Death Ship (1980)

In a horror film, anything can be haunted or possessed: a house, a vehicle, a painting, a doll, an appendage, even a small child.

Why not a giant ship lost at sea?

In Death Ship, an old Nazi torture vessel is still floating around on the water many decades after the last World War.  It long ran out of fuel but is somehow still functional.  No one is onboard except for all the dead bodies in storage.

It’s headed straight for a party ship.  Crabby Captain George Kennedy isn’t happy that he’s losing his job to his second-in-command Richard Crenna.  He should be relieved considering how much he hates all the tourists on board.  He’s the Tommy Lee Jones of the high seas.

As a young, unibrowed Saul Rubinek rocks the boat with his surprisingly groovy disco band, we briefly meet some of the passengers including Crenna’s wife and two kids, a tomboy daughter and a son who can’t stop peeing.  There’s another crew member, Nick Mancuso, involved with a pretty dame who’s DTF.  And Kate Reid, an old widow only on this doomed voyage because it was what her dead husband wanted to do himself.

The movie doesn’t even bother introducing us to any other characters which means a whole bunch of extras are going to drown once the Nazi ghost ship crashes into this Halloween-themed love boat.  A low budget means low excitement when it finally happens.

There are just enough survivors to conveniently fit in a makeshift wooden raft although when Kennedy finally emerges out of the water, which is treated as a cheap scare, there’s still room for one more.

As they drift along patiently hoping to be rescued, here comes that goddamn Nazi boat.  The gang is thrilled but immediately something is wrong.  As they climb up a lowered staircase, it’s only a matter of time before it collapses on purpose.  Sure enough, Kennedy, Crenna and Mancuso are the last to go on it and only get about halfway up before they crash into the ocean below.

Thankfully, a rope ladder is lowered down and they finally make it safely onboard.

But then Rubinek, the cheerful band leader, gets a little too acclimated with the new digs.  It doesn’t help that he’s Jewish.

There are long gaps in between the killings which means lots of creaky doors, unexplained slammings, music and movies that suddenly play on their own, a whole slew of cobwebs and a whole lot of exploring.  The lack of an unsettling atmosphere means both boredom and unintentional silliness, although I did enjoy the old musical some of the passengers watch.  Not a good sign when that film from the 30s has better special effects.

While recovering from his near drownings and being oil bukkakkied, Kennedy suddenly hears an invisible Nazi talk to him in German.  Because the movie has already established him as a crank, he’s the ideal instrument for further mindless mayhem.  Unfortunately, I didn’t hate him all that much.  I mean he has a point about those tourists.

When that widow he can’t stand makes the mistake of eating those candies, she becomes the Before picture in one of those make-up segments on the Canadian Home Shopping Channel.  When she returns to one of the cabins to resume looking after him, he chokes her to death.  Who’s that silly-looking man he sees in her place?

Now declaring himself the Captain of this death trap, the Nazi ghosts seem to be sending him future clips of the movie while he sleeps.  We know what will happen to some of the survivors before they do.  None of it is scary but at least Mancuso’s fuck buddy has a nice body.  Guess she’s not a fan of blood showers.

You’d think Rubinek’s humourously convoluted death would’ve been an immediate tip-off but it takes at least half the movie for the remaining survivors to realize they should never have boarded.  Maybe you shouldn’t announce out loud what you’re planning to do.  This ship is smarter than you.  Then again, a spare raft is eventually discovered albeit not in the most ideal location.

You can pretty much guess who the final survivors will be, regardless of how many movies you’ve seen in your life.  Hell, even Trump could figure it out.

Did the filmmakers really believe they could get a sequel out of this?

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, October 4, 2019
4:10 a.m.

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Published in: on October 4, 2019 at 4:10 am  Leave a Comment  

The Lady In Red Kills Seven Times

There is a legend.  A very stupid legend.

Long ago, two sisters were at war over a guy.  One murdered the other.  But then the dead sister, miraculously resurrected, found revenge before resting in peace.

That’s not the end of this very stupid legend.

A century later, in this otherwise glorious castle in Germany, two more sisters feuded.  The exact same results.

Guess what.  It’s about to happen once more.

In 1958, two young siblings, Eveline and Kitty, are squabbling over a doll.  Their frail grandfather is alarmed by Eveline’s behaviour.  (Where are their parents?)  She stares transfixed at a painting.  It seems to be commanding her to stab that doll and decapitate it.  When an infuriated Kitty tackles her, Eveline reaches for that knife on the floor.  But grandpa wheels right over it.  (Why does he wear his cardigan off to the side like that?  It looks weird.)

The brief storm now passed, he explains the painting.  It features the two murderous sisters from centuries ago.  It was The Black Queen who eliminated The Red Queen only to be eliminated herself by her zombie sibling.

Clearly concerned about the future, fourteen years later, when the girls have grown into young women, he has secretly written a will, knowing he won’t survive beyond 1972.

Sure enough, another Red Queen walks into his bedroom and before she can stab him, his heart gives out.

At the reading of the will, old grandpa pulls a fast one.  No one gets any of his valuable shit until 1973 when the actual will will finally be unveiled.  Contrary to what Kitty has long believed, he has always worried the curse would eventually afflict his own family.

The creators of The Lady In Red Kills Seven Times should’ve been worried themselves.  This is nonsensical hooey.

Now a fashion photographer involved with a married man, Kitty is deeply guilt-ridden.  Why?  Because she believes she killed Eveline.  In a pitiful flashback, we see them fighting, if you can really call it that.  I mean it’s not exactly well choreographed.  (Why is Kitty flailing her arms in the air when she’s on top of her sister?)  One slap and a very gentle bump against a statue and boom, there she is, floating lifeless in the water with a preposterous amount of blood oozing out of her.  Honestly, it’s an oversell.

Of course, this is not the whole story as we eventually learn making the scene even more ludicrous.

Only two other people know what really happened to Eveline: another sister, Franziska, and her limping husband, Herbert.  Herbert is particularly pleased that the “old fart” has keeled over but wrongly presumes that Kitty will be the biggest beneficiary of the family estate.  She doesn’t care what she gets anyway.

Speaking of grandpa, his absence during the killing is glaring and unexplained.  Shortly before his own death, he gets annoyed that Eveline doesn’t visit him anymore.  Franziska, the only devoted family member left in his life, falsely claims she’s in America.  He never does learn the truth.  (How come we never see Franziska as a child?)

Keeping Kitty quiet is a blackmail scheme.  Some weirdo named Peter (who looks like a young Charles Manson) threatens to off her if she doesn’t pay up although his shakedown technique needs work, he’s all over the place with his thoughts.  When she eventually does, he assaults her.  She’s naked, he’s fully clothed.  Thankfully, it’s extremely brief and not more explicit than that.  Nevertheless, this should’ve been cut.  It’s just an excuse to see the actress Barbara Bouchet in all her glory.  A consensual love scene with Martin, the married douche she works with, would’ve made more sense.

Speaking of the douche, when the Red Queen kills off a couple of people he knows particularly well, he arouses the suspicion of Inspector Toller, who looks uncannily like Ravishing Rick Rude with that glorious moustache.  Toller doesn’t have any real evidence against him.  He just knows that both killings make Martin’s professional and personal lives a whole lot easier.

When a spooked Kitty gets a weird call from someone clearly pretending to be Eveline, she goes back to the family castle to make sure her childhood tormentor (who, as a child, is too cute to hate, quite frankly) is really dead.  Now hidden in a secret passage in the basement that is also home to rats, leeches and fake bats, when Kitty opens the door, you can clearly see Eveline blinking.  No wonder she’s confused.  (Eveline must be secretly related to Bernie.  Neither of them decompose despite being long deceased.)

As more people end up dead, Kitty eventually confesses the truth to a now freaked out Martin.  At the crummy, low-end fashion house where they work, he gets hit on by one of the models (Sybil Danning).  Nothing happens until he gets his promotion and she shows up unannounced at his apartment.  Wearing a scarf around her head for some reason, she’s a literal red herring.

As the camera solely follows him in his ridiculously skimpy robe, that gives the shallow redhead more than enough time to strip down completely and show off her own glorious body once the camera is back on her.  A necklace she wears later inspires him to find out the truth about the second will.  I’m amazed he was able to focus on it at all.

I haven’t mentioned Rosemary, another hot co-worker at the fashion house who is also acting rather suspiciously.  Toller asks her a direct question and he immediately catches her evasiveness.  (Her oversized spectacles are hilarious.  That ain’t high fashion, toots.)  But he’s not quick enough to solve the case to prevent more murders.  He’s no Adrian Monk.

Italian slasher films, better known as Giallos, are notorious for shamelessly exhibiting big gaping plot holes.  The point is the spectacle, be it bloody murders or the delightful displaying of mondo gazungas.  Sorry, but I need a coherent story and actual scares.  There isn’t one of either to be found in The Lady In Red Kills Seven Times, a misleading title.

I have a lot more questions.

If the real killer is wearing a mask of Eveline, with one notable exception, why do we see the actress who plays the real, very dead Eveline instead of the imposter?  When you see the actual mask she wears, how could anyone possibly be fooled?  How was she able to kill the kinky fashion house boss so quickly despite being quite a distance away just moments earlier?  How come no one chases her down after when she’s such a slow runner?

Why does that door to fake Eveline’s apartment move on its own when Sybil Danning’s character visits but Kitty has to physically open it herself?  How did that fourth key get in her purse undetected?

How does Kitty escape when the only ways out appear to be the staircase and the elevator, both occupied with cops?  How is Herbert able to hide from Kitty but not the police?  Why didn’t he use the same hiding spot?

Why does Martin’s schizophrenic wife still want to be married to him when she doesn’t even want him touching her while declaring “all men are beasts”?  Why is there so much lax security at this mental institution when Martin specifically instructs her doctor to increase surveillance on her?  Why give her drugs that make her condition worse?

Why doesn’t Peter just take off his coat when it gets caught in the car door as it moves?  Why didn’t they use a proper stunt guy instead of an obvious dummy for the crucial moment of impact?  (Another unplanned laugh.)  Are those sticks of gum he’s handing to a co-conspirator or are they drugs?

Why is this conspiracy so needlessly complicated?  I get that you’d want to make an innocent person look guilty and have them nabbed for your crimes instead but considering all the planning involved, shouldn’t you, oh I don’t know, rely on more than just circumstantial evidence to frame them?

Wouldn’t it be easier to just kill off the heirs to grandpa’s fortune and dump their bodies in that secret room?  It’s not like anyone outside the family ever goes down there.

Nah, that would make too much sense.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, October 4, 2019
3:56 a.m.

Published in: on October 4, 2019 at 3:56 am  Leave a Comment  

The Disaster Artist (2017)

Is Tommy Wiseau a manipulative asshole?  The Disaster Artist sure seems to think so.

The mysterious creator of The Room, one of the worst films of the last decade, has been such an impenetrable enigma in real life, we still don’t know how old he is, where he’s really from or how he was able to sink millions into his memorably awful production without filing for bankruptcy.  What we do know, or at least what this film persuasively argues, is that he’s not a people person but rather a raging narcissist.

As played by James Franco in The Disaster Artist, he remains an elusive figure, a long-haired Svengali to a young aspiring actor who looks up to him not because he’s gifted but because he’s absolutely fearless.  They’re drawn to each other because no one else believes in them.

That aspiring young actor is Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) who sees in Tommy something he doesn’t recognize in himself, an ability to project raw emotion in front of complete strangers.  After befriending each other in 1998 following an acting class run by a very good Melanie Griffith, the two men become inseparable.  When Greg talks about his love for James Dean and how he’s always wanted to visit the crash site where he died, Tommy suggests they take the 300-mile journey right then and there.

Soon, they talk about becoming stars themselves and eagerly drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles.  Greg is amazed that his mentor already has an apartment there that he barely lives in.  Less amazed is his appalled mother (Megan Mullally) who reminds him that his modelling money will only last him 2 weeks.

Greg immediately acquires an agent (Sharon Stone in a forgettable cameo) and a cute girlfriend (adorable Alison Brie in a bit of a thankless role; give her something funny to say, for God’s sake) who he meets at a local club while she’s tending the bar.  He doesn’t manage to land any roles despite getting auditions but he’s making a bit more progress than Tommy (his own tryouts aren’t going much better) who is already growing resentful.  Tommy’s also depressed about all the rejection he’s facing.

There’s a scene where Tommy approaches the real Judd Apatow in a restaurant and interrupts his panning of The Phantom Menace to his dinner companion to pitch himself.  Apatow declares he’ll never make it no matter how long and hard he tries.  He delivers a really funny line to end the scene.  Pro-tip: he’s not a Shakespeare guy.

Crushed, Greg reminds Tommy of their pact they made at the Dean site.  And he also makes a fateful suggestion.

Nearly a year later, Tommy plops down the first draft of The Room on another restaurant table right in front of his young friend demanding he read it right there in one sitting.  When he’s done, Greg accepts the role of Mark, the deceptive best friend of the lead character.

Neither man is fully aware of what they’re about to embark on.  But those who have seen The Room already know.  Nobody can’t stop the plane crash that’s coming.

What follows is a series of snippets into the production of the film, only some of which are really funny, unfortunately.  Clearly, the best sequence is the frustrating shooting of the famous “Oh, hi Mark!” scene set on a rooftop that doesn’t exist (like the real film, this is all done through a questionable chroma key effect).

Despite writing his own lines, Tommy can’t remember them as he opens that door.  Hearing Seth Rogan, in one of his best performances, who plays the script supervisor and ends up directing a lot of The Room himself, repeat his short monologue again and again after a blown take is gold.  There are so many blown takes that even the off-camera cast and crew can recite his own brief speech from memory which is even funnier.  It’s only a belated suggestion from Greg that finally ends that particular torture.

As the cast and crew quickly realize they’re trapped in an illogical turkey they can’t escape (except for the fortunate ones who get fired midway through), they enter survivor mode hoping the shoot, which ends up going almost 20 days longer than planned, doesn’t destroy them.  (They also hope the film is never seen.)

All the while, James Franco’s Tommy is a unrepentant dick, showing up to the cheap-ass set hours later than scheduled, hiring a guy to secretly record the crew members badmouthing his lack of talent in order to expose them, refusing to have the air conditioning on during hot days, not allowing actors drinking water, forbidding anyone from using his private, makeshift bathroom (which is only protected by a curtain and not even obeyed), and insulting the physical appearance of his attractive co-star Juliette (Ari Graynor).  It’s hard to sympathize with an earnest hack when he goes out of his way to alienate everyone around him.  He’s always aware of what he’s doing.  (Hey, it worked for Kubrick and Hitchcock.  But they also had talent.)

Even Greg isn’t spared.  In a scene that feels like an invention for the film (The Disaster Artist is based on the real Greg Sestero’s award-winning memoir), the young man, who by this point has grown a not so spectacular beard, manages to snag a guest spot on Malcolm In The Middle, thanks to an unlikely, spontaneous offer by the real Bryan Cranston.  (The girlfriend works out with him.)

Unfortunately, Mark is scripted to show up inexplicably clean shaven in the latter stages of the movie.  But Cranston wants him to keep the beard because he’ll be playing a lumberjack.  An aggravated Tommy forces his only friend to make a difficult choice instead of being reasonably accommodating.  Not sure I would’ve made the same decision.

I really wanted to like The Disaster Artist.  It reminds me of the superior Ed Wood which remains Tim Burton’s greatest achievement.  But it’s not consistently funny and I didn’t care for James Franco’s performance.  (He was rightly snubbed for a Best Actor Oscar nomination which many thought he would receive.)  The real Tommy Wiseau has a very distinctive accent but he speaks fluent English, no broken, off-beat patois.  Franco sounds like a stoned, less polished Balki from Perfect Strangers.

Franco’s a good looking guy but the subtle make-up doesn’t ugly him up enough, quite frankly.  He still looks like Franco, only now in rock star mode.  And then there’s the fact that we really don’t like his version of Tommy.  With the exception of that brilliantly recreated photo of the real Wiseau’s vampire face on The Room billboard and a quip to the ageless Mullally during their only encounter, he’s just not funny at all.  (The real Wiseau’s abysmal acting in The Room is far more amusing.)  He’s certainly not charming enough to put up with for very long.  He’s too exasperating and mean.

The man is so selfish that when he manages to put together a premiere screening for The Room, he invites Greg without also apologizing to him for fucking up his career.  He won’t even see him act on stage in a small-time LA production of Death Of A Salesman, even though he’s waiting for him outside the auditorium.  Aware that Greg is resentful (Tommy’s antics also cost him an important relationship), Tommy only convinces him to go by saying he should attend for himself, not for his buddy.

Unlike Ed Wood’s touching, heartfelt relationship with a dying, desperate Bela Lugosi in the Burton film, Greg and Tommy’s often awkward partnership (which, incredibly, still endures in the real world today) feels mighty forced and unconvincing.  Wood greatly respected the Dracula star for all he accomplished in the horror genre while Lugosi was relieved that he could still be remembered in his dying days with great fondness despite doing a precipitous header into the ocean of addiction.

What exactly does Greg get out of associating with the talentless Tommy, a man easily offended by even the softest inquisition and threatened by even the smallest amount of professional and personal success his only friend achieves?  How about a control freak with a Trumpian sense of revisionism.

Speaking of rewriting history, at the recreated premiere, the packed audience is at first completely dumbfounded by the opening scenes of The Room, then the laughter starts.  As it builds and builds, especially from the cast and crew who lived through it all, an embarrassed, teary-eyed Tommy bolts from the theatre only to be talked into going back by Greg, who once again is placed in the role of reassuring comforter.  He’s The Tommy Whisperer.

When the movie ends and there’s both a standing ovation & an enthusiastic chant for its writer/director/star (really?), Tommy climbs back on stage and in front of a blinding spotlight, makes a bold declaration no one accepts.

Costanza was wrong.  It’s still a lie whether you believe it or not.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, September 22, 2019
3:52 a.m.

Published in: on September 22, 2019 at 3:52 am  Leave a Comment  

The Room (2003)

If Chandler Bing was a real person, I can only imagine one reaction he would have to The Room:

“Oh.  My.  God.”

Every once in a while, there is a film with sincere intentions, a film that wants to be taken seriously, a film that hopes to be loved.  But because it is made by someone who has no idea what they’re doing, the result isn’t compelling drama, but an unintentional comedy.

Tommy Wiseau cannot act.  Tommy Wiseau cannot write.  Tommy Wiseau cannot produce.  Tommy Wiseau cannot direct.

But to be fair, he has really bitchin’ hair.

In The Room, his critically unacclaimed disasterpiece, he plays Johnny, a supremely generous banker engaged to Lisa (Juliette Danielle).  She looks like she’s still in college.  He looks like a brutally beaten Lars Ulrich.

They’ve been together for either five or seven years, depending on who you ask.  They’re supposed to be married in a month but blabbermouth Lisa can’t stop telling her nihilistic, busybody mom (Carolyn Minnott) and her incredulous, inconsistently supportive friend Michelle (Robyn Paris) that she doesn’t love him and is merely tolerating him at this point.

Then why the enthusiasm for him in not one but two remarkably unarousing sex scenes?  Honestly, she’s not that good an actor.  At no time during these specific sequences does she make it clear to the audience that she’s just going through the motions.

Let’s talk about those scenes for a moment.  They’re like bad soft porn accompanied by the obligatory R&B soundtrack which has to compete with excessive moaning and groaning.  At one point because of how awkward he’s positioned, Tommy Wiseau looks like he’s not aiming correctly.  That sure looks like a weak-ass titty fuck to me.

Why is Lisa not feeling him anymore?  She prefers his hunkier best friend Mark (Greg Sestero), who looks like he walked off the set of The Bold And The Beautiful.  But he’s conflicted about their affair.  Well, not that conflicted, really.  All Lisa has to do is indicate it’s go time and they have their own set of sizzle-free fornicating with their own R&B soundtrack punctuated by their own excessive moaning and groaning.

The Room clearly doesn’t have enough plot so it generates temporary, meaningless throwaways to fill out the running time.  Early on, we meet Denny (Philip Haldiman), the couple’s creepy neighbour who literally walks in during their pre-coital pillow fight hoping to watch the real action.  He later confesses his love for Lisa to Johnny but the man doesn’t care probably because he knows nothing’s going to happen between them.

Later on, Denny is confronted by a pistol-wielding drug dealer demanding an overdue payment.  Why is this happening on a roof and not in the streets?  (Two words: chroma key.)  Nothing happens because Johnny and Mark save the day.  That leads to a very annoying conversation between Denny and Lisa & her mother who fail repeatedly to get the full story out of him.  If Johnny is footing the bill for him, why exactly does he need to sell drugs?

Lisa’s mom, who likes Johnny for the most part, doesn’t understand Lisa’s reluctance to go through with the marriage.  A bitter old hag who may or may not be dying of breast cancer (which is casually mentioned and then conveniently ignored for the rest of the movie), she insists the financial stability Johnny represents should be paramount (even though he was just denied a promised promotion).  To hell with her feelings.  Oh, and don’t get her started on that jerk Harold!

As The Room further delays Johnny’s inevitable discovery of Lisa and Mark’s heatless canoodling, out comes the football.  Let’s play football in a very cramped part of the building.  Let’s throw the football around in a nearby park.  Hey, I know, let’s put our tuxes on and throw the football around outside for absolutely no reason.

Johnny eventually overhears Lisa confess her indiscretion without mentioning Mark’s name and decides to surreptitiously record all her future phone calls, only one of which we actually hear on tape.  This turns out to be completely unnecessary.

At a surprise birthday party organized by Lisa (who in one scene wonders out loud why she is even doing this), she can’t keep her hands off Mark, and Johnny has not one but two physical confrontations with him.  There is no tension.  But there is much amusement.

As the party attendees keep being directed elsewhere (hey everybody, let’s all go on the roof; hey everybody, let’s go back in the house; hey everybody, let’s go outside and get some fresh air), we learn that Lisa is pretending to be pregnant which of course an oblivious Johnny cheerfully announces to everyone.  For someone so eager to bolt, why does she keep making up reasons to stay?

When the big blowout with Lisa finally happens, it feels more like an excuse for Tommy Wiseau to break and smash all of his low-budget props in one scene, than a defining moment.  And to make odd noises while he dry humps the abandoned red dress he buys for her in the opener.  Thoroughly defeated, he does something my old college professor warned us about in TV Broadcasting class.  Let’s just say he wasn’t a big fan of self-harm endings.

A stupendous flop during its brief release in 2003, The Room has since become an ironic, highly profitable cult film, not unlike Showgirls (which at least had good supporting performances and conveyed an appropriately sleazy, cut-throat Vegas atmosphere).  Not one to lose face, the shameless Wiseau (who makes Van Damme sound like Olivier) now claims he never made a drama at all, but rather a black comedy.

You don’t get laughs like that through meticulous planning.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, September 21, 2019
4:10 a.m.

Published in: on September 21, 2019 at 4:10 am  Comments (1)  

Ma (2019)

Be nice to Black girls.  They never forget.

Some of the white kids who humiliated young Sue Ann at her high school more than 30 years ago are about to learn this lesson the hard way.  And so are their own teenage sons and daughters.

Sue Ann is played as an adult by the Oscar winner Octavia Spencer.  It is a character with a few too many parallels with Annie Wilkes (played by another Oscar winner Kathy Bates).  While the Misery villain worked in a hospital in a previous life, Sue Ann assists the no-nonsense Alison Janney (in a very good, unbilled performance) at a veterinary clinic where she has access to knockout drugs.  While Annie was obsessed and infuriated with her favourite novelist, Sue Ann has never gotten over Ben (Luke Evans) and the cruel prank he and his friends played on her in high school.  Despite her long simmering fury, she remains deeply in love with him.

Also like Annie, Sue Ann lives an isolated life out in the woods away from civilization after a failed marriage.  The only lingering evidence of such a union is her own teenage daughter Genie (Tanyell Waivers) who she routinely abuses and often keeps home from school for no reason.  There’s clearly nothing wrong with Genie (she doesn’t need that electric scooter).  You wonder if Sue Ann herself has Munchausen by proxy disease.

I remember seeing Juliette Lewis as a rebellious teenager in the excellent Martin Scorsese remake of Cape Fear.  Now in Ma (in which she delivers an affable performance), she has one of her own.  A recent divorcee from California now back in Ohio, her home state, Lewis takes a job at the local casino while her impressionable daughter Diana Silvers is befriended by a group of bad influences, all wannabe burnouts who do nothing but drink and get high on weed because apparently there’s nothing else to do here.  They’re too young to gamble and too stupid in general.

Early on, they try to get any random adult to buy them booze (they’re all 16).  This is where they meet Sue Ann for the first time.  At first, she declines to help them out.  But then she notices the van they’ve been riding around in.  Now she’s super friendly and helpful.  Red flag number one.

True to her word, she delivers most of what they ordered (she has to make a substitute for a drink not found on the shelf).  As they start drowning their boredom at an abandoned ruin, Sue Ann rats them out which goes curiously unnoticed.  (Fortunately an arriving cop doesn’t bust them.)  She also creeps on their Facebook profiles.

Shortly thereafter, she invites them to down more hooch in her basement.  Red flag number two.  Despite some initial hesitation among the crew, the kids follow her inside.  There’s a bizarre moment when she suddenly points a gun at one of the boys and then orders him to strip nude.  Then, she laughs and falsely claims the gun doesn’t even work.  Red flag number three.

Now at this point, you would think the kids would cut off all contact.  (Honestly, it should never have gotten this far.)  But nope, not only do they return again and again, even more teenagers show up.  Sue Ann is given the nickname of Ma and starts getting a little too clingy.  She’s already eye fucking Silvers’ new boyfriend.  She loves his Instagram.

It takes way too long for Silvers and her gullible friends to finally pull back.  One girl makes the fatal mistake of posting a harsh video that repeatedly denounces Sue Ann which of course she sees.  She gets so pissed off over it she hastily leaves in the middle of her pedicure.

Movies like Ma depend greatly on smart casting.  I hate to say this but Spencer is completely wrong for the role of Sue Ann.  There’s this brilliant little thing that Kathy Bates did as Annie Wilkes in Misery where she slightly tweaked her line readings at times and subtly adjusted her facial expressions accordingly to reveal a deep psychotic malevolence beneath her overly cheerful, nurturing facade.  It was what made that character so disturbing and creepy.  You didn’t always know what would set her off.  No matter what, she was always in control.

Spencer, still nursing a serious grudge over that high school prank, can’t quite achieve the same effect.  Her presence is never as unsettling as it should be.  When she suddenly pops into a scene to freak out our young protagonists, there’s not even a jolt from such a hacky, overused technique.  There’s no ingenuity with the little horror depicted here, much of it relegated to its final half hour.

Desperate to keep the kids in her life, she calls them to meet at their former favourite gathering place (she works around the phone ban by getting a new number), the aforementioned abandoned ruin, and proclaims with crocodile tears that she’s got cancer.  One of the girls notices she’s a thief.  For her part, Silvers ultimately and correctly comes to the conclusion that this is yet another ruse to keep her retro basement rages going.

Unlike Annie Wilkes who was depicted as pure evil (she got fired from her nursing job because a number of patients died on her watch), Sue Ann is seen more sympathetically, albeit up to a point.  It seems pretty obvious that the real reason she was ostracized in high school is because she’s Black.  It feels like an act of cowardice to not follow through on that point.  All of her tormentors are white.

Honestly, with a different actor as the heel, more pointed writing and some actual surprises, maybe this revenge story wouldn’t seem so generic and unpersuasive.  It’s certainly missing an atmosphere.

When we reach the final act, Sue Ann suddenly turns homicidal (don’t go jogging when you see her driving) and at times, the movie starts getting really silly.  I mean, are we really serious about that impromptu photo session?  As the villain continues to deteriorate and lose all sense of reason, so does the movie.  (That is not a satisfying ending.  The alternate finish, included as a bonus feature on the DVD and Blu-ray, is even worse.  Snippets of it appear in the original trailer.)  Ma’s three central storylines are in constant conflict with each other and as a result, we neither hate nor like Sue Ann.  We’re more confused about the contradictions in her fractured personality.  The complications kill her heel heat.

Early on, Diana Silvers (a cute, talented actor who’s having a remarkable 2019 despite only being in the business a couple of years; she’s also in Glass and Booksmart) befriends Genie at school not knowing who her mother is.  Her act of kindness is the smartest decision she makes.  For the sake of our survival in future horror movies, all white characters should follow her lead.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, September 16, 2019
4:09 a.m.

Published in: on September 16, 2019 at 4:09 am  Leave a Comment  

Brightburn

We’ve all done it.  We’ve all gotten mad at our parents for not letting us get our way.  Our solution was to pout and scream and pound the floor like it owed us money.  It rarely worked in our favours, though.   In Brightburn, Brandon Breyer’s method is to get brutally violent.  Now he gets results.

Conceived as a horror version of the Superman origin story, Brightburn begins with a couple trying and failing to make a baby of their own and ends with them belatedly regretting adopting a demon child from space.

For you see, Brandon arrives in a sphere-like spaceship which crashes on the couple’s farm.  The wife, Elizabeth Banks, stops riding her husband, David Denman, just seconds before their future nightmare loudly arrives.  (She’s a painter, he runs the farm.)

After a quick montage of the happy family raising their adopted son in brief home movies, we move ahead to just before Brandon’s twelfth birthday.  He’s an excellent student which makes him a target for bullies.  But the cute girl in his class likes him.  She’ll regret that crush.

Shortly thereafter, the hidden spaceship calls out to Brandon in an indecipherable alien language.  One night, Banks catches him trying to get to it.  His parents locked it away under the barn.  Soon, it won’t stay locked any longer.

Once he correctly translates the message he’s being sent, he turns heel.  Don’t fuck with this kid.  He holds a grudge.

The family takes him to a local eatery for his birthday but it all goes wrong when Brandon’s uncle gives him his first gun.  Denman won’t let him keep it.  Brandon gets so mad he pounds the electricity out of all the video games, albeit temporarily.

Later, Brandon and his parents go camping.  Away from Banks, Denman gives a humourously awkward sex talk.  He unwittingly gives his growing supervillain son terrible advice he’ll take to heart.

Brandon’s hot aunt is also his guidance counsellor.  When she insists on being honest with the sheriff’s department because of an incident that happened during gym class, at night he makes an uninvited visit to her house and threatens her.

He hangs around long enough to be spotted by his infuriated uncle, the one who gave him the gun, who drags him out of the house hoping to drive him back home.  Brandon has other ideas.

Let me pause a moment to talk about Brandon’s supervillain costume.  He has the Superman cape which allows him to fly but he also wears a ski mask that looks like it was designed by Man-Thing.  Why is he hiding his identity in the first place and why only some of the time?  A lot of the townsfolk, including his powerless classmates, can’t stand him anyway.  Everyone quickly learns he’s a freak of nature.  He’s the only mutant living on this planet and a not very intimidating one at that.   And for a guy who wants to be anonymous, why leave behind your initials at most of your crime scenes?  Someone has a pretty big pre-teen ego.

Also, once he becomes fully aware of his capabilities, why does he even bother staying with his parents?  If his mission is to indeed “take the world”, why put up with their crap any longer?  There’s a scene where an irate Denman knows he’s lying about where he’s been.  Brandon gets so angry he throws him against the wall.  Then he goes upstairs to take a shower!

The horror scenes are surprisingly gruesome.  One character has to remove a piece of glass from their eye.  Another has their jaw permanently dislocated.  This isn’t a fun movie.

Long before his wife, Denman accepts the kid is uncontrollable.  Something needs to be done.  But Banks, who has always wanted a child of her own, refuses to let anything bad happen to him.  Her stubborn denial makes her incredibly stupid.  (You can adopt harmless earth babies, you know.)  It isn’t until she discovers Brandon’s meticulous drawings of his crimes hidden under his mattress that she finally clues in.  Ironically, she is the only one who knows his weakness.

Brightburn is by no means as horrendous as some overly harsh critics asserted during its modest theatrical run back in the spring.  But I agree that it disappointingly squanders its full potential as a true blood anti-hero horror film.  I liked David Denman as the dad but the kid, Jackson A. Dunn, just isn’t creepy enough.  However, he kind of resembles the teenage Damian from the laughable Omen II.

Elizabeth Banks is given the thankless task of being the dopey mom, the devoted, overprotective caregiver who deep down knows it was a stupid idea to raise this kid, but her bond won’t let her see reason until it’s too late.  I want to see her in something good again like Catch Me If You Can.

Brightburn isn’t as original a concept as the filmmakers think it is.  We saw a similiar approach in Chronicle, a found footage-style thriller where a teenage kid comes in contact with some unexplained alien material and turns heel himself, exacting revenge on his grumpy father, then on the rest of his town.  I didn’t like that film, either.

Like the villain in the Jeepers Creepers franchise, Brandon is pretty much unstoppable and so we have no real reason to care about the outcome.  If the creators of Brightburn believe they have a franchise of their own here, they’re the only ones.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, September 16, 2019
3:18 a.m.

Published in: on September 16, 2019 at 3:18 am  Leave a Comment  

Dead Silence (2007)

Just how bad is Dead Silence?  Even its screenwriter hates it.

Leigh Whannell, the Australian scribe who wrote Saw and Insidious, documented his frustration with the production on his own website.  In an essay appropriately titled Dud Silence, he explains that his original screenplay was rewritten by an uncredited script doctor and that’s why the film turned out so badly.

Yeah, that’s the reason.

A young man drives to a Chinese takeout place on a rainy night and when he comes back to the apartment he shares with his wife, she’s dead.  Moments before he leaves, the couple receives a bizarre package, an old, odd ventriloquist dummy named Billy.

The audience knows what just happened.  But a teary-eyed Billy is in shock and like wrongly skeptical police detective Donnie Wahlberg (we could do without all that smugness), he wants answers.  Now.

Jamie, now a widow, returns home for the first time in years.  His dad, the awesome Bob Gunton (the nasty warden from The Shawshank Redemption), has remarried again.  Wife number three is hotsy totsy Amber Valletta (The Transporter 2).  There’s something…off about them, though.  Gunton looks like shit, almost ghostly.  Why is this babe with him?

Jamie has bad memories living in this huge mansion.  His dad is suddenly…nice towards him.  He’s not buying it.  Jamie’s here to be reminded of a poem.  It’s about this infamous ventriloquist, Mary Shaw.  She died under mysterious circumstances decades ago.

Childless through her entire life, she considered her dolls her babies, all 101 of them.  They’re all buried with her in separate, child-size coffins in the same cemetery.  After her death, we later learn she herself was transformed into a doll.  Kooky broad.

Billy was one of her treasured companions.  Who sent him to Jamie and his wife?

Not getting much help from dear old daddo, Jamie turns to the local coroner who is so spooked about Mary Shaw he won’t even say her name at full volume outside.  His own wife has totally lost it.  She natters to herself constantly and thinks that dead crow she tries to feed is still alive.

But of course, she only seems completely out of it.  She speaks to Shaw’s spirit.  She urges Jamie to bury the doll.  So he does.  But Wahlberg, the dumb bastard, digs the fucking thing up.  He’s smart enough to know it’s evidence in Jamie’s wife’s murder.  But not so swift at intuiting that he now possesses her actual killer.

Once we know the whole story, we understand Mary Shaw’s rage.  The coroner tells Jamie about a kid who made the mistake of heckling the ventriloquist during a show in the local theatre.  He later ends up missing and is never found until the finale.  Jamie also learns something terrible about his dad.  And he finally discovers why his wife was murdered.

Up to this point, Dead Silence is seriously lacking in sufficient chills (despite the plethora of weird looking dolls) but it’s not terrible.  While Jamie is a bland hero, there’s at least some good character performances.  Any movie that includes Bob Gunton in the cast is not a complete waste.  (He was also good in a smaller role in The Lincoln Lawyer which I recommend.)

But what is up with that ending?  Are you fucking kidding me?  I’m aware this is a supernatural thriller and that affords you a lot more creative freedom than stories grounded in reality, but this is not believable, not at all.  I thought it was a joke.

There’s another thing that bugged me about Mary Shaw, this business with the tongues.  Her gimmick is to rip them out of her victims’ mouths and collect them so she can speak using their actual voices.  But as anybody with a brain knows, you also can’t talk without a voice box.  So, why doesn’t she rip those out, too?

The only possessed doll movie I’ve ever really liked is the original Child’s Play and that came out over 30 years ago.  It knew what it was doing.  Dead Silence is like a dying fish flapping around on dry land.  No wonder Leigh Whannell wants to bury it.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, September 16, 2019
2:42 a.m.

Published in: on September 16, 2019 at 2:42 am  Leave a Comment  

Isn’t It Romantic (2019)

Isn’t It Romantic is the story of a woman who happens to be big but also happens to be attractive.  She lives in a world that sees the former but denies the latter.  She is also a human doormat who’s given no respect for her authority at work.

Then, one day, while on the subway, she thinks a stranger is interested in her.  She is mistaken.  He’s a mugger.  But she’s a fighter and he doesn’t succeed.  Despite being triumphant, she knocks herself out by running unintentionally into a pole.

When she awakens, a handsome doctor appears to be flirting with her at the hospital and she is confused.  When she’s discharged, other men, some she knows, some she doesn’t, treat her the same way.  Something’s wrong.  Why isn’t she being ignored or treated like a servant?

When she goes back to her apartment, it’s no longer “shitty”.  Even her little poodle is warmer to her.  He’s now obedient.

After a short while, the woman, played by Australian comic Rebel Wilson, comes to one unmistakable conclusion:  she’s “trapped” in a PG-13 romantic comedy.  How does she automatically know the MPAA rating?  She can’t say “fuck” or “fucking” or “motherfucker” without being loudly censored.  And there’s no sex, much to her disappointment.

But the truth is she’s not in a movie within a movie.  She’s dreaming.  And this isn’t an original premise.

I recently rescreened the 1991 comedy Delirious to give it a second chance.  (I thought it was average when I was a teenager.  Now it’s awful.)  In the film, John Candy plays a soap opera writer who also knocks himself out by accident and seemingly wakes up as a character in his own show.  But like Wilson, he too is in fantasyland.

In Delirious, Candy is deeply smitten with the diva of his show, Emma Samms, who can’t quite quit her ex-husband co-star.  But the woman he should be involved with is Muriel Hemingway, the aspiring actress hoping to land a role on his production.

In Isn’t It Romantic, Wilson is stunned to hear an Australian accent coming out of the mouth of Liam Hemsworth, who has an American one when she encounters him at her architecture firm.  In the real world, he doesn’t see her as an equal.  (He’s the presumptuous son of an important client.)  But in her own comatose fantasy, he can’t stop calling her “beguiling”.

However, the movie clearly wants her paired with Adam Devine (her love interest from the obnoxious Pitch Perfect franchise).  They’ve been friends forever and he’s been trying to date her for just as long.  She has such low self-esteem that when she catches him looking in her direction, she thinks he’s really eyeing an outside billboard that prominently features Priyanka Chopra.

Naturally, while in her romantic comedy fantasy, there’s a scene where she’s walking with Devine and he spots Chopra choking at an outdoor cafe.  After rushing over to successfully perform the Heimlich, Chopra is not only appreciative but interested.  (She ultimately gives him the unfortunate nickname, “Mush”, because he’s soft.  He doesn’t care.)  Wilson suddenly feels incredibly jealous.  So she starts seeing the persistent Hemsworth who, of course, like Emma Samms in Delirious, is too good to be true.

In the opening scene, we learn that Wilson loved Pretty Woman as a kid.  But her bitter mother Jennifer Saunders soured her on not only romantic comedies in general but the very idea of finding love with a man altogether.

As an adult, she gets into a rant with her RC-obsessed assistant (who watches them all day long on her computer instead of working for the parking garage architect) about the genre’s numerous, maddening cliches.  Wilson has a curious encyclopedic knowledge for a cynic.  How disappointing that all of her witless observations have been made numerous times before.

And that is the biggest problem with Isn’t It Romantic.  It doesn’t take us anywhere new.  As many critics have already pointed out, it doesn’t really hate romantic comedies at all.  Its idea of satire is to shamelessly admit it’s a blatant rip-off.

Consider Wilson’s neighbour.  In her real life, she wrongly assumes he’s a ladies man.  But in her fantasy, he’s the obligatory, swishy gay best friend who magically shows up whenever she’s in a pickle which is far too often.  He’s not funny at all.

There’s actually only one laugh in the movie, a quick little sight gag, and it’s not even that particularly inspired, a quality sorely lacking throughout the entire movie.  (Not even the two musical numbers, both so-so covers of late 80s pop hits, can enliven the proceedings.)

Over time, not realizing she’s only imagining all of this, Wilson first believes she needs to find true love in order to return to her sad, lonely real-life existence, a belief that is completely abandoned during another standard romantic comedy set piece.  (Muriel’s Wedding already covered this ground in a much more satisfying manner without copping out.)  When she eventually wakes up from her fever dream, though, she will just as quickly revert back to her original assertion, defeating the purpose of feeling empowered, unless you consider her now jerky behaviour towards her work underlings in the real world “feminist”.

The power of the genre is apparently so undeniable that Isn’t It Romantic can’t even stick with its feeble satirical tone.  In the final act, it reduces itself to a puddle of sentimentality, a shift it hasn’t earned any right to pursue.  And that too is a standard feature of these types of films.  They ultimately take their often unpersuasive romances too seriously.

I’ve never really warmed to Rebel Wilson or Adam Devine in their numerous on-screen appearances (they often grate with their constant mugging and overbearing characterizations), but I must say here they deliver their least annoying performances to date, which admittedly is not saying much but is still preferable.  They were far more unbearable in the Pitch Perfect movies.  If only they were given stellar material here.

But Wilson does look fabulous in the Julia Roberts Pretty Woman dress and especially when she returns to work with a new confidence.  If only we cared about the character in that dress.  And if only she realized what the audience knows from the very beginning.  Like Amy Schumer in the equally terrible I Feel Pretty, she shouldn’t need to bang her head to accept herself.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, September 12, 2019
11:03 p.m.

Published in: on September 12, 2019 at 11:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Pit (1981)

There’s something seriously wrong with Jamie.  Unable to ingratiate himself with his intuitively suspicious classmates, his only friend is a teddy bear that talks back to him…in the boy’s own voice.  “Teddy” isn’t a good influence.  He makes questionable suggestions.  But there’s something else, a secret.  Why is he so attached to those…things in the woods?

If this does not sound like a good premise for a horror film, you’re smarter than most of the characters in The Pit, another incredibly silly early 80s schlockfest from Canada (despite being mostly filmed in Wisconsin).  Needless to say, it is not remotely terrifying.  How can it be when you’re laughing over and over again?

Jamie (Sammy Snyders) is a 12-year-old loner with very rich parents (the dad drives a BMW) who seem awfully eager to leave him in the company of unsuspecting babysitters.  The latest sucker is Sandy (longtime cartoon actor Jeannie Elias), a cute college gal with a delightful perm and sweet-voiced personality.  She aspires to be a shrink but is in way over her head.

In her job interview, Jamie’s mom warns her that her son develops inappropriate crushes on older women, like the bespectacled school librarian who’s not at all flattered by the little cut-and-paste job he’s sent her.  Wrecking a nude photography book to show his admiration which he stupidly brings to class, his concerned teacher (Sonja Smits from Street Legal and Traders) returns it to the library after confiscating it from the naughty bugger.  (For his punishment, she makes him write lines like Bart Simpson on a chalkboard.  A total waste of time.)

Almost no one likes Jamie.  Not the snotty redheaded girl with the bike he covets, not the blind, crotchety old lady in the wheelchair nor the bully and his blonde girlfriend at school.  When Jamie introduces himself to the bully at recess and asks to join his club, he gets a bloody nose for an answer while being laughed at by the bully’s squeeze.

Even before his parents conveniently depart for Seattle, keeping them off-screen for much of the movie, Jamie starts acting creepy around lovely Sandy.  At dinner, he does the old I-dropped-my-napkin-so-I-can-check-out-your-legs-under-the-table routine.  Once they leave, he sneaks into the bathroom to write “I love you” on the vanity mirror while also being mesmerized by a side view of Sandy’s cans as she showers.  Oh yes, he also catches a front view while he watches her sleep in one of the family bedrooms.

He loves her so much he tells her his big secret.  There’s a large pit out in the woods that only he knows about (because that’s believable) and inside it are four bad special effects, golden-eyed hairy little monsters who growl and depend on him for companionship and food.  They don’t like chocolate so much but they’ll instantly devour meat, bones and all, apparently.  Little Jamie makes repeat visits to the butcher shop to make curious purchases that arouses suspicion.  Sandy eventually figures out how he’s able to afford so many different cuts.  One wonders why she bothers confronting him when his behaviour never changes, it only escalates.

When he runs out of money, “Teddy” convinces his weirdo pal to throw his enemies into The Pit.  One of those moments is shown twice for some reason.  At no time are you frightened, not in the slightest.  The musicians on the accompanying score are all too aware this is all a joke and play accordingly which doesn’t help the film’s credibility.  It turns out that it doesn’t take much effort to lure these fools into this deathtrap.  (That old lady sure looks like she’s jumping in on her own.)  Consider the junior high bully who is convinced one night during a Halloween party he’s being given some abandoned loot worth a million dollars.  Yes, he is that stupid.

When Jamie learns that Sandy is seeing someone, a college football player who the two see play in a game one afternoon, the little freak knows what he must do.  Sandy must not have super strong feelings for the missing sap because she moves right on to the next guy, Mr. Moustache, who Jamie tries to frame for his collaborative murders.  At the very least, it buys him some time before the police sort of catch on.

The Pit clearly paved the way for those ghastly Problem Child movies, two dreadful comedies that could’ve easily been reconfigured as horror films.  How ironic that The Pit has more laughs, though, most of them unintentional or so I think.  It can be difficult to determine at times.  Because it can’t make up its mind about what kind of film it actually is, regardless of the intention, the comedy has a remarkable smothering effect.  As a result, you can’t take any of it seriously.

There’s an uproarious sequence where Jamie, in a convoluted scam not even worthy of Ferris Bueller, manages to convince the librarian to go topless in her house long enough for him to snap some Polaroids outside her window.  Why are adults so fucking naive in this movie?  Jamie really isn’t that smart, you know.  Don’t you recognize his voice, lady?

When Sandy discovers Jamie’s secret reading material in his bedroom (he has old school tastes), she starts talking to “Teddy” who doesn’t respond.  But as soon as she leaves the bedroom, the camera slowly pans over and…he…turns…his…head!  The word you’re thinking of is cheesy.

Like Junior in the Problem Child movies, Jamie is sometimes portrayed as a sympathetic victim, a wronged innocent who just wants some playmates to hang out with.  The snotty redheaded girl is particularly cruel.  There’s a weird scene where she appears to have dropped her hostility towards him.  She offers him her bike to ride as a peace offering but the second he’s on it, it completely falls apart.  (Wait.  What?)  She finds this greatly amusing.  In short order, however, Jamie will pull the old switcheroo.  Who’s laughing now, bitch?

Already a supremely ridiculous film, The Pit needlessly ups the stupidity when Jamie informs his little furry friends that he can’t feed them anymore.  So he throws down a rope and up they climb.  Now big enough for adult actors to portray them in pseudo-Big Foot costumes (dig their golden vision), they start randomly attacking unsuspecting citizens including director Lew Lehman’s daughter just after she takes off her bikini top.  I hate when that happens.

The police think they’ve solved the problem at one point but there’s one more loose end left to tie up.  The solution is so preposterously random and convenient that of course it doesn’t inspire dread and terror but yet more laughter.

The late comic Richard Jeni used to do a whole riff on Jaws The Revenge, easily the worst of the four films in that franchise.  Inspired by a late night cable screening when he stayed at a hotel, he marvelled at how committed he was to watching something with so many silly contrivances and nonsensical twists.  He suffered through a stupid horror film that didn’t scare him at all.

His Jaws The Revenge experience inspired several minutes of material.  It’s so sad he’s gone.  The Pit would’ve inspired a Netflix special.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, September 12, 2019
10:43 p.m.

Published in: on September 12, 2019 at 10:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

Remember (2015)

There is great comfort in self-deception.  Outward positivity masking a history of darkness.  Hugs and kisses replacing death and destruction.  Kindness and joy instead of systemic cruelty.

Imagine living this lie so convincingly.  You masquerade for so long you fool even yourself.  You maintain this charming illusion so well it becomes routine and disturbingly normal.  No one, not even the deceiver, is the wiser.

In Atom Egoyan’s Remember, the long buried sins of history are resurrected.  Punishment is coming.  Monstrous war crimes have not been forgotten.  Denial has its limits.

Christopher Plummer plays a frail old man who has just lost his wife, a heartbreak he will keep experiencing because of dementia.  It’s hard enough being a widow once.

Living in a home for seniors, he is befriended by Martin Landau, another old man in worst shape than him.  Confined to a wheelchair, his lungs weakened and his cough extra phlegmy, he is nevertheless far more lucid than Plummer.

During a week of mourning his dead wife, Plummer is reminded by Landau of an important promise he made, a mysterious mission that gradually becomes clearer over time.  Thanks to extremely lax security at the seniors home, now fully aware of what he must do, Plummer easily sneaks out of the facility one night.  This alarms his family, particularly his son Henry Czerny who rightly questions the competence of this place.  (When Plummer leaves, there is absolutely no one in sight.  How come no one is at the front desk?)

Plummer’s performance is exceptional.  He transitions from being a sweet, harmless grandfather, even to likeable young kids he doesn’t know, to a befuddled, bewildered mess.  Something seemingly innocuous will distract him for a moment and he will instantly lose his place in the world.  The clever Landau has prepared for this.  Before he leaves the seniors home, Plummer is handed a letter that will serve as an extremely helpful reminder of who he is, what he’s lost and what he must do.  As he goes through the listed itinerary, he has to cross off every item as he completes them.

When Plummer feels himself slipping, he will inevitably find that letter in his coat pocket (or someone else will remind him or retrieve it for him) and his mission resumes.  Plummer is so good at conveying helplessness that he finds an endless supply of kind strangers to guide him on his way.  (Even the gun store clerk takes pity on him.)  Because Landau has already booked his hotel rooms and his morning cab rides, all Plummer has to do is show up and only occasionally pay for them.  (Landau usually pays in advance on his behalf.)

Of course, that’s not all he must do.  He must confront the past head on.  Landau wants him to find someone, an elderly monster.  A Holocaust survivor, he wants revenge for what happened to his family at Auschwitz.  There are four possible suspects, each with the same assumed name.  When World War II ended, the Nazis who survived and avoided prosecution fled Germany, stealing the identities of their murdered victims in order to successfully emigrate elsewhere.

As it turns out, there are three such villains on Plummer’s list.  But Landau only cares about one.

Midway through the movie, Plummer arrives at the house of his third suspect.  No one is home except a scary German Shepherd who never stops barking.  A trigger.  In the distance, demolitions are happening and a warning siren sounds off continuously.  Another trigger.

The man Plummer is waiting hours for never arrives.  But his middle-aged son, a state trooper played sharply by Dean Norris, shows up after an uneventful work shift thrilled to have company.  Twice divorced and clearly lonely, he goes out of his way to be a good host, offering beverages and cheerfully showing off what remains of his dead father’s Nazi memorabilia including a rare first-printing of Mein Kampf in mint condition.

Plummer tolerates the son’s creepy exuberance until he realizes the man’s father never worked at Auschwitz.  He never even killed anybody.  (He was just a cook who committed vandalism.)  Norris is so relieved to have a guest he even offers Plummer a place to sleep for the night.  But his kindness evaporates when he sees the tattoo.

Remember is a gripping, slow-burning thriller.  Like The American, it understands the tediousness of meticulously planning an assassination.  It’s a lonely gig filled with long, dull lulls and endless travelling until that inevitable confrontation when your heart is racing and you know what you must do, what you promised to take care of.  Unless you’re a sociopath who never gets nervous.

Plummer has a number of close calls before pulling out that purchased Glock one last time.  When he leaves the discount store and the alarm goes off, a security guard not only inspects the bag of clothes he bought, he also finds the gun in his little carry-all.  Nostalgia is not the expected reaction.  Or when we learn Plummer’s passport is expired and he might not be allowed into Canada.  Good thing the authorities don’t inspect the bus.

Because the way the screenplay is structured, we know it will be the fourth suspect who will turn out to be the guy Landau has been searching for.  But then the movie pulls out a whopper of a twist, worthy of an M. Night Shyamalan.  When you think about it, it’s not like the movie didn’t give us some subtle hints.  Honestly, the ending is so impactful, it actually strengthens the story.  It doesn’t feel like a belated add-on to undermine our investment.

As a rule, I’m generally not a big fan of revenge thrillers because they are usually so predictable and obvious.  Innocent person gets wronged, innocent person gets even.  Unless we care about the characters, who gives a shit?  Far more interesting are the revenge thrillers with a deeper purpose, like The Limey (about a grieving father who really wants closure not vengeance) or the original Death Wish (about another grieving father and husband who takes out his frustrations on other heels in questionable ways).

Remember is about a collision course between the power of suggestion and the loose ends of history, how when the “right” path towards justice is closed, you pursue another through duplicitous means.  Martin Landau knows something Christopher Plummer does not.  And he has the benefit of Plummer being too out of it to question what he’s told, a revelation we don’t see coming.

There are moments where Plummer stares at something like that shower head in the bathtub or that fire escape sign on the back of his hotel room door.  He becomes transfixed.  Is he remembering something he’s long forgotten?  Do those objects suddenly jolt him back to a darker time?

Delusion only affords you so many protections.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, August 24, 2019
4:17 a.m.

Published in: on August 25, 2019 at 4:17 am  Leave a Comment