Something Big: Something We All Want?

Something Big: Something We All Want

I ordered the DVD for Dean Martin’s Something Big film after realising that I did not have a copy already and that I had not seen it for ages. I love the film, or more accurately, I love the theme of the film. It goes without saying that this would be a personal favourite. I am, and always will be, a Dean Martin fanboy. But this lackadaisical western cross of comedy/action has always appealed to me. Something big? You bet, isn’t that something that we all want?

In the film Dean plays Joe Baker, a man who went west to find fame and fortune. He left Pennsylvania and his fiancée behind and planned to make something of himself in a self allocated time period of two years. In the film, his two years have stretched to four and his fiancée, Dover McBride has told Joe his time is up.

Baker now has to hurry up and do his something big before he has to leave and marry the woman he loves.

I suppose the film struck a chord with me because in some ways it inadvertently paralleled my own life.  And I think that it could resonate with a lot of people.

If you take away the sexist tone of the film – the movie places all women in the category of sexual objects of desire/lust – and look at the plot line, you realise it is about dreaming. It is also about chasing that dream. Dean’s character is a dreamer and his fiancée is not. There is a scene once she arrives in the west where she confronts her fiancé and tells him about when The Wild West Show came through her  village in Scotland.

Her point was that the whole show was make-believe and that Baker was not the big star, or The Wild West Show, he was just a man who wasn’t about all that “bigger than life” malarkey. But this is a movie and Martin’s character does do his something big, albeit, after murdering an entire Mexican bandit gang with a gatling gun; something that critics moaned about when the film opened in 1971. But the point is that Baker did something we all want. Not wholesale murder and plunder, but something big.

People dream. At least normal people do. We all have dreams and aspirations. It is in our genetic makeup. For a lot of people their dreams die when they grow up, or their dreams change. Instead of becoming rich and famous or a variation of same, they become married with children. Their dreams then mature and become more about looking out for their family and children. They when they are older, they dream of retiring with enough money to last their autumn years.

I have always been a sort of Peter Pan kind of guy. My dreams were always the same. I wanted to be a respected writer and actor. That was it. Of course there were variations on the dream, but it never strayed too far from the original desire. Even after being married twice and having two children, events that did spawn a new set of dreams, I never lost that wish to be a man of words or imagination.

Neither of my wives liked my dreams. My first wife did support it. At first. But when living in Southern California, the reality of my pursuit became too much for my first wife and she threw down the gauntlet. I had to choose between her and my dream. Foolishly, I chose her.

Mistake.

Something Big; Something We All Want
There will always be someone ready to knock your dreams down.

We divorced four years later after bringing my son into the world. I wasn’t very good at “real life” and this sped our disintegrating marriage to its bitter conclusion. After a few years of solitary misery, I then married again.

To be fair, my second wife did not realise the depth of my desire to be a scribe and artist. When I actively worked to be both, I received an intervention session or two from her. “People like us don’t do those types of jobs,” was how the intervention began. Her point was really that people like her did not do those type of jobs.  Knowing now that she was a passive aggressive, I doubt that she ever really believed that. It was just a way of keeping me reliant upon her for my happiness.

Years later when her efforts to destroy any chance I had at working in my chosen profession reached fruition and I lost my agent,  I was suicidal. The day I got my last communiqué from my agent/manager, a part of me died. So did my marriage. I stuck with it for a long time after because of our daughter, but the relationship had been irrevocably severed.

My dreams, as a result, died too. I turned my back on the two things that had always pleased me and fulfilled me in ways that nothing else could. Sure, I could take pride in both of my children and at how well they were turning out, but  my something big, had disappeared. Just as the “real me” had vanished.

We all want to do something big. What that thing is, varies from person to person. It is an individual wish and dream. I’ve gotten more second chances than any one man should. Last year I was given the ultimate second chance. Now I’m trying to fit my old, slightly refined, dreams into my remaining years.

I am working as a professional writer and I worked as an actor in  my first professional film in years. When I am not agonising over my financial situation, I am marvelling at the direction my life has taken. I’m also waiting excitedly for my “showreel” so I can start auditioning for more film roles.

At the end of the film Something Big, Dean Martin’s character rides off into the sunset with the girl and you know that if the two do get married, his dreams are over. He will fit back into the mendacity of everyday life and his wife will make sure of it. She doesn’t want The Wild West Show, which means that she’ll make sure her husband does not either.

I have been blessed in so many ways after my last few tumultuous years. I’ve met people who have literally changed my life. DiMarkco Chandler co-owner and co-founder of the Las Vegas Guardian Express; Natasha Harmer, who put me in her film; Marilyn Armstrong and her wonderful husband Garry, and so many other WordPress pals, that to express my gratitude to all of them would make up the world’s longest blog post.

Sorry, I did not mean to go into yet another long-winded thank you. My point was and this is the last thing I’ll say on it, I promise, Something Big, could be the story of my life, or yours. Isn’t that something we all want? Something big or some huge defining thing that has our name all over it? Whether your something big is having children or owning your own house. What ever that dream is, don’t forget it or give up on it. Your something big is too important to give up.

By Michael SmithDreaming Big for Something Big

United Kingdom

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Retreat (2011): Apocalypse on a Scottish Island

First-time director Carl Tibbetts (who co-wrote the screenplay with fellow first-timer Janice Hallett) has delivered a brilliantly claustrophobic apocalyptic film with Retreat. With a cosy cast of three, Jamie Bell, Thandie Newton and Cillian Murphy,  Retreat is an atmospheric, tense, scary film that is so full of suspense that you feel the urge to watch it with your teeth clenched.

Rather surprisingly Retreat only got a three star rating on Netflix and IMDb only gave the film a 5.7 out of 10. All three actors turn in a more than adequate performance and Jamie Bell should have been nominated for a best acting award. The more things I see Bell in the more I can appreciate that when it comes to acting, he is a master craftsman who needs to be in more films.

The film starts with Martin and Kate Kennedy (Murphy and Newton) riding out to a remote Scottish island on a boat piloted by Doug (Jimmy Yuill). Doug is taking the young couple to a cottage that he has let out to them on the island. Martin and Kate appear strained and unhappy on the boat ride out and we learn that things aren’t too good between them. They are returning to the quaintly named Fairweather Cottage because they had been there years before during a happier time in their life.

Doug drops the couple off on the island and reminds them that he is on the other end of the CB radio if they need anything. The island is remote and they are the only inhabitants. While they settle into the cottage, Kate starts writing about her troubled marriage and that she and Martin are reeling from her recent miscarriage. The generator dies and Doug has to come out to fix it. The day after he fixes it, the generator breaks again and while Martin is trying to restart it, the generator blows up injuring Martin. Kate radios Doug who says that it will be tomorrow before he can come out.

The next day comes and goes without Doug arriving to fix the generator and they can’t raise him on the radio. Kate looks out an upstairs window and sees a man stumble and fall on the path leading to the cottage. She and Martin go out and bring the unconscious man into the cottage. He is bleeding from a head wound and Kate discovers that their mysterious guest is armed.

While the man is passed out on the couch, Martin takes his gun and hides it in a drawer in the dining room dresser. The man, who is dressed in Army fatigues, wakes up and the three introduce each other. The man’s name is Jack (Bell) and he asks if they are on the island alone and if they have contact with the mainland. Martin explains that they are the only people on the island and that the CB radio is their only means of communication.

Jack then tells them that he is a soldier and that the world is suffering from a major ‘pandemic’ caused by a virus from South America called Argromoto Flu, codenamed R1N16. It is an airborne virus that is highly contagious and deadly. If you contact it, you will start coughing blood, pass the virus on to someone else and then you will die horribly. He tells them that the Army is telling people to barricade themselves indoors until they can come up with a cure.

Jamie Bell as Jack is sinister, aggressive, controlling and scary. Kate doesn’t believe Jack’s story and neither do we. Martin tries to play along until they can find out the truth.

I have heard this film called” Dead Calm on land” and I’ve heard it described as “28 Days Later meets Straw Dogs.” Both comparisons are spot on. This is a thriller of highest calibre and it keeps you constantly on edge and trying to guess which way the film is going. The plot twists are many and you will not guess the ending until it smacks you in the face.

This was Carl Tibbetts first time at bat and he knocked the film firmly and squarely out of the park for a solid home run.  This little film completely sells its plot, characters and mood. It is an unbelievably intense thriller. If I had to give this British cinema offering a score, I’d give it a eleven out of ten and say that this needs be on that list of films to see before you die just for Jamie Bell’s performance alone.  The film is that good and Bell’s performance is that great.

Stake Land (2010): Zombieland With Teeth

This is quite possibly the best post-apocalyptic film I have ever seen. Stake Land was co-written by Nick Damici (Mister in the film) and Jim Mickle (director) and it is brilliant piece of horror Americana.

Jim Mickle’s direction is practically flawless, he leaves no loose threads and at no time did the film meander. This was Mickle’s second feature length film and it is  for that reason alone that he shows so much promise. Nick Damici as another of the “Jobbing Actor” types that until now has never been given a decent enough role to show his talent. This man will leave a huge mark in the business. Connor Paolo (as Martin [and what a lovely touch, naming the lead actor after the ‘vampire’ in George A. Romero‘s cult classic]) Paolo has been working steadily since 2003 and it shows. He did a good job.

I was surprised and pleased to see Kelly McGillis as the Sister. She’s come a long way since Top Gun and she hasn’t lost anything in the acting department. Michael Cerveris played religious leader Jebidia.  He is another actor who has been working steadily in the business for years and it shows. An excellent actor by any standard and one who, if they ever do a biographical film about Yul Brenner, should definitely be cast as Brenner. Danielle Harris played the pregnant Belle. Danielle is known as the new “Scream Queen” and as powerful as her performance was, I did feel it was a shame she didn’t have more to do.

Danielle Harris
Danielle Harris

The  “Readers Digest” version of the plot is as follows:  Young Martin finds himself in a world gone mad and overrun with vampires. After his family is slaughtered by a vampire he is saved by Mister. Mister is a vampire hunter and his reputation is starting to precede him. Mister and Martin are heading for “New Eden” in Canada, the news is that New Eden is vampire free. On their journey north to New Eden, they pick up: A nun, a marine and young pregnant girl. After they pick-up the nun, they briefly lose her, but she is one tough Sister and makes her way back to the pair.

During  their journey, they not only kill every vampire they come across but they also have to fight off the religious zealots who have a tendency to kill, rape and otherwise mistreat other survivors that have the misfortune to cross their path. While all this is going on, Mister is teaching Martin how to become a hunter like himself. The land they are travelling through is bleak and practically deserted. They do come across the odd “town” where survivors have banded together, but these towns are open targets for the vampires and for the zealots.

At one town they come across the pregnant Belle who hitches a ride as she wants her baby born in New Eden. The foursome then head out and they come across a marine who has been left out as a sacrifice to vampires by the zealots.   I will  stop here with the plot synopsis as I don’t want to have any spoilers in the review.

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This film was a great mix of  gore, scares, sadness, humour and pathos. The inclusion of the religious “cult” survivors and their rabid pursuit of God’s work was an excellent counter-balance to the stoic, taciturn hunter Mister. The cinematography was sharp and beautifully dark. The only problem I had with the film was the narration by Paolo. He spoke in a deeper more gravelly tone, to show that he was older than in the film. This worked well except for the music. The soundtrack was intrusive during the narration and I had a bit of a problem actually making out what Martin was saying. This is probably a personal problem as I do suffer from Tinnitus.

The casting for Stake Land was spot on. The people that the protagonists meet and interact with, looked like real people. The biggest ‘name” in the film was Kelly McGillis and she looks nothing like she did in her Top Gun days. Because they cast so well, the film, at times, almost felt like a documentary it added that touch of realism.

The vampires were excellent. Mickle and Damici chose to use the ‘old fashion’ type vampires for their film and it was a welcome change.  No one sparkled or wandered around in the sun. These vampires, for the most part, were mindless, savage drinking machines. They were not witty nor were they overly articulate. They were scary.

If you only watch one post-apocalyptic film this year, try to make it Stake Land.  It’s a film that’s got bite.

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