A Movie. A Day. A Year. Day 14: Trust Me

Yeah…watching Christine wasn’t the best thing. As much as I have grown to loathe the phrase ‘trigger warning, it is appropriate to have one for that movie. So in the spirit of forging forward, I picked the comedy Trust Me starring Clark Gregg of MCU fame.

When it comes to picking things, I am horrible. This explains why I’ve never won the Powerball.

Remember when I reviewed Don’t Think Twice and I mentioned the classical definition of comedy? Trust Me barely even covers that. This movie looks more like a contractual obligation than anything that can be considered heart-warming, funny or even entertain-able.

The big draw here is Clark Gregg, who is front and center on the promo pictures. I have the feeling that this movie was released shortly after Gregg’s turn in the MCU, hoping to get some second or third hand financial blow-back. Blow-back is right because this movie is not funny, and I can’t even repeat that enough to induce semantic satiation.

This is a bare, unflinching look at one man’s efforts trying to do good in the most predatory place on the planet: Hollywood. Checking it out on imdb.com, I see that he wrote, directed and starred in it.

Yeah.

With the star talent he managed to get together (Felicity Huffman, William H. Macy and Sam Rockwell), you’d think this film would have been…better. I found myself watching this movie and waiting for some sort of punchline, rather than some Brazil-esque ending that didn’t really match the tone of the film. To he honest, I don’t think the film knew what sort of tone it was going for.

I can’t say a whole lot about it because there wasn’t a whole lot to it. I still have to question why Apple would put this up as a comedy, I still need to question who greenlit this when there is a whole list of films stuck in Development Hell that are more deserving of a look than this.

I don’t fault Clark Gregg. I’m glad he was able to get this out there, as it’s clearly a pet project of his. I just hope that this misstep (and I am being generous) won’t rob us of any more of his talent. He nails down the charm and wit of Cary Grant effortlessly. He deserves more time on screen.

Just not like this.

A Movie. A Day. A Year. Day 13: Christine

This is not the adaptation of Stephen King’s novel. This is the biopic about Christine Chubbuck, the woman struggling with depression when she took her own life on camera in 1974. There are only two films about this: Christine and Kate Plays Christine, which about an actress taking on the role of the reporter for a different film.

This is not a light movie obviously. It’s a shame that this movie got little notice or fanfare when it came out, for it has an unflinching look at depression and suicide. The final act, and the final few minutes of the film pulls no punches. It is not a glorious repose into nothingness. It is bloody, tear-filled and lonely. The survivors are left with the questions that will never be answered.

As someone who does struggle with depression, and has recently contemplated suicide, I questioned whether or not I should discuss this film. I know at some point, I would have to because it’s in the collection. This is A Movie. A Day. A Year. It’s not A Movie (that we should be able to handle without breaking down in tears). A Day. A Year. The fact that this is the thirteenth movie I am reviewing is not lost on me.

I completely understand and empathize with Christine’s situation. I have had moments like that where I feel as if I am drowning, and the people that should be helping onto shore are the people shoving me back into the water. Her life unfolds in the film as a graceless slow-motion wreck. One by one, everything that she has based her very existence upon is taken from her. From her job to her very identity as a woman, all of these things are stripped from her and we’re left with the single raw nerve. She lashes out at others, amping herself up with anger only to have the energy drop out from under her to leave her a peeling husk. She tries to push on, but for every step she takes, something shoves her back three.

Watching this movie was an uncomfortable experience, but a necessary one. In the reel in my head, everything stops at the suicide. The pain, the loneliness, the exhaustion is now not a factor. With Christine we see the aftermath. We watch the confused and grieving parent, who watched the event as it happened. We see her suicide note handled as cold evidence. We see people panicking and trying to deal with this in their own way. I am lucky in that I found a network of people willing to assist me, to get me back on a shaky track, but a track nonetheless. Christine Chubbuck – sadly know only for the one thing she despised – had no such support group. This film is her fictionalized final say. It is a watershed moment in one woman’s life, and for the nation.

It is uncomfortable. It hurts to watch. It needs to be seen.

IF YOU ARE HAVING THOUGHTS OF SUICIDE, OR ARE SUFFERING FROM DEPRESSION. GET HELP. GET HELP. GET HELP AND GET IT NOW:

1-800-273-8255

A Movie. A Day. A Year. Day 12: Star Trek Into Darkness

I am by no means a Trekkie. I have an appreciation for what it has done for science fiction, and there are a lot of concepts and ideas that have been put forward that I like and/or fear. Science fiction in general, and Star Trek specifically, has had a wonderful history of showing us ourselves in stark terms. What we can’t look at in drama, we can watch unflinchingly in sci-fi. It’s a wonderful genre for self-examination.

Hoo, boy – Star Trek Into Darkness misses that completely while trying to piggyback on nostalgia. I can’t watch this movie without thinking of how they missed so many good opportunities. I try not to be hard on movies. I mean, I try to sit down and find something nice about a film. There are a few movies (Spawn) where I can’t find one redeemable thing.

The one thing I find redeeming about this film is the cast. Karl Urban’s McCoy is as cranky, irascible and deeply devoted to the wellness of his crew as DeForest Kelly’s. Zachary Quinto’s Spock walks the fine line between his Vulcan superiority and his human frailty. We can see the confusion in his eyes when Uhura embraces him, and his anger as he goes after Khan.

It’s everything else I don’t like. I don’t like the two plots mingling when they could have just run one and made a powerful statement. They could have kept the Khan story line (more on that later), written as a ‘your sins will haunt you’ plot. Have Kirk and Khan duke it out, and turn it into the futility of nursing grudges:

KIRK

How long have you hated us? Ten years?

Twenty years? And have you done with that hate?

Nothing but stewed in it. How has that helped you?

KHAN

We survived.

KIRK

And that’s all you’ve done. You haven’t lived.

All your intellect. All your strengths, and you

chose to nurse a grudge.

[KHAN strikes KIRK hard, sending him to the ground]

KHAN

So says the victor.

KIRK

No. I’m saying we’re sorry

we treated you like garbage

when we should have treated

you like brothers.

Even if they didn’t want to bring in the Eugenics story-line, having the Marcus story-line would have worked as well. The whole thing about Star Trek is that they work for peace first. Someone like Admiral Marcus, who’s ‘if you want peace, then prepare for war’ mentality could be seen by many as an impediment to peace with the Federation’s foes: the Klingons and the Romulans. When the bureaucracy tries to quietly get rid of him, he rushes off to (in his mind) save the Federation by showing them the folly of their ways. He tries to push them to war if only to demonstrate that you have to negotiate from a position of strength, which he doesn’t see the Federation having. The Federation sends Kirk because he’s a capable captain, if not deeply unorthodox, to bring him in.

If Kirk brings him back – great! If Marcus kills him – great, still! Now they’ve gotten rid of a ‘cowboy’ captain whose antics make it hard for everyone else to do their job. That would have been a great movie. Both of the, would have been great films and great additions to the legacy.

Oh, well. Better luck next time.

A Movie. A Day. A Year. Day 11: Brightburn

The second half of the mini-Gunn marathon, Brightburn is very reminiscent of a comic book series that I read part of the way through called Irredeemable. It’s a series that I should go back to at some point, now more so after watching this film.

Let’s think about the genesis of both the film and series. Both look into the downside of Superman – what can you do when a god loses his cool? What would humanity do if Superman one day said, “You know what? Fuck this, and fuck you all.” There would be some supers to try to stop him, and one might get lucky (*cough* Batman) to stop him – the collateral damage would be in the trillions.

With Brightburn, we see a young boy turning twelve, in that zone between being a regarded as an immature child and a maturing teen. During the course of the movie, we find out that he’s not from around here. Much like the Man of Steel, he crashed in Kansas and was picked up by a married couple. They raised him, and from what we’ve seen – Brandon is a bright, healthy child until one night, we hear the siren call of his ship. Everything here is heavily, heavily foreshadowed. Some of them pretty much hit you in the face, others are a little more subtle (watch the trust fall scene).

I’m not down on this film, but it’s not really a good superhero horror film. I like the change from the squeaky clean hero being raised by good parents trope. This one is a little more realistic, but I’ve found myself more curious about his early years. How did they discipline him. The parents said he was a good kid, and you can see a bunch of awards on the walls in a couple of scenes. Was he the sort of kid that needed a good spanking? Or was he the ‘stern taking to’ kind of kid? There are a lot of things I would have liked to have seen.

Again, not a bad film, and the end credits scene (Thank you, Marvel) sets up what would have been an interesting follow-up film, if not a halfway decent franchise. The studio didn’t seem to agree, but it was nice to see Gunn regular Michael Rooker as an Art Bell/Alex Jones sort with what would have been the start to the series. Elizabeth Banks was good as Tori Breyer, it’s a shame that she was put into the ‘mother is blind to everything until it’s too late’ trope. It would have been nice to see both parents thinking that something is wrong and acting against him.

If you’re looking for a good movie to turn your brain off for, Brightburn is not a bad choice.

A Movie. A Day. A Year. Day 10: Slither

Today is going to be a bit of a marathon for me: today I am watching Slither and tomorrow I’m going to watch Brightburn – both associated with the Gunn brothers, with James Gunn directing Slither and Brian and Mark Gunn writing the script for Brightburn.

Do you like body horror? Zombies? Hivemind? Aliens? If you said yes to any or all of these (two out of these four honestly terrify me. Send me your guesses!), then brother, or sister, is Slither the movie for you!

Slither hearkens back to the horror movies of the 50’s and the 80’s – the fear of The Other coming upon a sleepy Middle American town (which we will revisit in Brightburn), whether from the other side of the galaxy or the other side of the Iron Curtain. When all of them start talking like the initial contact Grant, all of them make references that only Grant could have known…I can’t help but get chills.

While it is a horror film, there are some moments of good comedy – a hallmark of Gunn films, which serve to expand upon the characters, something that all novice writers (including myself) should put into their tool-box. Don’t be funny too be funny, but be funny to further the reader’s understanding of the story.

Speaking of 80’s films – I appreciate the subdued gore (in comparison to other films) and jump scares in this film. I hate jump scares as they are aimed at the common denominator, and are there just to shock the audience back into being awake. Most of the scares in this movie come from the working of The Other. The zombies shambling across the field, the revelation of the breeder and just the notion of being taken in a place where you are the most vulnerable: the bathroom.

Another thing that I like about this film is that the person who becomes the antagonist – Grant Grant – isn’t a bad person. Normally, the first victim is someone who deserves it – see Wes Craven’s Scream for an explanation of horror movies enforcing morality – but in this case, Grant Grant might be a lecherous predator, but he’s faithful to the woman he loves. Speaking of the woman he loves…she’s not exactly pristine. The town seems to be of the understanding that she’s only with him for the college tuition, house and money. Certainly, those of us who are far soured upon the milk of human kindness look at Starla and make that link quicker than others…but she does try to get along with Grant at times. For a horror movie, Slither makes a supreme effort to give us the complexity of the human spirit.

If you want a layered but entertaining horror film – rent Slither.

A Movie. A Day. A Year. Day 9: Dredd

To be clear: this is not the Stallone picture That-Should-Not-Be-Named.

Having said this – every frame is a love letter. This is the best representation of Judge Dredd, with enough loving details that a hard core fan can appreciate and direct enough to find new fans and carry them along

I’m not a fan of the comic, and honestly, my only other exposure to him is a song by Anthrax and the odd Batman/Dredd cross-over. Watching this movie however, gives me new appreciation of Karl Urban and the skills he brings to this movie. He is a fan, and his performance is one of the best I’ve seen. He carries himself with the grim importance that the Judge has inspired. Like I said, I don’t know much about the world, but everything is laid out in a quick manner. There are few exposition dumps, and the ones that happen lead to other things being revealed later on.

Karl Urban isn’t the only bright spot. Olivia Thirlby turns in a good performance as Anderson. She brings a rookie’s energy to the show, and we see those layers quickly stripped away, but what’s left is certainly not shy about interacting with the world she inhabits.

Then there’s Lena Headly.

Want to see Cersei if she were born to a commoner’s family. It’s Ma-Ma, and holy hell is she scary. Anyone else would have turned in an over-the-top performance – screaming, frothing mad and expected. Ma-ma is subtle. She knows she can get more out of people by force of reputation than screaming and cracking heads…but she also makes sure that people know that cracking heads isn’t necessarily off the table. In a movie that’s over the top, her subtly makes all the difference.

Speaking of over the top – let’s talk slo-mo. I love this. While the whole movie is drenched in blood from when everyone walks into Peachtree to when Anderson walks out of the Hall of Justice, this movie is a non-stop tour of phantasmagoric violence. That is until the slo-mo is used. While the trippy, HD neon effects are used sparingly, they are used to enhance the film. The scene that stands out is the second time it’s used in the drug den. We’re treated to a paradoxical and surreal experience. Blood flies out of wounds like glittering jewels. Flesh ripples from bullet impacts like stone cast into a calm morning pond. We should be horrified of what we see. One guy gets a bullet in the cheek, and it’s an impressionist painting crafted with smart-bullets.

This is not your usual action flick. This is art. This is cinema.

This is also not going to get a sequel. This is the one thing I hate about the Studio system. As much as I understand that the big tent-pole movies like anything that Marvel puts out (this is not a slam against the MCU. More on that when I review all the current movies in a marathon session) funds movies like Dredd. Even as I say that, the point of a movie is to make the studio money. Dredd did good, considering it had to fight uphill – thanks, Sly – to get what it got. Box office numbers didn’t justify a sequel, but hopefully Netflix will continue to find the gems in the dust-bin.

So – run out and get Dredd. It’s a pretty little action film.

A Movie. A Day. A Year. Day 8: Top Secret!

I don’t make it a secret – ZAZ films always bring a smile to my face. When you mention ZAZ films, most people will mention Leslie Nielsen. While he was certainly one of the most prolific actor in their stable, I’m talking about a lesser known, but definitely not one to be overlooked, actor.

Val Kilmer’s first movie role, and certainly one that got him started towards Top Gun fame, let him capitalize on his charm. Holding his own with such luminaries are Peter Cushing and Omar Sharif, he plays the rock and roll legend Nick Rivers. Not only does this movie mercilessly skewers World War 2 films, spy thrillers, Cold War movies, and Elvis Presley productions – it features Val Kilmer’s singing voice.

Like Airplane! and other productions, Top Secret! takes several viewings to see all the gags, but it’s the most fun you’ll have. Jokes that went gleefully over my head (“They asked me to help out in pre-teen maternity”) when I saw this when I was nine now make me guffaw at… somewhat older than nine. All the performances are over-the-top in a “well, I’m here, so let’s do this” atmosphere. One can not sit through this film and not find something to get at them. In fact, this last viewing I heard this line:

Nigel: It was a Russian ship. They taught me all about you imperialist swine. I was exposed to the works of great thinkers – Karl Marx, Lenin, L. Ron Hubbard, Freddie Laker.

I looked up Freddie Laker to see what would make him a great thinker. Come to find out that Sir Freddie Laker founded Laker Airways that went bankrupt in 1982. A great thinker, indeed and certainly worthy to join that list. Almost forty years old and I’m still finding things about it. The imdb trivia page alone for this movie is a delight to wander through.

This movie engenders some desire in me to see where is blindly robbed its inspiration from. I found myself looking for The Blue Lagoon, Where Eagles Dare and G.I. Blues to see where the inspiration came from. It’s nice to see one movie, then get struck by ‘oh, hey – I saw this on [insert ZAZ film here].’

If you ever get a chance, run out and see this with your best friends. Pick a day and have a ZAZ Film Festival: Kentucky Fried Movie, Airplane!, Airplane 2!, Top Secret!, Hot Shots! Hot Shots, Part Deux and the Naked Gun films. Yes, I left out Spy Hard, not because it isn’t a ZAZ film, but because I feel that the tank was empty for everyone when that movie was released.

So run out and enjoy Nick Rivers’ Skeet Surfing, U.S.A.