Sunday, January 13, 2019

TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY



(July 1991, U.S.)

A sequel to THE TERMINATOR (1984) was a total shock to me. For starters, I saw no conceivable way for the story of James Cameron's fantastic sci-fi-action thriller to continue. I mean, the Terminator was destroyed, Sarah Connor's unborn child was going to live and it looked like mankind's future had been saved from destruction and war. Furthermore, there was no internet or social media back in 1991. At best, if you wanted to keep up with what was new and exciting in the world of entertainment, you had to watch ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT on CBS, which I didn't. So when I saw a full page ad of Arnold Schwarzenegger riding a motorcycle and carrying a rifle in the New York Times Arts & Leisure section advertising the new sequel, my immediate reaction was, "When the hell did this happen?" I was skeptical, of course. But when I noticed that it was also directed by Cameron, who by now, had thrilled the world since THE TERMINATOR with ALIENS, I figured that, perhaps, it would be worth a look.

Worth a look? If ever there were three more understated words in the English language when pertaining to movie, these were it! From the moment the movie opened with a spectacular, futuristic war taking place on the grounds of Los Angeles in the year 2029, I was hooked. In fact, when I saw this awesome shot on the big screen in front of me...


...my immediate wonder was if they sold a poster in stores of this exact image. Oh, how great this would have looked on my college dorm wall (today, it would simply make a great computer screen saver).

The time is the not-too-distant future when John Connor (played by Edward Furlong) is now ten years-old (ten? Looks more like twelve to me), so figure the year is 1995. John is a troubled and delinquent kid living with foster parents because his own mother Sarah Connor (played again by Linda Hamilton) got herself locked up in a mental institution when she tried to blow up a computer lab while preparing her son for his future role as the leader of the Human Resistance against Skynet, the artificial intelligence entity with control over the United States nuclear missiles and the initiator of the nuclear holocaust called "Judgment Day" that Sarah already knows will take place on August 29, 1997. Of course, she's considered insane and no one will believe her prophecies, including her own son.

Like the first movie, Skynet of the future sends another Terminator (played by Robert Patrick), the advances T-1000 prototype comprised of liquid metal, back in time to kill John as a child. This new Terminator coincides well with the new CGI moviemaking of the 1990s because it has the awesome ability to take on the shape and appearance of just about anything and anyone it touches, including the power to transform its arms into knives and other stabbing weapons. Arnold, this time, plays the Terminator charged with protecting young John Connor, programmed and sent back in time by John himself in the future. Together, John and the Terminator break Sarah out of her imprisonment and head for the road in order to escape the authorities and prevent "Judgment Day". While the T-1000 is constantly in pursuit, the action is hardcore and easily outsoars everything we were treated to back in 1984.

Along the way, we learn about our own future in a world where scientists and technicians of Skynet retrieved the mechanical CPU arm and computer chip of the first Terminator and used it to advance our technology that would inevitably lead us all to our "Judgment Day". But with the horrifying knowledge of the future also comes the power to potentially change it. In their race against time, Sarah, John, the Terminator and the man most responsible for our future, Miles Bennett Dyson (played by Joe Morton) are out to destroy everything (including the T-1000) that Skynet can use to destroy us. After some intense battle and combat action inside a steel mill, the T-1000 is destroyed in a vat of molten steel (sorry for the spoiler!) and the future appears saved, or at least it will be after the hero Terminator of the movie destroys itself, as well. Our lives can now feel a sense of hope...at least until they make three more damn TERMINATOR sequels!

Let me say right off the bat that TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY is still my favorite action movie of all time. Despite all the films of franchises like James Bond, STAR WARS, DIE HARD and the countless comic book superhero movies that have bombarded us since Tim Burton's BATMAN (1989), it's still James Cameron's hardcore version of what might become of our future in a world where machines think more and human beings think less that continues to take my breath away even after twenty-eight years. T2's thrilling and carefully staged action sequences and awesome, eye-popping visual effects are nothing short of a landmark achievement in the what was the future of filmmaking back in the early '90s. But more than action, there's an effective human quality to the film that also includes the depth of the cyborg characters. As the savior of the human race, it's Arnold (despite his lack of credibility as a true actor, in my opinion) as the machine, who while constantly learning about the human condition, realizes the importance and value of life. T2 inaugurates a new decade before the end of the century immediately following an era when action was simply limited to the mindless thunder and high-voltage of men like Chuck Norris and Sylvester Stallone. Perhaps we, like Cameron, were getting smarter and more discriminating about what we called good entertainment on the big screen. If we were, it certainly didn't last too long. Still, I'll take the legendary history of TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY for everything it gave me when I was younger and everything it continues to give me today...on high definition Blu-Ray!

Thank you, James! Keep the great movies coming!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Sarah Connor (voice-over): "The unknown future rolls toward us. I face it for the first time with a sense of hope. Because if a machine, a Terminator, can learn the value of human life, maybe we can too."

It would seem that we can't!



Saturday, January 5, 2019

TERMINATOR, THE



(October 1984, U.S.)

This is the story of my first seeing James Cameron's THE TERMINATOR back in 1984. Once upon a time..

That summer, when I went to see the Gene Wilder comedy THE WOMAN IN RED with my family, I also got to see the trailer for THE TERMINATOR (that was probably the better part of that movie experience). By this time, I was a soon-to-be-senior in high school, and like all others in my grade, we were practically stars at the top of our game (a year from now we’d be in college and right back at the bottom again). As young men, when we weren’t enjoying the pleasure of beer and girls at parties, we were enjoying the freedom of movies when we wanted and as late as we wanted. To finally be at an age when we could take in the last show of the night and come home very late without parental issues was just another step toward adult freedom. The bigger the movies, the better. The badder the movies, the better. Arnold Schwarzenegger playing an assassin cyborg was big and it was bad, and my friends and I couldn’t wait to see it (actually, it turned out to be just me and one friend, but that didn’t ruin anything because he was just as pumped as I was, and that sort of enthusiasm for a movie always helps the experience).

The movie poster’s tagline seemed to say it all. The present and the future, a killing machine that felt no pity, no pain and no fear. Having seen the trailers, I already had a pretty good idea of what I was in for. A tale of time travel in which Arnold as “the Terminator” goes back in time from the future to our present day of 1984 to kill a young woman named Sarah Connor and her unborn son who will one day become the leader of the resistance against the machines that have taken over our society in the future. A soldier from that same doomed future was sent back as well to protect Sarah from the terminator. From the moment the opening credits began, I was hooked. Not so much in the credits themselves, but rather in the way the movie title was forming from side to side and meeting in the middle. Like SUPERMAN-THE MOVIE when I was a kid, I was enjoying a great combination of credits and powerful music.

Not since BLADE RUNNER was I challenged with such a high concept in science fiction storytelling. This was my first Schwarzenegger movie since CONAN THE BARBARIAN and he seemed perfectly built for a role of a mindless machine who said very little. Perhaps that wasn’t saying too much for the man as an actor, but it seemed to be working, nonetheless. One of the first story elements of the movie I was impressed with was the Terminator’s systematic killing of every Sarah Connor he found in the Los Angeles phone book in order to be thorough in his mission. Impressive, yet scary, just the same. The Sarah Connor (played by Linda Hamilton) he was really looking became terrified when she heard about the other ladies. The moment when she was almost killed in the dance club put a knot in my stomach because I couldn’t take my eyes of the red laser dot at the center of her forehead. Sure, I fully expected her to be saved because that’s what happens in the movies, but it was the notion of staring death in the face like that knowing that your killer absolutely would not miss that got to me. Her savior, the warrior and protector from the future, Kyle Reese (played by Michael Biehn), stopped the Terminator with his own firearm, but only momentarily. We needed to remember that the killer wasn’t a man, and would just stand up again and resume his hunt. Despite my preview understanding of what was taking place, Kyle’s explanation to Sarah was not only helpful, but entertaining to listen to. This wasn’t just a simple matter of the hunter and the hunted. This was a tale of an artificial intelligence defense network run by a corporation known as Skynet. In the future, machines controlling our nuclear weapons would become self-aware and launch a nuclear holocaust. Survivors would be enslaved and ruled by the artificial intelligent machines. Sarah’s future son, John Connor, would rise up and teach his people to fight against Skynet and its army of machines. With victory nearly won, the Terminator was sent back to change history and prevent the eventual resistance. Like I said, it was high concept and I was loving every bit of it.

As Sarah and Kyle continued to elude the Terminator and the police, they were (predictably) falling in love, too. During the explosive climax, I learned a new concept in surprise endings. First when we thought the Terminator was destroyed in an explosion, he rose again (without his human skin now) to complete his mission of killing his victims. When we thought he was destroyed again with the hydraulic press, what was left of him kept on coming to finish off Sarah once and-for-all. I knew of the concept of the ending that wasn’t quite the ending from the conclusion of ALIEN, but this was the first time I ever saw it happen more than once. Even when the Terminator was finally destroyed for good, the concept of "just when you thought it was over" still came back for one more round. Months later, Sarah was pregnant and driving through Mexico, making tape recordings for her unborn son. It was clear that Kyle was the father of her future son. High concept took a turn now into theories of time travel that I didn’t fully understand. I mean, if Kyle is John Connor’s father, and it was John who sent Kyle back in time in the first place, does any of what we just watched on screen ever really take place if Kyle didn’t even survive the year 1984? I left the movie puzzled, but I hardly cared. THE TERMINATOR was and still is one of the best action, sci-fi movies I’ve ever seen!

It’s unfortunate, however, that like so many other movie franchises that start off with high profile glory, the story of the THE TERMINATOR eventually fizzles out into too many overdone and overblown sequels, beginning with the third film of 2003. It’s fortunate, though, that I can clear my mind of all unnecessary film installments and remember just how good and original James Cameron’s vision of a dystopian future really is. It’s storytelling and performances are compelling and continues a trend in tech-noir filmmaking that began with Ridley Scott and BLADE RUNNER. As a special effects thriller, it’s not without its necessary gory treats, either. Right from the beginning of the film, the action and violence are given to us with a strong sense of suspense and tension while setting up the story at the right pace. Like a Dirty Harry movie meets THE ROAD WARRIOR meets grindhouse schlock, it’s high-powered guns blazing with apocalyptic science fiction and brutal horror blended in for good measure.

But even as we’re taking in all the action and fun, one cannot ignore the fascist statement behind the story and our possible future. Even in the 1980s, an era before the internet, the smart phone and social media, James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd recognized the dangers of computer technology and society’s dependence on the machines that govern our lives. If Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and Disney’s TRON were merely light-hearted insights to human being’s relationship with artificial intelligence, then THE TERMINATOR (and its totally awesome 1991 sequel) reminds us that we’d better be damn careful about the direction we’re headed toward, and to be prepared for the destructive consequences we face if we’re not.

And they lived happily ever after...maybe.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Kyle Reese: "Listen, and understand! That Terminator is out there! It can't be bargained with! It can't be reasoned with! It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear...and it absolutely will not stop...ever...until you are dead!"

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

TEN COMMANDMENTS, THE (1956)



(November 1956, U.S.)

I was born Jewish. Beyond that, I have absolutely no Jewish practices, beliefs or traditions of my own, not even a single day spent in Hebrew school. I'm also an atheist. In fact, throughout my adult life, I've had an ongoing joke that everything I learned about Judaism, I learned from actor Charlton Heston and director Cecil B. DeMille. Believe it or not, most people who aren't familiar enough with the history of Cecil B.'s epic motion picture THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (a remake of his own 1923 silent film of the same name) don't get the joke. But I suppose when considering the film, it's impossible to say that I grew up without any Jewish traditions. The annual airing of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS on ABC-TV every spring was not only a motion picture tradition, but it also coincided with the annual Jewish holiday tradition of Passover, which was celebrated every year at my grandparent's home when I was a kid and then subsequently at my aunt and uncle's home when I got older. It was a time of family gathering while surrounded by some of the most delectable food I've ever known...times I've never forgotten to this day. In fact, I still remember that it was the year 1978 or 1979 when THE TEN COMMANDMENTS aired on a Sunday night that was the first night of Passover. I can still picture myself and all my cousins gathered around my grandparent's huge color TV set in their basement, refusing to budge from our seats, even when dinner was ready and food would be served. It seems we were all that committed to holding onto the moment when we could all share this film tradition together.

As for the film itself, the annual viewing tradition didn't exactly come natural to me. Let's face it, without any formal Jewish training beyond the annual stories at the family Passover Seder table, I practically knew nothing of the film or what it was really about. Yet somehow, I knew it was important for me to watch it every year (or at least as much of it as I could watch on a school night. I mean this movie was damn near five hours long with commercials!). I also knew that while I was watching it, every one of my first cousins were gathered around their own television sets to watch the annual biblical story of the life of Moses (played by Heston), the adopted Egyptian prince who, according to prophecy, becomes the deliverer who would lead the enslaved Hebrews out of slavery in their Exodus to Mount Sinai, where Moses receives God's Ten Commandments. For the purpose of this blog post, that's probably enough of a plot description. Anyone who is Jewish, or at least is familiar with the Old Testament, likely knows the rest of the story.

But how does someone like me come to fully appreciate THE TEN COMMANDMENTS without any of his own beliefs in the biblical traditions that surround it? The only answer is to approach the story as a purely Hollywood motion picture epic and nothing else. But even that's not without its challenges. For nearly four hours (that's the running time on DVD without commercials), the dialogue is almost completely and purely biblical, leaving very little room for traditional and conventional Hollywood dialogue, not too unlike watching Shakespeare. And just how accurate is the film's content? How much does it diverge from the original biblical text? Did the very first Passover Seder (or last supper, really) on the eve of the great Exodus really serve unleavened bread before the Hebrews were even leaving Egypt? Questions from Moses's nephew in that sequence would suggest yes, but watch the scene closely and you'll see Moses and his family tearing and eating what appears to be Pita bread, and that bread is leavened. I suppose those with faith can use their own personal judgement and beliefs between what is true and what is pure Hollywood. Those like myself can only accept what the director claims to be content directly taken from the Old Testament, the Holy Scriptures and consultation from a rabbi or two involved with the making of the film. I can't also forget my childhood and just how epic I considered this motion picture to be, in particular the special effects for its time. I'm sure my cousins and I were enthralled every year when we watched Heston spread his arms out, declare "Behold His mighty hand!" and watch the Red Sea part with impressive effects that would someday lead to modern computer-generated imagery (CGI)...


As an adult and a personal critic of cinema, I look at THE TEN COMMANDMENTS for all of its visual spectacle and glory. The settings, facades and décor of the great Egyptian cities are overwhelming, particularly in their vivid, glowing Technicolor. This is clearly a new and improved project from his original black and white silent film that is close to DeMille's heart. The photographic scenes of the deserts, the mountains and the sea are a breathtaking wonder. The thousands of Hebrew slaves conjugated in bitter bondage and joyous exodus is visually striking. Charlton Heston commands the role of Moses with a persona that practically convinces his audience that he's not only one with whichever God he chooses to believe in, but also with the sworn enemy of Yul Brenner's Pharoh, who holds Moses's people in chains. We also can't ignore the outstanding performances (though terribly biblical that they are) of supporting cast members as Anne Baxter, John Derek (future husband of Bo), Yvonne De Carlo (future Mrs. Herman Munster) and the great Edward G. Robinson (he was Jewish) as a treacherous and diabolical Jewish overlord.

Despite my lack of Jewish upbringing and beliefs, I still enjoy watching THE TEN COMMANDMENTS every year or two around the time of Passover. Gone, however, is the commitment to sitting in front of the TV so ABC can take up five hours of my time with its pointless commercials. That ritual has long been replaced by two high-definition discs that look amazing. Those like my first cousin Alan still cling to the annual television tradition because it's a reminder of all that was good about his childhood, and for that, I can only commend his nostalgia and sentimentalism. I've forever declared that movies define our lives; who we were and who we are today. Alan's attitude only drives that point home.

Finally, for years, I've occasionally dedicated these blog posts to specific people for specific reasons having to do with the films I write about. For this post, I dedicate it to my Uncle Henry. For years, I and my family enjoyed the wonderful company and the wonderful food of his Passover Seder table. However, for the past six years, there has been an interruption in that tradition. The reasons are not important to my readers now, but on this brand new day of the brand new year, I declare that this interruption must end now...and it will end this coming spring because it's time for it to end.

Now it is written...so let it be done...because I say so!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Moses: "A city is made of brick, Pharaoh. The strong make many. The weak make few. The dead make none. So much for accusations."















Sunday, December 30, 2018

"10"



(October 1979, U.S.)

The year was 1979. I was twelve years-old, in the seventh grade, and my heterosexual hormones were beginning to rage! There was a new comedy in theaters by the same guy that made a bunch of those PINK PANTHER movies called "10" and it had this incredible new woman in it named Bo Derek who was supposed to be the hottest sex symbol since Farrah Fawcett-Majors! There were these iconic images of her on the beach dressed in a flimsy flesh-colored swimsuit, with a hairstyle dressed in cornrows, that were becoming all the rage in magazines and the world of entertainment. Images like this were telling me to get my young butt to the movie theater as quickly as possible...


As good luck would have it, "10" was playing at the single screen neighborhood movie theater. As bad luck would have it, my parents were the strict kind who wouldn't allow me to go to a movie featuring extensive nude scenes and sex (my parents, at that moment of my life, were the enemy!). It would be at least two years before I finally got to see "10"...on television. Still, over that past year, I’d become very aware of Bo Derek’s popularity from this film and saw many of those iconic pictures of her in magazines (including Playboy). Watching "10" on TV was the first opportunity to see the film that launched her fame, though it was impossible for me to realize just how much I was missing with the edited-for-television version and all its nudity and strong sexual content toned down or deleted entirely. This was a version that only a kid could get away with watching when raised by parents who’d never let him see the uncut R-rated version on screen. Still, even edited, it was a chance for me to get a glimpse of Bo Derek in all her beautiful glory.

As an adult, one can only sympathize with a middle-aged successful songwriter like George Webber (played by Dudley Moore) in becoming obsessed with meeting a woman like Bo Derek and trying to get her into bed. I mean, if you had to choose between Bo and Julie Andrews, isn’t the choice obvious? George goes through extensive steps to try and find this woman named Jenny Miles, including visiting the priest who married her only a day ago and allowing himself to be operated on by her prominent Beverly Hills dentist father. Still, even for a man in his early forties, George isn't exactly living a dry life. Despite the fact that his girlfriend is Julie Andrews, she seems to be willing enough to keep their sex life as active as possible. What's more, George has a distant neighbor within telescope range who's living the life of a horny bachelor with daily swinging orgies, complete with half or fully naked women.

But obsession knows no limitations. Determined to find Jenny, George impulsively boards a plant to follow her and her new husband to their exclusive resort in Mexico. While trying to figure how to make the right move, George befriends the resort bartender and even attempts sex with a woman who suffers from a lack of sexual self-confidence (played by a pre-E.T. Dee Wallace). Despite having a California home on the beach, George clearly doesn't function well on the beach, as he remains dressed in thick sweats and painfully treks across flaming-hot sand in order to get close enough to Jenny in all of her bathing suit beauty! This is where George's fantasies begin to entertain us, with images of Jenny running to him on the beach and making out with him in the sand...



When George inadvertently saves Jenny's husband from drowning, she can't help but finally show her gratitude toward him while her poor hubby is recovering in the hospital. In her hotel room, George is finally get the woman he's wanted for so long, complete with marijuana and the seductive sounds of Maurice Ravel's Boléro.

I suppose this is where Hollywood's bullshit version of morality in the story takes over. Elated to finally have Jenny right where he wants her (naked!), he's shocked, nonetheless, to see just how casually Jenny treats an unexpected phone call from her recovering husband. Furthermore, he can't understand Jenny's casual attitude toward her new marriage, which she describes as mutually open and honest. For Jenny, George is just a "casual lay", and it would seem that George wants to be more than than, despite having his own relationship back in California. So I suppose our lesson learned here is that all people are hypocrites and men (even comedic ones like Dudley Moore) are just plain stupid when they suddenly get an attack of morality just at the point when they're about to score with the finest piece of ass they've ever tried so damn hard to get!

Blake Edwards, whether trying to drive home pointless points of sexual morality, make us laugh hysterically with Dudley Moore's antics (particularly when he's filled with novocaine and alcohol), or simply trying to turn us on with Bo Derek's kick-ass body, scores well with "10". For myself, however, I could do without the obvious plugs to hear Julie Andrews display her singing talents. These are the musical moments I hit the fast forward button on my DVD player. Then again, there are also the naked moments like this when I hit the pause button on my DVD player...


Yes, it would seem that the raging heterosexual hormones of the twelve year-old, seventh grade boy in 1979 are still alive and well when he thinks of Bo Derek of the past! So thank you, Bo, for all the memories of your steaming, hot youth! Oh, and thank you for this awesome poster that hung on my bedroom wall throughout my teens...


And thank you for giving me the opportunity to shamelessly post numerous vintage pictures of you on my blog!

Favorite line or dialogue:

George Webber: "If you were dancing with your wife, or girlfriend you knew in high school, and you said to her, Darling, they're playing our song, do you know what they'd be playing?"
Don the Bartender: "What?"
George Webber: "Why Don't We Do It In The Road. Fuckin' hell kind of era is that?"







Saturday, December 22, 2018

TAXI DRIVER



(February 1976, U.S.)

Martin Scorsese's TAXI DRIVER is one of those visual films that sucks you not only into the world of its lonely and isolated protagonist Travis Bickle (played famously by Robert DeNiro), but also the unsettling world he inhabits. Is it any wonder that author and film historian Nick Clooney chose TAXI DRIVER and its controversial violence as one of his selections for his book, THE MOVIES THAT CHANGED US, and its impact on history when John Hinckley Jr.'s obsession with the film and Jodie Foster drove him to attempt to assassinate President Ronald Reagan on March 30, 1981. Still, this world in question isn't exactly Mars, you know. It's New York City in the heat wave-drenched summer of 1975. But as a visual trip back in time, you can't help but become involved in what the island of Manhattan used to look like back in the days of its filth and scum. The streets are lined with garbage and decay. 42nd Street, in particular, is overrun with hookers, pimps and grindhouse porn theaters. In fact, one can't help but feel that Scorsese is accentuating the point of the many, many movie theaters (porn, or otherwise) that once lined nearly every street and corner that you saw. Concentrate on the scene outside of Travis's taxi cab windshield while listening to Bernard Herrmann's (final) haunting score and you'll see and understand what the city used to look like...



The city is vast and impersonal, and an anonymous man like Travis Bickle is lost within its soul. Suffering from severe insomnia, Travis takes a job as a taxi driver to kill the long hours of the night and get paid for it. He'll drive anywhere, anytime, and will seemingly tolerate any form of scum that enters his cab. Even in his narration to us, he almost nonchalantly points out to us that it's practically part of his nightly routine to clean up the cum and the blood from the back seat of his cab. It would seem that there's no hope of any possible redemption for the city and the human race in Travis's mind, until he becomes infatuated with Betsy (played by Cybill Shepherd), a political campaign volunteer for Senator and Presidential candidate Charles Palantine (played by Leonard Harris). Sadly, Travis has no realistic concept of acceptable social behavior, even with women. On their first date, he naively takes her to a porn film on 42nd Street and has no understanding of why she should choose to be upset about it. That pretty much ends their potential relationship and drives Travis deeper into his isolation from the world and his violent thoughts toward its people. Growing more and more disgusted by the sleaze, dysfunction and prostitution he witnesses throughout the entire city, he seeks to make himself known by contemplating an assassination attempt against Palantine, while also trying to rescue and redeem an adolescent runaway and prostitute named Iris (played by a then twelve year-old Jodie Foster), who would secretly love to escape the world she's in and the pimp that controls her, Sport (played by Harvey Keitel).

Sinking deeper and deeper towards destructive behavior, Travis cuts his hair into a mohawk and attends a public political rally where his attempt against Palantine fails when the Secret Service discover his presence. He escapes capture, but resurfaces to take down Sport and continue on a violent and bloody killing rampage against his brothel's bouncer and one of Iris's mafioso customers. Badly injured in the shootout, he attempts suicide, but has run out of ammunition. As the film proceeds into an epilogue, Travis is not only alive and well, but a redeemed soul who has gained admiration and respect from not only Iris's parents, but from Betsy, as well, who just happens to get into his cab in the final moment of the film.

In a year when ROCKY won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1976, it's clear to see that Scorsese's compelling and hard-hitting masterpiece is what should have truly taken the statue. The world of TAXI DRIVER is hell in a yellow cab driven by a rejected man on the edge of his own insanity. The life of Travis Bickle is a study in deterioration, from his physical appearance down to his own personal confrontations even before they occur on the streets. Even while he's imagining a violent conflict in his own apartment to the tune of his own words, "You talkin' to me?", the stage is set for what will ultimately turn to blood. And yet even despite the film's violent outcome, Hollywood cannot help but offer us a happy ending in which our anti-hero is not only saved from death, but redeemed in his soul, too.

Or is he? There has long been controversy that maybe that so-called happy ending never really happened at all. Did Travis really survive the bloody carnage that took place in that hotel room? The bullet hole in the side of his neck and the additional shots he took to his body would suggest NO. His lifeless body on the floor as the police arrive would also support that suggestion. Did Travis, in fact, die with honor on the floor and simply fantasize about his own "heroism"? Is his reconciliation with Betsy at the film's finale merely his dying thought? Would his agitation after seemingly noticing something in his rear-view mirror as he drives away suggest that his entire story could be looped as one ongoing saga of his inner mind? These are questions that may never be answered, and perhaps it's best for the film's immortal history that they not be answered. Marty may just want it that way.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Travis Bickle (narrating): "Listen, you fuckers, you screwheads! Here is a man who would not take it anymore! A man who stood up against the scum, the cunts, the dogs, the filth, the shit! Here is a man who stood up!"














Saturday, December 15, 2018

TAPS


(December 1981, U.S.)

One of my favorite male screen chemistry, other than Paul Newman and Robert Redford, was Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn, and it's a shame they never worked together again after THE FALCON AND THE SNOWMAN in 1986. In TAPS, Hutton has the edge over the still unknown Penn, from his significant attention from ORDINARY PEOPLE a year before. There's also the very unknown Tom Cruise who solidifies his own presence in this film. But for it's time, it's George C. Scott's legendary standing as an accomplished veteran actor that's meant to lure one's attention to the film. Surely, the man who mastered the character of George S. Patton is the one meant for a military role such as his.

The story follows the military school students at Bunker Hill Academy who take over their school in order to save it from closing. Cadet Brian Moreland (Hutton) has just been promoted to Cadet Major, the highest ranking student at the Academy. Admired and respected by his peers, he's the one who'll ultimately lead the revolt against the civilian bureaucracies responsible for closing a school with decades of honor and tradition to make way for their condominiums. Upon learning of the closing, the cadets are confident that they, along with their commander, General Harlan Bache (Scott) will be able to save their beloved school in the year that they have to do it. However, an accidental shooting of one of the local bullying teenagers outside the graduation ceremony ball sends Bache into police custody for manslaughter and accelerates the closing of the school by the board of trustees. The trauma of the event also causes Bache to have a heart attack and he's hospitalized in critical condition. Since Bache is ill, Moreland takes matters into his own hands by ordering his student colleagues to steal and hide all of the school's armory before it can be seized by the Dean and the local Sheriff. Demanding to meet with Bache and the trustees in return for the weapons, Moreland is nearly arrested himself when he's suddenly backed by his friends above, each of them with their weapon pointed at the powers-that-be that threaten their school's future. This is the image on the movie poster and it's one that could have you cheering for the underdogs.

Tensions escalate when cadets are forced to shoot their way out of a confrontational situation between themselves and more of the local townspeople. Now the police and the military are involved in what's turned into an armed standoff between Bunker Hill and the rest of the outside world. As the standoff continues to escalate in the days to come, the strength behind its resolve seems to slowly deteriorate as more and more students are caving in and "going over the wall", as it were, no longer believing in the cause they're fighting for. Even Moreland's best friend, Alex Dwyer (Penn) is steadily growing impatient with Moreland's military position over the other boys in an almost "godlike" fashion. Only David Shawn (Cruise) seems willing and ready to take things to their ultimate extreme in order to preserve what is right and just in their otherwise closed-off world, and he does in the end, when Moreland finally declares all of the boys to stand down following the accidental death of a twelve year-old cadet, and Shawn opens fire on the entire regimen of forces outside the school's main gate. There's actually something very "Tom Cruise" about the way he looks at his comrades for the last time while firing his machine gun and proclaims, "It's beautiful, man!", and is then riddled with bullets...


While TAPS may seem nothing more than male bonding drama of young talents that would later go on to bigger and better things, it's impossible not to recognize the similarities between it and LORD OF THE FLIES. Like those stranded British school boys in William Golding's classic novel, the boys of Bunker Hill must look after themselves in a world without grownups that's cut off from the rest of society. But because these boys are not in the position of fighting for their physical survival, their intentions and actions may seems all the more dangerous in that they must pick and choose how far they will go in order to uphold a cause they feel is worth fighting for. Survival brings on the necessity of actions which could almost be condoned, right or wrong. The cause, whatever it may be, requires more thought behind what is morally right and wrong. The boys of Bunker Hill are men of honor who live in a world where students on the outside often vandalize their schools, and this makes them appear all the more righteous. On the other of the coin is a strictly-disciplined education of minds and bodies that the rest of the world may regard as too different and unpopular from the norm. I know nothing of the true nature of real life military academies, so I'm in no position to judge right or wrong. I only know that in the fictional world of TAPS, Timothy Hutton, Sean Pean, Tom Cruise and George C. Scott are men who are talented enough to convince us that following them into battle, any battle, is the right thing to do.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Brian Moreland: "We have a home here! We think it's something worth defending!"











Saturday, December 8, 2018

TALK RADIO



(December 1988, U.S.)

In 1988, the films of Oliver Stone were solidified in my brain and in my moviegoing enthusiasm. His last three films, SALVADOR, PLATOON and WALL STREET had left impressions on me that, at the time, could not be equaled to any other active director, except perhaps, Steven Spielberg. Stone could've made a film about the damn phone book and I would've paid good money to see it. TALK RADIO, for me, seemed to represent Stones diversity to cover a variety of subjects, from war to the financial world to the media world I only personally knew of back then through the voice of Howard Stern, whose name is important to note here, because in effect, I would not have equated his name with the spirit of true talk radio. In the 1980s, Stern was political, controversial, and managed to abuse and insult his listeners on an almost daily basis. But it's always been my opinion that Stern was more of an outlet for entertainment and comedy than what serious talk radio is supposed to represent. Admittedly, I know almost nothing of true talk radio because it's not what I listen to. Men like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Mark Levin are not what I chose to occupy my ears and senses when I'm driving in my car or sitting at my computer writing (as I am now). As for Howard Stern, I haven't heard the man's voice since he left KROCK 92.3 FM in New York and began his broadcast on Sirius XM Radio in 2006, the reason being that I refuse to pay a monthly charge for radio that can still be heard for free. Still, the purpose behind this post is to not only interpret Stone's film, but to also cast my reflections on talk radio of the past.

Based on the play of the same name by Eric Bogosian and Tad Savinar, as well as the 1984 assassination of Denver, Colorado talk radio host Alan Berg, as depicted in the book Talked to Death: The Life and Murder of Alan Berg by Stephen Singular, the film TALK RADIO stars Bogosian as a Jewish, Howard Stern-type, Dallas, Texas radio personality who runs his nightly show, Night Talk, with a sarcastic, condescending, controversial and bitter sense of humor that almost always pisses off his audience, who more often than not, disagrees with Barry's liberal political views. When we're introduced to Barry's show, the man is on fire, attacking everything from the current establishment, the legalization of all drugs, and the repeated calls he receives from angry, bigoted white nationalists. The one constant through all of Barry's nightly antics is that no matter how much he insults and tears into his audience, they keep coming back for more. In a world where all of them could simply turn off his show, they choose to listen, night after night, for reasons none of them are ever able to justify when he confronts them with it on the air. At a live appearance at a sporting event (where he's abruptly booed off the platform), he righteously defends himself to a meek woman who hates him, by citing that her attacks and accusations against him have no credibility because she keeps listening to his show. Love Barry or hate him, he makes a very valid point in his defense.

As his show prepares to go nationwide, we see the personal side of Barry's life through vignettes with his much younger girlfriend (who's also his producer) and some rather unnecessary flashbacks to his early life when he started out as just a married suit salesman and manages to (by chance, really) land himself a job on the radio. In fact, when you see what Barry looks like in his younger days with his long hair, you can understand why Howard Stern himself panned the film's release back in 1988, claiming that Bogosian had literally ripped off his life (whether that's true or not is up to your own judgement). Barry is a rebel born out of the 1960s and seems happiest when he's fighting someone, be it his audience, his boss (played by Alec Baldwin), the show's new head honcho (played by John Pankow) or even his alienated ex-wife Ellen (played by Ellen Greene), whom he still has obvious feelings for when he asks her to fly to Dallas to support him during the show's new transition. But even those momentary feelings of love and remembrance Barry displays for Ellen are ultimately shattered when Barry's talk radio persona takes over and he blasts her on the air while the entire radio staff listens in horror. As one of Barry's listeners puts it, he's a pitiful man who doesn't know how to love.

Yet by all accounts, despite everything that can be despised about Barry Champlain, he is loved by all within the sound of his voice, and he's loved by those of us who sit in our seats and cling to every word he says. Stone knows how to grab us by the balls from the very beginning, and refuses to let go (well, during the talk radio sequences, anyway) right up until the very moment that Barry is shot dead by one of his crazed, right wing haters. But even before that ever happens, we're held in Barry's grip when during his second show of the film, he has what appears to be an epiphany on the air and slowly comes to realize just what sort of entity his audience really is. On air, Barry reveals his true self, admitting his hypocrisy of his personal gains and fame rather than the social ills he addresses, while refusing to apologize for them. He bitterly declares his fear of his listeners and berates them as morons who have nothing worth saying, even as they tolerate his abuse and ask for more. In fact, look carefully at Barry's face, and you'll see there's one moment where his expression of disgust is so obvious in his eyes and his mouth, you would think that's he's personally attacking the very microphone that has served as a nightly tool for all of his outrage toward the world and those who populate it. It's an unforgettable moment...


When TALK RADIO is over, we cannot help but feel the loss of a major media figure, as the camera pans over the city of Dallas to the electronic music of the Police's Stewart Copeland. But even more important is the reflection on the role talk radio once played in a world that did not yet know the meaning of the words of social media. Today, when we can all easily and anonymously voice our opinions, vile and disgusting as many of them often are, on outlets like Facebook and Twitter, we must recall a time when such verbal action had to bypass the radio airwaves, as well as the radio host, first. Many of us, even while often repelled by what other human beings stand for, cannot live without them through media channels that can safely keep them at a distance. Radio, besides catering to our own individual musical tastes, was once a powerful tool of human connection that could inflame our thoughts, our passions, and our anger. Radio was social media once, but sadly, is now nothing too much more than optional pay channels, in my opinion. But even today, in a world where angry opinions are like assholes (everybody's gone one!), I still believe in the power of traditional radio. Even as I sit writing this blog post, I'm listening to not only my favorite classic rock songs on Q104.3 FM New York, but I also take comfort in the sound of the DJ's voice accompanying my actions. It reminds me that radio, while still a very valid form of media, may never again be what it once was, for the simple reason that many of would rather express our voice and listen to our music through the channels of the home computer and the hand-held iPhone.

We live in a sad, sad world. Barry Champlain would've hated it more than the one he hated in the '80s. Like the words he first speaks at the beginning of the film..."The worst news of the day!"

Favorite line or dialogue:

Barry Champlain (on the air): "I'm a hypocrite. I ask for sincerity and I lie. I denounce the system as I embrace it. I want money and power and prestige. I want ratings and success. And I don't give a damn about you, or the world. That's the truth. For that I could say I'm sorry, but I won't. Why should I? I mean who the hell are you anyways you...audience! You're on me every night like a pack of wolves because you can't stand facing what you are and what you've made! Yes, the world is a terrible place! Yes, cancer and garbage disposals will get you! Yes, a war is coming! Yes, the world is shot to hell and you're all goners! Everything's screwed up and you like it that way, don't you? You're fascinated by the gory details! You're mesmerized by your own fear! You revel in floods and car accidents, unstoppable diseases! You're happiest when others are in pain! That's where I come in, isn't it? I'm here to lead you by the hands through the dark forest of your own hatred and anger and humiliation! I'm providing a public service! You're so scared! You're like a little child under the covers! You're afraid of the boogeyman, but you can't live without him! Your fear, your own lives have become your entertainment! Next month, millions of people are going to be listening to this show and you'll have nothing to talk about! Marvelous technology is at our disposal, and instead of reaching up to new heights, we're gonna see how far down we can go! How deep into the muck we can immerse ourselves! What do you wanna talk about, hmm? Baseball scores? Your pet? Orgasms? You're pathetic. I despise each and every one of you. You've got nothing, absolutely nothing. No brains, no power, no future, no hope, no God. The only thing you believe in is me! What are you if you don't have me? I'm not afraid, see! I come in here every night, I make my case, I make my point, I say what I believe in! I tell you what you are! I have to! I have no choice! You frighten me! I come in here every night, I tear into you, I abuse you, I insult you, you just keep coming back for more! Whats wrong with you? Why do you keep calling? I don't wanna hear anymore, stop talking! GO AWAY!!!