Motion Denied! (at least by the majority of the court)
Review by Ken Burke The Counselor
A grim tale of a prosperous lawyer who tries to fatten his situation with a major drug deal that goes awry leading to numerous deaths and a fatalistic sense of despair.
[Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ brilliantly insightful reviews. This is how we write, so as to explore what must be said as art transcends commerce (although if anyone wants to pay us for doing this ...); therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when ready to be transported to—well, wherever we end up.
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. Now, onward to illumination; you may want to protect your eyes from the brilliance.]
Happy Halloween! Normally, I’m not in the habit of noting actual holidays or the flimsy excuses for raucous celebrations (the latter being the category for Halloween, as the only workdays allotted for time off to celebrate this increasingly-trumped-up excuse for children’s dental nightmares and adults’ hopes for sexual debauchery are the “can’t make it in today” hangover-recovery-absenses that result when this ancient run-up to All Saints Day occurs during the work week), but given that this review cluster will be posted on All Hallows Eve this year, it seemed appropriate, along with the need for me to extend my single exploration of The Counselor (Ridley Scott) with reference to some classic horror films as they’ve been more accessible to me while I’ve been staying at home more to help my marvelous wife, Nina, as she’s dealing with some so-far-undiagnosed-gastrointestinal problem, so I haven’t been able to get out of the neighborhood much to see more interesting fare way over there in the independent-cinema cities of Berkeley and San Francisco, with the most intriguing possibilities being Robert Redford’s one-man-show in All Is Lost (J.C. Chandor) and the first feature film from Saudi Arabia, Wadjda (ever more stunning, that the powers that be over there allowed it to be directed by a woman, Haifaa Al-Mansour; from what I’ve read about it, I can only hope that it’s as good as described and makes it to the finals for Oscar’s Best Foreign Language Film). Locally, I determined that The Counselor was my best option, easily passing on Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa (Jeff Tremaine) and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 (Cody Cameron, Kris Pearn), even though I may be the only one who made such choices, given that the latest installments from the Jackass and Meatballs franchises are raking in the dough ($32 million on opening weekend for the former—easily paying off its mere $15 million budget and finally pushing the superb Gravity [Alfonso Cuarón; review in this blog’s October 9, 2013 posting] out of the #1 slot—and close to $101 million after 5 weeks for the latter—also paying off its $78 million budget) while my choice, The Counselor, made not quite $8 million in that same opening weekend as Bad Grandpa (far short of its $25 million budget, even though all 4 of these just-mentioned movies are playing in over 3,000 theaters), and my aspirationals aren’t doing that well without me either (Wadjda has made just over $900,000 after 7 weeks, playing in a limited 87 venues, while All Is Lost is getting rave review for Redford but has pulled in not quite $641,000 after 2 weeks, although that may change if it broadens out to more than just the 81 theatres it’s currently in). So, off we go to miserable Cormac McCarthy territory for The Counselor to see what has inspired such revulsion from so many in the critical community (Rotten Tomatoes gave it just 35%; Metacritic a paltry 49%; plus there was utter dismissal from Two Guys’ frequent contributor/collaborator Richard Parker, who provided this representative drubbing from EW.com’s Chris Nashawaty at http://www.cnn. com/2013/10/25/showbiz/movies/the-counselor-review-ew/?iref=obnetwork).
“To miss something is to think it’s coming back again.” This pithy statement from cold-hearted-master-of-her-domain Malkina (Cameron Diaz) could easily sum up what screenwriter McCarthy offers us in the bleak tale of The Counselor, in which the otherwise-unnamed-titular-lawyer-character (played by Michael Fassbender) decides to enhance his already lucrative career (a statement I make based on his lavish surroundings, along with his decision to go to Amsterdam to purchase a magnificent 3.9 carat diamond to crown the engagement ring intended for now-girlfriend-soon-to-be-fiancée Laura [Penélope Cruz]) by arranging a mega-million-dollar-drug-deal, in partnership with equally-lavish-living Reiner (Javier Bardem), overseen by cautious, well-experienced Westray (Brad Pitt), a plan intended to reap vast rewards but fraught with horrendous dangers, as Reiner and Westray make abundantly clear to their should-have-known-better-legal-comrade on several occasions before their worst fears come to pass. That brief synopsis of the film’s narrative situation—as well as the deaths of almost all that I’ve noted so far—are about the only aspects of The Counselor that are clear and indisputable; the rest of it is at best intriguingly-evocative or at worst pompously-muddled, depending on how you react to what is presented to you. As noted above, there are very many who would vote for the second option—and I have to admit that the many aspects of the plot’s “revelations” are so obscure, if not removed entirely from the screen, that even I am a bit frustrated with trying to make full sense of what I saw—but based upon my initial reaction and my further contemplation I’ll have to veer more toward a positive response to this film, once again putting me in the lonely minority of reviewers who found defendable aspects of such critically-maligned fare this year as The Lone Ranger (Gore Verbinski), Closed Circuit (John Crowley), and The Fifth Estate (Bill Condon)* However, as I try to defend myself here I’ll start by further admitting that you have every reason if you see The Counselor (a dubious proposition, I’ll wager) to find similarities in it to previous work from McCarthy (the stark, deadly setting of West Texas from his 2005 novel, No Country for Old Men, so successfully adapted by Joel and Ethan Coen in their 2007 Best-Picture-Oscar-winning film [plus other Oscars to the Coens for Best Director[s] and Best Adapted Screenplay], along with a reprise of Bardem, sporting another atrocious hairstyle, as he did for the character of amoral murderer Anton Chigurh in the earlier film [at this rate, some day he’s going to get a career-accomplishment award for Worst Hair since The Three Stooges]), not to mention Scott’s previous associations with a similar Southwest setting (however, much more visually grand than the barren locations of The Counselor) and the problems brought on by crime (although with much more sympathetic characters than anyone except Laura in Scott’s current film) in his direction of Thelma & Louise (1991; itself an Oscar winner for Callie Khouri’s Best Original Screenplay), which may give it a repetitive rather than familiar feeling.
* Two Guys reviews respectively in our July 11, 2013; September 5, 2013; and October 24, 2013 postings.
What might also seem familiar is the cool reserve by self-assured lawyer Fassbender—until everything closes in on him—(reminiscent of his notable take-charge-until-overwhelmed-ad-exec-sex-addict in Shame [Steve McQueen, 2011]), the well-informed-but-ready-to-bail-out-when-things-get-dicey Pitt (more vulnerable here, at the end at least, than in his usual roles, harking back to another guy whose scheme falls apart in the aforementioned Thelma and Louise as well as a cop overwhelmed by a mastermind sociopath in Se7en [David Fincher, 1995]), the sensuous-manifestation-of-many-a-man’s-fantasies Diaz (except for such alterations as sweetly-naïve Mary in There’s Something About Mary [Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly, 1998]), and even the combined appearance and attitude of Bardem, who doesn’t evoke previous characters so much as he seems to combine coiffure and attitudinal aspects of many of Al Pacino’s roles since The Godfather; Part III (Francis Ford Coppola, 1990) and Kramer (Michael Richards) from TV’s Seinfeld series. Possibly the only main star who takes us to territory that we don’t normally expect (a situation even echoed by the supporting actors, including Bruno Ganz as the counselor’s diamond dealer but with a fiercely-pragmatic attitude about life’s challenges and the firm attitude that we must seek to counter the universe’s uncaring coldness [he notes that purchasing his valuable products—without commenting on his material profit in the process—is an “announcement to the darkness” about the value of our own lives]) is Cruz, who is presented here as trusting, vulnerable, concerned, and insecurely religious (as opposed to Diaz’s Malkina, who ironically has one scene in a church where she attempts to somewhat unburden herself of her sins to a priest who uncomfortably leaves the confessional after repeatedly insisting that he can’t offer her absolution unless she’s first baptized a Catholic; she’s not concerned about such necessary structures nor really that interested in forgiveness but more focused on just revealing all of her moral/legal lapses, possibly just so that her sordid life is made more public than she normally allows it to be) rather than the self-assured presence that she’s demonstrated in a number of well-honored films, many made with a wide variety of notable directors, from Pedro Almodóvar onward through her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008 [in which she co-starred with Bardem, whom she married in 2010]; she also co-starred with Diaz in Vanilla Sky [Cameron Crowe, 2001] another film in which Cruz is the more passive lover of the protagonist who is grievously harmed by the volatile Diaz character [to further all of these connections, Cruz played the same Sofía character in the original version of Vanilla Sky, the Spanish Abre los ojos (Open Your Eyes; Alejandro Amenábar, 1997)]). Yet, with all of this familiarity of setting, drug-deals-gone-wrong-plot-devices, general misery of the human condition, and actors embodying types we’ve seen before, the impact here is one of effective, unsettling doom (or maybe the film's mood just reminds me of my mother), made all the more forceful from McCarthy’s script that focuses on the specific demise of everyone connected to the counselor—except the second-hand-association of Malkina—but also implies a horrible fate for any of us who dare to dabble in situations that are predicted for easy payoffs but instead loom deadly with ghastly horrors.
Possibly the greatest horror for all of them is Malkina, because after she decides to interfere in the cocaine deal—which leaves the cartel that the counselor, etc. were working with (at least I assume; like I said, plot details are kept purposely vague here in an attempt—I think—to pull you more into the moment of the actions, as in unpredictable-if-not-just-random-real life, than to see how all of the actions fit together into a coherent whole, a usual goal in fiction but not so likely in the actual universe that we must inhabit) determined to exact their revenge on all concerned so that systematically they kill Reiner and Westray (but not before Malkina gets her loot anyway by sending in a hired helper to seduce Mr. Disappearing Act in London so as to steal some necessary numbers that allow her to wipe out his offshore accounts—if you’ve seen The Fifth Estate you know that she just got to him before Julian Assange did), then likely behead Laura and toss her body into a landfill before sending Mr. Lawler a snuff-film DVD of the atrocity to the sleazy hotel where he’s trying to hid out in Juarez, so that he will suffer the most as the only one left alive (at least for the moment, never knowing when these monsters will decide to finish him off as well). Malkina takes great pride in her pet cheetahs, providing us with an ending soliloquy on why she admires such natural hunters (to the point that she has cheetah spots tattooed all down her back) rather than human cowards with their inherent flaws, people she has no qualms about destroying in order to further distance herself from her own species rather than delve into even-momentary-dignity, as the counselor’s diamond-dealer advocates at the beginning of this sordid deconstruction of human identity. In the end, Malkina’s the only one of the major characters who survives (even one of the minor ones, the young motorbiker/”The Green Hornet” [Richard Cabral], suffers another beheading—a gruesome fate for many in this film, but at least his is quick as he speeds through an unseen wire on a night-highway run, whereas Westray is the victim of a medieval-mentality torture device that automatically tightens around the throat so the damned “chosen one” dies of a horrible strangulation prior to decapitation—as Malkina’s henchmen kill him in order to retrieve a necessary device to restart the truck that will haul the valuable cocaine [along with a Columbian corpse in one of the other barrels with the drugs, a “joke” of sorts from the thugs way down south who first send the accursed product into Mexico for its eventual trip to Chicago]), with no indication that she’ll ever encounter any sort of justice, as she relocates herself away from the scene of all of these crimes, including the other on-screen-execution of the 2 guys who killed the Hornet before they were caught and killed themselves, seemingly by a rival cartel who then delivered what was intended as the counselor’s stash to its final destination. (Received by a guy played by John Leguizamo, whom I didn’t even recognize until going over the final credits; for that matter I didn’t realize at first that the cartel lawyer, Abogado Hernandez [Fernando Cayo], that our counselor turns to in desperation for absolution, was a different guy from that cartel’s chieftain, Jefe [Rubén Blades]—Spanish for “leader” or “boss”—[who dismissively tells Fessbender’s soul-crushed character to accept the decisions he’s made and the consequences they contain, even though our counselor had no involvement nor control over the problems that occurred: simply losing the shipment and the profit it represented was an unforgiveable sin to them, despite Malkina’s temporary-confessor-priest claiming there was no such thing—as long as you could produce proper Catholic credentials], which is either a problem with my eyesight/short term memory [because their scenes are separated by other intense events and both occupy similar lavish surroundings which are standard issue for just about anyone with much of a speaking role in this film] or simply another loose experiential thread that Scott doesn’t care if you resolve upon first viewing.) I surmise that from the filmmakers’ perspective it’s the overall environment of evil that’s important for you to comprehend, not precisely who does what to whom, with the whens and whys also not necessarily explicated.
I salute anyone who completely follows this convoluted plotline with so many off-screen events upon first viewing, but I also got the feeling while watching The Counselor that McCarthy’s intention—upheld well by Scott—was to give you the sense of a novel on screen, not an adaptation of a novel streamlined for cinematic necessities but instead a complex discourse that mixes a number of events that are hard to fully remember or understand without re-reading/re-viewing but that ground an audience in the overall gestalt of the experience so that you’ll feel it as the characters do: deprived of the full context, knowing and reacting to only what occurs in the moment rather than being able to understand all that is happening to each one of them as they are overcome by events that unexpectedly consume them.
Certainly if you’re less immune to the sufferings of the human condition than directors such as Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez seem to be (at least when they’re in the mode of Grindhouse  and related gore-fests), there are plenty of aspects of The Counselor to turn you away quickly from the screen or keep you from the theater to begin with. In addition to the several implied and depicted beheadings there’s a scene recalled by Reiner where Malkina literally makes love to the hood and windshield of his Ferrari (I doubt that Niki Lauda [Daniel Brühl] from Ron Howard’s Rush [review in our October 24, 2013 posting] would have allowed her to besmirch such a storied car for as long as she does here), an experience that Reiner calls “too gynecological to be sexy.” Then there’s his crude joke (told by a guy who’s supposed to be a Mexican) that Jesus wasn’t born in Mexico because they couldn’t find 3 wise men and a virgin. Further, despite the vicious killings that occur on a regular-enough basis in The Counselor, this is a dialogue-heavy film, and not just with a lot of talking but some very erudite talking that will certainly not be welcomed by viewers who are satisfied enough to look at the constantly swanky surroundings of the characters (except for the dismal scenes in Juarez), the attractive presence of the main characters (assuming that you’re not too put off with Bardem’s electric-socket-inspired hair), and the vicious death scenes in desert locales that evoke easily what worked so well in No Country for Old Men. However, that conspicuously-imposed dialogue—along with its various philosophical ruminations about the difficulty of life and the need to resuscitate it against the impending inevitability of death—kept holding my attention, even when the ongoing cruelty of the plot’s situations were getting hard to embrace or the disengaged ruthlessness of just about everyone except Laura and her counselor were reminding me too much of the seeming utter hopelessness of governance in this my-vision-is-the-only-answer world that we’ve “evolved” into (plus it was nice to see Rosie Perez again on screen [not nearly enough for me since her strong presence in the 1990s—although she’s done a lot of TV work that I admit I haven’t seen]). Further, as Scott Foundas, Chief Film Critic of Variety, points out in his “Why ‘The Counselor’ Is One of Ridley Scott’s Best Films” (October 28, 2013 at http://variety.com/2013/film/columns/the-counselor-rearview-ridley-scott-1200770790/), eloquent-although-self-conscious-non-conversational dialogue is not the norm in most movies but it has been presented quite successfully in works by such celebrated writers as David Mamet and Harold Pinter (or, for that matter, in film adaptations of Shakespeare’s works where not only do the characters speak in a specific rhythmic form of prose but we also come to understand from their theatrical settings the acceptance of plot structures where important action occurs off-stage [off-camera in the case of The Counselor], as detailed by my Mills College colleague, Stephen Ratcliffe, in his book Reading the Unseen: (Offstage) Hamlet [Counterpath Press, 2010], although some Shakespearian cinematic adaptations give us the literal vision of those “hidden events,” as with the 1996 Kenneth Branagh Hamlet film).
When I put all of this together, I can understand why the dominant response to The Counselor has been one of distain: too much dialogue that sounds like it belongs better on a printed page, too many plot points left up to the viewer’s interpretation, too many off-putting situations where it all feels suffocatingly awash in luxury and sleaze that are (hopefully) foreign to most of our experiences, too much gloom and death as we’re reminded too clearly of the economic fate that far too many of us suffer at the hands of brutal hunters like Malkina and her supportive (but, ultimately, also controlled) banker. Those who react to The Counselor in this manner may feel the way I did when I saw Tequila Sunrise (written and directed by Robert Towne, 1988), a miserable (in my opinion, but somewhat supported again by the critical community with a Metacritic average of 62 and a dismal Rotten Tomatoes 44) exercise (also involving a clash between a custodian of the law and corruption from Mexican drugs) created by a celebrated cinematic genius, nominated for Adapted or Original Screenplay Oscars for The Last Detail (Hal Ashby, 1973), Shampoo (Ashby, 1975), and Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (Hugh Hudson, 1984), winner for Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974)—a script frequently cited in screenwriting books as the epitome of Hollywood perfection (and a film that I’d easily give my rare 5 stars to if doing a review—something I should do someday, add some classics to the ongoing new releases in this blog’s collection), yet I found it to be a miserable waste of their talent (actors included Kurt Russell, Mel Gibson, and Michelle Pfeiffer) and my time, just as many feel today about The Counselor, despite the pedigree that Scott, McCarthy, and the extensive celebrated cast bring to this project. Because there are so many troubling, unresolved aspects of the narrative that make it hard to keep reasonably on track as to what’s occurring in the film, I can go only to the 3 ½ star level (still considerably higher than what’s offered by most of my contemporaries, including many whose opinions I respect [Richard Parker, I'm talkin' to you]), but despite these distractions there’s a certain sort of fascination for me about The Counselor that makes it worthy of my after-the-fact contemplation, a sure sign that I’ve been usefully intrigued by what I experienced even as I may have struggled somewhat during my direct experience of it. This may not be enough of a recommendation to get you to buy a first-run ticket, but if not I hope you’ll consider it later in a video or On-Demand option because I think you’ll find that there’s much more going on there than may be initially indicated by the surface tensions and travails. If that’s still not enough for you, then at least take a listen to my recommended related musical interlude (because of its Juarez and human-decadence connections), Bob Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0LU2mbjPadU (from a 1966 concert in Melbourne so that it’s closer to the original release version from the 1965 Highway 61 Revisited album, as well as containing an introduction where Bob “explains” [if you have any reason to believe what he’s saying] what the song is about; if you’d prefer to see Mr. Dylan and some famous friends, including Eric Clapton and Ron Wood, moving around at a concert—rather than the still photos that accompany this older performance of the song—then here’s another [not sure when it happened, but it occurred at some point when the tempo of the song was plausibly in the same direction as when written, unlike how Dylan seems to be performing now; any suggestions as to when and where this was?] version at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DxgIqwhlFNI).
OK, now let’s transform real-life-based-doom-and-gloom into a quick tribute to Halloween horror, based on a couple of classics of that genre that I’ve been re-exposed to on video or through other means lately and the current remake of 1 of them playing in appropriate parallel with this annual witching season. I’ll start by referencing Brian De Palma’s 1976 version of Carrie, which was instrumental in forwarding this director’s career with a narrative that had already launched the soon-to-be-hugely-successful novelist reputation of Stephen King as this 1974 work was his first publication. (It also furthered or essentially began the ongoing careers of actors Nancy Allen, Amy Irving, Sissy Spacek, and John Travolta, along with reviving that of Piper Laurie; Spacek was nominated as Oscar’s Best Actress for her role as tormented-but-telekinetic-teen Carrie White while Laurie was nominated as Best Supporting Actress in a career-reviving role [her first one in film (along with a lot of TV in the interim) since The Hustler (Robert Rossen, 1961; she was nominated for that one also, as Best Actress)], playing Carrie’s fundamentalist Christian mother, Margaret [Spacek lost to Faye Dunaway for Network (Sidney Lumet), but her competition also included Talia Shire for Rocky (a big winner in other ways that year, taking Best Director for John G. Avildsen, over a much more substantial crew of contenders—Ingmar Bergman for Face to Face, Lumet, Alan J. Pakula for All the President’s Men, and Lena Wertmüller for Seven Beauties [still one of the few female Best Director nominees, along with Jane Campion (The Piano, 1993), Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation, 2003) and the only winner so far, Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, 2009)—and Best Picture over All the President’s Men, Bound for Glory, Network, and Taxi Driver (sorry, Sly, but no, no, no!) and Liv Ullmann for Face to Face (her never winning an Oscar despite an extraordinary career, mostly with Bergman, is an equal travesty with the entertaining-but-ordinary Rocky knocking out both Face to Face [and Bergman] and Taxi Driver [where Scorsese wasn’t even nominated but Avildsen was—yikes!]; by the way, Laurie also lost, to Beatrice Straight for Network [a fine choice despite her tiny running time on screen, although in retrospect the award could just as well have gone to Jodie Foster for Taxi Driver].) This older version of a misfit girl cruelly tortured by her classmates and abused by her mother is often considered one of the great horror movies (sometimes classified as psychological horror but it all seems appropriately demonic to me, although the motivation for Carrie’s murderous rage upon her mother and the fictional town of Chamberlain, ME is certainly understandable given all that she endured there throughout her short life); you can get more details on De Palma’s offering if you like regarding the Rotten Tomatoes 92% rating at http://www.rotten tomatoes.com/m/1003625-carrie/ and the analysis by Roger Ebert (3 ½ of 4 stars) at http://www. rogerebert.com/reviews/carrie-1976 (I’d be willing to go for 4 of 5 because this is a damn good horror movie but not fully of the caliber of a true chilling masterpiece such as The Exorcist [William Friedkin, 1973]—itself an adaptation of a well-written 1971 book by William Peter Blatty—which would merit one of my rare 5-star rankings, especially the 2000 re-release version with the creepy scene where the possessed girl, Regan MacNeil [Linda Blair], spider-walks down the stairs).
However, contemporary critics aren’t so kind to the current remake of Carrie (the only other new release I’ve had a chance to see over the last week) directed by Kimberly Peirce, with Chloe Grace Moretz as the title character and Julianne Moore as Margaret, a version like the 1976 one that’s taken largely from the original book but makes a few mostly unimportant changes in how the bloodletting all shakes out. If I were giving an official rating to the new Carrie it would likely be 3 of 5 stars simply because I think this is a reasonable remake that displays technological advances over the lower-budget-original but does little to extend its impact (nor that of the novel as best I know, although—true confession time here—I’ve never read the book and haven’t seen the 1976 movie in so long that I couldn’t say anything that specific about it [although my frequent savior in such situations, Internet summaries, has brought De Palma’s version back to mind reasonably so and given me a solid enough understanding of what King was up to almost 40 years ago) nor gives me any insights into the motivations or situations of the characters that I wasn’t already familiar enough with, despite my misplaced memories. I’m glad I was able to get some 1976 details, though, because one of the aspects of the current rendition that I thought was a bit too over-the-top is the final confrontation between Carrie and Bible-thumping Mom (she even thumps Carrie with it at one point, showing how powerful the Word is when combined with a roundhouse slug) when Carrie responds to being stabbed by her mother (in a misguided attempt to terminate what the older woman interprets as demonic possession of her child because of the powers she manifests over the normal laws of physics as well as her “wanton” desires to date and live some semblance of a normal teenage life instead of being a constantly-ridiculed outcast) by mentally hurling all manner of sharp objects at Margaret, pinning her arms and body to the wall in an all-too-obvious Crucifixion pose (paralleling the numerous Crucifix and tortured-saints-images in the closet where Carrie is frequently confined to pray for her “sins,” in a an even more sadistically-warped version of Catholicism than I was brought up with, an invention of Margaret’s based on intercourse as the first sin [rather than disobeying the apple-eating-prohibition regarding the sacred Tree of Knowledge] and the response of males to Carrie’s menstrual blood as if they were hound dogs on the scent of prey [OK, Margaret may not be completely off-base regarding this aspect of our biology, especially from the burning unmated-male-desire to have sex in a situation of least-likely consequences, but, still, her period is not a condemnation of Carrie’s unknowledgeable and innocent actions; however, Margaret’s biology isn’t any more trustworthy than her theology, as she tried to convince herself that her one night of sex with her ex-husband produced a tumor to punish her rather than a fetus so she sees Carrie’s birth as a possible abomination, still she refrains from killing the child after her bloody and blood-curdling opening scene of the movie, giving us a visceral understanding of what a warped, dangerous person this never-should-have-been-a-mother is for her ever-suffering daughter), yet I’m reminded now that this was an aspect of De Palma’s version as well, whereas King was less symbol-laden than either filmmaker, simply bringing about Mom’s demise through willed heart-stoppage from Carrie.
Just as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’s (Frank Capra, 1939) presentation of corruption among our highest level of lawmakers sadly never loses relevance, so does Carrie’s exploration of unwarranted teenage bullying never go out of style (especially in our world of atrocious cyber attacks that frequently lead to heartbreaking suicides, which likely would have been the case with Carrie after her classmates pelt her with tampons, sanity napkins, and chants of “Plug it up!” in response to her distraught reaction to her misunderstood, blood-gushing first period, followed up by the humiliating viral video of the incident, had she not accidently discovered her special powers which would ultimately allow her to avenge herself on these cruel kids), and the special effects of Peirce’s retelling are especially effective as Carrie turns her fury onto her primary tormenters, burning down the high school and tearing up the city streets in the process, but as anything more than a quickly-digested Halloween treat I think the concept of this movie has saturated our cultural consciousness enough already that you don’t especially need additional exposure to its assaults on careless intimidation. However, if you’d like to know more about this latest presentation of the explosive girl down the block, you might start with the official website at http://www.sonypictures. com/movies/carrie/, its rankings from Rotten Tomatoes http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/ carrie/ (47%) and Metacritic (52%) http://www.metacritic.com/movie/carrie, and then watch this comparison of the trailers for both versions of this well-known horror tale at http://www.youtube. com/watch?v=0OIf_mGQ4QQ to see how they might stack up in your opinion.
On the other hand, if you’re in the mood to delve into a combination of a Stephen King 1977 novel, some serious undercurrents and implications added to that narrative which are the equal or better of anything thought-inspiring you might find in the life-and-death-philosophical-ponderings of The Counselor, and the on-screen audiovisual brilliance associated with one of the all-time master filmmakers then you might want to just dig out a DVD of Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of The Shining, not so fully embraced upon first release but now considered a masterpiece of the horror genre (although this one is also at times referred to as psychological horror, as if everything that Jack Torrance experiences as the Overlook Hotel is just in his mind rather than what I see as a very plausible presentation of a horribly haunted house whose spirits take over that mind, sending him on a mission of killing his wife and child before they escape, leaving the hotel to claim him instead, although in some unexplained manner he’s seemingly “always” been there—or at least his madness has always resided in him, just waiting for the evil incarnate of the hotel’s past tragedies to consume him fully; the grumps originally surveyed by Metacritic gave The Shining only a 61% rating [http://www.metacritic.com/movie/the-shining], but that was based on a measly 10 reviews, so if you want to explore past critiques in more depth I’d say you’re better off with the Rotten Tomatoes reviews at http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/shining/ where the average is a more appropriate 92% [based on a much healthier sample of 62 reviews]; for me, this is another masterpiece by one of the great artists of the cinema, a meticulously-planned-and-executed success that would rate 5 stars, as do several of Kubrick’s films). By comparison to contemporary standards of horror there’s not nearly as much grotesque bodily dissection as we have become accustomed to (although the amount of blood that comes gushing out of that elevator shaft is easily as much or more than the bucketful’s you’d expect from the Saw series and its ilk), but the unsettling mood of madness is well presented and made even more evocative to me than in the book because Kubrick’s version truly allows the hotel to incorporate Jack into its eternal Earthly purgatory whereas in the written version the whole place blows up due to an overheated furnace, bringing a final end to Jack, the hotel, and whatever once dwelled there.
My interest in The Shining wasn’t all just through home-video-collection availability, however; it was also inspired by a Linkedin Film Addicts group discussion of this work that included encouragement to watch the Rodney Ascher 2012 documentary Room 237 that explores a host of theories about the “true” meaning of Kubrick’s film including references to the extermination of Native Americans, the Nazi-led Holocaust attempt at exterminating Europe’s Jews during WW II, and the supposed “admission” by Kubrick that he helped NASA fake the footage of the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing. All of this—and more, concerning the intricate manner in which Kubrick seems to have planned the visual design and shot transitions in The Shining—is in Ascher’s explorations, which are also discussed by New York Times writer Robert Ito in his January 25, 2012 article “Cracking the Code in ‘Heeere’s Johnny!’” at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/29/movies/room-237-documentary-with-theories-about-the-shining.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0. So, first I ordered the Ascher film through Netflix, but after watching it I just had to revisit The Shining itself (along with the occasionally-recuperating Nina), a pleasure I hadn’t given myself in far too long, so for a classy Halloween cinematic treat that won’t increase your calorie count or blood-sugar level, I heartily endorse a return to The Shining, possibly as a prelude to reading King’s newest book, the just-recently-released Doctor Sleep which follows the life of Jack’s son, Danny Torrance, who’s now grown into a middle-aged man but retains his unique metaphysical powers of foresight, telepathy, and connection to the spirit world, so that you can retain your Halloween attitude until it’s time to reboot for Thanksgiving.
Finally, to reference another recent home video viewing, I’ll extend the Halloween theme to include the costumes that so many youngsters and older-sters wear on this night of celebration of the supernatural (and the suspension of standard rules of propriety that often accompanies this “holiday”) and extend that into taking on new identities for a temporary time. If you simply dress up as someone (or something) else you merely alter your appearance; however, if you attempt to embody that identity through actions and vocalizations you would find yourself simply at the level of caricature or imitation, yet with enough time, training, and talent on your part you might seem to entice that entity back into our temporal sphere (in a Danny Torrance-like manner), truly bringing to life a presence no longer with us. That’s what you get with Jamie Foxx’s Best-Actor-Oscar-performance in Ray (Taylor Hackford, 2004), a powerful exploration of the early career years of the legendary Ray Charles, another Netflix delivery that was enormously wonderful to watch again after a nearly-10-year absence. While most of the soundtrack is composed of Charles’ actual recordings there’s a bit of Foxx in there as well, demonstrating his musical abilities on par with his superb acting abilities. You can start exploring aspects of the film, if you like, at its official website, http://www.universalstudiosentertainment.com/ray/ or you can just immerse yourself in the music, with a good start being Ray’s first #1 hit, “I Got a Woman” at http://www.you tube.com/watch?v=81cyUwnM71U. (This is an early version of the song; more recent ones prior to Charles’ death in 2004 are also available, but this old recording shows what he was like in his up-and-coming days, closer to when this hit was released in 1954; then, just for curiosity, I’ll leave you with Roy Orbison’s take on a similar-yet-different theme, “Mean Woman Blues” at http://www. youtube.com/watch?v=YUGDJ6agwUs, with the date of this performance unknown to me [the song was written by Claude Demetrius, recorded by Elvis Presley for the soundtrack of his 1957 movie Loving You (Hal Kanter)—his first starring role—and also recorded in 1957 by Jerry Lee Lewis with altered lyrics, which are the ones used by Orbison in 1963]). Here’s hoping that, however you celebrate it, this Halloween is a fun one for you (it’s Nina’s favorite time of the year, although it’ll need to be a bit muted for her this year, so have some candy or a cocktail—depending on your age and/or treat preferences—for her) and come back next week for more movie madness from Two Guys in the Dark, where we’d never trick you into thinking that you’d find a short review here.
If you’d like to explore The Counselor in more detail here are some suggested links:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6I_BwqY5VVg (my favorite obnoxious interviewer, Houston’s own Jake Hamilton, spends 18:36 with actors Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz, and director Ridley Scott)
As noted above, we encourage you to look over our home page (ABOUT THE BLOG), found as the first one in our December 2011 postings, to get more information on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, including our formatting forewarning about inconsistencies among web browser software which we do our best to correct but may still cause some visual problems beyond our control, as well as difficulties we’ve encountered with the Google RSS Feed Alert when used in conjunction with iGoogle and Google Reader.
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By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken
P.S. Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.