Thursday, December 29, 2011

FLY, THE (1986)


(August 1986, U.S.)

In the history of cinema that has too often meant remakes, remakes, remakes, I don't think I can name more than TEN remakes I would consider superior to the original. Some of these titles would include BEN-HUR (1959), INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978), THE THING (1982), CAPE FEAR (1991) and, of course, David Cronenberg's horrifying version of THE FLY. I should also point out that I've seen my fair share of terrifying shockers in my time and I'm proud to say I was able to keep my eyes open with dark delight the entire time. THE FLY is one of the few (if not the only) film that is so freakishly and horrifyingly gross that I when I watch it, I find myself uttering things like, "Holy shit!" and "Oh, my God!" Yeah, people, it's just that...uugghh!

But let's all try to remember that while we're being grossed out beyond our imagination, we're being sucking into the process of watching a man change. Change is key here, because unlike the 1958 version that simply put a fly's head on a man's body, we witness the transformation of Seth Brundle (played by Jeff Goldblum, a man who plays a scientist better than anyone I know!) after having unknowingly gone through his own teleport pod with a common housefly inside with him. At first, the change seems glorious as he's developed almost super human strength, a real zest for life, an ongoing need for sex, and an insatiable lust for a lot of extra sugar in his diet. When the change turns bad, it starts out rather subtly with only some blemishes on his face. Throughout the film, though, it gets progressively worse until the man who was once Seth Brundle is now a man who, quite frankly, looks like a giant raisin on two legs! Here, take a look at what I'm talking about...



Besides the horror of change that we witness in THE FLY, there is also something very psychologically thrilling about watching a film where you as the viewer are aware of something that the hero or protaganist is not. We watch that fly get into the the telepod without Seth's knowledge and we're thinking, "Oh no!" to ourselves. We know what has happened to Seth and what will continue to happen. It's almost a sense of sheer exhiliration when we watch Seth finally learn what the Hell happened to him.

The sweet and tender (and rather rapidly moving!) relationship between Seth and Veronica Quaife (played by Geena Davis) greatly contributes to not only Seth's scientific drive and determination, but also his slow decay and what will ultimately be his fate in the end. In fact, "Ronnie" seems so in love with Seth that even at the end when he's no longer human and in fact, has transformed into nothing short of a horrid monster, she's still hesitant about pulling the trigger and putting him out of his misery. Oh, come on! Loyalty is understandable, but as Helene Delambre said in the original film, "It wasn't wrong to kill the thing." I'll tell you what WAS wrong, though, and that was making THE FLY II (1988)!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Veronica Quaife: "Those...weird hairs that were growing out of your back. I took them to a lab. I had them analyzed."
Seth Brundle: "The hairs? The hairs? Oh...yeah, that's a strange thing to do."
Veronica: "Not as strange as the results. The guy at the lab had trouble identifying them. He finally came to the conclusion, that they were definitely not human."
Seth: "Oh...very good."
Veronica: "Not human, Seth. In fact...very INSECT-like hairs."
Seth: "That's silly! That's ridiculous!"

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

FLY, THE (1958)


Perhaps the greatest challenge about watching the original version of THE FLY, or any other classic film in which the remake was far superior, is trying to keep the open mind necessary to appreciate the original film's impact on audiences "back in the day". That in mind, it becomes necessary to put David Cronenberg and Jeff Goldblum completely out of your memeory for the purposes of true film appreciation of THE FLY. Give it a try, why don't you.

The decade of the 1950s is probably the greatest "mixed bag" of films you're likely to experience (or remember, depending on your age). You had big, lavish musicals, spectacular epics, film noir, cheap drive-in "B" pictures and science fiction/horror. Strangeley enough, though, many of the monster or alien invasion films that were released seemed Hell-bent on trying to make a scientific point or offer a lesson in scientific progress and technology to the audience watching it. So even before Canadian scientist and family man Andre Delambre (played by David Hedison, the only actor to play Felix Lighter in more than one James Bond film, by the way) experiences the horrible accident that switches his head with that of an ordinary housefly after sendng himself through his own transporter device, he makes several key points on the fascinating visions and wonders of science that audiences were meant to take to heart. Because, even by 1958, the fast pace of television, automobiles, rockets and satellites were a whole lot to absorb in ordinary life. For some, it was exhilerating. For others, there was fear and paranoia.

While Andre's transformation is certainly a dated effect as compared to the 1986's gory remake and especially by today's over-the-top CGI effects, it becomes essential for anyone watching the original version of THE FLY to get inside the audience's mind and experience the shock and horror they must have felt when Andre's wife removes the black hood from his head and exposes the head of the fly that has taken over his body. Look at it with real studying eyes and tell me those two humongous eyes and that twitching nose don't freak you out just a little. Tell me the thought of Andre's wife Helene (played by Patricia Owens) assisting with his own suicide by crushing his big fly head and fly arm with a hydraulic press don't give you the shivers just a little. Tell me that listening to that tiny little fly with the human head of Andre screaming, "Help m-e-e-e! Help m-e-e-e!" didn't bring out the "heebee jeebees" just a little. Tell me you can't imagine Saturday afternoon matinee moviegoers in 1958 experiencing what could only have been considered true horror of its day. And hey, having Vincent Price in the film certainly couldn't have hurt, either.

Now here's a personal memory for you. Those of you who grew up in the eastern tri-state area of the United States may recall a television broadcast in the 1970s and early 1980s called "The 4:30 Movie" on ABC, which more often consisted of rather cheap horror films five days a week. Every once in a while, though, ABC would feature special themes like "Planet of the Apes week" or "Vincent Price week". It was during the latter that I can first recall seeing bits and pieces of THE FLY. I'm sure seeing that fly head for the first time as a kid must have left me thinking, "Whoah, that's freaky, and that's cool!" Take a look...



Favorite line or dialogue:

François Delambre: "You've commited murder just as much as Helene did. You killed a fly with a human head. She killed a human with a fly head."

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

FLETCH


(May 1985, U.S.)

Look up the year 1985, and besides John Rambo, you're likely to find Chevy Chase written all over it. In addition to FLETCH, he made NATIONAL LAMPOON'S EUROPEAN VACATION and SPIES LIKE US. In my opinion, I can only justify the latter two by saying that ONE out of three ain't bad. As for Michael Richie's film version of Gregory McDonald's popular novels, no one else but Chevy Chase (at the time) could have played the wisecracking undercover investigative newspaper reporter, Irwin M. Fletcher. He was still young and still just as loony as he'd been those years on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE and CADDYSHACK (1980).

Fletch is not just a lovable wise-ass (you gotta love the guy!), but also a man who finds it necessary to change his identity multiple times in order to crack the big story. The Los Angeles drug trade is Fletch's latest story, and while investigating undercover as a beach wanderer, he's approached by Alan Stanwyk (played by Tim Matheson) who wants Fletch to murder him because he claims he has inoperable bone cancer; this way his family will receive his life insurance. Unaware that Fletch is who he is, Stanwyk thinks he would be the perfect man for the job, as he appears to be a drifter who can thus simply disappear after the shooting without any suspicions being raised.

Following all of this so far?

Fletch agrees to kill Stanwyk but is, of course, suspicious of Stanwyk's motives. Fletch starts to dig, and uncovers a story much greater than his exposé of small-time drug dealers. As he uncovers the lurid truth of bigamy regarding Stanwyk, he also discovers that a crooked police chief (played by Joe Don Baker) is behind the drug trafficking on the beaches. So guess what? Good guy Fletch wins the day, the bad guys go to jail and the "lady in question" falls for Fletch. This could have all played out as great film noir if it weren't so damn funny!

I'll tell you what's NOT so damn funny and that's thinking for even one moment that it's sequel FLETCH LIVES (1988) would work for even a second. That's just tragic. What's even more tragic is that I'm sure a FLETCH remake is out there in the works somewhere. So who will play Fletch today? Well, in my opinion, Vince Vaugn is perhaps the only quick-talking wise-ass I can see coming close. We'll see.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Chief Karlin: "So, what's your name?"
Fletch: "Fletch."
Karlin: "Full name?"
Fletch: "Fletch F. Fletch."
Karlin: "I see. And what do you do for a living, Mr. Fletch?"
Fletch: "I'm a shepherd."
Karlin: "Officers, could you excuse us for a few moments?"
Fletch: "Yeah, why don't you guys go down to the gym and pump each other."

Friday, December 23, 2011

(500) DAYS OF SUMMER


August 2009, U.S.)

I'm going to do something completely unprecedented with this post and start it with a dedication and proceed to move on through my discussion with additional dedications in conjunction with the story behind this film. Trust me, just read and you'll get it. Ready?

(500) DAYS OF SUMMER is dedicated to all my male readers whom, at one or more times in their lives, had their hearts pulverized with a sledgehammer by a woman he was deluded enough into convincing himself he was in love with...

This independent coming-of-age comedy/drama is presented in a nonlinear narrative, as it jumps from various days within the 500-day span of Tom (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Summer's (played by Zooey Deschanel) rocky relationship, indicated by an animation that includes the day's number; this summary is a linear version of the events to come in the film. Tom meets Summer, Tom likes Summer, Summer likes Tom, Summer has no interest in a boyfriend or true love, Summer leads Tom on, Tom falls in love with Summer, Summer inevitably takes a huge crap on Tom's face (not literally!) and leaves him in misery.

(500) DAYS OF SUMMER is dedicated to all my male readers who were stupid enough to put the wrong woman on a such a high pedestal she never deserved to be on in the first place...

Tom loves the way Summer smiles, the way Summer laughs, the way Summer looks when she sleeps, the cute little heart shaped birthmark on Summer's neck, the way Summer is probably the only person in the whole world whose favorite Beatle is Ringo Starr. Tom is so happily in love that he finds himself enjoying Patrick Swayse singing "She's Like the Wind" (???). Yes, it would appear that Summer is a true goddess in Tom's totally blinded eyes. But as the timetime of their "unlabeled" relationship jumps ahead by many numbers, Tom eventually finds that he HATES the way Summer smiles, the way Summer laughs, the way Summer looks when she sleeps, etc., etc., etc. Hey, at least some good comes out of this when he rightfully realizes what a HORRIBLE song "She's Like the Wind" is.

(500) DAYS OF SUMMER is dedicated to all my male readers who actually managed to have sex with the woman they thought they loved and managed to pathetically convince themselves that they had achieved the ultimate in human existence...

Tom has sex with Summer. Tom is very HAPPY he had sex with Summer. Tom is so happy he had sex with Summer and filled with the kind of self-confidence that would make even Han Solo proud that as a result, in one of the funniest sequences I've ever seen on film, imagines himself in a choreographed dance number with strangers on the street who share his joy, all to the tune of "You Make My Dreams" by Daryl Hall & John Oates (STILL a great song!).

(500) DAYS OF SUMMER is dedicated to all my male readers who fell for a woman who lead them into believing she WASN'T interested in any kind of serious relationship with any man and then to their surprise (and horror) ended up in a serious relationship (or even marriage!) with ANOTHER MAN while they could do nothing else but sit around and wallow in their own misery...

Summer claims she doesn't believe in true love, but what it turns Summer REALLY meant is that she doesn't believe in true love WITH TOM! Ouch!!! So Tom is left alone to suffer through his woes of being dumped and clings to life with only the help of Jack Daniels and a stack of Hostess Twinkies to get him through his days. Yes, people, men ARE bums, but women have been slowly catching up to us over the years!

(500) DAYS OF SUMMER is dedicated to all my male readers who, through their own hidden strengths and resilience, managed to pick themselves up, wipe away the dusty residue of that bitch who hurt them so badly, find the necessary closure they needed to move on and then eventually meet the woman who would be the TRUE love of their lives, the woman they would take as their beautiful bride, and the woman who would be the mother of their child (or children). THAT'S the woman who deserves the high pedestal!

Tom quits his useless job as a greeting card writer, literally wipes away the chalky white dust of the blackboard that was his former life and courageously starts over. He persues a career in architecture (which is what he studied in school) and while waiting at a job interview happens to meet the future girl of his dreams named Autumn. Yes, that's what I said! Her name is AUTUMN! That's so corny, so stupid, and an absolutely fucking PERFECT conclusion to the poetry of this film's message. What is that message? Well, damned if I know! Is it that love conquers all? Not necessarily. Is it that time heals all wounds? Possibly. Is it to just be a man and get over that bitch who broke your heart and move on? Yes, definitely, that's it!!

Finally, here is a line from (500) DAYS OF SUMMER that I'd like to dedicated to all those woman out there who took that poor naive son-of-a-bitch who was stupid enough to love them unconditionally and tore their poor little hearts apart with a meat grinder..."Roses are red...violets are blue...FUCK YOU, WHORE!"

On that note of good cheer, Happy Holidays, everyone!

Favorite line or dialogue:

OPENING TITLE ON CARD:

AUTHORS NOTE: The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

Especially you Jenny Beckman.

Bitch.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

"F.I.S.T"


(August 1978, U.S.)

"F.I.S.T" was, perhaps, the best film Sylvester Stallone could have done immediately following the runaway success of ROCKY (1976). Once again, he's playing a fighter of sorts, but instead of the boxing ring, the arena is the labor unions of the 1930's Great Depression era. This was also a follow-up film where Sly proved he could ACT. Yes, my friends, this is one of those rare and few-and-far-between occassions where I can use the name Sylvester Stallone and the word "act" in the same sentence. The film is loosely based on the Teamsters union and their former President Jimmy Hoffa (look him up).

For the sake of clarity, "F.I.S.T" stands for Federation of Interstate Truckers. The men who drive the trucks and work the loading docks (including Stallone's character of Johnny Kovak) are persistently and unfairly dumped on by their bosses and the trucking company they represent until one day, almost by accident, a small uprising takes place against the bosses and their unjust policies of low pay, no overtime pay and no health insurance. What begins as a small army of men gradually becomes a national empire of labor unions, all of it inevitably headed by Kovak as he slowly rises to the zenith of power faster than you can say Don Corleone. And as expected film cliche would have it, the rise to power and the success it brings is not without the high cost of Mafia involvement and governmental investigation. There's also the love interest for Kovak...because every powerful man has a strong woman who loves him standing by his side, right? And finally, as you might predict, a man like Kovak, who becomes too powerful for his own good and manages to piss off too many people is very likely to find his own life (and his family's) in emminent mortal danger.

That in mind, can you guess how the film ends? You're right.

Let me just conclude that if your idea and memories of Sylvester Stallone falls under the over-the-top crap he gave us throughout the last three decades, then I strongly suggest you watch "F.I.S.T" and experience the man's acting abilities before they became corrupted by everything that is corruptable about multiplex action-adventure movies. I mean, really, how can ANYONE be expected to watch crap like COBRA and OVER THE TOP and still maintain a straight face???

Favorite line or dialogue:

Johnny Kovak: "You know somethin', St. Clair, when I first took this job, I had a feeling that if I did a good enough job, sooner or later somebody'd come walkin' up those stairs, somebody like you, and they'd tell me what you're tellin' me now, and I knew then what I was gonna say and I know now...why don't you the hell outta my office! You're stinkin' up union property!"

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

FISHER KING, THE


(September 1991, U.S.)

The hilarious Robin Williams playing a whacked-out homeless man? Oh, sure, what WON'T be funny about that?? Jeff Bridges playing a radio shock-jock-a-la-Howard Stern dislaying the same contempt for humanity that he gave us in THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS (1989)? Oh, sure, what WON'T be great about that? And directed by Monty Python's Terry Gilliam whose MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (1975) is still my favorite film comedy after all these years? Oh, sure...ah, you get the idea!

So I already mentioned the shock jock character of Jack Lucas that Bridges plays, which means the man is basically a vicious prick who'll say anything on the radio to rattle his listeners, keep his ratings up and maintain the lavish lifestyle he's built for himself. However, as one moment of bad judegment proves, words hurt more than sticks and stones and inevitably drives one unstable listner to open fire with a shotgun inside a very yuppie drinking establishment because Jack told him on open radio that "those people" must be stopped. As a result, Jack's life is shattered and reduced to having to live with the likes of Merecedes Ruehl (I've NEVER liked her!) in an apartment above a sleazy video store. That radio incident also inevitably shattered the life of Robin Williams character of Parry, whose wife was shot and killed in front of his eyes. Parry is now a deluded homeless man who believes that Jack was sent to him to help find the Holy Grail cup inside another man's Upper West Side castle. Sure, why not, right?

Jack, despite his dislike of other people (which, by the way, I can completely relate to) is compelled, nonetheless, to help Parry rebuild his life by helping him to meet a girl he's (Parry) absolutely smitten over (she's played by very mousy Amanda Plummer). If this happens, perhaps Jack can rebuild his own life. Lives are rebuilt, the Holy Grail cup (or some cheap symbolic version of it) is recovered and the right people seem to fall in love with each other and live happily ever after. That makes perfect sense, of course, when you're dealing with a film that more or less embodies the elements of storytime magic and fantasy, even when it's right here on Earth.

There's one element that I recently noticed that very subtly expresses the timeline here that I'm willing to bet many others haven't noticed before. At the beginning of the film, Jack is up for a part in a sitcom about a radio host. That crashes down after the gunman incident. Years later, he has to painfully watch as someone else has made that show a hit. Only about a year later, Jack's life is rebuilt and the TV show is now defucnt and the former star of the show will now be a guest on Jack's new radio show. Time and circumstance are funny things, indeed. And by the way, if you're looking for a film where you can't hear Burton Lane's "How About You" enough times, then THE FISHER KING is definitely for you! Enjoy!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Jack (to himself): "He talks to invisible people, he sees invisible horses and he's lying naked in the middle of Central Park. I should be surprised? I'm not surprised. I'm outta my fucking mind to even be here!"
Parry: "Who you talking to, Jack?"
Jack: "I'm talking to the LITTLE people!"
Parry: "Are THEY here?"
Jack: "They're saying, "Jack, go to the liquor store and findeth the Jack of Daniels so that ye may be shitfaced, doo-lang, doo-LANG!"
Parry: "They said THAT?"
Jack: "You're out of your fucking mind!"
Parry: "Bingo!"

Friday, December 16, 2011

FISH CALLED WANDA, A


(July 1988, U.S.)

Imagine that it's 1988. Imagine that you're already a big fan of Monty Python when you see the movie poster for A FISH CALLED WANDA with not only John Cleese on it, but Michael Palin, as well. Imagine your surprise when you see it and discover that it's actually Kevin Kline's character of Otto that has you in stitches. And why? Because the man is so completely irretrievably STUPID!

Rather than discuss too much, the basic plot and formula of this crime-comedy film of four quirky misfits who rob a London jeweler and then proceed to somehow screw each other over, what I really want to focus on in this post is the concept of what honestly makes many of us laugh in this film. To do that, we need to explore the concept of human stupidity and why (like it or not) it makes us laugh. It seems that in today's very-overly-political-correct world, we instantly come under social fire the moment we take any pleasure or amusement in someone else's shortcomings. Calling someone stupid today may get us uncomplimentary looks from those who may be more sensitive to other's feelings than ourselves (or myself!). But, please, let's be perfectly honest here...in A FISH CALLED WANDA, Otto is just plain, flatout STUPID and it's admitedly what makes us laugh! Let's also face the hard fact that in life, there are some very STUPID people out there! Hell, I turn into a fucking magnet for stupid people every time I drive my car on the Long Island Expressway! And despite the fact that it may not be considered very "Emily Post" to laugh at someone with a stutter (in real life, it isn't), Michael Palin's character of Ken is impossible not to laugh at every time he stutters and every time Otto makes fun of that stutter ("It's K-K-K-Ken! C-c-c-coming to k-k-k-kill me!"). Don't get me wrong - Ken has a beautiful speaking voice...when it works!

So there you have it, people. Whether it's acceptably "P.C." or not, stupid people in movies make audiences laugh. We laugh at Kevin Kline in A FISH CALLED WANDA, we laugh at Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels in DUMB AND DUMBER (1994) and in real life we're very likely to laugh at the woman who is stupid enough to be driving her car while talking on her cell phone in one hand and smoking a cigarette in the other. No joke - I saw that on the road just two days ago!

To make my point final, I quote Groucho Marx in DUCK SOUP (1933)..."Gentlemen, Chicolini here may talk like an idiot, and look like an idiot, but don't let that fool you: he really is an idiot."

Having just recently watched A FISH CALLED WANDA for this post, I couldn't help but recall a weekend I had with some friends in Westhampton Beach back in July of 1989. The film had only just been released on video and I'd managed to rent a copy for the weekend. In between the beach, the barbecues and the nightclub dancing, we all managed to watch this film (perhaps more than once). Let's just say that during the entire weekend my friend Chris was walking around sniffing his armpit just like Otto and I was walking around screaming, "I'm disappointed!" and "Don't go near him! He's mine!" just like Otto. Yes, it was one of those great Hamptons weekends with friends and girlfriends that stays with you and constantly reminds you of your long-lost youth. So it is to Chris, Beth (not my wife) and Caren that I dedicate this post to. Hope your memories are as strong as mine.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Wanda: "I was dealing with something delicate, Otto. I'm setting up a guy who's incredibly important to us, who's going to tell me where the loot is and if they're going to come and arrest you. And you come loping in like Rambo without a jockstrap and you dangle him out a fifth-floor window. Now, was that smart? Was it shrewd? Was it good tactics? Or was it stupid?"
Otto: "Don't call me stupid."
Wanda: "Oh, right! To call YOU stupid would be an insult to STUPID people! I've known sheep that could outwit you. I've worn dresses with higher IQs. But you think you're an intellectual, don't you, ape?"
Otto: "Apes don't read philosophy."
Wanda: "Yes they do, Otto. They just don't understand it. Now let me correct you on a couple of things, okay? Aristotle was not Belgian. The central message of Buddhism is not "Every man for himself." And the London Underground is not a political movement. Those are all mistakes, Otto. I looked them up."

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

FIRST BLOOD


(October 1982, U.S.)

There was a period of about six years, from 1976 to 1982 when I can honestly say I respected Sylvester Stallone as an actor. ROCKY (1976) and F.I.S.T. (1978) are absolute top-notch performances. NIGHTHAWKS (1981) is one of the best police/crime thrillers I've ever seen. And even though I don't care for the film any longer, ROCKY III (1982) had its place in my heart back in the day. So it's very safe to say that I would consider FIRST BLOOD Stallone's last great film as an actor (thought I did like COPLAND, he was just one of a four ensemble cast). This is our introduction to the character of John Rambo before he (unfortunately) became a major pop-culture slab of meat.

Beyond the action blood and guts that you may be familiar with, FIRST BLOOD offers Stallone the opportunity to act and perform without saying a whole lot. Sounds easy on paper, I'm sure, but it represents a challenge because his inner silence not only expresses the man he is as he tries to evade capture by the local morons of the police force, but also the man he was as a soldier of the United States Army Special Forces in Vietnam. When we first meet John Rambo, we're given every indication that he's an unstable psychopath, and perhaps that's not altogether untrue. But because there are two sides to this story, the mistreatment and abuse he undergoes after his (unjust) arrest is very clear. These are local law enforcement morons who push Rambo to his limit simply because they don't want his type, a drifter, in their small, quiet and boring town. The fact is, though, if you look very carefully at the action in the film, you'll find that Rambo never actuall KILLS anybody with his own bare hands. The abusive cop who falls to his death from a helicopter is only because Rambo threw a rock at it in his own defense. All other police officers in the hunt are maimed and injured only by Rambo's hands.

Brian Dennehy's performance as Sheriff Will Teasle is effective because you know he's an unfair and pushy prick while still giving the viewer a sense of sympathy for his determination to not only protect his little town from Rambo's rage, but to protect his own life, as well. Stallone, as mentioned already, is quiet through most of the film, but it does all build up to a rather gripping speech that expresses his pain and anguish of not only his Vietnam past, but also his struggle to survive in the world he came back to after the war.

Now I must tell you that the story of John Rambo, for me, begins and ends with FIRST BLOOD. Back in 1985, I admitedly got swept up by "Rambo-mania" just like the rest of the world. I went to see RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD-PART II on screen twice. I had the movie poster on my college dorm wall, and I couldn't wait to own a copy of the film when it became available on VHS. But as I got older and my film tastes became a little more sophisticated, I discovered that the flaws of the second film greatly outweighed any of the American "gung-ho" excitement that had me going all those years in the late 1980s. Bottom line is that RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD-PART II is a film with bad dialogue and bad acting, and that's enough of a reason to put me off of any film, no matter how popular it is. RAMBO III (1988); I can barely even remember what that story was about. That's how much of an impression it left on me, even way back then. RAMBO (2008) I didn't even bother to see (still haven't) though I always thought that the story should have centered around the events of September 11, 2001 and Rambo's response to it. Shit, that would have been just like watching John Wayne on the big screen after the United States entered World War II.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Colonel Trautman: "You want a war you can't win?"
Sheriff Teasle: "Are you telling me that two hundred of our men against your boy is a no-win situation for us?"
Trautman: "You send that many, don't forget one thing."
Teasle: "What?"
Trautman: "A good supply of body bags!"

Monday, December 12, 2011

FIRM, THE


(June 1993, U.S.)

John Grisham's THE FIRM was one of those books that you just simply HAD to read twenty years ago because everyone on this planet seemed to be reading it and to not read it would have been deemed practically irresponsible...kind of like having to read THE DA VINCI CODE many years later. When I read THE FIRM, I kept trying to picture who would be the perfect actor to play the lead character Mitch McDeere and I kept coming up with Charlie Sheen because his performance in WALL STREET (1987) was still very fresh in my mind. Well, lo and behold, we get Tom Cruise instead and I can't say I was disappointed because his presence and performance in most of his films greatly indulges that guilty pleasure I have to watch him on screen. It's shameful, but unavoidable.

So, for those you have been deep under a rock back in the very early 1990s, THE FIRM is legal thriller that promises young attorney Mitch McDeere (Cruise) the temptations of money, bonuses, a low interest mortgage, a leased Mercedes and his student loan paid in full (do law firms still actually DO THIS in today's unstable economy??) when he joins the small tax law firm of Bendini, Lambert & Locke in Memphis, Tennessee. These wonderful temptations cause Mitch's temporary blindness to the fact the firm is actually a front for the Chicago mafia. The FBI contact Mitch, asking him for information and informing him not only of the firm's dark secret but the fact that every associate that has ever tried to leave the firm has ended up murdered. So his life as he knows it is forever changed. He has a choice: work with the FBI and risk being discovered by the firm, or stay with the firm knowing that at sometime he'll get involved with laundering mob money and in the end go to jail when the FBI inevitably cracks the firm. Either way, Mitch will lose his life as he knows it. Are you following all this so far?

So, as cliche might have it, our hero devises a plan that will not only break the firm, but save his own ass and career, as well. Now here's the real interesting part, people. Without giving too much away, Sidney Pollack's film version of THE FIRM actually constructs a more interesting and plausible resolution than the book did. This is very rare in films, indeed. But if you were of the many millions who read the book, then you'll also remember what a real anti-climactic and rather boring letdown the ending was. The film was pretty much obligated to improve that situation, and in my opinion, did, and very well, too.

By the way, THE FIRM is one of those Tom Cruise films where you get to see him running at top speed while making that ridiculous and rather funny face that has almost become a physical signature with him. You see what I mean...guilty pleasure!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Mitch McDeere: "Let me get this straight: you want me to steal files from the firm, turn them over to the FBI, send my colleagues to jail."
Wayne Tarrance: "They roped you into this."
Mitch: "Breach attorney-client privilege, thus getting myself disbarred for life, then testify in open court against the Mafia."
Wayne: "Well, unfortunately, Mitch..."
Mitch: "Let me ask you something: ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR FUCKING MIND!?"

Friday, December 9, 2011

FINDING NEMO


(May 2003, U.S.)

Choosing to write about and discuss any Walt Disney family film can prove to be the most challenging when writing these blogs because it puts me in the position of having to interpret the film, my feelings and reactions to it from the point of view of the adult. You see, as a kid I wasn't raised on very much Disney in the movie theater. Back in the 1970's, there would often be these Disney re-release double features, but my parents barely took me to see them. I actually ended up seeing more G-rated films that took place in the great wilderness, but that's another story entirely.

So in the Summer of 2003, I was dragged (practically kicking and screaming) by my wife to see FINDING NEMO. My positive reaction to it was only minimal at the time. But then two things happened; the first is that I decided to give the film another look when it screened on the Starz cable channel a year later. The comic fun of the underwater story, particularly the ongoing vocal cynicism by Marlin the clownfish (voiced by funnyman Albert Brooks) suddenly took on a whole new light for me. The second is that after I became a father, my little boy discovered the movie and the DVD was constantly playing on our TV. Honestly, when you're constantly exposed to something like that over and over again, you're either going to really love it or really hate it. Fortunately for this blog and fans of the movie, I chose to love it. In fact, if you play FINDING NEMO on a really large flat screen TV, I defy your imagination to not convince yourself that you have a real living aquarium in your living room.

It seems that all our undersea characters (and the celebrity voices behind them) are funny in this film. From Albert Brooks to Ellen Degeneres to Willem DaFoe, the dialogue is quick, snappy and filled with more than its share of comic points that will entertain grownups, as well. Only a grownup who is very familiar with JAWS (1975) and the behind-the-scenes story of the mechanical shark being named "Bruce" could smile when the huge animated Australian great white shark introduces himself to the little fish as Bruce. And even though over the course of the last decade I feel that computer-generated animated movies have become absolute overkill, FINDING NEMO is one of those rare treats where one may want to sit in the front row of the movie theater (or your living room) and let the vivid images wash out to the edges of one's field of vision. Your eyes, ears and senses have the opportunity to take a wonderful journey to the depths of the great blue ocean and even get to see a little of what Sydney Harbour in Australia looks like.

And so, as much as I've always wanted to deny the fact that becoming a father has forever "changed" me, I suppose I can't deny it any longer when I find myself enjoying films like FINDING NEMO, SHREK, TOY STORY and who know what else. In other words, I guess I'm fucked!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Dory: "Hey there, Mr. Grumpy Gills. When life gets you down do you wanna know what you've gotta do?"
Marlin: "No, I don't wanna know."
Dory (singing): "Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. What do we do? We swim, swim."
Marlin: "Dory, no singing."
Dory (still singing): "Ha, ha, ha, ha, ho. I love to swim. When you want to swim you want to swim."
Marlin: "Now I'm stuck with that song. Now it's in my head!"
Dory: "Sorry."

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

FIELD OF DREAMS


(April 1989, U.S.)

By our standards of popular culture (whatever they happen to be these days), FIELD OF DREAMS is often considered the best baseball film ever made. While I don't exactly disagree, I consider this a highly ironic honor considering the fact that there's no actual professional baseball game played in the film. That's right - no game, no underdog team of misfits, no spectacular home run and safe-at-home victory that wins the big game. In FIELD OF DREAMS, we explore the meaning and spirit of baseball and how it's come to not only represent our American history, but also as a symbol of our youthful dreams and fantasies of greatness.

(Wow! That was deep!)

Take a moment, though, and try to imagine what it must have been like to pitch the idea for the big screen to the vast number of studios that turned the project down (some more than once), despite being based on an original novel ("Shoeless Joe" by W. P. Kinsella). Picture director and writer Phil Alden Robinson standing in front of some Hollywood big shot's desk trying to sell the idea of an Iowa farmer who willingly plows through his corn crop and his livelyhood for no other reason than having heard a mysterious voice telling him, "If you build it, he will come." But this, my friends, is where the open-mindedness of true film magic comes into play and offers the audience the opportunity to not only open their closed minds for a moment, but to also sit back and watch what happens as a result. That result is a film of pure fantasy; fantasy without dragons, magic spells or space battles. It's the magic of baseball and how much it means to all of us.

Kevin Constner, whom despite having made other great films like DANCES WITH WOLVES (1990) and JFK (1991), is an actor that I simply cannot help but think of as "Mr. Baseball" when it comes to his long career. In any role he's played regarding the sport, one comes away feeling the same passion he often feels for the game. As it turns, he is (or WAS in his younger days) quite a ball player. But Costner as Ray Kinsella is only the beginning here. The roles played by Ray Liotta as "Shoeless Joe" Jackson, James Earl Jones as Terence Mann and especially the great Burt Lancaster (in his last film role) as Archie "Moonlight" Graham are nothing short of awe-inspiring and magical. Watching their faces and hearing their voices can easily bring out emotions from the viewer of what it must be like to seek a dream so badly and only managing to come within just inches of achieving it. It hurts so badly to not have one's dream realized, but the glimpses of hope and magic (there's that damn word again!) that FIELD OF DREAMS provides is that if we strongly believe in something, that maybe even just a taste of that dream for a few moments will sustain us through the rest of our lives (or in the film's case, the afterlife).

Watching FIELD OF DREAMS not only brings the traditional cliche of good feelings out of you, but it also has the potential to provoke your own memories of baseball in your life, whatever they may be. For myself, I was much like Ray Kinsella in that I was determined to be an opposite fan of whatever my father liked. He liked the Mets, so I loved the Yankees (and still do!). By the time I'd discovered Reggie Jackson in 1977 as my true baseball hero, there was no going back for me as to where my loyalties in baseball would forever remain. I'm been a loyal Yankee fan since I was a boy, even through their worst periods. The day I took my little boy to his first Yankee game at the newly-built Yankee stadium on a beautiful sunny day in the Summer of 2010 and cheered the great Derek Jeter with him was truly a day of joy as a father who was passing along the American spirit of baseball to his son. I wish that sort of joy for all you fathers and your sons.

So, what's your personal baseball story?

Favorite line or dialogue:

Terence Mann: "Ray, people will come, Ray. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won't mind if you look around, you'll say. It's only twenty dollars per person. They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they'll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come, Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh...people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come."

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

FEW GOOD MEN, A


(December 1992, U.S.)

You may recall sometime in my blog past when I told you that I had this rather pathetic weakness for MOST of Tom Cruise's films (who could possibly be expected to sit through crap like COCKTAIL and FAR AND AWAY??). Well, if I have to weigh that guilty pleasure against a film where dialogue is truly key, then Rob Reiner's A FEW GOOD MEN comes in as one of the top few where I really get unavoidably sucked into just about everything that comes out of Cruise's mouth. Does he deserve all the credit for that or should the proper just dues go to the screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin, who also wrote the original play.

Take a moment to look back at the 1980s and I'd be willing to bet there wasn't a time you couldn't remember hearing the line, "E.T. phone home." Well, now look back at the 1990s and I'll bet there wasn't a time you weren't hearing Jack Nicholson's voice in your head saying, "You can't handle the truth!". Yes, famous movie dialogue has a funny way of sticking to your conscience and our pop culture, in general.

This courtroom drama steps out of the traditional crime and punishment tale and goes right for the throat, revolving around the trial of two rather fanatical U.S. Marines (Lance Corporal Harold Dawson and Private First Class Louden Downey) charged with the murder of fellow Marine William Santiago and the tribulations of their lawyer Danny Kaffee (played by Cruise) as he prepares a case to defend his clients with the help of Naval investigator and lawyer Lieutenant Commander Joanne Galloway (played by Demi Moore). And of course, there's the great Jack Nicholson playing Col. Nathan R. Jessep. Nicholson's role in this film is minimal, but the dialogue and performance he gives us is more than enough to sustain our appetites for the style of acting we've come to expect from him over the years. Danny Kaffee's character, while intruiging, energetic and compelling, is highly predictable and quite cliche in that he's the type of protaganist who seemingly can't do the job right or simply doesn't care enough to even try. Of course, as he probes further into the facts of the case (how many times do we get to hear the words "Code Red" in this film?) and those around him push him further, he'll come to not only care about his sacred profession as a lawyer, but will also (hopefully) win the big case and all will be well with the world. Victory, though, will only come by chance of circumstance in that he'll have to provoke Col. Jessup to the point of his own (proud) admission that it was HE who ordered the "Code Red" which lead to the involuntary manslaugher of William Santiago. Oops, did I just give it all away?

Geez, I've said a lot of character names in this post! But then again, watch A FEW GOOD MEN and you'll hear that many of the key character names are repeated again, and again, and again. That's the truth! Can you handle it?

Favorite line or dialogue:

Col. Nathan Jessup: "You have to ask me nicely! You see Danny, I can deal with the bullets, and the bombs, and the blood. I don't want money, and I don't want medals. What I do want is for you to stand there in that faggoty white uniform and with your Harvard mouth extend me some fucking courtesy! You gotta ask me nicely!"

Man, that kind of talk is so JACK!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF


(June 1986, U.S.)

Over the last twenty-five years, I've discovered, little by little, very small reasons to NOT enjoy FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF as much as I did when I was a younger man in the late 1980s. For one thing, having to spend all that time staring at the shit-eating grin on Matthew Broderick's face can get a bit irritating. Second, that infamous city parade sequence where Ferris is lip-sincing the Beatles singing "Shake It Up" while the entire city takes part in a choreographed dance number may have seemed pretty awesome back in 1986, but now I find it rather stupid. Fear not, though, my fellow lovers of Ferris Bueller. There's still plently we can talk about that I still love to watch.

Even back in its day, I knew that FERRIS BUELLER would not have been nearly as funny had Ferris not been talking to the camera and to us. Like something right out of ANNIE HALL (1977), we're taking part in our hero's adventures and misfortunes and laughing right along with it. And if you happened to be of the high school or college age when it was released, then you were apt to further appreciate the antics of a young man who's sole termination is too just take it easy on a very beautiful day that just happens to be a school day. But more than Ferris, for me it's always been his quirky best friend Cameron Frye (played by Alan Ruck) and his very resentful and bitchy sister Jeanie (played by pre-nose job Jennifer Grey) that have always carried the film for me. Oh, and of course there's the fact that I had a serious crush on Mia Sara when I saw her in this film. Very babe-a-licious!

Like previous John Hughes' films, FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF is very reminiscent of the 1980's pop culture and very focussed on what makes the city and suburbs of Chicago very personal to the director. You actually believe that the downtown area is a fun place to roam and certainly the residnet backyards are some of the most inviting I've ever seen. Yes, Hughes clearly loves Chicago the way Woody Allen has always loved New York City. The man also clearly has a good idea of how completely lame some high school teachers can be in their approach to relating to their students. If I'd had a teacher that was anything even close to that of Ben Stein (economics) or Del Close (English), I think I would have shot us both! As Ferris himself put it, high school can only be described as "childish and stupid". Amen to that, Ferris!

One last piece of trivia I'll add to all this - I was watching this film about a year ago and permitted my five year-old son to stay in the living room while it was on. I can't claim that he understood everything that was happening in the movie, but he was cracking up. Since then, he affectionately refers to FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF as the movie where "the boy doesn't go to school". Congratulations, Sam, you nailed it perfectly! I love you!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Ferris Bueller (to the camera with key points on screen): "The key to faking out the parents is the clammy hands. It's a good non-specific symptom; I'm a big believer in it. A lot of people will tell you that a good phony fever is a dead lock, but, you get a nervous mother, you could wind up in a doctor's office. That's worse than school. You fake a stomach cramp, and when you're bent over, moaning and wailing, you lick your palms. It's a little childish and stupid, but then, so is high school."

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

FATAL ATTRACTION


(September 1987, U.S.)

I'm going to start off this post by telling you all three brief stories and how they may (or may not) be directly linked to the adult themes of Adrian Lyne's 1987 hit, FATAL ATTRACTION. I will also add that all of this took place BEFORE I met the woman who would become my wife (got that, honey?).

In the Summer of 1990, I was in love with a girl who did not return the same feelings for me (I've described her before in my post for DEAD POETS SOCIETY). Somewhere during the course of those months, we had a discussion concerning the fact that we'd never slept together. We weren't dating (nor did it look like we would be), but we were, nonetheless, curious about being with each other. So we actually had a talk about being together one time and then resuming our relationship as just friends. In short, we were two (seemingly) mature adults laying out the rules of engagement and the acceptance of those rules. I accepted. The results of our first time together sexually are an entirely different story, but when it was over I suddenly found myself not liking the rules I'd agreed to so much. I didn't go boiling any rabbits, but I found myself wanting a lot more of what I'd agreed to have only once. By this account, it may be very easy for me to sympathize with Glenn Close's character Alex Forrest and the feelings she can't let go of, despite the "rules" she's agreed to.

For a couple of years during college following that summer, I had a girlfriend (I've described her before in my post for BASIC INSTINCT) who was very warm, very giving, very passionate and also known to succomb to very unwarranted fits of jealous rage. She never boiled any rabbits, but she did slash one of the tires on my car once for no apparant good reason. By this account, it may be very easy for me to CONDEMN Alex Forrest and how she takes her obssessions and insecurities too far.

Finally, during the Summer of 1997, I met and picked up a girl at a club in the Hamptons. We met the next day and proceeded to...okay, can't talk about THAT because my wife is likely reading this now. The point, though, is that somewhere along the course of things getting very physical, the brain in my head kicked in for a moment and told me that I did not want this girl to become any permanent part of my life. Thus, I actually took the time to tell her (BEFORE sleeping with her) that I was NOT looking for a girlfriend. She understood and accepted that fact. So again, we were two mature adults laying out the rules of engagement and acceptance of those rules (neither of us boiled any rabbits!). By this account, it may be very easy for me to sympathize with Michael Douglas' character, Dan Gallagher and the rules and conditions he lays out when getting temporarily involved with Alex.

By the way, in case you haven't actually seen FATAL ATTRACTION and haven't quite figured it out yet, a rabbit DOES get boiled in this film. In fact, ass a result, the term "bunny boiler" was passed into popular culture as a term for a very jealous and potentially violent mistress.

So as you watch the thrilling (and sometimes horrific) events of this film unfold and threaten to destroy the life of Dan Gallagher and his family, the one argument you may find yourself having (with yourself) is who is right and who is wrong. It can be argued that Dan is very WRONG in allowing himself to be tempted to stray from his seemingly perfect marriage to his wife Beth (played by Anne Archer and also the name of MY wife) simply because the opportunity is there for the taking. It can be argued that Dan is clearly in the RIGHT for not leading Alex on in the first place and making the rules of his life and availability very clear from the get-go. It can be argued that Alex is in the RIGHT for not allowing herself to be treated like some slut that Dan can just bang a few times and then discard when he's had his fun. It can ultimately be argued that Alex is very, very WRONG (and very, very disturbed) for taking things so far as to kidnap Dan's little girl and try to kill him and his wife. These were arguments I actually had in 1987 with the girl I'd seen the film with right after it was over. Right-wrong, right-wrong...these are the issues that FATAL ATTRACTION can raise, and DID raise back in the day. One thing's for sure and that is the premise of an obssessive woman trying to destroy a man's life and family scared the living shit of all men who saw the film back in it's day, and probably still does! By the final climax, though, despite whomever is right or wrong, there is one inescapable conclusion that is likely to run through your head and that is, "This crazy bitch has to die!"

All of this has been my collection of personal opions, of course. But for the record, after its original release, FATAL ATTRACTION engendered much discussion of the potential consequences of infidelity on the part of the male. Feminists, meanwhile, did not appreciate the depiction of Alex as a strong career woman who is at the same time profoundly psychotic (yeah, but she IS psychotic, right?). This film may have also saved many marriages because men were just too scared shitless to cheat on their wives. You see, guys, this is what HOOKERS are for!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Dan Gallagher: "Look, Alex, I like you, and if I wasn't with somebody else then maybe I'd be with you. But I am."
Alex Forrest: "Please don't justify yourself. It's pathetic. If you told me to fuck off, I'd have more respect for you."
Dan: "All right then, fuck off."

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH


(August 1982, U.S.)

Somewhere during the latter part of my high school education in the early 1980s, I discovered my love for the music of Led-Zeppelin. This was AFTER I saw FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH. I point this out because it was due to watching this film that I actually thought that "Kashmir" was on the album "Led-Zeppelin IV" because the character of Mike Damone tells Mark Ratner that "When it comes down to making out, whenever possible, put on side one of Led Zeppelin IV." and the scene that immediately follows features "Kashmir" playing in the car on Mark's first date with Stacy Hamilton. I eventually learned otherwise.

So you see, it's just like I've pointed out before, certain films are what you make of them in terms of your own personal memories and feelings about them. For myself, FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH was not about seeing it in the movie theater at the time of its original release, but rather one year later when I began my sophmore year at high school and the film was playing on every pay-cable channel for repeated viewing. Try to imagine an entire school full of pubescent young males constantly quoting the lines of Jeff Spicoli (played by a young and talented Sean Penn) like "Hey bud, let's party!", "People on 'ludes should not drive" and "That was my skull! I'm so wasted!" Ah yes, it was a wonderful time for silly film quotations and silly high school teenage sex comedies, in general! A film like FAST TIMES is the reason I don't go for AMERICAN PIE movies or something like THE HANGOVER. Been there, done that, and it was much better in my time!

Now what I've found quite interesting in the nearly thrity years since this film came out is how much I've learned about it that I didn't know back then. For instance, I had no idea who Cameron Crowe was and that he'd actually gone undercover as a high school student in order to write his original book that FAST TIMES is based on. I had no idea until recently that the pretty blonde girl driving the car and laughing at Brad Hamilton's fast food pirate hat was actually Nancy Wilson of Heart who would later become Crowe's wife (and then EX-wife). It even took me a few years to realize that the entire Jeff Spicoli surfing sequence was actually just a dream (Hey, I thought he was just that good!).

Recalling FAST TIMES, as well as others like it such as PORKY'S (1982) and SPRING BREAK (1983) recalls a time when high school and college were a source of absolute antics and fun times with the right amount of tits and ass to entertain (and perhaps educate) young horny men who had yet to lose their virginity. This was before John Hughes would take over and show us the more serious and dramatic side of our high school experiences. Still, even now it's always nice to return to the wild sexual element of the young "coming-of-age" side of adolescence and remember a time when a young, horny man like myself was just waiting in anticipation for the day he would one day have sex for the first time and constantly pausing the videotape at the exact moment when Phoebe Cates and Jennifer Jason Leigh took off their tops and treated me to full frontal nudity...



(Oh right, like all you guys reading this post never did THAT at least once when you were younger!)

In fact, did you know that a constant problem with VHS rental copies of FAST TIMES in the 1980s was that there was very often a visual glitch on the tape ribbon at the exact moment when Cates takes off her red bikini top because young, horny men were constantly pausing the videotape and...well, you can guess! You know, I wonder if Stacy and Rat ever eventually "went all the way"?

Favorite line or dialogue:

Stu Nahan: "Hello everybody! I'm Stu Nahan, and I'd like you to meet this young man. His name, Jeff Spicoli. And Jeff, congratulations to you. Things looked kind of rough out there today."
Jeff Spicoli: "Well, I'll tell you Stu, I did battle some humongous waves! But you know, just like I told the guy on ABC, "Danger is my business!"
Stu: "You know, a lot of people expected maybe Mark "Cutback" Davis or Bob "Jungle Death" Gerrard would take the honors this year."
Jeff: "Those guys are fags!"
Stu: "That's fantastic! Let me ask you a question. When you get out there, do you ever fear for your life?"
Jeff: "Well Stu I'll tell you, surfing's not a sport, it's a way of life, you know, a hobby. It's a way of looking at that wave and saying, "Hey bud, let's party!" Where'd you get this jacket?"
Stu: "I got this from the network. Let me ask you a question. What's next for Jeff Spicoli?"
Jeff: "Heading over to the Australian and Hawaiian internationals, and then me and Mick are going to wing on over to London and jam with the Stones! And you guys are invited too!"

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

FARGO


(March 1996, U.S.)

The Coen Brothers' dark comedy-crime film FARGO is considered one of the best films of their career. That, of course, is up to the viewer to decide. Personally, I think they hit the mark beautifully with their debut film BLOOD SIMPLE (1984). FARGO is one of those experiences where you simply can't help but laugh at extremely quirky characters like sleazy car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (played by William H. Macy), pregnant police chief Marge Gunderson (played by Frances McDormand) or "funny lookin" small time criminal Carl Showalter (played by Steve Buscemi). Yet, at the same time, you can't help but be repelled by the bloody violence and shocking murders that takes place on the screen and those that are motivated by financial greed.

From the moment we meet Jerry, we already know that there's something about him we don't like. As it turns out, he's in deep financial trouble and will stoop to the act of hiring a couple of sleazeball criminals to kidnap his wife in order to get the ransom money from his wealthy father in-law which he'll split with the kidnappers. But of course, as cliche (and perhaps even true story accounts), things go horribly wrong and blood begins to spill. The murders in question are investigated by our above-mentioned pregnant local police chief Marge. She quickly deduces the chain of events and follows the leads that arise, interviewing two quirky (and considerably UGLY!) prostitutes who serviced the criminals and tracing the license plates on the criminals' vehicle to Jerry's auto dealership. Not good for Jerry! The climax is not only intruiging because you're actually rather impressed by what this hero pregnant cop is capable of, but you also can't believe you're watching the wood chipper scene, despite knowing the violence that criminal Gaear Grimsrud (Carl's silent piece-of-shit partner and played chillingly by Peter Stormare) is evidently capable of. The real ending that you may not expect is the final scene of Marge in bed with her loving husband as they sweetly tell each other "I love you." That is so cliche, so old fashioned, perhaps even borderline stupid in the "Hollywood happy ending" sense, and yet somehow, it seems to make sense at the end of the rather insane day that Marge has had. Go figure.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Marge Gunderson: "Okay. I wantcha to tell me what these fellas looked like."
Hooker: "Well, the little guy, he was kinda funny lookin'."
Marge: "In what way?"
Hooker: "I don't know. Just funny lookin'."
Marge: "Can ya be any more specific?"
Hooker: "I couldn't really say. He wasn't circumcised."
Marge: "Was he funny lookin' apart from that?"
Hooker: "Yah."
Marge: "So you were havin' sex with the little fella, then?"
Hooker: "Uh-huh."
Marge: "Is there anything else you can tell me about him?"
Hooker: "No. Like I say, he was funny lookin'. More that most peopel even."

Saturday, November 19, 2011

FANTASIA 2000


(December 1999, U.S.)

Here's something to consider for a moment - did MTV REALLY create the music video thirty years ago? I would challange that idea by claiming that it was actually Walt Disney himself who first introduced the world to the idea of the music video in his original release of FANTASIA in 1940. Think about it. For the first time, moviegoers were treated to the idea of animated images and effects on screen accompanied by popular classical music. Forty-one years later, MTV would simply use the same concept with popular rock music accompanied with films of the bands themeselves or any other cinematic images. Sixty years after the first FANTASIA, the concept of a brand new film FANTASIA 2000 with new musical pieces and new animated segments seemed just perfect for the new millenium to come. And it even included the very poplular Mickey Mouse-starred "Scorcerer's Apprentice" segment from the original film; the only segment from the original film that I ever really appreciated anyway. For the new century, though, the film's segments are as followed:

- "Symphony No. 5" by Ludwig van Beethoven with abstract patterns and shapes resembling butterflies and bats exploring a world of light and darkness which are ultimately conquered by light.

- "Pines of Rome" by Ottorino Respighi accompanied by a family of humpback whales that are able to fly via some sort of supernova. The calf is separated from his parents when he becomes trapped in an iceberg, but finds his way out with his mother's help. The final section, the Via Appia, gives the impression of the larger pod of adults in migration.

- "Rhapsody in Blue" by George Gershwin (my wife's favorite piece of classical music. An episode of New York City during the Great Depression of the 1930s in the style of Al Hirschfeld's well-known cartoons of the time, depicting a day in the lives of several people within the bustling metropolis.

- "Piano Concerto No. 2" by Dmitri Shostakovich and based on "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" by Hans Christian Andersen. The concerto was written as a gift by Shostakovich to his musically gifted young son, and the percussive rhythms also suit a story about a soldier. In contrast to the original story, the ending is a happy one (how Hollywood is THAT?).

- "The Carnival of the Animals" by Camille Saint-Saëns with a flock of flamingos try to force a slapstick member who enjoys playing with a yo-yo to engage in their dull routines.

- The return of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" by Paul Dukas featuring Mickey Mouse as the apprentice of sorcerer Yen Sid who attempts some of his master's magic tricks before knowing how to control them. The result is a lot of broken broom sticks and a lot of water.

- "Pomp and Circumstance" by Edward Elgar and based on the story of Noah's Ark from the Book of Genesis starring Donald Duck as the first mate to Noah and Daisy Duck as Donald's assistant and love interest. Donald leads the animals to the Ark and in the process he misses, loses and reunites with Daisy.

- "Firebird Suite" by Igor Stravinsky. The story is of the spring sprite and her companion, the elk, who accidentally awakes the evil Firebird, a fiery spirit of destruction in a nearby volcano. The Firebird proceeds in destroying the forest, and seemingly the sprite. The Sprite survives, and the Elk encourages her to restore the forest to its former state.

If you've been reading my blogs long enough, then you know that I ususally don't take the time to go into this much detail when it comes to plot and story. The exception here, however, is that it seems almost unavoidable when trying to get the reader to appreciate what can ultimately be compared to...well, a music video on film. Unlike the original FANTASIA, however, which I found too childish for my tastes, this one holds my attention a lot more. Perhaps I just like the music better. Perhaps I appreciate how far we've come in the art of animation since 1940. Who knows and who cares. It's a joyful, colorful experience of music and images. It's only the only film that I've ever seen on the giant IMAX screen.

Favorite animated segment (because dialogue ain't exactly happening in this film!):

"Pines of Rome" by Ottorino Respighi. Not only my favorite piece of music in the film, but also the best featured animation. Watching the family of humback whales is wonderfully visually engrossing, to say the least.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

FAME (1980)


(May 1980, U.S.)

Every once in a while when I'm writing my blog posts, I have to occassionally remind myself to look back on a particular film of the past when it was considered a work of originality and true performance back in "the day" or in the past years of my childhood. In simpler words, watching Alan Parker's original version of FAME again during a century that has so far seen way too many movies and television shows where high school kids and so-called "tweenies" are constantly singing and dancing and dreaming of being the next bullshit version of Lady Gaga (I hate, hate, hate that pig!) or whatever else. FAME came out in 1980, and up until then, teenage musicals had been more or less restricted to GREASE (1978) and "beach blanket" movies of the 1960s. I myself haven't been in high school since 1985, but I can surely guarantee you that the four year experience is NO damn musical!

Truth be told, I cannot consider FAME your traditional musical. Yes, there's singing and dancing and yes, the film's music soundtrack was as big as the ones for SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER and GREASE preceeding it. But these are not students breaking out into song and dance in the traditional sense. When they sing, dance and play instruments, it's part of their education and their dreams of fame and stardom. But unlike the kids you may be painfully subjected to on the Disney Channel, these kids are not always happy and many of them have R-rated dark and painful secrets and experiences that they need to bring out of themselves. These inner emotions are what will ultimately bring out the talent and passion they keep inside, be it music, drama or dancing. These are kids you actually WANT to listen to and come to care about during their four year committment to their studies at the New York High School of Performing Arts. Some will succeed and many, many will fail, even the best and the brightest of them. We'll never know which ones, but we're going to watch them do the hard work and and painfully suffer along the way.

Watching the opening segment of AUDITIONS is what I've frankly found the most intruiging of the film. Your eyes, ears and senses are nearly overwhelmed by all the talent and capabilities of these young hopefuls and it's all happening at the same time. You also feel for the impatience and punchiness of the teachers as they have to spend days auditioning kids who are all there for the same dream, whether they have any talent or not (some simply do NOT!). I would also call particular attention the film's performances of Barry Miller playing Ralph Garci and Irene Cara playing CoCo. Miller had already previously impressed me in SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (1977) and anyone who remembers FLASHDANCE (1983) knows what Cara did for it. It's a shame, though, that she never really made it in film, because I think she's pretty damn good in FAME. I also can't resist the sequence of the traditional midnight performance of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW at the now defunked 8th Street Playhouse in New York City. I got to experience that once...just once.

I didn't see the 2009 remake of FAME (big fucking surprise, right?), but I can almost understand Hollywood's need (and greed!) to remake it when you consider all of the previously-mentioned crap in the movies and television that has, frankly, sickened me ever since AMERICAN IDOL went on the air. The remake was inevitable for sure and it completely tanked at the box office and with audiences. Good!!!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Montgomery MacNeil: "Look, all anyone ever promised you was seven classes a day and a hot lunch. The rest is up to you, Ralph. I mean, back in the Middle Ages, actors, they didn't even wanna bury us."
Ralph Garci: "Well, they do now."
Montgomery: "Not if you're good."
Ralph: "How do you know? How do you know if you're good?"
Montgomery: "Maybe you never know. You just hang in, I guess."

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

FALCON AND THE SNOWMAN, THE


(January 1985, U.S.)

I have to say that it's a shame, like Paul Newman and Robert Redford, that Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn only made two films together (the other one was TAPS) because I always thought they had quite a good chemistry with each other. Looking back at the early 1980s, I'd have guessed that it would've been Hutton who might have turned out to be the bigger cinematic star. Not so, huh?

Like LESS THAN ZERO (1987), this film centers on two young boys who are both from wealthy, upscale California families and who have, nonethless, both turned to a lifestyle of crime. Christopher Boyce (played by Hutton) and Daulton Lee (played by Penn) were both real life men who sold U.S. security secrets to the Soviet Union in the 1970s. Dalton, I might add, is also a drug dealter. I might also add, and it's difficult to tell if he was really like this in real life or if Penn is simply playing him this way, that Daulton was a major incompetent fuck up! So much so, that you can't help but wonder why someone as intelligent as Chris would put his trust and confidence is someone like Daulton in the first place. I suppose boyhood friendship can go a long way in these matters. As a young civil defense contractor, Chris works inside a secure communication facility through which flows much information on some of the most classified U.S. operations in the world. Chris has becomed disillusioned with the U.S. government through his new position, especially after reading a misrouted communiqué dealing with the CIA's plan to depose the Prime Minister of Australia. Frustrated by this apparent duplicity, Chris decides to repay his own government by passing classified secrets to the Soviets. Daulton agrees to actually contact and deal with the KGB on Chris' behalf, motivated not by any idealism, but by what he perceives as an great opportunity to make a lot of money and eventually settle in his idea of paradise of Costa Rica. And as one would predict, these sort of illegal activities don't last too long and the twisted dreams of these boys, no matter how they've been motivated, come crashing down around them.

Although I consider this one of Timothy Hutton's best roles after ORDINARY PEOPLE (1980), THE FALCON AND THE SNOWMAN was not a particularly popular film during it's theatrical run. It did obtain some interesting notoriety as a broadcast of the film on HBO in 1986 was jammed by a satellite broadcast operator calling himself "Captain Midnight". I wish I'd seen that.

Some interesting facts about Christopher Boyce himself. In 1980, he escaped from prison and while a fugitive, committed seventeen bank robberies in Idaho and Washington State, eventually being captured in 1981. Boyce was just finally paroled in 2002, as was Daulton Lee before him 1998. Boyce later justified his actions by claiming that he was selling this information in the hopes of fostering peace between the Soviet Union and the United States. But when you consider the fact that he began his crimes during the 1970s when the Watergate scandal and the Vietnam War were at their height, why would an intelligent young man be so shocked and disillusioned to learn that his own govenment was so corrupt? Come on, everybody knows THAT!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Christopher Boyce: "I know a thing or two about predatory behavior, and what once was a legitimate intelligence agency is now being used on weaker governments."

Saturday, November 12, 2011

FAIL-SAFE


(October 1964, U.S.)

Without going into too much unnecessary details regarding comparisons between Sidney Lumet's FAIL-SAFE and Stanley Kubrick's DR. STRANGLOVE, both fictional tales of a Cold War nuclear crisis, let me just simply state that Kubrick's film is a film that is outright funny. FAIL-SAFE is anything but. The suspense can have you sitting there full of tension because you know in your bones that this is all going to end on an apocalyptic level.

Despite the similarities, controversies and legal battles between FAIL-SAFE and DR. STRANGELOVE, the heart of it's dark tale could not have been more timely, considering it was 1964 and tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union were already at their height. This film expresses the discomfort with how much of the U.S. defense system is automated without any direct human responsibility. So when an unidentified object is detected approaching North America from Europe, the incident is regarded as a common occurrence and standard procedure is invoked, deploying American fighter aircraft to meet the potential threat. According to routine, American strategic bombers are directed to fly to various predetermined "fail-safe" points outside the borders of the Soviet Union, where they are to remain until receiving either orders to return to base or a special attack code transmitted through an electronic "fail-safe" box in each group commander's bomber.

(Are you all following this so far?)

So the Strategic Air Comman (SAC) computer system experiences a technical failure which causes a valid attack code to be electronically transmitted to one of the bomber groups. The commander of the bomber group, attempts to contact SAC to confirm the order, but is unable to do so, as the group's radio transmissions are being jammed by the Soviets. Having received a valid attack code, and with no known contrary orders, he proceeds with the group's designated attack mission: to drop thermonuclear bombs on Moscow (Uh-oh!). Now the commander will ignore all radio transmissions and orders from not only the President of the United States (played brilliantly by Henry Fonda), but even the voice of his own beloved wife.

What follows is not only interesting, but very frightening, as well. Knowing that Moscow is going to be unavoidably destroyed due to human error, the President is now in the horrifying position to save face and somehow "even the score". To do that, he must knowingly and deliberately order an equivalent nuclear strike on New York City, even with his own wife visiting the city. The entire premise is scary, to say the least, even when we are living in a time when the threat of nuclear arms does not hold a great fear with us. Can you possibly imagine what it must have been like to watch this tragic story unfold on screen during the height of the Cold War?

Getting back to Henry Fonda's performance for a moment - anyone who's seen enough movies has seen actors play fictional versions of the President of the United States. Michael Douglas in THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT (1995), Bill Pullman in INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996) and Harrison Ford in AIR FORCE ONE (1997) are just a few that come to mind. Fonda's intense attention to detail during a time of horrible crisis and gut-wrenching decisions make his portrayel as the President the best I've ever seen on film. Watch his face and listen to his voice and you'll see what I'm talking about and will also likely agree with my opinion. And check out a very young Larry Hagman as the president's Russian translator who must not only repeat the Soviet Chairman is saying, but also convincingly convey his feelings and emotions.

There are two elements I find particularly chilling in FAIL-SAFE. The first is the high-piched shrill sound of the telephone melting at the other end of the line when the nuclear explosions have destroyed the city of Moscow. The second are those final camera shots of typical New York City moments just before the missles are about to strike ground zero at the Empire State Building. Watching that, I can never help but wonder why it's always New York City that is the butt of all movie attacks. I think that September 11, 2001 was more life imitating art than one could possibly imagine!

Favorite line or dialogue:

President of the United States: "Yes, Mr. Chairman."
Soviet Chairman (via American translator): "Mr. President...I have ordered our long range missles to stand down from their alert. Only that part of our defense that has a chance of shooting down your bomber is still active. We do not think we have much of a chance."
President: "I know."
Chairman: "And yet this was nobody's fault."
President: "I don't agree."
Chairman: "No human being did wrong. No one is to be blamed."
President: "We're to blame. Both of us. We let our machines get out of hand."
Chairman: "Still, it WAS an accident."
President: "Two great cities may be destroyed. Millions of innocent people killed! What do we say to them, Mr. Chairman? Accidents will happen? I won't accept that!"
Chairman: "All I know is that as long as we have weapons..."
President: "All I know is that men are responsible! WE'RE responsible for what happens to us! Today we had a taste of the future! Do we learn from it or do we go on the way we have? What do we do, Mr. Chairman? What do we say to the dead?"
Chairman: "I think if we are men, we must say this will not happen again. But do you think it possible? With all that stand between us?"
President: "We put it there, Mr. Chairman, and we're not helpless! What we put between us we can remove!"

Friday, November 11, 2011

FAHRENHEIT 9/11


(June 2004, U.S.)

The opening lines of director and narrator Michael Moore's documentary FAHRENHEIT 9/11 go something like this...

"Was it all just a dream? Did the last four years not really happen?"

Well, to put it simply, that's how I've more or less felt about most of the first decade of the 20th Century. I didn't always, though. From the moment the ball started to drop at Times Square on January 1, 2000 and we had gotten past our paranoia of Y2K, I was filled with a great (and rare!) sense of optimism for the future. Why wouldn't I be? I was young (younger), I was healthy, I was loving my job, I already knew that I wanted to marry my girlfriend someday (I did!) and I saw no reason whatsoever why Al Gore wouldn't be our next president of the United States.

(OOPS! Looks like the state of Florida managed to fuck that up for us!)

Even if we put aside the events of September 11, 2001 and our useless invasion of Iraq, take a brief tally of all we've had to endure in the first decade of the 20th Century and you'll likely be sickened by all that you come up with - anthrax in the U.S. mail, Richard Reid the shoe bomber, the D.C. sniper, lies about weapons of mass destruction, the Enron scandal, pedifile priests, Hurricane Katrina, our economic meltdown, Lady Gaga...I could go on forever...and it seems that in dark shadows of it all was the man I can only hope history will conclude as being the worst U.S. president in history, GEORGE W. BUSH! Damn, no wonder Time magazine called the 00's the "worst decade ever"! They were right!

So, for the benefit of those of you who haven't spent too much of their cinematic viewing time on documentaries, Michael Moore takes a very critical look at the presidency of George W. Bush, the War on Terror, and its coverage in the news media. Moore contends that American corporate media were "cheerleaders" for the 2003 invasion of Iraq and didn't provide an accurate or objective analysis of the rationale for the war or the resulting casualties there. The film generated intense controversy, including some disputes over its accuracy. Moore responds by documenting his many sources. Still, even with all these sources and the proof he attempts to provide on film, his allogations ultimately come down to the simple fact of whether or not the viewer believes it all or not. Do I believe it ALL? Not likely. To believe EVERY word of it would be to likely believe that our lame govenment not only ignored the warnings of the impending attack on U.S. soil, but also had a hand in ALLOWING it to happen, as well. For me, to accept that sort of horror would just be too, well, unacceptable. The rest of it, though, I can totally accept. Govenment, in my opinion, has always been rotten to the bone. Under Bush's command, though, the traditional brand of vile corruption just seem to take on a whole new incomprehensible horror.

Now as much as I despise George W. Bush, would you believe that there was a very brief period of time when I absolutely loved the man? I'm not kidding! In the weeks following 9-11, I had convinced myself that in the spirit of Ronald Reagan, Bush was going to kick the living shit out of our enemies who had attacked us. And when he showed up at Yankee Stadium to throw out the first pitch at one of the games during the World Series, that did it for me! I thought to myself, "This is it! This is going to be one of the greatest presidents of all time!" Instead of that, we decided to go to war with the wrong enemy - a people who had never attacked the United States before, nor had they ever threatened to attack the United States before.

Michael Moore is not a filmmaker that I would say I'm willing to cling to every word and allogation that comes out of his mouth. His look at the Bush administration and the powers that tore our country to Hell serve, if nothing more, than a tool to inflame your rage and hatred for a presidnet you may or may not have already come to hate. For myself, after I saw FAHRENHEIT 9/11 during the Summer of 2004, I was actually deluded enough to think that the film was powerful enough to possibly swing the coming November 2004 elections toward the Democratic party. Geez, look how wrong I was! EIGHT LONG YEARS WITH GEORGE W. BUSH!!! Uughh!!!

Well, that's all over now. We made history by electing our first African-American president, we finally killed Osama Bin Laden, and most importantly, we may have finally figured out that the first African-American (and Democrat) president is as capable of being just as good, bad, intelligent, clueless, effective or useless as any other U.S. president we've had in our history.

Favorite line or dialogue: (being that today is Veteran's Day, I can think of nothing more appropriate from the film)

Michael Moore narrating: "I've always been amazed that the very people forced to live in the worst parts of town, go to the worst schools, and who have it the hardest are always the first to step up, to defend that very system. They serve so that we don't have to. They offer to give up their lives so that we can be free. It is remarkably their gift to us. And all they ask for in return is that we never send them into harm's way unless it's absolutely necessary. Will they ever trust us again?"

"Keep on rockin' in the free world!" (Neil Young, 1989)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

FABULOUS BAKER BOYS, THE


(October 1989, U.S.)

THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS is a rather quiet, simple movie released by 20th Century Fox. There's no special effects, no 3D, no super heroes, and no roman numeral number attached to the title. In other words, it's a film that would NEVER be released today under Fox's main studio...under Fox Searchlight, perhaps. It's main appeal at the time of its release was the opportunity to see real life brothers Jeff and Beau Bridges star together as on-screen brothers. That prospect is very alluring to someone (like me) who'd like to watch two performers who can actually act. And speaking frankly, Michelle Pheiffer never looked hotter in her entire career!

Jack (Jeff) and Frank (Beau), are brothers making a living playing piano in lounges and music bars, their gimmick being that they play intricate jazz-and pop-flavored duets on matching grand pianos. Professionally and personally, Jack's life is a series of empty one-night stands. Now and again, he plays the challenging music he really cares about at a local jazz club, but it's become pretty clear that his life has become a mundane routine that has sickened him deep inside. Frank also shows signs of having just as much contempt for what they do together, as well, but clings to the fact that what he does pays the bills and supports him family, which in itself is enough for him to live the life he does.

So, for 31 years, its just been the Baker boys and things have moved along the same course without change...until they hire the beautiful but eccentric Susie Diamond (Pfeiffer), a former escort with unusual charisma, a sultry singing voice, and emotional baggage she keeps well hidden most of the time. After a rocky start, the new act becomes unexpectedly successful, leading to bigger gigs and better money, but Frank is worried that Jack will ruin it by letting his dick to the talking with Susie, having noticed the growing attraction between the two, and being all too well aware of his little brother's effect on women. He's not wrong about them having sex (twice), nor about that action eventually tearing the act apart. In the end, their professional relationship is over, but the brothers finally let each other know how much they care about each other, now that they don't have to work together. It seems that their connection is unbreakable, no matter what happens.

As mentioned above, THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS is a quiet film, but also one of the moodiest films I've ever watched. Jack's cynicism and coldness to the world and events around him is hard to ignore, and frankly, sometimes reminds me of how I can feel sometimes about the world around ME. The cynicism I often feel in life leaves me walking away from this film with two inescapable conclusions. The first is that many of us spend our lives functioning through a daily, mundane existence that creates a deep, sickening hole in our system. That existence is usually classified as our job or career. The second is that regardless of any unconditional love, their is often no one in this world who is capable of pissing you off more than your own brother.

Is all that cynical enough for you?

Favorite line or dialogue:

Jack Baker: "Listen to me, princess. We fucked twice. That's it. Once the sweat dries, you still don't know shit about me! Got it?"