Friday, November 29, 2019

Worth Mentioning - Enough Is Never Enough

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.

Food, family, business, and thrills.

THE STUFF (1985)

Writer/director Larry Cohen's The Stuff begins with a man discovering that some kind of white substance bubbling out of the ground... and, as everyone does when they find a mysterious substance, this guy sticks his hand in the goo and decides to give it a taste. It's really good! So good that he could sell this to people. And that's exactly what happens. There seems to be an endless supply of this white mystery glop to mine out of the ground, so it's poured into containers, named The Stuff, and put on the market.

The Stuff quickly becomes the new dessert sensation, with people (and marketing) proclaiming that it's even better than ice cream. Problem is, it's also the most unhealthy substance you could possibly put in your body. But the issue here isn't that it will cause disease and weight gain if you consume too much of it. This sweet and creamy dessert is actually a living, moving, Blob-like being, and by eating it people are unwittingly making themselves Stuff junkies. They become addicted to The Stuff, which alters their minds and makes them dedicated servants of this white ooze. Even dogs can become addicted to The Stuff, and if they aren't given enough of it they'll go mad and do worse than biting the hand that feeds them.

The first person we see realize that The Stuff is more than it appears to be is a young kid named Jason (Scott Bloom), and after he seems The Stuff moving around inside his refrigerator on his own he does his best to stop others from eating it. Even if that means attempting to destroy every container of The Stuff in his local supermarket - and they sure do stock a lot of it. It's clear that Jason won't be able to accomplish much. Luckily, there are also some highly capable adults on the case.

The Stuff's competitors hire FBI agent turned industrial spy Mo Rutherford (Cohen's Q: The Winged Serpent star Michael Moriarity) to find out what The Stuff's secret ingredients are and "keep the world safe for ice cream." And he does find out its secret. Soon Mo is joining forces with Jason, along with The Stuff advertising mastermind Nicole (Andrea Marcovicci), who didn't know how dangerous The Stuff was, and Chocolate Chip Charlie (Garrett Morris), whose cookie factory was bought out by company that sells The Stuff, to put The Stuff out of business.

The Stuff doesn't just alter minds, it also alters bodies. As our heroes fend off The Stuff's devotees (Stuffies), we see their bodies crumbling and Stuff squirting out of their wounds. Stuffies' mouths open inhumanly wide so Stuff can emerge from within them, like something out of John Carpenter's The Thing. Who else but Larry Cohen would think of twisting The Blob and The Thing imagery into a satire that targets food corporations, marketing, and consumers' willingness to eat or drink things without knowing their contents?

There's a moment where a flood of The Stuff tries to attack Mo and Nicole in a hotel room, and a character gets hit with the goo and lifted up the wall, onto the ceiling. This scene was accomplished with the help of the man who built the rotating room Wes Craven used for scenes in A Nightmare on Elm Street that involved a character sliding up a wall and onto the ceiling, and a geyser of blood erupting from a bed and pouring across the ceiling. Instead of blood defying gravity, this time we see burning Stuff run up the walls.

When you watch The Stuff, you have to go into it ready to see something ridiculous. I'm not sure it's a movie that would be able to win over viewers who aren't on board with the concept right from the beginning. It treats the threat of The Stuff seriously, while at the same time making the characters quite comedic. Mo introduces himself with the line, "You know why they call me Mo? 'Cause every time people give me money I always want mo'." Chocolate Chip Charlie is played by a Saturday Night Live veteran, and states that his hands are lethal weapons. These are funny people facing a potentially apocalyptic situation.

Things get even sillier in the last third, when Mo seeks the help of a militia for a raid on The Stuff headquarters. Based out of a castle, this militia is led by Paul Sorvino as the eccentric Colonel Spears. There was a time when Spears' greatest worry was that Communists were going to spike America's drinking water with fluoride, but now he has an even greater threat to face with The Stuff.

The Stuff is a uniquely goofball movie that I have fun watching every time I go back to it.


Fractured had my attention from the moment I first heard about it because it comes from a creative team that I was very intrigued to see work together - the film was directed by Brad Anderson, whose Session 9 is one of my favorite horror films, from a screenplay by Alan B. McElroy, whose credits include Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and Wrong Turn. The film that resulted from this collaboration is a thriller that Anderson directs the hell out of while McElroy does his best to keep the viewer guessing and questioning reality throughout... But I have to say I found Fractured to be underwhelming in the end, especially since I thought I had it all figured out within the first 15 minutes and yet Anderson and McElroy kept things running in circles for another 85 minutes.

England-born, Australia-raised actor Sam Worthington plays lead character Ray Monroe with a questionable attempt at an American accent, and as soon as we meet this guy there's a sense that he's going to be an unreliable narrator. He's troubled, arguing with his wife Joanne (Lily Rabe) on the way back from a bad Thanksgiving experience. He's a recovering alcoholic teetering on the edge of a relapse, and during a stop at a gas station he even chooses to buy some alcohol over the items his young daughter Peri (Lucy Capri) asked him to get. Once things go wrong at that gas station, resulting in Peri possibly breaking her arm, Ray's reactions are so odd that I could never fully trust the guy for the rest of the movie.

Ray and Joanne take Peri to Kirkbride Regional Hospital, where Ray falls asleep while waiting for his wife to bring his daughter back from a CAT scan recommended by the hospital's Dr. Berthram, played by the great character actor Stephen Tobolowsky. When Ray wakes up, Joanne and Peri have gone missing, and there's no indication in the hospital's records that they ever existed. Even the people who Ray knows interacted with them seem to have no memory of them.

Fractured makes it clear very early on that are only two possible ways this situation is going to be resolved: either we're going to find out that Ray has gone off the deep end, or he's going to be proven correct in his suspicion that the staff at Kirkbride are in on some kind of illegal scheme. Anderson and Elroy try to allow the film to have it both ways for as long as possible; the majority of the running time consists of Ray confronting different people in the hospital, demanding to know where Joanne and Peri are, while those people respond by telling him he's off his rocker. I went into the movie expecting to see a lot of scenes like that, but I wasn't expecting them to take up so much time.

All is revealed in the end, but the journey reaching that conclusion isn't as thrilling as I had hoped. I was ready for the movie to pick a path and get on it with it well before the ending, and once the climax came along things started to feel kind of silly.

The movie does look great, and Anderson and cinematographer Björn Charpentier captured some wonderful imagery in the rare moments when we venture out of the hospital. Worthington did a fine job of carrying the film on his shoulders, even though I have never been able to buy his American accents. He has to reiterate the same information over and over again, but never loses the dedication to conveying the intensity of his character's emotions.

Fractured is interesting in concept, so-so in execution. It's worth watching if you're a fan of thrillers, just don't expect much in the way of excitement or surprises. It's just a serviceable way to spend 100 minutes.

The review of Fractured originally appeared on


Glengarry Glen Ross is a fascinating glimpse into the lives of a group of men who you might not expect to have very fascinating lives: real estate salesmen. Guys who make their living calling up and/or visiting people they believe can afford buying some property and then doing their best to convince those people they should buy some property. That's not a business many writers would think of focusing on, but playwright David Mamet had experience in that world. While trying to get his career started, he had taken a job working as an office manager in a real estate office, so he had seen this sort of stuff firsthand. Taking that job certainly paid off for him, as it inspired him to write the play Glengarry Glen Ross, which won him a Pulitzer Prize, and then he got a million dollars for selling the film rights and writing the screenplay for the cinematic adaptation.

The fact that something with this subject matter and with such an odd and yet perfect sounding title (it combines the names of two different real estate developments the salesman have worked on, Glengarry Highlands and Glen Ross Farms) could become so popular and celebrated is truly a testament to Mamet's writing, as he scripted some incredible dialogue for these characters to deliver. Every one of the film's 100 minutes (except for those taken up by credits) is driven by that dialogue. This isn't a movie where we see actions being carried out, we see people talking about their actions. The salesmen talk to each other, to potential property buyers, to their office manager. It's all talking, and you may not even understand everything they're talking about, but the dialogue is so good that it's captivating.

The salesmen we follow through maybe eighteen hours of their jobs are Shelley "The Machine" Levene (Jack Lemmon), a veteran salesman who has recently hit a rough patch; Ricky Roma (Al Pacino), the new top salesman at their company; the hot-headed Dave Moss (Ed Harris), who is considering robbing the company and jumping ship to another real estate company; and George Aaronow (Alan Arkin), who shares most of his screentime with Moss while Moss tries to convince him to commit the robbery with him. Each of these actors do great work in their roles, and while Pacino even earned an Oscar nomination for his performance (which includes a lot of memorable profanity and some unique line delivers) it's Lemmon's character who stands out the most for me. I come to care about "The Machine" and want to see him succeed.

Kevin Spacey is office manager John Williamson, and if you've developed a distaste for Spacey since the recent allegations it will only make this movie more effective, because Williamson is a thoroughly unlikable putz. The best moments involving him are when other characters are verbally knocking him down a peg.

There are terrific moments involving all of the characters, but one of the most famous scenes in the movie involves a character who wasn't even in the original play. Mamet had to expand the script a bit for the film, and he added in a scene featuring a man called Blake, a role written specifically for Alec Baldwin. Baldwin steps in and takes complete control of the movie for 7 straight minutes, as Blake has been sent from the bosses downtown to tell them that their sales numbers have been lacking and their jobs are in jeopardy. There's a sales contest going on where first prize is a Cadillac, second prize is a set of steak knives, and the salesmen in third and fourth place will be fired. Blake teaches them the rule of ABC: "Always Be Closing."

If you want to watch some of the best actors around spouting exceptionally well written dialogue, Glengarry Glen Ross is where to find what you're looking for.


A year before Peter Billingsley played a young boy who was fascinated by cowboy legends in the beloved classic A Christmas Story, he played a young boy who was fascinated by cowboy legends in director Dick Richards' Death Valley. He even pretends to be in battle with the villainous Black Bart in both films.

Billingsley plays Billy here, a kid whose parents have recent divorced. The film begins with a 6 minute sequence where we watch Billy spend the day walking around New York City with his dad Paul, played by Edward Herrmann. They then have a very emotional conversation about the divorce situation, and then Herrmann exits the film. Paul isn't around anymore because Billy catches a flight with his mom Sally (Catherine Hicks of Child's Play), and when they land in Arizona they meet up with Sally's new boyfriend Mike (Puppet Master's Paul Le Mat). The plan is that they're going to take a tour of the American southwest, checking out cowboy territory and traversing Death Valley.

One of their first stops in the desert is the site of a former mine, where Billy finds a seemingly abandoned RV parked nearby. Inside the RV, he finds a unique gold medallion - which he pockets when Mike calls him away from the RV, stopping him before he can find the dead bodies stacked in the back room. We saw a knife-wielding attacker raid in the RV earlier, in a very slasher-esque scene where breasts were bared and throats were slashed.

When the travelers stop at a nearby hotel, Billy notices that hotel restaurant hotel employee Hal (Stephen McHattie) is wearing a medallion just like the one he now has in his possession. As we'll come to find out, the medallion Billy has belongs to Hal's homicidal brother Stu, and thanks to a no-help-at-all, maddeningly dim sheriff played by Wilford Brimley of The Thing and Hard Target, Stu not only gets his medallion back but also finds out all about this little kid who went in the RV and is now staying over at the hotel.

Thus, Stu spends the second half of the film trying to kill this little witness who actually didn't see anything more than the medallion the sheriff returned to him. The film has a great, unnerving atmosphere to it throughout, and once Stu goes on his hunt we get some more throat slashing and some good scenes of suspense.

Written by Richard Rothstein, who got spooked by a junker car during a southwest vacation of his own and was inspired to write this story about a killer who drives a junker, Death Valley is a film that seems to have been nearly lost and forgotten - and for no good reason, as it's actually quite a good thriller. Scream Factory brought it to DVD and Blu-ray seven years ago, and while it took me all this time to catch up with it I hope that a lot of people who weren't aware of it before have been watching it over the years since the disc release, because it deserves to be seen.

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