Saturday, October 1, 2011

You Are What You Eat: $5 Subs

October is a happy month at Subway. ALL subs are $5. If you pick your sub and toppings with care, you can lose weight. Today's happy sub is the combo. More filling, but still low in fat. Calories are a bit much but they are good calories.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Clyde’s Movie Palace: Caged (1950)

Directed by
John Cromwell

Written by
Virginia Kellogg

Eleanor Parker
Agnes Morehead
Ellen Corby
Hope Emerson|
Betty Garde

Emma (Ellen Corby) is what you would call prison savvy. A little nutty perhaps, but prison savvy just the same. Most of the females incarcerated in this particular prison have been there before. For some it’s their second time around and for others it is their third or fourth go round inside the state penitentiary. And then there are the lifers, the women who will never again know a world without concrete blocks and iron bars.

Most of these women incarcerated in Caged had a man on the outside. And none of them were upright outstanding citizens. As you listen to their stories about how they came to be incarcerated, the one constant thread running through all of them is that it was as much some man’s fault for their downfall as it is their own.  Men are such cruel dastardly evil bastards.

Such is the case with Marie Allen (Eleanor Parker), a naïve nineteen year old girl who is serving her first term after being sentenced to one to ten years for being an accessory in an armed robbery. Her husband, unbeknownst to Marie, decided to hold up a gas station while Marie was waiting for him in the car. The husband got himself killed and Marie was sent to the state pen. By the end of Caged, you’ll swear the husband probably got the better end of the deal. And just to complicate things even more, Marie’s husband left her a little present. She’s two months pregnant.

The Prison is run by Ruth Benton (Agnes Morehead). She’s a reformer. She believes prisoners should be rehabilitated, not just punished. “Just being in here IS the punishment,” is her philosophy. But a very low budget and overcrowding limits what she can do, which just goes to show you that in 60 years, things have pretty much remained unchanged.  She hopes that Marie will be able to do her time without incident and start a new life when she is paroled, although the odds are not in Marie’s favor.  So Warden Ruth, with all her infinite wisdom, decides to put Marie in the worst cellblock in the prison to lead her on the road to rehabilitation.

The block that Marie is assigned to is looked after and ruled by prison employee Matron Evelyn Harper (Hope Emerson). Those who can find a way to pay off Evelyn with money and  bribes will do easy time. Those who can’t or won’t are in for some rough weather ahead. Marie’s husband is dead and her mother is married to a guy who wants nothing to do with Marie so you can pretty much figure out which side of the coin Marie falls on. As one inmate says early in the movie, “Heads you lose, tails you lose.” And when it comes to losing, to be on the wrong side of Evelyn Harper is not something anyone would look forward to whether they are a woman, man, or beast.

Kitty Stark (Betty Garde) is another inmate who does what it takes to get by. She recruits first timers to become “boosters” for the syndicate. A booster is a shoplifter and if the inmate agrees to work for the syndicate (run by men of course, just like 90 per cent of everything else in the US) then they can help her get an early parole.  In the meantime, they’ll also see that she gets money to keep Evelyn Harper paid off. Likewise, the more girls Kitty can recruit, the more the syndicate is willing to help her keep Harper paid off and out of her hair.

It goes without saying that Kitty will be doing her best to recruit Marie. Making matters worse, parole is hard to come by in this prison. It is up to the parole officer to get the girl a job before she leaves prison so even if parole is approved, the inmate is left pulling what is called dead time until a job becomes available if one ever does. One inmate has been pulling dead time for over a year. And of course a job can become available more quickly if the inmate is willing to work for one crime syndicate or another. The corruption in this prison does not stop at the prison gates. It runs deep throughout the state from parole boards to the parole officers and possibly even further than that. So if you are wondering how someone like Evelyn Harper can even exist, the reasons why become readily apparent. 

Caged is a nitty gritty down and dirty grungy expose of  prison corruption. Author Virginia Kellogg had herself committed to a woman’s prison for several weeks before writing the screen treatment and the authenticity shows up in every line and in every uncompromising syllable. The film is filled with authentic slang which runs rampant through the script with words like “dead time”, “stir-bugs” “stir simple” and the aforementioned “boosters”. Freedom is known as “Free Side.” She pushes the envelope as much as one could in those days, and at times you have to really pay attention to understand what is lying beneath the surface. It is unflinching and uncompromising in many respects. For instance, there are several scenes hinting at prison lesbianism such as one in which Kitty tells Marie, “If you stay in here too long, you don’t think about guys at all.”

Later, when Elvira Powell (Lee Patrick) arrives at the prison, she immediately replaces Kitty as the Queen Bee of the cell block and tries to recruit Marie for her own business. Although it is never directly mentioned, a newspaper headline about vice and the fact that Elvira has a lot of cash stashed somewhere, informs us that she is a Madam and that to work for her means becoming a prostitute. And with Elvira paying Evelyn off, Kitty no longer gets the same degree of protection from Harper that she once did.

I really like this movie. If you’ve read any reviews of it elsewhere one of the things they will tell you that this movie was mislabeled as a Camp Cult Classic by Warner Brothers to fit it into a three disc package. Cult Classic? You bet. Campy? There’s nothing campy or even remotely fun about this film although a couple of the lines in it will make you chuckle. Director John Cromwell is at his best when portraying his vision of endless, monotonous days and nights behind bars,

Early in the film, Cromwell shows us a close up of a bell ringing and afterwards we watch as Harper walks slowly between the girls for roll call. It is a scene that is repeated several times all throughout the movie, so not only that we know there is a passage of time, but that the time is filled day after day with the same routines, the same tedious existence hour after hour, day after day, month after month and so on. By the time you have heard that bell ring three or four times, you'll be wanting to tear it out of the wall yourself and slam it against a concrete block.

Cromwell’s direction is uncompromising. There is nothing here that gives us a sense of any kind of hope for any of these women. It often seems as if he is shooting Evelyn Harper from the ground up, as her presence towers over the other women, so that we not only can see her domination but can feel it as well.

It doesn’t hurt that the actress who plays Harper, Hope Emerson, clocks in at 6’2” and 235 pounds but it's more than just physical attributes that enable her to dominate every scene she is in. What makes her character so frightening is that she doesn’t overplay the role as many actresses would have been tempted to do. Emerson actually takes it in the opposite direction. She oozes cold calculating bitchy evil from every pore in her huge frame. Emerson was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for the role but lost to Josephine Hull who won for being the ditzy sister in Harvey. I’ve seen both films, and while Hull is certainly enjoyable as Veta, it doesn’t even come close to comparing to what Emerson achieves in this film.

If that weren’t enough, Eleanor Parker as Marie Allen is every bit her equal and then some. She is required to begin the film as a naïve, shy and frightened girl who is unjustly sent to prison. (I’m assuming that Marie didn’t know her husband was going to rob the gas station. It's never made 100 percent clear) Then she has to subtly change throughout the film as she becomes more and more like the other female inmates who surround her. Parker also was nominated for an Academy award, but she lost to Judy Holiday for Born Yesterday. And frankly, I love Judy Holiday but Judy Holiday played basically the same character in film after film. Parker was always underrated as an actress and in Caged she gives the performance of a lifetime. After you watch the film, go back and replay the first ten minutes and then rewatch the final ten minutes. You’ll never see a starker contrast.

Agnes Morehead is fine as the Prison Superintendent Benton who tries to implement her methods of reforms against all odds. But as I said before, no matter how crowded the prison is one would have thought at some point she would have moved Marie to a different cell block. But that’s a very minor quibble and of course if she had done that, there really wouldn’t have been a movie and there would have been no point to make. Benton more than makes up for this gaffe though when she stands her ground after the prison commissioners ask for her resignation. She shows (if you’ll pardon the expression) that she has some real balls.

And let’s not forget Ellen Corby as Emma who offers us the small amount of comedy relief that we get. She’s quite the goof ball and besides, I bet you didn’t know that Grandma Walton once did time in a state institution did you?  And here, she’s more colorful then she ever was in any of the over one hundred Walton episodes in which she appeared.

Betty Garde plays Kitty Starke. She does what she has to do for survival and nothing more or less. Without being able to pay off Harper, there is no way she would have survived the days in prison. Let’s face it, there is not a bad performance to be found among any of these ladies.

So if you’re into older films, you certainly could do a lot lot worse than Caged. Even if for some odd reason you don’t like visiting the classics, try giving the DVD a spin anyway. I think you’ll be surprised at what a really terrific film it is. And at a quick running time of 96 minutes, you won’t have a whole lot of time invested in it. As for me, it is my favorite prison movie. And when you are my favorite film in that genre, I have no choice but to give you my grade which is an A.

Clyde’s Movie Palace: Bridge to Terabithia (2007)

Josh Hutcherson
AnnaSophia Robb
Zooey Deschenal
Robert Patrick
Bailee Madison
Lauren Clinton

Directed by Gabor Csupo

There are some films that my The Girlfriend just doesn’t have any interest in seeing. The list isn’t very long, but it is concrete. First and foremost on the list would be anything that she considers to be a “cartoon.” This list can include anything from Pinocchio to Shrek the Third. Occasionally she will break down and watch something like Beauty and the Beast or The Little Mermaid if I happen to be watching it, but she won’t go out of her way to do so. Any film that depends on a lot of CGI rendered special effects have also been dropped into this limbo like category.

For instance, because The Last Mimzy utilized these effects, she had no interest in viewing it. She watched the first Harry Potter film, and now he too has fallen into the “cartoon” cracks of The Girlfriend’s brain.  It’s not like I’m the biggest Harry Potter fan on the planet but at least I have seen the movies.

When Bridge to Terabithia arrived from Netflix about a week ago, she turned her nose up at it and shoved it aside. It seemed she had seen the preview of the film and that was enough to convince her. And the fact is, I too had seen that preview and originally had no intention of watching it either because if one decides to watch it based solely on that, you are given the impression that you are going to be watching a Narnia clone. It was a last minute addition to the top of my queue based on two things. The first was that after watching The Last Mimzy, a film I hadn’t expected to like but did, I decided to give this one a chance. The second thing that helped convince me is a comment I read on Flickr regarding this film. It was succinct and to the point.

“Holy Crap!” the comment began. Unfortunately that’s all I can tell you because the rest of the comment might be a major spoiler although there is a possibility that you may have read the book and already know what I’m talking about. If you want to know what the rest of the comment was, send me an email AFTER you have seen the movie. Suffice it to say though, it was not the kind of comment that one would associate with a fantasy film. And as it turned out, Bridge to Terabithia is about as far removed as one can get from being a fantasy film while keeping perhaps one foot in the baseball park, with on toe just barely crossing the foul line.

Eighth grader Jesse Arons (Josh Hutcherson) is having a rough time. His dad, Jesse Arons Sr. (Robert Patrick), ignores him completely unless he needs for Jess to do chores. On the other hand, between Jesse’s four sisters (that Jesse would just as soon trade in for a good dog), taking care of the house and the baby, Jesse’s mom is more than a little bit preoccupied. She is totally clueless to the needs of a boy entering his teen years, and  at the very beginning of the film she gives Jesse a pair of hand me down pink tennis shoes that belonged to his older sister and sees nothing at all wrong with it. This being on the day of a race that Jesse has been training for in the hopes of out running one of the school bullies.

Then there is Jesse’s younger sister May Belle (Bailee Madison), who worships the ground her older brother walks on. Unfortunately Jesse doesn’t grasp her hero worship choosing instead to show as little regard for May Belle as the rest of the family seems to have for him. It’s not that the family is totally dysfunctional, but they are presented in a realistic fashion in which just about anybody and everybody will be able to relate to. And if all of these problems weren’t enough for Jesse, he constantly has to deal with the school bullies, male and female alike. But in spite of all of this there is one good thing in Jesse’s life. He wants to be an artist someday and often immerses himself in the fantasy drawings he sketches in those few moments in his room that he has to himself.

On the same day that Jesse is to run his big race, a new girl comes to school. If Jesse is the odd boy out, we immediately peg Leslie Burke (AnnaSophia Robb) as the odd girl out. She not only wears the highest high top tennis shoes one could wear and still be able to run or walk in them, but they are adorned on the sides with the fanciest of fancy artwork. The rest of her outfit would make one believe that Leslie had just dropped in from a 1960’s commune, and the fact that her parents don’t believe in television or religion only serves to reinforce that notion.

Although Leslie at first tries her best to present an air of optimism, it is apparent from her demeanor that being the oddball is beginning to take its toll on her. She desperately needs a friend. Sensing that Jesse is in need of a friend as well,  Leslie does her best to win him over. At first Jesse sees her only as another problem in his life and someone to be avoided especially when he finishes second to her in the big race that he had trained for all summer.

Eventually Leslie begins to win Jesse over when she tells him that he is the best artist she has ever seen after she accidentally see’s his art work. Likewise, when Leslie stands in front of the classroom reading an essay on scuba diving, Jesse finds himself being drawn into her optimistic world of fantasy and adventure. Later, when Jesse saves Leslie from a thumping by an eighth grade girl bully, Janice Avery (Lauren Clinton), it is then that they start to develop a real camaraderie.

So it is that after school and whenever possible they spend their time together out in the woods that border their property. It is here where Leslie and Jesse come across an old rope hanging from a tree above a creek. It is their passport to the other side of the forest. When they cross the creek, they enter a land that is all their own. It is a land without parents whom ignore you, it is a land without school bullies, it is a land without taunting teenage sisters, it is a land of adventure, a land of fun, and a land where your mind can come alive and you can make it whatever your imagination desires it to be. It is Terabithia. And as Jesse’s friendship with Leslie grows, and as both his heart and his mind begins to open we sense something else in their eyes. We see respect, devotion, and an unspoken bond of love between them that can never be broken.

Despite what you may have seen in the trailers, the few minutes of CGI special effects used are just about all you are going to get in Bridge to Terabithia. When Jesse and Leslie swing across the creek to their special place, they do not enter some magically CGI rendered kingdom. When the special effects are used, they are used solely to show us how everything in their minds and in their special make believe world would appear to them if it were real. And only when Leslie convinces Jesse to open his mind to all possibilities does it come alive for both him and us.

The fact that Disney decided to promote this film as some sort of special effects extravaganza to capitalize on the success of Narnia, and (with the release of the DVD is still doing it) is what I consider not only one of the biggest marketing blunders in movie history  because what you  get from Bridge to Terabithia is a truly wonderful film about growing up, about relationships, about young kids coping with a difficult family life, and it’s about kids who appear to be as different as night and day becoming the best of friends and finding out they are not so different after all. It’s about not judging those around you too quickly because sometimes there are reasons for a person being the way they are.

After watching AnnaSophia Robb walk Zombiefied through The Reaping, I was totally knocked out by her wonderful and extraordinary performance in this film as Leslie. She has an uncanny ability to show us Leslie’s optimism, and yet we can see and feel the pain that she constantly tries to hide as she struggles to be accepted. It is for me, one of the best acting jobs by any young actress that I have seen of not only this year, but of many other years.

Likewise, Josh Hutcherson as Jesse, could easily have overplayed his character but he does not. Jesse only wants his father to show him that he cares about him, and at the very least for the rest of his family besides May Belle to acknowledge his existence. When Jesse treats Maybelle as the rest of his family treats him, he doesn’t try to sugar coat it and we cringe just as much because we hate what he does even while understanding why he does it.

Bailee Madison as May Belle is a revelation, and one pint size scene stealer. We can see the hurt in her when the brother she looks up to continually gives her the brush off. She can’t understand why Jesse can’t beat up the eighth grade girl who stole her twinkies.

Zoey Deschanel is the beautiful wide eyed school teacher that Jesse develops a crush on. It is only in her music class where the students actually seem to come alive and show some interest in their education. Lauren Clinton does a great job as the eighth grade bully Janice, who seems to be a composite of every bully you’ve ever met in life. Besides tormenting Jesse and Leslie, she stands outside the outdoor restroom during break forcing kids who want to use it to pay her a dollar. And yet, there is a lot more to Janice than meets the eye as you will soon discover.

Robert Patrick as Jesse’s father sometimes  makes us want to reach through the screen and knock some sense into him.   There are moments when we feel like he wants to reach out to Jesse, but openly showing affection  is something totally  foreign to him.  

And my hat also has to go off to Director Gabor Csupo who brings it all together and never let’s the fantasy elements overwhelm what is essentially a very simple story. And as if that isn’t enough, kudos also to Aaron Zigmon’s beautiful score that enhances the story but never overwhelms it. And Michael Chapman’s first rate cinematography does more to bring Terabithia to life than any special effects ever could.

Then there is the totally unexpected denouement of the film. I have to tell you that unless you have read the book or read other reviews of this film, there is a twist towards the end that will make your jaw drop. And that’s the only way I can put it without giving too much of it away. I can only say one thing, if you are not moved by this film, then there may not be too many movies out there that will move you at all.

So the only thing left to do is give a big thumbs down… Disney for the crappy and stupid way they marketed this excellent film. I loved this film and it will easily make my list of top ten favorite films this year. And if I know a movie is going to be on that list I have no choice but to give you my grade, and it is a very highly recommended A. Now close your eyes, then open your mind and your heart so that you too can visit The Bridge to Terabithia.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Road Trip: Straw Dogs (2011)



Straw Dogs (2011)
A Rod Lurie Film
Kate Bosworth
James Marsden
Alexander Skarsgård
James Woods
Dominic Purcell
Willa Holland

When The Girlfriend stated that she wanted to see a movie this weekend, I didn’t think it would be this one.  If you had read my review of the original, than you would know my feelings about remakes.  Many have tried, and few have succeeded, especially when we’re talking about remaking a film that I consider to be one of the great classic films of all time made by a legendary director who was at the top of his game.  I had decided that I would just bide my time until the DVD release.  It wasn’t to be.  The Girlfriend had other ideas.

This being a Road Trip, I guess I have to at least give you a little bit of the old theatrical atmosphere.   The film was at the Reading Valley Plaza, and if you’ve read my other Road Trip experiences and  guessed that we would end up in a cigar box, you would be right.  But this time I actually have a picture where you can make out the detail and see just how compact these sardine cans are.   And really, do they ever shampoo these carpets or even replace them?  Makes one glad it’s dark in there.

The theater wasn’t that busy, but once again there was a ticket taker who not only seemed out of it, she didn’t even know how to read her screening room chart.  Ten minutes before the movie was to start and she tried to tell us that the previous showing wouldn’t be over until 5:15 so the auditorium wasn’t ready.  Fine, except that it was 5:35 and the movie was supposed to start at 5:50. Can’t these places hire someone who isn’t stoned out of their gourd?

We walked away puzzled, but I told the girlfriend that the ticket taker looked like she hadn’t slept in about four days and we should try again because her times were all screwed.  So we did.  And this time she scanned her list, looked at us with that same blank expression, mumbled something incomprehensible, then waved us though.  And we were right.  The auditorium had been cleaned and in fact there was already two people in there watching the commercials.  (Note:  Obviously this picture was taken as we left)

For some odd reason the film was late starting.  I guess ticket taker girls was in charge of unreeling the movie on time as well. So we were treated to having to sit there and watch the same Sprint ad card over and over again.  A girl came in to count the house, not the ticket girl,  to make sure that no kids had sneaked over to an R rated movie from the latest milking of The Lion King, and then left.  She didn’t seem too concerned about the fact that it was ten minutes past the movie start time, and we hadn’t even seen the previews yet.  But we knew where the fuck to get a Sprint phone if we wanted one. 

Finally, the previews started. And they started with the last 30 seconds of the new Underworld movie.  I had already seen that trailer, so it was no big deal.  There was also a preview about some rich people living forever, and we got one about George Clooney running for president.  And that was it except that I had the sudden urge to go to a polling booth and write in Clooney’s name.

One other thing happened.  My good camera was broken.  Whether it happened at home,  in Bakersfield, or somewhere in between I do not know.  But the top piece of chrome that holds everything in place had broken off.  So now I’m going to have to scrounge around and come up with the cash for a new one, unless I want to be stuck using the half assed one in the I-phone all the time.  I got the thing to work, but I don’t know how much longer that it will last in this condition.

I had made up my mind before going that I would try not to let my high regard for the original Straw Dogs influence my feelings about this remake.  I would judge it just as I would any other film, based on what what we saw.  I decided that even if it was going to be just another entry in a long line of Revenge/action/thrillers, I would accept it on those terms.  Now having seen it, I can now say with 100 percent kind of sort of certainty that straight forward action and suspense  may have possibly been what Lurie was going for.  It not, it doesn’t matter because  I can also say  with about 200 percent certainty that the film sucked regardless of intent.  And since Lurie had Xeroxed much of Peckinpah’s vision, distancing the two films from each other turned out to be impossible. 

If you know anything about the original, or just read my original Straw Dogs Review, then story wise you will know pretty much what to expect.  But I’ll go through the motions anyway because hey, I’m here for you.

David Sumner (James Marsden) and his wife Amy (Kate Bosworth) (or Amy Cakes as she is called by her old boyfriend and others, and no relation to Billie Jo Cakes, Bobbie Joe Cakes, or Bettie Jo Cakes)  return to her old footstompin’ grounds and vacation paradise, Blackwater, Mississippi.  David writes screenplays for a living and is apparently under a tight  deadline so he needs the seclusion offered up in Nowhereland USA.   It also gives the happy couple  the opportunity to repair Amy’s recently deceased father’s house, especially the roof of the garage/barn which was damaged in a tornado.  No word here on if the old man got swept away like some Southern version of Dorothy Gale, trying to save his guns, ammo, and beer supply  from falling into the hands of the wicked witch of the east. 

On their way out to their new manor, they visit the local tavern called  Blackies, where they meet up with Amy’s ex boyfriend from her cheerleading days, Charlie Venner (Alexander Skarsgård).  Good ol’ Charlie  wastes no time coming onto ex-girlfriend, ex-cheerleader Amy, while David is at the bar busy being ridiculed for having fancy shoes and ordering one of them lite beers that are brewed for  lib’ral Hollywood  pussies like him  instead of a full bodied full flavored, beer gut growing  Budweiser.  When he tries to pay with a credit card, the nasty assed bar maid says it’s cash only, and David does know what cash is, doesn’t he?  But I guess this is understandable.  Nobody in Mississippi makes enough money to carry a Visa, Master Card or American Express.  I’m not even sure they have any banks in Mississippi since everybody lives their life broke, except for when they scrounge up some real cash for some real beer. 

It’s obvious these Mississippi feller’s don’t cotton to outsiders, and they waste no time in makin’ that perfectly clear.  But David shouldn’t feel too bad.  The good folks of Blackwater  feel the same way about those other foreigners from places like  Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Tennessee, traveling through where the  I-55 sign  meets the I-20 exit ramp.  You can’t miss it.  There’s a big billboard that says “you are now leaving the 21st century.”  All that outsider type edjucation is jes’ too much for them to deal with. 

This does lead  me to ask the question, if Mississippi is the last state in the country anyone would want to visit, why in the hell would anyone want to live there, Daddy’s house be damned?   David may know about Russkies, Germans, and WWII, but he don’t know shit about the south which is pretty much the same thing Amy tells him later on.  Even if I had never seen this movie and somebody suggested I should move to some hole called Blackwater,  Mississippi because I inherited a house, I’d tell them to burn the son of a bitch down and have a wienie roast because my Yankee ass isn’t going anywhere near that state.  But I digress.

Amy rebuffs Charlie’s advances,  obviously having left the trappings of her previous  life in Backwards Backwoods Blackwater in the pages of the high school yearbook.   She then  left town, got rid of her accent, and went out west to surf, screw around with John Holmes, wins a date with a movie star, marries Bobby Darin,  gets a job at the Daily Planet, goes to MIT then to Vegas to do some gambling, and then finally meets up with and marries David before making this return trip home to strut her good fortune in front of the local yokels.  I mean, there’s only a certain amount of poverty, unemployment, and racism that one can enjoy in a life time before you just have to move on from all that down home  excitement to the peace and quiet of Southern California.

After a scuffle at the bar between the bartender and crazy mentally deranged former high school football coach Tom Heddon, (James Woods), who seems to have escaped out of the Mississippi State Mental Hospital,  David hires Charlie and his old high school football playin’ buddies Norman (Rhys Coiro), Chris (Billy Lush), and Bic (Drew Powell) to fix the barn roof.

Other inhabitants of Backwards Backwoods Blackwater Beer Guzzlin’ Footstompin’ Hometown Mississippi  USA are  Heddon’s 15 year old daughter  Janice (Willa Holland), who actually looks to be about 25 (she is in fact, 20 in real life), the town imbecile,  Jeremy Niles (Dominic Purcell), and his brother, Daniel (Walton Groggins). 

Janice has this thing for Jeremy.  Jeremy is carrying the torch for Janice.  The reason Janice has this thing going on with Jeremy is because she likes pissing off the alcoholic nutcase she calls daddy.  Or at least that’s the way it seemed to me.  Jeremy calls Janice his girlfriend because he doesn’t know any damn  better.

The next morning Charlie and his merry  gang of high school has-beens come strolling in at the crack of dawn to work on Daddy’s roof top, catch some sun rays, and drink some beer, while listening to some shit kicking foot stomping music on their $29 boom box they got on clearance at Wal-mart.  And when they run out of beer, Bic goes into the Sumner’s house uninvited  to grab some more out of their broken’ fridge because that’s the way they do things in Backwards Backwoods Blackwater.  Right neighborly, don’t cha think?  No?  Neither does David, who instead of just telling Bic  to get the hell out of his house, politely complains to Charlie and you know how far that will get you in Hooterville.  But Charlie does agree to arrive a little bit later the next day so as not to awaken David too early.

And that they do, just as Amy is jogging down the road in an effort to lose about ten lbs. from her 80 lb. frame.  She is oblivious to their taunts,  evil eyballin’, and sexual  innuendo  because she is listening to her own brand of  shit kickin’ music on her ipod.  They finally make their presence known by honking at her, and then racing by as they hoot, holler, and whoop it up because they’re just a bunch of good ol’ boys never meanin’ no harm. 

When Amy tells David that the good ol’boys from Hee Haw treated her like a street walkin’ ho, he suggests she try wearing a bra and dressing more appropriately which proves two things:  That in 30 years the woman’s movement has progressed zippo, and that  David can be an ignorant chauvinistic asshole  as well as anybody who lives in Bum Fuck Mississippi.  Amy’s answer to David’s suggestion is to go upstairs, stand blatantly and defiantly in front of a window adjacent to the garage roof, and proudly expose her breasts to God, the ex-jocks and the whole wide world.  But not to us, because we’re just the movie patrons and our ass don’t count. 

When David goes into town, he is tricked by Charlie and the gang into almost wrecking his sports car.  In town, Janice Heddon comes on to Jeremy Niles before being told by Jeremy’s brother Daniel to buzz off.  The current coach of the football team shows up and invites David to bring Amy to the  “pray and preach”, where you ask God for your team to have a great season in church, then head down to the football field and  have a picnic while the team scrimmages to see if God was tuning into your prayer frequency that day. 

The Blackwater high school football team is called the Bengals. I’d say that’s appropriate, considering that to even vote in this town you have to obviously prove you’re some kind of a loser.   At the picnic,  Tom Heddon, also known as that  escapee from the Looney Tunes, begins beating the snot out of Jeremy, warning  him to stay away from his “Janice.”  One begins to wonder if Tom’s being over protective or if he has his own fatherly fanatical perverted incest laden  love desires and designs on Janice  that motivates him. 

Amy, bless her, all 90 lbs. of her, attempts to step in and defend Jeremy.   But David, who is undoubtedly crapping in his pants thinking he might have to step in and defend her against Mad Dog Heddon, pulls Amy away, thus proving his cowardice to us once and for all so we can glorify in his redemption at the end of the film.  Amy storms off, but later that night they find Amy’s cat dead and hanging in the closet.  Amy is sure it’s the Bengals Alumni Society that has murdered the cat, but David says they have no proof because the last thing he wants to do is go up against a bunch of cat killers.  One note:  When David discovers the cat in the closet, it is photographed from across the room.  Hell, unless you’;re expecting it you might not even see the damn thing hanging there.   Compare this to Peckinpah shooting the same scene up close and personal, and the game changing impact that it had in his film.  Once again Lurie takes a Peckinpah scene and turns it into a mere plot device.  But unlike Dustin Hoffman’s David, this David does try to warn Amy, thus further watering down any tension the scene may have had.

The next day while helping David hang an antique bear trap, Charlie once again invites David to go deer  hunting with them, failing to leave out the small but important detail  that they intend to sharpen their own shooting skills using him for target practice. 

While David is out in the forest dodging Bambi and bullets, Charlie sneaks back to the Sumner Estate, attacks Amy and rapes her.  Then he stands by and watches as Norman shows up to rape her as well. 

Out in the woods, after bagging a deer, David realizes he’s been had, especially when the local Deputy Dawg tells him that deer hunting is out of season so it would be considered poaching.  Upon returning home David finds a way to blame Amy for his misfortune, not even realizing how much distress she is in.  And things worsen the next day when Janice Heddon comes up missing, and David accidentally hits Jeremy Niles with his car seriously injuring him.  He  takes him home to wait for the nearest ambulance to arrive from 40 miles away, which is about a twenty to thirty minute trip so at least you know how much longer you’re going to be in the theater.  And if you’ve seen the original, or have seen the trailers, or haven’t even seen any of it, you won’t have to master a course in Hollywood Screenwriting 101 like David did  to know that at this point all hell breaks loose.

As  if you couldn’t tell it, I really hated  this film.  And if you think it’s because I’m partial to Peckinpah’s masterpiece, that may be.  But it’s almost impossible to disassociate the two. One film is a gem, the other one a turd.  It’s so bad that one almost wishes that Rod  Lurie had pulled a Gus Van Sant and cribbed the film scene for scene  shot for shot from Peckinpah’s version  because even that would have been preferable to this mess. 

Lurie telegraphs his intentions from the very moment that Amy and David enter Blackwater.  I take that back.  He doesn’t telegraph, he hits you over the head with a sledge hammer than smacks you across the face with a shovel and finishes it off by capping your knees with a two by four.  Lurie doesn’t understand the first thing about  tension, subtlety, or layers. 

From the moment that David walks up to the bar and is  ridiculed for using a credit card and ordering a lite beer, you know what the director/writer Lurie has in mind.  Yes, it is Mississippi, last in education, first in poverty, racism, and beer guzzlin.  But even these misfits act as if they just  dropped in from a rejected episode of The Dukes of Hazzard

They  are way too far gone and over the top to be even remotely believable.  For a while I wasn’t sure if this was going to be a remake of Straw Dogs, Southern Comfort, or Deliverance, the last two also being great films as well but not known for subtlety.  One could argue all day about the caricature brush Lurie uses to paint the residents of Blackwater with.  But he uses such broad strokes  it quickly becomes cartoonish.  Hell, if he wanted to change things, maybe Charlie should have raped David while Amy was out bagging a deer with Chris and Bic.

Much of the tension in the film is lost because unlike Peckinpah’s film, David and Amy are happily married and for the most part happy go-lucky.  In the original, when Amy screws with David’s chalk board formula, she is begging for attention.  When Lurie’s Amy  changes a date on David’s screenplay timeline, it comes off as nothing more than her being playful and silly and the incident leads no where except for Charlie informing David he has a date wrong, showing that Charlie did have some education somewhere.  Maybe in reform school.

Lurie’s screenplay  also hurts the film in regards to  Amy’s previous relationship with Charlie.  In the original, it seemed more involved than what it does here.  Lurie views it as having been no more than a  high school fling, a relationship that Amy long ago put in the past  and has no intention of revisiting under any circumstances.  And since her marriage to David seems to be in good shape, she’s not at all tempted to pick up where she left off.  If it weren’t for Daddy’s old homestead and David’s writing, I sincerely doubt that anyone could get her to come back to Blackwater for any reason. 

As far as David’s cowardice, it’s here merely  as a plot device and nothing more, so we that we can get to the inevitable slam bang finish where he will find his manhood and overcome all odds to defend his house against the invasion of the redneck people.  In all honesty, it’s not even until late in the game that you would know for sure that he wears the pussy label.  For a writer, it’s amazing how feeble even his verbal comebacks are in regards to Charlie.  Then again, he doesn’t always have his blackboard with the timeline on it for guidance so maybe that’s the explanation. A writer without his timeline is just impotent.   He could always get an I-pad and carry it around with him I suppose.  Cowardice isn’t David’s  problem, it’s his lack of glibness.  Hmmm…maybe that’s why nobody comes here.  I don’t write using a timeline.

In the original version,  when Tom Heddon shoots the magistrate,  you are never 100 percent sure whether it’s accidental, on purpose, or accidentally on purpose.  This version leaves no doubt in your mind as to Heddon’s intentions but the fact that he would do this makes no sense regardless how much of a drunken psychotic he may be. Maybe if the character had been a little more Norman Bates like, and a little less Elmer Fudd like, then his actions might make sense.

The fact that it is Amy that stands up for Jeremy earlier in the film, and is admonished by David for doing so, only adds to the confusion when she wants to turn Niles over to Charlie and the Gridiron Gang and David doesn’t.  The Girlfriend tried to convince me that it was because she was afraid of being raped again by Charlie and Norman, but to me that would only give her more motivation to defend her home, since she now knows what ex-quarterbacks really mean when they talk about scoring a touchdown.

James Marsden is okay as far as it goes which isn’t very far.  There’s just no motivation  in anything he does or say.  One could have come up with a hundred things Amy could do to prevent the workers from eyballin’ her, and telling her to put on a bra and dress differently may have worked in 1971 but not here. Here, it just comes off as incredibly dull witted and stupid.  

I like Kate Bosworth, and have loved her in most of the films I linked to in the review.  But as Amy, she’s either not just up to the task or was severely handicapped in her performance by how Lurie saw the character which is your basic bland and boring brand X wife. I’m really inclined to blame Lurie here. He  gives Bosworth nothing much to do except smooch with David, explain the locals, and be on hand for her big rape scene. Her character is totally one dimensional. With no conflict in the marriage, Lurie uses her as a liaison between David the locals and their customs, so she has to sort of like her roots but just not that much. If he had written the character as he should have, making the fact that she’s back in the Backwoods Backwards Blackwater only as a temporary necessity that she loathes, it would have added a whole new layer of conflict between her and the locals.  It doesn’t help that Susan George leaves such an indelible impression in Peckinpah’s film in the same role,  but she was given a lot more to work with. 

Once this film is on DVD, I have a mind to do a scene by scene comparison that explains further why it’s such a major failure.  The reasons are way too numerous to list here.   The preliminary work has already been done at Movie Smackdown, and they too declare Peckinpah the obvious winner.

But the worst of the worst and my nominee for next years Razzie Awards is James Wood’s Coach Heddon.  I don’t know if the way this guy is written was his idea or Lurie’s, but when I mentioned cartoonish characters, think of Elmer Fudd on steroids and you’ll envision Heddon.  And after a while it becomes ludicrous and a major distraction in every scene he’s in.  Still, how can an actor this good be so god awful bad?  What a mess.

But in a way, that’s fitting and proper.  The whole film is a mess, and the more I think about it the more I just get  irritated with the whole damn concoction and feel like taking a nail gun and hammering Lurie’s hands to the nearest window frame.  I’ve seen bad movies before, but very few of them leave me as angry as this totally wasted effort. If Lurie even gave a crap about the original, he doesn’t show it here.  It’s sort of like thinking you have a better idea, and all you can come up with is a damn Edsel. 

I’ve thought this over, and I wasn’t going to do this but I feel I’ll find no inner peace until I do.  I haven’t given one of these out in a long long while, but Lurie’s left me no choice.  He is now  an honored recipient of the Poo Poo on you award.

But if it’s any consolation, Ebert gave this crap three stars (he gave the original two so go figure) and I’m sure Rod Lurie values his opinion more than mine.  But I think Ebert is still trying to justify his poor rating of Peckinpah’s film from 30 years ago, and it isn’t working. I’m beginning to doubt that he even remembers the film. But to balance things out a little more, I asked The Girlfriend’s for her in depth analysis, which she gave to me in no uncertain terms.  “I really liked it,” she says.  See, she’s just like Ebert.  That’s all you need.  But here’s the trailer anyway. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Day in the Life: Signs

This billboard is across from the subway. Since I can't read it I guess I can't buy it.  Whatever "it" is.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Amazon Prime creeps up on Netflix: Signs deal with Fox, will soon have 11,000 titles for Prime Streaming

I think I’ve got that right.  Netflix is the streaming arm of Netflix/Qwikster isn’t it?   Who really knows these days?  It’ll probably change again before the week is out.   After Dish/Blockbuster blew a golden opportunity to take advantage of Netflix/Qwikster fail, Amazon once again shows they’ve taken direct aim at the old movie streaming  bulls eye on Reed Hastings back.

I don’t know if you buy from Amazon, but everybody in my households purchases quite a bit.  With the nearest decent shopping center being over 30 miles away, Amazon is cheaper, dependable, and immensely convenient.  And in the four years that I’ve been dealing with them I’ve never had a problem.  In all that time I’ve only had two, possibly three returns at the most and even doing that is relatively simple and painless, a lot more so than dragging your ass to the Wal-mart customer service center.

With Amazon Prime, you get guaranteed two day free shipping, and overnight at a much lower price than you would pay otherwise.  It’s really nice and in and of itself is worth the $79 dollars a year you pay just for the convenience if you buy a lot of items.  But now you get a pretty good extra with it.

That would be streaming movies that you can get in your home if you have an Amazon enabled device (we have three:  two blu rays and a Roku player).  Now I’ll be the first to admit that when the service first started, the pickings were slim.  But they have improved steadily and are now to the point where I think they can give Netflix a run for their money as they add more and more content, improve their user interface, and publicize their offerings beyond letting their current customers know.  And now they have signed a contract with Fox which gives them over 11,000 claimed titles.  (I always take these numbers with a grain of salt no matter who is doing the selling.)

Think about it.  Amazon charges $79 dollars a year for Amazon Prime.  That averages out to just $6.60 a month compared to the $7.99 that Netflix charges.  So you get free shipping and streaming movies for less then what you just pay for streaming from Netflix.  And if you shop directly from Amazon, you’ll find that their prices are extremely competitive with all major retailers.  If this sounds like a commercial, it’s not.  I’m just a satisfied customer.  A very satisfied customer.  And according to this blurb, you can get a thirty day free trial of Amazon Prime.

I’m to the point now that I’ll probably be dropping Netflix streaming in about a month.  There are only so many movies you can watch anyway, and you can always go back if you feel the need.  Although I’m not going to swear it’ll be the case for everybody, the Amazon streaming has always performed a lot better for me than Netflix, which often develops hiccups or has poor coding.  Granted, I’ve watched a lot more on Netflix but  we’ll see.

One of the other shows included is The Wonder Years.  Netflix promised The Wonder Years months ago but has yet to deliver.  This package from Fox is supposed to begin airing in October so we’ll see what happens by then.    Here’s the Amazon announcement.