Screen Junkies » family Movie Reviews & TV Show Reviews Wed, 06 Aug 2014 19:50:13 +0000 en hourly 1 The Film Cult Presents: Addams Family Values Fri, 02 May 2014 16:52:17 +0000 Philip Harris The sequel to the creepy and spooky sequel that made the Addams clan a symbol for the intelligent outsider.

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Warning! Spoiler Alert!

“Gomez, wonderful news. I’m going to have a baby–right now.”
I like to imagine that on a bleak hill somewhere in Los Angeles, maybe tucked away in a forgotten part of Griffith Park, a crumbling mansion houses a mysterious and kooky family prone to histrionics and macabre glamor. And no, I’m not talking about Grey Gardens. This family is bigger, has far more money, and has come to symbolize the intelligent outsider. I’m talking, of course, of the Addams Family. Cue the theme song:

As far as sequels go, Addams Family Values isn’t that great of a movie. This is no The Godfather II.  In terms of plot, Addams Family Values (along withe the first movie, The Addams Family) suffers from one of the most difficult story-telling conundrums of the modern age. How do you write a believable conflict for a family that thrives on, and truly revels in, conflict with the laws of physics, nature, and danger? The writers came up with two answers. One, create a threat to their money. And the Debbie storyline (murderous gold-digger marries Uncle Fester for the family fortune) shows they hardly tried their best. In fact, that plot is particularly shameful since it was the plot of the first movie. The Fester/Debbie relationship is only saved by the fact that Joan Cusack is hilarious. Her comic timing and over-the-top facial expressions save a majority from the movie being too tedious.

The more intelligent answer to the conflict conundrum of the Addams clan is to put them in direct conflict with the outside world. Perfect, let’s send Wednesday and Pugsley to summer camp to interact with normies. When you first encounter the family you’re sort of repulsed, a little confused, and very often scared. You don’t think you could relate to them, thinking that you’d relate to the folks at the summer camp rather than the dark and twisted Addams crew, but once you’ve spent a few moments in the Addams mansion, you begin to wish you were  part of that family. They have a loyalty to each other and a certain classic aesthetic that they all take very seriously. Who else has a family cemetery adjacent to their dilapidated mansion? When the money-thieving Debbie realizes Wednesday, who is nobody’s fool, is onto her, she convinces Morticia and Gomez to pack them off to camp.

The camp segments of this movie (and boy, I said a mouthful there) are among the greatest moments in the Addams franchise. So much so, that the famous Thanksgiving pageant they put on entitled “A Turkey Named Brotherhood” is venturing into classic territory. With Wednesday (portrayed masterfully by Christina Ricci) leading a tribe of perceived social pariahs and misfits, white supremacy is thwarted by the greater truths and principles of indigenous genocide. This is the movie’s genius. Yuppie white families are the greatest enemies of the Addams philosophy. In the first movie, when a girl scout asks Wednesday if her lemonade is made of real lemons, Wednesday retorts, “Are you girl scout cookies made of real girl scouts?” And when the first Thanksgiving is dissolved into a vigilante riot scene—the pilgrims burning, the camp counselors roasting on a spit—Wednesday, who is finally in her element, strikes a match as the Addams theme swells.

The Addams family isn’t weird because their pet is a dismembered hand. The Addams Family is weird because society has created a stigma against actual taste and intelligence. When Debbie has succeeded in taking Uncle Fester from the family, Morticia (played by a black-clad Angelica Houston at her most Goddess-esque) stands in Debbie’s tacky home and forgives her for everything she’s done (enslavement, a sexual spell) but what she cannot forgive is Debbie’s use of pastels. When in the opening sequence, a pastel-clad little girl tells Wednesday and Pugsley how her “mommy kissed daddy and the angel told the stork, and the stork flew down from heaven and left a diamond under a leaf in the cabbage patch, and the diamond turned into a baby!” Pugsley says, “Our parents are having a baby too,” to which Wednesday dryly adds,

The Addams credo should be “We stand for truth and good taste.” Instead, of course, their credo is actually “We gladly feast on those who would subdue us.” I like to think that their weapons against a world that doesn’t understand them is truth and a level of self-love gurus spend a lifetime looking for. They delight in their own eccentricities because to themselves they aren’t eccentric. It’s perfectly normal to have your family weddings in the cemetery. It’s perfectly normal for children to play with a guillotine and dress up your infant little brother as Marie Antoinette. At first you laugh at them, but soon you want to be them.

And in closing, I’d be remiss to mention the great Raul Julia who truly has only one great scene in the entire movie. As the family patriarch, he gave a life to the Gomez character that easily dethrones John Astin as the consummate Gomez. Raul Julia’s passing robbed the world of a beautiful, talented man who gave believable life to a horny husband obsessed with murder and mayhem. In Addams Family Values, as his brother is taken from him, as his children are carted off to their personal version of hell, Gomez takes matters into his own hands when the police (played, naturally by Nathan Lane) fail to help him. I leave you with his glorious meltdown.

P.S. Keep a lookout for a pre-Sex and the City Cynthia Nixon.

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The Film Cult Presents: Crumb Fri, 14 Mar 2014 16:58:12 +0000 Philip Harris WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD! When I was a teenager, my neighbors let my parents borrow a bootleg VHS tape of Crumb, the documentary of underground cartoonist Robert Crumb. The cassette was...

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When I was a teenager, my neighbors let my parents borrow a bootleg VHS tape of Crumb, the documentary of underground cartoonist Robert Crumb. The cassette was kept on the top shelf of the tallest bookshelf in our den because they thought it was far too adult for me or my younger brother. Maybe they’d forgotten I was over six feet tall. One afternoon, home alone from school, I popped the tape in our old VCR and was overwhelmed with sex: narrated sexual acts, graphic sexual drawings, and even a woman pornographer discussing the sexual appetite of the documentary’s subject. Thereafter, every afternoon I would fast-forward through the “boring” parts in order to get to the sex. I was in teenage boy heaven.

Eventually, my parents returned the tape, and I didn’t see Crumb again until last June when Turner Classic Movies showed it at eleven PM on a Saturday night. Jumping at the chance to revisit some of my old provocations, I decided to watch the film from beginning to end for the first time. I was astonished.  As a kid I’d relegated Crumb to the same category as the Hustler magazines I’d found in my uncles’ bathrooms. Childhood treasures rarely hold up once the veil of innocence is destroyed by forms, taxes, and Trader Joe’s, but this was not the case with Crumb. It didn’t take long to realize that Crumb wasn’t porn. It was an honest portrait of an artist and his dysfunctional family.

Robert Crumb is most famous for his 1968, one-page comic “Keep on Truckin’” which became a counterculture slogan in the late sixties and early seventies. He’s also famous for illustrating the cover art for Big Brother and the Holding Company’s album Cheap Thrills. After the fame of those two projects, he collaborated with such luminaries as writers Charles Bukowski and Harvey Pekar, illustrating many of Pekar’s American Splendor comics. Recently, Robert Crumb drew an unabridged depiction of the book of Genesis. He’s become so important to the world of comic illustration that for a cool thousand bucks you can purchase a six-volume, hardcover boxed set of his sketchbooks. By the time director Terry Swigoff convinced him to make the biographical documentary in the mid-nineties, Robert Crumb had already spent a lifetime trying to reconcile the tormented issues of his life through his art, providing Swigoff with an evocative wealth of material to (unapologetic pun incoming) draw upon. Crumb is relentless in its honesty, and it’s that honesty that both repels and endears us by the end of the film.

Early in the documentary, Robert Crumb admits to having been sexually attracted to Bugs Bunny. He obsessively draws women from his youth with whom he was infatuated. His depictions of sexual acts are uber-misogynist, turning women into sexual non-entities their pimply, deranged male counterparts use to act out various perversions. And yet, as evidenced in the film, women loved him. Throughout the movie, female fans are describing his large penis, offering to model for him, and defending his sexual fantasies. The conundrum is real for the viewer. Here is a strange man who uses his genius level talent to depict headless women in disgusting, racist, and nightmarish situations. Crumb pulls no punches in depicting the physiological foundation for his obsession with hardcore variances. The documentary’s message is clear: to understand what perverted the artist’s mind, one need look no further than his family.

Robert was one of five children: two brothers, who are featured in the film, and two sisters who decided not to participate. The familial portrait that emerges is one of parents constantly fighting, an abusive father who broke Robert’s collarbone as a child, and an amphetamine addicted mother. Charles, the oldest of the Crumb children, was also an artist, often taking after his tyrannical father by commanding Robert to draw for and with him. This fraternal overbearing affected Robert his whole life. In Crumb, now famous and wealthy, Robert confesses that he still thinks of Charles’ approval when he draws. Charles, who fought a physiological urge towards pedophelia his whole life, was also beaten regularly by their father, leaving such an indelible mark that in his adult life he never left his mother’s house, reread the stacks of novels in his room, and obsessively drew line designs in his notebooks. His depression is given the same raw treatment as Robert’s sexuality because the only way to portray Robert Crumb’s life is to go all the way in, to show Charles’ matted hair, his messy room, and the hatred in his face when he’s yelling at their mother. He’s the twisted, deranged heart of the documentary, and in tragic concordance, Charles committed suicide shortly after the documentary was released.

While Robert turned to sexual perversions and writing to save himself from insanity, his younger brother Max turned to painting and asceticism. Crumb shows him living in bleak circumstance, meditating on a bed of nails, eating near nothing, and devoting his life to sexual chastity after having molested female strangers on the subway in his youth. Due to his portrayal in the documentary, his paintings have taken on a life of their own, and he now supports himself through their sales. One of the film’s most harrowing moments is when Max demonstrates his ritual of swallowing and passing a 30-foot cloth ribbon through his body while seated atop his bed of nails. He is still alive and still lives in San Francisco.

Crumb‘s critical backbone is honesty. It’s a documentary that benefits from the participation of its still-living subject. By the end, we know who Robert Crumb is and the familial hell from which he came. That said, it’s easy to recognize his genius, to acknowledge the contribution he’s made to the world of comics, but it’s not as easy to forgive and accept his misogynist art. I would be remiss not to take I’m to task for it, to accept it as even remotely okay in terms of current gender-role representation. The questions I would ask are, why is the work famous? Why is it popular? Perhaps Robert Crumb has been one of the few talented and brave (re: crazy) enough artists to be honest about what’s on his mind, what haunts the recesses of his perversions. For an outcast kid from a family of depressed tyrants, maybe its all he had. Maybe, when he was being bullied and felt suicidal, his talent, dreams, and horny thoughts were all he had. At seventeen, Robert Crumb decided that becoming a great artist would be his greatest revenge, deciding to reject conforming when life rejected him. His art is complicated, but his story is crystal clear to anyone who’s ever hoped their art would save them.

Here’s the original extended trailer:

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