That Guy Dick Miller (2014): documentary written and directed by Elijah Drenner: A great film for film fans who’ve seen ‘that guy’ Dick Miller in one of his distinctive character performances in such films as Roger Corman’s A Bucket of Blood (1959) and the original Little Shop of Horrors (1960); Joe Dante movies from The Howling through Dante’s segment in Twilight Zone: The Movie through Gremlins, Inner Space, and The Burbs; as the unfortunate gun-store owner in The Terminator; or in dozens of guest appearances on shows that include E.R., Star Treks Deep Space 9 and Next Generation, and Dragnet. Miller is a giant among character actors, memorable in small roles and perfectly capable of playing big ones. His Hollywood story is a fascinating one — and he’s still pissed at having his scene cut from Pulp Fiction. Recommended.
The Interview (2014): written by Dan Sterling, Seth Rogen, and Evan Goldberg; directed by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen; starring James Franco (Dave Skylark), Seth Rogen (Aaron Rapaport), Lizzy Caplan (Agent Lacey), Randall Park (President Kim Jong-un), and Diana Bang (Sook): The film that initially got dumped by its distributor and triggered the infamous Sony Hack! It’s a pretty typical Seth Rogen/James Franco/Evan Goldberg Joint — intermittently funny, gross, and in need of a couple of rewrites. It’s certainly worth watching.
These two bozos — Rogen is a TV producer and Franco the star of the celebrity talk show Rogen produces — get tapped by the CIA to assassinate North Korean President Kim Jong-un. It turns out Kim’s favourite TV show is Franco’s talk show, thus allowing Franco and Rogen to secure invitations to North Korea for an interview. It’s all in bad taste, though it’s no more thoughtless than any number of action movies and dramas that attempt to deal with real-life horrors in the context of Multiplex entertainment.
And Kim Jong-un’s final fate is pretty hilariously conceived and staged. But boy, I wish these guys and perennial Rogen collaborator Evan Goldberg would spend more time editing and improving their work. They’ve got the chops of comic genius but not the work ethic. Lightly recommended.
The Legend of Barney Thomson (2015): adapted by Richard Cowan and Colin McLaren from the novel by Douglas Lindsay; directed by Robert Carlyle; starring Robert Carlyle (Barney Thomson), Emma Thompson (Cemolina Thomson), and Ray Winstone (Holdall): Robert Carlyle directs and stars in this Glasgwegian black comedy based on the first of a series of novels. And Carlyle is terrific. The direction is alternately kitchen-sink and jarringly sunny. And Carlyle’s performance as sad-sack barber Barney Thomson is a triumph of generating sympathy from little more than a series of hapless, befuddled facial expressions in the face of mounting disaster.
Emma Thompson clearly has fun playing Thomson’s horrible mother (she’s only 2 years older than Carlyle in real life). And Ray Winstone delivers a blustery gem of a performance as an obsessed cop whose angry misogyny has clearly pushed him past his sell-by date.
The whole thing plays a lot like an extremely grungy version of The Talented Mr. Ripley, only with less agency on the part of the titular character. In Barney’s case, almost no agency at all. He’s a Sisyphean loser who grows in sympathy as the conditions around him grow more and more malign and grim. Bleak, black fun. Recommended.