Friday, March 30, 2012
(September 1964, U.S.)
What could be more fun in the world of cinema than a James Bond double feature? First GOLDENEYE, now GOLDFINGER! Whoopee!
For the record, my favorite James Bond film of all time is THUNDERBALL (1965). I mention this only because my personal pick goes against the general fan consensus. You ask any James Bond aficionado out there what his or her favorite film is and chances are they'll tell you it's GOLDFINGER. And who can blame them? The action is more relentless than its two preceeding films without being campy, it's the film that introduces us to the famous Aston Martin DB5 car with all its clever gadgets and weaponry, the film that gives us Oddjob, the most diabolical, lethal yet somehow very cute and charming "supernatural" villian of the franchise (thought I personally still prefer Jaws) with that unforgettable killer hat of his, and then, of course, there's the Bond girl with the most famous name in the franchise...Pussy Galore! I'll say it again just for the erotic fun of it...PUSSY GALORE (I can just hear every feminist in America cursing my name right now!)!
Among other things, GOLDFINGER is the only Sean Connery Bond film that does not involve S.P.E.C.T.R.E or the head villian, Blofeld. The character of Auric Goldfinger seems a more down-to-Earth bad guy who's ambition is not necessarily world domination, but rather the heist of the century involving Fort Knox, Kentucky that will make him wealthy (wealthier!) beyond recognition. He enjoys simple pleasures like gin rummy and golf, as long as he's cheating at them to win. Bond is, well...as Bond as Bond can be in nearly every Bond film. The fact that it's Sean Connery just makes it better, even when silly puns are involved. I must confess, though, that the only real appeal for me regarding Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore is her character's name. She's tough as nails and can match wits against 007, but I've never really felt the connection or chemistry between them. She spends much of her time resisting Bond's charms and then suddenly manages to fall for them instantly after one big kiss, prompting her to switch to the good side and prevent the death of thousands of people by switching gas canisters. Truth be told, if she didn't eventually fall for Bond, I'd swear that the character of Pussy Galore liked GIRLS!
One of the particularly interesting moments I've always noticed about GOLDFINGER is that it's one of the rare Bond films where we get to witness the great, tough-as-nails James Bond looking scared out of his wits for his life when he's strapped down and the deadly laster is headed right for the manhood between his legs. And why shouldn't he be? In the end, you see, no matter how tough we think we are, that's the LAST thing any man wants to loose.
Here's a small piece of trivia for you. GOLDFINGER was the very first Bond film to be shown on television in September 1972 on the ABC Sunday Night Movie. The premiere went off without a hitch except the opening gunbarrel icon was completely eliminated for whatever reason. A few shots were also cut to tone down the sex and violence. Actually, if it hadn't been for the ABC Sunday Night Movie, I might not have discovered any of Sean Connery's Bond films until I was much older with my own VCR. The first time I caught any of GOLDFINGER on television was during the sequence when deceased gangster Mr. Solo and his car are crushed to death in the hydrolic press and placed in the back of a truck to be returned to Mr. Goldfinger. I can still almost remember thinking to myself as a child, "Oh, geez!" Not a bad start to one's long standing relationship with James Bond films.
Favorite line or dialogue"
James Bond: "Do you expect me to talk?"
Goldfinger: "No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to DIE!"
Monday, March 26, 2012
(November 1995, U.S.)
In the very early 1990s, something tragic happened in the world of cinema, though no one would immediately be aware of if for a couple of years. What happened is that the James Bond film franchise came to a screeching halt for the first time since its inception in 1962. Since 1977, I'd come to rely on a brand new James Bond film every two years during the summer blockbuster season. Now, for the better part of six years, it appeared to be all over (WTF???). This, my friends, was my first real lesson in film franchise re-booting. In 1995, when I first saw the trailer for GOLDENEYE starring Pierce Brosnan (the ORIGINAL choice to play Bond after Roger Moore), I was, needless to say, overcome with tremendous excitement and anticipation. You know what happened after I finally saw it? I hated it! Really, no shit! I'd convinced myself that it was a terrible film and I thought I'd had a stack of what I thought were viable reasons: six years after the Cold War and Soviet Union dissolve and the Russians are STILL the enemy, severe alterations in the traditional James Bond musical themes because John Barry hasn't scored the film, a less than thrilling final scene and now "M" was a WOMAN! I repeat...WTF???
So lets jump ahead about six to eights months when I decide to give GOLDENEYE another chance on Pay-Per-View. Stop the presses! This new Bond film doesn't look quite so bad afterall. Brosnan is a tough, no-nonsense Bond who makes the hardcore action of it all the best I've seen since Sean Connery and also (for the time being, anyway) seems to be minimizing the silly puns that traditionally go with a Bond film. And what's this? Judi Dench appears to be damn good in the role of "M"! Suddenly it all makes sense to me. With a franchise reboot such as this, change is not only in the air, it's what makes perfect sense. Because if there's no change, then you're just watching the same 'ol, same 'ol all over again, and that's not always good.
So now lets talk about Bond girls. Izabella Scorupco as Natalya Simonova (yes, ANOTHER Russian Bond girl!) is just about as good or bad as anyone else you may have seen (well, she's better than Dennise Richards, anyway!). Famke Janssen as Xenia Onatopp is another matter intirely. This is a truly serious evil bitch who appears to get tremendous sexual pleasure by killing people, particularly with her long, sexy bare legs. No wonder her first victim has a huge smile on his face when he dies! Bond being Bond, of course, can resist her sexual aggressiveness (HOW??) to get the job done and save the world once again. This is actually one of those rare times Bond DOESN'T sleep with the bad girl. And to just briefly mention Sean Bean as the Bond villian of former Agent 006, I have to say it's an original idea that gives his character a more disgruntled point of view as one who's chosen the evil side of life, as well as a man who can anticipate Bond's every move a little better than the next guy.
All in all, though, it's pure James Bond action, adventure, thrills and a formula that still works when it remembers not to get too damn stupid or far-fetched (or to let Madonna sing the opening theme song!). So, you see, sometimes just a little time and a more open frame of mind can turn a movie that previously sucked into one of the better films of the James Bond film franchise. Anything's possible, people.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Miss Moneypenny: "You know, this sort of behaviour could qualify as sexual harassment."
James Bond: "Really. What's the penalty for that?"
Moneypenny: "Someday, you'll have to make good on your innuendos."
Saturday, March 24, 2012
(April 1956, U.S.)
So, just how many Godzilla films have been made to date, even including Roland Emmeerich's rather pathetic 1998 attempt at the big monster? How many of them really sucked?? When I was a kid growing up in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Godzilla films were practically a dime-a-dozen on television, particularly at Thanksgiving time (THAT'S another story entirely!) and they ususally featured Godzilla pitted against some other form of lame monster with special powers. When a little kid, this kind of cheap, badly dubbed cinema was probably mother's milk if you likes monster movies in general. As one gets older, though, they slip away in value appreciation. Sadly, though, the original American version of the very first Japanese film of GODZILLA with American actor Raymond Burr never came on televison for me to discover. I'm not saying it wasn't actually ON, it's just that I never discovered it. Actually, it wasn't 'till 1998 when the above-mentioned big budget Hollywood summer blockbuster bullshit version was released that I decided to rent the VHS version of the original classic that started it all. I'm glad I did.
Now, this is not to say that this original film is not a cheap, American-dubbed version of something previosuly released in Japan, because it is. What really stands out here is the rather awesome black and white photography of not only the monster himself but also Tokyo's blazing destruction, which is, ultimately, the coolest thing to watch when you're watching any monster movie. Take a look...
Godzilla himself, admitedly, looks as though he's still an under-developed puppet with rather huge black eyes that almost give him a sympathetic look, like a sad, helpless cat staring at you. Under-developed or not, it looks a whole lot better, in my opinion, than the cheap rubber suit many people of my age grew up watching in those color films.
While many of the cheap, color Godzilla VS. films can be considered truly campy and completely stupid (even FUN if you're the right age), this original black and white film can certainly be accused of taking itself seriously. Tokyo is a city of millions of people and the city is about to be destroyed by a merciless monster whose only purpose is to kill. The city is destroyed to a pile of rubble and the city burns in enormous flames of Hell that I have to confess makes for great visual cinematography, paricularly in black and white. Raymond Burr's character of Steve Martin (yeah, that's really his name and he's NOT a wild and crazy guy!) serves to bring in American audiences with narration and observation as a foreign correspondant of a city's horrible destruction. For the record, Godzilla IS detroyed at the end of the film, but that doesn't exactly stop a would-be franchise, does it?
In 2004, I attending a screening of the original Japanese film of GODZILLA (pronounced GOJIRA) at a movie house in Greenwich Village, New York City. It was, at best, educational to return to the roots of the famous monster. However, this is one of the few times I can actually claim to prefer an American dubbed version over the original foreign language subtitled film. Shameful as that may seem, it's what clarifies the films's story a little better for me and Raymond Burr is no slouch, either. And let's face it, watching Godzilla is not exactly watching an ART film, is it?
Favorite line or dialogue:
Steve Martin (voice-over): "This is Tokyo. Once a city of six million people. What has happened here was caused by a force which up until a few days ago was entirely beyond the scope of Man's imagination. Tokyo, a smoldering memorial to the unknown, an unknown which at this very moment still prevails and could at any time lash out with its terrible destruction anywhere else in the world. There were once many people here who could've told of what they saw...now there are only a few."
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
(December 1990, U.S.)
If you take a moment to look back at the last few months of the year 1990, you may recall that there was a small pack of gangster films released in movie theaters that included Martin Scorsese's GOODFELLAS, the Cohen Brothers' MILLER'S CROSSING and Abel Ferrara's KING OF NEW YORK. So what better time for Francis Ford Coppola to release his third and final chapter in the GODFATHER saga.
I've always held the opinion that the one key thing that can make a sequel very attractive is if enough years have passed in between them. I don't mean three, I don't mean six or even ten. I'm talking about fifteen or more. By that conviction, THE GODFATHER-PART III is more than just a mere sequel, it's a true family reunion. After nearly two decades, it's not only wonderful to see Michael Corleone, Connie Corleone and Kay Adams again but also to see some of the minor characters we came to know like Al Neri and Johnny Fontane. Yes, it's true that even before the film premiered it likely never stood a chance to be anywhere as good as the first two films preceedding it. But if anything occurs with age, its change, and I believe that change is good in any film franchise, otherwise you're just watching the same damn thing over and over again.
So now it's the year 1979 and Michael Corleone is nearing sixty and wracked with guilt for his ambitious and ruthless rise to power, especially having ordered the murder of his older brother Fredo. By now, he's mostly retired from the Mafia, leaving the Corleone family's criminal interests in the hands of enforcer Joey Zasa (played by Joe Mantegna), and is using his tremendous wealth and power to restore his reputation via numerous acts of charity. It seems to be working because the film begins with a religious ceremony naming him Commander of the Order of St. Sebastian. It would seem that money and power have paid for a perfectly-seasoned purification, at least on the outside. Ex wife Kay and even his son Anthony can see right through Michael and the seemingly shameless charade he uses to disguise his true soul.
The key element in the storyline of the third film is deeply involved with the Catholic Church, something this Jewish writer, admitedly, knows very little-to-nothing about. The story begins with the Catholic religion, continues with a business venture that seeks to make Michael the largest stockholder in a company called International Immobiliare, an internation real estate holding company which has heavy interest control by the Roman Vatican Bank and even has Michael confessing his horable sins to a kind priest, giving him his much needed absolution. Near the film's conclusion, two priests are murdered for respective motives and even the evil Italian assassin that will change the rest of Michael's life forever is dressed as a priest. Yes, it's safe to say that watching THE GODFATHER-PART III is almost equivalent to watching Sunday morning religious programming...almost.
Let's take a moment to explore the true irony that occurs in Michael's tormented life. As we know from our own viewing experience, his motives (as he's claimed all along) has always been about protecting his family and keeping them safe. To his credit, his love for his two children, especially kind-hearted Mary (played by director Coppola's daughter Sophia) is unparallelled. It can only be called tragic when, despite his most extreme efforts, she is gunned down right in front of his eyes when taking a bullet that was meant for him. His entire life's work and purpose have just become invalidated when what is most precious to him has fallen at the hands of his enemies. He tells Mary earlier in the film, "I would burn in Hell to keep you safe." It would seem that even THAT won't be enough.
Speaking of Mary's character for a moment, I can still remember Sophia Coppola getting a lot of rather unfair flack for her performance. She may be a better director than actress, but in all honestly I didn't think she was all that bad in the role. Would Winona Ryder (the first choice cast for the role) honestly have been any better? I say not.
THE GODFATHER-PART III was nominated for best picture of 1990. Although I personally feel the honor should have gone to GOODFELLAS, back then I so really wanted PART III to win the award just so cinema history could record an entire trilogy of films winning the Oscar for best picture of the year. How cool would that have been??
So let me finally conclude by saying that it's been an absolute pleasure discussing and interpreting what I consider to be my favorite film saga of all time; more than STAR WARS, more than LORD OF THE RINGS, more than anything. It is, in my opinion, the greatest story of loyalty, honor, family and violence I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing on screen. If you've never experienced it for yourself yet, let me just say in all extreme corniness...it's an offer you can't refuse!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Kay Adams: "You know, Michael, now that you're so respectable I think you're more dangerous than you EVER were. In fact, I preferred you when you were just a common Mafia hood!"
Monday, March 19, 2012
(December 1974, U.S.)
Is it really possible that THE GODFATHER-PART II is actually better than THE GODFATHER? Too many people seem to think so; film scholars, film critics and film fans alike. I suppose there ARE multiple reasons to back up a claim like that. After all, you have a stellar cast giving the greatest performances of their careers as well as a far deeper character study into Micheal Corleone and Vito Corleone as a young man in a second parallel storyline. That being the case, there must be something seriously wrong with me, because as much as I worship THE GODFATHER - PART II as a truly significant motion picture, there is that part of me that continuously returns to not only the beginning of the Corleone saga as the superior storyline, but also the weight and strength of Marlon Brando's character and presence on screen that truly makes the film the unique piece of art that it is. So there you have it, folks...I personally find THE GODFATHER to be a better film than it's much celebrated sequel. Don't kill me.
Having gotten that confession out of the way, let's take some time to focus on who Michael Corleone is now and who he's ultimately destined to become. When we last left him, he'd just gotten his feet wet in the corruption of the "family business" and was about to move his entire family out to Nevada where he could exercise his control over the gambling casinos. He has, in my opinion, become a truly frightening character by now because with the exception of a few selected moments of extreme Pacino-style yelling, he's a very quiet and very intense person who's learned to never let his enemies see him coming. When an attempted assassination against him in his home fails, he very cleverly manipulates both sides with a deceiving false sense of friendship and loyalty to weed out the traitor within his own family. What he cannot possibly fathom is the traitor being his own flesh and blood; his seemeingly weaker older brother, Fredo. It's a shocking idea to conceive and yet fiction is literally filled to the brim with stories of blood brothers betraying each other. It's also one of the oldest cliches that the answer to the big mystery will lie in the last place you'd ever think to look.
Keeping in mind that much of Micahel's strength and power comes from refusing to show any signs of weakness, it becomes clear in his own mind that there's only one way to deal with Fredo's betrayal, brother or not. It's almost hard to believe that even a criminal like Michael Corleone will sink to the lowest levels of Hell as to have his own brother murdred, but it would appear that one's true lust for power has no restrictions whatsoever. The line is crossed, betrayal is avenged and a soul is lost...at least until PART III, that is.
Taking a look at young Vito, his rise to power is based on a much simpler set of circumstances, though still tied into the premise of protecting one's family. By the sheer chance of losing his job one day due to Mafia influence and the illness of baby Fredo, Vito takes on a less-than-honest approach to life in order to make sure that his family never goes hungry. What begins as simple petty crime in an effort to survive inevitably becomes a hunger and lust for power that is passed down from father to sons. Ah, the American dream is alive and well!
So, just to recap, in the span of six and a half hours (both films together) we've seen a young man who started out as the symbol of decency and goodness who, in an effort to protect his family, slowly turned to the dark side and became the very thing he'd originally sought to avoid becoming. Say, is it just me, or does this sound a lot like the story of Anakin Skywalker?? I suppose the only real question with that is who came up with that idea first - Mario Puzo or George Lucas?
THE GODFATHER-PART II won the Oscar for best picture of 1974, the only film sequel to ever achieve that honor until the third LORD OF THE RINGS film in 2003.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Michael Corleone (after giving his brother the "kiss of death" on the lips): "I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart!"
Friday, March 16, 2012
(March 1972, U.S.)
First and foremost, I must say a great big Happy 40th Birthday to one of the greatest and most culturaly significant motion pictures ever made!
So...what can I say? How many personal best lists can I possibly put Francis Ford Coppola's THE GODFATHER on? Is it enough to say that it's one of my top ten favorite films of all time? No. Is it enough to say that I consider to be the single best film of the 1970s (and this is coming from a guy who would have given that high honor to STAR WARS when he was a kid!)? No. Is it enough to say that it's probably the greatest fucking Mob movie ever created? Yeah...that might do it.
This is a crime epic that pushes the idea of the saga of an American family...from Italy. How's that for a wonderful spin on the American dream! One of the most intruiging (and often controversial) element of any Mob film is that they're often accused of glorifying the Mafia and they're action...and why not? The characters are colorful, full of energy and life and don't take shit from anybody. What's not to love, right? However, I've always been of the opinion that THE GODFATHER does a lot more that glorify its members, but also seeks to (successfully) humanize them. Whereas I've always felt that Scorsese's films of MEAN STREETS (1973), GOODFELLAS (1990) and CASINO (1995) and HBO's THE SOPRANOS do no more than glorify it's criminal characters as colorful, violent thugs, THE GODFATHER presents a true family with the admitedly loveably patriarch of Don Vito Corleno (played by Marlon Brando in the greatest role of his career) at its head. Criminals or not, it's impossible to ignore the fact that the Corleone family care deeply for its memebers and will go to great lengths to protect them, as well as the family's interest.
Take strong note that violence in the Corleone family is almost never personal. There's a business motivation behind everything they do, even when betrayal is involved. Santino (Sonny) Corleone (played by James Caan) might be considered an exception, given his violent temper, but even if we examine the sequence when he mercilessly beats the crap out of his brother in-law Carlos in the street, we have to remember it's only to protect his beloved sister from his (Carlos') act of wife beating. It's justified and we can applaud Sonny for protecting his family, by any means necessary.
The real story taking place here is, undoubtedly, about the youngest Corleone son, Michael (played by the great Al Pacino in also his greatest role), a man who, presumably, wants nothing to do with the family business. He's a man of simple morals who's just returned from fighting in World War II and only seeks to marry his American girl Kay (played by Diane Keaton) and live a simple American life. This all changes when his father is shot by his enemies and struggles to life (five shots to the body and Vito Corleone still lives???). Suddenly the family's future is in crisis and Michael must step to only avenge his father's shooting, but to save the very crust of the family's soul, by any means necessary. It's almost quite literally a re-telling of Dr. Jekyl being re-born into Mr. Hyde forever. Look closely at Michael's face as he sits at the restaurant table just before assassinating his enemy Sollozzo and police Captain McCluskey - it almost resembles a man who's about to suffer a complete breakdown because he knows deep in his heart that once he crosses this line into the corruption and violence that goes with the family business, there's no going back...ever. When he crosses it, he stays there forever, seemingly with no regrets...not 'till PART III anyway, but we'll get to that later.
Now let me tell you a story of my grandfather whose name was Daniel. While having absolutely nothing to do with criminal activities or a criminal life, to know him was about as close to knowing a man like Vito Corleone as I will. I wish I had a picture to post, but believe me when I tell you he had a very strong resemblance to Brando's character. He was also a true patriarch of a very large family (eight children and too many grandchildren to count). Back in his homeland of Cairo, Egypt he had a presence and a reputation that would have rivaled the best of all "men of respect". To know him was to honor him with pride and remembrance. I wish I'd known him better...and longer. In all likelyhood, he probably never saw THE GODFATHER himself because he was not a man who would have cared for all that violence on screen (unless, of course, he SLEPT through it. He had a habit of constantly falling asleep in movie theaters). Had he seen it, though, we would've had much to talk about, I'm sure.
Here's one last little personal tidbit for you. You've read before that I had an Italian girlfriend in college named Daniela who remained my friend for many years after. I used to joke with her quite a lot that I hoped one day she'd invite me to her wedding because I'd built up the (admitedly sterotypical) idea in my head that here wedding would resemble the beautiful, lavish Italian wedding that took place at the beginning of THE GODFATHER. She's not married yet, so I'm still hoping.
THE GODFATHER won the Oscar for best picture of 1972. And once again, Happy 40th Birthday Corleone family! Thanks for all the great memories!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Sonny Corleone: "Alright, Professor, what about McClusky. What do we do with this cop here?"
Michael Corleone: "They want to have a meeting with me, right? It will be me, McClusky and Sollozzo. Let's set the meeting. We get our informants to find out where it's going to be held. Now we insist that it be held in a public place, a bar or a restaurant where there'll be other people there so I'll feel safe. They're going to search me when I first meet them, right? So I can't have a weapon on me. But if Clemenza can figure a way to have a weapon planted for me, then I'll kill them both."
Sonny: [laughing] "What are you gonna do? Nice college boy, didn't want to get mixed up in the family business. Now you want to gun down a police captain. Why? Because he slapped you in the face a little? What do you think this like the Army where you can shoot 'em from a mile away? No you gotta get up like this and, badda-bing, you blow their brains all over your nice Ivy League suit. C'mere. You're taking this very personal. Tom, this is business and this man is taking it very, very personal."
Michael: "Where does it say that you can't kill a cop?"
Tom Hagen: "ome on, Mikey..."
Michael: "Tom, wait a minute. I'm talking about a cop that's mixed up in drugs. I'm talking about a-a-a dishonest cop - a crooked cop who got mixed up in the rackets and got what was coming to him. That's a terrific story. And we have newspaper people on the payroll, don't we, Tom? And they might like a story like that."
Tom: "They might, they just might."
Michael: "It's not personal, Sonny. It's strictly business."
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
(October 1992, U.S.)
The only thing I find harder to believe than the dishonest, dishonorable, corrupt sons-of-bitches who sell real estate in GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS is the fact there exist real people in real life who would actually be STUPID enough to buy their bullshit and hand over their money. This film depicts two days in the lives of four real estate salesmen (Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Ed Harris and Alan Arkin) and how they become desperate when the corporate office of Mitch and Murray sends a nasty representative Blake (played with real brass balls by Alec Baldwin) to "motivate" them by announcing in a torrent of verbal abuse that, in one week, all except the top two salesmen will be fired. The film, like the play, is notorious for its use of profanity, despite the fact that it makes for great dialogue, nonetheless. The actual title of the film comes from the names of two of the real estate developments being peddled by the salesmen characters (Glengarry Highlands and Glen Ross Farms). This is good to know because for years I had no idea where the "Glen Ross" part came from.
So let me first ask if any of you readers ever had to take huge quantities of abuse from an asshole employer like Alec Baldwin or Kevin Spacey because you needed to hold onto your job? Sure you have! I'm no exception. Mine was the president of the facilities management department at Bronx Lebanon Hospital and he ran the office like a concentration camp with his own set of Gestapo tactics; the man was English, too. One of the greatest days of my life was the day I finally left that job! The only difference is that I'm not in the selling game, so I have absolutely no idea what it must be like to have to hit the pavements every day to try and get people to sign on the dotted line and take home your commission. Must be a real bitch, I'm sure.
For a moment now, let's put aside the abusive work environment of GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS and concentrate on the ethics of the men involved. Although I've dealt with my small share of real estate agants, this film certainly represents them as corrupt and as shady as most lawyers. Is it a fair representation? Who can tell. How far is one prepared to lie, cheat and steal to not only earn his big commission and win the prize Cadillac El Dorado, but to also hold onto their only means of income? And remember somthing else - this film takes place in the early 1990s when the men are still doing their business on pay telephones. Can you possibly imagine how much more damage they can potentially do in today's world of the internet and cell phones?
Al Pacino, by the way, is just as brilliant on screen as he ever was. He's smooth, charming and full of rage and wit. Hell, I might buy some land from him if I sat there listening to him go on and on long enough.
So in conclusion, can I interest any of you in buying the Brooklyn Bridge??
Favorite line or dialogue:
Blake: "Put...that coffee...down! Coffee's for closers only! You think I'm fucking with you? I am not fucking with you. I'm here from downtown. I'm here from Mitch and Murray. And I'm here on a mission of mercy. Your name's Levine? You call yourself a salesman you son of a bitch?"
Dave Moss: 'I don't gotta sit here and listen to this shit."
Blake: "You certainly don't pal, 'cause the good news is - you're fired. The bad news is - you've got, all of you've got just one week to regain your jobs starting with tonight. Starting with tonight's sit. Oh? Have I got your attention now? Good. Cause we're adding a little something to this month's sales contest. As you all know first prize is a Cadillac El Dorado. Anyone wanna see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you're fired. Get the picture? You laughing now? You got leads. Mitch and Murray paid good money, get their names to sell them. You can't close the leads you're given you can't close shit. You ARE shit! Hit the bricks pal, and beat it 'cause you are going OUT.
Shelley Levene: "The leads are weak."
Blake: "The leads are weak? Fucking leads are weak. You're weak. I've been in this business fifteen years."
Dave "What's your name?"
Blake: "Fuck you. That's my name. You know why, mister? You drove a Hyundai to get here. I drove an eighty-thousand dollar BMW. THAT'S my name. And your name is you're wanting. You can't play in the man's game, you can't close them - go home and tell your wife your troubles. Because only one thing counts in this life: get them to sign on the line which is dotted. You hear me you fucking faggots? A-B-C. A-Always, B-Be, C-Closing. Always be closing. ALWAYS BE CLOSING. A-I-D-A. Attention, Interest, Decision, Action. Attention - do I have you attention? Interest - are you interested? I know you are, because it's fuck or walk. You close or you hit the bricks. Decision - have you made your decision, for Christ? And Action. A-I-D-A. Get out there - you got the prospects coming in. You think they came in to get out of the rain? A guy don't walk on the lot lest he wants to buy. They're sitting out there waiting to give you their money. Are you gonna take it? Are you man enough to take it? What's the problem, pal?"
Dave: "You. You're such a hero, you're so rich, how come you're coming down here wasting your time with such a bunch of bums?"
Blake: "You see this watch? You see this watch?
Dave: "Yeah. '
Blake: "That watch costs more than you car. I made $970,000 last year. How much'd you make? You see pal, that's who I am, and you're nothing. Nice guy? I don't give a shit. Good father? Fuck you! Go home and play with your kids. You wanna work here - close! You think this is abuse? You think this is abuse, you cocksucker? You can't take this, how can you take the abuse you get on a sit? You don't like it, leave. I can go out there tonight with the materials you've got and make myself $15,000. Tonight! In two hours! Can you? Can YOU? Go and do likewise. A-I-D-A. Get mad you son of a bitches! Get mad! You want to know what it takes to sell real estate? It takes BRASS BALLS to sell real estate. Go and do likewise, gents. Money's out there. You pick it up, it's yours. You don't, I got no sympathy for you. You wanna go out on those sits tonight and close, CLOSE. It's yours. If not you're gonna be shining my shoes. And you know what you'll be saying - a bunch of losers sittin' around in a bar. 'Oh yeah. I used to be a salesman. It's a tough racket. These are the new leads. These are the Glengarry leads. And to you they're gold, and you don't get them. Why? Because to give them to you is just throwing them away. They're for closers. I'd wish you good luck but you wouldn't know what to do with it if you got it. And to answer you question, pal, why am I here? I came here because Mitch and Murray asked me to. They asked me for a favor. I said the real favor, follow my advice and fire your fucking ass because a loser is a loser."
That was the best fucking thing Alec Baldwin ever did on film!
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
(May 2000, U.S.)
When the new century began twelve years ago, it looked to me (for a time) that the movie were going to be something wonderful and it was greatly in part to Ridley Scott's GLADIATOR. Scott was returning the movies to a time of great historical epics that had barely graced the screens since William Wyler's BEN-HUR (1959), Stanley Kubrick's SPARTACUS (1960) and Anthony Mann's THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE (1964). In fact, except for the 21st Century updates of excessive bloody violence and some computer-generated images, the ideas and themes of this sort of film didn't change too much.
Like Charlton Heston and Kirk Douglas before him, Russell Crowe as General Maximus Decimus Meridius (say THAT ten times fast!) is the quintessential ancient hero who rises out of the ashes of his own slavery to defeat the powers of the Roman Empire. But when he's not slaughtering his enemies on the battlefield, he appears to be a gentle man at heart whose only real desire is to return to his farm and his family. Like any cliche element of its type, though, there is the cruel enemy in the form of Commodus (played by Joaquin Phoenix), the son of the dying elderly Emperor Marcus Aurelius (played by the great Richard Harris) whose ambition for greed and power (and to sleep with his sister, I might add) threaten not only the hero, but the fate and future of Rome itself. Commodus, however, is not like your typical political movie bad guy. His only real power derives from his need to over-compensate for his pathetic weakness and cowardess. Notice how at the beginning of the film he conveniently arrives at the great battle's end only to ask so innocently, "Have I missed it? Have I missed the battle?" to which his father replies, "You have missed the war." You can hear very well the disappointment and disapproval being handed from father to son. It's the lack of a father's love for his son that ultimately creates evil in this story.
I mentioned earlier the great violence in GLADIATOR. This is not to say that it isn't fun to watch, though. Let's face it - our streaks of human barbarism cannot help but flinch in excitement every time Maximus slays an enemy soldier. The battles here are bloody, but spectacular to the viewer's eye, nonetheless. I especially love the added element of the tigers (the most beautiful animal in the world, in my opinion) during the arena's greatest battle. I've also mentioned the word cliche, too, and it's safe to say that GLADIATOR is loaded with them. But in any film of this sort of historical fiction, cliche is not only present, it's probably key. The art of the hero is destined to practically follow a filmmaker's playbook on the subject; the hero falls, the hero rises, the hero defeats, and many times at the end the hero will die. That's Hollywood, folks!
GLADIATOR won the Oscar for best picture of 2000. It's also one of my ten favorite films of the last decade. Like I said before, when the 21st Century started it looked as if the movies were going to be something wonderful. As the years went on, though, it looks like I couldn't have been further from the truth.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Maximus: "My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next!"
Friday, March 9, 2012
(March 2010, U.S.)
I am writing this post on the original Swedish film version of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO and not the pathetic-Hollywood-attempt-to-cash-in-on-the-creativity-of-other-countries-by-giving-stupid-American-audiences-sub-standard-copies-of-what-has-already-been-done...version. Let me also say in conclusion of this particular topic that I realize Hollywood remakes of foreign subtitled films is as old as whenever. Some of them (very few), in my opinion, have even surpassed the original versions. However, I've never seen Hollywood jump on band wagon of forgery and "copy-catting" so damn fast before - only two and a half years after the Swedish film, for Christ sakes!
Okay, so now that I've gotten that bit of anger out of my system, let's get into what I consider to be one of the best films of the new decade so far. It's based on the first book in the trilogy known as the "Millennium series", published in Sweden back in 2005 (I haven't read any of the books...yet). Without attempting to try and get into the intricate details of the plot for the benefit of those who haven't seen it, let me just say that it's one of the most interesting pair-ups of characters who ever solved a mystery that I've ever seen on film before. On the one hand, we have straightforward Millennium magazine publisher Mikael Blomkvist (played by Michael Nyqvist) who's just been hired by wealthy client Henrik Vanger (played by Sven-Bertil Taube) to investigate the disappearance of his great-niece, Harriet, who vanished on Children's Day back in 1966. Vanger believes that Harriet was murdered by a family member. And then there's the infamous character of bisexual surveillance agent Lisbeth Salander (played brilliantly by Noomi Rapace), someone who can best be described as "not exactly the girl you'd bring home to mother". She barely speaks, dresses like a vampire/motorcycle punk and has the ability to really kick ass when necessary. She also has a past of violence and rape committed against her that's left her virtually distrustful of all men and particularly violent against men who would hurt women. After being horribly raped by her legal guardian, the graphic revenge she takes against him, while shocking in itself, is more than justified in her eyes and in the eyes of the viewer who can feel for her soul. Lisbeth is a girl who's done nothing to deserve the bad things that have happened to her. But she's also a girl who's determined to rise above it all, even if it means she has to kill to do it.
Returning to the great mystery of this film for a moment, it's impossible to claim that it doesn't get a bit detailed and confusing for a time. That's not a bad thing, though. It just means you have to pay real close attention or even watch the film more than once. While the end resolution of who the killer actually turns out to be may be a bit on the "cliche psychological thriller of the 1990s" side, it's the resolution (and reunion) involving the long-lost Harriet that actually deserves attention, as it's not only unexpected but strangely satisfying, as well.
Just to briefly mention the other two films in the Swedish trilogy, THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE and THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET'S NEST, you may be surprised to find out that I've chosen not to include those films in my collection. While each of these films, admitedly, have some great moments in them, they are, in my opinion, nothing more than brand new episodes and adventures involving the same characters...like a James Bond film. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO concludes and resolves itself so well (including a triumphant Lisbeth ripping off the "bad guy" and leaving the county with his money) that I choose to leave the story as it is without starting over. That may make little sense to those of you who are fans of all three books and films, but hey, that's me!
Favorite line or dialogue
Mikael Blomkvist: "What has happened to you? How did you turn out this way? You know everything about me. I don't know shit about you. Not a damn thing."
Lisbeth Salander: "That's the way it is."
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
(February 1946, U.S.)
Once upon a time my wife and I were watching an episode of HBO's SEX AND THE CITY. A group of Manhattan socialites were sitting at a dinner table and one of them asks the others which classic movie star they would have fucked (or "slept with" for those of you with cleaner ears). Naturally, I asked my wife the same question and she agreed with Cynthia Nixon's character when she said Sean Connery. I didn't hesitate to say that my pick was Rita Hayworth in GILDA. To put it mildly, she smoulders as the ultimate femme fatale with skin and sexuality in this film noir, or at least as much as she could get away with in the 1940s. The scene where she sings and dances in a black strapless dress can only be best described as a fantastic clothed strip tease!
This is a film of lush black and white photography and beautiful costume design. It's continually narrated by Johnny Farrell (played by Glenn Ford), a small-time American gambler newly arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina who seeks to make his own luck in life. He's almost inexplicably picked up off the street by Ballin Mundson (played by George Macready), the owner of a high class casino and set to work as the man who "runs the joint". The two men agree that women and gambling don't mix, so for a short time it's just the two of them and the "joint" that feeds their lives. Not so fast, though. Woman DOES enter their lives and her name is Gilda! She's practically bought and paid for by Ballin to be his wife and as it turns out, she has a past with Johnny when they were both living in the United States, though we're never entirely sure what happened to split them up. What we are sure of is that they both absolutely hate and despise each other, so much so that they both also can't deny how much they want each other.
Now let's take a moment to explore that interesting blend of emotions because it's hate that features so predominantly in this story. Gilda and Johnny continuously admit how much they hate each other, yet the passion between them is too obvious to ignore. At first thought, that may seem unreasonably impossible. And yet I can recall being in high school and despising some of the most beautiful spoiled-brat girls that occupied its corridors. So what did that mean? You guessed it - it means I only wanted to fuck them even more! Is that just a guy thing??
As with most film noir, the cloud of cliche hangs heavily over its structure. The love triangle almost always inevitably leads to jealousy, hatred, suicide and the climactic murder of the bad guy. In GILDA, though, the violent climax is somewhat sugar coated when Gilda and Johnny finally decide to stop kidding themselves and confess to each other their unconditional love and longing to be with each other. In other words, the Hollywood "happily ever after" cliche is alive and well here. That's just fine because when you've spent nearly two hours watching a man and woman go completely out of their way to hurt each other, you feel compelled to wish for one of two things; that they'll either kill each other or love each other in the end. Love wins!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Gilda: "You do hate me, don't you, Johnny?"
Johnny Farrell: "I don't think you have any idea of how much!"
Gilda: "Hate is a very exciting emotion. Haven't you noticed? Very exciting. I hate you too, Johnny. I hate you so much I think I'm going to die from it...darling!"
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
(November 1956, U.S.)
I watch almost no television. I think it's all crap! Ironically, though, I was a TV addict as a kid. I watched nearly everything that was broadcasted, and in the 1980s there was nothing greater, in my opinion, than DALLAS on CBS-TV. It wouldn't be until many years later that I'd discover that George Steven's epic drama GIANT was a strong precursor to the long running TV series. Cattle herds, oil, money, power, greed and lust as great as the state of Texas itself. Yes, it would seem that GIANT was, indeed, DALLAS before DALLAS ever went on the air.
I've visited Texas twice in my life (first Dallas, second Austin), but only really got to the cities and the suburbs. Anything I may have seen of the vast open praries and dry plains I would have seen only (as much as I hate to admit) on TV's DALLAS and movies like NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007) and GIANT. From the first time we see the estate of the wealthy Benedict ranching family, we're witnessing a large mansion in the middle of nearly half a million acres of beautiful open country that director John Ford would have been proud of. Take a look at the image behind James Dean to get an idea...
The character of Jordan "Bick" Benedict (played by Rock Hudson) is about as "Mr. Texas" as audiences were likely to see on screen or anywhere else until the character of J.R. Ewing was created. At the film's beginning, he's traveling to Maryland for the simple purpose of purchasing a stud horse. Lo and behold, though, he meets Leslie (played by Elizabeth Taylor) and within only DAYS, he's bringing her back to Texas with him as his new bride (I know love can work fast, but GEEZ!). Upon arrival, Leslie is immediately expected to act like and perform as a "Texan", which seemingly includes early wake-ups, barbecues, the unbaearable hot sun and a certain degree of prejudice toward the Mexican cattle workers and house attendants (remember, this is the early part of the 20th century). She adapts quickly to all things "Texan" except for the elements of prejudice. Leslie has a heart of good intentions toward the less-fortunate Mexicans and exercises her will to help them, even at the disapproval of her husband.
But now let's talk about the REAL reason GIANT is likely popular with audiences - two words...James Dean. This film was the last of his three films as a leading actor before he was killed in a car accident. His brooding presence and intense performance, as any Dean fan or fan of classic films will tell you, speaks for itself as the kind that solidified his reputation in Hollywood. Like EAST OF EDEN and REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE before it, Dean seems perfectly fit as a small-town, small time character who will seek to rise above his imperfections to show up and defeat those around him who would seek to keep him down. In GIANT, Jett Rink (Dean) start off as merely a simple ranch hand who's lucky enough to inherit some property of his own on the great Benedict estate. After that, it only takes one great gusher to set him on a course that will inevitable make him one of (if not THE) most wealthy and powerful men in Texas. Unfortunately, wealth and power only serve to intensify Rink's attitude and reputation as a complete asshole!
Time itself is an important factor in this film and just because it's the epic tale of a family. Time expresses physical changes in the home and the landscape as simple luxuries like grass and a swimming pool inevitably come along into their lives. More important, though, are the hard-ass attitudes that eventually soften up. Jordan expresses his expectations that his son Jordy (played by a young Dennis Hopper) should one day take his proper place as head of the ranch. That conviction eases as he matures with time (and with pressure from his wife). His prejudices towards Mexicans eases, as well, when Jordy marries a Mexican girl and gives him a Mexican grandson. His (Jordan's) reputation and manhood are put to the test when he must defend his family's honor against a racist cafe owner who refuses service to Mexicans. As his wife later tells him, despite his wealth, power and conviction, never did he appear to be more of a real man in her eyes than when he was getting his ass kicked by the cook and falling into the salad. Go figure.
Okay, so now a personal story. One of my former employers in architecture whom I will call Mike (because that's really his name) is also someone I'm proud to still call a distant friend and a man of Texas, born and bred. He's living there again now in a town called Marfa (that's where GIANT and NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN were filmed on location!). His stories of his childhood and life in Texas were fun and entertaining, to say the least, when I was working with him. I can specifically remember returning from Austin and telling him of the public barbecue stands I'd seen in the middle of absolutely nowhere. I remember he smiled graciously, but really, it was like telling the Pope a story about Jesus Christ! So, it's to Mike that I dedicate this blog post about the great state of Texas. Mike, if you're reading this, I can only hope this Jewish man from Long Island got it right...just a little.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Jett Rink: "Everybody thought I had a duster. Y'all thought ol' Spindletop Burke and Burnett was all the oil there was, didn't ya? Well, I'm here to tell you that it ain't, boy! It's here, and there ain't a dang thing you gonna do about it! My well came in big, so big, Bick and there's more down there and there's bigger wells. I'm rich, Bick. I'm a rich 'un. I'm a rich boy. Me, I'm gonna have more money than you ever THOUGHT you could have - you and all the rest of you stinkin' sons of...Benedicts!"
Thursday, March 1, 2012
(June 1984, U.S.)
Thought not as strong and as influential as, say, E.T., it's impossible to imagine 1980's pop culture without GHOSTBUSTERS, the popular question "Who you gonna call?" and that silly song by Ray Parker Jr. This supernatural comedy, though, seemed like a comedic dream come true when you combine talents like Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and the men responsible for giving us STRIPES (1981) and National Lampoon's VACATION (1983). But really, it's Bill Murray's deadpan performance and constant, ongoing wiseass cracks throughout GHOSTBUSTERS that keeps me glued each and every time I watch it. The ghosts, too, can be just as funny as the busters themselves.
Bear in mind, though, the concept of a bunch of goofy guys trying to catch ghosts was not exactly a new and original concept, even back in 1984. Popular comedic teams like Abbot and Costello and a group called the Bowery Boys had already done it in cheap "B" movies and the like. This time, however, we've got some pretty awesome special effects (for the era, anyway) to accompany our goofy ghostbusting misfits that also don't manage to ruin what is labeled more as a great comedy. And as dated as his appearance might seem now, I still think "Slimer" looks pretty cool, and disgusting, too, when he's eating. At the heart of the ghostbuster's antics, though, appear to be three rather bright (dare I say brilliant!) scientists who almost seem to know what they're doing. Just imagine what might have happened early in the film had Dr. Egon Spengler (played by Harold Ramis) warned them not to "cross the streams" (that's BAD. Important safety tip).
Now let's talk about Sigourney Weaver for a moment, whose character Dana Barrett lives in an apartment at 55 Central Park West that's haunted by a demonic spirit called Zuul, a demigod worshiped as a servant to Gozer the Gozerian, a Sumerian shape-changer god of destruction (did you get all that??). Between ALIEN (1979) and this film, I can barely recall what she did on screen. And despite the fact she revealed her ass through some see-through underwear in ALIEN, it's her face and body in this film that definitely gets my "turned on" vote here! Let's be fair, guys...hot is hot, even when it's Sigourney Weaver possessed by a demon in 1984.
In terms of GHOSTBUSTERS' place in our popular culture beyond the original film, let me just say that I hated the 1989 sequel and I never watched any of those dopey TV cartoon spin-offs. And while I am the last person on Earth that would ever endorse the idea of any future sequels for anything, I have to admit that I'm quite surprised that Hollywood hasn't brought us GHOSTBUSTERS III during the last twenty years with computer-generated special effects being what they are. Oh, there's been talk for years that something is in the works, but our ghostbuster heroes are very likely too old and bloated to bring any real fun to the franchise any longer. Regardless, it's nothing I'd go to see now, anyway.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Dr Ray Stantz: "Gozer the Gozerian...good evening. As a duly designated representative of the City, County and State of New York, I order you to cease any and all supernatural activity and return forthwith to your place of origin or to the nearest convenient parallel dimension."
Dr. Peter Venkman: "That oughta do it. Thanks very much, Ray."
Gozer: "Are you a God?"
(Lightning flies from her fingers, driving the Ghostbusters to the edge of the roof)
Winston Zeddemore: "Ray, when someone asks you if you're a god, you say YES!"
Dr. Peter Venkman: "All right! This chick is TOAST!"