The Iceman Loveth! (2013)

Posted by Charles Reece, May 12, 2013 10:33am | Post a Comment
iceman poster

I didn't know much about Richard Kuklinski before seeing Ariel Vromen's The Iceman (named after the former's sobriquet as a contract killer for the mob). It's a solid enough movie: an interesting story competently executed though solid performances and an unintrusive camera. It's watchable, probably more so than most of what's currently out there, but what bugged came up after the film during a Q&A with the director. Someone asked him why he left out the spousal abuse. As an example, I found this interview with Kuklinski's family from a 2006 episode of Larry King Live where guest host John Roberts asks Kuklinski's wife of 25 years, Barbara, about that very topic:

JR: Barbara, you have said of Richard "There were two Richards. I never knew who would be walking in the door. He could be generous to a fault or the meanest man on earth." Tell us more about that.

BK: That's true. He was kind, considerate. You know he would have done anything for all of us, very generous gifts and flowers and the best dinners and nice wine. But when whatever twisted him, whatever happened, it didn't matter how good those times were because the bad was so bad then.

JR: And he abused you physically?

BK: He certainly did.

JR: What did he do?

BK: Stabbed me, broke my nose, lost consciousness many times, strangled me, would wake up, you know, at two o'clock in the morning with a pillow over my face and he would tell me that he decided that was the day I die.

Some pretty intense shit, right?, which says a lot about who this guy was and what it was like to live under his domination. Vromen's answer to why he left all of this out was that it would make half the audience walk out -- that is, inhibit our ability to identify with Kuklinksi. But the man was a casebook example of the sociopath, a person who can't identify, or can't empathize, with the feelings of another. So understanding through identification is a pretty stupid reason for making this film. How Vromen creates identification is by manufacturing a pressure-cooker setup for Kuklinski's behavior. When his mob boss (Ray Liotta) suspends him, Kuklinksi becomes increasingly agitated at home, blowing up at his wife, though never striking her. He soon apologizes, saying that she and their daughters (their son was left out of the film) are all that's important to him. It's okay in this fantasy land to slaughter a hundred men, but punching your wife in the nose or traumatizing your children is just going too far, despite his family's being around to tell the tale. Furthermore, by using the pressure cooking theory and mostly just showing the "generous side" of Kuklinski at home, the slaughter of all those men becomes perversely justified in the film as a quid pro quo for his distaff half. He kills for his love and the protection of his wife and daughters. You'd have to go back to the classic days of Hollywood crime flicks to see this level of mythologizing towards murderous psychopathic gangsters (or at least to Penn's Bonnie & Clyde). Ironically, it makes Kuklinksi's family accomplices to his crimes, rather than victims. His wife didn't care what he did as long as he brought home the bacon and made her feel like a princess. But as a fantasy, it's entertaining enough, I guess.

The Late, Great Jeff Hanneman

Posted by Charles Reece, May 3, 2013 05:16am | Post a Comment

Here's Slayer back in 1989 playing one of my favorite compositions from Jeff Hanneman and
Tom Araya, "South of Heaven." Hanneman died yesterday because of a spider bite.

Snowball's Chance in Hell: Django Unchained (2012)

Posted by Charles Reece, April 28, 2013 09:59am | Post a Comment
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Along with Inglourious BasterdsDjango Unchained forms something of a diptych for Tarantino insofar as both are revenge fantasies set in two of history’s greatest atrocities: the Holocaust and American chattel slavery. In the interview he gave at the screening I saw last week, he certainly thinks of them that way. But before either film could begin to be written, one crucial difference in their respective historical situations delimited the possibilities of fantasy: one can fantasize about the end of the Holocaust by killing the highest members of the Nazi party, whereas there is no easily imagined personalized end to slavery through a few targeted acts of vengeance. Thus, the use of explosives against the Nazis seems a tactical act, a logical means of warfare. The use of bombs against slavery would border on what we call terrorism these days, or “irrationally” violent outbursts against a society (targeting civilians who can’t do anything to change the way things are, or think of the portrayal of the Watts riots, for example: why did they destroy property?). Slavery was a deeply structural violence, an ontological domination of a people that didn’t obtain in the instance of the Holocaust. Any heroic narrative set in the slave-built Southern economy is going to have a major hurdle to overcome: there is no real end in sight, the villain remains like the renewable heads of a hydra, nor is there a place to go where the hero’s limited victory will be recognized, much less celebrated (excepting the audience who might applaud at the film’s end). As Frantz Fanon famously wrote in Black Skin, White Masks:

The Jewishness of the Jew, however, can go unnoticed. He is not integrally what he is. We can but hope and wait. His acts and behavior are the determining factor. He is a white man, and apart from some debatable features, he can pass undetected. [...] Of course the Jews have been tormented — what am I saying? They have been hunted, exterminated, and cremated, but these are just minor episodes in the family history. The Jew is not liked as soon as he has been detected. But with me things take on a new face. I’m not given a second chance. I am overdetermined from the outside. I am a slave not to the “idea” others have of me, but to my appearance.

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The Late, Great Roger Ebert

Posted by Charles Reece, April 5, 2013 10:21am | Post a Comment

On writing Beyond the Valley of the Dolls

Roger Ebert died yesterday. I can't say that the thumbs up or down reviewing that made his name a household quantity had a particularly good influence on criticism, but his longer essays and interviews are quite good (cf., Awake in the Dark: The Best of Roger Ebert). Anyway, I grew up with him, starting with his and Siskel's PBS show, and have continued to follow him online, so pop culture won't feel quite the same without his presence.

My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys ...

Posted by Charles Reece, March 31, 2013 09:51am | Post a Comment
willie nelson equality gay marriage
Willie on gay marriage.
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