by Lucius Shepard
September 9, 2007
This is Franklyn, your ex, down here in Mule Spit, Alabama. How you? Im doing just fine myself, which I know youll be surprised to hear. After we split up, my life underwent a change. One evening I was drinking beer in the back row of the Rialto movie house over to Mulletsburg (I know you remember that back row!), and, being moved to relieve myself, I went into the john, where I slipped on the wet tiles and conked my head on the sink. When I awoke, the lights was out and I was alone. I went back into the theater to find the rest of my six-pack. It was dark in there, too, and I was groping around on the floor, when of a sudden, a glorious music burst from the speakers and the screen blazed white and the figure of Jesus appeared thereon, though this wasnt Nazareth Jesus, or Baby Jesus, this was Corporate Jesus. He was wearing a gray suit (made by some fellow named Armani, He told me) and smoking a cigar and sitting with His legs crossed in a funny-looking easy chair (ergonomic, He said). He blew a smoke ring and dont you know that smoke ring come right outta the screen and floated all the way to the back row, where it settled around my neck light as a feather boa.
You Frank? He says, and I says, Sure am, Lord.
He asks would I care to accept him as my personal savior, and then goes on to say Hes offering me a sweet option deal with three percent on the back end, an hefty exercise price, and a jobshould I qualifythat would guarantee my salvation.
You know me, Georgette. I never been much for religion, but the way He put it was so serene and businesslike and all, it sort of made sense and I signed right on. Wellsir, to cut a long story to the bone, things have gone about good as you could expect since that night. In His infinite wisdom, the Lord has put me in charge of sixteen multiplexes here in Western Alabama, which make up a significant portion of the southeastern division of His theatrical franchise. He says I got quite a future . . . though I can just hear you saying, Of course Hed say that! Hes a man! All yall lie for each other!
Now I realize you could always see right through me, and I reckon you know that by writing this letter, I aint just looking to chat you up, so before you go yelling about restraining orders and stuff like that, I want to give you a peek into my new life. Take this past week. We opened that new Ron Howard picture, Cinderella Man, starring Russell Crowe and Renée Zellweger, who won an Oscar for that picture about the Civil War you liked so much. I cant really say I appreciated her in this one. Seems all she does lately is put on that kewpie-doll pout and squinch up her face til it reminds me of how you looked when I threw up on yer wedding dress. Still, I got to admit shes bout cute as a bug, and Russell Crowe . . . Lemme tell you, that man is a genuine movie star, and he can sure enough act. If youre asking me, though, the real star of the movie is Ron Howard hisself. People are saying that Opie made him a movie thats made the way movies used to be made, like thats some kind of rare dealbut it strikes me that theres been a whole bunch of movies made that way lately. Take Seabiscuit, for example. It had basically the same plot, an underdog coming out of nowhere and grabbing the prize, giving America something they could believe in, and pretty near the same one-dimensional characters, and the same angelic choir that gets to hollering every time something emotional happens. It started me thinking that anytime times is bad, we get a slew of them pictures designed to make us feel good about America. Its like that summer I worked up in Detroit. Whenever the weather got hot and people started feeling edgy, thats when the good drugs hit the streets. Whatever, thats the type of picture ol Opies made and he done a darn fine job.
Russell Crowe plays this boxer, James Braddock, who was a real person, though I spect he was somewhat realer than how Opie paints him. Hed lost a mess of fights, but he went back into the ring so as to buy milk for his three kiddies, whowhat with Renée Zellweger being their mamaare just about the cutest kids this side of Neverland. About all they have to do is be cute, actually, cept one of em steals a sausage and gives Braddock a chance to demonstrate what an All-American honorable true-blue guy he was. See, this was back during the Depression and things were tough all over, though the way Opie portrays it, it sure looked like a wonderful time to be alive, cause all the poor people had such high ideals and was so honest and the light was extra-beautiful back then, apparently, so everything, even the garbage cans and the throwed-away furniture looked all varnished up and drenched in sepia tones. So after Opie gives us a taste of the awful, albeit exquisitely tinted life the Braddocks are enduring, our hero is set up to fight this fellow named Corn Griffin by his manager, Joe Gould, whos played by Paul Giamatti. People are saying hes gonna snag an Oscar for the role, but to tell you the truth, if he does, its one of them make-up deals, you know, since all the critics havent quit bellyaching about how he was snubbed by the Academy for his role in Sideways, which strikes me as weird, since all Sideways was, was an R-rated sitcom with the usual stupid men and long-suffering women (I know, I know! Youre going to say it dont sound like no sitcom to you, it sounds like matrimony). Anyway, Joe Gould isnt that much of a parthes got these colorful lines that reflect the way screenwriters think guys talked like back in the 30s, which doesnt seem much of a challenge to put over.
So this ol boy Corn Griffin, hes supposed to be toughern corn beef hash and on his way to a title, but our Jimmy whips him something fierce and gets the title shot against Max Baer, who according to Opie was a mean sumbitch who flat-out loved killing people in the ring . . . though according to boxing historians he was a fun-loving guy and not mean at all. They hired Angelo Dundee, the trainer of Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard, to handle the fight scenes, so I guess they look real, but the rest of the details . . . well, like the sports editor of the Mulletsburg Sentinel-Dispatch, Beaufort Soames, wrote in his column, he didnt see how Braddock was all that much of a hero, cause this was a man who would only defend the title against Joe Louis if Louis guaranteed him ten percent of all his title defenses (he made twenty-five). America hadnt gotten over the reign of the first black man to hold the heavyweight championshipthatd be Jack Johnsonwho consorted with white women and was otherwise controversial, and Louis was afraid hed get frozen out, so he was forced to comply with Braddocks terms, which makes our hero an exploiter of blacks and not so much a hero as a man of his times. But hell, Cinderella Mans not about reality, its a Republican fairy tale and folks are purely eating it up, coming back for second and third helpings of Feel-Good, so I aint complaining. Hell, when Braddock KOs Baer in the climactic scene and the whole of America finds something to believe in, I felt like leaping to my feet and belting out a chorus of Dixie or Born in the USA or something, I was so moved . . . but for no reason, yknow. It was kind of like a lab monkey getting juiced by a pushed button.
I love the summer movie season down here in Mule Spit. The kudzus crawling everywhere, the karaoke is flowing, kids are lining up for fried pies at the We Tote Em, and everybodys going to the movies. I stand out front of the Bear Bryant Multiplex of an evening, and I swear I can hear my bank account growing. Summer movies, Georgette, are Americas favorite flavor, bland and loud. They say theyre aimed at young folks between the ages of twelve and twenty-four, but Id say their aim is a tad high. Dont matter, though. Pears like everybody in the tri-cities area (Mule Spit, Mulletsburg, and Sorghum Creek) falls into that demographic one way or the other.
We had a sneak preview of Batman Begins here in Mule Spit the other night and people was all over it like flies on yesterdays potato salad. There was little fellas clutching their favorite bat gadget, and fat old bubbas whore usually drinking out of a brown paper bag down at the Sunoco and giggly young white girls and giggly young black girls and the boys dogging them. . . . There was men of God, minions of the devil, and a couple of preachers. Hell, it was like Noahs Ark in that theater, two of everything, and afterward they was all talking about how cool Christian Bales batsuit was, and, man, wasnt Michael Caine the coolest Alfred ever, and like that. I aint going to say I hated it. I mean its bettern those Buttcheeks and Robin movies that Joel Schumacher made and (bless his soul!) killed the franchise with by ODing America on Val Kilmers vinyl-clad tush. Maybe its even better than Tim Burtons version. Its just that after sixteen years of crummy movies, far as Im concerned, the Caped Freaking Crusader can trash Gotham City or sell timeshares on the Redneck Riviera or go hang upside-down from an elephants ass for all I care.
I caught an interview with Christopher Nolan, and he said he wanted to make a Batman movie for our times. Well, leaving aside thats the kind of blah blah directors are inclined to poot when theyre humping a movie, according to Chris, our times must be rife with bad dialogue, cause Batman Begins contains some of the most godawful clunkers you ever heard. It starts early on when Bruce Wayne, whos wandering the world because hes been traumatized by his parents murder and wants to learn about fighting crime (?), winds up in an Asian prison and gets rescued by this fella named Ducard (Liam Neeson wearing a pointy little beard). This Ducard (rhymes with cue card) is a member of the League of Shadows, sort of a good-guy ninja version of the KKK, who takes Bruce someplace in the Himalayas or somewheres to train his mind and body, and says things such as, To conquer fear, you must become fear, sounding like Dr. Phil done crossed over to the Dark Side. I swear, Georgette, people thought it was hilarious. I kept wanting him to say, Be the ball! But you got the idea it wasnt meant to be funny, so folks was sorta tittering instead of busting a gut the way they wanted. And by the way, fore I forget, what with superninjas and an outfit called the League of Shadows led by somebody named Ras Ghul . . . A Batman for our times? Sounds like ol Chris Nolans got our times confused with the 1930s. But it dont matter. Way I see it, the perfect Batman for our times would be no Batman at all.
Anyhoo, Bruce falls out with the League cause he wont become evil to conquer evil (or maybe since hes become fear, that makes it hard to become evil, too), so he goes back to Gotham City, which resembles some 1930 guys vision of the future, where he hooks up with Katie Holmes, who plays his old childhood friend and a DA . . . I cant recall her characters name, but it aint real important, because her role is to be the babe and not much else. With the power of Wayne Industries behind him, Bruce makes one heck of a crimefighter. Hes got Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) providing him with super keen batweapons, and he starts in using em against Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson) and his crime organization, and pretty soon he realizes that the actual evil force behind all the badness in Gotham is a psychiatrist named Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy), whos backed by the League of Shadows. Long about then I latched onto the idea that maybe Chris Nolan was gonna give us a Batman movie for our time. See, Bale plays the Batman as such a grim little psycho (in his costume, he looks a bit like a young George Bush), I got to thinking whats a psycho hate worse than anything (aside from his mama, of course)? His psychiatrist! So I figgered maybe Batmans delusional and hes taking down these folks hes decided are bad guys, but whore actually solid citizens.
Nah. Not gonna happen.
After the set-up, its the usual bat experience, a dumbed-down action picture with lots of exploding stuff and Bale going batshit and beating up the bad guys. I cant understand what Chris Nolans up to, cept cashing in on the one decent movie he made. If he really meant to give us a contemporary Batman, whyd he have to make his movie so sententious (thats my Miriam-Webster Word for Today, Georgette. Im trying to improve myself)? And whys he lay on the atmosphere til its thick as a giant beer fart? Probably because there aint nothing underneath. Comic books, to paraphrase Rick Derringer, aint supposed to wreck your soul, they just got to rock and roll, and its like Nolan and company thought they was doing Dostoevsky. Or maybe hes trying to conquer Hollywood by becoming Hollywood. By taking himself too seriously. I hate to tell you, Chris, that usually dont work out, and chances are youre gonna end up just another rich hack with erectile dysfunction and a trophy wife. I can already see you talking out your butt about the sequel, in which Bale has an enormous worm surgically removed from his medulla oblongata.
Grim and Grimmer.
Well, I gotta get on the horn and order me some urinal cakes, so Ill end by saying, I miss you, Georgette. Whynt you come on down to Mule Spit for the Fourth. Ill buy you a Grapette and a fried pie, introduce you to CJ, and well take in War of the Worlds together. Tom Cruise, Steven Spielberg, and yours truly. Hey, it dont get much bettern that.