Wednesday, August 29, 2012
(November 1992, U.S.)
Throughout my blog, it's become pretty obvious that I'm probably never going to have the opportunity to discuss Christmas films during the actual holiday season. Time, circumstance and the alphabetical order of my film collection just don't seem to want to allow it. That being the case, for the purposes of this blog post, just think of me as one of those business establishments that has a "Christmas sale in August!"
Now the first thing you're probably saying to yourself is a great, big "What the fuck??" Is this guy seriously going right into the sequel without discussing the original film?? I'm afraid that's a great, big affirmative! You see, even back in 1990, when I was dragged to see HOME ALONE against my will by a buddy of mine, my postitive reaction to the film was very minimal. I simply found it to be too childish for my tastes. Despite the fact that I now have a six year-old boy who loves HOME ALONE and despite the additional fact that I just love to hear the sound of his laughter, my initial reaction to the original film hasn't improved much over time. It's still very childish.
So why bother seeing the sequel if you didn't like the first film, you may be asking yourself. Well, two things happened to me that changed things a bit. The first was that in 1991, I actually had the opportunity to witness some of the filming of HOME ALONE 2: LOST IN NEW YORK in the Plaza Hotel because my mother was working there at the time and it peaked my curiousity. The second was that by the time the film was released in 1992, I was dating a girl who really wanted to see it with me. What was I to do? Lo and behold, though, the second film was a bit darker and a whole lot funnier than its predecessor.
Those who are familiar know that the first HOME ALONE film ended with all things and all people living happily ever after. Yet, it would seem that only a year later the entire McCallister family is at each other's throats again as they prepare for yet another Christmas family vacation together, this time in Florida. Despite already having proved himself worthy by saving the family home once before, Kevin McCallister (played again by Macaulay Culkin) seems to be the big family joke all over again and is still getting no respect from his siblings, especially Buzz (played again by Devin Ratray). Kevin's got the right negative attitude toward the trip, though, in my opinion - who wants to spend Christmas in a tropical climate without snow or a Christmas tree (and this question is coming from a Jewish guy!)??
Technically, Kevin is not left "home alone" by accident this time, but rather separated from his family at the airport as they desperately scramble to make their flight. No real life responsible parent, by the way, would ever run ahead of their small child in a crowded airport (just thought I'd mention that)! So this time Kevin ends up in New York City while his family ends up in Florida. Kevin stays in the luxurious Plaza Hotel by figuring out how to use his dad's credit card while his family stays in a dive motel. Kevin has beautiful Chistmas-type weather while his family has nothing but rain. Yes, I'd say the mischievous ten year-old knows how to have a damn good time! Unfortunately, as circumstance would have it (no matter how far-fetched it may seem!), the "wet bandits" from the first film, Harry (played again by Joe Pesci) and Marv (played again by Daniel Stern) have escaped from jail and have just arrived in...you guessed it - New York City! The rest of the film is as obvious as the nose on your face. Kevin battles the bad guys and saves Christmas for not only the owner of a great toy store but also for sick children who'll benefit from the toy store's financial donations. Unlike the first film, though, it would seem that Kevin is truly playing for keeps this time, devising booby traps of true sophistication that the viewer can't help but gasp in excitement everytime Harry and Marv get what's painfully coming to them. No real men could ever get up and walk away from some of the hits and falls these two guys take from Kevin. But, hey, suspension of disbelief is what some movies are all about. I should also point out that this film features Tim Curry as the Plaza Hotel concierge in one of the funniest, silliest roles I've ever seen him in and am ever likely to see him in. The great "Dr. Frank N. Furter" DOES know how to make me laugh sometimes!
And so, to those who love HOME ALONE 2: LOST IN NEW YORK as I do and to those who will forgive me for not being too crazy about HOME ALONE, I bid you Merry Christmas...in August!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Gangster Johnny on TV: "Get down on your knees and tell me you love me!"
Mr. Hector: "Um, everybody, on your knees...I love you."
Gangster Johnny on TV: "You gotta do better than that!"
Mr. Hector and the other hotel staff: [all together] "I love you!"
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
(September 2006, U.S.)
Sometimes I wonder if I would have approached HOLLYWOODLAND with as much enthusiasm as I did back in 2006 had SUPERMAN RETURNS not been released just a couple of months prior (believe it or not, I liked Bryan Singer's film, but that's another blog for another time). As a kid in the 1970s, I remember occasionally watching ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN in reruns and hearing about how the guy who played him on TV had killed himself. Therefore, a film depicting a fictional account of the investigation surrounding the death of actor George Reeves (played impressively, believe it or not, by Ben Affleck) and the mysterious circumstances of his life that lead up to his death was, to say the least, intruiging. Adrien Brody plays Louis Simo, a fictional down-on-his-luck private investigator on the case, as he investigates Toni Mannix (played by Diane Lane), who was involved in a long romantic relationship with Reeves and was the wife of MGM studio executive Eddie Mannix (played by Bob Hoskins). According to the film's story, Reeves had ended the affair and had become engaged to a younger woman; a vicious, gold digging bitch, to be more accurate.
If you've never seen this film and you just happen, by chance, to be a Comic-Con-type superhero geek, let me warn you that although the character of Superman is a highlight of the story, it is NOT a film about Superman. This is a historical period piece of the Hollywood show business world and the mystery of possible murder during the decade of the 1950s that, in its own fashion, echoes much of what can be seen in a great film like L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (1997) and even a bad film like THE BLACK DAHLIA (released in 2006 just a few weeks after HOLLYWOODLAND). Like today, Hollywoodland of yesterday is corrupt, deceptive and will stop at nothing to maintain its status of brutal moneymakers. Eddie Mannix is proof positive of this corrupt sort of character study. By contrast of what truly earns Hollywoodland money, a television show about Superman with cheap tricks and gimmicks is hardly noticeable. But when the show has succeeded is making so many children happy, it's legacy can hardly be ignored. Notice carefully how devastated Louis Simo's little boy is when he learns that Superman shot himself. He actually goes so far as to burn a huge hole in the family sofa when deciding to burn his own kid's Superman costume. He's heartbroken and so is every other kid in America. It's understandable. For myself, I suppose I would have been just as heartbroken had Mark Hamil or Harrison Ford killed themselves in 1978 at the peak of STAR WARS' success.
Whether or not the real George Reeves killed himself, was accidentally killed or deliberately murdered remains a polarizing issue in history. The film does little to shed any actual light on hard facts, whatever they might be. It actually gives us three different scenarios depicting the three different ways (as I just mentioned) Reeves could have been killed, saving his own suicide for last, possibly attempting to lead the viewing audience into believing that what we've always heard to be true just might indeed BE the truth. Who knows. I mean, we're not exactly talking about the JFK assassination here, right?
You may recall earlier that I briefly mentioned Ben Affleck's performance as impressive. I'm not exagerating. The man may be considered a show business joke on some levels, but every once in a while, if you search hard enough, you're likely to find something you'll consider memorable in a positive way. As a director, Affleck continues to impress me. As an actor...well, I can only say that for every wooden performance in a film like PEARL HARBOR (2001), you can find a performance to compensate it like the one he gives as Superman in HOLLYWOODLAND.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Leonore Lemmon: "Superman wants to get laid!"
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
(September 2005, U.S.)
You know, sometimes I think there is something seriously wrong with me. I say that because I don't think I've ever been as jacked up and as excited to see men get brutally murdered as I am when Viggo Mortensen's character, Tom Stall, shoots two brutal killers in self defense inside of his own diner in David Cronenberg's A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE. I feel that same excitement and enthusiasm half an hour later when his son Jack beats the everloving shit of the high school bully. Like it or not, violence is an exciting cinematic element and I believe it's in our blood to get enthusiastic about when it's done in the right context. By that, I mean, when the bad guys get it.
And so, upon killing two murderous thugs who would seek to do him and his employees harm, Tom Stall is thrust into the local spotlight as an American hero. He doesn't wish this upon himself or his loving family, nor does he wish for what happens afterward when a group of mysterious men lead by Carl Fogarty (played by Ed Harris) arrive in town claiming that Tom Stall is actually Joey Cusack, a man who formerly had dealings with him in the Irish Mob in Philadelphia many years ago. Tom, of course, denies everything but it's not long before the mystery and the questions arise as to why he happens to be so good at killing people. From here, you can probably intelligently guess how things turn out and who triumphs in the end.
Director David Cronenberg is probably best known for his films regarding physical transformations with titles like RABID (1977), VIDEODROME (1983), THE FLY (1986) and NAKED LUNCH (1991), just to name some. In A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, the concept of emotional character transformation is very clear. Tom is a quiet, gentle, family man who is the symbol of pure good in a small mid-western American town. Every man may have a past, sure, but it's quite intruiging to watch this man who loves his wife, his children and his friends turn into something just a little less than human with his violent nature. It's fascinating to watch because it's not so much a transformation into something new that Tom doesn't understand, but rather something Tom used to be and has managed to keep it deeply buried until he's provoked into action.
Violence is part of films and sometimes I dare say it's even enjoyable to watch (anybody paying their ticket price to watch THE EXPENDABLES 2 will likely justify that claim). This film, however, takes the viewer to a level of violence that reminds us that there is a price to pay for it. Not just the price and consequence of committing acts of violence itself, but the long term price a character like Tom Stall/Joey Cusack will pay when his family not only learns who he really was and is, but in how to carry on as family afterward. As Cronenberg shows us in the final scene, sometimes the future can begin with just a simple dinner around the family table.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Tom Stall: "Listen, smart mouth! In this family we do not solve our problems by hitting people!"
Jack Stall: "No, in this family, we SHOOT them!"
Friday, August 17, 2012
(January 1940, U.S.)
You've, no doubt, heard the cinematic expression, "roller coaster ride" to describe a film that's exciting; something to keep you on the edge of your seat. But consider the possibility that such an expression doesn't necessarily have to confine itself to action. If you can imagine a film where the dialogue is so quick and spontaneous that you can't help but be on the edge of your seat while you're following along, then you can possibly imagine what it's like to watch and listen to Howard Hawks' HIS GIRL FRIDAY, a totally screwball comedy adapted from the original play, "The Front Page".
When I consider today's media, I can only imagine a bunch of cut-throat parasites who'll do and say anything to get the latest dirt on somebody or something. Watching a film about crazy newspaper reporters during an era that dates back more than seventy years doesn't change the fact that even way back then the media was nothing but a bunch of cut-throat parasites that would do and say anything to get the latest dirt on somebody or something. On film, though, they were just a whole lot funnier doing it and a lot more fun to watch and listen to (if you can keep up).
So in this film, at a New York City paper called "The Morning Post", we have Walter Burns (played hilariously by Cary Grant), a hard-boiled editor who learns his ex-wife and former star reporter, Hildy Johnson (played by Rosalind Russell), is about to marry a very bland insurance man called Bruce Baldwin (played by Ralph Bellamy) and settle down to a pathetically quiet life as a wife and mother in Albany, New York (boring!). Walter is determined to sabotage their plans, enticing the reluctant Hildy to cover one last story which is the upcoming execution of convicted murderer Earl Williams (played by John Qualen). Throughout the film, Earl proclaims his innocence in that the fatal shooting of a police officer was simply a horrible accident. The paper and their two star reporters (Walter and Hildy) are not only determined to believe him but also determined to hide him away from not only the police, but the ambitious reporters and crooked politicians who want to use Earl's execution for their own persoanl gain. Meanwhile, the would-be-boring-as-Hell fiance is getting into all sorts of unintended trouble, courtesy of Walter's underhanded doings. Walter clearly still loves his ex-wife, so you almost can't blame the guy for being a real asshole (or known as a "stinker" back in those days). In the end, of course, as cliche would be expected to have it, Earl will be exonerated and Walter and Hildy are together again and will always be ambitious, enthusiastic newspaper reporters before being any version of a real husband and wife (whatever THAT is!).
By the way, back in 1988, I saw a film called SWITCHING CHANNELS (look it up) which I found to be hilarious and seemingly original. Little did I know, right? You see, unfortunately, even I don't know everything about films and haven't seen everything out there. As a result, I tend to be a bit naive about what is truly original and which film came before the other. Sometimes the remakes are just too damn much!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Walter Burns: "There's a guy waiting in a taxi in front of the criminal courts building. His name is Bruce Baldwin."
Evangeline: "What does he look like?"
Walter: "He looks like, uh, that fellow in the movies, you know, uh, Ralph Bellamy."
Get the joke??
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
(March 1986, U.S.)
If you take a moment to reflect back on science fiction/fantasy films of the 1980s, you may agree that with the exception of STAR WARS and STAR TREK films, many of them (not all, but many) were dark, menacing and may have even had a deeper high concept meaning to deliver to its audience. Consider HEAVY METAL (1981), BLADE RUNNER and THE ROAD WARRIOR (both 1982), THE TERMINATOR (1984), ALIENS (1986) and THE HIDDEN (1987) to get an idea of what I'm talking about. In the thicke of all of it was HIGHLANDER, what I like to affectionately refer to as my "grindhouse sci-fi" movie. Just look at its dark, grimy on-location shots of New York City and tell me you can't picture yourself watching it in the middle of the night in some sleazy movie theater on 42nd Street!
While almost no science fiction or fantasy tale is without its share of action, the truly intruiging element that makes HIGHLANDER so interesting for me is watching the saga of an immortal man like the Highlander Connor MacLeod (played by Christopher Lambert in his first role after making himself known in GREYSTOKE) live through history during a period of several decades since the Scottish Highlands of the 16th Century. A man who cannot die is doomed to suffer throughout his life as he continuously watches those he loves die. This element is made very clear throughout the film, as it should be. Of course, all of this high concept is not to say that HIGHLANDER isn't without great action and even some cliche points of not-so-great acting and dialogue. You see, as the story goes, the immortals or Highlanders, have been fighting each other throughout the centuries with powerful swords. The only way a Highlander can die is by decapitation. Time has moved forward and in the end there can be only one (you'll hear that point repeatedly throughout the film and eventually you'll hear the phrase in your own head accompanied by Christopher Lambert's accent). A climactic battle of good versus evil on the streets of New York City may not seem so original now, but twenty-six years ago it was an explosion of originality, in my opinion. And let me tell you, as sword fights in films go, this is some of the best I've seen. It's not just the visual effects and sounds of swords clanging with each other, but also the lights and explosions that we see whenever swords come crashing onto metal or steel. Without being a lightsaber duel from your favorite STAR WARS movie, it's truly a visual feast!
Characters are a strong element here and not just the film's protaganist. The evil one known as the Kurgan, played by Clancy Brown, an actor I'd come to know in later films like THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994), STARSHIP TROOPERS (1997) and THE HURRICANE (1999), is one of the most sick-ass-sons-of-bitches I've ever seen on sreen and a character who's managed to move through the times whenever he's updating his "evil look". You're likely not to see a more frightening looking modern Nazi-Hell's Angel motorcycle-type on screen anywhere else. On the side of good, we also have the character of Ramirez (played by Sean Connery in a truly underrated role), another Highlander who serves as MacLeod's personal "Obi-Wan Kenobi", training him in the art of sword fighting and getting him to understand and accept his fate and ultimate destiny. Because in the end, there can be only one and you don't have to guess too long to know who it'll ultimately be.
This will come as no surprise to anyone who follows this blog, but I did not see any of the HIGHLANDER sequels and I never watched the TV show (nor will I ever!). And even though I'd never condone such an act, I'm quite surprised some big shot Hollywood moron hasn't attempted to remake this original movie yet. That would be tragic, because when it comes to the great sci-fi/fantasy film of HIGHLANDER, THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE!!!
(Okay, that was bad, but I couldn't resist!).
Favorite line or dialogue:
Priest: "This is a house of God. People are trying to pray. You're disturbing them."
Kurgan: "He cares about these helpless mortals?"
Priest: "Of course He cares. He died for our sins."
Kurgan: "That shall be His undoing!"
Friday, August 10, 2012
(October 1987, U.S.)
As science fiction films of the 1980s go, THE HIDDEN may have been New Line Cinema's answer to John Carpenter's THE THING (1982) and THE TERMINATOR (1984) in which a creature "not quite of this Earth" is seemingly indestructable while inhabiting human bodies to survive. Now, take that and combine it with some violent, buddy-cop elements that had already been seen in LETHAL WEAPON (1987). Add it all up, throw in the guys from FLASHDANCE (1983) and BLUE VELVET (1986) and you've got THE HIDDEN. However, despite the apparent recycling of many 1980s film ingredients, THE HIDDEN remains one of the most thrilling and fun science fiction films in my collection.
Our alien from another planet in question appears to be on Earth for no other good reason than he despises his own planet and wants to conquer ours. He's a colorful type, though, who while inhabiting the bodies of ordinary, law-biding citizens, seems to have a genuine taste for the finer things in life that include good food, hard rock music, half naked women and super fast Ferraris. What's not to love about the little stinker, right?
On the side of Earthly law and justice, we have Sgt. Thomas Beck (played Michael Nouri) and FBI agent Lloyd Gallagher (played by Kyle MacLachlan) in hot pursuit of the alien all over the city of Los Angeles. Beck is dumbfounded as to why seemingly good, law-biding citizens are suddenly turning into violent, murderous monsters. Gallagher seems to be one step ahead of the alien and it's not too difficult to figure out early on in the film that he's really an alien (a good one) himself in human disguise. Because any guy who doesn't enjoy a good bottle of beer and doesn't know how to consume an Alkaseltzer tablet in water is definitely not from this planet! The alien, meanwhile, appears to have a final agenda in mind as he jumps from body to body and that's to untimately inhabit the body of a United States presidential hopeful. Not a bad plan to take over our planet, I suppose. In the end, of course, as sci-fi cliche would have it, the alien is destroyed and the good guys prevail. Well, one of them does anyway. In a final act of friendship and selflessness, the good FBI alien that Gallagher is, gives his own life to save Beck's. Good for him!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Tom Beck: "You know what bothers me about these two guys DeVries and Miller?"
Lloyd Gallagher: "Neither has a criminal record. They both lead normal lives until a few days ago, and now they're killing people."
Tuesday, August 7, 2012
(July 1941, U.S.)
And once again, we have another one of those great movie blog coincidences...from one story about death and the afterlife right into another! Ain't life funny sometimes?
If you grew up on films of the 1970s, then you very likely saw (and possibly loved!) Warren Beatty's HEAVEN CAN WAIT (1978). What I'm betting you didn't know at the time was that the film was a remake of HERE COMES MR. JORDAN, a better and funnier film, in my opinion. It was remade a second time as DOWN TO EARTH (2001) with Chris Rock in the title role, but that's about all I'm willing to mention regarding THAT one!
This is a wonderful fantasy/comedy film in which boxer and amateur pilot Joe Pendleton (played by Robert Montgomery) crashes his plane (in just the first five minutes of the film!), is mistakenly taken to Heaven before his time and then given a second chance back on Earth in the body of another man, crooked and wealthy banker-investor Bruce Farnsworth, just as he's (Fransworth) about to be murdered by his wife and her accomplice. This, by the way, is all courtesy of Heaven's "office manager in charge", Mr. Jordan (played with great joy by Claude Rains). As Farnsworth, Joe Pendleton decides to reform his new host's past sins by repaying all the investors of his crooked deals, including the father of his love interest, Bette Logan (played by Evelyn Keyes). He also sends for his former boxing trainer Max Corkle (played hilariously by James Gleason) and convinces him that he actually IS Joe Pendleton (by playing his saxophone just as badly as he did in his previous incarnation).
Are you following all of this so far??
So with Farnsworth's money to smooth the way, Max trains him and arranges a title bout with the current heavyweight champion, but Mr. Jordan returns to warn Joe that, while he is destined to be the new champion, it can't happen the way that was originally planned. Joe has just enough time to warn Bette, with whom he's fallen in love, to look for him in another body, most likely a boxer, before he is shot by his secretary in a second murder attempt. The body is concealed and Joe returns to a ghostly existence. Joe's now a boxer again under the name of Murdoch. Murdoch wins the big fight, becomes champ, meets the girl of his dreams (again) and all will be just happily ever after, because when you're dealing with a story about love and spirituality, everything HAS to end that way!
Most fans of this tale would likely consider HEAVEN CAN WAIT the better film. I'm not saying it's not a good film, it just clearly wasn't good enough for me to purchase the DVD as part of my film collection. HERE COMES MR. JORDAN, in my opinion, contains much more of the screwball dialogue and situations that make it a much funnier and more enjoyable film to watch. And bottom line, if you're labeling a film as a comedy, then funnier always wins over sexy star power like Warren Beatty and Julie Christie.
Favorite line or dialogue:
(Title on card): It begins in Pleasant Valley...where all is peach...and harmony...and love...and where two men are beating each other's brains out.
Thursday, August 2, 2012
(October 2010, U.S.)
I've said before (which means I'm about to say it again) that Clint Eastwood as a director has always been hit and miss with me. I simply never know what I'm going to like or dislike of his, nor for what reason. In fact, I may be the only person on this planet who didn't like UNFORGIVEN (1992)! I suppose a film like HEREAFTER, which is a supernatural fantasy film about death and the possible afterlife could have gone either way with me. It was not a film I rushed out to see, but then again, that's what a guy like me has Netflix for. Well, surprise, surprise, this one scored a hit with me!
The film tells three parallel stories about three people affected by death in similar ways. All three of these people have issues of communicating with the dead; George (played byMatt Damon) plays an American factory worker who's actually able to communicate with the dead and who has worked professionally as a clairvoyant but, frankly, no longer wants the job. Marie (played by Cécile de France) is a French television journalist who miraculously survives a near-death experience during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Twin boys Marcus and Jason (played by Frankie and George McLaren), are touched by tragedy when Jason is struck by a car and dies. Marcus' circumstances, like Marie, is touched by the real life event of the 2005 London bombings when he almost loses his favorite baseball cap, preventing him from boarding a subway train that later explodes in the tunnel. We learn later this was not just chance, but intervention by his deceased twin brother.
Stories of death and the afterlife can hardly be considered original, in my opinion. In fact, they're often portrayed as amusing (just think Warren Beatty in HEAVEN CAN WAIT). What strikes me as particularly interesting in HEREAFTER, though, is the relationship the people of the story have with actual history. While it may be considered very simple storytelling, I'm intruiged at the use of the 2004 tsunami tragedy and the 2005 London bombings. These events somehow make death, near-death and the events that cause them just a little more real to the viewer because we remember the real events of history and how they may have affected us and our lives. I've often wondered if it's just by chance or perhaps cinematic sensitivity that the events of September 11, 2001 were not included in story.
By the way, just so you don't think elements of cliche are absent in HEREAFTER, like any film by Robert Altman or Alejandro González Iñárritu, the three characters in this film do find a way to all interconnect by the end of the story. I can't accuse this cliche of not working, though. It does. I should also point out that I was very surprised to see a small cameo appearance by actress Marthe Keller, who plays a Swiss doctor. Those who grew up on many films of the 1970s will remember her from films like MARATHON MAN (1976), BLACK SUNDAY (1977) and BOBBY DEERFIELD (1977). It's been decades since I've seen her and I thought she'd pretty much dropped of the face of the Earth. Glad I was wrong.
Clint Eastwood gives a thought-provoking premise of the afterlife with enthralling tenderness and beauty and I'm happy to call this one a hit (for me, anyway).
Favorite line or dialogue:
Dr. Rousseau: "You know, as a scientist and atheist my mind was closed to such things. Oh, absolutely. Afterlife, near-death experiences Like everyone else, I thought people saw bright lights, Eden-like gardens and so forth because they were culturally conditioned to do so. But after twenty-five years in a hospice working with people, many of whom were pronounced dead but then miraculously survived, the account of what they actually experienced were so strikingly similar it couldn't just be coincidence. And add to that the fact that when they had these experiences they were almost all unconscious, a state in which my enemies agree the brain cannot create fresh images."
Marie Lelay: "So you think I really did experience something?"
Dr. Rousseau: "Oh, yes. I think you experienced death."