Saturday, August 27, 2011

Clyde’s Movie Palace: United 93 (2006)


United 93
Directed by Paul Greengrass

Lewis Alsamari
JJ Johnson

Gary Commock
Trish Gates
Polly Adams
Cheyenne Jackson

Opal Alladin
Starla Benford
Nancy McDoniel
David Alan Basche

From the Bin Laden Memo:

Al Qaeda members -- including some who are U.S. citizens -- have resided in or traveled to the U.S. for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks.

Project3Two al-Qaeda members found guilty in the conspiracy to bomb our embassies in East Africa were U.S. citizens, and a senior EIJ member lived in California in the mid-1990s.

A clandestine source said in 1998 that a bin Laden cell in New York was recruiting Muslim-American youth for attacks.

We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a ---- service in 1998 saying that Bin Laden wanted to hijack a U.S. aircraft to gain the release of "Blind Sheikh" Omar Abdel Rahman and other U.S.-held extremists.

Nevertheless, FBI information since that time indicates patterns
of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.

In United 93, directed by Paul Greengrass, the Bin Laden memo isn’t menProject4tioned. Yet by the time the film is over, you’ll certainly think about it and wonder how the events of September 11, 2001 might have been avoided if it weren’t for the so called “lack of details” excuse put forward by the Bush administration. Besides a feeling of profound sadness it is one of the many things I thought about as I left the theater this afternoon. My feelings were shaped not just because of these events as a historical record, but because I’m not sure that we are any more prepared for such an event now as we were almost five years ago.

When you review a film such as United 93, you feel almost compelled to praise it regardless of quality. To do otherwise is to risk being accused of disrespect  towards the many that died, not only on United 93 but those passengers on the other aircraft, and those who died in the World United 001Trade Center and at the Pentagon. The film succeeds quite well in recreating those events, and it will leave you feeling sad, depressed and angered just as it was meant to do. Yet, I think back to when I viewed The Discovery Channel’s excellent documentary recreation The Flight That Fought Back, and realize that I had the same feelings when watching that documentary  recreation.

The difference is that when watching The Flight That Fought Back you are well aware that you are witnessing a recreation of past historical events. When you watch United 93 however, you are transported to the event as if it could be happening right at this day, at this hour, and at this moment. It’s as if you are time warped  directly into the airport, the air traffic control centers, and into the passenger section and cockpit. But unlike the passengers, who are initially unaware of what awaits them, we are not and our sense of frustration is overpowering especially as we witness the confusion and lack of response from those in charge.

From everything that we have learned since then, some of the passengers have become etched into our brain that they now appear larger than life. Yet, Greengrass doesn’t fall into the trap of making them seem so. He sees them just as they were on that day; ordinary citizens on what was supposed to be an ordinary uneventful day. They could be the people you ride the bus with, they could be the many passengers who surround you on the subway, or they could just as easily be the nameless faces you pass as you walk through the local mall. It is the events of the day that brought them recognition and that led them to their failed attempt at survival rather than merely accepting their fate and doing nothing. But what we will always remember is that they did try, not the fact  that they only partially  failed.  I say partially, because they did sacrifice their lives, but in doing so the plane never made it to it’s intended target.

Yes, we see them making numerous desperate phone calls home, but Greengrass doesn’t dwell on each individual conversation to wrench every tear from us that he can. The passengers hurriedly dial home, leave messages for loved one, as Greengrass lets his camera move quickly from one person to the next. If we were on the Flight, would we have been privileged to each and every conversation? Not unless that particular passenger was seated next to you.

More than half of the film doesn’t take place on United 93. Most of the first halProject1f of the film is centered on the confusion at various air traffic control centers, New York’s Northeast Air Defense Sector, and the FAA headquarters. When what appears to be the first hijacking occurs, there is initially no sense of urgency, and there is in fact, a certain amount of glib skepticism.
Certainly I can understand why someone would not and could not believe such an event was taking place.  When I awoke that day and booted up my computer and read World Trade Center collapsed, I thought for sure it was a joke, and that I had left my browser tuned to some fake news site.  
To emphasize what those at the FAA were up against, Greengrass shows us close-ups of the radar screen with what appears to be millions of blips inhabiting the screen. It is mind-boggling and painful to watch how totally unprepared we were.   It is Ben Sliney (who plays himself) that takes charge by ordering all aircraft to land, that there be no more departures, and and then diverts all overseas flights headed to the U.S. to land elsewhere.
On the other hand, the military appeared to be totally out to lunch. They are unable to come to a decision about anything and when they do,  it’s always the wrong call. For instance, when they eventually  do get the fighter jets in the air, they first head out over the ocean where they are totally useless.  Then we find out they aren’t armed.  Yet, they desperately seek permission to engage if it becomes necessary but permission never comes one way or the other. That is only an order that can come directly from the President or the Vice President.
It was at this point that I thought back to the opening of Fahrenheit 9/11 and the pictures of GProject2eorge Bush sitting in a classroom reading My Pet Goat. What I later found out was besides that reading, he stayed another 20 minutes for a photo-op afterward, long after both planes had hit the WTC. Though it isn’t mentioned in this film, you can’t help but dwell on that fact, during the film and later as you contemplate what you have witnessed.

So should the film even have been made? I’ve given this a great deal of thought after having seen United 93. Yes, it should have. We have become a country that buys into sound bites and only what our brain can decipher in 30 seconds or less. What we see, what we learn, and what we hear, is filtered through a corporate owned media whose sole purpose is profits, profits that are built solely on the rise and fall of their stock price.  There is no longer any truth in the media. It is easier for most Americans to lazily and  blindly accept the propagandized News feed of a conglomerate such as Fox News, or any other national media outlet for that matter,  instead of digging deep to separate fact from fiction, and to learn that  “he said this” and “she said that” or even “they said” is no more than gossip reporting, as if somehow giving equal weight to a lie is justification for labeling yourself as being fair and balanced. 
We elect our president under the same principals that drive us to phone in votes for American Idol or Dancing with the Stars. What our government is doing and how it is being run should concern us at all times, not just when gasoline reaches astronomical prices, or when we decide to let the UAB operate our ports. And there are times such as now when we need to be reminded of tragic events before the memory becomes nothing more than a faded picture, lost in the fog of media misrepresentation.

Ten percent of the opening weekend gross was donated to a memorial fund for the passengers of Flight 93. The film cost only $15 million to make which is a drop in the bucket so in the end Universal will undoubtedly make a profit. I won’t begrudge them that although I probably should. I mean ten percent of the opening weekend is okay, but do you really need to make a profit off of the  dead?

As for grading the film, I’ll just say that I think everyone should see it once and one time is plenty. But it is not a film I care to visit again anytime soon. It’s just too painful.



Thursday, August 25, 2011

May I Have the Envelope, Please: Please Don’t Eat The Daisies, Send Me No Flowers, The Glass Bottom Boat

I had just about made up my mind to go on a Netflix John Wayne Movie kick, but instead decided to go with Doris Day.  This was due mostly to the fact that her film, Move Over Darling, had ended up in the top of my queue thanks to Netflix’s refusal to send me the movie I’ve been waiting on for a month.   More about that in another post if I have to wait much longer.  These are films I hadn’t seen in years so I couldn’t pass judgment until I rewatched them.  I had fond memories of them, but would those fond memories hold up in 2011?  Read on to find out.

Please Don't Eat The Daisies

The first film I watched in this trio of Doris Day films was Please Don’t Eat the Daisies.  There were only two things I remembered about this film.  The first is that one of the kids spends most of his time in  a cage saying “Cokey Cola”.  Think of it as a 1960 early placement ad, and a lot catchier than having him say Pepsi Coley.   The other thing I remember is the infernal theme song, sung by Doris Day over the titles and then later in the film with a group of kids from a school where Kate Mackay (Doris Day) does volunteer work.  As for my spelling of “Mackay,”  it comes from the IMDB.  Netflix probably pulled the spelling on the envelope out of their ass.  And there’s something else about this particular Netflix envelope that fits right in with the theme of the movie.  More about that at the end of the review.

This film was based on a best selling book by author Jean Kerr.  The novel, if you want to call it that,  was more of a series of humorist essays dealing with the life of her and her husband, critic Walter Kerr, when they moved to the suburbs to raise their kids.  So the movie does have at least this in common with the book:  It doesn’t have much of a plot. 

Unfortunately, if Kerr’s book was actually funny (I don’t know, I haven’t read it, so send me a copy and I’ll review and compare), the screenplay writer, Isobel Lennart, forgot to include any of that here.  Instead we get a formulaic picture that even TV 60’s Icons, June Cleaver, Donna Stone, and Joan Nash, who played the lead female character in the TV series of the same name would have a problem with.  They may have been dutiful housewives, but I doubt any of them would put up with the crap Larry Makay deals out to Kate.  Not even they would have bowed down to and kowtowed to their husbands in the subservient way that Kate MacKay does here.  Making matters worse, Larry Makay (David Niven) is a total jackass.  Oh forget that, let’s not mince words.  He’s an asshole.

Their kids are total brats, and most of the blame for that is laid on Kate by not only her husband but her very own mother as well, who for some inexplicable reason, continually sucks up to and sides with Larry throughout the film.  I don’t know if these little darlings were modeled after Kerr’s real life offspring, but I can only hope for her sake that they weren’t. 

But it’s easy to see why these kids are such monsters. When it comes to their upbringing, Larry is totally absent from dusk till dawn and beyond.  He’s pretty much a shitty father figure, and reminded me of my own father in a lot of ways.  He expects Kate to be there to cater to him, and in fact she does just that,  from the opening credits to the end when she decides to cave once again to Larry, even though he’s just a big jackass with a moustache. 

It’s not a total lost.  Doris Day, does a great deal with a thinly developed underwritten character.  Whether she meant to or not, she often makes us feel sorry for her when I suppose we should be laughing.  Still, I wanted to take Kate and shake her when SHE apologizes to Larry, right after he has nastily and almost cruelly browbeat her at one point.

Then there  is the catchy title song which will stick in your head long after the movie is over. As for why the title fits the movie, it takes all of about three minutes of the film to dispense with that explanation.   But most Doris Day movies have that kind of a song somewhere in them.  Also included is  the song “Any Way the Wind Blows” which is nice, in a cute, cuddly and adorable kind  of way.

I thought about saving this film for a more in depth review under the “Clyde’s Movie Palace Banner” and I still might write  that eventually.  But this movie didn’t entertain me.  It just irritated me for the most part which is why I probably had erased the memory of it long ago.  And what was the other clue about this film apparent on the envelope that I mentioned earlier?  The fact that Doris Day’s character is referred to as only “Larry’s Wife.”  See, even Netflix tried to strip her of her identity, just like Larry and because of that nonsense we can do no better than a C-.

Send Me No Flowers

I know I saw this movie once on television years ago, and my fast fading memory tells me that I didn’t care for it way  back when.  And as it turned when I watched it a few nights ago, that' memory is pretty much right on the money.  There’s just not a lot here to recommend this film.  Even the great chemistry between Rock Hudson and Doris Day that was apparent in films like Pillow Talk and Lover Come Back, is totally absent here.  The plot is just as depicted on the Netflix Envelope, with one caveat:  It is actually thinner than the paper it is written on.

Unlike their other outings, this film opens with Doris and Rock already married.  And then you spend the rest of the film trying to figure out whatever brought George and Judy together in the first place.  Hudson’s hypochondria, makes him an obnoxious bore, and the fact that this movie depends on the old gimmick of someone mistaking a conversation to be about himself, doesn’t help.  Excuse the pun, but that’s pretty much a dead premise that is not ripe for laughs.  You and I both know that in such a situation, the  first thing that a person is going to do is confront their doctor.

The rest of the film deals with Rock trying to find a suitable husband for Judy, because God knows she needs someone to take care of her after he’s gone.  From there we get more misunderstandings and misinterpretations complicating matters further.  The fact that all of this is resolved by a visit from Paul Lynde’s grave selling character at the end of the film tells you how easily all of this could have been dispensed with in the first place.  In essence, there’s not enough here for a half hour TV special, let alone an hour and forty minute film.  The good things are  another Doris Day stay in your head for weeks theme song, Tony Randall as George’s Best Friend Arnold, ( his writing and  then erasing what he wrote for George’s eulogy is hilarious) and the ever dependable Paul Lynde as Mr. Akins, the cemetery salesman.  Norman Jewison directed, but I guess everybody has to start somewhere.  On the basis of the fact that Hudson’s Hypochondria is less irritating than Niven’s Drama Critic, we have no choice but to give Send Me No Flowers a C.

Glass Bottom Boat

Last but not least is one of two Doris Day outings  with Rod Taylor.   I do remember seeing this when it was released back in 1966.  I liked it then and after watching it again, I still do. 

Although “The Glass Bottom Boat” is the title of this film, it is only relevant to the proceedings  because of another patented Doris Day theme song, and to the first ten minutes or so of the film itself that starts the plot wheels turning when Bruce Templeton snags Doris’s mermaid outfit. 

And although the plot is another studio  lesson in simplicity, it’s a lot more entertaining than the previous two films here, helped along by the fact that Rod Taylor actually has some chemistry with Day, and the plot manages to hold up for the entire hour and fifty minutes.  Needless to say, he is smitten with her and she becomes smitten with him.  Kudos to whoever decided to make the Day character a widow as well.  I don’t think we could have bought into this  if they had made her a 42 year old single gal, virginity intact. 

Yes, this movie depends on a lot of  misunderstandings and mistaken identities, (Doris Day as a double agent spy?  Get real) but we can buy into it because it’s the usual kind of government  authority figures that manage to muck things up. So on that score, it’s at least realistic. 

Some good sight gags, some good co-stars, with character actors like Alice Pearce and George Tobias (Gladys and Abner Kravitz from the TV show Bewitched), Paul Lynde, Dom Deluise, Dick Martin (from Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in), Edward Andrews (also played the doctor in Send Me No Flowers), John McGiver, and Ellen Corby  (Grandma Walton) along for the ride.  Also watch for a cameo by Robert Vaughn who played Napolean Solo in The Man From Uncle.  On a useless bit of trivial trivia note:  the house George lives in was actually used for a two part Man From Uncle Episode.

If you rent the film from Netflix, please be sure to check out the special features.  There’s one in particular dealing with the fashion designs of this film, and Day is shown modeling her mermaid costume in a screen test.  What can I say except that she may have been 42, but she was still built like a 20 year old brick shithouse.  So taking that into consideration, I have no choice but to bestow a score of B- on The Glass Bottom Boat. And if you want to watch Rock Hudson and Doris Day, my recommendation is for Pillow Talk and Lover Come Back.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Clyde’s Movie Palace: Continental Divide (1981)

Continental Divide Marquee
Continental Divde
John Belushi
Blair Brown
Allen Garfield
Carlin Glynn

Directed by
Michael Apted

Written by
Lawrence Kasdan

Ernie Souchak (John Belushi) is a reporter for the Chicago Sun Times and a damn good one at that. You remember what reporters were don’t you? Those were the men and women who worked for newspapers that would actually investigate some of the wrong doing, crime, and corruption  going on in the world, thus helping in their own Un-Superman-like way to stand up for truth, justice, and whatever else would sell the most newspapers. And Souchak does seem to sell a lot of newspapers because the more he writes, the happier his boss, Howard McDermott (Allen Garfield) seems to be. In fact, when Ernie is writing, Howard smiles…a lot. 
On the other hand, Howard’s wife Sylvia (Carlin Glynnn) wants nothing more than to fix Souchak up with a nice gal so that he can  settle down and they can poke out a couple of Little Souchak’s.  But marriage is the furthest thing from Souchak’s mind. He’s enjoying his life way too much just as it is especially  he’s investigating and writing about his main adversary, Alderman Yablonowitz (Val Avery), who is as crooked and as corrupt as they come.

Aided by a City Hall Clerk, Souchak comes up with one scoop after another until Yablonowitz decides to teach him a lesson by having a couple of his thugs posing as policemen beat the living crap out of Souchak as a warning to back off.

So in order to protect Souchak, not to mention protecting his newspaper’s main asset to circulation, Howard tries to Continental Divide 0001convince Souchak to leave town for a couple of weeks until things cool down.  Otherwise, Souchak might end up a wee bit dead.  Sylvia suggests that he interview famed and reclusive ornithologist Nell Porter (Blair Brown).

“Grow up, Sylvia,” Ernie whines. “What do I know about the intercontinental crack? I bet they’ve got hills up there where she comes from”

“Sort of,” Sylvia answers. “We call them the Rockies.”

Eventually Ernie succumbs to friendly persuasion and heads for the Rocky Mountains over prepared and underequipped for the challenges ahead.  Yes, I know it seems like a contradiction, but believe me, when you watch the movie you’ll understand.

There’s a climb up the mountains with a crotchety old guide who drinks Ernie’s liquor. There’s a confrontation with a Bear who takes Ernie’s cigarettes. During Ernie’s climb we also get  our first glimpse of the “possum.” Why is this “possum” so important?  Do you expect me to tell you everything?   But most importantly, there’s Nell herself.

Continental Divide 0002Although Continental Divide is undoubtedly classified as a romantic comedy, there is much more than that going on here. Early on, we get some quick drama and intrigue as Souchak investigates Yablonowitz. We then get the fish out of water story as Ernie tries adjusting to life in the Rockies after having his feet firmly planted in the terra firma of Chicago for most of his life. And then we have the romantic portion of the film which asks us the age old question of whether opposites really do attract?

Except that when you stop to think about it, Nell and Ernie aren’t really that different. The fact that they are perceived as opposites has more to do with the environments they live in than what their personality makeup is. They are both dedicated to their jobs, and they each know the best way to survive in those elements.
Nell of course, has total disdain for reporters. Ernie thinks of Nell as being nothing more than an “Eagle Freak.” We watch as Ernie learns to respect Nell for her work and through a series of accidents learns to not only to understand her, but to see the world through her eyes. Nell for her part begins to see Ernie not just as a reporter but someone who is just as  passionate about his work as she is about her own, and that he too is someone who can make a difference in people’s lives.

But what makes this movie special is that it doesn’t hammer us over the head with the obvious. It lets the attraction grow steady and subtly because there is a bigger question at stake here than the old opposites attract routine. And it is a question that looms large all the way up to the closing minutes of the film.

Most films of this type generally end with the two stars falling into each other’s arms and declaring their never ending love for each other.   They then proceed to Cinderella’s castle to live happily ever after. Without giving too much away, Continental Divide never falls for that easy ploy because we know, just as Ernie and Nell know, how they feel about each other long before the final denouement comes. But then what? They both survive best in their own environments, doing the kind of work that brings them fulfillment. Can one give that up for love, and hope that such feelings will be enough to fill in the empty void that would be left?

Continental Divide 6Continental Divide owes a lot of its success to a wonderful script by Lawrence Kasdan (The Big Chill, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Silverado, The Accidental Tourist) and the even handed direction of Michael Apted (Coal Miner’s Daughter, Gorillas in the Midst). They resist what must have been a lot of temptation to let Belushi go on a wild tangent after his successes on Saturday Night Live, Animal House, and The Blues Brothers. In fact, I can honestly say you won’t fall out of your seat in hysterics, but you will chuckle a few times.  The humor comes from the deftly written script, not from a series of meaningless pratfalls.  Yes, there are those as well, but they are more a consequences of what Ernie’s character is than simply inserted for a few cheap laughs.

Yet, without the two leads making the whole thing seem plausible, Continental Divide could easily have been a gigantic misstep. The idea of seeing John Belushi in a Romantic Comedy at this stage of his career must have had quite a few movie goers scratching their head in puzzlement. I’m sure many of them even went into the theater expecting more of the same old Belushi they had become accustomed to. I had my own doubts at the time as to whether or not he could pull it off, but he quickly makes us forget he wears a black suit and sunglasses on the side or can break whisky bottles on his forehead while smashing guitars..  . In fact it is with a great deal of sadness that we will never know the entire range of versatility that Belushi was capable of. For instance, in the dramatic sequences that bookend the film, John showed he may have been capable of carrying a straight dramatic role as well.

Continental Divide 7As for Blair Brown, after seeing this film numerous times I can’t imagine anybody else who could have pulled off the role of Nell Porter other than perhaps Katharine Hepburn playing opposite Spencer Tracy. It’s not just that she actually makes us believe she is an ornithologist; it’s that she plays the role in such a way that the romantic chemistry between her and Belushi actually works as they grow from sparring partners to partners who share a mutual admiration and appreciation of one another. As Sylvia says later in the film, Nell is one helluva mountain goat.
I don’t want to give the impression that this is the greatest romantic comedy to come down the pike in the last thirty years or so. But it is certainly far more entertaining on all levels than most of the formulaic romantic comedy films being churned out these days. And if nothing else, maybe you’re into travelogues and if the romance doesn’t grab you also get some great shots of eagles and landscapes photographed beautifully by Cinematographer John Baily. For that reason alone I suggest you watch the film on one of the HD movie channels if possible or better yet just buy or rent the DVD. (Forget about watching it on commercial television. The pan and scan is often horrid, and the dialogue heavily censored: No, he did not hit that cougar in the butt and it isn’t so quiet you can hear a mouse fart as you’ll find out.)

And then there’s that ending. Whether you agree with it or not, after thinking about it for a while, you have no choice to come to the conclusion that there was really no other way for this to conclude unless you wanted a truly sour finale which would have been even worse.

Continental Divide 10I find the film enjoyable on just about every level, whether it’s the dramatic turns, the love story, the fish out of water story, or how exceptionally well all of these combinations are played out. And when a film combines all of these elements and does it in such fine fashion, I have no choice but to give it my grade, which would be an eagle soaring A-. And damn, I still miss John.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Clyde’s Movie Palace: A History of Violence (2005)

A History of Violence Marquee

A History of Violence (2005)
Directed by David Cronenberg
Viggo Mortensen
Maria Bello
Ed Harris
William Hurt
In the opening moments of A History of Violence two men leave their hotel room. While one of them goes into the lobby to “check out” the other man sits patiently in the car waiting for him to return. There are no sounds, only an eerie quiet until the older man returns.

“Is everything taken care of?” the one who has been waiting asks. As he gets into the car to join his partner, he answers affirmatively but mentions that there was some trouble with the maid. It is our first hint that these two men are not ordinary motel patrons.

The younger guy who had been waiting realizes his water jug is empty and is told by his partner that there is a cooler in the back of the office. The younger guy goes strolling back inside, as if it everything was business as usual. Quickly, we realize it is not. There is blood on the counter, and two bloody lifeless corpses lying on the floor. He barely acknowledges their existence as he proceeds to fill up his water bottle. At that moment, a bathroom door opens and a young girl, possibly four or five years old stands in the door way quietly sobbing. He quickly hushes her as we see him reach towards his back where a pistol is implanted in his jeans.

From this point on, director David Cronenberg has blanketed us with a thick sense of dread, tension, and horror that permeates the film for the next ninety minutes.
He changes gears by transporting us to what is supposed to be the idyllic home of Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen), his wife Edie (Maria Bellow), a teenage son, and a young daughter. Edie is an attorney, and Tom runs a small diner in a town where everybody knows just about everyone else on a first name basis. It’s the kind of town where one could almost picture Andy Taylor sitting on the front porch strumming his guitar while Aunt Bee is in the kitchen baking up a pie. And on most days, it just might be such a town, but because of what we already have witnessed, we know Cronenberg has every intention of upsetting the apple cart.

One evening as Tom is about to close up the restaurant, the two men who were at the motel show up. They are out of cash. As they are about to kill one of the patrons, Tom takes matters into his own hands, hitting one in the face with a pot of coffee, and dispensing with the other with several shots from a pistol. After Tom is stabbed in the foot, he fires a shot point blank into the face of his assailant. It is graphic, quick, and brutal. In most films, this would be the point where there would be a modicum of relief that the bad guys have been dispensed with.   That would be true if this were the end of the film, but it is  only the beginning.

Tom is quickly given hero status by the news media, although he does his best to shun the limelight. Two days later, more men show up at the diner. One of them, Carl Fogerty (Ed Harris) is disfigured on one side of his face.
Fogerty claims that Tom is in reality, a man named Joey Cusack, a former mob hit man from Philadelphia. Tom claims it’s a case of mistaken identity, but as Fogerty and his men begin to stalk Tom’s family we begin to question whether Tom’s violent act in the diner was one of self-preservation, or was it something more than that? Could it be that in fact, his violent reaction was not so foreign to Tom after all?

As we discover what the truth may or may not be, Cronenberg let’s the film move along at a rapid clip, punctuated only occasionally by a sudden outburst of violence. Along the way, the film asks a lot of questions which we have to supply the answers to ourselves. Just as Sam Peckinpah asked in the film Straw Dogs is there a certain point at which we are all prone to extreme violent acts, no matter how peaceful we are or how often we believe in turning the other cheek? Can a person, who has lived with violence, shed that for a peaceful existence? Is someone who has committed acts of brutality redeemable, or is it all a mirage, simply to mask their true inner self? And if we find out the person we love, was once someone entirely different, can we still love them, or does the person we think we love really even exist? And having been borne of violence, do we simply pass it down from one generation to the next?

Up until the middle of the film, we think we know what’s going to happen. We expect it to come at the end of the film, but as Cronenberg has been known to do; he throws us a roundhouse curve, putting the ending that we expect where we least expect it. What happens afterwards, answers many of our questions, but still leaves us puzzling over many others.

A History of Violence works on every level, not only as a suspenseful tale of revenge and violence, but manages to give us much food for thought in the process. The scenes of violence are not stylized glamorization that they would be in other films. The violence, when it does occur, is dispensed with gruesomely but quickly just as it is in the real world. We see it happen, and we see it’s after effects, but Cronenberg doesn’t linger letting his story continue quickly on.

Viggo Mortensen, in what is probably his best role to date, is  understated as Tom, but when his identity is questioned by Fogerty, we see a bit of nervousness but are not sure of its origins. Is it because Fogerty has unmasked the truth, or is just the fact that a stranger, who obviously truly believes Tom is someone else, is instilling fear in Tom because of what they may or may not do?  Mario Bello brings us another exceptional acting job as the wife, trying to cope with the fact that the man she thought she married, may be someone else entirely. Ed Harris is dutifully menacing as Fogerty, but in a role that appears late in the film, William Hurt makes him look like a cream puff by comparison and practically steals the movie out from under everyone.

Despite the title and the subject matter, the actual acts of violence only take up a fraction of the running time. It is in the film to make a quick point, and then we move on. Yet, Cronenberg keeps his film fast paced and tightly edited as we make one discovery after another and  keeps us enthralled and glued to our seat every step of the way. And believe me when I tell you that when I’m enthralled, I have no choice but to give you my grade and for A History of Violence it is an A with a bullet.

(A History of Violence is now available on DVD to rent or own. Rated R for graphic violence, nudity, strong sexual situations.)

Clyde's Movie Palace: The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio (2005)

Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio
The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio
Julianne More
Woody Harrelson
Laura Dern
Ellary Porterfield

Screenplay by
Jane Anderson based on a book by Terry Ryan
Directed by
Jane Anderson

If organizations such as the American Family Association had their way, I’m sure they would love to send us all back to the Happy Days of Ritchie Cunningham and Fonzie. I also have to believe that if state legislatures such as the dunderheads of South Dakota had their way, every woman in their state would once again become their idea of the happy housewife: forever barefoot, constantly pregnant, and put on this earth to do nothing but lie down, do a man’s  bidding and to walk around with a permanent smile engraved on their faces. So what does all of that have to do with The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio?

Prize Winner BookIt may help those of us who are about as far removed from the forties, fifties and early sixties as you can get understand that while a happy face is often painted in glorious Technicolor on that era, life for many stay at home moms and their kids wasn’t always quite so grand and that you did the bidding of Lord And Master not because it was necessarily the right thing to do, but because it was expected of you, and because there were no alternative.   No matter how poor of a provider he may have been, you often had no choice but to stay at home and become a punching bag for the Lord and master.
The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio, is the story of Evelyn Ryan (Julianne Moore), who used her knack for writing poetry and jingles to help keep food on the tablPrize Winner 0009 and a roof over the head of her family. Her husband, Kelly (Woody Harrelson), works at a machine shop but spends a good portion of his income on a nightly bottle of liquor and a six pack of beer to help him drown his sorrows. Although he has moments when he shows his love for his family, it doesn’t change the fact that Kelly is a poor provider and an alcoholic. And when Kelly hits the sauce, he is emotionally abusive towards his family and his kids.

And Kelly makes lots of promises, promises about how he is going to change, promises that good fortune is just around the corner, promises that he knows and we certainly know are never going to be kept. Just as we are aware of this, Evelyn is also. But she stays with him, doing her best to help her family survive with her jingles. She is as much of a mother to Kelly as she is to her children. Let’s face it, there weren’t too many other options for a woman with 10 kids in those days, and one has to wonder if there would be that many more today.

But year after year, Evelyn hangs in there with a cheery disposition that even June Cleaver of Leave it to Beaver would be hard pressed to sustain. At one point, there is another drunken outburst by her husband after a Red Sox loss in which he beats her newly won freezer with a baseball bat.   She consults her local priest. His advice: Support your husband, he has a tough life.

There were times in watching this film that I wanted to yell at the screen in frustration, “Why don’t you just get rid of his sorry ass.”
But I had to keep reminding myself that this was a completely different and unrecognizable world than what we live in today.
But there are times when I think the film falters in drawing us into that world. While its moments of whimsy (jingle singers popping in and out of nowhere) are certainly clever and give the film an uplifting quality, they do detract from it and are distracting  in such a way that it often makes the story more distant from us than it should be.  It hinders our emotional involvement in Evelyn’s plight.

Yet, you can’t help but greatly admire Evelyn. She is the eternal optimist despite the worst possible circumstances imaginable. To her kids, she is a not only a mother, but their savior and Prize Winner 0002their hero. At the end of the film, we are told how the children went on to do much better with their lives, most having careers ranging from teachers to writers. Julianne Moore’s Evelyn, certainly goes a long way in to making us understand that to Evelyn, it was better to be optimistic, love your kids and do the best that you could for them. On the other hand, Woody Harrelson’s Kelly often seems more of a caricature, and whatever demons is possessing him we are never fully made to understand them although Evelyn certainly did.

Perhaps the saddest moment comes near the end of the film during a conversation between Evelyn and her daughter, Tuff (a wonderful performance by Ellary Porterfield) “He’s never going to change, is he?”

“No, he isn’t,” she answers, as a terrible look of sadness crosses her face. It is not sadness for herself, but sadness in the realization that her daughter sees the father exactly for what he is. “But do you know what,” she continues, “That man on the phone just told me that my entry won over 250,000 others, and it wasn’t even my best one. You can be anything you want to.”

And it is at that point that we fully understand Evelyn. It’s not about winning prizes, it’s not about wallowing in your own misery. It’s about giving your children something better in life to strive for by giving them as much happiness as you can. And with a message as uplifting as that I have no choice but to give you my grade, and for The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio it’s a B+.

A Day in the Life–6:24 AM, Monday August 22……Of Dreams and Things


So it’s late when I finally am able to go to sleep on Sunday night.  But what the heck.  About four hours of good sleep and I’m ready to go.

Unfortunately, dreams and things sometimes have a way of interfering with the best laid plans of unknown bloggers.  The dream I partially remember.  It had something to do with Honorable No. 2 Son when he was little, and myself.  We were at a movie theater, and we were going to watch a new version of King Kong.  I had already scene it.  But this version surpassed anything you’ve seen in real life.

In this one, Kong actually jumps out of the screen.  But it’s okay because it’s just a mechanical Kong who goes berserk inside the theater.  This Kong is reminiscent of the one that used to be on the tour of Universal Studios before somebody set a match to him and burned his furry ass up.

So in the dream, I take my son to the theater, since I’ve already experienced this myself.  We want to find us some good seats so we can get a good look at all the action.  I’m sure the theater was one from my past, probably the old Laroy were I spent a lot of time as a child.  We find our seats in row eleven, which probably also has some significance, and then I wake up, my legs feeling like dead weights and my arms and hands in their usual numb state.  It is, 4:30 AM. 

There is still time to get some sleep if I can doze off.  But between the feet, the ankles, and the arms, it’s impossible.  If I had taken my meds, it would have helped all that and I would have slept.  But I have to wake up by 7:00, and when I take the Neurontin and the Vicatin that late (or that early) then it’s difficult to get going.  On several occasions I have kept right on sleeping, just waking up long enough to call work to either tell them I won’t be in or that I’ll be late.  So I struggle on without it, in a state of exhaustion.  But it soon becomes apparent that I will not be sleeping anymore.  So at 6:24 AM, I finally give up.

So I will go into work.  I need to take my medication, or I’ll be in bad pain about halfway through the day.  As it is, I’ll be exhausted all day if I don’t take the meds.  If I take them, I’ll be hard pressed not to doze off at my desk.   If it weren’t for the fact that because of all this medical nonsense, I’ve used up a good portion of my sick day and vacation days, I would just call in. But then again, if I did that, then The Girlfriend would bitch, moan, and groan about me missing work again.  Something she’s already doing this morning because of an unlocked door.  I really don’t want to hear about it.  A man’s home is not his castle.

So I’ll take the meds and hope for the best, and probably get the worst.  But that’s a day in the life.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Day in the Life Stuff: Episode XLIV: A Not So New Hope

When we last left our intrepid medical explorer,  he was anticipating a call from Truckstop Radiation Inc.  to set up an appointment for an ultra sound on his Kidneys because his spinal MRI showed that he had Remal Cysts, or as they said oIMG_1116n the official MRI Approved Form, Acquired Renal Cysts.  I don’t really know what if any differences there are in acquired cysts and ones that  aren’t, and I don’t really care.  But the appointment isn’t until the 25th of August or thereabouts.  I had to decide whether to work a partial day that day, or not at all.  But when the lady on the phone told me that I had to drink a quart of water within an hour of the test, then that pretty much settled that quandary especially since once I began drinking, pissing was not permitted.  Whatever that test reveals, I’m sure that under the usual BSOP (bullshit standard operating procedure), it’ll be several days before I get the results. 

As coincidence would have it, my generic PCP called the same afternoon with the news that I had been approved for a new neurologist, thus relegating Dr. A. C. Neurologist into the annals of my medical history for all time, hopefully never to emerge from that cocoon again.   The new neurologist, who unlike Dr. A.C.,  is supposed to be  the real genuine article  neurosurgeon or so I surmised from my conversation with the PCP.  And they wanted to waste no time  setting me up for an 8:45 AM appointment on Friday morning.  This was on  Wednesday, and it was extremely short notice, but you do what you have to do.  Unfortunately my supervisor was off work on Thursday so the best that I could do is leave her a note.   But I did turn in the request to take the day off for next weeks Kidney Family Portrait. Sometimes, standard operating procedures at work fall under the BSOP banner as well.

For the sake of discretion and decorum, which admittedly I am totally lacking in, we’ll call the new brain examiner Dr. Magic.  From where I live, Dr. Magic’s place of business was about as far as you can go and still be considered to be in Bakersfield.  Or at least it seemed that way to me.  But still, after making the trip, it was far  preferable than dealing with the downtown traffic and the traffic from the hospital near Dr. A.C.’s office.  You hop on the freeway, take one exit, make a couple of turns and you’re there.   Well, you do have to spend some time fighting your way through highway  traffic.  But it’s no big deal.

IMG_1117The worst thing about seeing a new physician is filling out the same old same old introductory paperwork.  I wish someone would invent a system where you only had to do itt once and only once then just pass it on from place to place.  Instead, every time I get slapped with an approval for a new specialist, I also get the thrill of writing down the same bullshit information I’ve already written a thousand times already this year: 

Next of kin, spouses name rank and serial number, insurance number, insurance group, insurance provider, children, children’s diseases, children ages,  your diseases, spouses diseases, parents diseases, living or dead, diabetes or not,  what did they die of, brother’s ages, sister’s ages, brother’s diseases, sister’s diseases, living or dead, any injuries, any past injuries, asthma, smoker or not, alcoholic or not,  medications you take, medications your siblings take, medications you took when you were five, are your parents  alive or dead, are they in good health or poor health, what medications are you on, have you had or do you have any of these one thousand possible medical problems or diseases listed on the next ten pages, do you fart out of your ass hole or your belly button? 

You get the idea as I’m sure you’ve been there and done that.  At least at Dr. Magic’s office, I actually felt they paid attention to me, unlike when I dealt with Dr. A.C.  They  knew why I was there and quickly sent for my previous MRI’s along with the results of the tests performed by A.C.

And not once did Dr. Magic make me feel like I was any less than a person.  He greeted me warmly, a major plus over Dr. AC who doesn’t greet you at all.  She starts right out laying her expertise shit on you and belittling you from the get go.  He didn’t act surprised when I told him I had given A.C. the sack from my medical case so it wouldn’t surprise me if he’d seen this scenario previously.  Before going to Dr. Magic’s office, I had checked his rating against that of A.C.’s on one of those rate a physician web sites.  He had an almost sparkling  rating of 3.5 compared to A.C.’s lowly, lousy, and miserable 1.5.  His lowest rated category was office wait time, but that may not be a bad thing if they are being more thorough with their patients.  But it is ironic when you consider how much time I spent sitting in the waiting room, though I blame Blue Shield for that crap.

After an examination, Dr. Magic decided he wanted me to have some lab tests done so he wrote out a prescription:  CBC, Sed Rate, ANA, Rheumatoid Factor.  I had to Google each of those to find out what they were for but I’m not going into a long winded explanation here.  I’m long winded enough as it is and if you’re really curious, I guess you’ll do the work on your own.  Y’all come back when you’re done with that now, y’hear!

NincimpoopOkay, welcome back.  Dr. Magic also wanted to do some tests on my arms and hands that Dr. A.C. should ,have done if she had been doing her job and asked for approval to do them in the first place.  It was something she should have known if she had paid attention to what was on my initial referral papers.  But because of my HMO Group insurance, everything has to be approved, and since Dr. Magic wanted the tests done that day it meant sitting around waiting for Blue Shield to give it’s stamp of approval, something they no doubt would have to consider at an emergency board meeting called by the Chairman.  Too bad the half assed governmeIMG_1115nt of the USA didn’t see fit to give us a public option when they were doing their revamp.

I thought it might take a couple of hours at the most.  I was wrong.  I had arrived there at 8:45 a.m. in the morning and by the time I left, it was exactly 3:50 p.m.  Doing some quick math, that works out to just slightly over seven hours.  But it wasn’t so terrible.  They did have a TV set and at least it wasn’t blasting Fox News.  If it had been, there is no way I could have stayed there that long. 

Why is it so many fucking places that do have a TV set in the lobby  to watch while you wait, find it necessary to kill the brain cells of all Americans with the air-headed propaganda bullshit being sent out over the airwaves by Rupert Murdoch’s personal diarrhea of a network?  But here,  they had on CNN for a short while then switched  to some entertainment shows, some soaps, and the other harmless junk that permeates the weekday television hours. 

At other times during this period I dozed off, brought on because I had a major dizzy spell and that’s what usually happens afterwards.  After not having any spells  for a week, leave it to me to have  one right there in the waiting room.  I thought maybe I should let the doctor know, but I didn’t.

Buffy on the Iphone via NetflixA couple of times I became  annoyed because three times I was asked by totally unaware employees who came out to ask  why I was there.  A quick stop with the receptionist and they could have had that information.  Maybe they didn’t like her or something, hell if I know.  But  I guess they thought I was some weird stalker/rapist or perhaps I was hiding a revolver in my underwear. 

So much for everybody in the office  being on the same page.  Yeah, I supposed I could have fixed it with the Doc to come back at a later date, but he gave me the impression he wanted the tests done ASAP, and besides, an extra  80 mile round trip (40 there and 40 back) in my car with the busted air conditioner, in almost 100  degree heat and with the cost of gas approaching $4 bucks an hour is not on my list fun ways to spend a day.

I did watch an episode of Buffy, The Vampire Slayer (WGTSE), on my Iphone  as well as an episode of Andy Griffith, thanks to Netflix and a the fact that I could actually get a decent AT&T connection, something that is rare in places like this.  There is no signal to speak of at the office of my PCP, nor was there one at Dr. A.C.’s location.  If I had known I’d be there almost 8 hours and would have a decent signal, then I would have taken the adapter cord and watched  movies and Buffy (WGTSE) all day long.  The next time I’ll plan ahead and take the headphones so I don’t pester anybody.

But finally somewhere around 2:30 or 3:00, Blue Shield had wrapped up their board meeting and given their approval for the tests, although the chairman is probably still out there  somewhere crying about paying for it.  The tests were the same ones that Dr. A.C. had done on my legs and back the week or so before, only this time it was on my arms and hands.  And let me tell you, shooting the juice through your legs is one thing. Pulsasting it through your arms is a horse of a different color.  It was painful, but at least this time I could see what was going on and found it curiously interesting.  I guess I’m weird that way.

There were times he would shoot electricity through my skin  there and get no reaction.  Blockbuster StoresThen the guy giving the test would punch some keys on the keyboard, make a few notes and carry on.  He also asked me a few things that made me think he was either the smartest man in the world or that the test was actually telling him something.  Things like, “The problem is more in your left arm than your right.”  Since my left arm and hand have become practically useless that would be an affirmative.  “Do you sleep with your arm in a certain position?”  That would be true as well.  “Do you crack your neck?”  That was true also, although I have to say that with one caveat I forgot to mention.  It is something I had only  begun doing very recently, no more than a week or so ago,  to try and relieve the pain.  And it is not something I did often because basically, it doesn’t work. 

He  also did the test where they stick a needle through your arm and wrists to see how well your nerves are carrying signals across your appendages.  The thing about this was that I didn’t even feel the needles going in.  I have no clue if that’s normal or not,  but I certainly felt the ones Dr. A.C. had stuck in my legs.  Maybe this guy was just a better needle sticker.  Either that or he studied acupuncture on the side.

When the tests were finished though I was sent on my way to find out out about the restults some other time.  Perhaps when they get my lab work back I’ll here something.   Next up, the Renal MRI.Blockbuster Deal  Sure looking forward to drinking that water and not pissing.

The day wasn’t a total waste though.  There was actually a Blockbuster open across the street, which is a rarity these days.  They were selling blu-rays 5 for $20 which is a pretty good deal.  I also bought the three Twilight Movies for The Girlfriend on blu-ray because they were on sale.  Of course, a couple of days later I regretted these purchases when I saw the old bank account was close to being overdrawn.  Later that evening I joined The Girlfriend at her aunt’s house, and we went to have dinner together at The Sugar Mill.  She had a cheeseburger smothered in chili, and I had my usual Tilapia.

My original plan was to go to a second run theater near the doctor’s office, but after spending the entire day there, that kind of ruled that paln  out.  So maybe we can do that next time.  It’s probably just as well that I didn’t go  since the bank account is so low and there’s still about twelve days until pay day. Should have known that before I spent the $56 dollars at Blockbuster.   It’s going to be a long month, but August usually is.