Thursday, May 26, 2011

Do I really need to mention how weird/awesome Christopher Walken is in this movie? Of course not -- so I won't.

BILOXI BLUES -- originally posted on Tumblr, 5/25/11

I remember eating with my family at Hometown Buffet once, back in 1995, and some time after that I asked my parents why there hadn't been any return visits to that establishment, and they were like “uh, yeah, we won’t do that again”, which I didn’t understand because while it didn’t knock me out or make a great impression on me, I remember liking the food. Flash-forward to 2011, and now I’m an adult and Goddamn it, I’m going to have a meal at Hometown Buffet because I want to. So I went to my local HB and a while later after eating my fill, guess what?

Uh, yeah, I won’t do that again.

The food isn’t bad, all it needs is a little salt, pepper, ketchup and mustard – which also happens to be a line in the film Biloxi Blues, regarding the food they served at the Army chow hall. I love that line, it’s quite possibly the best way to describe any meal that is less than flavorful. Speaking of which, I remembered when I went to see Julie & Julia in the theater and when the scene came up where Amy Adams’ husband takes out a salt shaker and sprinkles liberal amounts all over his serving of the boeuf bourguignon Adams made, I could tell who the foodies in the audience were because they were the ones who gasped when he did that shit.

Anyway, I’m not here to talk about that particularly wonderful film that managed to combine two things that I love (food and Amy Adams), I’m talking about Biloxi Blues.

I’ve seen this film countless times growing up, thanks to HBO, and as a result, I remember it fondly and it’s in that special category of films, the category of I’ll Watch The Whole Thing If I Come Across It On Cable.

I don’t recall ever laughing out loud at this movie in the past, but then again, I’m unfortunately a difficult person to make laugh and therefore I give the appearance of Daria at the movie theater, but I guess I’m more of a laughing-on-the-inside type. I wish I could be like the guys in Biloxi Blues who are just about pissing/shitting themselves in laughter while watching an Abbott & Costello short. Doesn’t mean Biloxi Blues isn’t funny, because it is, I guess it was more of a chuckle type of comedy for me. Who says they all have to be knee-slappers? At least I chuckled a lot during this.

Maybe I just like how pleasant the whole movie feels, which is interesting because most of it consists of the characters being put through very uncomfortable situations — long forced marches through the hot (Africa hot!) swamps and dirt roads of Biloxi, Mississippi, constant punishments consisting of push-ups (which START at 100!), hourly opportunities for humiliation, and then of course, there’s the food.

Perhaps it’s not supposed to be the most realistic, since what this movie (and the play it’s based on) really is, is some rose-colored lenses kinda shit, looking fondly at the past. I mean, at the end of the movie Eugene Jerome pretty much sums it up, saying that at the time he was going through it, he hated Basic Training and wasn’t too crazy about the people there, but now he loves (read: misses) every damn one of them. To be honest, that hit me harder than Richard Dreyfuss’ final written lines about never again having friends like the ones he had when he was a boy, in the film Stand by Me, the one based on a short story by that Green Goblin-looking motherfucker and directed by that one fat fucker (no, the other one).

“Because I was young” says Eugene, when explaining part of the reason why he loved that part of his life in retrospect. Goddamn, don’t I know the feeling. I’m surprised by the shit I look back on and even more surprised that I get a tad wistful about it, something I never thought I’d feel during the time I was going through it. I’m trying not to feel this way, I’m trying to appreciate my time now because I know that as old as I feel (I go through the Renewal process during the fiery ritual of Carousel in less than a couple of months), I’m still pretty damn young in the scheme of things. There are people 10 years older than me who wish they were my age, but the bitch of it is that I feel the same way about kids 10 years younger than me. I don’t know what to do about it, but if there is a God, and if I somehow manage to hustle my way to the pearly gates at the end of my life, well, that motherfucker has a LOT to answer for when I get to him.

Stuff that was merely amusing as a kid, plays a lot better with the hindsight of Having Gone Through It, like the scene where Eugene loses his virginity to a prostitute. I remember the awkwardness of the deflowering process (nice romantic language there, chief) during My First Time, and having paid for it once, I also remember the awkwardness of getting it on with a woman who pretends to be all into you (the girlfriend experience) but basically sees you as another ready-to-assemble widget on the assembly line, so to speak.

I wasn’t in the military, so I can’t really relate to that experience, the closest thing I can come up with as far as relating to the experience of bonding with a group of guys who I never knew and probably never would’ve bothered knowing, was when I was assigned to bunk in the same room with a bunch of them at camp. Yeah, I’m talking about going to camp — in my case, it was what I derisively call Martial Arts Camp because I can’t remember the official name for it. Back when I studied taekwondo during my pre-teen years, our entire school would to the woods every summer for about two weeks to enjoy nature and to hang out with other martial arts schools. I don’t know if they still do that, but it would be cool if they did, because it was lots of fun and you made lots of friends — friends you never kept in contact with afterwards, of course.

You know, there was a time where I seriously considered joining the military; I’d had done the research and visited the recruiter and all of that. I even got in prime shape. Then something happened: I got a job. Suddenly, the idea of serving my country didn’t sound nearly as appealing as getting a nice-sized paycheck. Patriotism is strongest in the very poor and very rich, I’ve learned. Some time after that, 9/11 happened; I did the math and realized that I would’ve been out of Basic and among the first shipped to Iraq. I had also realized that I was never really ready for military life, despite how I felt otherwise.

I wanted the discipline, the knowledge, the exercise, hell, even the shitty food, but most importantly, I wanted to come out knowing I had What It Takes to be a soldier in the Army. But I guess I also wanted to get through it without having to make the Ultimate Sacrifice. Hell, it’s not even so much that I was afraid of dying (that’s something I’ve unfortunately not only made peace with, but even welcomed the idea of during the darkest moments of my life so far), or that I was afraid of coming back missing a leg or something (medical science is pretty goddamn amazing for not accomplishing jack shit with Cancer, MS, muscular dystrophy, AIDS, the common cold, etc). What I was really afraid of, was coming back from war with less than 100% in the emotional/psychological department. Now THAT, that scared/scares the shit out of me.

I guess what I really wanted was the Eugene Jerome experience: everything but the whole going-to-war thing.

Anyway, it had been at least 10 years since I saw Biloxi Blues in its entirety, and it was just as Good Times watching it a few hours ago. It holds up, thank God, since many fondly remembered childhood re-watches rarely do, and it’s even funnier now, which was a surprise. Seriously, I laughed out loud a couple of times. The DVD I watched was also the first time I got to see this flick in its original 2:35.1 aspect ratio; my many HBO/Encore viewings had always been in 4:3, which wasn’t that bad since the movie was shot in Super 35, but it was cool to see the original theatrical compositions — sure, I miss being able to see Park Overall’s entire leg as she lounges back in bed, waiting for Eugene to man up, but that’s such a minor damn-near-nonexistent quibble, and such is the give-and-take of that troublesome format, anyway.

It’s also the first time I really took notice of the long takes Mike Nichols used in this movie; it’s not done in a show-offy way, I just think maybe Nichols likes using long takes, and besides, shooting that way kind of lends itself to the material’s roots on the stage. Yet the movie rarely feels like a “filmed play”, which is an easy pitfall when you’re adapting this kind of shit (props to that Jaws-shooting motherfucker Bill Butler as well). I particularly enjoyed one scene between Matthew Broderick’s Eugene Jerome and Penelope Ann Miller’s Daisy Flanagan; they meet, chat, have a slow dance to Pat Suzuki’s cover of “How High The Moon”, and say goodbye — all in a few minutes, all in one long shot that manages to be awesome without ever yelling to the audience just how fucking awesome it is. This is the loveliest Ms. Miller has ever looked in a movie, by the way, she looks exactly like what a fond memory of a first love would look like.

Plus, some dude gets in trouble for blowing another dude, so there’s that too, if you’re looking for it.

It’s not Full Metal Jacket, nor is it supposed to be. It’s Neil Simon fondly looking back at a time in his life that he wasn’t so happy with while it was happening. Come to think of it, that’s life in general — you never fully appreciate certain moments of your life until they’ve passed; it’s like that Joni Mitchell song (or the Janet Jackson song featuring Joni Mitchell, if you’re too young for the original) whose name I can’t remember. But to be fair, you need the benefit of hindsight to ever truly appreciate something, anyway, because it’s only after the fact that you know how something played out. Kinda like a movie; some movies play better the second time around because the suspense and agita that comes with wondering How The Fuck Will This End is no longer affecting you, now you can just take in the performances, writing and scenery. Written like a true asshole.

Anyway, if you haven’t seen it, I think you should. It’s not a great movie, but it’s one I really enjoyed over the years and maybe a movie doesn’t have to be filled with cinematic virtuosity and painfully human portrayals of characters to be great — maybe it just has to be the kind of movie that makes you feel good while watching it, and this one is.

Listen, going back to how I started this entry: I’m not completely dissing Hometown Buffet or the people who like eating there, if anything I envy those who enjoy the place. One positive thing I can say about it is that you can eat, then take a break and let the food digest while you – I don’t know, I’m just creating an example here – write some ramblings on your laptop about a movie you recently watched that you intend to post later. Then, after you feel like you can continue, you put away the laptop and continue eating the underwhelming food. Because you have no shame, hypocrisy is like oxygen to you, and your maw is always open, always demanding for more foodstuffs to be jammed down your gullet, you fat fuck.