RIORI Vol 3, Installment 59: Jon Favreau’s “Cowboys And Aliens” (2011)


Cowboys & Aliens


The Players…

Daniel “James Bond” Craig, Harrison “Han Solo” Ford, Olivia “that hot chick from House” Wilde, Sam “Justin Hammer of SHIELD” Rockwell and Clancy “Mr Krabbs and/or Kurgen” Brown, with Keith Carradine, Paul Dano, Adam Beach, Noah Ringer and Abigail Spencer.


The Story…

An amnesiac gunslinger stumbles into the Wild West town of Absolution, where he’s confronted by two potent adversaries. One is Boss Dolarhyde, a ruthless cattle baron who holds the town in sway, and God help anyone who crosses him or his family.

The other is invading aliens from outer space.

Wait, what?


The Rant…

Me and sci-fi movies have been buddies for decades. Ever since I caught ET back when I was six in the theatre I felt the nip and took its hand. It’s regarded as a classic now, but back then it was a gamble for both Spielberg and an S/F crowd raised on nasty aliens bent on world domination. Now Steve struck a poignant nerve with his prior S/F epic, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. That flick illustrated that Spielberg knew a thing or three about aliens being messengers of benevolence, fostering communication between worlds for the greater good. Only Robert Wise’s classic The Day The Earth Stood Still topped Encounters when it came to addressing such a concept.

Smart stuff.

ET wasn’t much different than Encounters, if not in execution than in tone. Also about communication and understanding ET was a lot less heady than Encounters, and perhaps more accessible to the mainstream. That may explain why back in ’82 ticket takers at the local megaplex had to wear riot gear for fear of getting trampled by overly eager crowds to see if the alien critter got home (to say nothing of Reeses’ Pieces sales at concessions). The crowds in the early 80s dug S/F flicks, a genre once maligned as being puerile at best and mouth-breathing at worst. But thanks to Star Wars: A New Hope, folks came in droves to S/F movies, appetites whetted by not only Hope (or simply Star Wars back then, before Lucas went bonkers), the aforementioned Encounters, the gothic, terrifying Alien, technically the original Superman film (Kal-El was from off-world y’know), Disney’s first PG film, the dark and sinister The Black HoleStar Trek made it to the big screen—for good and for ill. My kingdom for an editor—and heck, even 007 went into space with the loveably goofy Moonraker. Virtually all of these ventures, big and not so big alike, had success with the whole ticket sales thing. Some even got a little critical notice. It looked like for the most part S/F movies were getting their due. The geeky shadow they cast (barring 2001: A Space Odyssey. That one always gets a pass. Do not dispute me) wasn’t so scary as before. Believe it or not, although ET was the culmination of S/F movies as thoughtful and smart, Hollywood (still) wasn’t convinced of it not being a turkey. Unsure if the muddled masses could take in the story of a castaway alien “so ugly it’s cute” stranded in Levittown with his pet/guru human. Word has it the whole wad worked, quite well, and kicked John Carpenter’s sharp remake of The Thing—you know, the one with the vile, shapeshifting, un-cute alien that engulfed its victims and assumed their identities in an arterial spray of gore and puke. Good sh*t—out of the multiplex faster than you could say, “I thought you were dead.”

All of that smart stuff.

And when S/F is thoughtful and smart, we’re best buds. Thick as thieves. Pick my brain and stretch my imagination, please, cute and not cute critters regardless. Although I’m rather choosy about what S/F movie I feel like subjecting myself to, truth be told it’s always been like how RIORI operates: a gamble. There are those films that are required viewing in the genre, unimpeachable without a roll of the dice. 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, Forbidden Planet, Star Wars: A New Hope, Planet Of The Apes (sans Marky Mark), The Day The Earth Stood Still (minus Keanu), Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (excluding that wiry chick from Burn Notice/Scent Of A Woman, whichever you saw first), etc. There are scores more we could name, and despite the arched brow the masses often give the genre, it’s been a popular if not profitable one for over a century. A good example? Remember Voyage To The Moon? ‘Course not. You were barely an itch in your granddady’s crotch, but that novelty was technically a sci-fi flick. With pretty cool costumes for the time. 1902 to be exact. Film dork me.

Just being a smart-ass there. Breathe.

However did you notice that a few selections of the new wave of S/F flicks back then didn’t really cut the mustard in the “smart” department? It’s like the whole Highlights For Children “What’s Wrong With This Picture?” feature. One of these things is not like the other. No one could argue that Moonraker was intelligent, nor The Black Hole being a thinly veiled Biblical morality tale featuring obnoxiously cute robots with Disney eyes to boot. And Star Trek‘s leap into the void? Three words: creaky and dull. Hey, you can’t always shoot for the stars and not expect to miss the sun. Your shot may end up in a black hole. Sorry.

Let’s face it. Despite all the boundary breaking from back in ’82 my film buddy—how can I say this without have the ACLU come down on me like a ton of bricks for being “insensitive”—often rides the short bus. For every sharp S/F flick out there dozens—maybe hundreds—of wampa dung lurking in the shadows waiting to malign the genre ever further. Such may lay claim to some whiz-bang, crazy F/X, improbability factor looming large and just can’t wait to be committed to celluloid and be just plain dumb. I suspect a lot of directors who get handed the reigns to an S/F script assume all bets are off.  The wild flying monkeys trapped in my brain will finally have their voices heard! Call Scarlett!

Such bets often are off. Way off. We’re talking Saturn 3 off. Precious few filmmakers understand the golden gift of opportunity that fate and investors have bequeathed to them with an S/F project. Existentialist musings and the need for us all to communicate and better ourselves. Funk dat. It’s time for splatter and little matter. Just gimme that budget/wheelhouse and let’s see what sings beyond the blue horizon. Bring on the dancing blue horses.

Always wanted to wedge “bequeath” into this blog somehow, sometime. Scratch another one off the bucket list. Again, Mister smart-ass. What else did you expect?

Still, I have to wonder in light of too many dopey, misguided S/F movies made at the hands of some dopey, misguided director that if my pet film genre will forever smolder in the Seventh Level. I might have mentioned this prior (in fact I know I have) but it takes a sharp filmmaker to understand S/F ain’t all about aliens, spaceships and trying to convince us that Daryl Hannah can act. Well it’s not just that. Like all films, S/F is about stories, and about the human factor in particular. Standouts like 2001 was existentialism incarnate, not the Monolith doing its thing. Noted otherwise Michael Bay’s The Island was not about existentialism. It was about motorcycle chases, ripping off an even sh*ttier movie and forever chasing the butterfly that is Scarlett Johannson as a competent actress. Trust me, I saw both movies. Guess which one left tissue scarring?

(That smarts.)

In any event, my drunken wingman has had such a sh*t rep for so long it comes as only natural for the rabble to throw up their collective arms and shrug, “What the f*ck. This Lucy flick stars Scarlett what’s-her-tits. It’ll do.” Smart, thoughtful S/F is few and far between, and it only gets press when it’s smart and thoughtful. That and the CGI is used to enhance, not drive.

Yeah, yeah. Bitch, bitch. Welcome to my worldview. You made the hit and stuck around. Who’s the bigger dunce? Who’s so whip-smart here?

I call dibs, because I’m going to contradict myself…now!

Ignoring my preaching, sometimes we indeed do need a dumb, fun, socially non-redeeming S/F film to roll down the pike and goofily explain what a pike exactly is beyond an oversized spear and then get a cream pie to the puss. Dumb stuff, guilty pleasures, crap you’d be rather embarrassed to be caught watching and immediately hitting eject and slamming disc one of the remastered first season of Star Blazers. That kinda thing in the S/F world. Here’s a few trifles of questionable sci-fi, if only mentioned to explain why it took me until 18 to know what a bare breast felt like: Event HorizonLifeforce, Meteor, Outland (both starring Sean Connery! Joys aplenty!), Supernova and The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension. All choice schlock recommended by yours truly. Not the groping part, but yeah. All of them things are pure, dumb S/F fun, essential viewing as any Lucas-fueled phantasmagoria. Have I ever led you wrong before?

Shut up.

But what really constitutes “dumb fun” in S/F? It isn’t just moronic plots, hammy acting and laughable effects. Although those things help, I think the ace in the hole to ridiculous, head-slapping, MST3K-worthy material is a complete and utter lack of plausibility.

Huh? What’s that you say? It’s S/F. All of that truck is implausible. Alien life? That was a weather balloon. Interstellar travel? We can get only as far as the moon. Artificial intelligence? Um, does Siri count?

No, no, no. Chill. Have a cuppa. Shut the f*ck up. What makes good S/F work are a canny handling of the said human factor and (you guessed it) the barest scintilla of plausibility. I’m not saying that what’s depicted in most S/F movies could come to be. Alright, to be fair 2001 is very plausibleand if you consider the Star Trek franchise (old and new) who knows if we won’t be hoppin’ galaxies in 400 years? Those two examples stand out in the pantheon of S/F movies because it lends a feeling of “Huh…” to the audience, as if considering, “Well, what if?” or, “Hey, why not?” For example, it’s no coincidence that Chief Engineer LaForge of the Enterprise-D kept tabs on sh*t using a touchscreen tablet (it’s called a PADD in TNG parlance) and 20 years later in the real world we’re all toting iPads and/or Galaxies. A good example of plausibility in the perhaps not too distant made flesh. Digital. Smart tech. Whatever.

We’re not talking about that here. We be talking, “Oh, come on!” with laughs all around. Utterly unbelievable sci-fi gobbledygook and all its brain-melting glory. It’s vital now and again for any die-hard S/F fan, or regular Joe for that matter. Gotta have the bitter with the sweet to best taste the difference and spit or swallow. There ya go.

Okay. We’ve beaten that horse into glue. Horse sense maybe, or just horse smarts. How smart are horses anyway? Ever see how they behave in westerns? All it takes is a well placed sugarcube and water it won’t drink when you show it to them.

Right.

What does all this gibberish about good ‘n dumb S/F over thoughtful and provocative all mean here anyway? I mean, we get the whole “so bad it’s good” concept, but what am I really yammering about? Is it a retread of the lesson about in order to appreciate the good you gotta have some…I said that already? Well it’s still true. At it’s core, like all genres, S/F is meant to entertain. However unlike other, more mainstream films the genre demands—I mean demands—almost total commitment to suspension of belief with just enough wiggle room to allow “Huh..” When this precious balance is upset in watching S/F movies, the results can be disastrous, to both mind and body. I mean, c’mon, MASH was one of the most misguided S/F movies ever…

What?

Oh. Huh. Well as a S/F epic, that thing sucked on toast. Sure was funny, though. Riotous even. Like this week’s vaunt into the void.

Now draw…


Arizona. The late 1800s.

You wake up in the middle of the desert. No shoes, no ride, no memory. All you have is the shirt on your back, a mouthful of sand and a weird manacle affixed to your wrist. And it doesn’t want to come off. Where were you?

You make your way to a frontier town called Absolution in search of provisions, a bath and who the f*ck you are. The first place you break in to is occupied by a concerned, rifle-weilding preacher named Meacham (Brown). Despite you have no recollection of this man—or anyone for that matter—he sure as sh*t knows who you are. By reputation alone, Meacham marks you as the infamous outlaw and thief Jake Lonergan (Craig) and gives you a warning about shacking up in Absolution. This here was once a proud mining town until the stock wore out. Now it’s Col Dolarhyde’s (Ford) personal playground, and f*ck all that gets in his way. If Meacham’s offering any absolution for your amnesiac circumstance it’s just don’t get mucked up with Dolarhyde family affairs.

Whatever. All you want is a bath and drink, not necessarily in that order. Also figuring how to get this screwy gizmo off your arm. It stings. Almost feels like what they call over the telegraph wires “electrical.” Anyway, booze.

Isn’t always the way? You’re just trying to unwind, have a drink, contemplate your non-circumstances when the local sheriff crashes in the bar—and a weird, sultry lady (Wilde) lurking behind—ready to string you up for being an outlaw you can’t remember being. Absolution is Dolarhyde’s town, as has no recourse for infamous criminals. In spite of Dolarhyde’s guerrilla tactics regarding civic responsibilities, you’re the dunce that gets dragged off to the pokey. It might’ve had something to do with besting the Colonel’s drunken son Percy (Dano) in the town square, but you suspect it has something more to do with your rep. That and being The Outsider.

You quickly discover that while rotting in chains you are nothing of an outsider compared to the marauders Dolarhyde’s been trying to stop for months. Slaughtering his herd, scorching his land and ransacking his gold mining operation the good Colonel and this thugs have been trying to ferret out of Absolution. You’re supposedly a vicious criminal and master thief with an infamous gang at your hand, and the ideal prime suspect in mucking about with Dolarhyde’s affairs. You might be the outsider all right, with a missing history, but at least you came from somewhere.

The real Outsiders are only not from Absolution, they’re not from around these parts at all. Quite literally.

So when the paddy wagon you’re chained in (and with the son of the local heavy that caused all your woes) gets set on fire from a barrage of some sort of controlled lightening shot from an airship no one has even seen the likes of before, you have to ask your amnesiac, troubled past, incarcerated self this:

How the hell did I end up here?…


Before we swoop in and take Cowboys & Aliens by the metaphorical horns (heh), I always feel compelled to point out a literal comic book adapted into a motion picture, usually regarding movies that the average, upstanding citizen did know was a comic book movie (e.g.: Bulletproof Monk, From Hell and, yes Cowboys And Aliens).

Usually these nuggets slip under the radar because of their weird and/or mature content. Sometimes they’re books adapted from lesser known publishers (seems DC and Marvel already have the lion’s share of promotion out there in La-La Land. Batman? Spider-Man? Perhaps you’ve heard of ’em). Sometimes they don’t play as “comic-booky” as the more popular films of their ilk (Kick-Ass anyone?). Sometimes they’re so oblique without a popular cache that you just watch and go, “Whatever. This’ll work.”

Okay, Cowboys does fall under the aegis of all these factoids. I admit I went into watching this with eyes wide shut about the movie’s origins, but I plucked it not so much for it falling under the auspices of The Standard. That, of course, was part of the autopsy, but what really piqued my interest about Cowboys had precious little to do with the dailies I used to scan back in my comic shop monkey days. No.

It was something I caught by accident on the History Channel. Back when they aired actual history, BTW. Those were the days.

The program was called UFO Hunters or something like that. Guess now it was the dry run for the immensely but not understandably popular series Ancient Aliens, the show that tackles the mysteries of the Nazca Lines up against incredible hairstyles. Similar to its progeny, Hunters investigated UFO happenings, then and now, from around the US (and sometimes in other countries) by way of the detective work, forensic science, and/or interviewing eyewitnesses. If none were available—read: dead—scouring the historic record served in a pinch. From the ep I caught, it was a pretty cool show, with none of the foaming histrionics that’s Ancient Aliens’ signature. That and the Greek guy’s impeccable, trapped in a wind tunnel coif.

The scene of the crime for the episode I got sucked into was Aurora, Texas, an nice little patch of nowhere in the Lone Star state just north of who cares and a little west of where are we? The town’s claim to fame (as well as the raison d’etre for the producers to film there, natch) was a report of a saucer crash that occurred so long back it became less of the historical record and more like a beloved urban legend. According to the show, the Aurora incident (nicknamed “Roswell, Texas”) was a bit of both. Stories naturally got scrambled over time, but one thing could be agreed upon by Aurora’s legacy: something fell out of the sky back then.

And back then was in 1897, a full fifty years before the Roswell Incident.

The details were hazy, and shifting to and fro by the locals, but the thing that was certain that an airship of curious design crashed and burned in Aurora and its crews’ remains appeared unlike anything on Earth. That’s right. There were passengers aboard that UFO. Some declared them as “not of this earth” if not “Martian” outright. The bodies were given a proper, Christian burial in the local cemetery of all things, but not before the rough-and-ready media swarmed Aurora for news of the strange airship from out of space and its alien visitors.

That’s the bulk of the tale. A close encounter of the third kind. Talk to Spielberg. But the devil’s in the details. After the crash there were tales of unusual properties regarding the metals used in the construction of the airship, radiation poisoning from improper disposal of the wreckage resulting in maladies in the locals as mundane as advanced arthritis to more serious like birth defects to…other things. No to mention that one of the bodies interred was an “infant.” It is to wonder and have that mousse at the ready.

I think the key thing to consider about the Aurora Incident is that the locals, back in 1897, had next to no concept whatsoever as to how to comprehend a flying machine. This was in the middle of nowhere. No proper airships crossed their clouds resembling anything like a steady schedule. The Wright Bros were to take flight only a mere 6 years after the incident, and even then the general public failed to believe their feat real. With photos no less. Yet the testimonies of Aurora’s denizens fell in line with your contemporary mass UFO sighting, proper burials notwithstanding. In short, no matter how rural, isolated and not-20th Century folks might’ve been, they knew that weird sh*t had rained down from space onto Aurora, and most of it was far from explicable. So call Robert Stack already.

Okay. What the f*ck does this MUFON wet dream have anything to do with “dumb, fun” S/F and this week’s pile? Glad you asked.

The movie Cowboys And Aliens was inspired by a graphic novel inspired by supposedly true events. Read: the Aurora Incident. Big surprise. Author Scott Mitchell Rosenberg once commented that his comic was inspired by what may or may have not happened in Aurora all those decades ago. If you took in what I intimated earlier, Rosenberg considered the ramifications of pre-Industrial age folk encountering technology and essentially a home invasion of the like they simply could not comprehend. I’m paraphrasing here, as well as taking great liberties with Rosenberg’s musings. Still, such a notion could be akin to the events relayed in the original Terminator or how a few of the key players in Seven Samurai got offed by gunfire rather than swordplay (or got offed at all). How does the average Joe and Jane wrap their minds about alien (so to speak) tech interrupting—if not disrupting—their everyday existence? By Rosenberg’s vision, not well. That doesn’t mean the incurring party takes it lying down, of course.

Such is the stuff of fun. Stand offs. Fisticuffs. Get off my land. As for the silly S/F factor? Uh, the movie’s called Cowboys And ALIENS in case you forgot. You did, didn’t you? You and yer Pokemon Go. Focus!

Funny thing though (almost retracting everything I said above), Cowboys was not dumb. It was pretty sharp actually. The concept may have been dumb and silly, but put into the proper perspective the thing had clear eyes.

The nifty thing about Cowboys is that it’s two movies in one. On one hand we got us the classic Western tropes. Mysterious drifter. Scowling bully that holds the hapless denizens of a dying town in his sway. Gunplay. Whiskey. All the essentials. They’re played out in the traditional fashion but lacking any corn that a less canny director than Favreau could not resist. All of Absolution is grim and gritty, worlds—if not light-years—away from some S/F plot with marauding alien invaders mining for REDACTED.

The first act plays out kind of like classic Eastwood “man with no name” Westerns. We have a grim anti-hero, past a mystery, handy with a gun and carrying a sense of purpose. The big difference is for most of the movie is that Jake’s past really is a mystery, and even though later the pieces fall back into place, that mystery drives a great deal of the tension in the tale. At least the existential part of it. If Jake and Co were immediately plunked into extra-terrestrial hijinks there’d be no human drama, and Cowboys would swiftly mosey (if you can do that) into the overwhelming fast and stupid S/F I cautioned about before.

This whole setup surprised me, though. Well, I kinda knew what I was in for with a movie called Cowboys And Aliens. It starred James Bond and Indiana Jones. Jon Favreau—who helmed Iron Man, Zathura and the latest incarnation of The Jungle Book—knew a trick or ten about directing spectacles without processing them into rancid Velveeta. It was based on a graphic novel (heard that’s a safe gamble nowadays for movie fodder). Having human drama paired with only essential Western devices as launchpad into some space swashbuckling would usually lead into cinematic giblet gravy, and the reason I thought that (or at least took pause) was while I read the opening credits. I really do that by the way. I still don’t know what an ACE is.

The screenwriter/producers for Cowboys were the infamous glimmer twins of less-than-subtle S/F and fantasy flicks: Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. A true mixed blessing. I’ve mentioned in the past for my fondness of Fringe, that warped X-Files meets Twilight Zone hybrid that Mr Spock occasionally popped up in. That show was good, but their other efforts were often received with ambivalence. The Star Trek reboot (which Mr Spock also occasionally popped up in) which was more about pyrotechnics and winking nods to Trekkies than drama. The seventh installment in the Star Wars franchise, The Force Awakens resulted in more questions than answers and even more plot holes. Lots of pyro and winking also. The manic Now You See Me, which went under the lens here at RIORI and I needing an Ativan after its viewing. Their sh*t can be mad entertaining, but as for nuance and grace, their sledgehammer-subtle concoctions can make for a grueling experience on the imagination—info dump upon info dump—and a need to have great patience, pay attention and try to keep up lest you miss something whizzing by at breakneck speed, which you need a crate of Red Bull at the ready because Adderall can get pricey.

Yeah, so these two lovable dunderheads penned Cowboys’ script. I repeat, I took pause at that. Then I crossed my fingers, recalling the best eps of Fringe and just shrugged, deciding to go with this and see where it went. The first thing I noticed after our hero crawls out of the desert is what the movie didn’t have. Not outright anyway. Knowing my Kurtzman-Orci track record I guessed the nasties from the great beyond would descend upon Arizona and start vaporizing cacti by the score before the bloody credits were over. Then Mr Spock would pop in.

Quite the other thing. The opening is gradual, the pacing is steady, there’s room to breathe and time to figure out what is up. We find our bewildered Jake marooned. We see him get into scrapes that suggest his troubled past. We get him to Absolution—a town name as subtle as a fart at a funeral—where he comes to a crossroads and the pieces/mysteries start falling into place. All at the speed of mind. I thank Favreau for this. Like before, the guy has a talent for spectacle, but his directing allows breathing room. That comment about CGI enhancing rather than driving a S/F flick? There ya go.

Consider this the calm before the storm. Right, it being the type of movie it is, we’re gonna get some pyros eventually. What I dug about the action in Cowboys is that it’s almost exclusively Western-style. Barring the weird manacle that blasts lasers, Jake prefers his sidearm to do the talking. In actuality, its both in tandem, but the gunplay is straight out of the old West. That little bit is a good example of how Favreau’s lens works here. There’s a canny fusion of Western and S/F action playing through Cowboys.  The man with no name that everyone knows. The outlaw as the “chosen one” in a greater, world-bending scheme. The humans and the aliens feuding over the same property, and it isn’t plutonium. There’s a lot of stereotypes and tropes with both genres, but they get so bent and twisted Cowboys comes over as fresh and thrilling not eye-rolling and a burlap sack of yawns. As I am accused of saying way too damned often, it ain’t the notes, it’s how they’re played. By melding these two tried and true warhorses—so to speak—we got ourselves a pretty deft, if not unusual S/F caper. With whiskey.

And a crackerjack cast, too. Yeah, yeah. I’ve already dropped the alter-egos here, but separate the actors from their iconic roles and you’re in for a surprise: character acting! Neither Craig nor Ford are known for deviating from their signature styles. They’re not like, say, Paul Giamatti or Forrest Whittaker, whose roles and delivery roll with the tide. No. We know Craig as tough, smug and gruff. We know Ford as tough, funny and gruff. We know Wilde as willowy and rather wooden. Um, as far as Cowboys‘ principal players roll, two out of three ain’t bad.

Craig’s Jake is tough, sure. He’s a gunslinger, first line of the CV. He’s also vulnerable, with no memory of his past and reminded of something he’s supposed to remember strapped to his wrist. Walking contradiction, and also shouldering this feeling of malaise that he deserved whatever has happened to him. This later dissolves into having the holes plugged (it’s almost inevitable), but while we get there we have a protag that is scared, fragile and despite carrying a piece is unlike any prominent role Craig has had before. Okay, maybe Mr X in Layer Cake comes close, but really can you picture Bond riddled with angst? Not for an entire picture. Maybe that’s why Craig looks so gaunt here. Well, that and being stranded in the desert.

Ford was having some fun here as the despotic Col Dolarhyde. Playing the baddie, the heavy, chewing it up. Folks are accustomed to Harry playing rapscallions and rough-and-tumble heroes, often possessing an air of insecurity and/or reluctance. Han didn’t want to get mucked up in the Rebellion. Indy just wanted to go on a cool expedition, not mess with Nazis. President Marshall just wanted Gary Oldman to get off his plane (who wouldn’t?). Virtually all of Ford’s roles have been him reacting to something, not being pro-active. It’s worked. But getting the opportunity to play the bad guy? A vicious cattle baron whose name is quivering fear on all the locals’ lips? Boy howdy does Ford do a fun job, all growly and menacing and ruthless with his enemies. One wonders why Ford didn’t try this schtick before? You can only run away from so many snakes before becoming one. That almost made sense. Quick with a gun, with a threat and an ultimatum, very few actors could pull off this 180 Ford did in such a fun way.

Wilde is kind of creepy here. It suits her enigmatic character, but let’s call a spade a shovel: the girl is eye candy. She’s stiff, she’s not natural, she overreaches. Again, it mostly works here considering her role. It just isn’t particularly enjoyable. Sure, she’s purty, but that’s where all her presence lies. This can be traced all the way back to he salt mine years up against cantankerous Hugh Laurie in House. Come to think of it, didn’t her character only made it onto Greg’s team because of her looks? Foreshadowing? Regardless of whatever, wedged between Craig and Ford, Wilde gets lost in the shuffle.

Besides the action sequences of scary, ravaging aliens and hell bent for leather outlaws Cowboys had oodles of tech points that were not only winning but essential to movie’s mood. Like I said before, we’re dealing with Western tropes here, so if there are going to be stereotypes they better be good, attentive, substantial ones.

There are, breathe easy. What Western would be complete without a convincing setting (at least as far as what we expect to see in a Western)? Right. A backlot. Not here in Cowboys. The landscapes are sweeping and stunning demanding our attention, “Damn, we’re in God’s country.” Big sky and exposed, the whole county screams isolation with only mere handfuls of folks trying to live. Looks like a good place where no one will look for a good place. Great cinematography is all I’m sayin.’

Like most Westerns Cowboys‘ pace is rather slow. It can make it feel edgy. There’s always either been a big blow out in act one, scene one of a Western (e.g.: Silverado, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, etc) or some slow build to a super major blow out (e.g.: The Wild Bunch…’nuff said). Then we get a Western that creeps, builds, takes its time even in light of the urgency. Looks like Kurtzman and Orci took a few pages from the old playbook and put ’em to good work without rendering them in the summer blockbuster blender. Sometimes you can have an even hand and not show it right away without bumming out the audience. Oh, and the sh*t really picks up later so have that with a slice of cake.

There’s lots of nice touches through Cowboys (the surgeon scene is a good example) that make its world-building barely skirt the mindless S/F fun mark. This film isn’t mindless. It is chewing gum for your mind. You dig Western films? Good. You dig S/F films? Also good. You dig movies about alien invaders trying to wipe out the townsfolk of a remote mining village and the quickdraws band together in a Seven Samurai-esque union to take the freaks down? Very good. You want it all stupid or do you want it “stupid?” Keep working that gob in your jaw and all will be well in viewer land.

Cowboys plays with a clever, entertaining, stupid, serious fun. Its a weird movie, but of the best kind. Think Independence Day, but with horses. It’s such a wonky, if not schizo movie that you’ll swear you’re watching two separate films. But they fold over well with each other, and that’s nice. Two flicks for the price of one.

Oh, and it’s dumb, too. Sometimes you gotta put your Fellini away (cuz he never did S/F).


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. Cowboys is so freakin’ rife with all the goodies and baddies of both genres you’d have to be some sorry son of a bitch stick in the mud to not turn on, tune in and get yer mind a-chewin.’ Yee-haw.


Stray Observations…

  • “English.”
  • An interesting note: Wilde looks as if she’s wearing minimal makeup. Attention to period detail, or for some…other reason. Hmm.
  • “Give me your hand!” No.
  • The knife scene. Shades of classic Ford. We do miss them.
  • “God don’t care what y’are, son. Only who you are.” Best Hallmark card never written.
  • Of course the hat floats.
  • Ayahuasca. It works every time.
  • Nice shot, Doc. Nice shot.
  • “You’d better hurry.”

Next Installment…

Bob Dylan claims “I’m Not There” in his biopic. To a certain degree he’s right.


RIORI Vol 3, Installment 32: Howard Deutch’s “The Replacements” (2000)


Replacements one sheet


The “Players” (get it?)

Keanu Reeves, Gene Hackman, Brooke Langton, Orlando Jones, Jon Favreau, Rhys Ifans and Jack Warden, with Fazion Love, Ace Yonamine, Troy Winbush, David Denman and Michael Jace (plus John Madden and Pat Summerall, naturally).


The Story…

The Washington Sentinels have gone on strike, but the game must go on. Especially since the playoffs are a mere few weeks away. F*ck throwing in the towel, Sentinels’ owner Ed calls on and old coaching buddy of his, Jimmy to rally up some scabby troops and assemble a working team. Albeit a team of washouts, criminals, head cases, drunken soccer stars, former sumo wrestlers, a deaf halfback and of course a quarterback with a sketchy history.

Uh, maybe “working” is a relative term here.


The Rant…

Americans love an underdog story, especially in cinema. It’s a tried-and-true trope—gimmick is probably a better word—of having some misfit (or group of misfits) struggle against societal odds in a clumsy way only to later have THAT BIG MOMENT where everything bonks together and happily ever after pass the gravy. It’s an old story employed as long as the lifespan of your average Twinkie. Wholesome goodness.

The underdog story has also been played the f*ck out in Hollywood. It had its time, its moments. It even won an Academy Award or two (think Forrest Gump or the original Rocky) when done tastefully. But the underdog tale is a horrible cliche, run amok for way too many years at the multiplex. Sure, audiences never seem to get sick of the formula, but I consider that way of thinking and feeling in a stark contrast to how True Americans ultimately embrace—and eventually deject—the hardscrabble hero for a given, very short time frame. It’s happened before and sure as sh*t it’ll happen again. And again. And I hate you all.

The “American Dream” is based on a work hard/get ahead ethos. It usually also stems from the successful being borne into a meager existence. Folks like Abe Lincoln, JC Penney, Sir Richard Branson and even the McDonald brothers are good examples. The “humble beginnings” story is a delicious one in fiction, too. Including the two films above, you can probably name endless movies of this ilk; people overcoming great odds to becoming a success, with all the ups, downs and trappings that go along with it.

America laps this crap up, in the movies and other media outlets. We love to raise the underdog upon our shoulders in praise, and later toss them into the gutter when they get too successful, famous and eventually ubiquitous. The relationship sours. No surprise that Steve Jobs was lionized after the success of the iPod, iPhone, iBlender, etc only to be picked apart as some Machiavellian control freak when Apple replaced morality in the country. And after he died? Whoo boy, media field day. No wonder Wozniuk stayed in the basement.

Why is this? I mean, there are plenty of entrepreneurs et al that avoid this spin cycle. Ben and Jerry still make great ice cream, despite being retired but keeping their company’s charitable causes on point. No matter how pretentious the U2 guys get, they still keep their heads from getting relatively too far into the clouds and still release solid (not necessarily great) albums while being philanthropic. Even the late, hard-working Paul Newman kept his humility regarding his craft and his charities.

Does generosity have something to do with it? Work hard, get ahead, later share the wealth in a Carnegie sense? Avoid the egotistical muck that gets smeared all over Access Hollywood? Maybe. But the phenomenon of the underdog roller coaster persists notwithstanding. It’s almost as if Americans want to see their heroes fail. An ongoing cycle of schadenfreude. Praise Kanye at first and strip him to the bone later (even if he hadn’t invited it. Picking on poor, little Taylor. The nerve). Hell, you bought his f*cking albums already. Where do you think that bank account and ego come from, in that order? Blame yourself folks, and be patient for the next man on a white horse to ride into Hollywood.

What’s my point? None really. Does the underdog film appeal to us because of the above, heartwarming template? Does the opposite in reality stem from jealousy? Is it all just of us watching Springer? I’m no social critic—not professionally at any rate—but I think the underdog tale is a very vicarious one. Most of us wake up everyday feeling like a Tom Waits lyric, but hope later in the day we’ll write Rain Dogs. That’s why we put the album on.

I’m thinking the corruption of the underdog stems from said dog believing his or her own press. Enough people deify you, you’ll claim you wrote the Bible. Take for instance this pop culture example: we have two musicians. Both worked together. Both got terribly famous, wealthy and eventually revered for their work. When they parted ways and pursued solo careers, both maintained their cachets and appeal as music makers. Barring tragedy (one lost his wife to cancer, the other was killed), their legacies were secured, and integrity mostly intact. However one got a lot of sh*t for being outspoken while the other dodged most of the slings and arrows of universal fame for the remainder of his years.

One was Paul McCartney, the other John Lennon.

How did one get public grief while the other (barring dying young) mostly avoided the media mill post-Beatles? I don’t know. Best ask George Harrison…um, back in 99.

All right. Enough bullish*tting. Onto this week’s installment. Not sure if the ensuing torches and pitchforks are relevant to my ramblings, if only to reinforce that the underdog sports comedy is a warhorse beyond being bound for the Elmer’s factory.

Hell. Well anyway, it’s time for kickoff…


Pro athletes can be a fickle, spoiled lot. Even though they work hard getting pummeled on a weekly basis, one can’t ignore Bentleys going unpolished or mansions with two of the three pools with busted filters. They want more money; equal wages for equal time. And what’s that birdsh*t still doing on my digital sundial?!?

Strike, strike, strike.

The Washington Sentinels’ owner, Ed O’Neill (Warden) won’t have any of this pouting and pussing out. Playoffs are in a month, by God, and we’re gonna have a team to play. What to do?

Desperate times and all. Ed calls on his old coaching bud Jimmy McGinty (Hackman) for just the ticket. Jimmy’ll assemble a motley crew of players who don’t need their Maseratis detailed, Swedish masseuses on their glutes and stock indexes checked every time they fart. No. Jimmy’s got the action. Get hungry players; the guys who love football and wanna be champs, if only for a little while.

Ed’s wary of this. Who exactly does Jimmy have on his roster?

Well there’s Cliff Franklin (Jones), who can run like the wind and catch like a blind quadriplegic. We got insaniac cop Dan Bateman (Favreau) who lives to…hurt things. With some mild, legitimate pro sports experience there’s lushy, chain-smoking Welsh soccer star Nigel “The Leg” Gruff (Ifans). And our quarterback, the sullen, maybe cursed Shane Falco (Reeves) with a big chip and a long hangdog. They all wanna play bad. Maybe they’ll only just play bad. Either that or head back to their cells.

What could possibly go wrong?

Offsides


All right. I kind of knew what I was getting into when The Replacements arrived, and I wasn’t disappointed. This meant I expected to be disappointed, and the movie delivered.

Let’s forget most of the philosophizing from above for a few. Most of it. A lot of heady crap for a throwaway sports comedy, right? Disregarding my usual, subtle-as-neon social commentary, the whole underdog thing only works when the dog in question (or in the case of The Replacements, the whole pack) is fleshed-out. Rocky Balboa was a Regular Joe. Forrest Gump was “stupid.” Delta House were a bunch of losers. We know this why? Backstory and good characterization. The Replacements’ cast—although not boring. Stereotypical yes, but not boring—only comes across as half-baked. And not in the Jim Breuer sense either.

Back in the day (the late 70s to be exact) a underdog sub-genre took the cinemas by storm: the underdog sports comedy. It all started with the original Bad News Bears (I can’t believe I have to preface a title that way. Everything is being remade and rebooted at such a rate I can’t keep count let alone keep the sh*t in my queue), the ur-ne’er-do-well does well sports comedy, of course cast with insufferable imps that eventually grow on you. Bears was the gateway—for good or for ill—for movies like Slap Shot, North Dallas Forty, The Longest Yard and so forth. What made these retreads work was good characterization and a degree of wonkiness with the characters that made the show a decent one.

What made The Replacements tank was a dearth of consistently notable characters. The older films weren’t fun because they were underdog stories (although they were), rather the dogs in question were really f*cked up. Remember what I said about believable characters in film? They don’t have to be likable; they have to be relatable and interesting. I mean, the footballers in The Longest Yard were bloody convicts, before God (and forget the Sandler remake, please?). Not a lot of nice guys in those classic flicks (the National Anthem brawl in Slap Shot? Very patriotic), and the better for it.

Replacements major faux pas is setting us up with drab, stereotypical characters that are written to be likable. If you wanna have an underdog sports comedy, you need to have a cast of miscreants that get under your skin at first and gradually win you over. I’m not saying this as an absolute, but it worked pretty good in the past.

Maybe more simply, Replacements had boring, color-by-numbers characters.

This was quite the shame, too, since the eclectic cast was stellar and totally misused. If they all were better written their predictable stereotypes could have been more palatable. Even funny, if only on an inconsistent tilt.

The other major blight on this movie was it was totally formula in action here. I know, I know. Kinda alluded to that issue before. Just was girding myself for the slaughter waiting on my DVD player. I packed my rucksack well. Sure enough, I got me predictable dialogue, paper thin plot—muted, too, like the movie was bored with itself—its inevitable outcome and trying too hard to recreate the feel of those old skool sports comedies. Even my wife said it was boring, and she usually likes…movies not like this. So my disappointment was well prepped.

But here’s the hell of it: The Replacements was funny, if only in fits and sputtering starts. Despite being an obvious Major League rip-off (which oddly was a late-entry sports movie that worked), where that film’s silliness was inspired and a decent homage to its ancestors, almost everything in Replacements is rote and smelled like the crew was asleep at the wheel. If the few funny moments were buttered over the course of the movie we might’ve had a football Major League to enjoy. We didn’t.

I know. I’m slagging on this week’s travesty pretty hard. It took me three nights to finish it, I was that bored. But I gotta be fair, even a blind squirrel finds a nut with a chewy nougat center rolling around outside the multiplex once in a while. What few moments of funny were good, they were pretty damned amusing. Thankfully, almost inevitably these yuk-yuks came from the eclectic cast; they managed to extricate themselves once in a while from the corporate Hollywood mire now and then.

The biggest treat in The Replacements was Favreau’s maniac performance as…well, a maniac: the unhinged Dan Bateman. Prior to this movie, Favreau made his mark portraying lovable, schlumpy losers (e.g.: Swingers, Very Bad Things, PCU). Not here. His Bateman is a wild dog of a nut job, hamming it up and behaving like a toon out of Wacky Races. Sure, his character is a cipher, but sometimes you need a little chewing gum once in a while. Just go along with Favreau and roll your eyes.

Speaking of an actor being out of place with himself, how did Hackman get conned into this movie? I figure he just wanted to catch his breath and have some fun. If you consider Hackman’s fifty-plus year career, the man’s been riding on a sine wave of great films balanced against stuff like The Replacements. Most esteemed career actors have a CV that can get scattershot. I mean, Jimmy Stewart or Henry Fonda didn’t quit drilling once they hit oil. Once you thought their roll slowed down—bang—out popped a “comeback” role.

Not so with Hackman. Consistent peaks and valleys across the board. Yeah, Replacements was a valley, but still he delivered his best. His best just being Gene Hackman. The Conversation and/or Unforgiven The Replacements ain’t. Then again, that’s not a fair comparison (duh). What Hackman brings to this movie is Hackman. His work is like sex: when it’s good, it’s great. When it’s bad, its still pretty good. And I’d be hard pressed to think otherwise that the man was off on a goof here. I mean, look at the throwback Bear Bryant hat he’s sporting. A nodding wink, fer sure.

Despite the goofiness, Hackman and even Reeves maintain their cachet. Like I said in the Watcher installment, Keanu is a passive actor; everything happens to him and he initiates nothing. His Falco is no different. C’mon, he’s yanked back into the fray with reluctance. He’s riddled with doubt and under confident. He’s the primo underdog here (would that make him an omega dog? Nah, sounds like a reject from the X-Men). That being said, Reeves is in his element here, as usual. It ain’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s kind of comforting in a way, especially since he’s portraying a classic reluctant hero type here. It offsets the motley crew, begrudgingly highlighting them. When you got a heavyweight like Hackman and welterweight Reeves on the marquee, its easy to ignore the minor players. Unless you’re bored with the marquee.

That’s where I felt Jones and Ifans entered stage right. I spoke of my affinity for Ifans’ comic talent before, and it’s still intact here. He has got to be the best peacock plunked down into American cinema. I don’t know how he fares as a star in the UK on his own, but when cast in an American film his simultaneous fish-out-of-water/this is my pond (bitch!) attitude is both endearing and forehead slapping. I find he’s only funny when totally out of place against American actors. His incongruity as Gruff the “football” player clearly not belonging in the Yank camp shows off some knowing goofiness that landed The Replacements a simple Three Stooges feel. Ifans was a stooge of one, and that’s a complement.

Orlando Jones still thinks he’s on the set of MadTV here. His Franklin is a rubbery clown, and since seeing his versatility on television with his protean comic talents, I liked his Dangerfield-esque delivery in the movie. The only problem with his delivery in The Replacements is that you can’t appreciate it unless you base it against his work on MadTV. It’s kind of a detriment, and otherwise his Franklin is just another nervous Nelly. His performance well illustrates the schizo nature of the film: The Replacements can be an amusing film, so long as there’s some context, like with Ifans. Or Hackman. Or even Love, for Pete’s sake. You really shouldn’t have to do homework to appreciate those guys’ efforts with ha-ha.

I guess that’s the biggest issue with The Replacements. You shouldn’t have to try and find the funny here. Gaging that, it ultimately comes down to not the underdog schtick, the prickly casting or the derivative plot. I walked into all of that sh*t with eyes wide open. No. You shouldn’t have to study a dumb comedy to figure out what to laugh at. Eyes wide open I knew what to expect. I didn’t think it was going to be so hard to understand why.

The Replacements is a hollow affair, and the actors clash violently against a tried-and-true plot device. The movie was an exercise in desperate tedium, baiting yours truly with precious few chunks of comic gold. Yet it still supplied the warm fuzzy that accompanies an underdog sports comedy. Christ, it was exhausting.

So was this installment. File it under unnecessary roughness.

Oh, shut up. I’m tired and you’re ugly.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Relent it, but with reservations. Huh? I know. There’s some nuggets here amongst the silt. The Replacements is a lazy Saturday afternoon movie, one designed to get you away from the Internet porn and lawn darts for a bit. I sure wouldn’t pay the the 30 cents to download it though.


Stray Observations…

  • What’s up with the soundtrack? It’s both out of place and eerily appropriate. Here’s a movie made in the 00s with an 80s-flavored soundstripe. I kinda dig it.
  • “By Welsh standards.”
  • Nice boots there.
  • “Thunderstruck!”
  • He we have Jon Madden at his most sedate.
  • “You’re late.” “Car trouble.”
  • Admittedly, the “I Will Survive” bit in holding best showcased Jones’ comedic talents.
  • “Nothin’ like a good bar brawl. Avoid them at all costs.” So that’s what I did wrong.
  • This is a PG-13 movie straining to be an R. The MPAA lost here.
  • “Let’s play football, bitch.”

Next Installment…

Hey. Wouldn’t accidentally traveling back to Medieval France disrupt history’s Timeline? Not to mention Paul Walker’s credibility as a bankable actor? Ces’t la vie.


RIORI Vol. 3, Installment 4: Jon Favreau’s “Chef” (2014)


ChefPoster


The Players…

Jon Favreau, Emjay Anthony, John Leguizamo and Sofia Vergara, with Scarlett Johannson, Bobby Cannavale, Robert Downey, Jr., Oliver Platt and Dustin Hoffman.


The Story…

When chef Carl Casper simultaneously cracks up and hits career arrest, he looks around at the debris of his life and figures to pick up the pieces and start from scratch. To his surprise—and reluctance—he finds he’s not going it go it alone. When his estranged son comes to the fore, both literally and figuratively, he jogs Carl’s memory why he got into the biz in the first place: to make people happy.


The Rant…

As I have pointed out here at RIORI before, I make my living as a professional cook. If anyone has read such chef’s memoirs as Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential or Marco Pierre White’s The Devil in the Kitchen, then you know the life of a chef is rife with tales of melodrama, hardship, idiocy, elation, inebriation, dark humor, exhaustion and a multitude of adjectives that’ll make the regular schmo ask, “Why the f*ck would anyone do this for a living?”

I’m not quite sure myself.

This week’s installment tackles a story that is a distillation—a “greatest hits” if you will—about all the chaos and creation that it is to work as a chef in a high-end, high-pressure restaurant, and the fallout when things go all pear-shaped. And then and all the bullsh*t and ballyhoo that follows. Chef got it mostly right, albeit in a cursory sense, and if Bourdain and White experienced enough nuttiness to make books about the profession, you can be sure as eggs is eggs that all cooks carry around their own tales of grue.

*drum roll*

I sure do. Here’s mine.

It’s a long one, far longer than the trip I took you on with the Control piece (vol, 2 , installment 26). Real long. I’m takin’ you into the belly of the beast. In any case, I’ve found that my readers have become increasingly patient (bless you), and allowed me some indulgence. Besides, all blogs wish to take their readers into the center of the mind. In sum, I’m really gonna blog out here, fer reel this time. Well, here we go, and again thank you. Once more, I insist you double-check your restraints. It is a very long ride. Probably longer than the cinematic flaying proper.

You sure you wanna keep reading? I’m warning you.

Really?

Okay. Don’t say I didn’t caution you. And, yes, I plan to eventually dissect this week’s movie also. Promise.

Light years ago when I was in culinary school, I spent six hours, five days a week in class and up to 8 hours, five nights a week slogging it out in a small seafood place on the line. The restaurant was a kind of bistro called a brasserie, which is basically a beer and wine bar that happened to also serve dinner. The clientele were way off kilter to give much a sh*t about the menu when they veered off course and bumped onto a four-top. Most of the regulars were the chef’s (drinking) buddies, so the place exuded a kind of retarded atmosphere akin to Cheers, minus classy dudes like Norm and Cliff.

The kitchen itself was the size of a matchbook. The walk-in was the dimensions of a phone booth. We didn’t even have proper dry storage; all our sundries were kept in the stairwell. It was stuffy, noisy, and lit with fluorescents so harsh it would peel your skin off. It paid peanuts and deprived me of much-needed rest and oxygen to attack class the next day. It was nice gig.

Well.

One day in class, my buddy Ralph addressed us fellow students that the restaurant where he was staging was going to hold their annual big Xmas banquet, and the chef would be grateful for any of us probies to come in and help prep for the big weekend. My schedule was relatively clear. I was part-time at Cheerless, known to be a newb student and therefore chattel and expendable. To put this into perspective about labor relations at my bistro, our dishwashers were on work-release, and yet still known to be unreliable no-shows. On more than one occasion an “Officer” would stroll in and do the Det. Munch thing with the boss. Besides, my boss was relatively sympathetic to any of my culinary school demands, so I managed to get to volunteer along with a pair of other guys. Little did I know then, but that was the start of my real culinary career. Kale not withstanding.

The place was quaintly called the Farmhouse. It was a smallish, white tablecloth restaurant that had once indeed been a farmhouse (the original barn on the property had been renovated to hold wedding receptions and the like). The place had a stellar reputation; one of the finest restaurants in the area, with a wine and beer list that put to shame my place’s meager offerings. The bar wasn’t the only aspect of the place that garnered attention. The Farmhouse based its fare—with a certain amount of modest pride—exclusively on a seasonal, sustainable menu and using local purveyors for its proteins and produce. You know, the whole “buy fresh, buy local” campaign that’s been so hot over the past few years? The Farmhouse had been following this practice since its inception. Back then, which wasn’t so much “then,” such practices were cutting edge. It was enough to get the chef of the Farmhouse the front page of the local lifestyle magazine as “Chef of the Year” back in 2007. It was big deal in our parts, since before there was no room in the local rags to even honor any chef, let alone the chef. Recall I was raised in a community that was last on the list to get Web access. 56k, no less.

Coincidentally, I had already been introduced to this bastion of contemporary cooking via my school’s semesterly “guest chef” week. Five days out of the program were given wholly up to the chosen chef and his crew to run the school’s kitchen with us students doing menial tasks. At the end of the final day, the host chef and we slaves were tasked to bang out a million covers for guests at the school’s public restaurant, all waiting on baited breath with us rubes working the line. It went well. It always went well with our instructors keeping point. But for me, I wasn’t around. I had to skedaddle off to my corner of the restaurant world (as did a few of my fellow working-class dolts) and miss the fireworks. We had our own fires to tend, as well as make sure our rent was paid on time.

But about a month before this trying week, the guest chef held hold a seminar for the would-be graduating class. It was mandatory attendance. Regardless of your sched out of class and onto work, attendance was mandatory. It also was a passive way that I was introduced to my future mentor.

Before I knew the guy as the guy—let’s call him Mike—he was obviously a chef. Not just wearing the whites, but he had this nervous demeanor about him—especially when he spoke; I guess he wasn’t much for public speaking—that screamed two things. One, he knew his sh*t and was eager to share what he knew in hopes to turn diners on to what he was all about. Two, he’d rather not be anywhere else than  away from the kitchen. I later caught a glimpse of this in the school’s kitchen right before his crew took over and I took off to my belated shift at the bistro. But in front of us in the auditorium, despite his obvious scholarly passion for his craft, Mike was stiff. He kept composure well enough, and explained the philosophies of his restaurant in a thoughtful, engaging manner. But he had this faraway look in his eyes. It came later with little surprise that after Mike explained to us the sensible practices of buying local, using fresh and seasonal ingredients and being kind with the Earth, he passed his demo onto his guest, the head farmer at the nearby Liberty Gardens (more about that place later), who soberly explained what his farm was all about and the values of sustainable crops. I dug it immediately. I’ve always been anal, always wanting to be efficient and resourceful at all times. All his talk about local, seasonal, regional produce spoke volumes to me. It’s like what Teddy Roosevelt espoused: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” Self-sufficiency. I was down with that. F*ck Monsanto.

In the school’s kitchen, however, the real Mike stepped in. He went over the menu, delegated authority, divvied up the class among him, his sous and his pantry chef to the execute proper tasks to handle for that night’s full house. He got to work with the aplomb of Orson Welles directing the Mercury Theatre on Red Bull. Like I said, the guest chef dinner was always a big deal, and folks would queue up by the dozens for the sumptuous five-course meal. At a reasonable price, no less, so nothing could afford to be left to chance. My cohorts were rounded up like so much cattle, plonked into whatever position they deemed valuable based on the teacher’s evaluation. There was a “ready, break!” moment and everybody scuttled away with a purpose. And that was evening one. God knows what the rest of the nights were like for my teenage, three-hots-and-a-cot counterparts. Mike was all over them like Rosie O’Donnell on a éclair. It was something to behold.

Me? I had to bounce, along with the three or four other guys in pursuit of the Yankee dollar. I was a bit bummed that I couldn’t hang back, witness the ensuing carnage. But hey, hookers don’t come cheap.

Kidding. Hookers are cheap.

Anyway, back to the seminar: afterwards we swooped about the demo table, taking photos of the sample dishes Mike cooked up and marveling at the delights the Liberty Gardens guy brought in. Ralph chatted up Mike and introduced me. Again, Mike seemed pleasant enough—albeit a bit haughty and awkward—and I talked about sustainability with him, thought his menu was great and characteristically said so. He knew it was, of course. Anyway, that’s when Ralph and eventually I caught wind of the Farmhouse’s upcoming Xmas bash.

What happened next that ultimately directed my restaurant career took place over three weeks, but it’s better summed up in three days. The first and the third things were, as narrative structure goes, the problem and the resolution (as well as another prologue). That’s how it went in my mind. It might get confusing, but pay attention. It’ll eventually make sense if you don’t think too hard. I suggest a shot at this point.

After Ralph’s announcement to the class about Mike needing extra hands for Xmas, and me sensing an opportunity, I had asked permission of my boss to take the weekend off. Mike was a local celebrity amongst the restaurant community, and my boss understood my request and honored it…so long as I worked a full week next week, including dishwashing since one of our rent-a-cons vanished. I agreed, he agreed. I even got an actual note from one of my instructors declaring my urgent presence at the Farmhouse. My boss smartly slapped it away and told me to get shucking those damned oysters.

That was day one. We now jump to day three.

Day three is a little trickier. I guess it was really over the night into said day, since last call around here is 2. It happened after my restaurant’s usual epic New Year’s dinner. In fact, it happened on January 2.

After service, me and the crew would cross the street and tie a few off at the local watering hole. The place was small, almost as small as our kitchen. Anyway, way led onto way, and the cramped quarters and loud music demanded that if the patrons wanted to have a feasible conversation, they would literally have to get up in each other’s faces. My boss, his sous, the roundsman and I were getting pretty tight. Actually, my boss was already tight when he eventually showed up. After service, while we three went to clean up the kitchen, he’d go hassle the bartender and eentually disappear. Dinner service ended at 9 during the week, 11 on the weekends. The boss would sometimes resurface like a lost specter around…well, after that.

In any case, all of us were f*cking around at the bar, getting pished and sweating out that night’s strife. My boss was on a tear, undone by stress and alcohol. When I say undone, I mean it. As an example of his wound-up temperament, he once excoriated me for scooping up the mail from the post out front. One time I noticed the fistful of bills. When I offered up the letters, he snatched them out of my hand and curtly told me not to remind him of how many bills he owed, Stupid. By the way, that my was nickname there: Stupid. Go public school!

So we were yammering about some dumb sh*t when I got the foolish, drunken idea to punk the roundsman—my boss’ good buddy—by stealing and hiding his keys. My boss tore into me. A lot of cussing and flailing of arms, with much spittle. He went on and on about his crew were family—and I soon inferred, was not—and how dare I f*ck around and I didn’t respect his biz and I didn’t know sh*t from shinola and didja have fun at the Farmhouse and I’ll see you tomorrow, Stupid. Something like that. I was drunk and half-deaf. He could’ve been reciting the opening voiceover to Star Trek and I was probably nodding…well, stupidly.

The next day when I showed up for service, the boss met me at the door. He was carrying my box of mixtapes I had on hand for music during prep. He shoved them at me and said that my services weren’t needed there anymore. Something about not having enough room at the back of the house. I was stunned. Regardless of the place’s financial straits, I hardly thought my relatively short shifts five days a week at 10 an hour was that much of a strain. Hell, my boss was able to put away the equivalent of my weekly wages over the weekend across the street. I’m no expert, but I’d like to think the fracas at the bar had more to do with my dismissal than his ever-dwindling lines of credit.

An interesting aside: not long after my firing, the place folded. The joint was running in the red well before I came onboard, unbeknownst to me. The boss packed it in. He had often said, “if one more thing goes wrong…” a lot. In literature we call this a portent. The closing wasn’t long after his wife suffered a terrible accident. It was the one more thing. I heard about it through the restaurant grapevine years later. The former roundsman’s testimonial got regaled with gory details via the sous at the restaurant I was then laboring at. The sous and he were buds, and we both were already well aware of his propensity for telling tall tales. This one wasn’t.

There was a nasty incline screwing down into my place of old restaurant. The joint was essentially in the basement of an office tower, nary a spit from the parking deck. It’s well-known to the locals that we get often get icy winters here. Snow? It’s fickle. Ice? Just wake up the next day. Anyway, it turned out that incline was the undoing of my old bistro. The boss’ wife took a nasty spill; cracked her head on the sidewalk that required immediate ER attention. The long and the short, she ended up suffered long-term amnesia. For real, not that soap opera sh*t. My former boss had to spend—waste—months convincing this woman that he was her husband and they once had a life together. All she could remember after the accident was waking up in the ER. It was like that Adam Sandler movie, only not funny, even more so.

I never learned much beyond that story, except that the guy who was notorious for spreading tall tales didn’t smile when he told that one. At least according to my sous.

*rubs eyes*

Where was I? Oh yeah, right. You still here? Really? Hey, thanks.

On to the next day at school on Monday. Cruelty regulates in the food biz that most Sundays and Mondays are given over to recovery from hangovers, compact family time and retool the menu for the coming week, in that order. Me? Not so much on the second and third things. The next class day, Ralph asked me about my New Year’s. I told him I got the sack. He looked shocked and sorry. I shrugged; I needed help. I had a fiancée and a pair of kids. I asked him, “If you know anywhere…?”

That was day three.

Ralph informed me that the dishwasher at the Farmhouse took off. There was an immediate opening, and Ralph assured me his word was golden. I was desperate, and there was that weekend at the Farmhouse where I was slave labor. Y’know, at Mike’s plea.

Day two.

The night before the big event, I got to see Mike in full mufti. Ralph, myself and two other daring souls showed up at the Farmhouse’s expansive kitchen. Well, expansive to me. Remember, at the joint where I worked, we had to pay an oxygen tax. The Farmhouse’s kitchen was no less than a canyon when I walked in, still dressed in the dumb school whites, replete with fluffy hat no less. Presently, I wear two sets of uniforms when on the job: a polite, short sleeved, light cotton Bragard number with my name embroidered on the chest and black pants. Off site, for the occasional catering gig, I wear an all-black ensemble with checks. To this day, I find white aprons stupid (more on aprons later). My wardrobe notwithstanding, I looked the part. Enough so to fit into this maelstrom of cooking.

The kitchen proper was an addition to the original farmhouse. It even had a loft where extra dry storage was housed. The place was the size of a gym, but one wouldn’t have figured so that night. The kitchen was packed to the gunwales with Mike’s staff, ancillary bodies that were friends of the restaurant, legacies and, well, us guys. It was elegant, organized chaos; it was noisy, hot and simmering with productivity. This was gonna be a dinner for twice the restaurant’s usual capacity, and the guests were expecting a lot of gastronomic wonders and perhaps some healthy ego fluffing (the local state rep was in attendance). We all had our tasks laid out for us, Mike running point like Scorsese with a clipboard, ensuring all was on time and on task. It was a four-hour marathon run, maybe longer.

Hapless Ralph, our two comrades and myself were assigned the scutwork; menial work and the usual unglamorous detailing that made the meal go over cleanly. We were tasked to roast and later dissect lobster tails, peel and chop Brussels sprouts and parcook risotto for its station on the patio. Stuff like that, while the extended Farmhouse family worked the sauces and fabricated the meat.

I soon received my “special” assignment.

I standing around. Despite the crazed activity, I was looking for something to do. Anything than looking like a lazy bump on a log. Mike grabbed and dragged me over to the pantry station. He told me I had a vital duty to perform. I did? Mike produced a wheel of parmesan cheese the size of a radial tire and thumped the smelly thing in front of me like a dead body.

“We need shaved parm for the risotto bar. A lot of it. You need a peeler?”

I warily said I owned one as I unfurled my knife roll. This was good. Mike needed a metric sh*ton of shaved parm to suit his needs.

“Get at it. I’ll be back.” And off he went to tangle with the rest of the crew.

I considered my opponent, this edifice of properly-aged, very heavy cheese. I hefted it in my arms. It was a dense as a neutron star and smelled like a Sicilian gym locker in July. But it was now my quarry, my duty to render this hunk into feasible slivers to be melted into steaming risotto. And the chef told me to get on it. So I did.

Over a seemingly interminable length, I whittled away at the tire, becoming ever more annoyed by its rank and its defiance of being reduced to shreds. I eventually had to toss the peeler after the task; it became as sharp and a bowling ball. Mike swooped in occasionally to check on my progress.

“How’s it going, Cheeseman?” he’d say, regarding my shavings, then swoop away to oversee another piece of the eventual whole. Once in awhile, he’d again hove into my radar and check on my progress.

“Looking good, Cheeseman.”

“Go, go, go…”

“How’s it comin’, Cheeseman?”

He eventually forgot about me. With all the activity blurring around me, still being a newb and too timid to question a chef’s orders, I just kept peeling away at the tire, rolling my eyes, feeling carpal setting in and wondering if I had chosen the right profession.

After endlessly referring to my phone for what the hell time it was, I sooner or later met reconnoiter with Mike. There was a veritable haystack of parm shavings littering the table. The wheel was two-thirds gone. An hour and half had passed. My wrist was very angry with me.

Mike saw my work and laughed his ass off.

“You can stop now, Cheeseman. It’s only for 100 people.”

I regarded the hillock on the table—so high you’d need to plant a flag at the peak—looked Mike in the eye and watched him just keep on laughing. I think he almost pissed himself.

“Sorry,” he said between chuckles. “I should’ve checked on you earlier.” Then he doubled over and pointed at the Everest-like mound of smelly cheese and said, “You’re done, Cheeseman. Good work. Go downstairs, the bar. Have a beer on me.”

So I did, reeking of cheese. I had two beers, and then resumed my post back at Grand Central for my next task, shucking a cove’s worth of oysters. Ce-la-vie-de-merde. I was supposed to man the risotto station that night, but Mike felt—after my dedication to fabricating cheese—I’d be better suited as a roundsman, being the sous’ bitch for the rest of the night.

Anyway, it all went off with barely a hitch, thank you very much. The only crisis that occurred was that we couldn’t get the burner under the risotto station to remain lit. In hindsight, I guess my downgrade was in fact a blessing. At around 1 AM, when all the revelers had gone home to bed, Mike cracked open a case of the bar’s finest IPA and we all got two bottles each. Ralph and I were legal. Our culinary school compatriots, not so much. We told them to drink up anyway. It was a salute to a job well done. And it was f*cking free, so don’t rock the boat. I got home to the girl at around 2:30 AM. I truth I eventually had more than just two bottles, talking sh*t with Mike the bartender into the wee hours of the night. Don’t worry, she understood and made me change the kid’s diapers all week. Fair is fair.

She was all very awake and excited to hear about my adventure. I was whipped, drunk and happy, and regaled my experience with much relish and how cool Mike had seemed, despite the whole tire-whittling. She told me it sounded great, and was very proud of me. We got romantic and I collapsed for most of Sunday. Overall, a smart move. Hell, there was still Monday class to consider.

So those were the three days—three acts in a minor play—that eventually led to my reluctant position as head chef of the one of the most revered, progressive restaurants in southeastern PA. Hell, at first all I needed was a job, and them pots done ain’t gonna scrape themselves, boy howdy.

Look, I understand the story I’ve been relating is far from linear. Deal. Be honest, how many tabs do you open on Safari at a time scouring Facebook feeds, Tweets, porn, e-mail, iMessages and porn at a given moment? Right. Here I’m offering up straight story in related context and alla dat. Can you handle it?

Hey, you’re still here. Kewl. And there’s this thing about a movie I saw coming up. Thanks.

So there I found myself, standing in Mike’s office, getting the rundown. His sudbuster (a term I later found out that Mike had never heard of, but quickly adapted to the Farmhouse slang-wagon) had gone off to greener pastures, and the kitchen needed those dishes run through and the pots scrubbed all shiny-like. He grilled me; gave me the Logan and Briscoe routine, and declared, “We do everything here one way: the right way.”

God help me, I actually rolled my eyes. I said, “But Chef, I’m just the dishwasher.”

He cocked a brow and said, “And you’ll do it the right way.”

And so I did. I whiled the evenings away at the Farmhouse scrubbing pots, running dishes the through the machine, doing odd prep work and enduring Mike’s demented and rather patronizing sense of humor. For weeks, months, I was not me; I was the Cheeseman. “Cheeseman, do this!” “Hey, Cheeseman, I need a solid!” “How’s it going, Cheeseman?” And into the sink another pot. I was reasonably happy. I was glad to have the work. This was during the “Great Recession” so any gig that paid was a good one. I had a girl at home and a pair of kids to support. Right. So I didn’t bitch, even with the dumb “Cheeseman” tag.

So that’s how it went on. Mike and his sous churning and burning. The pantry chef baking—we’ll call her Jen—making things sweet and not shy in having utter disdain for my ass. And me scrubbing pots, running plates and flatware through the reliably unreliable machine, which on several occasions I had to reach down into the temperamental garbage disposal with a naked arm to retrieve an errant knife or fork gumming up the works, all the time having Jen glower at me, since her station was adjacent to the trough. It was fun. Sadistic, but fun. I’m a Warren Zevon disciple, so that might explain millions.

All this time, I still had to make my morning appearances at school. I burned lean tissue in the midday and grunted off the Farmhouse to scrub my paycheck into action at night. To say that I was tired as well feeling like I was going nowhere—my recent dismissal from my old gig still weighing on my mind—was akin to saying that the Atlantic Ocean was somewhat damp.

Then one day the weird happened. Out of nowhere Mike’s sous dropped a bomb. He was out by the end of the week right before business was to be picking up. I spoke with him after service and asked what gives? He said he wanted to engage in his side gig as a full time effort, working with audio equipment. He also disclosed that he was pursuing some girl, of all things. On the evening of his last service, we had some celebratory beers, bid him his fare-thee-wells and out the door he went, into the night and obscurity. Standing in the doorway, Mike turned to me and shouted these immortal words:

“All right, Cheeseman! Looks like you’re on sauté!”

I stammered, “But chef, I haven’t done sauté yet.”

Mike beamed at me. “You’re gonna learn!”

And learn I did. Fast. I applied what limited dirty tricks I learned from school and toppled onto the line. Even though Mike had the reputation of being kind of a prick, he was no less helpful and gracious towards me. Maybe it was because he was suddenly in dire straits, and needed all the help he could get, so being nice to his new, rube sous was the best way to coax acceptable results. Me? I think I just made him laugh a lot and that was enough.

After some stumbling, and a lot of pressure remedied by endless cigarettes and gallons of coffee, Mike and I were churning and burning with the best of them. He worked the grill and I sauté. He did sauces and handled beef, chicken and other former animals, I wrangled fish and veggies. I also had to do a great deal of the prep work, including fabricating said fish, tending to mollusks to make sure they were alive before service, give Jen a hand (when she’d let me) and hacking up a lot of herbs and veggies. I learned a lot, including some really kooky sh*t one would never learn in culinary school. Call them quirks of any run-of-the-mill, mad genius, bipolar chef. No cheese with fish. Blanch and shock all green veggies and herbs save sorrel, which turns a sickly, poop brown otherwise. Store mussels in a colander of ice, towels and ice. Solicit local farms for the freshest, sustainable ingredients. Always use a half apron, because it can double as a dry towel, as well used as a basket when grabbing things from the walk-in and demanded you work clean so not splatter any sh*t on your freshly pressed whites. No cheese with fish. Y’know, the kind of things you figure out standing up rather than sitting down. Big fun.

Business went on that way for months, Mike grilling, me with the pans. The regular crowd would shuffle in. Even Jen began to tolerate, even enjoy my presence. Mike began to have some faith in me. I didn’t do any major f*ck-ups overall (save once serving a steaming bowl of dead mussels), and was on time, tidy and kept the guy laughing a lot. All to the beckoning of “Cheeseman, do this!” and “Cheeseman, do that!” I was a good little elf and always did this and that without hesitation. To do otherwise was a stoning offense.

One day, Mike dragged me aside and asked me a rather curious question. I had been an obedient soldier for months, racking up the hours, breaking down way too much salmon and halibut and tooling with the menu under Mike’s watchful eye.

“Nate,” he said, holding that week’s paycheck in his hand, “I got a weird question to ask.”

“Yes, chef?”

“…What’s your last name?”

I blinked. I warily told him.

Mike began to snicker. He was finally going to wire me up into the system rather than pay me under the table, turned out.

“Good to know,” he stated soberly, “because I’ve been making out your checks to ‘Nate Cheeseman’ for the past few months.”

It’s nice to be respected.

Weeks on end Mike and I would crank it out. I’d still do odd prep, and he’d manage the menu and ensure everything went smoothly. And smoothly it went, for a while. I sensed after a time Mike was not happy in his post. He got mopey, leaned into me often (because, hey, I was there) and eventually took to a few shots down at the bar during the afternoon. You see, this biz can burn you out quick. The long hours. Always on your feet. The stagnant heat. The endless picking up this and setting down that. And all the time making errands to the local purveyors and stores to make sure what was brought to the table was the finest available. It was a grind, and I think that Mike was feeling the grind. But there was a nice, bright spot during those trying times that spoke to the finest.

Speaking of the finest, here’s my aside about the coolest farm I ever had the pleasure of stomping through: Liberty Gardens. I told you about more later on, remember? See? I didn’t forget you.

The Farmhouse was stationed in this little ville nary far from farmland. You could decide some Sunday to go for a spin away from the main drag and find yourself in God’s country; small farms, fisheries and independent oases of holy meal out there in the brush. One time, Mike dragooned me into a trip to see where the magic was made. He drove; I sat shotgun, very curious about where the hell he was taking me. En route, he got all philosophical about the veggies we used at the restaurant. I love veggies. I’ve never been a fruit guy, as my family can attest. I’d rather curl up to a nice helping of broccoli than a fresh apple. Sorry. It’s just how I roll.

Anyway, on this little junket, Mike disclosed a little news. Soon after I got my battlefield commission as sous chef, he laid some science on me.

“How long have you been here, Cheeseman?”

“I dunno, chef. Since January?”

“And what’ve you been pulling?”

“…Nine an hour.”

He nodded. “Well, I’ve decided to jump you up a bit, now since you’re not just the sudbuster (he did indeed like that term) anymore. Did you enjoy busting suds, Cheeseman?”

“Not especially.”

“That’s good. You’ve done all right by me. So I’ve decided to bump you up to twelve dollars. How’s that sound?”

I said nothing.

“I know that [the owner] wouldn’t like it, but figure since you’ve been so good at being my go-to guy, you deserve full pay. How’s that work for you?”

“Thanks, chef.” What more could I say?

This:

“Where are we going?”

“Where we get our greens. I figure since you’re now working on the line, you needed to see the source.”

So we wended our way in his beater Subaru wagon along the twisting country roads afar from the home base. The further we drove, the less and less the surroundings looked like civilization that was only five miles away. I kept the window rolled down to half mast and was understandably curious about our destination.

Liberty Gardens is the local sustainable, seasonable garden spot where I live. It’s a small farm, barely five acres (give or take) with open rows of whatever fruits and veggies were sprouting that season—tomatoes in the summer, pumpkins in the fall—along with carefully tended greenhouses either nurturing herbs or securing seedlings for the next season. When we arrived, Mike went to chat with the farmer that graced our presence the time he commanded the school’s demo to negotiate prices for the new menu. I went scooting over to the rows and invaded the greenhouses to see what wonders awaited. Never had I seen such produce. Leafy greens and bright fruits. Fresh herbs you smell upon entering. Micro greens. A lot of heirloom stuff too weak for the current season but, rest assured, would be readily forced for the next. Curiously, there were remnants of rotting pumpkins slanting the rows of corn just beginning to sprout up. I later asked the farmer—whose name is unfortunately lost to memory—what was up with the rotting pumpkins along the rows. It was April, long before and beyond pumpkin season. He told me that the decaying gourds served as active fertilizer for the summer crops. In simpler terms, don’t f*ck with nature, just ride along. I was impressed. I asked Mike if we could score some kale and he grinned at me like a toddler taking his first steps and said something like, “Sure, Cheeseman.”

The farmer asked about the “Cheeseman” thing. No matter.

Back to the front:

So Mike grew increasingly unhappy with his station. It was mostly due to the constant interactions with the owner, who seldom made appearances unless something was going wrong. I learned quick that there are few restaurateurs active in their own businesses on a casual level. It’s when things were approaching the red that they made their presence known. Often bearing a scowl.

Mike took to frequenting the bar a little too often and a little too early. He tried to hold his own, but sometimes John Barleycorn grabbed the reigns. I recall one time Mike had some big expo set up for a bunch of curious housewives on how to poach eggs or some other dumb sh*t. He had a three-day growth and staggered over to me and asked, “Cheeseman, can you smell whiskey on me?”

“You smell like a bag of dicks. You going to talk to these women?”

He smiled and strolled off to the barn. He held a finger to his lips. I went back to maiming halibut. Miraculously, the hausfraus managed to learn all about the magic of quinoa unfettered by Jameson’s.

Then the day came. Or rather, the day before the day. Yeah, everything is out of order. Such can be the nature of the restaurant biz.

Not long after his wobbly appointment with the future fans of Fifty Shades of Grey, Mike took me aside into his office—the walk-in. It was early May and he had some serious news to share. He informed me that at the end of the summer he was resigning his post at the Farmhouse. Without going into great detail, he said he was unhappy, being undermined and did not want his baby to succumb to the latest food crazes Emeril would shake the dust from. Something like that. He asked me, “So, Cheeseman. You with me?”

I took his invite seriously. He wanted me to follow him. And by me following his example (minus the “not shaving” part), I frankly said, “I’m with you, chef.”

He smiled and patted me on the shoulder. “That’s good. Thank you.”

The next day wasn’t so good. The day.

It was the Thursday before Mother’s Day. After Xmas and Valentine’s, Mom’s Day is probably the one for the most heated contest on a one-night flight all year. The second Sunday is looms large for restaurant schedules. In short, a big deal. The Farmhouse was booked solid for the holiday. Over 100 guests. Not bis, but this place only accommodated 60 a night comfortably, and there was no drape over the patio, either. And to top it all off, all the rez were more or less staggered in 10 minute intervals. That meant maybe a party of five or ten every ten minutes wanted meals, like, yesterday. Like I said, a big deal. Mom’s Day is like Black Friday in spring for eateries. Mike had been poring over the menu for a week, and the menu was more or less locked and loaded.

Then the day happened. The aforementioned Thursday.

I was in the kitchen, not doubt destroying some fish when I heard the screams. We all heard the screams. Me, Jen and the new roundsman who had been on Wednesday just an eager server to learn the ropes at the back of the house. More secure money than tips, after all.

The yelling progressed up from the basement bar, through the wait station and came crashing through the kitchen like a bull on crystal meth. Mike was furious. He stormed about the kitchen in a frenzy, more or less speaking in tongues and exclaiming sh*t about “not being some housekeeper.” He tore into the closet, scooped up his books, dropped them, attacked the oven and broke the door, uplifted the prep table and let it crash down (cracking the tiles in the process) and careened out the back door in a torrent of profanity.

Myself, the newb roundsman and Jen just stared at the swinging screen door.

The owner slammed through the kitchen door and stared where we were staring. Then he dumbly looked at us. I took point and darted toward the door.

I stood stupidly in the parking lot watching Mike kick up clouds of gravel and dust as his Subaru flew off like all the demons of Hell were after him. I remember holding a pair of tongs in one hand and a side towel in the other. It’s funny what one recollects. My mouth was agape save for two words.

“…The f*ck?”

“Mike just quit,” the owner announced as I staggered back into the kitchen. Duh. I went from shocked to scared to pissed in a nanosecond. I followed Mike’s lead and slammed down onto the contacts on my phone.

“Chef?”

“It’s all yours now, Cheeseman!” he screamed.

“The f*ck you talking about?”

“I’m done!”

“…What about our deal?” I asked, recalling the confab in the walk-in. I was younger then. I’ve since learned that nothing—nothing—is secret in the biz, even if for the cold silence of the walk-in.

“Done! Sorry!”

I grimaced, feeling my bile rising. I was betrayed! And Mom’s Day less than two days away! I actually talked through clenched teeth.

“Okay…Mike! So what do you suggest I do now?”

“Damned if I know. Good luck!” And he clicked off.

Later, Jen, the roundsman and myself stood in the driveway, shocked and slack jawed. Now what? It was Thursday. Friday was booked solid. The chef bailed. I had half a menu in my head and sense of obligation. I did what any sane man who cooked for a living would do.

I called my girl.

In short, I yelped at her, “Mike left! Mother’s Day! Pants and ankles!”

She was beside herself, beside me. I needed a shoulder and she politely reminded me of the phone bill. I verbally knelt down and blubbered about me not being qualified to do this sh*t, despite what Mike had taught me. I was a wreck and she wrecked me futher.

In simple words, imitating dozens of Hallmark cards, “You can do this.”

After the dust began to settle, I found myself with my peers exchanging looks and sharing panic. I tried my best to be composed and delegate authority; I tried to talk out what the new plan was, but I was seriously lacking. In short, I stood there with my c*ck in my hand. There was no new plan. So much so that Jen called me out.

“Wait! You are not the boss now!”

But under the f*cked up circumstances, I was. And I had to get to class tomorrow morning, too. This is why God invented reefer.

(Hey. You still awake? Awesome, and thanks. We will get to the movie. I mean it. Jeez, look at all the pages…)

So what did we do? Pulled the plug on Friday’s reservations, that’s what. We told the guests that the chef had an emergency to tend to and they could reschedule for Saturday night.

Saturday night? Remember Mom’s day? We were already booked solid! And we were gonna squeeze in, like, fifty other bodies? Yes, yes we are. The show must go on, and I was in the director’s chair. Despite my “battlefield commission,” most of next day’s prep in the can, and me manning sauté for months with very few hitches, I mustered up some nerve and explained to the co-owners we couldn’t cancel Saturday night and lose all that money, as well as lose face and reputation in the local restaurant community. Unlike the saying, bad press with restaurants is bad press. Dinner was going to go off as planned, and hopefully not like nuclear test.

What the hell was I thinking?

So Saturday night came. I showed up for the grind and around 7 AM. Service in ten hours. Remaining prep was squared away—the sh*t you could only take care of the day of service—and additional servers were on call and at the ready (more on that hitch later). The menu was in place. It was prix fixe, thank God, meaning there were only a few set meals the guests could order. I had even mended the oven door. When H-hour arrived, we figured we were ready to go. Seventy-five to 100 guests were on the books between 6 and 7:30 pm. My sauté station was loaded for bear with salmon, scallops, assorted greens and grains and a bucket of coffee. I had our baker, who was usually stationed in the basement creating wedding cakes on the grill. Her job was to sear duck, and just that.

She lamented, “I haven’t done this since culinary school.”

“Well, you’re gonna remember!” I stated. Mike’s words coming out my mouth.

The first tables arrived, and my motley crew began that long night of dancing, heat and much profanity. I’ll spare you most of the gory details, but I handled like 75 percent of the action that night, also running point over at our baker to make sure she wasn’t burning anything. Jen was a whirl of activity on the pantry. At the time she was, like, 13 months pregnant and rightfully cranky and weary most of the time, but she was a pro and a little something like the executive chef going off on an ozone trip wasn’t going to set her back. Or any of us. Away we went.

The first hour was a blur. I churned out the dishes like a dervish crackhead on truck stop speed, getting plates up on the pass as fast as I could while the printer chattered an endless litany of tickets. Faces of people I have never seen before were scooping up the entrees and bearing them off as fast as a new body poked their puss onto the line. Prior to service, and seeing all those fresh faces in the kitchen, I had to ask the owner where they all came from.

“Friends of the family,” he said plainly. “Some of them used to work here, wanted some extra cash.”

I was astounded. This extended family of the Farmhouse, most of whom were already well versed in Mom’s Day dinner, was a godsend. But it also made me feel even smaller, a rube like me, still a culinary student and the former dishwasher only 5 months ago. What the f*ck had I gotten myself into?

Service was truly organized chaos. I keep telling the servers to stall for time, gimme at least another five minutes here and there. Mo (whom later became a fast friend) was the maître’d and was the first person to (accidentally) call me “chef” during the havoc. Before service I was very testy, nervous. Running around to make sure nothing was left for chance. One thing was left for chance, however. Our roundsman bailed for that evening; I was a body short. I later learned he felt he couldn’t handle the pressure of that night’s service.

Well, me neither. Pussy.

As I was pinballing around the kitchen, checking this and pointing fingers and generally acting snippy and dickish (again, shades of Mike), I grew increasingly curt to all these new bodies that now were clogging my kitchen. “My kitchen.” Good Lord, here comes the neighborhood. Mo had gotten in my way I got huffy and rude (Me? Nooooo) to her, and belted out orders with not my indoor voice. After service I learned that Mo had a chat with the owner about yours truly. It went something like this:

“Where did you find this dick?”

The owner told the whole bloody story to her; Mike bailing…former dishwasher…still in culinary school…hail, Columbia…She later bought me a beer. Several, actually. And several more. I didn’t remember Sunday.

To say that I was in the weeds was a gross understatement. Weeds? I was in the f*cking triple canopy jungle. All the extra bodies made the kitchen hotter than usual, and all the commotion and chattering made it stridently loud. I kept having to shout at Mo about two things: what the next ticket was (before it was printed up) and please, try and slow it down. After my umpteenth plea she said, “We can’t go any slower, chef.”

It was more, more, more. Mo did her best to keep things smooth, and kept water bottles always on hand. The guests’ orders grew into a maw that could not be fed. I had to keep seriously hydrated to keep my hands from shaking. Like all other joints I had worked at, family meal was a luxury. I had been working solely on one bowl of cereal and two pots of coffee that day with a Red Bull enema to keep things running smoothly. Faster, faster, faster the tickets spewed from the chatterbox. The boards were always on fire; the slide looked like a steamer of pennants cordoning off a user car lot. Tickets upon tickets upon tickets. I did my damnedest to keep time on task. The baker would look over at me and asked if I needed any help. I just barked at her to mind the duck and to remind her how to first score it and later cut it for plating. I figured she was deep in thought about future batches of crème anglaise going sour (come to think of it, so was I). All the while I had the entire Hüsker Dü catalog caroming about my brainpan. When I get stressed out on the line, I get a certain song stuck in repeat banging around my head. That night it was “It’s Not Funny Anymore” played at 11.

Simply put, the remainder of the push was an endless loop of Hüsker Dü, seared duck, and plate after plate after plate. I had a coward’s stripe of sweat streaking down the back of my coat. My balls had retreated to the relative safety of my stomach. My hands worked faster than the sane synapses my brain could synch. I had Mike’s bellow in my ears, Cheeseman (as well as my own voice: f*ckin’ Cheeseman). Spittle on my lips, pistou on my apron, ring molds getting sticky with abuse and endless fillets of salmon mocking me. And all this time I had two sour thoughts stuck in my mind like thorns: 1) Goddam it, Mike, and; 2) I hadn’t ever tackled sauté in school yet. I should’ve called in Ralph for an assist. Come to think of it, I did call Ralph, but only to let him know our benefactor jumped ship. I’m such a tool.

More, more, more…

Finally, three interminable hours later, 130-plus covers handled, the boards on fire all f*cking night, and dessert orders eventually trickling in, I relieved our baker to help Jen with the sweets. I killed the gas, threw about a jillion spent sauté pans on the floor, tore off my apron, grabbed two bottles of water and my pack of smokes and went outside. It was much cooler out there in the herb garden. I collapsed on a bench and tried to get my eyes refocused. When my hands quit trembling enough, I brought a cigarette to my lips and tried to light it. It was my third one all day.

As I flicked the Zippo, I noticed a large, red welt on my inner arm. I had burned myself earlier in the day doing…something. Then it was just a small bump. After the heat of service the thing had swelled to the size of an angry, mocking tumor in need of surgery. I barely remember getting burnt and went to inspect the damage. I poked it gently with my finger and the damned thing exploded, sending hot fluid across my arm in an acidic ejaculation with stinging dermis beneath. Ow. Amazingly, it was the only injury suffered all day, and at my hand, no less. Call it the only luck I got that night. I still have the scar, and wear it as a badge of pride, if not a cautious reminder.

The plates were out. They were received in a reasonably timely fashion. Much wine flowed and much giddiness wafted into the kitchen from the dining room. The servers—who I’ve since learned are the most vital form of intel in a restaurant after the bartender; disregard the chef and definitely the owner—reported back with tales of satisfaction and contentment. Nothing was sent back. My two teammates rose to the occasion and Mom’s Day 2010 was fun at the Farmhouse. That’s all anyone could ask for on a holiday. Or your everyday Saturday night, for that matter. I had already finished up my break by pissing urine the color of a traffic cone—a sure sign of dehydration—on the mint and chives. Didn’t seem to affect their growth over the next week.

I manned the kitchen for the rest of the summer until a new, “proper” chef was hired. In the interim, I retooled the menu with variations on Mike’s dishes applying swindles I had learned in class. I was in constant contact with the purveyors—including Liberty Gardens and a keen Aussie gent who was all about sustainable fish—made the orders, even tweaked to sound system in the place to accommodate an iTunes account rather than the same ten CDs on terminal rotation (Thursday became Van Morrison night). And I demolished many, many more fish carcasses.

After Mother’s Day, the best (and come to think of it) only complement I ever got was from a table that didn’t know Mike had quit. They were on the books for Mom’s Day 2010, and found their meal delightful. They even came back. It is here I allow some back patting.

I managed to keep the Farmhouse running relatively smooth for the rest of the summer (including de-greasing the hoods for the first time since Carter was inaugurated). Business went on, and I didn’t see any such action after the Mom’s Day avoided catastrophe. I even got a thank you from the owner—a usually laconic soul—for keeping his biz alive. Okay, a second complement. I’ll take two over one over the usual none I’ve learned to expect from this cutthroat business.

Before I wrap up this tale from the front (“Oh, thank God!”), one more silly detail. It was customary for Mike to put his name at the bottom of his menus. You know, “John Doe, Executive Chef.” The owners and I thought this tradition should continue, to keep some sense of stability while we were staggering through the upheaval. Being a Francophile, I thought up this title. It seemed to sum up my tenure at the Farmhouse:

Chef d’la Maison. It means, literally, “Chef in the meantime.” Looked good on the menu, too. So there you go.

I’ve since moved on from the Farmhouse and have bounced around the local, incestuous restaurant community in our neck of the woods. What happened to me, despite it being so longwinded, is not that uncommon in the restaurant world. It’s like when Paul Walker assumed the role of coach in Varsity Blues. Weird, frantic sh*t are watchwords of this industry. As well as this dictum one of my instructors would beat us about the head with: “Get it done!” And to quote MythBusters: “Failure is always an option.” We hope it never gets to that point, but it does loom large over our operations.

Even though my tawdry tale is almost exclusively about sh*t going haywire, it’s not an isolated incident. Any nabob who’s tuned into an ep of Hell’s Kitchen can witness the carnage, although on the idiot box the calamity is ramped up to 11 (makes for better ratings),can  understand that both shoes may drop at any given moment. Be it f*cked up dishes, purveyors f*cking up their orders, the fryer f*cking implodes, the servers being f*cking idiots, the dishwasher’s on a drunk and doesn’t f*cking show up let alone call in, the guests don’t give a f*ck about restructuring their order to accommodate their f*cking gluten allergy they’re suffering from that week, or the chef himself under such duress is hiding at the bar for a full hour before service so he can nice and f*cked up.

(Wait! Is the blog dude actually getting to the movie’s synopsis and critique now? Yes, the blog dude is actually getting to the movie’s synopsis and critique now. Oh, thank the Lord! Now please, adjust your lobster bib.)

In short, the life of a cook can get very f*cked up, very often. The chess pieces often get knocked to the floor, regardless of the gambit. Occupational hazard. It’s a hazard Chef Carl Casper has always danced with, but has never dropped his partner onto the floor before. Well, yeah, her too. And his son. And his job. And…


Chef Carl Casper (Favreau) has hit an impasse. Most casual folks call it “life arrest.” But Carl’s a chef. “Life arrest” doesn’t happen, but “career arrest” does. For years, he’s been doing right in his LA bistro by his stuffy, yet prideful, magnanimous owner Riva (Hoffman). After all, Carl was taken on board at Riva’s place being the creative darling of Los Angeles’ culinary scene. Riva gave his financial all the space needed to make his bistro the talk of the town, replete with Carl, his crack kitchen crew and best kitchen tech money could provide. For years all has been hunky dory.

But Carl is not happy.

For weeks, months, years Carl has been churning out the same menu for weeks, months, years. Yeah, sure the sh*t sells, but Carl didn’t get into the cooking biz for a sense of routine. The life of a chef is radical, reckless and very left of center. It’s those aspects that make a cook find time to muck about in a kitchen, grab trapezoidal collections of ingredients and create a rhombus. It’s what got Carl the esteemed position he earned in the first place. It’s what got his cook cronies Tony and Martin (Cannavale and Leguizamo) get so amped and devoted to Carl’s craft. It also got Carl into the pants of the hot maitre’d, Molly (Johansson).

Well, despite all the rewards and comfort hard work earns, coasting never feeds a creative mind. Especially the one of a chef.

Carl sacrificed everything for his craft. His wife. His son. His house. His barely kept in check acceptable social behavior. And at the end of the day, when the rez are covered, when the post-service beers and joints are passed around, when the haughty self-satisfaction has permeated the smoky, boozy air, what’s next?

Right. Next night’s service. And the same, old, menu to serve.

Carl was once the golden child of the LA culinary scene. The next…oh, insert your rock-star chef name here. But that was ten years ago, and like his menu, Carl has become as stale and poorly kept beignets. He’s been riding on not his reputation as chef, but the cachet of the bistro he runs. He gave himself over to the place, hopeful in seeing his culinary dream come to life. Instead, divorce, estranged dad, sh*tty apartment and Riva’s guaranteed-to-be-a-profitable-but-boring-ass menu.

One night, after the gauntlet is thrown down by bigwig, online food critic Ramsey Michel (Platt), Carl feels the fire and is going to knock the socks of this windbag. This influential critic is going to a taste of a brand new menu, guaranteed to both bring good press to Riva’s place and polish Carl’s otherwise tarnished star.

This is when—in the midst of the plan, where as cooks exclaim—things go all pear-shaped.

Carl insists on running his new menu by Riva, but how is it profitable to tweak a money-making menu in order to compete in a d*ck-waving contest? Riva demands Carl to “play the hits.” After enduring a sh*tty review from Ramsey once, Carl can’t take anymore selling out. He bails on his staff, quits and goes home to hammer out the menu he wanted to sell to Ramsey.

Like they say, too little, too late.

After working himself up into a frenzy, Carl crashes his recent ex-kitchen and chews Ramsey out in public in front of some very savvy smartphone jockeys. His tirade goes viral and after this very public meltdown, Carl casts aside his former life and slumps back home to regroup.

Now with no prospects, Carl toys with the idea his ex-wife Inez (Vergara) suggested years ago so he could have complete creative control of a menu: owner of his very own food truck. After a quick vacation back home to Miami, Carl is inspired by the cuisine of his youth, and takes a shot on Inez’ idea. Of course, he’s going to need some help on this new venture, but he’s got no crew anymore, no financial backbone like the restaurant had provided and a very tarnished image as “the lava cake guy” to battle. Who’s gonna want to help this loser?

Right! Carl’s wide-eyed son Percy (Anthony)! Kid’s always been curious about Dad’s job, and with summer break, Percy’s got the time to get his hands dirty.

Well, cooking really ought to be a family affair, even if it’s almost always a dysfunctional one…

Even though the core of Chef is a theme I am wholeheartedly invested in, I was able to separate my sentiments from the actual unfolding plot and cute character study. Don’t get me wrong; of course it was the core that grabbed my attention in the first place. What are y’all, daft? I’ve punctuated many an installment here at RIORI by plugging my day job. You’d think I’d ignore this one? Philistines.

But really, Chef fell under The Standard in the “best” way possible. In recent memory I had never heard such a divided response to a movie. The critics lambasted it, dragging writer/director Favraeu through the mud, not unlike his alter ego Carl. The once cat’s pyjamas of both big budget spectacles and quirky, humorous indie films took a drubbing. Most critics tore apart Chef as derivative, sentimental drivel. Others shrugged and smiled and responded in kind, but weren’t necessary excited about the film. The box office takeaway didn’t exactly set the multiplex on fire either. Chef more or less broke even.

Well, in their defense, the critics were mostly right. Chef does have a case of the cutes running through it, and is given over wholly to the malady by the end of the second act. What starts out as a strong, manic delivery of a chef’s life at work and the life he gave up to be there gets all gooey by the film’s middle.

Audiences, however, love this sh*t. They lapped it up like a kitten with a cream-filled saucer. Admittedly, I did too. Chef is not a movie for cynics, which is odd because the opening scenes set the table—so to speak—for a story about a guy who is weary, frustrated and also driven by his work. It’s so much so that his career takes precedence over his estranged family, a career that seems to be all he is leaning on for emotional support as well as the primary definition of his whole personality. Carl is a prickly, preoccupied man, almost indifferent to everything except his menu. His ex-wife is an irritant. His son is an afterthought. The only people he really considers his family are his crew, and based on his never-ending hours at the restaurant, that’s not hard to understand. As an actor, Favreau has made his mark as a loveable loser, and his Carl as socially awkward and distant invites some much-needed humility and reality therapy to the boorish chef (another thing, Favreau really plumped up for this role. I’m not sure this was deliberate, but it does add an imposing amount of physical bulk to carry along with his emotional issues). Chefs, by nature, are simultaneously irrascable and insecure. Favreau must’ve done some top character study to execute his role as Carl so well.

All this existential angst makes Chef into a rather schizoid movie. On one hand, we have Carl’s job as life and it’s eventual disintegration. His cursory dealings with his actual family paint Carl as callow and just plain inept at being a ex-husband and Disney dad. Not a real huggable kind of guy. There are a lot of rough edges in the first act, and how he and Percy interact is rather strained. How is the audience supposed to sympathize with this irksome guy?

Here’s the other hand, which takes the movie into virtual sudden father-and-son bonding, renewed lust for life, almost family friendly fodder. It’s also where the critics got all snooty in their reviews. The fork in the road comes in the form of Percy. Amjay’s enthusiasm for both trying to have more QT with dad as well as getting in touch with what makes him tick is the anchor here, like for Carl to reality beyond the kitchen. With Carl out of a job, and Percy on summer break, father/son time comes to the fore, and the whole food truck pursuit is the classic Maguffin for a dyed-in-wool crowd pleaser: a road trip movie!

After getting the truck, Carl and Percy’s adventure follows the Hollywood redemption route almost to rote. You kind of see this coming from oceans away. Despite our intro to Carl and his cloistered life, you just know things are going to work out for the best in the end. [SPOILER!] It does, but it’s a fun ride, kind of like comfort food. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

Chef’s story isn’t even close to original, and we’ve seen this warhorse trod out many times over the decades. So you gotta ask, “Hey, blogger. Stuff sounds boring. Predictable. Were the critics right? By the way, we found your pants. How’d they get so far up that flagpole?”

Like with the blues, it’s not about the actual notes, it’s how they’re played. Chef works because of the acting. We got here you’re basic character study cum family relationship tale to spin. All the actors play their roles well, even being the fill-in-the-blank ciphers they are. We’ve got the classics: a nervous chef, his lonely son, the irritating boss, our hero’s goofy sidekick and a tried-and-true villain: the hero himself. Well, that and the stupid food critic, but that’s another thing.

The acting vacillates between serviceable and enjoyable. Sure, we’re working with stereotypes here, but they’re interesting stereotypes. Carl is your textbook manic depressive chef, showing all the hallmarks that position invites. To us cooks, his attitude is par-for-the-course, but to the non-cook he’s doubtless a piece of work, a vehicle average Janes and Joes can ride on to navigate that train of thought. It’s Carl’s supporting cast that makes the movie fun, especially the characters of Percy and Martin.

Amjay’s portrayal of Percy is again another stereotype, but a squishy one that the typical audience will eat up. Percy is a generally nice kid, and his mild but wide-eyed portrayal is honest and endearing. Like other boys, he naturally wants to spend more time with his dad as well as help out in Carl’s time of need. Percy’s learned that being a chef means sacrifices have been made and has consumed dad’s existence at his own peril. Wanting to bond with dad via his profession seems natural. Y’know, to “get it.” It doesn’t hurt that Percy takes to it like a duck to soup, either.

Now Leguizamo’s Martin was a stitch. I usually find this comic actor’s work, well, pesky. He often comes across as a pest, and his acting gets in the way of the plot. Not here. Martin represents the youthful passion and naïveté that Carl must’ve once had at the beginning of his career, and it fits like a glove. Martin cracks jokes, dances in the kitchen, obviously loving what he does and makes sure we damn well feel it too. Martin’s also “the guy who knows a guy.” The Jack Dalton. He’s got connections, to both helping his former boss get out of his slump and keeping the atmosphere positive even under duress. He’s the much-needed spark that keeps the story buoyant and getting too heavy on the whole “mending a family life” bit.

Although the stereotypes played out in Chef were palatable, not all the actors were engaging. Cooking is primarily a man’s, man’s, man’s, man’s world. Usually the only females you’d find in kitchens are on pastry, relegated to the back of the bus. Why this is I know not, but it does prove the rule. The women in Chef kinda reflect this aesthetic. Our females, Johannson and Vergara, are more wallpaper than actual participants in this comedy of errors. I know in the past I’ve alluded that Johannson is not one of my favorites starlets working today. I find her onscreen presence dull and nothing more than a pretty face. She kind of fades into the background, even when she’s trying to kick ass as Black Widow or Lucy. Her wispy style worked wonders in her breakout role in Lost in Translation, but there her character was a drifting, passive woman. You can’t play that card in every film you’re in. She’s playing it here again. Even though she gets minimal screen time in Chef, when she’s in front of the camera she’s just…there, not unlike her real-life analogues baking pies. Her presence here seemed pointless, save giving face time.

Vergara was even more a canard. Ostensibly the voice of reason in Carl’s f*cked-up life—and the person professed with the idea of the food truck, Carl’s eventual redemption and raison d’être—her performance was more or less a glorified cameo. That and to look good. But there was no chemisty, only a disconnect. You can’t even see a woman like that ever being with a guy like Carl, their temperaments so passive-aggressive. Again, she had limited camera time, and what she shared with Favreau was devoid of any sincerity or substance. It was hard to believe that Inez sincerely had her exes’ best interests in mind, despite her kindly, concerned mom nature. In short, Vergara called it in. One wonders with the research Favreau did to write Chef he took to noticing the general absence of estrogen in most restaurant kitchens. It’s reflected here, and over the course of the film it’ll slowly dawn on you that this is a guy movie reflecting a sometimes overly macho career. Cooking is a boys’ club; no girls allowed. Not much room in the movie version either.

Naturally, with the turning of events as they do in Chef, it wouldn’t even been called Chef if it didn’t have something to do with both creating, surrounding and resolving conflicts via cookery. There is a wee bit too much truth to this movie—someone did their research—and Favreau as writer/director was very cagey in dropping some science on the audience about how cheffing can affect almost every aspect of one’s life. The “hotel pan” scene alone speaks volumes, as well as how the matter of the burnt cubano is handled. Carl taking Percy shopping is an eye-opener too (he doesn’t press down on the planche. Nice), especially in the small speech when Carl buys Percy his first chef’s knife. It’s the first time in the movie dad actually bonds with his son, and it’s genuinely touching. Favreau and Anthony have an easy chemistry, and we eventually warm up to Carl through his trying to figure out how to be a father. Again, cooking should be a family affair.

There were a lot of neat scenes to that effect, and wouldn’t go unnoticed by the laymen who had never even stepped into a restaurant kitchen, let alone pick up a sauté pan. Most cooks who went to see Chef—of course all my co-workers did—found it entertaining and mostly accurate (at least with the first act). But just because you’re in the biz didn’t mean the movie was inaccessible to civilians. Quite the opposite; Chef became a family-friendly film, albeit with a lot of blue language, beer swilling and toking. All essential things in a healthy family dynamic, by the way. Granted the bridge between the first and third acts strained a bit, and the movie did have a slick, treacly Hollywood ending, but overall, Chef did a good job. It respected the madcap business antics and politics of restaurant lifers, but didn’t hammer the in-jokes and shop talk over the audiences’ heads like a meat mallet. Yeah, another food analogy. What? What did you expect with a review like this? Dick jokes?

Chef gave me a lot of big grins, both uncomfortable and pleasant with the first and second halves respectively. You could see why most critics would call Chef “drivel” and audiences’ call it “warm.” No new ground got broken here; this whole redemption-through-being-true-to-your-heart-and/or-family schtick has been reheated so many times. Still, the nice touches Favreau adds here and there keep the atmosphere light and overall enjoyable. It was enough to keep this ancient device afloat, and thereby keeping Chef entertaining. That’s all you really need from a good movie anyway.

A final note…

Not long after I left the Farmhouse, the place shut down. Something about the menu going south. I’m not sure I had something to do with that, but on a sick note, I’d like to think so. Just another chapter in the endless novel that is the biz. I said earlier I really don’t understand why I do what I do for a living. After telling my story and watching Chef, tangible answers really aren’t any clearer. I do know one thing though: all that sh*t you see on the Food Network? Bollocks. Cooking’s a reward unto itself, both for the chef and the diner, not a lot of self-aggrandizing, immediate notoriety and endorsements, in addition to oodles of Fieri cash which is few and far between…kinda like the distance between Earth and Alpha Centauri.

No. You can create a mutually happy experience with complete strangers for an evening, and that’s something that can’t easily be done, say, by practicing law or medicine. I guess, like Carl, I do it out of wanting to please people in small ways by introducing a few simple pleasures into their otherwise routine day. Or dinner. I dunno, stuff like that maybe.

Oh yeah. One last thing. I promise.

A few months back at work we had our annual guest chefs’ dinner. It’s where some of the local esteemed chefs come in, put their collective heads together and serve up a five-course menu to an exclusive crowd. I caught wind my former mentor and boss Mike was going to be in attendance. I hadn’t seen him since he left me with pants around my ankles at the Farmhouse all those years ago. Of course I had to punk him.

Upon his arrival, I darted up to my station where I had a chunk of Parmesan moldering in the back of the low boy. I grabbed it then casually strolled down into the prep kitchen were the guest chefs were holding court. I interrupted Mike with a tap on the shoulder and held out the Parm.

“You forgot this on the way out.”

Mike glared at me, grinned and screamed “CHEESEMAN!” loud enough to raise the lame and the halt.

Ah, nostalgia.

All right, kitchen’s closed. Don’t forget to tip the wait staff, lest they spit in something. Check, please! (Okay, I’ll stop it now. Put down the beer cans.)


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. It’s charming and delightful in a fluffy kind of way. The movie has two things going for it: Accurate insight into what’s it’s like in the dog-eat-dog world of cooking for the curious, and a lot of happy-go-lucky male bonding for everyone else. By the way, three stars and a bouquet to whichever reader tallies up the number of dumb cooking metaphors I wedged into the review. I lost count.


Stray Observations…

  • That pasta scene? Yes, cooks are that anal. Same goes for the grilled cheese.
  • “So is this for sex?”
  • For the record, lobster risotto is boring, and Carl’s flat affect reflects that.
  • “Be an artist on your own time!” The usual litany.
  • I love Martin’s hat. It’s a conversation piece.
  • “We are—serving the same sh*t!”
  • That’s a big desk.
  • “Pays nothing.” “I’ll take it!”
  • I love the soundtrack. It foreshadows Carl’s journey towards redemption, don’t it?
  • The whole “it’s not from the store” bit made me almost piss myself.
  • When I first saw this movie, my wife saw how I was cringing when Riva spoke. “Is that really how it is?” I snickered in assent and slunk ever lower into my seat.
  • “In the morning, you can dip your nuts in oil and make hush puppies!” Uh, yum?
  • Hey! It’s Amy Sedaris doing one of her characters! Sweet!
  • Keep Austin weird.
  • “No, chef.” “That’s my son.”

Next Installment…

Seth Rogen as The Green Hornet? Great, just what we need: a superhero with his BMI in the upper 20s. Well, it worked for Adam West.


RIORI Vol. 2, Installment 23: Jon Favreau’s “Iron Man 2” (2010)


Iron Man 2


The Players…

Robert Downey, Jr, Mickey Rourke, Gwynth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johanssen and Sam Rockwell (with of course Stan Lee).


The Story…

So now the world’s aware of his identity as Iron Man, Tony Stark must contend with both his declining health, a would-be nemesis with ties to his father’s legacy and keeping the straight image of legit industrialist and armored avenger. That and keeping his boozing in check.

A tale of vengeance and fathers and scotch? To the movie mill!


The Rant (and it is indeed a rant)

What is it about sequels that polarize us so? A good story demands. The audience wants to know, “Then what happens?” A sh*t story demands…not a lot. At least, along thinking man’s curves. Hollywood has probably churned out more sequels than original movies, not that story has demanded it. That was never really the case. Hollywood exists, like any other enterprise, to make a profit. And if one of their properties wants to go franchise (with a healthy backing on name recognition, like say…Marvel Comics), they sally forth in hopes to make a profit on the value of “Then what happens?”

Since the first X-Men movie, Hollywood got hip to the idea of making movies from comic book plots. Nowadays, they’re expected fodder come summertime (at least). And since most comics are serial, there’s always gonna be another story the Wednesday next. There’s always the “The what happens?” at the end of every comic book story arc. Movies? It’s a gamble. Depends on how well the story was executed. Spider-Man demanded a sequel, since it was so well done and Spidey’s universe is rife with stories to draw from. The X-Men franchise demanded a sequel simply because the cast was so huge and ever expanding therefore demanding more story and more story and more story (fact: writer Chris Claremont was the head writer for X-Men for sixteen years straight. A feat no other comic book writer may ever top). The Fantastic Four…ummm, I’m gonna go watch Blade again.

Needless to say the proliferation of comic book movies, with their already storyboarded scripts, offer up sequel opportunities a-plenty. Like I hinted at above, sequential stories can be a crapshoot. It’s a checks-and-balances system of “can we make some money?” versus “is it worth trying?” The first Iron Man movie was very rewarding. Logic in Hollyweird dictates that if it worked the first time, it’ll work the second. And the third. And the fourth. And therefore is how the Fast and Furious legacy began. But seriously, like other superhero crusades, Iron Man also has a rich history to mine. Not as well known as, say, Spider-Man, but still being extant for almost fifty years counts for something, right?

Right. So, about the sequel thing. There are precious few sequels that are worth their salt in the history of film. The Godfather, Part II, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Aliens, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, from what I’ve heard The Lord of the Rings, pt. III (I was never much for fantasy. See the Oz, The Great and Powerful installment) was pretty decent, and a good portion of the James Bond and The Thin Man movies was a lot of fun, if they even count as sequels. Still, I think most (thinking) movie-going folks raise an eyebrow whenever the story is expanded, even if there is enough grist in the mill to keep it going.

Me? I think I’ve always been suspect of sequels, since so many of them seem to obey the law of diminishing returns. More money for less art and all that jazz. Diluted story, continuously wrung dry by the likes of Bay and others of his ilk. If there’s the “Then what happens?” feeling going on, I’ll play along. But five-plus installments of Saw? Endless derivatives of Halloween? Transformers 8: When Tickets Cost Fifty Bucks to Stream (I f*cking hate Michael Bay), then I get not only suspect, but downright hostile (surprise!). Sequels are generally put out to empty our pockets, regardless of “Then what happens?” Such cases reminds me of when my kid is wont to ask about a favorite story. But she’s seven, and after the ending of a seriously closed book. But since Iron Man is aimed at alleged grown-ups, and has a full and somewhat unplumbed history to draw from, even I was curious as to…well, you know. Scuttlebutt told me that this sequel was inferior, tired, Standard-worthy material. Welp, here’s what I divined.

But first, to the synopsis…!


Tony Stark (Downey) has been outed. By himself. He is indeed the armored adventurer Iron Man. And, oh, what a wonder he has done as his cyborged self to better the world with his high tech hubris. Peace in the Mideast! A deterrent to possible nefarious nuclear activity in North Korea! A danger to your liquor cabinet! It seems that with great power…oh, save it for another guy. Stark just wants to have fun as a superhero, a household name brand and a potential franchise. However, it’s very unfortunate that he’s been heist by his own petard.

Turns out that the very tech he created to maintain his mini arc reactor heart is also killing him, as well as any excessive activity in his Iron Man suit. He knows time is running out, possibly for himself and the half-life on his Iron Man tech. After all, he learned from his father Howard (Mad Men’s John Slattery, cool cameo!) that the future is possible, if you learn how to mine it. That being claimed, it could only be a matter of time for another questing soul could capture the science that made Stark Industries so proud and powerful.

Someone did, and has passed it onto the son. Unfortunately, this son is a tad more maleficent than Howard’s.

Howard Stark’s industrial fortune was co-built with a very silent partner. Anton Vanko, lost in the shuffle that is the march of progress, becomes the flipside of Howard’s rich empire; destitute, dying and wasting away with his son Ivan (Rourke) in a hovel in a forgotten part of Russia. Upon his deathbed, Anton urges his son to follow his footsteps and continue the research that he started in hopes for Ivan to carve out a slice of the good life denied him by the whims of fate. And the Stark family. With a grinding of metal teeth and a taste for vengeance on Tony Stark, Ivan sets to work on said research, a virtual mutation of the arc reactor, this time with energies flowing outwards instead of in.

That’s not all which is amiss and unawares in Tony’s world. His Iron Man tech has also drawn attention from Congress, seen as a portable WMD worn by its maverick and often-reckless owner. With such unregulated power running through Stark’s enterprise (like he one made one suit, please), it was only a matter of time before the powers that be and the US military wanted a piece of Iron Man.

Now our hero finds himself attacked on both fronts. One side from a would-be avenging enemy that demands his share of the glory, and the other flak from the country he tries to defend. That and there’s this business of trying to run a trans-global company dynasty with his own body betraying him. Anthony Stark has seen it rough playing the hero, but is it his own humility and mortality going to be his downfall?…


As far as sequels go, Iron Man 2 is just okay. Then again, most sequels are just okay. As I mentioned above, sequels are a hit-and-miss kind of venture. The producers of Iron Man 2 tried to make lightning strike twice by repeating a mistake that happens with sequels to successful original movies: simply repeat the formula. What worked so well with the first Iron Man film is that everything was new. I mean, the plot wasn’t. There are only so many plots Hollywood writers can draw from, and the “humbled hero redeemed” is a classic theme and was put to good use with energy and humor in Iron Man. The second time around, well…It’s not so new anymore.

Iron Man 2 establishes a new concept I’d like to dub “sophisticated camp.” There’s a lot of cartoony flash-and-dash here, underlined with some drama that could be regarded as tongue-in-cheek. At least I thought so. This film feels a lot more carefree than the first, and it moves at a breakneck speed. Not as, dare I say, “heady” at the first Iron Man with its pseudo-socio-political undertones. Iron Man 2 has rapid-fire pacing, and I was unsure if I could keep up, let alone appreciate it. Despite that this movie was more freewheeling than the first, it lacked the verve of the first movie. This sequel played like a by-the-numbers action movie, period, with a lot of meta, subtle in-jokes and the crashing of metal on metal. Like I said, repeat the formula.

However, I liked the feel of the movie. Its breezy nature, though at times teetering on plain goofy, was what felt like a good waste of time. Part of the thanks falls to the director for that one. Jon Favreau has a style that is whimsical yet demands your attention very sternly. The scenes may be full of unrestrictive joking, winking, speeding and hamming it up, it does get in the pocket where the fun meets the drama (such as it is). There is substance behind all the antics, but it takes a keen pair of eyes and ears to grab onto it.

Speaking of the humor rife throughout the film, there were a lot of little touches that I dug. I already mentioned the in-jokes, but there are also quite a few clever verbal segues and cues. One I liked was shortly before our villain Whiplash AKA Ivan Vanko exacts revenge on Tony with his new weapon, hanging out in the pit crew on the Grand Prix wearing a helmet with “Intervention” emblazoned on its brim is pretty witty.

Since we’re talking about Whiplash, I really enjoyed Mickey Rourke’s portrayal of Iron Man’s new foe. Rourke was never considered the strong, silent type back in his heyday. But it worked here. He was menacing and funny, and used that battle-scarred mug of his to great effect (boxing sure took its toll on Mickey, eh?). He did have a certain presence in the movie. Was it charming? In a whacked-out kind of view, yeah. Right. He was fun. What makes me wonder is why the studio chose such an obscure villain as Whiplash to be the antagonist of this film? Because he looks cool has my vote.

More on the acting. Downey as Stark is smarm incarnate. He’s like the cool kid in high school with the flash wheels and the blonde, dimwitted cheerleader girlfriend in the trunk. The Family Stark abode was the place to go when his parents were out of town and the keg was in the basement. Downey is a great actor. He’s always been left-off-center funny but can really tear into it when he has to. You can see he relishes this role. An aside: when I first caught wind that Downey was going to portray Iron Man, I thought it was a stroke of genius. My fellow comic book heads hemmed and hawed, for reasons I never got (comic nerds are a cagey lot). But look: here’s actor with a well known, well publicized substance abuse problem, has had scrapes with the law and habitually shot himself in the foot due to his own hubris. Sounded like Stark material to me.

Don Cheadle is a criminally underused, underappreciated actor. He is very literate, earnest and confident. He replaced Terrence Howard from the first film as Rhodey/War Machine here, and it was for the better. Despite the fact Howard looked more like Rhodes in the first film, Cheadle is better at delivering lines. Howard bounced back and forth from stern to…stern to…did he even enjoy the role? Cheadle really dug into his role. Then again, I think his delivery was troublesome and it’s mostly due to him undertaking mediocre roles. He’s better than that. (About the debut of War Machine: it was somewhat in line with the canon. But the mano y mano scene was kind of corny. I mean, really. Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots?)

Sam Rockwell as Hammer was the wild card. He’s a wheeler-dealer, and that kind of characterization stinks of a summer movie, this kind of heavy. It was kind of a bait-and-switch, with Whiplash seemingly posing as the head baddie (remember Christopher Walken in Batman Returns? Uh-huh). Rockwell is too hammy. Professionally, I’m a cook. The other day I nicked my thumb (just bear with me). It happens. However as a cut heals, and has to be sealed under a bandage. A certain “scent” of the healing sets in. The wound absorbs the toil of the day. The day consists of maybe 12 hours on average. That means very many times dipping it into salt wells. It stings and so does the smell of the wound. So smells Rockwell’s performance. I guess what I’m saying is I could’ve done without Rockwell as Hammer. I mean the role was good, just poorly acted.

By the way, Scarlett Johannsen is in Iron Man 2. Moving on.

For years in the comic book, it was kind of an open secret that Tony Stark was Iron Man. I liked the fact in the film that him outing himself did not result in the usual crap storyline of now the hero’s friends and family are in mortar peril. Stark just uses it as a smart business ploy. And this could be his undoing in a different way. If there is a message to Iron Man 2, it’s the classic we have met the enemy, and he is us. I suppose you have some have some meat on the well-chewed bone to satisfy the human equation.

But overall, this sequel lacks gas. The first film worked better because of more internal drama. You know, the human factor. This one traded in spectacle. Pretty good spectacle, but you can’t dig for gold in a silver mine (yeah, yeah. An Elton John lyric. I’m not beneath some things). If anything, Favreau with all his wonder-dealing is too slick. With all its whiz-bang, the movie’s a bit clunky. Despite all the snappy dialogue, there is too much exposition. In the final analysis, Iron Man 2 is schizo movie. There’s a lot to enjoy here, but it’s been done before and better. There’s a lot to carp about here (there’s a shock), but it’s mostly minor. But there’s a lot of it.

*shrug*

I guess I really wanted to like Iron Man 2. A part of me still does. Did Favreau capture lightning in a bottle the first time? Kinda, yeah. But was this sequel another exercise in separating the audience from their money, capitalizing on the ravenous appetites of more noise? Naw. We were operating on the “Then what happened?” dynamic. And there always more to happen in a comic book franchise.

I heard there was a third installment of Iron Man. Hmmm…


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Coin flip. It depends on what you’re tastes are. I’m gonna relent it. But if you want to watch it, be sure you’re wearing the proper lenses.


Stray Observations…

  • John Slattery as Howard Stark! Garry Shandling as Sen. Stern! Stan Lee as Larry King! Exclamation points!
  • “I’ve successfully privatized world peace.” Ironic Nixon salute.
  • Once when I was musing with comic book dealer Jeff (shortly before the first Iron Man came out) I claimed, “You know who’d make a good Jarvis? Paul Bettany.” When I finally saw the movie and read the closing credits, I accidentally smacked my fiancée in the face with surprise. Guess I won…something.
  • “Don’t say wind farm; I’m already feeling gassy.”
  • I love the soundtrack.
  • “Sir, I’m gonna have to ask you to exit the donut!” Only Sam Jackson (that and the Pulp Fiction throwback).
  • “Coffee Bean?” More meta for Marvel zombies.
  • “Why is drone better?” “People make problem.” Yep.
  • I was a kid in the 80’s and getting into comics when I first read Iron Man I thought he was a black guy. Then I didn’t know of any black superheroes, so I was entranced. Later I learned that Tony Stark was MIA as Iron Man due to his alcohol abuse, and Rhodes took over for a time. I was bummed that Iron Man was originally a white guy. Needless to say that since then, I’ve been a big backer of War Machine in the funny pages. He came across as more focused, tougher…and sober. And he had a bigger armory.
  • “Nice work, kid.”
  • By the way, Black Widow is a lot older than she seems.

Next Installment…

What, another comic book film? Not again! Aw, c’mon. You gotta get into The Spirit of things!


 

RIORI Vol. 2, Installment 6: Jon Favreau’s “Made” (2001)


60020328


The Players…

Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn, Vincent Pastore, Sean “whatever inane handle he’s cooked up for this month” Combs, Fazion Love, Famke Janssen, David O’Hara and Peter Falk.


The Story…

Aspiring boxer Bobby and his idiot pal Ricky get tagged to head off to New York as representatives of an LA mob boss. Their mission—as if they could refuse it—is to secure a money-laundering deal, but trouble hits when the two meet up with would-be made men of their aspirations. It’s a dodgy trip into NYC’s underbelly for stooges Bobby and Ricky. Let’s hope they don’t have to make any (collect) calls home for help.


The Rant…

First off, sorry for the half-assed review the last time out. It’s not that it was written in haste or under the influence. It was just I was so not engaged in the film. It teetered on the edge of being boring, and you know how cranky that makes me (more so than usual).

Call it a hangover from the Finding Forrester review, but what really draws me or anyone into a film are the characters. You know, the vehicles of the film. They’re the guys and gals who really, truly are the reasons why we go out to the multiplex and pay such absurd prices for dry, sh*tty nachos. The reason why I adore Forrester and need a bucket for Cloverfield is an emotional investment in the characters (or lack thereof). It’s the actors, man. The folks that draw us to the box office in the first place.

Okay. There are a bunch of snoot-worthy filmgoers that plunk down their dollars for a movie directed by such-and-such and written by scribble-and-scrawl. F*ck them. Again, movie fans go to the omegaplex to see what the stars a-gonna do. The actors are the teeth upon which the gears grind. Any questions?

*crickets*

Right.

Made is rife with characters. It’s a character driven movie, not unlike its malformed twin, Swingers. Unlike the affable Swingers, Made is demented. In the image of a character study gone horribly awry left of center f*cking stupidly amusing as hell.

Here we go…


Bobby (Favreau) is a chumpy boxer (his night job) who labors as a mason (his day job) to make sure his stripper girlfriend Jessica (Janssen) can hold onto the rent and give her kid a roof over her head. Ricky (Vaughn) is an idiot. He has no backstory beyond being Bobby’s childhood buddy. He’s just an idiot. Did I mention he’s an idiot? And he’s hitched to beleaguered Bobby’s belt like barnacles. Can’t keep his trap shut or his fingers clean. Ever had a wingman who could effortlessly spout out every sexual conquest freely to the latest model that hovered into the airspace of your rapidly shrinking scrotum? Hey y’all, meet Ricky! And Bobby will politely grind his molars into kibble.

Such a dynamic may have worked real keen-like back in high school, but now such finger-poking lost any amusement decades ago. Bobby is tired of Ricky’s narcissistic bone-headedness, constantly having to both babysit him and clean up the many messes that he makes. Such messes always fall into Bobby’s lap to mop up. Now when yet another one of Ricky’s schemes backfires, Bobby has to take the heat in the worst way: he has to perform a favor.

The favor is for Maxie (Falk), local mob boss and Bobby’s benefactor. One night at one of Jessica’s many house calls, Bobby slugs out a guy getting too touchy-feely. The end result is several thousand dollars worth of dental damage to a very influential guy with “connections.” That and Ricky “lost” Maxie’s dry cleaning truck. No matter. Time to pay the fiddler. For their shenanigans, Maxie sets them up on a junket to NYC to secure a money-laundering scheme with smooth operator Ruiz (Combs). It’s a stupidly simple job; just represent the Left Coast. Even these two couldn’t…oh, who the hell are we kidding…


Like I said, Made is all about the characters. Okay, mostly the two leads. Favreau and Vaughn shook things up quite well (like a good martini. Get it?) in Swingers (another movie you should go rent. Go ahead, I’ll wait…….Okay? Told ya). There wasn’t conventional chemistry in that movie, and that repeats itself here. Only this time the dynamic is turned on its ear.

It’s hard not to compare the two movies. Naturally there are shades of Swingers, right down to the quirky music in Made. Vaughn’s motormouth Ricky is like his counterpart Trent only in reverse. Ricky is all anti-charm and exasperates everyone, a paranoiac through his own devices. Favreau instead of being anxious here shoulders utter frustration and masters a severe hangdog; not unlike Bill Murray in Broken Flowers, with his bewildered face falling off his lantern jaw, so gripped tight for almost every scene as he’s forced to deal both with his circumstances and Ricky’s nonstop prattle. He also must’ve had a steel will to not crack up at Vaughn’s antics, most of which had to have been improvised. It’s like Abbott and Costello in Made, but with punching.

I like Peter Falk. Been a fan since The Princess Bride. He was one of the most likeable actors ever, even when he was pissy. And for the few short minutes in the film, boy was he ever endearingly irascible. It works though. This diminutive, half-blind Jewish character actor was able to eject power into a caricature role that would usually embarrass most folks. Not here. He commands both attention and trepidation, to very amusing affects. He’s a nice aperitif to the doggishness of Vaughn and Favreau. By the way, there’s some kind of symbolism with the fight wounds, bandages hanging off Bobby’s face in Maxie’s dark office. Can’t quite put my finger on it but I know something’s there. Something about Maxie’s soliloquy (post comments as they warrant).

Hey, you know what surprised me? Puffy (I’ll call him that since his heyday was in the 90’s). Yes, yes, I know he’s acted before in Monster’s Ball (as an inmate. What? A rap mogul as convict? That was trite when the Straight Outta Compton album debuted. And Cube has been in far more movies). Here he’s got some serious swagger, a being a heavy without overplaying his hand. He was the “serious” actor in this film, and did a nice job of balancing heavy with jovial. Pretty good stuff. Like I said, a surprise in an overtly character driven movie. Reese’s cups to one and all.

Something offhand (but weighty enough not to be stray): You ever notice that films that take place in NYC have a certain swagger prior to 9/11, which got lost after the Towers fell? This movie has that necessary swagger. A confident, ball-sack dragging swagger that is simultaneously empowering and endearing, which a lot of indie projects lack. And no mystique here, Made is an indie cashing in on premium stars. But they’re put to good use, so cheers.

The technical flourishes were good too. Maybe this was why Favreau landed the gig at helming the first two Iron Man films. Really good cinematography plus a keen use of lighting. These are two things that land films subtlety into Oscar territory. Made wasn’t made to win any Oscars. But for the technical stuff that actually wins Oscars and flaunt bigger budgets, Made delivers.

Like I said, Made is a character movie, rife with those you can easily get engaged with, hand-in-glove. It’s also convenient that one of the leads also directed the thing. Favreau’s steady hand guides Made into chewy, harmless, but ultimately entertaining fun. Demented, but entertaining.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. If you liked Swingers, you’ll enjoy Made, if only with a left of center (uppercut to the jaw) flair. Where’s Alex Desert?


Stray Observations…

  • “I got enough people pretending to sweep.”
  • The limo’s license plate read DBLDN11. Did ya catch that?
  • “I know you got fish to drop off.”
  • …And they saved the fish.
  • “You have a great Easter.”

Next Installment...

Henry Cavill is Superman, the Last Son of Krypton, the Man of Steel.