Tuesday, November 30, 2010
(February 1938, U.S.)
In discussing a film like BRINGING UP BABY, I'd like to attempt to offer some cinematic education for today's younger generation who are (unfortunately) being raised on completely mindless comedies from idiots like Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler and Jack Black. What I'd like to offer is the consideration that great screwball comedies can be more than seventy years old, that great comedy can be black and white, and that great comedy can be absolutely classic! BRINGING UP BABY is not just a funny movie; it is, in my opinion, one of the greatest comedies ever made.
You've probably heard the movie tag expression "rollercoaster ride" or "the ride of your life" as it's usually associated with action films. Well, watching this film is in itself a rollercoaster ride of fun and laughs, but it's one that you have to hold onto and follow closely because the spontaneous dialogue comes fast and furious and if you don't pay attention to every word and every gesture, you can miss out on so much. This is primarily a dialogue-driven film, but the physical gags and pitfalls manage to come through at the right moment with precise timing.
As I previously mentioned in my post for ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (1944), nobody could play the confused, bewildered, surprised and shocked mild-mannered everyday man like Cary Grant. This film may be his best example of such talent. Katherine Hepburn, for all of her serious work in films like THE AFRICAN QUEEN (1951) proves she could be an irresistable screwball, too. The plot of the film, which depicts the ordinary man unwillingly caught up in a series of outrageous misfortunes which he cannot control because of a ditzy woman he will inevitably fall in love with, has been copied over time and time again in films like WHAT'S UP, DOC (1972), BROADWAY DANNY ROSE (1984) and even one of Madonna many bad films, WHO'S THAT GIRL (1987). Of course, BRINGING UP BABY has the added attraction of an adorable leopard, too.
A quick word about director Howard Hawks, and that is you have to admire a film director who was so versatile in being able to not only direct screwball comedies, but gangster, film noir, westerns, and science fictions films, as well. Look up his filmography and you'll see what I mean.
Favorite line or dialogue:
David Huxley (answers the door wearing a woman's bathrobe): "What do you want?"
Elizabeth Random: "Well, who are YOU?"
David: "Who are YOU?"
Elizabeth: "Well, who are YOU?"
David: "What do you WANT?"
Elizabeth: "Well, WHO are you?"
David: "I don't know. I'm not quite myself today."
Elizabeth: "Well, you look perfectly idiotic in those clothes!"
David: "These aren't MY clothes!"
Elizabeth: "Well, where ARE you clothes?"
David: "I've LOST my clothes!"
Elizabeth: "Well, why are you wearing THESE clothes?"
David (jumps up): "Because I just went GAY all of a sudden!"
Saturday, November 27, 2010
(June 1977, U.S.)
Have you noticed that I'm not even out of the 'B' titles of my film collection and I've already discussed a more than fair share of war films? The challenge has now become to attempt to add something new and fresh to my perspective on war films that generally tend to follow that same war cliches and formulas. Mind you, these cliches and formulas do have the persistence of not failing to entertain the viewer for this type of genre.
Directed by Sir Richard Attenborough, A BRIDGE TOO FAR is an epic World War II film that tells the story of the failure of "Operation Market Garden" during the war and the Allied attempt to break through German lines and seize several bridges, including the road bridge over the Lower Rhine at Arnhem, in the occupied Netherlands, with the main objective of Allied armour outflanking the Siegfried Line at its northern extremity. For your interest, the name for the film comes from an unconfirmed comment made by British Lieutenant-General Frederick Browning, deputy commander of the First Allied Airborne Army, who tells Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, the operation's architect, before the operation, "I think we may be going a bridge too far." Get it?
In a way, this film reminds me much of THE LONGEST DAY (1962) in two ways. The first is that it includes an ensemble cast of popular stars of the time, including James Caan, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Edward Fox, Elliot Gould, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins, Lawrence Olivier, Ryan O'Neal, Robert Redford, Maximillian Schell and Liv Ulmann. The second is that the first forty-five minutes or so of the film is spent entirely on strategic planning before any of the battles actually begin. That doesn't make the film entirely unoriginal, though. I suppose it all depends on the stars of the film and the combat mission that structures the plot. But getting back to cliches and formulas for a moment, the classic elements are alive and kicking in A BRIDGE TOO FAR and make for as an exciting a war film as any other of the genre.
I was only ten years old when this film was released in the Summer of 1977, which means I likely had no interest in it during a summer dominated by the first STAR WARS film (like my parents would have LET me see a grown-up war film at that tender young age???). However, I can remember the attention that it received through newspaper coverage and television promo ads. Those kind of images can stay with you for quite a while until you're old enough to see a war film...thankfully.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Sgt. Eddie Dohun: "Colonel, if you don't look at him right now, he's going to die."
U.S. Medical Colonel: "He's dead now."
Sgt. Dohun: "It would mean a lot to me, sir, if you'd check him out."
Medical Colonel: "Come on, Sergeant! For Chrissakes, get him out of here!"
Sgt. Dohun (draws his gun): "Would you look at him please, sir? Right now or I'll blow your fuckin' head off. Right now."
Medical Colonel: " I can give him a quick examination if you like."
Sgt. Dohun: "Thank you very much, sir."
(a few minutes later)
Medical Colonel: "Sergeant Dohun pulled a gun on me and threatened to kill me unless I did precisely what he ordered. I want you to put him under arrest."
Lt. Rafferty: "Yes, sir."
Medical Colonel: "I want you to keep him there. I want you to keep him there for at least ten seconds."
Lt. Rafferty: "I'm not all that sure I understand, Colonel."
Medical Colonel: "Count to ten, Lieutenant, fast."
Lt. Rafferty: "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. Like that, sir?"
Medical Colonel: "Thank you, Lieutenant."
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
(June 1995, U.S.)
You may have begun to notice that every once in a while I offer some kind of personal confession in some of my blog posts. Well, here we go again, people - my confession for this post is that when it comes to love on the big screen, I prefer to watch a straight-forward, sentimental love story rather than a silly romantic comedy. Come on, think about all the romantic comedies that have come out over the last decade and tell me that they haven't all been following the same damn formula time and time again! The guy's best friend is always some goofball. The girl's best friend is either a female goofball or a flamboyant gay guy. And more often than not, the guy and girl aren't even that interested in each other at the beginning of the film.
So, that having been said, let's discuss THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. If you were of adult-reading age back in 1992, there's no way you could not have heard of Robert James Waller's mega New York Times best seller. It was THE book everyone was talking about! Now here's my second confession for you all - this remains the only love story I have ever read. I read it almost out of professional obligation because in 1992 I was working in a small bookstore and felt required to read it so I would have some sense of what I was talking about when I sold it to customers. The book was small and only took a few hours to read. I'd be lying through my teeth if I didn't tell you that I was captivated and enthralled just like every other person who fell for this simple story of forbidden love between an Italian war bride living in 1960's Iowa and a rugged photographer who has come to Madison County to shoot a photographic essay for National Geographic on the covered bridges in the area. The four days they spend together while her family is away are a turning point in her life. She writes of her experience in a diary which is discovered by her children after her death. Needless to say, they are stunned by her secret confessions.
After completing the book, my first thought was, of course, that it would make a great film. But I went into details and told people that I though it would make a great Robert Redford-directed film starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep. Well, as things turned out, I got one-third of it right. Both of my speculations for Redford were replaced by Clint Eastwood and it was a great film, nonetheless, during a summer that was dominated by the likes of DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE and BATMAN FOREVER (that movie sucked!). And just when you thought Clint Eastwood's film characters weren't capable of much more than shooting a .44 Magnum or punching somebody's lights out, he turns out to be a gentle, sentimental lover, as well. What a guy!
Now here's a personal story which is only INdirectly related to the film's story. It's a story of my mother. She came to this country from Egypt in the early '60s. She met my dad, they got married and the rest is...well, never mind that. In 1996, six years after my parents (finally) split for good, she took a trip to Los Angeles and made a phone call that would change the rest of her life. She contacted the man she had PREVIOUSLY been engaged to in Egypt before coming to this country and meeting my dad. By chance, he just happened to be divorced and available. Jump ahead two years and they were married. When they were first reunited, it seemed as if my mother and her long-lost sweetheart were living their own version of THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. As far as how it all turned out...well, that story resides three thousand miles away in another state.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Francesca Johnson: "Robert, please. You don't understand, no-one does. When a woman makes the choice to marry, to have children; in one way her life begins but in another way it stops. You build a life of details. You become a mother, a wife and you stop and stay steady so that your children can move. And when they leave they take your life of details with them. And then you're expected move again only you don't remember what moves you because no-one has asked in so long. Not even yourself. You never in your life think that love like this can happen to you."
Robert Kincaid: "But now that you have it..."
Francesca: "I want to keep it forever. I want to love you the way I do now the rest of my life. Don't you understand... we'll lose it if we leave. I can't make an entire life disappear to start a new one. All I can do is try to hold onto to both. Help me. Help me not lose loving you."
Sunday, November 21, 2010
(October 1957, U.S.)
British director David Lean was unquestionably one of the best of the 20th century. Had he made no other films other than LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962), DOCTOR ZHIVAGO (1965) and THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI, he would have likely still been considered legendary status.
This film is a war film, to be sure, but it is hardly a combat film. There are moments of great action, but I would consider this to be more of a "cat and mouse" war and prison drama, where dialogue, cinematography, history and culture reign supreme. Oh, and by the way, the original novel for this film was written by French writer Pierre Boulle, the same man who wrote the original novel PLANET OF THE APES. The incidents portrayed in the film are mostly fictional, and though it depicts bad conditions and suffering caused by the building of the Burma Railway and its bridges, to depict the actual reality would have been too appalling for filmgoers back in 1957. Historically, the conditions were much worse than depicted in the film. The destruction of the bridge as depicted at the end of the film is entirely fictional. In fact, two bridges were built: a temporary wooden bridge and a permanent steel/concrete bridge a few months later. Both bridges were used for two years, until they were destroyed by Allied aerial bombing. The steel bridge was repaired and is still in use today.
As far as Alec Guinness' role in this film is concerned, let me just say that it's a damn shame that he'll forever be remembered most as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original STAR WARS trilogy. Not that I'm knocking the great Obi-Wan, but his performances in those films cannot even come close to his personality and style in this film. The inexplicable pride he takes in leading his British soldiers in the construction of the bridge is astounding. He is a man who truly believes in the military code and the honor of coming through as a proud British officer, even if it means committing acts that could be considered treasonous and even attempting to stop the men who will eventually destroy the bridge in the name of defeating the Japanese enemy.
Here's one more piece of interesting trivia: this film was first telecast complete by ABC-TV in 1966, as a three hours-plus special on The ABC Sunday Night Movie. The telecast of the film lasted more than three hours because of the commercial breaks. It was still highly unusual at that time for a television network to show such a long film in one evening; most films of that length were generally split into two parts and shown over two evenings. But the unusual move paid off for ABC because the telecast drew huge ratings.
THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI won the Oscar for best picture of 1957.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Lt. Colonel Nicholson: "I've been thinking. Tomorrow it will be twenty-eight years to the day that I've been in the service. Twenty-eight years in peace and war. I don't suppose I've been at home more than ten months in all that time. Still, it's been a good life. I loved India. I wouldn't have had it any other way. But there are times when suddenly you realize you're nearer the end than the beginning. And you wonder, you ask yourself, what the sum total of your life represents. What difference your being there at any time made to anything. Hardly made any difference at all, really, particularly in comparison with other men's careers. I don't know whether that kind of thinking's very healthy; but I must admit I've had some thoughts on those lines from time to time. But tonight... tonight!"
(February 1961, U.S.)
Jean-Luc Godard's BREATHLESS is among the inaugural films of the French New Wave and was derived from a scenario by fellow New Wave director, François Truffaut. At the time, the film attracted much attention for its bold visual style and the film editing use of jump cuts. At the time, these jump cuts were considered extremely innovative. Today, like everything else that has been copied a thousand times over in filmmaking, it has been brought to the brink of overkill. Just watch any of director Tony Scott's films over the last ten years and you'll see what I mean.
Michel Poiccard (played by Jean-Paul Belmondo) is a young, petty criminal who models himself on the film persona of the great Humphrey Bogart. In just the first five minutes of the film, he's already stolen a car and murdered a policeman just as simply as if he were eating breakfast. In fact, in the stolen car department, he does it as many times in a day as others would sneeze. He's a sleazy man who knows and is even proud of the fact of how sleazy he is, both in crime and his relationship with women. Just look at the many close-ups of his face with his dark glasses and fat cigareete to see what I mean. You are compelled to hate this man from the moment you meet him. It's actually quite incredible that his American love interest, Patricia (played by Jean Seberg), cannot suspect who and what he is. When she finally finds out, she appears turned on and is prone to help him until she inevitably turns him in to the police and he's shot dead.
Godard's BREATHLESS is only the second foreign film in my collection that I am discussing, but it has long and justifiably been considered one of the essentials of art house cinema, thanks to it's breakthrough style of editing and black and white cinematography.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Michel Poiccard (voice-over): "After all, I'm an asshole. After all, yes, I've got to. I've got to!"
Saturday, November 20, 2010
(July 1979, U.S.)
BREAKING AWAY will likley go down in cinematic history as a great, original coming-of-age film (and it damn-well is!). For myself, it was a film that came out during a time when rousing sports films were making it big on the screen. By the Summer of 1979, there had already been two ROCKY films for boxing, three BAD NEWS BEARS films for baseball, NORTH DALLAS FORTY and HEAVEN CAN WAIT for football and even BOBBY DEERFIELD for auto racing. BREAKING AWAY gave us bicycle racing and it left a guy like me cheering for more! Unfortunately, there was more in the form of a very short-lived TV series of the film in 1980 (it sucked!). Still, all these years later, my perspective for the film has matured a great deal in that I see a great deal of social meaning behind its content, and I'd like to share that with you now.
On the surface, this is a film about a young man named Dave Stoller from Bloomington, Indiana whose sole purpose in life is to excel in his bicycle riding. In a town filled with the everyday working class who are likely never to be educated beyond high school or ever leave their small town, Dave exemplifies himself through his physical skills and repeated victories in bicycle races. When he’s not in his own world on his bicycle, Dave is as ordinary as the friends he hangs out with at the local quarry’s watering hole where they go swimming every day. This freedom comes easily as they have all made the conscious decision to avoid getting a job in order to waste the rest of their lives together. Bloomington is also a college town where students of Indiana University reside. Unlike the local kids of the town, who are often referred to as “cutters” because they come from families of men whose traditional job it was to cut the limestone that would eventually constitute the buildings that went up on the campus, the college kids who are meant to spend only four years of their lives in Bloomington, are rich, spoiled, and known to make no secret of looking down their noses at the local “cutter” kids. As a “cutter” kid himself, Dave is often not entirely satisfied with his own identity and longs to become something more than just a local kid from the neighborhood with no job prospects and no college education. The spiritual freedom he feels on his bicycle only takes him so far, though, and he longs to be on a more equal level of the privileged college kids in town. To accomplish this, he decides to create an alternate ethnic identity for himself when he meets a beautiful college girl named Katherine. This is a persona he was already testing with his disapproving parents before meeting her, but one he’s chosen to commit himself to now once she unexpectedly enters his life. When he’s with her, he’s no longer the ordinary Dave Stoller, but rather a more colorful Italian exchange student with an alternate Italian name. This sudden switch in identity and character stems from his great love and admiration of Italian bicycle riders, particularly the team Cinzano. Although Dave hasn’t exactly propelled himself to the higher class level of the college kids with this alternate identity, he feels a greater sense of his own self as a fake Italian somebody rather than just a real life common American working class nobody. This newly-found confidence is just enough to make him feel comfortable sitting in a bowling alley café with Katherine that has normally been reserved for the college kids only. During an unexpected brawl involving his best friends, instead of stepping in to help them, he keeps himself well hidden so as not to expose his secret identity to the woman he loves. From Katherine’s perspective, the man she comes to know as the Italian exchange student, though not being financially well-off or of an upper class sector, is far more interesting than the typical college jocks with inflated egos she has spent most of her time with up until now.
During one of the film’s sports sequences, Dave takes part in a bicycle race alongside the Italian riding team Cinzano that he has come to idolize. From the Italian’s perspective, they, too, also sport an attitude that looks down not only on the common working class kids of Bloomington, Indiana, but apparently, also on Americans themselves. During the race, the Italian champions appear to be appalled and flabbergasted that a common American like Dave is not only able to keep up with them, but also has the audacity to speak Italian to them. While Dave’s social intentions are to extend his friendship and admiration, the Italian team react with anger and malicious intent when the cause Dave to fall from his bicycle and subsequently, eliminate him from the race. Dave has not only become the victim of cheats, but has also realized the delusion he held that Italians were supposedly of a higher and more respectable social nature than those he has spent his entire life around. This moment of clarity brings him to the decision to confess to Katherine who and what he really is. His name, his physical appearance and his very manhood remain the same, but because he is now just an everyday “cutter” kid of the local town who lied to her and not the exotic Italian exchange student Katherine thought he was, she reacts angrily and walks out on his life. Despite this blow to Dave’s romantic life, he is still able to hold onto the fact that he’s gifted in his riding skills and is determined to renew his sense of self-worth. To accomplish this, he will take part in the town’s climactic bicycle race with his three best friends at his side. This will not only be a race of human will, but will also bring a new level of competitiveness against a group of college kids also competing in the big race. This is the film’s great moment of triumphant sports victory that audiences are meant to stand up and cheer about, but it’s also a race against odds between two social classes of kids who are at the age of trying to figure out who they are, whether it’s amidst the environment of the local working class residents or amidst the alternate environment of college wealth and privilege, all within the confinements of the same small town. Of course, the classic cinematic cliché in which the underdog triumphs does not disappoint. Dave Stoller and his best friends win the big race and not only redeem their own self-respect, but apparently the respect of the college riding team, as well, as they are seen clapping their hands at the film’s end in honor of the victorious “cutter” kids. The film’s attempt to prove that in at least the world of sports competition, there are no separating classes and those who participate are of equal standing with each other. Realistically, one cannot depart from Breaking Away feeling that all social prejudices and disorders in Bloomington, Indiana will be miraculously healed on a daily basis. But for right now, the love and freedom of riding a simple bicycle appears to give us that small glimmer of hope that things can get better between people.
Now as much as I hate to admit acting like a big dork, after seeing BREAKING AWAY at the age of twelve, I became obsessed for a while with the opera piece, "The Barber of Seville", which is played as the background score during the first bicycle race. For months, after I would hum that piece in my head every time I rode my bike (I didn't even have a walkman yet!). That piece of music no longer comes to mind whenever I ride my bike today.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Dave's dad: "What's this?"
Dave's mom: "It's sauteed zucchini."
Dad: "It's I-tey food. I don't want no I-tey food!"
Mom: "It's not. I got it at the A&P. It's like... squash."
Dad: "I know I-tey food when I hear it! It's all them "eenie" foods... zucchini... and linguine... and fettuccine. I want some American food, dammit! I want French fries!"
Friday, November 19, 2010
(February 1985, U.S.)
It was 1985 and young people's movies were about to change. By 1985, Rocky had defeated Mr. T, E.T. had gone home, Darth Vader and the Empire were dead, Spock had died and come back to life, and we knew who we were gonna call if we needed some ghostbusting! Yes, it was time for young people's movies to get a bit serious...
I was a white suburban high school teenager for part of the year 1985. This means that I was partially raised by director John Hughes. For those of you who may have been living deep under a rock in 1985 and actually never heard of THE BREAKFAST CLUB, arguably the most influential teen film of the 1980's young MTV pop culture decade, then know right now for the record that it is the story of five white suburban teenagers (each a member of a different high school clique or social group) as they spend an entire Saturday in detention together and come to realize that they are all deeper than their respective stereotypes. Note that I have used the word WHITE and SUBURBAN twice already because it was the emotional challenges of white, upper middle class suburban teenagers that Hughes most depicted in his films. In fact, the only African-American characters of any key value I can recall in any of his films is the school nurse and a parking garage attendant in FERRIS BEULLER'S DAY OFF (1986). Whatever that was about, I'm afraid that Hughes may have taken it with him when he died in August 2009.
What strikes me as most interesting about THE BREAKFAST CLUB more than 25 years after its release is not so much how it played out back then, but rather how might play out today. Would a film like THE BREAKFAST CLUB work today? Perhaps. I mean, high school is still high school, right? High school students are still the same as they ever were, right (though they seem to be doing a lot more SINGING on TV these days)? Actually, I'm guessing the answers to these questions is really a big NO! While I'm long since past my high school years (though I'm only 43), my guess - my PRESUMPTION is that the high school student of the 21st century is hell and gone from the one of the 1980's. We now live in a world where communication has become primarily dependent on a tiny keyboard that fits in the palm of your hand. Why would five totally different teenage kids ever be brought into a room together to share their lives in actual conversation when they could simply text each other or spill their guts on any number of social network websites? Hell, would five different teenage kids even be brought together in detention in the first place? In today's educational world of zero tolerance, a trouble-making student like John Bender (played by Judd Nelson) would have likely been suspended for pulling a fake fire alarm. Student Brian Johnson (played by Anthony Michael Hall) would have been outright expelled and prosecuted for having a flare gun in his locker. You see what I'm talking about? It's my firm opinion that opportunities for real human communication between today's high school teenagers likely no longer exist! That being the case, how could you make a film like THE BREAKFAST CLUB today??
For myself, I can only offer thick memories of this film and thank director John Hughes for reaching out and attempting to bring some sense of a young person's self-worth to the big screen. Thanks, John. I still miss you.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Brian Johnson (voice-over): "Saturday, March 24,1984. Shermer High School, Shermer, Illinois, 60062. Dear Mr. Vernon, We accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. What we did WAS wrong. But we think you're crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. What do you care? You see us as you want to see us - in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Correct? That's the way we saw each other at 7:00 this morning. We were brainwashed."
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
(October 2002, U.S.)
BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE is the first documentary in my film collection to be discussed (I don't own a lot of them). Director Michael Moore has certainly established himself as a filmmaker who's subject matters provoke words like controversial, provocative, incendiary, as well as entertainingly funny. Funny? Yes, funny, because when you sit there and you're informed of just how fucked up this country and this world can be, you can't help but find it just plain funny. One thing's for sure, in my opinion, when you watch one of Michael Moore's films, you don't feel like the same person you were two hours ago before the film started. You probably feel a litte worse.
I grew up in a predominantly white, upper middle class suburban town on Long Island during the 1980's. Like many other teenagers, I though high school sucked! Like any other suburban (take note that I repeat the word SUBURBAN. I know nothing of urban life to a teenager, so I won't even attempt to shine any kind of light on the subject) high school, we had our trouble makers and our trouble spots. They were, however, mostly related to drug use and I cannot recall any stories of student violence against each other during the entire era of my teens. On April 20, 1999 the rules of white suburban high school America changed forever in Columbine, Colorado. Murderous violence at the hands of kids was no longer an element of urban, inner city high schools or somwhere in a foreign land we cannot pronounce.
So who was to blame for the Columbune massacre? The parents of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold? The kids who bullied them in the first place? Charlton Heston and the NRA? Wall-Mart for selling the bullets to kids so easily? Violent video games? Marilyn Manson's music? It may be forever impossible to explain why the Columbine massacre occurred and why the United States has such a high violent crime rate (especially crimes involving guns).
Getting back to the word FUNNY for a moment; there is an early scene that is irresistably ridiculous depicting how Moore discovers a bank in Michigan that gives customers a free hunting rifle when they make a deposit of a certain size into a time deposit account. The camera follows Moore as he goes to the bank, makes his deposit, fills out the forms, and awaits the result of a background check before walking out of the bank carrying a brand new hunting rifle. Just before leaving the bank, Moore jokingly asks the bank employee, "Do you think it's a little dangerous handing out guns at a bank?" You see? As sick as the whole process is, how can you possibly help but not laugh at its utter stupidity??
So, now we come to the crucial moment of this post that asks where I stand on gun control. Truth be told, I'm not entirely sure. I do believe that if guns were taken off the street, the casualties of gun-related crimes would very likely decrease in multitudes. On the other hand, I can tell you that if I had to shoot a person to protect not only myself, but my family, as well, I would not hesitate for even a second to pull the trigger on the son of a bitch!
I suppose any way you look at it, regardless of all the questions you ask and all the arguments you make, this country we live in is fucked up to the bone! So what's the solution? I think I'll move to Canada!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Chris Rock (stand-up performance): "You don't need no gun control. You know what you need? We need some bullet control. We need to control the bullets. I think all bullets should cost $5,000. You know why? If a bullet cost $5,000 there'd be no more innocent bystanders. Every time somebody get shot "Dang, you must of did somethin'! Shit, they put 50,000 dollars worth of bullets in his ass!" And people would think before they killed somebody if a bullet cost $5,000. "Man, I would blow your fuckin' head off... if I could AFFORD it! I'm a get me another job, I'm a start saving some money, then you a dead man!"
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
(December 1989, U.S.)
I have a rather shameful confession to make, and here it is...(deep breath now)...despite the fact that Tom Cruise has spent nearly the last decade behaving like a complete idiot in front of the media, I have an irresistable weakness for most of his films (there, I said it!). Bear in mind, I said MOST of his films. I mean, no one, in their right mind, could be expected to sit through junk like COCKTAIL (1988), DAYS OF THUNDER (1990) and FAR AND AWAY (1992), right? Right?
So being that BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY is the first Tom Cruise film in my alphabetical film collection that I'm discussing, I'm glad that I can start off with what is without challange the best performance of his career (this and RAIN MAN). His unforgettable performance as Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic earned him his first Academy Award nomination.
Without getting into too much detail about Ron Kovic's life, it's enough to know that he was a product of the early 1960's call-to-duty by the immortal words of John F. Kennedy's "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country" speech and the American paroid, bullshit fear of global communism of the time, which later inspired him to enlist in the united States Marines. He went to Vietnam, fought for his country, lost the use of his legs and his dick for his country, and in the end, got royally screwed by his country and was dramatically disillusioned by his country. In later years, he spoke out against the war he had once been eager to be a part of and also published his autobiography.
The most intruiging element of this film, though, is that of transformation - Kovic's transformation from an idealistic youth willing to die for his country to a paralyzed veteran who feels manipulated, lied to, and cheated. But the life of Ron Kovic is not truly unique, by any means, as there must have been untold numbers of American soldiers who experienced the same mental anguish and betrayel of the Vietnam war. Ron Kovic was surely just one man of many, but perhaps it need only be the story of ONE man that can get the historical point across while penetrating our minds and touching our hearts.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Ron Kovic: "People say that if you don't love America, then get the hell out! Well, I love America!"
(August 1981, U.S.)
When I think about how young and sizzling hot Kathleen Turner once was and how terrible she looks now...well, it's just such a damn shame that some people have to get old! I suppose saying something like that is not very P.C., but it's my blog and I'm not afraid to be occassionally not very P.C. if I want to!
Anyone who's ever seen BODY HEAT already knows how heavily inspired the story was by the mother of all American film noir classics, DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944). However, beyond the borrowed plot of two secret lovers plotting to murder the woman's husband and collect the insurance money, BODY HEAT has a true power that transcends its original sources. Not only was it the erotic thriller (or the "Basic Instinct") of its time, but the debuts of virtual unknowns William Hurt and Kathleen Turner also propelled their acting careers. In fact, Turner managed to build a career on adventurousness and frank sexuality born of robust physicality (even as Jessica Rabbit in WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT?). There is also the added element of a scorching Florida heat wave that is touched up as an element that can make ordianry people do crazy things. BODY HEAT also propelled the directing career of Lawrence Kasdan (did you know he wrote THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, RETURN OF THE JEDI and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK?).
Getting back to classic film noir for a moment, BODY HEAT does not disappoint in its own right. Hurt's Ned Racine is just as sleazy as any 1940's or 1950's lowlife detective and Turner's Matty Walker, as the beautiful femme fatale, is just as diabolical as Lana Turner or Barbara Stanwick ever was. One of the great differences in BODY HEAT, though, is that if you're seeing it for the first time, you actually believe that Matty is truly in love with Ned, even as they are planning to commit murder together. As the pieces begin to twist and unravel in the aftermath of the murder and we begin to see how and why Ned was set up by his steaming sexual squeeze, we still see signs that Matty's love for him was genuine, right up until the very end when she fakes her own death in a rigged explosion so she can frame her lover for the murder of her husband and get away clean with all of his insurance money.
Even after all of that twisting and turning intruigue, there is still one remaining sign that Matty, as viciously scheming as she was, was capable of true love. Just look at the final shot of her face when she sits on the beach of an exotic paradise island; it's full of regret and sorrow. She's filty rich, yes. She's gotten away with murder, yes. But she'll never rejoice or find any happiness over what she's done. She'll simply live a life of riches and meaningless sex.
(actually, come to think of it...)
Favorite line or dialogue:
Ned Racine: "Let's say that she's living as this other girl, this person from her past, so that only one person in the whole world who knows who she really is, and then just when she got me on the line, she's finally going to collect, that person shows up. That girl finds her and threatens to expose her, so Matty starts paying her off. Maybe she ever promised to cut her in on Edmund's money. Now she's gotta share it with two people. But then Matty sees a way to get rid of both of us at once...at the boathouse. A way to solve all her problems and get clear with no one looking for her. And, Oscar, she was right, too, because I would have NEVER stopped looking for her. Matty killed this other girl and put her body in the boathouse. It was so perfect and so...clean. You find two bodies, me and this girl, two killers, dead. Case closed."
Saturday, November 6, 2010
(August 1947, U.S.)
In the cinematic boxing world, before there was ever the down-and-out underdog bum Rocky Balboa and before there was ever the raging bull Jake LaMotta, there was John Garfield as Charley Davis in BODY AND SOUL; the story of a boxer who, as he rises up the ladder of professional success, becomes involved with crooked promoters and shady characters, including an unethical promoter who tempts Charley with a number of vices, like money, booze and women (LOTS of women!). Charley finds himself faced with increasingly difficult choices and manages to screw up many of the positive aspects of his life, including his relationship with his mother and the woman who truly loves him for what he is and not what she can get out of him.
BODY AND SOUL is considered the first great boxing picture; it's also a cautionary tale about the lure of money and how it can derail even a strong common man like Charley in his pursuit of success. It's easy to see how this film could easily influence Martin Scorsese's RAGING BULL (1980) along very similar story lines. It's a film that (like RAGING BULL, too) focues more on the boxer and the consequences of his life choices rather that the climactic "big fight" and whether he'll win or lose, as was most often the theme in all ROCKY films. The fight sequences, in particular, bring a kind of realism to the genre that hadn't existed before. The cinematographer wore roller skates and rolled around the ring shooting the fight scenes with a hand-held camera. Pretty damn original for 1947, huh?
There's also something about the final fight sequence that I find particularly intruiging - Charley has agreed to coast through the 15 rounds of the fight and then throw it in the end. For nearly 15 rounds, there is no real fighting and the crowd is growing angry and impatient. By the last round, Charley reconsiders what he's done and is prepared to destroy his opponent. The crowd can sense this change coming and instead of screaming their heads off for some real action, they go dead silent. It's chillingly effective and something I've never seen done in a fight film before.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Anna Davis: "I did it to buy myself fancy clothes? Fool! It's for you! To learn, to get an education, to make something of yourself!"
Charley Davis: "Shorty! Shorty, get me that fight from Quinn. I want money! Do you understand? Money, money!"
Anna: " I forbid, I forbid! Better buy a gun and shoot yourself!"
Charley: "You need MONEY to buy a gun!"
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
(September 1986, U.S.)
Ladies and gentlemen, it's my distinct pleasure to finally have the opportunity to introduce to my blog, "the wizard of weird" himself, the great David Lynch; perhaps the only real true artist of cinema alive today. Love him or hate hime, one cannot deny the impact his films can have on a viewer.
To experience a film by David Lynch is to experience a world within a dream and a nightmare. On the surface, BLUE VELVET may appear simply as a mystery film, exhibiting elements of both 1950's film noir and surrealism. On the surface, the fictitious town of Lumberton is a simple, picturesque, Norman Rockwell-like world of good people, beautiful trees and homespun values. Look deeper, though, and you'll find a nightmare world of crime, drug abuse and sexual violence. It's a mystery that starts almost harmlessly enough with young Jeffrey Beaumont (played by Kyle Maclachlan) walking home through a field and finding a severed human ear. Any other normal person would just turn the ear in and leave the matter alone, right? But when you're the hero of a David Lynch film, you proceed to investigate the ear further with help from your high school friend, Sandy Williams (played by Laura Dern), who provides you with information and leads from her father, the local police detective. The investigation draws you deeper into your hometown's seedy underworld, where you form a sexual relationship with the alluring torch singer, Dorothy Vallens (played by Isabella Rossellini), and uncover the vile criminal Frank Booth (played by Dennis Hopper). Frank Booth is undenyably one of the nastiest criminal characters ever created on film.
BLUE VELVET is generally considered the best film of David Lynch's career (my personal favorite is LOST HIGHWAY, but we'll get to that much later) and one of my top ten favorite films of the 1980's. It's a small wonder, though, that Lynch's career ever recovered after the financial and critical disaster that was known as DUNE (I loved it, but that, too, is another matter). Perhaps science fiction was never meant to be Lynch's cup of tea. A true artist such as he has proven most successful when diving into his personal world of visions and dreams. I can recall BLUE VELVET playing at the local triplex movie theater right across the street from my college dorm building in Buffalo, New York for months and I never bothered to go see it. Sadly, I hadn't discovered my appreciation for art films yet. Shame on me.
Personal story time. I had a roomate in college whom I shall call Chris (because that's really his name). He was one of the quirkiest and most spirited guys I ever met which meant it wasn't hard for us to become really good friends. Anyway, he loved, loved, loved BLUE VELVET! He loved it on a level that made him an expert on it's story, its dialogue and David Lynch himself. It was Chris who turned me on to this film. When we'd drink together, he'd enjoy raising his glass and saying, "Here's to your fuck, Eric!". So it is to Chris that I dedicate this post. We haven't seen each other since 1992, and to this day, I'm still unable to locate him on Facebook. I miss him. Here's to your fuck, Chris!
One final observation on this film; the word "fuck" and words containing the word "fuck" are spoken a total of fifty-seven times in BLUE VELVET. I couldn't resist - I counted! Fifty-six of those fifty-seven times is spoken by Frank Booth.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Frank Booth: "What kind of beer do you like?"
Jeffrey Beaumont: "Heineken."
Frank (shouting): "Heineken? Fuck that shit!! PABST BLUE RIBBON!!!"
Monday, November 1, 2010
(May 1983, U.S.)
When I was in high school, I would have told you that BLUE THUNDER was one of my favorite thrillers. Twenty-seven years later, I am likely to tell you the same thing. I have always enjoyed thrillers that feature helicopters and helicopter chases. This film features one of the most high-tech machines you're ever likely to see on film. And when you have Roy Scheider as the hero, you can't go wrong.
Scheider plays Frank Murphy, an LAPD helicopter pilot officer. He's selected to pilot the world's most advanced helicopter prototype, nicknamed "Blue Thunder," which is essentially a military-style combat helicopter intended for police use in surveillance, large-scale civic disobedience and terrorist situations. With powerful armament, stealth technology that allows it to fly virtually undetected, and other accoutrements (such as infrared scanners, powerful microphones and cameras, and a U-Matic VCR), Blue Thunder appears to be a formidable tool in the war on crime. But like anything else that sounds like it might be too good to be true, there are flaws that also involve human corruption and criminal intent. Their are those who intend to use Blue Thunder to carry out an evil mission of their own that involves the secret elimination of political undesirables. At the head of this involvement lies Malcom McDowell, in one of his best roles since A CLOCKWORK ORANGE.
Then, of course, there is the spectacular helicopter chase, battle and showdown over the city of Los Angeles; a feast for the eyes and the senses that greatly surpasses an air battle that Clint Eastwood had tried to pull off (unsuccessfully) a year before with FIREFOX (1982) . In the end, by achieving a spectacular 360° loop (primarily through use of Blue Thunder's turbine boost function and extremely painful effort on his own part), Frank Murphy shoots down his enemy. He then destroys Blue Thunder by landing it in front of an approaching freight train, having deemed the tactical helicopter too dangerous to be used by anyone else. You go, Murphy!
I still miss Roy Scheider!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Jack Braddock: "I've been trying to get you all night. Why don't you answer your fucking beeper?"
Frank Murphy: "I just wanna tell you, Jack, that the next time I'm suspended, so is my FUCKING BEEPER!"