Quick Hit: A brilliant view of misogyny and corporate American culture.
It’s really kind of insane how many movies we have about corporate American culture and how shallow and corrupt it is. From The Game (which is criminally underseen by my generation) to The Wolf of Wall Street, you consistently see the same themes played out over and over. And yet, I would arguably say that American Psycho, which came out in the year 2000, is one of the best. Following Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale in the time before he became the Caped Crusader), this movie underwrites all your expectations.
There are several reasons why I think that this is one of the best. First, you have an excellent, subtle humor that pervades throughout the film. You have the very famous business card scene, with men comparing the size, texture, and thickness of their business cards in a not so subtle metaphor for… other things. You also have the running joke that these men, though rich and powerful, are constantly mistaken for each other. Allowing these to exist in a film as glaringly violent as this gives the audience a bit of a mental break that is extremely necessary.
There’s also an extremely minimalistic and yet futuristic view of architecture and interior design, specifically with Bateman’s apartment. Full of blacks and whites, the room simultaneously seems smaller and larger than what it is. When you throw all his gadgets in there, it’s much more difficult to place the actual time period where this takes place, and the filming style keeps you feeling like you are there.
Christian Bale is the absolute stand out in this performance. There are quite a few monologues that occur throughout the film, and if anything, Bale outdoes himself each time. One of the most classic is the one about all the 80s pop stars. Combine that with his physicality in the role, and you have the makings of a classic horror performance. Patrick Bateman is despicable, but at the same time he is remarkably fascinating.
The inevitable gratuitous violence and sexuality makes appearance here, but the violence, though glaring, is extremely well done. Rather than focus solely on the gore of the attacks, instead we get an almost artistic viewing of it (which in turn complements Bateman’s own views in what he is doing). There’s a wonderful shot where he is murdering someone with an axe (if you would have told me before I started reviewing movies I would type that sentence, I wouldn’t believe you) where blood sprays across his face. The shot reminds me of one that occurs in season one of Dexter, and it’s just a perfect representation of the shot.
The best part of all? The ambiguity that is laid by director/writer Mary Harron. Is this all happening in Bateman’s mind, as he plays out revenge fantasies in order to confirm his own masculinity? Or is he really murdering all these women? We may never really know. I’m giving American Psycho an “A-“.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: Fractured throughout, and never entirely satisfying, this adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s famous musical leaves you longing for the stage.
Important Disclaimer – I have not seen this musical on the stage. After watching the film adaptation, I’m curious as to how much better it is on stage, because there are arguably scenes that could have been done much, much better (including the opener). But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself there. Today’s film is Into The Woods starring a whole lot of people that you’ll recognize, including Emily Blunt, Meryl Streep, James Corden, Chris Pine, and Anna Kendrick, plus a few others.
The movie starts off with a strong song, with all the vocal performances being impressive. The story essentially winds together several of the Grimm brother's most famous fairy tales – Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood – and makes one tale out of them surrounding a Baker and his wife that are desperate to conceive a child. The film strains at times with the weight of all these stories – though at times it’s thrilling to have everyone on screen (much like some of the opening seasons of ABC’s Once Upon a Time). The songs suffer as well from the manic editing to try and fit everyone in (as I alluded to in the first paragraph, this is extremely evident in the opening song “Into the Woods”).
The vocal performances are very strong overall. Streep (who was nominated for an Oscar for her performance) knocks out her solo with a gusto that she showed again in Florence Foster Jenkins. I knew Corden was musically talented, but Blunt outshines him, with a propensity to pause and giggle or breathe mid-note that is extremely stage-like. However, my favorite moment in the entire movie is when the princes take the time to sing “Agony” amidst a waterfall. Chris Pine shows a musical talent that would have made him an excellent second choice to Luke Evans as Gaston in 2017’s Beauty and the Beast, and the entire song is the best part of the movie. In research for the film I learned that there is actually a reprise of this song later that was cut from the film, and that’s a shame.
The sets continually shrink, and it forces all the characters together. While I see the necessity in making this happen, it instead gives the feeling of limitation to a film that seemed so wide and vast previously. With the introduction of CGI giants and spells, the film starts to fall off the rails towards the end. It ends up being extremely overlong, and misses out on large time points that are not as well explained as they should have been. There’re also characters that all but disappear. What narrative momentum has been built loses the chance on an intermission, and the handover to the second half of the film is clumsy and mishandled. It doesn’t ruin the film, but it definitely takes a nosedive.
In the end, fans of musical theater of the big screen will take away some enjoyment from Into the Woods, but ultimately, not enough. I’m giving the movie a “C”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: A young Anthony Hopkins carries this story of madness, ventriloquism, and love.
I mentioned in my overly gushy Goosebumps post how much Slappy comes to mind when I think of killer ventriloquist dummies. As an amateur ventriloquist, I both loathe and embrace this interpretation. Though the dummies can be scary, they can also bring a lot of joy to people when presented in the correct way – see Jeff Dunham. However, in William Goldman’s movie (and novel) Magic, we find ourselves presented with another dummy worth remembering – Fats.
This movie is wonderful, if a little dated (it came out in 1978). Anthony Hopkins is Corky Withers, a struggling magician who has the charisma inside of him to be a stage presence, but no good way to get it out. Fast forward a bit, and now Corky is a success, and about to land a television contract from his agent played by none other than Burgess Meredith. What changed? Corky discovered a new dimension to his act – Fats, a ventriloquist dummy who speaks fast, loud, and naughtily. After a brief odd plot exchange regarding a medical evaluation, Corky runs off to the Catskills where the love of his life Peg (Ann Margaret) is living in group of cabins.
The plot itself is not great, but it is completely buoyed up by the performances. Ann Margaret is extremely full of vulnerability, which is great contrasted on screen when compared to Hopkins. Corky is such an absolute loser that it’s a wonder he’s even made it this far in life. You almost expect him to have trouble ordering his own meals, so encompassing is his shyness. But despite this shyness, Corky has Hopkin’s innate magnetism. When you consider that Hopkins also voiced the character of Fats (I was excited when I found that out), it furthers his performance because the characters are so different.
The film, which is directed by Richard Attenborough – yes John Hammond from Jurassic Park – is actually really beautiful to look at. The characters are always presented in some type of light – sometimes blindingly so – one particular scene with Corky presents every single bead of sweat in a tableau of its own. Along with that, the setting within the Catskills allows for a dark and dusky look to surround a lot of the different scenes. Even when Corky and Peg’s husband go out on the lake, you’re surrounded by the beauty that is the set.
Speaking of Peg’s husband, Duke, he’s played by Ed Lauter, who I think many will recognize but few will place. He’s excellent here, somehow imbueing a character who is probably just meant to be a two dimensional woman beater into a tragic character. We actually feel bad for him, which in turn colors the way we look at Corky and Peg’s discretions. It changes the whole dynamic of the movie at an actual critical point, and the movie is actually better because of it.
Without diving too deeply into the psychosis that pervades this film, I have to say that it’s really fun trying to puzzle it out for a while before Goldman and Attenborough finally give up the ghost and let us figure it out. It’s not your typical horror film that we see today, where we are mainly scared by what we know is doing the scaring. Instead, we’re allowed to puzzle it out for ourselves. I’m giving Magic a “B”.
For more on this movie check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"