Tag Archives: Stephen Tobolowsky

Fractured

Ray Monroe and his family were driving home from Thanksgiving, just like Sean and I were tonight. We had bellies full of pie and a camera full of pictures of kids making silly faces. Ray has a wife who’s spoiling for a fight and a daughter who’s whining about batteries and has to pee. Sean and I were listening to a murder podcast and luckily had emptied our bladders before leaving.

I say luckily because when Ray (Sam Worthington) stops at a sketchy highway rest stop, his daughter’s favouritie toy gets misplaced and his wife Joanne (Lily Rabe) has to go search a grungy bathroom while Ray digs through a messy backseat. His daughter, told to stay nearby, of course wanders off, and breaks her arm in a fall. Ray and Joanne rush her to the hospital and the doctor treating her (Stephen Tobolowsky) thinks a C.A.T. scan is in order, just in case. And that’s it. Ray never sees either of them again. Not because they’re dead; they’ve simply vanished. And it’s not a simple case of missing persons because the entire hospital suddenly denies their existence. So Ray has to struggle to find out what happened when everyone else either believes him to be crazy or is in on the conspiracy. Is there a conspiracy? Ray’s drinking problem and some past tragedies suddenly cast doubt on his story. But everything about this hospital, and in fact this little town – they just seem shady. Something here isn’t right.

Director Brad Anderson makes us feel off-balance right from the get-go. Even The Monroes’ post-turkey drive home feels somewhat ominous. Ray’s in-laws, though unseen, have provided more than enough tension to get this thing off to an uncomfortable start. I have a weird tolerance for movies about people who are doubting their own reality, and while I was engaged in this one and enjoyed using my bloodhound nose to hunt for clues, this movie also reminded me constantly of ones just like it, only better. Still, as an original offering from Netflix, and with only Gemini Man in real theatres as an alternative, you can and have done worse. Fractured isn’t bringing home any awards, but it’s just good enough for that awkward time between overeating and food coma.

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Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day has recently been resurrected as a Broadway musical, and Bill Murray went to see it on Tuesday. And Bill Murray went to see it on Wednesday. Is Bill Murray fucking with us?

By all accounts he enjoyed the show, laughing and pumping his fist during musical numbers. Not all of us are destined for NYC this summer, but the good news is, you can catch Groundhog Day pretty much any old time, and here are but a few reasons why you should revisit this classic over and over again.

  1. Director Harold Ramis originally wanted Tom Hanks for the role but realized Hanks was “too nice” and went knocking elsewhere. Michael Keaton turned it down. Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, Alec Baldwin, Howie Mandel, Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, Kevin Kline, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Kevin Costner and John Travolta were also considered before Bill Murray was cast.
  2. Harold Ramis has a cameo in the film as Phil’s neurologist. Also appearing, if you shannon-groundhog-day.jpgwatch dedicatedly enough: Michael Shannon in his big screen debut – he’s Fred, one of half of the young couple who’s supposed to get married that day.
  3. Although a family of groundhogs was raised specifically for this movie, when Bill Murray was severely bitten not once, but twice, he had to receive rabies treatment, which are rather painful injections.
  4. Although set in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, the film was actually filmed in Woodstock, Illinois, just 50 miles from Murray’s hometown, Wilmette. Tourism in Punxsutawney spiked after the film’s release, but it’s in Wilmette where you’ll find a small plaque that reads “Bill Murray stepped here” on the curb where Phil continually steps in a puddle, and another marked “Ned’s Corner” where Phil perpetually meets Ned the insurance salesman (Stephen Tobolowsky).
  5. There are 38 days depicted partially or in full in the movie. Ramis said originally he wanted about 10 000 years worth of days and ended up with what he considers to be a decade’s worth which is still a really, really, sad, lonely long time to be reliving the same day.
  6. Bill Murray was offered a “spit bucket” for the scene in which he gorges on pastries. That was a terrifically bad idea on his part…guess who got a tummy ache?
  7. In one scene, Phil throws the alarm clock, destroying it. In real life, Murray’s throw did little to damage the thing so the crew took baseball bats to it to smash it up. And yes, it really did keep playing that stupid song, just like in the movie.
  8. Murray was going through a divorce at the time and compensated by becoming obsessed with the movie, calling up Ramis with all kinds of questions. Ramis tired of it and sent the writer (Danny Rubin) to sit down with him and iron out all the wrinkles. This caused a rift in their friendship – Murray didn’t speak to Ramis for many years.
  9. When Phil is at the piano teacher’s house, it’s actually Bill Murray playing. He can’t read music but plays by ear, and learned that passage by heart to play it in the movie. [It’s Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme by Paginini, fyi]
  10. Harold Ramis, Bill Murray, and Stephen Tobolowsky have all served as honourary Grand Marshals in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.
  11. In Swedish, the movie’s title is translated as “Monday Every Day” – although in 1993, when the movie came out, Groundhog Day was on a Tuesday. The specific day of the week is not mentioned in the film.
  12. In once scene, Phil throws himself from a bell tower. The building is actually the opera house in Woodstock, Illinois, where local legend has it that the ghost of a young girl haunts the building ever since she fell off a balcony section and died.
  13. uxyA34o.gifThe famous line “Don’t drive angry!” was improvised by Murray when the groundhog in his lap was aggressively trying to escape by climbing over the steering wheel. [Yes, this was one of the times when Bill got bit]
  14. In the final shot, we see Phil carry Rita over the gate before climbing over it himself. This may seem romantic but was unscripted: in real life, the gate was simply frozen shut.

Memento

Like most people our age, we have a copy of Memento in our DVD collection, and the cover of that copy declares itself a “masterpiece.” While I’m not entirely sure I agree, it IS an achievement and for many of us, a turning point in movies. It may have been the first Christopher Nolan you saw, but I doubt it was your last.

guypearceIt’s the story of a man looking for his family, like Finding Dory only more murdery. Okay, it’s nothing like Finding Dory, but Leonard (Guy Pearce) genuinely can’t form new memories, and he’s not so much looking for his wife as looking for her murderer. The story is ingeniously (and frustratingly) told frontwards AND backwards, colour sequences alternating with black and white, creating a disorienting narrative that mimics the character’s confusion. The two story lines eventually meet, but this technique manages to build both momentum and tension in ways we hadn’t experienced in a good long while.

Leonard uses tattoos and polaroids in place of memories but it’s not a perfect system as pictures can lie, and both are corruptible. The movie winds up being as much a trip for us as it is for him, and Memento spawned a lot of copycat movies and a new “mindfuck” genre.

It absolutely demands to be rewatched and nearly every time you do you find some new detail that requires much discussion over pie. You’re no film snobuntitled.png and certainly no Asshole if you don’t obsess over this movie at least semi-regularly.

Lucky for you, Toronto, there’s an exclusive screening in 35mmfor TIFF and ROM members at the TIFF Bell Lightbox this Sunday July 10 2016 at 1pm as part of the Royal Ontario Museum’s current exhibition, Tattoos: Ritual. Identity. Obsession. Art. All proceeds from this event will support TIFF’s film preservation and projection efforts, including the ongoing presentation of 35mm films.

Welcome To The Men’s Group

A bunch of overgrown boys have a monthly man meeting to sit around grunting and eating meat. This time, Larry (Timothy Bottoms) is hosting at his beautiful, newly completed house. His mentally unstable wife is missing but after years of being her caretaker, he keeps that information secret as he hosts his friends.

Friends? Is that the right word? At times they hardly seem to know or like each other, and don’t often meet up socially outside the monthly meetings. The men’s group is very serious. It even has a manifesto, usually recited to a beating drum. It promises all kinds of things, but most if not all of those things are broken in this one meeting that I’ve witnessed, so it’s hard to say

The men’s meeting is assembled: Michael (Joseph Culp) is a recovering sex addict and likes to control the meetings. He’s brought along Tom (Mackenzie Astin), a men’s meeting newb and insecure stay at home dad who not everyone is receptive to. Neil (Phil Abrams) is a weirdo hippie with a rat tail who talks on the phone with Mohammed’s wife. Mohammed (Ali Saam) is a restaurateur with a bone to pick with Neil. Fred (David Clennon) is an old guy about to move in with his girlfriend and lose his freedom. Eddie (Terence J. Rotolo) is a macho healthnut war veteran about to become a father, and he’s terrified, but more comfortable criticizing everyone else. And Carl. Oh Carl. Carl (Stephen Tobolowsky) is in the throes of a serious meltdown. His wife has left him, all his get-rich-quick schemes have failed, and now he’s wondering if setting himself on fire isn’t the best way out.

No matter their intentions, these men are horrible at supporting each other. A mixed bag of divas and dicks, the men’s group is the opposite of a support group, more like a trigger-each-other and fist-fight group. Everyone brings shit to the table but tensions only escalate as they “check in” and discuss them.

This is the kind of movie where literally, they just sit around and talk. That’s it. So if you can’t handle that. If you’re not up for The Big Chill-My Dinner with Andre-Book Club for men, with less wine and no literacy, well, it’s not for you.

Welcome To The Men’s Group is a complex ensemble comedy that often fails to be funny. It sometimes succeeds in being both sexist and homophobic. And occasionally it even gets something right. But it’s overlong and felt to me more like a chore than a fun way to spend time. Not everyone will want or be able to spend quality time with this bunch of jackoffs, so consider this a healthy, full-frontal warning.