Tuesday, November 29, 2011

FATAL ATTRACTION


(September 1987, U.S.)

I'm going to start off this post by telling you all three brief stories and how they may (or may not) be directly linked to the adult themes of Adrian Lyne's 1987 hit, FATAL ATTRACTION. I will also add that all of this took place BEFORE I met the woman who would become my wife (got that, honey?).

In the Summer of 1990, I was in love with a girl who did not return the same feelings for me (I've described her before in my post for DEAD POETS SOCIETY). Somewhere during the course of those months, we had a discussion concerning the fact that we'd never slept together. We weren't dating (nor did it look like we would be), but we were, nonetheless, curious about being with each other. So we actually had a talk about being together one time and then resuming our relationship as just friends. In short, we were two (seemingly) mature adults laying out the rules of engagement and the acceptance of those rules. I accepted. The results of our first time together sexually are an entirely different story, but when it was over I suddenly found myself not liking the rules I'd agreed to so much. I didn't go boiling any rabbits, but I found myself wanting a lot more of what I'd agreed to have only once. By this account, it may be very easy for me to sympathize with Glenn Close's character Alex Forrest and the feelings she can't let go of, despite the "rules" she's agreed to.

For a couple of years during college following that summer, I had a girlfriend (I've described her before in my post for BASIC INSTINCT) who was very warm, very giving, very passionate and also known to succomb to very unwarranted fits of jealous rage. She never boiled any rabbits, but she did slash one of the tires on my car once for no apparant good reason. By this account, it may be very easy for me to CONDEMN Alex Forrest and how she takes her obssessions and insecurities too far.

Finally, during the Summer of 1997, I met and picked up a girl at a club in the Hamptons. We met the next day and proceeded to...okay, can't talk about THAT because my wife is likely reading this now. The point, though, is that somewhere along the course of things getting very physical, the brain in my head kicked in for a moment and told me that I did not want this girl to become any permanent part of my life. Thus, I actually took the time to tell her (BEFORE sleeping with her) that I was NOT looking for a girlfriend. She understood and accepted that fact. So again, we were two mature adults laying out the rules of engagement and acceptance of those rules (neither of us boiled any rabbits!). By this account, it may be very easy for me to sympathize with Michael Douglas' character, Dan Gallagher and the rules and conditions he lays out when getting temporarily involved with Alex.

By the way, in case you haven't actually seen FATAL ATTRACTION and haven't quite figured it out yet, a rabbit DOES get boiled in this film. In fact, ass a result, the term "bunny boiler" was passed into popular culture as a term for a very jealous and potentially violent mistress.

So as you watch the thrilling (and sometimes horrific) events of this film unfold and threaten to destroy the life of Dan Gallagher and his family, the one argument you may find yourself having (with yourself) is who is right and who is wrong. It can be argued that Dan is very WRONG in allowing himself to be tempted to stray from his seemingly perfect marriage to his wife Beth (played by Anne Archer and also the name of MY wife) simply because the opportunity is there for the taking. It can be argued that Dan is clearly in the RIGHT for not leading Alex on in the first place and making the rules of his life and availability very clear from the get-go. It can be argued that Alex is in the RIGHT for not allowing herself to be treated like some slut that Dan can just bang a few times and then discard when he's had his fun. It can ultimately be argued that Alex is very, very WRONG (and very, very disturbed) for taking things so far as to kidnap Dan's little girl and try to kill him and his wife. These were arguments I actually had in 1987 with the girl I'd seen the film with right after it was over. Right-wrong, right-wrong...these are the issues that FATAL ATTRACTION can raise, and DID raise back in the day. One thing's for sure and that is the premise of an obssessive woman trying to destroy a man's life and family scared the living shit of all men who saw the film back in it's day, and probably still does! By the final climax, though, despite whomever is right or wrong, there is one inescapable conclusion that is likely to run through your head and that is, "This crazy bitch has to die!"

All of this has been my collection of personal opions, of course. But for the record, after its original release, FATAL ATTRACTION engendered much discussion of the potential consequences of infidelity on the part of the male. Feminists, meanwhile, did not appreciate the depiction of Alex as a strong career woman who is at the same time profoundly psychotic (yeah, but she IS psychotic, right?). This film may have also saved many marriages because men were just too scared shitless to cheat on their wives. You see, guys, this is what HOOKERS are for!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Dan Gallagher: "Look, Alex, I like you, and if I wasn't with somebody else then maybe I'd be with you. But I am."
Alex Forrest: "Please don't justify yourself. It's pathetic. If you told me to fuck off, I'd have more respect for you."
Dan: "All right then, fuck off."

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH


(August 1982, U.S.)

Somewhere during the latter part of my high school education in the early 1980s, I discovered my love for the music of Led-Zeppelin. This was AFTER I saw FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH. I point this out because it was due to watching this film that I actually thought that "Kashmir" was on the album "Led-Zeppelin IV" because the character of Mike Damone tells Mark Ratner that "When it comes down to making out, whenever possible, put on side one of Led Zeppelin IV." and the scene that immediately follows features "Kashmir" playing in the car on Mark's first date with Stacy Hamilton. I eventually learned otherwise.

So you see, it's just like I've pointed out before, certain films are what you make of them in terms of your own personal memories and feelings about them. For myself, FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH was not about seeing it in the movie theater at the time of its original release, but rather one year later when I began my sophmore year at high school and the film was playing on every pay-cable channel for repeated viewing. Try to imagine an entire school full of pubescent young males constantly quoting the lines of Jeff Spicoli (played by a young and talented Sean Penn) like "Hey bud, let's party!", "People on 'ludes should not drive" and "That was my skull! I'm so wasted!" Ah yes, it was a wonderful time for silly film quotations and silly high school teenage sex comedies, in general! A film like FAST TIMES is the reason I don't go for AMERICAN PIE movies or something like THE HANGOVER. Been there, done that, and it was much better in my time!

Now what I've found quite interesting in the nearly thrity years since this film came out is how much I've learned about it that I didn't know back then. For instance, I had no idea who Cameron Crowe was and that he'd actually gone undercover as a high school student in order to write his original book that FAST TIMES is based on. I had no idea until recently that the pretty blonde girl driving the car and laughing at Brad Hamilton's fast food pirate hat was actually Nancy Wilson of Heart who would later become Crowe's wife (and then EX-wife). It even took me a few years to realize that the entire Jeff Spicoli surfing sequence was actually just a dream (Hey, I thought he was just that good!).

Recalling FAST TIMES, as well as others like it such as PORKY'S (1982) and SPRING BREAK (1983) recalls a time when high school and college were a source of absolute antics and fun times with the right amount of tits and ass to entertain (and perhaps educate) young horny men who had yet to lose their virginity. This was before John Hughes would take over and show us the more serious and dramatic side of our high school experiences. Still, even now it's always nice to return to the wild sexual element of the young "coming-of-age" side of adolescence and remember a time when a young, horny man like myself was just waiting in anticipation for the day he would one day have sex for the first time and constantly pausing the videotape at the exact moment when Phoebe Cates and Jennifer Jason Leigh took off their tops and treated me to full frontal nudity...



(Oh right, like all you guys reading this post never did THAT at least once when you were younger!)

In fact, did you know that a constant problem with VHS rental copies of FAST TIMES in the 1980s was that there was very often a visual glitch on the tape ribbon at the exact moment when Cates takes off her red bikini top because young, horny men were constantly pausing the videotape and...well, you can guess! You know, I wonder if Stacy and Rat ever eventually "went all the way"?

Favorite line or dialogue:

Stu Nahan: "Hello everybody! I'm Stu Nahan, and I'd like you to meet this young man. His name, Jeff Spicoli. And Jeff, congratulations to you. Things looked kind of rough out there today."
Jeff Spicoli: "Well, I'll tell you Stu, I did battle some humongous waves! But you know, just like I told the guy on ABC, "Danger is my business!"
Stu: "You know, a lot of people expected maybe Mark "Cutback" Davis or Bob "Jungle Death" Gerrard would take the honors this year."
Jeff: "Those guys are fags!"
Stu: "That's fantastic! Let me ask you a question. When you get out there, do you ever fear for your life?"
Jeff: "Well Stu I'll tell you, surfing's not a sport, it's a way of life, you know, a hobby. It's a way of looking at that wave and saying, "Hey bud, let's party!" Where'd you get this jacket?"
Stu: "I got this from the network. Let me ask you a question. What's next for Jeff Spicoli?"
Jeff: "Heading over to the Australian and Hawaiian internationals, and then me and Mick are going to wing on over to London and jam with the Stones! And you guys are invited too!"

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

FARGO


(March 1996, U.S.)

The Coen Brothers' dark comedy-crime film FARGO is considered one of the best films of their career. That, of course, is up to the viewer to decide. Personally, I think they hit the mark beautifully with their debut film BLOOD SIMPLE (1984). FARGO is one of those experiences where you simply can't help but laugh at extremely quirky characters like sleazy car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (played by William H. Macy), pregnant police chief Marge Gunderson (played by Frances McDormand) or "funny lookin" small time criminal Carl Showalter (played by Steve Buscemi). Yet, at the same time, you can't help but be repelled by the bloody violence and shocking murders that takes place on the screen and those that are motivated by financial greed.

From the moment we meet Jerry, we already know that there's something about him we don't like. As it turns out, he's in deep financial trouble and will stoop to the act of hiring a couple of sleazeball criminals to kidnap his wife in order to get the ransom money from his wealthy father in-law which he'll split with the kidnappers. But of course, as cliche (and perhaps even true story accounts), things go horribly wrong and blood begins to spill. The murders in question are investigated by our above-mentioned pregnant local police chief Marge. She quickly deduces the chain of events and follows the leads that arise, interviewing two quirky (and considerably UGLY!) prostitutes who serviced the criminals and tracing the license plates on the criminals' vehicle to Jerry's auto dealership. Not good for Jerry! The climax is not only intruiging because you're actually rather impressed by what this hero pregnant cop is capable of, but you also can't believe you're watching the wood chipper scene, despite knowing the violence that criminal Gaear Grimsrud (Carl's silent piece-of-shit partner and played chillingly by Peter Stormare) is evidently capable of. The real ending that you may not expect is the final scene of Marge in bed with her loving husband as they sweetly tell each other "I love you." That is so cliche, so old fashioned, perhaps even borderline stupid in the "Hollywood happy ending" sense, and yet somehow, it seems to make sense at the end of the rather insane day that Marge has had. Go figure.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Marge Gunderson: "Okay. I wantcha to tell me what these fellas looked like."
Hooker: "Well, the little guy, he was kinda funny lookin'."
Marge: "In what way?"
Hooker: "I don't know. Just funny lookin'."
Marge: "Can ya be any more specific?"
Hooker: "I couldn't really say. He wasn't circumcised."
Marge: "Was he funny lookin' apart from that?"
Hooker: "Yah."
Marge: "So you were havin' sex with the little fella, then?"
Hooker: "Uh-huh."
Marge: "Is there anything else you can tell me about him?"
Hooker: "No. Like I say, he was funny lookin'. More that most peopel even."

Saturday, November 19, 2011

FANTASIA 2000


(December 1999, U.S.)

Here's something to consider for a moment - did MTV REALLY create the music video thirty years ago? I would challange that idea by claiming that it was actually Walt Disney himself who first introduced the world to the idea of the music video in his original release of FANTASIA in 1940. Think about it. For the first time, moviegoers were treated to the idea of animated images and effects on screen accompanied by popular classical music. Forty-one years later, MTV would simply use the same concept with popular rock music accompanied with films of the bands themeselves or any other cinematic images. Sixty years after the first FANTASIA, the concept of a brand new film FANTASIA 2000 with new musical pieces and new animated segments seemed just perfect for the new millenium to come. And it even included the very poplular Mickey Mouse-starred "Scorcerer's Apprentice" segment from the original film; the only segment from the original film that I ever really appreciated anyway. For the new century, though, the film's segments are as followed:

- "Symphony No. 5" by Ludwig van Beethoven with abstract patterns and shapes resembling butterflies and bats exploring a world of light and darkness which are ultimately conquered by light.

- "Pines of Rome" by Ottorino Respighi accompanied by a family of humpback whales that are able to fly via some sort of supernova. The calf is separated from his parents when he becomes trapped in an iceberg, but finds his way out with his mother's help. The final section, the Via Appia, gives the impression of the larger pod of adults in migration.

- "Rhapsody in Blue" by George Gershwin (my wife's favorite piece of classical music. An episode of New York City during the Great Depression of the 1930s in the style of Al Hirschfeld's well-known cartoons of the time, depicting a day in the lives of several people within the bustling metropolis.

- "Piano Concerto No. 2" by Dmitri Shostakovich and based on "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" by Hans Christian Andersen. The concerto was written as a gift by Shostakovich to his musically gifted young son, and the percussive rhythms also suit a story about a soldier. In contrast to the original story, the ending is a happy one (how Hollywood is THAT?).

- "The Carnival of the Animals" by Camille Saint-Saëns with a flock of flamingos try to force a slapstick member who enjoys playing with a yo-yo to engage in their dull routines.

- The return of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" by Paul Dukas featuring Mickey Mouse as the apprentice of sorcerer Yen Sid who attempts some of his master's magic tricks before knowing how to control them. The result is a lot of broken broom sticks and a lot of water.

- "Pomp and Circumstance" by Edward Elgar and based on the story of Noah's Ark from the Book of Genesis starring Donald Duck as the first mate to Noah and Daisy Duck as Donald's assistant and love interest. Donald leads the animals to the Ark and in the process he misses, loses and reunites with Daisy.

- "Firebird Suite" by Igor Stravinsky. The story is of the spring sprite and her companion, the elk, who accidentally awakes the evil Firebird, a fiery spirit of destruction in a nearby volcano. The Firebird proceeds in destroying the forest, and seemingly the sprite. The Sprite survives, and the Elk encourages her to restore the forest to its former state.

If you've been reading my blogs long enough, then you know that I ususally don't take the time to go into this much detail when it comes to plot and story. The exception here, however, is that it seems almost unavoidable when trying to get the reader to appreciate what can ultimately be compared to...well, a music video on film. Unlike the original FANTASIA, however, which I found too childish for my tastes, this one holds my attention a lot more. Perhaps I just like the music better. Perhaps I appreciate how far we've come in the art of animation since 1940. Who knows and who cares. It's a joyful, colorful experience of music and images. It's only the only film that I've ever seen on the giant IMAX screen.

Favorite animated segment (because dialogue ain't exactly happening in this film!):

"Pines of Rome" by Ottorino Respighi. Not only my favorite piece of music in the film, but also the best featured animation. Watching the family of humback whales is wonderfully visually engrossing, to say the least.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

FAME (1980)


(May 1980, U.S.)

Every once in a while when I'm writing my blog posts, I have to occassionally remind myself to look back on a particular film of the past when it was considered a work of originality and true performance back in "the day" or in the past years of my childhood. In simpler words, watching Alan Parker's original version of FAME again during a century that has so far seen way too many movies and television shows where high school kids and so-called "tweenies" are constantly singing and dancing and dreaming of being the next bullshit version of Lady Gaga (I hate, hate, hate that pig!) or whatever else. FAME came out in 1980, and up until then, teenage musicals had been more or less restricted to GREASE (1978) and "beach blanket" movies of the 1960s. I myself haven't been in high school since 1985, but I can surely guarantee you that the four year experience is NO damn musical!

Truth be told, I cannot consider FAME your traditional musical. Yes, there's singing and dancing and yes, the film's music soundtrack was as big as the ones for SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER and GREASE preceeding it. But these are not students breaking out into song and dance in the traditional sense. When they sing, dance and play instruments, it's part of their education and their dreams of fame and stardom. But unlike the kids you may be painfully subjected to on the Disney Channel, these kids are not always happy and many of them have R-rated dark and painful secrets and experiences that they need to bring out of themselves. These inner emotions are what will ultimately bring out the talent and passion they keep inside, be it music, drama or dancing. These are kids you actually WANT to listen to and come to care about during their four year committment to their studies at the New York High School of Performing Arts. Some will succeed and many, many will fail, even the best and the brightest of them. We'll never know which ones, but we're going to watch them do the hard work and and painfully suffer along the way.

Watching the opening segment of AUDITIONS is what I've frankly found the most intruiging of the film. Your eyes, ears and senses are nearly overwhelmed by all the talent and capabilities of these young hopefuls and it's all happening at the same time. You also feel for the impatience and punchiness of the teachers as they have to spend days auditioning kids who are all there for the same dream, whether they have any talent or not (some simply do NOT!). I would also call particular attention the film's performances of Barry Miller playing Ralph Garci and Irene Cara playing CoCo. Miller had already previously impressed me in SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (1977) and anyone who remembers FLASHDANCE (1983) knows what Cara did for it. It's a shame, though, that she never really made it in film, because I think she's pretty damn good in FAME. I also can't resist the sequence of the traditional midnight performance of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW at the now defunked 8th Street Playhouse in New York City. I got to experience that once...just once.

I didn't see the 2009 remake of FAME (big fucking surprise, right?), but I can almost understand Hollywood's need (and greed!) to remake it when you consider all of the previously-mentioned crap in the movies and television that has, frankly, sickened me ever since AMERICAN IDOL went on the air. The remake was inevitable for sure and it completely tanked at the box office and with audiences. Good!!!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Montgomery MacNeil: "Look, all anyone ever promised you was seven classes a day and a hot lunch. The rest is up to you, Ralph. I mean, back in the Middle Ages, actors, they didn't even wanna bury us."
Ralph Garci: "Well, they do now."
Montgomery: "Not if you're good."
Ralph: "How do you know? How do you know if you're good?"
Montgomery: "Maybe you never know. You just hang in, I guess."

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

FALCON AND THE SNOWMAN, THE


(January 1985, U.S.)

I have to say that it's a shame, like Paul Newman and Robert Redford, that Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn only made two films together (the other one was TAPS) because I always thought they had quite a good chemistry with each other. Looking back at the early 1980s, I'd have guessed that it would've been Hutton who might have turned out to be the bigger cinematic star. Not so, huh?

Like LESS THAN ZERO (1987), this film centers on two young boys who are both from wealthy, upscale California families and who have, nonethless, both turned to a lifestyle of crime. Christopher Boyce (played by Hutton) and Daulton Lee (played by Penn) were both real life men who sold U.S. security secrets to the Soviet Union in the 1970s. Dalton, I might add, is also a drug dealter. I might also add, and it's difficult to tell if he was really like this in real life or if Penn is simply playing him this way, that Daulton was a major incompetent fuck up! So much so, that you can't help but wonder why someone as intelligent as Chris would put his trust and confidence is someone like Daulton in the first place. I suppose boyhood friendship can go a long way in these matters. As a young civil defense contractor, Chris works inside a secure communication facility through which flows much information on some of the most classified U.S. operations in the world. Chris has becomed disillusioned with the U.S. government through his new position, especially after reading a misrouted communiqué dealing with the CIA's plan to depose the Prime Minister of Australia. Frustrated by this apparent duplicity, Chris decides to repay his own government by passing classified secrets to the Soviets. Daulton agrees to actually contact and deal with the KGB on Chris' behalf, motivated not by any idealism, but by what he perceives as an great opportunity to make a lot of money and eventually settle in his idea of paradise of Costa Rica. And as one would predict, these sort of illegal activities don't last too long and the twisted dreams of these boys, no matter how they've been motivated, come crashing down around them.

Although I consider this one of Timothy Hutton's best roles after ORDINARY PEOPLE (1980), THE FALCON AND THE SNOWMAN was not a particularly popular film during it's theatrical run. It did obtain some interesting notoriety as a broadcast of the film on HBO in 1986 was jammed by a satellite broadcast operator calling himself "Captain Midnight". I wish I'd seen that.

Some interesting facts about Christopher Boyce himself. In 1980, he escaped from prison and while a fugitive, committed seventeen bank robberies in Idaho and Washington State, eventually being captured in 1981. Boyce was just finally paroled in 2002, as was Daulton Lee before him 1998. Boyce later justified his actions by claiming that he was selling this information in the hopes of fostering peace between the Soviet Union and the United States. But when you consider the fact that he began his crimes during the 1970s when the Watergate scandal and the Vietnam War were at their height, why would an intelligent young man be so shocked and disillusioned to learn that his own govenment was so corrupt? Come on, everybody knows THAT!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Christopher Boyce: "I know a thing or two about predatory behavior, and what once was a legitimate intelligence agency is now being used on weaker governments."

Saturday, November 12, 2011

FAIL-SAFE


(October 1964, U.S.)

Without going into too much unnecessary details regarding comparisons between Sidney Lumet's FAIL-SAFE and Stanley Kubrick's DR. STRANGLOVE, both fictional tales of a Cold War nuclear crisis, let me just simply state that Kubrick's film is a film that is outright funny. FAIL-SAFE is anything but. The suspense can have you sitting there full of tension because you know in your bones that this is all going to end on an apocalyptic level.

Despite the similarities, controversies and legal battles between FAIL-SAFE and DR. STRANGELOVE, the heart of it's dark tale could not have been more timely, considering it was 1964 and tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union were already at their height. This film expresses the discomfort with how much of the U.S. defense system is automated without any direct human responsibility. So when an unidentified object is detected approaching North America from Europe, the incident is regarded as a common occurrence and standard procedure is invoked, deploying American fighter aircraft to meet the potential threat. According to routine, American strategic bombers are directed to fly to various predetermined "fail-safe" points outside the borders of the Soviet Union, where they are to remain until receiving either orders to return to base or a special attack code transmitted through an electronic "fail-safe" box in each group commander's bomber.

(Are you all following this so far?)

So the Strategic Air Comman (SAC) computer system experiences a technical failure which causes a valid attack code to be electronically transmitted to one of the bomber groups. The commander of the bomber group, attempts to contact SAC to confirm the order, but is unable to do so, as the group's radio transmissions are being jammed by the Soviets. Having received a valid attack code, and with no known contrary orders, he proceeds with the group's designated attack mission: to drop thermonuclear bombs on Moscow (Uh-oh!). Now the commander will ignore all radio transmissions and orders from not only the President of the United States (played brilliantly by Henry Fonda), but even the voice of his own beloved wife.

What follows is not only interesting, but very frightening, as well. Knowing that Moscow is going to be unavoidably destroyed due to human error, the President is now in the horrifying position to save face and somehow "even the score". To do that, he must knowingly and deliberately order an equivalent nuclear strike on New York City, even with his own wife visiting the city. The entire premise is scary, to say the least, even when we are living in a time when the threat of nuclear arms does not hold a great fear with us. Can you possibly imagine what it must have been like to watch this tragic story unfold on screen during the height of the Cold War?

Getting back to Henry Fonda's performance for a moment - anyone who's seen enough movies has seen actors play fictional versions of the President of the United States. Michael Douglas in THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT (1995), Bill Pullman in INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996) and Harrison Ford in AIR FORCE ONE (1997) are just a few that come to mind. Fonda's intense attention to detail during a time of horrible crisis and gut-wrenching decisions make his portrayel as the President the best I've ever seen on film. Watch his face and listen to his voice and you'll see what I'm talking about and will also likely agree with my opinion. And check out a very young Larry Hagman as the president's Russian translator who must not only repeat the Soviet Chairman is saying, but also convincingly convey his feelings and emotions.

There are two elements I find particularly chilling in FAIL-SAFE. The first is the high-piched shrill sound of the telephone melting at the other end of the line when the nuclear explosions have destroyed the city of Moscow. The second are those final camera shots of typical New York City moments just before the missles are about to strike ground zero at the Empire State Building. Watching that, I can never help but wonder why it's always New York City that is the butt of all movie attacks. I think that September 11, 2001 was more life imitating art than one could possibly imagine!

Favorite line or dialogue:

President of the United States: "Yes, Mr. Chairman."
Soviet Chairman (via American translator): "Mr. President...I have ordered our long range missles to stand down from their alert. Only that part of our defense that has a chance of shooting down your bomber is still active. We do not think we have much of a chance."
President: "I know."
Chairman: "And yet this was nobody's fault."
President: "I don't agree."
Chairman: "No human being did wrong. No one is to be blamed."
President: "We're to blame. Both of us. We let our machines get out of hand."
Chairman: "Still, it WAS an accident."
President: "Two great cities may be destroyed. Millions of innocent people killed! What do we say to them, Mr. Chairman? Accidents will happen? I won't accept that!"
Chairman: "All I know is that as long as we have weapons..."
President: "All I know is that men are responsible! WE'RE responsible for what happens to us! Today we had a taste of the future! Do we learn from it or do we go on the way we have? What do we do, Mr. Chairman? What do we say to the dead?"
Chairman: "I think if we are men, we must say this will not happen again. But do you think it possible? With all that stand between us?"
President: "We put it there, Mr. Chairman, and we're not helpless! What we put between us we can remove!"

Friday, November 11, 2011

FAHRENHEIT 9/11


(June 2004, U.S.)

The opening lines of director and narrator Michael Moore's documentary FAHRENHEIT 9/11 go something like this...

"Was it all just a dream? Did the last four years not really happen?"

Well, to put it simply, that's how I've more or less felt about most of the first decade of the 20th Century. I didn't always, though. From the moment the ball started to drop at Times Square on January 1, 2000 and we had gotten past our paranoia of Y2K, I was filled with a great (and rare!) sense of optimism for the future. Why wouldn't I be? I was young (younger), I was healthy, I was loving my job, I already knew that I wanted to marry my girlfriend someday (I did!) and I saw no reason whatsoever why Al Gore wouldn't be our next president of the United States.

(OOPS! Looks like the state of Florida managed to fuck that up for us!)

Even if we put aside the events of September 11, 2001 and our useless invasion of Iraq, take a brief tally of all we've had to endure in the first decade of the 20th Century and you'll likely be sickened by all that you come up with - anthrax in the U.S. mail, Richard Reid the shoe bomber, the D.C. sniper, lies about weapons of mass destruction, the Enron scandal, pedifile priests, Hurricane Katrina, our economic meltdown, Lady Gaga...I could go on forever...and it seems that in dark shadows of it all was the man I can only hope history will conclude as being the worst U.S. president in history, GEORGE W. BUSH! Damn, no wonder Time magazine called the 00's the "worst decade ever"! They were right!

So, for the benefit of those of you who haven't spent too much of their cinematic viewing time on documentaries, Michael Moore takes a very critical look at the presidency of George W. Bush, the War on Terror, and its coverage in the news media. Moore contends that American corporate media were "cheerleaders" for the 2003 invasion of Iraq and didn't provide an accurate or objective analysis of the rationale for the war or the resulting casualties there. The film generated intense controversy, including some disputes over its accuracy. Moore responds by documenting his many sources. Still, even with all these sources and the proof he attempts to provide on film, his allogations ultimately come down to the simple fact of whether or not the viewer believes it all or not. Do I believe it ALL? Not likely. To believe EVERY word of it would be to likely believe that our lame govenment not only ignored the warnings of the impending attack on U.S. soil, but also had a hand in ALLOWING it to happen, as well. For me, to accept that sort of horror would just be too, well, unacceptable. The rest of it, though, I can totally accept. Govenment, in my opinion, has always been rotten to the bone. Under Bush's command, though, the traditional brand of vile corruption just seem to take on a whole new incomprehensible horror.

Now as much as I despise George W. Bush, would you believe that there was a very brief period of time when I absolutely loved the man? I'm not kidding! In the weeks following 9-11, I had convinced myself that in the spirit of Ronald Reagan, Bush was going to kick the living shit out of our enemies who had attacked us. And when he showed up at Yankee Stadium to throw out the first pitch at one of the games during the World Series, that did it for me! I thought to myself, "This is it! This is going to be one of the greatest presidents of all time!" Instead of that, we decided to go to war with the wrong enemy - a people who had never attacked the United States before, nor had they ever threatened to attack the United States before.

Michael Moore is not a filmmaker that I would say I'm willing to cling to every word and allogation that comes out of his mouth. His look at the Bush administration and the powers that tore our country to Hell serve, if nothing more, than a tool to inflame your rage and hatred for a presidnet you may or may not have already come to hate. For myself, after I saw FAHRENHEIT 9/11 during the Summer of 2004, I was actually deluded enough to think that the film was powerful enough to possibly swing the coming November 2004 elections toward the Democratic party. Geez, look how wrong I was! EIGHT LONG YEARS WITH GEORGE W. BUSH!!! Uughh!!!

Well, that's all over now. We made history by electing our first African-American president, we finally killed Osama Bin Laden, and most importantly, we may have finally figured out that the first African-American (and Democrat) president is as capable of being just as good, bad, intelligent, clueless, effective or useless as any other U.S. president we've had in our history.

Favorite line or dialogue: (being that today is Veteran's Day, I can think of nothing more appropriate from the film)

Michael Moore narrating: "I've always been amazed that the very people forced to live in the worst parts of town, go to the worst schools, and who have it the hardest are always the first to step up, to defend that very system. They serve so that we don't have to. They offer to give up their lives so that we can be free. It is remarkably their gift to us. And all they ask for in return is that we never send them into harm's way unless it's absolutely necessary. Will they ever trust us again?"

"Keep on rockin' in the free world!" (Neil Young, 1989)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

FABULOUS BAKER BOYS, THE


(October 1989, U.S.)

THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS is a rather quiet, simple movie released by 20th Century Fox. There's no special effects, no 3D, no super heroes, and no roman numeral number attached to the title. In other words, it's a film that would NEVER be released today under Fox's main studio...under Fox Searchlight, perhaps. It's main appeal at the time of its release was the opportunity to see real life brothers Jeff and Beau Bridges star together as on-screen brothers. That prospect is very alluring to someone (like me) who'd like to watch two performers who can actually act. And speaking frankly, Michelle Pheiffer never looked hotter in her entire career!

Jack (Jeff) and Frank (Beau), are brothers making a living playing piano in lounges and music bars, their gimmick being that they play intricate jazz-and pop-flavored duets on matching grand pianos. Professionally and personally, Jack's life is a series of empty one-night stands. Now and again, he plays the challenging music he really cares about at a local jazz club, but it's become pretty clear that his life has become a mundane routine that has sickened him deep inside. Frank also shows signs of having just as much contempt for what they do together, as well, but clings to the fact that what he does pays the bills and supports him family, which in itself is enough for him to live the life he does.

So, for 31 years, its just been the Baker boys and things have moved along the same course without change...until they hire the beautiful but eccentric Susie Diamond (Pfeiffer), a former escort with unusual charisma, a sultry singing voice, and emotional baggage she keeps well hidden most of the time. After a rocky start, the new act becomes unexpectedly successful, leading to bigger gigs and better money, but Frank is worried that Jack will ruin it by letting his dick to the talking with Susie, having noticed the growing attraction between the two, and being all too well aware of his little brother's effect on women. He's not wrong about them having sex (twice), nor about that action eventually tearing the act apart. In the end, their professional relationship is over, but the brothers finally let each other know how much they care about each other, now that they don't have to work together. It seems that their connection is unbreakable, no matter what happens.

As mentioned above, THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS is a quiet film, but also one of the moodiest films I've ever watched. Jack's cynicism and coldness to the world and events around him is hard to ignore, and frankly, sometimes reminds me of how I can feel sometimes about the world around ME. The cynicism I often feel in life leaves me walking away from this film with two inescapable conclusions. The first is that many of us spend our lives functioning through a daily, mundane existence that creates a deep, sickening hole in our system. That existence is usually classified as our job or career. The second is that regardless of any unconditional love, their is often no one in this world who is capable of pissing you off more than your own brother.

Is all that cynical enough for you?

Favorite line or dialogue:

Jack Baker: "Listen to me, princess. We fucked twice. That's it. Once the sweat dries, you still don't know shit about me! Got it?"

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

EYES WIDE SHUT




(July 1999, U.S.)

When the final year of the 20th century began, I had only two films on my mind. The first was (just like the rest of the world), the first STAR WARS film in sixteen years. The second was the first Stanley Kubrick film in twelve years. However, in March of that year, Stanley died at the age of 70, and the next Kubrick film would become the last...his swan song. As it turned out, both films left a bit to be desired with fans.

Was EYES WIDE SHUT a misfire or a masterpiece? Was EYES WIDE SHUTa film only a true fan of Stanley Kubrick could love? Would it have been a better film had Kubrick lived long enough to oversee the editing process? Would it have been a better film if its stars had not been the same team that made DAYS OF THUNDER (1990) and FAR AND AWAY (1992) such bad films? Is having the opportunity to stare at Nicole Kidman's perfectly-sculpted ass enough reason to maintain the patience and open-mindedness to watch all two and a half hours of EYES WIDE SHUT? Well, to Nicole's defense, it IS a great ass...


The story of EYES WIDE SHUT is based upon Arthur Schnitzler's 1926 novella Traumnovelle (Dream Story). Set in and around New York City (filmed in London to LOOK like New York City, actually), the film follows the sexually-charged adventures of Dr. Bill Harford (played by Tom Cruise), who is shocked when his wife, Alice (played by Nicole Kidman), reveals that she had contemplated an affair a year earlier when she set her sights on a naval officer when she was in Cape Cod with her family. Provoked by his fears and jealousies, Bill embarks on a night-long adventure, during which he encounters more than several sexual situations that can put his life in danger, including a massive masked ritual orgy of an underground quasi-religious cult located in Glen Cove, Long Island, no less.

Kubrick's pacing of this film is considerably slow (but then so was 2001). This may be intended to convey the film's concept of a dream state (with an ongoing Christmas background) throughout the lives of both Bill and Alice, as well as the people they encounter. As the viewer, we're never given a clear definition of what is their reality and what is their dream. Is it only within a dream that we as human beings have the potential (or the stupidity) to seek out sexual pleasures and deviances that will very likely get us into trouble? Most of us are just that stupid in our everyday realities. And yet it should be noticed that just about every time Bill is on the brink of some new form of sexual discovery, he's inconveniently (or miraculously) interrupted before anything can really happen. This can perhaps be interpreted as a sign that we should all keep our "feet on the ground" when it comes to commitment issues of intimacy and marriage because the concept of sexual misguidance outside the bonds of marriage is very clear and so are its regrets and consequences. In the end, though, and in an almost cliche-like tone, it appears that the marriage of Bill and Alice will survive now that they are both "awake". And apparently, a good fuck won't hurt them, either.

Having ended my last paragraph on that note, I have to say that it really burns me up that the very last line spoken in what would turn out to be the final film of Stanley Kubrick's long and distinguished career is Nicole Kidman standing in FAO Schwartz saying, "Fuck." The other thing that has infuriated me about watching this film is the fact that the characters (particularly Cruise's) have this intolerable nasty habit of constantly repeating the last thing that was previously said to them. I find it hard to believe that Kubrick would write a screenplay with such a persistent annoyance. So that being the case, is that sort of dialogue an intentional element to somehow further convey the dream state that we may be involved in? Truth is, I still haven't figured that one out yet.

Stanley, EYES WIDE SHUT may not have been a perfect film, but I want you to know that your films meant so much to my life. I miss you and I'll never forget you.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Alice Harford: "Millions of years of evolution, right? Right? Men have to stick it in every place they can, but for women...women it is just about security and commitment and whatever the fuck else!"
Bill Harford: "A little oversimplified, Alice, but yes, something like that."
Alice: "If you men only KNEW..."