Kingpin [1996)

The concept of the “family” movie has changed since The Sound of Music in 1965.

Wikipedia, that grand arbiter of officiality, does not primarily recognize “family” as a genre.

They opt for “children’s film”.

Nonetheless, the Wiki article lists “family film” as an alternative name for this nebulous genre.

In 1965, The Beatles were still releasing albums like Rubber Soul.

1966 saw these same alchemists get a bit edgier with Revolver.

By 1967, the whole world was tripping balls to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

It’s important to document this sea change in pop culture by way of the personages pictured on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s:

-Aleister Crowley

-Lenny Bruce

-William S. Burroughs

-Karl Marx

-and many others.

Just these four personalities alone made for a shocking collection on the cover of what was sonically a hippy-dippy platter.

But maketh thou no mistake:  The Beatles were self-consciously out to SHOCK!

1971.

By then, The Beatles were no more.

1968 had come and gone (violently).  And The Beatles had reached their zenith (or nadir) of angst with songs like “Helter Skelter” (from “The White Album“).

There were no new Beatles albums in 1971.

Indeed, there was never again a “new” Beatles album

But 1971 gave us Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

And so, about four years late, Hollywood managed to weave the psychedelia of Sgt. Pepper’s into a bona fide family classic.

It took a while longer before Hollywood had another idea with legs (other than just borrowing from the great minds in rock music).

Aliens!

It is worth noting that the three original Star Wars films (1977, 1980, and 1983) were interpolated in 1982 by a cute alien named E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

Sure, there were classic superheroes (like Superman in 1978), but the next real wave was another coup of futuristic thinking.

Time machines.

The Back to the Future franchise raked in whopping revenue of nearly a billion dollars at the box office over the release years of 1985, 1989, and 1990.

But still, no major taboos had been broken in this fragile genre.

There was no auteur conversant in James Monaco’s theories on “exploding genres”.

Yet, two films from this same period stick out as family-proto (not proto-family).

1988:  Who Framed Roger Rabbit?  [ooh la la…stretching the genre like Jessica Rabbit stretched her red sequin gown]

-1989:  National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation [a real benchmark or signpost…perhaps not as racy a National Lampoon’s Vacation, but still edgy enough to elicit laughter during “the decline of the West” (as Oswald Spengler put it)]

Which almost brings us to the unlikely masterpiece that is Kingpin.

Randy Quaid had been counted on by the National Lampoon franchise for his peerless role of Cousin Eddie.

By 1996, he would become a priceless asset for the makers of Kingpin.

It is hard to chart how we went from The Sound of Music to Kingpin…even with the help of the inestimable Beatles.

If we are to really reach our goal (an explanation), we must follow the followers–the children of The Beatles.

-1970:  Syd Barrett was still bloody mad (and brilliant) on The Madcap Laughs [especially the song “No Good Trying”]

-The Mothers of Invention released albums titled Burnt Weeny Sandwich and Weasels Ripped My Flesh [pretty odd, edgy stuff]

-and international artists like Amon Düül II (from Germany) gave the world a whole new organic, electro-bombastic sound to attempt to decode

-1971:  The Krautrock invasion continued with CAN’s Tago Mago

-Tribal hippies Comus found the perfect sound with First Utterance

-1972:  Hawkwind released their cosmic, perpetual-motion masterpiece Doremi Fasol Latido

-1973:  Pink Floyd changed the cultural landscape with Dark Side of the Moon (perhaps presaging the space/aliens films which would preoccupy family film makers in the coming years)

-Brian Eno melted many minds with his masterpiece Here Come the Warm Jets (complete with the balding artist on the cover in drag)

But we missed something significant:

Led Zeppelin.

If the 1970s belonged to any one band, it was this one.

-their first two albums were released in 1969

-by the time of Led Zeppelin III (1970), they were competing against overt (though clownish) occultists like Black Sabbath [Jimmy Page of Zeppelin being a more covert, zealous admirer of Aleister Crowley]

Led Zeppelin IV was released in 1971

Houses of the Holy saw the light of day in 1973

Physical Graffiti dropped in 1975

But as Led Zeppelin began to peter out, another group picked up the slack and streamlined the music.  Their message was as tough as their humor was bawdy.

AC/DC slapped the world with High Voltage (1976), Let There Be Rock (1977), and other masterpieces which made for a loud world.

But music was just getting started in asserting its agenda for Hollywood.

Iggy Pop dropped two masterpieces in 1977.  One light and tough (Lust for Life), and the other a much darker affair (The Idiot).

But the real earthquake…the real force which rent the curtain in the temple was Nevermind the Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols.

From this album in 1977, nothing was ever the same again.

And so the film under consideration, Kingpin, was born from many decades of broken taboos.

Some would call this “progressive” (and then proceed to solicit a donation).

Oswald Spengler might rightly have called it The Decline of the West.

But in the case of Kingpin, I can only call it funny.

I can’t pass judgement on film since 1965.

As to whether it is fit for families to view together.

But I can pass judgement on this film insofar as its most important merit.

It’s damned funny!

I was Munsoned by Cinema Paradiso.  Long ago.

I thought I had a chance.  But I was Amish.  I just didn’t know it yet.

But let’s first start by talking about the dirtbags who frame this film.

#1 is Woody Harrelson (though he starts as just a protégé).

Woody has had an interesting life.

When I was growing up in San Antonio, one of our family shows to watch after the 10 p.m. news was Cheers.  This gave us great comfort.  Great laughs.  And Woody played the character Woody Boyd.  One of the bright spots of a great television cast.

But Woody Harrelson’s dad was a hitman (in real life).  And he killed (in 1979) U.S. federal judge John H. Wood Jr. right here in my hometown:  San Antonio.

It was a drug hit.  Harrelson’s father hired for $250,000 to shoot and kill this judge outside of his home.  The drug dealer who hired Harrelson got 30 years.  Harrelson got life in jail.

Harrelson denied in court that he killed Judge Wood.  He claimed he just took credit for it so he could collect the money.

Well, all of this backstory fits quite nicely into the dirtbag saint Woody Harrelson plays in Kingpin.

#2 is Bill Murray.  Bill is an old hand (no pun intended).  Bill’s character teaches Woody a lot, but Bill’s a real bastard in this film.  Of course, this is a comedy.  So his ostentatious cruelty is worth a few snickers here and there.

At this point it is worth mentioning the twisted (gifted) minds which brought us this film: the Farrelly brothers.

Peter Farrelly (whose birthday is two day away) and his slightly-younger brother Bobby Farrelly.

You might know them from their work such as Dumb and Dumber and the Jonathan-Richman-chalked There’s Something About Mary.

[N.B.  Richman makes a great cameo in Kingpin.  We may not have Lou Reed anymore, but thank God for Jonathan!]

The action of our film shifts from Ocelot, Iowa (“Instead of a dentured ocelot on a leash…”) to hard-scrabble Scranton, Pennsylvania.

[home of “Creepy” Joe Biden]

Randy Quaid (#MAGA) is fantastic as an Amish rube with a promising set of bowling skills.

Somewhere along the way, the opportunistic Harrelson becomes Quaid’s manager.

I got great joy out of seeing this.

Because there are few more difficult things than managing “personalities”.

I’ve done it.

Now I have an advanced degree in management.

And still, I know…it’s hard!

But back to family films.

This IS a family film.

But it is also an example of what the family film has become.

In general, this picture would not be suitable for young children to view.

That’s just my opinion.

But perhaps it’s a subgenre of family film.

It’s something which parents with high-school-aged kids MIGHT be able to enjoy with their children.

But I leave that discretion up to the parents.

Because the Farrelly brothers like to SHOCK!

It’s funny.  They’re good at it.  It has a point.  But it might be too lewd for some families.

Speaking of which, it is a quite interesting device with which the Farrellys chose to frame their film:  the Amish.

It borders on surreal, but this bawdy comedy always has the temperate presence of the Amish throughout.

In a certain way, I think it does great honor to the Amish.

From an entertainment perspective, it’s genius.

But this is also a road movie.

And we know strange things happen on the road.

I was just so impressed by Woody Harrelson’s acting.  It’s effortless.  Flawless.

And I was equally impressed by Randy Quaid’s naïveté.  Truly an acting coup!

But the film gets REALLY interesting when Vanessa Angel hops on the bandwagon!!

Remember her from Spies Like Us, emerging from that snow-covered tent in her underwear?

Yeah, that’s her.

And it turns out that she’s a very good actress!

Ah, but thank God for condoms!!!

At the end, you will feel proud of your efforts.

To walk out the door everyday into a corrupt world.

We are all sinners.

But music saves us.

“Bad Reputation” by Freedy Johnston is a revelation.

And makes me wistfully recall my last days as a professional musician.

“I Want Candy” is such a tough beat!  The Strangeloves!!!

“I Saw the Light” by Todd Rundgren is magical music at a magical moment in this film.

“Showdown” by Electric Light Orchestra is the perfect tune to pit Murray against Harrelson.

But the real eyeopener was hearing “Something in the Air” by Thunderclap Newman.

Such a magical song!

Great movie.  Great acting.  Comes from a place of reality.

-PD

J. Edgar [2011)

“I read the news today, oh boy…”

Ever since John Lennon sang those words on Sgt. Pepper‘s (and likely long before that) the news has had the power to depress us.

The power to shock.

The power to put our day into a tailspin.

But can we avoid the news?

And, perhaps more importantly, what is news?

As for avoidance.

Sometimes it is recommended.

To unplug.  To disconnect.

We all hit our saturation points concerning the dissemination of details.

Just what is deemed newsworthy accounts for much of our discomfort in keeping ourselves  abreast.

Even as private citizens.

We want to know the goings-on of the world.

Out of a sense of self-preservation.  To protect our families.

To be prepared.  Informed.  Able to make better decisions (we hope).

Today I made the mistake of digging a little deeper than recently.

And I came across several pieces on the ongoing pizzagate controversy.

I must start by saying that I have not followed this story much since the election.

Indeed, if the allegations are true, it is unfathomably revolting.

But there comes a time when waffling has its benefits.

I will just say that I don’t know what the truth is concerning pizzagate.

I’ve seen the pictures.  I’ve read the names.  I’ve connected the dots.

And now the ball is (back) in the FBI’s court.

[And perhaps that of the NYPD as well]

But it is germane to discuss a parallel matter which bears upon pizzagate.

And that is the coup which Dr. Steve Pieczenik described as having been undertaken by Hillary Clinton and her cabal around the first of November.

Just what was this coup?

Dr. Pieczenik was scant on details.

But perhaps it was the absolving statement of FBI Director James Comey.

And, if we give Mr. Comey the benefit of the doubt (which I’m not sure he deserves), then we might assume that the Clinton coup was largely activated from within the Department of Justice.  In essence, Comey’s boss (Loretta Lynch) could very well have compelled the Director to issue that statement at that particular time.

That would, in some ways, be a significant manifestation of a coup in progress.

Contrary to this was the countercoup of which Dr. Pieczenik spoke.

As I have written previously, this countercoup appears to have been initiated by other branches of the U.S. government (particularly the 16 intelligence agencies).  Dr. Pieczenik seemed to intimate that it was military intelligence in particular which was taking a lead on countering Clinton’s attempted coup.

Beyond these details (and they are vague), I know not much.

But we should return to pizzagate.

We should consider it as a phenomenon which might have several explanations.

Putting all our cards on the table, it is not out of the question that pizzagate was in itself the countercoup.

Which is not to say the allegations are false.

Indeed, it appears that the instigators of the countercoup were working closely with WikiLeaks to prevent Hillary Clinton from stealing an election by leveraging the Department of Justice (and other parts of the executive branch) improperly.

But there is a further possibility.

And I will pose it as a question.

Have we been the targets of a very sophisticated psychological operation?

And even muddier…did this operation save our country?

Investigating a child kidnapping Satanic ritualistic murder pedophile ring is certainly the purview of federal authorities.

The FBI.

But how much has the FBI been compromised?

Any American with at least two brain cells to rub together lost immense confidence in the Bureau in the years following 9/11.

And so history keeps repeating itself.

Sham investigations.  Issues too big to cover.

JFK.  9/11.  A litany forwards and backwards.

But I am beating around the bush.

I want to apologize if I have been less-than-stellar in citing my sources in the practice of my film criticism.

This is not an academic site.

I do not seek peer review.

But I do not lie.

I may jump to conclusions.

And yet, I would fancy myself a fairly astute observer.

Apologizing further, I do not seek to defame anyone.

That would be something too horrible to do (especially with the gravity of the pizzagate allegations).

But information will organically find its level as long as law enforcement is neutered by insiders.

Which brings us to a wonderful film by director Clint Eastwood.

This film covers just what we are talking about.

What is right.  What is wrong.

What methods are appropriate.  What methods are effective.

But at the heart of this controversial film (about a controversial personage) is the idea of serving one’s country.

However, we encounter much here which could fall into the “noble lie” category.

All of that aside, the idea of government service is put in its proper light.

A dirty game, sometimes.  But a noble pursuit.

And so this is less a review of the film J. Edgar and more a letter of THANK YOU to the men and women of the FBI.

Thank you for taking upon yourselves the stress of seeing unspeakable atrocities.

Thank you for taking upon yourselves the stress of following every lead.

But we thank you one further:

thank you for remaining humans.

You know the right thing to do.

Do the right thing.

And we will too.

From the depths of our hearts,

we salute you.

A bit late for all your thankless tasks gone by.

And in advance of your excellence…your leading by example…your adherence to the highest ethics…which we know will be evident in your future work.

-PD