Review: THURSDAY (R)

Aaron Eckhart and Paulina Porizkova.

U.S. Release Date: September 10, 1998

Running Time: 83 minutes

MPAA Classification: R (Language/sexual dialogue, violence, drugs, sexual situations, nudity)

Cast: Thomas Jane, Aaron Eckhart, Paulina Porizkova, James LeGros, Mickey Rourke, Michael Jeter, Paual Marshall, Glenn Plummer

Director: Skip Woods

Producers: Skip Woods, Alan Poul, Christine Sheaks,

Screenplay: Skip Woods

 

By STEPHEN EARNEST / November 20, 2010

Black comedy isn’t easy. Being funny and disturbing at the same time is a hard thing to do and often enough, the result isn’t as funny or as disturbing as you intended for it to be. You’ve got to make the audience feel bad for laughing. You’ve got to make them squirm in their seats while keeping a consistent comedic tone. When black comedy is done right, you get movies like Fargo and Pulp Fiction. When it’s done wrong, you get movies like Thursday.

The movie’s centered on Casey Wells (Thomas Jane), a guy who’s managed to clean up his otherwise shady past. He lives in a quaint little neighborhood with trimmed hedges and starch-white picket fences. He’s gotten married to a loving wife and is looking to adopt a child. Life seems pretty good. Well, until — yeah, you guessed it — his past manages to catch up with him.

And for Casey, his past comes in the form of Nick (Aaron Eckhart), an old friend from Casey’s drug dealing days. We already know Nick though from an earlier scene; a scene in which he unmercifully kills a gas station attendant over a cup of coffee. Nick and Casey talk for a bit, until Nick says he gotta leave and run some errands. But before he heads out, he dumps a couple of suitcases in one of the bedrooms. Eventually, Casey’s curiosity gets the better of him and he investigates the contents of the suitcases, only to discover in horror that they’re full of heroin.

Thursday is a droll, dreary, and distasteful mess that basically exists only as a way to exploit every taboo subject known to the movie world. Not only does it glorify violence without justification; it encourages it. It throws it onto the screen and tries to tone it down by adding a funny joke at the end, as if trying to make it seem like it’s okay. That, sir, is not black comedy.

To be as blunt as possible, the writer/director Skip Woods is a hack. He’s a cop-out, desperately trying to make something fresh out of a stale script. I strongly dislike referring to something as “Taratinoan”, but Thursday seems like one of the projects that Tarantino himself personally scrapped.

The biggest difference between Woods and Tarantino is that where Tarantino holds back, Woods doesn’t. He doesn’t just push the limits; he rips them apart and stomps them into the ground. He leaves nothing to the imagination at all, even when a little imagination would highly benefit his production. What looks good on paper often doesn’t transfer to the screen as well as it should, and nothing in Woods’ script looks good to begin with. It’s an ugly, shameful attempt to ride the Tarantino bandwagon to success, but Woods lacks the talent to do even that.

There is torture, prolonged rape, drug use, excessively brutal violence, graphic sexual dialogue, and language offensive not only to women and African-Americans, but to nearly all of the people that populate the continent of Asia. I was perplexed almost to a state of illness from what I saw and when it was finally over, I felt sickened by Woods for having made it and by the actors for having participated in it.

Thursday is filthy, inexcusable, reprehensible trash that fails in every way possible. It is not hip or original or funny even in slightest bit, and though I gather that it will retain it’s cult-like persona for years to come, there is not one redeeming quality about it.

RATING: .5/4

Review: BRAZIL (R)

Jonathan Pryce in Terry Gilliam's wildly imaginative "Brazil."

By STEPHEN EARNEST / November 16, 2010

Rarely has science-fiction been done as well as Brazil. It exceeds all imaginative boundaries, venturing into areas so original and unexplored that to see it on the silver screen sparks only pure enjoyment and cinematic pleasure.

The film has no set time period. The set design would suggest that it’s set in the future, but a superimposed title reads “Somewhere in the 20th Century”. Jonathan Pryce stars as Sam Lowry, a workaholic who leads an uneventful life. Often enough, his mind wanders into dreams of fantasy, where he soars through the air, searching for a mysterious and unknown love. The futuristic world in which he lives in is subject to infrequent spouts of terrorism and the government performs ruthless interrogation procedures to find the culprits. So, these dreams are sort of an “escape”.

In a case of mistaken identity, an innocent man (Buttle, not Tuttle) is killed during interrogation and those responsible for the mishap try to cover it up. Lowry is assigned to dispose of any evidence.

This leads him to Shangri-La Towers, the home of Buttle’s widow, to whom he must give a check to compensate for her losses. While there, he runs into the Buttles’ upstairs neighbor, Jill Layton, who, oddly enough, is the woman from Lowry’s dreams. Layton has been trying to help the widow in finding out what happened to her husband, but has had no luck, and even more oddly enough, Layton is now considered a terrorist because of this. Eventually, the plot does evolve into something more straightforward. Lowry tries to convince the authorities otherwise that Layton is not a terrorist, but in doing this, he becomes considered one himself.

What a bewildering, thought-provoking experience Brazil is. Chances are you’ll never come across another film like it again. The set design is one of a kind; beautifully cartoonic landscapes and almost toy-like urban areas. The general look of it is dazzling and in my opinion, it’s the best-looking science-fiction film yet. Sure, special effects are wonderful, but everything in Brazil is entirely made by hand. Is that a feat or what? And plus, it looks way better than anything a special effect could’ve done.

The writing is magnificent. Satire is a hard subject to conquer. It’s not always so easy to be funny while keeping a consistently subtle tone of anger. Brazil pulls it off. It’s downright hilarious; both through words and actions, poking fun at areas where it’s necessary. Gilliam’s humor targets the bureaucracy, government control, and the downfalls of technology. The influences are obviously Orwellian, but the heart is totally Gilliam.

As well, the performances are spot-on. This is Pryce’s first movie (and lead) role and he’s downright hilarious. Incredibly funny. But while he can act eccentric and paranoid, he also can be delicate in some of the film’s softer moments. The film’s wacky supporting character, Harry Tuttle, is played to comic perfection by Robert De Niro and even though he has barely any screen time, he manages to be the funniest in the whole movie.

I’ve always felt that Terry Gilliam was one of the best directors out there. He’s innovative. He manages to funnel creativity into all of his work, never afraid to get a little weird. Of course, there is a setback to this. Just look at the box office totals from his films. That should pretty much say it all.

Reality is always difficult to pull off in film, but fantasy is even more so. It takes close observation to be realistic, but imagination to be absurd. That’s why Brazil is so remarkable. It’s simply genius and, through countless viewings, has managed to amaze and confuse me in ways I can’t even imagine. It’s one of the most important films of our time and succeeds in every category possible. I hope you see it and like it as much as I do.

RATING: 4/4