Villains for Hire

Here are a few things I’ve watched recently and wanted to review, all combined into one post.

Big Fan – Patton Oswalt plays a guy from Staten Island who’s a major fan of the New York Giants, and spends most of his time writing trash talk toward other teams that he reads on a call-in sports show. Even though he still lives with his mom and works as a parking attendant, he seems fairly content. I can see his mom being annoyed at still having to take care of an adult, but she’s generally not all that sympathetic. She tells her son that everybody wants marriage and children, and defends another son who married his secretary after cheating on his first wife with her. The conflict arises when Oswalt’s character and his friend see their favorite player at a gas station and follow him to a strip club. When they let it slip that they followed him, the player severely beats Oswalt (his friend somehow manages to avoid violence). His family and the police urge him to press charges, but he doesn’t because he wants to the guy to keep playing. He eventually ends up in jail after assaulting a rival on the radio who supports the Philadelphia Eagles, but the ending establishes that he’s planning to just go back to his old ways after getting out. It’s an effectively dark look at taking fandom too far (it would probably work even if football weren’t his thing), yet it’s interesting that they didn’t just make the protagonist a total creep; you can generally see his point of view, if not so much when he stalks the guy. Beth said the film reminded her of Taxi Driver in that it felt closed in.

The Witches – This 1990 adaptation of the Roald Dahl book, which I read recently, stars Anjelica Huston as the thoroughly evil, German-accented Grand High Witch. The movie came out the year Dahl died, and he apparently didn’t care for it, but I mostly think it followed his book pretty closely.

The ending is different, but I suspect audiences might have been disturbed if it hadn’t been. The Wikipedia article on the book linked to articles about how Dahl was misogynistic and anti-Semitic. Whether or not that’s true, he definitely had a sadistic streak. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory subjected kids with bad habits to severe mutilation. The abusive aunts in James and the Giant Peach are crushed to death. The evil giants in The BFG are trapped underground with nothing to eat but repulsive snozzcumbers. Here, not only do we have villains who want to outright kill all the children in the country; but after the protagonists manage to defeat them, they plan to take out the witches in other nations as well. I know we’re supposed to believe that every witch in the world is plotting to murder kids, but it still seemed a bit Bush Doctrine to me. I don’t really buy that the story is against women, as it’s made clear that all witches are women (an idea pretty common nowadays even if historically there were men accused of witchcraft), but most women are not witches. Since witches can’t grow hair, however, I have to wonder if it would make kids scared of cancer patients. Okay, probably not. There’s a similar theme to Charlie with kids lacking control when it comes to candy, and the witches’ first victim is a gluttonous child much like Augustus Gloop. Jim Henson served as executive producer, and you could see his hand in the grotesque witch makeup and the mouse puppets. The transformations were handled rather gruesomely, and while I don’t recall if Dahl went into that much detail, it fit with his style of writing.

Billy Bounce – Okay, this isn’t a movie, but I thought I should comment on it seeing as how I’ve been on a bit of a Bounce kick recently. Adapted in 1963 by Tony Delmar and Don Caulfield, the cartoon is a fairly straight retelling of the first two chapters of the book, with many lines taken directly from it. My guess would be that they originally wanted to animate the entire book, but it didn’t pan out. The animation is fairly cheap, which is to be expected, but you would think they’d take more care to imitate W.W. Denslow’s illustrations. After all, he created the character, and his pictures were billed as the main draw for the book. Honey Girl and her subjects don’t even look like bees, and the inflated Billy is totally spherical. Oh, well. I’d still watch more of it if it existed.

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