Thursday, July 6, 2023

Drac Watch: Renfield (2023)

Watched:  07/06/2023
Format:  Peacock
Viewing:  First
Director:  Chris McKay

I had actually intended to see Renfield (2023) in the theater, but it seemed like before I knew it was released, it was gone and being offered on VOD.  Here we are about 2.5 months out from the release date, and I saw it on Peacock.  So, we are in interesting times.

Longtime followers of the blog may know I'm a bit of a Universal Monsters fan, not least of which is 1931's Dracula.  I've seen a few other versions, read the novel, seen a stage play, etc...  I figure I've done my Drac homework.  And so it was that seeing a movie pitched as a goofy, dark comedy about the woes of being Dracula's familiar (Renfield from novel and the 1931 film, played by the great Dwight Frye) with no one less than Nic Cage as Dracula had a strong appeal.

The trailer featured Renfield (played by Nicholas Hoult, who I think people rightly say they dig), attending group therapy for folks in abusive relationships, which, in retrospect, is maybe not innately hilarious to the twitter generation.  So I expected the movie was going to be Renfield and Drac's odd-couple relationship with some gross-out gore humor.  And that's... partially correct.

Weirdly, Awkwafina, who had just come off of Shang-Chi, and twitter's flying attempt at a good canceling, was not featured in the ads at all.  And she's arguably as important to the movie as Hoult or Cage.  She plays a police officer in a cartoonishly corrupt New Orleans police department whose father has been murdered by the Lobo crime family - who are also not in the trailer but feature Ben Schwartz as a wormy heir-apparent and the always phenomenal Shohreh Aghdashloo.  

Here's the thing I did not know:  the movie is an action-comedy-horror film.  There's a whole plot about Renfield maybe wanting to be a better person and it leading to him performing heroic deeds/ teaming up with Awkwafina, and Dracula thinking he's been thinking too small.

If you're like me, and you find acts of horrific violence geared for comedic value to be, in fact, funny as @#$%, this may be a good reason to stream it on The Cock.  This movie realized a little CGI blood costs about the same as A LOT of CGI blood, and they went bonkers.  But, honestly, the best parts of this movie are:
  • the use of Dracula (1931) as a set-up and perfectly recreating scenes from the film
  • Nic Cage's unique (in the best way) version of Dracula - that kind of makes you wish someone thought to cast him as the center of the Dark Universe giant mess Universal pondered a few years back.  Like, you realize, this totally makes sense, even when he's having a goofy scene with Hoult.  
  • Shohreh Aghdashloo in general
  • Brandon Scott Jones is absolutely perfect as the therapist/ pastor.  Give that dude more work.
I wish I could say it all hangs together, but it feels weirdly rushed - like director Chris McKay decided all the scenes were too long, and so the movie never really breathes and nothing lasts long enough for a comedic beat even when funny stuff is happening.

The movie did get some advertising, but I can't figure out what the thinking was.  It's *possible* heavily referencing a 90-year-old movie was not the right choice for The Youths.  Or that the premise sold in the ads didn't appeal.   Or that Dracula is more of a concept these days than something people actively seek out (which is probably worth discussing).  I dunno.  But it does feel like 2023 audiences are incredibly finicky and aren't going to drop $17 or whatever on a ticket for a 90 minute movie unless it's going to be a slam dunk.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

PodCast 248: "Orca: The Killer Whale" (1977) - an Angry Animals Podcast w/ SimonUK and Ryan

Watched:  June 23, 2023
Format:  Amazon
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1970's
Director:  Michael Anderson

Simon and Ryan join up for a whale of a movie! We set sail for a curiously novelistic take on man vs beast and man vs himself and man vs ice berg as Richard Harris spears the wrong sea-mammal and has to deal with a whale with a death wish! We're talking post-Jaws sea-ploitation!



We Are One (Orca) - Carol Conners and Ennio Morricone, Orca OST 

Angry Animals PodCast

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Noir Watch: Deep Valley (1947)

Watch:  07/04/2023
Format:  TCM
Viewing:  First
Director:  Jean Negulesco

This one felt like it had pieces of noir mixed in with American Gothic melodrama more than what you think of when you start searching the shelves for a noir.  And that's fine.  It's not like people in 1947 were setting out to make "noir".  

As a movie featuring Ida Lupino, I was pre-inclined to give it a shot.  And she's great!  Maybe not as good as in other things, but she and Fay Bainter - who plays her mother - are both terrific in this movie.  

But I'm not sure the movie quite sticks the landing, and it's probably 15 minutes too long at an hour and 44 minutes.  It also really does echo High Sierra, which Lupino had starred in back in 1941, and it almost feels like she should have played the young naive woman of this film in 1941 and the more mature woman of High Sierra in '47.  But that's not how it worked out, and I don't have a time machine to tell them what to do.

Lupino plays a 22 year old (she's 28ish here) who has been the middle-man for her parents who have been at a stalemate for years since her father struck her mother.  Now, the two don't talk as their once grand house falls apart around them.  The mother hasn't left her room in *years* (don't ask me the logistics) having Lupino wait on her hand and foot, and the father lives downstairs and tends to the farm.  Sort of.  The entire house is falling apart and Lupino is a nervous mess, complete with a crippling stutter.

Meanwhile, a highway (the PCH, maybe?) is coming along the other side of the hill where she lives in a Deep Valley.  The road is being built with prison labor*, and each day Lupino sneaks off to watch shirtless men labor in the sun.  No, really.  It's incredibly horny.  

Anyway, she has a favorite in  Dane Clark.  One day the crew comes to the farmhouse to fill up some water buckets and while there, Clark gets in an altercation with a guard and gets sent to a shed awaiting a return to San Quentin.  A landslide occurs, and Clark escapes in the chaos. Meanwhile, Lupino sees the walls closing in on her (relating to the prisoners) and makes good her own escape into the woods.  

The pair come across each other and fall in love/ make it off camera.  

Turns our Clark has a bit of a temper, and is known to basically go into rages and deck people, which is how he ended up in jail.  But he's convinced the love of a good Lupino will fix all this.  

Lupino runs home to grab some supplies so the two can make good their escape, but first realizes in her absence, her parents figured their shit out, and also she's somewhat trapped by the posse using her house and not wanting to draw suspicion.

The movie walks some fine lines.  Clearly Lupino's naive virgin has never really known a man before and is throwing herself at the first guy to really take her fancy.  Similarly, Clark is putting way too much on Lupino as an angel who will save him from himself.  And the movie never really does anything to de-romanticize all of that.  Or address that Clark "doesn't mean it", but he sure has homicidal impulses and if Lupino were to leave with him, sure seems like she'd be dead within a year.

I *do* think the movie wants to say something about this, but it's left to a brief bit of dialog from her mother to put the seed of doubt in the audience's mind.  And I'm not sure the movie (and 1947) is aware of what it's setting up.  But like many movies of young couples caught in an impossible situation (see: They Live By Night), it's all Romeo and Juliet star-crossed romance.  People are gonna wind up dead before things are over.

According to show-notes presented by Eddie Muller, this could have been a John Garfield movie, and we might have had a marginally different picture if that had occurred.  We have to buy a lot in a short amount of time, and the movie doesn't always sell it.  I don't know how that looks with Garfield.

But, also, the movie wants us to believe Lupino doesn't look great in a blouse and jeans and that makes the movie a liar.

Still, it's an interesting movie if not a great one.  Not all of these are grand slams.  

*no, this is never addressed

Sunday, July 2, 2023

Friday Night Watch: Confess, Fletch (2022)

I saw both of the Chevy Chase Fletch films in the theater, and was part of a generation of people who wanted desperately to be able to quip somewhere between Fletch and Peter Venkman from Ghostbusters, making for a bunch of horrible kids who said the worst thing at the worst time all the time.

But those Chevy Chase movies were both pretty solid, even if the first is definitely better than the second.  That said, I also remember my seventh grade Language Arts teacher informing us that the movies weren't a patch on the novels, and that Fletch was fundamentally different in the movies than what a coked-up Chevy Chase was delivering.  This did not convince me to check out the books because I was a fan of the movies and felt comfortable in my ignorance.  I have not lifted one of the 11 novels.

In the intervening years, I have no idea if anyone else attempted to make a Fletch movie.  Just wasn't on my radar.  And then in late 2022, I recall ads for a John Hamm movie that was, in fact a new Fletch installment.  

Hamm made his bones as Don Draper on Mad Men, but in subsequent years has shown great talent as a comedic actor as well as dramatic.  He's puzzlingly not quite caught on as a leading man in giant movies, but he has found a happy home in mid-budget films that wind up on streaming fairly quickly.  That said, his brand of comedy has rarely felt much like the persona Chase had made famous, so when I saw he was taking on Fletch, I had no idea how this would go.  

The movie itself completely flopped at the box office.  I have no idea what the plan was, but the domestic gross was about $540,000.  It wasn't a critical darling, but did have a decent RT and Metacritic score.  Still, it's telling that this just isn't the sort of thing people will leave the house to go see in 2023.

The first two Fletch films manage to have intensely convoluted plots, but it doesn't matter, because the plots are there as a vehicle for Chase to do his thing, and if he resolves the mystery, that's terrific.  He wears disguises and is constantly in motion, and that's enough.  This film has a similar and deeply convoluted plot, but Hamm's Fletch doesn't wear disguises, he barely puts on an act when he needs to and he adopts a name (if he can remember it), and I assume it's closer to the books.  But you do start to look at the seams of the mystery a lot more, and I'm not sure I entirely get why the murder occurs that Fletch was supposed to confess to that sets up the movie, or why the cops think Fletch knows the victim or would want to kill her (motive, means, etc...).  It's entirely random and circumstantial to outside eyes.

But the movie moves along at a good clip, Hamm is actually very funny and stays not quite a step ahead of everyone else unlike Chase's Fletch you thought was 5 steps ahead.  

The movie is helped along by a solid cast, including Kyle MacLachlan as an art broker, Marcia Gay Harden playing an Italian Contessa to the hilt, Roy Wood Jr. as a detective/ new father, Ayden Mayeri as Wood Jr's partner, and Annie Mumolo as a wacky neighbor.  And John Slattery briefly as Fletch's old boss, now in Boston.

It's kind of an ideal end-of-the-week movie that's not too much of anything, but also not... dumb.  

Mostly, I kind of think this should have been just a movie straight to Apple+ or Paramount (where I watched it), and it's fine.  It's the sort of thing we all paid to see a lot of in the 1990's.  But the fact the movie didn't make any money is probably much more of an indicator now of what people will just wait for than genuine disinterest in the movie.  I, for one, blocked time on my calendar to watch it when I saw it was on Paramount.  

Would I watch more installments on Hamm as Fletch?  I think I would.  He's enjoyable, the movie is light and fun, and his version of Fletch's persona in the face of chaos is actually pretty enjoyable.  But it's far less broad.  That's left to pretty much all the supporting characters.  So seeing them do this Knives Out style every two years or so would be welcome.  But, I suspect, that ain't happening.