RIORI Vol 3, Installment 65: James Mangold’s “Identity” (2003)



The Suspects…

John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet, John C McGinley, John Hawkes, Clea DuVall and Rebecca DeMornay, with Jake Busey, William Lee Scott, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Bret Loehr and Alfred Molina.

The Story

Ten strangers find themselves stranded at a remote desert motel during a raging storm a million miles from nowhere. They soon find themselves the target of a deranged murderer, and any one of them could be the killer. As their numbers thin out, the travelers turn on each other rather than trying to figure out who the real killer is.

The Rant…

Everybody loves a mystery. You ever take a moment as to ask why?

Is it your curiosity being piqued? The thrill of discovery? Nabbing the bad guy? Finally locating the lost TV remote (it was in the freezer, and that pint of Ben & Jerry’s you grabbed in a drunken haze is under the couch. Was)?

One of the best examples of illustrating the appeal of a mystery I caught—surprisingly—on an ep of Star Trek: The Next Generation. In the cold open we learn that Captain Picard is mucking about on the holodeck, playing detective. He’s invited his friend Guinan to join him, since she expressed interest in what the appeal is humans see in solving a mystery.

They find themselves at gunpoint by some digitally-rendered tough promising hurt, demanding info on whatever. Suddenly a shot smashes through the window and the thug goes down. Picard is excited, much to Guinan’s confusion. She asks what’s next, and he asks who was this guy? What did he want? Why was his trying to kill us?

Picard lays it out, “We have to look for clues!”

Guinan asks, “And that’s fun?”

Picard grins and says, “And that’s fun.”

There is your geek-out moment for the day.

*takes small bow*

Forgetting the fact that Sir Patrick Stewart teamed up with Whoopi Goldberg to solve a murder in holographic, VR 1940’s San Francisco (there’s your second), that installment of ST:TNG was right. What’s the fun of a mystery, besides (hopefully) solving it? The thrill of the hunt. Pitting your wits against the quarry. See what you’re made of. Some guy has been killed. Whodunit? You up to the challenge, Sherlock?

By extension mystery movies are fun for the same reason, duh. It’s not like in reality, where detectives have a crime to crack, sure. A murder, theft, missing person, where their tub of Cherry Garcia got to, etc. With the real cops there’s a lot of pounding the pavement, jockeying the phone and lots and lots of paperwork. Briscoe and Logan made it look intense and fun, and you didn’t see them much at their desks did you? There were perps out there to shake down, dammit!

As much fun as the original Law & Order could be, the hour-long procedural (50 minutes, actually), barely half of your average episode were given over to the cops sniffing out the guilty party. With a mystery movie you not only get a lot more time to expand on character development, twists and turns, intrigue and do so blissfully devoid of commercial interruption. Speaking of which, how come there’ve never been an Ben & Jerry’s TV ads?

I’ll stop that now.

Time does make the difference. As analog to real life, certain infamous serial killer cases are still open, even years after the killings have ended. The Zodiac Killer, the Alphabet Murders, Jack the Ripper. I’m no forensic scientist, but what’s the sense in this? Okay, maybe the survivor’s have a bone to pick, awaiting closure. These almost-cold case files have been active for decades (and in a certain light, Jack’s conviction has been centuries in the making) to no avail. Why? Because the more time given over to cracking a case the greater the likelihood of it happening. In simpler term, tackle a mystery over a continuum permits more “study.”

Character study, psychological study, even a study of setting. Stretch it out, stir the pot and the mystery gets drawn out. In a good way. In a good mystery movie there must be room to breathe, space to let us buffs round up the usual suspects, take in as many clues as possible and time to cogitate what the blue f*ck’s going on. You gotta mull it all over in more that the almost half hour Dennis Farina and Michael Imperioli had.

Another key aspect of a good mystery flick—as demonstrated in the holodeck microcosm—is you should keep the setting tight. Small. Confined. Almost a character unto itself. It cuts away the distractions, the fat. The clunky mysteries I got subjected to often had this sprawling tableau. Fletch (which was really more a comedy with the mystery chewy center) wandered everywhere, from LA to Provo, UT. The Forgotten (which rambled on and on, despite the cool premise). Final Analysis (quit bumbling all over Boston Town). You get the idea.

Here’s when the isolation worked, almost to transcendent levels. Rear Window (Jimmy Stewart’s dumpy apartment and a trusty pair of binocs). Murder On The Orient Express (it’s a train, dummy). Memento (Guy Pearce’s bloody mind). It keeps us cinema detective focused; on the case, as it were.

The final key to a good mystery movie is an eclectic rogue’s gallery. In virtually every notable mystery flick we got us a freakin’ tossed salad as supporting cast. Again, Rear Window was a good example. The goofy Murder By Death and Clue were populated by real rogue’s galleries, despite both being parodies. The Usual Suspects was a given. The mishmash of disparate personalities keeps you guessing as to—you guessed it—whodunit.

That being said, Identity follows this formula to a T. We got a timeline to try and follow. We got an isolated scene of the crime. We got our weirdos. So the movie must’ve played out in classic fashion, and you kept guessing and scratching your head for the duration, right?

Well…let’s step onto the holodeck, shall we…?

Not much happens at Larry Washington’s (Hawkes) lonesome motor lodge. He’s planted in the middle of the Nevada desert, just south of nowhere. Like the Paul Simon song says: it’s a long, lonely life.

That is, until the storm hits.

Down the road apiece, nervous George (McGinley) and his family’s ride has a flat. He and his wife go out into the driving rain to inspect the damage, which is when George’s wife gets hit by Ed’s (Cusack) limo hauling fussy, near washed up actress Caroline Suzanne (DeMornay). She demands Ed leave it as a hit and run. Nothing doing. George’s wife is in mortal peril and needs help. A hospital beckons.

Too bad all the roads are washed out. Looks life Larry’s motel beckons instead.

Upon arrival Ed and crew meet with surly Detective Rhodes (Liotta) tasked to escorting violent criminal Robert Maine (Busey), all grinning and nuts. Faulty newlyweds Ginny (DuVall) and Lou (Scott), whose bickering belies a deeper problem. Paris (Peet) the hooker, who’s either on the run or planning to “get lucky” in Sin City. Now thanks to impartial Mother Nature all of them are stuck with Larry’s hospitality for the night.

But the night is not still in the desert, despite the rain.

Paraphrasing Keanu, strange things are afoot at Larry’s motor lodge.

Caroline’s desperate to calling her agent in LA. She scrambles out into the brush trying to find better reception for her cell phone. Then she ends up in one of the motel’s dryers, not choosing to do laundry, let alone find the rest of her body.

Great. We got a killer on our hands. Where’s Maine at?

He escaped the cuff attached to the plumbing only to find himself literally chewing on death.

What about Rhodes, his escort? He’s got a habit of disappearing.

And what the hell’s in Larry’s freezer?

It’s murder by numbers. One, two, three.

All apologies to Sting…

Identity is a modern day, B-movie, Hitchcock pastiche. This is not a bad thing. In fact, such a mish-mash makes the flick kinda fun. Kinda.

Like I said above, Identity has all the hallmarks of your classic—albeit simple, if not formulaic—mystery movie. Admittedly, the film’s story was lifted from the Agatha Christie classic And Then There Were None. But again this book was caged more times than a shoplifter rampant in a Wal-Mart populated by blind sales reps so let’s give that a pass, shall we? Identity is a classic but hackneyed story played out already a dozen times over. We’ll give that a pass, too. Hell, if it’s a formula that works, roll with it. Like I’ve been fond of saying regarding a film’s originality, it’s like the blues: it’s not the notes, it’s how they’re played.

Despite Mangold being a solid director, he’s probably also a tad tone deaf. At least here.

Now. Either the guy was a total rip-off artist and hack with Identity, or f*cking brilliant in the movie’s delivery. At the outset the movie’s intro smacks of something, but it just might be every mystery movie ever made needed to introduce our future victims, yet just twistedly cheezy enough to keep you watching. Mangold sets the stakes fast, if a bit comically. Of course nothing is as it seems to be, within the story and without. The tension and intrigue begins to pile on, but in such a ramshackle fashion you’re not as to take it seriously or find it all laughable. Maybe Identity‘s supposed to be seriously laughable, I dunno. Middle America’s vote is still out on this one.

Keeping in mind The Standard (which we haven’t kept in mind for a coon’s age) dictates an assignment due to mixed reviews, Identity is the first flick here to deliver mixed signals. Messages, even. Here’s a way to twist the whole Ten Little Indians dynamic: troll the audience. I ain’t talking twists and turns here. I’m talkin’ playing on the audiences’ expectation. Tomfoolery over intrigue. Tugging your coat rather than planting seeds. In simpler terms: nyah nyah nyah.

It’s kinda cool in a way. Really.

I’ve seen other Mangold’s movies (including The Wolverine, which was covered here. He did a good job, and his latest Wolverine installment Logan is getting rave reviews) and he does above average yeoman’s work. He’s a journeyman director, like Richard Donner or Alan Smithee.

*pause for effect*

And the man’s pedigree is a varied one. We can go from Walk The Line to Knight And Day in a single breath, and go along with it with a tenuous grin. I mean, “Oh sh*t, where are we going?” There’s a difference (but very slight) between winking at the audience and tying the string around their loose tooth. Oddly, both often have the same effect.

So which side of the coin clattered down with Identity? We land on the edge, my popcorn-addled flock. Mangold is no doubt trolling us here, but it’s done in spite of ourselves. We know where we’re going here. We know that any one of these dweebs could be the killer, especially since motive is absent (that a spoiler?). We expect twists and turns to obfuscate the killer’s identity.We have established tension, but it’s a tad weak, and you could see it all coming. Yet we didn’t expect to find Caroline’s REDACTED. Most murder mysteries ain’t so graphic nor wink-wink, nudge-nudge in the same breath. Here’s a cute sample of Mangold f*cking with us, but not necessarily messing with our mind. Not outright. It’s the comic booky fun at work with Identity.

Identity is kind of chimera. An idle fancy. It’s as if Mangold asked himself, “How far can I stretch the audience’s suspension of belief?” It’s a puzzle, not a mystery. Identity is a Rubik’s Cube, not a chess board. It’s obviously inspired by Christie, but also Rashomon; the story is slick and slippery. You can’t get a tack. Mangold relies on trickery rather than intrigue. There’s a kind of goofiness to the movie. That B-movie flavor I alluded to above. Despite the dire stakes, some madman (or men) skulking around offing Larry’s guests, there’s a cardboard cheesiness lurking just below the surface. It has the feeling of formula, yet dodges it. Admittedly, I have to dig that.

And, doy, I gotta address our dramatis personae. We’ve got the best ensemble cast here that I’ve seen in a long time. At first, these actors have no business whatsoever sharing screen time together. Later we understand that anyone could be the killer; they’re all stereotypes after all. But again with the blues. For example, I often forget how protean Cusack can be, despite his comic bent. Liotta is so good at being mad. Hey, Peet can act (color me surprised)! DeMornay’s still alive (not for long here, ha ha) and is still hot! And McGinley set aside his desperate sarcastic schtick for being desperate and period. Okay, Busey is still weird, but still our cast is so colorful it gives us a little sugar to go down with the urine. Yeah, there’s a game afoot, but someone lost the instructions.

That lack of solid misdirection in Identity, paired with Mangold’s cagey direction makes this goofy murder mystery all the more sweet, if only barely palatable. The film insults our intelligence, yet you feel you gotta go along with it. What I’ve been pummeling for the past lifetime is thus: a good movie mystery can adhere to all the rules I laid out before, misstep and still be entertaining with the right director lording over a mediocre story. Better than the sum of its parts? I don’t know. Half the movie’s parts are stuck in transit from eBay with Identity.

The best thing I feel about Mangold’s direction and therefore Identity‘s atmosphere is that it never takes itself too seriously. It straddles the ridiculous. It has a steady, creepy funny vibe. A combo seldom found in anything Miss Marple ever unraveled. Even the big reveal is laughable, as if, “Oh James, you got us. Pop the balloons.” He got us all right. The finale is such a joke you’ll slap your head in disgust for falling into his trap. For following along. Going with it. D’oh!

Identity is a clear sample of having the joke on you. I might’ve overplayed my hand here. I had to be careful and select my words very carefully to not give away the progression of the mystery. And it wasn’t truly a mystery, either. It was a shuck and jive, and the attentive audience kept looking for a partner at the junior high dance. You’re better off glued to the wall, watching the few, brave characters on the floor.

In the end, with Identity connect the dots, erase, suspend what you expect then accept it, slap your head and laugh and then get pissed for being hoodwinked. It’s a good waste of time.

Just leave Larry’s freezer alone.

The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. Never have I laughed so hard at myself for taking a murder mystery seriously. The mystery is really, “Why the f*ck did you watch this? For DeMornay’s boobies?” Uh, yeah.

Stray Observations…

  • “Did you feel that?” Kinda cheesy, but it worked.
  • Even for 2003, that’s an awful big cell phone there.
  • “I wish I had beige.”
  • This mess is like a murderous Gilligan’s Island on crack.
  • “I am very f*cking calm!”
  • Mangold indeed shows his strengths here, well put to his Wolverine movies.
  • “I don’t know if I’m comfortable with guard duty, per se.”
  • Kinda glad George got his. He got quite annoying quite fast.
  • “We’re all in Nevada.”
  • Does Cusack ever age?
  • “Yeah.”
  • So after all that’s said and done Malcolm is truly in the middle?

Next Installment…

Who would’ve know Mike Judge’s Idiocracy would prove so prescient so fast? Ask Putin (burn!).

RIORI Vol 3, Installment 56: Steve Pink’s “Hot Tub Time Machine” (2010)

Hot Tub Time Machine

The Players…

John Cusack, Rob Corrdry, Craig Robinson and Clark Duke, with Lizzy Caplan, Crispin Glover, Lyndsy Fonseca, Colette Wolfe, Sebastian Stan and Chevy Chase (!).

The Story…

Fueled by Red Bull, booze and nostalgia for their irresponsible salad days, Adam and his best friends accidentally travel back in time to 1986, where they get the chance to relive the best road trip never. At least how they like to remember it.

Oh, and their time machine? Well, it’s a hot tub. You did read the title, right?

The Rant…

Just so you’re all aware, I’ve been feeling kind of blue about my present after I exorcised a chunk of my past for the I Love You, Beth Cooper installment. The rant for that cold cup of coffee was based on failed grade school crushes of mine. Looking back all of, oh two months ago “was based” feels limp-wristed. Extracted is a more apt term. Yeah, I know. It’s hella lame for a 40-year old family man to get in a twist over non-events that happened when the first Bush was in office. But it got me a-thinking, and that’s seldom a good or smart thing. My mind began to play out the most unholy game of Risk tactics in my fevered, man-child imagination. Thanks to that crappy Chris Columbus piss-take of high school crushes he twiddled his thumbs over between vital Harry Potter chapters, dumb old me began to wonder, well, what if?

That, as we all know, can be a very dangerous game to play. Worse than numbly peg. Or Halo 3. What a drag that was. Worse than numbly peg.

*snores from the balcony*

Wake up. This may be relevant to us all. The fate of the free world you don’t wanna hear such drivel. But what if? My little game of nostalgics sent my mind a-reelin’. Beyond my recollections of anti-conquests of girls I might have f*cked if I had the sack—so to speak—things got all snowbally. What if I did ask what’s-her-tits out and we may have had a fine time that evolved into a nice relationship with hand holding and snappy conversations and fellatio and the whole wad (again, so to speak)? Of course it didn’t, but still what if?

Then I thought about other sh*t from my old school, literally. Things that I recall fondly, of course. Most of which came from college, most of some folks furreal salad days. When I was green in judgment. I had immersed myself in tons of philosophy classes. So many I accidentally earned a minor. Playing in the marching band and catching a lot of cool shows at the local clubs thanks to those “connections” (BTW it was rather rewarding to catch Frank Black and his then new band the Catholics since the Pixies crapped out a few years prior. I took what I could get). Fraternity days as me the VP and “barbecue chair” (when I was a practicing vegan. My frat bros figured I was pretty keen on cooking for that and I wouldn’t f*ck around with the steaks much. They did like my three bean veggie chili dosed heavily with Sriracha, so all was good).

I had my days as a barista at the local coffee shop. A for real barista, steeped in the black arts of coffee brewing and deviant incantations recited over the fresh batch of morning scones. It was an assumed a hip thing in the cappuccino-fueled world of Friends, indie bookstores and manically overtaxed in serious need of a caffeine fix to keep the midnight oil pumping cuz Red Bull hadn’t crossed the pond yet. It had a certain cachet then, but it was the 90s and sporting oversized Jnco jeans also had this coolness factor. Not sure why, even when I sported a pair. Pairs (some are mouldering in my attic, waiting for an uncertain time in the future to strike).

High school had its moments, too. Not all of it were wedgies and being spurned by the opposite sex (again, refer to the Beth Cooper installment). I had my group of misfits to whom I called friends and countrymen, and even though the term didn’t exist back then, we were geek chic and reveled in our weirdness. It was akin to circling the wagons in typical high school social hierarchy. There were Friday night movies at the local multiplex where our high school IDs would grant us a ticket for five f*cking dollars. That meant a ticket, small soda and candy for chump change. Granted this was in 90s dollars, but still.

There were Star Trek conventions to attend (stop snickering, and there is no Vulcan death grip). The best two memories I had at those hallowed halls of geekdom were meeting the late, great Leonard “Mr Spock” Nimoy. Guy was a pro at cons, and nothing like his TV alter-ego. He was affable, smiling and truly happy to be there. He had a PowerPoint presentation highlighting a “behind the scenes” for us fanboys, did the prereq Q&A and pitched his new book. Very cool.

The other Trek con moment I recall—one with an air of pride—was when Patrick “Capt Picard” Stewart paid a visit. He was a funny dude, cracking wise and baiting the audience. Again, nothing like his stern character. The inevitable Q&A session came around, and he was bombarded by Picard this and Picard that. I had my question ready for the man on the car ride there. When picked out my upraised hand I laid it on him:

“Mr Stewart, I thought you were great in I, Claudius. Coming from the Shakespearean school of acting I find it odd that most of your notable movie roles have been in science-fiction—thought you great at Gurney in Dune, by the way—but Shakespeare never did science-fiction. Fantasy, sure but nothing dealing with starships. So how does a serious Shakespearean actor devote his screen time to sci-fi when there is no sci-fi to draw from within the canon? Do you extrapolate what was learned under the Bard’s work into—say—the Trek universe, or do you let the series come down to meet it?”

Something like that. I’m paraphrasing.

Not surprisingly there were a lot of grumbles from the audience. What about Locutus?

Stewart looked at me, bemused. He said, “Young man, you do know where you are right now?”

I replied, “Yes sir. I’m at a Star Trek convention having a once in a lifetime opportunity to talk with a respected Shakespearean actor on how he uses his training in the field of science-fiction movies and television.”

Stewart slowly smiled. He snapped a finger at me and said, “A very good question, son! I’m glad you asked me that…”

About fifteen minutes later I had my answer. I won’t bore you with the details, but Sir Patrick alluded his style had something to do with Pop-Tarts. The strawberry frosted kind. Guess it was part of a rider.

And lastly (you’re welcome) my days in the high school marching band, rocking out on my sax and tooting with my fellow bandos at football games and the once-in-a-lifetime trip to Dublin for the official St Paddy’s Day parade. Dublin was and is an awesome city. It bleeds history. It’s not like, say, New York, where sure there is history of note, but more often than not one must scour the city to find it. The City is constantly being torn down and rebuilt. Not Dublin. Side by side new hi-rises rubbed shoulders with ancient castles and abbeys, edifices hundreds of years older than New York. Trinity College is nothing short of amazing. And the locals are tolerant, if not friendly to ugly adolescent Americans like myself. This courtesy seemed to extend to not just tourists but fellow countrymen as well.

I had the odd misfortune of witnessing an auto accident just off the Trinity campus. Nothing major; some bike courier on a scooter lost his balance and skidded under the fender of some dinky car at a red light. No one got hurt. The courier righted himself and his ride and went to check on the driver. What I could only assume by their shaking of hands that their insurance was in proper order. Imagine if that transaction happened in the states? Lately with law enforcement officials in dire need of a joint, how long do you think it would take before the seventh bullet struck the courier’s body? Needless to say, Dublin was a different world.

Not necessary apropos of nothing Dublin was the first place I ever had beer, or at least beer of note. Guinness was f*cking everywhere there. Like in the shower stalls everywhere. I loved my first taste immediately. My best friend, not so much. He fell onto the bed in our hotel room. More like the bed fell into him. This only engendered my nascent beer interest ever forward.

Also, when we finally got to the actual parade I had my first non-ironic turn as being a dopey, young American on vacation. To state that downtown Dublin on St Patrick’s Day is festive is akin to saying that a ghost pepper is “a tad spicy.” Bedlam. Thousands of Irish, ravening for delight. Hundreds of marching bands from all over the world, ready to rock out and stop frogs and simply ready to get it on. A big deal this, ten times over. No shillelagh.

If memory serves me (and this whole bit is about nostalgia remember, so it might by lying), there was a terrific cool moment I did that I was only made aware of as terrific and cool by my fellow bandos later. The ones further back in formation. Some kid on the sidewalk was really amped, like his nuts were clamped to a car battery or something—they did have Red Bull in Ireland back in the early 90s—jumping up and down and a hand outstretched. As I passed I gave him a high five. What the hell. It was a celebration. Later on after the parade was done and me squatting on the curb trying to catch my breath with the aid of one of those ubiquitous Guinness shot bottles a clutch of my fellow musicians asked what did I do to make that kid freak out so. Huh? All I did was give a high five and that was all. Turned out it was a very big deal to have an American band march in the parade, and me slapping palms was the equivalent of the Pope washing your feet. Damn. Didn’t know that. Now where was that other bottle?

Stuff like that.

But that’s the deal with nostalgia. You tend to forget the sh*t and revel in the awesome, no matter how myopic that view may be. A lot of the moments listed above feed into that “what if” train of thought. Now the aforementioned wasn’t intended to be some sort of narcissistic trip down memory lane, rubbing into your puss all the cool crap I did and you didn’t. Truth be told, most of you out there couldn’t give a rat’s ass about Dublin, bands and barista-ing. And that’s okay. We all have stories that make us smile, let us bask in the warm glow of memory and ask ourselves “what if?”

The sick part of playing the “what if?” memory game is that whole “what if?” line is bullsh*t. The past looks a helluva more tasty when your present consists of sucking the algae off the pool for sustenance. Your dream job? Actor. Your real job? Janitor. At the State Hospital. That means those stupid, blue paper booties over your work shoes are a daily reminder that you should’ve paid closer attention in junior year English class.

Truth be finally told, back in the day was a great less rosy than you remember it. You may glom on to the “what if?” train of thought now and again—paper booties notwithstanding—reflecting on your current state of affairs, but no matter how much drudgery you deal with day in, day out back then it wasn’t much better. Just little snippets inspired by that first big deal rock concert you saw, your first joint and scanning cover after cover of each and every Santana album looking for meaning as if they were the Dead Sea Scrolls, the time you scored the winning touchdown in the final seconds of the fourth quarter for Polk High. This is the stuff dreams are made of.

All right. I’ve been slagging on the whole “what if?” game long enough here, so much so that you’re probably sick of reading those quotes. Now let’s spin it right round baby right round. Nostalgia is a good thing, so long as we don’t live there all the time. Pleasant memories are a cheap vacation, and often a good way to reflect on what is was against what it is and how much you learned since those halcyon days of yore. What a yutz I was back then! I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now.

Right. Denial is a river in Africa. Back then it might’ve been low hanging fruit, but those are the ones which were the ripest. Face facts and my lying a paragraph back, stuff back then seemed so much more simple, vibrant and easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy. Maybe they were. But face facts: that was then and this is your crappy now. Better just hitch up your belt (necessary after all those cases of PBR you demolished since…last Tuesday), suck up and deal and follow along with whatever dumb cliche your disgruntled blogger dare jam in here. Best just get on with it.

But wait. What if?…

Adam (Cusack) is a loser. He ex just bailed, dumped him via voicemail and took half the house with her. Up yours.

Jake (Duke) is a loser. He’s been camping out in Uncle Adam’s basement indefinitely, not wanting to be around his screwloose and very loose mom. His days consist of PS3 and Red Bull and denying any rays of sunshine aiding his banana-like pallor.

Nick (Robinson) is a loser. After a once promising career in the recording business, he now works the day away at a grooming salon teasing poodle hair and extricating keys for luxury autos from golden retrievers rectums. That and he believes his wife’s been cheating on him.

Lou (Corrdry) is not a loser. He’s just an assh*le. An alky, druggy, insecure, self-absorbed, dyed-in-wool assh*le. He accidentally decides to end it all by way of closed garage, car exhaust and Motley Crue. That’ll show his so-called buddies, and anyone else who called him a loser. Assh*le. Whatever.

Adam and Nick visit their assh*ole in the hospital. He needs some cheering up. In fact they all do. Looking down multiple barrels of middle age paired with life arrest, Adam gets the bright idea to take a road trip. Off to Kodiak Mountain they’ll go and try to relive the best vacation ever from their youth. Heck, for sh*ts and giggles Adam convinces his nephew to tag along. Jake is ambivalent about hanging out with his loser uncle and his loser friends hell bent on recapturing their glory days. Still, a road trips a road trip. Who packed the booze?

The Wolfpack—wait, that’s another movie—discover much to their dismay that Kodiak has fallen on hard times. What was supposed to be an awesome trip down memory lane has devolved into just memories and touristy rigor mortis. Bummer.

Despite the Lodge is little more than a crack house with a view, the quartet discovers a nice surprise when they check into their room. A deck overlooking the mountainside! Plus a hot tub, in good working order! With all their recreational…paraphernalia lugged along, the foursome decide to make the most of their dreary surroundings and literally drink in the night. Beer, liquor, energy drinks imported from Russia. The four dopes nothing to chance.

Except for a rift in the space-time continuum.

Turns out there’s a reason why this hot tub is so pristine. But the guys never take it into consideration. They should’ve, especially when Jake accidentally dumps some of his Soviet accelerate onto the tub’s controls. Of course the inevitable happens. Whoosh, zoom, barf. The four friends find themselves sucked back in time to the real epic weekend of their memories, where neon was the color, synth pop was the soundtrack, Top Gun was on everybody’s lips and Adam, Nick and Lou were far away from being failures. Jake…well he’s just Jake.

Now’s the time to take the (Red) bull by the horns. Their sh*t may have rolled downhill faster that thought possible, but the guys know what a second chance may bring (except maybe Jake). They know that 2010 sucks. 1986 was much cooler. Time to master some destiny. Reignite some vitality in their lousy adult lives. Maybe figure out in turn what the f*ck eventually goes wrong.

Like when that porter lost his arm…

This here is a movie that you just have to “go along with it.” Again, look at the freakin’ title, before God.

No shock, but Hot Tub is ridiculous. From the plot to the dialogue to the acting to the soundtrack to the freakin’ title, before God. A decent part of you knew outright what you were possibly in store for. Booze, babes and bad behavior from a misfits bunch of man-children. That and a little Back To The Future spin to boot. With drug abuse. And titties. And shades of Mel Brooks-esque bad taste. It’s all a good thing.

There’s a lot of nifty things to dig about this flick (and not just the titties. Or Chevy Chase). I found the underlying themes of Tub pretty cool, albeit blinded by the endless bacchanal, wisecracks, dirty jokes, cultural jabs and cameos from Cornelius toting a toolbox and offering Mr Miyagi-like trapezoidal Zen koan nuggets of non-wisdom. Believe it or not, there are actual messages belying Tub‘s virtual non-stop sinful shuck-and-jive.

Okay, maybe one real message. We’re barring the whole don’t f*ck with fate and/or the Zemekis paradox problem. Butterfly effect. Don’t go a-huntin’ fer a T Rex sh*te. It’s a simpler concept, one I was dancing around in my rant. Ready?

“If I knew then what I knew now.”

Heard it before, right? Tub is the first time travel film I ever caught that takes this old saw to heart. To be sure there have been a-plenty of time travel films made before that troll this old line. Most don’t really dip into the deep well of that dire, common and vital query that has crossed all our minds before. And if you’re denying that and life is fine, then how come you still tote around those dusty yearbooks signed by everyone, including the school nurse? Right. And so do I.

Like I was getting at, time trek movies like Back To The Future, Peggy Sue Got Married, Highlander (yes, Highlander), Millennium, technically Memento and…um, Star Trek IV to name a few all deal with matters of the past against a potential future. Tub is no different, but its “don’t f*ck with future” deal is a major—if not the major—undercurrent of what could’ve been yet another derivative buddy comedy with substance abuse and…titties. Nothing wrong that. It’s invited here. But a moral imperative in a Hangover knock-off? Why yes, yes it can be.

It makes the whole schmeer hang together. At the outset we got yer typical buddy/guy flick, replete with bad behavior, wacky Some Like It Hot atmosphere (minus the cross-dressing) and forever pining for that lost p*ssy. The clever device in Tub is that how if any of our motley crew (pun intended) knowing then what they know now will actively play on that. We know at the outset that Adam and the rest are painfully aware of what sh*tstains their lives have become. Now zipping back in time they carry (rather heavily at first) what such future knowledge may do if acted upon and the adult—weak though it may be—responsibility of holding it in check. Funny, and how’s that for a morality play in a flick that tosses morals into the gutter.

Ahem, sorry. Back to the dick jokes.

A big up from me concerning Tub‘s foundation: we got quite the ensemble cast here. Many lowbrow comedies often feature a panoply of dopes, dweebs and/or dumbasses. Think Animal House, Revenge Of The Nerds and Old School. Yeah, those movies had very much an eclectic cast, but none so divided—if not antagonistic—than these four morons on their children’s crusade of chasing memories.

Adam and co. are fully fleshed out, despite all of these yutzes’ stereotypical antics. A lot has to do with the acting, and we do have a stellar cast at hand here. They’re almost too good for this little asswipe trifle. Cusack with his signature hangdog is in full force here, bewildered and pissy, unwilling to accept the hand fate (or he) has dealt him. I remember catching Robinson in his salt mine years on Comedy Central’s Premium Blend. He stomped on his electric piano and baited the audience, all smooth and self-effacing. Corrdry got his break on The Daily Show, as probably the most acerbic “field reporter” the show ever let such an angry pate show. And Duke was in Kick-Ass. Whatever gets u thru the night.

The odd chemistry these four ne’er-do-wells bring to he scene is what holds this whole brazen mess together. Despite all the bluster with Tub‘s execution all this sh*t would come off the rails if our losers weren’t so endearing. That’s right. These asshats are charming, relatable and worthy of your sympathy. For the most part. They’re dopes, but there our dopes, if only for 90-plus minutes. Chances are that’s all one could stand.

Truth be told, and in the face of what I’ve saying, our dopey heroes aren’t really nice guys. Yeah, yeah. Life’s dealt them a raw deal, but they invited it. At least since 1986. And they have ostensibly living under the shadow of their callow, shitty choices from back when where they reached a crisis point. And all three tanked (save Jake, who was no more an itch in his daddy’s crotch back then).

I know I’ve been kicking Tub around like a rusty can for the past universe now, but ignoring my metaphysical whatsit from the past few paragraphs, Tub is as about as screwball one can get these days when filmmakers have all but forgotten what a screwball comedy is. Tub is manic, yet still smooth. Witty despite being crass. Sophomoric and that’s the point (I think).

And all those highlights can be wrapped up in a nice neat package that is surefire to grab an audience (at least one who remembers Tub‘s “back in the day”): nostalgia.

I wrote about 90s nostalgia back in the To-Do List installment. It naturally appealed to me being a teen growing up the years of grunge, infant internet and Jurassic Park being the film on everyone’s lips. Fun for me and other survivors of Gen X, but only us. Kind of a limited market there. Not much different with Tub, either. I was a kid during the Reagan years with the Cold War, Miami Vice and the NES as comfort. To which I claim: whatever. It’s true that Tub is an 80s Gen X nostalgia fest, and you may have to have lived back in that stone age of Sonic The Hedgehog, pagers and/or new Coke to be hip to Tub‘s backdrop but you don’t necessarily have to pay rent there. Or a lift ticket.

With all the amped up 1908s pop culture baiting, some actual, specific nods to where and when our troupe of dopes shines through. You don’t have to play the “you had to be there” spin to find Tub funny (it helps), and moreover all the goofy, garish, hair metal histrionics serve more as wallpaper—ambiance—to enhance your viewing pleasure, not to mention a candyland for our heroes to slop around in. So if you were alive back then only you our chosen friendly demographic would catch the many clever subtleties director Pink smattered around Kodiak here and there. May I cite a few? I can hear a bunch of you drunken, Jolt Cola loving, Scritti Politti fans say yes. And then burp a lot.

Since Tub’s a flick about time travel is Crispin “George McFly” Glover’s presence meta? In that vein, and since we’re back in the 80s is Cusack’s mere presence meta? All the guy had to do here to complete the allusion was to have him hold a boombox over his head until Gabriel released his next album in 1992. I’ll go you one further. We have Cusack skiing, getting sh*t from a douchebag named Lane. Ever see Better Off Dead (no? Do)? If only for a claymation cheeseburger singing Van Halen. For shame befall the Academy for ignoring this gem of filmmaking.

*blogger feels he is losing his audience so he busts out the concertina and rocks Lady Of Spain*

You back? Good. Speaking of music let’s not ignore the soundtrack. No duh here. You can’t have a “period piece” like Tub without stacks of wax dropping from time to time. Yet again the jokes help if you’re steeped in 80s pop culture. I’m judgmental and am willing to wager some cash that you missed the boat. The songs are strategically  placed, not just wallpaper. Truth be told you don’t have to know the songs when they’re dropped. Just either hear the lyrics or note the timbre of the scene and you’ll get it. It’s like that scene in Super 8 when the object of the hero’s affection reluctantly drives off with him in the shotgun seat and the Cars “Bye, Bye Love” is playing on the car’s radio. Stuff like that. Now focus.

And to this again: the acting. Tub‘s a buddy movie at heart, so there better be some chemistry and ensuing camaraderie present. There is, but it sure is prickly. Truth be told, it’s kinda hard to really root for Adam and his fellow dolts. They’re all losers after all, with a serious d*ckhead in tow. All of them are sniveling, erstwhile men trying to relive their glory days. Thanks to the f*cked up hot tub’s wires getting crossed against the space-time continuum, they get their reluctant wish to literally relive the past. And they do it begrudgingly. Turns out that back then wasn’t much different than right now. And boy, does Pink have a field day milking our leads for all their worth.

Okay, I’ll lie to you. Cusack spends his time being Cusack, with all his wonderful, insecure awkwardness. It’s his thing. Geek chic. His schtick dates back all the way to Sixteen Candles (“Real smooth, Cliff”). Cusack’s nervous temperment serves his Adam very well. Considering the guy comes home to a house cut in half, you might be a tad nervous and insecure, too. I might be, if I had any truly worthwhile crap an ex would want. She’ll leave the Marvel comics be, of course; too much geek on them.

Robinson is an endearing, charming, hapless wimp. He’s the guy who you’d root for the most with his spin around the widening gyre. Of course he keeps blowing his opportunities to do so, and comes across as a cautious Casper Milquetoast, not sure how to put the genie back into his own personal bottle. It’s only until the third act Robinson shines, and believe it or not it’s heartwarming (also in stark contrast to his life in 2010. Very stark, but in a good way. His showcase is almost Shakespearean. Really. Forget what I might’ve said earlier. We need the sympathizer with the piano skills to keep this train on the rails. How else we gonna get that ever so essential 80s movie musical number?

Not much to say about Duke really. Sorry. He’s kinda pesky with all the whining and nagging. But I did like his role as idiot savant being the only one of the lot concerned with getting back to future and trying to communicate with the hilarious repairman Chevy Chase. Yo guys, reality check. We ain’t in Topeka no more. That and he has no reason to stay there in day-glo land.

And now, the queen to bishop’s pawn, Rob Corrdry. He steals the show and is relentless. Exhausting even. Rapid fire quips of definite insensitivity (and insecurity) and inciter of all riots, he takes the cakes and fails to leave any crumbs. Sweet Jeebus, if there were a more prefect specimen of narcissistic, self-destructive (he did try to off himself, the Maguffin he is), petulant behavior, I know not. But he was f*cking funny. The funniest of our cadre. Also the most damaged and vulnerable. C’mon, who isn’t that which we know when we try to play a TV drinking game, and whichever character pops up on screen—say for Gilligan’s Island—they always declare, “I call the lagoon!” There’s Lou for ya. Now start pumping the charcoal.

Hmm. Don’t know how much sense this installment made. Not much at all is what my dwindling senses are poking me. All I can walk away with is that I did like the movie. That’s what counts. The nostalgia baiting. The drunken hi-jinks. Even the whole lesson about “If I knew then…” In the endgame, that all doesn’t really matter. Just like the 80s pop culture references lost on modern audiences (then again, most is lost on modern audiences, necks slumped over their iPhones. Get laid already), it’s no big. Tub‘s whole wad was satisfyingly funny and—surprise for real, surprise—actually conveyed a meaningful message. Is Tub‘s dumb a sneaky smart motif? Nah. This movie ultimately makes no apologies for its conduct, and I like that. Let’s leave Lars Von Trier alone for another night.

Right now, I think I need to bust out the ol’ Walkman with mixtape of Rick Springfield’s greatest hits. Then toss the thing in the microwave. Grow up already.

The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. A solid time-waster, with a solid cast of funny people and more winking this side of direct pupil dilation. We need more dopey comedies like this. Ride the pipeline and avoid New Coke. PSA.

Stray Observations…

  • “The taxidermist is stuffing my mom.”
  • I love Caplan’s Patti Smith stuck in the 80s look. That and the proper attitude to boot.
  • “We should go check on that deer.”
  • Lou is a walking Red Bull enema. I have no idea what that even means, but it sure fits.
  • “It’s your d*ck. I won’t tell you what to do.” That’s what she said.
  • I love/hate the soundtrack. Age is creeping in.
  • “Is it a fetus?”
  • Why was flipping collars up back then cool? Discuss.
  • “I don’t like you takin’ liberties with my d*ck.” That’s what she warned me about.
  • What? No Van Halen?
  • “Carroll’s on the left.”
  • The perpetually alternating sight-gags regarding Phil’s arm got actually pretty tense.
  • “Talk about your lost weekend…”

Next Installment…

Think you can go toe to toe with The Wolverine? No, I mean for real. Not the whole adamantium claws bit. Tap dancing. Hear the guy’s quite the hoofer.

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

The Ice Harvest

The Players…

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

The Story…

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

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

Get it? I luv being funny and clever.

The Rant…

I work for the 2%.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*pant, pant*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All on an Xmas Eve…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*cue dead drop with a splash*

The Verdict…

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

Stray Observations…

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

Next Installment…

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

War is hell.

RIORI Vol 3, Installment 25: James McTeigue’s “The Raven” (2012)

The Raven 2012

The Players…

John Cusack, Luke Evans, Alice Eve and Brendan Gleeson, with Kevin McNelly and Oliver Cohen.

The Story…

Baltimore’s unfavorite son and equally under-appreciated writer Edgar Allan Poe discovers that a killer is stalking the city, executing his victims inspired by Poe’s tales of the macabre. To exonerate himself from any hand in this business, it’s up to the drunken, addict scribbler teaming with the steely, maverick Detective Fields—his only solid ally, to be sure—to get to the bottom of the mess.

Using his wily art of cogitation, Fields employs the best modern forensics to find the link between Poe’s work and the killer’s motives. But it all seems so simple to Poe—in and out of his opium haze—that these grisly murders are a mere matter of life imitating art. His grim and demented art.

What an honor! Now praise the Lord and pass the laudanum!

And we’re back.

Yeah, I know. I told you all last year that the 2016 inaugural installment of RIORI would beachcomb Star Wars: Attack Of The Clones. Seemed appropriate (I guess) with the launch of the new chapter in the saga, The Force Awakens. Well, a funny thing happened on the way to the Netflix queue. Turns out by a turn of sheer bad luck The Force Awakens also touched ground the exact same time my Netflix feed politely hit me over the head with a waiting list that reached all the way to Terra Haute. All six of the other films—yes, including Clones—were on back order. Every title announced, “long wait,” “very long wait,” “are you still waiting? There’s, like, this new movie out now,” “looks like you need some sun, fanboy. Drop the Funyuns and get some air,” “Christ, get a job already…” And so forth.

So, yeah. No Clones this time out. Some other time, sorry. Hell, I needed the fresh air anyway.

Still, one would think Star Wars fans would’ve already been well acquainted with the series arcana and inferred mystical—wait for it—forces. So much that the custom Chewie at Build-A-Bear moves out faster than an elephant with dysentery could describe. Either that or fan dads and fan moms had to educate little Dick and Jane all about the life-changing experience that is classic Star Wars with a little mandatory movie night. Research, you see, for the ultimate trip to the multiplex and get an eyeful (quite possibly a dozen) of The Force Awakens.

Or maybe the Netflix execs are a bunch of dicks and parse out only so many movies at a time for sh*ts and giggles. Especially the obscure ones like Star Wars. That and Barbarella in 3D.

I’m not that frustrated, though. The remaining time off was well spent. I got to expose the wifey to a few of the essential, early James Bond films. Yep. This yielded some fruit. We watched Dr No and From Russia With Love with great interest (okay, was into them; she politely feigned interest.) But with little surprise we hit pay dirt with Goldfinger. Big shocker there. She dug it, and even though it had been years since I last saw it, I found my delight with Bond thwarting the titular, nefarious gold smuggler hadn’t diminished much. Goldie is the seminal Bond flick, replete with all the hallmarks (and eventual cliches) found in every 007 flick since. Cool cars, hot babes, globetrotting, Q and his oft-questionable spy tech and M being a dick, taking notes from Netflix execs. Y’know, the essentials. We both enjoyed the latest Bond flicks featuring Daniel Craig, but I felt it my cinematic duty to introduce her to a very young, studly Sean Connery and how it should be done. Some designs cannot be improved upon.

All right. Had to get all that out of the way. You’re welcome. Happy New Year!

On to this week’s drubbing…

The Rant…

You might’ve had this experience, too.

A million years ago, back when I was in middle school, I was exposed to the weird world of Edgar Allan Poe. In 7th grade were we learning about esteemed American writers, and teach thought it cool to get us all hip to Poe in reading some of his key scary stories are Halloween time. Good idea. We read The Black Cat, Fall Of The House Of Usher, The Tell-Tale Heart, all the biggies. Admittedly, I wasn’t really blown away at the time. One, I was too busy in nabbing the attention of your garden variety, unattainable girl a few rows over to be bothered with some dead writer with a bad comb-over. Two, learning about Poe was school-related, so any 12-year old doing his due diligence had to let any introduction of knowledge go in one ear and..and…what was I talking about?

Right, right. Oatmeal cookies. I do like oatmeal cookies. A lot of people don’t, since they masquerade as choco chips, but for me—

*eraser bounces off blogger’s head*

Thanks, Teach.

Anyway, despite raging hormones and being compelled to hurtle into C- minus territory as fast as f*ck as possible, I couldn’t deny that Poe’s work got in my head anyway. I guess it was The Raven as ear worm that planted a seed (that and the Treehouse Of Terror bit was no slouch either. Admit it). That poem and The Murders In The Rue Morgue cured the concrete. With that one I caught a TV adaptation starring the late, great George C Scott as the proto-Sherlock Auguste Dupin with a very young Val Kilmer as his flunky. It was a pretty good murder mystery as far as Poe adaptations went, as well as CBS went, too.

About Morgue. Along the way I uncovered that Poe’s Dupin was the first literary detective. First. Created and presaging Conan Doyle’s immortal creation Sherlock Holmes by almost 50 years. It’s been said there are maybe only five or six original American art forms. Poe created one of them: the detective story. That got my attention, and I only uncovered that factoid decades after 7th grade (I’m a slow learner. BTW, did you know it’s bad to put a fork in the microwave? Tell that to my eyebrows).

Discovering this I went back through time and reviewed my Poe. Not just his famous stories—recognition solidly earned—but his bio. That’s how I roll. Interesting fact planted in my water-headed brain and off I go to abuse Wikipedia. What I uncovered about one of America’s early literary masterminds was Poe’s inherent f*cked up-ness. The boozing. The drugs. The Lolita Complexes. What fun date he was. Small wonder the guy wrote some seriously messed up sh*t. Murder, incest, demonic possessions, the whole buffet. It’s hard to not to feel a sense of respect and awe.

It should come as no surprise I’ve went on and on and on here at RIORI that I do not play well with others. No happy camper here. A lot of the sh*t Poe wrote about—and doubtless dabbled in—fascinates me. He was a great writer, perhaps ahead of his time (e.g. Auguste Dupin). But his diseased brain is what I can identify with the most. I mean, all writers are f*cked up on some level. Sure, they have a public face that is usually sunny and marketable. They also have a side strictly reserved for the audience of the PC.

For example, Psycho author Robert Bloch was known to be nothing but a perfect gentleman (and he was a student of HP Lovecraft, before God). He also invented Norman Bates. Stephen King is one of the giants of horror fiction. He also plays guitar in the Rock Bottom Remainders, a band promoting literacy, as well as dumping his millions into ever-improving his town of Bangor, Maine. He also coaches Little League.

You gotta have a keenly cracked psyche to write graphic sh*t and still make the donuts every morning. Was Poe like that? Probably not. I think his grace was in reverse. He was an very flawed individual, not anyone to pick as a wingman. But the guy could write emotional, visceral, creepy tales of the macabre like no one’s business. Hell, if I could’ve written anything as well as he did, that chick a few rows over might’ve blinked at me.

Anyway, Poe’s work with all its meat and gristle has been adapted to film before. There were those nifty, yet kitschy movies with Vincent Price back in the 60s. The above version of Morgue. Most have been scattershot, however, almost capturing Poe’s R-rated catalog into a shoehorning PG-13 world. With Edgar (by which the mystery-writing top dog award is named for), it was all about atmospherics. It’s kinda hard to capture the perverse air of House Of Usher without Hollywood smearing CGI feces all over the production. To be sure there have been bright spots, but most of the time the spirit gets lost, like a cask of Amontillado that was never there.

It should be simple. Poe’s work is rife with a feeling of mystery. The horror part sold the stories. The head-scracthing brought an audience back for more. The wonder imbued. Vincent Price and his buddies gave it the college try, but substance was for wanting. You know what a good Poe Picture (as Stephen King coined them in his memoir) really needs? Mystery, and healthy does of the creeps. It’s hard to pull those from a story onto film.

Director James McTeigue tried his best with The Raven to pull this off...

It’s tough to be a writer. It’s even tougher to keep up a public face of a writer. Regarded a chronicler of life, love and leaving, your work must not only speak for yourself but also reflect society through your creative eyes and muse and hope the people follow you down.

Then we have Edgar Allan Poe (Cusack). The biggest issue he has to face it to quit trembling every time he reaches for a snifter of brandy. That and clearing that never-ending bar tab. Oh yeah, and writing. Can’t forget the writing.

When not being a lushy dipsomaniac (which isn’t often), Poe usually spends his days staggering about, denouncing people who fail to respect—let alone acknowledge—his talents. Despite being Baltimore’s bon vivant/enfante terrible, Poe and his work get little recognition. Plus very little money.

But someone loves you, Edgar. Perhaps a bit too much.

At the scene of a grisly murder one Detective Fields (Evans) recognizes the scene straight out of Poe’s stories. Being a fan, Fields seeks out the infamous, unstable writer for some insight. Not wanting anymore heat from the constabulary, Poe reluctantly agrees. Sure enough, the scene is right out of his murder mystery, The Murders In The Rue Morgue. And it only gets worse from there.

The Pit And The PendulumThe Cask Of AmontilladoThe Tell-Tale Heart. Ensuing bloody crime scenes echo Poe’s works. Fields deputizes Poe—very much against his will—to get to the bottom of these killings. We have a serial killer on the prowl, so its up to Baltimore’s sharpest detective and booziest writer to track down the murderer or else the killings are bound to continue until Poe’s entire catalogue is exhausted.

Hopefully before the bar tab gets even longer or when the opium runs out. Whatever comes first…

Shortly into watching The Raven, I came to a revelation.

“This has been done before.”

Not that Poe’s works never made it to cinema. The Raven‘s execution was painfully familiar, but I couldn’t place where. You know, when the writer becomes a character/gets trapped in his own work. Spike Jonze’s Adaptation came close. So did the cinematic version of The Dark Half, but not really. Regardless, this meta-inducing plot felt familiar. As well as its mundanity. But the execution of the story was curious enough that it held my attention. That’s a good thing, right?


You know what I said earlier about Poe’s writings’ essential atmosphere? The Raven has in it spades, as well as some sharp visuals. The whole movie is slippery, dingy and grim. I like that, especially since we’re dealing with a killing spree. The 1700s Baltimore of Poe’s days—according to The Raven‘s creators at least—is a ruined reflection of the Victorian Age. It’s a grey slum, smattered with endless, pissy rain and very few of its denizens come across as upstanding, not to mention having their own agenda. This is handy since we’re delving into a murder mystery. You gotta lay on some heavy ambiance of the creeps to get the lay of the land. We’re also dealing with Poe-inspired murders, so that cracked, psycho poet view runs thick. Almost too thick, actually.

Hang on. I remember  where I saw a similar  period piece mystery like Raven: the Hughes’ Bros From Hell. I tackled that one a while back here at RIORI. That murder mystery steeped in actual events was a pretty good whodunnit, albeit with a lot of unlicensed surgical gore and Johnny Depp’s trademark un-histrionics (and Heather Graham’s oh-so unbelievable Irish accent, not to mention her lack of facial scarring as hallmark of Mary Kelly’s occupation. That and…).

*second eraser touchdown pending*

Ahem. Any who, so yeah Raven is a Jack The Ripper…well, rip-off. It seems that way at first. From Hell is Raven’s immediate analog, and director MacTeigue is determined to one-up the Hughes’ film in everything. More mysteries, more menace, more violence and more period set work than a revival of Far From The Madding Crowd. Too bad it doesn’t really work; you can’t shake the “this has been done before” feeling. Originality is for lacking.

But it ain’t dull. Take Raven as From Hell lite. MacTeigue’s vision is just as dark and forbidding as Hell, but with a lighter touch. There’s a good deal of humor mixed in with the murder and mayhem. Just a spoonful of sugar don’t you know. I figure Raven would be just another swipe at the period mystery movie if not for the snickers and raised eyebrows.

One of the things—maybe the only thing—that makes Raven stand on its feet is the acting. Without colorful characters lurking around Baltimore’s underbelly, this would be nothing than a derivative From Hell. And boy howdy we got a gem acting as Poe. John Cusack has always been at heart a comedic actor. Even with more “serious” roles like this one there’s always a humorous undercurrent to his delivery. He’s really fun when he hams it up, loses his cool. Remember his Rob Gordon back in High Fidelity? Yep. It’s also too bad the movie seems to enjoy it, too. Cusack’s Poe runs perilously close to being one-note, but tempered by our no bullish*t Detective Fields.

The stern yin to Poe’s unhinged yang, Evans’ performance is what keeps the story from hopping the tracks. Sure, we have a sort of paint-by-numbers mystery going on here, but to keep everything moving along smoothly (good pacing, woof) and not come crashing down into potboiler territory with a lot of flayed skin we gotta have a guy like Fields around to spearhead the crime, not to mention keeping Poe on a leash. Evans’ performance from determined cop to stiff out-of-his-league to tiresome is a slow crawl and can be a drag, but the beleaguered officer is a reliable character type, and a tonic to Poe’s eccentricities (of which there are legion). We got a weird Sherlock action all up in here where Poe as Watson are one and the same. There better be a steady-handed Inspector Dupin at the ready (and Evans’ portrayal as the profiler was far more palpable and relatable than with Depp’s signature weirdness). One could make the argument that this is another rip-off from From Hell. Wacky cop paired against street-smart raconteur, only in reverse. I say it’s no matter. Entertaining, though not necessarily unique characters are all I’m asking for/expecting here. Good thing we got Cusack on board.

Speaking on being unique, Raven’s execution plays out like the plot of a graphic novel. I know, I know. Raven‘s sister movie was indeed based on a comic, and seeing how MacTeigue’s directorial debut of V For Vendetta was based on a graphic novel (written by Alan Moore, author of From Hell. Hey, wait a minute…) either some hero worship or hangover persists here. What I think is that MacTeigue is a Poe fanboy. Sure, he didn’t have much of a hand in the script, but his hand is heavy in establishing a narrative slathered in imagery right out of the Master’s stories. It teeters on overdose territory here. I’m also of the mind that the Poe angle was the supposed selling point. Raven is a trivia delight for fans (almost on a Star Trek con level). When was the last time a big deal, big budget cinematic adaptation of the man’s works hit the screen? Doubts even here, but I bet there was a vast, quiet flock out there waiting and waiting.

Under MacTeigue’s lens, for both Poe and crime drama fans, they had to take a weakened dose. Even though the director gets the atmosphere right, and Cusack’s fevered performance ably pushes the story along, there’s not much to hang onto here. The Raven is hampered with weak tension, forced style and bad case of the From Hell‘s. Like I said, it borders on derivative and blatant rip-off, but there are enough tricks in MacTeigue’s bag to keep Raven from being outright lame. Sure, it’s thin, but not uninteresting.

If you can get beyond the movie’s overt flaws, there is a neat mystery creeping underfoot.  There’ nothing revolutionary going on here, but regardless of the moody stylizing and gore, there’s a fairly decent mystery story. Not that the mystery proper is anything to crow (Ha!) about, but the details make Raven not drag as much as it would against all its other hiccups. A prime example (maybe the only one), is in the third act when the mystery reaches a head. I really enjoyed the trolling. Really. MacTeigue really toys with us. Any character acting suspicious hints at being the killer. It keeps you guessing. Oddly, Poe never comes across as REDACTED, but everyone else in the primary and secondary cast could be. Again, maybe overkill, but I dug it.

On the tails of that, my only serious, outright gripe with Raven is the ending. Yeah, I know. That’s a biggie; a real deal breaker. But I had patience enough with the first hour and forty-five minutes of this fanboy-drenched, slick and shameless reach-around swindle to hang out for the conclusion. And I got screwed. Actually, pissed is a more apt word. The ending ruined almost everything. Of course I’m not gonna ruin it for you. Take a risk like me, and consider getting your head checked.

Oh well. Was Raven a good movie? No. Was it a good time-waster? Sure, okay. Was it all just an opium/ego-induced dream? Well if so, I need a mixture like that. Come to think of it, so do you.

This is the part when I’m supposed to squawk, “Nevermore!” Right?

The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. Really. It’s a kinda cool waste of time, ideal for a Halloween movie night. Not ideal for…well, any other time of year. Pass the brandy. And the needles. And a fountain pen to stab things with. What the hell.

Stray Observations…

  • “Try not to sh*t yourself.” I always fancied Poe was a coarse talker.
  • Awesome editing between the pendulum and the heart.
  • “So was she 14?”
  • Back in Poe’s day, actors—and acting as a profession—were looked down on as mere entertainers; they were people who didn’t earn their keep with a hard day’s work and paid accordingly. My, how times have changed. Right, Sandler?
  • “I didn’t say I was an admirer.” “Yet…you did read them.”
  • Okay. The thing with the raven? A bit too much.
  • “Time for a piss.” Be right back.
  • The “catacomb” search is rather convoluted.
  • “…I guess I went a little nuts.”
  • There is no version of Barbarella in 3D, you idiots!

Next Installment…

Jack Black takes us on a modern trip through Gulliver’s Travels. Let’s hope it doesn’t suck ass.

RIORI Vol. 2, Installment 36: Stephen Frears’ “High Fidelity” (2000)


The Players…

John Cusack, Iben Hjejle, Jack Black and Todd Louiso, with Catherine Zeta-Jones, Lisa Bonet, Sara Gilbert, Joan Cusack and Tim Robbins.

The Story…

Once again, cranky audiophile Rob Gordon has been dumped by…oh, it doesn’t matter. They’re all the same, ever since middle school. After this latest failure of a relationship, Rob decides to do some soul-searching; to figure out what’s gone wrong in his life when it comes to the opposite sex. It may be a lack of maturity. Or his caustic attitude. Or most likely, he identifies better with the music in his unfeasible record collection than actual socializing. Whatever the reason may be, Rob’s going to be adrift and alone forever if he doesn’t take off the headphones.

The Rant:

Here we go again with another music-themed movie, and you just know your not-so-humble blogger is going to either rail on and on about corporate rock and/or rail on and on about his psychotic record collection.


Not this time. Not gonna do it. We’ve got something else under the lens today: movies based on pre-existing media. In the case of High Fidelity, books.

With any movie adaptation of a pre-existing literary form—a Shakespearean play, a novel, a comic book, etc.—the director has to walk a very loose tightrope, but a tightrope nonetheless. I say loose because we have two sides of an audience to reach here—most of whom are fickle—and we best be flexible.

On one side, the audience that knows the source material, wants to see the director’s vision and interpretation of said source as close as possible, hopefully satisfying the need (sometimes obsession) to see if he got it “right.” People want to see the director’s vision not getting in the way of…well, the director’s vision. You don’t want to have a color-by-numbers, scene-by-scene exact duplication of the original material. That’s a cop-out, especially to those who already read the book and probably loved the book like chocolate, sex and sex-covered chocolate.

On the other side, you don’t want the director to deviate so far from the original idea so to mangle the script, use lame dialogue, and stick in some artistic “flair” that either Hollywood insisted on adding like a happy ending, general sweetening or Jennifer Aniston. That or placating the director’s muse excitedly sh*tting on his head. It’s a delicate balance, and the pissy audience that already read the book—Harry Potter fans, Game of Thrones disciples, Walking Dead adherents and/or Fifty Shades of Grey very desperate housewives—wants it both ways. When it doesn’t work out, it’s usually the audience’s fevered fanboy-ism that’s to blame. Not that they’d ever admit it.

That being said, there have been several notable book-to-film adaptations; some were stellar or at least satisfying. Sam Raimi’s Spider Man 2 springs immediately to mind. My opinion is best validated by rumor having it that when original Spidey artist John Romita, Sr. caught a sneak peak of the film, his comments were more-or-less, “I drew that…Drew that…That too…etc.” Sounds like the movie straddled the line well to me. Other highlights include MASH, the Godfather and the original Die Hard; yes, Die Hard was based on a book. I read the book after seeing the movie like, oh I dunno, a jillion times. I can safely say that here’s one instance where the movie version is superior. All the humor and vulnerability of Bruce Willis’ iconic, relatable everycop John McClane were absent in the book, as well as the hero being actually named “John McClane.”

As a control, Forrest Gump is not a good example. The touchy-feeliness of the movie version was sentimental Hollywood claptrap, which reliably raked in the dollars and awards; the novel was pessimistic with a capital P, Jenny. Another bad example, oddly enough, is Die Hard 2. Yes, yes, it was based on a book, too. A very good book, BTW. Hack director Renny Harlin chewed it up and spat it out and made a good, taut action/thriller novel into the ur-Michael Bay summer blockbuster. Lots of boom, bullets and bad dialogue. Yippee-ki-yay.

So why do some adaptations work and others limp? Like I said, walking the tightrope. There has to be enough cuts from the original roast to remain true to the spirit of the book, yet have enough directorial sensitivity to respect the lifted material while still adding a unique spin. This is usually done with visuals, dialogue and above all else acting. That and a kick-ass screenwriter like Ted “The Silence of the Lambs” Tally or Richard “The Quiet Man” Llewellyn don’t hurt none. All of it as a whole must be executed with extremely extreme prejudice. In simpler words: don’t dupe the audience. There’s a good chance they already read the book well before the movie hype hit the dailies. Ask any Shakespeare aficionado. Or Spider-Man fanboy.

Some books-turned-movies use the device of a narrator, and sometimes it works. Fight Club employed a narrator (to go so far as to credit Edward Norton simply as “Narrator”), so did Forrest Gump (and despite that movie’s squishiness, it worked too) and also Taxi Driver, A Christmas Story, The Big Lebowski, Apocalypse Now, GoodFellas and—before God—Dances with Wolves. These all worked. High Fidelity uses a narrator too. What separates this movie from the others is the deliberate shattering of “the fourth wall.”

For those who don’t know the reference, I’ll share. Look, it’s not as if the readers out there on the Interweb are thick, it’s just I want to be clear. I gather that most of us are of decent intelligence; of a curious nature that draws the lot of y’all to sh*t-digging social experiments like this one. I can get obtuse in my rumination at RIORI, so I’m making a point out of this one. It’s vital to the movie as a whole.

The “breaking of the fourth wall” is a theatrical reference in which a player steps out of character to directly address the audience. Bill Shakespeare (him again) did this often, like in his drama Othello where the baddie kept telling the audience about his nefarious plans, mwa-ha-ha. The best example used I can recall in modern cinema is in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Our protag makes asides to the audience enhancing the action to what’s happening (or will happen) onscreen. For High Fidelity, not unlike Day Off, it augments the comic aspects of the movie. Unlike Fidelity, all the wink-wink/nudge-nudge bets are off.

All right, lecture’s over. Hand in your blue books.

*cheers, applause, sighs of relief, lines to the bathroom*

Hmm. It seems like I’ve already chewed apart our latest installment before the synopsis is out there. Glad you caught me…

Laura (Hjejle) left. She finally had her fill of Rob (Cusack), his musical obsessions and his generally mopey attitude. She’s just another failed relationship in Rob’s seemingly endless line of failed relationships. Now he’s alone, bitter and the only companionship he can find is his unwieldy record collection.

What went wrong?

Rob now plays out days at his semi-failing record shop, Championship Vinyl, dealing with the snobby opinions of his “musical moron twins,” blithering Barry (Black) and milquetoast Dick (Louiso). Nights are spent organizing and reorganizing his LPs, ruminating over the notion that maybe he’s doomed to live alone forever.

Again, what went wrong?

In a rare moment of clarity, Rob does some soul-searching. He recalls his “top five, all-time breakups,” and how they happened. His sifts through his address book and decides to track down his exes to see if there was a pattern forming; what led to his undoing and lowly state. Sure, it might be painful to go down memory lane, facing some ugly truths about his relations with the opposite sex. But you know what they say: pain means you’re growing.

Rob figures it’s time to man up, stare down adulthood, get some maturity and, well, face the music…

I read High Fidelity well after I saw the movie. A lot of people—the aforementioned fanboy audiences— always claim that the book is always better than the movie. Fidelity is an exception to that belief. I’m not saying that either one was superior to the other. I’m saying with Fidelity as a whole, it didn’t really matter.

The movie is very faithful to the book. Very faithful. Like I said, I read the book after I saw the movie, and it made no difference. That’s how faithful Frears’ adaptation was. There were only three differences between the book and the movie:

  1. The setting. Nick Hornby’s book took place in London. The movie is set in Chicago. Cusack, who co-wrote the screenplay, is a native Chicagoan, as well as a handful of the other actors (Robbins et al). They were all once part of a troupe in the Windy City, and it was at Cusack’s behest that these folks could add something to the movie, enhance the set as tableau. Like the book, London was much a character as Chicago is here. Director Frears—who is English—was originally rather diffident about shooting an English story in an American city until he read the script and met the cast. In the end, where High Fidelity takes place was irrelevant. Some stories, like Hornby’s delightful novel, are universal. Life, love and leaving. That’s what Fidelity is all about.
  2. One scene from the book was deleted, and one was added. In the book, the chapter where Rob went record hunting at a spurned wife’s exes fire sale of his record collection was left out. The subplot about Rob producing a pair of burgeoning amateur musicians was added. Both were metaphor for Rob’s life arrest and eventual getting on with life. Both worked well, and;
  3. In the book, he was Rob Fleming. In the movie, he’s Rob Gordon. Not sure why this was done.

At heart, Fidelity is not a music movie. Right. It does have the soundtrack of my dreams, even Katrina & the Waves and “Most of the Time” is one of my fave, latter-day Dylan songs. But it’s not a music movie. It’s a story about personal responsibility and belated growing up.

It’s a lot of other things, too. Fidelity is a love story to and within Chicago, but the opposite of Ferris Beuller. Frears turned out to be wrong, all right. The setwork is great, and the backdrop of the city makes for a lovely sofa. The setting doesn’t really matter, but it helps the movie took place in a city as diverse as Chicago.

Almost as diverse as Rob’s infeasible record collection. Both are as much characters in the movie as the actors. Rob’s music collection is so intertwined with his personality—and his troubles—it’s like he can’t divorce himself from self-absorption steeped in adolescent fantasies and motives. His whole “art of the mixtape” schtick comes across as both solace and salvation, a la a teen brooding in his room after being not invited to the jocks’ beer bust. In the end, it’s all just juvenile and for naught, especially for a mid-30s bachelor and record geek.

Another thing: most importantly Fidelity is a character study, and without a primo cast like this one, there’d be just another Gen X nostalgia cash cow being milked here. Usually the director guides the actors. According to Frears, Fidelity was the other way around. And the whole thing rests on Cusack’s shoulders. If a lesser actor was employed the whole thing might’ve torn apart at the seams.

Rob is a walking headache. Leave it to Cusack to deliver his role with a slumped-shoulders, Holden Caulfield affect. No matter how old he or his story gets, Rob’s terminally in the 7th grade. It drums up sympathy for a character who really is a drudge, cranky and generally not a guy you’d want to share a beer with. His character does a lot of acting with a hangdog and a blank, baleful, hundred-mile stare. It’s paramount to breaking the fourth wall.

Oh yeah, that. The whole narrator thing? Key.

The DVD release of Fidelity has clips and commentary from Cusack and director Frears. Frears was a fan of the book and always wanted to make it into a movie, but was afraid that all of “the good stuff” would have to be left out. It was Cusack’s idea to do the whole narration thing. That way, all the exposition that was so vital to the book was left in, delivered in this very clever, non-intrusive way to convey Rob’s angst. It’s very subtle, thanks to Cusack’s alternating manic and meandering delivery. His monologues are like the confessionals of a middle schooler, which Rob ostensibly still is. It works well with the theme of life arrest. Rob’s just a “victim of circumstance,” with circumstances he’s created. He’s boxes himself in with his own rationalizing, and gets it intimate with the audience.

Fresh-faced Hjejle is great as Laura. She’s very disarming, kinda like a Gen X Isla. Laura is oddly strong, yet vulnerable. You get the feeling that she doesn’t want to leave Rob, she just has to so to maintain her sanity. It’s tough to be in a long term relationship with someone who just doesn’t get commitment, that it’s not just about you anymore. Rob is all about “you,” meaning him. Laura, whether Rob knows it or not, keeps him grounded. She’s never shown to be the bad guy. She bails, and it’s not for wondering why.

Black and Louiso are the Laurel and Hardy in Fidelity. Dick and Barry are yin and yang. Black is delightfully toxic. His acerbic wit and classic music snob blathering is both hilarious and cringe-worthy. I think we all know someone like Barry. They are all alone in a crowded record store. If only more actors could be as charmingly hammy as Black. And he actually has a good singing voice. It’s a bit schlocky, but entertaining, not unlike Tenacious D. Isn’t that what matters?

Louiso’s Dick is so self-effacing and passive it’s like he’s hiding inside his clothes. Dick is the anti-Barry. He’s still a music snob, but he assumes the timid, quiet stance. He likes letting lesser-knowing music buffs in on obscure bands as some secret, trace element stuff. It’s along this line that gets Dick a date. To wit, Louiso and Gilbert have an honest chemistry, and their budding relationship reflects Rob’s failed ones in understated, sweet contrast.

There’s a lot of nice touches about relationships in Fidelity. It’s a gentle movie, kinda tender, despite the prickly subject matter. It’s also a guy movie, with Cusack being the spot-on, typical thirty-something man-child, awash in insecurity, facing middle age and exuding weltschmerz from every pore. Us guys get that way. Rob’s love/hate relationship with his music reflecting his love/hate relationship with his past relationships; it’s never blunt, and paired with the smart narration, the message comes across with great humor and flintiness with being preachy. It’s the whole “adding the egg” metaphor here (see the All Is Lost installment). I love the dry humor. It does a great job escalating the tension within the first two acts as it eventually tempers the third descending into sweetness without being saccharine.

To wrap it up, there’s one word to describe Fidelity: satisfying. The story is solid, the acting great, the pacing perfect and it has an intelligent, thoughtful streak running throughout. High Fidelity is probably in my top-five, desert island movies.

Now where could I hook up the DVD and the stereo on a desert island? Well, thank God for Wi-Fi.

The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. Go read the book, too. Check out either one first. And take off those damned headphones.

Stray Observations…

  • “She liked me. She liked me. She liked me. At least I think she did…” No one really ever graduates middle school.
  • Every scene in the store, club or apartment features at least one album I own. I don’t know whether that’s comforting or really, really sad.
  • “A Cosby sweatah!”
  • That Slits album has been bouncing all over the sets. Who wants to wager director Frears is a fan?
  • “How can someone who has no interest in music own a record store?” The very sage Jack Black. Dumbass.
  • Keen use of the Beta Band there. Yeah, I have those albums too.
  • “Do you have soul?” “That all depends…”
  • Jones says “F*ck!” better than I’ve ever heard it anywhere.
  • Rob all alone in the record store. His castle, his prison.
  • “My guts have sh*t for brains!” Hornby.
  • I do miss mixtapes. I’ve made my fair share of mix discs, but it’s just not the same.
  • “I’d never thought I’d say this, but can I go to work now?”

Next Installment…

“Who, as they sung, would take the prison’d soul and lap it in Elysium?” That’s John Milton. Who’d’ve thunk he was into Matt Damon movies?


RIORI Vol. 2, Installment 29: Scott Coffey’s “Adult World” (2013)

Adult World

The Players:

John Cusack, Emma Roberts and Evan Peters, with Armando Riesco, John Cullum and Cloris Leachman.

The Plot:

Recent college graduate Amy is sure she’s going to be a famous poet. But until then, if it ever happens, she reluctantly takes a job at an “adult” bookstore to make ends meet. Meanwhile, inspired by some found work by isolated post-punk poet Rat Billings, she decides to stalk out her muse in hopes to find a mentor. It does not go well, as such things often do.

The Rant:

For a few of the recent installments here at RIORI, I’ve waxed both nostalgic and poetic about my salad days in college. Being a post-modern English/Education/Philosophy student (with nary a whit of modesty) that I was, allow me to drop you some science. You want to know where the term “salad days” came from? No? Tough. My blog, my rules. It hails from (who else?) William Shakespeare. It’s from Antony and Cleopatra:

“…My salad days, when I was green in judgment; cold in blood…”

The phrase has since been adopted as the go-to excuse for the impulsive decisions we choose in our callow youth. Like getting a tattoo, or getting your labret pierced, or bleaching your hair, or smacking around a sh*t-ass drumkit for some going-nowhere notion of a rock band, or going to hole-in-the-wall clubs seeming built out of graffiti, spent plastic beer cups, cigarette butts, puddles of puke and a sense of self-satisfaction, or wasting hundreds of dollars on import CDs of your then favorite cult band via the demon eBay. Green in judgment? Cold in blood? Sounds like my punker days at ol’ SU. Tattoos, piercings, two-toned hair, wannabe-garage-band-on-the-side, a stupid tab at an unattractive trough, and an unhealthy collection of Joy Division and Ramones bootlegs. Good times, good times.

Hey. It was the ‘90’s. Back off. To wit, Oasis actually had a career then. Chilling.

Anyway, there you have it. My alma mater in a weak nutshell. I’m not wholly sure if I ever name-dropped the school I got the degree from here, but now you have it. Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences. Huzzah. It was a good school. I learned a lot. Studied under some very good professors. Made a lot of cool friends. Did a lot of self-exploration. Read more post-modern and deconstructionist philosophy than any sane person would or should. It was the place to be for an aspiring educator and writer like myself to be schooled.

Of course I’m looking back on my days at Syracuse with a bleary lens. The college may have been grand, but the local scene and the town itself was beat. Imagine a grey metropolis worn down by urban blight and self-resignation with the art scene a weak, glowing ember under foot of the townies who didn’t really care for the student body in the first place. The only bright spots the city had going for it was the school, an sort-of gentrified, Boehme neighborhood downtown where the cool record shops, clubs and restaurants were, and a massive, opulent shopping mall built over the site of a former toxic waste dump (really). If you haven’tve ever been through such a town, imagine Bridgeport, CT or Allentown, PA with a Café Wha? right next to the welfare office and there you have Syracuse.

I never could understand the malaise the locals had towards the students. After all, the university was the highlight of the town, and the students brought business. I’d like to believe that the isolated, staid culture that hung over the cities along in the lee of Lake Ontario—Syracuse, Rochester, Oswego—were a result of the muting consequence of “lake-effect weather” which drove everybody indoors for the better of a year. Cold rains in the spring, stuffy air in the summer and perpetual swirling snowstorms around the New Year. The winters were eternally grey, a steel-colored sky that casted its pall over the town starting at Halloween and eventually dissipating come Easter. The snow and ice would hang in the air, never really collecting. It was like being stuck inside a snow globe, minus the whimsy. Due to the climate—social and otherwise—the lack of hospitality from the townies rendered the college scene an entity unto itself, cards held close to the chest, a bulwark against the willful hostility and decidedly xenophobic residents of the Salt City. Maybe it was the notions of the locals that the students came from a monied background and thought they were somehow better than the locals (who had been suffering from economic damage for decades, the city slowly going under while the college thrived). Jealousy. Maybe that and there were a lot of non-white people being deposited into the community courtesy of fall enrollment every August. I dunno.

In any event, partially due to the influx of new faces from across the country (and often from across the globe), Syracuse generated a certain literary-minded quality. A lot of noteworthy writers had strolled though the college and surrounding community over the years. Raymond Carver, Tobias Wolff, William Safire, Joyce Carol Oates and Shirley Jackson to name a few. Even Stephen Crane attended classes at SU once (but he never did graduate). The place was a quiet hotbed of would-be and sometimes successful writers and journalists, and the snow-weary brick homes around the school had the air of quiet desperation that comes with the mostly solitary act of writing. Salad days or no, my times and explorations at SU allowed me a certain degree of youthful woolgathering, dreaming of the day when I would be a published author, living in a quiet brick house with a solid oak door, roaring fireplace, and Friday evenings with the local literary elite. The residential parts of town had the romantic air of JD Salinger somewhere barricaded against the wintery weather and open hostility of the general public to hunker down over the typewriter and write for his own pleasure, and no other audience.

Salad days, remember? Despite the grey—or maybe because of it—my imagination grew fallow, green at Syracuse. It was only the naïveté of English students such as myself that created such a romantic, unrealistic view of a dumpy burg with a killer philosophy department. Seems that I wasn’t alone in my mind’s eye. Such fanciful notions seemed to have rubbed off on Adult World’s writer Andy Cochran and director Coffey…

Virginal college grad Amy (Roberts) is a fledgling poet, already entrenched in both the starving artist schtick and a need for a “real job.” Problem is, apart from hundreds of rejection letters for the various publications that have been stuffing the mailbox, there aren’t any real job prospects in Central New York for a budding rhymester. Her parents aren’t having a hard time reminding her of the thousands of dollars of student loan debt that’s been racked up, so since push has come to shove, and Amy’s prospects are slim, she better find some source of real income soon…or else.

Dragging her ass home one night after an abortive house party, Amy stumbles upon an abandoned car stuffed full of tattered books (of all things). She absently snatches a hardcover at random from the pile. In her hands is a copy of poetry written by one Rat Billings (Cusack). After thumbing through the book, Amy realizes that she has discovered her muse. Rat’s writings are just what she has always aspired to create. Now, if only she could meet the actual man…

Wait! He’s local! Time to get stalking.

But before she stars her quest, there’s that little matter of personal finance to tackle. After unsuccessfully trying to get a legit job (turns out there just aren’t many opportunity for majors in poetry out there than Amy hoped to believe), she happens on a dumpy shop with a HELP WANTED sign in the window. What the hell. Inside she discovers, to her horror, that the joint is an adult sex shop. XXX videos. Spank books. Anal beads. Hot cocoa. The place has it all. It’s called Adult World, imaginatively enough, and the kindly co-owner Mary Ann (Leachman) is delighted that a college grad would take interest in the position (better than some slacker high school snot). Amy balks at first, but a job is a job—and it doesn’t hurt that the friendly assistant manager Alex (Peters) is easy on the eyes—so, again, what the hell.

Back to the stalking: turns out that Rat is a reclusive writer, not to mention (surprise!) a misanthrope and a cynic. No matter to Amy; Rat’s doing a book signing town, and here’s the perfect opportunity to plumb the mind of a real, published poet, albeit a minor one. We’re not talking Sylvia Plath here. But his work spoke to her, which is a shade more compelling than meeting the needs of the losers who queue up at Adult World for the latest video releases and a jar of Vaseline. Maybe Rat’ll converse with her. Maybe he’ll read her poetry. Maybe he’ll give her some help, some constructive criticism. So bowled over by her raw talent, maybe he’ll take her his wing as a protégé!

Maybe he’ll tell her to go take a flying leap…

Adult World is a movie described by an adjective I have never used here at RIORI: charming. Sure, the movie is derivative, predictable and Roberts’ acting can get really annoying, but Adult World feels greater than the sum of its parts. Feels mind you, not is. It’s a polite, pleasant film with a few laughs, a great setting (regardless of my bias), and an easygoing pace. It’s quietly engrossing in its own way, kinda like when you’re stoned and find yourself staring at a strawberry for over an hour. You don’t feel like your wasting time watching the movie, but 90 minutes slip by regardless when you could’ve been doing something more productive. Like the strawberry would have waited for you.

But Adult World does indeed have its charms. The movie slipped under the radar upon its release in 2013. It saw a few reviews, mostly mixed. The only real highlight of the film that both audiences and critics alike picked up on was John Cusack’s performance as Rat. Now I have been a Cusack fan ever since adolescence, and not just because of his breakthrough role as Lloyd Dobler in …Say Anything (ah yes, the iconic boombox/Peter Gabriel scene. Often imitated but never duplicated, which launched the ships of many a cheesy teen romcom). I’m no snob when it comes to films. Not really, despite my endless polemics here at RIORI. I loved Cusack’s salt mine years with such goofy throwaways in the 80’s like Better Off Dead and One Crazy Summer (both live-action cartoons, really. Summer had the delightful kooky cast of a very young Demi Moore, Curtis “Booger” Armstrong and unhinged, screechy comedian Bobcat Goldthwaite chewing scenery. Not to mention Cusack’s bit part in Sixteen Candles. All classics). In those trifles, Cusack honed his loveable loser persona. Awkward, earnest, often innocent and sometimes snarky, he had this endearing quality that one hoped transferred to real life. I’m not certain if Cusack is a dick in real life; I hope not.

Anyway, people argued for the fact that Rat Billings was the best role Cusack’s had in years. This is true. After shuffling through big-budget clunkers like 2012 and The Raven, (there was a little gold in there with Hot Tub Time Machine. Very little), Cusack seemed better as playing minor roles. Not necessarily as an actor but as low-key characters, self-effacing and sincere. I mean, all of the characters in Adult World are stereotypical, interchangeable ciphers, but since Cusack’s acting has always been kind of fluid (albeit in that signature hangdog way), his placement in the film seems just right. It’s not as if the role stretched him as an actor, but instead it played to his strengths and in turn fell right at home here.

This can’t be said of winsome, perpetually 16 year old Roberts. Her Amy is banal, annoying and pigeonholed into your average wide-eyed college student as can be. Seems here that Roberts is attempting to shed her skin of her CV of dreadful tween flicks (better so than We’re the Millers). She’s doing it without resorting to being sordid like an adult Lindsey Lohan. Adult World is a far cry from Hotel for Dogs, but Roberts is just too innocent and naïve to play, well, innocent and naïve. Amy is a stereotype, and not a terribly convincing or relatable one at that. And the starving artist deal has been done countless times before, and with a lot better results. Roberts plays naïve to the hilt, and it gets kinda tiresome.

Adult World has a goofiness one can find endearing. But it also has all the familiar trappings of indie films over the past 25 years, set to the de rigueur quirky soundtrack. This is a cut-and-paste kind of affair, and you can apply whatever redeeming values you have toward the film as you can conjure up. Adult World isn’t breaking any new ground here. I don’t think that was Coffey’s aim. This is a movie designed to be seen in the early evening with a date as a prologue to a cuppa at the local coffee shop, but not any notions of carnality in the future. Still, for all its Central New York blah, Adult World is entertaining, if only to see Rat grumble and ward off the spunky Amy who is so (predictably) blinded by art that she fails to register she sells dildos to make ends meet. Huh, that might be the story of hundreds of recent college grads who walked away with a degree in poetry. Or English and Critical theory. Or architecture for that matter.

I was trying not to view Adult World with the friendly, blurry eyes of nostalgia. I know the story takes place on my old stomping grounds, and it’s easy to confuse memory with actuality. The movie does carry a predictable meter, but somehow retains it charms. Must be the dialogue. That and Cusack’s “comeback” performance (OMG. Rat was me in college. Now I have to learn to hate myself. I’m comfortable with that). You see a lot of the story coming, but it’s a laid-back trip, which makes for a relaxing stroll around the grimy streets of Syracuse to take in the local lack of color. Who knows? Adult World might give you a hankering for a visit to Syracuse to check out its small, literary underworld. There are a lot of homes that look like Rat’s digs.

Just don’t say you’re from the college. Your accent would give you away and you’d just receive unfriendly stares and a face full of snowballs. Even if it’s June.

The Verdict:

Rent it or relent it? Rent it, if only as a lark. Adult World has been done before, and with more verve, but if you’ve missed the Cusack of old, here he is.

Stray Observations:

  • Suicide by electric oven. Yeah, it doesn’t work that way.
  • “There’s a lot of kiwis…”
  • That’s the director Scott Coffey as the bookstore owner. He kinda looks and acts like a college bookstore owner, don’t he? Must be the haircut.
  • “Have sex with me.” “No.”
  • I think I need a graph like that. Some things coffee cannot exorcise.
  • “Don’t take my napkins!”
  • Holy sh*t. I’ve eaten in that restaurant. The place was mediocre, but it had great lighting.
  • My wife and I used to kiss like that. I guess I better get back to that novel.

Next Installment:

Commercialized music got you down? Can’t find a place to hear all your favorite indie rock songs? Hate Katy Perry? You should start yourself your very own Pirate Radio station!