Monday, December 10, 2018

"Home Alone" - Maybe We're Wrong About Uncle Frank and Old Man Marley

Home Alone will always be a special movie for two reasons: it was a holiday movie released during my childhood and I kind of looked like Macaulay Culkin when I was little (looking back, the similarities end with us being blond-haired boys, but I thought it was cool at the time). While there are plenty of other Christmas movies that I love (Christmas Vacation, Eyes Wide Shut, A Christmas Story, Die Hard, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, etc.), this one has the benefit of being both a great family movie and a fun movie for adults. Yes, there are plenty children’s movies that are equally enjoyed by adults (for instance, Pixar), but this one is particularly interesting to revisit once you’ve become an adult. Which brings me to…


Who is paying for this trip, and is Uncle Frank really that bad?

Probably the most popular meme about Home Alone makes the point: now that I’m older, I just want to know how Kevin’s dad afforded that house and that trip to Paris. It’s true: as a kid, I never thought much about the trip (aside from it being weird that an entire extended family would go to Paris for Christmas), much less about the mortgage on Kevin’s house. But as an adult, at least one of these questions is easily answered.

After Kevin’s mom pays for the pizza at the beginning of the movie, she explains to Joe Pesci exactly what’s going on, but she delivers the lines so fast it’s easy to miss, especially when you’re a kid. It turns out that Kevin’s uncle in Paris is paying for the trip because he got transferred there for work, but his kids stayed in Chicago for school. Okay, but I’m still very curious about his job and the willingness to leave the kids in Chicago. Is this transfer short term? If not, does Kevin’s family have to keep housing these kids until they graduate? Or did the mom stay back? If so, where is she? Is the mom even in the picture? Things get even more confusing with the second film, in which Kevin uses the same uncle’s townhouse that’s being renovated in New York. I want to see an entire film about this mysterious Uncle Rob…

But that doesn’t explain what Kevin’s parents do to afford such a house. That’s where the novelization comes into play. (This is coming from IMDb info regarding the novelization, but I trust it, especially since I don’t want to read the book version of Home Alone for an article that, if I’m lucky, one hundred people will read.) According to the novelization, Kevin’s dad is simply a successful businessman. I suppose that’s good enough. More interestingly, his mother is a fashion designer. Sure, there’s money there, but that explains a plot hole I never even considered before: where did Kevin get the mannequins when he put on the fake house party? Even as an adult, I never questioned that. But now there’s an answer for those that did wonder, “Where the fuck did Kevin get a bunch of mannequins?”

So both Kevin’s dad and Uncle Rob are loaded, but what about notorious cheapskate Uncle Frank? Obviously, he is indeed a cheapskate. He steals airline silverware. He can’t pitch in for pizza. He just comes across as an overall scumbag. He pretty much is, but I think he catches too much crap. With the pizza, he only had traveler’s checks, so his hands were tied. And I used to think that Frank was freeloading on Kevin’s dad’s dime for the trip, but that’s not the case. When you think about it, Kevin’s mom and dad are being treated as much as Frank is; Frank is just taking an extra bit of advantage by stealing the silverware. Uncle Frank is an opportunist. What’s wrong with that?


Is this movie truly different now that I’m older?

Aside from being more aware of money and what a trip to Paris costs, as I get older I think about the violence of the film differently. Or do I? I can’t remember exactly how I reacted to all the traps Kevin set the first time I saw them, but I feel confident that even back then I saw the disparity between slipping on Micro Machines vs. stepping barefoot on a nail. Or between getting feathers glued to you vs. having your head set on fire. Or between slipping on ice vs. getting a can of paint to the face. Or...you get the idea.

I guess the main issue with the violence was always that it went from cartoonish to brutal in a family film. But that was what made it funny. I still laugh at a few of the traps. My favorite one now is Marv stepping on the ornaments. Not because it’s unique or anything (actually, I find it hard to watch because of the popping of ornaments as he walks on them), it’s because of Marv’s actions. First, who slams their feet onto the ground that way? Second, why keep walking on the ornaments? Anyway, the point is that I react to the violence the same way now as I did then: with laughter. I think it was all presented cartoonish enough to not be taken too seriously. Though I can see how some people might have a problem with their kids watching this.

The thing that has changed now that I’m an adult is that I focus more on what I consider to be odd moments. John Candy’s polka band touring the country around Christmas? Kevin’s mom going through all that trouble to make it home...five minutes before everyone else? Joe Pesci threatening to bite off Kevin’s fingers? I get into it more specifically in the Random Thoughts section, but much like many family films, there are a lot of odd moments you pay more attention to as an adult. But one thing did stick with me a bit more this time around…


What is going on with Old Man Marley?

As a kid, I reacted to Old Man Marley the same way Kevin did, with fear then understanding. As an adult, I first looked at him with sympathy. The kids make up stories about an old man who spends his free time shoveling and salting sidewalks for everyone? What dicks! I still reacted to him with understanding, but this time with a bit of skepticism. What exactly went down between him and his son?

Marley explains it to Kevin in terms a child can understand: things were said, and now they don’t speak anymore. But what things were said? It had to be pretty bad for them to get to the point that he’s not allowed to be around his granddaughter. But what if it was actually more than just words?

When Kevin is first told about Old Man Marley, we learn that the rumor is that Marley slaughtered his whole family but was not convicted because of lack of evidence. (By the way, why is Kevin just now learning about him? I get that the cousin needs to learn about him because he’s not from the neighborhood, but Kevin should know, especially since Buzz would undoubtedly enjoy scaring him.) I don’t think the dude killed anyone, but there’s a little truth to most rumors, right? I think it’s possible that the altercation between Marley and his son became physical. Maybe he hit his son with a shovel, and the rumor grew from there.

Since Old Man Marley’s wife isn’t in the picture, I considered even making the theory that he killed his wife in front of his son, but that wouldn’t work since the son forgives him at the end and comes to visit for Christmas.

Of course, it could just be like it is in the movie, and it was an argument that went too far. Still, what was said? So I now officially want an Uncle Frank movie and an Old Man Marley prequel. It’s time to stop writing about this movie.


Random Thoughts

(Note: some of these might be redundant as I mentioned a bit of it above. I was too lazy to go through it and edit it.)

Has there ever been a less convincing cop than Joe Pesci?

Those cuts back to the plane in mid-flight are way too loud.

Chekov’s firecrackers. He even says, “I’ll save these for later.”

For a long time I thought Angels with Dirty Souls was a real movie.

This movie reminds me yearly that Crunch Gators existed.

The police in this movie are ridiculously inept. No one seems to care that a child has been left behind by his parents.

I never really got the aftershave joke as a kid. I just laughed because he yelled. As an adult, it makes even less sense. Who did he do this to warrant such an emulation?

“Maybe he went in the church.”
“I’m not going in there.”
“Me neither.”
Are the Wet Bandits vampires or something?

Reading through the IMDb FAQ and trivia section, it says that the novelization explains that Kevin’s dad is a successful businessman and his mom is a fashion designer, which explains the mannequins when Kevin fakes a full house. The funny thing is, I’ve never wondered where the mannequins came from. Why have I never thought about those mannequins?

Speaking of which, the trivia section is an entertaining read on its own. Just a couple tidbits: De Niro turned down the role of Harry and some people think Elvis can be seen in the airport scene with John Candy.

That tiny kitchen TV has some bitchin’ speakers.

Now that I’m at that airport scene, that dude behind O’Hara does look like Elvis. But think about it: that would mean that Elvis, who supposedly faked his death, would then seek out a movie to be an extra in. What? Was he getting bored hiding out and wanted to flirt with danger? Also, the dude in the scene doesn’t look old enough to be actually-still-alive-Elvis.

I love that Marv says, “ascared” instead of “scared.”

Who does Old Man Marley think he is trying to get Kevin to confront his fears and issues? You haven’t talked to your son in years, you freaky shovel-slayer piece of shit!

Kevin’s school sounds pretty terrible. A kid got beat up because there was a rumor he wore dinosaur pajamas? A second-grader? But I guess it’s that tough school setting that made him such a devious mastermind when it came to the traps. Wait a minute...is Kevin the one who beat up the kid for the pajamas?

Maybe it’s the fatty in me, but it always bugged me that Kevin left his macaroni and cheese dinner completely untouched. Why didn’t he just eat earlier? He knew what time they would show up.

Man, that nail in the foot scene still bothers me. We go from nail in the foot to glue and feathers? And then to have Marv immediately experience more foot trauma?

That said, the way Marv just absolutely slams his feet down onto those ornaments still makes me laugh. Who brings their feet down to the ground like that, with or without ornaments there?

“I’ll snap off your cojones and boil them in motor oil!” Did the use of “cojones” make this line acceptable? Because...that’s a dark line.

I still love Marv’s shriek, but him hitting Harry with a crowbar soon after is still my favorite moment. The confusion of Harry coupled with the idea of someone taking a crowbar to the abdomen makes me laugh.

“Maybe he committed suicide.” What?!

You know, I don’t have an issue with Kevin waiting so long to go to the cops. For one thing, everything I pointed out is in good fun, and if most of it were changed, the movie simply wouldn’t exist. But more importantly, Kevin decides to take care of the burglars on his own because he sees this as a test to earn back his family, which he still thinks he wished away. He must fight for his home and family.

So was Harry going to go through with the finger-biting thing at the end? And was Marv going to laugh hysterically the whole time he did it? Can you imagine how gruesome that would become by the tenth finger? My God… This movie is a phenomenon of going from extremely cartoonish to extremely dark from moment to moment.

Which brings us to John Candy’s horrific story of leaving his child at a funeral home all day with a dead body, which was apparently ad-libbed by Candy. There’s so much going on there. That story still makes me laugh, though, mainly because of the ending: “He was okay, you know, after six or seven weeks. Started talking again.” But what about the rest of the band. He talks some serious trash about them. And why the fuck is a polka band on tour at Christmas, anyway? Who the fuck is going to listen to a polka band on Christmas? What the fuck is happening in this movie?

Doesn’t O’Hara look like a real dumbass showing up only minutes before everyone else?

Shouldn’t the family ask Kevin a lot more questions? Like, “Why didn’t you answer the phone, Kevin?” On that note, why didn’t they keep calling? I know the phones were out for a bit, but they were back on for Kevin to call the cops. Anyway, they leave him standing there pretty quickly when they all get home. No wonder there’s a sequel for this negligent family saga.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

"Planet of the Apes" - The DVD the Second-Hand Store Wouldn't Buy

*As always, I write these articles under the assumption that you’ve seen the movie already, so...SPOILERS.

**Over the next couple of months, I'll be drowning in awards screeners. So I've decided to occasionally take a break and watch one of my more random (in this case shameful) DVDs as a kind of palate cleanser in the midst of all these uppity awards contenders.


The Planet of the Apes remake has a special place in my collection: I once tried to sell it at a second hand DVD store (Coconuts in Evansville), and they wouldn’t buy it from me. This was ten years ago, so it’s not like trying to sell a copy of this garbage today. And I know they bought plenty of crap from me (though I can’t remember any specific titles) before, but this movie is where they drew the line. Also, they would give as little as fifty cents for a movie, but, again, not for this movie.

No other movie was ever turned down by that store, so Planet of the Apes is special. Or it might be cursed. I haven’t tried it, but something tells me that if I threw this movie away I would wake up one night and find it in my bedroom. So rather than tempt fate, I watched it again. It still sucks, and I still don’t know why I bought it in the first place.

Is it as bad as its reputation?

When I decided to watch this again, I told myself, “It can’t be that bad. I remember liking it when I saw it in the theater.” Well, it’s pretty bad. I don’t think it’s a total failure, though. The look of the film is great. The whole movie was just an excuse to make better-looking apes this time around, and they certainly accomplished that. The fact that it’s almost entirely practical is very impressive. The score is also very good. That’s about it. Now on to the problems.

The casting of Mark Wahlberg is a major problem. At the time, I guess I wasn’t paying much attention to his performance. But this time...my God, he is practically sleepwalking in this role. It’s bad enough that he’s cast as an astronaut. That’s right up there with science teacher from The Happening when it comes to Wahlberg miscasting. Even if you do buy him as an astronaut, nothing can forgive the low energy of his performance. I just don’t get it. He’s arguing with his superiors about going after his chimp buddy, and he’s doing it with the conviction of someone complaining about getting their order wrong at a fast food restaurant. His only job is to be passionate and shocked. He should be passionate about going after his chimp buddy or about saving the humans on the ape planet, but he never seems to care about anything. He should be shocked and disturbed by the ape society he encounters, but he instantly accepts it as normal just goes about trying to escape. I don’t know how I would handle suddenly being in a world of talking apes, but it would probably take me at least a day to adjust and lose my fucking mind. But Wahlberg is just like, “Human face or monkey face, it doesn’t matter which one I’m punchin’.”

The rest of the cast is decent, except for Estella Warren, who was apparently hired only to stare at Wahlberg longingly despite there being almost no relationship between their characters. Helena Bonham Carter is okay, but she clearly has trouble speaking through the prosthetics. In fact, I would say that’s the biggest issue with most of the ape performances. Some characters are very easy to understand; Paul Giamatti comes to mind. Most of the other actors couldn’t get past the make up. I suppose Roth is easy to understand, but he snarls every line.

The real problem with this movie is the story. It suffers mainly from being a bland remake rather than attempting to break new ground for the series, as the latest trilogy did. The film is far too similar to the original: man crash lands on ape planet, man gets captured, ape city is shown, man escapes to forbidden zone, twist ending. The inclusion of Charlton Heston and the cringe-inducing reverse of the “damn dirty ape” line show that this film never had any ambition beyond looking better than the original.

If there is a goal beyond being a straight remake, it’s an attempt to turn this into a summer action tentpole rather than the satire it should be. There are plenty of moments when the film script starts an idea about slavery, equality, politics, technology, etc. but it goes nowhere, and it usually followed immediately by some cheap ape sight gag. I’m not saying a movie can’t have a message and humor, but the message needs to be fully stated. This film has plenty of beginning thoughts that it doesn’t follow through with.

As for the action, it’s quite lacking, too. Aside from the impressive image of apes raining down following the ignition burst of the spaceship, the action is bland and/or comical. The main thing they try to showcase is a jumping ability, but it ends up looking out of place every time an ape suddenly jumps thirty feet in the air. And when an ape starts hammering down on another ape, it looks cartoonish, not brutal. It just seems like every part of this movie, save for the look and score of it, was half-assed and rushed. As for it being a rush job, many of those involved have admitted as much. But all the time in the world wouldn’t make that script any better.


That ending…

If there’s anything people remember about this crappy remake, it’s the ending. Wahlberg escapes and heads back to Earth, but somehow Thade beat him there by centuries and established an ape society in which he is eventually revered as much as Abraham Lincoln.

The sudden twist ending felt like a twist just for the sake of it. A remake of a film with one of the most famous twist endings has to have a twist ending too, right? Once again, this movie would probably have been better if they had said, “Screw the original, let’s make our own film.” But that didn’t happen. That said, my only issue with this ending is the statue. But first let me get into why I’m okay with the ending.

Once time travel is introduced, anything is possible. So Thade eventually got out and found a way to take ship to Earth. He traveled through time and ended up there in the past. I’m fine with that, since it’s basically the plot of the movie itself, just reversed. I don’t know why exactly a lot of people hated the ending, but if they hate it because they claim it makes no sense or impossible, then they forgot about the time travel plot. Fox was apparently worried about this after the fact since they included a chart explaining how it worked in the DVD (which is pointless because if you bought the DVD you are obviously at least a little okay with the ending).

A sincere complaint about the ending would be that Wahlberg leaves at all. Aside from a video message he received early in the film, he doesn’t seem to have much to go home to (and the people in the video seemed pretty lame anyway). He has friends, but I didn’t see a wife or kids or anything in that message. That’s not to say that any single man should go live on a planet of apes, but there is nothing in the film to show that he longs for home, aside from him simply stating that he needs to go home. Why? He doesn’t seem to be very important to the mission he was on. And on the planet of the apes, he has become a hero, somehow creating harmony between apes and humans in the span of a couple days. It seems like that is a better situation. Not to mention he has both an ape lady and a human lady wanting him, so he has options there, too.

Another sincere complaint about the ending is that what it sets up is far more interesting than what came before. I don’t want a sequel to this film; I want this film to be that sequel. That would be a remake worth watching. Instead of some twist ending, just have Wahlberg crash on Earth instead of half-ass planet of the apes. That way, the film can break new ground instead of wallowing in the better original.

So my main gripe is that the ending presented something more interesting than what I just wasted two hours on, but I do have one specific issue with the ending: the logistics. The statue of Thade is him as Lincoln, down to the suit and haircut. So Thade must have landed in the 1800s. So how did that work? All apes just suddenly rose up and overthrew society? Just how many apes were there in the United States in the 1800s? For that matter, how many apes do we have in our zoos today? Probably not enough for an uprising now, and certainly not then. And sure, a talking ape with advanced technology would cause quite a stir at any time, much less the 1800s. But does that mean he would immediately take power? I think it much more likely that he would be killed as soon as possible, even with his superior weapon in hand. I just don’t see how it could happen. But that’s another movie that would also be far more interesting than what we got: How Thade somehow takes over the United States in the 1800s with only a single laser gun. Maybe he was able to take a lot of apes with him or something, then he might have more of a chance...never mind. I don’t need to go any further down this particular rabbit hole, suffice it to say, I bet it would be more entertaining than what we got.

Do I regret buying this?

Oh God, yes. This is yet another movie in my collection that is there from my "must-buy-a-movie-every-week" and "I-saw-it-in-the-theater-so-I-must-buy-it" phase. I already tried selling it. Now I’ve accepted that this film is intertwined with my life by fate, and I have decided to be buried with it.


Random Thoughts

I haven’t mentioned Tim Burton at all in this article, but that’s not by design. I was about to go back and find the appropriate spot to mention him and decided against it, mainly because the more I think about it, the less I consider this a Tim Burton movie. I think the goofier moments are Burton-esque, but overall this is not the type of film he makes. Who hires Tim Burton to make a sci-fi action film? I’m guessing he didn’t have as much control as he does these days. I’m not sure he would have made a better film if he was left alone and given time to do so, but I’m almost positive that it would at least be a lot more interesting than this.

The IMDb trivia section for this is nuts: a Cameron and Schwarzenegger version, Roth turned down Snape for this, Wahlberg dropped out of Ocean’s 11 for this, Daniel Day-Lewis was considered for Thade (not that he would have taken it), the original ending (scrapped due to expense) had Wahlberg crash land into a Yankees game in which all the players were apes, etc.

I get that Thade is the bad guy, and that he's evil, but this has got to be the angriest performance I've ever seen. Every line is snarled. He growls at people at random.

The apes need to speak English, I get it, but the quotes and idioms from American culture (including versions of quotes from the original film) are distracting.

“Extremism in the defense of apes is no vice.” Why the fuck is an ape paraphrasing Barry Goldwater?

Thank God they free the little girl who was taken as a pet earlier in the film. That moment was way too dark in an otherwise goofy film.

Way too many scenes of apes doing “human” stuff: teenager apes smoking weed while wearing leather jackets, an old ape taking out dentures, apes engaging in foreplay, etc.

“Can't we all just get along?” Why would they know that quote?

I can't tell if this movie is trying to be serious or not. Every time I start to think about what it might be trying to say about our own culture, there's a stupid quote or sight gag that reminds me that I shouldn't apply thought to this movie.

The half-assed love triangle with Wahlberg, Carter, and Warren feels tacked on, at best. I’m sure Warren was added just to appease people who might be upset with a possible ape-human love plot.

Heston's casting yet another 4th wall breaking distraction.

Of course Heston-ape would keep a gun in an object of worship.

I bet Heston wrote his own lines praising the destructive power of guns.

Some of the ape soldiers had those Jai Alai scoop things. Is it more than just a random sport in their culture?

They shoehorn in this destined leader subplot with Wahlberg, but it makes little sense. He didn't defy the apes; he just ran away. His only goal is to abandon everyone. No amount of Estella Warren-staring is going to make that heroic.

It all feels so rushed. Like everything has to lead to a big a battle for the sake of having a big battle. Because of this, not enough time is spent in the ape city. So instead of getting the feel of a real planet of apes, we get comedic gags tossed in as they run away. It might have been better if Wahlberg was definitely stranded, so the movie could take place almost primarily in the city, and not in a bland desert setting.

Wahlberg's wannabe rallying speech is pretty awful. How many great speeches include the speaker saying “Listen!” multiple times?

The kid wanting to prove himself became way too big of a deal near the end. I'm not sure if that kid was with the group the entire time or if he was one of the randos who showed up later.

Still, the ship ignition attack was kind of cool. Too bad the insert shots of apes falling to the ground looked more like them just falling due to wind.

Aside from the occasional ridiculous jump or throw, the action is very limited due to the extensive costumes and makeup.

Tim Roth says “my friend” with such anger it's unintentionally funny since he's supposed to be trying to convince Michael Clarke Duncan to help him.

Michael Clarke Duncan does a pretty sudden turnaround based mostly on Wahlberg's word. As with everything else in this film, it felt rushed. As does Wahlberg's sudden departure, and the even more sudden twist ending. Man, a lot of crap suddenly happens in the final fifteen minutes…

So because he kissed an ape, he also had to kiss Estella Warren?

Why is it safe for him to travel in space in rags with no helmet? That's my issue with the logic of this time traveling talking ape movie? What's wrong with me?

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Halloween Month: "Mr. Brooks"

*As always, I write these articles under the assumption that you have seen the movie, so...SPOILERS.


Mr. Brooks was not initially on the lineup for Halloween Month, but I happened upon it the other day and wanted to watch it again. Plus, it fits with the theme, so two birds with one stone and whatnot.

I’m sad to say that my overall impression after rewatching this is negative. It still has moments I enjoy, most notable William Hurt and Kevin Costner, but I realized this time that it’s a bit of a mess. There are way too many plot lines and Dane Cook’s casting was an unfortunate byproduct of his flash in the pan fame that was occurring at the time. Still, it’s fun to watch Costner play a killer, and Hurt’s performance makes it worth watching alone. It’s not that he’s doing amazing, nuanced work; it’s just that he’s so clearly enjoying himself.

Costner and Hurt

I’ll start with Kevin Costner. He has become a bit more low key these days, showing up in a few movies a year, some good, some mediocre. But he was a big deal when I was growing up. He went from huge successes (Dances with Wolves, JFK, Robin Hood, etc.) to unmitigated failures (Waterworld and The Postman). It seemed like people enjoyed the fact that his films had underperformed. (I actually like Waterworld, and I flat out love The Postman, and I have never understood the hatred it gets.)

Despite that, Costner has kept at it. And because of that, he still shows up in a great or interesting film (or TV series) from time to time. Mr. Brooks was one of those movies for me. I had never seen him portray such a troubled, evil character (even if he arguably does not want to do the terrible things he does). It was interesting, and it renewed my interest in his career. But Costner is elusive. He works steadily, but it seems like only one movie every five years is worth revisiting. And it doesn’t help that he’s now entered Dad mode (Man of Steel and Molly’s Game). Don’t get me wrong, he makes for a great cinematic father, but those characters are just side notes; they aren’t the focus of the film.

I suppose his erratic success is why I never think of him as one of my favorite actors, even though he is once I remember him. It’s doubly odd when I look back at his filmography and realize that he’s been in so many movies that I would put among my favorites of all time (JFK, Bull Durham, Open Range, Tin Cup, A Perfect World, The Untouchables, The Postman) and plenty that like but don’t love (Field of Dreams, Thirteen Days, Wyatt Earp, Dances with Wolves, Waterworld). If any other actor had that many movies I owned (all except for Wyatt Earp), I would immediately think of them when asked who my favorite actor was. But because his career is so varied, I tend to forget about Costner. When I do remember his work, however, I realize how great his career has been thus far.

William Hurt, on the other hand, is an actor that I somehow completely ignored before his scene-stealing performance in A History of Violence. I truly had no idea who he was when I first saw that film, but he blew me away. I like that movie quite a bit, but his appearance near the end of the film makes it one of favorites.

Obviously, the filmmakers of Mr. Brooks felt the same, since he’s essentially playing the same character here, albeit in a more playful and, ironically, less dangerous manner. And just as with A History of Violence, Hurt elevates the overall film, helping you to forget its problems every time he shows up in a scene.

Looking back over his career, it’s easy to see why I was late to the Hurt party: he hit his stride when I was a toddler. He was nominated for Best Actor three years in a row (1986, 1987, 1988) and won in 1986 for Kiss of the Spider Woman. I’ve since gone back and watched his most notable work because I was so impressed with him in Violence and Mr. Brooks. It made me realize that while he’s great in everything he does, I mainly want to see him as a villain. I’m not sure if that’s because my first impression of him came from a villainous role or because he’s truly more suited for such roles. Either way, I like Hurt much more when he’s sadistic. He is able to find that sweet spot of being funny while being scary without becoming a joke, if that makes sense. I’m thinking of Jeffrey Dean Morgan as both the Comedian and Negan in Watchmen and The Walking Dead, respectively. Morgan is okay in those roles, but I never really believe him when his character laughs or claims something is funny. It’s clearly a show he’s putting on. Perhaps that’s intentional or due to bad writing; either way, it’s less effective than what Hurt does in Mr. Brooks and, mainly, in Violence.

It’s the sign of a great performance when you finish a movie and wish that actor had been in more scenes. With Mr. Brooks, that ends up being a major problem I had with the film this time around.

Costner: "Honey, I'm going to be in my studio working on glazes for the next three days."
Helgenberger: "Okay, dear, I'll just go about my business as your shell of a wife and act like it's normal to work on glazes all the time, you maniac."

How many plot lines can you fit in a two hour movie?

When I think back on Mr. Brooks, I think about Costner and Hurt giving interesting performances (and I also kind of remember Dane Cook being in it). In my memories, the film is mainly about the two main characters. Upon rewatching it, I was unpleasantly surprised when I came across how much plot they tried to cram into this movie.

Here’s a list of every plot line I noticed:
  • A family man lives a second life as a serial killer.
  • A serial killer is addicted to killing and wants to stop.
  • A man witnesses Costner kill and wants to be mentored by him.
  • Costner’s daughter drops out of college due to pregnancy...and more.
  • Daughter is a murderer too.
  • Daughter’s mess needs to be cleaned up.
  • Daughter might end up killing him.
  • A detective is getting closer to finding him.
  • Detective is going through a messy divorce.
  • Detective is being stalked by an escaped murderer.
  • Killing is viewed as addiction, and Costner goes to AA to help with it.

This was originally pitched as a TV show. With this many plot lines, I can see why. Also, while researching the movie, I found plenty of references to a planned trilogy, so why jam this much plot into the first film? There’s enough going on here for three movies already. It’s not that any of it is all that bad, but when you put all of this plot in one two-hour movie, it gets pretty damn silly. You end up with Costner tying a neat little bow on top of six or more plot lines in the last five minutes. In an already slightly silly movie, the unnecessary extra plots made it laughable near the end.

If they just went with 2 or 3 of these, this movie could have been focused and better. Not to mention they could have spent more time with the strongest aspects of the movie: Costner and Hurt’s interactions. Did they not feel confident with that initial plot line or something? Were they worried the trilogy wouldn’t happen (it obviously didn’t), so they tried to fit it all in one? Did Demi Moore only sign on if her character was given more to do? Did the studio push for more Dane Cook since he was popular at the time? With that in mind, did the studio push for him to be in the movie in the first place? There are so many questions that will never be answered, at least not truthfully. But I do want to focus more on Demi Moore’s character and Marg Helgenberger’s lack thereof.

To start, is Demi Moore’s character even necessary? Rewatching this, I’m not sure it’s important to have Costner actively chased by the cops at all. I suppose having no police presence at all might seem odd, but just make it a one note character that we check in with sparingly. Why complicate the plot with a detective who has just as much if not more going on than the main character?

If Demi Moore has to stay, then they should have at least cut one of her plot lines. Either lose the silly divorce (there are at least ten minutes of screen time devoted to this) or lose the escaped serial killer out for revenge (which felt tacked on anyway). You know what? Never mind. Demi Moore’s character should not be in this movie. It’s as simple as that. It felt like she was in a completely different film, and that other film was predictable and boring.

When I think about cutting Moore out of the movie, I realize that that would take away the biggest female presence in the movie, and that’s problematic. But there’s a solution that would have fixed another issue with this movie: give Costner’s wife something to do!

In this film, his wife does four things (if my memory is correct): she goes to an awards banquet, she worries about their daughter, she eats ice cream, she works out. That’s it. She is a shell of a person. Why have this character at all? And why case Marg Helgenberger for such a nothing role? And why is this wife so trusting, anyway?

Take all that stupid drama with the detective and give it to the wife. I’m not saying have an escaped killer go after her, but have her be the one who’s on Costner’s trail. There are so many places this could go. There could have been a confrontation near the end. There could have been a twist revealing she knew the whole time and accepted it. Hell, have her take over the Dane Cook part, too. Why can’t his wife find out about his habit and want in on it? Then he could be worried about her killing him instead of his daughter killing him. That could do away with the stupid theory this film puts forth that the need to kill is an inherited addiction. Instead, make it sexually transmitted! That’s just as stupid, but I like it more.

Maybe I’m going way too far with all of this, but I think everyone would agree that the part of the wife is woefully underwritten. We’re supposed to believe that she accepts his excuse of “working on glazes” every time he disappears for an entire evening? Even if she does believe it, any functioning human would still confront Costner about it. “When are you sleeping?! Why are these glazes more important than me?!”

Okay, I’ve spent far too much time thinking about this movie. Clearly I have some issues with it. It’s fun if you turn off your brain. I just didn’t want to turn it off this time, I guess.

Do I regret buying this?

Yeah. I bought this during my “I must buy one movie every week” phase. I still like the stuff with Costner and Hurt, but if I want to see Hurt play funny/scary, I’ll just rewatch A History of Violence.


Random Thoughts

This movie thinks it’s a lot cooler than it actually is.

The opening text is unnecessary.

What is with the toenail jokes at his award dinner?

The music annoyed me. Especially the wannabe cool music that plays with the opening text, only for the score to give way to a Forrest Gump-esque piano when the title comes up? What?

Apparently the score was nominated for an award. Not an Oscar, but still. Am I crazy? Is this a good score?

Costner’s post-kill twirl is silly.

I think the film would have been a bit more interesting if they had delayed the killer reveal for at least another five to ten minutes. Give us a few opening scenes of him as a normal guy then hit us with the murder. Instead, the movie flat out tells us from the beginning. They were probably worried about wasting time since they had thirty plots to get through…

I completely forgot Demi Moore was in this.

I love Hurt’s performance, but his character is a cheat for the audience and Costner. Without him, we would have to figure out everything on our own, and Costner (and the filmmakers) would have to convey Costner’s thoughts in a more nuanced way...but that wouldn’t be as fun, so I’m cool with it.

Dane Cook...ugh. I don’t hate him as much as a lot of people do, but he makes some annoying choices in this film. Why does he have to add little sound effects to his dialogue? I just wonder if that was him or if it was in the script.

Demi Moore’s boss is inexplicably wearing a bluetooth headset for an entire scene. I get it. It was a different time, but why have her wear that in a scene? It’s not like you can see what brand it is so it’s not product placement. Just, why?

Costner’s daughter bringing up abortion definitely sidetracks the movie into touchy territory for a bit.

Moore and Cook haven’t been in many mainstream films since this…

The director of this also directed Kuffs! And Kuffs had a plot line about a pregnant college girl. Way to recycle a storyline.

How many flashbacks with extra loud sound effects of that couple getting shot do we need?

What’s with the random ET joke about Cook?

Man, Marg Helgenberger must never ask what the fuck Costner is up to.

Hurt’s comment, “Even if he was charming and funny I still wouldn’t like him,” is definitely about Cook the comedian, not the character. That line always seemed odd, and it takes me out of the film. It also makes me think any weird business with Cook (like the ET joke) was added because it was Cook, and he was pretty popular at the time.

If Costner zones out everytime he “talks” to Hurt, then most of his life must be a zombie-like fugue state.

So he makes a trip across the country to do some murder clean-up murder and comes straight home, and his wife thought he was working on glazes all night? Holy fuck, she is trusting!

The hallway shoot was pretty lame. It felt like a Matrix rip off without really attempting to rip it off. Does that make sense? I don’t know. I did not think I would have this much to say about this movie.

I still love the last scene and the song that accompanies it. I’m definitely glad it turned out to be a nightmare. This is a pretty wacky movie as is, but his daughter randomly killing him at the end is too nonsensical, especially since I don’t personally buy into the serial killer as an inherited addiction theory.