Columbia Pictures via Everett Collection
It didn't hit me until Sarah Holcomb's topless scene that I was probably too young to be watching Caddyshack. And the reason it didn't hit me is because it wasn't like the other grown-up movies I would routinely dismiss after catching only quick glimpses on our living room television — this one was funny. At eight years old, I found something very special in the VHS copy of Harold Ramis' directorial debut which had come into my possession that evening in the mid '90s gratis of either my Saturday Night Live-loving father, or golf-obsessed uncle. It wasn't even the first time I had seen Caddyshack — I had at least caught most of it in parts — but it was this particular nighttime viewing that would solidify my lifelong favor of the cacophony at Bushwood. It was the first time a real movie made me laugh.
I would laugh at the red-faced exasperation of Ted Knight, who I knew from Mary Tyler Moore Show reruns (I had taken more quickly to adult sitcoms than movies, either because they were more conducive to my youthful attention span or because laugh tracks gave me helpful hints as to where the comedy was). I would laugh at the zany bravado of Rodney Dangerfield, who I knew primarily via impersonations by cartoon characters. But most of all, I cherished every second we spent with Bill Murray, slurring dopily out of the side of his mouth as he harassed the country club caddies and sought the pelt of a charmingly pesky gopher. I had no idea that adults could revel in this kind of silliness — these people were acting more like cartoons than human beings. And I loved it.
Warner Bros. via Everett Collection
Obviously, I didn't get most of the jokes. I adored Chevy Chase's deadpan swagger and rhythm, but a good deal of his dialogue flew over my head. Dangerfield's benign sexual cracks were gibberish to me. And as for the plot? To its credit or detriment (you decide), the film plays more like a series of tenuously connected hijinks than a coherent narrative. So it didn't really seem to matter that Danny Noonan's quest for a college scholarship skirted my eight-year-old attention. I was far too giddy over Al Czervik's cockeyed brass and Carl Spackler's maniacal mutterings to worry that I might be missing something carrying through. Again, it wasn't until stumbling upon a sex scene that it dawned on me that this might be considered entertainment for adults. How could I have missed so much? There was too much funny to fit anything else in!
In the 18 years since, I have watched Caddyshack more times than I can say, picking up on new layers of comedy with every revisit. In middle school, I upped the ante on my appreciation for the comic value in Judge Smails' perpetually ruffled feathers. In high school, Ty Webb's playful linguistics won my nerdy heart. And in college, I returned again to my love of that big-dreaming assistant greenskeeper, trading impressions with my roommate and fellow fan of all things Bill Murray. As my two decades wading back and forth among these performances have helped me realize, the movie is a menagerie of disparate types of comedy. Deadpan, slapstick, blue, highbrow, naturalistic, wacky, farcical, surreal. And somehow, all of it lands. One movie manages to deliver a winning satirical send-up of the moneyed class, an ultra-memorable Jaws parody about human excrement, and an offbeat conversation about the benefits of breeding one's own hybrid species of Bluegrass.
It works because Caddyshack seems to operate by one rule only: the rule of funny. Abiding not by genre, audience, or even its own original conceit (Caddyshack was originally only about the caddies, with Chase and Dangerfield's characters playing very minor roles), Caddyshack is able to regard humor alone in its execution. The result is something unusual. No, unprecedented. Hell, really damn weird. You can't credit a movie that features a love triangle, a pregnancy scare, a super-intelligent rodent, and an extended non sequitur chapter about a bishop losing his faith after being struck by lightning during a stormy golf game with a reverence to the rules of a specific reality. But Ramis seemed to understand that it was the cooperation of these entities that made them all so damn hilarious.
Warner Bros. via Everett Collection
He understood that the buttoned-up justice of the peace was hilarious because of how humorless he was, especially when at odds with a human joke book running amok on his golf course for no ostensible reason other than boredom. Another movie might have used Smails as a brick wall opposite the wiles of the bawdy Czervik, but Ramis found some of Caddyshack's best comedy in his aluminum straight man. He offered cool, collected Ty as a way to smirk knowingly at the absurdity of the goings on at Bushwood, but jumped delightedly into that same absurdity with the mentally harangued Daffy Duck that was Carl Spackler. Still, as profoundly effective as this equation might be, Caddyshack exists beyond the confines of any formula or mathematical law. Once again, there is only one rule to which Ramis seemed to have devoted himself with Caddyshack. And luckily, he understood "funny" enough to be able to pull this off.
It's the reason why I can find the movie as funny at 25 as I did at eight — this full, non-discriminating commitment to laughter. The devotion to the idea that humor itself is a genre, that a single audience isn't limited to the margins of any specific style of comedy. Ramis showcased this in each of his movies, but in Caddyshack most impressively. Few movies like it were being made back in 1980, and even fewer are now. So beholden to traditional comic beats and story structure, the industry is not likely to find itself trusting an anarchical, id-friendly movie like the one Ramis delivered back at the dawn of the '80s. But the beauty of Caddyshack is its ability to refresh its sense of humor with every viewing — to deliver a new sheath of comedy that you weren't paying attention to last time, because you were too affixed on a separate string of gags altogether. We can go back to Caddyshack every year, every five years, or every decade, finding ourselves laughing the most at a different character each time. The one guarantee: each time, thanks to the brilliant sensibilities of Ramis, we will find ourselves laughing.
So we've got that going for us. Which is nice.
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There is something particularly unnerving about demon possession. It's the idea of something you can't see or control creeping into your body and taking up residence eventually obliterating all you once were and turning you into nothing more than a sack of meat to be manipulated. Then there's also the shrouded ritual around exorcisms: the Latin chants the flesh-sizzling crucifixes and the burning Holy Water. As it turns out exorcism isn't just the domain of Catholics.
The myths and legends of the Jews aren't nearly as well known but their creepy dybbuk goes toe-to-toe with anything other world religions come up with. There are various interpretations of what a dybbuk is or where it comes from — is it a ghost a demon a soul of a sinner? — but in any case it's looking for a body to hang out in for a while. Especially according to the solemn Hasidic Jews in The Possession an innocent young person and even better a young girl.
The central idea in The Possession is that a fancy-looking wooden box bought at a garage sale was specifically created to house a dybbuk that was tormenting its previous owner. Unfortunately it caught the eye of young Emily (Natasha Calis) a sensitive artistic girl who persuades her freshly divorced dad Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan of Watchmen and Grey's Anatomy) to buy it for her. Never mind the odd carvings on it — that would be Hebrew — or how it's created without seams so it would be difficult to open or why it's an object of fascination for a young girl; Clyde is trying really hard to please his disaffected daughters and do the typical freshly divorced parent dance of trying to please them no matter the cost.
Soon enough the creepy voices calling to Emily from the box convince her to open it up; inside are even creepier personal objects that are just harbingers of what's to come for her her older sister Hannah (Madison Davenport) her mom Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) and even Stephanie's annoying new boyfriend Brett (Grant Show). Clyde and Stephanie squabble over things like pizza for dinner and try to convince each other and themselves that Emily's increasingly odd behavior is that of a troubled adolescent. It's not of course and eventually Clyde enlists the help of the son of a Hasidic rabbi a young man named Tzadok played by the former Hasidic reggae musician Matisyahu to help them perform an exorcism on Emily.
The Possession is not going to join the ranks of The Exorcist in the horror pantheon but it does do a remarkable job of making its characters intelligent and even occasionally droll and it offers up plenty of chills despite a PG-13 rating. Perhaps it's because of that rating that The Possession is so effective; the filmmakers are forced to make the benign scary. Giant moths and flying Torahs take the place of little Reagan violently masturbating with a crucifix in The Exorcist. Gagging and binging on food is also an indicator of Emily's possession — an interesting twist given the anxieties of becoming a woman a girl Emily's age would face. There is something inside her controlling her and she knows it and she is fighting it. The most impressive part of Calis's performance is how she communicates Emily's torment with a few simple tears rolling down her face as the dybbuk's control grows. The camerawork adds to the anxiety; one particularly scary scene uses ordinary glass kitchenware to great effect.
The Possession is a short 92 minutes and it does dawdle in places. It seems as though some of the scenes were juggled around to make the PG-13 cut; the moth infestation scene would have made more sense later in the movie. Some of the problems are solved too quickly or simply and yet it also takes a while for Clyde's character to get with it. Stephanie is a fairly bland character; she makes jewelry and yells at Clyde for not being present in their marriage a lot and then there's a thing with a restraining order that's pretty silly. Emily is occasionally dressed up like your typical horror movie spooky girl with shadowed eyes an over-powdered face and dark clothes; it's much more disturbing when she just looks like an ordinary though ill young girl. The scenes in the heavily Hasidic neighborhood in Brooklyn look oddly fake and while it's hard to think of who else could have played Tzadok an observant Hasidic Jew who is also an outsider willing to take risks the others will not Matisyahu is not a very good actor. Still the filmmakers should be commended for authenticity insofar as Matisyahu has studied and lived as a Hasidic Jew.
It would be cool if Lionsgate and Ghost House Pictures were to release the R-rated version of the movie on DVD. What the filmmakers have done within the confines of a PG-13 rating is creepy enough to make me curious to see the more adult version. The Possession is no horror superstar and its name is all too forgettable in a summer full of long-gestating horror movies quickly pushed out the door. It's entertaining enough and could even find a broader audience on DVD. Jeffrey Dean Morgan can read the Old Testament to me any time.
The God of Legion secular Hollywood’s latest Biblically-inspired action flick is old-school an angry spiteful Almighty with a penchant for Old Testament theatrics. Fed up with humanity’s decadent warmongering ways He’s decided to pull the plug on the whole crazy experiment and start over from scratch.
Fortunately for us the God of Legion is also a rather lazy fellow. Instead of doing the apocalyptic work himself and wiping us out with a giant flood which worked perfectly well last time He opts to delegate the task to His army of angels — a questionable strategy that starts to fall apart when the archangel charged with leading the planned extermination Michael (Paul Bettany) refuses to comply.
Michael who unlike his boss still harbors affection for our sorry species abandons his post and descends to earth where inside the swollen belly of Charlie (Adrianne Palicki) an unwed mother-to-be working as a waitress in an out-of-the-way diner sits humanity’s lone hope for survival. Why is this particular baby so important? Is it the one destined to lead us to victory over Skynet? Heaven knows — Legion reveals little details its script devoid of actual scripture. What is clear is that God’s celestial hitmen want the kid whacked before it’s born.
But Michael won’t let humanity fall without a fight. Armed with a Waco-sized arsenal of assault weapons he hunkers down with the diner’s patrons a largely superfluous collection of thinly-sketched caricatures from various demographic groups led by Dennis Quaid as the diner’s grizzled owner Tyrese Gibson as a hip-hop hustler and Lucas Black as a simple-minded country boy.
Together they mount a heroic final stand against hordes of angels who’ve taken possession of “weak-willed” humans turning kindly old grandmas and mild-mannered ice cream vendors into snarling ravenous foul-mouthed beasts. They descend upon the ramshackle diner in a series of full-frontal assaults commanded by the archangel Gabriel (Kevin Durand) the George Pickett of End of Days generals.
Beneath its superficial religious facade Legion is really just a run-of-the-mill zombie flick a Biblical I Am Legend. Bettany an actor accustomed to smaller dramatic roles in films like A Beautiful Mind and The Da Vinci Code looks perfectly at ease in his first major action role wielding machine guns and bowie knives with equal aplomb. Conversely first-time director Scott Stewart a former visual effects artist does little to prove himself worthy of such a promotion serving up some impressive CGI work but not much else worthy of note.
Bobby Garfield (David Morse) returns to his small hometown to attend the funeral of his childhood friend and remembers the fateful summer in 1960 when his whole world changed. The story flashes back to when 11-year-old Bobby (Anton Yelchin) and his best friends Carol (Mika Boorem) and Sully-John (Will Rothhaar) capture the pure joy of youthfulness. When a mysterious stranger named Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins) moves upstairs and starts to pay attention to Bobby the boy suddenly realizes what's truly missing from his life--the love of a parent. Bobby's mother Liz (Hope Davis) is embittered by the death of Bobby's father and shows little compassion for her son's growing needs. Ted fills a void with the boy opening his eyes to the world around him and helps Bobby come to terms with his real feelings for Carol--and his mother. But Ted also has some deep dark secrets of his own and Bobby tries hard to stop danger from reaching the old man.
The performances make the film especially in the genuine camaraderie of the kids. Yelchin Boorem and Rothhaar never deliver a false move with an easiness that makes us believe we are simply watching three 11-year-old children grow up together. Yelchin in particular is able to get right to the heart of this young boy who misses his father and clings to the only adult who will listen. And his scenes with Boorem simply break your heart. (Davis) does an admirable job playing a part none too sympathetic. She manages to show a woman whose been beaten down but who does truly love her son in her own way. Morse too is one of those character actors you can plug in any movie and get a performance worth noting. In Hearts you want to see more of him. Of course the film shines brightest when Hopkins is on the screen. It may not be an Oscar-caliber performance but the actor is unparalleled in bringing a character to life--showing the subtleties of an old man looking for some peace in his life.
If you are expecting the Stephen King novel you may be disappointed. Screenwriter William Goldman and director Scott Hicks (Shine) deftly extracted the King formula of telling a story through a child's eye and explaining how the relationships formed as a child shaped the adult later. Hicks did an amazing job with his young actors especially Yelchin and Boorem. But where the novel continued into a supernatural theme explaining Brautigan's fear of being captured by "low men in yellow coats" (a reference to King's The Dark Tower series) the movie downplayed the mystical elements instead giving real explanations for Brautigan's man-on-the-run. That was the one problem with Hearts--we needed more danger. Introducing men from another dimension may not have been the way to go but had there been more tension the film would have resonated more especially when Bobby risked his own safety to save Ted.