Final Thoughts: Faustian Tales

We’ve reached the end of another Match-Up, and it’s time to see which Faustian Tale stands above the rest. For the record, I will not be including that piece of cinematic excrement The Devil and Max Devlin, as that was not an official entry and was barely an official movie. Let’s start things off with…

FUNNIEST DEVIL

Even in a lot of the dramatic films, the Devil almost always seems to have a sense of humor, often as a way to make him initially likable to the Faust of the story. Walter Huston has some great snarks in The Devil and Daniel Webster, Jonathan Pryce’s Mr. Dark has a very dark enjoyment of screwing people over in Something Wicked This Way Comes, Al Pacino in The Devil’s Advocate sort of laughs at everything happening around him, and Tom Waits’ dry sensibility in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus makes a perfect contrast to Christopher Plummer’s ultra-serious title character. Unsurprisingly, the two funniest come from the respective Bedazzled films. While Liz Hurley has some very funny lines and really should have been used more, the funniest unquestionably is Peter Cook in the original.

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Cook’s dry delivery is perfect, because it’s sort of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it. He doesn’t draw attention to himself in a “This is funny” kind of way, but it just comes off like he is telling you about his day. It’s a kind of humor that is really not done much today, but when done well, it’s hilarious.

BEST SCORE

Since a lot of these films have at least a few horror elements, they will often use creepy atmospheric scores to set the tone. James Horner’s score for Something Wicked This Way Comes gives off the film’s creepy carnival vibe from the get-go, although I have to admit I’m partial to Georges Delerue’s rejected opening theme even more. James Newton Howard’s score makes the tense scenes in The Devil’s Advocate even tenser, and Ry Cooder’s bluesy cues help gives Crossroads some life. However, it’s Angel Heart‘s unsettling score that perfectly complements the film.

If there’s one word to describe the mood Angel Heart conveys, it’s seedy. From the rundown buildings to the horrifying religious aspects, everything makes you uncomfortable, and Trevor Jones’ score is no exception. That saxophone theme prepares you perfectly for what is ahead.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

While the main conflict usually lies between the Faust character and the Devil, plenty of these films have incredibly colorful supporting casts as well. Heath Ledger and Andrew Garfield are both great in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, and Verne Troyer is even better as Parnassus’ voice of reason. As much as I dislike The Ninth Gate, I’m partial to Jack Taylor’s portrayal of Victor Fargas, a book collector who’s in way over his head. Jeffrey Jones builds a tragically flawed character with Eddie Barzoon in The Devil’s Advocate, but it eventually comes down to three spectacular supporting characters.

It’s such a close call between Stocker Fontelieu’s chilling scene as Ethan Krusemark in Angel Heart, Edward Arnold’s commanding performance as Daniel Webster in The Devil and Daniel Webster, and Jason Robards’ heart-wrenching turn as Charles Halloway in Something Wicked This Way Comes. Ultimately though, I have to give it to Robards.

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He just brings such incredible gravitas to his scenes, grounding a somewhat scatterbrained story. We care about every word he says, and we know what he’s thinking even when he doesn’t say it. The older father with a young son isn’t explored much, but it’s done so well here that it probably doesn’t need to be again.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Unfortunately, it seems easy for filmmaker’s to resort to making actresses in these films a love interest whose life is negatively affected thanks to the lead. While I like Anne Shirley in The Devil and Daniel Webster and Camilla Horn in Faust, they rarely break out of this. Lily Cole pours all the needed emotion into every scene in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, and we really are convinced she is the daughter of a 1000-year-old man. Lisa Bonet is believable as voodoo priestess Epiphany Proudfoot in Angel Heart, but I’ll be honest that I do see some of the criticism that her character mainly exists to do voodoo stuff, have sex with Mickey Rourke, and get murdered. (For what it’s worth, the character is much more complex in the book Falling Angel). In spite of all of these, the winner in this category is Charlize Theron in The Devil’s Advocate.

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Mary Ann Lomax seems to be the one character in this film that everyone likes. If Pacino’s Devil is too over-the-top and Keanu’s Kevin Lomax is too, well, Keanu for you, observe Theron in her first movie. She portrays a mental breakdown terrifyingly, and she makes us care not only about herself, but about her husband, which we know full well Keanu Reeves isn’t doing.

BEST DEVIL SPEECH

If there’s one thing these movies teach us, it’s that the Devil loves to monologue. Both Bedazzled Devils spit out a lot of information fast, often so as not to focus too much on the giving up the soul thing. There’s that great scene in Something Wicked This Way Comes where Mr. Dark offers Charles his youth back and rips pages out of a book for each year, and Al Pacino yuks it up wonderfully in his climactic rant/speech at the end of The Devil’s Advocate. There’s one better though, and that’s the chilling “I’m an American” speech from The Devil and Daniel Webster.

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Huston’s slick delivery mixed with the brief but punchy words make this stick with you even more than Pacino’s famous speech. The Devil takes pride in America’s horrible activities, and he even calls himself more of an American than Webster.

BEST AND WORST FAUST

It’s easy to make the lead character boring in a story like this, and unfortunately a lot of movies do. Keanu Reeves has very little to offer in The Devil’s Advocate, and it especially shows in his climactic scene with Pacino. As great as The Devil and Daniel Webster is, James Craig plays the character as too dumb. Ralph Macchio does nothing in Crossroads that he didn’t do first in The Karate Kid, and I frankly have no clue what Johnny Depp was doing in The Ninth Gate. There’s no question who the worst is though—that Smash Mouth of acting, Brendan Fraser.

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I don’t want to talk about him anymore. He’s done enough harm.

Thankfully, there are a few that do stand out. Gösta Ekman carries Faust just fine, and although he’s not spectacular, he gets the job done. Dudley Moore is enjoyable as Stanley Moon in Bedazzled, and he obviously has great chemistry with Peter Cook. Christopher Plummer almost takes it for his performance as the titular Doctor Parnassus, but Mickey Rourke in Angel Heart is flawless.

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Heck, it’s even a spoiler to call him the Faust of the story, but the scene where he realizes the truth is one of the best-acted scenes in any movie. It’s a story that could easily not work, but his performance totally makes you believe it.

BEST AND WORST DEVIL

In contrast to the Fausts, it seems that the actors playing the Devil almost always go all-in on their performances. For the bad ones, I don’t care for De Niro’s performance in Angel Heart, as it’s far too over-the-top, but his look is rightfully creepy. Although it’s not incredibly clear if The Girl in The Ninth Gate is the Devil, that definitely takes it for worst.

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Even if the Devil is unseen, it’s an incredibly inconsistent character. Apparently the Devil wrote a book, but the way to follow the instructions in said book makes no sense.

Now for the best, and there are a lot. Emil Jannings has some great scenes in Faust as the classic Mephisto, Jonathan Pryce plays a great slick carny in Something Wicked This Way Comes, and the Devils in both Bedazzled films elevate the material, as does Robert Judd in the otherwise forgettable Crossroads. Looking back, you’ll see I gave perfect scores to both Pacino in The Devil’s Advocate and Huston in The Devil and Daniel Webster, so now I have to make a tough choice. Both are the perfect Devils for their time and place, one a larger-than-life ambitious lawyer and the other a tricky huckster. I love how Pacino’s John Milton seems mostly amoral at first but is gradually revealed as pure evil, but Huston’s Mr. Scratch is more of a universal Devil, which is why he gets the point.

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His voice is like that little whisper-in-your-ear that is a constant perception of the Devil throughout the ages. It’s the most timeless portrayal while still being appropriate for its setting.

BEST STORY

A lot of these films have a basic story in play of “Guy sells his soul, things are good at first but quickly get bad” or in some cases, they get bad right away. Something Wicked This Way Comes throws a bunch of these at us, and while I enjoy the subplots, we needed more time for them to work fully. Similarly, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus could have worked a lot better if Heath Ledger had lived, but the story still works. I enjoy the legal drama Grisham-esque aspects of The Devil’s Advocate, but the mystery of Angel Heart is better.

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The story unravels layer-by-layer to a horrifying truth that is finally revealed at the end. Each character teaches us something new about the mysterious Johnny Favorite, and the methods in which they die do too.

BEST AND WORST SCENE

A boring movie like Crossroads doesn’t really have a terrible scene that stands out, but it’s rather just kind of bad all-around. It’s a tough call between the disgusting use of brownface in Bedazzled and the ending of The Ninth Gate, but it ultimately comes down to which made me want to punch my screen more. I knew from a few minutes in that Bedazzled would be dumb, and while the scene was still awful, it wasn’t the biggest shock. The Ninth Gate was clearly leading up to something, and when the floor is pulled out from under us, it’s maddening.

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There are a bunch of great scenes competing here, from Mephisto running around the town at night screaming bloody murder in Faust to any of Jason Robard’s scenes in Something Wicked This Way Comes. The scene in The Devil’s Advocate where Kevin talks with Mitch Weaver from the Justice Department is incredibly tense and adds to the craziness of the climax, and of course the climactic scene is great too. The scenes with the nuns in the original Bedazzled are downright hilarious, and the trial of the damned in The Devil and Daniel Webster is an incredibly clever way to wrap things up. The scene where Doctor Parnassus is stuck is his titular imaginiraium is the best part of that movie, but I have to give it to the “I know who I am” scene from Angel Heart.

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This scene shows everything Rourke is made of, and he goes through an entire range of emotion in just a few minutes. When he accepts his fate, it’s heartbreaking.

Let’s see where that puts us for the final score.

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BEST OVERALL FILM

Seven of these movies are really worth checking out (Faust and Parnassus didn’t score points, but they’re enjoyable), but Angel Heart is fresh, exciting, scary, thought-provoking, and brilliantly acted.

WINNER

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Next week, I’ll be staring the next Match-Up. Thanks for reading!

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The Devil and Max Devlin

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  • Year: 1981
  • Director: Steven Hilliard Stern
  • Starring: Elliott Gould, Bill Cosby, Susan Anspach

As I mentioned in my review of Something Wicked This Way Comes, Disney was trying a lot of new things in the 1980s, including their first PG-rated animated film (The Black Cauldron), their first horror film (The Watcher in the Woods), and two deal-with-the-devil movies. This eventually led to the creation of Touchstone Pictures, which is for the best, because can you imagine Disney bringing you Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo?

Let’s go ahead and get the elephant in the room out of the way—that’s Elliott Gould in the lead role, not George Segal. I know, they’re really easy to get confused. One played Sam Spade in a 1970s film and the other played Phillip Marlowe, which only adds to the confusion. Alright, but really, yes this film features Bill Cosby as the Devil, which is horrifyingly accurate casting today but must have seemed a very strange choice in 1981.

The Faust of this story is Max Devlin (Elliott Gould), a tenement landlord who we’re supposed to hate, because he has rules I guess. He doesn’t allow children or pets, but it’s clearly stated that he hasn’t changed this policy to screw anyone over. He is clearly a bit stingy towards repairs and bug extermination, but this doesn’t make him a villain. He chases a tenant down the street who owes two months’ rent, trips over an old lady’s cane, gets hit by a bus and dies.

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From Disney, just in case you forgot.

Max descends into the depths of hell, the design of which clearly cost every penny of the film’s budget.

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H.P. Lovecraft called. He wants his everything back.

Seriously, though, someone went all out designing the look of that shot above which is shown for only a few seconds. Upon arriving, Max meets Barney Satin (Bill Cosby), the souls manager, as well as the rest of the business team of Hell, because it was the ’80s and someone thought this was clever. Max has his sins read to him, and he is damned to level 4. Wait, did someone on the staff of this movie read Dante? In the screenwriter’s defense, Dante’s fourth circle of hell in Inferno was greed, and that would be Max’s biggest sin.

Barney tells Max that if he can corrupt the souls of three innocent young people in a period of two months, he will be…well we’re not really told. Will Max simply get to live out his natural life on earth and still go to Hell or will his soul actually be redeemed? Obviously, the first one makes more sense, but Barney seems to imply it’s the second. Either way, Max agrees to do it. That’s right, in the first ten minutes of this film, our lead character has agreed to let two children and one young adult sign their souls over to the Devil.

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From Disney

Barney checks in with Max at various times throughout the film, but of course Max is the only one who see him. It’s such an old joke, and it doesn’t lead to one funny moment. Cosby is clearly bored throughout the entire film, and he delivers the lines in a strange way that sounds like he recorded each word individually and they were then shuffled in a random order. The whole performance reeks of contractual obligation.

Max is given magical powers that whenever he looks at someone he can give them whatever talent he wants. His three targets are Stella Summers (Julie Budd), a 19-year-old aspiring singer, Nerve Nordlinger (David Knell), a nerdy high school student who wants to be a motocross champion, and Toby Hart (Adam Rich), a young boy who wants someone to marry his widowed mother. Oh goody, three cliches, I’m sure nothing could go wrong.

I have to give credit to Julie Budd, because she is desperately trying to make this a good movie. Her song “Any Fool Can See” is actually quite nice, and even though it’s played multiple times throughout the movie, I don’t get tired of it. Her characters hits all the expected beats, but she’s putting her heart into it, and the film’s quality is elevated whenever she’s on screen.

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Is there an implicit joke in that she looks like Barbra Streisand? Do people even still remember that Barbra Streisand was married to Elliott Gould in the ’60s?

Nerve Nordlinger’s character gets by far the least focus of the three, probably because there’s just so little to do with it. He wants to be a motocross champ, he becomes one, great. David Knell tries his best to play both sides of the character, and he’s fine, but it’s hard to make anything interesting out of this character.

I hate to say this kind of thing about child actors, but Toby Hart is an unbearable character. I’m sure actor Adam Rich is doing exactly what the filmmakers wanted, but this is the reason people don’t like kid performances. His whole arc is “I want a dad” and trying to convince his mom (Susan Ansbach) to marry Max.

Sure, it was 35 years ago, but didn’t someone on set realize how unintentionally creepy Max Devlin is? I’m talking in addition to the fact that he’s corrupting children’s souls. He first meets Stella in a women’s bathroom, but this is just because he is trying out his new teleportation powers (yeah, he has those too), and it doesn’t go so well. At least she is rightfully creeped out by this, but she still lets him be her manager later, so it’s a bit of a mixed message. He first meets Nerve by picking him up at school and saying he’ll help him fulfill his dream. Yes, Disney, have your kid character get picked up by a stranger at school. No one could ever take that the wrong way. Worst of all, he first meets Toby at a fair and calls himself his Uncle Max. Seriously.

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From Disney

Eventually, one way or another, Max gets all three targets to sign a contract. Barney tells him that instead of letting the three live out their natural lives as he originally promised, he needs them now. Max of course says it isn’t fair, to which Barney says “I lied.” Max goes home to burn the contracts, but Barney tries to scare by revealing his true self.

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It’s the funniest scene in the movie. Look, I think it’s supposed to be scary, but it’s hilarious. The stuttering line delivery and stupid looking costume (is he wearing lace pants?) are dead on arrival. Max burns the contracts anyway, and thankfully that’s the last we see of Barney.

Max’s soul is redeemed, because he committed a selfless act, even though he still agreed to corrupt the souls of children at the beginning! What if in the opening he had said he wouldn’t do it? Would his soul have been redeemed then, too, or is it only because he learned something now? He has no arc, but simply goes from being a bad guy to a guy who off-and-on likes the people he’s trying to corrupt to a guy who’s redeemed.

As much as I hate to compare this movie to something competent, it reminded me a lot of one of the greatest episodes of The Twilight Zone—”One for the Angels.” The episode concerns Lou Bookman (Ed Wynn), a salesman who all the kids love (it might not work today, but it’s never creepy here). Death (Murray Hamilton) comes for Lou, who says he doesn’t want to die until he does the greatest pitch ever. Thinking he’s found a loophole, he agrees to never do the pitch, but death comes for a little girl in Lou’s building. Lou sacrifices himself and distracts Death with his greatest pitch ever. He accepts his fate and Death tells him he made it to heaven.

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It’s a half hour episode of television and yet the character arc is much more pronounced than this mess. Lou goes from being a bit self-centered to selfless and gives up his own life to save a child. Max, on the other hand, agrees to corrupt children, but changes his mind when he learns they will die now. Either Max doesn’t believe in eternity, which wouldn’t make sense because he’s seen Hell, or it’s poor writing.

I’ll admit that there’s one thing I did not expect this movie to be—lazy. Elliott Gould plays the part like he’s reading the lines for the first time and putting a question mark at the end of them. Cosby as mentioned above is clearly bored and wants to be anywhere else. The love story between Max and Toby’s mother has zero chemistry, and is so forced it’s unpleasant. Max has way more chemistry with Stella, which they could have easily made a few years older (the actress was in her mid-to-late 20s) and put them together instead. The scenes are choppy and a lot could be played in any random order and it wouldn’t matter. Worst of all, it’s not funny. This feels like a comedy where someone wrote a set-up but forgot to actually write any jokes. For example, when Stella becomes famous, Max is going to the Grammys and Barney shows up the back of the limo and says he’s never been to the Grammys before. How do you not make a joke out of that? It’s the perfect set-up! Someone should have had their comedy license revoked for not running with that.

Do I have to give this thing a final score?

Story (5/20 Points)

It’s run-of-the-mill without any real originality or inspiration. The character arcs are incredibly predictable without any shred of fun.

Faust (6/20 Points)

Gould’s acting is incredibly wooden throughout the whole thing. He’s not believable as a slum landlord and he’s not believable as a redeemed good man. His scenes with Stella are at least watchable.

Devil (2/20 Points)

This is a terrible performance. When an actor doesn’t want to be in a movie this badly, it shows. He’s not funny or scary, and the line delivery is really strange.

Supporting Cast (9/20 Points)

Julie Budd is really good as Stella, making something out of mostly nothing. David Knell doesn’t really get a chance to do a lot as he’s very much sidelined, but he’s fine.

Experience (9/20 Points)

“Any Fool Can See” is a very good song that belongs in a much better movie, and Stella’s second song “Roses and Rainbows” is perfectly fine. The Lovecraftian design of Hell is really creative, but the editing, music, and jokes are all lazy.

FINAL SCORE: 31%

If it strikes you as a bizarre anomaly, you might be glad you checked it out, but there’s no other real reason to watch this movie. It’s crap.

Next week, I’ll wrap up with some final thoughts on Faustian films.

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The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

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  • Year: 2009
  • Director: Terry Gilliam
  • Starring: Christopher Plummer, Heath Ledger, Lily Cole

Today’s movie is less known as a “Deal with the Devil” movie or even a Terry Gilliam movie than it is as “That movie Heath Ledger died while making.” Ledger died 1/3 of the way through filming and was replaced in various scenes with Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell. Thankfully, the film’s magical and supernatural elements allow for these kind of changes to be worked into the story, and it’s incredible in and of itself that the film was finished. That said, I have to look at it for what it is, so let’s take a look at our final Faustian film and your spellcheck’s worst nightmare The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) is a 1000-year-old man who runs a middle ages-esque traveling magical theatre show. Around a millennium ago, Parnassus was a monk of an ambiguous religion that revolved around telling stories to keep the world going. One day, the Devil (Tom Waits), calling himself Mr. Nick, came in and challenged him, and the two have been making deals ever since. They will often compete for who can gain more souls first, and this is how Parnassus gained immortality.

Parnassus and the Devil win souls when someone enters the titular imaginarium, which as its name suggests, shows someone the inner workings of their imagination. In the opening scene, an alcoholic (Richard Riddell), who interestingly looks a bit like Terry Gilliam, goes into the imaginarium.

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Eventually, he has to choose between climbing twelve enormous steps (literally) or walking into a sleazy bar for a drink.

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The booming voice of Parnassus encourages him to take the hard road to sobriety, but he takes the easy way out and walks into Mr. Nick’s bar. It blows up and Parnassus mourns losing another soul to Nick.

It is revealed that in one of his bets, Parnassus lost his own daughter Valentina (Lily Cole) to the Devil, as soon as she turned 16. In one final attempt to overturn this, he makes one more bet with the always-game Devil—the first to five souls gets Valentina. With the help of Percy (Verne Troyer), Anton (Andrew Garfield), Valentina herself, and the newly acquired Tony (Heath Ledger), Parnassus tries to turn people to his side.

Tony’s origins are mysterious, as he’s found hanging from a bridge not even remembering his own name. He seems to be the one who just might be the savior for the troupe, trying to bring it into the 20th century (or at least the 16th or 17th). Surely enough, it works, and he quickly wins four women outside a shopping center.

However, Mr. Nick is using all the tricks in his book and brings in four Russian gangsters who are after Tony. They follow Tony into the imaginarium where Parnassus tries to recruit them as police officers, but the Devil wins them and evens up the score.

The images that the imaginarium conjures up are incredibly unique every time, and it’s all in the vein of Gilliam’s unique style. They’re obviously CGI, but since we’re just seeing someone’s imagination, that’s fine.

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In such a weird and bizarre story, the characters have to be grounded, and thankfully they are, and ultimately that’s the reason Parnassus works. Obviously, Heath Ledger is great, and the three actors brought in to replace him are all respectful and enjoyable. I really enjoy Verne Troyer as Parnassus’ loyal assistant, and Andrew Garfield’s Anton could simply have been a cliched boy in love with a girl, but Garfield makes him interesting. Most of all, the movie’s heart comes from the relationship between Valentina and Parnassus himself. Christopher Plummer has to pull off a character who is 1000 years old, and yet he’s so good that I totally buy it. You literally see centuries of world weariness in his face. He’s an ancient man with a teenage daughter, and yet their relationship is totally believable and honest. Since the whole film is basically about storytelling, the actor playing Parnassus better be a good storyteller, and of course Plummer is.

Parnassus is an interesting Faust in that he is constantly making bets with the Devil. It’s not just a one-and-done deal, and they’ve even developed a bizarre camaraderie with each other. He also is smart enough to never put his own soul on the line. Tom Waits’ Mr. Nick is definitely playing up the trickster aspects of the Devil, somewhat in the conman vein of Walter Huston’s Scratch in The Devil and Daniel Webster.

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Most interesting of all, the Devil himself is disgusted with Tony’s true self. As Tony goes into the imaginarium with Valentina, claiming he’ll willingly be the last soul, he finds himself at a fundraiser. It is soon revealed, though, that Tony is a fraud who has been selling children’s organs on the black market. Spiteful at her father and Tony, Valentina willingly gives herself to the Devil. The Devil, not happy at the game ending this way, offers Parnassus his daughter back if he gets someone to kill Tony.

Tony is chased to a gallows yet again, where is he hung and killed this time. Valentina is released back into the real world, but the Devil leaves Parnassus in the imaginarium. For years, he wanders alone and eventually comes upon his own decision to choose between the “High Road” and the “Low Road.” Exhausted, he collapses and prays, and is transported back to the real world. He sees Valentina and Anton very happy with a daughter of their own. He wants to go in, but is stopped by Percy, with whom he starts an imaginarium puppet show. The Devil tries to tempt him again, but Parnassus finally puts an end to it.

The story is perhaps a bit muddled up until this point, but the ending is incredibly poignant. I love that the true crossroads for Parnassus is back in the real world, first with his daughter and then with the Devil one last time. He’s a 1000-year-old man, but he has still grown as a character.

I’m not sure the stuff with Tony being villainous completely lands, and it perhaps would have been a little clearer had Ledger lived, but it still serves it purpose. The stuff that is good in this film still works. It’s a really bizarre film at first, and it’s surreal seeing this medieval troupe traveling through modern day Britain, but once you really let it just take over in its own weird way, it’s incredibly effective. It’s not Terry Gilliam’s most critically acclaimed film (Brazil), his most popular (Monty Python and the Holy Grail), his biggest cult classic (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) or even my personal favorite (12 Monkeys), but it is a really, really good film, arguably even a great one. Plus, it’s a touching tribute to a great actor who was taken from us far too soon. Let’s check out the final score.

Story (15/20 Points)

It’s pretty complex and if it weren’t for the sad unforeseen circumstances, maybe a few things could have been improved. However, almost every character has an arc that works, and we really do care about everyone that we should, Parnassus and Valentina in particular. The ending especially is particularly touching.

Faust (18/20 Points)

Playing a 1000-year-old man sounds like a joke, but Plummer completely makes it work. At first, it’s a little ambiguous who the main character is, but by the end, it is his choice that is the most important.

Devil (14/20 Points)

Tom Waits is unquestionably having a good time as Mr. Nick, and although his character is fairly one-note, it’s a note that works. The trickster Devil is just fine in a movie like this.

Supporting Cast (17/20 Points)

There isn’t a huge cast, but the main characters are all solid. Even Anton, who could have easily been a boring character, is given depths by a lot of the scenes Andrew Garfield improvised. Verne Troyer is also thoroughly enjoyable as Percy, Parnassus’ truest friend.

Experience (16/20 Points)

It’s goofy and weird and all over the place, and it’s pure Gilliam. It does take a little bit to get sucked into, but once you are, you’ll love it. There’s a particular scene in the imaginarium where the world is falling apart like puzzle pieces that could only work in a film like this.

FINAL SCORE: 80%

It’s definitely not for everyone, but it’s a unique morality tale with some visually breathtaking sequences. If you can’t stand other Gilliam films, you probably aren’t going to love it, but if you do, it’s delightfully weird in all the right ways. It’s a great way to finish this match-up…

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Did you read section 42b of the Faustian films contract?
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Well that’s oddly specific.

Ugh. Next week it’s my review of perhaps Disney’s strangest choice in history, 1981’s The Devil and Max Devlin.

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Bedazzled (2000)

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  • Year: 2000
  • Director: Harold Ramis
  • Starring: Brendan Fraser, Elizabeth Hurley, Frances O’ Connor

In the world of 2016 where basically every movie in history is being remade, it’s easy to write off all remakes as garbage. Did anyone really ask for a remake of Cabin Fever or Memento, movies that came out in the 2000s? That said, if we take a look back to the 1980s with movies like The Thing and The Fly, we have solid proof that remakes can be done well.

So what kind of movie deserves a remake? Obviously not perfect movies, because you’re clearly not going to improve them, and obviously not terrible movies, because there’s nothing redeemable in them. It has to be a movie that either presented interesting ideas but didn’t maximize on its potential, or a movie that was great in its time but wouldn’t be hurt by a modernization. The latter serves as the reason for a Bedazzled remake.

As I said in my review of the original Bedazzled, it’s a hilarious movie, but definitely a movie of its time. It oozes late 60’s in its scenarios while still being timeless in its humor and ideas. Plus, Bedazzled 2000 was directed by Harold Ramis, co-writer of Ghosbusters and co-writer and director of Groundhog Day. This man knew his supernatural comedy.

The Metamucil of acting Brendan Fraser plays Elliot Richards, a hapless loser who no one likes. He tries constantly to be cool and is completely oblivious to the fact that his co-workers hate him. He’s not the pitiable loser Dudley Moore played in the original, but rather the kind that doesn’t exist. Elliot is so obnoxious that it’s hard to feel bad for him. Fraser’s performance is all caricature and no heart at all. Look, it’s a comedy and I understand we’re going for a bit over-the-top, but five minutes in, I wanted to turn this thing off. It’s cringe comedy of the worst kind.

Not surprisingly, Elliot is in love with his beautiful co-worker Alison (Frances O’ Connor) but cannot get up the nerve to talk to her. This is when he meets the Devil (Elizabeth Hurley), who is just as open about her identity as Peter Cook was in the original. Thankfully, she also has a similar sense of humor, although hers is a bit more insulting while Peter Cook’s was more on the dry side. When Elliot says he can’t give away his soul, she mocks “What are you, James Brown?” Once again, the funniest moments come not from the sketches, but from the Devil’s banter.

Elliot agrees to sell his soul for seven wishes, and his first is that he is rich, powerful, and married to Alison.

jeremy
Should have specified “Rich, powerful, married to Alison, not Ron Jeremy.”

Oh no. Comedy from the 2000s, you didn’t. You didn’t just use brownface to make a white actor look Hispanic.

Yes, the Devil turns Elliot into a Colombian drug lord. But, but, they’re going to explain it, right? Elliot will say “You know, that was kind of racist,” and the Devil will reply “Oh how I miss the old days.” But they don’t! It’s just a racist stereotype. This was 2000! Harold Ramis, who told you this was a good idea? A similar wish was made in the original film, but you know what? It wasn’t racist. He was made rich and his wife cheated on him, just like this, but it didn’t use brownface.

If you still care by this point, the Devil and Elliot snoop through Alison’s room and read her diary to see what she likes in a guy. Of course, no one can see them, because she’s the Devil and all. Elliot also sneaks a peek at her in the shower, because he wasn’t unsympathetic enough yet. Somehow, Bedazzled is still trying to pass off Elliot as a likable guy. Again, this was made 16 years ago.

Elliot’s second wish is to be the most emotionally sensitive man alive, and I’m sure this won’t result in a stereotype.

senstive

Right, because to be sensitive, you have to be a wimp who’s constantly crying and is uncomfortable with physical love. Once again, if this was playing with stereotypes, that would be fine. Instead, it’s a freaking love letter to stereotypes that died out decades ago. It’s uncomfortable to think of anyone approving this kind of thing being played so straight. I honestly feel like this script was written by thirteen-year old boys. That is clearly the only audience who will laugh at this.

If you’re still watching by the third wish, you win a prize.

brendan tri
Unfortunately, it’s this.

Elliot then wishes to become a basketball player, because how could that possibly go wrong? Okay, I get it, this is the equivalent of the rock star wish in the original, right? It’s about being someone who’s really popular for a short while, but whose star power fades quickly.

NOPE. What’s wrong with being a basketball player? He’s stupid. Get it? Because professional athletes are stupid and say “110%” a lot in interviews. In this bit, Alison is a sportswriter who is interested in him, but then she sees his small penis. That was painful to write. It’s not clever or presented humorously, but rather just “He’s dumb and has a small penis.” She then walks away, having no interest at all.

bball
And he looks more like a professional wrestler than a basketball player for some reason.

In the 1967 film, the Devil managed to slip his way into every scenario, often as an important character. Elizabeth Hurley’s Devil cameos in a few, but she is very underused. She’s just a cheerleader in this one, and she just walks by and interrupts Elliot’s date in another.

Wish four is to be intelligent and suave, so the Devil makes him gay. You know what? This one actually feels like something out of the original. Elliot doesn’t realize anything’s wrong right away, and he’s enjoying this new reality. It’s actually not playing off a stereotype, but merely a hitch in his wish… and that’s all undone when we meet his partner, who is the most standard gay stereotype in the book. So let’s check another potential audience group off the list of people who could enjoy this film. Moving on to wish five…

wish
I wish that I could make a movie with Sandra Bullock… and I wish it would win Best Picture.
hurley
Now darling, that will cost you at least two wishes. It takes the work of two Devils.
crash
And the Oscar goes to… Crash.
fallback
Finally, a wish with no fallout.
ten
Oh, just wait ten years.

With only three wishes to go, Elliot decides to switch things up and make a wish that’s noble. He wishes to be President of the United States.

lincoln

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was more respectful to historical figures than this. This bit could have worked if care and humor were put into it, but it’s just “Get it? You’re Lincoln on the night he got shot.” That’s the whole joke.

Just like in the original, the Devil tells him that his original test wish actually counted as one of his wishes. Having only one wish left, Elliot starts to look for a way out. He talks to a priest (Bryan Doyle-Murray, because Bill wasn’t helping Ramis out on this one), who has him arrested when he tries to explain his situation. He’s thrown in jail on a drunken disorderly without any kind of testing, because that’s how arrests work.

In jail, he meets God (Gabriel Casseus) who tells him that he can’t sell his soul, because it doesn’t belong to him anyway. Alright, so they don’t say his cellmate is God yet, but it’s such an obvious set up for a reveal later. This portrayal is such a painful attempt at a cool, hip God that it feels like something out a direct-to-video Christian movie. I get that having God be an actual character is a lot harder and a lot riskier than making Satan a character, but why can’t He be funny? It’s a comedy, right?

Elliot tries to get out of the contract by not making a seventh wish, but the Devil threatens him with Hell if he doesn’t make one. He wishes for Alison to have a happy life, and since this is a selfless wish, it undoes the contract. So which one is it? Was it possible for him to lose his soul or was it never on the line to begin with? I don’t see how it can be both. Another read through of the script could have probably fixed this. It’s just lazy.

Brendan Fraser gets his soul back and promises not to sell it again until he makes Furry Vengeance (It’s a real movie, look it up). He goes up to Alison, now confident to approach her, and asks her out. She is now seeing someone per his wish, but he soon meets Nicole, a lookalike who shares more of his interests. For all the dumb moments in this movie, I’m really glad he doesn’t end up together with Alison, because they clearly don’t have anything in common. Elliot passes God and the Devil playing chess, which I normally would assume is a shout-out to The Seventh Seal, but is probably just a coincidence knowing the rest of the movie.

chess
Remember that scene in Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey? What if it was chess instead?

Wow. I thought The Ninth Gate was bad. Most of the best moments in Bedazzled 2000 are direct shout-outs to the original, like the Devil’s dogs being named Dudley and Peter or telling Elliot the soul is like an appendix. Elizabeth Hurley is very funny when given the opportunity, but as it goes on, it feels like they wanted to capitalize on her sexiness and downplay the humor, which is really a shame. Fraser is unbearable to watch in most of these sketches, and his character is so unlikable that we can’t sympathize with him. The supporting cast is mostly just his ragtag team of obnoxious co-workers (Orlando Jones, Paul Adelstein, Toby Huss) who appear in the various wishes, and Alison, who exists mainly just as the object of his affection.

Let’s get to the final score before I start wondering if I can dock it into the negatives.

Story (6/20 Points)

I mean, it’s the original Bedazzled story, but it’s not even half as good. It just kind of drags along for a while, caring less and less as it goes on. A modern-day remake had a lot of potential for interesting set-ups, but there just aren’t many. It also really can’t decide what the heck it is trying to say about souls and good and evil.

Faust (2/20 Points)

Brendan Fraser’s Elliot is the kind of loser who the Devil would try to tempt, but he’s such a caricature that we don’t feel anything for him. He’s also incredibly obnoxious, which doesn’t completely go along with the “Never change anything about yourself” message.

Devil (13/20 Points)

Elizabeth Hurley has incredible comedic timing, and perhaps with someone actually funny playing Elliot, she would have had more of a chance to show it off. She has her moments still though, meaning that oddly enough, the only redeeming factor in this movie is the Devil.

Supporting Cast (4/20 Points)

I don’t think I got a laugh out of one of them. I thought the idea of his co-workers constantly appearing the sketches was clever, but it doesn’t go anywhere. Also, this makes Bedazzled the second 2000s remake of a 1960s British film where Orlando Jones served no purpose.

Experience (1/20 Points)

This is an unpleasant film to watch. A few of the lines are funny, but these stereotypes are disgusting. Like I said, if the Devil had pointed out that she works in these caricatures, it would have been better, but instead they’re played straight. Seriously, who let brownface go in 2000? Seriously?

FINAL SCORE: 26%

Well, that means for the second week in a row, a new movie has taken the bottom spot. The only empathy Bedazzled makes me feel is for Elizabeth Hurley, who deserved a much better movie around her. She easily could have been one of the great movie Devils, and is instead put out of focus so Brendan Fraser can have his fifteen minutes. We all expected more from Harold Ramis.

Next week, it’s our tenth and final Faustian film as I review Terry Gilliam’s 2009 film The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

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