Martin Eden

Brave workers, unite against the evil bourgeosie!

(2019) Drama (Kino LorberLuca Marinelli, Jessica Cressy, Vincenzo Nemolato, Marco Leonardi, Denise Sardisco, Carmen Pommella, Carlo Cecci, Autilla Ranieri, Elisabetta Valgoi, Pietro Ragusa, Savino Paparella, Vincenza Modica, Giustiniano Alpi, Giuseppe Iuliano, Peppe Maggio, Maurizio Donadoni, Gaetano Bruno, Franco Pinelli, Anna Patierno, Lana Vlady. Directed by Pietro Marcello


2020 has given us not one but two films based on novels by Jack London, the Harrison Ford-led Call of the Wild and this one. They couldn’t be two more different films.

The titular Martin (Marinelli) doesn’t toil as a longshoreman in Oakland as was the case in the original 1909 novel, but as a sailor in the Mediterranean. When he saves a young boy from a beating on the pier, it turns out that the boy is the scion of a wealthy family, the Orsini clan. Their comely daughter Elena (Cressy) is well-educated, intelligent, witty and an angelic beauty. She falls for the ruggedly handsome Martin much to the dismay of her bourgeois family.

Martin is equally smitten but realizes that any kind of relationship between the two of them is impossible so long as he is poor. He determines to make his fortune as a writer, and as a writer he follows the dictum to write what he knows. Unfortunately, what he mainly knows is rage against the machine, as he becomes slowly more radicalized. He moves from menial job to menial job, scraping by, while his writing career goes nowhere. He perseveres and Elena hangs in there, but as Martin finally finds success, he changes and slowly the thing he wanted most begins to slip away, furthering his rage.

There is an epic quality to the film as we watch the arc of Martin’s life, his involvement with intellectuals, with the wealthy Orsini family and with radical socialists who seek to make sweeping changes in Italy. Much of what Martin communicates in the second half of the film is half-screamed as he rails at socialists whom he sees as doomed to fail, but more so at capitalists who exploit people like himself. Soon, all he has is that anger.

Marcello, better known for his documentaries although he has an excellent narrative feature (Lost and Beautiful) on his resume, has a good eye. He intersperses archival footage of turn-of-the-century Italy as well as faux archival footage of a magnificent sailing ship which seems to be a metaphor for Martin’s success…or ambitions…or dreams; take your pick.

The movie is extremely well-acted as Marinelli does his best to make a character who slowly becomes consumed with fury likable and relatable and, for the most part, succeeds. Cressy is luminous and radiates intelligence; in many ways, she’s a more interesting character than Martin is although his story is a tragic one.

I suspect conservative-leaning readers may shudder at the thought of a movie that looks at socialists but they are not romanticized in the least. However, it doesn’t sugarcoat the snobbery of the Orsinis. Painting both sides as equally non-admirable. London wrote the novel as a means to reconcile his success (the novel was written after the bulk of his most successful novels had made London a wealthy man) with his socialist leanings. I don’t know if London had an inner uncontrollable rage that characterizes Martin (at the time he wrote it he was suffering from the kidney disease that would become nearly unbearable in the later stages of his life) but certainly there’s a lot of Martin Eden in Jack London, and vice versa. Success comes with its own measures and they don’t always have to do with the size of the paycheck.

REASONS TO SEE: A lyrically photographed tale that is epic in scope and feel.
REASONS TO AVOID: Turns into a socialist polemic at times as Martin becomes more unlikable.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity, violence and sexual content..
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The ending of the novel led to speculation that London’s death may not have been accidental.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/22/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 83% positive reviews. Metacritic: 67/100.
Linda and the Mockingbirds


The Depths

Men love to manspliain even to other men.

(2017) Drama (Valor) Patch Darragh, Michael Rispoli, Charlotte Kirk, Michelle Ventimilla, Gia Crovatin, Anthony LoCascio, Hampton Fluker, Suzette Gunn, Michael Sorvino, Jennifer Bassey, Lucas Salvagno, Jesse R. Tendler, Randy DeOrio, Wally Marzano-Lesnevich, Leon Gonzalez, Alexander C. Mulzac, Tom Coughllin, Chuck Obasi, Peter Barkouras, Lisa LoCascio. Directed by Jamison M. LoCascio


Sometimes in order to be a successful writer you have to go somewhere you wouldn’t necessarily or even want to. You have to explore places that might be abhorrent to you, think thoughts that are alien to you and become people you don’t want to be. Sometimes, to write a great screenplay you have to plumb the depths.

Ray (Rispoli) and Mickey (Darragh) are best friends and aspiring screenwriters. They have been working two years on a screenplay about a pair of brothers who become killers; one repelled by it, the other becoming addicted to it. It seems like a swell idea and they take their completed masterpiece to a powerful producer but he passes on it, advising the two aspiring Oscar winners to “write what they know.”

Ray takes this to heart, arranging for him and Mickey to go on a call with a homicide detective. Mickey though thinks that scrapping the script and starting from scratch is the way to go. The two men get into a disagreement about the direction they want their script to go. The bad blood is fueled by Mickey becoming friendly with Chloe (Kirk), a prostitute who Ray had been seeing but whose relationship had been falling apart because of Ray’s jealousy and combative personality.

Mickey gets fired from his job at a hardware store because he is consistently late (having to do very much with his inclination to party) and decides to go full bore writing his own version of the script. He also gets addicted to cocaine, which is not a good idea when you’re unemployed. With Ray working on his own script, Mickey has faith in his writing skills and creative ideas (which he has a notebook to jot them down in) and believes his script will be the better of the two…until he finds that his precious notebook has been stolen. Things are bound to get ugly from there.

This was the first full-length feature by writer-director-producer LoCascio who also helmed this year’s Sunset. This outing is dramatically different in tone and construction; it’s nice to know that LoCascio isn’t a one-trick pony. There is almost a noir-ish feel to the film although in many ways it’s more street-gritty, sort of like what noir would be if it had been started forty years later.

Although the main cast aren’t household names, they are solid actors all with some strong resumes behind them. Darragh (Sully, Boardwalk Empire) does a good job as Mickey who starts off as a sweet screw-up and gradually sinks into an abyss of coke-fueled paranoia. Rispoli (Kick-Ass, The Rum Diary) goes from being the heavy to being sympathetic. He’s the most Noo Yawk of the two which fits the grittiness of the film to a “T.” Kirk (Vice, Oceans 8) is not only breathtakingly beautiful but also has the right amount of world-weariness and vulnerability to make the brassy Chloe more than just a stereotype.

The last third, as Mickey sinks further and further into delusional behavior becomes a bit more cliché than the rest of the film which is understandable but still drags the overall rating down a tad. The film also shows its minuscule budget pretty obviously, with only a handful of sets but it must be said that LoCascio manages to do a lot with a little. Nonetheless this is the kind of first feature that any director would be proud to have, and with those two films under his belt I think we can expect a lot more from him in the future.

REASONS TO GO: The film is marked by good performances and a strong story.
REASONS TO STAY: The story loses a little cohesion towards the end.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, drug use, disturbing images, violence, partial nudity and sexual content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film won Best Narrative Feature at the Manhattan Film Festival in 2017.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/24/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
 Ready Player One

The Strangers

The Strangers

Liv Tyler is upset because housekeeping hasn’t finished her room yet.

(2008) Thriller (Rogue) Liv Tyler, Scott Speedman, Gemma Ward, Kip Weeks, Laura Margolis, Glenn Howerton, Alex Fisher, Peter Clayton-Luce, Jordan Del Spina. Directed by Bryan Bertino


Simple is better. When in doubt, stick to the basics – these things are true for just about everything, including filmmaking. Some of the most effective movies are the least complex.

James Hoyt (Speedman) and Kristen McKay (Tyler) are driving on a dark road late one night. They are returning from a wedding reception and the drive is made in silence. James had proposed to Kristen and she’d said no, she wasn’t ready for marriage. They are staying at his father’s farmhouse, and an awkward evening it’s going to be. He’s very hurt and she feels…well, it’s hard to describe.

Once at the house things are decidedly strange between them but it’s going to get stranger. He goes out for a pack of smokes. There is a knock at the door; a young woman looking for someone named Tamara. There’s no Tamara there, but the young woman insists.

Soon there are mysterious figures in masks lurking in the shadows. Strange noises in the night. James comes back and at first thinks his girlfriend is being paranoid. Then he begins to hear the noises, see the figures. Soon the stakes go up and the couple realize that this isn’t a prank – they are indeed fighting for their lives.

And that’s it. That’s all the plot there is, and really all the plot you need. This gives the movie everything it needs to become a horror classic which it had every opportunity to be. It claims to be based on actual events, although which events seem to be subject to debate; the writer/director says that he experienced the late-night knock on the door but the events that followed thereafter are pure invention.

However, the writer, Bryan Bertino, had no experience as a director (he had been a grip on a different movie). He may have been ambitious enough to submit this for a project to Rogue, but he commits the cardinal sin as a director – he gives the ending away; we know who is going to survive and who isn’t. In order to make the movie worthwhile, we need to get to know the characters, feel their pain and terror. Sadly, this doesn’t happen and it’s just a matter of an hour and change of waiting for the movie to end.

Tyler and Speedman are both fine actors, Tyler in particular. She’s certainly easy on the eyes but she’s not what you’d call a typical scream queen. Still, she doesn’t  do badly here; however she isn’t given a whole lot to work with. I wish she’d have had more; an actress with her skills could have really made this movie soar. As it is, she gives it a shot in the arm that it needs. Speedman has a more sympathetic character in many ways but at the end of the day we don’t know enough about him to really invest ourselves in him.

What I do like is that the main characters panic. They don’t act with cool, calm reserve and show hidden martial arts skills – neither of them are former Army Rangers or MMA fighters. They are two ordinary people in the wrong place at the wrong time. The people who are stalking them are doing what they do without rhyme or reason. We never learn why they decided to inflict the terror and pain on this couple; the only explanation we receive, late in the film, is that “you were home.”

There is no point here. There’s no grand moral lesson to be learned other than that bad things happen. Most of us are well-acquainted with that lesson in any case. I do like that Bertino and cinematographer Peter Sova make the proceedings sufficiently tense and scary enough to keep our interest for the 86 minutes (88 minutes on the unrated version) that the movie runs. Sadly, the ending is so disappointed (and the rumor is that the studio had a hand in messing with the ending) that we feel that we went through that length of time terrified for no good reason. And terror for it’s own sake really doesn’t do it for me.

WHY RENT THIS: The tension is well-established. Tyler does as good a job as any.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: We fail to care enough about these characters to connect. Ending is given away at the beginning, turning this into torture porn. The ending is disappointing.

FAMILY VALUES:  There’s plenty of bad language and some violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: During the film, “Mama Tried” by Merle Haggard is played several times. Haggard’s backing band for the song was called The Strangers.  


BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $82.4M on a $9M production budget; the movie is considered a blockbuster based on its box office to production cost ratio.



NEXT: Paper Man

Crazy Love

Crazy Love

Even Linda Riss can't believe her eyes.

(Magnolia) Burt Pugach, Linda Riss, Jimmy Breslin, Bob Janoff, Sylvia Hoffman, Rita Kessler, Berry Stainback, Janet Pomerantz. Directed by Dan Klores and Fisher Stevens

Love is an emotion that can overwhelm even the most rational of us. Under its spell, we turn into gibbering, obsessive freaks that lose all sense of proportion and reality. We descend into a kind of baby-talking, goo-goo eyed madness that is considered part of love’s sweet charm. Sometimes, that madness turns savage.

Burt Pugach was a successful attorney in the Bronx (read: ambulance chaser) in 1957 when he met Linda Riss. On the surface, they couldn’t have been more different; he was sophisticated and charming but far from handsome. She was beautiful but naive, easily swayed by the more worldly Burt.

At first she wasn’t interested, but he was persistent. He was co-owner of a ritzy nightclub in Manhattan and he would take her there to meet celebrities of the day; whenever she walked in the door, the orchestra would play “Linda.” He had his own airplane and a pilot’s license and would take her all over the Northeast and beyond. He gave her lavish gifts. His persistence eventually paid off.

There was just one problem – Burt was already married. When Linda found out about it, she was understandably devastated. Burt protested that he had already been in the process of getting a divorce before he met Linda – why, here were the divorce papers to prove it. However, Linda eventually discovered that the papers were forged.

For Linda, that was the last straw. She called it off between her and Burt and moved on. Burt, however, couldn’t let go; he continued to pursue her despite her repeated entreaties to leave her alone. She met a nice man whom she eventually became engaged to. The thought of Linda with any other man but him drove Burt over the edge, leading him to commit an act so vile, so dreadful that it captured the headlines of its time and even by today’s standards is unusually brutal. It would lead the two of them on an odyssey that would continue long past the tragedy of that day in 1959.

I won’t go into what happened precisely and the consequences of the action. Suffice to say that either you have never heard of Burt Pugach in which case I don’t want to take away from the impact of the documentary by telling you some of the more shocking aspects of the movie in advance, or you are aware of the facts of the case in which case I don’t need to reiterate what you already know.

The filmmakers a former publicist (Klores) and an actor (Stevens) who combine talking head interviews with the principals and their acquaintances, as well as incorporating a wealth of archival footage, grainy home movies and newspaper headlines. In all honesty, the documentary portion is in some ways fairly by-the-numbers.

The best part of the documentary is that the filmmakers choose to weave the story in such a way that you get entangled in it and before long you become absolutely enthralled by it. It becomes a cinematic train wreck in a good way – you can’t take your eyes away. Kudos to Klores and Stevens for allowing the story to take center stage.

It’s the story itself that captivates here and every juicy twist and turn that it takes drops your jaw to the floor anew. I know that truth is stranger than fiction, but this is stranger than science fiction. It reminds you once again that people will do incredible things in the name of love and terrible things in the name of obsession.

WHY RENT THIS: This is a remarkable story that is the poster child for the truism that truth is stranger than fiction.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: It is very much a New York story and those who find such things uninteresting will probably be put off by this.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of foul language and some frank sexual references, but it is the mature themes of the documentary that make it questionable for younger audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film won Best Documentary Feature at the Independent Spirit Awards.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: In addition to 43 minutes of additional interview footage with the principals, there is also a slideshow of Linda’s artwork as well as copies of Burt’s letters from prison to Linda.



Last Chance Harvey

Last Chance Harvey

Hoffman and Thompson bask in the admiration of the rest of the cast.

(Overture) Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Kathy Baker, James Brolin, Richard Schiff, Eileen Atkins, Liane Balaban. Directed by Joel Hopkins

Happiness is a rare and precious commodity in this life, and we get so few opportunities to reach out and grab it. We have to treat each of these opportunities as if they are our last chance to be truly happy.

Harvey Shine (Hoffman) is a failed jazz pianist who has made a living – okay, quite a bit more than that – writing jingles for Madison Avenue. He has flown to London to attend the wedding of his daughter Susan (Balaban). While arriving at Heathrow, he has a brief encounter with Kate (Thompson), who works as one of those airport survey takers, the kind of job that one must have a very thick skin to perform. Harvey is somewhat rude to her, as many are.

Harvey has reason to be in a pissy mood. He is entering the lion’s den, as it were. He and his daughter have been drifting apart for many years, especially after Harvey’s marriage to Jean (Baker), Susan’s mother, collapsed. Jean is married to Brian (Brolin) now, and at the rehearsal dinner Harvey is informed by his daughter that she wants Brian to give her away at the ceremony the next day rather than Harvey.

For a father, that would constitute something akin to water boarding. It is the rejection of a man’s paternal abilities, a means of telling a dad that his services were never appreciated. Whether or not Harvey had earned that kind of rejection, it still hurts in ways that cannot truly be fathomed by someone who has never been father to a daughter.

To make matters worse, Harvey gets a phone call from his boss (Schiff) at the agency he works for to inform him that his services are no longer required there either. Drowning in a sea of emotional torment, Harvey decides to get out of London with what little pride he has remaining, stick his tail between his legs and head home to lick his wounds.

Unfortunately, he is denied even that and he winds up at an airport bar waiting for a flight to take him back to New York. There, he sees Kate reading while on a break from her thankless job. Remembering her from his arrival, feeling guilty at his rudeness (and perhaps feeling a need to improve his karma somewhat), he tried to strike up a conversation with her and apologize. She is distant and uninterested, but he gradually wears her down with his charm. As they get to talking, they begin to realize that they are more like than unalike, and that one of those opportunities we spoke about earlier is suddenly right there in front of them.

Writer/director Hopkins had the framework for what could have been one of the better romantic movies of recent years. Certainly he has a couple that an audience can get behind; there is definite chemistry between Hoffman and Thompson and the couple they portray have been wounded by life, people who have been abandoned by the angels of their better nature. Instead, they have suffered from wrong choice after wrong choice, leading them to an encounter in an airport bar that might well be their last chance at happiness.

Hopkins could have just easily sat his camera in a two-shot in front of these two magnificent actors and just let it film the two of them talking. Instead, he opts for romantic interludes of montages of the two of them walking on the banks of the Thames, chatting animatedly with a truly awful, treacly score drowning out what they’re actually saying. It’s frustrating as all get out because we would much rather hear what they have to say.

There’s also an unnecessary subplot involving Kate’s paranoid mom (Atkins) and a neighbor she suspects of being a serial killer. While Atkins is a charming enough actress, whenever her character calls Kate it blows the movie right off of the tracks. And, let’s not even talk about the movie’s third act in which all the charm of the first two is lost in a cliché and hoary finish that makes us wish this movie had been made by more capable filmmakers, which isn’t to say that Hopkins isn’t one – he just isn’t one here.

The saving grace of this movie, and the reason to seek it out, are those scenes in which Hopkins simply lets us watch Kate and Harvey interact. There is literal magic in those scenes, and those moments are worth cherishing. This is a case of the actors transcending the material they are given to work with and making a decent movie out of one that might easily have been just awful.

WHY RENT THIS: Hoffman and Thompson are two of the best actors of our generation; any opportunity to see them is worth taking.  They make a likable couple that you can’t help but root for; whenever they are onscreen together chatting, there’s plenty of magic.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: An unnecessary subplot involving Kate’s paranoid mother derails the movie at every turn. The movie falls apart in the third act, relying on cliché and happenstance to resolve the action.

FAMILY VALUES: A little bit of blue language but nothing more than that.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Hoffman and Thompson first performed together in Stranger than Fiction. While they only had a couple of scenes together, they both enjoyed the experience so much that they looked for a project that they could tackle together as leads.



TOMORROW: Up in the Air

Fish Head Ed

Ed Montgomery was smiling gently as he shut his computer off. It was Christmas Eve and better still, it was quitting time. His fellow workers in the accounting department at Geniusware were doing the same, and the smiles were broad, laughter was palpable. Ed couldn’t help but steal a glance at Lisa, who was like Ed on the accounts payable team. Ed was the senior on the team and Lisa technically reported to him but in reality the structure was such that Gloria, the manager, was in charge of everybody and Gloria didn’t particularly like Ed.

But Ed liked Lisa, very much so in fact. She was always sweet to him to his face but all of his awkward overtures had ended with gentle but definite refusals. She was always very kind about it and never cruel – which was much more than he could say for a lot of other women he’d felt similarly about – but in the end the results were the same; she just wasn’t interested in a romantic relationship with him.

Ed could scarcely blame her though. Although he pretended not to, he’d heard the whispers ever since he was a boy and the nickname “Fish Head Ed.” While those who knew him would say he had a sweet nature and he was in general well-liked, he was not a handsome man. His eyes bulged a bit and the glasses he wore made them look even more distended. His cheeks were puffy and his jowls hung over his chin like jelly spilling over a jelly jar. He wasn’t fat really, but he was soft and had a pair of man-boobs. He had difficulty exercising because of a back injury he’d suffered in a car accident when he was a boy. Few knew that Ed spent nearly every day in some discomfort but he’d learned to live with it.

The cubicles were emptying out and a few of his co-workers stopped to say “Merry Christmas” to him. Ed responded with similar sentiments and only vague responses when anyone asked if he had plans for the holidays until Ed’s best friend, Rob Pincus, stopped by his desk just as Ed was putting on his overcoat. “Finally. I thought five o’clock would never come. Ready to leave dude?” Ed smiled. Robert was known around the office as Captain Oblivious. Normally he would have said something sarcastic in response but after all, it was Christmas Eve. “Yeah. It’s going to be freezing tonight. Didn’t you bring an overcoat?” Rob hung his head and shook his head no. “It’s been so warm out lately I didn’t bring one.” Ed sighed. His friend would have known if he read a newspaper or watched the television news that snow had been expected for that evening. A cold front was headed straight out of Canada with a brief stop in Winnipeg where every cold front winds up as if drawn by a magnet.

He took off his overcoat and handed it to his friend. Rob started to protest but Ed said “It’s okay dude. I have a sweater in the car and I’m parked 30 feet from the door. You have three busses to take and I don’t want you sitting in the snow in shirtsleeves. You’ll get pneumonia and who the hell wants to be sick on Christmas?” Rob shook his head sheepishly and put the coat on. “You’re amazing buddy. Thanks. So what are you doing on Christmas?” Ed’s smile faltered a little but he said simply “Ohhh, the usual I think.” Rob waggled a finger at him. “The Christmas Story marathon on TBS and take-out Chinese? Come on, buddy why won’t you come up to my place and celebrate for real? You know Jill and the kids would love to see you.” Jill was Rob’s wife and quite frankly, Ed had lived on hope for several years that if awkward Rob could find a woman to love him, maybe Ed could too. Ed shook his head no. “Actually, Mrs. Goldstein in 3A invited me to dinner and a movie with her family and I think I’ll take her up on it. Besides, this is Abby’s first Christmas and that’s special.” Abby was Rob’s new daughter, born just last June. Just mentioning Abby could bring a spectacular smile to Rob’s face and even though he wasn’t much to look at either, when he smiled that way he actually looked pretty handsome.

Rob nodded and shrugged. “Okay if you say so dude. The offer’s open if you change your mind. We’ve got plenty of room and more food than even you can eat.” The two chuckled. Ed’s ability to pack down gargantuan amounts of food was legendary. Rob had often said half-seriously that Ed could make a fortune on the competition eating circuit.

The two went to the elevator and rode down together, talking about inconsequential things. At last they reached the front door of the office. The snowfall was light but the sky was threatening and it was obvious even to Rob that they were in for a lot of snow that night. Rob stopped and shook his friend’s hand. “Thanks again for the overcoat dude. Next year, I’ll have a car for certain – unless Jill gets pregnant again.” Ed snorted. Rob had been talking about getting a car for ages but every time he’d saved enough for a down payment, Jill would get pregnant. They had four kids and Rob took the bus to work. He didn’t seem to mind though.

They walked outside. The bus stop was on the other side of the parking lot and at this time of day, there would be a bus every ten minutes. But at least the stop was covered. They stopped at Rob’s car and Rob said “You’re a life-saver dude, literally. I’ll bring the coat back on the fourth when work starts up again, okay?” Ed nodded. Rob might remember to bring it back on the fifteenth or the thirtieth or not at all unless Ed reminded him. It wasn’t that Rob meant to keep things; he just mislaid them or forgot he had borrowed them altogether. If Ed bitched about it, he’d bring it back with enough apologies to make Hugh Grant blush.

Rob spontaneously gave Ed a hug, which surprised Ed a little bit. Rob was normally more of a “dude” and less of a hugger, but the longer he’d been married to Jill the more he was changing in that direction. “Merry Christmas, dude” said Rob with a smile. “See you next year.” Ed pulled out his keys and unlocked his car, a Corolla. “Merry Christmas Rob. Have a safe trip home.” Rob gave him a lopsided grin and a thumbs up, then walked away to the bus stop.

Ed slid into the Corolla and closed the door. He watched his friend walk away in the snowy twilight, most of the cars already gone from the parking lot. He swallowed and whispered “Goodbye.”

Traffic was much lighter than Ed had expected; most companies had let their employees go early or had even given them the day off but Geniusware was not known for their generosity in that regard – or any regard for that matter. Still, the paycheck was good so Ed had remained there despite the fact that he should have been manager years ago and was woefully underpaid for his skill level. It never occurred to him to stand up for himself.

Ed’s apartment was empty when he got home, as it was every night when he got home. He was chilled to the bone, but oddly that brought a sense of clarity and focus to him. He had other plans for Christmas other than the ones he’d told his friend about.

He debated about fixing himself some dinner and then decided he was hungry, so he heated up some leftover pizza from a few days ago. It was probably stale but he didn’t really think about it too much, he just chewed automatically while watching a medical drama on television. He much preferred cop shows, but there was never a cop show around when you needed one. When he finished eating, he turned on the show he was only half-watching anyway and went to the sink to wash his dish. He put the plate away in the dish rack and wiped the countertop clean.

The apartment was just a one bedroom and not cluttered with a lot of furniture. Ed was a neat sort by inclination anyway and he had spent the night before cleaning his apartment until it was immaculate (which didn’t take long – it was only 700 square feet) and then that morning had finished getting some correspondence written. He mentally went over his checklist, satisfied that he had done everything he needed to do. Then he went to the window.

The apartment was on the tenth floor of a high-rise. It had a decent enough view that he could see the snow falling harder now and the streets were covered. The lights of the city were diffused by the falling snow, given a softness that was beautiful and serene. Ed felt a great sadness fall over him. He wished he could share the view with someone.

Even though the apartment was a little cold, he opened the window. There had used to be a screen over the window but it had gotten damaged during a bad storm a few years ago and had never been replaced. The bitter cold felt invigorating and Ed enjoyed the feeling on his arms. His back was aching quite a bit but that didn’t matter. Not anymore.

Ed nodded to himself. It was time. No sense in putting it off. There was nobody who would really miss him, not really. Rob, maybe. Rob would probably feel bad but there was no-one else. Ed’s parents had died in the same car crash that had ruined his back. He had no brothers or sisters, no girlfriend. In fact, Ed had never had a girlfriend. After all, who would want to be with Fish Head Ed? Unwanted, tears began to come. Ed shook his head savagely. This wasn’t the time for tears. This was the time to put all the pain, all the heartache to bed. One step out the window, a ten story drop headfirst and it would all be over. No more pain. No more humiliation. No more loneliness.

There was a knock at the door. Ed froze in mid-step. Maybe if he didn’t move, whoever was at the door would think he wasn’t home and would go away. The knocking returned, more insistent this time. “Please. You have to be there” said a voice that Ed recognized. He realized it was Christine from down the hall. He’d seen her a few times in the hallway. She was pretty in a girl next door kind of way. She wore glasses and worked in a library, short brown hair, nice figure. Ed had spoken to her a few times but like so many other women, she seemed to look through him. She had a boyfriend in any case, or so Ed had been informed by Mrs. Goldstein who knew everything about everybody in the high-rise.

There was something in her voice though that raised alarm bells. Something was wrong. He thought he heard a sob from the other side of the door. He looked out the window one last time and then decided that what he wanted to do could wait until tomorrow. He closed the window and said “Coming” before walking to the door and opening it.

She burst through the door and into his arms, sobbing. With alarm, he noticed that she was bruised and bleeding, her clothes disheveled. Somebody had beaten her up. “Christine? Do you want to come in?” he asked, unsure of what to do. She nodded, sniffling. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have come here. You probably have someplace to go; it’s Christmas Eve after all.” Ed shook his head. “No, I really don’t have anywhere to go. I was just going to watch TV and go to bed. Please, come in.” She came in and he shut the door. She gave him a look and he said “Would you prefer I leave the door open? I can do that.” He started to open it up again and she put her hand on his wrist. He felt a thrill go up his spine. He hadn’t had a woman touch him on the wrist since…well, ever. “No, I’d rather you shut the door. Please.” He nodded and shut the door.

She went and sat down on the couch and started crying again. Ed pulled his one chair over from the kitchen and sat down next to her. He let her cry for a few minutes then said in a gentle voice “Do you want to tell me what happened?” She cried a few minutes, and Ed wondered if she was going to bolt. Finally she stopped crying long enough to say “My boyfriend…he…he…” before she broke down again.

It took about an hour for him to get the story out of her, but evidently Terry, her boyfriend, had gotten off work at noon and instead of going home had gone out drinking with his buddies. He had supposed to have been going with her to his parents place but instead had chosen to hang out with his friends. She had been fighting a lot with him lately and when he showed up with three drunken guys it had touched off another fight but this time it had gotten physical. This time his buddies got involved. This time she had been raped.

Once she told him all of that it was like the tears had dried up. She couldn’t cry anymore. Ed went into his bathroom and got his first aid kit out. He cleaned her up and put anti-bacterial ointment on her cuts and bandaged her. She looked up at him when he was done with an expression of gratitude on her face like a puppy that has been given a pat by a little boy. “Can I ask you another favor? Could I stay here tonight on your couch? I couldn’t go back to that apartment…and I don’t want to face my mom and dad. I can’t.” Ed felt awkward but his response was instant “Of course you can. I’ll get you some blankets and a couple of pillows.”

Ed didn’t have a lot of guests in his apartment; well, he’d never had any. He did have a spare set of blankets for his own bed that he used in rotation with the ones currently on his bed. He took a pillow off his own bed and brought them into the living room. He also gave her a terrycloth bathrobe – he had a lot of bathrobes, he had always been fond of them. She was already starting to drift off into sleep. As he turned off the lights and started to walk into his bedroom, he had a thought. He stopped and turned back to her and asked “Just one more question. Why did you come to my apartment? I’m glad you did, but you hardly know me.” At that she smiled for the first time and Ed was struck by how pretty she was when she smiled. “Don’t be silly. Everyone knows you’re the nicest guy in the building. Besides, I’ve always had a little crush on you.” Ed could only nod. Inside, everything was churning. Nobody had ever had a crush on him before and he didn’t know what to say.

He didn’t get much sleep that night. It wasn’t his back pain this time, although there was some of that. All he could think about was the girl sleeping on his couch. She had seemed so frail, so alone, so hurt. All he wanted to do was hold her. All he wanted to do was protect her.

But Ed was afraid. He had been hurt so many times in his life he couldn’t remember a time where his hopes for love had ended with anything other than pain and rejection. He couldn’t bear it again, he just couldn’t. The next morning, he would drive her to the police station to press charges against the bastard of a boyfriend who had done that to her. Then he would persuade her to call her parents. They would come get her. They would take care of her. They would be grateful, sure, but one look at his face and they would scoop her up and drive her off. He’d never see her again. That would be so much easier than hoping that she would like him until he heard those dreaded words “I don’t think about you in that way.” He’d be alone as always. No, this would be better. He would make sure she was going to be okay and then he’d come home and complete his plans. Christmas day was as good as any day to die.

The next morning he rose and got dressed. He went out into the living room and found the sofa empty, the blankets neatly folded on top of the pillow. Despite his intentions, tears began to fall. It just wasn’t fair. He was even denied that small little victory.

Just then there was a knock at the door. He opened it up and there was Christine with a shy smile on her face. She had a suitcase and several grocery bags and was wearing jeans and a Christmas sweater. “You didn’t have anything to eat in your refrigerator so I thought I’d go to the store so I could cook you breakfast. I saw the super on the way back up and he told me that Terry had gone off to his parents without me. He let me into the apartment and I got all my clothes and a few things. The couch and the chest of drawers the super is going to get a couple of guys to move into the basement while Terry is gone. I was hoping maybe I could impose upon you to stay a few days? Just until I’m ready to go face my parents.” Her smile was so beguiling that Ed couldn’t refuse her anything.

She made pancakes, scrambled eggs and bacon. She put chocolate chips in the pancakes and covered them with sliced bananas and maple syrup. Ed was astonished. “How did you know my favorite breakfast is chocolate chip pancakes with sliced bananas?” Her smile was dazzling. “Because it’s my favorite breakfast too.” From that moment forward, Ed was in love.

They spent the afternoon talking and watching television. Ed had never felt so comfortable with a human being before in his life. It was like she belonged there. He sat on one end of the couch and she lay with her feet in his lap. He found himself absent mindedly rubbing them. She purred “You have very strong hands. You give a great foot rub. I like that in a man.” He was caught short. He was never much good at flirting with women but he didn’t feel like he was flirting with her. He was just being himself.

They went out for dinner at a Chinese restaurant and she insisted on paying. Ed felt awkward about it but finally gave in. They stopped at a video rental store down the street and got a couple of movies; one of them was A Christmas Carol. He had wanted the 1951 version with Alastair Sim as Scrooge, but she preferred the 1938 version with Reginald Owen so he gave in. He actually didn’t mind.

When the movies were done he got up to go to his room. She was looking up with him, her face lit up by that marvelous smile. “This was one of the best Christmases I’ve ever had,” she said, “and it might have been the worst. It’s all because of you. Thank you, Ed.” She got up and opened her arms and Ed realized she meant to hug him. It had been the very best Christmas he had ever had by a mile. He smiled contentedly, eyes closed. “Merry Christmas, Christine” he whispered. “Merry Christmas Ed” she whispered back. Then she turned her head and brushed her lips against his. He felt this strange electric feeling, almost like a shock. He drew back and looked into her eyes. She looked into his. He felt drawn to her like a moth to a flame. He bent his head towards her and they kissed. Then, they kissed again. Good long kisses.

She didn’t spend the night on the couch.

They were inseparable after that. He had never felt love like that before in his life, had never felt loved. Not long afterwards, Rob and Jill had them over for dinner and Jill had whispered to Rob “My God! She really adores him!” Rob had beamed and flashed him the thumbs up sign.

At times the old fears would return. She was far, far prettier than he had a right to expect anyone to be who would love him. After all, he was still Fish Head Ed. As time went by, he finally broke down and told her about it, the years of pain and humiliation. She held him while he cried. They grew closer than ever.

When he proposed, it was almost an anti-climax. They got married on Christmas Eve, two years after that awful, wonderful night. Far from sweeping Christine away, her parents were overjoyed that she had found herself a good man. Ed got a new job as an Accounting Manager at Great Plains Software with a sizable salary increase, better benefits and a much better working environment. One of the first things he did was get his new employers to hire Rob for a job in marketing, also at a sizable salary increase.

Christmas would be a very special day for Ed and Christine. They celebrated it with friends and family, but always would spend at least part of the day alone, just the two of them. That would change when they had children, a boy and a girl. Ed didn’t think his life could be any better, but he felt a constant state of joy. Not every minute of course; nobody is joyful every minute of every day. There were times when money was tight, or there were crises in the family. Christine’s mother developed breast cancer and those were difficult days. Still, life was better than Ed ever knew it could be.

It was on their tenth wedding anniversary that Christine gave him the present. It was an envelope and he didn’t know what it was at first but then with a deep shock he realized it was his suicide note, the one that he had written all those years ago. “How….” he stammered. She held a finger to his lips. “That morning, I got up before you and I was tidying up when I found this. When I read it, I realized that I didn’t just go to your apartment by chance. I was sent. I was meant to be there. I needed to save you so you could save me, and you have, my darling. My life is wonderful, and it’s because of you.” Ed began to cry, remembering the pain. She held him then and what came after I will not say, because they deserve their privacy. It is Christmas, after all.

He’s Just Not That Into You

He's Just Not That Into You

Ginnifer Goodwin and Justin Long try to out-annoy each other.

(New Line) Jennifer Aniston, Ben Affleck, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Connelly, Justin Long, Ginnifer Goodwin, Kevin Connolly, Bradley Cooper, Scarlett Johansson, Kris Kristofferson, Luis Guzman, Busy Philipps. Directed by Ken Kwapis.

Establishing a relationship has never been more complicated or gut-wrenching as it is in the 21st century. While the ability of the sexes to interpret the signals of the other has remained the same – woefully inadequate – the means for communicating those signals have grown exponentially. As one character sighs in this romantic comedy, it’s now possible to be rejected by seven different technologies. Romeo and Juliet beset by digital dejection in an Internet age.

Gigi (Goodwin) is on a date with Conor (Connolly), a successful realtor. The date seems to be going pretty well, and as they part Gigi anticipates a call from Conor, thinking there might be a real connection between them. So she waits…and she waits…and still the phone refuses to ring.

Anna (Johansson) runs into Ben (Cooper) at a corner grocery, and thinks they’ve formed a connection. The problem is that Ben is married to neurotic Janine (Connelly), and while he promises help with Anna’s singing career, he is troubled by his attraction to her.

Beth (Aniston) and Neil (Affleck) have been together for seven years. While Beth wants commitment and marriage, Neil is averse to the whole idea of marriage. After all, he is committed to her he supports her in every way and loves her completely. Why do they need any further confirmation of a relationship that already exists?

As Gigi comes to the realization that Conor perhaps may not call, she hooks up with Alex (Long), a close friend of Conor who offers her valuable insight as to the ways of men. She begins to view him at first as something of a mentor, but eventually begins to develop romantic feelings towards him. Meanwhile, Conor – who had a previous relationship with Anna, still pines for her. Anna, for her part, is friendly with Conor and in some ways leads him on, but focuses on pursuing Ben, after a conversation with her friend Mary (Barrymore), who coincidentally works at a local weekly as an ad rep, servicing Conor’s advertising account. Meanwhile, Beth and Neil have split up as Beth has come to the conclusion that she and Neil no longer want the same things.

Based on a best-selling self-help book, the movie has an excellent ensemble cast and they perform to expectations. Director Kwapis, a veteran of television and big-screen light comedies, manages the entwined storylines nicely, and manages to give all of the storylines more or less equal attention (with the exception of Barrymore, who also produced the movie).

The viewpoint is distinctly feminine. Most of the male characters embody stereotypical male sins – cheating, commitment-phobia, and objectification, to name a few. However, to be fair, the women have their share of neuroses as well. Janine is a control freak who has an absolute phobia of smoking. In fact, when she finds out about her husband’s infidelity, she is much more irritated about the possibility that he might be smoking behind her back. Gigi is a tightly-wound stalker-in-the-making who is so un-self-confident that is almost desperate for a relationship to work, no matter how self-destructive that relationship might be.

The problem I have is two-fold. First, the situations tend to be terribly cliché; there are few surprises and quite frankly, you can see where each relationship is headed without exception. In that case, the characters should be interesting enough to make the audience want to go along for the ride even though there’s no shock as to where they’re headed. The sad fact is, they’re really not, drawn from cookie-cutter issues. Gigi as a character is particularly hard to relate to as she is just sooooooo annoying, and her chosen man Alex is not much better.

Still, there are laughs to be had, and a few insights as well, albeit none that are terribly new or different. The attractive cast does as good a job as possible given the limitations of the script, so you might not find this a complete waste of time. However, guys be warned; there is precious little examination of what truly motivates men to behave the way they do in relationships; rather, this is more of an excoriation of male vices. Most of the women here don’t fare much better, being painted as needy and neurotic; they are defined by the men they’re with more than the people they are. In that sense, this is much more insidious misogyny than any episode of “Married…With Children” than I can recall.

In fact, there are many far better examinations of the ways and means of 21st century romance than this. You’d be better off seeking them out at your local rental store, online or at your video-on-demand outlet.

WHY RENT THIS: An attractive and talented cast performing really well at times. Some genuinely funny moments, but not many.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Cookie-cutter characters populate a script riddled with clichés. Estrogen-laden world view that spares little thought to what really motivates men in favor of pointing out their failings. Goodwin and Long are genuinely annoying.

FAMILY VALUES: Some sexual innuendo going on here and a few heavy make-out sessions, but nothing you wouldn’t see on a TV drama.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Greg Behrendt, the author of the book the movie is based on, makes a cameo as a minister at Beth’s sister’s wedding.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Nothing listed.