Reviewing old media like it's new, as if you gave a fuck.
AKA "Shirts vs Skins vs More Skin" AKA "The White Powder Movement"
Note: I had no idea this was going to be as long as the actual movie, there's just so much to unpack. Also I watched this with people this time, so we talked about some of these scenes more than others.
February 22, 2017: Well, I'll say this - Powder was....something, alright; it felt like the unintentional bookend to Phenomenon, honestly. Going into this one, I was not aware that the movie was written and directed by a convicted pedophile, but upon reflection afterwards it absolutely made sense. The amount of barely legal young boy skin per second in this movie kind of gives it away. However, to really grasp how ridiculous this movie is, we really must start from the beginning. Apparently the mid-90s was prime time for supernatural-ish white savior movies. Oh who am I kidding, those never went away.
We begin in a flashback! It's the late 70s but for some reason it looks like the 50s, I guess because it's out in the country....somewhere and everything is like 20 years behind probably, so sorry anyone who needed modern medicine! Someone who definitely needed it was Powder's mom. She was in a bad accident, but you're not quite sure what yet because suspense is cool, why not?! She's pregnant too, so it's not just one life on the line. Doctors are able to save baby Powder but not her which is typical and probably acceptable to most people because what is a woman but a vessel for making more men, let's be honest here. So his dad, a fat Chris Issak looking guy who might work as a steamfitter or something, goes to see his miracle baby, The Boy Who Lived - oh wait wrong story. But! When Chris Is-sad-sack looks down upon this tiny child mewling in an incubator, he is clearly aghast - this is not his son! You know that because he keeps repeating it over and over and over again until the flashback is over. The horror!
So now we're in modern times - the halcyon days of the 90s, when women wore really unflattering pant suits to work and had really crunchy hair with bangs that were teased until they looked like auburn waves cresting a cliff face in Northern Ireland. Men looked bad too but no one ever remembers that. There's clearly a situation of some kind, and Lance Henricksen is there to make sure everything is a-ok. Oh hey look it's Mary Steenburgen, who's comforting mom-hotness launched at least 10 ships over the length of her career, I'm sure. She's here as some kind of social worker (though I don't think they ever actually say her job title or purpose) who has been called because there's a boy living in the basement of a house, and his grandfather just died so now he's all alone. His name is James Reed but his family called him Powder (really, grandpa? ok) because guess what -- this kid is WHITE. Not just regular white, either, like alabaster goths-would-kill-for-this-skintone white. You might know this condition as albinism, as that's what it is, but apparently no one in this town has ever heard of that so everyone's scared and also thinks he's retarded.
No seriously, they cannot stop using the word "retard" in reference to Powder. The word is used so many times in this movie, it starts to feel normal which, again, no thank you. When they find this kid, he's surrounded by a bookmobile's worth of literature, which he then reveals he has memorized - all of it. Like you can open a book, tell him the page, and he just starts reciting it word for word. But oh no he's pale and shy, probably developmentally disabled. You start to notice throughout the movie that the only people who treat Powder anywhere close to normal are the (very few) black people he interacts with. That's probably supposed to be some kind of "MESSAAAAAAAAAGE" type moment but it doesn't feel like it because like honestly can we stop with the "hey, white people are persecuted too" thing? It's not the same and we all know it.
So once Mary Steenburgen talks to ya boi for a bit she determines that maybe he's not so retarded after all and they don't have to take him out back and shoot him. What's next for our pale, hairless wunderkind? Why we take him to a boy's home of course! Like the old timey kind that maybe is sometimes run by clergy - you know, Boystown. And like any good home for orphans, there's a hierarchy; the meanest boy is Very Handsome but Obviously Troubled, and he has a sidekick that gets way too close to people when he talks (I mean he's literally inches away from people's faces). The boys don't know what to think of our young, nubile hero who dresses the way Live sounds, so naturally they have to test him. Do they beat him with soap in a sock, or punch him with a roll of quarters in their fists like normal bullies? Hell nah, they challenge Powder to what has to be one of the dumbest fucking things ever - he has to hang a spoon off of his nose. ALL THE COOL KIDS CAN DO IT, POWDER.Powder decides to ostracize himself further by revealing his magical powers.
That's right, Powder is magic, kinda. More like a human magnet, I guess? So he rubs a spoon with a fucking weird look on his face and then all the silverware comes shooting over and forms a giant ball like a sculpture at the Hirschorn. And then he kinda giggles like a tiny child? The other boys do NOT like that but are also scared because deep down inside they're insecure about their places in the world and also holy shit what the fuck did the cover model from that one Minor Threat album (you know the one) just do??But we don't have time to think about that now! It's time to go to high school and probably have Powder do some other dumb shit that gets him in trouble.
Oh hey look everyone, it's Jeff Goldblum! He's a science teacher, cool. More than once he stares directly into the camera, because he also does not know why he's here. But this is after Jurassic Park and before Independence Day so I guess he was just biding his time. He brings out this electricity conductor thing called a jacob's ladder and turns it on and Powder almost gets Ghostbusted by it. People are scared but somehow nonchalant about it afterwards. Like, what, you just saw someone almost die but I guess since people STILL think he has mental disabilities it's fine. The Pretty Girl at school is concerned but hesitant. Yes that will be a thing later, fine.
Back at Boystown, the Meanest Boy is very obsessed with the idea of gay sex and talks about it a lot; I'm sure that isn't indicative of anything. Also the kind of more dickish sheriff takes the boys hunting because angry teen aged boys with guns is a good look. He's not supposed to be taking them hunting, but this is their little secret, and they should keep it that way, right? It's what makes it special. Well Powder is just fucking horrified when they finally do shoot and deer and freaks out. Then he grabs the sheriff and grabs the deer and then the sheriff is feeling the pain the deer feels and boy oh boy is there egg on his face because feeling the deer's pain is a fucking bummer and he regrets killing it I think.
Suddenly we're back at the school in the cafeteria and Powder is really sad. He's sitting alone in the dark just mopey as hell, you know? Jeff Goldblum comes in to talk to him and you immediately notice that there are these two weird signs up on the walls and they say "Never give up on anyone" and "miracles." That's it. Just black and white signs with really basic fonts. What the actual fuck. So Goldblum is trying to relate to this kid and Powder's talking about how like because of his whole electricity coursing through his body deal no one really touched him growing up.
At this point I jokingly said to the gang "Oh man Jeff Goldblum is going to start sensually stroking Powder because this movie is all a really big build up to porn, right?" But here's the thing, guys --- that's exactly what happens. Like he tenderly strokes Powder's head and Powder shudders like an abused animal and then Goldblum's hair stands on it's end and he has this weird look on his face:
Jeff, what the hell, man? Did you even read this script? Did you know you'd be caressing a hairless teenager with 6-pack abs? Anyway, here comes the part of the movie where an entirely different movie starts. It's basically a whiter Green Mile. Lance Henricksen's wife is hella sick and is being taken care of by poor-man's Shelley Duvall who basically screeches like a monkey when she doesn't like or understand something. Ok so Lance, after seeing and hearing all the shit Powder can do, he's like oh yeah come to my house and save my wife, no pressure. Powder gets there and he's like "Bruh I can't fix her but she wants you to be ok if she leaves also she thinks I'm an angel lol."
now we're at some fair/carnival kind of deal because in the movies every small town has a fair every week I guess. Powder and Pretty Girl are talking and they touch fingers and he can read her mind I guess? How does this work? Her dad comes over and is having NONE OF IT and threatens Powder and Jeff Goldblum and Mary Steenburgen come to his rescue.Things are Tense.
Then it's raining and the orphan boys are hassling Powder (but not before more sexy shots of all of them playing basketball, sure why not). Powder has finally HAD IT so he uses his powers to shock the shit out of the head orphan boy. Whoops, he killed him! I think! The other orphans are scared and then Powder's like NO WAIT I CAN FIX IT and uses his hands like a defibrillator and boom, head orphan boy is alive again. The orphan boys have an epiphany that maybe all their bullying of powder is unnecessary and maybe they should help him escape. Guys, it really feels like dude was not thinking out the last half of this movie plot.
January 10, 2017: Ok finally getting around to this one. Everyone is well aware of John Travolta the man - actor, pilot, father, scientologist. That last item, well....what is there to stay about it? Oh that's right, there's this to say: Scientology is a bullshit cult based on swindling people out of their money by playing up their insecurities and offering a too-good-to-be-true solution disguised as "communication classes." Travolta himself is one of the biggest advocates of the group and takes every opportunity to sing the praises of ol' L Ron Hubbard and crew. PHENOMENON feels like a weird Jesus-like story where John Travolta tries to enlighten the unwashed masses but is met with derision. Like they're practically beating you over the head with it. And truly, it feels like a movie made for scientologists so they can watch it and say "Look, he's us. We're just trying to get the word out about LRH and the people just don't understand!"
We begin with a half-witted bumblefuck of a man, played by Travolta, staring longingly at Kyra Sedgwick. Kyra Sedgwick is a Strong Independent Woman that apparently is able to make a living off of making rustic outdoor chairs from...I guess old vines? I don't know; who cares! He never talks to her because he's just TOO DUMB, GUYS. It'll never work! His friends mock his lack of intellect but they totally mean well so it's ok! And Travolta's just such a nice guy, gee shucks will anything ever work out for him? Probably not! His best friend is Forest Whitaker, who is in this movie because I assume he needed money. Why else would he take this used kitchen sponge of a role, wherein he mopes about not having a lady and enjoys HAM radio but not much else. Then again, he was in Battlefield Earth....oh my god is Forest Whitaker a scientologist?! Dammit! Man, and I really like him too, fucking Ghost Dog is my shit. Ah well, back to the story.
So since they're a bunch of bumpkins, the only thing they do for fun is drink and tell stories about each other they've heard a thousand times, probably. Their simple brains can't take much more, see, but they have a camaraderie that CANNOT BE DENIED, thanks to hokey script writing. Oh yeah, Robert Duvall is there too as a condescending-in-a-grandfatherly-way town doctor, and he likes Travolta but always does that old man head shake thing all the time like "oh would you look at this fucking idiot." And it's after one of these head-shaking, story repeating, beer drinking nights that Travolta starts to stumble back to his hovel, when SUDDENLY, there appears a giant light in the sky. He's struck! By what, no one is sure.
One thing is for sure though - when he wakes up, this dude is SMART AF. Cue the montage of Travolta devouring books, and designing growing systems for plants, and all that shit smart people presumably do. Oh and there's Kyra Sedgwick again! Except this time he can talk to her about WHATEVER HE WANTS, BECAUSE HE'S A GENIUS NOW. And he's not just keeping the knowledge for himself, he's passing it along to others! Not hiding his light under a bushel, that one! Forest Whitaker gets a house cleaner because he's just a big ol' dummy who can't clean up after himself. Naturally it's a beautiful lady from a foreign country who can't speak english but Forest Whitaker is besotted because everyone knows the best kind of woman is the really hot woman who cannot talk to you at all! Travolta sees that his friend is smitten and decides the only way to help him is to totally deceive him, because that's the only way that true love wins! So Travolta teaches Forest Whitaker some phrases in....whatever language she speaks that FW thinks is housecleaning related, but is actually love poems! Whatta mensch! And she doesn't think that's creepy at all, no way, it's romantic!
Travolta finally wins over Kyra Sedgwick kind of but then she realizes that he's the one buying all her chairs so she'll keep coming around and that is just TOO FUCKING MUCH so she's like peace out dude, no thank you. But somehow he convinces her that it's just love! Hooray! So they're fine. But then suddenly the town hates him? Like I think everyone is mad that he's making them feel stupid so they decide that the man they've been friends with for 20+ years is evil and should be run out of town. Travolta wears a pained expression the whole time. Then since he and Forest Whitaker have been fucking around with the HAM radio and decoding military transmissions from a nearby base (¯\_(ツ)_/¯), Travolta gets hauled in and tested over and over again. Not even an appearance by Brent Spiner as a military doctor can make this movie any better.
Anywho eventually they figure out that his brain is just TOO BIG and it's growing out of his head or some shit and he's going to die. Well now everyone feels pretty dumb for being mean to him I bet! Sure, kinda, whatever. Kyra Sedgwick weeps over Christ's.....er, uh, Travolta's body as he shuffles off this mortal coil and then everyone gathers to celebrate the life of a man they quickly turned on when he showed some intellectual growth while an Eric Clapton song plays. Viewers are left feeling like something was stolen from them, something that will never be returned. At the end of the day, there was no reason for this movie to ever have been made.
AKA "All Them Bitches" AKA "Bitch Better Have My Honey"
September 10, 2016: Whew, Nic Cage. He just never feels like he's in the right scene in this movie. Instead of trying to decode this...thing, I will share with you everything I felt the need to write down.
When nic cage says “sorry i’m allergic” when he kills the bee, it’s like the worst kind of metaphor/symbolism
And then the girl is eating a red delicious apple. Literally the worst least flavorful apple in existence, why is she eating that in this agrarian paradise. What is leelee sobieski’s deal, she’s just some 2-dimensional creepy fairytale girl? Just hanging out with an ax in her hand, spouting off odd dialogue that’s supposed to seem like it has two meanings but probably doesn’t
Oh but hey now Molly Parker is here! Gotta love her, bringing that wholesome classical Canadian face down here to very properly reprimand us. Oooh but check out that beautiful calligraphy in that attendance book. Oh and then after all that half-talking about where the girl is….there’s Molly Parker! Again! ….cool? Oooh, is this a clone colony, like x-files?
Man, people do NOT like this kid, huh? But no one seems to be able to complete a thought so we’re also not sure what anyone really wants.Oh but now nic cage is rowan’s father…...oh, sure. Ok.
Oh hey look it’s the AHS lady, and she’s the doctor and has a small medical museum in her house ok sure
OH MY GOD ELLEN BURSTYN’S HAIR. YOU BEAUTIFUL SNOW LEOPARD
“Perhaps it is time you stop bullshitting me!!” oh my god nic cage just calm down.
Nic cage in this is probably the most tone deaf thing i’ve seen in a long time.
...dedicated to johnny ramone? …..k
Obviously, it's based on a Stephen king novel so this movie probably only hits on like 40% of the book. We're missing a few graphic descriptions of sex acts somewhere along the line, and obviously King is super big on making the bad force a weird character that is almost slightly amusing (thanks Damien Lewis). Also, his maddening fascination with the idea that people with special needs are going to save the world but not before we humiliate them a little first - thanks but NO THANKS, Donnie Wahlberg. And another thing - why is stephen king SO OBSESSED with genitals?? I mean those snake things were literally BUTT SNAKES, and Jason Lee and Timothy Olyphant were obsessed with fucking broads. I mean good god, Jason Lee's character's name is Beaver, and I doubt it's because he was a fur trader on the Canadian frontier in 1844.
Oh and then let's address the B-Plot with Tom Sizemore and Morgan Freeman. To be clear, Freeman is the CRAZY one of this pairing; Sizemore was the reasonable one with empathy. Ok, sure. They're part of some super-secret covert ops group who have been tracking Mr. Grey (the most evil of the Butt Snakes) and trying to keep Grey and his rag-tag group of literal butt munchers contained to one area on earth.
Ok, let's forget about the fact that they use really silly names for each other like "boy-yo" instead of sir. Let's forget about that part where Morgan Freeman shoots a guy inside a trailer and no one is apparently affected by the LOUD GUNSHOT sound and can talk and act like nothing just happened. Forget all of that. What I want to know is -- how in the fuck did they not know about Duddits? The person (alien?) that is supposedly at the epicenter of all of these events. These four dudes have just been living with ESP that this mysterious special needs kid gave them, and this special needs guy has just been living in obscurity in the little town they all grew up in and it's all like 20 minutes away from where the story takes place. Mr. Grey KNOWS about Duddits, but doesn't know how to find him even though he's an evil dude that can LITERALLY INVADE PEOPLE'S BODIES AND THOUGHTS and also DOESN'T MIND KILLING PEOPLE. How does no one know about this kid that is literally the savior of the world? Furthermore, it's VERY UNCLEAR how exactly the boys' ESP abilities work - they have to be in range to make a "phone call" to each other, but they can leave imprints of memory in place they've been? What?? Again, chalking it up to the 40% thing.
Okokokok, stuff I liked about the movie: All the stuff with Jonsey's mind being like a warehouse with his private inner sanctum being his office - that was cool. Watching him literally rearranging his thoughts to protect and secure his memories of Duddits was a neat little plot device that really didn't get explained. The four main friends did genuinely seem to have some kind of relationship; though to be frank a lot of King's male relationships, when they're those 'we've been friends since childhood' deals, tend to read as sexual. They're all dudes that are desperately trying to fuck women but also can't seem to seal the deal, like ever. Stephen King, dude, what happened to you when you were a kid?? Hmmm, what else did I like, what else, what else. Oh, no, that's about it.
Having said all that, it wasn't a totally terrible movie. Much better than PHENOMENON, which I also watched recently for some reason, which was essentially a Scientology recruitment movie starring John Travolta as modern days Jesus (OR WAS IT LRH??). The end of DREAMCATCHER made very little sense and the music choices were questionable, but it was definitely a typical King movie.
Totally Arbitrary Rating: 2 out of 5 fucks to give about this movie.