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All Things Thriller

A Celebration of Thrillers, Noire and Black Comedy by Pamela Lowe Saldana

Game Night, a film directed by John Francis Daley and Johnathan Goldstein; Action Comedy

Annie (Rachel McAdams) and Max (Jason Bateman) are a cute couple. And, like every cute couple, they have a thing. Competition…that’s pretty much it. They met at trivia night.

Not only are they competitive with one another, (it’s friendly, but fierce) they like to gang up on others. (They’re a good team.)

Ever so often they get together with another cute couple, Kevin and Michelle (their thing is that they have been together, literally, forever, i.e., high school) and Ryan, their physically attractive, goofball buddy, who–to the annoyance of the gang–always brings a long-legged, air-headed date for a night of pool, charades and, or board games.

Game night.

To that mix add Brooks, (Kyle Chandler) Max’s suave and shiesty older brother, and Gary, (Jesse Plemons) the couple’s creepy, next door neighbor who happens to be a cop and a widower. (To be fair, he does have a really cute dog.)

Whereas Gary desperately (and awkwardly) wants to be invited to Max and Annie’s game nights, Brooks is taller, darker and handsomer than Max…and more athletic. So there you have your psychological conflict.

Plus, there’s Max’s sperm problem–he’s not producing enough, or they’re scraggly, or…you get the idea; the cute couple wants to have a cute baby, but they can’t because Max is stressed out about the competition thing with Annie and–mainly–Brooks.

Sibling rivalry.

One game night, Ryan (the goofball buddy) brings an older more accomplished date, Sarah (she’s also Irish) to the soiree at Brook’s house where he has sprung for an elaborate, interactive role playing game in which the winner takes home the car of Max’s teenaged dreams–a classic Corvette Stingray.

A red one.

Max is inspired and pissed at the same time.

When two thugs break in and kidnap Brooks while he’s explaining the rules of the game, everybody is impressed with the excellent acting and physical stunts of the role players (they body slam Brooks into a glass coffee table) and are eager to join in. There’s just one problem: unbeknownst to them, the role players aren’t role players at all. They’re real kidnappers. And Brooks is a real gun smuggler who is reaping what he has sowed.

So that’s pretty much the gist of the movie…they start out believing it’s a game and then in the middle–Max gets shot, Gary’s dog gets saturated in blood and Brooks gets the crap beat out of him–it becomes a lot more real, but no less funny.

Think The Wild Bunch if The Wild Bunch was a comedy and not directed by a misogynistic genius…

In this case we have the directing duo of John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, both of whom fostered their careers primarily in television. Accordingly, Game Night benefits from a crisp script, disciplined pace and a solid supporting cast. But more than anything else, it’s the chemistry between Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams–skilled pros, adept at scoring and setting each other up–that drives the film.

Let’s Move On

Okay. I’m not going to gloat. Gloating’s not a good look.

(Note the rhyme and reason between gloat and bloat; the nuance, if you will. Take note of it, if you can.)

Or don’t.

Either way, I’m moving on.

I ain't sayin' you treated me unkind
You could have done better but I don't mind
You just kinda wasted my precious time
But don't think twice, it's all right --Bob Dylan

Of course it’s easy for me to quote Bob Dylan. I haven’t lost anybody to Covid-19.

With the help of the good Lord and the strong business acumen of my husband, we have weathered 2020 pretty well, but that doesn’t mean we won’t reap the whirlwind that is to come. Or that we will reap it, for that matter.

That’s Que Sera, Sera, and it falls within the realm of providence, whether by chance or by God, or some combination of the two…

If I had a chance to counsel President Trump right now, I would tell him he still has a chance to leave with dignity.

I would tell him that he can have his cake, i.e., dignity and–by all means--he can eat it it. Absolutely, he can. And he can have just about any kind of cake he wants…

Except a second term as president cake. He can’t have that.

I would put it to the President like that if I could. And he might listen…I’m sure he likes cake…and I would add this:

You could potentially spark a Second Civil War, Mr. President. You could. Your base loves you that much. They’d do anything you tell them to. They adore you.

But you won’t do that, Mr. President. No. You won’t spark a Second Civil War. Because you love this country too much.

And because you love this country so much, you are going to live to fight another day. You are going to build another massive empire. A broadcasting empire. And that’s where you are going to wage war. For now.

Come 2024, all bets are off...

Now pack your bags and leave like a gentleman. Or don’t.

Either way, you’ll leave.

Countdown to Unity

My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side. For God is always right.”

Abraham Lincoln

Texas, the South, the NFL and the Waiting Game

So I love American football. I love it so much that right now, I’m a little bit irked that I used the term “American Football.”

I use the term because I realize that outside the U.S., football means soccer. I really do understand that intellectually, though I struggle with it emotionally.

Of course, it is not unusual for women to like football in the South. After all, the South is the home of the S.E.C., i.e., the Southeastern Conference of college football.

…Apparently, according to the movie Silver Linings Playbook, it’s not unusual for women in Philadelphia to like football either, which is good to know…I guess…

The S.E.C is a big deal. Or so I’m told. Personally, I don’t watch college ball unless Texas or Texas Tech is playing. And that’s because I don’t watch football like a nice girl from the South watches football.

No.

I watch it like a woman who grew up in Odessa, Texas watches football. And that’s a whole different feminine animal. Trust me.

West Texas is crazy about football.

That said, I don’t like the Dallas Cowboys. Never did.

I was a Houston Oiler fan.

So it’s only natural that I became a Tennessee Titan fan since they were the Oilers before they moved to Nashville and became the Titans even though, at the time, I had sworn off football altogether.

Sometimes you can love something too much, like my husband does.

Take what happened last week with the Titans for instance. We were playing the undefeated Pittsburg Steelers. The Titans were undefeated too, but no one was giving us a chance.

Sure enough, the first half was terrible. We were down 24-7 at halftime. We couldn’t keep the offense on the field–it didn’t matter if it was third and 20 or third and three–and we couldn’t get the defense off the field. It was brutal.

But the Titans charged back in the second half. We took advantage of the luck factor and made some big offensive plays. The much maligned defense made some stops, came up with some interceptions and forced a couple of field goals. With seconds remaining in regulation, the Titans kicked a field goal to go into overtime…and the kicker missed wide left.

Sure, our hopes were momentarily dashed. And, yeah, it hurt–falling on the jagged rocks of defeat always hurts. But it’s just football. And we’ve only lost one game.

Plus we fought almost all the way back. We captured big MO and forced him to play on our side. All in all I was pleased, even if we didn’t win the game.

But not my husband. He was super pissed at the kicker. For the rest of the day he sulked and didn’t want to watch the other games.

That’s no way to be. It’s childish.

Tomorrow I’m going to watch the Titans play Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals. I’m going to root my heart out for the Titans. I’m going to cheer every first down and plead for Joe Burrow to be sacked. Yes, hurt; not badly, and only temporarily, but shook up and discombobulated.

I’m going watch football all day.

And I’m going to pray.

And I’m going to wait.

Countdown To Soundness

“Our shared values define us more than our differences. And acknowledging those shared values can see us through our challenges today, if we have the wisdom to trust them again.”

John Mccain

Countdown To Synthesis

“Freedom and justice cannot be parceled out in pieces to suit political convenience. I don’t believe you can stand for freedom of one group of people and deny it to others.”

Coretta Scott King

Countdown to Reckoning

“If Ever the Time Should Come, when Vain and Aspiring men shall Possess the Highest seats in Government, our Country will Stand in Need of its experienced Patriots to Prevent its Ruin.”

Samuel Adams

The Rise of a Narcissistic Populist Despot: A Face in the Crowd, a Movie Directed by Elia Kazan, 1957; Political Drama

 

Larry Rhodes (Andy Griffith) is a shiftless drifter. A lay-about. A no-account. He is also one heck of a performer. Man alive can he strum that guitar! He can belt out the Country Blues with conviction too, but it’s the way he spins a story out of thin air, keeping folks hanging on his every word, that’s special.

But Larry drinks–a lot. Plus he’s a hot head, a letch, impulsive and–Damn!–he’s got a big mouth. It’s no wonder that when he’s discovered by an ambitious radio programmer he’s in jail.

Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal) roams the backwoods and small town streets of rural Arkansas looking for talent for her radio program “A Face in the Crowd”. Smart, industrious and eager to prove herself as something more than just the boss’ niece (her uncle owns the small town radio station where she works) Marcia talks a local yokel sheriff into letting her record some of the prisoners in the drunk tank. She’s got her eye out for the next Will Rodgers or Lead Belly.

Initially, Rhodes–nursing a hangover–is cantankerous and uncooperative, but he eventually warms to the opportunity to show off. What’s more, this is his big chance to embarrass the sheriff in front of the pretty lady and that’s just what he does. He makes up a bawdy little number on the fly with witty lyrics that rubs the sheriff’s nose in his lack of sophistication. He works the room–stalks it, is a more apt description–with a beguiling confidence.

The gall of the man to strut like a king when he’s in vagrant’s clothes. So arrogant and yet so accessible, he wins over the occupants of the drunk tank and Marcia Jeffries too. She knows the it factor when she see’s it and Rhodes has got it. But he also has penchant for cruelty, which she quickly recognizes, though his gargantuan charm bats down the red flags–at first.

Ms. Jeffries uses her own considerable attributes, convincing the sheriff who is sweet on her, to let Rhodes out early and–yes, you guessed it–they embark in a business relationship that, initially, takes them to nearby Memphis and then all the way to the big time of national television vis-a-vis New York City, and in an ill advised affair that very nearly destroys them both.

Director Elia Kazan’s naturalistic signatures, e.g., sweat streaked shirts, unshaven faces, the curve of a woman’s breast straining against flimsy fabric, torn wall paper and grimy fixtures pulse like a carnival midway in A Face in the Crowd. So much so that during the arc of the film when opulence bests squalor it’s obvious that Kazan preferred the gritter canvas where his visual artistry gleamed.

Even so, visual artistry is/was not the essence of Kazan’s genius. Instead his brilliance was in his ability to bare and dissect the human condition in order to persuade the audience–with compassion and dignity for the subjects–to think.

And the instrument of this persuasion? The actors from whom he was able to coax magnificent performances.

As Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes, Andy Griffith is no exception to this most prominent feature of Kazan’s methodology, though at first glance it is easy to dismiss his performance as a gluttonous case of scenery chewing. But to do so would be to ignore the most obvious trait of the portrait. Lonesome Rhodes is a grotesque and Griffith conveys this essential quality with unabashed brio.

Rhodes is obnoxious in every sense of the word. He’s a big guy, so he makes himself even larger by taking up as much space as he possibly can. He sprawls, rather than sits. He towers rather than stands.

Then there’s his laugh. It too is big.

No, I take that back. It’s enormous. When he laughs his face distorts into a cavernous mouth with wild, leering eyes.

Even so, Lonesome Rhodes is funny. He really is. And his wit is as sharp as a scalpel; his talent and charisma are undeniable. Possessing both eloquence and folksy charm, he sets his ire on the rich and powerful, which ingratiates him to everyone else.

As his influence grows so does his bank account, his malignant ego, his cruelty and dishonesty. And, most ominously, his misanthropic disdain intensifies for the very people who have lifted him to his throne, those that he has supposedly championed–“the common man.”

Patricia Neal, always wonderfully reliable, does not stray from her usual earthy, practical elegance. As Marcia Jeffries, there is no snobbery in her educated, cultured Southern draw. Hardly a pushover, she is initially mesmerized by Rhodes’ sheer force of personality even as she is a little leery of his sincerity, or lack thereof.

So when Lonesome Rhodes plunges into a decent of decadence and self delusion, threatening to take down much of the country that is under his sway, Marcia has long abandoned any romantic notions of the man. She stays on, firstly, because she feels responsible for unleashing this monster on an adoring and completely buffaloed populace. Secondly, because he has offered to buy her out at a paltry ten percent and she wants and deserves an equal partnership and lastly, because, in spite of his tyrannical abuse, she pities Rhodes, the lonely, hateful pariah, who loathes everyone, but not as much as he loathes himself.

A Face in the Crowd launched the career of then fledgling comedian/ musician Andy Griffith, introducing him to his most diverse and largest audience yet. But the film tanked at the box office and received lack luster reviews.

Modern audiences, however, especially cinephiles, have been captivated by this very timely film that, with the explosion of social media, has become even more relevant today than when it was released some sixty years ago. In 2008 it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

In his 1986 Guide for the Film Fanatic author Danny Peary prophetically wrote,

“Lonesome Rhodes is guilty of taking advantage of the medium – through which you can fool all the people all of the time – but (screenwriter) Budd Schulberg is attacking us, the ignorant public who sits like sheep and believes whatever it sees on the tube. The scary thing is that if today Rhodes were caught expressing his real thoughts while thinking the mike was off, his popularity would probably go up.”

 

 

 

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