Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Misery (1990)

Directed by:
Rob Reiner

Novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan) has made a name for himself with an eight-volume romantic drama series centering around a character named Misery Chastain. The wildly successful books have put him on the map and made him rich and famous, but he's now ready to take his career in a brand new direction. After all, who - especially artists striving for respectability within their industry - wants to be be seen as a one-trick pony? Paul has just penned a new novel. Every year he goes to the wintery Silver Creek Lodge in Colorado to take advantage of the quiet and isolation. It's the perfect place to write. But Paul picks the wrong day to decide to head back to civilization. A blizzard quickly sweeps in, he slides off the road, flips his car and ends up seriously injured in the process. Thankfully, someone happened to see the accident. That someone has seen a lot of things since they know that Paul comes there specifically to write once a year. That same someone also frequently just sits outside of his cabin and watches, wondering what kinds of wonderful things the author is cooking up inside. It's a good thing that someone is so dedicated. Without them and their persistance, Paul would be dead. He's pulled from the wreckage, resuscitated by mouth-to-mouth and is then is thrown over his savior's shoulder and gets carted off to a warm home.

Two days later, Paul awakens in a daze to the words "I'm your number one fan." Hovering over his bed is Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), a plain, smiling, friendly-looking woman. Thankfully Annie is - or was - a nurse. She's stocked up on pain meds and other medical supplies so she's able to care for Paul, who has multiple compound fractures in his legs and a dislocated shoulder she's been kind enough to pop back into place. The storm's so bad that the phone lines are down and the roads are closed, so there's no possible way to get him to the hospital right away. In the meantime, Paul agrees to allow Annie to be the first person to read his unpublished latest novel. After being M.I.A. for an entire week, Paul's daughter becomes concerned and contacts his New York City literary agent Marcia Sindell (Lauren Bacall), who passes word on to Silver Creek's Sheriff, Buster (Richard Farnsworth). Buster - accompanied by his wife / deputy Virginia (Frances Sternhangen) sets out to see if they can locate Paul. Meanwhile, Paul slowly starts to come to the conclusion that the angel who saved his life and is nursing him back to health isn't quite right in the head. And that may be the understatement of the year!

Upon reading part of his new book, Annie is offended by the amount of profanity and goes on a scary tirade about it (her venting words of choice include "dirty bird" and "cockadoodie"), but that's nothing compared to what she does whenever she gets her hands on the newly-published final installment in the Misery saga and discovers that Paul has killed off her favorite character. Paul now finds himself a very vulnerable prisoner at the whim's of a desperately lonely madwoman. Annie forces him to burn his latest novel on a grill to "rid the world of this filth;" threatening to burn him alive by squirting starter fluid on his bed. She then demands that he write a new Misery novel to be entitled "Misery's Return" in her honor and even sets up a work station for him in his room. Prone to sudden and unprovoked outbursts, Annie's go-to point whenever she's pissed off are Paul's legs, which are filled with fragile, cracked bones. The writer amazingly manages to keep his composure through the whole ordeal, devising multiple attempts to escape, including hiding his pain meds in his bed and plotting to poison her with them. He also manages to escape his room using a bobby pin to pick the lock and discovers a scrapbook full of newspaper clippings that lets him know what a monster he's dealing with.

This is the movie that really put Kathy Bates on the map. Definitely no newbie in Hollywood by the time this was made, Bates had given several acclaimed performances in lesser-known films prior to this one, but considering just a few years earlier she was reduced to playing a tiny role in MY BEST FRIEND IS A VAMPIRE (1987), this film was definitely a game changer for the actress. Bates - who manages to be both very funny and very scary here - went on to win numerous awards for this performance and made history by becoming the very first actress to win the Best Actress Oscar for a horror film. She'd also go on to appear in several other King adaptations, including a cameo in THE STAND (1994) and the lead in DOLORES CLAIBORNE (1995); giving an outstanding performance in the latter that should have been Oscar nominated but wasn't. Though his performance is always overlooked in favor of Bates' star-making turn, Caan is also excellent here and his facial reactions to Annie's behavior are often priceless.

Scripted by William Goldman, for the most part this sticks pretty closely to the Stephen King source novel, though the sheriff and wife characters (who are given just enough color to contribute to the film in a positive and non-obtrusive way) were added. Director Reiner, who'd already adapted the King story into a hit film with STAND BY ME (1986), does a suberb job creating suspense, which is particularly impressive considering most of this movie takes place in just one room!

J.T. Walsh and the director (briefly seen as a helicopter pilot) have uncredited cameos.


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