Barfly

The first four letters of this film say it all, one of the most besotted, piss-tank movies of all time (Barfly is perhaps only matched by Withnail and I when it comes to drunken debauchery).

Henry Chinaski (Mickey Rourke) is the regal title drunk, a wastrel and would-be novelist who needs “fuel” to take out nemesis Eddie the Bartender (terrifically portrayed with thug-menace by Frank Stallone). He finds it in the form of a sandwich, pilfered straight from the grubby hands of a fatso at the end of the bar, and proceeds to lay out Eddie with a savage beating.

When he’s sent packing, ending up in another down-and-out saloon, he makes the acquaintance of Wanda, a gone-to-seed goddess with legs from here til that half-drunk bottle of Knob Creek Bourbon. That’s Faye Dunaway, whose character matches Henry’s step for sloppy, staggering step. She’s a kept woman and two of them run up a big bar and liquor tab on her lover’s credit, Wilbur.

One of the unlikeliest of Cannon Productions, a company not exactly known for putting out films depicting gritty realism, Barfly is a semi-autobiographical account of the life lived by lout, Charles Bukowski, the infamous German-American novelist and piss-tank poet of Skid Row. (to the extent it succeeds, is best answered by the pretty good document about Buk’s life, Born into This).

What’s amusing in this day and age of leaner, scaled back publishing world, is the lengths to which assignment editors in Barfly go to track down talent, especially to Henry’s neck of the woods, in a one-room flop-house with stained walls and ceilings.

While there’s not much in the way of a narrative, Barfly gets grit points. The barflies all look like the very real typical lowlife/degenerates you’d see in any big city (though now, with the kinds of saloons depicted in Los Angeles either shuttered or gentrified, the best place to see them is in burger joints and diners that peddle $3 beers).

Rourke and Dunaway make an amazing couple, and Grant and Hepburn, but they bring a considerable charm and authenticity to their respective roles.

**** (out of 5)

[Check out our podcast of Barfly too!]

You (TV Series)

[If you’re interested in a full discussion of the Netflix series, You, check out the You episode of the Really Awful Movies Podcast!]

It’s tough to make a show about writers. We’re generally dull people, but besides that, externalizing an internal process…that’s fraught with issues, meaning lots of cheesy voice-overs of bad writing.

There’s a disproportionate number of movies about writers, because writers know about writing and think what they do is really important, when it really pales in comparison to, oh, neurosurgery.

Which brings us to You, a Netflix Series that’s got the glossiness of Melrose Place, and its brain too, depending on your perspective.

Guinevere Beck (“Beck”) is an MFA student with aspirations of holding down a John Updike New Yorker gig, or maybe becoming the next Robert Pinsky. Problem is, she’s neither inquisitive nor creative, procrastinating like it’s everybody’s business and with a work-rate to rival JD Salinger. Speaking of whom…one of Beck’s friends is a distant relation to Mr. Catcher in the Rye.

Beck crosses paths with dashing Joe (pictured), a literate Midtown Manhattan book store manager who can match her with verse and is no slouch in the flirt department.

Soon, they hit it off, but paranoid Joe stalks her immediately, gazing into her palatial brownstone walk-up (seriously, if this is what passes for student-subsidized housing in New York City, I can reasonably expect to rent a 1,000 square-foot dorm). This then escalates into social media stalking, admittedly not too difficult as both Beck and her cadre of friends are so self-absorbed they could double as infomercial sponges.

What Joe sees in her is anybody’s guess, and where You keeps you guessing is that it’s not the usual “if I can’t have her, no one can” boilerplate. Instead, Joe is more than happy to play the long-game to wait out a revolving door of sub-par lovers before he can tee off.

There are some fun subplots where our charming stalker stepdads a neighborhood boy on his stoop, and there are enough references to good writers to let the occasional sloppy writing pass.

Pure, sugary junk, this Netflix show is oddly enjoyable even if its writers have already painted themselves into a narrative cul-de-sac in the first season (no spoilers here).

*** (out of 5)