Saturday, November 11, 2017
(September 1948, U.S.)
SORRY, WRONG NUMBER (adapted from the original Lucille Fletcher radio play) is, of course, old enough to feel completely dated (if not silly) to the average moviegoer, even lover of great black and white classics. However, the film opens with a message to the audience that I can't help but feel doesn't stray too far from the world we live in today...
"In the tangled networks of a great city, the telephone is the unseen link between a million lives...It is the servant of our common needs--the confidante of our inmost secrets...life and happiness wait upon its ring...and horror...and loneliness...and...death!!!
The year is 1948, but the message is clearly outlining its own version of what we consider our social media today and the equipment that ties us all together, sometimes whether we like it or not. The telephone, as simple as it may have been once, was still a quirky, little instrument that could, perhaps, throw a twist into one's life occasionally and enter them into circumstances of danger. The story is a somewhat simple one of a bedridden Manhattan woman who accidentally overhears a murder plot on the telephone when her line is crossed with another's. But to fully appreciate the victim of the story here, we have to understand just what sort of woman Leona Stevenson (played by the great Barbara Stanwyck) really is. She's a spoiled, rotten bitch who's never been shy about manipulating and controlling the men in her life, from her wealthy father to her whipped husband (in fact, there was probably nobody like Stanwyck who could play such a woman so damn well!). It's almost very easy not to feel an ounce of pity for her confined, bedridden condition, considering her abusive attitude toward everyone she comes into contact with, even the telephone operator. Even when the moment occurs when she accidentally overhears the murder plot of what will turn out to be her by 11:15 pm that night, she's only on the phone in the first place because she's desperately trying to tighten the leash she already has wrapped around her poor husband's neck. He's away somewhere, she's all alone, and she simply can't tolerate that.
Leona's history with her husband Henry (played by Burt Lancaster) is a pushy one from the moment she meets him when she quite literally steals him away from her college roommate during a dance simply because she's decided that she wants him. Does she really love him? She claims she does, but the appearance of her relationship with him is likely motivated to defy her controlling father, and nothing more. Once married, Henry's balls are forever inside of his wife's tight clutches. Even his bright career is in the hands of her father, whom he works for. When he boldly tries to break away into a business of his own, he's met with hostility and threats by Leona and her father, seemingly trapping and binding him to them forever. Too weak to simply say, "Fuck off!, and leave, it's no wonder he ultimately decides to commit illegal acts of embezzlement against his father in-law's company. Through Leona's endless, hysterical phone calls to various people all night, she manages to put the pieces together and learn of her husband's crimes and the financial and criminal consequences that have resulted. By the very end, she's also managed to discover that it was her own disgruntled husband who was responsible for putting the hit out on her so he could (presumably) inherit her money to get himself out of trouble. Interestingly, at the final moment before she's due to die at the hands of her paid assassins, there's the final conversation between her and Henry that brings confession, regret and mutual understanding between them as husband and wife. Turns out, they may have genuinely loved each other more than they ever realized. Alas, though, it's too late. Leona can't get out of bed to defend herself or scream out the window into the dark Manhattan night. She's been strangled and Henry's final, desperate attempt to save his estranged wife over the mighty telephone is met with only, "Sorry, wrong number." by one of her killers.
The film had a long history of radio adaptations before it, but it's truly the art of dark noir, circling camera work and looming shadows that brings its suspense to life, including the visuals of Stanwyck's bedroom windows facing the dark Manhattan skyline and bridge. Playing in real time, the various flashbacks help us to understand those involved with what we know is going to happen by the end of the night and decide for ourselves how much we pity those that are paying the price. Barbara and Burt play off well against each other as opposites who represent strength (her) and weakness (him). Their relationship outlines what, perhaps, represents a lot of sick, twisted marriages out there in real life where one controls the other who's more than willing to allow themselves to be controlled, even if they don't like it (like I said, a sick marriage!). I may have had Leona's killed myself if I were in such a personal hell (but hey, that's me...maybe!).
Favorite line or dialogue:
Henry Stevenson (to Leona): "I want you to do something. I want you to get yourself out of the bed, and get over to the window and scream as loud as you can! Otherwise you only have another three minutes to live!"
Sunday, November 5, 2017
(June 1977, U.S.)
William Friedkin's SORCERER was practically doomed from the start when it was released in the summer of 1977. For starters, it's an existential American remake of what's generally considered a far superior French-Italian thriller, Henri-Georges Clouzot's THE WAGES OF FEAR (1953). It also contained no English language speaking parts for the first sixteen minutes of the film, which put off audiences, thinking they'd been duped into paying to see a foreign subtitled film and causing walk-outs from the theater. Because of this, theaters were actually prompted to issue a disclaimer on their lobby cards which read,
"YOUR ATTENTION, PLEASE. To dramatize the diverse backgrounds of the principal characters in 'Sorcerer', two of the opening sequences were filmed in the appropriate foreign languages – with sub-titles in English. Other than these opening scenes, 'Sorcerer' is an English language film."
Honestly, I don't know whether this was just simply a smart business tactic, or a pathetic appeal to lame-brain audience members who couldn't sum up enough patience and intelligence to sit though a lousy sixteen minutes of subtitled dialogue (regardless, it did nothing to improve the film's performance). Its title was also confusing, leading many to believe that it suggested an element a supernatural's likeness to his previous 1973 hit, THE EXORCIST. Finally, what really sealed the nail on the coffin of SORCERER was the fact that this little science fiction movie called STAR WARS had opened just a month prior and was really fucking things up for just about nearly every other movie released that summer. I can't say I really blame the people of that time choosing to ignore other films of that summer, even the new James Bond installment, because the dominating presence of STAR WARS was impossible to avoid. I mean, why so see a confusing film like SORCERER when you can keep seeing a galaxy far, far away again and again and again all summer?
Truth be told, SORCERER is a truly brilliant and visionary (and expensive!) film told with a director's passion in the heart of one of the world's most hellish places, or "the asshole of the world", much like Coppola's APOCALYPSE NOW two years later. It's story centers around four various men considered outcasts from the worlds in which they came, meeting together by chance in the god-forsaken village of Porvenir, somewhere in Latin America. The opening prologue of the film depicts each of their dire circumstances which forced them to abandon their country. The American who goes by the name of "Dominguez" (played by Roy Scheider, who also starred in Friedkin's THE FRENCH CONNECTION), is on the hit list by a New Jersey gangster, who's church he robbed and was then the only survivor of a car crash immediately following the robbery. What little economy the impoverished village has is highly dependent on an American oil company's production there. One day, without any warning, an oil well explodes, setting the stage for what will become the heart of the rest of the story. The only way to extinguish the raging fire is to use dynamite (I still don't understand how that works!). The only dynamite available has been sitting around, improperly stored for years, causing the nitroglycerin inside to become highly unstable and explosive at even the slightest vibration. The only way to bring this solution to the oil company two hundred miles away is to use trucks and to pay four dumb schmucks (I mean, men) to drive these highly dangerous vehicles across Mother Nature's worst terrain.
Embarking on their perilous journey, the four men must cooperate and overcome obstacles and hazards such as a downed dense tree and an extremely unstable wooden suspension bridge dangling above a raging river during a violent storm (see the movie poster's image). If the film's promotional attempt is to take its viewer into the realm and heart of suspense, then the bridge scene alone doesn't fail to disappoint. As you watch the bridge continuously teeter and totter above the water to the point of devastation, you cannot, for the life of you, believe that these men are actually accomplishing their attempts of survival. They all survive the bridge, but fate dictates that only one of them will survive in the end, and it's (perhaps predictably) Roy Scheider's American character who triumphs in the end by arriving at the scene on foot carrying just one box of the remaining nitroglycerin. And just when we think his life will finally turn around for the better with his newfound financial gain and readiness to leave the dreaded village, irony dictates that he's inevitably been betrayed and will be killed by the very gangsters he had previously escaped.
Remake or not, and despite its box office failure against STAR WARS, SORCERER is a highly overlooked classic of suspense, in my opinion. It's a film of high concept (perhaps even self-indulgent) commitment and visual crafting, accompanied by breathtaking cinematography of the dangers of the jungle and the mountains. The story's life and death suspense manages to combine the drama behind the desperation of human behavior and torment with its special effects, particularly the suspension bridge scene, which practically dominates the entire film's depiction of the hazards of the jungle, rain, flood, wind and fire. Roy Scheider continues to demonstrate why he was one of the best damn actors of the 1970s, beyond the great white shark. SORCERER will never be the high point of Friedkin's career, as THE FRENCH CONNECTION and THE EXORCIST were, but such comparison are unfair, if not outright wrong. If nothing else, the film continued to demonstrate the relentless toughness that Friedkin demonstrated in so many of the American films he gave us in the '70s and '80s (even the ones that didn't do so well at the box office...but who's counting?).
Favorite line or dialogue:
Jackie Scanlon: "Where am I going?"
Vinnie: "All I can say is it's a good place to lay low."
Vinnie: "It's the kind of place nobody wants to go looking."
Sunday, October 29, 2017
(March 1959, U.S.)
Just what is it about straight men dressing up as women that makes us laugh so much? Those of my generation will recall laughing with hysterical joy at watching the wild antics of Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari on ABC-TV's BOSOM BUDDIES. On screen, we were in stitches watching Dustin Hoffman get in and out of one ridiculous situation after another in TOOTSIE (1982). And yet, while we probably didn't know it, what we were seeing in the 1980s was merely the brainchild of an older and equally (if not greater) outstanding source of material of the trouble that can occur when two men are unwittingly forced into the world of the opposite sex, complete with those painfully high heels and upper chest padding.
Billy Wilder, one of the most versatile directors of Hollywood's Golden Age, knew perfect comedy as well as drama (SUNSET BOULEVARD) and noir thrills (DOUBLE INDEMNITY). Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon are priceless together as two Prohibition era speakeasy jazz musicians who are forced to dress in drag in order to escape being killed by Chicago mafia gangsters whom they witnessed commit a garage mass shooting inspired by the real-life Saint Valentine's Day Massacre of 1929. Disguised now as Josephine and Daphne, they manage to join a female band on board a train headed for Florida for a three week gig. They meet Sugar Kane (played by Marilyn Monroe), the bands's singer, ukulele player and occasional drinker. The two men, naturally, become infatuated with her sexuality and manage to compete for her affection, despite being dressed as women and constantly reminding themselves that they're forbidden to make any sort of pass at her. Josephine (Curtis) manages to learn that Sugar's big ambition is to land herself a Florida millionaire.
Arriving in Florida, Daphne (Lemmon) is immediately hit on by a rich, obnoxious, aging mama's boy, Osgood Fielding III (played by Joe E. Brown), whose also been married too many times. Despite his less-than-charming pushiness, Daphne agrees to go dancing with him in order to keep him occupied while Josephine (Curtis) disguises himself as a young heir to the Shell Oil millions in order to get Sugar aboard Osgood's yacht (passing it off as his own) and seduce her by inadvertently getting her to seduce him.
(you getting all of this, so far?)
Marilyn, regardless of what you might have though of her as actress, singer and dancer, was still a smokin' symbol of sexuality for her time. Even a man of my age and generation can get turned on when watching her sensually suck the lips off of Curtis' face while running her fingers through his hair...
Of course, like any classic episode of I LOVE LUCY (before this film) and THREE'S COMPANY (after this film), the deception behind our heroes is bound to come apart sooner or later under mounting dire circumstances. The Chicago gangsters inevitably catch up with their victims, whom them conveniently manage to identify as the men they're looking for by a series of bullet holes in a fiddle base, and it's up to the two men/women to escape with their lives. Our characters come full circle as they join together aboard Osgood's boat to make their escape, though the film would have us believe that that's the end of it all and everyone is safe...I mean, as if the gangsters wouldn't continue the chase simply because it's now turned to the water. I suppose as Osgood puts it when discovering that his love interest Daphne is really a man, "Well, nobody's perfect."
Comedy of this sort is almost never meant to be taken seriously, even when it becomes tender at moments. SOME LIKE IT HOT is a carefree and spirited romp which was accused of being "morally objectionable" by those of decency during a time that was seeing the end of the filmmaking restrictions of the Hayes Code. Curtis and Lemmon are not perfect human beings. They're often morally flawed when it comes to getting what they want from the women in their lives. To watch Curtis perform as an almost perfect imitation of Cary Grant is pure joy, despite his less-than-gentlemanly intentions toward Sugar. But really, can we blame him? Just how honest and upfront would you be if you had a shot of getting Marilyn Monroe into bed aboard a luxurious yacht filled with champagne?? You wouldn't...neither would I!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Jerry: "But you don't understand, Osgood! Ohh...
(pulls off his wig) "I'm a man!"
Osgood Fielding III (shrugs): "Well, nobody's perfect."
Sunday, October 15, 2017
(November 2002, U.S.)
There have been almost no instances in which I've preferred an American remake of a foreign film to its predecessor. Most American filmmakers produce nothing more than cheap, second rate, knock-offs of what is considered a far superior piece of cinema. But like so many other things in life, there are always exceptions in which certain films, at the very least, are at an equal level of those they've copied. William Friedkin made a bold move with his existential film SORCERER (1977), a remake of the French-Italian film THE WAGES OF FEAR. Mike Nichols provided his own level of comic genius with THE BIRDCAGE (1996), a remake of the French film LA CAGE AUX FOLLES. Christopher Nolan delivered a very solid version of INSOMNIA (2002), a remake of the Norwegian film of the same name. I suppose there are others I could come up with if I took the time to do it, but the point I think I'm making is that every once in a great while, we in America get it right, or at least come very close to doing so.
I've seen Andrei Tarkovsky 1972 film SOLARIS, based on Polish author Stanisław Lem's original 1961 novel (which I've never read). If I hadn't seen it, I wouldn't be able to effectively make my statement above. It's long, it's tedious, and requires great time and patience to follow. It's also intriguing, nonetheless, if for no other reason than the time of its release; the early 1970s that brought other high concept sci-fi think pieces as Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and Lucas' THX-1138. Steven Soderbergh's version, reduced to a mere 98 minutes of film, takes the true essence and spirit of Lem's work to a level that, perhaps, the more common multiplex-moviegoing audience can relate to...or at least attempt to tolerate. The film is set almost entirely on a space station orbiting the planet of Solaris, providing flashbacks to the previous experiences of its main characters on Earth, primarily clinical psychologist Chris Kelvin (played by George Clooney) and his wife Rheya (played by Natascha McElhone). Chris has been summoned by his scientist friend Dr. Gibarian to come to the space station orbiting the planet Solaris to help him and his crew try and understand an unusual phenomenon taking place aboard their ship, but is unwilling to say more than that. Chris agrees to a solo mission to the mysterious planet as a last attempt to bring the crew home safely.
Arriving at the station, Chris immediately learns that his scientist friend committed suicide and most of the remaining crew have either disappeared or died under very bizarre circumstances. The first time Chris finally goes to sleep, he dreams of Rheya (now dead), reliving the day they met and some of the most pivotal and romantic times of their life together. When he's abruptly awakened, he discoverers Rheya in the bed with him, seemingly alive again. It's our understanding that a mysterious and powerful force emanating from Solaris has affected (or infected) the ship with the power of creating people who aren't supposed to be there, dead or not. For Chris, it's Rheya, who we learned committed suicide back on Earth. For other members of the crew, it's a twin brother or Gibrarian's little boy, who's supposed to be back home on Earth. Too shocked and terrified to think straight, Chris leads this version of Rheya into an escape pod and jettisons her into space. However, another version of her manifests itself and is on board the ship again. By all accounts, she feels like Rheya, thinks like her and remembers her own past instincts, including her suicidal tendencies, but only because these are the memories of her that live within Chris' mind and memory (she's suicidal because he remembers her as suicidal). Still, she lacks the true emotional attachments that would make her genuinely human. Her second version stays this time because, real or not, right or wrong, Chris is falling in love with her and sees her "resurrection" as a second chance to redeem his own life for ultimately leading Rheya to take her own life back on Earth. Chris is now forced to struggle with the questions of his own beliefs and memories, the reconciliation behind what he lost on Earth and also the ultimate purpose behind the planet itself.
As Solaris begins to increase its mass and pulls the space station closer toward the planet, the crew realizes that returning to Earth will be impossible. As they prepare a smaller space vehicle to escape, we suddenly begin to realize one or two truths about what we've witnessed, so far. Back on Earth, it would appear that Chris has returned to his normal life. When he cuts his thumb in the kitchen, the would immediately heals, thus suggesting that he never actually returned home and may be a copy of what he once was, as well. Opting to stay aboard the space station, it plummets toward Solaris and begins to fall apart, thus also suggesting that Chris will now experience his ultimate fate. That fate, however, brings a welcomed level of tranquility, as it appears that Rheya returns with assurances that she and Chris no longer need to function in terms of life and death, that second chances are possible, and all their sins of the past are forgiven.
Unlike the 1972 film, Steven Soderbergh knows how to get right to the point with his version of SOLARIS by fusing all the intellectual and mystical elements into the story without requiring much wait time to figure out what's happening aboard the ship. Like 2001, the story is slow, ambiguous, cerebral, confusing at times, and requires a level of cinematic patience to fully appreciate. But it's also a story strong on love and what drives our emotions behind it. We love our wife, our brother, our son and we may not know how to deal with our feelings about them if something goes wrong in life. The planet Solaris appears to understand these emotions and seeks to either maliciously take advantage of them, or offer its visitors the chance to redeem and change things about such snags in life. It's a psychologically-smart film for smart people who are (seemingly) capable of embracing high concept sci-fi without the convenience of laser guns and space battles. Those who can embrace it can develop meaningful discussions about it when it's over. Others, like the idiot walking behind me and my wife when we went to see it in the theater back in 2002, will say something stupid like, "I hated it. It was too slow and I didn't get it.", to which I will quietly say to my wife, "This is what people who don't know how to think once in a while at the movies will say about a movie like SOLARIS."
Favorite line or dialogue:
Chris Kelvin: "Earth. Even the word sounded strange to me now...unfamiliar. How long had I been gone? How long had I been back? Did it matter? I tried to find the rhythm of the world where I used to live. I followed the current. I was silent, attentive. I made a conscious effort to smile, nod, stand, and perform the millions of gestures that constitute life on Earth. I studied these gestures until they became reflexes again. But I was haunted by the idea that I remembered her wrong, and somehow I was wrong about everything."
Thursday, October 5, 2017
(May 1991, U.S.)
In the summer of 1991, I saw EVERYTHING, and that's no exaggeration! I saw the the blockbuster hits (BACKDRAFT, ROBIN HOOD, TERMINATOR 2), the pointlessly stupid (HOT SHOTS, NAKED GUN 2 1/2), the downright terrible (LIFE STINKS, MOBSTERS) and the occasional entertaining fillers like CITY SLICKERS and SOAPDISH. It was actually SOAPDISH that inaugurated that long, hot summer for me one fine afternoon in the merry, merry month of May. It's the outrageous backstage story of the cast and crew behind a popular fictional TV soap opera called The Sun Also Sets. In a way, the timing of this film was almost perfect because I had just recently decided to stop watching ABC-TV's GENERAL HOSPITAL after nine long years when the show's writing finally became to intolerable for me to continue with it. Now I'd have a good reason to laugh at all those years I wasted wondering just what would continue to happen after the infamous 1981 wedding of Luke and Laura.
I'd seen Sally Field in some lighter material before, mainly alongside Burt Reynolds and his speeding sports cars, but my association with her at that time was mostly the Oscar-winning dramatic roles that ultimately proved how much, "You like me! You really like me!" As the mature and long-running soap opera star Celeste Talbert, Sally is irresistible fun as a woman constantly on the paranoid defense against her ambitious co-stars, who more often than not, merely play second-rate nurses on this hospital drama. She's also being targeted by the show's young producer David (played by Robert Downey, Jr. before his repeated real-life drug problems really started to kick in) because he's been promised sexual favors by one of her co-stars Montana Moorehead (played by Cathy Moriarty) if he'll get her kicked off the show. In fact, to this very day, I've never forgotten one of her more interesting and funny sexual enticements in which she promises David, "Get rid of Celeste and Mr. Fuzzy is yours!" Meanwhile, the new girl on the scene is Lori Craven (played by Elisabeth Shue) and possibly the hottest rising young actress to ever hit the show, and who also just happens to be Celeste's real-life niece...or as it turns out in a pure homage to the bullshit drama of modern soap operas...her secret daughter (oooh, the plot does thicken!).
Progressing ever further, we're treated to the crazy lunacy of who's sleeping with who, who's in love with who, who's carrying whose baby, who's screwing who behind whose back, who's really a transsexual in real life, and of course, how much of it is really true and how much of it is just tabloid crap for the ready-and-willing ears of Entertainment Tonight's Leeza Gibbons and John Tesh (remember them?). It's all funny stuff from a well-rounded cast of popular stars from Sally to Whoopi Goldberg to a cameo from the late Carrie Fisher who's not too ashamed to admit that she's "a bitch!" But it's surely Kevin Kline who steals the show in a comic performance that's still fresh off of his milestone performance in A FISH CALLED WANDA just three years prior. You can truly feel the hatred he feels for Celeste and all the unforgivable crap she put him through twenty years earlier. His role also reminds us of just how much television (or any other media, for that matter) can get away with if they want to badly enough. I mean, according to Whoopi, his character wasn't just killed off back in the 1970s, but outright beheaded ("He doesn't have a head!", she shouts). It's all uproarious joy and entertaining spoof and silliness without turning into mind-insulting stupidity. Sure, it's no TOOTSIE (1982), but it provides a good reason to laugh at the soap opera genre beyond it's content that supposed to pass for serious drama, art and performance (yeah, right!).
And finally, in what other film can you see Teri Hatcher look like this...
Lois Lane never looked like that!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Jeffrey Anderson: "You have beautiful eyes."
Ariel Maloney: "Ooh, they're nothing compared to my tits!"
Sunday, October 1, 2017
(September 2016, U.S.)
Oliver Stone's SNOWDEN has been all over Showtime this past month, so I've managed to catch it at various times for a fresher perspective. However, before writing the post, I felt an overwhelming desire to revisit THE FALCON AND THE SNOWMAN to compare not only the genre of spies and espionage, but also the vast difference in time periods and their respective meanings behind the issues of national security. Whereas the 1983 film that told the story of the very amateurish (and even sloppy) method of selling United States secrets to our Russian enemies in the 1970s by Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee across the Mexican border, Edward Snowden's act of alleged betrayal against his country's secret's was wall-planned, calculated and perhaps even diabolical. The entire story of his controversial whistle-blowing actions against the United States National Security Agency (NSA) still seems very fresh in our own American history; for it only just exploded four short years ago. Whether or not you actually sided with what he did or not is your own business. In fact, when interviewed about Snowden, Christopher Boyce himself expressed support for his actions in exposing our government's surveillance programs against its own people. Hardly surprising, I suppose.
Let me begin by saying that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is dead-on as Snowden in every which way, particularly attitude, fears and physical mannerisms. You can easily feel his pain and his levels of stress as he constantly struggles to understand those he's working for in the CIA and NSA, as well as the breaking point he reaches in finally deciding to flee his country and tell his story. His story is a grabber because we can easily follow the tale of a man who simply wanted to serve his country in the military and eventually allowed his life to erode into an uncontrollable situation in which he gradually learned the horrible secrets of the government he served and its ultimate betrayal against its own trusting citizens. Snowden's story can perhaps be most genuinely felt when he's simply in his hotel room in Hong Kong with documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras (played by Melissa Leo) and journalist Glenn Greenwald (played by Zachary Quinto) as they discuss releasing the classified information regarding illegal surveillance that Snowden managed to smuggle out of the country. Fear and paranoia are evident, but so is the drive he is compelled to exercise in doing what he feels is the right thing, even as he sweats it out.
Even Snowden's personal life is compelling to watch. We can only guess that the new relationship with his girlfriend Lindsay Mills (played by Shailene Woodley) will be challenging, at best. She's his total opposite; a liberal democrat who not only questions our government, but also is free spirited enough not to show much concern at the possibility of being watched through her laptop camera, even when she poses naked for photographs and is even sarcastically-flattered by the idea of her "boobs being a matter of national security." Her love and devotion to the man who has repeatedly deceived her and kept her in the dark about their lives and their safety is one that can probably only exist in the movies, though it's very genuine in real life, she having moved to Moscow to be with him after his exile, and where he still resides today.
As a fact-based thriller, any of us who are already familiar with what Snowden did can hardly find ourselves on the edge of seats waiting to see what will happen. However, as he increasingly becomes more and more disillusioned with what he's become a part of, his intentions and his actions slowly culminate to the point where he finally smuggles the incriminating micro SD card and relevant data out of his office building by way of an ordinary Rubik's Cube. I defy any viewer not to take their eyes off of that cube and the almost nonchalant way he walks past security with it, even throwing it to one of the guards to play with it himself (the man IS good!). We know this is the last time Edward Snowden will be seen in his own country, and the camera echoes that sentiment by dissolving into a blurry configuration of a man who was one person once and will become someone entirely new in another location of our world. In fact, I'm reminded of the moment in MIDNIGHT EXPRESS (1978) when Billy Hayes finally walks away from the Turkish prison to his eventual freedom (a film written by Oliver Stone, I might add).
Like JFK (1991), NIXON (1995) or any other political tale in which Oliver Stone has asked us to watch, listen and make up our own minds about what did or did not happen, SNOWDEN takes what we already know to be true or alleged through our own recent media and adds just the perfect blend of drama, tension and questionable soul-searching to help us determine whether we feel Edward Snowden was a national hero or a traitor to his beloved country. For myself, I can only say that if we the people are lied to and betrayed in any way by our own rotten government, even if it's supposedly in the name of our own safety and security, then it's perhaps up to brave men like Snowden to expose the truth. In the end, we are liberated (as is he, I suppose), but it's he who is forced to live a life in exile away from home.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Lindsay Mills (to Edward Snowden): "What is it about this fucking job that makes it more important than your life!?"
Monday, September 18, 2017
(September 1992, U.S.)
Released in 1992 (on September 11th, no less), SNEAKERS was filled with many high-tech concepts involving security and hacking before the internet and social media changed everything forever. From my perspective, I hadn't seen such possibilities involving computers and security since WARGAMES in 1983. Who knew back then that we were just barely scratching the surface? I mean, we still using floppy discs, for crying out loud!
Robert Redford leads a team of security specialists who are hired by high-profile companies to break into their systems in order to tell them how to keep others from breaking into their systems. Among them is Redford himself as Martin Bishop who's been in hiding ever since his college youth when he was a young hacker and evaded police capture (though his partner in crime, Cosmo, was arrested and sent to jail), an electronic technician and conspiracy theorist (played by Dan Aykroyd), a young hacker who's also looking for love (played by the late River Phoenix) and a blind phone phreak (played by David Strathairn). When they're approached by the National Security Agency to recover a "black box" developed for the Russian government from a famed mathematician, Martin reluctantly agrees in the hopes that his record will be cleared.
Through the team's talent and ingenuity, they discover the "black box" hidden in an ordinary answering machine and manage to retrieve it. But even before they can truly celebrate their victory, they soon realize they've stolen something very dangerous and the NSA boys who hired them are anything but. Turns out they're rogue agents working for the now successful and wealthy Cosmo (played by Ben Kingsley), who hasn't quite gotten over the fact that his one-time friend got away while he spent time in prison. Still holding a grudge, we wishes Martin dead, yet at the same time, entices him to join his ultimate plan of controlling and manipulating the world's information with the "black box".
When the team isn't exercising their hacking skills, they're evading capture and keeping their wits about them from being killed by their enemies. However, since they're all a bunch of misfits, at heart, their dialogue and chemistry is often a pleasure to follow. Even at the end, when they're surrounded by FBI agents at their office, they know just how to negotiate for the material things they want out of life before turning the box over to them; whether it's a trip to Europe, a Winnebago or simply the phone number of the pretty female agent. Even if it seems like the team has lost in the end and walked away with little for their efforts, we need to remember that these men are hackers, and won't rest until they've done their part to steal the right amount of money from the Republican National Committee and dispersed it among Greenpeace, the United Negro College Fund and Amnesty International. In a world of greed and crime, even in the early '90s, I suppose that's an appropriate happy-Hollywood ending.
As a caper film, SNEAKERS has enough thrills, tension, humor and plot twists to keep one interested. Of course, the ensemble case led by Redford doesn't hurt, either. One can't help but recall his early roles of the 1970s involving political intrigue and mystery including THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR (1975) and ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN (1976). Sydney Poitier adds a certain blend of charm and class as an ex-CIA man who acts much like the logical "Spock" among an Enterprise crew who are off and running on their latest mission and trying to survive it. While hardly a perfect film, it's an interesting follow-up from Phil Alden Robinson, who'd previously convinced the world that, "If you build it, he will come."
Favorite line or dialogue:
"Whistler": "I want peace on earth and goodwill toward men."
Bernard Abbott: "We are the United States Government! We don't do that sort of thing!"