Friday, July 29, 2011
(December 1965, U.S.)
Every once in a great while I actually wish that I'd been born about 15 years earlier than I was. Sounds crazy, I know, but think of all the things I might have done if I'd been just a little older. I might have seen a Ford Mustang Convertible (my favorite vintage car!) when it was brand new. I might have gone to Woodstock. I might have seen Led-Zeppelin in concert "back in the day". I might have actually gotten into the legendary Studio 54 back when SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER was all the rage. Most of all, though, I might have been able to see some of the greatest screen epics of the 1960s, like DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, on some of the biggest movie screens in some of the most beautiful movie palaces during their exclusive roadshow engagements. On the other, I might have also gone to Vietnam. It's a thought like that brings me back to reality, hard and fast.
This great film takes place during the tumultuous period of 1912–1923, the years which included World War I, the Russian Revolution and Russian Civil War, as the regime of Tsar Nicholas II was overthrown and the Soviet Union was soon established. Through these historical events, we are learning about the life and loves of poet and doctor Yuri Andreyevich Zhivago (played by Omar Sharif). Despite his great popullarity as a poet throughout Russia, he is ultimately still just a man struggling not only to survive the horrors of war and revolution, but to also survive the double life he's created with his wife Tonya (played by Geraldine Chaplin) and his mistress Lara (played by Julie Christie). Of course, if you've seen enough historical screen epics, then you'll know that there's usually a love story just as epic to go with it (i.e., GONE WITH THE WIND and TITANIC). The affair with Lara takes on an extra interest as the story is primarily told through the perspective of Yuri's half brother General Yevgraf Andreyevich Zhivago (played by Alec Guinness) and he attempts to identify a young girl as Yuri's illegitimate child and his own niece. If you study the girl's face carefully, you can almost feel the emotional anguish that is accompanied with learning who your real parents are. In fact, when you watch this film, it's the faces of anguish, pain, love and triumph during a time of great turmoil that capture your attention most.
If you've seen much of David Lean's work, then his richly-textured camera work and cinematography speak for themselves. He is, in my opinion, a man who takes great pride in taking his time with a film; time with story, time with a specific camera shots and time with his performers and what they bring to the screen. In fact, as performers go, I have to say that despite the fact that the plot is centered on Yuri Zhivago and his love interests, it's Rod Steiger's character of Victor Komarovsky that grabs my attention most. Literally, almost every word he speaks throughout the film keeps my eyes and ears on the edge of my interest. Watch, listen and you'll know what I'm talking about.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Victor Komarovski: "And don't delude yourself this was rape. That would flatter us BOTH!"
Thursday, July 28, 2011
(April 1950, U.S.)
Traditionally, film noir often employs stereotypical elements such as shadows, dark and seedy alleyways and vicious femme fatales. D.O.A. might, at first glance, fool you on that level because their are many physical elements such as outdoor brightness, hotel parties and a hot, swinging jazz club to break those stereotypes. On the other hand, their is also much "tin-pan-alley" dialogue and semi-bad acting that can easily define classic film noir. What ultimately makes D.O.A. a great film is the frantically-paced plot revolving around a doomed man's quest to find out who has poisoned him – and why – before he dies. Once you wrap your head around that concept, the intruigue is hard to resist.
Frank Bigelow (played by Edmond O'Brien) is dead at the beginning of the movie from having been poisoned by a luminous toxin for which there is no antidote. Right now, he's still breathing, as he walks into a police station to report his own murder. Through a flashback, we discover how his mundane profession as an accountant and notary public inadvertently caused his own death when he innocently notarized a document for a bill of sale for what turns out to be stolen iridium. He then enters a world of criminals and psychotic hit men as he struggles to stay alive just long enough to learn the truth about his own murder. As I mentioned before, the intruige is strong, especially when you come to understand how a man's simple daily profession could ultimately get him killed.
There is a very interesting sequence that takes place at a San Francisco jazz club (where the poisoning of Frank's drink actually takes place). This scene includes one of the earliest depictions of the Beat subculture, clearly showcasing a real popular African-American jazz band of the time. Study the close-ups of the band as they play with all of their heart and souls, tearing up the night with swinging music. I should also point out that director Rudolph Maté liberally uses Broadway and the Bradbury Building in Los Angeles during his location shooting and includes the Million Dollar Theater's blazing marquee in the background. This movie theater would later serve the same function when Ridley Scott filmed BLADE RUNNER (1982) at the famous Bradbury Building.
Back in 1988, when I was in college, I saw a film with Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan called D.O.A. When it was over, I told my friends that I thought it was the best and most original thriller I'd ever seen (up until then, anyway). Little did I know at the time it was actually a remake.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Frank Bigelow: "I wanna report a murder."
Police Captain: "Sit down. Where was this murder committed?"
Frank: "San Francisco. Last night."
Captain: "Who was murdered?"
Frank: "I was."
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
(September 1962, U.S.)
One of the funniest elements of comedy I've ever seen is a situation where a man is in a miserable marriage and experiences explicit fantasies about getting rid of his wife. Jack Lemmon's character did it in HOW TO MURDER YOUR WIFE (1965). Danny DeVito's character did it in RUTHLESS PEOPLE (1986). Even Hal Holbrook's character in CREEPSHOW (1982) had a moment where he shot his wife to death in front of his party guests, igniting their joyous applause. And just watch John Cleese as Basil Fawlty in any BBC episode of FAWLTY TOWERS to see what I'm talking about. Same thing here, only Italian style...
Outside of Roberto Benigni's films, I haven't seen too much Italian comedy. In fact, if DIVORCE, ITALIAN STYLE weren't officially labeled as a comedy, you'd swear you were watching one of Federico Fellini's films in that much of Pietro Germi's finely textured direction, black and white cinematography and even dialogue comes close to the great Italian film legend. But a comedy it is, and laugh you do at this wonderful satire. Marcello Mastroianni is Baron Fefé Cefalù, a Sicilian nobleman bored of his life and of his irritating wife Rosalia. He's fallen in love with his young, beautiful (and underage) cousin Angela, who spends summers in the same palace as he and his family. Since divorce is impossible in Italy in the 1960s, he decides to kill his wife, knowing that the prison sentence would be very light if he could prove that he committed murder for a matter of honour, i.e. finding his wife together with another man. The only solution there is to see to it that she finds herself a lover and somehow catch her in the act. Well, that's what tape recorders and drilling holes in the walls of your home are for, right? And let me just say that as the viewer, you support his actions all the way. From the moment we meet his wife and her disgustingly-sugar-sweet clinging attitude toward Fefé, frankly you'd like to put her out of YOUR misery, too! So let's just say that things manage to work out for him in the end...sort of.
The picture that Pietro Germi paints of life in a small Sicilian village is picturesque, much imitated, and quite indelible. The crowded ornate clutter of the family's old estate, the sun-drenched streets and the monolithic stone and mason churches stick with your memory, even haunt it. And don't forget to take note of the director's small homage to Fellini's LA DOLCE VITA which, ironically, also stars Marcello Mastroianni. A moment ago, I used the word imitated - keep in mind that it's probably necessary to calculate the chronilogical order in which many films of this sort were made, including titles by Fellini and De Sica's THE BICYCLE THIEF (1948) before accusing other films of imitating Germi's work. No matter, because I love these old black and white Italian films, regardless of who copied who first. Great film making of this sort is dead in our own country as far as I'm concerned.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Fefé Cefalù (voice-over, referring to Fellini's LA DOLCE VITA): "Preceded by scandal, controversy, protest, critical outcry and hosannas, a sensational film had opened in town. The priest of San Filmino railed against it, warning his flock to boycott it, but to little effect."
Monday, July 25, 2011
(December 1994, U.S.)
I'm going to start this post by telling you all a little bedtime story...
Once upon a time in 1963, a young man saw a young woman who happened to work in the same department store as he standing against a pole. The first thing he said to her was, "I think that pole can stand on its own." One year later, he married her. Three years after that, those two people became my parents. Thirty-one years later, in 1998, I met a young woman in my office who was giving a consultant's presentation. That night, I committed what many might consider an unprofessional and inappropriate act by leaving her a message on her office voicemail in which I asked her out on a date. She was just crazy enough to say yes and today this woman is my wife and the mother of my son. Finally, some time ago, there was a very attractive and very well-built young receptionist working in my office who had an adorable habit of calling everyone who worked with her, "Baby". Surprisingly, no one considered this unprofessional in any way (???). For myself, I can only say with complete honesty that I've never had a girl call me "baby" whom I wasn't sleeping with. What's more, I'd be lying through my fucking teeth if I told you that I was never tempted to return some sort of flirtation with her (I'm a MAN, for Christ sakes, so that makes me human!). But I couldn't because I was in the workplace and returning the affection or flirtation or whatever you want to call it would have likely had me explaining myself in front of a judge. In other words, it appeared to be acceptable from the girl but would never be tolerated by the guy. I suppose my only real point with this story is that even in the modern workplace of the 21st Century, I'm still often unclear about what is and what's not acceptable dialogue between male and femail colleagues. I suppose until someone offers a solid explanation of the do's and don'ts, I'll just play it safe and keep my big mouth shut.
Regarding this Barry Levinson-directed film, first let me ask you all if you remember my post for BASIC INSTINCT in which I stated that between that film, this film, FATAL ATTRACTION (1987) and his own marriage to Catherine Zeta-Jones, actor Michael Douglas has seen more ass than a car rental (just thought I'd throw that out there again!). Based on Micahel Crichton original novel, DISCLOSURE is set in Seattle, Washington where software company DigiCom is about to merge with a publishing company. Tom Sanders (played by Douglas), head of manufacturing, expects to be promoted to run DigiCom after the merger. However, he learns that the position instead went to operations executive Meredith Johnson (played by the incredibly desirable Demi Moore), a former girlfriend from a long time ago. Late one evening, Meredith calls Tom into her office, ostensibly to discuss a project he's working on. Instead, she aggressively tries to resume her sexual relationship with him. Tom resists (not without difficulty) as he's now a faithfully-married family man. As he leaves, Meredith threatens to make him pay for spurning her (Hell hath no fury!). She does this by filing an alleged sexual harassment charge against him to their superiors. We're now faced with a situation in which we, the viewer, know the truth but instead we have a war of "he said, she said" in which Meredith will likely come out the winner as she is Tom's boss now. We get to see the legal end of things through Tom's female attourney in which it appears that regardless of the actual outcome, somehow Tom will lose because in the end it's all just one big game. Even when Tom manages to come out ahead through an unknowing recording on an answering machine which depicts Meredith's aggressive advances towards him, it seems that his company will still try to ruin him, regardless, in order to make sure the above-mention merger goes through without a hitch. In the end, though, cliche takes over as Tom's job is saved and Meredith is fired; not for her sexual harassment but rather for her part in a company cover-up. In the end, Tom is left in the same position he was in at the beginning of the film, but only after a narrow escape. Business as usual and they all lived happily ever.
The film invites us to critically examine topics such as the ease with which allegations of sexual harassment can destroy one's career and whether or not a double standard exists when such allegations are levied by men or women. Well, if you consider what I mentioned above about my company's receptionist, a double standard is certainly a possibility..."baby"!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Catherine Alvarez: "If you sue, you'll never get another job in the computer business; if you don't sue they'll bury you in Austin. If you sue it's news; if you don't it's gossip. If you sue nobody will believe you; if you don't, your wife won't. They will make your life into a living hell for the next three years until this case goes to trial. And for that privilege, it's going to cost you a minimum of a hundred thousand dollars. Do you not think it's a game Mr. Sanders? It's a game to them. How do you feel about losing?"
Thursday, July 21, 2011
If I were to ask you people who Frank Oz is, how many of you could identify him as someone OTHER than the man who performs Yoda in the STAR WARS saga (that's just too damn easy!)? Could you identify him as someone who's made cameo appearances in a string of director John Landis' films? Could you identify him as the director of some very funny films like WHAT ABOUT BOB? (1991), IN & OUT (1997) and BOWFINGER (1999)? Think you could?
Let me start out by saying that after more than 20 years, I just learned that DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS is apparantly an "unofficial" remake of a 1964 film called BEDTIME STORY, which I've never seen. I never would have guessed. You learn something new everyday.
Now you might not guess it by observing English actor Michael Caine's dashing and cultivated persona, but the man can be very, very funny. Steve Martin, of course, speaks for himself. They play unwitting partners in confidence scamming as they both operate some of the deluxe hotels along the French Riviera while targeting rich and gullible women who can appreciate their style and culture. As Martin's small-time hustler character Freddy Benson puts it, "I've got culture coming out of my ass!" In fact, I have to say that Martin's portrayel of "Ruprecht The Monkey Boy" is one of the funniest things I've ever seen him do on screen. And so as the two comedically try to tolerate one another, their con begins to take shape, as well as the bet between them; whoever can get $50,000 from a naive and wealthy American heiress first will also win the privelege of being able to stay on to continue as the big "player". The loser will have to leave town. As each one attempts new and rather hilarious tactics to come out on top, we slowly find out who the target really is, and that is just an ordinary woman who would have to raise the money in order for one of our con artists to get it. Uh-oh! Looks like moral conscience might actually set in for at least one of them. But guess what happens then? The plot turns itself around as we discover that the players themselves got played...for $50,000. Do we feel bad for them? Of course not! This is comedy. It's all good.
I saw DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS in the theater at the time of its release with an old college roomate named Chris (whom I've previously described in another post). Look up the movie poster for this film to see how Michael Caine and Steve Martin are posed and keep it in mind. Whenever Chris and I would pass each other holding a drink, we would suddenly stop, look at each other, put a couple of shit-eating grins on our face and say to each other, "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels!", just to be funny (man, I miss that guy!). I have to also say that years ago I was unwillingly dragged to the Broadway musical version of this film. Very bad! In fact, I'm through wasting my time and money on Broadway musicals based on movies!
Finally, I'd like to dedicate this post to my cousin Alan, who has concluded that DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS is the "best movie ever"! When he was a kid, it was THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956). So basically, we've managed to go from the great Cecil B. Demille to the guy who does Yoda! Curious.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Freddy Benson (as Ruprecht): "Not mother?"
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
(December 1971, U.S.)
The original...the one and only...DIRTY HARRY; a product of the so-called "New Hollywood" of the 1970s, when previous films like BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967) and THE WILD BUNCH (1969) paved the way for excessive, yet somehow acceptable violence on the screen. Believing the character was too "right-wing" for him, Paul Newman turned down the role and suggested that the film would be a good vehicle for Clint Eastwood. Thus, Detective Harry Callahan was born.
Some of you younger readers (younger than myself, I mean) may have first come across Harry Callahan back in 1983 when he uttered one of the most famous quotes in movie history, "Go ahead...make my day!" in SUDDEN IMPACT. That was a great line, but I thought the film sucked! DIRTY HARRY is set in San Francisco when the "peace and love" of the city was coming to an end and being substituted for the violent scum that Harry spends his career putting away or putting down. For this story, a serial killer who calls himself "Scorpio" (played by Andy Robinson) murders a young woman in a rooftop swimming pool, using a high-powered, silencer-equipped hunting rifle from the top of a building across the street. Even as the film begins with this shocking murder, the viewer can already feel a sense of being very unsafe from any potention lunatic with a gun and access to a building roof. The character of "Scorprio" by the way, was likely inspired by the real life "Zodiac Killer" who had operated in Northern California during the late '60s and early '70s. This is just the beginning of the killer's pattern that will include more murders and the kidnapping children even as Harry and the city's government scramble to pay off the high ransom he demands. At one point in the film, "Scorpio" will be caught by Harry, only to be released very quickly afterwards due to the technecalities of our flawed system of justice. But if you know Harry Callahan well enough, you know that just won't sit too well with him. Harry always gets (or kills) his man and usually pisses of his superiors in the process. It's important to also point out Robinson's performance as he gives the killer a particularly sick and frightening personality. This is NOT a man you'd want to meet in a dark corner or any other locale.
Though not my all-time favorite, DIRTY HARRY is one of the toughest, grittiest, most intense American police thrillers I've ever seen. When released, the film caused its share of controversy, sparking debate over issues ranging from police brutality to victims' rights to the nature of law enforcement. Feminists in particular were outraged by the film and at the 1971 Oscars protested outside holding up banners which read messages like "Dirty Harry is a Rotten Pig". Well, some people have just seriously got to lighten up! It's only a movie. Protests only boost box office performance. It's true.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Harry Callahan (last lines): "I know what you're thinking, punk. You're thinking "did he fire six shots or only five?" Now to tell you the truth I forgot myself in all this excitement. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and will blow you head clean off, you've gotta ask yourself a question: "Do I feel lucky?" Well, do ya, punk!?"
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
(March 1982, U.S.)
You know what I miss? I miss the so-called "slice of life" youth films that used to grace the screen every once in a while before the the other so-called "brat pack" youth films took over the 1980s for a while. I love coming-of-age films like AMERCICAN GRAFFITTI (1973), BREAKING AWAY (1979) and DINER which focus on a small group of friends approaching the crossroads of adulthood. These stories have often shown the drama, the pain and the humor of leaving behind what you once knew and embracing what's to come in the future. Also, if you were to look up the casting of the three films I just mentioned, you'd find that just about everyone involved went on to bigger and greater stardom (look them up).
So, we have director Barry Levinson's debut film here; it's set in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1959, and tells the story of a group of male high-school friends (look up the cast and marvel at how young they all were once), now in their twenties, who reunite for the wedding of one of their group. The title DINER refers to the Fells Point Diner, the group's late-night hangout. The film explores the changing relationships among these men as they become adults through what is basically a series of vignettes rather than any sort of traditional narrative. It's said that during filming, Levinson encouraged improvisation among his cast to capture naturalistic camaraderie. It clearly shows in many scenes where straight-forward dialogue commands the story. One has to presume that the simple sequence of putting a bunch of men together to engage in ongoing conversation at a table in a diner is likely tougher than once would imagine. I've been writing screenplays myself for many years and I can tell you that dialogue is very challanging in that you struggle to keep it from drying up at any given moment. But for any man in his youth watching DINER, there is almost certainly a character or a conversation that can hit home on a personal level. You sit, you watch, you listen and maybe you even find yourself thinking that you know "someone like that" or have "said something like that" yourself. These are scripts and characters that have been well presented if they can "touch" the viewer in this manner. For myself, there's a part of Daniel Stern's character that I can relate to quite well. The scene where he very passionately describes his record collection to his wife and how each one of them meaningfully takes him back to a certain part of his life hits home for me. I still have a rather large vinyl collection myself. Sure, I own an iPod like every other schmuck out there, but I couldn't live without my records. The experience of buying a new record, unwrapping it, delicately putting the needle at the beginning and crancking up the music for all to hear was an experience that I don't believe anyone who is a product of modern 21st century music technology will every fully understand or appreciate.
I saw DINER in the theater with my family back in 1982. I was only 15 years-old, but I appreciated the film to the degree that I already appreciated the other two films I previously mentioned, released years earlier. It was a simple film that was released by a major studio (MGM) "back in the day". This would not happen today because I'm afraid anything resembling witty and intelligent dialogue spoken by men in a diner who can actually act would not play out very well in today's bullshit digital 3-D. I should also point out, on a much lighter note, that DINER is the only film I've ever seen where people put gravy on their french fries. What's up with that???
Favorite line or dialogue:
Modell (spoken during the end credits): "People do not come from swamps. They come...they come from Europe."
Saturday, July 16, 2011
(May 1995, U.S.)
The release of DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE was interestingly timed. At that time, for the better part of 1994, there had been a small and successful release of action films that focussed on mad bombers and demolitions experts. Those films included SPEED, BLOWN AWAY and THE SPECIALIST. And so, THIS TIME (there are those words again!), our hero John McClane is pitted against mad terrorist Simon (played by the great Jeremy Irons) who's planting destructive explosive devices all over Manhattan. THIS TIME, McClane's back in his hometown of New York City, and THIS TIME he's joined by an unwitting partner by the name of Zeus (played by Samuel L. Jackson). Oh yeah, and THIS TIME, original DIE HARD director John McTierman is back at the helm.
So with this story, McClane not only has to stop the bad guys but he also has to play Simon's little mind-fuck games that will have him and Zeus hopping around from one part of the city to another in order to stop the bombs from exploding; one of them planted inside an elementary school in Harlem. But just like the previous two films, our hero's actions are not always successful. One exploding bomb manages to derail a subway train and inflict heavy damage in the downton Wall Street area. While playing Simon's game, McClane realizes that something's wrong and returns to Wall Street while Zeus continues to follow Simon's instructions. McClane finds Simon's men have raided the Federal Reserve Bank through the ruined subway system, making off with $140 billion in gold bullion from the vault, hauling it away in dump trucks (not a bad heist, I must say!). The action continues on a huge tanker and climaxes across the Canadian border where McClane will once again kill the bad guys and will once again say, "Yippie-kai-yay motherfucker!" at just about the time he's doing so. What else would movie audiences expect, right?
DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE takes on a new and interesting perspective when viewing it in a post 9/11 world. The explosion in the Wall Street vicinity feels different to watch in a world where global terrorism is on the minds of many Americans. Would Hollywood have filmed such an event in the streets of New York City after September 11th? Of course they would! Hollywood is filled with insensitive pimps and whores who don't give a fuck about anything execept their weekend grosses!
Well, my friends, I have to say that after three DIE HARD films in just a few days, I am completely "John McClane'd" out! So don't expect a post for LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD. I hated it!
Favorite line or dialogue:
John McClane: "I'll tell you what your problem is, you don't like me 'cause you're a racist!"
Zeus Carver: "What?"
John: "You're a racist! You don't like me 'cause I'm white!"
Zeus: "I don't like you because you're gonna get me KILLED!"
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
(July 1990, U.S.)
The Summer of 1990 was one of the most depressing summers I've ever had to endure. To begin with, I couldn't find a summer job and the one I did finally find was horrible. The car I was driving was a certifiable piece of shit. And, oh yeah, I was experiencing the horrible agony of being in love with the wrong girl. At the movies, crap like DICK TRACY, TOTAL RECALL and ROBOBCOP 2 weren't exactly doing much to lift my spirits. In fact, during that entire summer there were only two films that managed to put a big smile on my face and help me to forget my troubles for a while. The first was David Lynch's WILD AT HEART. The second was...you guessed it...DIE HARD 2! This sequel, in my opinion, actually surpasses the original in story and excitement. It's also probably the only good film director Renny Harlin has and ever will likely make in his entire career.
One of the interesting points about discussing almost any sequel is that it gives you the opportunity to frequently use the words, "this time". So, THIS TIME our great hero John McClane finds himself unwittingly involved in a terrorist plot at Washington Dulles International Airport while awaiting the arrival of his wife's plane. Oh, and of course, this is all happening on Christmas Eve again (perhaps McClane should try celebrating Hanukkah instead!). THIS TIME the terrorists have taken over air traffic control systems from a nearby church, cutting off communication to all the in-bound planes, and have seized control of the entire airport. Their goal is to rescue Ramon Esperanza (played by Franco Nero), a powerful drug lord and dictator of Val Verde, who is flying into the United States to stand trial. At one point, during a rather horrifying sequence, the terrorist leader Col. Stuart (played by William Sadler) uses an instrument landing system to deliberately crash a plane, killing everyone on board. You may find this hard to believe, but 21 years ago when I saw this in the theater, everyone in the audience actually cheered with excitement when the plane exploded. Since 9/11, nobody in their decent right mind would ever do that now (I hope). Guns blaze galore, shit explodes and it's an undenyable huge thrill from beginning to end. As you'd expect, McClane defeats the bad guys, saves the innocent and is reunited with his wife Holly. I have to say, though, the idea of Los Angeles reporter Richard Thornburg (played by William Atherton) who just HAPPENS to be on the same flight as Holly is too far-fetched for even my tastes to accept. It's necessary, I suppose, so he can once again open his big mouth to expose the horrible news for his own professional gains. Still...THE SAME FLIGHT???
Favorite line or dialogue:
John McClane (just before destroying the bad guy's plane): "Yippie-kai-yay, motherfucker!"
Monday, July 11, 2011
(July 1988, U.S.)
I was 21 years-old when DIE HARD first came out, but somehow it feels as if the entire franchise has been a part of my life and our pop culture much longer than that. I can still remember the first time I saw the advance teaser movie poster for the film and thinking how miscast Bruce Willis seemed in the role of the action hero. Remember at that time, Willis' was still a virtual unknown whose only claim-to-fame had been the ABC-TV series MOONLIGHTING and a couple of silly screen comedies. So the idea of his playing a New York City bad-ass cop made about as much sense to me as comedian Michael Keaton playing Batman would make a year later. Who knew, right?
So, for the kind benefit of those who having been living under a rock since 1988, Bruce Willis' John McClane is a righteous and dangerous cop who has a very bad habit of being the wrong person at the wrong place at the wrong time. For this film, he's found himself in Los Angeles as a guest at the Nakatomi Plaza building where his estranged wife Holly (played by Bonnie Bedelia) works during a big company Christmas party. The party is so rudely disrupted by the arrival of twelve armed German terrorist led by Hans Gruber (played by Alan Rickman). Hans and his group secure the party goers as hostages, but McClane manages to slip away into a nearby stairwell. What follows for much of the film is McClane moving through the building, elevator shafts and duct shafs while hiding from or shooting each terrorist he comes into contact with. Along the way, there are spectacular shoot-outs and explosions-galore! In the end, as you'd guess or as you've seen, the bad guys die, the hero wins, he gets his woman back and everybody lives happily ever after. Perfect Christmas story!
Looking back at the original DIE HARD now, the film may seem somewhat outdated, or at the very least, at the proper level of conformity with anything and everything else that's ever been part of the action film genre. But you need to appreciate that back in the 1980s, before Bruce Willis was to really jumstart his career, the action hero of the big screen had been mostly occupied by a bunch of mindless, petuitary cases that came in the form of Chuck Norris, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. These men could kick bloody ass, but emotional acting was not exactly their strongest asset. Now here comes John McClane...he's strong and asskicking, yes, but he hurts very badly, too. He's alone, very tired and has no desire to be a hero or to be in the violent situation he's in. He's been thrown into it and realizes he has a job to do or else people will die. He won't, however, enjoy any of it. I should also point out that I've always been very touched by the friendship and support that is developed over the cb radio between McClane and the L.A. cop outside on the street, Sgt. Al Powell (played by Reginal VelJohnson). One look at their long embrace and laughter at the end of the film and you know these two guys will be friends forever. Awww!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Police Supervisor: "Attention, whoever you are, this channel is reserved for emergency calls only."
John McClane: "No fucking shit, lady! Does it sound like I'm ordering a pizza!!?"
Friday, July 8, 2011
(May 1954, U.S.)
So, it seems that we move from the previously-posted Hitchcock-STYLE film to an actual Hitchcock film. Nice!
One of the first things I should tell you is that I'm not going to bother discussing the whole 3-D aspect of this release. I consider it practically irrelevant to the film itself and Hitchcock's film making style. I am also of the opinion that 3-D is one of the stupidest movie gimmick ever created, whether it was in the 1950s, the 1980s or the digital technology that plagues movie theaters today. Poor Hitchcock was practically forced to make this film in 3-D because that's what the times demanded back then. Sorry, Alfred.
DIAL M FOR MURDER was a very successful stage play before it was adapted to the screen. Like some of Hitchcock's other work (i.e., ROPE and REAR WINDOW), the setting is mostly confined to a single room. This has a knack of cleverly bringing the viewer inside to follow the action and dialogue between characters on a much closer level. The key word here is confinement, and sometimes when you're confined to a space you're forced to pay closer attention to your surroundings. As the film begins it's interesting to note that within just the first two minutes of the story we learn that Margot Wendice (played by screen legend and popular Hitchcock blonde Grace Kelly) has a nice marriage to her husband, retired tennis star Tony Wendice (played by Ray Milland) and an even nicer love affair with Mark Halliday (played by Robert Cummings). Take careful note in Hitchcock's use of color in that Margot is wearing an innocent white dress when she's with her husband and a sinful red dress when she's with her lover (shows you where HER head and body are at!). Within a short time of that, we learn that Tony not only knows of her infidelities but is also plotting her murder. Actually, let me correct that...he meets with petty criminal C.A. Swann (played by Anthony Dawson), an old acquaintance from Cambridge University whom Tony has been following in order to blackmail him into committing the murder of his wife. Swann reluctantly agrees, but as you would naturally expect, things go horrible wrong and Swann is killed by Margot with a pair of scissors in self-defense. Things go wrong even further when Margot is ultimately accused of, tried and sentenced for the murder of Swann, which suits Tony just fine as he can ultimately get rid of her, one way or another. But it's thanks to Chief Inspector Hubbard (played by John Williams) and some very clever deductions regarding house keys that will finally free the good guy (girl) and bring the bad guy (Tony) to justice. And just like an Agatha Christie resolution, you'll need to pay close and careful attention to the end and how the entire business with the latch keys ultimately solves the entire puzzle. Oh, but what a fun puzzle the whole thing is - Hitchcock style!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Inspector Hubbard: "Well, Mr. Halliday, have you got it?"
Mark Halliday: "I don't think so. Where's Mrs. Wendice's key?"
(Hubbard reveals the key from under the stair carpet)
Hubbard: "It took me just half an hour to find it."
Mark: "But if it was there, why didn't Wendice use it just now?"
Hubbard: "Well, he didn't use it because he doesn't realize it's there. He still thinks it's in his wife's handbag. You see, you were very nearly right. He told Swann that he would leave your latch key under the stair carpet, Mrs. Wendice, and told him to return it to the same place when he left. But as Swann was killed, we naturally assumed that your key would still be in one of Swann's pockets. That was his little mistake. Swann had done exactly as you suggested, Mr. Halliday. He unlocked the door and returned the key BEFORE he came in."
Mark: "And it's been out there ever since. And the key Wendice took out of Swann's pocket and returned to her handbag was..."
Hubbard: "Swann's OWN latch key."
Thursday, July 7, 2011
(November 1955, U.S.)
Director Alfred Hitchcock was without question one of the most influential film makers in the history of cinema; internationally as well as here in the United States. So when you watch Henri-Georges Clouzot's DIABOLIQUE, your first thought might very well be, "Hey, this French guy was clearly influenced by Hitchcock's PSYCHO!". That's a tempting thought, but the film was first released as LES DIABOLIQUES in France in January 1955, FIVE whole years before PSYCHO ever graced the screen. In fact, Clouzot actually snatched the screenplay rights from Hitchcock and his (Clouzot's) film helped inspire PSYCHO. Robert Bloch himself, the author of the original novel PSYCHO, once stated in an interview that his all-time favorite horror film is DIABOLIQUE. Horror? I'm not so sure myself. Suspenseful...definitely!
This French masterpiece takes place in a second-rate boarding school run by the mean and tyrannical Michel Delassalle (played by Paul Meurisse). The school, however, is owned by Delassalle's teacher-wife, the frail, weak-hearted Christina (played by Vera Clouzot). Delassalle has no reservations about flaunting his relationship with Nicole Horner (played by Simone Signoret), another teacher at the school. Rather than the expected antagonism between wife and mistress, the two women actually share a somewhat close relationship, primarily based on their apparent mutual hatred of Michel, who is physically and emotionally abusive to both. The two of them even go so far as to plan his murder together (how's THAT for tollerance and teamwork!). Through deception and sedation, the two women drown Michel in a bathtub and dump his body in the school's dirty, neglected swimming pool. When his corpse floats to the surface, they think it will appear to have been an accident. Almost everything goes according to their plans until the body fails to surface, and Michel's corpse is nowhere to be found when the pool is drained. In a late night sequence that is particularly creepy (even without the use of suspenseful music), Christina is haunted by strange noises at the school and wanders around to investigate. Back in her room, she finds Michel's corpse in the bathtub and...
What happens next is particularly scary and eventually concludes in one of those classic surprise endings. I'll be kind and not give it away to you now. Hell, even the original film contained an "anti-spoiler message" at the end credits for those in the audience. But by all means, rent DIABOLIQUE so you can experience what I'm talking about. And I do mean rent the ORIGINAL French black and white film, not that bullshit 1996 Sharon Stone remake!
Favorite line or dialogue:
M. Drain: "I may be reactionary, but this is absolutely astounding - the legal wife consoling the mistress! No, no, and no!"
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
(October 1997, U.S.)
You've heard me say it before and I'll say it again now - Al Pacino is my favorite actor of all time and nothing puts a big smile on my face or gets my blood pumping more than when he starts to yell on screen. While I still maintain that AND JUSTICE FOR ALL (1979) is my favorite Pacino film, it's a film like THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE that really sets his twisted style in motion. Back in 1987, when I saw Jack Nicholson play the Devil in THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK, I was convinced he had nailed the idea of the character down cold and hard. Not that I'm saying Pacino has done it better, but at the very least on an equal level with his own famous persona to give the Devil a side that's a whole lot of fun to experience.
So, we have the great Al Pacino playing the Devil named John Milton (a tribute to Milton who wrote "Paradise Lost"). And in this film, the Devil is none other than...(drum roll)...A LAWYER! Now I'm sure we've all heard enough tastleless lawyer jokes in our time, but to insinuate that lawyers and the law they practice is Satan's own will...well, shit, that's just fucking brilliant in my opinion! The Devil equals lawyers...I mean why not! And with any story about the Devil, it's only cliche that we also have the story of a (seemingly) innocent soul whom He'll seduce and corrupt. That soul is Kevin Lomax (played by Keanu Reeves), a trial lawyer who makes his living by getting the guilty off the hook and somehow seems to be able to live with himself. But right now he's just a small time guy in Gainsville, Florida. Deep in the bowels of New York City is the great big law firm Milton, Chadwick & Waters that promises the seduction of money, recognition, respect, trial acquittals and even the hottest women. It's all there for the taking if you freely surrender to it and are willing to give up not only your soul, but the woman you love, too. Kevin's wife Mary Ann (played by Charlize Theron) is beautiful and energetic, but she's clearly not part of the overall plan that Milton has in mind. So very slowly, she's driven mad to the point of her own suicide to make way for Kevin ultimate merger with his own half-sister (a woman he's desired from their first meeting) so Milton can have the satanic family he's always wanted. Oh, and I might add that poor Kevin suffers from what I like to refer to as the "Darth Vader syndrome" in that the worst guy possible turns out to be his father. You figure it out.
So what's the clear message in this film? Lawyers are the Devil? Granted. Lawyers should stop getting the scum of the Earth acquitted so they're not roaming the streets again? Granted even more. Love and honor your wife and don't become obssessed by your career? That's up to you. The message in the film may be obvious, but I highly doubt it'll ever be respected or adhered to. Lawyers are who they are, love them or hate them. But the prospect of the law and satanism in the hands of Al Pacino are just too damn delicious to ignore. The fun is there on the screen, so enjoy it to the fullest, my friends!
Favorite line or dialogue:
John Milton: "Let me give you a little inside information about God. God likes to watch. He's a prankster. Think about it. He gives man instincts. He gives you this extraordinary gift, and then what does He do, I swear for His own amusement, his own private, cosmic gag reel, He sets the rules in opposition. It's the goof of all time. Look but don't touch. Touch, but don't taste. Taste, don't swallow. Ahaha. And while you're jumpin' from one foot to the next, what is he doing? He's laughin' His sick, fuckin' ass off! He's a tight-ass! He's a SADIST! He's an absentee landlord! Worship that? NEVER!"
Kevin Lomax: "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven", is that it?"
John: "Why not? I'm here on the ground with my nose in it since the whole thing began. I've nurtured every sensation man's been inspired to have. I cared about what he wanted and I never judged him. Why? Because I never rejected him. In spite of all his imperfections, I'm a fan of man! I'm a humanist. Maybe the last humanist. Who, in their right mind Kevin, could possibly deny the twentieth century was entirely mine? All of it, Kevin! All of it! Mine! I'm peakin', Kevin. It's my time now. It's our time."
Friday, July 1, 2011
(September 2006, U.S.)
THE DEPARTED is a great fucking movie and I'm really glad that director Martin Scorsese finally got his just dues when it won the Oscar for best picture of 2006. But in a very small way, it's infuriating, because when compared to some of his earlier (and better) films that probably should have won that same award back in the day, like TAXI DRIVER (1976), RAGING BULL (1980) and GOODFELLAS (1990), you just can't believe it took this damn long for a crime thriller that's actually a remake of a 2002 Chinese film called INFERNAL AFFAIRS. I actually didn't know that at the time I saw Scorsese's film.
So where can I begin? You know that when you're about to watch a film that'll combine the talents of Scorsese and Jack Nicholson, you're in for a real cinematic treat. Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg don't exactly hurt the film, either. At a young age, Colin Sullivan (played by Damon) is introduced to organized crime through Irish mobster Frank Costello (played by Nicholson) in the Irish neighborhood of South Boston. Costello trains him to become his mole inside the Massachusetts State Police and succeeds beautifully. But at the same time, the same thing is happening on the opposite side of the coin when Billy Costigan (played by DiCaprio) is asked by Captain Oliver Queenan (played by Martin Sheen) and Staff Sergeant Sean Dignam (played by Wahlberg) to become an Undercover Agent, as his childhood and family ties to organized crime make him a perfect infiltrator. He drops out of the Academy and does time in prison on a fake assault charge to increase his credibility (following all of this so far?). Deep infiltration is taking place at both ends as both moles struggle to not only maintain their position and credibility, but their sanity, as well. As you watch and follow along step-by-step, you can't help but wonder who's going to fall first. I say "fall" because even in the smallest victories on either side, you can't help but feel that they're both going to come crashing down in the end. You're not wrong. You've heard the silly expression, "They all die at the end." Well, you figure it out.
Any character of a gangster played by Jack Nicholson is, well...he's Jack "fucking" Nicholson, for Christ sakes! In this role, he's giving us his most menacing (and most fun) performance since The Joker in Tim Burton's BATMAN (1989). Over the years, Leo seems to have become Scorsese's new "DeNiro" and he doesn't fail to disappoint as a man on the verge of madness all in the name of law and justice. Two things about the film did not sit quite right with me, though. They're very small, but I'll mention them nonetheless. The first is the silly element of symobolism when a rat runs across the balcony railing at the end. Yes, we know the whole premise of the film has been about rats in the organization, but no need to get silly about it. The second is that if you're going to use a song by Pink Floyd (my favorite rock band in the whole world!), please don't, don't, don't use somebody else's cover version! Bad idea. Very bad.
THE DEPARTED won the Oscar for best picture of 2006.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Frank Costello: "When you decide to be something, you can be it. That's what they don't tell you in the church. When I was your age they would say we can become cops, or criminals. Today, what I'm saying to you is this: when you're facing a loaded gun, what's the difference?"