What I Learned From “Elvis”

I couldn’t fully appreciate Elvis Presley’s music until I got a little older and developed the ability to compartmentalize two things: 1. Elvis was a generational talent with one of the silkiest voices in pop history, and 2. Elvis got famous by appropriating sounds from Black gospel and blues artists. So, when settling in to watch Baz Luhrmann’s much-hyped Elvis biopic, I was hoping for a fresh, nuanced perspective on this controversial, still-captivating icon. Here’s what I learned instead:

1. Colonel Tom Parker was Rumpelstiltskin

Ever fallen under the comforting spell of a great Tom Hanks performance, where his natural charisma, disarming humor and palpable vulnerability make you feel like you’re getting to know a real person? This is not one of those performances. For reasons I can’t fathom, Hanks portrays Elvis’s manager Col. Tom Parker with the mustache-twirling hamminess of a straight-to-video Disney villain, always lurking in the shadows and tittering demonically, gazing at Elvis (who he calls “my wiggling boy”) like Rumpelstiltskin stalking a first-born child. Even less defensible is the totally invented accent Hanks deploys, a cryptkeeper-meets-Goldmember cackle that gets really old, really fast.

2. Elvis Presley was Forrest Gump

Perhaps in part because he spends so much time showing Tom Parker peeking out from underneath the bleachers like a Southern-fried Pennywise, Baz Luhrmann tells Elvis’s story like a kid bullshitting a book report, cramming in only the most famous events of his life even though this movie runs well over two hours. So instead of seeing Elvis as an autonomous human being, we watch him get blown around the decades like a Gump-ian feather (do we need to see him reacting to every famous 1960s assassination?). As a result, the person who shaped 20th century culture as much as anyone ends up blurring into the background.

3. I killed Elvis

“I’ll tell you what killed him,” Col. Tom hisses at the camera toward the end of the film. “It was love. Love for all of you.” My reward for sitting through this coke-addled insult of a jukebox musical? Being accused of murder.

4. Nothing

It’s unfair to expect a biopic to be both educational and entertaining. But Elvis is so disinterested in its subject that it doesn’t even bother to have a point of view about him. Luhrmann bends over backwards to avoid tackling Elvis’s complicated relationships with race, drugs, food, and his mother – not to mention his courting of a 14-year-old Priscilla when he was 24 – always whipping ahead to the next montage before we can start to ask questions. For this director’s purposes, Elvis Presley is a good-looking excuse for brighter lights, quicker cuts, and rhinestonier rhinestones. If anything, I left the theater feeling like I knew less.

5. Colonel Tom Parker was also the Leprechaun

Just try and tell them apart!

What I Learned from “A Star Is Born”


As a part of my yearly compulsion to watch as many Oscar-nominated movies as possible, my Januaries and Februaries are jam-packed with biopics, melodramas, and movies about how magical movies are. As part of this year’s neurotic box-checking, I held my breath and pressed play on A Star Is Born, a straightforward story about a woman getting famous and dealing with a jealous-ass dude. If it sounds familiar, that’s probably because this version is the third reboot of the 1937 original. Why did director and star Bradley Cooper feel compelled to revisit this well-tread ground? Because Oscar voters adore well-tread ground. (And because he’s into Eddie Vedder cosplay.) Here’s what else this perfectly mediocre prestige picture has taught me:

1. Women can’t succeed until a man tells them they look pretty.

Our movie begins with Bradley Cooper’s booze-soaked rock star character, Jackson Maine (ugh), telling his driver to drop him off at the nearest bar, which happens to be a drag club. The drag queens give some precious stage time to their friend Ally (Gaga), who does a spirited sendup of “La Vie En Rose” that showcases her obvious talent. Maine invites Ally out for a drink after. And over the course of their rambling first date, she reveals that she’s never believed in herself because of insecurities about her looks. She’s resigned to a life working as a caterer with her Gay Best Friend™ and living with her dad. But then, Maine tells her she’s pretty. A few months later, she’s a star.

2. Male mumbling = Oscar gold

It seems weird at first when we hear Maine speak – Cooper gives him a deep, mushmouthed drawl, whether he’s drunk or sober. But Oscar voters love men who can’t enunciate! Jeff Bridges won Best Actor for playing a muttering country singer in the forgettable Crazy Heart. Billy Bob Thornton (deservedly) won Best Adapted Screenplay for his iconic caption-needer Sling Blade. Matthew McConaughey’s entire existence is one long mumble, and he won Best Actor for the pretty damn offensive Dallas Buyers Club. If Cooper wins this year, expect even more serious actors to start delivering lines like a sleepy hobo.

3. “If you don’t dig deep into your soul, you won’t have legs.”

I don’t know if I can claim to have learned this, because I have no idea what it means.

4. Southern rock is “real music.”

One of the most fantastical parts of this sweeping Hollywood romance is that a passable Southern rock performer would be not only a massive, universally recognized star, but a star-maker to boot, in 2018. I can suspend disbelief on this – he’s got great hair, and Blake Shelton does exist. But I can’t abide the movie’s weird obsession with romanticizing Maine’s musty genre. When Ally starts making pop music, it’s portrayed as a betrayal of Jackson’s gritty artistic ethos. As if music with guitars is somehow more meaningful. As if the actor playing Ally isn’t living proof that dance music inspires millions. Jackson Maine is an old crank muttering “disco sucks,” and the movie doesn’t have the decency to mock him for it.

5. Plot holes? Paper-thin characters? La-la-la I can’t hear you!!!

Way too much of A Star Is Born’s running time is devoted to Jackson & Ally performing. And that’s by design – much like fellow Best Picture nominee Bohemian Rhapsody, this glut of concert/studio/rehearsal footage works to distract us from the underdeveloped main characters. Jackson & Ally’s relationship is pretty much a tire fire from the beginning, her love being no match for his alcoholism, unresolved anger toward his father, and out-of-control jealousy. But we only get an occasional glance at this dynamic, in between extended music videos of the film’s sturdy-enough original songs. So when the movie (82-year-old spoilers ahead) takes a dark final turn, it feels completely unearned. Not that I’m complaining – I needed those musical distractions to get me through. In fact, let’s insert Lady Gaga and Freddie Mercury performances into every misguided modern drama! Just imagine if Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri spent less time trying to get us to empathize with a racist cop, and cut to a vintage performance of “Somebody to Love” instead.






What I Learned From “Under The Dome”


Since beginning my Catching Up With King project after moving to Maine a few years back, I’ve become a fan of his writing style, stubbornly ragged as it is. At his best, he builds stories like monster trucks. They flatten all the inelegant dialogue and on-the-nose metaphors in its path. It can be incredibly fun to be behind that wheel. But it’s this very quality that makes it nearly impossible to adapt King’s work for TV or film. The natural inclination of a director is to trim the fat, streamline plot threads, give the action a proper cadence. So they strip the monster truck for parts. Usually, all they’re left with is the wreckage.

It would be an understatement to say that the CBS series Under the Dome has this problem. This is the story of the town of Chester’s Mill, which becomes sealed off from the world when a mysterious dome falls from the sky. It’s clear and permeable; impenetrable and soundproof; reminiscent of The Simpsons Movie and directly ripped off from The Simpsons MovieYet derivation is the least of Under the Dome‘s problems. I’ve never read the novel, but there’s just no way that it could be as sluggish, painfully unrealistic, and emotionally barren as this TV show. Unless the dome is a metaphor for writer’s block, and the thinning ranks of the townspeople represent weak thoughts fading from a suffocated brain, I cannot explain why it exists.

Showrunner Brian K. Vaughan is no slouch, having written the popular graphic novel series Ex Machina and Y: The Last Man. No matter. He fucked with the truck, and got crushed.

So, after watching a season and a half of Under the Dome, what have I learned?


1. Chester’s Mill is on Ritalin.

The dome comes down, and people seem rather chill about it. I mean, they basically don’t even try to get out. Various car wrecks show that you can’t drive a hole in it, but what about bullets? Or fire? Or acid? Or a pointy stick? Nope! They’re cool just hangin’. Take a look at the press photo of Mike Vogel, who plays our main character Dale “Barbie” Barbera:


So yeah, this is our main character at his most concerned. He looks like a constipated window washer.


2. Actually, maybe they’re on heroin too.

When the government is about to drop a massive bomb on the dome, the town hides in the basement of an old building, where the vibe is pretty laid-back – the local DJ plays a Beethoven sonata, and it’s fitting. A few episodes later, the scorched-earth destruction the bomb caused outside the dome just sorta disappears. The power of disinterested thinking?

When main characters are brutally murdered, people wince for a second and move on.

When people learn that Junior Rennie is a violent psychopath who locked his ex-girlfriend in a bomb shelter, they take it like it’s a fairly normal thing to hear about someone. This extends to the writers, who now seem to think that we can accept Junior as some kind of hero, which, NO. If Alexander Koch wasn’t the kind of actor who only can make one face, and that face wasn’t the face of a dazed pony, then the show would not be getting away with this socially irresponsible character arc.


3. Snow globes are a metaphor for thinking your audience is brain dead.




4. If you can’t decide who you are, then you’ve decided to be nothing at all.

For the first several episodes, Under the Dome wants to be a problem-of-the-week procedural. And it’s not the worst idea. We find out how the town responds to fire, drought, and an epidemic. People are still behaving like automatons, but at least there’s some structure.

But then Under the Dome decides it wants to be an allegory about men playing God. Dean Norris, who brought such deep, grizzled insecurity to his role as Hank on Breaking Bad, plays “Big Jim” Rennie, a local politician/car salesman whose hobbies are being powerful and making serious faces. The show tries to get us to hate Big Jim, who murders in cold blood to hold onto his meager power, and who starts acting like the town reverend at memorial services. It kind of achieves this goal, despite Norris’s performance being too broad and stare-y to really inspire us to feel much. The real issue is the flip side of this hashed-together allegory: The show needs us to root for the Wonder (Bread) Twins at the story’s center, Barbie (Vogel, who wears t-shirts) and Julia Shumway (Rachelle Lefevre, who has a hairstyle). Sure, it succeeds in getting us to hate Big Jim, but we already hated him. We hate every goddamn person for being so boring.

Then, Under the Dome wants to be a MacGuffin-heavy sci-fi mystery, complete with chosen-one narratives, screaming eggs, and amateur psychic paintings. This is where the show officially becomes nothing at all, a void, a blackness in our lives.


5. I love the severed cow. I blame the severed cow.

When the dome comes down in the pilot, it cuts a cow in half. The show handles it perfectly, using the bargain-basement CGI that fans of Stephen King miniseries know and love. I watched 187 minutes of It so I could see that stop-motion spider. I sat through all three hours of The Langoliers just so I could see those toothy clam screensavers descend on Balki. Under the Dome gave me my fix before the first commercial break. Like a drug dealer would.



6. I have spent 16 hours of my life watching this show. I feel you, Dean.





What I Learned From “Sally Hemings: An American Scandal”


Is there a more underrated actor out there than Sam Neill? Not quite a leading man type, yet more substantial than a character actor, Neill tends to avoid Oscar-bait-level emoting, preferring a subtle, intangible kind of humanity that rarely feels out of place in a role – whether it’s an archeologist who can’t believe his eyes, a repressed frontiersman in colonial New Zealand, or a grieving parent framed by some devious-ass dingoes. Notice that I said “rarely” out of place. That’s because I recently watched Sally Hemings: An American Scandal, a 2000 Hallmark Channel mini-series that featured Neill as Thomas Jefferson. SH:AAS is as cheap and flimsy as its title would suggest, possessing all the hallmark touches we’ve come to expect from a Hallmark Channel project, save a subplot where a nice single mom finally finds love with Santa’s hunky-yet-approachable nephew. So here’s what I learned:

1. Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson met cute.

You see, Thomas Jefferson is at this party in Paris, and Sally Hemings shows up with her brother Mario Van Peebles. When Jefferson lays his eyes on her, he wonders aloud about who this girl could be, clearly thinking she’s some Parisian debutante he somehow hadn’t met before. But in reality, she’s his 14-year-old slave! There’s a wacky misunderstanding for ya! Don’t you just love love?

2. Sally & TJ were just like Audrey & Bogie.

I’m clearly not an expert on Jefferson or Hemings, ’cause I used to just assume that their relationship probably wasn’t much like the kind of love affair you’d see in an Audrey Hepburn movie. But Sally Hemings: An American Scandal set me straight on that, depicting their initial time together in Paris as the kind of coy May-December flirtation we saw from Hepburn and Bogart in Sabrina. And instead of running away to Paris like Linus and Sabrina do in that beautifully impulsive way, our star-crossed lovers run away from Paris back to the U.S., where everything turns out great! If only Billy Wilder had stuck with his original ending, where Linus has a surprise waiting for Sabrina in France – a life of endless toil on his Parisian brie plantation.

3. Sally Hemings could’ve left Monticello at any time, but she didn’t, because love.

At the end of Sally Hemings: An American Scandal, something scandalous actually does happen – Hemings (played by Carmen Ejogo, who gives it her best shot I guess) reveals a note in Jefferson’s handwriting that grants her freedom. A note that was written decades earlier in France! Which means that she chose to live as a slave, to have six children by a man who would never acknowledge them, not to mention acknowledge her entire race as being 100% human. Not that I’d question the integrity of this project, but according to a study by the Research Committee On Thomas Jefferson And Sally Hemings (conducted the same year SH:AAS was released), there is no written record that Hemings was ever granted freedom. Even after Jefferson’s death, she “would have been recognized as free in her local community but, without any legal ‘free papers,’ she could not have safely left the neighborhood where she was known.” Well, you know what, Research Committee on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings? You can shut your faces, because this ain’t the History Channel we’re talking about. This is the motherfucking Hallmark Channel, and on the Hallmark Channel, it’s all about the love – the bubbly, inspirational, slave-on-president love.

4. Thomas Jefferson couldn’t have fathered Sally Hemings’ kids, because he lived in the sky.


5. Thomas Jefferson’s life was boring.

Going by what I’ve learned from TV miniseries, John Adams was a colorful, highly influential, endlessly interesting figure in American history, and Thomas Jefferson was a guy who wore wigs and went to things in them. Neill plays Jefferson – one of the more eccentric and compellingly contradictory Founding Fathers – like a less enraged Alistair Stewart, his quiet, emotionally log-jammed jealous husband from The Piano. He gets a little fired up when other men seek Sally’s affections (remember about all the true love?), but over the course of the THREE HOURS of the miniseries, this Hallmark Jefferson is little more than a wallflower. Even when he’s signing the Louisiana Purchase, or teaching youngins in his old-guy makeup, or bemoaning the loss of Monticello to his debtors, it’s clear that only one thing could interest the great Sam Neill during this shoot – his paycheck.

What I Learned From “Cocaine: One Man’s Seduction”

Having just watched every episode of The Wire in a marathon session, I’m more familiar than ever with the devastating failure that was the Reagan administration’s “War on Drugs.” The jury’s out on whether or not the people who crafted this policy ever cared about stemming the tide of American drug use, or just wanted to give law enforcement an excuse to lock up as many black people as their heart desired. This I do know for a fact, though – the campaign’s slogan, “Just Say No,” was hilariously ignorant, and offensive to any person who turned to drugs to numb their pain. The same kind of shortsightedness that birthed “Just Say No” is what inspires Cocaine: One Man’s Seduction, a fantastically campy  TV movie broadcast in 1983, one year into Reagan’s first term. Starring Dennis Weaver (the voice of Buck McCoy!) as an aging California real estate agent struggling to compete with a flashy youngster who’s starting to outsell him, Cocaine paints everything in hysterically broad strokes, as Weaver’s character goes from a respectable blue-collar guy to a bloody-nosed psychopath over what feels like a couple of weeks. It’s just the kind of movie that will make a young person want to try cocaine, if only to prove that what he just saw was a load of shit. Anyways, what did I learn?

1. Dennis Weaver has some nostrils on him.

I know that cocaine will make you act like an asshole and ruin your life and all that, no matter who you are, but I think there’s a logical explanation for just how quickly Weaver’s character hits bottom in this movie – his cavernous nostrils. There’s no doubt that he’s consuming 10 times more coke per snort than his fellow addict friend (played with suicidal glee by Jeffrey Tambor). It makes you think, if Jimmy Durante was a cokehead, how long would he have lasted?

2. Cocaine will make your midlife crisis even crisis-ier.

In the early stages of Weaver’s “seduction,” he suddenly becomes better at his job, his newfound drug use loosening him up around clients and making him ready to make the jump to selling the big-time listings. It’s at this point that he decides to look the part too, cruising the SoCal freeways looking like a dad having a nervous breakdown, a wreck of leather, black shades and wide-collars.

3. Cocaine will make you betray James Spader.

When Weaver’s wife discovers cocaine in the house, it’s not his – it’s his son’s (played with extreme blondness by James Spader). Of course, Spader actually stole his from Weaver’s shaving kit stash, which makes for some wonderful “I learned it by watching you!” moments. Throwing his own son under the bus marks the low-point for Weaver, who begins the long road to recovery soon after. Which you’d never make a movie about, because bo-ring.

4. Cocaine is highly addictive, but ’80s movies about drugs are even more so.

I know that we’re supposed to be devastated by how far Weaver has fallen in this movie – from a rock-solid family man who topped the sales chart at the office for a decade (“10 years!”) to a jittery douche who would sell out everybody he loves for another fix. But Weaver is just so brilliantly hammy, he turns this message movie into one hell of a good time. Watching him get progressively sweatier, more paranoid and bug-eyed, sneaking hits during showings, hornily grabbing his wife by the sink, it’s like manna from heaven for camp lovers. I’ve since watched several more movies like Cocaine: One Man’s Seduction, none of them matching its intoxicating blend of hyper-melodrama, over-the-top acting and low-ball budget. Netflix offered this one to Watch Instantly; when they take it off, I’m going to have to buy it. That’s how the pushers get you hooked. That, and VHS packaging like this:

What I Learned From “Overboard”

As the man behind sitcoms like The Odd Couple, Mork & Mindy and Laverne & Shirley, Garry Marshall taught us that all we need to laugh are two people, hashing out their differences in an apartment. But while he was working to bring that Honeymooners formula to a new generation, he apparently didn’t have the time to properly convey his feelings that women are insipid. Because that is the defining message of the second act of his career, as a director of romantic comedies. From Pretty Woman to Runaway Bride to Raising Helen, Marshall has glorified in telling females that getting a husband should be their top priority (and that being a prostitute is a viable way of achieving that goal).

But none of his movies are as brazenly sexist as his hit 1987 romp Overboard. The story of a Oregonian handyman (Kurt Russell) who gets fired by an impossibly spoiled rich lady (Goldie Hawn) and then mind-fucks her into being his slave when she gets amnesia, this is the purest distillation of Marshall’s anti-woman agenda. So, what did I learn from it?

1. Rich people are stupid monsters.

In Overboard‘s opening scenes, Marshall does everything he can to make us hate Hawn’s character, Joanna Stayton. She wears opulent dresses and absurd hairstyles; she bitches out her manservant (Roddy MacDowall!) for serving her the wrong kind of caviar; she refuses to talk to Russell’s aw-shucks everyman Dean Proffitt like he’s an actual person. Of course, this kind of cartoonish villainy is necessary – without it, audiences just might not take Dean’s side when he, you know, kidnaps and rapes her and stuff.

2. Hospitals are super lax.

After falling off her yacht and being rescued by a fishing boat, Joanna’s in fine physical health, but is suffering from amnesia. Dean sees her picture on the local news, hatches his vengeful scheme, and shows up at the hospital to take Joanna “home.” After a doctor and the hospital security guard (played by old-school “Family Feud” host Ray Combs) sympathize with Dean about just how bitchy Joanna is, they ask him for proof that she is indeed his wife, “Annie.” Dean tells them about a birthmark he noticed while working for Joanna, and after making her lift up her gown in full view of everybody to verify this, the hospital staff is satisfied that this smirking, unconcerned man is telling the truth.

3. Women best have kids.

Early in the movie, Joanna has a conversation with her even stupider and richer mother (played by Katherine “Mona” Helmond). In it, Joanna shares that her husband Grant wants to have a kid, and the movie’s disdain for women first rears its ugly head. “Darling,” her mother responds, “if you have a baby, then you won’t be the baby anymore.” By establishing right away that childless women are spoiled brats, Overboard posits that Dean isn’t just teaching Joanna a lesson by making her take care of his unruly brood – he’s putting her in her place.

4. Women best do grueling housework.

Once Dean convinces Joanna that she’s actually Annie, he puts her to work. She scrubs his tarpaper shack, plucks and boils chickens, and tends to his quartet of hellion sons (one who incessantly impersonates Pee Wee Herman, to the point where you think he suffered a head injury too). When she has trouble waking up in the morning, Dean throws her in a tub of freezing water. She becomes more accepting of this ritual as the movie progresses, and by the end, she craves it. It’s a clear case of Stockholm syndrome, but Marshall would have us believe the opposite – that a successful woman had found her true calling as a homemaker.

5. Women in the ’80s would’ve put up with a ton of Kurt Russell’s shit.

So if everything I’ve written about Overboard is true, how could it have been a big hit with the female audience it was targeting? Because it’s shrewdly casted. Both actors are in top form here – Russell has the lovable, blue-collar hunk act down pat, and Hawn has a blast playing the marvelously campy Joanna. Their chemistry is the only reason why anyone could accept Dean’s twisted crimes as anything resembling normal human behavior. “He could kidnap me any day,” I imagine every baby boomer lady saying in ’87. If Steve Buscemi played Dean, I think it might’ve gone differently (e.g. “Kill him, Goldie! Stab him in the face! KILL HIM!”).

What I Learned From “Instinct”

I had so much fun telling you what I learned from The Edge that I’ve picked another post-Silence of the Lambs Anthony Hopkins thriller to glean morals from. Instinct is a movie that – get this – pits a plucky young professional against a brilliant, violent man. Released in 1999, this was Sir Anthony’s fifth “I have bills to pay” movie in a row (after Meet Joe Black, The Mask of Zorro, Amistad and The Edge). He plays Ethan Powell, a genius psychologist who lives off the grid with a pack of gorillas for two years and is arrested for murder in Rwanda. Powell seems to act more like ape than man, never speaking and lashing out violently. Until the ambitious psychologist Theo Caulder (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) makes it his mission to bring Powell out of his monkey trance, and the movie really starts to blow.

Lesson One: Psychology is super easy.

The first 20 minutes of Instinct frames Hopkins as a live wire, somebody lost to civilization for so long that seasoned psychological minds think he’s a lost cause. The Rwandan government wanted to hang him. When his daughter came to visit him, he didn’t even look at her. He beat the shit out of some people at the airport. Then Gooding, Jr. shows up to counsel Hopkins in prison, and he pretty much gets him talking right away. Take note, armchair shrinks: When there’s a psychopathic ape man in front of you, just look wide-eyed and frightened, and ask him questions about his family. He’ll perk right up.

Lesson Two: Prison guards are horrible, horrible people.

The U.S. prison that Hopkins is transferred to is called Harmony Bay, which is of course underfunded, falling apart and staffed by assholes. One of Instinct’s major story lines is a game that the guards play with the prisoners, giving each one a card from a deck, and only allowing the prisoner who gets the ace of diamonds to receive a half-hour of outdoor time, something all of them are technically entitled to. What the prison has to gain by this stupid and cruel system is never explained, but it does set things up for a painfully melodramatic sequence that sees Gooding, Jr. bucking the establishment by putting the prisoners’ names in a box, and then selecting one at random. You know, like a hero would do.

Lesson 3: Prisoners are wonderful, wonderful people.

You can’t establish the fact that prison employees are evil without prisoners that one can sympathize with. Hence, even though we hear plenty about how Harmony Bay is overflowing with dangerously psychotic criminals, we don’t hear much at all about what they did to get locked up in such a terrible place. Which gives director John Turtletaub the freedom to paint them as a rag-tag bunch of eccentrics just waiting to be psychologically rescued (think One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, except with serial killers). Oh yeah, and we eventually learn that Hopkins didn’t really kill anybody – his gorilla pals were shot by Rwandan soldiers, but he called himself a killer because he felt guilty about it. You know why it’s so hard to find a sensitive man that you want to spend the rest of your life with? Because they’re all serving life sentences.

Lesson 4: Living with animals gives you super strength.

Because Instinct is actually a cloudy glop of environmentalist dogma instead of a movie that asks interesting questions about our own primality, the filmmakers couldn’t be subtle with the very few Hopkins-as-crazy-ape-man scenes. So when he kicks people’s asses in airports and prisons, he doesn’t just beat them – he physically overpowers them with the ease of a superhero. How could gorillas give this ability to a senior citizen in chains? It doesn’t matter, because the movie isn’t really about that kind of thing anyway.

Lesson 5: Ponytails signify recovery.

I don’t want to let Turtletaub off the hook, but Gooding, Jr.’s wet noodle of a performance makes me want to give the director some slack. The actor portrays Caulder as a whimpering snob, a person not cut out to counsel the mentally disturbed. So Turtletaub has to resort to things like wig manipulation to make us believe that Caulder is indeed helping Powell get better – after, like, four sessions, Powell begins to pull back his matted nest of psycho hair into a slick ponytail. Which means that he’s recovering his sanity, because it takes a civilized man to wear the scrunchie of self-discovery.

What I Learned From The Edge

Welcome, tens of Sweensryche readers! Today sees the unveiling of a new feature – “What I Learned From …” – in which we explore the lessons that Hollywood movies cram into our eye sockets, so that they can slowly worm their way into our brains and eventually alter our behavior. Today, we focus on the 1997 thriller The Edge, in which Anthony Hopkins, Alec Baldwin and an African-American are stranded in the bear-infested wilds of Alaska. Guess who gets eaten?

Lesson 1: Obscenely rich people have better survival instincts.

Hopkins plays Charles Morse, who is a billionaire from doing something or other. Morse can build a compass out of a paper clip and a leaf, treat the grievous injuries of his companions, and kill a bear in one-on-one combat, all while exuding a Dalai Lama-level sense of calm. Baldwin plays the fashion photographer Robert Green, a character you would imagine does well for himself. But he’s not as rich as Morse, which logically means he’s also weaker, dumber and on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Lesson 2: Obscenely rich people are Christ-like. 

Within the first five minutes of The Edge, it’s clear that Robert is having an affair with Charles’ model wife, Mickey Morse (!). They attempt to give him a heart attack with a bear suit birthday prank, after which Mickey gives Charles a watch with a lazily phrased engraving, and Robert gives him a knife. Not to mention all their “stolen” looks at each other. Anyways, the viewer isn’t supposed to be sure about all of this, because at the film’s dramatic peak, Robert admits to the affair, and shares that he was plotting to kill Charles all along. (Greed clouds the minds of poorer people, making them ill-suited for survival in the wild. See Lesson 1.) After being outwitted, Robert is impaled at the bottom of a bear trap. What does Charles do? He tries to save him. Before Robert dies, he sees the error of his ways, and confesses to the Hopkins Christ. We assume he goes to heaven.

Lesson 3: Bears are sociopaths.

Every time a bear appears in The Edge, it is ready to maul the shit out of every human being in its path. And it’s not just because they’re hungry: When Charles is teetering on a log that’s spanning some whitewater rapids, a bear comes up and shakes it until Charles falls. Fucker just wanted to see him die.

Lesson 4: Fashion photographers love stoic Native Americans.

How did these guys get themselves into this ursine kerfuffle, you say? Well, it’s because they were in Alaska for Robert’s photo shoot of Mickey (played with glassy-eyed irrelevance by Elle MacPherson), and Robert got sick and tired of the same old model stuff. After seeing a framed photo of a weathered Native American dude on the wall of their lodge, Robert decides they need to go out and find him instead. Because what do fashion magazines love more than the quiet pain of indigenous people?

Lesson 5: If you’re cheating on your husband, and you’re getting him an engraved watch for his birthday, do not also get one for your lover as part of the same order. Then, do not leave the receipt inside the box that holds your spouse’s watch.