So remember how I praised 'Dahmer' in my last review? It did a great job of working on the audience psychologically by getting us into Jefferey Dahmer's head. It was dark, atmospheric, disturbing, suspenseful, and showed us Dahmer the person a little more than Dahmer the psychopath. Something like 'Gacy', on the other hand, is an example of one of the films I mentioned that drags the factoids across your eye from start to finish and then you think to yourself "I could have seen a much better documentary about this".
We kick things off here by seeing Gacy as a child on a fishing trip in 1953 with his abusive father (Adam Baldwin) to see a very brief example of the abuse he suffered as a kid. Fast-forward to 1976, and we hit the ground running so quickly that we almost trip over ourselves. Gacy and the family are constantly interrupted by neighbours who complain about the foul stench coming from his crawlspace. So there's really no lead-up to anything at all, and it all takes place a little more near the end of everything associated with the Gacy murders. The interesting thing about it, however, is that as famous as Gacy was as Pogo the Clown; an image even used for the film's poster, there's basically NO Pogo going on in this, save for a few home videos and a couple of slight nods to it.
I realize how that must sound, considering the film is about the man and not the clown, but I have to say I'm a little surprised at how little of it there actually was. And my God, when you see him in the clown makeup for the first time, it's actually kind of hilarious when it's supposed to be creepy. He's a little more reminiscent of the intoxicated clown from 'Uncle Buck', and it's all made even funnier when you realize Gacy is played by Mark Holton; someone we know a little bit more from comedies, but is above all else, Francis from 'Pee-Wee's Big Adventure'. So just think of Gacy saying something like "I know you are, but what am I?" and it's very hard to take him seriously here.
As far as the rest of the film goes, it's pretty much a Hollywood adaptation of what we know, and like 'Dahmer', it changes things up a little bit to make it a work of fiction, but everything you need to know about Gacy is still there. Considering this, it's much easier for me to recommend a few documentaries on the actual case much, much higher. I could say the same thing about 'Dahmer', I suppose, but at the very least, 'Dahmer' provided a good story that one could latch onto out of interest in the case. 'Gacy', in a way, moves too damn fast. It covers bare basics, and perhaps what stood out most as a difference was the quality in acting. 'Gacy' feels a little more like a college play.
One big reason for these comparisons to 'Dahmer' is the fact that they come from the same source of DEJ Productions. They pretty well both open with the same, or at least very similar text as well, stating in so many words that "the following is an act of fiction based on real events". So, as with 'Dahmer', I'll give it credit for that, at the very least. But the fact of the matter is, that's just not enough to save it. This wasn't anything truly psychological (although it tried at several points) so much as it's just a movie about a killer who we all know is doing the killing as he hides in plain sight. So my basic conclusion is, quite honestly, that there's extremely basic thriller entertainment value to this one, and just about every doc I've seen about the case overshadows this so heavily that it might as well not eve be there.
I'm gonna go ahead and clear the air about something before I get into this. Typically speaking, I don't think the serial killer biopic is a genre that's all that great. I find, in general, they tend to get a few facts right and sort of glorify all of the kills more for horror purposes than anything else. That sounds dumb, I know, but think of it this way - typically, you're getting a Jason or Freddy in the form of a real-life serial killer, but the only thing really scary about anything is that these people once existed.
So what is it I want from a good serial killer movie? I'm gonna go ahead and say I want something like this! 'Dahmer' is a film that gets us inside the killer's head in a big way, and that's the thing that makes this movie scary - as long as you can ignore the fact that Dahmer is played by Jeremy Renner, or as we all know him now, Marvel's "Hawkeye" (or former Hawkeye, anyway). I can see that adding to some idea of not being able to take him very seriously here, but trust me when I say he pulls off the role incredibly well. If you've ever wanted proof Renner can really act and not just be an action hero, this is it.
The film itself follows Jefferey Dahmer, living alone in Milwaukee, WI, as we are essentially shown how he did what he did. We get several flashbacks throughout the film that go back to his teenage years. One such memory involves his first kill in Bath, Ohio, and more consist of his relationship with his parents; namely his homophobic father, and his alcoholism. The main focus is generally the present day when Dahmer brings back a young man named Rodney (Artel Great) to his apartment with the intent to kill, but it also shows a firm example of his, shall we say, mixed feelings towards his murders, as there's clearly something between them.
Now, to make one thing clear about this film - it is a very uncomfortable film, both in the atmosphere and a lot of the physical activity going on, on different levels. It's darkly lit for the most part, with eerie music throughout, and the tension keeps building through it. But there's also almost a sort of twisted artistry to it. Now, I can stand to sit through a lot, but this does provide a pretty good test of the viewer's nerves. It's sincerely not even something I'd dub a horror movie so much as it is a dark drama, but I have to say, there were some scenes that made me squirm here. But the beauty of it is that it was all done without him just being some angry dude with a gnarly weapon. We really get to know Jefferey here, and it's great to see another one (like the last one) that isn't just a list of facts acted out (like the next one).
I'm going to suggest this mostly to anyone who is really into any sort of true crime involving high-profile serial killers. If you're interested in Dahmer in particular (duh), I'd recommend it even higher. But truth be told, it's quite a bit to get through. It's not long, but it's very dialogue-heavy with a lot of disturbing scenery within. This one seems to be made to play on the psyche with the way Dahmer thinks much more than to say "Hey, here's what he did". It's also one the critic will probably appreciate more than the average moviegoer, but I think this has the potential to appeal to the right audience. Either way, if you have yourself a Prime subscription, it can be found over there right now!
I seem to have picked a pretty good place to start with this month's theme of real-life serial killers brought to the screen in some way shape or form. Therefore, I'd like to take this opportunity to state that if you're no fan of true crime, or indeed, if any of this may be triggering in any sense of the word, one may wanna skip over these next four reviews. However, I will try to refrain from such things as much as possible. We kick things off with a release from just last year, 'No Man of God', centring on who may very well be the poster boy for serial killers in general, Ted Bundy.
There are a few Bundy titles out there, but this one grabbed my attention after hearing it referenced on a certain true crime podcast I listen to. What struck me about it was the idea of it being based on real transcripts chosen from conversations between Bundy (Luke Kirby) and FBI Special Agent Bill Hagmaier (Elijah Wood), ranging from 1984 to 1989. The pair form a complicated relationship during Bundy's final years, and here we see a pretty damn solid case of hero-relates-to-villain, as seen perhaps most famously in the movie 'Heat', but has been done a number of times before.
Having said that, I should probably say that as far as the hero and villain in this case are concerned, the film does a wonderful job of humanizing them both. There are moments they just have a laugh, moments that almost (they don't though) allow you to empathize with Bundy. One great moment in the film involved Bundy asking Hagmaier if he could ever kill someone, and I won't spoil anything, but let's just say the response is rather interesting. And again, don't get the wrong idea here, Bundy's where he needs to be right now. But this does provide an interesting look into Bundy's psyche, which is what it's all about, to begin with.
Right off the bat, I'm going to say that this is a film for the real die-hard fans of true crime who could be interested in something like this. While there's a nice change of pace from the typical Hollywood glorification of these serial killers here, there was something very real about this one in that it's pretty much all talking. The film is essentially one long interview, stitched together with a whole bunch of metaphorical imagery, giving the film a very artsy feel in a sense. But if you can allow yourself to sink into it, the performances are well worth the trip. Luke Kirby does an amazing Ted Bundy here, and Elijah Wood does a good job of flexing his acting muscles here, not so much being the Frodo he's become known as.
I think of all the movies I have on this particular list, this is the most real, and far away from any sort of "Hollywoodification". If you're interested in true crime stuff and have any sort of particular interest in Ted Bundy, then this could very well be the film for you, being just on the edge of documentary-style, and above all else, using real transcripts of the convos between these two. It's a pretty neat delve into the human psyche altogether - not just into Bundy's, but I do have to warn that it is very dry. When I say it's like one long interview, I do mean that. There's a break here and there, but if you want to see a serial killer movie for any sort of thrill, this is not the one to pick. Personally, I was pretty lukewarm to it. It's very interesting stuff, but I can't deny getting bored along the way either. So where's the line for me? The next film is a pretty "Dahm" good example of it.
This one comes to us from the Oscar nomination list of 2018, which included nominations for 'Ferdinand', 'The Boss Baby', 'The Bread Winner' and Pixar's 'Coco' taking the win. I didn't see everything on the list, despite the fact that it would have been my first Annual Oscar Special. However, I do remember saying that by the looks of things, if 'Coco' ever had a real competitor, it had to be the groundbreaking 'Loving Vincent'; a beautifully animated mystery film, hand-painted all the way through by 100+ painters. It was a very big deal as far as the industry goes, but its brilliance has since been swept under the rug.
The film takes place one year after the death of Vincent van Gogh (Robert Gulaczyk), who died two days after attempting suicide by shooting himself in the chest. A postman named Joseph's (Chris O'Dowd) son, Armand (Douglas Booth), is tasked with delivering Van Gogh's last letter to his brother, Theo (Cezary Lukaszewicz). Finding the suicide suspicious, Joseph sends Armand to Paris, and as Armand reluctantly agrees, he ends up interviewing most of the people who knew Van Gogh, each with their own take on the subject to tell. This essentially ends up being 'Citizen Kane' or 'Courage Under Fire' as far as its plot goes - but the artistry of the animation is truly unique and frankly kind of breathtaking.
This is a film that splits itself into two in a certain way. Before actually sitting down to watch it, I only ever saw this as something that was probably good for what it was, but sort of artsy-fartsy all the same. I can like artsy stuff, but I'm also very particular about some. I really don't like movies like 'Tree of Life' because I think they're just too much, but at the same time, somehow I love movies like 'Waking Life', which some might consider more to take than the prior. I suppose one could say my taste lies more in "dream-like" stuff that can really take me away, and this does that in spades. But the other side of the coin tells a really cool story. This could have been done without the overlaying animation and still have been really good; like potentially up for a Best Picture Oscar that year good.
Perhaps what I found most interesting about this movie is how much it made me think about "art" in general. As things unfold, and you see the brush strokes flow, the moods are set in such a way that the realms of canvas paintings and cinematography cross over and you are watching a painting come to life, quite literally. The stylization of the art is, of course, very reminiscent of Van Gogh's work as well, giving a whole new appreciation for the artist - not to sell the story short, of course. As mentioned before, though, this really is a dream-like movie. It's one of those films where when the credits started rolling, it almost felt like waking up - not because I fell asleep during a "boring" movie, but because I was that far sucked into the film's world. Very few movies have accomplished that, but if they ever do, I can't help but praise their accomplishment, even if others don't get the same effect.
Last but not least, this is a film that familiarizes a general audience with the consequences of having certain mental health problems. When you learn more and more about what Van Gogh was going through in his life, you feel more towards his character and see him less as "that crazy painter guy who once gifted his ear". It does get a little intense at times, but it's certainly not a movie that tries too hard to pull on the heartstrings. It's a good, proper dramatic flick with a great cast of performers, and an even better cast of artists. This is altogether one of the most beautiful films I've ever seen, speaking as someone who thrived in art class in school and learned that every painting tells a story. This is one painting that does it in the literal sense, and does it extremely well. Cheers to directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman who's work I am certain to check out further!
Today, we take a look at a biopic that depicts woman vs. nature. This film focuses on American writer Cheryl Strayed, and her memoir 'Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.' For myself, this was essentially like checking out 'Into the Wild', but with a female lead. That said, I must admit that I didn't quite get as much out of this one for subtle, perhaps even nitpicky reasons. But it's nevertheless a pretty inspiring story about a woman overcoming the odds - especially when it comes to things like meeting strangers along the way.
Even though lacking in experience, Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) decides to leave Minneapolis to undertake a 1,100 mile hike on a big chunk of the Pacific Crest Trail. Being that it follows a divorce from her husband, Paul (Thomas Sadoski), as well as the tragic passing of her mother (Laura Dern), this is a therapeutic journey. The hike will offer her the chance to not only heal from her recent wounds, but find herself as well. These events also follow the more destructive path she initially took, involving a lot of anonymous sex and heroin. Some of this anonymous sex even lead to an abortion, which seems to have been her real deciding factor as an opportunity at redemption. So yeah, there's quite a lot going on under the surface for our lead character.
They do a pretty good job here at making sure that they don't overdo it, but throw danger in her path every now and then. There are moments like one where she has to face off against a rattlesnake that don't really lead to anything. But there are others, especially with the people she meets, that are enough to make you fear for her safety. She often makes decisions one might consider pretty dumb, but having said that, she does seem to learn as she goes. The whole thing about this is that she's inexperienced, and perhaps some of these decisions are simply made because they might lead to food and/or water, maybe even tips on how to better her hike. So it's kind of this weird "who can you trust" thing, and though the threats are always potentially there, not a whole hell of a lot happens. In fact, throughout the film, the worst enemy she has is essentially herself. There's a moment or two of doubt about people, but there's not much to fear here if you don't wanna catch some creepy 'Last House on the Left' vibe (thank God).
Interestingly enough, I don't remember this movie ever being a thing. It was likely that I wasn't interested and therefore didn't bother and forgot. However, to its credit, this has done fairly well for itself. It was nominated for two Academy Awards for both Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern for their acting skills (losing to Julianne Moore for 'Still Alice' and Patricia Arquette for 'Boyhood', respectively). There was a Golden Globe nomination for Witherspoon on top of that as well. It seems to have sort of dropped under the radar since then, as I hear no one talking about it, ever. Having said that, however, I think it might be worth a look if you can appreciate things like nature and poetry and the artsy side of filmmaking.
Personally speaking, I probably wouldn't include this one in my favorites as far as... let's say "Person vs Nature" films go. There's nothing I'd say is particularly bad about it (although, again, a lot of her decision making is questionable) and most of what I could say against it would be a nitpicky criticism. If you're willing to get a little bit deep with a film, it's a pretty inspiring story about a woman overcoming quite a lot. It does feel a bit heavy-handed at times, but that's probably also the point. The film goes through her struggles up until the end, which I won't spoil, but it's a happier ending than 'Into the Wild' that kind of makes you think. I liked it, and I'd probably watch it again to see if it ends up growing on me. But for now, it's just an interesting story about someone I never knew existed. Now that I do, I'd be curious to read some of what Cheryl Strayed has actually written. All in all, she's an inspiring person.
We start this month's theme of Man vs. Nature with an incredible but tragic true story that paints the majestic Mount Everest in a horrifying light. I will also take the time to recommend the documentary of the events to inspire this film; 'Into Thin Air: Death on Everest' (if you can find it). In either case, each film gives a pretty traumatic look at the seemingly common bucket list goal of climbing Mt. Everest. For yours truly, it's more than enough to say "not in a million years".
Taking place in 1996, a man named Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) has popularized commercial Everest missions. On this fateful mission, Rob is leading a team consisting of a variety of characters; an experienced climber named Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin); a mailman pursuing a goal named Doug Hansen (John Hawkes); a climbing veteran named Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), making this the last of the Seven Summits for her to climb; and a journalist for "Outside" magazine named Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly).
Meanwhile, Rob's company 'Adventure Consultants' has friendly competition with 'Mountain Madness', lead by Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal). However with potential climber overcrowding, the two groups have to try to agree on thing like reducing delays, and keeping an eye on the elements that involve extreme cold, pitfalls, lack of oxygen, and worst of all, a terrible incoming winter storm. As the groups try to cooperate with their back and forth, as well as the stubbornness of some of the climbers, before anyone knows it, everyone is in for a disaster of epic proportions that make the craziest disaster movies look like a picnic - especially when you know all of this stuff actually happened.
This one came out five years ago, and did manage to hit it pretty big for the time. It was a September release, so it didn't quite fit the summer blockbuster caliber of things, but a lot of the names were a big draw, along with the true story aspect. However, it seemed to get the treatment of either being completely overlooked, or viewed once and let alone to be forgotten about. It's funny, but if I bring this up nowadays, it seems there's a select few who have even heard of it - even with all of the names attached. I haven't even mentioned Keira Knightly, or Robin Wright (who play Ben and Beck's respective at-home wives), but things are decently star-studded here.
The real draw of the film, however, has everything to do with its overall intensity. I saw this one on the big screen with post-conversion 3D, and it actually turned out really good. For a lot of the time, you feel like you're right there with the group, caught up in all the terrifying elements nature can throw at you. I still remember actually keeping my jacket on for the movie because something about it just felt cold. On the small screen, the effect isn't quite as strong, but that doesn't matter, because there's still a great but harrowing story here that deserves to be seen. I feel like this was a title that kind of got swept under the rug after a little while, but it's a great cautionary tale for aspiring mountaineers.
I feel obligated, however, to inform everyone that this is not what one would call a "feel-good" movie of any kind. It has some funny moments of comradery, but nothing about it is a comedy. It's intense for a lot of it, and nearing the end, your heart is just about bound to break. But once again, if you think a Hollywood movie on these events is gonna be too much for you, I stil highly recommend the documentary, 'Into Thin Air: Death on Everest'. It's honestly just as intense, and you'll get more accounts from some of the real people involved. As for this, it's one of very few movies where, when I left the theater, everyone was just quiet, and for me, that only means it makes one think. It's a very good movie, and I still highly recommend it - but have something cheerful on standby for after it's over.
In a stray away from his usual, Richard Linklater decided to write and direct an adaptation of a book, telling the story of the Newton Gang - the most successful bank robbers in history.
For those unfamiliar, this was a group of brothers who staged bank and train robberies throughout the early 1920s. They claim a total of 87 banks and 6 trains. And they did it all non-violently, also claiming that here was never any bloodshed during these robberies.
Our respective performers, portrtaying the Newton brothers are Matthew McConaughey (Willis), Skeet Ulrich (Joe), Ethan Hawke (Jess), and Vincent D'Onofrio (Dock), so we have a pretty damned solid cast of actors here, all doing their performances very well. However, it's doing well with what the actors have to work with. While the overall true story is pretty fascinating, it kinda just translates to screen as some sort of typical, bank-robbing western. It's neat at first, but eventually starts to drag a bit. It ends up being one of Linklater's more disliked films among audiences, and that might be mostly because its a stray away from his usual, whether it be teen angst, deep thinking or a combination of both.
The movie is by no means bad, it's just kinda... there. At the end of the day, it's a title I could pretty much take or leave, and certainly wouldn't make my "Linklater Top 5". In some ways, it even comes across as something that may have been made for daytime television.
With that said, it's sort of a fascinating one to go back and have a look at, considering there's quite a few big names to it. And as I said before, everyone does a great job here with what they have to work with. I'd even say it's one of McConaughey's finer dramatic performances while still including what he shows up in today.
It's sort of hard to flat out recommend this one, even to fans of westerns and biopics, due to its slow pacing. However, apparently it's pretty historically accurate, overall. There's even a whole bit through the end credits where the real Willis and Joe show up to speak on the subject - Joe on an episode of Johnny Carson. That's sort of a formula they have for biopics nowadays, but for 1998, the idea was still pretty fresh.
I'd probably just say check this one out if you find yourself curious about it - in other words, treat it like any new movie you see sitting on the rental shelves that don't exist anymore. If the cover story gets your attention, check it out. If not, I can't say you'd be missing out on a whole lot. Linklater's library is full of movies that represent who he is as a director, with style and substance. As I said before, this movie's okay, but it's just kinda "there".
A real-life writer in his 60's named Bill Bryson (Robert Redford) has been living peacefully with his family in New Hampshire for twenty years. Despite speculation among his audience, as a writer, he has no current plans for any future releases of any books.
While attending a funeral, he takes a small stroll to the Appalachian Trail and decides that he wants to live the adventure of hiking the trail in it's entirety. He contacts several people in hopes to have someone join him on the journey, only to eventually be contacted by a guy named Stephen Katz (Nick Nolte), who shows an interest. The thing is, they haven't spoken in several years since a falling out. However reluctant though, no one else will join him on this hike, so they agree to undergo the journey together.
While it's inspiring to see these two go on their both physical and emotional journey, the film unfortunately falls a bit short in any sort of awe-factor. It really is just a couple of old guys walking around in the woods and sharing stories and information, getting to know each other a bit better as people, etc. It reminded me a lot of 'The Bucket List', but far less tear-forcing. Wherein 'The Bucket List' you know it can only end sadly, this leaves things a little more open.
Some of the people they come across offer to help, or spend some time with them, but again, no one really sticks out. They're mostly just passers by. That is until Kristen Schaal comes into the picture. If you don't know who she is, she's most notably known for being the voice of Mabel in 'Gravity Falls'. And if you're anything like me and enjoy the overall cute goofiness of Mabel Pines, you will enjoy her character here, because that's essentially who she's playing. Apart from her, appearances are made by Emma Thompson as Bill's wife, Catherine, Nick Offerman as the guy selling them their camping equipment, and Mary Steenburgen as Jeanie, a motel owner who seems to have the hots for Bill.
The characters are relatable enough, and feel reel enough (at least most of them), and the overall story from Bill's perspective is a nice, simple coming of age story (if that counts for people over 60, I'm not sure). But I did find two massive things about this that I'm afraid I have to criticize it for. This begins with these characters I just covered. Basically, they're all just faces along the way. But in some cases, like with Kristen Schaal's character, you're really curious to know what ever happened to her.
The other thing is that there didn't seem to be a lot of consequence from this whole adventure. For example, they have a moment where they have to face some black bears and the problem isn't exactly intimidating as it's going down. Granted, the solution is actually somewhat realistic, but I daresay that things need to at least feel threatening when you're putting them on the screen. It doesn't have to look like 'The Edge' or anything, but you'd imagine more fear in the scene at the very least.
It's the kind of movie one might catch on a Sunday afternoon, when one wishes to just chill out and enjoy an afternoon of quiet nothingness. There's a bit of a charm to the movie overall, but in the end, it's simply not the best work of anyone involved. It gets a pass, but it's really unenthusiastic. I'm willing to bet that the book of the same name it's based on is probably more entertaining, as it's sure to be more personal. I might give it a shot, myself.