Thursday, September 30, 2010

BIG CHILL, THE


(September 1983, U.S.)

When watching THE BIG CHILL, a film released when the 1980's were well underway, you actually have to remind yourself that there is nothing 1980's about it. There's no big hair, no obnoxious clothing and no music from Boy George or Prince (thank goodness!).

When reconsidering THE BIG CHILL twenty-seven years after its original release, the one question I keep asking myself is how well would the same story hold up today? To begin with, a group of old college friends reuniting 15 years later in 2010 means that they would (obviously) not be the products of the baby boom age. Their college years would have been in 1995, when hip-hop and alternative rock were all the rage and the internet and cell phone were just starting to creep into everyday people's existense. The hard (and sad) truth is that with ridiculous modern marvels like Facebook, Twitter, texting, etc., a group of old college friends would likely find the act of physically reuniting for any reason a waste of time because they would likely already be in constant touch with each others lives and actions. In THE BIG CHILL, it's the suicide death of a friend (the body is played by an unknown Kevin Costner, by the way. You never see his face.) that brings the group together after so long. Today, it would HAVE to be death before people would actually occupy the same space and talk to each other with their own voices.

Regardless of all this, the film stills holds up well for me. It's a story about grownups for grownups with valid and dramatic issues about friendship, loyalty and love. And hey, what guy hasn't also fantasized about just one more sexual encounter with his old college girlfriend 15 years later?? The only real flaw I've always found in the film is the presence of actress Meg Tilly. In my opinion, her character of the dead friend's girlfriend serves absolutely no purpose to the story. Meg Tilly was once a hot attraction in the movies, so casting her must have been to add to the box office draw. Does anybody know whatever became of her?

Favorite line or dialogue:

Karen: "You'll never get this many people to come to my funeral."
Michael: "Ohh, Karen, I'll come. And, you know... I'll bring a date."

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

BICYCLE THIEF, THE


(December 1949, U.S.)

We have finally (and alphabetically) reached the first foreign film in my collection. THE BICYCLE THIEF is not only a great neorealistic Italian film (look up Italian neorealism!), but one of the essential classics of arthouse cinema.

Let me start out by saying that although I have seen my share of movies that are meant to scare audiences, watching THE BICYCLE THIEF actually causes a tremendous sense of dread within me. There is something very psychologically unsettling about knowing beforehand the great misfortune that is going to be bestowed on the film's protaganist. The title of the film already tells us that Antonio Ricci is going to lose the bicycle he so desperately needs to not only work but to feed his family, as well. The moments leading up to the inevitable theft almost make you want to cry out for Ricci to be careful and keep a watchful eye on his bicycle.

THE BICYCLE THIEF is one of the most dramatic stories of human desperation I've ever seen. Knowing that he cannot work or put food on his family's table without his bicycle, Antonio and his son, Bruno, begin a crazed, desperate search all over Rome to try and not only identify the bicycle (in pieces, at times) but the thief (or thieves), as well. It's a lost cause from the start. The marketplace is filled to the brim with bicycles and bicycle parts. The city streets are overrun with people on bicycles. Even when Antonio is miraculously fortunate enough to find the boy who stole his bicycle, he is powerless to find any justice in the matter. A policeman tells him that although he may have seen the boy stealing his bicycle, he didn't catch the thief red-handed, nor has he any witnesses and that Antonio making an accusation is not good enough.

There is a very poignant moment in the film where Antonio and Bruna share a rare treat of a meal in a restaurant. For that brief time, father and son forget their troubles and bond over some tasty mozerella on bread. This doesn't last long, though, and the harsh realities of unemployment and starvation come creeping back into their lives.

Desperation has its final act at the end of the film in one of the most resonant scenes when Antonio is sitting on the curb outside a packed football stadium. He looks at the hundreds of bicycles that are parked outside the stadium and as he cradles his head in despair, a fleet of bicycles mockingly speeds past him. He finally concludes that he has no other option but to steal a bicycle that he spots outside an apartment. Unluckily, he is seen taking the bicycle and caught by a crowd of angry men who slap and humiliate him in front of his son. Ironically, this time with an army of witnesses who catch him, he is marched off to the police station. Before getting there, the owner of the bicycle sees how upset Bruno is and declines to press charges. The film ends with Antonio and Bruno, sad and let down from what has just happened, they walk along in a crowd, leaving us with a dim outlook for Antonio and his family's future.

THE BICYCLE THIEF is not happy film, nor is it meant to give us a happy ending. I should also add that watching this film during our current time of economic recession can only heighten one's sense of dread and uneasiness. But when one can walk away from this film (or any film) with these stong emotions, you know that something in the art of film has worked.

One more observation on all of this; if you've ever seen Robert Altman's THE PLAYER (1992), there is a moment when an ambitious would-be screenwriter makes a cynical crack about how Hollywood would give THE BICYCLE THIEF a happy ending if they ever remade it. Oh, how true, how true! However, in the last decade or so, Hollywood has sunk to the lowest levels of pond scum when it comes to remakes, that those running the studios today would likely have neither the brains nor the balls to even give a great film like THE BICYCLE THIEF that kind of consideration in the first place. The greedy degenerates that run Hollywood today have probably never even seen THE BICYCLE THIEF before. Oh, the horror, the horror!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Antonio Ricci: "We'll eat and be happy for now. There's a cure for everything...except death."

Monday, September 27, 2010

BEVERLY HILLS COP II


(May 1987, U.S.)

I'd like to take a moment to reminisce about the Summer of 1987. It was an interesting time for me. To begin with, I already had a ticket for the upcoming Pink Floyd reunion concert for September in Toronto, Canada, I was (unknowingly) just a few months away from finally losing my virginity (yes, I was a little late!), I had a kick-ass summer job as an architectural intern and Dune Road in Westhampton Beach, Long Island was experiencing some intense political drama. On the radio, the latest albums from Boston, Genesis, U2 and Whitesnake were going strong. On the movie screen, the was a brand new James Bond, Elliot Ness was bringing down Al Cappone, Jack Nicholson was playing the Devil, Robocop was soon to be the latest science fiction badass, and Eddie Murphy was back as Axel Foley in BEVERLY HILLS COP II.

Back in my college youth, I was usually eager to see just about every hot new sequel that came around. Most of them never paid off. BEVERLY HILLS COP II not only paid off, in my opinion, but it's one of the rare sequels that I actually think surpasses the original. There are many reason one could consider the second film better than the first; the second one has more action sequences (what else would you expect from the director of the previous year's TOP GUN, Tony Scott?), Axel's character is more polished and there are more hot looking California babes in this one. These are all valid reasons, but for me, the sequel surpasses the original simply because I think it's a funnier film, and when you're dealing with a comedy franchise, funnier is always better.

I should also point out that Judge Reinhold's character, Billy Rosewood, is far more enjoyable in this film. He's not only loosened up, but he's become a badass cop of destruction (at least in his own mind). The man not only feels comfortable around heavy firepower, but also has two movie posters for Stallone's RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD-PART II and COBRA on his apartment walls. Anybody who would put those duds on his walls HAS to be interesting, right?

By the time BEVERLY HILLS COP III rolled around in 1994, all the characters and premises of the entire franchise had not just fizzled out, but had died horrible, horrible deaths.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Harold Lutz: "Who the hell are you?"
Axel Foley (Caribbean accent): "Uh, my name is Johnny Wish-Wishbone. Johnny Wishbone. And I am a psychic from the island of St. Croix. Yes, I am psychic from the island of St. Croix. And I read in the St. Croix Gazette that the Beverly Hills Police Department having some trouble figuring out crimes. So, what I did was come to Beverly Hills to help the police out. They tell me they don't want my help, they don't need my help, so I'm gonna go on my merry way. I'm a psychic! I am a psychic phenomenon. Watch this. I don't know who you are, but watch this. Ummm...your name is, ummmm, Lutz! Right? Chief Lutz. That's your name. See? The name pop inside my head like that. And your name is, ummmmm, ummmmm..."
Biddle: "Biddle?"
Axel: " Biddle! Yes, see? I...you...two more seconds, I would have said it myself. I don't need no help from no one, because I'm Johnny Wishbone, psychic extraordinaire. And if you need me, just think "Johnny Wishbone" and I come running. Lutz and Biddle, it's like Kibbles n' Bits, but different."

BEVERLY HILLS COP


(December 1984, U.S.)

Can you remember when Eddie Murphy movies used to be FUNNY?? Yeah, me neither. Well, barely anyway. From 1982 through 1988, it seemed the man could do no wrong. I even thought his guest appearance in the flop, BEST DEFENSE (1984) was pretty damn funny. Then somewhere around 1989, when he tried his hand at directing HARLEM NIGHTS, things started to go wrong. When he became a daddy and started doing all those family films, things got even worse. Despite BOWFINGER (1999) having some decent moments, I haven't really liked any of Eddie Murphy's movies since COMING TO AMERICA in 1988. For the record, I am NOT counting his voiceover work in SHREK. As far as I'm concerned, voiceovers for computer animated films is an entirely diffrent ballgame.

But let's concentrate on BEVERLY HILLS COP right now, which many would consider the brightest moment of Eddie Murphy's film career. The premise of a badass Detroit cop trying to solve the murder of his best friend while blending in and functioning in "ritzy-titzy" Beverly Hills seems perfect for a character like Murphy. It is perfect and very, very damn funny! Murphy is (or was) a comedic actor with the right attitute and personality where nearly everything he said or did was funny. From his time on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE and the early films he made, the entire decade of the 1980's was the time of Eddie Murphy.

By the way, have you ever forgotten that killer soundtrack? Glenn Frey's "The Heat is On" still rocks today and have you not ever found yourself occassionally humming the "Axel F." keyboard theme to yourself when no one is listening? Okay, neither have I, at least not until I recently watched BEVERLY HILLS COP again for this post.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Maitre D: "May I help you?"
Axel Foley (very effeminate voice): "Yes. I'm lookin' for Victor Maitland."
Maitre D: "Uh, you realize this is a members-only club?"
Axel: "Hmm-mmm, but I have to talk to Victor. It's very, very important."
Maitre D: "Are you sure it's Victor Maitland you want?"
Axel: "Oh, yes, Victor Maitland, the grey-haired gentleman, very dark skin, Capricorn...Victor."
Maitre D: "Um, well why don't you give me the message and I'll take it to him."
Axel: "Okay, I guess I can do that. Um, tell Victor that Ramon - -the fella he met about a week ago? - -tell him that Ramon went to the clinic today, and I found out that I have, um, Herpes Simplex 10, and I think Victor should go check himself out with his physician to make sure everything is fine before things start falling off on the man."
Maitre D: "Uh, perhaps YOU'D better tell him that."
Axel: "You know, I think that would be best."
Maitre D: "So do I."

Sunday, September 26, 2010

BEN-HUR


(November 1959, U.S.)

For its biblical film genre, trying to decide whether you prefer BEN-HUR or THE TEN COMMANDMENTS is almost like taking the Pepsi-Coke challange. Both are biblical films, both feature Charlton Heston in the starring role and both represent the era of great 1950's epics. However, each story is like two sides of the coin; old testament and new testament.

The opening title card calls BEN-HUR, "A Tale of the Christ". The fact is, though, Jesus Christ really only serves as a backdrop comprising of approximately 30 minutes or so of film. This is the story of Judah Ben-Hur, a wealthy Jew who spends much of the film determined to seek revenge against his childhood friend Messala (played by Stephen Boyd), now a Roman military tribune who viciously sentences Judah and his family after some falling tile from Judah's rooftop nearly kills the visiting governor. Although Messala knows it was an accident, he condemns Judah to the galleys, and imprisons his mother and sister to intimidate the restive Jewish populace by punishing the family of a known friend and prominent citizen. Keeping in mind that Jesus Christ serves merely as a subplot that ties dominant characters together later in the film, it is interesting to see that when Judah nearly dies of thirst while a slave en route to sea, he is mercifully given some water by none other than Christ himself, though Judah has no idea yet who this man is or what he will become. It is simply a chance encounter. As for what happens to Jesus Christ at the end of the film, I think everyone already knows that, whether you follow Christianity or not. As an atheist, I have neither the knowledge nor the desire to discuss that topic any further.

Now let's talk about the famous chariot race. Even by current filmmaking standards, it's considered to be one of the most spectacular action sequences ever filmed. George Lucas famously ripped it off during the pod racing sequence in STAR WARS: EPISODE I-THE PHANTOM MENACE(1999). Here's another interesting piece of movie trivia; to give the scene more impact and realism, three lifelike dummies were placed at key points in the race to give the appearance of men being run over by chariots. Most notable is the stand-in dummy for Messala that gets tangled up under the horses and battered by their hooves. This resulted in one of the most grisly fatal injuries in motion picture history (up until then), and really shocked audiences.

Getting back to that Pepsi-Coke challange analogy, if you were to ask most members of my (Jewish) family which film they preferred, most of them would faithfully pick THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. While I'm not knocking DeMille's spectacular film, BEN-HUR is far superior in storytelling, performance and cinematography and also won the Oscar for best picture of 1959.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Messala: " Look to the West, Judah! Don't be a fool, look to Rome!"
Judah Ben-Hur: "I would rather be a fool than a traitor... or a killer!"
Messala: "I am a soldier!"
Judah: "Yes! Who kills! For Rome! Rome is evil!"
Messala: "I warn you...!"
Judah: "No! I WARN YOU! Rome is an affront to God! Rome is strangling my people and my country, the whole Earth! But not forever. I tell you the day Rome falls there will be a shout of freedom such as the world has never heard before!"

Thursday, September 23, 2010

BEING THERE


(December 1979, U.S.)

BEING THERE is the story of a simpleton; a grown man with the I.Q. of a child and his perception of the world and also how those around him begin to see the world through his eyes. Does this sound like a familiar 1994 Tom Hanks movie that popularized a box of chocolates?? For the record, this film was released nearly 15 years before FORREST GUMP.

BEING THERE is Peter Sellers' most (surprisingly) dramatic role after a lifetime of outrageous comedy. He plays Chance the gardner, a simple-minded man who has learned all about the world by watching constant television. Mind you, this is television of the '70's he's watching. Can you imagine what a complete idiot he'd be if he were watching too much television of today?? Just picture the mind of someone who learns about the world through the stupidity of reality TV. It's just too scary to imagine!

Anyway, back to Chance the gardner, or "Chauncey Gardner" as he's come to be misunderstood as. His personal style and seemingly conservative and insightful ways embody many qualities that many around him seem to admire. His simplistic, serious-sounding utterances, which mostly concern the growing of a garden, are interpreted as allegorical statements of deep wisdom and knowledge regarding business matters and the current state of the economy in America. Chance's remarks about how the garden changes with the seasons are interpreted by the President of the United States (played by Jack Warden) as economic and political advice, relating to his concerns about the mid-term unpopularity that many administrations face while in office. Before you know it, Chance's "words of wisdom" have influened our government and have left him a potentially rich and powerful man when he is bequeathed millions by the dying old man who took him in. Take particular note of the last scene of the film when Chance is wandering a wintery estate and walks across the surface of a small lake (???). We are finally left with a quote of "Life is a state of mind" in the background.

BEING THERE was the last Peter Sellers film to be released while he was alive. He died in July 1980.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Louise: "It's for sure a white man's world in America. Look here: I raised that boy since he was the size of a piss-ant. And I'll say right now, he never learned to read and write. No, sir. Had no brains at all. Was stuffed with rice pudding between th' ears. Shortchanged by the Lord, and dumb as a jackass. Look at him now! Yes, sir, all you've gotta be is white in America, to get whatever you want."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

BEFORE SUNRISE


(January 1995, U.S.)

Let's talk about male fantasies for a moment. Not the obvious sexual kind (which I certainly have my share of), but the kind that involves conversation, beauty and intimate feelings of love...

Imagine you're traveling by train from Budapest and you meet a beautiful young French girl on that train. A conversation is struck purely by chance and before you know it, you've asked her to get off the train with you in Vienna and spend the entire night with you exploring the city before you have to catch a plane the next morning. Understand, you're going to have only one night with this girl. What will happen? Will you be unsure of yourself and permit awkwardness to take over? Will you take a chance by sharing and discussing the most intimate details of your life? Will you share your thoughts, your feelings, your joys, your frustrations, your fears and your regrets with this girl? Will she share all of this with you? What will happen when you inevitably realize that you're falling for this girl? How do you handle this knowing that when morning comes around you're never going to see this girl again? How do you possibly say good-bye to this girl when you're struggling with the pain you feel having fallen in love with her in just one night, and knowing that she has fallen in love with you, too? And if the two of you actually go so far as to promise each other that you'll meet again at a train platform in exactly six months, will either of you actually show up?

(Questions, questions, questions! Life and love offer so many damn questions!)

Let's continue the fantasy a little more. As Jesse (played by Ethan Hawke) and Ceiline (played by Julie Delpy) wander the city of Vienna, you'll notice how the weather is perfect all night, everybody they meet is extremely nice, no one in the streets attempts to harrass or rob them in any way and a club bartender is actually willing to give Jesse a bottle of wine for free on the promise that he (Jesse) will send him the money when he returns to the United States. Like I said, FANTASY!

BEFORE SUNRISE is not a big movie at all. It's a simple tale of unexpected love that must depend primarily on dialogue and the cinematography of the city surrounding these two kids. It works. It works with me and it worked very well with audiences and critics at the time of its release. Would it work in today's movie market? Probably not. Most movie audiences don't have the patience for a film that doesn't involve catastrophic explosions or is not a remake of some kind. Hell, a film like BEFORE SUNRISE probably wouldn't even be released by a major studio like Columbia Pictures today. It would likely be an underground independent film directed by someone you never heard of. It's sequel, BEFORE SUNSET (2004) was released by an independent division of Warner Brothers. What does that tell you? Frankly, as popular as the sequel was, it did nothing for me. I liked (even preferred) the ambiguous notion of not knowing whether or not Jesse and Celine would ever see each other again. It's what makes the notion of "lost loves" so intruiging, I guess.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Jesse: "Alright, I have an admittedly insane idea, but if I don't ask you this it's just, uh, you know, it's gonna haunt me the rest of my life."
Celine: "What?"
Jesse: "Um... I want to keep talking to you, y'know. I have no idea what your situation is, but, uh, but I feel like we have some kind of, uh, connection. Right?"
Celine: "Yeah, me, too."
Jesse: "Yeah, right, well, great. So listen, so here's the deal. This is what we should do. You should get off the train with me here in Vienna, and come check out the capital."
Celine: "What?"
Jesse: "Come on. It'll be fun. Come on."
Celine: "What would we do?"
Jesse: "Umm, I don't know. All I know is I have to catch an Austrian Airlines flight tomorrow morning at 9:30 and I don't really have enough money for a hotel, so I was just going to walk around, and it would be a lot more fun if you came with me. And if I turn out to be some kind of psycho, you know, you just get on the next train. Alright, alright. Think of it like this: jump ahead, ten, twenty years, okay, and you're married. Only your marriage doesn't have that same energy that it used to have, y'know. You start to blame your husband. You start to think about all those guys you've met in your life and what might have happened if you'd picked up with one of them, right? Well, I'm one of those guys. That's me y'know, so think of this as time travel, from then, to now, to find out what you're missing out on. See, what this really could be is a gigantic favor to both you and your future husband to find out that you're not missing out on anything. I'm just as big a loser as he is, totally unmotivated, totally boring, and, uh, you made the right choice, and you're really happy."
Celine: "Let me get my bag."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

BEAUTIFUL MIND, A


(December 2001, U.S.)

Have you ever unfairly misjudged a movie the first time you saw it? I went to see A BEAUTIFUL MIND when it was released as eagerly as I would have gone to see any Ron Howard film. When it was over, I had concluded that I really hated it. I realized soon after, though, that I may have just been having a bad night at the movie theater due to some idiot sitting near me. By the time I saw the film again a year later on HBO, its value came through to me.

Russell Crowe, in my opinion, has developed into one of our best actors over the last 15 years. His role as John Nash, a Nobel Laureate in Economics, who is also a paranoid schizophrenic, is a heartfelt dramatic role for a man who had previously shown us hard action blood and guts in L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (1997) and GLADIATOR (2000). Many of us have likely seen films before that portrayed the mind and experiences of someone suffering from schizophrenia. Howard's film, however, brings across the frightening reality of what is real and what is not. Like anyone else watching the story, I had no reason to think that the characters of Nash's roomate Charles Herman (played by Paul Bettany) and the mysterious William Parcher (played by Ed Harris) were not real people. They seemed real enough, right? To learn later on that they were just deluded fantasies is shocking, to say the least. To learn even later that they could easily resurface when Nash stops taking his required medication is even more chilling.

I can remember around the time of the Academy Awards for 2002, there was all kinds of speculation that the real John Nash was an anti-semitic. Maybe he was and maybe he wasn't. If he actually was, you gotta figure that the man was probably so whacked out of his mind half the time, that he didn't even realize he was being an anti-semitic. Perhaps it was also just a cheap ploy to sway the Oscar vote. Who knows.

A BEAUTIFUL MIND won the Oscar for best picture of 2001.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Dr. Rosen: "You can't reason your way out of this!"
John Nash: "Why not? Why can't I?"
Dr. Rosen: "Because your mind is where the problem is in the first place!"

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA


(May 1979, U.S.)

I am writing this post on the 1979 theatrical version of the original 1978 television series pilot episode...

If you're, say, over the age of 35 and can remember what a worldwide cultural phenomenon the original STAR WARS (1977) created, then you'll also remember that BATTLESTAR GALACTICA was television's first attempt to cash in on the new sci-fi adventure craze. The show had many of the same great special effects of the time. It was campy, cheesy and often silly. It only lasted one season. It had a cameo by a very young Rick Springfield before joining GENERAL HOSPITAL. Yet despite all that, it was popular with kids and created a cult following that continues to this day. After the show was cancelled in April 1979, Universal Pictures made one last attempt to prolong the show's life by releasing an edited theatrical version which resolved the entire story at the end of just about two hours. It was also the last film to be released in Sensurround (look it up).

Like STAR WARS, the film has the good guys, the evil enemy of the galaxy, base ships, fighter ships, lasers, explosions and the Cylon troops which are more than an obvious ripoff of the Star Wars' stormtroopers. Geez, it's no wonder 20th Century Fox sued Universal Studios (producers of the TV show) for plagiarism, copyright infringement, unfair competition, and the Lanham Act claims, claiming it had stolen thirty-four distinct ideas from STAR WARS. Like I really cared about who stole from who when I was a kid??

For someone like me, who lived, breathed and ate science fiction movies and TV throughout his childhood, owning the film BATTLESTAR GALACTICA gives me just enough of a nice taste of the great memories I have of the show without the redundancy of owning the entire TV series on DVD (that's expensive!).

Favorite line or dialogue:

Commander Adama: "Mr. President, a wall of unidentified craft is closing in on the fleet."
Baltar: "Possibly a Cylon welcoming committee?"
Adama: "Sir, might I suggest we launch a "welcoming committee" of our own?"

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN, THE


(December 1926, U.S.)

We've finally reached a milestone on my blog. This is the first silent film from my film collection that I'm discussing, and it's a hell of a way to start. If you're one of those individuals who can single out "essentials" when it comes to films (like I can), then THE BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN is undenyably one of the essential silent of films of cinematic history.

I have to confess, though, when I first saw this film only a few years ago, it was for one reason only, and that was to see the famous Odessa Staircase sequence which would later influence a sequence just as infamous in Brian DePalma's THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987). However, the entire film blew me away. For those of you who aren't familiar with the film, it presents a dramatised version of the mutiny that occurred in 1905 when the crew of the Russian battleship Potemkin rebelled against their officers of the Tsarist regime. Director Sergei Eisenstein wrote the film as a revolutionary propaganda film, but also used it to test his theories of "montage". The revolutionary Soviet filmmakers of the Kuleshov school of filmmaking were experimenting with the effect of film editing on audiences, and Eisenstein attempted to edit the film in such a way as to produce the greatest emotional response, so that the viewer would feel sympathy for the rebellious sailors of the Battleship Potemkin and hatred for their cruel overlords. In the manner of most propaganda, the characterization is simple, so that the audience could clearly see with whom they should sympathize. These tests prove very effective. During the uprising, there are moments of shocking violence that one can find disturbing even by today's stanards of film violence, particularly the baby carriage rolling down the staircase during the massacre. I actually found myself muttering, "Oh, my God." under my breath.

Let me end this by saying that for those of you who may not have given silent films their fair share of patience and tolerance, you're missing out on some great films.

Favorite line or dialogue:

???

To be perfectly honest, it's my humble opinion that silent films have never been known for their outstanding dialogue. They serve their rightful purpose to tie the story together, but it's primarily a visual experience. However, there is one line in the film that stands out in my head, but not because it's so great, it's because it's so ridiculous! During the Odessa massacre when the Russian soldiers are shooting at the citizens, one of them (the citizens) says, "Let's go and talk them out of it!"

Yeah, right! You're being shot at by Russian soldiers and the first thing you think of is that you can march back up the steps and "talk them out of it". No, I don't think so.

Monday, September 13, 2010

BATTLE OF THE BULGE


(December 1965, U.S.)

Discussing BATTLE OF THE BULGE feels a bit redundant. It's yet another World War II combat film and it also tells the story of the soldiers who fought the battle at Bastogne, as did the previous film BATTLEGROUND. So let me see if I can stay focussed on what's unique about this film.

Let's start with some interesting tidbits. The film had its world premiere on December 16, 1965, the 21st anniversary of the battle. Unlike most World War II epics, the film contains virtually no portrayals of actual senior Allied leaders, civilian or military. Though Allied forces ultimately won the battle, the fact that the initial Nazi counteroffensive caught them by surprise and caused high casualties was a major embarrassment to the U.S.-British high command. The Allied brass portrayed in the film are mostly composite or fictionalized American officers. Vignettes from the actual battle are included the film, including General McAuliffe's reply of "Nuts" to an offer of surrender at Bastogne. The combat is in rich color and concentrates mostly on tank battles. In fact, this film has the best tank battle sequences I've ever seen on screen. But I'd expect nothing less from director Ken Annakin, the same man who gave us THE LONGEST DAY, my all-time favorite war film (but we'll get to that much, much later).

The portrayel of American soldiers is different here, too. Many previous World War II propaganda films often portrayed the American soldiers as clowns. Here they are all quite dead serious and intense about their roles in this war. The closest exception to this is Sgt. Guffy (played by Telly Savalas) who is more of a loud-mouthed war profiteer than anything else. As with any other World War II film, the Americans are always victorious in the end, but not before they get their asses severely kicked by the Germans first. During this battle, many German soldiers were successfully deceiving our boys by wearing American uniforms and speaking perfect English.

Let's talk about actor Robert Shaw now (you'll probably know him best as Quint in JAWS). He plays the head Nazi villian Col. Hessler who is so in love with this war and his command that he will gladly see things go on indefinitely and send young German soldiers to their grave without any hope of victory just to stay inside his sacred uniform. Basically, a very, very sick guy! But damn it all if he wasn't meant to play a role like that! He was one of the finest and most intense British actors of the '60's and '70's who was taken from us much too soon. He died in 1978.

BATTLE OF THE BULGE is one of the most exciting color war films I've ever seen!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Cpl. Conrad: "The truth... is that I'm a fool. I believed in you, but all that you believe in, is the war. You have the war, you like the war. And all I have are my sons and I don't want to lose them!"
Col. Kessler: "I am not responsible for your children."
Conrad: "You are. You would make them soldiers."
Kessler: "Yes, and they will fight."
Conrad: "And they will die?"
Kessler: "If necessary."
Conrad: "Necessary for who? For you?"
Kessler: "You are not only a fool, you are a traitor."
Conrad: "And you are a murderer! You would murder my sons. You would murder my country. You would murder the whole world, to stay in that uniform!"

Friday, September 10, 2010

BATTLEGROUND


(November 1949, U.S.)

As previously mentioned, there are two types of war films; combat films and war dramas. BATTLEGROUND follows what has often been the traditional formula in many black and white World War II combat film. We're first introduced to the characters that make up the fighting military unit of the film (101st Airborne Division, in this case). Admittedly, the characters in these films are often uninteresting and even quite obnoxious. In BATTLEGROUND, I can't quite make up my mind which soldier annoys me the most. There's the soldier who can't stop chewing his disgusting tobacco, the soldier who insists on chattering his false teeth and the lonely (and horny) soldier (played by star Van Johnson) who is absolutely hell-bent on protecting the eggs he took from a French woman's farmhouse. In fact, the only soldier here who is even a little interesting is Roderigues (played by Ricardo Montalban) who loves baseball and has never seen snow up close.

After we've met these men, it's when the fighting finally starts that the film really takes off. The fighting in BATTLEGROUND takes places at the Seige of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II. The combat is violent and explosive, as you'd expect. The cinematography is gloriously black and white with the added touch of the harsh snow and dense fog that fills up the forest of Bastogne. There is a very intruiging element during the fighting in which the American soldiers must determine and identify German soldiers infiltrating as Americans complete with American military uniforms and perfect English. In one case, their conclusion of this depends on correctly using American baseball lingo and determining who actress Betty Grable is currently married to.

As with most combal films of the World War II era, the spirit and comradery of the American soldier and what our country was fighting for overseas effectively makes its point. When America was at war, films like BATTLEGROUND were just what the American people needed to keep up the morale of the country. Makes me wonder why we've never succeeded in doing the same things with films since we were attacked on September 11, 2001.

Favorite line or dialogue:

The Chaplain: "Now it's nearly Christmas... and here we are in beautiful Bastogne enjoying the winter sports. And the $64 question is: "Was this trip necessary?" I'll try to answer that. But my sermons, like everything else in the army... depend on the situation and the terrain. So I assure you this is going to be a quickie. Was this trip necessary? Let's look at the facts. Nobody wanted this war but the Nazis. A great many people tried to deal with them, and a lot of them are dead. Millions have died... for no other reason except that the Nazis wanted them dead. So, in the final showdown, there was nothing left to do except fight. There's a great lesson in this. Those of us who've learned it the hard way aren't going to forget it. We must never again let any force dedicated to a super-race... or a super-idea, or super-anything... become strong enough to impose itself upon a free world. We must be smart enough and tough enough in the beginning... to put out the fire before it starts spreading. My answer to the sixty-four dollar question is yes, this trip was necessary. As the years go by, a lot of people are going to forget. But you won't. And don't ever let anybody tell you you were a sucker to fight in the war against fascism."

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

BATTLE CRY


(February 1955, U.S.)

When you start discussing films that begin with the word "Battle", you're bound to be discussing at least a few war films in succession.

One of the first things I should say about war films in general is that it's probably the only genre in which men can get very close and intimate with each other without actually ending up in bed together. That's the heterosexual's point of view, anyway.

There are two kinds of war films, in my opinion. There's combat films with all the blood, guts and glory that goes with it, and then there's war dramas, which offer little-to-no combat at all. BATTLE CRY falls under the latter. Based on the original novel by Leon Uris, it serves as a prerequisite to many films of the type that would follow in later decades like, THE BOYS IN COMPANY C (1978), AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN (1982), FULL METAL JACKET (1987) and WE WERE SOLDIERS (2002), which all document the life of the ordinary man turned military recruit, turned soldier-in-training, turned full-fledged marine geared up for war, turned combat soldier. Sometimes they live, sometimes they die. Being a film from the 1950's, most of the boys we meet in this film are "good boys" from all walks of American life. Even the one guy we meet as the group practical joker and thief develops a new character as the values and commitments of an American soldier come through the turmoils of World War II.

One particular character that intrigues me in particular is that of PFC Andy Hookens, played by Aldo Ray. When we meet this brawny lumberjack, he's nothing more than a cocky, pig-headed womanizer, whose idea of falling for just "one dame" is inconceivable. As cliche would have it, though, he meets the right woman who touches his soft heart and brings out the best in his character. By the end of the film, he's married to her and the father of a baby boy. As I said, it's cliche, but very touching, nonetheless.

BATTLE CRY is excellent war drama through most of the film. However, the payoff of battle toward the end is also worth the long wait. It combines authentic World War II footage in surprisingly rich color with explosively-filmed action that you would expect in a great combat film.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Major Sam Huxley: "Sir, no man in the Corp. loves it any more than I do. No one has a greater respect for military custom. But those boys of mine have worked hard. I have the greatest bunch of boys in the world, sir, but they've got to have the chance to prove themselves. You can't train a champion to a figthing edge and then just throw him away on exhibition matches. We've sat in reserve and mopped up while the war went past us. This may be our last chance, sir. Give it to us."

Friday, September 3, 2010

BATMAN BEGINS


(June 2005, U.S.)

Let's all play a game and pretend that BATMAN RETURNS (1992), BATMAN FOREVER (1995) and BATMAN AND ROBIN (1997) were never, ever made! It's an easy game to play. Most people have been playing it for more than a decade! The people at Warner Brothers can only WISH they could play it!

So, having pretended that people like Danny DeVitio, Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones, George Clooney, Umma Thurman and Arnold Schwarzenegger did not totally turn the Batman franchise into a disgusting campfest, we now return the caped crusader into the hands of a very capable filmmaker; Christopher Nolan, the man who gave us MEMENTO (one of the best films of the last decade). Batman is now darker, angrier and more vengeful than ever, the way he was always meant to be in the eyes of creator, Bob Kane. Christian Bale plays him with an intense seriousness that has never been seen in the character of a superhero before. Gotham City is now just Gotham and it no longer looks like an array of Hollywood sets and stages. It's filmed on location in Chicago, which in a way, is perfect when you consider the violent history of criminal activity the city had during the years of early 20th century probition.

This is a Batman you can actually feel for. We always knew that Bruce Wayne became Batman as a result of seeing his parents murdered in front of him. We now get a deeper sense of how it truly affected him and how he uses his grief and sense of vengence to inflict true terror into the hearts of Gotham's criminals. He also knows how to love, serve and protect as a true superhero is supposed to.

The only flaw I can find with BATMAN BEGINS is the presence of Katie Holmes...period! I need not say anything more about that!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Batman: "Where were the other drugs going!?"
Flass: "I never knew! I swear to God!"
Batman: "Swear to ME!"

BATMAN


(June 1989, U.S.)

In the Spring of 1989, just like many other anticipating fans, I was shocked and outraged to hear that a silly comedian like Michael Keaton whose best work had been in NIGHT SHIFT (1982) and MR. MOM (1983) was going to play the dark caped crusader. Like many of those same fans, I was also shocked and pleasantly surprised to find that the man was actually able to pull it off. To this day, Keaton remains the second best Batman, in my opinion (after Christian Bale).

BATMAN was the first version to finally show the dark knight in a closer version to what Bob Kane had originally created. He wore a black costume, he was brooding, vengeful, he was finally without Robin, and he kicked ass! But the real indulgence in watching Tim Burton's first film is none other than Jack Nicholson as the Joker. Watching Jack in almost everything he does means you're going to be entertained by his outrageous, over-the-top antics and performances. Now just imagine all of that talent in the hands of a character like the Joker! It's unbelievable to watch and even more fun to listen to.

In thinking of BATMAN, I recall the Summer of 1989 and all of the harcore action that was on the movie screen the summer. Along side Batman, there was Indiana Jones, James Bond, Star Trek, Ghostbusters and Lethal Weapon. BATMAN also ushered in a new era of superhero films that hadn't seen much action since two preceeding Superman sequels that are considered too shameful to even talk about.

It seems that Batman has come a long, long way since 1989. That doesn't mean that the first isn't just as much fun as it used to be. However, if there is a flaw in BATMAN, it's having to listen to any music by Prince following the "Purple Rain" album (back when he was the artist formerly known as the artist formerly known as...ah, whatever!).

Favorite line or dialogue:

Joker: "Tell me something, my friend. You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?"
Bruce Wayne: "What?"
Joker: "I always ask that of all my prey. I just like the sound of it."