characters. I even wrote two novels where every single character was rotten right through to the core just to see if I could do it and still have readers enjoy the books. So it should be no surprise that I enjoyed THE HATEFUL EIGHT even though every single one of the main characters is just that: hateful. Ah, but I understood why they were so hateful and that was enough for me.

A few years after The Civil War, bounty hunter John Ruth aka “The Hangman” (Kurt Russell) is transporting the outlaw Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) by stagecoach to the town of Red Rock for execution. Along the way he picks up another bounty hunter, Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) who claims to be the new sheriff of Red Rock. Seeing as how the stagecoach is barely staying ahead of a monster blizzard, Ruth is naturally suspicious as how two men could just be wandering around in a snowy wasteland. But Ruth lets them ride along. The stagecoach driver, O.B. Jackson (James Parks) insists that they cannot outrun the blizzard and so must hold up for a couple of days at Minnie’s Haberdashery, a stagecoach waystation.

hateful-eight-tv-spot

Upon reaching the waystation, the travelers find quite the motely bunch already occupies it. Bob (Demian Bichir) is a Mexican who claims that the owner left him in charge of the establishment while she’s away. Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth) is an effeminate Englishman who claims to be Red Rock’s hangman. Joe Gage (Michael Madsen) is a cowpuncher on his way to visit his mother to share the financial windfall that befell him after a very successful cattle drive.

Retired Confederate General Sandford Smithers (Bruce Dern) is on a pilgrimage to place a tombstone on the ceremonial grave of his son. Over the course of the next three hours we’ll find out that none of these characters are quite what they represent themselves to be. And hanging over all of them is the growing suspicion John Ruth has that one or more of them are part of Daisy Domergue’s gang, just waiting for an opportunity to help her escape. Preferably by killing all the others.

THE HATEFUL EIGHT is as far from QT’s previous Western; “Django Unchained” as Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” is from the 1966 “Batman.” The entire first half is all set up and characterization. There’s considerable time spent on the antagonism between Marquis Warren and Chris Mannix as they fought on opposite sides of The War Between The States and there’s still a lot of unresolved feeling going on there. John Ruth has an unreasonable hatred for Daisy and takes every opportunity he can to physically and verbally abuse her. Then we get to Minnie’s Haberdashery and believe it or not, the movie takes a left turn and becomes a murder mystery. The characters are trapped inside by the blizzard and no one can be trusted.

The_Hateful_Eight

You’d think that since practically the entire second half of the movie is indoors, the movie would feel claustrophobic but such is not the case. Thanks to the spectacular cinematography of Robert Richardson who used Panavision anamorphic lenses to film in Ultra Panavision 70, the interior of Minnie’s Haberdashery becomes a character in its own right and the movie actually starts to feel like and take on the characteristics of a filmed stage play. If you have a chance to see The Roadshow Version in Cinerama then by all means do so. It’s hard to explain and I don’t pretend to be an expert in this but there absolutely is a difference in the viewing experience. There’s an entirely different texture to the images on the screen. Especially in the outdoor scenes that dominate the first half of the movie and will knock your eyes out. Whatever else may be said about THE HATEFUL EIGHT, there’s little doubt that’s it one of the most lushly beautiful movies of recent years.

But you want to know about the story. Let me say this: it takes it’s time to unfold. Tarantino is not interested in rushing to the revelations about the characters and the resolution of their various fates. If you’re not a patient person then THE HATEFUL EIGHT is not for you. And yes, the movie is stuffed with Tarantino dialog. Which I don’t mind. I appreciate movies where characters have in-depth conversations and actually talk to each other instead of at each other.

I will advise you that the violence in THE HATEFUL EIGHT is hideously brutal and for a Tarantino movie that’s saying a lot. The second half is where the blood starts flowing. Did I say flowing? Gushing is more accurate. Remember how Tim Roth spent most of “Reservoir Dogs” rolling around in a lake of his own blood? At one point in THE HATEFUL EIGHT there’s three or four characters doing the same thing all at the same time. And the language is just as brutal as the violence. And yes, The “N” word is used freely by just about every cast member so if you’re sensitive about that, I suggest you give this one a pass.

For my money, Jennifer Jason Leigh walks away with the MVP crown for this movie. When we first see her she’s got a beauty of a black eye. The nearly constant barrage of violence heaped upon her is used for sometimes comical relief and by the end of the movie she’s just about covered in blood from head to toe. This couldn’t have been an easy movie for her to do but she hangs in there and is easily the equal of her male co-stars. Walton Goggins is also a standout and if you’ve followed his career on the small screen, from “The Shield” to “Justified” to his scene stealing guest-starring role as transgender prostitute Venus Van Damme on “Sons of Anarchy” then you will be pleased to know that his small screen star power translates very well indeed to the big screen.

In fact, the one acting disappointment came from the one guy (besides Sam Jackson) who I figured would have been a stand-out considering his experience working with Tarantino. Tim Roth appears to be doing a Christoph Waltz imitation, from his makeup to his body language to the meticulous way he enunciates and verbalizes. It was actually distracting for me as he doesn’t do a very good Christoph Waltz at all.

THE HATEFUL EIGHT

THE HATEFUL EIGHT Tim Roth stars in THE HATEFUL EIGHT

So should you see THE HATEFUL EIGHT? If you’re a confirmed Quentin Tarantino fan like Your Humble Servant then you probably have. If you’re not a Quentin Tarantino fan then this won’t change your mind about him or his movies. How does it stack up against the rest of his films? Here’s my personal ranking of QT’s movies from Best to Worst:
Jackie Brown

Pulp Fiction

Kill Bill Vol. I & II

Django Unchained

Inglourious Basterds

The Hateful Eight

Reservoir Dogs

Death Proof

So as you can see I don’t rate THE HATEFUL EIGHT as being very high in Tarantino’s filmography but that’s only because he’s made so many other films that I enjoy more. THE HATEFUL EIGHT has everything going for it: magnificent photography, excellent music provided by none other than Ennio Morricone and outstanding performances. All you have to do is bring the testicular fortitude to want to spend three hours with eight thoroughly murderous and despicable characters that even their own mothers couldn’t love.

Rated R

187 minutes

Mr. Holmes

mr_holmes_ver2_xlg

2015

AI Film/BBC Films/FilmNation Entertainment/Archer Gray productions/See-Saw Films/Miramax/Roadside Attractions

Directed by Bill Condon

Produced by Anne Carey/Iain Canning/Emile Sherman

Screenplay by Jeffrey Hatcher

Based on “A Slight Trick of the Mind” by Mitch Cullin

Sherlock Holmes is a character that reminds me of Batman in a lot of ways and not just because they’re both extraordinary detectives. Like Batman, Sherlock Holmes has been portrayed in movies and on television in variety of settings and styles. There have been comedy versions of Holmes; my favorite being 1988’s “Without A Clue” in which it’s actually Dr. Watson (played by Ben Kingsley) who is a genius detective and hires a bumbling, alcoholic actor (Michael Caine) to play the role of Sherlock Holmes in public. Contemporary versions set in modern day starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller. The animated series “Sherlock Holmes In The 22nd Century” where Holmes is brought back to life via cellular regeneration and resumes his career aided by a robot Dr. Watson and Inspector Beth Lestrade of New Scotland Yard. And there’s what I like to call the “Lethal Weapon” version of Sherlock Homes which stars Robert Downey, Jr. as Holmes and Jude Law as Watson. It’s a version that’s less concerned with straight-up deduction and more with martial arts, gunplay and pyrotechnics.

And that’s only a very few of the many ways Sherlock Holmes has been interpreted in film. But to my knowledge, MR. HOLMES is the only movie which deals with and portrays Holmes as an old man suffering from senility and having a hard time dealing with losing his most precious and valued asset: his intellect.

At the age of 93 in 1947 Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) has long since retired to Sussex to become a beekeeper. Besides his beloved bees, his only companions are his housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney) and her precocious son, Roger (Milo Parker). Due to his deteriorating health and mental condition Holmes has begrudgingly engaged the woman’s services but she knows that what he actually needs is a full-time nurse and is making arraignments to take a position elsewhere.

MRHOLMES061435709889

This isn’t welcomed by Roger who takes a liking to the old man. And in return, Holmes, impressed by the young man’s intelligence and curiosity, teaches him how to take care of the bees. Holmes is not taking very well to getting old. He is acutely aware that one thing that has defined him his entire life is going away and he has nothing to replace it with. He cannot even remember exactly why he retired but he does have tantalizing memories of his last case and instinctively feels that he must have done something terribly wrong during that case. Watson did write an account of that case but Holmes was never happy with that version and Holmes himself must take up pen to write the story of his last case and hopefully piece together what actually happened. He’s assisted in this by young Roger who becomes a new Watson during this final investigation of Sherlock Holmes.

WH-GK-14-7-14-007512

We get to see Ian McKellen as the Holmes of that last case in flashbacks and it’s the Holmes we all know and love with a mind that makes a barber’s razor look dull. And maybe it’s just me but he looks and sounds like a dead ringer for the late Sir John Gielgud in some of those flashback scenes. Holmes is retained by a man names Thomas Kelmot (Patrick Kennedy) who believes that his wife (Hattie Morahan) has become mentally unbalanced after suffering two miscarriages and believes she is communicating with the spirits of her miscarried children. Kelton thinks his wife has fallen under the influence of a fake medium and wants Holmes to confirm his fears.

ian-mckellen-as-sherlock-holmes

We also get a second series of flashbacks to a trip Holmes has just come back from to Japan to meet an admirer of his named Matsuda Umezaki (Hiroyuki Sanada) who helps Holmes obtain a prickly ash plant that Holmes thinks will help cure his ailing memory. But that isn’t Umezaki’s only reason for wanting to meet Holmes. His father disappeared at around the same time of the Kelmot case and the only clue Umezaki has as to why his father disappeared is a note he wrote to his son placed inside a collected volume of Sherlock Holmes stories and sent to Umezaki when he was a boy.

Is that long ago disappearance of Umezaki connected with the Kelmot case? Why did Dr.Watson hide a perfumed leather woman’s glove inside a secret compartment of his desk? These and other questions are answered but not in the way I expected and it was both surprising and remarkably poignant when the mysteries are at last all solved.

Ian McKellen does a magnificent job as Sherlock Holmes. He’s lost much of his towering arrogance as he is now unsure of his mental state. But he is still recognizably Holmes as in scenes where Roger challenges him to deduce where his mother has been all day and in a tense moment where Holmes has to quickly put together the correct sequence of events of how a terrible accident took place before his beloved bees are destroyed.

Milo Parker holds his own well in his scenes with McKellen and there is something overwhelmingly touching and affectionate as we watch a real and genuine friendship develop between a man at the end of his life and a boy just starting out on his. Laura Linney is the real surprise here as my wife and I didn’t even realize it was her playing Mrs. Munro until we saw her name in the end credits, that’s how well she disappears into her character. The production values, costuming and set designs are rich enough that you’ll swear you’re looking at a Mechant Ivory production, that’s how good they are.

Holmes and roger

If you’re a fan of Sherlock Holmes then my all means, go and see MR. HOLMES. It’s a solidly elegant character study as well as an engaging mystery. And I feel it’s quite fitting that for his final case Sherlock Holmes must investigate and at last solve what has always been a total mystery to him; the nature of his own humanity.

104 Minutes

Rated PG

Zero Effect

1998

Columbia Pictures

Directed and Written by Jake Kasdan

Produced by Lisa Henson

“TV pilot on steroids” is a phrase you’ve probably heard me throw around either here at The Ferguson Theater or on an episode of Better In The Dark. But just in case you haven’t, here’s what I mean by that. Sometimes I watch a theatrical movie and the way the situation and characters are presented and constructed feels like the filmmakers are setting up a television series. You know what I mean. How many times have you seen a movie in a theater and thought “That would be a great TV series!” Too many times to count, I bet.

That’s the way I felt after having watched ZERO EFFECT recently. I remember watching this on VHS years ago and appreciating it as being a really ingenious and unique variation on the concept of a modern day Sherlock Holmes. The mysterious and brilliant Daryl Zero is a character that would be right at home on the USA network along with the other offbeat characters headlining their popular shows.  I discussed this movie briefly on the BiTD Facebook page and was made aware that there actually was an attempt to turn ZERO EFFECT into an NBC TV series starring Alan Cummings as Zero but it didn’t catch on. And that’s really a shame as ZERO EFFECT has tremendous potential as a series. I’d certainly watch it every week.

Daryl Zero (Bill Pullman) is the world’s most private private detective. He never meets with his clients, preferring to deal with them through his legman/assistant Steve Arlo (Ben Stiller.) And that’s a good thing because Daryl Zero is…well, nuts. He’s horribly inept in social situations, downright rude and mean, lives on a diet of canned tuna fish, methamphetamines and Tab while writing truly terrible folk songs (although truth to tell, I actually kinda like “Let’s Run Off And Get Married.”) But give him a case to work on and he suddenly transforms into a coolly confident, smooth, totally fearless professional investigator whose courage and near superhuman gift of observation while maintaining a emotionless objectivity toward his client and other people involved guarantees that he will solve the case.

His latest one seems very simple and Steve Arlo doesn’t even think it’s worth their time. Millionaire Gregory Stark (Ryan O’Neal) has lost the key to a safety deposit box and it’s vitally important that he find it as it’s linked to a complicated and elaborate blackmail scheme. And indeed, Daryl Zero figures out that the blackmailer is Gloria Sullivan (Kim Dickens) an EMT who works out at the same gym as Stark with ridiculous ease.

Arlo figures that wraps everything up but not so. Zero is intrigued as to why Gloria is blackmailing Stark and continues his investigation. This forces him to interact with Gloria and threatens to compromise his cherished objectivity as he finds himself strongly attracted to Gloria.  In the meantime, Arlo is resisting Stark’s repeated attempts to pressure or bribe Arlo into betraying Zero and giving Stark the name of the blackmailer so that Stark can have that person killed. He also is getting pressure from his girlfriend Jess (Angela Featherstone) who wants him to quit working for Zero and start working on them getting married.

Now before The Spoiler Police starts in on me because I revealed the identity of the blackmailer, let me explain that who is doing the blackmailing is nowhere near as important as why Stark is being blackmailed and that turns out be the real mystery that has to be solved. That and the mystery of his own emotions as Zero finds himself doing some very unexpected things contrary to his nature as he gets closer and closer to Gloria, irresistibly drawn to her as she’s the only person he’s ever met that can get into his head.

Bill Pullman is really amazing as Daryl Zero. Pullman is an actor who for years has danced on the edge of being a major star but never could seem to find that one role to put him over the top. When we first meet Daryl Zero he seems like such a weirdo it’s impossible to imagine he could be the kind of detective Steve Arlo describes to Stark as being so brilliant that in one hour and without ever leaving his home he locates a missing man the FBI hadn’t been able to locate for eight months. But once he’s on the case he turns into a totally different man and Pullman sells the transformation.

Ben Stiller is one of the most frustrating actors I’ve ever seen on screen. When he’s cooking on all burners he can be excellent. But when he’s bad he stinks like a houseguest who doesn’t know when it’s time to go home. Fortunantly we get the former Ben Stiller here. Steve Arlo is continually frustrated by Zero’s bizarre, manic mood swings and method of operation but he also cares for him and is fascinated by the man’s personality. Stiller does an excellent job here and I think gives one of his all-time best performances.

Since the plot of this movie is loosely based on “A Scandal in Bohemia” you can kinda guess where the relationship between Gloria and Zero is going to go and you’d be right. Kim Dickens is absolutely charming as Gloria and during the course of the movie I grew more and more to understand why Zero is becoming intrigued with this woman. In recent years I’ve been wondering why Ryan O’Neal is slowly morphing into William Shatner and I believe it may have started here. There are scenes where O’Neal’s mannerisms and way of delivering his lines are uncannily a lot like Shatner’s. He even looks like Shatner at times.

So should you see ZERO EFFECT? If you’ve never seen it and if you’re a fan of characters such as Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe, Adrian Monk, Jacob Hood and Gregory House then you’ll enjoy ZERO EFFECT, trust me. Enjoy.

116 minutes

Rated R

The Long Goodbye

1973

MGM Home Entertainment

 Directed by Robert Altman

Produced by Jerry Bick

Screenplay by Leigh Brackett

Based on the novel by Raymond Chandler

When Robert Altman is cooking on all burners as in say, ‘MASH’, ‘The Player’ or ‘Cookie’s Fortune’ he’s a director to be reckoned with and you sit back and just revel in how many characters he effortlessly weaves in and out of whatever story he’s telling.  I’m a big fan of his ‘Popeye’ which is a comic book movie that even fans of comic book movies fail to remember but I think is a jaw-droppingly amazing piece of work.  ‘Nashville’ I could never quite get into but it’s widely regarded as his masterpiece while ‘Quintet’ and ‘3 Women’ are quite baffling and addictively dreamlike.  I don’t get what they’re about but for some reason I’m compelled to watch them anytime they’re being aired.  And then there’s the movie we’re talking about now: THE LONG GOODBYE.

I guess the best way to start off discussing THE LONG GOODBYE is to say that while it’s based on the classic 1954 Raymond Chandler novel of the same name featuring the iconic private detective Philip Marlowe, it’s set in 70’s Los Angeles.  So I think  I’m pretty sure in saying that a whole lot of the movie is a departure from the source material.  In fact, I’ll put myself out a limb and say I’m damn sure it is because probably the most memorable thing about this private eye/mystery movie is that nobody really seems to care about the mystery, if it gets solved at all or who done it, why they done it and how they done it.  It that respect, it shares something with a previous Philip Marlowe movie adaptation: the classic Howard Hawkes directed ‘The Big Sleep’ filmed with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall back in 1946.  That movie’s story was so convoluted that at the end there were two murders still unsolved and even Chandler himself had to admit that he didn’t know who killed the victims.  You watch THE LONG GOODBYE and by the end you realize that there’s a whole lot you don’t understand about who did what to whom and why.  But if you like Robert Altman or Elliott Gould or just like to watch a movie with a bunch of smart ass characters trying to out-smart ass each other, then you’ll probably get a kick out of this one.

LONG GOODBYE1

Philip Marlowe (Elliott Gould) is your typical private eye: he lives like a slob, takes the cases nobody else wants and lives by a personal code of honor that is unexplainable.  You either get it or you don’t.  One hot summer night he’s woken up by his cat and has to go out to buy the only kind of cat food the finicky bastard will eat.  When he comes back home with the cat food Marlowe finds his old buddy Terry Lennox (former pro baseball player and author of ‘Ball Four’ Jim Bouton) waiting for him.  Terry’s had a fight with his wife, which isn’t unusual, but Terry’s request that Marlowe drive him to Tijuana is.  Still, Terry’s his boy so Marlowe does him the solid.

Turns out that Marlowe might have been better off giving Terry his couch for the night.  The cops are waiting for Marlowe when he returns home and haul him into jail as an accessory after the fact in the murder of Terry Lennox’s wife.  Even though Marlowe maintains that Terry wouldn’t kill his wife, he still can’t forget that Terry had some serious looking scratches on his face and hands and he did seem to be in an awful hurry to get to Mexico.  The cops turn Marlowe loose after Terry himself turns up dead, supposedly a suicide.  Even as Marlowe is trying to deal with this and find out exactly what happened the night Terry showed up at his apartment, he’s hired by Eileen Wade (Nina Van Pallandt) to find her brilliant but alcoholic writer husband Roger Wade (Sterling Hayden) who’s gone missing.  And if that wasn’t enough, Terry’s ‘business partner’ Marty Augustine (Mark Rydell) leans on Marlowe a whole lot since it seems that Terry took off with $350, 000 of mob money and since Marlowe was the last to see him…

ns-longgoodbye-100054729-large

Now when I lay it out like that you think that THE LONG GOODBYE is more or less your typical private eye movie but it isn’t. At times you’re not sure if Altman, Gould and the rest of the cast are taking this thing seriously since the whole movie is really carried by the definitely bizarre, eccentric and downright nutty characters that populate the story.  Elliot Gould’s Philip Marlowe leads the pack as he wisecracks at every opportunity and chain-smokes with a relentlessness I admire.  There’s even a scene where he’s hit by a car and is lying in the street with his still burning cigarette firmly in his lips.  In true private eye fashion he doggedly follows the trails of what seems to be three unrelated cases and finds that they all lead back to his friendship with Terry Lennox and that night he drove him to Tijuana.  And when he does put the case together and finds out who is behind it all and why, the ending is a true surprise.

But to get there…boy, is it a long strange trip.  Marlowe’s cat is a unusual character in its own cat like way but there’s also the five beautiful blonde girls who live next door to Marlowe who insist on exercising in the nude and whose only activity seem to be making and eating huge amounts of brownies (if you were around in the 70’s, you’ll know why) and a security guard who does impressions of 30’s/40’s movie stars and the slimy Dr. Verringer (Henry Gibson) who has some kind of strange hold over the normally bombastic and dominant Roger Wade…well, I trust you get the point by now. THE LONG GOODBYE is not your typical gumshoe movie and if you expect a straightforward mystery, you’re not going to get it here.

You’ll probably enjoy things like Elliott Gould’s decidedly eccentric and quirky performance as Philip Marlowe that is unlike that of any other incarnation of Marlowe.  The story is definitely convoluted and I had to watch the movie three times until I felt I finally understood the connections between Terry Lennox, his wife’s murder, Roger Wade and his wife and Marty Augustine’s missing mob money.  I think you’ll also get a kick out of the music score which consists of the theme song ‘The Long Goodbye’ being played in a variety of styles from R&B, Muzak, disco, jazz, blues and even a version sung over a car radio by Jack Sheldon who sang many of the classic ‘Schoolhouse Rock’ and ‘Multiplication Rock’ songs.  And don’t tell me you don’t know who Jack Sheldon is.  Does ‘Conjunction Junction’ ring a bell?  And keep your eyes open for none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger himself as one of Marty Augustine’s goons in one of his first (might even be his first) movie roles.

arnold_2-1345064006

So should you see THE LONG GOODBYE?  Depends.  If you’re a fan of the quirky and offbeat, I’d say yes.  If you like Elliott Gould or the films of Robert Altman, I’d say yes.  If you’re a fan of private eye/suspense/mystery/detective movies, I’d say no.  After all, this isn’t a movie that all that concerned about who done it, why they done it and how they done it as it is with evoking a mood and a style.  It’s a movie that is solely concerned with us taking a look at these characters and what they do during a crucial few days in their lives.  I do admit, though, it’s a movie where you can easily imagine the characters having lives that continue long after the movie is over.

Rated R

112 minutes

The X-Files: I Want To Believe

2008
20th Century Fox

Directed by Chris Carter
Produced and Written by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz
Based on the television show “The X-Files”

To be totally fair with you guys I think I should say right up front that I was never much of an “X-Files” fan. Dana Scully’s stubborn refusal to believe in the existence of the supernatural and alien life even when the evidence was shoved in her face seemed to me to border on delusional psychosis. And Fox Mulder should have been ashamed to collect his paycheck every week as he is the worst investigator in fiction. And I gave up on trying to make sense of the so called ‘alien mythology’ that just dragged on and on with no resolution. I did like many of the ‘monster of the week’ episodes such as “Home” which remains one of the scariest hours I’ve ever seen on television. That thing was so freaked out that Fox only showed it twice: it’s original airing in 1996 and it’s rerun four years later. And there was “The Unnatural” about a baseball loving alien who disguised himself as a black ballplayer during the 1940’s. My wife Patricia is the real “X-Files” fan in the family and she watched it religiously during its run on Fox and usually that’s how I got roped into watching it. And that’s how I ended up watching THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE.

We pick up on Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) six years after the show’s end. They’ve both resigned from The FBI but Mulder is still wanted by them on unspecified charges. They’re apparently living together and while Mulder stays at home clipping out stories about Bigfoot and UFO sightings, Scully has returned to her first love: medicine which she practices at a Catholic hospital. She’s become emotionally involved with one case: a young boy with an apparently incurable brain disease. Scully refuses to give up on the boy and plans to use an experimental stem cell procedure to try and cure him. But that’s put on hold when she’s approached by FBI Agent Mosley Drummy (Alvin ‘Xzibit’ Joiner) who asks her to persuade Mulder to assist in finding a missing FBI agent.

xfiles-417-21

Mulder is as paranoid as ever and initially refuses but as Scully calmly and rationally explains, if the FBI really wanted him, they’d have had him by now. Mulder remains skeptical until he finds out that a defrocked pedophile Catholic priest (Billy Connolly) has been having psychic visions that Drummy’s partner, Special Agent Dakota Whitney (Amanda Peet) is convinced can lead them to the missing agent. But she needs Mulder to confirm the truth of his ability. The investigation uncovers a whole bunch of body parts in places where body parts have no business being and there’s this weird Russian guy in a beat-to-shit snowplow abducting girls and taking them to a secluded West Virginia farmhouse where experiments worthy of Frankenstein himself are being performed.

Mulder and Scully soon find themselves hip-deep in this mystery, pulled back into the darkness they’ve been trying to get away from as they attempt to uncover what’s happened to the missing girls. And there’s the question of the priest: is he in on the abductions or is he really having psychic visions and simply trying to help? And if he is, why would God give such a gift to a pedophile? And does Scully have the right to perform such a radical treatment on her young patient and cause such great physical and emotional pain to him and his parents?

THE X-FILES I WANT TO BELIEVE

THE X-FILES I WANT TO BELIEVE

That’s a lot of questions and that because that’s what THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE is all about: questions. Some of them get answered. Some don’t. Others I didn’t care if they got answered or not. But the characters stand around having long discussions about belief, faith, trust in God, morality and in between they remember that oh, snap! we’re supposed to be solving the disappearance of an FBI agent, ain’t we?

I think that if you’re a dedicated “X-Files” fan then you’re going to get a lot more out of this than I did. It’s not that it’s a bad movie. The performances by David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson will definitely make their fans happy as they slip back into Mulder and Scully with no problem. Duchovny and Anderson actually show some emotion in their scenes together as they well should because a considerable amount of screen time is taken up with them discussing their relationship. Xzibit is wasted in his role as it could have been played by anybody and I strongly suspect that Chris Carter just wanted to have a black face in the movie somewhere. I liked Amanda Peet a lot and it was nice seeing Mitch Pileggi as Skinner again. Billy Connelly also turns in a strong performance that I enjoyed. I also liked the look of this movie a great deal. It’s set during the winter and some scenes are actually quite beautiful even though there’s some grisly stuff happening.

The-X-Files-I-Want-To-Believe-upcoming-movies-1588903-800-531

But the pacing of this movie is so slow that I actually dozed off once. Watching this movie is like listening to a speech where the speaker talks in the same boring monotone without changing expression on his face or inflection in his voice. And as I said earlier, most of it is the characters standing around and talking to each other. It’s a top contender for the most un-suspenseful suspense movie I’ve ever seen. The ultimate resolution of the mystery behind the abductions eluded me completely and by the time the end credits rolled around I turned to Patricia and said: “This should have been named THE X-FILES: I WANT MY TWO HOURS BACK”  It doesn’t feel like a story big enough to warrant feature film status. I didn’t like “The X-Files: Fight The Future” either but at least that movie felt and played like a feature film and had a story big enough to justify the upgrade.

If you’re a fan of the TV show then you’ve probably seen THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE already. And that’s more than cool. This movie was made for you. It’s not a totally unworthy movie but the bottom line for me is that it’s essentially a two-hour episode of the TV series.

105 minutes
Rated: PG-13

Sucker Punch

sucker_punch_deluxe_wallpaper_by_coryhate-d35zh9o

2011

Warner Bros.

Directed by Zack Snyder

Produced by Deborah Snyder

Screenplay by Zack Snyder and Steve Shibuya

Based on a story by Zack Snyder

Zack Snyder has provided me with two of my favorite movie watching experiences of recent years.  “300” which I fell so in love with the first time I saw it, I wanted to marry it and take it home to meet my mother.  And “Watchman” which I thought was a brilliant adaptation of the graphic novel and actually improved upon it in certain areas, particularly the ending.  Upon hearing that his new movie SUCKER PUNCH was based on an original story by Zack Snyder I was really pumped to see it as I could imagine what his extraordinary visual style could do when applied to characters of his own creation.

I should have listened more closely to my friend Jason who upon seeing the trailers opinioned that any movie with trailers that kick-ass couldn’t live up to the promise they were making.  Know what?  Jason was totally correct.  SUCKER PUNCH isn’t as kick-ass as those trailers promised.  But neither is it the complete and total disaster some would have you believe.  At most, it’s an interesting experiment by a still young filmmaker who I think was trying to tell a story too ambitious for his still growing talents.  But we’ll get back to that in a bit, okay?  Right now, the obligatory story synopsis…

Baby Doll’s (Emily Browning) life is about as bad as it can get.  Her mother has died, her sister killed in a tragic accident and her stepfather has had her committed to a mental asylum.  The stepfather has bribed the head orderly Blue Jones (Oscar Isacc) to arraign for Baby Doll to be lobotomized.  This way, he can keep control of the vast fortune left to Baby Doll by her mother and she will unable to tell anybody the true circumstances of the death of Baby Doll’s sister.

To cope with her horrific situation, Baby Doll’s mind creates an elaborate fantasy world where the asylum is now a strip club/brothel where Blue is the owner.  The asylum’s chief therapist Dr. Gorski (Carla Gugino) is now the madam.  Baby Doll becomes friends with the club’s top dancers; Amber (Jamie Chung) Blondie (Vaneesa Hudgens) Rocket (Jena Malone) and her older sister Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish).  Baby Doll is informed that in five days she is to be given to ‘The High Roller’ which is paralleled in the real world by The Doctor (Jon Hamm) coming to give her a lobotomy.  Baby Doll plans to use those five days to escape and enlists the aid of the other dancers to do so.  This involves Baby Doll creating yet another fantasy world where she and her friends, guided by The Wise Man (Scott Glenn) have to collect five objects to aid in their escape.

sucker-punch-cast

That sounds pretty simple and straightforward, right?  Well, it isn’t.  There’s an added dimension to this in that apparently Baby Doll can mesmerize everybody in a room when she dances.  We never see what the dance is but when she does, she and her friends are transported to the world where they have to gather the objects.  That’s at around the point you’ll probably start scratching your head.  I know I did.

Let’s get the good out of the way: I liked most of the performances.  Scott Glenn looks as if he’s having so much fun I was having fun watching him.  Jon Hamm is only in the movie for a few minutes but he really makes the most of his brief screen time to really bring an added note of horror and pathos to the movie’s bleakest moment.  And Carla Gugino is amazing as always.  Why this woman doesn’t have a bigger career infuriates me to no end.  Jena Malone I really liked in this one.  She’s got an 80’s Meg Ryan vibe going here I found appealing.  Abbie Cornish I don’t recall seeing in anything but I’m going to be looking for more from her.

Sucker-Punch-movie-image

The best part of the movie?  Undoubtedly the absolutely incredible action sequences where Baby Doll and crew acquire the objects they need.  I especially loved the World War I sequence with automatic weapons, steampunk battle armor, great big honkin’ zepplins porcupined with weapons and clockwork German soldiers.  You see those sequences and you mightily wish that Zack Snyder had built a better story around them.  He’s got an astounding eye for detail that is truly gifted and visually, SUCKER PUNCH is a treat.

Sucker-Punch-movie-image

The bad?  There was one too many realities to deal with.  Unlike “Inception” which was painstakingly clear about the rules concerning dream worlds, SUCKER PUNCH isn’t.  I took the movie to be an homage to “The Wizard of Oz” more than anything else since it starts off with a very dull gray look to everything but once Baby Doll starts her fantasy in the brothel, the movie switches to vibrant, eye-popping color.

But once I realized that the action sequences were little more than glorified cut scenes from a videogame, I got bored.  Because I knew they weren’t going to last.  And what I wanted to see was a whole movie with these five fightin’ females boppin’ around these incredible worlds kicking every ass in sight.  And I was frustrated because I wasn’t getting it.  I did find it amusing that Baby Doll apparently has learned Jim Kelly’s trick of switching footwear in mid-fight and that kept me active looking for when she would switch from high heels to flats and back.

So should you see SUCKER PUNCH?  See, that’s a tough one for me to call.  Let me put it to you from both sides of my movie persona:

The cheap-ass, misery, grinchy Derrick Ferguson says: even though I’m a Zack Snyder fan,  there were parts where I was bored so if you’re not a fan, I can’t see where you’d want to see this.

On the other hand…

The artistic, compassionate, film nerd Derrick Ferguson says Zack Snyder has given us something interesting that isn’t a remake or a reboot or dragging out some moldy old franchise, slapping a new coat of paint on it and going “Ta-da!”  He’s done his best to give us something original and he’s to be commended for that.  He stretched himself and didn’t play it safe and I respect that.  I’m willing to give him a pass for SUCKER PUNCH because this is only his fifth film and he’s still growing as a filmmaker.  This one got away from him because I don’t believe he’s built up enough directorial muscle to successfully pull off telling a story like this.  If SUCKER PUNCH is a failure it’s an honest one motivated by creativity and a desire to communicate with a unique storytelling style.

109 minutes

Rated PG-13