Stephen King's THINNER (Thanks For Asking!) by B. Roche

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Thinner is mediocre, but it would be almost impossible to do better with the material as is. They could have cut the gypsies, though.

Thinner's about small-town Maine lawyer Billy Halleck (Robert John Burke). Billy happens to be obese. Everyone talks to him about it. Not just his wife or doctor, but every person Billy encounters tells him he should go on a diet. One night, driving home from a celebratory dinner after winning a case for a mafia client, Billy gets distracted while his wife is giving him a blowjob and he runs over a gypsy woman. Billy gets off thanks to a friendly judge, but the woman's father sees Billy outside the courtroom and touches his face. "Thinner," the old man says. And Billy starts to get thinner, and thinner.

Right there in that paragraph is everything that is great and problematic in Stephen King's work.

Even in 2017, there's tremendous value in a story about a person uncontrollably losing weight. We only have the one body. If it betrays us, that's terrifying. Back in 1996 the options for special effects are sparse, so Burke has to trudge around in an inflatable suit, with fakey jowly facial applications. And it just never works. As Billy loses weight Burke has fewer applications, but he just looks like an angry guy, not like he’s horribly wasting away. They try to up the tension and have him constantly eating, the camera panning over empty plates and chip bags. The imagery never connects. (And I could swear, in a couple scenes they double back to the make-up condition he was in a few scenes earlier; we get pulled into the consistency of the special effects when we should be looking through our fingers at the awful walking skeleton on the screen).

I don't like to complain about books being better than movies. But in the book, Billy's situation is incredibly uncomfortable to read. He loses his sanity along with his body, and starts to suspect his wife of cheating with his doctor. It's very difficult to physicalize jealousy and madness.

And then there's the gypsies. Too broadly characterized to be offensive (but they are!), they weigh the story down (here all week, folks), forcing everything to be about them instead of the horror of the human body. With the help of the mafia defendant (Joe Mantegna, slumming it hard) Billy tries to intimidate the gypsies into reversing the curse. Eventually they do: with a pie. The old gypsy man (his makeup ain’t great either, by the way) channels all the hate of the world (or something) into a strawberry pie. Billy has to convince someone to eat it, and then the curse will transfer to them. So Billy goes home and tricks his maybe-cheating wife into eating the pie. Thing is, Billy’s patient wife has been shaming him over his junk food consumption the whole movie, it’s pretty late for her to be all, yay pie. Anyway, she eats it, shrivels to death like one of those weird apple dolls, and Billy is healthy. But Billy’s daughter also had some pie, so accepting his fate, Billy gets the doctor/lover to eat some pie as well (Billy’s pie-convincing average is crazy strong) and he himself chows the leftovers, roll credits.

At least now I can cross one of the lesser King adaptations off my watch list.

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Friday the 13th Part V: The New Beginning of Actually Liking it this Time by B. Roche

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I rematch a few films from the Friday the 13th series every year. For whatever reason I neglect to catch up with Part V: A New Beginning, probably because it's the one without Jason (spoiler alert!) Watching it again today after many years, it's a real discovery. 

The log line: Tommy Jarvis has been in a mental institution since killing Jason at the end of part IV. Now Tommy’s grown up and being transferred to a halfway house. Like blank follows blank, Jason starts a halfway house murder spree.

The central mystery of who Jason is and why he’s back after being presumably, officially killed in The Final Chapter, is dealt with almost-well. The movie tries to drum up some suspense about it all, but the killer is so obviously set up he might as well be wearing a name tag that reads “The Jason To Be Named Later.” 

Also, Tommy Jarvis is taken out of too much of the action. He mopes around, manipulatively needing to be asked twice and three times to join the group or do anything. What does he think about Jason being there, NOW, after all the therapy he’s been through? Wouldn’t he want to figure it out? Instead of taking Jason to space or New York, the F13 series should look into the psychology of its characters. 

(Another missed opportunity: addressing Tommy’s hair-trigger temper; step to him even a little and he rains down with scary-expert boxing moves. Spins, flips, kidney punches - Tommy Jarvis could fight the title against Jason instead of kicking dirt. Tommy had much more agency, but fewer fighting skills, in Part VI.)

The craziest thing about the movie is that the first murder that sets everything in motion isn't even related to Jason. We're at the halfway house and this comically broad fat character is eating candy bars and getting his chocolatey candy bar fingers all over everything, and he’s bothering another patient who is obsessively chopping wood, until Wood Chopper Guy flips out and chops Candy Hands to death. That’s, I mean, wow.

I had completely forgotten the movie ends on a cliffhanger of Tommy Jarvis wearing the Jason mask, about to attack the final girl who survived the movie. I can't believe they didn't follow up on that in the series. 

I loved the cast. Director Danny Steinmann clearly does as well. He gives everybody some scenes alone where we get to see them be themselves for a minute; admirable for a movie less than 90 minutes long. Corey Feldman’s in it for a dream prologue as young Tommy Jarvis, but is obviously older, yet another actor plays Older Tommy Jarvis for the rest of the movie. You figure it out.  

The Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning was a blast.  Get committed. 

 

The Lazily, Perfectly Anachronistic Music of ATOMIC BLONDE by B. Roche

There's only 3 types of movie reactions I'm really comfortable with: Love, like, or understand. Hating a movie takes a while for me to process.  

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I do like Atomic Blonde.  It has another low-key excellent Charlize Theron performance. We take her for granted. The rest of the cast is pretty good too. There is icy blue industrial Cold War Berlin atmosphere to spare.  The action scenes, particularly a lengthy third-act fight/chase scene designed to play as a single take (I'd have to check but there just had to be numerous cuts), are well done.  It was directed by one half of the team that made the first John Wick, and I think I might prefer the overall technical accomplishment of Atomic Blonde to JW. Overall, it's a pleasant throwback to the decade in which it's set, the '80s, where it seemed sturdy mid-size action movies like Atomic Blonde came out all the time, no big deal.

But the soundtrack's a problem for me. The film takes place against the backdrop of the Berlin Wall coming down in late 1989.  No one was still listening to "99 Luftballons" in 1989.

Or for that matter "Cat People (Putting out the Fire With Gasoline)," which was released in 1982.

Or "Father Figure," which came out in 1987.

"Der Kommissar" came out in 1979(!) as did "London Calling."

"Cities in Dust" by Siouxsie and the Banshees was from 1986.

"I Ran So Far Away" by Flock of Seagulls? 1981.

"Voices Carry," 1985.

And there's a cover of New Order's "Blue Monday," ditto 1985.

That's most of the film's soundtrack and all of it is from years before the event of story. As this list of Billboard's top 100 songs of 1989 shows, there were plenty of hits to choose from. But is it really a choice? A movie budget is a finite thing. You probably can't go hat in hand back to the studio to ask them to kick in for Paula Abdul.

As Brenna suggested, perhaps the pop culture of Eastern Europe was lagging behind the US, and "Voices Carry" could have been new to their ears.  There's a running gag in the movie of British spy James McAvoy having a side business selling black-market Jordache jeans, so there really was a Communist lockdown on spanking-new Western culture.  He's not outfitting Berlin with the Guess? jeans that were the real rage of 1989. (At least in my middle school.)

Yet the soundtrack also features Public Enemy's "Fight the Power," at the time a new song, a hint of changes to come. 

So if the soundtrack can't be current, what can it be?  The icy synths and European origin of most of the tracks give the film a consistency of tone.  I prefer that to "Look Away" by Chicago, the actual #1 single of 1989.  Atomic Blonde wasn't very 1989, but it is very '80s.  

 

Actors Who Sure as Shit Were in TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT by B. Roche

A curtain call for the thespians who made the 5th Transformers film - not bearable, but, you know how you go on a nightmare camping trip and a mountain cat eats all your food, the married couple guiding you through the woods breaks up and one of them takes your canoe, and it rains, but there’s that one dude who’s a friend of your friend and every few minutes you exchange looks like what the fuck is this? Like that:

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