Tuesday, December 28, 2010

It’s Still a Complex World

The following column is reprinted from the December issue of Providence Monthly (including the stuff my youthful editors somehow deem necessary to leave out):

Eyes Wide Open
By Scott Duhamel

Twenty years ago Providence was abuzz in the wake of the release of Complex World, a sly home grown satire with a dose of rock and roll set at Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel, featuring the songs and acting contributed by the likes of Roomful of Blues, NRBQ, and one time kings of the downtown scene, The Young Adults. Co-written and directed by Jim Wolpaw, who had already managed to grab a vaunted Oscar nomination in 1985 for Best Documentary Short Subject for his droll and insightful Keats and His Nightingale: A Blind Date, the movie and its attendant screenings at the Cable Car sent a whole lotta the downcity (a term that truthfully hadn’t been disseminated yet) artists and hipsters into a temporary collective tizzy. The movie was funny and original, and all signs pointed toward eminent national success. It didn’t exactly go down that way, but Wolpaw survived the experience, completing the equally sharp Loaded Gun: Life and Death and Dickson in 2002, and currently ushering out a newly released DVD Complex World, which has long been unavailable. We recently met and talked at Providence’s Nick-a-Nee’s, wherein (only in La Prov) a stranger, overhearing our conversation, promptly began a long and thoroughly unsolicited recititation of one of H.P. Lovecraft’s works.

SD: What prompted the new DVD release?
JW: I lot of people have asked about the movie and it’s availability over the years, a lot of people quite regularly. It was never really available, although copies floating around here and there, over the years I’ve probably bought about a dozen, so I kept thinking about it. With the 20 year anniversary happening it seemed like the right time. Of course, hopefully it will raise a little money too.

SD: Any major changes, scenes deleted, scenes added?
JW: Did you know there were originally two versions? After showing it at in New York it got a good deal of buzz, but no one knew what to do with it. Eventually the US Film festival, which is now Sundance, called us up and they wanted to screen it even though their entry period was closed. Errol Morris was touting it, and the upshot was that we decided to some reediting and we got involved with Jeff Dowd, whose claim to fame at the time was association with The Coen Brothers’ Blood Simple (and who become the model for the Dude in The Big Lebowski) He and I ended up in this long distance 6 month business relationship where he tried to push me more towards making a so-called traditional film and I think that ultimately, the end result was better in a lot of ways. At the same time there were a lot of good scenes in the original version, and it some ways maybe that version is better. Anyways, both versions are on the DVD. There is one more Young Adults song, one more Stanley Matis song, and a scene set at a biker’s birthday party in the parking lot with an exploding birthday cake.

SD: Tell me about the circumstances of the original release.
JW: Well we showed it at the Cable Car, and at one point we got a call from Warner Brothers and we sent them a print, and of course they didn’t know what to do with it. Then John Daley from Hemdale contacted us, and while it was playing at the Cable Car we were negotiating a deal which we signed probably in early 1991. It took about a year and it was released in a dozen major markets, including New York and LA. You know it open it two strong potential markets, Boston and Austin with very little support. If you looked in the papers that day you couldn’t find where it was playing unless you read the reviews, which were generally positive.

SD: If I remember correctly, more than one reviewer likened it to a purposefully crafted so-called “midnight movie.” How did you feel about that?
JW: They called it a cult film, which I can see, but basically anything that is non-traditional gets labeled as a cult film.

SD: How do you think it fits into the rest of your work?
JW: To me it’s something I do, I try to push the limits of what the genre it is, so I think it fits right in, but it also hold’s it own.

SD: What are your current projects?
JW: I just completed one for PBS, basically about the image of George Washington on the dollar bill, an image created by RI’s own Gilbert Stuart. It really centers around the idea that these two were almost exact opposites, Stuart being a something of a wild man and Washington being a man of extreme control; you know the whole idea of these two men in the same room responsible for this iconic image. I am also working on a film about HP Lovecraft, along with Cat Hainfeld, which is kind of a documentary/fantasy. (Incidentally Mark Cutler is helping to score both films.) I am also working on another film about the history of the Ladd Center.

SD: Are you still basking in the glow of your Academy Award nomination? Seriously did that help with your career at all?
JW: It should have, if I had done the normal things I was supposed to have done. I mean it’s helped me raise money but there were also a lot of opportunities I ignored because I just really wanted to do what I wanted to do.

SD: When you look at Complex World now, twenty years down the line, do you think you filmed what you set out to achieve. Do you consider it a successful film?
JW: (Laughing.) WeIl I’m not sure what I set out to do. I have mixed feelings, there are parts of it I find hard to watch, but there are certain things I’m very proud of. I don’t know, I have a very much of a love-hate relationship with it, part of it being that we had these expectations that it was going to break big, and for a while it really looked like it might.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Postcard from the Edge

Let’s get it right out of the way. As of late I’ve been suffering from strange case of malaise, manifesting itself as a feverishly wicked, temporary case of writer’s block, devoting nearly all of my energy to the always careening trials and tribulations of my real job as a so-called labor leader, letting my blog slip away, and only managing to get the Providence Monthly column I regularly contribute done because there is indeed a deadline and a job at stake.

The day before the holiday I had a reoccurrence of an ongoing medical condition I’ve battling with for over a year and plunged into the all-so-familiar well of sickness. I did my best to man up and get through Thanksgiving, helped along mightily by a perfect group of holiday guests, but my relapse on Friday into Saturday just about put me over the edge. Four days running without shoes, smokes, drinks, or solid food (My kingdom for a piece of cheese!), combined with a totally intermittent sleeping pattern had me actually questioning whether some of the despicable moral choices of my past or the once complete ignorance of my physical well being in the constant pursuit of fun, pleasure and gamesmanship had perhaps come back to haunt me. (Really, me, the guy who used to be so self-justifiably and in-yer-face guilt free.)

The mind plays weird tricks and I was tricked out all weekend, heading into a full blown, ever-deepening, and constantly swirling depression despite the unarguable fact that I have a great wife and a life-sustaining relationship, a good job, strong and lasting friendships, and, in direct contrast to so many Americans barely scraping through the holiday season the unadorned truth is that I am essentially a fat cat middle-class guy who doesn’t even have a dollop of the financial or emotional problems currently commom to the union members I serve; many of them literally poised on the brink of disaster if congress does not get it together to continue the unemployment extension.

Saturday I reached my lowest of lows, unable to make my good friend Mark Cutler’s gig at Nicks-a-Nees (my home away from home, my great good place, my tender bar) where I actually intended to give him give him a sincere holiday hug, an intention I don’t muster up very often. I woke (once again) as some godforsaken hour, enfeebled and infected, and scoured the TV only to find a Ken Burns executive produced series about one of my absolute favorite subjects-The American West- yet I watched through dour eyes, not seeing the examples of American spirit, individualism, and starry-eyed dreaming on display, instead concentrating on the heartbreaks, the broken spirits and disappearing cultures, the heavy foot of US imperialism, and I found myself silently weeping, sad for my woe-is-me self of course, but disheartened by a larger, blacker, feeling of despair and throat-tightening blackness. Dirt sick, poisoned of soul, hopeless in the grayness of the early dawn, I simply let both of my Boston terriers huddle against me, true pals in the disconsolate twilight, and willed myself and my mini-pack back to sleep, sick and damaged in heart, mind and stomach yet stengthened by that wierd unvarnished canine combo of companionship and devotion.

Still, came Sunday morn, cold and clear, the world hadn’t collapsed or imploded, and I at least got it together to bang out the above, and I requested my wife to drive my weakened self so that I might complete one of my most important self-rituals, the morning paper run. Outside the store I saw a proud male townie obliviously strolling through the parking lot in Cranston, RI, sporting shorts and sneakers with no socks pre-eight am with the temperature reading 27 degrees. Ah, a sign of normality I thought, somehow soothed. I went straight back to unwell HQ, where I drank my first cup of tea since childhood. (And it was ginger.)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Quick Cuts

The following column is reprinted from the November issue of Providence Monthly (including the stuff my youthful editors somehow deem necessary to leave out):

Eyes Wide Open
By Scott Duhamel


Despite the fact that Hilary Swank suddenly seems to have a bunch of naysayers lying in wait of her next big screen portrait as a jut-jawed epitome of almost saintly decency (thus a guaranteed Oscar nominee), she continually manages to turn in affecting, no frills performances. Conviction, from a script by Pamela Gray, is director Tony Goldwyn’s (A Walk on the Moon) brick-by-brick retelling of the real life tale of RI”s own Betty Anne Waters (who, in the interest of full disclosure, I do happen to know) and her 18-year struggle to free her brother Kenny from a wrongful murder charge. Swank plays Waters, eyes forever verging on moistness, blue collar New England accent front and center, unwavering decency emanating from every pore, yet she avoids the off-putting air of self-righteousness and delivers a stellar, if somewhat predictable, turn.

While Goldwyn’s finished product doesn’t pander or over-sentimentalize, it never quite rises above a certain made-for-television movie feel, and not one of those crafted for cable, which usually push into darker corners or poke beneath frayed edges. Part courtroom drama, part hand-on-the-glass prison fare, part minor league Erin Brockovich, Conviction strives so hard to do the story justice and to impart a final sense of man-vs.-the-machine uplift that the movie gets bogged done with an overall vibe of good intentions, making it admirable enough, but not especially insightful or inspiring.

For those who enjoy exceptional casting, or, even better, scene-stealing; the movie abounds with the dynamic players, especially Melissa Leo as a hardnosed cop, Minnie Driver as Betty Anne’s law school BFF, and the always terrific Juliette Lewis as a townie witness. Of course, secret weapon Sam Rockwell as the volatile and cocky Kenny is a superb as ever, but the film’s by-the-numbers conventions never quite allow him or Swank to reach any sustained heights.


Remember the much bandied about inside Hollywood term, the Concept film? Well, there are both Low Concept and High Concept movies, while Red might be categorized as an Old Concept. Based on a graphic novel by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner, it’s a throwback actioneer and spy-vs.-spy fable, lightly comic and generally torpid, centering around a reforming of a team of over-the-hill ex CIA assassins, all, Retired and Extremely Dangerous. (Red, get it?)

It’s thoroughly disposable, late night cable fodder down the road, and probably only memorable for it’s supposedly humorously incongruous coupling of middle agers Mary Louise Parker (46) and Bruce Willis (55) alongside Morgan Freeman (73), John Malkovich (56), Brian Cox (64), Richard Dreyfuss (62), Helen Mirren (65), and, god bless him, old Marty himself, Ernest Borgnine (93). Parker is excruciatingly over-the-top, Malkovich triple hammed-up, Freeman goes through his by rote the eye-twinkling motions, Willis does his deadpan retro thang, and director Robert Schwentke makes sure we all focus on the venerable Helen Mirren teamed with a gun nearly as big as her, because, well, that’s basically the whole concept.

Tony Curtis RIP 1925-2010

1959’s Some Like it Hot is unarguably among the greatest American movie comedies and as such, it is a cornucopia of hilarious plotting, trenchantly funny dialogue, razor sharp direction (from Billy Wilder) and exceptional comic acting. As enduringly hilarious and pin-pointedly funny as Joe E. Brown’s vaudevillian maliciousness’ is, never mind Marilyn Monroe’s breathtaking timing and cartoonish physicality, topped off by Jack Lemmon’s wildly neurotic and neatly comic over-machinations, it is Tony Curtis and his bravura playing of (simultaneously) an on-the-hustle musician, a Cary Grant-like playboy, and an all-knowing been-around-the-block dame (in heels and stockings) who ultimately absconds with the honors of the most magical farceur in this resoundingly humorous big screen farce.

Curtis, (born in the Bronx as Bernie Schwartz) was ever the strange hybrid of 50’s glamour boy, and John Garfield knock-off, with inexplicable connections to both James Dean and Jerry Lewis, and he proved more than adept in urban dramas, costumed sagas, gritty biopics, romantic comedies, and all-out satires. He will deservedly hold a solid place in Hollywood’s all-time firmament, eschewing endurable performances in Houdini (’53)Trapeze (’56), Mister Cory (’57), The Defiant Ones (’58), Spartacus (’60), Operation Petticoat (’59), The Great Imposter (’60), The Outsider (’61), The Great Race (’65), and most particularly, in The Boston Strangler (’68).

Although Curtis was initially noticed for his almost feminized good looks—-e was decidedly ethnic, with strikingly dark, curly hair piled high, full lips, and manicured eyebrows—-was his highly combustible combination of amped-up masculinity, genuine vulnerability and deep-seated naked ambition that played most fiercely on screen. This was ultimately proved when Curtis was cast opposite Burt Lancaster as hustling pree agent Sidney Falco in 1957’s Sweet Smell of Success, resulting in the one Curtis movie role that equals his all-time acting antics in Some Like it Hot.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween Treat

Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl (2009)
by Mark Duhamel

If you want to feel old and young simultaneously, to stand at the gateway of a parallel dimension you never knew existed, to test the limits of your frames-per-second visual tolerance, you should watch this and share with friends. The Japanese seem to accelerate and synthesize our collective pathology into their own, realizing a hyperdrive pop-culture mix-up that tantalizes, repulses, and ultimately redefines what is cool.

This may be the pinnacle of high school hi-jinks hi-def screw gun penetration exploding carotid artery blood spraying-head electro-video magic. Freaks and Geeks multiplied through Glee by way of Welcome Back Kotter on really bad LSD filled with blood spatter physics.

Imagine that you are a Japanese teenage girl with your legs cut off by a vampire and somehow through the genius of your father the vice-principal, your severed legs are mounted to the vertex of your skull where they spin like helicopter blades to propel you through space over the campus.

I'm not kidding, you'll see this and more in this film, and severed limbs reattaching themselves will seem mundane and ordinary compared to other more amazing and blood-spewing-spraying extravaganza images.(On top of it, the audio is pretty amazing.)

I'm serious, I chose this by random association and the inability to resist the iconic title. I may build a genius multimedia traveling horror roadshow around this. Ha ha he he ho ho ho.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Dirty Old Town

The following column is reprinted from the September issue of Providence Monthly (including the stuff my youthful editors somehow deem necessary to leave out):

Eyes Wide Open
by Scott Duhamel

Making the rounds promoting his new movie, The Town, actor-director-co-writer Ben Affleck has repeatedly said that he might not be quite comfortable forging a reputation as a “Boston” filmmaker. Of course, the Massachusetts born and bred Affleck first established his rep by co-writing (with fellow Mass native and acting buddy Matt Damon) the well-received Boston-based Good Will Hunting, and bagging a screenwriting Oscar in the process. As recently as 2007 Affleck, following a string of mostly bad movies and poor acting choices, won across the board kudos for his directorial debut, Gone Baby Gone, a movie adaptation of author Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, Shutter Island), the contempo bard of Beantown badness. The Town, set in insular Boston neighborhood known as Charlestown, is a more than solid (and extremely assured) follow-up, and might suggest, contrary to director’s own publicly uttered uncertainties, that Affleck just might be yet another filmmaker whose most resonant work takes place in their native settings, ala Marty Scorsese or Spike Lee or Sidney Lumet’s respective cinematic New Yorks, all in all a particularly ascendant filmmaking level to aspire to.

In Gone Baby Gone, a tight, no-nonsense, gritty thriller, Affleck directed baby brother Casey, but with The Town he’s upped the ante and stepped back in front of the camera too. He plays Doug Macray, a savvy Irish-American tough guy, a supposedly typical townie with a few toes in the straight world, but largely caught up with his crew of professional thugs, all thieves with a heightened sense of code and a pride in their own viscious professionalism. Of course Doug is mirrored by childhood friend, a dyed-in the-wool native and overtly fervent brother-in arms Jimmy Coughlin (Jeremy Remmer), a hard case who has shed himself of any emotional or moral nuances. Doug’s father (Chris Cooper) is doing a lifetime stretch in the penitentiary and his occasional girl (Blake Lively) is both Jim’s sister and a hard living and round heeled fellow townie.

Doug is sharp but conflicted, torn up with both dislike and curiosity for the so-called “toonies” who are slowly gentrifying his stomping grounds, and all shook up about his dueling senses of long held propriety and increasing distaste for his very roots and his hallowed native ground. As the movie progresses Doug’s growing unrest makes him resolve to pull off the proverbial last job with hopes of getting out of Dodge. After being forced to take a bank employee (Rebecca Hall) hostage during a gone- wrong robbery, Doug ups the ante by falling for that same woman (who is simultaneously also a feminine representative of the ever elusive upper middle class), tipping his own sense of moral ambivalence into the danger zone, and imperiling him and his potentially good intentions.

Obviously, Affleck the director makes excellent use of his locations and evokes a solid and affecting sense of local geography, as well as moving the film along with a terse yet implosive pace. His action scenes play out well, lean and mean and subtlety tactile, none of them over amped or wrenched up like most Hollywood actioneers. The Town largely sustains its purposefully tough and neo-realistic mood, although it never attains the grimy melancholy of Gone Baby Gone. Affleck also sharply injects the standard neighborhood crime story tenants with some flavorful verisimilitude, continually punctuated with a lively chorus of barking, yapping, yowling Boston-based verbal gymnastics.

As with so many actors-turned-directors (Eastwood, Redford, Chaplin), Affleck authoritatively guides his fellow actors through some convincing paces, and the overall performance level just about makes up for some of The Town’s weaker edges. Both Chris Cooper and Pete Postlewhite (as one of the local crime lords) straight out walk away with their scenes, and Rebecca Hall managed to do a lot with a little, while Jeremy Remmer (an actor whose recently scorched the screen in The Hurt Locker, and one that moviegoers ought to really set their eyes on) veers into pure white hot Jimmy Cagney territory, as one of those wrong-side-of-town fireplugs whose palatable on screen volatility makes them audience magnets, despite their obvious (and deadly) wrongheadedness. (Only Jon Hamm as the local FBI man hunter seems unable to bring something extra to his archetypical role.)

The Town has obvious echoes to my own favorite modern American film, Marty Scorsese 1972 Mean Streets, but it never scorches the soul or soars into artfulness the way the latter film does. Still, The Town is well played and better executed, and it exhibits an overall directorial keenness, while easily surpassing the often lowered expectations of its particular genre. It’s both credible and watchable, and it hints that Affleck might go back to the mean streets of his beloved state or its capital city, and etch out another tale from the naked city, pure East Coast style.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Here's the Beef

The following column is reprinted from the September issue of Providence Monthly (including the stuff my youthful editors somehow deem necessary to leave out):

Eyes Wide Open
By Scott Duhamel

Smack dab, three quarters of the way through the 2010 summer movie season, and the current weekend film openings pose the ongoing quandary of the contempo filmgoer. On one side of the movie-movie box, a little high and towards the center is Eat Pray Love, a boutique chick flick based on the Elisabeth Gilbert memoir and cultural phenomenon, featuring the ever radiant Julia Roberts, a must-see post-30 date movie. Over to the left and just above the center is the much buzzed about Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, an off center comic book movie, translated from a series of spiffy comics created by Bryan Lee O’Malley, starring the anti-macho post-teen bundle of nerdiness Michael Cera, an under-20 date movie-must and potential geek fest. Holding down the foggy bottom, poised a few inches from the odoriferous lower regions is the Sylvester Stallone written and directed actioneer The Expendables, spotlighting ol’ Sly himself, plus a bunch of redoubtable manly men. Alas dear readers, despite your continued faith, this nitcrit took the low road, the one less traveled and more trampled upon.

The Expendables offers not Julia Roberts, but older brother Eric, doing one of his patented lip-licking villainous turns, and that should be enough to convey to any wizened film buff what the texture and content of this big screen vehicle will be. Director Stallone has carved himself up a true Meat Movie, of the band-of-outsiders on a mission variety, one that is not concerned with incisive plotting, political messaging, overall meaningfulness, or potentially furthering the iconography of the action film. By the same token don’t expect cutting edge visuals, computer generated imagery, or dizzying editing technique. The Expendables is about body count, bulbous biceps, bashing fists, sharpened knifes, phallic guns, and more body count, all of them in the service of a stolid flow of lumbering mayhem, all of it peppered further by a full corral of on screen meaty men tossing out meaty asides, meaty grimaces, meaty glances, topped off by meaty battle whoops and war cry’s, and a whole lot (unintended?) homoerotic subtext.

Despite the above reference, Stallone the Meat King’s directorial style does not seem particularly influenced by French visionary Jean-Luc Godard, nor action masters like Robert Aldrich (whose The Dirty Dozen remains a men-on-a-mission film template) or Sam Peckinpah (whose The Wild Bunch remains a men-on-a-mission film classic). Instead, this stubbornly old school specimen seems to follow the lead of a journeyman talent like former Stallone main man George Cosmatos , the traffic director behind Cobra or First Blood: Rambo II. The movie also liberally borrows from the not-so-storied playbook of the Cannon films of the 80’s, those grainy, bone-crackling, mug-fests like Missing in Action, Bloodsport, Death Wish II, or Enter the Ninja. Like those fondly recalled destroy-everything-that-moves beef fests, Stallone erects his potboiler with the purposefully throwback tools of hammer, nails, and glue, so much so that the movie ought to contain a warning that none of the legion of stunt men employed were injured in the making, and the explosives budget was somewhere below the cost of those utilized at the Battle of the Bulge.

Sly the Meat King deserves some credit, since his recent efforts, which included a revisited Rocky movie in 2006 and another run at a Rambo romp in 2008, seem to acknowledge that, ala Clint Eastwood, he’s at least contemplating his the inherent ridiculousness of continuing to make a mark as a meaty action guy, and maybe (possibly) sticking a popcult fork into action star ageism. The Expendables meta-nudge (who would have thought one could evoke both Godard and meta-anything when it comes not-always-sly Sly) comes directly from its casting. Glazed ham Eric Roberts gets wrestling kingpin Steve Austen as a fellow baddie, while Stallone’s on-screen dream team consists of his own coadjutant, named Christmas ( Brit beefster Jason Statham), plus other beef patties like Ying Yang (chop- sockey NNW superstar Jet Li), Hale Ceasar (NFL bruiser Terry Crews), Toll Road(UFC brawler Randy Couture) and Gunner (double-wink now, ex-enemy of all things Balboa, Dolph Lundgren). (C’mon, what kinda indie or mumblecore outing is gonna give you character names like that?) Adding a further element of braised beef are the brief appearances of Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger), in a meeting-of-the-meaty-minds between those two action lions and the Meat King himself. (Remember, when dealing with this particular style and model of actioneer, women---in this case Charisma Carpenter and Giselle Itie—never get to register much beyond the bloody blades or the explosion around the next corner, and filmmaker Stallone makes sure to stick to those unwritten guidelines.)

If the vapors emanating from that steamy meat pie aren’t intoxicating enough there is the added sprinkling of wild but spicy game that is Mickey Rourke, weirdly over the top as always. Mickey’s hair (and Mickey’s sartorial choices must always been rolled into his performance choices) is striped boldly black-and-white, plus he smokes a long stemmed pipe, and while never allowed to participate in the action two-step, he gets to portentously muse on, basically expounding a whole cracked meat-cutting philosophy, while director Sly cuts to actor Sly looking on ever-so-sagely. (When’s the last time the newest European art house buzz movie offered anything like that?)

Sly the actor is more leaden than ever, and my lower lip hurt by the end of the movie, as I was sympathetically moving it, somehow hoping that maybe his would move occasionally too. You have to figure that maybe that’s all part of Sly the Meat King’s bigger plan, allowing all of the other meat team member’s group acting to rise at least to his lowered levels. The Expendables is one of those infrequent good bad movies, reaching its own limited expectations, and carving out a notch in the testosterone Hall of Shame. Although the burning question remains—were Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal and (especially) Jean-Claude Van Damme all too busy fondling their royalties to participate?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

In Dreams

The following column is reprinted from the February issue of Providence Monthly (including the stuff my youthful editors somehow deem necessary to leave out):

While Inception ought to easily lay claim as the smartest, sharpest, most scintillating blockbuster entry of Popcorn Summer 2010, and further burnish director/writer Christopher Nolan’s growing reputation as the thinking cinephile’s Stevie “Wonder” Spielberg, it doesn’t quite generate the impact that would mark the film as an all-timer, although it is a crackling, mind-bending, whole-lotta-fun mainstream effort.

Inception is essentially a caper film, yet, the unfolding and depiction of the heist itself is something altogether different---the movie largely takes place in a series of dreamscapes, the elusive theft that the plot swirls around being a dream itself, sort of. Nolan, the rare director that actually melds his visual route into his thematic map proves himself an exemplary amusement park designer, and the movie’s pacing and bravura editing make it go by in a flash, despite its length.

Nolan’s methods and directorial preoccupations are easily evident in his praiseworthy catalogue, with all of his films, despite setting or time period, revolving around a morally compromised and obsessive male protagonist awash in a chaotic and often brutal society, pushing ever onward while wrapping himself deeper into his odyssey, plagued by doubt and a heightened past, forced to think quick and act quicker, with the end result—consistently reached through a Herculean utilization of instinct, memory, and improvisatory skills—a weirdly ambiguous goal-reaching. Nolan is a truly cerebral director of movie action, as the acute exposition and vividly memorable landscapes of Memento (‘00), Insomnia (‘02), Batman Begins (’05), The Prestige (’06), and The Dark Knight (’08) have already proven.

Caper films always depict a team of types brought together for the high risk job, and although Inception’s centers around breaking into an individual’s unconscious rather than the usual high security MacGuffin, a specialized squad still lines up. Brought together by Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio),an edgy, psychological tight-rope walker who needs to the job in order to be reunited with his kids, this dream team consists of a newbie architectural student (Ellen Page), a stiff-lipped right hand man (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a chemist (Dileep Rao), and all-around warrior with special skills as a “forger” (Thomas Hardy). Of course, there is also a mark, the son of a dying energy czar (Cillian Murphy), and a businessman client (Ken Watanabe) who insists on going along for the ride. Hovering in and above it all is the great love and late wife (Marion Cotillard) of Cobb, still hauntingly real in the world of dreams. The cast is first rate, and Nolan never allows them to get lost in the pure wallop of his ongoing visual and narrative joy ride, while DiCaprio manages to get some well-earned mileage out of a part that is weirdly close to his last bit of role-playing, as the emotionally tortured cop in last year’s Shutter Island.

Although the movie abounds in the type of pseudo-scientific speak that was the bellwether of multiple cheesy sci-fi movies, the players chomp into the expositional dialogue like actors knifing through the shards of pulp fiction interaction. Page, who gets saddled with the familiar position of the character put there to anchor the potentially bewildered audience, should be acknowledged for her ironic aplomb. No matter what grade Z line reading she has to deliver, she somehow remains above the obviousness, and her thankless role gains in stature as the movie burrows further down its own wormhole.

Nolan plays it all with a technical fluidity that refrains from the typical in-yer-face make-up of the vast majority of big budget genre pictures. He also wears his potent influences on his conjurer’s sleeve: weaving together elements of 2001, Blade Runner, Bond movies, maybe even (gulp) The Matrix, also marking his big screen territory with the various master scents of MC Escher, Freud and Sir Alfred Hitchcock. Inception is a visceral experience, with Nolan attempting and pulling off some thrilling circus tricks with his loopy dream-within-dreams narrative, and hair-raising editing, ultimately generating some uncanny and wondrous imagery while neatly poking away at the audiences’ sensory perceptions.

Give Nolan credit, he does try to add some psychological heft to his film with DiCaprio’s haunted past bleeding into every corner of the plot, but the movie just doesn’t quite succeed as a full-bellied emotional churner. Despite his obvious throwback talents, Nolan is not a terribly self-conscious filmmaker, so the partial disconnect doesn’t ever drag the movie down, although its overall impact is diminished by the lack of truly resounding inner plot. In the long run, Inception, despite it’s rumblings of emotional character depth, is essentially a impeccably plotted tumble through a movie funhouse, with perhaps a bit too much of juiced-up bang-bang shoot-em-ups.

Sure Inception might be ultimately disappointing, as it hints towards greatness but finally falls short, yet it’s a barnburner of a big budget summer fare, and it spins and tilts with splendid acuity. While it may lack a truly beating heart, the movie is a delightful head trip, a brainy thrill ride, and a technical tour de force. That’s hard to complain about, and much than a large portion of Hollywood fare usually has to offer.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Frank Booth Was Kurt Cobain's Real Grandpappy

(Reprinted from PopKrazy)

RIP Dennis Hopper, 1936-2010
(This piece originally appeared in Providence Monthly’s July edition, albeit in an altered, shortened form.)

In the long, ever strange history of Hollywood, Dennis Hopper shall stand fast as one of the most vivid flesh-and-blood parameters of an American industry turned inside out and eventually splintered and rendered all too soporific. Born in Dodge City, Kansas he was a pure-bred farm boy whose family eventually moved to San Diego in the late 1940s. He apprenticed at that city’s well-known Old Globe Theatre and became a very young contract player at Warner Brothers, building a budding career until a now apocryphal 1958 showdown with one of the then movie industry’s most macho despots, director Henry Hathaway, wherein the rebellious and cocksure young actor refused to give into Hathaway’s direction and faced him off in a widely viewed and reported public showdown that supposedly went on for some 80 takes, which resulted in a newfound status as a Tinseltown pariah.

Hopper quickly skipped off to New York City and became yet another charismatic Lee Strasberg acting apostle and an Actor’s Studio warrior and jumped from the stage into the burgeoning television dramatic scene, making over a 100 TV appearances. Reputation newly enhanced, he went west coast again, tilting sideways into the disintegrating studio system (even reworking with Hathaway) before inexplicably elbowing his way to the top of the pops by writing, directing and starring in the game changer that was Easy Rider in 1969. Drugs and bloated egomania dropped him to his hippie knees again after the colossal failure of his personal freak flag project The Last Movie in 1971, only to go further drug crazy and wander off into other artistic pursuits before coming back again under the wide shoulders of movie brat generalissimo Francis Coppola in 1979’s Apocalypse Now. A final phase, the ultra-professional actor-for-hire, crowned his grandly strange career trip.

Hopper was always something more than just big screen player, he was and shall remain a dual headed symbol of the both new Hollywood and an in-the-flesh poltergeist of the lost glamour of Hollywood Studio system, bridging the gap from florid and burnished 50’s melodrama (co-starring and rubbing in the glowing-but-mutated pixie dust of James Dean in both 1955’s Rebel Without a Cause and 1956’s Giant), through the emerging American new wave (the sensational mix of drive-in flick and socio-political parable with Easy Rider) to Dream Factory paradise lost (his directorial and personal shenanigans on The Last Movie would become a part of gonzo Hollywood lore), , through the unexpected emergence of the second wave of American independent/commercial filmmaking (David Lynch’s modern day classic, 1986’s Blue Velvet).

Hopper was a writer, photographer, actor, producer, director, performance artist, demi-monde celebrity, and an unending and totally willful repository of personal and professional chaos, plus one of the more memorable post-beat poets of self-immolation. Somehow he endured it all as an indestructible man with an equally indestructible career. Hopper easily stood out in his early films, with his deep boned Midwestern hipster looks belying the fact that even in his roles as hoods, misunderstood youth, or uneasily turbulent cowpokes, he seemed to dig deeper than the better looking hunks of meat surrounding him, his eyes flashing with intensity while he alternated a jaundiced sneer and a dreamy giggle. He transitioned into an alternative culture superstar while simultaneously drowning himself in irony and riches, recreated himself as one of the ultimate pop cultural guilty pleasures as the sharpest and most nuanced exemplars of movie-movie sociopaths (his lanky forehead head and sloped nose just about gleaming with the remnants of his own real life back-story), and lassoed it all into being gracefully acknowledged as one of most consistently solid character actors of all, and maybe even the truest pop cult granddaddy to such lost soul savants as Kurt Cobain. Bad movie, weird movie, great movie, I could never take my eyes off Hopper, and I always watched him both as explorative actor and living, breathing cultural zeitgeist.

A Hopper Baker’s Dozen

1.Blue Velvet. (1986) Frank Booth salivating with gusto for Pabst Blue Ribbon has to be among the most electrifying visual and aural surreal moments in mainstream Hollywood history, and that’s just a toe in the wondrously murky waters.

2.Easy Rider. (1969) Youthful wannabes and tripping hippies all wished they looked and acted like Peter Fonda’s Wyatt/ Captain America, but the truth of the matter was that, in most neighborhoods, there was a whole lot more of Hopper’s stringy-haired, fast-talking stoner Billy present and accounted for.

3.Hoosiers. (1986) As about an honest and thoroughly ingrained (and emotionally palatable) portrait of alcoholism and redemption, Hopper’s hunched-over character, Shooter, never trots down hokey lane, even if the movie points there.

4.Out of the Blue. (1980) Incendiary and harrowing, a neglected cult classic, a movie propelled by Hopper’s own fierce and unrelenting directorial vision.

5.True Romance. (1993) The stop-the-movie tête-à-tête, scripted by Quentin Tarantino, between Christopher Walken and Hopper is a cinephile’s parlor game wet dream, and it alone probably puts the pair in such stellar company as Claude Rains, Peter Lorre, Elisha Cook, Jr., Robert Ryan, Warren Oates and any other stellar character mug you might wanna bring to the table.

6.Rebel Without a Cause (1955)/Giant (1956) Lurking around the periphery as Goon in the former, hitting lead off between the way-out line-up of Liz Taylor, Rock Hudson and skyrocketing Jimmy Dean in Giant, Hopper’s eyes alone signify as pure 1950’s burnished Technicolor firmament.

7.Rumble Fish. (1983) As the whiskey-soaked Dad at crispy center of the mumbling triumvirate of Mickey Rourke, Matt Dillon and himself, everything about this vastly under praised Coppola toss-off tour de force is simply too cool to be true, particularly the interaction between the three aforementioned lost soul mumblers.

8.Apocalypse Now.(1979)There simply couldn’t be anyone else but Hopper as the mixed-up, jumbled-up, jangled-around, imperiously incoherent photojournalist/ interpreter of both Brando’s Kurtz and the cinematic version of our country’s descent into Vietnam and the ever pulsing heart of darkness that accompanied it.

9.Kid Blue. (1973) An off center, rambling minimalist western ode that teams Hopper’s barely-in-gear magnetism with Warren Oates’s wounded eyes, resulting in a filmic slow burn that shoots right past the movie’s limitations.

10.River’s Edge. (1986) As Feck, the pied-piper of Nowheresville in post mall suburbia, Hopper is chilling and precise, and he singlehandedly lifts the younger and inexperienced cast into a level that most never reached again.

11. An American Friend (1977). A cinematic treat, combining the talents of an on-his-game Wim Wenders, a perfectly cast Bruno Ganz, the blueprint of Patricia Highsmith’s novel, and Hopper as Tom Ripley, the ultimate mercurial, two-sided ugly American.

Press Release: Announcing the first annual shaking like a mountain 2010 Fiction Open
Judge: Janice Eidus

Janice Eidus is an award-winning novelist and short story writer. Her short fiction has won two O.Henry Prizes, a Pushcart Prize, and a Redbook Prize. Her latest novel, The War of the Rosens, won a 2008, Independent Publishers Award in Religion, and was nominated for the prestigious Sophie Brody Award. Her new novel, The Last Jewish Virgin, will be published in October, 2010.

First prize: $350 Second prize: $100 Third prize: $50

The three prizewinners will be published in shaking like a mountain and have their work submitted by shaking editors to the Best of the Web and Best of Net anthologies
Deadline: September 15, 2010. Results will be announced at the website October 15, 2010, and the winners will be published before the end of 2010

Complete Contest Guidelines:
-We accept all genres of literary fiction as long as stories are related to the theme of music.
-Please be sure to include your name, address and phone number in a cover letter with your submission. Do not put your name, address, or phone number on the story itself.
-Entries must be: unpublished; 4000 words or less; and accompanied by a $10 entry fee per story.
-We welcome multiple entries ($10/story) and entries from outside the U.S. Entrants retain all rights to their stories.
-Once a story is submitted, we cannot accept an updated draft. (However, an entrant is welcome to submit an updated draft as a new entry.)
-Entry fees will not be returned or adjusted.
-Entries must be complete by 11:59 P.M. PDT on September 15, 2010.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Lost In the (new) Hood

(Reprinted from PopKrazy)

It’s easy to see why the legend of Robin Hood lives on and on as an essential big screen vehicle, as it allows for pungent flourishes of pageantry, romance, violence, and the eternally appealing defense of the common man, and it’s rebel-with-a-cause (plus a bow and arrow) central figure must be as appealing to a big name actor as it might be intoxicating to his director to provide said actor with the aforementioned ornamentations.

It’s equally easy to understand why long time collaborators Russell Crowe and director Ridley Scott (American Gangster, A Good Year, Body of Lies, and, most pertinent to this outing, Gladiator) would leap at the undertaking of revisiting the Robin Hood mythology. Crowe has the unarguable presence for such a spotlight role, and Scott has both the pedigree and the mentality to deliver his star to some greater cinematic glories. Their new film, Robin Hood, is muscular and sinewy, impeccably burnished and floridly filmed, totally flowing with populist ideology. Crowe stands erect throughout, emanating his particular brawny brand of minimalism, yet the movie seems devoid of passion or warmth and absolutely lacks any sense of the dashing tomfoolery that usually part and parcel of the landscape. It’s a ponderously gloomy origins tale, and after two and a half bombastic hours you’ll be zapped of both interest and energy.

Scott, a certified Hack Auteur, has an undeniably dexterous touch with action set pieces, and he delivers those goods as only he can, orchestrating half-dozen show-and-tells of 12th century warfare brutality, with intermittent valorous speeches from the far too taciturn Crowe. The film’s busy canvas also follows the travails of a moat full of pointed characters, including a fiery Cate Blanchett as a Marian with no trace of romantic chemistry with Crowe’s Robin, the ever felicitous Mark Strong as a conniving French villain, and solid types like Mark Addy, William Hurt, and Max von Sydow and the always interesting Danny Huston doing their bits ably.

Through the years the basic Robin Hood socio-political terrain has remained an audience-pleaser, although this Robin Hood doesn’t steal from the rich and give to the pour, instead preferring to penetrate multiple chain mail armaments in the name of fighting the holy battle against taxation without representation, bold flirting with Tea Party version of egalitarianism.

In the long run, every film Robin Hood, whether it be Douglas Fairbanks, Bugs Bunny, Frank Sinatra, Sean Connery, Kevin Costner or Russell Crowe, has be unjust compared to the indomitable Errol Flynn from Michael Curtiz’s 1938 Technicolor wonder The Adventures of Robin Hood. Yet another man -of -the- people, thoroughly illuminated by the Hollywood dream factory in its prime, Flynn’s Robin set unbeatable standards for heroic magnetism, rollicking manliness, eye-winking plumery, all the while providing he and the audience with resolute fun and deep-boned cinematic gratification that the well meaning but oh-so-ponderous team of Crowe and Scott simply can’t touch, however austerely they borough into the (new) Hood.

The Curtiz (old) Hood movie is eye candy of the highest order, a glistening helping of Hollywood classicism is unadulterated pleasure viewing. The movie won three deserved Oscars (Art Direction, Editing, Score) and it is ably burnished by the always capable Michael Curtiz, a perfectly paced and sumptuously filmed adventure tale, with the perfect coupling of Errol Flynn (effortlessly dashing) and Olivia de Havilland (rapturously beautiful), sprinkled with a typically first class supporting cast (Alan Hale, Claude Rains, Ian Hunter) and a devilishly villainous Basil Rathbone. The (new) Hood is passionless and resolutely uninspiring, a costumed dirge for contempo audiences largely unwilling or unready to be truly transported into a blissful state of artful imagination. The (old) Hood is absolute dream machine opium, once embraced by a viewing public unfettered by anything other than resolute professionalism and into-the-vein entertainment values.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

How To Say Little, But Remain Convincing

If you search hard enough and do your pop cult due diligence, you will discover one sharp, early AM, talking head film nitcrit, appearing in a semi-regular basis on Fox's The Rhode Show. I kid you not, I think this guy could be a comer...

Friday, May 28, 2010

Be Kind Rewind

The following column is reprinted from the February issue of Providence Monthly (including the stuff my youthful editors somehow deem necessary to leave out):

Rewind # 1: Iron Man 2 is most obviously a sequel, the more full-bodied follow-up to the streamlined Marvel Comic actioneer that took audiences by storm in 2008, an entertainingly schizoid movie that works hard to deliver some more snack, crackle and pop for the multitudes of fan boys. The cool thing is that actor/director Jon Favreau almost subversively pumps some real directorial charm and panache to the non-action scenes, almost to the point of emasculating the go-for-the-popcorn high-tech effects, comic book clashes, and over-the-top spectacle. Audiences seem to be responding well once again, upping the possibility that if Favreau goes for another shot at the franchise, it might be the most gonzo Part 3 yet.

The movie is extremely shiny and tempered, but the overt story and the CGI spectacles take a certifiable second place to theatrics and repartee among the movie’s big name part-playing population, beginning with the rapid fire mumbling oratory of Robert Downey and his time-warping charm. Downey’s a true propellant contemporary movie star, and the narcissistic air of a nervy capitalist suits him exquisitely, delivering each new bombastic comic book line with a curry-and-par swipe and a hilariously provocative aplomb. Downey is so right on as the guy without the suit, that each of the movies suffers a bit each time the super hero metallic duds are donned and his twisty yapper gets hidden away.

Favreau is an actor’s director, and he allows all of his principles to follow Downey’s animated flow, causing actual sparks to fly in Downey’s sideways exchanges with an impeccably subtle Gwyneth Palthrow and an appropriately campy (and comely) Scarlett Johansson, much of it coolly conjuring up the patented stylings of screwball comedy. The sharp repartee and the heightened dialogue is also neatly bandied about by such nifty scene stealers as Don Cheadle as good buddy and sidekick, Samuel Jackson as a robustly macho military man, fave rave scene-chewer Mickey Rourke as Russian baddie with a cockatoo, and secret weapon Sam Rockwell as perhaps the drollest comic book villain so far, all of them trading barbs, eye-rolling, and put-downs with sleek fervor. Iron Man 2 doesn’t mean much of anything, and doesn’t purport to, it simply swaggers its way to the finish line, providing some first class diversion between the sound of metal clanking and things blowing up.

Rewind # 2: Like most knee-bending worshippers to the altar of rock and roll, I can’t resist a rock doc, and I’ve probably screened a few dozen of them. The vast majority traffic in broken dreams, past glories, druggy excesses, psychological afflictions, rise and falls, or just plain ascensions to rock and roll nirvana. It’s a Bash!, a new rock doc that chronicles the story of Attleboro-formed and Providence-made Neutral Nation, operates with a decidedly alternative mind set, unwinding as a true life tale of infectious rock and roll spirit, ongoing camaraderie, and working class pluck.

Director David Bettencourt (rapidly becoming a local filmmaker of some note, responsible for two highly credible prior works, You Must Be This Tall: The Story of Rocky Point Park and On the Lake: Life and Love in a Distant Place), does a wonderful job recreating the resolutely typically tale of the band’s movement from in-yer-face noise-makers to beloved local music scene headliners, gathering some smartly reflective and self aware talking heads footage from the individual band members (particularly Mike Yarworth, Tom Buckland, and Dave Chabot), and handsomely piecing together the Providence/ Living Room spawned scene of punk and indie rock.

Of course, I spent a whole lotta of my time embedded in that very scene during my youthful glory days, and the film helps prove that Neutral Nation were indeed something special, regular guys who, in their heyday, conveyed an ever widening sense of New England tribal inclusiveness and a constantly burgeoning down-to-earth craftsmanship, making a particular mark as one of those special bands with a whom audiences want to share a sensibility, a song, and a beer. Whether you catch the documentary, or catch the boys live at one of their perpetual reunion shows, you’ll never have to worry about Neutral Nation delivering the goods, with passion, verve, and some crooked smiles.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Mark Cutler's State of Grace

Even at my straightest, most coherent, sharpest, extreme state of awareness I couldn’t even attempt to actually put a real number to the numerous times I’ve seen Mark Cutler play live music, numerous being a riveting understatement. Over the thirty years that I’ve been both a fan and personal friend with the guitarist/bandleader/songwriter, I’ve seen him play arenas, clubs, bars, restaurants, diners, coffee houses, cafes, packed houses, empty rooms, dank basements, amusement parks, songwriting circles, backyard celebrations, weddings (including two of mine), birthdays (including my 30th, 40th, and 50th), I’ve seen him open up for everyone from Jerry Lee Lewis, Boy George, Bob Dylan and then-Presidential candidate Obama. I’ve seen him rip up his guitar like he was ringing a bell, attacking it with both the ferocity of Fred “Sonic” Smith and the shamanistic explorations of Tom Verlaine, and I’ve also seen him gently stroke his acoustic guitar and sing songs of tenderness and beauty and sadness that rival those of Townes Van Zandt or Steve Earle. I’ve seen him cover everyone from Iggy Pop to KC and the Sunshine Band to Mink Deville. 1000 gigs? Double that? I’m really not sure, although I am sure that whether my pallie Mark was fronting the Schemers, The Raindogs, Lexington 1-2-3, The Dino Club, or the The Men of Courage, or sitting on yet another stool, hunched over with solo intensity, he was giving it his all, playing with both gusto and sincerity, and of course, playing yet another new song from his seemingly never-ending supply.

Among Mark’s circle of friends there’s a longstanding joke that’s partly ironic, partly worrisome, and fully accurate: The MC Credo: When in doubt, write a song. In emotional, financial, or familial trouble? Write a song. Good times? Write a song. Terrible times? Write a song. Blazingly sunny, reinvigorating day? Write a song. Winter storm howling against the windows? Write a song. Rent overdue? Write a song. Worried about political policies and continual American social ills? Write a song. Watch a Scorsese film? Write a song. You get the simple, straightforward picture: When in doubt, write a song. Mark has spent nearly a lifetime attempting to reach a state of grace through songwriting, written reams of choruses, hooks, and heartfelt lyrics, and also covered countless nuggets, gems, and classics from every pop genre, all of which brings us to his newest collection of a dozen songs, just released on a new CD entitled Red.

In the interest of full disclosure (not that may actually matter in the nebulous state of the blogosphere) I’ve had the occasional unique (and truly cool) opportunity to work alongside Mark as a lyricist and co-songwriter, with Red even containing one song, “Miss Connected”, co-written by the two of us, so I figure I’ve have a certain insight into his material. On the other hand, as a once practicing rock nitcrit, and, as a guy who’s heard a ton of Cutler’s tunes delivered by divergent musical configurations, in an ever-changing array of arrangements and styles, I’ve also developed an even more keen perspective on Cutler the songwriter’s thematic predilections, ongoing themes, and overall lyrical and aural landscapes. (Believe me, even my usually understanding wife worries about my bit too fervent interest in the guy’s music.)

At both his edgiest and most delicate, a vast majority of Mark’s material has always tinged with a certain melancholia, and constantly sprinkled with an understated bitter sweetness, with many of his songs chock full of characters striving to the right thing despite their cloudy pasts, shaky futures, or forays to the dark side. Red’s plaintive but fully descriptive titles (“Cousin Mary’s New Car”, “You Know What to Do”, “We Shall Always Remain Friends”, “Can’t Give it Away”, Jumpin’ Time”) paint a terrain of weathered and smarting middle-aged seekers, somehow simultaneously disconsolate and sanguine. He is a decidedly Catholic songwriter, and Red’s songs feature Saints named Annie, Marie, and even Mary, who happen to be jostling for space alongside bloodless vampires, miracle men, evil twins, bag men, and even the ghost of Doc Pomus, with frozen moments amidst midnight moves, tower guards, mamas crying, river’s bending, blanketed rafts heading down streams, and a whole passel of cruel disguises. Cutler’s usual fallible narrators hover above the clouds, dangle down at the edge, duck into the shadows of the descending sun, and seemingly just exist a paycheck away from yet another personal calamity yet somehow striving for some sort of sanctity.

Red goes beyond Cutler’s typically streamlined 4/4 rock, with supple keyboards and mandolin brushes, a spare and focused sound with contributions from a number of RI stalwarts, including bass players Jimi Berger and Mike Tanaka, keyboardist and accordion master Dickie Reed, drummers Rick Couto, Bob Giusti, and the late Phil Hicks, and secret weapon, the ever subtle David Richardson contributing some lovely mandolin playing and a neat baritone guitar flourish. Red was produced by Cutler and longtime collaborator Emerson Torrey, and it might be the best sounding recording of his lengthy career, as it the two have avoided overproduction, crafting a record that sounds both pristine and felicitous.

In the real world I make a living as a Union Representative, and I know that Mark would make an ideal rank-and-file member, because as a songwriter and performer he’s both diligent and honest, his work ethic is fairly legendary, he consistently manages to deliver what he promises, and he sports a blue collar aura that just can’t be faked. Quite simply, he defines that warhorse of an expression, “the real deal”.

The Cutler record release party for Red is scheduled from my home away from home, Nick-a-Nee’s, tomorrow, Saturday the 8th from 8:30 on, and it promises to be quite the celebratory evening, featuring Mark Cutler and more than a few of his various musical permutations. Make sure you grab a word with him between sets, don’t let him retreat to any corners or the privacy of his car, because, if left alone, he may feel a powerful draw to start writing yet another song, and lord knows, it kinda (heh-heh-heh) gets a little sickening after a while.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Dead Laughs

The following column is reprinted from the February issue of Providence Monthly (including the stuff my youthful editors somehow deem necessary to leave out):

Eyes Wide Open
By Scott Duhamel

The movie farce has always been something of a shaggy dog compared to the fine beast typically displayed on stage. Certainly, dialogue, plot and action can resonate as equally on both stage and screen, but movie farce has to be also driven by some of the prerequisite cinematic techniques like shot selection, editing, and camera movement. Movie farces helmed by the vaunted likes of Preston Sturges, Billy Wilder or even Mel Brooks usually roll out via such finely interlocking machinery, rapidly cranking up the ante towards comic nirvana.

Death at a Funeral is a sweat drenched attempt at carving out a sparkling (and supposedly outrageous) movie farce, but it ultimately strains at the seams, whisking along ever so tepidly, providing some legitimate laughs, but failing to pull it all together, or even reach occasional comic heights . Worse, upon final view, it even seems a step down from the movie’s it’s remaking, the 2006 film of the same name.

Transposing the setting from England to Southern California, and changing the cast from white Brits to middle class African-Americans, the new version sticks close to the original (they both share the same screenwriter in Dean Craig). As family and friends gather for a funeral viewing, secrets from the past, romantic tensions, misplaced bodies, and a vial of hallucinogens help tilt the day’s mounting encounters steadily off course.

The original (well okay, four-year-old) movie was directed by Frank Oz, a decent comic hand, responsible for the likes of Little Shop of Horrors (’86), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (’88), What About Bob? (’91), and Bowfinger (’99). Inexplicably the new, Americanized version has been but in the hands of Neil LaBute, the bad boy misanthrope behind both button-pushing plays (In the Country of Men, The Mercy Seat, Fat Pig) and films (In the Company of Men, Nurse Betty, The Shape of Things). LaBute may be a smart guy, but he has seemingly stepped into a role, that of comic filmmaker, that ill suits him. The movie veers towards the inept, with unconvincing bouts of slapstick, misfired gags, and no discernable snap or punch in the majority of the humorous exchanges. It’s as if LaBute, never a particularly great visual filmmaker, has eschewed even his usual unsettling edginess in a misguided attempt to prove he has a heretofore unseen directorial versatility. Well, it just ain’t so.

Even most of the potentially decent cast spend most of their time misfiring. Chris Rock, as the more traditional of two brothers largely plays it straight, and that tact remains disappointing, as one expects more slyness and rapier reactions from him, while Martin Lawrence, as the cock-of-the-walk sibling, stays stuck in his typically one note, you’ve-seen-it-before, hyperventilating shtick. The usually reliable Luke Wilson doesn’t even register in his low radar role, and such stalwarts as Loretta Devine, Regina Hall, Danny Glover, and Keith David and Zoe Saldana don’t come up with much beyond the fairly predictable. Strangest of all is the case Peter Dinklage, reprising his role in the first film, albeit with a different name, as an unwelcome funeral guest, who happens to be a dwarf and a homosexual lover of the deceased—yet executing a turn that seems less energetic and much less inspired then the first time around. (Only Tracy Morgan and James Marsden remain unscathed, both contributing some true belly laughs, with the latter registering some particularly inspired looniness.)

When LaBute is effective he usually allows a subtle anarchic spirit to creep into his film work, but the all important destructive spirit of comedy is not on display here. There is no piquant shredding of assumptions or of social or moral consents, just some rat-a-tat knockdowns, and a mere spritz. LaBute, despite his high toned background doesn’t get anarchic or ironic enough, he his most persistent directorial choice seems to be to just wave the action along like a complacent traffic cop, as if the material was unique or special enough to bring it on home. Of course, that isn’t the case, and the laughs here are as stiff as the corpses.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Horse That Was a Bird

(Reprinted from PopKrazy)

It’s been a hell of a fertile period for the Grim Reaper, Pop Cult Dept, (in my movie, that part is played by Larry Blyden), with a run that included Alex Chilton, T-Bone Wolk, and Johnny Maestro along with Dixie Carter, Fess Parker, Robert Culp, and John Forsyth, never mind Meinhardt Rabbe, the munchkin crooner from The Wizard of Oz, and Malcolm McLaren, that genuine force of nature. Wow, knock ‘em down and drag ‘em out. Yet, when the brimstone stench dissipated, the semi-celeb’s loss I felt most tenderly was a sports figure from my baseball-crazed pre-adolescence, pitcher Mike Cuellar of the Baltimore Orioles.

As an eleven-year old in the summer of 1967, I made the full transformation into rabid Red Sox fan, following the ups down of that “Impossible Dream” season, all the while transfixed by the day-to-day heroics of Carl Yastrzemski, the one and only Yaz. Like most baseball obsessives, I also underwent a quickie education about the sport, reading dusty book after book about the glories of baseball past, and digging into the sports page as soon as my father put the paper down each evening, and even going out and buying the up-to-date baseball guides available at the local newsstands. Eventually familiarizing myself with the starting line-ups of nearly every major league team, I also
learned that it was acceptable, at least for the sophisticated fan, to root for other cool daddy ballplayers that didn’t necessarily play for the home team.

Baltimore was a powerhouse in the late 60’s and early 70’s, with a kooky, colorful manager in Earl Weaver and a team made up of the Robinsons (non-brothers and future Hall of Famers Brooks and Frank), a batch of other intriguing characters (Boog Powell, Mark Belanger, Paul Blair, Davey Johnson), and quite possibly the best starting pitching staff in the American League, with Mike Cuellar as one of its stalwarts.

Cuellar, Cuban born (Miguel Angel Cuellar Santana), was a crafty lefty, not a typical flame-thrower, known for his screwball and changeup, and given the wonderful moniker, Crazy Horse. He, after starting in the Cinnacinati Reds system, was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals and then to the Houston Astros (where, in 1967, he did win 16 games and make the All-Star team), before winding up in Baltimore in 1969, and staying until 1976, after which he was traded to the Angels before leaving the game after a fifteen season career.

In his eight years with the Orioles he won 23 games in ’69, 24 in ’70, 20 in ’71, 18 in ‘72 & ‘73, and 22 in 74, made three more All-Star teams, and shared the coveted Cy Young Award in 1969 with the Detroit Tigers’ Denny McLain. As a kid, I was fascinated with both his mess-with-your-head array of pitches, his impenetrable pitcher’s stare, and (it was the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, dig?) his non-white-guy look. Noted tribal leader and kneecap Napoleon Billy Martin said of Cuellar, “His fastball couldn’t blacken my eye, but he owned the batters’ minds.”

As a Red Sox fan, I simply couldn’t root for the Yankees, but as a baseball fan I felt that one had to route for the American League rather than the National League, in both All Star and World Series games, and I found it rather easy to, once the Sox were out of the picture, to get behind the Orioles as they made their way to the play-offs and every year (except for ‘72) from 1969-1974, and onto the Series in ‘69, ‘ 70, and ‘71.

Of course Mike Cuellars’s biggest claim to pop culture longevity was and shall remain, as one of the answers to one of the perennially great baseball trivia questions : Only two teams in baseball have boasted four 20 game winners, one of them being the 1920 Chicago White Sox , and the other being the 1971 Orioles. Name the four pitchers. Don’t even contemplate sitting at the Baseball Elders Table if you can’t snap off that answer: Dave McNally (21-5), Jim Palmer (20-9), Pat Dobson (20-8), and Mr. Crazy Horse himself, Mike Cuellar (20-9). All but Palmer are dead and gone now, co-co-ca-chooing with jilted Joe DiMaggio.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Humble Opinions

In my humble opinion, this is how you cover a song (staying true to the original, but redrafting it in yer own style): LouDoesLennon

In my humble opinion, this is how you stay vital and perpetually hip (and get up close to Shelby Lynne): PeteGetsTragic

In my humble opinion, this is how you veer off course and make rumblin' rock and roll magic (and put in some quality time with Tito Larriva) : BobAndThePlugzDoBob

In my humble opinion, this is how you use file cards and quote F. Scott Fitzgerald after giving the audience the finger (and say, with great ironic aplomb: “Roll over, Woodstock”): IggyDoesItRight

Friday, April 9, 2010

Misunderstood Marty

The following column is reprinted from the February issue of Providence Monthly (including the stuff my youthful editors somehow deem necessary to leave out):

Eyes Wide Open
By Scott Duhamel

Among my multitude of favorite moments in Martin Scorsese’s 1972 American masterpiece Mean Streets, is when one of the character says, out of nowhere: “D.D. Disappointed Dunsky.” Well the word on the less-than-mean streets of pop culture city is that my main man Marty has lost it, that the last couple of Scorsese’s specials have been pandering and bloated Hollywood production line figurines, and that the continual Scorsese-Leo DiCaprio partnership isn’t half as innovative, explosive, or enthralling as the venerated run of Scorsese and his prior acting totem, Robert DeNiro. Meanwhile, Scorsese cultists (like myself), have been reduced to half-wacky, half-flagellant worshippers who resemble Michael Imperoli’s infamous Soprano’s character, Christopher, who once ran into Scorsese and sputtered “Marty! Kundum. I liked it.” For us, it’s quite simply: “M.M. Misunderstood Marty.”

Scorsese’s latest, Shutter Island, while doing strong box office, has received a wide array of critical reception, ranging from baa-baa-bad to flawed to “best director of the present” B-plus. Adapted from a Dennis (Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone) Lehane potboiler, set on a craggy, phosphorous island outside Boston harbor that houses only a state run insane asylum in 1954, the ideal setting for Professor Scorsese to delve into the arena of Alfred Hitchcock while setiing the appropriate framework for a psychological creep show.

At the same time, for the naysayers and those who’ve long vamoosed off the director’s bandwagon, the movie is yet another ideal cog in the Scorsese-DiCaprio decline and fall--- another chic and mannered populist sell out, at one with the recent likes of 2002’s The Gangs of New York, 2004’s The Aviator, and 2006’s The Departed, for which the fillmmaker won the Best Director Oscar. Conventional film maven wisdom follows along these lines: Scorsese is still more than capable of rendering virtuoso cinematic moments, whether they be set pieces or daring images, but he’s long been enmeshed in the Hollywood mainstream (which has muted his edginess), and DiCaprio simply never carries the weight his director entrusts to him, inexplicably remaining an unconvincing figure as a full borne adult. (What, has Johnny Depp somehow morphed into Jason Robards or William Holden?) Finally, there is this: Aging, 68-year-old Scorsese is beyond mustering up to the energy and originality of the unimpeachable DeNiro collaborations like 1976’s Taxi Driver, 1980’s Raging Bull, 1990’s Goodfellas or 1995’s Casino.

Shutter Island offers up a shimmering, tightly woven and even disturbing psychological thriller for a solid four-fifths of its way, before becoming boggled down with its overwrought denouement. DiCaprio plays a combustible Boston detective poking into the asylum’s shadowy goings on accompanied by his weirdly passive sidekick (an adept Mark Ruffalo), haunted by his dead wife (Michelle Williams), and turned round and round by docs, coppers and patients (finely done up by Ben Kingsley, Max Van Sydow, Patricia Clarkson, John Carroll Lynch, Emily Mortimer, Jackie Earle Haley, and Ted Levine.) The movie is ripe with Scorsese’s usual fusion of genre pastiche, filmic quotations, cliché-rattling and commanding visual verve, all in all a technically masterful and deft excursion, only marred by a few small miscues. Production designer Dante Ferretti, cinematographer Robert Richardson, music supervisor Robbie Robertson (aided by John Cage, John Adams, Nam June Paik, and Gyorgy Ligeti), are first class contributors, and, as always, editor Thelma Schoonmaker defines the boundaries of a cutting edge classicist.

Wrongly being bandied about as a slip-slide into more Scorsese-DiCaprio populist mediocrity, Shutter Island is by and large another big budget mediation on the particular wonders of genre cinema, speckled with vivid flourishes and consistently foreboding, while simultaneously another Scorsese portrait of a man gone dissolute. It may not be overflowing with eccentricities and jagged energies, but it’s delivered with propulsive relish, and overflowing with B movie spectacle rendered pointedly. On top of it, DiCaprio delivers---compact and sturdy, continually simmering just under a boil, moral compass unfettered despite the heavy weight of guilt, he’s as drop down earthy and subtly neurotic as John Garfield or early Jack Nicholson---unquestionably earning the baton pressed upon him by the director.

While no Scorsese-styled masterpiece, Shutter Island easily ranks up their with the aforementioned fictional Christopher’s Kundum (‘97), and with other such just-this-side-of paradise Scorsese entrees: Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (‘74), New York, New York (‘’77), After Hours (‘78),The King of Comedy (‘82), The Color of Money (’86), The Last Temptation of Christ (‘88), Cape Fear (‘ 91), The Age of Innocence (‘93), or Bring out the Dead (‘99) . In the long and short of it is that Misunderstood Marty remains a uniquely visceral and masterfully evocative filmmaker with razor-sharp skills, despite his abandonment by cinema hipsters and a portion of the critical set. I’m more than certain that’s still a long way to go before we close the red velvet curtain on his storied career, until he contributes another shooting star to his master auteurist firmament.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Alex Chilton 1950-2010

(Reprinted from shaking like a mountain)

“Children by the million
Sing for Alex Chilton
When he comes ‘round
They sing, ‘I’m in love
What’s that song
I’m in love with that song

The in-yer-face dichotomy of the strange, niggling, woebegone career of Alex Chilton is that absolutely more peeps, kiddies, flipsters, pop cultists and the not-so-great unwashed know of him than have actually hear him, or even, more insidiously, don’t know that they have indeed heard him. A perpetual, maybe even classic, cult artist, he, despite some true popcult peaks, remained unrecognized (as the young lead singer of the AM radio hitsers The Box Tops), undiscovered (as one of the primary forces of nitcrit cult faves Big Star), unknown (as the author of the Bangles well known “September Gurls” and the Cheap Trick diffident remake “In the Street, better known as the theme song for TV’s That 70’s Show), and unheard but forever mythologized as Paul Westerberg’s muse in The Replacements “Alex Chilton”).

Chilton was virtually a child star, a Memphis born blue-eyed soulster, who at 16 experienced a top of the chart hit while fronting the Box Tops with “The Letter”, followed by two more legit hits, “Cry Like a Baby” (which marched all the way to No. 2) and “Soul Deep”. Dissatisfied with the early sixties plastic pop machinery that The Box Tops were enmeshed in, he started up a second Memphis band, Big Star, in the early 1970’s with drummer Jody Stephens, bassist Andy Hummel and fellow songwriter and guitarist Chris Bell. That band, Big Star, became an immediate critical darling, drawing rave reviews and plenty of publicity push in the wide array of rock mags that existed at the time. A combination of industry bad mojo, including an uncomprehending public, a minor league record label, and the predictable split-up marked them as one of the biggest busts of the post-Beatle rock era.

Time, as is won’t with a whole lotta cultural iconoclasts, was good to Chilton and Big Star, with the band winding up as an after-the-fact staple on college and independent radio, with a legion of on-the record worshippers like the aforementioned The Replacements, REM, Elliot Smith, The DB’s and the Bangles. The third Jim Dickinson produced Big Star record Third/Sister Lovers (with Chilton as purty much the sole force, since Chris Bell had departed) wasn’t released until after the demise of the band and it is widely (and legitimately) hailed by pop cult diviners such as Robot Hull (“haphazard masterpiece”), a jangly, gloomy, sweet and sour, head-in-the-sand, tour de force.

Mid-career Chilton began embracing his cult status, becoming an American equivalent to John Cale, behaving outrageously and obviously abusing substances, acting as de facto party planner/producer for the likes of The Replacements, Tav Falco’s Panther Burns and The Cramps, moving to New York and cutting a top notch EP (Singer Not the Song), an influential single (“Bangkok”), and an all-time rock snob fave LP (Likes Flies on Sherbert), all of which poised him on the punk edge. I was lucky to see Chilton at Boston’s infamous Rathskeller during this period, he and his young band played a blistering but careening show, one both toxic and adrenaline-producing. I had lucked into a brief fill-in position as rock critic with the Rhode Island’s only daily, The Providence Journal, and I rejoiced immeasurably (in full, naïve, young, rebel-wanna be mode) that I talked an unknowing editor into allowing a mention of one the coolest and most arcane names in rock into a squaresville, mainstream, widely read publication.

Chilton soon went through another desolate period, changing styles again and making music that grasped at blues, rockabilly, and country’s primitive roots, eventually also producing Detroit’s The Gories and more Panther Burns stuff. Smack dab in the mid-1990’s Chilton once again did the unexpected and made an album and toured the oldies festival circuit with a revamped Box Tops and also reformed a mutated new version of Big Star, made up of old mate Jody Stephens and Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow from modern day cultists The Posies. He passed away, only a few days before a scheduled appearance with Big Star at this years’ annual South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas, where he long been revered by industry insiders, geeky rock scribes, and budding quirky songwriters, many with long allegiances to the cult of Chilton and his backwards, side-stepping career, seeing Chilton as both soul deep American maverick and artistic wounded soul, another pop genius somehow doomed to a life on the showbiz periphery, perpetually resonant and influential to those game few that are willing to burrow, termite-like, into the crooked and tangled rock and pop foundations.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Both Sides Now

Let’s not avoid the obvious: most blogs operate around the premise of a certain degree of self-promotion; despite any nattering of self-denial you might hear. My own blog, ostensibly about divining any hint of magic or wonder from amidst the teeming pile of the never ending pop culture onslaught, has even occasionally veered into the personal, much to my own chagrin. Here we go again, with two quick glimpses of my divided self, just turned fifty-four and aging rapidly, nearly zapped of energy and bleeding once valued wisdom, yet still essentially making the rounds with a sense of purpose and an inherent stalwartness. (Heh-heh-heh.) First, an appearance of the local Fox morning show, The Rhode Show, waxing glib and all-knowing, doing the thumbnail movie thang, and second, getting all hot and bothered in the real world, at a Westin workers rally. Somebuddy, call me mother in Florida and let her know I'm still hanging in there, and, yes, still somehow grasping onto that ever slippery moral compass...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

David Janssen's Eyes: Kafka TV

(Reprinted from PopKrazy)

Well before Harrison Ford was jumping into waterfalls and trying to stay one step ahead of Tommy Lee Jones terrifying case of lockjaw there was The Fugitive as a television series. What a strangely downbeat and moody bit of television this inexplicably popular series was. It ran for 120 episodes from 1963-67, was created by Roy Huggins (The Rockford Files), starred Richard Janssen as Dr. Richard Kimble, the falsely accused title figure, and the last episode remains one of the highest rated in TV history.
Having recently hitchhiked through the full first season (Paramount DVD, 4 discs, $38.99), my dim memories of the series needed a serious recharging. The TV show was neither a cut-and-run suspense machine as I thought, and Janssen’s central figure was far more complex and decidedly less heroic than I recalled. What actually attracted me to this show as a Beaver Cleaveresque pre-teen? It depicts a monumentally grim world, with the truly laconic Janssen sleepwalking from one location to the next, all the while pursued by his equally tortured nemesis, the visually drained and dogged Barry Morse’s Lieutenant Phillip Gerard. The show allows for no reoccurring characters outside of the intertwined duo (a twosome that were decidedly weird for primetime—-both twitchingly neurotic, hollow and haunted), as Kimble stays on the road and on the run, backing himself into the deep shadows of America’s backwaters, stumbling into the briefest friendships and quickly doomed romances.
Janssen’s performance is almost perverse, considering the tenure of the times, the weight of the world on his sagging shoulders, eyes blinkered with inner pain, and a gravelly monotone that oft times barely rose above a mumbled whisper. What kept people watching back in those pre-Vietnam days of eternal optimism? The odds are loaded every which way against Janssen’s Kimble—if he finds his elusive one-armed man and proves his innocence the series is over. Did the 1963 audience tune in because of some internal desire for capitulation? Did they harbor secret wishes to watch a dream deferred, as when three-quarters of the way through each and every episode Janssen’s hardcore sad sack would watch his brief idyll poisoned and his temporary hopes deflated, heading off to the lonely, decidedly non-Kerouacian highway, an ex-bigtimey Doctor (one of the epitomes of the American dream during that era) shrinking and tucking himself into another obscure dark corner, a TV protagonist half broken by the continual twists of fate?

Falling and Flying

(Reprinted from shaking like a mountain)
Crazy Heart
By Scott Duhamel

As the properly revered American cinema of the 70’s fades further into our collective memories, as the indie film revolt of the recent past twists and snaps into something altogether different, as the ever frightening Rise of the Hack Auteurs continues to flourish, and, as the movie brat directorial generation teeter into old age, oblivion, or rusty-but-venerated status, you just ain’t going to get much a chance to see a so-called cinematic character study like director Scott Cooper’s Crazy Heart.

Neither instant classic nor pillar of the genre, the movie (adapted from novelist’s Thomas Cobb’s 1987 book of the same name), isn’t strikingly original either. The fact that it succeeds, even manages to create an imprint, falls squarely on the slumped shoulders of Jeff Bridges, long one of our more underappreciated American actors, delivering a full-scale performance with graceful aplomb, and ultimately creating one of the signature big screen turns of 2009. It’s an effortless portrayal, filled with guile and propelled by instinct, one that is weighted with authenticity and totally devoid of blandishments.

First-time director Cooper, who, by all accounts, stuck closely to Cobb’s novelistic intentions, brings a similar authentic feel to his under-the-radar directorial style. This is an actor’s movie, the sort that a Hal Ashby or Robert Altman would have once been drawn to, although in Cooper’s hands it is a purposefully straightforward film, lacking the extended complications or the multiple sources of conflict that the aforementioned filmmakers would have utilized to greater effect. Cooper does acknowledge the movie’s antecedents, with overt allusions to genre milestones like A Face in the Crowd (1957), Payday (1973), or Tender Mercies (1983).

Crazy Heart’s well-traveled tale concerns itself with Bad Blake (Bridges), yet another country and western macho poet with a fistful of magical songs, heartsick and stumbling towards oblivion with a lungful of cigarette smoke and gut full of bourbon. Blake bounces from Bowling Alley stage to straight-up saloon gig, often puking mid song, piloting himself with laid back charm or churlishness, almost broken with regret, yet nursing dreams about reversing his showbiz status. His shaky encounters with a mere trio of antagonists set the stage for an admirably unforced and neatly ambiguous tale of redemption. Colin Farrell is surprisingly competent in the part of Tommy Sweet, Bad’s protégé turned superstar pop commodity, while Robert Duvall (who mined much of this same territory when he once starred in Tender Mercies) brings some down-to-earth vigor to his few scenes as Bad’s now sober pal and father figure. The typically incandescent Maggie Gyllenhaal rounds out the triumvirate as a young single mom and journalist with (you knew it) with a misbegotten penchant for bad boys.

The seemingly infallible T. Bone Burnett (partnering here with the late Stephen Breton) once again delivers a soundtrack with acumen, with a batch of songs that seem realistically poised between classic outlaw C&W and the peculiar wryness of those leftfielders from the Townes Van Zandt school. The music is written from a point-of-a-view drawn from the Kris Kristofferson prototype (physically, Bridges could very well be the guy’s younger brother), the guy with the long hair and cowboy hat, submerging his intellect behind the drawl and the drink, one of those guys who buys right in to pop cult diviner Nick Tosches theory of straight up C&W music: “And ultimately there’s something about the depths of the human soul expressed within the confines of a rhinestone-embroidered puce suit—something not only of innocence and demonology but of proper perspective as well—that can’t be found elsewhere in this garbage heap that we call culture. ” Crazy Heart may be among the first Hollywood narrative that acutely digs into the mysterious songwriting process, albeit one that hints that dues’ paying is a central part of that process.

The same simple but sage methodology might apply to Bridges career. Since Crazy Heart comes up a little short in a variety of ways, its true strengths emanate directly from Jeff Bridges. Any movie-movie barroom chitchat would be promptly elongated if a debate ever sprung up over the actors best moments in a career filled with highlights and good choices. A quick, extremely partial (and highly personal) list: The Last Picture Show (’71), Fat City (’72), Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (’74), Rancho Deluxe (’75), Stay Hungry (’76), Cutter’s Way (’81), Starman (’84), Tucker: The Man and His Dream (’88), The Fisher King (’91), American Heart (’92), Fearless (’94), The Big Lebowski (’98), The Door in the Floor (’04); all in all a potent delineation of superb choices and exemplary execution from an absolute American big screen acting treasure.

Bridges, replete with untethered belt, sexy sloop, charmingly slurred voice (it’s actual rhythms established through chain-smoking and perpetual drinking), is another middle-aged American male somehow cast adrift, captivatingly lost between bad intentions and good expectations-a species Bridges does well--- a still likable loser, weak, yet imbued with fierce pride. The performance is scented with melancholy, and all the more effective for it, adding a redemptive tone to the overall proceedings that doesn’t delve into heart tugging or corniness.

(Suggestion: Put your cash on Bridges walking away with the Best Oscar Award. It’s a done deal.)