Tuesday, August 16, 2016


Year 8, Day 229 - 8/16/16 - Movie #2,423

BEFORE: I read something online about the last company that makes VCR ceasing production, and this troubles me greatly, because I still use a VCR, almost every day.  I've got two months of TV stored on VHS cassettes, because that's more TV than my DVR can hold, and last week the DVR was close to full as well.  I'm battling back this August thanks to the Olympics and very little new TV being aired, but this would not have been possible without VHS tapes.  

I also use VHS tapes to record movies off of cable, and transfer them to the man-cave in the basement, where the DVD burner is.  I've worn out about 4 or 5 VHS-to-DVD recorders due to frequent use, and now #5 is showing signs of giving up.  If I can't get a replacement, I've got to re-think my lifestyle, and either get a DVD burner that records off of cable (madness, because then there's no check in the system, no way to re-record anything, one less way to "fix" any problems) or just convert to some kind of streaming program, and I'm just not ready for that.  

Call me old-fashioned, but I like having a collection, a physical manifestation of how much media I've accumulated.  With a movie recorded on a disc, I've got options - I can move it to any room in my house with a DVD player or computer, I can loan it to someone, I can get mad and throw it out the window in protest, I can put it in my bag and carry it to work to watch when the boss is out of town.  I'm not willing to live in the completely digital age, where everything's a file or you just click a button and see something right away (after a 5-minute download/buffering period, that is...)

Yes, there are many, many movies available on demand, and streaming.  But not all of them, and the selection is always rotating.  What if the movie I want to watch tomorrow isn't available on any of them, or not at a reasonable price?  Ah, but my physical DVD is always ready at a moment's notice. So sorry, Hulu and Netflix and Crackle and CrunchyRoll, I'm not ready for you yet. I'm happy watching movies like it's still 2005, which means either in the theater, or on DVD.  (Yes, I've watched a few films on Amazon Prime and iTunes, but only in linking emergencies, when a specific film wasn't available anywhere else.  I admit, the cable company's library is limited by its very nature.)

I'm going to check the Best Buy tomorrow, to see if they still have VHS/DVD recorders.  I'm betting they don't, so after that, it's eBay or bust, to help me delay this transition for another 2 years or so. 

Nicolas Cage carries over from "Dying of the Light", in a film I burned to DVD, but will watch on Epix on Demand, but only because that's slightly easier, and it's still available.  

THE PLOT: An ex-con, who is the unlikeliest of role models, meets a 15-year-old boy and is faced with the choice of redemption or ruin.

AFTER: My first thought tonight is, what's up with Nicolas Cage?  Recent films he's been involved with have names like "Rage" and "Seeking Justice" and "The Frozen Ground", like he's trying to be the next Steven Seagal-like non-super super-hero.  Maybe missing out on being Superman is still affecting him, I mean, he played Ghost Rider in 2 films, but that's really not the same thing.  It almost feels like he's got something to prove, in an age where Tom Cruise keeps doing more and more dangerous stunts as Ethan Hunt and Jack Reacher, and then you've got Keanu Reeves getting in on the action as John Wick and even Denzel Washington is now "The Equalizer".  Maybe it's all Liam Neeson's fault, doing three action movies a year, and guys like Nicolas Cage feel the need to compete. 

But remember "Raising Arizona"?  "Valley Girl"?  "Fast Times at Ridgemont High"?  "Moonstruck"?  This guy started in COMEDY, just like McConaughey did, but I guess if you win an Oscar for "Leaving Las Vegas" or "Dallas Buyers Club", that puts you on a different track toward darker material, and then there's no going back to light comedy after that.  Which sort of explains a film like "Joe", I guess.

My second thought is, this feels like a film festival film.  Which I can still sense, even though I haven't hit a festival like Sundance for a week of intense movie-watching since 2004.  I've been to the Tribeca Film Festival a few times, but just to see one movie here and there, like "Everything Must Go" or "Nerdland".  And when I say it feels like a festival film, I mean that the subject matter is a little dark, and there's no guarantee of a happy ending.  Festival programmers are drawn to certain hot-button topics like child abuse, infidelity, the death of the American dream, and the unhealthy nature of fast food, or so it seems.  (Turns out I'm right, "Joe" won 2 awards at the Venice Film Festival, and was nominated at the Edinburgh Film Festival, so it must have played at a bunch of them.)  

My third thought is, where is this film set?  Because it was shot in Texas, but the storyline about the planting of pine trees suggests the Pacific Northwest - I guess it could be set in any state in the Appalachians or the Ozarks, plus I wouldn't rule out the Dakotas or Montana or Colorado or Wyoming.  And we've got to talk about these "flyover" states, because honestly, we don't really know what's going on there.  Are people stockpiling weapons or forming militias?  Why are so many residents of these states feeling so disenfranchised that they're apparently supporting a New York billionaire for President, just because he's saying crazy things that appeal to them?  

I hate to sound like a New York elitist, but apparently that's what I am.  Hey, at least I own it.  Look at the map of red and blue states, the way that the polls are showing people likely to vote, and you can see the problem - the red states are square in the middle of the blue states.  New York/East Coast voters seem to be on the same page as Californians (sorry, just threw up in my mouth a little after saying that...) but if those red states decide to band together, we're cut off from our fellow liberals!  If this country fractures, it's because it's already split down the middle like a roast turkey, and we'll end up in not two parts, but THREE.  There's no need for terrorists to destroy our country, because we're doing it to ourselves.  

Am I worried about the election?  No, not really - but I'm scared shitless about what comes after if the country can't be brought back together again, and nobody's really discussing that.  Something's been woken up by extremist views about foreigners and Muslims and other minorities, and I worry that it's not going to go back to sleep.  It seems like the Republican party knows it can't win the election, so if they can't have the country, then nobody gets it.  They'll block all legislation sponsored by Democrats, so nothing will get done for 4 more years, and that sound you don't hear is the country circling the drain while the doomsday preppers start stocking up on canned food again.  I'm a city boy, I don't know the first thing about killing my own food or skinning a deer.  

I wasn't always this way - I used to know how to catch a fish, at least.  I was raised by Democrats (but with Republican morals) but that was in 1970's Massachusetts, where the only Republicans were rich people, and there were way more middle-class Kennedy Democrats.  But ever since one party got hijacked by the extreme right-wingers and the other by the extreme left, it seems there's less and less middle-ground every day.  Nearly every issue is 100% this or that, black or white, pro-life or pro-choice, all guns or no guns.  Is anybody really shocked that an extremist candidate rose to the top, under those conditions?  Any issue that's too complex to be boiled down to a two-word catchphrase isn't worth talking about any more.  We don't even look for solutions any more, we just yell "Climate Change" or "Birth Certificate" louder than the other side to get our points across.  

Anyway, this brings me back to "Joe", let's assume that it's set in Texas.  Joe's in charge of a logging crew that's poisoning trees (this is a thing, so the land can be cleared for better trees to be planted) when a boy, Gary, comes to him to ask for jobs for himself and his father.  His father is a constantly, drunk, abusive old man who's not very good at putting in a hard day's work - he'd rather just let his son work, then beat him up and steal his money.  Joe's done time for beating up a police officer, and it seems like he's got a real problem with authority, because whenever he's pulled over by the police, even for minor infractions, it tends to end badly.  But we're supposed to believe he's got a good heart, even if he's got a quick temper.  Joe takes Gary under his wing, and tries to show him there's a better life available to him, if he can just break out of the situation he's in.  Gary can't solve the problem that is his father, because he needs to protect his mother and sister.  

Problem is, I was never sure that Gary's father (Wade, aka G-Daawg) really WAS his father, because he often said things like, "You're not my father."  Was that his step-father, or his mother's boyfriend, or just a drifter who was the only father figure in his life?  This was a bit unclear.   I also wondered why there was never any proper method of dealing with him, getting him sober or legally preventing him from beating up or pimping out his family members. Wade seems to know a lot about things like breakdancing, both popping and locking, and this raises a question about whatever happened to all those kids from the 1980's, are they doing OK, or are a few of them homeless and alcoholic, offering to spin on their heads in exchange for a few coins?  

Speaking of confusion, one main NITPICK POINT tonight, and it concerns the way the opening of the film was shot.  They way they cut between shots of Joe and Gary, with Joe staring wistfully into the distance, then fading to a shot of Gary, it seemed like they were implying that Gary was a young Joe (this is before either character was named...) and the Gary scenes were flashbacks.  Then when Gary met Joe, after drawing this conclusion, their meeting was confusing.  There must have been a better way to edit the opening scenes then fading between similar shots of the two characters. 

This film got some attention when this actor, Gary Poulter, died on the streets of Austin a few months after shooting was complete.  The performance is intensely true-to-life, chillingly so because it came from a real place.  Whatever salary the actor received was probably gone in a few weeks due to some bad decisions - perhaps more could have been done to pay the actor's rent instead of giving him cash, but then hindsight's always 20/20, and some people just can't be helped.  

And maybe therein lies the answer to our country's little insurgency problem - we've got to make sure to keep sending alcohol to the flyover states.  Because I've got a feeling that if the radical Republicans in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Montana and Wyoming ever sober up and band together, we're going to be in some serious trouble. 

Also starring Tye Sheridan (last seen in "Mud"), Gary Poulter, Ronnie Gene Blevins (last seen in "Seven Psychopaths"), Adriene Mishler, Sue Rock, Brian Mays, Heather Kafka, Anna Niemtschk.

RATING: 4 out of 10 juice-hatchets

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