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.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Halloween Month:"The Return of the Living Dead"

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

I had planned on revisiting this movie to fill the zombie portion of my Halloween Month series, and since James Karen just passed away, it makes even more sense to look back at this hilarious, awesome zombie movie. I already had most of the article planned out, so I’ll use the introduction to praise Karen’s performance.

James Karen is one of those “that guy” actors, but for me, he’s Frank from The Return of the Living Dead. His scenes with Freddy when they first unleash the zombie outbreak are the highlight of the film, mainly due to Karen’s insane performance. James Karen stated before that this was the most fun he ever had making a movie, and it’s easy to believe when you watch these scenes. The script is funny enough during these moments (telling Freddy to watch his mouth if he wants to keep his job...while a cadaver has come back to life and is beating on the door), but his amplified performance makes these scenes so much better. He is just losing it from start to finish. This is funny on its own, but it becomes even better when he calls Burt, since he has to calm himself down to talk to the boss. To see him go from raving lunatic (“What are we gonna do?!”  “Ahhh! We’re going to kill it!”) to nonchalant (“Burt? Frank. We have a little problem.”) is hilarious. James Karen will be missed, but he left an extensive body of work to revisit. I know I’ll be watching this performance many more times in the future.

A zombie movie for fans of zombie movies.

George Romero’s Dead series will always be #1 in my book when it comes to zombie movies. But one issue I’ve had with Romero’s films and subsequent “serious” zombie movies and shows is that apparently zombie movies do not exist in the world of zombie movies and shows. Romero can be forgiven since his films all took place within the same outbreak, but other properties have no excuse for characters being completely flummoxed by the dead coming back to life.

Think about it. If dead people started coming back to life and eating the living, we would all certainly be shocked, but we would also be thinking, “Zombies! Aim for the head!” Once again, this isn’t so much of a problem in Romero’s universe, but in other movies it gets annoying watching characters slowly figure out what’s going on. Why not just let them have prior zombie knowledge like the rest of us?

Also, let’s face facts: zombies are funny. That’s why I love zombie movies. They’re goofy. Who hasn’t stumbled around moaning, “Braaaaaaiiiiiiiins!” around Halloween? But zombies don’t talk. And zombie movies aren’t comedies. All that changed with The Return of the Living Dead.

It’s not like Return is a straightforward comedy like Zombieland or Warm Bodies, but it’s still funnier than those movies because of how the characters respond to the outbreak. First off, they reference Night of the Living Dead. And yes, they are talking about it as an actual event and not a movie, but it functions as both. As an event, it’s the reason for the barrels of zombies in the basement. As a movie, it’s the reason why they use the word zombie and know to go for the head (even though that doesn’t really work out for them). It’s still funny for the characters to respond to a zombie outbreak the same way we would.

What makes Return really funny is every character’s reactions. Whether it’s a total freak out (Frank and Freddy) or businesslike (Burt), it’s all funny. It’s funny because of the juxtaposition of people losing their minds while others treat the zombies like a common flu outbreak. Some people want to just cower in the corner and despair for the world while others want to gather up body parts and take them to their ex-Nazi (check out the decor on Ernie’s walls) crematorium buddy to destroy them.

The violence is played for laughs, too. Frank beating the half-dog with a crutch, the goofy headless zombie body, the noise the zombie makes as they saw through its neck, etc. It’s all gross and at times even disturbing, but it’s always funny. Well, it’s funny if you have a zombie sense of humor.

Which brings me to the zombies themselves. They talk! As I mentioned before, who hasn’t imitated a zombie saying, “Brains”? But this is one of the first times a movie had zombies that talked. It would be funny enough if they only said, “Brains,” but it’s hilarious when a zombie gets on the radio and asks for more paramedics, like someone ordering pizza.

Return just felt like the first time I saw a zombie movie made by someone who loved zombie movies and wanted to make something for the fans. And by doing so, the filmmakers may have made one of the most realistic zombie movies ever.

Nuking Louisville and other realistic responses to a zombie outbreak.

This movie starts with the hilarious title card above. Sure, it works as a joke on multiple levels, from claiming a movie about zombies in which a major city is nuked actually happened to making fun of the annoying habit of horror films to claim they are based on any kind of truth. But it’s fitting that the film begins with this claim because I think it might be one of the most realistic zombie movies ever made.

Let’s start with the end: Louisville, Kentucky getting nuked. First off, I live an hour away from Louisville, so it was always funny to me and my friends to see a city we know so well to be not only mentioned but nuked in a movie we liked. Let’s ignore for the moment that they claim the nuke did minimal damage (only 4,000 dead and the fallout contained by the rain) even though you see the blastwave destroy homes miles away from the impact. Ignoring all that, this is the most logical thing for the military to do in the case of such an outbreak. Sure, they don’t account for the rain actually spreading the outbreak, but it seems like a logical government solution to a zombie outbreak. Also, I love that all of this is done by calling the number on the side of a barrel.

Beyond the destruction of a midwest city, there are plenty of other elements that I found realistic that actually tie in with what made this movie funny to me. People would freak out, of course, but you would also have plenty of Burts out there, too, more worried about their reputation and loss of business.

Also, in most zombie movies no one ever calls them zombies which is unrealistic. So simply using the word “zombie” makes this movie more credible than most. Seriously, stop calling them walkers, biters, etc. We all know what they are: zombies!

The characters know what zombies are, so they attempt to kill them based on what happened in Night of the Living Dead. This is also realistic. I know that if a zombie uprising occurred in my town, I would assume that massive head trauma would kill the zombies permanently. There’s no scientific reason for me to think this; I would just be operating on pop culture knowledge. That might be stupid, but it’s not unrealistic. That said, I would never naked party in a cemetery or saw off the head of a cadaver that just came back to life. If I wasn’t home already when the zombies attacked, I would head that way as soon as possible. I would be more of a Freddy than a Burt.

Maybe I’m wrong and the zombie apocalypse would be a much more somber affair. But if it happened under the circumstances it did in this film, I think it would play out just as it does in the movie. And sure, none of it would be funny to us in the moment, but you know the first few hours of a zombie outbreak would be pretty damn zany. It wouldn’t be one of those “Someday we’ll laugh about this” situations (mainly because everyone would probably die), but us zombie movie fans would be able to appreciate the humor among the horror. That’s what makes The Return of the Living Dead so special. The filmmakers knew the zombie apocalypse would be pretty funny.

Do I regret buying this?

Nope. This is another one I’ve purchased twice now. I had it on DVD and recently upgraded to the special edition blu ray. By the way, the special features are pretty damn extensive. There are multiple commentaries, and there’s a great documentary that’s longer than the actual movie.

Random Thoughts

All skeletons come from India.

“I like death.”
“I like death and sex!”

“He got a job? What a dick!”

“Leak? Hell, no. These things are made by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers!”
*Leak erupts*
“Oh, fuck!”

The punks are hilarious. Everyone is so over the top.

Talking about the half-dog on the floor: “What are we going to do?!”
“We're going to kill it!”

Burt is pretty damn calm about a zombie outbreak.

That headless corpse is hilarious. The image alone is funny, but when it rises up it seems to look around before it runs off. Also, it has a Ricky Bobby situation as it does not appear to know what to do with its hands.

“Watch that third step. It's a bitch.”
Chekhov's bitch of a third step…

The main theme/zombie ash spreading music is very Carpenter-esque. Or maybe I just have Carpenter on the brain.

I love the skeleton opening its mouth right as “Do you want to party?” starts on the soundtrack.

Talking zombies are the best.

“I don't have to tell you anything, dick brain.”

It's pronounced Lou Uh Vull, not Lou E Veel.

The movie does a montage of its own scenes at the end...I like it. More movies should do this.