Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)

I first recall having the thought  -- maybe it was more a feeling than a thought, but I'm not certain -- while sitting alone at 2:30am on a mountain ridge in south-central West Virginia.

I'm safe and OK. My dad will protect me if something goes wrong.

How I came to be sitting on a dark, isolated mountain ridge in the early morning hours isn't a remarkable story. My dad and I were hunting for raccoons and our dogs, catching a deer's scent, took off on a wild romp though the forest. So they wouldn't get lost, Dad had to get to them quick. My 12-year-old legs couldn't keep up, so he asked me to sit alone on a log for a few minutes while he went on. It was dark, and we were miles from civilization.

I was scared.

"I'll be just over that line of trees, and for only a few minutes. Sit here with your light on, and I'll be back in about 15 or 20 minutes."

And I knew every word he said was true. I knew he'd come back exactly as he said. I knew he'd get the wild dogs back on the right track. I knew I'd be safe.

He said it, so I believed it.

I grew up believing my father could do anything. Smart and curious, he knew at least something about most things. He could fix anything that was broken. He had just the right advice for every uncomfortable situation. He was strong and could always protect us. It's not that he proved he could do those things -- I never saw him in a fight, for example. Simply, because he was my father I believed he could overcome any obstacle.

You know that belief.

The problem with that belief is that I grew up measuring myself against my dad, defining my life milestones as successes or failures based on how I thought my dad would have done in those same situations. And like most people struggling through their teens and twenties -- and hell, even longer if I'm honest-- there were lots of failures.

A lifetime of moments where I felt small compared to my dad, knowing he would have handled the same situation I faced with more strength and grace than did I.

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), a Netflix original written and directed by Noah Baumbach, dissects the belief most kids have about their fathers. Through small vignettes -- because that's what life really is, isn't it? -- the film examines from each perspective the relationship between a father and his three children. Starring Adam Sandler (I promise, it's his best dramatic performance ever), Ben Stiller (solid in a non-comedic role), Dustin Hoffman, and Elizabeth Marvel, Meyerowitz Stories deconstructs the existential angst sometimes experienced by the adult children of heroic fathers. Forced to recognize the personal and professional shortcomings of their larger-than-life father, the three Meyerowitz siblings are faced with realities about their own lives, and how the relationship each had with his or her father was integral to their life choices.

Perhaps, they discover, their father wasn't as confident, heroic, or successful as they perceived him to be as children. And if so, perhaps their assessments of their own lives aren't accurate, either.

I believed, during every moment of my childhood and into early adulthood, that my father could overcome any obstacle he faced. What I didn't consider is: did he believe the same?

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Logan Lucky

Logan Lucky is the movie for which Steven Soderbergh ended his retirement? 

OK, I admit there are some really cool things -- some things I really liked -- about this flick.

The complicated heist movie -- and isn't that something Soderbergh does best? -- takes place mostly in Boone County, WV and in Charlotte, NC. I know those areas well, and it was fun seeing the culture of those regions portrayed on the screen.

Adam Driver's accent and affect is pure Appalachian. He's channeling scores of people I've known, lived with, and loved during my lifetime in West Virginia. Farrah Mackenzie, who plays Sadie Logan, steals the show and will melt your heart. If you don't get misty-eyed during her emotional scene near the movie's end, you should turn in your hillbilly membership card.

But, there are real issues with Logan Lucky that are difficult to ignore. First, like many heist films, the flick is complicated. Soderbergh tries to tidy up some of those complications at the very end, but some unanswered questions remain after the credits. 

Second, some of the logistics are screwy. Characters travel back and forth from Boone County to Charlotte, NC so often and so quickly that viewers might believe the two regions are in close proximity.

They aren't.

Madison, the county seat of Boone, is more than 275 miles from Charlotte, and it takes more than 5 hours to travel between the locations by car. And Madison to Lynchburg, VA -- where the young daughter of main character Jimmy Logan is moving with his ex-wife, who says the move is OK because "you'll still get your days," of visitation -- is nearly 250 miles driving distance. You just can't make those trips as easily as they appear in the movie.

It almost seems the screenwriter is unfamiliar with the region in which WV is located, and presumes the location to be more Virginia than West Virginia. 

Which brings me to the most interesting part of Logan Lucky: first-time screenwriter Rebecca Blunt. Although listed as being "from Logan, WV, but now living in New York," no one can verify that Blunt is a real person. Instead, the smart money says Blunt is the pseudonym used by Soderbergh' s wife, Jules Asner

That theory makes a lot of sense.

What else but a first time writing effort by one's wife would make a retired film director and producer come out of retirement to produce and direct a hillbilly heist flick starring Channing Tatum?