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Nobody cares about this one, right? I can keep moving? Thanks!
If you’re a fan of the journeyman director Jon Amiel, get ready for your weird version of Christmas. Here’s the first of his films to get new Blu-Ray editions this week. I’ve never seen it, which is weird because it has both Sigourney Weaver and Holly Hunter in it. Guess I never felt I needed one more serial killer movie in my life.
DEAD SILENCE (2007)
After this summer’s FURIOUS 7 and last year’s THE CONJURING, I’ve seen some online movie people arguing for James Wan to get the auteurist treatment. I don’t know. I’d have to check and see if Jean Renoir, John Ford, or Akira Kurosawa ever made a killer ventriloquist-doll movie starring Donnie Wahlberg.
DIG: SEASON ONE
THE DOVEKEEPERS (2015)
No wonder they cry. Still can’t figure out what that sounds like.
FELLINI’S CASANOVA (1976)
Hey, Fellini! He was definitely an auteur filmmaker. Haven’t seen this film but I’m hoping there’s an evil doll in it.
THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT’S WOMAN (1981)
One of the most awarded actors in film history, this is only Ms. Streep’s second entry into the Criterion Collection. (The first is THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX!)
THE FRONT PAGE (1931)
Based on a play written by the legendary Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, THE FRONT PAGE is the first film adaptation of the material. 1941’s HIS GIRL FRIDAY, directed by Howard Hawks and starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, was the second. By far that one is the more famous, but since that one’s a classic, it’s got to be interesting to see how it started out.
GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER (1967)
It’s been almost fifty years so it’s not a spoiler to answer that question: Sidney Poitier.
HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982)
The terrific Scream Factory release has all the HALLOWEEN III you could ever need, but in case that one’s a little pricey for you, here’s a cheaper bare-bones edition. Just be sure to find a way to own this movie!
Considering how many Westerns John Wayne made, it’s somewhat odd to consider how few firefighter movies he made. I mean, every American kid grows up wanting to be a cowboy, but fireman is a dream job too. Why are there not more firefighter movies in general? (There’s a fairly obvious answer to that question, I think.)
HOT PURSUIT (2015)
Though I never got around to reviewing it, I saw this movie the weekend it came out. It’s what it looks like, which is a MIDNIGHT RUN riff with Reese Witherspoon in the Robert De Niro role and Sofía Vergara as the Charles Grodin. The director is Anne Fletcher, originally a choreographer, who transitioned into directing the kind of broad-appeal hits that everybody sees except people I know. To be honest, I would not have expected a movie from the director of STEP UP, 27 DRESSES, THE PROPOSAL, and THE GUILT TRIP to be so poorly received by audiences. You know it never had a shot with critics, but audiences tend to eat up these middle-of-the-road big-star comedies like Chicken McNuggets. Uselessness is a difficult thing to quantify, so I can’t explain see why people go to some bad movies but not others. This one isn’t much worse than most, though it certainly could have been better. Can it really be that hard to make a watchable movie with two lead actors as well-liked as these? The problem with HOT PURSUIT is that again, it’s exactly what you think it’s going to be. A good comedy is surprising. A good action movie produces excitement. By those standards, this action-comedy fails twice. There are a couple of promisingly odd bits I almost chuckled over, such as when Witherspoon and Vergara disguise themselves a cow (I think) to escape a police roadblock, but most of the humor bizarrely fixates around Witherspoon’s stature and theoretical boyishness and Vergara’s supposedly advanced age, which are not observations I would have considered about either woman. Next time around, drop the insult comedy and focus on telling a compelling story.
*** PICK OF THE WEEK !!! ***
HOUSE OF BAMBOO (1955)
I’m a cinematography nut, and for guys like me, this movie is heaven-sent. A Sam Fuller film starring Robert Ryan (one of my very favorite movie stars), HOUSE OF BAMBOO was shot by the great Joseph MacDonald, who also shot MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, a personal favorite and one of the most memorably-lensed Westerns ever made. That one was in stark black-and-white; this one is in eye-popping CinemaScope. A gorgeous film noir set and filmed in Japan, HOUSE OF BAMBOO makes beautiful use of color. It being a Sam Fuller joint, the compositions are equally creative. You could use pretty much every frame of this film as a mural, or a desktop background, or however you like to mount pretty pictures. This film has ‘em in abundance.
I AM CHRIS FARLEY (2015)
Still too sad over this loss. It’s been almost twenty years. Damn. One of the funniest guys ever.
THE JANUARY MAN (1989)
Written by John Patrick Shanley is all I needed to know, but there’s a killer cast here too.
JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR. NORRELL
Cannot stop looking at Eddie Marsan on that poster there. Fuck a Game Of Thrones — give me a sad sack in kneesocks and a barrister’s wig slumped into a sad-looking leather chair. That’s the throne I’ll stare at.
THE KNICK: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON
That’s a rough Google Image search. Maybe trust me on this one.
THE LITTLE HOUSE (2014)
A well-regarded Chinese drama that would no doubt prove edifying if I committed myself to exploring it, but naturally I’m about to write six hundred words about an unpopular Bill Murray movie.
THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO LITTLE (1997)
Nobody will admit it now, at what is arguably the internet’s height of fickleness, but it hasn’t always been popularly-accepted knowledge that Bill Murray is the best. He’s a national treasure, a trove of quotability and a vault of anecdotes, an ever-changing meme in the form of a man, and it’s hard to find anyone who’d dissent even a little bit. Everyone’s all the way on the bandwagon today, but here’s a question” where were all of you in 1997? Because I was in the multiplex and I didn’t see none of y’all.
Not even you, Wes Anderson.
THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO LITTLE represents the third collaboration between Bill Murray and Howard Franklin, who was Bill Murray’s co-director on 1990’s QUICK CHANGE, who wrote and directed LARGER THAN LIFE (that’s the one where Bill Murray inherits an elephant and yes I also saw this one in the theater), and who co-wrote this film, which was directed by Jon Amiel.
THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO LITTLE is what they call a ‘farce’, a send-up both of Hitchcock wrong-man thrillers and 1960s British spy romances. It’s a bit of an anomaly because by this point, Bill Murray had a well-worn comedic persona, the one we recognize in movies like MEATBALLS,STRIPES, TOOTSIE, GHOSTBUSTERS, SCROOGED, QUICK CHANGE, GROUNDHOG DAY, and MAD DOG & GLORY, the laconic and sardonic cynic with a romantic buried deep underneath. By this point, he wasn’t doing character roles like he had to do regularly on SNL and like he did so definitively in CADDYSHACK. You might see him do the occasional character in cameos and bit parts like he did in LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, ED WOOD or KINGPIN, but if you really think about it, his career is largely composed of virtuosic variations on the “Bill Murray” persona, and it’s fairly rare to see him stepping too far outside of that sphere.
One notable exception is WHAT ABOUT BOB?, where he plays a lovable naïf, unintentionally troublesome, endearing to some and maddening to others. That’s largely what he’s doing here, although here he’s even more of an innocent and a bumbler. Quite frankly it isn’t a “Bill Murray” role at all — if you were the casting director on this movie, you could easier imagine anyone from Peter Sellers to Chris Farley doing the part before you’d think to call Bill Murray. Like LARGER THAN LIFE, it was a financial failure. Beyond the fact that the success of star-based comedy has plenty to do with recognizable personas, there had been a shift in the culture at the time.
Both LARGER THAN LIFE and THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO LITTLE were throwbacks, sweet-natured comedies with affection for the films of earlier eras. The mid-to-late 199os were usurped by comedians like Adam Sandler and Jim Carrey, with styles that were rambunctious, rude, and somewhat deranged. Even Bill Murray’s de facto mode — laidback — wasn’t in vogue at the time. Hysteria was the mode of the moment. Not only was Bill Murray not playing his de facto mode; he was trying something new, mixing in a more obvious sweetness.
I would bet if you went back to LARGER THAN LIFE and THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO LITTLE you would find them enjoyable, if a little bland, with a couple great jokes surrounded by a bunch of vanilla ones (by the way vanilla is delicious, don’t knock vanilla) but at the time of theatrical release, they were lost in the noise. This is possibly why Bill Murray made the shift to low-fi indie-type film soon thereafter; either that or it was fortuitous timing for everyone.
THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD (1957)
Who, that guy? He looks like a sweetheart!
NORTHMEN: A VIKING SAGA (2014)
Not enough Viking movies in the world. I’ll check this out for sure. Also: Not that Charlie Murphy.
NORTH STAR (1996)
I was going to glide right over this title until I noticed it was written by Sergio Donati, who contributed scripts to films like THE BIG GUNDOWN, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, ORCA, and RAW DEAL. Also, James Caan versus Christopher Lambert is an admirably weird match-up, come to think of it. That’s Sonny Corleone versus The Highlander.
THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS (1991)
Been so long since I’ve seen this that it almost doesn’t count as having seen it. A Scream Factory release is a fine occasion to get reacquainted. THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS, chronologically in Wes Craven’s career, comes between SHOCKER and WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE, and being more familiar with those two movies, I can tell you that means — well, it could mean absolutely anything. SHOCKER and WES CRAVEN’S NEW NIGHTMARE are both movies we could talk about a lot in their own right. Wes Craven’s body of work is legitimately one of the most fascinating in American cinema — even beyond the confines of the horror genre!
POLICE STORY: LOCKDOWN (2013)
From the director of 2010’s LITTLE BIG SOLDIER, which is a solid movie in its own right, comes the latest installment in Jackie Chan’s POLICE STORY franchise. I’m curious about it, since the newer darker Jackie Chan movies are intriguing. After the star persona of Jackie Chan being so identified with comedic stunt-action for so long, it’s fascinating, in ways intended and not, to see him go grim.
The movie I want to see is the footage of the moment Danny Trejo was told he was going to be in a movie with this title. That’s all I want for Christmas this year.
More Jon Amiel fo’ yo’ ass. Fans of romantic shaving scenes are on high alert this week. What GHOST was to pottery and SPIDER-MAN was to upside-down kissing in the rain, so was SOMMERSBY to personal grooming.
STILL OF THE NIGHT (1982)
Clearly from the cover art this is a FACE/OFF with Roy Scheider and Meryl Streep. Why can’t that be?
SUMMER LOVERS (1982)
This is a good week for Peter Gallagher fans too, since you can see him as Bill Murray’s brother in THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO LITTLE and now you can also see him in this movie, running around on the beach when he was super-young. Hey, that’s a handsome dude, you couldn’t be blamed.
THE SUNCHASER (1996)
Michael Cimino, more famous for THUNDERBOLT & LIGHTFOOT, THE DEER HUNTER, and HEAVEN’S GATE, stopped making movies after this 1996 effort, and that’s literally all I know about it at this moment.
TOO MUCH JOHNSON (1938)
So curious about this film. It’s not a complete work, if I understand it correctly, but it’s what remains of what Orson Welles was up to three years before he made CITIZEN KANE, his official debut, with many of the same actors from that later indisputable classic. Here’s a New York Times article explaining the history of TOO MUCH JOHNSON, and also you can do a Twitter search for me in 2013 to find out whatever puerile jokes I was making about that title back then.
Is that how the whole movie looks? I mean, it’s a cute idea and all, but you’re asking me to take a couple hours out of my day. I don’t watch movies to stare at computer screens. That’s why I do this shit. Also, imagine watching a movie called UNFRIENDED in 2025. Or even 2017. Not exactly a concept for the ages.
WAR-GODS OF THE DEEP (1965)
Due to its alphabetical nature, it doesn’t always work out that I get to close out this column on a high note. And I can’t be sure that this is one, since I haven’t seen it. But Lord, do I want to. It’s the final film of Jacques Tourneur. It stars Vincent Price. There are apparently fish-men in it. Originally titled “CITY UNDER THE SEA” in the U.K., it was renamed “WAR-GODS OF THE DEEP” for America, which is maybe the most metal title ever. It’s one thing to encounter War-Gods on land or even in the sky, but to stumble upon them in the deep — there’s gonna be a ruckus. I would see a movie called “WAR-GODS OF THE DEEP” even if it was a Meryl Streep romantic comedy. The fact that it’s a Vincent Price movie with fish-men in it is a bonus on top of a bonus.
— JON ABRAMS (@JONNYABOMB).
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