Friday, April 27, 2018

Worth Mentioning - The Man Who Walks a Thousand Miles

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.

Cody picks some movies in honor of his mom on her birthday.

BENNY & JOON (1993)

These days Johnny Depp always seems to bury himself under makeup, prosthetics, and/or odd hair choices to play a role, but even before he started doing this he tended to be drawn to projects and characters that were quirky and off-kilter. His character in director Jeremiah Chechik's love story Benny & Joon is quite quirky, but in a very charming way - he's a simple young man who models himself after Buster Keaton and will often break out into Keaton-esque routines of physical comedy.

Depp's character isn't either Benny or Joon, his name is Sam. Benny and Joon are played by Aidan Quinn and Mary Stuart Masterson, a mechanic and the mentally ill sister he cares for. It's never specified exactly what Joon's illness is, but she's a very particular young woman who sometimes has episodes of inappropriate behavior, like attempting to direct traffic with a ping pong paddle while wearing a snorkel mask. She needs constant supervision, and while this responsibility is weighing heavily on Benny at this point, he refuses to have her committed.

Then Sam comes into their lives when Joon wins this peculiar houseguest in a poker game where the players bet odd items. Sam's cousin wants Sam out of his hair, so he sends him away with Joon and a reluctant Benny. It's rare that Joon will like anyone, but she falls in love with Sam, and he loves her. This is a major breakthrough for Joon, but a worrying one for Benny. If Joon is in love, Benny might have to step back. Would she be able to get by with Sam, without Benny watching over her all the time?

Joon and Sam isn't the only love story in the film; Benny finds love himself along the way, with a waitress named Ruthie (Julianne Moore), who Sam recognizes as the star of a slasher movie titled Prom Queen Mutilator... That needs to be a real movie.

Benny & Joon is a sweet little film that's nice to go back to every once in a while. I still remember very clearly when it was first released, mainly because clips from it were used in the music video for The Proclaimers song "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)", and I was watching a whole lot of MTV back in those days, when they still primarily showed music videos. The song had been released in other countries five years earlier, but Benny & Joon brought it to America and its association with the film helped it become a major hit. I wasn't a fan of the song at the time, but have come around to like it more now, thanks to nostalgia. When I was nine, I thought it was dorky.

My parents liked the song, though. So much that my father, who had to travel constantly for his job, dedicated it to my mom - implying that he would walk 500 miles and 500 more to get back to her if he had to, and that he was proud to be the man who got to come home to her. Their marriage was a tumultuous one and it didn't turn out well, but it had its nice moments. That memory makes me appreciate "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" even more now, and by extension Benny & Joon. The movie and the song remind me of those good days twenty-five years ago.


Two years ago, my little chihuahua buddy Cheech passed away at the age of 12 and I wrote an article here on Life Between Frames in tribute to him. I didn't mention, though, that my mom and I helped out a chihuahua in need in Cheech's honor two months later. My mom saw in the newspaper that a 7-year-old chihuahua had been dropped off at a nearby Humane Society because his owner no longer had time for him. The pain from the loss of Cheech still fresh, we were touched by the story of his fellow chihuahua and decided to adopt the guy. A dog that a Humane Society employee, not impressed by his original name, had decided to call Mr. Jeeves. I don't know exactly why they thought the name Jeeves, best known as the name of a valet in comedic stories written by P.G. Wodehouse, was fitting for this chihuahua, but today is the two year anniversary of Mr. Jeeves' adoption (mom finalized the adoption on her birthday), and I'm still calling him Mr. Jeeves.

The fictional valet first appeared in a Wodehouse story in 1915, and Wodehouse would continue writing about the character right up until his final novel in 1974. Over the years, Jeeves stories have been adapted into radio shows, stage plays, musicals, TV series, and a handful of movies - like director Arthur Greville Collins' 1936 film Thank You, Jeeves!

Written by Stephen Gross and Joseph Hoffman, the movie is said to have nothing at all to do with the novel it takes its title from. This is an entirely original story that just happens to center on Jeeves (played here by Arthur Treacher) and the man he serves, the rich goofball Bertie Wooster. And who better to play a man who's high society but totally irreverent than David Niven?

Exhausted by Bertie's adventure-seeking antics, Jeeves offers up his resignation at the beginning of the film, but will remain by Bertie's side for the duration as he embarks on what is surely their most ridiculous adventure yet. It's an adventure that Bertie doesn't even have to seek out; it begins when Marjorie Lowman (Virginia Field) shows up at his door during a rainstorm, trying to lie her way into getting shelter. Even though Bertie sees right through her lies, he lets her stay in his mansion anyway. He's too intrigued to send her away. When she leaves in the morning, he follows... dropping himself and Jeeves into the middle of a scheme involving stolen blueprints for an invention that would be of interest to a foreign government. That's not important, it's just an excuse to work in some action, like a car chase and a fight sequence. As it turns out, that stuffy fellow Jeeves can really knock a villain around when he needs to.

While making their way through the story, Jeeves and Bertie also learn about swing music from an African American sax player called Drowsy (Willie Best) and Bertie and the woman fall in love at a record pace.

Just 57 minutes long, Thank You, Jeeves! is an amusing trifle of a film that has very little substance at all. It's just pleasant to sit through and watch the actors bounce lines off of each other.


At every Cinema Wasteland convention, The Evil Dead special effects artist Tom Sullivan gets his own room where he displays and sells his artwork. Sullivan's room is one area of the convention that my mom always liked to visit back in the days when she would attend the shows with me, and even when I started spending the entire weekend at Cinema Wasteland shows and mom would just briefly stop by, she still made sure to visit Sullivan's room to exchange pleasantries and look over his artwork.

I knew a documentary had been made about Sullivan, but I hadn't picked up a copy yet. My mom passed away last May, so when I went to the fall 2017 edition of Cinema Wasteland I wanted to honor her memory by stopping by Sullivan's room while I was there. When I did, I bought a copy of Invaluable: The True Story of an Epic Artist directly from the artist in question.

It seemed a given that a documentary about Sullivan would be interesting, because he's a cool guy and worked on one of my favorite films of all time, putting together incredible effects on a shoe string budget. And indeed, the segments dealing with Sullivan's experiences working on The Evil Dead and its sequels are fascinating for a Deadite like myself. The documentary covers pretty much anything you could think to ask about Sullivan, working its way through his life, from when he became interested in special effects and art to when he got involved with Sam Raimi's filmmaking endeavors and continuing on up to the present.

For the Evil Dead stretch, director Ryan Meade managed to get interviews with many of the cast and crew members, including Bruce Campbell. Of course, he couldn't get a new,  on screen interview with Sam Raimi, but there are archival quotes. Meade also got some interesting behind the scenes pictures and visited some of the locations where filming took place. Since I occasionally go through the area where the first Evil Dead was filmed, I love to hear about the locations that its cast and crew passed through - not just the spot where the cabin used to sit, but also the house they stayed in and the local businesses they would frequent. Sullivan drops by a restaurant and returns to that house.

What I was surprised to find out while watching this is that Sullivan has had a more troubled life than I ever would have imagined, he has suffered some serious hardship and tragedy. That's a side of him I've never seen before, and I really felt for him when the documentary went into those terrible times.

I've always liked Sullivan, always would have described him as a great guy, but now that I know more about him I like him even more, and am even more appreciative of his friendly, cheerful demeanor.

If you're a fan of The Evil Dead, you should definitely check out Invaluable. By the time the movie ends, you'll be a fan of Tom Sullivan, too.

GOZU (2003)

Director Takashi Miike's Gozu isn't a film I enjoy watching all that much, but that's not to say it's a bad movie. A 130 minute Japanese crime film that also happens to be a re-telling of the ancient legend of "Orpheus and Eurydice" just isn't something that is going to draw me in. However, things do get extremely strange in this movie, and that's why it's always going to have a place in my mind.

The story follows Yakuza gangster Minami (Hideki Sone) as he deals with insane bosses and makes his way through bizarre situations. There's a disappearing corpse, a middle-aged woman who is very proud of her ability to produce breast milk, a diner with weird staff and patrons, a man who can "incant the spirit", a person who wears a cow's head over their own, pressed human skins hanging up in plastic bags, a character who seems to switch bodies, and a Yakuza higher-up who likes to stick the handle of a ladle in his anus while he's having sex.

I think the sight of a man sticking a ladle in his ass is the first image I ever saw from Gozu, and that image was accompanied by the sound of an audience laughing their own asses off. I caught the ending of the movie at a theatrical horror marathon (even though it's not exactly a horror movie) back in 2004, on a night when I was going back and forth between two different horror marathons being held at the same time. As I've previously mentioned on Life Between Frames, my mom would go with me on all kinds of theatrical adventures, and she was attending those marathons with me... so she saw that man and his ladle, too.

I've always taken a certain amount of pride in the fact that my mom witnessed some really weird cinematic stuff because of me, and Gozu has been the top film I reference when the subject of those weird things comes up. Only by indulging my interest in film would mom ever have seen even a second of Gozu, and the minutes she did see of it definitely featured some of the strangest things she had ever seen on the screen.

Those minutes contain not only good ol' ladle dude making a mess and falling down on his ladle, but also the specific moment I would point out when talking about mom seeing part of this movie. Gozu showed her a grown man emerging from a woman's vagina.

I'm not a fan of Gozu, but I'll always remember it.

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