Durant’s Never Closes Review

Full disclosure: I am personally invested in this film, in a way. I have followed its production history since a friend of mine let me know he was facilitating the primary filming location, and quite accidentally I connected another friend of mine to the filmmakers in a producer role. In light of this my intent is to write the most impartial review of which I am capable.

durants never closes

Phoenix natives and adopted natives alike ought to be familiar with Durant’s restaurant on Central Avenue. It’s an old school, Rat Pack-influenced steakhouse where you enter via the back door, through the kitchen, into a dining and bar area soaked in red leather, dim lighting, and brown liquor. There’s an old-fashioned masculinity to the place that exudes its own special charm. All long-term Phoenix residents owe it to themselves to experience Durant’s at least once.

Maybe you already know this. And maybe you even know a little bit about its history. The founder’s mysterious past, and alleged mob connections, the restaurant’s reputation as a meeting spot for various unseemly characters and their unseemly plots, and the possible connection to the high-profile murder of an investigative reporter in the 70’s. Whatever your familiarity going in, this film is not at all concerned with getting you up to speed. In fact, it couldn’t be bothered to convey any concrete information about the history of Durant’s at all. Instead, its focus is squarely on Jack Durant himself. The man, the myth, etc.

As such, it’s best to go into Durant’s Never Closes with the appropriate expectations in place. On the surface, this is a Goodfellas for the city of Phoenix. But underneath, it’s something entirely different and unexpected. Largely plotless, the events of the film are not just linear, they’re impressionistic. The majority of the film takes place at some undefined point in the late 70’s, inside Durant’s itself, at old Jack’s favorite spot at the bar. Legend has it, Durant designed the acoustics of the bar area specifically so that while guests would have a hard time hearing the conversations in adjacent booths, one could easily eavesdrop on anyone in the place from one specific spot at the bar. Jack’s spot, naturally. So there he sits, sipping beer, listening in, chatting with the regulars, and occasionally flying into fits of violent rage when provoked.

The only times the movie ever leaves the restaurant is during the many Scorcese-esque flashback sequences that don’t so much tell the story about Durant’s life, but fill in various textures of his character. Interludes address details like his beloved English bulldogs, his history with various ex-wives, and in one particularly abstract sequence, his inspiration to conquer the Phoenix dining scene. These sequences range from brief comedy bits to long musings on relationships and character.

As Jack Durant, Tom Sizemore is mesmerizing. Truly. I don’t use that “movie critic” word lightly. He sinks into this character 100%, and never seems like he’s phoning it in. His rage, his ambition, his vulnerability, and his sorrow are all equally believable. Honestly, with a lesser performance at its center this film would have fallen apart. If his IMDb page is any indication Sizemore has been spreading himself pretty thin lately, accepting all manner of typecast “tough guy” roles, and it would be a shame if this performance were overlooked because of it. In fact, the acting all around is solid. Jon Gries of Napoleon Dynamite fame brings a lot of energy and humor to his small role as a fallen baseball star, and as Durant’s “one who got away”, Michelle Stafford lends the film a great deal of its emotional heft. Peter Bogdonovich meanwhile, sort of sleepwalks through his minor role, which is more or less a glorified cameo, but it’s nice to have some old Hollywood around.

Ultimately, Durant’s Never Closes is a film of, I’ll say specific appeal. The decision to leave the history vague in favor of looking deep inside Durant himself puts the spotlight on Sizemore’s performance. The non-linear, abstract approach to a figure virtually unknown outside of Arizona means I have a hard time seeing national audiences embracing the film. How damning that criticism is depends on the feelings of the folks who made it. The director, Travis Mills has been open about his intent to grow Phoenix’s own cinema scene. I know the movie is getting a limited theatrical run in Albuquerque New Mexico after its Phoenix run. I’m interested to see how it plays outside the valley.

Durant’s Never Closes is playing now through the 28th at Harkins Shea 14 theater.

Making a Murderer Out-Serialed Serial


You know you’ve made it when the internet starts using your creation as click bait. Such is the case with Making a Murderer, or “What America Did on its Christmas Break”. Seems everybody with a Netflix account became addicted to, and outraged by, this true crime tale. The partly unsolved murder, the characters with their own secrets and agendas, the details of the crime that just don’t add up no matter how hard you try, and the agonizing lack of closure at the end. Where have we heard this before?

Last year, the first season of the Serial podcast was our Making a Murderer. We listened along week by week (per Serial’s own slogan), absorbing all the details, acting as little armchair detectives coming up with theories and conclusions while the story played out. The season ended, we all moved on with our lives, and Making a Murderer took that baton and ran it to the next level – video. The extraordinary luck and persistence of the documentarians meant we got to see most things play out right for our very eyes, instead of relying largely on anecdotal accounts and Sarah Koenig’s (admittedly delightful) narration. It’s the Serial of 2015.

Except for one thing: Serial’s 2nd season is currently playing out as we speak. As of this writing, it’s about halfway through. And nobody seems to be talking about it. Did Making a Murderer steal Serial’s thunder? 

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It is with a heavy heart that I must announce the passing of a dear friend.

Nintendo 64
1996 – 2015


On December 23rd, 2015 my Nintendo 64 console succumbed to a long, secret battle with output signal disease. It was 19.

I’ll always remember when I opened the Nintendo 64 on my 14th birthday in 1997, along with two games: Mario 64 and Mario Kart 64. That Summer I spent many many hours in my bedroom toggling between those two games, subsisting on Runts candy, occasionally spritzing cologne into the air to try to mask the increasingly foul stench of my own self-imposed confinement. The smell of that cologne and the taste of Runts (both other birthday presents) are forever intertwined in my memory with that mind blowing first Summer in N64 land.

Later that year, an achingly perfect happenstance kept me and my friends home from school for a free day off. We walked to the local Blockbuster Video and rented a new wildcard of a game: Goldeneye 007. My mind was blown yet again, and the first of what would become incalculable hours were spent with that game. In 1999, against all odds, Goldeneye was dethroned as the reigning multiplayer platform when the very first Super Smash Bros came into our lives. 16 years later, that series is one of the only video games I still play regularly. It all started here.

Between those two games and several others, I can safely say that the Nintendo 64 is my personal most played console. Its primitive analog sticks were ground into chalk from relentless use, and subsequently replaced on all four controllers. Even in recent years, I’d still break out the old work horse about once a year for a refresher on the classics. Nintendo started to get a bad rap for its decision to use outdated cartridge technology on this console, as well as its preference for family-friendly software, both of which resulted in flagging third party developer support. To this day, it’s still Nintendo’s biggest weakness. That history lesson sometimes causes one to forget about how many stone cold classics were on this system. Apart from those previously mentioned: Perfect Dark, Pokemon Puzzle League, Banjo Kazooie, Star Fox 64, Mario Party, F-zero X, and the best Zelda ever – Ocarina of Time.

The Nintendo 64 is survived by grandfather NES, father Super NES, and children Gamecube, Wii, and WiiU.

Nintendo 64 and I in happier times. Please disregard the outfit.

Nintendo 64 and I in happier times. Please disregard the outfit.

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The Season of (No) Cynicism

Charlie Brown Christmas

I’m going to make a confession here that, if you know me very well, is no confession at all. If you’re familiar with the content of this site, same. It may come as a surprise to some.

I like Christmas music. Only after Thanksgiving of course, and upon December 26th, let it be gone entirely. But I like it. I listen to the Christmas music stations on Pandora (Indie Holidays is good for the hipster in all of us), I have a pretty decent playlist going in my own music collection (including Bad Religion and Weezer’s respective Christmas albums), and in certain desperate times I even listen to it on terrestrial radio.

It’s not that I think the music itself is great. Some of it is great, some of it is mediocre, and some is downright God awful. And I understand that in most cases it’s completely fucked out. Crammed into our consciousness by retail stores that start playing it exclusively well before Thanksgiving, driving their employees mad. I understand that its saccharine, manufactured cheer can be grating, or immature. I understand all of this. And yet, I listen to it. I enjoy it. (December 1st – 25th)

Thinking on that fact led me to a revelation about my approach to the holidays that I didn’t see before. On my Halloween site, I often examine what makes me such a big fan of the holiday, and it usually boils down to a form of nostalgia, writ large. That and vague notions about simple happiness, which I couldn’t really articulate fully. But what I’ve come to understand just recently is that the thing I really enjoy about the holiday season, the thing that gets me on a deep level, is that the holidays are my own personal break from cynicism. 

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Coulson Lives! Or, MCU’s Status Quo Fakeouts


Comic books have always had an interesting dilemma. Their big name characters are too iconic (and therefore, too valuable) to be laid to rest, but their stories need to generate some degree of dramatic tension in order to keep readers’ interest. Hence the ever-popular Superhero Death. The Superhero Death is the card the publishers want you to think can only be played once, but of course we all know the truth. How many times have Superman and Batman and Wolverine and Spiderman “died”, only to be resurrected, either within the ongoing story thread itself or via a series reboot? Superhero Deaths are the card you can play any number of times, provided you allow enough time between deployments to counter the law of diminishing returns.

The film franchises that have burst forth from these comic origins, revenue juggernauts that they are, have the exact same problem. Audiences are wise to their act. We even know their game plan – to beat potential leaks to the punch, Marvel publicly revealed their entire slate of upcoming films, with release dates, through 2019. We know their characters are invulnerable to movie death, and while the main character’s potential demise is hardly the only carrot you can dangle to create suspense in a movie (truly, in nearly every mainstream movie we KNOW the good guys will prevail), the threat of staleness looms over every episodic piece of fiction that has no set endpoint. Paradoxically, people tend to crave the new as much as they crave the familiar. The changeover always happens when “familiar” morphs into “predictable”. 

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Boyhood Review

Boyhood poster

“Everyone’s always saying seize the moment. I don’t know, I’m kind of thinking it’s the other way around, like the moment seizes us.”

I don’t want to grant that little line of stoner philosophy dialogue towards the end of Boyhood more poignancy than it’s worth, but it could just be the key to comprehending this movie. Although, more likely a better key phrase comes slightly earlier – “I just thought there’d be more.”

This might sound like the beginning of a bad review. It’s not. I actually loved Boyhood. But make no mistake – this is a boring movie. Long, slow-paced, mundane, light on comedy, light on dramatic moments, lacking a single narrative throughline. And that’s exactly the point. It’s the best boring movie I’ve ever seen. 

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Christmas Music Factoids

I felt a little bad about my only Christmas music post being a negative one, even though complaining is more or less the purpose of this site. I considered countering Top Five Worst Christmas Songs with Top Five Best Christmas Songs, but the more I thought about it the more I felt that such a post wouldn’t be remotely interesting. Favorite songs are so subjective, and there’s only so many ways of saying “I like this song – it reminds me of Christmas.”

In the course of researching the last article I found myself wondering about the origins of a lot of the famous Christmas standards that play on continuous repeat every December. The religious songs, of course, all developed from hymns, but what about the secular ones? Many of them are so old and have been recorded by so many artists few people know where they originated.

Since it’s become such a go-to conversation starter for me this month, I thought I’d share some random facts about famous Christmas songs that came up in my Wikipedia perusing:

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The Best Movies Ever – Bad Santa

Bad Santa

I’ll never forget the first time I saw Bad Santa. It was late at night on Christmas Eve, and I couldn’t fall asleep. Even though I was an adult at that time I still had a bit more of that childlike anticipation that keeps you awake on the night before Christmas. I had recently moved out of my parents’ house, and was feeling just a little homesick. I turned on the TV – Comedy Central was playing Bad Santa uncut and uncensored, which meant that in order to compensate for the FCC fines they’d receive for playing such content on basic cable, they had to double down on commercial time. There was 4 minutes of movie followed by 5 minutes of commercials, ad infinitum. It’s a maddening way to watch a movie.

Nevertheless, it was so much better and so much funnier than I expected! When Bad Santa first came out, I had no interest in seeing it. I wasn’t down for the crass debasement of Christmas that it seemed like, and the comedy was marketed as being dumber and more lowbrow than it actually is. Bad Santa is raunchy, make no mistake. But it’s earned raunchiness. All of the explicit content develops naturally from well-written characters.

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The Five Worst Christmas Songs

Toby Keith Christmas

I know… this seems like yet another excessively negative article, but sincerely, I love Christmas music! I was going to actually first write a Top Five Christmas Songs list, but it would be too hard to limit it to only 5 – and, I wouldn’t have anything terribly interesting to say about them.

But most people out there have some level of a love-hate relationship with Christmas music. It’s a guilty pleasure, one that has so many ways of being off-putting, and invokes a lot of conflicting emotions. I find that despite its excessively saccharine, commercial nature, I’m all about Christmas music during the month of December (and ONLY the month of December). The problem is there are only so many mainstream songs about Christmas, and terrestrial radio only puts a relatively small number of those on constant rotation. And some of them are just terrible… 

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The Best Movies Ever – Home Alone


Kicking off the Christmas edition of Best Movies Ever – the indulgent fantasy of every child of the 90’s, Home Alone.

It’s ingenious how effectively this movie, written by John Hughes and directed by Chris Columbus, plays to a kid’s sympathies. The Christmas setting, the notion of complete and utter freedom from your parents, the power to outwit adults, the overcoming of irrational fears, and the feeling of being a confident hero are all at the core of Home Alone. But it’s not the kind of movie you really outgrow – it’s made well enough for adults to enjoy, partly thanks to the superb casting.

Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern are brilliant as the burglers, and until the booby traps start going off they even seem like relatively realistic (if cliche) criminals. Of course, once they do start pratfalling on ice and getting burned by rigged blowtorches it’s hysterical to watch Joe Pesci try to act convincingly frustrated without saying “motherfucker”. Imagine how many ruined takes… 

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