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Heathers (1988) Review

3 01 2012

Copyright 1988 New World Pictures

★ ★ ★

Knowing of the cult status of this film for some time, I’d long had a certain level of curiosity as to what it was all about.  Not finding anything else interesting on Netflix Instant Watch last night, Maddie and I decided to give this film a go.  The first 20 or so minutes were a bit concerning as to where the film was going, if anywhere, but, eventually, the movie smoothed itself out for an interesting and enjoyable viewing experience.

In a nutshell, this is a surreal and bizarre analysis of the cliques and daily interactions of high school life, and when I say surreal and bizarre, I mean very much so.  Veronica (Winona Ryder in her first leading role) is a newly initiated popular girl with her friends, the three Heathers (Kim Walker, Lisanne Falk and Shannen Doherty, respectively).  They wreak havoc on the unpopular kids and do the usual things that stereotypical “sassy” popular high school girls would, but Veronica is more disenchanted with their behavior than the others.  After meeting the mysterious new kid, J.D. (Christian Slater), they form a relationship and, subsequently, a pact to dissolve the school of the tortures of high school societal pressures by systematically killing the culprits (i.e. jocks, popular girls, etc.).  As time goes by, however, Veronica realizes the wrongs they are committing are worse than the day-to-day life of high school hierarchy, so she cuts things off with J.D.  Yet, this only fuels his need to “show them all,” leading to his magnum opus to blow up the school and commit such a huge disaster that it will set precedence in high schools across the country.  Though a dark comedy at heart, watching this after the atrocities at Columbine and other schools in America over the past 15 years, the scenes play out a lot more eerily than originally intended.

Every scene of this film elicits a dream-like, spooky feeling; the camera movements, lighting, direction and acting all add to this disjointed mood.  I think it helps keep the point of dark comedy in perspective, as too realist a handling of this subject matter would just be macabre.  Structurally, the film suffers from some unevenness and doesn’t fully pull off what it is trying to achieve I don’t think, but it does clean itself up in the last half and, as mentioned earlier, provided an enjoyable, though not completely satisfying, viewing experience.

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Chaplin in Review – PART VIII – Monsieur Verdoux

6 07 2011

Copyright 1947 Chaplin Studios

★ ★ ★ ★

The Joan Barry suit plagued Chaplin through most of the early 1940s, though also during this time he met the love of his life and companion who would be with him until he passed in 1977, Eugene O’ Neill’s young daughter, Oona.  Professionally, following The Great Dictator, Chaplin began work on several different ideas.  In 1941, he commissioned an idea for $5,000 from Orson Welles about French bluebeard Henri Désiré Landru, who was executed in 1922 for his murders of 10 women, one boy and two dogs.  Another project was an adaptation of the Paul Vincent Carroll stageplay Shadow and Substance.  Joan Barry, ironically enough, was set to play the lead in this film and went through a series of screen tests and other arrangements to prepare her for the part.  However, once they had a falling out and the messiness of the paternity suit came forward, Chaplin shelved Shadow and Substance indefinitely.  A full script was produced and is still in the Chaplin Archives in Switzerland, but Chaplin never got around to completing the picture.  This left him with his Landru script, which took him nearly four years to finish the screenplay.  The film, in the end, was titled Monsieur Verdoux.

Chaplin plays Verdoux, a bluebeard who murders rich widows and invests in their fortunes.  As a front, he has a furniture business that is in most regards inoperative.  Furthermore, at a county cottage, he has a son and his true wife that he loves, who is an invalid.  Both of them only see the kind, loving husband and father and never know of how he makes his living other than the furniture front.  One day he meets a beautiful young woman (Marilyn Nash), who is down on her luck and having to work as a prostitute.  He lures her in at first to test a new poison, but then finds he cannot follow through and tries to persuade her that life is worth living.  Many years later, he runs into the woman after he is down on his luck and lost everything in the stock market crash and she is a wealthy socialite.  Soon after, his past comes back to haunt him and he is arrested for his murderous deeds and sentenced to death.  In the end, Verdoux asks the judge and the audience if he is really the worst of them, a man trying to help his family through the best means he could muster, or are the weapons of mass destruction and other terrors out in the world much worse.

A biting satire with strong social criticism and certainly Chaplin’s darkest comedy, Chaplin himself considered this the cleverest film he had ever written.  Upon release in 1947, it was met with mixed reviews and many interviewers questioned Chaplin’s supposed radical views and political ideals rather than ask questions about the film.  Several critics, however, did give raving reviews of the film and it was nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Academy Award.  In recent years, the film has become somewhat of a cult classic, even amongst non-Chaplin enthusiasts.

These vicious attacks during the McCarthy era communist witch hunts and constant pursuit by the U.S. government would eventually be what drove Chaplin away from the United States in 1952, after calling it home for nearly 40 years.





How to Get Ahead in Advertising (1989) Review

26 04 2011

Copyright 1989 Handmade Films

★ ★ ★

Withnail and I possibly ranks in my top 10 favorite comedies of all-time and definitely in my top 20; this film is the movie writer/director Bruce Robinson made after Withnail and I.  As much as I wanted to absolutely love this movie, I just couldn’t.  It’s not bad, but it’s not nearly the caliber of film his debut effort was.

The film stars Richard E. Grant (from Withnail) as advertising executive Denis Bagley.  In working to come up with a good campaign for a pimple cream, he develops a boil on his shoulder that grows into having a mind and personality of it’s own.  The boil is presented like a devil on the shoulder, whereas Bagley himself begins to develop into the angelic counterpart who begins to have deeply rooted concerns in the wrongdoings of his career.  Eventually, the boil takes over and his head shrinks to the size of a boil, allowing the dark side to take over completely.

Obviously, this film is quite surreal and deeply rooted in dark comedy as well.  It’s also a plain out attack, quite heavy handedly at times, on the advertising industry.  I have agree with some of the points the film makes, but it definitely gets preachy at times for a movie that is supposed to be labeled as entertainment.  As for the story structure, it’s pretty loose.  There are some amazingly funny scenes within the film, but as a whole, it feels disjointed in many ways.

Richard E. Grant, as always, does a great job in the excessively neurotic role as Bagley.  I’ve not seen Grant in much other than this film and Withnail and I, but he definitely has a penchant for playing eccentric characters.  The only other primary character in the film is his wife, who is played by Rachel Ward; she does an acceptable job in the role as a concerned houeswife dealing with her husband’s bizarre eccentricities and rants.

I don’t want to mislead completely, this isn’t a bad film.  However, if you come to this after watching Withnail and I and expect the same level of greatness, then you will be let down.  You have to watch this as a stand alone film and not try to make any comparisons to Robinson’s previous work.  In my opinion, the film is worth watching for Grant’s performance, some of the well-written comedic scenes and, if you hate advertisers, then some of the apocalyptic rants on the evils of advertising.








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