4 Shots From 4 Bill Murray Films: Cradle Will Rock, Lost In Translation, The Lost City, Zombieland


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking.

Happy Groundhog Day!

Today is the day when groundhogs across America will be asked whether or not they see their shadow and whether or not winter will be ending anytime soon.  Personally, I’m hoping for a lot more winter.  It still hasn’t snowed here in Texas and, if we don’t get any in February, we’ll probably have to wait until next December to get another opportunity!

Of course, the patron saint of Groundhog Day is Charlotte, the groundhog that was murdered by the mayor of New York a few years ago.  However, this is also a good day to give thanks for Bill Murray and his current place in the pop cultural universe.  So, in honor of Bill Murray, here are….

4 Shots From 4 Bill Murray Films

Cradle Will Rock (1999, dir by Tim Robbins)

Lost In Translation (2003, dir by Sofia Coppola)

The Lost City (2005, dir by Andy Garcia)

Zombieland (2009, dir by Ruben Fleischer)

Horror Film Review: Jacob’s Ladder (dir by Adrian Lyne)


The 1990 film Jacob’s Ladder asks the question, “Who is Jacob Singer?”

Is Jacob (played by Tim Robbins), a soldier serving in Vietnam who has just been severely wounded in an enemy attack and who is now barely clinging to life in a helicopter?

Is Jacob a withdrawn postal worker who lives in 1970s New York with his girlfriend, Jezzie (Elizabeth Pena), and who is haunted by horrifying visions of faceless, vibrating figures and viscous demons?  This Jacob is haunted by ill-defined past incidents.  Whenever he gets depressed, Jezzie is quick to demand that he snap out of it and that he stop thinking about anything other than the present day.  This Jacob can only watch as all of his old friends either sink into paranoia or die.  He hears rumors that they all may have been part of some sort of experiment involving LSD.  He’s sure that he served in the army but when he attempts to hire an attorney, he’s informed that the army has no record of him ever having served in combat and that they say he was discharged for psychological reasons.

Or is Jacob the husband of Sarah (Patricia Kalember) and the father of Gabe (Macaulay Culkin — yes, that Culkin)?  This is the Jacob who occasionally wakes up in bed with his wife and tells her that he’s been having the weirdest dream, one where he was living with “that crazy woman” from the post office, Jezebel?

Which one of these three realities is the truth for Jacob?  At times, Jacob himself doesn’t even seem to be sure.  Perhaps the one thing that you can be sure about in this movie is that whenever Jacob closes his eyes, he’s going to reopen them and discover that he’s in a different time and place.  Jacob spends almost the entire film trying to work out what’s happening in the present, what’s happening in the past, and what’s just happening in his head.

And, to be honest, it all gets a bit pretentious at times.  The film’s script has a lot on its mind.  In fact, it might have a little bit too much going on.  No sooner have you soaked in what the film has to say about denial and acceptance than you’re suddenly getting a crash course in MK-ULTRA and other mind-control conspiracy theories.  Whenever Jacob isn’t seeing demons and faceless apparitions, he’s being kidnapped by government agents.  There’s so much going on that this film can get a bit exhausting.

Fortunately, the film itself is such a triumph of style that it doesn’t matter that the script is a bit of a mess.  Director Adrian Lyne does a great job bringing Jacob’s nightmarish world to life.  Jacob seems to live in a world where the skies are permanently overcast and the streets are always wet after a recent storm.  When Jacob makes the mistake of walking down a subway tunnel, Lyne frames it as if Jacob is literally following a tunnel into Hell.  When a subway train rushes by Jacob, we catch disturbing glimpses of featureless faces facing the windows.  When Jacob sees a demon at a party, Lynne films the moment so that, just like Jacob, it takes us a few minutes to realize what we’re seeing.  And when Jacob is kidnapped and taken to a Hellish hospital, the scene is nightmarish in its intensity.

Tim Robbins gives a great performance as the emotionally withdrawn and haunted Jacob.  (In fact, he’s so good that it makes it all the more sad that he really hasn’t had a decent role since he won an Oscar for 2003’s Mystic River.)  He’s matched by Elizabeth Pena, who constantly keeps you wondering if Jezzie truly cares about Jacob or if she’s just another part of the conspiracy that seems to have taken over his life.

Jacob’s Ladder is an intensely effective, if somewhat messy, horror film.  Apparently, like almost every other horror film released in the 20th century, it’s currently being remade, with the remake due to released on February 9th.  Just in time for Valentine’s Day!

4 Shots From 4 Films: The Natural, Eight Men Out, Bull Durham, Field of Dreams


Today we celebrate the 4th of July, the United States’ Independence Day, and I mean the one from British rule and not from invading aliens.

This day has always been about the balance of one’s level of patriotism (or lackof), gathering with friends and family for barbecues and fireworks. I would also like to add that the 4th of July has also meant watching or listening to one’s favorite baseball team. Baseball, for me at least, will always remain America’s national past time.

So, here are four films that one should check out this day, or any day to understand why baseball remains such a major part for some people’s lives.

4 SHOTS FROM 4 FILMS

The Natural (dir. Barry Levinson)

The Natural (dir. Barry Levinson)

Eight Men Out (dir. by John Sayles)

Eight Men Out (dir. by John Sayles)

Bull Durham (dir. by Ron Shelton)

Bull Durham (dir. by Ron Shelton)

Field of Dreams (dir. by Phil Alden Robinson)

Field of Dreams (dir. by Phil Alden Robinson)

In Memory of Robin Williams #2: Cadillac Man (dir by Roger Donaldson)


Cadillac Man

Cadillac Man is a film that I had never heard of until I came across it while skimming what was available OnDemand last week.  It was a film that I only watched because it starred Robin Williams.  I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about including it in a tribute to Robin Williams because Cadillac Man was definitely one of his lesser films.  However, while Cadillac Man may not be a very good movie, it does feature a very good performance from Robin Williams.

Released in 1990, Cadillac Man tells the story of Joey O’Brien (Robin Williams), who is the type of car salesman who has no problem approaching a widow at a funeral and telling her that now is the time to consider buying a new car.  Joey’s a good salesman but he’s also deep in debt.  He not only owes alimony to his ex-wife (Pamela Reed) but he also supporst two mistresses, a married one (a hilarious Fran Drescher) and a single one (Lori Petty).   He’s also owes money to the local mafia don and, as the film begins, he’s been told that he has to sell 12 cars in two days or else he’ll lose his job.

On top of all that, Joey also has to deal with Larry (Tim Robbins),  an insane jerk with a motorcycle and an assault rifle who takes the entire car dealership hostage because he’s convinced that his wife (Annabella Sciorra) is cheating on him.  Larry spends most of the movie firing his rifle up in the air and screaming at the top of his lungs (and yet, it’s also clear that the audience is supposed to like him).  As the cops surround the car dealership, Joey attempts to keep Larry under control while also trying to get back together with his ex-wife…

After I watched Cadillac Man, I looked up the rest of director Roger Donaldson’s credits.  What I discovered was that Donaldson has directed a lot of movies (including guilty pleasure Cocktail and the upcoming The November Man) but only one of them has been a comedy.  The majority of his films are dramas like Thirteen Days and action films like November Man.  In short, Roger Donaldson is not a comedy director.   And when directors who aren’t experienced with comedy attempt to make a comedy, they almost always resort to having all of the actors shout their lines and run around like characters in a live-action cartoon.  That is certainly the approach that Donaldson took in Cadillac Man and the end result was a film that far too often tried to substitute chaos for genuine comedy.

(As just an example of Donaldson’s lack of comedic touch, Annabella Sciorra went through almost the entire film with a bloody cut on her forehead.  Even if her lines or her character had been funny, I would have never known it because I was spending too much time worrying about what the eventual scar would look like.)

And yet, here’s the thing.  As bad as Cadillac Man turned out to be, Robin Williams was actually pretty good in it.  Joey isn’t exactly a likable character but you root for him because of who is playing him.  What’s interesting is that the role, even though it was definitely comedic, didn’t lend itself to the manic intensity that was the trademark of much of Williams’s comedy.  Instead, the humor comes from the way that, while everyone else in his life is essentially going crazy, Joey O’Brien struggles to maintain his facade of calm and confidence.  Williams portrays Joey as being the ultimate salesman and when Joey has to try to convince Larry to release his hostages, he approaches it almost as if he’s trying to sell Larry a car and it’s impossible not to admire Joey’s determination to close the sale without anyone else getting shot.  As played by Tim Robbins, Larry is thoroughly unhinged.  In fact, it’s probably one of the worst performances of Tim Robbins’ career but it’s obvious that he and Williams enjoyed playing off of each other.  Whenever Robbins’ performance goes over-the-top, Williams’ performance brings things back down to Earth and provides whatever pleasure one can hope to get from a film like this.

And that’s why, despite the fact that Cadillac Man is not a particularly good film, it’s an appropriate tribute to the talent of Robin Williams.  It’s one thing to give a good performance in a good film.  However, it takes true talent to give a great performance in a total misfire.

And that’s exactly what Robin Williams did in Cadillac Man.

Cadillac_Man_31157_Medium

 

Embracing the Melodrama #51: Mystic River (dir by Clint Eastwood)


mystic-river

Much like In The Bedroom, 2003’s Mystic River is a film that deals with guilt, murder, and vengeance in New England.  Whereas In The Bedroom deals with the guilt of just four people, Mystic River deals with the guilt of an entire neighborhood.

Mystic River opens in Boston in 1975.  Three young boys are writing their names in wet cement when a car pulls up beside them.  An angry-looking man (played by the always intimidating John Doman) gets out of the car and announces that he’s a police officer and that the three boys are under arrest.  He orders them to get in the car.  Of the three boys, Jimmy and Sean refuse but meek Dave gets into the car, where he’s greeted by a leering old man.  Jimmy and Sean watch as the car drives away with their friend trapped in the back seat.  Dave is held prisoner and abused by the two men for four days until he finally manages to escape.

Twenty-five years later, the three boys have grown up but are still haunted by what happened.  Sean is now a detective with the Massachusetts State Police.  Jimmy is an ex-con who now owns a local store and who, despite being married to Annabeth (Laura Linney), the daughter of a local gangster, is trying to lead a law-abiding life.  As for Dave (Tim Robbins),  he is married to Celeste (Marcia Gay Harden) and manages to hold down a job but he’s also the neighborhood pariah.

Mystic River 1

When Jimmy’s daughter Katie (Emmy Rossum) is brutally murdered, Sean and his partner Whitey Powers (Laurence Fishburne) are assigned to the case.  The distraught Jimmy, however, starts to investigate the murder himself and, after talking to Celeste, he discovers that, on the night Katie died, Dave came home with blood on his clothes and claiming that he had a fight with a mugger.  That’s all the evidence that Jimmy and his friends need to believe that Dave is the murderer…

I have a lot of friends who will probably never forgive Clint Eastwood for not only endorsing Mitt Romney in 2012 but for also giving the “empty chair” speech at the Republican Convention.  From the way that a lot of them reacted, you would think that Eastwood had filmed himself drowning puppies as opposed to simply expressing his own cantankerous opinions about current events.  (Honestly, do you know any 82 year-olds who weren’t disgruntled in 2012?)  Myself, I thought the empty chair speech was an act of brilliant performance art, one that not only highlighted the fact that most politicians really are just empty chairs but also exposed just how humorless most political activists truly are.  (Admit it — if John Fugelsang had done that same routine at the 2004 Democratic convention and referred to the empty chair as being President Bush, most of the people who went on and on about how terrible it was that Eastwood was being disrespectful to the President would still be using it to create Facebook memes.)

Eastwood

Unfortunately, I sometimes find myself wondering why Clint Eastwood the director sometimes seem to struggle to be as interesting, innovative, and thought-provoking as the empty chair speech.  It sometimes seems that for every Eastwood film that works, there’s a handful films like Hereafter, Changeling, and Jersey Boys.  These aren’t bad films as much as they’re just uninspired films.  (Well, Hereafter is pretty bad…)  Ultimately, Eastwood is more of a storyteller than a Martin Scorsese-style innovator.  If Eastwood has a good story to tell, the film will work.  If he has a weak story — well, then the film will be weak.

Fortunately, with Mystic River, Eastwood has a good story and the end result is one of the best films of his uneven directorial career.  Eastwood uses a fairly standard murder mystery to explore themes of guilt, redemption, and paranoia.  Jimmy may be looking for revenge and Sean may be doing his job but ultimately, both of them are trying to absolve themselves from the consequences of their childhood decisions.  If Dave is guilty, then Jimmy will justified in having let him get in that car.  If Dave is innocent, Sean can finally step up and save him.

And complicating all of this is the Neighborhood, which is as much a character in this film as Jimmy, Dave, and Sean.  The Neighborhood will never allow anyone to forget or live down the past.  When, towards the end of the film, Jimmy is declared to be the “king of the neighborhood” by Annabeth, there’s little doubt that she’s right.  The question is whether Jimmy’s kingdom is one worth ruling.

Mystic River

6 Trailers To Keep Things Cheerful


After spending two weeks researching the career of Jason Voorhees, I am in the mood for some movies that feature absolutely no one getting brutally murdered. That’s why this edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Trailers is dedicated to some of the most light-weight comedies ever made. 

(Yes, I realize that these films aren’t exactly grindhouse films but they’re close enough.)

1) Making the Grade (1984)

This trailer almost feels like a parody, doesn’t it?  In fact, it very well could be.  Has anyone ever actually seen this Making the Grade movie?

2) White Water Summer (1987)

This is a weird movie that, for some reason, tends to pop up on TV every few months or so.  Kevin Bacon is a nature guide who appears to be sociopath and Sean Astin is the kid that he bullies nonstop.  Eventually, Bacon breaks his leg and Astin saves his life or something like that.  The whole movie just has a really weird feel to it.

3) Private Lessons (1981)

These next three trailers form a trilogy of sorts.  We start off with Private Lessons, which — let’s be honest — is a pretty creepy trailer.

4) Private School (1983)

The 2nd part of the private trilogy was directed by Noel Black who also directed one of the best films of the 60s, Pretty Poison.

5) Private Resort (1985)

And then we come to this…Private Resort.  Much like White Water Summer, Private Resort used to always show up on Sunday afternoon TV and I’ve never really understood why.  That said, I watched it a few times because I’ll watch Johnny Depp in anything.

6) Fraternity Vacation (1985)

And finally, let’s wrap things up with Fraternity Vacation, starring future Oscar winner Tim Robbins.

Review: The Shawshank Redemption (dir. by Frank Darabont)


“Remember, Red. Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” — Andy Dufresne

1994 was the year that men finally got their version of Fried Green Tomatoes and Beaches. We men we’re always perplexed why so many women liked those two films. Even when it was explained to us that the film was about the bond of sisterhood between female friends and how the march of time could never break it we were still scratching out heads. In comes Frank Darabont’s film adaptation of the Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.

Using a script written by Darabont himself, the film just takes the latter half of the novella’s title and focuses most of the film’s story on the relationship between the lead character of Andy Dufresne (played by Tim Robbins) who gets sent to Shawshank Penitentiary for the crime of killing his wife and her lover and that of another inmate played by Morgan Freeman. The film doesn’t try to prove that Andy is innocent even though we hear him tell it to the convicts he ends up hanging around that he is. The relationship between Andy and Red becomes a great example of the very same bond of sisterhood, but this time a brotherhood who are stuck in a situation where their freedom has been taken away and hope itself becomes a rare and dangerous commodity.

Darabont has always been a filmmaker known for his love of Stephen King stories and has adapted several more since The Shawshank Redemption, but it would be this film which has become his signature work. It’s a film that’s almost elegiac in its pacing yet with hints of hope threaded in-between scenes of men clinging to sanity and normalcy in a place that looks to break them down and make them less human. It’s nothing new to see prison guards abusive towards inmates in films set in prisons, but in this film these scenes of abuse have a banality to them that shows how even the hardened criminal lives and breathes upon the mercy and generosity provided by the very people who were suppose to rehabilitate them.

While the film’s pacing could be called slow by some it does allow for the characters in the film, from the leads played by Robbins and Freeman to the large supporting cast to become fully formed characters. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Clancy Brown playing the sadistic Capt. Byron Hadley to James Whitmore as Brooks Hatlen the inmate who has spent most of his life in Shawshank and whose sudden parole begins one of the most heartbreaking sequences in the film. The whole cast did a great job in whatever role they had been chosen to play. Freeman and Robbins as Red and Andy have a chemistry together on-screen that makes their fraternal love for each other very believable that the final scenes in the film doesn’t feel too melodramatic or overly sentimental.

The Shawshank Redemption was a film that lost out to Forrest Gump for Best Picture, but was a film that would’ve been very deserving if it had won the top prize at the Academy Awards. It was a film that spoke of hope even at the most degrading setting and how it’s the very concept of hope and brotherhood that allows for those not free to have a sense of freedom and camaraderie. Darabont’s first feature-length film remains his best work to date and one of the best Stephen King adaptations which is a rarity considering how many of his stories have been adapted. So, while the fairer sex may have their Fried Green Tomatoes, Beaches and the like, we men will have ours in the fine film we call The Shawshank Redemption.