Monday, June 4, 2007

Episode 39

Mr. Brooks - Earl Brooks (Kevin Costner) is a nice guy. In fact, he's man of the year. He has a loving wife (Marg Helgenberger) and daughter (Danielle Panabaker), a nice home, and is the founder of a successful box company. Unfortunately he also has a voice in his head that tells him to kill people. Earl refers to this voice as Marshall (William Hurt), and has successfully ignored it for the past two years. However, on the night that he is awarded Man of the Year by his local chamber of commerce, Marshall convinces Earl to kill once more. After arriving home from the ceremony, Earl makes an excuse for his wife and goes off to the home of two strangers, shooting each of them in the head. After the fact he notices that he's done so in a room with open curtains. He closes them quickly, but it's already too late. The next day a young man shows up at the box factory asking to speak with Mr. Brooks and brandishing an envelope containing photos of him at the scene of the murders. Earl immediately assumes that the man, who refers to himself as Mr. Smith (Dane Cook), wants to blackmail him for money. This is not the case. What Mr. Smith wants is for Earl to take him along for his next murder. He agrees to do so in exchange for all the copies of the incriminating photographs. Meanwhile, Detective Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore) finds herself in the middle of an investigation that has been cold for two years, adding to her growing list of problems. Not only is Atwood (a millionaire who does police work for the pleasure rather than the paycheck) in the middle of her second divorce, but a particularly threatening individual named Meeks (Matt Schulze) who she put away has escaped from prison and is out for blood. Particularly hers. Over several nights Mr. Brooks and Mr. Smith search for a victim worthy of Mr. Smith's first time, but Mr. Brooks' thoughts are elsewhere as his daughter has dropped out of school, moved home, and given her parents some troubling news. This situation is only made worse when the police show up at the Brooks residence asking for her. Finding the perfect target becomes the least of Earl Brooks' problems as he deals with his daughter, a man with evidence of his crimes, and a cop who won't rest until she ends his killing spree. Admittedly, the real reason that I wanted to see Mr. Brooks was to find out if comedian-turned-actor Dane Cook could pull off this type of role. To his credit, and my delight, he did just that. I've seen and heard so much of Cook's comedy material that sometimes it's impossible not to be reminded of him when his voice hits a certain note or two (especially when he screams/yells, which he often does in his comedy routine). However, outside of those instances, which someone unfamiliar with his comedy wouldn't even notice, he proved to me that he has what it takes to be a serious dramatic actor. This is not to say that his character was always serious, though. Next to Kevin Costner's role as a perfect killer, Cook's Mr. Smith was a bit of a bumbling fool at times, which really allowed him to make the transition from comedian to actor in this case. He was the comic relief of the film, but also had his fair share of serious and even tense moments. As far as Costner is concerned, I've seen very few of his films before, but I thought that he was cast perfectly in the title role of Mr. Brooks. The real golden moments in this movie are when he interacts with Dane Cook and his alternate personality played by William Hurt. Alone, the character of Mr. Brooks is a fairly boring one, but when he and Marshall are discussing their situation or laughing together, which is all supposed to take place inside of Brooks' head, both Hurt and Costner tear up the screen. Their chemistry was wonderful. The character that I really could have done without is Demi Moore's Detective Atwood. I was totally enthralled in every moment of the movie involving Mr. Brooks, Mr. Smith, and Marshall, but whenever Demi Moore was onscreen I was left wondering why she was even in the movie. In fact, the majority of the films downfalls are related to the fact that there were too many unnecessary side-stories going on. Yes, Atwood's divorce and Meeks' escape from prison factor into the plot, but they could have just as easily been cut completely from the movie and more screen time could have been given to the plot-line that everyone went to the theater to see in the first place: Mr. Brooks' plight. Demi Moore's character was simply one big walking stereotype. She's rich, but loves being a cop anyway (just like Will Smith in Bad Boys), she feels like she has something to prove because she's a woman on the force (just like Jodi Foster in The Silence of the Lambs), and she's obsessed with the case and risks being "put behind a desk" because of her wild actions (just like the main character in every cop movie ever). As I mentioned before, her character could have been completely written out of the film, and in my opinion she should have been. The other portion of the movie that I didn't like was the plot-line involving Mr. Brooks' daughter. I won't reveal anything about what exactly this story-line involves, but I could really have done without it. I honestly think the worst thing about Mr. Brooks is that it lacked focus. I'm generally tired of films in which people have multiple personalities because it's been done so many times before and has also more than likely been done better (a la Fight Club and/or Primal Fear), but Mr. Brooks gets away with it because it's not a mystery. Right from the get-go we know what's going on in Mr. Brooks' head, and it's less of a mystery than a "where is this going to take us?" situation. The film certainly has problems, but it's very deserving of at least one viewing. Because of it's flaws Mr. Brooks isn't something that I'm dying to see again, but I enjoyed it enough to recommend it.

Bug - Agnes White (Ashley Judd) is a lonely woman. She lives alone in a motel and works at a bar for next to no money. Her ex-husband has been in prison for two years for committing armed robbery. She also has very few friends, which is about to change. One night after work, Agnes' friend R.C. (Lynn Collins) drops by her place with a man she's just met. Before long, R.C. opts to leave and go to a party, but her friend Peter Evans (Michael Shannon) decides to stay. Agnes offers Peter her sofa for the night since he has nowhere to go, and he gratefully accepts. The next morning Agnes' ex-husband Jerry Goss (Harry Connick Jr.) shows up at her home uninvited, taking her money and claiming that he'll be back in a few days after he takes care of some business. Afraid to be alone, Agnes invites Peter to stay for a while longer. Before long the two of them become intimate, which is right around the time that the bugs arrive. Agnes and Peter think that they're aphids, but they aren't really sure. It all begins with a few bites, but the bugs quickly infest the motel room. Tensions rise as R.C. claims that Agnes and Peter are merely imagining the bugs and that they don't actually exist. They aren't convinced, though, and begin to take desperate measures to rid themselves of their uninvited guests. Meanwhile, a man named Dr. Sweet (Brian F. O'Byrne) is searching for Peter, who refuses to tell Agnes anything about his past. As Jerry returns and even more bugs show up, Agnes and Peter's lives begin to spin out of control. Bug is a peculiar movie. When I first saw the trailer I was absolutely confused as to what the film was about. Really all I knew was that I really wanted to find out whether the film's bugs were real or just figments of the characters' imaginations. Bug was originally a stage play written by the same person responsible for the films script: Tracy Letts. The fact that the story was meant for a stage is fairly obvious as you watch the movie. There are only about four different locations over the course of the film, and about 95% of the screen time is spent in the main characters motel room. In addition to the small number of sets, there are also very few characters. I can only think of five people who play any sort of important role in the story, and three of them get the majority of the lines. As such, the quality of the acting becomes incredibly important in keeping the audience's interest. Bug is primarily centered around conversations between the characters of Peter and Agnes, so it's a damn good thing that the actors they chose knew what they were doing. Michael Shannon, who I've only previously seen in supporting roles in films such as 8 mile and Tigerland, was absolutely amazing as Peter Evans. By the end of the film his character has gone off the deep end, but he still manages to remain likable, somehow. Ashley Judd is another actor whose work I haven't had much experience with. However, in her case I also haven't enjoyed her performances in either of the films I'd previously seen her in (Twisted and Kiss The Girls). My feelings about her in Bug are the polar opposite of this, though. I thought that Judd was great in this film and really played well off of Shannon. The two of them had an incredible onscreen chemistry that really sells the incredible situations that they find themselves in. Also of note is Harry Connick Jr. who, once again, I wasn't terribly familiar with going into Bug. He perfectly completes the "love triangle" of Peter, Agnes, and Jerry, and perhaps makes Peter even more likable by being a complete asshole himself. The film was directed by William Friedkin, who was responsible for The Excorcist, but I would hardly call Bug a horror movie. I suppose it could be classified as a thriller. Based on the trailers I was expecting it to be either scary or grotesque, but it was really neither of those things. There is a rather disturbing scene involving the pulling of a tooth, but aside from that, Bug was much more tame than I expected it to be. In the end the film is really about the question of whether the bugs are real or just hallucinations and what the answer to that mystery will mean for the main characters. I find it very hard to think of a way to briefly describe what to expect from Bug, so I won't bother to try. It's definitely not a film for everyone, but you'll just have to watch it and decide for yourself if this one's for you.

The Crow - Top Dollar (Michael Wincott) is a vicious crime lord obsessed with power. Once a year he declares "Devil's Night" on Detroit, a night when his underlings commit rampant crimes including robbery, arson, rape, and murder. On one such night some of Top Dollar's henchmen murder an innocent guitarist named Eric Draven (Brandon Lee) and his fiancée Shelley Webster (Sofia Shinas), who never saw their demise coming. One year later Top Dollar still rules the streets of Detroit, but on the anniversary of his death, Eric Draven rises from his grave. Resurrected by a crow he now seeks vengeance on those who were responsible for his death. The crow links Eric to the living world, so as long as the bird remains alive so shall he. Physical harm to Draven himself is useless. Donning enough leather and belt buckles to make a hardcore biker blush and painting his face, Eric takes off into the night. His goal is to get revenge on Top Dollar and his cronies: T-Bird (David Patrick Kelly), Tin Tin (Laurence Mason), Funboy (Michael Massee), and Skank (Angel David). In the process, Draven crosses paths with Sergeant Albrecht (Ernie Hudson) of the Detroit police and a young girl named Sarah (Rochelle Davis) who touches his heart and motivates him even further to clean up the streets of the city. If you like eye shadow, rain, leather, darkness, unkempt black hair, and more rain, then The Crow is the movie for you. This film is known for being a staple of the "gothic" subculture just about as much as it is for being mocked by people who aren't a part of the "gothic" subculture, so I'll do my best not to make any more cracks about it. However if you've seen it before, then you know that's a pretty tall order. The Crow is by no means a great movie, no matter what your weird artistic cousin with the black fingernails and spiked dog collar says (shit, there I go again). It has it's moments of worth, though, so by all means, lets start off with those. Michael Wincott makes a great bad guy with that deep Crash Test Dummies-style voice of his. He looks like a fool in this movie, but he's at least a pretty creepy dude. The other particularly good thing that I can think of from this film is the gunfight in Top Dollar's headquarters. It's essentially about twenty guys with various small arms shooting at Draven, who manages to kick all their asses. As far as fight scenes go it's actually pretty good. This scene definitely sticks out from the rest of the film. The ensuing rooftop chase scene was also pretty nice looking. It had an interesting style to it, which leads me to my next point. The Crow gave me the same feeling that I get from most Tim Burton films. When watching his films I almost always get this subconscious feeling that the location the film is taking place in isn't real. I always refer to this feeling by saying that the films seem like they take place inside a snow globe. The best way I can think of to describe this is by referring to the model of the town that Alec Baldwin's character built in the attic in Beetlejuice. The movie opens with several aerial shots of different spots in the town, which feels fake, but then camera pulls back to reveal that it was just a model the whole time. Films like Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Big Fish, Batman, Batman Returns, Mars Attacks, and The Crow always make me feel like the camera is about to pull back at any moment and the whole thing is going to be revealed as a fake set or something. I dunno, maybe I'm nuts, but that's just the way I feel. I'm not saying that this is a good or bad thing, but I thought I'd mention it. Anyway, I can't say that the acting in The Crow is altogether very good, and the plot is notably weak. Some of the stylistic choices in the film bothered me as well, such as how it never stopped raining. I got sick of everything being wet very quickly. I also had a problem with how ridiculous the gang members were in the film. The Warriors manages to pull off the wacky hoodlums somehow, but The Crow's villains just seemed unrealistically stupid for the most part. Overall, as you can no doubt tell, I did not like The Crow. I would say that everyone should see it at least once since it is somewhat of a cult classic, but beyond that reasoning, The Crow doesn't hold much appeal for me.

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