RIORI Vol 3, Installment 52: Ryan Murphy’s “Eat Pray Love” (2010)


Eat Pray Love


The Players…

Julia Roberts, with James Franco, Javier Bardem, Viola Davis, Billy Crudup, Richard Jenkins, Sophie Thompson, Luca Argentero and Gita Reddy (just because).


The Story…

Based on the memoir of the same name, Liz dumps her immature husband in search of truth and fun. Go globetrotting to the corners of the Earth to “find herself,” whatever that means anymore.

However we all know that to know ourselves, the truth lies within and yadda yadda yadda. Who wants gelato?


The Rant…

We’ve all made bad choices.

Sticking with a career we hate. Dropping out of school. Mixed up in a sh*tty relationship that goes on too long. That tribal tat on your face. Writing a blog about mediocre movies. What have you. Life’s filled with bad choices, as if to offset the positive ones. Funny thing that, good choices are their own reward, but seldom immediate. Chances are you didn’t realize you made one until well into the positive circumstances said choice provided. Like until you get a promotion, or see your kid graduate from college, or finally score that top 10 hit. Stuff like that takes some time to achieve, but all the sweeter with the waiting.

Bad choices? Ah. A bit more slippery.

I’d like to think most folks who find themselves in an existential pickle kinda knew what they were signing up for, and the throughput arrives rather quickly. Sometimes not even unexpectedly. For example you might’ve gotten hints at the outset your new girlfriend might have some daddy issues based on all the portraits of him scattered around her apartment. All of them of him glaring at the lens. Maybe you keep finding cashing missing from your wallet, a reflection of how often your kid goes missing, usually to the neighbors’ garage. You know, the one with three angry pitbulls tied to a semi-truck hub in the fenced off, neglected, dirt patch of a backyard. Or perhaps when your boss calls you into the office one day after sick leave and politely, but forcefully, requests you tell him what meds you’re on (true story!).

An unhealthy dose of denial precludes the slipperiness. Those nagging doubts you squeeze into the basement of your cerebrum. The mounting evidence of dishevelment that you keep excusing. That rattlesnake in your bed you woke up to. Twice. Nah, none of this can be happening. Roadbumps along the road of life these are. Hey, where’s my wallet?

If you’re a thinking person, you may eventually realize you’re embedded in a sh*tstorm of your own making through poor decisions. That it’ll be a hard way out, if you ever want out. Truth ultimately wins out though, and it’s yours to behold. Now there’s this man in the mirror calling, and you’d wish to put him on hold. Indefinitely.

This is part of the lesson where you feel you need to perform some dreaded “soul searching.” You wake up one morning and make a new choice: take stock of your life. Might be a bad choice again, the desire to ask yourself, “What went wrong?” Or, “What did I do to deserve this?” Or most likely, “What do I do now? Where do I go from here?”

That’s easy: escape. Leave it all behind and start over somewhere else. Sure. That’s the ticket. Pull up stakes and start a new life, with or without the witness relocation program. Lots of people dissatisfied with their station in life consider travel. Get away from it all, literally. But there are roadblocks. Finances, for one. You’re tied to that sh*tty job, therefore the finance thing keeps churning. Dump the spouse and/or kids? Not happening…yet. You have all these anchors, all of them feeding into if not cementing your crummy, soul-crushing, confusing life. The life you so desperately want to escape. Quite the conundrum.

So, travel. Imagine if, if you had the wherewithal to set foot out of the nest. Get miles, maybe countries away from your troubles. Experience cultures alien to your own. Meet people totally unlike anyone in your craptastic circle of friends. Hell, get a decent meal instead of those endless Lean Cuisines choking up your freezer. But pause, this might just be a case of the grass being greener. Face it, it’s hard to separate yourself from your lousy life decisions when anything, anywhere else would be better than here.

Your life—the life you wished you had before the fallout of your own design—might be out there waiting for you to catch up. It’s a scary prospect however to make that leap into the unknown. As much as you might hate the stupid decisions that have held you down, it’s familiar. You (think you) have control of your situation, and for all its flaws it’s comfortable.

You gotta get out of that comfort zone. Ain’t done you much good, has it? So yeah, leave. Leave it all behind. Find yourself. All over again. Make this choice a good one. But be careful, in your goal of learning who you once were and what could be, you might not like what you find.

Or maybe not…


Liz Gilbert (Roberts) is an esteemed, successful travel writer. She’s in a nice marriage with Stephen (Crudup), her slightly petulant husband. Her apartment is perfect, complete with the kitchen of her dreams. Money in the bank. Reputation impeccable within the writing community. Wanting for nothing.

Then how come Liz is miserable?

She knows she has the ideal, cosmopolitan life. Why should she be miserable? Well, she’s a travel writer and for far too long Liz got mixed up in setting down roots in a world that doesn’t fit. So she decides to make some very rational, practical decisions to turn things around.

Divorce Stephen. Shack up with hot, young aspiring actor David (Franco) to shake away the divorce blues. Listen to her best buddy Delia’s (Davis) advice and get off her ass, go visit the world again. This time minus any writing assignments. Check out Italy, India and Bali. Soak up some culture. Find a guru. Find a nice guy whose not obsessed with tomorrow.

Get a good meal for f*ck’s sake…


Christ, this one was dreadful.

Again, showing my hand, but man.

Hey, I like TV travelogues. Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and A Cook’s TourNational Geographic ExplorerThe Jeff Corwin Experience. Anything about places and people and things that if I had the time and money I’d go there in a hot minute. But I’m broke, haven’t accrued enough frequent flyer miles and can only speak three languages: American, Canadian and British. That and I hate jet lag.

I figured that based on my passive-aggresive wanderlust and wishing I was wrestling with giant frogs in the Yucatan and later chowing down on Montreal poutine slathered with salsa and mushrooms Eat Pray Love would be right up my alley as well as conveniently following The Standard. Heck, the movie was based on the best-selling, real life memoir by the actual Liz Gilbert. She lived what she wrote about, after all. And this movie adaptation starred America’s reliable sweetheart Julia Roberts! What could go wrong?

Right. Plenty.

I’m going to try, try not to slam Eat Pray Love into the dirt too hard. I understand it is my custom to get into a frothing frenzy here at RIORI when I watch a really crappy film. The kind you feel cheated for having seen, and I can’t remember the last time I took apart some mediocre movie here that didn’t enrage me in the last month or so (I have a lot of imaginary ticket stubs to throw in the faces of a lot of imaginary ushers). No. I’m going to try to be methodical in my analysis of Eat‘s pitfalls with a minimum of bile.

Why? Because this movie was a sad waste of potential. It had the air of doing the right thing, but its execution and overall tenor was so treacly, sour and worst of all boring (I know, how can a travelogue be boring?). It could have been a lot better. Obviously so.

Eat‘s biggest crime was that it was derivative. Very derivative. The wifey sat down with me to watch the thing for the first half hour. She gave up in disgust and stomped out of the room. She’s the one who labeled the movie derivative. After 30 minutes, and she almost never watches the movies I destroy with me for any appreciable amount of time (half hour or no). She found the first half hour of Eat lame, stupid and—you guessed it—derivative. She was quite correct, and I reached the same correct conclusion 90-plus minutes later. Well, truth be told, it took me over three hours to watch the thing in full. My attention kept wandering, and the viewing was interspersed with way too many cigarette, snack and bathroom breaks. Whether I needed them or not. I rationalized I needed them to get through the drudgery.

Sorry. Getting bitter. But disappointing movies do that to me. Now let’s get technical.

When I—she—said Eat was derivative here’s what the vibe was. Well after that crucial half hour mark, yet well-established within those 30 minutes there was a stink of Hollywood tampering. I’m not talking about director Murphy taking a lot of liberties with the source material. I never read the book myself, but I knew it was a hot ticket at Barnes & Noble since the last Ice Age, apparently something sweating to be made into a movie or TV series or video game or something. Hollywood apparently was champing at the bit. Taking any liberties here was most likely a tricky prospect at best (where was Liz gonna go first? Venus?). Still, I smelled that a travel movie would be more about the destination, and not the traveller. I mean, Bourdain made his shows about the places and people with him just as a witness. All he added was snarky commentary and cursory explanations about cultural and historical hot points. It wasn’t him yammering on and on and on about himself; the places he visited did the talking.

Murphy sure didn’t take hints from Bourdain. More like he took orders from the studio for Eat. Marching orders.

Eat may have been about Liz’ adventures, but sure as sh*t is wasn’t about Liz. At least not directly. Here’s where the derivations commenced. Dissatisfied woman looking down the barrel of a mid-life crisis. Looking in the mirror and asking where her dreams went. Burns old life to the ground. Shacks up with various men of vitality (through her rosey lenses). Reasserts who she is via escape. Start over elsewhere in unfamiliar climes of her dreams in search of happily ever. As Bourdain quoted, “Go bamboo.”

Sigh.

The whole “fish out of water” bit has been done to death ten times over, and it ain’t any better for the eleventh time. Liz as the innocent abroad is a character so tired it went to bed and tossed the alarm clock in the toilet years ago. Recalling the whole “let the pictures do the talking” aesthetic when doing a travelogue, it’s never the destination but the journey. Everything, everything in Eat is punctuated by Liz’ wonder, angst, fears and waaay too much about her and her anxieties. The real Liz’ story is probably just as personal, but well lacking on her focus on…her. The places she went are the stars of the show I’ll bet. Her reflecting on the when and where is where we learn who Liz is and maybe was. Felt like Murphy deemed this as too heady and made Roberts the absolute center of her travels.

If this was the case (and it sure tasted that way) then our avatar Roberts was not invested in her role. What’s made Roberts a go-to actress for the past quarter century is her skill at conveying both humor well-paired with vulnerability. This holds true as far back as Pretty Woman well into Notting Hill and even her other biopic Erin Brockovich, of which she won an award. There’s a passive self-consciousness in her selected roles. Passive. Her Liz is so painfully self-aware there is no charm. At the outset our heroine both equally, stereotypically fragile and resolved. Cut and dried. There is no humor, at least nothing that sticks. There is no subtlety. Roberts’ Liz is just going through the motions, motions completely out of synch with a travel movie about self-discovery. It’s understood that people travel to get out of their comfort zone and maybe learn something about themselves in the process. Liz’ globetrotting in Eat is rote; it is precisely what audiences are supposed to expect. It is what Murphy’s vision is. It is connect the dots. It is not about the journey, it is about Liz. And only Liz. Roberts is completely reactive in Eat and her signature fragile charm is all but absent. She’s a cipher for a thousand dissatisfied housewives, passport at the ready or no. Her acting is shameful here. Roberts has a lot of strong, emotional attributes. Being willowy is not one of them.

Since Roberts’ failings as she was directed really bogged down the film there must be a counterbalance. Despite Murphy’s style reeking of hackwork, a great deal of Eat‘s technical execution was quite good. There was a lot of what I call rolling camera work. You know, trying to maximize space with great cinematography, thereby essential to tell the story beyond the story. Remember Eat is a story of exploration, be it within and without. Since Liz is bounding around the globe trying to find her own private Shangri-La we better f*cking get eyeballs full of expansive swaths of local color. The rolling camera work succeeds. Everything feels intimate yet wide. There’s plenty of time allowed to absorb where Liz is and what she sees. It’s the only aspect of a travel story where the place outshines the traveler, and it makes for a pretty picture. But just that. Granted Roberts’ performance unfortunately enhances this effect, but without her indifferent screen presence this effect wouldn’t have worked as well. Odd really. I took what I could get here.

Still Eat was derivative, it’s biggest sin. Murphy either dropped the plot (literally) or was charmed by the producers holding the pennies (one of whom was Brad Pitt, BTW. Does he really need more cred by now?) to make a “safer” picture. At any rate, Eat‘s end-run was dull and predictable, overly so. We’re even talking right down to Liz REDACTED, thereby turning her life around. Such a trope is f*cking stale, and derivative of a million “get away from it all” stories. A movie about world travel? How could that be boring? Well, it could’ve been a lot more interesting if Eat didn’t play out so safe. By safe I mean tepid, sappy and a healthy dose of pandering to Middle American audiences. Did I mention the pacing was like syrup? Again, stoning offense for a travelogue; it’s all about forward motion in the final analysis.

Eat was intermittently interesting, if not entertaining. When Liz wasn’t moping about, Murphy’s limited skills did indeed shine. He had a keen eye for capturing the vibrance of places afar for us poor, myopic American schlubs stuck in the McDonald’s drive-thru queue. But the other side of the coin demanded so many eye-rolls. At his hand, Eat‘s potential to be truly eye popping was hampered by his moving Roberts from position to position and insist the throughput was held exclusively in her eyes. Very little reflection, precious little. At least anything convincing, therefore meaningful.

In conclusion Eat was a drag, and claiming also a big let-down (if regarding this installment, quite the truism). It was boring. It lost the plot, well before one got established. I hope the real Liz Gilbert was well compensated for the probable bastardization of her beloved, best-selling book. So much potential was wasted here. So much. I know I said earlier I’d keep the ire to a minimum, and I’d like to believe me being clinical here achieved that. Still Eat was the kind of movie I’d be screaming in tongues about with paroxysms of frustration and where the f*ck the last 2 hours went. Longer including a pack of smokes, many beers, a ham sandwich and a small load of laundry. My attention was not held.

That being said, I think I’ll get back to polishing some mirrors, ask myself why I got that tribal tat back in the 90s and locate some really decent pasta. Barring watching a decent movie, what else is there?

Getting my wallet away from those pitbulls. That’s what.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Relent it. F*cking frustrating. Anathema to any proper tale of travel, not to mention the “Cinderella story” interwoven into the traveling fabric. Any smart person will hate this movie. There. There’s the bile.


Stray Observations…

  • “You wanted that toaster!”
  • Ever wonder if Roberts gets smile cramps?
  • “Do you need a Xanax?” “Always.”
  • First time I ever watched a movie without watching it. Sandwiches can’t make themselves.
  • “She thinks I changed my name to ‘Motherf*cker’.” Had to laugh at that.
  • Jenkins’ soliloquy is the best acting in the entire film.
  • “Do you always talk in bumper sticker?”
  • However cheesy, Liz’ adventures in Rome sure looked appealing.
  • “My place.”
  • Who thinks the real Liz Gilbert should be given her own show on the Travel Channel? Hands?
  • “See you later, alligator.”

Next Installment…

Like all good illusionists declare, “Now You See Me, now you don’t.” Let’s hope it’s not how I may feel about this movie.


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RIORI Vol 3, Installment 51: Chris Columbus’ “I Love You, Beth Cooper” (2009)


ILoveYouBethCooper-PosterArt_CR


The Players…

Paul Rust, Hayden Panettiere, Jack Carpenter, Lauren Storm, Lauren London and Shawn Roberts, with Alan Ruck and Cynthia Stevenson.


The Story…

No real surprise, but nerdy high school valedictorian Denis knows how to work an opportunity. He uses his graduation speech to express his adoration for his crush Beth Cooper. Oh, brother. However instead of getting spurned, Denis gets the shock of his life when his shameless exaltation actually works, and Beth responds in kind showing up on his doorstep that very night.

How’s that for geek chic?


The Rant…

Like the late, great John Holmes may have said, “This one might get a little long.”

Now then…

I remember my first crush. Hell, I remember both of them.

When I first heard the Replacements’ Pleased To Meet Me album I was—

Sorry, wrong crush. Things get muddled. High school was a long time ago for me, after all.

So ahem, chapter one. Middle school. Been there, done that, wouldn’t want to go there again. Safe bet that you out there may agree with such. Onset of puberty. Those lovely awkward years of growth spurts, acne breakouts like a plague of rubella, deodorant quick becoming a necessity to life and the occasional, uncomfortable, embarrassing reason to decline using the lavatory no matter how much choco milk your drained at lunchtime. Ah yes, the good ol’ days.

In seasons past I’ve talked about my time as a bando. From junior high well into my college years I was a sax slinger. Wanted to learn the instrument when I first heard INXS’ Kirk Pengilly wail at just the right times when Michael Hutchence and friends needed a little swing. I took notice. True, my ears weren’t sharp to Coltrane then, but it was the late 80s and I was twelve so please give me some wiggle room.

I’ll spare you the crap about my meteoric rise to sax savant in school band (because it didn’t happen). Dubious musical influences notwithstanding, I enlisted in my middle school’s band. Being honest, back then I got into my 12-year old head that signing up was a good way to keep up with friends. Consider it, new school, mixed with strangers, awkward and self-conscious. Best keep your best mates about you. Helped we all shared a similar interest.

Girls. Regardless of Kirk’s influence, the opportunity to make new acquaintances had quite the appeal on me and my boys’ hormone-addled mindfields. Chances were good that you already botched it, you probably already stained your sheets with the girls who already knew what a tool you were. Here’s a chance to beign anew, phoenix-like, wiping the slate clean from any clumsy advances made in the lesser grades.

Yeah. Right. Of course all that jazz—so to speak—wasn’t really true, but it didn’t hurt that I was friends with a sweet girl who took up the sax in elementary school and we both thought it was cool. Cool is always a relative term.

Out of some kind of inane displacement, I gathered being a bando was cool. Look at Benny Goodman or Tommy Dorsey. Those guys made your grandparents swing and without them, to some basal level, your parents and you wouldn’t be here. Along that line of thinking, hell, take a look at Mick Jagger. He seems to be doing okay for his rotting age, and he once married a supermodel. So yeah, music can make the ladies swoon. At 12 I was just wanting to pull those cool licks from “Take Five” and maybe score a wink or two from some band dorks from the fairer sex on the side with my ragged prowess. Later I might’ve tried for “Satisfaction.”

It all worked. Kinda. And not from Brubeck this. Or Jagger that.

Who shall we call her this week? We’ll call her Anne. She played clarinet, second cousin to the sax which meant not categorically that we were meant to be. Or at least ogle each other for a time. I was 12, she 13 and that lavatory crap from before held ready meaning then.

Truth be told, Anne was average-looking save a darling smile and long auburn hair. Freckly cheeks, too. It’s funny what sticks, especially when one sets the way-back machine so far to middle school. A little Vaseline on the lens of memory. Harmless. She caught my eye nonetheless. Besides the physical features, I couldn’t tell you why she caught my eye, but she did.

I think it was because I caught her eye first. This may come as a shock—like pro wrestling isn’t real or rice is indeed gluten-free—but I am and was never what you would call a “catch,” even and especially during those Clearasil-spackled years. My wife feels otherwise. God bless her. Anyway, yeah, it wasn’t immediate, but now and again during band practice I caught her…smiling at me. Free as you please. Even on the days I skipped a shower (dumb move in 7th grade). This may not make me a catch by any stretch of the word beyond deep sea fishing, but the fact I caught a girl’s attention? Life is beginning. All those days with Brubeck were paying off.

This, as you may have gathered, was naive, adolescent bullsh*t. Such head-in-the-clouds ideas are always doomed to failure. Read: get your bubble burst instead of something more precious. Me? Awkward, geeky me? No way, he said in a cracking voice. But love is blind, or mostly limping. I tried to talk to Anne (never with. I was 12; par for the course), get near her, smell her hair. The usual. She had nice 7th grade breasts and that helped my doomed infatuation further. Like I said, funny what sticks.

Here’s where the weak-willed crush ended. Ready? What? So soon? Hey, middle school remember? Ingrid Michaelson. Girls chase boys chase girls. Circle of life in junior high social scenes. For a bando dork like me (and Anne by extension) any brush with the opposite sex that wasn’t scornful scored points to any 12-year old’s fragile ego. It was swift as it was lovely and eventually brutal. Again, to a 12-year old. Weep with me.

The annual orchestra concert had ended. For some odd reason to this day I’ve never figured out why my middle school’s orchestra had saxophones. My theory was either that the band director needed to beef up the limited horn section or to give everybody equal screen time. Whatever it was, Anne not only played clarinet but also violin. Multi-talented. My only other creative expression outside of sax back then was beating The Legend Of Zelda: The Adventure Of Link in record time.

The show went well. After the performance we all queued out, stage left (literally) to our pleased parents’ smiles. I remember my dad was waiting in the hall. I recall this particular fact because he usually worked nights and mom days. This wasn’t his usual thing, and seemed unsure how to express anything but pride about the show. I guess I figured in there somewhere. All was well.

While we were heading down the corridor to my father pleasantly chatting about the performance, me with sax case in tow, I felt a brush at my elbow. I turned and there was Anne, keeping up with my stride and smiling at me. Smiling, toting her violin case. I didn’t know what to do, so I did nothing save smile back feeling warm. She scurried ahead and made for the main exit. Now I know that Anne lived a scant few blocks from the school. I often watched her walk home, and not is some “Every Breath You Take” kind of way, shut up. 12, dammit. I knew INXS, not The Police. Geek.

I had a half-crazy thought to ask my dad to offer up her a ride home. All three blocks. So gallant. I said nothing, and watched her walk home alone down the hill, violin case in hand.

Bitterly romantic, right? Bzzzt. Check your crib notes. I blew that one. It could’ve been nice—maybe lead to something—if I had said something. Instead I didn’t. Too much of a self-conscious puss. One last time: I was 12. Should come as no surprise that Anne later started dated the cool, smooth dude who also played horn in band and sang tenor in the chorale group. Needless to say I couldn’t sing in any accessible fashion, and beyond INXS screeching Def Leppard’s Hysteria album cover to cover in the newly discovered shower did not engender me towards lead tenor material.

12, I tell you. 12!

Chapter two, and I know. Don’t think I’m not aware certain entries here at RIORI go a little long. I’m just exercising my right to creative freedom, as all bloggers do. And trust me, all my personal baggage has in some way a sliver of relevance to this week’s potential trainwreck. In all honesty though, I really don’t give a sh*t how long I ramble if I feel it might be entertaining. Or at least a purge. Or just a laugh on me. Whatever gets you thru the night. This section’s titled “The Rant,” after all. It’s really all just in good fun. And thank Harlan Ellison’s mother for the chicken soup.

Anywho, on to high school. Dum dum dum.

Okay. Now this is really pathetic. My first “proper” crush. Prepare to cringe.

Still in band (where else? The Hamptons?). It was where my buddies were. I (finally) got keen to Charlie Parker, so at least my ears were trying to aim in the right direction. Also got hip to Rush, which might’ve been a boon to my musical curiosity or more likely a reason to be anathema to the opposite sex. A lot of the same sex, too, now that I think about it. No matter. I had my friends. I had my sax. Both were there everyday in band homeroom, as well as our sadistic band director. Bitter with the sweet and all that rot.

Once more the social sphere grew wider. There were only two high schools in the district (barring the local, vaunted Catholic high school. More on that later. No there won’t), so again more new faces. To me it was kind of like the Ark disembarking. I met a lot of cool new bandos, with all their odd musical opinions and passions in tow. Some of those freaks and geeks were even—gasp—girls. Girls who never knew of my inept but well-meaning mooning over Anne (who moved away to the other district between junior and senior high. And yet she returned my junior year. I am but a pawn in the game of life such heathen gods play).

It was customary in August to become entrenched in the short bus version of basic training known as “band camp” for all incoming bandos. Learning the songs and ensuing marching routines for halftime during football games. Decide which “chair” what player would be best suited. Get acclimated with all the new faces. Hear the tales of grue about the aforementioned maniac band director. Know where to smoke caged cigarettes. Going over the inevitable inventory within the incestuous nature of bando relations about who was going with/f*cking whom.

That last thing I was neither. See a pattern forming here?

Again, it’s no real matter in retrospect. A safe distance from high school (eg: college/work force) often takes a squeegee to your mind’s eye. But when you’re in the thick of it, high school social bonding is the f*cking Force. Binds the universe together, with a light and dark side. Like duct tape. Who you go with in certain circles will dictate the majority of how you are perceived/identified in the greater social sphere. I was in band. Since middle school. Since elementary school. Let the noogies commence. Don’t worry though. Those wounds only last until the grave. That was the lot I drew.

I had my safe social haven in band. Most of the buds I made in middle school crossed over, and a whole slew of others spilled over into the high school band microcosm. One big happy. Did I mention new females came into the fray, including my future wife? No? Well this ain’t about her. It’s about another.

This time out I’ll call her *aims at existential dartboard* Bob.

My aim sucks. I dub her Andrea. I was enraptured.

Funny mentioning the Vaseline and the lens, years back I had thumbed through my old high school yearbooks. Partially for nostalgia and also curiosity. All those late teen faces. Our period hairstyles. The “senior superlatives” (I was awarded biggest mouth. I know, right?). The scowls (well maybe just me). I happened upon the snap of my old crush and cocked a brow. I asked myself, “What was I looking at then?” I’m not saying Andrea wasn’t pretty. She was, but decades later the scales fall away. Any smart, spurned idiot would have to ask himself what the hell was the big deal about?

Sex on a regular basis makes for a greater squeegee, for starters.

That aspect of getting with the opposite sex—as we all must learn—starts with low-hanging fruit. Low is where you start as a frosh in high school. And I could care less about your overachieving big bro in junior year who defined pi on an Etch-A-Sketch whom you shall eternally answer after. And never end a statement with a preposition. High school can be a cornucopia of opportunity to—let’s be frank—score some tail with the groundswell of new bodies flowing into the aforementioned new circle of friends. Or victims. Ha.

Band camp was just such a crucible in high school. Sure, we’d all learn about music and marching and who was from where and where to go and where to get. Most importantly, we’d all eventually get to know who’d be our friends. It’s like that in any close circle of people who share interests. Be it footballers, drama wierdos or diehard music dorks hell-bent on getting the latest release at midnight (this was pre-iTunes, mind you) before other people could barely care less about your sh*t. If you read this without snickering a little you have no soul or are a dropout with an innate lack of the snickering gene.

Where was I?

Right. Andrea. Never figured out my infatuation, even many years later. It just…came. Okay. Physical attraction came first, naturally. Come to think of it, that was the only thing then. My fevered teenaged mind filled in the blanks for what may come later. Glorious flights of fancy about dates, dances, intimate conversations about vital adolescent concerns like Pearl Jam and NAFTA and satisfying my demented carnal impulses as only clumsy, hard-up 15-year old boy could conjure in the seething cauldron of hormones we’ll call an imagination. Stuff like that. A simple hug might’ve worked in the longview.

She was cute. That was it. Cute. That was all it took. That and some je ne sais quoi. She was quiet, almost shy. Demure. I recalled she smiled often, and almost always responded to a question with a sweet smile. She didn’t talk much. It took me until sophomore year to hear her voice at all. All this rigamarole equated the perfect specimen for my romantic fantasies. Quiet and unassuming, mirrioring my geeky self-consciousness. And I thought her cute. Did I mention that?

I was terrified of her.

I assumed her to be gentle, unassuming. Lots of pillows on the bed. Probably liked Lisa Loeb. Perhaps Diane Court territory. Still, she paralyzed me. She played sax, too, and of course was around me constantly in band camp—and later band homeroom—learning the ropes as I was. Any thinking hornball male would’ve killed—or at least maimed—for such an opportunity to be in tight proximity of the object of his affection. Me? Mostly I just ogled her, too afraid to talk, even about band shop. I was willfully awkward. It was rather pathetic.

Now no-one would ever pick me up out of a line up as a “catch.” Even of the same sex. My wife debates this, but this is 2016. In 1992 it was, as the Brits say, quite the other thing. I was geek chic before that term was ever coined, and it ain’t no boast, either. Just wasn’t appreciated, like all geeks feel. This is relevant to my tale, by the way. Stay with me. Later we’ll have s’mores.

I had gained the rep of being a wierdo, even beyond your run-of-the-mill geek standards. I had amassed a music collection that rivaled my bando buddies, despite almost all of it hovered in the skies circa any time before 1992. My knowledge of Nintendo arcana rivaled the best Tokyo herself could reveal, skies wide open (record time with Zelda 2!). Long story short: I was interesting—at least in my mind—which invited zero interest to the women folk. But it did make for a ride on the rep-go-round.

That rep kept females at bay. Or rather, the other way round. Start to believe your own press and after a while you internalize it, for good or bad. It wafts off of you, like malign deodorant. In simpler terms I’m talking about being self-conscious, and boy was I around this girl. Nervous and awkward, and she knew it. Even thought she was quiet, she made her expressions known to me with nary a word.

She thought me weird, and she was right.

All the while stumbling and bumbling through freshman year between academics and salivating over this cutie-pie, band was the axis upon which the world spun. Friends were more like family. A band was more like a cult, minus the cool kicks and the even Kooler-Aid. In addition to performing at football games and on stage we occasionally had opportunities to perform off campus. Field trips. Playing at special events like parades and/or competitions. In other words, the band loaded up on a bus or plane and off well all went to points afar, instrument cases in hand looking for truth and fun.

One such place was the Azalea Festival in Norfolk, Virginia. It was the first big deal competition I’d ever been in; parade, multiple concerts, the whole wad. And I though, “Big deal. Let’s get the f*ck out of Dodge for a weekend and leave those pesky parents behind. That and I wanna abuse room service.” And so we did (not the room service part unfortunately). Let me tell you a high school marching band on a trip is just inviting mischief and mayhem. Music too, once in a while. I even recall catching a revival of the play Driving Miss Daisy as a course of some dinner theatre (really. Much better than the movie, despite the absence of Morgan Freeman who simply cannot be absent from anything these days). And all the while during our hyperactive, hormone-addled, youth-in-revolt, adolescent caravan I had this hang-up. What? Teenage! Road trip! No parents! What the hell kind of hang-up did you possibly think you deserved to have?

Continuous close proximity of the girl you were pining for. Again, see a pattern?

Forgetting the musical aspects of the trip, there was some promise of leisure. After the days’ fanfare, us freaks and geeks had a treat in store. A moonlight cruise on the Chesapeake! For real. The boat was more like a tug, but it was damned cool to ride a pleasure cruise catered for just us bandos. There was ample room to tear about the decks, taking in the scenery. Little alcoves here and there for the more well-adjusted kids to check out a different kind of scenery. A juice bar (it had to do) and the promise of a dance on the Lido deck for all the boys and girls.

Gulp.

My crush on Andrea was an open secret to my friends; they were always on me to ask her out. That and labeling me a puss for not trying. Who was I to argue? Here on the boat was an ideal seating for me to get my head out of my heart out of my ass and muster up enough fortitude to ask her for a dance. Hell, we all were cut off from the mainland. No escape. Either/or.

I spent my time between singing a capella tunes with my fellow sax mates over the starboard railing (our renditions of the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann” and the Marcels’ “Blue Moon” were pretty good. Get Arista on the phone) and me standing alone, sentinel-like on the far side of a crop of deck chairs staring at the coastline. There I was like a Simon & Garfunkel lyric. Might as well have had a neon sign on my back exclaiming “virgin.” Or “Rush fan.” One and the same for a high schooler really.

It all came to a head. My buddies prodding me. Andrea’s best friend prodding her. And the dread of it all the deejay decided to spin a “slow song.” Climax’s “Masterpiece.” Like I said, funny what sticks.

After much deliberation, making it all a much more dramatic affair than it all was (beyond typical teenage angst) my brother-in-arms Craig wrenched me from my blockade and virtually shoved me in Andrea’s way. Her friend and her were laughing at nothing and Andrea turned around to face me. My heart was in my throat, and as you could’ve probably guessed by after reading all these verbose posts, I blurted out the first thing that smacked me upside the head.

“May I have this dance?” I think I might have bowed also, just to make it extra cheezy.

Andrea smiled and laughed. She then uttered the only word I ever heard her speak to me.

“Sure.”

She took my hand and we did that silly sway that most teens do at a dance. Andrea held my back. I held hers. Gradually getting a firmer grip. She responded in kind. It was nice, and also a relief. Almost two years of pent up chemical churning finally yielded some fruit. My anxiety waned. She actually put her head on my chest as we swayed. I noticed the smell of her hair, how much shorter she was than I, the harbor lights and barely that treacly Climax song mumbling in the background. All fell right with the world, at last.

Until my body betrayed me, and not by my shoddy non-dance moves either.

There is this phenomenon in the average human male genitalia comically referred to as “morning wood.” For some inexplicable reason, men often awake with terrific boners. Doesn’t matter if they came to (so to speak) during an erotic dream or not, their c*cks are up before they are and ready for action. Some might argue that it has to do with an urgent need to pee. Sometimes that’s true. Sometimes that’s not. In any event, when the d*ck wants action, their ain’t no relaxin’. That other head sometimes has a mind of its own. As Andrea soon found out in a very awkward way. Awkward has been the watchword of this whole intro, by the way.

It’s understood that when a man is attracted to a woman, business is open down there. It takes certain circumstances, however, when that arousal may be put to practical use. Face it, fellas: just because the lights are low doesn’t mean you’re rearing to go (I’ll stop that now). A simple dance—no matter how vital—doesn’t usually arouse a guy into a salute. Especially a very sweaty, anxious guy reluctant to have said dance.

Now I have since been told by post-high school girlfriends and my wife also that I possess certain…advantages. At 16, fumbling around females I did not know this. But barring any “evening wood,” Andrea discovered this, and not with any flattering respect, let alone acknowledgment. She didn’t talk much, remember?

The was a bulge in my trousers. The sway grew ever awkward. She pulled away slightly. I looked over her shoulder and saw Andrea’s girlfriend looking amused and delighted, unaware of my issue. I gave her a crooked smile. Andrea said nothing, more so than usual. I could only guess what was happening, but it wasn’t good. It was like Rush’s Caress Of Steel not good.

The song ended. We parted. Somehow we found our way down to the stern to gaze at the harbor lights some more. I was embarrassed. She was mortified. We couldn’t say anything. What was there to say?

Blissfully without us having to comment on our shuffling, Andrea’s friend dragged her away. Doubtless to do the usual “Well…?” routine. I’d like to hope so. Then again, some 20-plus years on, it’s probably self-delusion. Most likely. Perhaps.

I guess the only coda to these tales of misbegotten—perhaps misguided is a better word—amour would be twofold. One, Andrea never went with me again, despite the open secret I carried a torch all the way till graduation. I also feel it fit to say that in reflection of my dancing…thing, she was a late bloomer and with such spoils fell the loser. Another dorkier bando sax man took her to prom. She found him easier to talk to.

Two, an inarguable fact about middle/high school crushes: they are unattainable. They almost always fail, let alone approach actualization. It’s usually all jitters and wet, dripping paws and imaginations running riot. Crushes never amount to anything remotely approaching the possibility of a steady relationship. Like digging a hole in the sand it’s always doomed to collapse. Even though later I scored a somewhat decent girlfriend (in band of course), I still held a torch for Andrea. Later when that chick spurned me and I later discovered my future wife (in choir this time), still had that crush.

What’s up with that? What’s the deal with holding on tightly to an idea of a girl/guy when all other logic screams at you and hits you over the head with cold, hard reality? Why don’t we pay attention? Why do we submit to a fantasy, if not a fallacy? Crushes are a no-win game.

Seems the only time they work out is in the movies…


Ah, high school Commencement Day. Four years in the making for the senior class at Buffalo Glenn to finally take flight and enter the dreaded real world. And it’s up to valedictorian Denis Cooverman (Rust) to deliver the pre-flight instructions.

Days before his vaunted assignment, Denis’ best bud Rich (Carpenter) gets it into Denis’ head to go out with a bang. Make a statement. You wanna live a life in the shadows of greatness, or become great on your own terms? The anxious valedictorian weighs his options, steadies his nerves and writes a killer send-off. None of which come easy, but the show must go on.

And so it does, as Denis both eloquently lambasts the snooty, bullying, effete and general poseurs out there in the graduating class as well as purge a few things of note that’s been plaguing him. Like never getting the chance to tell head cheerleader Beth Cooper (Panettiere) that he loves her. Until now.

Well, things didn’t go off exactly as planned. Denis successfully alienated half the graduating class. The other half just thinks him a weirdo. Looks like Jack’s advice blew up in Denis’ face, however it did have one positive result: it got Beth’s attention. Embarrassed, suspicious and hit-in-the-face-with-a-cream-pie attention, but a window opened nonetheless.

The rightfully nervous Denis takes the plunge and invites Beth and her friends to his graduation party that evening. It’s a hell bound snowball kind of move, but what the heck? High school’s over and after his botched speech, what’s he got to lose? It’s your standard “what else could go wrong?” scenario. Denis still has his mental fingers crossed.

Much to his surprise, delight and dread, Beth and her buddies Cammy (London) and Treece (Storm) crash by for food and spirits. Mostly spirits. Denis and Rich are beside themselves. What on Earth did Denis tell Beth to convince her to come by?

“I love you,” seems too simple, because there ain’t nothin’ simple about love…


Like all my rambling above said, love—or at least lust or infatuation—isn’t simple. Cut and dried. Smooth as silk. Metaphor as simile. It’s what’s almost every blues song is about. It’s what’s almost every sonnet is about. And, more often than not, it’s what’s almost every high school/teen comedy is about (y’know save Dazed And Confused and those Divergent movies). It’s a popular well to dip from this reservoir of teenage passion and horniness. Some hack called Shakespeare took a stab at it (so to speak) with this pastiche called Romeo And Juliet about a billion years ago. Heard it got good reviews.

What I’m saying is that the old teen sex comedy rom-com is an old idea, almost to the point of being hackneyed and downright outmoded. How many times can you tell a tale of adolescent romance where awkward meets gorgeous and eventual sparks fly? A f*cking lot if you’d ask Hollywood. Don’t forget movies are meant to make money first and entertain second (sometimes third. Sometimes never). And it’s a good thing the target audience for such crushy movies have short attention spans, underdeveloped senses of restraint and responsibility and were heavily into Justin Beiber only a scant five years ago.

In other words, the teen sex comedy is disposable. Not like a trashy T Rex album disposable—fun and forget it—but disposable meaning a fast track to some quick cash cuz this flick’ll fall off the radar as soon as Monkingjay, pt 2 hits Netflix. Set it and forget it. Next!

*out comes another Twilight installment, and we don’t care the books are long since over*

Now there have been exceptions to this rule. There always are. They may be no different in story, but it’s the difference that makes it. Prime examples of teen sex comedies that have either bucked the trend of the sweaty, groping, mooning-over formula or have set a standard are Sixteen Candles, …Say Anything, Superbad, The To-Do List, The Sure Thing and American Pie. These get let off the hook because of clever scripts with twists on old tropes, good acting with relatable characters, just the right amount of pathos, satisfying resolutions and are f*cking funny as hell. They set a gold standard, by which all other teen sex comedies are gauged.

I Love You, Beth Cooper did not follow this kind of standard. It didn’t follow any standard (except maybe it’s own). But it as sure as hell followed my Standard, so let’s take time to see why. Roll out your towels and lay down. Graham crackers and warm apple juice awaits.

It’s safe to remind you that Cooper‘s story is as old as the limestone holding Giza in place. There is absolutely nothing new here. No fresh ground to tread. It’s kinda inevitable with teen rom-coms at this point. It is what it is and you shrug, toss back popcorn and go, “Whatever.” The good films of this ilk (like the ones mentioned above) turn expectations on their ear, or at least deliver the classic goods in an earnest way. Cooper is just a big winking joke, trying very hard to be both irreverent and traditional in equal portions. Methinks Columbus tried too hard.

Don’t get me wrong. Chris Columbus is a highly capable, very dependable camera jockey. All those Harry Potter movies count for something, and he did direct the highest grossing comedy film ever (Home Alone for the culturally retarded). Safe to say the man knows what he’s doing. Didn’t show here.  Cooper is one big Columbus piss-take, like he was riffing on the vibe of his debut Adventures In Babysitting. He ended up coming up trumps here with a lot of cheekiness and attempts at being edgy/goofy. In simpler terms, the movie got old fast in defiance of teen rom-coms gimmicks that worked.

Let’s bust out the scalpel, nurse. I feel it proper that Cooper was lifted from Larry Doyle’s novel of the same name. Now we all know from fourth grade that Judy Blume’s book read a lot different…period. What you read and “see” never stacks up against what you’ve read and saw. This tenet attached to the guy who directed the entire f*cking Harry Potter franchise!

Now I never read the Doyle book; from the rant, I set both middle and high school to bed a long while ago (um, save the scarring I babbled on about above for weeks. Moving on). My best guess as to why Columbus screwed the pooch was that the guy was just messing around. Mirthful yeoman’s work, just to have some fun. Columbus already made his mark. Why try harder outside Hogwart’s?

Cuz here was a missed opportunity to add the man’s CV. Like I said, never read the book, but I’m willing to wager a few tickets at Chuck E Cheese’s that Doyle’s work was a tad more off the hook than Columbus’ relatively straightforward, stereotypical take. I make this claim based on the madcap and silly play of the film. It had an SNL feel to it—at first. Surprisingly credit Doyle for the screenplay,  but some writers should stick to books, especially their own. His film version is awash in forced irreverence and much winking, like this is going to be parody of the weaker entires into the teen sex comedy legacy. That it does, but it’s tough to tell if it was meant to be against the grain. We get a lot of snappy lines and sight gags, but they all fall flat. We get lots of nerd pop culture, but a single ep of The Big Bang Theory would suffice and be far more efficient. We’re taken on a roller coaster ride between Denis’ and Beth’s budding (but also shallow) relationship and its impediments: psycho, jealous boyfriend, stereotypical weird sisters the twin Laurens unsure what to make of this Denis thing (and Rich thing even more so), Denis’ dad with his instructions of amour. None of it sticks. Like Stein said, “there’s no there, there.” The bulk of Cooper is reveling in played-out tropes masquerading as “hip.” The bite was chewed off within the first fifteen minutes (to be fair, the valedictorian speech montage was pretty funny). Shame on Columbus, and by extension Doyle. Both should’ve known better to treat an old warhorse like this (especially since this was Doyle‘s warhorse. Who’s go the glue?). As a final nail, the folks at Rotten Tomatoes gave Cooper a, well, rotten review claiming the thing glamorized drinking and driving. Sh*t, even I have my limits.

Long story longer, Cooper tries too hard. Lacks spark. You really can’t substitute ludicrous with hip, not if you don’t care. This movie was lazy and interchangeable with any other “geek makes good with the girl” story. What few flashes of genius bubbled up were quickly dashed by Columbus’s muse demanding him to make a Looney Tunes short inspired by a mid-80s shojo fanzine. The absence of spark made Cooper for one goddam uneven ride.

You can walk into a theatre expecting what you expect with a teen sex comedy (eg: “Whatever”) as the acid test. Face it again, we all know what can of bees we’re opening when we stream certain John Hughes’ films and his disciples. We’re hoping for a cool spin, involving be it misadventures with beer bongs, how to get the car out of the pool Sunday morning an hour before church, f*cking pastry and/or the dork who knows tae kwon do having to take out those virgin raccoons before they steal away his erstwhile sweetie’s vag and—and her beer bong—and defuse the heavy water fusion bomb before his final, essential SAT spin around the world to ensure entry into the planet’s premier dental school/massage parlor. I’d check out a teen flick like that, even against my saner judgment. You are welcome for that Jungian imagery, BTW.

One final thing. In recent installments I mentioned getting away from dissecting the acting in a film. At least tearing apart cadavers. We understand that Cooper is stereotypical when it come to teenaged rom-com, but then so are all of such films. There was one thing seriously lacking here, though. Admittedly, neither of our leads, Rust and Pan…Pam…Hayden were likable. Denis is the consummate dork, to be sure, but he is neither convincing nor enjoyable as the leading man/cipher for all lovelorn losers out there. Our Bath fares no better. She’s just some inhibited hot chick with deeper issues than the entire NatGeo back catalogue. Yes, we’ve seen this before, but there should be chemistry and a modicum of charisma to get us investing in the probable snogging down the line. We should root for out heroes, not hit fast forward (I did a few times. So sue me).

Like Paul Dooley said in Sixteen Candles, “That’s why they call them crushes. If they were easy, they’d call ’em something else.” Not much about Cooper was easy to take. The flick went from promising to boring to stupid…well, pretty easy. Easier I guess than my war stories. Maybe easier than yours. In the endgame, we all got hung up on someone in our teenaged past and longed for the opportunity to f*cking do something about it. Be it hide in your locker or show up with a strategic bouquet in hand dappled with gift cards for Red Robin. Whatever works, or might’ve worked.

Fear not and grind your teeth simultaneously, that forgotten someone is out there waiting for that all-encompassing tower of onion rings. Just be sure to sleep well before that date with nostalgia and try to avoid cruise ships. And this movie.

Now who wants some dinner theatre?

*beer can*


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Relent it. Shocking disappointment. You’d think a guy who knew his way around comedies would direct something—y’know—amusing regarding the old geek-makes-girl story. Man took a nap instead. Let’s whip out the wet towel on his lazy ass.


Stray Observations…

  • For the record, Rust does not look even remotely teenaged. I’ve got bars of soap younger than him.
  • “I’ve loved you from behind…” Best line in the movie, bar none.
  • It gives me a little hope that the Millenials can appreciate Alice Cooper, if only here. By the way, my mom—who’s approaching 70—once said “School’s Out” is a classic. Go, mom.
  • “I apologize on behalf of all boys.”
  • The whole Rich being gay deal was never convincing, even during the cheerleading scene.
  • “We’re gonna need more waffles.”
  • I must admit I did love all the geekish movie references courtesy of Rich. Does that mean I’m gay? Better to blame the blog and my wife.
  • “I’d do two seconds.”
  • Jack Carpenter, the poor man’s late-adolescent Jimmy Fallon.
  • “Nobody wears shoes anymore.”

Next Installment…

Eat Pray Love lather rinse repeat.


RIORI Vol 3, Installment 50: The Strause Bros’ “Skyline” (2010)

 


Skyline


The Players…

Eric Balfour, Scottie Thompson, Donald Faison, Brittany Daniel, Crystal Reed and David Zayas.


The Story…

After their first night in LA with old friend-made-good Terry, Jarrod and Elaine wake up with one hell of a hangover. The room is spinning. The bright light of the sun is blinding. The sky peeking through the blinds is…

…Littered with alien spacecraft, sucking up people by the score. Only one thing to do: Jarrod and Elaine band together with a few survivors of last night’s bacchanal to set out and solve the mystery of what’s happening to the human race.

And their spines.


The Rant…

Special F/X are crucial—crucialto sci-fi/fantasy/action movies. Maybe crucial isn’t even the best term. Essential is a more apt term. Think about it. Could The Matrix movies be so visceral without “bullet-time?” Would the original Star Wars trilogy be as thrilling without all the Dykstra model dogfights? Hell, would the monster be as scary in Frankenstein if Karloff just thumped around in oversized boots?

My guess is no.

In these Hollywood days of endless summer blockbusters, tentpole flicks would not exist without cool, compelling and most of all “realistic” special effects. For the past twenty years, when one hears “special effects” it’s almost always equated with awesome CGI. The kind of things you seen on the screen that make your eyes pop, your spine grow weak and your bladder…whatever.

Crucial stuff nowadays. Not the bladder thing, mind you.

I’m not gonna wax philosophical about dem good ol’ days with paper moons and cardboard skies. I ain’t that dumb. Sharp pixelation or intricate models, cool F/X are cool F/X. I’m a big Ray Harryhausen fan. Those old school Godzilla films are a funny treat. Sh*t, even the old school Star Trek movies’ Enterprise looked like it could run the rings off Saturn.

Nowadays, refer to CGI to almost exclusively deliver the goods. And goods almost always do arrive on time. After watching sci-fi et al films for years, I’m continuously amazed by what those nerds can create with zeroes and ones. Face it, there would be no Jurassic Park franchise without ILM pulling the strings (even after the source novels ended after two installments). The Matrix films, either. Heck, if you think about it where would Shrek be now? Still a pop-up book probably. Without computers, today’s action flicks wouldn’t exist. Or at least look kinda clunky if it were up to teenage boys huffing model cement and trying to build a cyborg Trojan horse with their eyes all runny.

In sum, JJ Abrams’ crew’s take on the new starship Enterprise looks hella cooler with gigabytes pulsing away. Gimme the keys.

But it’s funny (and here goes the nostalgia trip), back in the day CGI was infancy, new and testy. Again, not knocking it. You gotta crawl before you can pass the “jump test.” One of my fave sci-fi flicks is Tron, and that one was denied an award from the doddering Academy for using CGI. It was the first film to do so with such shameless élan. The Oscar codgers claimed Disney cheated by using computers. Right. The preeminent animation studio grabbing hold onto the next big thing five years before the other studios. Now wipe that pudding from the chin off that old, white guy. No, the other one.

CGI back then was a toy. An experiment. Wozniuk in the basement. Brave new world and all that sh*t. In the present day it’s hard to fathom that before the present day in movies all we had to rely on for splash and dash were creative puppeteers, highly skilled makeup artists and adolescent boys with fumes in their eyes. From such humble beginnings revolutions are borne.

That and such movie magic was prescient. Duh.

Let me tell you a fave tale of mine regarding how CGI affected a typical test audience. And unplug those fingers from your collective ears.

Another one of my fave sci-fi flicks is James Cameron’s The Abyss. For the unitiated, the story deals with a crew of underwater oil miners trapped in a crippled submersible drilling platform who are visited by undersea aliens. It was Cameron’s aquatic take on The Day The Earth Stood Still, but with better F/X. Way better. Good stuff.

There’s a scene in the movie where the aliens try to make first contact with the trapped drillers. Since they are aquatic in nature, they send out a probe made of plasticized sea water. A water tentacle, as it were. Rendered in CGI, five years after Tron‘s snub. The Abyss dropped in 1989, and pre-production most likely a year prior.

Rumor has it that when the test audience first saw the CGI-rendered water tentacle for the first time, the oxygen level in the theatre dropped dramatically. As in, gasp. That’s what good CGI can do, even back in the butt-end of the 80s. Did it enhance the plot? Not really. Did it look cool and enhance the feel of the flick? I’m talking about it almost 30 years later, ain’t it?

It can get tough to find perspective these days when CGI runs riot at the multiplex. Every movie has CGI enhancement now. Be it the latest installment of The Avengers franchise (and all of its satellite projects, including those yet to me made. Or even conceived) to make the Hulk’s veins on his inner thighs look like green bacon, or keeping Meryl Streep look less hideous, or the dells of Middle Earth eternally verdant and Smaug free.

All of this is good in the final analysis. For fantasy, sci-fi and/or action films we need this kind of polish. Smart. Because there are dozens of rouge animators out there with no sane concept of using their skills and tech to better a film, keeping plot and acting and storyboarding in mind. Lookee the toys! F*uck Hausenharry! We rule the future! Who’d be so dumb as to text and drive?

Two things that. Old saws. A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Absolute power and such.

Also quoting Jeff “Dr Ian Malcolm” Goldblum from the original Jurassic Park: “…Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

That and Dylan, “I’ve seen guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children.”

Sound a bit dramatic? I recall when drama held sway to story first and not pixels.

“Confirmed, Alan 1…”


It’s good to get away from it all.

Jarrod (Balfour) and his girlfriend Elaine (Thompson) got a call from their old buddy Terry (Faison). It’s his birthday! Some on out to the West Coast to celebrate! And so they do.

The invite’s not all about cocktails and cake, though. Well, it’s not only that. Terry’s a wheeler-dealer in the film industry out LA way and he might have a sweet job opportunity for Jarrod. Being a graphic designer and special effects whiz, Jarrod’s skills would be perfect for Terry’s budding empire. The only tricky thing is the perfect spin and also convincing Jarrod and Elaine to stick around.

By morning, that’s the only choice they have.

Jarrod, Terry and friends awake to a silent city. LA looks…abandoned. Where’d everybody go? And what was up with those weird, blue, mesmerizing lights that descended on the city last night?

Well, those alien, biomechanical spaceships descend from the sky and start absorbing the stragglers, answer provided.

Holy sh*t! An alien invasion! Freaks from space gobbling up LA’s populace! Jarrod and company are marooned atop Terry’s penthouse as they try desperately to escape the creatures by bouncing along—wait for it—the city’s skyline. But who can save them? The army is ineffective. The monsters are trashing the city. People are being hypnotized into willing snacks for the invaders thrive on.

Worst of all Jarrod’s hot job prospect has gone right down the toilet…


You see that post on FaceBook about the gun advocate mother asserting the importance of safety for her family only to be shot in the back by her three-year old? I’m paraphrasing. And I don’t have a fact checking department.

This is definitely a stretch, but I feel that tragic story is akin to how Skyline happened. What I mean is that the directors and producers were so enraptured by the potential the movie’s tech and F/X offered, they were blinded by all the shiny to bother considering the vital facets of good moviemaking. Namely, plot, acting and pacing.

Okay. Just a moment, and please try to ignore the crude analogy above. For the record, as well as against one of The Standard’s principle tenets, Skyline did not tank at the box office. Far from. Its original $10 million budget was paid over seven plus times. Most audiences dug it. Alien invasion films are always fun. From Independence Day to Invasion Of The Body Snatchers to War Of The Worlds, when scary creatures from outer space come down from the heavens and wreak havoc on humanity it’s laughs all around.

I didn’t laugh much over Skyline. And there was much to laugh about, but not in the way the directors might’ve planned. If you’re a thinking person or simply a nabob who likes hi-tech, sci-fi B-movies, neither mindset explains—at least to yours truly—why folks found this stupid crap appealing. I don’t care about that $70-plus million takeaway either, so muzzle it. For the sake of argument at least.

From the outset Skyline feels like a SyFy original movie. With a better budget. And speaking of that, the pretentiously credited Brothers Strause directed the bonanza Alien Vs Predator feast-for-the-eyes- and-ears franchise, as well as being on hand to help out with the F/X on James Cameron’s Avatar. So yeah, the guys know their way around amazing special F/X (and I suspect Jarrod’s career is more than a bit meta here. Just saying).

Doesn’t mean they were handy with an axe for the rest of the movie.

Skyline’s execution was awkward from scene one. My feelings about what was going down or will go down were myriad. Like despite I knew the aliens were on their way, the first act of the film felt muddled, inviting a holy host of thoughts in my brainpan if only to make sense of everything besides people’s brains being eaten.

Before I carry on now, I feel it proper to warn y’all about spoilers ahead. I know, I know. I hate them and hate using them, but this time out I felt it nigh impossible to dissect Skyline without dismantling key scenes/aspects in the movie. So from here on out, no REDACTED bullsh*t. Sorry. Beyond this point there be hungry cyborg aliens. You have been warned and you’re welcome.

Back to the whole awkwardness shenanigans. I got the feeling that Skyline‘s setup put all the pieces in place. This is SOP for almost every movie, but Skyline‘s opening came over as deliberate, not organic. I couldn’t see the gambit at first, but I sniffed one. Bad this. It’s one thing to have a film be predictable. It’s another to give the audience cue cards. Felt like the Strause’s were trying to arrest your attention with the CGI as prelude to the chaos later. The whole night at Terry’s had precious little to do with the invasion. All staged, as if to throw us a bone and wrestle a little emotional investment out of our characters (PS: didn’t work). In other words the next 90 minutes will be about collateral damage with a few humans as bookends. That’s what it looked like to me.

Another feeling I got from Skyline was that it was attempting to be some kind of “home invasion” metaphor. The movie was indeed about invasion—within and without—but its execution seemed ham-fisted. Sure the aliens keep trying to get at their prey all holed up in their luxury hi-rises, but the brief moments of humanity that pop up under those circumstances feel more like forced appreciation of our wooden, almost interchangeable cast to actually upset us when any of them get gobbled up. Paranoia can be scary. Isolation can be scary. Freakin’ hungry drones out for flesh can definitely be scary. Trying to force empathy for our movie’s heroes via said devices? Not so much.

One more thing and get I’ll off this tack. Skyline also had a Cloverfield vibe, and I didn’t like that one either. There was this kind of goofy element of mystery at work in Skyline. Where’d the invaders come from? Who knows? Why’d they come? Later on it slouches towards obvious. Why LA? Why not (maybe to obliterate studios like this one. One can only hope)? Again it was another razor thin element thrown as a sop to folks who actually pay attention instead of get all gooey over the admittedly impressive F/X. It’s not nice to scam folks like that, though.

That’s what was Skyline‘s deal. Good F/X. Not much else. The plot was derivative, as were the characters. Well, most of them. To be fair, there’s gotta be some good after sifting through the waste. The only character I liked was Oliver, the concierge. In the middle of any disaster film, we must have a convincing voice of reason. So there. All right. Anyway, Skyline was all about high tech/low budget. I know thing made a metric sh*t-ton of money off a shoestring budget. That’s not what I mean. I mean all the other vital things that could’ve made this a lot more compelling were absent. Acting, story, blah blah you’ve already heard it blah. Come to think of it, low rent might be a more apt term here. Disappointment.

One final thing before I go, and it’s all about the anti-REDACTED thing. Ostensibly being a sci-fi actioner, Skyline betrays the principle of interior logic. I’ve mentioned this before with other sci-fi films, what this gnarly beast is, but hear me out anyway.

To review: “interior logic” in a movie is when the rules make sense and are followed exactingly to ensure the story’s even flow. In other words, consider Star Wars: A New Hope. Now we know that Jedis, Chewbacca and the Millenium Falcon don’t exist. They can’t in reality, but make perfect sense in that galaxy far, far away within the context of the story. For example in the fourth chapter, Obi-wan explains to Luke the natural flow of The Force. Corny as it may have sounded, it was—and still is—a major crux of how the original trilogy operates, laying the bedrock for the other movies.

However…

In The Phantom Menace, it’s explained that manipulation of The Force is not outside nature, but had to to do with genetics. Midichorian crap. Wait, doesn’t that go against what we learned as gospel in the original films? Yes, yes it does. Which is why Star Wars fans were up in arms about this deviation in the mythology. The rules—the logic—got changed. The source of a Jedi’s strength was now scientific and not metaphysical. And Han shot first.

In similar terms, Skyline busted up a lot of interior logic. And you don’t have to be some sci-fi wonk to not take notice.

So we got us some hungry aliens. They wish to feast on the brains and spinal columns of every human they absorb. Here’s the first part. It’s safe to assume these aliens ain’t picky. No doubt they’ve swooped down on other planets to lobotomize the constabulary for lunch. Last I checked, humans only live on Earth. So either these creatures customize their digestive tract for whatever the “smartest” species is on their target planet (and I only saw ruined humans on their ships), which was never explained. Nor was why. Or this was a professional hit. Even in Independence Day it was explained the aliens were “locusts,” scooping up any and all viable planetary resources until the world was sucked dry and to then sally forth on their endless quest for more resources. Existential, really.

Also that blue light thing. Supposedly it was used as bait to zombify humans and make them easier prey. Look into the light, lose your will to live and yum yum yum. So how does Jarrod’s triple exposure make him Thor? One would figure that if a single exposure to the dread blue light would make you weak and docile, then how would being exposed multiple times make you stronger, if not invulnerable to said light? Again, not explained or even hinted towards an answer.

Finally, apart from Jarrod’s new found paternal responsibility, how does his morphing into a cyborg get overridden by his overexposed body? I get the whole father thing, but how? And do the aliens have that keen an acumen of how the human reproductive systems works beyond the physical sh*t? Us parents know about our gut feelings towards our kids, unborn or otherwise. By Jarrod’s relatively easy hack into these avatars of supreme galactic knowledge they ain’t as sophisticated as we were led to believe over the past 80 minutes.

Whew. So that’s betrayal of interior logic with Skyline, which really gums up the script when you think about it (too much). And I don’t think the Brothers Strause placed a priority on thinking too much when watching their little pastiche. They wanted to show off 2010’s version of a water tentacle.

That they did, but not much else. C’mon, alien invasion movies need a little meat on their bones to make them fun, if not memorable. Independence Day will never be called original, smart or even revolutionary (save those model/pre-CGI F/X, whose progeny hampered the sequel BTW). The only thing I found memorable about Skyline—minus the cool CGI—was that the finale would’ve been great for a good movie.

No fear though. Someone promised a sequel. Again, you’ve been warned.

Now ignore the blue lights and get to the marina.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Relent it. Despite all the awesome CGI, Skyline was laughable, predictable and above all boring. Criminal in my books regarding movies involving hungry aliens. Regarding everything actually.


Stray Observations…

  • “What is i—ust run”
  • Same F/X used in Avatar? What a waste.
  • Sure, kill of the black guy/name-recognition actor first.
  • Nice lens flare there.
  • Kamikaze. I get it. Pretty cool.

Next Installment…

Nerdy Denis finally gets up the nerve to declare I Love You, Beth Cooper to the object of his affection. Much to his surprise, Beth responds, just not in some Sixteen Candles kind of way.


RIORI Vol 3, Installment 49: Harold Ramis’ “The Ice Harvest” (2005)


The Ice Harvest


The Players…

John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, Connie Nielsen, Oliver Platt, Ned Bellamy, Mike Starr and Randy Quaid.


The Story…

Clueless attorney Charlie Arglist embezzles $2 million from a mobster. Not a good life decision. Yet he keeps examining gift horses’ teeth. Nevertheless and with the swag in tow, sleazy Charlie plans to skip town with the girl of his misbegotten dreams. That is until the cops get nosey, as is their job.

Smart time to just follow advice from the Steve Miller Band.

Get it? I luv being funny and clever.


The Rant…

I work for the 2%.

It’s not something I’m proud of. In fact serving the gold-plated denies me everything I stand against. Self-righteous entitlement. Conspicuous consumption. Asparatame. But this guy’s gotta make a living, the one with the beater car and the beaten credit score. I have a wife and kid to support, and since they enjoy electricity so much I have to keep us financially solvent. That and beer and smokes aren’t free. Funny, neither is Netflix. So heigh-ho, heigh-ho.

That’s most of us. Most of us with bills for power, gas and medical care best pull down a 40-plus hour week lest we fall behind in car payments, credit card bills, mortgages and your bookie’s tab. We need to buy groceries, pay for education and doctors, gas for the car and the occasional indulgence, like a short vacation and/or your weight in dark chocolate for those late night cravings. These things require money, hence why we work. Sure beats being broke, living in the streets and scoring what few coins certain intimate services to strangers may provide.

Most of us just struggle along. A lot of us doubtless wish we get a bigger slice of the pie. Very few of us ever do. Wealth usually only comes to those who are lucky, crafty and/or inheriting daddy’s empire. And such riches are often pissed away like hair down the shower drain. Get me, I don’t take issue with wealth, though. It’s not like I’m some radical, left-winged Abbie Hoffman clone denouncing the disparity between the haves and have-nots. Okay, I’m not radical. Can’t ride a skateboard. But I’d be hard-pressed to deny that in these United States the rest of us would be pretty grateful for a large injection of cash to lighten the load and get that chocolate. We’d could cut a large check to a cause to benefit humanity, like find a cure for AIDS or alopecia. We’d love to own an island and maybe establish an endangered species rescue colony. We’d love to have a custom X-Wing.

Nah. Dreaming of that stuff is something we all do once in a while. I think about that X-Wing thing daily, though, all painted up like the Sgt Pepper’s album cover.

I do take issue is how big money is misspent, if not outright abused. Banks too big to fail failing and crushing the housing market. Big Pharma taking careful measures to amp up prices for “research” and at the same time curing nothing so to maximize profits. The fatuous upper crust building actual gold-plated bunkers for when the inevitable happens and the rabble reenacts the French Revolution. Cake and everything.

Don’t even get me started on what Uncle Sam pisses away every minute.

But in the long run for most folks—2% or otherwise—too much money too fast makes you f*cking stupid. I’m not talking about tools who blew their lottery winnings on wine, women, song and an X-Wing painted up like the Sgt Pepper’s album cover. Not day traders who sweat their own piss 25/8 into the next share onto share until they have an aneurism all in the name of some third-world start-up. Not even the upper echelon who think they are invulnerable to social mores and…wait, they are. Sh*t, that’s stupid.

What I’m saying is a lot of people reach for some pretty dumb ends to collect and lose money. I often believe it’s done with a half-baked, shortsighted and head-in-the-clouds kinda daydreaming about what a huge stack could offer. Sports cars you can’t afford the upkeep for. Same for a massive summer bungalow on the beach. Any number of flash accessories to live out your revenge fantasy on all the kids that kicked you out of the playground in grammar school. Sh*t like that. Where to get that quick fix of cash to fill that personal emptiness?

Nowhere. You can’t. Unless you inherit it or bet what little money you had right (e.g.: win the lottery or on Wall Street, whichever gamble you prefer), you’ll get the cash through long hours at your place of employ, scrimping and saving where you can, favors from your bank maybe (if you got one), but more likely relatives and patient friends and forgoing any luxuries like a new XBox One, ordering out for pizza and/or sleep. Big wealth doesn’t just come out of the ether. So much that in our so-called classless society, the majority of Americans will earn what their earning right now until retirement. If they get there.

Most of the time the big money stays right where it is, in a relatively tight global network that’s enthrall to the 2%. You’ve heard it before, and it’s not some outlandish Alex Jones-esque conspiracy theory either. It’s more like an open secret. Six empires control everything, and the profits en toto. Disney, Viacom, etc. Pulling the (purse) strings. The kind of blinding avarice the rest of us covet is always going to be out of reach. So for a reality check, keep punching the clock, wasting cash on hand on stupid scratch-offs and deny yourself that good night’s rest. Your dreams will still be there in the morning before the coffee’s ready.

After many years working for the upper 2% I learned something. Now I’m a bit of an armchair philosopher, meaning I call it like I see it. This is what I saw, and it’s based on personal and against experiences prior to catering to the Robin Leach crowd, BTW. Just roll with me a bit longer.

We all have addictions. Be it poker, Pokemon Go or substance abuse. I’m not sure about the second one, but the others have an option of rehab. You can fess up to your problem, seek out a support group and hopefully get your sh*t together. I have an addiction; I drink too much. I had a co-worker once who was a recovering junkie sharing a house with other recovering junkies. I’ve been to meetings and have sought council. Same with my old friends. There is a way out, once you owe up to the addiction and admit you need help. Society scorns addicts, also knowing full well what their cravings do may lead to either criminal acts and/or bodily harm. Theirs or others (others seem to take precedence). But there are outs, places to commune with other addicts, share stories, drum up mutual support. Hopefully this leads to recovery, or at least a semblance of one.

Here’s the hard truth. Groups only work so far. You actually need that social stigma—that guilt and remorse—to take action and clean up your sh*t. Loose the booze. Drop the needle. Fold. Otherwise it’ll lead to not just a loss of the plot or actual physical harm (yours or the bum you snow over for coins that may lead to another fix of crack), but the gentry looking down its collective nose at you. Scorn. It can be quite the potent motivator to find the straight and narrow.

However there is one addiction that has no cure, simply because it is both encouraged by society (if not revered) and even held in esteem. It’s the addiction to wealth. Enough is never enough. Such a junkie never views themselves as sick, despite having more directly demands having even more. Gone are the days of philanthropy. If a millionaire spreads his billfold wide, there’s usually some PR detachment  waiting with a phalanx of CNN and Fox News cameras at the ready. There’s really no such thing as altruism anymore.

Barring Warren Buffet, too many of the 2% need a detox. You don’t need a gold-plated bunker. You don’t need an island chain in the South Pacific to serve as a driveway for your platinum Maserati collection (which you never drive and never will). You moms don’t need titanium strollers for you 11-year olds. But no plebeian American turns a nose up at this. Amassing wealth is the ‘Murican dream. Smartly managing it? Keep sleeping, and enjoy your Big Mac for breakfast each and every morning.

There is no cure for wealth addiction. There is no end, no matter how many Powerball tickets you scratch. And f*ck all who get in the way of the dividends. Including the housing market.

*pant, pant*

To be fair, some enterprising people do profit wildly from outlandish schemes now and then while staying within the margins. Even a blind squirrel and so on. Some were no accidents. Some get-rich-quick strategies actually paid off without resorting to the Wall Street casino. Some stupid, but eventually fruitful (in no small part to the low-hanging fruit mentality of our blessed country. Quick n’ cheap) ideas that let the coins roll in if only for a short time. Pet rocks, Tamagotchis, Seward’s Folly, etc, at least those fortunes—however hair-brained the motives—had a plan in place, real or projected. Not just it’ll-come-to-ya finger crossing, but a drive. Careful designs in motion. There are the people who just wanna make a quick buck, skim off the top, con, swindle and scam. On the spot and with zero plan what to do once they get their mitts on some cash, if they ever do. Looking up to Rupert Murdoch or our present GOP talking head as if to aspire to be Jesus, Mohammed or John Lennon. It’s okay, no treatment needed there. Brass rings await.

The lower 98% thinks along these lines, I’ll bet. Not all, of course. I still have to work, sleep and keep studying frame by frame every scene of The Sting over and over again in order to locate my own pet rock. If we all had more, what should we really do with it? And how do we get to it? How do we keep it? Is a plan necessary? Do I have a problem? Why are low income folks eating out of McDonald’s Dumpsters to survive? Why should anyone feel compelled to build a gold-plated bunker when titanium is so much stronger, not to mention cheaper? Sh*t, why should any high profile mover and shaker feel compelled to build a bunker in the first place? That says something about who has too much and who has too little if you ask me.

So. Where do we 98% start? Where’s an ample supply of cash at to get our teeth fixed or our car to work or coffee in our mugs? Where can we find our ugly quick fix and “get ahead?”

Well, if you’ve been paying attention over the past few decades, outright theft’s been a pretty reliable tactic…


Charlie (Cusack) has a problem. A few actually. One, he’s broke. Two, he needs cash and quick. Three, he’s a mob lawyer. And four, he just embezzled over $2 million dollars from his best client Bill Gerard (Quaid). Bill’s not the most understanding person in the world, so when he finds out where his finances went, Charlie’s going to have to face his fifth problem: getting away with it, scott free.

He also hates being stuck in Kansas, but that’s another thing entirely.

Okay, so Charlie has the money. He and his fixer friend (and Bill’s illict porn distributor) Vic (Thornton) have concocted a wily scheme of  getting their swag and themselves the hell out of Dodge. Well, will finalize how to get away. Of course, there are always snags in pulling off a heist like this.

Like Charlie being a nervous nelly about getting caught. Like the thug who’s pursuing Charlie and Vic to less than gently shake them down. Like Charlie’s crush on stripper Renata (Neilsen), who has less than a heart of gold and a way of pouring honey in Charlie’s ear. Like having to babysit drunken buddy Pete (Platt), who just won’t shut up about Charlie’s shady career choice. And of course Bill inevitably tracking the the dopey pair down.

All on an Xmas Eve…


Don’t misunderstand. The Ice Harvest is a comedy. A dark comedy. Very dark. We’re talking charcoal here. This ain’t no How To Train Your Dragon here, bucko (shout-out to Lex).

Harvest‘s comedic tone isn’t something I’m used to in a Harold Ramis movie. The humor is so dry it practically chafes. I’m accustomed to Ramis’ movies to be a little madcap, be it nutty plots, snarky dialogue and over-the-top goofball characters. With Harvest, you’d never find the likes of Al Czervik, Carl Spackler or Clark Griswold with their loony comedy cachet. Nope. You would find…well, Charlie Anglist and Vic Cavenaugh, and all the silliness that entails.

Which isn’t much. Or at least being very different form Ramis’ previous efforts.

Harvest a very low-key affair compared to the late, great Ramis’ other movies. Very low-key. This film barely plays like a comedy at all. There are snappy lines, amusing characters and almost noir-ish story playing out. The movie’s source material was Scott Phllips novel of the same name. Never read the thing, but what I got out of Ramis’ adaptation is that Phillips must have a grim sense of humor.

Grim is one of the watchwords here. From the get-go you know this crime caper is bound to fail, it’s only a matter of when. That uncommon dry humor works well for this tale of the wages of sin. It doesn’t ever lighten the load, and that creepy vibe is only amplified for it. One of the major scenes in the film—and doubtless the funniest—is when Vic and Charlie get into a gunfight with Bill’s heavy locked in a trunk. It’s a demented scene, to be sure and rather funny. But these guys are going to kill the guy in the trunk lest he takes out Charlie and report back to his superior about the missing cash. That sounds like something out of a Tarantino flick. The Ice Harvest is a comedy, written by the guy who gave us Caddyshack and the original Ghostbusters. Despite the grim air, this film is meant to make you laugh. Sometimes you do, but mostly you just cringe.

The other key term attached to Harvest is demented. The whole story—set up in the opening with Cusack Coen-esque voice over—is so going to be a paper moon for Charlie. We’re let in on the little secret here and there by the nonsense that routinely pops up in our “hero’s” post heist. Pete’s drunken raging. Renata’s fake 1940’s bombshell schtick. Officer Tyler popping up at the most inopportune times. And of course it’s Christmas in Middle America, all honest and friendly. Nothing in Harvest is simple angst and evading the law/mobster. It’s all about the dry and often unhinged humor designed to discomfort. If Ramis was trying to make Coen Brother pastiche or simply try to stretch himself as director, he succeeded in fits and starts with Harvest.

A lot of what makes this grim, demented, black chucklefest work is (no surprise here) acting. We don’t have a traditional rogue’s gallery here, and Charlie the nebbish is hardly a steel-in-his-veins protagonist. No need nor want. Here we get a neurotic, white collar thief with a crush on a stripper with way too much easy money and not a safe to found. Dillinger he ain’t. I’ve always loved Cusack’s nervous, awkward energy. When either he gets antsy or really into a role, it’s all about scenery chewing without the chewing. A lot of mugging, albeit controlled. A lot of apologetic looks. Flat affect smiles. He seems to enjoy dropping things. He also is very funny when he is cranky. His Charlie has gotten himself  into such a bucket of syrup he can only surrender to the madness of it all and devolved into all Three Stooges. Not the physical aspect, mind you. Just the inevitable beat-downs, social and otherwise. His hangdog is a mile wide and we’re supposed to root for him. We can’t, and that’s fine.

Charlie’s ying to his yang is Vic. Mister smooth smoothie (so we’re led to believe). He knows all the chords, and will play them all the way to the Kansas border. Vic gives the air of cool, calm and collection. He has no doubt he and Charlie’s windfall will make it over the border. It’s all a ruse, though. Vic is just as fragile as Charlie, knowing Gerard’s flunkie is just around the corner to off them, even from within a trunk.

To give you an idea as to how detached a role like Vic’s could be portrayed, I submit Exhibit A: Sam Raimi’s 1998 crime caper gone awry A Simple Plan. Played opposite against a manic Bill Paxton (like there’s any other kind) as a stooge who ended up blowing the whole crime. Here Thornton is the polar opposite, never a jitter to be seen, but the endgame is the same. He knows more than he lets on, at least by what he thinks he knows. The end result is Thronton as a used car salesman selling hoopdies from an empty lot. Not quite sleazy, but cool enough to pull Charlie along into this mess. Both characters are the opposing sides of the same coin. It’s implied that this inside job wasn’t Charlie’s idea seeing how Vic is so clinical about the whole dangerous undertaking. And his fast-talking and angular logic and everything’s-gonna-be-alright delivery just rankles Charlie more, fraying his nerves. That’s funny stuff—a Fargo inspired Abbott and Costello bit—ignoring the heavy pall over Wichita Falls.

The final leg of this triangle is Nielsen’s sultry, conniving dancer Renata. Her femme fatale act is the culmination of a billion Rita Heyworth fanfics. That’s funny without being funny, and her schtick still falls along the lines of dark comedy. Such a caricature starring in a film post-1975 would be laughed off the screen and the screen then burn the screen. Beyond goading Charlie to waltz into her web of shear camies and legs, Neilsen’s best offer to Harvest in the wink-wink, nudge-nudge department is the anti-Elsa a la Casablanca. She’s the reverse, and if you think about it Harvest is a screwy take on Curtiz’ masterpiece. A dire getaway. The woman to leave behind. A lost fortune. Considering this scenario, author Phllips is a genius. How it panned out along Ramis’ storyboard, not so much.

If there is some theme to Harvest is that it’s about a lot less than purloined money. It’s pacing is helpful in unraveling this. Sluggish, like the Kansas winter that slows everything to a crawl. It’s about identity. It’s about trust. It’s about avarice and keeping enemies closer. It’s about army training, sir. The 2 mil is just the Maguffin. What surrounds it is an opportunity for a character study. That and a meditation on greed, lust, trust and what ends people will go to become so closed-fisted. The classic It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World was a better example of this with a lot more laughs.

So truth be told, Harvest ain’t all that funny. Icky, dire and left-of-center amusing, but I didn’t laugh outright once. Some snickers, sure, but for a black comedy, Ramis should’ve stuck with what he knew, not cross the streams (it would be bad) and inject just a shade more dementia to rub against the grim.

There was a listless feeling, foot-dragging that made Harvest one shade off brilliant, of which Ramis was. All the hallmarks were there for a Coen Bros/Bob Rafelson/Hal Ashby anti-comedy to be in place. It’s too bad too much Red Harvest keep sneakin’ around the perimeter.

Nice try Harold, wherever you may be. A solid effort, built upon thin ice.

*cue dead drop with a splash*


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Another one: relent it, but with reservations. It’s always a dodgy affair when a genre-established director take a left turn. The turn here was a sharp one, but the driver was halfway asleep. Damned f*cking black ice.


Stray Observations…

  • “Mom, I gotta go…”
  • Nielsen has one of the lousiest American accents I’ve ever been exposed to. Heard that clucking as far back as Law & Order: SVU.
  • “It’s God’s birthday!” Wait, what?
  • At last, an honest cinematic depiction of your typical, average American holiday dinner. Rockwell quality that.
  • Pay phones? In the 21st Century?
  • “It’s surprisingly spacious, Vic.”
  • I can’t believe the Kafka gun tenet was quite literally put to use here. Surprising.
  • “Only morons are nice on Xmas.”

Next Installment…

Most major wars are fought deep in the trenches. When battle literally comes down in LA, soldiers take to the Skyline. Even if that means battling crazed, cannibal aliens from out of our galaxy.

War is hell.