Saturday, August 30, 2014

Movie Review: "The November Man"

Bittersweet November
By Rainey Wetnight

“WHAT DO YOU DO?” -Pierce Brosnan as Peter Devereaux, shouting at his fellow covert agent

Welcome to the grown-up world, Mister Bond. You’ll still find malevolence, mayhem, and gore galore, but no longer will any of your female conquests bear suggestive names revealing their actual purpose. Along with your daily doses of cranial junk food - death, fear and copulation - you’re going to have to choke down vegetables of virtue, moralizing as you’re murdering. Preferably afterward, but you know what I mean.

I am speaking, of course, to you, Pierce Brosnan. You’ve played the iconic role of 007 in four films. Most of them were unintentionally hilarious. We audience members could be forgiven for grinning at your chiseled face being superimposed upon stunt doubles’ heads through the subtle wonders of CGI. As you told the world how you liked your martinis, over and over, we couldn’t help but roll our eyes like you’d roll an olive across a bar counter. We even tried to hide our guffaws until after the ending line in Goldeneye about “debriefing each other”. Now there’s no more time for monkey business. You’re in a different zoo.

Instead of a name pronounceable in macho, monosyllabic grunts, you’re going to have to grapple with the moniker “Peter Devereaux”, coined by Bill Granger. I’m sure you know how to pronounce that first name, but the last one might be a bit of a stretch. Hint: It doesn’t rhyme with “sex”, although there’s plenty of it. I am also sorry to inform you, but the main scene is between your young rival David Mason (Luke Bracey) and a nightclub-loving blonde named Sarah (Eliza Taylor). For you, there’s Alice Fournier (lovely Bond girl Olga Kurylenko). Look, but don’t touch. That would almost be pedophilia at your age, so keep it zipped.

Your present plot is - well, a naturally-convoluted series of plots. Who are the good guys, the bad guys, the good bad guys, and the bad good guys? Add to that some raucous QueasyCam™ car chases, rear-kicking explosions, and gun battles that make those in Treasure of the Sierra Madre look like child’s play. If you’re looking for depth of character a la your role in Remember Me, remember you’re the November Man. ‘When you pass through, nothing lives.’ Which makes me puzzled: what’s up with the ending, then?

Let me be frank with you for a moment. This movie is schizophrenically unsure of what it wants to be, as critic Matt Zoller Seitz has so clearly pointed out. If it were a video game, one moment it would be Grand Theft Auto V, and the next moment Mass Effect. I once read that there were only two kinds of plots in the whole world: those of forza and forda, or body and mind. If you try to mix them up, audiences usually get confused, and the less they’ll want to see of one or the other. Nine times out of ten, what they’re looking for is much less mind (a la Agent Hanley, played by Bill Smitrovich) and much more body (Kurylenko). The issues presented in The November Man are very salient, and the villains’ raisons d’etre more believable than the ones in any of your Bond movies. However, I would have preferred that you turn down the volume of blood and turn up the intrigue, a la Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy with Gary Oldman.

The character that had me the most interested in your latest picture is the one with the least screen time: Natalia Ulanova, played by Caterina Scorsone. She’s the reason why you do what you do, or why Peter Devereaux does what he does. If it weren’t for Natalia, then you wouldn’t be trying to off David Mason as he tries to boff his latest girl (What was her name again? Remember, man?) “WHAT DO YOU DO?” you bellow after you yourself do something beyond despicable. I almost stopped rooting for you at that point. Then I recalled that you’re the…hero?…and you wouldn’t (would?) stoop so low. I understood perfectly.

In closing, Mr. Brosnan, you’ve earned the right to gravity - and gravitas - through your silver hair.

Embrace it. Let this bittersweet November be a draw, half-win, half-loss, in your considerable career.


Friday, August 22, 2014

Movie Review: "The Master Builder" (1958)

Master Builder, Master Destroyer
By Rainey Wetnight

“Homes for human beings…” -Donald Wolfit as Halvard Solness, on what he designs 

In high school, I had a thing for Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. While my classmates devoured the latest teen magazines and YA novels, I slowly savored A Doll’s House and Hedda Gabler. I can’t recall reading A Master Builder back then, though, and in retrospect I’m glad. To understand this master work and what makes it tick, it takes a lot more maturity than my sixteen-year-old mind could have mustered. It centers around several opposing themes: youth versus age, desire versus duty, light versus darkness, and life versus death. Which characters embody which concepts, and at which times during the play? I have chosen to review the 1958 made-for-television version, distributed by BBC Films and 2 Entertain.

Halvard Solness (Donald Wolfit) is a man on a mission. Just as driven as Captain Ahab in Moby Dick, Solness’ goal is to slay the great white whale of “the younger generation”. The eponymous middle-aged architect is afraid that one day youth will replace him, crying “Make room! Make room!” Therefore, he has practically enslaved his former employer Knut Brovik, Brovik’s young but slightly-stooped son Ragnar, and his bookkeeper mistress, Brovik’s niece Kaia (Catherine Lacey). Ragnar has definite talent, but Solness yearns to keep him under tight control. Kaia yearns for Solness, even though she and Ragnar are engaged. Knut yearns to see his son branch out and build on his own, although he fears this won’t happen before illness overcomes him. At the beginning of the movie, he begs Solness to let Ragnar go. “Am I to die in such poverty?” he rasps. To which the Master Builder replies: “You must die as best you can.”

Also dead are Solness’ wife Aline, in a spiritual sense, and the two twin boys they once had. Rather than consider this dire misfortune to be what it is, he believes it’s the source of his remarkable luck in business. Once their former residence, Aline’s ancestral home, is consumed in a fire, the Builder is free to parcel out the land and build “happy homes, [for a] mother, father, and a troop of children” - the ones he lacks. His own house is a dark mausoleum, a monument to the past, with no less than three (!) separate nurseries. Who will occupy them now? Enter Hilda Wangel (Mai Zetterling), a lovely sprite of twenty-four who knew both Solness and Aline ten years before. She appears out of nowhere, dead broke and seeking lodging.

Why has Hilda returned after all this time? What does she want from Solness, and what is she prepared to take from his family? Those are the central questions of the play, and I won’t spoil it entirely. I’d much rather explain why, two centuries later, The Master Builder casts a spell over those who cherish drama.

This play is, first and foremost, a character study. All of the explosions and special effects are the ones secretly churning in the human heart, searing everyone they touch once they boil over. It’s also about our longing to relive and correct the past, especially if it contains tragedies we’d rather try to hide. Solness’ struggle is our own, on a profound level. As he attempts to build high towers and “castles in the air”, so do we. He is no longer satisfied with what he promised (and what he shouted at God) that he would do. He craves much loftier things, even though he’s now terrified to glance down from a second-floor balcony.

However, what separates the Builder from most of the rest of us is the true source of his strength. It’s most clearly expressed in his greatest delusion of grandeur. Solness believes that he is one of a very few “special people” who can cause events to happen if they simply wish hard enough. (Did he write the massively popular self-help book The Secret two hundred years in advance?) He calls “helpers and servers” to him, uses them, and then discards them like apple cores. Indeed, one can almost say that he consumes them, as one consumes food, attributing their positive qualities to himself while projecting his own negative qualities onto them. He is a Narcissus in love with his own reflection, and the Impossible Dream. There is nothing he would not do for what he wants, and for the people he supposedly loves.

Solness is a master destroyer, a false Odin - god of the sun - taking human sacrifices unto himself.


Monday, August 18, 2014

Movie Review: "Jack"

Jack Be Simple
By Rainey Wetnight

“It’s too soon! It’s too soon!” -Diane Lane as Karen Powell, “Jack’s” mother

It’s only fitting that an absurd fable about a ten-year-old boy in a forty-year-old-man’s (Robin Williams’) body begins with an entourage dressed as the cast of the Wizard of Oz in the delivery room. “Jack’s” mother (Diane Lane) is the Wicked Witch of the East with ruby slippers; his father (Brian Kerwin) is a tearful Tin Man. “Don’t rust up on me now!” Lane exults as her baby boy is born seven months early. It is, perhaps, the funniest line in the whole movie. Certainly, his condition isn’t meant to be funny, but pitiful.

So, what exactly is wrong with Jack? He doesn’t have progeria, as a doctor explains early-on in the film, which is “devastating to the child”. Rather, his cells mature at four times the normal human rate, but he’s otherwise healthy. Why being so different from his peers would not be devastating to him is just as much a mystery as his main trait, and indeed, Jack is viewed as a monster by some curious neighborhood kids. Nevertheless, he’s just as happy-go-lucky as any typical ten-year-old boy, and as distracted. His tutor, Mr. Woodruff (Bill Cosby) comes to Jack’s house every day to teach him, but Jack wants to go to regular school instead. “We’ve seen how people react,” his mother says in defense of keeping him at home, “and we don’t want Jack to have to face that.” What Jack must face, of course, is other people (kids and adults) looking at him like he’s a child molester instead of a child - or, in this case, a man with a child’s mind.

So he goes off to school. He wakes up late, in his blue print pajamas. His mom makes him a lunchbox. He has a rather dorky plaid shirt and a backpack that’s half a size too small for him. The only differences are that Jack has to shave and his dad tells him he can come home any time he wants to, a luxury that ordinary kids lack but often wish they had. His new fifth-grade teacher, Miss Marquez (Jennifer Lopez) is too gorgeous for her own good. Let’s face it - a romance between her and Jack would technically be pedophilia. Knowing this, she loops her arm through his and introduces him to the rest of her class just as if he were a child-sized new student. Unfortunately he’s not, and promptly tips over in his child-sized desk.

Such sophomoric hi-jinks are only the beginning of Jack’s journey through the world of middle school. His shoelaces come untied. He doesn’t realize that he can easily navigate the balance-beam ledge. The other kids laugh, point and stare. “He’s probably planning on kicking our butts or something,” one neighbor boy with glasses says. If only, but this is a kids’ movie, and Robin Williams can’t unleash Jack’s inner beast. Instead, he gets poked with a long stick by two snooty little girls and ignored by the basketball team. Will he have his revenge a la Carrie, or eventually win them over? Even a ten-year-old knows the outcome.

The trouble with this movie is not Robin Williams, or even director Francis Ford Coppola. It’s the inane plot, flat characterization, toilet humor, vapid dialogue, and utter lack of insight into Jack’s character - until he starts getting gray hair. By then, the poignant fear he feels at growing truly old is too little, too late.

What are we supposed to learn from Jack? Accept those who are different? Yes, but why couldn’t Coppola have directed a movie about a real person with a real disability instead? Live life to the fullest? Yes, but why couldn’t Robin Williams have learned that lesson as a forty-year-old man in mind and body? Jack’s graduation speech is supposed to sum everything up, but the entire movie Dead Poets Society does the exact same thing in a much better way over the course of its running time than this movie does. Jack is insulting on so many levels, and to so many kinds of people, that it’s a wonder it was ever made.

I’d like to close this review with a modified Mother Goose nursery rhyme:

Jack be simple, with such schtick,
Jack’s so dumb that it makes me sick.

The late, great Robin Williams deserved better for bringing out the wishful, wondering kid in all of us.

Robin Williams

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Blues Song: "Count You Down (and Out):"

By Rainey Wetnight

I've got to count you down, count you down and out, you see.
I've got to count you down - there's nothing left, don't you agree?
I thought you WERE GOOD, but you are NO GOOD for me.

I've got to count you down, count you down and out at last.
I've got to count you down - the love we had is in the past.
I thought you WERE GOOD; you became NO GOOD, and fast!

10, 9, 8, oh, yeah, we started so great.
7, 6, 5, you did deceive and connive.
4, 3, 2, the end of me and you,
And now you're 1, alone. That's why you'll sing the blues!

(Wicked Guitar Solo)  

10, 9, 8, oh, yeah, we started so great.
7, 6, 5, you did deceive and connive.
4, 3, 2, the end of me and you,
And now you're 1, alone. That's why you'll sing the blues!

I've got to count you down, count you down and out, you see.
I've got to count you down - there's nothing left, don't you agree?
I thought you WERE GOOD, but you are NO GOOD,
I thought you WERE GOOD, but you are NO GOOD,
I thought you WERE GOOD, but you are NO GOOD for me!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Short Story: POWER

By Rainey Wetnight, ©2014

December 18, 6:00 AM

‘Twas two weeks before Christmas, and all through this plant,
The lines keep speeding up, but as for us, we can’t…

“Y’all right?”

I nod. Charlene means me, even though her concern (muffled by her face mask) sounds like it’s for more than one person. Except for her skin being black and mine as pale as death, we’re identical twins. We’re wearing hairnets, safety goggles, the aforementioned masks, navy-blue jumpsuits, and thin latex gloves that sink into every fold and wrinkle on our hands. You’d think they’d puncture, but they don’t. At first glance we all look like doctors or nurses, but none of us will ever have that kind of skill - or pay grade.

We’re assembly-line drones, “rightsourced” as the official jargon goes, in the thick of the holiday rush.

Tech0p0l1s, 1nc. (yes, it’s spelled that way, with ones and zeroes) is both state-of-the-art and dirt cheap. It makes the world’s most advanced robotic toys for children ages six and up, so how come its workplace P&P’s - policies and procedures - are straight out of the late nineteenth century? I’ve been working double shifts lately, which means sixteen hours instead of eight, but I’ll really GO FOR THE GOLD this time.

I hate that stupid plaque, staring right across from me when I’m not powering up robot after robot. It’s not actual gold, but it gleams. Someone actually gets paid to polish it to a high mirror shine every day.

“You sure? You’re looking like a space cadet.” Charlene again.

“Sorry. It’s the new energy pill I took. SILA: One’s all you need.”

She looks at me warily. Hasn’t she seen their ubiquitous ads? I guess not, because with schedules like ours, who has time to watch TV? Fortunately there’s one in the break room, plus Internet access. The pills are made by a Russian pharmaceutical firm, hence their own spelling of the product: СИЛА. I felt vaguely uneasy when I first looked at the label on the bottle, feeling a dim memory of the Russian I’d learned from my grandmother resurface. I couldn’t remember what this word meant, however, in her native language.

Anyway, I’d taken one of the iridescent blue capsules - only one - and now I was raring to go.

“Good morning, everyone,” a calming male voice says, fit more for GPS’s than a factory intercom. “We’re glad you’re here for another day at Tech0p0l1s. Please remember that time is of the essence. Thank you.”

The signature notes of our company’s jingle play, and then after a whirr, the conveyor belt jerks to life.

6:15 AM

It’s my job to plug in each toy and see if it activates with initial power, leaving all the fun of testing to the testers. They’re the ones who get to play with the robots and work out all the bugs, so to speak. Me? I’m the “on” technician, and if the products don’t turn on, I’m supposed to toss them in REJECT bins at my feet. Out of the hundred I’ve plugged in, only one hasn’t made the cut, which speaks well for our assemblers. The conveyor belt is deceptive, as sterile and white as the fluorescent lights in a hospital, but I know better. Sometimes we cut ourselves on the small parts as we build the toys, but we’re supposed to deal with that.

To me, the belt runs as crimson as the sunset with the unseen, and unheeded, blood of tiny lacerations.

I blink. What was that?

Nothing. Come on. You’re just nervous because you’ve never put in a twenty-four-hour shift before. 

I want to rub my eyes, but can’t because of the goggles, and pray the sudden itching goes away.

6:30 AM

I’ve fallen into a rhythm. In a job like mine, this is critical. New fish on the line start out so worried, fretting about absolutely everything and if they’re doing it right, that someone has to tell them not to think. It’s best to let the simple parts of your brain take over: the lower ones responsible for reacting instead of reasoning. This stuff should become as automatic as breathing, as it has with me, and SILA helps me do it faster.

Next, next, next. I’m already up to two hundred units, and only two more REJECTS. So far, so good.

I’ll make the rent if I pull this off, and buy one more month of begrudged silence from my landlord.

7:00 AM

I…I can’t believe this. My count should only be 300 by now, but it’s 375. Am I actually getting faster?

If this keeps up, I’ll take SILA every day and do this all through Christmas. Even on Christmas.

Not since I was little - I mean, like five or six - have I had this much energy. Robots fly to me and past me faster than I ever thought they could, yet I still find time to plug each one in. I feel no pain, no discomfort from standing on my feet for a full hour, not even the tingling I felt in my eyes before. There’s nothing. More than that, though, I feel something slowly building in me, something wonderful. It’s as if that little blue pill I took this morning - no, not THAT one! - has awakened something in the chemistry of my blood, the meat-machine of my body, to turn it from being thin and spent into something fluid, something malleable yet infinitely charged. I’m literally being refreshed, renewed, with each second that I surrender to work.

10:00 AM

Out of the corner of my eye, I notice people coming on and off the line for their morning breaks. Wimps! 

12:00 PM 


Shut up, Charlene. Don’t you know that a “gold shift” is twenty-four hours STRAIGHT? 

The robots are no match for me. I was once their slave, but now I have become their lawful master. The conveyor belt, helpless to do anything but bring more, is nothing but a crazy blur. My count? The big 1000.

So simple and beautiful a cipher, a one and three zeroes, an “on” and three “offs”. Bountiful. Celestial. Millennial. It is this number, more than any other, that entrances me. It is my salvation, in dollars and in the electronic tally that represents how many units I’ve activated. Never before have I reached it so quickly.

Tears form along my parched corneas, but I don’t even notice them until they’re rolling down my cheeks.

3:00 PM


6:00 PM 

This factory is alive, and I don’t mean with people. We’re the most mechanical (or should I say, digital?) things in it. Everything else, from the walls to the fluorescent lights to the plaque I abhor, teems with life.

Some people believe that every form of matter, now matter how inanimate, possesses consciousness. They’re right. Even the dust motes in the air, which land against my face mask like sleepy children’s heads coming to rest on pillows, know exactly where they’re going, what they’re doing, and why they’re doing it. They exist to float, and to remind us that we are like them in every single respect. None of what we call our great accomplishments, not even the ingenuity to come up with the idea of these toys, is worth a whit.

Dust we are, and to dust we shall return, unless we merge with the infinite and the mathematical: 2900. 

12:00 AM

I have learned the truth:

“One’s all you need?” That’s a big lie, because it’s only eighteen hours into my shift and I’m wearing down.

I have to take another SILA, or else the two O’s in GO FOR THE GOLD, shining maws, will swallow me.

5:00 AM

There are a 4, a 5, a 6 and a 7 on a screen in the near distance. What do those things mean?

I feel completely liquid, full of acid. Battery acid. If the pills can’t help me, then I bet something else will:

Two sharp prongs.

As quick as a wink, I roll up my sleeve and stab them into my arm. I feel hot and sizzly-tingly all at once.

Yes. Yes. Yes. YES. 

At long last, I have enough


~ 3/31/14 ~

Friday, March 28, 2014

Movie Review: "Terms of Endearment"

I know this isn't a blues song, but I lost a bet with my movie critic friend on Facebook, Susan Wloszczyna. Therefore, here's my forfeit: a review of the spectacular movie "Terms of Endearment".

Terms of Endearment, Terms of Life
By Rainey Wetnight

“Emma, I’m totally convinced if you marry Flap Horton tomorrow, it will be a mistake of such gigantic proportions it will ruin your life and make wretched your destiny.”  --Aurora Greenway

Before the term “helicopter parent” was ever coined, Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) embodied it. She’s the type of Southern-belle suburbanite, reminiscent of a faded heroine in A Streetcar Named Desire, who longs for ambition, gentility, and a more-than-comfortable future for her exuberant daughter Emma (Debra Winger). While Emma smokes marijuana in her bridal veil, anticipating her upcoming wedding to affable, philandering Flap Horton (Jeff Daniels), Aurora has other plans. “What mother doesn’t, especially regarding a groom with a nickname like that?” one might ask. True, but Mrs. Greenway is, shall we say, different. With her immaculate garden and penchant for wearing sheer 1940’s floral prints when everyone else has moved four decades ahead, fashion-wise, it’s clear why her astronaut next-door neighbor, Garrett Breedlove (Jack Nicholson) appalls her. He’s the grinning Stanley Kowalski to her Blanche DuBois.

Thankfully for both mother and daughter, they move on in their respective relationships. Emma finds out about her husband’s eye for nubile college girls, and Aurora finds out about Garrett’s…rocket. Despite these new developments, some things never change. Flap and Emma continue to argue about money and moving, and Mrs. Greenway always manages to fit in more than a few digs at her daughter with every telephone conversation (“You have cysts because you haven’t kept yourself up, and never learned how to wash.”) Meanwhile a sinister shadow lurks beneath the surface of this family, and Emma’s skin. When the gut-wrenching revelation hits, all of their apologies and hugs seem like too little, too late. They are.

What is life? Is it something to jump into with both feet and a hotrod, as Garrett Breedlove demonstrates in the Gulf of Mexico? Is it to be approached cautiously, as Emma’s meek banker acquaintance Sam (John Lithgow) does? Is it better to know everything that’s going on with the ones you love, or to have the simple faith of Emma’s children that all will be well? Most importantly, is life something that one can control?

That is the true essence of Mrs. Greenway, and what she yearns for throughout this searingly honest film. In the end, one answer to these many questions is that sometimes, all we can do is give each other sincere love and Terms of Endearment, before we ultimately lose our chance.


Monday, January 13, 2014

I'm a Gambler

By Rainey Wetnight

(Guitar Intro)

If riches can’t buy happiness, they sure can buy some peace.
I’m slaving day to day, and hoping not to break my lease.
Yeah, I’m a gambler, and I’m playing with my life.
What else you gonna do - what else you GOTTA do - when money’s tight?

I’ve no renter’s insurance, or any coverage for my car.
If the police pull me over, they’ll surely lock me up behind gray bars.
Yeah, I’m a gambler, and I’m playing with my life.
What else you gonna do - what else you GOTTA do - when money’s tight?

(Slow-Burn Guitar Solo)

I work two jobs already, but they just don’t pay enough.
If I get another one, I’ll sleep four hours a night, and that’s too rough.
Yeah, I’m a gambler, and I’m playing with my life.
What else you gonna do - what else you GOTTA do - when money’s tight?

I shun the doctor’s office, because I know what they’ll say:
“We’re going to bill you later”, but with my soul I’ll have to pay!
Yeah, I’m a gambler, and I’m playing with my life.
What else you gonna do - what else you GOTTA do - when money’s tight?

(Guitar Outro)