Horror Film Review: One Hour Photo (dir by Mark Romanek)


I guess some people might argue that the 2002 film, One Hour Photo, isn’t really a horror film.

It’s an argument that I can understand.  The film does have its scary moments, like the scene where Sy Parrish (Robin Williams) dreams that his eyes are exploding.  But there aren’t any ghosts or vampires or hockey mask-wearing slashers to be found in One Hour Photo.  Even the film’s most disturbing moment — in which we see that Sy’s apartment is nearly empty except for a giant collage of pictures that cover his living room wall — is more depressing than scary.

It’s really a very sad movie.  In fact, it’s probably even more sad today than when it was originally released.  Now, when you see Robin Williams’s sad eyes and you hear him talking about how reality can never live up to a photograph, it’s impossible not to think about the actor’s 2014 suicide.  I remember that, when One Hour Photo and Insomnia came out in the same year, there was a lot of talk about how unexpected it was to see Robin Williams playing such dark characters.  Now, of course, that darkness is a key part of Robin Williams’s persona.

In hindsight, it’s also sad because one watches the film with the knowledge that, even if Sy hadn’t lost it at the end of One Hour Photo, he still probably be a lost soul in 2019.  When we first meet Sy, he’s working at the one-hour photo lab in SavMart.  He talks about how much he loves developing pictures.  When someone mentions that they’ve been thinking about getting a digital camera, Sy nervously chuckles and says, “Don’t do that, you’ll put us out of business.”  Of course, in 2019, people take pictures with their phones and even digital cameras are viewed as being something of a relic.  If Sy were around and free today, I doubt he’d have a job.  If he did have a job, it’s doubtful it would be one that would allow him to cover his wall with someone else’s photos.  Instead, in 2019, I imagine Sy would be one of those people following strangers on social media and printing out all their pictures and probably sending them unsolicited DMs and private messages.

Sy is obsessed with the Yorkin family, Will (Michael Vartan), Nina (Connie Nielsen), and their son, Jake (Dylan Smith).  Even though the family barely knows who Sy is, he knows them because Sy has spent years developing (and stealing) their photos.  Sy views them as being the perfect family.  They’re the family that he wants to be a part of.  “Sometimes I think of myself as being Uncle Sy,” he says at one point.  But then Maya Burson (Erin Daniels) brings in her photos to be developed and Sy learns that the reality of the Yorkins is not as perfect as the photographs.  And Sy loses it.

Actually, there’s quite a few reasons why Sy loses it and the film suggests that, if the Yorkins had never stepped into SavMart, Sy would have found another family on which to obsess.  Something is missing inside of Sy.  Incapable of dealing with reality, Sy instead deals with posed pictures of happy times.  Towards the end of the film, there’s a throw-away line that attempts to offer some sort of insight into why Sy is such a lost soul.  Personally, I think the film works better without an explanation.  Why is less important than the fact that Sy exists.

In the end, One Hour Photo qualifies as a horror film not because of any paranormal danger but because it’s a film about the horror of everyday life.  You never know who might be watching you.  That friendly clerk who waits on you at the grocery store might be following you home and imagining that he’s a part of your life.  You never know.  One Hour Photo is the film that suggests that, lurking behind every friendly smile, there’s a blank Sy Parrish.  It’s a scary thought.

Back to School #57: Never Been Kissed (dir by Raja Gosnell)


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The 1999 romantic comedy Never Been Kissed is a definite guilty pleasure of mine, and that’s not just because of the fact that James Franco has a small role in it.  Never Been Kissed is a genuinely sweet movie that might not be extremely realistic but is still enjoyable.

Never Been Kissed requires a certain amount of suspension of disbelief, largely because Josie Gellar, the character who has” never been kissed,” is played Drew Barrymore.  Oh, it’s not that Josie hasn’t ever been kissed.  Instead, it’s that she’s never gotten the type of kiss that every girl dreams of getting.  She’s never been kissed by someone who she was truly in love with.  She’s never had the type of romance that everyone dreams of having (especially when they’re in high school).

However, Josie is about to get a chance to find that kiss.  Josie works for a newspaper and her editor (John C. Reilly) has just assigned her to go undercover at a local high school.  Unfortunately, Josie was traumatized by her experiences the first time that she went to high school.  (She wrote a poem for a boy, he responded by asking her to prom and then throwing eggs at her.)  On her first day as a “student,” Josie finds that she is just as unpopular as the last time but now she’s also absolutely out-of-touch with her classmates.  Fortunately, she’s befriended by Aldys (Leelee Sobieski) and, soon, Josie has finally managed to find a place with the Denominators, a group of intelligent students.

Unfortunately, hanging out with the good kids isn’t producing the type of stories that Josie’s editor wants.  He orders Josie to reject Aldys and to befriend the school’s mean girls.  After her brother, Rob (David Arquette), also enrolls in high school, he helps Josie to become the most popular girl in the school.  Soon, Josie is no longer hanging out with Aldys and has been asked to go to the prom by the loathsome Guy Perkins (Jeremy Jordan).

However, Josie has fallen in love with her English teacher, Sam (Michael Vartan).  Sam likes Josie too but, of course, he thinks that she’s a student.  Will Josie tell the truth and risk losing Sam?  Will she be able to maintain her cover even when she discovers that her new friends are planning to humiliate Aldys?  Will Josie ever truly be kissed?

Well, you can probably guess all the answers.  Nothing really surprising happens in Never Been Kissed but it’s still a likable film.  For the most part, the actors all do a good job with their stock roles and David Arquette, especially, is hilarious as a professional slacker who thrives in high school precisely because he’s never bothered to grow up.  (Of course, by the end of the film, his new high school girlfriend is wanting to know what he’s planning on doing with his life after he graduates….)  At no point is the film in any way realistic but it’s still an enjoyable way to spend 110 minutes of your life.

Never

TV Review: Bates Motel 2.4 “Check-Out”


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As this week’s episode of Bates Motel came to an end, my immediate response was to say: “Now, that’s what I’ve been talking about!”

Much as Norman Bates could never quite decide if he was himself or if he was his mother, Bates Motel has always struggled with whether to fully embrace the over-the-top potential of the show’s concept or whether to try to be a more conventional and audience-friendly show.  Those of us who have been watching since the first episode have often been left to wonder whether Bates Motel would ever truly allow its version of Norman Bates to become as mentally conflicted as the version who showed up in Alfred Hitchcock’s film and Robert Bloch’s novel.  I have always been on the side of those who wanted the show to start boldly going over-the-top and to truly embrace its status as a prequel to Psycho.

The first three episodes of the second season provided hints that the show’s producers agreed with me.  Last night’s episode, however, proved it.

The episode’s final moments , which featured Norman (Freddie Highmore) slipping in-and-out of his mother’s personality while waving a knife at his Uncle Caleb (the same type of knife that was used to kill Janet Leigh in Psycho), were so powerful that they tended to overshadow everything else that happened during the previous hour.  Now, in the case of the drug war subplot, I really don’t mind forgetting.  The drug war is probably the least interesting part of the show and I always find myself hoping that each new episode will be the episode that wraps it up.  Both Dylan (Max Thieriot) and Sheriff Romero (Nestor Carbonell) are interesting characters and they’re both played by talented and appealing actors so why not put them in a subplot that is truly worthy of their talents?  Both of these characters are at their strongest when they’re having to deal with Norma and Norman so why waste time with a plot that — so far at least — has nothing to do with either of them?

However, I did enjoy the episode’s other two storylines.  It’s hard not respect just how determined Norma (Vera Farmiga) is to pretend that everything is normal when it’s clear to everyone else that nothing is normal.  As I’ve stated since this show began, Vera Farmiga kicks ass.  As a result, even though we all know that she’s making the wrong decisions and is raising a future serial killer, it’s impossible not to cheer for her.  From the creepy scene where she and Norman talked to each other while laying in bed to her harrowing argument with Dylan to her hilariously awkward date with George (Michael Vartan), this week’s episode was full of classic Farmiga moments.  Incidentally, I still don’t trust George.  He seems like a nice guy but then again, so did Deputy Shelby.

(Speaking of Deputy Shelby, whatever happened to that girl who chained up in his basement?  Is she still running around in the woods?)

Meanwhile, Emma (Olivia Cooke) may have finally found a boyfriend.  She started the episode waking up in a motel room with the cute guy that she met at Bradley’s beachside memorial.  No, he tells her, they did not have sex though Emma later tells the guy that she would like to do it with him but, at the same time, she wants her first time to be special — especially since it might be her only time.  Emma is my favorite character on the show and Olivia Cooke always does a good job playing her, so I’m always glad to see her get to do something but I have to admit that her new boyfriend isn’t exactly an exciting presence.  Typically, when it comes to television romance, we always hope that our favorite supporting character will end up with the show’s main character.  Certainly, Emma still likes Norman but do we really want to see her get together with him?

Especially after what happened last night.

Freddie Highmore really does not get enough credit for his performance as young Norman Bates.  A lot of that is because Norman is written to be something of a blank.  Highmore has to bring to life a potentially soulless character while also working in the shadow of Anthony Perkins’s iconic performance in Hitchcock’s film.  However, especially during this season, Freddie Highmore has really made the character of Norman Bates his own.  That was especially obvious during this week’s episode.  While soft-focus images of his mother being abused flashed through his mind, Norman waved a knife at Uncle Caleb while speaking in Norma’s voice and it worked brilliantly because of Freddie Highmore’s introspective performance.  Freddie Highmore take a potential jump sharking moment and turned it into the climax of the show’s best episode yet.

Did Norman kill his uncle?  That’s something that we’ll have to wait until next week to find out but one thing is for sure.

Bates Motel, much like the characters who run the show’s title establishment, is capable of anything.

Review: Bates Motel 2.3 “Caleb”


Caleb

Well, that’s certainly icky.

Regardless of whatever else may have happened on this week’s episode of Bates Motel, it will always be remembered as the episode where things got even ickier than before.

I’m talking, of course, about the revelation that Dylan’s (Max Thieriot) father also happens to be his uncle, Caleb (Kenny Johnson).  I have to admit that I wasn’t necessarily surprised by this.  In fact, when one thinks about the world that Bates Motel takes place in, there was really no way that Caleb wasn’t going to turn out to be Dylan’s father.  It explains why Norma wants nothing to do with her oldest son and Max Thieriot, Vera Farmiga, and Kenny Johnson all deserve a lot of credit for their performances tonight.

That said, I’m hoping that Caleb — much like Deputy Shelby and so many of the other sleazy men who have stopped off at the Motel — will not be around that much longer because, seriously, he is just so icky!  Bates Motel has a good track record for violently executing sexual predators and I expect that same fate is waiting for Caleb.

If nothing else, Bates Motel seems to be making a good case against men in general.  Is there a single man in Norma Bates’s life who isn’t a deviant of some sort?  Earlier in the episode — before we discovered that Caleb was Dylan’s father — Norma met a guy named George (Michael Vartan).  George seems like a really nice guy but, seeing as this is Bates Motel, I’m still expecting him to have somebody chained up in his basement.

Along with the arrival of Uncle Caleb and Norma meeting George, this week’s other major subplot was Emma (Olivia Cooke) attempting to throw a beachside memorial service for Bradley.  As I’ve stated in the past, Emma is my favorite character so I was happy to finally see her getting to do something.  The memorial service was neatly contrasted with the garden party that Norma attended.  And just as Norma met George, Norman got to know Cody (Paloma Kwiatkowski), who, now that Bradley is gone, is apparently going to be the latest obstacle keeping Emma and Norman from getting together.

Then again, that might be for the best.

Norman and Emma are an adorable couple but, ultimately, he is Norman Bates, isn’t he?

Random Thoughts and Observations

  • This week’s “Vera Farmiga is a great actress who deserves an Emmy moment”: The Grand Canyon joke.
  • The great White Pine Bay drug war is apparently still raging.  Fortunately, I love Max Thieriot or else the whole drug war would be kind of boring.
  • That said, Dylan was kinda lingering a bit while Norma was getting dressed.  Again — icky!
  • The name of the town newspaper is the White Pine Bay Current.  For some reason, that amused me.
  • I felt so bad for Norma when she saw she hadn’t been cast in the town musical.
  • Tonight’s episode was directed by Lodge Kerrigan, who has a great name.
  • One thing that was not mentioned in this week’s episode: The murder of Ms. Watson.  I really hope that the show isn’t going to abandon that mystery just because Sheriff Romero arrested the wrong guy last week.  I have to admit that I’m still holding out hope that Norman did not kill Ms. Watson.
  • It’s interesting to note that Bates Motel and The Following both air on Monday nights.  They’re both unapologetically sordid shows about psychotic murderers and sexual deviants.  However, I love Bates Motel and I absolutely hate what I’ve seen of The Following.  The difference is that The Following is a sincerely misogynistic show whereas Bates Motel seems to actually like its cast of misfits.
  • “You’re in the chorus?  Do you want to be in the chorus?”  Trust me, nobody wants to be in the chorus!
  • That said, I would rather be in the chorus than be on the tech crew.  Poor Norman.