Monday, December 31, 2012
(July 1993, U.S.)
Yesterday while I was watching Wolfgang Peterson's IN THE LINE OF FIRE for this blog, I found myself grossly distracted by my own detailed memories. Sure, this is a great edge-of-your-seat thriller that's impossible not to enjoy, but the whole time I was enjoying all this enjoyment, I found my memories constantly reaching back to the Summer of 1993. There are some films that will do this to you; they take you back to a time of your life when the film was first released. In my case, the Summer of 1993 brings back memories that are two sided. On the one hand, I was involved in a Hamptons share house and having the time of my life. On the other hand, it was the beginning of the end of a relationship (and friendship) that, at the time, meant a lot to me. You see, personal memories may not have much to do with the content of a film itself, but rather they take you back to a time you may not have liked and back to the person you may have been once, and that's not always pleasant.
But that aside, let's focus now on one of Clint Eastwoods's best crime thrillers since MAGNUM FORCE (1973), in my opinion. Eastwood plays U.S. Secret Service agent Frank Horrigan, still haunted by his failure to save John F. Kennedy back on that fateful day in November 1963 now seeking personal redemption who's also heading the investigation to locate Mitch Leary (played by John Malkovich), known as "Booth" in the film, a psychotic ex-CIA assassin determined to kill the President of the United States. He's determined to the extreme where he's set up a phony computer software business whose donations to the president's re-election campaign will get him a front row dinner seat right in front of the man himself. This is a man who really wants his prey and he's ready to die for it. He's also a man who know how to psychologically push the right buttons in Frank, as they develop a strange cat-and-mouse relationship over the telephone. This is high stakes game to Mitch and he's more than happy to have Frank along for the ride to make things interesting. He even saves Frank's life along the way during a rooftop chase in order to keep the game in play.
One of more interesting elements about a film where you already know who the bad guy is, is that you constantly find yourself reacting to the fact that the good guys in the film can't seem to find him. Throughout the film there are snapshots of John Malkovich's ugly mug, and even though some of them are disguised, you can't believe that these FBI guys (other than Eastwood) just can't see through them and catch their bad guy! You actually find yourself thinking things like, "Geez, he's right in front of your face!" But then again, I suppose if it were that easy, we wouldn't have a two hour plus film, right?
As far as performances go, Clint Eastwood and Rene Russo have excellent chemistry together. These are two mature grown up actors who must struggle between being professional colleagues by day and wanting very much to jump into bed with each other. And on the "cougar" side of all things women, I must confess that Rene Russo is quite the babe! John Malkovich, I must also confess, is an actor that has made me rather nervous ever since I first saw him playing Happy opposite Dustin Hoffman in a 1985 CBS teleplay production of DEATH OF A SALESMAN. Two years later, I saw him again in Steven Spielberg's EMPRE OF THE SUN (1987) and his character was just as unsettling. I don't think that unsettling feeling for a particular actor has ever gone away, so his performance as would-be psychotic assassin seems just perfect.
When I look back on Eastwood's very extensive film career, I have to say that the films I enjoy most are the ones where he was directed by another filmmaker. Wolfgang Peterson seems to have a good grasp on the politically-based thriller. He'd do it again four years later with Harrison Ford in AIR FORCE ONE (1997). Though, for my money, I'll still always appreciate him most with his German submarine thriller DAS BOOT (1981).
Favorite line or dialogue:
Frank Horrigan: "I saw the photos."
Mitch Leary: "No, you saw what he wanted you to see, Frank."
Frank: "I saw a picture of, uh, your friend lying on the floor with his throat cut."
Mitch: "What you didn't see, Frank, what you couldn't possibly know, is: they sent my best friend - my comrade in arms - to my home to kill me!"
Frank: "Your voice is shaking."
Mitch: "I never lied to you, Frank, and I never will!"
You know, criminal or not, the character of Mitch Leary seems to have a more solid grasp on human respect than most real life people do.
Saturday, December 29, 2012
(August 1967, U.S.)
I must confess that I haven't seen too many films that are highly charged and motivated by racism. In my youth, the big ones were Alan Parker's MISSISSIPPI BURNING (1988) and Spike Lee's DO THE RIGHT THING (1989). In 1988, I'd actually become a little more familiar with the new NBC television series IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT before I'd heard of the original 1967 film. Even as I'd also begun to truly discover the original film of THE PLANET OF THE APES (1968), it wasn't difficult to recognize just how racially motivated the film was. But I'm starting to digress a bit here...
Having watched Norman Jewison's IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT just recently for this blog, I've rediscovered just how racist this story really is. It's present day of 1966 and African-American northerner Virgil Tibbs (played by Sidney Poitier), passing through the town of Sparta, Mississippi, is picked up at the train station with a substantial amount of cash in his wallet at the same time a dead body has been discovered in the street. He's a black man with a lot of cash in a truly racist town so (naturally) he's the first person any of these redneck cops would arrest for the crime. White police Chief Bill Gillespie (played by Rod Steiger), prejudiced against blacks, jumps to the conclusion that he has his culprit but is embarrassed to learn that Tibbs is actually an experienced Philadelphia homicide detective who was passing through town at the wrong time of the murder. It's virtually unthinkable to the redneck hicks of this small southern town that Virgil is a thinking black man who dresses better, earns more money and knows the intellectual process of proper police work a whole lot better and more efficiently than these racist pigs. Gillespie, however, as it may be predicted in film, slowly learns to let go of his racist attitude and work with Virgil as a respected professional colleague. As the viewer of a murder mystery, you're taken along for the ride with step-by-step processes of how the murder will eventually be resolved and the true motives behind it. Honestly, though, the crime and its resolution become almost secondary because it's impossible to ignore that the real triumph here is Virgil Tibbs' strength and ability to overcome the racism of America's southland in the 1960s. It's also noteworty and impressive to slowly watch Gillespie become a better and wiser man in the end, exemplifying that, with true effort, racial divisions are capable of being overcome.
Perhaps the most intruiging moment of this film is when Tibbs accuses well-respected Sparta citizen Eric Endicott (played by Larry Gates) who actually owns a cotton plantation (you can probably visualize what sort of labor than entails - something right out of GONE WITH THE WIND) that he would have had a very good motive for murdering the man in question. Eric abruptly slaps Virgil's face for such a comment and Virgil doesn't hesitate in slapping this white man back with as much force. Tibbs' action was originally omitted from the screenplay, which stayed true to the original novel with Tibbs NOT reacting to the slap. However, when Sidney Poitier read the script he was purportedly uncomfortable with that reaction, as it wasn't true to the values his parents had instilled in him. Altering the scene to what we now know was important due to the ongoing battle for civil rights at the time, despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, three years prior. This was one of the first times in any major motion picture where a black man reacted to provocation from a white man in such a way. I'm sure it ruffled a few white feathers, no doubt.
IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT won the Oscar for best picture of 1967 (the year I was born!). Personally, I think THE GRADUATE should have taken that high honor.
Favorite line or dialogue:
(upon having been slapped back by Virgil Tibbs)
Eric Endicott: "Gillespie?"
Chief Bill Gillespie: "Yeah."
Endicott: "You saw it!"
Gillespie: "I saw it."
Endicott: "Well, what are you gonna do about it?"
Gillespie: "I don't know."
Endicott: "I'll remember that!
(to Tibbs) There was a time when I could've had you shot!"
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
(April 2005, U.S.)
This political thriller was the last film to be directed by Sydney Pollack. It's also the first film to ever be granted full on location access to the United Nations Building in New York City. Security, obviously, must've been a real bitch!
Though I haven't always enjoyed everything she's done on film, Nicole Kidman is, indeed, a gifted actress and playing the role of Silvia Broome, an interpreter for the U.N. caught up in a political mystery with all the danger and intrigue that would go with it seems appropriately right up her alley. It's by circumstance and coincidence that she just happens to be in the U.N. Building late one night when she overhears whispered voices plotting to assassinate the President of Matobo, a fictional country in Africa, right on the assembly floor of the famed building. Now she's witness (well, she HEARD it, didn't see it), but she's also a suspect, given her position, her tragic family history and her political past, which is slowly revealed when U.S. Secret Service agent Tobin Keller (played by the always brooding Sean Penn) is assigned to the case. Tobin is a man serious about his job and protecting American soil, but he's also a man dealing with recently afflicted personal pain, his wife having just died in a car accident. He, like Silvia, understands the pain and rage of loosing people we love and the burning desire to inflict some form of vengeance in order to move on. The attempted lesson taught in this film is that the act of vengeance will inevitably prolong the process of grief and sorrow to the victim. Maybe so, but I can certain speak for myself that revenge is very likely a sweet dish when your loved ones are the victims of other people's acts.
I'm always the first to point out obvious elements of cliche in just about any film and I'm happy to report that Penn and Kidman's characters do NOT fall in love in this film. It could be easily predictable, but given their positions, their recent family losses and their need political justices, falling for each other would be highly unnecessary. I'd also add that the final resolution of assassination is given an interesting twist in that what we've actually witness is an intended "almost assassination" in which the intended target is risen to the sympathetic position of a martyr of sorts in which he's almost killed and enjoys the convenience of surviving the act in order to enjoy its rewards, whatever they may be.
THE INTERPRETER is a film that is, thankfully, shot completely on location in New York City and in the U.N. Building. To attempt physical forgery in any of the locations and shots would have been an extremem injustice to a film that works not only politically, but with performance, as well.
Sydney Pollack was a director who made some very worthwhile films, including THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR (1975), TOOTSIE (1982) and THE FIRM (1993). He was also a talented actor who occassionally appeared in his own films as well as others by Woody Allen (HUSBANDS AND WIVES) and the late Stanley Kubrick (EYES WIDE SHUT). I'll miss him.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Silvia Broome: "Countries have gone to war because they misinterpreted one another."
Thursday, December 20, 2012
(May 2002, U.S.)
First THE INSIDER and now INSOMNIA. You just gotta love an Al Pacino double feature!
You're heard me say time and time again that American remakes of foreign subtitled films are usually not worth a damn! In my own defense, I didn't know there was an original 1997 Norwegian film of the same name with Stellan Skarsgård until AFTER I'd already gone to see the 2002 film. As soon as I did find out, I immediately went out and rented the original film to see how the two compared to each other. As I said, American remakes are usually not worth shit - that's rule one! Rule two is that there's always the occassional exception to rule one! Strike me down for saying this, but in my opinion, Christopher Nolan's (one of the best directors of the 21st Century, thus far) telling of this riveting psychological thriller does, indeed, outshine the original foreign film. There, I said it! Forgive me!
The state of Alaska is not a place I've seen too much of in film. INSOMNIA immediately grabs me with the beauty and the solitude of it's grand mountains and great lakes. Yes, I could see myself there. Detective Will Dormer (played by the great Al Pacino) definitely CANNOT see himself there. At the time he arrives to help solve the murder of a young high school girl, this part of the world is experiencing a time of year when the sun doesn't set for months. Hence Dormer's insomnia because the sunlight is keeping him awake during the night. But he's also kept awake at night suffering from twisted feelings of guilt, fear and regret over the supposedly accidental shooting of his partner Hap Eckhart (played by Martin Donovan). Was it an accident? Hap was prepared to make a deal with Internal Affairs to save himself and end up harming Will and all of the good police work he's done in the process. Now let's add to the fact that the shooting was witnessed by the murderer himself. This is the foundation for blackmail and the inevitalble connection and relationship that takes place between criminal and cop.
But now let's really talk about what's key here in this film - funny man Robin Williams as a brilliant killer? Well, why not! I mean, when you consider a man of his comic talents and insane personality, to turn the tables to the dark side and portray a man of cold-blooded murder seems to make perfect sense. Robin Williams is surely NOT funny in INSOMNIA, but what he does give us is a level of phychological intensity and diabolical cunningness that serves well to match the wits and skills of an experienced Los Angeles cop like Will Dormer. It's cat-and-mouse antics along the way and in the end, as you'd expect in any film like this, the bad guy dies. So does the good guy, too, in this case.
Al Pacino, as always, is brilliant to watch and listen to in nearly any film he's in. Disappointingly, though, because the film is also about an insomniac, we're forced to look at a physically-depleted Pacino who constantly looks as though he's about to collapse. This is not exactly the cop who's full of energy and vitality as in SERPICO (1973) and HEAT (1995). But as I said, the physical appearance goes with the role he's playing. Sadly, one also has to admit that Al Pacino is getting older. Hilary Swank as the town officer assisting Dormer in the case is as acceptable a role as any other mundane, trivial character in a police thriller. She's merely the Jedi knight in training to Pacino's Obi-Wan Kenobi.
By the way, if you look it up, you'll find that the word DORMER is defined as a chamber or a place of sleep. Coincidence or just plain freaky??
Favorite line or dialogue:
Fred Duggar: "What has two thumbs and likes blowjobs? (points to himself with both thumbs) THIS guy!"
Monday, December 17, 2012
(November 1999, U.S.)
Although I only watch CBS's 60 MINUTES on occassion, I have nothing but great respect for this show as perhaps the last surviving example of a news program with some form of balls and integrity in a perverted world of media that is diseased to the brim with outrageous sensationalism. As a mere spectator, though, I can only watch and appreciate the "big news story" from the outside of the TV screen. It rarely ever occurs to me to consider the process and the risks involved from the origin of the story to the legal and bureaucratic bullshit involved before it actually sees the light of day on the air for the rest of us to see. Michael Mann's THE INSIDER shows us just that in a thrilling and dramatic style that I haven't seen or enjoyed since ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN (1976).
Before this film, I had only a vague memory of the actual tobacco industry whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand (played by Russell Crowe) who went on 60 MINUTES in 1995 with Mike Wallace (played in the film by Christopher Plummer) and stated that tobacco giant Brown & Williamson intentionally manipulated the tobacco blend to increase the amount of nicotine in cigarette smoke, thereby increasing the impact of the addiction to the smoker, and of course, therby increasing their sales. He also stated that the seven CEOs of "Big Tobacco" perjured themselves to the United States Congress about their awareness of nicotine’s addictiveness. Wait a second...tobacco companies LYING in order to increase sales and get rich??? N-a-a-a-h!!!
As important as the whistleblowing and the big story are here, the film focusses less on the actual television interview and gives a lot more necessary attention to the relationship Jeffrey Wigand develops with CBS producer Lowell Bergman (played by the great Al Pacino - my favorite actor, as you well know). It's only by chance that the two meet in the first place, but it's immediately apparant to Lowell that Jeffrey has something he wants to say to the world. He's been unjustly fired by Brown & Williamson and he's disgruntled, but he's also bound to the confidentiality agreement which stresses that he can't discuss or reveal anything about his former employment. It's an agreement Jeffrey is willing to honor until the big "powers that be" threaten his life and his family's. While anger, emotion and even vengeance dictate Jeffrey's actions, it's also clear to him and to Lowell that he has information that the American viewing public have a right to know about. And so, as cliches of good & bad, right & wrong and risk & sacrifice go, the big news story is revealed to the world and justice is supposedly done, but not without the price of Jeffrey losing his marriage.
Now let's talk about this man's marriage for a moment. His wife Liane is played by Diane Venora (who bears a more than striking resemblance to Jessica Lange, I might add). A film, accurate or not, can only give a dramatic version of what may or may not have been the facts of a real man's marriage. However, if Venora's portrait of Jeffrey's real life wife was even just a little bit accurate, then his wife was the most pathetic excuse for strength and support that any man would want in a wife. This woman irritatingly goes to pieces from the moment she learns her husband's been fired and their precious car and house payments are now at risk. Yes, all of the events that happen to both of them are upsetting, but clearly she was unable to abide by those famous words in Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man".
Russell Crowe shines as Wigand, and strangely, this was only the second time I'd seen him on film after L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (1997), but it was more than clear that this man was going to skyrocket as an actor and a performer (GLADIATOR was released the summer following this film). As Lowel Bergman, it's needless to say that Al Pacino's performance speaks for itself. This man plays the toughest roles I've ever seen through his personality, his charisma and his intense use of dialogue. In short, he's the toughest guy I've known on film in my lifetime, and strangely, I don't think I've ever seen him in a film where he actually used physical violence against anyone...well, except for firing that gun in THE GODFATHER (1972). Yes, I love, love, love the man and most of his films. Most, I say because even HE wasn't enough to save a piece of shit movie like DICK TRACY (1990).
Favorite line or dialogue:
Lowell Bergman: "You pay me to go get guys like Wigand, to draw him out. To get him to trust us, to get him to go on television. I do. I deliver him. He sits. He talks. He violates his own fucking confidentiality agreement. And he's only the key witness in the biggest public health reform issue, maybe the biggest, most-expensive corporate-malfeasance case in U.S. history. And Jeffrey Wigand, who's out on a limb, does he go on television and tell the truth? Yes. Is it newsworthy? Yes. Are we gonna air it? Of course not. Why? Because he's not telling the truth? No. Because he IS telling the truth. That's why we're not going to air it. And the more truth he tells, the worse it gets!"
Thursday, December 13, 2012
(March 2006, U.S.)
I'm going to do something I've only done once before on this blog (CHARIOTS OF FIRE) and start off with my favorite dialogue from Clive Owen's character (there IS a reason):
Dalton Russell: "My name is Dalton Russell. Pay strict attention to what I say because I choose my words carefully and I never repeat myself. I've told you my name: that's the Who. The Where could most readily be described as a prison cell. But there's a vast difference between being stuck in a tiny cell and being in prison. The What is easy: recently I planned and set in motion events to execute the perfect bank robbery. That's also the When. As for the Why: beyond the obvious financial motivation, it's exceedingly simple...because I can. Which leaves us only with the How; and therein, as the Bard would tell us, lies the rub."
What I've done here is important because these words are more than just the introduction and the set-up. They're also the payoff and the resolution because when they're repeated again (word-for-word) at the end of Spike Lee's INSIDE MAN, the viewer is in a completely different position of interpretation than they were at the beginning of the film.
That being immediately said, I must confess that a bank heist film from the director who gave us brilliant social pieces like DO THE RIGHT THING (1989) and MALCOM X (1992) is possibly the last thing I ever expected. Ah, but that's what makes life's little surprises so intruiging, yes? This is not your average, cliche bank heist film that goes by the usual story playbook that made Al Pacino in DOG DAY AFTERNOON (the film is actually referenced in this script) so classic. INSIDE MAN is not what it seems because the traditional bank robbery that we THINK we're seeing is actually an elaborate illusion for something else that will have us scratching our heads in awe later on. Denzel Washington's (his fourth film with Spike Lee) character of Detective Keith Frazier is very key here, beyond the obvious reason that he's the good guy of the film, because he makes it more than clear to those he's working with on this case that there's something a lot more complex and diabolical behind the public facade of the so-called bank robbery. He's the first one to suspect there's something odd about Dalton Russell (Owen) demanding a getaway plane for himself and the bank hostages because he (Keith) knows very well that no bank robber ever got away with such a stunt, and he knows that Dalton knows that, too. Keith also suspects an insider (or more than one) in the bank who's in on the job. We see this in the non-linear flash-forward structure when he and his partner are interviewing the hostages and trying to trap them into confessing that they were in on it. It never happens, though, and the mystery and the frustration mounts. Because all of the hostages are forced to dress in the same attire as the bank robbers, it's virtually impossible (except for Clive Owen) to clearly identify who's the bad guy and who's the good guy. But that's all part of the plan, you see, to set you, the viewer, up for a revelation that has you saying, "Holy shit!". Yes, in the end, when all is over and the leftover contents of the bank heist are assessed, no money was stolen, no one was actually killed, the assault rifles were actually fake and the bank robbers were actually able to walk freely out the front door. When we learn what they did, in fact, steal from a safety deposit box and why and who it will justifyably hurt in the end, we're left with only a great feeling of cinematic satisfaction and possibly the urge to start the film over and experience it all again.
Now, on the slightly negative side, I have to say that for a talented and accomplished actress like Jodie Foster, her role in this film is almost beneath her real abilities. As a resourceful "fixer" or something of the sort, she carries her character as someone who is overly proud of her position and her ego and actually believes herself more powerful over others than she likely really is. Listening to her make demands of people like the Mayor of New York City and the police with that rather shit-eating grin on her face accomplishes no more to the viewer than giving them the urge to reach into the screen and smack her on the face a few times. Well, that's ME, anyway.
And so, while I'll always give the honor of best bank heist film to Sidney Lumet's 1975 classic, I can freely confess that Spike Lee's efforts here are a very close second because there's nothing more irresistible than the element of surprise...GOOD surprise!
Monday, December 10, 2012
(September 1997, U.S.)
I have to tell before I begin that I've got a song stuck in my head as I write this blog for IN & OUT. It's "Squeeze Box" by The Who. If you know the song well or want to take the time to look up the lyrics, you'll know what I mean. Hey, at least it's a good song!
So let me take you back to a Saturday afternoon is September 1997, Westhampton Beach, Long Island. A friend of mine and I decide to take in a matinee in Southampton. We eagerly look it up in the newspaper and decide to see Kevin Kline's new comedy that looked absolutely hilarious based on nothing more than the trailer and the TV commercials. We get to the movie theater, and what do we do?...we decide to see L.A. CONFIDENTIAL instead. Thank goodness because that was the best film of 1997 (sorry TITANIC!)! I also got to meet legendary actor Roy Scheider when it was over. But anyway, just give it about a week later, and I'm in the theater again watching Frank Oz's great "gay" comedy and laughing my ass off! Yes, the man does wonders for Miss Piggy and Yoda, but if you've ever seen DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS (1988) or WHAT ABOUT BOB? (1991), then you know his comedies are likely to have you laughing your fucking ass off, too!
Like any film about a gay man or woman, it's very easy to spend your time looking for and noting the obvious messages about acceptance, tolerance and justice. It's also very easy to take into account that this comedy is based on many true incidents and stories. Although it would require more research than I was willing to give time to for this light-hearted comedy, it's well known that somewhere out there in real life is a man who infamously came "out" at his wedding. Somewhere out there in real life is a man (or more than one) who was unjustly fired from his teaching position because he was gay. And let's face it, EVERYBODY who ever watched the Oscars throughout the 1990s knows very well how Tom Hanks publicly thanked his gay high school drama coach when he accepted the Oscar for best actor for his role in PHILIDELPHIA (1993).
So there you have the (supposed) facts that inspire IN & OUT. Now you throw in Kevin Kline, who, when he's not showing off his extreme Shakespearean talent, is quite the funny man (just watch A FISH CALLED WANDA for proof!). You have to also remember that even back in 1997 (really, it doesn't seem like that long ago to me), coming out of the closet was still enough of a controversy to gain the attention of the media and provoke shock and bewilderment to those who'd never expect it. Hell, it pretty much ended Ellen Degeneres' TV sitcom when she came out and ended up on the cover of Time magazine. Today, it seems like nobody truly gives a shit anymore when someone comes out of the closet (as it should be, I guess). But for the purposes of this film, the timing of 1997 still works and the subject of a respectable Indiana high school English teacher and track coach being "outed" by a young movie star at the Oscars (a' la Tom Hanks!) is still worthy of the inevitable stereotypical profiling and humorous backlash that will make the film funny. And in addition to Kevin Kline, I have to say that nobody plays a very nervous man better than Bob Newhart. I still remember him in THE BOB NEWHART SHOW on CBS in the 1970s. When you also watch Debbie Reynolds playing an overbearing, demanding mother like she does here (and as Grace Adler's mother on WILL & GRACE), then, geez, no wonder Carrie Fisher was so fucked up in her life!
Speaking of the media, when you're watching the film, listen carefully to some of the absolutely asinine questions Howard is barraged with from reporters like, "Should gay men be allowed to handle fresh produce?" and "Should there be lesbians on Mars?". Oh, brother!
Now let's focus for a moment on the key word that spells out IN & OUT, and that's STEREOTYPICAL. Everything in this film that suggests Howard Brackett (Kline) is gay is purely sterotypical from the eyes and perception of those in the small Indiana town that know and love him. It's his profession of being an English teacher who loves poetry and sonnets, it's his very neat and perhaps "prissy" attire and demeanor, it's his almost unnatural, rather frightening love of Barbra Streisand movies that define him a gay man. But consider this question - is all of that really enough proof to convince the viewer that Howard Brackett is truly gay?? Think about it - at no time in the film does anyone ever actually ask Howard the question, "Do you like men?" At no time does Howard actually admit to liking men, nor does he ever really give the physical impression that he's comfortably attracted to men (not even Tom Selleck). It's almost as if he finally decides to come out of the closet simply because he's inevitably convinced himself that there are enough stereotypical elements to correctly paint the portrait of himself as a gay man. Hey, I'M an architect, I love 70's disco music and I DO eat quiche! Does that make me gay??
Well, excuse me now, people. I think I'll go make love to my wife while cranking up Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive"!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Howard Brackett (enraged in front of the video camera): "Howard Brackett is a big, homo, queer, Mary, sissy man! He just came out at his big church wedding! Martha Stewart is f-u-u-r-r-ious!"
Friday, December 7, 2012
(June 1979, U.S.)
At the tender age of 12 during the Summer of 1979, there were only two cinematic events on my mind; the continuing stories of Rocky Balboa (ROCKY II) and James Bond (MOONRAKER). Oh, sure, there other films in betweeen, here and there, that turned me on, too, like HAIR, BREAKING AWAY and LOVE AT FIRST BITE (my sorry-ass-over-protective-excuses-for-parents wouldn't let me see ALIEN!), but at the time, as far as I was concerned, Arthur Hiller's THE IN-LAWS was just another adult comedy that was getting a lot of TV commercial promo time. Thankfully, adulthood and VHS tapes got me caught up on a thing or two because THE IN-LAWS is one of the funniest "buddy" movies I've ever seen and the team of Peter Falk and Alan Arkin play off of each other perfectly.
So we have two men here - Sheldon "Shelly" Kornpett (Arkin), an unexciting, mild-mannered New York City dentist (hey, is it me, or is dentistry considered the most B-O-O-R-I-N-G profession in entertainment and in life, just slightly above certified public accountant??) and Vince Ricardo (Falk), a slightly eccentric, very over-the-top CIA operative whose son and daughter are going to be married in just a few days. You can imagine that when dentist meets CIA man, dentist is (naturally!) going to get a little freaked out by the prospect of his daughter marrying into this kind of family (and you'd be right!). Vince innocently asks Shelly for help with a five-minute errand: breaking into Vince's office safe. Shelly reluctantly agrees and after retrieving a mysterious black bag containing stolen U.S. Mint engravings from Vince's office, he's surprised by two armed hit men who also want that bag, and Shelly's life! Chase and shootout in the streets of New York City follows and Vince explains to the frightened Shelly exactly what he does for a living, the mission he's undertaking and the heavy financial consequences that will result if they should fail. Yes, I said THEY, because before Shelly knows it, he's involved in his future in-law's high-stakes caper, his life constantly in danger. Sounds heavy-handed, yes, but when you concentrate long and hard on Arkin's fear and attitude as everything around him unfolds, you realize why you're laughing so much. Who can possibly keep a straight face watching his deadpan facial expression while Honduras' lovably, yet insane General Garcia (played by Richard Libertini) goes into his hand painted face of "Senor Pepe" routine. Definitely the funniest moment of the entire film!
As a buddy picture of two completely different men, the story and the laughs are admitedly cliche and predictable, but you almost don't care because you're laughing so much. This is a film that (happily!) relies more on humorous dialogue and chemistry rather than too much slapstick. What slapstick there is, is accompanied by good dialogue like Shelly's, "Please God, don't let me die on West 31st Street!" and Vince's, "Serpentine, Shelly. Serpentine!". What I've also always found particularly amusing in THE IN-LAWS is that no matter what sort of life and death predicament Vince gets Shelly into, he's always overly apologetic for his actions and heavily appreciative of Shelly's good-sportedness about the whole thing. Sort of like, "Oh man, I know I keep fucking up your life, but I appreciate you good attitute about it." Think about it. It's funny.
Just a quick word on the 2003 remake of this film. In Spring 2003, I saw the original teaser trailer for this with Michael Douglas and Albert Brooks when it was still going under the working title of THE WEDDING PARTY. Anyway, I'm watching the scenerio unfold and I'm thinking that there's something awfully familiar about all this. But like I said, it was called THE WEDDING PARTY, so I didn't exactly put two and two together. Shortly before it was released, Warner Brothers apparently decided to call a spade a space and admit they'd made a flat-out remake and called it what it was. Regardless, my wife dragged me to it and even though I can freely admit that Brooks and Douglas fed off each other fairly well, an unneccesary remake is still an UNNECESSARY REMAKE! When will Hollywood finally understand this???
Favorite line or dialogue:
Vince Ricardo (while driving very fast and recklessly): "You know, I'm such a great driver, it's incomprehensible that they took my license away."
Monday, December 3, 2012
(December 2006, U.S.)
Even the most hardcore of David Lynch fans may find themselves scratching their heads in confusion with his last film INLAND EMPIRE because it may, in fact, be the most incomprehensible film of the famed director's career since ERASERHEAD (1977). So what does that mean? Does it mean that Lynch has finally gone totally off the wall and alienated his fans OR does it mean that he's more of an artistic genius than ever before? It's just my opinion, of course, but I've always suspected the more difficult the content is to understand, them more it must be considered "art". It's my bullshit theory, anyway.
So, in the simplest of terms, the basic story of INLAND EMPIRE can best be described as the story of a Hollywood actress named Nicki Grace (played by Lynch film alumnus Laura Dern) whose real life and the role she's playing in her current film are so intertwined with and complementary of each other that somewhere along the line she no longer can interpret reality from fantasy. Reality and fantasy are mixed with the mysteries of adultry and murder with no clear indication of what's real and what's not (which is rather typical Lynch for those who know his work). In addition, the chronological order of the film is often confused or nonexistent (again, pure Lynch!).
(Forgive me, readers, if I'm unable to be a little clearer on the context of this film, but if you're ever seen it (or plan to see it), you may even give me just credit for doing the best I can do with what Lynch has given us here.)
There is, however, one element of the basic plot that I'd call your attention to which I find particularly facinating. On the first day of Nicki's shoot, she and her co-star Devon Berk (played by Justin Theroux) are informed by their director (played by Jeremy Irons) that the film they're making is, in fact, a remake of another film that went under a different name that was never finished because, as it turned out, the two stars of the original version were MURDERED. Take a moment to think about that premise and tell me it wouldn't make good material for a horror film, if done right. And, although I can't truly explain any of it, there are some rather creepy sequences involving a family sitting in their living room with huge rabbit heads. Take a look...
INLAND EMPIRE can, at the very least, stand out as a very personal art film for David Lynch that was done exactly the way he wanted to. It's the first film that he shot entirely in standard definition digital video, something he apparently always wanted to do. It also had a very limited theatrical release - only one art house theater in all of New York City screened it and I'm happy to say that I was one of its patrons. Bottom line, the best thing that can be said of INLAND EMPIRE is that it's typical David Lynch film fare and that fans of the director will find the film very seductive and very deep. All others who have never understood the director's artistic talent will likely consider the heady surrealism pointless and impenetrable. Too bad for them!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Kingsley Stewart: "ON HIGH AND BLUE TOMORROWS is in fact a remake."
Devon Berk: "It's a remake?"
Devon: "I wouldn't do a remake."
Kingsley: "No, no, no, no. I know. Of course...but you didn't know. The original was under a different name. It was started, but never finished. Now, Freddy's found out that our producers know the history of this film and they have taken it upon themselves not to pass that information along to us. Purposefully. Of course, not me. I assume not to the two of you. True?"
Nikki Grace: "No...absolutely. Nobody told me anything."
Devon: "No, me neither. I thought this was an original script."
Kingsley: "Yeah...well...anyway, the film was never finished."
Nikki: "I don't understand. Why wasn't it finished?"
Kingsley: "Well, after the characters have been filming for some time, they discovered something...something inside the story."
Devon: "Please. Kingsley."
Kingsley: "The two leads were murdered! It was based on a Polish-Gypsy folk-tale. The title in German was "Vier-Sieben: 47". And it was said to be cursed. So it turned out to be."
Saturday, December 1, 2012
(October 2005, U.S.)
Every once in a while, I find myself in the position of having to justify and rationalize the idea of men wanting to (or having to!) sit through a film that would qualify itself as a so-called "chick flick". Curtis Hanson's IN HER SHOES is hardly what I'd call the traditional stupid chick flick. This is a film about grown-ups (well, unless Cameron Diaz can REALLY qualify as one!); grown-up sisters Maggie and Rose (Diaz and Toni Collette) who love each other, hate each other, depend on each other, want to kill each other, and ultimately learn to forgive each other. The rather special twist here is also the relationship these sisters have with their estranged grandmother Ella (played by Shirley Maclaine).
The backstory of the Feller sisters is something that could be claimed right out of a Lifetime movie of the week. Their mother was killed in a car accident when they were little, they were raised by their father and supposedly "wicked" stepmother and they were unwillingly cut off from knowing their grandparents. In their adulthood, Rose (Collette) is a rather nerdy, very responsible lawyer who actually finds it necessary to take a picture of her lover in bed next to her just to confirm the fact that someone as awkward and inadequate as herself actually got laid! Maggie, on the other hand, is a jobless, family-dependent slut who'll fuck just about any guy if it means free drinks (Hey...I think I'm starting to like her!). However, sleeping with Rose's lover out of anger and revenge is the last straw that sends her packing and out of Rose's life. By perfect movie coincidence, this is when Maggie discovers she has a grandmother living in Florida.
As perfect movie cliche would have it, Maggie's intentions with her new reunion with her long-lost grandmother are for nothing more than to scam a free meal ticket out of her until she finally decides to wake up, grow up, get a job and embrace her relationship as a grandaughter for the true value it holds. As movie cliche would also have it, Rose wakes up, as well, and learns how to let go of her inhibitions, her anxieties and to embrace life and love for all of their true value. Her reunion with Ella is a much more pleasant and embracing action for her because given the turmoil these girls went through as children, it would have been real nice to have a grandmother in their lives.
Beyond the cliches that I mention, which by the way, I don't claim to be anything negative here (they do seem to work for the type of human, emotional story being told here), the film makes a very poignant attempt to take a look at the precious (and often fragile) relationships people can have with a grandparent. For myself, it got me thinking of and remembering the relationship I had with my grandmother (my father's mother). I only got to know her for the first thirteen years of my life before she died, but even as an adult in my forties, I often think about her and I've never forgotten what she meant to me and how much I meant to her in return. In fact, only a week ago when my six year-old son and I were watching BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985), he asked me what I would do if I could travel back in time. My immediate answer was that I would go back and see my grandmother (insert "Awwww!" here!). By the way, my grandmother's sister's name was also Ella.
IN HER SHOES in an extremely lighthearted switch from the man who'd previously directed some real hardcore material like THE RIVER WILD (1994) and L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (1997). In fact, it was probably the only reason I showed any curiousity in this film in the first place when I went to see it with my wife at the neighborhood movie theater (that's right, I wasn't dragged. It was actually my idea!). In retrospect, it was the perfect lighthearted contemporary adult comedy/drama that I needed on a rather dreary day in October 2005.
One final note I thought I'd put out there. In this film, Maggie and Rose are supposed to be Jewish girls (last name Feller!). Guys, have you EVER in your life known a Jewish girl that looked like Cameron Diaz??? No, you haven't!!!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Simon Stein: "Does this mean that I'm your bitch?"
Rose Feller: "Do you want to be my bitch?"
Simon: "I have wanted to be your bitch since my first day at Dommel."