RIORI Redux: Nicolas W Refn’s “Drive” Revisited


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The Players…

Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Oscar Isaac, Bryan Cranston, Christina Hendricks, Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks.


The Story…

Hollywood stuntman by day, getaway driver by night. Our man is the go-to guy, the all-purpose wheelman to get you the hell out of Dodge. No connections, and that’s how he likes it. It is, until his solitary life is disrupted by his cute neighbor and her young son. He quickly learns that, hey, maybe starting a friendship ain’t so bad after all. His newfound peace is shattered, however, when her violent husband is released from prison hell bent on a family reunion, whether mommy wants it or not. This reminds our man why it’s better to stay disconnected.


The Rant (2013)

In keeping up the general gist of this blog, I’m rambling through various recent movies of dubious reputation or had been lacking in box office mojo. Here’s the thing though: I already knew Drive was a noteworthy picture a few years ago, and had tallied up some relatively decent cheddar at the multiplex to boot—for a minor film. Of course, despite what Hollywood thinks, just cuz a movie makes a few ripples doesn’t mean it was any good. How else does that explain Rob Schneider having a career?

It’s was the critics’ responses to Drive that tweaked me, or at least what they didn’t say. The general public were up and down. The critics were all over the map. For example, good ol’ reliable Rotten Tomatoes gave Drive 93% while the audience gave it an average 78%. IMBD users, 7.9/10. Metascore, 78/100. Seems few can agree to disagree here.

Help is on the way.

That’s what I’m here for: to help people. Really. Or at least not to have you waste your hard-earned (or stolen) cash on the next stream. Well, that and give me a forum to spout my half-baked opinions about movies, shaking a fist into the air, railing like an angry shepherd under the black, starry sky, cursing Hollywood for inflicting the likes of Grown-Ups 2 and another useless remake/reboot because the folks in Tinsel Town are under the impression that we’re either all stupid, drooling inbreds or have memories the likes of retarded goldfish, slothfully dragging our popcorn-addled carcasses to the omegaplex devoid of any independent thought. Entertain us, o heathen warlords of the silver screen after our almighty, slippery ducat. Aye, there be yer zombie apocalypse.

Where was I? Right. Help. Here we go…

First and foremost, Drive is an homage to 80’s style thrillers, right down to the synth heavy score. To Live And Die in L.A. immediately comes to mind. From the metallic blue of the L.A. skyline to it’s sepia toned daytime desert climes. The pacing is as tight as the car chases. And the acting as wooden as the Sequoia National Forest. This pseudo-noir flick makes for neat cat and mouse antics through the City of Angels, but that novelty runs out of gas (ha!) pretty damned quick. Gosling’s performance as the Driver. Ugh. Where to begin? Is his portrayal supposed to be so stiff? I know he’s supposed to be this icy, introverted tough guy, but comes across as flat as the L.A. freeway and he never seems to blink. And when he does show emotion—a smile here, a tear there—it comes across as just plain creepy. Carey Mulligan is just vapid wallpaper. Why was Hendricks in this movie, other than to get offed? Her role was very pointless and was no more than a glorified cameo.

Cranston is criminally underused here and just comes off as some kind of caricature. The old mentor schtick doesn’t usually improve with age, and his staggering about the set came across as comical without being funny. On the bright side, Brooks and Perlman are just as amusing as ever, especially Brooks in a wiseguy role. However Brooks is so unconvincing as a killer mobster (even when does kill and do mobster things), that it’s unintentionally funny. I have a soft spot for Ron Perlman, so it’s tough to say rotten things about his acting, even though he was kinda goofy. Sorry.

You can’t talk about this movie without commenting on its violence. There’s a lot of it, and, yeah, it’s gratuitous. It’s also boring. You get numb to the Driver’s antics real quick. He’s not a fun date. And the motel scene; when did he become Rambo? What was that pledge earlier in the film that “I don’t use a gun”? Oops. He uses sharp implements and shoes a lot too. Cold-blooded and unconvincing.

Harsh, you say? Tough, My review. Nyah, nyah, nyah. I still haven’t figured out the disparity between the critics and the audience. I’m part of the audience here, not a professional critic. Let’s just put it this way: I didn’t fall for Drive‘s alleged art house pretensions. It was just a poorly acted, violent, rip-off of other motor n’ mobster movies that came before it, mostly in the cocaine-fueled 80’s. Kinda like the soundtrack.


Rant Redux (2019)

Okay. I’ll admit it. I was too harsh. I think I was too eager to gnash my teeth and get all Lewis Black on this film for two reasons: 1) I was all too quick to latch on, remora-like, to the inconsistencies in the plot and trumpet about them, and: 2) a neophyte to blogging I wanted to make a stink so readers would “notice me” by trashing a noteworthy film. In simpler terms, I was a snot and strutted about, Mr Movie Know-It-All, openly pissed about no being allowed at the cool kids table at lunch in 7th grade. Wah.

Before I go on with this stroll down memory lane I feel it proper to give a shout out to the “silent partner” in the creation of RIORI, one Jordan Harms. I told about the inspiration for this blog in Vol 3’s installment about Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium. Back then Jordan was hot to trot to see said film as how much he loved the director’s District 9. The day after he caught the movie I asked him about it. He shrugged. It was okay. Meh. He looked let down. That’s when I asked no one the apocryphal question, “There oughta be a website out there that warns about mediocre movies.” Boing. And here we are.

There’e more to that than that. I’ve understood that to truly enjoy another’s company, you gotta be down with their quirks. If you can get beyond others’ fears, concerns, ideologies and tastes no matter how warped you can find a cool friend amongst all their personal bouts with life. Another aspect of getting to know a person is sort of a silent matter; you don’t wanna bring it up in casual conversation because it it ultimately private and others Just. Won’t. Get it. And I ain’t talking sexual preferences or who your fave X-Man is. Sometimes that’s one and the same. Eeyew.

Jordan had a condition to compartmentalize social interactions to quick, smart conversations that overarched the need for him to hit the head. Often. A lot. Like go off the grid a lot. In and out of the kitchen was he, returning with a look of satori on his face; he had just realized something. Like a lot of us he did his best thinking in the bathroom, and would often return to work with a pithy thought or two to share. The man always had something on is mind. I liked that.

Once he laid it out thus: what makes a movie mediocre? Well, bad reviews for one, but that’s always subjective. Lousy acting? Sure, but sometime a good story can make lame acting tolerable. And the story? Of course, but one can run the acting thing in reverse. And there’s always the return on investment: the box office takeaway. That’s a key thing there, the almighty ducats. This became one of the Five Pillars of The Standard. If a movie walked away breaking even or scratched a surface then something mediocre was afoot. Just because most American audiences are dumb they’re not dumb. They knew when they get ripped off. I highlighted that on the start page. Jordan and I couldn’t ignore that factor, so I looked up Box Office Mojo and The Numbers to do the math for some movies’ budgets against what they actually earned.

That being said, smaller indie pictures don’t nestle easily into Avengers: Endgame territory. Budgets for smaller films tend to be modest, and if such an indie film catches fire, well the spread between the budget and the takeaway can be like David and Goliath, minus the head injuries. At least the literal ones.

Drive was such a film that caught fire. Kinda. We’re dealing with low numbers into not so low numbers, but all with critical praise, name actors and a hook that I completely missed with my first viewing. In fact, I got it after I send the disc back to Netflix (no, this caveman still doesn’t have streaming on his TV and I refuse to watch a movie on my iMac. It feels like homework). I had already written the installment above and posted it begrudgingly because I didn’t…I was lazy. Jordan was the one who suggested Drive, and was rather dismayed I didn’t like it. He told me so on Facebook, and if you can’t believe that then, well.

In hindsight the installment for Drive was sour grapes. I nitpicked. I groaned. I panned. And I totally missed the point until a day later after the post was in the can. I base the revelation after the time I caught The Blair Witch Project in theaters. Sure, the movie was spooky and weird but didn’t really stir the blood. The most I can say about that was dissecting the movie with my pals at the cafe across the street from the only theater in town that showed the darn thing. We mostly didn’t get it, but it sure was different.

It was only a day later, sitting on the edge of my bed before sleep (no, really) that I got it. There was a plot point about the Blair Witch allegedly making her potential victims to stand in the corner, like a bad pupil would. So when in the very last scene REDACTED. I froze, replaying the scene in my mind. Holeee sh*t. I got it. A day late and ten dollars short but I got it.

That’s kinda the delayed reaction I had from watching Drive. Understood there was a lot of melodrama and excessive violence that I carped about. I also bitched about other things that I did not immediately get a la Blair Witch. I even quacked about it in the original rant, rather snarky for my usual custom. I called Drive “pseudo-noir flick.” I was almost right. Drive is “neo-noir,” a good enough phrase to contain the style of a modern take of the 1980’s style thrillers. That stuff about To Live And Die In LA was not a swipe. Not now anyway. Drive takes its hints from half-forgotten 80s “classics” like Die In LA, as well as ThiefNight Hawks and Manhunter. Products of their time given a shave and a massage for the 21st Century with Drive.

Christ, I was so caviling. So smug. Look, I know it was just a movie critique, but it is the duty of the critic to broadcast their truth in an unbiased way at the outset. I think since it was Jordan’s recommendation I had a bias at the beginning to like it, so not to offend his bathroom wisdom. I guess I overanalyzed things. I finally figured out that with all its flaws, just go with it. We’re aiming for atmosphere here, not philosophy.

My biggest carp with Drive was the acting. I called it wooden. It was. But I later understood why: Drive is a tribute to the plastic nature of the 80s flicks and their artifice. If the only true drama laid out by flicks such as To Live And Die In LA as front-and-center a drug dealer getting a shotgun blast to the groin, you really couldn’t care less about how the actor screamed and screamed. The violence Gosling dispenses is a head nod, not a high five. The stereotypes, like Albert Brooks heavy Bernie work because the entire cast are ciphers channelling the soiled glam and glitz of those skeezy neo-noir flicks from the Reagan administration. Via such hamminess, it’s a love letter. I got it. I get that now, end of the bed or no.

I owe an apology to the bathroom sage Jordan. I credit him for helping to establish The Standard, and relent the crap I spewed about Drive out of spite. Hey, it was my third installment. Sue me. Again. My lawyer’s on retainer.


The Revision…

Rent it or relent it? Overruled: Rent it. I learned you must be in the right mindset to dig a film like Drive. In 2013 I was defiantly in the wrong mindset. And high. Did I mention that?


Next Installment…

We take an Uber around Midnight In Paris again. Woody Allen was the first esteemed filmmaker I tackled, and I hope I did a good job. I think I did. I also think I was a blowhard that farted pretension and took the edge off with metaphysical bumper cars.

Get it?


 

RIORI Redux: Zack Snyder’s “Sucker Punch” Revisited



The Players…

Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens and Jamie Chung, with Oscar Issac, Carla Gugino, Jon Hamm and Scott Glenn.


The Story…

Wrongly institutionalized after an accidental killing, a young girl known only as “Baby Doll” is slated for lobotomy. She’s nuts. She creates her own reality. She had nothing doing will denying her lecherous, drunken foster uncle getting cut out of the will. Nothing.

Baby Doll isn’t taking this lying down (so to speak), and naturally and aims to escape her prison as well as take a bunch of her fellow young female inmates along for the ride. But a ride it is, especially when Baby and her buddies have to dance their way out and in of her mental phantasms.

Wait, what?


Intro…

So here we are.

This was supposed to be the 100th Installment here at Good Ol’ RIORI. Truth be told, what with me manipulating the structure of the so-called “volumes” here, we passed that landmark, like, fifty Installments ago. Weren’t you keeping track? I barely was. The snowdrift of mediocre movies I scrambled through has left my head a tad hazy. Too much underrated exposure to Aaron Eckhart and/or Scarlett Johansson I guess.

Instead, I’m opting to review and overhaul the first 17 Installments—the so-called Volume 1 of RIORI—for your viewing pleasure and mine own edification. The first volume consisted of posts on FaceBook. Basically extended screeds until I got wise and created a WordPress account to little fanfare. At first. I just cut-and-pasted my crap onto WP pages and figured that’s that, and went on to clamber up higher cliffs.

However, it always chafed me that the first “volume” here was a such a raw and naive attempt. The posts were too short, sophomoric and responding to the NOW culture that social media cultivates. In short, I was dumb and in a hurry. Why? Like all avid, would-be blogging Hemingways I had a message to spout and an ego to feed. And let’s face facts, FaceBook posts and blog posts are the same thing: ego massage. We all think our innermost opinions are an essential, Wikipedia-esque vitality the ‘Net needs. Hence the proliferation of funny cat videos on YouTube. I enjoy them too. Give in to the guilt.

At time of this pressing, a few months back on the Cooking Channel, food geek and scientist Alton Brown wisely decided to escort himself away from the role of game show host to get back into the kitchen. Being a cook, his Good Eats series was de riguer viewing through the aughts. The show was a treat, even if you weren’t some aspiring foodie (read: culinary snob in training). Brown’s witty discection about cooking worked on a Mr Wizard cum Kids In The Hall level that was entertaining as well as educational. Good TV overall, as well as scarce. Bam!

The aforementioned few months back involved Brown in “reloading” episodes of his original show. Correcting mistakes, tweaking formulas, adding new recipes and cleaning out his decade old erlenmyers stained with glace. That’s what I’m gonna do here: flesh out the bare bones that made this blog such a limping success. I think it’ll serve both as a revue of those heady days back in 2013 and an intro to all my new FaceBook followers to the glorious pile of cowpies I’ve had to scoop up over the last 6 years. Remember social media: fluff the ego.

So now, a hundred-plus Installments under my belt, and have since learned that deeper delving into a mediocre movie oft requires more than two paragraphs and a slump home, I’m gonna upgrade those lowly first 17 Installments. Polish them, groom them, apply mascara and hopefully expound upon my grand experiment. This time employing spellcheck and be naked of hubris.

Well, just mostly naked.

Here we go and here we try…


The Rant (2013)

Horror master Stephen King once wrote in his Bare Bones memoir that one of his biggest and earliest fears was losing your mind. Going insane. Having the cheese fall off one’s cracker. He did admit that the fear was viewed through naive eyes. One does not lose their minds in one fail swoop, like on an episode of the Twilight Zone or something. King addressed the process of going mad brilliantly in his classic, The Shining. As it became with Jack Torrence, psychosis happens across a continuum, develops like a malign dream, is a sickness. Insanity is not like breaking a limb, sudden and immediate. It’s deliberate and slow. To quote Riff-Raff, “Madness takes it toll.”

Apparently no one told writer/director Zack Snyder this.

It seems after Snyder’s sudden and runaway success with his 300 he earned carte blanche to indulge his cinematic id. Shoot a movie that popped from his fevered imagination fully-formed like Zeus’ siblings from Cronos’ cloven skull. One with even more spectacle than the crimson Battle of Thermopylae could deliver. A phantasmagoria of dragons, ninjas, robots, fighter planes and of course, girls with guns. The hallucinations of a diseased mind hyped up on truck stop speed and espresso.

Behold the opus that is Sucker Punch.

The title alone says something. An unfair blow to the gut. That’s more or less what this film delivers. It meets the standard of poor reputation, sad box office draw, critical lambasting and naturally going way, way over budget. So begins the inaugural installment of RIORI. Hooray!…

…*tumbleweeds roll across webpage*

Plot make any sense yet? There’s a plot? Is one even necessary? If the above sequence of events seem disparate from a single film, you’d be wrong. It’s more or less how Sucker Punch plays out. All at once. That rigmarole is a single film, one and the same.

WTF? Uh-huh. Yeah.

Sucker Punch has got to be one of the most demented sci-fi/fantasy/action hybrids I have ever seen (as if I’ve seen many sci-fi/fantasy/action hybrids at all).

The story is inscrutable, the acting both entrancing and repellant, the sets off-the-wall amazing and depressing and the F/X so beyond over the top you cease to have a suspension of disbelief. You have to go with it because otherwise, if you think about what’s going on too much, your brain would pop and spurt out of your ears like so much hot cerebral tapioca.

In short, Sucker Punch is awesome.

Sometimes you just wanna be entertained. Sometimes you need a big old guilty pleasure to make the day ease by a little smoother. Sometimes you feel like having your senses and sanity assailed, whipped with a cat o’ nine tails made of cobras wielded by a nude, immolated dominatrix that can juggle chainsaws, do origami with her toes and has a PhD in metaphysics whose name is Sheila. This is the movie for you.

Say what you want about Snyder’s infamous cinematic flair for visually going over the edge, he’s damned good at what he does. Punch has got something for everyone, except much consistency, substance or sense. The movie’s nothing short of utter nonsense, relying almost totally on the applesauce that usually complements a film’s key components like plot, acting, three-act structure, catering, etc. Epic special effects and big stupid surround sound eruptions. Martial arts and trench warfare. Robots and rockets. And of course, girls with guns in skimpy/tight outfits. Not to mention also that this film was dropped at the beginning of spring, before God, when most filmmakers are just putting out dandruff made last year. What balls it takes to make a film that is completely devoid of all the niceties and pretensions of polite, professional cinema. It’s oddly refreshing and to a lesser degree…quite mature.

I know. Calling out Sucker Punch’s execution as mature seems like a lot of hogwash considering Snyder’s debut was the 2004 remake of Dawn Of The Dead. Almost all of the Living Dead movies (save the original) are nothing more that puerile exercises in adolescent salivations for gore and mayhem. But to just toss everything out the window, simultaneously hurling sh*t at a wall just to see what’ll stick is a stance of defiance that only the most courageous, confident and maverick filmmakers command.

There is a ridiculous amount of heavy-handed symbolism, granted, as if even the most water-headed filmgoer can hitch a ride and take it all the way to the end of the line. Such handholding can come across as insulting at best and sturdily mawkish at worst. Such sophomoric storytelling is usually accompanied with a three season deal for a reality show on some Fox network, usually resulting in a book deal with Snooki (oops). Such rampant juvenilia usually hawks a big gob at any sane movie watcher. And yet, it does take guts (maybe not much brains) and a self-assuredness that only comes with a measure of wisdom. It also takes being stubbornly attached to your vision, no matter how myopic it may seem. In sum, Snyder is f*cking crazy. Bold, but f*cking crazy all the same.

Enough pontificating. What made the movie so “awesome?” Well, beyond the visual and sonic treats there’s…uh…nothing else really. The plot is wafer thin, moving along like sludge, only in place to be used as a medium to bounce from a scene of action, titillation, more action or another sequence that hopefully results in a lot of sh*t going kerblooey.

And the acting? Who cares? Only Jena Malone and Scott Glenn have any real acting chops. You might remember Malone portraying Jake Gyllenhaal’s girlfriend in Donnie Darko. She’ll be in the forthcoming Hunger Games sequel too, and possesses both earnestness and sass that works pretty well with her character Rocket here in Punch. Glenn’s been all over the place, known for playing grizzled characters, like Jack Crawford in The Silence Of The Lamba and Capt. Mancuso in The Hunt For Red October (guy seems to like working with Hollywood adaptations of novels). I enjoyed Glenn’s goofy cameos in the film quite a bit; an anchoring factor in a film that is always threatening to come off the tracks. Other than those two, the rest of the cast is only there to look pretty (they succeed. Duh).

The cinematography was mounted on a careening roller coaster. Very well, I might add. Nothing stays still for very long here in the world(s) of Punch. It’s a very, almost exhaustively kinetic film. Two hours freaking jet by watching this travesty. The frenzied action scenes are only interrupted by the “B” plot of the girls trying to flee the bordello/asylum/Babydoll’s ailing mind/who the f*ck knows awash in greys and silvers and a lot of dour expressions, an ethereal “reality” invading our crack-addled amusement park. This tries to be congruent and symbolic of the “A” plot, or is it the “C” plot? Christ, I couldn’t keep track. If this is Snyder’s attempt at auteur filmmaking…

Forget it. I should just stop trying. There are no redeemable “serious” filmmaking machinations at work in Sucker Punch. The only constant in the film is that there is a whole winking and nodding aspect of the feature that repeatedly shouts at you, the audience, are in on the whole messy jest. The unfortunate part is that the joke is without a punchline. Snyder gave us nothing to hang onto. Again, was that the point? The whole movie was pointless.

And rising above all this degradation was a solid two hours of entertainment.

At any rate, all this overly elaborate editorializing may fly in the face of what I’ve been rambling on about for the past few minutes. Maybe Punch wasn’t intended to be the masturbatory effort Snyder barfed out, rife with neon symbolism, feminine fantasies, an examination of mental illness and hallucinations of sphinx-like splendor. Maybe all Snyder wanted to do was deliver shock and awe. Visual and sonic bombast. A manga come to life. Scott Glenn in period garb. An excessive blow to the senses. Maybe stuff like that.

Sometimes that’s all you really need to be entertained, I suppose.


Rant Redux (2019)

When I re-read this pastiche, I was actually kinda surprised my “economy” of words summed up pretty well the essence of Snyder’s fever dream. I guess now that sometimes less is more, especially the face of the f*cking huge undertaking Sucker Punch must’ve been. After watching it again, the word big is an apt term for this mind-bending, very entertaining fiasco. Punch was the classic example of form following function, But the actual function was mired in such popcorn existentialism that I must’ve left the masses blind. Here we are, a bit budget popcorn flick that requires further examination. Wrong flavor for this kind of phantasmagoria.

Classic qualifications for a “cult film.” We’ll see if that prediction bears fruit in 2021. Maybe 2029 to be safe.

But yeah, I found that if you read between the stilted lines there was some very real feminist navel-gazing going on there. Not a bad thing. I found upon repeated views that it made the mess more palatable. It is odd to actually dissect a crazy, fantasy actioner like Punch as if deciphering the Dead Sea Scrolls. Okay, maybe not that intense, but to simultaneously ask an audience to go along with this disjointed tale (which may be a manifestation of a diseased mind in abject fear for their sanity. Or not) as well as look for the loose nuts and bolts might be too much of a task for yer average Twizzler gobbler, like me.

The key term for Punch is existential. I swallowed wheelbarrow loads of Sartre and Kierkegaard back in college to recognize the bad faith that resonates in all of us, even in the movies. For the uninformed, the term “bad faith” was coined by none other that Jean-Paul himself; only this very moment matters. What’s past is past and gone. What may be, may be, but unattainable. Only NOW matters, and there is a very thick vein of NOW bleeding throughout Punch. Babydoll’s fate is moments away, but does what went down—no matter how tragic—means nothing now, and what might happen is an unattainable fever dream. If you doubt me, examine the editing (if you can with that salt and fake butter on your lashes).

I feel it is now time to admit that I’ve presently mastered the art of spewing bile and bullsh*t in equal doses. See what a difference six years make? You’re welcome.

At its heart, I think Punch is indeed akin to an existentialist play, one that navel gazes about being and nothingness, what it means to be human and its frailty and the price of true freedom. I know, heady sh*t from a Snyder film, but if you take the longview virtually all of Snyder’s movies question the human condition and what exactly is that anyway? 300, Watchmen, Man Of Steel, even his version of Dawn Of The Dead is about survival as well as maintaining one’s individualism against oppression (okay, Dracula 2000 barely scratched at that, but it did lead to sharper, not necessarily better things). There’s that metaphor careening through Snyder’s output, for good or for ill. It’s only his Punch that such a vision truly gels. And oy, it can be a headache to follow.

Punch is unique in its execution, ignoring the crazy, over-the-top, sumptuously rendered CGI action sequences. No. After watching and considering (and reconsidering) the movie’s flow, Punch tells a non-linear story. But instead of flashing forward and backward again through time (a la Quantum Leap), we go sideways. Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time (sub Babydoll for Billy). The story does trudge along a straight line, but with truly demented road stops along the way. This direction is not as difficult to follow as, say, The Fountain was executed. But once Punch diverges, you have to follow the context. Quickly. Even moreso than Aronofsky’s celestial mindf*ck.

The ozone trips that take place in Babydoll’s psyche/dance routines are all bristling with dire individualism. Seeking freedom, seeking self. Yeah, yeah. Lemme crawls out of my colon and face the sunshine. To be blunt, Snyder was exploring the “feminine mystique” from a guy’s POV. With lotsa booms and lotsa bullets. Lemme explain this in plain terms:

Back in the 1960s, writer and nascent feminist Betty Friedan penned the social examination The Feminine Mystique, questioning why the postwar homemaking women were so dissatisfied with their comfortable, modern convenience lives. Friedan called it “the problem that has no name.” Gender roles on the other shoes, usually wingtips: “What do women want?!?” Even modern women could answer that, but they knew that something was missing in their Better Homes And Gardens idyll lives.

Fast forward 50 years, director Snyder thought he had an answer—maybe a theory not unlike Friedan’s, but with more CGI aggression—and wanted to send a message/spin to arrested development, popcorn-munching Middle American movie goers that not only do women want to display themselves as strong, capable, assertive people but also heroes trying to escape social oppression based on centuries of patriarchal mores and control.

I’m back in my rear again, right? Too bad. You read it, you can’t unread it.

Punch is an over-the-top James Cameron movie, steeped in Snyder’s lack of subtlety. I cite Cameron, that old taskmaster, as a signature of his movies he always has a strong female protagonist. Always. Either some innocent who rises to the occasion or a tough-as-nails female who is still female. Think of his take on Ripley in Aliens, and her foil Vasquez. Or Sarah Connor in The Terminator and its sequel; she’s gets to be yin and yang. Of cast-iron bitch Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in The Abyss. Or even funny lady Jamie Lee Curtis in True Lies. Snyder had a statement to make in Punch, but was bleary-eyed in his execution. Cameron is like a knife. Snyder is like a stapler: I’ll pin a few things up here and there, you tell me what pages made sense. Snyder leaves it up to you…and maybe himself.

This is all a good thing. Really. I’m not bashing Snyder here (not this time) for his subtle-as-neon execution, script or production. Not at all. Punch was very entertaining, and that’s the ultimate goal of all movies. Shoving a erstwhile, CGI manifesto of a cinematic feminine mystique…well, I figure it would confuse most casual audiences. Not to sound any more high-minded than that I have already, but I studied wads of existentialist philosophy in college so I suppose I was inadvertently pre-programmed to enjoy Punch at the outset, even if I didn’t know that at the time. I mean, duh, females can be action heroes while still maintaining  mystique. I’m a guy. I can’t really get that, but I can respect that. Especiallly with awesome action scenes and rather pithy moments of sexy self-examination. Punch overall is a deconstructionist “girls with guns” melodrama. Snug clothes around a healthy female form is also a spoonful of sugar.

Sorry, I’m a guy. Deal with it, ladies of various strengths.


The Revision…

Rent it or relent it? Sustained: Rent it. I even own a copy of Punch in my hard library, and has fast became a go-to flick when I need an action fix, like with the original Blade or The Matrix. It’s a guilty pleasure and I’m wearing a sh*t-eating grin proudly.


Next Installment…

We continue reconsidering director Zack Snyder’s muse with his take on Watchmen. Think what you may, but do acknowledge he got that project out of Production Hell and into cinematic flesh, warts and all.

For what that’s worth.


 

RIORI Vol. 3, Installment 6: JC Chandor’s “A Most Violent Year” (2014)


A Most Violent Year


The Players…

Oscar Isaac, Jessica Chastain, David Oyelowo, Alessandro Nivola and Albert Brooks.


The Story…

When successful businessman Abel Morales is up against the wall regarding his dwindling fortunes due to extortion, he has to make a tough decision. The law is investigating the legitimacy of his practices. The Teamsters may or may not be strong-arming his drivers and fleet of trucks, hijacking them. He might have been unwittingly connected to Mafia undercurrents. Abel must decide whether to fight back with the law on one side, or a gun on another.


The Rant…

I grew up in a town that was slowly going under.

It was once a proud city, a model of industrial success and opportunity. A destination for urban prosperity as well as a shining example of what hard work, a decent chamber of commerce and a fine education system could accommodate. For the better part of a century, my hometown was textbook USA with all the fineries that went with it.

All that was on its way out when I moved there.

I didn’t know that at the time, but once I entered high school, the corruption flaking off at the corners became evident. Crime rates increased, the roads became veritable sh*tty golf courses of potholes, the cops more interested in busting non-whites for being non-white rather than tackling bigger issues like nascent gang violence and the drug trade. And the local gentry—with their suburban dollars—engaging in that perennial pastime called white flight didn’t help much either.

The town fell asunder. Local pundits—not much removed from the nameless, faceless “they” which was always being accused of causing the rot—threw up their collective hands and resigned themselves to the classic defense of “things ain’t what they used to be.” Then they went back to nursing their beers and openly hating negroes.

I think on some level that this malaise and acquiescence by the townies of dwindling returns planted the seed of my eventual hard-on for sketchy neighborhoods, their potential dangers, and an overall curiosity regarding urban corruption in cities larger than mine. I was a lilywhite, suburban kid, residing in one of the more well-heeled residential neighborhoods on the fringes of the city, far removed from the grime and blight downtown. At that age, center city was terra incognito, no man’s land, not the place for a well mannered me. Hell, back then my world ended about two blocks south of my home, bordered by a very busy street. That was the line of demarcation in my wanderings around my squeaky clean neighborhood.

The whole street thing and admonishments from the who’s who regarding the dark, urban underbelly of our slowly going south town also had an influence on my attraction to seedy sections of a city. On a very low level—basically a gateway—any time at that impressionable age I got to cross that demon street, I felt I was getting away with something. Something bad. I was going where I wasn’t supposed to be. Granted, this was very weak sauce. Across the street was a neighborhood almost exactly like mine. No Hell’s Kitchen there. But as I got older, and eventually earned a driver’s license, I’d find myself following my senses and exploring ever further into the belly of the beast. This didn’t stop within my hometown. Oh, no. Before Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations ever hit the air, your humble movie-basher would one way or another find himself in the seamier sections of New York, Boston, San Francisco and Honolulu even, looking for truth and fun.

You don’t have to be part of some Nat Geo expedition to the Yucatan to discover bizarre wildlife. Sometimes all you have to do is simply go “downtown,” if you have one. One of the many reasons I had for poking my nose into places I had no sane right to be was discovering said wildlife, usually in some back corner of the demimonde. Here’s a story about one such adventure. Perhaps—if you were lucky—you might know what I’m talking about; the surreptitious joys of both “getting away with it” and/or “being where you’re not supposed to be.”

Granted Honolulu is not South Central LA, but in the vein of our urban explorer adventure—and not to implicate myself in past incidents of a dubious nature—let’s just go with it. I figure a tale about scouring the back streets of some tourist town might be easier to digest than, say, avoiding hoodlums while trying to…uh, let’s let that hang in the air. Honolulu is figuratively and literally a sunny place, and we’ll make this late night excursion a positive one.

In some ways, the touristy town is a bit of a slum unto itself. There, most of the side neighborhoods were made not of crumbling, burnt-out buildings but endless, endless, identical hotels, restaurants and gift shops. Sterile. Plain. Somewhat intimidating, all those glaring lights and tall, tall white monuments to disposable dollars. The place eventually felt like the set of cautionary movie Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. On the other side of that same coin think Pete Seeger: “Little boxes, little boxes…”

When I was fortunate enough to visit Hawaii, I was held up in the local Hilton complex. Not hotel. Complex. Tourism is a compartmentalized business. The resort does not want its guests to leave the property, running the risk of them spending dollars at some off-site restaurant or bar. They want to keep the money circulating right there and only there. After all day wandering the grounds, exploring every nook and cranny, I came to that conclusion. The place had restaurants, bars, pools, gyms, even a mall for f*ck’s sake, and all of it under the banner of Hilton. Barring going to the beach, there really was no reason to go explore the town. You had everything there for your touristy dollar delights.

Which was reason enough for me to get the hell out of there for a while.

Later that night your typical Pacific rainstorm began pummeling the town. Drove a lot of the people indoors. Not me. I knew from my urban exploring that when the rain comes down, the rats come out of their holes in the wall. With all its shiny, cleansed, inescapable edifices of combustible dollars everywhere, I knew that Honolulu had to have its local color hidden away somewhere. So in the rain, my backpack filled with comics, pens and my notepad, I left the Hilton and wandered over to a small, independent bookshop across the street. I asked the guy at the counter where a haole like me could find some local action. He kind of smirked and directed me to a bar down the road. I thanked him and bounded back into the storm again, rain pissing down and me dodging cabs.

The further I got down the street, getting ever soggier, I saw that the hotels began to thin out giving way to smaller shops and parking lots. The lights of the hotels still shone brightly, but the shadows got progressively longer, blurring into the puddles. Par my tour guides directions, I took a left at a light and stumbled down the side road towards my destination. What I found looked very out of place wedged between two other monolithic but less luxurious hotels. I mean very out of place. I think the bar was located under a parking deck. There was nothing more to give a passerby an indication that it was a legit watering hole save the lone window with a neon Corona sign lit up and an open door permitting weary music droning from within. I had found my quarry. I was a shade disappointed at first. If this is what the downtrodden neighborhood of Honolulu was, it was no more skuzzy than my bar back East.

Inside, the place was low slung. The ceiling was only about a foot higher than I was. Corny trinkets of Hawaiian kitsch littered the walls. Peeling linoleum floor. A fogbank of blue haze from endless cigarettes. Rickety wooden stools circling the bar that had seen better days, their foam seats spilling out from tears in the vinyl. I liked the place immediately. Looking around, the bar crowd didn’t seem like a touristy bunch. I distinctly remember seeing a few cooks and valets, still in uniform, drinking beer, playing pool and just shooting the sh*t. This must’ve been where the working class—the underside—of Honolulu tourism went to get away from it all. I grabbed the first stool I saw, ordered a beer (they surprisingly had the local brand I enjoyed back in PA) and got out a few comics to pass the time.

Sitting there, I couldn’t help but get a feeling of déjà vu. This was my first time to the Aloha State, so I knew it was impossible for me to have ever visited this bar before. However, looking around, the joint looked vaguely familiar. I scanned the place for clues. Couldn’t put my finger on it, but…

My investigation and comic book reading was loudly interrupted by a commotion at my back, right where the door was. I turned, as well as most of the locals, to see what was up. These two dudes, dressed head-to-toe in San Francisco 49’ers gear, were whooping it up. The had a wagon in tow—a red Radio Flyer, no lie—with a large, cartoonish, Grandmaster Flash boombox inside. It was playing Billy Joel at 11. These two guys cranked up the volume further, started doing this insane dance and began to karaoke over Billy, hollering improvised lyrics over “We Didn’t Start the Fire” praising the 49er’s. The crowd loved it. They clapped and cheered. Between songs, Frick and Frack did a pseudo Abbott and Costello routine, cracking jokes about (you guessed it) the 49er’s. Folks bought them beers, they danced around appreciatively, and after 15 minutes out the door they went, boombox still blaring.

The bartender told me that those guys were regulars. They hailed, naturally, from San Fran, but always took a monthly vacation to Honolulu, espousing the wonders of the 49er’s wherever they went. I thought that was hilarious and the barkeep agreed. He was a nice guy, laid-back, and was honestly curious about my comics and what I was writing in my notebook. I asked him about the local scene in town and he gestured around his bar and said that this was pretty much it. Most tourists didn’t come to his place, rather mostly hotel employees and a few other locals. I mentioned that this was my first time in Hawaii, but I could swore that his place was familiar.

The guy smiled and pointed to the wall over the pool table. There were a series of framed photos hanging up. I squinted to make them out through the clouds of smoke. A few of them were headshots, all signed. Tom Selleck. Jon Hillerman. Orson Welles (Orson Welles?). A shot of a red Ferrari speeding down a road. It slowly dawned on me.

I turned back to the bartender, pointing over my shoulder at the pictures.

“Are you saying…?” I pointed to the floor. “This is the place?”

The guy smiled proudly and nodded his head. “Aloha, buddy. Welcome to Hawaii.”

I was in the bar that was used in the TV show Magnum PI. I saw that show as a kid. It was pretty cool. For those who want to know, Magnum was this action/comedy show about the escapades of a posh private investigator played by Tom Selleck. His character was a combination of James Bond coolness, Indiana Jones scruffiness and just enough humor to make him a relatable Joe. Beyond that, it was all fast cars, luxurious Hawaiian manses, pretty girls and foiling the exploits of drug runners and murderers. Magnum had a buddy who ran a bar in town, and it was there our hero visited to kick back and have a few, as well as gather scuttlebutt on the local criminal element. Some of the scenes were shot on location in the very bar I was slowly getting tight at.

I returned there the next few nights to hang with the townies, shoot pool, wax philosophical and occasionally discuss the merits of one Magnum episode compared to another with the barkeep. It was nice that the second night I came by—that night’s weather was classic early spring Hawaii: breezy and in the 70s—the bartender recognized me immediately and plunked my beer of choice right in the spot I was sitting in the night before. I kinda doubt I would’ve gotten that kind of royal treatment at one of the Hilton’s sponsored bars.

That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about when I mean sketchy neighborhoods. Granted, that little piece of the city was far from bullet-ridden. But it was a low level thrill to get out of that cushy cloister and sought out what the locals did, whatever it was they sought, happening in a dive bar once featured on a mid-80’s glam cop show. It was a more lighthearted affair then being in “the bad part of town” at night.

Trust me: been there, done that.

Now it wasn’t as if I was trying to score dope or solicit a hooker when the shadows grew longer and then went away. I was usually the wheelman for such adventures. My then loser friends were junkies and pill-poppers; I stuck to the legal drugs. My willingness to drive into the center of night, either hanging out at bars, clubs and all-night diners afterwards, was just the logical—if not socially unhealthy—extension of me “crossing the street” from my college days well into my 20s.

Now listen, I’m not trying to romanticize urban degradation and alienation. Well, maybe a little. Dive bars, empty bus stations, the subway, all these places at night held a sort of magic for me. I created a fantasy world of urban decay in my fevered, Hubert Selby, Jr imagination. This was especially solidified in my years at college, when I was exploring the punk rock scene in NYC at the tail-end of the 70’s, spilling over into the early 80’s. Not the scene per se, but first the bands. The Ramones, Talking Heads, Television, Richard Hell, Dead Boys, early Lou Reed, those guys were my soundtrack. The sordid adventures at CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City where these bands cut their teeth. Jim Carroll living at the movies. I actually did a pair of papers on the social climate of the City for my classes. Needless to say, my research became an enthusiasm. When I get into something it fast becomes a fetish. I scooped up literature on the scene and culture about back in those dying days of disco, delved into it. The stories in Legs McNeill and Gillian McCain’s Please Kill Me became like gospel, ever fueling my skewed romantic fantasy of the Lower East Side becoming not unlike an asphalt Eden for rogues like me (or thought they were). A good example of at what level my Darwinian mind was working, check out Jim Jarmusch’s debut film Permanent Vacation. Says it all there.

So this week, driven by my still present but usually checked keenness for a crumbling New York between 1976 and 1982, we’re going back in time. Back to a place I’d like to think I visited, explored across the street, when the City was not as “nice” as it is today. Where Travis Bickle still drives a cab and shoots pimps, where Times Square could only be described as “sticky,” where the Ramones wanna take us to Rockaway Beach and where the Statue of Liberty’s torch was unlit.

All that kind of paints a warm, homey picture. Doesn’t it?…


New York, 1981. Winter. The year has gone on record as the peak of a crime wave that enveloped the city for the better part of a decade, and businessman Abel Morales (Isaac) is feeling the pinch. Abel may be the last just man in Sodom. He’s the owner of Standard Oil, a heating fuel company servicing the five boroughs, and has been quite successful for the past 15 years of operation. His is the typical American success story; immigrant does good, becomes a lucrative businessman, gives back to the community, takes care of his employees and has never forgotten where he came from.

Despite this dignified reputation, Abel and Standard Oil are falling victim to said criminal undercurrents plaguing his industry. Or rather, the drivers of his fleet of trucks. There are reports in the shipping business that the Teamsters are engaging in “questionable” business practices. Abel’s oil trucks are getting hijacked and robbed of their contents. Drivers being assaulted and sent to the hospital. What’s more is that Abel’s bank account is taking the hit from two angles. One, the theft of his product, and; two, the city’s legal system running more or less a dragnet through businesses like Abel’s to look for any signs of price gouging, embezzlement, tax evasion and/or extortion. All of this after Abel has just secured the rights to a new property to accommodate his expanding empire.

Abel is made to feel guilty by association. His books are clean, as well as his standing in the business community, and makes no bones about having himself or Standard Oil anything to hide. But the trucks keep getting jacked, and the fuel goes missing. This invites the big questions—the gorilla and elephant f*cking on the edge of Abel’s desk—like who’s commandeering the trucks and where is the oil going?

Anna (Chastain), Abel’s well meaning but hardnosed wife, isn’t helping the circumstance any. She’s Abel’s secretary, who’s all too willing to remind him of Standard’s predicament, as well as their dwindling profits and insurance losses, and the payment on new home they bought in the suburbs, and the needs and safety of their kids, AND the intruder that was sent in the night to “send a message” to Abel and his family.

That violation is the final straw. Abel can’t protect his drivers, can’t protect his investments, can’t even protect his family. His once sterling reputation is fast going down the tubes, hot on the heels of his profits. There’s foul play afoot, but the law is more concerned if Abel is cooking the books rather than concerned with dozens of injured drivers. This can’t keep happening. Abel’s fortunes, his home, his investments are evaporating, and the County of New York wants more. The trucks have to roll. It’s winter, and customers need Abel’s fuel to keep warm. He can’t afford protection for his workers.

1981 was one of the worst years for violent crime in the City. Since the cops are doing next to nothing to protect Abel’s interests, he decides to take the law into his own hands. Fight fire with fire, and arm his drivers with guns…


Not that long ago, I was pining for a hopefully good movie to scan here at RIORI within a seemingly endless mire of slop. It was during a dry spell, like when the new releases arrive in March. I’m not entirely certain of when, but I recall at least three, maybe four films I saw in a row that really taxed my usual good humor. Then came a buoy in this sea of mediocrity. It came in the form of JC Chandor’s All Is Lost (Vol. 2, Installment 18…the first entry I got some actual feedback).

Let me tell you: voluntarily doing this gig can take a lot out of you. It’s not unlike you’ve driven on a very straight, always predicable stretch of highway. You know where the tight curves are, where the cops have their speed traps and where the best place on the road to score some cheap soft serve for the kids. Then there are the potholes, the construction crews, the traffic and the inexplicable gridlock on the eastbound lane when an accident occurs on the westbound lane. The highway’s the same, and you know it well when you’re travelling at a rapid clip. It’s the above glitches that can really take the wind out of your sails. Or gas from you tank, or whatever.

All Is Lost was a fine, solid film. In this day and age, that says a lot. Mostly today’s directors are tossed laurels and in the short line for Oscar nods when their work becomes noteworthy. The promise of an Oscar, a Golden Globe, even a People’s Choice Award seems to become the end all and be all regarding recognition to a director, justifying his or her work. I don’t think that’s the case with Chandor.

The Standard dictates lame box office draw and/or critical response to make the movie hit the list. All Is Lost was a great movie, the critics lauded it, and old smoothie Robert Redford got to shine. But it didn’t do well at the theatres, not in a profitable way. Neither did A Most Violent Year. Again we had critical praise and a engaging story, but no popular audience to rally around it. What’s going on here? Poor marketing?

Maybe. More like, sort of.

Seems to me that Chandor’s films only get limited releases in major cities. Places like LA, Chicago and of course NYC. It’s kind of hard to gain exposure, as well as recouping your losses, when your movie only plays in ten US cities for maybe two months. I remember here in my neck of the woods, All Is Lost only played at the local art house cinema, and for only one week. Recalling earlier about the cultural mindset of my town, the fact there’s even an art house cinema around is remarkable. What’s more is that a few of the locals even caught All Is Lost is nothing short of miraculous.

So I don’t think Chandor is in the biz to earn a lot of awards and make boatloads of cash. A Most Violent Year barely made a dent in the Hollywood marketplace, and that’s pushing it. Its budget was $20 million. Its gross was $5,700,000. Worldwide. Ouch. I think, for circumstances surrounding films like A Most Violent Year, The Standard may have to be tweaked. I mean, you really can’t fault a film’s lousy box office performance if said film only got shown on a dozen screens in, well, art house cinemas. Fault for poor marketing maybe, but not for the film’s quality.

And Year is definitely a quality film. It’s not a good as All Is Lost, but Year is a totally different animal, even though there are similar themes.

Like survival. Abel’s story isn’t life-and-limb like Redford’s plight, but he is struggling to keep his business alive—his livelihood—against odds he has no control against despite his best actions and intentions. In a certain light, trying to make it against the backdrop of grimy NYC can be just as harrowing. Instead of being lost at sea, life in the City keeps safety and sanity at an arm’s length. In Year, it’s New York vs. Abel.

The City in winter 1981 mirrors my fascination with urban decay quite keenly. I don’t know whom the people responsible for location settings were, but they deserve a medal. The climate adds dinginess to all the scenes. Grey ice and clouds permeate almost every shot. You get a real taste for this in the opening montage. We have Abel doing his morning jogging routine. He runs along the streets; first in his affluent, suburban neighborhood (it looks like Staten Island), then later a residential neighborhood, then the main drag—it being bookended by grim-looking, possibly vacant brick buildings—until his jog ends in a very crappy neighborhood, the aforementioned buildings looking like they’ve been made out of graffiti. He then turns around and heads back along the same route. And all this time, there’s the snow, first white and fluffy and terminating in dirty puddles under steel grey skies and coppery sunlight. It looks so cold—weather and social climate alike—that you can practically see your own breath.

In the vein of setting the scene, Year’s editing is simply amazing. There’s this constant, constant pendulum swing between scenes (with some very cool cuts; juxtaposing Abel’s arrival in his Cadillac against his trucks pulling out really grabs your attention). It’s throughout the film. We have the suburban homes; we have the blighted, abandoned buildings. We have quiet winding streets in the nice part of town; we have the smoggy, congested traffic on the highway. We have warm, comfy offices indoors and cold industrial warehouses outside. This back and forth motion might sound disorienting, or at worst some cloying director’s trick to send a little too obvious a message, but it never comes across that way. Obvious allusions or no, it’s never intrusive or distracting. It’s sets a rhythm, one inviting the audience to determine the inner dynamics of the plot.

Isaac’s performance is a rare treat. Here’s a character that comes across as everyman, especially with his compassion and sincerity but simmering with tension. Abel comes across having a very difficult time coming to grips with his problems, but must at all times maintain his composure. Sure, he conducts himself and his business with this brave face and the weight of Standard’s reputation—it’s winter, and these hijackings are not going to result in his customers freezing to death. But then there’s the back alley dealings; off-the-record conversations with his workers and competitors (later culminating with the dire need for Abel to arm his drivers). Isaac presents his whole image with a controlled rage, just winking at us below the surface. The angst he must have reflects the climate of the City as it was then. So Abel may be an openly sincere urban oil magnate, but there’s this lingering…something.

This unrelenting dark tension underpins the film. I’m not talking about the tautness by scenes of legal finagling, hijacking and home invasions. It’s this inescapable, grim feeling that not all as it seems. It’s uncomfortable, to say the least. What we see with our cast are people up against a wall, indifferent social institutions and rampant crime chewing away at their stability and security. But is that what we’re really seeing?

A seed is planted early. A scene when Abel comes before the local legal representative, the lawyer lays claim that Standard Oil’s business practices may or may not be legal. But what’s the law being bent, and what’s the motive? Abel appears confident in himself being a legitimate businessman, but there’s something else there underlying his assurance. Isaac’s delivery is ever so slightly quavering, there and gone. Doubt is raised. Doubt to Abel’s operations, the lawyer’s intentions, Abel’s recent and possible future investments. Things start coming into question. Something is, to put it plainly, not right. But it’s impossible to determine what, even over the duration of the film. Even when the story is “resolved” questions remain. Year is unsatisfying, but not in a bad way. More like a pleading way.

Another similarity with All Is Lost is the “man alone” conflict. No matter what Abel does to counteract all the tensions that bear down on his life—which cause it to gradually unravel—he gets no quarter. There are precious few scenes of outright violence in Year, ironically enough, but it always seems to be lurking around the corner. The possibility of danger bursting forth is always there, but seldom actually breaks the surface. Most of the time it’s Abel trying to hold it together, get a grip, try to find a way out. Hold his own, especially when the law starts leaning into him and making unscheduled visits to his home. No one seems to be on his side, save his vampy wife Anna.

Now Chastain’s character is an interesting mix of uncertainty and pragmatism. If Abel is the humanist, relying on himself putting his best foot/face forward, then Anna is the realist. She knows all about shifty lawyers and business’ being strong-armed. Anna’s the daughter of a mobster, and that tidbit’s not really brought to the forefront of the action, but like Abel’s tight visage, Anna tries to maintain a front of dedicated wife, mother and a model of quaint domesticity (albeit being luxurious). At first glance, Anna looks like she’s turned her back on her Mafia ties, but how she “advises” Abel’s conduct—business and otherwise—suggests an agendum. Like with Abel’s brave face, Anna’s gentle pressing implies something below the surface. Nothing concrete, mind you, however there is a scene when the law comes to the Morales’ home unannounced and two things occur (SPOILER ALERT):

First, Abel and Anna quickly stash the records of Standard Oil’s accounts under the deck, afraid what the lawyers/cops might find. Why? Nothing solid’s been stated about possible criminal acts, so what do the Morales’ have to hide?

Second, Anna gives a kiss off to the lawyer that’s conducting the investigation. First admonishing him and his flunkies for scaring her kids, and second—more sinisterly—reminds him of where she came from/who she knows. If she openly disinherited herself, and makes no bones about it, then why “pull rank?” Also, as an extension, how come she seems to know more about the kind of criminal dynamic Standard Oil has been besieged with if she’s never tried to affiliate herself with the Family? All these implications generates succulent tension, questioning the truth of the matter and being left with a feeling of dread that picks at your brain for days.

Year was a contemplative flick, all right. It made you think as well as question the nature of Abel and Anna’s surroundings, and what their true motives are. I mean, I’m writing this installment about a week after seeing the movie, and the flick’s still picking. That’s a sure sign of a good movie; that it leaves you with something wanting, but not lacking.

A while back I said RIORI was swearing off indie movies. With their limited releases circuiting small theatres, the results of small returns and quirky reviews almost guarantee Standard material. Year wasn’t an indie film. It did have a limited release, yes, but I’m not certain that that would’ve had a significant impact on the movie’s performance overall. The film did have difficult subject matter, with the grim and deceptive plot doing the average moviegoer no favors. But still, when you drop $20,000,000 on your film, and it only recoups a quarter of its budget, it’s glaring. Except it was a good movie. Challenging, yes, and relentlessly grim at times, but not so inaccessible to drive away the laymen.

Hm. I could say that there’s no accounting for taste, especially these days. Then again, I’m not so certain that folks would get a charge out of exploring the sticky underbelly of urban society with its crack pipes, angry whores, crooked cops and the last good deal gone down. Besides, NYC in Year was light years away from a darkened corner of Honolulu (or a good chunk of New York of today, for that matter), inviting wreck and ruin to a fool like me.

In reflection, my whole obsession with some William S Burroughs romance of skuzz in the big city was pretty juvie. My hometown was going down a slippery slope when I was a kid, and is still ever hurtling towards the Seventh Level. That’s just depressing when you think about it, and my old stomping grounds are not unique in their squalor. Right now, there are more sketchy neighborhoods than fully drawn ones back home looking more and more like winter NYC 1981 every year, even if it’s summertime.

After watching this cinematic exercise in extreme street-crossing, I came to a simple conclusion: Hawaii is a sunny place, filled with happy people, cool dive bars, occasionally Tom Selleck and nary a pile of dirty, gravel-ridden, week old snow to be found.

I’m never going back there again.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. It’s a downer of a movie to be sure, but still engaging. It leaves you with more questions than answers, and you’ll probably want it that way. Sorry for being so straight this time out; the film demanded some somber reflection. Next time it’ll be all fart jokes and malice. You have my word. 🙂


Stray Observations…

  • Brooks is barely recognizable here, save his down in the dumps demeanor. And is that his real hair?
  • “Stare longer than you should.”
  • I love that coat Abel’s wearing, like, for 90% of the film. It’s like his shield, and he seldom takes it off in front of some guy with clout. Your move, punk.
  • “It’s not like when we was driving.”
  • It’s all soft conversations here. No one really ever raises their voice in anger. Sure, there’s sniping, but never screaming. Until there is.
  • “F*ck you!” “You’re welcome!”

Next Installment…

Tobey Maguire dons the tights for the last time in the infamous Spider-Man 3.