While working my way through The Blacklist on Netflix, I came across an episode featuring Tom Noonan as (surprise!) a creepy psycho killer. Some guys are just born to be bad guys and he is one of those guys.
It got me to thinking about some of the underrated baddies in the world of film and television. I've always had a great appreciation for villains. The hero is the star, while the villain is the character actor. It makes sense from a storytelling perspective. Heroes often are saddled with the burden of being the bland "neutral mask" that the audience can project themselves onto. Most times that means they have to adhere to a strict set of guidelines. They have to be accessible, relatable, non threatening, and appeal to as wide an audience as possible. The villain meanwhile, gets to colour outside the lines.
Now, before I get started, I want to set a few ground rules. First of all, I'm interested in villain performances here. That means I'll be looking at monsters of the human (or humanoid) variety only. Sure giant monsters, slasher movie stalkers, werewolves, vampires, Sharktopusses...er Sharktopi can be fun, but they are not performance driven villains. I'm interested in monsters that inhabit human bodies. That means minimal prosthetic or computer generated assistance (at least for this list).
Secondly, I want to focus on the unsung villains of moviedom and tv land. So you won't find Norman Bates, James Moriarty, Loki or Hannibal Lecter in this feature. In fact, for this series, I am immediately disqualifying anyone appearing on AFI's Top 100 villains list. I want to talk about the ones that haven't been done to death.
And most importantly, I must stress this is merely my own list. If I leave someone off, it's because my frame of reference is only so wide. I know anytime you make a list, people get combative or want to argue. It's just my own opinions here. This is also going to be a recurring feature so this list is only the beginning.
So, with the rules out of the way. Let's get on with the business of breaking them.
I see no better way than to begin where we began...with Tom Noonan.
Francis Dolarhyde in "Manhunter"
Just because I won't be including Hannibal Lecter in this list doesn't mean I won't be giving a shout out to his first co-villain. While Ted Levine's portrayal of Buffalo Bill in "The Silence of the Lambs" is certainly creepy, Tom Noonan set the tone with his more nuanced, terrifying turn as "The Tooth Fairy" in "Manhunter".
"Manhunter" is the often forgotten child of the Hannibal Lecter family (like A&W's Burger Family, but with more cannibalism). This is a shame because it actually has a lot to offer. The cast is tremendous. William Peterson ("C.S.I.") and Brian Cox round out the trio of leads as Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter respectively.
While Sir Anthony Hopkins made Hannibal Lecter a household name, I've often felt his portrayal veered a little cartoony at times. It's hard to be terrified of someone when you're laughing at them. William Peterson's Will Graham is my favourite incarnation of the character in any medium (sorry tv verion...close but no cigar).
And looky what I happened to find on youtube...
Noonan's turn as Dolarhyde was fascinating for a lot of reasons. While he was undoubtedly a bad guy, we see another side of Dolarhyde in the film during his attempts to romance his blind co-worker Reba (played wonderfully by Joan Allen). We see him as a horrible person, who is completely mystified when something good happens to him.
While Ralph Fiennes took a turn as the character in "Red Dragon" (and did a fine job as well), I recall Noonan's portrayal as the more nuanced of the two. There was a glimmer of humanity in his performance (I felt Fiennes played it more straight up villainous) and that made his horrible actions all the worse. We truly get the sense that Francis Dolarhyde and The Tooth Fairy are two battling sides of him.
Also, as though Iron Butterfly's "Inna Gada Da Vida" wasn't creepy enough, this film turns it into a Manson Family Sin-a-long..
Sheriff Cooley - "O' Brother Where Art Thou?"
If I had to describe Daniel Von Bargen's Sheriff Cooley from "O' Brother, Where Art Thou?" it would be "presence". This is a character, who with only a minimum amount of screen time, manages to still leave one hell of an impression (pun abso-fucking-lutely intended).
"O' Brother" is an amazing mix of elements that should not go together. The individual ingredients read like a recipe consisting of: "Bake chocolate cake, cover chocolate cake with guacamole, dunk guacamole cake in au jus sauce, drizzle with Sriracha, eat and try not to vomit." Yet it works so beautifully. Take Homer's epic poem "The Odyssey", mix in depression era setting, a sountrack comprised of spirituals, hymns and dirges, a trio of moronic protagonists and a collection of bizarre characters and you get this beautiful pastiche of a film.
As with most Coen films, it draws heavily on symbolism and allegory, but it never veers into pretentious territory. The film itself maintains a whimsical tone. Even villains of the movie such as the "Cyclops" ("Big" Dan Teague played brilliantly by John Goodman whose scene gives us the great line "We was beat up by a Bible salesman."), corrupt Governor candidate Homer Stokes and George Clooney's rival Vernon T. Waldrip (a couple of which were actual Klansmen) all play pretty much for laughs, even in the most dire of circumstances.
All of that changes when, after we think the plot has wrapped up, the denouement Devil comes back to collect his due.
I say the Devil because Tommy pretty much describes him as such when he describes meeting the Devil at the crossroads. The story mirrors real life bluesman Tommy Johnson who legend has it, sold his soul to the Devil at the crossroads in exchange for talent on the guitar. The story was later also attached to bluesman Robert Johnson (no relation) proving that pissing off religious folks has always been a viable PR tactic for a young musician.
Daniel Von Bargen does a lot with very little screen time. He is cold, detached, and his slight southern drawl provides just the right amount of menace without going into cartoon territory. I think the power of this character lies in the tightly controlled use of him. This could have easily been the main antagonist of the film, yet the Coen's were smart enough to see that overuse would dilute the character. He doesn't monologue, he doesn't chew the scenery, his appearances are kept few and far between and he is singularly determined to carry out his course of action.
Where the other antagonists are broad and goofy, Cooley is as serious as it gets. You can't reason with him, you can't talk him out of his chosen path, and if you want to stop him, you need an "act of God".
Of course, being that this story is also based off of a Greek myth, another interpretation is that Cooley is an allegory for Hades, Lord of the Underworld, who had his own vicious hound Cerberus.
The clip below is one of my favourite parts of the movie. When informed that the boys had been pardoned and that hanging them would be contrary to the spirit of the law, Cooley coldly replies "The law? The law is a human institution." Thankfully, George Clooney was able to pray a flood onto him, or things could have gone really badly.
Edgar from "Men in Black"
Alright, so I'm breaking my own rules here, as Edgar doesn't exactly qualify as human. In the original "Men in Black", a giant space cockroach comes to Earth and borrows the skin of hillbilly Edgar and wears him like...well...an Edgar suit.
This is probably one of the funniest villains I will cover here, while still being legitimately disturbing. I give full credit to Vincent D'Onofrio who goes all out with bizarre mannerisms and facial ticks, twisting his features in very unpleasant ways to give the impression of a giant bug wearing a skin suit. While D'Onofrio goes over the top with this character, it's exactly what was needed to balance out the ticket so to speak when played against Will Smith's smart ass and Tommy Lee Jones deadpan.
Also, a shout out must be given to the make-up artist who designed Edgar. As the film goes on, Edgar gradually starts to decompose and look more and more sickly.
This is the perfect example of special effects serving the performance of the actor without upstaging it. Something the later Men in Black sequels would forget.
Mrs. Carmody from "The Mist"
Some villains you love to hate, and some you just plain hate.
Marcia Gay Harden's chilling portrayal of religious nut turned cult leader Mrs. Carmody is both infuriating (in a good way) and terrifying.
Frank Darabont's film adaptation of Stephen King's novel of the same name, I felt was a great horror film. It centers on a small town in Maine that is suddenly overrun with a mysterious mist one day. A collection of townspeople barricade themselves inside a supermarket to hide from the monsters lurking outside. Meanwhile the biggest monster of all is right inside the store, taking the appearance of an unassuming pious woman.
As the situation becomes more dire, two factions develop within the store, leading to the central conflict in the film. The faction led by Mrs. Carmody believes that it is the beginning of Armageddon (sans smirking Bruce Willis) while the other faction, led by David (Thomas Jane) try to remain rational.
If the thesis of this piece (monsters in human form being more terrifying) was personified, Mrs. Carmody would be that. She has no super powers, no magical abilities. She's not even that smart or devious. She merely capitalizes on the fear and desperation around her and creates a bloodthirsty mob eager to do her bidding, even if that means killing a soldier or attempting to kill a small boy as a sacrifice.
Warning: The scene below contains violence, course language and big honkin' spoilers (SHE DIES!!! SPOILER ALERT!) if you haven't seen the film yet.
Never has a comeuppance been so satisfying. There are a couple of interesting points about this scene.
One is that Carmody singles out Laurie Holden's character Amanda as retaliation for an earlier incident when Amanda slapped her. Coupled with Carmody's tone and body language at the beginning of the scene, to my interpretation, she is enjoying the power that her new congregation has brought her.
Another particular point of interest in the clip is one of Carmody's followers screaming at her killer "You murdered her!" despite the mob having taken part in already killing one man and having been ready to kill a young boy. Enough irony for all of us there.
The Caller from "Phone Booth"
While recently watching "Grand Piano" aka "Phone Booth with a piano", I was reminded of the underrated thriller. (Grand Piano does have the novelty of having Alex Winter playing a murderous thug, so I can find some pleasure in pretending that Bill S. Preston became a hitman for hire. Now, that's a sequel to Bill and Ted I would watch!)
Phone Booth centers on Stu (Colin Farrell) an arrogant, philandering, publicist who is taken hostage by a mysterious sniper and told not to leave the phone booth he is in or he will be shot. Keifer Sutherland provides the menacing voice on the other end of the phone and in doing so creates one of the more enigmatic villains in movie history.
NOTE: I'm fully aware that I'm spoiling the big ending reveal of The Caller, but anyone who has watched even an episode of "24" would have picked it out instantly, since Jack Bauer spends so much time growling into a cell phone. Besides, this came out in 2002. You had time to see it.
We never find out exactly who The Caller is, further adding to the mystery.
At first he seems like a garden variety psychopath, but in many respects I would compare him to Jigsaw from the "Saw" franchise. Yes he is a killer, but he also has a very specific methedology and only targets those who refuse to tell the truth about who they are. We learn through the conversation between the two that The Caller's previous two victims (a pedophile and a shady stockbroker) were killed when they refused to come clean about what they really were.
Sutherland manages to infuse every word he says with meaning. Be it sarcasm, wit, menace or malevolent glee, the Caller never lapses into boring.
A helpful youtuber has cut together some of the best exchanges bits from the Caller. Fair warning, it will spoil some of the big moments in the film.
Well, there you have it. The first edition of Rogue's Gallery is in the books.
Let me know in the comments if you have a favourite underrated villain performance. Your suggestion just might be featured on a future installment.
Until next time...
This week, my facebook feed blew up with other fellow 90s kids proclaiming that the Wyld Stallyns themselves, Bill S. Preston (Esq.) and "Ted" Theodore Logan are on their way to making a return to cash in on 90s nostalgia.
I have a theory that every cultural nostalgia cycle follows roughly the same pattern. It always skips a decade from the end of the one your idolizing. The reason being, it takes roughly that amount of time for kids who grew up consuming the culture to get to positions of creating the culture. When they start creating their own movies, tv and music the nostalgia rolls in for the decade they grew up in.
For example, we had "Happy Days", a loving send up of the 1950's "good old days" come along in the mid 1970s. The end of the 80's brought us a lot of the best Vietnam movies set in the 60's. Of course, "That 70's Show" codified 70's nostalgia in the late 90's, followed by the ill fated spin off "That 80's Show" in the early 2000's.
Now it's the 90's turn. We've already seen Dumb and Dumber get a 20 years later sequel and it looks as if Bill and Ted are going to be next. They're going to run into exactly the same problem. You can't age up idiot characters without losing what made them funny to begin with.
Beyond the novelty of seeing these two guys together again, this has all the makings of a let down. The 90's was most notably the "slacker" generation. It was the generation of not only B&T, but "Clerks", "Beavis and Butthead" and "Wayne's World" (at least in my sphere of influence).
Now it's not impossible to make a worthwhile sequel to a movie featuring gleefully stupid characters. Beavis and Butthead were able to make a comeback after sitting out the 2000's, but, being cartoons, they have the advantage of not physically aging so bringing them back was easier. Kevin Smith managed to move Dante and Randall forward with "Clerks 2", but that was a different breed of comedy based less in over the top parody and caricature.
It's not the same with Bill and Ted. With so much time having passed between flicks, you're left with a writer's dilemma. Do you have your characters trapped in perpetual (outdated) adolescence just to give the audience a cheap nostalgia bump or do you have them grow up? Either way is a bad idea.
Bill and Ted along with Wayne and Garth exist as parodies of surfer dude, metalhead 90's culture ("Duuuuude!"). The appeal of the characters was they were broad, over the top caricatures of 90s kids. When I see Mick Jagger carrying on like he's still a teenager, it's all kinds of sad.
The reality of doing sequels to these kinds of movies is that eventually these idiots will grow up and become functioning members of society. I did just as you did.
As they are, Bill and Ted exist forever as these lovable dillweeds who remain forever youthful and forever gleefully stupid because they are within the confines of their previous movies. That's the problem with building comedy around characters who aren't that bright (but only in a doofus teenager kind of way). Eventually we all grow out of that phase.
I can think of nothing sadder than seeing Bill Preston and Ted Logan: normal guys, except for seeing Bill Preston and Ted Logan: exactly the same guys as they were 20 years ago.
That's the Catch 22 here. If they change the characters, they alienate the fans who want the nostalgia kick, if they don't they alienate fans who want something fresh.
Sometimes, it's best to just leave it alone.
P.S. - Without George Carlin, it just won't be the same. Like the Ghostbusters 3 without Harold Ramis.
What do you think? Are you excited about the return of Bill and Ted or do you think it's totally bogus?
During my initial posting on this site, I had mentioned how I wanted to take a look at one of my all time favourite television shows The West Wing. Of course I then immediately, second guessed that decision. Without having a clear direction of exactly how I wanted to do it, I decided it was best left until I could give it the time and attention it deserves.
Then the suggestion was made (thanks for reading Rudi!). West Wing vs House of Cards. Now that's something I can sink my teeth into.
After all it makes sense that the two would draw comparisons. Both series are set in Washington DC and heavily involve the inner workings of U.S. Government. Both feature lead actors primarily known previously for film work. Both are products of creators known for distinctive styles (Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher specifically).
So, you may be asking yourself, how do they stack up against each other? Well, that's where the first problem comes in.
See, despite their location similarities, these are two very different stories being told in two very different ways. Indeed, it is in the contrasts in philosophy that the two series really carve out their own identities. Beyond the superficial similarities, how does one compare two completely different stories? It's not even a case of comparing apples and oranges, we're comparing apples and Volkwagons here.
I suppose, if I had to describe in a single sentence the major difference between the two, it would be: The West Wing depicts our greatest hopes and wishes for the world of government, House of Cards depicts our worst fears of the same.
So, let's get to it. I'll take these two apart piece by piece and see how they work. And of course, I can't start a discussion of shows about American politics without talking about the person at the top.
The West Wing depicts a President as we would hope a leader would be. Josiah "Jed" Bartlett is charismatic, educated, courageous, thoughtful, forceful when he needs to be, and has conviction. He's not just a President, he's a force of nature. House of Cards Garrett Walker is basically a stuffed shirt. An ineffective figurehead for Kevin Spacey's devious Frank Underwood to manipulate and undermine.
At first I had chalked up the depiction of President Walker as a poor casting decision. Now, this will be a recurring theme throughout this piece, but I recall bemoaning how limp and ineffective the character of the President was in House of Cards. I yearned for a Jed Bartlett to be in that Oval Office. With all due respect to Michael Gill (who did the best with what he was given to work with) Garrett Walker was basically the House of Cards equivalent of a Star Trek "red shirt". Somebody given just enough time and character development to be bumped off (oops...spoilers) without putting up much of a challenge. Now that I think of it, the symbolism of the most powerful man in the world being so easily toppled might have been a part of the game plan.
Interestingly, this was a mistake The West Wing made during it's run too. Season 3 marked Jed Bartlett's running for a second term and the writers of the show fell into the same trap by providing him with an ineffective opponent (James Brolin's Governor Bob Ritchie...a man who was defined by his blandness) nobody believed he could be beaten by. The West Wing would rectify this mistake during the following election cycle (Seasons 6 and 7) by providing two great candidates (and characters) in Jimmy Smits' Matt Santos (Dem) and Alan Alda's Arnold Vinnick (Rep).
All that being said, when it comes down to it, I'm optimistic when it comes to which depiction I prefer. I want to believe that there are people like Jed Bartlett, Matt Santos and Arnold Vinnick out there. People who legitimately want to do good in the public service. So often every day we're shown that there are plenty of Garrett Walkers and more than a few Frank Underwood's in politics.
Now that we've covered Presidents and wannabes, how about the supporting casts? This is where it gets tricky, as the casts serve two different purposes. The West Wing is an ensemble show where the characters are always center stage. House of Cards serves plot first and foremost, with characterization being a little more hit and miss.
Not to say that Cards doesn't have some standout performances. Robin Wright provides an engrossing performance of Claire Underwood. There are certainly many "Lady Macbeth" comparisons to be drawn, but Wright brings a depth of humanity to what could have been a nasty caricature. Michael Kelley plays Doug Stamper, Frank Underwood's go-to "fixer" who can be counted on to get rid of problems (most of the time successfully). He is another character who could have been a one dimensional henchman, but gets some nice character moments.
This is where I find myself inadvertantly making comparisons between the two. Contrasted with The West Wing's supporting cast, House of Cards is pretty shallow in that department. Since it's basically a two person show, anytime Frank and Claire are offscreen, things kind of pull the drag chute. The strength of TWW is it's repertory cast of players. Having dozens of well drawn characters to play off each other gives the show a show a more solid foundation to tell stories from.
While the strength of Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright's performances elevate House of Cards, it simply cannot live up to the character buffet that is TWW. I have to give this round to the West Wing.
Visuals & Cinematography
This is David Fincher's bread and butter and while he doesn't direct every episode, the show definitely has his visual style in mind. Fincher's always been a filmmaker who knows how to walk the fine line between having style and showing off. The device of having Frank Underwood talk directly to camera is handled about as well at it can be from a visual standpoint (I'll get to it's effectiveness in good time).
And of course, I can't talk about the visual elements of these shows without mentioning the "walk 'n talks". Aaron Sorkin loves to write long patches of back and forth dialog (and I love to hear long patches of back and forth dialog, so everybody wins) and he needed a visual way to make it more interesting. So, the walk 'n talk was created. It allows characters to have long conversations and then break off into other conversations as other participants come in and out. It seems like a simple thing, but it gives a unique energy to Sorkin productions that have borrowed the technique since (and technically before, in it's prototype stage on "SportsNight"). The West Wing takes place in an environment where the world moves so fast one can barely keep up and the walk and talk style is a perfect way to convey the energy of one of the most stressful workplaces on the planet.
Even so, I have to give this category to House of Cards. The show has production value to spare and enough visual flourish to give it it's own flavour. While The West Wing occasionally created epic moments visually (Jed Bartlett's angry rant in Latin against god in "The Two Cathedrals" immediately springs to mind) it was more often character and actor performance that left the strongest impression.
Sorkin wins. Next category.
Ok, I guess I could probably go a little further on this one. This is the part where I get to post youtube videos of my favourite scenes. This is the fun part.
If you threatened me with a hot poker and told me to name my favourite character from this show, first of all congrats on being a crazy person who threatens people with hot pokers, and secondly it would be a real challenge for me because my answer changes regularly. Even under that circumstance, I'd have to think about it. Scenes like the ones above are the reason why. Trust me when I say that pretty much every character on the show gets a chance to hit one out of the park on a pretty regular basis.
I would describe Aaron Sorkin in the same way as I would describe David Mamet. They are two writers who have very unique rhythm and cadence to their dialog. If you had told me when the show first premiered, that a show about government would become my favourite, I would never have believed it. It's a credit to the actors and writers that have created these people to life.
And speaking of great writing and acting...Then there is Toby Ziegler.
Ok, so maybe I do have a favourite character.
This all comes back to my biggest problem with House of Cards. While the cast do their best to give the show some "oomphf!", the glimmer of greatness is never quite reached. There are some fun lines and moments where the show crackles, but it never quite establishes a baseline. That leads to Kevin Spacey going more over the top with his performance to try and sell the words. For comparison, here's a compilation of Frank Underwood's best moments. (Spoilers ahoy!)
You can almost hear the writers of those lines high-fiving themselves. Kevin Spacey does his damndest to sell the lines, but it reminds me a lot of the movie "Sin City". Words that I'm sure read great on the page suddenly seem hammy and over the top (and not in a good way) when spoken. At certain points, Kevin Spacey becomes positively Foghorn Leghorn-esque in his hammy southern accent...Ah-say-ah-say boy! I hate to say it, because he is one of my favourite actors, but when the first thing brought to mind by his performance is a cartoon rooster (or the Country Lawyer Hybrid Chicken from "Futurama"), the trolley has jumped the tracks somewhere and we've veered into farce territory.
So, I guess this leads into the final category...
The Lead Character
I must admit, feel like I have been a little unkind to Mr. Spacey so far and that's not my intention. He is really the only reason to come back to the series a second time. I truly admire the man's talents, and I feel I have to stress that there is a lot of fun to be had in watching him play Frank Underwood. I would rather see an actor try and fail then not try at all. It's a shame too, because when Kevin isn't busy twirling an a imaginary mustache while talking to camera, Frank becomes a very interesting character. He's a monster, but we occasionally see the redeeming qualities pop up to the surface. He's sociopathic, yet has some wonderful low key scenes with Claire that proves that even monsters are capable of affection. It's almost like his over the top hammy southern shtick is the con he's trying to pull on the audience. It's a put on whenever he's talking to us, we get the Foghorn Leghorn cartoony southern accent, we get the hammy sarcastic one liners, we get the overwrought dialog. In that way Frank Underwood saves the biggest...ahem "FU" for us. We think we're on the inside track, getting to see the real him, when it seems to me that we're the ones being played with. We see the low key, real Frank Underwood several times in his interactions with other characters and it becomes clear that his ability to be a wolf in sheep's clothing has allowed him to put one over on us. Makes sense considering he's all about "charm and disarm". By the time he commits truly despicable acts from which there is no return, we have become conditioned to like him. It's Walter White Goes to Washington. The problem is, with Walter, we saw the transformation. With Frank Underwood, he starts of as a son of a bitch and turns into a ruthless killer (shit...spoilers!) so the journey goes from feeling bad to worse. It doesn't quite work the same as we're just watching terrible people destroy the lives of those around them without anything to break up the darkness.
On the other side, we have something of a toss up in regards to who the lead of the West Wing really is. This one is interesting because there was something of a bait and switch when The West Wing first premiered. The show was originally to be built around Rob Lowe's character of White House Deputy Communications Director Sam Seabourne. That lasted about as long as it took for people to realize that "Starring Rob Lowe" wasn't a great selling point. Martin Sheen only appeared in a short (but very memorable) scene in the first episode. The POTUS was originally only going to be a recurring character, popping in every once in a while but not a continual presence.
Did the President of the United States just intimate that he prefers his pornography to be cheap? One of many reasons to like this guy. Suddenly, calling Kanye West a jackass on a live mic isn't such a gaffe.
With that scene, any thought about President Barlett not being a central character went out the window.
The audience ultimately decides who the more interesting character is. It's the same reason the Simpsons became more about Homer and less about Bart as the show progressed.
Even still, the President is not the lead character of the West Wing (insofar as an ensemble can have a lead character). Sure, he became the central figure, but he's not the most important character. That honour belongs to Bradley Whitford's Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman. It's his story arc we follow from beginning to end in the series. The West Wing is at a basic level, about how the student eventually becomes the master. Josh goes from learning under the wisdom tree from Leo McGarry (my second favourite character if you put a hot poker to my face and asked me who my second favourite was...getting pretty specific for a hot poker wielding maniac) to trying to guide his own candidate to the Oval Office.
This one is pretty hard to choose due to the fact that the characters are so wildly different. Frank Underwood is a post Walter White anti-protagonist. The villain whose story we follow as he spirals down the moral rabbit hole. Josh Lyman is a good guy. In today's television landscape it may make him a little boring, but he's easy to root for.
(By the way, if you have told me when "Billy Madison" came out that the guy who played the little weaselly villain would eventually play some really likeable everyman characters, I would have laughed in your face.)
I can't really call this one yet, as Frank Underwood's story has yet to be completed. At this point redemption is out of reach and so his fall from power must be very hard in order for the show to have any sort of redemptive meaning (even Game of Thrones will inevitably result in some form of victory). As of right now, Josh Lyman is the more satisfying character, but that could easily change.
I don't think it'll come as much of a surprise based on some of my comments earlier. I unreservedly think The West Wing is the better production. House of Cards seemed to have great ambitions to be a sweeping political drama about the quest for power, but the pieces just don't quite fit together as well. My most common thought while watching the show was "with this production value and writing quality like The West Wing, this could have been one of the best series of all time". As it is, it's a ham fisted political drama, written by people who don't understand or care about politics. In my view (which is all this is), the show is basically a thriller which uses a Washington backdrop the same way Elvis movies used a jailhouse (rock!) or Hawaii. It get's bogged down in nihilism, mistaking darkness for drama, and I don't really see any victories to be had there. I'm big on seeing consequences to actions and House of Cards ultimately tests the bounds of believably in regards to how much a person like Frank could get away with without arousing suspicion.
For it's naivete, The West Wing at least tries to remain true to life in showing not so glamorous sausage grinding aspect of governance. People are fallible and even those with good intentions are capapble of screwing up big time (one of the major plotlines involves the President concealing a major health issue during the election). And it's to the credit of a phenomenal cast and a talented writing staff that they managed to make government an interesting subject for television. It's a show built on examining the complexities of not only trying to govern a nation, but to govern individual lives. Even though the frame work is based in government, the soul of The West Wing is rooted in humanity in all of its flawed, horrible, wonderful, magical variety. They don't shy away from darkness, but they don't revel in it either.
House of Cards had the pedigree to be great. Instead, it was pretty good, but nothing I've felt the need to go back and watch again. I make it a point, usually once a year, to rewatch the West Wing in it's entirety and that tells you pretty much all you need to know.
Story time children! Gather around and crack open a cold one (or get an adult to open one if you can't work the lid). I am about to unfold a tale of deception, redemption and comedy.
Prologue aka "The Setup"
It's often said (by reductionist morons) "There are two kinds of people in this world..." This statement is usually followed by two artificially limited choices considered to be mutually exclusive personality tests. It's generally used to contrast massive sociological, or cultural forces represented by two parallel brands. For example there is Coke vs Pepsi (old fashioned nostalgia vs new wave hipness), Beatles vs Stones (clean cut good guys vs raucous dirty, bad boys), Lennon vs MacCarney (lyrics vs melody), Mac vs PC (arrogance vs nerdery), and Hulk Hogan vs Randy Savage (pro bandana vs pro headband). I could go on forever.
All of these false dichotomy's ignore the third (and statistically biggest) group: "People who don't give a flying f*** about either choice."
For most of my life (while I was old enough to care about such things), there was another "either/or" choice used to define comedy fans: Jay Leno vs David Letterman.
Within the realm of comedy, the contrast is stark. Letterman is cutting edge, biting and sometimes dry. Leno is accessible, inoffensive and designed for mass market appeal. Leno is MacDonald's, mass produced, cost effective and generally the same no matter where you get it. Letterman is that little Indian place around the corner that makes your favourite Tikka Masala and gave you the runs that one time but you keep going back because when it's good, it's REALLY good.
Having recently finished another run through of Bill Carter's "The War for Late Night" (Yeah, I did the audio book. You want to fight about it?), I'm beginning to get a clearer picture on why I'm so fascinated by this story.
I think it's because it's a story that's positively Shakespearean in it's scope and complexity. There are so many complex personalities, behind closed door machinations and seedy stories it would feel right at home in the Bard's catalog. It's positively dynastic in scope because very few entertainment sectors maintain the same players long enough to be so.
One of the other reasons I loved Carter's book so much is it challenged my perspective on the whole scenario. The characters involved are so well drawn (being real people gives them a distinct advantage) and the villains and heroes are never quite as they seem. It all makes for a fascinating tale of broken friendships, unlikely heroes and jokes...lot's of jokes.
So with that we begin our tale with a trip into the past.
Chapter I - The Kingdom of Carson
In the spring of the year 1991, the beloved King Johnny, longtime ruler of the Tonight Show Kingdom, announced that in one year he would abdicate his throne to live out his remaining days in peace. This would bring his illustrious 30 year rule to an end.
It was a tenure chalked full of highlights which are still fondly remembered to this day. A time of mystic mind readers, inappropriate animal interactions, exposed psychics, Jimmy Stewart tears, pancake fights and plaid suit jackets. It was a time of great social change and King Johnny was there every step of the way to make us laugh about it.
King Johnny was not the first to rule the Land of Late Night. The Kindgom was established by the multi-talented Sir Steve Allen in 1953. After 3 years, in 1957 the affable Sir Jack Parr assumed the throne. Possessing a high skill in interviewing subjects, King Jack became colloquially known as The King of Conversation during his tenure.
King Parr's abdication of the throne in April of 1962 led to a multitude of temporary rulers. Sir Groucho Marx, Sir Jerry Lewis & Sir Merv Griffin all had short tenures until a new King could be officially crowned.
Sir Johnny Carson ascended to the throne in October of 1962 to become King Johnny. After a tentative start, King Johnny eventually grew to be embraced by the people as the one true King of Late Night.
While beloved by the populace, King Johnny was known to the court to be a complex and mercurial figure who possessed several charater flaws not often seen by the public. While appearing to the people as a gregarious jokester, King Johnny was also known for having a vindictive mean streak. In 1986, when Lady Joan of Rivers (a longtime friend of King Johnny and official temporary replacement in his absence) attempted to set up her own hold across the way (at FOX) King Johnny took it as a personal affront. When Lady Joan's hold fell in less than a year under the might of King Johnny, she was banished from the Kingdom of Tonight. After the King's son Ricky died in a accident in 1991, Lady Joan wrote a personal note of condolences to the King. Their relationship was never repaired and the two never spoke again. Lady Joan would not be allowed back into the Tonight Kingdom for nearly 3 decades. The prohibition was upheld by successor Kings out of deference to King Johnny.
For better and worse, King Johnny ruled for 30 years and all looked well in the Kingdom of Late Night. In 1982, a new hold was developed in the land of Late Night. Sir David the Duke of Letterman was installed as ruler of the hold ("Late Night") and things were good for a time. Sir David held his King in high regard and the feeling was mutual. King Johnny had privately anointed Sir David as his successor to the throne, should the King have to step down.
Sir Dave, long regarded as one of the brightest and wittiest comics in the land, would grow to cast a long shadow of influence in the Late Night Kingdom. Known for being smart, incisive and uncompromising, Sir Dave was something of an acquired taste to the public. While many appreciated his inventive ideas and outside the box thinking, and equal number found themselves in confusion or disdain of his antics.
Known for being awkward and socially reserved, Sir Dave was rarely seen outside of public performances. Those close to him describe a man prone to mood swings and chilly personal interactions. A man who routinely manifested displeasure in others with cold silence. A man who manifested displeasure in himself with self loathing.
Even with his personality flaws, Sir Dave remained a widely admired King in waiting.
There was another, however, who believed he held claim to the throne. A contemporary and friend of both King Johnny and particularly Sir Dave had been selected to temporarily assume the throne one day a week when King Johnny showed signs of slowing.
Sir Jay Leno was introduced to the Kingdom by his friend Sir Dave Letterman who had come up through the clubs with him. The populace found Sir Jay to be an equal entertainer to Sir Dave, if not an equal wit. Sir Jay's fiery polemics on the absurdities of daily life endeared him to the people. With his trademark thatch of black hair (now slowly going grey) and prominent jawline, Sir Jay Leno instantly struck a chord as a populist.
Sir Jay had come to comedy with a mindset of a working man. He was raised to be hard working and unpretentious and believed strongly in putting in the work for a day's pay. Once he found his calling as a comic, he devoted all of his energy to this pursuit. His talent also caught the eye of King Johnny who requested for Sir Jay to perform for him.
King Johnny was so impressed with Sir Jay, that he installed Sir Jay as temporary steward of the Tonight Throne on Mondays so the King wouldn't be overworked. It was understood that while Sir Dave was designated King Johnny's successor, Sir Jay would be installed in the Late Night hold in the event of King Johnny's abdication.
For a while, all was good in the land of Late Night.
Little did the Kingdom of Late Night suspect, the table had been set for a clash over the Throne that none would walk away from unscathed.
But that's a story for next time...
Stay tuned for Chapter II: The Usurper and the Exile
Welcome to the Three R's where I will revisit, review and riff on movies I kinda, sorta vaguely remember to see if I would still recommend them. Today I'm giving the Three R's treatment to Luc Besson's 1997 bizarre action/comedy The Fifth Element. The movie that springboarded Milla Jovovich into a career of jump kicking things in the face. It also springboarded Bruce Willis into the next 15 years playing the same fucking character he has played since Die Hard.
From what I remember, I enjoyed the movie despite it's silliness. This is getting into personal preference, but it takes a rare action movie to please me without at least a modicum of self awareness and humour. It's a silly genre (that lends itself well to riffing, hence my predilection for it here) and The Fifth Element delivers in that regard.
So, as per usual, if you want to go in fresh, watch the movie first and then come back and see what I have to say. From here on, there be spoilers up ahead. I've decided to dispense with the time codes, because it was too much of a paid having to stop and check the time for every punchline.
- This opening really gives me a hankering to watch "Spaceballs". I'll put it on my list o future movies to cover here.
-Ah Luke Perry...from universal heartthrob to...I don't know. I've got nothing. Who would have guessed that the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie would be the apex of his film career? That's another one I'll have to watch.
-Old bearded guy in a hooded brown robe and white tunic? Did they raid George Lucas' closet? I shall call him Obi-Not-Kenobi. It's a really obvious rip-off though.
-Obi-Not Kenobi is Luke Perry's dad. That's almost as believable as Ryan Gosling turning into James Garner in "The Notebook".
-Fun fact: Sir Alec Guinness, who played Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars hated being in the film and only took the part to pay off his gambling debts.
-Obi-Not is trying to poison an archeologist who has found some hieroglyphics detailing how to defeat a great evil or something. I'm already lost and it's only the first five minutes. That's generally not a good sign.
-The archaeologist (who I have a feeling won't live long enough to get a fun nickname) stubbornly refuses to die. Tweed must have attempted poisoning detection powers. No wonder there are so many hipsters around these days.
-The spaceship that descends hovers over the temple looks like something out of Flash Gordon.
-Ok, I definitely did not remember the giant robots (who resemble turtles more than I remember) having big blue lights on their bulging crotches. Would they still be codpieces, even if they don't have...cods? That's bothersome on so many levels.
-The archaeologist asks the robots "A...are you German?" I'm having trouble deciding if that brilliant or really stupid writing.
-Head Robo Turtle says war is coming and the Stones are not safe on Earth anymore. I guess somebody had better find the Stones and give them some shelter.
-Archaeologist is either dead now or narcoleptic. Totally called it. Tweed is no match for alien robot mind bullets.
-"Take the stones." Head Robo Turtle ordering his subordinates around like some kind of beast of burden.
-Obi-Not promises to get the keys into the right hands after Luke Perry proves to be a gigantic putz and shoots the giant alien Robo Turtles that can kill with their minds. So I guess he is just is just a pretty face huh? He seals them into the chamber that had the Stones in it because they're Robo Turtles so they can't run fast. Now the Robo Turtles can't get no satisfaction.
-Tiny "Zeus" Lister is the President in this movie. He must have beaten Hulk Hogan in the primaries.
-You know, "the Maroon Berets" just doesn't have the same ring to it.
-Ian "Bilbo" Holm is here talking about evil. Somethin strangely familiar about that.
-Tiny Lister is ordering military strikes. I had a nightmare that went this way once.
-The futuristic technology has only the finest in Atari graphical displays. That's what happens when Zeus is your President.
-Oh hi Bruce Willis. I'll be your reviewer today. Will you be trying something new or can I just assume you want the usual?
-John McClean in space it is. Cigarette dangling from his lips? Check. Recently divorced? Check. Down on his luck? Check. Droll one liners? Check. Like to read french poetry? Get the f*** out right now!
-Man, this guy lives in a total dump. He's almost like a pig...in SPAAAAAAAAACE!
-McClean in Space, has a twitchy drug addict come to his door. The guy appears to be wearing a either a solar panel or a cookie sheet on his head. Based on what I've seen of this movie so far, I'm leaning towards the cookie sheet.
-It was actually a photograph of an empty hallway to put over the eyehole, which makes him a slightly smarter crackhead than Rob Ford (TOPICAL!).
-Ian Holm gives more exposition about the big evil that's going to destroy us all if the stones aren't found. It sounds like time is not on their side.
-I forgot the baddies look like melting Yoda puppets. I can hear George Lucas bellowing "Dammit Besson, stay out of my warehouse!" again.
-Gary Oldman is dressed like he's about to attend a post apocalyptic pride march. He has a weird haircut that is shaved all except for one little swatch (mohawk style) that he pulls up through a plastic head mold and flopped over the other side. I have the feeling it'll be a strong contender for the Skrillex Award for dumbest haircut, which I just made up and I'll be giving out at the conclusion of this review. Zorg is also the first nominee for the Lady Gaga Award for strangest costume can our pseudo southern, half helmet wearing baddie make a clean sweep? Stay tuned to find out.
-Gah! The people all have glow in the dark green eyes under black lighting. I was not prepared for that.
-Dumb haircut #2. A guy has what looks to be a game console headset that wraps around the back of his noggin. He has shaved a swath all the way around the back of his head to house this headset. Competition is heating up in this category already.
-They found a "survivor" hand somewhere (I'm too lazy to go back and try to make sense of the exposition) and they're going to reanimate it.
-Once again, you would think technology that was advanced enough to resurrect a dead human being from a severed hand would have something more advanced than Space Invaders graphics.
-I would transcribe some of the sci-fi mumbo jumbo here. But I think if I tried, my fingers would rebel and try to claw out my frontal lobe. All I'll say is the words "slightly greasy atoms" have made me feel dirty to retype.
-They remove the shield and low and behold a naked Milla Jovovich. Also beginning her movie trend of being introduced to the audience by waking up naked in a strange place with no memory of how she got there. Kind of like Charlie Sheen starts each day.
-Considering Milla's costume basically amounts to the clothing equivalent of medical gauze, I'm gonna have to nominate her for a GAGA Award. Little strips of white cloth cover her fun parts. Oh right..."thermal bandages". Suddenly, Luc Besson's "greasy atoms" are looking more perverted by the second.
-Milla's freaking out as if she just woke up naked in a giant glass tube wearing gauze for clothing. I don't want to think of how many disturbing fetishes were launched the day this came out.
-Milla punches through the unbreakable glass and knocks out the dude taunting her. His fault though. He tapped on the glass. DO NOT TAP ON THE GLASS!
-Milla lands in Bruce Willis' (Korbin Dallas) cab. She starts speaking in a language he can't understand. The jokes here are too easy (even for me) so I'll just move on.
-All joking aside. There's a reason beyond Milla's costume that this movie made her a star. She's instantly likable and sympathetic.
-Bruce gets a little rapey trying to kiss Milla while she's unconscious. She puts a gun to his head and he realizes that's not a good idea. The things we missed when we were kids huh?
-Milla's name is Leeloo. I remember loving how she said "Chee-kan! Good!" Still funny after all these years.
-We finally get a look at Zorg. He's ditched the Liberace jacket, but now has added a stiff collar that goes up past his ears. Still Gaga.
-Zorg demonstrates his new gun for the melting Yoda dogs. They give him a case which was supposed to contain the stones but it is empty. I guess Zorg can't always get what he wants.
-Zorg's henchemen are wearing shiny blue skull caps. Worth a mention, but not Gaga worthy.
-Gary Oldman seems to be having a lot of fun. Doesn't hold a candle to his performance as Drexl in True Romance though.
-The stones were given to an alien singer named Pavalaguna by the Robo Turtles (who are the guardians of the stones apparently). So I guess they're going to have to find a way to get to the Honky Tonk Woman and go to her Emotional Rescue. (Is this running joke wearing thin? I feel like I'm beating dead Wild Horses here.)
-Mos Def plays Zorg's top henchman. Interesting because this movie reminds me a lot of the art style of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. He doesn't have a towel here though. Seems odd.
-They have cell phones that last for 1000 years in this movie? Now I know it's science fiction.
-The Maroon Berets (lead by the guy Leeloo knocked out for knocking on the glass) show up and tell Korbin McClean he has to go to Fhlosten Paradise to hear Pavawhatchacallher's performance. Yeah I know I'm not getting any of these names right. It's like a Dr. Suess phone book in this movie.
-Korbin hides Leeloo in the shower while the police (dressed in bulky angular costumes entirely impractical for police work...Gaga nominee!)
-When Leeloo disrobes after getting hosed down in the shower, Bruce and Bilbo turn around to avert their eyes. Bruce has apparently learned respect for women...while they are awake.
-And Chris Tucker is here to give us all a headache. He plays annoying tv personality Ruby Rhod. He is a double nominee for Gaga and Skrillex Awards in this movie. He's wearing an open chested Jaguar print jumpsuit. His hair is bleach blonde with a cylindrical protrusion at the front.
-Now he's singing Lionel Ritchie making Nicole Ritchie the second most embarrassing thing he's ever been linked to.
-I'm also nominating Chris Tucker for the Chris Tucker Award for most annoying presence in a movie. There will be no other nominees. He will win the award even in movies he is not in.
-Tucker's trio of yes men are kind of funny. One of them has half his head shaved right down the middle. Half Skrillex nomination.
-Apparently it's not Mos Def in this movie. It's an english musician named Tricky. The resemblance is pretty uncanny. He's lived up to his name. He tries to check in for the flight as Korbin Dallas but the lady behind the counter says Dallas has already checked in and just lowers through the floor behind the glass and a big security turret comes up from the floor pointing guns at him. This didn't happen to the two white people who were clearly Yoda Dogs in disguise earlier. Apparently some things don't change in the future.
-The flight attendants are dressed like flight attendants from a 60's porno.
-One of the flight attendants is getting freaky with Chris Tucker. I'm all kinds of uneasy with this.
-Airplanes are apparently powered in the future by radioactive material. At least we know where the glow in the dark eyes come from.
-Zorg blows up Mos Tricky for failing him and gets a call from Mr. Shadow. I don't recall who or what this is. Zorg bleeds from the forehead.
-Apparently Fhlosten Paradise is like Hawaii...in SPAAAAAAAACE!
-Korbin and Leeloo get lei'd and check into their hotel room.
-Lee Evans (Tucker/Norm in There's Something About Mary) is a purser showing the blue alien lady singer (dressed in a burka) to her room.
-Chris Tucker has changed into a new getup. This one is a black suit with a giant collar with roses on it. Hard to believe, but this is actually an improvement. His hair is like Crazy Eyes Suzanne from Orange is the New Black but with bugger tufts on top. I have a feeling this awards cerimony is going to be a clean sweep.
-"The Diva" (apparently the movie doesn't even want to take the time to say her actual name) performs. She is a blue skinned alien with tendrils coming out of her. I don't want to think about the fetishes that were created by this scene.
-She sings to Bruce Willas but her seductive charms have no effect on him. If he were William Shatner he'd be half way onto the stage with his pants around his ankles by this point.
-Milla kicks the every lovin’ snot out of the Yoda Dogs. If they are going to go through with an all female Expendables (which has been discussed) she had better be in the cast. She whoops seven shades of Yoda Dog shit out of these guys in a fun scene intercut with the Diva singing an up-beat aria (while Yoda Dogs just get beat-up).
-Zorg brings in the Big F'n Gun to take down Leeloo as the Diva takes a bullet to the stomach. Worst theater experience since Abe Lincoln.
-"The stones are in me." Joke too easy, moving on.
-The stones are in the Diva's stomach. How did they get there? Did she swallow them. They're the size of liter cola bottles.
-Crazy Eyes Chris Tucker continues to be annoying.
-When I was younger, I refused to believe someone as ear piercingly annoying as Ruby Rhod would ever get on television. Now he'd fit right in with the Kardashians. How times change.
-A literal ticking clock just got added to the plot. The "bomb detectors" only go off at a comedically appropriate time. Reminds me of one of my favourite "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" moments when Roger snd Eddie are cuffed together. Roger slips out of the handcuffs while Eddie is trying to saw them off with a hacksaw. When Eddie accuses him of being able to take his hand out of the cuff this whole time Roger says "No, only when it was funny!"
-Zorg gets blown up by the dying Yoda Dogs "for the honour". I prefer to think they're just tired of his shit.
-Leeloo is the Fifth Element, to the surprise of nobody.
-Leeloo space Googles "WAR" in what is actually a very moving scene showing her reaction as a torrent of horrible images floods past.
-They get to the temple and there are four alters to place the stones on.
-The stones are put on the respective alters but nothing happens. Our heroes will have to figure out how to solve this Jigsaw Puzzle.
-Bilbo's sidekick says it's hopeless and we almost hear him sigh and he activates the wind stone with some Ventilator Blues. Little by little they give the stones a Start Me Up using the respective elements.
-Bruce uses his hands as a loving cup and drops a little dirty work on the Earth stone. Gravity gets the Rocks Off but it's enough to activate the stone.
-Bilbo is a fool to cry as he is out of tears, but is able to make the rain fall down by mopping some sweat from his brow. We have some sympathy for the drag queen as Ruby Rhod doesn't have anything to Hang Fire with. Bruce has a single match and is able to play with fire.
-In order to activate Leeloo, Bruce restores her faith in humanity by telling her he loves her. He activates the final stone by telling her I Wanna Be Your Man. (I think I've finally run out of Rolling Stones references)
-We end with President Zeus wanting to congratulate Korbin and Leeloo, but they're busy boning in the glass tube thingie.
And thus ends this descent into madness.
Final Thoughts and Recommendation
Overall, I still really liked this movie. It's flaws have become more glaring over time (Chris Tucker's ear shredding performance is a thousand times more annoying to grown up me) but there's a lot to appreciate here. The movie has a very 1960's sci-fi feel to its look and that works in its favour I would say. This was Milla Jovovich's break out performance and it's easy to see why. Beyond being nice to look at, she manages to make Leeloo a sympathetic and endearing character that I found myself rooting for all the way. She also kicks about 300 metric tonnes of ass as an action heroine so it's no surprise that was the direction her career took her.
I gave Bruce Willis a lot of crap for essentially playing the same character for the past 30+ years. When it works though, it really works and this is one of his better sneering one linery performances.
It's certainly not a flawless movie. The plot is a convoluted mish-mash of pseudo scientific bullpie and dangling plot threads. We never learn what the actual threat to the existence of everything is, or who the Shadow man was that made Zorg bleed from his scalp. There's enigmatic, and then there's "just created to incite the plot" and this certainly steps into the second category.
And Chris Tucker...
It's no surprise, Mr. Tucker makes a clean sweep of the awards in this one. He takes home the Lady Gaga award for worst costume (the leopard print onsie a particular low point) and the Skrillex Award for worst haircut. He creates possibly the most annoying so called comic relief I have ever witnessed. Chris Tucker has done work in the past that I enjoyed, but this is just a misfire in every sense of the word. It was only due to my own sense of journalistic integrity that I didn't just mute his scenes of skip them.
He also gets the Chris Tucker Award for most annoying movie performance ever.
All that being said, I would ultimately recommend this movie. It's a very imaginative work and it doesn't take itself too seriously. Besson's definitely a fimmaker with a distinct irreverant style and that is on display here in full force. Just, try to resist the urge to throw a socket wrench through your tv during the last 30 minutes.
Until next time...Goodbye Ruby Tuesday! It's All Over Now
Welcome to the second installment of Revisit Review & Riff, or as it will now colloquially be known the Three R's. This is a series where I take movies and television shows from my past and see how well they stand up to modern me's taste. These pieces tend to be less review and more free flowing bullshit. Also, keep in mind that movies I review in The Three R's will all be at least 10 years old so don't come crying when I spoil something you've had plenty of time to see. If you want to go in fresh, see the movie first, then come back to read my thoughts.
So, with the disclaimers and preamble out of the way, on to today's movie.
Today, I have on tap a movie I remember pretty fondly from the dying days of the 90's. It's 1999's Sleepy Hollow. Tim Burton's take on Washington Irving's tale of nebbish school teacher Ichabod Crane being terrorized by the nightmarish apparition known as the Headless Horseman.
When you have Tim Burton as your director, it would seem to be a slam dunk. I guess we'll find out.
Quick run down before I get started. Overall my feelings on the film from what I can remember are that it delivers in the weird and gruesome category (which is pretty par for the course for Burton's best works). I remembered the production design and visuals to be top notch (as one would expect from a Burton production). I also remember the story to be over complicated as hell. I remembered Christina Ricci filled out her costume quite nicely. I also fondly remember a decapitated head spinning like a top (good times!). Nowadays I'm a little less enthralled with gore effects and more interested in the subtle elements of horror. Elements like tension, suspense, framing, atmosphere, etc. It'll be interesting to see how it holds up.
Here we go. For your added benefit, I'll be adding Netflix time codes to my observations so you can watch along if you like.
1:50 - I'm always amused when I see those wax stamp seals in period pieces. That had to be a pain to carry for the postman.
2:16 -Martin Landau is in this? I knew there was an incredible collection of elder character actors in this movie (as well as one genuine pedophile, but we'll get to that), but I never noticed him before. Granted, when I first watched this, the only pausing I was doing was to see Christina Ricci's cleavage for uh...research purposes (Yeah, that's the ticket!), not for making long winded digressions two minutes into the movie.
2:27 -Didn't remember the scarecrow with the jack o' lantern head either. Nice touch Mr. Burton.
3:16 -So Martin Landau's driver loses his head (Head Count: 1) and Mr. Landau's first thought is to run out into the cornfield. Has he never seen a movie before? Oh I suppose he hasn't. I'm sure he's read books or tapestries or whatever they used for porn back then. Surely the rules for running into spooky, fogged out cornfields were pretty universal.
3:48 -After a fake out with the Jack o' Scarecrow, Martin gets chopped (Head Count: 2) and that's our cold open folks! All we're missing is Ichabod Crane kneeling over the corpse, a dry one liner and a Who song and we've got us an episode of CSI: Sleepy Hollow. (Yeaaaaaaaaaaahhhh!)
3:48 -Martins stagecoach traveled quite a distance between seeing the scarecrow the first and second time. I know there could easily be more than one scarecrow, but I like the image of the Horseman quietly tiptoeing through cornfield to put the scarecrow into Martin's path before dropping back to he can get behind him.
4:21 -Johnny Depp pulls a bloated corpse out of the water. His complexion is the somewhere between alabaster chalk and porcelain. (Johnny's not the corpse's) A white skinned Depp fishing a bloated gross corpse out of the water. Yup it's a Tim Burton movie.
5:03 -Johnny insists on performing an autopsy on the corpse. The warden...jailer...guy who has a big ring full of keys and bushy eyebrows says "Cut him up? What are we heathens?" before a man caught for burglary gets kicked headfirst down into a cell. SATIRE!
5:04 - 1999 alert! "The millennium is almost upon us. In a few months we'll be living in the 19th century." Either the writer of this movie doesn't know what a millennium is or Ichabod Crane is very forward thinking for a man with a life expectancy of 35. Maybe if you're a giant redwood or a mountain range, 200 years could qualify as "almost upon us". It wouldn't be a 1999 movie without some reference to the millennium no matter how shoehorned in it is.
5:04- It seems like it would be something a studio executive would make a note about.
Executive 1: I've gotta say, this Sleepy Hollow script is great! It's got action, suspense and laughs too! There's one thing it's missing though!
Executive 2: What's missing? Sex?
Executive 1: Are you kidding, we're gonna put Wednesday Adams in a top so tight the audience's grandchildren will be born with erections! The girls too.
Executive 2: So what are we missing?
Executive 1: Scotch! But in regards to the script, you know that thing people are all afraid of, that's gonna wipe out all of our computers and our banks and stuff?
Executive 2: Oh, you mean Y2K?
Executive 1: Yeah the mille-whatchacallit! It's all the people are talking about these days. Put in a reference to that!
Executive 2: Doesn't this take place like 200 years before that?
Executive 1: So what? Nobody will notice, except some idiot on a website 15 years from now. Excuse me while I light this cigar with this hundred dollar bill.
(Executive 1 lights his cigar with a hundred dollar bill)
Executive 2: So did you take all of your money out of the bank before the Y2K hits?
Executive 1: Oh yeah! Can't be too careful you know. I'm also stockpiling non computerized adult entertainment for when the computers go down. When the shit hits the fan, I don't want to be caught with my pants down...while my pants are down.
Executive 2: So how do you keep the missus from finding it?
Executive 1: The same way I keep her from finding it on the computer.
Executive 2: Label the folder "Not Porn"?
Executive 1: You got it! It's in a box in the garage with "NOT PORN" written on the side in big letters. I'm in the clear.
Executive 2: Sounds like you've got it all figured out. Want to have more scotch?
Executive 1: Yes! Scotch scotch scotch scotch scotch scotch!
Where was I? Crap, I'm only five minutes into this movie. Moving on.
5:30 -While I'm counting Tim Burton'y things, here's Christopher Lee (Elderly Character actor count: 2) to play Christopher Lee...as a judge or something.
- Mr. Jailer Warden Whatever's eyebrows appear to be getting blacker and bushier with every scene. Maybe since his hairline is receding, he's trying to rock the "comb-upper" by filling in that forehead space with eyebrow hair. I fear next time we see him, his eyebrows will have become sentient.
7:05 - You know you're watching a Tim Burton movie when: you tense up when Crane grabs his bird in the cage, only to breathe a sign of relief when he lets it go out the window. I swear there was a split second where he stared at it, that Johnny Depp was contemplating going Ozzy Osbourne on the birdie.
7:31 - We've just started the opening credits. Settle in folks, it could be a long one.
9:00 - Johnny has some puncture marks on his hand. If this role had been played by Robert Downey Jr. the puncture marks would be further down the arm. Ba-zing! (But seriously, Mr. Downey has become one of our most treasured actors. His comeback has been very inspirational, just say "no" kids.)
11:35 -"What knockers!" (Young Frankenstein reference for the win!)
12:05 - Speaking of knockers, here's Christina Ricci! (Couldn't have timed that one better) She's playing Katrina VanTassle.
12:37 - And here's Casper Van Deen looking all kinds of uncomfortable in a period movie. Fresh off of his breakout role in Starship Troopers, but before his washed up role in Starship Troopers 3. Who knew that meathead space marine would be the best we would get from him? Oh that,s right. Everybody knew that.
12:41 - Ok, I've been making a lot of jokes about Christina's ahem...Christina's being well presented in this film. I'm gonna stop being a pig here in a second, but good golly miss molly if those puppies were hiked any higher she wouldn't be able to see over them! No wonder I liked this movie so much as a teenager.
Now that I have that out of the way, I will regain my feminist cred by only referencing Miss Ricci's acting abilities. Her heaving, well supported abilities. (That's the last one I promise.)
12:56 - And now I can move on to drooling over Miranda Richardson. She is so fetching, that even in her nails on a chalkboard portrayal of Queen Victoria in Blackadder the Third I thought to myself "I'd still go for it". Probably have to gag her first or something (I meant that in a way that was intended less wrong than it sounds).
14:07 - Thankfully, this collection of ugly old men is here to rescue me from a very weird place. Seriously, it's like an Awesome Character Actor History Museum in this place (plus one pedophile, can't forget about him).
14:27 - So we have Dumbledore (2nd not the 1st), Emperor Palpatine, Alfred Pennyworth (circa Michael Keaton Batman) and Dr. Albert Meinhiemer from Naked Gun 2 1/2. I know they have other long hard to remember names (and powdered wigs), but they don't anymore. Oh also, Jeffrey Jones is here too. You know, the guy who played Principal Rooney in Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Lydia's dad in Beetlejuice and is now a convicted sex offender after a child porn bust in 2003? Oh you thought I was joking about that didn't you? Well, look him up kids and good luck watching Ferris Bueller the same way again. That movie takes a somewhat sinister turn with this new information. With this info in mind (and because according to his Wikipedia page he has failed to register himself a couple of times when moving to new locations) I will be functioning as something of a registry reminding you of his crimes.
16:48 - We finally get to the backstory of the Headless Horseman. During the flashback The Horseman swings his sword around aimlessly in front of a backdrop growling (one of Christopher Walken's least strange performances I must say) and chopping heads off (Head Count: 6 in total including his own, total count).
18:47 - Jeffrey "Pedo" Jones' Reverend character suggests that instead of science "this" is the only book he needs to protect himself from the Horseman, before dropping a Bible on the table next to Johnny Depp. I'm guessing he's a Catholic Priest.
20:44 - We get our first look at the de-headed Horseman as he chases down the town lookout (Jonathan Masbeth) and makes him a foot shorter (Head Count: 7 total).
24:00 - Johnny rocking some steampunk spectacles here. Looks like somebody took his quirky pills today. Now I wish we had seen more Horatio Kane or Gil Grissom galloping around the crime scenes. Now I wish I could unsee that.
25:00 - Dr. Meinhiemer tells Crane this brings the victim list to 5, not 4. Turns out the "Widow Winship", one of the earlier victim was pregnant. No jokes here. Just catching you up on the plot. Also, Crane inherits Young Masbeth as his new gofer/personal assistant/grave digger upper. You know what they say, if you don't want to dig up graves, get a recently orphaned boy to do it for you.
30:45 Crane happens across the Horseman who is holding a flaming jack o'lantern. Crane gets conked right between the eyes in a sequence that legitimately got a "holy s***" out of me when I first watched it. 15 years later, I'm happy to report the pumpkin toss is still a badass sequence.
- Turns out it's just Casper Van Douche playing a prank. I would think in a time when people were routinely hanged for such things, pretending to be a murderous supernatural being would be cause for some punishment. (Foreshadowing!)
31:43 - Crane passes out an hallucinates seeing his mother in a garden because we have to pad the running time out. I remember these flashbacks really killing the momentum of the film when I first saw it. That still holds true.
32:28 - Crane's mother resembles Anne Hathaway and his father resembles Josh Brolin.
33:00 - I promised I wouldn't bring up Christina's boobs anymore (as if they could be hoisted any higher). So I guess we'll just talk about the weather during this next scene. The round, perky weather. Boy it's been hot lately hasn't it? Soooooo hot.
-Also, there's a bunch of exposition in this scene about the backstory between Dumbledore II and Martin Landau in addition to...the weather. The well lifted and supported weather. Turns out pretty much all of the families in Sleepy Hollow are related by blood or marriage. So, it's like Utah I guess.
36:00 - If this were a soap opera, it would be called "The Pale and the Paler".
-Weinhiemer is making a run for it. A bunch of sheep run away. Either they are about to be joined by a Horseman or a Scotsman.
38:00 - And the head, she spins! Weinhiemer's noggin does about four revoloutions before falling off (Head Count: 8.5 total - extra half point given for the dismount).
39:30 - Crane pulls the covers up in bed in a manner that could suggest either he's terrified, or he was just caught having some private time thinking about...the weather.
40:00 - Another flashback dream sequence of Crane and Not-Anne Hathaway. With the amount of weather Mrs. Crane is sporting, I can see why he's drawn to Katrina. Not-Josh Brolin is angry and abusive (like real Josh Brolin) toward Crane's mother because he thinks she was doing witchcraft. The powder wig undercuts what was a very serious scene.
45:23 - Crane goes to see a witch crone (who actually did go Ozzy on a bird). And now she's got a bat! I hope the writer of this movie at least sent Ozzy a thank you note.
46:00 - The witches eyes bug out like she's that pervert wolf in the old cartoons. Granted, I know Johnny's dreamy and all but keep it in your pants lady! Or, keep the snakes in your eye sockets at least. The witch tells Ichabod how to beat the Horseman (he apparently requires the son of a plumber to do so).
46:50 - After that, Crane leaves the cave, with the unmistakable walk of a man who just bricked his trousers.
49:21 - Ah, the bloody tree. I seem to remember this part being later in the film somewhere in the third act, not right in the middle. Of course, last time I watched this I wasn't stopping every five minutes to make stupid comments so it probably didn't feel like it was only half way done.
- Johnny does the first thing any of us would do upon finding a tree oozing blood. Start hacking at it with an axe. By the end he's covered in blood. He should have put newspapers down! (That's two Mel Brooks references. For those keeping score of that...you lead a very sad life.)
52:25 - The first line Casper Van Doorknob says after the Horseman emerges from the blood tree and heads toward town is "Let's split up. You go that way, you go that way." The camera cuts away before he can finish with "What could possibly go wrong."
53:40 - The Horseman crashes through the door of the midwife's family home while she, her husband and son are just chillin. What follows is a very well done sequence where Mr. Midwife tries to fight off the Horseman. He is not successful (Head Count 9.5). The mother hides her son under the floorboards. The door slowly creaks open and the Horseman is standing there holding the husband's severed head. The midwife is cornered and she meets the same fate. In perhaps the most disturbing moment of this movie so far, the head rolls along the floor until it stops with the eyes (still open) over the crack in the floorboards with the son making eye contact. The Horseman goes to leave but his Horseman sense must have been tingling. (How does he hear without ears? Does he have a homing beacon to find these people?) He goes back and smashes through the floorboards grabbing the kid. Kid screams and we see that finally gets the attention of Casper Van Dork. The Horseman leaves the house stuffing the heads into his bag.
-Giving credit where it's due, this scene shows that for all of his goofy eccentricities, Tim Burton can really put together an intense sequence. The action was well done, and there was a nice amount of tension as well. I had forgotten that this movie actually went that dark having the kid get killed (even though it was off screen which I guess is theoretically better, but theatre of the mind can be a powerful thing).
56:00 - Casper Van Dingus shoots the Horseman off his horse. Sure, go walk up to him, I'm sure that'll work out for ya. Horseman sits up like the power of the urn compels him.
56:45 - Horseman could not give less of a flying f*** about Casper Van Dingleberry as he treats him more like an annoyance than an actual threat (much like the people who audition against him, I'm sure).
57:45 - I give Casper Van Doesn't Know When To Quit credit. He is tenacious, Crane tries to jump into the fight and that ends up going about as well as you would think (embarrassing for all involved).
57:56 - Casper Van Dead. (He was cut in half at the waist, so no head count)
58:42 - The movie wants us to think Katrina is doing black magic by putting crows feet in a bubbling cauldron. I know the truth though. You add some carrots and potatoes and you got a stew goin' baby!
59:07 - Weather forecast! Perky with a 90% chance of hummina hummina ha-wa!
59:43 - Oh good, another acid trip flashback sequence. I was actually getting into the story there for a second. Good thing we put a stop to that. Young Ichabod's father locks mother in a pokey thing that pokeys all over her. The whole scene was pretty hokey if you ask me. I guess that would make it a hokey pokey thing, hokey pokey-ing her all around and that's that what it's all about.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: We are now approaching 1 am, or Weird o' Clock as I like to call it. Things may get a little strange from here on out.
1:02:36 - A nice bonding scene with Crane and Katrina. Weather is not a factor for this one. Crane talks about his tyrannical father. When Katrina says that she just wasn't that into Casper Van Decomposing and hints that she might like to do the horizontal hokey pokey with Crane (hopefully not in the hokey pokey thing we saw earlier) she asks Crane "Do you think me wicked?" Crane responds with "No. But perhaps there is a bit of witch in you. Because you've bewitched me."
-I would have gone with "Are you sure there isn't a little Crane in you? Would you like some?" myself, but because he's Johnny Depp he totally pulls it off.
- Ok, I'm trying really hard here to not point out all of the wonderful weather we've been having lately. But Miranda Richardson just showed up and started flaunting her weather all over the place. I'd say it was a bit overcast, but her costume seems to be a little undercast if you know what I'm getting at.
1:03:41 - "Magistrate Phillips: Who tried to cut and run, and lost his head." Put on your sunglasses you smooth son of a bitch, you've earned it.
1:08:03 - "Jonathan Masbeth, was summoned upstairs to serve as witness to the new will. I'm afraid it was his death warrant Young Masbeth." Ok, Horatio Crane you can stop with the wordplay now, the boys father is dead.
1:08:03 - The plot seems much easier to follow now that I'm older. The Widow Winship had a secret wedding and a secret baby with Martin Landau. The Old Boys Club: Dr. Palpatine, His Honour Weinhiemer, Notery Alfred, Dumbledore II and Rev. Jeffrey "I swear I didn't know how that got on my computer" Jones were drawn into the conspiracy due to the nature of their vocations as Doctor, Judge, Notery, Wizard and pedo...I mean Reverend. Masbeth and the Midwife were also aware of the child. Bada boom bada bing. It makes much more sense this time around. Crane has Dumbledore II fingered (according to JK Rowling, Dumbledore would be totally down for that) and sets off to prove it. Well it's nice that we've got all of that wrapped up. Time to call it a night and THERE'S ANOTHER F***ING HALF HOUR TO GO!
1:11:34 - So, it turns out Miranda Richardson is a big old freak, who likes having freaky sex with some freakin' guy in the middle of the freaking freaky woods while freakin' cutting herself. I wonder if she's up to something? Seriously. It's a Tim Burton movie so it's hard to tell what is evil-creepy from what is just normal-creepy.
1:13:24 - Crane and Katrina have the most stoic and reserved star crossed lovers falling out I have ever seen. Boy, the heat and chemistry these two generates is like a three day old fish. There is none is what I'm getting at. They both recite dialog like they're robots. I get that they are going for the flowery, dare I say Shakespearean cadence here, but even Shakespearean actors can bring a little humanity to the words.
1:13:00 - Notery Alfred hanged himself. I can't help but feel that Crane pushed him over the edge with his badgering. Our hero ladies and gentlemen. He's the Nancy Grace of movie detectives, accuse first present evidence maybe.
-Oh, and Miranda Richardson is definitely evil. And somehow that makes her more attractive. Oh man, this is getting weird again. Please something break the tension. Horseman shows up and apparently offs her but we don't see it.
1:17:00 - Palpatine being hit on the head with a cross, while Dumbledore II shoots Rev. Jeffrey "Seriously, I thought they were 18" Jones. That'll break the tension nicely. So far, the Old Boys Club is doing pretty good job of killing each other or themselves.
1:18:00 - Horseman McGyver puts together a makeshift harpoon using some rope and fencepost. Pretty smart for a thing that has no brain connected to it.
1:18:36 - Dumbledore II gets harpooned through the chest and yanked out the window where the Horseman gives him the chop (Head Count: 11 - extra point because f***ing McGyver man!). Final score is Old Boys Club: 3, Horseman: 2.
1:23:19 - Crane figures out the body he thought was Miranda's was not.
-Upon seeing her stepmother still alive, Katrina faints for the second time in less than five minutes. Our heroine ladies and gentlemen!
1:25:00 - For the love of all that good and righteous will this movie just end? Miranda's making the fatal mistake every Bond villain makes by monologueing when she should be just killing Katrina. Next she'll be saying "No Miss VanTassle I expect you to die!"
1:26:50 - So Miranda is chewing the hell out of this scenery (and still looking good doing it...weather balloons and what have you...) but this explanation is taking far too long.
1:27:27 - Turns out the person Miranda was having freaky sex with was actually a real life sex fiend. Rev. Jeffery "I was hacked!" Jones was the one doing the yuck yuck slap n' tickle with her in the woods. I am grossed out on so many levels right now. On the plus side, it seems to have cured my Miranda Richardson fixation for a while.
1:28:27 - Miranda's sister was the witch crone, who Miranda killed by beheading. (Head Count 12) Oh and I forgot to mention she also killed the servant girl, whose body was used as her decoy (Head Count: 13).
1:28:53 - No Miranda is making head puns. That's my shtick. I'm back in love with her.
1:33:00 - Horsemen chases Crane. Katrina and Masbeth into the windmill. Windmill go boom. I've so beyond not caring by this point. This movie should have taken it's bow with Dumbledore being the baddie. No amount of nice weather is worth the extra half hour that was tacked on here.
1:34:32 - Miranda is getting into Mr. Freeze territory with these hammy one liners.
1:36:02 - The transition from when Horseman puts his head on from skull to muscle to veins was pretty well done. Coming from an era in which the seams of early CGI effects become more glaring with each passing year. that's quite an achievement for a 15 year old flick. Kudos effects team.
-There a really quick moment where his eyes and tongue big out like a cartoon character that got stepped on by an elephant. That was pretty awesome.
1:39:40 - To quickly recap the final few minutes, Horseman scoops up Miranda and plants a big wet (red) one right on her lips. Considering he's Christopher Walken and he has razor sharp toothfangs you can guess how that goes. Miranda is slightly less attractive to me now. They go back into the tree of blood I'm assuming to live happily ever after in a nice little cottage by the lake. Crane takes Katrina and Masbeth to New York and we finally got to the end.
Overall, this movie held up surprisingly well for me. It seems that this story more than any other, Tim Burton was the perfect choice for a director. There's a very old school cheesy horror feel to it, which works in the film's favour. There are a lot of positives here. There are several very effective scenes, the action is well done and there are some nice suspenseful moments sprinkled throughout. The production design, atmosphere and setting are all top notch as one would expect from a Burton production. The story, although slow to start, actually works pretty well once it kicks into gear.
One of the major criticisms levied at the film on release was the liberties taken with the story. Ichabod Crane is no longer a dweeby school teacher. He is now Crane P.I. and he's solving gruesome murders rather than trying to woo Katrina. I don't really have an attachment to the original, so I would consider this a fun alternate spin on the tale. The story was definitely padded out with the Old Boy Club conspiracy serving mostly just to give the Horseman a higher body count to make him a legitimate threat. The film was originally conceived as a period piece slasher movie, and Burton certainly retained that aspect. In the original, we don't actually see any beheadings because the Horseman only terrorizes Crane and it's never made clear if the Horseman is real.
The movie does have some problems still. The performances are all over the place. While Michael Gambon as Baltus and Michael Gough as Notery Hardenbrook do admirable work here, Depp and Ricci's performances are beyond lifeless. Seeing as the romance was the central plot of the original, it definitely feels like it got put on the back burner here. These are two actors I really like, but they both really take a backseat to the narrative and setting. As much as it pains me to admit, Christina's cleavage was the most noteworthy thing she contributed here. I really tried not to mention the copious amount of top-boob on display, but it became impossible to ignore. With the amount of gruesome gore in this film I guess it shouldn't be surprising that other exploitation elements crept in. For an example of what Christina can do, check out "The Opposite of Sex" or "Black Snake Moan".
Much like Christina, Johnny doesn't do a bad job so much as he is merely ok. He doesn't distract from the film, but doesn't add a lot to it. For a much more fun Depp performance (in a Burton film no less) check out "Ed Wood".
On the other side of the spectrum, Miranda Richarson chews on so much scenery, I was surprised there was any left on film. Not necessarily that it's a bad thing. After all, this is a cheesy homage to cheesy horror movies so having an over the top villain is par for the course. Her monologue got pretty tiresome and sucked all of the energy and momentum out of the final act.
That leads me to the final problem. Even though the movie is only 90 minutes, it seems like 2 hours. It may have been my over tired state, or the cold medication I took about half way through, but the last half hour for some reason just didn't work for me. I guess it felt like one twist too many. Baltus as the Horseman's handler made sense the way it was described by Depp however, just like any Law and Order or CSI episode, it's never the first suspect that turns out to be the killer.
Well, I guess that's all I have to say about this one. I would still give it a recommendation after all these years. It's far from perfect, but the good parts are really good and the bad are not terribly so.
Until next time...how about this weather we're having?
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Reading some of this stuff the next day is like reading over the late nights texts after a weekend bender.
Greetings and salutations!
I come to you with the first of a new feature "The 3 R's". The three R's in question are Revisit, Review and Riff (or "Rip a new one" depending on the movie). This is a feature where I take movies I have not seen in many years and revisit them to see if they still hold up. Today's movie is 1997's "The Edge" starring Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin.
Before I start the movie, I'll give my quick recollections from memory. Three guys (Charles and Bob and Bear Food) stranded in the woods, trying to kill a Grizzly bear while trying not to kill each other. The two leads have a funny sidekick with them who may as well be wearing a red shirt the whole first act. Overall, I remember the movie as being pretty good, and I would have recommended seeing it. We'll see if that holds true.
I'll be giving my thoughts as a running commentary. It goes without saying that I'm about to spoil the hell out of this 15 year old movie. If you want to go in fresh, go watch the film first and then come back. Or, if you've already seen it, fire up Netflix and watch along with me.
Alright, here goes.
-3 minutes in and the acting is wooden and the script is subtle as a sledgehammer. "Charles Morse? Oh my god, the billionaire? Is that who you are?" yeah, because that's how people talk. They lay exposition on so thick they may as well have a big flashing neon "FORESHADOWING" sign above the actors heads when they're talking about bird strike and named the plane "Chekov's Gun" while they were at it.
-I know if I were about to get onto a plane with roughly the same engine power as an old timey vibrator, the first thing I would want to hear about in explicit detail is everything that could possibly go wrong and how one propeller is basically all that keeps it from being a flying tin can.
-1997 Alert! The fanciest watch in the world can tell the time in TWO DIFFERENT PLACES! Looks like we got us a Rockafeller here! As with all great advancements in technology, we now have watches that you can stream porn on. But with subtitles, so it's a classier kind of porn.
-With the amount of obvious foreshadowing in this movie, I'm surprised the soundtrack hasn't been exclusively supplied by Buddy Holly. Too soon?
-Nothing like putting on a Bear suit to "prank" an elderly gentleman on his birthday. I'm convinced that everyone in this movie is trying to kill him. This is all just an elaborate assassination plot.
-Also, leaving a ham out on the counter after the grizzled mountain guy told you not to? You want bears? Because that's how you get bears!
-I remember thinking how cool Anthony Hopkins character was because he "knew everything". As a collector of useless knowledge, this gives me hope that one day I can have a cold, unrequited marriage with Elle MacPherson while she quite obviously eye humps my friend. Aim high kids.
-Man, Alec Baldwin is sleepwalking through this movie. For a guy who probably did a half brick of coke before they called "action" I would think he'd be a little more spry.
-Charles gives Bob a murderous look that gives me a momentary hope that he'll feed him his own brain.
-The funny black sidekick trope is literally wearing a red shirt! This is tropes within tropes here. Tropeception!
-Mickey (Elle MacPherson) is dressed up like if Pocahontas got her hair caught in a wood chipper. And if Pocahontas was also an Aussie white woman (or an actress trying to play an American, but failing to hide her accent...can't figure out which) dressing in a dollar store "sexy native" Halloween costume. Nice to know this fashion shoot blew all of it's budget on the location.
-This old grizzled mountaineer could use a little more Quint from Jaws for my taste. I would kill for an Indianapolis monologue right now. Instead he starts pitching Charles on investing in a resort, completely killing all of the mystique he had built up. Thanks Not Quint!
-Charles comes right out and asks how Bob is going to try to kill him. (He already tried with the bear suit) Before Bob can answer, Chekov's Birdstrike goes off and the pilot gets a face full of Foie Gras.
-At the beginning, Charles said if they get hit by a bird they'll all be dead. Yet three out of four survived. I would think that would majorly call into question his whole "I know all there is to know about knowing things" deal.
-That poor pilot. Nobody ever remembers the pilot's name when a famous person dies in an aircraft accident. "Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, Ritchie Valens and the pilot were all killed on impact." "Stevie Ray Vaughan's chopper crashed into a mountain side. He and the pilot were both killed on impact."
-I'll give Sir Anthony credit. Even with a script which I am now realizing could have used another once over (or a David Mamet over), he still sells it. It's like Shakespeare in the Woods.
-Did Bob just suggest he wanted to get into a hot tub with Charles and Mickey and "work out" their differences? Kinky...
-Anthony Hopkins: Bear Whisperer. Soother of Godless Killing Machines. Then runner awayer after that fails.
-"I like my coffee like I like my women." "Bitter and murky." Funny line from Steve, but not as funny as Alec thinks it is. I think the cocaine just kicked in.
-"I like my coffee like I like my women...in a plastic cup, with a spoon in them!" -Eddie Izzard with a much better joke. I'm gonna pretend Steve said that instead.
-An Englishman telling Steve (a black man) to make a spear just made everything awkward for everyone. At least Steve calls him out on this. Steve then proceeds to gash himself open with the pocket knife to prove Charles was wrong in his casual racism. They all learn something about stereotypes. Nah, just kidding! Steve becomes a walking Bear lure.
-Poor Steve. He gets chomped on by Yogi while sitting next to the camp fire. I think the bear just waited for him to get that nice smokey flavour first. RIP Steve. We hardly knew you. Seriously, we hardly knew you.
-I make jokes, but Steve getting killed by the bear was genuinely unsettling.
-While running after the helicopter, Alec Baldwin takes a pratfall out of frame that seems entirely too comical for this movie. All of the dire stakes raising of the campfire scene are immediately wiped away as he yells at Charles about how rich people suck. If I recall correctly, this rich person has been on the ball the whole time (not on the 8-Ball like Bob).
-Bob yells at Charles "You make me sick! What puts you off? Jews and taxes!" No Bob, that's Mel Gibson you're thinking of.
-Alec is slobbering so much I'm afraid he's gonna have to be put down. His acting is very inconsistent in this movie. How was that for a put down?
-Sorry Bear, if you let a 70 year old man outrun you, you suck at being a Bear. Now turn in your badge and your claws and get out of my office!
-"I'm gonna kill the motherf***er!" (psychotic smile) Sir Anthony has officially transformed into Hobo Hannibal Lecter.
-I heard once you were supposed to punch a Bear in the nose to make it go away. I wonder who figured that out? Or was it poke a Bear in the eye and punch a Shark in the nose? I always get those two mixed up. I say just to be safe one should run through the entire Three Stooges repertoire. If eye pokes and nose punches don't work, move on to the noogie, the nose crank and the slap. Then die horribly.
-With his new five day growth "Gentleman Hobo" look, the image of Charles battling the Bear is less "man vs nature" and more "two drifters fighting over a can of beans".
-That Bear meat looked really tasty. I have half a mind to get my bear punching/poking gloves and go grocery shopping. Luckily, the other half of my mind thinks that's f***ing stupid and has a louder voice.
-"I wish we had some salt." "You know you can season meat with gunpowder." "I wish we had some gunpowder." Ok I'm starting to agree with Bob. The know-it-all shtick is getting old Charles.
-So after Charles channels MacGyver and Home Alone to kill the bear, the boys stumble upon a deserted hunting shack. The reveal of the canoe is accompanied by music I can only describe as unnecessarily sinister (hereby dubbing it "the spooky canoe"). With the discovery of the spooky canoe and a rough idea of which direction he is going to point it, Bob figures doesn't need Charles any more. Right, because his survival instincts have been so sharp up until now. Meanwhile, Charles found proof of Bob and Mickey's affair and it comes to a head in a legitimately effective scene with Bob loading a gun and walking Charles outside to shoot him while Charles tries to talk him out of it.
-Psyche! Bob falls in a deadfall bear trap and breaks his leg. Charles doesn't kill him because hauling a man with a broken leg around after he declared his intentions to murder you isn't totally stupid. I guess Charles is a better man than I am (to the surprise of no one, he is Charles the All Knowing after all).
-Charles straps Bob to the spooky canoe and the two have an over the top bonding moment next to the campfire where Bob apologizes for being a total douche and tells Charles that Mickey wasn't in on the plan to off him. Bob dies just before the helicopter touches down because his plot relevance is finished and timing is the essence of comedy. Charles makes it back to the cabin. He gives Mickey Bob's watch that would have allowed him to know which two time zones he died in if it hadn't broken, and they share a hug colder a Winnipeg February.
-I get the feeling that Charles murders his wife after the movie ends. The look in his eyes is not the look of a man who forgives her affair, rather the look of a broken husk of a human being who is merely waiting until the cameras are out of sight before he completely snaps. It is the look of a PTSD case who is a ticking time bomb.
I definitely remembered this movie as being better than it was. All joking aside, there is enough of interest here to recommend it. There are a couple of good lines, some effective scenes (the scene in the cabin with Bob and Charles finally confronting the affair is nicely done) and Anthony Hopkins does his best to elevate the material, but Alec Baldwin's near night and day performance style of nearly being asleep one moment and going over the top the next does make it hard to take the movie seriously. The movie has a tendency to undercut it's seriousness in really ridiculous ways. The dialog is pretty rough and could have used another draft. The movie also falls into the pit (ahem) of making the protagonist unrealistically knowledgeable and capable at everything he tries to do. That is, if the hero is not actually the villain.
It struck me in the final scene. After all of the menacing glares, psychotic smiles and Charles murder gaze at the end, I began to question if Charles was really as good of a person as he is presented. He has all of the hallmarks of an antagonist. He's rich and powerful (through means never actually explained, "billionaire" is not actually a job title), he's paranoid, he's cunning, and he's very knowledgeable about Rube Goldberg murder traps...maybe there was a reason Bob wanted to kill him and Mickey didn't love him any more? Now that I think of it, it may be worth another viewing to see if there's something to that angle?