I have a confession to make before we carry on with out weekly business of reviewing a random film from the year 1988. This wasn’t the film that I originally pulled out of my jar for this week. Yes, I have (kind of) cheated on my Throwback Thirty mission and we’re only 3 weeks in. Last week I pulled Short Circuit 2 out of the jar and was all set to do my usual thing. However, in an act of insanity I decided it was only fair to rewatch Short Circuit before the sequel in order to get the best viewing experience. As such, my week just got away from me and I decided I wouldn’t have time to fit everything in. In an act of utter desperation and reeking with shame, I pulled another name out of the jar. So, I will watch Short Circuit 2 in time for next Thursday. I, bizarrely, feel genuinely quite bad about having to cheat this week. It’s madness because it’s a format that I imposed myself and a series of rules that I, alone, am enforcing. I could do whatever the fuck I wanted and nobody reading this would know. But it means a lot to me for some reason… probably because I have so little going on in my life right now. So, unfortunately, my viewing this week has been a little tainted with my disappointment in myself. An immense shame considering my second pick from my jar of films is one of my favourites in there. It’s also the only time that I can think of that I’ve found myself attracted to Alec Baldwin. There’s something about the combo of those glasses, that hair, and his tan trousers that just gets me… but I digress.
I’ve always liked Michael Keaton. I think I’d be bold enough to say that he’s my favourite Batman (sorry Adam West) and who can’t love him in Beetlejuice? I mean the guy’s had some misses, everybody has, but there’s nothing I really hate. Well, expect the super depressing and dark Jack Frost, which I’ve already moaned about in my list of worst ever Christmas films. I think I’d watch Keaton in nearly anything so I was already excited about the idea of The Founder. Now I can’t say I know much about the history of McDonald’s or that I was ever really planning on watching a film about it. However, as soon as I saw the trailer for this film I was desperate to see it. Obviously, knowing me as well as you do, it should be clear that I never got round to seeing it. I’ve hardly seen any of the films I was intending to see this year. In fact I’ve barely done anything that I was intending to do this year. I shouldn’t have any expectations for myself because I inevitably get distracted by real life and feel useless. I’ve always said that if I ever win the lottery (the
chances of that being incredibly remote given that I never buy a fucking ticket) that I’d still have to work otherwise I’d go crazy. Honestly though, I could easily just stay at home and watch films and read all day every day. I don’t even think I need human contact. It’s all so overrated and I have a lot of catching up to do. Starting now with this film.
I wasn’t really sure what to think about The Founder after I finished watching it and, if I’m honest, I don’t really think that it knew either. I don’t know whether it’s just because Michael Keaton makes him so much easier to like but Ray Kroc, the founder of the title, isn’t necessarily portrayed as the ruthless businessman that he maybe should be. It helps that we initially see Kroc as a wide-eyed salesman who has seen more doors in his face than he has sales. He has the drive and passion to succeed but he just hasn’t found that one idea that stands out from the crowd. Until he is placed into the path of the McDonald brothers in California. It is this chance meeting that gives Kroc the revolutionary idea that brought him to life.
Dick and Mac McDonald (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch) are two unassuming brothers who were the pioneers of the fast-food industry. The brothers saw a gap in the market and, after perfecting their operation, opened a restaurant that provided its customers with a burger, fries and a coke in a matter of minutes. After hearing their tale and touring the kitchen, Kroc can see the potential of the brother’s scheme. He convinces them to franchise and gets to work opening restaurants all over the country. Eventually, Kroc realises that he wants more than his contract with the brothers can provide him. He starts buying the land for the new franchises as a way to get more money. This leads to a complete fracturing of his partnership with the brothers, which ends with Kroc owning the everything.
The problem with the story is that it doesn’t seem to know whether it wants to admire or admonish Kroc. It understands that everything he did to make McDonald’s the global phenomenon it is to this day was genius and changed the American society forever. But it also appreciates that the way the businessman treated the McDonald brothers was unfair. It’s not as it The Founder goes out of it’s way ti impartially lead you to your own conclusion but feels more like the writers just couldn’t be bothered to decide how they felt. Keaton’s portrayal of the title character certainly helps to make him seem less detestable: the actor has an inherent charm that kind of filters through and makes things confusing. However, he is also adept at highlighting the slimy and ruthless side to Kroc’s personality. He is a man who will get what he wants no matter the cost. Yet his sheer persistence is surely a positive attribute that should be celebrated? You see it’s confusing.
But that’s not to say that I didn’t like this film. It potters along quite nicely and gives a good idea of what went in to the early years of the McDonald’s empire. Keaton’s performance as well as Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch all help to bring something to their characters and make the film totally watchable. I defy anyone to watch this and not come out of it loving the brotherly bond between Dick and Mac. The scenes where they recount their tale are some of the best scenes in the film. There is a sense of nostalgia within this tale that adds to the charm but the overall story is something that is more than relevant today. It speaks of a long forgotten time in American history but, in an age of Donald Trump, shows that, when it comes to money, it isn’t the good guys who always win the day.
If I had one major criticism, it’s the way in which The Founder handles Kroc’s personal life. He starts the film married to Ethel (Laura Dern) who waits at home whilst her husband tours the country. She has to put up with his schemes and the risk he makes to their fiances without causing too much of a fuss. It’s a waste of time role for someone like Dern and Ethel makes little impact on the story. Which is fine because as soon as Ray meets Joan (Linda Cardellini) he drops her pretty quickly. Although, we don’t see much of his life with Joan besides a bit of seductive milkshake making. The romance plot just feels as though it was tacked on to the story without any real idea of how it would work together. It doesn’t add much to the narrative and, to make any real impact, needed to be more fleshed out. Still, it certainly doesn’t make the film any worse… just a bit messier.
The Founder wasn’t created in the hope of making more money for McDonald’s nor was it made to try and dissuade viewers from visiting the fast food chain. It is a simple biopic about a man who majorly influenced the business world. It’s not exactly hard-hitting but there is enough included to get a picture of who Ray Kroc really was. It’s almost impossible not to see connections between him and the man currently residing in the White House. Maybe this film works because the timing is so pertinent but I enjoyed this film. Seeing Kroc’s image of himself as the self-made man play out against his actual ruthless approach is wonderful but, if I’m brutally honest, a bit weak. If only the punches had landed that little bit harder.
Was anyone really crying out for a spin-off Minions movie? I mean anyone other than the film studio who saw another way to wheedle more cash out of poor parents. The tiny yellow creatures were the breakaway starts of the first 2 Despicable Me films so it was decided that they would be given their own film. Cut to months and months of the bloody things turning up on everything. It was a relentless campaign and I ended up feeling like Tippi Hedren in that playground scene of The Birds. Hell, it was only a matter of time before they got their own fucking Tic-Tacs. As I mentioned more than once on Tuesday, I’ve never been a fan and don’t really understand how anyone can find them anything but irritating. However, I do know a fair few people who adore them. My brother-in-law is something of a fan and I willingly added to his obsession by buying him a Minion dressing gown one Christmas. Then there’s a friend that I used to work with who I respect in every sense bar her feelings for these tiny yellow knobs. I don’t get it. As a lover of all things dungarees, I appreciate their fashion sense but that’s about all I can stomach. Their made up language is hardly something that makes me chuckle and I’ve long since passed the age when I find fart jokes and repeatedly saying the word “banana” to be amusing. Then again, I’m not really the kind of person that this film was targeting.
I would have been perfectly happy to have never seen the Minions movie. Despite enjoying Despicable Me and not hating its sequel, I had no interest in the origin story of Gru’s tiny henchmen or having them onscreen for an entire film. It wasn’t the most obvious spin-off as the minions only speak in their own, annoying language and are, essentially, just a series of pratfalls. I really didn’t see how they could sustain a feature film on their own. As I sat down, I was ready to hate every second of what was to come. However, I was shocked to find that I enjoyed the opening sequence. It provides a brief history of the Minion’s search to find a boss and the difficulty they have in holding on to one. Their only stipulation is that they be the most despicable creature around. This means that anyone goes and we see them move from a Tyrannosaurus Rex to Dracula and onto Napoleon in the fantastic opening sequence. It really is the greatest part of the film.
Unfortunately, the film then continues and somebody attempts to place the Minions within a narrative instead of continuing the sequence of tiny skits. Whilst the majority of the group hide in a cave in the Arctic, three of their party (Kevin, Stuart and Bob) head out into the real world to find a new boss. Their journey takes them to New York then to a super villain convention in Orlando and, finally, heading to London. At the convention they meet the rising star Scarlett Overkill (Sandra Bullock) and she hires them to be her henchmen. Their first mission? To steal the crown from Queen of England. The end result? Bob getting crowned as King. It’s all very silly and not always successful but there are humourous moments to be found here. It’s just that it all gets super old really quickly.
There just isn’t enough substance to the usual Minion shtick to carry through a whole feature film. There was a reason they were seen so sporadically in the previous 2 Despicable Me films. There is only so much content that comes from them giggling about nonsense and getting into ridiculous scrapes. This is why they quickly find themselves attached to a super villain so there is a human presence to drive the action. Unfortunately, there is nothing about this plot that really appeals. The characters feel flat and the dialogue is all terrible. It says something when I’d rather hear more of the Minion gibberish than any of the bullshit being spoken by the people.
It isn’t terrible and will no doubt have appealed to all of the young fans of the franchise. It is packed full of sight gags and call backs but, for an older audience, there just isn’t anything about this film that justifies it being made. I wish I could go back in time and talk myself out of watching it.
Everyone has their favourite incarnation of Bruce Wayne. After this years Batman vs Superman some may well say Batffleck is their number one and even I have to admit that he was ABS-olutely fantastic in the role. Then there are those fucking idiots that will say Christian Bale is the top dog. However, that just goes to prove that people are easily pleased and that Christopher Nolan can make anyone look better than they are. There’s a reason that Heath Ledger is the main thing people talk about when they discuss the Dark Knight trilogy: Christian Bale is so forgettable in the role the supporting characters outshine him. I also imagine, because human beings continue to surprise me, that there are those who prefer the nippley George Clooney and Val Kilmer. Of course, we all know that they are probably mentally unstable or have only seen Joel Schumacher’s two films. Now when it comes to the ultimate Batman there can only be one real winner. Yes, my favourite and, by association, the Number 1 big screen portrayal of Gotham’s vigilante is Michael Keaton. Tim Burton’s Batman and the slightly superior Batman Returns are just amazing. Which is why I’m going to talk about the first of them this week.
We owe a lot to Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film. Let’s be honest, before that came along the caped crusader was best known as the homoerotic and super cartoony Adam West version. You know the colourful chap who hung about with a boy in super tight and super tiny shorts. It was Tim Burton and co. who let the world see a darker and more serious version of the hero who would only get darker and more serious as the years went by. It came out during a time when the likes of Frank Miller and Alan Moore were taking part in a graphic novel overhaul for the character and bringing him into a grittier world than he was used to. However, when it came to those outside of comic book circles, Batman was still that camp 1960s show that was something to laugh and cringe along with. Which is why, when it was announced that 1980s comic actor Michael Keaton was to take the role comic book fans were filled with such a murderous rage. It seemed like Burton was taking a step backwards.
Of course, as we know now, that all changed when the film was released. Tim Burton brought his Gothic edge to the world of Batman and showed the world a different side to the infamous vigilante. We open on a version of Gotham that is in the middle of an economic and social downturn. Things are difficult for the people of the city and crime is taking over. This isn’t the 1960s circus town that we were used to. Batman was angry and covered in black, Robin was nowhere to be seen, and the Joker was leaving bodies in his wake. Suffice it to day, this wasn’t the Batman that cinema goers were used to. This was a version of the hero that spoke about the decade in which he appeared and the story spoke of the troubles that many saw facing society at the time.
As such, the film is less about Batman than it is about aesthetics and socio-political messages. The story doesn’t really follow the comics and there are several infamous moments that have infuriated comic book fans for years. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not a good film. There is something great about this film, which is probably helped by the fact the superhero wasn’t the main focus. There is something very real about the whole thing and the classic fairy tale narrative of good vs evil is timeless in a way that perhaps Christopher Nolan’s works aren’t. This isn’t the story of who Batman is or why he decided to dress up as a bat one day. It is the story of an ordinary man fighting against the great evils that are plaguing society. It speaks to everyone.
Now, I’d be lying if I said this film was perfect because it isn’t. There are several things that could be better and a handful of subplots that could be dispensed with entirely. The Vikki Vale/Joker connection seemed tacked on and the Prince soundtrack does kind of feel out-of-place. Still, there is a great deal to love about this film. It comes down to the basic principle of good vs evil but explores the idea further by revealing that the Joker was the person who killed Batman’s parents. In this sense, the Joker created Batman and Batman helped create a world where the Joker could thrive. This isn’t just a fight but a reciprocal relationship. It’s a revelation that won’t please comic fans in the slightest but is something I have also felt to be a fascinating twist to the tale.
Batman set out a solid environment for the further growth of the hero and his desire to save his city. It paved the way for the better film Batman Returns 3 years later whilst still being a great film in its own right. It was basically the X-Men of it’s day. Yes it doesn’t boast the best narrative or script of the many adaptations that have appeared since but it gave us a truly inspirational portrayal of the man behind the mask. Michael Keaton is fantastic in the role and, despite existing in a world full of action heroes like Sylvester Stallone and Arnie, genuinely looks like a playboy who suddenly decided to fight crime. I also happen to prefer Jack Nicholson’s Joker. I know that’s probably one of the most controversial things I’ve ever said on this blog (and there’s been a few) but it’s true. Yes, he may seem quaint and camp when compared to Heath Ledger but he inhabits everything that I understood about the Joker. He’s crazy and homicidal but he also just wants to have fun. Something that Tim Burton and co. are also happy to do in the midst of all the death and despair. This film doesn’t deserve to be overshadowed by more modern adaptations. It’s too fucking good.
There was no real obvious contender for this years Best Picture Oscar. There were the three main possibilities The Revenant, The Big Short, and Spotlight. Then there was Room and Bridge of Spies which had both received a lot of attention but, in terms of this category, couldn’t really compete with the main three. Following on from these still realistic nominations there were the typical outsiders. Films that audiences loved and were great in their own way but that would never appeal to the voters. The Martian and Brooklyn were both films that people enjoyed but were never going to get the big prize. If you ask me, it was the final nomination Mad Max: Fury Road that really deserved the prize but I also have to admit that there was never any chance the voters were going to admit that George Miller’s masterpiece should win. So, it was always a bit of a mystery who would win last Sunday. All I knew is, I didn’t want it to be The Big Short.
Thankfully, Adam McKay’s disappointing look at the financial crisis of 2008 didn’t succeed and the more deserving Spotlight got its place in the, well, spotlight. It is the true story of the reporters from the Boston Globe who uncovered the years of abuse kept hidden by the Catholic Church back in 2002. It has a stellar cast and treats the real life drama with the respect it deserves. It is also very un-Oscary in its own way.
The narrative follows a small group of reporters who spend their time digging deep into the paper’s big stories. When a new boss takes over, he insists that they start looking into the accusations of abuse surrounding one particular priest. What they find is a problem that runs much deeper than they could have ever imagined. With Catholicism being such an important part of society, the paper have to be careful how they handle the investigation and come across resistance from both the Church and its supporters. For much of the narrative, important and revealing documents are sealed during a legal case fighting to make them public.
It’s a difficult story to deal with and most of the “action” actually involves the group of journalists checking records, meeting sources, and discussing how to proceed. It doesn’t go down the typical Hollywood route and romanticise journalism. It shows the very long, painful and slow process that was needed to get all the facts. Despite the fact that the story broke nearly 15 years ago, Spotlight treats it in such a way that is seems fresh and just as much of an outrage as it was the first time. This isn’t a Hollywood tale
Where Spotlight really wins the day is having enough insight to tell the story as it really was. The facts are on display and the story has neither been embellished or polished to make it more marketable. It is the representation of real people doing their job and wanting to make a difference. It isn’t tempted to turn them into superheroes struggling against the odds but is rather content to show good journalists doing their research. And it’s still a thrilling and enthralling film.
It’s very unshowy and doesn’t really present itself as an Oscar contender. There are no major moments of acting included to make the voting panel sit up in their seats. It’s a very sedate affair and the cast are quietly brilliant in playing their parts. They deal with the topic with the same sombre attitude that director Tom McCarthy does. Everybody is aware that it is the story that matters here, the victims of the abuse, and not the journalists themselves. They are heroic in their own way but neither the film nor the cast try and glorify the people at the front of this film.
It’s a very honest narrative that doesn’t fail to throw shots back in the paper’s face. The Catholic scandal ran so deep because nobody wanted to see it. We discover that the paper itself made mistakes in the past and are forced to come to terms with face-to-face with their unwillingness to go against the status quo. It is a stark reminder of how recent this revelation really was and how easily people were willing to accept the Church’s response. The film doesn’t have the kind of superheroes fighting the big baddie you’ll see advertised throughout this year but it shows that, without people speaking out, corruption like this can go unnoticed for years.
The film constantly talks about the fear that the Catholic Church will come after Spotlight for their investigation. This isn’t in the All the President’s Men sense: this isn’t a threat of violence. It is a treat of being excluded. We are talking about a society where a nod, a nudge or a free drink are enough to get people to keep shtum. Spotlight isn’t a dramatic and over-the-top narrative about uncovering corruption. It is a tense, sophisticated and sensitive treatment of a real-life problem. A deserving winner of the Best Picture Oscar.
Unfortunately, I’ve managed to contract the plague this week and have spent much of my day off feeling like shit and wallowing in self pity. Unable to focus on anything greater than trawling through Netflix looking for TBT ideas, I stumbled across some classic 1980s Michael Keaton. It should be well documented by now that I have a great love of Mr Keaton; particularly during the 80s. You know, when he was a young comic actor making slapstick comedies rather than depressing us with his attempts at feel-good Christmas films. The will 80s always be one of my favourite eras of cinema, despite the fact that most things look horribly dated by this point. This is mostly thanks to the time spent in my teenage years watching every John Hughes film I could and wishing I was Ally Sheedy. So it seems only natural that I’d love a film that combines the writing prowess of Hughes and the comic timing of Keaton. Right?
Mr Mom is one of those films that really hasn’t stood the test of time. It stands out against the kind of film that John Hughes has become so well known for. It is the kind of shitty half-baked concept you’d expect to see in a run-of-the-mill sitcom: man gets laid off from his job and is forced to stay at home with the kids whilst his wife returns to work in his place. All those classic gender stereotypes are present and correct as Jack Butler (Keaton) must get his head around laundry, shopping and housekeeping. Oh, men!
All the while his wife, Caroline (Terri Garr) must head to the cutthroat world of advertising with little expertise and no real qualifications for the job. All it takes for her to succeed and get an instant promotion is a pretty face and a housewife’s knowledge of the world. If jobs were that easy to get in the 80s I don’t see what everyone was always fucking whining about.
Of course, despite it’s overplayed and dreary concept, there could have been a lot of comic potential, especially with a leading man such as Keaton, in Mr Mom‘s set-up. Instead of all the naturally funny home-based capers that could have be relied on to raise a smile, Hughes instead goes down the zany route. We have a group of repair men and women who turn up at various points, Jack’s amorous neighbour, Caroline’s lusty boss, a psycho vacuum cleaner and the househusband’s soap opera fantasies. It just seems too desperate to bring the funny.
There is too much going on that distracts from Keaton himself. Despite a host of problems, Keaton’s performance is strong and, had he been given stronger material, this could have been another 1980s comedy classic. Instead, the script just clutches at straws and relies on big visual gags or wacky throwaway gags that go nowhere in particular.
There are plenty of things to enjoy about Mr Mom but, when you consider who wrote it, there can be no denying that it could have been better. There are some good performances but the material is just kind of underwhelming. In terms of entertainment it’s fine but nothing to get worked up about. According to its Wikipedia page, Mr Mom is now considered one of the best films of 1983. Well, if that’s the case, 1983 was obviously a fucking shitty year for film.