31 Days to Scare ~ High Spirits

The Facts:

Synopsis: The owner of an Irish castle decides to attract visitors by falsely claiming the building is haunted, only to have a pair of real ancestral spirits start causing trouble…

Stars: Peter O’Toole, Daryl Hannah, Steve Guttenberg, Beverly D’Angelo, Liam Neeson, Peter Gallagher, Jennifer Tilly, Donal McCann, Mary Coughlan, Liz Smith, Tom Hickey, Tony Rohr

Director: Neil Jordan

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 99 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  As another October was drawing to a close and it was getting time to step away from focusing solely on scary movies for the year, I was thinking about what to feature for the last few posts.  I knew I’d cover some well-known titles and already planned out my Halloween entry but it was that last day, the 30th, that had me scratching my head.  Then it hit me…or actually it came crashing down.  I was just waking up this morning when a unexpectedly picture fell off the wall, causing a great deal of noise and starting the day off with a startle.  A faulty nail is the assured culprit but…what if a ghost was having some fun with me in the early hours?  For some reason, it got me in haunting mood and my mind went right to High Spirits, a silly but fun favorite of mine.

Now, let’s be clear.  A horror movie this is not so if you’re looking for blood, guts, and gore you can skip to tomorrow but if you need a spooky/goofy respite from suspense and are up for a trip back to the late ‘80s you have come to the right place.  Released in 1988 to mediocre reviews and no box office, this isn’t exactly an unheralded classic that didn’t get its due.  While I personally find it to be a riot, at the time it arrived in theaters audiences were already distancing themselves from this broad type of farce.  Over time, I think the movie has aged well and the cast is chock full of familiar faces, many of whom are turning in sharp and ribald performances.

Poor Peter Plunkett (Peter O’Toole, The Stunt Man) is having trouble getting guests to stay at his castle in the Irish countryside.  Though the place is in need of repair, Plunkett and his staff of locals don’t do much to spruce it up to make it more appealing to the tourist trade.  When he’s (literally) at the end of his rope, a light bulb for an idea goes off when he’s reminded by his boozy mother (a delightful Liz Smith) about the numerous ghosts that supposedly live in the castle.  Why not market the castle as haunted and, once the guests arrive, fake the appearances to create massive buzz?  That should keep the rooms occupied and the cash coming in.  Right?

The plan works…almost.  When the first batch of tourists arrive, they include Jack (Steve Guttenberg, Diner) and Sharon (Beverly D’Angelo, The Sentinel) a couple on their second honeymoon and they clearly need it.  She’s an uptight city gal while he’s looking forward to getting the most out of their creepy Irish adventure.  They’re joined by a priest (Peter Gallagher, Hello, My Name is Doris), a sexpot (Jennifer Tilly), and a demanding family from the suburbs (led by Martin Ferrero from Jurassic Park).  The staff do their best to give the group a good scare but the results are less than thrilling.  Figuring out they’ve been duped pretty quickly, the guests plan their escape…and that’s when Jack meets Mary Plunkett (Daryl Hannah, Splash!), Peter’s very beautiful but very dead relative.

Murdered on her wedding night by a jealous husband (Liam Neeson, The Haunting) and doomed to repeat the violent act nightly for eternity, when Jack intervenes in a drunken daze it breaks the cycle and Mary is freed to be a regular old spirit.  Grateful to Jack for freeing her, the two strike up a connection that neither really found with their significant other.  The movie then becomes your typical boy meets ghost story, further complicated by her dead husband and his living wife getting into the mix.  All this happens while Plunkett tries to keep the other guests out of harm’s way when their less than haunted experience gets very real after the rest of the Plunkett ancestors get roused and the line between the living and the dead is tested.

Written and directed by Neil Jordan (who would score an Oscar four years later for The Crying Game and also gave us Greta in 2019), the movie is total Sunday afternoon rainy-day fare and I think it’s a lot of fun.  It’s obviously not trying to be a classic in any sense but it has some memorable moments and performances that are off-the-wall enough to be quite amusing.  Smith is a hoot at Peter’s mum who is always three sheets to the wind while it’s nice to see Neeson so early in his career in a lark of a comedic role.  Guttenberg and D’Angelo can play these types of roles in their sleep but they’re engaging nonetheless and Hannah makes for a lovely apparition.  The production design of the castle is impressive and, haunted or not, you’ll likely wish a similar stay would be in your future.

High art?  No.  High Spirits?  Yes.

Movie Review ~ A Bad Moms Christmas


The Facts
:

Synopsis: A Bad Moms Christmas follows our three under-appreciated and over-burdened women as they rebel against the challenges and expectations of the Super Bowl for moms: Christmas. And if creating a more perfect holidays for their families wasn’t hard enough, they have to do all of that while hosting and entertaining their own mothers.

Stars: Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn, Jay Hernandez, Christine Baranski, Susan Sarandon, Cheryl Hines, Peter Gallagher, Justin Hartley

Director: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore

Rated: R

Running Length: 104 minutes

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review: It’s a good thing for the filmmakers of A Bad Moms Christmas that I’m not in charge of the naughty or nice list because it would be coal for all if I had my way. What a stupid piece of trash this one is, so lame-brained and barely breathing that I’m amazed it was produced and released at all. It exists for no one other than the tax write-off seeking producers and holiday cash starved actors willing to lower themselves to the level of writer/directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (Office Christmas Party).  I didn’t care much for 2016’s Bad Moms (actually, I didn’t care for it at all) so when it became a sleeper summer hit and this holiday-themed sequel was fast-tracked I must admit I was curious to see what new shenanigans the ladies would get up to. Turns out it’s just more of the same inane antics that are really just barely-there ideas for vignettes weakly strung together to create a 104-minute film. A very long 104-minute film.

As in the original film, the lives of these women are scripted entirely by the male writer and directors and I’d love to hear what their moms and wives think about their take on the mother’s role in the Christmas season. Lucas and Moore seem to believe that all mothers hate the holidays because it’s nothing but endless amounts of work for them with no thanks and certainly no fun. They are forced to put up a tree, decorate the house, buy presents, wrap presents, cook, clean, host parties, and do it all with a fake smile plastered on their face. At least that’s how Mila Kunis’ Amy tells us it is as she narrates the opening of the film that shows the aftermath of the holidays.  As a camel saunters by, she promises to tell us how she wound up with her house destroyed.  Sigh…if we must.

Flashing back through the six days leading to Christmas, we meet up again with Amy, her children, and her new boyfriend (Jay Hernandez, Suicide Squad) as they prepare for the arrival of Amy’s shrill mother (Christine Baranski, Into the Woods) and milquetoast dad (Peter Gallagher, Hello, My Name is Doris). Across town, Kiki (Kristen Bell, Frozen) is surprised that her smother-mother (Cheryl Hines, Wilson) has showed up three days early while Carla (Kathryn Hahn, We’re the Millers) is shocked her free-wheelin’ mama (Susan Sarandon, Tammy) has showed up at all. Kunis (Ted), Bell, and Hahn share precious few scenes together with Lucas and Moore opening up their world a bit more now that they have more characters to juggle. That means kids and males are left in the dust as the moms and daughters work out their issues as the holidays get closer.

There’s so much to dislike about this movie. From the extremely long leash the filmmakers give the usually funny foul-mouthed Hahn to ham it up while waxing the testicles of a ‘sexy’ Santa (Justin Hartley, who we’re forced to watch poorly strip-tease THREE times during the course of the film), to the uncomfortably ugly way that Baranski and Kunis spar over everything from décor to holiday spirit, to Bell blindly ignoring the fact that her mom is maybe so clingy because she’s completely alone and has no friends of her own.

Straining to see some good, I will say that though Baranski has fashioned her entire career on playing these types of frigid shrews, she gets some of the best moments in the movie with her deadpan reactions and sharp comebacks. They even let her sing a bit during a too-long caroling scene that at least serves as an opportunity to bring back the sorely missed Christina Applegate (Vacation) for a brief cameo. I also enjoyed Sarandon’s crass take on an aging biker chick that barely realizes she’s a grandma and the best passage of the entire film is when all three moms gather together to work out their woes.

At the end of the first film there was an excellent scene during the credits where the actresses and their real moms were interviewed. It was by far the best part of that whole movie and I was halfway looking forward to something similar here. Unfortunately, all that’s available during the credits is an exhaustive dance sequence clumsily filmed against a green screen. It’s just another example of the hap-hazard filmmaking that brought A Bad Moms Christmas to our cinematic mantle. My advice would be to throw this one into the fire and ask Santa to bring you a real comedy for the holidays instead.

Movie Review ~ Hello, My Name is Doris

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hello_my_name_is_doris
The Facts
:

Synopsis: A self-help seminar inspires a sixty-something woman to romantically pursue her younger co-worker.

Stars: Sally Field, Max Greenfield, Natasha Lyonne, Kumail Nanjiani, Peter Gallagher, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Tyne Daly, Beth Behrs

Director: Michael Showalter

Rated: R

Running Length: 95 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: Some people watch scary movies peeking out from behind their hands covering their eyes. I do the same thing for movies with socially awkward people trying and failing to be heard. There’s something inherently not enjoyable about seeing a person already uncomfortable in their own skin being put through an emotional ringer. For the masochists out there that love a good grimace, you need look no further than Hello, My Name is Doris, a whiffle of a dramedy that ultimately finds success in its lead performers.

Sally Field is Doris, a data processer at a hip New York ad agency that has kept her around for politically correct reasons rather than necessity. Mourning the recent loss of her mother and avoiding the urges of her brother and his wife to sell their family home, she finds a ray of sunshine when John Fremont (Max Greenfield, The Big Short) joins the company. Newly relocated from Malibu, John is everything Doris is not…young, current, and confident. Doris develops a fixation on John and daydreams about him saying sweet words before locking her in a passionate embrace.

There’s more to the story thought, with a hoarding subplot that seeks to explain a little more about why Doris acts and reacts the way she does. Her friends (Tyne Daly, Caroline Aaron) chalk up the obsession to another wild fantasy Doris has dreamed up, before realizing too late that she’s doing more damage to herself in the process. When John starts dating another woman, Doris drinks away her sorrows and innocently sets into motion events that lead to an inevitable denouement.

You’ll wince through a lot of the movie; only because it’s hard to see a character so clueless learn such difficult lessons late in life. Shielded somewhat from the outside world and dreams of romance after caring for her mother for so many years, Doris sees John as a chance to reclaim some of the years she’s lost but can’t see that they’re on two different journeys running parallel to each other.

As usual Field (Steel Magnolias) is a treat, coloring Doris in a way that makes you feel for her even when she’s making a wrong move. I feel like every character in the film has at least one moment where they have a ‘poor Doris’ look on their face and Field earns those melancholy stares. Her best moments come near the end of the film, especially in one dialogue-free scene where the buttoned up woman literally lets her hair down and sees herself for the first time as she really is underneath all of her accessories.

Field is well matched by the appealing Greenfield, who manages to take a role that could have been your standard unattainable dreamboat and show some nuance to him as well with writer/director Michael Showalter (adapting this from a short film by Laura Terruso) making sure that John isn’t the image of perfection. At one point John tells Doris that he worries he’s boring…and you can see it’s a genuine fear of his. Because like Doris, he just wants to be noticed for who he is.

At 95 minutes, the film is well-paced and ever so slightly rough around its independent edges. More thought seems to have gone into Doris’s thrift store wardrobe and headscarves than continuity. Like Doris, it’s a bit thrown together and flat out drops certain central characters without much fanfare. A rather impressive roster of familiar faces pepper the supporting cast but their appearances are so brief that they become even more inconsequential to a film that only wants to focus (rightfully so) on the leads.

If you can muscle through an hour and a half of squirming uncomfortably every time Doris rocks out to electronic dance music or is caught embarrassingly daydreaming of romantic interludes, this might be the movie for you. It’s surely worth it for the performances Field and Greenfield turn in…but it’s not an easy watch.