RIORI Redux: Barry Levinson’s “What Just Happened?” Revisited


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The Players…

Robert DeNiro, Catherine Keener, Sean Penn, Bruce Willis and John Turturro, with Michael Wincott, Stanley Tucci and Kristen Stewart.


The Story…

Ben’s a harried film producer, and as his latest undertakings instruct, he’s forced to placate a lunatic director, a temperamental actor and an out-of-control production while also courting a studio head and contending with his ex. Both of them. Just a typical week in the life in ol’ Hollywierd.


The Rant (2013)

First off, sorry. I’m in a pissy mood. My back’s f*cked up, my wife’s mad at me for some offhand comment and Lou Reed f*cking died. Does this set the tone for this week’s review? Yep, and too goddam bad. The wife never cared for Lou Reed anyway. But just wait until f*ckin’ Thom Yorke dies. Then maybe I’ll bleed.

Ahem. Hi!

I know next to nothing about how Hollywood runs. From what little I do know is that it runs on money. Big, stupid money. On a budget that compares only with US Air Force cafeteria expenses. Most of the cinematic casual expenditures come out of our collective wallets in the form of tickets, streaming and popcorn. Who really gets paid through all those ducats? Well, actors for one. Overall, they’re the reasons why we go to the flicks. Sometimes we go for the directors, those who spindle the tales that keep us webbed in. The Spielbergs, the Scorseses, the Lucases…those cats. But you know who really keeps us glued?

The producers. The money behind the money. Money behind the likes of poor Ben…

One of my favorite films? Taxi Driver. DeNiro is at his epoch at losing his sh*t in that film. Second is Mean Streets. Third is GoodFellas. Fourth is The Untouchables. Fifth is whatever he’s kicking at that time. Sixth is Taxi Driver.

You get the idea.

What Just Happened? is my umpteenth favorite movie of DeNiro kicking the sh*t out of someone. It’s the first for me rooting for Bob to kick himself in the ass. And boy, does he deserve it.

Never have I seen Bob act quite so callous, disconnected and callow as I did in this hour and 45 minutes. And quite humorously too. ‘Though not quite as humorously as most may gage. Barry Levinson’s work has always been funny. Not laugh-out-loud funny, but snicker-worthy. To my immediate mind, the only overtly funny movie the man has ever made was Rain Man and that won an Oscar, so he scored big there. I guess. Well What Just Happened is a loss leader. You saw the cast. You read the goofy plot. It was based on an esteemed producer’s autobio.

This flick barely made a million at the box office. With that pedigree? The hell?

They all must have been in on the joke. This film was culled by said book of the same name, a tell-all in a library of tell-alls. And the Rogue’ Gallery was delicious, too (go fig). Keener as the shrewd agent, sharp as ever, took great relish in cutting Ben down to size. Character actor Michael Wincott, always a stitch, somehow transcended Tarantino and Vincent Gallo in only two scenes. Toss the final edit wheel over this way, please. And do modern film producers really use BlackBerries in this day and age? I dunno. I ain’t a producer. What do I know?

This review has been sh*tty, I know. I’m just too tired, drunk and bent up to give a clean polish here. All I can say is this: it’s probably easier working behind the stage in Hollywood than in front to make a worthwhile statement. If this concept appeals to you, then go stream the film.

Lewis Allan Reed: RIP, 1942-2013.


Rant Redux (2019)…

I know, I know. Bitter, bitter, bitter. I wasn’t lying then about the whole being pished/Lou Reed kicking the bucket bit influencing my already myopic worldview made complete by an eye patch over my right. It’s why I call alcohol a “performance enhancing drug.” That goes against its clinical definition, but when people get real drunk booze does amplify your emotions to the nth degree, for good and for ill. Actually more like both. My logic here is akin to the shock and awe surrounding the most winningest olympic athlete Michael Phelps getting busted for smoking a joint. Of my understanding (read the Pineapple Express installment), weed is definitely, defiantly not a performance enhancing drug. Phelps is half-dolphin; read it on Reddit.

Here’s my take on booze meets psyche (and I do have a point. Quit squirming): whatever you’re feeling before you hit the bottle gets multiplied tenfold at the end of the night. You feeling good? Chances are you’ll be the god karaoke later on. You feeling lousy? You’ll be crying in your beer with Merle Haggard on rotation on the TouchTunes come last call. Pugnacious? You and the bouncer will become fast friends. In any case, your emotions and convictions get tossed in a Waring blender.

As do and especially your perceptions. To wit, I watched this film in an already crap state of mind and halfway in the bag and therefore somewhat incapable of seeing Happened for what it was, which was two things: a meditation on the squishy, flexible strategies which big Hollywood deems appropriate for public consumption, and rumination on big names in small films. The first part is the real meat of the story, which swiftly becomes Ben’s white whale: dealing with Willis’ oddball behavior so that the damned film can be finished. Fine. The story is the stuff of many movies: making movies. From Sunset Boulevard to The Player Hollywood is an existential being unto itself. Make movies to make money to make more movies to make more money to make…it is a maw that cannot be fed, ever.

Director Levinson is no stranger to satire. Virtually all his films explore—or at least poke fun at—our culture’s accepted social cowardice. From obvious films like Wag The Dog, Disclosure and Good Morning, Vietnam to more “subtle” swipes with Diner, Toys and What Just Happened? Levinson has always been an imp of the perverse behind the camera. Happened is no different, it just takes its good ol’ time getting to the pie throwing.

Such pies here include puncturing the false pretense that making movies is akin to curing cancer (but won’t since research is so much more lucrative. Hence a sequel starring AIDS). Making movies isn’t that important, but existential Hollywood would never admit to that, that 5-ton whale in the room mewling and demanding more body lotion and fresh krill. Ben knows he’s in a world of hurt, totally unable to keep work at work etc. The satire here saturates every action, every cliche, every word of Ben’s hellish workaday world and we get ringside seats. Happened plays out as a cringy scales-falling-away day in the life of what every film fan understands, but never ever wants to admit to. We know there’s a lot of chicanery spread about getting a movie made, but to get such a low-key yet graphic diagram thereabouts? Ugh. It hurts. Ben is our knowing, wizened avatar, already well-acquainted with the man behind the curtain. And like Ben, he’s a figment also.

Upon review it’s best to watch Happened as a docudrama, a cautionary tale, a satire. At the end of the day it may not be the best satire on how the sausage is made in Hollywood; there have been far better (eg: Swimming With Sharks, The Player, even Sunset Boulevard, before God). But it is classic, easily digestible satire in the Levinson tradition, even if it’s subject matter is a niche market. The film worked, but creakily and not for everyone.

Maybe even me. I still grind my teeth at the thought of this movie. Was that the point, Barry? Bob?


The Revision…

Rent it or relent it? Overruled: a mild relent it. Despite all it’s craftsmanship, the film committed a mortal sin: it was boring. Clever? Sure. Amusing? Kind of. Engaging? It wandered.

However, Happened did offer up an opportunity for dialogue about big stars in small films, and how it reflects on their long and varied big release careers, as well as the reliable satirical Levinson edge (if only to on the nose). If you watch the film as if in a film class, it works. But who wants to take notes while watching a movie?

Oh yeah. Right.


Next Installment…

We return to the angular world of Jim Jarmusch, where Bill Murray peddles a bouquet of Broken Flowers to his lost loves that he never loved anyway.


 

RIORI Vol 3, Installment 72: Steven Spielberg’s “The Terminal” (2004)



The Players…

Tom Hanks, Stanley Tucci and Catherine Zeta-Jones, with (quite the supporting cast of) Barry Henley, Eddie Jones, Diego Luna, Chi McBride, Michael Nouri, Kumar Pallana and Zoe Saldana.


The Story…

All Viktor wanted to do was get home. But some stupid coup d’etat explodes in his homeland, and he’s stranded at Kennedy Airport, carrying a passport nobody recognizes.

What to do, what to do now? That answer is pretty basic. Since Viktor has no recourse, quarantined to the transit lounge, he simply goes on living. By his lonesome. Such as it has become.

But Viktor doesn’t have to go it alone. This is JFK International Airport, after all. Someone is bound to lend a hand.

Hands, rather.


The Rant…

Hey. Welcome back.

So you check out Munich yet? For those who did, bravo! For those who didn’t you’re most likely a newb here. Welcome anyway.

Today is a carryover from the last installment, my scrutiny of Steven Spielberg’s polarizing historical fiction Munich about how the Mossad waxed the “terrorists” who waxed the Israeli track team in the 1972 Summer Olympics in the titular city. This is the second part of a two-part study of the esteemed Steven Speilberg’s hiccups in the 21st Century. The first half, my intrepid examination of his Munich bore some fruit. After watching it (and thereby disturbed by it) illustrated the man has not strayed very far from his craft and/or muse.

As with a few earlier installments here, seeing the subject matter of this brief study we’re gonna divvy up some rations. I shall employ one intro pertinent to the matter at hand (Spielberg being the crop of the cream) and a second snarky, bilious intro based on my fevered, judgmental, feverish judgments. Thank you and you’re welcome.


First Intro…

The man’s an easy target.

In the pantheon of esteemed movie directors, Spielberg has earned his bones and has rightfully scrabbled to the top of the heap. In the grand scheme of cinematic things, such is no small feat. After all, “movies” took hold in France (depending on who you’d ask), and from the Francos theatre on the big screen usurped the eventual snobbery dividing the theatre goers against the cinemaphiles. Like all rivalries, you can’t have one without the other. There could be no Coke without Pepsi.

Spielberg’s cinematic dichotomy has been written into clay ever since his Jaws coined the phrase “summer blockbuster.” His CV wanders between fantastical and harrowing. Precious few of his outings cast an audience over the spell of “sentimental,” but that’s there. Sometimes it borders on treacle, but that Brit molasses is sweet and heady, therefore tough to resist. C’mon, you have to be made of stone not to at least sniffle when you see ET REDACTED by a helpless Elliot. But sometimes sentimentality can grow out of hand, curdle and become maudlin. Sorry Steve, but with Always your slip was showing. Same with Hook. Hell, especially with AI (Kubrick should’ve stayed the course, I tell ya).

So there are a few, minor bloops on the man’s resume that might tarnish his rep for when his heart was hiked up too far on both sleeves. Or until BFG 2 gets dropped. Whatever comes first. The matter there is that once you reach the top of the heap is finding a way to stay there, all the while keeping both your rep and cachet intact. Well that’s not possible. Even the most revered directors drop a turd in the punchbowl once in a while, blinded by the power and glory of their vision. It’s necessary though. It’s the Coke vs Pepsi paradigm: you can’t measure the good without having the bad rear its pus-filled head once in a while. Hence Pepsi Crystal.

The great many of Spielberg’s movies are like pizza: when it’s good, it’s good and when it’s not you still have some pizza. Like Lou Reed said, “My week beats your year.” In the final analysis, the man’s work speaks for itself, and in turn speaks to a lot of audiences. That can’t be denied. But sometimes—sometimes—the man overplays his hand as well as keep them cards too close. When it comes to establishing a personal, emotional grip on the audiences’ attention you can’t have it both ways; you can’t mix artsy-fartsy with Kleenex. Get too squishy that way and off the top of the heap you may slither.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’ve got a soft spot an AU wide for sentimental, treacly films. Gotta have those guilty pleasures, right? Forrest Gump, On Golden Pond, One Crazy Summer and so on. I’m not made of stone, either. But I can be pushed towards petrifaction. The envelope can only go so far. On more than one occasion (as I listed earlier), the man’s tried my emotional patience. Sometime for the good, though, but mostly it’s been lemon juice-dipped fingernails on a chalkboard hewn from pumice.

In other words: Steve, know when to rein it in.

Sometimes it’s good, if not fun to let a talented director to run riot with their treacly id. Once in a while. The other times when that goes down, said director better have a damned interesting script to back up their Hallmark moments.

That being said, The Terminal holds up better than Always. And far better than Jurassic Park: The Lost World.

That was a joke, you dolts. Show some emotion already…


Second Intro…

Air travel sucks.

I recently read a story in the New York Times op-ed section from a seasoned and presently retired commercial airline pilot. He spoke as to  debunk the myths surrounding the so-called luxury of the Jet Age. The man flew planes from the late 60s into the late 90s, and according to his experiences in the air and out, trade-offs were few, far between and interchangeable when it came to the “comfort” of flying the friendly skies. His argument was akin to Pete Townshend’s proclamation of, “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” For the record, the FAA was the boss all along.

The pilot compared traveling business class today with its sardine-like seating and the dinky, ever fluttering screen embedded in the headrest in front of you with yesterday’s roll down trundle beds (that took up three rows of seats and cost as much) and panopticon movie screen scrolled down for one feature for the duration of the three day flight as not very far removed. At least these days passengers aren’t choked into lung cancer via open smoking recycled through the already recycled air. That and non-Whites are now permitted into First Class. With those roll-down beds and blowjobs. Kidding. There are no roll-down beds in First Class, just non-allergenic blankets. So I’ve heard. Now turn your head and spit.

Tee hee.

Anyway. According to the article, the only thing that has never changed in air travel is the being on the ground part. The waiting. In the airport. Being poked and prodded and x-rayed and having your gums inspected and it costs how much to weigh my bags? Now get in this line to get into that line.

Admit it. Sometimes when you have a layover it feels like it lasts longer that your actual flight, if it would ever land on time. You’re stranded in the terminal, what with all its food courts, book stores, communal charging stations and a billion foreign tongues chattering with urgency. It can be surreal. It’s like another planet. It’s disorienting. The only thing that can keep you metaphorically grounded is your aging flight pass and happy hour at the nearest watering hole. It’s five o’clock somewhere, right?

Yeah, at your destination. Five days away. I don’t know about you…wait, that’s not right. I do know you. We’ve all been stuck with a layover if we travel by air. Sometimes it’s a few hours, sometimes it’s many, many, many hours. We’re talking sprawl out on the nearest empty row of chairs hours. You’re in fishbowl. It’s a given that it’s no fun to wait around for a flight, a matter completely out of your control, at the mercy of the aviation gods. It’s a test of patience. So chill. Ride along. Make the best of it. Watch the people scattering hither and yon, for you may be scattering some day also. Pulsing humanity. Big airports are a microcosm of the human condition in action. Seeking sanction and/or seeking escape.

Yeah, yeah. That truck sounds so heady. But (surprise) I got a tale to tell about the oddness of said human condition that happened to me in an airport. Seems relevant. That and it happened in Utah, so that carries some weight.

It was August, and I headed out the summer after graduating college to visit my then girlfriend who took a job as a park ranger in the Black Canyon in Colorado. Never been to the Rocky Mountain range, and was curious as to how she conducted business. She promised the elegance of Colorado’s high desert country, as well as an easy descent into said canyon beckoning one of those Ansel Adams-esque streams flowing at the bottom. Crystal clear water and a keen view of the rising Coloradan cliffs. Sounded good to me.

I departed Philadelphia International for a five hour flight to the Centennial State. The cross country flight was unremarkable. The three hour layover in Utah was something else. Believe it or not, whenever I had flown in the past I was mercifully spared super-long layovers. Maybe an hour at most. Even my high school jaunt to Ireland only trapped me in Heathrow for a bit over sixty minutes. Call me lucky.

Stuck outside Salt Lake City was a different story. Three hours. That’s the first set of a Dead show there. It was the late 90s. Mobile phones just made calls. No Wi-Fi. Michael Crichton still a hot topic at the local newsstand. Boredom set in quick, as well as getting all fidgety for lack of a traveling companion. That and queuing up in the proto-TSA security line made me edgy. Hope the crack team with the wands wouldn’t find that stash of hash crammed in my ears.

Kidding (I wish). I trudged my way along the line to get prodded in the name of safety, chatting up this young woman who was just as bored as I. Never caught her name, but we BS’d as we waited. We came through scott free—ears intact—and decided to kill some of a lot of time at one of the many bars. She recently finished school and welcomed me for a few. Over cocktails we talked about our destinations and where we were from. It was a real “single serving friend” moment, to quote Tyler Durden. She was en route to Colorado also, to start a new life. Something about recovery and living with her sister who had recently given birth to her first kid. Single mom, offered an opportunity for my single serving to get her head together. No judgments from me; I was intrigued.

I spewed my bile and she suffered me pretty well, probably since I offered to pick up the tab. We took in the scenery, the masses moving to and fro. I pulled my recent degree in English and Philosophy out of my ass and got all existential on her, remarking on the surrounding, pulsing humanity. She dug and told me more about her microcosm of addiction and hanging with “the wrong crowd.” She showed me a fresh tat on her arm, something tribal. She called it a milestone, a change in her life and what it might lead to. Sorta like true north. The whole chit-chat seemed to be all about where we were going, reflection—satori—in the busy shadows of hundreds chasing their flights.

We killed enough time for her to finish her layover. I ran with her to her respective gate and bid her good luck. “See ya around” and such. She embarked and that was that. Another nugget of humanity that could only get sifted through one of America’s many airport terminal screenings. Funny how a chance encounter with a stranger makes for some well-killed time in a building full of strangers hell-bent for stranger tides. I waited out my final hour of laying over thumbing through a journal or something, lamenting the batteries in my Discman were dead. Late 90s, remember?

Coda: almost a week into my vay-cay with the park ranger girlfriend, we had to venture out to the Costco for groceries. I wanted to stock up on the necessities of my climb down the Black Canyon. Clif Bars, bottled water, oxygen tank (that would come later, actually and really). I got into my head to kill some time back at her cabin we needed to build some Lego sets. No cable, no Internet, no nothing. Why not? Those esteemed Danes launched their new Ninja sets that summer, and I had a hankering.

While rifling through the boxes, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I figured it belonged to my girl, ready to scold me for considering such a frivolous purchase. I was wrong. It was my single serving friend, smiling, pushing a stroller with a sleeping infant. I was so surprised to see her again I could only grin and say, “Hi!” F*cking backwoods Colorado, a lifetime away from Salt Lake, her new neice snoozing in the stroller. The damned Costco of all places. She smiled back, waved and made her way down the aisle. That was all.

Funny what connections can be made on the road. The passing parade sometimes lends you a chance to jump onto a float. And float is an apt term. Stuck in the melee of travel, you get get alone amongst hundreds of strangers. Not surpring how the desperate lonely there seek out some kind of connection, over drinks or no. Now that I scratch at that memory, I remind myself that my friend had only recently graduated high school. Nineteen years old. Far too young to drink in an airport bar. But I was paying, and vouched for her and the bartender left us alone. Figured she’s seen this setup before.

Funny what sticks, and what didn’t. All I knew about then is that I had a hangover for the record, and met another stranger who helped me out of boredom. With long distance travel, sometimes that’s all you need to make the wait not seem like waiting.

More about the ride back later. The apocryphal trip home…


Viktor Navorski (Hanks) is a man without a country. Literally.

During his stay in NYC political upheaval has torn his homeland asunder. To put it plainly his country of Krakozhia doesn’t exist anymore. Viktor’s citizenship—his very nationality—has been revoked. He can’t go back home, because technically it ain’t there no more. So now he’s stuck JFK airport’s international arrivals terminal for the long haul. A very long haul, until some loophole in customs come to light.

This isn’t that uncommon in the historical annals of international air travel. Sometimes travelers can’t get to their desired destination for myriad reasons. Political matters, yes, but at least there’s a place to go to. Normally Viktor’s plight would be handled with a minimum of fuss, drenched in paperwork, red tape and waiting on a phone call returned from the Krakozhian embassy.

Normally. There is a spanner in the works at JFK regarding Viktor’s exit: customs director Frank Dixon (Tucci) and his impending promotion. See, our castaway is a prime example—albeit of a unique circumstance—of what Customs tries to avoid. Prevent would be a better word. Displaced peoples. Dixon has been zealous in his duties, his reputation impeccable. His responsibilities keeping JFK ship-shape have never floundered, so Dixon’s on the deserved up-and-up.

Now Frank has Viktor. Quite the possible blemish on his sterling record. This will not stand, so to unload his misguided frustrations and ire, Frank makes Viktor’s non-life a bureaucratic hell. Sign this, sign that. Don’t do this and don’t do that. How dare does this backwater Eastern Bloc yahoo screw with his smooth-running airport?

Due to international law and basic protocol, Dixon can’t just toss the waylaid Viktor out onto the street, nor can he send him back “home” either. The guy’s stuck there in the IAB, forced to etch a new life as a refugee with no cash, no English, with just his luggage and the clothes on his back.

Oh, and his can of peanuts. Can’t forget the peanuts…


I had to watch The Terminal in two sessions. It was over two hours long, I got tired and had to get to work the next day at an ungodly early hour. That and my attention started to waver by the start of the second act. When I start watching the timer, such does not bode well for a positive critique of the weekly mangling.

My attention started to fail when I began to silently ask the movie, “Where are we going with this?” (perhaps also to the two or nine beers I had consumed). To put it quick, Terminal had got to be one of the most winding road trip movie I ever saw. And seeing our protag never gets to go anywhere outside the airport also made for a weird viewing experience. Don’t misunderstand that. The Terminal is about going places, but it’s all inward, revolving about our waylaid hero Viktor. The atmosphere is alluding to the guy finishing his journey, by hook, crook or redeemed passport book, but the whole process is akin to that Rush lyric (quit moaning): “The point of a journey is not to arrive.” Whatever that means.

But think about it. Another cliche: getting there is half the fun. Precious few films I’ve just given up on here at RIORI. Most because they were boring, insipid, poorly written or a melange of alla dat. I lose patience. The whole timer watching thing. Darted my eyes up and down between the film and the Blu-Ray readout. Like I said: does not bode well for this duck.

Then I remembered Terminal was a Spielberg flick, and the man often takes his time setting up the story. Beat as I was, I wasn’t so thick to give up so soon. The first act of Terminal was not boring, insipid, or poorly written. But it was rambling. Couldn’t figure where Viktor’s odyssey was headed. Barring the hook/Maguffin of the peanut can, The Terminal felt like rote Spielberg. Still I maintained enough curiosity to keep going. Even if it took two nights. Three, actually. I said I was late and it was tired.

Halfway through my viewing I remembered a short interview with Spielberg courtesy of AMC. It wasn’t a kitchen table thing, just a short-lived gimmick the network employed to promote new movie remakes (in theatrical or soon-to-be theatrical release) against the originals in their library. The example: dateline 2005. Steve was going to unleash his version of HG Wells’ War Of The Worlds that summer, so AMC did their due diligence in broadcasting Byron Haskins’ original 1953 outing about malevolent Martians laying waste to humanity one Saturday evening. Remastered!

I really dug the original, and sorry, forget director Haskins’ vision. This War was special effects guru George Pal’s baby all the way that time out (I believed after eventually watching Spielberg’s version, he paid more homage to Pal’s vision rather than Byron-what’s-his-tits). I learned later that Pal’s take was a thinly veiled allegory about Communist invasion—both mindset and body—seeping into post-war America, what with all it amazing consumer and technological advancements (read: modern conveniences. Who would’ve though self-cleaning ovens could shake the Iron Curtain so?). When I was 12, I just dug the tension, desperation and very cool, ahead of its time F/X. Did I mention that?

During those fateful weekend viewings, Steve shilled his new project between commercials. Naturally he laid much praise on Pal’s movie. More on the F/X, natch. He also shared his muse that drove his version. Perhaps also inspired by the second into third act storyline of the original film, Steve brought up the notion of the “refugee experience.” This left-field musing caught my attention (right before the sponsor Scope tore me out of my reverie). From an alien invasion film? Really?

Then I finally caught Spielberg’s version. Despite the violence, ear-crushing Dolby digital and an out-of-place Tom Cruise, I grokked to where the man was going. Great swathes of Spielberg’s film involved desperate humans bolting for survival, their country in upheaval, fleeing for shelter and REDACTED a crazed Tim Robbins. Folks driven for normalcy via wit, grit and both. Steve’s War in that light was a culmination of sorts regarding literal refugee stories like Empire Of The Sun and The Sugarland Express, if not Jaws and Close Encounters in a metaphorical sense.

The Terminal is a very literal refugee experience. But from the inside out. Within Spielberg’s healthy id and his sentimental superego. Viktor is the uber innocent abroad, but like Rush alluded it’s not Viktor’s destination that really matters, It’s how he manages to survive, a la Empire. On the run the whole time. Not from invading aliens. From time. And a dogged government official. Gotta respect the FAA.

Hanks’ Viktor is indeed a refugee. So when plunked into an environment not of his own making, what to do? Right. Create a suitable (new) life, if only to establish a new normal and keep sane. Once I woke up and carried on after the second act and into the third, my befuddlement leaned into empathy for our hapless hero. It’s made clear at the outset that Viktor is no rube. Sure, there’s a language barrier. But that’s it. I don’t know about you (and the following might be on the cusp of racist), but where I work a great portion of my co-workers serve English as a second language. Half of the time Spanish, Farsi and Arabic spoken there. I only know enough Spanish to know when someone is talking about me (“Se hombre tiene schnozzola grande“), and I’ve never had a three day layover in Riyadh, so there.

That irks me. Not the non-layover. But feeling dumb that I have this lingual deficiency. Constantly being reminded of my insular American-ness makes me feel like, well an American and a casual Trump disciple. So I’ve been accused. In Farsi. Our Viktor isn’t dumb, regardless of how Americans regard non-Americans who don’t savvy the language.

That being said, I harken back to a recent installment (#70, Garry Marshall’s Georgia Rule) where I offered to critic of that film a favor. I owe AllMovie critic Terry Seibert a dinner, too. This time with a glass of wine. Like I said, I was a tad befuddled by where the hell Spielberg was taking me with The Terminal. Seibert sent me on the course. That aforementioned curious tableau The Terminal offered with a two-plus day viewing demanded me to check out AllMovie’s take. Like I said I’m a “believe it when I see it (literally)” kind of guy, but once in a while I get all confuzed and need some insight. Seibert’s take set me straight.

Better put, Seibert gave me some perspective. Tom Hanks is a good, reliable actor. A 21st Century Jimmy Stewart. But Hanks CV has been rather spotty overall compared to his legacy contemporary. Sure, Hanks eventually hit a stride in the early-90s, but only after bumbling through his salt mine 80s. Can’t really think of many good Hanks flicks between being Kip for two measly seasons of Bosom Buddies and the doggie slobber that was Turner And Hooch. Not to say there weren’t some bright spots peeking from behind clouds of pratfalls and goony histrionics. There was Big, of course. A breakthrough. But also minor goodies like Punch LineSplash and to a lesser degree Nothing In Common, his first stab at drama. Why cite these and not the chewy goodness of Dragnet and The Man With One Red Shoe (better not to ask)? Listed above suggested the key to Hanks’ appeal that Seibert plainly said about the actor’s motivation in The Terminal.

Hanks is a good listener. Or rather, his characters on screen are good listeners. When they carefully take in the world around them—or dumped into, like Viktor—they take the necessary time to figure out what’s going on and what to do with it, as well as thoughtfully interact with the other characters. That’s when the Viktor’s of Hanks’ oeuvre take flight. Even when screaming at a volleyball.

Along with Big, Forrest Gump (a no-brainer, so to speak) and even Saving Private RyanThe Terminal gets its proverbial mileage from Hanks observing his environment and weighing the options offered up by people he meets along the way. The aforementioned films have ensemble casts, as does Terminal. The only difference is that our protagonist is not part of the ensemble. Not really.

Here’s how that works. Our setting—the titular terminal—is the real protagonist of the movie. Viktor’s just its avatar. JFK International a federal law teems. May not be Salt Lake City (but then again, where is?), but I’ll bet you a silk pajama that at least a million travelers tear through that airport each week in a running at full clip OJ Simpson fashion. In a good way (I think). And despite Viktor’s claustrophobic cultural exile, we sure can see a lot of space. Said space allows Viktor to “explore America,” get some bearings and permits our Cold War Gump to take us on the trip also. The terminal—a world unto itself—lets us be Hanks’ Link to JFK’s Hyrule.

You’re welcome, Switch users and abusers.

What I’m driving at there (“It’s dangerous to travel alone! Take this” Ha ha and sorry) is how the many lives fold into Viktor’s adventure. What I’m getting at here is the supporting cast. At heart, Terminal is a character study. Sure, Viktor is our avatar against the backdrop of the omnipresent terminal, but how he wends his way towards whatever depends almost solely on (as Blanche’s been over-quoted) “the kindness of strangers.” We have a lot of cool strangers indeed to rely on here. Barring Viktor, but not snubbing the principals, the motley, reluctant crew at his sides really makes Hanks shine. He’s a listener, right? At first glance, Hanks’ language barrier looks like only be used for derivative comic effect. It’s only later that we learn it’s his only defense against being regarded as some patsy or rube. Viktor ain’t dumb. He’s perceptive. Also earnest. To the people around him and later rally around him. Or don’t.

That’s good there. Let’s start with Viktor’s nemesis, Frank. Tucci is always great at being smarmy. It’s his signature, and it works wonders here as the antagonist. Frank’s not a bad guy, just a tad overzealous in his job. We know folks like that, worked for folks like that. Are folks like that. Tucci’s Dixon is a prime example of the old saw: characters don’t have to be likable. Maybe not even relatable (likable’s red-headed stepchild). No. They have to be interesting. What’s Frank’s damage? Beyond the demands of his (potential) new post? Felt kind of a Napoleon complex here, and not just cuz Hanks is 6′ and Tucci is a subaverage 5’7″ (really. Those stats are correct. I Googled it, and I’m a lame-o. That stat is also correct). Dixon’s the classic case of someone who has something to prove to himself by proving it to everyone. A real heavyweight. Against the patient, curious, resourceful and without a network Viktor, his ire and contemptuousness makes for a delicious brew of conflict. Sure, Tucci comes over as a bit over the top in his pursuit, but it feels…well, like natural acting. He’s slimy (for a good example, watch Big Night or The Core, covered here earlier). His slow burn works especially well as Dixon’s underlings begin to regard clever Viktor with more respect than their boss. Like I said, Dixon’s not a bad guy. He’s just a bad listener.

The supporting cast was awesome, and I’m not just talking the actors. Like the terminal, the folks on the fringes add to the world as human fishbowl microcosm (did that make sense?). As Viktor attempts a new life in exile, he bumps into a lot of other displaced persons along the way. Viktor may be alone in a crowd, but that makes him the ideal pinion for the often invisible people that make an airport run, run. Thanks to “local hero” Viktor we get to meet the “real New York.”

I must admit, I really loved the supporting players here. All touchstones of Viktor’s muddled psyche, and all trying to point the way, if only in a low-rent, surreal kinda fashion. Each minor player had their own fleshed-out story. Most ancillary players in an ensemble film are usually just chess pieces shoved around to keep the narrative dutifully chugging onwards. Not here. Chi McBride, of whom I am quite the fan (ever since his turn as cigar-chewing, philosopher king janitor Heavy Gene on The John Larroquette Show back in the ancient 90s) was a delight. Channeling Gene here, his baggage tosser Joe is brash, yet still savvy to the needs of the anonymous millions he disservices (and quite cagey in scoping out their valuable errata). The guy knows stuff and has no misgivings about waxing poetic about the basic needs of people. His whole schtick reminds me fondly of that Robert Fulghum essay about chicken-fried steak (visit your local library). Joe is the guru Viktor needs to get his sh*t together, while all the while gathering more “sh*t.” Namely, finding your place in the midst of life, wherever that place may be. Now play cards.

Diego Luna was not an actor I was immediately familiar with, but (as they say, whoever they are. They is usually me, and I don’t know anybody) he “has that face.” Right; I saw him in Elysium, also covered here (vol 3, installment 1) and did some voice work for the well-received Book Of Life. He also did this little thing later called Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. So that. Guy’s been around. Here? He’s the hapless romantic figure. An oft dodgy prospect in most roles of such ilk. But I giggled a lot here thanks to his performance. That’s right: giggled, and not in a down-the-nose kinda way. Luna’s Enrique was a sweet, hapless romantic, a la Roberto Begnini and starring towards piece of Viktor’s fractured presence.

Did I mention that thing? That I found the supporting cast as representing aspects of Viktor’s psyche? Like a Greek chorus? The terminal being the grey matter dictating Viktor’s adventure, the minor players serves insight into our hero’s fractured voyage. If Chi was the sage—a wiseass sage to be sure—then Luna was the romantic, soft for stalwart Saldana and using Viktor’s supposed innocence as an ideal Cyrano. Must’ve sparked something in Viktor’s imagination, as well as his unwanted isolation to attempt to get all close to Amelia.

Ah. Sorry to be so abrupt (no I ain’t. This yer first time here?). Here we take the pipe. Jones’ Amelia is too fluffy and not fleshed out, perhaps on purpose. If that’s the case, then boo, Steve. Right on, she’s nice on the eyes, yes, but as a valuable addition to the chorus? Not so much. She comes across as an afterthought; some sort of device—perhaps a MacGuffin—to bolster Viktor’s unwinding story. Don’t get me wrong. Jones’ is a decent actress, often sly and funny. Some claim she’s pretty. She’s neither here (not the pretty part. She looks like my wife when I want her to. Love you, Seej! Don’t change the locks!). I figure we gotta have some wart festering in a tale like this. A cast of tens needs at least one square peg, right? Uh, wait. Dixon filled that slot. Jones had only three distinct spots here, and almost all of it fluttery and spineless, like she knew her role was superfluous and either incapable or unneeded of rising to the likes of, say, Kumar Pallana’s Yoda-like Gupta.

He was a trick, meaning he fooled me. Y’ever come across a guy who’s a real pest? Well-meaning and sharp but lacking the social skills to know when to shut the f*ck up? I work with a guy like that. Maybe you do too. Story time! Yet again! Shut up!

The kitchen I sweat at has at least three utility guys on the clock all day long. Utility? Read: dishwashers. One of them is a loud, boorish, jabber box off the first water. He has Asperger’s Syndrome. For those not in the know, Asperger’s is a high-functional type of autism. Namely, those that make their way in the world by abiding to their personal rules that guide them through the day. Like most of us, which means we don’t call for V-E-R-N when Tom Cruise rifles through our library. Unlike most of us however, when something occasionally goes awry (as it sometimes does), we try to not get very pissy and only chill when homeostasis is re-established. When the flow is restored. No. All is well when the system is in place, on certain terms. Take that away and Hail Columbia. In the interim, you can’t talk to the guy. He’s a raging torrent of profanity who looks eager to take a swing at you. Sometimes he does. No matter. He’s pesky. He means well overall. And if he doesn’t shut his trap when all’s on the level again YOU’RE gonna get ready at bat.

Gupta was kinda like that to me (especially considering how he wielded his mop). Pallana was mouthy, sour and the ideal Spielbergian avatar as emotional center for Viktor’s chorus. He was my fave character, though not at first. He reminded me a bit too much of my proto-Rain Man co-worker (do not ever f*ck with the guy’s system about stacking pots. I have nine fingers now. Kidding. Eight fingers and a thumb). Eventually my patience was rewarded. Gupta’s sagacity reflected Viktor’s trevails, but in a subtle, rather crafty way. Gupta’s presence was a slow build. A very slow build. Like Vik, get patient. Don’t stack the pots yourself. Just listen to the scamp; he knows sh*t. Viktor’s good at listening. With Gupta, Viktor/Hanks learned how to be selective in what to listen too. We eventually learn through Pallana’s ultra-subtle acting/characterization that prickly can often be dismissed beyond empathy and wisdom. That being said, I learned how to replace the detergent block in the dish machine to make those agony-inducing, digital bleeping screams go away for a while. Viktor learned fast to whom should be heard.

Terminal might be the most angular film Spielberg ever cut, and maybe on purpose. Couldn’t escape the feeling of a message being conveyed. Not sure of the message, but so much of the film seemed deliberate. That’s not bad thing; angular does not necessarily mean absent of nuance. The supporting chorus paired against Viktor’s crafty self cured that…with patience. Still, beyond any obvious human condition thang and Speilberg trademark humanity, Terminal was approaching some kind of statement. Again, not sure what, but the smell of that lingered. Might’ve had to do with how clever the movie played out. That deliberate feeling reflected when Viktor REDACTED his adopted home. It felt like a crafty descent into being clever. The entire film is clever in a very cheeky way, but it takes aeons to figure that out. That being said, Terminal is a voyage into the human condition, stuffed illegally into the overhead compartment with a lot of emotion, coat-tugging, willful disappointment, a lame Catherine Zeta-Jones and a dedicated appreciation for jazz. Something for everyone. Just keep your ears as open as your eyes. And mind the pots.

In hindsight, Spielberg’s 1989 misfire Always (which I enjoyed, thanks to the great cast replete with the likes of Dreyfuss, Goodman, Hunter and Keith David [!]) feels like a dry run for Terminal‘s story of being “lost” and eventually “finding the way again” metaphor. Sure, it was a 15 year gestation, but certain things need to take their good ol’ time. In that aspect Terminal was a minor miracle. A tale of naked human emotion that didn’t need Kleenex. Instead of rubbing your palms together, genuflecting and demanding of the sky, “What does it all mean?” we got, “Huh…” and (hopefully) later, “Ohhh.” Then break out the peanuts, please.

Airports tend to be dehumanizing, as I said. We’re all but airfares and lemmings. That actual building, the one embedded into concrete is the real master of air travel. Public charging stations, fees for fees, Dan Brown paperbacks with Hanks’ mug on the cover and all them cat o’ nine tails upon the Carlin-esque pre-boarding process. After watching The Terminal, I took some small solace in knowing I wasn’t all alone in such massive spaces, whether in major hub Salt Lake or parking lot Durango, CO (with or within the lost single-serving). Sure, we see the passing parade at the time. On the streets, in a mall, even on FaceBook. But for a singularity of purpose—getting the f*ck away—enjoy a layover.

That might’ve been the message I was grafting onto the character study that was The Terminal. Could’ve sworn I heard something…


Epilogue…

Oh yeah. That return flight home.

You ever get lucky on a flight and have the entire row to yourself? Me neither, but en route back from Colorado I scored the next best thing: an empty seat between my rump and another poor schlub stuck on the same red eye. Never caught his name, but I remember being the first to suggest that we slap the armrests back and get some breathing room.

He was a software developer, from Seattle (hmm) on some junket and claimed feeling like he was paying rent here with so many whistle stops. I told him about me being a recent college grad and where I was departing from. From Montrose, CO to Salt Lake City—pushing three hours with the headwind—we chatted and joked about (then early) Internet tech, family, the delights of modern air travel, college and I shared my tale about my single-serving friend. Both our arms were crooked over the vacant headrest. We we able to swivel our legs inwards to maintain circulation as well as avoiding a brusque encounter with the errant beverage cart. The time flew. We had a grand conversation. Amazing what a bit of legroom could do. Best return flight ever.

He asked me about the Black Canyon. Always wanted to hike in Colorado but duty calls. He asked me if I recommended the Canyon to meet his curiosity. I ended that hike wheezing so hard I lost my cigarettes halfway up the ascent and found myself sucking on an oxygen mask like Ginger Lynn readying the money shot.

Of course I said yes. Wear the proper shoes. Worn out Doc Martin’s make for lousy climbing. You heard it here and it was the 90s.

You may now return your flight attendant to her full, upright position.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. Be patient, my friends. The payoff will come. Hanks is a good actor. He doesn’t push and pull. He’s lost but hopeful. He’s patient. He’s a good listener. Be like Hanks.

Steve is also hopeful. Also patient. A good listener. He makes nice movies. His win awards. Good luck being like Steve.


Stray Observations…

  • “America is closed.” Says it all.
  • BORDERS. Kind of on the nose there. But I do miss that chain, sorry. I have another story to tell there about how I got married. I just need to see the proper movie to introduce that rant. I am strict.
  • “She’s a Trekkie!” No…way.
  • I got a feeling that Viktor’s awkward posture was a ruse. Can’t put a finger on how, though.
  • “I hate Tuesdays!”
  • Always took a shine to a resourceful hero type. Must be latent “MacGyver” nostalgia/fandom.
  • “He love that goat.” Wink.
  • That being noted, we got some odd humor going on here. Uneasy, jittery. Post-911 perhaps? Again?
  • “You don’t like fish.”
  • This is the polar opposite of Munich, right? Right?!?
  • “Success.” Irony not lost.

Next Installment…

If you thought one was bad, try dealing with Seven Psychopaths, Clarice.


 

RIORI Vol 3, Installment 46: Jon Amiel’s “The Core” (2003)


The Core


The Players…

Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank, Stanley Tucci, Delroy Lindo and Bruce Greenwood, with DJ Qualls, Richard Jenkins, Tcheky Karyo and Alfre Woodard.


The Story…

The Earth’s inner core has stopped spinning, and scientist Josh Keyes with his fellow maverick seismologists must discover why before the planet literally falls apart. So by burrowing into the planet’s center in an elite vessel they might dig deep enough to get to (wait for it) the core of the crisis.

I warned you.


The Rant…

A funny thing happened on the way to the Blu-Ray player.

I initially meant to open this week’s salvo with a treatise on the ways and means of a proper disaster film. Then insomnia intervened and the 9-year old woke up multiple times to interrupt dad’s questionable movie watching practices.

It was late. Later than usual for me to hunker down in front of the screen with the disc, the notebook, the essential libations and my pen clutched in my hot little hand. Time for another evening of Press Your Luck via Netflix. It’s the stuff dreams are made of, or nightmares of a frustrated wifey who’d rather  canoodle that accept the vital nature of this blogger’s ongoing opus. Either way, I had beer and a lack of Pop-Tarts.

Whatever.

Midnight was nigh, and I was beat as well as falling behind with my chosen duties. Good thing I had the day off tomorrow; the flick was over two hours long! Could see the sun cracking the horizon by my timetable, including all the pretzels, bathroom breaks and cracking open more truth elixir. Let me tell you, with my nutty watching habits a 90 minute flick can stretch into three hours easily. I have to go outside to smoke, well into the next county it feels. And you can kill a guy anywhere. Go fig.

But twenty minutes into The Core I was interrupted in the worst way. We’re not talking power outages, scratches in the disc (which did happen once or twice truth be told. More on that sh*t later for those cinephiles who can’t afford streaming), or the neighbor kids jacked up on the Mountain Dew and wailing on their guitars for an impromptu garage band practice consisting of and only of Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” remixed by Moby.

No. Worse. A nine-year old girl with insomnia. And dad one-third through the movie and halfway in the bag to boot. Not a Pop-Tart to be seen.

She was stressed out. Happens to kids of all ages. Mom started a new job and was gone most of the night. I clocked out late, too, but Grammy and Pop Pop were gracious enough to hold down the fort until I scooped her up. But Mom wasn’t around as she usually was. No one to chit chat with while Dad’s toiling away in the Seventh Level. Chicken nuggets for dinner again (and again). The general household dynamic torn asunder (and her stepsister kept away from yet another weekend visit by her dooshy daddy, but that’s another story). So yeah, kid’s stressed and therefore cannot seek slumber.

She’s vaguely aware of Dad’s clandestine movie habits and plopped down on the couch to both talk about her lousy sleep and wonder what the f*ck Daddy is watching. I explained to her the gist of the movie and asked (for the hell of it) if she’d join me. By that time the flick was on pause for an eternity, blaring a frozen shot of our heroes trying to extricate their high tech tunneling machine from within an enormous geode. For real. After I explained what a geode was I resumed the film. She watched for about ten minutes (The Core is PG-13 BTW, but I’m over 13 and figured it was okay for the kid to follow along. Don’t judge me) before abrupt protestations.

“It’s too loud! It’s too scary! I don’t know what’s going on!”

Through simple serendipity, a nine-year old girl with insomnia summed up the best mindset regarding a good disaster movie beyond any half-baked blather I could muster. Sure, she didn’t “get” the flick (PG-13 mind you. And shaddap) but her reaction purely illustrates how we should all watch a movie like The Core. In simpler terms, get bewildered and bamboozled. Then find more beer. It helps, believe me. Burp.

But in all seriousness, a good disaster flick should be loud, sometimes scary and make you unsure as to which way is up. A healthy dose of suspension of disbelief and a willingness to let your brain be scrambled into submission both help. Go along with it. Follow stupid down the rabbit hole. Allow some (partial) credence for Michael Bay’s oeuvre for a bit. Check your coat at the front desk. Eat the Oreo’s frosting first. Enjoy the bombast and the dumb, if only for two hours. Then you can get back to the Lars Von Trier binge watch. Don’t forget the Cheetos and the Dustbuster.

That being said, riddle me this. Did The Core takes nods from the pyrotechnics that came before? Was the same demented structure of chaos and creation take hold? Did Gene Hackman let go of that valve at the right time?

Perhaps. First, let’s dig a bit deeper…


Ill winds are blowing through Earth’s ionosphere. Solar winds.

Peculiar environmental phenomena have been popping up around the globe as of late. Auroras over Washington. Birds losing their ability to navigate. Earthquakes nowhere near tectonic activity. What’s worse Wi-Fi keeps crapping out everywhere. What the hell’s going on?

Dr John Keyes (Eckhart) has a theory. Being a seismologist, he’s pretty in touch with how the Earth eats, breathes and occasionally farts. By all the disparate chaos suddenly plaguing the planet, he has a theory. The outer core of the Earth, the part that controls its EMF, has stopped its rotation. That means in three months everything on Earth that is powered by electricity will halt. Within a year, the sun’s radiation will burn our world to a crisp. Ouch.

What to do to avoid this calamity? Well first, don’t panic. Second, convince the powers that be that this is an apocalyptic threat. Third, don’t panic, for surely there are a collective of science geeks out there who are sharp enough and nuts enough to correct the problem. Namely, and essentially jump-starting an entire planet. No sweat, right?

Keyes (with his maverick theories) gets indoctrinated into a military cabal—which is never a good sign—to initiate a mission to delve into Earth’s inner core to “reactivate” its rotation. Among Keyes’ rogue’s gallery, we have assembled quite the unique crew. We have Conrad Zinksy (Tucci), the preeminent seismologist on the planet to guide the insane mission to tunnel into the Earth (backed up with his supreme arrogance). His former, alienated genius Watson to his Holmes, Dr “Brazz” Brazelton (Lindo) has devised a means to travel into the Earth’s mantle—a nigh indestructible machine—and hopefully intervene with the globe’s eminent failure. And lastly, but not most leastly former space shuttle pilot Major Rebecca “Beck” Childs (Swank) to guide Brazz’ experiment home.

So we got the know-how, we got the tech and we got the mission. Get Earth’s core a-swirling again. But it’s never that easy, is it? ‘Course not. We gotta toss in some MIC intrigue and a giggling robot for the kiddies.

Wait. No giggling robot? Well is is a PG-13 flick after all. Movie sign!…


What I was rambling about earlier with my reluctant, sleepless sidekick holds true regarding disaster films. Too loud. To perilous. Confusion is scads. Believe it or not these are good things to have with such films. Suspension of belief is paramount.

If you were young enough to remember them (and sure as sh*t I wasn’t), TV mogul Irwin Allen of Lost In Space fame got a wild hair up his ass and got into the motion picture action. His notable contributions were The Poseidon AdventureThe Towering Inferno and to a lesser extent The Swarm (hell, at least that muckity-muck got Henry Fonda some work). All were a melange of let’s throw sh*t at a wall and see what sticks, hopefully running down to the floor in a gooey mess. A mess the audiences would love to slop around in.

To wit, Allen’s cinema schlockfests were dappled with a cast of thousands (often with name stars like Gene Hackman, the aforementioned Henry Fonda and even Paul Newman for pity’s sake), all put in perilous positions of penultimate tragedy with a lot of splash and dash in between to culminate in a satisfying ending. Lotsa pyrotechnics and histrionics in there for good measure, too. Plus a lot of cheesy dialogue to boot. Y’know, to lighten the load. Hoorahs all around.

All Allen’s potboilers are fun so long as you don’t think too much about you willingly subjected yourself to. That’s the key, and director Amiel tapped into this philosophy very keenly with The Core. Keep it fun, keep it fast, keep it dumb. In that order. Works well, which is why the peanut butter and jelly sandwich has endured for almost a century. Please trim off the crust. We don’t require anything that resembles substance here. It’s barely an afterthought.

Okay now. Where to begin? Allen’s cheesewheels always starred a mishmash of prominent actors (of their time) pitted against/collaborating with lesser knowns. Again, Amiel took notes. We have the notoriously reliable unreliable Aaron Eckhart as our reluctant hero. I have no love lost on Eckhart. Virtually every film he’s been in he seems out of place. Worse, like bewildered he’s even in a movie to begin with. How the hell did I end up here? Well, in Core, that flappable nature finally comes to good use. What I mean is that you ever catch Battle: Los Angeles? Right. I ain’t supposed to be here. Based on that, Core presents us with Eckhart’s best, most accessible acting until The Dark Knight got released. His skittish, nerdy scientist might be the go to for geek freak as soon as Jeff Goldblum retires. Eckhart here never overplays his hand. Read: he doesn’t ham it up, despite the fact that there are plenty of chances to chew the drywall. His Dr Keyes is the only solid voice of reason—therefore the pinion—which the movie turns. It’s almost as if Eckhart is aware that Core is an Allen rip-off, so he plays the part right. He’s our Dr John Robinson, minus a spine. Underdogs always play well at the ticket taker, don’cha know. Worked for me. I found his acting fun.

And fun is the watchword towards our remaining cast members. Be mindful that The Core‘s plot is ludicrous, so the actors better shape up to carry this farce to the bitter end with elan or at least  marginal competence. Overall, they’re likable. No, I mean it. For the film’s contexts the cast and crew of the Virgil are all enjoyable (even Tucci’s snot. I enjoyed his smarm). The key to this is stereotyping. I know, I was just as surprised as you are. If The Core is a nod to Allen disaster flicks, then there better be a disparate mishmash of oddballs and heroes at the ready, all of which possess that certain something that makes it all click. What is this magic ingredient?

Simple. Stereotyping.

Why do we stereotype? Because it’s easier and it’s quicker. With the rapid fire pace The Core delivers, really deep character study is superfluous. Just go along with the reluctant hero-moustache twirling rapscallion-maverick scientist-plotting MIC types. And a girl. Gotta have a girl. Helps if she’s pretty, and carrying around an Oscar adds a bit of street cred, too. The Core‘s casting is straight out of a John Hughes reunion, chockablock with all the dopey sci-fi stereotypes you can shake a stick at. And all of them reassuringly cheesy with faceplam-worthy dialogue to boot. Makes the mission go down a bit easier overall. So to speak.

Still with all the B-movie histrionics, wonky characters and implausible…everything, The Core is lacking in a few basic, first grade elements that could’ve elevated it to Irwin Allen fractured glory. I’m always talking about pacing here at RIORI. How it’s absolutely essential to drive the plot. Now The Core does have decent pacing, but there is some noticeable sputtering throughout the thing. To wit, is there such a thing as reserved urgency? If so, then this movie has it. Right, right, we know the Earth is doomed. The thinktank is working on a rescue plan. Things seem very dire. Then why are all these folks so damned rational about it? I know our crew is composed of steely military types and MIT misfits known to be more mindful that emotional. But this is a movie, too. If this were the ideal disaster flick, there’d be sufficient freak-outs countered by urgent emotional face-slapping to quell the rantings (“Forget him! He’s gone!” “No he’s not!” – Hicks and Vasquez from Aliens, BTW). Nope. Some shouting, but that’s about it.

An aside: despite the dynamite casting, we have a glaring issue. I don’t care about her Oscars. Hilary Swank seems really out of place here. Even if she got her start as The Next Karate Kid, action apparently isn’t her strong suit. Most of the film Beck seems wobbly, detached and wooden. The look on her face most of the time says, “Stupid agent.” Even Alfre Woodard—one of my fave actresses—who is on par with Swank’s dramatic chops snarls a lot better that Hilary does. Other than Swank, as I’ve pounded on, the rest of the cast was great.

One more thing for the bitch board: Amiel may have been trying to honor Allen’s disaster flicks with The Core, but overall his work came across as “Poor Man’s Emmerich.” Noodle that one. Sure, the action plays out smooth, but the direction was also kinda tame. It was as if Amiel was playing it safe, holding back. I know that sounds hard to believe after my glowing shiny shiny, but there’s this feeling of drawing the whole thing out (at 2 plus hours running time, this isn’t such a stretch. So to speak). A little too much roominess for all the ensuing pyrotechnics. It can make for a sort of uneven viewing experience, a la that “reserved urgency.” Emmerich throws everything and the kitchen sink out the freakin’ window with his bread and circuses. Amiel should’ve cranked up the nutty a bit more is all. Just sayin’.

Despite the dumb and corn (or perhaps because of it), I dug The Core. So to speak. I’ll stop that now. It’s a complete waste of time. The acting is silly. The story is demented. The F/X were awesome. Just toss the remote over your shoulder—after you’ve grabbed a cold six first—watch and let your cranium fill with Oreo filling. Some action movies are dramatic. Some are violent. And some are just unapologetically stupid. That being said, Irwin Allen would’ve approved of The Core.

Now if it only had a Leslie Nielsen cameo. Box office gold.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. Its flaws make it great. Like with Pacific Rim, don’t think too hard about it. Just go with it. Better get two sixers for optimal viewing pleasure. Play it safe.


Stray Observations…

  • “There’s nothing on the other side of the equal sign.” I suck at math, too.
  • “Unobtainium?” Isn’t that the crap the bad guys were mining for in Avatar? Cameron, first the Harlan Ellison swipe and now this?
  • “God, I hate this sky.” F*cking smog I tell ya.
  • This must be the first disaster movie ever that has a simulator of an imaginary machine. Told you Amiel was kind of playing it safe.
  • “All right. I’m hitting him again.”
  • Wouldn’t Journey To The Center Of The Earth be a better title? Ah, right. Been done and has too many words for modern Pokemon Go audiences.
  • “After that it gets bad.”

Next Installment…

“Better leave her behind with The Kids Are All Right.”