Heavy [1995)

Holidays are hard for many people.

Perhaps we think of who we’ve lost.

But also there’s the pressure of the days themselves.

Christmas.  New Year’s Eve.

Even times like the 4th of July.

I didn’t set out to write a heartrending post, but I don’t always know what it is I’m about to watch.

In general, Heavy is not a sad film.

It’s a masterpiece of minimalism.

Every shot…every movement in this movie is lovingly made.

James Mangold created a world which corresponds to the understated expressions of silent films as much as it does to the desperation of everyday life.

I’m sure some people have very happy lives.

But what Mr. Mangold has given us is a look at extreme awkwardness.

Loneliness.

Do you ever feel awkward buying something?

I do.

Every time.

It’s the interaction with people.

It comes and it goes.

But for our protagonist Victor, it mostly comes and stays.

I can’t recall an actor (Pruitt Taylor Vince) getting so much depth out of so few words.

No film I’ve ever seen handles shyness quite like this one.

Victor is a cook at his mom’s little tavern.

It’s the kind of place you’d find in Woodstock.

Kingston.  Poughkeepsie.  West Saugerties.

Though the setting is never named, these are what came to my imagination.

Those places that inspired Mercury Rev to create their masterpiece Deserter’s Songs and, before them, The Band.

But whatever this fictional town, it is positively not cool.

It is in the middle of nowhere.

And so a feeling of desolation pervades this picture.

Victor cares for his mother (played brilliantly by the late Shelley Winters).

They live together…just the two of them.

There’s a little dog.

It’s a quiet life.

Sure, it’s sad.

But it’s life.

Life goes on.

Every day.

Open the tavern.

Pay the delivery man.

Cook the pizzas.

Clean up the broken beer mugs.

It just so happens that the place has a waitress/bartender.

And the actress playing this role indeed had experience.

Max’s Kansas City.

That’s right, Debbie Harry.

Debbie plays Delores.

She’s just as feisty as you’d expect.

She doesn’t put up with any shit.

And so the world goes on.

Day after day.

Status quo.

But one day, a ray of light enters lonely Victor’s world.

Liv Tyler.

You can imagine.

Liv was 18 when this film was made.

Which brings us back to Woodstock proper.

Liv Tyler was born Liv Rundgren.

As in Todd.

It’s a complicated story, but this future actress/model knew Todd Rundgren (producer of The Band’s Stage Fright which was recorded at the Woodstock Playhouse in 1970) as father until well into her life.

Todd, of course, was also a resident of the area.  This was back in the days of Albert Grossman’s Bearsville Records.

Which brings us to another fascinating little town:  Bearsville, New York.

But Liv was obviously the daughter of Steven Tyler (lead singer of Aerosmith).

Liv didn’t find this out till age eight.

Back to our movie…

Into lonely Victor’s life walks a new waitress whose real life genes were those of lippy Steven Tyler and Playboy Playmate Bebe Buell.

That’s no ordinary gene pool.

But this is no ordinary romantic comedy.

In fact, it’s not a romantic comedy.

It’s not funny.

It’s deep.

[He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother]

Because Victor is a portly fellow.

And this bothers him.

It’s something he tries to ignore, but living at home with mom…and being fat…and being shy…

It’s enough to give a guy a complex.

And this is not a rich family.

No psychiatrists here.

Just get up and go to work every day.

Cook breakfast for mom.

Feed the dog.

Go to the little grocery store.

Get some eggs and orange juice.

So I wasn’t sure what I was getting with this movie.

But I’m so glad I watched it.

I wouldn’t really call it an uplifting story, but that’s not the point.

It is cinéma vérité in the truest sense.

And the world needs these kinds of films.

There are no explosions.

Maybe there’s not even a happy ending.

I will leave that for you to discover.

But there are certainly very few cliches.

And so this picture spoke to me in a very deep way.

To reach out to anyone on the Internet who might be reading this.

This is a film about problems.

Not crippling problems which require literal crutches, but crippling all the same.

Pink Floyd summed it up as well as anyone when they sang about “quiet desperation”.

It may be “the English way”, but it’s not a uniquely British phenomenon.

I hate to talk about the “human condition”…because I fear I will sound like one of the putzes who pens the elevator pitches which adorn every film on Netflix [who writes those things?!?], but James Mangold did something very significant with this film.

Even the music is subtly artful.

We can thank Thurston Moore for that.

And so little harmonics and behind-the-bridge pings give depth to Victor’s struggles.

It’s quietness.

Standing by the staircase.

Staring up.

Is mom coming down?

Will the dog come eat his food?

There are heroes in this world.

And sometimes they are right under our noses.

Victor is one of those.

 

-PD

National Lampoon’s Animal House [1978)

As far as I can tell, I have finished my MBA in management.

Two years of extreme work ended yesterday.

And now I am left to ponder just what the hell I did.

Unlike Mr. Blutarsky (0.0 grade point average), I maintained a 4.00 GPA for my entire graduate studies program.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate a film like this.

This is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece.

If you’re not in the right mood, it might turn you off.

But there are plenty of laughs to be had in this classic.

Tom Hulce has a decent shot to join a top-flight fraternity.

His roomie, Stephen Furst is a bit portly and socially daft.

But as in the best college movies, we discover a place for outcasts.

That particular place in this film is the Delta Tau Chi fraternity house.

The 1970s were different.

It was still a joke that the ethnic minorities were segregated into a room at rush parties…along with the blind…and honky dweebs like Hulce (and especially Furst).

It was not a politically correct atmosphere.

It was irreverent.

But the real star in the early going (and throughout much of the film) is Karen Allen.

What a beauty!

James Daughton was briefly in another film we reviewed recently:  Spies Like Us.

Yes, dear friends…this is another John Landis success.

And so Landis seemed to have a sort of pool (including Daughton) from which he was pulling.

Mark Metcalf is appropriately hatable as the Army ROTC officer who makes life miserable for Furst.

But the real inspiration…the spark of genius…is John Belushi as Bluto.

“…when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor”

Exactly.

Also integral is an actor born right here in my hometown:  Bruce McGill (as D-Day).

Plenty of togas.

Lots of beer.  “It don’t cost nuthin’.”

These guys know how to have fun.

And Sarah Holcomb is great.

[Oops…she’s 13?!?]

The film enters “on the road” territory when some of the Deltas visit Emily Dickinson College.

It really is a pretty hilarious bit!

Tim Matheson is the master of strategy for this scraggly band of losers.

I don’t want to give too much away if you haven’t seen this, but Donald Sutherland is really excellent as the professor attempting to interest nonplussed undergrads in Milton’s Paradise Lost.

And so, with that…I’m back!

I hope to get back to reading all of your excellent blogs.

And thank you so much for supporting me even when I was swamped with schoolwork.

🙂

-PD

Rocky [1976)

Here we have a great film.

From an actor with whom I was so lucky as to work on one occasion.

Sylvester Stallone.

It was an honor.

And yet, I didn’t really get it.

That this movie, Rocky, was so central to the American dream.

But it’s more than that.

It’s the backdrop of Philadelphia.

The streets.

The eggs.

The meat.

The iron gates you gotta kick open.

And the screenless door you gotta reach around.

It’s the machete stuck in the wall.

And the black leather jacket to hang over the handle.

The knife stabbed into the wall.

And the black fedora that hangs on it.

But most of all it is Talia Shire.

To offset the brutality of boxing.

A shy soul.

In kitty cat glasses.

It’s the pet store.

The failed jokes.

The parakeets like flying candy.

And Butkus the dog.

You know, I don’t hear so well…because I got punched too many times…taking my best shot at music.

And so I’m a bum…but I got into the arena for a good 15 years.

And those final four…when I was a contender.

When I met Sylvester Stallone.

I was standing next to greatness.

A great actor.  A great figure in film history.

We are taught to denigrate our American movies.

That they could never be as good as the French.

But the American films inspired the French.

It was Truffaut and company took Hitchcock from novelty to pantheon.

But it’s shy Talia.

Telling a story.  A real love.

Getting up in years.  And maybe she’s retarded.

Maybe he’s dumb.

But to him she’s the prettiest star.

And he perseveres.

However many rounds it takes.

Because fate has called him to one woman.

Why does he fight, she asks.

It’s a big obstacle.

For Rocky and Adrian to overcome the awkwardness of their collective insecurities.

For them to communicate.

But it’s such a beautiful story.

Pithy.  Gritty.

When Pauly throws the Thanksgiving turkey out into the alley.

It’s dysfunction.  Dysfunction everywhere.

Abusive meat packing desperation.

Always an ass pocket full of whiskey.

And just a favor to the loan shark.

I can break thumbs.

But you don’t wanna do that.

The protector.

In the world of crime, but not of the world of crime.

Poor, simple icebox.  Some cupcakes.

Never enough beer.  Anywhere.

And the genius of spectacle comes along.

Carl Weathers.  Like Clyde Drexler.

Reading The Wall Street Journal.

Like Trump…thinking big…and juxtaposing entities.

To speak to the sentimental.  Sentimental.

Because you don’t wanna be known as a whore.

It’s that reputation.  A hard lesson.

Big brother to a little sister.

You don’t wanna smoke.

Make yer teeth yellow.

Breath rotten.

But you gotta work.

To stay in this game.

Train.  Train.  Train.

And maybe you get one shot.

It all comes down to this.

Burgess Meredith like Rod Marinelli.

The wisdom of hard knock cracks.

But we like ice skating.

$10 for ten minutes.

A date.

A tip.

When you give life back to a prisoner of home.

When you give love to a lonely fighter.

Misunderstood.

Rough around the edges.

Desperation of poverty Pauly.

Makes us all a little crazy to be so trapped economically.

But God has called you to greatness.

And will you answer that call?

Can you imagine the career?

Is anything at all clear?

We only know tenacity.

Fighting till the very end.

Hospital and next day Pentagon basement.

Be an expert for your country.

So many skills needed for a nation to flourish.

Trust.

Go the distance is not just Field of Dreams (another great sporting film).

Going the distance.  Till the very end.  Tour of duty.

God, please get me back home.

We’re so close now.

You’ll have to cut me so I can see.

“When you’re lost in the rain in Juarez” and you only want to hear her say “I love you”.

And she you.

You made it.

You lost by decision.  But you proved it to yourself.

That you could go the full fifteen rounds with the best.

The best and brightest.

That you could be the shy, awkward bum to overcome.

Don’t say that.

You’re not a bum.

We want.  Need.  That positive reinforcement.

When the whole world tells us we’re losers.

You won by keeping going.  Every day.

 

-PD

 

La Règle du jeu [1939)

I relate to Jean Renoir’s character.  Octave.  Fat, optimistic, and full of regrets.

Jean Renoir was, of course, the director of this film.

Likewise, he plays a very important dramatic role in the production.

I would argue that his role is the most essential of all.

In this film of rich, pithy characters, Octave sticks out like a polished stone.

Not a precious stone.

Simply a smooth, common rock.  A paperweight.  Our anchor.

And this is apparent on first viewing, yet La Règle du jeu necessitates multiple viewings to truly appreciate.

My language is not French.  Yes, perhaps it is my favorite language, but I am indebted to the subtitles.

And La Règle du jeu is replete with overlapping, symbolic dialogue.

But you don’t want to hear such boring play-by-play.

If you are reading, you want something special.

And I want something special when I watch a film.

Jean Renoir (son of the more well-known Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir) delivers a masterpiece here.

There is a Great Gatsby effect which may put off modern audiences of modest means (like myself).

To wit, who wants to hear about rich people problems?

All I can do is urge patience when watching this film.

It may not immediately come off as riveting, but it is well worth it if you stick it out till the end.

What should be pointed out is that Renoir was apparently making a statement about the upper classes which paints them in a not altogether flattering light.

More directly, this film takes aim at the elite and lets ’em have it (but in a very sneaky way).

And yet, it is not all about class warfare.

Far from it.

It embraces and repudiates.

Actions can be deplorable.  But those who commit deplorable actions are still humans.

We all have the capacity within us for unspeakable error.

Few among us truly stand out as regards vice.

But we are all touched by the world.

I estimate it quite unlikely than a truly monastic monk or nun is reading this post.

And if they are, I hope they are brewing up a nice batch of beer in Belgium.

The rules of the game.

The beaters.

Hired lackeys who whack the trunks of trees to drive the animal life out of the forest.

Moving like a line of riot police.

All for the rich to have their fun.

The hunt.

But Renoir is the true artist.

He makes it clear.

The rich aren’t all bad.

The poor aren’t all saints.

Both classes lean to the middle.

There are admirable actions from both sides.

Perhaps the class structure itself is suspect.

Perhaps it is a vestige whose time has come.

But reality is that rich and poor will wake up on the globe tomorrow.

Staggered in times.  Zones.

Rich at their leisure (we imagine).

Poor at the more brutal hours (no doubt).

The poor run around like rabbits chased out of the forest.

The rich sit in their hunting blinds and preach gun control.

The true hunt now is the techno hunt.  The bio hunt.

But a girl and a gun can still carry a movie.

And so, I have rambled enough about La Règle du jeu.  It is truly an indispensable film.

Something about it is almost impenetrable for an English speaker (monoglot) in the 21st century.

And so we hope the French haven’t forgotten their fondateurs like Jean Renoir.

Lessons.  Lessons.

It’s up to all of us to preserve these slices of history.

Yes, it is fiction.  Yet, real life was employed (implored) in the making of this fiction (which seeks to be lifelike).

An endless reflection.

In the hall of mirrors at Versailles.

-PD