Wednesday, January 27, 2021

freakboy on film: PARENTS (The Home Sweet Home Blogathon Edition)


A big thanks to Gil of Realweegiemidget Reviews and Rebecca of Taking Up Room for the opportunity to participate in The Home Sweet Home Blogathon

written by Christopher Hawthorne / directed by Bob Balaban 

 Home can mean shelter.

Home can mean comfort.

Home can mean family.

It was a family duo affair when I first experienced one of the darkest of dark comedies. 

I was 16 and staying overnight at Sister 3 of 3's economy-sized apartment in Kearney, Nebraska.  We rented a couple of movies and only managed to stay up long enough to watch one.  The next morning, my sister and I sat down at the kitchen table for breakfast and the second movie.  While the videotape was slid into the VCR, scrambled eggs, hashbrowns and sausage patties were dished up.  "Play" was pushed on the remote and we began eating as PARENTS unfolded before our eyes. 

Michael is afraid.  What could a young boy be afraid of in 1950's suburbia?  He is living in a new town and in a nice, new home.  He is attending a new school filled with new faces.  Perhaps all the newness has enhanced Michael's fear of the one constant in his life.  His parents.

Nick and Lilly Laemle appear to be the perfect 1950's couple.  They find it important for their family to fit into their new life and they seem to have succeeded.  Nick holds a respectable position at TOXICO, the local chemical plant, where he brings home the bacon.  Lily keeps their new home neat and clean, where she prepares succulent meals of leftovers.

Michael hasn't been eating very well and this concerns his parents.  What also concerns them is the interference and intrusion of outsiders upon their home sweet home.  Sheila, a troubled, imaginative young girl from school, has given Michael a voice for his fears and given him the courage to seek answers.  Millie Dew, the eccentric school therapist, is asking Michael uneasy questions about his fears and is determined to find out what is going on in the young boy's world.  

While the outsiders chip away at the false image of a  perfect home, there is a power struggle happening within.  Nick wants his son to grow up to be a man just like him and eat the same things he eats.  Lily also wants this but love for Michael causes her to hesitate here and there.  Michael doesn't want to be like or eat like his parents, especially since the leftovers may have once been people.  Who will triumph in this finger-lickin' familia face-off?  My lips are sealed.  

Given its premise, PARENTS should be a schlocky horror flick.  The writing and acting elevates the idea of cannibalistic parents into a moody mixture of claustrophobic suspense and uncomfortable humor.  Randy Quaid gives the best performance of his career as the intense and quietly terrifying father.  Mary Beth Hurt is brilliant as a woman torn between being a supportive wife and a loving mother.  Bryan Madorsky is haunting as the son forced to deal with unspeakable notions.  Sandy Dennis as the therapist and Juno Mills-Cockell as Sheila expertly adds to the off-kilter world of PARENTS.

After the curtain call ending credits, I told Sister 3 of 3 that I couldn't finish my sausage patty.  The disturbing looking meat being cooked on screen eventually caused me to chew and chew and chew each bite of sausage in order to avoid swallowing it.  My sister didn't seem overly phased by what we had witnessed, but would later be disturbed when we were the only ones in a theater for DR. GIGGLES. That, however, is another post for another time. 

In conclusion, if you want to have an unsettling, but entertaining time with your family, curl up on the couch with no snacks and enjoy PARENTS.  Ok, fine.  If you need food, go for crunchy bite-size snacks.  (Insert finger food joke here) 

SIDE NOTE: As of this post, PARENTS is streaming on AMAZON PRIME (US). 

Freak Out, 

P.S.  A different post about why a mother should never give her son a killer doll...

A rockin ' new Collective Eye interview is opening in February! ๐Ÿ˜Ž

Until then, take a peek at January's interview...

Monday, January 18, 2021

channel freakboy: SWINGTOWN

How much do I love this very short-lived series which originally aired on CBS during the summer of 2008?  Well, I believe I can declare it my favorite television series.  I know, I know.  I hear some of you shouting "What about DOCTOR WHO and POPULAR and HATERS BACK OFF!?"  I do love those series, and the latter is my favorite Netflix series, but there is something about SWINGTOWN that emotionally turns me on. 

SWINGTOWN takes us on a retro disco ball spin back to 1976.   America is celebrating its 200th birthday and Susan and Bruce Miller are celebrating their new home.  Susan and Bruce were busy raising their kids during the counterculture/sex revolution, so it's surprising when the celebration leads to a swingin' night with adventurous new friends Trina and Tom Decker.  Trina and Tom have open minds and an  open marriage, making them the polar opposites of Janet and Roger Thompson.  Janet and Roger are friends of the Millers from the old neighborhood and they are not fans of change, especially Janet.  How will they fit into Susan and Bruce's new life?  The answer to that question is the key to this under-appreciated series. 

There is so much more to SWINGTOWN than the titillation of a key party and the retro-horror-glamour of '70's fashion.  Take a peek under the covers and you will find emotionally authentic and complex characters.  You will become intwined in relatable storylines from first loves to forbidden loves to finding strength within yourself in a changing world.  You will also experience character development on a  scale rarely seen in American television.  Even a thread of teen angst is explored in a mature, thoughtful way that reflects the growing pains the adults are experiencing.

It's the character development that keeps me popping in the DVD's.  The characters you meet in the first episode have grown in different ways by the last episode.  I hesitate to say the characters change because it's not that simple.  The development patiently evolves from confronting their fears or exploring their desires throughout the series.  Sometimes this is as subtle as perusing a scrapbook and sometimes it's as bold as eating a pot brownie.  Either way, the collective journey of these characters feels very real and is a remarkable piece of writing. 

As for the acting, I think the entire cast is great, but it's the three main actors who are riveting to watch.  Molly Parker brings an effervescent aura and down to earth intellect to Susan Miller's search for her authentic self.  Lana Parrilla brings a quiet strength and a disarming vulnerability to Trina Decker's examination of herself and those around her.  Miriam Shor brings fierce determination and hard-earned sympathy to Janet Thompson's struggle to find her place among new ideas and experiences.  Yes, fully realized, emotionally complex women are the main characters in a series dealing with swingers, which is one more reason I love SWINGTOWN.  

I must add that SWINGTOWN was tragically canceled after one season.  Sometimes I wish it would've lasted longer, but as I've said before in this blog, maybe it was for the best.  Sure, the series ends with some unresolved issues, but I feel satisfied after the final episode  because I understand where the characters are heading.

In conclusion, I could go on and on about this series, but my goal is  to wet your appetite for this overlooked gem.  So, if you're in the mood for a bit of fun, with a tease of wild and a generous helping of emotional stimulation, then let SWINGTOWN turn you on. 

Freak Out, 

P.S.  If SWINGTOWN is my top TV series, then what is my favorite film? 

My certain feeling about SWINGTOWN is why I'm extremely proud of this review of DARK EXCURSIONS...

Monday, January 4, 2021

Bubba's Truck

 (a short story by John L. Harmon)

    Bubba was 15 when his pop died.  This forced the lanky teenager to make a decision.  School or work?  Someone had to take care of his mama, so Bubba took his pop's position at the factory.  His mama wished it could be another way, but her age and health limited the options available to them. 

    Bubba didn't mind the monotonous factory work.  He found the repetitive actions calming and interesting.  All the pieces of metal he assembled each day with his own hands gave him an idea.  He would fix up the old truck that had been rusting in the barn for as long as he remembered. 

    The library had a book on auto mechanics and that's what Bubba read when he wasn't at the factory or taking care of mama.  His mama didn't know of his plans for the old truck.  She was just happy to see him reading.  He read that book cover to cover and back again until he was ready. 

    On a day off, and while mama was napping, Bubba swung open the barn doors. The afternoon sun shined on the run-down truck and the sight took Bubba's breath away.  He saw beauty in the rusted shell and cracked windshield.  He saw what nobody, not even his pop, ever saw in that truck. 

    "You and I..." Bubba spoke to the truck like an old friend, "We're gonna go places." 

    Days turned to weeks as Bubba stole moments between work and taking care of mama to fix up the truck.  A daily ritual emerged early on from the routine.  When the light started to dim, Bubba climbed inside the truck's faded, torn interior and sat behind the decrepit steering wheel.  There he watched beyond the wide open barn doors as the sun disappeared beneath the flat horizon. 

    Weeks turned to months as Bubba realized it was going to be a long road ahead.  The truck was in worse shape than he expected and the book didn't fully prepare him for the extensive work.  He was disappointed, but, like when his pop died, this wasn't going to stop him.  He had his youth, his wits, and all the time in the world.  

    Months turned to years as he saved up money to buy parts for the truck here and there.  It wasn't easy with doctor bills, but he got what he needed when he could afford it.  His mama was less worried about her own health and more worried about her son.  She had watched him over the years as he woke up in the morning, walked to the factory, came home, worked on the truck and then went to bed.  All the while taking care of her.  It just didn't seem right. 

    "I wish you would find someone to take care of you, Bubba," she said as he helped her from bed. 

    Bubba learned to just say he was looking even though it wasn't true.  He hadn't caught anyone's eye and that was fine.  Friends and romance were for others.  Bubba had his job at the factory.  He had his mama to take care of and he had his truck to fix.  That was enough for him. 

    One morning Bubba woke up and found his mama dead.  He sat with her for awhile, holding her hand one last time.  Then he kissed her goodbye on the cheek and phoned the doctor.  After they took his mama's body away, Bubba went to the factory and later worked on the truck.  He didn't know what else to do, but that evening's sunset filled his eyes with heavy tears.

    There had always been some chatter around town about how queer Bubba was.  All he did was work at the factory and tinker with some old truck, but he took care of his mama, which made him a good son.  Now that his mama was gone, chatter became gossip as the years turned to decades.  Not that anyone cared enough to try and know him.  They just sat with their cups of coffee and watched and talked from a distance. 

    Bubba didn't care what others had to say.  There was still the factory work and the truck to fill his days. He just went about his life without making a fuss, even when he had to wait a couple of weeks for a part he ordered.  That was just how it was and he had the sunsets in the truck to look forward to. 

    One day Bubba's work on the truck was done.  The passing years, and Bubba's determination, had been kind to the truck.  It's fresh coat of deep blue paint glistening in the late afternoon sun took Bubba's breath away.  The passing years, and the factory work, had been less kind to Bubba.  His youth was gone, his wits were faded and all the time in the world had flown by. 

    Bubba climbed into the black-upholstered interior, using the sleek steering wheel as leverage.  He situated himself and then started the old truck up.  It's engine purred like a newborn kitten and Bubba smiled as bright as the sun shining on him and his truck.  He was going to take it out for a spin, but he was tired.  It was enough for him that he brought the old rusted truck back to life.  He turned off the engine, leaned back and watched through the smooth windshield as the sun disappeared beneath the flat horizon. 

    News spread around town that Bubba was found dead sitting in his spiffed-up truck in that dilapidated barn.  Theories ran wild about how he died.  It didn't matter that the doctor ruled it a heart attack.  Folks were gonna say what they were gonna say, and they said a lot after his burial.  They said Bubba would've been a disappointment to his pop.  They said his mama must be spinning in her grave over the fact he spent more time with that dumb old truck than with people.  They said he never really did anything or went anywhere in his pathetic life, but they could never see what Bubba saw.  Every evening since he was 15, Bubba sat behind the steering wheel, gazing beyond the barn doors at the sunset and he went places in his truck.  Places as far away as his dreams could take him.

2021, John L. Harmon 

Bubba's Truck was inspired by a talk-to-text translator mishap during a conversation with a friend about his music, which can be found here...

Thank you for reading or listening to my half-blind words.

Freak Out, 

P.S.  A different short story from a different time...

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