31 Days to Scare ~ The Temp (1993)

The Facts:

Synopsis: A troubled businessman’s life is upturned after the arrival of a mysterious female temp worker in his office.

Stars: Timothy Hutton, Lara Flynn Boyle, Dwight Schultz, Oliver Platt, Steven Weber, Colleen Flynn, Faye Dunaway, Scott Coffey, Dakin Matthews, Maura Tierney, Lin Shaye

Director: Tom Holland

Rated: R

Running Length: 96 minutes

TMMM Score: (5.5/10)

Review:  Tell me if this sounds familiar to you (and if not, humor me).  You’re at home, eaten a nice meal, and are ready for dessert.  You go to the freezer, get out a batch of ice cream that already has a flavor profile…let’s say, Peanut Butter Cup.  Tonight, though, Peanut Butter Cup alone isn’t good enough.  You go to your cupboard and add some M&M’s, a few mini marshmallows, maybe some actual peanut butter cups to gild the lily, and then top it off with some chocolate syrup and whipped cream.  By the time you’re done, there’s this strange creation in front of you that doesn’t resemble what you started with and when you bite into it…you wish you had just left it alone.

That’s sort of what I feel like when thinking about The Temp, the goofy thriller that came out on my birthday in 1993 and made back just a paltry 1/3 of it’s 15-million-dollar budget.  With a strong director (Tom Holland of Thinner & Child’s Play), two Oscar winning actors (Timothy Hutton and Faye Dunaway) and a number of rising stars in its cast, not to mention it’s perfect for the early ‘90s pseudo-suspense set-up, The Temp should have been an easy score for Paramount Pictures.  However, if you read up on the film and even just watching it through, you can tell that it’s been royally messed with on its way to release and either maneuvered into the half-hearted attempt it is, or torpedoed from something more sinister which it feels like it wanted to be.

Of all the offices to stage a murder mystery, a cookie company in Oregon would be the last thing I would think of but that’s exactly where screenwriters Kevin Falls and Tom Engleman post Peter Derns (Hutton, Ordinary People) as a divorced dad with anger management issues recently returned to work after suffering a bit of a breakdown. With his company about to be taken over by a larger corporation looking to trim the executive roster as a cost-saving measure, his paranoid nature is back on high alert almost instantly. To make matters even worse, his personal assistant (Scott Coffey, It Takes Three) just left for paternity leave, and he’s left scrambling to please his own boss (Faye Dunaway, Eyes of Laura Mars, wild-eyed and sweat-lipped from the downbeat) with little notice.

He’s not on his own for long, because he’s soon assigned a temporary assistant, the well-educated Kris (Lara Flynn Boyle, Poltergeist III) who time and time again proves to be Peter’s saving grace.  There’s clearly some kind of electric connection between the two and whatever flirting goes on between them remains on the up and up. This is especially good considering that when his full-time assistant returns Kris has endeared herself enough to stick around and begins to rise up the ranks of the company rather quickly.  So quickly, in fact, that it comes on the heels of a suspicious number of accidents, deaths, and exposed secrets about executives, suggesting that someone on the inside might be making it easy for Kris to have a path forward.  Is it Kris herself or someone else with a vested interest in seeing the others around her fail?

In our current era of #MeToo and understanding more about gender politics in the office workplace, The Temp actually becomes an interesting watch through a more experienced lens.  I’m sure the movie couldn’t have been written exactly as-is now…but could it remain just slightly altered and be more effective?  Possibly.  It’s a shame that it seemed to go through so many test screenings and alterations in post-production.  The well-known tale is the entire final act was reshot, much to the anger of Dunaway who refused to film certain scenes and to the overall confusion of audiences.  What’s there now seems incongruous with the rest of the movie, turning into a half-baked Hitchcock film when it never expressed any interest in being up until that point. 

What it had shown some curiously in exploring were a few nasty deaths and Holland’s expertise in building tension as we waited for some bad things to happen to the employees and friends of Peter. (Look for Single White Female’s Steven Weber, Oliver Platt from Flatliners, and Beautiful Boy’s Maura Tierney in the cast as well.)  One such incident is bloody memorable even today (two words: Paper Shredder) and if The Temp had been more adventurous in exploring those kinds of shocking moments, perhaps it would have been promoted more in theaters from a box office dud to minor success.  It also might have helped Boyle break out more as a film star because while she had notoriety on TV and minor roles in films, leading lady status sadly evaded her.  Hutton and especially Dunaway look embarrassed to be in this by the end, but Boyle stands by the movie throughout, which in a strange way works for her character as well.    

Movie Review ~ The Glorias

Available for purchase on Digital and Streaming exclusively on Prime Video starting September 30th.

The Facts:

Synopsis: The story of feminist icon Gloria Steinem’s itinerant childhood’s influence on her life as a writer, activist and organizer for women’s rights worldwide.

Stars: Alicia Vikander, Julianne Moore, Janelle Monáe, Bette Midler, Timothy Hutton, Lulu Wilson, Lorraine Toussaint, Kimberly Guerrero, Enid Graham

Director: Julie Taymor

Rated: R

Running Length: 147 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  One thing 2020 has definitely needed is more empowerment.  We’ve gone through this year feeling like we’re just behind in a lot of ways, from our health to our control over what happens within our government, even to what goes on in the neighborhoods we want everyone to feel safe in.  No one wants to be at odds with each other (at least I don’t think the majority of us do) and it becomes draining to watch news reports on the great division that appears to be widening between numerous groups that used to be able to find common ground.  The rise of social media and the ability for those that hid in the shadows to now speak their hateful rhetoric from the comfort of their anonymity has only added fuel to that and the spiral just continues downward.

That’s why in some small way a biopic like The Glorias feels like a welcome bit of relief right about now, even though it too focuses on an upward battle for acceptance and understanding in the face of adversity.  While a number of documentaries have been made and work has been written about the activist Gloria Steinem over the years and just in the last decade alone, this is the one that has sprung from her own words and is based on her 2015 autobiography My Life on the Road, written when she was 81.  Adapted by celebrated playwright Sarah Ruhl, directed by lauded auteur Julie Taymor, and starring two Oscar winning actresses sharing the role of Steinem at various points in her adult life, on paper The Glorias feels like a project that sounds like an ideal convergence of the right people.  Why, then, does it wind up feeling like a artistically curated Cliff Notes version of a colorful life, only finding some true resonance with its audience in its final half hour?

I honestly doubt a life as large and full as Steinem’s could ever be fully captured in a feature film and to whittle down eight decades into 140-some minutes does seem like a Herculean task, but Ruhl does her best by not taking the traditional biopic route.  This is not a straight-timeline kind of film, but rather one that seems to go from one memory to another, at least at first.  That may be frustrating for audiences that are used to seeing where someone began and watching their life unfold until they wind up in the present (or their version of the present if it’s a person that’s no longer with us) and discover what they learn along the way.  Here, Ruhl and Taymor make use out of the multiple Glorias (Becky’s Lulu Wilson and IT: Chapter Two’s Ryan Kiera Armstrong’s play younger Glorias) to replace others seemingly at will as a way of commenting on what is to come in her life or in service of reflection on her past.  It’s cinematic trickery that works some of the time, mostly when Julianne Moore (Still Alice) as the eldest Gloria subs in for one of her younger counterparts who may not have found her authoritative voice yet but it gets a little showy if a smaller one takes over for an adult.

This narrative alignments also makes it harder to review The Glorias in such a straightforward way.  Taymor and Ruhl jump around through different periods of Steinem’s life with such apparent abandon that it’s a bit of a whirlwind.  One moment we’re with the youngest Gloria (Armstrong) as she dances with her huckster father (a stalwart Timothy Hutton, Ordinary People) on the music hall pier he owns before he packs up the family and hits the road in search of another easy money opportunity.  The next thing we know, Taymor has us with ¾ Gloria (Vikander, The Danish Girl) on her travels through India or her early journalist days where she goes undercover working at the Playboy club.  Then we’re back to teenage Gloria (Wilson) caring for her bedridden mother (an excellent Enid Graham) before meeting the Gloria in full bloom Gloria (Moore) as she comes into her own as an activist fighting for the ratification of the ERA, forms Ms. magazine, and in her later years develops a friendship with Wilma Mankiller (Kimberly Guerrero, A Wrinkle in Time), the first woman elected to serve as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation.

What I found the most interesting in The Glorias was not the typical biographical data that makes up the usual films of this type.  Steinem’s upbringing, dealing with a dreamer Father that lived in the clouds and a Mother who toiled away making up for his frivolity, doesn’t feel so dissimilar than many that would go on to champion the rights of women who served unnoticed for so long.  Though Steinem had a number of relationships over the years (and was questioned often about them in interviews), the film bypasses any of these tangents in favor of exploring her friendships with other women, including feminist Dorothy Pitman Hughes (Janelle Monáe, Harriet), U.S. Representative and a leader of the Women’s Movement Bella Abzug (Bette Midler, Hocus Pocus), and civil rights activist Flo Kennedy (Lorraine Toussaint, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark).  Those that watched the FX series Mrs. America earlier this summer may be surprised to see how little the ratification of the ERA fits into the film, it’s almost a good thing to have watched that nine-episode series because it gave more context to conversations between Gloria and Bella that those who aren’t as familiar with the movement might feel a bit at sea in.

As she does with all of her projects, Taymor brings a keen eye to The Glorias but occasionally lets her artsy side get the best of her.  This is never more obvious than a misguided sequence where Moore’s Gloria steps in to respond to an interview question on live television and sends the studio into a Wizard of Oz-ish tornado that’s not entirely rendered with the same style or polish as other flights of fancy.  Another animation of the Hindu goddess Kali that becomes the first cover of Ms. magazine feels awkward and a tad childish in the context of what has been a more maturely delivered movie until that point.  Taymor’s blending of dreamy fantasy works best when its done subtly, like when the camera that’s focused on one Gloria will pan back to show another iteration of Steinem gently resting her head on the shoulder of her younger self.  It’s brief specialties like these that Taymor is so adept at that The Glorias needs more of throughout.

Even as it races through the decades, it’s when The Glorias finally slows down a bit in Steinem’s later years that Taymor and Ruhl strike something special.  Moore ages forward and with the help of believable prosthetics manages to look remarkably like Steinem without becoming a grotesquerie of plastics in the process.  These quieter later scenes of The Glorias make up for the frenetic earlier part of the movie and lead to a final transition that I should have seen coming a mile away but didn’t.  When it happens, you suddenly realize that Taymor and Ruhl have done what they set out to do and connect Steinem’s past to our present with a graceful sincerity.  Essentially, they hand the film back to their subject as a way of communicating “If this is what Gloria Steinem’s legacy is to be, then let the final word on the matter be hers.”  And, simply, it is.

Movie Review ~ All the Money in the World

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: The story of the kidnapping of 16-year-old John Paul Getty III and the desperate attempt by his devoted mother to convince his billionaire grandfather Jean Paul Getty to pay the ransom.

Stars: Michelle Williams, Kevin Spacey, Christopher Plummer, Mark Wahlberg, Romain Duris, Charlie Plummer, Timothy Hutton

Director: Ridley Scott

Rated: R

Running Length: 132 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: The first thing we should do with All the Money in the World is applaud director Ridley Scott for having it ready to release in the first place.  Originally the film featured now disgraced Oscar-winner Kevin Spacey (Working Girl) under heavy make-up to play J. Paul Getty but after his headline-making nosedive in the midst of scandal Scott made the almost unheard-of decision in late November to replace Spacey with another Oscar-winner (Christopher Plummer) and still have the movie ready to go by its Christmas Day release date.  Well, applause is definitely warranted for the 80-year-old director because the movie is finished and it looks great…but is it any good?

The answer to that question lies in your willingness to see the story of the prolonged kidnapping and ransom of Getty’s grandson for the stylish period thriller Scott wants it to be and not the par-baked soapy drama it winds up resembling.  Sure, Scott knows his way around these throwback tales with their washed-out colors and extraordinary eye for detail, but there’s so little heart and soul to the proceedings that it’s hard to find anyone to sympathize with or, in my case, stay awake for.

Yes, it’s true. I feel asleep for a good ten or fifteen minutes in the first half of the movie and while I’d like to attribute my heavy lids to seeing it the day after Christmas, the honest truth was that the glacial pacing in that first hour is enough to lull even the most Red Bull-ized audience member into dreamland.  I just wasn’t interested in the initial investigation into the disappearance of John Paul Getty III (Charlie Plummer, no relation to the other present Plummer) or the strange bonding that happens between the victim and his kidnapper (Romain Duris).  Informed by my movie mate that I didn’t miss much, even taking a few winks it wasn’t hard to pick up where I left off.

The film starts to be something to worth remembering when all hope seems to be lost and Getty’s mother, Gail Harris (Michelle Willaims, The Greatest Showman) begins to be a more active player in getting her son back.  Working with a hired gun (Mark Wahlberg, Ted) originally employed by her former father-in-law, Gail gets in on the action by negotiating not only with the kidnappers that have her son but with her imposing in-law that quid pro quos her every step of the way.  Williams is in a strange mode here, doing her darndest to maintain an Eastern accent and playing deep despair without ever looking like she really is invested in what’s happening around her.  Wahlberg is coasting too, his entire role is so low-impact I’m wondering why they needed him at all.

It’s hard to look at the film now and even consider Spacey playing J. Paul Getty.  Sure, early trailers invoked some curiosity into how the 50-something actor would play the octogenarian, but Plummer is such an impressive force in the role I’d bet top dollar studio executives didn’t bat an eye when Scott proposed his reshoot plan.  Plummer’s aces in every one of his scenes and Williams and Wahlberg (both wearing wigs that don’t quite match scenes directly before and after) graciously give him the floor and recreate their emotions as if this was the plan all along.

Scott (The Martian, Prometheus) has never been dormant for long but he’s enjoying a nice little renaissance at this late stage in his career.  Earlier in 2017 his misguided Alien: Covenant was a big bummer for me but this one feels more in his wheelhouse and he’s breezily operating within his comfort zone.  The script from David Scarpa adapted from John Pearson’s book doesn’t have anything remarkable to say so the movie is left to create interest based on the characters and the impeccable production design.  On those merits, it’s a success, but performances and set-dressings can’t be the main source of recommendation for a movie so All the Money on the World winds up with a buyer beware notice.