Thursday, May 29, 2014

Chef


          A Tasty Concept that Mirrors Its Own Plot a Little Too Much

                       Review by Ken Burke                 Chef
             
An L.A. chef gets a bad review from a notorious critic which leads to him being fired, reinventing himself as a unique food truck presence, then regrouping with his family.
                
[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.

We also encourage you to check your tastes against ours with the summary of Two Guys reviews, which we update with each new posting (please note that Two Guys critic Ken Burke is a bit odd—in more ways than one—using a 5-star-rating-system but rarely going to the level of 4 ½ or 5 stars, reserving those rankings for films that have been or should be acknowledged as time-honored masterpieces so that a 4 is about the best you can hope for from star-stingy Ken).  But we ask you to be aware that the links we recommend within our many reviews may have been removed or modified without our knowledge.  Other overall notations for this blog may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage.  Now, onward to illumination; you may want to protect your eyes from the brilliance.
             
Sixto Rodriguez, early 1970s
I realize that a lot’s been happening at your local mainstream and art house movie theaters since I posted last week (Neighbors, May 21, 2014) but I’m not going to attempt to catch up on all of it now because while I’ve seen X-Men: Days of Future Past (Bryan Singer) I’m going to wait until next week to say anything about it (not that the lack of my immediate comments will have any impact on the massive worldwide box-office-take of this latest superhero movie) when I can pair it with another offering from the Fantasy genre, also primed for a successful opening weekend, Disney’s Maleficent (Robert Stromberg) starring Angelina Jolie; plus, my marvelous wife, Nina, and I are in the middle of packing more music concerts into our lives in this present week than we have in the last couple of years so that’s been taking some time and attention as well (along with car, cat, blood pressure, and lingering virus concerns—most of which now seem to be stabilized again), cutting down on our time for cinematic outings (along with attention to my beloved Oakland Athletics trying to maintain their American League Western Division first-place-standing against fierce battles from the best of the East—Toronto Blue Jays—and the Central—Detroit Tigers) so there’s lots to keep up with during these busy-almost-truly-summer-days.  As for those musical moments, while we’re actively looking forward to Barry Gibb’s Bee Gees tribute to his late brothers and James Taylor’s ongoing successful career, I’d most like to promote (with no compensation of any kind to me, just a fan’s sincere praise) Sixto Rodriquez who’s just finished 2 marvelous nights in San Francisco and is now headed to L.A. for a couple of shows this weekend (I don’t know of any scheduled after that but you can keep up with him at his official website).  If you don’t know his music yet, he was featured in the Oscar-winning Documentary Feature Searching for Sugarman (Malik Bendielloul, 2012; sadly, this Swedish director died on May 13, 2014 as the result of depression-fueled-suicide) which you can learn more about here if you wish, exploring how the obscurity of this Detroit-born-Hispanic-folk-singer/social-commentator in his home country was countered by his huge popularity in South Africa so when he was found to still be right where he started out his fame quickly picked up (while I mean not to deny him rightful royalty fees—we bought both of his early albums—you can hear what made him famous on  Cold Fact, 1970, and Coming from Reality, 1971).  So, now that the no-payola-plugs are out of the way, let’s move on to what I have seen lately at the cinema and do want to write about, Jon Favraeu’s Chef, in which he stars (he’s got a long acting resumé, with roles most recently in The Wolf of Wall Street [Martin Scorsese, 2013; review in our January 4, 2014 posting] and Iron Man 3 [Shane Black, 2013; review in our May 11, 2013 posting]) as well as directs (he’s probably best known in this activity for the first two Iron Man movies [2008, 2010] and Cowboys and Aliens [2011]).

The premise of Chef is simply a story of personal reinvention and family reclamation, with Favreau as Carl Casper, the head chef at a trendy Los Angeles restaurant owned by Riva (Dustin Hoffman), a guy with more concern for playing to customer familiarity than acknowledging the gourmet creativity of his kitchen wizard.  Carl, aided by colleagues Martin (John Leguizamo) and Tony (Bobby Cannavale), wants to push out beyond his expected “greatest hits” to new concoctions that will show that he’s more interested in exploring cutting-edge culinary discoveries than he is in simply filling the cash register with the traditions that he’s now established at the restaurant.  Attempting to buck obstinate Riva when a famous critic, Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt), is scheduled for a visit puts his job on the line so Carl acquiesces, leading to a scathing review from this food snob who expects to be delightfully surprised by what arrives on his plate, not simply satisfied with its proven success.  Now angered and humiliated by the situation, Carl creates utter havoc for himself by suddenly learning about Twitter from his 10-year-old-son, Percy (Emjay Anthony), then sending a vicious reply to Michel which he doesn’t understand is out there for public consumption rather than a private message.  (I can certainly understand his confusion over the operations of social media as I’ve just begun to explore Facebook in an attempt to build a larger audience for this blog—I’ve only got a personal page so far [look me up under Ken Burke if you like, although there are lots of us with that name so I’m the one tagged from Hayward, CA] but hope to have a page that specifically links to this blog sometime soon so watch for the famous Like icon when it hopefully appears here—in the meantime, though, anyone who wants to add me as a Facebook Friend is welcome to visit that site and request such--even readers in Russia who, once again, seem to have dropped off of my tallies; I guess my Kiev-sympathy-sentiments still aren't border-crossable.)  A couple of more flaming exchanges are posted, leading to Michel being invited/dared back to the restaurant to sample what Carl’s really capable of in his latest culinary experiments but Riva blocks him so Carl’s fired leaving Tony to reluctantly serve the old favorites again, prompting Michel to post another nasty dismissal.  (I admit, I’m no blogger champion [although, thanks as always to the 6,000 or so of you who do read these film reviews on a monthly basis], but it amazes me that this independent restaurant blog is so large and impactful compared to what I’d expect to be the case from a Los Angeles Times reviewer [but that’s all part of a plot point to be finalized later], just as I’m amazed that such a critic would alert an establishment that he’s coming to dinner [as was the case with both of his visits in Chef] and that everyone knows who he is [Michael Bauer, restaurant critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, makes it a point to keep his identity secret so that his dining experiences are more authentic, not the result of a prepared performance]; however, some narrative elements of this film have to be accepted on face value for the whole thing to play out as planned, so just ignore the logical fallacies [that bedevil much of fiction, even the best constructions] and keep your concentration on the fabulous food that keeps appearing every few minutes which will keep you quite satisfied—as well as ravenously hungry when the show’s over, so you should have a dining option determined and a reservation in place if needed because you won’t want to wait any longer than necessary to chow down after seeing Chef.)

Once the existential crisis is in place for Carl, though, the surface events of the rest of the plot are about him finally giving in to his ex-wife, Inez’s (Sofía Vergara), suggestion that he shift gears to a food truck while the real focus of the film is on how Carl and Percy find the father-son-connection that had eluded them when Carl was putting too much time and energy into his chef’s career, driving him away from his family (at least that’s what I derived from what I saw on-screen; it’s not clear until about halfway into the film whether Carl and Inez were married nor if they’re divorced or just separated, although we do know that she has another ex-husband who must have left her with a comfy settlement given the fine house that she and Percy occupy compared to Carl’s dwelling which seems to be mostly a kitchen with a little extra furniture [further, I couldn’t help but notice that Inez’s house looks like a larger version of the one that Cam (Eric Stonestreet) and Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) have on TV’s Modern Family which just makes it a bit harder for Vergara to shake the connections to her Gloria role there, especially because in the few movies I’ve seen her in since she became a pop culture icon (except for her vicious-man-hater in Machete Kills [Robert Rodriguez (no relation to Sixto), 2013; review in our October 16, 2013 posting] her accent and clothing just don’t take her very far from the immediate Gloria associations]), a problem that continues even when it’s for the post-divorce-visitation-times with his son which Carl’s always late for, has to cut short, or keeps to a superficial level at amusement parks and other diversions rather than getting to really know the kid on an interpersonal level.  However, sympathetic Inez provides a solution by encouraging Carl to accompany her on some business trip to Miami (where they both originally came from, but, again, I’m not clear what Inez’s profession is [although it involves a publicist, Jen (Amy Sedaris), who has an hilarious phone conversation with Carl—after his spat with Ramsey Michel really goes viral when Carl comes to his just-now-former-job-location toward the end of the critic's second meal to unload his anger on Ramsey but is videoed in the process delivering his diatribe and burning his future career to a point far beyond well done—trying to offer him an appearance on TV’s hostile-cooking-environment, Hell’s Kitchen; I’ve since read that Inez is a party planner, and if that’s correct then I guess the parties are of the sort that you’d expect for Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s wedding reception]) so he can be nanny to their son.  What she’s really doing is setting him up with her first ex, Marvin (Robert Downey Jr)—this story has got to feature the most easy-going-divorceés I’ve ever seen in a cinematic setting—who provides Carl with a ramshackle food truck which is the final push needed to get him into the mobile-food-service-business, joined by eager helper Percy, who’s finally doing something substantial with his dad, and Martin, who flies in to help out with this venture, leaving Tony back in L.A. to try to make something of the ruins of Riva’s restaurant (we never see Cannavale or Hoffman again in any notable way as their situation loses meaning for Carl).

Given Carl’s limited Spanish and Percy’s limited (at first) cooking experience, Martin proves to be a godsend as they quickly establish a presence in Miami's South Beach area, then head out on the road back to L.A. with stops in New Orleans (so that Carl can finally fulfill his long-pending-promise to his boy to see the city that Daddy Chef raves so much about) and at Austin’s (where the film premiered at the March 2014 SXSW Festival, hence a possible reason for the additional stop that has no particular need in the plot except to show that the El Jefe truck menu can be a knockout with more than just Cubano sandwiches) famous Franklin Barbeque (which, unfortunately for me, opened years after I left town but I may have to return just for a world-class-meal there).  During this summer getaway for Percy he and Carl finally become quite close, as shown later by a video that Percy posts featuring a collage of 1-second-snippets of him and his dad on the road that lets the father know that the wounds have healed between him and his offspring, just as this family bonding brings Inez around as well to join in when Percy’s back in school (although he continues to be at the truck evenings and weekends so that even though this business is all-consuming they’re all there together to share in it).  Peace is made between Carl and Ramsey also, as the critic with the razor words secretly samples Carl’s much-better-than-it-has-to-be-truck-food, then makes him the offer of a lifetime to provide financial backing for Carl to have a restaurant of his own so that everything can end on a fabulously happy note.  (Seems that Michel sold his blog for a fortune—now we’re really going down the road from L.A. to Fantasyland, at least in my blog experience, but more power to anyone who can make any sort of comfortable living off of this cyberspatial-activity—so he’s got the cash to support the talent that he always believed that Carl possessed, although why he was so nasty to the guy earlier can be explained only by some sense of needed tough love from Ramsey to Carl; a non-diegetic [look it up; it makes for an interesting, although theoretical, read] professional entertainer’s hostility to critics [script by Favreau as well, so maybe this isn’t just about restaurant reviewers]; or a need for a quick wrap-up so that after the new, swanky eatery is open 6 months later we can end on a party scene where  here’s a clear implication of Carl and Inez remarrying, accompanied by the sounds of “Oye Como Va” as played by the Cuban band led by Inez’s father—a tune I know best from Carlos Santana’s 1970 Abraxas album [here’s a live version at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Y46Y1aXQQw that expands considerably on that earlier recording and also includes some of the marvelously-edited-multi-format-multi-imagery used by Michael Wadleigh in Santana’s performance of “Soul Sacrifice” in the Woodstock (1970) documentary] but the version used in Chef is from Tito Puente who wrote it in 1963 [here’s Tito and his band at the Montreal International Jazz Festival doing their version at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YG5BYAY6oW4, much like what you'd hear in the film.)

So, with all of this feel-good-euphoria why do I say only 3½ stars for Chef, a film that’s been getting a rousing round of support all over the country with few naysayers of the Ramsey Michel ilk?  Mainly, I temper my sincere enthusiasm for the fine comic interchanges (especially between Downey Jr. and Favreau, Favreau and Vergara about sexual encounters between Inez and Marvin in her post-divorce-lull after Carl), the evolving sense of connection between Carl and Percy (modeled on gaps that Favreau remembers from his own childhood, as noted in the interview with him in the links far below), the sensual-overload that comes from just looking at all of that delicious food (even though there’s nothing left for you to munch on in the theater when the credits roll except greasy popcorn and watered-down-soda), and the effective presence of so many notable actors here, even though many of them just get a couple of scenes (including the now-ever-present Scarlett Johansson as Molly, the chief-hostess of Riva’s restaurant and a non-romantic-confidant of Carl’s) with a mild disappointment that the whole experience turns out to be more of a Riva-style-story of well-done-but-predictable-expectations rather than the surprising turns of events that other reviewers of this film are praising.  Yes, there’s fine character development in Carl, Martin, and Percy; yes, Carl convinces us that his dedication to cooking comes in the art of the preparation and delivery rather than in the easy satisfaction of expected ingredients (even a grilled cheese sandwich that he makes for Percy has the meticulous care of a finely broiled steak); but, yes, we can see almost every plot point coming a mile away, especially with the life-crisis-set-up so clearly detailed in the trailer.  The photo above of the happy, reunited family working together (also easily found in promotional materials and reviews for the film) fills in the only missing piece from the preview clips so there’s really nothing to push you beyond anticipation/payoff here except maybe the squabbles between father and son when they’re first renovating the truck and Percy is learning how to make a proper Cubano.  Beyond that it’s all like easily-seen-batting-practice-fastballs, even though when the actors make contact with them the results fly deep into the outfield because there’s a great cast of old pros and 1 TV-kid-emerging-into-a-possible-movie-star here doing a fine job with a well-written-script of interactions if not plot complexities.

I certainly enjoyed Chef a lot—just not enough to get it into my loftier cluster of star ratings—although I do recommend it for an excellent lead presence by Favreau, consistently-effective-dialogues among the main characters, and an argument for art over commerce that never gets old (although when the art leads as well to hand-over-fist-cash-in-the-till-commerce that argument may get lost a bit; but I hope the argument survives that audiences of all kinds are willing to pay for true art—food, films, or otherwise—when the passion of the creators is sincere and digestible, a message somewhat obscured in the early going of this story as Carl complains that when he did push the culinary envelope at Riva’s place the diners didn’t want it so we’re left with a bit of a mixed-interpretation that critic Michel was the only unvoiced-support for Carl back at Riva’s place [except for Molly, Martin, and Tony, but who cares what these well-paid-peons think in our celebrity-and-monetarily-influenced-society?] while eaters of the upscale-truck-cuisine know a good thing when they taste it but only when it’s in the form of properly-prepared-fast-food).  After some careful consideration, I’ve decided that my usual closing musical metaphor, chosen this time to extend your considerations of Chef, should be the America tune “You Can Do Magic” (from their 1982 View from the Ground album) because it expresses in a direct way what we’re supposed to understand about Carl and his realized passions (which reminds me of the title of an obscure 1972 Beach Boys album, Carl [Wilson] and the Passions—So Tough [with the long-time-surfer-band changing identities briefly just as The Beatles did only once for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967]) as he’s idolized from the start by Martin, regains the respect of Percy, and rekindles the lost love of Inez, who always seemed more disappointed in Carl’s inability to attain his true calling than really upset with him as a failed husband (she does show a bit of disgust at his inadequacies as a father until after the cross-country-road-trip with the food truck, but she’s quick to agree to whatever seemingly-lame-brained-idea Carl has to connect with the kid so she’s never the sort of vicious-ex-wife who’s often set up to impede family reconciliations in these romantic comedies).  Regarding this ego-enhancing-tune I’ve chosen, you can either see the official 1982 music video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5Adx0RXpvg (a good example of when these early song promotions offered little but performance footage of the entertainer) or for a different take on this song here’s a fan-enhanced-version with lyrics on screen at http://www.youtube.com/watch ?v=8umNOkhqWRw in tribute to (obsession with?—I doubt that rickhavoc501 is going to have his fire put out anytime soon) Harry Potter sweetheart Emma Watson, but if seeing such a celebrity-centric-version of a videomaker’s dreams seems a little uncomfortable here’s another one similar to that focusing on a more-anonymous (but still passionately-celebrated)-woman by another video artist (or if she's also well-known I offer my apologies for not recognizing her) at http://www. youtube.com/watch?v=O7ONp-GC7vM.  Assuming that these options will keep your positive-reinforcement-quotient at peak levels for a while, I’ll see you soon with an exploration of time-warped-mutants and one of the most evil fairies to ever menace a kingdom.
             
If you’d like to know more about Chef here are some suggested links:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgFws3AoIUY (if you don’t feel like seeing the film this trailer almost gives you a full summary of the whole plot except for the very end)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vTDBCv9P95M (4:53 interview with director/screenwriter/actor Jon Favreau from Jo.Blo.com)




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.

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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.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Neighbors

          Looking for Hell?  It’s Right Next Door
        
                      Review by Ken Burke               Neighbors   

Laughs, I’ve had a few, but then again, this movie’s bawdy.  And should you watch?  Well, you might, especially if you like it naughty.  But through it all, when there was doubt, they scarfed it down and barfed it out, then traveled every silly highway, but more, much more than this, they didn't do it my way (which is OK, but for me, the ideas too few to mention—sorry, spirit-Frank, I couldn’t resist; it came to me in a beer-bong-haze and I had to go with it)
            
[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.

We also encourage you to check your tastes against ours with the summary of Two Guys reviews, which we update with each new posting (please note that Two Guys critic Ken Burke is a bit odd—in more ways than one—using a 5-star-rating-system but rarely going to the level of 4 ½ or 5 stars, reserving those rankings for films that have been or should be acknowledged as time-honored masterpieces so that a 4 is about the best you can hope for from star-stingy Ken).  But we ask you to be aware that the links we recommend within our many reviews may have been removed or modified without our knowledge.  Other overall notations for this blog may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage.  Now, onward to illumination; you may want to protect your eyes from the brilliance.]
         
In my previous posting (about Godzilla and The Double, May 15, 2014) I predicted that Godzilla would bump Neighbors off of the top spot at the box-office last weekend after the latter would enjoy only 1 week at #1, which the monster (in more ways than one) movie did with a massive opening (not that it was much of a risky prediction; the odds were probably better in favor of the Lizard King gobbling up your money than they were for my new-favorite-stallion, California Chrome, to win both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, although Ride On Curlin was coming up strong at the end of the Preakness run; train hard for the Belmont Stakes, Chromie), so even though Neighbors (Nicholas Stroller) was strong enough to bump The Amazing Spider-Man 2  (Marc Webb) from its victory pedestal after a likewise measly 1 week at the top (despite his big-opening-impact and #3 position for the domestic take so far this year, Spidey’s newest episode’s starting to fall fast enough that even his fabulous webbing may not cushion the bump, although I did like this one quite a bit—4-star-review in our May 8, 2014 posting—and am looking forward to the distant next installment in this franchise, set for June 2016), I put off this scuz-fest-Animal House (John Landis, 1978)-wannabe until now because, honestly, I don’t have that much to say about it and was hoping to somehow link it up (or relegate it to second-tier-status) with something else; however, my entertainment time has been shifted over the past week out of dark movie houses to locations where I’ve had a fabulous view of San Francisco Bay (the annual Greek Festival at Ascension Cathedral in Oakland last Friday, the opening of the Mountain Play Association’s revival of South Pacific at the amphitheater high up on Mt. Tamalpais over in Marin County on Sunday), along with an opportunity for my head-cold-burdened wife, Nina, to catch up on Godzilla on Saturday (I saw it at a preview screening last week), so all I’m left with is Neighbors, which you’ve probably already seen by now if it was a compelling interest for you or aren’t likely to bother if you think you can predict what you’d find in this raunchy offering just from looking at the trailer (in which case you’d be right), but the positive reviews were just strong enough not to ignore so I had to see it for myself.  If you haven’t watched a movie lately with an approaching-middle-age-couple adjusting to their new baby as they get involved with the nightly debauchery of a just-moved-in-next-door-fraternity and are yearning to see such, then you might want to catch Neighbors before X-Men: Days of Future Past (Bryan Singer) and other openings start chasing it from the screens (it’s dropping at about the same rate as The Amazing Spider-Man 2, although it will easily top the $100 million mark so expect to keep seeing Seth Rogen in this type of physical farce for the next few years), but otherwise suffice it to say that beyond the earnest investment of the leads in making this task-accomplishment comedy (one of the oldest tropes in the cinematic version of this genre) come to life, you wouldn’t be missing anything if you saved your money for some other cinematic option (possibly Godzilla—if you like that sort of absurdity-spectacle—which has already taken in more than Neighbors even though it hasn’t even been out for a week yet).

The premise of Neighbors is simple enough: a not-as-young-as-they’d-like-to-consider-themselves-couple, Mac (Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne, who really steals the movie with her increasingly-unhinged-persona in various scenes), have a new child, Stella (Elise and Zoey Vargas), they’ve moved into what they feel is their ideal family home in the suburbs, then they’re suddenly overwhelmed by the intrusion of Delta Psi Beta, whose nightly party antics would put other Greeks to shame (well, maybe not the ones I just saw in Oakland; those guys really know how to rock a roasted-lamb-on-a-spit and several cases of retsina as they dance into the night) because they’re determined to do something by the end of the school year to get themselves into their infamous fraternity’s hall of fame.  The initial attempts at peaceful coexistence go well, mainly because on the first night the Radners get down themselves, well into the morning hours, just to show that they’re still wild at heart (Kelly’s clear-headed enough—barely—to keep tabs on the baby monitor so that she’s secure in the knowledge that Stella’s sleeping through all of the noise next door), with the agreement that any future problems can easily be worked out man-to-man between Mac and ∆ Ψ ß president Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron), with support from his loyal second-in-command, Pete Pegazolli (Dave Franco, younger brother of James) rather than calling the cops.  That strategy breaks down the very next night when Mac’s attempts to call Teddy to turn down the noise result in no answer (How could anyone hear a phone in that din?), followed by a decision to notify the police because going next door in person would be considered “too lame” (one of many absurd plot holes needed to steer this story to conclusion—others include the frats moving so far away from the campus to begin with and the situation that all of the other neighbors can be bought off with one simple afternoon of kind acts by the guys so that no one else ever complains despite the constant insufferable partying every night [it’s clear that, except for Pete who does go to class enough to have a good shot at a post-college-career, none of the Delta Psi’s have ever heard of an Honor Roll, unless they think it’s an expensive brand of toilet paper; Teddy says his GPA is in the “high 1’s”).  However, one narrative absurdity’s called out in the movie when Mac doesn’t realize that his plea to the cops will target him via Caller ID (I guess as he gets older he forgets which century he’s in) so he’s the one “busted” as far as his young neighbors are concerned (even his withdrawal of the noise complaint doesn’t halt their wrath of his “code” breaking) and the war is on, with the Radners forced to stay put because all of their savings is invested in this house which they can’t sell because no other buyer would want the hell that they’ve encountered.  From there, Neighbors is just one strategy after the next by Mac and Kelly (resulting in broken water mains, dildo sales to finance the repairs, air-bag-propulsion jokes, and other forms of down-and-dirty-humor) to either force the frats to sell their house or to be suspended by a less-than-cooperative-school-administrator, Dean Carol Gladstone (Lisa Kudrow), although one of the frat antics does result in a probation decree.  Mac’s final option is to fake a rescinsion of the decree, which encourages the Delta Psi’s to launch their long-dreamed-of-party-for-the-ages that Mac is sure will result in the needed suspension.

However, Teddy gets wind of the trick, then turns off the power from a main switch in his inaccessible-to-all-others-bedroom before oddball Officer Watkins (Hannibal Buress) arrives, so the final conflict is about Mac and Kelly trying to get access to the precious power switch, a failed attempt that’s countered by Kelly shooting an explosive firecracker into the police car just as Watkins is leaving in conjunction with their friend, Paula (Carla Gallo), seducing one of the frat boys, Scoonie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), to open up the auxiliary power box which restarts the out-of-control-party.  Teddy finally shows some responsibility by encouraging Pete and some of the other more-promising-brothers to clear out so that he can take the rap for the destruction, which brings all of the hostilities to a halt along with the suspension of the chapter which forces them to sell the house, finally bringing peace to the Radners.  Months later we find out that Delta Psi has been reinstated in a house finally closer to campus, Teddy is working as an Abercrombie and Fitch shirtless-male-model so that he can show off his muscles enticing customers into the store (he’s also taking night classes to finish his degree, demonstrating his long-hidden-inner-decency), while Mac and Kelly have accepted their responsible-parent-post-partying-lifestyle in order to focus on their daughter, rejecting the pleas of Paula, now reunited with wacky-former-ex-husband, Jimmy (Ike Barinholtz), to find a sitter and come boogie with them (a temptation they were loath to resist at the start of the story, refusing to see themselves as too old and settled down to be that removed from the wild life that come calling for them, as they clearly enjoyed their indulgences that first night at Delta Psi).  If you’re about 40 years younger than me (which would still put you at post-frat-status) or see yourself as still in tune with obviously-exaggerated-gross-out-humor (with the ultimate scene being the one where Kelly’s desperate to empty the built-up-fluid from her breasts but Mac accidently breaks her pump so he has to do it by hand, leading to the inevitable cow-comparison-jokes [“Be a man and milk me!”]) than you might enjoy Neighbors a lot more than I did (and, believe me, I’m no prude—see the music suggestion below; I did find enough hearty laughs at the whole crazy situation to go with a generous 3 stars but even that’s getting perilously-close to my normal-high-level of 4 to make me a little nervous—I guess I’m even farther down the grumpy-old-man-road than Mac is, at least where this particular jock-itch-humor-level-story is concerned), but I get even more satisfaction in a much quicker dose just by watching my chosen musical metaphor of the week, a tune that sums up everything functional about the laughs in Neighbors, the well-known-bit from TV’s Saturday Night Live (first aired on December 16, 2006) performed by The Lonely Island, featuring Justin Timberlake and Andy Samberg, “Dick in a Box” at http://vimeo.com/54415061.  To keep my Google censors at bay I’ll make this educational by giving you a version from vimeo with the lyrics subtitled in Spanish so you can work on your bilinguality, muchacos.  (Or, if you miffed about my rewrite of one of Frank Sinatra's signature tunes, "My Way" [lyrics by Paul Anka, music from Claude François and Jacques Revaux's 1967 "Comme d'habitude," on Sinatra's 1969 My Way album] in my opening plot summary way back up at the top of this review, here's the original at https://www.youtube. com/watch?v=Fj5wnWpECLs [from London's Royal Festival Hall, 1971] just to keep you smilin', 'cause when you're smilin' the whole world smiles with you—just like in this video of that song by Louis Armstrong [written by Larry Shay, Mark Fisher, and Joe Goodwin; first recorded by Louis in 1929] with some very lovely imagery at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VkBOu-9qy44—maybe even all the way through Neighbors if you can dig it; oops, I'm showing my age again.)

Otherwise, adiós for now, because that’s all from me this week as I’m heading on a short vacation to see the giant trees in Sequoia National Park (unless Godzilla’s used them for a barbeque to roast up those MUTOs—if you haven’t seen that movie yet, you can look up my review noted above for an explanation), but I’ll be back soon with commentary on the new X-Men experience and whatever else I can squeeze into my busy schedule.  (Or maybe whatever’s within walking distance as Nina and I find out what’s going on with our car’s suddenly-faulty-transmission; where’s that comprehensive-insurance-payment from your car being smashed by a passing fire-breathing-dinosaur when you need it so you can by a new—or, more likely, another used—one?  Anyone out there got a great deal on a not-too-beat-up-jalopy?  If so, let me know.)

If you’re interested in learning more about Neighbors here are some suggested links:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AAwhQZ8O0A4&oref=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DAAwhQZ8O0A4&has_verified=1 (this trailer keeps the raunchy content of the R rating but you may have to sign in to verify that you’re 18 to watch it; if you want a PG version of the trailer instead, here’s one at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kL5c2szf3E4

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NVp1WYUvDTQ (6:31 answers from Seth Rogen and Zac Efron to fan questions on a Moviefone Unscripted segment, much in the spirit of this movie)

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/neighbors_2014/


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.

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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.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Godzilla and The Double


                    Logic Be Damned, Bring on the “Entertainment”

                        Review by Ken Burke          Godzilla
           
The world’s biggest, baddest dinosaurish-thing is back in a serious reboot of the franchise, this time with Honolulu, Las Vegas, and San Francisco all in the line of fire.
          
                                                                             The Double
               
Based on a Dostoyevsky novel, this is the surreal story of a downtrodden guy who suddenly has to confront his identical match who seems superior to him in every way.
            
[Take care, curious readers, as 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.

We also encourage you to check your tastes against ours with the summary of Two Guys reviews, which we update with each new posting (please note that Two Guys critic Ken Burke is a bit odd—in more ways than one—using a 5-star-rating-system but rarely going to the level of 4 ½ or 5 stars, reserving those rankings for films that have been or should be acknowledged as time-honored masterpieces so that a 4 is about the best you can hope for from star-stingy Ken).  But we ask you to be aware that the links we recommend within our many reviews may have been removed or modified without our knowledge.  Other overall notations for this blog may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage.  Now, onward to illumination; you may want to protect your eyes from the brilliance.]
            
More so than usual this week I ask you to heed this  Spoiler Alert warning because opportunities to attend advance-press-screenings have allowed me to post reviews of a reality-divergent movie, Godzilla, and a thought-provoking film, The Double, just as they’re opening in my San Francisco area (maybe yours as well if they’re not already playing) so if you don’t want to know too much about them read carefully through what’s recounted below or come back later after you’ve had a chance to see and evaluate them for yourself.


With the double-dose of Spoiler warnings out of the way, I’m going to predict that Neighbors (Nicholas Stroller) is going to enjoy just a 1-week-reign atop the domestic box-office (after having knocked off The Amazing Spider-Man 2 [review in our May 8, 2014 posting] after the likewise mere 1 week in control by Marc Webb’s web-slinger), to be replaced by this weekend’s big (and I do mean BIG) opening, the newest version of “The King of All Monsters,” Godzilla (Gareth Edwards), so while I’ve seen Neighbors I’m going to put that on the back burner until next week in order to focus on 2 new options for you from the realm of the bizarre (not that Neighbors isn’t bizarre enough, unless you lost a few years of your life to fraternity culture, but let’s go beyond beer, bongs, and boobs to less-predictable-extremes—well, OK, maybe Godzilla’s predictable enough if you know past entries into this seemingly-eternal-series but it’s still a visual spectacular that’s even more impressive than Zac Efron’s pecs/abs-package so we’ll let that marinate in alcohol for another week while we move on to a destruction derby—then later a Twilight Zone-type mind-twister—that you’ll want to consider being a part of at your local cinematic pleasure palace).  “Creature Feature” movies have been with us since at least the stop-motion-animated-dinosaurs in an adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 novel The Lost World (Harry O. Hoyt,1925) with the most notable examples of this possibly-separate-genre (some lump these in with Disaster movies, but I see angry-massive-monsters as being a subgenre of Fantasy [where magic and pseudo-science prevail in everything from the Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings franchises, with the extraordinary rooted in various forms of magic and mysticism, to the Superman and Spider-Man universes rooted in DC and Marvel Comics traditions where supposedly-rational-explanations are given as to why a man has x-ray-vision or can shoot an endless supply of sticky webbing out of his wrists (as in the Sam Raimi-directed Spidey series with Tobey McGuire in the lead)] because there’s nothing [yet] in evolution, biology, or physics to justify giant creatures still being alive from millennia ago [as with King Kong and his dinosaur-version of rowdy neighbors on Skull Island], being recreated from ancient DNA [Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park franchise], or being exposed to radiation to either reawaken or mutate a colossal beast [the whole Godzilla concept, along with those huge ants, plants, rabbits, etc. from the low-budget-days of 1950s-early ‘60s idiocy], with that last ploy giving me even more evidence to classify the Creature Features in with Fantasy movies in some form, given how well Marvel has sold the whole radiation-mutation-concept with the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, etc.) for me being King Kong (Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1933) and its remakes (John  Guillerman, 1976; Peter Jackson, 2005), along with the Jurassic Parks (Spielberg,1993, 1997; Joe Johnston, 2001) because of the former’s ability to conjure up a legitimate Freudian-based-concern of how this giant ape represents our own repressed animal-id—lurking in an irrational manner behind our constant declines into greed, war, sexual abuse, genocide, and other (hopefully) inhuman acts—and the latter’s concerns with mucking around with scientific curiosity without fully understanding what we might be on the verge of unleashing—as with a current project attempting to recreate a Woolly Mammoth in a few years using long-preserved-prehistoric-residue (see this article for more on that experiment).

Therefore, the previous 29 Godzilla films (all but 1 [the critically-despised-“reimagining” by Roland Emmerich, 1998] originally from Japan’s Toho Company, Ltd., although the original [Gojira, Ishirô Honda, 1954] and a serious rebooting of the creature [The Return of Godzilla, Koji Hashimoto, 1984]—soon replaced by the more kid-friendly-dueling-monsters-routine—were remade respectively for American release as Godzilla, King of the Monsters! [Terry O. Morse, Honda, 1956] and Godzilla 1985 [R.J. Kiser, Hashimoto, 1985]) have been mostly of passing-interest to me, unless played for ultimate-camp-value as with the face-off of 2 guys in monster suits in the silly King Kong vs. Godzilla (Honda, 1962) where the sympathetic ape won the battle due to his greater popularity at the time in both Japan and America.  The idea of a giant (with variations in his size from the roughly 164-ft. version of the original to the almost-400-ft. behemoth of the current production [estimates vary, as noted in the illustration above], dependent on the size of skyscrapers at the time of filming, so as to make him big enough to smash into buildings but not so gigantic as to dwarf them—so even if you’re only reading the first paragraph or so of this review for now, don’t be deceived by the posters that show him towering over the skyline of San Francisco which would make him about 1,000 ft. tall—but King Kong also had to be resized for that 1962 conflict because he needed to be able to match Godzilla in height, considerably larger than in the Big Ape's original incarnation where he was only about 50 ft. above ground) dinosaur/dragon with atomic-powered-fiery-breath just seemed too ridiculous—although entertaining—to take seriously.

However, this new Godzilla—a marked improvement at retelling the story over the radical changes that Emmerich tried to introduce in 1998 (an ordinary lizard years ago in French Polynesia is irradiated following a nuclear test, grows into the huge mutant monster dubbed “Godzilla” by the media [based on a misunderstanding of a Japanese fisherman attacked by the creature who called it “Gojira,” a word combining the Japanese terms for “gorilla” and “whale”], swims to Manhattan [hell of a choice of destination considering it had to go around South America to get there], chases Matthew Broderick all over the place as a much-more-swiftly-moving-monster than the previous incarnation, asexually reproduces by laying a huge nestful of eggs beneath Madison Square Garden, and is finally taken down by the military after the eggs are likewise destroyed; however, the Toho folks were generous enough to adopt this movie as part of their continuity, just with the understanding that this is a similar-but-different-creature named Zilla)—pays nice homage to the original monster and its ongoing (never ending?) life by incorporating recognizable elements from the previous versions of the beast (first encountered in 1954, seemingly impervious to standard military weapons, plot involves the Big Guy battling other giant monsters while a city becomes collateral damage) even as they up the ante with the huge increase in size, offer the preposterous propositions that Godzilla and his opponents were a form of standard-issue-dinosaurs long ago (although the largest “terrible lizard” we have any evidence of is Argentinosaurus, which if it did rear up on its hind legs would possibly have been about 120 ft. tall while blue whales, if they could stand, would rise up to only about 100 ft.) and that they thrived by absorbing the naturally higher levels of radiation existing on Earth during their era.  (Which gives plot support to all of these giants either digesting nuclear warheads or absorbing the energy from such bombs or nuclear plants, thereby putting most of the story in motion, although it reminds me of the “You can’t eat fear!” rejection of young vegetarian Jean Fordham [Abigail Breslin] by the rest of her family in August: Osage County [John Welles, 2013; review in our January 15, 2014 posting] in response to her argument that the meat of slaughtered animals contains their death panic; I have a feeling that there are scientists watching the new Godzilla [while keeping very quiet about it, unless they go to screenings together in “nerd herds”], saying to themselves “You can’t eat radiation!,” but neither logic nor proportion matter much in this “I-just-came-to-see-the-visual-effects”-movie.)

(As is sometimes the case with Two Guys in the Dark, Blogspot has decided to do expansiveparagraph spacing all by itself here so let us just flow with that, OK? [And you think Godzilla's hardto control!]) For the narrative record here, we begin in The Philippines, 1999, where a huge dino-type-skeleton is found in a cave with evidence that a baby-parasite-something has crawled away from the mother, clawing its way down to the ocean; next, we’re in Japan where nuclear plant honcho, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), and his co-worker-wife, Sandra (Juliette Binoche)—big names relative to most of the rest of the cast but don’t get too comfortable with them because they won’t be around long—encounter a major seismic event at the plant which results in Sandy’s death, Joe’s life-long-crusade to prove that the event wasn’t an earthquake or any sort of reactor failure, and son Ford’s (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) estrangement from his seemingly-crazed-father while he’s gone off to make his own career as a Navy Lieutenant explosive-ordnance-disposal-expert.  Ford’s just back to San Francisco to be with wife, Elle (Elizabeth Olsen), and young son, Sam, when he’s called to Japan to bail out Dad, arrested for entering the quarantine zone around the destroyed atomic facility.  Joe convinces Ford (interesting choice for a kid’s name, but it just kept reminding me of Ford Prefect [a name mistakenly taken from a car previously made in Britain], the alien space traveler in Douglas Adams’ hilarious The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy novels and other media, not a useful mind-focuser when trying to take a giant-monster-movie somewhat seriously) to join him on another attempt to retrieve data from their long-ago-home (we’re now in present-day 2014), only to see both of them arrested but with countless questions given that they find no trace of radiation at the site.  Before any answers are forthcoming the area starts shaking again, the result of a huge (I’ll estimate around 100 or so ft. high) bat-like-creature (see the model in the photo with the first paragraph of the review, but that’s actually the soon-to-be-revealed female sibling/mate—I guess that dinosaur-parasites didn’t have scriptural admonitions against such—who’s the same size as Godzilla but she's limited to land movements, although her multiple legs give her a spider-like-maneuverability; this smaller guy is the necessary male of a pending-monstrous-offspring-catastrophe [Edwards is borrowing from the Emmerich version as well as the Toho canon], to come later in the story) which has apparently reached maturity after sucking off the nuclear-contaminant in Japan over the years as a group of scientists kept watch over him trying to figure out what he was and why he was drawn across the Pacific to this radiation-generating-site.  The control team attempts to kill this MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism—no, I didn’t remember that from watching the movie but found it later at this Wikizilla site) but fails as it flies away into the night.  Joe is injured in the ensuing chaos, then dies as he and Ford are being transported to Hawaii while we learn the backstory from one of the off-limits-site’s scientists, Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe).  Once we’re at the friendly shores of Honolulu all hell really breaks out as the male MUTO arrives (having been attracted to a Russian nuclear sub, then carrying it with him to a mountainside jungle above the city), only to be attacked by the finally-appearing Lizard King himself (whom we learn was awakened by an American nuke sub in 1954, then our supposed bomb tests in those days were actually attempts to kill the creature after which he went back into some sort of hibernation, I guess; nothing more is said about his decades-long-disappearance) leading to a battle that destroys much of Hawaii’s capitol city (don’t worry; my brother-in-law saved the Outrigger Hotel’s superb mai-tai recipe) before the MUTO heads off for San Francisco, followed by Godzilla swimming along behind (I don’t think that any land-bound-dinosaurs were capable of that feat, but he’s been doing it for quite some time now so I’ll just let it go).  Now’s the time for us to meet the female, held in a Nevada nuclear-waste-storage-facility all these years as she’s grown into much-larger-adult-size but apparently was in a hibernation state until she sensed her mate on the move, which gets her into action as well as this enormous-effects-movie heads into its climatic third act.


 While the female MUTO is bashing Las Vegas on her way west, the military is in the process of sending nuclear missiles by freight train to SF, with the intention of luring both of the MUTOs—along with Godzilla—out into the ocean off the California coast in order to detonate the bombs, killing them from the massive shock waves rather than the radiation.  Mama MUTO has other ideas, though, as she intercepts the train, devours all but one of the warheads (OK, can I get August: Osage County's Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper in here for a repeat chorus of “You can’t eat radiation!”), then continues on to “my city … on the Bay” (Journey’s "Lights” [from the 1978 Infinity album] is sort of a local anthem in SF, even though the original first line was “When the lights go down in the city and the sun shines on L.A.,” a horrific-revelation for SF Giants fans, which means I should probably play it now—Let’s Go Oakland A’s!—but I believe I’ll leave that "pleasure" to your own searching curiosity) to find that potent little devil winging his way to what will become their nest under a ravaged Chinatown.  There’s still one bomb left (I guess any others are too far away to transport; hey, U.S. West Coasters, let’s keep that in mind when North Korea finally decides to attack) so Ford and the rest of the military trying to save the Bay Area (and ultimately the planet if more of those multi-legged-monsters start reproducing) still hope to use the “hey-MUTOs-come-see-what-we’ve-got-out-here-in-the-ocean” strategy, until it’s foiled by the male grabbing the warhead and securing it into the nest as a source of energy for the hundreds of still-developing-eggs.  At this point the only hope is that Godzilla will attack his mortal enemies, as Dr. Serizawa has predicted, which indeed does happen as the Big Guy goes after both of the MUTOs, who prove to be almost too much for him until a couple of things finally go his way: (1) the female MUTO is distracted back to the nest as she senses Ford and his team removing the warhead, then destroying the eggs, (2) Godzilla finally fires up his atomic-powered-fire-breath, which proves the difference maker in a fight that could easily be the main event at WrestleMania (you know, they’re bringing that spectacle to the new Levi’s SF Forty-Niners stadium in Santa Clara next April; maybe Vince McMahon could sign a rematch between Godzilla and King Kong; or, even better, maybe they could move it to the Oakland Coliseum so that monstrosity can finally be torn down and a new ballpark built for the A’s—which reminds me of my main continuity complaint with Godzilla: when we see a depiction of the existing O.co A's stadium the seats are RED rather than Green like they should be, another desecration for the too-often-treated-as-second-class-Athletics) as he triumphs over both of the MUTOs, then heads back into the water to the cheers of the local populace for having saved San Francisco (leaving the door open for a sequel if this filmmaking team decides to give Godzilla another go), as Ford is finally reunited with his displaced-family.

 So, now that the destruction derby has come to its end, what’s the verdict on this latest attempt to celebrate a beloved-behemoth who gets cheered for smashing up a city while also destroying other monsters that seem to be more interested in threatening the human race than he is (I guess we’d just have to assume that if all of those vicious little hatchlings were to go running around looking for radiation sources to suck up then there’d be massive problems if we couldn’t track them all down while they’re still tiny enough to easily kill; there’s also the problem that in their adult form these MUTOs generate a radiation field that disrupts all electromagnetic activity in their immediate proximity—a situation that caused a good number of jet fighters to crash in Godzilla—so that even as these things are just rambling around in their search for nuclear material [unless they all just decide to live in Nevada in the waste storage dumps] they’d create  more havoc even when they’re not knocking over buildings—why that similar disruption doesn't happen with Godzilla isn't clear unless it's because he no longer seems to need to devour radiation as do his adversaries; despite his similar atomic-fueled-identity, all he's focused on is destroying the MUTO parasites, not even using them for food so we never know what he eats).  Certainly the visual effects in Godzilla are done in a marvelous manner which maintains audience interest while showcasing the ongoing mastery of Hollywood where computer graphics are concerned, light years in quality beyond the early Toho episodes where it was clear we were watching a person in a rubber suit stomp on cardboard cityscapes.  There are human interest touches too as we watch the original Brody parents succumb to the destructive actions of these creatures even as the next Brody generation is in harm’s way constantly (Ford’s with the team guarding the train-loaded-bombs when the female MUTO attacks, Elle’s caught in the debris of a collapsed subway station [for some reason the production team didn’t bother to make the BART signage look correct, one of the easiest tasks facing them in this mammoth job—although not the kind associated with woolly-DNA-replication-experiments], and Sam’s stuck on a bus trying to get across the Golden Gate Bridge to shelter in Oakland just as Godzilla arrives to start trashing the span [although it's not reasonable for the bus to be taking this route, but I guess the Golden Gate's more iconic than the lesser-celebrated Bay Bridge where the bus should have been), along with the movie finally giving unspoken respect to the strategy of Japanese scientist Serizawa to allow Godzilla to vanquish the other beasts rather than allow nuclear explosions to enter into the situation (with eerie, ironic reminders for us of both the actual meltdown of the Fukushima facility in March 2011 due to the deadly one-two-punch of an off-store-earthquake along with a tsunami and the widely-speculated-explanation that the motivation behind the original Gojira movie was to use the radioactive-monster as a metaphor for the horrors that any location faces when hit with a nuclear catastrophe, especially as the result of war—as happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945).

 Still, when I put all of this together I just get another well-made-thrill-ride, nice to experience but soon to be forgotten, which is the nature of Creative Feature stories that replace a conquering human hero with either the need for frantic, desperate, coordinated action by government agencies and the military to defeat the intruder or for the monster to ironically become the hero-by-default, helping our civilization survive—even if unintentionally—by acting as the King of the Monsters, ultimately capable of stopping other likewise-terrible-threats.  Thus, it’s a fine experience of the moment but a moment soon to pass, leaving me with a musical metaphor for you that’s just as silly as the whole premise of Godzilla, Bobby “Boris” Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers' hit, “The Monster Mash” at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0thH3qnHTbI, with footage from a lot of old horror movies including one of the early Godzillas (I can’t say if it’s the 1954 original or not—although I think that true horror movies have more of an psychotic or religious foundation [some might equate those, but I’m not looking to start that argument today] than do these escapist Creature Features; however, you’ll find many [sometimes conflicting] variations on how the Horror, Science-Fiction, and Fantasy movie genres are defined and organized by cinema scholars and entertainment writers).  Another aspect of horror often gets us into the realm of madness and/or the supposed-rationally-impossible, so let’s move on to a variation of that realm.

 If you haven’t watched any old episodes of the TV classic, The Twilight Zone, recently you might try to locate some on a retro video network or website (if you’ve never watched any at all, I suggest that you do for their spooky quality, possibly beginning with “The After Hours,” the one that still literally gives me chills every time I think about it even though I haven’t seen it since its original airdate of June 10, 1960 [season 1, episode 34—available hereyou can also indulge yourself in many aspects of The Twilight Zone at this site if you like]—the story of a woman in a department store who encounters many strange things before the dramatic reveal at the end); alternately, you could lay down some well-invested-dollars to see the new film, The Double (Richard Ayoade), starring Jesse Eisenberg as Simon James, a meek, downtrodden employee of a soul-devouring-corporation who suddenly finds that his constrained world is made even more unbearable when a new employee, James Simon (also played by Eisenberg), arrives, an exact physical replica of Simon James but with the sort of inbred confidence that has everyone in the story flocking to him, even though he’s a lying, conniving son-of-a-bitch—not that such attributes initially bother Simon as he’s trying to figure out the magnetic appeal of this guy in hopes of somehow emulating his literal counterpart.  All of this comes from a short novel written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, first published in 1846.  (You know, ever since I made a notation in a posting a couple of months ago wishing better times ahead for the citizens of Ukraine, in response to the surprising reality that I was getting a lot of readers from there, I’ve noticed since then that while I still get a reasonable number of hits from Ukraine I haven’t gotten any from Russia, where I used to have some periodic traffic; in case President Putin has put a special task force on Two Guys in the Dark’s site to make sure that no more of my Western rhetoric gets into Mother Russia, maybe my mention of the famed author of Crime and Punishment will bring about a reprieve—probably not, though, as I have to admit I’ve never read his original of The Double about a government clerk who goes insane, just an Internet synopsis.  Oh well, at least they haven’t hauled me off to a reopened Gulag labor camp … yet.  News Flash!  In checking my Audience statistics from Google before posting this review I found that not only has my readership jumped back up in Ukraine I now have some Russian readers again; I offer a salute to the return of perestroika [restructuring] and glasnost [openness]—and, in all seriousness, hope for stability and peace in Ukraine very soon).

 As with the same-named-novel, the protagonist in The Double is a man whose life barely has an existence, even among his coworkers who often don’t recognize him although he’s been on the job for 7 years.  Ayoade gives us a great visual sense of James Simon in the opening scene as he’s harassed on an empty subway car to give up his seat even though there are multiple options available to this bullying presence with his face buried in a newspaper (this clip provides useful commentary from the director on how this beginning is emblematic of the intended look and attitude of the whole film); sadly, Simon complies, then can’t exit as intended at his stop because 2 workmen keep blocking his way by loading boxes into the car so that when he finally makes his escape the doors shut on his briefcase, carrying it away as the train leaves, then when he arrives at his office building he has no I.D. card needed for entry nor can he get any cooperation from the surly guard who acts as if he’s never seen Simon before despite passing him through at this station for all of his previous employment.  It’s no wonder that Simon’s only positive aspect in life is longingly spying (as shown in the photo above) on his apartment-complex-neighbor, Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), also employed at the same company in the dreary copy center where Simon consistently finds excuses to visit in an attempt to get up the courage to ask her out.

 Simon does finally have a date with Hannah, but that comes only after further indignities such as having his sincere work ambitions ignored by his boss, Mr. Papadopoulos (a marvelously-despicable Wallace Shawn), who further burdens him with the expectation that he’ll act as a mentor to Papadopoulos’ caustic daughter, Melanie (Yasmin Paige).  But the worst crisis of all for Simon James occurs when new employee James Simon arrives with immediate positive impressions on this corporate-slug of a manager (he reminds me of the pointy-haired-boss in the Dilbert cartoons—available here should you need a clarification [search around a bit within the site if you need to locate him]), as well as anyone else who interacts with James including the sarcastic waitress (Cathy Moriarty) at Simon’s local-and-constant-eatery, Melanie, and—ultimately—Hannah.  At that point, things couldn’t get much worse for Simon because not only is James taking credit for everything that his quieter-mirror-image has accomplished but he’s also forcing Simon to run obstacles for him because he has photos of Simon in very compromising positions with Melanie during an afternoon when she mistook him for James—despite his feelings for Hannah I guess it was hard to resist Melanie’s advances, or at least the incriminating images shot by James make it look that way—(not that it would take much to make poor Simon’s environment any bleaker than it already is, given the marvelously-grotesque-surroundings [art direction Denis Schnegg, set decoration Barbara Herman-Skelding] this story takes place in, reminding us a bit of the terrible-Big-Brother-future-world of Brazil [Terry Gilliam, 1985] but with technology more from the 1970s, given how clunky and clumsy it all is).  Eventually, Simon’s had enough of losing everything that matters to him in this hopeless/soulless-situation, being called “Stanley” by his clueless boss, being told by a personnel administrator that he doesn’t exist because he’s no longer in their employee records, and never being able to demonstrate his talents to the company’s inspirational guiding light, The Colonel (James Fox), because of the constant predicaments he finds himself in due to James.  When Simon realizes during a fight with his counterpart that the 2 are somehow connected (he socks James in the nose but the blood comes from Simon’s nostril instead) he sets up a scheme to rid himself of the doppelganger for good, although it requires him to take a calculated-suicide-leap from his high apartment window, bouncing from a street-level-awning onto the concrete below which causes James to die with a pool of blood seeping from his head as he lays handcuffed to Simon’s bed (don’t push the physics—or metaphysics—of all this because it’s not that kind of logically-explained-narrative, if you haven’t already figured that out).  In the end, we feel confident for Simon because he’s learned how to assert himself, Hannah’s come back to him (after finding a scrapbook of the scraps of her discarded artworks which she threw down her trash chute after drawing each one), and he seems now better equipped to persevere in his surroundings, even at the soul-sucking-bureaucratic-business where he works, a nightmare for anyone with personal-growth-aspirations but seemingly the only option in this morbid world.

 Even though the original version of The Double comes from Dostoyevsky, this film reminded me more of something written by Kafka, storyboarded by David Lynch—although I should give the Russian author more credit here, based on his statement: "If everything on Earth were rational, nothing would happen"*—but maybe my response is like this because I’ve only barely been into Russia (and probably won’t return, as I’ll bet there’s a poster with my picture on it now at every border crossing with a reward amount verified directly by President Putin) with a quick trip to St. Petersburg while I got a good look at Prague a few years ago, including Kafka’s old neighborhood (the photo I took here is of a surrealist statue of him, which I think sums up well the experience I have in reading his mesmerizing fiction, an attitude so well captured for me in this current film), along with plenty of leftover-Soviet-era-locations around the rest of the Czech Republic which reminded me of the world that Simon and his colleagues inhabit, so I guess you could go either way with which famous author’s fingerprints seem to be most prominent in this transformation of a noted writing into the audiovisual medium of film.  (Let me make one note, though, about the Russian original, the protagonist there—Golyadkin—also must deal with the existence of his “second self” but then others begin to appear as well which leads to his mental breakdown and confinement to an asylum whereas Simon James in this adaptation will find a different fate, one more fantastical than Golyadkin’s whose situation could be interpreted just as the hallucinations of a tortured mind while others in Simon James' tale see and interact with both him and James Simon, so the twin presences manifest tangible existences as well as physical impacts on each other).

* By chance, I happened to find this in a book I'm currently reading, Michio Kaku's Physics of the Impossible (Anchor Books, 2008, p. 120)—although he doesn't discuss the option of reawakened-giant-irradiated-dinosaur-dragons, but maybe that's in a later edition—however, the quote in the above paragraph was taken originally from John Barrow's Theories of Everything (Oxford University Press, 1991, p. 149 (without access to that, I have no idea where the Dostoyevsky statement originates because I find it cited a lot but not specifically-referenced).

 None of the previous comments are intended to imply that the film itself is in any way dreary or oppressive, it’s just that you can consciously feel the loss of humanity that most people seem to be suffering from in this story (especially all of the anonymous older men that surround Simon in his sterile office environment and the grizzled older woman who’s Hannah’s boss), yet there’s so much humor in these situations as well, as long as you can allow yourself to laugh at the terrible troubles that Simon must endure even to just make himself noticed in his workplace, get anything that he asks for at that hideous local café, or just get through a day without everything going wrong no matter what he tries to do (including kicking an elevator door in an attempt to get the damn thing to function, leading to an alarm going off, then sabotage interrogation by the company’s security force; yet, when James does the same thing the cantankerous machine pops into action, once again demonstrating a life out of balance for Simon mirrored in a further-unbalanced-manner in the life-of-no-limitation enjoyed by James).  Given that there’s clearly an element of the fantastic at work here (again bringing me more to Kafka than Dostoyevsky, but that may just be evidence of my substandard preparation in notable literature) it’s no stretch to speculate that in some unconscious manner Simon has generated James as a personification of the needed-hole-fillings in his subdued, hesitant life, a manifestation of everything that this cautious, timid man wishes he could be, even as he learns too late that this other self is too extreme as well, so that hopefully he’s found a balance at the end when he seemingly absorbs aspects of James back into himself without becoming burdened by the amoral aspects of this extra-extraverted-alter-ego.  The Double is a marvelously unique, engaging film combining hilarious critiques of passionless careers and life-visions with excruciatingly-effective-visuals of mashed-up-past-future-Purgatory, dominated by the extraordinary dual-protagonist-turn of Eisenberg, a great-but-self-conscious-actor who normally doesn’t watch daily takes of his work, let alone the finished films, but here had to endure seeing himself throughout in the first version of each chosen take so that he could fill in the missing spaces in each shot, reacting to his invisible self, as his actions were double-exposed to bring Simon and James together in so much of this visualized story.  I don’t anticipate that an oddity such as The Double will be playing in a large number of theaters (probably at best a tenth of the screens that will be displaying Godzilla), but if you can find it anywhere near your locality I encourage you to see it, or at least put it on your video queue for later this year.  As for a musical metaphor to put the finishing touches on The Double, how about Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta cavorting around with “You’re the One That I Want” at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T9udY1qGsSo (from the ever-popular Grease [Randal Kleiser, 1978] soundtrack, or if you want a more contemporary remake here’s one from the TV series Glee [season 4, episode 6, 2012] at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GU3Hc4rHiTg) in honor of Hannah’s decision that Simon was really the one that she wanted, even more so as he literally took a leap into changing his situation so that he’d become more the self he wanted to be as well (whereas in the movie, Travolta’s Danny Zuko momentarily is willing to clean up his image to better appeal to Newton-John’s Sandy Olsson but once he realizes that she’s changed to his [wet] dream of a hot girl then it’s all about her conforming to the male status quo, a different-and-intended-to-be-more-life-affirming-message from the more self-actualizing-role-reversal for Simon James that we get in The Double).

 OK, enough of this.  Next week, on to Neighbors and whatever else ambles into my life—in a drunken stupor or otherwise—by then.

If you’d like to know more about the new version of Godzilla here are some suggested links:



http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QgZGx1F9cA4 (10:55, an opinion from WatchMojo.com on the Top 10 previous Godzilla movies)



If you’d like to know more about the film adaptation of The Double here are some suggested links:



http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mZb0CPsAtg (8:04 commentary by director Richard Ayoade on the intentions of the film and a few of his associates on the art direction of the film’s environment and the technical effects of putting Jesse Eisenberg in the frames with himself in many of the scenes)


          
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.

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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.