Tuesday, May 31, 2011
(July 1992, U.S.)
In between three BACK TO THE FUTURE films and FORREST GUMP (1994), one can hardly blame director Robert Zemeckis for wanting to do something a little silly and less heavy. His dark slapstick screwball comedy fantasy film focuses on a childish pair of female rivals (played with great fun by Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn) who drink a magic potion that promises eternal youth, with a defenseless unsuspecting man caught in the middle of it all. However, after they're both killed in their fight for the love of their said man, a neurotic mortician played by Bruce Willis, the potion revives them as the "undead" and they're forced to maintain their deteriorating bodies forever so as not to arous public suspicion.
Like any Zemeckis film in recent years before, DEATH BECOMES HER is filled with special effects that not only help to tell the story, but also look so damn ridiculous, you can't help but laugh and have some fun along the way. The first sequence to take note of is the outrageous (and frankly, quite disgusting) transformation of Goldie Hawn's body into a fat-assed example of sheer obesity. You can't believe you're looking at the same person! The "undead" effects speak for themselves, of course, but like I said before, it's all done with the great fun of knowing what it might be like to achieve youth forever, and what would happen if it all went terribly wrong. And by the way, Isabella Rossellini's character is an incredible piece of ass to look at! I also couldn't resist the so-called "resurrection" of Jim Morrison (I love THE DOORS!).
DEATH BECOMES HER is not exactly a film that I would accuse of having any real substance or character depth. It's a silly movie, yes, but it's a silly movie that at least has real actors and humor as outrageous (dare I say even a little intelligence) as it's silly plot; a silly movie that I would rather spend time watching than some modern, pathetic, unitelligent waste-of-brain-cells like a sequel to THE HANGOVER or some shit like that! But, hey, that's just me!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Lisle von Roman: "Now a warning."
Madeline Ashton (having already drunk the potion): "NOW a warning??"
(October 1983, U.S.)
From the time I was about sixteen years-old right into my adulthood, I was an avid reader of Stephen King novels. I mean, it seems I read EVERYTHING! Somewhere around the start of the new century, though, books like HEARTS IN ATLANTIS, FROM A BUICK 8 and CELL began to alienate me. As a result, I haven't picked up a King book in many years. But I still recall the glory days of the 1980s when his novels were being made into films around every corner. Some were great, like THE SHINING (1980). Some were just okay, like CHRISTINE (1983). Some of them really sucked, like CUJO (1983) and FIRESTARTER (1984). THE DEAD ZONE came out somewhere in the midst of all that King rage and it's not only one of the better adaptations, but also one of the better films of director David Cronenberg, in my opinion.
Johnny Smith (played as eccentrically-as-ever by Christopher Walken), after being involved in a car accident and awakening after a 5 year coma, discovers that his life has completely changed since he last knew of consciousness; his girlfriend Sarah (played by Brooke Adams) has long since married and had a child. Johnny's transition back to life is made more difficult when he discovers that he has the ability to learn a person's secrets (past, present and future) through making physical contact with that person. However, this ability leaves him an outcast in his hometown despite helping the citizens like a young boy he prevents from a drowning accident and helping to catch the town serial murderer. Later, Johnny discovers through a handshake that U.S. Senatorial Candidate, Greg Stillson (played by Martin Sheen) will later become President of the United States, and through that same handshake he ees Stillson ordering a nuclear strike against Russia, thus presumably bringing on a nuclear holocaust. There is a poignant moment when he asks his doctor if he could go back in time, knowing what the world knows now, would he murder Adolph Hitler before he came to power. That moment clearly outlines the fact that Johnny will attempt to assassinate Greg Stillson to prevent the horrible tragedy he envisioned. The attempt fails and Johnny will die, but the chain reaction of results will ultimately lead to Stillson's own suicide and the world will be saved.
THE DEAD ZONE is technically classified as a horror film, but I would hardly consider it that. There is almost no blood involved. However, it's the general concept of what would happen if a man could not only see the future but could also change it at will that creates a feeling of fear and chills when watching the film, particularly during the sequence when Johnny is prepared to identify the town's serial killer when touching the dead victim's hand. Besides somehow preventing the events of September 11, 2001, I sometimes wonder what I would do with such a power. Something selfish, probably.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Johnny Smith: "The ICE is gonna BREAK!"
Thursday, May 26, 2011
(June 1989, U.S.)
Over the years, I've come to think that if you want truly inspiring drama, you need to watch comic actors when they're NOT acting like crazed, hilarious lunatics. Say what you want about a guy like Jim Carrey for example, but I thought he did a suberb twist of drama in THE TRUMAN SHOW (also a Peter Weir film) and THE MAJESTIC. But we'll talk about him at another time. For now, let's stay focussed on the dramatic power that funny man Robin Williams gives in DEAD POETS SOCIETY, a film set at a conservative and aristocratic boys prep school that tells the story of English teacher John Keating (Williams) who inspires his students to change their lives of conformity through his teaching of poetry and literature. John Keating is the kind of teacher that I'm sure many of us wish we had in high school; a teacher who would listen, who would encourage, who would strive to push each one of us to find our own voice during a time of our lives when conformity and acceptance are keys to our social survival.
The teaching methods of John Keating are unorthodox by the Welton Academy standards of the 1950s, to say the least. His students are seventeen year-old boys who more or less have their entire futures already mapped out by their domineering parents and the honorable traditions of the school itself. They're puzzled at first by the standards of which Keating tries to get them to not only appreciate poetry beyond the bullshit textbook mathematical formulas, but to also allow poetry and the printed word to inspire their lives and to achieve their own greatness. But as film cliche would have it, the boys not only open up but learn to take their own measures in finding themselves. Todd Anderson, terribly inhibited with self-consciousness, will overcome his fear of public speaking and find poetic words from his very soul and Knox Overstreet will find the courage to "woo" the beautiful girl he loves with his own poetic voice.
Each boy experiences their own triumph through Keating's inspiration, but the real story lies with Neil Perry. His overbearing father has instilled nothing but fear in his son to the point of his (Neil's) not being able to communication with him at all. Whether he likes it or not, Neil will go on to Harvard medical school and become a doctor. But what Neil really wants to do is act the lead role of Puck in a local production of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream". To do this, he'll have to go "all the way" and defy his father's demands with a forged letter of permission. For a very short time, he'll bask in the wonderous glory of the stage, the theater and the unconditional passion he feels while doing what it is he truly loves. It won't last long, though. When he's discovered on stage by his father, your heart sinks as you watch all of that fade away. Furious, Neil's father takes him home and tells him that he intends to enroll him in a military school to prepare him for Harvard and his inevitable career in medicine. Unable to cope with the future that awaits him or to make his father understand his feelings, Neil prepares himself for his final fate. You watch him and you literally feel a knot in your stomach because you know exactly what he's going to do when he reveals the key that opens his father's drawer and takes out an object wrapped in a white cloth (okay, just in case you're too damn clueless to have figured out what it is I'm talking about...Neil shoots himself). His suicide is tragic not only because a beautiful soul has been lost but it will ultimately also cost Keating his job when he's made the "scapegoat" for his unorthodox teachings to such fragile, impressionable young minds.
The film ends beautifully, though, when Keating is preparing to exit the English room and leave the school for good. Todd for the first time breaks his reserve by standing on his desk and calling out "O Captain! My Captain!". Much of the class climb onto their own desks to duplicate Todd's tribute. Keating leaves happily with tears in his eyes and simple says, "Thank you, boys." Touching...very touching.
Okay, it's personal story time. During the Summer of 1989, I was dating a girl whom I shall call Caren (because that's really her name). We saw DEAD POETS SOCIETY on our first date at a small movie theater in Roslyn, Long Island. Needless to say, we both loved it, and personally, I think a first date that involves a movie is always a better date when you BOTH liked it. Anyway, we continued to date right up until summer's end when we both amicably agreed to end the relationship and move on. Sounds simple and easy, right? It should have been but it wasn't. What happened over the next several years can only be described as an emotional rollercoaster ride of romance and friendship in which I was not wearing my safety belt. It ended badly and we didn't speak for several years until I finally decided to contact her to give myself the badly-needed closure that was necessary for me to move on with my life. In a scene that greatly resembled the finale of a three-act play, we said goodbye to each other on a street in New York City in July of 1998 and she moved out west. I haven't seen her since that day. I met the woman who would one day become my wife just a few months later. Many of you reading this now can probably relate to a story like that, or one close to it. For myself, I can only conclude that it was a fortunate thing that Caren and I didn't make it together. For had we, I would not be the woman whom I am just as much in love with as I was when I first knew her. For had we, Caren would not be with the man whom I'm sure she's just as happy with also. So, it is to Caren that I dedicate this post. I haven't forgotten the Summer of 1989. I hope you haven't, either.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Neil Perry: "Mr. Keating? Mr. Keating? Sir? Oh, Captain! My Captain!"
John Keating: "Gentlemen."
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
(December 1995, U.S.)
In any social situation, there are sensitive subjects that are bound to raise their ugly heads and become hot, if not heated. Religion, politics, global warming, whether or not someone like Lady Gaga should be removed from this world and, I suppose, issues surrounding the death penalty. For the purpose of this blog, subjects like religion, racism and the use of nuclear weapons have been raised by certain film selections and I haven't been shy (yet) about giving my opinions. In the case of Tim Robbin's-directed film, DEAD MAN WALKING, I'll perhaps leave the subject matter alone and stick to the film itself; because in case you haven't noticed yet, I'm not running a blog to voice one's political views (you'll have to look elsewhere for that).
If absolutely nothing else, it's very easy to claim that DEAD MAN WALKING persistently refuses to take sides when addressing both arguments on the death penalty; for or against. From the beginning of the film, when we first meet death row inmate Matthew Poncelet (played dramatically well by Sean Penn), we are exposed to a monster who took part in the savagely brutal rape and murder of two teenagers. But at the same time, we're asked to look beyond the monster on the surface and discover the human being inside. Sure, it's presumably easy for kind-hearted nun Sister Helen Prejean (played by Susan Sarandon) to do that, but whether or not we can do it is up to the individual viewer. The film, however, very cleverly doesn't give you the opportunity to stay focussed on one side of the argument for very long. Through a series of momentary flashbacks, we are constantly reminded of the horrific crime that Poncelet committed along side his accomplice. Even at the final moment when Poncelet is escorted to his death and strapped down in a manner resembling Jesus Christ on the crucifix, we just might find ourselves experiencing a momentary feeling of compassion for the man. We might even think to ourselves, "This man doesn't deserve this." But wait - before you get caught up too much in your bleeding-heart liberal attitude of the matter, we're given one final moment of the crime in its entirety, as if the film were actually saying to us, "Wait just a damn minute! Take a good, hard look at what this man did to these kids and don't you ever forget it!" Back and forth, back and forth, the film refuses to take sides, and that's probably the most reasonable position it can take on the matter.
By the way, I support the death penalty.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Matthew Poncelet: "I like rebels. Some blacks is okay. Martin Luther King, he led his people all the way to DC and kicked the white man's butt."
Sister Helen Prejean: "You respect Martin Luther King?"
Matthew: "He put up a fight. He wasn't lazy."
Helen: "What about lazy whites?"
Matthew: "Don't like 'em."
Helen: "So it's lazy people you don't like."
Matthew: "Can we talk about somethin' else?"
Friday, May 20, 2011
(September 1951, U.S.)
To be completely fair, modern film directors like Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay did not exactly write the book on the threat of world destruction on screen. Movie makers have been doing it since the Cold War began. Back in the 1950s, it often came in the form of giant insects, inexplicable monsters from our own planet or very ugly aliens from other planets. THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL takes a more subtle, if not friendlier, approach to the subject of our ultimate demise. The alien comes in the form of a pleasant looking humanoid male named Klaatu (played by Michael Rennie) accompanied by his powerful and menacing robot which he calls "Gort".
Films of this sort back in "the day" were often accompanied by the traditional American paranoia that resulted from the Cold War. It seems we were worried about everyone and everything that didn't quite conform to the traditions of our basic society. It's evident in the way most people in the film express their fear for the "spaceman" who roams freely in the streets of Washington D.C. after escaping the hospital he was being held in as a result of a gunshot wound. Most citizens would like to see him dead simply because he exists and because his intentions are presumed hostile. Klaatu reveals that he bears a message so momentous and urgent that it can and must only be revealed to all the world's leaders simultaneously. During his waiting time, he gets to know the people he's surrounded by, including a most brilliant and tolerant scientist who knows his true identity, as well as his message (see below for the message).
There is a wonderful montage which shows that Klaatu has neutralized all electric power everywhere around our planet except in situations that would compromise human safety, such as hospitals and airplanes. For exactly thirty minutes, the Earth literally "stands still" as we learn in a very small manner, the kind of power that this alien force can administer to our planet. On a grander scale, his robot "Gort" has the power to incinerate the Earth to a smouldering wasteland. World leaders eventually do gather at the site of the space craft as Klaatu delivers his message; a message accompanied by a warning and an ultimatum that was very reflective of the times and culture which focussed on our possession and willingness to use nuclear weapons of destruction.
Now as much as I hate to admit it, I happened to catch the 2008 remake of this film on HBO. While I did find Keanu Reeves' intense portrayal of Klaatu very effective, I was disappointed to see that the modern version chose to igore the entire concept of the warning and ultimatum that would have been just as relevant (if not more) during today's era of post 9/11 fear and terrorist aggression. I've often found myself saying to people in my frustration of today's world that we all really deserve is to have an alien from another world come down here and warn us that if we don't "shape up" immediately, we shall face destruction at the hand of other intelligent life forms that can no longer tolerate our ignorance and violent nature. It should happen. Mayber we'd finally learn a thing or two...maybe.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Klaatu: "I am leaving soon, and you will forgive me if I speak bluntly. The universe grows smaller every day, and the threat of aggression by any group, anywhere, can no longer be tolerated. There must be security for all, or no one is secure. Now, this does not mean giving up any freedom, except the freedom to act irresponsibly. Your ancestors knew this when they made laws to govern themselves and hired policemen to enforce them. We, of the other planets, have long accepted this principle. We have an organization for the mutual protection of all planets and for the complete elimination of aggression. The test of any such higher authority is, of course, the police force that supports it. For our policemen, we created a race of robots. Their function is to patrol the planets in spaceships like this one and preserve the peace. In matters of aggression, we have given them absolute power over us. This power cannot be revoked. At the first sign of violence, they act automatically against the aggressor. The penalty for provoking their action is too terrible to risk. The result is, we live in peace, without arms or armies, secure in the knowledge that we are free from aggression and war. Free to pursue more... profitable enterprises. Now, we do not pretend to have achieved perfection, but we do have a system, and it works. I came here to give you these facts. It is no concern of ours how you run your own planet, but if you threaten to extend your violence, this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder. Your choice is simple: join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration. We shall be waiting for your answer. The decision rests with you."
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
(September 1978, U.S.)
If there's one word I can come up with to define director Terrance Malick, that word would be SPARINGLY. His films are released sparingly - only four since 1973 with his fifth one on the way. Dialogue is used sparingly at moments where it only seems absolutely necessary to convey the story. Admitedly, this can be frustrating to the viewer, but you manage to console yourself with the compensation of outstanding cinematography of the natural land and environment.
DAYS OF HEAVEN is set in the early 20th century and it tells the story of two poor lovers (pretending to be brother and sister), Bill and Abby (played by a very young Richard Gere and Brooke Adams), as they travel to the Texas Panhandle to harvest crops for a wealthy farmer. Bill encourages Abby to claim the fortune of the dying farmer (played by Sam Shepard) by tricking him into a false marriage. This results in an unstable love triangle and a series of unfortunate events. The farmer's foreman suspects their scheme and the farmer's health unexpectedly remains stable, foiling Bill's plans. Eventually, the farmer discovers Bill's true relationship with Abby. But at the same time, Abby has actually begun to fall in love with her new husband. Complications continue when Bill and the farmer finally confront each other over their scheme and Bill accidentally kills the farmer, forcing him to flee from the law with Abby.
This film is widely recognized as a landmark of 1970s cinema and emphasizes powerful symbolic imagery over conventional dialogue (used sparingly) and plotting. For myself, I cannot claim that it's a great film, but the filming of the natural land is breathtaking; just like stepping into Andrew Wyeth's famous painting "Christina's World" (look it up), which I understand was, indeed, a strong influence on the film's cinematography. It's very easy to claim that DAYS OF HEAVEN is a film that's not exactly sure what it wants to be; a human love story or a period piece? Who knows. The fact is, though, that while you're watching it's stunning imagery, you practically don't even think about it. The only real irritating flaw of this film for me is the narration. Having to listen to the voice of Linda Manz (just a little girl) for ninety-three minutes is like listening to the voice of a drunken idiot.
Favorite line or dialogue (what little there is of it):
Linda: "Nobody's perfect. There was never a perfect person around. You just have half-angel and half-devil in you."
Sunday, May 15, 2011
(May 2004, U.S.)
Well, you've got to hand it to a director like Roland Emmerich - the man certianly knows how to destroy our cities; whether by aliens from space, Godzilla himself, the doomsday prophecies of 2012, or in the case of THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW, the catastrophic effects of global warming in a series of extreme weather events that usher in global cooling which leads to a new ice age. Believable or not, it all makes for an entertaining science fiction disaster film.
Dennis Quaid (an actor, by the way, that I can remember as far back as BREAKING AWAY in 1979) plays paleoclimatologist Jack Hall whom, as cliche would have it, is the one man who tries in vain to warn our government about the impending disasters that await us. Our government, of course, won't listen until it's too late. The weather actually starts out amusing enough as we get to watch a series of unatural twisters destroy downtown Los Angesles, including the famous "HOLLYWOOD" sign (Burn, Hollywood, burn!!!). Across the world, additional violent weather cause mass destruction, including a massive snowstorm in New Delhi and a hailstorm destroying Tokyo, Japan. By the time the very heavy rains begin to flood New York City, it no longer feels so amusing. The immense wave that overtakes the city is actually chilling to watch. Rain eventually turns to snow that all but completely covers the entire Northern hemisphere of our planet. Our heros of this film take refuge inside the great New York City Public Library and are forced to burn even the rarest of books in order to feed the fire that will keep them alvie. While other survivors in the northern United States are also forced to stay inside due to the cold, the President orders the evacuation of the southern states, causing almost all of the refugees to head to Mexico in a rather strange situation of immigrant reversal. The film interestingly concludes with U.S. astronauts looking down at Earth from their Space Station, showing most of the northern hemisphere covered in ice and snow, and ironically, a major reduction in pollution; the air never looking cleaner than it does right there and then. Like I said, ironic.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Jack Hall (on his son Sam failing calculus): "I'm not angry. I'm disappointed."
Sam Hall: "Do you wanna hear my side of it?"
Jack: "Sam, how can there be two sides?"
Sam: "Hey, look, I got every question right on the final and the only reason why Mr. Spengler failed me was because I didn't write out the solutions."
Jack: "Why not?"
Sam: "I do them in my head."
Jack: "Did you tell him that?"
Sam: "I did. He didn't believe me. He said if he couldn't do them in his head then I must be cheating."
Jack: "Well, that's ridiculous! How can he fail you for being smarter than he is?"
Sam: "That's what I said."
Jack: "You did? How'd he take it?"
Sam: "He flunked me, remember?"
Thursday, May 12, 2011
(November 1983, U.S.)
Now might be the right time to tell you all that every once in a great while I will be discussing a film that was made for television and not released theatrically (at least not in the United States). In many cases, these films will be adaptations of Stephen King novels. THE DAY AFTER, however, is no Stephen King story. It is, in fact, far more terrifying than anything King has and will likely ever write.
To be clear, THE DAY AFTER is a horrifying story of nuclear destruction and its aftermath centered on the residents of Lawrence, Kansas, Kansas City, Missouri, and several family farms situated next to nuclear missile silos. The film was broadcasted on ABC-TV in 1983 and it left its more than 100 million viewers as if they'd been pulverized with a sledgehammer, to put it mildly. It's the present day of the early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan was President and the threat of nuclear war was just as valid and as feared as it was in the 1950s and '60s. We don't fully comprehend why the world is in political crisis, we don't know which side is at fault and we don't know who started it. It's irrelevant because the missles are flying into the sky towards Russia as we watch in confusion and we know that their missles are on there way towards us. By today's filming standards of "movie world destroyers" like Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay, the scenes of death and destruction following the nuclear explosions may seem tame. But for a television audience in 1983, they were nearly paralyzing. Even today, as I watched it again for the purpose of this post, I sat on my sofa with an incredibly tense look on my face, my mouth occassionally gaping open in shock and horror. Just ask me what film has scared me the most and my answer will always be THE DAY AFTER. No other film has ever put such a knot of fear and dread in my stomach as this one has. One need only watch the scene just before the first bomb hits, when the awful sound of the alarms are filling the streets and people are completely panic-striken. The camera then pulls back from the city skyline and the blast hits, creating the ominous, almost beautiful mushroom cloud that follows. Those images will scare the shit out of me more than all my favorite horror films combined.
When I watched THE DAY AFTER in 1983, I was just 16 years-old. When it was over, I felt just as wasted and exhausted as many others must have felt. I found myself walking to my bedroom window and pulling the shade back to catch a glimpse of the night sky and the street outside. You see, I felt I NEEDED to see that it was all still there. What happened next, I could not make up even if I wanted to - ABC's "Nightline" came on and Ted Koppel started to speak. The very first thing he said was (I'm paraphrasing), "Alright, you can all relax. It's all still out there." My God, how the hell did he know how I felt? I would seem I wasn't the only one. Predictably, the film provoked much political debate. Many argued that the film underscored the true personal horror of nuclear conflict and that the United States should therefore renounce the "first use" of nuclear weapons, a policy which had been a cornerstone of NATO defense planning in Europe. Critics claimed the film was either sensationalizing nuclear war or that it was too tame versus its actual reality. For myself, it was a tense discussion for a least one of my high school classes the next day.
The subject of nuclear war and its horrors are, perhaps, dated by now. Oh, sure, it still exists and always will exist, but the old fear of the 20th Century has been replaced by the 21st Century fear of global terrorism. Nuclear warhead have been replaced by box cutters and shoe bombs. Politicians with their finger on the button have been replaced with radical terrorist organizations living in caves. In other words, global fears take different shapes and forms, but they still exist...and always will until we stop it once and for all.
Hey, at least we finally killed Osama Bin Laden!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Dr. Landowska: "There is a rumor that they are evacuating Moscow. There are people even leaving Kansas City because of the missile base. Now I ask you - to where does one go from Kansas City? The Yukon? Tahiti? We are not talking about Hiroshima anymore. Hiroshima was... was peanuts!"
Dr. Russell Oakes: "What's going on? Do you have any idea what's going on in this world?"
Dr. Landowska: "Yeah. Stupidity...has a habit of getting its way."
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
(May 2006, U.S.)
I would not call myself an "avid" reader. At best, I'm at a moderate level. I generally have more time to read during the summer when I return to the beach. One thing I can tell you is that they don't make movies of the books I read because most of the books I read are ABOUT the movies. But every once in a while I succumb to a "blockbuster" novel that the whole world seems to be caught up in. In 1991, it was John Grisham's THE FIRM. In 1993, it was Robert James Waller's THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. And in 2004, it was Dan Brown's THE DA VINCI CODE. This book was everywhere so how could I not finally sit down and read it? How could I not love it?
In my opinion, there are perhaps, three perspectives one can take when discussing Ron Howard's film version of THE DA VINCI CODE. The first would be from the perspective of one who firmly believes in Jesus Christ and the teachings of the New Testament. The second would be from someone with a general belief in God and religious traditions (like my wife). The third would come from someone like ME; a complete and total atheist who can, at best, discuss the film from the perspective of one who enjoys well crafted and intruiging thrillers. The intense religious "conspiracy theories", accusations and implications can only be taken with a grain of salt depending on what your personal beliefs are and how willing you may be to accept an alternate notion that would challange your faith in those beliefs. From my point of view, I can easily claim that such a concept that Jesus Christ was, aside from all of his religious teachings, STILL an ordinary man who loved the woman called Mary Magdalene and fathered her a child before he was crucified by the wholly Roman Empire, not something that doesn't deserve plausible consideration. Hell, Martin Scorcese brought that notion to screen back in 1988 with THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST and his vision pissed off just as many people and the Catholic church as author Dan Brown managed to do nearly two decades later.
Tom Hanks is a truly gifted actor who's portrayal of American symbologist Robert Langdon is played just as well as any other gifted actor like Harrison Ford or Al Pacino might do. His history with director Ron Howard certainly ads to the appeal of seeing him in this film. His hair style, I suppose is another matter entirely but it's easy to overlook when you're getting caught up in the riddles, the clues and the mystery that will eventually take him to the final resting place of the Holy Grail, which according to this story, is NOT a cup, but Mary Magdalene herself (does this mean that Monty Python and Indiana Jones were looking for the wrong thing??). Also, along the way, his travel companion Sophie Neveu (played by Audrey Tautou) will discover that she the last decendent of Jesus Christ's bloodline, that her grandfather wasn't really her grandfather and that her real grandmother is still alive (is Darth Vader really her father, too??) But like I said before, I have no personal beliefs or practices to offend with such claims. I can only state my opinion that facts of history (religious or not) have likely been grossly distorted throughout the centuries as sure as the sun rises in the morning. Perhaps this means that someone like me can keep the most open mind about such claims and theories that threaten the very foundation of what faithful followers have had crammed into their brains their entire lives. In short, it's up to you.
One flaw in filming and editing that I feel I need to point out is the constant use of fantastic flashbacks depicting the events during the time of A.D. (Anno Domini). They are, in my opinion, completely useless and unnecessary. I would have considered good dialogue between great actors sufficient enough to tell the story of past events rather than watching something that looked like it came out of Peter Jackson's LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Sir Leigh Teabing: "What if the world discovers that the greatest story ever told is actually a LIE?"
Sunday, May 8, 2011
(September 1981, U.S.)
One thing I recently discovered about watching Wolfgang's Peterson's epic German war film DAS BOOT is that it makes it a whole lot easier to forgive the man for his tragic remake POSEIDON (2006). Although not my favorite of the genre, it ranks as preeminent among all submarine films due to its authenticity in tension and realism.
Set during World War II, the film tells the fictional story of th U-96 submarine and its crew. It depicts both the excitement of battle and the tedium of the fruitless hunt, and shows the men serving aboard the German U-boats as ordinary individuals with a desire to do their best for their comrades and their country. DAS BOOT doesn't necessarily have all of the action and political intruigue that some later sub films like THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER (1990) and CRIMSON TIDE (1995) had, but what it does achieve in the tense breakdown and decay of not only the men aboard, but their outlook on their place in the war itself as time painfully drags on. You can first sense it in their physical appearances as the breards on their faces grow and their lack of personal hygene becomes more apparant. Morale becomes so low at a point that even the captain of the boat (played by Jurgen Prochnow) becomes confused and lost amongst the chaos. This U-boat captain is definitely not in the same patriotic spirit as Sean Connery or Gene Hackman, that's for sure. He's tired, beaten and beginning to question the German's chances for defeating their British enemies.
Peterson's filming inside the sub is nothing short of claustrophobic as you move through the boat with the men during their time of impatient waiting and their time during many emergency crisis alarms. You can feel the tension of the sub as it sinks lower and lower into the depths of the sea and the men as they slowly fear for their lives. You feel the sudden jolt in your own body when the enemy torpedoes explode underwater and shake the sub to its very foundation. This is a film, had it been filmed in SENSURROUND (look it up) would have given many viewer's a severe headache when it was over. In short, you get physically caught up with these men and the terror they experience aboard the boat, but you also have to remember that these are men serving under Adolph Hitler's Nazi regime, so their is a balance to be maintained between genuine empathy and realizing that our enemies of World War II had to die for our victory.
The final climax of the film brings on a strong example of irony. The boat and its pale and weary crew have survived the madness of battle at sea and have returned to port at La Rochelle, France on Christmas Eve, only to be attacked by Allied planes shortly after. Many men are killed in the attack, including the captain who must painfully watch his heroic U-boat sink under the water before dying himself. Like I said - major, major irony.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Captain: "Merkel's boys. They ship out tomorrow, too. Scared fuckers. They need sex as much as the infantry needs alcohol."
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
(April 1939, U.S.)
I gotta tell you, it feels good to post a black and white classic again. Feels like it's been too damn long...
There's something about a drama like DARK VICTORY in which you know ahead of time that the hero (in this case heroine, played by Bette Davis) is going to die at the end of the film that seems to give it more meaning. At the very least, it holds your morbid interest a little longer because you develop questions along the way? How will she die? How will she live the life she has left? How will it finally happen in the end? For my generation, dying young on screen came in the form of films like LOVE STORY (1970) and DYING YOUNG (1991). But just imagine movie audiences in 1939 watching the glamourous Bette Davis meeting her tragic demise with such dramatic bravery and grace. There HAD to be tears in the theater.
Davis' character, Judith Traherne, is a young, carefree Long Island socialite and heiress with a passion for horses, fast cars, and too much smoking and drinking. She ignores her severe headaches and brief episodes of dizziness and double vision, but when she takes a bad spill while riding, and then tumbles down a flight of stairs, her secretary/best friend Ann King (played by Geraldine Fitzgerald) insists she see the family doctor, who then refers her to a specialist Dr. Steele. He reluctantly agrees to see Judith, who is cold and openly antagonistic toward him. She shows signs of short-term memory loss, but dismisses her symptoms. Dr. Steele convinces her the ailments she is experiencing are serious and potentially life-threatening, and puts his career plans on hold to tend to her. Turns out its a brain tumor and the planned surgery will not completely remove it. Judith has less than a year to live. The end will be painless but swift - shortly after experiencing total blindness, Judith will die. But guess what - Judith doesn't know because Dr. Steele doesn't inform her in order to permit her happiness during the time she has left. As you can probably guess, this deception backfires when she inevitably discovers her fate. And in case you didn't guess this one, either - Judith and Dr. Steele fall in love. Of course.
As far as the final moment is concerened, I have to say it's one of the more touching and saddening film deaths I've ever seen. Judith realizes she's actually losing her vision and approaching the end of her life. After bidding her best friend Ann, her housekeeper and her faithful dogs farewell, she climbs the stairs and lies down on her bed. We see her face and the image blurs to grey as she dies peacefully. Awwwww. How can even the strongest of movie watchers not shead a tear?
Favorite line or dialogue:
Judith: "Nothing can hurt us now. What we have can't be destroyed. That's our victory - our victory over the dark. It is a victory because we're not afraid."
Like I said...awwwwwww!