Wednesday, May 29, 2013
(June 1989, U.S.)
Hard to believe it, but it's been well over a year since I've posted any James Bond films! The last time was in March 2012 when I did a coincidental double feature of GOLDENEYE and GOLDFINGER (how cool was that!). LICENCE TO KILL, the sixteenth film in the series, not only continues the world's slow introduction to Timothy Dalton in the starring role, but also marks the end of the era of the 1980s as well as the end of director John Glen's ongoing command of the franchise.
There's much I want to see about Timothy Dalton as the great James Bond, but I'm choosing to hold off until I'm able to discuss the film that debut him just two years prior to this film. The story has elements of two Ian Fleming short stories and a novel, interwoven with aspects from Japanese Rōnin tales. The film sees Bond being suspended from MI6 as he pursues drugs lord Franz Sanchez (played by Robert Davi), who has attacked and maimed his CIA friend Felix Leiter (played for the second time by David Hedison - first time was in LIVE AND LET DIE) and murdered Felix's wife during their honeymoon. Originally titled "Licence Revoked" in line with the plot, the name was changed during post-production. They should have left the title as it was. Sounds a bit more edgy. Edgy, by the way, is the key word to describe Dalton, in general, as we see a side of Bond not yet seen on the screen, in which his own personal vendetta outrules his thinking and his judgement. In many ways, the story is not much different than any spectacular episode of MIAMI VICE you might have seen in the past and Bond's persona can take some lessons from Sylvester Stallone or Bruce Willis as a hardcore action hero. But even with that sort of character accusation, one has to remember that James Bond is no ordinary action hero. One who has followed his every move since DR. NO has come to expect a certain degree of style, grace and panache. Dalton delivers it when necessary, whether at the casino dressed in his tux or planting that very first kiss on the "Bond girl" of the movie, this time around an ex-Army pilot and CIA informant named Pam Bouvier (played by Carey Lowell). You see...even when James Bond is real pissed off, he's still the man we all love!
To interpret LICENCE TO KILL as a truly faithful Bond connoisseur versus the average 1989 summer moviegoer looking for a Friday night thrill is, perhaps, touchy, at best. There are lot of reasons one can condemn a Bond film like this that goes up against the likes of BATMAN and INDIANA JONES if they're going to truly pick it apart piece by piece as compared to some of the other Bond masterpieces that preceeded it. Hell, the fact that this film has Wayne Newton in it may be enough of an excuse to tear it apart (Wayne Newton?? Seriously??). But if one can remember and appreciate that the concept of a man's anger, revenge and retribution are elements that serve to make him more human, then it's necessary to remember that James Bond is a human being with deep, personal values of friendship and loyalty. He and Felix Leiter have been close friends since Bond's first screen assignment in Jamaica. To not have Bond avenge the attack on his best friend would seem quite implausible, in my opinion. As for the traditional James Bond screen formula, everything stills works, particularly the action stunts and the great climax of the tanker trucks on the road. The film takes on a realistic style, as well as showing the "darker edge" of the Bond character. It features more of a true Ian Fleming story in the script than in most of the post-60s Bond movies, in my opinion. And I might also add that LICENCE TO KILL concludes with one of the best and most exhilirating climactic explosions I've ever seen in any Bond film, as well as being the last Bond film to feature the character of Felix Leiter until CASINO ROYALE seventeen years later.
Well, whether James Bond fans liked LICENCE TO KILL or not, whether the film made enough money for the studio or not, I can only say that it was a shame that fans had to wait six long years before another James Bond would grace the screen in GOLDENEYE.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Franz Sanchez (to Lupe): "What did he promise you? His heart?"
(to Dario): "Give her his heart!"
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
(March 1997, U.S.)
In a particular episode of I LOVE LUCY entitled "Lucy tells the Truth", Ricky bets Lucy that she can't go twenty-four hours without telling a fib. Problems begin when Lucy starts being brutally frank with everyone. In the hands of the great comedienne Lucille Ball, that prospect is outrageous on its own. In the hands of Jim Carrey under the direction of Tom Shadyac (they did ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE and BRUCE ALMIGHTY together, also), it's just downright insane and uncontrollable!
Carrey is Fletcher Reede, a Los Angeles career-focused lawyer and divorced father of a five year-old son. He loves his son dearly but has this rather terrible habit of repeatedly letting the boy down and then lying about the reasons. His compulsive lying has also built him a reputation as one of the best defense lawyers in the state of California as he's climbing the legal ladder at his firm. Ultimately, Fletcher misses his son's fifth birthday party because he's instead having wild sex with his boss Miranda (played by Amanda Donohoe) in order to try and better his career just a little more. Heartbroken (again), Max makes a birthday wish that his father would be unable to tell a lie for an entire day; a wish that immediately becomes true. And what better way to kick things off into potential disaster than when your boss and immediate sex partner asks, "How was it for you?" and you respond, "I've had better." Yikes!! Now unlike Lucy Ricardo, brutal and destructive honesty is not just a verbal act under Jim Carrey's talent, but also incredibly physical. Despite the fact that I'm more often turned on my funny dialogue rather than physical action, I simply loose it when Carrey acts like a complete imbecile on screen. Unlike ACE VENTURA, in which the character is constanstly and persistently looney like Daffy Duck, I find it more entertaining when Carry's character is a somewhat normal person who's caught up in extreme circumstances that cause him to alter his character in some uncontrollable fashion (as in this film and BRUCE ALMIGHTY). Much of the comedy is, admitedly, predictable, especially when you consider that Fletcher is a lawyer and there's nothing more potentially damaging to one's legal case than brutal, uncompromised honesty. In fact, while I was watching and enjoying the entire courtroom sequence of the film, I couldn't help but remember Steve Martin playing a lawyer in ALL OF ME (1984) and falling victim to circumstances in which he didn't have control of his body or his words. Not that someone like Jim Carrey doesn't have anything fresh to offer such a situation, I'm only saying that I've seen it before in another form. Cliche, of course, doesn't fail the story as Fletcher will ultimately learn through honesty and experience the value of his relationship with his beloved son and family.
Now, pay attention, people because I'm going to give you all a writing exercise. Be honest and think real hard and I'll just bet you can come up with at least one person in your life (past or present) whom you'd just love to be brutally and painfully honest with, particularly if it involved minimal-to-zero consequences (because let's face it - we all lie everyday of our lives about one thing or another!). Who is that person? How do you know them? What would you say if they were to ask the question, "What do you think of me?" How would such a scenario play out in your mind? What words would you use? Well, go ahead, my friends, write it down! Share it with me!
Because I'd never ask any of you to do something that I wouldn't be prepared to do myself, here's the person I had in mind. At my previous place of employment, an architectural firm on Long Island, there was a woman whom I shall call Debra (because that's her real name) who was, I guess if you want to be technical, the office manager. I don't exactly know what her true "managerial" skills were, but I do know this woman spent much of the day's working hours shooting the shit with everybody in the office and planning monthly birthday parties for the office employees. This was the kind of woman who wanted to be best friends with everybody and shared intimate details of her personal life with anyone who was willing to listen to her, whether it be the restrictions of her latest diet, her latest boyfriend breakup or an upcoming surgery. I realize that most people in the work force today consider this kind of personal trait an office asset. That's fine and dandy except for two reasons: the first is that Debra was so fucking busy sharing her life with everybody that she seemed incapable of doing any real work of value. The second is that Debra was stupid enough to get offended when I turned out to be the only one in the entire office who showed no interest in sharing my life with her. This was nothing personal against her. I simply don't share intimate details of my personal life with the people I work with...ever (if I were still single and looking to get laid by a beautiful woman in the office, then it might be a different story!). And so, as a result, she and I were not exactly on the best of terms. As far as I'm concerned, that's a matter between Debra and ther own self-esteem, something that never concerned me!
(let me take a breath for a moment!)
Okay, so now I've chosen my...well, I suppose VICTIM would be the appropriate word here. So imagine if Debra were to ask the question, "Eric, what do you think of me?" Here's what Eric would say if he could not tell a lie...
"Debra, I think you're a physically unattractive suck-up and kiss-ass whose obvious desperation for attention and acceptance serves no purpose whatsoever other than a pathetic attempt to hide the fact that you're completely incapable of doing any real work around here! Why the partners of this firm haven't fired your sorry ass by now is beyond my comprehension!"
And so, Debra, this post for LIAR LIAR is (not-so) affectionately dedicated to you...honestly!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Judge Stevens: :How are we this morning, Counselor?"
Dana: "Fine, thank you."
Judge Stevens: "And how about you, Mr. Reede?"
Fletcher Reede: "I'm a little upset about a bad sexual episode I had last night."
Judge Stevens: "Well, you're young. It'll happen more and more. In the meantime, what do you say we get down to business?"
Friday, May 24, 2013
(December 2006, U.S.)
With Memorial Day just around the corner, it seems only fitting that I discuss a war film. The fact that it's a World War II film makes it more personally satisfying, as I've always felt that the second World War has been best captured on film throughout the decades.
LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA is an American war film by Clint Eastwood spoken almost completely in Japanese released as a companion piece to Eastwood's FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS (I film I was ultimately disappointed with) just a few months later. The film depicts the Battle of Iwo Jima from the perspective of the Japanese soldiers, whereas the previous film told of the same battle from the American perspective. Like many American war films you may have seen, character cliches become predictable. Soldiers are portrayed as sensitive, caring men with lives prior to the horrors of war. Unlike the American soldier we're likely used to seeing on screen, the Japanese soldier is portrayed as a man who is surely guaranteed (if not required) to die on the battlefield with honor. To do otherwise, even if it means continuously trying to fight on, is considered shameful and dishonorable. Even as the entire unit prepares the beaches by digging trenches, they know full well their efforts are useless and futile and that the island will fall into American hands. Even as this all takes place, newly-arrived General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (played by Ken Watanabe) takes command of the garrison and immediately begins an inspection of the island defenses. Like many military commanders of the big screen, he inspires many soldiers to greatness and pisses off just as many to insubordination. The one thing that is constantly agreed upon by almost all the men is that the Japanese soldier is meant to die. One soldier in particular, Private First Class Saigo (played by Kazunari Ninomiya) is determined to hold onto the hope of a life after war. Once he was just a simple baker with a loving wife and a baby on the way. By the time the battle of Iwo Jima is over, it appears that he is likely the only Japanese soldier to have survived. Will he return to civilian life with his family? Will he be ordered into battle again? We're left to only wonder and imagine.
Concentrating for a moment on the prospect of the Japanese soldier's destiny to die with honor, there's one particular sequence that's always stayed with me in which a group of soldiers are each ordered to commit suicide by exploding a grenade in front of them. Regardless of fear, all but two of them do it because it's understood that to refuse would be considered the coward's way out. As an American citizen who's been raised on his share of patriotic American war films in which the American soldier never gives and never surrenders, it's almost difficult to watch men of honor accept such a rather pathetic philisophical way of thinking. Perhaps it's just like that famous line uttered by George C. Scott in PATTON (1970) that went, "No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country." On the other hand, to experience an American war film from the perspective of the "enemy" is unique in itself because history has already taught us who wins and who looses. The American roots for the American, naturally. With LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA, Eastwood attempts to inspire sympathy (or empathy) for the other side and try to understand it from their lives and their experiences. We know the Japanese are going to loose Iwo Jima, the American flag will be planted and that legendary photograph will go on to make world history. By the way, just in case you're one of the very few poeple in world who have never seen it, look at it and never forget it...
Unlike FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, this film was received well with both audiences and critics. Japanese critics, in particular, noted that Eastwood presents the character of General Kuribayashi as a caring commander of Japan's Iwo Jima garrison and of Japanese soldiers in general, in a sensitive and respectful way. The film is clearly distinguishable from previous Hollywood movies, which tend to inacurately portray Japanese characters with non-Japanese actors. Consequently, what tends to happen is that incorrect Japanese grammar and accents are conspicuous in those former films, jarring their realism for the Japanese audience overseas. However, most Japanese roles in this film are played by native Japanese actors. The film is clearly scripted with excellent research into Japanese society at that time, as opposed to sterotypical Hollywood images of previous efforts. As an alternate approach to the traditional American war film from a director who has always been hit or miss with me, it hits very well.
By the way, on a personal note, it was right around the end of the year 2006 that I finally decided I had to stop wasting time, money and brain cells on sequels, threequels, remakes and franchise films (like an alcoholic having their moment of clarity!). LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA was the first film I went to see in the theater in the hopes of devoting my movie time to more "artful" content. Not a bad way to start.
Favorite line or dialogue:
General Tadamichi Kuribayashi: "The United States is the LAST country in the world that Japan should fight."
Damn fucking right!
Sunday, May 19, 2013
(July 1989, U.S.)
The Summer fo 1989 was a particularly memorable one for me and the movies. What made it so memorable was that it was a summer that brought on a huge onslaught of sequels. Some of them were good (INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE and LICENSE TO KILL), some of them were bad (GHOSTBUSTERS II and STAR TREK V) and some of them were not even worth the time of anyone with half a brain of intelligence (EDDIE AND THE CRUISERS II and THE KARATE KID-PART III...are you fucking kidding me???). LETHAL WEAPON 2, however, was not only a worthy follow-up, but it even outsoured the original action blockbuster, in my opinion. In fact, the second film has become one of my favorite action films of all time. Go figure that one, coming from a guy who generally has a low tolerance for sequels.
So, by this time, the solid pact of friendship and support between Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh is firmly planted in the ground. Now they can finally take on a dangerous crime situation that not only has a little more bite to it, but an even more intruiging plotline than the first film. What begins as a simple assignment to protect an irritating federal witness by the name of Leo Getz (played by Joe Pesci) eventually turns into an all-out battle between the L.A.P.D. and a vicious gang of South African drug dealers hiding behind diplomatic immunity. Matters become particularly personal for Riggs when other memebers of the police force are systematically murdered by these drug dealers and when he finally finds himself falling for another woman since the death of his wife. Of course, poor Riggs can't seem to get a break in his personal life. Cliche practically demands that his new girlfriend Rika (played by Patsy Kensit) suffer at the hands of his South African enemies. She does suffer (she DIES, in fact) and in a moment on the beach where he's carrying around her drowned body in sorrow, we feel for Riggs as much as, if not more than the time he sat alone in his trailer with a gun to his mouth in the original film. The man had a shot at love again and it was taken away from him...again. And like I mentioned, the plot in this film is a little more crafted and as a result, we learn that BOTH loves of Martin Riggs were the victim of the same enemy. One moment of dialogue that I never forget is when a half-crazed Riggs is driving his truck and repeatedly tells Murtaugh that, "They killed them both!" We know that in action films, revenge is sweet and it's cold. For the climax of LETHAL WEAPON 2, we know it'll be extra special, complete with dislocated house stilts and a spectacular house collapse.
Now as much as I don't like it, I realize that major action heros need to be kept alive for any and all Hollywood money-grubbing sequels. But seriously, after watching Riggs get shot multiple times the way he does in that cargo container at the end...do any of you honestly believe that he could survive that?? Well, whether it's believable or acceptable to you or not, I must confess I enjoy the way Murtaugh keeps him alive by repeating, "You're not dead until I tell you!" Now THAT'S real friendship for you! And by the way, up until 1989, I had still not seen RAGING BULL (1980) or EASY MONEY (1983) yet. So LEATHAL WEAPON 2 was the first time I was seeing actor Joe Pesci on screen. What a way to be introduced to man, huh? "Okay, okay, okay, okay!"
And so, the LEATHAL WEAPON franchise ends with number 2 for me...because some of us refuse to receycle everything in life!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Martin Riggs (to his enemies): "I'm surprised you haven't heard of me, I got a bad reputation, like sometimes I just go nuts like now, ha ha!"
Thursday, May 16, 2013
(March 1987, U.S.)
It's taken me just over twenty-five years to realize this, but how many summer blockbuster sequel franchises do you know that originated in the month of March? In fact, how many Spring films often really stay in our memory, unless they happen to be nominated for some serious Oscars many, many months later and perhaps get a theatrical re-release (i.e. CHARIOTS OF FIRE, released March 1981). Just an observation.
Up until the year 1987, the only real tough, badass cops of the big screen I was aware of was Chuck Norris (AN EYE FOR AN EYE, CODE OF SILENCE) and Sylvester Stallone (NIGHTHAWKS, COBRA). DIE HARD's John McClane was still over a year away and Mel Gibson was still only the apolalyptic hero Mad Max to a young moviegoer like myself. So quite frankly, the idea of pairing up Mel Gibson with Danny Glover, whom I only knew from WITNESS and THE COLOR PURPLE (both 1985) seemed just a bit odd. Clearly, these two guys as buddy cops were not intended to be very funny as Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines had been in RUNNING SCARED (1986). But thank goodness trailers don't skimp on the hardcore action it promises, particularly Gibson's character of Martin Riggs running like a maniac down a city street chasing a moving car with machine gun in hand, because that's just enough to get two college roomates into the local multiplex for a Saturday afternoon matinee of blood, guts and violence...directed by SUPERMAN's own Richard Donner, no less.
Fifty year-old L.A.P.D. Homicide Sergeant Roger Murtaugh (Glover) and suicidal L.A.P.D. Narcotics Sergeant Martin Riggs (Gibson) are forced to work together following the murder of a young girl who was the daughter of Murtaugh's old Vietnam war buddy. From the moment they meet, the two of them don't like each other, leaving the door way open for the predictable cliche of them becoming the best of friends. Actually, love and friendship stemming from hatred and irritation makes the relationship all the more interesting, in my opinion. Unlike Norris, Stallone or even Schwarzenegger, Murtaugh and Riggs are men with feelings of love, loyalty and pain. I mentioned above that Riggs is suicidal and that's because he recently lost his wife, whom we can clearly tell he loved dearly just by paying close attention to the agony on his face as he sits alone in his trailer on Christmas Eve pointed a gun at his head and in his mouth. In fact, it was this sequence of great pain that captured the attention of director Franco Zeffirelli when he decided to cast Gibson as Hamlet in his 1990 film. So what keeps Riggs alive day after day amidst such personal sorrow? The job. Riggs loves the job.
To watch and enjoy Shane Black's original script for LETHAL WEAPON is not so much to care about or pay attention to intricate plotting. The enemy is as standard, cliche, textbook (whatever you want to call it) as any other tough cop movie - drug dealers, psychotic hitman, merciless expert in torture, etc. The true fun of this film is the ongoing, back-and-forth, well-paced chemistry and dialogue between our two heros and the dependence for each other, both as partners and as friends, that develops and forges itself in stone (for at least three more films following). And hey, watching Mel Gibson kick some serious ass both with a gun and his fists is nothing to sneeze at, either!
I would point out for your (possible) interest that I once met writer Shane Black (currently the director of IRON MAN 3) at a New York City screenwriting seminar in 1994. He was a man of surprising passion for one who had only written action-adventure films. He acknowledged that fact by stating to myself and others that action-adventure WAS his passion. I can actually recall discussing a particular moment in the recent film THE REMAINS OF THE DAY (1993) with him (something I'll get into much, much later when we reach the letter 'R'); a moment both of us mutually interpreted in the same way. You had to be there to see it, but there was a feeling and a sense of respect and understanding betweeen a complete unknown like myself and someone who had apparently made a real good dent in the business. And so Shane, thanks for writing LETHAL WEAPON and the story for the film that followed next. Thank you for having nothing to do with the unfortunate two sequels that followed after that.
Finally, let me point a very obvious (and obviously intentional!) and major film flub. During one of the action scenes on a California street, a movie theater marquee displays the title of the film THE LOST BOYS. LETHAL WEAPON was released in March 1987 and THE LOST BOYS would not be released until July 1987. However, THE LOST BOYS was being produced by Richard Donner at the time and clearly this was an inside joke of film promotion. Ha, ha, ha!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Martin Riggs: "Hey, look friend, let's just cut the shit. Now we both know why I was transferred. Everybody thinks I'm suicidal, in which case, I'm fucked and nobody wants to work with me; or they think I'm faking to draw a psycho pension, in which case, I'm fucked and nobody wants to work with me. Basically, I'm fucked."
Roger Murtaugh: "Guess what?"
Murtaugh: "I don't want to work with you!"
Riggs: "Hey, don't."
Murtaugh: "Ain't got no choice! Looks like we both been fucked!"
Murtaugh: "God hates me. That's what it is."
Riggs: "Hate him back. It works for me."
Monday, May 13, 2013
(November 1987, U.S.)
For me, LESS THAN ZERO represents one of those films you need to distance yourself from for years, perhaps even decades before you can re-evaluate it with a truly fresh perspective and a new insight to how it once and may still affect your life and your memories. To reflect on the year 1987 may greatly depend on who you were back then, what you were doing and where. In terms of pop culture and the party scene, there are those who may have been part of the outrageously-big hair and mullet movement who liked their drugs hard and their glam-metal as cheesy as they could get it (for those people, I recommend ROCK OF AGES on Broadway!). For myself, as a junior in college in the cold city of Buffalo, New York, I was drinking my fair share of beer and hard alcohol, obsessing over the new music by all the ex-members of Pink Floyd and trying desperately to finally loose my virginity! So in other words, whether or not you can personally relate to the particular culture of life-in-the fast-lane, drug addicted, filthy rich, spoiled-rotten, narcissistic youths of 1980s Beverly Hills is besides the point because if you look a lot deeper into LESS THAN ZERO, somewhere, somehow, there is likely something that will touch you.
When I first saw this film back in 1988 (as a rental), it's safe to say I interpretted it's story and it's meaning as simply just a glorious, visual snapshot of this particular time of the era I was living in. To look at it now, with the eyes and experience of a 46 year-old man, it not only serves to take me back in time, but also reminds me of a story element of youth in general that I don't consider dated, even by the standards of 1987. As the film slowly fades in, we see the American flag - the one and only symbol of our hopes, dreams and aspirations - flapping in the breeze accompanied by the voice of the principal of a Beverly Hills high school wishing the graduating class of 1987 all the health, hopes and prosperity they deserve. One of the first reactions we hear in the background from one of the seniors is, "Money!", to which many others enthusiastically repeat. That immediately tells you of the kind of Beverly Hills kids we're dealing with here. But like I said, even if you're not from Beverly Hills and you weren't raised rich and spoiled, there are strong ingredients of friendship and relationships that anyone can appreciate. Consider the friends you had by the end of your senior year in high school and those final months you spent with them during the summer before you all (presumably) went away to different colleges. Consider what that very first school break must have been like in your freshman year when you returned home and things just weren't the same anymore. Clay Easton (played by the very underrated Andrew McCarthy) returns home to Beverly Hills from the East to find that his high school girlfriend, Blair (played by Jami Gertz), has become addicted to drugs and has been having sex with his high school best friend, Julian Wells (played by Robert Downey, Jr. in one of his best early roles). Julian has become a real fucked-up drug addict and has been cut off by his family for stealing to support his habit. He's also being hassled by his dealer (and pimp!), Rip (played by James Spader in also a great early role), for a debt of $50,000 that he owes to him.
Clay, Blair and Julian are three people who were once the best of close friends. It's seems so incredibly ironic (and tragic) that in the time of less than six months, all of their history and their meaning toghether has abruptly dissipated. One can't help but ask how something like that happens. On the other hand, one can't help but consider that it happens all the time! It happened to me, under my own set of circumstances, though it really just involved myself and one other person. People meet, they form bonds, sometimes they even make promises and then the inevitable happens - separation, new people, new experiences and new outlooks, not only on life itself but for the people who may have once met everything to you. Sure, change is good, but to what extent?
I never read Bret Easton Ellis' original 1985 novel, not all of it anyway. I tried to once, not fully realizing how different it was from the film version. Like many people, I found the lives of these characters in the book very disturbing and savage and eventually my interest in finishing it just faded. The film clearly takes some incredible liberties with the story and perhaps that may have been necessary. Remember, this was 1987 and it was still operating at the tail end of the "Brat Pack" era, so the glitz, the glamour, the neon, the hot party scenes and, of course, Andrew McCarthy didn't hurt the box office receipts. It's also safe to presume that to have adapted a more faithfull version of Ellis's novel would have been considered too controversial and too disturbing for audiences to embrace...at least back then, anyway. Today we're all a lot sicker!
The film had more of a personal effect on me than one might imagine. In 1990, I began writing the words of my own novel that I will gladly admit was greatly influenced by the darkness of LESS THAN ZERO. Years later I would develop my own novel into a screeplay. It's about high school friendship in the 1980s, it's about love, it's about passion, it's about betrayal and it's about consequences. What kind of consequences? Well, you all likely know that Julian tragically dies at the end of this film. For my own story, I was determined that one of the major characters would die, as well. Because in any tragic story, someone HAS to die in the end. The screenplay I wrote is still unsold and still undiscovered. Can anybody out there hook me up with the right person???
Finally, I have to say, upon watching LESS THAN ZERO in the year 2013, that in a today's world of the 21st Century, where having "friends" means a number that exceeds three digits on Facebook, I feel blessed to have very specific, very selected REAL friends in my life that I've known for twenty years or more. They've been there for me, I've been there for them and we're all still here...real people...real friendships...(hopefully) no matter what!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Clay Easton: "I remember Julian's mother died when we were five...and it was awful. Julian didn't cry, though, nothin'. He just sat by the telephone because his mom used to call him everyday when she was away on business. And nobody could get Julian away from the telephone. Mr. Wells, he called all our parents but nothin' worked. So one day, Mr. Wells, he sent Julian a telegram like it was from his mother saying that she had died and gone to Heaven. And I remember, uh, Julian showing it to me and he carried it around for a year...and he was okay. He was a tough little kid. I don't know, I did...everything that I...could do."
Blair: "Oh, I'm gonna miss him so much."
Clay: "Well, I'm going away tomorrow and I want you to come with me. Okay?"
Blair: "Yes, I wanna go with you. I do. I want to."
Saturday, May 11, 2013
(December 1994, U.S.)
I'm convinced (as are many other film fans, I'm sure) that movies make the best travel guides. After seeing and enjoying films like LEGENDS OF THE FALL and Robert Redford's own A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT (1992) and THE HORSE WHISPERER (1998), I'm very eager to visit the beautiful state of Montana sometime before I die. For this film, it's very easy to lose one's self in the incredible cinematography of John Toll (for which it won the Oscar) as he captures the wonderous glories of Montana's mountains, it's skies and its waters. Oh, and the story's not too bad, either.
This film by by Edward Zwick (GLORY and THE LAST SAMURAI) spans the decade before World War I through the Prohibition era, and into the 1930s. It centers on the Ludlow family of Montana, including veteran of the Indian Wars Colonel Ludlow (played by Anthony Hopkins), his sons, Alfred (played by Aidan Quinn), Tristan (played by Brad Pitt in a role that's very similar to the one he achieved in A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT) and Samuel (played by Henry Thomas), and object of the love of all three brothers Susannah (played by Julia Ormond in her debut film role). Susannah is Samuel's fiancé, but before they ever have to opportunity to marry, or even sleep together (Tristan recommends FUCKING!), he announces to his family that he's leaving for Calgary to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force and aid Britain in the fight against Germany. Much to their father's displeasure, Alfred and Tristan also depart to not only fullfill their duty to their country, but to watch over young Samuel, as well. In fact, as much of a wild man as Tristan is, it's his love and protection over his younger brother that makes him rather compelling. Ultimately, Tristan cannot save Samuel from a violent death in No Man's Land by the German's bullets. It's during this particular sequence, I might add, that I'm most captivated by a particular man's look. Just before Samuel is about to meet his end, he's tangled up in the enemy's wire and blinded by the gases. He calls out for his Tristan to help him and looks quite panicked by the thought that he won't find him. When he finally hears his older brother's voice, there is a very brief smile on Samuel's face filled with hope and love in that his older brother, possibly his best friend in the entire world, is finally there to save him and get him home. That look gets me every time! But like I said, that never happens. It's sad, even heartbreaking to watch a devastated Tristan hold Samuel until he dies and then cuts out Samuel's heart in tradition of the American Indian way, which he sends home to be buried on his father's ranch. Seething with hatred, Tristan single-handedly raids behind German lines, killing two gunners. That sort of revenge is irresistably fun to watch!
It's safe to say, at this point, that no one can love you like a brother can. It's also safe to say that no one can enrage you, break your heart and even betray you like a brother can! This is a story of brothers (only TWO now) and the saga of their relationship and how a woman is the ultimate cause of all that takes place between them; the good and the bad. By the time the entire saga has unfolded, Susannah has been with all three brothers in one fashion or another, but she's never hidden her true love and desire for Tristan above all, even when he disappears for years upon end to do battle with the dark demons he keeps from his experience in the war, but from feeling responsible for Samuel's death, as well. By the time the film takes us into the 1920s, Tristan has (predictably) become a rather successful bootlegger of illegal alcohol, but not without the expected violence of the era. Violence begets violence and Tristan is a man very capable of it, whether he's avenging the death of his wife or coming face to face with a grizzly bear as a boy. In a rather strange case of irony, we learn by the film's end that Tristan has managed to outlive everyone that he's ever known and loved, despite the prediction by the wise Indian "One Stab" that he would likely die young. It's also incredibly ironic and rather poignant that Tristan dies an old man by the hands of a Montana grizzly bear, particularly after all the violence and combat he's experienced in his life. Is it the same bear he survived as boy? I'd like to think so. It just seems so fitting. It's also "a good death".
LEGENDS OF THE FALL is a film of full-blooded performances and heartfelt melodrama. Though it's a story of many lives through many tragedies, it's clearly Brad Pitt that carries the film and nearly steals every scene, propelling him into the movie stardom of his career that was still only just a few years old at the time. Juilia Ormond, though an impressive actess in general, is less impressive in her character, in my opinion. Susannah is a woman who's managed to inadvertently wreck the lives of these men and the entire Ludlow family. Through it all, she loves only Tristan and seems determined to live a life of misery because of it. Shit, we've all been heartbroken by others, but we manage to get through it and move on happily...if we're strong enough. Susannah is not strong enough, not even a little bit, and finally takes her own life in the end. I suppose endless tragedy could be considered the ultimate role for any good actor. If that's the case, then I suppose Julia Ormond nails it. And while this film has much to offer as an epic drama, for me it's the spectacular cinematography of Montan's beauty that keeps me awe-struck every time I watch it!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Alfred Ludlow: "When are you planning to be married?"
Tristan Ludlow: "Morning."
Alfred: "Damn you, Tristan! You will marry her!"
Tristan: "And make a honest woman out of her?"
Alfred: "YES! God damn you to hell!"
Tristan: "Yes, I will marry her if she'll have me."
Alfred: "If she'll have you? Do you love her? Or did you seduce her just to spite me?"
Tristan: "It's not what I did."
Alfred: "And what about Samuel?"
Tristan: "What about Samuel?"
Alfred: "You tell me about Samuel."
Tristan: "We all loved Samuel. Samuel's dead. What?"
Alfred: "How convenient that is for you."
Tristan: "Because you love her I will forgive you for that! Once! You say that again and we're not brothers!"
Like I said, no one can piss you off like a brother can!
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
(October 1976, U.S.)
I have to say, I was a bit conflicted on whether or not I should blog this film right now. I mean, do I write it under 'L' for Led-Zeppelin or wait until 'S' for SONG?? I decided to go with right now because even though the film titles itself as only THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME on screen, the movie poster, video box and DVD case all feature LED-ZEPPELIN in huge letters. So there you go.
Now clearly, if you're not a fan of the legendary classic rock band LED-ZEPPELIN, then (A) - stop reading right now because the rest of this won't interest you much and (B) - get some professional help right now because your taste in music sucks! This concert film which was released during a time of Led-Zeppelin's super stardom of the 1970s features live performances at Madison Square Garden during their 1973 tour and elaborate fantasy sequences for each of the four members during four of the live performances. For a guy like myself, who went to college during the 1980's, it became a cult favourite at late-night midnight movie houses. In fact, it was these midnight showings that exposed me to cult films like this one, PINK FLOYD THE WALL, HEAVY METAL and THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW; films I still find hard to believe ever originated as traditional theatrical releases with daytime screenings. Many fans of THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME and even members of Led-Zeppelin themselves, regard the performances filmed at the Garden as merely average for the time, coming as they did at the end of a long and exhausting tour, but nonetheless representative of the generally high standard of the band's live performances during this incredible era of rock and roll.
The film opens with a fantasy sequence of a mafia-style execution by Zeppelin's manager at the time Peter Grant. Admitedly, this sequence is rather silly and doesn't enhance any of the music or live performances. The concert opens with "Rock and Roll" and moves steadily and strongly through great material from the band's first five albums, HOUSES OF THE HOLY being the latest one at the time. During "No Quarter", the fantasy depicts John Paul Jones portraying a masked gentleman known as "The Scarecrow," who travels at night on horseback with three others and returns home to Sussex, an ordinary family man. The three other horsemen with him are a reference to the other band members. During "The Rain Song", the fantasy depicts Robert Plant as a knight rescuing a fair maiden who is a symbolic representation for his vision of the ideal - his personal search for the Holy Grail; a quest that includes sailed and sword fighting. During a very long and very alternate version of "Dazed and Confused", the fantasy depicts Jimmy Page climbing up the face of a snow capped mountain on a quest of self enlightenment, and deep understanding, by seeking out the Hermit, a character featured in many Tarot packs. The mythological Hermit is seen on the summit of the mountain; Staff of Wisdom in one hand, and in the other, the Lantern of Knowledge held out abreast over the world below. Being a Threshold Guardian, he represents an obstacle the seeker must overcome to achieve true enlightenment. At the culmination of Page's quest, he reaches out to touch The Hermit, only to discover paradoxically that the Hermit is himself. This entire sequence can be argued as an inspiration from J.R.R. Tolken's LORD OF THE RINGS tale, but that's likely a debate for those a whole lot geekier than myself. Clearly, it's a complex fantasy set to a very complex take on a great classic from Led-Zeppelin's debut album. The final fantasy, during the instrumental of "Moby Dick" features John Bonham (one of the greatest rock drummers of all time!) in the most straightforward, realistic one of them all as we get to see him exercise his hobby of drag racing. It may sound a bit plain, but it seems to work well with the long live drum solo.
During this age we live in of DVDs and Blue-Ray discs, there are likely better ways to see live footage of Led-Zeppelin in concert. However, if one can put aside the present and take their minds and appreciations back to the past, when home media was still years away and the only way to enjoy your favorite band live if you couldn't get to the concert was to get to the movie theater, the cinematic and entertainment value of THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME becomes clear. And shit, it's LED-FUCKING-ZEPPELIN!!! What's not to love???
Favorite songs performed: "Stairway to Heaven" ("Does anybody remember laughter?") and "Moby Dick".
Sunday, May 5, 2013
(December 1962, U.S.)
Steven Speilberg has repeated said that before he begins shooting a new film, he makes it a point to watch David Lean's LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, citing it as his favorite film and the one that convinced him to become a filmmaker. Now why would that be? Is it because in the history of cinema, no person ever filmed the vastness and desolation of the desert like David Lean did? Here's a sample...
Is it because the striking visuals, the dramatic music by Maurice Jarre, the highly-literate screenplay and superb performance by Peter O'Toole have all been common points of acclaim and the film as a whole is widely considered one of the greatest films ever made? Is it because its visual style has influenced not only himself, but other directors as George Lucas, Sam Peckinpah, and Martin Scorsese, as well? It's all valed, but one truly hasn't experienced LAWRENCE OF ARABIA until they've had the opportunity to experience it on a great big screeen. That, thank goodness, is what revival movie theaters are for!
Like many biops, the film begins with the death of the protaganist. Beginning in 1935, T.E. Lawrence (O'Toole) is killed in a motorcycle accident. From there we jump back in time to the first World War when Lawrence is simply a misfit British Army lieutenant stationed in Cairo, notable for his worldly knowledge and his insolence. He is chosen to be sent by Mr. Dryden (played by Claude Rains) of the Arab Bureau to assess the prospects of Prince Faisal (played by David Lean regular Alec Guinness) in his revolt against the Turks. On his journey, he encounters not only the beauty and perils of the desert, but friends and enemies, as well, including Sherif Ali (played by Omar Sharif) and Auda abu Tayi (played by Anthony Quinn), the leader of the powerful local Howeitat tribe, whom he persuades to turn against the Turks. Lawrence and his team launch a guerrilla war, blowing up trains and harassing the Turks at every turn. An American war correspondent Jackson Bentley (played by Arthur Kennedy) publicises his exploits, making him world famous. He eventually recruits an army, mainly killers, mercenaries, and cutthroats motivated by money, rather than the Arab cause. They encounter retreating Turkish soldiers who have just slaughtered the people of the village of Tafas. One of Lawrence's men from the village demands, "No prisoners!" When Lawrence hesitates, the man charges the Turks alone and is killed. Lawrence takes up the dead man's cry, resulting in a massacre in which Lawrence himself participates with relish, though he inevitably realises the horrible consequences of what he's done. By the end of the film, the great exploits and contributions of T.E. Lawrence are reduced to a useless finish as he exits the screen feeling dejected, somehow making his motorcycle fate rather fitting, in an uneventful manner.
An unknown at the time, it's this great film that made Peter O'Toole shine as an actor and a performer and paved the way for his illustrious film career. As for the absolute historical accuracy of the film and particularly its portrayal of Lawrence himself, it's been called into question by numerous scholars. Most of the film's characters are either real or based on real characters to varying degrees. The events depicted in the film are largely based on accepted historical fact and Lawrence's own writing about events, though they have various degrees of romanticisation for the purpose of Hollywood flamboyance. Lawrence's behaviour, however, has caused much more debate among historians, in particular, his sexual orientation. Although the film does show that Lawrence could speak and read Arabic, could quote the Quran, and was reasonably knowledgeable about the region, it barely mentions his archaeological travels from 1911 to 1914 in Syria and Arabia, and ignores his espionage work, including a pre-war topographical survey of the Sinai Peninsula and his attempts to negotiate the release of British prisoners at Kut in Mesopotamia in 1916. But when you truly consider just how much of a man's real life can be contained in a film of just over three hours, you learn to accept the material you're given and truly take in a motion picture for it's greater achievement.
Would you believe the first time I ever got even a remote taste of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA was in the James Bond film THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977)? The main musical title of the film was used in the scene where Roger Moore and Barbara Bach's characters have to wander through the desert after their van breaks down. This was done as a joke by one of the editors who liked to play music from the film during the daily rushes. By the time I got around to seeing the actual epic (on video) for the first time, I could still remember that little Bond homage. It was about ten or so years ago that I had the opportunity to see the film on the big screen for a one night revival. My wife went with me, and although she appreciated the film, its length was going well past midnight and she was becoming quite impatient about getting enough sleep that night. Oh, the price one must pay for the education and experience of quality cinema!
Favorite line or dialogue:
T.E. Lawrence: "I killed two people. One was...yesterday? He was just a boy and I led him into quicksand. The other was...well, before Aqaba. I had to execute him with my pistol, and there was something about it that I didn't like."
General Allenby: "That's to be expected."
Lawrence: "No, something else."
Allenby: "Well, then let it be a lesson."
Lawrence: "No...something else."
Allenby: "What then?"
Lawrence: "I enjoyed it."