Thursday, October 27, 2016

Desert Trip, The Birth of a Nation, The Girl on the Train, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

          4 Trips—Offering Varying Roads to Differing Destinations

                                      Comments and Reviews by Ken Burke
 Those of you who are regular readers know that I’ve taken a break from Two Guys in the Dark blogging for the past couple of weeks, largely because I was in Indio, CA at the marvelous Desert Trip music festival with my wonderfully-resilient wife, Nina Kindblad (who’s been battling some mobility difficulties for the past year due to the recent emergence of hip and leg problems resulting from a major car accident back in 1981 when she was badly-broadsided by a speeding guy deeply under the influence, yet she tromped all over the massive Empire Polo Club grounds with me for 3 days determined to stay to the end of every concert, then make the long trek back to our shuttle bus in anticipation of the next day; she’s a trooper, always has been, part of why I love her so much), enjoying magnificent performances from some of my all-time-musical-heroes.  I’ll soon get to some reviews of films I’ve seen since my last posting, but first I’ll offer you a recap of our experiences at Desert Trip, with an attempted-cinematic-rationalization for this blog by linking what I saw on the Indio stage to what I’ve come to know from some equally-talented-filmmakers.

 To be completely honest with you, in August of 1969 neither Nina nor I even knew about the massive Woodstock music festival until the following year when the great documentary film (directed by Michael Wadleigh, still one of my all-time-favorites) and the soundtrack album were released—we didn’t know about each other yet, either, until a fabulously-fateful-meeting at the Paul Simon Graceland concert in Berkeley, CA in 1987—but back then neither of us, who were functioning as surviving-on-a-shoestring-budget-college-students would have made it to upper NY state anyway so while we were somewhat sad to have missed such a monumental event the thought of such massive crowds in an impromptu-campground filled with trash and mud somewhat tempered our disappointment until we finally made our way to the location in July 2009 (Only 40 years too late!) just to see where it all took place (the stage was at the bottom of the hill, on that grayish-green-spot to the right of where Nina’s standing in the above photo) in that we were already somewhat close to Woodstock, having just been to Cooperstown that weekend to see our local Oakland Athletics baseball hero, Rickey Henderson, inducted into the Hall of Fame (of course it took going to the town of Woodstock to find out we needed to travel another 70 miles of backroads to get to Bethel where the event finally found a home, but it was a worthwhile-pilgrimage). So, some months ago when I stumbled upon an announcement for Desert Trip it didn’t take long to decide that this time we wanted to be in on the action (although this event, in the Coachella Valley where the edges of the L.A. metropolitan area and the Mojave Desert meet, was soon dubbed “Oldchella,” as a pun on the much-younger-skewing festival held at this same location every spring, with the assumption that our lineup—and the costs [if, like we did, you bought a hotel package]—would be more appealing to the Baby
By the way, that's not a tie-dye shirt on me, but
instead a grape-stomp shirt from a winery event.
Boomers such as ourselves rather than Millennials).  Interest in the event quickly grew to the point that on the day tickets went on sale a 2nd weekend was added to the previously-announced Oct. 7-9 dates, which was very fortunate for us because after waiting online 6 hours for my place to come up in the Internet queue I had to take the added dates of Oct. 14-16, along with the only hotel left, a pricey-but-quite-well-appointed Westin golf resort.  We decided to make a longer trip of it, visiting a couple of our favorite beachside motels along the way (Dolphin Cove Inn in Pismo Beach, Sea Sprite in Hermosa Beach [free plugs, no payola for us, sadly enough]), then returning to my annual “give Nina a break from dinner preparation” by cooking up a huge pot of spaghetti to get us through 3 nights of watching The Godfather trilogy (Francis Ford Coppola; 1972, 1974, 1990)"It was Barzini all along!"before refocusing on blogging about films I’ve seen since my last posting.

 What we found at Desert Trip was outstanding as far as the music was concerned, a crowd not as totally old as we anticipated (one local newspaper account estimated there was about a 50-50% split between attendees over and under 50 years of age)—although those in the grandstand with us were more in our chronological zone, with the younger folks more likely either in the pit in front of the stage or toward the back of the 75,000 in attendance in the general admission lawnchair area (probably camping as well, rather than dumping their not-yet-available-Social Security-checks at the resort bars with us)—and weather not fully as hot as anticipated (although still in the low 90s during the day, high 60s at night), likely because of the brisk evening winds (The Who’s Roger Daltry said it was like playing in a hair dryer).  So, before addressing the long-awaited-reviews, I'll sum up some of what we encountered there, put (even if stretched a bit) into a film-referenced-context.

This isn't my photo (got it off a Website) but the other
Desert Trip ones are mine
(I'm not bragging about
their quality, just setting the record straight)
Friday, October 14, 2016 
(He played for about 1 hr., 40 min.; never said a word to the audience, even to introduce his band members; opened with “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35,” encore of “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Why Try to Change Me Now” [an old Frank Sinatra favorite by Cy Coleman and Joseph Allan McCarthy; from Dylan’s 2015 Shadows in the Night album of Sinatra covers, for those of you, like me, who aren’t familiar with it].) What made this set especially impactful for those who kept up with the news better than we did (because every time we caught any on a hotel TV it was some of the latest crap about the Clinton-Trump sideshow so we didn’t make much effort) was that the performance came just after Dylan had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature the day before*, although he made no mention of it (or anything else) during his show (he’s finally acknowledged it nowor has he?).  In addition to the many songs that he sang (either standing at the piano or grabbing the microphone stand like a 1940s crooner [something he might have been legitimately-familiar with, given that at 75 he was the oldest of the Desert Trip headliners, with Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones the youngest at 69]) his time on stage was enhanced by a video triptych with side-panel-images of the band (No facial closeups of Dylan.  We were told later that he insisted he be shot either from afar or behind because he didn’t like how he looked on screen during the 1st weekend’s performance; he
need not worry about his appearance in my distant photos from a 5-iron-shot-away where the performers looked to me to be about 3 inches tall, but no pro cameras were allowed and I’m just too crotchety to buy an iPhone) as the middle screen showed a collage of odd, random images seemingly from the 1940s-‘60s of everything from billboards to people in various settings to some astronauts being welcomed by a crowd, sort of like a Robert Rauschenberg silkscreen-combine-painting put into motion.  This black-and-white-imagery (with a mysterious overlay at times of a statue of a young woman) was very evocative of the poetic-reality that’s infused Dylan’s lyrics since he initially caught public attention with his protest, surrealist, country, religious, etc. phases, justifying for me the awarding of his Nobel Prize (despite some opposition that he deserves it).  His energy level was quite high (much better than on the 1st weekend, a local reporter said), you could understand what he was singing for a change even though the delivery-dynamics differ from the recordings for just about everything, his extended harmonica solos during some songs were exquisite, and the range of material covered (from “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” to “Tangled Up in Blue” from the work I’m most familiar with, plus others that eluded me from more recent albums—even if I own some of them but haven’t listened as often as I do the older ones) should have pleased fans from any decade of his long career (although I have to agree with Pete Townsend’s statement from Sunday night that most of what all of these acts are known for—me included—are their 1960s-‘70s music so some of Dylan’s choices were strange entities to my ears, although still engaging to listen to).

*Ironically, we learned about it just after Dylan’s set—while grabbing an $11 beer (in a can) and 
an $18 white wine (in an exquisite [Well, it must be!] plastic cup) in our wanderings around during the hour-long-intermission—from The Wall Street Journal reporter Ethan Smith, who randomly chose us to interview.  You can attempt to see what he wrote at this link but it will likely require you to subscribe to the WSJ; alternately you can Google “wall street journal at music festival nobelist dylan is mum on prize,” then click on the 1st option which should get you to Smith’s account of that night.  In it you’ll see that I said we saw Dylan in concert (at the UC Berkeley Greek Theatre) a few years ago where everything he sang sounded like “Desolation Row” (if you want a quick refresher on that song, consult the Bottom Line Final Comments in my review of Don't Think Twice) but what I meant to say was “Ballad of a Thin Man” (“something is happening here But you don’t know what it is Do you, Mister Jones?”), although “Desolation Row” probably came out subconsciously as indicating (especially for those who don’t know Dylan’s obscure titles) the misery of every song at that time having the same tempo and almost-unintelligible-delivery.

 Probably the highlight of the set for me was Dylan's intentional use of “Desolation Row” (which has always been a personal favorite of mine), although he skipped some lyrics (he did that with “Like a Rolling Stone” as well).  But to extend what I saw that weekend, in deciding to tie each of these acts to a cinematic metaphor (the inversion of my usual review tactic of linking a film to a Musical Metaphor), this idea started with my realizing how listening to Dylan’s haunting lyrics while watching that elusive imagery reminded me of the equally-obscure-yet-mesmerizing works of Jim Jarmusch (especially Dead Man [1995], the eerie b&w film starring Johnny Depp), even the ones I don’t care for that much (e.g. Stranger Than Paradise [1984]) just as Dylan’s recorded some tunes I don’t like but I still admire his fierce determination to never compromise anything on record or in person.  Despite their eclectic outputs, I think Jim and Bob harmonize quite well in their related works.

THE ROLLING STONES (They played for about 2 hrs.; Mick Jagger was interactive with the audience throughout their set, introduced everyone before turning the mic over to Keith Richards for a couple of tunes; they opened with “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” encore of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” [aided by a USC choir] plus a strong finish of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”) 
As I was in the process of putting these thoughts into print I found that the high energy that Jagger displayed (along with the rest of his bandmates—in Martin Scorsese’s Stones doc, Shine a Light [2008] guitarist Richards says that neither he nor fellow-guitarist Ron Wood are all that great individually but together they’re better than any 10 others [he’s got a good argument there]; they certainly proved it in the show I saw at Desert Trip—just as they did in their "50 & Counting" tour [2013] in Oakland, CA when I finally saw them live for the 1st time) may well have been further encouraged by following Dylan’s more-lively-performance than on weekend 1 (so claims reporter Bruce Fessier of the Coachella Valley’s The Desert Sun); if so, I’m glad that Nina (she's a long-time Stones—especially Jagger—fan) and I saw them when we did because their follow-up-concert in Las Vegas set for Oct. 19 had to be cancelled due to Mick’s laryngitis (he recovered for the Oct. 22 show there) so while we fully got what we (fully) paid for I’m sorry that some of those who’d hoped to see this dynamic group in another desert locale may have lost out due to what he shared so willingly with us.  As with Dylan’s set, there were a few choices unfamiliar to me but most of what they delivered in typical “cross-fire hurricane” fashion (except for the occasional slower ones like “Angie”) were well-known-Stones-standards that had the crowd constantly singing and dancing
along (even decrepit us and a lot of our younger neighbors, way up in the grandstand), in harmony with the frantic, constant movements of Keith, Ron, and Mick (the latter often on a long runway into the pit area, the only act to use such a device that weekend).  Despite my affection for “Gimme Shelter” (which they did their usual magnificent job of, especially as their 2 background singers get the chance to be more foregrounded), I’ll have to say that their best was “Miss You,” greatly showcasing every member of the band, including their 2 saxophonists; further added energy came with the 3 screens of giant visuals behind them (mostly of the band, plus a few enhancement images) along with fireworks that opened, punctuated, and closed their set, leaving the crowd spent but with satisfaction at long last.

 As for linking the Stones to a filmmaker, it's Scorsese, not just because of Shine a Light or his frequent use of “Gimme Shelter” in his soundtracks but mostly because of his frequent concern with characters from the darker side of society (whether official gangsters as with Goodfellas [1990], Gangs of New York [2002], and The Departed [2006], social misfits as seen in Raging Bull [1980], The King of Comedy [1982] and The Aviator [2004], or just plain psychopaths such as in Taxi Driver [1976] and Cape Fear [1991]) along with the exquisite command of his production medium, which to me reflects what I find in the Stones’ ongoing rebellious image (including Mick’s strutting and his caustic comment that Desert Trip could be called the “Catch ‘Em Before They Croak” festival) coupled with their intense stage professionalism.  They were the only group to be announced prior to their opening notes (with their traditional “Ladies and gentlemen, The Rolling Stones”), indicative of their populist popularity: you always know you’ll get what you came to see, energetic to the end.

Saturday, October 15, 2016  NEIL YOUNG 
(He played for about 2 hrs., 15 min.; very chatty with the audience at various times, noted his collaborating musicians—the band Promise of the Real—but not by name; to aid my memory I later checked the Web for all these bands’ set lists, where Young’s says he opened by singing “Campaigner” [a snide song about Richard Nixon seemingly from Neil's Buffalo Springfield days—now that I’ve seen it on YouTube I still don’t think he played it] although I’m convinced he began with “After the Gold Rush” [YouTube videos appear to confirm this], no encore but ended with a rousing version of “Rockin’ in the Free World.”) While I’ve attended 7 Dylan concerts now and the Stones twice, this was a 1st for me with Young on his own (although I’d seen him a couple of times with Crosby, Stills, and Nash) who proved to be probably the most versatile of all the weekend’s performers playing acoustic and electric guitar, harmonica, piano, and pump-organ, alternating between harmonious ballads and blazing rock numbers, showing the audience a massive potential set list from which his numbers of the show were chosen, and getting into political commentary but not on the current Presidential election 
(he left that to Roger Waters on the next night), instead focusing on ecological-themes including what I took to be gardeners coming on stage to water some plants before his set began, a large “Water Is Life” sign on 1 of the American Indian teepees on both sides of the stage (he wore a 
t-shirt with that message also), and a break from the music with a complaint about a CA law that prohibits transporting organic seeds from 1 county to another (seemingly passed in support of Big Agriculture interests) so he threw many packets of seeds into the audience with encouragement 
to spread them around, even turn yourself in as a criminal if you cared to.  There was also a huge 
banner from an old ad about organic Indio seeds behind the musicians so only vertical video side panels of video of the band were used, which gave his evening's long performance the sense of the most organic and low-tech of the weekend, except for some red-hot, overpowering electric guitar duets between Young and (if I’ve got the brothers identified correctly after the fact) Promise of the Real’s Lukas Nelson (Willie’s son), at times as a trio of traded licks with brother Micah Nelson (who also provided keyboard accompaniment for other songs, including on one instrument lowered down from the top of the stage), with the most spectacular of all being a 19 min. rendition of “Cowgirl in the Sand” that should set the standard for guitar-virtuosity for the ages, although I’m sure Neil does a powerful version every time he plays it.  There’s video evidence from that night which I'll gladly share with you; Lukas is wearing the red bandana (I think)—I wonder where he got that?  I notice you can also now find a good number of other videos and set lists from this festival on YouTube or the wider Web so I’ll leave it all to your curiosity as to what you’d like to search for under Desert Trip or any of the individual artists as you might re-create the whole thing for yourself, although I warn you to be skeptical of videos that say “Full Live Concert” but offer running times of only 1½-1¾ hrs. which might have been the case on Weekend 1 but generally wasn’t for my seemingly-never-ending (That’s a good thing!) Weekend 2.

 While Young was outstanding with every song he presented that night, “Cowgirl…” has got to be my favorite of his set based on its striking combination of virtuosity and endurance.  Then, when I think of a filmmaker parallel with Neil’s entire performance I’m drawn to Oliver Stone who also delves in a partisanly-activist-manner into political statements (Platoon [1986], Born on the Fourth of July [1989], Nixon [1995], W. [2008], Snowden [2016]), along with demonstrating high levels of Expressionist-influenced-cinematic flamboyance (The Doors [1991], JFK [1991], Natural Born Killers [1994]).  Given appropriate opportunities in their respective media they could each play all night (metaphorically—my favorite concept—for Stone, of course), much to my left-winger-delight.

(He played for about 2 hrs., 45 min. [well after midnight because Neil Young gleefully extended his own allotted time]; constantly chatty with the audience although he also didn’t introduce his supporting musicians by name [still, he called them his “band of brothers’]; they opened with “A Hard Day’s Night,” then offered a long encore beginning with “Birthday” [which played directly to the woman behind us, given it was early Sunday morning before Paul got to it], followed by Little Richard’s “Rip It Up,” “Helter Skelter,” and the finale from the Abbey Road album “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End.”)  The Desert Trip crowd was consistently wild about every performer all 3 nights; however, I truly believe that McCartney got the most enthusiastic response as he brought in a grand collage of Beatles, Wings, and solo tunes, along with tributes to his now-departed-comrades George Martin (with a story about the recording session for “Love Me Do”), John Lennon (“Here Today,” written about the loss of his bandmate, as if they're still having a conversation), and George Harrison (“Something” begun on ukulele before the full group joined in)—even a story about Jimi Hendrix’s early days in London—plus other tributes to current wife Nancy (“My Valentine”), deceased-wife Linda (“Maybe I’m Amazed”), along with guest appearances from Neil Young (joining in on “A Day in the Life,” segueing into a rousing version of “Give Peace a Chance,” then adding a fiery lead guitar to “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?”) 
and surprise guest star Rihanna with a duet of their “FourFiveSeconds” hit (Kayne West was also a collaborator on this song but he wasn’t there—darn it!).  Paul said that last song is his most recent recording (released 2015), bookended with an earlier one presented that night, “In Spite of All the Danger,” which he said was the 1st ever recorded by The Beatles (even though they were still The Quarrymen when this was done back in 1958, pre-Ringo [even pre-Pete Best and Stu Sutcliffe]; it had enough of a country twang that it could have been sung at the Grand Ole Opry).  He also congratulated Dylan on his Nobel (as had Mick and Keith the night before) and Chuck Berry on his upcoming 90th birthday (Oct. 18), mixed in with all of the songs that he wove into a constantly-upbeat-set (covering the expected territory from “Eleanor Rigby” to “Band on the Run”) finally finished “officially” with a rousing sing-a-long of “Hey Jude” prior to returning for the customary encore.  However, I’ll have to say that my favorite of McCartney’s was the elaborate production number of “Live and Let Die,” complete with fire and smoke on the stage, fireworks above (even more fireworks after the encore), while the use of video screens throughout his set was quite a spectacular blend of band shots and a wide variety of accompanying visuals of various styles.

 While Paul was quite versatile on acoustic and electric guitar, bass, and piano one interesting item about McCartney’s band is they all are somewhat of a nature of lookalikes to me: the lead guitarist seems reasonably to be
a double for Tom Cruise (who stars in the Jack Reacher movie reviewed very far below), while the other guitarist/occasional bassist looks like a young Nick Nolte, the keyboard guy is a dead-ringer for Vladimir Putin (especially during “Back in the U.S.S.R.”), while the drummer looks a bit like one of those shrimp-truck-guys on TV’s Hawaii Five-0.  Then, regarding whom McCartney resembles of my filmmakers-favorites, I’ll say Steven Spielberg because both of them are consummate entertainers with all of the technical proficiency to back it up; plus just as Paul can shift from something bouncy (“Jet”) to an occasional serious tune (“Blackbird”) Steven can equally command the range of Jaws (1975) to Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) to Schindler’s List (1993) to Lincoln (2012).  Spielberg’s also very generous with his fame, just as McCartney did a small show on Thursday night at the local Poppy & Harriett’s saloon (in Pioneertown) for the 300 who could squeeze in, despite another 700 who waited in line for a chance once the intended-secret-word got out on radio and the Internet.  From what I read about it, those bar patrons had as much fun as the thousands who celebrated with Paul (Young called him the “Charlie Chaplin of rock ‘n’ roll) on the 2 Desert Trip weekends.

Sunday, October 16, 2016  
THE WHO (They played for about 2 hrs., 5 min.; Pete Townsend was very talkative the whole night to the huge crowd, especially in offering his appreciation on behalf of everyone on the bill for keeping all these guys in business for 50 or more years [including Young, relative to his days in the Buffalo Springfield], as well as introducing all of his band members after their final song; opened with “I Can’t Explain,” just built to a grand crescendo rather than doing an actual encore.)  As these rock giants from the 1960s continue to find themselves with reduced numbers of their original, celebrated members it gets difficult for some of them to continue under their well-known-group-personas (for example, the Beach Boys are now reduced to Mike Love and Bruce Johnson because Mike apparently doesn’t want to continue collaborations with Brian Wilson, Al Jardine, or David Marks, plus the loss of Dennis and Carl Wilson; Paul and Ringo Starr could never legitimately call themselves The Beatles again; if the Stones ever lose Keith it just wouldn’t be the same even with Mick, Ron, and Charlie Watts).  Yet, with drummer Keith Moon and bassist John Entwistle gone to rock and roll heaven (where, to steal a lyric from the Righteous Brothers, "they have a hell of a band") The Who continue to make a very powerful impact just with the continuity of singer/guitarist Roger Daltry and composer/lead guitarist Townsend, with other players recruited into their aggressive approach, including Ringo’s son Zak Starkey as their drummer since 1996 and Pete’s guitarist brother Simon since 2002.  They also provided some of the most varied uses of the video screens for the entire festival with visuals that shifted from full-screen-panoramas to 3-or-5 (or more)-image configurations that showed the band, various graphics, and assorted photography for the benefit of those of us who could only make out 
the appearance of tiny performers on stage.  At least we could see that much; those way back in the general admission area had 2 video screens at each front corner of their deep lawn but from what I could see of those from a skewed angle they were mostly limited to single images of the stage performance rather than all of the other visual enhancement that was provided for those of us in the more expensive seats.  Throughout their set The Who presented examples from the full range of their extensive catalogue, including cuts from Tommy and Quadrophenia, along with a searing presentation of “Behind Blue Eyes,” although the extensive range required on “Love, Reign o’er Me” showed that, despite his noble attempts, Daltry’s voice couldn’t quite handle all that was demanded of him, yet I’d still say that he displayed a wider command of vocal approaches than anyone else of the weekend’s many strong singers.

 It all built to a tremendous climax going from “Pinball Wizard” to “See Me, Feel Me” to “Baba O’Reilly” to the powerfully-explosive “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (a somewhat subtle lead-in to the more overt contemporary political commentary of Roger Waters in the festival’s finale), with this last song as my favorite of what they presented, although that’s relative to the consistently solid set in which they gave every ounce of themselves for the benefit of those of us in attendance.  When I think of connecting these overpowering musicians to a filmmaker, though, I drift toward Baz Luhrman with my memories of his striking cinematic images often coupled with stories of people fighting against oppressive social or personal limitations (such as Romeo + Juliet [1996], Moulin Rouge! [2001], The Great Gatsby [2013]), even though his film career hasn’t been nearly as long nor impactful as The Who’s presence in rock music but I still find a synchronicity in their works.

ROGER WATERS (of Pink Floyd) 
(He and his band played for about 2 hrs., 35 min.; like Dylan, no dialogue with the audience at all, but also like the new Nobel laureate Waters' lyrics speak so well for themselves while his spectaculary-integrated-production is such a showpiece that I’m sure he doesn’t feel the need to comment further; he opened his extensive set with the well-known, dynamically-building-instrumental “Speak to Me” into “Breathe in the Air,” much later the encore consisted of Waters’ poem “Why Cannot the Good Prevail,” then back to music with “Vera,” “Bring the Boys Back Home” [done by his 2 dazzling female singers], capped by a stunning version of “Comfortably Numb” with the lead guitarist suddenly way up on top of the stage.)  Despite having been mesmerized by The Dark Side of the Moon for decades, no real opportunity had yet arisen for me to attend any version of a live Pink Floyd show so Waters was the only one of these grand Desert Trip headliners I’d never seen in person.  Thus, maybe what I saw doesn’t hold up to some other concerts they’ve done (especially years ago when they performed with all of their original members), but I’d really have to use my imagination (and some of the herbal enhancement that was being passed around in my section of the grandstand; it was also easily smelled from the expansive pit and floor seats areas below) to conceive of a better show than what he did to close out the Desert Trip festival’s amazing 3 nights of music (ending, as the others had, with fireworks, but by the time the video projection of a sort of combo factory/prison—which finally turned into a literal
wall—was smashed to bits as the music came to a close, even the flashy-skyward-pyrotechnics seemed like not much more than a pleasant afterthought to help everyone walk back to their parking lots or campgrounds.  Waters and his band truly gave their audience the ultimate multimedia experience with the sound of ominous rumbling on the Polo Club’s speakers matched to a panoramic rolling shot of a starry landscape on the screen long preceding the opening number, then returning again after their set had concluded; throughout, the various sorts of sound effects and mumbling voices often used in the Pink Floyd recordings accompanied the live music so if you preferred a true sense of the original albums (unlike Dylan’s constant reworkings), then Waters did the most to evoke what you probably came to hear.  Video accompaniment to the early numbers such as “Time,” “The Great Gig in the Sky” (with searing vocals from those terrific women), “Money,” and “Us and Them” was in a gorgeous psychedelic mode but then the mood darkened with the stark-stone-edifice projection across the entire widescreen, the sudden rise of 4 huge smokestacks behind the stage belching fire, and grim songs such as “Another Brick in the Wall (Part II),” my highlight of their night.

 But this was no generic anti-establishment-mood as Waters got blatant with his famous giant pig being paraded around the audience as the word “Charade” covered up Donald Trump’s face on the screens behind the stage, accompanied by various vulgar quotes from the maligned Presidential candidate while Waters sang “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” ending with the harsh dismissal of The Donald with the video graphic of “Trump Is A Pig.”  I know there are venues where that would start a riot of his supporters, but Waters’ castigation went down well with my enormous group.  Linking such astounding performance theatricality with unabashed, inflammatory political stances is nothing new for Waters nor for the filmmaker he most reminds me of, Spike Lee, whose career has always been characterized by flamboyant, Expressionist-inspired imagery coupled to no-holds-barred-content which has gained him extensive support as well as derision—even from within the Black community—(just as Waters’ pro-Palestinian stance has earned him charges of anti-Semitism, which he denies) for films ranging from She’s Gotta Have It (1986) to Do the Right Thing (1989), Jungle Fever (1991), Malcolm X (1992), and Bamboozled (2000), although he’s also done less-controversial work such as Inside Man (2006), Miracle at St. Anna (2008), and much, but not all, of Red Hook Summer (2012).  Waters had no intention of toning himself down on Oct. 16, though, much to the delight of the thousands who stayed to the very end as the final fireworks, metaphorically on and literally above the stage, brought the night to a close.

 As I’ve now had a couple of weeks to ruminate on what I encountered at Desert Trip I’ve tried to decide if there was any one set (not just a highlight song from each) that really stood out to me as the ultimate experience of that totally fantastic weekend.  Certainly, I could say that Dylan’s overall package was the most artistic (just as a recent New York Times opinion piece gives some context to that artistry), the Rolling Stones’ was the most energetic, Neil Young’s was the most dynamic, Paul McCartney’s was the most entertaining, The Who’s was the most intense (including Townsend making a slight gash over his right eye with his guitar pick during one of his fierce trademark windmill windups before slashing out a power chord), and Roger Waters’ was the most flat-out-amazing, but I don’t think I can pick any particular group as being superior to the rest because they were all marvelously-successful in their own manners (although Bob Dylan’s was relatively the most low-key of the bunch, certainly a contrast to maybe the best concert I’ve ever seen by anyone when he came out of seclusion in 1974 with his “Before the Flood” tour, joined by the Band).  However, one specific song did stand out for me, Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon,” both because he played it as the full moon rose into the night (the Friday show began about 7pm, possibly to accommodate all of the people just arriving in Indio from various locales, but the other nights started at 6:15 so the sun wasn’t fully down when those performances began; Young’s solo acoustic tunes at the head of his set blended into a glowing sunset, giving way to the moonrise) and because it’s one of Nina’s favorites (it always gives me a warm glow about being with her as well) so I’ll offer it as a bit of a Musical Metaphor for this whole event, dedicated especially to my loving companion of almost 30 years (our time together, not her age, in case you think I’m cradle-robbing), in this video (generally good visuals and sound recording—despite some desperate attempts to capture the moon, then get back in focus afterward—likely from someone in the pit) from our memorable show on Oct. 15.

 Finally, I’ll turn from Desert Trip reminiscences to what this Two Guys forum’s really supposed to be about, but before I start getting properly into film reviews I’ll first thank my long-time-reader/ contributor Richard Parker of San Antonio, TX for the idea of putting all of these Desert Trip thoughts into the blog (although I think he really intended that I should do it directly while on the road, which would have called for far more energy and coherence than I could have mustered after finally getting back to the hotel about 2am each night, so I’m still sticking with my Two Guys policy of never posting anything major that doesn’t have some cinematic connections even if the resultant title in this case might should be a reader-warning of War and Peace and Music), then I’ll admit that the cinema reviews are going to be shorter than my usual diatribes because there’s already been enough to read in this posting along with my first 2 reviews being of films already in the marketplace for about 3 weeks so I’m getting to them way after the fact for much relevance while the final one is a pleasant diversion from the Presidential campaign wars but isn’t of enough significance to rate much of my standard rambling.  With that understanding, it’s back to commentary fueled by Coca-Cola (and cheap rum) rather than expensive festival beer as we now take some other trips, beginning with one back 2 centuries, then train trips that become hellish for an alcoholic woman, finished off with a jumbled trip through the military (in)justice system.
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.
                                  The Birth of a Nation (Nate Parker)
In 1809 Virginia Nat Turner, a slave child, is secretly taught by his master’s mother to read the Bible so when he’s older and his childhood friend, Samuel Turner, has taken ownership he’s sent around to various plantations to preach acceptance of slavery although he privately rejects such thoughts until spurred to rebellion by brutal acts against him and his wife.

What Happens: We begin with slave child Nat Turner (Tony Espinosa) being secretly taken to the woods one night to be inducted by his grandfather into the rituals of his ancestry, then we find that we’re in Southampton County, VA in 1809 where 9-year-old-Nat, his parents, and a few other relatives are among the slaves owned by Benjamin Turner (Danny Vinson)—a seemingly-decent-man as slavers go—with his much younger brother, Samuel (Griffin Freeman), a playmate of Nat’s and his mother, Elizabeth (Penelope Ann Miller), so enthralled with what she sees as natural abilities in the boy that she clandestinely, illegally teaches him to read (but only the Bible because she says that he wouldn’t understand what’s in the other books).  Benjamin’s not so kind as to provide enough food for his slaves, though, so one night Nat’s father, Isaac (Dwight Henry), sneaks off to steal some from a neighbor but he’s caught by some local slave patrollers (led by Raymond Cobb [Jackie Earl Haley]); in trying to escape, Isaac accidently kills one of them so he has to become a runaway, never to be seen again, leaving Nat with his mother, Nancy (Aunjanue Ellis).  We then skip ahead many years to Sam (Armie Hammer) as the master after Ben’s death, with Nat (Parker) a preacher for the slaves (in addition to his duties picking cotton) where he cites scripture that justifies obedience to the slaveowners, so a neighbor convinces Sam it would be useful to bring Nat around to nearby plantations where he can be used to calm growing discontent among these victimized, maligned captives by preaching peace and patience, a task that Nat willingly undertakes (the extra income is necessary for Sam as well).  On one of these ventures, Nat encourages Sam to purchase Cherry (Aja Naomi King), a wild woman at first who calms down, cleans up, eventually marries Nat, so he’s happy at home but increasingly distressed by the abusive cruelty he finds in his travels (one master barely feeds his slaves enough to keep them alive, another breaks a hunger strike by a slave by knocking out his teeth with a hammer and chisel so he can then be force-fed through a tube).

Some of the photos I found to illustrate this review
make it look like the film's shot in black & white
but it's actually shot in full color
 Nat’s dissatisfaction with the whole concept of slavery grows over the years (as his baby grows into a toddler); he begins mixing in Biblical passages that speak out against this vicious practice (although he just cites the scriptures’ content without even attempting to explain their contradictions), which begins to make Samuel and his much-more-overtly-racist-neighbors considerably uncomfortable.  Then events intensify Nat’s growing anger: Cobb’s crew rapes and beats Cherry; at a formal dinner at Sam’s home one of the guests insists that a slave’s wife be turned over to him for his pleasure that night; then when Sam is away a White man needs to be baptized so Elizabeth insists that Nat do it which results in Sam’s fury when he returns, leading to him whipping Nat then leaving him tied to the whipping post all night (other slaves light candles to show respect).  Nat’s had enough so he begins his rebellion by killing Sam with a hatchet, tells the other slaves they’re free (the house butler resists, trying to cite the “God of love” premise to Nat who responds with his commitment to the “God of wrath”).  Nat and his followers then go on a murderous spree in the neighborhood beginning on August 21, 1831 in which they kill about 5 dozen Whites (including wives and children of the male masters) over the next 2 days (the film’s 
not all that clear about the chronology at this point but it’s easy to look up, along with other facts about these events).  Nat’s goal is to overrun Jerusalem, VA (How's that for an ironic town name?) in order to get guns and ammunition to more effectively spread the rebellion, assuming he’ll soon have an army of liberated slaves to finish the task, but the actual army (with rifles and a cannon) proves too strong for him, killing most of his men as he escapes into hiding.  He soon gives himself up, though, to prevent the further killing of slaves in the region in retaliation for the uprising.  After a jail-cell-shot of Nat implying a crucifixion, he’s hung (in slow-motion, “Strange Fruit” on the soundtrack) with a boy watching his death who becomes an adult soldier in the Civil War through a dissolve.

So What? Parker’s intention was both to celebrate an uprising against the horridly-cruel institution of slavery as well as reorient audience awareness of what his film’s title refers to, as it’s the same as used by D.W. Griffith’s landmark feature of 1915 which has the dual distinction of providing technical advances that helped push primitive cinema into the realm of what's now known as a highly-distinguished art form along with its absurdly-blatant-racist-content that moved from pre-Civil War depictions of North and South through the battles of the brutal conflict to the Reconstruction period where White-supremacist-Griffith attempted to evoke sympathy for the White Southerners, celebrating the rise of the Ku Klux Klan as the necessary defenders of these “noble” people against the cruelty of the Northern occupiers and their virtually-subhuman-Negro-accomplices.  (Sadly the massive impact of that film helped revive the dormant Klan, not only in the South but also the Midwest—which had a lot more slaves and slave-sympathizers than a simplistic awareness of the complex history of these tumultuous times often leaves us with; you can see Griffith’s entire film [3:13:15] if you like or a mini-film-studies-lecture [8:09] about its content and impact.)  Unfortunately for Parker, after the initial grand celebration of his opus at last winter’s Sundance Film Festival protests about his work emerged closer to the intended release date with revived news stories about how he and Penn State U-roommate (now co-screenwriter, along with Parker) Jean McGianni Celestin (also Black) were charged with raping a White coed in 1999 (Parker was acquitted in 2001 as Celestin was convicted, but the verdict was overturned, no retrial, then the woman committed suicide in 2012).

 Parker maintains his innocence, the accuser’s family continues their support for her, and many boycotts of the film were announced in response (he speaks briefly to the matter in the 2nd video link associated with The Birth … noted below; you can also read some other accounts, such as these by Parker, the accuser's sister, and noted film critic Owen Gleiberman, for much more detail) which may well have impacted audience response (and Parker's Oscar hopes) as this version of The Birth …’s taken in only about $14.2 million after 3 weeks in release with its theater presence dropping fast.  Griffith’s “nation” was one that didn’t allow Blacks to become entrenched in power in the South because of the fear instilled in them by the KKK, whose program of intimidation or outright lynching was intended to keep former slaves in an eternally-inferior-position in this country, a racist-based-imbalance that still collectively haunts us despite recent decades of slow progress through changes in law, social integration, and long-delayed-respect for Black achievements in every aspect of society.  Parker’s “nation” is intended to be one where the oppressed find courage to rise up against their tormentors, even when beaten back by weapons of war; his goal’s been stymied, though, by oppressor-accusations against him—helped by his inclusion of the brutal scene of rape against Cherry, which has no historical foundation (but rape of slave women was widespread so you could say it’s metaphorically true) making it seem like Parker’s fixated on this inhuman act, greatly undermining what he hoped to achieve with the film.

Bottom Line 
Final Comments: While I was deeply impacted by the raw emotional power of the cruelty unjustly brought against the slaves in this story called The Birth of a Nation (not something you’ll find in Griffith’s account), I was taken aback soon after my viewing by an article that condemned the film not because of the criminal accusations against Parker’s but because of his distortions of Turner’s life and motivations, an account written by a well-respected African-American academic, Dr. Leslie Alexander, who calls this a “deeply problematic movie” because of its fabrications: Among her complaints are there’s no evidence that Cherry was raped by slave patrollers or if raped it was by Samuel Turner; Nat’s rebellion came about because he had visions of God calling him to start a race war to end America’s “peculiar institution,” not just take personal revenge on his persecutors; the implication is that Black women were just passive victims waiting for their men to avenge them rather than fighting for agency for themselves; and the depictions of slavery’s physical horrors just work to de-sensitize contemporary viewers to the all-too-frequent news stories of African-Americans continuing to be brutalized in our present Black Lives Matter society.  (Ironically, Parker offered similar complaints about the historical inaccuracies of William Styron’s famous heavily-fictionalized-novelization of this subject in the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Confessions of Nat Turner [1967].)  If I were going to take more space in this posting to get into the quandaries I as a film critic face when trying to evaluate the cinematic accomplishments of such filmmakers as Griffith, Leni Riefenstahl, Roman Polanski, and Woody Allen—given their connections (or at least accusations regarding the latter) to bigotry, Nazism, and child molestation—I’d try to explain how difficult it is to separate the (alleged) deeds of the artist from the accomplishments of the art, but given that you can find an eloquent discussion on this topic in a review of The Birth … by A.O. Scott I’ll just let him speak for me at this point, as I agree with much of what he says.

 What I’m left with is making the decision to either go with my gut feeling upon seeing Parker’s film (4 stars) or temper that with the after-the-fact-facts from Dr. Alexander (being already aware of the controversy about Parker's alleged raping and its fallout impacting the reception of this film).  After all, I learned in similar after-the-fact-fashion that the key dramatic conflict found in Southside With You (Richard Tanne; review in our September 1, 2016 posting) about the beginning of the Barack and Michelle Obama romance was likely untrue, just as the resolution of the inquiry into Capt. Sullenberger’s breathtaking-landing on the Hudson River in Sully (Clint Eastwood; review in our September 15, 2016 posting) was fabricated for the benefit of better on-screen drama, with my contemplated-rating taken down a notch in the former case, maintained as originally felt in the latter with the justification that even though the NTSB inquiry didn’t come to closure in an explosive pubic hearing the tension that Sully felt about the possible end of his career was real enough by his own admission that I was willing to accept some artistic license whereas in the Obamas' movie the whole possibility of tension collapses if they both knew they were starting the day on a date, essentially disregarding any conflicts about her being his office supervisor.  I’ve finally come to the conclusion that the Sully reasoning has to guide me with The Birth … rating as well, despite Dr. Alexander’s strong feelings otherwise.  For me, as an aging White male raised in Confederate-loving-Texas I still need to see the physical cruelty of slavery was no exaggeration (despite some current apologists’ denials), the brutality of the White masters did lead to acts of Black rebellion (even if quickly crushed), and no matter how decent a slaveowner might act at times he (she) was still wrongfully keeping innocent people in permanent bondage (unless they escaped) and could rarely be counted on to defend such “property” against racist actions of other Whites in their communities.  This was institutionalized-terror-personified—like the equally-horrific-20th-century-Holocaust—which we should never forget happened nor deny its continuing impact in our world.

 Thus, I’ll stand by my 4-star-rating based on the visceral impact of what Parker presented to me on screen, despite the serious flaws that a passionate Black scholar raises about what she sees in this presentation of her own history along with the legitimate concerns about some of the director’s motivations based on personal aspects of his life that I cannot fully judge.  Please feel free to agree or disagree with me as you see fit because where the intersections of art and politics (as well as history) are concerned, it’s damn hard to be objective or to talk at much depth about experiences that aren’t fully your own (I’m definitely more generous that those surveyed at Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, though, with 74% positive reviews at the former, a 68% average score at the latter).

 To wrap us this already-longer-than-intended-review (no surprise, I’m sure) I’ll refer you to com/watch?v=My75Zd 3RlYQ, a spirited live performance of Bob Dylan's Hurricane” (from the 1976 Desire album) on 12/4/1975 during his Rolling Thunder Revue tour which I saw at the Houston Astrodome the following January as a huge benefit for jailed-
ex-boxer Rubin Carter’s appeal expenses (he was finally cleared of bogus trumped-up-murder-charges, then freed in 1985), so it’s my Musical Metaphor for this new rendition of The Birth of a Nation as a strong, fitting combination of a Dylan song about a Black man forced to endure the injustice of a White society taken from a concert like one that I saw (even though he didn’t perform this tune at Desert Trip, as with the other musical choices I’ll be using in the reviews below) so I hope you appreciate how I’m stretching the concept of “metaphor” here to the breaking point, just as Nat Turner and his fellow rebels reached their breaking point (for whatever reasons) so many years ago, even though their justified-assaults were soon terminated (unlike my blogs, which offer the aura of Dylan’s current Never Ending Tour).  In that in the reviews below I’m offering 2 versions of each chosen Metaphor because the audio from these Desert Trip videos is a bit rough in places, I’ll do the same here at, the original studio version of “Hurricane,” with more-clearly-sung-lyrics where Emmylou Harris provided background vocals although during the fall 1975 tour Dylan re-recorded what's on the album, using Ronee Blakely who’d joined him with the Rolling Thunder ensemble (enunciation—intentional or not—can always be a problem with Dylan’s live performances; fortunately for me, he was at his most legible during Desert Trip).  Oh, hell, in recognition of the Nobel I’ll give Dylan yet another version so you can see a 1975 live performance with video, good diction, minimal musical backing, and another powerful delivery.
                                       The Girl on the Train (Tate Taylor)
A jobless, alcoholic divorcée spends her miserable days riding a train back and forth from her upstate home to NYC, lost in despair as she passes her former home where her former husband has a new wife and child as well as a close-by-home where the young, passionate couple seem to have an idyllic life until the woman (her ex-husband’s nanny) is found murdered.
What Happens: Told at times in voiceovers from different female characters, we get their perspectives, beginning with Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt), a traumatized divorcée/alcoholic who split up with her husband, Tom (Justin Theroux), after catching him in an affair with their real estate agent, Anna Boyd (Rebecca Ferguson), but she still pines for him, partially because he’s the one who’d tell her what she did during her drunkened-blackcouts, partially because she still sees their former home in Ardsley, Westchester County, NY each day from her commuter train where he’s now married to Anna, with a baby daughter, Evie (another source of marriage-trauma for Rachel and Tom was her inability to conceive).  A couple of houses away, Rachel also constantly sees a hot young couple who’re quite willing to expose their lovemaking to anyone who watches through their open windows, especially Rachel who fantasizes about this ideal relationship while guzzling vodka from her water bottle (as it turns out, Rachel’s also lying to roommate Cathy [Laura Prepon] that she’s going into Manhattan for her job which she was fired from a year ago because of the boozing).  However, things aren’t so rosy for the sexual couple either, as we hear in VO from Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennett) that she’s an inherently dissatisfied person, a liar cheating on husband Scott (Luke Evans) with several men, lusting after her psychiatrist, Dr. Kamal Abdic (Édgar Ramírez).  One day Rachel sees Megan kissing Kamal on her balcony, becomes infuriated that this woman’s destroying her fantasies, leaves the train to confront this stranger, then awakes from a stupor the next day to find herself stained with blood followed by the news that Megan’s missing, with Rachel as a suspect questioned by Detective Sergeant Riley (Allison Janney) as Megan was also the nanny for Tom and Anna (before abruptly quitting to take a job at a NYC gallery, leaving Anna furious).  

 In that Rachel has no memory of what happened that awful night, she’s worried she might be guilty recalling a party at Tom’s boss’ swanky Manhattan high-rise where she made a fool of herself to the boss’ wife, Martha (Lisa Kudrow), most likely the reason for Tom being fired, although she keeps calling her ex as well as coming to his neighborhood, another source of Anna's frequent problems.

 Through a lot of plot twists, chronological shifts, rapid flashbacks, and complications from intentionally-confusing-physical-resemblances between Anna and Megan we learn that Megan is dead (also pregnant), that Scott suspects Dr. Abdic (after Rachel tells him of her observation from the train), Rachel recognizes another guy from that fateful train ride who followed her the night she went looking for Megan then tried to help Rachel when he found her to be bloodily-beaten (but she just chased him away), Megan’s fetus was the result of Tom who was having an affair with her (although Scott was a temporary suspect, which drove a wedge between him and Rachel because she lied about knowing Megan, although as events are variously revealed to us we realize that Kamal was simply trying to help Megan, not really following up on her lurid advances toward him), then Rachel learns from Martha that Tom was fired for his office affairs, that it was a false story about her drunken antics at the dinner party—one of many—he told Rachel in his ongoing plan to keep her disoriented and dependent on him.  As Rachel’s memory of Megan’s final night begins to come back, we see that she actually stumbled upon her and Tom at a tunnel near the train stop at which point he attacked Rachel then a bit later killed Megan when he learned she was planning to keep the baby, thereby further compromising his life.  When Rachel comes to warn Anna about all this, Tom confronts them; Rachel tries to leave but Tom catches up with her only to be caught off guard by a corkscrew she snuck out of the kitchen.  However, the initial stabbing leaves him conscious so Anna twists it into his neck, killing him.  Anna backs up Rachel’s story of self-defense, a year later Rachel’s sober, has a new job, still rides the same train, but now sits on the other side of the aisle so that she no longer looks at nor thinks about her past.  There’s a lot to keep up with in this plot, so if I’ve glossed over it too quickly you might want to consult this short video (4:09) which explains how the complications come together in the ending’s closure.

So What? This dark movie is based on an international-mega-best-seller, a 2015 debut novel of the same name by Paula Hawkins, a UK author who set her story mostly on the outskirts of London.  Nina’s read it, but that was several months (and books) ago so she doesn’t recall it being nearly as tension-filled as the movie; thus, I consulted a summary of it (You don’t expect me to read the actual book, do you?  Although I am in the midst of Dan Brown‘s Inferno, but I’ll never be able to finish it before the Tom Hanks-vehicle [Ron Howard] opens up this weekend so you’ll just have to put up with a half-baked-review—as usual—of what happens on screen as I get to it next week), which sounds quite similar to its cinematic adaptation, although I don’t know if the book features the flurry of flashbacks and Rachel’s inaccurate memories which make the movie quite effective in its sense of mysterious intrigue.  For those more aware of the book than me (the vast majority of thriller-enthusiasts, I’m sure), The Girl …’s  adaptation was a welcomed-event, with anticipation of another dose of the hugely-popular Gone Girl's (David Fincher, 2014; 4-star review in our October 9, 2014 posting) gritty-romantic-deviations, also adapted from a phenomenal-best-seller (Gillian Flynn, 2012).  However, for many that’s where the comparisons end as the earlier movie garnered 88% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, 79% on Metacritic, with a gross of $167.8 million in the U.S.-Canada market, whereas The Girl …’s made only about 59 million domestic dollars during its 3 weeks of release so far with pitiful (undeserved, I'd say) scores of 43% at RT, 48% at MC (always a bit surprising when the latter offer the higher number), with complaints about confusing plot elements and scene structures, characters that offer little reason for audience connection, overall flat feelings, although there’s consistent praise for the acting abilities of Blunt and Bennett (both of whom I’m keeping in mind for possible Oscar recommendations later, although I know that’s very unlikely to happen given how the movie’s tanking both critically and financially).  

 Maybe I was too focused on leaving for a long trip to Southern CA the next day, ultimately arriving at Desert Trip, to be properly critical of this movie (nor did I have any expectations based on the book), but I found it generally enthralling, functioning as a well-crafted mystery where I couldn’t waste too much time pondering over clues because what I thought I knew kept proving to be false, with superb acting (especially by the women noted just above) that kept me interested throughout.

Bottom Line 
Final Comments: Although I occasionally offer a rating-response that’s numerically-lower than the overall critical consensus (for example, most notable for me this year is the Japanese animated-feature Only Yesterday [Isao Takahata; review in our March 9, 2016 posting] where my 3½ stars completely pale in comparison to RT’s 100%, MC’s 90%, but I also lowballed Southside With You, giving it 3 stars while RT’s response was 92%, MC’s 74%), when I’m out of sync with the majority it’s usually me being more generous, even when it’s about something I’m not all 
that interested in (such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies [Burr Steers; review in our February 11, 2016 posting; 3 stars from me vs. RT’s 42%, MC’s 45%]) but normally because I find virtues that most others don’t care to respond to (Knight of Cups [Terrence Malick; review in our March 24 2016 posting; my 4 stars vs. RT’s 44%, MC’s 54%], A Hologram for the King [Tom Tykwer; review in our April 28, 2016 posting; 
4 stars from me vs. RT’s 62%, MC’s 59%]—with another superb performance from Tom Hanks—Genius [Michael Grandage; review in our June 16, 2016 posting; my 4 stars vs. RT’s 48%, MC’s 56%], The Infiltrator [Brad Furman; review in our July 20, 2016 posting; my 4 stars vs. RT and MC’s surprising agreement of 66%]—here, an excellent performance from Bryan Cranston—Snowden [Oliver Stone; review in our September 22, 2016 posting; my 4 stars vs. RT’s 60%, MC’s 58%]).  

 Certainly, that’s the case again with The Girl on the Train where my roughly 70% (although you could consider it being a bit higher, given that I rarely go above 4 stars for anything except proven classics or those with strong potential to become such) is considerably higher than the RT and MC averages noted above, but I can honestly say I was entertained (and appropriately caught off-guard in some calculated places, so that even what’s seen directly on screen—Megan and Kamal kissing on her balcony—becomes part of this story’s intentionally-dubious-narration, carefully calculated to keep novel-virgins like me [concerning this plot’s specifics, I mean] off-balance until the very end), found the pleasure I seek when investing a couple of hours into a filmic-experience, and came away more convinced than ever that Emily Blunt deserves more prestigious statuary on her mantelpiece than she’s yet been able to accumulate (a Supporting Actress Golden Globe for TV movie Gideon’s Daughter [Stephen Poliakoff, 2005], BAFTA/LA Britannia Awards 2009 British Actress of the Year).

 Regarding a Musical Metaphor for The Girl on the Train I think it only appropriate that with all of the confused identities and events from this story that I turn to The Who’s “Who Are You?” (giving me another excuse to relive more Desert Trip memories) from their 1978 album of the same name, their last one they released before Keith Moon’s death, at https:// ?v=jPI-h0xe1vg, from their October 9 festival performance (I saw them on the 16th, but I’m sure the dynamics were very similar) which gives you a solid sense of the event but, unfortunately, the audio’s a bit muddled so here’s a clearer version if you like at from probably 1978 when all 4 original Who members were alive, a collage of recording studio footage that showsas you realize what you're watchinghow the various instrumental and vocal tracks are laid down separately to then be mixed into the final version that we hear on the CD (which is why rock bands need a good number of backup musicians and vocalists in live performance to augment what begins as just a 4-person-group).  Further, if you examine the lyrics you’ll find reasonable parallels between Rachel's sad circumstances and this singer who “woke up in a Soho doorway” (especially when you think of Rachel in her original English incarnation)"[…] “remember[s] throwin’ punches around […] took the tube back out of town [… asking] How can I measure up to anyone now After such a love as this?”

                   Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (Edward Zwick)

An ex-Army MP officer is now a self-chosen-drifter who comes to D.C to meet a current MP officer he’d like to know better but she’s just been arrested for espionage as 2 men under her command have been killed in Afghanistan; Reacher breaks her out of jail, then they go about a rapid-paced quest to clear both their names as they find the real villains in this plot.
What Happens: In an unspecified rural location the local sheriff (Jason Douglas) and his deputy (Judd Lormand) come to a diner where 4 guys lay unconscious outside while ex-Army MP Major (he constantly emphasizes the “ex”) Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) is waiting inside; when he’s about to be arrested for the assaults he calmly tells the sheriff that the pay phone’s about to ring, with the lawman soon to be the one in handcuffs.  This quickly comes about as an Army MP squad pulls up to take the sheriff away because he’s been kidnapping undocumented-migrants on nearby Army land, then selling them in a human-trafficking-operation, busted by Reacher’s clandestine plans.  After phone conversations with his contact back in Washington, D.C., Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), he decides his next drifter-direction will be to the Capitol to meet her, but when he arrives he finds she’s been arrested for espionage in connection with the murders of 2 of her men in Afghanistan.  He also learns of a paternity suit filed against him claiming Reacher to be the father of 15-year-old Samantha Dayton (Danika Yarosh) with neither of these bits of news making any sense to him.  Reacher stalks, then tries to talk with Sam, but she rejects him, as she doesn’t like to be followed (neither does he, as he demonstrates to 2 goons on his tail, shown in the related video links below); he also meets with Turner’s lawyer, Colonel Bob Moorcroft (Robert Catrini), then faces his next shock when the Col. turns up dead, the Army charging Reacher with the murder.  

 Through some quick thinking (and his well-muscled-body), Reacher manages to break both himself and Turner out of the military slammer, which results in the actual murderer, The Hunter (Patrick Heusinger), killing the officer in charge of all of this, Col. Sam Morgan (Holt McCallany).  Fearing that Sam’s also in danger, Reacher and Turner find her hiding at her residence where her foster-parents have been killed, then they decide to take her with them to New Orleans in search of ex-G.I. Daniel Prudhomme (Austin Hebert), in hiding because he’s the only witness to the Afghanistan killings.

 As all of this complicated set-up rushes to a heated conclusion: Reacher and Turner finally manage to convince Capt. Anthony Espin (Aldis Hodge)in charge of re-arresting our heroesto help them instead, so as they finally find Prudhomme in a drug den he manages to explain how The Hunter was the killer there (and everywhere else) just before he’s shot by a squad from the military contractor Parasource, carrying on a secret business where they’re apparently making up losses from recent cancellations of their military contracts by selling U.S. weapons that they’re supposed to be returning to stateside, but then Prudhomme and a few others found out their scheme so eliminations became mandatory, including of Turner and Reacher.  After a lot of gunfire, car chases, and deaths of intended-assassins, Reacher, Turner, and Espin get a squad of MPs to inspect a Parasource shipment, overseen by CEO General James Harkness (Robert Knepper); the enclosed rocket launchers match the manifest, but Reacher shows that these weapons are actually full of opium, the true value item in the scheme to balance out the company’s losses.  Harkness is arrested but The Hunter and a couple of henchmen have traced Sam to her French Quarter hotel through her use of a stolen credit card (which allowed the hero trio to pay for their travel to N.O.) so Reacher and Turner rush to her rescue through a huge Halloween parade; the minor thugs are killed, leaving Reacher and Hunter to fight it out by themselves on a roof, which Reacher finally terminates with a tackle that sends them both flying to land below, then The Hunter finally dead after an extended fist-fight with Reacher that leaves our hero exhausted.  

 Back in D.C., all charges have been dropped, Turner’s returned to her former command, Sam tells Reacher that he’s not her Dad when he fails to recognize the waitress (her mother) in the café where they’ve planned to meet (she encouraged Mom to file the phony lawsuit in hopes of getting some financial help; how Reacher was chosen for the scam I’m not clear) but (despite lack of resources) she somehow ends up a student in the private girls’ school from Turner’s past when Reacher hits the road again, as he always does, even though he's grown fond of Sam in their time together.

So What? I’ve read several of Lee Child’s novels about jumping' Jack Reacher (not in any sort of chronological order, though), but I don’t remember the details about any of them except that the written character is a hulking guy, not a man roughly my size like Cruise (although he’s certainly more well built than me, so I guess lifting beer mugs isn’t quite as effective for exercise in becoming a muscular actor as is pumping iron), and that there are some fascinating descriptions of how Reacher often instantaneously sizes up a seemingly-impossible-situation, allowing him to quickly come to a strategy that allows him to beat up several guys confronting him at once.  The opening scene of this story (taken from Child’s 2013 novel of the same name) about the corrupt sheriff caught off-guard by Reacher’s set-up does seem familiar but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I read this book.  Whether I did or not, the story on screen is typical Reacher in that a guy who travels with only some cash and a toothbrush in his pockets is determined to preserve his personal freedom after having giving many glorious years to military service, but he now wants little to do with authority, regulations, or expectations from others, except that they’ll know he’s indefatigable once he’d decided to bring justice to whomever the locally-oppressed may be.  As I noted in my review (December 23, 2012) of the earlier episode of this potential-series, simply called Jack Reacher (Christopher McQuarrie, 2012)—based on Child’s One Shot (2005)—Cruise is a very unlikely-choice for the character given Reacher’s written description as a tall, beefy (but agile) guy, yet he pulls it off with appropriate attitude (supreme confidence), masterful-martial-arts-movements, and a convincing ability to make you ultimately trust his decisions even if you can’t make any initial sense out of what his motivations or strategies seem to be as chaotic defeat looms all around him.  

 Cruise continues to exude these winning qualities in … Never Go Back, which made about $22.9 million in its domestic debut last weekend so the continuation of this series may be going forward depending on how well this movie plays out in North America and other markets during its current run, giving Cruise further legitimacy as an action star to match his work in the Mission: Impossible movies (with a 6th one of those tentatively-intended for 2018).  If the Reacher franchise works out also, at least there’s plenty of material to work with as Child has written 21 of these novels so far, providing enough of a narrative foundation to take Jack well into James Bond-style-overdrive.

Bottom Line 
Final Comments: I’m proud (I guess) to say that for this posting’s 3 reviews I’ve remained consistently out of sync with the overall critical establishment as my 3 stars for Jack Reacher: Never Go Back are once again notably higher than what you'll find in the RT and MC consensuses of 40%, 47% respectively.  Certainly there’s nothing more substantial going on here than big does of well-choreographed-action-scenes where Jack proves to have more than enough manpower to take on as many idiot antagonists as attempt to overcome him, although when they bring heavy firepower into the equation he does need assistance which Maj. Turner, Capt. Espin, and their associates provide as necessary.  There’s nothing new here in terms of a superior hero distaining rigid social structures for the purposes of maintaining his independence 
(he left the Army when he felt that “the uniform no longer fits”) but still willing to take on the task of protecting strangers whom he feels are getting some kind of raw deal with—as best I recall from the books—his antagonists often being members of some large corporate power using their resources to make life miserable for a few or even many who can’t get justice from the normal structures of law-enforcement, so Reacher comes into their lives as a law unto himself to balance the scales.

 If this sounds familiar from a host of westerns and vigilante movies (including the more extreme superhero genre where the abilities of the protagonists and the arsenals of the antagonists are simply raised to higher levels of intimidation and rescue), you’re correct, so based on what I’ve seen on screen so far (or read, for that matter) I can’t recommend these Jack Reacher stories as being anything more than successful escapist entertainment (just as Reacher himself is always ready to escape when anything starts getting serious in a relationship—apparently after all of the excitement they’d already shared he didn’t care to stick around for more investment with Maj. Turner after all—although in the books I’ve read he does develop a settled-situation with some woman in NYC for awhile but I’m not sure what becomes of that); however, if that’s what you might need on a tense, stressed-out-bargain-matinee-afternoon then I’d say your discounted dollars would be well-spent.

 To cap all of this off with a final Musical Metaphor I’ll turn one last time to my Desert Trip catalogue for the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” (from the 1968 Beggars Banquet album) at https: // watch?v=tWbSjT008i4 to give you the same grand performance of this eerie, haunting tune that Nina and I witnessed almost 2 weeks ago on Oct. 14 in Indio (although the audio gets a little muddled on this video so, if you’d prefer, here’s a clearer version at https://www.  I decided to choose this song because it talks of cynicism, delight in the misery of others, exploiting the “doubt and pain” of those who run afoul of soulless attitudes and organizations just as the Parasource thugs are willing to eliminate anyone in their way to protect the riches of their illicit smuggling empire.  I know this is a crowd favorite at Stones’ concerts with everyone “woo woo-ing” their way through the performance as if this were a celebration of proud accomplishment rather than Lucifer’s own bragging about how he’s sown discord and misery throughout human history, so it’s a song with a catchy rhythm that I’ve always detested the lyrics of, making it well-connected to the heartlessness of Harkness, supported by his ex-military-goons in defiance of what their previously-chosen-public-service was supposed to offer to fellow citizens.  There’s no “puzzling” about “the nature of [this] game,” just justified relief when it’s closed down.
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.*  Overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

*We’re sorry to say that a Google software glitch causes every Two Guys in the Dark posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to the Summary page, but there are too many of them to go back and fix them all.  From 8/26/16 on this link is accurate, with hopefully not too much confusion caused by this latest stupid snafu from the Alphabet overlords’ programming problems.

Here’s more information about The Birth of a Nation: (8 min. interview with Nate Parker, speaking on both the film and his 1999 rape charge) 

Here’s more information about The Girl on the Train: (5:06 interview with actor Emily Blunt and original novelist Paula Hawkins)

Here’s more information about Jack Reacher: Never Go Back:

Here are a few clips from the movie to enhance the above trailer— (Reacher breaks Maj. Turner out of military prison), (Reacher attacks a couple of goons who are following him), (Reacher attacks a couple of other goons following him and Turner on an airplane)

Please note that to Post a Comment below about our reviews you need to have either a Google account (which you can easily get at if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at  Thanks.

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.



  1. Quite an introduction to your next book. If you need an editor I am experienced in the APA format. A little more filler and a reference list and you are ready to publish.

    I too have seen most the Desert Trip acts in my earlier days except for perhaps The Who (never my cup of tea). Pink Floyd was probably the best live act I witnessed in an outdoor venue. Particularly one dark and ominous summer night in Houston's Rice Stadium with 50,000 of my closest (cultural) friends. Pink Floyd's production values were superb including an intelligible audio mix and the quite advanced multimedia. It was only surpassed by mother nature's domineering lightning display about two thirds of way through that ultimately knocked out the power and left us walking in the rain through the campus and adjacent Rice University neighborhoods. Sounds like you two had a memorable weekend at Desert Trip.

    I initially thought The Birth of a Nation was a release of D.W. Griffith's 1915 classic since I had missed the trailers for the 2016 version. I also did know much about the factual controversy you present here although it's clear that events like this did take place. Somehow I suspect we will soon be faced with a North American Denier movement about the worst aspects of slavery in much the same way some Europeans deny the holocaust (also the subject of the current release Denial, which is ultimately an effective courthouse drama).

    I too liked Girls Gone Wild, no wait, The Girl on a Train film, perhaps more than your 3.5 stars. You have to catch it cold and without spoilers -- the best way in my opinion when it's a novel adaption. Gone Girl quality? Not quite but worth the time.

    Have not seen the latest Jack Reacher due to the overall poor reviews but I liked the last installment. I will probably wait for this to arrive at one of the dollar theaters.

    Thanks for your continuing good work Ken.

  2. Hi rj, Thanks as always for your detailed comments. Sounds like you really got an "electric" Pink Floyd show back in the day but even as much as CA continues to need rain (especially in the southern half of the state) I'm very glad we got the dry version of this show.

    I could certainly have used your APA skills when I was writing academic journal articles but where this blog material's concerned I'm afraid that any good editor would reduce me to about 3 sentences so I'd probably end up more with a short pamphlet than a book. I enjoy writing the way I do, though, so it's great that there are a few such as yourself who actually read it all; my latest Google figures show last month's tally to be about 14,000 hits but I rarely get any feedback as to what anyone thinks of the material, so your thanks are especially appreciated--as are your opinions whether we agree or not (although we mostly do). Ken