Tag Archives: John Malkovich

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

In Canada we have only two seasons: winter, and construction. We are right in the middle of steaming, stinking construction season here in Ottawa, and we’re facing a weekend where the 417, a major highway and our main east-west artery, will shut down entirely. This after a flood season has left our infrastructure crippled and our commutes doubled. Which sort of makes the opening scene of Hitchhiker’s seem a little more likely. In order to make way for an intergalactic superhighway, a little lowly planet called Earth has to be demolished. We meet our hero Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) just minutes before the Earth’s destruction. He learns that his good pal and towel enthusiast Ford Prefect (Yasiin Bey, then billed as Mos Def) is in fact an alien who can call in a favour to save his friend, but erm, nothing else of human history (don’t worry, the dolphins have already defected – so long, and thanks for all the fish).

They meet up with a clinically depressed robot, Marvin (Alan Rickman), an egomaniacal president, Zaphod Beeblebrox (Sam Rockwell), and most improbably, Arthur’s Earthling crush, Trillian (Zooey Deschanel). Together they’re going to zing around the universe, searching for the Ultimate Question, the meaning of life, a single solitary spot of tea, new chapters for an ambitious encyclopedia, and any remaining shreds of life as they knew it.

Director Garth Jennings bit off more than he could chew trying to adapt Douglas Adams’ influential and beloved work, but you can hardly blame him for trying. Is the movie always coherent? Of course not. If you aren’t familiar with the book, you might find it hard to keep up. If you are familiar with it, there are no doubt bits and bobs that you’ll miss. It is not so much a faithful adaptation as an ode to it, with Adams’ blessing, and mostly by his own invention (such as the sneeze religion helmed by John Malkovich – achoo!). But if it’s a little sloppy, well, what else can you expect from a movie with an improbability drive?

Ivan Reitman and friends actually optioned the film as far back as 1982, thinking it might make an interesting vehicle for Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray (this is no doubt true). But then Ghostbusters came calling and they were off on a tagent, and Hitchhiker’s languished in development hell, at one point with Hugh Laurie and Jim Carrey slated to appear (I’m less thrilled with that pairing, personally). Douglas Adams wanted Hugh Grant for Dent but I’m so, so glad it went to Freeman instead, who plays the everyman so perfectly he is often overlooked.

In 2005’s finished product, Sam Rockwell steals the show as Zaphod Beeblebrox, basing the character on likely unequal dashes of Bill Clinton, Elvis, and Vince Vaughn. Personally, watching it in 2019, I saw all kinds of his George W. Bush in the role and it gave me a whole new appreciation for a performance I already loved.

Anyway, it’s inevitable that a film adapted from such a great book would fail to live up to it, but I actually give it a lot of credit and find it highly watchable and highly entertaining. So many of the little jokes really do work on the screen, and everyone involved is clearly relishing the opportunity to be involved. It’s hard not to find joy where so much exists.

 

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Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile

It’s hard out there for a single woman. And there is perhaps nothing more illustrative of that fact than the woman who stayed with Ted Bundy, infamous serial killer.

Liz (Lily Collins) is the dumb bitch and Ted (Zac Efron) is the charming son of a gun who gets away with it.

Liz wants to believe him. Or she wants to want to believe him. Sure it’s increasingly hard when the convictions start rolling in and other states start throwing in their charges as well. The country is littered with the bodies of dead young women. It’s getting tricky to be in love with Ted Bundy. But no matter how much evidence piles up against him, no MV5BMTk5NzEyNTY0M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzA4MTU4NjM@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,893_AL_matter how much sense it makes to her rational self, the heart is a stubborn muscle, and it often betrays common sense. There’s an early scene wherein Liz and Ted go dog shopping at a local shelter. She walks by some real cuties, including the unicorn of dog shelters, a real life golden retriever puppy, but she sets her eyes on a dog even I thought looked suspicious. “It’s going to tear her throat out,” I said, half joking. And then it turned aggressive a split second later. Liz is as good at choosing dogs as she is at choosing men.

Liz isn’t the only one who doesn’t take him seriously enough. The cops often have him behind bars only to let him slip away. One mustache later and he’s picking up women again. And, you know, brutally murdering them. But the movie completely glosses over those parts. Rather it focuses on Bundy’s manipulation of the women in his life, of the truth and what it means, of the judicial system itself, of the media and its perception of him. Bundy is the ring master of a certified media circus, and a continued magnet for a certain brand of chick who insist they find him “dreamy.”

Strangely, the film seems more in contempt of the women who love and help and care for him than it is of the man convicted of so many vile and wicked crimes. It’s an odd take I’m not sure the world needed it. The only thing that saves this movie from itself is Zac Efron’s performance, and I bet you never thought you’d hear anyone say that in your life. As Bundy, Efron is a man of misplaced convictions, a man who believes his own lies – and his own hype. He’s a shark, but he’s also a master of charm and good manners when he’s not ripping into your flesh. And while it’s a compelling performance, it’s also part of the problem. The movie with the long, annoying title shows all the facets of Bundy’s personality that a woman might fall for, and very little of the terrible violence he perpetrated on dozens of innocent victims.

Velvet Buzzsaw

Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo) is an art agent in the midst of losing Piers, an old, established artist who may be on his way out, but gaining Damrish, an up and coming artist with fresh talent and obligations elsewhere.

Piers (John Malkovish) is a successful artist who fears his best days are behind him now that he’s sober.

Jon Dondon (Tom Sturridge) is the agent who’s just stolen Piers away, and is about to discover how little output there’s been.

Damrish (Daveed Diggs) is the hot, new artist, living and showing on the street just 6 months ago, about to become the next celebrity artist.

Josephina (Zawe Ashton) is Rhodora’s protegee who finds a way of wriggling out from under her shadow when she discovers the work of an unknown artist, which is an instant success.

Gretchen (Toni Collette) is a museum curator sick of always losing the best pieces to wealthy clients, so she’s lined up a new job as a private buyer and is in search of the perfect, undiscovered piece.

Bryson (Billy Magnussen) is the gallery’s handyman, and also a struggling, jealous artist himself.

Morf Vandewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal) is god of them all, an art critic who can make or break careers.

Velvet Buzzsaw’s art world is shook by the new paintings acquired by Josephina. SHOOK. Everyone’s falling over themselves, not to mention crossing and backstabbing each MV5BYWJiMGM1ZGQtYzMwMC00YzQ0LWJlZTUtZTNlOGY3NDE3OTMxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODEwMTc2ODQ@._V1_other, to get a piece of the pie. But the thing about this art is that it’s angry. In fact, some sort of supernatural force is exacting revenge on anyone who’s too mercenary. If you’ve let greed guide your hand, you’re in trouble. And who of the above has clean hands? I’d be very, very nervous if I was them. There’s a great deal to be nervous about as a viewer as well. Tension is layered on thicker than gouache on canvas. The film is dark and atmospheric by nature, and director Dan Gilroy heightens things at just the right moments, making the viewing experience deliciously uncomfortable at times. It’s unlikely that criticism and capitalism will escape the ghost’s judgment, which is brutal and bloody and ruthless.

The last time director Dan Gilroy teamed up with Jake Gyllenhaal, they produced Nightcrawler. You can’t blame the film community for wetting itself over this new movie, even if we’re also justifiably a little concerned about Gilroy’s more recent work, Roman J. Esquire, which was much less fantastic. Velvet Buzzsaw is somewhere in the middle, well, not just somewhere – definitely closer to Nightcrawler on the spectrum, which I’m happy to report. It’s a little uneven, the dialogue a little clunky sometimes, but the visuals don’t just make up for it – they’re unforgettable (Nightcrawler’s visionary cinematographer Robert Elswit is back, and primal as ever). A horror in technicolour! Not to mention the team of talent that pulls together this satire-horror hybrid and makes it pulse with urgency and vitality. Jake Gyllenhaal is of course the standout, bold and unwavering.

Velvet Buzzsaw isn’t everything I wish it was, but it’s a distinct piece of cinema and a real coup for Netflix.

 

Bird Box

Imagine threatening very small children with their lives. Imagine threatening your own children with their deaths, their painful deaths, by your own hands if necessary. Can you even imagine a situation so dire that you would tell your kids you would kill them IF?

If you’re a fan of Josh Malerman’s post-apocalyptic horror novel, Bird Box, the good news is,  you can always reread it. Netflix has adapted this “unfilmable” book (how many books have we said that about now?), and turned it into something bibliophiles will scarcely recognize. But that doesn’t meant it’s bad.

Malorie (Sandra Bullock) is in the impossible situation. She’s pregnant at the end of the world. This particular nightmare is the inverse of The Quiet Place – they had to stay silent in order to not die, and in Bird Box, they have to not see. The sight of something is causing people to almost immediately become homicidal and ultimately, suicidal. It’s a plague killing millions, killing billions, killing everyone around the world. The only way to survive is to not see, to never see. But food and water and resources inside are finite. MV5BMjE5Nzk1ODgwMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjU5MTE2NjM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_Malorie is living with a small group of people, strangers, really, who don’t always agree on the best way to exist together, or how to stay alive. Malorie’s not even the only pregnant one – Olympia (Danielle Macdonald) is expecting too, right around the same time. The house’s other inhabitants (Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich, Jacki Weaver among them) will have to make all kinds of hard choices to ensure the group’s survival. As you probably guessed, ultimately, Malorie will need to leave the relative safety of their shared home – and worse than that, she may have to sacrifice one child to save another. Doesn’t that sound like a fun little jam to be in?

Yeah, this is a horror movie, in case you’re not picking up on the obvious. The unknown, horrible, unseeable things remain unseen by us, but they’re a constant threat. Director Susanne Bier understands it’s way creepier to only suggest the worst, and let our own imaginations prey on our fears. A newborn baby is of course the most vulnerable creature in the world. What else could heighten a dangerous situation like a helpless baby? But what else would pose a greater danger? A baby, unable to look away, unable to understand, a baby who will only need need need, and take take take, and attract attention while putting everyone at risk. A baby, two babies, normally a blessing, but in this scenario, the worst possible thing.

Bier creates a tense atmosphere and Bullock keeps us riveted. Rather than jump scares, Bier gives us a character study, and Malorie’s humanity and the children’s inherent weaknesses gives some real meat to the film’s anxiety. But the film strays quite far from the book, and to no real advantage. Since this film streams for “free” on Netflix, it’s a no-brainer if you can take the heat (or rather the chill, the frisson). Squeeze your eyes half shut.

Wilde Wedding

Eve Wilde (Glenn Close), famous actress, is getting married. She should be good at it by now: it’s her 5th attempt. She has inspired a whole family’s worth of broken marriages, which is common enough I suppose, but I’m not sure why so many exes were invited to the wedding.

Eve’s  first love, Laurence (John Malkovich), not a movie star but a very serious actor, is included. Eve’s current love, Harold (Patrick Stewart), a writer with terrible hair, is a bit MV5BNDAzYWQwZGItNGI1Ni00YzI5LWEyNzctNmZhM2I2YjUxYmE1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjc3NTA3NzI@._V1_intimidated. Is this civilized, or insanity? Eve’s granddaughter Mackenzie is making a documentary, “what does love mean to you?,” and the lineup of family members covered is immediately confusing. With so many spouses, are any of these people related?

The Minnie Driver and Peter Facinelli introduce lots of drugs to the mix, and what better on the eve of a family wedding where the first cousins are already kissing?

We tend to use ‘corny’ and ‘cheesy’ interchangeably, but they’re two different sentiments, and this movie highlights that fact perfectly: one will make you roll your eyes, the other will make you cover them. Both are incredibly uncomfortable. This is one of those movies where everything goes wrong, and wronger, in the most charmless way possible. The person who wrote this script clearly believes that bad behaviour at weddings is de facto, and that wild behaviour is entertaining. In fact, it makes me quite sad for the very venerable cast, brought so low by the material on display here. And just when you think they’ve hit every wrong note in the book, it gets worse. Predictably but not forgivably worse. To the point where even my dogs were barking at the screen, though that may have been in response to my increasingly high-pitched and indignant “REALLY?s”. Do not watch. The end.

 

Deepwater Horizon

07Disoriented. I walked out of the theatre disoriented. Was it the strobe light effect while the power failed? Was it the glass shards being pulled by Kurt Russell out of his own foot? Was it the bone sticking out of a redshirt’s leg? Was it that 11 people died and I wondered how the other 115 on the rig survived?

Yes.

Deepwater Horizon is a war movie where the good guys don’t have a chance in hell, the bad guys are greedy bastards who were supposed to be on the good guys’ side, and the real enemy is an almost unstoppable 130 million gallons of oil spewing from the sea floor. Deepwater Horizon makes it perfectly clear where the blame for the worst oil spill in history rests: with the money-grubbing assholes who tried to cut corners and lost their gamble. The film is not subtle. It finds ten different ways to show us the choices that led to the disaster. It works.

image1-3Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) gets bloody. Jimmy Harrell (Russell) gets bloodier. The stand-in for greedy BP, Donald Vidrine (John Malkovitch), does not get as bloody as you’d hope. They are some of the lucky ones. Deepwater Horizon takes us into the heart of the mess. Tons of mud, oil, fire, explosions, and rag dolls flying all over the screen. It is hard to watch but not too hard to follow. We are provided with title cards and a grade school explanation of the Deepwater Horizon’s mission. They help the exposition fly by so we can get to the destruction faster.

By the end you will have been appropriately beaten down by the disaster. It is a suitably somber end. The survivors are consumed with grief. The restraint shown, especially in the closing minutes, elevates this movie above the Michael-Bay-esque fire show I thought we would see.

Deepwater Horizon is not a great movie but it’s far better than expected. By the time the credits roll your head may be spinning like mine was, especially if you remember that beyond the immediate devastation depicted in the film lies the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, one that ended up costing BP $54 billion in cleanup costs and penalties. Deepwater Horizon makes clear that BP in general and Vidrine in particular got off too easy, but it puts itself in an awkward position by barely mentioning the environmental effects of the disaster, which left me feeling that the movie entirely missed the point.