Thursday, March 24, 2016

Knight of Cups and Hello, My Name Is Doris

                        Hello, I Must Be Going
                                                   Reviews by Ken Burke      
Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ insightful reviews.  Therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when you’re ready to be transported to … wherever we end up.  Please protect your eyes from the dazzling brilliance.
               Knight of Cups (Terrence Malick)
This is too poetic a cinematic experience to reduce to a prose summary so suffice to say that it involves Rick, a successful but emotionally-distraught screenwriter, whose material wealth and sensual successes with various women do little to bring him comfort or peace; frequent images of desert landscapes, LA city scenes, and the Pacific Ocean figure notably here.
What Happens: To attempt to transcribe in narrative terms what happens in this film will just end up sounding like I kept dozing off, then waking up every few minutes to scribble something down in unintelligible notes.  However, I promise you I was attentive the whole time so please just accept that this is one of the more elusive, poetic examples of cinematic art to grace mainstream theaters in quite some time so here’s how I propose to offer its "facts" to you, beginning with the understanding that there’s not a lot of dialogue in Knight … (even what’s there often trails off into silence so that you can’t get the full gist of a conversation but only the implications of what little is revealed to us) to help give us direction although there’s a good bit of voice-over, from an unknown narrator as well as the main character—Rick (Christian Bale)—along with the various women that are occasionally a key factor in his life, even as the whole thing is set into early context with the narrator’s statement:  “Once there was a young prince whose father, the king of the East, sent him down into Egypt to find a pearl. But when the prince arrived, the people poured him a cup. Drinking it, he forgot he was the son of a king, forgot about the pearl and fell into a deep sleep. … The road to the East stretches out before him. Will he set forth?”  (We’re told that Rick’s father, Joseph [Brian Dennehy] used to read this story to him as a boy.)   So, whatever journey wayward-screenwriter-Rick is on here is presented by Malick within the metaphor of the deck of Tarot cards—even the title, seemingly referring to Rick, as this card represents romance, charm, imagination, a “knight in shining armor,” although if during a reading it comes up reversed then it implies conditions of unreality, jealousy, moodiness.  (These interpretations of the cards come from this source [useful in giving concise definitions for both configurations of the entire deck but also offers you an option to purchase online readings, books, etc., none of which I’m advocating nor realize any profit from], one of many choices that you could use in trying to get a better understanding of this mystical source which underlies the entire structure of Malick’s latest confounding of cinematic expectations.)

 Drawing from this same introductory source (with my encouragements to delve deeper into Tarot if you care to), I’ll note that each of the 1st 7 chapter names within this film are taken from the Tarot’s Major Arcana cards that illustrate the structure of human consciousness while the film’s title refers to 1 member of 1 of the 4 suits of Minor Arcanas, which are representative of different aspects of daily life, with the Cups related overall to water and more specifically to emotions, relationships, feelings, and creativity in people.  While I’ll have no intention here of trying to fully decipher what Malick’s up to in each chapter, for this section of the review I’ll simply note what he calls it, what the card is supposed to represent in both its upright and inverted positions as it would be dealt to you in a reading, and some of the more prominent activities happening on screen during that chapter.  Even before the 1st one, though, we see that Rick’s presented as a lost, wandering soul within a montage of images that at times show him cavorting with women while drunk at a big party yet lonely and reflective the next morning but he’s also part of a collection of views of the horizon of Earth from space, a father and child at the beach, black & white “portraits” of young women in various stages of applied face paint, a big earthquake hitting Rick’s trendy-beach-town-apartment but with minimal damage, sexual escapades, incongruous shots of freeways and desert vistas, all with occasional VOs about doing anything, being anything, starting over, “Where did I go wrong?”

 After this introductory collage we move on to the named sections, starting with The Moon (illusion, fear, anxiety, insecurity, subconscious; reversed: release of fear, unhappiness, confusion)—Nick having casual sex with Della (Imogen Poots), LA downtown at night, an aquarium, a movie studio’s backlot, a large harbor for small boats, more sex, a Tarot card reader.  The Hanged Man (suspension, restriction, letting go, sacrifice; reversed:  martyrdom, indecision, delay)—Rick with his brother Barry (Wes Bentley), Rick and Barry on the streets of LA, lots of homeless people, Barry trying to reawaken Rick (just as Della tried to do in the previous chapter), conflicts between the brothers and their father as the scenes shift from an elegant men’s club to Dad on a theatre stage then all of them in an alley.  The Hermit (soul-searching, introspection, being alone, inner guidance; reversed: isolation, loneliness, withdrawal)—Rick having sex with 2 women, underwater shots of a dog chasing toys in a pool, a huge lawn party where Rick interacts with Tonio (Antonio Banderas) while Ryan O’Neal is among the recognizable guests, a lavish mansion (someone on the soundtrack says “Nobody’s home”), an ice sculpture at the party, distorted wide-angle-shots, clothed party guests jump into the swimming pool.  Judgment (judgment, rebirth, inner calling, absolution; reversed: self-doubt, refusal of self-examination)—the movie studio backlot again, Rick strolling around with ex-wife Nancy (Cate Blanchett), flashbacks to their former troubled home life, her as a doctor treating severely-deformed-patients, him always eying attractive young women, Rick and Nancy on a beach, Rick's VO: “You give me peace.”

 The Tower (disaster, upheaval, sudden change, revelation; reversed: avoidance of disaster, fear of change)—Rick at a sleek, modern office building then with his brother and Dad at a decrepit older building, the Tarot Sun card (fun, warmth, success, positivity, vitality; reversed: temporary depression, lack of success) floats in water, fashion shoots (as the locations keep changing), implications of more sex with model Helen (Frieda Pinto) plus VO: “There’s somewhere else we need to go to,” Rick being robbed in his home.  The High Priestess (intuition, higher powers, mystery, subconscious; reversed: hidden agendas, need to listen to inner voice)—strip club (although the women never go further naked than bikinis) where Rick meets Karen (Teresa Palmer), back to the beach (a frequent location in all of these chapters), Karen’s VO: “Your mind’s a theatre”, the Las Vegas Strip at night with an emphasis on Caesar’s Palace, some random wild party (Rio de Janeiro Carnival-like)Death (endings, beginnings, change, transformation; reversed: resistance to change, unable to move on)—Elizabeth (Natalie Portman) is a woman Rick wronged in the past, exquisite Japanese gardens surrounding a home with an older man, a city-model with lots of little racing cars then stacks of blue dishes in a museum display, the beach again, Rick jumps off a pier into the ocean, Elizabeth is married (but separated?) yet when her husband returns she’s pregnant but not sure who the father is (Rick’s VO: “Forget me!”), a burned-out-house in the desert, Barry fighting with Dad, the St. Louis Arch (VO: “How do I begin?”), desert, crowded beach.

 Freedom (this one doesn’t have a Tarot connection)—Isabel (Isabel Lucas) enters the story, windmills in the southern California desert, Rick and Isabel on a beach, Isabel swimming nude in a pool at night, desert sky, Rick’s apartment from the opening scenes (even as we’ve seen him in what seem to be many other homes in these other chapters) but now it's empty, a driver’s viewpoint of a car moving along a desert highway with Rick’s VO: “Begin!” although this is the end of our film.

So What? This could easily be the question of the year where this film’s concerned, as anyone's interpretive meaning will likely remain as elusive as trying to figure out some clarification of the strange surrealist paintings of Rene Magritte (this is a great site for this fabulous artist but distractingly-packed with ads), whose imagery also seems to be recognizable yet it turns fleetingly-illusory.  Clearly, Rick’s a troubled soul whose decadent lifestyle shows a wandering loss from whatever grounded past life he might have had, with an implication at the end that he’s now ready to leave all of these shallow distractions behind in quest of something more substantial (with enough evidence to allow arguments that the solidity he seeks is more likely to be found in some version of the harsh-but-haunting-desert rather than the immersive-grandeur of the ocean, despite how the desert is shown as impressive but empty while the beaches of his southern California lifestyle are the location of his consistent presence, no matter which woman he’s currently with).  Beyond that—and the sense that Rick’s lost life to this point is not that far removed from what T.S. Eliot was writing about in his 1925 epic poem The Hollow Men (for your further edification: a detailed explanation of it and a reading of the work by Eliot himself)—it seems rather foolish for me to attempt to translate into words what Malick has beautifully constructed with images and complex audio.  (Difficult as this may be to comprehend as a plot or an understanding of what's led to Rick's current ennui [a mental state of apathy and disengagement so well explored in the celebrated cinematic canon of Michelangelo Antonioni, especially in the masterpieces from L’Avventura {1960} through The Passenger {1975}, although some might argue that Zabriskie Point {1970} wouldn’t belong in such a groupingyet, that film’s Death Valley imagery and allusive content is the one most evocative of Knight of Cups {with the further irony that a Pink Floyd song written for Zabriskie …‘s soundtrack, rejected by Antonioni, later evolved into "Us And Them"—I'd say one of the greatest parts of the fabulous 1973 album The Dark Side of the Moona statement also with appropriate resonance to Knight of Cups}].)

Bottom Line Final Comments: As is frequently the case with some films that exist on the margins of traditional cinematic conception and execution (where the argument is whether they’re of the realm of the poetically-powerful or are just pitifully-pretentious) I’m at great odds with the critical establishment concerning Knight of Cups, even with all of its seeming randomness and jumping around from one event or location to another (those surveyed by Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic are light years away from my 4 stars, with the former offering only 44% positive reviews, the latter at a surprisingly “higher” average of 54%), but nevertheless I find myself in harmony with the somewhat-indecipherable-approach of Malick here (we [me and many other critics] weren’t in league with Malick’s previous film either, as I gave To the Wonder [2013] 4 stars while the Tomato Tossers offered only 46%, the Metacritics—surprisingly higher once again—rose only to 58% [I cited Antonioni in that review as well; read it for yourself if you like in our May 3, 2013 posting]).  Maybe I appreciate these “weird” constructions of Malick's because they remind me of multi-projector-multi-image-shows that I used to create in the 1970s-‘80s (a few of which even won awards at regional festivals) where the “narrative” was an abstracted interaction between my photographs and/or images taken from the mass media, put to soundtracks composed of popular songs; I don’t claim my long-forgotten-works (most no longer available although I do have video transcripts of a few of them on VHS but I’m not about to post them on YouTube where the reduced video quality would hardly be indicative of the original visual intentions) are of the same sophistication as what we get from Malick, but at least we’re kindred spirits enough so that I can feel an appreciation for what he’s offering, especially with imagery shot by 3-in-a-row-Oscar-winning-cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity [Alfonso Cuarón, 2013], Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance [Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2014], The Revenant [Iñárritu, 2015]).

 Still, Malick's work is in a financially-dominated-medium—despite its long history of individualistic experimental and avant-garde-alternatives to standard commercial film expectations—where most audiences (and critics) require storyline coherence, very clear messages in the viewing experience, and imagery in support of those coherent thematics; increasingly, Malick refuses to offer such, for which I commend his courage with hopes that he continues to get funding even as his box-office-returns continue to sink into the abyss (Knight …‘s earned a whopping $335,558 after 3 weeks in release compared to Disney’s Zootopia [Byron Howard, Rich Moore] with 200.9 million domestic dollars in the same period, but that's from almost 4,000 movie theaters for the latter vs. a slightly-growing-68 screens for Malick’s singular vision).  The bottom line here is that if you’re open to cinema, music, writings, and visual arts of various kinds that evoke with impressions rather than clarify with explanations (not that there’s anything wrong with that; I enjoy much of what’s offered in more mainstream art and entertainment as well) then I think you’d find a worthwhile experience with Knight of Cups, although you might have better luck waiting for a video venue than hoping for “a theater near you,” in that this form of esoterica is a hard-sell in the plot-and-resolution-driven-media-mainstream.  Given how metaphorical Malick’s work is already, it may seem redundant to offer a Musical Metaphor for the experience of Knight of Cups but that’s my chosen review structure so I’ll just go with something as surreal musically as Malick is visually, Bob Dylan’s “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” (side 4 of the 1966 2-disc-album Blonde on Blonde) at watch?v=IW_qMLnbRJw, even though Malick’s protagonist is male while Dylan’s is female yet to me they share a sense of illusive fascination, which I hope you might want to wander around with for the song’s 11:19 duration.  If not, you can move right on to the odd, sad tale of Doris Miller.
                  Hello, My Name Is Doris (Michael Showalter)
Mostly a comedy about an aging woman who finds herself strongly attracted to the new young stud in her company (leading to daydreams about his mutual interest in her) so she attempts to connect with him via a fake Facebook account and a feigned interest in his favorite musicians; serious aspects also arise here, even as her romantic dreams are challenged.
What Happens: Doris Miller (Sally Field), somewhere in her sixties (which may have also been the last decade in which she had a date or felt much like her movie-namesake, Doris Day), has been working a big NYC firm for years doing data entry as a holdover from a previous corporate merger; she’s also been living since birth in the large family home on Staten Island with her hoarder mother, freshly dead as our story begins, as an agreement with her brother, Todd (Stephen Root), to take care of Mom so that he could pursue a career, although that led to Doris cancelling her engagement to a man she loved when in her 20s so as to stay at home when the fiancée needed to take a job in Arizona.  Shy and largely unnoticed by her co-workers (with her social life mostly consisting of time spent with good friend Roz [Tyne Daly], including attending a self-help-seminar where optimistic Willy Williams [Peter Gallagher] encourages her to think “I’m possible”), Doris suddenly becomes blindly-attracted to new (much younger, late 20s I'd say) art director John Freemont (Max Greenfield), to the point of having romantic (shirtless) fantasy daydreams about him which can leave her in awkward stances in the middle of their workspace as she imagines the 2 in a passionate embrace (the funniest scene of her hoped-for-lust comes when she deflates the large ball she sits on instead of a chair so he can reinflate it with his bicycle pump in a scene that probably contributed to this movie’s R-rating as it’s shot to imply him giving her oral sex—with corresponding satisfied facial expressions from her: “It was grand pumping with you.”).  To help push her hopes along she gets advice from Roz’s 13-year-old-granddaughter, Vivian (Isabella Acres), on how to set up a phony Facebook account as “Lilith Primrose” in order to leave him a Friend request, then search his site for info to help ingratiate herself, leading to the ruse that she’s also a fan of his favorite band, the fictional Baby Goya (Jack Antonoff) and the Nuclear Winters.

 She then goes to one of their concerts where, as intended, she runs into John, they have a good time together, Goya sees her wacky outfit from his on-stage-position then invites them backstage after the show where she’s treated as the hippest person on the planet even to the point of agreeing to pose for the band’s next CD cover, Fresh Vintage.  With the belief that John’s really into her, she’s shocked back to reality when she sees him kissing co-worker Brooklyn (Beth Behrs)—just named that, originally from Colorado—so she stalks them only to end up in their company as Brooklyn invites her to join the lesbian knitting group where she feels comfortable despite the gender-attraction-differences.  Doris comes unhinged, though, gets drunk, posts a heartbreak message on John’s FB wall as “Lilith,” which Brooklyn sees, decides John’s a liar about his interest in her, then angrily breaks up with him.  To console himself, John arranges a pep-me-up-Thanksgiving-dinner with a group of friends, including Doris, with the odd question to her about whether she’d be interested in dating someone younger.  She gets dolled up for the dinner, makes a private seductive pass at John (even admitting the fake Lilith post), then is shocked to find out his question was on behalf of his boorish late-50s uncle, that he has no romantic interest in her, and is angry about her role in the Brooklyn breakup.  She’s mortified, leaves the party, but the next day finally sets about cleaning out the clutter from the family home with the help of her therapist, Dr. Edwards (Elizabeth Reaser), Roz and Vivian, Todd and his wife, Cynthia (Wendi McLendon-Covey)—both of whom had been angrily trying to get Doris to empty the place, then sell it for their mutual benefit, which she tried to do once but stops in the middle of a powerfully-acted-breakdown.  

 By weekend’s end the house looks completely empty (what little we see of it), followed by Monday morning as Doris quits her job, gives most of her office belongings to co-workers (who’ve now come to admire her from being with her at John’s parties), then sets out to leave but not before one last talk with John, which ends with his finally-admitted-desire to have a relationship with her—except it’s just another daydream as she’s standing by the elevator, but as the door opens and the screen fades to black we hear him yell to her, “Doris, wait!”  (Or is that just an after-shock-fantasy?)

So What? There are a lot of effectively-funny moments in Hello, My Name Is Doris, especially with her fantasies of romance with John which are slammed back into reality, making it clear to her and us that her obsession with him is mostly all in her head (despite his genuine decency to her, along with accepting her sincerely as a friend—at least until she reveals both her romantic obsession with him and herself as the author of the infamous “Lilith Primrose” post that killed his Brooklyn relationship); however, it’s a critical question about whether we’re laughing with the situation of Doris pushing daydreams into unlikely reality (something that we’ve all surely done to our own later embarrassment; among my most recent example of this kind of fantasy-scenario is entertaining the notion that I might ever be voted into the San Francisco Film Critics Circle—as if those professional journalists would ever consider my off-the-wall-approach as something that belongs within their collective domain).  Instead, we might be cruelly laughing at Doris specifically for daring to think that this much younger hunk would be romantically-interested in someone just old enough to be his grandmother.  (Of course, that’s also part of the patriarchal attitude that still dominates our culture, where it’s supposed to be absurd to see a much-older-woman with a much-younger-man—whether in fiction or real life—while we might laugh a bit privately but publically tolerate the reverse case where an ongoing-string of aged politicians, actors, rock stars, businessmen, etc. pop up with considerably-younger-female-paramours, but even if the men get any criticism for “cradle-robbing” the women are just as chastised for “gold-digging.”)

 Personally, I don’t care much for either fictional or real-life-versions of any type of these age-based-mismatches as a general rule (although I’ll leave actual couplings of this sort to the individuals involved to work it out between themselves as best they can, which may be quite successfully in specific cases)—you can listen to The Eagles’ "Lyin' Eyes" (from their 1975 One of These Nights album) for my general opinion on female May-male December love-entanglementsbut as for … Doris, I really don’t see John actually rushing to that departing-elevator-ride to attempt to finally woo our wounded heroine.  However, maybe that’s just my own inter-generational-bias speaking (conditioned by a couple of almost-10-year-gap-past-relationships that clearly resulted in personal-developmental-incongruity-problems).  But, then, comedy’s often about ridiculing an “other” to boost our own sense of self-worth, so it’s no surprise that we’re encouraged to see Doris as making foolish choices here, although the filmmakers attempt to give us reason to believe that John could be interested in her as more than just an intimate friend (with no benefits—yet) after all.
However, there’s also some notably-significant-seriousness in … Doris about a woman who voluntarily sacrifices her own happiness for the sake of an aging parent in order to allow a sibling to pursue a better-personal-and-career-path for himself and his wife (although, with what I perceive as about a 40-year-gap between Doris breaking off her long-ago-engagement and her mother’s eventual death I do have to wonder what kind of physical and emotional shape Mom was in back then [I guess her father was already dead?  I’m not clear on that from my viewing of this movie.] when Doris chose to stay on Staten Island rather than follow her true love to Arizona), copying her mother into hoarder-dom in the process (as well as succumbing to the image of the “crazy cat lady,” although with just 1 feline companion despite having a huge house which could easily hold many more furry friends), where she can’t part with anything only because of attached memories or assumed future needs.  This can be an actual serious problem with anyone, especially the elderly who retain these objects from the past to give some meaning to their increasingly-empty-present.  (My father-in-law kept nonworking stoves and refrigerators in his garage, along with enormous piles of other objects that took several industrial-size-dumpsters to remove after his death; he was a wonderful man but he just couldn’t eliminate anything so his children finally had to do it later—although the garage sale did net about $1,000 so it wasn’t all useless, especially the trunkful of inert [We hope!] Japanese bombs from WW II [he was a Navy underwater demolition expert; though how he got all of those “souvenirs” back from the South Pacific I’ll never know].)

 Clearly, Doris has her memories frozen into the tangible form of these piles of junk, but does she have her memories or have they got her?  (I've borrowed this modified line from Patsy Cline’s "She's Got You" [on her 1962 Sentimentally Yours album] with the important refrain, “I really don’t know, but I know it won’t let me be.”)  At least Doris isn’t a complete personification of the spinster-stereotype but she does display some substantial problems that plague many of the oft-forgotten people hidden in the shadows of our society that Roy Orbison immortalized so long ago in “Only the Lonely” (a 1960 hit, on his 1961 Lonely and Blue album), also put into more recent context by The Motels with a somewhat similar song of the same title (on their 1982 All Four One album), a tribute to this movie for showing that Doris isn’t just a delusional old-maid-nutjob to be dismissed or ridiculed behind her back but instead is a woman frozen in time trying to restart her life, in suspended animation for decades while her brother and her workplace moved on without her, always assuming that she be there, quietly taking care of the duties that go unnoticed unless she’d suddenly stop doing them (just like you’d notice if I stopped sticking these marginally-related-songs into my reviews—but I won’t, as I enjoy listening to them, sitting here with a cat in my lap).

Bottom Line Final Comments: Sally Field does a fantastic job with a much-more-complex-role than the trailer for this movie would indicate.  Although it was premiered at the March 2015 music-and-film-fest SXSW in Austin, TX (winning the Audience Award for Headliner films), it’s just now gone into U.S. general release so her role could be considered when awards nominations come rolling around much later this year; I wouldn’t expect that to happen, though, both because of the very-early-2016-theater-life of this movie (with nominators’ memories frequently falling short of anything prior to October, although Diane Keaton did win Oscar’s Best Actress for Annie Hall [Woody Allen, 1977—recently named by the Writers Guild of America as the "funniest screenplay" ever], as did Frances McDormand [just saw her as Lady Macbeth in an excellent production of “The Scottish Play” at the Berkeley {CA} Reparatory Theatre] for Fargo [Joel Coen, 1996], with release dates of April 20 and March 8 of their respective years) and its likely-unmemorable-impact (although the Rotten Tomatoes critics were generous, with an 82% positive result; more details below if you like) among this year’s later releases (while the 2 films I just mentioned had the benefit of being nominated for several Oscars each, with Annie Hall also winning Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Fargo also getting the Original Screenplay Oscar, as well as both being named to the American Film Institute’s 1998 list of the 100 greatest of all time [… Hall at #31, Fargo #84], recognitions extremely doubtful for … Doris).

 While it’s uplifting that our protagonist suddenly decides to take charge of her life in a more self-sufficient-manner, that comes only after her worst humiliation (accompanied by an unlikely complete-transformation-over-the-weekend-total-housecleaning, says my informed-wife, Nina, who admits she’s inherited some of her father’s traits [but has made great-decluttering-strides so our home's more navigable for both of us]) with no indication along the way that her much-younger-sudden-friends (except for John) really appreciate her for who she is rather than assuming hipster insights that are mostly misinterpretations (as with Chauncey Gardiner in the much-more-impactful Being There [Hal Ashby, 1979], another notation rightfully credited to Nina before I thought of it).

 Ultimately, there are a lot of notable ideas in Hello, My Name Is Doris, but they’re competing with each other, undermined at times with the badly-distracting need to leave us with a comic tone that parallels Doris’ initial fantasies about John 
(it also frustrates me that Doris is willing to just leave Brooklyn with the mistaken impression of John being a liar having a clandestine affair with “Lilith” that keeps open her own fever-dreams about this guy, although maybe she’ll eventually track down her former co-worker [we have to assume Brooklyn also quit the company after her breakup with John because we clumsily never see her again] to come clean about her drunken abuse of a public posting on Facebook [a reality-based problem with all forms of interactive media over our 20th-21st-century decades, including the telephone years ago and email more recently, where non-reconsidered-decisions often leave messy repercussions difficult to mop up after the fact]).  When I put all of this together, I’m not as impressed with all of the actual presentation of possibilities in this movie as I am with its potential, but there are still a good number of reasons why it should attract a mostly-appreciative audience (although for me the result is more in line with the 62% average at Metacritic than the considerably-more-supportive-response at Rotten Tomatoes).  

 So, in bringing my comments on … Doris to closure I’ll address both the negative and positive aspects of it as I leave you with 2 Musical Metaphors, the first taken directly from the movie, the Platters’ version of “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” (originally written by Jerome Kern and lyricist Otto Harback for their 1933 musical, Roberta; you can find my choice for a performance of this song on the 1958 album Remember When?—Harback was very impressed with it although Kern’s widow detested it so much that she almost took legal action to prevent its distribution) at https://www., used in … Doris on the soundtrack to accompany our heroine’s drunken-despondency after she finds out about John and Brooklyn, acknowledging to herself “tears [she] cannot hide” because she now sees the truth: “When your heart’s on fire You must realize Smoke gets in your eyes,” providing self-deceptions you can’t recognize, which may have also clouded the filmmakers’ eyes a bit in terms of what they’ve constructed with their story.

 Nevertheless, in honor of the courage that Doris showed in having her “dreams that you dare to dream” in hopes that they “really do come true” I also offer you (and her) this beautiful rendition of “Over the Rainbow” by the beloved Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo‘ole (from his 1997 Facing Future album, which, in 2005, became Hawaii’s 1st certified platinum CD [selling at least 1 million copies]) at https://www., in he was such a respected figure in his homeland even though, with his massive body and long hair, he didn’t fit the “norm” of famous mainland pop singers; so even though his lyrics deviate a bit from Judy Garland’s seminal take on this song (from The Wizard of Oz [Victor Fleming, 1939; music by Harold Arlen, lyrics by E.Y. Harburg]) they still convey the wistful-melancholy of someone watching “Bluebirds fly” where “the clouds are far behind,” yet “Why, oh, why can’t I" go to another form of paradise also?  IZ‘s spirit did fly away, though, in that he died at the very young age of 38 on June 26, 1997 (Nina and I just happened to be vacationing on Maui when I heard that news on the radio; since then I’ve listened to and become a great fan of his music); conversely, while we’ll never know exactly what’ll become of Doris’ emerging-transformation but we can hope that she’ll eventually find some aspect of “the dreams that you dream of Once in a lullaby,” with a life newly-opened to change.  (However, I never change much so I’m going to get in “tune” with this movie’s mood by returning to a beginning trope from this review—just like … Doris’ beginning daydream plot structures—to once again offer Patsy Cline’s “She Got You” but this time lip-synched by a woman at a high-school-reunion “lamenting” a lost love; I first saw this years ago and now find other versions of it also, so maybe in the future we’ll see Doris doing her rendition if John ends up with Brooklyn—or someone else—after all).
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Here’s more information about Knight of Cups: (4:25 interview with actor Christian Bale about this role in this current film of Malick’s [clip begins with about half of the same trailer from the link just above]; he notes that Malick's shooting process is more about inspired improvisation than following a polished script)

Here’s more information about Hello, My Name Is Doris (18:09 March 2015 press conference at last year's SXSW Festival [Austin, TX] for the world premier of this movie, with actors Sally Field, Max Greenfield, Steven Root; co-screenwriters Laura Terruso and Michael Showalter; and 4 producers whose names I never got [out of 13 total producers. executive producers, co-executive producers, co-producers, associate producers, and line producers, so I didn't track it down that way either—although the only ones who talk much here are Field, Terruso, and director Showalter])

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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.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane and Barney Thomson

                               A Matter of Trust

                                                           Reviews by Ken Burke
Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ insightful reviews.  Therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when you’re ready to be transported to … wherever we end up.  Please protect your eyes from the dazzling brilliance.
                                 10 Cloverfield Lane (Dan Trachtenberg)
A woman escaping from a relationship is involved in a car wreck, awakens to find herself in an underground bunker with Howard, a survivalist who claims he helped her avoid being killed by some horrible attack, an odd story confirmed by another survivor; together, though, they begin to suspect Howard of some combination of sinister motives and gruesome actions.
What Happens: We watch a young woman, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), quickly pack a suitcase, leave a brief telephone message (as well as an engagement ring and her house keys on a table), then drive away in an ominous pre-opening-credits-scene made all the more sinister by the lack on any audio from within the story, only disconcerting music on the soundtrack.  While she’s on the road she hears a radio report of power outages in Southern coastal cities (as this movie goes on we understand that it takes place in Louisiana), receives a phone call from her fiancé, Ben (voice of Bradley Cooper), but doesn’t respond to his pleas not to leave over a simple argument, finally hanging up on him just before an unexpected, frightening crash knocks her car off the highway, then we’re left in darkness.  When a new scene opens she’s regaining consciousness, finding herself in a small room that locks from the outside like a prison cell, furnished only with the mattress she’s lying on; further, she’s got an IV in her left arm, a leg brace around her right thigh, and a chain on the brace handcuffed to a pipe on the wall by her mattress.  She finally manages to retrieve her purse, only to find her phone has no service, so she’s trapped until her captor, Howard Stambler (John Goodman), noisily comes to her room, tells her he found her after the crash, saved her life, and expects some gratitude (rather than the desperate, frightened responses she’s giving him).  Ultimately, he gives her a key to unlock her restraint, prevents her from later attacking him with a spike she’s carved into one of her crutches, tells her there’s been a big attack (from either the Russians or the Martians, he speculates) leaving the outside environment contaminated, from which they’re safe in a bunker under his farmhouse near Lake Charles; he also tells her there’s another guy with them, Emmett DeWitt (John Gallager Jr.), who enters the story a bit later (with his left arm in a sling), explaining to Michelle that he helped ultra-survivalist-Howard build this shelter, then forced his way into it when he saw a huge red explosion.  Howard says there’s no one else out there to help (he gets no signal on his CB radio), so they’ll just have to stay in his well-stocked, air-filtered, water-supplied bunker for a couple of years.

 Initially, Michelle’s determined to escape, grabbing Howard’s keys at one point, racing up the stairs, then hesitating to unlock the final outer door because she’s suddenly confronted by a bloodied neighbor outside demanding entry.  Eventually the 3 evacuees settle into a routine of preparing meals, putting puzzles together, playing games, but all the while Michelle and Emmett aren’t sure what they’re dealing with regarding Howard, who’s easily agitated, unpredictable, demanding, tense, constantly impressing on them how thankful they should be that he’s saved them.  They also learn of his love for his daughter, Megan, taken by her mother to Chicago (she must have been at least a teenager by that time in that her clothes, offered by Howard, fit Michelle comfortably).  One day, the air-filtration-system malfunctions so Michelle has to crawl through the ducts (she’s the only one who can fit) to reach and restart the power source; while there, though, she finds a ladder to the outside (blocked by a padlocked skylight) on which “HELP” has been scratched from the inside (backwards, to read properly from outdoors) by an earring Michelle sees on the floor.  Later, Michelle and Emmett confer, see the earring on a girl (looks barely teenage to me) in a photo with Howard (earlier identified as Megan by Howard to Michelle), but Emmett says this is another girl, Brittany, who disappeared from the local high school a couple of years ago (in an additional strange turn at another time, the 3 play a Password-type-game where the clue from Emmett is “Michelle is a _____,” but Howard can only come up with “child” or “Little Princess”-type words rather than the obvious “woman,” so his “guests” are further freaked out about their “host”).

 Working with a shower curtain, duct tape, etc. Michelle and Emmett try to construct a hazmat-type-suit for a plan where they overpower Howard, then one of them will venture outside for help. However, he’s on to them, threatening injury with a vat of perchloric acid, so Emmett tries to take the blame only to be shot pointblank in the head.  Everything continues in a frantic pace to the end from that point, with Michelle donning the survival-suit, partially wounding Howard by tipping over the acid barrel (which also starts a fire), escaping to the outside (before the bunker blows up) where she realizes that the air is breathable, all giving us reason to assume that Howard was just evilly-insane (Emmett said he had “a black belt in conspiracy theories”) only to suddenly find he was right as she sees a UFO flying by, then has to flee from some sort of hideous alien (about the size of a sheepdog, but more like a giant worm with teeth).  In an attempt to avoid both her grotesque pursuer and lethal gas emitted from the UFO (which might have been the cause of death for that frantic neighbor, so Howard was right about that as well, although it seems to be only a temporary contaminant rather than something permanently poisoning our atmosphere) Michelle takes refuge in an old pickup truck (her car’s long gone; Howard’s is there, with the evidence on it of
how he’s the one who rammed into her—supposedly as an accident because he was rushing home when the attack started—but she has no keys for it) the alien plops onto her windshield but then the entire truck is lifted up into the UFO (seemingly by tentacles, so maybe the ship is part of a larger machine-organism that the smaller alien is an ambulatory version of); however, as a vicious mouth on the bottom of the ship is ready to bite into the truck as well as our determined survivor she tosses a quickly-fashioned-Molotov cocktail (from ingredients found conveniently laying in the truck’s interior) into the beast, with the ensuing explosion blowing up the ship while Michelle survives the truck’s short drop back to Earth.  Locating keys on the dead neighbor, Michelle drives away in her car, finally hearing a radio broadcast that human forces are now winning against these invading aliens with a safe zone now in place from north of Baton Rouge; however, there’s still need in somewhat-nearby-Houston for those with medical or military experience to help finalize the battle and treat the wounded there.  She, again conveniently, comes to a crossroads where one sign points to Baton Rouge, the other to Houston; emboldened by her recent victories over Howard and the creatures she turns toward Houston as the final credits roll.

So What? The grim content of 10 Cloverfield Lane, as has been noted by co-producer J.J. Abrams (of new Star Trek [2009, 2013; review of the 2nd one in our May 24, 2013 posting] and Star Wars [2015; review in our December 31,2015 posting] episodes’ fame) isn’t a sequel to the previous story elements of Cloverfield (Matt Reeves, 2008; also co-produced by Abrams)—which was presented as a 1st-person-viewpoint through a camera that lets us see the chaos of a giant monster attacking NYC through supposed-later-found-footage as the city’s rebuilding itself (with Central Park now known as Cloverfield)—but instead is a “spiritual successor” to that earlier-alien-invasion-tale, with no information yet on our side of the screen if these monster attacks are part of some outer-space-coordinated-effort or are just separate stories told in a manner intended to keep us in the dark for a good bit of the movies’ running times as to exactly what’s going on in their narratives.  Despite the lack of direct connection between these Abrams-alien-invasion-vehicles (maybe it’s not appropriate to give the much-more-famous-producer the “star” credit here, rather than his directors, but, as was the case back in 1982 with Poltergeist [Tobe Hooper], it’s hard to not assume that such a strong creative force [Steven Spielberg in the case of this older movie] in the cinematic world doesn’t have a major influence when something connected to him in such a prominent role gets on screen, in the same way that 2 of the 1st 6 Star Wars releases [The Empire Strikes Back {Irvin Kershner, 1980}, Return of the Jedi {Richard Marquand, 1983}] weren’t directed by George Lucas but it’s impossible to think that he didn’t have a major presence in how these stories were conceived, written, filmed, and post-produced—however, when you put Lucas and Spielberg together respectively as story originator/ executive producer and director of the Indiana Jones movies [1981, 1984, 1989, 2008—and another to come in 2019]—I’ll leave it up to someone else to decide who contributed what), they both do an excellent job of keeping the audiences in constant tension as to how close our protagonists are to extinction from monsters, either extraterrestrial or just mentally-unbalanced.

 The ambiguity about Howard is what fuels the highly-effective-aspects of the first ¾ of this movie's constantly-unnerving-presence, as we have good reason to believe that Howard’s either gone off the deep end in imagining this attack (verified by the clean air that Michelle discovers upon her escape from the bunker) or that he’s really just using this whole traumatic-catastrophe-scenario as a ruse to have captured Michelle, for what devious intentions we can’t be fully sure (What did happen to Brittany?  Did she finally end up in that all-consuming-acid, as did Emmett’s corpse?  Howard talks of the 3 of them functioning as a reasonably-normal-family, so is he just trying to capture another “daughter” while tolerating—for whatever reason—the intrusion of Emmett whom he could easily have killed [he’s injured throughout our story] before Michelle even regained consciousness?).  Whatever his motives or mental state, Howard’s a dangerously-complex-man who constantly gives us reason to assume a motivation on his part, then reconsider it as new evidence arises, then wonder if we weren’t right the first time, although it’s clear that something killed the 2 dead animals just outside the bunker door that Michelle sees upon her 1st escape attempt just as something vicious has happened to that desperate neighbor, verified by Emmett’s testimony coming from a guy who seems to have no
ulterior motives at all, even to the point of making no romantic moves on Michelle despite both of them now convinced that Ben’s no longer in the picture, no matter what the reason might be for his sudden disappearance.  Between Howard’s quick temper, the eggshell-unease that Michelle and Emmett attempt to hide as the "daughter"-complication arises, and the loud, occasional noises that they hear outside (which Michelle anxiously hopes mean some sort of help from their dilemma while Howard says it’s proof of the invaders’ presence), we’re given a constant helping of at-times-contradictory-clues that keep us guessing, on edge, confused as to where this story’s headed which makes it an enthralling adventure that could veer into resolution as Outer-Space-Sci-Fi or Psychological Horror—what are we experiencing here, a replay of Independence Day (Roland Emmerich, 1996) or Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)?  Or maybe it’s cut-rate-current-Oscar-allusions with aspects of Room (Lenny Abrahamson, 2015; review in our November 5, 2015 posting) collaged with The Martian (Ridley Scott, 2015; review in our October 8, 2015 posting)?

Bottom Line Final Comments: After all of that great build-up, though, what we’re left with in the active-but-increasingly-expected-turn-of-events in the finale is a bit of a mashup after all, combining prominent aspects of the properly-aforementioned Independence Day 
(where a carefully-directed-explosive brings down a threatening alien ship—an ending which itself far too easily evokes the destruction of the Empire’s deadly Death Stars in both the original Star Wars [title now expanded to Episode IV—A New Beginning {Lucas, 1977}] and Return of the Jedi) plus Signs (M. Night Shyamalan, 2002) where there are mysterious occurrences on a farm that do indeed result in an alien intrusion (with that creature eventually felled by water, harking further back to the death of the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz [Victor Fleming, 1939]).  All of this activity in 10 Cloverfield Lane’s final ¼ is exciting, perilous for Michelle (effectively keeping our attention in the process), and a great stirring together of everything we’ve been encouraged to think/feel previously in this narrative in terms of fears about what Howard’s true motives are (Why does he chain Michelle in her cell when she’s unconscious yet not do it again after she’s tried to attack him or attempted an escape?), verification that just because he’s paranoid about a monumental disaster doesn’t mean that he’s completely crazy (Or does it?), and ongoing proof that whatever drove Michelle away from Ben in what must have been a fierce lovers’ quarrel doesn’t mean that she’s fragile or overwhelmed by circumstances because as the horrifying-challenges continue to mount she proves herself increasingly capable of meeting them.

 However, despite the overall effectiveness of the elements of mystery, suspense, and confusion being so cleverly woven together for most of 10 Cloverfield Lane, I can’t help but feel that the combination of so many plot strategies gets a bit fragmented at times, as we’re led in too many different directions that don’t resolve themselves in the final accounting although they prove impactful in scene-by-isolated-scene as we go along.  I realize that Trachtenberg (working from a script by Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken, and Damien Chazelle—along with how much input from Abrams I have no idea) isn’t trying to produce a confusion-in-progress-with-sufficient-wrap-up-explanation in the mode of Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie stories, Perry Mason, and Jessica Fletcher, with an intention of keeping a lot of things vague so that we’ll have plenty to talk about afterward while Michelle’s on her way to further adventures in Houston, but all of these exquisite individual pieces just leave too much unanswered about the coherence of the plot elements that we’ve just witnessed—Why was Michelle chained at first but not later? Did Megan simply go to Chicago with her mother a few years ago?  Was there a Megan at all?  What happened to Brittany?  Did Michelle end up in this bunker (prison?) by accident or design?  Was Howard constantly shifting in personality from benign to deranged or what other reason did he have for accepting Emmett’s presence in the shelter?  Are we supposed to just flow along with the easy parallels toward the end with other movies I’ve mentioned or was this the most convenient way to show Michelle’s evolution into a newly-emerged-road-warrior now ready to take on any obstacle that might come her way?  (For that matter, does she now believe that Ben and just about everyone else south of Baton Rouge has been wiped out or is she ready for a new life no matter what might remain of the previous one?)

 You can get replies to some of the questions I’m raising here—but not many of them—in this short interview with Trachtenberg, but most of what I’m curious about (Including the use of Frankie Avalon crooning his 1959 hit, “Venus,” on the soundtrack when we initially find Michelle in her bleak cell; is this some indication—even a false one just to throw us off-trackabout why Howard’s brought this attractive young woman to be held captive in his alternative home or is it meant to be a seemingly-random-tune in the air from Howard’s massive jukebox farther away in the “entertainment” sector of the bunker?) isn’t going to be answered, at least for now and maybe never unless yet-another-Cloverfield-episode might emerge in the future giving more context to these annoying alien interferences with normal American life, above and below ground (at least we finally find out the meaning of the title as Michelle zooms away at the end, knocking over the mailbox/address post of Howard’s house, which, of course is “10 Cloverfield Lane”).  For now, though, I’m throwing my lot in more with the reviewers surveyed by Metacritic (an average score of 76%) rather than the more enthusiastic ones at Rotten Tomatoes (90% positive reviews; more details on both of these sites in the links far below connected to this movie), as I had a lot of tense fun watching it but ultimately think it’s a collection of well-polished-stones that don’t fully unify into
a cohesive necklace of scenes.  However, I’m sure the filmmakers (and many audience members, as this movie scored a healthy $24.7 domestic million box-office-splash on opening weekend) are quite happy with what they’ve got, confidently assuming that “I Think We’re Alone Now” with the fanbase-clamor that will spawn another one of these stories, so just as that song (on the 1967 album of the same name) from Tommy James and the Shondells was another soundtrack-commentary on the state of the movie’s characters (also used to convey that sense of them in the trailer, which you can see as the 2nd link to this movie in the Related Links section far below) I’ll send it to you again as my chosen Musical Metaphor for what summarily speaks to 10 Cloverfield Lane with a video of Tommy and his boys at (made at the song's time of release; the opening of this version’s a bit clumsy but it’s the only option I can find of the group performing rather than just a bunch of stills of them linked to the recording, but if you’d like to see what these ‘60s rockers look like after some aging here they are again at https://www. youtube. com/watch?v=wIeRqPFJvXM—I’m not sure when this live performance was captured for posterity but Tommy’s a few months older than me so it might have been awhile back as he looks pretty good here for 68 [and I’m not talking about the long-ago-decade when this hit record came out]).
                           Barney Thomson (Robert Carlyle, 2015)
This obscure Scottish farce is hilarious (as long as you have a warped sense of humor) as we watch a middle-aged-washed-out-barber suddenly become confused with a serial killer stalking Glasgow simply because he accidently kills one of his co-workers, then finds that his mother’s chopped up the body and stored it in her freezer; from there, it all gets even crazier.

What Happens: 50-year-old Barney Thomson’s (Robert Carlyle) a barber in the Bridgeton district of Glasgow, Scotland, a depressive little man with little to live for:  His browbeating Mum, Cemolina (Emma Thompson), is always pushing him to do favors for her and her bingo buddies, he has no social life except for his odd magician friend, Charlie (Brian Pettifer), while he’s worked for 20 years at Henderson’s Barbers (originally hired by the owner, James Henderson [James Cosmo]) but has been given his 1-month-notice by Henderson son Wullie (Stephen McCole) because Barney’s combative personality (“like a shitty cloud”) keeps leading to rows with the few customers who’ll actually allow him to cut their hair.  In a parallel story, Detective Inspector Holdall (Ray Winstone) and his partner Detective Sergeant MacPherson (Kevin Guthrie) are under fire from both their boss, Chief Superintendent McManaman (Tom Courtenay), and an aggressive “colleague,” Detective Inspector June Robertson (Ashley Jensen), to make some progress on a baffling case where men keep disappearing only to have a severed body part mailed to their family’s home address from a variety of locations, with the police boss demanding action to soothe the public outcry while Robertson makes belligerent noises to be put in charge of the case.  These plots intersect through Barney’ accidental killing of Wullie (they’re tussling over who’ll get the mop for the slippery shop floor, only to fall down with Barney’s scissors stabbing Wullie); when Barney attempts to drag the trashbag-covered-body to his car boot (that’s “trunk” to you, Yank), Charlie comes along, helps with the lifting, sees a bit of Wullie’s face, leaves.  Barney wants to dump the body in a remote loch (OK, Yank, you’d say “lake”) but instead gives in to to Mum’s insistence that he take her to bingo.  Later that night he stashes the body in her high-rise-flat, but the next day is questioned about Wullie’s disappearance by Holdall who’s suspicious of Barney’s nervous reactions and knows from Wullie’s Da (Yank, it’s just “Dad” without having to say all the letters!) that Barney was set to be fired.

 With Mum now briefly away on a bussed-bingo-tour, Barney goes to retrieve Wullie's body but finds it’s been hacked up into pieces—each one wrapped, labeled, and put away in Mum’s freezer. Back at the barbershop the next day he finds fellow-haircutter-Chris (Martin Compston) also suspicious.  Barney admits Wullie’s death, but then they struggle.  Sure enough, Barney soon has yet another accidental corpse on his hands so he hauls it to Mum’s flat as well, intent on dissecting Chris just like Mum did Wullie but finds he has no stomach for such butchery; however, when mulling over Wullie in the freezer he realizes that there are other body parts in there as well, forcing him to understand that Cemolina’s the serial killer (verified when he realizes that she’s placed ads enticing men to her flat where she kills them, keeps most of their flesh in the freezer but sends a piece to the family on one of her bingo trips, so that we have an early, hilariously ghastly scene [I guess you do have to have a sick mind like mine to truly appreciate this 
film] of these “mailings” [most prominently a pair of buttocks] piled up in the police station).  Wullie finally heads out to the loch to dump Chris’ body (after having to backtrack a bit to buy an inflatable boat), then tries to save himself by incriminating Chris through leaving various victims' frozen body parts in his flat. Meanwhile Holdall’s convinced that Barney’s the full-blown-serial-killer, Robertson laughs at that, Charlie has a falling out with Barney so he snitches on his now-estranged-friend to the cops, leading to Barney being enticed through a phony phone call to return to the loch where 4 cops show up (including Robertson’s partner, Detective Sergeant Sam Jobson [Sam Robertson]), verbally assault each other, then all die in a cross-fire-shootout arguing over who’s going to arrest Barney (meanwhile, Mum’s returned, Barney confronts her at a junk pile [although I forget why that location, it really doesn't matter all that much], she suddenly dies from a hate-spewing-heart-attack, so he just covers her up with the junk).  When the press is through with the story Chris is accepted as the serial murderer, the cops are put into a negative light over completely different situations, Barney’s shop becomes a pop-culture-location because of scandal about Chris, Barney and Charlie agree to restart their friendship, and Da makes Barney head barber.

So What? Barney Thomson (as it’s now being called in the U.S. domestic market [which also includes Canada]; prior to that it was named The Legend of Barney Thomson) just came out last weekend on our side of the Atlantic, although it was released last July in the U.K. and may well have made its way around Europe already so possibly its most likely target audience has already moved on way beyond its existence while those of us north of the Rio Grande may hardly be aware of it yet (if at all) in that Box Office Mojo doesn’t even have it among the top 102 domestic grosses for the weekend of March 11-13, 2016 with fare such as The Peanuts Movie (Steve Martino, 2015; in release for 19 weeks), Jafar Panahi’s Taxi (Panahi, 2015; out for 24 weeks), and Theeb (Naji Abu Nowar, 2015; out for 19 weeks) apparently selling more tickets despite their lengthy time already in the market (hell, #102 was Troublemakers: The Story of Land Art [James Crump] which seemingly made only $112 in just 2 theaters so I’m beginning to wonder if the 4 people I saw Barney … with at the small but grand old Rialto Elmwood in Berkeley, CA are the only ones in northern North America who even saw this crazy movie).  Well, if so we’re 5 lucky folks because this is one hilarious bit of British comedy that soon will likely be accessible only via video, although I highly encourage you to seek it out however you can find it if you have the ability to laugh at dead bodies being hacked up into meat-market-sections and characters—including Cemolina—who say “fuck” or “shite” about every 5th word, easily earning the appropriate R rating once that designation-process is complete (yes, people die in it as well, but most of them are off-camera while the ones we see expire spurt very little blood and there’s no on-screen-dismemberment).  

 I realize that one aspect of British humor that can hinder its cross-Atlantic-acceptance (even beyond the often-bizarre-storylines such as this one) is the difficulty of understanding less-than-aristocratic-accents (even the servants on PBS’ Downton Abbey are more comprehendible than almost anyone in Barney …) but for those of us with such difficulties we blessedly have subtitles here, although those who don’t care to read them in films from Spanish, French, Chinese, etc. speaking-countries might be even more adverse about having to do it with actual-English-speakers.

 I have to admit, though, had it not been for my inquisitive wife, Nina, I probably wouldn’t have seen Barney … either because except for 10 Cloverfield Lane there wasn’t much else around that intrigued me a lot (sorry big-box-office champ Zootopia [Byron Howard, Rich Moore] and other fairly-successful-offerings such as London Has Fallen [Babak Najafi], Whiskey Tango Foxtrot [Glenn Ficarra, John Requa]—although I like the military-alphabet-implications of that title—and The Perfect Match [Bille Woodruff]), but Nina found a listing for Barney …, looked at the trailer, and off we went for some Scottish insanity.  That we found with no trouble as the craziness just kept rolling out, especially with Emma Thompson’s transformation into an ugly, foul-mouthed murderer with no particular motivation beyond possessing a roomy freezer and some butcher knives that would have fit right in for Kill Bill Volumes 1 and 2 (Quentin Tarantino; 2003, 2004).  This narrative form is one of the oldest in cinema, the Comedy subgenre of Task Accomplishment in which our beleaguered protagonist is not only beset with physical difficulties (like the constantly-put-on-leads in the even-older-format of Man Against the World, as with Mack Sennett’s Keystone Cops crashing into walls or splashing into the ocean) but also must work to achieve a desired outcome such as finding a fortune in The Gold Rush (Charlie Chaplin, 1925) or stopping the theft of a stolen locomotive in The General (Buster Keaton, 1926)—with a romantic factor possibly in play also but not necessarily, as there’s no aspect of that in Barney Thomson.  

 The familiarity of this old-school-idiocy is no hindrance to appreciating Barney …, though, as the accumulating absurdities evoke the great complication-structures of another subgenre, Situation Comedies, so well perfected in both the silent and sound eras by Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, where the simplest event could continue to grow out of proportion until chaos is the only possible result.  Carlyle manages to capture the spirit of all of those renowned predecessors, as Barney the barber ultimately triumphs due to no ability of his own, just a continuing progression of dumb luck.

Bottom Line Final Comments: However, unlike with 10 Cloverfield Lane, I’m not in sync with either of the most-well-known-critical-collectives because the Tomato Tossers gave Barney Thomson a paltry 63% cluster of positive reviews while the snobs at Metacritic went even lower with an average 59% score, both far below the mathematical equivalent of at least 80% that my 4 of 5 stars indicate (with a hidden subjective possibility of those lofty 4 implying even a higher percentage-number given that I so rarely allow myself to bestow a 4½ or 5 rating on anything [see the Two Guys Summary for more details on those chosen few]; you just have to read into the context of my comments to see whether I’m implying a solid 4—one of the best of the current releases—or an even-more-hearty 4—one that will truly represent to future viewers what top-quality-cinema for the ages is all about [with those elusive higher numbers reserved for items of near-or-absolute-masterpiece-quality]).  I admit there’s nothing sublime nor intellectually-confounding in Barney Thomson, merely one silly scene followed by another, yet with superb writing, delivery, character exaggerations that don’t grow old, even with constant exposure (although the parallel plot lines do allow us to not overdose on the grand extremes of the Thompson and Winstone characters, while stoic-yet-flustered-Carlyle provides us with a marvelous presence in practically every scene without dominating any of them except by his terrified-exasperation).

 As for a Musical Metaphor to cap off my comments on Barney Thomson I’ll turn once again to a song used successfully in the film, Roy Orbison’s “Blue Bayou” (a 1963 hit single from that year’s In Dreams album) at (in appropriate black & white for achromatic Roy whose soaring voice belied his mundane appearance, along with the equally-appropriate 1960s video format of 4 x 3 [like our TVs used to be]) as it’s used on the soundtrack to accompany Barney’s clumsy attempts to dispose of Chris’ body in the remote loch with the great counterpoint-irony of those wistful lyrics: “I feel so bad I’ve got a worried mind I’m so lonesome all the time Since I left my baby behind on Blue Bayou … All those fishing boats with their sails afloat if I could only see That familiar sunrise through sleepy eyes, how happy I’d be.”  In the end, though, Barney's not “Saving nickels, saving dimes, working ‘till the sun don’t shine Looking forward to happier times” because his barbershop is now a media sensation (due to the grotesque association of one of its employees being hacked up by the notorious serial killer and another successfully misidentified as that twisted murderer), so in its own metaphorical manner this story’s end allows Barney to stumble into a situation “Where you sleep all day and the catfish play on Blue Bayou.”  

 My only hesitation with using this song (even though it allows me to once again visit Roy, one of my favorite musicians [and a fellow Texan to boot—so to speak]) is that I’ve used it before which I try not to do so to provide a sense of variety I’ll also offer you Linda Ronstadt’s well-known-hit-version of this soothing song at (from her 1977 Simple Dreams album), which takes us completely away from Barney Thomson—although you shouldn’t do that too long, if you have a taste for this type of twisted humor—but still is a pleasure to listen to as we drift away with “the silver moon and the evening tide” until I come sailing back to you next time.

Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:

We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.  Other overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepageIf you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

Here’s more information about 10 Cloverfield Lane: (4:42 interview with actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead by CBS Late Show’s Stephen Colbert, but they don’t talk all that much about the movie)

Here’s more information about Barney Thomson: (trailer, but with no subtitles like the movie has, so listen carefully if you want to have any idea what anyone’s saying) (3:29 interview with director/actor Robert Carlyle—much more comprehendible in diction to my Yank ears)

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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.