Thursday, February 28, 2013
(May 1956, U.S.)
It's a Stanley Kubrick classic double feature, folks! First KILLERS'S KISS and now THE KILLING! Man, I just love it when coincidental shit like this happens! Don't you?
Perhaps the best way to introduce the contents of this film, particularly for those who may be unfamiliar with it, is to immediately mention Quentin Tarantino's RESERVOIR DOGS (1992). This is significant because THE KILLING was a major influence for that film in that it involves the telling of the crminal heist-gone-wrong from the different perspectives of each participant. Those who love Tarantino's film should know where its source of material and inspiration came from. From that, you can get more than a good sense of where young Kubrick was coming from when he adapted the story from a pulp novel known as CLEAN BREAK.
As pure film noir, THE KILLING is as furious and violent as previous gangster pictures like LITTLE CAESAR (1931), THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931) and the original version of SCARFACE (1932) from decades prior. Johnny Clay (played by Sterling Hayden - later in DR. STRANGELOVE) is a veteran criminal planning one last heist before settling down and marrying the woman he loves. His plan is to rob two million dollars from the money-counting room of a racetrack during a featured race. By assembling a team of inside men, a corrupt cop and a sharpshooter, and by employing percise, detailed timing of the entire operation, it would seem the plan couldn't possibly go wrong (but then, where would the fun be in THAT if the plan didn't go wrong?). Through narration, flashbacks and jumps in the story's timeline, we're given the details of every moment of the day that leads up to the robbery in progress, the getaway that follows and the double-crossing at the payoff that makes it all go sour. And as film noir cliche would have it, the problems are ultimately caused by the double-crossing (there's those words again!) femme fatale who wants the money all for herself and her young lover. When it's all over, though, all the team members (even the femme fatale!) are dead except for Johnny Clay. Now that he's free to keep all the loot, his escape plan is all that remains. But you have to figure that it's never going to go according to plan when you watch the man sloppily place two million dollars cash in a second-hand suitcase that looks like it's just aching to pop open. Pop open it does, right on the airport runway with the cash flying in every direction. What's worse is that the mishap is caused by a stupid, little poodle! Like any heist film, you naturally want the bad guy to get away with it. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't. When they don't (as in this case), it's almost tragic to watch them get so damn close to their precious victory, only to have to watch it all fly away with the wind (literally!).
Although a box office dud, THE KILLING fared well with critics and it was finally the film Kubrick needed to get him the proper Hollywood attention that would allow him to proceed with a career that has stood the test of cinematic history. There are reasons Stanley Kubrick has always been my favorite film director, and with each film that I'm able to discuss, it seems I can always find just a little more to appreciate and treasure in his work.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Sherry Peatty (after being shot by her husband): "It isn't fair. I never had anybody but you. Not a real husband. Not even a man. Just a bad joke without a punch line."
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
(September 1955, U.S.)
By all practical accounts, KILLER'S KISS is the first Stanley Kubrick film that is available for viewing in the United States. His very first feature film was called FEAR AND DESIRE (1953) and Kubrick was, apparently, so dissatisfied with it that he chose to withdraw if from circulation. Over the decades, it's managed to disappear from the public view, though I did manage to catch a single airing of it on Turner Classic Movies about a year ago. Like many Kubrick films, it very likely required additional viewings to allow the director's true artistry to come through.
Although being his second full-length feature and released by a major studio (United Artists), it still has all the feeling and flavor of an experimental student film. The film noir story revolving around Davey Gordon (played by Jamie Smith), a welterweight New York boxer at the end of his career, and his relationship with his neighbor, taxi dancer Gloria Price (played by Irene Kane) and her violent employer Vincent Rapallo (played by Frank Silvera) seems barely minimal as a feature-length plot and the dialgoue is clearly post-dubbed. On the other hand, this is the early work of the great Stanley Kubrick and that speaks ten times more than the average Hollywood filmmaker, in my opinion. Still fresh off his early career as a photographer for Look Magazine, Kubrick uses black and white cinematography to capture the hustle and bustle of 1950's New York City, particularly Times Square at night with its lights, traffic, movie theaters and dance halls. The photography is also notable for its location shots in the old Penn Station, which was demolished in 1963. At other times, the outskirts of the city is dead quiet and very foggy to perfectly mix with violent climaxes when Davey is forced to rescue the woman he loves from Rapallo, whom I might also add, is particularly desperate and psychotic as he desperately swings an axe at Davey, trying to kill him without mercy.
There is one particular scene that stands out well involving a long dance solo of a ballerina as Gloria narrates a story of her family to Davey. The story is a rather tragic one that ends in the death of two people, but we're focussed on the passion of the dancer known as Iris to draw us away from tragedy and remind us of how this woman's dancing was her escape from life's disappointing turns.
At best, KILLER'S KISS may be considered an exceptional "warm-up" for Stanley Kubrick's extraordinary talents that would inevitably lead up to early cinematic triumphs as PATHS OF GLORY (1957), LOLITA (1962) and DR. STRANGELOVE (1964).
Favorite line or dialogue:
Vincent Rapallo: "Like the man said, "Can happiness buy money?"
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
(August 1946, U.S.)
If one were to attempt to isolate one particular film that could easily define the genre of American film noir (one that DIDN't have Humphrey Bogart in it), one could very easily choose THE KILLERS, based on an original short story by Ernest Hemingway. It has the hero, the femme fatale (or the "dame"), the cop (or the "copper", the hit men, the psychopath, the not-so-bright bad guy and the criminal mastermind or ring leader.
The film starts our rather simply and quietly with two hit men coming to a small town in New Jersey to kill gas station attendant Ole Andreson (played by Burt Lancaster in his screen debut), aka "the Swede". The Swede's coworker warns him but, strangely, he makes no attempt to flee and they do kill him with repeated gun shots. Life insurance investigator Jim Reardon (played by Edmond O'Brien) is assigned to find and pay the beneficiary of his policy. Tracking down and interviewing the dead man's friends and associates, Reardon doggedly pieces together his story with the help of police Lieutenant Sam Lubinsky (played by Sam Levene), a close, longtime friend of the Swede. Through story flashbacks, we learn of the Swede's life as a former boxer and a petty criminal. We also learn how he unconditionally loved the "dame" by the name of Kitty Collins (played by Ava Gardner), even to the point of serving a three year "stretch" (that means prison sentence) for a stolen jewelry heist she's accused of. I tell you, that's either real devoted love or real incredible stupidity. Then again, the character of Swede doesn't come off as a particularly bright man, even if he's meant to be the hero or protaganist of the film. Perhaps it's his down-on-his-luck desperation that makes his character even just a tad likeable. Perhaps it's just the talent that Burt Lancaster possessed to pull it off that way.
As previously mentioned, THE KILLERS has all the textbook definitions for quintessential film noir, including the final resolution that puts the femme fatale at the center of the cause for all matters that have gone down. In other words, it was HER all along, and like most female characters of the genre, audience very likely don't feel a bit sorry for her. It's even rather pathetic to listen to Kitty try to save her own ass by begging her husband on his deathbed to use his last words to declare her innocence in the big crime. Really, some woman just have no sense of "Tammy Wynette" (stand by your man!).
It's interesting to note that with regard to the adaptation of Hemingway's original story, only the first twenty minutes of the film which shoes the arrival of the two contract killers, and the murder of "Swede" Andreson, is a close adaptation of Hemingway's work. The rest of the film, showing Reardon's investigation of the murder, is wholly original. Still, I suppose attaching the name of Ernest Hemingway to any film title doesn't hurt its chances at the box office and with the public taste. Apparently, THE KILLERS was also one of the few films from any of his works that Hemingway himself genuinely admired.
Favorite line or dialogue:
R.S. Kenyon: "Why don't you take a good rest. I must say you've earned it. This is Friday...don't come in 'til Monday."
Sunday, February 24, 2013
(July 1948, U.S.)
John Huston's KEY LARGO was the fourth, and perhaps the best film that paired real life Hollywood couple Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall on screen together. It was a July release and by today's movie standards, it might even have qualified as a summer blockbuster, given it's star power and its seaside locale. Who knows.
Like many of the films of Bogart's career, he's up to his typical performance forms and standards in KEY LARGO as in many other films. As Frank McCloud, a former World War II major who's just passing through Key Largo, Florida, he's charming and brave, but not stupid in that he knows when to properly restrain himself against the wrath and physical power of the bad guy, in this case a notorious, has-been gangster named Johnny Rocco (played by Edward G. Robinson). Rocco and his gang of thugs have taken over the Key Largo hotel in question until they can make their escape to Cuba by sea later in the evening. However, an oncoming hurricane threatens not only their plans, but makes matters a whole lot more tense and terrifying for the hostages in the hotel, including Bacall's character. The hurricane is practically another character in the fear it instills in a rough gangster who's clearly not afraid of anything or anyone. Watch closely Robinson's face of fear during the deadliest part of the hurricane as he slowly realizes it's a threat he cannot physically control simply by brandishing his gun in retalliation.
Like traditional film noir, KEY LARGO is hardly dependent on dark shadows, dangerous alleys or overly-excessive violence. The danger of the story and the situation is perfectly laid out, though, through not only the movie stars of the time and their performances, but of also the physical threat of mother nature's wrath and the obvious inability of human beings to control the events surrounding them. It's pure classic black and white cinema as only the great Humphrey Bogart could be expected to deliver to those who appreciate his work.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Frank McCloud: "You don't like it, do you Rocco, the storm? Show it your gun, why don't you? If it doesn't stop, shoot it."
Friday, February 22, 2013
(November 1952, U.S.)
Everybody put your TCM (Turner Classic Movies) hats of appreciation on your heads because the next six (count 'em, SIX) films I discuss will be black and white classics; five of them being of the dark film noir genre.
KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL is a simple enough story of four robbers hold up an armored truck, getting away with over a million dollars in cash. Joe Rolfe (played by John Payne), a down-on-his-luck flower delivery truck driver is accused of being involved simply by being at the wrong place at the wrong time and is roughly interrogated by local police. Released due to lack of evidence, Joe, following the clues to a Mexican resort in Tijuana, decides to look for the men who set him up both to clear his name and to exact revenge. What he doesn’t know is that the heist involves a retired policeman who's also intent on revenge and whose own daughter happens to be Joe's love interest. Simple enough, I suppose, yet complicated. That's what can make great film noir come alive. And yet, if you study certain plot aspects of the story, like the criminals intentionally never knowing each other's name so they can't inform on each other, you'll know where filmmaker Quentin Tarantino got some of his inspiration to make RESERVOIR DOGS (1992). Another source of inspiration for that same film shall be discussed very shortly.
Actor John Payne, who fans of Christmas films will best know for his role as Fred Gailey in MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947), will find this role to be quite the opposite side of the coin in character. Payne delivers an impressive portrayal of an unrelenting outsider who's not afraid to crack the criminal's ring. The film is brutal, hard-edged, and unflinching, but it's also livened by a distinct streak of optimism in that jusitce will be done in the end and the good guy will clear his name and win over the girl. This is also an early film for actor Lee Van Cleef, whom fans will know from spaghetti westerns as FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965) and THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966), as well as John Carpenter's ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981).
Film noir crime films as this can, admitedly, become rather repetitious after a while, so one finds it necessary to pick and choose carefully which films deliver something, anything that strays aways from the typical cliches of the genre. Yes, you want the dark shadows, the violence and the sexy "dames", but if there's even one strikingly original plot point or event that can separate one (or some) from the rest, then it's a film worth watching...particularly late at night in the dark.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Joe Rolfe: "Look, you're a nice girl, but in case you're thinking of mothering me, forget it! I'm no stray dog you can pick up, and I like my neck without a collar. Now get lost!"
Helen Foster: "Now I'm supposed to be hurt. Maybe even cry. But I won't. I think you're in trouble, and I'm going to help you."
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
(June 1993, U.S.)
Hard to believe it's been 20 years, but...
During the Summer of 1993, I'd never seen such fever, excitement and mania for a brand new summer adventure blockbuster movie since Steven Spielberg's own E.T. in 1982. Key words here are BRAND NEW; not a sequel or a remake (not at that time, anyway). That summer I was working in a local book store while trying to find a more permanent career position and let me just tell you that with the new film came a dinosaur craze like I hadn't seen before. The paperback version of Michael Crichton's original novel was selling like hotcakes and parents were buying any and all books on dinosaurs for their children to read. Even before Crichton's book was originally published, many studios had already begun bidding to acquire the motion picture rights. Yes, it seemed that even if JURASSIC PARK had sucked, it still would have been an incrediby high-grossing movie sensation.
Although it's understandably easy and tempting to classify JURASSIC PARK as a monster movie, this tale of the fictional island Isla Nublar near Costa Rica's Pacific Coast, where a billionaire philanthropist of the InGen Corporation named John Hammond (played by the great Richard Attenborough) and a small team of genetic scientists have created an amusement park of actual cloned dinosaurs, authentically plays out not only the very real possibilities of the cloning procedures but also explores the very real dangerous powers of bringing back dinosaurs in the 20th Century to live amongst mankind. As mathematician and chaos theorist Dr. Ian Malcom (played by Jeff Goldblum) clearly puts it, "God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs." With Dr. Malcom are paleontologists Dr. Alan Grant (played by Sam Neill) and Dr. Ellie Sattler (played by Laura Dern) who are brought to the island for the weekend in the hopes that they'll professionally endorse the new theme park. As in many cliche tales of terror, all seems fine and good with things in this little world of the unknown and the awesome...until something goes wrong.
Once the viewer is brought past the technical and educational facts of dinosaurs and how they can be (fictitiously) created, then the real fun and the real terror begins. Like JAWS (1975), it's nearly an hour before the real action of survival against the monsters begins, and it's absolutely terrifying that it all begins with the simple thump of the approaching menace. One can feel the true fear of what's coming to get us simply by watching the electrical fences fail all over the park as well as watching a plastic cup of water in a car ripple as the monster's footsteps gets closer and closer, louder and louder. Like the arrival of KING KONG himself, the first time we see the great Tyrannosaurus Rex, we know bad things are about to happen and people are going to get killed. This is a truly scary action sequence that doesn't even require any of John Williams' brilliant score to help it along. This particular scene also invokes an observation I've maintained for sometime in that as gentle a man as Steven Spielberg is, particularly with children, he never fails to put them in the most horrifying situations of fear, peril and survival. Consider these examples:
- Alex Kintner killed by the great white shark in JAWS.
- Barry Guiler taken from his mother by aliens in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND.
- The Freeling children scared out of their wits and taken away in POLTERGEIST.
- Children abused and made as slaves in INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM.
- Young Celie raped and abused in THE COLOR PURPLE.
- Young Jimmy suffering the abuses of war in EMPIRE OF THE SUN.
- The Panning children kidnapped by pirates in HOOK.
You see what I'm getting at here?? My son is seven years-old and I just know that one day he'll absolutely love JURASSIC PARK. But for right now, the scene of those two poor children getting attacked by a ferocious meat-eating dinosaur would surely keep him up for a few nights.
JURASSIC PARK is surely a CGI lover's dream-come-true! Having taken the first steps that had already been done in James Cameron's THE ABYSS (1989) and TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY (1991) and bringing them to the next level, we are truly witnessing the miracle of a species of animal long-since-extinct come back to life again on the big screen. And as I mentioned earlier, this is not brought to us as some cheap monster movie. This is a very convincing fictional tale of man and beast, the scientific realities of what is possible and the things that can go horribly wrong when the power of such possibilities is unleashed on the world. Like other Spielberg efforts before it, JURASSIC PARK is a perfect eye-popping, mind-bending, kick-out-the-fucking-jams thrill ride of the summer blockbuster genre. The film perfectly delivers on its promise to show us all dinosaurs and to show them early and often. They are, indeed, a visual triumph of special effects artistry, with some of Spielberg's best sequences of sustained awe and sheer terror since JAWS. And like that great film of 1975, there probably isn't very much more I could say about JURASSIC PARK that any loyal fan doesn't already know. I will say, though, that the two sequels that followed, THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK (1997) and JURASSIC PARK III (2001) did very little for me. It was a simple case of SSDM - same shit, different movie! Heaven help us, but JURASSIC PARK IV is coming soon!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Dr. Ian Malcom (to the security camera in the tour car): "Ah, now eventually you do plan to have DINOSAURS on your, on your dinosaur tour, right? Hello? Hello? Yes?"
John Hammond: "I really hate that man."
Sunday, February 17, 2013
(December 1961, U.S.)
JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBERG...the title says it all; the history, the drama and the justice of bringing Nazi Germany war criminals to trial. It's a courtroom drama like no other because we're already familiar with it's historical importance and legacy and we know we won't exactly be on the edge of our seats wondering if the verdict will come in guilty or not guilty. Instead, we'll get a filmmaker's vision and version of what and how it happened day upon day and the lives it affected in not only the American judges who would administer justice, but in the lives of Germans who were left to deal with and live amongst the post-war conditions in the city of Nuremberg and the horrible shame they had to endure with their country's stigmatic legacy. One of the more repeated pieces of dialogue you'll hear in this film that quickly grabs your attention is that despite the horrifying murders of over six million Jews throughout Europe at the hands of Nazi Germany, just about every German citizen claimed complete ignorance of what was actually going on. True? False? We may never know.
Stanley Kramer's film depicts the trial of specific judges who served before and through the Nazi regime in Germany, and who either passively, actively or in a combination of both, embraced and enforced laws, which led to the judicial acts of sexual sterilization, imprisonment or execution of men and women for their religions, their racial and ethnic identities, for their political beliefs or even for the state of their physical handicaps or disabilities. The incidents and events which form the foundation of the film's plot are largely concerned with the domestic situation in Germany prior to World War II. A key thread in the film's plot involves a "race defilement" trial known as the "Feldenstein case". In this fictionalized case, based on the real life Katzenberger Trial, an elderly Jewish man was tried for a relationship with an "Aryan" (German) woman that became legally defined as a "crime" under the Nuremberg Laws, and put to death in 1935. Using this, and other examples, the film explores and wrestles with issues of personal conscience, responsibility in the face of unjust laws and personal behavior in the face of widespread societal immorality. The film is also notable for being one of the first few motion pictures that actuall does NOT shy away from showing actual footage filmed by American and British soldiers after the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps. Shown in court by prosecuting attorney Colonel Tad Lawson (played Richard Widmark), the footage of huge piles of naked corpses laid out in rows and bulldozed into large pits was exceptionally gruesome for such a mainstream film of its day.
I think even with my brief, but detailed, paragraph above, you can get more than a good sense of what JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBERG offers as historical drama. That being said, let's start to focus on the film in terms of players and performance. This is an all-star cast of the some of the greatest talents of the time, including Spencer Tracy as Chief Judge Dan Haywood, Burt Lancaster as Dr. Ernst Janning, the above-mentioned Richard Widmark and an absolutely electrifying performance by Maximilian Schell as Hans Rolfe, the defense attorney who examines the questions of individual complicity in crimes committed by the state. For example, he raises such controversial issues as the support of U.S. Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. for eugenics practices, the Hitler-Vatican Reichskonkordat in 1933, the Nazi-Soviet Pact in 1939 that allowed Hitler to start World War II and Winston Churchill's own praise for Adolf Hitler. History dictates that there is some truth to these matters, but nonetheless, does not exonerate the part such men as these on trial played in the systematic execution of millions. One must take a moment to appreciate the role that Schell is taking on in that he must somehow, someway bring about a certain degree of humanity and innocence to these men for their actions during the time of Hitler's dictatorship. Because we know that none of his desperate legal efforts will work in the end, it simply makes Schell's performance with such a challenging role all the more important and significant. And let me also just say with regards to Judy Garland as Irene Hoffman...well, you all know that I don't care for musicals, so when it comes to the Yellow Brick Road, the meeting in St. Louis and the Easter Parade, Judy Garland can (respectfully) kiss my ass! However, I absolutely must give her credit her delivering a dark and emotional performance as a witness who fears her forced testimony may turn the case against the judges in favor of the prosecution. I would also point out that this was William Shatner's (STAR TREK) film debut.
As mentioned earlier, one of the ongoing and repeated claims in this film is "we didn't know" by too many of the German people, almost to the point where you shake your head at such pathetic ignorance and stupidity. Even by the end of the film, the accused Dr. Janning himself concedes to Judge Dan Haywood that his ruling was the right and just decision, but also claims that he, and all of the other judges on trial, had no idea that the outcome of their initial behavior would be so horrific. Spencer Tracy sums it all up simply and perfectly by replying, "You knew you were doing wrong the first time you condemned an innocent man."
Favorite line or dialogue:
Judge Dan Haywood: "Janning, to be sure, is a tragic figure. We believe he loathed the evil he did. But compassion for the present torture of his soul must not beget forgetfulness of the torture and death of millions by the government of which he was a part. Janning's record and his fate illuminate the most shattering truth that has emerged from this trial. If he and the other defendants were all depraved perverts, if the leaders of the Third Reich were sadistic monsters and maniacs, these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake or other natural catastrophes. But this trial has shown that under the stress of a national crisis, men, even able and extraordinary men, can delude themselves into the commission of crimes and atrocities so vast and heinous as to stagger the imagination. No one who has sat through this trial can ever forget. The sterilization of men because of their political beliefs...the murder of children...how easily that can happen! There are those in our country today, too, who speak of the protection of the country. Of survival. The answer to that is...survival as what? A country isn't a rock. And it isn't an extension of one's self. It's what it stands for, when standing for something is the most difficult! Before the people of the world, let it now be noted in our decision here that this is what WE stand for...justice, truth...and the value of a single human being!"
Saturday, February 16, 2013
(December 1973, U.S.)
Beginning in the late 1960s and continuing right on into the '70s, the "rockumentary" (documentary on music and musicians) were well known in movie theaters. By the 1980s, they'd become part of the assortment of midnight shows at theaters in New York City or perhaps in college towns, which is how I got to see them for the first time. The great Jimi Hendrix hadn't been dead just over three years before this film on his career and music was released to those who'd loved and worshipped the man and his talents. Before the videotape, the DVD and before VH-1 ever broadcasted a single episode of "Behind the Music", films like JIMI HENDRIX, GIMMIE SHELTER (The Rolling Stones), PINK FLOYD AT POMPEII, WOODSTOCK and THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT (The Who) were the only format in which you'd get a behind the scenese look at your favorite rock stars. Still, even after all these decades, films as these hold up well, in my opinion, for those who just love their classic rock stars!
The film about JIMI HENDRIX contains concert footage from 1967 to 1970, including the Monterey Pop Festival, the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, Woodstock and the Berkeley concert in which he famously set his guitar on fire. The film also includes frank, relaxed interviews with Hendrix' contemporaries, family, friends and fellow musicians as Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, Little Richard, Lou Reed and Pete Townshend. For its time, the film is a fine visual example of how a biography can be done. For the Hendrix fan (as I am obviously!), it's an exciting way to see some of his best performances and spectacular guitar artistry. Jimi, as any fan would tell, didn't merely play the guitar: he had a relationship with it, he stroked it, he even fucked it, and when he was finished with it, he'd smash it and he'd sacrificed it. Sure, it was very easy to accuse Jimi of completely ripping off the insance stage gimmicks of Pete Townshend, but Jimi undenyably had his own style of gimmicks, though he himself seemed to dispise the use of the word "gimmick". The whole world, as far as he was concered, was one big gimmick to Jimi.
Despite the time period for rock and psychedelic music, the film concentrates solely on who Jimi Hendrix was and his incredible guitar playing rather than get bogged down and distracted with stories of drug use, mismanagement and the circumstances concerning his untimely death in 1970. Instead, you get a brief sense of the person and the passion behind him and his music. Jimi was apparently very self-conscious about his appearance, his looks and his personality. You'd never guess that such insecurities existed in a man who could take such perfect command of tracks like "Rock Me Baby", "Purple Haze", "Like a Rolling Stone" and his own version of "The Star Spangled Banner".
Twice Rolling Stone magazine conducted and published a poll of the top 100 greatest guitarists of all time. Both times Jimi Hendriz was voted number one! That's quite an honor for a man who only got to shine in the spotlight for about three years of his life, especially when stacked up against other guitar legends as Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, David Gilmour (my personal guitar favorite) and Eddie Van Halen. Did he deserve that honor? Watch Jimi play, listen to the music and decide for yourself. I must confess, though, as much of a guitar legend and master that he was, I don't particulary think that Jimi Hendrix could SING worth a damn. Perhaps it didn't even matter, not when you watch what he could do with a guitar!
By the way, just to share a little something that's always been on my mind; you've likely heard or seen Jimi's above-mentioned guitar version of "The Star Spangled Banner" that he performed at Woodstock in 1969. It was raw, it was twisted and it was angry, which inevitably drew much controversy from those who didn't appreciate a distorted verson of our country's national anthem. Anyway, cut to 32 years later when Madison Square Garden hosted the big Concert for New York following the terrible events of September 11, 2001. I always thought that it would have been a perfectly poetic moment if, just before David Bowie opened the show, they had shown Jimi's famous Woodstock performance of "The Star Spangled Banner" on a huge screen for all to see. It would have perfectly raw, twisted and angry, which is what many Americans were undoubtly feeling at the time following the attack. Can't you just picture the entire audience at the Garden losing their minds in a bizarre moment of American patriotism with that one? Anyway, that's my thought on the subject.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Pete Townshend: "I think in many respects he's, he changed the sound of rock far more than the Beatles, you know. You know, they brought song writing to rock and roll, but Jimi changed the sound of the guitar. He turned it into an instrument, which, alright, people like Buddy Guy and T-Bone Walker and Chuck Berry had done previous to that, but none had ever brought it out and sold it to the public, and sold it to people like me, you know, who now believe in it as an instrument. People like Eric Clapton were too ethnic. You know, they kept themselves to themselves and they had fixed groups. But Jimi was unashamedly outward, you know, and wanted to reach as many people as possible."
Favorite song performed in the film: "Rock Me Baby".
Friday, February 15, 2013
(December 1991, U.S.)
From 1987 through 1991, Kevin Costner was on a real hot streak with some incredible films that, in my opinion, ended with Oliver Stone's JFK. The key thing to remember about watching JFK is that it's a political film to be studied and enjoyed as an entertaining motion picture and not, I repeat NOT a basis of accurate historical fact.
Ever since the historic assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, the facts, the stories, and the conspiracy theories have been discussed, pulled apart and shoved down the throats of Americans who not only experienced that tragic period in American history firsthand, but with future generations who would learn about what did or did not happen on that fateful day. Stone's film examines the events leading to the assassination John Kennedy and the alleged subsequent cover-up through the eyes of former New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison (played perfectly by Kevin Costner). Garrison filed charges against New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw (played by Tommy Lee Jones) for his alleged participation in a conspiracy to assassinate the President, for which Lee Harvey Oswald (played Gary Oldman) was found responsible by two government investigations: the Warren Commission and the House Select Committee on Assassinations (which concluded that there was another assassin shooting with Oswald). This much, as a bare minimum, is certain fact that has never been denied or challenged. The film itself was co-adapted by Stone from the books "On the Trail of the Assassins" by Jim Garrison and "Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy" by Jim Marrs. Again, it's important to understand that the film is based on only two sources in a world of conspiracy theories that very likely would draw out sources from all over the world. Stone himself described the account used for his film as a "counter-myth" to the Warren Commission's "fictional myth".
What is fact and what is fiction in JFK? How much are you willing to believe or refute? How much controversy are you willing to accept or deny? You're more than welcome to believe everything Oliver Stones suggests for a running time of over three hours, but someone like Walter Kronkite may have walked up to you, hit you in the head and told you that you're were being brainwashed. Then again, everything in the film may be dead-on which would suggest that the American government behind the Kennedy administration was simply pure evil. What I'm trying to tell you here is that questions, controversy and the solving of the Kennedy assassination mystery are besides the point in that JFK is a film to be savored and appreciated as a body of work by a truly gifted filmmaker. This is a riveting thriller with, in my opinion, some of the best uses of camera edits, cuts and flashbacks I've ever seen in any film. From the moment the film begins with the clock ticking to those fatal shots that will change American history to the final resolution of the verdict in Garrison's case against Clay Shaw, you're literally on the edge of your seat waiting to see what will happen next, even if the events of the film are dealing with historical moments you're likley already familiar with. In most cases, any film that generates a tremedous amount of heat with the media and critics is likely something to be worth watching. JFK became embroiled in heated controversy and polarized film critics. Upon the film's theatrical release, many major American newspapers ran editorials accusing Stone of taking liberties with historical facts, including the film's implication that President Lyndon B. Johnson was part of a coup d'état to kill Kennedy. Could that have been true? Did Stone go too far with that one? Who knows. I'm sure I heard George W. Bush accused of far worse during his two tragic terms in office.
The film's all-star cast is one of the best I've seen since any of those disaster films of the 1970s. Each high profile performer give his or her all in a film that demands high concentration in a story depicting a hard historical topic. Beyond Costner's Garrison, which truly dominates the film, I would call specific attention the character of "X" (played by Donald Sutherland). His character is not only key in providing the crucial information that Garrison requires for his research and his case, but it's also the intense nature of his voice and character that keeps you listening to every damn word he's saying during his brief, but perfect cameo appearance. From the moment he and Garrison meet in Washington D.C. to the moment their conversation is over, you're hooked by every word that appears to condemn our American government deeper and deeper into the political pit of Hell.
So, let's recap - as a film of historical accuracy, Oliver Stone's JFK may be accused of being truly dubious. As pure filmmaking, though, it's electric and succeeds in cramming a ton of hard information and excitement into its long running time and making great use of its truly outstanding cast. This is the formula that makes JFK Stone's best film since PLATOON (1986). Dare I even say it's the BEST film of his career??
SELECTED favorite dialogue (because I could choose just ONE for this particular post!):
"X": "After I came back, I asked myself, why was I, the chief special officer, selected to travel to the South Pole at that time that any number of others could have done? And I wondered if it was because one of my routine duties if I had been in Washington would have been to arrange for additional security in Texas, so I decided to check it out. And sure enough, someone had told the 112th Military Intelligence Group at Fourth Army Headquarters at Fort Sam Houston in Texas to stand down that day, over the protests of the Unit Commander, Colonal Rike. This is significant because it is standard operating procedure, especially in a known hostile city like Dallas."
"X": "We would have arrived days ahead, studied the route, checked all the buildings. Never would have allowed all those wide-open windows overlooking Dealy Plaza, never! We would have had our own snipers covering the area the minute a window went up! They would have been on the radio. We would have been watching the building, checking for baggage, coat under the arms. Never would have allowed a man to open an umbrella along the way! Never would have allowed the car to slow down to eleven miles an hour, much less take that unusual curve at Houston and Elm! You would have felt an army presence on the streets that day. But none of this happened. It was a violation of the most basic protection code we have, and it's an indication of a massive plot based in Dallas."
"X": "The organizing principle of any society, Mr. Garrison, is for war. The authority of the state over its people resides in its war powers. Kennedy wanted to end the Cold War in his second term. He wanted to call off the moon race and cooperate with the Soviets. He signed a treaty to ban nuclear testing. He refused to invade Cuba in 1962. He set out to withdraw from Vietnam. But all that ended on the 22nd of November, 1963."
"X": "Well that's the real question, isn't it? Why? The how and the who is just scenery for the public. Oswald, Ruby, Cuba, the Mafia. Keeps 'em guessing like some kind of parlor game, prevents 'em from asking the most important question, why? Why was Kennedy killed? Who benefited? Who has the power to cover it up? Who?"
"X": "You've become a significant threat to the national security structure. They would have killed you already but you got a lot of light on you. Instead they're trying to destroy your credibility. They already have in many circles in this town. Be honest, your only chance is to come up with a case. Something, anything. Make arrests, stir the shit storm, hope to reach a point of critical mass that'll start a chain reaction of people coming forward, then the government will crack. Remember, fundamentally, people are suckers for the truth and the truth is on your side, Bubba. I just hope you get a break."
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
(December 1996, U.S.)
According to the Old Testament, there are Ten Commandments for those of Jewish faith and practice to follow as law. There should be eleven! The Eleventh Commandement should state, "Thou shalt go to the movies and then a Chinese restaurant on every Christmas Day". Think I'm kidding? This is what Jews DO every Christmas Day! It's practically law! In my (younger) youth, I actually spent Christmas Day on the ski slopes and beleive it or not, it was crowded there, too. When you go to the movies on Christmas Day, you can pretty much count on extra aggrevation due to the incredibly high volume of high-demanding, bitchy people. These conditions are guaranteed to bring out the intolerance in anyone who has a low threshold for such matters (namely ME!). So what's my point with all this? My point is that JERRY MAGUIRE is one of the very few times (less than five, actually) that I've ever been to the movies on Christmas Day surrounded by a bunch of annoying Jewish people. Was the film worth it? Well, it was a great movie, no doubt, but nothing that couldn't have waited a week or two into the new year.
I've mentioned before that with some extreme exceptions like COCKTAIL (1988) and FAR AND AWAY (1992), I have this rather sick weakness for many Tom Cruise films. Many of them are just pure guilty pleasures. By the end of 1996, Tom Cruise was still riding high and riding hot from MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE the previous summer. As a glossy, sharp, snappy, fast-talking, wise-cracking, bullshit artist, the character of sports agent Jerry Maguire seems unmistakenly perfect for a man of Cruise's persona and attitude. Just as a sample of his character, when you hear him say, "I will not rest until I have you holding a Coke, wearing your own shoe, playing a Sega game FEATURING YOU, while singing your own song in a new commercial, STARRING YOU, broadcast during the Superbowl, in a game that you are winning, and I will not SLEEP until that happens!", you know perfectly well that's Tom Cruise you're listening to and that the role was meant just for him. Jerry Maguire is great at his job, he's loved by all who know him and he's engaged to a beautiful woman (played by Kelly Preston) who demands that he never stop fucking her! It all sounds good, for sure, but it's also the perfect setup for a man who's about to lose it all - his job, his clients, his fiancée, his confidence, his self-respect and his upward mobility. So the solution becomes how is Jerry to get it all back, or some degree of it, and in the process, learn something new about himself and his career. This is perfect film cliche for this type of story, but it's what the viewer expects and wants.
So in the end, Jerry Maguire is left with his own sports agency with the one client of Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Rod Tidwell (played rather loudly by Cuba Gooding, Jr.) who's so full of himself that he gives words like ego and cocky brand new meanings. The only other person on his team is single mother Dorothy Boyd (played by Renée Zellweger), who, of course, Jerry will inevitably fall in love with when he realizes she "completes him", but not until after practically running scared shitless due to his issues with intimacy (seriously, why women put up with men is beyond me!). And not that I consider him such a major part of this film, but can I talk a moment about Jerry O'Connell as quarterback Frank Cushman? This was the first time I'd seen this guy since STAND BY ME (1986). One minute, he's this pudgy little twerp running for his life from a train on his way to see a dead body with his friends and the next he's this well-built, handsome man who would inevitably be fucking Rebecca Romijn (how DO these things happen??). Anyway, just thought I'd mention that.
Throughout the film, JERRY MAGUIRE can seem a bit over-the-top in its depiction of the high speed, high stakes world of professional sports agents and what they must constantly do to make their living. Is it simply drama? There was a time I thought so until I saw a news piece on CBS Sunday Morning about real life sports agent Leigh Steinberg, whom Cruise's character is directly based on (Steinberg acted as technical consultant for the film). Director Cameron Crowe clearly displays his strong interest for not only the profession he's depicting, but also in his characters that demand only the strongest of passions and commitment. Mr. Crusie surely delivers it all for this film and, guilty pleasure or not, it's a Tom Cruise film I'm proud to say is worthy of my film collection and my blog writing. Though I must confess, during the scene where he's driving alone in his car and switches the radio station during the Rolling Stones "Bitch"...well, that still doesn't sit quite right with me. What were you THINKING, Tom??? You don't turn off the Stones!!!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Rod Tidwell: "That's what I'm gonna do for you. God bless you, Jerry. But this is what you gonna do for me. You listenin', Jerry?"
Jerry Maguire: "Yeah, what, what, what can I do for you, Rod? You just tell me what can I do for you?"
Rod: "It's a very personal, a very important thing. Hell, it's a family motto. Are you ready, Jerry?"
Jerry: "I'm ready."
Rod: "I wanna make sure you're ready, brother. Here it is: Show me the money. Oh-ho-ho! SHOW! ME! THE! MONEY! A-ha-ha! Jerry, doesn't it make you feel good just to say that! Say it with me one time, Jerry!"
Jerry: "Show you the money."
Rod: "Oh, no, no. You can do better than that, Jerry! I want you to say it with you, with meaning, brother! Hey, I got Bob Sugar on the other line; I bet you he can say it!"
Jerry: "Yeah, yeah, no, no, no. Show you the money."
Rod: "No! Not show you! Show me the money!"
Jerry: "Show me the money!"
Rod: "Yeah! Louder!"
Jerry: "Show me the money!"
Rod: "Yes, but, brother, you got to yell that shit!"
Jerry: "SHOW ME THE MONEY!"
Rod: "I need to feel you, Jerry!"
Jerry: "SHOW ME THE MONEY!"
Rod: "Jerry, you got to yell!"
Jerry: "SHOW ME THE MONEY! SHOW ME THE MONEY!"
Rod: "Do you love this black man!"
Jerry: "I LOVE THE BLACK MAN! SHOW ME THE MONEY!"
Rod: "I love black people!"
Jerry: "I LOVE BLACK PEOPLE!"
Rod: "Who's your motherfucker, Jerry?"
Jerry: "YOU'RE MY MOTHERFUCKER!"
Rod: "Whatcha gonna do, Jerry? "
Jerry: "SHOW ME THE MONEY!"
Rod: "Unh! Congratulations, you're still my agent."
Exhausting, isn't it?
Monday, February 11, 2013
(October 1927, U.S.)
Just how good would you consider your imagination and appreciation of cinema history to be? I've come to realize over time that I very likely lose the attention of a small portion of my readers whenever I discuss a film that dates back even before their grandparents were born. However, it's impossible to ignore the significance of certain films and their place in history. Therefore, this particular film deserves mention, honor and respect not only from this blog, but from those who claim true film appreciation. For the sake of absolute fact and clarity, THE JAZZ SINGER was the first feature-length motion picture with synchronized dialogue sequences. Its initial release heralded the commercial ascendance of the "talkies" and the inevitable decline of the classic silent film era. Despite this great achievement, it should also be noted that the film only features a specific portion of actual dialogue. Most of the film is still actually silent.
As a kid, I experienced two misconceptions concerning this film. The first was that I thought the rather campy 1980 Neil Diamond version of THE JAZZ SINGER was, in fact, an original film and not a remake (the fourth film version, actually). The second was that I actually thought Al Jolson was a black man because the only pictures I'd ever seen of the man was when he was wearing his infamous blackface makeup. Yes, it looked just that convincing to a kid who didn't know any better. Take a look...
During a time of Hollywood show business that was primarily run by Jewish men who'd come to the United States as immigrants, THE JAZZ SINGER is one of the most Jewish tales I've ever seen on film. It tells the story of young Jakie Rabinowitz blatantly defying the traditions of his devout Jewish family by singing popular jazz tunes in a local beer hall. Punished by his strict father, a neighborhood cantor, Jakie runs away from home in defiance. Some years later, now under the name of Jack Robin, he's become a very talented jazz singer with an eye towards national fame. He slowly builds his career as an entertainer and falls in love with a woman who's not Jewish (a SHIKSA - OY!!), but his professional ambitions ultimately come into conflict with the demands of his home and heritage as his father lies in bed dying from an undisclosed illness and a broken heart over the estranged relationship with his son. Although someone like myself doesn't relate too well to the ancient traditions of Jewish faith and practices, the conflict between personal ambition and loyalties to honor and family are easily appreciated by even a world-class cynic such as I.
In contrast to the inevitable racial jokes and innuendos brought out in its subsequent persistence in early sound film, the blackface imagery in THE JAZZ SINGER is truly at the core of the film's central theme as an artistic and expressive exploration of the notion of ethnic duplicity within the American identity. The meaning and function of the blackface in this film is intimately involved with Jack Robin's own precious Jewish heritage combined with his desire to make his mark in mass American pop culture, much the same as the Jewish man Al Jolson and the Jewish Warner brothers themselves were doing in real life. The film's apparant thesis is that, in order to truly succeed in life, a man such as Jack must first acknowledge his ethnic self and the past traditions that have come to define him. It can be argued, therefore, that the blackface serves as the screen's symbol of Jack's compounded identity issue and manages to hold all the identities together without freezing them in any singular relationship. This sort of philosophy may not hold the same relevance in a world that's become so damn politically correct, but again, you need to reach back into the past with your imagination and consideration for a film that breaks ground on so many levels.
Lastly, using that imagination and appreciation I keep insisting upon, try and envision a premiere of such a film back in the glorious days when movies were still relatively new. By today's standards, of course, this would be an insignificant Friday night opening at the local, impersonal neighborhood multiplex. However, the premiere for THE JAZZ SINGER was set for October 6, 1927, at the Warner Brothers flagship theater in New York City. The specific choice of that date was pure Jewish show business in that the following day was Yom Kippur, the sacred Jewish holiday around which much of the film's plot revolves. Here's what that spectacularly crowded scene looked like...
And so, with the introduction of one film, "talkies" were born and the motion picture industry changed forever. THAT, my friends, impresses me a whole hell of a lot more than the latest bullshit digital 3D effects on any screen!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Jack Robin: "Wait a minute, wait a minute, you ain't heard nothin' yet! Wait a minute I tell ya, you ain't heard nothin'!"
Yes, those words said it all!
Sunday, February 10, 2013
(June 1978, U.S.)
Let's start by taking a long, good look at this teaser poster for JAWS 2 (a poster that I own, by the way). Look at the rich orange color emanating from the sun into the sky and onto the water below. Look closely at the seemingly rough currents and the lonely, yet menacing shark fin that rises and coasts along with it. Read how the new film promises to be "ALL NEW" and that it will be hitting theaters this summer. Finally, read the film's tagline, "Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water...,", which has become perhaps the most famous tagline in film history, parodied and homaged ever since we first heard it. I ask you all to go through this silly exercise to try and give you an idea of what fans of the original JAWS very likely experienced with the promise of more shark terror, more shark fun and a return to the village of Amity (though much of the beach sequences were filmed in Florida) and the characters they came to know three years prior. This is what fans were promised, anyway. Whether they truly got it or not depends solely on the viewer's perspective.
So, let's address the real big question right away. Is JAWS 2 as scary as the original JAWS? Of course not! Is it as much fun to watch as the original? Not really. Did it gross as much money as the original? Not likely. Is JAWS 2 a completely disasterous sequel? No, not at all (that honor we can give to JAWS 3D and JAWS: THE REVENGE). Exactly how can one classify JAWS 2, then? Simply put, JAWS 2 may be considered an almost scientific exercise in Hollywood show business mediocrity for its time. In other words, not too great and not too bad, either. To it's credit, the first sequel of the franchise offers some exciting and original sequences such as the shark chasing the water skier, the shark getting burned by the flare gun, the shark attacking the harbor patrol marine helicopter and pulling it under the water, the beached killer whale with the enourmous shark bite taken out if it, and the shark's final demise by electrocution, which in some ways, outsoars the simple drama of the explosion of the first shark, in my opinion. These are all wonderful ideas, which unfortunately tend to fall short in their delivery. It's exciting to watch the shark fin get closer and closer to the water skier but it would have been deliciously enticing to watch this girl get hers with a lot more terrifying gore as opposed to the quick underwater camera shots that only provide the obvious implication that she's being torn to pieces. The same can be said for the helicopter pilot whom we don't see after the craft in pulled underwater (even the deleted DVD scene doesn't offer much more than the pilot struggling to stay alive). And while the characters of Matt Hooper and Quint (he's DEAD, actually!) are noticeably missed, the performances of our remaining characters Martin Brody (played again by Roy Scheider), Ellen Brody (played again by Lorraine Hamilton) and Larry Vaughan (played again by Murray Hamilton) are strong enough to hold the viewer's interest for one more round.
The credit for originating the teenage slasher film has continuously gone to John Carpenter for HALLOWEEN (1978). But when you really consider it, can we not give that honor (if you want to call it an HONOR) to JAWS 2 first? For its climactic sequences, we have a group of Amity-fun-loving teenagers who are caught in great peril when they become disabled and adrift in the middle of the ocean and are repeatedly stalked, manaced and even killed (killed without gore, though) by the great white shark, much in the same tradition that one would have bestowed to Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees. You see? Teenage slasher film, except with shark teeth rather than butcher knives and machetes...or am I really reaching for shit here??
It's probably safe to say that JAWS 2 is a worthy sequel if you have the particular personal memories for it. For myself, it was 1978 and I was three years older since the previous film that my "stiff-as-boards" parents would not permit me to see. Despite the movie poster warning of "May be too intense for younger children" (a pre-cursor to the PG-13 rating to come years later), I was eleven years-old now and my parents decided to lighten up just a bit when JAWS 2 premiered at the neighborhood movie theater in Westhampton Beach, Long Island. So take a moment to try and picture the victorious joy an eleven year-old boy has when he's finally allowed to see a (semi) scary movie that takes place at the beach in a movie theater in a beach town. Perhaps you had to be there back in '78, but believe me when I tell you it's a memory that I hold onto to this day and it's also a reason I watch JAWS 2 every summer at my house at the beach. It's all about mood and memories, you see?
Finally, just to give you an idea that JAWS 2 was NOT as unpopular with fans as you might think, take a look at just some of the merchandise that was created following the film's release...
I own the novelization, the movie program, the trading cards and the above-mention teaser movie poster (pathetic, isn't it??).
Favorite line or dialogue:
Martin Brody: "But I'm telling you, and I'm telling everybody at this table that that's a shark! And I know what a shark looks like, because I've seen one up close! And you'd better do something about this one, because I don't intend to go through that hell again!"
Friday, February 8, 2013
(June 1975, U.S.)
This is it, people! This is the big one! With all due respect to STAR WARS, INDIANA JONES and E.T., this is the greatest summer blockbuster movie of all goddamn time! And it should be noted that it's with a tremendous sense of seasonal irony that I'm writing about this film, a summertime beach thriller, on a day when the entire northest portion of the United States is experiencing a blizzard. Nothing like a little summer movie warmth to combat the February chill in the air!
So, what can I possibly tell you about Steven Spielberg's colossal film that ushered in the new era of summer blockbusters from the moment the great white shark's fin broke through the water that you don't already know?? Shall I tell you that JAWS ushered in a new era of film marketing and wider theatrical releasing? Shall I tell you that in between THE EXORCIST (1973) and STAR WARS (1977), JAWS was the highest grossing film of all time? Shall I tell you that JAWS instilled terrifying fears of going in the water that people may still hold onto today? Shall I tell you that JAWS made Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts more famous than it already was without the Kennedy's? Shall I tell you that the key element of what makes JAWS so damn scary is the mystery and the intruigue of what lurks beneath the water given that we don't see the actual shark for nearly an hour? Well, what's the point of telling you all that? Any fan of JAWS or anyone who only ever heard of JAWS already knows all this. So what I will do, if you'll permit me the time, is share some personal stories with you regarding the film, and perhaps you'll do the same with your comments.
In 1975, at the tender age of only eight years-old, my parents would NOT allow me to see JAWS! Try to imagine what it was like for an eight year-old kid in summer camp and in the third grade the following Fall to feel as if he's the only one who hasn't seen a movie that's clearly become a massive cultural phenomenom! Try to imagine what it's like for this same kid to be surrounded by a bunch of other third graders who are gleefully walking around humming the infamous tones of John Williams' classic theme and he has virtually no idea what they're humming about! Try to imagine extreme movie denial in this young kid's life! How are you supposed to combat something like that? Walking around saying, "Oh, yeah, well I saw BENJI!" ain't exactly going to get the burden off of your shoulders. Hell, it might even get you beat up by other third graders!
(Are you sensing some childhood anger here yet??)
Okay, so now let's cut to four years later, the Summer of 1979, when JAWS is re-released in movie theaters everywhere for a special two week run engagement (Man, how DO I remember these things??). This twelve year-old child (ME!) is teased, enticed and provoked by a re-release movie poster practically begging him into the theater. It looks like this...
If I can get sidetracked for a moment, I must confess that I've always had a particular fondness for re-release movie posters as opposed to original one sheets. In my opinion, re-relase movie posters signify a film's popularity and legacy that's already been achieved with popular culture and serves as an artistic tool to invite the moviegoer back for more. Those of us who can remember a time before video tapes and DVDs will remember just how significant it was when your favorite movie was re-released in theaters.
Okay, back to where I was. So now I'm four years older now (not necessarily wiser!) and do my parents budge on the issue?? NO! These over-protective sons-of...(whatever!) still won't allow their son to see JAWS! WTF??? No, my friends, it would not be until several months later, November 1979, when JAWS made it's world television premiere on the ABC Sunday Night Movie that I finally got to see the legendary Spielberg masterpiece, all cut-up and edited to keep mommy and daddy's precious little prince safe and cozy! It wasn't until 1984, when the family finally got its first VCR, complete with fake wood finish and pop-up tape insert, that I would go out to the video store and rent my first uncut, commerical-free movie. Yes, it was JAWS and I was finally able to break my virginity on the matter.
Quite a saga, isn't it? How's THAT for being born under a bad movie sign??
As an adult, JAWS remains one of my top ten favorite films of all time. And why not? It's a film that takes place on the beach, I grew up at the beach in the Hamptons every summer, and what defines summer better than the beach? I've seen JAWS more times than can be counted and I make it a point to watch it every July 4th in the same manner of movie tradition that one would watch A CHRISTMAS CAROL or IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE on Christmas Eve. To this day, I DO go swimming in the ocean every summer without fear of becoming the great fish's next feeding. To this day, I still regret not being able to get to Martha's Vineyard during the Summer of 2005 when JAWS was celebrating it's 30th anniversary there, complete with celebreties, tributes and multiple film screenings. Oh, what a celebration it must have been!
Here's a couple of two more quick stories (grammar?) to share with you about this film. In 1997, I had the one and only opportunity to see JAWS on the big screen at a special one-night-only screening at New York City's famous Radio City Music Hall (they don't show movies there anymore, but let me tell you, this is a BIG fucking screen!). I was on a second or third date with some girl (what WAS her name??) and when it came to the climactic moment of the film when Quint is killed, she felt grossed out and decided to leave her seat and retreat to the theater lobby. So there I was with a big choice to make; either stay in my seat and fullfill my one and only time to see this great film in its entirety on screen without interruption OR play the bullshit chivalrous gentleman and go after her. Hmmmmmm...what to do? Well, I'm sorry to say I opted for the great white shark. It's okay. I figured out pretty early in our dating rituals that I wasn't going to get very far with her, so hey, no great loss. The second story really involves my mother in-law and HER story of how JAWS was the last film she'd been to see in September 1975 just weeks (or days?) before her daughter (my wife) was born. Just for the fun and humor of it, whenever I bring up that story I enjoy grossly distorting the facts in that I tell it as if she actually went into labor in the movie theater while watching JAWS. It's just more fun that way (ha, ha!).
And so, having said all that, it's with the greatest sincerity and admiration that I say THANK YOU! Thank you Roy Scheider, thank you Richard Dreyfuss, thank you Robert Shaw, thank you Murray Hamilton, thank you Lorraine Gary and thank you John Williams! But most of all and most importantly, thank you Peter Benchley and Steven Speilberg for giving us the timeless and classic masterpiece of great cinema known as JAWS!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Larry Vaughan: "I don't think either one of you are familiar with our problems!"
Matt Hooper: "Uh, I think that I am familiar with the fact that you are going to ignore this particular problem until it swims up and bites you on the ass! Now wait a second, wait a second! There are two ways to deal with this problem! You're either going to kill this animal or you're going to cut off its food supply!"
Martin Brody: "Larry, we have to close the beaches!"
Larry (pointing to defaced billboard): "Brody, sick vandalism! That is a deliberate mutilation of a public service message! Now I want those little paint-happy bastards caught and hung up by their Buster Browns!"
Matt: "That's it. G'bye! I'm not gonna waste my time arguing with a man who's lining up to be a hot lunch! I'm gonna see you later."
Martin: "Come on now, please, don't do this."
Matt: "Mr. Vaughan, what we are dealing with here is a perfect engine, uh, an eating machine. It's really a miracle of evolution. All this machine does is swim and eat and make little sharks and that's all. Now why don't you take a long, close look at this sign. Those proportions are correct."
Larry: "Love to prove that, wouldn't you? Get your name into the National Geographic."
Wednesday, February 6, 2013
(November 2005, U.S.)
Let's clear this up right away - the title JARHEAD comes from the slang term used to refer to U.S. Marines (sometimes by Marines themselves). The second thing I should point out upfront is that JARHEAD may, perhaps, be the only combat film in the history of cinema in which no United States soldier actually fires his weapon during combat at any time. But more about that later.
This biographical drama war film (based on the biographical accounts of U.S. soldier Anthony Swofford), like Stanley Kubrick's FULL METAL JACKET (1987), begins with the attention on the above-mention Anthony Swofford (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) as he endures the hell of basic training of U.S. Marine boot camp under his hard-boiled drill instructor. From there, it's off to the 1990-1991 Gulf War and Operation Desert Shield in Iraq where Anthony trains to become an expert sniper. Like the other soldiers in his unit, their blood is boiling and they're longing to kick some Iraqi ass! It's something they can taste every day of their existence and the reality of the situation is that they're just painfully waiting for something, anything to happen. The concept of war for these men has turned into nothing more than sheer boredom in the desert. Even when Operation Desert Storm is finally declared and the Marines are dispatched to the Saudi-Kuwaiti border, very little changes for them. Their purpose in Iraq to this point has been about oil and nothing else and it's becoming painful. Watch carefully how Corporal Alan Troy ( played by Peter Sarsgaard) cries in pain and agony when at the end, when it seems he'll finally be able to manage just one kill in this entire war, is ultimately denied his opportunity at the last moment. This is a man who has seemingly little to look forward to back home and whose sole purpose in the Gulf War has been to hunt down and kill the enemy...denied to the very end. The war ends and the men go home alive. Alan is pronounced dead by the film's end. Although the cause is not indicated, one can't help but wonder if it was an act of suicide to end a life that appeared to have little meaning left.
Since AMERICAN BEAUTY in 1999, director Sam Mendes has become a very well-respected, admired filmmaker. Because most of JARHEAD takes place in the desert, I can't exactly claim that Mendes is on the same par with David Lean (LAWRENCE OF ARABIA). However, there some particular moments when the soldiers are marching along the desert plain with the burning oil fields in the distance that are remarkably striking to the eye. Take a look...
When you watch these moments, it reminds us, perhaps, of the reality of the Gulf War for these Marines. They were trained to fight, they yearn to fight, they live to fight...and in the end, their purpose in this foreign land has been about oil. Right or wrong, that's hardly the subject of debate for this blog. My job is to interpret my thoughts and feelings for this particular war film. And speaking as a man who's never been in the military and speaking for those who fought, survived and died in the first Gulf War, I hope this writer did JARHEAD some degree of pride and justice.
Finally, let me draw your attention to one particular sequence that never fails to put a smile on my face. It's the simple shot of a group of men watching a movie on a large screen. Simple, yes, but exceptional in the fact that these men are U.S. Marines and the movie they're watching is Francis Ford Coppola's APOCALYPSE NOW (1979). They almost resemple any given audience at a midnight showing of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE show as they gleefully sing along with Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" and cheer their hearts out when the U.S. helicopters fire upon the Vietnamese beach village. War may be Hell, indeed, but for these men, it's home.
Favorite line or dialogue:
D.I. Fitch: "You the maggot whose father served in Vietnam?"
Anthony Swofford: "Sir, yes, sir!"
Fitch: "Outstanding! Did he have the balls to die there?"
Anthony Swofford: "Sir, no, sir!"
Fitch: Too fucking bad! He ever talk about it?"
Anthony Swofford: "Sir, only once, sir!"
Fitch: Good! Then he wasn't lying! Are you eyeballing me with those baby-blues? Are you?"
Anthony Swofford: "Sir, no, sir!"
Fitch: "Are you in love with me, Swofford?"
Anthony Swofford: "Sir, no, sir!"
Fitch: "Why, you don't think I look good in my uniform, Swofford?"
Anthony Swofford: "Sir, the Drill Instructor looks excellent in his uniform, sir!"
Fitch: "Oh, so you're gay then and you love me!"
Anthony Swofford: "Sir, I'm not gay, sir!"
Fitch: "You got a girlfriend, Swafford?"
Anthony Swofford: "Sir, yes, sir!"
Fitch: "Guess again, dumbass! Jody's banging her right now! Get on your face and give me twenty five for all the times she's gonna get fucked this month! Down on your face!"
Monday, February 4, 2013
(February 1944, U.S.)
Like many kids in high school, much of the literature that was required reading in English classes were about as exciting as sex with a Jewish woman! Therefore, as Charlotte Brontë's 1847 novel of JANE EYRE was never required reading in my four years of high school, then (naturally) I never read it. My eventual interest in this particular American film version stems from my discovery of Orson Welles as an actor and a filmmaker. Beyond the outstanding performances in his own works like CITIZEN KANE (1941) and THE STRANGER (1946), he's provided work just as noteworthy in films he did not direct like THE THIRD MAN (1949) and this film I discuss now. Although not under his direction (officially), anyone familiar with his body of work as a director can clearly recognize the Orson Welles presence in specific camera shots of light and darkness, as well as the overall cinematography.
Getting back to high school reluctance with classic literature, it surprises me to learn that there are a number of surprising and, dare I say, exciting elements to be found in this film version of JANE EYRE. Besides the aforementioned black and white filmmaking artistry, there begins with the rather shocking and cruel manner in which we're introduced to Jane Eyre as an unwanted child of the classically cruel aunt who's never had a kind work for her poor niece. Escape from this horrible family only means transfer to the Lowood Institution charity boarding school for unwanted girls (look for an uncredited little girl named Elizabeth Taylor!) that's even more cruel under the harsh Reverend Brocklehurst (played by Henry Daniell). It's surprising to cut to Jane Eyre's life ten years later as a grown woman (played by Joan Fontaine) and find that she's managed to survive an entire decade of cruelty and emotional torture. She has survived, though, and she's determined to leave Lowood with her head held high for a position as a governess for the child of the mysterious Edward Rochester (played by Welles) at his gloomy, isolated mansion. Edward is rough, boorish, masterful and abrupt with Jane. She can handle it, though, because she's the first to recognize the gentle, even tormented, soul of her employer that's buried deep down underneath. Edward, in turn, can also recognize that Jane is a woman of true love and substance, unlike many of the high class, stuck-up ladies of his life that clearly only seek his attention for the money and lifestyle he can provide them.
The true shock of the story of JANE EYRE, in my opinion, lies in the deep, dark secret Edward keeps locked away in the highest, most isolated part of his mansion - namely his wife who's completely mad out of her mind. This wouldn't be such a problem were the act of bigamy preventing him from marrying his true love Jane (don't you HATE when those things happen??). In what I can only describe as true Hitchcock fashion via his 1940 film, REBECCA, the film concludes with an act of violence and a blazing inferno (unseen in the film) that by standards of pure cliche, brings the two seemingly doomed lovers together again in the end. Now that's true love for you, served 19th Century style!
So like I said, I never read JANE EYRE and I've never seen any other film version of it (because once you've seen the great Orson Welles in action with it, why bother with anyone else?), so I have no other frame of reference or comparison. I can only claim it's validity as true cinema of mystery, drama and excitment of the classic black and white genre...and that's good.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Blanche Ingram: "Good morning, Edward. By rights, I should scold you for running off like this. A correct host entertains his guests."
Edward Rochester: "My dear Blanche, when will you learn? I never was correct, nor ever shall be."
Sunday, February 3, 2013
(October 1939, U.S.)
Although director Alfred Hitchcock will always be synonymous with films like PSYCHO (1960), THE BIRDS (1963) and a string of wonderful titles starring such Hollywood greats as Cary Grant and James Stewart, it's quite often that I really enjoy his early black and white British period of films like THE 39 STEPS (1935), SABOTAGE (1936), THE LADY VANISHES (1938), and JAMAICA INN. Believe it or not, I actually recall the original novel by Daphne du Maurier as a piece of required reading in my sixth grade class back in 1979. I didn't see the film, though, until my adulthood.
At its heart, this is a rather bizarre pirate story in which the Jamaica Inn in Cornwall, England (the year is 1819) is headquarters to a gang of savage smugglers, led by the innkeeper Joss Merlyn (played by Leslie Banks). Their ongoing diabolical scheme is to extinguish coastal beacons in order to directly cause ships to run aground and crash into the rocks on shore. They then proceed to loot the wreckage, its valuable contents and kill all the surviving sailors. All of this, though, is secretly controlled by the local wealthy magistrate, Sir Humphrey Pengallon (played by Charles Laughton), his secret known only by Joss. When newly-arrived neice Mary (played by Maureen O'Hara) starts poking her nose around, it's not long before she discovers the truth of her wicked uncle's ways and must put her faith into one of his men who's actually an undercover officer of the law. Unfortunately for her, but fortunate for the viewer who enjoys a bit of an old fashioned plot twist, she also puts her faith into the assistance of Sir Humphrey, whom we already know is really the bad guy.
It should be noted that in addition to the wonderful cinematography of land and water in this film, there is a very strong and evil presence of the WIND which seems to never stop blowing and howling throughout the story. As a psychological element of sound, it serves to constantly remind us that there is something very wrong and very ugly taking place at Jamaica Inn.
As the "master of suspense", JAMAICA INN serves to remind us that Alfred Hitchcock was a man who seemded willing to take on a variety of stories, each with their own element and meaning of suspense, surprise and resolution to keep audiences on the edge of their seats. I urge you, if you never have, to experience and educate yourself with his early British period to not only appreciate classic black and white cinema, but to get a much better sense of where the man was destined to take us when he inevitably became the most celebrated film director in America during his golden period.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Sir Humphrey Pengallon: "You seem to have a very clear picture of him. Tell me, what sort of a fellow do you really think he really is?"
James Trahearne: "This man deliberately plans not only the wrecking of ships, but the cold-blooded slaughter of any who survive the wreck! He remains aloof, contempt to hire the scum of the coast to do his murderous work for him, thinking there's no blood on his own hands, but there is! Heaven help him! There's blood on that man's very soul! I'd like to break...!"
The great irony here is that the man Mr. Trahearne is (unknowingly) referring to is sitting right behind him preparing to shoot him in the back!