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All Good Things. 2010. Directed by Andrew Jarecki. Screenplay by Marcus Hinchey & Marc Smerling.
Starring Ryan Gosling, Kirsten Dunst, Frank Langella, Philip Baker Hall, Lily Rabe, Michael Esper, Diane Venora, Nick Offerman, Kristen Wiig, Stephen Kunken, John Cullum, & Maggie Kiley. Magnolia Pctures/Groundswell/Alliance Films.
Rated 18A. 103 minutes.
By now, many people have seen HBO’s series The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, directed by Andrew Jarecki. Before that, he did this fictional retelling of the events which frame most of the later documentary series. While the names are changed to slightly distance itself from the actual notorious missing persons case involving Robert Durst’s wife Kathleen McCormack, Jarecki sticks close to home. Above anything, All Good Things is an up close and personal adaptation of a true crime story spanning several decades.
Centering in on the fictional version of Durst – here named David Marks, played by Ryan Gosling – this film examines the life of a man whose entire identity is a construct, one that shifts and changes depending on the situation, one that it a mask and also a plea, to be like everyone else, to find unity. At the bottom of it all, Marks – Durst – whoever he wants to be in real life – that person is lonely. He is empty. But the problem with him, as Jarecki shows us through the screenplay from Marcus Hinchey and Marc Smerling, that everything seems wonderful at first because Marks plays the part he’s required to play. Then when the disguise gives way and the mask falls off a whole other terrifying reality lies directly behind it.
So the obvious origin of the title is the health food store David and Katie own together. And it was the last episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but that’s besides the point. It also obviously refers to the common phrase “all good things must come to an end”, which holds particular significance in regards to the film’s subject and themes. In the beginning, David is all those good things. He and Katie had such a whirlwind romance. It’s really the ultimate romantic movie hookup, as they meet on a whim when David’s forced to go out and look after her leaky faucet, all the while wearing a tux on the way to a party with his father and some big shots. They seemed such kindred spirits. Then they head off out to the countryside and run a health food store together; so sweet, so American Dreamy. After the possibility of children comes up when they get married, all those good things they come to an end. Rather abruptly. From that moment on it’s a veritable free fall descent into a tortured marriage between David and Katie. One thing, then the next. David’s mask slips further with each desperate, strange act. Until it’s as if there never were any good things, and even those good things could never ever be enough to in any way erase the things which came after them.
You can see the manipulative nature of David come out most evident when Katie receives her acceptance letter to medical school. As she comes in and happily reads her (already opened) mail, David proceeds to go out, jump in a cold fall lake and swim to get a little boat he apparently doesn’t want stolen. Except it is a cry for attention, to take it off her, as he feels wounded by not knowing she’d applied in the first place. Further than that it’s his narcissistic personality emerging more than ever. His freezing cold, almost naked body now takes precedence over her big happy moment. A brief yet sad, telling scene. And things only get worse from there. The good things, they slip away further, and his dangerous side presents itself. Right out in the open, too. Right in front of her family. So the scary part is: what would he do behind closed doors? And that sets the stage for the possibilities swirling around the mystery of Katie’s disappearance later on.
More manipulation is clear in the relationship between Malvern and David. As we get the present David telling a lawyer/the court about Malvern being too clingy and awkward, we’re also intermittently shown cuts of the two of them house shopping: here we see David directly oppose what he says on the stand. So really, everybody near David is manipulated, whether friend, lawyer, courtrooms, whomever it may be; this is a true con artist.
Furthermore, if we look again at the phrase “all good things must come to an end” then there appears a tragic trend along the timeline of David Marks’ life. Because it appears good people meet their end when wrapped up with David. Not to say his possible accomplice in the disappearance of his wife was a good woman, nor was Malvern either. But there’s no telling how these people would have went through life had David not influenced them in some way, shape, or form. Anybody that walks about life leaving a trail of bodies like David is inherently suspicious as an influential figure.
Something I enjoy a lot about All Good Things is the shifting, twisty narrative. Bits of the present are weaved in through pieces of the past, and just like the life of David Marks (a.k.a Robert Durst) the past is never far behind; like William Faulkner, it isn’t even past. So part of the narrative structure overall speaks to that very theme in the life of its main character, the true life figure they’re fictionally dissecting here onscreen. Not only that there is a solid ambiguity which strings on long after the film ends. Of course in real life there have been a couple answers, or likely answers, since The Jinx aired. Yet the disappearance of Katie Marks (a.k.a Kathleen McCormack) is still draped in mystery. This movie provides some possible explanations. However, nothing is concrete, not a thing is for certain. And though this is an aspect that might divide others, causing them to label the film as unfair in its ambiguity. For me, it’s perfectly so. In real life the answers are never easy, certainly not in a case like this debacle (in every sense of the word). Therefore, Jarecki and the writers give us no definitive, final answers to the questions surrounding this true crime. Rather it’s all about the atmosphere, the emotional perspectives, the heaviness of everything.
In that way All Good Things is impressive. Jarecki is a good director, whose talents were evident before this in his (admittedly problematic) documentary Capturing the Friedmans. Here, he directs the story well and conjures up a mysterious, tense mood like something out of memories; it’s like we’re looking into the past through the lens of someone’s memory or their dreams. The look is impeccable, alongside some fascinating makeup work for the 2000s scenes. On top of that, the score from composer Rob Simonsen (Foxcatcher, 500 Days of Summer) is so god damn beautiful. The very noticeable string pieces are rich and gorgeous sounding, at the same time they’ve got an ominous sort of tone to them that resonates with the plot. Also it helps with the pacing, as these portions of the score almost make things feel like they’re clipping along solidly. The music and the visuals match up quite well to achieve this movie’s wholly engaging atmosphere.
The writing and directing, all the technical aspects line up together. Yet in addition there’s so much talent in the cast. Along the edges there’s Philip Baker Hall, always enjoyable and always interesting to see as the various characters he inhabits. His portrayal of Malvern Bump (a.k.a Morris Black) is infectious, in the sense he grows on you similar to how he does David, but all the same we’re also able to see how he is perhaps a bit too closely attached; though not always his own fault. His tragic qualities are brought out by Hall in a subtly intense performance. Also, the ever awesome Frank Langella plays Sanford Marks (a.k.a Seymour Durst). Only a supporting role, Langella makes this father figure a looming one in David’s life, and one whose identity casts too deep and long a shadow for David to want to live up to it whatsoever. He is truly menacing at times and a hateful, sad man, which Langella portrays so well.
Dunst and Gosling are the shining stars. No doubt. With Dunst we get a spectacular performance in her role as a woman that figures out all good things are coming to their end, and fast. But a woman who is nearly powerless to stop it, then winds up with a far worse fate than she’d ever imagined. Dunst’s emotional resonance is always apparent as an actor, but almost never more so than in this role. She is powerful, strong, and even as a victim does not feel utterly lacking hope. Parallel to her is Gosling, and he knocks the role of David Marks out of the park. Some say he’s the same in every movie, I don’t agree. He just isn’t a loud, brash actor. Instead he gives an understated performance. He never allows us a full view into David, similar to how the real Durst is quite the shifty, manipulative character. Gosling keeps Marks as a quiet and subdued type, whose scary personal side only erupts in the most controlled environments. And when those moments happen they are intense, sometimes horrifying. Together, Dunst and Gosling elevate this whole story with their emotional acting.
Honestly, this is a favourite of mine since the 2010s broke. Andrew Jarecki does a lot of good stuff in terms of directorial choices here, which are only further aided by the solid cast, the moving score, and the screenplay’s interesting structure. Definitely check this out, especially if you’re at all interested in The Jinx or Robert Durst in general. Absolutely worth investing the time; an atmospheric, well acted piece of true crime fictionalized.
Star 80. 1983. Directed & Written by Bob Fosse. Based on an article from Teresa Carpenter.
Starring Mariel Hemingway, Eric Roberts, Cliff Robertson, Carroll Baker, Roger Rees, David Clennon, and Josh Mostel.
Warner Home Video.
Rated R. 103 minutes.
★★★★I’m not particularly huge on Bob Fosse, though, I do like his films. He does have a nice perspective on things, as far as I’m concerned. Fresh filmmaker. Then when I saw Star 80 there was something about it which really spoke to me.
The story of Star 80 is a true story of former Playmate of the Year Dorothy Stratten (Mariel Hemingway), who was later murdered by her husband Paul Snider (Eric Roberts). At the time, the two were separated because of marital problems such as Snider’s reluctance to let her have any independence. The film chronicles Stratten’s rise from fast food waitress to Playboy Playmate hanging in Hugh Hefner’s (Cliff Robertson) mansion, rubbing shoulders with some of the biggest stars of the day. Snider was the first one to notice how “model beautiful” Stratten was, and believed because he essentially found her it was his claim to fame. However, soon Snider would realise her fame was her own. He could not accept it. One thing leads to another, as Snider gets more and more controlling, until everything spirals out of control completely.
This was a story I’d never heard before. Whatsoever. I like to think I’ve heard a lot of pop culture stories, especially really crazy ones and those involving crime/murder, but of course, one person can’t know everything – right? I was absolutely amazed once I saw Star 80. This was not my first experience with Bob Fosse. He is a fascinating talent, there is no doubt. Great director. He has made some definitely unique choices, as far as what he directs. Interesting resume. This is not a strange film, but it’s most certainly a dark one. Deep dark. Although not a stranger to the darkness – Fosse did direct both Cabaret and the biopic of Lenny Bruce aptly titled Lenny, which are each dark in their own rights. Although, Star 80 is a much more sinister level of dark than anything else in Fosse’s excellent filmography. Still not a surprise. Even in All That Jazz, a partly biographical and ridiculously honest movie, there’s a certain level of despair. Really a man who is not afraid of darkness, at the very least. It helps here. The story itself is one of fame, murder, misogyny, and the broken search for the supposed American dream (or better yet – the American nightmare as it were).
There are two pretty nice performances in Star 80. The most incredible of them all is, most obviously in my mind, Mr. Eric god damn Roberts. I’ve always enjoyed him. Personally, I love his sister a lot, too. But I think Eric doesn’t get the credit he deserves. While he’s beginning to experience a resurgence a little now since his appearance in The Dark Knight, I still think his work is under appreciated. Star 80 pretty much all but proves my point on its own. His performance is so ridiculously creepy right from the get go. Most people might say it’s his 1980s pornstar moustache. It isn’t. Roberts’ whole demeanour, from the eyes to the look across his face, it all just makes me cringe a little. Not to mention the rambling, talking to himself, ranting. It’s a very unsettling character for Roberts to inhabit. This is how we start the film out – shots of Stratten and Snider pacing, talking to himself, bloody. Usually it doesn’t make things very interesting to begin from the end, especially giving us a more clear idea of what’s happening as opposed to something vague, but Fosse knows a lot of people (most certainly at the time the film was made) would certainly know the story anyways. So he opts to really dive into the character of Snider. While it’s a focus on Stratten overall, Fosse wants to get at the pathology of the man who ruined her life. Roberts does so much nice work in this movie. I’ll forever be a huge fan.
Mariel Hemingway does well playing Dorothy Stratten. Most people often assume the Playboy Playmates are a bunch of bimbos. Certainly that was the case back in the 1980s. I don’t doubt ideas about women who pose nude back then were worse than now – and that’s not to say things are good fro them, or any women, nowadays either. Hemingway shows Stratten as a conflicted woman, but not stupid. We see Stratten get juggled between men. As Snider rules over her life until it makes her snap, the next man she moves onto is basically managing her life just the same. She goes from one guy to another being controlled. Though, it’s not particularly strong of her to go from one relationship to the next under near similar circumstances, I still believe Hemingway shows the strength Stratten had to at least try and face Snider herself – while everyone tried to make her not confront him face to face, she wanted to give him one last bit of dignity. Unfortunately for Dorothy, this was the final thing Paul Snider needed from her, and then he used this very thing to murder her. It’s so sad this happened. I hate to say I enjoyed a film about someone’s murder, however, I do believe Hemingway gave a good performance. There’s at least something good about this aspect.Most certainly one of my favourites in Bob Fosse’s filmography. He is an interesting guy. If not a bit of a dirtbag according to his own creation, All That Jazz. Regardless, I do like the way he makes movies. Unique filmmaker. Star 80 is his version of the tragic true story of Dorothy Stratten and her collision course with the hurricane that was Paul Snider. The performances by both of the film’s stars, Mariel Hemingway and Eric Roberts, help all the emotions come across as they’re meant to play with the audience.
One of the downsides about this movie is the really awful performance of Cliff Robertson as Hugh Hefner. First of all, he didn’t do a really good job at doing a Hefner impersonation – you don’t have to do a caricature, but it was really one of the worst celebrity-playing-celebrity roles I’ve seen (and I’ve seen almost 4,000 films… I’d like to think I’ve learned something). Second, I don’t know Hugh personally, clearly, but I do not think this was a good representation of who the man really is because I see him as a pioneer, someone at least partly interested in women’s rights. This didn’t make him out in the greatest light really. Though, it didn’t make him appear to be a piece of shit. Either way, I did not really enjoy Robertson’s performance here.
Everything else was fairly spot on. I highly recommend any fans of true stories, as well as Fosse fans, check this out if they can find a copy. Hard to get. Worth it.