RIORI Presents Installment #198: Vadim Perelman’s “House Of Sand And Fog” (2003)


The Film…


The Players…

Jennifer Connelly, Ben Kingsley, Ron Eldard, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Jonathan Adhout and Frances Fisher.


The Plot…

When Kathy falls behind on her taxes, the bank seizes her family home and puts it up for auction. She’s had a bad streak ever since her husband ran out on her and she doesn’t earn enough to keep things liquid. Now she loses her home as the final insult to her injurious dire straits.

Colonel Behrani is a retired military man from Iran, now a US citizen. He’s been looking for the ideal bungalow for his wife and son to set down some roots, as well as reminiscent of their beach house on the Caspian coast back home. He feels he’s found the ideal home for his family here in the Pacific Northwest: Kathy’s.

Despite that the Colonel’s intentions are good and his claim legit, Kathy will not lose the house she grew up in to some strange foreigner without a fight.

Legal…or otherwise.


The Rant…

Let me tell you about the house I grew up in. Both of them. All three actually.

I was born in Dallas, whisked away as a baby to Wilkes-Barre, PA on the fringe of the Poconos. My folks told me later it was a nice place to live. I had to take their word for it because I was 2 at the time and therefore my first home was a mystery to me. You can’t go home again it seems. Still, the fact that I lived somewhere before my childhood gives me pause; you never really know home until you’ve left it. Again, I was too. We can get all elegiac later.

Post potty training I was whisked away with infant sister to the Lehigh Valley. It’s one of the last places in this country where metro holds hands with idyll well and populated by folks who don’t appreciate that. This isn’t my usual cynicism talking. The LV is vibrant, both culturally as well as topography, unfortunately too many of its denizens are ardent philosophers about where the grass is truly greener. My response? About five miles down the road. Might be a dairy farm there. Moo.

Everyone likes farms, especially when they’re right around the corner. My current residence is adjacent to a corn field and an apple orchard (more on this later). The Interstate is less than a mile away and I can barely hear it. Yeah, the LV’s the best of both worlds, however redolent with fussy locals who’ve never been to Dallas, let alone ever consulted a road atlas.

There’s a theme brewing here, you understand.

My first proper home (from ages 4 to 18) I grew up was in Allentown, PA. It was pretty average, and nothing like the Billy Joel tune. For one, the steel mill was in neighboring Bethlehem and I only spent one summer on the Jersey Shore. In sum, A-town never painted a picture. It was there and there I was from pre-K to high school with all the mundanity at the ready. This might sound a lot like your home town, but more John Mellencamp than Bruce Springsteen if you follow. I’m more a Mellencamp fan, so there.

I was all but four when my folks airlifted me from outside Scranton by way of Upstate New York (don’t ask) into A-town into one of the many homes that transient Air Products families used and abused and sold all within a year’s time. Cutting to the chase and drugged out fantasy from the 60s became a garish reality in the 70s, especially home decor. I was four and explored my new home day one stem to stern. What the hell were the previous occupants thinking? The color scheme of everything was the typical Ford-era nightmare, all avocado green, burnt orange and baby sh*t brown. The wallpaper in the hallway was like gold lamé, like the color off Freddie Mercury’s onstage cape. Stucco ceilings, incongruous wallpapers in the bathrooms, and someone had lopped away the original wooden bannister and replaced it with a wrought iron one, like the kind that would be useful outside. And who the f*ck has wall to wall carpeting in the freaking kitchen?

I was four. Welcome home.

I mention all this is because no matter what condition your house is in it’s irrelevant to how one makes their home.

Here was the good stuff. I had my own room, whilst two sisters had to share a bedroom until I left for college. We had a big backyard with a jungle gym and a sandbox and eventually a small garden I tended to. Nothing survived, but it made me feel like I was manipulating nature to coax withered tomatoes, and that’s always worthwhile. We had a finished basement to play in, where I displayed my Lego models, and later my NES collection and console. The walls were real pine, and easy tack posters to. I ransacked every map from my folks’ monthly ish of NatGeo and turned the place into an atlas, both of Earth and the rest of our planets. Mom wasn’t too keen on it all, but hey, it sure beat all the Mad magazine fold-outs I used to have. What, she worry?

Later still I hooked up cable TV and a beater VHS so I could abuse to watch late night talk shows far away from anyone else as well as my odd, pirated/dubbed videos from the local Blockbuster. In retrospect I always wondered why the staff there never raised an eyebrow with I rented a VCP, the latest titles and a handful of blank cassettes. The FBI never came to my door. Funny what sticks. As for late night TV? I’ve always been a night owl, and staying up late back then to watch Conan on his first show was a good way to end the day. He always had the best musical guests.

Like most of you out there in the blogosphere it might’ve taken some time to settle into your digs. Betcha a bit of the above woolgathering might apply. All that’s not necessarily nostalgia per se, but after a few years your house gradually takes on the identity of your home, security, quirks, spoken and unspoken rules alike. And yes my parents corrected all the LSD-meets-HGTV phantasmagoria over the course of 20 years, especially including no more greasy-ass deep pile in the scullery (goddam burnt orange, the color of satanic eczema). That and the railing was restored to its proper wooden glory. Way easier to slide down.

Like I said, quirks. All homes have them. Even more so with my second home.

It wasn’t really my home. It wasn’t even the ‘rents. It was my grandparents’ summer rental on Fire Island. I touched upon the place way, way back in The Way, Way Back installment. My grandparents actually had two rentals. One was a friend of my grandma’s who had moved away to Massachusetts and had no interest in crashing there for any further summers. For like 10 years, me and my sibs spent every July there in the only slum in town. The place was a blight on the shiny cottages that made up the municipality. Neglected (I had to once one crawl up the roof with fence slats and bailing wire to replace a screen that was the foyer for the mosquitoes hovering over the above level septic tank. Good times) so much so that the master bath had to be upgraded in the late 80s to meet code, or else. I went from a kid to bathing in a clawfoot iron tub during the Cold War years to the then state-of-the-art plastic plumbing. I opted for the outdoor shower meant for after a day on the beach. Like I say again, quirks.

Despite its compact size the house was thoughtfully big. Its architect knew that this place was a summer home and demanded maximum space at an economical package. Wanna jam a lot of people on a summer rental for maximum yield? Right, lotsa bedrooms. Between me, my two sisters, mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, aunt, other aunt and uncle we we able to bunk up together without sharing a bed, and the only bedroom I had was the ignored one adjacent to the master bath. This summer home—called a “Coffey House” after its designer, a man known for efficiency and damn the zoning rules—was a place designed to invite family members to hang out, if only for a month. For good for ill.

No shock here, but most of it was for the good. I got away for many Julys to splash in the ocean, ride my bike, listen to my stereo at odd volumes (this meant both CDs and radio shows. I always picked up the good stuff from the City late at night), beachcomb, abuse my NES on a daily basis and abuse myself with caged booze and weed with friends on the beach with no full moon to rat us out. Far, far away from landlocked PA, with next to no traffic to avoid. None, actually. There were no cars in that little ville. It was oh so quiet when the HPS lights sputtered to life. Curfews were pointless. It was an island; where were we to go? I mean me and my then clutch of high schoolers on leave squatting on the pier and talking heady teenage sh*t well until midnight. Time well spent.

My summers at the grand ‘rents place was where I flex my mental muscles in a creative fashion. I made driftwood sculptures, read a lot of my fave books to this day, wrote stories on my dad’s laptop and discovered Van Morrison, which I punished my family with on my beater jambox 25/8. We both could do worse. It was that kind of rambling that molds one’s teenage outlook on life and what it could be, with no noisy cars around and a Discman spinning at around 9 PM playing REM’s Reckoning at mind shearing volume. “Harborcoat” escorted me to the pier. Nice that.

As of 2005 I live here, still in the LV. Bethlehem, the neighboring city to A-town where the actual steel mills were. It’s a very old farmhouse, built well before 1776 and had been expanded as late as 2007. It’s a tangle of local history. Many different families have lived here. To cut to the quick, my room is the whole of the loft that is the third floor. Lotsa room for a bed, a chaise lounge, way too many books, way too many DVDs, WAY too many retro game consoles (everyone by Sega, including a dead Game Gear), my clothes, this desk and this iMac (which contains all my writings as well as my obscenely large iTunes library). All bow down to arrested development.

The kids’ room is right below, decorated in a scheme we’ll call post-modern Goth. A giant collage dedicated to My Chemical Romance. Box spring and mattress on the floor, no frame. My old beater CD jambox with the prerequisite stack of Paramore albums at the ready. Make up station and her Precision bass and amp nearby. Way too many lightening chargers. I durst not touch any of it. Might ruin her system. Did I mention her color scheme is black and grey dappled with black? All hail adolescence.

The rest of the place is just there. Kitchen. Bathrooms. A basement that has my washer, dryer and and my infeasible comic book library. Some back room with a fireplace that gets a lot of use in cooler months; that’s where I do most of my reading. It’s also where my turntable is, as well as my infeasible record collection. Also some porch screened in that gets a lot of use in the warmer months; that’s where I do the rest of my reading. Also where my the bird feeders are, just outside (as well as those stupid, hungry squirrels). It’s home. A (former) chef’s life is frustration incarnate, but pays okay, and the need to wind down into comfort is as vital as if you were criminal lawyer, a firefighter, a nurse or a misguided writer. I’m fortunate enough to even have a fireplace. Like my old college roomie claimed, “Home is where you hang your ass.”

Perhaps you may have gleaned from this rant’s tone that home is where you find it, if not mold it. Why am I telling you all this? Simple. a house is not a home until you stamp your mark on it. That garish tableau about my childhood home my parents sent into rehab became a fine place to live. That run down shack of my grandparents was a fine place to waste away the summer. My place now? Well, the Wi-Fi is spotty in places, but blame the stone walls. The mortgage is getting paid on time. We have ducks and geese in the yard since we’re so close to the creek, along with duck and goose poop littering the driveway. That and the driveway repaved last year. And permanent residence of a couple of Northern Cardinals who always swoop by the large bird feeder, regardless of which yard I plant it according to the seasons. It’s all fine.

All this claptrap makes a house a home. It’s an abstract thing. What you may consider hearth and home I may never approach without the aid of a service dog and a Geiger counter. Again, we could all do worse.

Or for the better. Wherever we grew up, the concept of home was informed by our presence. What we did there, what were learned there, what we ate there, etc. A house is not a home blah blah blah. We all dig that line, because it’s true. Regardless of knotty pine walls, bad carpeting, dry rotten screens, carpeted kitchens, wallpaper that Roger Daltrey might’ve used as a cape at Woodstock and who the f*ck carpets a kitchen? All in all, the quirkiness of your home makes it more than a house, right? And eventually when that house feels like a home, questionable decor and curious angles become like, well, family. Reassuring, as ugly as a home could be.

Now hear this: if ever you’ve moved away from your old home and old neighborhood, do years later you wonder who’s living there now? Can’t go home again and all that. Because there are new residents, well, residing in your old home. No way. That was my home. Did the new owners change things around? You know, to better suit their living? Like carpeting in the kitchen? Perish the thought.

But it’s not your home anymore. Hasn’t been for years. In truth it stopped being your home once you left it, either literally and/or metaphorically. All that is left are the memories, those tones of home. And you know what I’ve said about the myopic lens of nostalgia, and nostalgia is fleeting since it dwells in the past. Gone. But you in your present home do not dwell in the past. Right?

Do you? Don’t you?


The Story…

As it’s been said you can’t go home again. Especially when the bank puts up your home for auction and you get evicted.

Such is Kathy’s (Connelly) predicament. Her husband left her, as well as left a ton of unpaid bills and bank statements getting ever higher with each day. She’s teething her way through rehab, can’t stop smoking and can’t stand her surroundings. Not her family home. Place was built from scratch by her Uncle, perched high above on the Northwest cliffs overlooking the Pacific. Its a nice piece of property plagued by ghosts and overflowing ashtrays. Now the bank tells her to vacate or else.

Enter one Massoud Behrani (Kingsley). A former colonel in the Iranian Air Force, he decides to move to America to set down some fresh roots. After leaving his bungalow in disgrace, the Colonel’s been working odd jobs to pay for a new home. He comes across a notice of a bank seized property up for auction. Kathy’s place.

Kathy is kicked out with nowhere to go and the Colonel moves in. Finally a place to call home for his wife (Aghdashloo) and teenaged son (Adhout). It may not be on the Caspian, but it’s better than staying in a hotel. Kathy’s loss is the Colonel’s gain. There is all this paperwork to validate both efforts.

Kathy’s claim has all but evaporated. Her uncle built that house from tinder, and although she never liked the place at least it was her place. Hers.

Home is where you hang your hat. Or your face. Or the end of your rope.

Otherwise it is just property.


The Review…

Here’s something for you. It’s considered one of the most major, forgivable plot holes in modern American cinema. And it barely relates to this week’s film. Check it out.

Unless you’ve being living in the Duggar’s family compound for the past 40 years or so, you’ve most likely have seen Raiders Of The Lost Ark. You know, Indiana Jones’ first (and best) foray into archaeological action and the problems messing with religious artifacts. The plot hole is introduced in the first act, kind of like foreshadowing. Indy recovers the golden idol with the mass of your average sand castle, absconding with it only to have his smarmy rival Belloq steal it away. All that trouble just to lose the fool thing, as well as Alfred Molina in the process.

The plot hole is thus: Indy never needed to be in the movie. The Nazis got the Ark in the endgame, despite Jones’ nosing around. So why include our intrepid albeit goofy sand-sifting hero in the first place? Simple. Indy was the lead, but he was also the audiences’ avatar. We saw and adventured through the movie through Jones’ eyes. He was the audience, or we were he. Without Harrison Ford, Raiders would come across as nothing more than a never-ending episode of The Mystery Of Oak Island. At least with Raiders we got to see some gold. And melting Nazis.

How does that classic globetrotter have anything to do with House Of Sand And Fog? The answer is more esoteric. Whereas with Raiders, Jones—our accident prone hero and tour guide—didn’t need be on retainer. With House we had no proper antagonist. House was a drama of duality, but neither party was on the side of the wrong or the right. Heck, the only possible sinister aspect of the film was Eldard’s misguided cop, and even he was an opportunistic ‘tard. No spoiler there, really.

Here’s another analogy I wish to drop. Yes, I figured Spielberg was a smart enough director to try and recreate the action and fun of those old Alan Quatermain shorts he adored in his youth. In sum, Raiders was a comic book adventure and us the readers as hero. Vicarious film fun at its best, duh. I feel that there is a twisted side of “going along for the ride” as with Indy and company. Cutting a film informed by what the director believes the audience wants. We don’t want to see an absence of a protagonist, nor do we want to be fed what a protagonist “should be.” I bring this little nugget to light as a response as to how harrowing House was. Who do you get behind?

Now for something completely different.

Not much of a surprise I’m an otaku. An anime fan, mostly of the s/f kind. I’ve seen many anime adopting a patch of a Western aesthetic, and I’m not talking about the bowdlerized yet venerated Gatchaman legacy. Disregarding the 80’s take on GoLions (AKA Voltron), which was wedged into American sensibilities, I’m going to talk about an action anime that was deliberately designed for Western audiences. Before I go there, allow me to riddle you this: I once had a co-worker who through her college studies got to spend a week in Berlin (she was a language student). I advised her that when offered some lemonade (in re: soda and/or pop) it was not likely going to be lemonade. The Germans refer to soda and soft drinks as limonade. Kinda like folks around Atlanta call every kind of soda “Coke.”

Point? Stuff can get lost in translation.

In any event, director Osama Dezaki unleashed the incredibly violent, incredibly stupid actioner Golgo 13: The Professional. It was about the ultimate hitman for hire, often hung up with distractions of unwanted vagina, unwanted money and anything that got in the way of offing unwanted wealthy people. Duke Togo (yes, that was his name) had the eye of a sniper blessed with zero pulse. It was one of the first anime designed directly to appeal to American audiences. And it was awful. Admittedly the minimal plot threads offered a keen twist, but the primitive CGI (even for 1989. Dire Straits’ 1985 “Money For Nothing” music video was more innovative) was as much an insult to American feelings as Beavis & Butthead was 20 some years ago. At least that brainless duo was funny. If you ever are curious to watch Golgo 13 all the way through, you can almost hear Dezaki shrug and say, “What?”

In sum, a director should never assume what the audience needs—not wants—to watch. Director Perelman is Ukrainian, once part of the “Evil Empire,” and please forgive the stereotyping. Russian literature—and by extension classic cinema—is inspired by failure, desperation and pining for the Earth to be engulfed by the sun ready to go nova and not leave fresh towels in the hotel bath. Doubt me? Here: what’s the inspiration for Tolstoy? Death. Dostoevsky? Murder. Gogol? Grotesquerie. Solzhenitsyn? Isolation. Russian artists have been given the short shrift for their muses, yet often a spade is a spade. Life can often be harsh so it’s best we talk about in frankly. For example, Ivan Illych died chasing a dislodged kidney as his endgame. Who’s hungry?

The Russian muse is a grim one. House was a very terse, bleak movie. I dare not question director Perelman’s motives since misery equals company. Like Golgo 13 his take on Dubus’ existential novel, nothing will go well, end well, let alone end well properly. Meaning a sense of full circle closure. By House’s raison d’être, that’s not the point. The movie was always about how the other half lives, as heartless as what that invites.

Let’s get this out of the way again. House is devoid of both protags or antagonists. Both primaries have very real, very honest motives for loving in the titular house. Yet the dynamic is all about a challenge, a conflict where both lines are drawn for the same goal: a place to live. And stay.

There’s a mystery there. A few actually. More on that later.

Besides the terse melodrama, I kinda figured out the message of House, and the polite discord it invited. Namely, families—regardless of size—are alike all over. It may have been the sole pinion that we as the audience could dance around. Like I spoke about earlier with my houses as homes theory, family is what makes a house a home. It’s based mostly on motive, meaning the desire to set down roots. In House, Kathy shouldered her “home” when it once becomes a burden. The Colonel spies her house as an ideal home to set down roots in America proper. It’s all an ideal, and always fading. Houses are physical, homes are ethereal. The responsibilities are equal with both. Again, families are alike all over.

Which my be the heart of how the tragic played out. Again, House had no antagonists. Just a pair of desperate people trying to live their lives for the good. Proper? Kathy was trying to get her sh*t together, battling booze, bills and a bailed husband. The Colonel just wanted to have a decent place for his family to live like back in Iran. Where was the adversary? None really. There was the theme of fleeing an unpleasant history afoot. It was not that overt, however, nor something corporeal wreaking havoc on our principals. It was some calumniator; an organic, all too familiar entity that ruins the lives of people all the time.

Red tape. Bureaucracy.

There may be spoilers ahead, but with House that might be a matter or interpretation.

Kathy lost her house due to red tape, unfairly and in error. The Colonel obtained her house thanks to the banks operating under false pretenses unbeknownst to Behrani. mentioned why not the two make a deal? Like Kathy be the landlady and charge rent to the Colonel while she took up residence in the guest house? A fair point, but then this might’ve resulted in more conflict, which the plot already had plenty of. No. Events unfolded in a way that there had to be a clear winner, which there would be none. Too many outside forces were inadvertently colluding against Kathy and the Colonel and the struggle was taken out on each other. If felt like divide and conquer where only the banks and the lawyers profited. Like I said, bureaucracy. At its finest.

Connelly was hot on the heels of her Oscar win for A Beautiful Mind. Her performance as Alicia Nash—the long suffering wife of a schizophrenic math genius—carved out a nice niche as a skill for playing both desperate and vulnerable. This may have not been lost on the esteemed scenarist Akiva Goldsman when the casting call came around for House. Here Connelly is a different kind of desperate. Unlike in Mind, she invited her predicament, wallowing in ennui, many empty wine bottles that should not be there and an ashtray that also should not be so convenient. She hates her house and all the history it contains and only comes to value it when the place gets taken away. Unlike Alicia Nash, Kathy is hard to sympathize with. I mean, if you were at the bottom of it all, wouldn’t you still be secure with a roof over your head? In essence, when Kathy accidentally punctured her foot it said it all for me. So little, too late.

Desperation worked both ways in House. Yes, yes. It’s criminal to lose one’s home. It’s often funny/tragic when it gets bought by new owners. Recall my ribald recollection of the fever dream of my first home. Took my folks maybe 15 years to correct all the design schemes cooked up by too much deep pile and low cut 70s cocaine. When it came time to leave I couldn’t even fathom any new occupants taking reign over my family’s “perfect” domicile.

Of course I was wrong. A house is a house, objective. A home is subjective, right? We’ve well established that. For the Colonel, Kathy’s house was more than a home. It was a retreat, a refuge. A fresh start, but from what?

If you paid attention watching House (as assured am I that you did after you reloaded the popcorn), it came quickly apparent that the story took place in the 80s. The cars, the tech, the fashions. K took note of the retro, glass Mountain Dew bottles strewn about Kathy’s place. All screamed Trickle Down theory, and equally beaten down. In early scenes we learned that soon after the Colonel earned his citizenship he had to work menial jobs to make ends meet—lightyears beyond his esteemed military career back in the Middle East. He kept up appearances for his family until the time was right to set down roots; Horace Greeley might have had the right idea. Here’s the itch: if the Colonel was doing so well back in Iran, why emigrate to the US with rocks in his lunchpail? Why was Kathy’s old house so damned the house?

History lesson. Number 2 pencils only.

The aforementioned was implied in the movie, and only in a fart-and-you’ll-miss-it scene. It spoke volumes to me. Moving on.

If you remember when Coke changed its formula to Pepsi’s or the Sega Master System being rival to the NES you might also remember Oliver North on trial implicated in the Iran Contra Scandal all over the major networks. No? Help is on the way.

Back in the bad ol’ 80s, it came to light that the US secretly sold weapons to Iran as quid pro quo to sell contraband weapons for the uprising in Nicaragua. In sum, a global village designed to pay Peter by robbing Paul. This was illegal, by the way, and way too much money changing went down. Needless to say, many in the Iranian military wanted out before this turned into a very hot potato. Many in the Iranian took flight, claiming sanction in the US, their bestest of besties.

In the movie, when the Colonel’s son insists to his dad the really didn’t sell those jets, the man looks away and says something sardonic. Like it was just a necessary business decision. Or it may have been done for the greater good. Or for him. It was a throwaway scene, but it wasn’t. Small wonder why the Colonel and his family fled Iran in such a desperate, haphazard way, Especially when Nadi got so pissy about their new digs. noted “Why make changes to the house if its only temporary?” That was another part of the puzzle regarding the Colonel’s intentions about what should be just so. Also, why was Nadi always left out of the loop?

Get it now? No? That’s okay. Pencils down.

also noticed there was a lot more not being told. She commented background noise. True. She’s sharp and was correct. The drama generated essential tension, but rather removed from the dramatis personae. This story was a about a house, the main character, the pinion. However both principals had waffling reasons to own the house, but had no sincere investment. It became an existential pissing contest. A matter of control, but of what? Neither protags were set up to gain anything, and the actual house was nothing more than a chess piece. The plot circled around loss. All was a very thorough exercise in futility. No one cares to care. Dire.

Okay, let’s chat about our leads. This being melodrama, as well as dual character study there were two sides. Overall, their impetus was fear. Insecurity was the watchword, and since home and hearth always means stability, Kathy and the Colonel’s regard to the house was the total opposite. Did I mention that? As mentioned, Connelly excelled at desperate, but here only after her ambivalent home was taken away. She vacillated between indifferent and afraid of her place. She always had this wide-eyed gaze expecting the inevitable, but also denying that time would ever come. Until it does, then it’s all shock and awe and how the hell did I get evicted from my uncle’s house that I despise? Being kicked out on the street invited reality right quick.

Now let’s chat about Kathy’s backstory, a matter that always informs the first act. She’s been abandoned, teething through sobriety, “not smoking” and always shuffling through a pile of bills that aren’t addressed to her. And she always has an excuse for all of it. Sad, and there’s another aspect of Kathy’s denial that is very potent as well as explanatory for her circumstances. Recall her blankness. I figured the word “drink” had a dual meaning.

Sure, escaping the grip of booze is very hard, but Kathy’s station was twisted. Most folks who attend AA are trying to get their sh*t together, clean up and get real. Kathy was stuck (and was documented at length in the book), and that sense of stuck oozes from Connolly’s performance. Hell, she doesn’t even like her house, but it sure beats her car. Throughout the story, Kathy would simply not give up the ghost, perhaps because the house was where everything…stopped, as did her “life.” It’s often been said that living in past is damaging, but what about a damaged past that one wears like a sign of strength? In her endgame, her attitude about her tenuous grasp on life is akin to the child who breaks their toys so other kids can’t play with them. No one else—especially like the “upstanding” Colonel—gets to ruin her home. Petulance, if not fast out brattiness was Kathy’s motive.

It goes without saying that Sir Ben Kingsley is an esteemed, versatile actor. If you have any doubts—of which you shouldn’t—check out the Thunderbirds and/or The Physician installments, or just watch Ghandi or Dave or Sexy Beast. I always took note that KIngley’s features are also very versatile. He was born in India when under British rule, therefore has a certain refined cadence in delivering lines that always sound natural. His lineage also may contain Russian and Jewish stock, so, yeah diversity. How an actor delivers their lines are just as important as their motion and subtle facial action, and Kingsley rules with that. His skill of nuance was essential in spinning House‘s story.

Kingsley’s Colonel, at first, comes across a dignified man. More like stiff. Later working odd jobs to earn enough capital to buy Kathy’s bank action house, he comes across as at ease, albeit a bit—how could I say this?—slimy. Ulterior motive haunts this man, but for what end? Just as Kathy’s death spiral takes hold, the Colonel attains a death grip stiff up lip. I’m just buying a house; nothing to see here. Recall what I said about Iran-Contra above? There’s nothing wrong. This is fine. Look at the view! Enjoy it while we have it because we must move on. The ulterior matter. It’s just a house at an opportune time. A home may lie elsewhere. May, which is a calculated lie. Kingsley comes across as knowing, but really just a different color of insecurity like Kathy’s. She didn’t want the home but needed it. The Colonel doesn’t need the home but wanted it. Kingsley’s rigid, confident, worldly manque belies fear. Fear being uncovered. Kingsley’s stiff upper lip comes across as a desperate man, and his latest property purchase was nothing more a prop, a canard. He once was a decorated soldier, but not anymore. Not since the jets his son implied. Kingsley’s stalwart perform and was both proud accessory and unyielding pride. The man was great. And scary.

Here’s the last part of the cast’s trifecta. Ron Eldard crashed onto the scene way back in the 90s as the traffic cop who pulled over a “blind” Al Pacino in Scent Of A Woman. A former Coast Guard sailor, and all that matters. This was Eldard’s best dramatic role. Maybe his true first. I felt that his Lester was the true “bad guy” with House. Lester carried himself as very immature as well as opportunistic, much worst that our principals. Regarding Kathy’s predicament was keen to take note of there’s always flirting if they’re just “friends.” K also commented about trust birthed from despair (my sentence, her insight). Aren’t cops (ipso facto) trained to follow the law, no matter how cling…no excuse. How desperate was Kathy to set up digs with an unfaithful father, husband and cop? Misery loves company—invites it. It was the best invitation Kathy had had in forever.

As always, pacing is my red-headed stepchild. House‘s pace was smooth and creeping. Although we learned about Kathy and the Colonel’s ulterior motives regarding the property, there was that mystery afoot. The aforementioned theory about a flight from the Iran Contra mess. Why did Kathy’s husband leave her holding the check? Neither of these questions were adequately answered, and that may have been the director’s aim. Sh*t rolls downhill, regardless of direction. In sum the final act kept you guessing. Not exactly nail biting, more rather unconsciously poking at that sore tooth with your tongue.

This was a very difficult installment to write, which is why it took so long to post. In my cinematic memory I can’t name many films where the resolution is bittersweet and there are no clear winners. Or clear losers, for that matter. RashomonDog Day Afternoon, The Third ManTime Bandits and almost every movie in John Carpenter’s filmography ends on an ambivalent down note, House was no different, considering the James Joyce-esque touch where the end is the beginning is the end. A breathless cycle of loss and gain and loss. If there was any carp I had with House is was that there was too much melodrama, namely anytime Eldard entered the picture. He was good, but oily, and his taking advantage of Kathy’s vulnerably was the stuff of mid-level soap operas. It was some forced drama got injected just to hold our attention. Patchwork. We already learned that this caper would not end well. Pummeled into minds was more accurate. Scenes like those tasted like being led by our noses. That being said, House was lean and mean, but to make the story better it needed to be a bit leaner.

K commented that so much was wrong in the name of right. No memories were worth all this trouble. Well said, kid.

This is why you can never go home again. It’s not there.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? A mild relent it. House was a good movie, no argument. However it was so tragic and bleak that repeat viewings would just be an exercise in masochism. Once and done, I say.


The Stray Observations…

  • “Things are not as they appear.”
  • It was only matter of time for the racism factor to appear.
  • ‘Boycott Grapes?’
  • Don’t drive by the house. Never get out of the boat. Never rub another man’s rhubarb…
  • “There’s no one to call.”
  • Lester sure has a lot of friends.
  • “They’re already at home more than I ever was.”
  • That stupid dripping faucet.
  • “I just wanted things to change.”
  • Wait. Super Nintendo?
  • “I feel found.”

The Next Time...

Super spies Tom Hardy and Chris Pine are both vying for the affections of Reese Witherspoon. Of course you know This Means War.


 

RIORI Presents Installment #185: Jonathan Frakes’ “Thunderbirds” (2004)



The Players…

Bill Paxton, Brady Corbett, Anthony Edwards, Soren Fulton, Sophia Myles, Vanessa Hudgens and Ben Kingsley, with Deobia Oparel and Ron Cook.


The Basics…

If there’s a local emergency you call the first responders. Fire fighters, police officers, EMTs. If there’s a national emergency you call on FEMA, the National Guard, the Red Cross. But who do you call when it’s a global emergency? A catastrophe so huge that no ordinary rescue team could get the job done?

Well, if you have that problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire…The A-Team International Rescue.

Thunderbirds are go!


The Rant…

Okay. I got one for you. Pull up a chair.

You ever get tuned into a culty pop culture hoo-ha by accident…in reverse?

I’m not talking a straight line like some Beatlemaniac from the 60s who not only has all the albums, singles and imports and proudly displays the framed, over the mantel, signed by Ringo vintage movie poster for A Hard Day’s Night. That kind of fandom is as common as COVID, and almost as communicable. No. I’m talking about a drunkard’s stagger backwards to the well, either out of curiosity, confusion or dumb accident. Usually all three.

Here’s an example, a theoretical one: say you’re some teen in the early 90s and got hip to this British singer/songwriter who went by the name of Sting. Silly name. His music was jazzy and rocky and sounded good to you. Curiosity piqued, you logged on the Net and surfed Lycos (early 90s, remember?) about all things Sting. Won a few Grammys, did some human rights work with Amnesty International and did a little acting on the side (and the less you found out about that the better). Also turned out the guy fronted this big deal new wave act back in the late 70s. Huh. Dig his new stuff, what’s the old stuff like?

Boom. A Police fan in borne. Like so many mushrooms.

Now I always dug The Police as a kid, and most of Gordo’s jazz/funk/rock solo work was pretty cool also (I gave up after his Ten Summoner’s Tales, and Sting should have, too). When I got into a musician, I did my homework and sought out back catalogs, and was more pleased than confused. When I did get confused over pop culture scavenging it was a rare occurrence, mostly because it was both by accident and rare. The cult stuff. And I’m talking deeper than Joy Division, the Sega Saturn or Octavia E Butler. Sometimes when you walk backwards far enough long enough you find yourself once you’ve backtracked forwards again.

Right. Bear with me. It’s been 185 installments. And if you’ve come this far, maybe you’re willing to come a little further. You remember the name of the town, don’t you?

*crickets*

Anyway, Red, time to tumble down the rabbit hole. Never fear, I will get to the meat of the matter and how it relates to this week’s movie somehow.

While the 90s teen nascent Police fan was not me, the following 80s kid story was. Maybe you, too. Back before the cable networks took the baton, the major networks would give over their Saturday morning airtime for cartoons. From six in the morning to noon, ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and adopted kid Nickelodeon was a Froot Loop chomping wonderland every Saturday. All cartoons, all morning long. Sometimes I think Spotify programmers took hints from Saturday morning programming in creating their playlist algorithms. There was a sh*tton of animated variety, and certain networks had certain themes. NBC had action. ABC had comedy. CBS has weird s/f/fantasy shows. FOX was FOX and Nick was green slime. I dug the NBC line-up. The penultimate shows were Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends and The Bugs ‘N’ Tweety Show. The first had Spidey teaming up with X-Men Iceman and Firestar to thwart the nefarious schemes of various Marvel baddies. The second was self-explanatory: an anthology of a few Looney Tunes shorts. Then came Soul Train so I could get hip to the newest rap stars. Afterwards the lawnmower waited, glowering at me. The usual Saturday.

When I got bored of the same old scene on the Big Four and Little Nicky, I aimed the remote onto the outer fringes; local affiliates that still had some say in what to air against the competitors but not so much to lose their backing. Namely syndicated sh*t. Not always a bad thing. I got my silly TMNT fix that way (as well as very early mean hangover Saturday mornings with The Tick. “Spoon!”), as I did the ulty-culty fave Inhumanoids and an informal introduction to anime.

Japanese animation. Admittedly that came about when I was in second grade watching bowdlerized versions of Space Battleship Yamato and GoLions! (Star Blazers and Voltron in the States, respectively), but I dug it. Other anime warped snuck its way onto the local airwaves as well. G-Force, RoboTech, Tranzor-Z (violence uncut!) and other nuggets from across the Pacific that haplessly toppled onto my cable feed. Nowadays, anime has well saturated American pop culture. Still on the fringes, mostly due to the fact cosplayers dressed as Rei from Evangelion outweigh Shizuku from Whisper Of the Heart by about two googolplex to…perhaps two. Japanese animation is a thing but still not a thing in Columbus. It was rattling around back in the 80s, and I happened upon it, even after I happened upon it.

Wait. Dig this. Digression. You ever hear of the psychological phenomenon cryptomnesia? It’s essentially deja vu in reverse. Instead of having a curious feeling of reliving a moment, a moment has a curious effect on your memory and somehow your brain figured it was your moment all along. If you ever heard about that silly plagiarism case regarding George Harrison accidentally cribbing the melody for “My Sweet Lord” from the Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine” then you follow me. If not, Google it. I’ll wait.

*raids fridge for another popsicle*

Like that there. Back to the anime thing. There was some proto-indie animation block one on of the local stations. Upstart affiliates trying to cash in on the cult of Smurfs. It came out of New York and featured the 80s cartoon touchstones about cyber femme rocker Jem, the aforementioned Inhumanoids and some anime pastiche called—translated rather—Thunderbirds 2086. I hung around for a few episodes, curious about the staggering animation style and why the characters’ dialogue was so palsied, but their description of a family-operated S/F rescue team with their ultra cool (“a dazzling array”) mecha poked my brain. Why does this sound familiar? I was eight then, so I flipped the channel. A self-examined life and all.

Back around to Little Nicky. I was a big fan of the imported UK cartoons Nick used to air at the end of the day. DangerMouseBananamanCount Duckula and other giddiness. These were British cartoons and far shorter than the usual American 25 minutes. Those from across the Pond ran about 18 minutes, which invited some filler to bookend the commercials, like the occasional Monty Python animated piece (this was the 80s, remember) or a snippet from some TV serial revolving around globetrotters rendered in puppet form.

Wait a minnit…

Fast forward to fast backwards. Y’all remember that parody Team America: World Police by the lovely lads of South Park infamy, Matt Parker and Trey Stone? What rock have you been living under? It was a send up of Dubya’s foreign policy, but with marionettes, strings and all. I never saw it, but the trailers smacked me with some nostalgica (yes, I just made that term up). Where have I seen this kind of thing before?

If Carl Jung was right, and there is such a thing as a collective unconsciousness somehow my warped kiddie mind—from about age 8 to 24—through either Harrison’s creative ozone trip or that blip in my mind that was Thunderbirds 2086, somehow I learned about the original British Thunderbirds “supermarination” sci-fi show about International Rescue and their amazing mecha before we fledgling otaku knew was mecha meant. I think I caught it on Nick between DangerMouse episodes. Yeah, that’s it. I think.

So when the announcement of a big deal silver screen reel of Thunderbirds came along I was intrigued (I was 38 at the time. Late bloomer). All that childhood nostalgics came whizzing back. Holy crap, full circle! And this uber-obscure, card-carrying very cult show was getting the motion picture treatment. Stateside! With Bill Paxton! With Commander Riker directing! Pass the popcorn! Come under the knife of RIORI!

Why in the world am I telling you all of this? Good question. I’ll do my best to provide a fair answer. Nostalgia works in cycles. As we evolve into mature adults (like those who wear foam wedges of Swiss come opening day at Lambeau, bare-chested in a blizzard), we always look fondly upon our past. Our childhood. The salad days without worrying about taxes and traffic and insurance premiums and salmonella and terrorism. The days of Saturday morning cartoons, technicolor cereal, Transformers and an already trimmed lawn. It’s nice to be reminded as a grown-up with a surprise like a fond, albeit odd memory of days gone by…even through a tricky trail like Marty McFly followed to get his erstwhile dad getting laid and being rewarded for it.

More nostalgia? You bet. Hold on to those moments. Work awaits in the morn and a Stauffer’s microwave dinner in the eve. Things are just fine now.


 The Story…

Whenever’s there’s a rescue mission, most authorities call out the Coast Guard, or FEMA and perhaps the Red Cross also. People all over the country—maybe the planet—need help when the emergency is so dire not even the most modern technology and capable people can produce the Jaws of Life. That’s when the brave folks of International Rescue spring into action.

Jeff Tracy (Paxton) is an ex-astronaut and an industrial titan in the S&R game. From what he learned in his NASA days he’s designed the technology to  an ncredibly bleeding edge fleet of sophisticated vehicles designed to do what no ordinary rescue team can do: the impossible. From air, sea, land and even space, Tracy’s “Thunderbirds” are always vigilant and ready to take on any case.

Sounds like something out of a comic book, and Jeff’s youngest son Alan (Corbett) always has his eyes in the clouds, looking for his super dad and his super bros that round out the elite team. Alan’s too young to serve in his Dad’s proud service—not to mention Jeff is more than a little protective of his youngest son—but too bold to ignore his calling. Especially during algebra.

However…quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who watches the watchers themselves? Dun dun dunnn.

Unbeknownst to Jeff and the Tracy team, an old, yet unknown enemy calling himself The Hood (Kingsley) has a scheme of very serious purpose to ruin the Thunderbird team’s sterling record of world saving. Knock off the world banks by hijacking Tracy’s amazing machines to steal millions as well as ruining the Thunderbirds’ reputation without recompense.

So when Alan is home on spring break, and his dad and brothers are off-world, and the Thunderbirds fleet is ripe for the hijacking, and the nefarious Hood has some sort of mind control, and his schemes are deadly real, and only Alan has a rough concept how to keep the fleet intact, and cutie pie TinTin (Hudgens) has developed breasts, what’s he gonna do?

Make a Fully Acknowledged Broadcast hopefully his over-protective dad could hear:

“Are Thunderbirds a go?”


The Breakdown…

Blame nostalgia. Or blame a lot of silly, whiz-bang fun. We need more chewing gum like this.

Thunderbirds is not a good movie. The acting’s kinda wooden, the scheme is right out of Lex Luthor’s bag of tricks and you’re gonna have to have a very high suspension of disbelief to go along with this sci-fi/disaster/cartoon come to life bat out of hell. Never fear though, True Believers. It’s all in good fun. Here’s the extra huge tub of fresh popcorn. Nom nom nom.

Despite that the original Thunderbirds programme was a British space opera with a cast of puppets, and the 80s incarnation was essentially an anime rip-off of that, the big screen adaptation here is a big, garish, winking cartoon come to life. Sometimes, now and again, once in a while we all need a megadose of some big, dumb, unapologetically over the top action flick to snuggle up with. Call in the Thunderbirds. Help is on the way.

Let’s get another key thing out of the way: there are precious redeeming aspects to Thunderbirds. That’s part of its charm. There’s a ton of winking and nudging informing us that this is silly, fun and far, far away from winning any awards. It’s also a clever film, always alluding to the original puppeteer’d vision of the Anderson’s creation in the swinging 60s. You might not get it, especially if you never went up the rabbit hole like I tried to explain…poorly. All in all overall, its a live-action cartoon. The kind ready made for the Disney Channel or folks who dig Scooby-Doo (like me, who has no shame). Quit grumping and lighten up or else the beatings will commence.

The key here to enjoying this flick is like with all good stand-up comedy its timing, a kind of pacing that depends on luck and where to use it. As a action/adventure family film directed by Number One we should go play connect the dots. Scene moves effortlessly to next scene with a new trouble Alan and crew get into. It’s kinda like a platformer video game (think the MegaMan series). As for the lucky timing, yeah it’s scripted, duh, but happenstance pops up again and again at just the right spots in the story, furthering the admittedly flimsy narrative. We see it all coming a mile away, but the direction pumps along at a pace that propels a “saw that coming” sensibility, but also says, “Let’s see what happens next.”

Thunderbirds could have easily descended into absolute schlock if it wasn’t for that winking and off-kilter delivery. A sense of goofiness pervades the movie, but not so much to dilute the action. Hell, and even the solid action scenes are cartoony—right out of Looney Tunes—like when TinTin takes out the bad guys with the Firefly. All the action is goof-tastic (IE: Every time Lady P laid a punch I could hear Mike Myers as Austin Powers bleat, “Judo chop!”) from diminutive Ron Cook and his pratfalls to Deobia Oparel cackling like Count Chocula and then getting a face full of bees. And it’s irresistible, because it’s all so ridiculous you just have to give in to it all and enjoy the ride. Hell, you already streamed it. Face the consequences.

I like the story device of the kids rescuing the parents. So sue me. Consider flicks like The Goonies. Or Spy Kids. Or even the first Iron Eagle, for Pete’s sake. The dynamic helps to establish that family action feel, which director Frakes must’ve known was Thunderbirds‘ backbone. Even though all of the acting is Marxist (Groucho, that is) in style, you can’t shake that the solid bonds of family and friends will always help you ride out any storm. If only in real life that was so easy, but to quote Paul Simon: that’s why God made the movies. Jeff and his sons don’t take a second thought to go help Off-World John. Lady P and Parker waste no time in aiding their adopted Thunderbird family. Most of all the—dare I say—sweet father/son relationship that nerdy Brains has with his wunderkind Fermat. All that also assures you that no matter how much Jeff and Alan don’t see eye to eye you know all will be all right in the end. You know that, but the anticipation’s fun nonetheless. It’s a very minor league version of how Ron Howard built tension for his Apollo 13. We already knew the astronauts got home safely. It’s the thrill/mystery of that coming down. We know everything will be okay in the end with Thunderbirds. Just sit back and enjoy the ride already.

That means we gotta ride along with a very motley cast of players, some of whom seem violently out of place and all the better for it. I reiterate: not all movies are designed to win awards. Not even a Razzie. That being said, Thunderbirds received absolutely zero Nick Kids’ Choice Awards for acting (I checked. None). You must look at this snubbing within the proper context. The film is a silly, revisionist live action cartoon. Of course the cast is supposed to be ciphers, caricatures and over the top. It’s no surprise that the late, lamented Bill Paxton makes even the fluffiest of films great, but he’s more or less relegated to the sidelines for most of this ball of wax. I already mentioned the kids saving the day—when done right, and it wasn’t all bad here—was A-number one plot point here, and Brady and company do their best to keep its PG firmly in cheek. The trio are trademark nonentities; stereotypes the world over we recognize in any family flick. No more, no less. It works, though since the action is seamless and their patois is what you’d expect: teen insecurity against a serious matter. We’ve all been there and maybe still are. This crap works on a basal level, with nary a SAG nod to be seen. I repeat, just go with it.

As for the supporting cast, they all have their moments to shine, but five stars and a bouquet to Sir Ben Kingsley, Academy Award winner then and unashamed to ham it up now. You could see he truly had fun playing the bad guy/slumming it up here, a graduate of the Jim Kirk School of Drama and Scenery Chewing. His Hood smirks, cracks dopey one-liners, makes fun of his role and delighting in basically f*cking around. You want to be the antagonist in family film? Go for clownish and mustache-twirling spouting Shakespeare. Kingsley was the penultimate best thing about Thunderbirds, save Ron Cook’s Parker and he’s quite the other thing. Plus, Kingsley’s Hood wears a kimono! What else do you need?

Again, Thunderbirds‘ pacing falls right into the butter zone. The story bounces along at a friendly clip. No scenes heavy with drama or pithy monologues. No room for that claptrap. On a serious note, the movie was excellently framed, very efficient in telling the story where each scene of action was bookended by scheming how to escape this mess and get into the next. I heard that Star Trek alum Jon Frakes is regarded as such an economical director—most likely as his CV cites him for his TV direction experience over cinema—he earned the nickname “Two Takes Frakes.” I like that. It means he steers the movies along the swiftest current so the cast won’t get all fatigued. His work reflects this, as our cast never get overwrought and just keeps on being silly.

Right, so call this one a guilty pleasure. My girl’s a big Bill Paxton fan (yet she has never seen Weird Science. Hmm) and bought the disc off Amazon to watch it with me knowing I’m a big Bill Paxton fan. Too bad he didn’t get much screen time, but but I guessed his gung-ho Jeff Tracy schtick wouldn’t fit in well with the silliness of Thunderbirds. So there you have it.

Did I mention the silliness of the movie?

Oh, and by the way, the movie sure respected the TV show’s legacy. For a taste of the first original episode click here.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. Again, did I mention the silliness part? You need this movie to kill some time. It’s very good at that.


The Musings…

  • “Who will rescue the rescuers?”
  • The opening credits are very clever. Almost like a primer for the uninformed.
  • The CGI holds up well here, especially since this is a cartoon.
  • “My Achilles’ heel is my Achilles’ heel!”
  • Very rousing score.
  • Lady P’s ride is a custom Ford Thunderbird. Get it?
  • “Fu-fu-fu-noo way!”
  • BTW, did the producers get any flak from the PC police for the stuttering?
  • “I did…”
  • That and The Hood’s psychic powers were never really explained away.
  • “You just can’t save everyone…”
  • Ron Cook looks like a ripe plum tomato ready to pop. Speaking of which…
  • “I love it when your checkered past becomes useful.” Lady P got the best lines.
  • Didja notice all the Tracy sons were named after astronauts (EG, Virgil was Gus Grissom’s real first name. John Glenn was the first astronaut to orbit Earth, not unlike John Tracy’s HALO in Thunderbird 5)?
  • “That’s quite enough losing for one day!”

The Next Time…

“Smash an hour glass, grab the sand, take his hands and cuff ’em,
Spin around to freeze the clock, take the hands of time and cuff ’em.
Cinderella Man…”

I’d like to believe that boxer James Braddock would’ve been an Eminem fan.


 

RIORI Redux: Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island” Revisited


Image


The Players…

Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo, Michelle Williams, Patricia Clarkson and Max von Sydow, with Emily Mortimer, Jackie Earle Haley and Ted Levine.


The Story…

US marshal Teddy Daniels’ latest case takes him to a forgotten corner of New York’s fog-shrounded waterways. His assignment? Investigate the disappearance of a patient from a hospital for the criminally insane. But not long after landfall, it appears to Teddy his efforts are going to by compromised by the evasive resident psychiatrist…as well as his disturbing visions.


The Rant (2013)

Ever experience déjà vu? You know, that feeling of uneasy familiarity, like you’ve done this or that once before? Of course you have. You’re having it right now. You’re reading another one of my screeds here at RIORI buttered with my signature ribald, snappy repartee. Welcome back!

Seriously though, before I delve into the déjà vu enigma some more, I think I need to clarify something. These reviews were reserved for films that “had a dubious reputation or lacked box office mojo.” Shutter Island definitely did not suffer from a lack of mojo. When all was said, done and tallied, this little film walked away with over a hefty $128 million at the box office. This little psych-thriller here had a budget of around $80 million. Not bad. Didn’t hurt that it was directed by Scorsese and starred his current protégé DiCaprio.

What did hurt Island in my view is based on this story I heard from a friend of mine. Let’s say she had an interesting experience when seeing this movie in the theatre. Seeing. Not saw. As in “during the movie proper.”

Hm. BTW, we ain’t talking about yelling at the screen as if the actors can hear, or some nabob yakking on his phone. We’re talking about a dissatisfied customer. If any movie, successful or no, could upset a viewer in frustration then the movie gets the autopsy here. That and another buddy of mine insisted I see it and blog about it. You’re welcome, Rios.

So anyway, here’s what she told me:

It was your typical Friday night out at the multiplex. The big deal release at the time was Marty’s Shutter Island, which I heard was Marty’s first psycho-thriller (Cape Fear doesn’t count. That was a remake). The turnout was big—full house. My friend found a seat at the back of the theatre; that what was left that night, the place was so packed. It inadvertently gave her the cat’s bird seat to witness what would transpire later on.

About halfway through the film, a patron, obviously displeased, got up and shouted to no one in particular, “Does anyone f*cking get what is f*cking going on in this film?!” This outburst generated a bigger audience reaction than the action of screen. He threw his popcorn to the floor, spat out a few more profanities and promptly stormed out of the theatre. I think she mentioned something about even Leo losing his motivation. One could make the argument that Scorsese’s latest film succeeded in creating psychological tension, but I don’t think that’s what he had in mind. Well, for the sake of this installment it sounded like a dubious enough rep for me.

Sigh. I wish I had gotten as torqued as that angry stranger in the darkness with his strewn popcorn.

I too, after sitting through this movie, had similar sentiments. And a feeling of déjà vu. I had seen this movie before. Or at least, this kind of movie. And despite the trademark storytelling verve Scorsese imbues into most of his movies, Island was based on very few original plot lines.

But before I get all bitchy, first here’s the good stuff.

I don’t know who the location scout was for the movie, but they did a brilliant job of finding an ideal setting for madness. The whole sanitarium compound has a great, Lovecraftian feel. Craziness dripping from every pore. Even the main characters seem a little…off, as though a reflection of the island’s inhabitants. Slow tracking shots makes whole scenes seem isolated from reality. You really can pilot Teddy about the complex with the sense of solitude. And not the kind you want. Creepy is the watchword.

There’s some brilliant editing, especially the flashback sequences to Teddy’s army days and wife’s tragedy. Things seem to flow pretty well also, albeit a bit quickly. At certain points some scenes seem rushed, especially when Teddy and his sidekick Chuck (Mark Ruffalo, who is a solid presence) are casing the joint. Speaking of acting, Kingsley’s performance is at his most sinister here, vacillating between paranoid and professional. This is a guy who you can’t f*ck around with, because he can see all and know all on the island. Shiver.

Second, the bad stuff. The main offense? This film is unoriginal. I could not shake that feeling of déjà vu watching it. I knew that this kind of story has been told before, and not just in the typical, snobby, “there are only so many plots out there yadda yadda blah.” No. I had seen this movie before, a dozen different ways. The best and immediate example I can recall is with Hitchcock’s Vertigo. I could cite quite few more films (without revealing the plots) that have used the exact same formula that Island employs. Angel Heart for one. The Machinist—which I reviewed here before—is another. The whole psychological “lost time” gimmick has been used with varying degrees of success before. But it has been done before. You would think Scorsese would have figured that out by now.

Shutter Island suffers greatly from déjà vu. This all had been done before. And it’s a real shame, because there’s a great deal of capital Q quality in this film. The acting’s good. The casting great. The atmosphere is suitably creepy. But the film lifts dozens of tropes from other films that may have done it better. It doesn’t make sense knowing of Scorsese’s encyclopedic knowledge of film technique that he cut Island the way he did. Maybe he was just f*cking around, nodding and winking to Hitch. I hope so, rather than f*cking around at the audience’s expense, not unlike represented by the anonymous, angry filmgoer’s philosophy. As for me, the only “lost time” I got from this movie was 2 hours and 18 minutes.

So…

Ever experience déjà vu? You know, that feeling of uneasy familiarity, like you’ve done this or that once before…?


Rant Redux (2019)…

This movie was another recommendation by a co-worker who got hip to what I was doing online (no, the legal, orangutan-free stuff) and threw me this curveball: namely a film wrote and directed by an esteemed, successful director starring his latest protege, an esteemed and successful leading-man type guy who was once King of the World. Sounded promising. I like Marty’s films, and Leo has been a sturdy character actor for over a decade even before Island hit theaters. And a noir mystery to boot? What would go wrong?

Quite a bit. But not with the movie; within the blogger’s palsied mind.

You saw how I was playing up the deja vu aspect of both the film and my impression thereof? Kept bitching I’ve seen this before, this type of plot. I was right, but not in a cynical sense. Observe:

You ever see a film you just didn’t “get” upon your first viewing? Yeah, sure, the flick was all right, but you walked away wanting. Something felt amiss, unsatisfying. And some imp of the perverse kept poking your temporal lobes insinuating that you (dum dum dummm) missed something? You dolt, you should’ve never refilled your Cherry Coke at the soda fountain at the beginning of the second act, but that super-fangled thingamadoo has over five jillion soda options where could concoct tonics that have no place in nature you don’t give a sh*t, right. But still, orange-cherry Sprite with almonds!

But I digress. We’ve all seen films like that. They make us feel stupid. Not insulted like whatever sugar-coated bile Michael Bay keeps conning the general public into consuming. No. Movies that make you second guess. On the whole, I kinda like that. It’s usually a good film that makes you question it, rather than question yourself, “Lord, what have I done?!? Will the sun come up tomorrow? Will they cancel breakfast? And who is they anyway? Mommy…” When a good movie makes you feel as if you missing something, you may have well did…for now. Give it a moment, an hour, a week. It’ll come to you.

Me? Got a few examples. Might’ve mentioned the phenom before. Like with The Blair Witch Project. The final scene stumped me, until I was perched on the end of my bed, wondering what the f*ck did I watch last night? That guy REDACTED when the camera crapped out. I sat up. I remembered earlier in the film.  I solved the puzzle without rearranging the stickers. I got it. In the endgame it wasn’t a waste of a ticket and I ain’t that so dumb after all, Jenny.

Perhaps you like the cut of my jib. You get it. Ain’t it fun? Here’s another one: when me and my stepkid watched Hitchcock’s Vertigo for the first time. Vertigo is considered Hitch’s finest achievement, ‘tho it took years for the dilettantes to play catch up. The stepkid was into murder mystery films at the time, so I set up a double feature of Vertigo and Read Window. After watching Vertigo we did a double take at each other. We didn’t get it. It wasn’t bad, but there was something amiss. Oh, well. I plopped Window in the machine shortly after (saw it many times over already. Yes, I set her up) and she really dug it. But Vertigo challenged us, and we didn’t “get it” outright. Oh, fie.

Took me half a damned year to trip the tumblers. At our time of viewing, Vertigo usurped Citizen Kane as the best American movie ever. I was baffled as to why…until I got it. If you are familiar with the demented comedy stylings of the late, great Andy Kaufman, then how Vertigo delivered its package might be analog to the Man On The Moon’s pranksterism; the joke was always on you. Once you figured that bit out, and you weren’t a blockhead, you got the joke. Hitch was f*cking with your sense of reality with Vertigo, and therein lay the mystery to be solved, which was impossible. Did this all happen, or was Jimmy Stewart so delusional that he didn’t know he was delusional? Terry Gilliam’s dystopian time travel movie 12 Monkeys followed the same line. Quite well I may add.

Lastly, and since we’re deconstructing a Scorsese film, his apology Oscar awarding winning The Departed pulled a fast one. In the final scene how did Dignam know to  REDACTED  Sullivan? It might’ve has something to do with all that journaling REDACTED did and ultimatly got mixed in the mail. I caught The Departed in the theatre with a pair of my low-life buddies, us scratching our heads over how Dignam knew? We nodded assent in confusion and headed out to our respective cars to head on out to our choice watering hole to further dismantle the film.

It dawned on me a mile down the road. I caught up with them at the immediate red light. I honked and they rolled down their window, “What?!?”

I rolled down my window, sat on the sill and hollered at them: “It was his REDACTED!”

They screaming in forehead-slapping laughter, and we tore out of there. Good night spent. I needed a new seat belt thereafter. Thank God for duck tape and crossed fingers.

Now. Speaking of both Hitch and Marty, we arrive at Shutter Island. This is what I missed the first time out. I missed this: homage. It took me an eon to realize that Island was designed to be an homage to both film noir and Hitchcock. Which is why, to me, it felt so familiar. So deja-vu. Sorry, Rivers. I was unfair, and needed the edge of my bed for a little.

That being said, here’s what I learned seeing with a well-squeegeed eye: Island is a tribute, an homage, an experiment regarding “The Master Of Suspense.” To say that Scorsese is a film historian as well as acclaimed director is akin to describing oxycontin as “relaxing.” The man’s a cinematic encyclopedia; he’s done his research. Again the reason that Island gave me deja vu upon initial viewing was because, well, this kind of story had been done before (eg: Hitch’s Vertigo, as well as Nolan’s Memento, Welles’ The Third Man and a good chunk of the Jason Bourne movies): displaced hero stuck in their own imagination and everything, everything may or may not be a delusion. On a very basal, relatable tableau there was an ep of Star Trek: TNG (quit groaning) entitled “Frame Of Mind” where Cmdr Riker was trapped in a nightmare of his own making just to anchor himself to reality, which he a bit of trouble crawling out of. Our Teddy Daniels is cut from the same bolt as Riker, Scotty Ferguson, Leonard Shelby, “Harry Lime” and Matt Damon/Jeremy Renner/Joey Sack O’Donuts whatever. It’s a good device, which is why it pops up in so many suspense films. Marty understood this trope, gave it his own spin, smiled and hoped you liked it. Once I crawled out my arse and smelled my poop, I got it.

I guess it goes to say that a smart director knows his way around a tried-and-true suspense device like displaced person-or-persons unknown. And it took a dumb, rube movie critic to catch up.

Gonna smack him upside his melon when I see him next.


The Revision…

Rent it or relent it? Overrulled: Rent it. I again say sorry, Rivers. I got it now. A technical, loving tribute to Hitch well done is always a treat. That doesn’t mean I want my mind f*cked over every time. I’m still recovering from Detective Pikachu.


Next Installment…

We thumb through the Silver Linings Playbook again to find (shocker) the blogger was trying to hoodwink you. What Standard?


 

RIORI Vol 3, Installment 31: Phillipp Stolzl’s “The Physician” (2013)


The_Physicia_C_1


The Players…

Thomas Payne, Stellen Skarsgaard, Elyas M’Barek, Olivier Martinez, Emma Rigby and (good ol’ reliable) Sir Ben Kingsley.


The Story…

Being a doctor in the Middle Ages didn’t mean healing. It meant one was a practitioner of witchcraft in league with Satan, a wretched barber who understood anatomy as well as a young child understands the cosmos, a nosey whelp interested only in the under-dealings of a fair maiden’s crotch.

Needless to say, hundreds of people suffered and died for no real reason. In fear.

Like what took Rob’s mum. Her death meant his family being torn asunder. By sickness. Miserable, inexplicable sickness. By choice of the Devil or God, whomever got to her first. But her passing—Rob’s loss—sparked a notion in his young mind:

What if he had gotten to her first?


The Rant…

And now, for my first trick, I shall perform a feat I have not performed in a fortnight: I shall tackle a film recommended by a friend. An actual human being.

I usually pluck these Standard-worthy movies via endless web-sifting. I have a few go-to sites to gather intel; ever-reliable resources like Rotten Tomatoes, the IMDb, my fave Box Office Mojo as well as minor players like Flickchart, The Numbers and even AllMovie. Sometimes even Wikipedia when I hit trumps. Other scraps are here and there and far too numerous to mention because I don’t want to sound like some cinematic OCD flake. Which I am.

But as for actual, in the flesh recommendations? Few and far between. Few because a lot of what I’m told to watch doesn’t fall under The Standard. I often am told about a bag’s worth of cheeseballs that dropped before the year 2000. I’m not gonna slag on Billy Madison here, despite how ripe a peach that is. And personal opinions of post-millennial features that fared well against an individual’s claim? Again, read above Internet data. It’s called “The Standard” for a reason. And I have some, both standards and reasons. Ask my shrink.

However, sometimes an actual human being gets hip to my MO. They watched a movie from the past (at least at this time of posting) 16 years and thought it was okay, but still for wanting. Some folks were alternately ecstatic/miserable over what they caught, and poked me on FaceBook for some screen time. But to date, after almost 100 installments, only three flesh-and-blood people suggested valid subjects to probe here at RIORI.

Time for some shout outs. Raise yer glass.

My former co-worker Rivers (that’s not really his name, just what we called him) dug Scorsese’s Shutter Island. He badgered me to see it and post my findings. I relented it. He didn’t like that I relented it. He quit our workplace soon after the post. I’d like to think I had something to do with that (our ex-boss’ Machiavellian practices probably had more of an influence than my precious keystrokes). But still Rivers reads the blog on a semi-regular basis, and we both still like DiCaprio, so it’s all good.

My girl’s former guy/presently good buddy got my back on the first Pacific Rim movie. I don’t know whether both of us were in synchronicity when he thunk that movie up, but it jibed with The Standard and was one of the titles that became the backbone of RIORI Vol 1. Hell, seeing the poster on the marquee then was enough to get my dander up. In a giddy kind of way, don’t worry.

And for my third accomplice, here’s the tale: I recently took to re-frequenting my old watering hole as a brief two-hour oasis after my drudgery at work before my responsibilities waiting at home. Due to these stressors at both ends, I required some quiet time. And a beer. A few beers. I used to abuse this old brass rail every night after service from multiple restaurant postings, mostly between 11 PM and “I’m sorry, Officer…” years ago. I’d clock off work, toss off my togs, step into the less fragrant jeans and belly up with that week’s Marvel titles, notebooks, pens and indifference from younger ladies somewhere between three and many pints.

Today? Fewer days, accountable lagers, a mostly sweet wife and daughter at home and a laptop in tow to type up this shingle. But still there’s a decent pitchman behind that bar. His name is Dan.

I was stony the first few weeks back at my old bar. Been a while. Hadn’t gone out to tie one on since 2012. Y’know, right before the Apocalypse. I had a sh*tty day one week like you have every day of the week, and me lagging behind on the stupid blog, not wanting to go home. I felt the need for a blissful cold one. And have a beer, too.

I kept going back. Every other day, balancing between the solitude of the local college library (where smoking indoors is frowned upon), and the bar (where Proust is frowned upon). I returned to the dive not in some self-entitled alky sense, but there are some luxuries of privacy offered only at a bar that a church cannot promise—if you hear what I’m saying. Better put, back in my lushier days, when I got the lowdown question, “How come you’re reading/writing in a bar?” My deadpan response was always, “Because they don’t serve beer at the library.”

So that being said (and my old school barkeep being “promoted” to weekends), I eventually started to tug on his coat on these every other days. No surprise, but we rambled about movies. And I eventually had to ask the apocryphal question:

“Dan, what’s your favorite movie?”

He crossed his arms and set his jaw.

“That’s a good question.”

“S’why I asked it,” I said, pounding the keyboard as if my boot kicked in the bathroom stall locked only by a twist-tie.

He snapped his fingers. He stabbed one at me. He told me something like, “You should check out The Physician.”

And then he told me why I should check out The Physician.

*lights go low, curtains draw back*

So I went and checked out The Physician…


Dateline: England. The Middle Ages. Grime and ruin reigns. Whatever advances the Romans made centuries ago in science, philosophy and especially hygiene have all but dried up. Presently the denizens in and around London just try to scrape together a meager existence towards the purpose of just seeing another day. Black Plague be damned.

That’s what young Rob (Payne) sees in his never-ending mornings. It is until a charismatic barber (Skarsgaard) comes to town with his promising medicine show. Rob knows his mum is sick and maybe he might glean a little knowledge from this tramp’s quacksalver hat of tricks to help her.

Nope. She dies anyway, and poor Rob devastated, traded off to points unknown. Namely, by stowing away in the barber’s horse-cart. The scoundrel takes a shine to Rob’s spirit, and does him the honor of letting him be his apprentice. Now, the drive to learn whatever scourge took away his mother will be put to good use under this man of letters and medicine.

Again, nope. The barber is nothing more than a film-flam man, and has no qualms duping people into his custom “treatments” to steal away their money. He warns Rob to let go his fantasy to become a true healer. He’ll be burned as a witch otherwise, or for mucking about in God’s domain. The populace are wary, if not outright hostile towards doctors, and the Church definitely finds “practicing medicine” sinful. This doesn’t matter to Rob. He’s determined. He’s learned of a medical school in distant Persia, the finest in the world, and there the near mythical Ibn Sina (Kingsley) is revered as the most learned man of medicine there ever was.

Rob’s decision is fixed. Ibn Sina is the man he seeks for answers. He’ll do whatever it takes—sail away from England to the distant Orient, masquerade as a Jew to have access to medical knowledge, even find himself mixed up in political scandal—to become a true healer.

His mum would’ve wanted it that way…


The Physician is one of the most interesting movies I’ve ever scanned here at RIORI. I’m not talking interesting because of an original plot or brilliant acting. It has neither, really. The interest comes from the platter upon which Physician is served. This ain’t your standard Hollywood historical drama like, say, Gladiator or Spartacus. It’s like one of those docudramas the History Channel used to air before those 48 hour American Pickers binge marathons took over (and I have never seen so much antique advertising for Coke in my entire misled life ever).

The problem for most Hollywood historical dramas is that damned historical part. You know Gladiator‘s plot was completely plausible, and hell, Spartacus was based on actual events (adapted from and filtered through Howard Fast’s pen and dubious research). But as we know from both sophomore year Western Civ classes and Tinsel Town’s defiant and desperate need to gild a dead lily, history can be boring. Boring that is, unless you can package the details in a nice, straightforward adventure with very little bullsh*t.

The Physician was made in Germany, a jillion miles away from the California Coast. This might’ve helped.

I guess this could be regarded as my first “foreign film” to skewer. And I really hate that phrase. Foreign Film. Here in ‘Murica, folks likely think that most movies from outside our borders are all artsy-fartsy and are bummed when the actors make funny talk. If you think about it, Gigli was a foreign film in Uzbekistan, so top your popcorn with that.

But anyway, it’s a foreign film. The Physician certainly has a different aesthetic that the above historical dramas. It goes without saying that movies made in other parts of the world are not made like they are in America. Barring language barriers and cultural references, an Akira Kurosawa movie is different from a Francois Truffaut movie is different from a Fritz Lang movie is different from a freaking Guy Ritchie movie. Hollywood pics tend to hack and slash to get their stories across, usually with as much pyrotechnics and Ben Affleck as their googol budget permits.

Not Physician. It’s patient. Not a lot of splash and dash. Sure, there are some wicked action scenes, but they’re reserved until the third act (of which unfolds about four-fifths into the movie. Like I said, patient). The remainder of the time it’s mostly staging. There’s a lot to digest here in Rob’s world, and you can tell at the outset that this story’s gonna take a bit of time out of your day. It feels epic, like you’re in it for the long haul. But it doesn’t feel like a slog, and unlike the aforementioned films director Stolzl isn’t trying to cram down as much info as fast as f*ck as possible about characters/plot/motive/pacing/diet down your throat to evacuate your reluctant bowels. There’s a winding story to tell here. There’s a lot of details. And since The Physician is the classic “boy on a quest” tale, we’re gonna walk many miles with our hero to get to the very nubbin of his purpose.

So what is the purpose here? Well, besides telling a story, Physician smacks of trying to learn ya something. Truth be told this movie felt less like a movie and more like a History Channel docudrama like I mentioned above. Educational sure, but with tits. Not a complaint, mind you (the educational thing, not the boobies). While watching The Physician I could almost hear the dulcet narration of Edward Herrman explaining as Rob set sail, “In England, medical science was a lost, if not forsaken practice, but half a world away in Persia…” True to that kind of tone, it felt that almost every aspect of the movie was calculated. Calculated to lend the audience a serious idea about what was at stake with Rob’s quest, and why it was necessary.

The quest maybe, the plot not so much. Same could be said for the acting. To be honest the first was not that original and the second was not that great. Like I said: boy on a quest. And the impetus for Rob’s quest could be lifted from a trillion other stories of that ilk (Star Wars: A New Hope springs immediately to mind). And our hero can be a whiny whelp like our beloved Luke was. To even suggest Payne’s portrayal would ever garner any awards would be like me jamming up the Academy’s executive toilets with my shoes. Does not flow here. But as I am ever fond of saying here at RIORI (which should become its subtitle, not that “A Social Study…” malarkey) that Physician is more than the sum of its parts. Say it with me now: “It’s not the notes, it’s how they’re played.”

That was very good. You get a gold star for the day. Now here’s your cracker.

Carefully so, Physician plays out like a fantasy, with a little “and now you know” sentiment attached. The movie’s trying to passively “teach” you something, but director Stolzl is just shrewd enough to smack you upside the head with that nonce where a day old salmon fillet would do wonders. There’s precious little sugar with the piss here, and so much so results in head-scratching and the all important “so then what happens?” feeling. I know I felt it for Physician‘s near pushing three hour running time. Me being of the US, some hook better have nabbed my attention, or else I would’ve been screeching “Freebird!” after the first fifteen minutes (“Where’s them titties at?” *takes a hit off the Sterno*).

But to be fair, the show only descended into real melodrama in the final act. Sometimes you gotta throw a possible restless audience a sop. For the duration of Physician, it played out like a wonderful world of discovery. Maybe casting Payne as our hero served us well, him all wide-eyed (and very blue-eyed) as a center for the furrowed-brow rest of us lot. The cinematography, costumes and settings were nothing less than beautiful, and the overall camera work gave us this immense sensation of space. Even when our Rob is reservedly trying to woo Rigby’s Rebecca, there’s the endless dunes of the Arabian desert at their backs. And when our hero finally reaches the mythical city of medical learning Isfahan, it appears like that dumb flag icon from Google Maps wedged within a crevice between angry mountains. The whole MO of Physician is about discovery. Very interesting; them’s the watchwords. The movie’s supposed to arrest certain minds. And at least the rest of it should be of things that make you go, “Hmmm…”

*dodges rotten tomatoes from the early-90s*

So I hope we agree at this point that the acting and plot here is nothing to crow about. So I also hope we agree at this point that this matter don’t mean a sh*t. At the end of the day, The Physician‘s strengths lay within a delicately balanced cradle between “understand this” and “understand that.” Stolzl is very clever in costuming info into entertainment. I might believe that despite this movie being a German film, he knew what bones to throw towards a Sandler-addled audience. The sh*t that might’ve been given a snort in Berlin would’ve caused a book-burning in Columbus so it would be wise to send The Physician overseas, see what kindle it may burn. Too bad it wasn’t a lot, but that acid test might’ve proven that a straight-ahead/science-based quest tale might allure more mature Europeans.

Sorry. Too sharp there? Consider this:

The Shah’s reluctance and admitted ignorance of medicine rather echoes the motives for Rob’s flight from England. Power does not necessarily equal knowledge. So don’t carry a snowball into Congress when Tyson has that viral webcast. Dig?

*smack*

Right, so the past reveals the present in a tasteful, engaging fashion here. Got it? Good. Lay off the salmon.

But again and truth be told, after watching Physician, there is an odd parallel within the American scientific community warring frustratingly against the American stupid. It’s the kind of conflict that’s been brewing—veritably fermenting—for many centuries. I wasn’t sure if Stolzl was aiming at satire here, for the feel of the film ultimately was a gentle one, no shouldering. But again and again, “Hmmm.” Like I was saying, if The Physician fails to entertain, it’ll succeed in making you think. Hopefully without snowballs.

I guess that last thousand paragraphs read like a mash-up amongst Aldous Huxley, The Clash and a Bill Hicks monologue. Well, so did the film. I’m trying to separate The Physician from the stock here, and it’s a bit of a rough beast. We already know the acting is rote. The story is derivative. And the melodrama (although tasteful) is totally out of place for Rob’s discovery of his world. We’re into ancient History Channel programming that. But then again, isn’t what films like The Physician represent have been lacking from the Picker Channel for the last decade? Maybe. A shrug here.

The biggest strength The Physician has a film is how engaging it is. It helps if you’re a history buff. But it’s indeed oddly engaging for a mid-production film. I say “mid-production” because my American eyes aren’t accustomed to German filmmaking. For instance, it’s pretty remarkable what the film crew did on a relatively low budget. Low by American standards ($36 million estimated). I guess director Stolzl is a disciple of Roger Corman; everything here from the sets to the F/X to the acting is very direct and to the point, almost utilitarian. Very little fluffy melodrama to hamper the story of Rob’s quest. I like that. The Physician is—if you’ll pardon the pun—very clinical in its execution.

Okay, sure. But when the long build-up from England to Persia descends into melodrama, such a hard, angular sell simply needs to be followed with a soft one. All that burgeoning science hokum can only go so far as a flash can do twice as fast. Double quick. With clean epics like this one, again you need to  throw a bone now and again (eg: the big throw down in the final act). You gotta love an oily villain twirling his mustache, and the ever so slight preachiness and cheeze about the glory of healing to be construed as mawkish, but such things are essential to a movie like this. We’re reviewing history here. It can get a little dry, and we can only play that hand for so long a game before we need the swords unsheathed. What I’m getting at is that for most of The Physician we’re getting a history lesson—across a vast world of religion, politics, science and culture clash. All good things, BTW—but in the endgame you need to have a steam valve tripped to make the journey worth your effort, even if only it means to cater to a Western audience. And come on, there’s nothing like siege on a palace of learned men protecting what we as the audience know is worth defending. Chivalry and the preservation of knowledge and alla dat. Remember Dead Poets’ Society? There ya go.

And that’s the most human message The Physician tries to deliver. It’s not trying to be a medieval episode of House. For all the tepid acting, well-worn storylines and a fountain of bathos at the film’s conclusion, the movie wants you to walk away with a feeling of learning something. Perhaps something you hadn’t considered before. It’s meditative and methodical in its delivery, and most importantly The Physician doesn’t pander to its audience, either. It stands upright. It’s not great film by any means, nor is it really that good. But it is interesting. It is engaging. Hell, it kept me awake for over two hours under the influence of whiskey and endless cigarettes. Even Gladiator failed to do that (I had to take three tries to fell that beast, and I ain’t talkin’ Russell Crowe, neither).

So there you go. The Physician. I tried to be as tasteful as I could writing this one, as it was borne from someone’s personal recommendation, which I had to respect. Wouldn’t wanna lose a beer by the man. Nor make him leave his job, y’know. Vested interests here.

Okay. Time to get. You don’t have to go home but you can’t write deceptive songs about becoming a dad clouded by the metaphor of the usual last call ritual.

Thank you.

Now for my next trick, I shall gargle peanut butter.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. A solid film, despite its occasional creakiness. But overall it is quite intriguing. What more could one ask for? Okay, maybe the History Channel resume airing history once more. I’m a picky bitch.


Stray Observations…

  • Cool edit with the opening titles there.
  • “You should stick to whores, too!” Sound medical advice.
  • Never mind the boobies, this movie would be great for high school history class.
  • “My first amputation!” “Mine too!”
  • Hey. Did Rob kill that guy or did the desert “take him?”
  • “My hair could do for a trim.”
  • I really didn’t like the Matrix-esque drama every time Rob takes a pulse. His is not The One one. Whatever.
  • Best. Eye roll. Ever.
  • The circumcision scene is brilliant; Kafka-esque.
  • “Yes, we’ve all gone a little mad. You’re next.” Wanna go?
  • Did everyone back then have lousy appendices?
  • “How pale and tedious would this world be without mystery?” Only Kingsley could deliver a line like that and not make it sound corny.
  • You always gotta go back for the girl. You gotta.
  • The Middle Ages f*cking sucked.

Next Installment…

When I caught wind that there was a movie about one of my fave bands, The Replacements I was stoked. Then I learned it starred Keanu Reeves playing football. Ruh-roh.


RIORI Vol. 1, Installment 8: Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island” (2010)


Image


The Players…

Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo and Max von Sydow.


The Story…

US marshal Teddy Daniels’ latest case takes him to a forgotten corner of New York’s fog-shrounded waterways. His assignment? Investigate the disappearance of a patient from a hospital for the criminally insane. But not long after landfall, it appears to Teddy his efforts are going to by compromised by the evasive resident psychiatrist…as well as his disturbing visions.


The Rant…

Ever experience déjà vu? You know, that feeling of uneasy familiarity, like you’ve done this or that once before? Of course you have. You’re having it right now. You’re reading another one of my screeds here at RIORI buttered with my signature ribald, snappy repartee. Welcome back!

Seriously though, before I delve into the déjà vu enigma some more, I think I need to clarify something. These reviews were reserved for films that “had a dubious reputation or lacked box office mojo.” Shutter Island definitely did not suffer from a lack of mojo. When all was said, done and tallied, this little film walked away with over a hefty $128 million at the box office. This little psych-thriller here had a budget of around $80 million. Not bad. Didn’t hurt that it was directed by Scorsese and starred his current protégé DiCaprio.

What did hurt Island in my view is based on this story I heard from a friend of mine. Let’s say she had an interesting experience when seeing this movie in the theatre. Seeing. Not saw. As in “during the movie proper.”

Hm. BTW, we ain’t talking about yelling at the screen as if the actors can hear, or some nabob yakking on his phone. We’re talking about a dissatisfied customer. If any movie, successful or no, could upset a viewer in frustration then the movie gets the autopsy here. That and another buddy of mine insisted I see it and blog about it. You’re welcome, Rios.

So anyway, here’s what she told me:

It was your typical Friday night out at the multiplex. The big deal release at the time was Marty’s Shutter Island, which I heard was Marty’s first psycho-thriller (Cape Fear doesn’t count. That was a remake). The turnout was big—full house. My friend found a seat at the back of the theatre; that what was left that night, the place was so packed. It inadvertently gave her the cat’s bird seat to witness what would transpire later on.

About halfway through the film, a patron, obviously displeased, got up and shouted to no one in particular, “Does anyone f*cking get what is f*cking going on in this film?!” This outburst generated a bigger audience reaction than the action of screen. He threw his popcorn to the floor, spat out a few more profanities and promptly stormed out of the theatre. I think she mentioned something about even Leo losing his motivation. One could make the argument that Scorsese’s latest film succeeded in creating psychological tension, but I don’t think that’s what he had in mind. Well, for the sake of this installment it sounded like a dubious enough rep for me.

Sigh. I wish I had gotten as torqued as that angry stranger in the darkness with his strewn popcorn.

I too, after sitting through this movie, had similar sentiments. And a feeling of déjà vu. I had seen this movie before. Or at least, this kind of movie. And despite the trademark storytelling verve Scorsese imbues into most of his movies, Island was based on very few original plot lines.

But before I get all bitchy, first here’s the good stuff.

I don’t know who the location scout was for the movie, but they did a brilliant job of finding an ideal setting for madness. The whole sanitarium compound has a great, Lovecraftian feel. Craziness dripping from every pore. Even the main characters seem a little…off, as though a reflection of the island’s inhabitants. Slow tracking shots makes whole scenes seem isolated from reality. You really can pilot Teddy about the complex with the sense of solitude. And not the kind you want. Creepy is the watchword.

There’s some brilliant editing, especially the flashback sequences to Teddy’s army days and wife’s tragedy. Things seem to flow pretty well also, albeit a bit quickly. At certain points some scenes seem rushed, especially when Teddy and his sidekick Chuck (Mark Ruffalo, who is a solid presence) are casing the joint. Speaking of acting, Kingsley’s performance is at his most sinister here, vacillating between paranoid and professional. This is a guy who you can’t f*ck around with, because he can see all and know all on the island. Shiver.

Second, the bad stuff. The main offense? This film is unoriginal. I could not shake that feeling of déjà vu watching it. I knew that this kind of story has been told before, and not just in the typical, snobby, “there are only so many plots out there yadda yadda blah.” No. I had seen this movie before, a dozen different ways. The best and immediate example I can recall is with Hitchcock’s Vertigo. I could cite quite few more films (without revealing the plots) that have used the exact same formula that Island employs. Angel Heart for one. The Machinist—which I reviewed here before—is another. The whole psychological “lost time” gimmick has been used with varying degrees of success before. But it has been done before. You would think Scorsese would have figured that out by now.

Shutter Island suffers greatly from déjà vu. This all had been done before. And it’s a real shame, because there’s a great deal of capital Q quality in this film. The acting’s good. The casting great. The atmosphere is suitably creepy. But the film lifts dozens of tropes from other films that may have done it better. It doesn’t make sense knowing of Scorsese’s encyclopedic knowledge of film technique that he cut Island the way he did. Maybe he was just f*cking around, nodding and winking to Hitch. I hope so, rather than f*cking around at the audience’s expense, not unlike represented by the anonymous, angry filmgoer’s philosophy. As for me, the only “lost time” I got from this movie was 2 hours and 18 minutes.

So…

Ever experience déjà vu? You know, that feeling of uneasy familiarity, like you’ve done this or that once before…?


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Relent it. Despite all the good things that hang on this film, the plot device is tired due of gimmickry and sloppy writing. Nice trying, Marty. In fact, quite trying.


Stray Observations…

  • “You act like insanity is catching.”
  • So what was with the Band-Aid?
  • Hey! It’s Buffalo Bill! He hasn’t aged too well.
  • Why is it always the last match that burns the longest? Yet another movie thriller gimmick. Scorsese’s copping to Friday The 13th now?
  • Hey! It’s Rorshach! He hasn’t aged well either.
  • “(whatever Chuck says)…Boss.”

Next Installment…

Bradley Cooper reads up on the Silver Linings Playbook. Fly birds, fly!