I know Amy Seimetz more as an actress than I do as a filmmaker. I also know more of her mainstream and/or genre work (“You’re Next,” “Alien: Covenant,” “Pet Sematary” (2019)) than I do her independent efforts (“The Myth of the American Sleepover,” “Tiny Furniture,” “Upstream Color”). I haven’t seen her feature directorial debut, “Sun Don’t Shine,” despite having heard good things about it. I haven’t seen her television work as an actress (“The Killing”) nor as the creative driving force (“The Girlfriend Experience”).
This brings us to Seimetz’s second feature directorial effort, “She Dies Tomorrow,” available on VOD beginning Friday, July 31. The movie is pretty much what its title tells you it is. Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) is in recovery and has just parted ways with her boyfriend, Craig (Kentucker Audley – pretty much the best/worst name in the world). Upset about their separation, Amy falls off the wagon. She begins drinking heavily and calls her friend, Jane (Jane Adams), to declare that, “I’m going to die tomorrow.” Jane, concerned with her friend’s well-being, goes and checks on her. Upon visiting with Amy, Jane too comes to the conclusion that she herself is going to die tomorrow as well. And so it spreads …
I know the movie was made before COVID-19, but it accidentally plays as a perfect analogy to this particular moment. Simply by being with someone else you could possibly be killing them. Fear is contagious in “She Dies Tomorrow,” much like it is now in our own reality.
“She Dies Tomorrow” plays like a mumblecore version of “Final Destination” with a dash of sexless “It Follows” and a pinch of David Lynch thrown in for good measure. I detested the picture for the first 20 minutes of its 84 minute runtime, but there’s a scene in which Jane visits her brother, Jason (Chris Messina), his wife, Susan (Katie Aselton of “The League”) and their friends, Brian (Tunde Adebimpe, frontman of TV on the Radio) and Tilly (Jennifer Kim) where I fell into the movie’s rhythms. I think much of this is attributable to preferring Adams’ screen presence over Sheil’s.
Adams is an actress I’ve admired for some time. Whether it’s in Todd Solondz’s “Happiness,” doing tiny turns in “Wonder Boys” and “Orange County” or playing Thomas Jane’s pimp on HBO’s “Hung,” Adams has always made an impression. Adams is a slender woman, but her face has grown fuller and hair grayer. In spite of this, her skin is immaculate. Adams’ look is a fascinating one and undoubtedly suited to the subject matter – having someone who’s simultaneously youthful and aged in a picture preoccupied with death is haunting. And the fact that Adams has actors as good as Messina, Aselton and Adebimpe to play off of doesn’t hurt matters either. Late picture joinees Josh Lucas, Michelle Rodriguez and director Adam Wingard also add to the proceedings.
I can’t recommend a movie I hated one-quarter of, but I think certain audiences will really respond to “She Dies Tomorrow.” It’s undeniably cinema of irritation … you probably know if that’s your bag or not and if you’re game for such a thing in these already irritable times.
I had to stifle laughter when I put the disc for “Legacy of Lies” (henceforth known as “LoL” and on DVD as of Tuesday, July 28) into the player and there was no trailers, no menu, no studio logo – just straight into the movie and a title card reading, “Ukranian State Film Agency.” Could this be the Redboxiest movie that ever Redboxed?
“LoL” features my boi Scott Adkins, an English direct-to-video action actor who tends to do at least five flicks a year. I’m on a pretty strict Adkins Diet where I’ll watch whatever the dude drops – good, bad or otherwise. Adkins should be a much bigger star than he is. He probably could’ve and should’ve been James Bond or Batman. He kinda looks like Ben Affleck and could kick the crap outta Daniel Craig.
Adkins stars as Martin Baxter, a disgraced MI-6 agent with a 12-year-old daughter named Lisa (Honor Kneafsey). Martin makes ends meet by working as a nightclub bouncer (lending the film “John Wick”-lite action locales) and cage fighting as a mixed martial artist (lending the film a serious late ‘80s/early ‘90s Jean-Claude Van Damme vibe).
Martin’s life is complicated. He sees the zombified ghost of Lisa’s mother and his late girlfriend, Olga (Tetiana Nosenko), incessantly. He has sex with a prostitute named Suzanne (Andrea Vasiliou) to the same diagetic music Lisa’s listening to on earphones in the next room … creepy!
Martin’s life is further complicated by the appearance of Sacha (Yuliia Sobol, who reads like an Eastern Bloc Hot Topic version of AnnaSophia Robb). She’s a cub reporter whose reporter parents were friends of Martin’s before being killed. They had files or vials (My wife and I couldn’t tell which through all the thick accents – besides they’re either MacGuffins or McMuffins anyways!) that interest agents from the CIA (Martin McDougall, playing a dude named Trevor, so you just know he’s a dick!), MI-6 (Leon Sua as Edwards) and Spetsnaz GRU (Anna Butkevich as Tatyana). Tatyana wants the files/vials badly enough that she kidnaps Lisa and threatens to kill her if she doesn’t get them.
“LoL” is written and directed by Dutch filmmaker Adrian Bol. This is his second feature and his first in 15 years – he made four shorts in between. (Bol’s first flick is something called “Castingx” starring somebody called Ellen Ten Damme.) There’s a lot that works here and a lot that doesn’t.
The opening shootout is awesome with easily discernible geography. There are decent fights choreographed by Adkins’ frequent collaborator Tim Man (Not Tin Man!) peppered throughout. Much of what’s good comes from Adkins, who does the best he can with the material and budget ($4.5 million) given. I actually also really liked Kneafsey, who looks like Little Orphan Annie and brings a lot of smarts and sass to her role.
Things that didn’t work so well – the zombified ghost girlfriend (the movie died on the vine whenever she appeared) and a direct address to camera from Sobol’s Sacha in which she discusses #fakenews in a Russian accent that hits the nail so hard on the head it’s like Jesus hammered it himself.
The disc has a 25-minute making-of featurette that didn’t really grip me and a trailer. I wish “LoL” were titled “Legacy o’ Flies” instead like it’s Darrell Hammond’s Sean Connery playing “Jeopardy” or a sequel to “Lord of the Flies.” Regardless, I’ll be here for whatever Adkins does next.
In many older films, there were heroes and there were villains. There wasn’t much room for nuance.
Nowadays, the same can be said for the way politicians are depicted in the news.
One channel portrays Donald Trump as a hero and Joe Biden as a villain. Flip to another news channel and the perspectives are flipped. We’re working in extremes and we’re working in absolutes.
Where do you weigh the good and the bad? Where do the scales tip? Can a bad person can end up doing good things, even if they’re doing them for the wrong reasons?
In the early 1930s, one of the most divisive figures was Huey Long, who served as governor and senator of Louisiana. He was the original populist. He was a brilliant attorney and gifted orator and he became known for fighting against corporate greed. He spoke out against white supremacy and advocated for a wealth tax and wealth redistribution.
Many loved him, but he was also hated. He was impeached for abuses of power, including misusing state funds and corruption. But the most serious charge was conspiracy to commit murder. One of Long’s bodyguards claimed in an affidavit that an intoxicated Long had told him to kill a state representative and “leave him in the ditch where nobody will know how or when he got there.” Long allegedly promised him a full pardon.
Long was acquitted by the Louisiana Senate but the impeachment proceedings were so heated that there was a literal brawl on the floor of the state legislature. Some used brass knuckles and Long’s brother even bit someone.
Long was eventually killed and the assassin was never identified.
OK, that was a lengthy wind-up, but it leads us to the movie I’m featuring: “All the King’s Men,” a 1949 movie that won Best Picture at the Oscars.
Long’s story was the direct inspiration for the Pulitzer Prize winning novel that was turned into this feature film three years later.
Little known character actor Broderick Crawford plays Willy Stark, an honest man running for county treasurer somewhere in the South. The state and political parties are never specified. Stark is uneducated but bright and he takes on the establishment in the form of county commissioners who want to give their cronies the contract to build a new schoolhouse. The schoolhouse collapses with children inside due to cheap construction. Stark is seen as a prophetic hero, a man of the people.
Stark is later recruited to run for governor, but the naive man — now going to night school to become an attorney — is just an unwitting patsy. They only recruited him to split the “redneck vote” and give their preferred candidate an assured win. When he discovers, he vows to run again in four years, “But this time I know how to win,” he says.
He runs a populist campaign for governor, calling himself a “hick” and is elected easily. He vows to build a big hospital and provide people with free healthcare. All seems to be going well until cracks start to form. He begins cheating on his wife and berating his staff. He admits to making deals with corporate interests in order to advance his political agenda.
“I’ll make a deal with the devil if it will help me carry out my program,” Stark says. “But believe me, there are no strings attached to those deals. Do you know what good comes out of?…Out of bad. That’s what good comes out of. Because you can’t make it out of anything else. You didn’t know that, did you?”
Later on, his attorney general, a former judge, refuses to cut a deal for corrupt politicians that Stark needs on his side.
Stark tells him: “You know, Judge, dirt’s a funny thing. Some of it rubs off on everybody.”
When the judge resigns, Stark enlists the help of a bright-eyed journalist Jack Burden who wrote about his campaign. He had previously hired this writer for his staff with promises of changing the world but now he’s got him digging up dirt about the judge.
“Jack, there’s something on everybody,” Stark says. “Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption.”
In the end, Stark is impeached but acquitted. As he’s leaving the statehouse to a crowd of cheering supporters, he’s shot and killed. He’s assassinated by Burden, the very man who once looked up to Stark.
In a news reel, a narrator says that, “For those who say that Willie Stark is a man of destiny, there are others who claim that he is a man of evil, a man who cares neither for the people or the state, but only for his own personal power and ambition. Obviously, these ambitions go far beyond the boundaries of the state. Just how far, only time will tell. Meanwhile, he is here, and from the looks of things, he is here to stay. Willie Stark – Messiah or Dictator?”
Viewers will obviously see parallels between Willy Stark and modern day politicians. A good person starts off wanting to do good things but over time starts giving into the system and “playing the game.” At some point personal ambition starts to overshadow their original goals. Even when they push through good legislation, they end up getting their hands dirty, saying “the ends will justify the means.”
Frank Underwood, Kevin Spacey’s character in the Netflix series, “House of Cards,” obviously is one recent example. Neither 100 percent good nor 100 percent evil, but sharp and cunning. And just like any Shakespearean tragic hero, their ego and ambition leads to their downfall.
“All the King’s Men” isn’t the first noir film to win Best Picture. “Casablanca” did that. And it isn’t the first award-nominated feature about an egotistical ambitious magnate who loses his way. “Citizen Kane,” released eight years prior, obviously influenced “All the King’s Men,” both in style and substance.
“All the King’s Men” is applauded for its screenplay, but the cast mostly improvised many scenes. The original running time was four hours and the director and editor trimmed it to a 109-minute movie by taking many scenes and turning into short snippets with transitions and using montages to show the passage of time. These editing tricks — not used much at the time — came out of necessity but made for a more powerful film.
Crawford won Best Actor at the Oscars, beating John Wayne, who originally turned down the role of Stark because he was reluctant to play a morally questionable character.
“All the King’s Men” is not one of the greatest films ever made but it’s worthy of recognition for its place in movie history. It shed some light on political corruption in the 1940s, which many people felt was un-American to to do at the time.
Its dark ending does not present any hope. And unfortunately modern politics often don’t either. If good men end up becoming corrupt over time, maybe that’s an argument for term limits. As Winston Churchill once said: “After a time, civil servants tend to become no longer servants and no longer civil.”
Some films grow in reputation over time. They’re ahead of their time in many ways and directors begin to be influenced by a work and audiences revisit it over the years and an appreciation grows.
And in some cases, the message of the movie becomes even more relevant as current events unfold throughout the years.
In the case of “Children of Men,” a 2006 dystopian thriller written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón, it’s now regarded as one of the best movies ever made.
Cuarón is now a two-time Oscar winner for Best Director for “Gravity” in 2013 and “Roma” in 2018. He shares the honor with George Stevens and Ang Lee of being the only directors to have won Best Director twice without ever directing a Best Picture winner. Cuarón also has been nominated in six different Oscar categories (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay), an honor he shares with Walt Disney and George Clooney.
He’s directed only eight films between 1991 and 2018. Six of them received Oscar nominations (and interesting enough only two are in his native Spanish).
He’s a damn good director and “Children of Men” might be his best movie.
Quick plot summary: It stars Clive Owen as a former political activist who now drinks his days away at a job he hates. The film open with TV news announcing the death of the youngest person alive (18 years old). It’s been that long since humankind has stopped having babies due to unexplained infertility and the lack of children — and the lack of a future — has taken away hope. Society has crumbled in many major cities. Armed militias roam the streets and refugees try to come to London but are criminalized as illegal immigrants and thrown into literal cages. Owen is asked by a former girlfriend (played by the always marvelous Julianne Moore) to help escort a woman on an important trip. Little does he know that she’s pregnant. And terrorist groups want to take her baby.
Owen is an underrated actor. He’s always got this smarminess to him where he’s not 100 percent trustworthy (as seen in the underrated film “Closer”). He was once considered to replace Pierce Brosnan as James Bond, along with Ewan McGregor and Jude Law. Eric Bana was eventually selected but it fell through and his “Munich” co-star Daniel Craig took the role.
Michael Caine has a small but memorable part as a lovable pothead. Caine is always excellent and along with Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep he’s the only actor/actress to receive Oscar nominations in five straight decades (all three have won multiple awards).
There are also cameos from the excellent Chiwetel Ejiofor and Charlie Hunnam but neither have big parts or are particularly memorable.
Technically, “Children of Men” is a marvel. Some of the shots are nearly impossible to pull off and yet the camera moves in a way that doesn’t bring attention to itself.
The biggest feat is the use of single-shot sequences for many scenes, which sparked concerns for the studio due to the time and cost. The movie doesn’t have a lot of special effects but cost $75 million to make (it broke even at the box office basically when you include domestic and international). One single shot which involves Owen’s character searching a building while under attack took 14 days to prepare for and five hours between takes. During one take, blood spattered onto the lens and the cinematographer convinced Cuarón to leave it in, adding to the documentary feel of parts of the movie.
The car crash scene was also incredibly difficult to shoot because of where the camera moves during the single shot. With today’s drones, it’s possible they could have done it differently.
There’s some splicing together of shots to make multiple shots appear to be one using computer technology but the effects weren’t as advanced as they are today. During “1917,” I didn’t want to give Sam Mendes too much credit for his single-shot movie considering how much of it was edited in post production.
In “Children of Men,” the single shot scenes (it’s only in sequences not the entire movie) makes you feel like you’re there but you almost don’t realize it’s being used. Unlike “Birdman” (a single-shot Best Picture winner from Cuarón’s close friend Alejandro González Iñárritu), the camerawork isn’t showy. It advances the story but never becomes gimmicky.
When Owen was running through the staircase avoiding being killed, it reminded me of “The Raid: Redemption” almost.
“Children of Men” also might be the most hopeless of the dystopian sci-fi movies I’ve seen (a genre I enjoy a lot).
In modern teen films like “Divergent” or “The Hunger Games,” we see action and spectacle front and center instead of drab colors and hopelessness.
In films like “Blade Runner,” “Escape from New York,” “The Warriors,” or “Logan’s Run” (all four I love), the viewer becomes enamored with the futuristic backdrop, the unique production design and the interesting costumes instead of wallowing in the bleak surroundings.
Probably the best comparison to “Children of Men” is “A Clockwork Orange” but that’s a movie that didn’t have the grand scale or cityscape surroundings of “Children of Men.”
In many ways, “Children of Men” is the anti-sci fi film. There are some very, very subtle futuristic elements such as a news stand with newspapers that change on their own using CGI effects, but you don’t see a fascination with technology or future-predicting like in films such as “Minority Report,” “I, Robot” or “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence.”
Instead, “Children of Men” focuses on realism and you see long shots of damaged streetscapes that look like the bombarded scenes in “Full Metal Jacket.” There’s a sense of despair looking at the roads unmatched by any other movie. There are other dystopian films like “The Road,” “28 Days Later,” and “I am Legend” (all three have some sort of zombie-ish element) where the streets look barren and hopeless. But the streets of “Children of Men” aren’t empty. They’re bustling full of people and yet every person seems to have dread on their face.
It’s a very religious film. When Clive Owen is surprised by the pregnancy and asks who the father is, she jokes that she’s a virgin and his face almost believes it. Her birth is eventually in a barn, which is pretty obvious. Although much of the other religious symbolism is much more subtle.
The title, according to director/writer Alfonso Cuarón, is based on Psalm 90: “You return man to dust and say, ‘Return, O children of man!’ For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.”
The movie closes with the final line from T.S. Eliot’s 1922 poem “The Wasteland”: “Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.” Shanti means peace in sanskrit.
“Shanti” is also a common beginning and ending to all Hindu prayers.
The movie itself is all about hope. When the soldiers and rebels, all fighting with one another, finally see the baby, they all stop and stare. The birth of a child gives them hope and pause. Children give us hope. It’s that simple.
The ending features Owen, the young woman and the baby on a boat fleeing to freedom and safety in the form of a boat called Tomorrow. Owen dies on the boat and the mother and daughter float away and the audience doesn’t know what eventually happens to them as the credits roll, featuring the sounds of children laughing and playing.
Cuarón encourages viewers to come to their own conclusions.
“We wanted the end to be a glimpse of a possibility of hope, for the audience to invest their own sense of hope into that ending,” he said. “So if you’re a hopeful person you’ll see a lot of hope, and if you’re a bleak person you’ll see a complete hopelessness at the end.”
Personally, I interpret the sounds of laughter as a sign that society is rebuilt.
Obviously many have pointed out the political parallels in “Children of Men,” especially the idea of illegal immigrants being kept in chain-link cages.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s been this sense of dread and hopelessness among many. There’s an uneasy feeling in today’s society which I saw in “Children of Men.” Terrorist attacks. People dying. Buildings being burned down. Lockdowns. Strict government actions.
The movie isn’t just getting more relevant but it’s growing in appreciation.
In 2016 it was voted 13th among 100 films considered the best of the 21st century by 117 film critics from around the world, according to a feature on BBC.com.
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone ranked it number two on his list of best films of the 2000s, saying: “After repeated viewings, I know Children of Men is indisputably great … No movie this decade was more redolent of sorrowful beauty and exhilarating action.”
It’s a film you have to watch more than once I think. It sticks with you and repeated viewings improve the experience.
In the end, I think it works because it’s a movie that uses symbolism over narrative to evoke feelings in the viewer. Some movies make us think but the best movies make us feel something.
It’s not every day you see a movie begin with a title card sporting both the literal and sexual euphemism definitions for “tossed salad.” “Obvious Child” co-screenwriter Karen Maine marks her feature directorial debut by doing just this in adapting her short of the same name, “Yes, God, Yes,” which will be available on VOD beginning Friday, July 24.
“Stranger Things” co-star Natalia Dyer headlines the picture as Alice, a Catholic school girl who’s ostensibly a very good, naïve and kind kid. She has urges as most teens do, but they’re fairly benign and mostly revolve around rewinding the sex scene from “Titanic” for a second or even third look.
Alice’s naiveté serves in stark contrast to the rumor circulating about her in school – that she gave her classmate Wade (Parker Wierling) a rim job at a party. Alice doesn’t even know what any of this means and spends the rest of the runtime seeking a definition all along asserting, “I didn’t dress Wade’s salad!”
Alice’s best girlfriend, Laura (Francesca Reale, another “Stranger Things” alum), seeks to improve their social standing. The best way to do this at their school is by attending a weekend retreat presided over by Father Murphy (Timothy Simons of “Veep”). Laura is looking to impress upperclassman, Nina (Alisha Boe, “13 Reasons Why”). Alice takes an interest in Chris (Wolfgang Novogratz, a veteran of Netflix movies such as “Sierra Burgess Is a Loser” and “The Half of It”). Both Nina and Chris serve in leadership roles at the retreat.
“Yes, God, Yes” reminded me a good deal of 2004’s “Saved!,” in the way that it deals with religion, teenagers and teenagers dealing with religion. I don’t think “Yes, God, Yes” is as good as “Saved!” It’s not as dramatic nor as funny. It’s mostly just dirtier. That said, the movie is humorous and does have worthwhile things to say about being religious without being judgmental or hypocritical. A cheeky connection between the two flicks is the inclusion of “Saved!” co-star Mandy Moore’s song “Candy” over the closing credits.
Dyer is a cute and likable presence here much like she is on “Stranger Things” – she’s the main reason to watch the film aside from the crude albeit amusing central joke and some astute theological commentary. In addition to Dyer other standouts include Simons, who can do this sorta awkward comedy in his sleep, and Novogratz, who kinda reads like a young Chris Pratt … I could see this kid going places.
“Yes, God, Yes” feels exactly like what it is – a short stretched to feature length. The movie is a mere 78 minutes and likely would’ve benefitted from being more fleshed out. What’s here is good – I think Maine shows great promise as both a writer and director … I just wish there were more of it.
Actor Dave Franco makes his directorial debut with “The Rental,” available on VOD beginning Friday, July 24, which plays like a ‘90s erotic thriller meets a Tommy Wiseau melodrama meets mumblecore (subgenre pioneer Joe Swanberg co-scripted with Franco) only to transform into a slasher flick in its final 10 minutes.
Charlie (Dan Stevens, late of “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga”) and Mina (Sheila Vand of Ana Lily Amirpour’s “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night”) are partners in a tech firm. To mark an unspecified professional milestone the two are looking to rent a swanky, Pacific Northwest-based beachfront property for a celebratory weekend of hiking, hot-tubbing, dining, drinking and recreational drugs.
The partners appear fairly cozy with one another engaging in flirting and touching, which makes it somewhat surprising that they’ll be inviting their significant others along. Charlie’s married to Michelle (Franco’s real-life wife Alison Brie). Mina’s dating Charlie’s younger ne’er do well brother, Josh (Jeremy Allen White, Lip from Showtime’s “Shameless”). Josh brings his adorable French bulldog Reggie despite it being against the rules.
The foursome are renting the place from the owner’s brother, Taylor (Toby Huss AKA Artie the Strongest Man in the World from Nickelodeon’s “The Adventures of Pete & Pete”). Mina initially attempted to rent the place on her own only to be refused … she assumes on the basis of her Iranian surname. Charlie attempted an hour later and was accepted. Mina brings this up to Taylor none-too-subtly and he passive-aggressively doubles down on his racist rhetoric. Mina is obviously uncomfortable, but her white companions don’t seem to fully grasp her feelings. They’ll all eventually feel discomfort when a camera is discovered in the shower. Things escalate from there.
Franco has assembled a solid cast and I’d argue they generally elevate the material. Stevens and Vand aren’t especially likable in their roles, but they play the parts well. Curiously, Franco gives his wife the most boring, sexless role. (I thought this was Alison Brie not Alison Pill?!!! Sorry, bad joke!) Brie is inherently charming so the performance still registers. White is easily the most likeable of these folks. Then again, the dog might’ve done the heavy lifting in making this the case. I also tend to gravitate towards fuck-up characters in movies as I’m a bit of one in actuality. Huss is an actor I generally enjoy and I dug his creeptacular turn here, but I could’ve gone for more of him.
I don’t know what Franco’s ultimately trying to say with “The Rental.” At a scant 88 minutes it’s equal parts navel-gazing and indeterminate. Part of me thought he was attempting to grapple with his more famous brother James’ purported misbehavior. I kinda figured the elder Franco might’ve been playing a masked character that appears at the picture’s conclusion in a piece of performance art that’s very on brand for the brothers. He didn’t and it wasn’t. Ultimately, “The Rental” left me with very little other than a slight pause when using Airbnb … something a pandemic had already achieved.
I was initially excited to watch and review Czech writer/director Václav Marhoul’s adaptation of Jerzy Kosinski’s novel “The Painted Bird,” which will be available on VOD as of Friday, July 17. I knew it was almost three hours long (2 hours 49 minutes, specifically). I knew it was shot in black and white. I knew it was subtitled. I knew it was about the Holocaust. I knew it sported an impressive cast of character actors including Stellan Skarsgård, Harvey Keitel, Udo Kier, Julian Sands (“Warlock” represent!) and Barry Pepper.
Then I started reading a bit more and grew trepidatious. Comparisons were being made between “The Painted Bird” and “Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom,” “Come and See” and “A Serbian Film” … movies I’ve been too chickenshit to watch as of now. I was legit scared, y’all! Turns out I had reason to be, but that’s not an entirely bad thing.
“The Painted Bird” is simultaneously one of the most disturbing and beautiful films I’ve ever seen. This is less a story and more a series of vignettes about a young Jewish boy (Petr Kotlár) in Eastern Europe during World War II seeking refuge from an onslaught of different characters. The boy is the recipient of all sorts physical and sexual abuse. We’re introduced to the boy as he’s fleeing from bullies with his pet ermine tucked beneath his arm. The boy’s tormentors ultimately catch up to him, beat him, snatch the snoat, pour an accelerant all over it and set the poor thing ablaze.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Fair warning – these descriptors get graphic. Over the course of “The Painted Bird” audiences will see the boy buried up to his neck and pecked by crows, one man gouges another man’s eyes out with a spoon, one woman shoves a glass bottle in another woman’s vagina and kicks it instantly killing her, a crying baby and its mother are executed via gunshot, a woman is depicted engaging in bestiality with a goat.
Despite all the abominations on screen, “The Painted Bird” is undeniably exquisite. This is easily the best-looking movie I’ve seen this year that’s not Terrence Malick’s “A Hidden Life.” The black and white cinematography by Vladimír Smutný (“Kolya”) provides audiences with a cornucopia of striking contrast shots. The way in which Marhoul and Smutný shoot fields, streams, trees and buildings is truly awe-inspiring. Any frame of the film – even some depicting depravities – could easily be blown up, framed and displayed in a museum.
Marhoul makes numerous interesting artistic, stylistic and thematic decisions. This is the first film to use Interslavic language. Marhoul did this so no particular countries would be held accountable for the contemptible actions of his characters. There is no score used until the final scene. The boy’s name isn’t revealed until the final scene.
Marhoul worked on “The Painted Bird” for over a decade and shot over the course of 16 months, which gives audiences the opportunity to see the boy/ Kotlár grow before our very eyes. This is Kotlár’s acting debut and he does good work, although the boy’s a bit of a cypher and doesn’t speak much. The kid’s certainly photogenic and his big, dark eyes communicate much. Of the bigger name actors I was most impressed by Keitel, who brings much needed warmth to the proceedings, and Pepper – essentially playing a Russian variation on his “Saving Private Ryan” character.
“The Painted Bird” won 10 prizes at the Czech Lion Awards on 13 nominations … it also caused walkouts at the Venice, Toronto and London film festivals. I can wholeheartedly understand both reactions. This is pretty much solely for adventurous filmgoers who aren’t squeamish. I’m very glad I saw it once. I wish I’d seen it on the big screen. I’ll likely never watch it again. I think it’s an important film. I think it should be seen by those who think they can withstand it.
“The Painted Bird” derives its name from an early sequence in which Lekh (Lech Dyblic) – a fowler who’s “caring” for the boy – catches a bird, paints it and releases it back into the flock where it’s promptly killed for being different … all for his amusement. This is a somewhat obvious metaphor to the horrors the boy will experience throughout the rest of the film. Marhoul has said “The Painted Bird” isn’t specifically a Holocaust movie … and he’s right. Sadly, this shit’s still pertinent as brown children have been sexually abused and sitting in cages during a pandemic through no fault of their own due to the carelessness and vindictiveness of white men in power right here in the good ole U.S. of A.
There’s a montage near the beginning of sci-fi/horror/comedy “Useless Humans,” now available on VOD, where lead character Brian (Josh Zuckerman of “Sex Drive”) has unsuccessfully been trying for years to get his childhood friends Louis (Rushi Kota), Jess (Davida Williams) and Alex (Luke Youngblood) together to celebrate his birthday. They always give him the same response, “This is a bad year.”
The montage concludes with Brian exiting a building, a title card reading “2020” pops up across his chest, he looks to the camera and says, “This is a good year!” I know writers Travis Betz, George Caine, Kevin Hamedani, Stephen Ohl (who also directed) and Ryan Scaringe (It took five dudes to write this?!!!) had no idea what a shitshow 2020 would ultimately be while writing and/or filming “Useless Humans,” but this resulted in the funniest, saddest and most ironic moment of cinema I’ve seen in sometime by complete accident.
As 2020 is a good year, the quartet of compadres meet up at Brian’s parents’ house to celebrate his 30th birthday. Jess brings her boss/boyfriend, Zachary (Joey Kern, who had a real moment in the early aughts playing stoner dickheads in “Super Troopers,” “Cabin Fever” and “Grind”), which bums Brian out as he’s long held a torch for Jess. Zachary’s not the only interloper at the party as an alien (man in suit James Croak) crash lands nearby. Drunk, the pals must get their wits about them if they’re going to survive the night and save the world. They aren’t the only ones trying to quell the alien problem as scientist Wendy (Maya Kazan – granddaughter of Elia, daughter of screenwriters Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord and younger sister of Zoe) and bounty hunter Chum (Edy Ganem) are also in pursuit.
Performance-wise the standout is Youngblood whose Alex is the craziest of the bunch. He rides a motorcycle, eats magic mushrooms, wears a long sleeve t-shirt with a skeleton hand flipping the bird. The dude’s a hoot and a half. My mind was blown when I found out Youngblood played Quidditch announcer Lee Jordan in the “Harry Potter” movies and Magnitude on “Community” (“Pop! Pop!”). Youngblood is British and nary a trace of his accent could be heard while playing American. Kudos!
Kazan and Ganem aren’t nearly as successful as the movie screeches to a halt whenever their characters are on screen. To be fair these actresses are bad in their roles, but the dialogue the five-man team of writers provided them is worse. They stranded these poor women with nothing worthwhile to work with.
To the filmmakers’ credit, “Useless Humans” does sport an ethnically diverse cast – two black actors, an Indian-American actor and a Latina actress all play major roles – this is rare for a goofy comedy that doesn’t have the names Harold and Kumar in the title. Additionally, there are a handful of really good zingers in the flick. Brian and Zachary get into an argument where they keep yelling, “Pre-fuck you!,” at one another. My wife and I have said this to each other at least a dozen times since watching “Useless Humans.” What are movies for if not assisting you in better insulting your spouse?
There isn’t much to “Useless Humans,” which runs a scant 80 minutes and places a greater emphasis on comedy as opposed to sci-fi or horror. It’s not an especially good movie nor is it a bad one. It’s mostly just entertainingly stupid. If there were more nudity in this thing – and by more I mean any other than a dude’s bare buttocks – “Useless Humans” would be exactly the sort of movie that would’ve been programmed to play on “USA Up All Night” back in the day. As the nudity was always edited out of the “USA Up All Night” movies, “Useless Humans” feels exactly like a “USA Up All Night” movie … it just needed to be periodically interrupted by Spuds MacKenzie Budweiser beer commercials and Life Call ads (“I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!”).
Special Agent Clarice Starling about Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter
There are so many movies where we end up rooting for the “bad guy.” Whether it’s The Joker, Loki or Michael Myers, you just can’t help it.
Almost every list of best movie villains ranks Hannibal Lecter in the top five.
The American Film Institute ranked him as the number one movie villain of all time. Better than Dracula, Darth Vader, Voldemort or the Wicked Witch of the West. That’s high praise.
He’s charming, super-intelligent, a good cook and most of the people he ends up killing (and eating) were rude people. He famously says that whenever possible it’s best to eat the rude. “Free range rude,” is what he calls it.
I’m a big fan of Hannibal Lecter as a character. I’ve watched all five movies featuring this character at least once and I’ve seen the three with Anthony Hopkins multiple times each. I’ve read all of the novels by Thomas Harris featuring this character and I’ve watched the Bryan Fuller TV series “Hannibal,” which premiered in 2013 and aired for three seasons.
You can binge watch this show now on Netflix and “The Silence of the Lambs” can be streamed for free if you have either Netflix or Amazon Prime.
With a STARZ subscription you can watch 2001 film “Hannibal” or the 2002 movie “Red Dragon.” You’d have to pay to rent 1986 movie “Manhunter” or the 2007 movie “Hannibal Rising.”
So after reading all of the books and watching all of the movies and the TV show episodes, which on-screen version is the best?
I’ve got my ranking here for you. Who do you think is the best Hannibal Lecter?
6. Hannibal Rising (2007 movie)
“Rudeness is an epidemic.”
Following the box office success of “Hannibal” ($351,692,268 worldwide) and “Red Dragon” ($209,196,298), film producer Dino De Laurentiis (who owned the cinematic rights to the Lecter character) told author Thomas Harris that he was making another Lecter movie with or without the author’s involvement. The story was to be about Lecter’s childhood and development into a serial killer because in the early to mid-2000s, it was all the rage to do prequels and origin stories. In 2004, movie theaters saw “Exorcist: The Beginning,” another prequel to an Oscar-nominated horror film. Of course, De Laurentiis should have heeded the warning of that Exorcist prequel bomb. “Hannibal Rising” imploded at the box office, earning only $82 million worldwide and $27 million in the United States, the lowest earning movie in the franchise.
Harris agreed to write the movie’s screenplay and while he was at it he threw together a novel as well. It feels like he’s mailing it in. Maybe that’s because De Laurentiis already told him what the story was going to be, basing the idea for a sequel on passages from the novel “Hannibal,” in which Lecter flashes back to his past and his sister Mischa.
Growing up in Lithuania, the movie details how Lecter’s parents are killed by Nazis in 1933 and later his younger sister is killed and then eaten by Nazi sympathizers who have deserted their military post and are running low on supplies. Hannibal grows up with vengeance on his mind and he eventually hunts down and kills the men responsible for his sister’s death, but he grows a taste for murder and human flesh himself.
It’s a terrible concept for prequel. Not only is the end result boring, but it goes against what has been known about the character in “Red Dragon” and “The Silence of the Lambs.” Lecter tells Clarice Starling that he mocks murderers with sob stories and child abuse in their background. “Nothing made me happen. I happened,” he said. Harris tried to add this backstory to make the cannibalistic killer more likable or sympathetic, but he was already likable. We didn’t need the explanation. The mystery was great.
I think it’s more interesting to say that Lecter’s super intelligence and high tastes led his curiosity to take him to cannibalism. To add this not-very-subtle origin about his sister being cannibalized takes away from the mystique about the character. I understand that there was a desire for more movies, but I think there were two better options: do a prequel that instead focused on Lecter in the Baltimore social scene, going to the opera, killing victims and throwing dinner parties (basically what Fuller did in the TV series) or instead do a sequel. The movie and novel “Hannibal” left it open for another entry. In 2002, Hopkins said there was a screenplay written for a sequel where Starling would eventually kill Lecter.
French actor Gaspard Ulliel, who was very good in “A Very Long Engagement” opposite Audrey Tautou, gives an admirable performance in “Hannibal Rising” but lacks any charisma. He feels like a foreign version of a young “Dexter” rather than a younger version of Anthony Hopkins.
Flawed but promising
5. Manhunter (1986 movie)
“Did you really feel depressed after you shot Mr. Garrett Jacob Hobbes to death? l think you probably did. But it wasn’t the act that got to you. Didn’t you feel so bad, because killing him felt so good? And why shouldn’t it feel good? lt must feel good to God. He does it all the time. God’s terrific! He dropped a church roof on 34 of his worshippers in Texas last Wednesday night, just as they were groveling through a hymn to his majesty. Don’t you think that felt good?”
When Michael Mann (who later would achieve fame with movies like “The Last of the Mohicans,” “Heat,” “The Insider,” “Ali,” and “Collateral.”) released this 1986 adaptation, the movie critics and box office were lukewarm. If there was never another Hannibal Lecter movie, then this stylized 80s detective flick would have faded from everyone’s memory.
Critics didn’t hate this movie and some gave it good reviews but producer Dino De Laurentiis was broke at the time and actually couldn’t afford to produce enough prints to get the movie shown in many places.
It’s not a terrible movie. It has a lot of unfulfilled potential. Most of the lines in the script are lifted directly from the novel “Red Dragon,” which might be Harris’s strongest book. William Peterson, who would later become known for the TV show “CSI,” gives a decent portrayal of Special Agent Will Graham. The movie briefly mentions Will’s ability to think like a killer and how that gift became a curse and ended up with him in a psychiatric hospital.
Brian Cox gives an above average performance as Lecter. You might know this actor from such movies as “Troy,” “Braveheart,” “The Bourne Supremacy,” “Rob Roy” and “Super Troopers.” He’s currently on the HBO show “Succession,” and my two favorite film roles of him are playing the villain in the second X-Men movie and his brief speech in “Adaptation.” Interestingly enough, when Cox played Lecter in “Manhunter” (misspelled in the screenplay and closed captioning as Lektor), Anthony Hopkins was playing King Lear with the Royal Shakespeare Company. When Hopkins took over the role, Cox was playing King Lear himself.
Cox does an admirable job but he plays the character as an evil genius but not a suave, seductive, charismatic one. His character doesn’t make eye contact and seems lost in his own brain as he talks. He’s very vain. Cox said he based that vanity off of rich kids at private schools, which is an odd inspiration. He’s given only a few scenes, which is true to the first two novels, but steals every scene. Hopkins would get more screen time than Cox in the next movie but still has the record for Best Actor winner with the least amount of time on screen (Hopkins only had a little over 16 minutes on screen but still was considered a lead role.)
Some consider “Manhunter” to be the second-best Lecter movie behind “The Silence of the Lambs.” I can see that.
It certainly has developed a cult following but Peterson just isn’t as good at playing Will Graham as Edward Norton (only serviceable) and Hugh Dancy (amazing). The 1980s music really dates the movie and some acting in this film is certainly better than others. The Francis Dolarhyde story is a bit rushed too and they leave out some of the best aspects of that character from the novel. In the end, it feels like it could have been an amazing movie if Michael Mann had a little more experience/clout, which he would later gain.
One interesting thing is TV shows like “CSI” really owe their origin to movies like “Manhunter” and the novel it’s based on. Harris was really one of the first authors to give an accurate portrayal of the Behavioral Sciences division of the FBI, which now has been detailed in the Netflix original series “Mindhunter.” These real life FBI agents actually pioneered the science of “thinking like a killer” and coming up with a profile, even interviewing the world’s most famous murderers for research purposes. The characters of Will Graham and Jack Crawford (the latter criminally underdeveloped in the movies but finally given his due in the TV show) are supposed to be based on the agents featured in “Mindhunter.”
Fun if you keep your expectations low.
4. Hannibal (2001 film)
“As your mother tells you, and my mother certainly told me, it is important always to try new things.”
The sequel to “The Silence of the Lambs” was a big deal at the time and there was huge anticipation. Before the novel was finished there was motion on the movie production and everyone was wondering: Who would come back? Could you make a sequel without Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins or director Jonathan Demme (all Oscar winners for the previous movie)?
Turn out, they only got one of the three. Hopkins came back, but Julianne Moore fills in as Clarice Starling and she does a pretty good job (she’d win her own Oscar for “Still Alice” in 2014). Instead of Demme they got Ridley Scott, who’s directed some of the best movies of the past 30-plus years (“Alien,” “Blade Runner,” “Thelma & Louise,” “Black Hawk Down,” “The Martian.”) He had just directed the Best Picture winner “Gladiator” the year prior to “Hannibal” coming out (Scott still has never won an Oscar of his own and he wasn’t a producer on “Gladiator.”).
“Hannibal” the movie differs from the book in many ways, but neither one is perfect. The movie cuts down the storyline that describes the relationship between Mason Verger and his sister and Verger himself isn’t as developed in the film. Barney, the orderly who befriends Lecter, is given a larger role in the book. There are also some passages in the book that I enjoyed that are left out of the movie understandably. The book describes how Starling hunts for Lecter by tracking high-end purchases around the globe because they know he loves fine wine, good food, fast cars and beautiful art. His taste is his weakness in the book. There are also extensive passages about Lecter’s mind and how he can create whole worlds inside his mind. He can create rooms inside his mind where he stores memories to be accessed like a library.
The novel and the movie attempt to make Lecter the hero instead of the villain by making him hunted by a truly gruesome and unlikable character in Mason Verger, a deformed, wealthy pedophile who is obsessed with vengeance.
By making Lecter the prey instead of the predator, they’ve removed much of what we liked about the character.
We also miss out on the interactions between Starling and Lecter. Those conversations at the mental institute were the highlight of “The Silence of the Lambs.” Two great actors going head-to-head like Federer taking on Nadal. It’s thrilling to watch.
And my biggest complaint is that we’ve taken too much of the mystery out of Lecter as a character. He actually had a greater effect in smaller doses.
Brian Cox explained it best by saying, “I blame Thomas Harris for this. Harris fell in love with Hannibal Lecter, and undid him, in a way. He undid his dramatic power, because that comes from what you don’t know about him. If you give away all his secrets, there’s nothing to discover about the character, and you know too much about his potential danger. I felt that was Harris and Ridley Scott as well, later on. Basically, it was the script – it became slightly ludicrous. It was all within the bounds of reality, and it was scary because of that, and I think that was a shame.”
In the end, Lecter almost becomes a Universal Monster like Dracula, Frankenstein or The Wolfman.
That’s not to say that “Hannibal” is a terrible movie. All of the acting is top notch. The directing is great. There are some memorable scenes such as the visual of Ray Liotta’s brain being scooped out or the sounds of pigs squealing as Lecter dangles above his doom.
But it feels more like fan service than an actual worthy successor.
3. Red Dragon (2002 film)
“You stink of fear under that cheap lotion. You stink of fear Will, but you’re not a coward. You fear me, but still you came here. You fear this shy boy, yet still you seek him out. Don’t you understand, Will? You caught me because we’re very much alike. Without our imaginations, we’d be like all those other poor… dullards. Fear… is the price of our instrument. But I can help you bear it.”
Brett Ratner is not my favorite director. He’s been accused of rape by many actresses. Others claim creepy behavior. There’s enough there that people accept that it’s probably true. Beyond his personality, his movies just aren’t very good. His best film is probably “Rush Hour,” a fun buddy copy movie without any visual style.
With “Red Dragon,” he was tasked with directing the third Anthony Hopkins Hannibal Lecter movie. This is similar to when he was tasked with directing the third X-Men movie when director Bryan Singer (another creep) dropped out. In both cases, he’s a “director for hire” and critics weren’t too kind to him.
Fortunately, the style in “Red Dragon” was already established by the previous Anthony Hopkins entries and Ratner just needed to follow the formula. Not much he can mess up. To use a cooking analogy (which Lecter himself would appreciate), you have the ingredients, so just follow the recipe.
Ralph Fiennes gives a fantastic supporting performance as killer Francis Dolarhyde and breathes life and sympathy into this multifaceted character.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman gives a brief but near-perfect appearance as unethical tabloid journalist Freddy Lounds.
There are a more than a few memorable scenes in “Red Dragon.” I still recall Fiennes saying “Can you see?!” as he shows slides to Hoffman tied to a chair.
Honestly, this movie doesn’t get its due.
The Dollarhyde case is well done. “Red Dragon” also recaptures some magic from ‘The Silence of the Lambs” with the back and forth between Lecter and his investigator, something missing from the previous 2001 film.
The biggest downsides: Edward Norton, who admittedly is a great actor as seen in “American History X,” “Fight Club,” “Primal Fear” and “Birdman,” doesn’t seem to capture Graham. He plays him straight forward as a man who is protective of his family and can “think like Lecter” an other killers, but doesn’t really “feel their emotions.” They don’t explore that side of him enough.
The movie is also packed with so much plot and case details that it moves really quickly. There’s no time to live in the moments at all.
And my biggest gripe with both “Manhunter” and “Red Dragon” is that Lecter really isn’t that helpful when it comes to catching the killer and he actually works against their efforts. There was no good reason that Graham needed to consult with Lecter, unlike in “The Silence of the Lambs,” where Lecter had an evidential connection to the case (and Starling didn’t know this but he had met the killer before).
“Red Dragon” adds extra scenes featuring Lecter that are not in the book or are just mentioned briefly, like how Graham caught Lecter. Hopkins’s face is the entirety of the movie poster but the book and the movie aren’t really about him.
Probably the most distracting part of this movie is that it’s supposed to be a prequel to “The Silence of the Lambs” but Hopkins has aged quite a bit in about 10 years time between movies. I understand that today’s CGI de-aging wasn’t around yet (as seen in “The Irishman”) but they could have used makeup or something to make Hopkins look younger. At least give him a full head of black hair.
The Best Versions
2. Hannibal TV series
“Before we begin, I must warn you… nothing here is vegetarian.”
When Bryan Fuller, creator of TV series like “Dead Like Me” and “Pushing Daisies,” said he wanted to create a new adaptation based on the Harris novels, some had hesitation. Who could capture the character of Hannibal Lecter like Anthony Hopkins? Shouldn’t this show be on HBO or Showtime since it’ll be so violent? (It aired on NBC).
Mads Mikkelson, a Danish actor best known at the time for his roles in “Casino Royale” and “The Hunt,” signed on to play the lead but he didn’t want to imitate Hopkins or Cox. Instead, he imagined the character almost like Lucifer, a demon who manipulates human beings into doing what he wants. Something not of this world who observes humans and is fascinated by them. Someone pulling the strings.
Fuller varies considerably from the novels but it was never meant to be a straight adaptation. Plot and characters are changed considerably but in a way he gets to the heart of the story better than almost any other versions. It’s all about psychological manipulation and the co-dependence between Lecter and the FBI agents who consult with him. Fuller focuses on the best part of “The Silence of Lambs”: the idea that you don’t really know who is the interviewer and who is the subject. Is this an FBI interview or a psychological examination?
Mikkelson might be the best Hannibal Lecter and that’s saying something when compared to an Oscar winner like Hopkins.
There are a few flaws with Hopkins’ performance. The accent is all wrong. Lecter is from Lithuania and Hopkins has a weird accent that is hard to place, almost as if Lecter has tried to hide his native accent and adopt a generic New England rich socialite way of speaking. While Lecter is a chameleon who does hide much about himself, why would he feel shame in his accent? He mocks Agent Starling for being a country rube and makes fun of her voice but hides his accent? Also, physically Mikkelson resembles the Lecter from the novel more than Hopkins does. Lecter is young, tall, slender and strong. Mikkelson was actually a gymnast and a dancer before he became an actor. He has the right build. Of course, neither looks exactly like Harris described Lecter. In the novels, he is said to have a widow’s peak, maroon eyes and an extra finger on one his hands. When Lecter is a fugitive in “Hannibal” he gets surgery on one of his hands to hide his identity and the medical records are used to catch him.
Hugh Dancy plays Will Graham as a brilliant man who can imagine himself as the killer – something described in the novel and briefly mentioned in the movies – but Fuller shoots these scenes in a beautiful way. You see inside Graham’s mind as he is now in place of the killer, re-enacting the crimes.
Graham starts to have vivid dreams of each killing and the line between reality and his mind starts to get blurred. The dreamlike nature of this TV show actually becomes confusing for viewers at times and I admit it’s a great TV show to put on if you’re trying to sleep, not because it’s boring but because of the relaxing music and dreamlike imagery. Yes, falling asleep to Hannibal Lecter. I kid you not.
The relationship between Lecter and Graham is engrossing in the show. Lecter becomes obsessed with Graham and is fascinated with his mind. Lecter tries to manipulate Graham into turning him into a killer and their relationship almost has sexual tension, similar to Starling/Lecter. Graham even asks if Lecter is in love with him, but it’s not explored in those literal terms.
The best part of Fuller’s adaptation is they finally develop Jack Crawford into an interesting character. He’s a throwaway in the movies but actor Laurence Fishburne gives one of his best career performances in this role.
“Hannibal” isn’t an easy show to watch. The plot gets confusing and sometimes goes in directions that don’t always make sense. It gets a little pretentious and full of itself at times. But the performances of Mikkelson, Dancy and Fishburne make it a show not only worth watching but rewatching.
1. The Silence of the Lambs
“I’m having an old friend for dinner.”
This is one of three movies to have one the “big five” awards at the Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor and Best Actress. The other two winners are “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “It Happened One Night.”
It’s a fantastic movie and what I think makes it so great is this constant tension and sense of dread/suspense that lingers over the entire movie. The music, tone and pace are perfect.
When it comes to thrillers, it ranks among the all-time classics.
Here’s the interesting thing: You know how I kept going on about how producer Dino De Laurentiis kept ruining the character of Hannibal Lecter by demanding more movies? Well, he wasn’t involved with “The Silence of Lambs” and did not get an Oscar or any movie.
Yes, he was so disappointed with the box office of “Manhunter” that he let Orion Pictures use the character of Hannibal Lecter for free for “The Silence of the Lambs” and did not buy the rights to the book. When it was a huge hit, he, of course, paid $10 million for the film rights to the book “Hannibal.”
Gene Hackman actually owned the film rights to the novel “The Silence of the Lambs” and was going to play Jack Crawford but he backed out when he thought it was too violent.
Names like Michelle Pfeiffer, Meg Ryan and Laura Dern were considered for Starling before Foster got he role. Names such as Sean Connery, Dustin Hoffman, Derek Jacobi and Daniel Day Lewis were considered for Lecter.
Ted Tally wrote a great script and it’s the best screenplay for a Lecter movie. It’s full of amazing quotes.
Demme created an iconic film that’s smart, scary and psychological. It is so rewatchable and like a good wine that Lecter might enjoy it gets better over time.
“Groundhog Day” is overrated. There, I said it. Granted, I haven’t seen it since I was a kid, but I don’t recollect it doing a whole helluva lot for me … and I love Bill Murray. Perhaps I’m due for a rewatch? The funniest Murray’s ever been on screen is in the Farrelly brothers’ “Kingpin” and in all honesty I tend to prefer the dude in more serious fare and/or tragicomedies like “Rushmore,” “Lost in Translation,” “Broken Flowers,” etc.
The only reason I bring up “Groundhog Day” is that it’s the comparison everyone drops when talking about “Palm Springs,” now available for streaming on Hulu. People either say it’s a rip-off of “Groundhog Day” (it’s really not) or that it’s an R-rated version of “Groundhog Day” starring Andy Samberg (it sorta is). Either way, I greatly prefer “Palm Springs” and it ain’t even close.
Samberg plays Nyles, the plus-one of his girlfriend, Misty (Meredith Hagner), at the Palm Springs, Cal.-based wedding of Tala (Camila Mendes) and Abe (Tyler Hoechlin). Nyles finds a nearby desert cave housing a rift in the space-time continuum, which he falls into resulting in him living the same day over and over again. Others eventually join Nyles in the repetitious cycle whether through excessive partying (J.K. Simmons’ Roy) or via a botched hook-up (Cristin Milioti’s Sarah).
Sarah happens to be the black sheep sister of the bride. Once she and Nyles are stuck in the loop together they spend their days drinking, doing drugs, generally just screwing with other people and genuinely taking a liking to one another. In time Sarah tires of the tedium whereas Nyles has been stuck in it so long he’d be afraid to leave if he even knew how.
“Palm Springs” is written by Andy Siara and directed by Max Barbakow. It’s the feature debut of both after having toiled away in shorts, documentaries and television for the better part of a decade. These gentlemen really bring their respective experience and creativity to the fore. This is one hell of a calling card. “Palm Springs” truly nails the romance and the comedy of a romantic comedy. The sci-fi elements of the story sing too.
Much of the reason “Palm Springs” works as well as it does rests on the shoulders of Samberg and Milioti. These two have real-deal chemistry. I’ve been a fan of Samberg’s for some time now whether it’s via the albums and videos of the Lonely Island, his longstanding gig as Jake Peralta on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” or in hilariously underrated movies such as “Hot Rod” and “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.” The dude’s damned funny here. I’m not as familiar with Milioti – mostly identifying her with the titular matronly role on “How I Met Your Mother” and as the first wife of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) in Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Not only does Milioti hold her own with Samberg comedically, she may arguably exceed him … her character’s the more complex of the two to boot.
It could be the furlough talking as I haven’t worked my day job since the end of March, but I really related to Samberg’s Nyles. At one point Sarah asks him what he did prior to the loop and he says he can’t remember. I can remember my gig, but I’ll likely have difficulty remembering how to do it when and if I ever go back. Additionally, I may be in danger of earning the nickname of “Mr. Hyperbole” after awarding “The Old Guard” a five star/Yap review yesterday and bestowing the same honors upon “Palm Springs” today, but I’ll be damned if both pictures didn’t earn ‘em. They make a nice double-bill to boot with a surprising amount of thematic similarities.