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Which came first, the editing or the misery? Did I edit because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I was editing?
Sideways (2004) is one of those rarest of beasts: the film that is better than the book. Only by a smidge mind you, the leanest of victories. All the movie really did was smooth out a few rough edges, but sometimes that’s all you need to reach transcendence. Whatever it was, it worked. Somehow I’ve managed to read both the book and the screenplay, watched the movie and listened to the audiobook. Multiple offences on each count. If they were to make Sideways into an old-fashioned radio drama, I’d happily listen to that too. I may have issues, but I have no regrets.
However, as good as Sideways is, its sequel, Vertical, is so much better. Think The Empire Strikes Back, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, and Superman II. Vertical is chaos. Pinot-anarchy. No spoilers here, but Vertical pokes around some rather dark corners and gloriously so. It is a king-hell freak ride through Oregon wine county, and my favorite of the bunch.
Sideways 3 Chile is the newcomer to the party, far more serious and subtle than its siblings. It’s not so much dark as it is introspective. When penning a trilogy about a pair of alcoholics, the third act tends to be a bitch.
Every couple of years I find myself sitting down to reread the trilogy. I’m in the process of doing exactly that right now, having just finished Sideways for the umpteenth time. I’m actually giddy with anticipation over revisiting Vertical again. Giddy, I tell you.
In vino veritas.
That man could read.
If you are over a certain age, you are likely acquainted with the magic and wonders of the VCR; that clunky, whirring precursor to the DVR, streaming and beyond. It was a godsend.
No longer beholden to the theaters, you could raid your couch for loose change, hit up your neighborhood video store and catch up on all the latest and greatest.
And the blank tapes. The glorious blank tapes. Recordable. Extended play. You could cram three or four movies onto one dainty, shoebox-sized cartridge. If one of your friends had cable television and was feeling generous, you could hand them a blank tape on Friday and by Sunday have added three feature films to your collection.
Not to mention the ability to record a network show and watch it at your leisure. No more having to wait to go to the bathroom, or get snacks. No more commercials. You could come and go as you please and never miss a thing. These were wondrous forms of black magic. It was the dawning of a brave new world.
Volunteers was one of those movies for me. Someone taped it for me back in the day when I was a teenager, along with two or three other movies. I must have watched that flick somewhere in the neighborhood of 3.7 million times back in the day. An exaggeration to be sure, but slighter than you may think. There were periods of my adolescence where I watched it daily. Oh, to have that kind of spare time again.
And then, adulthood. Bars and nightclubs and things to do on a Wednesday night. I didn’t watch Volunteers again for some twenty years or more.
The original VHS tape is still somewhere in my garage. I may not have watched it in a couple decades, but I will never let it go. Think Brokeback Mountain, I just can’t quit Volunteers.
Full disclosure, I am a card-carrying member of the Tom Hanks fan club and I’ll gleefully stab anyone who’s not with a fork. I grew up with the man, from Bosom Buddies to Volunteers and Philadelphia. My adolescence and adulthood was timed perfectly to synch with his career.
A few nights back, I finally broke the dry spell. To my surprise I realized I can still recite half of the dialogue from memory. To my horror, I realized how many of the catchphrases and quips I’ve honed over the years came directly from this movie.
Trapped in a tiger trap by a tiger. Thank you John Candy.
Volunteers is not a great movie, at least not in the traditional sense. Nor does it attempt to be. That’s a good thing. It’s just another goofball comedy from the eighties. But greatness is decided in the eye of the beholder. Volunteers will forever be a five star, two thumbs up movie in my eyes.
It was directed by Nicholas Meyer who also directed Star Trek The Wrath of Khan. (And wrote Star Trek The Voyage Home – the best of the lot as far as I’m concerned – a year after Volunteers.) Meyer also wrote and directed one of my favorite movies of all time, the amazing Time After Time (1979). I’m sure I’ll get around to talking about Time After Time here at some point, until then, please see it at your earliest convenience.
Volunteers pairs Tom Hanks and John Candy, a year after Splash. (I’m a fan of both flicks, but I’d argue Volunteers is the better movie.) Volunteers is my second favorite John Candy film behind Planes, Trains and Automobiles. (If you haven’t cried during the subway stop scene then it may be time to check your pulse, your humanity may be in question.)
While we’re at it, let’s throw Gedde Watanabe into the mix as well, and actor I love dearly and recently spent an afternoon reading all about the controversy surrounding his portrayal of Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles. (Also a great flick.)
There’s even a wrestling connection with Prof. Toru Tanaka – three-time WWWF tag team champion along with Mr. Fuji – as one of the handsy bodyguards of Chung Mee.
Volunteers is also the movie where Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson reconnected and eventually fell in love, marrying three years after its release. That’ll probably a Jeopardy question some day.
Here’s to another twenty years.
I’m gonna hit the highway like a battering ram
On a silver-black phantom bike
When the metal is hot, and the engine is hungry
And we’re all about to see the light
Nothing ever grows in this rotting old hole,
And everything is stunted and lost
And nothing really rocks, and nothing really rolls,
And nothing’s ever worth the cost
Jim Steinman 1947-2021
I based the characters of Martinelli Revsin and the vampire Sweet William Ambrose from Morbidly Obtuse off of the relationship that existed between Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf. There is a bottle of wine and a listening of Bad for Good in my future.