One for Friday: XTC, “Your Dictionary”

By the late-nineteen-nineties, my connection to new music was in dire shape. It had only been five years since I’d last had the opportunity to log some regular hours on a college radio station, but my instincts for sniffing out the top newcomers had atrophied thanks to some time toiling for a commercial alternative station, where only bands that had a sound within echoing distance of Pearl Jam need apply. I did what I could with the resources at hand — including the increasingly fruitful but not yet fully helpful land of web-based music coverage — but I was finding myself more and more detached from what was going on. (At the end of the month, I will officially acquire the new Sleater-Kinney box set as penance for stupidly missing out on most of those albums the first time around.) In that context, getting a new album from a longtime favorite artist still crafting fine music was like a beam of light from the heavens. And few albums felt more like the clouds shifted to deliver it than XTC’s Apple Venus Volume 1.

The ingenious English pop band were a staple of my college radio days, releasing albums at an admirably prolific pace throughout the eighties and still managing minor masterpieces at a reasonable clip into the early nineties. Then the already fractious relationship with their label, Virgin Records, broke down entirely over the last minute refusal to issue “Wrapped in Grey” as the third single off of Nonsuch (a handful of copies did make it out, and you can own one for a few hundred bucks). The band effectively went on strike, refusing to create or release any more new music. The label held fast, refusing to negotiate the contract. Just like that, there was a gap of seven years between XTC albums, a long enough span that band member Dave Gregory, lost interest entirely, leaving midway through the recording process of the eventual release. It was also a stretch that saw a significant enough change in the alternative music scene — notably the flaring of grunge and the scorched earth it left behind — that XTC had a difficult time finding a suitable place to exist upon their return. They went from a group to be reckoned with to a cult favorite to those with long memories. Such is the curse of primary airplay happening on stations where, by definition, the staff turns over almost entirely every four years.

That hint of indifference in the marketplace of music fandom was especially disheartening because Apple Venus was very, very good, maybe not on a par with the dizzying peaks of the band, but certainly an expression of creators who understood the potential elegance of modern songcraft like few others. The smart (and smart aleck) playfulness of “Your Dictionary,” my favorite track on the album, proves that decisively. Turns out Apple Venus would land as a final statement for the band, including the following year’s Wasp Star: Apple Venus Volume 2, which was essentially the other half of a double album that they decided to split in two. Except for the occasional stray track, there would be no more new music released under the XTC name, with chief songwriter and lead singer Andy Partridge instead raiding his own archives for Fuzzy Warbles releases and generally trying to correct the record. There’s no evident movement towards any sort of XTC reunion, and that’s fine by me. What’s already out there is more than enough to treasure.

Listen or download –> XTC, “Your Dictionary”

(Disclaimer: It appears to me that Apple Venus Volume 1 is currently out of print, and indeed far enough out of print that used copies go for a pretty penny. Similarly, there seems to be no real urgency on the part of Partridge or anyone else to sort through whatever licensing, copyright, and ownership issues may be in place to facilitate a return to record bins anytime soon. Therefore, this track is shared here in this space with the understanding and belief that it is not available for purchase as a physical object in a manner that would duly compensate both the artist and the proprietor of your favorite local, independently-owned record store. Still, I will gladly remove the track is asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)

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Top Fifty Films of the 50s — Number Ten

#10 — The Bridge on the River Kwai (David Lean, 1957)
David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai is one of the films that I remember as being a fairly constant presence when I was much younger, always helping a cable superstation fill up a lazy Sunday afternoon of programming. Start with a film that runs just under two-and-three-quarters hours, add commercials, and don’t worry about cueing up the next program until most households have switched over to 60 Minutes anyway. Of course, that also means that for years and years I watched it incorrectly, including one memorable occasion when I used it nurse myself through a particularly bad bout with the flu in my college dorm room, piled under heavy blankets as I stared at it on a dinky black and white television. When I eventually saw it in its proper widescreen glory, it was a revelation. There were few who used every bit of that extended rectangle with as much startling aplomb as Lean, constructing images that were rapturous in their beauty without compromising the central task of carrying the narrative. Though I would never advocate a viewing of The Bridge on the River Kwai that devastated the aspect ratio the way my old square television screens did, the nature of my first exposures established a truth for me: the film works wonderfully, no matter what.

With Lean, the temptation is to laud the visuals at the expense of equal praise for other elements of whatever film is being discussed. Sometimes, I will admit, that makes all the sense in the world. In this instance, however, it shortchanged the abundance of ideas and astute character work that flows with the narrative. Set during World War II, the film largely takes place within a Japanese prison camp. Among the confined is Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness), who arrives with his whole platoon. When ordered by their jailer, Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa), to begin work on a bridge considered vital to the Japanese war effort, Nicholson protests, citing a portion of the Geneva Conventions prohibiting officers from manual labor when held captive. Thus begins a brutal standoff between the two men, with neither wanting to yield from their own positions. And, as might be expected, that is really just the beginning, the film managing to develop an abundantly brimming storyline that also includes a parallel plot centered on a U.S. Navy commander (William Holden) on his own mission to destroy the structure traversing the Kwai. Lean’s approach is measured, wise, and defined by a deftly expressed emotional core.

Much of the film’s lean intensity comes at the culture clash inherent in the story. The Japanese commandant operates with a repressed anxiety that adds greater tension to the tasks at hand, the British officer is committed to protocol and honor, and the fella from the States is just trying to get his job done with as much room for leisure as possible. (In the case of that last one, it may be most attributable to the presence of Holden, a very good actor who still often signaled that he was thinking more about the scotch he was going to have later than anything happening in the scene.) These kernels of motivation drive everything that follows, particularly the turnaround experienced by Nicholson, who goes from adamant aversion to the bridge project to a commitment to quality, insuring that British soldiers not contribute to anything in a subpar manner, even in service of the enemy. Nothing in the film is a contrivance. Instead, every bit of The Bridge on the River Kwai is scored with finely-developed intellectual integrity. Lean was a master of the cinematic image, but his talent didn’t stop there. He knew how to tell a story, too.

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New Releases Shelf: Rips

I was an early, vocal, and fiercely committed disciple of Wild Flag. For many, it seemed to take a little while for the band and the album to really take root, presumably because band member Carrie Brownstein’s growing prominence outside of the rock ‘n’ roll realm created an impression that Wild Flag was a side project and therefore not worth much attention. A lot of the initial reviews smacked of disinterest, though there was a slight uptick when it came time to tally up year-end lists, as the reverberating pleasures of the tuneful, driving music proved enduring. Surely there would have been an entirely different brand of attention to greet the band’s sophomore release, an artifact that will probably never be pressed into existence. With Brownstein indeed looking less and less likely to ever return to music as a day job, it’s up to others to carry the Wild Flag torch further, with Mary Timony the most likely contender.

In some ways, though, Timony requires a bit of an artistic transformation to fulfill the task, given that much of her prior work, either with Helium or as a solo artist, was more tender, preferring elegant pop deconstructions to high-volume authority. Timony’s new band, Ex Hex (a name she has employed previously), is out with their debut, Rips, and while it scratches my significant Wild Flag itch, there are some dynamics and shadings to it that make it clear it’s an expression of a different sensibility, one shaped by the whole history the bandleader brings into it. Working with drummer Laura Harris and bassist Betsy Wright, Timony delivers a record of garage rock goodness influenced by the bubblegum snap of power pop. It makes for an exuberant, delirious listen. So, yeah, it’s a lot like Wild Flag.

The album thunders to life to “Don’t Wanna Lose,” some mild psychedelic sonics shimmering under the lyrics “I thought you were a man of action/ Come on, baby, come on, give me a little reaction.” Quickly, the prevailing sound of the album locks into place, and Ex Hex is on its way to juicy rock glory. “How You Got That Girl” combines a sharp retro sheen with enough confident swagger to suggest Blondie and the Runaways collaborating during their shared late-seventies heyday. That endearing tilt towards sounds past — maybe evoking a time when rock ‘n’ roll still ruled — means the album even has a place for a song called “Radio On,” celebrating a time when freedom could be found by tuning the dial wisely. The songs aren’t uniformly great (single “Hot and Cold” is a track that idles when it should roar, for example), but overall the record provides a pile-up of good time, guitar-blast winners, the kinds of things that become locked in the brain and soul with equal stubbornness.

There’s also a nice directness to the lyrics that suits the plainspoken muscle of the music. When “Waste Your Time” sums up a romantic conflict with “I don’t wanna hang out with anyone else/ So why you wanna hide behind yourself,” it sounds a concern that could have been voiced in similar songs a few dozen years ago. That could make it sound stale, I suppose. Instead, it strikes me as timeless, tapping into the appeal of a guitar, bass, and drums played together with authority. That’s further ratified by the pleasures of “Everywhere,” which includes a nifty cascading guitar flourish, and single “Waterfall,” the sort of song that the Go-Go’s might have come up with if they had a little more punk in their veins. On the strident putdown “War Paint,” Timony sings “So put your war paint on/ And dance alone in the crowd/ And so you will discover/ The music was just too loud.” With Rips, I can assert that “too loud” isn’t a phrase that I’ve had cause to employ.

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Top 40 Smash Taps: “Friends” and “Married Men”

These posts are about the songs that can accurately claim to crossed the key line of chart success, becoming Top 40 hits on Billboard, but just barely. Every song featured in this series peaked at number 40.

I’ll bet it just eats Bette Midler up that she can’t claim membership in the exclusive EGOT club, those individuals who’ve won at least one of each of the major entertainment awards: Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony. In the unlikely event she finds herself the recipient of an Academy Award in the near future — though she’s claimed two nominations in her career, it’s been over twenty years since the last one and nearly as long since anyone could suggest her as an Oscar race contender with a straight face — she’ll already have an asterisk by her name, as her Tony Award was a special, non-competitive trophy bestowed upon her (by Johnny Carson, no less) for her Clams on the Half Shell revue. I’m sure Midler wouldn’t brook any disparagement of her achievement, and maybe that’s just. Among those who are one award away from an EGOT, the Grammy is just as elusive as the Oscar, and Midler has plenty of those. She’s one of those all-around entertainers who’ve reached the point where she’s viewed as more celebrity than artist, which obscures the fact that she was a fairly prolific music-maker at the start of her career. By my count, she had a total of nine Top 40 singles, including two that just barely qualified for that honorific.

The first to peak at #40 was “Friends,” Midler’s third single overall. Her first two outings, both Top 40 hits, were covers of well-known songs. While “Friends” was also technically a cover (it was recorded by Buzzy Linhart, on of the song’s co-writers), it was obscure enough that it would have hit most ears as original to Midler when it was released, in 1973.

After three straight Top 40 singles — all culled from her debut LP, The Divine Miss M — Midler went through something of a dry spell on the charts. She wouldn’t taste the Top 40 again until 1979, with the first single from her album Thighs and Whispers, a blatant attempt to cash in on the disco craze. “Married Men” is pretty standard for the era, although the lyrics about infidelity and the agony of being the other woman (“He promises to marry you/ As soon as his divorce comes through”) are on the nose enough to make them seem a little weird connected to frothy, dance floor fare. In keeping with Midler’s propensity for recycling, the song was a U.K. hit that same year for Bonnie Tyler, who recorded it for the film The World is Full of Married Men.

Midler would have greater success a year later, with songs from the soundtrack to her starring film debut, The Rose. Amazingly the title song was the second single from the album, the label opting to play to Midler’s reputation as an ace interpreter of familiar songs by leading with a cover of “When a Man Loves a Woman.” While that did make it into the Top 40, “The Rose” was the real winner, easily becoming Midler’s biggest hit to date and her first single to go gold. Of course, it would be eclipsed nearly a decade later by another soundtrack song: a cover of a Gary Morris country hit that appeared in the desperately crummy film Beaches. That track became Midler’s first and only single to top the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

“Just Like Heaven” by The Cure.
“I’m in Love” by Evelyn King
“Buy Me a Rose” by Kenny Rogers
“Who’s Your Baby” by The Archies
“Me and Bobby McGee” by Jerry Lee Lewis
“Angel in Blue” by J. Geils Band
“Crazy Downtown” by Allan Sherman
“I’ve Seen All Good People” and “Rhythm of Love” by Yes
“Naturally Stoned” by the Avant-Garde
“Come See” by Major Lance
“Your Old Standby” by Mary Wells
“See the Lights” by Simple Minds
“Watch Out For Lucy” by Eric Clapton
“The Alvin Twist” by Alvin and the Chipmunks
“Love Me Tender” by Percy Sledge
“Jennifer Eccles” by the Hollies
“Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Olympics
“The Bounce” by the Olympics
“Your One and Only Love” by Jackie Wilson
“Tell Her She’s Lovely” by El Chicano
“The Last Time I Made Love” by Joyce Kennedy and Jeffrey Osborne
“Limbo Rock” by The Champs
“Crazy Eyes For You” by Bobby Hamilton
“Who Do You Think You’re Foolin'” by Donna Summer
“Violet Hill” and “Lost+” by Coldplay
“Freight Train” by the Chas. McDevitt Skiffle Group
“Sweet William” by Little Millie Small
“Live My Life” by Boy George
“Lessons Learned” by Tracy Lawrence
“So Close” by Diana Ross
“Six Feet Deep” by the Geto Boys
“You Thrill Me” by Exile
“What Now” by Gene Chandler
“Put It in a Magazine” by Sonny Charles
“Got a Love for You” by Jomanda
“Stone Cold” by Rainbow
“People in Love” by 10cc
“Just Seven Numbers (Can Straighten Out My Life)” by the Four Tops
“Thinkin’ Problem” by David Ball
“You Got Yours and I’ll Get Mine” and “Trying to Make a Fool of Me” by the Delfonics
“The Riddle (You and I)” by Five for Fighting
“I Can’t Wait” by Sleepy Brown
“Nature Boy” by Bobby Darin
“Give It to Me Baby” and “Cold Blooded” by Rick James
“Who’s Sorry Now?” by Marie Osmond
“A Love So Fine” by the Chiffons
“Funky Y-2-C” by the Puppies
“Brand New Girlfriend” by Steve Holy
“I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” by Bonnie Pointer
“Mr. Loverman” by Shabba Ranks
“I’ve Never Found a Girl” by Eddie Floyd
“Plastic Man” and “Happy People” by the Temptations
“Okay” by Nivea
“Go On” by George Strait
“Back When My Hair Was Short” by Gunhill Road
“Birthday Party” by the Pixies Three
“Livin’ in the Life” by the Isley Brothers
“Kissing You” by Keith Washington
“The End of Our Road” by Marvin Gaye
“Ticks” and “Letter to Me” by Brad Paisley
“Nobody But You Babe” by Clarence Reid
“Like a Sunday in Salem” by Gene Cotton
“I’m Going to Let My Heart Do the Walking” by the Supremes
“Call Me Lightning” by the Who
“Ain’t It True” by Andy Williams
“Lazy Elsie Molly” and “Let’s Do the Freddie” by Chubby Checker
“Second Fiddle” by Kay Starr
“1999” by Prince
“I’ll Try Anything” by Dusty Springfield
“Oh Happy Day” by Glen Campbell
“I’d Love to Change the World” by Ten Years After

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Top Fifty Films of the 50s — Number Eleven

#11 — Paths of Glory (Stanley Kubrick, 1957)
War films have long been a staple of Hollywood, a situation only compounded by the staggering surplus of stories that could be culled from WWII, a global conflict that could be forever mined for material that deflected its horrors with a deeply felt sense of honor. Many directors tilted their cameras at that genre, but I wonder how many, even the many that were veterans, thought about exactly why war was such a fruitful source of stories, especially stories that worked in the confines of cinema, both compact (in terms of storytelling time, when measured against a novel) and expansive (the size of the screen itself). Certainly conflict, the lifeblood of drama, is built right in. More than that, there’s a unshakable intensity that heightens emotions and necessitates the sort of rapid decision-making that leads to impetuous action and heated rhetoric. These are the aspects of war pictures that made them appealing to Stanley Kubrick. The fierce moral choices that needed to be made in the heat of battle and the exhaustion of the aftermath played right into his artistic assessment of humanity’s ongoing folly.

Paths of Glory was Kubrick’s fourth feature and his first of many that could be termed, without undue hyperbole, as a masterpiece. Based on Humphrey Cobb’s 1935 novel of World War I, which Kubrick remember reading when he was younger, is film is focused on a group of French soldiers engaged in trench warfare, closing in on a piece of strategically important German territory termed “The Anthill.” In depicting the battlefield, Kubrick opts for a muddy verisimilitude that feels laudably out of step with the contemporary depictions of war. Indeed, it is brutal and ugly enough that it anticipates Steven Spielberg’s rightly acclaimed Saving Private Ryan. Spielberg’s unflinching view of warfare was considered groundbreaking. Kubrick simply got there forty years earlier, though the squeamish strictures of the time prevented him from engaging the situation with the same sort of graphic honesty. That Kubrick still manages to make the scenes equally harrowing is a demonstration of the unyielding fierceness of his vision.

Kubrick also develops striking profundities through the contrasts he creates. The soldiers on the front lines are stuck in the worst of circumstances, but the military leaders who direct them are ensconced in lavish comfort countless miles away, plotting strategy from the safety of a seized mansion. I maintain no other director has such a keen sense of physical space than Kubrick, and he gets the most out of the opposing places, moving his camera with shrewd freedom in each, managing to convey the lives of the separate locations in the process. This builds to the most poignant, powerful, depressing contrast of all. The generals make a disastrous tactical choice, then choose to cover up their incompetence by charging one hundred random selected soldiers with cowardice, a charge that carries a penalty of death if they’re found guilty. The men are defended by their direct superior (Kirk Douglas), a man who practiced law in his civilian life. Despite his clear capabilities, the court martial is rigged from the start. Military justice has no concern for truth or moral integrity. Like every other aspect of war, it is there to create casualties, with no other evident purpose. The title Paths of Glory is drawn from Thomas Gray’s poem “Elegy Written in a Country Courtyard,” which explains that “The paths of glory lead but to the grave.” Kubrick makes the truth and wisdom of that verse hit and hard and sharp as a coffin lid slamming shut.

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College Countdown: Rockpool’s Top 20 College Radio Albums, November 1988, 12

12. Mission of Burma, Forget

Among the things that characterize the typical college radio experience for a student programmer, it’s possible that the most frustrating is a melancholy longing for the music that was released sometime in the five to ten years before they set foot in the station. It’s not merely the perpetual dissatisfaction of youth that leads to this sullen impression. Music, particularly highly influential music, can take some time to gestate, meaning the best older records are automatically elevated in the mind’s assessment. There weren’t that many college radio stations playing, say, Nirvana’s Bleach when it was nestled in rotations as a new release, but a few years later all of the disciples of the pre-Nevermind effort from Seattle’s finest could wax poetically about how great it would have been to introduce it to their eager listeners. If an artist had the added cachet of a limited recording output, with the implication that they ended before their time was truly up, all the better.

Mission of Burma released exactly one full-length album during their brief initial existence. Vs. is widely considered a powerhouse classic of post-punk, suffused with an embrace of unpredictable sonics that held the promise of all the places that music might yet go. Even still, its importance trails that of the band’s debut single, the thrilling “Academy Fight Song,” and their first EP, the latter because it contains “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver,” a song that requires inclusion in any discussion of the all-time greats. The band didn’t last long after the release of Vs., in large part because the punishing volume of their live shows had already taken a physical toll, leaving lead guitarist Roger Miller with a severe case of tinnitus. Though they were officially done as a going concern in 1983, the band’s afterlife was robust. Before reforming some twenty years later (with the surprisingly strong ONoffON), Mission of Burma was the subject of no fewer than six releases, comprised standard “best of” collections, live albums, and assemblages of spare bits. Six releases across two decades doesn’t seem like much, I suppose, but it was effectively triple the band’s original output.

Officially, Rockpool lists our entry on the chart as Forget. I’m a little suspicious about that. Every source I can find, including those that are a little more reputable than the foggy wilds of web-based databases, lists Forget as a 1987 release, making it fairly unlikely that it survived on the charts for a full year or more or was ignored until the fall of 1988, when student programmers finally glommed onto it with collective urgency. I think it’s at least possible that the album actually charting in November 1988 was a self-titled comp on Rykodisc that represented one of the earliest attempts to make the band’s most famed material available on compact disc. That simple fact along could have been enough to make student deejays gravitate to it, in the same way that the Joy Division collection was getting ample attention. (Inconceivable as it may be now, CDs were still a novelty and a technological marvel in the fall of 1988, with radio stations announcing that all their music was played from that audio source as a significant selling point.) Then again, it’s certainly possible that the retrospective dating of Forget is incorrect or even that Taang! Records gave the collection a new push or an informal rerelease to capitalize on the interest that Mission of Burma surely generated.

Like a lot of such flotsam and jetsam collections, Forget is more interesting for what insights it might hold about the band’s creative process than it is as its own satisfying record. Largely made up of demos and rough passes at songs, the album is potentially revelatory for the most devoted Mission of Burma scholars in giving an aural sampling of the material that the bandmates decidedly, collectively or separately, simply wasn’t worth pursuing to a finished, polished product. Most of what’s here does sound like first passes at songs, new suits being tried on to check out the fit. Mission of Burma is a strong enough band to still delivering some damn fine material, even under those circumstances. The blistering album opener “Execution” has the charged heated of punk authenticity, and there’s a thrilling swerve between proper propulsion and unsettling musical discordance on “Playland” (the latter song eventually showed up again on ONoffON).

The band’s restless propensity for experimentalism is present throughout, as on “Manic Incarnation,” which starts collapsing in on itself midway through. Sometimes it does sound like the band merely slopping around, maybe or maybe not on their way to something better and more cogent (“Active in the Yard”). Certainly the stuff on here rarely sounds anywhere near finished (“Head Over Head” is the closest they come to the mind meld of punk abrasion and eloquent tunefulness that typifies their best work), making it a sort of permission slip to later bands like Pavement and Guided By Voices, proudly half-assing their way to acclaimed releases. The problem with that potential influence is that most bands don’t have the astonishing capability of Mission of Burma in their prime. The malformed material only sounds this strong if the talent in there to deliver a finished product in excess of what most can do. Mission of Burma had that. Their necessary few releases from the early eighties proved it. In its own unique way, Forget does too.

An Introduction
–20: Substance
–19: End of the Millennium Psychosis Blues
–18: Rank
–17: Lovely
–16: Ghost Stories
–15: 2 Steps from the Middle Ages
–14: Lincoln
–13: Short Sharp Shocked

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From the Archives: Misery

Since writing this, nearly twenty-four years ago (good gravy, I think I need to sit down), I’ve decided that Stand By Me is probably more like Rob Reiner’s third best movie. There are a couple of his films that are clearly better, but they don’t have the same tinge of somber importance to them, so I downgraded them at the time. However, I stick with Stand By Me as the best film adaptation of a King work, by a wide margin. Sorry, Shawshank disciples. It’s interesting to think back on this film as the effective introduction of Kathy Bates and what a thrill it was to see her take command of the character. I haven’t watched more than a minute or two of this film in years, and I have some suspicions that the performance may not have aged all that well (especially since Bates has now deployed some of the tricks she used here a few too many times). Still, I remember the joy of discovery in watching it the first time around. And though Anjelica Huston probably deserved the trophy, I was just as delighted to see Bates become an Oscar-winner for this role, which was hardly the stuff of traditional Academy taste.

If someone were to ask me to name the best Stephen King movie and the best Rob Reiner movie, I could answer by naming only one film: Reiner’s STAND BY ME, based on the Stephen King novella “The Body.” So high expectations must naturally accompany Reiner’s latest project, an adaptation of one of King’s most solidly effective books from the past ten years, MISERY.

MISERY is about a novelist named Paul Sheldon who has spent most of his writing career churning out the adventures of Misery Chastain, a heroine of historical romance novels. Sheldon gets into a nasty auto accident in the middle of an enormous blizzard. Lucky for him, he’s saved by a woman who claims to be his “number one fan.” Unfortunately for him, that number one fan is a reclusive madwoman named Annie Wilkes. When Annie discovers that Sheldon’s latest Misery novel kills the heroine off, she purchases a typewriter and forces him to write a new book which brings Misery back from the dead. The film builds its suspense from the Fact that Wilkes is so unpredictable, her wild mind could swing into a fir of rage at the smallest, seemingly most insignificant incident. She tells Paul she loves him and you can tell she truly does, but in her own warped way. A way that leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind that when Sheldon is finished with the book that he’s writing on demand Annie will end both their lives.

Paul Sheldon is well-played by James Caan, who is quite probably hoping for a comeback due to this film. Unfortunately, the script is never able to find an avenue to get inside of the character. We are presented with Sheldon’s distant outer persona and can never get a strong grasp on what kind of person he really is. The film does sport two exceptional performances, one coming from Richard Farnsworth, as a sheriff who takes on the search for Paul Sheldon after he’s reported missing. The other comes from Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes. Bates takes the most challenging role in the film makes it effortless. With Annie Wilkes, she’s forced to play an incredible range of broad, strong emotions, and she plays each one convincingly. Whether she has to play goofy earnestness, vicious anger, or switch from glowing pride to bitter disgust in a split-second, Bates is up to the task.

MISERY has flaws, such as an overly intrusive score and some needlessly stilted dialogue, but the performances and the sharp, crisp direction of Rob Reiner easily make up for them.

(3 stars, out of 4)

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October 2014
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