Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Movies That Suck: The Rover

******Warning: Contains Spoilers******

Several weeks ago, I opened my Netflix envelope to find a copy of the Australian post-apocalyptic drama The Rover. It had received favorable reviews and starred Guy Pearce so I felt like it was a safe bet for some dystopian escapism. The movie is set 10 years after the “collapse” which was both devastating and anticlimactic since it destroyed the final vestiges of human decency while leaving a surprisingly robust power and transportation infrastructure. Given the conspicuous lack of dialogue throughout the film, the “collapse” may have been largely verbal in nature.

Pearce plays a grizzled drifter named Eric whose car is stolen while he sits in a shanty and stares morosely at his hands. The thieves are a group of men who have just botched a robbery and wrecked their vehicle while arguing about whether or not they should have gone back for their wounded comrade. You eventually piece together that they were attempting to steal something rare and valuable enough to have the military guard it, but no other details are provided. Since each and every location is permeated by dust, I choose to believe that they were attempting to illegally procure a HEPA filter.

At any rate, Eric restarts their getaway vehicle and gives chase demanding the safe return of his vehicle. Along the way, he encounters a broken-down traveling circus where he murders a dwarf over the cost of a handgun and loses the trail of the thieves. Rather fortuitously, Eric crosses paths with the wounded cohort the thieves left behind and takes him to the home of a rural doctor who patches him up. While there, two Chinese acrobats from the stalled circus have tracked Eric down to avenge the death of the dwarf.

Narrowly escaping, Eric takes his hostage Rey (played by Robert Pattinson of Twilight fame) and demands to be taken to the location of his associates; one of whom happens to be Rey’s brother. Eric quickly learns that Rey is from the American south and is mentally challenged (I assume those two pieces of information were meant to be mutually exclusive). After several more senseless homicides, Eric is apprehended by the Australian military where he admits to the decade-old murder of his wife and her lover. He expresses disappointment that he was never prosecuted for the crime and offers this confession as an explanation for his largely silent disregard or the sanctity of human life. Rey rescues him by shooting everyone on base, and they continue their odyssey to retrieve Eric’s car. 

Finally, after almost two hours of waiting and several more dead bodies, Guy Pearce is reunited with his sedan. The anticipation was killing me as I watched him pull over to the side of yet another desolate highway and wordlessly pop the trunk. By this time, I had already worked out a mental list of possible items. Was it a miniaturized nuclear reactor or a one-of-a-kind viral antidote? Perhaps a daughter he had kept hidden while traveling to protect her from the lustful eyes of the unwashed miscreants that populated this barren landscape?

There, tucked inside the spacious cargo area, was…..his dead dog. The movie concludes as he begins to bury the dog on the side of said highway. It was at that moment that it dawned on me that the movie’s title might not be a reference to the autonomous vehicles that roam the barren surfaces of foreign planets. Instead, it was probably the uninventive name of his dog. I came dangerously close to penning a strongly worded letter to the producers.

The cinematography was exquisite, the set design meticulous, and the acting was top-notch. Unfortunately, all of that was to serve a story about one man’s murderous rampage to properly inter the body of his canine. I realize that a cataclysmic event can shift one’s priorities and people have taken human life for less, but this was a bit of a letdown. I suppose the story was meant to be allegorical and remind us how fragile the moral fabric of society is, but all I can think is why didn’t he bury the dog at the house? There was no indication that the shoulder of this particularly bleak thoroughfare held any emotional significance. He is burning precious fuel in a decimated country to arbitrarily bury his dog in the right-of-way of state route 74.

I suppose the uneasy partnership of the two main characters was supposed to be heartwarming, but I could not help but imagine the entire film was the result of a meeting where an executive did not receive a satisfactory answer to the question, “Is there any reason we cannot just combine the Rain Man and Mad Max remakes into a single film?”

This film is rated R for economic inflation, pet-themed retribution and repeated scenes of gratuitous violence against a carney.       

Thursday, December 11, 2014

An Evening at Arby's

It was a Saturday evening and my wife suggested we stop in for a reasonably-priced dinner at our local Arby’s roast beef emporium. As we entered the dining area to order, I noticed that the only other patrons were an older gentleman and his female companion. I probably wouldn’t have noticed them at all except she was wearing a housecoat and slippers which I interpreted as either a carryover from the previous evening or a harbinger for the one to come.
My wife, my son, and I stood at the register for several minutes while a young female employee attempted to mitigate a romantic crisis via phone call while standing watch over the deep-fryer. She acknowledged our presence, but continued to insist to the caller that the subject of their conversation has “made his choice” and dismissed his “Snap-chat foolishness” as further evidence of his immaturity. The employee then nodded silently for several seconds as her confidant undoubtedly offered the requisite sympathy and encouraged her to pursue a paramour less inclined to digital philandering.  

Just as we were about to turn and leave, she ended the call with a promise to keep her friend updated and walked over to the register to take our order. Making no mention of her recent heartbreak, she rang us up and promised that our food would be ready shortly. I thought about asking her if the manager on duty allowed them to avoid customers while making long personal phone calls, but I was afraid that doing so might result in my sandwich taking a detour down someone’s underpants.

I settled my wife and son into a booth and went to retrieve our tray, but when I got to the table my wife noticed that the milk that came with the kid’s meal had already been opened and was half-empty. Someone had even written “coffee creamer” on the side of the bottle with a Sharpie. My wife was incensed that someone would attempt to give our child a potentially tainted half-empty dairy beverage and I was incensed that they had the nerve to charge me full price for the privilege.

I approached the register and politely requested a replacement drink. When I showed her the writing on the side of the container she shook her head in disgust and loudly announced that she was going to get to the bottom of this travesty and “write somebody up.” It was at this point I realized that she was the manager on duty and therefore, the highest level of authority I could appeal to at this point in time.  

She apologized profusely and again vaguely promised some sort of retribution on my behalf while handing me a replacement from the cooler. Finally in possession of a factory-sealed 2% milk, I walked back over to our table and began consuming my Beef N’ Cheddar while she filled out paperwork on her clipboard by the register. Then, apparently responding to a comment from another employee, she loudly suggested that he “shut the f**K up!”

Almost choking on my curly-fry, I glanced up from my meal at the exact same moment she realized that she was managing a fast food restaurant and not captaining a river-barge. She caught my eye and mouthed an apology, but by this time we were the only customers left and it wouldn’t have surprised me if an employee decided to remove their pants and do a line of coke off the condiments bar. It was like Lord of the Flies in this place.

Fortunately, my son didn’t visibly react to the outburst which means either it did not affect him at all or he immediately internalized the vulgarity and it will subconsciously fester until he commits his first felony. The sad thing is that the young lady was genuinely friendly and approachable. She simply needed a little polish before pursuing a corporate position. Perhaps Arby’s could fund a short course on what not to say in front of customers. Avoiding the F-word and phrases like “I am not convinced that refrigerating meat is necessary” can go a long way toward generating repeat customers and revenue growth.  

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

In Charity We Trust

For those of you who listen to public radio, you are familiar with the onslaught of non-profit organizations, foundations, and trusts that make NPR’s unparalleled reporting and insights possible. Understandably, the stations utilize the commercial breaks to credit these non-profits for their contribution to the programming being broadcast using the familiar “This program is made possible, in part, by a grant from the _________ Foundation.”

Invariably, once the name of the non-profit has been established, the “host” will convey the mission statement of the organization. While a handful of these mission statements are improbably specific, the majority lean toward hopelessly broad. My favorites are ones that wish to encourage “a more civil electorate” or a “more verdant society.” Worthwhile pursuits to be sure, but I can only imagine the headache this creates for the board of directors who are forced to quantify these goals and write actual checks.

If I were to find myself obscenely wealthy one day, I think it would be entertaining to create randomly-named foundations with ridiculously vague mission statements and direct the funds toward public media. The purpose of this would be threefold:

1.      It would provide needed funding for an informative and worthwhile journalistic pursuit.
2.      The anonymity would convey undeserved humility while shielding me from the inevitable backlash of my third and primary purpose.
3.      To hear seasoned, educated broadcasters repeat the ridiculous statements I write.

Here are some of my early ideas of the both the unnecessarily specific and comically-broad categories:

The Swaggle-Pimp Foundation – Dedicated to the elimination of unhappiness through the combined application of ambiguous political influence and rudderless endowments.

The Estate of Frank & Rosacea Horseknuckle – A bequest devoted to the elimination of metaphorical boundaries within hypothetical demographics.

The Dingleberry Collective – A charitable trust committed to the elimination of hypertension in color-blind mathematicians through nude agriculture.

The Worldwide Cooperative for Uncompromised Individualism – Utilizing pooled resources and shared directives to develop a universal framework for those seeking distinctive individuality.   

The Mutual Community Society – Supporting the arts, science, blind fundamentalism, literacy, physical wellness, basic human empathy, tort reform, organic haircare, charitable charity, house-pet monogamy, wastewater management, experimental window-tinting, ferret therapy, cancer treatment, investigative research, pre-school Crossfit, green space initiatives, left-handed cookbooks and all local parades with themes that promote or celebrate the consumption of bacon.