Wednesday, July 28, 2010


(December 2007, U.S.)

There was a time in the early '90's when I went through what I call my "Merchant-Ivory Period", in that I really got into slow-moving British Dramas like HOWARD'S END, THE REMAINS OF THE DAY and even films of similar style like Martin Scorsese's THE AGE OF INNOCENCE. ATONEMENT has all of that flavor, to be sure, but it also combines elements of mystery, suspense, wartime drama and, of course, true love.

Watching the film, one can sense some very frightening elements in the character of 13 year-old Briony Tallis in her misinterpretations of events and errors in judgement. The mere act of her looking through her bedroom window and drawing drastic conclusions based on the version of what she THINKS she's witnessing and what actually took place in reality (Kurosawa's RASHOMON, anyone?) begins a chain reaction of events to not only lead an innocent young man to jail and the frontlines of World War II, but to also deny two young lovers their inevitable happiness.

The ending, too, offers us a surprise ending in story structure where we not only learn that much of what we've seen between two young people in love never took place except in the imagination of Briony Tallis as an accomplished novelist, but also that the young lovers were actually killed in 1940 as casualties of war. Vanessa Redgrave's cameo appearance as the old Briony ties the entire film together perfectly.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Older Briony Tallis: "So, my sister and Robbie were never able to have the time together they both so longed for... and deserved. Which ever since I've... ever since I've always felt I prevented. But what sense of hope or satisfaction could a reader derive from an ending like that? So in the book, I wanted to give Robbie and Cecilia what they lost out on in life. I'd like to think this isn't weakness or... evasion... but a final act of kindness. I gave them their happiness."

Friday, July 23, 2010

ARTHUR (1981)

(July 1981, U.S.)

Before I get into this post, I have a confession to make - it's nearly 30 years later and I still love the song, "Arthur's Theme (Best that You Can Do)" by Christopher Cross. Hey, man, good is good and that song is (still) good!

I think Dudley Moore will forever be known as the New York City drunken millionare playboy ("I wish I had a dime for every dime I've got."). And why not? I don't know about you, but I haven't heard anyone play the role of a drunkard with slurred speech so well since ARTHUR. And even a guy like me, who doesn't like musicals or musical performers, can still enjoy the comedic efforts of someone like Liza Minnelli. I give credit where credit is due, and she IS funny in her role as Arthur's would-be girlfriend.

But as much as Dudley Moore is practically legendary in this role, it is, in my opinion, Sir John Gielgud who deserves the most recognition here. The man may be the proper British gentleman in every other role he plays, but it's his synical wit and insulting sarcasm (the man sounds perfectly at home when he calls Arthur a "little shit") that steals the show in this movie.

As of writing this post, I've learned that Hollywood is actually going to remake ARTHUR (???). The only part of this undertaking that sounds even remotely interesting is that the role of the valet (Hobson) will now be played by a woman (Helen Mirren to be precise). Beyond that, today's remakes are wrong!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Arthur: "Gloria, I'd like you to meet Hobson - my best friend in the world."
Hobson: "I relish the compliment. It's thrilling to meet you, Gloria."
Gloria: "Hi."
Hobson: " obviously have a wonderful economy with words, Gloria. I look forward to your next syllable with great eagerness."

Thursday, July 22, 2010


(September 1944, U.S.)

Frank Capra was one of the truly great directors of the 20th Century. His name traditionally conjours up films of uplifting inspiration like MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939) and IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946). Turns out, though, the man could also make a great screwball comedy like this one. And Cary Grant? Forget what you traditionally know of his dramatic work - the man was a screwball genius! In films like BRINGING UP BABY (1938), MY FAVORITE WIFE (1940) and MR. BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE (1948), he could portray wild emotions of surprise, shock, awe, confusion and bewilderment at such a level that could only make you crack up with laughter.

In this film, he's running around stir crazy trying to protect his two kind aunts from the law (they have this very bad habit of committing mercy killings against lonely old men by giving them elderberry wine with poison in it and burying the bodies in the cellar) and protect himself and his new wife from his escaped, demented (and VERY Boris Karloff ugly!!!) brother. On top of that, he's also got another crazy (but harmless) brother who's convinced he's Teddy Roosevelt. I challange you not to laugh out loud every time Teddy runs up the house stairs yelling, "CHARGE!!!"

ARSENIC AND OLD LACE is not just funny, but it's what I like to call "escapist funny" - the kind of comedy that is so laced with lunacy and insanity (but not the stupid teenage kind that plagues the screen today!) that you simply loose yourself in the process of watching it.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Mortimer Brewster: "Yes, operator, I'd like the Happy Dale Sanatorium, Happy Dale, New York. Come on, operator, what's taking so long? They're just across the river. I could swim it faster! No, I don't want the Happy Dale Laundry. I want the Happy Dale Sanatorium. Sanatorium, sanatorium, sanatorium. Yes, yes, like a broken record. Hello - what? They're busy? Busy? Look, they're busy and you're dizzy. No, I am not drunk, madam, but you've given me an idea."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


(June 1995, U.S.)

Every once in a while, there is a film I'm interesting in seeing in the theater - I go, I pay, I sit, I watch and I end up disappointed. Sometime later, for whatever reason, I decide to give it another shot and watch it again and I end up liking the film, after all. This is actually the case with my favorite film of all time (we'll get into that much, much later). This was the case with APOLLO 13 also.

When I saw it back in 1995, I think I may have been expecting a lot more exterior space adventure footage along the lines of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (did you know that's Tom Hanks' favorite movie?). When I didn't get it, I felt very let down. Months later, on cable, I decided to try again and accept and appreciate the film for the drama and solid performance of its stars that it offers. There's also a certain emotion that you feel when watching a film where you know beforehand that there's going to be a serious problem ("Houston, we have a problem.") with the mission that will put our heroes in danger. There's no element of surprise, but rather a sense of dread when you know that the crisis is coming. On the flipside, you also know that things will end well and our heroes will be saved. You can't help but smile when you see the space pod appear in the sky with its parachutes and land safely in the water. It's these kinds of movie victories that can still make you feel like a joyful child!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Gene Kranz: "Let's work the problem, people. Let's not make things worse by guessing."

Monday, July 19, 2010


(August 1979, U.S.)

I am writing this post on Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 theatrical release of the film and NOT the totally unnecessary "Redux"...

This is without challange, one of the greatest war films ever made! Based loosely on Joseph's Conrad's "Heart of Darkness", it is more than just Vietnam combat and drama. It's a dark journey into the nightmare of the jungle and those who have succumbed to it's temptations and its evils. The stories behind it's notorious lengthy and troubled production became just as infamous as the film itself (see the documentary "Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse"). It is, in my opinion, the last truly great film of Coppola's career. It's also a film with as many quotable lines to compete with the likes of CASABLANCA, GONE WITH THE WIND, JAWS, STAR WARS and ANIMAL HOUSE.

One of the special things about APOCALYPSE NOW is that it features my all-time favorite opening sequence. If you've never actually seen this film, let me try and describe the sequence for you now...

A slow fade-in to an array of jungle trees. The soft, distant, slow-motion whirl of a passing helicopter blade. The delicate beginnings of the song "The End" by The Doors. For a moment, the scene is quiet and still. As Jim Morriosn begins to sing, "This is the end...", the world we're looking at explodes into Hell with a mass of destructive fireballs. This is no longer a quiet jungle. This is the Vietnam War! A battle rages on until it slowly desolves onto the face of Martin Sheen, who is lying in an almost catatonic state, slowly smoking a cigarette. The story begins with his intense voice uttering the words, "Saigon...shit. I'm still only in Saigon."

The rest of the film cannot be justifyably discribed. It must be experienced with a degree of patience and a true love of film and filmmaking. It must be understood as one might understand a great painting and all of the love, hate, pain and anguish the artist felt while creating it.

(What can I say? It's one the great films of cinematic history! You either know it or you don't. You either love it or you don't.).

And now, a more personal story. One of my best friends of 20 years from college whom I shall call Greg, (because that's his name. He's also the one who took that picture of me grilling) loves war films and war history. APOCALYPSE NOW was the first film he and I (and some others) ever watched on video shortly after meeting some 20 years ago. I can still remember how enthralled and mesmerized he was while watching one of his favorite war films of all time. So, it is to Greg that I dedicate this post. Thank you for 20 years of close friendship, support, laughs, insanity, and the patient ear to listen to more crap from me than anyone should ever have to endure. I love you, man!

Favorite line or dialogue: (okay, in this case, an entire SPEECH!)

Col. Kurtz: "I've seen horrors... horrors that you've seen. But you have no right to call me a murderer. You have a right to kill me. You have a right to do that... but you have no right to judge me. It's impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror... Horror has a face... and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies! I remember when I was with Special Forces... seems a thousand centuries ago. We went into a camp to inoculate some children. We left the camp after we had inoculated the children for polio, and this old man came running after us and he was crying. He couldn't see. We went back there, and they had come and hacked off every inoculated arm. There they were in a pile. A pile of little arms. And I remember... I... I... I cried, I wept like some grandmother. I wanted to tear my teeth out; I didn't know what I wanted to do! And I want to remember it. I never want to forget it... I never want to forget. And then I realized... like I was shot... like I was shot with a diamond... a diamond bullet right through my forehead. And I thought, my God... the genius of that! The genius! The will to do that! Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure. And then I realized they were stronger than we, because they could stand that these were not monsters, these were men... trained cadres. These men who fought with their hearts, who had families, who had children, who were filled with love... but they had the strength... the strength... to do that. If I had ten divisions of those men, our troubles here would be over very quickly. You have to have men who are moral... and at the same time who are able to utilize their primordial instincts to kill without feeling... without passion... without judgment... without judgment! Because it's judgment that defeats us."

Thursday, July 15, 2010


(December 1999, U.S.)

Truth be told, football doesn't interest me much as a sport or as a subject for a sports movie. In fact, if you include this film with the Marx Brothers' HORSE FEATHERS (1932), BLACK SUNDAY (1977) and JERRY MAGUIRE (1996), you pretty much total up all of the football-relalted movies I own in my collection.

So then, why ANY GIVEN SUNDAY? Well, although I don't consider this one of his best films, Oliver Stone is a director whose work I've admired for a long time. The main reason is Al Pacino; my favorite actor. He seems perfectly fit to play a hard-stressed American football coach who finds himself in the position of having to yell a lot. And in my opinion, there's nothing more dramatically entertaining that listening to Al Pacino yell on screen! There is also the passion he brings to the screen in any role he portrays, whether it's Shakespearean, an Italian gangster or an American football coach.

For those who take the game of football a lot more seriously than I do, the film does it share of taking on the different aspects of the game, including players, staff, owners, the press, politicians and even the doctors. The film also sports (pun?) a very impressive all-star cast (you can google that yourself!) that you don't see in too many films anymore.

Favorite line or dialogue: (okay, in this case, an entire SPEECH!)

Tony D'Amato: "I don't know what to say, really. Three minutes to the biggest battle of our professional lives. All comes down to today, and either, we heal as a team, or we're gonna crumble. Inch by inch, play by play. Until we're finished. We're in hell right now, gentlemen. Believe me. And, we can stay here, get the shit kicked out of us, or we can fight our way back into the light. We can climb outta hell... one inch at a time. Now I can't do it for ya, I'm too old. I look around, I see these young faces and I think, I mean, I've made every wrong choice a middle-aged man can make. I, uh, I've pissed away all my money, believe it or not. I chased off anyone who's ever loved me. And lately, I can't even stand the face I see in the mirror. You know, when you get old, in life, things get taken from you. I mean, that's... that's... that's a part of life. But, you only learn that when you start losin' stuff. You find out life's this game of inches, so is football. Because in either game - life or football - the margin for error is so small. I mean, one half a step too late or too early and you don't quite make it. One half second too slow, too fast and you don't quite catch it. The inches we need are everywhere around us. They're in every break of the game, every minute, every second. On this team we fight for that inch. On this team we tear ourselves and everyone else around us to pieces for that inch. We claw with our fingernails for that inch. Because we know when add up all those inches, that's gonna make the fucking difference between winning and losing! Between living and dying! I'll tell you this, in any fight it's the guy whose willing to die whose gonna win that inch. And I know, if I'm gonna have any life anymore it's because I'm still willing to fight and die for that inch, because that's what living is, the six inches in front of your face. Now I can't make you do it. You've got to look at the guy next to you, look into his eyes. Now I think ya going to see a guy who will go that inch with you. Your gonna see a guy who will sacrifice himself for this team, because he knows when it comes down to it your gonna do the same for him. That's a team, gentlemen, and either, we heal, now, as a team, or we will die as individuals. That's football guys, that's all it is. Now, what are you gonna do?"

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


(October 1998, U.S.)

We have, here, an interesting case of one Woody Allen film following another...sort of. But I suppose if you're going to make a computer animated film about a nervous, anxious, neurotic, socially unacceptable insect with no self-confidence, who better to voice it than Woody Allen to play the protaganist, Z?

I actually saw ANTZ by accident. During most of the 1990's I did a lot of "movie-hopping" at any multiplex where security was a joke. Sometimes I could get in four movies in one day if the start times worked out (talk about saving a LOT of money during an entire decade!). So anyway, ANTZ turned out to be the unexpected second feature after RUSH HOUR at a theater in Hampton Bays, Long Island. To date, I had only seen TOY STORY on cable. This was my first movie of its kind on screen, and I have to say I was blown away by its graphics and its comedy. The eccentric voice styles of Woody Allen, Christopher Walken, Sylvester Stallone and Gene Hackman are more than enough to carry a movie like this. Mind you, I have not developed a more humane attitude toward ants in general since this movie. If I see them, I still take great pleasure in killing them! Now, of course, ANTZ is part of my little boy's movie collection, but it's one of the fun family films we can enjoy together that doesn't involve musical numbers.

By the way, I met and talked with one of the writers of ANTZ, Chris Weitz, at a Hollywood pitch festival back in 2000. He hasn't stop calling me since (just kidding).

Favorite line or dialogue:

Z: "I think everything must go back to the fact that I had a very anxious childhood. My mother NEVER had time for me. You know, when you're the middle child in a family of five million, you don't get any attention."

Friday, July 9, 2010


(April 1977, U.S.)

I was just ten years-old when I saw this film in 1977. It was my first screen exposure to any sort of adult-themed humor. But even at such a tender age, I seemed to remember appreciating Woody Allen's style, wit and dialogue. From the moment the film started and he was staring right at the audience and talking to us I could appreciate what a different and interesting style of movie making this was. It seemed different to me, anyway. Remember, I was just ten and hadn't seen Groucho Marx do the same thing on screen yet many decades prior.

Getting back to adult humor, I suppose I was learning for the first time just how neurotic, psychotic and truly fucked up grown-ups could be at times. And it's probably movies like ANNIE HALL and some of Woody's other Manhattan-based films that have shown the rest of the world just how kooky the people of New York City truly are. This was also the first Allen film that got serious even for a moment after a string of zany comedies that included SLEEPER (1973) and LOVE AND DEATH (1975). Even after 33 years, I still think it's the best film of his career.

ANNIE HALL won the Oscar for best picture of 1977.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Alvy Singer: "Don't you see the rest of the country looks upon New York like were left-wing, communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers? I think of us that way sometimes and I live here."


(July 1978, U.S.)

What can one possibly say about one of the funnist, raunchiest films ever made? What can one possibly say about the movie that made John Belushi a star? What can one possibly say about the greatest movie about college ever made? What can one possibly say about a movie that has as many quotable lines as CASABLANCA, GONE WITH THE WIND, JAWS and STAR WARS? What can I possibly say about my second favorite comedy of all time (you'll have to wait to find out about the first)?

(wait a second - I think I've been saying it!)

I was in high school during the era when teenage sex comedies like PORKY'S and FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH were all the rage on screen. But really, didn't it start in the late '70's with ANIMAL HOUSE? Sure it did. And didn't you love every filthy, raunch minute of it? Sure you did. I was too young to see it on screen and had to (unfortunately) wait until it premiered on NBC-TV to even get a glimpse of an edited version. Still, even on TV, comic moments like the dead horse, the cafeteria food fight and the frat toga party were still irresistable.

If you've already been through college then you know what ANIMAL HOUSE meant to you. If you've yet to go through it, then it'll mean something to you, too. But before I leave you, there is something that has always troubled me about the movie, and quite frankly, I'm surprised if I'm the only one to ever bring up this fact. At the end of the film, during the "whatever happened to them" finale inspired by AMERICAN GRAFFITI, the full names of the main characters are followed by the year they graduated Faber College. Exactly how does that number make sense when it's made very clear in the film that every one of the Deltas were expelled from Faber College?? I say again, they were expelled, so just how did they manage to graduate? Yes, we all know that Robert Hoover joked at the end of the movie by asking Dean Wormer to see his way clear to giving them all just one more chance, but I think we all know that there's no possible way in Hell they would have been granted that. So again, I ask, how could the Deltas have graduated Faber College if they were clearly expelled?? Somebody please get back to me on that one!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Bluto: "Hey, what's this lyin' around shit?"
Stork: "Well what the hell we supposed to do, ya mo-ron?"
D-Day: "War's over, man. Wormer dropped the big one."
Bluto: "Over? Did you say "over"? Nothing is over until WE decide it is? Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!"
Otter: "Germans?"
Boon: "Forget it, he's rolling."
Bluto: "And it ain't over now! 'Cause when the goin' get's tough...the tough get goin'! Who's with me? Let's go!"
(runs out alone then returns)
Bluto: "What the fuck happened to the Delta I used to know? Where's the spirit? Where's the guts, huh? This could be the greatest night of our lives, but you're gonna let it be the worst. "Ooh, we're afraid to go with you Bluto, we might get in trouble." Well just kiss my ass from now on! Not me! I'm not gonna take this! Wormer, he's a dead man! Marmalard, dead! Niedermeyer..."
Otter: "Dead! Bluto's right. Psychotic, but absolutely right. We gotta take these bastards. Now, we could fight em' with convention weapons, that could take years, cost millions of lives. No, I think we have to go all out. I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody's part."
Bluto: "We're just the guys to do it."
D-Day: "Let's do it."
Bluto: "LET'S DO IT!!!"

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


(August 1930, U.S.)

Do you want to know what the worst thing about the Marx Brothers is? It's the fact that most of today's younger generation of movie watchers are either too stupid or too impatient to truly appreciate their legendary style of comedy sketches, one liner jokes and visual gags that one would find in ANIMAL CRACKERS or any of their other films. I'm not saying that every film they made was a stroke of genius. Too be honest, they're an acquired taste if don't care for musicals much. And having to sit through Harpo Marx playing the harp in nearly every film is cause enough for you to hit the "forward" button on your DVD remote.

However, no one can question the comic genius behind some of the classic dialogue that Groucho and Chico Marx have delivered during their entire film career. It was during their period when they were known as "the 4 marx Brothers" that they made some of their best films (this one and DUCK SOUP included). This, despite the fact that Zeppo Marx is just simply NOT funny!

A quick personal story now - I grew up with some of the lamest one liner jokes from my father that anyone should have to endure. Really, they were painful to listen to. When I finally discovered the films of the Marx Brothers, I learned that my father had been ripping off Groucho Marx his whole life. The thing of it was, though, my father had never seen a Marx Brothers film before. He actually thought his lame jokes were original (???). I mean, when Groucho does it, it's funny. When my father did it...not.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Captain Spaulding: "You're the most beautiful woman I've ever seen, which doesn't say much for you."


(November 1938, U.S.)

During the golden age of cinema (the exact decade is still debatable, in my opinion), Warner Brothers was synonymous with gangster pictures as James Cagney was synonymous with the gangster himself. In that respect, ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES may not seem all that different from his roles in THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931) or THE ROARING TWENTIES (1939).

The difference with this film is rather unique, though. First, there is the boyhood relationship between Cagney's character Rocky Sullivan and Pat O'Brien's Jerry Connolly and the irony of their future, as Rocky becomes a notorious gangster and Jerry becomes a priest, of all things. Their relationship as men develops into a seemingly simple tale of good versus evil, and yet their is the irony of their long-standing loyalty to each other as friends. Second, and this is one of the strongest elements of the film, there is Rocky's final stand before getting the electric chair, where he makes the difficult and painful choice of swallowing his hard-edged honor and dignity and plays the part of a "yellow" coward in order to give the local boys gang a final negative impression of him so as to give them a (possible) hopeful future by choosing not to honor the memory of a gangster.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Father Jerry Connolly: "Alright, fellas...let's go and say a prayer for a boy who couldn't run as fast as I could."