All-Time Favorite Trailers: ‘Strange Days’

I first saw this trailer when it played before “Mad Love” which starred Drew Barrymore and Chris O’Donnell. This was at Crow Canyon Cinemas, a movie multiplex I once worked at, and the volume was not all that great as the teenage audience, desperately waiting to see O’Donnell take his shirt off, were talking endlessly before the lights finally went down. I saw it again at the UC Berkeley theater, which was once known as the New Beverly Cinema of Northern California, and I got a better idea of what was on display as I could actually hear what was being said that time around.

Strange Days” is a 1995 science fiction thriller which starred Ralph Fiennes, Angela Bassett and Juliette Lewis, and the film featured a kind of technology which allowed those who used it to experience recorded memories and physical sensations of others. But despite it being co-written and produced by James Cameron and having been directed by Kathryn Bigelow, it flopped hard at the box office. It is only over time that this film has gotten the cult following it truly deserved as this one offers the viewer a cinematic experience you cannot find elsewhere.

This particular trailer for “Strange Days” was its teaser trailer which had Fiennes selling us on this technology. The dialogue is taken from a scene in which he is trying to get a potential customer to buy some recorded memories, but this time Fiennes is looking straight into the camera, attempting to sell the audience on what he has.

Fiennes starred in this film not long after his Oscar-nominated turn in “Schindler’s List,” and I love how he tells us about this technology here without showing us a thing. His words suck us in to the possibilities of what we could experience if common sense didn’t kick in on a regular basis. It’s a brilliant piece of acting as he succeeds in making us want to open Pandora’s Box and experience pleasures which are ever so forbidden.

I also love the sound design of this trailer as it features a hum throughout which is much like the one I heard as I entered the American Conservatory Theater to watch the first part of “Angels in America.” There is something so comforting and alluring about such a hum that I cannot help but be drawn into the subject matter in a heartbeat.

By the way, can anyone tell me what song was used at the end of this trailer? I really dug it and would love to know where it came from. Perhaps it was by the band Deep Forest as they were supposed to be composing this film’s music score (it would later be done by Graeme Revell), but I don’t know.

If you have not watched “Strange Days” yet, I encourage you to do so as it deals with themes which are more pertinent today than when this film first came out.

No, I Haven’t Seen It Until Now: ‘Hardcore’ (1979)

Paul Schrader’s 1979 film “Hardcore” is one I have been meaning to watch for years. Many of my film friends have sung its praises, and I have been a big fan of Schrader’s work both as a screenwriter (“Taxi Driver”) and as a director (“First Reformed” and “Patty Hearst” among others). Regardless, this quickly became one of the many films I kept promising myself I would watch but never got around to it. But then one evening, I saw it was playing at the Nuart Theatre in West Los Angeles, and I realized the time had come to finally give it a look. Besides, this might be my only chance to see it on the silver screen.

“Hardcore” opens up on Christmas in Grand Rapids, Michigan to the tune of Susan Raye’s “Precious Memories.” Schrader quickly settles us into the peaceful and family-oriented environment which looks to be filled with church-going people who love and fear God in equal measure. You just might mistake it for the average Norman Rockwell painting which often gave us images that were all too wholesome to be believed. Everything looks to be together on the same page while singing faith-based songs and sharing in traditional ceremonies without question. Of course, it’s scenes like these that make me wonder when the cracks in this atmosphere will begin to show.

The main character of this piece is Jake Van Dorn (played by George C. Scott), a well-to-do businessman with strong religious beliefs. Originally, this part almost went to Warren Beatty, but as great an actor as Beatty, he would have been wrong. Scott is perfectly cast as he has the face of someone with deeply held beliefs to where questioning them could be hazardous to your health. Eventually, you know these beliefs will be tested in the extreme as the title “Hardcore” refers to more than the sexuality on display here.

Jake’s peaceful existence becomes undone when his daughter Kristen (Ilah Davis) goes missing while on a church-sponsored trip in California. He enlists the help of the police, but after seeing all the photos on the wall of missing children, some of who still haven’t been found in years, he decides to hire a private investigator named Andy Mast (Peter Boyle) to dig a little deeper. But what Andy finds is something Jake never could have expected nor be the least prepared to deal with.

Watching Jake view a porno film in which his daughter Kristen is having sex with two men is an unnerving scene as Scott portrays a deep shock and grief which illustrates the living nightmare any parent would be thrilled to avoid. While it threatens to contain, as Ralph Garman and Kevin Smith would call it, “exquisite acting,” and the scene has become an infamous meme for many, I am curious as to what depths Scott dug to capture such an unforgettable moment of devastation. Such a scene is impossible to erase from the memory once it is viewed, and it comes to inform the relentlessness and anger he will come to experience up to the movie’s end.

From there, Jake ventures into the seedy underworld of Los Angeles, or the one which existed back in the 1970s. Like “Taxi Driver’s” Travis Bickle, he is “God’s Lonely Man” as he ventures into a place he does not belong. His brother-in-law tells him early on that God is testing him, and it is clearly the case as ventures deeper and deeper into the city’s sleazy subculture where there are an endless number of sex shopkeepers, adult theaters, and massage parlors that do more for their clients than a simple rub down. At one point, he even disguises himself as a pornography producer in an increasingly desperate effort to find his daughter, and I kept wondering if and when he might give in to temptation.

“Hardcore” was Schrader’s second film as a director, following his brilliant debut with “Blue Collar.” As with “Blue Collar,” he had quite the time wrangling his cast. Scott was said to have not gotten along with Schrader, and at one point promised the director he would finish the film only if he vowed never to direct another motion picture ever again. Well, we know Schrader promised Scott just that to get him back on set, but thank God the filmmaker never followed through on his word. This is just as well as we still had other films like “American Gigolo,” “Cat People,” “Light Sleeper” and “Affliction” to look forward to.

Indeed, this is a film that could have been upstaged by its behind-the-scenes drama which, in addition to Scott’s behavior, included an ending forced on Schrader by the studio. Indeed, the ending is “Hardcore’s” biggest flaw as it doesn’t jibe well with all which came before it, and it feels lazily staged with a shootout that feels tacked on above all else. It is thanks to Scott’s performance in the final moments that I am willing to forgive the conclusion as he keeps it from ringing completely hollow.

Still, I think “Hardcore” is a triumph for Schrader as it allows him to dig deep into themes he has explored in his many works such as the conflict between man and immorality. Moreover, there is authenticity on display here which would be hard to find today as Schrader managed to gain access to real-life sex houses and adult theaters to where there is no doubt we are dealing with the real thing and not just some cheap set. Certain sticky stains on the windows make this abundantly clear by the way.

Looking at the credits, Schrader had quite the crew to work with. The film was executive produced by John Milius who remains one of the best screenwriters ever, the score was by Jack Nitzsche who helps add even more of a lurid feeling to the sights Jake is forced to take in, and the cinematography was by Michael Chapman who performed visual wonders on both “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull.” Seriously, the color palette Chapman uses here aids the story considerably, and I cannot help but believe it greatly influenced the later works of Gaspar Noe and Benoit Debie.

I enjoyed Peter Boyle’s performance as private detective Andy Mast as he makes this character look all too comfortable in a city that thrives on decadence than what might appear on the surface. Even as Andy gives in to his baser needs and desires, he knows how the story is going to end and makes very few apologies for who he is. While the ending feels a bit too similar to the one from “Chinatown,” Boyle makes it work as his dialogue rings very true in a cynical and sad way.

But another performance worth singling out here is Season Hubley’s as Niki, a prostitute and part-time adult actress who aids Jake in his search. The scenes she has with Scott represent the best “Hardcore” has to offer as their dialogue regarding both sex and religion illustrates their differences and similarities in ways only Schrader could have pulled off. She fully inhabits this character to where I never doubted how much of a survivor Niki was and will continue to long after the end credits have finished.

Like William Friedkin’s “Cruising,” “Hardcore” is a journey into a subculture that no longer exists in today’s world. These days, it is much easier to gain access to pornography through the internet, and it makes me wonder how Jake would deal with a similar situation in today’s world. Things would be a bit easier to trace, and that’s even though some lost children might forever stay lost (please feel free to prove me wrong on this). As devoutly religious as Jake is, I imagine in a time where the world wide web and cell phones control our lives more than ever, he would most likely be more isolated and closed off from those around him than ever before.

“Hardcore” is indeed classic Paul Schrader even with its inescapable flaws, and I have no doubt “8MM,” the 1999 film directed by the late Joel Schumacher and written by Andrew Kevin Walker, would not have existed without it. “8MM” also pales in comparison to it by the way. I look at movies like these and wonder why studios won’t leave the filmmakers alone in making them. You know how dark the material was when you started funding the project, right? So why insult everyone’s intelligence by trying to make things a little less dark?

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘Cursed’ Movie and Blu-ray Review

The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent, Tony Farinella.

From reading up on “Cursed” through the IMDB trivia section, the story behind the scenes of this film might be more interesting than the film itself.  I say this as a huge fan of the film.  I think it’s a really, really good Wes Craven/Kevin Williamson collaboration.  Is it as good as their work on the “Scream” franchise? No, but there is a reason so many fans of the duo have discovered and enjoyed “Cursed” since its initial release in 2005. Their usual brand of humor, self-awareness and gruesome kills are featured at times, in this film.  This Shout Factory Blu-ray features both the theatrical cut (PG-13) and the unrated cut.  I highly recommend you check out the unrated cut. I’ve seen both cuts, and the unrated cut, even though it’s only two minutes longer, features more gore.

“Cursed” stars Christina Ricci and Jesse Eisenberg as Ellie and Jimmy, a sister and brother duo living together after the unexplained death of their parents.  Jimmy is seen as a dork and feels forgotten about by his sister while Ellie is working on the “Craig Kilborn Show” as a producer. Oddly enough, Kilborn was no longer on the air when the film was released because it was delayed for two and a half years. Jimmy is in high school and being constantly picked on by Bo (Milo Ventimiglia) who resorts to homophobic insults every chance he gets.  Bo’s girlfriend, Brooke (Kristina Anapau), does not approve of his behavior, and she also takes a liking to Jimmy’s dog named Zipper.

Ellie is romantically involved with a smooth-talking ladies’ man named Jake (Joshua Jackson) who is about to open up a horror-themed nightclub.  His past causes Ellie to wonder if he really cares about her or if she’s just another notch on his belt. One night, Jimmy and Ellie have a car accident where Jimmy swears he saw a werewolf or a monster.  Ellie doesn’t believe him, and a police officer played by Nick Offerman is even more skeptical.  Before long, they can’t start to ignore the strange and weird things happening to their bodies and the feelings they are experiencing.

CURSED, Mya, Shannon Elizabeth, 2005, (c) Dimension Films

Let’s talk about the cast as I felt like, every time I turned around, I saw an actor or actress I was familiar with on screen. Shannon Elizabeth is in the film, and she’s game for a grueling and demanding part in the film.  There is also the always reliable Judy Greer as a fast-talking publicist who finds herself butting heads with Ellie throughout.  There is also a cameo from Scott Baio as himself, and it’s just about perfect. Portia de Rossi plays a psychic, and she makes the most out of her limited screen time. Singer and songwriter Mya has a fun turn as the best friend of the Shannon Elizabeth character. As far as the standouts from this amazing cast, the brother/sister relationship between Eisenberg and Ricci is the heart of the film, and it feels very real.  They felt like brother and sister. Joshua Jackson also has just the right amount of mysterious charm to him, and Greer is a spitfire as always.

Any problems with “Cursed” are not the fault of Craven or Williamson. They were at the mercy of the studio.  It felt like they were both looking to make a witty werewolf film to turn the genre on its head just like they did with “Scream” while the studio and producers were looking to make a PG-13 film.  It’s why we are left with a film that shows hints of greatness and other moments which were aimed to be studio-friendly.  There are too many jump scares for example.  At times, the film plays it too safe.  Other times, in the unrated cut, they really go for the gore.

However, when it was all said and done, I enjoyed the hell out of “Cursed.”  The script is witty, sharp and timely for the early 2000’s. When I see its flaws, like the jump scares and poor special effects, I know it is the studio and not Craven, and that’s even though it’s his film.  When I see the material that works, such as the strong acting, the self-awareness and the gore in the unrated version, I see what could have been if the studio let Craven make the film he wanted to and stayed out of things. It’s clear the studio didn’t know how to market “Cursed” as it had a budget of $75 million, and it only made $29.6 million.

While this might sound like a negative review at times, I think “Cursed” is a cult classic which will gain more appreciation now that it’s released on this two-disc set from the fine folks over at Scream Factory.  I think it will get a second life. There is a lot of good in this film, and it allowed me, as the viewer, to overlook the studio’s interference. I really wish audiences could have seen the original werewolf design by the legendary Rick Baker (“An American Werewolf in London”) in the film.  Even though his name is in the credits, his work is not featured in it.  That’s a major mistake on the studio’s part. This is a really good movie which could have been great.  I still like it a whole lot. 

Do yourself a favor and read all of the drama surrounding this film.  It’s a miracle it was released at all. A special shout-out to Scream Factory for giving “Cursed” its day in court. It’s an enjoyable ride, warts and all.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

Blu-Ray Info: “Cursed” is released on a two-disc Collector’s Edition Blu-ray set from Scream Factory.  It comes on a 1080p High-Definition Widescreen (2.40:1) transfer with an audio track of DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and with subtitles in English. The theatrical cut has a running time of 97 minutes while the unrated cut is 99 minutes. The unrated cut is the one to watch.

Special Features:

Theatrical Cut

Unrated Cut

Theatrical Trailer

NEW 4K scan of the original camera negative

NEW A Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing – an interview with actor Derek Mears (13:57) – Derek Mears talks about his start in Hollywood as a stuntman and his background and training. He talks about his start on “Wild Wild West” and how he met Rick Baker on the film.  He also discusses how it can be hard in Hollywood to be seen as an actor and a stuntman as they want one or the other. Baker was how he got involved in “Cursed” as the werewolf. He details some of the issues when shooting the film, but he was mostly thankful for the opportunity to work with Craven, Baker and Williamson. I really enjoyed his enthusiasm and love of horror films.

NEW A Movie That Lives Up to Its Title – an interview with editor Patrick Lussier (17:57) – He talks about his early work with Craven going back to 1991 on TV. The fact they offered Craven a ton of money to make this film, and it would have put a lot of crew members out of work is ultimately the reason why he chose to direct it.  Craven had his concerns about the tone of the film and if it would be similar to “Vampire in Brooklyn” and the problems he had on that one.  Lussier was only supposed to be on “Cursed” for six weeks, and in total, he worked 19 months on the film. WOW! He goes into tremendous detail on the issues that plagued the film from start to finish.  In his words, “It was something to have survived.”  There were issues with Dimension Films changing the ending, test scores influencing them, and cast and crew members coming and going.  He ends it with a great quote on Dimension Films, “They don’t pay you for what you do. They pay you for what they do to you.”

Behind the Fangs: The Making of “Cursed” (07:33): This is a previously released special feature which includes interviews with the cast and crew.

The “Cursed” Effects (06:45): This is another previously released special feature which includes interviews with Derek Mears, Greg Nicotero, and Judy Greer.   It’s kind of odd to see everyone speaking so positively about the film and its effects, considering all of the drama surrounding what went on.

Becoming a Werewolf (07:58): Jesse Eisenberg hosts this special feature which is clearly tongue in cheek. Eisenberg and Nicotero have some fun together in playing this straight for laughs. Craven pops up here as well to join in on the fun. It’s also written and directed by Eisenberg, and his trademark humor is evident throughout.

Creature Editing 101 (05:32): Now this special feature is really interesting to watch considering what he said in his new interview that is included on this Collector’s Edition Blu-ray. He’s much more politically correct here.

Select Scenes with Audio Commentary by Special Effects Artist Greg Nicotero and Actor Derek Mears: The following scenes are featured: Car Wreck, Parking Garage, Tinsel and Final Fight.

Should You Buy It?

As a horror fan, this is a film definitely worth adding to your collection.  “Cursed” is a film a lot of people have talked about online over the past few years.  They have been clamoring to see the Craven cut of the film, but it’s not clear who owns the footage, and also the original ending was never shot. It has achieved cult status thanks to the fans. I’ve even revisited it a few times over the past year, and I’ve grown to enjoy it more and more with each viewing.  I also can’t help but wonder, “What if?” when I watch the film.  I wonder what could have been if the studio had let Craven do his thing and stayed out of his way.  I also wish Scream Factory would have released this film on 4K as they have been releasing a lot of their titles in this high-definition format. It looks pretty good on Blu-ray, but I imagine a full 4K release would have been really, really fun to look at, especially during the gorier scenes.  If you love Scream Factory and horror films with an interesting backstory, this is a must-own.  I think it’s only going to grow in popularity after this Blu-ray release.

There are two new special features here which are really good, but it would have been quite a treat to have a few modern interviews with some of the main cast members. I imagine they would have some fascinating and bizarre stories to tell. You can pre-order the film now on the Shout/Scream Factory website as it will be released on May 10th.

Underseen Movie: ‘The Rum Diary’ – A Ralph Report Video Vault Selection

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written back in 2011, long before a certain Hollywood couple’s relationship became toxic and imploded in front of the whole world. Also, Ralph Garman recently featured this film as a Video Vault selection on “The Ralph Report,” and I applaud him for doing so.

Based on the book written by the late Hunter S. Thompson, “The Rum Diary” captures the Gonzo journalist at perhaps his earliest point in life which came to define his style of writing. Johnny Depp plays Jack Kemp, but as he did with his character of Raoul Duke in Terry Gilliam’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” he is essentially channeling Thompson here whom he had befriended years ago. It also marks Bruce Robinson’s first directorial effort in 19 years (the last being “Jennifer 8”), and he clearly has not lost his touch.

Kemp is a rootless journalist who has come to Puerto Rico to write for The San Juan Star. Having had his fill of New York and the Eisenhower administration, he longs to escape to a paradise that will not make him feel his age. But as beautiful as Puerto Rico is, there is an ugliness that cuts away at the façade which the other newspaper employees escape from through their use of drugs and alcohol, especially rum. Kemp also comes across American businessman Hal Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) who wants Kemp to write a favorable report on his latest greedy scheme, and that is to turn Puerto Rico into a paradise for the wealthy. Soon Kemp will have to decide if he wants to use his words to help Sanderson or expose him for the “bastard” he truly is.

No other actor can successfully emulate the brilliant craziness of Thompson like Depp can. Unlike in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” his Hunter-esque character of Kemp is a little more down to earth. Of course, this is only saying so much. Having been freed, albeit temporarily, from those “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, he gives one of his best performances in a while as he takes Kemp from the highs of his chemical dependency to showing his more vulnerable side as he falls for Sanderson’s fiancée, Chenault (the ever so beautiful Amber Heard).

“The Rum Diary” also features terrific performances from a perfectly chosen supporting cast. Michael Rispoli is great fun as photojournalist Bob Salas who is the first real friend Kemp makes in Puerto Rico. Richard Jenkins never lets that wig he’s wearing upstage him as newspaper editor Edward J. Lotterman. Aaron Eckhart finds just the right balance in playing Sanderson as he charms everyone around him and yet hints subtlety at the vicious businessman hiding beneath the surface. But it is Giovanni Ribisi who almost steals the show as Moberg, a hygienically challenged religion reporter always under the influence of some sort of narcotic.

Robinson also wrote the screenplay and revels in each of the character’s bizarre eccentricities. These are some of the more unusual characters I have seen in any 2011 movie, and they are the kind which has been missing from movies in general. Things do drag a bit towards the end, and I wish he would have brought more of the same manic energy Gilliam brought to “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Still, he has managed to make a movie most Hollywood studios rarely, if ever, dare to greenlight these days.

“The Rum Diary” may be a story from the past, but it is a story of rich people displacing native citizens for their own wealthy benefit, something not lost on American audiences these days. The paranoia-filled philosophies of certain characters make the advancement of the Tea Party seem not as big a surprise in hindsight. But as pummeled as Kemp gets, you believe he will get the “bastards” with words, and that his words will bruise his most unforgiving enemies. We all yearn for someone to stick it to the man, and Depp gives us a character who can do just that. Seeing him back in Hunter S. Thompson’s realm is a real treat.

* * * out of * * * *

Underseen Movie: ‘Fish Tank’ – 2009 Jury Prize Winner at Cannes

Here’s a little British independent feature which came out at the beginning of 2010 in America after being named the Jury Prize Winner at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. Unfortunately, however, it barely registered in movie theaters, so here’s hoping it finds an audience on physical media and/or cable. “Fish Tank” is a raw and unsentimental character study that pulls no punches in its portrayal of a tough and troubled teenage girl growing up in an East London council estate. It was directed by Andrea Arnold, an actress turned filmmaker who previously directed “Red Road,” and it stars Katie Jarvis as Mia, the teenage girl you may figure is up to no good just by looking at her. There is no Hollywood gloss on display here, and the environment this young woman inhabits feels both real and rundown, just like the other characters who are stuck there with her.

Now council estates are to England what public housing or “the projects” are to cities all over the United States; rundown buildings designed for the economically challenged that carry a stigma of poverty and endless crime. Now whether this is true or not, this is usually the impression people have of these places. It is clear from the start that Mia, along with her mother and younger sister Tyler, have lived in this place for a long time, and it has shaped them into the people they are today. There is seemingly no room for much in the way of respect or gratitude towards neighbors or strangers.

Mia appears to have it the roughest compared as she has been kicked out of school and seemingly wanders around the estate aimlessly. We see her putting up a seriously tough front for some girls whose dancing moves she bluntly criticizes as sucking big time, and this leads to her head-butting a girl in the face which shows how quick she is to defend herself. At home in one of the many far too cramped apartments in the council estate, her mother continually treats her like dirt and appears more interested in partying and getting drunk rather than being a parent. The only real tender moment between them comes at the end of the film, and you will know it when you see it. As for Mia’s younger sister Tyler, she has a vocabulary which Chloe Grace Moretz’s character from “Kick Ass” sound PG rated in comparison.

Being the loner she is, Mia’s only escape is practicing her dance moves in an abandoned apartment near where she lives. This proves to be her only real outlet for the frustration and aggravation which has consumed her life to this point. She is shy in revealing this part of herself to just about anyone as vulnerabilities are easily spotted and exploited for all the humiliation which can be derived from them. No one is ever quick to show any weakness in this kind of environment.

Into this environment enters her mother’s latest boyfriend, Connor, a security guard at a nearby hardware store played by Michael Fassbender. Mia is never quick to warm up to others she doesn’t know well, but she quickly develops an interest in Connor who becomes the father figure she lacks. From the moment we see Mia help him catch a fish in the lake with his bare hands (it’s possible), he inspires her to try new things and open herself up to possibilities which previously seemed beyond her reach.

This leads to a great deal of tension in “Fish Tank” as we cannot help but wonder if this relationship is going to end up crossing any boundaries. There are moments captured where the chemistry between Mia and Connor is so strong, you fear the possible and destructive ways this relationship can go to. Words are not needed to illustrate the bond they have, be it when Mia films Connor with a video camera while he’s getting dressed for work, or when Connor gives Mia a piggy back ride out of the river after she injures herself. Their growing discoveries of one another and what they are capable of is impossible to ignore, and we can see the positives of this even while the negatives are never far off.

Arnold films the movie in a way where nothing feels staged, and every character and location feels authentic to what it must be like in reality. I’m not sure a movie like this could have been filmed any other way and have the same effect. She also captures the suffocating environment of being in these big government buildings which are treated more like dumps for the lowest on the economic ladder. The apartments themselves are ridiculously tiny, and there is no privacy for any family member who has to live there. Places like these must feel like prisons to those who inhabit them, and Arnold captures this mindset clearly to where you feel as helpless as these characters do.

As bleak as “Fish Tank” is though, its ending offers hope that anyone can escape such a confining environment if they have the means and the foresight to change their lives for the better. Some are too far gone to be saved, but Mia still has a chance to move forward, and her relationship with Connor makes this clear to her.

Katie Jarvis who plays Mia in had no real acting experience before she got cast in this movie. It turns out she got an audition after one of the casting assistants saw her arguing with her boyfriend quite loudly outside a train station. Indeed, this role not only requires an actress who comes off as tough, but one who inhabits a role more than play it. While a lot of struggling actors out there may hate the fact Jarvis got one of the luckiest breaks ever, it makes a lot of sense Arnold would cast someone who came from this environment.

The role Jarvis plays is not an easy one to portray. Mia has to be tough yet show just enough vulnerability to let the audience look past the defenses she has built up. She also has to be shy but angry, curious without spelling it out for the audience, and her character needs to evolve from the person we see at the start of the movie. This makes her performance all the more revelatory because you come out thinking she has been acting all her life. She successfully captures all the subtle nuances of Mia to bring out the complexities which makes her more than just any other angry young person. Truly, it’s a daunting role for even the most experienced actor, and Jarvis comes out of the picture looking like a pro.

The other key performance comes from Michael Fassbender as Connor. Fassbender has been in movies like Steve McQueen’s “Hunger,” and he stole a number of scenes in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds.” As Connor, he comes across as a generous human being, and it’s commendable that he would want to try and be a father figure to someone else’s children. This is something most people would NOT want to do. But her also gives Connor an enigmatic nature which makes him hard to pin down and figure out. Like Mia, you want to more about this guy than what he is telling everyone around him.

The only real problem I had with “Fish Tank” involved one character’s revelation in the last half. It’s hard to talk about it without giving anything away, but it was one of the few times where I have watched a movie and left it begging for more answers. Mysteries which stay after a movie ends can be fascinating, but others are not so lucky. Some movies need and demand closure, and this one could have used more of one. Either that, or I completely missed something…

I meant to see this film when it briefly played in theaters back in January 2010, but I never got around to it. When I did, it was playing at New Beverly Cinema in a double feature with “An Education.” That film featured another breakout performance from Carey Mulligan, another actress who seemingly came out of nowhere. Having seen both, it was clear why the New Beverly put them together; they are both about the same thing. Each is about a young British girl who feels trapped in an environment they desperately want to escape. Just when they think they have found a way out, reality rears its ugly head and takes any possibilities for an exciting life away from them rather cruelly. Still, both women rise above the pain inflicted on them and find a way to move on in spite of what they were forced to endure.

For those of you with a hankering for dramas with raw emotion and non-manufactured realism, “Fish Tank” is definitely a movie I recommend for you to see. As I write this, the Criterion Collection has released a special edition of it on DVD and Blu-ray. It features a digital transfer of the film, some short films by Arnold, and interviews with the actors, one of which is with Fassbender. In a time where the local cinema is getting overrun by blockbuster movies and immortal franchises, movies like this demand to be seen, and this is one of them.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘Malignant’ Movie and Blu-ray Review

The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent, Tony Farinella.

Malignant” was not only one of the most polarizing horror films of 2021, it was one of the most polarizing 2021 films in general.  There were critics and fans who called it a horror classic and one of the best horror films they’ve seen in quite a while.  You also had an audience which absolutely hated the film and thought it was laughably silly.  I thought it was one of the most entertaining, graphic, and in-your-face films of this past year.  It reminded me a lot of a David Cronenberg film with its use of imagery, especially during some of the later scenes, which I don’t want to go into great detail about because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone.

Our film opens with a pregnant woman named Madison Mitchell (Annabelle Wallis) coming home from a long day of work to an abusive husband watching UFC on TV. He ends up banging her head against the wall in a fit of rage when he finds out she is not feeling too well.  They have had a couple of miscarriages in the past, and he is abusing her as though it is her fault.  Things, however, take an even more dramatic turn for the couple when her husband, Derek (Jake Abel), ends up dead in brutal fashion.  The two detectives on the case, played by George Young and Michole Briana White, first look at it as a home invasion where the husband died and the woman suffered some major injuries.  However, Madison doesn’t remember anything about a home invasion or what happened that night.

She turns to her sister, Sydney (Maddie Hasson), to help her figure out exactly what is going on. Things are taken up another notch when more and more people end up dead, and Madison is able to see and experience them as if she is there for the murder, even though she’s at home.  Detective Kekoa Shaw (George Young) is very curious about the case and believes the sisters when they say something is amuck.  He’s not afraid to look into it and investigate it while his partner, Regina Moss (Michole Briana White), thinks the two sisters are not making a lot of sense. However, before long, it’s not hard to see a connection between Madison and all of the murders.

“Malignant” is a film which relies on a big twist in the third act.  A lot of people said they saw the twist coming.  When I’m engrossed in a film, I tend not to spend a lot of time trying to figure out the result.  I’m more focused on what is happening and letting it unfold for me before my eyes. I’ve seen this film twice now: once on HBO Max and now on Blu-ray.  The first time I watched it, I found it a little slow-moving, tedious and, at times, quite dull.  The third act, however, saved the film for me.  I remember looking at my wife after the amazing third act and saying, “I need to watch this movie again. That ending blew me away!”

On a second viewing, the first half made a lot more sense to me, perhaps because I knew what was going to happen and how it was going to end.  This is a film which is only going to get better with multiple viewings.  I truly believe it is going to be a cult-classic for decades to come because of how balls-to-wall and brutally bloody and gory it is.  With that being said, this is a smart, well-made and well-acted horror movie.  It’s also a smart look at PTSD, trauma, how we handle it, and how our thoughts can control us.  There is a lot underneath the surface of “Malignant” and a whole lot to like.

James Wan, director of “Saw,” “The Conjuring”, “Insidious,” and “Furious 7” to name a few, has shown he has a great eye behind the camera.  This might be his most ambitious film to date which is saying something considering he directed “Aquaman.”  He goes for broke and does not disappoint.  As I mentioned earlier, I had a whole new appreciation for this film on a second viewing.  The emotional aspects are incredibly powerful and work in the world of a horror film.  Wan has always known how to create drama and real characters in a horror movie that you care about and root for from start to finish. I can’t wait to watch it again and again.  It’s a true work of art.

* * * * out of * * * *

Blu-Ray Info: “Malignant” is released on a single-disc Blu-ray from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. It also comes with a digital code of the film. The film has a running time of 111 minutes and is rated R for strong horror violence, gruesome images, and language.

Video/Audio Info:  This comes on a 1080p High-Definition transfer.  The audio formats are DTS-HD MA: English 5.1, Dolby Digital: English Descriptive Audio, French, and Spanish. Subtitles are included in English, French, and Spanish.

Special Features:

Malignant: James Wan’s Visions

Should You Buy It?

YES, YES, and YES!!! The major bummer is the fact there is only one fourteen-minute special feature on this Blu-ray.  I would have loved an audio commentary with director James Wan. I’ve listened to his commentaries on some of his previous films, and he never fails to entertain and inform the audience.  This is the only blemish on this release: one tiny special feature.  However, if you are looking at the stand-alone film, this is a great one to pick up for the horror fan in your life.  They will not be disappointed by the final product.  I understand the polarizing nature of the film based on reviews from both critics and audiences alike.  However, I think “Malignant” is a horror masterpiece. The jail scene took my breath away.  The way it’s shot with wall-to-wall action is simply outstanding.  The way he takes his time in building up to the finish is exceptional. This film is only going to get better the more you watch it.  You should take a chance on it. You won’t regret it.

**Disclaimer** I received a Blu-ray copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free.  The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.

Underseen Movie: ‘Cloak & Dagger’ – Only in the 1980’s …

I first watched “Cloak & Dagger” back when I was nine or 10 years old, having recorded it on VHS when it premiered on channel 13, which was then known as KCOP in Los Angeles. From there, it became one of the many movies like “Bullitt,” Airplane” and “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” which I would watch a least a hundred times and never get tired of. Henry Thomas, in one of his post-“E.T.” movies, stars as Davey Osborne, an 11-year-old boy who escapes from reality into the world of Cloak & Dagger, a role-playing video game which features the exploits of the spy Jack Flack. Bored with life and yearning for a real adventure, Davey and his next-door neighbor Kim (a precocious Christina Nigra) embark to downtown San Antonio where he inadvertently witnesses a murder and gets hold of a video game cartridge of the Cloak & Dagger which is later revealed to contain top secret information. Davey’s wish of a real adventure comes true, but it soon becomes a reminder of what Augustus Hill once said on the HBO drama series “Oz:”

“Be careful what you wish for brother. Be very, very careful…”

Naturally, most people don’t believe Davey when he tries to explain what happened, and this includes his father, Hal, who loves him dearly but worries about him excessively as his son’s overactive imagination seems to constantly be getting the best of him. Once again, we have a movie which continues the theme of parents not listening to their kids until it is much too late. Then again, if parents did listen to their kids, a movie like this would not exist.

We also discover Davey is still grieving the loss of his mother who had recently passed away which quickly explains his constant escapes into a fantasy world. These elements combine together to make Hal believably dubious of his son’s claims, making it all the easier for the bad guys to try and capture him, and they are not about to show him mercy just because he is not yet a teenager.

I still vividly remember the “Cloak & Dagger” television ads just as it was coming out. Back then, this movie looked a little too scary for someone of my tender age to sit through, and my brother had already scared me off from seeing “Gremlins” although this was for reasons I would not discover until years later. Once the film made its television debut where all the “good stuff” was edited out, it seemed easier to take in.

Plus, seeing Henry Thomas with a gun excited me to no end. For once, the children were going to defend themselves without the help of adults! Now please keep in mind, I was a little boy playing with water guns back when this film was released (much to chagrin of my parents), so my mindset was, shall we say, somewhat different.

For a PG-rated movie, “Cloak & Dagger” is actually pretty brutal! You have adults shooting at kids, Davey ends up shooting a bad guy to death, another character looks like they got shot in the eye, and a kid almost gets run over by a van. You would not see anything like that in a PG rated movie these days (PG-13 movies are a different story), and this includes a cold-blooded villain telling Davey just how much he is going to enjoy blowing his kneecaps off. Looking at a movie like this today, my response to it would be, “only in the 1980’s…”

But for what it’s worth, “Cloak & Dagger” doesn’t glamorize real life violence and succeeds in making a distinction between the world of make believe and the finality of death in real life in a way which can only be rendered in a PG-rated motion picture. The movie is really more of a coming-of-age story in which Davey comes to discover how these imaginary adventures he constantly engages in are nothing compared to the violence waged in real life as certain actions render a solution which is permanent in inescapably brutal ways. Davey also comes to realize this even before reaching the age of puberty, so you know his teenage years are going to more torturous than what the average adolescent is forced to endure.

Thomas’ performance as Davey Osbourne was proof his excellent performance in “E.T.” (one of the best ever given by a child actor) was no fluke. You never catch him acting, and everything he does comes from a believable and natural place. Even as the movie heads into the inescapable territory of illogic which is typically inescapable in 80’s action movies, Thomas remains the emotional center of the story and keeps us watching to the very end. It’s hard enough to ask a pre-teen to carry any feature length movie on their shoulders, but Thomas had long since proven to be a true professional in doing so.

The other big actor here is Dabney Coleman who, back in the 1980’s seemed to be in every other movie. He plays Davey’s Air Force father, Hal Osborne, as well as his imaginary hero Jack Flack whom Davey sees as a more appealing version of his dad. Coleman is great in both roles, and you really have to appreciate his performance as Hal because it could have been your typically clichéd one-note daddy character. Throughout, he rides a good balance between being the disciplinarian and the sympathetic father who remembers what his life was like as a kid. Like his son, Hal wanted to be a hero too.

However, Coleman is clearly having more fun playing superspy Jack Flack who may not be as smooth or as dashing as James Bond, but is still very clever in his own mustached way. All that’s missing is a patch over one of his eyes, but Kurt Russell already beat him to this in “Escape From New York.” Seeing the actor reacting to his performance as Hal is good for a few laughs as Flack never stops deriding the man’s lack of belief and faith in his son.

When it comes to the bad guys, they are the typical one-dimensional types you usually find in 1980’s movies, but that’s just fine here. Eloy Casados plays Alvarez as your mainly stone-faced henchman; the kind of guy who smirks more than he smiles, and not just because he’s in a foul mood. In fact, a guy like him is typically never really happy about anything. I also love how he shoots at Davey from only a few feet away and STILL COMPLETELY MISSES HIM. He would have made a great stormtrooper.

Then you have Haverman who is played by former professional football player Tim Rossovich. With his strong body and build, he’s like the Incredible Hulk as a bad guy, except he doesn’t turn green and rip off his clothes whenever he gets pissed (his jeans do look a little tight on him though). The door is locked? This guy just smashes right through it as if it were no big thing, and it got to where I was just waiting for him to say:

“HAVERMAN SMASH!!!”

But the main baddie here is Rice, and he is played by Michael Murphy in a truly chilling performance. Murphy, still a few years away from playing the spineless mayor of Gotham in “Batman Returns,” gives you the perfect kind of bad guy you love to despise with every fiber of your being as he makes you believe Rice would think nothing of killing a kid who stood in the way of his ultimate goal; delivering government secrets to spies. Man, I remember wanting to see him get his just desserts as soon as he appeared onscreen.

When it comes to scene stealers, Christina Nigra wins the prize as Davey’s non-imaginary friend, Kim. Her sassy attitude makes for some great moments, especially when she informs her mother that Davey’s father is not her type. She does get annoyed with Davey when he takes things a little too far, but even she comes to admit he is never ever boring. Nigra also holds her own in front of the airport police chief as he smokes a cigarette in very close proximity to her. You don’t even see her complaining about the smoke. Maybe the anti-smoking campaigns hadn’t reached her school yet.

There are a couple of other familiar faces to be found here including the late Robert DoQui whose subdued performance as Lt. Fleming is the polar opposite of the hard-nosed and law enforcement chief we saw him portray in the “Robocop.”. William Forsythe also shows up as Davey’s other friend Morris and, seriously, he doesn’t look like he has aged a day since 1984. Even Louie Anderson appears for less than a minute as a hygienically challenged taxi cab driver who offers to give Davey a ride to the airport but only if he gives him $15 dollars in advance.

“Cloak & Dagger” marked the second collaboration between director Richard Franklin and screenwriter Tom Holland. Their previous film together was the eagerly awaited sequel “Psycho II,” and while this film offers them a change of pace, it still proves to be pretty intense. That they managed to find a balance between the real and imaginary worlds Davey Osbourne inhabits is fairly remarkable as it could not have been the least bit simple.

So much has changed in the world since “Cloak & Dagger” first came out, and it now seems astonishing just how dark it was compared to the movies that come out today with a PG rating. It was made back when you didn’t need a plane ticket to get through security screening, and you could hang out with your loved ones at the gate before their plane took off. You could smoke on airplanes back then as well. What hasn’t changed or weakened through the passing of time are the performances of Thomas and Coleman. Both are a reason why this film managed to find such a large audience on video after it failed to do so in movie theaters.

Of course, these days I have to wonder what a “Cloak & Dagger” sequel might look like. While certain questions were easy to answer back in the 1980’s, everything these days feels far more complex. There’s no doubt Davey Osbourne would be severely traumatized by his experiences here, and perhaps he and Kevin McCallister from “Home Alone” can join forces as they both defeated their antagonists in very painful ways.

Once again, only in the 1980’s could a movie like this have been made.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife’ – A Worthy Installment

The “Ghostbusters” franchise is a lot like the “Predator” franchise in that filmmakers take them in all sorts of directions in the hopes of reintroducing classic characters to a new generation. When it came to “Ghostbusters II” and “Predator II,” neither could match the power or cultural zeitgeist of the original, and we were reminded of how you cannot catch lightning in a bottle twice. A third “Ghostbusters” has been lingering in development hell for decades now, and the 2016 reboot looked like the best we could hope for. Then again, despite a terrific cast, the reboot was a financial failure. After that, I had to wonder, now who we gonna call?

Well, after many years and the COVID-19 pandemic which delayed its release, we now have “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” which was directed and co-written by Jason Reitman, the son of “Ghostbusters” (1984) director Ivan Reitman. What results threatens to be a mixed bag as this sequel relies a bit too much on fan service and treads through familiar territory, but if you can get past that, it still proves to be wonderfully entertaining and has a lot to say about the importance of family.

Thirty years after the events of “Ghostbusters II,” we are introduced to Callie (Carrie Coon), a single mother of two kids, the extremely bright but socially awkward Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and the restless and cellphone-addicted Trevor (Finn Wolfhard). This family is struggling financially and emotionally, and only their infinite sarcasm can help them get through the day. And just when they find themselves evicted from their meager apartment, Callie comes to discover her father, whom she has been estranged from for years, has recently died, and she has now inherited his dilapidated farmhouse where he appeared to be farming nothing other than dirt.

The farmhouse is located in Summerville, Oklahoma, a town which looks to be located out in the middle of nowhere. While the land stretches as far as the eye can see, there apparently is very little going on, and it reminds me of what David Ratray, who played Buzz McCallister in “Home Alone,” once said:

“We live on the most boring street in the whole United States of America, where nothing even remotely dangerous will ever happen. Period.”

But soon after this family arrives in Summerville, strange things begin happening which cannot be seen as anything other than terrifyingly supernatural.

I have to say I really admired how “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” reminds you of how things can be forgotten after so many years. Those who watched the original “Ghostbusters” back when it came out in 1984 have watched it many times since as it was that good and so hilarious. But as time goes on, you have to be reminded of how easy it is for people to forget about the past, or that some have not seen nor remember certain events because, well, they weren’t born yet. Phoebe has to remind others of this, and it brings back memories me of when I ask certain individuals, “You’ve never seen a ‘Star Wars’ movie?!”

Jason Reitman has stated this film is about family above all else, and it definitely shows. The family of Callie, Phoebe and Trevor have been through more than the average family should ever have to experience, but then again, maybe this is common for what’s left of the middle class. While the Spenglers may be stuck in a realm of bitterness and a desperation to understand why they are at where they are. “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” implies while some families might be better off with certain members, others deserve an explanation. When it comes to explanations, the one this family gets helps to absolve a lot of bad feelings as living in a place of bitterness is a very unattractive quality in a human being.

When it comes to the screenplay, Reitman and his co-writer Gil Kenan have provided the cast with a lot of inspired dialogue as these two do not want them to be saddled with any of the clunky kind which ends up in every other motion picture. Seriously, the characters more often than not talk like real people here, and for me this is such a relief.

The cast all around is perfectly chosen. Carrie Coon, who may be best remembered for playing Ben Affleck’s sister in “Gone Girl,” is sublime as Callie. Right from the start, she makes this single mother a force to be reckoned with even as she matches her children’s sarcasm word for word.

Perhaps my favorite piece of casting here is Mckenna Grace who plays Phoebe as she takes this Wesley Crusher-like character and makes her ever so appealing. When I was a kid, characters like Phoebe were presented in movies as the kind I should avoid being like, but watching Grace here reminds me of how being incredibly intelligent but socially awkward can really pay off later in life. She really invites you to follow Phoebe as she becomes the big hero of the show here.

When it comes to Finn Wolfhard, I imagine many will look at his performance as a regurgitation of his work from “Stranger Things,” but such an accusation is not altogether fair. As Trevor, he portrays the normal teenager who is quick to become enamored of the opposite sex once he arrives in Summerville. What results is something which may feel similar to the infinitely popular Netflix series, but this young actor clearly knows how to distinguish Trevor Spengler from Mike Wheeler just as he did with Richie Tozier from the latter in the recent cinematic adaptation of Stephen King’s “It.”

And then there is Rudd, Paul Rudd. The actor, recently named as People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive (someday it will be me), is a blast as science teacher Gary Grooberson. Whether he is slobbering over all the Ghostbusters equipment or showing R-rated movies to a group of disaffected kids (kudos to him for selecting “Cujo” by the way), we are quickly reminded of how we can never go wrong with this guy. As much as I want to say “damn you,” the man never ceases to be an entertaining presence.

Now when it comes to the nostalgia featured here, it does come on fairly heavy, but it doesn’t capsize the film. Unlike sequels such as “Blues Brothers 2000” which was so jam-packed with so many familiar characters and scenes to where the déjà vu made me want to turn it off and watch the original instead, this one treads the line carefully to give us something a bit different even as it pays homage to the 1984 original.

Having said that, part of me wishes “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” was bit more original and did not simply re-employ old villains. If this franchise is to continue beyond this installment, and several post-credit scenes indicate it will, the filmmakers should be willing to take new chances in the future. Even Rob Simonsen’s music score sounds more like a simple adaptation of Elmer Bernstein’s to where it is hard to spot any new themes. It is a bit like when J.J. Abrams brought back Emperor Palpatine for “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker;” he’s a great villain and the kind you love to sneer at, but he failed once before and we know he will again, you know?

Still, I very much enjoyed this sequel as it provides audiences with terrific characters who are inhabited by a very talented cast, and the effects are excellent throughout. And yes, there are great surprises to be found here, and I am not about to spoil them for you even if others have already.

But most importantly, this is a film with a lot of heart, and this should be completely clear during its last act. The final scene shows how the deeply embittered can be healed through love and understanding, and that’s whether or not you have a proton pack or ghost trap available. As the end credits came up, it was real treat to hear Ray Parker Jr.’s theme song once again. Where it once was annoying as hell, now it has been found again as “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” finally gives this franchise a truly worthy installment.

* * * out of * * * *

Matthew Lillard on His Directorial Debut ‘Fat Kid Rules the World’

Actor Matthew Lillard appeared at the Silent Movie Theater in Los Angeles on September 12, 2012 where Cinefamily presented a sneak preview of his directorial debut, “Fat Kid Rules the World.” Based on the award-winning book of the same name by K.L. Going, it has already won the Narrative Feature Spotlight Audience Award at the 2012 SXSW Film Festival, and the audience at the Silent Movie Theater sounded just as enthusiastic as those festival-goers did over what Lillard brought to the silver screen.

One audience member asked Lillard what the budget was on “Fat Kid Rules the World,” and to hear him answer the question gives you an idea of how tight everything has become in the realm of independent film.

Matthew Lillard: We are well under a million dollars. We are a $750,000 dollar movie. We raised $158,000 dollars on Kickstarter (the audience applauded this), and we shot in 23 days in Seattle, Washington.

After winning the audience award at the SXSW Film Festival, Lillard thought “Fat Kid Rules the World” had it made because people loved it, and the reviews were really great. But then came the time to try and sell it to Hollywood studios.

Matthew Lillard: When the offers came in, they were all pretty terrible. I mean, they were all VOD (Video on Demand), and it gave us very little opportunity for our low budget movie to make its money back.

Granted, making an independent film has never been easy, but the way they are made these days show how much this industry has changed so much since the 1990’s. Eventually, Lillard decided he and his backers should bypass the typical route filmmakers take to sell their movies and create a new opportunity for themselves.

Matthew Lillard: With the $158,000 dollars (from Kickstarter), we put the movie on the Vans Warped tour all summer long. We made a deal with Tugg (a website for movies) so any kid anywhere in America can set up a screening of our film in their local cinema. If a kid lives in Fairbanks, Alaska, he can go to tuggthefatkid.com and request a screening of our film in his local cinema. They will set a threshold and the theater will say they’ll do it for forty people, and if forty people pre-buy a $10 dollar ticket then they will set it up at that time at that date in your theater.

Lillard went on to say that the highest requested movie before “Fat Kid Rules the World” got 330 requests, and his has already gotten over 1,000.

And when it comes to the life of this movie, Lillard made it abundantly clear how it is in the hands of the people who end up seeing it. It’s always great to hear stories like this as there are many different avenues available to filmmakers today, and we are not always sure of what they are.

Lillard then finished the evening by explaining to the audience why he made “Fat Kid Rules the World.”

Matthew Lillard: We made this movie for kids that are lost in the world. It’s an underdog story about an obese kid who finds punk rock music. For me, I wanted to make the movie because I found acting in my life when I was thirteen and it changed my life, and I think that there are kids out there that need this fucking movie. I did a movie called “SLC Punk,” and kids needed that movie. If I walk down the street in Austin, Texas people will come out to me and say, “Dude, SLC Punk changed my life!” And my goal, as lame as it is, is to help a kid out there who needs the movie finds the movie and it speaks to him and it changes his life or he finds himself. And that’s our goal, and you can help us do that.

“Fat Kid Rules the World” is available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray, and Digital.

Underseen Movie: ‘State and Main’ – A Ralph Report Video Vault Selection

One of my favorite parts of “The Ralph Report” podcast has been the Video Vault segment in which Ralph Garman, Steve Ashton and Eddie Pence recommend movies to watch that people may not be particularly familiar with. One episode had the three recommending movies about filmmaking, and Ralph picked David Mamet’s comedy “State and Main.” While listening to him describe this film, it suddenly occurred to me I had rescued a DVD copy of it from a Blockbuster Video store which was about to close forever. It has stood proudly on my shelf for many years, but therein lies the problem; I never took the time to watch the movie, and it was written and directed by Mamet for crying out loud!

So, the question is this, do I put “State and Main” in the “Underseen Movies” category as it was not a huge hit upon its release in 2000, or do I instead put it the one I lovingly titled “No, I Haven’t Seen It Until Now?” Come to think of it, maybe I should create a new category entitled “No Longer Gathering Dust on My Shelf” as there are many DVDs and Blu-rays I own which I promised myself to view one day, and yet they still remain unseen by me. So, what are my excuses regarding this? That was a rhetorical question.

Anyway, “State and Main” starts off with a Hollywood film crew invading the small New England town of Waterford, Vermont to make a movie called “The Old Mill.” We quickly learn this crew had been kicked out of New Hampshire as the movie’s star, Bob Barrenger (Alec Baldwin), has a penchant for underage girls, something many do not take kindly to (need I say why?). Once the director, Walt Price (William H. Macy) arrives, he thinks he has found the perfect location as the town does indeed have an old mill which the film’s writer, Joseph Turner White (Philip Seymour Hoffman), has centered his screenplay around. They quickly find out, however, that the town’s mill has long since burned down to the ground, so several things, among others, need to be changed in the screenplay even if it goes against the writer’s original intentions.

Part of the fun “State and Main” is watching how Hollywood succeeds in bringing out the worst impulses in everyone. Whether it’s the film crew, the cast or the townspeople, everyone is out to get their piece of the pie, and everyone is a player. A plethora of chaos ensues, and this all happens even before a single frame of footage for “The Old Mill” is shot.

When it comes to Mamet, his plays and screenplays cut really deep when it comes to the real world, and his take on Hollywood players can be quite scathing. Just look at “Speed-the-Plow” in which three movie studio employees engage in a power struggle to get a certain movie made while moving up the corporate ladder to become rich beyond their wildest dreams. Then there was the political satire “Wag the Dog” in which Robert De Niro and Anne Heche and fabricate a war in Albania to distract Americans from a Presidential sex scandal, and they enlist Dustin Hoffman, playing a famous Hollywood producer clearly modeled on Robert Evans. Both projects leave a bitter aftertaste whether you enjoy them or not as Mamet acknowledges how brutal and competitive Hollywood can be when it comes to what gets made and how much truth gets revealed to the world at large.

With “State and Main,” however, Mamet gives us something lighter than he usually does as he revels in the various problems and complexities the characters are forced to deal with. Moreover, while he revels in exposing the Hollywood players for the selfish schmucks they can be, the townspeople prove to be every bit as devious in their own unique ways.

Watching William H. Macy here makes one realize why he and Mamet have had such a fruitful working relationship for so many years. Macy is well versed in the rhythm of Mamet’s dialogue, and he does an excellent job of making his character of Walt Price into a filmmaking veteran who has directed more motion pictures than we are quick to realize. Walt is a pro at handling every and all problems which come his way, and he only loses so much of his cool when one of his assistants tells him his wife has gone into labor. While some directors may be understanding, Macy makes you see why Walt treats the impending birth of a baby as an annoying inconvenience.

Is tempting to say Alec Baldwin was in his prime when he played movie star Bob Barrenger here, but he is still quite the actor after all these years and not just because of his work on “Saturday Night Live.” Baldwin makes Bob into the kind of star whom filmmakers work with against their own best interests as he wants to change the dialogue in the script because it doesn’t sound like something he would say in real life. You want to berate him for his selfishness and remind him he is playing a character and not himself, but Baldwin reminds you of how actors like this one are on an island with themselves to where their egos get the best of them before they could ever realize it.   

Philip Seymour Hoffman left the land of the living a few years ago, and watching him in “State and Main” is a bittersweet reminder of the amazing talent we lost all too soon. As screenwriter Joseph Turner White, the actor gives us the perfect portrait of a man struggling for truth amongst a film crew whom sees the truth as a major inconvenience in the large scheme of things. Even as Joseph is forced to navigate a realm of endless cynicism and casual indifference, Hoffman renders this character as someone whom you believe is determined to remain noble to his beliefs even as many around him have long since given up on morality as a concept.

But seriously, my favorite performance comes from Rebecca Pidgeon as Ann, a local bookseller who helps to lift Joseph out of his latest bout of writer’s block. Right from the start, Pidgeon is so charming and fetching as she delivers Mamet’s dialogue like a true pro and makes Ann into one of the cleverest characters a movie like this could ever hope to have. She is just so much fun to watch here, and I could not help but root for her throughout.

And, with this screenplay written by Mamet, you can sure bet there are many lines of dialogue which sound like something only he could have come up with. Here’s a few worth noting:

“Everybody makes their own fun. If you don’t make it yourself, it isn’t fun. It’s entertainment.”

“What’s an associate producer credit?

“It’s what you give to your secretary instead of a raise.”

“It’s not a lie. It’s a gift for fiction.”

“I’m going to rip your heart out, then I’m going to piss on your lungs through the hole in your chest! And the best to Marian…”

But my favorite piece of dialogue, and it has always stood out to me even from the film’s trailer, comes from an exchange between Joseph and Ann:

“But it’s absurd.”

“So is our electoral process. But we still vote.”

Now that line remains as true now as it did back when this movie was released, and I can’t help but still laugh at it loudly as the electoral process is being scrutinized today in ways both sound and utterly ridiculous. By the way, Biden won and Trump lost. That is all.

I am not sure where to rate “State and Main” in regards to the other many works of Mamet. At times I wondered if this material might be a little too light for him, but this was clearly not designed to be as emotionally brutal as “Glengarry Glen Ross.” In the end, I think this was a movie everyone in front of and behind the camera had a lot of fun making, and not just because Mamet’s name was on it. A lot of times, movie sets can be nightmarish places regardless of whether or not Scott Rudin is wandering around on them, but the love everyone had for the material is clearly on display here.  

Big thanks to Ralph Garman for giving me and others a reason to check “State and Main” out. Here’s hoping his recommendation will give this film a stronger shelf life than it already has.

* * * ½ out of * * * *