Saturday, September 29, 2012
(June 2003, U.S.)
When I was a kid in the 1970s, I wanted to be the Incredible Hulk!
(Wait! What the fuck did he just say?? First he told us that he wanted to be John Travolta when he wrote his blog for GREASE and now THIS???)
Okay, maybe I really didn't want to be the Hulk himself, but I did have these wild childish fantasies about being able to turn myself into something much bigger and much stronger than who I was. This is what happens to a kid who watches CBS-TV's THE INCREDIBLE HULK so religiously! Cheers, Bill Bixby...
Despite my childhood wishes and fascinations, I can't say I was quick to get on line to see Ang Lee's film version of HULK when it was first released. Perhaps I was hearing too much mixed to negative hype surrounding the film, particularly with the CGI effects used rather than something a little more "human". Well, one Saturday night after feeling rather fed up with my weekend houseguests, I decided to escape for a couple of hours and give HULK a look at the local neighborhood movie theater in Westhampton Beach. I have to say, for the life of me, I can't understand why the film was so widely disregarded. In my humble cinematic opinion, HULK is everything the story should be; dark, mysterious and menacing.
I'm not an expert on the Hulk as a comic book hero (nor am I an expert on ANY comic book hero!), but it just seems to me that when you're dealing with a character like Dr. Bruce Banner (played by Eric Bana) whose accidental exposure to gamma radiation gives him the unconstrollable power to transform himself into the legendary green monster whenever he becomes enraged, you need to concentrate the film on the dark issues of a man dealing with his horrible "green" predicament rather than the comic book camp that has been the failing element of so many other comic book movies, in my opinion. The film also explores a story aspect that I'd never seen on TV before and that's Bruce Banner as a kid falling victim to his father's rather twisted scientific experiments on his own son, which serves as the genesis of Bruce's inevitable super powers. Perhaps this was an element in the original comic books? I'll never know. I do know that if you thought YOU had issues with your father, they're nothing compared to Bruce's when he learns what his own father (played by Nick Nolte in a great role, I might add) did to him. Yes, that would make any man angry, wouldn't you say?
One of the additional criticisms I recall at the time of HULK's release was Ang Lee's artistic touch to the character and the story. It's a shame that mindless critics and moviegoers would attack that particular issue because we were all more than willing to accept that sort of induction into a superhero character when Christopher Nolan gave us BATMAN BEGINS (2005) only two years later. With HULK, the director of films like SENSE AND SENSIBILITY (1995) and CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON (2000) tries his best to actually deal with the issues in the story of Bruce Banner's tormented soul as the Hulk, rather than simply compensating with and relying on brainless visual motion picture effects. The tormented soul aspect is important here because other than Bruce's daddy issues, the Hulk does not battle any traditional comic book villian in this story (that comes later in THE AVENGERS, which I still haven't seen), and that's part of what makes the story work so well.
So again I ask, what exactly were disappointed Hulk fans expecting from the first film? The televisions show revisted? Not likely. A bodybuilder painted green? We did that already! No, the CGI effects (as much as I often condemn them) were the logical choice for human transformation on screen in the 21st Century. I'm not saying a make-up legend like Rick Baker wouldn't have done a viable job, but it likely would not have contained the same spectacular power that the Hulk is expected to display on screen. The plight and fate of Bruce Banner is clearly an ongoing saga, and in my opinion, rebooting the franchise with new people like Edward Norton and Liv Tyler are not going to improve what I already felt did not need fixing.
Superhero films as art films! Yes, they can and they DO work!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Bruce Banner (in Spanish): "You're making me angry! You wouldn't like me when I'm angry!"
Thursday, September 20, 2012
(September 1965, U.S.)
In my entire film collection, I own only to "How To" movies. Interestingly, they both don't exactly focus on the positive, do they? First, how to lose a guy and then HOW TO MURDER YOUR WIFE. Nice.
Before I begin, first a quick backstory on how I first came to know this outrageous comedy. You see, I'm a big fan of the classic British comedy series FAWLTY TOWERS and in one particular episode Basil Fawlty is so pissed off at his wife that he maliciously asks one of his guests, "Did you see that movie 'How To Murder Your Wife'? It was wonderful! I saw it SIX times!" From John Cleese's mouth to my ears, that was all I needed to hear to spark my interest.
I recall the first time I ever heard of or saw the famous actor Jack Lemmon was in the 1977 disaster film, AIRPORT '77. Based on that first impression, I came to believe that he was some sort of tough guy, action movie type. Nothing could be further from the truth, right? After that I saw him in THE CHINA SYNDROME (1978) where he was nothing but serious and practically a prophet of doom. It would be years into my young adulthood until I'd discover with films like SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959), this film and THE ODD COUPLE (1968) that the man is quite irresistably funny. And with a very brazen title like HOW TO MURDER YOUR WIFE, funny is key.
For a film released in 1965, it serves as quite the quintessential "guy" film. Men watching this film are designed to feel envious, jealous and perhaps resentful of Stanley Ford's (played by Jack Lemmon) life as a successful newspaper cartoonist, happily UNmarried cartoonist enjoying the comforts of a well-to-do existence in an urban townhouse, including the services of his loyal and attentive valet, Charles Firbank (played by Terry-Thomas). Sounds great, huh? It is until one night at a bachelor party where he gets real drunk and fall head over heels for the girl that pops out of the big cake; an absolutely stunningly georgeous Italian blonde woman that just epitomizes sexual desire. We never learn her name but she's played by Virna Lisi, and one look at her and you'd never in a million years imagine that today she's actually seventy-five years old! Anyway, the morning after the party, Stanley is not only very hung over, but also realizes that he actually married this girl. Three problems exist now; she speaks no English, she loves him and he just wants to get rid of her. She's Italian, so she doesn't believe in divorce. Only one solution left...murder!
Murder is not something Stanley could actually commit, though, so he sort of acts out the fantasy of it by physically acting out the murder of a substitute dummy (with blonde hair) and then drawing it out in his popular comic strip. By the time things escalate, his wife is gone (on her own accord) and Stanley is on trial because it's believed that he actually did murder his wife. Now because the year 1965 is still a man's sexist world, the entire jury is comprised of men and Stanley's actually able to get himself acquitted of (fake) murder by appealing to the jury's desires and fantasies of having the freedom to get rid of their wives and live the freedom they've so longed for.
The comedy in HOW TO MURDER YOUR WIFE is not so much, in my opinion, the outrageous plot of one man's desire to be rid of his wife, but rather the institute of marriage portrayed as a form of horrid slavery to every man in America who's stupid enough to allow himself to be suckered into it. You understand, that's the FILM'S comic message, not my own...really...I swear.
(I love you, Beth!)
Favorite line or dialogue:
Stanley Ford: "Too long has the American man allowed himself to be bullied, coddled, and mothered, and tyrannized, and in general meant to feel like a feeble-minded idiot by the female of the species!"
Friday, September 14, 2012
(February 2003, U.S.)
I believe I may have just put my own foot deep into my mouth! In my last post for THE HOURS, I stated the explicit facts distinguishing the serious drama from some silly "chick flick". So look what my next film turns out to be!
So let's go over the basic official formulaic rules of any modern 21st Century romantic comedy one at a time and how they pertain to this particular film, HOW TO LOSE A GUY IN 10 DAYS:
1. The guy is great looking and practices a profession typically associated with true masculinity. In this case, Benjamin Barry (played by quintessential movie boyfriend Matthew McConaughey) is an advertising executive who genrally works in alcoholic beverages and sporting goods. Mucho macho, yes!!
2. The girl is great looking, fun spirited and practices a profession typicall associated with true femininity. In this case, Andie Anderson (played by Kate Hudson) is a writer for a woman's magazine called Composure as the "How to..." fluff writer. Aw, how pretty!
3. The best friend of the guy is usually a totally immature, goofball. In this case, he's played by Adam Goldberg. Enough said!
4. The best friend of the girl is either a flaming gay guy or a very eccentric girl. In this case, she's played by Kathryn Hahn as a girl who's heartbroken after being dumped by a guy she believed she had a true intimate, meaningful and soulful connection with. That precious relationship lasted only a week, by the way!
5. The couple in question will either meet by accident, be mutually DISinterested in each other at first, or will be thrown together by some sort of unique or bizarre circumstances. In this case, Ben and Andie meet over each of their own ulterior motives of wagers and professional purpose. Ben's made a bet with some colleagues that he can make any girl fall in love with him in ten days. Andie's goal is to date a guy and then drive him away in ten days by committing all sorts of classic relationship mistakes in order to write her next column, "How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days".
(you follow, right?)
6. The couple in question, despite their bullshit motives and quirky interference from their friends, will inevitably fall in love in the end and we, the moviegoing audience, will have justified our two hours of screen time and high ticket price in order to make sure we've seen such a film as this anywhere in the neighborhood of Valentine's Day. Yes, there's a reason these films are released in February!
So there you have it! The rules are clear and they very often don't change. Because they don't change, a guy like myself has to be incredibly tight about he picks and chooses which romantic comedies are worth his time and which are not. For me, what makes HOW TO LOSE A GUY IN 10 DAYS a film worth watching and owning is watching Andie purposely drive Ben up the wall by acting like a needy, clingy, even creepy, over-the-top one-woman cirus. Really, you can't help but just want to reach into the screen or the TV and smack her a couple of times. The other is watching Ben take it all in for the purpose of winning his own bet. There are two particualr moments in the film when Ben is just so flabbergasted over what Andie has done to him, that the look on Matthew McConaughey's face is both irresistable and hilarious. The first moment is when Ben opens his bathroom medicine cabinet and finds that Andie has stocked it with all of her feminine products. Just look at his face in the mirror when he exclaims, "Oh, no!" The second is when Andie has just lovingly dragged Ben out of a Celine Dion concert which prevented him from seeing a big Knicks game instead. The deadpan look on Ben's face says it all. Because apparantly real men not only don't eat quiche, but they also don't go to Celine Dion concerts! My friend Greg, by the way, whom I've mentioned before in my blogs, was forced to attend not only a Celine Dion concert by an old girlfriend, but a Barry Manillow concert, as well. Feel for him, people! I do!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Michelle Rubin: "Oh, you are never going to pull this off."
Andie Anderson: "Watch me. Tonight, I'll hook a guy. Tomorrow, pull the switch. Before the ten days are up, I'm going to have this guy running for his life."
Jeannie Ashcroft: "You're not going to burn his apartment down or bite him, or anything?"
Andie: "No! I'm going to limit myself to doing everything girls do wrong in relationships. Basically, everything we know guys hate. I'll be clingy, needy..."
Jeannie: "Be touchy-feely."
Jeannie: "Ooh, call him in the middle of the night and tell him everything you had to eat that day!"
Michelle: "What's wrong with that?
Michelle: "I'm kidding!
Okay, why would any hot blooded, horny guy seriously complain about a girl who's "touch-feely"??? I wouldn't.
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
(December 2002, U.S.)
Listen up, guys - many of us, at one time or another, have likely been dragged to a so-called "chick flick" by our significant female others. It hasn't always been pretty. Make no mistake, though - THE HOURS is nothing of the kind. It's a serious film about serious grown women and it's incredibly gripping to watch and listen to.
I'm almost proud to say that back in 2002, I was NOT dragged to see this film by my wife. When I saw the trailer and the female talent power of Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore and Nicole Kidman together in one film, I hardly needed to be dragged by anyone to see a film like that. Be warned, though, that THE HOURS is not a happy film. In fact, before the film is even five minutes in progress, we're witnessing the suicide of famed British author Virginia Woolf. From there, the mood and tone of film barely picks up at all. What is absolutely intruiging here is that we're witnessing the tormented lives of three women over the course of a single day and separated by several decades. In 1923, Virginia Woolf (played by Kidman) is struggling with her depression and mental illness as she tries to begin writing her famous book, "Mrs. Dalloway". In 1951, troubled and potentially-suicidal Los Angeles housewife Laura Brown (played by Moore) escapes from her life as a conventional housewife by reading "Mrs Dalloway" and trying her best to care for her equally-troubled little boy, Richie. In 2001, New Yorker Clarissa Vaughan (played by Streep) is the embodiment of the title character of "Mrs Dalloway" as she spends the day preparing for a party she's hosting in honour of her former lover and friend Richard (played almost frighteningly by Ed Harris), a gay poet and author living with AIDS who is to receive an award for career achievement. Richard freely admits that he's only staying alive out of consideration for Clarissa, because according to her, "That is what people do. They stay alive for each other."
So, just in case it hasn't dawned on you yet, Richard is the man that 1951's Laura Brown's "Richie" will inevitably grow up to be. That's actually only a minor revelation because anybody with half a brain can figure that out as soon as "Richard" and "Richie" are mentioned in the same film. What I found to be more emotionally gripping here was not just the manner in which Richard finally ends his life in the end, but the truth we learn about his mother who we're lead to believe took her own life in 1951. I've always felt that twist, turns and revelations are much more intruiging when they involve characters that are equally as intruiging, and in this case, quite intelligent and literal.
As mentioned, this film ain't exactly a popcorn happy experience. It's a serious downer that packs an deeply moving, emotional wallop with some very fine acting by all of it's participants. Somehow, despite the fact that suicide eventually tempts the three characters, THE HOURS is not a truly morbid film. Through the eyes of depression and despair, we're somehow given a small glipse of hope at the end in that when one day ends, there's always another one to begin the next moring, filled with possibilities and that when someone dies, it can often remind us of how precious life can be. And THAT, my friends, is a lot coming from an admitted cynic like me!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Clarissa Vaughn: "I remember one morning getting up at dawn, there was such a sense of possibility. You know, that feeling? And I remember thinking to myself: So, this is the beginning of happiness. This is where it starts. And of course there will always be more. It never occurred to me it wasn't the beginning. It was happiness. It was the moment. Right then."
Yes, life can be considered nothing more than a compilations of moments.
Friday, September 7, 2012
(May 1998, U.S.)
I did not grow up with the films of John Ford. I only heard about his style and technique for capturing the great American open landscapes when I got older and began an appreciation for classic films. For my generation (in my opinion), it was the selected films of Robert Redford as director that brought me in visual touch with some of the wonderful open country that America is filled with. Anyone who's seen A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT (1992) or THE HORSE WHISPERER know what I'm talking about. There are cinematic visual moments in this film that just scream for the viewer to get out there and head to Montana!
If you haven't seen THE HORSE WHISPERER in some time, the first thing that may catch your attention is that Scarlett Johansson (yes, that sexy, inticing, delicious woman of today!) was once a young, unknown pre-teen. The second thing that may catch your attention is that the girl who was last seen in THE AVENGERS (2012) could really deliver a tear-jerking performance as young horse rider Grace who's left permanently amputated when she and her beloved horse, Pilgrim, are involved in a horribly shocking accident at the beginning of the film. We know her pain as a human being and we can also predict with a certain level of cliche and tradition that she will overcome her demons by the end of the film (she does!). No, this is really a story about a horse and the gentle man known as Tom Booker, a "horse whisperer" (played by Robert Redford) who possesses the almost magic skills to heal the horse with soul-reaching kindness and patience. Tom owns a family ranch deep in the Montana hills and agrees to help, but only if Grace also takes part in the healing process. As Pilgrim and Grace slowly overcome their trauma, Grace's mother Annie (played by Kristen Scott Thomas) and Tom begin to have predictable mutual romantic feelings for each other. However, they're both reluctant to act on these feelings because Annie's married and Tom had his heart broken before, when his wife left him because she belonged to the city and not the ranch.
I'm reminded much of the Harrison Ford film WITNESS (1985) not only because of its locale of an unspoiled American terrain, but also a tense-filled love scenario that is destined never to be. In my opinion, though, the love that's experienced between Tom and Annie is never fully convincing to me and only serves to round-out the story's apparent need for love interest. As I said before, for me this is a story about a horse and a man. It's an American story that probably could only have been tackled by a man like Redford, who's not only as solid American as they come, but a man who also truly loves the American landscape. Clint Eastwood, perhaps, is the only other star and director I could have envisioned handling this project.
While I can't claim to have loved every one of Redford's project as director (I've still never sat through all of THE MILAGRO BEAN FIELD WAR and THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE did nothing for me), I can say that THE HORSE WHISPERER is one of his best in a long line of films that has included ORDINARY PEOPLE (1980), A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT (1992) and QUIZ SHOW (1994).
Favorite line or dialogue:
Tom Booker: "There was a boy from the Blackfeet reservation, he used to do some work around here for a while. Sixteen, strong kid, good kid. He and I were really, really good friends. One day he went swimming and dove headfirst into the lake...and right into a rock. And it snapped his neck, paralyzed him. And after the accident I'd look in on him from time to time. But he wasn't there. It was like his mind, his spirit, whatever you want to call it, just disappeared. The only thing left was just anger. Just sort of as if the...the boy I once knew just went somewhere else."
Grace: "I know where he goes."
Tom: "I know you do. Don't you disappear. You do whatever you have to do to hold on."
Thursday, September 6, 2012
(August 1932, U.S.)
One of the persistent elements of any film by the famous Marx Brothers (or any other famous comedy team of the Great Depression era) is that more often than not the comic routines don't change much. For the Marx Brothers, whether the story takes place at a big store, a hotel, the circus or the opera, you can always count on Groucho's quick snappy one-liners, Chico's silly antics in a fake Italian accent and Harpo always playing his big harp at some point. The Marx Brothers made a lot of films together and I can't say I've loved every one of them, but I seem to be drawn to the early features released by Paramount in the early 1930s.
HORSE FEATHERS revolves around college football and a game between the fictional Darwin and Huxley Colleges. Groucho Marx plays Quincy Adams Wagstaff, the new president of Huxley College, and Zeppo is his son Frank, who convinces his father to recruit professional football players to help Huxley's team. Baravelli (played by Chico) is an "iceman", who delivers ice and bootleg liquor from a local speakeasy. Pinky (played by Harpo) is also an "iceman", and a part-time dogcatcher. Through a series of zany misunderstandings, Baravelli and Pinky are recruited to play on Huxley's football team; this requires them to enroll as students at Huxley, which creates the predictable Marx Brothers chaos throughout the entire school. The climax of the movie (a whopping sixty-five minutes, I might add) is often referenced as one of the greatest football-related scenes in movie history. It includes the four brothers winning the game by taking the ball into the end zone in a horse-drawn garbage wagon that Pinky rides like a chariot.
Is any of this comedy likely to make today's movie generation, a generation raised on crap like THE HANGOVER-PART II and BRIDESMAIDS, laugh the way it did back in the day? Very unlikely, I'm afraid. Today's brand of multiplex moviegoers has neither the time, the patience, nor the intelligence, in my opinion, to open their minds and try to appreciate what used to make people laugh on screen during an era long since passed. But take a moment to consider the era of the Great Depression and how much people longed to laugh to forget their troubles, and the validity and importance of comedy from the Marx Brothers becomes clear. For myself, I've always laughed a lot more at funny dialogue rather than physical comedy, which is why a little time with the Brothers, particularly the wise-cracking Groucho, always puts a smile on my face.
I should also note that while I'm generally not fond of musical numbers, Groucho's conviction behind the song, "I'm Against It" is admittedly irresistable. Look up the lyrics.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Frank Wagstaff: "Anything further, Father?"
Quincy Adams Wagstaff: "Anything further farther? That can't be right! Isn't it 'anything farther further'? The idea! I married your mother because I wanted children. Imagine my disappointment when YOU arrived!"
Wednesday, September 5, 2012
I'm very happy to say that as of September 2012, the all time history of page views for this movie blog of mine has exceeded 10,000 views.
Thank you all to those who have viewed, have read and have commented on this blog. Thank you all to those who will continue to view, read and comment on this blog. Thank you all to those who will one day soon discover the fun of viewing, reading and commenting on this blog.
May the exciting world of cinema continue to reach us, teach us and inspire us to brighter moments in our lives!