Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Fifth Annual SKELLY Awards!

By Bill S.

The Academy awards are airing this Sunday night, but before we see who'll take home a golden statuette, it's time for one more pre-Oscar award: The SKELLY.  Each year, I look through the year's nominees in the four acting categories (excluding any past SKELLY winners/contenders), and determine who among them has the most embarrassing prior role, for which they win the not-so-coveted "Skeleton In the Closet". This requires a certain amount of research, including actually watching bad movies, which sometimes leads to a dead end--in Michael Shannon's case, literally. When I learned he appeared in Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, I assumed he'd be a shoe-in, until I sat through the damn thing, all the way to the end, and found out he only appears in it for a few seconds, as a corpse, which means he fared better than literally everyone else in it. And there are some stars whose acting resumes just don't contain any true embarrassments. I'm afraid Ryan Gosling will never qualify for a SKELLY, which puts him in the same company as Dame Judy Dench...

"...albeit for slightly different reasons"

But before we get to this year's winners, let's look at the runners-up.

7th place: EMMA STONE. Ryan Gosling's frequent co-star -- the ginger Ginger to his Fred, the Hepburn to his Tracy, the Chong to his Cheech -- is one of the hottest young actresses around. Like Ryan, she got her start as a teen, but unlike Ryan, whose teen years were spent on the star-making '90's incarnation of The Mickey Mouse Club, Emma (then billed as Emily) did time on a reality show called In Search of The Partridge Family. As the title suggests, it was a competition series focused on finding cast members for a proposed reboot of The Partridge Family. Emma was one of the young hopefuls vying for the part of Laurie, and actually won it.  She and the other winners filmed a pilot, The New Partridge Family and...absolutely nothing happened. The pilot didn't get sold. I can't find any footage of it, and the only surviving footage from the competition series that I could find was this 30-second clip of Emma auditioning with a wobbly rendition of Meredith Brooks' "Bitch" (a song no 15 year old girl should be singing)

Emma probably does feel a little ashamed.

6th place: NICOLE KIDMAN . Like Emma, Nicole began acting as a teenager, beginning in the 1983 TV movie Skin Game. Most of her work in the '80's was on Australian TV, and when I was perusing those early ones I ran across a 1987 TV movie about teens involved in martial arts games called Nightmaster, which sounded ludicrous. But it turned out to be enjoyable; entertaining trash as opposed to dismal trash. And Ms. Kidman is quite good -- tough, sexy, confident, good humored -- in fact, if you're a fan you'll get a kick out this on-her-way-to being-a-star-role. (Here's the link to the whole movie)

With that flick out of the running, her most embarrassing role is actually the first of her three films with future ex-husband Tom Cruise: Days of Thunder. I have to confess something: I haven't seen this movie since it came out in 1990, and I don't really remember a whole lot of it. I did buy the soundtrack because I liked the songs by Elton John and Maria McKee, but it wouldn't be the first, or last time I bought a soundtrack to movie I found otherwise negligible.

However, Scott and Sheri covered this exhaust-belch of a film rather exhaustively in Better Living Through Bad Movies, in the chapter entitled Live Fast, Die Young, And Leave a Bad-Looking Movie, highlighting certain flaws it had, including the one that stuck out most for me back then: the casting of then 23-year old Nicole as a neurosurgeon.  She was hand-picked by star Tom Cruise himself, after the part had been turned down by more than a dozen other actresses, most of whom were also far too young -- only Kim Basinger, then 36, was remotely age-appropriate. There was really no way to sell an audience on this ridiculous role. Ever the artist, Ms. Kidman actually planned to read up on the topic of neurosurgery, but was told by the director she'd be wasting her time. The movie wasn't all that interested in realism anyway. It was allegedly inspired by real-life race car driver Tim Richmond, but any connection to any real person was tenuous at best -- this story was sanitized for your rejection.

5th place: CASEY AFFLECK.  He made his acting debut at age 12 in the TV adaptation of Lanford Wilson's Lemon Sky, and frequently works with older brother Ben Affleck, brother-in-law Joaquin Phoenix, and brother-from-another-mother Matt Damon, who produced Manchester By the Sea, his best film role to date. But sandwiched in between such prestige roles was a 1999 movie that trapped him, Ben, and a number of other young-up-and-comers in the worst New Year's Eve ever: 200 Cigarettes. Set in 1981 (and boasting some great oldies of the day by the likes of Elvis Costello, Blondie, the Go-Go's and others), the story jumps from one set of characters to another, all on their way to a New Year's Eve party, desperately hoping for some excitement and romance. Casey and Guillermo Diaz (sporting a giant mop of orange hair) play a pair of roadies who meet up with a pair of Lawn Guyland teenagers (Christina Ricci and Gaby Hoffman seem to be competing for best impression of Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny) and like the rest of the characters, very little happens between them. How best to describe this movie? Well, have you ever looked forward to a holiday hoping something cool and fun would happen, only to have the night feel like a total bust? This movie captures the full blown sense of "that's it?" from the opening frame and sustains that level of dejection for 101 minutes.

 "13 characters in search of a decent subplot."

 4th Place: VIOLA DAVIS. Considered this year's sure bet to win Best Supporting Actress (although Donald Trump is rooting for Hattie McDaniel). Viola seems like one of the most gifted actresses around; she managed, after all, with just a couple of scenes, to steal the entire movie Doubt -- a picture that contained Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and Philip Seymour Hoffman. I wouldn't have imagined she'd be in the running for a Skelly, But then I  ran across an obscure 2001 flick titled The Shrink Is In.

Okay, I'm going to do my best to describe the plot of this thing in a way that makes sense: Star Courtney Cox plays a travel journalist named Samantha who suffers a mental breakdown after her boyfriend dumps her. She's sent to a therapist (Carol Kane) who suffers a breakdown herself during a session with Samantha. After the doctor is carted away, Samantha, through a Wacky  Misunderstanding, is mistaken for the psychiatrist by a patient (David James Elliott) who turns out to be a neighbor Samantha is crushing on. Samantha decides to pose as a shrink to get closer to him, and to keep the ruse up, also councils other patients, including a flaky delivery man (David Arquette) who develops a crush on her. Since Cox and Arquette were married at the time and David James Elliott is the Brand X version of a real sex symbol, you know exactly how the whole mess will turn out. How does Viola Davis fit into all of this, you may ask? She plays Samantha's best friend and the movie's voice of reason (because what else would she be?) which means her sole function in the movie is to get trotted out  every so often to remind the heroine that her deception is incredibly stupid and will inevitable backfire. I'd call it a thankless role, but there's no other kind in this thing.


Incidentally you can find this movie in its entirety on YouTube. Here's the link, if you're feeling brave/masochistic/eager to see David James Elliott with his shirt off. (If it's the third thing, your estimation of his star wattage is such that you probably already saw it when it first came out in whatever theater it played the week or so it may have played)

3rd Place: VIGGO MORTENSEN. He made his movie debut in Witness, probably sparking the only erotic fantasies women ever had about Amish farm boys. The Lord of the Rings trilogy made him a star. But in the '90's, he was still mostly getting secondary roles. One of the few leads he snagged was in a 1997 remake of the 1971 flick Vanishing Point. The original was a pretentious mess about an asshole who drives like a maniac from Denver to San Francisco to deliver a car, destroys a ton of property, endangers peoples' lives and becomes a folk hero. The remake centers around an idiot who drives like a maniac to reach his dying wife, destroys a ton of property, endangers peoples' lives, and becomes a folk hero. I will admit I enjoyed Jason Priestly's over-the-top performance as a radio DJ who's following the hero's exploits, but this movie's a mess.

Vanishing Pointless remake

This movie is also available on YouTube in its entirety. Here's the link if you're feeling brave/masochistic/eager to see Viggo Mortensen semi-naked. (If it's the third thing, you're better off renting Captain Fantastic. MUCH better off)

2nd Place: JEFF BRIDGES. Jeff is one of my favorite actors. I'm not alone in that assessment -- his performance in Hell Or High Water brought him his 7th Oscar nomination. Maybe it's because at 67 he still has the same boyish charm that made him a star back in the 70's. He's always had a knack for playing nice guys. That was one of the things that made him so effective as the villain in Jagged Edge -- we, like the heroine, couldn't believe he was capable of rape and murder.

One role he wouldn't be cut out to play is an obvious psycho. Which is why he was so miscast in the 1993 thriller The Vanishing. It's a remake of a 1988 Dutch film, and though the same director worked on both, the differences are huge. In the original, the hero becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to his girlfriend, but we never know for certain if she was kidnapped or simply took off and didn't want to be found. We also don't know for certain if the villain has anything to do with her disappearance, which makes the ending especially chilling. The American remake offers no such ambiguities. Jeff's character is obviously guilty and obviously nuts, and the happy ending is so ridiculous I was actually laughing. This remake didn't just dumb things down -- it scooped out the brains of the original with a melon baller and flung the chunks around like a monkey in a cage hurling poo.

The Vanishing even more pointless remake.

And that brings us to this year's winner of the Fifth Annual SKELLY AWARD:

The French actress made her acting debut in the 1971 French TV film Le Prussien. For the next decade she appeared mostly in films and television in her native France. Then she was hand-picked to star in an American film helmed by an Academy Award winning director, a lavish western featuring some high-powered American and British stars. This would seem to be a prestigious vehicle...except that it was...well, HEAVEN'S GATE.
A Fiasco For Mr. Cimono

What could be said about this that hasn't been said before -- it's one of the most notorious box-office bombs of all time. It cost $44 million dollars, and broke a movie studio. The original print when premiered in New York ran nearly four hours. It was recut by the studio down to 149 minutes for its wide release. I didn't see either of those versions (like most of America I avoided it) and only finally watched it for the purpose of this column. The version I saw was the Criterion Video release that clocks in at about three and a half hours, and is said to be director Michael Cimono's favored version. It might be the best version--but it seems no matter what version you're watching, it still sucks.

From what I understand, the other prints of the film used subtitles during the scenes involving the European immigrants. This version eliminates them -- if you switch on the closed caption feature, it simply reads "speaking Slavic language", which leads me to believe nothing they say is important, which tells you how much the director cared about developing them as people. Not that there was much interest in developing the leads either. Huppert plays a madam involved in a love triangle with Marshall Kris Kristofferson and hitman Christopher Walken. Their characters are much different from their real-life counterparts. (The real Ella Watson was never a madam, and she and Jim Avrell probably never met Nate Champion) But historical accuracy is the least of this movie's flaws. It's a lumbering incoherent mess, stuffed with pretentious and ridiculous scenes. The cast also includes the late John Hurt, Terry O'Quinn, Sam Waterston, Joseph Cotton and Jeff Bridges. (Jeff has far less screen time than Isabelle Huppert -- and the less screen time in it the better -- so he still comes in second place. ) Thankfully most of the people involved recovered from this mess (save for Cimino, whose career was destroyed. He passed away in July of 2016. I hope the In Memoriam segment is kind enough to remind the audience he also directed The Deer Hunter).

One of them could take home this year's Oscar for Best Actress.
 Isabelle Huppert has made 100 films. 99 of them were better than Heaven's Gate

-Bill S

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