31 Days to Scare ~ The Fan (1981)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: An obsessive fan of actress Sally Ross strikes out at her and her loved ones when his fan letters are rejected.

Stars: Lauren Bacall, James Garner, Maureen Stapleton, Hector Elizondo, Michael Biehn, Anna Maria Horsford

Director: Ed Bianchi

Rated: R

Running Length: 94 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: I don’t think the words ‘tacky’ and ‘Lauren Bacall’ have ever been used in the same sentence…until now. Yes, the legendary star really slummed it up with this misguided effort from 1981 that unfortunately was released several weeks after the murder of John Lennon outside of his apartment building in New York.  Also set in the Big Apple, The Fan suffered not only from bad timing but a general lack of good taste, turning what Bacall thought would be a stylish thriller into a gruesome slasher film.

So why does it pop up in my 31 Days to Scare?  Well, because for all of its wrong-headedness it has some decent passages and winds up being a helluva good showcase for Bacall (Murder on the Orient Express).  The luminous screen siren doesn’t just elevate the screen adaptation of Bob Randall’s novel, she sets a fuse under it and lets it rocket up to the heavens.  It’s total trash but in the hands of its leading lady it’s classy trash.

Sally Ross has a fan and he’s different than the rest.  Over a prolonged credit sequence ominously scored by Pino Donaggio (Carrie) that feels like director Ed Bianchi was auditioning to direct the opening of Masterpiece Theater, Douglas (Michael Biehn, The Abyss) narrates his letter to Sally as he types.  He’s her biggest fan but wants nothing from her…except for a new picture autographed to him.  When he feels like Sally’s secretary (Maureen Stapleton, Heartburn) isn’t giving him the attention he deserves by forwarding his correspondence to his admired star, he becomes increasingly unhinged.  If she won’t respond to his letters, maybe she’ll respond to his violent actions against her friends and co-workers on the new Broadway musical she’s rehearsing.

Working with a straight razor, Douglas slices his way through a lot of people until setting his sights on the star herself.  There’s some pretty ghastly violence toward women and a stomach turning killing of a gay man Biehn picks up as part of his plan, all apparently added without Bacall’s knowledge. Whatever tension could have been built is dried up by the time the finale rolls around, with Bacall and Biehn acting out a scene that feels inspired by Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in a darkened theater.

Bacall makes mincemeat out of anyone that dares to share the frame with her.  Second billed James Garner (Maverick) shows up in a glorified cameo as her ex-husband that still has feelings for her and Hector Elizondo (Pretty Woman) is the policeman assigned to her case that screenwriters Priscilla Chapman and John Hartwell awkwardly try to make a romantic rival for Garner’s attentions.  Biehn was criticized for being less than threatening but his good looks and internal rage ready to boil over actually works well for his psycho patron.

The scariest thing about the movie are the musical numbers staged by Arlene Phillips with music by Oscar-winner Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics from Tim Rice.  Bacall had triumphed on Broadway ten years earlier with Applause, a musical version of All About Eve and was currently finishing up a run in Woman of the Year in NYC so she’s more than comfortable with the singing (even though you may not be) but man, is this music bad.  The climax of the movie comes when Bacall warbles Hamlisch and Rice’s ‘Hearts, Not Diamonds’ to an opening night crowd while her biggest fan (arriving late…why would he miss the first act?) stalks her from the audience.  The music, the dancing, the singing, the costumes, the set…it’s surreally terrible.

The memory we’re left with is Bacall, who wouldn’t appear in another movie for almost a decade after The Fan bombed at the box office and was trounced by critics. Essentially playing a version of herself, it was a rare chance to see an honest to goodness movie star that went to Broadway playing an honest to goodness movie star on Broadway.  Wisely not letting Stapleton steal too much screen time from her (Stapleton would win an Oscar for Reds the same year), Bacall owns the film and unfortunately shouldered the blame for its failure.

See The Fan for her performance but remember you were warned.

Movie Review ~ Mother’s Day

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Three generations come together in the week leading up to Mother’s Day.

Stars: Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, Julia Roberts, Jason Sudeikis, Britt Robertson, Timothy Olyphant, Hector Elizondo, Jack Whitehall

Director: Garry Marshall

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 118 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (1/10)

Review: At one point not too far into the two very long hours of Mother’s Day I became convinced the movie was created by space aliens branching out into the film industry. No, really. I mean, how else to explain away this stinker which is an utter black hole of laughs, common sense, and good taste? The third of director Garry Marshall’s ensemble movies comes after the equally stinky Valentine’s Day and the dead on arrival New Year’s Eve; one shudders at the thought of Bastille Day getting the greenlight in a few years.

I’m a fan of ensemble movies that weave together multiple storylines to show the cross currents of life for a group of people. Robert Altman did that to perfection in Short Cuts and I’ve always had a fondness for Willard Carroll’s surprisingly wise Playing by Heart. Marshall, on the other hand, is no Altman and aside from snagging two solid leading ladies to roll around in this slop fest he’s compiled a cast of questionable talent ranking high on the nepotism meter. Stick around for the credits, not just for bloopers much funnier than anything that came before it but to count how many Marshalls show up in the cast roster.

If the acting is overall dreadful, the script from Anya Kochoff-Romano, Matt Walker, & Tom Hines is a poo-ey potpourri of archaic lameness, saddling Oscar winner Julia Roberts (Secret in Their Eyes) with meeting the daughter (Britt Robertson, Tomorrowland) she gave up for a career and somehow making her seem like a “less-than”, and having poor Jennifer Aniston (Cake) play yet another divorcee with an ex-husband that’s married a younger woman worried about losing the affection of her kids to her barely legal replacement. Jason Sudekis (on his fourth outing with Aniston after We’re the Millers) is a widowed dad of two girls that’s shocked when his eldest daughter asks him to buy tampons…nevermind that their mom (played in an embarrassing cameo by someone that’s already had a pretty tough year on the marriage front) has been dead for nearly a year.  Did she just have a box from Costco that lasted that long? Let’s not forget Kate Hudson (The Reluctant Fundamentalist) being surprised by her backwards-thinking parents who blaze into town in a Winnebago, only to find one daughter (Sarah Chalke) is a lesbian and their other daughter has married a, wait for it, “towelhead”.

There’s no reality or time to speak of in Marshall’s fantasy-land where people can not only select, finance, and purchase expensive cars overnight but have personalized license plates made (at the all-night license plate store?) and don’t even get me started on how a character living in Las Vegas can fly to Atlanta in under an hour. Then there are the extravagant parties planned in the time it takes to boil water, the curated wedding that happens mere moments after a proposal, the appearance of Kate Hudson’s gigantic ear, and that famously terrible wig Roberts is sporting.

No doubt about it, this is one surreally awful film and likely (hopefully?) the last time Marshall will sit in a director’s chair. From the annoyingly bouncy soundtrack, obviously produced by someone who last picked out the tunes for a JC Penney’s in Tucson, to the outright gaffes that show how rushed this film was, I’m constantly reminded what a hack director Marshall is…when he does get a film right (Beaches, Pretty Woman) it almost seems like a mistake. The only mistake you can make here is seeing this…and I’ll say this right now: if you take your mom to this you’re a terrible child.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Book of Life

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Synopsis: Manolo, a young man who is torn between fulfilling the expectations of his family and following his heart, embarks on an adventure that spans three fantastical worlds where he must face his greatest fears.

Release Date: October 17, 2014

Thoughts: While watching the dazzling trailer for October’s The Book of Life, my first thought was more of a concern: that my eyes were going to pop out of my head from the array of colors and textures blazing by at a rapid pace. Producer Guillermo del Toro (Pacific Rim) is known for his attention to detail in thoughtful stories with underlying themes that reveal themselves slowly so I’m quite interested to see what new ground The Book of Life will break. While I’m not as averse to 3D as some of my contemporaries, I think it has proved to be best used in the type of rich animation The Book of Life employs. With the voices of Zoe Saldana (Guardians of the Galaxy), Channing Tatum (22 Jump Street), Ice Cube (Ride Along), and Diego Luna (Elysium) the film reminds me of The Nightmare Before Christmas, ParaNorman, and Coraline.