Wednesday, May 26, 2010


(December 1989, U.S.)

I suppose even a great director like Steven Spielberg is not exempt from caving in to do an occassional remake (or two). As far back as JAWS (1975), he and actor Richard Dreyfuss confessed a mutual love for the classic World War II drama, A GUY NAMED JOE (1943) and the desire to somehow emulate it. If you watch the Spielberg-written POLTERGEIST (1982), you'll see a sequence from JOE playing on the bedroom TV.

Although considered a box office flop (as Spielberg films go), ALWAYS is one of those rare remakes that can be enjoyed from a fresh perspective (being the third collaboration between Spielberg and Dreyfuss doesn't hurt it either). It's a ghost story and a love story with thrills, excitement and some decent laughs at the right moments. Sounds like GHOST (1990), doesn't it? Maybe - but this film was released months before and as I said, a remake of something done back during the golden age of cinema. In its own unique way, though, the film has that special touch of Spielberg magic and the results of that magic can perhaps inspire the viewer to take a sentimental look at love - love of life, love of profession and the endearing love of those lost to us.

I should also add that there is something undeniably fitting about Steven Spielberg being the last director to ever again work with the great Audrey Hepburn. This was her last film appearance before she died in January 1993.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Al Yackey: "I miss him, too! I miss him, too. I miss him every day. I loved him like I've never loved a guy. And I don't love guys. You don't have an excuse, you quit. You quit, you gave up. He never quit on anything 'till it killed him, and that was his way, and there's much worse ways, and boy you sure found one."
Dorinda: "I can't live with it!"
Al: "Bullshit!"


(September 2000, U.S.)

Cameron Crowe's ALMOST FAMOUS is not a movie! It's a love letter - a truly moving love letter to Led-Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, the Allman Brothers Band, the Who, Lynyrd Skynyrd, David Bowie, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Elton John, Rolling Stone magazine, FM rock radio and all the things that made rock 'n' roll so fucking great in the early 1970's!

Even at the age of 43, I can still remember my very first rock and roll record (that's right, I said RECORD!). Elton John's Greatest Hits was the vinyl masterpiece that graduated me away from children's records at the tender age of 6 or so. This is a moment you don't easily forget; like a genuine right of passage that separate the child from, well, the OLDER child.

For the rest of this post, I'd like to stay focussed on a particular sequence that any and all fans of this film are more than familiar with: the film's fictitious band, Stillwater, has just experienced a very bad incident with its lead guitar player that stands to likely destroy the band's morale. Everyone is riding in absolute silence on the tour bus. The tension surrounding them is deafening. The only sound on the bus is that of Elton John's classic "Tiny Dancer". Suddenly, without any sort of provocation, one of the band members begins to sing along. One man's voice is contagious as it leads to more people in the bus singing the song. Smiles slowly replace frowns and the bus becomes alive with music, singing and renewed comradery. Because what this entire sequence shows is that a rock song can be great, but when it's shared by others in a moment when human beings may experience sadness or weakness, that rock song can lift the spirits and become truly meaningful. Honestly, if you liked "Tiny Dancer" before seeing ALMOST FAMOUS, you find that you absolutely LOVE IT after seeing the film.

ALMOST FAMOUS reaches out to not only those who love classic rock (and those who remember classic rock when it was new), but to everyone who has allowed music to enter their lives and give it significance, and if possible, to give their lives the change that it perhaps needs at the right moment.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Jeff Bebe: "Some people have a hard time explaining rock 'n' roll. I don't think anyone can really explain rock 'n' roll. Maybe Pete Townshend, but that's okay. Rock 'n' roll is a lifestyle and a way of thinking...and it's not about money and popularity. Although some money would be nice. But it's a voice that says, "Here I am...and fuck you if you can't understand me." And one of these people is gonna save the world. And that means that rock 'n' roll can save the world...all of us together. And the chicks are great. But what it all comes down to is that thing. The indefinable thing when people catch something in your music."

Friday, May 21, 2010


(April 1976, U.S.)

The resignation of former President Nixon in August 1974 was, perhaps, the first political event I have any memory of. Of course, being only 7 years-old at the time, children like myself had a knack for relating to things in the simplest way; we were all saying, "The president quit." I think I can remember thinking, "Can he do that?" I was too young to know that the entire scandoulous event was just the final blow to America that had suffered for too long during the course of a period that was wrecked with homefront turmoil and war overseas in Vietnam.

By the time I was in college, I had become somewhat fascinated by the entire Watergate scandal and Nixon's demise the way some people have been fascinated by John F. Kennedy's assassination and the conspiracy theories that have accompanied it. In college, I wrote a 20-paper on Watergate and Nixon (I got an 'A', thank you very much!)

Watching ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN is a classic example of how one can become totally thrilled and enthralled by a story without any physical thrills or action. The story here relies totally on dialogue and conversation to carry it through to it's inevitable conclusion. You find yourself really caught up in the phone conversations of Woodward, Berstein and the person you can hear on the other end of the phone. It's a detective story that you enjoy following step-by-step as the famous investigative reporters for the Washington Post get closer and closer to the truth that ultimately brings down the president of the United States.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Ben Bradlee: "You know the results of the latest Gallup Pole? Half the country never even heard of the word Watergate. Nobody gives a shit. You guys are probably pretty tired, right? Well, you should be. Go on home, get a nice hot bath. Rest up...fifteen minutes. Then get your asses back in gear. We're under a lot of pressure, you know, and you put us there. Nothing's riding on this except the first amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country. Not that any of that matters. But if you guys fuck up again, I'm gonna get mad. Goodnight."

Thursday, May 20, 2010


(November 1949, U.S.)

After several weeks, I'm finally discussing a classic black and white film again. This is also the first film I'm discussing that won the Oscar for best picture of the year.

To be perfectly honest, I was barely aware of this film until the 2006 remake was released (I haven't seen it). This story of the rise of Louisiana politician Willie Stark (based on real-life 1930's Governor Huey Long) is a classic example of the good man slowly turning into everything he has dedicated his life and career to fighting against. The twist here is that Stark is more than happy and proud to not only admit that he'll make deals with the Devil to make sure the people get what they need, but will also gladly continue doing it. He freely confesses that he believes that good can only really come from bad. His bold frankness in his political delivery goes so far as to freely call the people he represent a bunch of ignorant hicks, knowing that by getting them angry and riling them up, he will ultimately win their support. He's not wrong.

Sub-plots of this film include the usual (if not traditional) stories of political lies, back-stabbing, blackmailing and womanizing. Actor Broderick Crawford delivers a powerful performance that could probably only be matched by Sean Penn many decades later. But like I said, I haven't seen the 2006 remake, so it's impossible for me to comment at this time.

ALL THE KING'S MEN won the Oscar for best picture of 1949.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Willie Stark: "Now, shut up! Shut up, all of you! Now listen to me, you hicks! Yeah, you're hicks, too, and they fooled you a thousand times like they fooled me! But this time I'm going to fool somebody! I'm going to stay in this race! I'm on my own and I'm out for blood!"

Friday, May 14, 2010


(December 1979, U.S.)

If you're looking for intelligent insight on Broadway musicals, Broadway show tunes and some of what goes on during pre-production, then you want to speak with my wife; she loves all that jazz (pun intended!). For myself, I can only say that ALL THAT JAZZ is one of the most surprisingly heterosexual views of the Broadway stage and the male choreographer who puts it all together. Hell, that kind of view is putting it mildly. It would seem that Roy Scheider's character of Joe Gideon has fucked just about every woman in New York City! You want an example? Here's a couple of lines of dialogue that spells it all out:

Dancer #1: "Fuck him! He never picks me!"
Dancer #2: "Honey, I DID fuck him and he never picks me either."

If, indeed, Joe Gideon is based on much of Bob Fosse's own life, then it's a wonder he (Fosse) wasn't HIV positive when he was alive. He died of a heart attack in 1987, eight years after Gideon dies of heart failure in the film.

One could safely say that by the end of the '70s, Roy Scheider was in danger of being grossely typecast as nothing more than the action-thriller hero, having scored big with THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971), THE SEVEN-UPS (1973) and JAWS (1975). His portrayel of the chain smoking, heavy drinking, pill-popping womanizer, frankly, could not have been done by anyone better. Scheider was a movie star back then, yes, but he could act well, he had style, he had charisma, and as it turns out, he could sing pretty decently, too.

As previously mentioned, I generally don't like musicals. ALL THAT JAZZ is a musical, yes, but not in the traditional sense. The cast does not break out into song at any given moment to help tell the story. The musical numbers are realistically and directly related to the show they are preparing for, much like the old classic 42ND STREET. For someone like me, that kind of musical entertainment in a film is a lot more tolerable. It's also a pleasure to watch Roy Scheider on screen. He was one of my favorite actors. I actually had the pleasure of meeting and talking with him in 1997 outside a movie theater in Southampton, Long Islan. He died in February 2008 and I still miss him today.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Davis Newman: "This chick, man, without the benefit of dying herself, has broken down the process of dying into five stages: anger, denial, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Sounds like a Jewish law firm. 'Good morning, Angerdenialbarganingdepressionacceptance!'"

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


(September 1984, U.S.)

For a time in the early 1980's, director Carl Reiner and Steve Martin were becoming like the Martin Scorsese/Robert DeNiro team of comedy. ALL OF ME was their fourth film together, and in my opinion, the only one worth a damn. Why THE JERK (1979) is so popular, I'll never know.

Steve Martin is at his physical comedy best as a man with the spirit of the recently deceased Lily Tomlin living inside of him. There seems to be almost a choreographed style in which Martin frantically moves his body around because Tomlin has taken over one half of it. During the courtroom scene where he loses all control of what he's saying and doing, it's easy to see where a similar sequence in LIAR LIAR (1997) may have gotten its inspiration.

Martin and Tomlin have great chemistry in this one and feed well off of each other's comic timing. I wouldn't mind seeing them in another film together.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Roger Cobb: "Ms. Cutwater, as your attorney, it is my duty to inform you that your will could be contested if you're deemed...not of perfectly sound mind."
Edwina Cutwater: "Why you presumptuous ambulance chaser. Are you insinuating that I am NOT of perfectly sound mind?"
Cobb: "No. No, I wouldn't do that. But I think practically everybody in the solar system WOULD."

Monday, May 10, 2010


(July 1986, U.S.)

There seemed something very fitting about James Cameron directing the sequel to ALIEN (1979). Perhaps THE TERMINATOR (1984) had been enough of a megahit to secure his name in the minds of moviegoers as a more-than-capable action-adventure director. ALIENS had seemed like a long-time-coming continuation of Lt. Ellen Ripley's story, but really, it had only been seven years since the first film.

The timing of this film could not have been better. American moviegoers in the mid 1980's were on the threshold of action movie stars with the likes of Sylvester Stallone in RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD-PART II (which Cameron co-wrote, by the way) and a slew of Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. This time, though, our kick-ass movie hero was a women, and a serious bitch when she had to be! She also knew how to use her maternal insticts of love to keep the little girl, Newt (what the fuck kind of a name is that, anyway???) safe. Moviegoers loved Ripley, and the Oscar academy loved Sigourney Weaver when they nominated her for best actress of the year.

While ALIENS is an incredible sci-fi/action thriller, it is far from perfect. In my opinion, having to listen to Bill Paxton's character whine and whimper throughout most of the movie is by far worse than having to listen to Jar Jar Binks in THE PHANTOM MENACE. Seriously, sometimes you want to fast-forward just to avoid hearing his (Paxton's) voice!

It's amazing to think that James Cameron was already on a substantial roll as a director by this time, and yet some of his finest work was still years ahead of him.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Ripley: "Get away from her, you BITCH!!!'

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


(May 1979, U.S.)

Director Ridley Scott called ALIEN his "angry version of Star Wars". Whether that holds up or not depends on the viewer and the critic. One thing's for sure, ALIEN is absolutely great science fiction, horror and classic monster movie mixed together. One could even call up inspiration from Agatha Christie's AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, in that systematically, each character is elminated by a seen or unseen evil.

Back in 1979, ALIEN was one of those films I felt shut out of as a kid. One could sense the spectacular buzz about this film through the newspaper reviews, the TV spots and the merchandise in the stores. Of course, at the tender age of 12, my parents would not permit me to see horror movies. Would you believe I didn't actually see this film uncut, in its entirety until I attended a midnight screening at college? How sad.

Interestingly, having just watched it again for a fresh perspective, I discovered that one of the most thrilling and tense sequences in the film hardly involves the alien at all. It is Sigourney Weaver frantically racing against time throughout the Nostromo while the computer, "Mother", loudly ticks away the time she has left before the ship will self-destruct. ALIEN brings up another thought to mind. In my opinion, there is a vast different between special effects and VISUAL effects. Look at ALIEN again and you will likely notices that much (if not all) of the visual effectiveness comes from the simplest elements such as lights, computer consoles, steam and fire. These are VISUAL effects, without the use of computers or stop-and-go motion. I have always enjoyed the dazzling results of visual effects rather than the high-tech complexities of expensive special effects that one would find in a typical science fiction film of today. You've heard the expression, "Keep it simple", right?

Unlike too many thrillers of today, which make it a point to move on screen as fast as possible, ALIEN holds our attention by taking its time, waiting and pacing itself to create the proper mood of fear based not only on the terror of what we do not know, but also the fear of silence; in this case, the silence aboard the Nostromo and the unknowns that lurk behind every corner and inside every ventilation shaft. The tale of the extra-terrestrial is a deep, frightening mystery right from the very beginning when the Nostromo intercepts the beacon signal from the dark and moody planet, the descent into the cave with the leathery eggs and the inevitable evolvement of the small, newborn creature into a drooling, murderous monster. Because the cast is a small one of only seven actors, we are able to focus on the persoanl plight of each one of them as they face their own fear of being attacked by the great monster. You see, unlike the tradition horror of that particular time, namely HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE 13TH, the fear of attack is not limited to the quick kill that motion picture cuts and edits will permit us to see. ALIEN exposes us to the fear that each character is likely to not just be killed off, but to have their body attacked (perhaps even raped) in a most horrible, blood-curdling way by the monster. That is the effect of true fear that not many horror films of that era knew or understood, and thus, alienating (pardon the pun) this great film from the typical slasher fare.

Despite the overkill franchise ALIEN inevitably turned into, the original is one of my favorite science films of all time.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Ripley: "Ash, can you hear me? Ash?
Ash: "Yes, I can hear you."
Ripley: "What was your special order?"
Ash: "You read it. I thought it was clear."
Ripley: "What was it?"
Ash: "Bring back life form. Priority one. All other priorities rescinded."
Parker: "The damn company! What about our lives, you son of a bitch?"
Ash: "I repeat, all other priorities are rescinded."
Ripley: "How do we kill it, Ash? There's gotta be a way of killing it. How, HOW do we do it?"
Ash: "You can't."
Parker: "That's bullshit!"
Ash: "You still don't understand what you're dealing with, do you? Perfect organism. It's structural perfection is matched only by its hostility."
Lambert: "You admire it."
Ash: "I admire its purity. A survivor...unclouded by conscience, remorse or delusions of morality."
Parker: "Look, I am...I've heard enough of this and I'm asking you to pull the plug."
Ash: "Last word."
Ripley: "What?"
Ash: "I can't lie to you about your chances, have my sympathies."

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


(December 2001, U.S.)

I spent a small part of my childhood watching the fights of Muhammad Ali on ABC-TV's Wide World of Sports with my father. I watched him regain his title against Leon Spinks in 1978. I also watched him get the everloving crap beaten out of him by Larry Holmes in 1980 during his last fight. Watching Will Smith take on the role of the former heavyweight champion of the world (during the portion of his life from 1964 to 1974) was like watching a small part of sports history unfold in front of my eyes again. Not just the boxing, but also the popular public showmanship that made Ali perhaps the greatest American sports figure of the 20th Century.

Will Smith, in my opinion, looks about as much as the real Ali as Anthony Hopkins looked like Richard Nixon. Smith's performance, however, nails it to the bone. Watching sequences of ALI that focuses on Ali's relationship with Malcom X takes me back to Spike Lee's 1992 film. In fact, I have occassionally had to remind myself that ALI is directed by a white man, because so much of the film's flavor feels like a Spike Lee film. Makes me wonder how different the film might have been had it been under his direction instead of Michael Mann's.

Ali was (and still is) an American legend. He's 68 years-old now and suffers from Parkinson's disease (may grandfather had that, too). It's hard to imagine a world someday where there will be no more Muhammad Ali.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Ali: "I ain't draft dodging. I ain't burnin' no flag. I ain't runnin' to Canada. I'm stayin' right here. You wanna send me to jail? Fine, you go right ahead. I've been in jail for 400 years. I could be there for 4 or 5 more, but I ain't going no 10,000 miles to help murder and kill other poor people. If I wanna die, I'll die right here, right now, fightin' you, if I wanna die! You my enemy, not no Chinese, no Vietcong, no Japanese. YOU my opposer when I want freedom! YOU my opposer when I want justice! YOU my opposer when I want equality! Want me to go somewhere and fight for you? You won't even stand up for me right here in America, for my rights and my religious beliefs. You won't even stand up for me right here at home!"