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Misery DVD
Your March 2009 Unrandom Movie Club Results Are In!

Tagline: This Christmas there will be... Misery.

MoMo: That sledgehammer!

Pizza: Joe Peeps

Preshow: None


There are some people that can walk into your house and notice you painted the living room a different color. Others can look at your bookshelf and discover that you've added a new book to your collection. And then there are those who know you have broken out of your locked room because their two-inch-high ceramic penguin is no longer facing due South. I'd watch out for people like that. People like Annie Wilkes.

Annie is a great villain, one of the best in film and literature. She's a creation of Stephen King, and in my opinion, she's scarier than The Three C's (Cujo, Christine, Carrie) all rolled into one. Why? Because while I don't believe in hell-bent St. Bernards, possessed cars and telekinesis, I do believe there are people in the world like Annie.

James Caan plays novelist Paul Sheldon. Superstitious Paul writes all of his books, including the fantastically successful (to his chagrin) Misery Chastain franchise, in the same room at the Silver Creek Lodge in Colorado (I wonder how Mapquest takes you there from The Overlook Hotel?). And now that he's finished another book, he continues his superstitious habits by having a celebratory Lucky Strike and a glass of Dom Perignon. Then he hops in his '65 Mustang and heads back to New York. But a blizzard's hazardous road conditions (I like that it wasn't a truck coming towards him or a deer) forces him off the road where he lands down an embankment upside down. And that's just how his world is going to be for a while - upside down. For there will be times, I'm sure, that Paul Sheldon wishes he would have died in that crash, instead of being rescued by, of all people, his Number One Fan, Annie Wilkes.

What's really cool is watching Paul's learning curve as he realizes Annie may not be the best person to nurse him back to health. When Annie shaves him with a straight razor, we cringe. I mean, she hasn't done a damn thing to threaten him, but we know more. We can see she's a bit off. Maybe it's the fact that she's too nice to him. Or that she has a picture of Liberace. Or that she eats Cheetos knock-offs and drinks Coke from a two-litre bottle while watching LOVE CONNECTION in bed. Or perhaps it's the way she crowbarred him out of the car and carried him on her back up the embankment in the blizzard.

One night, under a full moon, she reads the latest MISERY book, and let's just say she didn't like the ending. And if you are wondering Whatever Happened to Paul Sheldon, you won't for long, because now we have a cat and a mouse trapped in a house, and it's thrilling; from Annie's actions (that sledgehammer!) and odd word choices ("Paul! You're dripping with perspiration! Your color is very hectic."), to Paul's utter helplessness and his perfect escape plans that seem to always go south (like that freakin' penguin!). After one of these upsets, Paul and Annie toast "To Misery," but at that moment, it's no longer the book he's toasting to. It's actual, homespun, can't get any worse, misery.

Watching the movie again, I picked up on many, perhaps too many, lifts from PSYCHO. For one, she's a psycho. Then there's those Bernard Herrmann-like staccato strings and orchestra hits, and the house that no one seems to ever visit, with shots from the top of the staircase. And of course, the authority who is doggedly trying to get to the bottom of a person's disappearance only to discover there's a staircase with his name on it. And then there's that other staircase, tucked away under the main staircase. The one that leads to the basement. You know, the one where a secret is kept.

I think MISERY is one of those great examples where all the pieces fell into place nicely. From director Rob Reiner (on fire back then with SPINAL TAP, THE SURE THING, STAND BY ME, THE PRINCESS BRIDE and WHEN HARRY MET SALLY) to Stephen King's novel for staying true and taut to a solid story built on character, to William Goldman's fat-free, suspenseful and sometimes even funny script (apparently somebody in Hollywood knows something). But come on, we have to really throw a lot of it on the wonderful and perfect portrayal of Annie Wilkes by Kathy Bates (no relation to Norman...well, maybe a little). She can go from beamish to bilious with a single eyebrow. Every molecule on Bates is Annie Wilkes. Sure, it's a great role, but many would overplay it which would ruin everything as it's already a borderline cartoony character. Bates is remarkable and deserves every bit of praise she ever received for this role. And then some more.

But here's a dirty little secret about the movie. Because it's so much The Kathy Bates Show, people seem to lose sight of MISERY's secret weapon - James Caan. This man is also a great actor. We always know what he's thinking without him saying a word. It's all there on the face. But Caan's always been great. Just think back; HIDE IN PLAIN SIGHT, THE GAMBLER, THE KILLER ELITE, ROLLERBALL, THIEF, and I haven't even mentioned Santino Corleone yet. Okay, so he did sing to Barbra Streisand in FUNNY LADY, but still, I'm glad that Ford, DeNiro, Hackman (bad name for an actor, no?), Pacino and nearly every other A-lister passed on playing Paul Sheldon, because Caan's just perfect.

I'd also like to applaud Richard Farnsworth and Frances Sternhagen, who play Buster the police chief and his wife Virginia with a HONEYMOONERS dynamic. Love these two.

MISERY marks our third William Goldman movie (MARATHON MAN, BUTCH CASSIDY), and as far as I'm concerned, I hope we see more. Ever flip the channels and come upon a movie that you can't tear yourself away from and have to watch to the end every single time?
Annie (Kathy Bates) goes in for a swing of the sledgehammer
Even though you've seen it 150 times? That movie for me is ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, and yes, it's a William Goldman script. Sure he's had some clunkers (THE GENERAL'S DAUGHTER? Huh?), but man, I even liked HEARTS IN ATLANTIS, a movie which its author, Stephen King (again), didn't even care for. And speaking of King, let's not skate by the source material (yes, illiterate me actually read a book). Besides the concept, King manages to hold you tight for hundreds of pages using just these two characters. And if you thought there were some wacky things going on onscreen, then you really need to read the novel. That sledgehammer? A toy compared to what Annie does to Paul in the book.

I saw a screening of MISERY in the theaters before it was released and the audience was buzzing, screaming and laughing (intentionally and nervously). It's really a two person play (it actually has been adapted for the stage), and like Annie herself, it really holds you captive.

So invite some friends over (it's really a great crowd movie) and hobble over to your TV. Okay Mr. Man?

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