Kicking the Tweets

Life Itself (2014)

Mission Critical

Two themes popped up on my radar at the movies last year: the Bible and film criticism. I covered the former in my Exodus: Gods and Kings review, but didn't appreciate the latter until writing about Steve James' beautiful and insightful documentary on Roger Ebert, Life Itself. Where Chef and Birdman mostly dished up the same surface representations of critics we've been fed for years (the stuffy, bitter aspirant best personified by Anton Ego in Ratatouille, whose only relationship to art is destroying it through clever diction) James paints a three-dimensional portrait of a man whose art was the act of making serious film discussion accessible to the masses.

Ebert didn't set out to be a critic. While working as a journalist for The Chicago Sun-Times in 1967, he filled a sudden vacancy at the paper and simply never left. His writing was fueled by a working-class drive; liberal politics; a penchant for holding court nightly at after-hours bars; and, of course, a lifelong love of movies. The resulting colorful commentary convinced readers that they were getting trustworthy recommendations from a friend (or at least a friend-of-a-friend).

The jovial TV critic many of us grew up watching doesn't appear in Life Itself until several minutes in. We're introduced to Roger and his wife, Chaz, at the end of his life--as a recurring bout of cancer gears up for another match. Our engaging orator is chair-bound, unable to speak, and must be fed through a tube that requires regular, painful cleaning. An approximation of his voice emerges, Hawking-like, from speakers connected to his ever-present MacBook, and he cheerfully pantomimes the myriad jokes brewing behind those wide, fiery eyes.

From here, James escorts us on a trip through Ebert's past, via photo-and-clip montages and talking-head interviews with friends; voice actor Stephen Stanton narrates much of this journey, uncannily reading as Ebert from his 2011 memoir.

What a life! Ebert's inquisitive spirit led him to slay many dragons in pursuit of the ultimate real-world screenplay. From beating booze to teaming with a professional enemy* and helping resurrect Martin Scorsese's career, every obstacle was an epic story problem to be solved. He even donned the role of filmmaker by scripting Russ Meyer's kitsch classic, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, and wrote a beyond-the-spotlight book about Cannes. His reviews and editorials were dispatches from wild adventures--relayed not in the studied, stuffy language of ivory tower elites, but in the sharp, unabashed excitement of a neighborhood raconteur.

I've seen Life Itself twice, and I love it. But I can't shake a couple nagging critiques that, I'll admit, may be unfair. James makes a strong case that Ebert (and, to a great extent, his weekly show with Gene Siskel) not only transformed society's relationship to film criticism, it also informed the generation of thinkers and art appreciators who would inherit the Internet. We're introduced to, a site designed to house the author's life's work and provide a stage for bold new writers worldwide. We're told how influential Ebert was, and continues to be, for digitally democratized criticism. But none of these testimonials comes from an actual Ebert acolyte.

I would love to have seen, even briefly, a "Millennial" address the man's legacy--someone inspired to write about films professionally, having grown up in an age where Siskel & Ebert dominated the pop landscape. Better yet, what about a writer with a different take on Ebert's importance in the everyone's-an-expert era?

The closest we get are two interviews with two filmmakers whom Ebert encouraged to follow their dreams; these are at once lovely and distracting vignettes. Also absent are interviews with (or commentary from/on) the people who famously stepped in after Gene Siskel's passing and Ebert's early retirement from TV. No Richard Roeper. No Michael Phillips. No Christy Lemire. I'm sure there's a reason for these omissions, and maybe I'm looking for a different movie--but at two hours, the film feels a tad incomplete in a some key areas.

I first saw Life Itself last July, in a packed screening room that included Ebert's colleagues, friends, and family. He'd passed away the year before, and this event felt like an unofficial wake. A bouquet of flowers decorated his chair, and sniffles punctuated James' expertly crafted tribute film. There were no speeches; only laughter, tears, and hugs. Walking out, I couldn't have been more fired up to be a movie critic, or more intimidated by the long, loving shadow cast by this eloquent titan of creative populism.

Roger Ebert inspired me to study, to not be afraid of my own opinions,** and to be diligent in my craft. Through his work, I learned that criticism is a craft. When done correctly, it requires just as much education, intuition, and sweat as creating "legitimate" art. The master stroke of an artist's life, however, is achieving balance between an overactive psyche, the creative exorcising of that psyche, and the human need to build a strong relationship with the outside world. Steve James dispels the critic myth, presenting us with a man who loved his life and lived it--instead of sniping bitterly from the flicking shadows.

*The Chicago Tribune's Gene Siskel; the two hosted various movie-review shows for decades and created the controversial "Thumbs" rating system.

**No matter how frequently they clashed with the greater consensus.


Sex Tape (2014)

Winners and Lubers

It's okay to like Sex Tape, right? I mean, by this point I've unofficially forfeited my film-critic bona fides* so often that standing (okay, crouching) behind one of 2014's worst-reviewed movies is hardly grounds for a scarlet letter. I laughed once and chuckled twice, neither of which happened during director Jake Kasdan's previous effort, Bad Teacher--which also starred Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel. Comedically, both films bury the bar, but Sex Tape has just enough spark to recommend as a giggle-free curiosity. 

The premise is sitcom-simple (fitting, since writer Kate Angelo comes from TV): Diaz and Segel play Annie and Jay, a bored suburban married couple with two kids and no sex life--a marked contrast from their pathologically pornographic college days. To celebrate the forthcoming sale of Annie's mommy blog to a huge toy company, the couple enlists Annie's mother (Nancy Lenehan) to babysit while they hole up with tequila, an iPad, and The Joy of Sex. Of course, Jay forgets to delete the three-hour memento of their romp, which soon makes its way to friends, family, and Annie's clean-cut prospective boss, Hank (Rob Lowe). Cue a night-long quest to get all the copies of the video back before anyone has a chance to press "Play".

I've boiled down the plot to help make the particulars make sense. Sex Tape's convoluted carnal capers are forced and unfunny, and serve as a harsh contrast to the relative honesty with which Angelo and co-writers Segel and Nicholas Stoller imbue Annie and Jay's quieter moments. It's refreshing to see the less glamorous aspects of married life in a mainstream comedy. The protagonists never fell out of love, they simply fell into a routine that, over time, has tarnished their once-sparkling romance. Though Kasdan's picture basks in the buttery, white-privilege gloss of a Pier 1 circular (down to his stars' all-hairs-in-place looks and movie-tired-but-not-tired-tired demeanors), Diaz and Segel nail the anxiety and disappointment of grown-up living in their performances.

One moment in particular made me sit up and take notice. Jay receives a text message from an anonymous number, teasing him about the video. He writes back, hoping for a clue as to the person's identity. Instead, he's left hanging for a couple minutes, and the look on Segel's face conveys the dread of being found out, but also the inherent itchiness that accompanies waiting for any kind of response in the age of constant information. The scene belongs in a smarter movie, but it's characteristic of a few observational gems that make Sex Tape work intermittently.

Aaaand there's the problem. Kasdan and crew detour from each interesting path by plowing into mud-traps of desperate farce. The revelation of Rob Lowe's character, for example, as a coke-snorting metalhead who commissions Disney portraits featuring himself is terrific; he's like the wealthy, slightly more balanced cousin of Elijah Wood's Kevin in Sin City. Running parallel to this story, however, is an extended gag involving Jay's encounter with Hank's guard dog, who catches him snooping around the mansion. The scenes drag on so mercilessly that I had flashbacks to This is the End, wondering if anyone would ever escape that goddamned house.

At the very least, we don't have to endure the machinations of Hank finding out about the video and forcing Annie into a compromising position. His story evaporates, making way for a brand new adventure where the family reunites for a midnight trip to YouPorn headquarters--where the person blackmailing Jay has allegedly uploaded the incriminating evidence for distribution online. We do, however, suffer a cameo from the company's owner, played by an awkwardly accented Jack Black. He offers Annie and Jay sage advice about marriage; removes their video from his queue before it goes live; and doesn't press charges for ramming his building with their truck, breaking into his server room, and trying to destroy his information hub.**

Because there are still ten minutes to kill in the run-time, our scot-free happy family can't simply head home for pancakes and therapy. They must attend a fourth-grade graduation ceremony, which will either feature the sex tape on a large screen or Hugh Grant kissing a woman as the curtain flies up. Not to worry: the film may be filthy, but it's suburbia-safe filth. In a weird way, Kasdan wants this to be his Love Actually, not his Bad Santa. Sex Tape is a hugs 'n lessons picture wrapped in the tawdry packaging of armpit licking and crotch summersaults.

Like last summer's Neighbors, Sex Tape offers a more complex look at parenting than we're used to seeing at the movies--particularly in dumb comedies. That film was more insightful and far funnier, but Angelo, Segel, and Stoller at least give sincerity a try here. Too bad for everyone involved that gross-out gags and artificial conflict rarely play well with emotional honesty: seeing Annie turn shrill and angry on a dime is one of the film's more depressing reminders of what we're really watching.*** Still, I've just written nine-hundred words about this movie--something I'd have never thought possible before putting it on. The experience has been oddly stimulating, and no matter how hard my future-self may argue the degree to which I shamefully enjoyed it, the Internet will never let me forget.

*Just wait 'til you see my "Year's Best" list.

**Don't call it a Porn Hub. That's a different site, which we learn when Black "hilariously" lists his competitors' names in rapid succession.

***That and the eyeball-assault product placement for Apple and YouPorn.


Into the Woods (2014)

Les Disneyrables

A few years ago, my brother-in-law told me he didn't like sci-fi films. I couldn't believe it. Sure, every genre has its share of garbage, but to dismiss all of cinematic science fiction? Ridiculous!

Last night, I came closer to understanding his point. After years of grappling with the unease that creeps up my spine whenever characters break into song on screen, I finally accepted the fact that I generally hate movie musicals. There are exceptions, of course, and they tend to be grand ones: hearing "I've Got A Golden Ticket" from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, or pretty much any tune from Little Shop of Horrors, instantly puts a spring in my step--even when I'm sitting down.

But I'm sad to admit Into the Wood drove me to unreasoning fits of impatience. In fairness, I can't tell how much blame rests on Rob Marshall's film, versus my own inability to countenance showy performers trying to out-range each other while not advancing the story.

The cast does very well. The costumes and production design are some of the richest and evocative I've seen this year. I love the premise. But James Lapine's screenplay (adapted from Stephen Sondheim's 1986 musical) is a mess of nonsensical motivations and unresolved storylines that buckle under the weight of mostly indistinguishable songs.

Let's set the stage: Into the Woods supposes that Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy), and the beanstalk-scaling Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) all live on the outskirts of the same forest. Their destinies collide when a Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) embark on a magical scavenger hunt to appease the witch next door (Meryl Streep)--who somehow holds the key to the couple's fertility.

Their quest concerns a lock of golden hair, a coat as red as blood, a milky-white cow, and a golden slipper. What it doesn't concern is the multi-million-dollar fantasy epic people have come to expect from Disney. I'm sure the designer wardrobes, actors' salaries, and deceptively limited special effects cost a pretty penny, but Into the Woods is maddening in its determination to not show crucial sequences. The most we get of Jack's multiple trips to the giant kingdom in the sky are shots of him climbing up the beanstalk and then climbing back down with bags of golden goodies. Cinderella's multiple nights of dancing with Prince Charming (Chris Pine) during a weekend-long ball are merely described; instead, we get three scenes of her running away from a great party we weren't invited to.

Perhaps this is the way Sondheim conceived his stage play, but it makes for lousy cinema. The first half of Into the Woods boils down to non-magical characters running in circles around a woodland set, singing about a scavenger hunt. The second half plays like whiteboard notes from a sequel story-meeting (or Once Upon a Time, take your pick), with Prince Charming putting the moves on the Baker's Wife for no reason; everyone trying to protect Jack from the Giant's wife for no reason;* and the Baker rushing through a surprise existential crisis that he literally should have had years ago.

Lapine (and/or Sondheim) pile on layer after layer of unnecessary postmodern fairy-tale analysis that, in their cleverness, replace one-dimensional characters with schizophrenics. Cinderella can't just dance with the prince at a ball. She has to dance with him on three consecutive nights, during which, we must accept, he doesn't ask her a single question about where she's from, what she wants, or why she runs away in hysterics at midnight.** And she can't just lose her slipper; she has to leave it behind because she can't decide whether or not she really wants to live as a princess or stay true to her impoverished roots, or whatever. It's just more business, aimed at giving the illusion of complexity to a story that doesn't require it.

All of this comes at the expense of more interesting elements that are either rushed or ignored. We learn early on that the Baker and Rapunzel are siblings, yet they don't have a single scene together. Rapunzel's love interest (Bill Magnussen) reveals that he's lost his sight at the hands of the witch; within thirty-five seconds, he's been cured thanks to Rapunzel's magical tears. The couple then disappears entirely from the movie.

I can't fault Into the Woods on any technical level, although the oppressive blue gloominess did little to help my alertness. Rob Marshall is a gifted filmmaker who did the best with what he had, I guess, but what he had was kind of crap. Hold on, I just remembered that Marshall directed 2002's big-screen adaptation of Chicago, which I loved.


Maybe I like movie musicals after all. Yes, I think that's the case. I just can't stand glossy, obnoxious vamping that attempts to compensate for a lack of ideas--while also padding out the run-time. That's true for musicals, comedies, comic-book movies, action-figure extravaganzas, and any other genre you can name. Perhaps my personal B.S. radar is just keener when it comes to the song and dance of song-and-dance pictures. Whatever the case, I'm always open to that rare, lyrical, and brainy film that grabs my heart and changes its tune. Sadly, Into the Woods isn't one of those.

*Food for thought: In this reality, giants have not been established as evil; they're just much larger people who live in the sky. On multiple occasions, Jack burglarizes the giants' castle. When Jack finds himself in danger of getting caught by one of these goliaths, he chops down the beanstalk and kills his pursuer. It's unclear to me why the villagers are in such a hurry to protect this little snot when the victim's wife (Frances de la Tour) rightfully shows up and demands that they hand him over.

**True, this version of the story is supported by lore, but in keeping these head-scratching elements in play, Lapine (and/or Sondheim) risk ripping more sentient audience members out of the fantasy. So much of Into the Woods smacks of convenience in service of set pieces and songs that I simply couldn't invest in whatever vision the filmmakers had wanted to share.


The Interview (2014)


Whether an incitement to war or an inside job, the bizarre events surrounding Sony's release of The Interview have gotten people riled up about movies to a degree not seen since Team America: World Police. Unfortunately, the only one of the two that's worth a damn came out ten years ago and stars obscene puppets. Still, The Interview deserves a look--not for any kind of entertainment value, but as a primer for distinguishing political satire from lame stoner comedy. In an alternate universe, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's glossy and expensive production about assassinating Kim Jong-un is sharp, well-executed, and worthy of international incident. In this reality, it's a botched missile launch at best.

Rogen plays Aaron Rapaport, the producer/sidekick to James Franco's obnoxious tabloid-TV personality, Dave Skylark. At a party celebrating the duo's 1000th episode, he runs into a former classmate (Anders Holm), who now works at 60 Minutes. Aaron realizes he's been wasting his professional life covering Eminem and Nicki Minaj, and falls into a depressive funk. A couple days later, Dave cheers up his friend with news that North Korea's notoriously reclusive dictator (Randall Park) is a huge fan of their show. Scoring an interview should be easy, they reason, and would boost not only Skylark Tonight's global profile, but also its credibility.

After finalizing some details with Sook (Diana Bang), Kim's buttoned-up and attractive head of communications, Aaron and Dave receive a visit from the CIA. The buttoned-up and attractive Agent Lacey (Lizzy Caplan) enlists Dave to administer a ricin handshake at the outset of the interview, which will kill Kim hours after he and Aaron have left the country.

This is a terrific premise for a globe-trotting spy comedy. But Rogen, Goldberg, and screenwriter Dan Sterling are only interested in the trappings of a big-ideas movie. The are no guts in the guts of The Interview, which drowns in a tidal wave of bromophobia and sixth-grade musings on bodily fluids. The filmmakers' knowledge of international affairs feels ripped from comments sections, and their understanding of human relationships makes Chuck Lorre look like Gore Vidal.

Before you walk away convinced of my prudishness (and attendant inability to appreciate the film), remember this: I ranked Movie 43 as one of last year's best films--not my finest hour, but the point stands. My issue with raunchy films isn't the base humor itself, but the skill with which it's implemented. All of The Interview's gags are either too obvious, too lifted, or too over-played to register as anything but desperation.* There's no surprise, no variation, and no reason to care about any of the characters or developments in this allegedly high-stakes plot--because everything is played for the cheapest possible laugh.

Example: As bit fodder, Katy Perry's empowerment anthem "Firework" is both low-hanging fruit and dated by at least a year. Rogen and Goldberg reference the song and play it in their film no less than four times, which is roughly the comedy equivalent of making Monica Lewinsky jokes after 9/11. 

Rogen's schlubby, self-esteem-deficient pothead routine was cute a decade ago, in Knocked Up. But he's ostensibly a man now, and still acting like the clueless, horny asshole he and Goldberg wrote about in 2007's semi-semi-autobiographical Superbad. Last summer's Neighbors offered a glimmer of hope that he'd ventured into new territory, but now he's back to gleefully running the word "butthole" into the ground.

Likewise, Franco is a skilled and versatile actor (when he chooses to be) but here he plays a hyper-exaggerated version of a cartoon--which robs his role of the crucial sting of recognition, on which effective parody rests. The Dave Skylark character comes across as Ryan Seacrest, as described to a writer who's never actually bothered to figure out A) what makes Ryan Seacrest so ridiculous and B) whether or not Ryan Seacrest is actually ridiculous.

At the very least, The Interview features two terrific performances by Park and Caplan. I don't know how much either was influenced by intuition, screenplay, or direction, but both actors shine much brighter than the material involving their characters. Leave it to Rogen and company to squander such potential. Kim Jong-Un enters the film as a complicated, insecure leader who recognizes similar neediness in Dave Skylark. For about twenty minutes, the movie veers into a richness I hadn't expected. But by the end, Kim becomes a semi-dimensional, tantrum-prone despot from a completely different film.

Likewise, Caplan's no-nonsense Agent Lacey disappears for at least a third of the picture--only to re-emerge as a squishy, unrecognizable Stepford cheerleader (aka Dave Skylark's Inevitable Girlfriend). Coincidentally, she pops back up around the same time that Skylark receives a puppy from Kim. Lacey's downgrade is so dramatic, one gets the feeling she's also destined to become an adorable object that's left at Chez Skylark during work hours.

The Interview has the scale, style, and slickness of a Michael Bay flick. It also has the same amount of brains. When filmmakers resort to crash-zooms of Asians screaming as a punch-line, or construct artificial badassery from a slow-motion hero shot of a tiny Asian woman shooting a giant machine gun, it's a sure bet there's nothing else under the hood. Rogen and Goldberg want their movie to look cool and to remind their audience of lame cultural jokes and action-movie tropes that have entertained them before. They also want to get as much mileage out of objects going up men's butts as possible, and blow up the word "honeydick" in the pop lexicon.

These are noble goals in some circles, but they don't add up to substantive commentary on North Korea, the United States, or anything, really. The movie is just a dumb comedy--a defense, I'm sure, that many will raise when reading this review. If that's your logic, I suppose it's fair, and I humbly suggest you watch Pineapple Express as a companion piece to The Interview. It also stars Rogen and Franco in a weed-driven action send-up. It's not a perfect film by any stretch, but it has imagination and wit, and pushes the audience's expectations of what might be accomplished in the genre. To borrow a phrase from Zig Ziglar, the comic duo's latest movie aims at nothing, and hits it every time.

*The exception involves the somewhat inventive fate of a Bengal tiger. Had the sequence that preceded it not been so excruciatingly drawn out, I might've actually laughed.


Unbroken (2014)

It's Okay to Be Inspired

Today is Christmas, and it's fitting that there's a lot to unwrap with Unbroken. Some have called Angelina Jolie's biopic of World War II veteran Louis Zamperini a cheesy, unabashedly religious bit of hagiography, and I'm hard-pressed to disagree. It is also an exciting and deeply personal war movie that isn't afraid to place a higher value on inspiration than the graphic glorification of human misery.

Jack O'Connell stars as Zamperini, the poor son of Italian immigrants. His older brother, Pete (Alex Russell), turns him on to high school track as a means of channeling the rage and low self-esteem that get him into constant trouble with the law. Turns out Louis' a natural who zooms his way to a spot at the 1936 Olympics. A few years later, while serving in the US Army Air Forces, his rickety bomber gets shot down over the Pacific Ocean. Unbroken centers on Zamperini's six weeks at sea with two fellow crew members, and his subsequent capture and years-long internment by the Japanese military.

The film opens with Zamperini narrowly surviving an air raid, and cuts frequently to childhood flashbacks. It's an uneven start, to be sure; the immersive, high-stakes bomber battle stands in high contrast to young Zamperini's (C.J. Valleroy) unexplained behavioral problems, and the Hallmark Channel earnestness of big brother (John D'Leo) telling him, "If you can take it, you can make it". We get the requisite Catholic mass scene with attendant close-up of the little kid's face wondering what the whole Jesus thing is all about. We muscle through the truant-officer-talking-to-the-concerned-mother scene. And on and on. Were it not for the strength of the "modern day" material, the film would have been in big trouble.

Fortunately, Jolie and her cadre of screenwriters (which includes none other than Joel and Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese, and William Nicholson) abandon the Slumdog Millionaire structure early on, allowing us to face Zamperini's struggles the same way he did--with an unflinching focus on the now. From starvation, shark attacks, and violent storms to the horrors of interrogation and internment, Zamperini's life becomes a drawn-out Passion Play re-enactment--a stomach-sinking string of dashed-hope disasters that would read as hokum had they not been based on a real man's two years in hell.

Those looking for an in-depth exploration of Zamperini's inner workings miss the point of the film. Unbroken provides the impetus for this remarkable young man's perseverance (a wavering faith in God that leads to an unwavering belief in himself). We're not subjected to extended monologues about heroism or armchair psychology because it's unlikely any of that came into play on the raft or in the prison camps. Just as the Greatest Generation is famous for letting others boast about its accomplishments, Jolie simply presents Zamperini's story and leaves us to determine its greater implications--as a mirror to our own notions of resilience.

Indeed, the film's greatest commentary is a deftly posed and sadly relevant question regarding America's attitudes towards its treatment of wartime prisoners. Recently, new CIA reports have resurrected the "Is Waterboarding Torture?" debate. Among the horrors faced by Zamperini and his hundreds of fellow service members were repeated dousings with buckets of cold water while kneeling in the nude, with rifles trained on them; standing outside for days on end; and daily beatings with bamboo staffs. In the most sinister display, Zamperini is ordered to take a punch in the face by each prisoner in the camp. One cannot walk away from this film without considering where such acts fall on one's personal "torture" spectrum.

These are heavy issues at the heart of what is ostensibly a Triumph of the Human Spirit movie, and for good reason. After all, the human spirit requires tremendous adversity in order to triumph, and Zamperini's story certainly qualifies. It helps that O'Connell turns in the second of two outstanding 2014 performances. Earlier this year, he played a degenerate killer in Starred Up, and he brings an equally powerful but differently manifested intensity to bear here. Despite what some of the talk surrounding the film would have you believe, his character is not an indomitable Superman.* He embodies intelligence, honesty, and hope, but only to the degree to which such characteristics naturally give way to fear and uncertainty in the face of the dreaded Darkest Hour.

O'Connell's performance is the film's strongest, but he is in fine company with the likes of Domhnall Gleeson,** Garrett Hedlund, and Takamasa Ishihara (his role as the head of Zamperini's prison camp strains credulity, but the actor hits some surprisingly subtle notes with what could have been--and occasionally is--a cartoonish part). Unbroken's other unsung hero is legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, who works with Jolie to broaden the wartime scale when necessary and, in a heartbeat, seamlessly close ranks on intimacy (be it the claustrophobia of impending madness or a few fleeting, quiet minutes between tired, tortured men).

Like Jolie's previous film, In the Land of Blood and Honey, Unbroken examine the extraordinary challenges of war through the eyes of ordinary people. Yes, Louis Zamperini was just a guy--a guy who became greater than anything he'd ever expected of himself. Unbroken reassures us that, whether or not our own trials involve mortars or just mortgages, the simple act of striving to do better--to be better--can lead to amazing things. It's a simple message that cynics may argue is too simple, but it's delivered in a rousing, beautiful, and unapologetically upbeat entertainment.

*Though there are times when I wondered where O'Connell was during Man of Steel's casting.

**Both he and O'Connell undergo unsettling physical transformations, withering from buff, all-American kids to practically skeletal ghouls by the end of their time at sea.

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