Monday, December 31, 2012
(July 1993, U.S.)
Yesterday while I was watching Wolfgang Peterson's IN THE LINE OF FIRE for this blog, I found myself grossly distracted by my own detailed memories. Sure, this is a great edge-of-your-seat thriller that's impossible not to enjoy, but the whole time I was enjoying all this enjoyment, I found my memories constantly reaching back to the Summer of 1993. There are some films that will do this to you; they take you back to a time of your life when the film was first released. In my case, the Summer of 1993 brings back memories that are two sided. On the one hand, I was involved in a Hamptons share house and having the time of my life. On the other hand, it was the beginning of the end of a relationship (and friendship) that, at the time, meant a lot to me. You see, personal memories may not have much to do with the content of a film itself, but rather they take you back to a time you may not have liked and back to the person you may have been once, and that's not always pleasant.
But that aside, let's focus now on one of Clint Eastwoods's best crime thrillers since MAGNUM FORCE (1973), in my opinion. Eastwood plays U.S. Secret Service agent Frank Horrigan, still haunted by his failure to save John F. Kennedy back on that fateful day in November 1963 now seeking personal redemption who's also heading the investigation to locate Mitch Leary (played by John Malkovich), known as "Booth" in the film, a psychotic ex-CIA assassin determined to kill the President of the United States. He's determined to the extreme where he's set up a phony computer software business whose donations to the president's re-election campaign will get him a front row dinner seat right in front of the man himself. This is a man who really wants his prey and he's ready to die for it. He's also a man who know how to psychologically push the right buttons in Frank, as they develop a strange cat-and-mouse relationship over the telephone. This is high stakes game to Mitch and he's more than happy to have Frank along for the ride to make things interesting. He even saves Frank's life along the way during a rooftop chase in order to keep the game in play.
One of more interesting elements about a film where you already know who the bad guy is, is that you constantly find yourself reacting to the fact that the good guys in the film can't seem to find him. Throughout the film there are snapshots of John Malkovich's ugly mug, and even though some of them are disguised, you can't believe that these FBI guys (other than Eastwood) just can't see through them and catch their bad guy! You actually find yourself thinking things like, "Geez, he's right in front of your face!" But then again, I suppose if it were that easy, we wouldn't have a two hour plus film, right?
As far as performances go, Clint Eastwood and Rene Russo have excellent chemistry together. These are two mature grown up actors who must struggle between being professional colleagues by day and wanting very much to jump into bed with each other. And on the "cougar" side of all things women, I must confess that Rene Russo is quite the babe! John Malkovich, I must also confess, is an actor that has made me rather nervous ever since I first saw him playing Happy opposite Dustin Hoffman in a 1985 CBS teleplay production of DEATH OF A SALESMAN. Two years later, I saw him again in Steven Spielberg's EMPRE OF THE SUN (1987) and his character was just as unsettling. I don't think that unsettling feeling for a particular actor has ever gone away, so his performance as would-be psychotic assassin seems just perfect.
When I look back on Eastwood's very extensive film career, I have to say that the films I enjoy most are the ones where he was directed by another filmmaker. Wolfgang Peterson seems to have a good grasp on the politically-based thriller. He'd do it again four years later with Harrison Ford in AIR FORCE ONE (1997). Though, for my money, I'll still always appreciate him most with his German submarine thriller DAS BOOT (1981).
Favorite line or dialogue:
Frank Horrigan: "I saw the photos."
Mitch Leary: "No, you saw what he wanted you to see, Frank."
Frank: "I saw a picture of, uh, your friend lying on the floor with his throat cut."
Mitch: "What you didn't see, Frank, what you couldn't possibly know, is: they sent my best friend - my comrade in arms - to my home to kill me!"
Frank: "Your voice is shaking."
Mitch: "I never lied to you, Frank, and I never will!"
You know, criminal or not, the character of Mitch Leary seems to have a more solid grasp on human respect than most real life people do.
Saturday, December 29, 2012
(August 1967, U.S.)
I must confess that I haven't seen too many films that are highly charged and motivated by racism. In my youth, the big ones were Alan Parker's MISSISSIPPI BURNING (1988) and Spike Lee's DO THE RIGHT THING (1989). In 1988, I'd actually become a little more familiar with the new NBC television series IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT before I'd heard of the original 1967 film. Even as I'd also begun to truly discover the original film of THE PLANET OF THE APES (1968), it wasn't difficult to recognize just how racially motivated the film was. But I'm starting to digress a bit here...
Having watched Norman Jewison's IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT just recently for this blog, I've rediscovered just how racist this story really is. It's present day of 1966 and African-American northerner Virgil Tibbs (played by Sidney Poitier), passing through the town of Sparta, Mississippi, is picked up at the train station with a substantial amount of cash in his wallet at the same time a dead body has been discovered in the street. He's a black man with a lot of cash in a truly racist town so (naturally) he's the first person any of these redneck cops would arrest for the crime. White police Chief Bill Gillespie (played by Rod Steiger), prejudiced against blacks, jumps to the conclusion that he has his culprit but is embarrassed to learn that Tibbs is actually an experienced Philadelphia homicide detective who was passing through town at the wrong time of the murder. It's virtually unthinkable to the redneck hicks of this small southern town that Virgil is a thinking black man who dresses better, earns more money and knows the intellectual process of proper police work a whole lot better and more efficiently than these racist pigs. Gillespie, however, as it may be predicted in film, slowly learns to let go of his racist attitude and work with Virgil as a respected professional colleague. As the viewer of a murder mystery, you're taken along for the ride with step-by-step processes of how the murder will eventually be resolved and the true motives behind it. Honestly, though, the crime and its resolution become almost secondary because it's impossible to ignore that the real triumph here is Virgil Tibbs' strength and ability to overcome the racism of America's southland in the 1960s. It's also noteworty and impressive to slowly watch Gillespie become a better and wiser man in the end, exemplifying that, with true effort, racial divisions are capable of being overcome.
Perhaps the most intruiging moment of this film is when Tibbs accuses well-respected Sparta citizen Eric Endicott (played by Larry Gates) who actually owns a cotton plantation (you can probably visualize what sort of labor than entails - something right out of GONE WITH THE WIND) that he would have had a very good motive for murdering the man in question. Eric abruptly slaps Virgil's face for such a comment and Virgil doesn't hesitate in slapping this white man back with as much force. Tibbs' action was originally omitted from the screenplay, which stayed true to the original novel with Tibbs NOT reacting to the slap. However, when Sidney Poitier read the script he was purportedly uncomfortable with that reaction, as it wasn't true to the values his parents had instilled in him. Altering the scene to what we now know was important due to the ongoing battle for civil rights at the time, despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, three years prior. This was one of the first times in any major motion picture where a black man reacted to provocation from a white man in such a way. I'm sure it ruffled a few white feathers, no doubt.
IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT won the Oscar for best picture of 1967 (the year I was born!). Personally, I think THE GRADUATE should have taken that high honor.
Favorite line or dialogue:
(upon having been slapped back by Virgil Tibbs)
Eric Endicott: "Gillespie?"
Chief Bill Gillespie: "Yeah."
Endicott: "You saw it!"
Gillespie: "I saw it."
Endicott: "Well, what are you gonna do about it?"
Gillespie: "I don't know."
Endicott: "I'll remember that!
(to Tibbs) There was a time when I could've had you shot!"
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
(April 2005, U.S.)
This political thriller was the last film to be directed by Sydney Pollack. It's also the first film to ever be granted full on location access to the United Nations Building in New York City. Security, obviously, must've been a real bitch!
Though I haven't always enjoyed everything she's done on film, Nicole Kidman is, indeed, a gifted actress and playing the role of Silvia Broome, an interpreter for the U.N. caught up in a political mystery with all the danger and intrigue that would go with it seems appropriately right up her alley. It's by circumstance and coincidence that she just happens to be in the U.N. Building late one night when she overhears whispered voices plotting to assassinate the President of Matobo, a fictional country in Africa, right on the assembly floor of the famed building. Now she's witness (well, she HEARD it, didn't see it), but she's also a suspect, given her position, her tragic family history and her political past, which is slowly revealed when U.S. Secret Service agent Tobin Keller (played by the always brooding Sean Penn) is assigned to the case. Tobin is a man serious about his job and protecting American soil, but he's also a man dealing with recently afflicted personal pain, his wife having just died in a car accident. He, like Silvia, understands the pain and rage of loosing people we love and the burning desire to inflict some form of vengeance in order to move on. The attempted lesson taught in this film is that the act of vengeance will inevitably prolong the process of grief and sorrow to the victim. Maybe so, but I can certain speak for myself that revenge is very likely a sweet dish when your loved ones are the victims of other people's acts.
I'm always the first to point out obvious elements of cliche in just about any film and I'm happy to report that Penn and Kidman's characters do NOT fall in love in this film. It could be easily predictable, but given their positions, their recent family losses and their need political justices, falling for each other would be highly unnecessary. I'd also add that the final resolution of assassination is given an interesting twist in that what we've actually witness is an intended "almost assassination" in which the intended target is risen to the sympathetic position of a martyr of sorts in which he's almost killed and enjoys the convenience of surviving the act in order to enjoy its rewards, whatever they may be.
THE INTERPRETER is a film that is, thankfully, shot completely on location in New York City and in the U.N. Building. To attempt physical forgery in any of the locations and shots would have been an extremem injustice to a film that works not only politically, but with performance, as well.
Sydney Pollack was a director who made some very worthwhile films, including THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR (1975), TOOTSIE (1982) and THE FIRM (1993). He was also a talented actor who occassionally appeared in his own films as well as others by Woody Allen (HUSBANDS AND WIVES) and the late Stanley Kubrick (EYES WIDE SHUT). I'll miss him.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Silvia Broome: "Countries have gone to war because they misinterpreted one another."
Thursday, December 20, 2012
(May 2002, U.S.)
First THE INSIDER and now INSOMNIA. You just gotta love an Al Pacino double feature!
You're heard me say time and time again that American remakes of foreign subtitled films are usually not worth a damn! In my own defense, I didn't know there was an original 1997 Norwegian film of the same name with Stellan Skarsgård until AFTER I'd already gone to see the 2002 film. As soon as I did find out, I immediately went out and rented the original film to see how the two compared to each other. As I said, American remakes are usually not worth shit - that's rule one! Rule two is that there's always the occassional exception to rule one! Strike me down for saying this, but in my opinion, Christopher Nolan's (one of the best directors of the 21st Century, thus far) telling of this riveting psychological thriller does, indeed, outshine the original foreign film. There, I said it! Forgive me!
The state of Alaska is not a place I've seen too much of in film. INSOMNIA immediately grabs me with the beauty and the solitude of it's grand mountains and great lakes. Yes, I could see myself there. Detective Will Dormer (played by the great Al Pacino) definitely CANNOT see himself there. At the time he arrives to help solve the murder of a young high school girl, this part of the world is experiencing a time of year when the sun doesn't set for months. Hence Dormer's insomnia because the sunlight is keeping him awake during the night. But he's also kept awake at night suffering from twisted feelings of guilt, fear and regret over the supposedly accidental shooting of his partner Hap Eckhart (played by Martin Donovan). Was it an accident? Hap was prepared to make a deal with Internal Affairs to save himself and end up harming Will and all of the good police work he's done in the process. Now let's add to the fact that the shooting was witnessed by the murderer himself. This is the foundation for blackmail and the inevitalble connection and relationship that takes place between criminal and cop.
But now let's really talk about what's key here in this film - funny man Robin Williams as a brilliant killer? Well, why not! I mean, when you consider a man of his comic talents and insane personality, to turn the tables to the dark side and portray a man of cold-blooded murder seems to make perfect sense. Robin Williams is surely NOT funny in INSOMNIA, but what he does give us is a level of phychological intensity and diabolical cunningness that serves well to match the wits and skills of an experienced Los Angeles cop like Will Dormer. It's cat-and-mouse antics along the way and in the end, as you'd expect in any film like this, the bad guy dies. So does the good guy, too, in this case.
Al Pacino, as always, is brilliant to watch and listen to in nearly any film he's in. Disappointingly, though, because the film is also about an insomniac, we're forced to look at a physically-depleted Pacino who constantly looks as though he's about to collapse. This is not exactly the cop who's full of energy and vitality as in SERPICO (1973) and HEAT (1995). But as I said, the physical appearance goes with the role he's playing. Sadly, one also has to admit that Al Pacino is getting older. Hilary Swank as the town officer assisting Dormer in the case is as acceptable a role as any other mundane, trivial character in a police thriller. She's merely the Jedi knight in training to Pacino's Obi-Wan Kenobi.
By the way, if you look it up, you'll find that the word DORMER is defined as a chamber or a place of sleep. Coincidence or just plain freaky??
Favorite line or dialogue:
Fred Duggar: "What has two thumbs and likes blowjobs? (points to himself with both thumbs) THIS guy!"
Monday, December 17, 2012
(November 1999, U.S.)
Although I only watch CBS's 60 MINUTES on occassion, I have nothing but great respect for this show as perhaps the last surviving example of a news program with some form of balls and integrity in a perverted world of media that is diseased to the brim with outrageous sensationalism. As a mere spectator, though, I can only watch and appreciate the "big news story" from the outside of the TV screen. It rarely ever occurs to me to consider the process and the risks involved from the origin of the story to the legal and bureaucratic bullshit involved before it actually sees the light of day on the air for the rest of us to see. Michael Mann's THE INSIDER shows us just that in a thrilling and dramatic style that I haven't seen or enjoyed since ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN (1976).
Before this film, I had only a vague memory of the actual tobacco industry whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand (played by Russell Crowe) who went on 60 MINUTES in 1995 with Mike Wallace (played in the film by Christopher Plummer) and stated that tobacco giant Brown & Williamson intentionally manipulated the tobacco blend to increase the amount of nicotine in cigarette smoke, thereby increasing the impact of the addiction to the smoker, and of course, therby increasing their sales. He also stated that the seven CEOs of "Big Tobacco" perjured themselves to the United States Congress about their awareness of nicotine’s addictiveness. Wait a second...tobacco companies LYING in order to increase sales and get rich??? N-a-a-a-h!!!
As important as the whistleblowing and the big story are here, the film focusses less on the actual television interview and gives a lot more necessary attention to the relationship Jeffrey Wigand develops with CBS producer Lowell Bergman (played by the great Al Pacino - my favorite actor, as you well know). It's only by chance that the two meet in the first place, but it's immediately apparant to Lowell that Jeffrey has something he wants to say to the world. He's been unjustly fired by Brown & Williamson and he's disgruntled, but he's also bound to the confidentiality agreement which stresses that he can't discuss or reveal anything about his former employment. It's an agreement Jeffrey is willing to honor until the big "powers that be" threaten his life and his family's. While anger, emotion and even vengeance dictate Jeffrey's actions, it's also clear to him and to Lowell that he has information that the American viewing public have a right to know about. And so, as cliches of good & bad, right & wrong and risk & sacrifice go, the big news story is revealed to the world and justice is supposedly done, but not without the price of Jeffrey losing his marriage.
Now let's talk about this man's marriage for a moment. His wife Liane is played by Diane Venora (who bears a more than striking resemblance to Jessica Lange, I might add). A film, accurate or not, can only give a dramatic version of what may or may not have been the facts of a real man's marriage. However, if Venora's portrait of Jeffrey's real life wife was even just a little bit accurate, then his wife was the most pathetic excuse for strength and support that any man would want in a wife. This woman irritatingly goes to pieces from the moment she learns her husband's been fired and their precious car and house payments are now at risk. Yes, all of the events that happen to both of them are upsetting, but clearly she was unable to abide by those famous words in Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man".
Russell Crowe shines as Wigand, and strangely, this was only the second time I'd seen him on film after L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (1997), but it was more than clear that this man was going to skyrocket as an actor and a performer (GLADIATOR was released the summer following this film). As Lowel Bergman, it's needless to say that Al Pacino's performance speaks for itself. This man plays the toughest roles I've ever seen through his personality, his charisma and his intense use of dialogue. In short, he's the toughest guy I've known on film in my lifetime, and strangely, I don't think I've ever seen him in a film where he actually used physical violence against anyone...well, except for firing that gun in THE GODFATHER (1972). Yes, I love, love, love the man and most of his films. Most, I say because even HE wasn't enough to save a piece of shit movie like DICK TRACY (1990).
Favorite line or dialogue:
Lowell Bergman: "You pay me to go get guys like Wigand, to draw him out. To get him to trust us, to get him to go on television. I do. I deliver him. He sits. He talks. He violates his own fucking confidentiality agreement. And he's only the key witness in the biggest public health reform issue, maybe the biggest, most-expensive corporate-malfeasance case in U.S. history. And Jeffrey Wigand, who's out on a limb, does he go on television and tell the truth? Yes. Is it newsworthy? Yes. Are we gonna air it? Of course not. Why? Because he's not telling the truth? No. Because he IS telling the truth. That's why we're not going to air it. And the more truth he tells, the worse it gets!"
Thursday, December 13, 2012
(March 2006, U.S.)
I'm going to do something I've only done once before on this blog (CHARIOTS OF FIRE) and start off with my favorite dialogue from Clive Owen's character (there IS a reason):
Dalton Russell: "My name is Dalton Russell. Pay strict attention to what I say because I choose my words carefully and I never repeat myself. I've told you my name: that's the Who. The Where could most readily be described as a prison cell. But there's a vast difference between being stuck in a tiny cell and being in prison. The What is easy: recently I planned and set in motion events to execute the perfect bank robbery. That's also the When. As for the Why: beyond the obvious financial motivation, it's exceedingly simple...because I can. Which leaves us only with the How; and therein, as the Bard would tell us, lies the rub."
What I've done here is important because these words are more than just the introduction and the set-up. They're also the payoff and the resolution because when they're repeated again (word-for-word) at the end of Spike Lee's INSIDE MAN, the viewer is in a completely different position of interpretation than they were at the beginning of the film.
That being immediately said, I must confess that a bank heist film from the director who gave us brilliant social pieces like DO THE RIGHT THING (1989) and MALCOM X (1992) is possibly the last thing I ever expected. Ah, but that's what makes life's little surprises so intruiging, yes? This is not your average, cliche bank heist film that goes by the usual story playbook that made Al Pacino in DOG DAY AFTERNOON (the film is actually referenced in this script) so classic. INSIDE MAN is not what it seems because the traditional bank robbery that we THINK we're seeing is actually an elaborate illusion for something else that will have us scratching our heads in awe later on. Denzel Washington's (his fourth film with Spike Lee) character of Detective Keith Frazier is very key here, beyond the obvious reason that he's the good guy of the film, because he makes it more than clear to those he's working with on this case that there's something a lot more complex and diabolical behind the public facade of the so-called bank robbery. He's the first one to suspect there's something odd about Dalton Russell (Owen) demanding a getaway plane for himself and the bank hostages because he (Keith) knows very well that no bank robber ever got away with such a stunt, and he knows that Dalton knows that, too. Keith also suspects an insider (or more than one) in the bank who's in on the job. We see this in the non-linear flash-forward structure when he and his partner are interviewing the hostages and trying to trap them into confessing that they were in on it. It never happens, though, and the mystery and the frustration mounts. Because all of the hostages are forced to dress in the same attire as the bank robbers, it's virtually impossible (except for Clive Owen) to clearly identify who's the bad guy and who's the good guy. But that's all part of the plan, you see, to set you, the viewer, up for a revelation that has you saying, "Holy shit!". Yes, in the end, when all is over and the leftover contents of the bank heist are assessed, no money was stolen, no one was actually killed, the assault rifles were actually fake and the bank robbers were actually able to walk freely out the front door. When we learn what they did, in fact, steal from a safety deposit box and why and who it will justifyably hurt in the end, we're left with only a great feeling of cinematic satisfaction and possibly the urge to start the film over and experience it all again.
Now, on the slightly negative side, I have to say that for a talented and accomplished actress like Jodie Foster, her role in this film is almost beneath her real abilities. As a resourceful "fixer" or something of the sort, she carries her character as someone who is overly proud of her position and her ego and actually believes herself more powerful over others than she likely really is. Listening to her make demands of people like the Mayor of New York City and the police with that rather shit-eating grin on her face accomplishes no more to the viewer than giving them the urge to reach into the screen and smack her on the face a few times. Well, that's ME, anyway.
And so, while I'll always give the honor of best bank heist film to Sidney Lumet's 1975 classic, I can freely confess that Spike Lee's efforts here are a very close second because there's nothing more irresistible than the element of surprise...GOOD surprise!
Monday, December 10, 2012
(September 1997, U.S.)
I have to tell before I begin that I've got a song stuck in my head as I write this blog for IN & OUT. It's "Squeeze Box" by The Who. If you know the song well or want to take the time to look up the lyrics, you'll know what I mean. Hey, at least it's a good song!
So let me take you back to a Saturday afternoon is September 1997, Westhampton Beach, Long Island. A friend of mine and I decide to take in a matinee in Southampton. We eagerly look it up in the newspaper and decide to see Kevin Kline's new comedy that looked absolutely hilarious based on nothing more than the trailer and the TV commercials. We get to the movie theater, and what do we do?...we decide to see L.A. CONFIDENTIAL instead. Thank goodness because that was the best film of 1997 (sorry TITANIC!)! I also got to meet legendary actor Roy Scheider when it was over. But anyway, just give it about a week later, and I'm in the theater again watching Frank Oz's great "gay" comedy and laughing my ass off! Yes, the man does wonders for Miss Piggy and Yoda, but if you've ever seen DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS (1988) or WHAT ABOUT BOB? (1991), then you know his comedies are likely to have you laughing your fucking ass off, too!
Like any film about a gay man or woman, it's very easy to spend your time looking for and noting the obvious messages about acceptance, tolerance and justice. It's also very easy to take into account that this comedy is based on many true incidents and stories. Although it would require more research than I was willing to give time to for this light-hearted comedy, it's well known that somewhere out there in real life is a man who infamously came "out" at his wedding. Somewhere out there in real life is a man (or more than one) who was unjustly fired from his teaching position because he was gay. And let's face it, EVERYBODY who ever watched the Oscars throughout the 1990s knows very well how Tom Hanks publicly thanked his gay high school drama coach when he accepted the Oscar for best actor for his role in PHILIDELPHIA (1993).
So there you have the (supposed) facts that inspire IN & OUT. Now you throw in Kevin Kline, who, when he's not showing off his extreme Shakespearean talent, is quite the funny man (just watch A FISH CALLED WANDA for proof!). You have to also remember that even back in 1997 (really, it doesn't seem like that long ago to me), coming out of the closet was still enough of a controversy to gain the attention of the media and provoke shock and bewilderment to those who'd never expect it. Hell, it pretty much ended Ellen Degeneres' TV sitcom when she came out and ended up on the cover of Time magazine. Today, it seems like nobody truly gives a shit anymore when someone comes out of the closet (as it should be, I guess). But for the purposes of this film, the timing of 1997 still works and the subject of a respectable Indiana high school English teacher and track coach being "outed" by a young movie star at the Oscars (a' la Tom Hanks!) is still worthy of the inevitable stereotypical profiling and humorous backlash that will make the film funny. And in addition to Kevin Kline, I have to say that nobody plays a very nervous man better than Bob Newhart. I still remember him in THE BOB NEWHART SHOW on CBS in the 1970s. When you also watch Debbie Reynolds playing an overbearing, demanding mother like she does here (and as Grace Adler's mother on WILL & GRACE), then, geez, no wonder Carrie Fisher was so fucked up in her life!
Speaking of the media, when you're watching the film, listen carefully to some of the absolutely asinine questions Howard is barraged with from reporters like, "Should gay men be allowed to handle fresh produce?" and "Should there be lesbians on Mars?". Oh, brother!
Now let's focus for a moment on the key word that spells out IN & OUT, and that's STEREOTYPICAL. Everything in this film that suggests Howard Brackett (Kline) is gay is purely sterotypical from the eyes and perception of those in the small Indiana town that know and love him. It's his profession of being an English teacher who loves poetry and sonnets, it's his very neat and perhaps "prissy" attire and demeanor, it's his almost unnatural, rather frightening love of Barbra Streisand movies that define him a gay man. But consider this question - is all of that really enough proof to convince the viewer that Howard Brackett is truly gay?? Think about it - at no time in the film does anyone ever actually ask Howard the question, "Do you like men?" At no time does Howard actually admit to liking men, nor does he ever really give the physical impression that he's comfortably attracted to men (not even Tom Selleck). It's almost as if he finally decides to come out of the closet simply because he's inevitably convinced himself that there are enough stereotypical elements to correctly paint the portrait of himself as a gay man. Hey, I'M an architect, I love 70's disco music and I DO eat quiche! Does that make me gay??
Well, excuse me now, people. I think I'll go make love to my wife while cranking up Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive"!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Howard Brackett (enraged in front of the video camera): "Howard Brackett is a big, homo, queer, Mary, sissy man! He just came out at his big church wedding! Martha Stewart is f-u-u-r-r-ious!"
Friday, December 7, 2012
(June 1979, U.S.)
At the tender age of 12 during the Summer of 1979, there were only two cinematic events on my mind; the continuing stories of Rocky Balboa (ROCKY II) and James Bond (MOONRAKER). Oh, sure, there other films in betweeen, here and there, that turned me on, too, like HAIR, BREAKING AWAY and LOVE AT FIRST BITE (my sorry-ass-over-protective-excuses-for-parents wouldn't let me see ALIEN!), but at the time, as far as I was concerned, Arthur Hiller's THE IN-LAWS was just another adult comedy that was getting a lot of TV commercial promo time. Thankfully, adulthood and VHS tapes got me caught up on a thing or two because THE IN-LAWS is one of the funniest "buddy" movies I've ever seen and the team of Peter Falk and Alan Arkin play off of each other perfectly.
So we have two men here - Sheldon "Shelly" Kornpett (Arkin), an unexciting, mild-mannered New York City dentist (hey, is it me, or is dentistry considered the most B-O-O-R-I-N-G profession in entertainment and in life, just slightly above certified public accountant??) and Vince Ricardo (Falk), a slightly eccentric, very over-the-top CIA operative whose son and daughter are going to be married in just a few days. You can imagine that when dentist meets CIA man, dentist is (naturally!) going to get a little freaked out by the prospect of his daughter marrying into this kind of family (and you'd be right!). Vince innocently asks Shelly for help with a five-minute errand: breaking into Vince's office safe. Shelly reluctantly agrees and after retrieving a mysterious black bag containing stolen U.S. Mint engravings from Vince's office, he's surprised by two armed hit men who also want that bag, and Shelly's life! Chase and shootout in the streets of New York City follows and Vince explains to the frightened Shelly exactly what he does for a living, the mission he's undertaking and the heavy financial consequences that will result if they should fail. Yes, I said THEY, because before Shelly knows it, he's involved in his future in-law's high-stakes caper, his life constantly in danger. Sounds heavy-handed, yes, but when you concentrate long and hard on Arkin's fear and attitude as everything around him unfolds, you realize why you're laughing so much. Who can possibly keep a straight face watching his deadpan facial expression while Honduras' lovably, yet insane General Garcia (played by Richard Libertini) goes into his hand painted face of "Senor Pepe" routine. Definitely the funniest moment of the entire film!
As a buddy picture of two completely different men, the story and the laughs are admitedly cliche and predictable, but you almost don't care because you're laughing so much. This is a film that (happily!) relies more on humorous dialogue and chemistry rather than too much slapstick. What slapstick there is, is accompanied by good dialogue like Shelly's, "Please God, don't let me die on West 31st Street!" and Vince's, "Serpentine, Shelly. Serpentine!". What I've also always found particularly amusing in THE IN-LAWS is that no matter what sort of life and death predicament Vince gets Shelly into, he's always overly apologetic for his actions and heavily appreciative of Shelly's good-sportedness about the whole thing. Sort of like, "Oh man, I know I keep fucking up your life, but I appreciate you good attitute about it." Think about it. It's funny.
Just a quick word on the 2003 remake of this film. In Spring 2003, I saw the original teaser trailer for this with Michael Douglas and Albert Brooks when it was still going under the working title of THE WEDDING PARTY. Anyway, I'm watching the scenerio unfold and I'm thinking that there's something awfully familiar about all this. But like I said, it was called THE WEDDING PARTY, so I didn't exactly put two and two together. Shortly before it was released, Warner Brothers apparently decided to call a spade a space and admit they'd made a flat-out remake and called it what it was. Regardless, my wife dragged me to it and even though I can freely admit that Brooks and Douglas fed off each other fairly well, an unneccesary remake is still an UNNECESSARY REMAKE! When will Hollywood finally understand this???
Favorite line or dialogue:
Vince Ricardo (while driving very fast and recklessly): "You know, I'm such a great driver, it's incomprehensible that they took my license away."
Monday, December 3, 2012
(December 2006, U.S.)
Even the most hardcore of David Lynch fans may find themselves scratching their heads in confusion with his last film INLAND EMPIRE because it may, in fact, be the most incomprehensible film of the famed director's career since ERASERHEAD (1977). So what does that mean? Does it mean that Lynch has finally gone totally off the wall and alienated his fans OR does it mean that he's more of an artistic genius than ever before? It's just my opinion, of course, but I've always suspected the more difficult the content is to understand, them more it must be considered "art". It's my bullshit theory, anyway.
So, in the simplest of terms, the basic story of INLAND EMPIRE can best be described as the story of a Hollywood actress named Nicki Grace (played by Lynch film alumnus Laura Dern) whose real life and the role she's playing in her current film are so intertwined with and complementary of each other that somewhere along the line she no longer can interpret reality from fantasy. Reality and fantasy are mixed with the mysteries of adultry and murder with no clear indication of what's real and what's not (which is rather typical Lynch for those who know his work). In addition, the chronological order of the film is often confused or nonexistent (again, pure Lynch!).
(Forgive me, readers, if I'm unable to be a little clearer on the context of this film, but if you're ever seen it (or plan to see it), you may even give me just credit for doing the best I can do with what Lynch has given us here.)
There is, however, one element of the basic plot that I'd call your attention to which I find particularly facinating. On the first day of Nicki's shoot, she and her co-star Devon Berk (played by Justin Theroux) are informed by their director (played by Jeremy Irons) that the film they're making is, in fact, a remake of another film that went under a different name that was never finished because, as it turned out, the two stars of the original version were MURDERED. Take a moment to think about that premise and tell me it wouldn't make good material for a horror film, if done right. And, although I can't truly explain any of it, there are some rather creepy sequences involving a family sitting in their living room with huge rabbit heads. Take a look...
INLAND EMPIRE can, at the very least, stand out as a very personal art film for David Lynch that was done exactly the way he wanted to. It's the first film that he shot entirely in standard definition digital video, something he apparently always wanted to do. It also had a very limited theatrical release - only one art house theater in all of New York City screened it and I'm happy to say that I was one of its patrons. Bottom line, the best thing that can be said of INLAND EMPIRE is that it's typical David Lynch film fare and that fans of the director will find the film very seductive and very deep. All others who have never understood the director's artistic talent will likely consider the heady surrealism pointless and impenetrable. Too bad for them!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Kingsley Stewart: "ON HIGH AND BLUE TOMORROWS is in fact a remake."
Devon Berk: "It's a remake?"
Devon: "I wouldn't do a remake."
Kingsley: "No, no, no, no. I know. Of course...but you didn't know. The original was under a different name. It was started, but never finished. Now, Freddy's found out that our producers know the history of this film and they have taken it upon themselves not to pass that information along to us. Purposefully. Of course, not me. I assume not to the two of you. True?"
Nikki Grace: "No...absolutely. Nobody told me anything."
Devon: "No, me neither. I thought this was an original script."
Kingsley: "Yeah...well...anyway, the film was never finished."
Nikki: "I don't understand. Why wasn't it finished?"
Kingsley: "Well, after the characters have been filming for some time, they discovered something...something inside the story."
Devon: "Please. Kingsley."
Kingsley: "The two leads were murdered! It was based on a Polish-Gypsy folk-tale. The title in German was "Vier-Sieben: 47". And it was said to be cursed. So it turned out to be."
Saturday, December 1, 2012
(October 2005, U.S.)
Every once in a while, I find myself in the position of having to justify and rationalize the idea of men wanting to (or having to!) sit through a film that would qualify itself as a so-called "chick flick". Curtis Hanson's IN HER SHOES is hardly what I'd call the traditional stupid chick flick. This is a film about grown-ups (well, unless Cameron Diaz can REALLY qualify as one!); grown-up sisters Maggie and Rose (Diaz and Toni Collette) who love each other, hate each other, depend on each other, want to kill each other, and ultimately learn to forgive each other. The rather special twist here is also the relationship these sisters have with their estranged grandmother Ella (played by Shirley Maclaine).
The backstory of the Feller sisters is something that could be claimed right out of a Lifetime movie of the week. Their mother was killed in a car accident when they were little, they were raised by their father and supposedly "wicked" stepmother and they were unwillingly cut off from knowing their grandparents. In their adulthood, Rose (Collette) is a rather nerdy, very responsible lawyer who actually finds it necessary to take a picture of her lover in bed next to her just to confirm the fact that someone as awkward and inadequate as herself actually got laid! Maggie, on the other hand, is a jobless, family-dependent slut who'll fuck just about any guy if it means free drinks (Hey...I think I'm starting to like her!). However, sleeping with Rose's lover out of anger and revenge is the last straw that sends her packing and out of Rose's life. By perfect movie coincidence, this is when Maggie discovers she has a grandmother living in Florida.
As perfect movie cliche would have it, Maggie's intentions with her new reunion with her long-lost grandmother are for nothing more than to scam a free meal ticket out of her until she finally decides to wake up, grow up, get a job and embrace her relationship as a grandaughter for the true value it holds. As movie cliche would also have it, Rose wakes up, as well, and learns how to let go of her inhibitions, her anxieties and to embrace life and love for all of their true value. Her reunion with Ella is a much more pleasant and embracing action for her because given the turmoil these girls went through as children, it would have been real nice to have a grandmother in their lives.
Beyond the cliches that I mention, which by the way, I don't claim to be anything negative here (they do seem to work for the type of human, emotional story being told here), the film makes a very poignant attempt to take a look at the precious (and often fragile) relationships people can have with a grandparent. For myself, it got me thinking of and remembering the relationship I had with my grandmother (my father's mother). I only got to know her for the first thirteen years of my life before she died, but even as an adult in my forties, I often think about her and I've never forgotten what she meant to me and how much I meant to her in return. In fact, only a week ago when my six year-old son and I were watching BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985), he asked me what I would do if I could travel back in time. My immediate answer was that I would go back and see my grandmother (insert "Awwww!" here!). By the way, my grandmother's sister's name was also Ella.
IN HER SHOES in an extremely lighthearted switch from the man who'd previously directed some real hardcore material like THE RIVER WILD (1994) and L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (1997). In fact, it was probably the only reason I showed any curiousity in this film in the first place when I went to see it with my wife at the neighborhood movie theater (that's right, I wasn't dragged. It was actually my idea!). In retrospect, it was the perfect lighthearted contemporary adult comedy/drama that I needed on a rather dreary day in October 2005.
One final note I thought I'd put out there. In this film, Maggie and Rose are supposed to be Jewish girls (last name Feller!). Guys, have you EVER in your life known a Jewish girl that looked like Cameron Diaz??? No, you haven't!!!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Simon Stein: "Does this mean that I'm your bitch?"
Rose Feller: "Do you want to be my bitch?"
Simon: "I have wanted to be your bitch since my first day at Dommel."
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
(August 2009, U.S.)
Let me ask you something...what's your favorite form of movie escapism? Is it an action-packed superhero sequel? Is it a sci-fi alien invasion of the Earth? Is it high school vampires falling in love (Geez, I hope not!). For my own personal tastes, the best form of movie escapism is dialogue that keeps you on the edge of your seat, coupled with a little extreme violence directed at the bad guys who really deserve it. A good example of the latter would be watching New York City muggers getting their asses blown away by Charles Bronson in DEATH WISH (1974). So, in the Summer of 2009, when I was still unemployed during the recession, I escaped to a work day matinee (at work day matinee prices!) and completely lost myself in the dialogue and violence of what I consider to be director Quentin Tarantino's SECOND best film (after PULP FICTION, of course!). Had you been sitting next to me in the movie theater, you would have seen me with the biggest goddamn smile on my face!
The first (and probably the most important) thing to remember about INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is that it's a fictional alternate history tale of two plots to assassinate the Nazi Germany political leadership; one planned by a young French Jewish cinema proprietor (played by Melanie Laurent), and the other by a team of Jewish-American soldiers led by First Lieutenant Aldo Raine (played by Brad Pitt). Remember the key word here is FICTIONAL (the film even begins with the title on card of, "Once Upon A Time..."). So the first thing you have to do when watching this film is close your mind to any details of historical accuracy because they no longer function. This is a war film, indeed, but it's probably the most FUN war film you're likely to watch. The fun lies in the pace and rhythm of the dialogue that grabs you from the very opening sequence when Nazi Colonel Hans Landa (played brilliantly by Christoph Waltz), nicknamed the "Jew Hunter", arrives at the home of French dairy farmer Perrier LaPadite (played by Denis Menochet) and interrogates him in order to weed out a Jewish family unaccounted for. The immediate surprise is not so much the fact that the family is hiding under the farmer's floor boards, but rather the intense, step-by-step verbal technique Hans Landa uses to determine that they are, indeed, under the floor. As a Nazi soldier, Hans Landa is pure evil, but the evil seems more sinister because it's delivered with a big smile, good manners and an admittedly irresistible degree of sweet charm. Seriously, if this guy wasn't a Nazi, you couldn't help but love the guy!
As one might expect from a guy like Tarantino, this is a film of true violence that even a viewer like myself finds hard to watch at times. But somehow, as a human being with a streak of inner barbarism, you convince yourself that it's "fun" violence because it's happening to a bunch of Nazis that don't deserve anything less than what they get. Just stare into the fierce eyes of Eli Roth as "The Bear Jew" before he prepares to pound the shit out of a Nazi soldier's hear with a baseball bat (this guy must be from Brooklyn!) and you'll know the oncoming violence is going to be sickening to watch (it is!), but well deserved, nonetheless (it is!).
Tarantino loves movies! His fans know that, and it seems only fitting that much of the story lies in a charming French cinema! At a German premiere of a propaganda film, a plot unravels that will not only take out much of the German Reich, but Adolf Hitler himself. Now anyone who knows ever just a little of their World War II history knows very well that Adolf Hitler did not die in a French cinema. But again, remember, this is a World War II FABLE, so all historical accuracy is off. That being the case, to watch a cinema full of Nazi scum burn to death and to watch Hitler get massacred to death by "The Bear Jew's" machine gun is absolutely nothing short of a violently good time. Yes, my friends, it's lots of fun to watch Nazis get killed in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS! Try it! You'll like it!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Lt. Aldo Raine: "My name is Lt. Aldo Raine and I'm putting together a special team, and I need me eight soldiers. Eight Jewish-American soldiers. Now, y'all might've heard rumors about the armada happening soon. Well, we'll be leaving a little earlier. We're gonna be dropped into France, dressed as civilians. And once we're in enemy territory, as a bushwhackin' guerrilla army, we're gonna be doin' one thing and one thing only...killin' Nazis! Now, I don't know about y'all, but I sure as hell didn't come down from the goddamn Smoky Mountains, cross five thousand miles of water, fight my way through half of Sicily and jump out of a fuckin' air-o-plane to teach the Nazis lessons in humanity. Nazi ain't got no humanity. They're the foot soldiers of a Jew-hatin', mass murderin' maniac and they need to be dee-stroyed. That's why any and every every son of a bitch we find wearin' a Nazi uniform, they're gonna die. Now, I'm the direct descendant of the mountain man Jim Bridger. That means I got a little Injun in me. And our battle plan will be that of an Apache resistance. We will be cruel to the Germans, and through our cruelty they will know who we are. And they will find the evidence of our cruelty in the disemboweled, dismembered, and disfigured bodies of their brothers we leave behind us. And the German won't not be able to help themselves but to imagine the cruelty their brothers endured at our hands, and our boot heels, and the edge of our knives. And the German will be sickened by us, and the German will talk about us, and the German will fear us. And when the German closes their eyes at night and they're tortured by their subconscious for the evil they have done, it will be with thoughts of us they are tortured with. Sound good?
Soldiers: "YES, SIR!"
Aldo: "That's what I like to hear. But I got a word of warning for all you would-be warriors. When you join my command, you take on debit. A debit you owe me personally. Each and every man under my command owes me one hundred Nazi scalps. And I want my scalps. And all y'all will git me one hundred Nazi scalps, taken from the heads of one hundred dead Nazis. Or you will die tryin'!"
Friday, November 23, 2012
(May 1989, U.S.)
In the early months of the year 1989, when I first learned that there would be another Indiana Jones film coming out that summer, my initial reaction was that of extreme relief. Relief, because the thought of INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (1984) being the swan song of the legendary action hero's adventures was just too painful to accept. You see, in my humble opinion, THE TEMPLE OF DOOM is one of Steven Speilberg's worst films, second only to HOOK (1991). When I further learned that INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE would not only NOT be another prequel, but would also feature the legendary Sean Connery as Indy's dad, relief turned to excitement and anticipation. And so, on Saturday night of Memorial Day weekend 1989, I braved the insane movie crowds and ventured to the local twin movie theater in Westhampton Beach, Long Island and prepared myself for what I hoped would make up for the tragedy of the last film four years prior. It did...big time.
From its opening sequence, the film takes on new level of originality by showing us Indy as a young boy scout (played by the late River Phoenix) who, nonetheless, knows how to get himself into trouble when trying to protect a precious archeological artifact. The ultimate quest in this film, like RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981), is religiously-themed as he and his team seek the mystery and the magic behind the legendary Holy Grail, also known as the cup of Jesus Christ that was supposedly used during the Last Supper. Sort of the opposite side of the coin compared to RAIDERS - first something Jewish, then something Christian. Hey, why not? Seems only fair.
Like RAIDERS, Indy battles the Nazis again and is assisted again by alumni characters like Marcus Brody (played again by the late Denhom Elliot) and Sallah (played again by John Rhys-Davies). However, aside from the obvious action and excitement that's expected from an Indian Jones film, the real treat is the ongoing, snappy dialogue and father-son tension between Indiana and his father Henry Jones (Connery). The two actors (and characters) feed off of each other perfectly. Somehow it seems only poetic and just that Indy's dad would be played by the man who made James Bond perfectly famous. Add Spielberg and George Lucas to the mix and you have the ultimate recipe for fun and adventure.
Mind you, I'm not accusing this sequel of being perfect because it isn't. Despite it's incredible improvement over its horrible predecessor, to this day I still have enormous problems with the climax and the last Knight, kept alive for seven hundred years with the power of the Holy Grail. I understand that part of the allure of Indiana Jones films is the supernatural magic involved in some sequences, but this Knight in perfect human and preserved form was just too hard for me to swallow. The second problem I had (and still have!) is the idea that, having swallowed water from the Holy Grail, Indy and his father are now supposed to be endowed with eternal life as a result. By opening up that ridiculous can of forms in the story, we're now lead to believe that the two men will never grow older and will never die. Well, that's just fine if you DON'T continue to use Harrison Ford in the famous role. INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (the OTHER disappointing Indiana Jones film!) proved that wasn't going to be the case. It's also revealed in that last film that Henry Jones DID, in fact, die. You see what I'm talking about? You can't (and shouldn't) open up pandora's box on eternal life unless you're prepared to stick to it somehow. Then again, we're talking about the strange mind of George Lucas, who proved guilty as hell of such inconsistencies during the prequel STAR WARS trilogy...but that's another argument for another time.
And so, in case I haven't been obvious enough about it, INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE in the only Indy film I'll be discussing for some time...until I eventually reach the letter 'R'.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Elsa Schneider: "What's this?"
Indiana Jones: "Ark of the Covenant."
Elsa: "Are you sure?"
Indy: "Pretty sure."
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
(July 1996, U.S.)
When INDEPENDENCE DAY was originally released in movie theaters sixteen years ago (has it been that long??), it re-booted two genres that hadn't been seen much in the movies in over a decade. The first was the invasion of the planet Earth by hostile aliens. The second was the science fiction action movie with glorious space battles. Is it any wonder that the trailers for the special editions of George Lucas' original STAR WARS trilogy were shown with INDEPENDENCE DAY? Since then, aliens and monster have been endlessly invading and crushing our planet (usually New York City) on screen and there have been three more STAR WARS films. Even the original teaser trailer for this film didn't need to say much to get people excited to see it come July 1996...
July 2 - The day they arrive.
July 3 - The day they attack.
July 4 - The day we fight back.
Simple, to the point and quite gripping for the sci-fi movie lover, right? However, unlike the many alien invasion films from the 1950s you may have seen on Turner Classic Movies, Roland Emmerich's film focuses much less on the science ins-and-outs of who the aliens are and why they do what they do and treats movie fans to more of the action, blood and guts they crave. Will Smith as Captain Steven Hiller is perfect to provide his unique style of humor that only makes the film better. This was the beginning that made Will Smith the action hero of science fiction films he's become ever since (you can look up the films that followed).
Alien invasions can be fun, of course, but the film also does it's best to remind us that the prospect of such an event is quite terrifying. From the moment the alien ships arrive and surround our planet, we know they're very likely NOT friendly. Through the scientific expertease of David Levinson (played by Jeff Goldblum - another science fiction alumni actor!), we watch the countdown commence and finally conclude itself to the big payoff - the attack! And shit, what an attack it is! Our major cities are completely obliterated by laser weapons and balls of inferno that can send chills up and down your spine if you allow yourself the imagination to really take it in.
INDEPENDENCE DAY can clearly be called the Bill Clinton era science fiction film. Actor Bill Pullman as President Thomas J. Whitmore bears a minor resemblence to our former President. And as his character is also a former fighter pilot who actually takes part in the final battle in which the people of Earth will gloriously prevail over the alien attackers, it's no wonder that INDEPENDENCE DAY was such a favorite of Clinton's. Perhaps he played this movie while he was getting one of his infamous Monica Lewinsky blowjobs to enhance the effect. Hey, anything's possible, yes?
Since INDEPENDENCE DAY, I have not enjoyed nor have I bothered to own any other alien or monster invasion film. Really, what's the point? This film captured everything that's so exciting about the genre, that anything that followed, in my opinion, was just recycled copycat material and a genuine waste of my time. So to the two filmmakers who would eventually give us crap like GODZILLA (1998) and 2012 (2010), I say a great big thank you for all of INDENDENCE DAY's destructive pleasures! Though, admitedly, I may never forgive them for shamelessly placing the Empire State Building in the geographically wrong location just to enhance their effects. Anyone who lives in New York City or close enough to it, knows just how bogus that was!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Captain Steven Hiller (being shot at by an alien spaceship): "Oh no, you did NOT shoot that green shit at me!"
Sunday, November 18, 2012
(November 2004, U.S.)
Ever since TOY STORY first hit movie screens in 1995, it seems that computer-animated films by Disney and Dreamsworks have become a dime a dozen every few weeks or so. Really, I can't keep track of them anymore and neither can my son...and he's just six years-old, for crying out loud! So if I'm lucky, every once in a great while, one of them will catch my attention in a positive way. At this point in my life, I can easily claim my love (or hate) of one of these movies is based on the fact that I wanted to (or HAD to!) watch it with my son. Unfortunately, in this case, I must claim complete and total responsibility for watching and loving Disney's THE INCREDIBLES because it was relased two years before my son was born.
Let me begin with a claim that I never in my life thought I'd ever make about a Disney film, and that's this...THE INCREDIBLES features some of the best hardcore action (for a Disney movie, anyway) that I've seen on screen that would even rival a great Indiana Jones movie! Honestly, the last time I felt that way about a Disney film was the sci-fi spectacle THE BLACK HOLE in 1979. THE INCREDIBLES follows a family of superheroes living a quiet suburban life, forced to hide their powers from the rest of the world due to a an onslaught of lawsuits brought against the world's superheroes after their heroics inadvertantly cause massive public destruction. When the father, Bob Parr or "Mr. Incredible" (voiced by Craig T. Nelson - remember him in POLTERGEIST?) yearns for his glory days and desire to help people drags him into battle with an evil villain and his killer robot, the entire Parr family is ultimately forced into action to save the world. As cliche as it all seems, superheroes HAVE to always be saving the world from some sort of evil, otherwise the film is pointless, yes? The evil, known as Buddy Pine or "Syndrome" (voiced by Jason Lee), is quite a trip because he's really just a dorky kid who once wanted nothing more than to be "Mr. Incredible's" superhero sidekick, and having been rejected too many times, grew up into evil manhood and seeks only revenge on those who have wronged him. At the same time, while creating all of this evil and mass destruction, his ultimate plan is to be the greatest superhero on the planet by conveniently defeating his own evil and taking the world renowned credit of the good guy?
(you getting all this so far?)
so basically, we're talking about a real bad guy with a tremendous ego issue! What finally defeats him is quite amusing considering it involves a transforming baby and the dangers of wearing a cape. See for yourself.
As mentioned earlier, these computer animated films seem quite repetitious...and they are. Besides the great action, though, the design of THE INCREDIBLES is unique in its own way. The 3D computer graphics of the skin for these movie characters gained a new level of realism from a technology to produce what is known as "subsurface scattering", which is defined as a mechanism in which light penetrates the surface of a translucent object, is scattered by interacting with the material, and exits the surface at a different point. The light will generally penetrate the surface and be reflected a number of times at irregular angles inside the material, before passing back out of the material at an angle other than the angle it would have if it had been reflected directly off the surface. Hey, I had to look it up, okay, but you can see the great results of this process when you watch THE INCREDIBLES come alive in front of you.
To date, there's still no sequel to this great animated film. I hope it stays that way!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Syndrome: "Oh, no! Elastigirl? You married Elastigirl?? Ho, ho, ho...oh, and got biz-zay! It's a whole family of supers! Looks like I hit the jackpot! Oh, this is just too good!"
Saturday, November 17, 2012
(December 1967, U.S.)
A bestselling book and successful film based on a shocking true life crime may not play so well in today's world given the fact that these sort of tragic real life events seem to occurr at an almost frequent rate. Think about it...how often do you turn on the news and hear about some horrifying crime and almost write it off in your mind as something that has reached the point of being trivial? It's a tragic attitude, but it's a sign of the world we live in today.
Back in 1959 middle America, though, the detailed brutal murders of Herbert Clutter, a successful farmer from Holcomb, Kansas, his wife, and their children was a horrific incident that captured the minds, hearts and attention of the entire country. When Truman Capote learned of the quadruple murder, before the killers were captured, he decided to travel to Kansas and write about the crime. The 1966 book of IN COLD BLOOD became the greatest crime seller at the time and is almost universally acknowledged as one of the best books of its type ever written. Richard Brooks' film version with Robert Blake as Perry Smith and Scott Wilson as Dick Hickock follows a very detailed and non-linear form of filmmaking and editing as we follow the two would-be killers from the point of conceiving the planned home robbery to the very point that they're hanged for their crimes. Particularly noteworthy is the moment when they've arrived at the Clutter farm and are preparing to exit the car. The film fades to black at that moment and when it returns, a family friend arrives at the house to find the bodies. Police investigation and inevitable capture of the killers follow soon enough and it's only at the point of Perry Smith's lengthy confession do we witness a step-by-step account of the home invasion and the frightening moments that lead up to the family's ultimate slaughter.
That last comment of mine opens up the fact that the actual events of the crime itself are told on film with out-of-sequence flashbacks (or analepsis, as I understand it's sometimes called) and the consequences that follow it. It's a style of crime storytelling that I remember first seeing in Stanley Kubrick's THE KILLING (1956) and decades later in Quentin Tarantino's RESERVOIR DOGS (1992). It's a formula that's definitely copied around in cinema, but nevertheless a highly effective tool with crime thrillers.
Although it wasn't included in my film collection and this blog, the 2005 film CAPOTE with Philip Seymour Hoffman takes the events of Truman's writing the book and his actual relationship with the convicted criminals preceeding it. It's an intruiging additional step to take after you've read the book IN COLD BLOOD or seen the film, or both.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Alvin Dewey: "Someday, somebody will explain to me the motive of a newspaper. First, you scream, "Find the bastards." Till we find them, you want to get us fired. When we find them, you accuse us of brutality. Before we go into court, you give them a trial by newspaper. When we finally get a conviction, you want to save them by proving they were crazy in the first place."
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
(July 2010, U.S.)
Initially, any science fiction film that could be described as "The Matrix meets James Bond" may seem like a turn-off for me, because the moment a film is described as one previously used element "meeting" another previously used element, the only thing that I can stay focussed on is the fact that it's film that contains previously used film elements. Add to the fact that back in 1985, there was a film called DREAMSCAPE with Dennis Quaid in which people invaded other people's dreams, there remains very little to tempt me into seeing INCEPTION. On the other hand, though, director Christopher Nolan carries a tremendous amount of weight with me. MEMENTO (2000) was one of the ten best films of the last decade, INSOMNIA (2002) was one of the rare and better remakes of any foreign film I've ever seen, and THE DARK KNIGHT (2008), of course, speaks for itself. That in mind, INCEPTION deserved its fair viewing.
This is a film that, for my own reasons and experiences, I would put in a personal classification with films like Fellini's 8 1/2 (1963), 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968), MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001) and THE TREE OF LIFE (2011) in that they're films I had a lot of trouble understanding the first time around and dared me to challenge my patience and intellect to not give up so fast. You see, for me, the harder a film is to understand, the more I'm compelled to get past the difficulties of it and try, try again. It's frustrating, yes, but when I've given a good film the time and understanding it deserves, it's like experiencing a film revelation in which you finally (hopefully) get it. After watching INCEPTION for the first time some time ago, I immediately started the film again because I was determined to "get back on the bicycle" and master its meaning and its pleasures.
So that being said, we have a film whose essential premise is the concept of invading a person's dream and implanting an idea in their head that will ultimately change their own lives and the possibly the lives of others involved with them. Dominick Cobb (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) is a dream "architect", who with his team, are hired by powerful Japanese businessman Saito (played by Ken Watanabe) who wishes to break up the energy conglomerate of his ailing competitor by planting the idea in his son and heir Robert Fischer (played by Cillian Murphy) to disintegrate his father's company. Should Cobb and his team succeed, Saito will use his influence to clear a murder charge against Cobb, so he can return to the United States and his beloved children.
Sounds simple so far, right? Not quite...
Once the mission begins, we're into high concept ideas of "dreams within dreams", "kicks" that will untimately awaken the dreamer, dreamer's defense mechanisms that can come in the form of extreme violence and the sub-conscious act of bringing the memories of the dead into play, also accompanied by destructive behavior. This last action is just what's going on in Cobb's head as he suffers extreme guilt over the suicide of his wife and it's just what may jeopardize the team's mission. Dreams mix with reality in such a way that, as I said, can be very hard to follow. You have to take the time to follow just how many dreams are within a single dream and to ultimately remember that reality lies in those who are actually fast asleep on a plane.
This is all my persoanl take on the film, though. There are those out there who are likely smarter than me and may take it all in with no problem the very first time they watch INCEPTION. My hat is off to you, if you can. Most film audiences are completely turned off by any film they're required to use their brain with. As a result, box office returns usually suffer. Not here, however. INCEPTION fared very well with audiences and critics.
Just a quick persoanl memory to conclude things...you may recall that in my previous post for AVATAR (2009) I confessed that it was the last modern "grown up" film for myself that I went to see in a movie theater (it still is!). However, that's not to say I didn't try again. During the Summer of 2010, I tried TWICE to see INCEPTION at the same movie theater in my town. The first time there was a problem with the film and I demanded my money back. The second time the show was sold out. I took it as a clear sign not to try and go to the movies for myself anymore. I haven't been back since...and that's no dream!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Dominick Cobb: "Well dreams, they feel real while we're in them, right? It's only when we wake up that we realize how things are actually strange. Let me ask you a question, you, you never really remember the beginning of a dream do you? You always wind up right in the middle of what's going on."
Ariadne: "I guess, yeah."
Cobb: "So how did we end up here?"
Ariadne: "Well we just came from the a..."
Cobb: "Think about it Ariadne, how did you get here? Where are you right now?"
Ariadne: "We're dreaming?"
Cobb: "You're actually in the middle of the workshop right now, sleeping. This is your first lesson in shared dreaming. Stay calm."
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
(June 1995, U.S.)
Without actually bothering to check into the archives of my own movie blog for clarity, it feels like it's been ages since I discussed a foreign subtitled film. Feels good to return to that genre again.
Looking back at the 1990s, I think I experienced my greatest enthusiasm for foreign films on screen during that decade. From CINEMA PARADISO (1990) to LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE (1992) to LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL (1998), foreign cinema seemed to develop quite a surge with audiences, critics and Oscar voters, as well. During the 1990s, I was also living in New York City and was affordered greater access and greater opportunities to see these foreign films on the big screen. By the time I got around to IL POSTINO, the massive attention and the Oscar buzz were everywhere. The other big news surrounding this film was the fact that it's star, Massimo Troisi, had died of a severe heart attack the day after filming was completed (Man, that sucks!).
The film tells the fictional story in which the real life Chilean poet Pablo Neruda forms a relationship with a simple Italian postman who learns to love poetry and uses it to win the heart of the woman he loves. SIMPLE is the key word here because like Peter Sellers in BEING THERE (1979) and Tom Hanks in FORREST GUMP (1994) before him, Mario Ruoppolo (Massimo Troisi) is the simplest of men who lives on a small, forgotten island in Italy whose very existence seems to be no more than living with and looking after his aging father. This is not a man with wisdom, experience or courage to face any real challanges in life or to even try to make his existence known to the most beautiful and tempting woman on the island, Beatrice Russo (played by Maria Grazia Cucinotta - you may recall her in the opening sequence of the disappointing 1999 James Bond film THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH). And like previous simple men before him, wisdom and experience is slowly fullfilled, in this case through poetry, metaphors and friendship with a world renowned poet Pablo Neruda (played by French actor Philippe Noiret), who in this film, seems to attract hords of crazed fans a lot more like the Beatles coming to America in 1963 rather than a simple-mannered poet.
And so the shy, simple man wins the heart of the beautiful woman and all is NOT QUITE happily ever after. Things get complicated. Pablo and his wife return to their homeland in Chile and Mario realizes that it's time for him to develop his own voice and his own thinking, particularly during a time in history when communism is at its peak in the 1950s. In an epilogue sequence of the film, we learn that Mario, when scheduled to recite is own composed poem a massive communist gathering in Naples, is killed during violent police reaction. Tragic and ironic, indeed, considering the real life fate of Massimo Troisi himself.
Before revisiting IL POSTINIO for the first time since purchasing the DVD years ago, the most recent film I'd watched was last summer's superhero blockbuster THE AVENGERS. If you'd been in my living room with me, you would have seen an expression on my face that seemed to suggest, "Why the fuck am I watching this crap??" If you'd seen my face last night, you would have witnessed a big smile. I smile because sometimes in the life of cinema, it's the simplest stories, the simplest pleasures and the most simple of beautiful world locales (in glorious Italy!) that will put that wonderful smile on your face. MY face, anyway.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Mario Ruoppolo: "Something nice about the island?"
Pablo Neruda: "Yes, one of the wonders of your island."
Mario (speaking into a recorder): "Beatrice Russo."
Tuesday, November 6, 2012
(October 2011, U.S.)
During the course of the last two films I posted, I AM LEGEND and IDENTITY, there was strong evidence of irony, timing and coincidence involved. Well, pay attention, people, because on this, our Presidential election day, I'm here to discuss George Clooney's THE IDES OF MARCH. Is it all of the above-mentioned factors or am I just that fucking good?? You decide.
George Clooney as Governor Mike Morris is probably the best fictitious political candidate I've seen on film since Robert Redford in THE CANDIDATE (1972). He doesn't really exist, but when you hear him speak on what resembles the real life political issues of our time, you'll swear that you'd vote for him if he really ran for office. Hey, don't forget that Ronald Reagan was an actor once...anything can happen! THE IDES OF MARCH, however, is told more from the point of view of Morris' deputy campaign manager Stephen Meyers (played by the very intense Ryan Gosling). From his perspective, the film is, admitedly, very cliche in its story. We have the young, idealistic campaign manager who truly believes that his candidate walks on water. Of course, as time progresses, he'll find that his beloved Mike Morris is as much of a disappointment as every other bullshit politician out there. He'll also find that his loyalties and his ideals have the potential to go out the window when his job, his career and his future are threatened. And of course, we shouldn't forget the inevitable cliche that all seemingly moral politicians eventually end up fucking their interns. Well, let's be honest...would YOU kick Evan Rachel Wood out of your bed??
While THE IDES OF MARCH is busy being predictable, yet entertaining, there's one particular moment that I take to heart. During a scene in a quit cafe, Marisa Tomei's character of a New York Times reporter tells Stephen that regardless of which presidential candidate wins the election, it will likely not make one bit of difference to the average "fucker" out there who wakes up, goes to work, comes home, goes to sleep and does the same thing all over again the next day. I never thought I'd take anything that Marisa Tomei says to heart like that, but she does, admitedly, make a good point worth considering. It's an opinion, anyway. But the last thing I'm going to do is get into any sort of political discussion on this blog of mine.
So, that being said...WIN, OBAMA, WIN!!!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Governor Mike Morris: "You know how you fight the war on terror? You don't need their product anymore! Their product is oil! Just don't need it and they go away!"
(George Clooney for President!!!)
Sunday, November 4, 2012
(April 2003, U.S.)
Before I begin my blog for this film, let's take a moment and take a little tour of what I can only describe as either strange irony, bizarre timing or insane coincidence...
My last movie post for I AM LEGEND told the story, in part, of disaster, devestation, and isolation. Two days after that post, Hurricane Sandy hit the states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticuit with an extreme wrath that had virtually never been seen before, and because of disaster, devestation and isolation, I was unable to really get to a computer to post my blogs. Now, this next film, IDENTITY, deals with, in part, disaster and isolation. Is all of this just bizarre coincidence, something a little more spiritual or just really fucking weird???
I think that we can give special credit to novelists like Robert Bloch and Stephen King and filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick for making the idea of the isolated, abandoned motel or hotel a very creepy element for any scary film. Take a look at the motel in this film and tell me if you'd want to stay here...
In IDENTITY, which is greatly inspired by Agatha Christie's AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, we're not only given the storyline of the isolated motel and the group of stranger (lead by great actors like John Cusack and Ray Liotta) who are trapped there, but also the added cliche of the violent thunderstorm. Cliche, yes, but highly effective. A storm is scary, an isolted moted is scary, and a group of people who begin dying one by one is truly scary!
When you watch the story of these strangers, we're also being shown the circumstances of Malcom Rivers (played by Pruitt Taylor Vince), a vicious killer who is just one day away from execution. His psychiatrist (played by Alfred Molina) is, predictably, playing the insanity card to save his patient's life. You wonder what the hell one story has to do with the other. You also have to remind yourself that you're very likely being set up for what will turn out to be a great payoff of revelation in the film's plot.
Like AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, people start dying and dying in rather frightening and violent manners. What's really freaky is that eventually those bodies start mysteriously disappearing. Is this the work of a truly diabolical killer or something a little more sinister and supernatural? This is where you have to be ready for what will inevitably link the story of a group of stranded strangers and the circumstances of Malcom Rivers. Without unfairly giving anything away, rest assured that the revelation is scary and very effective. I will, however, direct your memory to this line from Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO (1960) that goes...
"You see, when the mind houses two personalities, there's always a conflict...a battle!"
Nothing could be further from the truth in the case of IDENTITY. Moviegoers have often been floored by the climactic ending of a scary film that would suggest the protaganist was actually DEAD during the entire time (see JACOB'S LADDER or THE SIXTH SENSE). This film takes it a step further, in my opinion, in showing the complex and truly creepy conflicts going on inside of the mind of a convicted killer who happens to suffer from multiple personality syndrome. What's even more frightening is when you consider the fact that it's very possible that a story element such as this is likely conceived from a true case history of a real human being (or more). In other words, there stranger the story, the more likely it is that it was inspired from a true life incident or person. Scary, indeed.
Like too many scary films of decades before, IDENTITY does NOT suffer from bad story, bad acting and bad dialogue. It's intelligent scares and frights that can stand proudly with films like THE EXORCIST (1973), HALLOWEEN (1978) and THE SHINING (1980). That's a nice position to have!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Edward Dakota: "Alright, I was, uh, driving this actress and we got stuck at the motel. There was a storm...and we couldn't get out...we couldn't get out...because of the storm."
Dr. Mallick: "What happened at the motel?"
Edward: "People started dying...and their bodies...it doesn't make any sense...they, they disappeared."
Saturday, October 27, 2012
(December 2007, U.S.)
I AM LEGEND is, indeed, a rarely appreciated film for my tastes and collection because in most cases by the time any original story has gotten to it's THIRD film version, I'm likely to loose interest because most versions and remakes of stories never top the original film version. Not so in the case of Richard Matheson's original novel because in my opinion, the first film THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964) and the second THE OMEGA MAN (1971) were just no damn good at all. Three times is definitely a charm here because I AM LEGEND is one of the most terrifying post-apocalyptic science fiction horror films I've ever seen. Believe it or not, the terror for me comes not so much from the cannibalistic humanoid night seekers that military virologist Lieutenant Colonel Robert Neville (played by Will Smith) is fighting to survive against, but rather the the quiet and eerie dead atmosphere of what was once the great island of Manhattan, New York.
Let me begin with that one first - over the last two decades I've seen my fair share of computer generated amazement on the big screen and I swear to you right now, none of it compares to the hard impact of looking at New York City completely deserted of all human beings (except Will Smith). You look at it and you know very well computer effects were involved, but you would also swear that the film was shot on location in a dead, deserted city, if you didn't know any body. It's just that well done and it's also just that freaky. It's also, of course, very chilling to imagine just one person living in an entire city. You can feel it most in my opinion when we hear Neville's voiceover calling out to whomever may be listening on a daily basis...
"My name is Robert Neville. I am a survivor living in New York City. I am broadcasting on all AM frequencies. I will be at the South Street Seaport everyday at mid-day, when the sun is highest in the sky. If you are out there...if anyone is out there...I can provide food, I can provide shelter, I can provide security. If there's anybody out there...anybody...please. You are not alone."
They're just words, I know, but listen to them when you watch the film and really take them in and you just might know what I'm talking about.
The entire human race being wiped out by plague or biological warfare is not exactly new to the screen. In fact, one of the most effective films I'd seen prior to I AM LEGEND concerning this topic was the ABC-TV television mini-series of Stephen King's THE STAND back in 1994. It's also a fact that human beings falling victim to disease or the like and turning into some sort of horrifying monsters isn't the newest film sensation, either. As a matter of fact, were it not for Richard Matheson's original story, George A. Romero may never have been inspired to give us his NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968), and thus, the entire genre of "living dead" movies may never have existed. I AM LEGEND shows you not only what's become of humanity (what's left of it) but takes you back in time a bit to not only introduce you to a medical marvel that was thought to be the cure for cancer (before it turned into something else entirely), but also shows you the horror of the breakdown in the system of not only the disease itself, but the chaos that erupts when the island of Manhattan is quarantined from the rest of the world. It's one thing to watch herds of people in a panic to survive by attempted escape, and it's another matter entirely to watch our own military planes intentionally destroy a portion of the Brooklyn Bridge in order to prevent it. Indeed, the breakdown and destruction of humankind can be a terrifying thing to watch, sometimes more terrifying that the tradition and cliche of monsters. Though I must admit, I get more of the hee bee gee bees scared out of me watching the scenes when Neville's diseased RATS are going crazy trying to break out of their confinements in order to kill him than I do watching humanoid monsters trying to do the same thing. I hate, hate, HATE rats!!!
It impresses me that I AM LEGEND is portrayed at such an epic scale and yet the film is only one hundred minutes long. Proof positive that quality triumphs over quantity and less is, indeed, more. I have to also finally say that since INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996), I haven't gotten bored yet of watching Will Smith play the science fiction hero. The man has definitely got something in that department.
And hey, why is it that when the world is coming to an end on screen, New York City is always the first one to get it??
Favorite line or dialogue:
Robert Neville: "All right, let me tell you about your "God's plan". Seven billion people on Earth when the infection hit! KV had a ninety-percent kill rate, that's five point four billion people dead! Crashed and bled out! Dead! Less than one-percent immunity! That left twelve million healthy people, like you, me, and Ethan! The other five hundred and eighty-eight million turned into your dark seekers, and then they got hungry and they killed and fed on everybody! Everybody! Every single person that you or I has ever known is dead! Dead! There is no God!"
That's some scary shit!
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
(November 1932, U.S.)
I must confess that every once in a while I feel as if I may be alienating many of my readers when I post a blog for a very old film. I know there are many out there who love classic films, but I can't shake the idea that whenever I get into something that dates, say pre-1950, many out there are likely shaking their heads thinking to themselves, "This is way before my time.". Presuming I'm correct, that's a very tragic attitude in the world of film, in my opinion. There are countless gems to be discovered in the "Pre-Code" era of cinema, as well as the silent period, too.
That little gripe having been aired out, be aware that without a classic prison picture like I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG (there's a long title I'll try not to repeat too often!), we may never have gotten future classic prison films like BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ (1962) or THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994). You've very likely never heard even heard of this film or its star, Paul Muni. The best I can do to familiarize you with the star is to say that if you love Brian DePalma's SCARFACE, know that it's a remake of an original 1932 film of the same and Paul Muni is the infamous gangster that would one day be taken over by Al Pacino as Tony Montana. Did that help?
Paul Muni plays James Allen who return a decorated veteran of World War I whose war experience makes him extremely restless to just spend his life at an ordinary job. He wants to see places and build things. He leaves home to find work on any sort of project, but unskilled labor is plentiful and it's hard for him to find a job. Wandering and sinking into poverty, he accidentally becomes caught up in a robbery and is sentenced to ten years on a brutal Southern chain gang (for stealing only $5.00, no less!). The brutality of that prison life (mind you, the word PRISON is never actually spoken - only the words CHAIN GANG) is obvious, even for the 1930s. He inevitably (and predictably) escapes and actually meets with years of success as he's not only able to evade the law, but also to become a productive and upstanding citizen of the city of Chicago. Like all good things, though, it doesn't last long enough. He's caught again and is offered a deal for a full pardon if he'll return to the chain gang and serve out his time. Quite stupidly, he agrees to the deal on faith. This can be particularly unnerving to the viewer because you know from the minute the offer is made that it's going to turn out to be total bullshit and James will be right back where he was with no chance of a future. You see, when you watch a prison film, you have a tremendous longing for the protaganist to escape the brutal hell of his life and emerge triumphantly, whether he's guilty or innocent of his crime. We can't help it. That's what makes a great prison film work.
There's an unforgettable shot at the close of the film when James, having escaped for the second time, visits the woman he loves outside her home. The visit is only momentary and he must then take it on the run again. As he says goodbye, James retreats into the blackness of not only the film itself, but the life he now maintains on the run from those who have shown him nothing but brutality and injustice.
This film is one that defines classic black and white cinema. If you have the means, the mind and the patience, rent it and see it for yourself. Trust me.
Favorite line or dialogue:
James Allen: "Helen! Helen!"
Helen Vinson: "Jim! Jim! Why haven't you come before?"
Jim: "I couldn't. I was afraid to."
Helen: "It's been almost a year since you escaped."
Jim: "But I haven't escaped! They're still after me. They'll always be after me! I've had jobs but I can't keep them. Something happens. Something turns up. I hide in rooms all day and travel by night. No friends, no rest, no peace!"
Helen: "Oh, Jim!"
Jim: "Keep moving! That's all that's left for me! Forgive me, Helen. I had to take a chance to see you tonight...just to say goodbye.'
Helen: "Oh, Jim, it was all going to be so different!"
Jim: It is different! They've made it different!"