Thursday, December 29, 2016


SPOILER ALERT, candy rots yer teeth and swells yer feet.

Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl wrote nineteen novels, of which I've read eleven. It's possible that one of the untouched eight is better than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. But I rather doubt that.

For number four, Dahl looked back to boyhood, recalling when the fine folks at Cadbury would send test packages to his private school, eager to get the vital "youth opinion" on their products. Chocolate was serious business then; competing confectionery companies would fire moles at one another's factories to smoke out the toppermost secrets.

Dahl started with a cast of fifteen; at one point, there were thirty children. Other concepts considered: a Wonka son named Freddie, weekly factory tours, a black boy as Charlie. Mike Teevee was originally named Herpes Trout; the Oompa Loompas, Whipple-Scrumpets. Not all of the author's ideas were so damned silly--indeed, the original draft was far more violent, featuring children burned to death from the inside out, kids ground to powder, drowned scamps, tinkers cut to ribbons.

Make no mistake, Roald Dahl was not a well man.

Clap hands, here comes Charlie Bucket! The start is far from whirlwind, a blow of air through a straw perhaps, but what unfolds is supreme storytelling. The Bucket brood--mom, dad, two sets of grandparents--is dreadfully poor, subsisting on starch and cabbage. Charlie in particular is growing more and more gaunt with each slowly passing day.  It's all very sparse and British, and as a child in middle-class America the possibility of a life without junk food horrified me to the point that my Cheeto-stained fingers began trembling with every turn of the page.

Then his luck changes, horrid to tremendous, and he wins a trip to the factory of one Willy Wonka. The world's most notorious candy crafter, Wonka is a striking figure: fresh dipped in a plum velvet tailcoat, gray gloves and green trousers. He's also a "magician with chocolate," meaning he works magic with chocolate, not that he is a magician who just happens to have chocolate nearby. So of course he wears a befitting hat. He is also--


Charlie is but one of five fortunate. The other four are agemates who also happen to be his diametric opposites: rude, selfish, well-fed and television-owning. Alongside their parents (or in Charlie's case, Grandpa Joe), the young ones follow the man of the funhouse as he moves about with gobsmacking alacrity, providing unprecedented access to such edible marvels as experimental gum, never-melt ice cream, strawberry-flavored chocolate-covered fudge...oh come now, that last one is just ridiculous. 

One by one, the children get into some misadventure and drop off of the tour. The Oompa Loompas (freakish factory workers saved by Mr. Wonka from their apparently dreadful native land) provide a Greek chorus after each unceremonious exit, with lyrics specific to the situation.

At the end, only Charlie remains. The kid Bucket goes from Death Valley to Mount Everest--just for following orders and minding manners!

(The less-fortunate four are described leaving the factory, alive but altered. Still, it's noted that each of them receives a lifetime supply of chocolate. What the hell lesson is that? Decent, sweet, good kid Charlie should have been the only one so richly rewarded. This is some "participation trophy" stuff, and I ain't with it. "Participation certificate," sure. Like maybe give 'em all some coupons for "35% off your next ten purchases at your local poison pusher.")

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is among the most pornographic books ever written--if you consider food equivalent to sex, which I do. It's thoroughly Z-grade: it zips, it zings, it zaps, it zooms, and it zagzigs rather than zigzags, because the candy man insists that it can. It's Roald Dahl at the apex of his abilities, and those are the most daunting works of all to adapt.

Director-Mel Stuart
Writer-David Seltzer

"What is this, a freak out?"

Roald Dahl's greatest book became a great film. All it took was the young daughter of David Seltzer asking her dad to make a film with "Uncle Dave" (producer David L. Wolper), who just so happened to be in talks with the folks at Quaker Oats about making a promotional vehicle for a new candy bar.

Serendipity, babes.

The title was changed to tie in with the real-life candies. Both film and food bombed--the former because sometimes brilliance has to pack a lunch, the latter because it melted on store shelves. Dahl detested the movie, especially how it shifted the focus from Charlie to Wonka. He further found the actor hired to play Wonka "insufficiently gay and bouncy." (For writing the original draft, Dahl received 300,000 USD, which he assumedly did like.)

It was also turned into a musical. The last time that happened in this review series, the movie scored a rare victory over the novel.

The book focused on Charlie Bucket, the big-hearted boy who gets everything he ever wanted by simply doing everything he was supposed to do. The movie, however, has something other than itself to sell. It is, for all intents and purposes, the Willy Wonka story.

Movie Wonka is still an unorthodox gent. He subscribes to the philosophy that a good host keeps their guests on their toes--then, smashes said digits with the top of his walking cane. He won't raise a hand to help, but definitely (at least) one eyebrow to judge. He's fond of great literature (credit Seltzer for that character tic) and fond of letting people know of that fondness. Entrusted to a less-gifted actor, Willy Wonka could have been one of the most unbearably mannered people to ever breathe on screen.

Luckily for the entire world, Gene Wilder was cast in the title role. Decked out in plum velvet jacket, bowtie and brownish top hat (no goatee, though), he gives a captivating, cocksure performance. Is he mad? Is he kind? A genius, a fraud? Away from his domain, Wonka would be put away and studied. In his element, allowed to be himself, he makes the world taste a hell of a lot better.

Garrulous Yanks, nitwit Brits, and--wait for it--a gluttonous German. The child actors are all great (except the pest who plays Mike, who is merely good). Look virtually nothing, mind you, like Dahl's descriptions, but divergence from the source is not intrinsically negative. In the book, Veruca Salt is a walking wart draped in mink, blonde curls coiled atop her head. In the movie, she's played by perpetually gas-faced brunette Julia Dawn Cole and goddamn she takes the cake straight to the face like baby's first birthday. She was the only of the brats to get her own song (and dance, in a way) aaaannnd her harried father was played by Roy Kinnear, only one of the best reactors of his time.

The score, featuring tunes by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse, is a temporary escape into the honey-cloud cover. Don't listen to me listen to "Pure Imagination." A song for any person who ever dreamed of opening their mind and impacting their world. And that's just the one example from a ebullient collection of music that has aged magnificently. Mostly.

"Cheer Up, Charlie" is often (justly) derided, even by those who love the movie, and director Mel Stuart requested it be excised from television airings. Free of charm, guile and melody, I gotta wonder why Stuart even allowed the damned thing to make the film proper?

The Oompa Loompa songs are completely different from the novel, but yep, that's a king cobra in your head. Never mind the graphics, 'twas the Seventies! Flared trouser and platform shoes! Safety pins in lieu of buttons and rocks in lieu of dogs! Maude! Cocaine!

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The TJMD Official Favorite Movie Ever. Over a span of nearly forty years, I have watched it nearly that many times. The absurdities tickle me without fail, the whimsy never feels disingenuous, and warmth spreads toes to nose every time, and by the end I'm overcome with the urge to wrench open the doors of the nearest sweets shack, walk up to the gormless register-ringer and demand (in as clear and concise a voice as can be managed considering the dire circumstances): "Your candies. Give them to me. Now."
There are three distinct visions of the factory: Dahl's, Stuart's and the reader's. The factory as portrayed here is a bizarre, improbable wonderland of wondrous wonder, yet the limitations faced by the filmmakers ensured that another vision of the factory can still comfortably exist inside the head space of anyone who's read the novel. You will not see any pipe-like tunnels, no underground rooms running a hundred yards in length. There are still chocolate rivers (how many people, ya think, wound up biting down on chocolate seasoned with krank fetten Jungen?), giant edible mushrooms, balls full of goo, lickable wallpaper (that exists for the movie Wonka to drop a killer William O'Shaughnessy quote and avoid explaining a dick joke to a very young girl). Those weirdo singing midgets.

The inclusion of Fizzy-Lifting Drink ruffled Dahl's feathers, since it made Charlie seem no different from those other naughty children (the crudity of the scenario--"Burp or die!" essentially--might also have offended his sensibilities), but it lends the film a tension that the novel lacked, and if a movie isn't lifting butts from seats even just the tiniest bit, what is it doing?

The best additions to the story are those scenes of Charlie in school, for giving actor David Battley a chance to dazzle audiences as Mr. Turkentine, an English teacher who is in fact a Math teacher. Every line he utters is fantastic, since they were intended to be uttered by someone with a variant of the English accent.

Has to be said once more before I go: Gene Wilder is a revelation. More actors should study his performance here, then promptly quit acting. I give him a 98.6 out of 100. it better in your head? Holy shit was this close. I mean you couldn't pass a baby hair through this gap. The book is better. You know what did it? The skippable parts. In the novel, you can go without the Prince Pondicherry chapter. In the movie, "Cheer Up Charlie." Difference being, the tale of Prince Pondicherry is filler, yet fun. Whereas "Cheer Up Charlie" is so depressing I wonder if it was written as some grand piss-take.

I didn't even mention the boat ride! Oh sweet face of Jesus on a hot cross bun, the boat ride!

Director-Tim Burton
Writer-John August

"Are you hip to the jive? Can you dig what I'm laying down?"

Oh, it's a fine one. I'm not referring to this movie. I'm referring to the line between "quirky" and "quit doing whatever you are doing before I grab a thing and force you to stop whatever you are doing."

A remake of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory had little chance to be anything other than strenuously annoying. So, director Tim Burton vowed that his vision would be much closer in spirit to Dahl's work. He and his creative cohorts proceeded with the mindset that the 1976 movie did not even exist. Which is pretty fuckin' extreme, a major red flag, DANGER DANGER, do not approach the man in the white panel van, all that.

Among the superstars considered for the role: Jim Carrey, Brad Pitt, Will Smith, Adam Sandler and Nicolas Cage. Only two of them could have pulled the hat off, and I'm not saying who.

The role eventually went to Johnny Depp. With a look inspired by Vogue editor Anna Wintour, Depp's Wonka certainly qualifies as a well-groomed eccentric: black top hat, plum velvet jacket, purple latex gloves, sunglasses. And, for whatever it's worth, Depp's delivery is closer to book Willy's high-pitched voice. How does he compare to Wilder? He doesn't. Imagine Depp in the scene where Veruca goes ape in the Egg Sorting Room, specifically the part where she throws wrapping paper at Wonka. Wilder just stands there, the picture perfect of insouciance, just waiting for the spoiled little brat to fall into the furnace already. Depp would have yelped and leaped back a half a foot. At least.

Consider, also, each man's first impression. Depp's Wonka subjects his captive audience to a puppet show from the off-Broadway equivalent of Hell. Wilder's Wonka faked a limp to mess with everyone's heads.

Whatever Depp was thinking, he should have thought again, thought one more time, then walked off the set. His Wonka is a hollowed-out manchild who seems to loathe his target audience (whereas Wilder's candy man simply detested disobedience and disrespect). "Pure Imagination"? I don't want within sneezing distance of this prissy sociopath's imagination. Scene after scene, he acts like a child standing on his head, stripped to his skivvies, volubly demanding your total attention. (I suppose Dahl would find this obtuse candy man sufficiently gay and bouncy?)

What of the rest?

Thirty years later, special effects evolved to the point where Tim Burton could make a chocolate factory that looked like a monolithic death trap. The choco river is a vast improvement over the first film, as it looks like someone could brave a drink from it without fear of infection. But beyond that..where's the warmth?

The kids? If we must. Violet is blonde here, competitive as ever. (She is so not here to make friends.) Her mother is a vacuous, perky woman who wonders if the candy man in fact can. Charlie is a saint-like optimist who is so familien uber alles that he facilitates the reconciliation between Wonka and his distant father! The chocolate factory will definitely be a step up from the shanty that he currently lives in, just as that shanty was a step up from the cornfield!

I won't lie; I quite like this Mike Teevee. He is a boy of two moods: ticked-off and pissed-off. A YouTube review channel is in that fella's future fa sho.

There is no besting Mr. Salt, so Burton doesn't try. The Gloops look like Hummels. Augustus eating part of his golden ticket is a bit funny, but Dad biting the head off of a microphone in the first film? Gut-buster. The parents here just don't matter. And that's a shame.

The music? Piss off, Elfman, I shan't permit you to triumph!

"Wonka's Welcome Theme" is a theme park-style ditty that would have resulted in my pulling my hair completely off the scalp, were I not such an ardent fan of my illustrious natural waves. Each child (bar Charlie, of course) gets a different style of song when they shuffle off to whatever unsavory part of the factory, which is a nice idea, but only Mike's 80s hard rock send-up is even remotely memorable. The Oompa Loompa songs, snatched straight from the book, lack charm.

I wonder where Danny Elfman places on Kim Gordon's list of "Top 10 Things I Regret Doing."

Narration. Did I mention the narration? Forgivable, barely, and only because the voice belongs to the once-and-forever Baron Samedi.

Casting Christopher Lee as Wonka's stern, grim-faced father doesn't change this plain fact: that backstory is (nicely) superfluous and (bluntly) bullshit. Willy Wonka is supposed to be a man of mystery; that enhances the character's appeal. What are his motivations, does he have any hobbies, where does he come from, where does he want to end up--these are questions the engaged audience should be asking, and they should never receive answers.

No Slugworth (meh), no Fizzy-Lifting Drink (eh). We get to see a few of the kids exiting the factory once the tour is officially over, wow, thanks for staying true to the source, Timmy. That added much to the experience. The first film didn't show them, and I dig that. It allows me to pretend that the Oompa Loompas accidentally snapped Mike in half. The sequence with Prince Pondicherry and the chocolate palace is also from the book, and reminds me why I call Tim Burton's filmography "the Taj Mahal of cinema"--gorgeous and useless. (In the novel, Pondicherry's folly earned its own chapter, and served as both cautionary tale and example of Wonka's unparalleled skills with the sweet stuff.)

Some things were too good to alter, such as all the grandparents in a single bed, and the boat ride. In both films, the hoax golden ticket is the fifth and final. (In Dahl's book, it's the second. Movies need their drama in a certain place at a certain time. Books have options.) And the faithful moments weren't all bad; I really admire that the squirrels used in the Nut Sorting Room were real.

Homer Simpson's last two words as he falls into a black hole come to mind.

If Tim Burton were half as audacious a filmmaker as his fanbase fancies, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory could have wound up a quite fine way to pass the time.

Different types of cheeks deserve different types of slaps. Normally, I'd hesitate to strike too harsh a blow to so gaunt a face, but listen, Burton and co. tried to make the world forget about my favorite movie ever, sooooo I hope I cracked bone. I hope it is a soft-meal life for a month at least.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Better In Your Head?--MATILDA

SPOILER ALERT, girls and books we got it you want it way way too quiet.

Roald Dahl

Expecting decency from your family. It's a hell of a thing.

Dahl's original idea--a boy named Billy coming to grips with his telekinetic abilities--hit a wall. So, he did a gender-flip, turning Billy into Matilda Wormwood, a precocious child who taught herself to read at the age of four, devouring the classics of English literature as a form of escape from a home life marked by ignorance and insults.

Her parents lavish affection on son Michael, who is being groomed to follow in the footsteps of his sleazy, rat-faced car salesman father. Meanwhile, Matilda reads. Then, reads more. (She does take breaks, to attend school and play pranks on her dad.)

Oh, about school. One teacher, Miss Jennifer Honey, is astonished at Matilda's intelligence. Her attempts to move the young girl ahead in her education are stymied by Headmistress Agatha Turnbull. 

The very name Agatha Turnbull suggests brutality and ugliness. She is "gigantic" and "formidable," bulky as a five-pound sack stuffed with eight pounds worth of frozen turkeys. She wears breeches and flats. She despises disobedience and femininity. But all is not rain clouds and chicken gizzards--there are admirable qualities in the headmistress, such as her fondness for throwing children! "They're all mistakes, children! Filthy, nasty things. Thank God I never was one." Her ideal school is one utterly lacking in children. She goes overboard with corporal punishment because she can. What parent would believe such a thing as "The Chokey" exists? A non-lethal iron maiden, a closet lined with spikes? A kid thrown javelin-style through an open window? Outrageous imaginations those young ones have!

Miss Honey invites Matilda to her barely-livable quarters. She'd been raised by a vicious twat aunt who withholds her inheritance--Trunchbull.

As school becomes less tolerable, Matilda's special power appears. She spends her spare hours learning to control her telekinesis, eventually reaching a level of mastery that allows her to get revenge on Trunchbull.

Moved to the top level at school, Matilda is now challenged and no longer telekinetic. One day she returns home to find her parents rushing around, throwing luggage into the family car. Seems the cops are set to arrest Mr. Wormwood for selling stolen vehicles. Before they vamoose, both of Matilda's parents sign paperwork permitting Miss Honey to take over as their daughter's guardian.

A young girl on a ceaseless quest for knowledge? Yeah, I kinda liked this book. My chunky self loved reading (and eating; to this day, I much prefer to read while I eat). I liked eating vicariously through the written word and Matilda sought to expand my palate: fried eggs, fried bread, fried tomatoes. (At least there was bacon and sausage to reassure me that the English were not in fact aliens.) I was also a reader at the age of four, but mainly newspaper articles aloud at the kitchen table to the amazement of my parents.

Matilda made the ten-minute walk to the local library to satisfy her cravings. Mine would have been double that, so my Mom drove me once a week. Although, I never tried reading any Bronte or Austen whilst still in grade school. Or Hemingway. Or Orwell. Or..well, you get the point. I didn't even attempt Dickens until I was fourteen. The librarian advised Matilda to "allow the words to wash over you, like music." Sage words indeed. Nobody ever told me any shit like that.

Matilda liked to read with a mug of hot cocoa by her side. How could I not love this girl? Mind you, I never shared her disdain for the boob tube--to me, it was just another way to receive information, and I got off on information like other kids did from sugar. Nor was she fat. That's where Bruce Bogtrotter came in. For stealing a piece of the Trunchbull's cake, she forces him to take the stage at a school assembly and eat every last piece of a chocolate cake eighteen inches in diameter. I never was that hoggish, but not for lack of trying. I would go through a bag of chips in a single setting, polish off an entire package of Chewy Chips Ahoy cookies like it was nothing. (Gluttonous behavior that I did not recognize as self-punishment because while I was indeed a gifted kid, I wasn't that gifted.)

My parents weren't zealously opposed to my pursuit of intelligence. Weary, perhaps; bemused, definitely. They were overwhelmed, at war with their own ambivalence, knowing decisions had to be made but fearful of making the wrong ones. This struggle is endured by everyone, but is trickiest for parents, as what's at stake is the future of a life they co-created.

TrapperMom and TrapperDad spoke plain and acted plainer; they figured no finer way of dealing with a gifted child existed than to just, y'know, not deal with the gifted child. In the first grade (and later fourth), a teacher recommended to the school principal that I be advanced a grade. Each time, the principal contacted my parents, who each time refused permission, citing fears that being placed with older children would have a negative effect on my social development.

(This, I would discover later, was solely the reservation of my mother. My father didn't want me walking around feeling "different." I wish I at any time had the guts to ask him exactly what he meant by "different." I guess, if I really wanted to find out, I would have asked.)

I envied Matilda. She was skinny and had someone willing to go the extra mile and three-quarters for her. She could move things with her mind. She pulled pranks on her dad. I never pranked my dad. Such a scenario was not even possible to wholly formulate in my super-active mind. There's not even an alternate universe version that played a joke on her dad.

Roald Dahl at his best is a tour guide who speaks with flawless diction and possesses impeccable timing. This is Dahl at his best, second-best actually.

The best is yet to come.

Director Danny DeVito
Writer Nicholas Kazan & Robin Swicord

The biggest change is moving the action from England to the States. Not a terribly big deal. A story like this one, a girl like Matilda, parents like the Wormwoods, are all universal. (Although, "Send Me On My Way" by Rusted Root pops up near the beginning and end of the film. While not even bad music can ruin pancakes, I suspect England would not have permitted this to concur. Not saying they wouldn't have picked some other crap-plop of a song, but at least it wouldn't have been that particular crap-plop of a song.)

Mara Wilson plays the preternatural heroine with suitable wet-eyed curiosity. Danny DeVito triples as director, narrator and criminal slimeball Mr. Wormwood. Rhea Perlman has all the trashy fun portraying the missus. (She's certainly more likable than her book counterpart, although both are essentially terrible people.) The body types of the Wormwoods have been switched for the movie--a small alteration, and rather amusing.

The sole concession to the original locale is the casting of Brit actress Pam Ferris as harsh-faced Trunchball. Ferris plays the bullish dykeishness to the hilt, and if one can resist the temptation to analyze the utilization of the hoary "good woman is attractive, bad woman is unattractive" trope, one will probably appreciate Ferris' performance.

Mara looks great as the plucky brainiac, and does a great job. Mind, she does not appear at all overwhelmed by her freakish ability. She is not timid, but instead downright cocky. "No more miss nice girl." This wouldn't have worked as well in the novel, but for the nuance-free realm of a children's film, hey, well done.

The former Louie DePalma keeps the scuzz bucket filled to the brim, largely without allowing spillover. There are moments where DeVito goes over the top, though, into areas I didn't even imagine the book Mr. Wormwood going. No better example exists than when his daughter disrespecting the television set by reading in front of it. Fed up, Mr. Wormwood stands behind her chair, places both hands on either side of her head, and forces her to watch the action on the screen.

Regrettable, but forgivable.

Then comes the scene of Matilda wreaking havoc at the Trunchbull residence, poltergeist-style. The next day, she returns to pose as the ghost of Trunchbull's brother Magnus. Book Matilda never even enters the home. The movie lost me here and never regained my full attention. (Though I do love that the portrait of Magnus is actually one of Roald Dahl.)

The cake scene remains, thank Jebus. Damn thing looks like a Black Sabbath riff made edible. Bruce himself is basically fat Corey Haim with a foppish center-part.

The ending is more or less as in the book, save for a false-sounding, unearned moment of remorse from Matilda's mom. Ultimately, Matilda is a second-rate adaptation. The special effects are clunky at times, forgoing believability for the sake of risibility. The other child actors cannot keep up with Wilson.

The movie does enough to be entertaining, but I can't place it in the same league as Dahl's work.

--Trunchbull repeatedly calls her niece "Jen," which never happens once in the book. I liked that quite a bit.

--Honey's cottage as imagined by Dahl is a structure of Dickensian drabness. But in 20th century America, people simply don't live like that! So we get the impression that Trunchbull's deplorable disregard for her kin has forced her to live in a…nice, humble home.

--Trunchbull was a bottomless well of bitterness and insults that read great and would have likely sounded great, but sadly all of her greatest hits are MIA ("little Lilliputian? Redundancy, I ain't about you).

--The movie seems to be more about the triumph of a student body rather than the triumph of one individual student…you know, the one the damn thing's named after? The scene where the children burst out of the classroom, hurling things at the headmistress literally while she's down has been seen in a million films before and will be seen in a million more. It's tired. It's uninspiring.

--Honey returns from a trip to the Chokey to be greeted with the sight of the headmistress holding a boy up in the air by his ankle. Anyone who read the novel will know how he got in that position--Trunchbull kicked his leg so hard he turned a somersault, stopping only when she grabbed his ankle. That is child abuse. That would have been awesome to see on screen.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Merry Ho-Balls! The 10 Greatest Christmas Songs

A list is a hell of a thing, especially when limited to a number as puny as 10, and when based solely on personal opinion. Throw together something as seemingly innocuous as "My Top 5 Favorite Meals" and sure as sugar biscuits some fucker'll rank up the comments with "Where's spaghetti and meat sauce, you dimwitted cunt?"

A writer puts on their bib, someone else is bound to mess up all over theirs.

Ranking two lucky hands worth of the very best in "Christmas music" proved a pleasant challenge. Such an undertaking invites antagonism from those aggrieved over an excluded favorite or flustered at an unworthy inclusion. Not to mention the people who can't fathom the existence of ten decent Christmas tunes.

I've had it up to the tits with misdirected ire.

A top ten--twenty!--of the most grueling holiday recordings would have been both easier and a monumental waste of energies. This is the season of love and affection, of receiving and giving, all that jazz in a children's television special.

And of me writing about great art without actually creating any of my own.

"Where's 'All I Want For Christmas Is You,' you dimwitted cunt?"

On the radio somewhere in the world as we speak. Great song. To placate the prickly, I present a picture.

10. "Frosty the Snowman," The Ronettes (1963; original, 1950)

Who has three balls, smokes a pipe, and is on the run from the po-po?

The very day that JFK's brains decorated Jackie O's dress like so much waterlogged fruit cake, A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector hit shelves. The "Wall of Sound" technique is ideal to recreate the joyous chaos wreaked by Frosty and the luckiest brats in the 'hood as they thump to each corner of the village square. A nasty wind blows the snow so it's fairly unbelievable they can even see their own hands in front of them, but then again, a snowman just came to life, so what's really incredible?

(Confession time: I have never had a hand in the construction of a snowman, outside of Super Mario 64.)

9. "What Child Is This?," John Denver (1975; original, 1865)

Carols are so quaint. Stubbing your toe and exclaiming, "Golly, that smarts!" type quaint. The phrasing, the vocabulary, the insistence on honey-voiced do-gooders, farm animals in such close proximity to a newborn baby. I don't believe in God, but I believe in melody, and "What Child Is This?" might have the finest of any so-called "holiday" song.

I prefer Denver's rendition over those of Bing Crosby and Josh Groban since he sounds like a human being--folksy, damn near haunted, just a man and his guitar (for the most part).

The original has three distinct choruses, but at some point the last two fell out of favor. One of them references the crucifixion, so I'd say that's mystery solved, Petey Brown.

8. "Christmas Wrapping," The Waitresses (1981)

New Wave chicks were busy. The process of shake-bake-make took anywhere from an half-hour to a full hour, then factor in the responsibilities of both work and play, who's got time for the rigamarole of baby Jesus' birthday party?

There's no time for love, Patty Donahue, no matter how nonchalant you rap. (Those horns aren't there just to sound cool; she's siphoning the air from the bell into her lungs.) People are expectant and entitled and stressed the eff out, and while I personally have never had any day of mine saved by the last-minute purchase of cranberries, "Christmas Wrapping" has pulled me out of more than one slushy pit.

I hope it worked out for those two. 

7. "Skating," The Vince Guaraldi Trio (1965)

Bundle up, it's time to slice designs.

146 scintillating yards of frosty flakes sparkle and beautify. The unpleasantness is not gone, merely away, hidden beneath the soft white. Enjoy it.

"Skating" isn't a Christmas song, fair enough, but undeniably it is a winter song. This separates it from another Guaraldi powerhouse that's all over the radio this time of year, "Linus and Lucy," a masterpiece that despite being so closely associated with the season, evokes most powerfully a bunch of kids dancing. "Skating" evokes not only the art of ice-skating, but the actual fall of snow from the sky.

6. "Little Saint Nick," Beach Boys (1963)

Despite misrecalling the reindeer, this rewrite of "Little Deuce Coupe" (just replace the hot rod with a gorgeous red sleigh, adorn with some Chuck and Phil) is two tinkling minutes of elves in three-toned outfits prepping the Big Guy for a long night of defiance and delight.

How could any negativity intrude on such a cheerful tableau? Easy. Mike Love. I hope he gets diarrhea for Christmas.

Or, better yet, all winter long.

5. " It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas," Johnny Mathis (1986; original, 1951)

One of the most versatile vocalists of the last century, Mr. Mathis has recorded six albums of Christmas music. He's a strong contender for the definitive version of quite a few standards, but when it comes to "It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas," his is the undisputed champion. Put a wreath and a bow on it.

Would we appreciate the heat without the chill? A roaring fire can soothe the extremities, and a gorgeous scene underneath winking stars and blinking lights can work wonders for the soul. It can even ease the bitterness over not getting everything you wanted on the 25th. Trust me.

(Sometimes I'm convinced Mom just didn't think a Millennium Falcon was a proper toy for a young girl.)

Shouts to Jen and Ben! I'm not talking Swedish super-pop when I tell you that ABBA is the ideal for these type tuneskies.

I hope they never make Home Alone 6.

4. "Step Into Christmas," Elton John (1973)

A card to the fans that made '73 such a phenomenal year for the John/Taupin juggernaut: two #1 LPs, a slew of hit singles, millions moved and made. There's nothing insightful or tender about an Elton Christmas party. Everyone's looped on the quick and the dandy. The host won't shut up, and keeps turning "merry" into a one-syllable word.

Ba-da-dum, da-da-dum, trying to beat into my noggin the notion that all the ancillary crap is worth the hustle and hassle. I mean, it ain't, but what's pop music for if not to smush our faces up against some sheep butt?

3. "Feliz Navidad," Jose Feliciano (1970)

One verse, one chorus. For three minutes. If it hasn't gotten old by now, it never will.

All that is resolutely happy and shiny rings from the blind man's band. Put some tighter, louder drums underneath the infectious strum and blare, you got a certified banger. Bob your head, tap your toes. Spike your egg nog. With what? No, spike it like players do a football after crossing the goal line.

I hope this Christmas you have someone who will fuck you as good and hard as Melvin Gordon fucked me in my fantasy football playoff game.  

2. "Ave Maria," The Carpenters (1978; original Bach/Gounod version, 1853)

Oh yeah, I just went back-to-back "other than English" on that ass. A Latin "Hail Mary" from way before the Southern star led boys and men, "Ave Maria" is alongside "O Holy Night" when it comes to holiday songs that separate the grown-ups from the kiddies. Karen Carpenter had a voice capable of halting the Earth in mid-spin, and that's exactly what happens here, for two and a half minutes. Technically, her performance is amazing. Emotionally? Those angels heard on high have next to nada on this.

Get Christmas Portrait in your life, if it's not already there. One of only two holiday albums you absolutely need.

1. "Christmastime Is Here," The Vince Guaraldi Trio (1965)

No disrespect to the lyrical talents of Lee Mendelson, or the vocal talents of the St. Paul's Episcopal Church choir, but an untouched six minutes of carpet angels with the thermostat set to 75 is the celebratory melting away of eleven hellish months I crave. No hustle, nor bustle. The essentials remain untampered and I am contented, surrounded by the flickering familiar. What happened matters less than what may happen, than what is happening. Thus blocked, the energy accumulates, the glow expands and spreads, until I'm more spirit than flesh.

I hope.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Better In Your Head?--THE GODFATHER

SPOILER ALERT, it ain't as good as the film.

Mario Puzo

"If I'd known so many people were going to read it, I'd have written it better."

An emasculated lounge singer, a vengeful father and an unscrupulous murderer--what do these three men have in common? They each know that a Sicilian man cannot refuse any request made of him on the day of his daughter's wedding. And when that man is also a Mafia Don of long standing, a person's request can be a bit unorthodox, if not unreasonable on its face.

Mob tales were nothing new when The Godfather hit bookshelves. Little Caesar and Scarface (1932) on the big screen, The Untouchables on the small one. Puzo's genius was the decision to portray these brutal men away from the crime scenes, attending weddings and christenings and tucking their children into bed at night.

Of course, the bad stuff had no small appeal.

Mario Puzo wrote The Godfather for the reason most writers write anything: he needed the money. Dude was 45 years old and in debt deep enough to tickle the hairs of his calves. He'd already published a few unspectacular novels that sold as well as they deserved.

With no intimate knowledge of Mafia life, he used old-fashioned research and creative license to churn out a surprise bestseller about the sordid underworld of mid-20th century NYC: the crime families who controlled a myriad of vices as they struggled to maintain detente, and the heads of those families, the "Don"s, the Godfathers. None more respected than lionhearted immigrant Vito Corleone, who measures a real man by the amount of time he spends with his actual family. His immutable ideas of the right and way to operate put him on the brink of death when a rival crew cracks their guns at him on the street. Oldest son, hotheaded Sonny, temporarily assumes the Don role, while tepid middle boy Fredo is sent to Las Vegas. The youngest son, cool and collected Michael, was a war hero who up until his father's shooting wanted nothing to do with the family business. (Perhaps because of this, he's Vito's favorite male child. Or does that honor belong to Sonny? Even Puzo was confused.) When Michael volunteers to blow the brains out of not just the boss that set up his Pops but also a sleazoid police Captain, no one takes him seriously. At first.

With the war truly well and truly on, Michael is sent to Italy to pick fruits and flowers. The intractable Sonny winds up with more holes than a cheese grater, and Michael returns home to assume the "family head" vacancy. Which means biding time until his father dies, orchestrating the slaughter of the Corleone's rivals, then selling the family businesses in New York to facilitate a move out west.

For the most part, The Godfather is a hugely entertaining read, sordid and engrossing, even if Puzo is not working at the height of his powers as an actual writer of words. One paragraph gifts us with "redly obscene with winey lust" and "insides felt as mushy as macaroni boiled for an hour."

The Godfather clued many in on the machinations of the Mafia, but the more valuable lessons concern creative writing.

--Do not write sex scenes while hungry.
--Mouth shape descriptions are not that crucial.
--Do not use the word "gobble" during a scene you intend to be romantic.

Puzo's words just grunt and thump all over the place. Basically, The Godfather is Michael's story, told in the style of Sonny. Expect to be enthralled and revolted. Do not expect a masterpiece.

(I've tried to make my way through other Puzo works, and the only success story was Fools Die, a 500-plus page monster that brought its author $2.5 million for paperback rights, an unheard amount at the time. Puzo didn't know the mob, but he knew gambling, as well as the publishing and film industries, and oh yeah, family, and the depressingly readable Fools Die is a man fully in his element. There's even a female character that has a second dimension! Would have been a twitching flusterbuck of a movie, and I'm so grateful no one ever tried. They would have had to excise the scene of "Puzo stand-in" and "Norman Mailer stand-in" shit-talking famous writers, and, well, the heart of the thing would have ceased beating.)

Director-Francis Ford Coppola
Writer-Francis Ford Coppola & Mario Puzo (Robert Towne, uncredited)

"I believe in America."

A three-hour film about the Mafia, based on a trashy bestseller, hailed as one of the crowning achievements in all of cinema? How'd they manage that? No mystery. Least when you consider, when you remember, that The Godfather is not really about the Mafia.

Coppola's movie opens at the wedding of Carlo Rizzi and Connie Corleone, just as Puzo's novel did, because The Godfather is about family and the traditions that bring the members of a family together: weddings, baptisms, birthdays, meals. (The Italian emphasis on formal family dinners makes me glad I was brought up with a buncha hillbilly-ass DNA-sharers where if you wanted to eat by yourself, that was just fine, 'cause Dad didn't really want to hear anybody blabbering while he was scarfing down cornbread any goddamn way.)

Coppola's movie features wheels and deals, obliterated eyeballs and blood mist, because The Godfather is about power, and what men will do to attain it and maintain it.

Puzo was not a master of style. He did not craft worlds where elegance lived within dancing distance of brutality. Poetry in his prose was purely accidental. Whereas Coppola and cinematographer Gordon Willis took the heavy sauce and poured in just the right amount of wine.

There is also the small matter of the acting which is, to a man, phenomenal. That Marlon Brando was the only of the cast to earn an Oscar is nearly as criminal as Coppola losing the Best Director statuette to Bob Fosse. That Marlon Brando was cast at all is down to the director's persistence. Paramount Studios hated both of Coppola's choices to play the Don, and insisted that Ernest Borgnine would really win the audience over in the role.

Sir Laurence Olivier refused the part, his agent citing the decline of both the actor's health and of his interest in the craft. He would live another eighteen years and appear in another fifteen movies, including a turn in The Jazz Singer that made co-star Neil Diamond come off like John Barrymore.

Brando was box office poison, widely regarded in the industry as an out-of-shape-and-options diva. Paramount agreed to let Coppola cast him so long as he took a pay cut and submitted to a screen test.Taking his raspy-voiced cue from audio recordings of crime boss Frank Costello, Brando played Vito as the opposite of blustering, belligerent gangsters like Al Capone. (He is still far more expressive than the book Vito, a man barely moved by the assassination of his eldest.)

James Caan, Al Pacino and Robert Duvall battled it out in the Supporting Actor category, the Academy's equivalent to Hill Street Blues taking up all five slots in the Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series competition at the 1983 Emmys. Never mind the fact that he should have been in the Lead category, Pacino was robbed. Imagine Michael's journey from sloe-eyed military ace to lumpy-cheeked crime lord being taken by Jack Nicholson or Warren Beatty, you don't believe me.

How the hell did John Cazale not get an Oscar nomination? Like ever? He makes Fredo more than just the Don's pathetic son, he imbues him with a heartbreaking fragility. Fredo's so desperate to please; it's a shame he was born a Corleone.

I've always had a soft spot for corpulent capo regime Peter Clemenza (a vital cog in the Corleone machine). He's a killer, a professor of pasta, and quite agile for a fat bastard.

The women in both the book and movie Well, it's a can of campfire beans when Sonny's wife snaps at him. Heh. Kay in the movie is not as diffident, insisting Michael make her an equal partner, not understanding that their union is fated to be an inequitable one. While Michael's first marriage was one of proximity and passion, his second, one of proximity and practicality. Michael's first wife was exotic and naive; his second, the all-American girl with certain expectations.

Mrs. Corleone is on the shortlist for the most fascinating unexplored female in literature. She and Kay bond a bit, attending church together to pray for the souls of the men they married. I wanted more. 

For a movie that is, again, not really about the Mob, real-life mobsters loved it, borrowing the terminology and mannerisms. It instilled within some unsavory men an unshakeable pride and legitimacy. (While instilling within me a wariness of pissing off anyone whose last name ends in a vowel.)

Who can pick a favorite shot from The Godfather? I can't. It's almost as painful as trying to pick my favorite shot from Vertigo.

The book mentions pink mist appearing behind the Captain's head after a bullet crashes into it; the film shows that mist. Maybe that's the one.

Or maybe it's Clemenza trying to teach "Mike" how to properly make spaghetti sauce? (I know this is TMI, but IDC: few meals have me DTF quicker than a well-made plate of spaghetti and meatballs.)

Usually, a novel chock full of back story can depend on any visual recreation suffering for lack of it. No question it's pretty cool to learn more about Johnny Fontane and Captain McCluskey, but the movie does just fine without understanding their motivations. The Vito Corleone history that comprises "Book III" would have been a point for the paper…if it hadn't been subsequently used for The Godfather Part II.

This I do know--Jaws is the only movie I can think of that improves upon its source material more dramatically. Coppola removed the crust not due to limitations like "running time" or "plot coherence" but rather because it was brittle and tasteless and unworthy of being so near such luscious filling.

And what does it, really does it, is a love story. Specifically, the stirring love story of Sonny Corleone's gargantuan dong and Lucy Mancini's floppy twat.

Puzo certainly does mind the gap. That's part of his problem.

After Sonny's murder, his moon-eyed mistress Lucy Mancini tries to off herself. Unnerved, the family sends her to Vegas, where she'll do "work" for them (such as making sure Fredo doesn't foul everything up). She hooks up with a surgeon named Jules Segal, who helps her correct a rather unique and humiliating physical defect: a big ol' vagina. As if women don't have enough to fret over, a small percentage of them go through life with floppy fannies! The sausage is flyin' from one end of the alley to the other! Pages upon pages are devoted to what Jules calls "a weakening of the pelvic floor.....Some women even commit suicide because of it."

Because no man will love them and their oversized box! No man is big enough to satisfactorily stuff their oversized box! It's like no one knows the clitoris exists! Lesbians were not a thing in the Sixties! Yes people were having tons of sex, but it was either men and women together or men and men! Women with women, the hell you say! You can't have any type of party without ol' dick!

Lucy is wary, but Jules makes her a promise: "Baby, I'm going to build you a whole new thing down there."

Unfortunately, Jules lacks the means to perform the procedure himself, but luckily, he knows another surgeon out in L.A. who "tightens up all the movie stars."

Houston, we have a subplot failure. What men think about when they think about women, I tell you, it's a wonder any of us vagina-possessors (of any elasticity) crack our doors.

Twenty million people had to read that shit. Unless they had the sense to skip ahead. (Francis Ford Coppola was so repulsed that he stopped reading the book altogether. He slammed it, shut and down. I was there, I seen it!)

You know, for all the times I've seen "box" used as slang for "vagina," I have never once come across anyone calling a penis a "boxcutter." And I've never seen anyone defend this absolutely mind-boggling digression. I would rather read a separate novel about the Mob in Amity, NY than even another summation of this subplot.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Better In Your Head?--NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN

SPOILER ALERT, 'cuz ain't no mercy for lazy readers.

Cormac McCarthy

-We got another execution here Sheriff?
-No, I believe this one's dead of natural causes.
-Natural causes?
-Natural to the line of work he's in.

Texas. Fella named Llewelyn Moss stumbles onto the aftermath of a botched drug deal. He snatches a satchel with over two million bucks. That should be that. But that ain't that. He returns to the scene later that night to belatedly honor a dying man's request.

That's where he messes up. Now he's runnin' from some bad fellas. He fought in the last war, this Moss, so he ain't a bag of hammers. But it's all of them angry fellas against this one desperate fella, so you can tell how that's gonna end.

Shame. He has a wife, and they have some crackerjack conversations. She's 19, he's in his 30s, roundabout. They met in a Wal-Mart.

Fella named Ed Bell. He's the sheriff, an old-school lawman, laid-back but razor-sharp. This "new kind" of criminal confuses him. The savagery. He rides the leather around the parched landscape, haunted. By wars large and small, won and lost. By the way reality weaves its way in and out.

All the paths have gone crooked, and lead to nothin' but madness.

The last fella is a stun-gunnin' hitman--Anton Chigurh. "The ultimate bad-ass." Blood cold as a polar bears balls. He treats people like people treat small insects. One thing about Anton, he doesn't have a single enemy in the whole world. 'Cause he killed 'em all. 

These are three men carrying around minimal waste. They do one thing that needs to be done, then they do the next thing that needs to be done. Surely along the way at least one of them sneezes, or scratches. The author isn't concerned with the little things, though.These are terse men inhabiting tense environments, with country ways of speaking, acting, thinking and (on occasion) speaking.

Together, they comprise a stupendous story shimmering with suspense. Typically an author will set a scene. McCarthy sets a scene, offers it coffee, takes its temperature, then snaps its last known photo.

Apostrophes and quotation marks are both MIA. Some readers may find that off-putting. Their loss. Moss looks at himself in a mirror a few times, but always resists the urge to take in what he sees. Adverbs are almost as scarce as hope. One page panting, the next glistening.

No Country For Old Men is a crime thriller, an Old West parable…and much more.

Directors-Joel & Ethan Coen
Writers-Joel & Ethan Coen

Two hours in the DMV, and you can feel a flu bug ready to bite. Ten minute drive to the pharmacy, and you can feel a tire ready to blow. Four hours at the auto shop, and you can feel an artery ready to rupture.

Life and death has been the way of the world since its creation, with suffering and pleasure meted out in between. Who deserves what, when, and how much will be argued over until its destruction.

Watching as Llewelyn Moss, the self-saboteur of his own dumb luck, faces challenges that would immobilize a lesser human is oddly invigorating. "Oddly," since I knew his ending would not be a happy one (by my standards) and since he's not precisely a righteous protagonist. He's stubborn, selfish, and Josh Brolin.

Everyone lives and everyone dies, even the "wet-eyed" killer, with his compressed air tank of unorthodox death, walking as though anticipating quicksand or a landmine underneath each step.

Javier Bardem received awards for his indelible turn as Anton Chigurh, but (just like the book) the hero of the piece is Sheriff Bell. Craggy-faced and plain-spoken, Tommy Lee Jones is a perfect throwback of a lawman, a good guy fighting the good fight in a bad-to-worse world. He respects the vitality of life and the finality of death. But he doesn't always understand, especially not the threat of Chigurh, whose stoic devotion to the duty of murder is emblematic of society's decline.


Wow is this close. I mean I'd almost rather get beaned by a horse shoe or juggle hand grenades than decide. The Coens took McCarthy's work and amplified it. The movie grabbed well-deserved Oscars for Best Picture, Supporting Actor, Director and Adapted Screenplay. The bros do nothing audacious with the material, but then again, the fact they adapted No Country For Old Men was itself audacious. Both book and film even conclude in the same abrupt, stark way (although only movie audiences acted cheated out of something. Movie audiences also don't like it when the good guy is killed, much less off-camera).

The written word can't match the immediacy of a bullet-storm, but flickering images won't allow languishment in the aftermath. McCarthy is a master, the Coens are masters, but a master novelist is worth three master directors.

Unlike Coppola with The Outsiders, the Coens were not so besotted by the original novel that tweaks and twists were unthinkable.

Take Moss's last stand, which isn't much the stand at all, in either. Book Moss meets up with a hitchhiker chick. She's all about new starts; sounds good to him. Their prickly verbal volleying is the hot sauce shaken on the eggs scrambled. G's go missing, ponders get pondered, and the air is filled with noise always, since they both understand that quiet=death. Awesome to read, not so awesome to watch. So the Coens make the hitchhiker a "Poolside Woman" at some godawful motel, and give us no insight into who she is or what she wants. Besides to share a beer with a married guy.

The most egregious alteration, and one that I find utterly brilliant, is the death of Carla Jean Moss.

Every once in awhile, ruthless motherfucker Anton "Ruthless Motherfucker" Chigurh decides to embrace the arbitrary. Rather than just blow a hole in someone's head, he'll pull out a coin. Heads? Tails? "That's the best I can do," he explains.

Early in the film we see Chigurh ask the question of a bumbling Texaco station clerk. The man makes the right call, and saves his life. Near the end, Carla Jean is offered a way out.

In the book, Carla Jean is a pleading wreck of a woman who (just like her husband) makes the wrong choice and seals her fate. In the movie, though, she is either petulant or noble (depending on your point of view) as she refuses to say "heads" or "tails," insisting that Chigurh is in control and will do as he wishes regardless of the result.

Leaving us with hellacious ponders: what drives this seemingly indestructible man? Does he indeed abide by an ethical code, even as he mows down over a dozen people? Chigurh is a fatalist. Those who die by his hand have it coming. They have done wrong by someone somewhere and must thus atone. Mr. Moss must die, and Anton must be the man to make it happen. And since he did not cooperate in order to save his wife, she must die as well. Maybe? Would Chigurh have spared a game Carla Jean? Was that even a possibility?

Neither Llewelyn nor his wife placed much stock in the idea that man is helpless to the demands of destiny. Each espouses the concept of free will, be it Llewelyn telling Chigurh that he will escape his wrath or Carla Jean calling out Chigurh for capriciousness. Could Llewelyn Moss have really resisted the lure of that "forty pounds of paper"?

So, great decision to give Carla Jean the gift of defiance, and makes up for not being treated to the sight of Javier Bardem sitting in his hotel room watching soaps. (He would totally be a Roger Thorpe guy.).

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Better In Your Head?--THE OUTSIDERS


SPOILER ALERT, knives will forever be cooler than guns.

S. E. Hinton

"Things are rough all over."

Tulsa, OK. 1965. There are two rival gangs at Will Rogers High School, the hard-luck Greasers and the sun-kissed Socs, and fifteen-year-old Susan Eloise Hinton identifies with neither. Still, she has a soft spot for the unsung, and a flair for writing, so she begins a story from the Greaser POV. Two years later, The Outsiders is published.

A boy of fourteen shouldn't be such a gifted narrator, but then again, a girl of fifteen shouldn't be such a gifted novelist. Ponyboy Curtis (real name no gimmicks), the youngest of three orphans, tells the unforgettable story and the story unforgettably, from his initial ass-whupping to his inevitable breakdown.

Pony loves books, and they serve him well, but it's his love for movies that gets his ass in the hot bubbles. He's leaving a theater when the Socs chase him down at the very beginning, and he's walking two Soc ladies home (alongside Greaser chums Johnny and Two-Bit) from the drive-in when the rival gang roll up, drunk and ready to rumble. One of the girls, a sympathetic redhead nicknamed "Cherry," is able to defuse tensions, but disaster hasn't been averted, only delayed.

Ponyboy arrives home late enough to earn the ire of his oldest brother/legal guardian Darry, who belts the kid across the face. Pony bolts, finds Johnny (who also enjoys a less-than-idyllic home life), and the two stop at a local park to decompress.

Then a car full of Socs rolls up, and Johnny has to knife Cherry's dude Bob to save Ponyboy's pruning hide. Not ready to face the music, the boys run to find Dally Winston, the tuffest tough they know (he spent three years in New York City fer chrissakes). He gives 'em a gun and directs them to the town of Windrixville, which doesn't have gangs or drive-ins but does have an abandoned church they can hide in till the storm blows over. It's all hair dye, shoplifting, sunsets and wondering what the hell writers mean, when Dally tuffs by, acting all tuff and taking the fellas into town for some eats and updates. Is shit about to go down in Tulsa? Boy howdy.

Good kid Johnny decides it's time he face the music. Dally drives back to the church--which has gone up in flames. Worse, an elementary school class for some goddamn reason decided to take a lunch nearby, and some of the kids decided to explore the church.

Johnny and Ponyboy go all hero while Dally tuffs it out from the safety of his own leather jacket. Too bad; maybe he could've saved Johnny before part of the burning building fell and crippled the poor bastard.

Somebody lock up Sally Brown, 'cause a rumble's about to be on. Shocker in Gloomville, the Greasers "win" and everything's tuff except nah, it sucks, because Johnny succumbs to his injuries in the hospital and Dally goes exploding banana boats, robbing a store and running from the cops with an unloaded gun on his person.

Boy howdy.

Ponyboy is legally absolved of guilt in the death of Soc Bob, but an orphaned teenager from the wrong side of the tracks who's just seen two peers die can't be expected to serve as a model of aplomb. Luckily, he still has his brothers…and a teacher who's willing to give Pony a passing grade if he turns in a quality theme (none of that "What I want for Christmas" crap).

So that's what he did.

With fourteen million copies sold, The Outsiders basically birthed the "young adult fiction" market. Up until the 21st century, it was among the 100 most "challenged/banned" books as per the American Library Association. My middle school had no qualms with its presence, though, and The Outsiders became the first of only two books I would ever steal from a library.

Beyond the slang-y style, which stuck to my ribs, was the sheer novelty. I initially read the book as a girl of twelve, overweight and shy. I grew up in a home of anywhere from four to nine bodies, unbroken but plenty cracked. I certainly was not a dirty-mouthed, filthy-minded chick or a nattily-attired, highly-decorated young lady. Hell, I was much closer to Susan Hinton, even if my scribbled observations were less noble and lengthy. So this foreign world, of bad boys and good deeds, slicked hair and scarred skin, intrigued me. Greasers loved hair gel and Elvis; I loved pudding pops and Duran Duran. Their clothes were tight and blunt; mine, baggy and vague. The Socs (shorthand for "socials," though I definitely called 'em "Socks" in my head) were impeccable, head-to-toe, and loved the Beatles. (And before you go feeling those rich kids weren't so bad, you know who else loved the Beatles? Hitler.)

The lessons of The Outsiders--ones that Ponyboy was very fortunate to learn at the tender age of fourteen--start with the realization that things really are rough and tough all over, and sweating the details is tiring and tiresome. Spoiled brats and unspectacular degenerates are equally deserving of love and discipline, equally capable of bravery and just as culpable for cowardice. Honor, loyalty, sacrifice--these things should matter to a person. No one should remain "stuck in a church" their whole life.

It also advocated chocolate cake for breakfast decades before researchers did.

Director-Francis Ford Coppola
Writer-Kathleen Rowell
(Rowell wrote the first two drafts; Coppola, unhappy at how far Rowell drifted from the source material, produced the final script himself. Due to issues with the Writers Guild of America, however, he was unable to secure writing credit)

"Do it for Johnny!"

The goddamn 1980s. When a librarian in Fresno could write an Oscar-winning director (we're talking a goddamn auteur, he had a heart attack on set, he is like Ric Flair behind that camera!) and ask that he adapt a classic young adult novel almost twenty years after its initial publication and result.

The Outsiders is one 190 page book. For twenty-two years, it was one 90 minute movie. Then in 2005, the "Complete Novel" directors cut came out on DVD, with an additional 25 minutes. You might suspect the longer film to be the more comprehensive and comprehensible, and that suspicion would be correct.

But, it's still nothing special.

Whereas another director (most directors?) might have blanched at the prospect of a stark adaptation, Sofia's dad worshipped at the altar of the novel. Maybe a bit too fervently. While the 1983 version is shorter and punchier, it omits key scenes that not only illuminate the plot but the players. That's no good. The original cut is basically the whole damn book on screen. That's also no good.

Reason being? The novel revolved around Ponyboy. He told a riveting story, but if a reader wasn't willing to learn his language, the story would never hook them. There's more to it all than unfettered dudeness; there's a restless, rebellious power driving these rough 'n' tumbles (and their likewise neighborhood), unstable and full of potential.

While the movie also follows Ponyboy, we only watch him watching. We lack the further gift of his insights, of how past informed present and could possibly reform future. It's a significant loss.

S. E. Hinton was only seventeen when Viking Press gave her first novel a chance.  The woman Coppola called "Susie" received a scant 500 bucks from Zoetrope Studio for the movie rights, but she enjoyed treatment rare for any writer; not only was she encouraged to be on the set and in the film (as a nurse), she became a mother figure to the actors and she apparently made a film director considered one of the world's finest scared to do anything drastic to her source material. 

How goddamn 1980s is this cast: C. Thomas Howell, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Patrick Swayze (31 playing 20), Rob Lowe (his film debut), Emilio Estevez, Tom Cruise and Diane Lane. Sexy buncha bums. None at their peak, however, or anywhere near, resulting in a major motion picture made by a slumming genius and some student actors.

Verisimilitude issues abound. Matt Dillon as a skull ring-wearing tough guy is as plausible as, well, Ralph Macchio as a blade-wielding tough guy. (As the group's poor abused trembling puppy, though? Not bad, Ralph. Estevez does a pretty good job as my second-favorite character from the book, when the accent ain't fighting back, that is.)

Lots of lingering shots on the countryside and on sunsets. The countryside is always better in your head, and the sunset is always better enjoyed on your own terms. Reading about PB & J on the run, subsisting on cigarettes, bologna sandwiches and epic fictions, that was absorbing. I cared about those kids. Watching them smoke and eat and quote Robert Frost, that left me fidgety.

Hinton emphasized eyes, while Coppola is preoccupied with skies. Pink as skin, red as blood, golden as a child's heart. The hazes, the silhouettes, and of course the sunsets. Pretty stuff. So's cotton candy. You can get that stuff damn near everywhere.

Turning Dally's death into Sonny on the causeway, another eye-roller. (Yet, he turns Darry slapping baby bro Ponyboy into a hard push. Which makes the younger man's retreat from the homestead a bit more puzzling.)

Oh, Sofia's dad did some things right. Good move replacing Carmine Coppola's sapped-out soundtrack with a collection of tunes faithful to the era: Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis, "Gloria." (Stevie Wonder's mawkish ballad "Stay Gold" remains the credit music, however.) Even then, he mucks it up during the church rescue scene, placing overwhelming rockabilly over the action for reasons I promise you are not good enough.

Yeah, because I promise your head lacked stilted line readings and comical emotionalism.

Yeah, because Ponyboy Curtis is one of the most generous narrators yet.

Yeah, because you'll find yourself wondering which of the other Outsiders you'd love to hear the same story from. (Two-Bit for me, he'd bring a humor and irreverence my adult self would appreciate.)

Yeah, because the film won't help you see how reality is the best and worst thing for an imagination.

"Movies and books, movies and books. I wish that you would concentrate on somethin' else just once in awhile."

Shut the fuck up, Darry.

Whatever version, Coppola indulged in empty calories. The Outsiders did not need to be "brought to life" for any reason other than the making of the money.

Stay whatever precious metal you are.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Better In Your Head?--THE PRINCESS BRIDE

SPOILER ALERT, prepare to be spoiled.

William Goldman

"Life isn't fair. It's just fairer than death, that's all."

One quarter adventure, one quarter comedy, another quarter fairy tale, and a final fourth romance. The Princess Bride is a hybrid pie in the grand tradition of the beach panana or the rueberry, whipped up by a prince of pastries.

Hungry for fiction on fiction on fiction? Here we have the friggin' Smith Island cake of fiction. Presenting the work as an abridgment of a novel by S. Morganstern. Goldman even includes false autobiographical material. (He was, in reality, inspired to pen the tale when his two young daughters requested stories about a princess and a bride, respectively. Moral of this story, let girls run at least a fair amount of the world.)

It's one of the most ingenious framing devices I've come across: Goldman's father read him Morganstern's masterpiece when young Will was beset by pneumonia. So when Goldman's own son is under the weather, he reaches for The Princess Bride and makes a stunning discovery--what his own father read to him all those years ago was not The Princess Bride. Well not entirely.

Morganstern's book was a lengthy satirical take on royal excesses (including one fifty-six page chapter devoted to luggage-packing). Mr. Goldman showed his son mercy by focusing instead on "the action stuff, the good parts." William, older and with a successful career as a writer, approaches a publisher about a "good parts" abridgment. Which is what--after forty pages or so--we are reading.

More or less. Goldman can't resist interjecting throughout, either to put Morganstern in context or to explain his own editorial decisions. This tangential trickery works (by which I mean, enhances the ostensible "main story") since Goldman is a writer gifted with dizzying wit and inventiveness.

In the Renaissance European nation of Florin (actually the name of a currency used throughout the continent from the 13th to 16th centuries) lives a farm girl named Buttercup.  Life should be ideal for a Top 20 Most Beautiful Woman in the World, but her parents have a notoriously combative union that helps explain her status as an only child, so she chooses to avoid them whenever possible, riding horses and bickering with dashing farmhand Westley who falls into the "true love" after mere weeks.

When the Count and Countess bless the farm with their presence, the latter makes little secret of her attraction to the farmhand. Buttercup is beset upon by a top five wave of jealousy, and finally lets Westley know the depths of her feelings. True love! It can wait until it cannot!

Westley heads out into the world to earn his fortune and be worthy of such a fine young woman. After several years pass with no word whatsoever, a bitter and passionless Buttercup agrees to wed Prince Humperdinck. Before the wedding can go down, Buttercup is captured by hired goons Vizzini, Fezzik and Inigo Montoya, with the aim of instigating a war between Florin and Gilder. Westley--under the guise of the Dread Pirate Roberts--comes to the fair maiden's rescue.

If you know the movie, you knew all of that, and you know the rest of the book. More or less.

You know Vizzini is a Sicilian blowhard who fancies his mind one of the master type. You know Inigo is on the hunt for a six-fingered daddy slayer. You know Fezzik is big and silly. There are duels, dramatic set pieces of fantastical construction, and logic-defying acts of uncommon bravery. And thanks to a decreased remove between writer and reader, you don't know much of anything.

Basically, Papa Goldman took a boring if artful cultural satire out to lunch, plied it with mead, and gave the leftovers to his son. That's nice, but it's not a whole meal. Is that bad? Depends. Satire tends to be wasted on the young. Whereas, everyone loves a good romance with plenty of action.

William Goldman is the ultimate Unreliable Narrator. He tells us constantly about his son, when in fact he had daughters. He also reminisces about working on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which he provably did. Westley and Buttercup are an all-time love story, but only because Goldman says they are. The Princess Bride ends happily, but only because Goldman says it does.

And because I want to believe him.

Director-Rob Reiner
Writer-William Goldman

"Anybody want a peanut?"

One of the most fondly-remembered movies of humanity's greatest decade is a love story, through and through. It's a breezy adventure set in the Middle Ages. It's a revenge fable. But the heartbeat underneath the action never slows.

William Goldman was brought on to adapt his own work. Smart move the first. Goldman brought over as much of the framing device of the novel as possible. Smart move the second. Goldman retained much of the plot. Smart move the third.

It's a blast watching Westley and Buttercup bedeviled first by hired goons of varying threat, then by lightning sand and "Rodents of Unusual Size." Not so much a blast when I realized Buttercup is lamentably more passive here. (If your girl can't put up a fight in the face of ginormous rats, maybe she shouldn't be your girl.)

But the good guys win because love wins and good guys aren't afraid to love.

Love, that which transcends the human construct of class. Love, that which surpasses the human failing of vanity. Love transforms Westley from strapping farmhand to the swashbuckling "Dread Pirate Roberts." He can out-duel and/or outwit anyone. (That Buttercup, she sure built him up. Ha. Ha ha. Charlie Brown wall of HAs. Oh Lord, I'm sorry.)

Doesn't mean lovers should carry a movie. Smart move the fourth. Cary Elwes and Robin Wright do very well, but then consider Wallace Shawn (who makes Vizzini a right bumptious blowhard. This? Totally his idea.) or Mandy Patinkin (who is clearly loving every other minute of the Inigo-portraying experience). Hell, you'd better consider Andre the Giant as lovable behemoth Fezzik. (You think Paul Wigt can do anything akin to what Andre does here? You can go fall down a weeellllll!)

Billy Crystal can't even maim the joy, that is how great this movie is. 

Faithful to the source's sardonic wit, deadpan delivery and message of "Love conquers all, or at least most…all right, love conquers quite a lot," The Princess Bride is terrifically acted, deftly directed, splendidly paced--and still clearly inferior to the book.

This is no fault of Rob Reiner. He and Goldman deserve bushels of huzzahs for turning a masterwork of meta-fiction into a buoyant, but the latter's aptitude with text surpasses the former's with film. This film does not have layers, which is only a knock against it in the context of this review series.

You will come across many who are of the opinion that the movie damn near equals the source, or even edges it out, and I can get why they feel that way.

And I can't deny, some things actually are better seen than described, such as a comically-overgrown "Turk" with a predilection for hurling rocks and rocking rhymes.

Still…no Zoo of Death? Boo of Death. The mental image of Andre, face contorted in arachnophobic panic, crashing through a door….

The Princess Bride by William Goldman is a feat. An actual factual literary feat. The Princess Bride by Rob Reiner is a lush, bright, hilarious treat. So is a slice of lemon meringue pie with a cube of hash in the middle.

What a writer considers vital to their story, what information a reader needs to know, The Princess Bride plays hide-and-go-fuck-yourself with all that. Goldman skewers the publishing industry, the movie industry, weaving fact with fiction, at the same time he skewers an entire form of literature.

The movie is just really damn great.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Better In Your Head?--CARRIE

SPOILER ALERT. Proms suck and fuck 'em.

Stephen King

The first King novel published (albeit the fourth he'd actually written) is also his shortest, an epistolary job composed of articles from magazines and newspapers, letters and book excerpts. Inspired by two girls he'd known during his school years, King knocked out Carrie in two weeks. He's never been a big fan of the finished product, using words like "clumsy" and "artless," while praising director Brian DePalma for his "frothy" film adaptation. Well, hell--four million fans can't be wrong, can they? Sure they can, and frequently are. But in this case….

Carrie is set in the fictional city of Chamberlain in the actual state of Maine, where high school senior Carrietta White lives with mother Margaret, the founder of a religion whose adherents number two (surely you can guess who). Carrie is a bit plump, a bit pimply, and her peers don't think of her as human: "a frog among swans," an ox, a pig, an hog, an ape. Carrie has only her mother and her power, neither of which she can understand or trust.

A girl's first menstrual period is a significant turning point in her life, and for Carrie especially. It arrives during a post-gym shower and poor Carrie, having been kept in the dark about such matters, believes she's bleeding to death. Taunting classmates hurl tampons with no regard for the nation's homeless women. A light bulb in the locker room explodes, seemingly mysteriously.

Home provides no comfort. Her rabid mom locks her in a closet and forces her to repent for the sin of being a woman. Hey, Margaret White's not all bad. Yes, she's a zealot, but no one who refers to pregnancy as "cancer of the womanly parts" can be evil. I'd rather have cancer than a baby. People would praise me for fighting the cancer.

Something is not quite right with Carrie. She can perform telekinesis, but since she has no concept of psychic abilities, she calls it "flexing." During a flex, her blood pressure and heart rate rocket while her respiration remains curiously unchanged.

Gym teacher Miss Dejardin shows sympathy for Carrie, punishing her tormentors. The bitchiest of the clique, Chris, defies orders and earns not only a suspension but a ban from the upcoming prom. The most remorseful of the crew, Sue, convinces her man Tommy to take Carrie to the prom. Wait, the shit-eating weirdo uggo-chubbo? The very same.

Sue is all heart, but Chris and her dude, Billy, are compunction-free assholes determined to embarrass Carrie and maintain a motif.

And then, prom night in Chamberlain. A night those in attendance will never forget. Or remember.

Chicanery results in King Tommy and Queen Carrie. They ascend the stage, take their ill-gotten thrones, bask in the glory, annnnnd BOOM. Buckets o' blood. Tommy's loses consciousness (like, entirely) and Carrie runs past her braying peers, out of the gym.

Carrie doesn't--possibly can't--consider that her peers are laughing not at her, but rather at what has happened, the absurdity of the situation. I mean, the ugly duckling of the student body being named prom queen was crazy enough, and then it starts raining blood? Well, one hysterical response deserves another. The gym doors shut and lock. Sprinklers spray, fires blaze, and finally the entire school explodes. "The world's all-time loser" achieves her revenge via indiscriminate slaughter.

She returns home and kills her mother--but not before suffering a mortal wound that still does not prevent her from hunting down Billy and Chris. Sue, whose guilt made the massacre possible, finds Carrie lying in the street. Sue wants to absolve herself; Carrie wants to add one more to the body count.

Four months after "The Black Prom"--a night that saw the deaths of 440 citizens--Chamberlain is a virtual ghost town. Scientists are treating psychic phenomenon with increased respect and schools nationwide are cracking down on bully behavior. The books conclusion suggests all this diligence is quite justified.

I am so grateful to have been an outcast. Cool kids played gormless games with ridiculous rules and scoring systems so screwy they didn't even recognize a win from a loss from a tie. Perhaps my suspicious, reticent nature resulted in premature death for some promising palships, but it surehaps warded off some massive humiliations in a life already rife with them. So, worth it.

Without any inexplicable ability other than that of arranging words with the fervor of a display decorator in Times Square, I stayed to myself. I dreamed. I lived.

The cliche is dead-ass truth: success is the ideal get-back. And I suppose wiping out hundreds of lives is a form of success, especially if one is aiming for excellence in the field of mass murder.

Director-Brian DePalma
Writer-Lawrence D. Cohen

I love that King referred to this film as "frothy." What a word. Rabid dogs quaffing root beer while their owners shampoo the carpet with cottage cheese.

The film adaptation doesn't dare, since it's adapting a brilliant horror tale centered around an indelible abomination. Just lay back and think of the Seventies! Short shorts, big hair and bigger teeth, the beer cans flying between moving cars. People either dug disco or the whole decade was wasted on 'em, far as I can tell.

Everything leading up to the big night--Carrie's travails and attempts to understand what inside of her sends windows to shutting and kids to flying off bikes, the shame-suffused confrontations between mother and daughter, high school girls whose prettiness is surpassed by their pettiness--tries to get the viewer ready for what's to transpire. But I know, my first time watching, I wasn't prepared. I mean, there's cracking under pressure, and then there's...this. 

"The big night" is Prom Night, spotlight on Tom and Carrie y'all, a hilariously ominous song playing as they take it all in. (Carrie likens the overwhelmingly red experience to "being on Mars." Even at the happiest she's ever been on this planet, she still imagines being elsewhere.) The unlikely duo have a great time, sharing a tender dance and even "winning" the honor of King and Queen. The sight of the perpetual victim standing on the stage, tiara on her head and roses in her arm, is almost too much. Surprise, elation, redemption...all etched on a gaunt face glowing as it never has before.

Then...Ganon's Revenge.

(Tommy's Frampton-Gibb hybrid hair helmet not protecting him from the falling bucket is Top Five scariest moments here.)

DePalma (who does a great job throughout) makes use of the kaleidoscope effect referenced in the book, a risky move indeed, momentarily putting us in Carrie's head as she imagines the entire gym is laughing at her latest mistreatment (untreated shots establish that this is not the case). Talk about emotional whiplash! No Carrie, no one likes you. You're an anti-social eyesore. Your mother's right to keep you housebound. Everyone is bad. Everything is a sin.

Split the scene? Nah. Split the screen.

Here, the film one-ups the novel--rather than run, Carrie remains in the gym, on the stage, eyes stretched wide. She is not close to running; she is not close to laughing. She descends the steps with the deliberation of royalty, as her subjects scream and beg, as fire and water snuff out human life with equal efficiency. 

If the video of the Great White concert tragedy taught me anything (and it taught me many things), it is this: the screams of the victims are not the worst thing. It is, rather, when the screaming stops. When a sense of inevitability smashes against a surge of regret that things didn't turn out differently. We get one final humpin' acorns showdown between Margaret and her demented rape-baby, stinking of blood and indignation. Mama White grasps and spins and flails and Christ compels! her to a highly symbolic, oddly sexual demise.

Sissy Spacek is simply spellbinding. She's fragile, she's vengeful, she's credulous, and I can never take my eyes off her. And that's all before she gets doused with pig blood. The Academy even moved past their genre bias to nominate Spacek for an Oscar. Her thin figure and smooth skin don't jibe with the description of her paper-bound progenitor, but hey, verisimilitude often forgives silly outer sins.

Well, shit. Perhaps Carrie did her peers a solid by relieving them of their fluids. Consider: spoiled brats all, brash boys and the pointy girls who lead them 'round by the nuts, destined to relive the mistakes and malaise of their parents. But I still don't precisely sympathize.

Yes, revenge scenarios (over)worked my brain tissue, but they were specific fantasies. I sought to harm only those who'd sought to harm me. Maybe other students thought ill of me, but so what. Thoughts ain't words, ain't actions. One of Carrie's few allies, Miss Collins, meets a brutal end, practically bisected by a swinging rafter. Hers is the only death that bothers me, for being so damned undeserved.

Well, I did wince at the immolation of Billy's red Chevelle SS. Oh and that poor pig. God, the farmer must've been a wreck the next morning.

It sucks that Carrie was raised by an abusive woman who probably masturbated to visions of taking face shots from all Twelve Apostles (I mean she couldn't even chop carrots in her kitchen without God taking an interest). It's terrible that she was raised by a twisted mess of nerves and flesh who couldn't allow her own child to make friends, make mistakes, to try, to learn, to live. But beyond Mama, Chris and Billy, no one deserved to die.

Moral of the story for the quintessential target: it's only four years of your life. Endure. Why? Because you should, and because you can. Also, if you possess a freakish ability, try to use it sparingly and righteously.

Moral of the story for the inveterate tormentor: know when to stop. Imagine if Chris was happy just to rig the prom vote. Everyone leaves with a pulse.

Director--Kimberly Pierce
Writers--Kimberly Pierce & Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

Remakes are no more pointless than any other film, nor any more foolhardy or doomed. It's all in the execution.

Carrie 2013 could have been okay. Passable. Now, Kimberly Pierce aimed higher.

The start holds much promise. Flash back to Margaret White on her blood-soaked bed, struggling to summon up the courage she needs to stab her fresh-out daughter with a gleaming pair of scissors. I'm with it!

New generation, new bullying techniques. Carrie's torment in the gym is immortalized on a dumb chick's phone and uploaded to YouTube for the enjoyment of other broth-brains.

There, that's the big difference between the films.

I get the update. It's smart. It's more commendable than Gus Van Sant with his nose in Hitch's recipe book. The only thing I honestly cared about here was Chloe Moretz in the titular role. Spacek as Carrie is an all-time go, any genre, a transformative experience. No way Moretz would come close.

And she didn't.

Moretz is doe-eyed and pouty-lipped, forlorn and clumsy, and ultimately too pretty to be a worthy successor. Spacek seemed possessed by a demon, whereas Moretz tries to convince us she is the demon. (Unless it comes to Miss Desjardin, who is levitated out of harms way during the carnage. Gag me with a selfie stick.) Is she in control? Totally or somewhat or not at all? A strength of the original film was how Carrie's inner strength advanced over time, from demure to demonic, whereas remake Carrie starts out "fuck-you" powerful. Thus, she's not even remotely sympathetic.

And then there's the overt physicality. Moretz Carrie makes ridiculous arm motions and levitates--fucking levitates--out of the gym. Fuck me was that unpleasant to watch.

Julianne Moore's haunted Margaret White has champions, mainly people who bristled at Piper Laurie's batshit turn. Well folks, give me batshit religious fanatics or give me death.

Every other actor is unremarkable or inconsistent, often at inopportune times. After Carrie's dousing at the prom, the video screens set up in the gym flicker on, and scenes from her viral video flash as students roar in amusement. Ansel Elgort, as Tommy, exclaims "What the hell?!" A harmless line delivered atrociously. (I kinda like to think the students are all laughing at that.)

Carrie 2013 is MTV horror, much less watchable than Billy Squier's pink tank top or air-synthing on a loading dock. The CGI is laughable, the real stuff ain't much better, and yes I am fully aware of the legend of the "original cut," an ostensibly longer and gorier film truer to the spirit of King than DePalma, but guess what? That's not what the studio released, so that's not what I (or most people) wound up seeing. We got this drizzle.

The redoubtable Mr. King will disagree, vehemently, but the book is best. The structure (third person mixed in with extracts from books, newspaper and magazine articles, even police interviews) does it for me. Why should the Carrie White story be told in a common, straightforward fashion?

His prose style is like a watching puppy learning tricks--it's adorable even when he messes up. Semi-colons nourish sentences tipsy off their own ephemeral energy. Thoughts ensnared in parentheses. At peak mania, King's words move in a St. Vitus boogie of descriptors snatched from the ether.

The final moment of the book hints at fresh hell to come. The final moment of the 1976 movie was the only major scene not spoiled in the trailer and thus, sent popcorn skyward at theaters all over this great land. The final moment of the remake is a skull-poundingly stupid attempt to set off a DRAMA BOMB which is actually not so bad when one remembers Kimberly Pierce really wanted the ending where Sue gives birth to Carrie's arm.

The book bests the original movie by a single outstretched leg. The remake fell forward at the starting block and passed out at the sight of its own bloodied nose.