Usually, the big movie of the weekend gets the most copy.
Not the case this weekend. Instead, I'm giving the bulk of my attention to Barking Water.
Barking Water is the second film from Tulsa's own Sterlin Harjo. His first film, Four Sheets to the Wind, I enjoyed quite a bit, so I was pretty excited when the Circle sent me the screener. It begins on Friday and plays throughout the week.
It's the Journey...
As it turns out, Barking Water is a road trip movie and really not anything like its predecessor, which is fine, really. A director shouldn't make the same movie over and over again.
I know road trip movies are a piece of pure Americana. No other country in the world has our car-centered culture or our particular scenic landscapes.
I just don't like them. I can count on one hand the road trip movies I think are any good. Actually, that's a lie. I can't remember any of them off the top of my head, and I don't really want to sit here for half an hour rooting around on IMDb.com looking for them.
By their nature, they amble along and are generally composed of random vignettes that may or may not give the film some narrative direction, or at least more than, "we're headed here and have just two days to get there," or one of the other typical beginnings.
Then again, the nature of the road trip movie is that it's actually about the characters, not the story. What's the cliché? Life's a journey, not a destination? I'm willing to admit my dislike of the genre is based on some sort of subconscious need for a more structured narrative instead of upon a character achieving whatever level of growth. I would imagine I'm not alone.
My dislike of the road trip movie, in this case, is directly at odds with my philosophy that no film made by an Oklahoma filmmaker (other than Ron Howard) should be given the full weight of my criticism. I go soft on homegrown movies.
Why? Well, stuff made here at home typically doesn't have the budget of a blockbuster, nor do the principals involved draw down one of those magical Hollywood paychecks.
Homegrown movies are made by up-and-coming filmmakers with passion and a dream.
Who the hell am I to criticize that? Criticism is easy. Creating something is hard and frightening.
Let me put it another way. In most of my reviews, I feel I'm defending you from the Hollywood movie-making scheme to rob you of your declining valued dollar. In the case of an Oklahoma film, I'm defending the work and the filmmakers. Support your local artists or soon there won't be any to support.
Lowering the Boom
From the sound of that, you'd think I'm getting ready to hammer on Barking Water. Or that I want to and am instead pulling my punches. Not the case.
Sure, I think there are things that could've been done better. That's arguably the case with any movie. But so what? I'm a guy who writes about movies, not one who makes them.
First thing you ought to know is that Barking Water is a somber film. It's not here to make you laugh, though you will at times perhaps do that, or at least smile.
Frankie (Richard Ray Whitman) is dying, and trapped in the hospital to wither away alone. It's not the way anyone would want to go. So instead of lying there and taking it, he asks his Irene (Casey Camp-Horinek) to spring him and take him home.
So with the help of an orderly, Irene steals Frankie from the hospital, loads him into her beat-up blue Volvo station wagon (sorry, SUV) and they hit the road.
Irene and Frankie aren't a couple, though they used to be. Lots of times. Frankie seems to be a restless soul, unable to stick to anything for very long, Irene the type to keep giving a guy like Frankie more chances.
The last time Frankie left her, however, was the last time. It would seem he threatened to kill her, or perhaps hit her, and that in return, she sicked her brothers on him, though the story surrounding the events differs by teller.
Either way, there's enough history between them that when Frankie turns to her for help, she gives it, knowing full well he may die before they reach their destination.
As it's a road trip movie, they make many stops along the way, each one offering a bit of insight into Frankie and Irene.
I'm going to get my negative stuff out of the way first so we can end on a high note.
What didn't work? Well, I know Harjo let the actors not necessarily improvise their dialogue, but say it in their own words, and at times, it doesn't ring true. Dialogue should be one of those things you don't notice. It should just be right. Or if you are noticing it, it should be a movie directed by David Mamet. Dialogue that doesn't work breaks the suspension of disbelief.
The other things I had trouble with came out of the "road film" structure. I'm not sure all of the vignettes furthered the ... relationship between Irene and Frankie. A couple might've been superfluous, just there to be there, if you follow me. The other thing was... Dude, how long does it take to drive across the state of Oklahoma? I wasn't counting nights, but it seemed like it took them four days. This kept pulling me out of the story. Again, I'm willing to chalk some of that up to my general dislike of the road trip flick.
I saw a couple editing gaffes (same footage of the Volvo going under the same railroad bridge twice, etc.), but that stuff is nitpicking.
So what works? Well, Frankie and Irene. Whitman and Camp-Horinek fill the characters with authenticity. You believe in the connection between them. Good thing, too, because without that the film doesn't work at all. Stand out work from them, but they both seem to be veteran performers, so that's probably to be expected.
I also liked the use of music, the cinematography and the overall use of rural Oklahoma as a silent character. It was very hard not to watch the film and look for places I've actually seen in real life (counted at least two).
The real attraction of the movie was the infusion of Oklahoman Indian culture. I think it's very easy to live in this state and know the history and yet still feel very disconnected from our Native American heritage. For me at least, it almost felt as though Frankie and Irene are from a whole different country with an entirely different culture. Barking Water is infused with this and it's striking.
All in all, good stuff. Get to the Circle and see it this week. Support your local filmmakers.
What About Ron?
Technically, that could apply to Ron Howard, too. He is from Oklahoma, after all. A Duncan boy, I believe. But he's been assimilated into the machine, so I don't cut his movies as much slack. Don't get me wrong. I loved his last one (Frost/Nixon), but Angels and Demons is more typical of his work: solid, but unspectacular.
I'll try to keep this brief.
The Pope is dead.
At the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland, Vittoria Vetra and her fellow physicists successfully create and store antimatter, or what they're calling the "god" particle. However just as she's rushing back to the lab to see what she's collected, she finds her co-researcher, a Catholic priest, dead, his eye removed, and one of the samples of antimatter missing.
Professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) isn't a favorite of the Catholic Church after the events depicted in The DaVinci Code. Nevertheless, when the church receives a message from the antimatter thief, an ambigram, they give Langdon a call. He's a symbologist, after all.
Langdon travels to the Vatican where it's revealed to him that there are four kidnapped Cardinals and the group claiming responsibility for the theft and the kidnappings is the Illuminati, the ancient secret sect of men devoted to opposing the Church through science. The four men were the four favored candidates to be the next Pope.
Meanwhile, the kidnapper has revealed he will kill one Cardinal an hour until midnight, at which point he will destroy Vatican city with the stolen antimatter. At the same time, the Cardinals go forward with the Conclave to select the next Pope, confident in the protection of God.
Or at least the skills of Langdon and the Vatican police to find the Illuminati before it can carry out its nefarious agenda...
So that's it, really. I read the book years ago and remember it being pretty interesting, if not particularly well written. The author was more concerned with feeding you his Illuminati research than anything else. Same with The Da Vinci Code, really.
The movie is a sort of history-neutered version of the book. It focuses on the broad strokes about the Illuminati and gets on with the unraveling of the mystery, complete with chases and plenty of action.
There's nothing to dislike about Angels and Demons, really. It's not great by any means, but there's nothing wrong enough with it to work up any sort of outrage about. Solid summer matinee/popcorn flick. Go see it or don't. It won't change your life in any way. Hey, at least you won't feel like you were cheated out of your ticket money. And you can't beat movie theater popcorn.
See you next week with the annual summer movie preview.
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