Tuesday, December 28, 2010
(December 1935, U.S.)
Many months ago, when I posted my blog for THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, I asked you all to try and open your minds and imagine what it must have been like to watch your favorite movie matinee idols in 1938 on screen in all of their glory. I ask that of you again, and in using your imagination, I also ask you to consider the impact of the hero on screen. When I was growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, the hero came in the form of men like Harrison Ford and Bruce Willis (they were the ones who could ACT, anyway). However, in the decade of the 1930s, there was no greater hero than Errol Flynn. Whether by land, by sea or by air, Errol Flynn WAS the hero (or matinee idol, as they were called) of the time! Imagine a glorious Saturday afternoon at the neighborhood movie house surrounded by other kids your age and watching a spectacular and dashing hero like Errol Flynn on screen! In my opinion, that kind of movie experience died a horrible death such a long time ago!
To truly appreciate a a black and white classic swashbuckling pirate adventure like CAPTAIN BLOOD in our time may not be as unthinkable as one would presume. After all, the last decade saw three PIRATES OF THE CARIBEAN films, right? Actor Johnny Depp may have simply been considered the Errol Flynn of our time (at least as far as pirate films go). The interesting plot point about CAPTAIN BLOOD is that Flynn's character Peter Blood does not start out as a pirate. He is, rather, an Irish physician who is wrongly accused and sentenced for treating the injuries of a treasonous rebel against the unjust King James II of England. Peter Blood and the surviving rebels are sold into slavery in the English colony of Port Royal and eventually secure an enemy's pirate ship to become pirates themselves. The hunted have now become the hunters, equipped with all measures of thievery, pillaging and destruction. Later in the film, when Blood and his mates learn that King James II has been deposed in the Glorious Revolution and that they've been asked by the new king, William of Orange, to offer their fight and support with the Royal Navy to Blood, they joyfully change their positions at this good news and prepare for battle against the French. So in the end, the bad guys who are supposed to be pirates becomes heros of their country. And speaking of French, I have to say that British actor Basil Rathbone gives, perhaps, the WORST French accent I've ever heard on film. The battle scenes and the special effects that accompany them are far more impressive than you might expect for a film of the 1930s. The film was a Christmas release, but could have easily qualified as a summer blockbuster, if they even existed back then.
By the way, if you were ever a fan of Hal Roach's OUR GANG (or "The Little Rascals"), keep a sharp eye out for little Matthew Beard, the kid who played "Stymie", now playing a litte slave to an English governor.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Captain Peter Blood: "Men, I've just heard a startling piece of news - King James is kicked out of England and good King William reigns in his stead! For me this changes the shape of the world. For you who were slaves with me, it means that we're no longer slaves, that we once more have a home and a country. For you who are English it means a chance to fight for your native land...for I now propose to sail into Port Royal and take it from the French! Those of you who are not English will have to be content with fighting for Captain Blood...and the loot you'll find on the French ships. Are you willing to fight, men?"
Monday, December 20, 2010
(November 1991, U.S.)
Pay attention to what I'm about to say - remakes are generally never better than the original film! Got that? Now pay even closer attention to what I'm about to say - every once a very rare and great while, there are exceptions to that conviction. Martin Scorsese's remake of CAPE FEAR is the first such exception in my film collection. Just in case you've already forgotten the story, it's of a convicted rapist who seeks vengeance against the former public defender whom he blames for his fourteen year imprisonment due to purposefully faulty defense tactics used during his trial.
If you take a good look at every film Robert DeNiro has ever made with Martin Scorsese, you'll see that each film has often brought out the ugliest side of DeNiro's character potentials, even in the lighter-hearted NEW YORK, NEW YORK (woman abuser) and THE KING OF COMEDY (obssessed kidnapper). Whereas Robert Mitchum played Max Cady with the general roughness and toughness that seemed fitting for the 1960's, DeNiro plays the same man with an updated evil that could easily be compared to Anthony Hopkin's character Hannibal Lechter from SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991), although additional influence to the updated Cady character can also be credited to Robert Mitchum's character Harry Powell in THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955). The remake expands on the original's themes in some depth, changing relationships (the female drifter that Max Cady assaults is now a legal clerk who is close to Sam Bowden) and adding more complex background details. Nick Nolte's Sam Bowden is a morally flawed man and, therefore, his resorting to extreme violence is less surprising than in the original. Cady is presented as having a justified motive to pursue Bowden, because of Bowden's deliberate negligence of care during his original trial. In the original film, Cady essentially breaks apart a good, normal 1960's family. In the remake, the Bowdens are portrayed as a modern family already greatly troubled, and Cady simply takes the opportunity to manipulate their issues and weaknesses to his advantage, most notably in the case of their troubled fifteen year-old daughter, Danielle (played by Juliette Lewis), whom he ultimately has intensions of raping by the end of the film.
I've briefly mentioned it already, but it's most interesting to note the change in the history of the relationship between Max Cady and Sam Bowden. In this film, Bowden was Cady's lawyer who buried a report of the victim's promiscuity in order to secure a justified conviction against his own client (Cady) who had brutally raped and beaten his victim. This would seem like perfect justice, and it is. This justice comes back to haunt Bowden fourteen years later, though, and it inevitably turns into a test of his moral character and personal legal convictions in defense of himself and his family.
Okay, personal story time now. In the Summer of 1993, I was taking part in a singles share house in Westhampton Beach, Long Island. I met a guy there whom I shall call Stuart (because that's really his name). We immediately bonded as friends over this film because to put it simply, Stuart ate, drank and breathed CAPE FEAR! He loved the film and did a pretty decent impersonation of DeNiro's Max Cady. Like myself, he hadn't seen the original film yet and would not until I gave him a VHS copy of it as a birthday gift. We were good friends for seven years after that until one day...well, we weren't. Shit like that happens in life sometimes. I don't what's become of him, but I do know that I'll always remember him when I watch or think of Martin Scorses's CAPE FEAR. So it is to Stuart that I dedicate this post. Thanks for the time you were able to give.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Max Cady: "Counselor? Counselor! Councelor! Come out, come out, wherever you are! I ain't no white trash piece of shit! I'm better than you all! I can out-learn you! I can out-read you! I can out-think you! And I can out-PHILOSOPHIZE you! And I'm gonna outlast you. You think a couple whacks to my guts is gonna get me down? It's gonna take a hell of a lot more than that, Counselor, to prove you're better than me!"
Saturday, December 18, 2010
(April 1962, U.S.)
This is another milestone in my blog posts. Why? Because it's the first time I'll be discussing two film versions of the same title in a row. What's interesting in this case is that I saw Martin Scorsese's 1991 remake of CAPE FEAR several years before I ever saw the original version or had even heard there WAS an original version. It's a little tough to keep an open mind about watching the orininal version when you have to compare it to the kind of performance that Robert DeNiro gave in the remake. But that performance will have to wait until the next post.
So, try to imagine all of the shock and horror that you may already be familiar with in the 1991 version and take it back to 1962, when the story of CAPE FEAR was first told during a somewhat more innocent era. This film, about an attorney whose family is stalked by a criminal whom he helped to send to jail for rape, is tense and suspenseful in its own right, for its own time. Robert Mitchum as Max Cady promptly tracks down Sam Bowden (played by Gregory Peck), the Georgia lawyer whom he holds personally responsible for his eight year conviction. While Cady inevitably commits acts of violence and murder, it's his relentless stalking and threats toward Bowden and his family that fill the film with fear that is to ultimately affect the audience watching it. Now while it may be unfair to compare Robert Mitchum's Max Cady to Robert DeNiro's twenty-nine years later, Mitchum is certainly a tough, brawny and frightening character to watch on screen. And while Gregory Peck has his own level of toughness, there is something just right about him as a man who possesses enough weakness to allow himself to be terrorized by Max Cady, for a time anyway.
Getting back to the innocence of 1962; it's interesting to know that the word "rape" was entirely removed from the script before shooting and the film still enraged the censors, who were worried that there was a continuous threat of sexual assault on a child. In order to be accepted, British censors required extensive editing and deleting of specific scenes. After making 161 cuts, it still nearly garnered an X rating.
So, my friends, this ends the more "innocent" version and discussion of the film CAPE FEAR. The uglier version is on its way...
Favorite line or dialogue:
Max Cady (Bowden has shot Cady and is holding the gun on him): "Go ahead. I just don't give a damn."
Sam Bowden: "No. No! That would be letting you off too easy, too fast. Your words - do you remember? Well I do. No, we're gonna take good care of you. We're gonna nurse you back to health. And you're strong, Cady. You're gonna live a long life... in a cage! That's where you belong and that's where you're going. And this time for life! Bang your head against the walls. Count the years - the months - the hours... until the day you rot!"
Friday, December 17, 2010
(August 1935, U.S.)
There are several film versions of Jack London's classic story, CALL OF THE WILD. In my opinion, this is the best one for two great reasons. The first, of course, is Clark Gable. His performance and personality in many of his films simply speak for themselves. The second is the wonderment and fascination of black and white cinematography as it captures the look and feel of icy cold Alaska.
The adventures of a prospector heading for the 1900 gold rush and the complicated love triangle he finds himself tangled up in is a simple enough story. What I personally find most entertaining about watching this film, besides the above-mentioned cinematography, is the relationship between Gable's Jack Thornton and his faithful dog, Buck. There's always been something truly heartwarming about watching a master and his dog on screen, but when it's a huge Saint-Bernard like Buck, you just want to be able to reach out and hug the big beast yourself. There is also a particular scene that always catches my attention and that's when Buck mysteriously runs away into the cold mountains, presumably not to be seen again. That night, during a harsh winter storm, he returns to his new master's camp and snuggles down on the snow beside him. You just can't help but say, "Awww!" to yourself and mean it!
One other interesting little piece of information about this film; it was the last to be released under 20th Centery Films, before they merged with the Fox Film Corporation to become what we now know as 20th Century Fox. I never knew that.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Mr. Smith: "I remember watching a magician once. From an apparantly empty hand he shortly produced a rabbit. He smiled, very much as you're smiling now, because I imagine he knew all the while that he had the rabbit up his sleeve. You've something up you sleeve, perhaps?"
Jack Thornton: "Perhaps?"
Mr. Smith: "Roll up your sleeve, Mr. Thornton. There's no rabbit there!"
Thursday, December 16, 2010
(July 1980, U.S.)
Every once in a blue moon, I end up in a conversation with a bunch of guys where the subject inevitably turns to golf. When they ask me if I play, my response is always the same - "No, but I've seen CADDYSHACK many times." And why not? It's unquestionably the funniest sports-related film ever made (though I would cite SLAP SHOT as a pretty close second)! With all due respects to Kevin Costner, BULL DURHAM (1988) and TIN CUP (1996) were just pointless attempts at...I don't even know, really.
"The snobs against the slobs"; that was the tagline for the film at the time of its release, and in a way, the timing was perfect for a film of that nature. ANIMAL HOUSE had already been a major hit two years prior and comedies were on the verge of continuing their tastlelessness well into the 1980s with titles like PORKY'S and FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH. But with CADDYSHACK, it isn't just welcomed tastelessness, it's also pure comic talent with the likes of Rodney Dangerfield, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray and even Ted Knight. Even the presentation of the exclusive, upscale, snobbish Florida country club is told with such idiocy and lunacy that you can't help but laugh at their very ridiculous existence.
Okay, now let's talk about all those great quotable lines. Anyone who knows this film well enough has probably allowed pieces of it into their everyday dialogue, even just in fun. If you've ever eaten bad food, you might refer to it as "low grade dog food" or claim that you've had "better food at the ballgame". If you've ever wanted to jinx someone who was trying to concentrate on something, you may find yourself saying, "Noonan!". If you've ever been impatient with someone to perform a task, you might utter with your best Ted Knight impersonation, "Well, we're waiting!". And finally, if you've ever fantasized about yourself in a famous situation, you might, when no one else is looking, say, "Cinderella story, outta nowhere.". You get my point? While CADDYSHACK may not be CITIZEN KANE or GONE WITH THE WIND, it's legacy has created enough of an impact in our popular culture and humorous dialogue for those who grew up with it, and that in its own right, makes for a great film. So to CADDYSHACK, I say "Happy 30th birthday!"
And now for something personal - thirty years ago when I was just thirteen years-old and this film was released in the Summer of 1980, I lived in a suburb of Great Neck, Long Island. Up the street from me lived a blond kid about my age. My mother, in her ususal forcefull manner, ordered me to walk up the street and introduce myself to this kid. I did it, but with great reluctance. Long story short, this kid whom I will call Jim (because that's really his name) has been one of my closest friends for the past thirty years. We've had the kind of friendship that has been surrounded by laughter and lunacy and much of it has been credited to the both of us constantly quoting lines from films like CADDYSHACK, ANIMAL HOUSE, ARTHUR and FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMOST HIGH; all very popular hits during our childhood. Another reason I think of Jim when I think of CADDYSHACK is because he happens to bear a very strong physical resemblance to Michael O'Keefe who plays Danny Noonan, especially when it comes to displaying a rather silly, shit-eating grin on his face. If Jim is reading this, he knows only too well what I'm talking about. So it is to Jim, that I dedicate this post. Here's to another thirty years of friendship, laughter and lunacy, buddy!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Carl Spackler: "So I jump ship in Hong Kong and I make my way over to Tibet, and I get on as a looper at a course over in the Himalayas."
Angie D'Annunzio: "A looper?"
Carl: "A looper, you know, a caddy, a looper, a jock. So, I tell them I'm a pro jock, and who do you think they give me? The Dalai Lama, himself. Twelfth son of the Lama. The flowing robes, the grace, bald... striking. So, I'm on the first tee with him. I give him the driver. He hauls off and whacks one - big hitter, the Lama - long, into a ten-thousand foot crevasse, right at the base of this glacier. Do you know what the Lama says? Gunga galunga... gunga, gunga-lagunga. So we finish the eighteenth and he's gonna stiff me. And I say, "Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know." And he says, "Oh, uh, there won't be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness." So I got that goin' for me, which is nice."
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
(March 1921, U.S.)
We now return to another silent film and the first of the letter 'C' in my alphabetical film collection. THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI is one of the most influential of German Expressionist films and is often considered one of the best horror films of the early times of cinema.
Watching this film is definitely an exercise in opening your mind and your imagination, because when you do so, the images on screen and the physical elements, gestures and actions of the actors can be very creepy. The character of Cesare, a somnambulist (sleepwalker) has been under the control of the evil Dr. Caligari for twenty-five years and is being passed off as a simple carnival side show. But like the character Raymond Shaw in THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962), he is being used (presumably against his knowledge and his will) to commit brutal murders throughout the small German mountain village. And getting back to the creepiness of it all, just watch carefully as Cesare slowly opens his eyes and moves his body at the command of his master. In it's black and white and grainy imagery, it can be truly eerie and frightening, even by today's horror film standards. But like I said, it's all in the open mind of the imagination.
What's most interesting about this film is that it's one of the first (if not THE first) films cited as having introduced audiences to the "surprise twist ending" in cinema. The entire story is presented as a flashback by one who has supposedly lived through it. It is only at the "twist" end that we find out the entire story was actually a deluded fantasy of one of the patients at an insane asylum and that Dr. Caligari is actually the asylum doctor who may or may not be able to cure the patient of his delusions. Hey, does all of this sound more than vaguely similar to Martin Scorsese's SHUTTER ISLAND or am I just crazy??
Favorite line or dialogue (it's a SILENT film, so the pickings are slim!)
Alan: "How long shall I live?"
Cesare: "The time is short! You die at dawn!"
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
(September 1969, U.S.)
This is the first western to be discussed from my film collection. But don't get too used to it. After musicals, westerns are my least favorite film genre, so I don't have a lot of them. Really, when you think about it, aren't most western stories and plotlines the same? The peaceful town, the bandits and rustlers, the women is distress, and the hero who saves the town at the end with the traditional climactic gunfight showdown.
Thankfully, BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID doesn't fall into any of those cliche western categories. This is an Amercian western disguised as a buddy, action and chase film. Butch and Sundance are two of the most likable bandits you're ever likely to see on screen. The dialogue they share thorughout the film feeds off of each other like almost perfect clockwork. For its filming style, there is an interesting montage done in sepia still photographs of the 19th Century period—showing Butch, Sundance, and Etta (played by Katherine Ross) having a brief fling in New York and making the steamer passage to South America. The stills tell you so much about the curious and sad relationship of these three people that it's with almost reluctance that you allow yourself to be absorbed again into their further slapstick adventures. I say "almost", thought, because Butch and Sundance's relationship and adventures can easily sweep you up again.
Then, of course, there's the end of the film when they're inevitably killed by the Bolivian army (sorry for the spoiler!) and the shot that depicts them ready for their final fight before presumably escaping to freedom. The film freezes as the endless rifle gunshots go off and you hear the word "¡Fuego!" (that's Spanish for "Fire!"). You know our two heroes are dead and the camera slowly pulls back, not only revealing the extent of the forces that were surrounding them for an ambush, but it also allows you a moment of reflection on who Butch and Sundance were and how much you just enjoyed the last two hours of your life watching them on screen.
Paul Newman and Robert Redford were, perhaps, one of the greatest team-ups in film history, and it's just a shame that they only made two films together. Paul Newman died in September 2008 and I still miss him today.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Butch Cassidy: "Alright. I'll jump first."
Sundance Kid: "No."
Butch: "Then you jump first."
Sundance: "No, I said."
Butch: "What's the matter with you?"
Sundance: "I can't swim!"
Butch (laughing): "Are you crazy? The fall will probably kill you!"
Sunday, December 12, 2010
(December 1991, U.S.)
Whatever happened to director Barry Levinson? I don't mean that he's dead, or sick or he stopped working altogether. What I mean is there was a time when he was making successful, Oscar-worthy films almost one after the other. There was a time, like Spielberg, when you could count on repeatedly being blown away by films like GOOD MORNING VIETNAM (1987), RAIN MAN (1988), DISCLOSURE (1994) and SLEEPERS (1996). Somewhere along the way, though, the films got smaller and, in my opinion, far less impressive. Perhaps that's just what comes with getting older at your craft.
In 1991, BUGSY solidified Levinson as a major directing force and it also brought back Warren Beatty after what I consider to be a major debacle with his version of DICK TRACY (1990) only a year and a half earlier (man, that movie SUCKED!). This is a gangster film with much of the same colorful and and music-scoring style that we'd seen some years before in THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987). BUSGY is less about violence, though, and more about attitute, dialogue and the dream of Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel to create the city in the middle of the Nevada desert that would one day become the great city of Las Vegas. Warren Beatty and Annette Bening feed off of each other's persona so perfectly in this film that it's no wonder they would inevitably end up together in real life. Bening as Virginia Hill is an ultra-sexy mob moll with a brain and the capacity for business and management that is not to be found in other gangster films. And you know what they say; behind every great man is woman telling him what to do to be that great man...I think.
Let me digress for a moment on the subject of Las Vegas - before seeing BUGSY or ever having heard of gangster Ben Siegel, I had seen THE GODFATHER-PART II many times. Would you believe that I actual thought, for a fact, that there had been a real man named Moe Green who had actually invented the city of Las Vegas, just like Lee Strasberg describes in the film? Talk about putting too much faith in what you hear in the movies! But then again, haven't we learned much of what we know about gangsters and the Mafia from the movies, be they totally accurate or not?
Favorite line of dialogue:
Virginia Hill: "Were you under the impression that I was a virgin?"
Ben Siegel: "No, no, no, I just thought maybe there was somebody you HADN'T fucked."
Thursday, December 9, 2010
(May 2003, U.S.)
For a while, it seemed as if Jim Carrey and director Tom Shadyac were becoming the Scorsese/DeNiro team of comedy with ACE VENTURA (1994), LIAR LIAR (1997) and this film. BRUCE ALMIGHTY is not a perfect film, by any means, but there are some irresistable moments of Carrey's lunacy that can have you in absolute stitches. These are the moments that make any comedy, even faulted ones, totally worthwhile.
I don't believe in God, but if he or she does exist and wanted to hand over his or her omnipotent powers to someone for a time, why not give them to someone who would completely abuse them for their own personal gain? As struggling Buffalo (the city) news reporter Bruce Nolan, why not use those new-found powers to gain the reputation as "Mr. Exclusive" by causing exciting news, such as a meteor impact and the discovery of Jimmy Hoffa's body, to occur whenever you happen to be on the scene reporting? Why not use those powers to make your girlfriend's breasts biggers and give her a series of monumental orgasms without even touching her? Why not use those powers to force humiliation to your co-worker on live television (my favorite part of the film!)? Why not cause your city's hockey team to win the Stanley Cup and create havoc by causing everyone in the city to win the state lottery so that all that any winner ends up getting is about seventeen dollars? Why not for all of it??? Hell, I would!!!
The problem with a crazy comedy like this is the innevitable moment when it begins to turn sentimental and even depressing on you. The word "serious" can sometimes act as a cancer when all you really want to do is laugh and laugh 'till you drop. Woody Allen can be serious if he wants to, but Jim Carrey, short of starring in something like THE TRUMAN SHOW (1998) or THE MAJESTIC (2001) is not someone I want to get too deep on me.
Favorite line or dialogue (I have laughed so hard at this sequence, I've literally had trouble breathing!):
Evan Baxter (reading the news prompter under Bruce's divine intervention): "In other news the Prime Minister of Sweden visited Washington today and my tiny little nipples went to France."
Director: "What'd he just say? Check the prompter."
Technician: "The prompter's fine."
Director: "Evan, READ THE COPY! Please! The copy's good. Just read it."
Evan: "The White House reception committee greeted the Prime Ribroast Minister and...I do the cha-cha like a sissy girl. I lik-a do da cha-cha. I'm sorry we seem to be having some technical difficulties. In other news..."
Monday, December 6, 2010
(March 2010, U.S.)
When I was a child, my grandmother lived in Brooklyn. I thought it was a shithole! Growing up, I saw movies like THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971), SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (1977) and DO THE RIGHT THING that depicted Brooklyn in its existence. I thought it was a shithole! The college I attended and lived at was in Brooklyn. I thought it was a shithole! Having watched BROOKLYN'S FINEST three times since its release, I am convinced that the borough of Brooklyn, has been, is, and will forever remain in my eyes and my opinon, A FUCKING SHITHOLE!
Having gotten that less-than-flattering conviction out of the way, let's talk about the film. BROOKLYN'S FINEST, directed by Antoine Fuqua (he made TRAINING DAY, too) is a police crime thriller that depicts the horrible grit and the ugliness of the New York City streets in such an outstanding way that I haven't seen since films like THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971), SERPICO (1973), DEATH WISH (1974) and even Sylvester Stallone's NIGHTHAWKS (1981). Watching this film can cause you to temporarily forget all of the hype that has been generated about New York City ever since former mayor Rudy Giuliani supposedly "cleaned it up". The look, the feel and the sense of the city are hard-hitting and frightening. The cops who comprise the story here are equally frightening in their own manner.
Let's begin with Ethan Hawke. I had never heard of this guy before I saw him as an innocent and scared schoolboy in DEAD POET'S SOCIETY (1989). The schoolboy has not only grown up, but also displays an acting credibility that has transformed him into one of the most desperate "bad-ass motherfucker" cops I have ever seen on screen. His desperation, though, is not without empathy and understanding. He's a man with a loving wife, needy children and an immediate need for a bigger house. For this, he will commit acts of violence and theft against the very evil men he has sworn to fight. Following these acts is the inevitable rationalization and church confession that he must cling to in order for his soul to survive. In the end, though, neither he nor his soul will survive and you can only feel bad for the guy. He's a corrupt cop, yes, but that doesn't lessen your own longing for him to get what he needs to support and protect his family, even if he has to blow away the drug dealers and steal their money!
There is less to say about Don Cheadle, except that his style, his performance, his attitude and his personality as a desperate undercover narcotics cop are exactly what you'd expect on screen outside of a silly OCEAN'S ELEVEN film. And believe me, that's more than welcome, in my opinion. Wesley Snipes returns to the big screen after many years and offers more of the same that you may have seen in a film like NEW JACK CITY (1991). Don't worry - that's a good thing for a film of this magnitude.
Richard Gere has played a cop before. This time, there's no glory and no guts. He's a 22 year veteran who is so burned out that he no longer cares about anything except getting through the last week of the job to reach his long-deserved pension. Except there's one problem; deep down inside he's still a man with a heart and a conscience to do the right thing. This is never clearer than in the end when, after having already surrendered his shielf forever and acting on nothing more than his cop's instincts, he saves three girls from drug dealing pimps. Yes, there's probably nothing more cliche than the hero saving the girl from the villian, but I'll be damned if it doesn't work beautifully here. The last shot of the film is unforgettable, as he slowly walks away from the crime scene, having saved the girl(s) and finally redeemed his long-lost soul.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Detective Sal Procida (inside a church confession booth): "I did a bad thing...but to a bad guy; a very, very bad guy, all right, and for a good reason. You think that a rationalization, right? That's what you're thinkin'."
Priest: "Here, did you pray for guidance?"
Sal: "No, I couldn't do that."
Priest: "Why not?"
Sal: "'Cause prayers were not gonna get me what I needed."
Priest: "Is it more important than your relationship with God? No matter what you may have done, he's ready to forgive you."
Sal: "He is, huh?"
Priest: "We're all imperfect creatures, and we're lead to sin. That's why we have to surrender our souls to God."
Sal: "Well to be honest with you - I've been here before, all right, askin' for God's help, a lotta times, okay, an' my situation is not gettin' any sunnier, you know? So, so why should it now?"
Priest: "Your pride is denying the possibility of God's goodness."
Sal: "Why does He get all the glory, you know? Why is that, huh? He gets all the glory an' I get all the blame. I mean, is it not possible that maybe God isn't carryin' his end of the weight?
Priest: "Look, this thing is obviously weighing on you...so release it. Confess your sin. Pray for foregiveness."
Sal: "I don't want God's foregiveness! I WANT HIS FUCKIN' HELP!"
Thursday, December 2, 2010
(January 1984, U.S.)
Compared to some of Woody Allen's bigger classics like SLEEPER (1973), ANNIE HALL (1977) and MANHATTAN (1979), a modest little film like BROADWAY DANNY ROSE probably doesn't stand up as well. It doesn't, really. But in its own right, the film has an irresistable quality to it. The fact that's it's shot in black and white adds a cliche of artistic element to it. The fact that it stars Woody Allen playing his usualy neurotic, moronic and sometimes psychotic personality never hurts, either.
As with many of Allen's film characters, Danny Rose is associated with show business. The kick here is not so much his profession as a theatrical manager, but rather the ridiculous acts he handles; a one-legged tap dancer, a blind xylophone player, a balloon artist and a woman who plays the tops of drinking glasses with her hands whom Danny swears will one day play at Carnegie Hall (???). His one great client is an overweight Italian crooner who's in love with a cheap, gangster's blonde Tina (played by Mia Farrow), and it's with her that the screwball adventure begins to take shape, much in the spirit of films like BRINGING UP BABY (1938) and WHAT'S UP, DOC (1972). Those who know Woody Allen's nervous style and mannerism will know that he won't take too kindly to any kind of adventure that puts him in any confusing or dangerous position.
As mentioned earlier, BROADWAY DANNY ROSE will likely not go down in film history as one of Woody Allen's best. It's a fun film to watch, nonetheless. The dialogue below when he's just been grabbed and shoved into a car with two gangsters who intend to kill him is a prime example -
Favorite line or dialogue:
Danny Rose: "Fell...fellas...fellas...fellas...may I...can I...may I just interject one thing at this particular point in time?"
Gangster #1: "Keep goin' straight."
Danny: "Look, I LIKE Johnny. This is...what you don't understand...I LIKE your brother. I got nothin' against him. I just met him today. He's sweet. I liked his poem. What's under discussion here is the girl's feelings. That's what we're...the girl...incidentally, where is the girl?"
Gangster #2: "Oh, we're gonna take real good care-o-you, pal."
Danny: "I wanna say one thing, and I don't mean to be didactic or facetious in any manner...she doesn't love him. That's...she doesn't love him anymore. What can I...? You know...I know, it's hard to take, you know, because we all want what we can't have in life. This is...it's a natural thing. But, uh, you know, take my cousine Seal - not, not pretty like Tina at all. She looks like something in a reptile house in the zoo. So, you'll like this story...she meets this accountant..."
Gangster #1: "Will ya shut up!"
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
(December 1987, U.S.)
Ah, Christmas 1987 - I was in my third year of college and partying my ass off! At the movies, Michael Douglas was telling the world that greed was good, Robin Williams was yelling "Good morning!" to Vietnam and BROADCAST NEWS was giving a young guy like me his first glimpse as to just how phoney and fabricated network news television could be. Even today, I find myself unable to watch the news for no more than a half hour without developing a knot in my stomach. It's not just because nearly all of the news is bad news, but the style in which it's presented has become completely over-sensationalized in its delivery, filming and editing style. In short, it has, in my opinion, developed a status level that falls just short of a reality TV show. You want an example? Just watch anchorman Chuck Scarborough on New York's NBC-TV nightly news at 11 pm; the man has a constant happy and chipper demeanor throughout his broadcast, even when the news is horribly tragic, just as if he were prepped, primed and put together like an overbloated TV game show host. So what's the solution? Watch more CNN or MSNBC? Well, it's a slight improvement, but I'm afraid even those two so-called "serious" news networks may be falling victim to the disease of broadcast sensationalism.
But anyway, back to movie in discussion - BROADCAST NEWS is a film that can be called as knowledgeable about the TV news-gathering process as any movie ever made, but it also has insights into the more personal matter of how people use their high-pressure jobs as a way of avoiding time alone with themselves. The best example is news producer Jane Craig (played by Holly Hunter) who is so appalled by every negative element that modern television news epitomizes, she has actually managed to repell other people through her personality and convictions. When alone with herself, she can only cope with the stress and pressures by experiencing a well-needed cry. News anchorman Tom Grunick (played by William Hurt) is admitedly uneducated, uninformed and unseasoned at his profession, and as he puts it, is "making a fortune" (what's not to love about the guy?). Albert Brooks' presence is as funny and as charming as you'd expect from any role he takes on. Frankly, I don't think I've ever heard anyone express sarchasm on film the way he does. But in this film, he's also excellent at taking the viewer inside the world of television news, though perhaps not terribly good at analyzing it all. Can ANYBODY alalyze television these days? It's all such a horrible mess!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Aaron Altman: "I know you care about him. I've never seen you like this about anyone, so please don't take it wrong when I tell you that I believe that Tom, while a very nice guy, is the Devil."
Jane Craig: " This isn't friendship!" You're crazy, you know that?"
Aaron: "What do you think the Devil is going to look like if he's around?"
Aaron: "Nobody is going to be taken in if he has a long, red, pointy tail. No, I'm semi-serious here."
Jane: "You're serious..."
Aaron: "He will look attractive and he will be nice and helpful and he will get a job where he influences a great God-fearing nation and he will never do an evil thing. He will just bit by little bit lower our standards where they are important. Just coax along flash over substance...just a tiny bit. And he will talk about all of us really being salesmen. And he'll get all the great women."
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
(February 1938, U.S.)
In discussing a film like BRINGING UP BABY, I'd like to attempt to offer some cinematic education for today's younger generation who are (unfortunately) being raised on completely mindless comedies from idiots like Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler and Jack Black. What I'd like to offer is the consideration that great screwball comedies can be more than seventy years old, that great comedy can be black and white, and that great comedy can be absolutely classic! BRINGING UP BABY is not just a funny movie; it is, in my opinion, one of the greatest comedies ever made.
You've probably heard the movie tag expression "rollercoaster ride" or "the ride of your life" as it's usually associated with action films. Well, watching this film is in itself a rollercoaster ride of fun and laughs, but it's one that you have to hold onto and follow closely because the spontaneous dialogue comes fast and furious and if you don't pay attention to every word and every gesture, you can miss out on so much. This is primarily a dialogue-driven film, but the physical gags and pitfalls manage to come through at the right moment with precise timing.
As I previously mentioned in my post for ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (1944), nobody could play the confused, bewildered, surprised and shocked mild-mannered everyday man like Cary Grant. This film may be his best example of such talent. Katherine Hepburn, for all of her serious work in films like THE AFRICAN QUEEN (1951) proves she could be an irresistable screwball, too. The plot of the film, which depicts the ordinary man unwillingly caught up in a series of outrageous misfortunes which he cannot control because of a ditzy woman he will inevitably fall in love with, has been copied over time and time again in films like WHAT'S UP, DOC (1972), BROADWAY DANNY ROSE (1984) and even one of Madonna many bad films, WHO'S THAT GIRL (1987). Of course, BRINGING UP BABY has the added attraction of an adorable leopard, too.
A quick word about director Howard Hawks, and that is you have to admire a film director who was so versatile in being able to not only direct screwball comedies, but gangster, film noir, westerns, and science fictions films, as well. Look up his filmography and you'll see what I mean.
Favorite line or dialogue:
David Huxley (answers the door wearing a woman's bathrobe): "What do you want?"
Elizabeth Random: "Well, who are YOU?"
David: "Who are YOU?"
Elizabeth: "Well, who are YOU?"
David: "What do you WANT?"
Elizabeth: "Well, WHO are you?"
David: "I don't know. I'm not quite myself today."
Elizabeth: "Well, you look perfectly idiotic in those clothes!"
David: "These aren't MY clothes!"
Elizabeth: "Well, where ARE you clothes?"
David: "I've LOST my clothes!"
Elizabeth: "Well, why are you wearing THESE clothes?"
David (jumps up): "Because I just went GAY all of a sudden!"
Saturday, November 27, 2010
(June 1977, U.S.)
Have you noticed that I'm not even out of the 'B' titles of my film collection and I've already discussed a more than fair share of war films? The challenge has now become to attempt to add something new and fresh to my perspective on war films that generally tend to follow that same war cliches and formulas. Mind you, these cliches and formulas do have the persistence of not failing to entertain the viewer for this type of genre.
Directed by Sir Richard Attenborough, A BRIDGE TOO FAR is an epic World War II film that tells the story of the failure of "Operation Market Garden" during the war and the Allied attempt to break through German lines and seize several bridges, including the road bridge over the Lower Rhine at Arnhem, in the occupied Netherlands, with the main objective of Allied armour outflanking the Siegfried Line at its northern extremity. For your interest, the name for the film comes from an unconfirmed comment made by British Lieutenant-General Frederick Browning, deputy commander of the First Allied Airborne Army, who tells Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, the operation's architect, before the operation, "I think we may be going a bridge too far." Get it?
In a way, this film reminds me much of THE LONGEST DAY (1962) in two ways. The first is that it includes an ensemble cast of popular stars of the time, including James Caan, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Edward Fox, Elliot Gould, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins, Lawrence Olivier, Ryan O'Neal, Robert Redford, Maximillian Schell and Liv Ulmann. The second is that the first forty-five minutes or so of the film is spent entirely on strategic planning before any of the battles actually begin. That doesn't make the film entirely unoriginal, though. I suppose it all depends on the stars of the film and the combat mission that structures the plot. But getting back to cliches and formulas for a moment, the classic elements are alive and kicking in A BRIDGE TOO FAR and make for as an exciting a war film as any other of the genre.
I was only ten years old when this film was released in the Summer of 1977, which means I likely had no interest in it during a summer dominated by the first STAR WARS film (like my parents would have LET me see a grown-up war film at that tender young age???). However, I can remember the attention that it received through newspaper coverage and television promo ads. Those kind of images can stay with you for quite a while until you're old enough to see a war film...thankfully.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Sgt. Eddie Dohun: "Colonel, if you don't look at him right now, he's going to die."
U.S. Medical Colonel: "He's dead now."
Sgt. Dohun: "It would mean a lot to me, sir, if you'd check him out."
Medical Colonel: "Come on, Sergeant! For Chrissakes, get him out of here!"
Sgt. Dohun (draws his gun): "Would you look at him please, sir? Right now or I'll blow your fuckin' head off. Right now."
Medical Colonel: " I can give him a quick examination if you like."
Sgt. Dohun: "Thank you very much, sir."
(a few minutes later)
Medical Colonel: "Sergeant Dohun pulled a gun on me and threatened to kill me unless I did precisely what he ordered. I want you to put him under arrest."
Lt. Rafferty: "Yes, sir."
Medical Colonel: "I want you to keep him there. I want you to keep him there for at least ten seconds."
Lt. Rafferty: "I'm not all that sure I understand, Colonel."
Medical Colonel: "Count to ten, Lieutenant, fast."
Lt. Rafferty: "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. Like that, sir?"
Medical Colonel: "Thank you, Lieutenant."
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
(June 1995, U.S.)
You may have begun to notice that every once in a while I offer some kind of personal confession in some of my blog posts. Well, here we go again, people - my confession for this post is that when it comes to love on the big screen, I prefer to watch a straight-forward, sentimental love story rather than a silly romantic comedy. Come on, think about all the romantic comedies that have come out over the last decade and tell me that they haven't all been following the same damn formula time and time again! The guy's best friend is always some goofball. The girl's best friend is either a female goofball or a flamboyant gay guy. And more often than not, the guy and girl aren't even that interested in each other at the beginning of the film.
So, that having been said, let's discuss THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. If you were of adult-reading age back in 1992, there's no way you could not have heard of Robert James Waller's mega New York Times best seller. It was THE book everyone was talking about! Now here's my second confession for you all - this remains the only love story I have ever read. I read it almost out of professional obligation because in 1992 I was working in a small bookstore and felt required to read it so I would have some sense of what I was talking about when I sold it to customers. The book was small and only took a few hours to read. I'd be lying through my teeth if I didn't tell you that I was captivated and enthralled just like every other person who fell for this simple story of forbidden love between an Italian war bride living in 1960's Iowa and a rugged photographer who has come to Madison County to shoot a photographic essay for National Geographic on the covered bridges in the area. The four days they spend together while her family is away are a turning point in her life. She writes of her experience in a diary which is discovered by her children after her death. Needless to say, they are stunned by her secret confessions.
After completing the book, my first thought was, of course, that it would make a great film. But I went into details and told people that I though it would make a great Robert Redford-directed film starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep. Well, as things turned out, I got one-third of it right. Both of my speculations for Redford were replaced by Clint Eastwood and it was a great film, nonetheless, during a summer that was dominated by the likes of DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE and BATMAN FOREVER (that movie sucked!). And just when you thought Clint Eastwood's film characters weren't capable of much more than shooting a .44 Magnum or punching somebody's lights out, he turns out to be a gentle, sentimental lover, as well. What a guy!
Now here's a personal story which is only INdirectly related to the film's story. It's a story of my mother. She came to this country from Egypt in the early '60s. She met my dad, they got married and the rest is...well, never mind that. In 1996, six years after my parents (finally) split for good, she took a trip to Los Angeles and made a phone call that would change the rest of her life. She contacted the man she had PREVIOUSLY been engaged to in Egypt before coming to this country and meeting my dad. By chance, he just happened to be divorced and available. Jump ahead two years and they were married. When they were first reunited, it seemed as if my mother and her long-lost sweetheart were living their own version of THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. As far as how it all turned out...well, that story resides three thousand miles away in another state.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Francesca Johnson: "Robert, please. You don't understand, no-one does. When a woman makes the choice to marry, to have children; in one way her life begins but in another way it stops. You build a life of details. You become a mother, a wife and you stop and stay steady so that your children can move. And when they leave they take your life of details with them. And then you're expected move again only you don't remember what moves you because no-one has asked in so long. Not even yourself. You never in your life think that love like this can happen to you."
Robert Kincaid: "But now that you have it..."
Francesca: "I want to keep it forever. I want to love you the way I do now the rest of my life. Don't you understand... we'll lose it if we leave. I can't make an entire life disappear to start a new one. All I can do is try to hold onto to both. Help me. Help me not lose loving you."
Sunday, November 21, 2010
(October 1957, U.S.)
British director David Lean was unquestionably one of the best of the 20th century. Had he made no other films other than LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962), DOCTOR ZHIVAGO (1965) and THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, he would have likely still been considered legendary status.
This film is a war film, to be sure, but it is hardly a combat film. There are moments of great action, but I would consider this to be more of a "cat and mouse" war and prison drama, where dialogue, cinematography, history and culture reign supreme. Oh, and by the way, the original novel for this film was written by French writer Pierre Boulle, the same man who wrote the original novel PLANET OF THE APES. The incidents portrayed in the film are mostly fictional, and though it depicts bad conditions and suffering caused by the building of the Burma Railway and its bridges, to depict the actual reality would have been too appalling for filmgoers back in 1957. Historically, the conditions were much worse than depicted in the film. The destruction of the bridge as depicted at the end of the film is entirely fictional. In fact, two bridges were built: a temporary wooden bridge and a permanent steel/concrete bridge a few months later. Both bridges were used for two years, until they were destroyed by Allied aerial bombing. The steel bridge was repaired and is still in use today.
As far as Alec Guinness' role in this film is concerned, let me just say that it's a damn shame that he'll forever be remembered most as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original STAR WARS trilogy. Not that I'm knocking the great Obi-Wan, but his performances in those films cannot even come close to his personality and style in this film. The inexplicable pride he takes in leading his British soldiers in the construction of the bridge is astounding. He is a man who truly believes in the military code and the honor of coming through as a proud British officer, even if it means committing acts that could be considered treasonous and even attempting to stop the men who will eventually destroy the bridge in the name of defeating the Japanese enemy.
Here's one more piece of interesting trivia: this film was first telecast complete by ABC-TV in 1966, as a three hours-plus special on The ABC Sunday Night Movie. The telecast of the film lasted more than three hours because of the commercial breaks. It was still highly unusual at that time for a television network to show such a long film in one evening; most films of that length were generally split into two parts and shown over two evenings. But the unusual move paid off for ABC because the telecast drew huge ratings.
THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI won the Oscar for best picture of 1957.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Lt. Colonel Nicholson: "I've been thinking. Tomorrow it will be twenty-eight years to the day that I've been in the service. Twenty-eight years in peace and war. I don't suppose I've been at home more than ten months in all that time. Still, it's been a good life. I loved India. I wouldn't have had it any other way. But there are times when suddenly you realize you're nearer the end than the beginning. And you wonder, you ask yourself, what the sum total of your life represents. What difference your being there at any time made to anything. Hardly made any difference at all, really, particularly in comparison with other men's careers. I don't know whether that kind of thinking's very healthy; but I must admit I've had some thoughts on those lines from time to time. But tonight... tonight!"
(February 1961, U.S.)
Jean-Luc Godard's BREATHLESS is among the inaugural films of the French New Wave and was derived from a scenario by fellow New Wave director, François Truffaut. At the time, the film attracted much attention for its bold visual style and the film editing use of jump cuts. At the time, these jump cuts were considered extremely innovative. Today, like everything else that has been copied a thousand times over in filmmaking, it has been brought to the brink of overkill. Just watch any of director Tony Scott's films over the last ten years and you'll see what I mean.
Michel Poiccard (played by Jean-Paul Belmondo) is a young, petty criminal who models himself on the film persona of the great Humphrey Bogart. In just the first five minutes of the film, he's already stolen a car and murdered a policeman just as simply as if he were eating breakfast. In fact, in the stolen car department, he does it as many times in a day as others would sneeze. He's a sleazy man who knows and is even proud of the fact of how sleazy he is, both in crime and his relationship with women. Just look at the many close-ups of his face with his dark glasses and fat cigareete to see what I mean. You are compelled to hate this man from the moment you meet him. It's actually quite incredible that his American love interest, Patricia (played by Jean Seberg), cannot suspect who and what he is. When she finally finds out, she appears turned on and is prone to help him until she inevitably turns him in to the police and he's shot dead.
Godard's BREATHLESS is only the second foreign film in my collection that I am discussing, but it has long and justifiably been considered one of the essentials of art house cinema, thanks to it's breakthrough style of editing and black and white cinematography.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Michel Poiccard (voice-over): "After all, I'm an asshole. After all, yes, I've got to. I've got to!"
Saturday, November 20, 2010
(July 1979, U.S.)
BREAKING AWAY will likley go down in cinematic history as a great, original coming-of-age film (and it damn-well is!). For myself, it was a film that came out during a time when rousing sports films were making it big on the screen. By the Summer of 1979, there had already been two ROCKY films for boxing, three BAD NEWS BEARS films for baseball, NORTH DALLAS FORTY and HEAVEN CAN WAIT for football and even BOBBY DEERFIELD for auto racing. BREAKING AWAY gave us bicycle racing and it left a guy like me cheering for more! Unfortunately, there was more in the form of a very short-lived TV series of the film in 1980 (it sucked!). Still, all these years later, my perspective for the film has matured a great deal in that I see a great deal of social meaning behind its content, and I'd like to share that with you now.
On the surface, this is a film about a young man named Dave Stoller from Bloomington, Indiana whose sole purpose in life is to excel in his bicycle riding. In a town filled with the everyday working class who are likely never to be educated beyond high school or ever leave their small town, Dave exemplifies himself through his physical skills and repeated victories in bicycle races. When he’s not in his own world on his bicycle, Dave is as ordinary as the friends he hangs out with at the local quarry’s watering hole where they go swimming every day. This freedom comes easily as they have all made the conscious decision to avoid getting a job in order to waste the rest of their lives together. Bloomington is also a college town where students of Indiana University reside. Unlike the local kids of the town, who are often referred to as “cutters” because they come from families of men whose traditional job it was to cut the limestone that would eventually constitute the buildings that went up on the campus, the college kids who are meant to spend only four years of their lives in Bloomington, are rich, spoiled, and known to make no secret of looking down their noses at the local “cutter” kids. As a “cutter” kid himself, Dave is often not entirely satisfied with his own identity and longs to become something more than just a local kid from the neighborhood with no job prospects and no college education. The spiritual freedom he feels on his bicycle only takes him so far, though, and he longs to be on a more equal level of the privileged college kids in town. To accomplish this, he decides to create an alternate ethnic identity for himself when he meets a beautiful college girl named Katherine. This is a persona he was already testing with his disapproving parents before meeting her, but one he’s chosen to commit himself to now once she unexpectedly enters his life. When he’s with her, he’s no longer the ordinary Dave Stoller, but rather a more colorful Italian exchange student with an alternate Italian name. This sudden switch in identity and character stems from his great love and admiration of Italian bicycle riders, particularly the team Cinzano. Although Dave hasn’t exactly propelled himself to the higher class level of the college kids with this alternate identity, he feels a greater sense of his own self as a fake Italian somebody rather than just a real life common American working class nobody. This newly-found confidence is just enough to make him feel comfortable sitting in a bowling alley café with Katherine that has normally been reserved for the college kids only. During an unexpected brawl involving his best friends, instead of stepping in to help them, he keeps himself well hidden so as not to expose his secret identity to the woman he loves. From Katherine’s perspective, the man she comes to know as the Italian exchange student, though not being financially well-off or of an upper class sector, is far more interesting than the typical college jocks with inflated egos she has spent most of her time with up until now.
During one of the film’s sports sequences, Dave takes part in a bicycle race alongside the Italian riding team Cinzano that he has come to idolize. From the Italian’s perspective, they, too, also sport an attitude that looks down not only on the common working class kids of Bloomington, Indiana, but apparently, also on Americans themselves. During the race, the Italian champions appear to be appalled and flabbergasted that a common American like Dave is not only able to keep up with them, but also has the audacity to speak Italian to them. While Dave’s social intentions are to extend his friendship and admiration, the Italian team react with anger and malicious intent when the cause Dave to fall from his bicycle and subsequently, eliminate him from the race. Dave has not only become the victim of cheats, but has also realized the delusion he held that Italians were supposedly of a higher and more respectable social nature than those he has spent his entire life around. This moment of clarity brings him to the decision to confess to Katherine who and what he really is. His name, his physical appearance and his very manhood remain the same, but because he is now just an everyday “cutter” kid of the local town who lied to her and not the exotic Italian exchange student Katherine thought he was, she reacts angrily and walks out on his life. Despite this blow to Dave’s romantic life, he is still able to hold onto the fact that he’s gifted in his riding skills and is determined to renew his sense of self-worth. To accomplish this, he will take part in the town’s climactic bicycle race with his three best friends at his side. This will not only be a race of human will, but will also bring a new level of competitiveness against a group of college kids also competing in the big race. This is the film’s great moment of triumphant sports victory that audiences are meant to stand up and cheer about, but it’s also a race against odds between two social classes of kids who are at the age of trying to figure out who they are, whether it’s amidst the environment of the local working class residents or amidst the alternate environment of college wealth and privilege, all within the confinements of the same small town. Of course, the classic cinematic cliché in which the underdog triumphs does not disappoint. Dave Stoller and his best friends win the big race and not only redeem their own self-respect, but apparently the respect of the college riding team, as well, as they are seen clapping their hands at the film’s end in honor of the victorious “cutter” kids. The film’s attempt to prove that in at least the world of sports competition, there are no separating classes and those who participate are of equal standing with each other. Realistically, one cannot depart from Breaking Away feeling that all social prejudices and disorders in Bloomington, Indiana will be miraculously healed on a daily basis. But for right now, the love and freedom of riding a simple bicycle appears to give us that small glimmer of hope that things can get better between people.
Now as much as I hate to admit acting like a big dork, after seeing BREAKING AWAY at the age of twelve, I became obsessed for a while with the opera piece, "The Barber of Seville", which is played as the background score during the first bicycle race. For months, after I would hum that piece in my head every time I rode my bike (I didn't even have a walkman yet!). That piece of music no longer comes to mind whenever I ride my bike today.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Dave's dad: "What's this?"
Dave's mom: "It's sauteed zucchini."
Dad: "It's I-tey food. I don't want no I-tey food!"
Mom: "It's not. I got it at the A&P. It's like... squash."
Dad: "I know I-tey food when I hear it! It's all them "eenie" foods... zucchini... and linguine... and fettuccine. I want some American food, dammit! I want French fries!"
Friday, November 19, 2010
(February 1985, U.S.)
It was 1985 and young people's movies were about to change. By 1985, Rocky had defeated Mr. T, E.T. had gone home, Darth Vader and the Empire were dead, Spock had died and come back to life, and we knew who we were gonna call if we needed some ghostbusting! Yes, it was time for young people's movies to get a bit serious...
I was a white suburban high school teenager for part of the year 1985. This means that I was partially raised by director John Hughes. For those of you who may have been living deep under a rock in 1985 and actually never heard of THE BREAKFAST CLUB, arguably the most influential teen film of the 1980's young MTV pop culture decade, then know right now for the record that it is the story of five white suburban teenagers (each a member of a different high school clique or social group) as they spend an entire Saturday in detention together and come to realize that they are all deeper than their respective stereotypes. Note that I have used the word WHITE and SUBURBAN twice already because it was the emotional challenges of white, upper middle class suburban teenagers that Hughes most depicted in his films. In fact, the only African-American characters of any key value I can recall in any of his films is the school nurse and a parking garage attendant in FERRIS BEULLER'S DAY OFF (1986). Whatever that was about, I'm afraid that Hughes may have taken it with him when he died in August 2009.
What strikes me as most interesting about THE BREAKFAST CLUB more than 25 years after its release is not so much how it played out back then, but rather how might play out today. Would a film like THE BREAKFAST CLUB work today? Perhaps. I mean, high school is still high school, right? High school students are still the same as they ever were, right (though they seem to be doing a lot more SINGING on TV these days)? Actually, I'm guessing the answers to these questions is really a big NO! While I'm long since past my high school years (though I'm only 43), my guess - my PRESUMPTION is that the high school student of the 21st century is hell and gone from the one of the 1980's. We now live in a world where communication has become primarily dependent on a tiny keyboard that fits in the palm of your hand. Why would five totally different teenage kids ever be brought into a room together to share their lives in actual conversation when they could simply text each other or spill their guts on any number of social network websites? Hell, would five different teenage kids even be brought together in detention in the first place? In today's educational world of zero tolerance, a trouble-making student like John Bender (played by Judd Nelson) would have likely been suspended for pulling a fake fire alarm. Student Brian Johnson (played by Anthony Michael Hall) would have been outright expelled and prosecuted for having a flare gun in his locker. You see what I'm talking about? It's my firm opinion that opportunities for real human communication between today's high school teenagers likely no longer exist! That being the case, how could you make a film like THE BREAKFAST CLUB today??
For myself, I can only offer thick memories of this film and thank director John Hughes for reaching out and attempting to bring some sense of a young person's self-worth to the big screen. Thanks, John. I still miss you.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Brian Johnson (voice-over): "Saturday, March 24,1984. Shermer High School, Shermer, Illinois, 60062. Dear Mr. Vernon, We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. What we did WAS wrong. But we think you're crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. What do you care? You see us as you want to see us - in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Correct? That's the way we saw each other at 7:00 this morning. We were brainwashed."
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
(October 2002, U.S.)
BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE is the first documentary in my film collection to be discussed (I don't own a lot of them). Director Michael Moore has certainly established himself as a filmmaker who's subject matters provoke words like controversial, provocative, incendiary, as well as entertainingly funny. Funny? Yes, funny, because when you sit there and you're informed of just how fucked up this country and this world can be, you can't help but find it just plain funny. One thing's for sure, in my opinion, when you watch one of Michael Moore's films, you don't feel like the same person you were two hours ago before the film started. You probably feel a litte worse.
I grew up in a predominantly white, upper middle class suburban town on Long Island during the 1980's. Like many other teenagers, I though high school sucked! Like any other suburban (take note that I repeat the word SUBURBAN. I know nothing of urban life to a teenager, so I won't even attempt to shine any kind of light on the subject) high school, we had our trouble makers and our trouble spots. They were, however, mostly related to drug use and I cannot recall any stories of student violence against each other during the entire era of my teens. On April 20, 1999 the rules of white suburban high school America changed forever in Columbine, Colorado. Murderous violence at the hands of kids was no longer an element of urban, inner city high schools or somwhere in a foreign land we cannot pronounce.
So who was to blame for the Columbune massacre? The parents of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold? The kids who bullied them in the first place? Charlton Heston and the NRA? Wall-Mart for selling the bullets to kids so easily? Violent video games? Marilyn Manson's music? It may be forever impossible to explain why the Columbine massacre occurred and why the United States has such a high violent crime rate (especially crimes involving guns).
Getting back to the word FUNNY for a moment; there is an early scene that is irresistably ridiculous depicting how Moore discovers a bank in Michigan that gives customers a free hunting rifle when they make a deposit of a certain size into a time deposit account. The camera follows Moore as he goes to the bank, makes his deposit, fills out the forms, and awaits the result of a background check before walking out of the bank carrying a brand new hunting rifle. Just before leaving the bank, Moore jokingly asks the bank employee, "Do you think it's a little dangerous handing out guns at a bank?" You see? As sick as the whole process is, how can you possibly help but not laugh at its utter stupidity??
So, now we come to the crucial moment of this post that asks where I stand on gun control. Truth be told, I'm not entirely sure. I do believe that if guns were taken off the street, the casualties of gun-related crimes would very likely decrease in multitudes. On the other hand, I can tell you that if I had to shoot a person to protect not only myself, but my family, as well, I would not hesitate for even a second to pull the trigger on the son of a bitch!
I suppose any way you look at it, regardless of all the questions you ask and all the arguments you make, this country we live in is fucked up to the bone! So what's the solution? I think I'll move to Canada!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Chris Rock (stand-up performance): "You don't need no gun control. You know what you need? We need some bullet control. We need to control the bullets. I think all bullets should cost $5,000. You know why? If a bullet cost $5,000 there'd be no more innocent bystanders. Every time somebody get shot "Dang, you must of did somethin'! Shit, they put 50,000 dollars worth of bullets in his ass!" And people would think before they killed somebody if a bullet cost $5,000. "Man, I would blow your fuckin' head off... if I could AFFORD it! I'm a get me another job, I'm a start saving some money, then you a dead man!"
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
(December 1989, U.S.)
I have a rather shameful confession to make, and here it is...(deep breath now)...despite the fact that Tom Cruise has spent nearly the last decade behaving like a complete idiot in front of the media, I have an irresistable weakness for most of his films (there, I said it!). Bear in mind, I said MOST of his films. I mean, no one, in their right mind, could be expected to sit through junk like COCKTAIL (1988), DAYS OF THUNDER (1990) and FAR AND AWAY (1992), right? Right?
So being that BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY is the first Tom Cruise film in my alphabetical film collection that I'm discussing, I'm glad that I can start off with what is without challange the best performance of his career (this and RAIN MAN). His unforgettable performance as Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic earned him his first Academy Award nomination.
Without getting into too much detail about Ron Kovic's life, it's enough to know that he was a product of the early 1960's call-to-duty by the immortal words of John F. Kennedy's "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country" speech and the American paroid, bullshit fear of global communism of the time, which later inspired him to enlist in the united States Marines. He went to Vietnam, fought for his country, lost the use of his legs and his dick for his country, and in the end, got royally screwed by his country and was dramatically disillusioned by his country. In later years, he spoke out against the war he had once been eager to be a part of and also published his autobiography.
The most intruiging element of this film, though, is that of transformation - Kovic's transformation from an idealistic youth willing to die for his country to a paralyzed veteran who feels manipulated, lied to, and cheated. But the life of Ron Kovic is not truly unique, by any means, as there must have been untold numbers of American soldiers who experienced the same mental anguish and betrayel of the Vietnam war. Ron Kovic was surely just one man of many, but perhaps it need only be the story of ONE man that can get the historical point across while penetrating our minds and touching our hearts.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Ron Kovic: "People say that if you don't love America, then get the hell out! Well, I love America!"
(August 1981, U.S.)
When I think about how young and sizzling hot Kathleen Turner once was and how terrible she looks now...well, it's just such a damn shame that some people have to get old! I suppose saying something like that is not very P.C., but it's my blog and I'm not afraid to be occassionally not very P.C. if I want to!
Anyone who's ever seen BODY HEAT already knows how heavily inspired the story was by the mother of all American film noir classics, DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944). However, beyond the borrowed plot of two secret lovers plotting to murder the woman's husband and collect the insurance money, BODY HEAT has a true power that transcends its original sources. Not only was it the erotic thriller (or the "Basic Instinct") of its time, but the debuts of virtual unknowns William Hurt and Kathleen Turner also propelled their acting careers. In fact, Turner managed to build a career on adventurousness and frank sexuality born of robust physicality (even as Jessica Rabbit in WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT?). There is also the added element of a scorching Florida heat wave that is touched up as an element that can make ordianry people do crazy things. BODY HEAT also propelled the directing career of Lawrence Kasdan (did you know he wrote THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, RETURN OF THE JEDI and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK?).
Getting back to classic film noir for a moment, BODY HEAT does not disappoint in its own right. Hurt's Ned Racine is just as sleazy as any 1940's or 1950's lowlife detective and Turner's Matty Walker, as the beautiful femme fatale, is just as diabolical as Lana Turner or Barbara Stanwick ever was. One of the great differences in BODY HEAT, though, is that if you're seeing it for the first time, you actually believe that Matty is truly in love with Ned, even as they are planning to commit murder together. As the pieces begin to twist and unravel in the aftermath of the murder and we begin to see how and why Ned was set up by his steaming sexual squeeze, we still see signs that Matty's love for him was genuine, right up until the very end when she fakes her own death in a rigged explosion so she can frame her lover for the murder of her husband and get away clean with all of his insurance money.
Even after all of that twisting and turning intruigue, there is still one remaining sign that Matty, as viciously scheming as she was, was capable of true love. Just look at the final shot of her face when she sits on the beach of an exotic paradise island; it's full of regret and sorrow. She's filty rich, yes. She's gotten away with murder, yes. But she'll never rejoice or find any happiness over what she's done. She'll simply live a life of riches and meaningless sex.
(actually, come to think of it...)
Favorite line or dialogue:
Ned Racine: "Let's say that she's living as this other girl, this person from her past, so that only one person in the whole world who knows who she really is, and then just when she got me on the line, she's finally going to collect, that person shows up. That girl finds her and threatens to expose her, so Matty starts paying her off. Maybe she ever promised to cut her in on Edmund's money. Now she's gotta share it with two people. But then Matty sees a way to get rid of both of us at once...at the boathouse. A way to solve all her problems and get clear with no one looking for her. And, Oscar, she was right, too, because I would have NEVER stopped looking for her. Matty killed this other girl and put her body in the boathouse. It was so perfect and so...clean. You find two bodies, me and this girl, two killers, dead. Case closed."
Saturday, November 6, 2010
(August 1947, U.S.)
In the cinematic boxing world, before there was ever the down-and-out underdog bum Rocky Balboa and before there was ever the raging bull Jake LaMotta, there was John Garfield as Charley Davis in BODY AND SOUL; the story of a boxer who, as he rises up the ladder of professional success, becomes involved with crooked promoters and shady characters, including an unethical promoter who tempts Charley with a number of vices, like money, booze and women (LOTS of women!). Charley finds himself faced with increasingly difficult choices and manages to screw up many of the positive aspects of his life, including his relationship with his mother and the woman who truly loves him for what he is and not what she can get out of him.
BODY AND SOUL is considered the first great boxing picture; it's also a cautionary tale about the lure of money and how it can derail even a strong common man like Charley in his pursuit of success. It's easy to see how this film could easily influence Martin Scorsese's RAGING BULL (1980) along very similar story lines. It's a film that (like RAGING BULL, too) focues more on the boxer and the consequences of his life choices rather that the climactic "big fight" and whether he'll win or lose, as was most often the theme in all ROCKY films. The fight sequences, in particular, bring a kind of realism to the genre that hadn't existed before. The cinematographer wore roller skates and rolled around the ring shooting the fight scenes with a hand-held camera. Pretty damn original for 1947, huh?
There's also something about the final fight sequence that I find particularly intruiging - Charley has agreed to coast through the 15 rounds of the fight and then throw it in the end. For nearly 15 rounds, there is no real fighting and the crowd is growing angry and impatient. By the last round, Charley reconsiders what he's done and is prepared to destroy his opponent. The crowd can sense this change coming and instead of screaming their heads off for some real action, they go dead silent. It's chillingly effective and something I've never seen done in a fight film before.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Anna Davis: "I did it to buy myself fancy clothes? Fool! It's for you! To learn, to get an education, to make something of yourself!"
Charley Davis: "Shorty! Shorty, get me that fight from Quinn. I want money! Do you understand? Money, money!"
Anna: " I forbid, I forbid! Better buy a gun and shoot yourself!"
Charley: "You need MONEY to buy a gun!"
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
(September 1986, U.S.)
Ladies and gentlemen, it's my distinct pleasure to finally have the opportunity to introduce to my blog, "the wizard of weird" himself, the great David Lynch; perhaps the only real true artist of cinema alive today. Love him or hate hime, one cannot deny the impact his films can have on a viewer.
To experience a film by David Lynch is to experience a world within a dream and a nightmare. On the surface, BLUE VELVET may appear simply as a mystery film, exhibiting elements of both 1950's film noir and surrealism. On the surface, the fictitious town of Lumberton is a simple, picturesque, Norman Rockwell-like world of good people, beautiful trees and homespun values. Look deeper, though, and you'll find a nightmare world of crime, drug abuse and sexual violence. It's a mystery that starts almost harmlessly enough with young Jeffrey Beaumont (played by Kyle Maclachlan) walking home through a field and finding a severed human ear. Any other normal person would just turn the ear in and leave the matter alone, right? But when you're the hero of a David Lynch film, you proceed to investigate the ear further with help from your high school friend, Sandy Williams (played by Laura Dern), who provides you with information and leads from her father, the local police detective. The investigation draws you deeper into your hometown's seedy underworld, where you form a sexual relationship with the alluring torch singer, Dorothy Vallens (played by Isabella Rossellini), and uncover the vile criminal Frank Booth (played by Dennis Hopper). Frank Booth is undenyably one of the nastiest criminal characters ever created on film.
BLUE VELVET is generally considered the best film of David Lynch's career (my personal favorite is LOST HIGHWAY, but we'll get to that much later) and one of my top ten favorite films of the 1980's. It's a small wonder, though, that Lynch's career ever recovered after the financial and critical disaster that was known as DUNE (I loved it, but that, too, is another matter). Perhaps science fiction was never meant to be Lynch's cup of tea. A true artist such as he has proven most successful when diving into his personal world of visions and dreams. I can recall BLUE VELVET playing at the local triplex movie theater right across the street from my college dorm building in Buffalo, New York for months and I never bothered to go see it. Sadly, I hadn't discovered my appreciation for art films yet. Shame on me.
Personal story time. I had a roomate in college whom I shall call Chris (because that's really his name). He was one of the quirkiest and most spirited guys I ever met which meant it wasn't hard for us to become really good friends. Anyway, he loved, loved, loved BLUE VELVET! He loved it on a level that made him an expert on it's story, its dialogue and David Lynch himself. It was Chris who turned me on to this film. When we'd drink together, he'd enjoy raising his glass and saying, "Here's to your fuck, Eric!". So it is to Chris that I dedicate this post. We haven't seen each other since 1992, and to this day, I'm still unable to locate him on Facebook. I miss him. Here's to your fuck, Chris!
One final observation on this film; the word "fuck" and words containing the word "fuck" are spoken a total of fifty-seven times in BLUE VELVET. I couldn't resist - I counted! Fifty-six of those fifty-seven times is spoken by Frank Booth.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Frank Booth: "What kind of beer do you like?"
Jeffrey Beaumont: "Heineken."
Frank (shouting): "Heineken? Fuck that shit!! PABST BLUE RIBBON!!!"
Monday, November 1, 2010
(May 1983, U.S.)
When I was in high school, I would have told you that BLUE THUNDER was one of my favorite thrillers. Twenty-seven years later, I am likely to tell you the same thing. I have always enjoyed thrillers that feature helicopters and helicopter chases. This film features one of the most high-tech machines you're ever likely to see on film. And when you have Roy Scheider as the hero, you can't go wrong.
Scheider plays Frank Murphy, an LAPD helicopter pilot officer. He's selected to pilot the world's most advanced helicopter prototype, nicknamed "Blue Thunder," which is essentially a military-style combat helicopter intended for police use in surveillance, large-scale civic disobedience and terrorist situations. With powerful armament, stealth technology that allows it to fly virtually undetected, and other accoutrements (such as infrared scanners, powerful microphones and cameras, and a U-Matic VCR), Blue Thunder appears to be a formidable tool in the war on crime. But like anything else that sounds like it might be too good to be true, there are flaws that also involve human corruption and criminal intent. Their are those who intend to use Blue Thunder to carry out an evil mission of their own that involves the secret elimination of political undesirables. At the head of this involvement lies Malcom McDowell, in one of his best roles since A CLOCKWORK ORANGE.
Then, of course, there is the spectacular helicopter chase, battle and showdown over the city of Los Angeles; a feast for the eyes and the senses that greatly surpasses an air battle that Clint Eastwood had tried to pull off (unsuccessfully) a year before with FIREFOX (1982) . In the end, by achieving a spectacular 360° loop (primarily through use of Blue Thunder's turbine boost function and extremely painful effort on his own part), Frank Murphy shoots down his enemy. He then destroys Blue Thunder by landing it in front of an approaching freight train, having deemed the tactical helicopter too dangerous to be used by anyone else. You go, Murphy!
I still miss Roy Scheider!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Jack Braddock: "I've been trying to get you all night. Why don't you answer your fucking beeper?"
Frank Murphy: "I just wanna tell you, Jack, that the next time I'm suspended, so is my FUCKING BEEPER!"
Friday, October 29, 2010
(June 1980, U.S.)
How many films have they made based on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE skits or characters? Too many? Yes, too fucking many! THE BLUES BROTHERS is the one and only film of that genre that I own. And why not? John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd were an incredible team together, and the best of friends when Belushi was alive. This film has the kind of comedy, action, and even music that only director John Landis could once provide. I say "once" because their was a time when he was the king of comedy, with not only THE BLUES BROTHERS, but ANIMAL HOUSE (1978), TRADING PLACES (1983) and COMING TO AMERICA (1988). Sometime after that, his career died, in my opinion.
I was 13 years old when I saw THE BLUES BROTHERS on screen (only my third R-rated movie, by the way). When you're that age, it's like a rite of passage when you can occassionally see a movie with some added raunch and nastiness to it. Part of the comedy of Belushi and Aykroyd playing Jake and Elwood Blues is the subtlty of their actions. Not just in the way they calmly tear up the city of Chicago in their Mount Prospect police car when being chased by the cops (Hey, they HAVE to! They're on a misson from God!), but also in their facial gestures (check out the way they slowly look at each other whenever something out of the ordinary happens to them) and their bodily mannerisms. The two of them can dance, too, but it's still funny to watch even THAT (check out their outrageous moves in the baptist church as James Brown sings his lungs out). Oh, and Carrie Fisher is in this movie, too, as Jake Blues' vengeful ex-girlfriend, in a performance that I have found far more enjoyable than anything she ever did in her three STAR WARS films. Check her out! The girl does wonders with a blow torch and an M16 rifle! Oh, and by the way, just in case you never realized it; the man playing the county clerk at the end of the film is none other than the great Steven Spielberg himself!
It's impossible not to wonder how much more John Belushi could have given us had he not died from a drug overdose in 1982. The man WAS funny!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Elwood Blues: "It's 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark, and we're wearing sunglasses."
Jake Blues: "Hit it."
(July 1994, U.S.)
During a period of one year, from the Summer of 1994 to 1995, there were four action films that focussed on bombers. They were SPEED, THE SPECIALIST, DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE and BLOWN AWAY. For the pure action adrenalin rush that so many people love, SPEED is probably the film of choice - I would choose it, too, for the same reason. For story and performance, as well as action, BLOWN AWAY stands out, thanks primarily to its two stars, Jeff Bridges and Tommy Lee Jones.
Thinking back to the 1990's, it seems that I recall many terrorist enemies in films just happened to be Irish; IRA or some outside radicalist organization. This observation is not meant to be sterotypical. Just look at the film examples; PATRIOT GAMES (1992), Irish terrorists. THE CRYING GAME (1992), Irish terrorists. THE DEVIL'S OWN (1997), Irish terrorist played badly by Brad Pitt. And finally, BLOWN AWAY, Irish terrorist played very well by Jones. This is, I suppose, how moviemakers saw terrorist before Al Qaeda and Islamic extremists became a part of our 21st Century lives.
From a purely cinematic perspective, BLOWN AWAY is a spectacular action film with a reasonably intellignet, viable story to boot. Bridges plays Lt. Jimmy Dove, a veteran disposal technician for the Boston police bomb squad who knows his enemy, Ryan Gaerity (played by Jones), an Irish terrorist (with a rather sick sense of humor) who's recently escaped from a prison in Northern Ireland. Dove knows Gaerity's tactics well because he used to be with him in Ireland before he came to Boston to escape his violent past. So basically, you have a story about the good guy who was once a bad guy, but he's not bad anymore and now he has to stop the bad guy from taking personal revenge against the good guy by blowing up Boston and killing its cops. Understand?
Favorite line or dialogue:
Ryan Gaerity: "I've come here to create a new country for you called chaos, and a new government called anarchy."