Film Review: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)

Release Date: December 14th, 1988
Directed by: Frank Oz
Written by: Dale Launer, Stanley Shapiro, Paul Henning
Based on: Bedtime Story by Stanley Shapiro, Paul Henning
Music by: Miles Goodman
Cast: Steve Martin, Michael Caine, Glenne Headly, Anton Rodgers, Barbara Harris, Ian McDiarmid, Dana Ivey, Meagen Fay, Frances Conroy, Louis Zorich

Orion Pictures, 110 Minutes, 104 Minutes (TV cut)

Review:

“His name is – James. No. His name is – James Josephson. Oh, no, no! James Lawrence. Lawrence! Lawrence! Lawrence. Lawrence Fells. Lawrence Fings. Forest Lawrenceton. La – Lars. Lars! Lawrence. Lawrence Lacko. Lawrence. His name is James Jessenden. Lawrence Fells. Lawrence Jesterton. Lawrence Jesterton.” – Freddy Benson, “Lawrence Jamieson?” – Inspector Andre, “Yes! Yes! Yes! We’re like this!” – Freddy Benson

I remember my mother taking me to see this when I was ten. While it was a bit more adult than what I would’ve been normally interested in, I liked it quite a bit and it only helped solidify Steve Martin as one of my all-time favorite comedic actors. It also introduced me to the greatness of Michael Caine and birthed a fondness and appreciation for the mostly underutilized Glenne Headly.

It’s been years since I’ve revisited this but it’s been in my queue for so long that I felt like a bastard having ignored it.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels holds up incredibly well and even if you know the big plot twist, it’s still worth rewatching, as you can kind of pick up on some clues, here and there.

Martin and Caine have impeccable chemistry and once Headly shows up, things magnify quite a bit. They’re all so good, in fact, that I can’t believe that they never followed this up with a sequel. Maybe it didn’t perform well at the box office, as it came out during the holidays, but it definitely is a movie that developed a pretty solid following from its fans.

It’s also a beautiful looking picture and that’s not just because it is shot in opulent places. The cinematography is wonderful and being that this is only Frank Oz’s second film as a director without Jim Henson at his side, is a really impressive accomplishment. The guy has a great eye and understanding of visual composition.

This is also Oz’s first film where he didn’t work with puppets and animatronics and just filmed living, breathing, human actors.

It doesn’t hurt that the story and the script were very good. Also, having a solid cast that clicks really helped take this to another level. It probably made Oz’s job a lot easier but at the same time, this was his film and he put in the work and got the best out of his talent in front of and behind the camera. With Dirty Rotten Scoundrels he has a lot to be proud of.

Ultimately, this is a movie that I’d say deserves more recognition that it has. While everyone that I know who’s seen it, loves it, it seems to be somewhat forgotten due to Steve Martin movies that performed better and because it came out a long time ago.

Also, comedy just isn’t like this anymore. In fact, for the most part, comedy sucks now. This is a smart, quirky film that is lightyears ahead of the norm in the 2020s but may also be too smart and quirky for modern audiences to enjoy.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other Steve Martin comedies of the ’80s.

Film Review: Joker (2019)

Release Date: August 31st, 2019 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: Todd Phillips
Written by: Todd Phillips, Scott Silver
Based on: characters by DC Comics
Music by: Hildur Guonadottir
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Shea Whigham, Bill Camp, Glenn Fleshler, Leigh Gill, Marc Maron, Sondra James, Brian Tyree Henry

BRON Studios, Creative Wealth Media Finance, DC Films, Joint Effort, Village Roadshow Pictures, Warner Bros., 122 Minutes

Review:

“I used to think that my life was a tragedy, but now I realize, it’s a comedy.” – Arthur Fleck

*There be spoilers here! But I kept it as minimal as possible.

When this movie was first announced, I didn’t want it. The Joker does not need an origin story. In fact, part of what makes him work so well is that who he is, or was, is a mystery. The Joker is a fucked up force of nature and that’s all he needs to be.

However, if I’m being honest, there have been Joker origins in the comics over the years and there are a few I like. Now none of them are actually considered canon and they all contradict one another, which is something that Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight sort of entertained with Heath Ledger’s Joker, as every time he told the story about how he got his scars, it was a different tale.

So as a standalone story, within its own universe, I can accept this concept. This is essentially an Elseworlds tale but at its core, this really isn’t so much a movie about the Joker character, as much as it is an examination of all the things that surround the creation of this specific fucked up force of nature.

By the time the second trailer for this rolled around, I started anticipating this immensely, as that’s the moment where I was sold on this picture.

However, the trailer showed that this film was a very strong homage to early Martin Scorsese movies, specifically Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. I was kind of worried that this would tap into those pictures too much and just try to emulate them. But Joker is very much its own thing that goes in its own direction and while it channels those great Scorsese films, it doesn’t rely on them too heavily or use them as crutches to prop up the production.

So just to put it out there, Joker is an absolute masterpiece.

It is the best film in the comic book movie genre that I’ve seen since Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. In fact, this may surpass it but I need to see how I feel after a few more viewings and after I process and digest this more. It’s still fresh in my memory, as I saw it about eight hours ago and it’s all my mind has been pondering over the course of the day.

I found it fitting that Robert De Niro was in this, being that he was the star of those two Scorsese films this channels. But the man was utter perfection playing opposite of the roles he was in, back in the day. His career sort of comes full circle and in a way, he legitimizes this movie and he hands the reins of greatness over to Joaquin Phoenix, one of the best actors of our time, who gave one of the three best performances of his career: the other two being Walk the Line and The Master.

The first thing a few people asked me today was who’s a better Joker: Joaquin Phoenix or Heath Ledger? That’s really not an answerable question. While they both play a version of the same character, they really aren’t the same character. They play their roles very differently, in two very different films. Both were brilliant performances but they’re not really comparable. And maybe that doesn’t make a lot of sense but I think it’ll be easier to understand after seeing this movie.

It doesn’t stop with Phoenix and De Niro though, as every actor in this was incredible. Zazie Beetz rose to the next level, as did Frances Conroy, who gives a stupendous performance. Even very minor characters were superb, specifically Marc Maron, who I wish had more scenes, and Leigh Gill, who played the dwarf that was the only character Joker spared because he was the only person in his life that was kind to him. As small as Gill’s role was, the guy was astounding. The scene in Joker’s apartment was one of the many high points of the film but its definitely one of the top two or three scenes and most of the credit should go to Gill, who was so convincing that it was almost too real.

Getting to the director, Todd Phillips, I wasn’t in any way sold on this guy doing this movie. He was a comedy writer and director and didn’t have any experience working on something as dramatic as this was going to need to be. But that’s my mistake and I judged the guy unfairly. However, my skepticism was still probably founded in the fact that this really was a new challenge for him. And frankly, I wasn’t a big fan of his other work but maybe I need to go back and give his previous films another shot. Because even if I’m not big on The Hangover, from memory, I did think that it was a fine film visually.

And that brings me to the visuals of this picture.

Joker had breathtaking cinematography.

What’s really cool, is that the movie commits to the bit from the get go, as it uses the Warner Bros. logo from the late ’70s. It then immediately gives you the opening shots of Gotham City (really, New York City) shot in a way that looks like it is presented on actual celluloid with a bit of a grain to it. But it doesn’t look like some bullshit modern filter that doesn’t look authentic because you can tell it’s a digital effect. This looks like the real thing and frankly, it immediately makes your brain feel like it is watching a long, lost Scorsese picture.

Additionally, everything in this movie is lit like it is a film from that era. The world these characters live in, the interiors of Joker’s apartment to his place of employment feel like they are genuinely small pieces of the low income areas of ’70s New York City. In fact, the film doesn’t fully feel like it slips into true HD until the big finale that sees the Joker make his introduction to the world, live on television.

The musical score and the use of classic pop tunes is also well done. The music doesn’t solely create the film’s atmosphere, it is just one part of the bigger, well refined and fine tuned machine, but it is a really important part.

For some reason, this film is controversial. The media thinks it’s going to inspire incel white men to murder theatergoers. Never mind that violent horror movies come and go every month and the media has no problem with those films. Yet, the media is creating fake outrage and fear because they’re the ones who are actually evil. It’s as if they want a tragedy to happen, just so they can say, “I told you so!”

In fact, this film is a fitting one for them to attack and try to destroy because it puts the mainstream media on blast, as well as entertainment and society in general. But the media fears that this will allow people to sympathize with a psycho and in that, it will somehow flip a switch in the audience’s brain like they’re all sleeper agents waiting for this secret, coded message to activate their kill mode. Seriously, what fucking world do we live in in 2019?!

Anyway, when the media or the mainstream manufactures fear, people usually lash out against that and go to see what all the fucking fuss is about. In its first day, Joker already broke the one day October record. I’m sure it will get the weekend record and monthly record for October when it is all said and done.

There has been a lot of hype about this film by those who have seen it. I usually take that shit with a grain of salt. However, the hype isn’t just a response to the media hysteria. Joker is as good as people are saying. I actually plan on seeing it in theaters again and that’s something I rarely do because time is precious and I’m a busy bitch.

The last thing I’ll say though, is that if Joaquin Phoenix, Todd Phillips and this film aren’t nominated for Academy Awards in a few months, the Academy can go fuck itself. And if I’m being honest, I’ll be surprised if it is nominated for the marquee awards. Nowadays, those only go to movies about deaf chicks that fuck fish men and movies that act as fluffers for the politically decrepit film industry.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: early Martin Scorsese films, especially Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy.

Film Review: Catwoman (2004)

Release Date: July 19th, 2004 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Pitof
Written by: John Brancato, Michael Ferris, John Rogers, Theresa Rebeck
Based on: Catwoman character created by Bob Kane, Bill Finger
Music by: Klaus Badelt
Cast: Halle Berry, Benjamin Bratt, Lambert Wilson, Frances Conroy, Alex Borstein, Sharon Stone

Village Roadshow Pictures, Di Novi Pictures, Warner Bros., 104 Minutes

Review:

“White Russian, no ice, no vodka… hold the Kahlua.” – Catwoman

Some motion pictures are so bad that they make you want to rip your own eyes out of your head while screaming in absolute terror, having gone mad from the level of absolute dreck you’ve been exposed to. Then there is Catwoman, which makes those movies actually look okay.

Is this the worst film I’ve ever seen? No. But man is it pretty damn close. And really, it is probably the worst thing I’ve ever seen that is based on a property I like that had a nine figure budget. Warner Bros. literally dumped $100 million into this dumpster fire. Was it a tax write off? Were the executives all mad? Was someone in the company trying to woo Halle Berry by giving her a starring role in her own comic book film? Has the Devil taken over Earth? Were they contractually obligated to follow through on a script contest winner from a competition held in an insane asylum? Did Joel Schumacher sell his soul so that he would no longer be the worst architect of a Batman-related property on the big screen?

The first question that someone may have for someone who has actually seen this film is, “What’s actually wrong with it.” Well, not to sound cliche but what isn’t wrong with it? Absolutely every aspect of this picture is terrible. In fact, it is beyond terrible. A new word needs to be invented because there is no way to describe how terrible this is. This is the cinematic equivalent to putting a garbage bag over an overflowing litter box, sticking your head in and huffing the fumes. And even then, it’s worse than that.

I guess I could point out the biggest offenses though.

One, the acting is abominable. Can one blame the repulsive script? Sure. But both are so dreadful that just thinking about which is worse causes me to need a handful of Excedrin Migraine. Didn’t studios learn their lesson from Halle Berry’s role in Die Another Day? I mean, she killed the James Bond franchise for a few years. Did they want her to kill the Batman franchise too? It’s just not Berry though, it is everyone. Never has Sharon Stone been worse. Did this actually kill her career? Because she hasn’t done a whole lot since. And why was Catwoman’s sidekick Ms. Swan from Mad TV?

Two, this features some of the worst CGI effects of its era. The scenes where Catwoman runs around rooftops literally made me laugh out loud like a drunken sailor spectating a Bob Hope USO show in Vietnam circa 1967. The CGI fight scenes were just as bad. But the worst thing, by far, was the one-on-one basketball game between Catwoman in her street clothes and Benjamin Bratt’s cop character. I was baffled by every single shot in this long sequence and trying to process it all made me contemplate suicide three times.

Three, what’s with the fucking story? There’s no mention of Batman, I’m not even sure if it’s supposed to be in Gotham City, Catwoman is a completely original character and she is given magic cat powers from a thousands year-old ghost cat from Egypt. Who the hell wrote this? Why the hell would they make a Catwoman movie that has absolutely no ties or similarities to Catwoman, other than sharing her name? A ghost fucking cat, seriously?! Seriously?!?!!! I guess they were trying to expand on the weird Tim Burton origin for Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman in 1992’s Batman Returns but why? That really only worked within that film. Why didn’t they just give Pfeiffer her own movie? That shit would have probably been infinitely superior to this, as long as Warner Bros. didn’t employ the same creative team that they used here.

Four, who the hell is this director? What’s with the name Pitof? A pretentious douchey name like that should have been a major red flag that told Warner Bros. to stay the hell away. Did they really need to get someone that was even more eccentric than those Schumacher films?

Five, why does all the music in this 2004 movie sound like generic R&B tunes from the early ’90s? Seriously? Why?! It’s like Warner Bros. had a bunch of unused tracks that were written for Whitney Houston to sing in The Bodyguard in 1992 and she was like, “I ain’t singin’ this shit!” So then they found them when they were throwing stuff away, twelve years later, and said, “Hey! Remeber these, guys? Let’s not waste them! Let’s use them in Catwoman!”

Six, what’s with the damn outfit? I get that Catwoman is supposed to be some shy and timid woman that got some sort of magical Egyptian ghost cat magic powers but if you didn’t already assume that she would inherit horny cat tendencies, her outfit spells it out for you. Because all cats want to do is kill, fuck and play with their food. I’m surprised that they didn’t have her paw around a half eaten Pop-Tart for a ten minute musical montage.

Seven, I could keep going but pointing out everything awful and stupid in this movie would take up an entire book.

I typically run shitty films through the Cinespiria Shitometer. I’m actually afraid to put this through my trusty machine because I don’t think that it can handle this much shit. It’d be like trying to run a 5 lb. sack of jasmine rice through a garbage disposal. The warranty card I have says that it can handle anything and that if it can’t, I’ll get a full refund or a new machine overnighted to me. Well, I guess I’ll give it a whirl. Hmm… okay. It’s going through. Aha! Astounding! The results are like nothing I have seen before! The results read, “Type Negative God Stool: A stool so powerful and awful that it turns the sphincter eye into a supermassive black hole that can suck all the shit in the world back up into its dark nothingness where it goes on to create an entire universe made out of fecal matter on the other side in what’s called the Brown Bang. A cosmic and cataclysmic stool.”

Rating: 0.5/10
Pairs well with: Huffing the fumes of a litter box. No, don’t really do that and I’m not responsible if you’re dumb enough to try.

TV Review: American Horror Story (2011- )

Original Run: October 5th, 2011 – current
Created by: Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Cesar Davila-Irizarry, Charlie Clouser, James S. Levine, Mac Quayle
Cast: Evan Peters, Connie Britton, Dylan McDermott, Taissa Farmiga, Denis O’Hare, Jessica Lange, Zachary Quinto, Joseph Fiennes, Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe, Lizzie Brocheré, James Cromwell, Frances Conroy, Emma Roberts, Kathy Bates, Michael Chiklis, Finn Wittrock, Angela Bassett, Wes Bentley, Matt Bomer, Chloë Sevigny, Cheyenne Jackson, Lady Gaga, Cuba Gooding Jr., André Holland, Billie Lourd, Alison Pill, Alexandra Daddario, Grace Gummer, Lance Reddick, Alexandra Breckenridge

Ryan Murphy Productions, Brad Falchuk Teley-Vision, 20th Century Fox, 78 Episodes (so far), 37-73 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2015.

I just binge watched the first three seasons of American Horror Story, as I was running out of things to watch on Netflix and this was in my queue for a few years. I have yet to see season 4, as it isn’t available yet.

I have a few friends who obsess over this show, which is probably why I put it off for so long. Usually, when a bunch of people build something up really high, I am left disappointed. I think the only time I wasn’t was when I finally sat down to watch Breaking Bad.

I wouldn’t call American Horror Story a disappointment though. It was pretty enjoyable and I’ll watch future seasons, albeit at my own leisure. But I wouldn’t call the show special or hype it up to everyone I know.

The premise of the show is horror, which is obvious by the title, but other than tapping into supernatural elements and showing something scary every now and then, it plays more like a teen drama. But that is the way of Hollywood these days. Sure, most of the characters are older than teens but this is definitely a show written for them.

The show just isn’t scary and that is why I have reservations about horror being used in a television format. Sure, you can churn up a few frights and provide creepy visuals and a dark tone but over the course of a 13 episode season, the monsters you are selling get less and less scary. When the reveals have to happen early because modern audiences can’t tolerate suspense, there is nowhere else to go other than adding in more teen drama and stretching out a resolution.

I guess the one thing that irks me about the show, is how the payoffs seem rushed, the resolution happens almost too early and the final few episodes of each season play like an epilogue that is too fleshed out. The grand evil each season is conquered around episode 11. So what you get is two more episodes that really aren’t necessary. I don’t care about any of these characters that much. It’s like the ending to the extended edition of The Return of the King – you just want it to be over.

Highlights of the show include the acting talents of Jessica Lange and Evan Peters (who was Quicksilver in X-Men: Days of Future Past). The rest of the cast, at least the actors who appear over multiple seasons are all pretty good. Although, Angela Bassett as Marie Laveau was horrible. I don’t blame her, as the character of Laveau was horribly written. The writers really tarnished the well respected legacy of the New Orleans Voodoo Queen and turned her into an evil vengeful idiot. Kathy Bates was fantastic though, I do want to point that out.

I like the show more than I dislike it but it hasn’t solidified me as a fan and it is a moderately enjoyable way to waste a weekend.

Update:

After the third season, I watched two more. Each year gets worse and worse, to the point that I’ve completely stopped caring about the show. The last season I watched was Hotel and I have no more interest in the future of this anthology franchise. I think there are two more seasons after Hotel with the possibility of this going on forever… but I’m done.

Rating: 5/10