The Producers

“I’ve been a producer. Wasn’t much fun, or at least not a good fit for me. Much prefer being a director and/or choreographer. Even stage manager fits me better. The Producers is actually a show on my wishlist of ones I’d want to direct. I knew the soundtrack first. Then I saw the movie musical, which I knew was subpar, but still enjoyed it because it filled in all the blanks from only the soundtrack. I eventually saw the stage show, at the Hollywood Bowl with a cast that included Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Rebecca Romijn (one of those was awesome). Somehow, it’s taken until now to watch the original movie.

Finally got around to it, thanks to that DVD sale at the video store. Yeah, thought I was done with that, huh? Vacation-palooza got in the way of me being able to watch some of those for the blog, but we’re back. If I had come into this movie cold, without knowing the musical as well as I do, I’m sure I would have really liked it. True, Mel Brooks tends to be hit or miss for me, but this would have been a solid hit.

But the truth is, I do know the musical, very very well. So then by the time that I’m actually watching the original movie, it feels lacking. I already knew most of the jokes, and I kept anticipating musical numbers. It’s just not the same for me. It’s good to know that the musical tracks pretty well to the original, but it made for a very frustrating film for me. Also, I much prefer the way the Hitler casting in the musical worked out compared to the original movie. That guy alone was the source of half of my frustrations.

So maybe the movie musical doesn’t have the best reputation, as far as movie musicals (or movies, really) go. I don’t care if source material purists say the original movie is best. Give me Lane and Broderick any day. I’ll even accept Uma Thurman as part of the deal. I’m trying to figure how work the word “”Betrayed”” in to this paragraph so I can link to this video, but I’m drawing a blank. I’ll leave you with Der Guten Tag Hop Clop

Repo! The Genetic Opera

“And thus endeth the summer of 2015. Okay maybe not according to the calendar, but as far as I’m concerned it is. The schedule is starting to normalize with regular movies and yoga. No more vacations (well not until mid Oct), the concerts and shows have dwindled, pictures are posted (at least on FB, as of writing, I still need to post on Marty Martian’s Tumblr, and the pub crawl is recovered from. The final event was a midnight movie at the Somerville theater: Repo! The Genetic Opera. Thanks to the magic of Uber, the late night event was do-able. Time to get my wonderfully bad movie on!

Now, I had already written up this movie, which would have excused me from writing up this viewing per my arbitrary rules that I set up myself. But! There was a surprise in store! Yes! Because this particular screening featured a shadowcast! And exclamation points apparently! Going to Rocky Horror Picture Show midnight screenings with a shadowcast was a right of passage at my dorm, not to mention the musical theatre crowd. I’ve been to that a good half dozen times or so, so I’m very much familiar with the concept. Different group doing it, this time being RKO Army, but similar experience.

A flurry of emotions abounded. From intrigued, “”Oooh that’s cool””, to slight annoyance “”but I really wanted to just see the movie””, to excitement “”Oh that’s Shiloh and that’s the Grave Robber (and oooh he’s kinda hot) and That’s Anthony Stewart Head…”” as I identified the costumed troupe as the audience was settling in to the theater. Anyways, when I wrote up the movie last time, I said I couldn’t decide whether or not I liked this film. Now, we’re firmly in the like club.

I worried at first that the shadow cast would distract from the movie, but I found myself paying much closer attention than I had previously. Details and minor plot points I had completely missed when I was less immersed in the experience. And I appreciated the badness of the movie so much more, laughing instead of judging, all the more funny with the shadow cast and their callbacks. (Favorite callback: “”Would you rather see Fantastic Four or be blind?”” Blind Mags sings “”I’d rather be blind””). And now I think I need to actually download the soundtrack instead of just YouTube-ing it once to get it out of my system. It’s not permanently etched in my system, because my genetics are such a bitch!

Is this still a bad movie? Absolutely! Is it still worth watching? Absolutely! Do I wanna see it again like this? Absolutely! Was it a kickass way to end the summer? You betcha”

American Ultra

“I hadn’t really planned on this. I hadn’t seen too much about this week’s new releases, and I figured between seeing Man From U.N.C.L.E. (just when I thought I was done typing the annoying initials) on Thur and a midnight show of Repo The Genetic Opera, I’d be okay. Hitman looked skippable, and I hadn’t even seen a trailer for Ultra. But some of the publicity started to slowly come across my news feeds soon after seeing Eisenberg in The End of the Tour, jump starting a bit of a Jesse Eisenberg kick (I currently have The Social Network on in the background as I write this), so I saw the trailer and it seemed like exactly my kind of movie. That and I like Topher Grace, who we don’t see enough of.

American Ultra is an action comedy posing as a stoner comedy. I went back and forth a few times on which order that statement should be in, but the action was certainly stronger and more in the forefront. Jesse Eisenberg’s Mike lives in a tiny sleepy town with his girlfriend Phoebe (Kristin Stewart). Mike doesn’t know that he’s actually a highly trained sleeper government agent, hiding behind his constant fog of smoke. When the government order comes down to take Mike out, his agent status is activated and he finds himself deftly taking out his attackers.

It’s a pretty absurd premise, but I like absurd. It was a bit of a stretch to maintain the suspension of disbelief for so long, but I tried to go with it as best as I could. Now that I’m trying to write about specifics, I’m mostly drawing blanks, thus highlighting that it wasn’t a particularly memorable film, but it was enjoyable in the moment. Kristin Stewart has been on a redemption path with me, paying penance for her “”acting”” in Twilight. After impressing me in Still Alice, she held her ground here. Maybe I’ll take her seriously one day.

Anyways, it was certainly a fun way to mix genres that would seem otherwise unmixable. It even set things up for an unlikely but unique and intriguing sequel. Although I kinda hope it doesn’t happen, since as a standalone film, this one’s pretty cool as is.

American Ultra – \m/ \m/ \m/”

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

“For the second time this year, I noticed that I had no plans for the current month’s Zipcar credit. So for the second time this year, that meant surprise IMAX trip! Actually, I don’t think surprise is the right word, but it sounds good. I’d actually planned this one out a couple weeks in advance, deciding if it was feasible or if I should make the road trip to Wahlburgers instead. It actually fit in quite perfectly (esp given the vacation crunch around its release) to save The Man From U.N.C.L.E. for an uber big screen show, which is what I did. The usual IMAX was closed for renovations (hoping to see The Walk there in Oct, so excited to see what got updated) so I had to go to the Natick location instead. The only previous time I’d been there was for a midnight of Spiderman (franchise 2 movie 1). Both times involved getting lost and being able to see Jordan’s and couldn’t figure out how to get there. I wasn’t driving last time.

Mixed feelings all around going in. Tepid on the cast. Jaded on the director. Unphased by the plot. Leery of the release date. Leading up to the release, I was worried that it would be a bad movie that I’d be forcing myself to see. I was surprised to hear that it was getting decent reviews. Not raves by any means, but a general consensus that it was sort of an innocuous film. Enjoyable enough, but nothing too special. That turned out to be about right.

Okay so we’ve got a movie based on the old 1960’s tv series of the same name, about an American teamed up with a Russian to do spy things. The film serves as an origin story of sorts. Despite my intense Nick and Nite education in classic TV, I’d never seen the show, but every time I heard the name, I was so confused about the acronym. So now, Guy Ritchie is taking the helm on this one. He’s cool. Snatch and Lock, Stock, and Two Smokin’ Barrels are classic, but his more recent fare have been a little lackluster.

He may not have been up to the level of his seedy British underworld films, but his sleek style with bite worked really well here. Sure, far more style than substance with this movie, but dull storyline aside, things looked really good. And even better, they weren’t clear redo’s of his old stuff. My favorite scenes involved the bulk of the action occurring in the background while focusing in on the foreground. Quite humorous and an effective way to keep things simple.

Moving on to the cast, in general, I’m not really a fan of Henry Cavill, mostly because Man of Steel broke my heart into so many pieces. Ending the pre-movie trailers with one for Dawn of Justice only heightened the bad feels as we started the film. So he had a big bias hurdle to overcome, and I think he did eventually. To be fair, the character he was playing was meant to be charming and suave, so it’s reasonable that extended past the characters and into the audience. I don’t know that I’d trust him in a similar but non-showy role, but for a film where over the top is allowed, it worked.

Armie Hammer puzzles me. I wanna like the guy, and I do, but other than playing the Winklevii, he hasn’t really found his place. This is his second attempt at action (sort of) after Lone Ranger (let us never speak of that film again), and I kinda like him going that route. He’s certainly built for stunts, but he seems too passive of a person, and tonally it doesn’t quite work. In this movie, he provided a fair amount of comic relief, so maybe that could be something for him to try. I’d love to see him work with Judd Apatow and see if anything sticks there. Or maybe combine the two and join up on Mission Impossible, where he could learn from a true Hollywood leading man. IDK, I still can’t figure out what seems to be missing from his performances.

The one big standout for me was our villainess Elizabeth Debicki. I was mesmorized by her every time she was on screen. She’s had relatively few credits before this, but I really hope casting directors take notice. She had this icy stoicism that was also crazy sexy. I wouldn’t use the word restrained, but maybe controlled which was a good antithesis to Cavill’s showy-ness.

Oh and Jared Harris, I adore you, but the exaggerated cowboy American accent just doesn’t work.

As for the plot, eh what does it matter. That was mediocre. What worked was the interactions. Everyone always trying to one up each other. And I loved how balanced it was alternating wins between our two leads, so neither of them was ever proved superior to the others.

I don’t think much was gained by seeing it at the IMAX, other than the killer sound system and screen plus the temperpedic seats. But it was just good enough that I didn’t feel the excursion was a waste. And it restores my faith in many of the aforementioned players involved.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. – \m/ \m/ \m/”

The End of the Tour

“Waiting for Stanford Prison Experiment to start a couple weeks ago, the trailers include one for The End of the Tour. My buddy turns to me and completely skips over the logical first question of “”are you going to see that?”” and instead jumps straight to “”Let me know when you see that so I can come with””. I’m equally amused by the situation and grateful that I have a friend that knows me so well in that regard.

The film follows the last days of David Foster Wallace’s book tour for his highly acclaimed Infinite Jest, where he is joined by a Rolling Stone writer looking to do a piece on him. Jesse Eisenberg plays the writer, David Lipsky, opposite an against type turn from Jason Segel. Well, maybe the character isn’t too against type, but for a guy best known for a long running sitcom and other comedies, this film is quite the departure for him, and he knocked it out of the park.

Eisenberg’s role fit him like a glove–the intellectual talker with a seemingly hard to crack exterior (see also: The Social Network, where he won a deserved Oscrd nod). We know he can do it and do it well, which doesn’t make him any less interesting to watch. But to use the hackneyed but appropriate term that’s been describing Segal, his take on Wallace is a revelation.

Now I’m not too familiar with David Foster Wallace. I haven’t read Infinite Jest (though it lived on the shelf I shared with my freshmanyear roomie), and to be honest, I often find myself confusing him with David Sedaris (mostly having trouble remembering which committed suicide and which is still going, although with this movie, I’ve finally got that sorted). So not knowing exactly who he was embodying, I can’t speak to the accuracy of his performance. However, I can fully assert that he disappeared into the role, keeping a hold of some very specific speech patterns and mannerisms, while also being layered and full of emotion. There’s already awards buzz building, and I really hope he can maintain the momentum, even though it’s very difficult to do that with such an early release date. But hey, if his friends James Franco, Jonah Hill (twice!), and even co-star Jesse Eisenberg can swing nods, so can he.

The film was more about characters that plot events, and with only two people on screen much of the time, it felt very personal and intimate. These were conversations that were enjoyable to be a fly on the wall for. Both men had such brilliance in their words, you couldn’t help but hang on to them. As Eisenberg’s character says “”You don’t crack open a thousand-page book because you heard the author is a regular guy. You do it because he’s brilliant.”” I may not be ready to do so right this minute, but I have added Infinite Jest to my wish list. I look forward to one day reading it.

The End of the Tour – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”

Shaun the Sheep

“I try not to put too much stock in movie reviews. I know, odd thing for a movie blogger to say, but I try to stress that my write ups are opinions and not to be taken as fact, and they’re also an excuse to write about personal experiences. Anyways, but as far as real reviews, I’ll sort of take the temperature on things just to know what to expect, but I don’t let them dictate what I see. At most, it’ll influence priority and scheduling (such as picking The Gift over Fantastic Four, and saving Four for later, which I still eventually saw). Especially if something I’m genuinely interested is getting written up poorly, I’ll still give it a chance. However really good reviews across the board, with specific reasoning why (not just a generic “”it was great!””), will add a movie to my watch list. That was the case with Shaun the Sheep. Didn’t really have too much interest in it, particularly since I’ve gotten more and more picky about animated children’s films, but I heard enough positives (plus knowing Aardman’s sterling reputation for quality) to tack it on to the somewhat light schedule I had.

Aardman Animations is responsible for a lot of claymation works, most notably the Wallace and Grommit films and shorts as well as Chicken Run. Their style is fantastically creative and utterly cute. When Boxtrolls (not Aardman) came out a couple years ago, I lamented that their stopmotion looked more like computer animation (largely due to the 3d printing used on a large scale), and that the charm of stop motion was lost. Aardman maintains that. They’re calculated and convervative with their shots and motion, and it reminds me why this animation captivates me.

As far as the story goes, it was pretty minimal, just serving as an excuse for things to happen. We have a group of sheep who wander into the city to find their lost farmer, and get into all sorts of shenanigans. It did drag on a couple times, and I’m not sure the novelty of the animation stood up to a whole 90 minutes, but it was cute. What’s worth calling out as being particularly beautiful about the whole thing was that there was no real dialog. Everything was visual. It’s amazing how in this current age of big technology and bigger movies, it’s the simple things that have the biggest impact

Shaun the Sheep Movie – \m/ \m/ \m/”

Fantastic Four

“This was one of those that I felt obligated to see, just because it was a big name release and was sure to be the center of some future conversation somewhere. The consensus in the buzz I was hearing was that it was a lot of buildup that never really led to anything, except a shoehorned in action sequence. Yeah that was pretty accurate.

I was ready to use the same phrase I use to describe The Amazing Spiderman franchise (the Andrew Garfield ones) which is that it/they “”didn’t need to exist””. Except I found out there’s a very specific reason that Four exists and that’s because Fox had a deadline on their rights agreement they had to meet. In other words, the studio would rather put out a crappy movie than let the rights revert to Marvel. That says so much about the film industry, and none of it is good.

The fact that we’re starting off with yet another superhero origin story (yawn!) didn’t bode well. But since few studios seem to believe that if you’ve seen one origin story for your characters, you don’t need another one, so here we are. We have a lot of science that doesn’t seem entirely plausible that just stretches out for most of the movie. Minor conflicts here and there, but nothing substantial enough to sustain the film.

And then before you know it (because you were asleep for most of it) we’ve got a big crazy act 3 battle sequence. Word on the street is that there were a ton of reshoots after director Josh Trank was effectively fired, and most of those reshoots were here. I kinda wanna see the film again, only to identify the origin of each take, which is supposed to be obvious once you realize that the reshoots have Kate Mara in a wig. Anyways, so we have a big battle for some unknown reason (well, unknown to the plot) against a villain that is basically there because he’s supposed to be, and not because of growing animosity between adversaries. Some cool effects, but really absolutely zero gained from watching this. Really? So Fox wanted to hold on to the franchise to do more of this? Ugh.

The one strength in the movie, and the one redeeming quality I counted on that (sorta) delivered was the cast. I kinda trusted that Miles Teller, Michael B Jordan, Kate Mara, and Jamie Bell would be fan–no, not gonna say it-really good. Jordan in particular has been quite the up and comer to watch, and Teller has been moving up the Hollywood ranks. And they did the best they could with what they had, acting as hard as they could. But as every superhero eventually learns, some things just can’t be saved.

Fantastic Four – \m/ \m/”

The Gift

“In approximately 12 hours from writing this, I’ll be on a plane to Disney World! Except by the time this posts, I’ll have been back for a couple days. C’est la vie.

Are you tired of my long rambling opening paragraphs about how I was gonna see one movie and then didn’t, yadda yadda yadda? Yeah, just skip ahead then. Okay so with an early Saturday flight and not returning until Thur, I realized that if I wanted to get in a movie this weekend, I’d have to forgo my evening yoga class (taking the early morning one instead) and see something then. Maybe two somethings, but I’d still need to get home and pack. Originally Fantastic Four was the obvious choice (especially once I had plans for the advance of Ricki and the Flash). Then a friend emailed me that Dark Places (which I’d promised to see with her) was opening this weekend. Well it sorta opened. The one screening in Boston was at a wicked strange and inconvenient time. I gave her the option of an alternative movie, with the possibility of Dark Places later. The options were Fantastic Four or The Gift.

When I’d first seen trailers for The Gift, I thought it looked kinda cool, but something felt like it was a little weak. And the August release didn’t really boost my confidence. Then a few days ago, I saw star Jason Bateman on Jimmy Kimmel and Kimmel mentioned The Gift had a 100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Huh, wha? I checked and yes it did at the time, but only a handful of reviews were in. As the week progressed, Fantastic Four started to get worse and worse buzz (the consensus seems to be that it’s a lot of build up for no payoff, we’ll see next week), and The Gift got better and better, culminating with a 91% certified fresh today. Certified being a distinction to indicate that they had met a quota of reviews to actually draw reliable conclusions. Thankfully my buddy was also apprehensive of Four (seriously, why does this movie exist?), so we went with The Gift.

I can only remember twice before (Saw and Oldboy, there may have been others I’ve forgotten) seeing a movie and feeling physically shaken up, heart pounding, adrenaline pumping, hardly able to formulate a thought and too affected to want to leave my seat. I had that same reaction to The Gift and I absolutely did not anticipate anything like that.

Jason Bateman’s Simon (playing a bit against type, which was a wonderful treat) moves near his old hometown with wife Robin (Rebecca Hall). A chance encounter reunites him with Gordo (Joel Edgerton, who also wrote and directed–both of which he should do again and often!), a former classmate, who’s always been a little off. Interactions with Gordo get stranger, and as the truth about what Simon and Gordo’s relationship was as teens starts to emerge, Robin begins to fear Gordo, who seems to have a bit too much of a fascination with her. That’s as far as I’ll go into the details of the story, but things twist and turn back and forth until you don’t know who’s telling the truth, who’s lying, who’s well intentioned, and who’s malicious, all of it ultimately leaving you with the question of how well you can ever really know someone.

I was so completely absorbed in the film. About an hour passed before I even remembered I had a friend sitting next to me, who after the film reassured me that she’d had a similar reaction. The suspense was incredible and astonishing in its simplicity. No flashy affects, no over the top performances, just a subtle and subversive thriller.

And of course, I had another layer added on from some of the set up. Like Simon, I left my hometown and never looked back. Yet like Gordo, I was bullied and tormented all throughout high school. It just messed with my head that much more, seeing how I could relate to both and neither.

Oh and what also upped the intensity was how the timing of startling events in the film lined up perfectly (or imperfectly, depending on how you see it) with events in the auditorium. Right as things were really getting going, someone ran down the stairs from the back of the room to tell off some guy in the front section who was tooling around on his phone. Especially in light of recent tragic events at the movies, I was worried that it would escalate. (Side note: the part that was most unbelievable about that exchange was how the lady in the row ahead of me was defending phone person’s actions). Later someone quickly dashed up the stairs and were quickly followed by a really loud crash on screen. It took me a minute to register what happened, as my first thought was that it was someone going after the phone scolder.

I’m sure if I sat here and thought hard enough, I’d find some flaws, but at the moment, nothing’s really jumping out at me. I really hope that people discover this film and encourage the excellent film making on display here. Despite how often I go to the movies, I don’t often find something so visceral and affecting, so if any of this recap appeals to you, I highly suggest you check this out. Now excuse me, I think I need a couple of shots of jager to calm my nerves.

The Gift – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”

Ricki and the Flash

“I was gonna start this with something along the lines of “”I will see Meryl Streep in anything””, but then I realized I didn’t bother to see her in The Homesman last year. So I’ll revise that statement to “”I will see Meryl Streep in anything she leads or at least has a large featured role””. Because really, if you see a Meryl Streep movie that only has a little bit of Meryl Streep, all the non-Meryl minutes are going to pale in comparison to the few Meryl minutes, and that’s just not fair. But Meryl in a leading role? You bet I’m gonna see it. And here we even get two Streeps for the price of one (or no price in my case, since I attended a free advance screening), as she costars with IRL daughter Mamie Gummer.

Mama Streep plays the title character, a struggling Californian rock star with a lot of baggage. Included in that baggage is her failed marriage (to Kevin Kline’s straightlaced Pete) and the three children she left behind in the midwest. A desperate Pete calls up Ricki to inform her that their daughter Julie (baby Streep) has been in a worrisome depression since her shortlived marriage quickly imploded (Incidentally, it’s worth noting that IRL Mamie had a quickly dissolved year and a half marriage to Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter Benjamin Walker). Ricki makes the trip out to the midwest (it was one of the I-states; forgot which) to try and care for her daughter and is greeted with mixed response. And that’s as far as I’ll go recapping because I don’t want to replay the entire plot. Where’s the fun in that?

Before I start gushing on the cast (Streeps and other), I first need to give a shout out to screenwriter Diablo Cody (Oscar winning Juno scribe) who penned this screenplay. Say what you will about some of her less successful films, but this lady knows how to write, and here we have a wonderful showcase of that talent. The interesting storyline proceeds at a proper pace and structure, characters are fully realized, and best of all, so many clever one liners peppered throughout. Those smart jokes are part of what made Juno so memorable, and they are what I love most about Cody’s work. We’re talking Joss Whedon caliber words here. And then they’re made even better when spoken by such a truly truly top notch cast.

And oh that cast. Every time I write up a Meryl Streep movie, I gush and gush and gush about her. I’ll try to keep that brief this time, because we know she was incredible yet again. What struck me most, however, wasn’t her rocker chic vibe (that I absolutely loved) but the vulnerability we saw in her, starkly contrasting that tough cookie punk rock exterior. Word on the street (by which I mean I read it in an article somewhere) is that Mama Streep handed Baby Streep the script and walked away, without so much as a discussion. You may cry nepotism, but I call brilliance! The first time we see the two of them on screen together, Baby Streep goes totally bat poop insane on her mother, giving a crazed rant that only a daughter could give. I’m sure any other actress, no matter her caliber, would have had some trepidation about laying into such an intimidatingly good actress.

And speaking of actresses who can match Meryl’s might on screen, in comes Tony history making Audra McDonald as Pete’s second wife, Maureen. After seeing the film, I posted something on Facebook aimed at my theatre friends, letting them know that those two ladies essentially have a diva off in one powerful scene in the film. It rapidly got many likes. It is a little bit of a bummer that a film for which music is an important part doesn’t utilize the vocal chops of a Broadway legend, it wouldn’t have actually made any sense to try and shoehorn that in.

However, there was one supporting cast member whose musical talents were utilized, and that would be Rick Springfield as Ricki’s boyfriend and Flash lieutenant. Me, I always get Rick Springfield and Bruce Springsteen confused. But judging by the whoops in the audience when he first appeared, I don’t think that’s a problem for other people. What impressed me was the palpable chemistry he had with Meryl. Chemistry is not something I typically pay attention to, but when it’s this strong, I can’t help but get swept up in it.

Anyhoo, I found this to be very much a win, if for no other reason than I didn’t realize my life wasn’t complete until I saw Meryl Streep singing Bad Romance. But really, there’s far more to love than just those quick ninety seconds.

Ricki and the Flash – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”

The Stanford Prison Experiment

“Some time back, I don’t know how we got on the topic, but a friend of mine was talking about a book he’d been reading, The Lucifer Effect. I’ll admit to only half paying attention at first (non-fiction, not so much my thing), but some of what he was saying about this prison experiment done at Stanford in the 70s caught my attention. And soon after, I forgot about it. Fast forward a bit, and when checking movie release schedules to update my calendar (what, you don’t keep movie releases on your calendar, too?), I saw mention of The Stanford Prison Experiment. “”Oh, that’s the thing we were talking about”” my brain said, and I marked its release (especially after noting some of the cast), hoping to see more information come out.

Fast forward a little further, and the film was being released around my vacations, in a short period that was already kinda saturated with movie trips. I shrugged it off, and figured I’d wait for Netflix or DVD’s or something. But then, I started to hear some quiet, but extremely positive buzz (including a really good Rotten Tomatoes rating, since been certified fresh). I read over the cast list again (Ezra Miller is fantastic and fascinates me to no end, Billy Crudup is pretty legit as well), and found a showing that would work into my schedule. I texted previously mentioned friend and invited him along, partly because I thought he’d enjoy it and he does like to join me at the movies when he can, but also partly selfishly because I wanted to hear his perspective, given that he already knows a lot about this subject. In our brief chat upon arriving, I found out he even knows Dr Zimbardo, the psychologist behind the whole thing, and has spoken with him about all this. I have cool friends.

Okay okay, so what exactly is this experiment? Back in the early 70’s, Dr Zimbardo put together an experiment that was meant to look at the psychological effects of prison life. A group of college age boys were selected, and split into two groups: prisoners and guards. A mock prison was constructed at Stanford, where the prisoners would live for two weeks, while the guards would rotate in on shifts. What ended up happening was that the situation escalated far more quickly than was anticipated. In exercising their authority, the guards began to abuse and degrade the prisoners, who violently fought back. In other words, things got real, real quick.

This movie was absolutely absorbing. There were a handful of other people in the auditorium, but it was always pin drop quiet. After setting our plans, I’d finally gotten around to watching the trailer which got me really excited. This looked like the kind of dark and messed up movies that I truly love (what does that say about me? Umm don’t answer that), and to top it all off this was real. As I was watching, and events started to unfold, I couldn’t help thinking that I would not have believed it if it were pure fiction. Again, zero to sixty was achieved pretty quick, and what punched me in the gut every time was when the day was labeled (Day 1, Day 2, etc). Surely everything we’d seen since the last one must have occurred over several days. What? Hours. Oh. I just couldn’t get my head around it, but knowing that this actually happened pulled me deeper in the rabbit hole. I suspect that if it weren’t true, I would have mentally disengaged, with suspension of disbelief being broken. Humans aren’t really that horrible, are they? Oh.

Such a fantastic fantastic cast. Ezra Miller delievered as one of the prisoners, just as I expected. I knew from We Need To Talk About Kevin that he’d give an explosive and intense performance, and oh God did he. I guess I was right to keep my eye on him. Billy Crudup also delievered, as expected. “”He looks just like him!”” my buddy exclaimed when he first came on screen. His focus and detachment all came across so well. Everytime my jaw dropped over something the boys in the experiment would do, it would drop even further by his reactions.

The surprise standout that I really need to call out is Michael Angarano. He has a place in my heart for his role on Will & Grace (a favorite series that was also a big influence; discussion for another time), and then leading Sky High, a silly Disney movie that did not deserve to be as enjoyable as it was (also a discussion for another time). I’ve seen him here and there since, and always kind of smile, and see as he plays the same reserved little shy boy. That’s pretty much the exact opposite of what he was here. He was the harshest of the guards, the one who instigated and led everything. His character also approached his role as a guard like an actor, channeling Strother Martin in Cool Hand Luke. From everything I’ve ever seen him in, not only would I not have expected this from him, I wouldn’t have believed it was possible. Just one more thing to shock me in an already shocking movie.

Yeah so, I loved it. I think we got that. Well, I don’t know if loved is the right word. Enjoyed maybe, at least in the same sense that people enjoy being scared by horror films. Or appreciated, but that doesn’t sound like the right level of intensity. And I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Right after the credits rolled, friend turned to me and said that much of what we just saw was toned down from what happened. Wha? He went on to point out a few minor differences as well as some key points from the study. It all just left me wanting more. I guess that means I’ve got a book to buy–as soon as I’m done re-reading the Dexter series. (Now I really don’t wanna know what you think that says about me)

The Stanford Prison Experiment – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”