The Fat of the Land

Of Mice and Men (1992) is another perfect adaptation of an already perfect John Steinbeck novel. To be fair, it is difficult to mess up such a simple story, but it helps to have great performances. My mom actually met Gary Sinise and John Malkovich during her college days at Steppenwolf Theater. Sinise was a fan of the play since high school. His passion for Of Mice and Men led to him both directing and acting in his first lead role as George. Sinise’s George has a more tough love friendship with Lennie.

Malkovich isn’t the first person I’d think of to play the large and unintelligent Lennie, but he does well with a more mentally disabled take on the character. Ironically, this won’t be the last time Sinise has to deal with a slow-witted companion. George & Lennie’s dream to own their own land and rabbits remains the same. The difference is all the profanity and occasional use of the “N” word that made the book so controversial. When they get to the ranch, George & Lennie are greeted by Ray Walston as Candy.

Candy’s dog is put down like the 1939 original, but he’s the only one made aware of their land owning plan. Joe Morton has Crooks crooked back, but he’s only around to question Lennie. John Terry is a likeable Slim and Casey Siemaszko is an unlikeable Curley. Curley’s wife remains unnamed like the book, but Sherilyn Fenn is always around to cause trouble. Lennie doing bad things is more realistic and just as disturbing by showing more. His ultimate fate is sudden and more heartbreaking on George’s part. Of Mice and Men (1992) is a dream come true.

Of Mice and Men 1992

George and Lennie get work

Tell Me About the Rabbits

Of Mice and Men is a classic on the page, stage, and screen. The original novel by John Steinbeck is one of the greatest books ever written. It was required reading for my brother and I. The 1937 book was quickly followed by a play and a Lewis Milestone directed film 2 years later. 1939 was a great year for movies, and Of Mice and Men was no expectation with an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. The same year Steinbeck wrote the equally captivating Grapes of Wrath. Both stories are about the American dream during the Great Depression. George and Lennie are an unlikely pair of traveling migrant workers who dream of one day owning their own land.

George has all the ideas that Lennie holds onto as his mentally disabled companion. This was the first major role for newcomer Burgess Meredith. Soon to be monster icon Lon Chaney Jr. acted many times before, but this was his first major role too. Chaney is a perfect physically imposing Lennie with the brain of a child and a lack of control over his actions. All he wants are rabbits to tend to on their farm. Together, George and Lennie find work on a ranch. Bob Steele’s Curly feels threatened by Lennie’s size, but Charles Bickford’s Slim makes him feel welcome with his very own puppy to pet.

George’s dream grows until it includes misfits like Roman Bohnen as the kind elderly Candy and Leigh Whipper as the honest African American Crooks. Betty Field had her breakout role as Curly’s sassy repressed wife Mae. The title refers to a poem that reads, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” Lennie does something bad that ends their dream in a famous ending that was cleverly foreshadowed earlier when a dog is put down. Of Mice and Men is a story you’ll wanna hear again and again.

Of Mice and Men 1939

George and Lennie hideout

Championship Vinyl

High Fidelity is a top 5 hit from the early 2000’s. Record stores were still around at the time, but the original Nick Hornby novel was written in 1995. The only difference was setting the movie in Chicago instead of London. Apparently the music scene is just as good in both locations. Although I can relate to the new setting, High Fidelity wasn’t on my radar until my half brother recommended it. It does fit the Gen X mentality that he’s part of.

Rob is a slacker who works at his record store Championship Vinyl. Since John Cusack often plays romanticly troubled loners, he was perfect for the part. Of course his sister Joan Cusack had to be around yelling at him. Rob breaks the fourth wall, creates random “Top 5” lists, and works through a relatable personal crisis. Over the course of the movie, Rob tries to figure out what went wrong with every romantic relationships in his life. From Catherine Zeta-Jones as the alternative Charlie to Lisa Bonet as cool local singer Marie.

Any of Rob’s women could be the one, but Rob focuses all of his attention on long-term ex-girlfriend Laura. Danish actress Iben Hjejle is an interesting casting choice, but she does make it count. Much like Empire Records, High Fidelity has an awesome soundtrack. The difference is I’ve actually heard most of these songs. Todd Louiso plays Rob’s meek coworker Dick, but it’s Jack Black who had his biggest breakout role as the obnoxious Barry. His Tenacious D cred gave him all the music knowledge he needed. High Fidelity is a romantic comedy that rocks.

High Fidelity

Rob and Barry at Championship Vinyl

Open ’til Midnight

Empire Records is as dated as it sounds. Record stores use to be the hippest hang out spot for young people. Although they’re a thing of the past, Empire Records has managed to stay relevant all these years. Even though it got harsh reviews and bombed hard at the box-office. Although Empire Records released the same day as Se7en and Showgirls, $303,841 is suspiciously low for a $10 million movie. I guess it was just too niche for casual audiences. The soundtrack is a major draw, but the songs are very Indie.

Empire Records also launched the careers of several popular actors. Even though I was mostly familiar with Renée Zellweger and Liv Tyler. Empire Records takes place primarily in one day with teenage characters dancing together and having angst filled meltdowns. It’s basically a 90’s Breakfast Club. Anthony LaPaglia is the hip store manager Joe facing a possible buyout from a major chain. The teen employees do everything they can to fight the man. Rory Cochrane plays the philosophical Lucas who blows all of Joe’s money in an attempt to save the store.

Tyler stands out as the desirable good girl Corey and so does Zellweger as her promiscuous best friend Gina. Robin Tunney had to shave her head as the equally interesting suicidal outcast Deb. Johnny Whitworth is artist A.J. who’s in love with Corey and Ethan Randall’s Mark is just trying to have fun. Most events are random with an overeager shoplifter and the meme generating Rex Manning Day. The teen drama feels like Saved by the Bell, but their chemistry is infectious. Empire Records is a decent place to hang out for 90 minutes.

Empire Records

Empire Records employees

Gen X

Reality Bites is all about navigating life from the cynical perspective of Generation X. Writer Helen Childress based it on her own personal life experiences and friends. Although the title isn’t supposed to mean “life sucks,” it does capture all the problems that they were facing at the time. Reality Bites is the 90’s equivalent of St. Elmo’s Fire with four twenty-something friends and roommates dealing with life after college. There’s an awesome soundtrack that includes grunge music, reality TV style filmmaking, and fear of the AIDS epidemic.

Reality Bites wasn’t an immediate success, but it did become a cult favorite that launched many careers. Winona Ryder and Ethan Hawke increased their appeal while Janeane Garofalo and Steve Zahn had their first major film roles. Lelaina is an aspiring filmmaker who videotapes her friends being themselves. She has a bickering love/hate relationship with her philosophical slacker friend Troy who has a grunge band. Their promiscuous friend Vickie is worried she has AIDS and their celibate friend Sammy comes out as gay.

Several celebrities make appearances since this was the first movie directed by Ben Stiller. He also plays Lelaina’s older yuppie love interest Michael who comes between her and Troy. I can’t personally relate to Generation X or the constant smoking, but being unable to find a job, trying to please your parents, and feeling like your life isn’t progressing like everyone else is pretty universal. Reality Bites has a great understanding of how young adults think.

Reality Bites

Lelaina hangs with Troy

Be Kind

Everything Everywhere All at Once is a top contender for weirdest movie ever made. The directing duo Daniels was previously responsible for the equally bizarre Swiss Army Man. Everything Everywhere All at Once is just as independent, but it became a surprise hit for A24. The movie seemed to come out of nowhere, even with the Rosso Brothers attached as producers. I didn’t officially become interested until people started comparing it more favorably to Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Can you believe it’s more strange than a movie with “Strange” in the title? The multiverse is a concept that’s been continuously exploited in the last few years. Everything from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse to Rick and Morty. It’s hard to believe Daniels had their multiverse idea before either were released.

Everything Everywhere All at Once has already been called one of the greatest movies ever made, but I’ll be that one person who doesn’t completely understand why. It does check a lot of boxes in modern Hollywood. Everything Everywhere All at Once is told in 3 parts of the title. Everything is almost indistinguishable from a foreign film. Though intended for Jackie Chan, the lead works better with Michelle Yeoh as a struggling Chinese-American mother and wife who owns a laundromat. Evelyn Quan Wang feels like the biggest role of her career since she’s asked to do things I never expected to see from her. At first I didn’t recognize the actor playing Evelyn’s goofy husband Waymond, but that’s Short Round himself Ke Huy Quan making an unexpected comeback.

Can’t say I was surprised to see James Hong as Evelyn’s disapproving father since he’s literally in everything. You don’t have to be Asian to appreciate the movie, but I still can’t relate to a strained mother-daughter relationship. Newcomer Stephanie Hsu not so surprisingly plays Evelyn’s lesbian daughter Joy seeking acceptance. The few non-Asian cast members include Jenny Slate as a “Dog Mom” and Jamie Lee Curtis as an IRS inspector auditing the Wangs. All the multiverse stuff comes out of nowhere, but feels very reminiscent of The Matrix. Mostly because people from an “Alphaverse” are able to verse-jump in order to tap into other versions of themselves throughout the multiverse by doing something unusual. The unusual actions push the R rating a little too far into gross-out territory.

Evelyn discovers her full potential by tapping into a universe where she has badass martial arts skills. She uses it to fight the surprise villain Jobu Tupaki with limitless power who wants to destroy the multiverse. Evelyn tapping into too many universes is what leads to Everywhere. Everything Everywhere All at Once is a swirl of genres that does take advantage of the creative possibilities of a multiverse. But to avoid spoilers, I’m only going to say random things out of context. Googly eyes, movie star, racoon, Ratatouille, hot dog, fingers, rocks, piñata, anime, and everything bagel. I know the ending makes a majority of people cry, but I’m not crazy about the nihilistic tone. The message to “Be kind” does kind of save it. All at Once resolves every conflict no matter how absurd. Everything Everywhere All at Once isn’t always for me, but I can commend its commitment to originality.

Everything Everywhere All at Once

Evelyn does kung fu

The Orchid Thief

Adaptation. is an adaptation of a book being adapted within the movie that’s being watched. If you thought Being John Malkovich was bizarre, director Spike Jonze and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman matched that insanity in a very meta way. Adaptation. was always on my radar, but it was mostly a co-worker who recommended it. The adaptation takes place during the filming of Being John Malkovich as Charlie Kaufman works on his next movie project. Nicolas Cage earned his second nomination for Best Actor as his insanity is put to good use playing both the real life Charlie and his fictional twin brother Donald.

Kaufman suffers from severe writer’s block attempting to adapt The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. Since the book is mostly about flowers, it somehow makes sense to make a movie about trying to make it interesting. Charlie is also full of self-loathing and has sexually frustrated fantasies with Judy Greer. Cara Seymour, Tilda Swinton, and Maggie Gyllenhaal play fictional characters, but Ron Livingston and Brian Cox play a real life movie executive and story consultant respectively. As Charlie works on his script and Donald writes the fictitious thriller The 3, Susan Orlean is in the process of writing The Orchid Thief.

Of course Meryl Streep received another Oscar nomination as the real life author. Although initially objecting to her portrayal as a sexually repressed drug addict, Orlean’s book is well adapted. All the awards attention ended up going to Best Supporting Actor Chris Cooper as the titular orchid thief John Laroche. He’s rough on the outside, but his passion for flowers awakens something in Orlean and Kaufman. Their stories intertwin in a crazy way that obviously never happened. Adaptation. ended up better than the intended source material.

Adaptation.

Charlie and Donald Kaufman work on adapting

The Divorce

Marriage Story is one of the most realistic depictions of divorce ever put to screen. Writer/director Noah Baumbach drew from personal experience. Including his parents divorce and failed marriage to Jennifer Jason Leigh. Earning him a nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Ironically, Baumbach ended up competing against partner Greta Gerwig when both of their movies were nominated for Best Picture. Marriage Story is about a director and an actress, but I’m sure it was just inspiration. Divorce is a heavy subject given some levity thanks to an Oscar nominated score from Randy Newman. The entire cast is given a chance to show their acting range with long emotional monologues.

Scarlett Johansson was nominated for Best Actress the same year she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in Jojo Rabbit. Nicole is an actress who loves her husband and son, but struggles to stay away from her home in LA. Adam Driver was nominated the previous year, but he really proves himself with his raw Best Actor nominated performance. Charlie is a stressed stage director who loves his wife and son just as much, but does prefer to live in New York. It causes the rift that leads to their divorce. Although they try to be amicable, the coast-to-coast separation leads to a bitter custody battle. Like a modern day Kramer vs. Kramer, Charlie and Nicole’s young son Henry is left confused by the whole ordeal.

The divorce is especially hard on Nicole’s family since Charlie is still very close to her mother played by a scene stealing Julie Hagerty and sister played by Oscar magnet Merritt Wever. Charlie doesn’t have a family, but he does have a dedicated theater troupe that includes Wallace Shawn. Alan Alda plays Charlie’s first lawyer who keeps things civil, but Ray Liotta doesn’t hold back as his second lawyer. Though the leads more than deserved to win, only Laura Dern managed to win Best Supporting Actress as Nicole’s laid back, but ruthless lawyer Nora. Tensions continue to rise until the most powerful scene where the couple verbally attack each other. Marriage Story cares enough to treat both sides with respect.

The Marriage Story

Charlie and Nicole in better days

…Pick a Side

The Break-Up is about as funny as an actual break up. Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston are capable leads with good chemistry who have done well in other romantic comedies, but director Peyton Reed can only do so much with the premise. Gary and Brooke live in Chicago and meet at a Cubs game. Gary is a tour guide and Brooke works in a gallery. Although Gary pursues Brooke a little too insistently, they do seem to have a healthy relationship.

Until their first fight that you’ll have to get used to. All the constant passive-aggression makes for an unpleasant viewing experience. Gary and Brooke’s families are polar opposites who go really over-the-top in a cringy dinner scene. Of course Jon Favreau plays Gary’s best friend, but there’s also Jason Bateman as a realtor who helps them work through their break up. Since they share an apartment, Gary and Brooke become contentious roommates who do whatever they can to hurt the other.

Brooke goes on dates with good looking guys and walks around naked just to make him jealous. Aniston’s PG-13 nude debut is worth some attention. Meanwhile, Gary continues to play video games, invite his friends over, and even hire strippers. Nobody looks good in this scenario, but I did find some of the jokes amusing. As long as it wasn’t mean spirited. They try to have an emotionally satisfying happy ending, but by the end I just didn’t care if they got back together or not. The Break-Up breaks too many rules to be satisfying.

The Break-Up

Gary and Brooke separate

$1,000,000

Indecent Proposal is an indecent viewing experience. Sometimes there are movies that you hear are bad, but you don’t know why until you watch it. Indecent Proposal won 3 Razzies for Worst Picture, Worst Supporting Actor, and Worst Screenplay. Despite having proven director Adrian Lyne and starring a trio of A-listers, the problem with the movie becomes obvious when you see the premise. Based on a 1988 book of the same name, Indecent Proposal is about a billionaire who offers $1,000,000 for one night with a married man’s wife.

No matter how good the actors are, there’s literally no way not to make this sleazy and/or uncomfortable. Woody Harrelson plays David and Demi Moore plays Diana. Although I feel like Moore was picked on a lot in the 90’s, it’s Harrelson who won the Razzie. They try to reinforce their marriage through passionate love making, but they still end up accepting the deal. When the couple falls on hard times, they try to win money at the casino until billionaire John Gage makes the titular indecent proposal. The normally charming Robert Redford is very unlikable with his never ending pursuit of Diana.

You’d think he’d be the worst offender, but everyone in the movie is a bad person. David grows increasingly jealous and hostile towards his wife. Diana hates Gage at first, but she still ends up going back to him. It feels like the movie should end several times, but they just keep dragging it out until a forced happy ending. The Simpsons parody “Half-Decent Proposal” got more accomplished in 30 minutes than this nearly 2 hour movie. Indecent Proposal proves greed and adultery aren’t very romantic topics.

Indecent Proposal

Diana lays on a pile of money