Something that we haven’t done a very good job with and I’d like to correct is the lack of holiday-themed articles here on Grump Factory. I attempted to make a horror-themed article for Halloween last year, but it ended up being posted quite late. That simply will not DO. So here I am, presenting a movie that deserves to have its place among modern horror staples: Jacob’s Ladder. So strap yourself to a gurney and come along with me!
Archive for October, 2008
In the Mouth of Madness sneaks under the radar as one of John Carpenter’s lesser known exploits but it has Sam Neill going crazy, something that’s always fun, so it definitely warrants your attention if you’re looking for a rental these few days before Halloween. It’s a horror-comedy-mystery mash-up with plenty of nods to Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft. The title itself is based on one of Lovecraft’s works, “At the Mountain of Madness.”
Sam Neill plays an insurance investigator looking for Sutter Cane, a popular Stephen King-like author who hermits himself away in a creepy New England town. His readers across the world take his novels so seriously they go on murderous rampages while extolling Cane’s apocalyptic prose about long-dead monster gods coming to life. Sam Neill, peculiarly accented when no one else is, refuses to believe the written word can have such an impact on people so he ventures off to see whether it’s all a huge publicity stunt or the real deal. And things just get crazier and crazier from there.
The movie’s filmed in 1995 though you wouldn’t guess that at all. The hair, the costumes, the sets, the special effects, who’s in it – it’s all straight out of the 80s. It’s like Carpenter never left the decade behind. The woman who tags along with Sam Neill has a bird’s nest style typical of the era and everything looks cheap as hell. True budget filmmaking, made even more evident by the bizarro cameos. Charleton Heston shows up as Sutter Cane’s publisher, reading cue cards off-camera in an office he never leaves, and David Warner – star of Quest of the Delta Knights, Time After Time and Titanic – appears far too briefly as a psychiatrist. The most disappointing thing about the movie is there’s not enough David Warner. John Carpenter had a chance to use him and he barely does. Augh.
But Sam Neill going crazy is enough to entertain, especially when he arrives at Cane’s town and meets the residents. The suspense piles up as the town’s oddities slowly reveal themselves. It’s hilarious how Sam brushes off the more grotesque and unexplainable mysteries as elaborate hoaxes, and even funnier when he tries to leave but can’t no matter how hard he tries, and still insists on some sort of logical explanation. When Cane himself shows up, played by Jurgen Prochnow of all people, and rubbery beasts in the fashion of The Thing and Possession appear, the writing’s on the wall. Quite literally. Then the wall bursts open and unleashes unspeakable horror, and the fourth wall takes a hit or two. I see how the winking, self-deprecating humor could betray viewers looking for a more serious horror outing in In the Mouth of Madness, but it’s the kind of surreal, playful shot in the arm the genre needs every once in a while. By poking fun at authorship, creativity, suspension of disbelief and the effect fiction has on people Carpenter almost reaches They Live levels of his own goofy, brand of brilliance.
So, like, check it out.
So while Richard Donner was making Superman the Movie, he also had his eyes on the future. He was simultaneously writing and shooting for the sequel, as well! But you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men… Donner got into a huge fight with his producers and bolted from the franchise, taking the footage he’d shot for the sequel along with him. Yipes! So what did they do? They got Richard Lester, the guy who made the Beatle flicks Help! and A Hard Day’s Night. The only problem is that Richard Lester has no clue who Superman is (?!). This can’t possibly be a good idea!
This year the Coens opt for lighter fare with the exploits of idiots in Washington, D.C. Though the story of adults way past their prime doing moronic things may almost be as depressing as the ultra-bleak No Country it’s nowhere near as good a film, and it barely reaches the comedic heights of The Big Lebowski. Still, it’s a decent way to see well-respected actors cut loose and act like stupid failures. Everyone is a failure in some manner and it seems only Frances MacDormand is aware of the fact. She’s a depressed gym employee who cruises online dating sites for unsatisfying trysts, desperate to be loved and wanted even though she sees herself as a droopy, undeserving hag. To fix that she wants cosmetic surgery but the money is way out of reach until her fellow employee, Brad Pitt having a ton of fun playing himself, finds a CD containing CIA information. They blackmail former CIA agent John Malkovich with it, take it to the Russian embassy, and get tangled up with bearded ladies man George Clooney. Tilda Swinton also appears as Clooney’s shrill mistress. That woman was born to play icy bitches.
Everyone does well in their parts especially Clooney and Malkovich, who seem to play exaggerated versions of their real-life selves. I thought for sure Brad Pitt would’ve been the runaway favorite based on the goofy trailer but some of his antics fell short, and I wasn’t the only one in the theater to think so. He’d wave his arm and repeat jokes like he was in an Apatow production, stirring no one in the (modest) crowd to laugh, whereas Clooney and Malkovich can just make an over-animated face and I’d snicker. They’re terrific and I missed them each time they were offscreen, and missed them even more when the plot gave them less to do. Eventually Malkovich’s scenes consist of him yelling “fuck” and its variations over and over, and that’s all he has left to do in the movie. Luckily, he’s an artist with that word, used with impact and precision.
Besides the goofy acting the other noteworthy thing about Burn After Reading is the soundtrack. The loud, foreboding music sounds like it was pulled out of Spy Game or Enemy of the State, or any dopey Tony Scott piece. It’s music for a serious movie, which naturally contrasts with what’s actually going on in the movie. The Coens are adept at parody – Lebowski skewers noir detective yarns, Fargo and even No Country are darkly funny – and Burn‘s their latest, a ridiculous stab at the spy/espionage genre. It’s not their best, but it’s not bad either.
It’s certainly better than Ladykillers.
It’s with some film grump shame that I admit my experience with Alfred Hitchcock is limited. My early exposure to film was basically limited to what my dad thought was good and entertaining, thus my history with all manners of sci-fi, from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Deep Star Six. Once I became independent enough to pursue my own interests (Netflix lol) I began to culture myself in the filmmakers I wanted to see/thought I should see. Hitchcock wasn’t far from the top of the list. I’d only ever seen one of his films before, Rebecca, with Film Walrus and had a blast. It was an excellent movie with far-reaching influence, a fantastically twisted and layered story and even better acting. So I was definitely stoked to dive into the presumably warm waters of Hitchcock’s other work.
But was that really the case?