Sunday, October 23, 2011
For this final segment of my special Halloween Edition of “Savage Cinema Revisits,” I am excited to shine my personal spotlight upon a film that has long earned a treasured place in my cinematic heart. In fact, I am so excited to share this title with you that I feel that this installment may be considered to be the debut feature of a new series I would like to begin on this site. Think of it like a “Pilot Episode” of a new series.
The great Roger Ebert has inspired me once again as I am happy to announce the arrival of “SAVAGE CINEMA’S FAVORITE MOVIES.” This is a self-explanatory series, which owes a most reverential nod to Mr. Ebert’s “Great Movies” series and book compilations.
The following posting is simply a love letter to a film that has enraptured and frightened me from the very first time I saw it, back when I was 13 years old. I grandly present this piece to you with the hopes you embrace it for this Halloween season and also, for all time!
“AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON” (1981)
Written and Directed by John Landis
“They killed Kermit!”
That cryptic statement was announced to me, at the age of 12, by my then 17-year-old cousin Adam some time after he saw “An American Werewolf In London” in the summer of 1981. To this statement, all I could utter was a bemused, “What?!” to which Adam again, dryly and slyly stated, “They killed Kermit.”
If filmmaker John Landis were only to have ever made the comedy classics “National Lampoon’s Animal House” (1978) and “The Blues Brothers” (1980), he would still exist as one of my favorite Directors as both of those films rank as my top two favorite comedies. Yet, as you all know, I give the genre of horror a wide berth and have no enjoyment in willingly placing myself into situations where I would become terribly frightened. So, it should be of no surprise to you that despite my love for the films of John Landis, there was no way at all that I was about to find a way to see “An American Werewolf In London,” Landis’ entry into the horror film genre. But…I had to admit that my curiosity was definitely piqued by Adam’s remark. What did he mean by “They killed Kermit!” anyway? Honestly, while Landis’ films had an anarchistic streak that I adored, I didn’t fathom that he would go so far as to actually commit Muppet homicide on screen! Even so, I stayed away…but I made myself a mental note to investigate in the future.
That future arrived the following summer when the film made its premiere upon a pay television channel called “ON TV.” Adam actually happened to be over at my house on the night of the premiere. I felt that within the safety of my own home, a much smaller screen combined with Adam’s company, viewing “An American Werewolf In London” would be an experience I could handle much more easily than within the confines of a large movie theater with 70mm screens and Dolby sound systems. So…emulating the experience of a movie theater, as I often did during those years, I dimmed the lights in the basement and we began to watch.
John Landis’ “An American Werewolf In London” begins with sights of the chilly Northern England countryside at dusk set to Bobby Vinton’s melancholy version of “Blue Moon.” The camera pans downwards as a sheep farmer’s truck, loaded with sheep, deposits two American backpackers on the road, and directs them to the town of East Proctor with the warning to stick to the road and stay clear of the moors. After the farmer drives away, we officially meet David Kessler (David Naughton) and Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne), two college students on a walking/hitch hiking tour of Europe with hopes to complete their journey in Italy.
As night begins to fall and the air grows more frigid, David and Jack happen upon a small pub that carries the grotesque moniker, “The Slaughtered Lamb.” Ambling inside for warmth and possibly some nourishment, the locals instantly become unnerved by their presence signaling David and Jack to feel the same in return. During their brief stay, Jack notices a five pointed star drawn upon one of the tavern’s walls and easily identifies it as a pentangle, the mark of the Wolfman. When Jack makes a lighthearted inquiry as to the purpose of the pentangle’s existence in the pub, the once boisterous room grows ominously quiet. Sensing that they should simply leave the premises, David and Jack exit The Slaughtered Lamb with the grim reminder to stay away from the moors and “beware of the moon.”
David and Jack race away from the pub, get themselves caught in heavy rainfall and accidentally leave the main road. They soon find themselves lost upon the moors and are gripped with fright once they hear a disturbingly anguished howl. The young men are suddenly and savagely attacked, Jack Goodman is killed and their attacker is murdered by the townspeople who have come searching for the travelers.
Three weeks later, David awakens in a London hospital in the care of the kindly yet stern Dr. Hirsch (John Woodvine) and also finds himself instantly attracted to Nurse Alex Price (the husky voiced and eternally sexy Jenny Agutter) who soon reciprocates David’s affections. Yet, all is not well for David as he not only mourns the death of his best friend, his memories of the attack, which he believes to have been from a wolf, are not taken seriously. David is soon plagued with disturbing hallucinations and increasingly grisly nightmares. Everything culminates with the apparitional arrival of the dead (or “undead”) and decomposing Jack, who informs David that he was indeed bitten by a werewolf and that he must commit suicide before he becomes a werewolf within two days and embarks upon his own murder spree across London.
I sat and watched “An American Werewolf In London” completely mesmerized and pinned to my seat. Was I frightened? Absolutely, as John Landis consistently kept my sensibilities discombobulated with one shock after another. I was deeply involved with the overall story but there was no way to simply settle in and relax, which was made all the more difficult as John Landis created a horror film that also succeeded grandly as a comedy. The laughs allowed time to recover from the scares but the moment you settled into a laugh, Landis pulls the rug out from under you once again with another jolt to the system.
All of the werewolf attacks (including one virtuoso and beautifully filmed sequence set deep within London’s tube system) are treated with the appropriate level of terror and gore. The film’s love story between David and Alex, coupled with the inevitability of David’s fate, has a grounding sense of tragedy. Even the film’s dream sequences continue to impress and deliver more than their share of shivers. As David recuperates in the hospital and also when he moves into the flat of Nurse Alex Price, and begins his inevitable descent into becoming a werewolf, Landis thrusts us inside of his darkest paranoia. These are illustrated in the form of nasty, graphically violent nightmares that jarringly hide inside of other surprising nightmares.
Yet again, Landis somehow has figured out how to mine this material for comedy without ever sacrificing the horror elements. The continuing visitations from the decomposing Jack Goodman while illustrating David Kessler’s slippery grip upon his sanity and the mounting doom of his upcoming metamorphosis, simultaneously allows Jack’s sardonic wit to remain fully intact, even as his skin is falling from his skull. Landis even brilliantly sets one sequence between David and the six “undead” victims from his one night killing spree inside of a London porn movie theater that is screening “See You Next Wednesday,” Landis’ constant in-joke within his movies. In a sequence that is deliriously Monty Python-esque, Landis has these decomposing corpses offer a host of morbid suggestions as to how David could effectively commit suicide, thus ending the werewolf’s bloodline and allowing all of the undead to ascend onwards. It is a darkly funny sequence that supremely serves the story and again, keeps us unprepared for the horror that will soon return.
With “An American Werewolf In London,” John Landis created and mastered one of the most amazing cinematic balancing acts I have ever had the pleasure to witness. It is a film, that STILL makes me ask the question: “How did he do that????”
I loved how skillfully layered John Landis’ original screenplay is. It not only encompasses the suggested wit and concept of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court (which Nurse Alex is seen reading at one point), it also references the classic Hollywood horror films and iconography of Vincent Price, Lon Chaney and Bela Lugosi and somehow, Landis makes the experience of his film completely his own.
Landis’ usage of classic pop songs is particularly dazzling. This film was the exact place where and when I first heard Van Morrison’s “Moondance,” which is played during David and Alex’s love scene. But moreso, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising” serves to deepen the oncoming doom of David Kessler’s life while Landis uses no less than three versions of “Blue Moon” (performed by the aforementioned Bobby Vinton as well as Sam Cooke and The Marcels, respectively) to underscore the inherent tragedy of the story as a whole.
And how about the film’s controversial ending! While, of course, I certainly will not reveal the particulars here, Landis gives us an ending that is the definition of abrupt, and therefore yet another shock to keep us unbalanced. The movie just…stops and plunges straight into the end credit scroll without a moment to breathe or process anything that had just been witnessed. As Landis has unapologetically stated over the years, “The story’s over. The movie’s over.” And that’s that. There are no signals to the audience that we have arrived at a conclusion. No pulling back of the camera to reveal the carnage strewn streets of Piccadilly Circus. No fade to black. Just a smash cut from image to credits because the movie’s over. It was an audacious choice in a film that is filled front to back with audacious choices.
But there is absolutely no way to write about “An American Werewolf In London” and not mention the film’s most iconic sequence, David’s transformation into a werewolf. Believe me dear readers, if you have never seen this sequence before, it is a showstopper. If you have seen this sequence before, it holds up masterfully. The sequence features the revolutionary makeup effects of Rick Baker and in our age of CGI overkill, I truly believe that new filmmakers should be forced to watch, re-watch and re-watch this sequence over and over again to understand that sometimes, good old fashioned handmade techniques are indeed the best way to go and should never be threatened to become a lost art. Just watch at how the scene completely serves the entire story as well as the character of David Kessler. Watch how the makeup depicts the face elongating into a lupine shape, the hair bristling and growing into matted fur, how the bones crack as arms, legs and hands change into werewolf form, all the while hearing David’s pained, anguished screams and howls. It is outstanding work that just makes you want to sit even closer to the screen even as you are terrified.
“An American Werewolf In London” was a game changer for the genre of horror films in terms of its storytelling, direction and definitely its makeup effects. Face it, we would not even have Michael Jackson’s iconic music video for “Thriller” (which John Landis directed as Jackson’s request) if “An American Werewolf In London” did not exist. But, at its very best, the film does not just keep altering your perceptions and expectations. It upends them. In fact, the film possesses the same anarchistic spirit of Landis’ comedies by playing with the genre conventions so much that it transcends the horror genre to the point where it completely raises the bar for what a horror film can actually be.
So, for the uninitiated, did they really kill Kermit? Now, why would I ruin anything like that for you, dear readers? See “An American Werewolf In London” and find out for yourselves.
Happy Halloween to you and let us all celebrate this masterwork from John Landis, one of Savage Cinema’s favorite movies!
Screenplay Written by Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky
Directed by Jake Kasdan
** (two stars)
In my recent review of Director Seth Gordon’s “Horrible Bosses,” I remarked that while I enjoyed the film overall, it was a slow going experience as the first third or so left me extremely underwhelmed. I suppose that with “Bad Teacher,” the latest comedy from Director Jake Kasdan, I had the complete opposite reaction as the first third of the film left me howling with consist laughter and then, the wheels began to spin tiredly, the jokes fell flatter and by the film’s conclusion, the entire escapade had completely run out of comedic steam. Such a shame as this film, like “Horrible Bosses,” had such terrific potential to be a lewd, crude, nasty and yet outrageously inventive R rated comedy instead of the lewd, crude, nasty yet pedestrian, middle of the road, and completely non-threatening R rated comedy it turned out to be.
Cameron Diaz stars as Elizabeth Halsey, a surly, unmotivated and downright mean seventh grade teacher at John Adams Middle School (affectionately known as “JAMS”) who, at the film’s start, is happily exiting the world of teaching to become the wife of her uber-wealthy boyfriend. Life takes a sharp turn as the boyfriend ditched Elizabeth due to her unloving, greedy demeanor which forced her to return to JAMS as a seventh grade teacher who now arrives to school perpetually hung over, or stoned or both and “teaches” the class solely through feature films like “Stand and Deliver,” “Lean On Me” and “Dangerous Minds.”
Endlessly conspiring to exit her personal hell via catching another unsuspecting wealthy man, Elizabeth decided that what she needs in order to compete with other women for her marital golden goose is…a $10,000 breast implant procedure. Yet, without a personal sugar daddy to assist with the funds, Elizabeth takes it upon herself to obtain money by any means necessary. This includes, but is not limited to, stealing the school’s recyclable materials for cash, pocketing parents’ tutoring payments without ever intending to tutor a soul, embezzling a portion of the school’s Car Wash event, in which Elizabeth scores major funds due to her scantily clad physique which sexually massages every car in the lot to even stealing the state test answers to ensure her class will receive the state’s highest test scores, thus affording her with a $5700 bonus payday.
Soon, it seems as if Elizabeth’s proverbial ship has arrived at John Adams Middle School in the form of the new, and very wealthy, Substitute Teacher Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake). Unfortunately, Scott nurses a crush upon Elizabeth’s teaching rival, the chirpy Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch), who is determined to expose Elizabeth for the fraud she is.
Certainly, all of this is well and good for a ribald R rated comedy and I am telling you, dear readers, Kasdan’s “Bad Teacher” had me from the first frame with it’s opening credit montage of teachers set to Rockpile’s classic power pop track “Teacher, Teacher.” The pace was appropriately rapid, all of the characters were introduced and set up with great and affectionate humor and the well timed and cheerfully vulgar jokes, at which I laughed frequently and loudly, were hurled at the screen in a sunshine blast that recalled Kasdan’s wonderful teen comedy “Orange County” (2002).
All was going so very well for about the first third of the film or so and then, the entire proceedings began to travel south once we were subjected to an unfortunate and needless sonic boom of a flatulence joke that simply sucked the air out of the comedic room. For me, it was difficult enough for the film to recover after that misstep but then, the wheels of the plot began to grind its wheels, the characters never extended themselves past their introductions and soon, I realized that “Bad Teacher” was not simply a series of jokes in search of a movie, it was entirely a one joke movie: she’s a teacher and she’s bad. That’s it. There’s nothing else. And the film beat that one joke deeply into the ground.
Everything happens in the ways you would expect to happen, including Elizabeth’s (slight) softening as the film progresses and frankly, that sort of thing just makes my heart fall into disappointment. While I understand that Jake Kasdan is a more populist filmmaker who certainly wants to have his films succeed financially (which this film did in spades when it was released this summer), he has also been so devilishly smart enough to understand characters, their motivations and even how to develop those characters past their archetypes. Kasdan has shown this impressive skill over and again through with debut feature “Zero Effect” (1998), the aforementioned “Orange County” and mostly through his frequently work with Judd Apatow on both of his “Freaks And Geeks” and “Undeclared” series and the excellent music biopic satire “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” (2007). Yet for “Bad Teacher,” none of those skills were on display to the level at which Kasdan has achieved in the past.
Justin Timberlake, Jason Segal, who portrays a sweetly sardonic gym teacher who is attracted to Elizabeth, and the wonderful John Michael Higgins, who portrays the school’s Principal are all wasted in three roles that are criminally underwritten. Phyllis Smith (from NBC’s version of “The Office”) is also under-utilized in her role as the indecisive and mousy teacher who nervously befriends Elizabeth. While the raven haired Lucy Punch does indeed make an impression as Amy Squirrel, ever her sheer comic energy is undone and hamstrung by the predictable screenplay which, of course, has her character grow increasingly unhinged as Elizabeth escapes one consequence after another.
And yet, I feel that the film has an even larger problem in Cameron Diaz.
Diaz is an actress I have admired for a very long time and while I have not enjoyed every film in which she has appeared or every performance she has given, I applaud her for not always taking the easy way out when it comes to choosing projects and filmmakers to collaborate with. Yet, this time, she struck me as being a bit lazy. Certainly, she is raunchy enough to take on this role with a sense of relish but frankly, there’s really not much for her to do. While she sets up her character nicely when she states that she thought that she entered the career of teaching for the right reasons, “summers off and no accountability,” there’s really nowhere else for this character to go. Yes, this is definitely a screenplay problem and I understand that Diaz did not write this material herself but did she really have to strut around the screen clearly showing that this project exists as not much more than a “paycheck movie” for her? Diaz plays this character yet she never becomes this character. I even had problems remembering what her character’s name even was throughout the film. That speaks to how little of an impression she made with “Bad Teacher.”
There is no sense of danger to the character of Elizabeth Halsey and there fore, no sense of danger or vicious edge to the film as a whole. It’s all so trite and safe and like “Horrible Bosses,” the film just did not understand that simply saying nasty words and doing nasty things is not inherently funny. Without a real strong story and context, all of the vulgarity falls flat in that vanilla fashion that mars so many would be “edgy” R rated comedies these days. It seems to me that the filmmakers perhaps needed to study something like Writer/Director Terry Zwigoff’s “Bad Santa” (2003). That film, if you remember, starred Billy Bob Thornton in a terrific performance as the maliciously misanthropic mall Santa Claus and Zwigoff created a rich and terribly hysterical nasty world filled with skuzzy characters that were complete and elevated the proceedings past the catchiness of that film’s title.
Whether Kasdan and his cast and crew enjoyed that film or not, none of that film’s dark comedic magic occurred with “Bad Teacher.” It’s not an awful film by any means, but again, it’s one that just didn’t try hard enough to be the risky, R rated game changer it could have been.
And you know, this may be a more than silly observation but I cannot help to mention that it did indeed cross my mind. Do we really need a representation of a teacher that will only fuel the profound misconceptions of those 1 per centers out there? I think not. But…if you are going to do it, then go for it and create an image and film experience that will keep all of those idiots up at night and the rest of us painfully holding our sides in collective laughter.
Sunday, October 16, 2011
Screenplay Written by Patrick de Witt
Directed by Azazel Jacobs
*** ½ (three and a half stars)
For Terri Thompson, it certainly is.
Whenever I have been asked if I would like to take a trip back to my teenage years, perhaps via some sort of strange “Wayback Machine,” I always answer with a resounding “No.” As I have always said, my adolescence was not a tortured existence by any means. I had my share of good times and I now greatly appreciate the school I attended and the people I shared those formative years with more than ever. But that said, I was never comfortable in my own skin, a standard condition of the teenage experience, and therefore, that almost crushing insecurity is nothing I would ever wish to re-live. I have often written about how my love of music, writing and the films of John Hughes were essentially my high school survival guide. But, I have to admit that I wished that there was an adult I trusted enough and was close to enough that I felt that I could communicate my fears to and perhaps have gained a sense of perspective from as they have lived through what I was experiencing. As I watched Director Azazel Jacobs’ “Terri,” I wanted to be that protective, sympathetic adult for Terri Thompson. I empathized with him, not through any sense of maudlin theatrics, but because I just wanted to be able to tell him, as the current campaign states, that things will get better.
“Terri” stars Jacob Wysocki in the title role right at the point where he precariously teetering over the edge of an emotional downward spiral. Abandoned by his parents (who are never seen), Terri lives with, and is forced to care for, his cantankerous Uncle James (Creed Bratton), who is most likely ailing from Alzheimer’s disease. Terri is perpetually late for school, increasingly reluctant to participate in class activities and his grades are gradually slipping. He is constantly teased and bullied at school due to his girth and to make matters worse, Terri has taken to dressing himself in pajamas at almost all times, simply because “they’re comfortable on me.” And for the final blow, Terri houses an intense crush upon the cute and sexually curious and adventurous Heather (Olivia Crocicchia).
Sensing a series of red flags, Terri is called into the office Vice Principal Mr. Fitzgerald (the wonderful John C. Reilly), who quickly arranges for Terri to hold private meetings with him every Monday just for the two of them to talk and check in with each other. Terri begins to build an attachment to the oddly loquacious Fitzgerald, an attachment that is tested once he discovers that Fitzgerald regularly holds similar conferences with other troubled kids in school. Once assured that Fitzgerald does not see him or any of the other kids as “monsters” and that his attempts at building relationship with the student body outcasts are true, Terri and Mr. Fitzgerald embark upon a tentative friendship, which then spirals into new, tentative friendships with the abrasive Chad (Bridger Zadina) and a potential romance with Heather.
As I previously stated. Director Azazel Jacobs’ “Terri” is a sad little film. Not a depressing one by any means. Just a tenderly melancholic one, a feat that is accomplished not through any sort of contrived tragedy but through an autumnal atmosphere and mostly through the concerned and caring observations of its titular character during a pivotal period in his young life.
Jacobs utilizes a quiet, meditative approach to this overly familiar material of teen angst. It is more impressionistic and therefore, more poetic especially as Terri’s isolation in accentuates by the fact he and his Uncle live in a solitary house deep in the woods, for example. Another lovely sequence, featuring Terri and Mr. Fitzgerald roaming around inside of an empty high school on an early Saturday morning captured the ghostly magic of rummaging around a location that regularly houses so much bustling life as well as creating a sense of peacefulness inside of place that contains so much emotional turbulence.
I appreciated that Jacobs allowed his film to function with scant dialogue filled with appropriately awkward pauses and spaces as these are characters who are so troubled with finding the right things to say. I found it to be very fitting that the film’s sweetest and most delicate exchanges between Terri and Heather occur through written notes passed back and forth during their shared Home Economics class.
Jacobs pulls out all of the stops during an extended and terrific sequence late in the film, which essentially begins as Terri’s hoped for first date of sorts with Heather. His plans are rudely interrupted by the troubled Chad, who then not only refuses to leave Terri’s home but hopes to usurp Heather for himself via some pilfered alcohol. This stretch of the film, I found to be especially remarkable as these three kids are essentially left to emotionally fend for themselves…together. It is a sequence of dares and challenges, connections and painful embarrassments and I have to say that it nearly touched the neighborhood outskirts of John Hughes’ masterpiece “The Breakfast Club” (1985) as it had these three teenagers in an enclosed location all attempting to figure out what each one of them means to the other as well as themselves. So much was accomplished with so very little and I applaud Jacobs for creating a sequence filled with unforced tension and heartbreak.
Jacob Wysocki elicits a wonderfully sensitive performance as Terri. He never once pleads through the camera for an audience’s sympathy. He just exists and embodies, giving this character a pureness of soul that I would think any of us would want and wish to protect. John C. Reilly also achieves a delicate balance as Mr. Fitzgerald as we can easily believe him as a school authority figurehead but also as the misfit teenager he once was and most likely the misfit adult he continues to be. His advice to Terri is always presented as matter-of-fact truths of the human condition and is sense of forwardness and tact makes him that very adult Terri, and all of the school’s misfit kids, need to have in their respective corners.
“Terri” is indeed one of those films where nothing much actually happens but I urge you to please not allow that to deter you if you choose to see this film, which is now available on DVD. It is a minutely observed yet hugely empathetic film that never overplays its hand or drowns in that independent film quirkiness. It never says and shows more that it absolutely has to, which may prove to be frustrating for some viewers who wish for the film to have more of an obviously depicted point.
But, dear readers, trust me, when you take in the sight of a tall, overweight teenage boy who wears pajamas sadly skulking through the woods, that image gives you all that you need to create a sense of empathy and understanding more than any manufactured situation and drama could possibly give you.
Saturday, October 15, 2011
Story by Michael Markowitz
Screenplay Written by Michael Markowitz and John Francis Daley & Jonathan M. Goldstein
Directed by Seth Gordon
*** (three stars)
While I have not previously mentioned this to a soul, I did house some darkly malicious thoughts concerning a former employer.
Without going into any particulars, this person’s actions towards myself, and the organization at which I was working, created an environment that was nothing less than toxic. During the worst and darkest periods of my tenure, I was truly overcome with feelings that bordered upon paranoia as no one ever truly knew what information about which person was being spread throughout the organization and by whom. Yet we all knew that the person who could put a stop to it all had no interest in achieving that goal whatsoever and for some like myself, we felt that this person was quite possibly gathering more than a fair share of enjoyment from watching us all being consumed with mounting panic. Since exiting and moving onwards with my life, I have wondered just what would I do or say if a spontaneously ran into that former boss in public. The city in which I live is big but not that big, so such a meeting would not be an unrealistic occurrence. Would I walk on by, grit my teeth and share a pleasant word or would I unleash all of the vitriolic misery I feel this person richly deserves? In my fantasies of retribution, I would unleash that aforementioned vitriolic misery with a previously unseen forcefulness that would leave this person an emotionally shattered mess upon the pavement. Dear readers, I pride myself on possessing a very long fuse but I do carry an extremely nasty temper when that fuse is ignited and as far as I am concerned, this person deserves all of my buried rage.
The dark revenge comedy “Horrible Bosses” from Director Seth Gordon spoke to those malicious feelings carried by myself and, I am certain, so many of you fairly well once it found its comedic footing. Honestly, who has not felt horrific feelings towards and employer at one time or another. Handled correctly, this film could have been a wicked R rated experience filled with knowing, perceptive and justifiably nasty humor to make audiences howl in catharsis and employers look over their shoulders. As it stands, the film was pretty good but, I have to tell you that for its first third, I was truly worried as I was not liking the film very much at all. Yet, just at the point that I was a lost ready to give up and just suffer through the remainder, I began to laugh, laugh and laugh harder, longer and more consistently. While “Horrible Bosses” was ultimately not the comedy game changer it could have been, it is funny enough to provide you with much enjoyment.
“Horrible Bosses” opens with another day in the exhaustive treadmill life of Nick Hendricks (Jason Bateman), a financial firm employee constantly under the sadistic thumb of his boss David Harken (Kevin Spacey). The workplace misery continues with the mild-mannered Dale Arbus (Charlie Day), a newly engaged dental assistant who is being sexually harassed by his aggressive boss Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston). Finally, we meet the socially conscious yet hopelessly randy accountant Kurt Buckman (Jason Sudekis) who is forced to work under the incompetent, idiotic and cocaine addicted Bobby Pellitt (Colin Farrell).
After yet another horrific day at work, Nick, Dale and Kurt meet and commiserate over drinks and in a moment of inebriated contemplation, Kurt jokingly suggests how wonderful their respective lives would be if all of their bosses no longer existed. While that thought is immediately waved away by Nick and Dale, the seed has effectively been planted. Soon, the trio locates and engages the assistance of an expletive named and self described “murder consultant” (played by Jamie Foxx) who gives them the finer pointers of how they can murder their bosses themselves for the low, low price of $5000 (and a briefcase).
On paper, I would think that the set up of “Horrible Bosses” would make for a most promising escapade that could potentially join the ranks of Director Colin Higgins’ gently feminist workplace revenge fantasy “9 To 5” (1980) and the brilliant cubicle satire of Writer/Director Mike Judge’s “Office Space” (1999). The film also seems to be setting itself up as playing into the 21st century workplace anxieties that are occurring in a recession and people are compelled to keep whatever jobs they have, no matter how miserable they may happen to be and how abusive their work environment are. Unfortunately, “Horrible Bosses” just skates around its own potential by giving a nod to those particular anxieties and just offering sheer entertainment instead of some much needed sharp, satirical bite for the comedy. I suppose that is all well and good, but again, when I am watching a film and can just see how and when the film can take off into the stratosphere, I am curious as to why the filmmakers and creative participants involved cannot see the same potential. To be fair, I have to review what was on the screen, and as previously stated, for the film’s first third or so, the experience of “Horrible Bosses” was just beginning to live up to the first word of its title.
Frankly, while the beginning of “Horrible Bosses” effectively set up the main characters, their respective plights as well as the horrific nature of those titular bosses, I just felt that it was all a tonal mess. I was seriously resisting this movie as its level of vulgarity, something that typically does not offend me, was grating. The amount of profanity felt gratuitous and nearly everything on display felt so forced, that it felt as if the filmmakers were just having the characters say and perform juvenile, puerile acts solely to gain and justify the R rating. Swear words are not funny in and of themselves. There has to be a context, a zest and swing to the language that can make those words so dangerously funny and for a while, I felt as if I were just being assaulted with bad words just because the filmmakers knew they could get away with it.
But mostly, it seemed as if Gordon just did not know exactly what kind of a film he wanted “Horrible Bosses” to be as too many sequences just fell completely out of the realm of possibility. The reason why “9 To 5” and “Office Space” work so well is that each of those films firmly ground themselves in a semblance of recognizable reality so that when the situations grow to outrageous lengths, the comedy is accentuated. If Dabney Coleman’s lecherous, sexist, egotistical, bigoted boss in “9 To 5” for instance, were pitched at cartoon level, no one would have cared a whit about his comeuppance or even laughed very much at it at all. Yet, Coleman made his character of Franklin Hart Jr. extremely tangible and therefore, realistically loathsome. The same can be said for Kevin Spacey’s sadistic Hollywood executive in Writer/Director George Huang’s “Swimming With Sharks” (1995), a character so realistically and manipulatively awful that you are begging to see him receive exactly what is deservedly coming to him. “Horrible Bosses,” on the other hand, begins as an over the top experience and it has nowhere else to go but upwards, almost forcing itself to one-up itself in ludicrousness. That particular tonal quality was something that just tripped Gordon up time and again.
Despite all of the attention heaped upon her, I felt that Jennifer Aniston was the film’s most severe weak link. Not through her performance and obvious enthusiasm to go against her “girl next door” image but from the fact that her character, and every sequence that features her lascivious dentist, is so over the top and out of the realm of anything that could realistically happen, that she never feels remotely real or at least recognizable. Therefore, Dale’s predicament is nothing more than a male cartoon fantasy and Dr. Julia Harris herself is someone who really only exists on the moon. Ultimately, all of it was tiring because it all felt to be so desperate.
Another major problem was that Jason Bateman and Jason Sudekis’ characters are both terribly underwritten and almost interchangeable. If it weren’t for Bateman’s trademark deadpan and Sudekis’ more aggressive qualities, I don’t know if I could have been able to really tell those two apart. Even Kevin Spacey, while cruelly entertaining, isn’t doing anything fresh with this material that he has not already performed to much better effect in Director James Foley’s adaptation of David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross” (1992) and the aforementioned “Swimming With Sharks.” As good as Spacey is in “Horrible Bosses,” he’s just treading water as he cashes another paycheck.
But then, after the fateful meeting with their murder consultant and the trio’s subsequent attempts to gather incriminating evidence upon all of their respective bosses, I began to laugh. And then, I began to laugh more consistently. After a while, I began to think of “Horrible Bosses” as possibly an updated version of an old “Three Stooges” short as these three imbeciles fumbled through one ridiculous mishap after another while growing increasingly irritated with each other. Unlike “The Hangover” (2009), which tried to treat its three leads as affable anti-heroes, “Horrible Bosses” knows fully well that Nick, Kurt and Dale are complete idiots and I began to find myself enjoying the bulk of the film on that level. Many thanks should go towards Charlie Day, whose terrifically reedy, raspy voice hysterically accelerates and increases in volume every time situations are threatening to fly off of the rails. If he was trying (and failing) to slide under a closing garage door, or attempting to contain a sense of coolness while under the extreme effects of inhaling spilled cocaine, Day was easily the film’s comic standout and I look forward to seeing him again, in hopefully better comedies.
While “Horrible Bosses” was not the cathartic comedic release I had hoped for it to be (and nothing for my former employer to worry about), it’s not bad and despite the hefty amount on criticism I held for it, I did enjoy myself for most of the film’s running time. “Horrible Bosses” doesn’t raise any bars or changes any games in the comedy film genre but it did make me laugh often and quite hard and sometimes that’s good enough.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Screenplay Written by Dean Pitchford
Directed by Herbert Ross
This particular entry was one I had not planned on writing but I fel that I needed to get the following off of my chest…
I hope that the new remake of “Footloose” bombs!
Yes, I said it. I hope the movie bombs. And not just a standard box office bomb. I hope that it is a complete disaster, that its failure is so extreme that it will make the brainless bean counters in Hollywood begin to re-think their plans to seemingly re-make every single film from the past 25 years instead of trying the now seemingly revolutionary act of…creating something new.
I know all of this sounds much harsher than I typically sound here on Savage Cinema but this is indeed how I feel. Really, dear readers, has it now just become too much to create a film that we have never seen before? As I have stated in the past, I am not against re-makes as a rule. There have been several over the years that I have enjoyed profusely and even a small handful of them, say John Carpenter’s extraordinary and game changing “The Thing” (1982) for instance, can even eclipse the original source material.
Even so, in my mind, there just has to be an overall purpose to a potential remake that has got to be more than lucrative. Is the remake in question updating something for current times? It is trying to take a previously uneven and mediocre work and possibly improving upon it? It is trying to place a more personal spin onto something? Any of those things would, generally be fine with me but re-making something just to remake it and solely for profits is asinine and precisely some of the most creatively lacking concepts that are just killing cinema movie by movie these days. This particular brand of remake, or re boot or re-imagining or whatever they want to call it are films with no purpose, no raison d’etre, if you will.
Take the recent remake of “The Karate Kid” starring Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith. While admittedly it was better than it had any right to be, I still have to negate it just because there is absolutely no reason for the film to exist at all, especially when the original film from 1984 remains a beloved experience, and was even Oscar nominated to boot! Did those filmmakers really think that they could make their movie better than the original? Why are the bean counters thinking that the original films have vanished from the face of the Earth and they must be replaced by inferior remakes? I do not, for any reason understand the concept that if people enjoyed the original, then they would like the remake just as much if not more. Look, dear readers, regarding “Footloose,” if you were to recommend this film to someone who has never seen it, which one would you pick? The one that was entirely dreamed up out of thin air or the carbon copy?
Dear readers, I vividly remember seeing “Footloose” on opening day at the age of 15 back in February 1984. Admittedly, I was very skeptical to see it. You see, Director Adrian Lyne’s “Flashdance” was a blockbuster hit the year before and despite everyone else’s love for that film, I hated, hated, hated it even then. To me, “Flashdance” felt to solely exist as a plotless, emotionless music video masquerading as a movie with nothing more than some pretty puppet in the leading role as she performed none of her own dancing, bike riding scenes and reportedly even some shots of her character simply walking. “Footloose,” at first look, seemed to be jumping on the youth music video/movie musical bandwagon but when I eventually saw advertisements, I had to admit it looked to be more movie than music video. So, on that fateful opening night, my parents and I went to the Evergreen Park movie theater, I chose my solitary seat away from them and waited for the house lights to dim into darkness.
After the splendidly shot and edited opening title sequence showing a collection of feet dancing to Kenny Loggins’ title song, the film settles into the now familiar plot. “Footloose” stars Kevin Bacon as Ren McCormack, a Chicago teenager who moves, along with his Mother, to a small Midwestern town where pop music and dancing has been declared illegal, an act fueled by the efforts of the local minister Reverend Shaw Moore (John Lithgow). After settling in with relatives, Ren quickly obtains new best friends in sassy Rusty (Sarah Jessica Parker) and the kindly but rhythmically challenged Willard (the late Christopher Penn), runs afoul of the town bully Chuck Cranston (Jim Youngs), and of course, falls in love with the Reverend’s rebellious daughter Ariel (Lori Singer), who is always adorned with the sinfully red cowboy boots.
Growing increasingly frustrated with the town’s restrictive boundaries, Ren takes up a personal crusade to organize and give his high school a dance for their Senior Prom, a crusade that places him at odds with Revered Moore who is a formidable adversary. That’s it for the storyline and that’s all you need for a film like this, which is essentially not much more than a “Hey kids! Let’s put on a show!!” movie. The heroes and their cause are easy to rally behind. The villains exist to rightfully boo and hiss. And the love of music, dancing and the freedom of expression fuels the experience as a whole.
Legendary Director Howard Hawks once expressed that the key to making a good movie simply came down to the following: “A good movie is three good scenes and no bad scenes.” Well, as far as I am concerned “Footloose” is loaded with one terrific scene after another. Ariel’s game of chicken with a semi-truck as she straddles herself between the windows of two speeding cars. A Friday night teenage dance sequence at the local fast food drive-in set to Shalamar’s “Dancing In The Sheets.” Ren’s tractor chicken race against Chuck. Ren’s turbulent (and highly gymnastic) solo dance in the abandoned warehouse. Ren teaching Willard how to dance. The incredible sequence set at the city council hearing when Ren, fully confronting Reverend Moore, reads passages from the Bible depicting the positive usages of dancing. Ren and Willard beating the tar and stuffing out of Chuck and his cronies. And of course, the climactic and victorious Senior Prom dance itself.
I cheered, laughed, was enormously entertained and fully enraptured by the experience that Director Herbert Ross exuberantly placed upon the screen. I loved the film so very much that I actually ended up foregoing viewing other new releases at the time to just see “Footloose” again, which I saw a total of four times in the movie theater (something that was unheard of during that time in my life). And yes…I even bought the soundtrack album, on which all of the songs were co-written by the film’s screenwriter Dean Pitchford. It was a purchase which surprised even me, because those songs and those particular artists just did not fit anywhere in my own personal jukebox (I actually purchased it at the same time with Rush’s “Grace Under Pressure” album, just to give you a window into my musical world at the time). I guess, to me, the soundtrack album did not feel to exist solely as a cynical cash-in product but actually as a souvenir of the movie experience itself. It was a way to hold onto that cinematic magic long after leaving the movie theater—and frankly, that is the best quality a movie song soundtrack can have, in my opinion.
Since that night in 1984, I have seen “Footloose” countless times and as I look back upon it now, I can see it as being sort of a minor miracle. Aside from some frisky sexual content and harsh profanity throughout, “Footloose” is quite an innocent film. It is a guileless film and one that exists completely without irony. For Pete’s sakes, it’s a film about a boy who wants to have a school dance and it has the conviction to take that concept earnestly and without any cynical winking at the audience. It is a film that believes in itself and its messages, which are all filtered through a gentle rebelliousness and an overt romanticism for becoming a slave to the rhythm.
I even appreciated how the filmmakers did not turn Reverend Moore into an unsympathetic monster as well. They gave him, and his troubled wife Vi (Dianne Wiest, who has not ever appeared this dowdy in any other film since this one) some viable reasons for their private yet publicly known pain, which provides Reverend Moore the basis for his fear driven censorship. And that gives “Footloose” a somewhat provocative inner battle: Reverend Moore’s politics of fear vs. Ren McCormack’s politics of dancing, which for Ren, those politics are genuinely simple: one high school dance can change the world.
By now, you can see my passion yet I am certain that some of you may be wondering if the original 1984 “Footloose” is a film that remains so beloved by me. Well…yes and no. Is “Footloose” a GREAT film? No. Over the years, I have seen it again and again, even as recently as two nights ago when it appeared on a cable channel. For all of its sheer entertainment, “Footloose” is more than a little silly, and yes, it has grown a tad cheesier over the years. Plainly, the excitement I held for it when I was 15 has not lasted me as I have grown into my 40s. Yet, that is OK because “Footloose” is not a film designed and meant for you to necessarily grow with. It is truly designed to speak to the hope and innocence of youth and I further believe that “Footloose” was exactly and precisely the right film at the right time for the right generation. And to that, “Footloose” is and remains an iconic film. Despite being a product of its time, the longevity of “Footloose” has proven that it is a timeless film whose spirit simply cannot be duplicated. It is a one-of-a kind experience.
“Footloose” is an undeniably honest film and one of the films that clearly defined a decade in cinema and that, dear readers is something that cannot be denied. Even if you think that “Footloose” is one of the worst films ever made, its pop cultural significance cannot be debated and because of that status and impact, it is a film I firmly believe should remain untouched. In comparison, I also feel this way for “Dirty Dancing” (1988), a film I absolutely HATED but completely acknowledge as an iconic film that also helped to define the films of the 1980s. Plans are already underway to remake that film as well and I also feel that it should remain untouched.
Besides, I don’t care which male flavor of the month they cast in the lead of the new film because (and taking a cue from the soundtrack album selection by Moving Pictures) he will NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, EVER, EVER be as cool as Kevin Bacon, who is simply a PIMP in this movie!!!!! He is cooler than cool, he struts like a peacock to such an extent that I fantasized that the character of Ren McCormack possible attended a predominantly African-American public high school in Chicago before arriving in small town America! Bacon is just magnetic in the role and makes for the perfect Pied Piper with humor, intelligence, sensitivity, honor and an unshakable upbeat quality combined with restless youthful energy for change. I still greatly appreciate the fact that Kevin Bacon did indeed perform some of his own dance moves, a fact we can all still witness as his face is clearly visible at points (remember kids, this was long before any CGI technology). As far as I am concerned, Kevin Bacon’s performance is untouchable and again, it cannot be duplicated.
When I saw the trailer for the new “Footloose,” it was simply depressing to me. All of the familiar iconography from the original 1984 film was there from sets, wardrobe, the yellow VW down to actual dialogue and actual shot for shot copies. I have read that even the songs from the original film have been remade. What?! They couldn’t even get people to write new music either?!?!?! Even as I saw the trailer in the movie theater, groans and complaints of disbelief from the audience were audible, so I knew that I was not alone in my feelings.
What is happening in our current cinematic landscape? Dear readers, there have always been bad movies and there always will be bad movies but what is happening now is just inexcusable to me. Why spend all of the millions upon millions of dollars copying something when they could just take those same millions upon millions of dollars and make an entirely new experience, which could potentially have the same pop-cultural and artistic effect as the original “Footloose” had over 25 years ago. It makes absolutely no damn sense when people who have the opportunity, luxury, finances and the pure gift of creating a motion picture experience will not even try to create!! I hate it when Hollywood treats the audience as commodities anyway, but when they make it so blatant, as they are with this shameless plea for cash, it is just intolerable. The original “Footloose” was pure where this new remake is sadly cynical yet masquerading as some strange tribute, which will honor the original film. Hey! If you want to honor the original film, then go WATCH the original film and leave the 1984 original alone!!!
You know, aside from having the new film die a swift and quick cinematic death at the box office, I think that I have figured out exactly how I would wish for it to happen. I wish that on the film’s opening day this upcoming weekend, movie going patrons completely bypass the film and head straight to wherever they obtain their DVD or Blu-Ray home video selections and everyone rents the original 1984 film.
That would be poetic cinematic justice to me.
Sunday, October 9, 2011
Based upon the book Moneyball: The Art Of Winning An Unfair Game by Michael Lewis
Story by Stan Chervin
Screenplay Written by Steven Zallian and Aaron Sorkin
Directed by Bennett Miller
*** ½ (three and a half stars)
“Baseball is a beautiful game. Once you get into the strategy of it, you can see how beautiful a game it is.”
-Powhatan Collins, October 9, 2011
Those are the words of my Father during a recent phone conversation. My Father was, is and will forever be a sports enthusiast. He loves sports as much as I love film, music, or literature so you can gather exactly how much he loves sports. That said, and for whatever reason, that particular brand of enthusiasm for athletics and the passionate love of the game—no matter what game it happens to be-is a level of enthusiasm that was not genetically passed down to me. Baseball in particular is especially confounding. To my eyes, it is painfully slow, a turgid, torpid, endless experience that I just cannot believe that anyone would get themselves feverishly excited over. But, of course, millions upon millions of people do get that excited and joyous over the art and artistry that embodies what is essentially, what my Father long ago referred to as, “a child’s game.”
I have to make an admission to having more than a bit of trepidation to viewing a showing of the biographical baseball drama “Moneyball,” Director Bennett Miller’s first film since his highly accomplished debut with “Capote” (2005), for one simple reason: the subject matter just does not appeal to me in the least. Now, I also have to admit to having nothing against sports films or baseball themed movies as a rule, especially as so many baseball themed films, from Ron Shelton’s peerless “Bull Durham” (1988), John Sayles’ extraordinary “Eight Men Out” (1988), and Phil Alden Robinson’s deeply moving “Field Of Dreams” (1989) for example, have proven to be grand movie experiences.
But, “Moneyball” is a baseball film that actually does not feature much of the game of baseball. This film is about the business of baseball and if I can find the actual game to be more then enough of a snoozer, then the business side, I feared would induce flat out narcolepsy. But, the pedigree in front of and behind the cameras spoke to me and I knew I had to see it before I weighed in with any actual opinions and I am happy to say that while the film is perhaps a tad too languid for its own good, “Moneyball” is a completely involving experience. Intelligent, perceptive, celebratory yet rightly critical and featuring a complex leading performance from Brad Pitt, “Moneyball” is a strong adult movie made by adults for adults and perfect viewing during this cinematic fall season.
Brad Pitt stars as Oakland Athletics’ General Manager and failed Major League baseball player Billy Beane. At the film’s opening, Billy is caught in a triumphant quandary at the conclusion of the 2001 post season as his team has lost to the New York Yankees and the loss of three of his major players to other baseball teams. As Billy and his staff struggle to conceive of a new way to mold and produce a competitive and successful baseball team franchise, especially as their team functions at a severely lower financial budget than other Major League teams, Billy makes a provocative discovery while on a trip to visit the Cleveland Indians.
It is there where he meets Yale Economics graduate Peter Brand (an excellent Jonah Hill), who possess potentially revolutionary ideas with how to assess a baseball players value therefore transforming the team in question and the industry of baseball as a whole. Utilizing a set of statistics which values a player’s on-base percentage (OBP) rather than the collected wisdom of baseball insiders from managers, scouts, and coaches, as well as the statistics of a player’s actual skill and talent, a team could conceivably assemble or rebuild a poorly functioning team into a winning baseball team. And at a fraction of the cost on the open baseball market.
Sensing the potential in creating a game-changing scenario to push the Oakland A’s to the top of the heap, Billy hires Peter as his Assistant Manager. Completely against the wishes of his staff, especially Manager Art Howe (the great Phillip Seymour Hoffman), the twosome begin to place their unorthodox strategies into motion and create a new, and possibly great team within their meager budget and solely through OBP statistics, which places the spotlight on baseball players who would have otherwise have gone forever unnoticed.
Surprisingly, with sports terminology and qualities that essentially function as learning Greek to me, I found myself fully absorbed by “Moneyball.” Bennett Miller has somehow found a way to make this almost cerebral material vibrantly visual and he is served mightily by the excellent screenplay by seasoned screenwriting legends Steven Zallian and Aaron Sorkin, who always seem to be able to find ways to make extremely complicated material sing with profoundly current themes, excellent characterizations and whip smart, adult dialogue. I really loved the lengthy scenes Miller sets up that show Billy and his team of scouts debating one player after another. Despite gaining an inside look into the process of baseball’s business side, I was struck by the fact that Billy Beane, even at the age of 44, is certainly the youngest member in the room yet is in full control of the vast, collective knowledge at his disposal. Once he brings Peter Brand into the picture, and with a full seat at the table, we can see that there is more at stake than just the future of baseball. It is the collective relevancy of experienced people who are now seen to be as nothing more than archaic figures of baseball’s past. The tension in those scenes just crackle especially as we try to figure out exactly what Billy Beane’s endgame happens to be and why he is willing to live or die by this new statistical methodology.
Here is where “Moneyball” shines the most, in my opinion. Like “Capote,” this film serves as a as a character study of another enigmatic and almost unknowable character. Billy Beane possesses an absolutely magnetic presence. His seemingly laid back, laconic attitude belies the fierce determination and competitive streak he possesses. As he plainly states, in a rare publicly confessional moment, “I hate to lose. I hate to lose even more than I love to win.” Yet, this desire to win above anything else threatens to be his undoing as is pride makes it impossible for him to embrace the bigger picture or the sublime victories that occur even when you lose.
Brad Pitt, who bears a striking resemblance to Robert Redford in this film, is just terrific in the leading role and along with his towering performance earlier this year in Terrence Malick’s majestic “The Tree Of Life,” I am certain that he will be receiving more than his share of attention during awards season and deservedly so. He makes it all look so easy, dear readers! The complex levels and shades he brings to this character may seem to be unnoticeable, as he never calls attention to himself. Like the character of Billy Beane, we lean in closer, especially as he keeps us all at arms length. We continuously try to figure out his motivations and life passions especially when we are witnessing someone who does not attend the games, barely listens to them, and rarely makes contact with the players themselves. We even wonder if he even likes baseball to begin with. Furthermore, are his current struggles with Peter Brand’s new statistical system and extreme desires for success a means to gain a sense of resolution with his own failures and disappointments obtained during his past baseball career, a career he threw a full scholarship to Stanford away for?
And then, there are the scenes between Billy and his 12 year old daughter and budding guitarist and songwriter Casey (sweetly played by Kerris Dorsey). There has been some criticism about those tender sequences as not feeling fully necessary to the piece as a whole. I disagree. I enjoyed those sections very much and not because it established a certain humanity for Billy Beane, but that very relationship really brings the entirety of the film together in the final moments.
Despite my enthusiasm, I have to admit that I was a bit put off by the film’s rhythms here and there. It did feel, perhaps, a bit too shapeless for its own good. There were points where it did seem to meander. For its hefty running time of 2 hours and 15 minutes, I did often wonder just exactly what the endgame of this film happened to be. But then those final moments arrived, especially as the last 25 minutes or so did create a palpable sports tension as we watch whether the Oakland A’s will be able to establish a 20 game winning streak. What those final moments brought into full view for me was the questioning of what is actually lost when one arranges and organizes a baseball team at the expense of the tried and true qualities of athleticism, talent, drive, skill and in some cases, even humanity itself. “Moneyball” depicts the point where the game of baseball itself increasingly functions as more of an afterthought when compared to the business of baseball. Moreso, it nails the harsh reality of when actual people are not just treated as people but as commodities to be used, traded and discarded for the faceless powers-that-be. And with those questions, Miller beautifully transformed his film from a character study, and underdog sports drama into nothing less than a cultural commentary.
“Moneyball” is a film about what happens when the concept of winning overtakes everything, including humanity itself and if that is not a metaphor for life in 21st century America, then I don’t know what else could be as what is conceivably more "American" than the game of baseball. This is the magic that Miller along with Zallian and Sorkin have accomplished with this film. It is a baseball film that really is not about baseball, therefore non- enthusiasts like myself will not only be able to follow the mechanics of the piece but we are also able to form our own impressions, and apply them as they relate to how we each view life in our modern society.
I am actually looking forward to one day seeing this film with my Father and hearing his take upon it, especially as he still wants to take me to a baseball game, hoping that I will finally see the beauty that he sees. My Father is brilliant, savvy, and certainly not naïve in any way in regards to his world view and how the world works. But, the joy I hear in his voice when he speaks of baseball is so untainted and so pure, it is almost childlike.
May the purity of that joy never be extinguished; much like the joy I feel when I see an excellent movie. Especially one as strong as “Moneyball.”
Thursday, October 6, 2011
Screenplay Written by Bruce Joel Rubin
Directed by Adrian Lyne
This film truly worked me over.
I first saw Director Adrian Lyne’s horrifically disturbing psychological thriller “Jacob’s Ladder” at a special free sneak preview in college during the fall of 1990. While the film confounded me and its conclusion frustrated me, the experience as a whole, while profoundly unpleasant, was thrillingly unique as it altered my senses to such a degree that the real world appeared powerfully fractured afterwards. “Jacob’s Ladder” burrowed itself thoroughly under my skin and its aftertaste lingered for a disturbing lengthy period.
And yet, the film, after all of its power and psychological disorientation, once it reached its conclusion, felt to be oddly anti-climactic. Like the classic song, I also wondered if that was all there was to the film which contained a central mystery element that built upwards throughout the entire film. But over the years, and after re-watching it again days ago, I have realized that for all of its artful, hallucinogenic despair, which still remains highly effective, maybe I had been watching the film for the wrong messages all along.
For me, this cinematic selection for you to watch during the Halloween season is not one that I offer lightly as it is just not the type of film you would place into your DVD player for simple enjoyment. “Jacob’s Ladder” is a difficult film. A confounding film as well as polarizing. A film filled with mounting dread and unease. That said, I offer this to you because I felt this film to be sort of a natural progression from the previous “Savage Cinema Revisits” installment as John Cusack, star of “1408” (2007) has held a long running working relationship and off screen friendship with Tim Robbins, star of “Jacob’s Ladder.” Furthermore, I thought it was time to raise the stakes, so to speak, as the level of intensity contained in “Jacob’s Ladder” is considerably more wrenching than anything in the decidedly more entertaining “1408.” Ultimately, “Jacob’s Ladder” is a terrifying triumph for Lyne, who truly worked well outside of his comfort zone of adult relationship dramas (most notably 1987’s “Fatal Attraction” and 1993’s “Indecent Proposal”) when he took on this project. The artistic stretch served him extremely well as over 20 years later, “Jacob’s Ladder” still packs an undeniably frightening punch.
Set in 1971, Tim Robbins stars as Jacob Singer, a New York mail carrier and honorably discharged Vietnam veteran trapped inside of an increasingly weakening grip upon reality. Without rhyme or reason, Jacob is plagued by mystifying and horrific hallucinations starring all manner of disfigured demons that gruesomely beckon towards him. Worse, are the moments in his life, like when he attempts to visit a doctor in a Veteran’s hospital as well as another sequence when he attends a house party and has his palm read that his entire existence comes into shockingly profound question.
As Jacob’s life becomes more unhinged and threatens to completely unravel, the film shifts rapidly between his battles and injury in Vietnam, his life with his children and ex-wife Sarah (Patricia Kalembar), the tragic loss and mourning of his son Gabe (an unbilled Macauley Culkin) and his new sexually charged romance with postal office employee, Jezebel (Elizabeth Pena), otherwise known as “Jezzy.” His sole solitude and soothing counsel arrives in the form of Louis (Danny Aiello), Jacob’s kindly chiropractor, who may possibly carry all of the answers to which Jacob seeks.
Adrian Lyne’s “Jacob’s Ladder” is a very special film for a few reasons. First of all, like “1408,” it is a film that transcends the horror film genre by having much more on its mind than just providing shocks and scares. The film is also strongly anchored by a sensitive and bravely harrowing leading performance by Robbins. I also enjoyed the interplay between Robbins and Elizabeth Pena, who both carried a completely natural feeling sexual chemistry that gave the film additional depth to its intimacy. Major compliments must be given to Cinematographer Jeffrey L. Kimball who gives the film an ominous cloudiness yet is also tough and gritty. Additionally, the visual effect Lyne utilizes for certain demons here and there in which their heads whip back and forth in a squeamishly fast vibration is deeply memorable.
Lyne beautifully handles the demanding structure of Bruce Joel Rubin’s screenplay with incredible skill as well. For a film that carries somewhat of a fractured narrative, it does indeed have a definitive beginning, middle and end which is strongly held in place by Tim Robbins. We experience nearly every moment at the point he experiences them, therefore we are just as disoriented as he is. Jacob Singer is often shown falling in and out of consciousness. We experience flashbacks, memories, dreams that may be real, real moments that may be dreams, lives that may even be running concurrently and everything builds to a crescendo that is extremely and appropriately soul stirring.
Yet, as I stated previously, I was…shall we say…under whelmed by the conclusion when I first saw the film. The spiritual element seemed to be harshly tacked onto the psychological thriller element as well as the central conspiracy that Jacob feels that he and his Vietnam comrades have unwittingly been placed into. But as I watch the film now, I realize that the spirituality of the film is not an element but the entirety. In “Jacob’s Ladder” the conspiracy and the thriller aspect serves and augments the soul searching and the conclusion no longer feels like an arbitrary answer to a maddeningly enigmatic puzzle the film had set up for us from the opening moments. And to think, Lyne and Rubin have it all placed in front of us from the start. They even have it set up for us from the film’s title! But, in 1990, I just did not see it that way. Maybe viewing an experience like television’s “Lost” has me better prepared for “Jacob’s Ladder” now. And to that new realization, perhaps “Jacob’s Ladder” was a film daringly ahead of its time.
In short, “Jacob’s Ladder” is a story about death, dying and the intense struggle for the soul to ascend, which would make sense as Rubin has specialized in stories that involve death, grief and what possibly lies beyond this material world. In a career where Rubin has provided the story for Douglas Trumbull’s ambitious 1983 film “Brainstorm” (starring Natalie Wood in her final performance) and wrote the screenplays for Jerry Zucker’s 1990 box office behemoth “Ghost” and 1993’s “My Life” (which Rubin also directed), “Jacob’s Ladder” is his most grueling work by far. Under Lyne’s nightmarishly atmospheric direction, the film works as a spiritual allegory yet it is presented as a horror show.
Biblical references and images are scattered throughout the film. Demons, real, imagined, fantastical and decidedly human, constantly leer and lunge at poor Jacob and I loved how Lyne kept those images decidedly less mythological, briefly depicted and more urban, as if New York itself is a stand in for Hell as no one, not even a street corner Santa Claus, can be trustworthy. The personality of Jezzy shifts and alters from scene to scene and at points, from moment to moment. She is sometimes loving, and she is sometimes wrathful. On the flip side, Jacob even describes Louis as an “angel” at one point.
Yet, since this is a horror show, the film’s most strikingly upsetting sequences are the ones that play up the thriller aspects. One strong section involves Jacob, in the throes of a 106 degree fever yet he feels as if he is freezing, is tossed into an ice bath by Jezzy and their neighbors. Each ice cube that is added to the bath feels as painful as a gunshot. But Lyne saves all of his cinematic gusto for the later jaw dropping section, which has to be Jacob descending to Hell itself. Strapped to a gurney after a back injury, Jacob is helplessly wheeled lower and lower inside of the hospital you hope that you would never be admitted into. The décor is littered with blood splattered walls and floors, filthy padded rooms, discarded severed limbs and for the coup de grace, a hulking, eyeless lobotomist awaits with a syringe. That scene is the film’s showstopper as it still makes me want to curl up into the fetal position and quietly wish for the madness to all go away.
Jacob Singer’s tumultuous journey is an unconventional Halloween film pick as it is more about a soul in anguish and transformation rather than the standard bumps in the night. But, when you think about it, and I mean really think about it, what can potentially be more frightening than leaving all you have ever known to voyage into the unknown?
“Jacob’s Ladder” is one hell of an experience that just may literally shake your soul.
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Based upon the short story by Stephen King
Screenplay Written by Matt Greenberg and Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski
Directed by Mikael Hafstrom
“You can check out any time you like. But, you can never leave”
-Eagles “Hotel California” (1976)
Now it’s time for some fun!
For this new installment of “Savage Cinema Revisits,” I wanted to begin what will hopefully be a three-part Halloween Edition of this series. As I have stated many times, I am typically not a fan of the horror genre and defiantly possess no interest whatsoever in anything resembling torture porn. Frankly, aside from being subjected to buckets of gore and the cinematic version of “BOO!” via a shockingly loud digital sound system, I just do not enjoy the experience of being scared. Other forms of audio/visual intensity are just fine with me but the act of being frightened is just not a state I enjoy placing myself inside of. Usually…
With Director Mikael Hafstrom’s “1408,” a terrific adaptation of a Stephen King short story, we have a feature that slides right up my alley as it is an experience that is more suspenseful, more psychologically disturbing than violence ridden, and decidedly more character driven while also delivering the goods when it comes to a few legitimately jarring shocks and scares. Furthermore, “1408” features a performance from one of my favorite actors, Mr. John Cusack, which can be described as nothing less than a “tour de force.”
When “1408” was originally released in the summer of 2007, the film became a surprise critical and box office hit and yes, despite my trepidation with the horror genre, I knew I had to go and see what Cusack could with material that essentially forced him to carry an entire movie upon his shoulders. Thankfully, I was not disappointed in the least as the story and scares worked beautifully in tandem creating a richly intense experience that did not go overboard in all of the genre trappings I dislike. “1408” is a film I have returned to frequently and for this Halloween, I offer it as a cinematic suggestion if you are looking for a strong, intelligent, hugely entertaining and deliciously disturbing film to raise to effectively raise the hairs on the back of your neck.
John Cusack stars as Mike Enslin, a former novelist and current author of books which appraise the supernatural value of tourist locations, all the while completely disbelieving in anything otherworldly. After the release of his latest book and scarcely attended book signing, Mike receives an anonymous postcard from The Dolphin, an old yet posh New York hotel, warning him to not enter room 1408. Intrigued, Mike attempts to rent the room from The Dolphin but is briskly refused. After a bit of legal wheeling and dealing via the aid of Mike’s agent, Sam Farrell (sharply played by Tony Shaloub), Mike arrives at The Dolphin ready to check into 1408 but he must first pass the scrutiny and dark warnings of the hotel manager Gerald Olin (Samuel L. Jackson).
Seated in Olin’s office, bobbing and weaving between bouts of duplicitous hospitality (including a tempting bribe of an $800 bottle of vintage liquor), Mike presses onwards into being allowed to stay in room 1408. Olin, in grave, matter-of-fact desperation, finally reveals the secret of the room that has claimed the lives of 56 people over the hotel’s 95-year history...
No one has survived in the room for more than one hour.
Completely undeterred and recklessly willing to tempt the fates, Mike Enslin takes the room key, rides the elevator upwards and enters 1408…
To reveal any more of what occurs during the course of “1408” would be of great disservice to those of you who have not seen the film. But, what I can tell you, dear readers, is the following. Besides not being able to hear The Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun” in the same way ever again, from this point onwards, “1408” is essentially a one-man show for John Cusack, as he is firmly stationed within the walls of his demonic hotel room along with the company of some nasty paranormal and, even worse, his own inner demons.
When I re-watched “1408” just a few nights ago, I had seriously intended to perhaps view only the first third, as the hour was late. But, all of those good intentions went flying out of the proverbial window because “1408” is just so damn compulsively watchable. I could not turn the thing off! The film is filled from start to finish with one great sequence after another, including one hair-raising one where Mike Enslin scales the tiny ledge outside of the 1408 hotel room, hoping for an escape from his solitary hell. Another involves a second escape attempt through the ventilation system, which of course houses a horrifying surprise. But, actually the sequence I possibly enjoyed the most was the scene just before Mike Enslin enters the hotel room—the one that pits the varying acting styles of Cusack and Jackson against each other thrillingly. The sequence inside of Gerald Olin's office is a tremendous one, not because of special effects (there are none) but through an excellent screenplay, sharp dialogue and two actors working at their peak of their powers. What a great sight it is just watching Cusack and Jackson parry and volley delicious dialogue back and forth, firmly establishing the menacing power of room 1408, a location we haven’t even seen in the film yet. And once we do arrive in 1408, what a sight it is.
Here is where the collaborative work of Hafstrom, Cusack and the entire creative team should be applauded most. Hafstrom exhibits a crisp, clean directorial style that firmly places story and character front and center, a quality that affords him quite a bit of mileage for his one location of room 1408, so much so that the room is elevated into being an additional character for Cusack to play off of. And what a marvel John Cusack is in this role!
One of Cusack’s finest qualities as an actor is his ability to exist as the person who is desperately attempting to remain in control even when situations are hopelessly spiraling out of control, whether external or internal. With the character of Mike Enslin, we, the audience, are blessed with both external and internal territories growing more unstable forcing Cusack to grow more unhinged.
When we first meet the character of Mike Enslin, we are given a sardonic, cynical, angry, melancholic skeptic with perhaps more than a few twinges of hard fought atheism caught in a state of mind and spirit that essentially dares the other side to make its presence forcefully known. What makes this character trait interesting and worthy of an emotional investment from the audience is the full backstory of Mike Enslin, which of course I will not reveal here, yet does indeed inject this film with much needed soul. Mike Enslin travels around the country from one supposedly spooky location to another solely to outrun his past and inner demons. Yet, once trapped inside of 1408, there is nowhere to run anymore and his deepest nightmares are now able to at last look for him!
What begins as a man’s nihilistic dance with the dark side becomes a crippling act of despair, grief and sorrow that, I believe, is presented in a fashion that can be relatable to many audience members of a certain age. John Cusack is equal to every single emotion he is given to play. To utilize a sports analogy, Cusack’s performance in “1408” is akin to that of a star basketball player. Every ball he is given, he makes a slam dunk every time. This film is his Michael Jordan moment!
All of these qualities elevate “1408” from simply being a “horror film” and into an experience that is wholly unique, entirely memorable and undeniably chilling. If you do heed my suggestion to seek out this film, whether for a repeat viewing or for the very first time, I urge you to watch the Director’s Cut version, which is slightly longer than the theatrical release and most importantly, contains the film’s original ending, which is much darker and to me, more honest with all of the material that has preceded it.
So, get your hotel room keys and turn out the lights for “1408”! It is a splendidly frightening ride that is consistently inventive conceptually, visually and thematically. It is also a playfully sinister experience designed to diabolically alter your perceptions.
And it just may want to make you sleep with the lights on for a night.
Sunday, October 2, 2011
Screenplay Written by Will Reiser
Directed by Jonathan Levine
*** ½ (three and a half stars)
Dedicated to Matthew Meinholz
This past summer, I co-taught a class of children aged between 5-8 years old in an experience known as “Summer Adventure Camp.” An adventure it was indeed as the three month period was designed to keep all of us consistently and constantly on the move. Every week contained a larger field trip and almost every single day involved us traveling by yellow school bus and more often by the strength of our respective sets of two feet to all manner of locations including parks, swimming pools, other school in the area and so on.
On several of these occasions, we were greeted by a young man named Matthew, the athletic 17-year-old son of the school’s owners and member of his local high school football team. My young charges took to Matthew immediately, bestowing upon him an endless stream of jokes of which there were absolutely, positively no punch lines whatsoever and Matthew howled with laughter at each and every single one. As Matthew spent more time with my class, he became truly beloved by my students. Every time he appeared at some location to have the children race through an extensive obstacle course on a hot, humid day, or build sand castles with them by a local beach area, or get drenched in a summer rainfall after hiking through a preserve on a treasure hunt that he designed, their bond grew tighter and my affection for him grew as well. In fact on one occasion, one of my students in particular, a girl of considerable moxie, once expressed to me in flirtatious secrecy, “You know, Matt likes me don’t cha?” Like I said, he was beloved.
Then, on August 11th, this extremely healthy, kind, generous, funny, athletic young man, who was about to enter into his Senior Year of high school received devastating news after a doctor’s visit to address some headaches, dizziness and nausea he had been experiencing after some recent football practices. A brain tumor, the size of a golf ball was discovered and an operation ensuring the tumor’s complete removal was imperative. Matthew’s surgery lasted 12 hours and was successful as the entirety of the tumor was removed. But, his road is not complete as he is currently undergoing extensive chemotherapy treatments in Boston.
Matthew was completely on my mind as I viewed a screening of Director Jonathan Levine’s comedy-drama, “50/50,” which stars Joseph Gordon-Leavitt as Adam Lerner, a healthy 27-year-old Seattle Public Radio employee who discovers that he has developed a rare form of cancer upon his spine. Certainly, I, everyone in the theater and all of you know and understand unequivocally that life is, by its nature, an unfair experience. But, to face severe illness and mortality at such a young age feels especially unfair all the way to the point of being cruel. Levine mines this emotional state with grace, tenderness, and a surprising amount of ribald humor, which only accentuates the inherent tragedy. Levine very wisely decides to not try to overtake the title Writer/Director James L. Brooks set firmly in place with his classic family/cancer tearjerker “Terms Of Endearment” (1983). But do not allow the miniscule nature of “50/50” to deter you from seeing it for it possesses a power all of its own and it left me deeply affected.
After the discovery of the tumor, Adam begins the indescribably painful process of emotionally coming to terms with his situation and ultimate mortality. He understandably attempts to lean on the support of Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard), an artist and his increasingly distant live-in girlfriend. He shies away from Diane (Anjelica Houston), his over-protective Mother, who already has her hands full caring for Adam’s Father Richard (Serge Houde) who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. Adam is also aided by Kyle (Seth Rogen), his ramshackle and vulgar best friend who tries to uplift Adam’s spirits by announcing that his 50/50 chances of surviving his cancer are in fact, excellent odds in is favor. And of course, the randy Kyle strongly feels that Adam’s cancer would serve as an extraordinary magnet for meeting and bedding women.
As the film continues, “50/50” follows Adam through these first difficult stages and life changes as he shaves his head, endures rigorous chemotherapy treatments alongside new friends Alan (Philip Baker Hall) and Mitch (Matt Frewer), also suffering from cancer, and begins psychotherapy sessions with the inexperienced therapist in training Dr. Katherine “Katie” McKay (a completely and gorgeously beguiling Anna Kendrick).
“50/50” is a film that is less about a plot and more about presenting a passage of life as it is truly lived. The film, which is based upon the life experiences of Screenwriter Will Reiser, including his real world friendship with Seth Rogen, is a film that treats the subject matter seriously and humorously, with a tremendously open heart and a remarkable lack of self-pity and over-emotional histrionics. It decidedly the matter-of-fact as it presents how Adam simply lives his life from day to day. We witness his experiences with the literal highs of medicinal marijuana, his efforts with trying to date new women and even the difficulties that present themselves during sexual intercourse. Yet, at the film’s very best, and like Michael Rapaport’s excellent documentary “Beats Rhymes And Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called Quest,” Jonathan Levine’s “50/50” is an ode to the bonds of family and friendship. It also serves as a truthful examination of how those very friendships, difficult to maintain even during the best of circumstances, either strengthen or wither away when confronted with a beast such as cancer.
Joseph Gordon-Leavitt continues to grow more impressive as an actor and leading man who exquisitely underplays every moment yet also makes them feel so very lived in. We are locked into his physical, psychological and existential struggle so convincingly and effortlessly just because he makes the character of Adam so relatable, approachable and understandable. His questions, frustrations, and fears are exactly our own and we cannot help but to ask ourselves how we would handle the same situation if we were to experience it for ourselves…hoping all the while that we may never have to. And this quality is exactly where the beauty of Seth Rogen and Bryce Dallas Howard’s performances enter the scene.
Seth Rogen, once again, essentially is playing the same foul mouthed, “Good Time Charlie” that he has played countless times before. Yet, what we are given this time is another shade of the same color as he is almost literally portraying himself. Again, through his actions, which seem to be more than a little self-serving, we are forced to ask ourselves what we would do if we were placed into his situation. What kind of a friend would we be to another who is facing their mortality, and painfully so? With Rogen, watch his actions instead of falling into his words and you will see a friend who is much more touchingly steadfast than he may appear to be.
In regards to Bryce Dallas Howard’s supporting performance as Rachael, I feel that I must come to her defense as it is already being dismissed as a role of villainy. I feel that undercuts the truth of “50/50” as a whole as this is not a film about heroes and villains. Rachael, while we may be angered at her choices, is presented not as a duplicitous, bitchy, raven-haired monster. I found the character and Howard’s performance of her, as one of the same honesty and understanding that permeates the entire movie. Rachael is a young woman being forced to face a situation she is just not emotionally equipped to handle and although cruelly, it is easily conceivable that she just wants to distance herself from it entirely. Bryce Dallas Howard instills in Rachael the same empathy that is deserving of every other character in the film and wisely so, for if she became a caricature, then the film as a whole would suffer considerably. “50/50” is a film about human failings as well as strength. You cannot have one without the other and I was glad to see that not every character in the film had to exist as some sort or virtuous martyr, including Adam himself.
As I sat in the theater watching the end credit scroll, an elderly gentleman passed me by and said to me, “That was a sad movie. Quite the tearjerker, wasn’t it?” he asked. I politely nodded in affirmation at him and he responded back to me with a plaintive, “Well…that’s life.” That is the beauty of “50/50” in a nutshell. It is a sad film, the very kind where any fallen tears are earned, not forcefully extracted. Simultaneously, it is a hopefully film, one that depicts how love and laughter walk hand in hand with sickness and death. “50/50” felt very real.
If I were to describe the experience of “50/50” in literary terms, I would say that it is more of a short story than a film like Writer/Director Mike Mills’ wonderful “Beginners,” which served as more of a novel. But, “50/50” is a really, really good short story. “50/50” tackles all of the huge themes of love, friendship, family, and mortality with unblinking honestly yet with a small but powerful sense of intimacy. Levine thankfully rejected any moments of forced melodrama, knowing well enough that this material contained more than enough drama inherently and again, all of the raunchy humor never felt out of place for even one moment. In fact, during some moments, I more than appreciated the release. (I especially liked the line where Adam laments that he “looks like Voldemort.”) It is a film that provides no easy answers, no facile band-aids to soften the blow of the truth. Now, as I write and think back that what I have seen, I am thinking that “50/50” is ultimately a film about bravery and what exactly does bravery mean. In regards to Adam, is bravery simply the act of existing or is it the way in which he exists? And what of the bravery within Kyle, Katie, his Mother and Rachael? Will it be enough to hold him upwards when he is just not able to do so for himself?
I cannot help but to return to my thoughts of Matthew at this time. Of course, I have heard story after story about a person’s experiences with cancer. I have known people to undergo the experience firsthand. Nearly three years ago, I witnessed the decline and passing of a close family member who had a relatively short battle with this unforgiving disease. Yet, for some reason, Matthew’s experience has rattled me unlike any other perhaps because it seemed to occur in less than a blink of an eye. One day, he appeared to be a healthy, active young man ready for a Senior Year of football, girls, college prep and all other aspects of the teenage experience and the next day, he was handed this unspeakable challenge. The unpredictable fragility of life was never more prevalent than when I first saw an image of him after his successful surgery. He was physically smaller than earlier in the summer. He wore sunglasses to assist his eyesight and to help soothe any waves of corresponding nausea. Even his speech had changed and yet, he is carrying onward. I cannot even begin to fathom just what is going on within his head but much has been stated about his bravery in local newspaper articles and television news stories about his battle and it is a bravery I just do not know if I possess for myself. But I think of him, so very often. I read his Caring Bridge updates written by his parents every time they appear in my e-mail and I have written what I would hope to be words of encouragement in return.
“50/50” is a film that places us in the shoes of someone quite possibly like Matthew. Young, active, ready to face the future of life yet not the very future life has brutally placed in front of him. We root for the character of Adam Lerner's survival just as we would root for anyone’s survival but especially for one whose life is just truly beginning.
Saturday, October 1, 2011
Yes, dear readers, two films that I have anxiously awaited for so very long, and have written to you about frequently throughout the year, have unfortunately not made their way to any of the movie theaters in my town as of last month. By this point, it is obviously that neither of them will arrive on the big screen in my city at all. Yet, I am a crafty film enthusiast and I am determined to see both films and have reviews for you either late this month or by early November.
As for October, this month on HBO, I will easily be viewing the premiere of Director Martin Scorsese's long in the works documentary about the immortal George Harrison entitled "Living In The Material World."
1. I plan on seeing Director Jonathan Levine's "50/50" starring Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, Seth Rogen and Anna Kendrick.
2. I also have to get myself to Director Bennett Miller's "Moneyball."
3. George Clooney returns to the Director's chair for his political drama "The Ides Of March" this month. With his strong track record as a filmmaker and his astute good taste, I am curious to see what he has arrived with this time.
4. I am also keeping my cinematic eagle eye out for the independent comedy-drama "Terri" and the psychological thriller "Take Shelter."
Considering the busy nature of my work and personal life, I think these plans are more than feasible and if anything further arrives then please consider it to be a welcome surprise.
I'll see you when the house lights go down...