Tag Archives: Sam Elliott

Fright Club: Skeletons in the Closet 2019

It’s that time of year! The Academy celebrates the best work in the industry and we celebrate the early, mainly terrible work of those same nominees. It’s Skeletons in the Closet season, people!

We will let you know up front that, because Sam Rockwell and Bradley Cooper have already been subjects of the program, we will not be discussing Clown House (Rockwell’s feature debut) or Midnight Meat Train (or My Little Eye, for that matter, though Cooper appears in both).

And let us also congratulate nominee Willem Dafoe for managing to make several decent horror films, and garnering his first Oscar nomination for his work in one great one—Shadow of the Vampire.

But enough about good movies. Here are the stinkers.

Dial up the full podcast, co-hosted by Senior Aussie Correspondent (and host of Golden Spiral Media’s Rewatch podcast), Cory Metcalfe.

5. Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part III

Viggo Mortensen has been a working actor for more than 30 years, which means bones in that there closet. There was the questionable Psycho remake, and his version of Lucifer in Christopher Walken’s dark angel camp classic Prophesy (featured on the 2018 Skeleton’s episode).

Let’s focus on his place with the inbred cannibal clan the Sawyers in Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. Directed by Jeff Burr (From a Whisper to a Scream, Stepfather II, Puppet Master 4, 5 and Blitzkrieg Massacre), it’s a competently made if inspirationally dry episode.

Viggo plays Tex, and unquestionably outshines all the rest of the talent in the film. He’s sneaky, snaky, sexy, and he loves his mama.

4. Warlock (1989)

There is something to be said for this oh-so-Eighties adventure. Steve Miner (Friday 13th 2 & 3, H20, Lake Placid) directs from a screenplay by David Twohy (Critters 2, Pitch Black, The Perfect Getaway). The film follows witch Julian Sands 300 years into the future to 1989 USA, where he’s followed by witchhunter Redfern (Oscar nominee Richard E. Grant).

There’s nothing especially interesting about the film, and Lori Singer could not be more annoying in the lead, but both Sands and Grant elevate the material. The two veteran low-budget, crowd-pleasing horror filmmakers know how to give you something.

The flight sequences are too lame—in fact, all the FX promise to make you cringe—and much of the humor dates horrifically. But Grant commits to his character and Sands’s wicked grin makes up for a lot of plot holes.

3. Mary Reilly (1996)

Boy, there were high hopes for this bloated embarrassment when it came out back in ’96. Director Stephen Frears re-teamed with his Dangerous Liaisons screenwriter and stars John Malkovich and Glenn Close for a retelling of the old Jekyll and Hyde tale.

At the center, a plucky young housemaid named Mary (Julia Roberts).

Roberts’s career had begun its slide by this point, and this movie did not help things because she is just God awful. Oh my word, that accent.

Eight-time Oscar nominee Glenn Close plays Mrs. Farraday, proprietress of a brothel. Boasting gold tooth, smeared lipstick and sneer, Close camps it up with an accent a bit more bizarre even than Roberts’s.

There is so much wrong with this movie—its leaden pace, its inconsistent tone, its sense of self-importance, the fact that we’re supposed to believe no one realizes both guys are Malkovich, the idea of Malkovich in a sexy role, Roberts performance in literally every scene—it’s hard to know where to start.

Maybe just don’t.

2. Frogs (1972)

As the eco-terror flick from the Seventies opens, a handsome and manly brunette with no facial hair canoes through a swamp. He’s so manly!

Hey wait, that beardless brunette is Sam Elliott!

The manly Picket Smith (Elliott) ends up stranded on the vacation island of a wealthy family led by Ray Milland. He’s a dick. The frogs know it.

We get it, rich people who believe men are meant to rule the world will be the downfall of the planet. (If we didn’t know it in 1972, we know it now.) But couldn’t these scenes be briefer? Couldn’t there be any action at all?

Frogs? Seriously?

1. Death Machine (1994)

Holy cow, this movie is bad.

And we had more than a few to choose from, because Rachel Weisz makes a lot of movies. The Mummy was not good. The Mummy Returns was worse. Constantine—yikes. Even Dream House, which had all the earmarks of a decent flick, chose not to be.

But Death Machine, which showcases the young thespian for maybe 45 seconds, sucks right out loud. Written and directed by Stephen Norrington (Blade, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), it follows a young executive (Ely Pouget) as she tries to end the evil inventing of a mad genius (Brad Dourif).

Weisz plays Junior Executive, and her scene is the one that doesn’t blow.

Dourif is so wildly miscast as the long haired, heavy metal misfit that you almost overlook the idiocy of every moment of screen time.

Almost.

Say Something

A Star is Born

by George Wolf

A few weeks ago, for homework, I revisited the 3 previous versions of A Star Is Born. A friend later asked me which one was best.

I have a different answer now.

Director/co-writer/co-star Bradley Cooper brings a new depth of storytelling to the warhorse, with a greater commitment to character and the blazing star power of Lady Gaga.

Cooper is Jackson Maine, a booze-swilling, pill-popping rock star who wanders into a random bar post-gig and catches Ally (Gaga) belting out “La Vie en Rose.” Jack’s entranced, and begins coaxing Ally to sing her own songs instead of covers. Everyone’s got a talent, he tells her, the real gift is having something to say.

Each previous film version represented its era well, but with the rock music setting and several recognizable homages, it’s clear Cooper has a fondness for the Streisand/Kristofferson take from ’76. His new vision carries a raw authenticity that eclipses them all.

The battered star’s instant infatuation with the young talent has never felt more understandable, the undeniable chemistry between Cooper and Gaga fueling the feeling that in Ally, Jack sees a better version of himself.

Cooper, with a lower-range speaking voice and the musical talent from nearly 2 years of tutelage, is every bit the weathered rocker, on a misplaced search for redemption. Watch him when Jack is not the focus of a scene to see a character become complete.

But then, another outstanding acting performance from Bradley Cooper is not a surprise. His remarkably instinctual directing debut here, though, must now place him among the premier talents in film.

Nearly every scene, from stadium rock concert to intimate conversation, is framed for maximum impact. His camera can be stylish but not showy, with seamless scene transitions fueling a forward momentum that will not let the film drag.

The melodramatic story has been stripped of pretense and buoyed by more layers of humanity, and not just between the two leads. Jack’s brother (Sam Elliot), his boyhood friend (Dave Chappelle) and Ally’s father (Andrew Dice Clay) emerge as important characters despite limited screen time.

And then there’s Gaga.

The voice is, well, it’s a force of nature, and the songs (some co-written with Cooper) are memorable. But if a star already shining can be born, welcome Gaga the movie star. She is electric, taking Ally from wide-eyed stage fright to SNL headliner with both tenderness and ferocity, giving this character the strength and nuance she has never had before.

This film has talent everywhere, but it also has stirring things to say about love and sacrifice, about art and commerce, ambition and fame.

I’ll say this: A Star is Born is among the very best of the year.

 

I Don’t Want to Go Out – Week of September 18

Damn! So many great movies coming home this week – blockbusters, indies, horror, drama, comedy. Everything you could want, and not a bad one in the batch. Hooray for us!!

Click the film title for the full review.

The Big Sick

Certain Women

The Bad Batch

Wonder Woman

The Hero

This Dude Abides

The Hero

by Hope Madden

Somebody finally wrote a starring role for Sam Elliott. Let’s be honest, we all love him. What’s not to love? His lived-in masculinity, mannered charm and sonorous delivery make every line a comic/dramatic/romantic dream.

His latest film, the Brett Haley directed and co-penned The Hero, feels like an attempt to give Elliott his own The Wrestler or Crazy Heart.

I’m cool with that.

Haley was responsible for the 2015 life-renewing romance I’ll See You In My Dreams, a post-middle-age adventure starring Blythe Danner, with Elliott joining as her mustachioed gentleman caller.

With Hero, Haley places Elliott firmly in the lead of another “life begins when you decide it does” kind of story.

In a role undoubtedly written specifically for the actor, Elliott plays an aging performer who’s knocked around Hollywood for decades but is best known for his deep, cowboy voice. The film opens with that memorable baritone recommending, “Lone Star barbeque sauce – the perfect pardner for your chicken.”

It’s an inspired scene, full of humorous indignity and carried beautifully by the voice-over veteran. It’s really a shame Haley can’t build on it.

Elliott’s Lee Hayden has cause to reevaluate his life when a health issue, a lifetime achievement award, a viral video and a surprising new girlfriend all collide unexpectedly. Oh, so many reasons to contemplate your own mortality.

Elliott’s quiet, moseying way remains as enigmatic and charming as it ever has been, and seeing him play a character so very close to himself is sometimes eerie. Real-life wife Katharine Ross even plays his ex.

The film scores highest marks in two scenes with Ross, and in everything with a delightful Nick Offerman, playing against type as Lee’s goofy former co-star and current weed dealer.

It derails hardest, though, when it tries to juggle a distant relationship with a daughter (Krysten Ritter) and a new romance with a hot, much younger woman (Laura Prepon).

The Hero breaks no new ground. Had Haley and co-writer Marc Basch (who also co-wrote Dreams) thrown one or two fewer contrivances at us, or found perhaps a fresher way to contend with their obvious choices, they might have had something.

Instead they ride Elliott’s charm and settle for sentimentality, which is such a shame. It’s high time Sam Elliott gets to lead his own movie, but he deserves a little more than this.

Verdict-3-0-Stars

Walk the Dinosaur

The Good Dinosaur

by Hope Madden

Is there any name in filmmaking more reliable, any surer bet, than Pixar?

Maybe not.

The Good Dinosaur, as is always the way with a Pixar film, opens with a fascinating short. Longtime Pixar animator Sanjay Patel directs his first effort, and Sanjay’s Super Team defies expectations to tell a lovely, warm story of overcoming father/son barriers and, in doing so, opens larger doors for similar cross-cultural embracing.

The animation giants’ second feature in less than a year takes us back to a magical time when dinosaurs were farmers and cowboys. That meteor? It missed Earth, you see, so this is what might have happened had we evolved right alongside those majestic beasts.

Rather than relying on a star-laden vocal cast (although Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Steve Zahn, and the unmistakable Sam Elliot do lend their talents), the bulk of the film features – almost solely – the work of 14-year-old Raymond Ochoa.

Ochoa plays Arlo, the runt of the dino litter who needs to battle his own insecurities to find a way to make his mark. He does so with the help of a feral whelp of a human called Spot.

Though the story borrows heavily from The Lion King, first time director Peter Sohn combines hyper-realistic scenery with very cartoony characters in a way that’s surprising and lovely. Punctuated frequently with silly humor, the mostly serious tale does not shy away from darker edges and a real sense of peril, eventually delivering a genuinely emotional punch.

Sohn is even craftier without the aid of dialog, as many of the funniest and most touching moments are delivered in silence or with grunts.

After producing arguably the best film of 2015, Pixar has the cajones to release a second feature this year. I guess when you’re the undisputed king of cartoons, that kind of swagger makes sense. And while The Good Dinosaur is no Inside Out (or Up or Toy Story, for that matter), it’s a worthy entry in their impressive canon.

Verdict-3-5-Stars

Digging Your Scene

Digging for Fire

by George Wolf

A strong ensemble cast and a crafty, improvisational script make Digging for Fire a new high water mark for a filmmaker inching cautiously closer to the mainstream.

For over a decade, Joe Swanberg has been a busy boy, serving as writer, director, actor, editor, cinematographer and more on various obscure shorts, mumblecore staples, and indie favorites. He’s probably best known for his role in the slasher flick You’re Next, but Swanberg’s 2013 effort Drinking Buddies earned him plenty of notice as writer/director with a refreshing voice.

Digging for Fire‘s cast is full of Swanberg favorites, led by Jake Johnson, who also helped write the script. Johnson plays Tim, who is staying with his wife Lee (Rosemarie DeWitt) and their young son Jude (Jude Swanberg, Joe incredibly cute son) In a swanky house they don’t own.

Lee teaches yoga in LA, and while some of her clients are away shooting a movie, Lee and her happy young family agree to house sit, where Tim promptly finds an old bone and a rusty gun while checking out the grounds.

As the weekend approaches, Lee leaves the boys at home to visit her parents, and then have a girls’ nite with an old friend. Tim promises to do the taxes while she’s gone, but he can’t get his mind off of his strange discovery. Once some friends come over and beer starts flowing, seeing what other secrets might be buried in the yard starts sounding like a great idea.

Both Lee and Tim find plenty of temptation in their respective adventures, and Digging for Fire becomes a quietly insightful take on managing priorities throughout the changing phases of life.

Swanberg’s camera often drifts without anchor, perfect for the bevy of recognizable faces that come and go (Sam Rockwell, Anna Kendrick, Brie Larson, Sam Elliott, Orlando Bloom and more), some for only one scene. You can see why these talents are drawn to such a free-form filmmaking structure, and all are able to carve out memorable characters that influence the choices Lee and Tim are pondering.

Though obvious, Swanberg’s extended metaphor is effective, as responsibilities of marriage and family clash with the yearning for lost freedom. If you keep digging for something, you just might find it, and that can be playing with fire.

 

Verdict-3-5-Stars

 

 

 

This Week’s Countdown: Best Onscreen ‘Staches

The Mo-vember episode of the Studio 35 Show got us thinking ‘staches. What are the best onscreen mustaches? We chose our 10 favorites. Which big, hairy faces did we miss?

 10. Charles Bronson

Hard saying which set of whiskers is more impressive, Charles Bronson’s:

Charles-BRONSON

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or Tom Hardy in the title role for the film Bronson, so we’ll call it a tie:

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9. Yosemite Sam

Sure, Snidely Whiplash was impressive, but when it comes to mustachioed animated gentlemen, we like the bold statement made by Sam.

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8. Wilford Brimley

Our favorite cantankerous man with a mustache, Brimley and his whiskers have been making the world safe for oatmeal and extra terrestrials for generations.

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7. Robert Redford

You forget how handsome the Seventies could be until you gander at the young Redford, who can even make an unruly mo’ look good.

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6. Mike Ditka

Best NFL ‘stache (and sweater and sunglasses). He’s our Ditka.

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5. Tom  Selleck

Can’t list famous mustaches without this hirsute Eighties PI.

Tom-Selleck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Burt Reynolds

Let’s be honest, the entire Eighties boom in mustaches is due to Tom Selleck and this man. Thank you?

 

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3. The Cast of Tombstone

More facial hair per square screen inch, Tombstone makes other films seem positively unmanly.

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2. Ron Burgundy

This mustache escalated quickly. With a mustache like this, you have to keep your head on a swivel. It stings the nostrils.

ron-burgundy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Sam Elliott

Yes, he made the countdown twice! He’s the  most impressive part of the Stache Pack that makes up the cast of Tombstone, but the manliness that is Sam Elliot’s facial hair cannot be adequately praised with only one slot on this countdown! It’d be very undude of us.

sam_elliott_the_big_lebowski