Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Alternatives for the Morning-After Couch

Not really into football? Then you might need some other diversions on New Year’s Day while recovering from the festivities of the night before. Two possibilities are below, both from my read/view list last week.

**** ****

The Hike by Drew Magary (copyright 2016)

Surrealistic novels seldom work for me. When they do – Angela Carter’s scifi novels, for instance – it’s because they are anchored by having something real to say, even it’s hard to put your finger on exactly what it is. It’s not surrealism for its own sake. Drew Magary’s very readable The Hike works. Not all the metaphors in it are easy to articulate. Don’t try. It’s enough to feel them there.

Ben is a 38-year-old businessman with a wife and three kids in suburban Maryland. He travels a lot to conferences and to meet with vendors. We meet him on one of these trips. He checks into a rather rundown hotel in the woodsy Poconos. He decides to hike for a little ways on a wood trail in back of the hotel. He witnesses a brutal crime. The killers also see him, and in his efforts to escape them finds himself on a path that even Alice would find bizarre. She, after all, didn’t turn into a crab, which Ben does at one point. Along the path are a monstrous cricket, a giant woman, and a winged creature with smoky minions. The only reward offered to Ben for surviving years on the path – if he does – is to return to his wife and kids.

A lot of us feel like giving up, as Ben often does, on life’s road, but most of us persist anyway. For all the weirdness, the character and story are relatable.

Thumbs Up.

**** ****

Len and Company (2015)

This is the sort of indie film that is quietly satisfying in a way that no blockbuster ever can be.

Rhys Ifans is perfectly cast as Len Black, an aging former punk rocker who found financial success as a music producer even though his personality seems unsuited for the business side of music. Much of his success came from shepherding the career of pop singer Zoe from age 16 onward, despite her sound being miles distant from his own tastes. Zoe is played by Juno Temple, who nails the part and has as much insight to the characters as anyone could have; Juno’s father, Julien Temple, did his early directorial work with the Sex Pistols.

Len is having a late middle-age “does any of this mean anything at all?” crisis. He wants nothing more than to be left to his own cranky self-absorbed self on his decaying estate in Upstate New York while he watches DVDs and ruminates. He doesn’t get his wish. He gets a surprise visit from his son Max, who wants Len to hear a demo tape by his own band but is unsure how to approach Len in his currently massively indifferent mood. The hesitation is not unwarranted; when Max does finally broach the subject Len derides him for a privileged upbringing that Len himself (unasked) provided, which, he claims, is sure to make his son’s music shallow. Zoe also shows up at the house partly out of concern for Len and partly for answers about why he embarrassed her by walking off an awards show. He is not any more responsive to her than to Max. Len knows he is a being jerk, but at the moment he doesn’t feel like being anything else.

The movie is not about the action but about the characters and how they choose to play the cards life dealt them. It also reflects the often mutually uncomprehending interaction of Boomers and Millennials. The characters do evolve a little by the end but don’t become entirely new people – few of us do in the course of only a few days. A little, though, is sometimes enough.

This is simply a well-written and well-acted little drama, though not for anyone looking for car chases and fight scenes. Thumbs Up.


  1. Both book and movie sound different and away from the mainstream. I get that way at times too. The Hike sounds surreal in a Vonnegut Breakfast for Champions way, which isn't bad company.

    The movies that I've enjoyed lately are less blockbusters as well. I did enjoy Hell or High Water though I don't think that is very mainstream. Overall all I think 2016 yielded some good movies, more so than last year for me, and I haven't hardly scratched the surface on watching them all.

    1. In "The Hike" the story is coherent and logical in terms of the world in which Ben finds himself. If we the readers simply accept that world too, the tale makes sense. I'm not always able to say as much about novels set in everyday reality.

      A good blockbuster is like Six Flags and a good indie is like dinner with friends. Six Flags is fun and all, but I'm more often in the mood for the latter. Yes, fortunately 2016 has given us both.