Monday, January 31, 2011
(December 1938, U.S.)
Timing and the alphabet's structure are interesting factors, aren't they? Sure, it would have been much nicer if I could have posted the next three Christmas movie titles back when it actually WAS Christmas, right? Well, I'm just going to have to ask you all to take your imagination, heart and spirit back about five weeks.
Charles Dickens' immortal Christmas tale of A CHRISTMAS CAROL has been adapted as a motion picture so many times, I can't even count them anymore. It seems its beloved characters have been portrayed by everyone from Alastair Sim, to Henry Winkler, to George C. Scott, to Bill Murray, to Patrick Stewart, to Jim Carrey, to Mickey Mouse, to Bugs Bunny, to the Muppets, for crying out loud. With so many versions out there and also taking into consideration what little tolerrance I have for constant recycled movie material, I took it upon myself to painstakingly choose ONE version that I could call my favorite and potentially live with the rest of my life. I'm happy to say that I chose the 1938 American version with Reginald Owen as Ebenezer Scrooge. In this film version, some of the grimmer aspects of the story go completely unmentioned or unseen, in order to make this more of a "family film" in the style of other MGM literary adaptations of the time. Although Jacob Marley's Ghost does appear, the phantoms wailing outside Scrooge's window are not shown. Scrooge's fiancee, who eventually leaves him because of his miserly ways, is completely dropped from film version, as are the two starving children "Want" and "Ignorance", who hide within the folds of the Ghost-of-Christmas-Present's robe. Also gone are the thieves who ransack Scrooge's belongings after he "dies" in the Ghost of Christmas-Yet-to-Come segment. While actor Gene Lockhart's performance as Bob Cratchit is greatly admired, he's often been criticized for looking too "well-fed" for the role of Bob Cratchit. Maybe that't true, but who can resist that boyish-looking smile on his face?
I first saw this version on television in the 1980s on WNEW-TV Channel 5 on Chirstmas Eve (of course!). I've been hooked on it ever since and no other version seems to have the same enjoyment for my tastes, the strongest reason being that it has always felt like a film that should been in black and white only; something to watch in the dark when the snow is (hopefully) falling outside in the night (what else would a Jewish person being doing on Christmas Eve?).
Ebenezer Scrooge: "Fred! My dear nephew! How are you?"
Fred: "Well, who is this?"
Scrooge: "It's me! Your uncle Scrooge! Smile makes a difference, doesn't it?"
Friday, January 28, 2011
(June 1974, U.S.)
In the Summer of 1990, I made one of the worst movie mistakes I am ever likely to make in my entire life - I went to see THE TWO JAKES (the sequel) without ever having seen CHINATOWN first (shame on me!)! Thing of it was, though, I had seen BATMAN three times during the previous year, so I was ready, willing and eager to see anything that Jack Nicholson would do next. A noble gesture, to be sure, but the outcome was more than predictable in that I had no idea what the fuck was going on with the film. You simply can't appreciate "B" if you haven't experienced "A" yet.
Thankfully, I learned my lesson. Not only have I not made that mistake again, but I have experienced CHINATOWN as not only a great American neo-noir film, but one of my top ten favorite films of the 1970s. Jack Nicholson as 1937 Los Angeles private investigator J.J. "Jake" Gittes plays the part with great homage that would do the likes of Humphrey Bogart and Robert Mitchum very proud. But this is also a 1970's release, so his character (as well as the entire structure of the film) has that harder edge and energy that would seem appropriate of the time. The case he's hired to investigate starts out presumably as a simple matter of mere maritial infidelity, but eventually turns more complex as he uncovers murder, governmental corruption in the Department of Power & Water and even a case of incest. Of course, a film noir story such as this would not be completely justified if the detective did not inevitably fall for the femme fatale (played by Faye Dunaway). He does, but like many cases as this, the love they share is ultimately doomed, probably right from the start. We not only learn that Mrs. Mulwray was molested by her father, the most powerful man in Los Angeles, but also conceived a child as a result. The child in question actually turns out to be the heaviest secret revealed on top of all else that we learn along the way. As with many other noir detective stories before it, the femme fatale pays the price in the end. In this case, Mrs. Mulwray is shot in the back of the head while trying to escape with her daughter/sister. Look quickly for the large bullet hole that has blown her entire eye away. Chilling!
CHINATOWN was the last film that director Roman Polanski made before fleeing the United States in 1977 so as not to face the legal consequences of being accused of unlawful sex with a minor. Whether he deserves to suffer now, more than 30 years later, is a matter of public opinion. But one cannot deny the legacy of some great films he's given us (so far).
Favorite line or dialogue:
Jake Gittes: "Okay, go home. But in case you're interested, your husband was murdered. Somebody's been dumping thousands of tons of water from the city's reservoirs and we're supposed to be in the middle of a drought. He found out about it and he was killed. There's a water-logged drunk in the morgue. Involuntary manslaughter, if anybody wants to take the trouble, which they don't. It seems like half the city is trying to cover it all up, which is fine by me. But Mrs. Mulwray, I goddamn near lost my nose, and I like it! I like breathing through it! And I still think that you're hiding something."
Thursday, January 27, 2011
(March 1979, U.S.)
Initially, I had no interest in seeing THE CHINA SYNDROME when it was released. But one day I found myself in a movie theater at age 12 sitting through a second run double feature of this film and AND JUSTICE FOR ALL (the movie I really wanted to see!). Thank goodness for unexpected pleasant surprises because the film is an excellent thriller that deals with the truth behind a news reporter (played by Jane Fonda), a cameraman (played by Michael Douglas) and a nuclear power plant supervisor (played by Jack Lemmon) who discover safety coverups at the plant after unexpectedly witnessing (and filming) an accident in progress during a routine tour of the facilities. As expected, in a story like this, the news team are the good guys on the side of truth and righteousness and the men in suits that run the billion-dollar establishment behind nuclear power are the bad guys.
Thinking of this film over 30 years after its release inspires not so much thought in the film itself but a different set of considerations altogether; in this century of global terrorism and a bad economy, do we even worry about nuclear power and potential consequences of radiation anymore? Has the world even experienced a nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986? When's the last time you saw a "No Nukes" rally covered on television? But what really sits on my brian more than the film itself is the frightening manner in which life imitated art in this instance. For those who are unaware, twelve days after THE CHINA SYNDROME was released in 1979, there was a nuclear accident at the Three Mile Island Plant in Pennsylvania. There's actually a line in the film spoken by a physicist who says that the China Syndrome would render "an area the size of Pennsylvania" permanently uninhabitable". Scary thought, isn't it? While some credit the accident's timing with helping to sell box office tickets, Columbia Pictures attempted to avoid appearing as if it were exploiting the accident, including pulling the film from some theaters. A movie studio that cared - go figure!
By the way, the title THE CHINA SYNDROME refers to the concept that, if an American nuclear plant melts down, the core will melt through the Earth until it reaches China. China is really a metaphor because the opposite side of the globe from the United States is actually the Indian Ocean.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Greg Minor: "I may be wrong, but I'd say you're lucky to be alive. For that matter, I think we might say the same for the rest of Southern California."
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
(April 1997, U.S.)
Sometimes it's the simplest of love stories that can capture your attention. The concept of the president of the United States finding a girlfriend in THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT (1995) did just that. The concept of a relationship between a young heterosexual man and a pretty young lesbian seeks to introduce something just a little different in the grand scheme of movie love stories. It does, Kevin Smith style, complete with Jay & Silent Bob (you gotta love those guys!) and some of the funniest dialogue I've ever enjoyed on screen.
I've mentioned before in other posts that it's great dialogue that makes me laugh a lot more than slapstick or idiocy. I'm a sucker for great dialogue, funny or serious! CHASING AMY contains some of the most frank sexual dialogue I've ever heard outside of a porn film, but not to the level of just being mindless or without intent to the story. It's primarily all dialogue that drives the different relationships going on here. Not just the one between straight guy Holden McNeil (played by Ben Affleck) and cute lesbian Alyssa Jones (played by Joey Lauren Adams), but also between Holden and his best friend/roomate/comic book business partner/incredibly threatened-by-Alyssa's-presence Banky Edwards (played hilariously by Jason Lee). Despite Banky's contempt for Alyssa and the wedge she puts in his friendship with Holden, there's an undenyably-hilarious scene where the two of them (Banky and Alyssa) are laughing in hysterics with each other as they play off an homage to the scar-comparing sequence in JAWS (1975). The only difference here is that both of them are comparing scars and injuries they received while eating pussy, of all things. Ah, sometimes sexual frankness is a wonderful thing!
CHASING AMY is perhaps the only film I will ever give an actor like Ben Affleck full credit for. With the exception of his cameo appearance in BOILER ROOM (1999), his role as Holden is the only worthwhile piece of work I've ever seen him do to date. Jason Lee's wisecracking persona is just a pleasure to listen to. He's one of the most un-PC characters you're likely to hear outside of real life radio disc jockey, Howard Stern, but damn it, you laugh when you hear him talk and that's the whole point of any comedy, isn't it? Joey Lauren Adams plays her role well and her voice...well, what shall I compare it to? A sex kitten on helium? Yeah, that's it! Love it or hate it, her voice has the potention to hypnotize the viewer's ears. It does. Director Kevin Smith is, in my opion, a TWO hit wonder. The only other film of his that I love begins with a 'C' also and is coming real soon. Have you guessed it yet?
You know, sometimes I joke around with my wife, saying things like, "I wish I had a hot lesbian friend. That way I could enjoy coming onto another woman and have no chance in hell of cheating on you!". My wife just gives me that look. You know, that "look" that reaffirms what a lunatic husband she has.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Banky Edwards (drawing a picture): "Alright, now see this? This is a four-way road, okay? And dead in the center is a crisp, new, hundred dollar bill. Now, at the end of each of these streets are four people, okay? You following?"
Holden McNeil: "Yeah."
Banky: "Good. Over here, we have a male-affectionate, easy to get along with, non-political agenda lesbian. Down here, we have a man-hating, angry as fuck, agenda of rage, bitter dyke. Over here, we got Santa Claus, and up here the Easter Bunny. Which one is going to get to the hundred dollar bill first?"
Holden: " What is this supposed to prove?"
Banky: "No, I'm serious. This is a serious exercise. It's like an SAT question. Which one is going to get to the hundred dollar bill first? The male-friendly lesbian, the man-hating dyke, Santa Claus, or the Easter bunny?"
Holden: "The man-hating dyke."
Banky: "Good. Why?"
Holden: "I don't know."
Banky (shouting): "Because the other three are figments of your fucking imagination!"
Monday, January 24, 2011
(March 1981, U.S.)
For this post, I'm going to do something I haven't done before, nor am I likely to do again, and that is start off with my favorite line or dialogue:
Lord Andrew Lindsay: "Let us praise famous men and our fathers that begat us. All these men were honoured in their generations and were a glory in their days. We are here today to give thanks for the life of Harold Abrahams. To honour the legend. Now there are just two of us - young Aubrey Montague and myself - who can close our eyes and remember those few young men with hope in our hearts and wings on our heels..."
With those opening words, the camera disolves into that famous sequence of spirited young men running along the shoreline of the beach accompanied by Vangelis' world-famous score to CHARIOTS OF FIRE - a scene that not only made the film popular from the beginning, but inevitably became of source of film parody for years to come.
It seems as thought CHARIOTS OF FIRE was a part of my life for two years before I even saw the film on HBO in 1983. My family had the soundtrack record (that's right, I said RECORD!) and it was played over and over and over again to the point of violent night sweat! Naturally, because the rest of my family loved the music, I felt compelled to dislike it. That wouldn't last. Anyone who's heard that score or any other by Vangelis is likely to fall victim to his musical brilliance in a very short time. If CHARIOTS OF FIRE doesn't convince you, try listening to BLADE RUNNER (1982) instead.
But now let's talk about the film itself. It's a British sports film that tells the fact-based story of two athletes in the 1924 Olympics: Eric Liddell, a devout Scottish Christian who runs for the glory of God, and Harold Abrahams, an English Jew who runs to overcome prejudice. The sports element seems quick and repetitive, as there are several Olympic track events that take place and provoke the viewer into a cheering reaction more than once. The slow motion camera shots that occur at the point of victory only serve to help the spirit of the film and the personal spirit the film can lift in your own soul. Sounds cliche, yes, but this is what can happen when a film of this sort works so well. These men who race against each other are also filled with a strong sense of honor and pride, not only for themselves, but for country, king and God himself. These emotions are not only seeminly definitive of the time of 1924 Great Britian, but perhaps an example of what there is so little of in modern sports competition today.
One of the more interesting personal considerations about this film is that I truly believe that a major studio like Warner Brothers would never have the balls to back a motion picture like CHARIOTS OF FIRE today. It's a strong character-driven film with very little speed, despite being a sports film. It's a quiet, almost unassuming British film with young actors who were complete unknowns at the time. Today, an intelligent film of this quality would very likely only be released as an underground independent film. A very sad state of affairs for the modern film studio!
CHARIOTS OF FIRE won the Oscar for best picture of 1981. It practically came out of nowhere and shocked everyone by beating out such strong competitors as RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and REDS. And as it turns out, the film is thirty years old this coming March 2011. Happy Birthday!
Friday, January 21, 2011
(March 1980, U.S.)
For the sake of clarity, let me say that this is NOT the Clint Eastwood directed film with Angelina Jolie that came out in 2008. This is the 1980 horror film with George C. Scott. I would also start out by noting that the timing for this film was just about perfect because if you look it up, you'll see that 1980 was a quintessential year for horror movies, including titles like FRIDAY THE 13TH, THE FOG and Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece THE SHINING.
This is a hanunted house story that is supposedly based on true events (it seems like they ALL are!) and one that also operates on the purist, most basic elements of house hanting; loud banging, strong winds, doors opening and closing by themselves, chandeliers rattling and, of course, the inevitable seance to attempt communication with spirits that are not at rest. But I have to also add that George C. Scott adds an element of fear and terror in his facial language that can, at times, be even more frightening than the spooky stuff you're hearing and seeing in the film. The spirit at the heart of this haunting is just a small boy, but a small boy who died horribly by the hands of his own father at the house in question at the turn of the century. The interesting twist is how his body was buried in secret and a substitute boy (a CHANGELING) was put in his place to inherit a huge family fortune. Because when you're investigating the causes of a haunted house, you're bound to dig up some dirty family secrets of the past along the way, right? Getting back to the basic elements of house haunting for a moment, I've almost come to expect the haunted house in question to catch fire and burn to the ground at the end, and in the rubble there would remain a small sign that the haunting spirit is STILL not a rest. THE CHANGELING doesn't disappoint on the score, either.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Seance Medium: "How did you die, Joseph? Did you die in this house? Why do you remain?"
Thursday, January 20, 2011
(April 1949, U.S.)
One of the interesting consistencies about boxing films, or "fight pictures" of the golden age of cinema is that they almost all seem to tell the same tale. Our champion typically starts out as a down-and-out bum or even a criminal, by pure chance or fate finds out that he has a knack for boxing, slowly rises to the top, falls into the violent corruption of gamblers, promoters and the seductive women that go with them, somewhere they have a woman of purity who will love them no matter what, and the inevitable final championship fight that will either make or brake their futures, or their lives. One need only watch CHAMPION, BODY AND SOUL (1947) or SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME (1956) to see what I'm talking about.
Kirk Douglas as boxer Midge Kelly not only fights in the ring, but his own personal demons, as well. When he steps into the ring, he often carries a strong degree of hate with him for those who look down on him or seek to do him wrong. This hatred consistently earns him victory in the ring. The dark side, though, is the alienation he creates between himself and those who genuinely care about him; his brother, his manager and the woman he left behind. With all of its black and white imagery, there is a great wealth of pictorial interests and exciting action of a graphic sort. The scenes in training gymns, managers' offices and, of course, the big boxing rings are strongly atmospheric and physically intense. The fighting itself is more furious than one might credit for the times, almost a prelude to what we would see in ROCKY fights many years later. As the hero and "Champion," Kirk Douglas does a good, aggressive job, with a slight inclination to over-eagerness at times, which would likely amuse any boxing fan, past or present. His character has a solid strength out of the ring that also keeps him from being a complete victim of those who have made a career of manipulating him. Just watch the scene where he finally tells his blonde bombshell to finally get lost after she's banked on him long enough. You smile and you're tempted to yell, "You go, Kirk!" at the TV screen!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Tommy Haley: "This is the only sport in the world where two guys get paid for doing something they'd be arrested for if they got drunk and did it for nothing."
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
(December 2002, U.S.)
Coincidences are a funny thing, aren't they? Two Tom Hanks' films in a row, I mean (wow). It's also nice to be returning to a Steven Spielberg film; the first one since AMISTAD (1997). I feel like I've gone through Spielberg withdrawel lately (it happens!).
Spielberg himself has said in interviews that he doesn't consider himself a funny person. Perhaps he's not. I mean, I don't exactly laugh at the guy every time I see him on TV. Despite his best effort with 1941 (1979), CATCH ME IF YOU CAN actually proves to be the funnist film he's ever made. Some may argue that THE TERMINAL (2004) would justify that status, but I consider that to be one of Spielberg's few and far between film duds. In fact, I'll go even one step further to say that this film is not only funny, but is also one of the best "success stories" I've ever seen. I say "success" because as you watch young Frank Abagnale Jr. (played wonderfully by Leo DeCaprio) begin his crafty con jobs at the tender age of 16 and progress both in his crimes and his lifestyle, you can't help but cheer him on and feel a large degree of happiness when you see how his life turned out in the end.
You've heard the expression (paraphrashing), "It's so unbelievable, it has to be true.", right? This is just all TOO unbelievable. Imagine a kid who manages to deceive all those around him into thinking he's a high school substitute teacher, an airline pilot for Pan American World Airways, a secret service man, a Georgia doctor and a Louisiana prosecutor. Imagine a kid with the underhanded skills and technicques to be able to create and forge checks all over the world. Imagine a kid who can con a high-priced hotel hooker into giving HIM cash (that's my favorite one!). Finally, imagine a kid who becomes so skillful that the FBI eventually turns to him for help in catching other check forgers. Imagine all of this before he reaches his 19th birthday! Only in America, my friends!
Like some other Spielberg film projects, the themes of a broken home and a troubled childhood are heavily present here (Spielberg's parents divorced when he was a teenager, similar to Frank Abagnale's situation). More than anything else, as I mentioned before, Spielberg creates a film that sympathizes with a con-artist and a crook. Abagnale is a 21st Century genius working within the innocence of the mid 1960s, when people were a lot more trusting than they are today. In terms of casting, Tom Hanks as relentlless FBI agent Carl Hanratty is about as dry and lifeless as DRAGNET's Captain Joe Friday. But that's the whole point of his character and Hanks pulls it off perfectly. Christopher Walken as Frank's father is more-or-less exactly what you'd expect just about ANY Christopher Walken character to be; quirky and just a little bizarre
Favorite line or dialogue:
Agent Amdursky: "Mind if I ask you a question, Agent Hanratty? How come you're so serious all the time?"
Carl Hanratty: "Does it bother your, Mr. Amdursky?"
Amdursky: "Yeah. Yeah, it does bother me."
Hanratty: "Does it bother you, Mr. Fox?"
Agent Fox: "A little, I guess."
hanratty: "Well, would you like to hear me tell a joke?"
Amdursky: "Yeah. Yeah, we'd love to hear a joke from you."
Hanratty: "Knock knock."
Amdursky: "Who's there?"
Hanratty: "Go fuck yourselves."
Friday, January 14, 2011
(December 2000, U.S.)
I knew I was going to love CAST AWAY from the moment I saw the first trailer for it. After the hit that was FORREST GUMP (1994), how could I resist the teaming up of Tom Hanks and director Robert Zemeckis once again? I couldn't and I wasn't disappointed in the least.
The timing of this film's r release is interesting. Keeping in mind that it was developed and filmed first, it coincided with the 21st Century's first hit reality TV series, SURVIVOR, and it was highly noted by many others besides myself. The difference, of course, is that SURVIVOR is shit (ALL reality TV is!!!) and CAST AWAY presents one of the greatest challenges any actor may face; the challenge of acting against one's self. Tom Hanks as Chuck Noland is washed up on a deserted island after being the only survivor of a horrible Federal Express plane crash in the ocean. Unlike TV's LOST (a show I loved, by the way!), there are no "Others" or black smoke monsters to haunt him. There aren't even any animals. He is totally alone and must accept his life in complete isolation. Unless of course you want to count befriending and conversing with a volleyball any sort of significant relationship.
Now let's talk about the volleyball he calls "Wilson" for a moment. The first impression of his ongoing repore with this thing may be considered one of idiocy or comic relief to the film. But take a moment to consider Chuck's situation on this island and you'll come to understand how it makes absolute sense for him to develop more than just a slight case of madness. This madness completely justifies his need to address something, anything, with a little dialogue. So a volleyball with a face painted out of his own blood makes about as much valid sense as anything else might on the island. It's a fairly serious relationship when you thing about it and it's almost a shame that the entire idea from the film became a subject of inevitable comic parody.
The very last scene of the film is another worth noting in this post. Having finally survived and been rescued from the island, Chuck has now returned to the world and the reality of having lost the woman he loved before the plane crash (played by Helen Hunt). By the film's end, he's traveling alone through Texas and eventually comes to a quiet road that can take either of four directions. The symbolic relevance is more than very clear. The man's journey has come to an end, but now a new one must begin. Which road and which direction will he take? We'll never know. We shouldn't know. There are questions in film that make more sense when they're not answered.
CAST AWAY, in my opinion, was one of the ten best films of the last decade.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Chuck Noland (talking to Wilson): "We might just make it. Did that thought ever cross your brain? Well, regardless I would rather take my chance out there on the ocean, than to stay here and die on this shithole island spending the rest of my life talking to a god damn VOLLEYBALL!"
Thursday, January 13, 2011
(November 2006, U.S.)
Well, we've finally arrived to the first Bond (James Bond) film in my collection. It seems almost fitting that it should be the very first Bond novel that author Ian Flemming ever wrote way back when. The film is a reboot, establishing a new timeline and narrative framework not meant to precede or succeed any previous Bond film, allowing it also to show a less experienced and more vulnerable James Bond that fans have not experienced before. This is also a film of "firsts" - the first time the characters of Moneypenny and "Q" are not in a Bond film, the first time the character of Felix Lighter returns since LICENCE TO KILL (1989), the first time we see the 1964 Aston Martin since THUNDERBALL (1965), the first time there's no gadgets or incredibly stupid verbal punning, the first time Bond admits genuine love for any woman since ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE (1969) and the first time any Bond film is directly based on one of Flemming's original novels since the 1960s. It's all a wonderfully welcomed change to the franchise's formula considering how fucking awful the previous Bond film, DIE ANOTHER DAY (2002) was!
I can't say that I've ever actually read any of Flemming's original novels. When you've grown up with as many Bond films as I have, you have very little incentive to bother reading the books. So I can't honestly say what Flemming's original intent for James Bond was, but Daniel Craig's portrayal is about as close to that of a cold-hearted bastard as Bond will ever get...and it's fucking great! The action is a lot more raw and violent than it's ever been before, partly because none of it takes place as a typical car chase or some other sort of high-tech vehicle. This is a Bond who is on foot a lot, relentlessly determined to nail his enemy. When the action does finally slow down, it's replaced with the high-stakes poker tournament at the Casino Royale in Montenegro where millions of dollars and potentially people's lives are at stake. You see, if the Bond villian, Le Chiffre, wins the tournament, the money will be used to ultimately finance global terrorism (we can't have that, can we?). The poker game itself is an intense and steady one of "cat and mouse" tactics and has just the right wit and dialogue where you'd want it. As mentioned before, the bad "Bond" verbal punning is gone, but that doesn't stop the character from always knowing the right thing to say to the right person at the right time. That's just Bond. It's also perfectly fitting that at the very end of CASINO ROYALE, after we've just spent two and a half hourse away from every classic and cliche element that has ever filled up a Bond film, we get a very brief reminder of what is destined to always be a trademark tradition in these films, when Daniel Craig finally says, boldy and coldly, "The name's Bond... James Bond."
Interesting little story to go with this. Despite the fact that I loved CASINO ROYALE when I saw it back in 2006, it was after leaving this film that it suddenly occurred to me how much time, money and potential brain cells I was seriously wasting on sequels, remakes, franchise films or any other sort of Hollywood recycled material. It was then and there that I vowed to finally stop paying good ticket money on these types of movies. Now with the exception of three incidents of weakness where I felt compelled to experience that latest adventures of Indiana Jones, The Dark Knight and James Bond's own quantum of solace, I have remained relatively sequel and franchise-free (in movie theaters, anyway!). I sound like a recovering alcoholic, don't I?
Favorite line or dialogue:
James Bond: " Vodka-martini."
Bartender: "Shaken or stirred?"
Bond: "Do I look like I give a damn?"
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
(November 1995, U.S.)
You know what the worst part about CASINO is? It's that it's the last time the powerful chesmistry of Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro has graced the screen, and so far there are no indications of that magic repeating itself any time soon. It would seem that DeNiro has been replaced lately be DeCaprio (is that some sort of last name prefix coincidence or am I crazy?).
Now that I've vented that minor frustration, let's talk about what a great crime drama CASINO is! It's Las Vegas in the 1970s and the time seems just right for total gangster control of the casinos, the city and the politicians that are supposedly running the show. DeNiro as Sam Rothstein, a Jewish-American top gambling handicapper, is called on by the Mob to oversee the day-to-day operations at the fictional Tangiers casino. And who better to be his "partner in crime" than Joe Pesci (for the third time) as Nicky Santoro. Nicky is...well, to put it bluntly, a complete and total psychotic! As Sam narrates, Nicky is the type of guy who..."No matter how big a guy might be, Nicky would take him on. You beat Nicky with fists, he comes back with a bat. You beat him with a knife, he comes back with a gun. And if you beat him with a gun, you better kill him, because he'll keep comin' back and back until one of you is dead." Not convinced? Well, as Nicky warns his banker, "I think in all fairness, I should explain to you exactly what it is that I do. For instance tomorrow morning I'll get up nice and early, take a walk down over to the bank and... walk in and see and, uh....if you don't have my money for me, I'll crack your fuckin' head wide-open in front of everybody in the bank. And just about the time that I'm comin' out of jail, hopefully, you'll be coming out of your coma. And guess what? I'll split your fuckin' head open again. 'Cause I'm fuckin' stupid. I don't give a fuck about jail. That's my business. That's what I do." That pretty much sums him all up, doesn't it? On the other hand, Nicky is not a man completely without a soft spot when it comes to his "job". Just look closely at the scene where he enters an elerly woman's kitchen and puts a bullet into her head - he then takes her head very gently and positions it comfortably, as if to evoke an ounce of decency and sympathy for his victim and not cause her any further suffering in the wake of her bloody execution. I wonder what any half-witted shrink would say about that one?
CASINO is exactly the type of crime film you'd expect from the director of MEAN STREETS (1973) and GOODFELLAS (1995), complete with the wonderfully-cliche colorful mafia characters, their mafia fashion statements (who the fuck dresses Sam Rothstein in this film??), in-depth character narration, endless profanity (when released, CASINO had the most uses of the word "fuck" (422 times!) in a feature length film. And I thought BLUE VELVET had pushed the limit on that one!), background rock music and yes, even Scorsese's own mother making her traditional cameo appearance. But let's focus on the narration and the music for a moment. The narration, as one would expect, does more than further tell the story. It takes you deep inside the world we're being shown and makes you a real part of it. You not only fully aware of what's happening, but there's no question as to what the players are feeling, even if they're mostly feelings of hate and violence. Some so-called screenplay experts have stated that narration in any film is a sure sign for script failure. Failure?? If I had the time, I could list countless great films that feature extensive narration, CASINO and GOODFELLES just being two of them. Now there's also the music. Scorsese's use of rock music is not just simple background scrore, but it takes on a character of it's own. The songs seems to come at just the right moment of action and before you know it, the Rolling Stones "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" and the Animal's "House of the Rising Sun" are taking you deeper into a film you've already fell pretty deep into. And hey, where else can you hear not one, but TWO songs by Devo in one film (okay, that's actually NOT a good thing!)?
By the way, I should also point out that Sharon Stone doesn't disappoint in a character of highly sexual energy (she acts well, too). Keeps a hot-blooded man's fantasies alive and well...at least up until the point where her character has become nothing more than an irrational, fucked-up coke addict.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Sam Rothstein (voice-over): "In Vegas, everybody's gotta watch everybody else. Since the players are looking to beat the casino, the dealers are watching the players. The box men are watching the dealers. The floor men are watching the box men. The pit bosses are watching the floor men. The shift bosses are watching the pit bosses. The casino manager is watching the shift bosses. I'm watching the casino manager. And the eye-in-the-sky is watching us all."
Monday, January 10, 2011
(October 1976, U.S.)
If you grew up in during the 1980s, then it's quite possible you'd have heard of Italian/Greek director George P. Cosmatos. He directed the popular Sylvester Stallone action vehicles RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD-PART II and COBRA; popular, but very forgettable, in my opinion.
When THE CASSANDRA CROSSING was released in 1977, it's unfortunate that it was marketed during a time of the 1970's disaster genre. It features the cliche all-star cast that includes Richard Harris, Sophia Loren, Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, Lee Strasberg, Martin Sheen and even O.J. Simpson who will all typically be involved in some sort of journey that will inevitably be doomed by disaster. As mentioned, this marketing is unfortunate because it's the promise of a disaster film, which the studio, no doubt, hoped would help the film is what probably hurt the film more than anything else. THE CASSANDRA CROSSING is NOT a disaster film, but rather a well-executed thriller about a plague-infected escaping terrorist who infects the passengers aboard a European transcontinental train bound from Geneva to Stockholm. The passengers, including a world-renown doctor (played by Harris) become aware of their predicament when they’re re-directed to Nuremberg by a colonel of the World Health Organization (played by Lancaster). The train is sealed with an enclosed oxygen system and a U.S. Army medical team is placed aboard to make sure the infected passengers do not try to escape the train (why is it these guys always look so damn frightening in their white protective uniforms and their oxygen masks?? I guess that's the whole point, right?). The disaster element is that they are deliberately being re-directed over the Cassandra Crossing, an old, very unstable bridge that will very likely not support the weight of the train and collapse, killing all aboard. The passengers retaliate against their armed guards and manage to seize the back half of the train before reaching the bridge and detach it, hoping that with less weight, the front half will cross safely. The train reaches the bridge and it DOES collapse (the innocent are NOT saved!). The back half has applied the brakes and stops just prior to reaching the downed bridge, saving those involved. The interesting element of irony here is that those infected with the disease are the ones who end up saved from the train disaster.
As I said, despite the plot factor of the collapsing bridge, THE CASSANDRA CROSSING is a riveting thriller released at the wrong time under the wrong presumptions. I would consider it the director's best film and an easy prelude to other "plague" thrillers like OUTBREAK (1995) or even the Stephen King TV mini-series, THE STAND (1994).
Favorite line or dialogue:
Col. Stephen Mackenzie: " Good God woman! Do you think I would personally send a thousand people to their deaths?"
Dr. Elena Stradler: "No. No. But I think you'd simply let them be killed. And that's almost worse."
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
(November 1942, U.S.)
This is it! The one...the only...the legendary CASABLANCA! The greatest black and white classic film ever made! That's just my opinion, of course, but it's MY blog so it's MY opinion that counts around here!
So what can I begin to say about a film that has embedded itself in cinema history for nearly seventy years? What can I begin to say about a film that has been honored, quoted and even parodied by everyone from Woody Allen, to Bugs Bunny, to a NAKED GUN sequel? What can I say, indeed?
Well, let me begin by simply saying one legendary name to you...Humphrey Bogart at his coolest, most intense and even his most romantic role. It's right there in nearly every shot, every angle of him and just about everything he says. Just take a look at any shot of him taking a smooth drag from his cigarette as he observes life around him at his popular nightclub. As you might expect from him, Bogart is more at ease as the bitter and cynical operator of a joint than as a lover, but he manages to handle s both character assignments with superb finesse. That having been said, let me now say the name of Ingrid Bergman to you. Is there anyone else who could have possibly performed opposite "Bogey" in a role such as hers? Is there anyone else whom we could picture as the recipiant of the great, romantic line, "Here's looking at you, kid."
CASABLANCA is a film that simply makes the spine tingle and the heart take a leap. It's a film that combines sentiment, humor, melodrama, the intrigue of war, rebelious propoganda, intense moods, action, suspense and sacrifice. That's a lot of load for one film to carry, but hey, we're talking about CASABLANCA! In consideration of its filming and cinematography, there are many (too many!) points that I could reference, but one that constantly sticks out in my mind is at the end of the film when Rick (Bogart) has just made his ultimate sacrifice of saying goodbye to the love of his life, Ilsa (Bergman). As he and Louis Renault watch the escape plane take off in the fog, there is a look of sad regret on Rick's face that can easily provoke the viewer into asking themselves, "Why the hell did he ever let her go?" Maybe it's like that old song by Sting, "If you love someone, set them free." Maybe.
On a more personal note, let me tell you that it seems throughout my life I have been surrounded by the influence of classic films. As a kid, even if I hadn't actually seen the film in its entirety, I somehow still aware that King Kong climbed to the top of the Empire State Building and was shot down, that a blonde woman was slashed to death while taking a shower at an isolated motel and that CASABLANCA would always be on television more than once a year. As WPIX Channel 11 used to say, "We're playing it again." I'd also like to tell you that when I was younger and just starting to date a new girl, I would often insist that she watch CASABLANCA with me to see if she was the type who could appreciate good, classic cinema. If she couldn't...well, you knows if I wanted to continue dating her...unless, of course, I was getting laid (hey, I'm a GUY, for Christ sakes!). My wife, when I met her in 1998, was no exception to this rule of dating. Thank goodness for both of us that passed my CASABLANCA test! Finally, I'd like to tell you about the time I was talking films with this young college man a few years ago. When the discussion eventually turned to CASABLANCA, he told me he'd never heard of the film (???). Right then and there, I felt like I wanted to take hostages! I couldn't believe the young man's ignorance! What? The film is "before his time" and he shouldn't be expected to know of it? That's bullshit, people! Mozart, Elvis Presley and silent films are before MY time, but that hasn't stopped me from knowing a thing or two about them. I swear...KIDS!!!
Hey, did you know that if you look up the American Film Institute's (AFI) list of 100 greatest memorable film quotes, you'll see that CASABLANCA takes up the most selections with SIX of it's quotes? It's true! They are, for the record:
No. #5 - "Here's looking at you, kid."
No. #20 - "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
No. #28 - "Play it, Sam. Play 'As Time Goes By.'"
No. #32 - "Round up the usual suspects."
No. #43 - "We'll always have Paris."
No. #67 - "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine."
That's quite a legacy, isn't it?
Favorite line or dialogue:
Signor Ugarte: "You despise me, don't you?"
Rick Blaine: "Well, if I gave you any thought, I probably would."
Ugarte: "But why? Oh, you object to the kind of business I do, huh? But think of all those poor refugees who must rot in this place if I didn't help them. Well, that's not so bad. Through ways of my own I provide them with exit visas."
Rick: "For a price, Ugarte. For a price."
Ugarte: "But think of all the poor devils who can't meet Renault's price. Well, I get it for them for half. Is that so parasitic?"
Rick: "I don't mind a parasite. I object to a cut-rate one."
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
(November 1976, U.S.)
If you know Steven Spielberg's JAWS (1975) well enough, then you know that we don't get to see the shark for about the first hour of the film. Brian DePalma's CARRIE is the same in the fact that for the first 70 minutes of the film, nothing really terrifying happens, despite the fact that the film is labeled as a horror movie. In fact, I would actually consider much of what happens in Carrie White's home life and life at Bates High School rather comical. To take it even a step further, if I were one of the individuals who had written THE BREAKFAST CLUB (1985) or MEAN GIRLS (2004), I might have gotten much of my inspiration from CARRIE.
For those who don't know, CARRIE was the first published novel from Stephen King and it actually had to be rescued from the trash by his wife before it ever saw the light of the publishing world (thank goodness for trash-retrieving wives!). Carrie White (played unforgettably by Sissy Spacek) is a socially outcast teenage girl who discovers she possesses telekinetic powers which seems to flare up when she becomes angry or otherwise distressed. Carrie's powers become apparent after her humiliation by her peers, teachers, and religiously-abusive mother (played frighteningly by Piper Laurie), eventually resulting in horrible tragedy. Tragedy is the key word here because outwardly it appears as if Carrie's poor, unfortunate soul will be saved as she is very briefly accepted by her peers and even crowned queen of the senior prom. But we, as the audience, are already previously let in on the gag that she will, once again, fall victim to an incredibly sick joke in the form of a bucket of pig's blood. DePalma uses the art of a very long slow motion sequence leading up to the tragic (there's that word again) moment when the rope will be pulled and the blood will spill. It's ironic to think that during that sequence, student Sue Snell (played by Amy Irving) is the only one racing against time to try and stop this from happening and ends up getting thrown out of the high school gym. As a result of that, she's the only one who survives the raging inferno that kills everyone in the senior class. I defy anyone not to feel just a little freaked out while staring at Carrie's wide-eyed, almost catatonic expression as she unleashes her vengeful wrath on those who have used her and abused her for the last time.
As previously mentioned, CARRIE is (technically) a horror film. But it's also easy to view the film as scary-funny or as a teasing and terrifying, even lyrical shocker. Whatever CARRIE may be viewed as, it's left enough of a long-lasting impression on those who appreciate well made scary movies. The unfortunate side of its popularity is that it's spawned some really, really bad follow-ups in the form of a notorious 1988 Broadway musical (???), a bad 1999 sequel and a forgetable 2002 television remake.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Margaret White: " I should've killed myself when he put it in me. After the first time, before we were married, Ralph promised never again. He promised, and I believed him. But sin never dies. Sin never dies. At first, it was all right. We lived sinlessly. We slept in the same bed, but we never did it. And then, that night, I saw him looking down at me that way. We got down on our knees to pray for strength. I smelled the whiskey on his breath. Then he took me. He took me, with the stink of filthy roadhouse whiskey on his breath, and I liked it. I liked it! With all that dirty touching of his hands all over me. I should've given you to God when you were born, but I was weak and backsliding, and now the devil has come home. We'll pray."
Carrie White: "Yes."
Margaret: "We'll pray. We'll pray. We'll pray for the last time. We'll pray."
Monday, January 3, 2011
(November 1993, U.S.)
Ladies and gentlemen, we now return you to my favorite actor of all time, Al Pacino. Wait, even better, we now return you to Al Pacino paired up again with director Brian DePalma! These are the two same sons-of-bitches who gave us the 1983 version of SCARFACE, probably the best damn remake ever made in the history of movies! A crime/gangster film such as CARLITO'S WAY with these two men at the helm naturally had me at the theater ticket booth as soon as it opened. I should also point out that this was Sean Penn's first return to film after he swore he would only spend his life as a director (I suppose when you've spent any amount of time being married to Madonna, you're bound to dish out some bullshit once in a while).
Loving Pacino the way I do gives a guy like me a certain flexibility with the films he makes. They're not all great, mind you. Some of them suck (S1MONE). Some of them are total disasters that not even his great talent can rescue (DICK TRACY). My point is that while CARLITO'S WAY is a great film, there are frustrations I find myself enduring when watching its central character, Carlito Brigante. As he struggles to escape his past criminal activities and go straight after spending five years in prison, it seems as if his mind and his actions are always in conflict with each other. On the surface, and with the help of Pacino's narration, it would appear as if Carlito Brigante is a sharp, quick-thinker who is always considering the angles and attempting to stay ahead of the other guy in order to survive and achieve his financial goal so he can escape to paradise with the woman he loves, Gail (played by Penelope Ann Miller). On the other hand, though, it seems that he's constantly making bad (even stupid) decisions despite his street smarts. Why does he keep his precious money in an ordinary nightclub office safe where nearly anyone who works there can get at it? Why does he constantly put himself at risk at the behest of his lawyer friend, Dave Kleinfeld (played brilliantly by Sean Penn), when he knows that he's becoming more and more like the gangsters he represents? Why does he trust his right-hand man at the club, Pachanga (played by Luis Guzman) with his secret getaway plan and with the life of his girlfriend when he's been previously warned that Pachanga may be spying on him for a rival gangster? It's this carelessness and inexplicable naivete that ultimately gets him shot and killed in the end at Grand Central Station. It's a shame, too, because throughout the entire film, you really want Carlito to succeed and escape his enemies.
Incidentally, if you're familiar with Brian DePalma and his films, then you will remember THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987) and the train station sequence very well. DePalma must have a thing for train station shootouts because we are treated to another one at the end of CARLITO'S WAY. And by the way, the next post on my blog will also be a Brian DePalma film. Judging by the alphabet, can you guess what it is?
Favorite line or dialogue:
Benny Blanco: "I don't know, but there may be some mis-fuckin'-understanding, I don't know man, but maybe you don't remember me, my name is Benny..."
Carlito Brigante: "Maybe I don't give a shit! Maybe I don't remember the last time I blew my nose either! Who the fuck are you? I should remember you? What, you think you like me? You ain't like me motherfucker, you a punk! I've been with made people, connected people! Who've you been with? Chain snatching, jive-ass, maricon motherfuckers! Why don't you get out of here and go snatch a purse!"