Tuesday, June 28, 2011
(November 2006, U.S.)
DEJA VU is a film that I should have never likely seen. The reason for that is because after I saw MAN ON FIRE (2004) with all of it's super-speedy, headache-causing, jump cuts and edits, I swore to myself that I was through with Tony Scott's films forever! I actually remember leaving the movie theater quite angry, unable to believe that the director of TOP GUN (1986) and CRIMSON TIDE (1995) had sunk so low to this over-the-top camera and computer gimmickry. However, two years later when I heard about DEJA VU, a crime thriller that incorporated elements of high concept science fiction, I decided to be fair and give it a look. I was very pleasantly surprised to find that I not only loved the story, but that Scott also decided to tone down the previously-mentioned style of film making considerably. Lucky me.
The horrific crime that begins this film (like it or not) takes its inspiration from two of the greatest tragedies to take place on American soil in the last twenty years - the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995 and the events of September 11, 2001. In the film, the city of New Orleans is still in the midst of recovery from Hurricane Katrina when a bomb explodes on a ferry, killing hundreds of men, women and children. Special Agent Doug Carlin (played by Tony Scott film veteran Denzel Washington) from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATF) is sent to investigate the explosion and discovers evidence that the attack was committed by a domestic terrorist. On arrival at the scene he hears his ring tone and discovers that the ringing is coming from a nearby body bag at the crime scene. He then learns about a charred body pulled from the river, that of a girl named Claire Kuchever (played by Paula Patton). However, unlike the other bodies found in the river, this one was discovered to have been killed BEFORE the explosion (following so far?). Doug joins a newly formed government-funded detective unit whose first case is to investigate the explosion by using a new program which enables them to look into the past in detail. The system is limited in that they can only see past events once; there is no fast forwarding or rewinding, although they can record what they see (still with me?). Convinced that Claire is a vital link to the case, Doug persuades the team to focus on her and they'll get their man. While investigating Claire's past, the bomber calls her to try and purchase her car to use to blow up the ferry. Although he decides not to purchase her car, during the phone call the team will discover an exact time and place where they know the terrorist will be (I TOLD you this was high concept!). Through a discovered time window, Doug will transport himself back in time by about four days and not only save Claire's life, but also prevent the bombing from ever happening.
Now do you want to know what gives me such a kick about time travel films besides my general enjoyment of the concept itself? It's that no matter how fucking impossible the notion is, there are always scientists and scholars in the film that have explanations and theories that actually SOUND like they could make valid sense. If you listen to Adam Goldberg's character ramble on and on and on about how and why everything about their sci-fi program does what it does...well, I can't honestly say you're going to understand one word of it, but damn if it doesn't SOUND like it works! But then again, I suppose that's why it's all called science FICTION.
I still feel completely alienated from Tony Scott's films today and it's probably going to stay that way, but I can consider DEJA VU a serendipitous dent in the program.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Doug Carlin: "All right! Am I askin' a hard question!? All right, I'll tell you what, I'll speak slow so those of you with PHDs in the room can understand. Here...here, look, here's a monitor, right?"
(picks up a chair and smashes the monitor)
"Now the monitor is broken! It's dead! It has not temporarily transitioned to another state of entropy! It's dead! Right? Now, is she alive or is she DEAD??"
Thursday, June 23, 2011
(March 1991, U.S.)
Let's get this out of the way right now; Albert Brooks' character, Daniel Miller, dies at the beginning of the film. There, I said it! And if you're not bright enough to figure that out just by looking at the movie poster, then I don't know what to tell you! Now I have to say, with regard to how he dies, that I don't know what I consider sadder (in a pathetic way) - the fact that Daniel is careless enough while driving his brand new BMW to crash head-on into an oncoming bus or the fact that he's listening to Barbra Streisand sing a show tune when it happens (no disrespect intended toward my wife and mother-in-law; big Barbra fans!). You be the judge.
Now Hollywood has repeatedly tried to give movie audiences an idea of what life after death might be like. Albert Brooks tries to tell it just the way you'd probably like to hear it. To begin with, you get great night sleeps in very nice hotels, you feel very comfortable and relaxed, and best of all - you get to eat as much tempting food as you want and it'll never affect you physically. Based on that alone...what I mean is that if death means outstanding omlettes, roasted chickens, shrimp and pasta...well, who knows! But nothing's perfect, even in the beautiful afterlife. The downside of all this fun is that each and every deceased person must endure several days of having their former life judged by a panel of experts. If you've lived your life (almost) perfectly and learned the right things along the way, then you'll move on to the next phase (whatever it is). If you've made too many mistakes, too many errors in judgement and haven't gotten past your fears, you'll go back to Earth and start all over. So guess which lack-of-assertiveness category Daniel falls under? During his trial, a series of episodes in which Daniel did not overcome his fears seems to indicate that he will not be allowed to move on. Along the way, he meets and falls in love with Julia (played by Meryl Streep), a woman who lived a seemingly perfect life of courage and generosity, especially compared to his...and yes, they do fall in love. But Julia will move on and Daniel won't unless he can display one great act of courage that proves he can overcome fear. Well, love stories usually follow some sort of cliche. So, yes, he does and they both move on together and live happily ever after. Awww!
Now I can't call DEFENDING YOUR LIFE the funniest movie ever made, but it is inventive and considerably fun in the fantasy it creates about the afterlife, especially the whole "all you can eat" thing. In fact, when you watch Meryl Streep's character really, really, take in the enjoyment of eating all this great food and then consider the role she played in JULIE & JULIA (2009), as well, you can easily convince yourself that Meryl Streep just loves, loves, loves to eat food! I should also point out that I can't help but break out in real laughter when I see the wide-eyed, horrified look on Daniel's face when he sees one of his past lives; a native man running for his life from a hungry animal. Watch it and you'll see what I mean.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Daniel Miller: "Is this Heaven?"
Bob Diamond: "No, it isn't Heaven."
Daniel: "Is it Hell?"
Bob: "Nope, it isn't Hell either. Actually, there is no Hell. Although I hear Los Angeles is getting pretty close."
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
(December 1978, U.S.)
Do you know what THE GODFATHER, GOODFELLAS and THE DEER HUNTER have in common (besides all being great films!) with each other? They've each been called one of the greatest American films ever made. They've also been made by Italian-American directors. Many of the films of Frank Capra were called "American" films and he, too, was an Italian-American. So what does that tell us? Clearly, Italian-American film makers have got a better clue on how to capture the flavor and spirit of this country than some others.
Director Michael Cimino gives us one of the most powerful epics I've ever seen in the story of a trio of Russian-American Pennsylvania steel worker friends and their infantry service in the Vietnam War. The film is divided into three equal thirds or acts. Likewise the plot synopsis is also divided into three acts, spanning the years of 1968 thorugh 1975. Act I explores the lives and friendships of these men as well as the women they love. Life is simple for them; they work, they eat, they drink, they laugh and occassionally they get together for a weekend deer hunting trip, which Michael (played by Robert DeNiro) takes more seriously than the others. The recurring theme of "one shot", which is how Michael prefers to take down a deer, is introduced and repeated. Before Michael, Nick (played by Christopher Walken) and Steven (played by John Savage) prepare to ship out, Steven and his girlfriend, Angela (who is pregnant by another man but loved by Steven nonetheless) get married in an elaborate Russian Orthodox wedding. In the meantime, Michael must contain his own feelings for Nick's girlfriend Linda (played by Meryl Streep), who's just moved out of her abusive father's house. For nearly the first 68 minutes of the film, we see that life in this small working class town is relatively good. But we also know that all of this goodness is ultimately doomed as we are reminded that three of these good men will soon go to war and everything will change. Watch carefully the scene when the men return from their hunting trip and get a drink at the local bar. The bar owner plays a soft melody on the piano. Slowly the joyous glee that's being heard all over the place is reduced to absolute silence as they all realize what's to come.
Act II now takes us right into the explosive Hell that is the Vietnam War. We abruptly jump to a war-torn village, where U.S. helicopters attack a communist occupied Vietnamese village with napalm. Within the span of only about five minutes, Michael, Nick and Steven are reunited, captured and held together in a riverside prisoner of war camp with other U.S. prisoners. For entertainment, the sadistic guards force their prisoners to play Russian roulette and gamble on the outcome. There are arguments whether such sick games ever actually took place during the real war, but that hardly seems relevant for the symbolic purpose of this film to depict war's horror and the men who are forced to sucumb to it. The horror, of course, affects all three men, but it's Nick who appears to already be going down the long, dark road of insanity. Even after their escape from the POW camp, Michael is seemingly unable to save Nick from his dark destiny.
Act III brings Michael back home. Nick is presumed dead overseas and Steven has lost both his legs. Try as he might, Michael can't adjust to or resume his life the way it was before he went to war; not even the deer hunting he loves so much. This is evident when he has a deer in his sight and inadvertantly decides to let it live. His feelings for Linda, though, haven't changed, bless his messed up heart. The last chapter brings Michael back to Saigon when he learns that Nick is still alive. He finds Nick a completely different man, though, and also sporting a reputation of having lived through games of Russian roulette longer than anybody and having gotten well paid for it. But Nick is totally gone from the reality he was once a part of. He even fails to recognize Michael as his best friend. In short, Anakin Skywalker's turn to the "dark side" in the STAR WARS saga was nothing compared to this guy! Now I'm sorry to give things away to those who haven't seen the film, but Michael fails to save his friend and Nick finally loses the game when he shoots himself in the head.
In a final epilogue, Michael brings Nick home for his funeral. The film ends poignantly with the whole cast at their friend's bar, singing "God Bless America" and toasting in Nick's honor. Would you believe there was apparently some heated debate amoungst critics over this final moment of singing "God Bless America"? What's up with that?
When I watch and think about THE DEER HUNTER, it's difficult for me to decide what to think about more - the relevant, Oscar-winning film that made Michael Cimino a talented artist of the time or what eventually happened to him and his career after he made his next film, HEAVEN'S GATE (look it up!). Regardless of the latter, THE DEER HUNTER is undenyably one of the greatest epic films ever made, as well as one of the most effective war films ever made. It's shocking, horrific, gut-wrenching, controversial, but also knows when to focus on the endearing friendship of the men involved and the sacrifices some of them are willing to make for each other. I have some great friends, sure, but would any of them really fly to another country to try and save my ass?? I can't imagine it.
THE DEER HUNTER won the Oscar for best picture of 1978.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Nick: "You know somethin'? The whole thing, it's right here. I love this fuckin' place! I know that, that sounds crazy. But if anything happens, Mike, don't leave...don't leave me over there. You gotta...you gotta...just don't leave me. You gotta promise me that, Mike."
Monday, June 20, 2011
(May 1998, U.S.)
It seems that ever since INDEPENDENCE DAY in 1996, Hollywood has been looking for new and seemingly inventive ways to destroy our planet. To be honest, after 9-11 I thought that they might calm down a bit and take a more sensitive approach to our global destruction. Well, one can dream, right? No, it didn't happen. If anything, it's gotten much worse. This planet of ours has been subjected to every sort of phenomenal weather event and every sort of alien invasion that could be dreamt up. Who could possibly deny that this sort of screen insanity hasn't possibly inspired global terrorists to inflict their evil on the United States and the rest of the world? Well, it's an argument anyway.
So, let's recall the Summer of 1998 together. Our cities were being destroyed on screen three times over. Two studios were competing head-to-head with oversized outer space rocks hitting the Earth and a new form of Godzilla was wreaking havoc in New York City. DEEP IMPACT was one of those films but it dared to do something that I hadn't seen any disaster film do since THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974); the film dared to be human. You see, when you really think about it, the concept of spending the better part of year preparing yourself and your life for a comet that is going to collide with the Earth is not exactly a fun or exciting prospect. It's actually quite frightening. How are you going to spend the remaining part of your life? What will you accomplish? Who will you reconcile with before the end comes? Will we be saved in the end? Who will be pre-selected to survive in government-built caves? These are questions that surround characters in the film you can actually come to care about as the story builds to its disasterous climax. Not to say that DEEP IMPACT doesn't come with its share of fun, especially the outer space sequences when our brave astronauts of the world come together to try and destroy the comet. Oh yeah, and we also have our first African-American president of the United States on screen in the form of Morgan Freeman, ten years before our own president is elected to office.
DEEP IMPACT lives up to its title, not only in it's physical impact with our planet, but its impact on the lives of those it will impact (there's that word again!). It's a human disaster film that can actually choke you up at certain moments. For myself, when Tea Leoni's character is in her father's arms standing on the beach in front of the house she grew up in and says, "Daddy." just before the fatal tidal wave destroys them both, I can't help but develop a lump in my throat. If the end were to come today, there's nowhere on Earth I'd want to be except at my beach house clutching my wife and child. Touching, isn't it?
Favorite line or dialogue:
President Tom Beck: "Good evening. A few minutes ago, the Unites States ambassadors to every country in the world told the leaders of those nations what I am about to tell you. It's a bit complicated. So it will take some time. So I hope you will bear with me and hear what I have to say. A little over a year ago, two American astronomers, Marcus Wolf and Leo Biederman, working on a mountain top in Arizona, saw something in the night sky that caused them great concern - a comet. But the comet was, well, there was a remote possibility that the comet was on a path that could bring it into direct contact with the Earth..."
Friday, June 17, 2011
(June 1977, U.S.)
By overwhelming coincidence, THE DEEP opened in theaters on this very date in 1977. How's that for life's funny little coincidences?
After the runaway blockbuster success of JAWS in 1975, Hollywood seemed eager to recreate the terror of the deep water as often as possible. With very few exceptions, these films were cinematic duds in every way possible. THE DEEP, however, plays upon the fact that, like JAWS, it's also based on a best selling novel by Peter Benchley and it also stars Robert Shaw (Quint in JAWS). And from what I've read, Jacqueline Bisset's nipples sticking out of her wet t-shirt at the beginning of the film didn't exactly hurt box office receipts, either. The film is primarily a treasure hunt involving the recovery of a number of artifacts, including ampules of amber-colored liquid identified as morphine and a medallion bearing the image of a woman and the letters "S.C.O.P.N.", dated 1714. At the heart of this undersea hunt is Romer Treece (played by Shaw) and Bermuda vacationers David (played by Nick Nolte) and Gail (played by Bisset). The stakes are not only to keep all of the underwater narcotics away from local drug kingpin Cloche (played by Louis Gossett Jr.), but to recover a lost ancient treasure, as well. But don't worry - this is a Peter Benchley story, so there's an ample amount of underwater terror, including the largest and scariest moray eel I've ever seen. I have to say that during the climactic underwater battle, the moment when the eel get's Cloche's head in its huge mouth is quite bone chilling. It's not exactly Bruce, the mechanical shark, but it's still enough to give you the heebee-jeebees!
I have to point out that I consider Robert Shaw one of the finest actors we ever had. It's a shame he died at such a young age of 51 in 1978.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Romer Treece: "Hey, boy, this is "Goliath" trash! What the bastard hell were you doing diving down there?"
Thursday, June 16, 2011
(December 1997, U.S.)
The first memory I recall with Woody Allen's DECONSTRUCTING HARRY is that I was able to catch a sneak preview of it as part of a film discussion class I was taking at the time. The second thing that comes to mind is that, in my opinion, it's the last great film of Allen's career. Nothing else of his that I've seen since has done very much for me.
This film tells the story of successful writer Harry Block (played by Allen himself), who draws inspiration from people he knows in real-life, and from events that happened to him, sometimes causing these people to become alienated from him as a result. Alienated, hell - some of them want to kill him! Character development is more than just something on a printed page here. We get to see, first hand, what these characters look like, their actions and how each of them directly relates to someone in Block's real life. Allen's character, like so many of his other films, is a neurotic, pill-popping disfunctional man who is incapable of any real intimacy with anyone other than his little boy and also incapable of funtioning in real life, which is why he chooses fiction and the imaginary worlds it can create. The real life we do get to watch is about as outrageous as the fiction he creates, though. The fact that he's driving to a university from which he was once thrown out, in order to receive an honorary degree, with a hooker he just spent the night with is already ridiculous. The fact that by the time he arrives there he also has a dead body in his car is just plain Woody Allen comic insanity. It could only happen to him, right?
I have to note for the record that DECONSTRUCTING HARRY is probably the most racy and vulgar of his entire career (rated R). There's profanity, female nudity and more than one suggestion of a blowjob. Not that I have anything against profanity, female nudity or (especially) blowjobs, mind you, it's just not what you'd traditionally expect in a Woody Allen film. We're definitely not watching SLEEPER or ANNIE HALL here! That aside, though, the film is honest, sad and a revealing one about a very and creative writer. It's funny, witty, and also depressing, as well. There are moments of pure, laugh-out-loud humor (i.e.. the elevator going down to the bottom floor of Hell where they apparently have air conditioning to fuck up the ozone layer). Fantasy plays a major role in the story even though it's not classified as a fantasy. The parallels between Woody Allen himself and the characters and plot he's created here are more than obvious to those who know his film well.
One flaw, in my opinion: the jerky jump cuts in the filming style are not worthy of Allen's talents and abilities to film and tell stories about PEOPLE. I expect this sort of cheap effects tactic from a director like Tony Scott or someone who's more interested in action and special effects. But hey, that's just me!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Helen (saying a Hebrew prayer before giving her husband a blowjob): "Boray P'ree Ha blowjob."
Sunday, June 12, 2011
(April 2003, U.S.)
If you were to ask me what my favorite film decade was, I'll likely tell you it was the 1940s. Oh, what it must have been like to see stars like Humphrey Bogart and Bette Davis on screen during that "Golden Age of Hollywood". If you ask me what my second favorite film decade was, I'll absolutely tell you that it was the 1970s! It's not even really because I can say I grew up during that era. Hell, by 1979, I was only twelve years old which means that most of my significant growing took place during the 1980s, which I would personify as a culture riddled with iconic movie themes like Ghostbusters and John Rambo. Not that I wasn't having fun at the time watching this and so much more on the screen, but it was a decade that I would hardly call original or ground breaking. The 1970s was not just another time and another place, but a decade that was on the verge of a political and cultural explosion, and it was the talent of young, new film makers who were about to save our asses!
By the end of the late 1960s, the American culture experienced a period of change as the youth movement challenged conventional attitudes towards sex, drugs, politics, and personal gender issues. At the same time, the advancement of the Vietnam War found many American citizens questioning the actions and wisdom of their government for the first time in our history. Costly big-budget blockbusters like CLEOPATRA (1963) nearly brought all the major Hollywood studios to the brink of collapse while smaller and more personal films such as BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967) and EASY RIDER (1969) demonstrated that there was an audience ready, willing and able for bold and challenging entertainment on the movie screen. By the start of the following decade, American cinema moved into a truly exciting period of creativity and stylistic innovation, which led to such landmark films as M*A*S*H (1970), THE LAST PICTURE SHOW (1971), THE GODFATHER (1972), CHINATOWN (1974) and TAXI DRIVER (1976), and with those films came the new freedom for directors and screenwriters like Robert Altman, Peter Bogdanovich, Francis Ford Coppola, Roman Polanski and Martin Scorsese. It was a stange sense of irony, though, that it was a pair of new blockbuster films directed by two students of the new wave of filmmaking, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, who gave us two of our all-time favorite smashes, JAWS (1975) and STAR WARS (1977), which brought the studios back to power and put an end to Hollywood's flirtation with offbeat creativity. By 1980, when Michael Cimino all but destroyed United Artists with his over-budget, overlong debacle called HEAVEN'S GATE, the great decade-long honeymoon of independent, orginial, creative film making of the 1970s was all but dead in the toilet! And in my humble opinion, with some very rare and noteworthy exceptions, I haven't seen this sort of dare-to-be-different, try-and-make-some-sort-of-statement film making ever since. Tragic indeed.
During my childhood and my youth, movies were everything to me! It wasn't just about being a child product of screen giants like JAWS, ROCKY, KING KONG, STAR WARS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, GREASE and SUPERMAN. It was also about discovering the earlier '70's films whenever they were broadcasted on television. I can remember being blown away by a fun disaster film like THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974) on the one hand, and being given the opportunity to pause and think for a moment with a film like PATTON (1970) on the other. I was there see to SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (1977) explode with the disco genre itself. I was there to see KRAMER VS. KRAMER (1979) expose itself almost exactly at the time my own parents were splitting up for the second time. Yes, it's very safe to say that each decade of films is likely to have a personal impact on each person who is willing to remember those films and how they may have been affected by them. For someone like myself who lived through part of it, and can fondly appreciate the parts he was too young to experience first hand, I can say with great pride that the films of the 1970s serve to generate a single word that spell out not only the culture of the time, but also a word that I haven't been able to safely accuse many films of being ever since, and that word, my friends, is DIFFERENT!
And so I bid a heartfelt "thank you" to all those young film directors of the time who dared to change things. To all those young film directors of today who (hopefully) long to change things while fighting against a Hollywood system whose soleful purpose today is to simply make as much crap in digital 3D as possible, I can only offer you my deepest empathy. You all have a real fucking fight on your hands! Good luck! And finally, thank you Ted Demme for giving us the best documentary on film making I've ever experienced. Rest in peace.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Bruce Dern (to interviewer): "Jack (Nicholson) and I always looked at the business kind of as a generational thing. So Brando, McQueen, Paul Newman - that group of guys was always ahead of us. We, we dismissed them. They were gone. I mean, they were movie stars while we were in high school, and yet they were young guys. So it wasn't about catching anybody. It was just being allowed to audition for the roles they got. Why should they have a corner on the market? We can act! Yeah, we didn't look like they do! We're not handsome like they are! But we're fucking interesting! And we were interesting because we were honest!"
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
(July 1974, U.S.)
Before I'd ever heard of DEATH WISH, I'd barely heard of Charles Bronson despite the fact that he'd already had an extensive film career that included films like THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963) THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967). You see, I grew up with Bronson films when he was practically the poster boy for Cannon Films in the 1980s; not a single one of them worth a damn, in my opinion. The original DEATH WISH, though, serves as probably not only the best revenge film pitting the ordinary man against a society of evil, but also a definitive film depicting what a sleazy, crime-ridden garbage dump New York City was in the 1970s.
Bronson is Paul Kersey, a development engineer (when exactly did he become labeled as an ARCHITECT in this franchise?? I'M an architect! There IS a fucking difference!) who's wife and daughter are victims of a violent home invasion, rape, beating and murder by three lowlife thugs (one of them a very young Jeff Goldblum). The police are powerless and useless to do anything, so it's up to Kersey to take the law into his own hands. Bear in mind, though, this is not a man who just turns into "Rambo" overnight. The first time he defends himself against a mugger with only a sock full of quarters, he's quite shaken up over it. The first time he finally pulls the trigger against one of them, he becomes physically ill and is (temporarily) filled with remorse for having been insane enough to do such a thing. Even as it gradually becomes easier to shoot each and every mugger that provokes him and becomes easier to accept the fact that he's been dubbed by all New Yorkers as the "vigilante", you can still see physical signs in his face that he does not rejoice in the fact that he's been put into this horrible position. In other words, he's still a man deep down and not a mindless killing machine. The mindless killing machine came later in its pointless sequels.
Actor Vincent Gardenia is not an actor I know much about. I can tell you, though, that his character as the investigating police inspector and the constant cold he's nursing is nothing short of irritating. Any other credible actor playing this role without a cold would have been easier to tolerate than this guy.
Back in the day, DEATH WISH was clearly supporting the act of vigilantism. Although it received mostly negative criticism, it had an impact on American audiences and began widespread debate over how to deal with rampant crime in the streets. The film's graphic violence, particularly the brutal rape scene of Kersey's daughter as well as the explicit portrayal of his premeditated killings, were considered exploitive, but realistic in the backdrop of an urban American atmosphere of rising crime rates at the time. For myself, I can only tell you that even today when I watch this film, I still have an irresistable smile on my face every time Bronson shoots a mugger. Kill them all, Charlie!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Paul Kersey: "Nothing to do but cut and run, huh? What else? What about the old American social custom of self-defense? If the police don't defense us, maybe we ought to do it ourselves."
Jack Toby: "We're not pioneers anymore, Dad."
Paul: "What are we, Jack?"
Jack: "What do you mean?"
Paul: "I mean, if we're not pioneers, what have we become? What do you call people who, when they're faced with a condition or fear, do nothing about it, they just run and hide?"
Sunday, June 5, 2011
(March 1982, U.S.)
Perhaps you recall in blog postings from the past that great dialogue is the most irrisistable element I enjoy in all films that I see. Well, believe it or not the late Sidney Lumet's simple 1982 film adaptation of Ira Levin's play, DEATHTRAP is my favorite dialogue film of all time. No joke! It's impossible to describe with mere words here why I feel that way. I can only say that you would do yourself well to rent the film and experience how the dialogue flows so naturally and with great timing, wit and chemistry.
The great actor Michael Caine is playwright Sidney Bruhl who has just experienced his fourth Broadway flop in a row. Although his financial situation is not dire, Sidney is hungry for a hit. He and his wife are starting to feel the limit of her fortune, so he shares with her a plan in which he will murder Clifford Anderson (played by Christopher Reeve), the author of a play entitled "Deathtrap" that he's received from him in good faith and that he also considers near perfection. He invites Clifford to their secluded Easthampton, Long Island home to discuss the play. What follows this meeting of the playwright minds is a diabolical scheme of "cat-and-mouse" in which you're never entirely sure of who's scheming who and who will win in the end. I'm afraid it's impossible to go on without giving away too much that would ruin the plot for those who wish to see this film. What I can tell you, however, is that while you're watching and trying to figure out what's going to happen next, you'll enjoy to the fullest the chemistry of dialogue between Caine and Reeve's characters and they naturally play off of each other to the murderous end.
Just a personal note that I saw DEATHTRAP in screen at a small single movie house in Great Neck, Long Island. It was the last film I got to see there before they closed it up and tore it down. I still miss that theater.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Joel Seigel (as himself): "Well, Sindey Bruhl's new who-done-it, 'Murder Most Fair', opened tonight at The Music Box. But there's not point in you folks going there 'cause I'm gonna tell you who-done-it - Sidney Bruhl done it! And what's inexcusable is, he done it in PUBLIC!"
Thursday, June 2, 2011
(October 1978, U.S.)
You know what I'd love to see on the big screen again? I'd love to see a good ol' fashioned Agatha Christie who-done-it with an all-star cast of grown-ups who can actually act. For close to a ten year period beginning in the early 1970s, Agatha Christie films were popular and very entertaining. They offered beautiful cinematography of lands all over the world, featured impressive costume and fashions reflective of the times and provided a fascinating resolution to reveal the actual murder at the end of the film. Yeah...it would be nice to see all that again.
DEATH ON THE NILE takes us to the Nile River in Egypt and features the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (played by Peter Ustinov) plus the all-star ensemble cast you would expect, including legends like Bette Davis and David Niven. Our murder victim is a wealthy, ruthless heiress bitch named Linnet Ridgeway (played by Lois Chiles) who's constantly making enemies along the way, and frankly, is just asking to get bumped off by somebody. When she's finally shot dead in the head at point blank range, the list of suspects includes everybody on board the ship. Everyone has a viable motive and the opportunity to have pulled the trigger. But with all these suspects come believable alibis, as well, until we've all reached a point in the film where it seems we'll never figure out who-done-it. The truth is out there, but it all seems too incredible to believe. Of course, in the end, the great detective gathers everyone together and spells it all out for us to understand. You watch, you listen, and sometimes you actually think to yourself, "Oh man, why didn't I figure that out for myself?". Unfortunately, it's difficult for me to go on any further about this film without actually giving away the identity of the murderer(s) and how he/she/they did it, so I'm afraid you'll just have to rent the film and find out for yourself.
I should also note that will all of its style and grace that one would associate with a film of this sort, DEATH ON THE NILE is perhaps the most violent and bloody of all the Christie films that were ever made. By the time it's all over, five bodies have piled up as opposed to the traditional one.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Jacqueline De Bellefort: "Simon was mine and he loved me, then SHE came along and... sometimes, I just want to put this gun right against her head, and ever so gently, pull the trigger. When I hear that sound more and more..."
Hercule Poirot: "I know how you feel. We all feel like that at times. However, I must warn you, mademoiselle: do not allow evil into your heart, it will make a home there."
Jacqueline: "If love can't live there, evil will do just as well."