Tag Archives: Kirsten Dunst

Jumanji (1995)

Sean thought Jumanji was just the movie for viewing on Halloween night. Sean had fond memories of having watched it repeatedly in childhood, whereas I hadn’t seen it at all, but understood it to be a film marketed towards children. In fact, it is a little spooky and a little scary.

In 1969, a little kid named Alan Parrish finds an old board game buried deep in a construction pit and ropes his friend Sarah into a game. The game, Jumanji, is more than they bargained for. The board game claims Alan, sucks him right up, and he’s never seen again.

Cut to: 1995. Judy (Kristen Dunst) and little brother Peter (Bradley Pierce) move into what used to be the Parrish family home, which as been abandoned since Alan vanished and his parents left heartbroken. Jumanji still sits in the home’s attic, where it soon calls to them. They start playing, which once again unleashes the beast, but does have one small bonus: Alan pops back out of the game, now a fully grown man (Robin Williams), after having spent some 26 years fending for himself in what I believe he describes as both “a jungle” and “hell.” But he hardly has time to reflect because the game must be finished, which means Sarah (Bonnie Hunt) must be tracked down, and horrible creatures and terrible catastrophes must be survived because every roll is a different kind of doom.

Having seen only the 2017 reboot starring The Rock, I didn’t realize that this movie wouldn’t bring us inside the game, rather the game would escape into 1995: flash floods, angry lions, quicksand, spiders the size of basketballs. It’s actually disappointing that we just gloss over Alan’s 26 years of board game purgatory because he certainly insinuates that shit. went. down. And it feels like there might be an interesting story about innocence lost and the good of the group vs. the good of the individual – there’s stuff to be mined if only we had time between elephant stampedes. And of course it’s hard for 2019 eyes to watch 1995’s CGI, which more or less looks like someone cut pictures of monkeys out of a National Geographic magazine, drew silly faces on them, and called it special effects.

Anyway, I’m pretty jazzed to have seen this one if only to give context to a future rewatch of 2017’s Welcome To The Jungle (and 2019’s sequel). Is that a sad thing to say? Sean says that we actually see Alan’s treehouse in the 2017 film, and that might actually mean something to me now that I know who the heck Alan is. Of course it also makes me wonder what 2017 Alan is up to. We know that in 1969, young Alan and Sarah chuck the game, weighted, into a river. Which is dumb. That game is evil and needs to be destroyed. We also know from the end of that movie that of course Jumanji washes up on a shore somewhere and is discovered by two little French girls. However, the 2017 iteration contradicts this: it tells us that in 1996, Alex Vreeke’s father found the game washed up on the beach in the same New Hampshire town. Alex isn’t over taken by the game but when it magically turns into a video game cartridge, he loads it up and gets sucked inside. He basically pulls a 20 year vanishing act, just as Alan had done. At the end of original Jumanji, Alan is alive and well in 1995 and still living in New Hampshire, so I have some questions:

  1. How did the French girls find the game in 1969 or soon after, play it or not play it, then throw it back into the ocean…only to wash up in the exact same New Hampshire town from which it originated?
  2. How does grown up 1995 Alan hear about Alex’s vanishing and not put two and two together? Or Sarah for that matter, who lived through his 26 years of disappearance being called delusional for her insistence that he’d been drawn into a board game?
  3. And where is Alan in 2017 for that matter? I realize that Robin Williams is dead so a cameo is more or less impossible, but it would have been nice.

Anyway, it seems the 2017 movie managed to weave in some interesting elements from the first movie, references I may actually catch now that I know about them, which is kind of the catch with references.

Which is not to say the 1995 movie is trash. It was obviously loved enough to spawn a sequel 20 years after the fact. Robin Williams is always a joy to watch, even if it takes a third of the movie before he’s actually on screen. Jonathan Hyde plays both Alan’s father and Jumanji’s main bad guy, Van Pelt – “that’s symbolism,” Sean tells me. And he’s not wrong.

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The Beguiled

During the civil war, a girls’ boarding school full of southern genteel ladies is eking out an existence. Out of the goodness of their hearts, they take in an injured enemy soldier, John (Colin Farrell) and nurse him back to health. They’ve hardly got enough fabric to rip into bandages yet somehow the lot of them, including house mistress Martha (Nicole Kidman), teacher Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), and haughty student Carol (Elle Fanning), flounce around in beautiful, gauzy dresses. Suspicious.

I hated this movie in a pretty major way. Every female in the movie is a bitch, even the film_rec-02cute little ones. And every female throws herself at the soldier in their midst, despite the fact that he’s their sworn enemy and currently AWOL. And of course Johnny boy plays each and every one of them, and they faint into his greedy clutches like they don’t have a brain between them to see through his rather obvious machinations.

The entire plot of this movie relies on the crazed horniness of every single woman and girl. And when lusty John finally makes one his lucky mistress, oh man, we’re all going to wish they had stuck to just heavy petting and weird old-timey flirting.

Of course, this being a Sofia Coppola flick, it looks great. Very atmospheric. I sort of want to take a feminist read of it, and wonder where we’d be if it wasn’t for men fucking things up all the time. That’s worthy of a pause, but hard to dwell there since the movie is so entrenched in its sexual tension. The women give some fantastic performances, but the characters are so exploitative it’s hard to really appreciate any nuance.

The Beguiled is a slow-burning thriller seething with toxic masculinity. The pace is uneven, defaulting to meandering. Long, artful silences can’t mask the mixed message: Colin Farrell might be the sex object, but every female is just a flower waiting, hoping, to be plucked by him. It looks dreamy but feels grim. Coppola might be doing interesting things here but I’ll never know it because I was too enraged and insulted to care.

Interview with the Vampire

It’s that time of year again: Sean and I have fled cold, snowy Ottawa to celebrate his birthday in warmer or at least more exotic climes. Last year we were in Hawaii but this year we’ve set our sights on New Orleans, so you can count on the next several reviews carrying on in that theme.

Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles came out in 1994, which means it may be older than some of you. Based on the best selling novel by Anne Rice, herself a New Orleans native.

So the premise is this: a reporter (Christian Slater) is interviewing a 200 year old vampire, Louis (Brad Pitt). He was formerly a plantation owner who lost his wife in childbirth, which threw him into a depression. This is when he met a vampire named Lestat (Tom Cruise), who turned him and taught him vampire ways.

Tom Cruise was not supposed to have been cast; when Rice wrote it in 1976, she had  Rutger Hauer in mind. The book was optioned a few years later with John Travolta attached but a glut of other vampire movies (Dracula, Nosferatu the Vampyre, and Love at First Bite, all in 1979) put the project on pause. When the wheels started turning again, Travolta was deemed too old. Rice met with Tom Hanks instead, but interview-with-the-vampire-kirsten-dunst-brad-pitt-hughe turned it down for Forrest Gump. Daniel Day-Lewis was cast but then dropped out just weeks before filming. Then it was offered to Johnny Depp, who turned it down. And finally it went to Tom Cruise, which made Anne Rice livid, certain he could not handle the part. Of Cruise’s casting, she said “it’s so bizarre; it’s almost impossible to imagine how it’s going to work” and “the worst crime in the name of casting since The Bonfire of the Vanities.” Rice recused herself from the production but when she eventually forced herself to watch it, she was so impressed by Cruise’s performance that she wrote him a letter of apology.

Jeremy Irons had also turned down the part because he didn’t want to spend hours in the makeup chair again, and he wasn’t wrong. The vampire makeup took hours to do, in part because the actors were required to hang upside down for up to 30 minutes at a time, allowing the blood to rush into their faces, making veins bulge out. The makeup artists would then trace the veins to create the vampire’s look. But then the blood would disperse and the process would have to be repeated several times. To keep the vampire look secret, Tom Cruise ordered the set to be completely private, necessitating tunnels to be built to shuttle the stars to and from the set.

Makeup is not the only reason Brad Pitt was completely miserable on the set and tried his darndest to get out of the contract. He also hated his costumes and coloured contacts, but most of all he hated playing second fiddle to Tom Cruise – ahem – both on and off the set.

Christina Ricci, Julia Stiles, Evan Rachel Wood, and Natalie Portman all tried out for the part of Claudia but it was a young Kirsten Dunst who won the role. She had her first on-screen kiss in the film – her 12 year old self to Brad Pitt’s 30 years. She wasn’t even allowed to watch the film when it came out; it was R-rated, and her parents thought her too young.

Speaking of age discrepancies, there was also a height discrepancy, and it forced Tom Cruise to act atop crates to try to appear level with the other vampires. Cruise has said that he watched videos of lions eating zebras to prepare for the role. In unrelated news: Tom Cruise is a strange man.

Christian Slater took over the role of Malloy upon the death of River Phoenix. In his honour, Slater donated his salary to two of Phoenix’s favourite charities. The film has a dedication to him at the end of the credits.

Rice was originally worried that the movie would never get made because the novel contained allusions to a possible sexual relationship between Lestat and Louis. Not only was she prepared to write this out of the script completely, for a while she even turned the part of Louis into a woman, and had Cher in mind to play her. Ultimately the two roles remained male, and Cruise and Pitt earned a Razzie for worst screen couple. Conversely, the movie was also nominated for two Oscars, but lost those – Best Art/Set Direction went to The Madness of King George, and Best Original Score went to The Lion King. Cher had actually written a song for the movie, called Lovers Forever, but because of that dicey word Lovers, it was rejected – but eventually appeared on an album of hers in 2013!

The film supposedly inspired a real life crime shortly after the film’s release. On November 17, 1994, Daniel Sterling and his girlfriend Lisa Stellwagen watched the film together. The next day, Sterling stabbed Stellwagen seven times in her chest and back and sucked the blood from her wounds. Stellwagen survived the multiple stab wounds and Sterling was arrested. He claimed the film influenced his plan but the jury convicted him of attempted first-degree murder, among several other charges.

Lots of the 1700s vampire stuff was filmed in and around New Orleans. River scenes were fudged by removing modern items like the Greater New Orleans Bridge and surrounding radio towers in post-production. The Old Coliseum Theatre was used for on-location shooting but sadly burned down in 2006 so Sean and I won’t be able to visit. The city and the businesses were quite cooperative to the film crew – they agreed to turn out their lights for the duration of the filming to preserve the illusion of the film’s time period.

You may recall that the film ends up in San Francisco, where Malloy drives across the Golden Gate Bridge. Sean and I are not visiting that esteemed city this trip but we have before, and reviewed the movies to prove it. The crew received permission to shut down 2 lanes of traffic on that bridge, which is reportedly very hard to get.

 

Have you ever been to New Orleans? What are your favourite spots? Any favourite movies set in the city? Predictions as to what I’ll review next? Be sure to check our Twitter feed for updates from the city – @assholemovies

Woodshock

In the wake of her mother’s death, Theresa’s grief manifests itself in complicated ways. Her fragile emotional state is pushed off a cliff thanks to some powerful drugs she can’t help but mess with. The result? A film that is haunting, surreal, and hypnotic.

Brought to you by first time directors Kate and Laura Mulleavy, whose names  you may be more familiar with as the sisters behind the clothing and fashion accessories _DSC8956R3label, Rodarte. They’re not the only designers to make the leap to film: Tom Ford made the jump rather successfully not to mention stylishly with A Single Man, and Nocturnal Animals. As for the Mulleavy effort, I’m less convinced. In parts it is absolutely stunning to look at, and they certainly have an eye for what lingerie will best highlight the nipples of the film’s star, Kirsten Dunst. But it’s not quite enough, and perhaps not enough by a long shot.

I will give them this: they create a dreamy, half-conscious state where we’re not entirely sure what’s ‘real’ and what isn’t. The mood is heavy and stays that way. Woodshock is visually assured but that’s the only assurance you’ll get. Everything else is a negotiation game you’ll have to play with yourself, because neither the film nor the filmmakers (some of whom were in attendance at its New Hampshire Film Festival screening) are providing answers or even clues.

The story is as gauzy and ethereal as Rodarte’s 2018 spring collection. Woodshock is high on visual impact but the plot, which probably is a misnomer here, is more like aKIM_0049 series of impressions – you get whiffs of what might be going on, and if you’re nose is good and you’re super motivated, you might even convince yourself the story has bones. But if you’re the kind of movie-goer who likes things like Neon Demon where themes are explored and drama runs high if not in any specific direction, you might count yourself a fan of Woodshock. Crazier things have happened.

Hidden Figures

America, 1960s: the country is still very much divided by colour. Martin Luther King Jr is marching, JFK appears to be listening, but black people are still drinking for different fountains, still sitting at the back of the bus. Meanwhile, at NASA, about 2 dozen black women are working their fingers to the bone (actually, working their brains dry – they’re not labourers, they’re computers in the time before computers were machines). Does hf-gallery-04-gallery-imageNASA pay them equally? Not by a long shot. Treat them fairly? Not so much. Promote them? Never. But hire them they must because there’s a space race on with the Russians, and they can’t afford not to hire the best and the brightest no matter the skin colour encasing the brains.

These women, buried deep in the basement of a building far away from the main action, are fighting prejudice on two levels: race and gender. Hidden Figures follows 3 of them, real-life women who helped launch John Glen into space. Dorothy Vaughan (Spencer) does the work of a supervisor without the title or the pay. Not only does she get shit done, she intuits that the future of her computing department is changing and she takes it upon herself to learn the language of the future  – and International Business Machine is being installed painstakingly at NASA, and she’ll be the one to learn its code, and teach it to others. Mary Jackson (Monae) has an engineer’s talent and mind but she can’t get her credentials to match because the only education opportunity is at an all-white school. Katherine Johnson (Henson) is a single mother as well as a mathematical genius. When NASA discovers her talent she works overtime to help invent the new math necessary for John Glenn’s orbit while still drinking out of the “colored” coffee pot.

Hidden Figures is conventional story-telling all the way, relating the story of ground-breaking women in the least ground-breaking way possible. But it’s crowd-pleasing: it thumbnail_24795had the audience applauding. These women are so inspirational that it would be hard to mess up the story, and Hidden Figures manages not to stand in its own way. At the Toronto International Film Festival this fall, Pharrell Williams, who collaborated on the score with Hans Zimmer, gave a concert of all the original music he’d worked on for the film. I worried that he might overshadow the film, but in fact his music fits right in very comfortably, establishing the time period in a pop-heavy way.

The cast is stacked with heavy-hitters. Octavia Spencer is nominated for a Golden Globe for her role, and she’s as good as we know she can be. But I was impressed with Taraji P. Henson, who plays a vamp and a bit of a diva with the press, and an outspoken, strong contender on Empire, but in Hidden Figures managed to play bookish and humble with a shy strength and subversive self-confidence.

Hidden Figures is a feel-good tribute; a story that was meant to be told. The script is a charmer, and surprisingly humourous, and the three leads infuse it with power. Sure it’s a bit run-of-the-mill, but it’s also a positive way to start the new year, and a movie you won’t be able to resist.

Dick

I wonder why I’m so attracted to satirical political movies lately? I’m in some kind of mood I guess.

Two ditzy, boy-crazy blonde teen girls (Michelle Williams and Kirsten Dunst) are on a field trip to the White House in 1972 when they wander away only stumble upon the President himself, Richard Nixon! This film is a parody, a not-true imagining of who and what brought down Nixon with the Watergate scandal. What if Deep Throat is actually two fifteen year old girls?

MSDDICK EC003In light of recent events, I suppose a film like Dick actually harkens back to simpler times, and I don’t just mean a time when Dunst would get top billing over Oscar-nominated  Williams. It was a time when teenaged girls had the luxury of not thinking about the president very much.

With a cast including Harry Shearer, Dave Foley, Dan Hedaya, Will Ferrell, and Bruce McCulloch, it’s a great big serving of farce, an alternate version of history, and maybe one we could live with. I can’t help but wonder how people will rewrite the new administration, and if Trump’s legacy will eclipse Nixon’s as Biggest Joke Ever. The thing is, it seems to take at least a generation before we can find these things funny. At the time, Nixon was the guy swimming in corruption, sending your brother off to die in Vietnam. The reality of Trump as president may be even worse than that. It seems to already be inspiring some extremely  gross acts of hatred.

In order to buy the girls’ silence, Nixon appoints Arlene and Betsey dickpromo02sthe official White House dog walkers. Meanwhile, Trump’s shoe-horning his kids into his cabinet is an even scarier prospect. Since when can a 70 year old man not do business with being able to ask  his kids for advice? I guess that’s what you get for electing a dude with no experience. His kids are probably the least scary amid the many “contestants” he’s considering for staffing the White House.

As Nixon’s “secret youth advisors”, Arlene and Betsey have the president’s ear, and manage to influence a lot of his policies. Which has more positive outcomes for America than, say, Putin’s input will, or the KKK’s. And eventually it’s these sweet, optimistic young women who reveal the truth, which is a stirring reminder that the youth can indeed make a difference (whether or not they accidentally witness majorly classified evidence of wrongdoing).

Actually, I read an article recently that really broke my heart. It was about the fracture between young women and their fathers. The fathers, middle-aged white men, are the demographic who voted Trump in. Their daughters, however, not only abhor him, but will suffer the consequences of his actions for years to come. It feels like a betrayal to learn that their fathers so devalue their worth, their health, their bodies, and their prospects. That the men who raised them can also vote for a racist, a bigot, and a misogynist, a candidate who violates almost every lesson we teach our children from the youngest age. If you want to give it a read, you can find it here. And if you want to give yourself some hope that this too shall pass, watch Dick, a movie that re-writes a painful political past.

 

 

 

 

Little Women (1994)

The March sisters. Being 1 of 4 sisters myself, I suppose I should relate more to them, but I do not. I’ve never had a warm or fuzzy feeling for these women, and I do not foresee one suddenly coming on.

In 1994, director Gillian Armstrong decided to cast 3 famous little women, and 1 unknown. I wonder if she just ran out of budget. As Meg March, Trini Alvarado comes from left field and does little to distinguish herself. Pay her no mind. We all know that Meg is not that important. It’s next in line Jo (Winona Ryder) who has set herself up as the head of sisters and all things, the playwright and boss. Little Beth (Claire Danes) is the retiring, sweet one. And of course there’s Amy (Kirsten Dunst), the youngest and the sauciest, always finding trouble to get into, such as bringing limes to school, and falling through the ice.

Winona Ryder, Claire Danes, Kristen Dunst: can you get any more 90s than that lineup? MV5BNWRkOWVjZmMtMGEwOC00NDQzLWIwYWYtNDFkOGFiNTUyMWJjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjA5MTIzMjQ@._V1_SY1000_SX678_AL_Susan Sarandon plays their matriarch, ‘Marmee’ – a big name for giving her so very little to do. But this is not a story about mothers, it’s a story about sisters, and no story about sisters can be told without boys, which is why floppy-haired Christian Bale is installed next door, and he’s making some interesting acting choices. He seems to have decided to go with “effeminate Keanu Reeves” for his portrayal of Laurie.

This version is a perfectly acceptable adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved story. So my beef is not so much with the movie, and I dare not say it’s with the novel, but I don’t care much for the story, which feels too precious and sappy to me. Which is the only reason I’m not freaking out about Greta Gerwig and Saoirse Ronan reteaming. They’ve already been hard at work on Gerwig’s version of Little Women, with Ronan as Jo, of course. And Emma Watson and wholesome Meg and Eliza Scalen as boring Beth and Florence Pugh as a surprisingly elderly Amy. Oh, and Timothee Chalamet, of course, as Laurie. And Laura Dern as Marmee, and Meryl Streep as crazy ole Aunt March, so consider my heart irretrievably broken.