A Date With Death


He sat nervously at the table, checking his watch. He was new to this online dating thing. He’d never thought of himself as particularly handsome nor possessed of much of a personality. He was pretty much a boring fellow. The most exciting thing that had ever happened to him was missing a flight.

Even his “narrow brush with death” stories were dull. He had been booked to fly aboard Flight 392 to Cincinnati for an insurance conference when he got inexplicably but violently ill. He spent the next two hours in the bathroom, puking his guts out. He’d wound up missing the flight which was a good thing because one of its fuel lines had ruptured and soaked the engine with gasoline and the plane had exploded, killing everyone onboard.

Except for Milton, who was at first erroneously reported as one of the dead. Nobody had noticed, even those who knew he was supposed to be on that plane. That had been a few months ago, and things had pretty much settled back to normal, which for Milton was an epic shitfest of craptastic proportion.

Milton had always had trouble meeting girls. Not only was he not a looker he had the extra added attraction of being insanely shy. In his mid-30s, he hadn’t had a serious girlfriend ever nor had he ever been laid unless you count a hurried handjob that he’d gotten from a friend of his sister in high school in exchange for writing all of her term papers senior year.

Since the plane incident he’d been loath to leave his apartment. He felt as if he’d cheated death and death might have his eye on him. He felt this odd sensation as he walked around the apartment like something was watching him. He chalked it up to jitters and decided finally he needed to get out. On the spur of the moment, he signed up for an online dating service.

It was all kind of confusing and the questionnaire was rather personal. He debated as to whether to lie about his experiences and at last chose not to – Milton was honest if not experienced; he felt any date would know that he was inexperienced right away and best not to waste their time with false expectations

So imagine his surprise after a week of nothing he got a response. And not from just anyone but from a gorgeous blonde that would make Nicole Kidman look homely. She said she was interested and wanted to meet for dinner; Milton had chosen the bistro but pretty soon the nerves began to set in. It was all he could do to get himself ready and tying his tie had been a nightmare.

Still, he went out to the dinner optimistic. Maybe even a homely fellow like him could find happiness. So I showed up in a suit and tie, waiting patiently as she was fashionably late.

Then she showed, her golden hair offset by a jet black dress, elegant and yet sexy; off one shoulder, deep cleavage and short showing plenty of leg. Her eyes were full of merriment as she crossed the room, her eyes full of joy and delight. Milton rose and reverently took her hand and kissed it European-style. She looked a little surprised but pleased.

“So what’s good here,” she asked taking the menu. He was dumbstruck for a few minutes but found his voice. “I don’t know. I’ve never been here before” She laughed, a silvery sound and tossed her hair back, Rita Hayworth-style. “Then we’ll explore together.” She ordered a filet mignon rare, while Milton ordered a roast chicken dish which was about the limits of what he could afford.

They made small talk over salad; when the main course arrived, she dug in with great gusto while Milton picked at his chicken. She was way out of his league and he knew it but if she didn’t know it then he wasn’t about to tell her. Things were going so much better than he ever expected they would.

They began telling stories of their lives together; she talked about her job which took her all over the world and left little time for herself; she didn’t specify but it sounded like some sort of executive position, or at least something in acquisitions. He told her about his recent luck, which she listened to, eyes glued to him as if there had been Krazy Glue involved.

She asked a lot of questions about how he felt about surviving; good, he supposed but there was a lot of guilt. Why had so many died and he was spared? She shook her head sadly. “I don’t know,” she said, “It almost sounds like there was a mistake in accounting, don’t you think?” That took him a little bit aback but he shrugged, not wanting to disagree when things are going so well.

“Do you ever wonder what it would have been like if you’d made the flight?” she asked him. He was going to say no but something about her made him completely at ease, as if telling the truth was all right no matter how horrible. “Sometimes,” he admitted, “I imagine sitting in my seat, hearing the explosion and seeing the flames approaching. It all seems so real but then I wake up at home in my bed. There are days when I’m so lonely I wish I had made that flight.”

She gave him a sympathetic look. “You haven’t tried to kill yourself have you?” He shook his head vehemently. “Oh no, no, no, no, no. When I was younger, yeah but not really seriously. I took a bunch of pills but just threw them up. I guess it wasn’t meant to be.” She looked at him strangely but said “Yes Milton, for everything there is a time, including dying.”

Again, a strange answer but Milton found himself answering “I guess it just wasn’t my time yet.” She laughed, but there was an edge to it Milton didn’t like. He wondered if he liked where this conversation was going. She responded “And how would you know that it wasn’t?” She shook her head. “It’s not like you get an e-mail telling you that you’re going to die next Thursday. No phone calls saying death is going to visit between two and four pm the next day. Death comes when death comes and that’s all there is to it. But sometimes a few people fall through the cracks. They get a bit of extra time. Do you follow soccer Milton?” Milton couldn’t say that he did.

She went on, “In a soccer game after regulation time ends, time is added for all the stoppages – penalties, injuries, that sort of thing. The game doesn’t end until that extra time is over. That’s what it’s called Milton, extra time. It sounds to me that you’ve been living on extra time.” Milton shrugged. “I suppose so. Of course there’s no way to really know.”

She shook her head. “Oh but there is. Let me see….” She picked up her purse and started rummaging through it. Finally, she found what she was looking for. “Here it is! Take a look” and she handed Milton what looked like a computer printout.

On it there were some of the facts of his life; his date of birth, where he went to school, how old he was when he lost his virginity (that field was blank), where he worked, how much he made – his whole life reduced to a single sheet of paper. He shook his head ruefully…and then turned pale.

At the bottom it read “Date of Death: 07/22/12.” The date of the plane crash. He looked up at her quizzically. “I don’t understand.” Her eyes rolled. “For a smart guy Milton you can be pretty dense. It’s right there in black and white. You were meant to be on that flight. So were a bunch of teenagers returning home from space camp and I have to tell you, it’s been insane chasing them down.”

She got up and Milton took another bite of his chicken, swallowing the piece before he’d thoroughly chewed it. Abruptly he felt something scratchy going down his throat – and lodging there. He couldn’t breathe. He began to gag, trying to expel the object. “A chicken bone, Milton. Not the most glorious way to go – I’m sure you’d have gotten more sympathy from dying in the plane crash but I promise you, this is less painful.”

As he choked, he gasped out “H-help. Please. Hit my back…do someth….” he was losing air fast.  She shook her head sadly. “I have a tally to keep Milton. All must be accounted for but sometimes some slip through the cracks. I have to find them and I really don’t have the staff for it. It’s a big world, after all. But now, with you, the balance is restored. Everything is as it should be again.”

He tried to get up but Milton felt numb everywhere. He fell to the floor. She stood over him, sorrowfully. “It’s not like the movie Milton. I don’t make these elaborate, sophisticated accidents. It just causes too much attention. I find simple is better, don’t you?” The fields of his vision were turning black. She picked up her purse which he swore looked like a scythe, pausing thoughtfully to leave cash for the bill and a tip. She bid him a jaunty farewell as she walked away into the night. His last thoughts were to wonder why his dates always went so badly at the end.

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The Fighter


The Fighter

Mark Wahlberg thinks he's in the next Batman movie; Christian Bale thinks he's the newest membrer of NKOTB.

(2010) True Sports Drama (Paramount) Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Jack McGee, Mickey O’Keefe, Melissa McMeekin, Bianca Hunter, Erica McDermott, Jill Quigg, Dendrie Taylor, Kate O’Brien, Frank Renzulli. Directed by David O. Russell

We all have our burdens to bear in life, and sometimes those burdens are our own families. They may mean well and have our interests at heart, but their own demons sometimes get in the way. There are even occasions where their only interests in their heart are their own.

Micky Ward (Wahlberg) is a prize fighter whose career has stalled. He has entrusted his training to his brother Dicky Eklund (Bale), himself a fighter whose moment in the sun came when he knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard during a 1978 fight. The pride of Lowell, Massachusetts has sunk quite a ways since then, becoming addicted to crack. However, he has high hopes of a comeback, and HBO has sent a documentary crew to film it.

In the meantime, Micky has a fight to take care of and he has prepared diligently for it, no thanks to Dicky who is often a no-show. Their mother Alice (Leo) is their manager, and she is not so much a typical manager as she is a force of nature to be reckoned with. She is sort of like Mamie van Doren gone to seed, a blonde bombshell who smokes like a fiend and wears too-tight pants and too-high heels, not unlike a moll in a mobster movie. Nobody in the business really takes her seriously, although nobody else in the family – including the seven sisters of the boys (acting as something of a drinking-chain smoking- bickering Greek chorus – is willing to say so.

Micky’s dad (McGee) thinks his son has the talent to go farther with better management; so does family friend Mickey O’Keefe (playing himself) who is also a Lowell cop. So does Micky’s new girlfriend, comely barmaid Charlene (Adams) who is derisively labeled an “MTV Girl” by Micky’s sisters because she had the temerity to attend college. The only one who doesn’t seem to think so is Micky himself.

That’s until the fight Micky has been preparing for collapses when his opponent gets the flu and Micky is forced to fight someone 20 pounds heavier, much stronger and much faster than he is. Of course, the results are predictable; Micky gets his ass handed to him. Disappointed and ashamed, he hides out in his house, seriously thinking of getting out of the fight game.

In the meantime, Dicky runs afoul of the law trying to raise some money to get Micky trained (typically for Dicky, he tries scamming local guys into giving them his wallets by impersonating a police officer arresting them in a prostitution sting). During the course of the arrest, overzealous police officers shatter Micky’s hands, ending any opportunity for a fight.

As the months pass by and Micky’s hand slowly heals, his relationship with Charlene gets stronger while he continues to drift further away from his mom and Dicky. Micky finds himself a new manager and begins training with O’Keefe, under the condition that Alice and Dicky not be involved with his career. As for Dicky, his life sinks to a new low when he discovers the documentary that he thought was about his comeback was in fact about how drugs destroyed his promising career and his life. The rift in the family starts to heal when Dicky gives Micky some advice for an upcoming fight that turns out better than their original plan formulated by O’Keefe and his manager (Renzulli).

Micky begins to go on a winning streak and eventually wins himself a title shot. He would seem to have it all, but can he continue to keep his family out of the picture or can he figure out a way to reconcile everyone and in doing so, become the champion he was always meant to be?

This is based on a true story, which in itself is kind of amazing because Micky’s family is not portrayed in a terribly flattering light, but assuming that the events are as depicted here, you have to admire the Wards and Eklunds for allowing this to be filmed as it was. The family is torn apart by drugs and by their own ability to see past their own self-interest. Alice is more about being the center of attention, and shamelessly favors Dicky over Micky. Micky acts somewhat numb, unable to stand up for himself or even voice dissent until he finally gets the support from Charlene he desperately needs.

Bale, who has done stellar work in the past, gets a role he can sink his teeth into. He lost a considerable amount of weight to get the gaunt junkie look of Dicky Eklund, and utilizes a rubber-limbed, rubber-faced demeanor that is half-clown, half-tragedy. We never get a sense of what Dicky was like before the drugs destroyed him but we do see him destroyed, unable to pull himself out of the mire until he gets clean in prison. Bale is a front-runner for a supporting actor role come Oscar time, and deservedly so. This may be the role that finally wins him the statue.

Wahlberg is an actor who can be depended on to do a solid job and occasionally (as in The Departed) stellar work. He almost never turns in a bad performance and here, he is given a role which is far from easy. It’s not that Micky is a complicated role; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Micky is actually a little bit boring, and yet he needs to be the centerpiece of the film. It’s hard to have someone so without inertia at the forefront of a movie, but Wahlberg manages to make the character one we can root for due to his natural charisma and likability.

It doesn’t hurt to have two of the better actresses in Hollywood in the supporting cast as well. Ever since Leo attracted notice for her work in Frozen River, I can’t say as she’s performed poorly in roles supporting (as this one is) or starring. She imbues Alice with shades of both fragility and strength, overwhelming her younger son at the same time desperately seeking approval. It’s a brilliant performance and deserves Oscar notice as well, although it may not be as slam dunk a nomination as Bale’s.

Amy Adams is a terrific actress who can assail anything from dramas to comedies to musicals and pull them off with equal skill. Here, she is at her sexiest and her most vulnerable. She is also strong and able to stand up for herself in a tough crowd, both at the bar where she works and among the Eklund women who are a formidable bunch themselves.

Director Russell resists the temptation to drag this movie into sports movie clichés and treacle, making instead something that resonates powerfully rather than going for cheap chest-pounding scenes of sports triumph. Micky Ward’s pursuit of the championship takes a back seat to his pursuit of his own identity, out of the considerable shadows of his mother and brother and that’s what makes this movie so good.

REASONS TO GO: The performances are all top notch and in Bale’s case, Oscar-worthy. The story is compelling and inspiring without being smarmy.

REASONS TO STAY: The boxing scenes could have been better.

FAMILY VALUES: One of the HBO cameramen in the film was played by Richard Farrell, who directed the original HBO documentary High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell that depicted Dicky Eklund.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: There’s a hidden Mickey in the film; check out the back of Sam’s motorcycle helmet.

HOME OR THEATER: This works as well on the home screen as it does at the multiplex.

FINAL RATING: 9/10

TOMORROW: The Tourist

My One and Only


My One and Only

Renee Zellweger is courted by yet another unsuitable suitor.

(Freestyle Releasing) Renee Zellweger, Logan Lerman, Kevin Bacon, Chris Noth, Troy Garity, David Koechner, Eric McCormack, Steven Weber, Nick Stahl, Mark Rendall, Robin Weigert. Directed by Richard Loncraine

The road to growing up can often be a treacherous and confusing one, even under the best of circumstances. Sometimes that road can take you to some really unexpected places and unexpected conclusions.

Ann Devereaux (Zellweger) is a willful, beautiful blonde Southern belle who is the trophy wife of bandleader Danny Devereaux (Bacon). He is best known for the hit song “My One and Only” (not the Gershwin song, for those who know the standards well). He is also a philanderer, the kind of guy who simply can’t help himself when it comes to women. When Ann comes home to Danny “entertaining” a young lady – in her bed – it’s the last straw. She cleans out the safety deposit box, buys a baby blue Cadillac Coupe de Ville and hits the road, her sons George (Lerman) and Robbie (Rendall) in tow.

Robbie is a closet homosexual who dreams of Hollywood; George is a bit more grounded and yearns to write. Ann’s only aspiration is to find a rich husband to support her and her boys in the manner in which they’ve been accustomed to.

This doesn’t go very well. Each stop brings another loser, from Wallace McAllister (Weber), a businessman who is nearly broke and who rifles through Ann’s wallet and runs off while she’s in the restroom. Then there’s Col. Harlan Williams (Noth), a rabid anti-Communist military sort who has a streak of violence in him that isn’t compatible with Ann’s gentrified soul. Old flame Charlie (McCormack) makes no bones about it – Ann’s shelf life as a bombshell has expired, and she is competing with younger women for the same scraps. This leads to a misunderstanding that gets Ann arrested.

Nonetheless, she perseveres, even though George outwardly doubts her decision making and making it clear he wants to go back to his dad, who is less than enthusiastic about taking him. Ann then determines to work for a living, but after disastrous attempts at waitressing and sales, Ann finally meets a paint retail tycoon named Bill Massey (Koechner) who looks to be the most promising suitor yet, but even that doesn’t work out as planned.

The movie is loosely based on the life of actor George Hamilton, who is as well known for his tan and his tango these days as he is for his acting career (he’s also the executive producer of the movie). While it doesn’t give you insight into his acting, the movie will at least give you some insight into the man.

The movie has a bit of a split personality, in a good way. The first part of the movie really belongs to Zellweger, and she carries it pretty well. Nobody does plucky, ditzy blonde quite as well as Zellweger (see the Bridget Jones movies, although Lisa Kudrow does nearly as well on “Friends”), and she captivates the screen throughout. Her Ann Devereaux is brave and terminally cheerful, but with a hint of diva in the background. It must have been a fun role to play and you can see Zellweger enjoying herself.

The second half is Lerman’s, and while his story is a bit more complex, he doesn’t quite rise to the challenge but neither does he fail utterly. Instead, he delivers a solid but unspectacular job that doesn’t measure up to the luminescent performance of Zellweger. Each of the suitors have their own charms, although Koechner surprisingly does the most memorable work here as the troubled tycoon. Some of his scenes have a poignancy that elevates the movie quite a bit, as well as the comic timing Koechner is better known for.

Loncraine does a really nice job of evoking the 50s; the setting lives and breathes in his capable hands instead of being something of a distraction as period pieces often are. This is an era that feels lived in, from the posh penthouses of Manhattan to the grubby motels on Route 66. While this is ostensibly a comedy (and there are some funny portions to it), the truth is the dramatic portions work better; you get the feeling Loncraine was going for a bit of a screwball feel (one review likened it to the work of Preston Sturges, which is a dead on observation).

This got a very limited release when it came out and largely flew under the radar. It deserves better; there are some very fine performances and some nice moments, enough to make this a solid recommendation. Check it out on cable or at your local home video emporium; you’ll be glad you did.

WHY RENT THIS: Lerman does a credible job, while Koechner is surprisingly effective. The era is nicely evoked. Zellweger is excellent as the fading bombshell past her prime.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Tries too hard to be a screwball comedy.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a little bit of bad language and some sexuality here and there; nothing you should be ashamed of showing to a 13-year-old.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie is dedicated to Merv Griffith, who helped Hamilton develop the project and shepherded it through filming, but didn’t live to see it completed.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

TOMORROW: Lorna’s Silence