Friday, March 9, 2018

Worth Mentioning - The Shipwreck of Our Plans

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

A creature feature Best Picture, a crazy secretary, cultists, and impressive visuals.


The list of nominees for the 2018 Academy Awards were announced on January 23rd, and as I said then, when it comes to Hollywood accolades that was the best day for the horror genre since The Silence of the Lambs won Best Picture in 1992. On that day, Jordan Peele's "social thriller" Get Out received four major nominations, while Guillermo del Toro's Creature from the Black Lagoon-inspired love story The Shape of Water received more nominations than any other film on the list - a total of 13.

January 23rd was soon surpassed by March 4th, when Get Out won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and The Shape of Water won for production design, score, Best Director, and Best Picture.

I was glad to see genre films getting so much awards season love even before I had watched The Shape of Water, but once I did watch the movie I was overjoyed to see that such an oddball creature feature could be so appealing to so many Academy voters.

The film stars Sally Hawkins as a mute woman named Elisa Esposito, who works as a custodian at a government laboratory in Baltimore at the height of the Cold War. When Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) shows up at the lab with a gill man creature he captured in a South American river, a creature that was worshipped by the natives as a god, Elisa becomes fascinated with the creature and quickly befriends it... and that friendship turns into something more, as Elisa feels the gill man appreciates her company because of who she is, without judgment, without thinking she's a freak because she can't speak. Especially since he can't speak, either.

Played by Doug Jones, the gill man creature has a back story that could make it the Creature from the Black Lagoon himself, if this had been a Universal release rather than a Fox Searchlight one. But as we'll come to find out, this gill man also has some abilities that the one from the Black Lagoon didn't have.

When the bigwigs at the lab decide that it's time to kill the gill man and dissect it to see just how it works, Elisa rescues the creature from the lab with the help of fellow custodian Zelda (Octavia Spencer), her lonely artist friend Giles (Richard Jenkins), and Russian spy Hoffstetler/Dimitri (Michael Stuhlbarg), who doesn't want the American or Russian governments to kill the creature.

This is a very quirky and amusing film that at times ventures into some very dark territory, with Strickland being the real monster of the story. The gill man does some troubling things, but you can't really blame him for going wild in this situation. It's also a very lovely and heartwarming film, although I couldn't quite go along with Elisa's decision to embark on a sexual relationship with the gill man... It is still a fish creature, after all. Even if she does like hanging out with him and teaching him sign language. The fact Academy voters so fully embraced a film with such a storyline is mind-blowing to me.

I have enjoyed most of Guillermo del Toro's films, but I've never been as enamored with his non-superhero work as a lot of people are. They're good, but not something I feel drawn back to after I watch them. The Shape of Water, though, is a really great movie that deserved all the love it has gotten - and it's a great achievement not only for del Toro, but for genre filmmaking in general.

THE TEMP (1993)

After bringing the world the vampires of Fright Night and introducing Chucky the killer doll with Child's Play (not to mention writing the return of Norman Bates in Psycho II), Tom Holland decided to creep out office workers by directing a film about a temp secretary who, the lead character suspects, will do anything, including murder and/or maim multiple people, to work her way up the ladder at a cookie company.

Writers Kevin Falls and Tom Engleman's idea to set their story inside the workings of a cookie company might seem like an odd one, but it was an effective one. In the twenty-five years since I first watched The Temp to today, it was largely the cookie company related scenes that stuck with me most strongly. A scene where in-store cookie samples are tainted with crushed glass. The temp, Lara Flynn Boyle as Kris Bolin, passionately expressing her ideas for heart healthy cookies. There were other moments I remembered, something involving bees and a moment in water, but mainly what jostled my memory was so much talk about cookies.

The company man who needs a temp secretary is Peter Derns, who's played by The Dark Half's Timothy Hutton - and his character here has a dark half as well, going to therapy to try to deal with the intense paranoia that has ruined his marriage to Sharon (Maura Tierney). His known paranoia issues will cause other characters to question his stability when he starts believing that Kris is a very dangerous person, but I don't think any viewers will be thinking this is a situation where Peter's paranoia is running away with him. It's pretty clear that there's a killer at work here, "at work" in more ways than one... but the movie does try very hard to make you wonder if Kris really is the one responsible. But if she's not the villain, why is the movie called The Temp? Is that a fake-out, too?

The mystery may not be the most effective, but it's interesting to see how it all plays out.

The Temp is a solid thriller that would probably make for a decent double feature with Single White Female, especially since both films feature Wings' Steven Weber in supporting slimeball roles. I always find that Hutton is likeable actor to have as a lead character (like in Beautiful Girls), and Boyle is sufficiently questionable as Kris. This is a movie I enjoyed watching when it was first released on home video, and it still holds up all this time later. While not on the level of some of Holland's other genre offerings, it's worth watching.

JACKALS (2017)

The Strangers editor Kevin Greutert tried his hand at directing a home invasion film of his own with Jackals, which starts out on March 24, 1983 - a date that happens to be a mash-up of days and years important to myself and blog contributor Priscilla. The entire film is actually supposed to be set in the '80s, but there wasn't much done to make that fact stand out. You'll mostly only realize the events are occurring in the past if it strikes you that no one has pulled out a cell phone.

Scripted by Jared Rivet, the film stars Johnathon Schaech as Deborah Kara Unger as a formerly married couple who has brought in a former Marine played by Stephen Dorff to help them snatch their adult son Justin (Ben Sullivan) from the clutches of a cult called Jackals. Justin is taken to a secluded cabin, where his family intends to deprogram him. They have quite a job on their hands, because Justin has been completely brainwashed. He goes by the name Thanatos now, and seems to have no emotional connection to anyone in his family anymore - not his parents, his brother (Nick Roux), or his former girlfriend (Chelsea Ricketts), who recently gave birth to their child.

Before Thanatos can be talked back into being good old Justin again, his fellow cult members arrive, wearing animal masks reminscent of You're Next and wielding weapons, quite ready to massacre everyone else in the cabin to get Thanatos back.

From there on the standard siege scenario plays out, and for the most part I found Jackals to be fun to watch, since I'm a fan of the "people trapped in one location by multiple adversaries" set-up for horror movies. The cinematography by Andrew Russo gave the film a nice visual style, the Jackals themselves looked cool, and things moved along quickly enough.

In the end, though, I was left feeling a bit underwhelmed. Jackals never quite lives up to its potential, never crossing the line to become something special. It has a very "been there, done that" feeling to it, and ends with a shot that almost made me want to disregard the whole thing. Despite that shot and the overall lack of originality, I still enjoyed most of what it had to offer.

LIKE ME (2017)

Writer/director Robert Mockler's social satire psychedelic thriller Like Me is an incredible feature debut for cinematographer/visual effects artist James Siewert. If you like eye candy, this is a film that throws open the doors of the candy store so you can gorge yourself until you get sick... which is appropriate, since the visuals Siewert helped Mockler bring to the screen include a scene in which a man is force fed various types of junk food and then made to vomit, all for the entertainment of viewers on the internet.

The color-soaked cinematography is the greatest thing the movie has going for it, but if you're like me you'll also enjoy the fact that it gives Larry Fessenden a good amount of screen time. His character isn't great, a paint-huffing pedophile who is tied up and knocked out with a horse tranquilizer (after the force feeding incident), but I always like to see Fessenden on the screen regardless of who he's playing, and too often his roles are only cameos.

Fessenden's Marshall shares his scenes with Addison Timlin as a teenage girl named Kiya, who is part of the reason why I didn't enjoy sitting through Like Me very much, despite Fessenden and the dazzling visuals. Although Timlin has an intriguing screen presence, her character is completely empty. There is nothing to Kiya beyond her empty-headed pursuit for likes and views online. She does some appalling things to draw online attention to herself, torturing Marshall with little sign of emotional depth or morals. It seems like she would have no trouble killing someone to get more popular, and when Marshall says that he likes girls when they're "ripe", regardless of what age they might be, this actually makes her like him more.

Kiya is not a character I want to go on any sort of journey with, and I write her off as soon as the film starts with a scene in which she torments an innocent cashier, pulling a gun on him and making him piss himself just for lulz. The closest she gets to being a worthwhile character is when she picks up a homeless man and serves him a diner feast... and she likely would have ruined this scenario if the night would have continued going in her favor.

The only time Kiya really gets stirred up is when she sees reactions to her videos posted by a kid named Burt, and it's understandable - Ian Nelson does a perfect job in the Burt videos, playing just the sort of pretentious, hateful, opinionated, whiny commenter you see all over the internet. He has a point that Kiya's videos are reprehensible garbage, but he's quite irritating himself.

As we follow Kiya on her quest to do very bad things, Like Me drags itself along with meandering scenes shot and cut together in an experimental manner. It's all pretty to look at (aside from the shots that are purposely disgusting), but a nice visual can only take you so far. I need other things to hold my attention, I need to be drawn into the story, I need there to be some substance to hold on to. When your lead character is only a shell of a human being, it's tough for there to be any substance. The film has style to spare, and the appeal of its style will be enough for it to gain a following, but that wasn't enough for me.

While Like Me is an accomplishment for Siewert and for Mockler as a director, the script was a problem. If this pair had used their visual skills to bring to life a more interesting story, they might have made a film that I really could like.

The Like Me review originally appeared on

No comments:

Post a Comment