Around the Bend (2004)

Kevin Jagernauth

Henry's instructions bring Turner and Jason to important landmarks that dredge up memories and force them to face events that have haunted their lives.

Around the Bend

Director: Jordan Roberts
Cast: Christopher Walken, Michael Caine, Josh Lucas
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Warner Independent
First date: 2004
US DVD Release Date: 2005-02-22
Amazon affiliate

Death looms over Around the Bend. Henry (Michael Caine) desperately wants all the Lair men to pack up the van and head out on one last road trip before his passing. When his long-lost son Turner (Christopher Walken) shows up on his grandson Jason's (Josh Lucas) doorstep, it looks like his dream will finally come true. But he dies first, leaving behind a "will" that consists of a series of clues and directions stuffed inside a Kentucky Fried Chicken bag. For the film's focus on death and its aftereffects, the sense of loss that Henry's immediate family feels is assumed rather than felt. With only 20 of minutes of screen time, the depth and nature of Henry's relationship with his family is underdeveloped.

In the relaxed and observational bonus feature documentary, "It's a Good Day: The Making of Around the Bend," we learn that the movie took writer/director Jordan Roberts 10 years to write, with earlier versions including a more detailed backstory for Henry. Roberts' attempt to focus on the emotional toll on the loss of a family member is observed from a clinical distance. The nearly 15 minutes of deleted scenes, mostly pertaining to Henry, point towards a different film. In his commentary, Roberts explains he cut the scenes because they did not propel the plot. But with the film already running at a scant 83 minutes, they hardly seem like overload.

Around the Bend is thankfully free of histrionic speeches and tearful outbursts, but instead takes a subtler approach. Henry's will requires Turner, Jason and his son Zach (Lucas Bobo) to scatter his ashes at a series of pre-determined locations in New Mexico. Each day of the road trip requires them to eat a meal at KFC (Henry's favorite restaurant) before they can proceed. Henry's passing brings the thorny issues plaguing the Lair family to the fore, but each character struggles internally. Turner and Jason in particular dance around Turner's unexplained disappearance, and for the most of the trip choose instead to argue over trivial matters such as Turner "insulting" Jason by calling him a "tense person." Henry's instructions however, will bring Turner and Jason to important landmarks that dredge up memories and force them to face events that have haunted their lives.

Early in the film Henry refers to the family as his "tribe." He longs for them to come together, to be able to lean on each for strength and comfort. His will is a desperate attempt to bring them together in a way he could never achieve in his own lifetime. Unfortunately, the characters reconcile their differences too easily and predictably. Something tragic happened around Turner, and he and Jason have a verbal showdown at the final destination. The contrived conclusion flips the previously nuanced tone. Here death brings to the surface grudges, and misunderstandings that no bucket of chicken can resolve.

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Blending a dazzling array of musical influences and directions for more than two decades now, Thievery Corporation have come to represent one of the 21st century's boldest bands in both genre-blending style and lyrical impact.

The Halloween season is in full effect on this crisp Sunday evening in San Francisco that precedes All Hallows Eve by two days. With the traditional holiday falling on a Tuesday, music fans are out for as much costumed fun as they can get as evidenced by the costumed revelers here at the Masonic in the Nob Hill area. Thievery Corporation is in town, and the Bay Area "thieves" as the band's fans are known are ready to let it all hang out with one of the few bands in the music industry that isn't shy on telling listeners the truth about what's going on in the world.

Keep reading... Show less

Despite the uninspired packaging in this complete series set, Friday Night Lights remains an outstanding TV show; one of the best in the current golden age of television.

There are few series that have earned such universal acclaim as Friday Night Lights (2006-2011). This show unreservedly deserves the praise -- and the well-earned Emmy. Ostensibly about a high school football team in Dillon, Texas—headed by a brand new coach—the series is more about community than sports. Though there's certainly plenty of football-related storylines, the heart of the show is the Taylor family, their personal relationships, and the relationships of those around them.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.