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This week:
A History of Violence

Filthy says:
"It could go either fucking way."

I like pulpy noir a lot. Probably more than I like Tang and peppermint schnaps. For a while, all I read was Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain. Well, besides Art Chick tracts, that is. Cain and Chandler are pretty fucking great, and I'd give the nod to Chandler as my favorite. There are others that can be pretty good, like Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon and some Jim Thompson stuff. And then there is a lot of really bad stuff. Either too fancy, or tryin gtoo hard to be noir, or being too religiously faithful to some perceived noir code that doesn't really exist.

My point is this: noir is like a fat dude dressed up as a woman. Done by the right guy, it's hot. Done by the wrong guy, it's an awkward, embarrassing moment of desperation. Some tubby men just naturally have it. Some writers do too. Some fat guys wish they did, but never will. Same with writers. The harder they try, the more labored and pathetic their attempts are. For cross-dressers: if you can't successfully tuck your balls in, plump up your manboobies into shapely approximations of breasts and endure a bikini wax, forget it. For writers, well, I don't know the equivalent, but I'm pretty sure it's not ball tucking. Well, hell, I don't know that for sure, so...here...I'll write the rest of this with my nuts stuffed between my legs. Let's see if it makes a difference.

I understand the allure of noir. It'd be pretty damn cool to sound as tough and stylish as Chandler. He's the sort of guy I'd want to have a drink or ten with, except with a barstool separating us in case he starts swinging. But, like dressing as a woman, sheer desire does not make you good at it.

A History of Violence, a pulp noir adapted from a very long comic book, is littered with the sort of lousy dialog found in bad ripoffs. It owes a lot to the pulp art of Raymond Pettibone. Some may call it homage to cull bits and pieces from what's come before. But if that were homage, Frankenstein's monster would have been an homage instead of a fucking freak. It's got the one-dimensional villains and a good guy with a secret, troubled past. It's got macho posturing and a conflicted hero who must use the violence he's tried to overcome to fight his enemies. It also has plot logic nearly as goofy as the dead man off the pier in the Big Sleep. Yet, it's not a bad movie. It's well made, understated in every sense other than spoken words, and the theme under the bad noir is interesting.

Viggo Mortensen is Tom Stall, a diner owner in a ridiculously bucolic small Indiana town. He seems to have what Hollywood grassfuckers think is the perfect life: a happy middle-class house, a wife who likes to sixty-nine (yes, that's right), two loving kids and a beat up pickup truck. Everything is hunky dory until two nomad killers try to rob the diner and Mortensen shoots them both. He becomes a national hero with his picture splashed across the news and television.

The news attracts bad guys from Pennsylvania, who want to speak to Tom, and tell anyone who will listen that he is not this quiet family man. They say he's a stone-cold killer for the mob from way back. Mortensen denies it, but these villains, led by Ed Harris act pretty certain. And cartoonishly evil.

Harris and his sidekicks drive around town in a big black Chrysler, menacingly peeking out windows, slowly rolling by the family house and kidnapping children. Eventually, Mortensen must come clean, admit to his past and resolve it with the violence he claims to abhor but that he quickly adapts to. A History of Violence gets plenty bloody in the second half, but director David Cronenberg mostly keeps it from being gratuitous. That is, as opposed to the shot of Maria Bello flashing her pubes under an open bathrobe. That's the good kind of gratuitous.

Mortensen's return to violence is almost inevitable. As much as he tries to avoid it, it's in his DNA. I think Cronenberg is trying to say it's a part of all our DNA because of the times we live in. That's a bullshit theory, and one easily embraced by saps and old people who like to bitch about how much better things a) were back then b) are in Europe c) are without guns. I live in just as violent world as Cronenberg (probably more because he's a Canadian, and they're pussies), but I truly do abhor violence. Whenever I sense an impending beating at the hands of drunk teens at the Dairy Queen, I prove it by hiding in the dumpster. Anyway, I don't agree with the "world-is-going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket" premise that our society is so violent it begets more violence, but at least it's subversively proposed.

By far the strongest part of A History of Violence is how restrained Cronenberg is in telling a story made from recycled bits of other noir stories. He knows the story isn't particularly clever and he doesn't make it flashy. He only employs it to make his point. The problem, though, is that despite a strong point made eloquently, the characters are uninteresting; like a good-hearted small-town sheriff, a bad guy with a freaky eye, and William Hurt in a cameo of powerfully concentrated scene-chewing. Seriously, that guy's performance is like one of those astronaut meals where you get a whole ten-pound ham in a caplet. He's gotten fat, too. But I doubt he'd make a pretty girl..

Three Fingers for A History of Violence. Holy shit, do my nuts hurt.

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JP Sarni of Sirius Radio

Waiting is "Outrageously funny! The craziest comedy of the year!"

In Oliver Twist "Sir Ben Kingsley's performance is the definition of perfection! An Oscar wouldn't do his courageous and brilliant portrayal of Fagin justice!"

So, I guess they're gonna have to make up a new award for Kinglsey. Like the Super Duper Oscar!

Filthy's Reading
Dan Harrington - Harrington on Hold 'Em, Vol. 2: Endgame

Listening to
Soledad Brothers - Steal Your Soul and Dare Your Spirit to Move


Straight Story