Dear Gert and Montag,
Separately, William Friedkin and Walon Green are responsible for two of the grimmest, violentest, and most nihilistic events ever committed to celluloid, The Exorcist and The Wild Bunch. Together, they made Sorcerer, a long stretch of bad road that got buried by a landslide called Star Wars.
Two days ago, at the invitation of a friend who works at a nearby VFX house, both of which must remain nameless, I watched Minnow, Friedkin and Green’s latest collaboration. It was a temp-tracked workprint–appropriately, about three hours long–and it was so nightmarish, so unrelenting, so packed with human monsters beyond redemption, that I couldn’t look away.
But before the review proper, a bit of history.
From 1964 to 1967, when the world was engaging in acts of complete insanity, when old wars were being fought anew, when riots and wanton slaughter were vying for prime-time coverage and what we needed more than anything was intelligent, reasoned, sophisticated programming, CBS gave us Gilligan’s Island, a show that holds up, even today, as the stupidest ever.
Friedkin and Green have taken Gilligan’s Island, which was in no way a reflection of its troubled times, and so grounded it in the now that its roots reach all the way to Hell.
We fade in on a Navy Court Martial, the first in a series of vignettes introducing the cast[-aways]. Captain Jonas Grumby (Willem Dafoe with some extra ballast) tries and fails to convey two emotions that are foreign to him, shame and remorse. Comparisons are made to “a scoundrel named Bligh,” and the trial ends with Grumby stripped of rank and dishonorably discharged.
Meanwhile in a Manhattan skyscraper, Thurston Howell III (Alec Baldwin) watches as his financial ship sinks. “Pyramids were never meant to float, darling,” quips Kim Basinger as Lovey, his aging trophy wife. Basinger and Baldwin play the couple as twin geysers of spite, with nothing in their eyes but the twinkle of mutually assured destruction.
In what may prove to be a comeback role, Lindsay Lohan plays (some might say lives) Ginger Grant. This Ginger digs beneath the cake makeup of the original series’ Marilyn-Xerox to unearth a former child starlet who’s addicted to pills, in and out of rehab, and dogged, quite literally, by rumors of a bestial sex tape.
The final vignette takes place in the office of “Roberta Denver, Principal,” but it’s not a student she’s lecturing on bad behavior, it’s a teacher, Roy Hinkley. Played by a bespectacled Guy Pearce, the big hand on his stubble clock permanently stopped at five, Roy embodies the kind of masculine presence teenage girls ovulate for; that he’s well aware of this is what makes him dangerous. Roberta has no choice but to fire him: “For God’s sake, she’s only sixteen, Mr. Hinkley!” Clearly in shock, all Roy can manage is a despondent, “The kids call me ‘Professor.’”
A slow dissolve delivers us to Hong Kong Harbor. Amidst junks, sampans, and impromptu houseboats sits the Minnow, as much a wreck as its sweat-lacquered skipper, Grumby. Five passengers arrive: the Howells, traveling under assumed names; Ginger in a long black wig and shades; and the Professor and his pregnant “daughter” Mary Ann (a star turn by Kara Hayward). Grumby quaffs his bottle of rum and chucks it into the hold. “Gilligan!” An anemic and flustered Christian Bale appears. “Help these nice people with their things.” Bale’s portrayal of an autistic beast of burden is nothing short of revelatory.
The Minnow sets sail. Life on-board is thoroughly unpleasant, especially for Gilligan, who is made the ship’s whipping boy. Ginger spends the trip in a narcotic oblivion, and whenever she chances to look in Gilligan’s direction, his natural shyness turns to flight. The Howells remain in their creaky stateroom, and we learn that within his teddy bear, Thurston has smuggled a gun.
One night, a fateful storm is encountered. Despite his blood-alcohol level, the skipper seems up to the task, but at a critical moment Gilligan cuts the power and kills the engines. We’ve seen him blunder before, but this time it’s no mistake–it’s revenge.
In the next sequence, Friedkin manages to outdo both the car chase from The French Connection, and the bridge crossing from Sorcerer. And while the rest of Minnow was peppered with missing special-effects shots, this harrowing sequence was all there, because it was all real.
The ship wrecks on a coral reef, forcing the castaways to brave not only the storm, but shark-infested waters as well, as they pile into a rubber dinghy and row to the shore of a desert island. Complications abound, and at several moments I was sure Friedkin was about to pull a To Live and Die in L.A. and kill a main character (or all of them) halfway through the film. But no, they survive. Regrettably.
Life on the island is briefly idyllic. Shelters are built, fresh water found, fish speared, and fruit harvested. Gilligan continues to screw up and demonstrate an uncanny inability to put two and two together, though by now we know this is partly an act. Suffering through the DTs, the skipper browbeats Gilligan mercilessly.
The castaways’ goal, one might think, would be immediate rescue, but for the first time in years, the Professor, Mary Ann, and Ginger feel safe. The Howells, on the other hand, want access to their Swiss accounts, and there isn’t a single ATM on the island.
Soon the castaways are bickering with the savagery of lions fighting over a zebra carcass. The Howells’ true identities are revealed. Realizing Thurston deep-sixed his retirement account, the Professor charges. Thurston draws his teddy and fires, mortally wounding the Professor. Thurston then turns his cuddly weapon on Gilligan and orders him to row back to the Minnow and retrieve the radio. Ginger volunteers to go with him.
Her selflessness is born of withdrawal, and after raiding what’s left of her luggage and popping a fistful of pills, she’s beside Gilligan trying to fulfill another pressing need. He’s busy freeing the radio as she begins unzipping his pants. His sex ed must have come from Sears catalogues, because he’s confused and frightened and asking if she’s going to bite him. She proceeds without answer; he panics. Imagining an impending assault on his little buddy, Gilligan rips out the radio and brains her with it. Instant death.
Minnow, which should prove to be the feel-bad movie of the year, is slated for release Christmas Day 2015, one week after Star Wars VII.