Tag Archives: Steve Buscemi

Big Fish

Who Bought It?: Megan

Why?: I actually saw and liked this movie and decided to purchase it.

Non-Buyer’s Response: Going in, I have no strong feelings about this one.

Megan’s Thoughts:

I was 15 when I bought Big Fish. Having seen it now, 12 years later, I realize I did not actually understand the movie. I just thought Ewan McGregor was cute and Tim Burton is one of my favourite directors and it was quirky and beautiful. I think I was entertained by the film but looking at it now I can see there’s no way I comprehended how much it speaks about life and legacy.

Big Fish (based on the novel of the same name by Daniel Wallace) is about Will Bloom (Billy Crudup), a writer who, as his father Ed’s (Albert Finney) health disintegrates, tries to uncover more about him from the stories and myths he was told as a boy. Stories that Will believes to be made up fairytales but that Ed firmly stands by. There are giants and jumping spiders and a traveling circus. There are legendary-sized fish and Siamese Twins and picture-perfect towns where no one wears shoes and even the water is sweet. Ed lives in a romantic world while Will lives in a pragmatic one.

The flow of story, the humour and the adventure to Big Fish all weave together and make for a thought-provoking film that had me reflecting on my own history afterward. What are the stories I will pass on? What stories of my parents will I tell my children? Would I want to know how I die, if I could?

The cast of Big Fish is just as impressive as the seemingly tall tales of Ed Bloom. Danny Devito as the circus ringmaster Amos. Jessica Lange as Mrs. Sandra Bloom. Steve Buscemi as the poet Norther Winslow. And…wait is that…Miley Cyrus as the little girl that says “Edward, DON’T” as a young Ed Bloom approaches the witch’s house? Yes it is. And she was credited as “Destiny Cyrus.” Thanks for filling me in on that tidbit, internet!

As much as I enjoyed Big Fish there were a few parts of it that made me shake my head. Mostly, Ed’s wife Sandra, and how we never hear from her on the topic of his tales. Instead, she seems to drift in and out of rooms with a vacant smile on her face. I understand this particular story was to be told between Will and Ed, but having Sandra around just made her seem useless and ignorant. Will often mentions how he and his mother were on great terms so a large, nagging part of my brain said: “Then why don’t you just ask your mom to verify these stories if you’re so curious? Shouldn’t she know?” Or if not, should she take some time to sit Will down and be like “Look dude, is it really hurting anyone if these stories are a little embellished? Stop being so pessimistic.”

Also made me shake my head: a 32-year-old Ewan McGregor playing an 18-year-old for a good portion of the movie. I can suspend a lot of disbelief, but that seemed a bit much. However he also had to play a 40-year-old at other points, depending on the flashback. I guess I never would have been happy so fine.

But I take the side of Ed Bloom any day. I am the dreamer, the storyteller, the entertainer. I come from storytellers in the family and the belief that a good story can be better than a good meal. And I’d watch Ed Bloom’s stories come to life again, and I’d like to see what this movie means to me as I get older and reflect on my own legacy. You win this time, ageless Ewan McGregor. I’d like to KEEP IT.

Max’s Thoughts: 

At one point in Big Fish, Ed Bloom tells his son “We’re storytellers, both of us. I speak mine out, you write yours down. Same thing.” It’s moments like these that provide the heart of the movie and moments like this that I was too young to appreciate when I first saw it, just like Megan. Both of us come from families of oral storytellers, and both of us have chosen to write ours down. (I’ll come back to this). It’s a shame Billy Crudup’s Will is a distant, emotionless and unknowable character, both of us were just dying to love him.

We didn’t.  But the two Ed Bloom’s (McGregor and Finney) absolutely put this movie on their collective back. Perhaps it’s because he’s stopped getting the big name, above-the-title roles that he used to, maybe its because its been a while since I’ve watched him in his prime, but I had completely forgotten how charismatic Ewan McGregor can be.

ewan

Oh, you.

And Albert Finney… he’s the kind of actor that leaves me at a loss for words. I’ve never seen him be anything other than impeccable and complex. When he plays a mob boss in Miller’s Crossing, he does so with a touch of whimsy. When he’s dumped into a world of whimsy and half-truths like Big Fish, he provides the gravitas needed to ground a movie with its head as far in the clouds as this one. He almost never gets out of bed, yet he is the backbone of the entire film.

Albert

 “I was dried out.” Albert Finney, everyone!

Personal storytime: This is essentially a movie about Will Bloom trying to get the “real story” out of his dad before he dies. It struck a chord with me big time. I have one living grandparent (Grandma Adele), and she is the last living member of the generation of my family that was around for what I’ve started calling “The Shamban Creation Legend.” Let me explain, as best and as quickly I can, from the pseudo-legendary stories I’ve heard so far.

My Grandpa Marc was born one of four brothers. Sonny (the oldest), Howard, Marc and Billy. When Sonny was around 13-years-old, their father died. I’ve never heard anything about their mother, but Sonny got a job delivering papers, supporting his younger brothers financially throughout their childhood. I learned recently that my grandpa thought Sonny was his dad until a certain age. Here, the details become hazy, but after being more or less raised by Sonny, all three of the little brothers went on to become very, very wealthy. Howard and Grandpa Marc founded a marketing firm together in the 1950’s and Billy outstripped them both with some kind of manufacturing company that I know very little about.

This is the version of the story kicking around in my head, picked up over the course of my life in bits and pieces. Who knows what of it is true? But the whole point of all of this is that the truth isn’t the point. The histories of regular, non-famous families like mine are not usually put down in books or in movies, but passed down from generation-to-generation over the dinner table. They become embellished, surely, but over time they become the story of where you came from, and how you came to be.

Its a story I didn’t realize I wanted to write until we watched Big Fish. Most importantly, it’s a story that I’m running out of time to learn because all four brothers are dead, as are all their wives besides Grandma Adele. Since we watched Big Fish, I’ve reached out to Adele, and the children of Howard, Sonny and Billy (my second cousins I think)  and plan to get a full view of these four men who laid the foundation for the modern iteration of my family.

That was the effect this film had on me. When that happens, I think proper criticism becomes irrelevant. KEEP IT. 

Verdict: KEEP

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Barton Fink

Who Bought It? Max. (Three in a row!) And yes, I realize this is out of order, but apparently we put Barton Fink on the shelf out of order when we unpacked.

Why? This is actually part of a Coen Brother’s triple-feature DVD that I bought mainly because I wanted the other two movies (Raising Arizona, Miller’s Crossing). But I do enjoy this flick and I have some pretty emotional connections to it.

Non-Buyer’s response: I was supposed to watch this movie for a homework assignment 5 years ago. I did the assignment by using the 21st century version of Cliff Notes: forums. I’m glad I can finally cross this one off my list.

Max’s Thoughts: This post is dedicated to Brian Hendricks, our film studies professor at UVic. Brian passed away not too long ago and he had an immense impact on both of our lives. It was in Brian’s class “The Writer in Film” that I first saw Barton Fink. So here’s to Brian Hendricks, the teacher who not only accepted my screenplay about a writer trying to write a screenplay based on a fictional book mentioned in Barton Fink in lieu of an essay, but who gave me an ‘A’. 

I’ll get to Barton Fink in a moment, but first I’m going to paraphrase two things Brian Hendricks said that will stick with me forever.

1) “You know more about movies and TV just by living in the 21st century than I did when I got my Masters in Film Studies back in the day”

2) “Just go out and make stuff.”

The first one is just a truth I hold to be self-evident and the second one is a philosophy I try to live my life by. Now, onto Barton Fink. But to talk about that, let’s talk about Miller’s Crossing. That’s one of my favourite movies mob movies ever, and it’s a part of the three-fer DVD, so this is an automatic KEEP IT even if I absolutely hated Barton Fink. 

But I don’t. Legend has it that Joel and Ethan Coen wrote this ode to writer’s block while suffering a crippling bout of writer’s block trying to finish Miller’s Crossing.  As a result, this is probably the world’s greatest piece of writing on writer’s block. It’s entirely self-indulgent, overly long, and mostly too slow, but for someone who identifies as a writer watching this movie, I’m like “THIS MOVIE IS ABOUT ME!”

Barton Fink is almost like a Stephen King book in that it’s about a writer, some people die and it takes place mostly in a hotel. Let’s start with Barton himself, played by John Turturro, in all of his early 90’s jittery-probably-insane glory.

Yo.

Yo.

Barton writes a play about fishmongers, about “the common man” and it’s a hit. So he gets hired to go to Hollywood and is immediately told to write a “wrestling picture” (which apparently used to be a thing). He meets up with W.P. Mayhew (Frasier’s dad John Mahoney playing a fictional version of William Faulkner, near as I can tell) for some help. Also there’s John Goodman as Charlie Meadows, an insurance salesman who, let me assure you, totally could tell you some stories. Really, not a lot happens that I can talk about without spoiling the ending. But when it all happens at the end, it happens SOOOO hard you guys.

Remember, this is a movie about a writer writing stuff.

In a movie about a writer trying to write some stuff.

There’s always been something about the little distractions Barton deals with trying to write – his peeling wallpaper, that damn mosquito, the noisy neighbours – that spoke to me. There’s also the point about his inability to write about anything except for that one thing. Even his wrestling picture is about fishmongers. He thinks he was put onto this earth to write about the common man, to give him a voice. But Barton does not know the common man. At least not the Barton we get to see. He sits holed up in dank rooms, being paid very fine 1940’s-money to write movies. The only people he interacts with are movie producers, hoity-toity NYC broadway types, and Charlie the Insurance Salesman (pictured above, going door-to-door).

Being this out of touch while lacking the self-awareness to realize it is the worst nightmare of Max the Writer. So this one hits home. Again: KEEP IT. 

Megan’s Thoughts: I post this entry in dedication to the late, great Brian Hendricks. It was his class I was supposed to watch this movie for. He was the kind of professor we all looked for at university – a wealth of knowledge, full of inspirational phrases and no fucks to give about your physical attendance if you could mentally attend in your assignments, discussions and creations. Of the two quotes Max paraphrased, the second is how I’ve lived my life since University, well into a time when I should maybe stop saying “stuff” and have a more precise idea of what I’m making but alas, I write and film and create based on my gut, and it will forever be “stuff,” and some other people enjoy my “stuff” and that feels good. So thank-you, Brian. You made me watch a lot of weird movies.

I both enjoyed and disliked Barton Fink. I liked it, because it sparked such a discussion with Max and I that I started to forget what the movie was “about” in the most basic sense of plot. I was lost in the metaphors and imagery and what it all MEANS, man. While Max believes the hotel represents Fink as a person, I believe it represents his mind. And the shoes outside all the hotel doors represent all the ideas Fink is not allowed to access while he is contracted to write this “wrestling picture” but still exist and live. We only ever see inside one room, his room, and the rest of the ideas are locked away. They’re active, as Fink’s subconscious (Chet, the bellhop, played by one of my all-time favourites: Steve Buscemi) continues to shine those shoes and fill their needs, but they are not interacted with.

I can’t talk much more about it without giving away the entire movie, so I’ll stop there on my representation rant.

But I disliked Barton Fink because oh man, at times, does it drag. I’m a Coen Brother’s fan. My mom and I quote Fargo in our common vernacular. I dressed as “The Dude” for Halloween. I almost bought cowboy boots after I saw True Grit. But I could feel the Co-Bros (you’re welcome for turning two remarkable filmmakers into a cutesie minimized word like I’m on The Hills)  sitting in that room with Fink, throwing ideas at the wall, and it felt like they just stuck a lot of ideas in one place. And while I’m all for an artistic shot to set the mood, I laughed out loud when we cut to waves crashing on a rock.

Waves

This seemed so out of place in a movie about writer’s block.

It seemed so ridiculous. I agree with Max that it is entirely self-indulgent, overly long and too slow. I’m glad I watched it, but I’m not sure I’ll ever watch this again. But I can’t bring myself to discard any Co-Bros, whose films spark discussion and ideas in the Russell/Sussman house. So I suppose, twist my arm about it, I’ll keep it.

Verdict: KEEP IT. 

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