Tuesday, August 31, 2010
(March 1992, U.S.)
I'm going to start this post off with an apology. I apologize because discussing BASIC INSTINCT is going to prompt me to say more than several things thay may be considered chauvinistic. Hey, it is what it is. Sometimes the truth hurts like a sledgehammer!
To begin with, a mild observation. If you were to total the work that actor Michael Douglas has done in FATAL ATTRACTION (1987), THE WAR OF THE ROSES (1989), BASIC INSTINCT (1992) and DISCLOSURE (1994), plus his marriage to Catherine Zeta Jones, the man has seen more ass than a fucking car rental! You seriously gotta love the guy!
Here's another observation. This is the second time Michael Douglas plays a cop on screen. The first time was in Ridley Scott's BLACK RAIN (1989). In both films, his partner was a comic relief-type blabbering idiot. Andy Garcia in RAIN and George Dzundza in INSTINCT. No wonder Douglas' cop character has to take on all the heavy burden in both films.
BASIC INSTINCT was flooded with controversy long before it was released. The film was protested by gay rights activists who felt that the film followed a pattern of negative depiction of lesbians and bisexuals as twisted, evil murderers. You know how much that protesting did to hurt the film? Not one little bit. All that noise sparked audience's curiousities even more. People lined up (myself included) and the film was a big success. So, the lesson learned is that if you really don't want people to see a movie for whatever reason you're concocted in your head, then don't say a damn word! Controversy fuels box office sales!
Were it not for impressive performances by Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone, BASIC INSTINCT would pass for almost nothing more than late-night HBO softcore porn. While the intense sexuality of Stone's character, Catherine Tramell, cannot be denied by any red-blooded heterosexual male with an active libido (myself included!!!), there is deception and diabolical motives behind just about eveything she says and does. It's in her eyes and her voice and it pierces both the brain in your head and the one between your legs (the one most men end up thinking with!)! It all keeps you guessing and wondering what's coming 'round the bend, which is what any effective psychological thriller should do. It also proves undenyably that men are generally weak and easily controllable when it comes to the promise of great sex! Just look at how Douglas' character, Nick Curran, is almost willing to allow himself to be murdered by the hands of the woman who has given him what he refers to as "the fuck of the century". Just look at how all of the policemen during her interrogation go absolutely limp with stupidity during the iconic open legs beaver shot that made Stone famous overnight...
And speaking as a (temporary) chauvinistic male for this post, the character of Catherine Tramell has long represented every sexual fantasy I could ever imagine in a beautiful woman. I'm a man, for Christ sakes! What'd you expect???
With regard to "keeping you guessing", let's try and clear something up right now. It is my humble opinion that the final shot of the ice pick under the bed at the very end of the film did NOT reveal that Catherine Tramell was, indeed, the killer. Here, in fact, is my conclusion of what that shot means...if you take a look at the film at the 54 minute mark, you'll notice a closeup shot of Nick Curran's keys on a table with a Bart Simpson keychain on it. His ex-lover, Beth Garner, attempts to return them to him. In their heated argument, he picks up the keys and hands them back to her. Mental note here: Beth STILL has the keys to his place! I believe that before she was killed at the end of the film, she had gone (unseen) to his place, planted the ice pick under his bed, and had planned to do him in later on, had she gotten the chance. I believe that when Catherine Tramell lowered her arm over the side of the bed, she DID NOT KNOW the ice pick was there. That's my conclusion. You can take it or leave it.
Now for a personal memory regarding this film. When BASIC INSTINCT was released in 1992, I was in my last year of college. I saw it with my girlfriend at the time whom we shall call Daniela (because that's actually her name). We not only both loved it, but within a couple of weeks, I had purchased an illegal bootleg VHS copy of it on the streets of New York City (yes, someone had actually pointed a video camera at the movie screen!). Without going into any indiscreet detail, BASIC INSTINCT became OUR movie! How much did it become OUR movie? Well, let's just say we were both dumb enough to pay and see SLIVER (1993) and SHOWGIRLS (1995) together in the years that followed. So it is to Daniela that I dedicate this post. We had good times. We had bad times. We had times. Like it or not, those are what memories are made of.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Nick Curran: "Let me ask you somethin', Rocky...man-to-man...I think she's the fuck of the century! What do you think?"
Monday, August 30, 2010
(December 1975, U.S.)
We're about to enter into new territory here because this is the first film I am posting from my favorite director of all time, the late Stanley Kubrick. His death in 1999 was one of only three celebrity deaths that have ever left me feeling genuinely sad (the other two were Paul Newman in 2008 and Farrah Fawcett in 2009).
BARRY LYNDON is a lavish costume period film that can be compared to latter films of the type like AMADEUS (1984), THE AGE OF INNOCENCE (1993) and some Merchant-Ivory films of the late '80's and early 90's. Doesn't exactly sound like it drips with excitement, does it? It doesn't. The difference here is that it's a Stanley Kubrick film. Those of you who know and understand his work, his unique style of film making and the genius behind his visions know that that makes all the difference.
The film takes us through an epic 18th Century journey through the life of Barry Lyndon (played by Ryan O'Neal), including his pistol duel with an English Captain over his cousin's hand, his unwitting involvement in the Seven Years War in Europe, his ultimate opportunistic marriage to the wealthy Countess of Lyndon and his inevitable downfall by the hands of his hateful stepson. The entire story does not seem like anything you haven't seen before in a period piece like this. But Kubrick's characteristic trademark filming that includes long facial closeups, wide angle shots, character tracking shots, zoom shots and shots down tall parallel walls make all the difference in the viewing experience.
Even after 35 years, I'm still not convinced that an actor like Ryan O'Neal was best suited to play such a distinguished role as this. But I suppose in 1975, after having scored hits with LOVE STORY, WHAT'S UP DOC? and PAPER MOON, he must have been considered the hot flavor of the time. Interestingly, in my opinion, the best performance comes out of Leon Vitali playing Lord Bullington. Vitali would later go on to serve on Kubrick's production team for his (Kubrick's) next three films.
I love all of Stanley Kubrick's films. Admittedly, though, BARRY LYNDON falls toward the bottom of my preference list simply because the subject matter is of limited interest to me. Like many of his films, it was misunderstood and unappreciated at the time of its release. And like many of his films, it gained a higher status in cinematic history and culture as time went on. Director Martin Scorsese has cited BARRY LYNDON as his favorite Kubrick film.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Lord Bullington: "Madam! I have born as long as mortal could endure the ill-treatment of the insolent Irish upstart whom you've taken into your bed. It is not only the lowness of his birth and the general brutality of his manners which disgusts me, but the shameful nature of his conduct towards Your Ladyship. His brutal and ungentleman-like behavior, his open infidelity, his shameless robberies and swindling of my property, and yours. And as I cannot personally chastise this lowbred ruffian, and as I cannot bear to witness his treatment of you and loathe his horrible society as if it were the plague; I have decided to leave my home and never return, at least during his detested life or during my own."
Friday, August 27, 2010
(May 1967, U.S.)
However dramamtic and serious Robert Redford and Jane Fonda may have gotten on and off screen later in their careers, it's easy to see how funny they could be, especially when working together, in a film like Neil Simon's BAREFOOT IN THE PARK.
When Paul and Corie Bratter are first married, they can't get enough of each other. They become infamous for a short time at New York City's Plaza Hotel for never leaving their room. But when the hot and heavy honeymoon is over, the marriage and all of its startup living tasks (getting the phone hooked up, furniture delivery, etc.) has to begin...and that's when you find out that maybe you and your spouse were further opposites than you originally thought. Paul is a young, respectable, hard-working "stuffed shirt" attorney just starting his practice, while Corie is a free-spirited, spontaneous "screwball" determinded to create a romantice environment out of their one room apartment with no elevator, no working heat and a big hole in the skylight. She's also determined to love and appreciate their oddball neighbor upstairs, played by Charles Boyer, who's idea of a great evening is taking the Staten Island ferry in 32 degree weather to an Albanian restaurant that may or may not have a legal license and serves black salads.
BAREFOOT IN THE PARK is a comedy that stays concentrated on funny dialogue rather than stupid gags. This is the kind of comedy I appreciate the most. Not that a few gags don't work in this film once in a while. The scene where Paul is stuck on the glass skylight and starts to slide down while shouting his wife's name is actually pretty hysterical. The film also has some interesting on-location filming of New York City in the late '60's that makes for some interesting viewing.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Ethel Banks: "I had to park the car three blocks away. Then it started to rain so I ran the last two blocks. Then my heel got caught in a subway grating. When I pulled my foot out, I stepped in a puddle. Then a cab went by and splashed my stockings. If the hardware store downstairs was open, I was going to buy a knife and kill myself."
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
(February 2008, U.S.)
The one indisputable thing that all heist movies have in common with each other is that you want the crooks to get away with it. I'll say that again...you WANT the crooks to get away with it! You want it so bad, you can practically taste it. You cringe when a police just happens to come upon the bank they're in the process of robbing. You shudder if one of the crooks does something stupid to give the whole gang away. You smile when they succussfully get away with the loot and watch them toast their victory with champagne. You're even happier when the people who have been robbed are just as bad (if not worse) than the crooks themselves.
THE BANK JOB is based on a real crime that took place in London in 1971. This is one of those situations where it's all so outrageous that it just HAD to be a true story. Thing is, though, these bank robbers are not your traditional lot that you'd find in fictional stories; they're not particularly bright, they don't have a carefully calculated fool-proof plan, they're not violent or dangerous people and one of them is not looking to fuck over the others just to keep all the loot for him or herself. The ultimate prize is not even cash or jewelry, but rather very revealing sexual photographs of England's own princess in action. You can just imagine how much something like that is worth to the right people and the dangerous steps they'll take to protect them.
This is one of the finer heist films I've even seen. It's a well acted thriller with that "independent" touch and it doesn't degrade itself with a number 12 or 13 attached to it (no disrespect to Steven Soderbergh).
Favorite line or dialogue:
Kevin Swain: "We're not bank robbers."
Terry Leather: "Maybe that's why we could get away with it."
Dave Shilling: "It's a bit daunting, isn't it?"
Terry: "You know what scares me more? Living and dying with nothing to show for it. You know how old Mozart was when he composed his first minuet?"
Terry: "Five. Five! A fucking minuet!"
Kevin: "And how would you know that fact, Terry?"
Terry: " Because it's tattooed on that stripper's arse, Kevin. What the fuck's it matter how I know? It's a fact and you're missing the point, Kev. What I'm trying to say is, we stop fucking about and stop picking the shit from under our fingernails."
Monday, August 23, 2010
(July 1977, U.S.)
I saw this film in the summer of 1977 at the age of 10 before I ever saw the original one. I didn't feel all that lost in the story, though. That's simply just an FYI.
There are two things that have always puzzled me about this sequel. First, even after 33 years, I'm still not entirely sure what "IN BREAKING TRAINING" is supposed to mean. Anybody have any idea? Second, if you recall at the end of the first film, the Bears LOST the championship. So exactly how and when did they qualify to play the game that they play at the Houston Astrodome??? Clearly, there must have been some victory in the span of one year that the filmmakers conveniently decided to skip over.
Well, that loophole aside, the sequel proves to be just as entertaining as the first one, depite the traditional cliches of the underdog sports team defying all odds and challanges and going on to win the big game (yeah, that's what happens!). The subplot of Kelly Leak (played by Jackie Earle Haley) and his tense relationship with his estranged father (played very well by William Devane) is a touching piece of drama in an otherwise traditional wild family comedy. The film's also been toned down a bit in its profanity and raciness, which is probably just as well. Small children should NOT be hearing the things that little Tanner Boyle says!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Ahman Abdul-Rahim: "You betta back up, sucka! I feel good!"
By the way, one year later in the summer 1978, I was real hot to see the third Bears film, THE BAD NEWS BEARS GO TO JAPAN. But even at the age of 11, it was very easy to see what a terrible, terrible movie this was. What a waste of Tony Curtis' talent!
Friday, August 20, 2010
(April 1976, U.S.)
I don't know how well you remember this original film, but let me assure you that it's not exactly a family film. These asswipe kids are raw and racy, especially the character of little Tanner Boyle ("All we got on this team are a buncha Jews, spics, niggers, pansies, and a booger-eatin' moron!"). See what I'm talkin' about? By today's rating standards, this would have been rated PG-13 and not PG.
That aside, THE BAD NEWS BEARS is, without a doubt, the best sports film revolved around kids that I've ever seen. It's a film about change, too. The Bears get better at the game as the film progress, of course (they REALLY SUCK at the beginning!), but the changes in the film's characters is also interesting. Walter Matthau's Coach Buttermaker starts out indifferent to his entire position and gradually comes to care about the kids and the game (too much about the game at certain times). The kids change from trouble-making misfits to little ballplayers with the confidence to help them ALMOST win the championship (better luck in the sequel, boys!). The estranged relationship between Buttermaker and his old flame's daughter Amanda (Tatum O'Neal) grows close again as the Bears' game progresses. Anyway, I think you get the point - people change, the game of baseball changes and everybody and everything lives happily ever after at the end. Now THAT'S a family film!
One particular point about this film that often hits home in real life is how (apparantly) crazy and obssessed some parents and coaches can get when it comes to their kid's athletics. It's almost frightening to watch a guy like Vic Morrow's Coach Roy Turner treat his team like they were hard-hitting adult athletes (they're just grade school kids, for Christ sakes!). He runs a highly competetive program, for sure, but Mr. Turner surely needs a stiff drink to lighten up, too. Just my opinion.
Watching THE BAD NEWS BEARS is about the only memorable appreciation I have towards the game of baseball in the '70's as a kid. I didn't watch much baseball on TV and I didn't collect baseball cards for very long because I kept losing them to other kids in games of chance. When I was 13 years-old, my father forced me to give little league a try. For about 5 seconds, I was a big star when I swung at anything and smacked the ball a long out of the infield, causing my dad to lose his mind in excitement (unfortunately, a foul ball). My dad was a ball player in his youth and my 4 year-old son already shows signs of loving the game. I guess it skipped a generation with me.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Tanner Boyle: "Hey Yankees... you can take your apology and your trophy and shove 'em straight up your ass!"
Timmy Lupus: "And another thing...just wait 'till next year!"
Thursday, August 19, 2010
(April 1995, U.S.)
First, a few encouraging words regarding Mr. Michael Bay. If you're looking for someone who's real good at blowing shit up, call Michael Bay. If you're looking for someone to produce a modern remake of a classic '70's horror film that's destined for critical failure, then Michael Bay is your man. On the other hand, if you're looking for a respectable filmmaker who takes his art even a little bit seriously, then look elsewhere...please!
Now that I've served as Michael Bay's poster boy, let me tell you why I actually like BAD BOYS. Seven words...Will Smith and Martin Lawrence are funny! These two are what save this film from being just your typical high-octance, excessively-violent, shoot-em-up, bang-up, action thrill ride with your typical (Miami) drug lords acting as the cliche enemy versus the good narcotics cops. Because when you can successfully incorporate snappy, punchy, fast-paced and funny dialogue to your traditional action movie, you have something a little more worthwhile. Smith and Lawrence are the funniest action, buddy-cop team I've seen since Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines in RUNNING SCARED (1986). They clearly know how to feed off of each other and use precise timing in their chemistry to create laughs in just the right places...just before Michael Bay starts to blow shit up!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Marcus Burnett: "Look, now I ain't no Wesley Snipes! I just hang out with stupid ass friends, that drive stupid ass cars, that attract a lot of mother fuckin' attention!"
Mike Lowrey: "You know what, I need to jump over this car and smack you in your peasy ass head that's what I need to do!"
Marcus: "Well, you know what you're arguin' over a mother fuckin' french fry!"
Mike: "It's not about the french fry, it's about your lack of respect for other people's property!"
White Carjacker: "Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey!"
Black Carjacker: "Shut the fuck up!"
Marcus: "Hold the fuck on! (to Mike) You want some bad enough, come get some!"
(cops overtake car jackers)
Marcus (to black carjacker): "You like that shit? Wesley Snipes, Passenger 57! Now gimme a mother fuckin' handy wipe!"
Mike (to white carjacker): "Now let's hear one of those jokes, bitch."
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
(December 1952, U.S.)
Legendary actor Kirk Douglas' portrayel of a heartless, cut-throut, backstabbing Hollywood producer can easily be compared to Larry Hagman's character of J.R. Ewing on CBS-TV's DALLAS. And just like J.R.'s character, you can't help but love the guy just a little. Sure, he'd eat his own children (if he had any) to get a movie made, but he does it with such charm, style and a big, beautiful smile on his face that you can't help but give in to all of his bullshit.
The structure of THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL is interesting. In the beginning, we see three people in "the business" - a director (Barry Sullivan), an actress (Lana Turner) and a writer (Dick Powell), all of whom were once close friends of Douglas' character, Jonathan Shields. Now they not only hate his guts, but also refuse to work with him ever again. They each share their own stories of how they once loved and trusted this man and how he ultimately ripped all of their hearts out to get what he wanted. In the case of the writer, Shields' unscroupulous behavior even inadvertantly leads to the death of his (the writer's) wife in a plane crash. By the end of the film, the three of them hold their grounds and still refuse to work with him, but ultimately cannot help themselves and their curiousity in continuing to experience whatever motives and proposals Jonathan Shields continues to dish out at them. I suppose like many of us in real life, we eat a lot of shit and inexplicably come around asking for more.
Watching THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL recently has taught me something; Hollywood has ALWAYS been full of pimps and whores who'll do anything for the almighty dollar sign. The difference between now and then was that many Hollywood producers actually found the time to care about and love the movies they were backing. In the end, too, the movies they gave us were not only good ones (sometimes GREAT ones), but they went on to be cinematic classics. Today...well, in my opinion, most Hollywood producers don't have a fucking clue about film and are only in the business to get rich on the stupidity and gullibility of moviegoers. The real problem with that is that the films they give us today are total shit! That leads me to a very frightening question...fifty or sixty years from now, are all of these stupid 3-D remakes going to be deemed as classics? Are these stupid movies that guys like Will Ferrell make going to be considered classics?? Kill me now! Please, just fucking kill me right now!!!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Jonathan Shields: "Don't worry. Some of the best movies are made by people working together who hate each other's guts."
Monday, August 16, 2010
(May 1990, U.S.)
By this time BACK TO THE FUTURE-PART III is a lot like watching RETURN OF THE JEDI - it's a sequel that, like it or not, had to be made because PART II left us with a cliffhanger situation and it's a story that by now has run out of steam. Not to say that the story of PART III in sending Marty back in time (again!) to the old west in the year 1885 to save Doc Brown's life is a bad movie, it's just not a great movie. In fact, it isn't until the final train-pushing-the-DeLorean-up-to-88-miles-an-hour sequence that you really start to take any part in the excitement of it all. The first two thirds of the film...well, you've seen the formula before (twice!) and it's just not as exciting anymore. On the plus side, though, there is an amusing cameo by rock band ZZ Top and some nice touches of homage to western great, Clint Eastwood.
As you can clearly see, be the time I get to PART III of this trilogy (the FIRST complete set of franchise films on my blog, by the way), I have less to say about Marty McFly and his time travel adventures.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Buford "Mad Dog" Tannen: "What's your name, dude?"
Marty McFly: "Uh, Mar- Eastwood. Clint Eastwood."
Tannen: "What kinda stupid name is that?"
(November 1989, U.S.)
The saga continues. Actually, it starts over. The original BACK TO THE FUTURE was not destined to have a sequel. But huge box office grosses make sequels go around and around and around. But guess what - this first sequel, in my opinion, actually surpasses the original film. How many sequels can you say THAT about?
Unlike its predessessor, the high concept of BACK TO THE FUTURE-PART II lies in the premise of time travel itself and what can conceivably go wrong when Marty McFly travels to the year 2015 and attempts to alter his own future with financial gain. I can't really blame the guy, though. If I could see the future results of all sporting events for the next 50 years, I'd want to be rich, too. Filthy fucking rich!!!
(but I digress)
The critical results of this film were not as successful as the first. Many felt lost in the plot of time travel and the alternate reality created as a result of financial greed. Funny, I had no problem with it. Hell, I enjoyed it. I enjoy watching a film that dares to ask me to use my brain for a moment. Who was it that decided that escapist fun in the movies had to be insulting to the intelligence? I think that most of your average moviegoing audience are too stupid and too impatient to keep up with and figure out any sort of high-concept sci-fi that dares to go beyond the traditional space ship and laser gun. Try explaining the concepts of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, THX-1138 or SOLARIS to the common Friday night "multiplexer". You can't. Don't even try.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Doc Brown: "They're taking her home, to your future home! We'll arrive shortly thereafter, get her out of there and go back to 1985."
Marty McFly: "You mean, I'm gonna see where I live? I'm gonna see myself as an old man?"
Doc: "No, no, no Marty, that could result in a-Great Scott! Jennifer could conceivably encounter her future self! The consequences of that could be disastrous!"
Marty: "Doc, what do you mean?"
Doc: "I foresee two possibilities. One, coming face to face with herself 30 years older would put her into shock and she'd simply pass out. Or two, the encounter could create a time paradox, the results of which could cause a chain reaction that would unravel the very fabric of the space time continuum, and destroy the entire universe! Granted, that's a worse case scenario. The destruction might in fact be very localized, limited to merely our own galaxy."
Marty: "Well, that's a relief."
(July 1985, U.S.)
You may not believe this, but just two weeks ago I actually saw a DeLorean DMC-12 on the road and before I was aware of what I was saying, I blurted out, "There goes a "Back to the Future" DeLorean!" Can you blame me? How can anyone ever see that car again and not immediately think of BACK TO THE FUTURE? Can't be done. Don't even try.
July 1985 was a very memorable month for me. It was the summer before I was to go away to college. I had a great summer job in Westhampton Beach, Long Island (I had a crush on the girl I was working with), LIVE AID was a global musical event (The Who and Led-Zeppelin reunited! Yeah!!!) and the summer movies were dominated by John Rambo, "A View to a Kill" (both the James Bond movie and the Duran Durnan song) and BACK TO THE FUTRE. This movie HAD to be a hit, right? Michael J. Fox was already a star on FAMILY TIES and the people who gave us RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981) and E.T. (1982) were behind it (look them up).
Time travel in any film already makes for great high concept science fiction. But I think the real high concept in the story here is the challange Marty McFly faces in trying to make sure his would-be parents hook up in 1955 in order to save his own existence. How do you do that when your dad lacks any self-confidence and your mom has got the hots for you (Eww!). There lies the comedy and the insanity of it all.
Ever wonder what YOU could change if you could go back in time and locate your would-be parents? In my case, I'd have to travel to Forest Hills, Queens and Egypt!
Favorite line or dialogue:
George McFly: "Last night, Darth Vader came down from planet Vulcan and told me that if I didn't take Lorraine out that he'd melt my brain."
Friday, August 13, 2010
(June 1986, U.S.)
This is one of those films that was all about personal timing, as well as laughs. In the summer of 1986, I had just completed my freshman year of college. So it goes without saying that BACK TO SCHOOL holds a lot of youthful memories for me. But even almost 25 years later, the comedy styles of Rodney Dangerfield still holds up well. I mean, if YOUR father was going to attend college with you just to show you that a good education could be achieved while partying your ass off, wouldn't you want him to be a guy like Dangerfield?? Even Robert Downy Jr. in one of his earliest roles is funny as a dorky, trouble-making freshman.
By the way, the story of BACK TO SCHOOL is allegedly based on a real father-and-son team that attended law school together. You see - no matter how ridiculous and far-fetched a plot of any film may seem, at least part of it can be tied to something that happened to someone in real life. Ain't that funny?
Favorite line or dialogue:
Professor Turguson: "You remember that thing we had about 30 years ago called the Korean conflict? And how we failed to achieve victory? How come we didn't cross the 38th parallel and push those rice-eaters back to the Great Wall of China? Then take the fucking wall apart brick by brick and nuke them back into the fucking stone age forever? Tell me why! How come? Say it! Say it!"
Thornton Melon: "All right. I'll say it. 'Cause Truman was too much of a *pussy wimp* to let MacArthur go in there and blow out those Commie bastards!"
Turguson: "Good answer. Good answer. I like the way you think. I'm gonna be watching you."
Melon: "Good teacher. He really seems to care. About WHAT I have no idea."
(May 1991, U.S.)
Having recently watched BACKDRAFT for this post, one question kept running through my mind..."What the hell ever happened to William Baldwin??" He was once a really big star. Now I couldn't name anything he's done for the last 15 years.
Ron Howard is one of my favorite directors of our time. But even he's not perfect. For as many hits as he's had, like SPLASH, APOLLO 13, CINDERELLA MAN and FROST/NIXON, he's had his share of misses, in my opinion, like GUNG HO, FAR AND AWAY (Oh man, that SUCKED!) and THE MISSING. BACKDRAFT was not only a big hit and one of the best summer blockbusters of 1991, but it glorified fire in a way that I didn't think could be done again since THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974). But whereas INFERNO was more people-oriented, BACKDRAFT really concentrates on fire and what makes it breathe, eat and hate. Basically, despite the all-star cast, it's fire that's the real star of the film.
On the "people side", the subplot of the ongoing fued between Chicago fire fighter brothers (Kurt Russell and William Baldwin) is intruiging to watch. Despite their differences and gripes, they manage to come together as loyal brothers when the shit comes down at the end. Before dying, the last thing Russell says to Baldwin is, "I was your brother." Aww.
The special effects and pyrotechnics used in BACKDRAFT are some of the best I've ever seen. There's a sequence toward the end of the film where Baldwin is running for his life on the roof of a burning building as the roof proceeds to collapse in back of him. It's particularly pleasing to know that this kind of spectacular effect was done with little-to-no computer work.
Favorite line of dialogue:
John 'Axe' Adcox: "I think it appropriate that we recognize the two asswipes... Probationary Firemen... among us today who were officially baptized into the world of Old Man Fire. First, to Tim. Despite the fact that he has a rather dull expression, and a really hideous pair of ears; he not only took on the beast but pulled from its clutches, assisted by a more famous and brilliant firefighter, me, a kicking and screaming civilian who will probably wind up suing us for breaking her fingernails. And to Brian...whose own contribution was not only more beautiful but less likely to sue. You know, when I learned that both McCaffrey brothers would be assigned at the same station together at the same time, my heart was filled with... a sudden desire to transfer. So raise a glass, gents. To funny-looking Tim, and the McCaffrey brothers, who have gotten on each other's nerves and still managed after all these years to still be pissed off at each other. Gentlemen..."
All: "FUCK YOU!"
Thursday, August 12, 2010
(June 1984, U.S.)
Before PHILADELPHIA...before FORREST GUMP...before SAVING PRIVATE RYAN...before CASTAWAY...before all of that Oscar-related glory, Tom Hanks was just another silly buffoon on screen. But he was the BEST damn sill buffoon I'd ever seen. By the summer of 1984, Hanks was already popular from his time on ABC-TV's BOSOM BUDDIES and his recent role in Ron Howard's SPLASH. The timing, too, was right for BACHELOR PARTY because the raunchy sex comedy was quite popular in the early '80's.
So how much can I say about the plot? It's a bachelor party, so there's plenty of cliche and predictable crazy shit going on. By my film standards today, this film would likely be a real piece of crap and waste of my time. But it's Tom Hanks that carries the film with his loud insanity and nutty dialogue. And besides, the movie brings back memories of my high school youth and enables me to fantasize about the bachelor party I WISH I could have had (or something close to it) before I got married in 2001. Actually, I didn't have one. Sucks for me!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Mr. Thompson: "Rick...I wanna cut through the B.S."
Rick Gassko: "I'd like that."
Mr. Thompson: "Good. I think you're an asshole. No, no, let me correct that - an IMMATURE asshole, which is fine. Except that you're marrying my daughter and I'm afraid that my grandchildren are gonna be LITTLE assholes."
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
(October 2006, U.S.)
My understanding of the definition for the word "babel" is a confusing series of noises or voices. However, this atheist had to look up its Biblical meaning. According to a dictionary website, Babel refers to the Tower of Babel, a tower that was intended to reach from Earth to Heaven, the building of which was frustrated when Jehovah confused the language of the builders. The confusion of language and the inability to listen and understand is the key element of BABEL; a series of three interrelated sets of characters, situations and stories that are revealed out of sequence.
Three stories set in three parts of the world - Morocco, Japan and Mexico, all ultimately tied to the ownership, selling and use of a high-powered rifle used in an accidental shooting of an American tourist (played by Cate Blanchet). But let's get back to the theme of language and understanding. Imagine the fear and frustration of Brad Pitt trying to save his wife's life in a foreign country where mutual languages are not understood and the proper medical attention is unavailable. Imagine being a young, lonely Japanese deaf girl who only yearns to be heard and to be loved in such a cruel world. Imagine being a small American child taken illegally across the border into Mexico and being surround by people and a culture you don't understand and is sometimes frightening (see the chicken beheading!) Imagine trying to save your illegal immigrant status by trying to plead and communicate with U.S. officials that won't listen to you (okay, to be honest, I have less sympathy about THAT one!).
Let's return to Mexico subplot for a bit - from the moment the Mexican nanny made the decision to take the two children with her to her son's wedding, my stomach was immediately filled with dread because I knew that something was ultimately going to go wrong. Would the children get lost in a foreign country? Would the little girl be raped by a drunk? Would the little boy get hit by a drunk's stray bullet? My feelings of dread did not disappoint - the children and the nanny are abandoned in the California desert. The children almost die. You feel for them and you're relieved when they are found unharmed.
There's a very clear message in BABEL of trying to maintain tollerance in a world that lacks understanding. Whether the message sticks is strictly up to the viewer's own level of tollerance. For myself, I'd be lying if I told you that I haven't succumbed to many episodes of intollerance in my life. I make no apologies for it, though.
I've occassionally said that a truly great art film will not only leave you thinking, but will also leave you a little depressed, too (it's a theory, anyway). BABEL does both and I consider it one of the best art films of the last decade.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Mike Jones: "My mom said Mexico is dangerous."
Santiago (in Spanish): "Yes, it's full of Mexicans."
Thursday, August 5, 2010
(December 2004, U.S.)
I hate to confess ignorance regarding Howard Hughes, but before Martin Scorsese's THE AVIATOR, the only two things I'd ever heard about the man was that he was rich beyond imagination and that he was an eccentric reclusive. The only glimpse I'd previously gotten of him in the media was a film called MELVIN AND HOWARD (1980) in which actor Jason Robards played him as an old man. I had no idea he (Hughes) was a filmmaker. I had no idea he was such a pioneering force behind the world of early 20th century aviation. I had no idea he'd dated such iconic movie stars of the time. I had no idea he suffered from extreme obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Leonardo DiCaprio is an accomplished actor, to be sure, but man, if they ever give out an award for best performance of a man suffering from OCD, he gets my vote a thousand times over! You truly feel the pain and anguish Hughes must have suffered by this disease through his powerful performance. It's enthralling to watch a gifted young actor play a man so obsessively-determined to achieve his dream and to not allow anyone, anything or any dollar amount get in his way. I have to admit also, it's rather fun watching Hollywood of today playing Hollywood of yesterday; Cate Blanchett nails it as Katharine Hepburn (Cate playing Kate, get it?), Kate Beckinsale as a more-often-than-not very angry Ava Gardner, Gwen Stefani as Jean Harlow and look for a cameo by Jude Law playing bad boy Errol Flynn.
As much as I loved Clint Eastwood's MILLION DOLLAR BABY, it was THE AVIATOR I felt should have won the Oscar for best picture and Martin Scorsese the Oscar for best director of 2004. He should not have had to wait another two years before scoring both awards for THE DEPARTED.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Howard Hughes: "You wanna, you wanna go, huh? Go on. Actresses are cheap in this town, darlin', and I got a lot of money."
Katharine Hepburn: "Howard, please - this is beneath you."
Howard: "No, no, this is, this is EXACTLY me! You come in here outta the blue and tell me you're leavin' me just like that and you have the NERVE to expect gracioussness??"
Katharine: "I expect a little maturity. I expect you to face the situation like an adult who..."
Howard: "DON'T talk down to me! Don't you ever talk down to me! You are a movie star, nothing more!"
And with that, people, we are finally of of the 'A's' of my title collection. It only took the better part of 4 months.
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
(December 2009, U.S.)
I've got a lot to talk about here, so grab yourself a Coke & smile and follow along. First, I'd like to talk about the film itself and then move on to the actual digital 3D theatrical experience.
To begin with, there is almost nothing truly original about the story of AVATAR. Try to imagine a sci-fi version of DANCES WITH WOLVES and the story of POCAHONTAS. Then throw in some elements of RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983), JURASSIC PARK (1993), INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996), THE MATRIX (1999) and James Cameron's own ALIENS (1986) and you've pretty much got the crust of the whole movie. And by the way - those floating mountains of Pandora? Well, lets just say that Cameron must have owned a copy of the 1973 live Yes album, YESSONGS, because the artwork of Roger Dean has clearly been ripped off here. Take a look...
So, we basically have an epic science fiction film that has borrowed from everything it can think of and has almost nothing new to contribute to the screen in terms of story. But strike me down, people, because in spite of all this I can't help but love and enjoy the film anyway! The colorful fantasy of this magical planet and the people that inhabit it are simply dazzling! The action is hardcore without being cheesy or insulting to the intelligence. Even the acting is well done. Sigourney Weaver's return to work with Cameron (they did ALIENS together) is most welcomed in the role of a tough-talking scientist who's also a maternal figure at heart. Stephen Lang has to be the toughest badass motherfucker I've seen on screen since Sylvester Stallone (Lang is the same man who played the passive character of Happy in DEATH OF A SALESMAN back in 1985)! There are also cliche messages here, such as man's relationship with the environment he's supposed to be protecting instead of destroying and the struggle between the good of the scientists and the violent madness of the military. And beauty...there's plenty of beauty, too.
AVATAR is one of those films that received an overkill of hype upon its release. So naturally, I resisted seeing it. I'm happy to have discovered that it was actually a film worthy of the hype it generated. After all is judged and analyzed, it comes down to being just a fun science fiction film!
Now let's talk about the experience of seeing AVATAR in the theater in digital 3D. Let me start by saying that before this film, I'd only been to three 3D movies in my life. The first was JAWS 3-D (hey, it was my first. What did I know?). The second was a midnight screening of FRIDAY THE 13TH 3-D (when you're in college, you often see a lot of crap!) and a revival screening of DIAL M FOR MURDER (even the great Alfred Hitchcock was entitled to do something silly once in a while). All three times had me wearing the classic paper 3D glasses that they used in the 1950's. They've improved on that and now give you real plastic glasses to wear instead. The problem is that if you're not used to wearing glasses, these things have a tendancy to painfully pinch the space between your eyes while you're watching. And what if you already wear glasses? Are you seriously supposed to sit there for two and a half hours wearing one pear of glasses on top of another (remember Robert Stack in AIRPLANE?) Another thing I discovered is that when you're watching the movie head-on at the center, the picture at the left and right side of the screen tend to bleed. And let's face it - in my opinion, all of this bullshit 3D gimmickry does NOT make for a better film. For me, dazzling special effect do not look any better just because they're in front of my face. In the end, gimmicks are nothing more than just plain gimmicks. And as if all of THIS isn't bad enough, I've even read of cases where people developed eye infections as a result of wearing these glasses that may not have been properly sterilized after the person before them was wearing them. How fucking typical!
Finally, one of the most infuriating elements of the 3D experience is the absolute outrageous notion that Hollywood and theater chains have that they can now ask for ticket prices that have gone as high as $19.50 (in New York City). Let me repeat that...$19.50 for the price of a single movie ticket so you can experience silly 3D effects for films that have often not been filmed in 3D in the first place! Brother, for a whopping $19.50 that ticket had better come with a deluxe pizza, a six-pack of Coronas (with lime!) and a gorgeous piece of ass to share it with me! Hollywood has always been filled with greedy, money-grubbing pimps, but if this latest tool of movie marketing and rip-off is the future of cinema, THEN I WANT NO PART OF IT! By the way, I'm not the only one with these strong convictions.
So, bottom line - AVATAR is a great film to be enjoyed more if you're watching it in the comfort of your own home without the gimmicks and the insane ticket price. Finally, for your interest - though I recently took my little boy to see TOY STORY 3, as of this date, I haven't been to a movie (in a theater) geared towards grown-ups since AVATAR back in January 2010. Just goes to show you what I think of much of today's movies!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Dr. Max Patel: "Grace, this is Jake Sully."
Jake Sully: "Madame."
Dr. Grace Augustine: "Yeah, yeah, I know who you are and I don't need you. I need your brother. You know, the PHD who trained for three years for this mission."
Jake: "He's dead. I know it's a big inconvenience for everyone."
Grace: "How much lab training have you had?"
Jake: "I dissected a frog once."
Grace: "You see? You see? I mean they're just pissing on us without even the courtesy of calling it rain!"