Sunday, February 27, 2011
(August 2004, U.S.)
Do you know what Harrison Ford, Kevin Costner and Tom Cruise have in common? The three of them have consistently played the nice guy, the good guy or the hero that you cheer for. However, they've all at one time gone against the grain and played the vicious bad guy that somehow you still can't help but like anyway. Ford had his WHAT LIES BENEATH (2000), Costner had his MR. BROOKS (2007) and Cruise had his COLLATERAL.
You may remember that I've previously stated that I have this shameful irresistable weakness for most of Tom Cruise's film. I have to confess that watching him play a fast-talking vicious killer just sends me over the top. I mean, fuck it - the guy is good at playing the role! Vincent (played by Cruise) hails Max's (played by Jamie Foxx) taxi cab, explaining that he's in town for one night to close a real estate deal and bribes Max with seven hundred dollars on the pretense of chauffeuring him to his five appointments. As Max waits at the first stop, Vincent enters an apartment complex and shoots a drug dealer who ends up falling out of the window directly onto the cab, forcing Vincent to reveal himself as a professional hitman. He coerces Max to hide the body in the trunk and continue with their arrangement. Thus, their night together begins and one by one, the bodies start to pile up. What's strange is that you don't seem to feel one ounce of pity for any of the victims. In fact, when Vincent unexpectedly shoots two Los Angeles punks in order to get his valuable briefcase back, you actually feel great watching two muggers get it in the end, Charles Bronson "Death Wish" style (I do, anyway!). By the end, though, when we find out that the final hit is a young attractive, female U.S. Justice Department prosecutor, you switch over into classic cliche mode and you want the hero cab driver to save the girl and see the killer beaten. That all happens and dawn slowly creeps in on the city as a new day begins and we all live happily ever after.
This is a Michael Mann film, by the way, and if you've seen some of his other films like THIEF (1981), MANHUNTER (1986) and HEAT (1995) then you know how the director can not only capture the raw intensity of his protaganist characters, but also of the city they live in itself. James Caan, William Peterson, Al Pacino, Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx - all great actors who can call themselves just a little bit greater under Mann's direction.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Vincent: "Max, six billion people on the planet, you're getting bent out of shape cause of one fat guy."
Max: "Well, who was he?"
Vincent: "What do you care? Have you ever heard of Rwanda?"
Max: "Yes, I know Rwanda."
Vincent: "Well, tens of thousands killed before sundown. Nobody's killed people that fast since Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Did you bat an eye, Max?"
Vincent: "Did you join Amnesty International, Oxfam, Save the Whales, Greenpeace, or something? No. I off one fat Angelino and you throw a hissy fit!"
Thursday, February 24, 2011
(June 1985, U.S.)
I suppose you have to appreciate three things in order to really take COCOON to heart. First, you have to love Ron Howard's films. Second, you have to appreciate the natural cinematic beauty of St. Petersburg, Florida where the film was made. Third, you have to get a real kick out of watching a bunch of old people act like a bunch of young people. If you can do all that, then COCOON can stand out as a slightly more original science fiction film than others before it.
We've all heard the myth of the Fountain of Youth, right? Well, COCOON puts the concept in the hands of outer space aliens and an unused swimming pool. You see, about 10,000 years ago a group of peaceful alien lifeforms from the planet Antarea formed an outpost on the planet Earth, on an island known to mankind as the mythical civilization of Atlantis; according to legend, Atlantis sank as the result of an earthquake. Members of the group remained behind in cocoons, to ensure that the rest had sufficient lifeforce to return to their home planet. Eventually a group of four Antareans returns to pick them up. Following me so far? So after disguising themselves as humans they rent a house with a swimming pool, which they charge with the lifeforce, to give the cocooned Antareans enough energy to survive the trip home. Then they rent a boat from local captain Jack Bonner (played by Steve Guttenberg), who unknowingly takes them to the location of Atlantis to retrieve their cocoons. Local elderly residents discover the pool and life begins to change for them. They're feeling the lifeforce and now they're feeling young, hot and ready to rock and roll! And in the end, like Roy Neary and little Elliot from two Spielberg films, they're invited to tag along with the aliens, which they do. When they get there, they'll never grow any older and they'll never die. Sounds like a sweet deal!
Although Ron Howard was already showing signs of being a gifted director with previous films like NIGHT SHIFT (1982) and SPLASH! (1984), it occurred to me for a while at the time that he may just be attempting to be another Steven Spielberg/George Lucas clone. WILLOW (1987) almost confirmed that presumption (I hated that movie!). Thankfully, later films (not FAR AND AWAY!) proved me wrong.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Walter: "I want you all to consider what I am about to suggest to you. You people seem to want what we've got. Well, we have room for you. We have room for you and about thirty of your friends. You would be students of course, but you'd also be teachers. And the new civilizations you would be travelling to would be unlike anything you've ever seen before. But I promise you, you will all lead productive lives."
Ben Luckett: "Forever?"
Walter: "We don't know what forever is."
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
(November 1977, U.S.)
For the purpose of my own sanity (and possibly yours), I'm not going to spend any time trying to make any valid distinctions between the original 1977 version of this film, the 1980 special edition or the 1997 director's edition. I don't have the patience to compare Coke with Pepsi right now. Let's just consider it one great film!
Steven Spielberg once said in an interview just before the 1994 Oscars (I think it was with Barbara Walters) that he would like to be best remembered for E.T. (1982) and SCHINDLER'S LIST (1993) and it's more than possible that will be the case. For me despite all of the greatness he's achieved during his great film career, I will forever consider CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND my favorite Spielberg film; a film that was one of many that helped to define my childhood.
This classic tale of humankind's contact with UFO's and exta-terrestrials could not have been timed better. Although it was being developed and filmed before STAR WARS was ever released, George Lucas' megahit paved the way for CLOSE ENCOUNTERS and every other science fiction film that hit the screens for the next several years, including SUPERMAN (1978) and MOONRAKER (1979). Many will agree, though, that CLOSE ENCOUNTERS is a film filled with more spiritual meaning and relevance than STAR WARS. The film suggests that the human race has reached the point where it's ready to enter the community of the vast universe. While it's computer interfacing which makes the final musical conversation with the alien visitors possible, the characteristics that bring Indiana electrician Roy Neary (played by Richard Dreyfuss) to make his way to Devil's Tower, Wyoming have little to do with technical expertise or computer literacy. He's just an everyday man who been given a gift of foresight and vision. This gift will test Neary's commitment to his quest and ultimately cost him his family. In another interview Speilberg stated that he made the film when he didn't have any children, and if he were making it today, he would never have had Neary leave his family and go on the mother ship at the end of the film. There's a noteworthy theme of childhood spirituality and yearning present here, as well. Barry Guiler (played by Cary Guffey), an unfearing child who considers the UFOs and their paraphernalia as playful toys, serving as a motif for childlike innocence and openness in the face of the cosmic unknown.
Regarding the spactacular visual effects that Douglas Trumbull provides, I could probably go on forever. There are, however, two specific shots I'd like to call your attention to that have stayed with me ever since I was a kid. The first is the sequence of the first UFO contact when Jillian Guiler (played by Melinda Dillon) is running after her son Barry on the open street. While she's trying to get him to cooperate with her a spaceship turns the corner and flies over her head, causing her to bend down to her knees...
The second is at the climactic encounter at Devil's Tower when the mother ship first arrives and slowly rises behind the great mountain...
I defy you not to pause your DVD player to just focus on both of them and study how visually striking they are. They'd both make great computer screen savers!
As an interesting casting note, I should also point out that (to the best of my knowledge) CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND is the only American film that legendary French film maker Francois Truffaut served as an actor. There is something very justified and poetic in that fact considering Truffaut was a tremendous influence on Spielberg's film career.
Actually, now that a little time has passed, there is something I would like to say regarding the 1980 Special Edition of this film. It involves Roy Neary finally stepping inside the great mother ship, which Columbia Pictures used as a great marketing hype to get people to return to the theaters (hey, it worked on me!). What I'm about to tell you is a totally wild and unsubstantiated theory regarding what happens to Roy inside the ship and I have no doubt that just about every other fan of this great film would likely tell me that I'm completely crazy and should go take a flying leap off of Devil's Tower! But anyway, here goes...consider the final shot inside the mother ship when we're meant to be looking up via Roy's point of vision. Suddenly, like a great falling rain, something comes showering downward, presumably toward and perhaps even on top of Roy. Cut immediately back to the scene outside the ship when all the remaining men are gathered together to watch Carlo Rambaldi's extra-terrestrial figure stand before them and offer communication. When one puts together exactly just how this moment follows the last one inside the ship, is it not at all possible that the extra-terrestrial IS Roy Neary?? Is it not possible that the so-called "rain shower" we witnessed inside the ship actually transformed Roy Neary into perhaps what he was always longing to be throughout the film...something other than what he really was? He's sacrificed his profession and his entire family to reach his destiny and fulfill his dreams, so why is it completely inconceivable that his new alien friends simply understood and accommodated him to make him one of them? Like I said, it's a highly far-fetched theory and I realize, of course, that I'm reaching for shit with this one. Still, though, it's a thought-provoking premise that I like to ponder over whenever I watch it.
There is probably so much more I could say about this meaningful and dazzling film but I risk going into what I would consider writer's overkill. What I would like to do now, though, is share something very personal with you that will clearly express the impact and meaning that Spielberg's films and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND has had on my life. In the Spring of 2007 I wrote a letter to Mr. Speilberg which I (of course) never expected to be received by or responded to by the man himself. The point of it all was for me to express cetain feelings and experiences on paper as I reached a pivotal age in my life. Until now, no one has ever read this letter (except presumably some stupid desk clerk at Amblin or Dreamworks who read the letter once and then threw it away!). Anyway, it's a pleasure to share it all with you now...
Dear Mr. Spielberg,
On May 7th of this year, I will finally reach my 40th birthday. As you yourself may appreciate, when a man reaches a milestone age such as this, he takes a moment to take some stock of where his life has been, where it is going and those who may have influenced it.
Now while I cannot, in all honesty, claim that a single person or persons have influenced my life, I am writing this letter to you in the hopes that you will take a moment to read how the films of your career have made a significant difference in my life. If you will bear with me for a moment longer, I would like to share a quick story with you.
On September 11, 2001, like many other New Yorkers, I stood on a sidewalk in Greenwich Village watching the horrors of that day unfold. What followed after were days and days of images and intense media coverage on every television channel. Finally, when I felt I could not take it any longer, I searched for something of entertainment value; something to help me forget. I came across CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND on one of the cable channels, already in progress. Before I knew it, my memory had gone back to the year 1977 when I was 10 years-old, seeing this film for the first time at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York City, and first discovering what true magic was like on the movie screen. I did not seem to matter to me that I already had the film on my shelf to be watched uncut and uninterrupted. I was in front of the TV to stay, and it would not let me go.
And so, Mr. Spielberg, I would like to take this opportunity to say to you, from the sincerest part of my heart, thank you for being, perhaps, the only evidence of any real magic in this troubling and confusing world. Thank you for a body of work and cinematic achievements that have made a significant difference in my life and the way I try to keep an optimistic view of our world and the world that I will try to one day explain to my son. Perhaps it will begin when I sit down to watch E.T. with him for the very first time.
It is my sincerest hope that this letter will not only one day find you personally, but that perhaps I will one day have the privilege of meeting you in person, shaking your hand, and thanking you face to face.
Keep the magic alive. It makes a difference.
It's just too damn bad that Spielberg himself has likely never seen nor will he ever see this letter. Too damn bad, indeed!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Roy Neary: "Is that it? Is that all you're gonna ask me? Well I got a couple of thousand goddamn questions, you know. I want to speak to someone in charge. I want to lodge a complaint. You have no right to make people crazy! You think I investigate every Walter Cronkite story there is? Huh? If this is just nerve gas, how come I know everything in such detail? I've never been here before. How come I know so much? What the hell is going on around here? Who the hell are you people!?"
Saturday, February 19, 2011
(December 1971, U.S.)
It's taken a while, but we finally return to my favorite film director Stanley Kubrick, and what a return it is! If you've seen A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, you know damn well what I'm talking about! If you haven't, then crawl out from under the fucking rock you've been living under and rent this film right now!
This darkly satirical science fiction film adaptation of Anthony Burgess's 1962 novel of the same name concerns Alex (played by Malcolm McDowell), a charismatic delinquent whose pleasures are classical music (especially Ludwig Van Beethoven), rape, and so-called 'ultra-violence'. He leads a small gang of thugs (Pete, Georgie, and Dim), whom he calls his droogs. The film tells the horrific crime spree of his gang, his capture, and attempted rehabilitation via a controversial psychological conditioning technique. Alex narrates most of the film in a dialect called Nadsat, a fractured, contemporary adolescent slang comprising Slavic (especially Russian), English, and Cockney rhyming slang. It's not a language you can understand without reading the book or perhaps seeing the film multiple times. It also features disturbing, violent images, to facilitate social commentary about psychiatry, youth gangs, and other contemporary social, political, and economic subjects in a futuristic, dystopian Great Britain.
During this period of American motion pictures, films like BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967), THE WILD BUNCH (1969), DIRTY HARRY (1971), STRAW DOGS (1971) and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE were considered landmarks in the relaxation of control on violence in the cinema. In the United Kingdom, Kubrick's film was highly controversial. British authorities considered the sexual violence very extreme, furthermore, there occurred legal claims that the film had inspired true copycat behavior. The press also blamed the film for a rape in which Alex sings “Singin' in the Rain”. Subsequently, Stanley Kubrick himself asked the Warner Brothers studio to withdraw the film from British distribution.
For A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (like all of his films), Kubrick was a perfectionist of meticulous research. To technically achieve and convey the fantastic, dream-like quality of the story, he filmed with extreme wide-angle lenses and used fast and slow motion to convey the mechanical nature of the bedroom sex scene or to stylize the violence. In other words, only the great Stanley Kubrick could have made real art out of rape and violence.
Okay, story time. You know how sometimes when you see a film, you might start to think of someone specific to your own life in relation to that film? Well, in my junior year of college I had a roomate whom I shall call Scott (because that's really his name). Scot was...how shall I put it...nothing short of a heavy metal lunatic, and I mean that completely as a compliment to his character! The guy also had a head of long, blond hair that was easily comparable to Peter Frampton on the "Frampton Comes Alive" album cover. As for me, back then I might have been considered a repressed introvert. Oh fuck it, I WAS a repressed introvert! However, it didn't take long sharing space with Scott before I slowly came out of my shell and expressed the lunacy hidden within myself. Anyway, while I can't claim with any absolute certainty of memory that A CLOCKWORK ORANGE was Scott's favorite film, I do know that he loved the film as much as I did. I remember that he had a large CLOCKWORK ORANGE sticker on his bass guitar, too. I also used to crack him up with my own Malcom McDowell impression from the film. So, it is to Scott that I dedicate this post. Thanks for a great year of absolute insanity! Keep on rockin' in the free world!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Alex: "There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar trying to make up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening. The Korova milkbar sold milk-plus, milk plus vellocet or synthemesc or drencrom, which is what we were drinking. This would sharpen you up and make you ready for a bit of the old ultra-violence."
Friday, February 18, 2011
(October 1994, U.S.)
Back when I posted CHASING AMY I mentioned that I owned only one other Kevin Smith film; welcome to it. It's a black and white independent art film that I would rank as one of the best debut films ever made (it's not exactly CITIZEN KANE, but it's up there!) And it's practically autobiographical because Smith worked in a Quick Stop convenience store before becoming a film maker.
Okay, so we've all had our share of retail jobs during the course of our lives. During my youth, I had four; two of them were fine and two of them were equivalent to the deepest pit in Hell (in my opinion, anyway). The worst one for me was a short stint at a New York City Banana Republic outlet. Sure, that may not sound as bad as mopping the floor at your local McDonalds, but for someone like me who can't stand the idea of having to deal with people off the street for his paycheck, the job was an emotional nightmare. Try to appreciate how much effort and performance it requires to come off as if you're more than happy to assist a customer with their needs when all you're really thinking is how badly you want this person to just get the fuck out of your face! I should also point out that I've never been someone who gave a rat's ass about fashion statements; not for myself or for other people. But hey, I suppose other young people have suffered worse fates than being surrounded by folded clothes all day. My younger brother used to serve frozen yogurt to some of the snottiest bitches that ever walkked the face of Long Island!
(Oh, but we're here to talk about the film CLERKS, aren't we?)
I suppose the tag line for the film's poster says it all..."Just because they serve you doesn't mean they like you." Nothing could be further from the truth in the case of our heroes, Dante Hicks and Randal Graves. They're both twenty-two years-old (that's right, I said TWENTY TWO!) and still working cruddy jobs in a New Jersey convenience store and video rental store. Naturally, they both hate their jobs and the annoying customers they have to deal with on a regular basis ("This job would be great if it wasn't for the fucking customers."). Dante suppresses his anger and resentment toward the customers and puts on a real nice smile for them in order to keep his job. Randal, on the other hand, isn't the shy type. He'll spit water in a customer's face if it makes him happy. He'll intentionally ignore a customer if it makes him happy. He'll blatantly use vulgar language in front of a mother and her child if it makes him happy. Randal is so completely oblivious to his job and the customers that he also unknowingly sells a pack of cigarettes to a four year-old girl. And by the way, it seems very clear that the savages who live in this dipshit little New Jersey town are ALL smokers!
So people, next time you walk into your local 7-11 or fast food establishment, just know ahead of time that the clerk behind the register is probably thinking the most despicable thoughts of you, whether you deserve them or not. Deal with it.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Mother with child: " Excuse me, do you sell videos?"
Randal Graves: "Yeah, what're you looking for?"
Mother: "Happy Scrappy Hero Pup."
Randal: "Uh, one second. I'm on the phone with the distribution house now. Lemme make sure they got it. What's it called again?"
Mother: " Happy Scrappy Hero Pup."
Randal: "Happy Scrappy!"
Mother: "She loves it."
(into the phone)
Randal: " Uh, yeah, hi. This is RST Video calling. Customer number 4352. I'd like to place an order. Okay, I need one each of the following tapes: "Whispers in the Wind", "To Each His Own", "Put It Where It Doesn't Belong", "My Pipes Need Cleaning", "All Tit-Fucking Volume 8", "I Need Your Cock", "Ass-Worshipping Rim-Jobbers", "My Cunt and Eight Shafts", "Cum Clean", "Cum-Gargling Naked Sluts", "Cum Buns III", "Cumming in Socks", "Cum On Eileen", "Huge Black Cocks with Pearly White Cum", "Girls Who Crave Cock", "Girls Who Crave Cunt", "Men Alone II: The KY Connection", "Pink Pussy Lips", oh, yeah, and, uh, "All Holes Filled with Hard Cock". Yup. Oh, wait a minute."
(to the mother)
Randal: "Uh, what was that called again?"
Thursday, February 17, 2011
(August 1994, U.S.)
Tom Clancy's character of Jack Ryan has to be the most honorable, disgustingly-self-righteous character in Washington D.C. since James Stewart's Jefferson Smith in MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939). It almost makes you fully comprehend what a bunch of scum-sucking crooks D.C. is REALLY filled with!
(but I politically digress...sorry)
As in Clancy's original novel, Jack Ryan (played by Harrison Ford) is appointed Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Acting Deputy Director and discovers that he's being kept in the dark by colleagues who are conducting an illegal covert war against drug lords in Colombia; an action ultimately authorized by the President of the United States himself in retaliation against the murder of an American businessman and his family aboard their yacht, who just happened to be the President's close friend. The man was murdered because of his ties to a drug cartel, having skimmed over $650 million from the cartel (I suppose when you steal THAT kind of money, someone's going to declare war to get it back!).
Like THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER (1990) and PATRIOT GAMES (1992) before it, CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER doesn't fail to deliver the kind of political thrills and action one would expect from a Tom Clancy story that DOESN'T involve the likes of Ben Affleck. And nearly everything Harrison Ford does on screen is more than fine by me. I would just really love to know why it's only in the movies that our government, intelligence agencies and military know how to take swift and decicive action against our enemies and blow them all to shit. In reality, our country seems completely incapable of capturing and killing the one man who was most directly responsible for the events of September 11, 2001 (you know who he is). Is there a REAL Jack Ryan out there in our government and can he bring us this kind of American justice before we reach the tenth anniversary of 9-11? One can only hope.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Jack Ryan: "I won't let you dishonor their memories by pretending you had nothing to do with it!"
The President: "How dare you come in here and lecture me!"
Jack: "How dare YOU, sir!"
President: "How dare you come into this office and bark at me like some little junkyard dog? I am the President of the United States!"
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
(June 1991, U.S.)
When I recall the Summer of 1991, the first thing that comes to mind regarding movies is TERMINATOR 2:JUDGEMENT DAY. The second thing that comes to mind is that it was a summer filled with comedy, and I think I saw them all; SOAPDISH, NAKED GUN 2 1/2, HOT SHOTS, WHAT ABOUT BOB?, LIFE STINKS (oh man, that one sucked!!!), etc. Although I'd have to give top comic dollar to WHAT ABOUT BOB? that summer, CITY SLICKERS didn't disappoint, nonetheless.
Having reached an age myself (43) that is now over the ages of the film's characters, it's interesting to watch this film now and see what grown men are capable of when trying to do battle with the traditional mid-life crisis. In this case, the cure is a two week Southwestern cattle drive for Billy Crystal's character and his two best friends (played by Daniel Stern and the late Bruno Kirby). The men slowly "learn the ropes" of moving a herd and even have a tense encounter with the two professional cowboys who work the drive while being drunk. The encounter is stopped with the arrival of Curly (played by Jack Palance), the wise, tough-as-nails trail boss. The real attraction of this film IS Jack Palance, who clearly should have been a real cowboy instead of an actor. Curly's philosophy of life certainly seems simple enough; limit yourself to just one that you care about most in life and commit yourself to it. Okay, so I suppose saving the life of a baby calf is just as viable a choice as anything else in life...NOT!!!
There's a moment at the end of the film when we learn that the entire herd of cows has been delivered to Colorado for the sole purpose of slaughter at the meat company. There's this brief moment of pause that I suppose would make all the world's vegetarians happy in that we're supposed to consider the cruel injustice of the slaughter of cows. Well, speaking as a lover of thick steaks and juicy hamburgers...sorry, but I'm not sold on it. I love meat!
CITY SLICKERS will be twenty years-old this summer. Geez, where has time (and my youth) gone to???
Favorite line or dialogue:
Mitch Robbins (addressing his son's grade school class): "Value this time in your life kids, because this is the time in your life when you still have your choices, and it goes by so quickly. When you're a teenager you think you can do anything, and you do. Your twenties are a blur. Your thirties, you raise your family, you make a little money and you think to yourself, "What happened to my twenties?" Your forties, you grow a little pot belly you grow another chin. The music starts to get too loud and one of your old girlfriends from high school becomes a grandmother. Your fifties you have a minor surgery. You'll call it a procedure, but it's a surgery. Your sixties you have a major surgery, the music is still loud but it doesn't matter because you can't hear it anyway. Seventies, you and the wife retire to Fort Lauderdale, you start eating dinner at two, lunch around ten, breakfast the night before. And you spend most of your time wandering around malls looking for the ultimate in soft yogurt and muttering "how come the kids don't call?" By your eighties, you've had a major stroke, and you end up babbling to some Jamaican nurse who your wife can't stand but who you call mama. Any questions?"
It's so nice to know I have all those things to look forward to. Thanks, Billy!
Friday, February 11, 2011
(January 1931, U.S.)
When you take into consideration that what makes me laugh most in the movies is DIALOGUE, then the concept of any silent film making me laugh seems impossible. Charlie Chaplin's legacy in film cannot be ignored, but I'd be lying if I told you that the guy cracked me up. Despite his extensive career, I only own three of his films. For me, CITY LIGHTS is not so much finding slapstick moments to laugh at, but rather an appreciation for the film making and drama behind its story.
Although "talking" pictures were on the rise since 1928, CITY LIGHTS was immediately popular with audiences. Today it's thought of as one of the highest accomplishments of Chaplin's prolific career. Although classified as a comedy, the film has an ending widely regarded as one of the most moving in cinema history, but I'll get into that later. Chaplin plays "the Tramp" who wanders the city and has his life changed not only by a beautiful, poor blind girl who sells flowers on the street but also an eccentric, suicidal millionare who befriends him after he (the Tramp) saves his life. Trouble is, this millionare can only remember and acknowledge the friendship whenever he's drunk. When he's sober, he has no memory of who the Tramp is and repeatedly throws him out of his house. Getting back to the girl, the Tramp not only falls in love with her but is determined to help her financially in order for her to have an operation that could restore her sight. The blind girl is under the impression that the Tramp is a millionare due to misunderstanding circumstances.
There is a boxing sequence I should mention. Not because it's particularly funny, but because Chaplin films it with a unique choreography that depicts the fight more like a group dance rather than a sporting match. Watch the fight carefully and you can see how the precise timing and detail of it all pays off as an admirable piece of film making. But I suppose back in that day of the Great Depression, it would have been considered very funny by audiences looking to escape their hard troubles.
Let me now discuss the final scene that I briefly mentioned before...the Tramp has been released from jail after ultimately stealing the money needed for the blind girl's operation. Having returned to the city streets, destitude, he wanders them again, only this time to discover the girl can only see but also has the financial means to own her own flower shop. She meets him, taking him for just another street tramp, having absolutely no clue who he really is (to her). She offers him one of her flowers and a coin. The Tramp begins to leave, then reaches for the flower. The girl takes hold of his hand to place the coin in it and, feeling him, she realizes who he really is. Look carefully how he places his hand at his face and concentrate on his eyes...
If ever there was a picture that said a thousand words, it's the sincere hope in his face that the girl will realize who he is is that's absolutely breathtaking. When she does understand and finally "sees", she smiles at the Tramp, the Tramp smiles back at her and you can't help but smile also. That kind of drama (even without the use of much dialogue), more than silly laughter, is what makes CITY LIGHTS a worthwhile film, in my opinion.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Girl (having just realized who her savior really is): "You?"
The Tramp: "You can see now?"
Girl: "Yes, I can see now."
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
(May 1941, U.S.)
Sometimes there's so much you want to say about a particular film that you have no idea where to begin and you just sit there staring at the computer monitor. That's me right now because to discuss CITIZEN KANE is to discuss a film that is both legendary and highly influential. It is considered the greatest motion picture of all time by the American Film Institute (AFI) and particularly praised for its innovative cinematography, music and narrative structure.
For the benefit of those who have been living under a cinematic rock their whole lives, the film examines the life and legacy of Charles Foster Kane (played by the great Orson Welles) after his highly publicized death, a character based upon the American newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst and Welles' own personal life. Upon its release, Hearst himself prohibited mention of the film in any of his newspapers. Kane's career in the publishing world is born of idealistic social service, but gradually evolves into a ruthless pursuit of power. Narrated principally through flashbacks, the story is revealed through the research of a newsreel reporter seeking to solve the mystery of Kane's dying word, "Rosebud", one of the greatest secrets in cinema history.
With all due respect to men like Capra, Hitchcock and Scorsese, Orson Welles was perhaps one of the greatest, most influential film makers in cinema history. Film scholars and historians view CITIZEN KANE as Welles' attempt to create a new style of filmmaking by studying various forms of movie making and combining them all into one element. The most innovative technical aspect of the film is the extended use of a technique called "deep focus". In nearly every scene of the film, the foreground, background and everything in between are all in sharp focus to give the viewer a clear perspective of several acts going on at once. The most notable example, in my opinion, is the scene where Kane is just a boy in Colorado and his very life is being bargained away to a bank by his own parents. In the foreground is Mrs. Kane signing the papers that will forever change Charles' life. In the middleground is Mr. Kane only mildly protesting not being able to raise his own son. In the distant background, outside the house, is the boy Charles innocently playing out in the snow, completely unaware of what is happening to him at that moment. This technique is not only visually striking, but it also places a demand on the viewer to pay closer attention to detail. The reward for this extra attention is highly worthwhile.
Somehow it seems that I've known about CITIZEN KANE all my life. It was on television constantly when I was a kid. I'd heard it reference on TV shows and even in Charles Schultz' "Peanuts" comic strips. It wasn't until senior year English class in high school that I would see the film for the first time and learn the legendary secret of "Rosebud". I can only thank my English teacher so many years later, whoever she was.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Charles Foster kane: "You know, Mr. Bernstein, if I hadn't been very rich, I might have been a really great man."
Mr. Thatcher: "Don't you think you are?"
Kane: "I think I did pretty well under the circumstances."
Mr. Thatcher: " What would you like to have been?"
Kane: "Everything you hate."
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
(February 1990, U.S.)
I am writing this post on the original 1990 U.S. theatrical release of the film...
I've been posting my film blogs for nearly a year now and this is only the second subtitled film I've gotten to. What can I say? The alphabet is what it is. Nothing I can do about it.
This wonderful Italian film is told largely in flashback of a successful film director Salvatore to his childhood years. It tells the story of the return to his native Sicilian village for the funeral of his old friend Alfredo, who was the projectionist at the local "Cinema Paradiso". Ultimately, Alfredo serves as a wise father figure to his young friend who only wishes the best to see him succeed, even if it means breaking his heart in the process. Seen as an example of "nostalgic postmodernism", the film intertwines sentimentality with comedy, and nostalgia with pragmaticism. It explores issues of youth, the coming of age, and reflections (in adulthood) about the past we cannot let go of. The stunning imagery in each scene can be argued to reflect Salvatore's idealised memories about his childhood. The film is also a celebration of great, classic films. As a projectionist, young Salvatore (or Toto, as he's referred to throughout the film) develops the deep passion for films that shapes his life's path in adulthood.
One element of CINEMA PARADISO I can never let go of is that wonderful, poignant ending when Toto returns to Rome after Alfredo's funeral and views the film reel he (Alfredo) had left for him. It's a moment of great joy and sentiment to watch Toto's face as he views the montage of all the spliced extractions taken from older films that depicted kissing or any other scenes that were considered unsuitable for viewing by the village priest at the time. It's not only a redemption of censorship, in my opinion, but a final gift of giving something back to one memeber of a community who had long been denied the pleasure of witnessing love and romance on the movie screen.
CINEMA PARADISO can best be described as a film of celebration. A celebration of love, life, laughter, pain, sorrow, regret and the pure joy that comes with the love of the movies. It's also a film that can be credited for reviving Italy's film industry which later produced MEDITERRANEO (1992), IL POSTINO (1996) and LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL (1998).
Favorite line or dialogue:
Alfredo: "Don't come back. Don't think about us. Don't look back. Don't write. Don't give in to nostalgia. Forget us all. If you do and you come back, don't come see me. I won't let you in my house. Understand?"
Salvatore: "Thank you. For everything you've done for me."
Alfredo: "Whatever you end up doing, love it. The way you loved the projection booth when you were a little squirt."
Friday, February 4, 2011
(June 2005, U.S.)
The more I watch boxing films the more I become convinced that as a genre, they feature the most consistent cliche elements; the down-and-out everyday man, the golden opportunity that comes along, the big fight and the climactic victory that will have moviegoers on their feet cheering, and all ususally based on someone's true story. After a while, I yearn for something different that will make a boxing film stand out from the rest.
Ron Howard's CINDERELLA MAN fits the bill on all of the above-mentioned elements. What brings this story to life is the hard times of the Great Depression that hard-nosed, Irish-American boxer James J. Braddock (played by Russell Crowe) and his family must endure together. It's heartbreaking to watch a good man slowly spiral downward during hard economic times and struggle desperately to keep his family afloat, or even warm and fed (you know, during the entire time I was out of work a couple of years ago, I couldn't even bring myself to watch this film). The heartbreak is even worse when Jim is forced to give up boxing after breaking his hand in the ring. This is a relief and an upset to his wife, Mae (played by Renee Zellweger), who can't bring herself to watch the violence of his chosen profession, and yet she knows that without his boxing profession, they'll have no steady income. Manual labor could only take a man so far during the Great Depression. But opportunity eventually (almost inevitably) knocks and the boxer rises again to not only overcome the odds against him, but to also defend himself against the heavyweight champion of the world, Max Baer, a man who has previously killed two men in the boxing ring. On June 13, 1935, in one of the biggest achievements in boxing history, Jim Braddock defeated the seemingly invincible Max Baer to become the heavyweight champion of the world, until eventually losing the title to Joe Louis.
As mentioned above, CINDERELLA MAN, like most other boxing film, is filled with the standard cliches of the genre. It's still a fucking great movie, though!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Jim Braddock: "I have to believe that when things are bad I can change them."
Thursday, February 3, 2011
(November 1983, U.S.)
It's amazing how time can be kind to just about any film. When A CHRISTMAS STORY was released more than twenty-five years ago, it came and went virtually unnoticed, with mixed critical reviews. Today there are many joyous things that can be said about it. It's arguably one of the funniest (THE funniest, in my opinion!) Christmas films ever made, it continues to hold a proud tradition of being broadcasted on TBS for twenty-four hours every year, and how many films do you know that can effectively repeat the line, "You'll shoot your eye out." My son is only five years old, but he already loves the scene where Ralphie's little can't put his arms down because of his overly-heavy winter coat.
What seems most outrageous about this film to me is that it's actually semi-autobiographical, based on the short stories and anecdotes of author Jean Shepherd (who also narrates the voice of Ralphie as an adult). Everyone has their stories of childhood and the crazy adventures of growing up, so perhaps its not such a stretch to see a kid go to amazingly great lengths to secure himself the one and only Christmas present he wants more than anything in the whole world; an official Red Ryder BB Gun with a compass in the stock, and "this thing that tells time". But alas, this quest is harder than one would imagine, especially when everyone around you has conspired to prevent you from having one, claiming that you'll shoot your eye out with it. His parents won't listen. His teacher won't listen. Even the holyest of Holys, Santa Claus, won't listen.
There are several subplots incorporated into the body of the film, based on other separate short stories by Shepherd. The most notable involves the "Old Man's" (Ralphie's father's) winning a "major award". A large crate arrives, and inside is a lamp shaped like a woman's leg wearing a fishnet stocking, much to Ralphie's mother displeasure and the "Old Man's" delight. The "battle of the lamp" escalates until she breaks the lamp, infuriating the "Old Man". The poor guy can't even glue it back together because she's accused of "using up all the glue on purpose!".
As a man who was once a boy who once wanted specific toys more than anything, I can only say that I completely sympathize with little Ralphie. In the 1970s, I wanted, more than anything, an Evel Knevel wind-up motorcycle that sped away on its own after you manually reved it up (those who grew up back in that day will know the toy I'm talking about). I didn't grow up with Christmas, but I lobbyed for this toy for a long time and I'm happy to say that one day my father came home with it. Score!!!
Well, that's it for Christmas titles, for now. I have three more in my film collection and hopefully, maybe, timing will permit me to post them during Christmas 2011. Keep your fingers crossed!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Department store Santa Claus: "What do you want for Christmas, little boy?"
Ralphie as an adult (narrating): "My mind had gone blank! Frantically I tried to remember what it was I wanted! I was blowing it, blowing it!"
Department store elf: "Come on, kid."
Santa: "How about a nice, uh, football?"
Ralphie (narrating): "Football? Football? What's a football? With unconscious will my voice squeaked out 'football'."
Santa: "Okay, get him out of here."
Ralphie (narrating): "A football? Oh no, what was I doing? Wake up, Stupid! Wake up!"
Ralphie (to Santa): "No! No! I want an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle!"
Santa: "You'll shoot your eye out, kid."
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
(August 1945, U.S.)
A Christmas movie released in August??? I guess that makes about as much sense as my discussing a Christmas film in February. Although CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT is officially labeled as a Christmas movie, it hardly brings about any warm feelings of joy and spirit that Charles Dickens or Frank Capra might. What it DOES do is prove that Christmas time can serve as good a setting for a screwball comedy as any other set of circumstances. The difference here is that you get the pleasure of actors like Barbara Stanwyk, Sydney Greenstreet and S.Z. Sakall (the last two were in CASABLANCA!) as opposed to watching people like Ben Affleck (SURVIVING CHRISTMAS) or Reece Witherspoon (FOUR CHRISTMASES) do Christmas movies.
(I think I've said the word "Christmas" more times in just one paragraph than I have for the past year!).
So, in this film, Barbara Stanwyk plays a post-World War II Martha Stewart-type character who helps to sell magazines by writing about her life on a farm in Connecticut with her husband and baby. She is a model of domesticity, a gourmet cook and the idol of many American housewifes. Trouble is, she's also a big fake. She lives in New York City, she's not married, she has no children, she can't cook to save her life, and her own employer has no idea about any of it. Like I said, it's all to increase magazine circulation and get her a much needed raise for that mink coat she desperately desires. That's all fine and dandy until she's sucked into a magazine public relations ploy to entertain a soldier for the Christmas holiday who survived many days at sea without food after a U-Boat attack on his ship. The poor many hasn't had a decent meal in weeks and longs for an old fashioned Christmas...in Connecticut. Uh-oh, trouble! Faster than you can say classic-episode-of-I-LOVE-LUCY-or-THREE'S-COMPANY, everybody involved has to put on the right scenario in order to satisfy the desires and interests of the soldier, the potential-husband-to-be, the judge, the cook, the housekeeper and the big boss who's been clueless the entire time. But in the end, of course, everything will turn out fine and the two people we love the most in the film will fall in love and get married.
Confused yet? Don't worry. It's all in good fun with the snowy background of Christmas and the beauty of Connecticut to keep you warm and cozy.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Felix Bassenak (speaking with an accent and referring to flapjacks): "Watch now. I show you how to flip-flop the flop-flips."