Quickie Review: Masters of Horror – Cigarette Burns (dir. by John Carpenter)

Cigarette Burns was John Carpenter’s episodic contribution to the Showtime series, Masters of Horror. This 13-episode horror anthology thought up by Mick Garris (a fellow horror director best known for adapting Stephen King stories) which includes eleven other directors known for their work in the horror genre.

John Carpenter works off of a screenplay that posits an interesting premise about an infamous film that caused the audience it was shown to the first time to go homicidal. The story itself involves a man known in the film community as someone who can find and hunt down any copy of film no matter how rare. Norman Reedus (he of Blade II, The Boondock Saints) plays the cinephile who takes on the job to hunt down a copy of this infamous film titled Le Fin Absolue Du Monde. His client was played with relish by resident weirdo Udo Kier. Really, Kier could be given any role and he’ll add his brand of idiosyncracy and weirdness to the part. In Cigarette Burns he plays an obsessive fan of the rare film to the hilt. His contribution to the the climactic ending will bring a smile to gorehounds everywhere. Alas, it’s Kier’s performance that’s the highlight of the acting in Cigarette Burns. Reedus’ performance as Kirby Sweetman the cinephile leaves much to be desired. The screenplay itself was already average, but with genuine ideas that could be explored if the acting could raise it beyond its C-grade pedigree, but Reedus wasn’t up to it.

Carpenter’s directing really can’t be faulted for the major flaws in the screenplay and in his lead’s performance. It’s not early Carpenter, but his work in Cigarette Burns was much better than what he’s done in his last couple films. In fact, this tv show entry in Carpenter’s body of work resembles one of his more underrated films. I am talking about his ode to Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft with In the Mouth of Madness. Instead of a book influencing the sanity of the reader, its a film that does it instead. A film that may or may not have divine origins that doesn’t just turn its viewers homicidal but bend their sense of reality.

I think with a better cast and a screenplay that’s worked on a bit more by its writers, Cigarette Burns could’ve been a great episode in the Masters of Horror anthology or, better yet, become a full-fledged feature film. Instead, it’s just a very good work from Carpenter with great gore sequences (courtesy of KNB EFX), but brought low due to a very rough screenplay and a lead actor in Norman Reedus who seemed stoned, drunk or both throughout his entire performance. It’s not something great, but a good showing from Carpenter that said he’s not as washed-up as many seem to be calling him.

Billy Jack: A Retrospective

So, earlier today, I came across this big discussion/debate going on in the comments section of Arleigh’s review of the “Vatos” episode of the Walking Dead.  One comment in particular caught my attention.  It was from KO, one of my favorite frequent commenters, and it concerned the “Billy Jack” films of the 60s and 70s.

Now, I have to be honest.  Of the four Billy Jack films, I’ve only seen the third, the 3-hour Trial of Billy Jack.  It nearly put me to sleep but the character of Billy Jack continues to fascinate me.  As a Native American, karate-kicking, Viet Nam vet, peace activist, Billy Jack appears to represent everything that was good and bad about the 70s.

So, with that in mind, here’s a chronological collection of Billy Jack trailers:

1) Born Losers (1967) — This was apparently Billy’s first appearance.  On the one hand, it appears to be a pretty standard bikers flick.  But, on the other hand, I want those white boots.

2) Billy Jack (1971) — Apparently, this was — for several years — the most succesful independent film ever.  I’ve got it on DVD.  The back cover reads, “Billy Jack’s just a man who loves children and other living beings.”  Except, apparently, for old, fat, white guys.

3) The Trial of Billy Jack (1974) — Okay, so there’s some legal copyright issues that apparently makes it illegal for me or just about anyone else to post the trailer to this movie online.  Well, it’s a pretty boring movie, to be honest.  But there’s about two and a half minutes of karate action that’s kinda fun and here it is.

4) Billy Jack Goes To Washington (1978)

The final (completed and released) Billy Jack film finds Billy Jack appointed to the U.S. Senate in a remake of Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.  From rebel to establishment in just 11 years, that’s our Billy Jack.

Apparently, the actor who created and played Billy Jack — Tom Laughlin — has been attempting to get a new Billy Jack film off the ground since the late 80s.  He also ran for President in 1992, 2004, and 2008.  Apparently, he’s been dealing with some health issues over the past few years but he still occasionally updates his Billy Jack web site

I wish him the best and I look forward to the return of Billy Jack.

Film Review: Love and Other Drugs (dir. by Ed Zwick)

There is exactly one genuinely effective and emotionally (and intellectually) honest scene in the new film Love and Other Drugs.  It’s a scene that features people who actually have Parkinson’s talking about living life with this disease.  As they speak, they are watched by Anne Hathaway who is playing a character who has Stage 1 Parkinson’s.  Their words brought tears to my eyes but, at the same time, it also reminded me that, unlike them, Hathaway (who smiles throughout the entire scene like a Miss America runner-up) was merely playing someone with Parkinson’s.  It was hard not to think about the fact that while the people speaking are still dealing with the disease today, Hathaway is off shooting her next film.

That’s the type of film that Love and Other Drugs is.  It’s the type of film where the slightest amount of reality only serves to remind the viewer of how fake the rest of the movie is.

The movie stars Jake Gyllenhaal, who I will always love because he will always be Donnie Darko.  That’s why it pains me to say that Gyllenhaal’s over-the-top performance in this film is just a little bit awful.  He’s playing a compulsive womanizer who becomes a salesman for Pfizer in the 1990s.  The first fourth of the film is pretty much made up of him fucking every girl he meets and then abandoning her afterward.  However, the film suggests we shouldn’t hold this against him since apparently, every woman in America is presented as being a giggling, simple-minded whore.  Except, of course, for Anne Hathaway who is presented as being a depressed, angry, and sick.  Gyllenhaal falls in love with her and the subtext here, I guess, is that Gyllenhaal is redeemed because he’s willing to love a girl with a terrible disease.  So, in a way, Anne Hathaway’s character having a terrible disease is the best thing that could have ever happened to our protagonist.

At the same time this is going on, Gyllenhaal is trying to sell a new drug called Viagra which, once again, gives director Ed Zwick an excuse to show a bunch of frumpy women going nuts over a drug for men who can’ t get it up.  Interestingly enough, we don’t see any of the men with limp dicks obsessively taking the pills until all the blood stops flowing to their brains.  Gyllenhaal does have a scene where he can’t get it up but Hathaway (who doesn’t even get upset — now, that is confidence!) still manages to get him off after listening to him talk about how difficult it is to be a rich, white boy.  Later on, Gyllenhaal is tricked into taking Viagra (by a woman, naturally) and he ends up having to go to the ER with an erection that everyone tells us is very impressive.  They have to tell us because we don’t actually get to see it or any other cocks in this film though Anne Hathaway’s boobs are listed in the end credits.

Love and Other Drugs is one of those films that it so overwhelmingly bad that I’m sure it’ll have some passionate defenders who will probably bitch and moan about this review.  So, allow me to say a few things to them now so I won’t have to waste my time replying — when a movie introduces a bunch of senior citizens getting on a bus to go to Canada to get affordable medication just so that Jake Gyllenhaal can later chase the bus down in his Porsche and shout about how much he loves Anne Hathaway, the movie has got some issues.  When a movie features Anne Hathaway responding to getting a breast exam from a fake doctor by then agreeing to fuck the fake doctor, the movie has obviously been made by men who have never given one thought to the reality of breast cancer.  When a movie insists that Hathaway’s promiscuity is due to her being emotionally damaged but Gyllenhaal’s identical behavior is presented as being cute and funny then that essentially makes this movie a sexist fantasy.

As I said earlier, Jake Gyllenhaal gives a performance here that is just bad.  He’s miscast here.  The off-centered vibe that made him the perfect Donnie Darko doesn’t work here and he reacts by smiling during the comedic scenes and screwing up his face all weird-like during the dramatic ones. 

Anne Hathaway — who was so brilliant playing me in Rachel Getting Married — actually gives a pretty good performance but she’s constantly betrayed by the movie’s script and direction.  I was first diagnosed as being bipolar nine years ago and I can say that Hathaway perfectly captures both the shame and the defiance that comes from having a socially unacceptable disease.

The rest of the cast is made up of character actors playing thinly-drawn stereotypes.  Hank Azaria, however, has a few good scenes as a hedonistic doctor but then you have to deal with Gabriel Macht who plays a rival salesman who just happens to be Hathaway’s ex and a psycho.  Why do filmmakers never realize that giving their fantasy figures psychotic ex-boyfriends does nothing more than trivialize the entire plot?  For the entire film, I sat there and wondered, “But why would anyone go out with someone that evil in the first place?  Other than the fact that it’s convenient for the plot?”

I saw this movie with my very good friend Jeff and my sister Erin.  Since Erin is a pharmaceutical sales rep, I asked her how accurate this film was.  Erin smiled and replied, “Well, there is a company called Pfizer.”  I also asked Jeff if this movie was a realistic portrayal of how men see the world.  He declined to answer. 

Love and Other Drugs attempts, all at the same time, to be a romantic drama, an over-the-top comedy, a recreation of history, a political/social satire, and a well-intentioned piece of social advocacy.  Taken individually, each of those genres is difficult to pull off successfully.  Toss them all together and it’s nearly impossible.  Yes, it could be done but not by director Ed Zwick.