Posts Tagged ‘Michael Jeter’

Many of you might remember Michael Jeter as the senile prisoner in The Green Mile who adopted a mouse called Mr Jingles. The fact is he had earned himself a living for nearly two decades playing wimpy, damaged characters. Bug-eyed, psychologically sprained and perennially anxious, he often acted like he channelled Woody Allen as much he did Clint Howard; a diminutive fellow sporting a comfortably un-Malayalee-like brush-tache who could act circles around the puddles of machismo that A-listers left around him. He could also evoke as much sympathy as an orphaned Lhasa Apso would from fans who “like” the ‘Blue Cross’ fanpage on Facebook.

In Terry Gilliam’s Fisher King, he turned in a brilliant essay as an homeless, HIV-infected and barking mad cabaret singer. In one of the film’s highlights, Jeter launches into a rendition of an Ethel Merman classic so passionately unstable that rumour had it that Robin Williams’ chest hair fell out, one by one, in sheer envy. Gilliam brought him back for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in which he was Professor L. Ron Bumquist – a speaker at the Las Vegas police convention on drugs, which Raoul Duke (Johnny Depp) attends (on drugs). He gives a fiery anti-drug sermon, looking askance and volatile simultaneously; so much so that we can’t be entirely sure if Depp weaseling his way out of the convention was part of the script or merely instinctive for someone under the influence.

Skip Woods’ Thursday had him playing a psychiatrist engrossed in a sweaty conversation with Dallas (Paulina Porizkova), the psychotic seductress. In a particularly memorable scene, she leans over to him, asking if he has ever seen a porn film to which, he instinctively gulps several years of repressed sexuality, squirms a bit and replies, “Yes, I’ve heard stories”. The awkwardness he oozed was tremendously funny and when spliced with Paulina’s bloodcurdling charisma it worked better than Indian techies would have for the US of A.

Now, Frank Darabont’s The Green Mile would have been acceptable if it were 30 minutes shorter and had less of Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan and their plasticized zombie-like presence. Thankfully, Michael Jeter as Del Delacroix, a death row inmate, along with Doug Hutchison playing the sadistic prison guard, saved this film from absolute torment. A few of his scenes with Mr Jingles were saccharine enough to make girl scouts weep a ballet of tears, but he gave the character more depth than it deserved. In the first few scenes, his eyes were filled with derangement and abandon as he leered through the prison bars. Once the stupid mouse appeared, they glowed a quiet admittance of fate. Even his hyper-kinetic wailing (when Hutchison stomped the hell out of it) was inappropriately great. Bless his mongrel heart for having stayed true to his craft despite all the lounging he did with waxworks and glory hounds in and around mainstream cinema.

Michael Jeter’s swansong as an actor (after which he did voice overs for two animated films) was his finest too; a meaty role in Russo brothers’ ensemble comedy –  Welcome to Collinwood. He played Toto, the antsy carjacker who joins a inept crew of thieving buffons. His scenes with William Macy, Isaiah Washington and Luis Guzma were some of the funniest stuff that tickled American cinema in 2002. Even when the the script relied on burlesque homo-eroticism for cheap giggles, Jeter found a way to draw genuine laughs. In one such scene, a visibly disgusted Leon (Isaiah) insists that Toto “put his pants back on” to which a morbidly crestfallen Toto whimpers, “I can’t, I’ll catch pneumonia”.

Now, some IMDB user has used an exclamation mark at the end of his sentence on the film’s quotes page, which might make you go, “hey, isn’t that a Rob Schneider punchline?”. Cleanse your minds, minions, because Michael Jeter never delivered punchlines. He never shared an on-screen kiss with anyone attractive either. Matter of fact, everything he said and did, as preposterous as it might have sounded to the casual cinema-goer, lacked the “punch” that pompous old men with Citizen Kane’s dialogues tattooed on their foreheads spent years trying to imbibe in film students.

People might say he played the same character for two decades or whatever, but they would whistle and pretend to be distracted if someone else made the same argument about Samuel Jackson or Clint Eastwood, so let’s ignore these people mmkay?

In fact let’s lure these people with cheap porno magazines into an abandoned godown and force them to sit through five Al Pacino performances (Dick Tracy, S1m0ne, 88 Minutes, Righteous Kill, Scent Of A Woman).

We’ll just sit back and relish cinema’s underdogs, actors who simply can’t be replaced by textbooks and templates, actors like Michael Jeter.

(Jeter died from an epileptic seizure in 2003 and isn’t nearly as fondly remembered as he should be)

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I’d wax eloquent about the joys of brevity, but it is as much an art form as a goat’s tonsil tethered to the business end of a woodwind instrument. I have merely realized that it takes a week or two for me to forget why I loved or loathed certain films. Hence, the frantic and discourteously blunt dialogue on various films, good, bad and those starring Abhishek Bachchan.

Thursday: Skip Woods is best known for writing brain-dead masala flicks (Swordfish, GI Joe). Before his inglorious pilgrimage towards questionable stardom, he wrote Thursday – a brutish white-knuckled urban thriller. Thomas Jane and Aaron Eckhart are glorious as main characters, Casey and Nick; one a drug dealer and general practitioner of chaos and the other well versed in both, but unwilling to participate. The cameos are so good that if it were up to me I would piss and moan in the parking lot until someone made full-length feature films with the Rasta assassin (Glenn Plummer), the skittish adoption agency executive (Michael Jeter) and the corrupt copper (Mickey Rourke) as lead protagonists.

Good Intentions: I enjoy small-town comedies about blackmailing, dysfunctional families and oddball sheriffs as much as the next blogger drunk on his/her own pathos of fashionable city life. Unfortunately, Jim Issa’s Good Intentions is so mediocre that if you squint one of your eyes you can actually see a silhouette of Tom Hanks in every second frame. The film has one good joke that it beats the crap out of until all the horses drop dead quicker than Luke Perry should actually retire from acting.

Hard Eight: Paul Thomas Anderson always gives us something different to play with every single time. How a single brain can conceive both Boogie Nights and Magnolia I’ll never understand. His debut Hard Eight a.k.a Sydney stars two of my favourite actors – John Reilly, Philip Baker Hall – has Samuel Jackson in his second best role ever and Philip Seymour Hoffman doing what he actually does best, play an ostensibly unlikable tub of lard. They share incredible chemistry too, feeding off each other’s intensity like real performers should. If only Hope Davis, Juliette Lewis or Chloe Sevigny were cast as Reilly’s love interest instead of Gwyneth Palthrow, I would have had a tough time explaining why salt-crusted tears sometimes leave a happy trail on my cheeks.

Raavan/ Raavanan: People treat Mani Ratnam’s films like chunks of yak cheese. They stick a piece in inside their cheeks and chew on it for hours, desperately looking for nuances to hate and love. I’d feel better comparing his films to the now defunct Cadbury’s Dollops chain of ice cream stores; never spent nights wondering how scrumptious their ice creams were; never really playfully tore the dead skin of my palm, thinking about all the wonderful new flavours that could be…sure, I enjoyed a scoop or a cone every now, but that’s because I generally liked ice cream. It didn’t really matter if it were Arun, Kwality or Dollops. The Tamizh version of Ravanan would have been worth a second watch if it weren’t for the lame cinematography/music that sounds/looks ripped off from some unfashionable first-person shooter Playstation game, and Aishwarya Rai. The Hindi version had Abhishek Bachchan…so uhmmm no thanks.

Next Stop Wonderland: Yes, this is a romantic comedy from Miramax Films, but no, it doesn’t suck at all. It’s probably one of most likable romantic films ever made. Director Brad Anderson is man of proven genius (Transsiberian, The Machinist, Session 9, Happy Accidents), but the spotlight from Next Stop Wonderland righteously gleams on the lead couple – Hope Davis and Alan Gelfant and ever so slightly on Seymour Hoffman, who is hilarious as a disgruntled hippie. The couple’s love story is in fact reminiscent of that film in which Amala and Mohan play star-crossed lovers who never get to see each other, with all the melodrama stifled and replaced instead with melancholy. The ending is just perfect even with nobody really dying or carrying the burden of such.

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Shutter Island: Martin Scorsese finally tips his hat to the horror genre with the terrifying thriller that is Shutter Island. While the film lends itself to a few logical fallacies here and there, especially during the twist at the end, it remains consistently entertaining. Scorsese has always played it easy with casting decisions, often employing the safest of actors. Between Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Kingsley, Emily Mortimer and Patricia Clarkson he has four of the most consistent actors of the past two decades; not brilliant, mind you, but outrageously competent, no matter what their roles are. Truth be told, DiCaprio does overact a bit but he’s still compensating for Titanic, so we can steadfastly forgive him for impersonating a kid who just saw a unicorn wink at him. Mark Ruffalo, on the other hand, is almost unwatchable, with his portrayal of servility dangerously reaching Samwise Gamgee-level of unprovoked homo-eroticism. Emily Mortimer and Patricia Clarkson, with their beady eyes writing stories with the mechanical grace of a typewriter, walk away with the finest performances of the lot…yes, even better than the sinister charm of Kingsley and Max von Sydow. Thrillers that invest heavily on the unpredictability of twists expose themselves to the risk of falling short of expectations, but here when Scorsese yells “peek-a-boo” at us towards the end, we end up feeling silly for not having predicted it. And that, my scholarly vermin, is the mark of a good thriller. Not great, mind you, but spectacularly satisfying.

Defendor: Sorry, my batty comrades, Dark Knight isn’t the greatest superhero film ever made anymore, Peter Stebbings’ Defendor is. Technically it is a film about a man trying to act like a superhero, but Defendor is no more a catharsis on fighting crime than films on men wearing bat costumes and tight underwear with customized logos are. It gets us drunk on the trusted concoction of comedy and tragedy and is likely to have the more sensitive ones reaching for a tissue paper/cigarette lighter/glass of whiskey towards the end. Woody Harrelson, in his best performance since Raymond Barnell’s The Big White, plays Arthur Poppington, a sweet-natured, slow-witted traffic worker by day and a delusional superhero at night. He truly is one of the best modern actors to have survived Hollywood and he shows it here by making us care about superheroes in a way that would have been difficult to fathom, considering the most critically acclaimed (and highest grossing) film based on a comic book is a two-trick pony. The truth is, The Dark Knight, without Heath Ledger or Maggie Gyllenhaal, would have been hard to digest; in hindsight everything else just seems too needy about wanting to reflect the global stand on terrorism.

Defendor wants to do no such thing. It is far too kind in its approach to nurse any profane moral agendas. It’s just a story about a simpleton looking to change the world, one dent on the bad guy’s forehead at a time. Arthur has no superpowers, neither the wisdom of wise butlers nor infinite knowledge of martial arts. He has a reluctant sidekick in the form of a crack-addicted prostitute, Ms Kat, which gives way for some wonderful acting by Kat Dennings who makes ghostly-pale look cherubic and unnaturally sexy. The vastly underrated Elias Koteas (from Law and Order: SVU) is deeply committed to playing a sleazy NY cop and ends up exactly as we would have wanted him to, hateful, violent and deserving of Defendor’s rage. Michael Kelly, who plays Arthur’s co-worker and friend, and Sandra Oh, who plays his psychiatrist, are promptly forgotten due to no fault of their own. Even the plot plays second fiddle to Woody Harrelson’s acting; only Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man) and Patton Oswalt (Big Fan) have come close to giving a performance as honest and restrained as this one. A special word of mention to composer John Rowley too; his original musical scores are a perfect foil for us to pledge our allegiance to Defendor.

Tenure: Luke Wilson has this habit of playing small-town guys with big-time problems. In Mike Million’s Tenure , he plays Charlie Thurber, an English professor competing for tenure with his new colleague. His buddy Jay Hardley (David Koechner), when he isn’t busy trying to locate the whereabouts of Bigfoot, tries to help Charlie out, even at the expense of his own standing, however thin that ice maybe, in the college community. Gretchen Mol, who plays the new hotshot professor vying for the same tenure, looks absolutely gorgeous. Her melancholic expressions evoke a sort of longing that made Virginia Madsen unbearably beautiful to look at in Sideways. Shawshank’s mean prison warden – Bob Gunton – has a few great scenes as Mr Thurber, Charlie’s inexplicably morose dad. Everything is in fact fine and dandy until the very end where an explosion of clichés haphazardly brings the curtains down. Happy endings very rarely work because that isn’t how most of us look at the world. It wasn’t as though the Thurber family had suffered a tragedy grievous enough for the audience to want to see with the sun shining brightly on them right before the end credits roll; it just seems like the director took the easiest route by giving such unnecessary closure. Maybe he should have watched The Station Agent to understand how that is PERFECTLY done.

Leaves Of Grass: Director Tim Blake Nelson also happens to be one of my favourite comedic actors in recent times. His slow-burn timing of punchlines rivals that of the brilliant Michael Jeter and has worked fantastically well in films like O Brother Where Art Thou, The Darwin Awards and The Moguls. Unfortunately he’s about the only consistent performer in his latest film – Leaves Of Grass, which is quite surprisingly since it also stars Edward ‘Mr Consistent’ Norton in a dual role. Too bad a crappy accent and an all-too convenient storyline leaves him lurking about, looking like he wants to do little else than chew gum. In Leaves Of Grass, he plays both Bill Kincaid, a clean-cut Ivy League professor and his twin brother Brady, a free-spirited prodigious marijuana cultivator, two obviously polar opposites inexplicably brought together for devious purposes, thusly giving way to a heady mix of irony and poetic justice. Sheeeesh haven’t we seen this enough in Rajnikanth movies during the Eighties? To make it worse, Susan Sarandon shows up and spits existential venom every 15 minutes to thoroughly irritate me. Only Richard Dreyfuss as Pug Rothbaum – the angry Jew and Blake Nelson as Bolger – the redneck right-hand man, bring any sort of awesomeness, with their bug-eyed intensity.

Roger Ebert’s four-stars description definitely leaves me confused. He must have smoked some Grade-A weed to call it “a sweet, wacky masterpiece that takes all sorts of risks” because from where I stand, it is a sugary, tacky piece of lazy film-making. It just goes to show that films that rehash storylines, no matter how intelligent or well-crafted they are, will remain glaringly susceptible to staleness.

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