Tuesday, July 30, 2013
(August 1963, U.S.)
Clearly in the world of mind-boggling entertainment, there's something undeniably intriguing about being stranded on a desert island. Why else would we follow GILLIGAN'S ISLAND for so long and wonder why the Skipper and the Professor never once tried to fuck Ginger or Mary Ann? Why else did else did a concept called SURVIVOR kick off an epidemic of garbage reality shows that have completely dominated television of the 21st Century like a horrible cancer? Why else was one of Tom Hanks' best screen performances as an island survivor in CAST AWAY (2000)? Why else was ABC's LOST so much fucking fun to watch week after week? With the (obvious) exception of my first example, the common thread any story of survival on a deserted island shares is the slow descent into fear, madness and violence from otherwise ordinary, traditional people. William Golding's LORD OF THE FLIES has been the most literary example of such a concept. Many of us likely had to read this book in high school. I didn't, but I managed to read it on my own later in my adulthood.
In the opening sequences of Richard Brooks' film version, we witness nothing but still photographic shots of proper English school boys living in the midst of a war. They're evacuated from England and it appears that their airliner is shot down by briefly glimpsed fighter planes, and ditches near a remote and presumably deserted island. Miraculously, though, every single one of these boys appear to escape their plane completely undamaged and still wearing their clean school boy clothes (go figure that!). These boys, whom we come to know as Ralph, Jack and Piggy (just to name the main protagonists) do not forget that their English and as such, are obliged to put any of their fears aside and create amongst themselves, a world of rules and order, just as grownups would were they on the island with them, until such a time comes that they're rescued. Ralph and Piggy serve as the symbols of logic and reason, while Jack may be considered wild and one who will strive to act against the norm and structure of their privately-created island society. Although the boys start out as one group lead by Ralph as appointed "Chief", it's not too long before the island has been divided into two groups: the sensible (lead by Ralph) who work daily to keep the fire going in the hopes that it will be spotted by a ship or plane and the savage (lead by Jack) who act only to hunt for meat and to do battle with the mythical "Beastie" that many of the boys claim to have seen in the jungle, which as it turns out, is only a dead fighter pilot still hanging from his parachute and still wearing his helmet.
Events between both "tribes" of boys continue to escalate as many of them are succumbing to the madness of the island and the "convenience" of living in a world of freedom with the authority of grown ups. Madness inevitably leads to murder when one boy is mistaken for the "Beastie" and accidently killed and then when Piggy is intentionally killed by a giant boulder for the reason of simply being the only fat kid amongst the group who's been an easy target by the boys from the moment the film begins. By film's conclusion, Ralph is the only sane and reasonable member of the island in a world of mad, tribal hunters, which (naturally) makes him the enemy of the society. As Ralph runs for his life and staggers across the smoke-covered island, it would appear that Ralph is going to die at the hands of insane hunters who were once proper English school boys in the "former life". One can either consider it absolutely mind blowing or ridiculously far-fetched that at that very crucial moment, Ralph is stopped by the fine white shoes of a grown man who is a naval officer. It's incredible, actually, how all of that incomprehensible madness comes to an abrupt halt as soon as the boys are confronted by the grown ups who have finally arrived to rescue them. Study the boys' faces for a moment and decide for yourselves if they're feeling disappointment that their free-living world has come to an end because they've rescued or are they feeling a degree of shame because they have, for all practical purposes, been busted by the grown ups and are feeling the humiliation of behaving like "naughty" English school boys.
Now while I can't account very much for the updated 1990 version (I watched it only once and I don't remember it much) of this classic story, I can say that LORD OF THE FLIES is a truly surreal and beautifully-photographed example of classic black and white cinema that not only defines an edgy style of film making in the 1960s, but also briefly defines a period of the same era that explored the fear of the nuclear age and its inevitable horrors. One may also view DR. STRANGLOVE and FAIL SAFE (both 1964) to get a further idea of what I'm talking about.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Jack: "We've got to have rules and obey them. After all, we're not savages. We're English! And the English are best at everything!"
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
(October 1962, U.S.)
In Nick Clooney's book "The Movies That Changed Us", he particularly cites Steven Spielberg's SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998) as a war film that brought today's generation of young people (well, at least when they were still young at the end of the last century) into the proper awareness of the history of World War II and it's effective place in human history. To (presumably) do this, Spielberg's film gives a deep, thought-provoking perspective from that of the American soldier in combat with all the bloody graphics that would logically accompany it. This is all very valid, I'm sure, but I would argue that such a claim would be highly dependent on one's age, one's generation and one's personal exposure to war films and war history, in general. Young kids in the late 1990s would have surely flocked to the local multiplex to see the great Tom Hanks in a Steven Spielberg film a whole lot faster than perhaps watching a marathon of old John Wayne war films on Turner Classic Movies over the Memorial Day weekend. For myself, as a young person growing up in the 1980s, my exposure to war films was mostly whatever black and white film any of the independent TV channels chose to broadcast over the weekend or late at night. And of course, there was VHS video for those who were interested enough in exploring the WAR section of the local video store. Hence, that last example was how I inevitably discovered what I still consider to be my favorite war film of all time, THE LONGEST DAY.
This epic black and white film, which producer Darryl F. Zanuck took enormous pride in attaching his name to, is about D-Day and the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944 of World War II. It features a large international ensemble cast that includes John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Richard Burton, Sean Connery, Henry Fonda, Red Buttons, Rod Steiger, Peter Lawford, Eddie Albert, Gert Fröbe, Curd Jürgens, Robert Wagner, Sal Mineo, Edmund O'Brien, Roddy McDowall and Paul Anka. Many of these actors play roles that are virtually only cameo appearances and therefore, we're not exactly meant to get to know any of the soldier's characters that personally for any great length of time. The film is done in the style of a docudrama. Beginning in the days leading up to D-Day, it concentrates on events on both sides of the channel such as the Allies waiting for the break in the poor weather and the anticipation of the Axis forces defending northern France. It also pays particular attention to the decision by General Eisenhower (played by an incredible look alike named Henry Grace), supreme commander of SHAEF, to go after reviewing the initial bad weather reports as well as the divisions within the German High Command on when an invasion might happen or what response to it should be. Numerous sequences document the early hours of June 6th when Allied airborne troops were sent in to take key locations in combat. The French resistance is also featured reacting to the news that an invasion has started. Most of the important events surrounding D-Day are very well chronicled here; from the British glider missions to secure Pegasus Bridge, the counterattacks launched by American paratroopers scattered around Sainte-Mère-Église, the infiltration and sabotage work conducted by the French resistance and SOE agents, and the response by the Wehrmacht to the invasion and the uncertainty to whether it was a feint in preparation for crossings at the Pas de Calais. Some of the most impressive combat scenes include the advance in shore from the Normandy beaches, the United States Ranger Assault Group's assault on the Pointe du Hoc, the attack on Ouistreham by Free French Forces and particularly the strafing of the beaches by two lone Luftwaffe pilots in a spectacular sweeping shot that defines true black and white cinematography and photography with not only combat, but with explosive effects of the time. By the film's conclusion, we're witnessing a montage showing various Allied units consolidating their beachheads before the advance inland begins to inevitably liberate France.
Truly unique for British and American produced World War II films of the time, all the French and German characters speak in their own languages with subtitles in English. For the viewer, this is perhaps the most authentic and effective way to experience the true war film from all sides of the globe to not only include our heroes, but our enemies, as well. From my own personal perspective, World War II has always been a black and white experience for me on film. It's just the way I was raised with war films on television. And so, while Spielberg's more modern, colorized experience of the horrors of war may be what the more recent generation of filmgoers needed to understand our American history of war, it's the epic (and black and white) experience of THE LONGEST DAY that has and continues to peak my interest and appreciation of documenting war on film. Like I said, it's my favorite war film!
Favorite line of dialogue:
Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Vandervoort (John Wayne): "You can't give the enemy a break. Send him to Hell!"
Sunday, July 21, 2013
(June 1962, U.S.)
Well, folks, here it is again...any opportunity I get to discuss one of Stanley Kubrick's films is always a good one. This story, based on the original classic novel by Vladimir Nabokov, of a middle-aged professor who becomes completely obsessed with a teenage girl, is one that by today's audience standards of what is considered shocking and immoral in film would require a great degree of imagination and appreciation of the time and era when such a story's content would be shown on the big screen to the seemingly innocent public. Look carefully at the movie poster's caption of "How did they ever make a movie of LOLITA?" and try to understand how incredibly risky and dangerous it must have been to attempt to bring such a subject matter out in the open like this. And yet, Nabokov crafts the screenplay of his own work to convey it's hidden deeper message of such a forbidden sexual obsession and fantasy without forgetting that this was the year 1962 and their was (still) only so far Hollywood was willing to go with cinematic decency and moral codes. Due to the MPAA's restrictions at the time, the film has greatly toned down the more provocative aspects of the novel, sometimes leaving much to the audience's imagination and whatever intelligence they possessed. The actress who played Lolita, Sue Lyon, was, after all, only fourteen at the time of filming. Interestingly, Kubrick later commented that, had he realized how severe the censorship limitations were going to be, he probably never would have made the film. That would have been too bad, to say the least.
The movie begins with the murder of Clare Quilty (played brilliantly by Peter Sellers) by the hands of Humbert Humbert, a forty-something British professor of French literature (played by James Mason). We immediately learn that Humbert has been greatly wronged by Quilty in some manner and that it somehow involves a girl called Delores Hays, aka Lolita. We as the viewer are not meant to know the what or the why yet, so we're taken back four years in a flashback that will tell the story of how things came to this point. When we first meet Humbert in the flashback tale, we immediately wonder (or perhaps it's just me?) just what the hell he's really doing in America because our first impression of him is that he has a general distaste for American culture and the rather low class character of American people. You almost can't blame the guy's attitude when one of the first people he encounters in Ramsdale, New Hampshire is Charlotte Haze (played by the always irritating Shelley Winters), an overweight, sexually frustrated widow, who invites him to rent out a room in her house for the summer. He declines until seeing her daughter, Lolita, a soda-pop drinking, gum-snapping, overtly flirtatious teenager ( or nymphet, as Nabokov refers to her), with whom Humbert falls in love. Love? Seriously? Pardon my French, but a middle-aged man thinking with his dick in the quest of teenage pussy is hardly what I'd call LOVE!). Anyway, right there and then, Humbert accepts lodging in the Haze household just in order to get closer to Lolita. But ever-annoying Charlotte wants all of "Hum's" time for herself and soon announces she'll be sending Lolita to an all-girl sleepaway camp for the summer. After the Hazes' depart for camp, Humbert is given a letter written by Charlotte in which she confesses her love for him and demands that he vacate her house at once unless he feels the same for her. The letter says that if Humbert is still in the house when she returns, Charlotte will know her love is requited, and he must marry her. This is one of the most amusing sequences of the film because even as he reads aloud these heartfelt words of love and devotion that any other man just might be genuinely flattered by, he instead roars with laughter at the sadly tender, yet characteristically overblown letter by an American woman of such low class that he's clearly come to despise. Nevertheless, he marries her for the same reason he previously moved in. Things inevitably turn sour for the couple in the absence of the lovely nymphet. Humbert becomes more withdrawn, and brassy Charlotte more a lot more whiny. She soon discovers Humbert's secret diary entries detailing his sexual passion for Lolita and characterizing Charlotte as "the Haze woman, the cow, the obnoxious mama, the brainless baba". She has an hysterical outburst, runs outside, is hit by a car and dies. This, by all storytelling purposes, is the end of Act One. Act Two in which the dirty old man can freely pursue his teenage pussy is about to begin!
Act Two becomes, by today's standards, is something of a road movie. Humbert and Lolita drive across country toward their final destination of Beardsley College, Ohio where Humbert will soon begin teaching. An overnight at a large hotel is the first time it's suggested that the two of them are finally going to come together sexually when Lolita innocently seduces him as he lies awake on a hotel cot. This hotel sequence is also the first time we get a true sense of who Clare Quilty really is and what he intends to do to screw with Humbert's mind. It immediately becomes clear to him just what's going on between Humbert and Lolita and he has every intention of having a great deal of fun with it. It begins with him pretending to be a rather nervous member of the police force who enjoys repeating the word "normal" a lot and making his ever-threatening presence known to Humbert to arouse his nerves and his fears. Later, his portrayal of a German high school psychologist is used to further agitate Humbert, but I'll go deeper into that very shortly. By the time Lolita and Humbert have settled into a daily routine of school and work, the two of them may as well be just as American as any other bickering married couple. Humbert's obsession for Lolita is only flanked by his enraged jealousy over her association with boys her own age in malt shops, house parties and school plays.
Having mentioned the school play now, let's get back to Peter Sellers' portrayal of a German high school psychologist with an incredibly thick (and fake) German accent who goes by the name of Dr. Zemf. Take a look at what he looks like and you can immediately appreciate why Kubrick would later use Sellers again to play multiple roles in the classic DR. STRANGELOVE (1964)...
The initial purpose of such an elaborate disguise is only to get Humbert to allow Lolita to participate in the school play, but it's deeper intentions are that Quilty is clearly enjoying fucking with Humbert's mind and his sanity. This is just a game to him and one he thoroughly enjoys playing. Humbert, a man who started out as calm and dignified, is slowly being driven mad by obsession, jealousy, and the ongoing fear of being caught by law enforcement for his very illegal and immoral relationship with Lolita. Before we know it, the two of them are on the road again. It isn't until the end of their trip when we learn that Lolita has not only been a temptress, but a scheming and conniving little bitch who used Humbert for her own purposes until she could break away from him and end up with Clare Quilty, whom she later describes as "the only man I was ever really crazy about". By the film's end, though, she's married, pregnant and in her own way, repenting for the sins of her very young past. Humbert, on the other hand, is a broken man whose only option left in life is to drive to Clare Quilty's house and murder him.
And that, my friends, is how we got to where we got to!
Before I conclude, though, there are two particular sequences, or shots actually, that I'd like to call your attention to because I find a great deal to appreciate as you study them carefully. The first is when Humbert and Charlotte are in bed together as husband and wife and she's just announced to him that she intends to send Lolita away to boarding school immediately following summer camp, which initially means that Humbert will likely never get the opportunity to get his hands on Lolita. As the two of them are embraced in each others arms in the bed as he listens to her announcement, we can't help but notice Charlotte's gun resting on the bedside table in the foreground of the picture. Not once does Humbert actually look at the gun, but it's impossible for the viewer not to. In an instant we know just how Humbert must feel upon hearing this awful and deal-breaking news and how much he'd really love to get out of this mess he's created for himself. Add to the fact that Charlotte Hays is just about the most annoying creature on this planet, and our empathy for his predicament becomes very clear. The fat, annoying cow should she! She must die! Well, as it turns out, she does die. The second shot is when Humbert is standing at the front desk of the first hotel he and Lolita stop at. As he's nervously making the arrangements for his sleeping accommodations with the girl he's publically calling his "daughter", we can't help but stare at the large wall-hung banner in the background that announces a hotel convention for police officers. Humbert never sees the sign and doesn't know about the convention (until he's later told). We as the viewer know full well what his immoral sexual intentions are towards this girl and the dangerous irony of the hotel convention becomes clear to us. Humbert may be a dirty old man, but we've likely come to consider him the hero of the story, nonetheless. Do we want him to get caught? Do we want him to get away with what he's been doing? Do we want he and Lolita to triumph under the so-called laws and attractions of true love? Perhaps only Vladimir Nabokov knew the real answer to that question. I confess that I never read the book.
In 1998, the Showtime cable network aired an updated version of LOLITA directed by Adrian Lyne (FATAL ATTRACTION) which was supposed to be a more faithful version of the original novel. I didn't get Showtime so I asked the girl I was dating at the time, who did get Showtime, to tape it for me. I've only seen it once to date, and that was fifteen years ago, but the memory I have was that I was not too impressed. Faithful story or not, there seemed to be much less mystery and intrigue as compared to the Kubrick vision. By 1998, the promise was very likely that we would experience more forbidden sexual content than anything likely shown to audiences in the still innocent age of 1962. Sex may be great on film, but in my opinion, unless it's just straightforward pornography, it doesn't necessarily make a film's story content any better.
Bravo Kubrick! You're still the champ in my book!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Clare Quilty as Dr. Zemf (with a thick German accent): "Dr. Humbardz, vould you mind if I am putting to you ze blunt qvestion?"
Humbert: "No. By all means. Do so."
Dr. Zemf: "Vee are vondering, has, uh, anybody, uh, instructed Lolita in ze facts of life?"
Humbert: "The facts...?"
Dr. Zemf: "Ze facts of life. You see, Lolita is a sveet little child, but ze onset of maturity seems to be giving her a certain amount of trouble."
Humbert: "I really don't think this is a fit topic..."
Dr. Zemf: "Vell, Dr. Humbardz, to you she's still ze little girl what is cradled in ze arms. But to dose boys over dere at, uh, Beardsley High, mmmm, she is a lovely girl, you know, vith ze sving that she has a temperature zat zey take a lot of notice of. You and I, what I mean, ve are ze symbols of power sitting in our offices dere, we are making ze signatures, writing ze contracts and ze decisions all ze time. But if we cast our minds back, just think, what were we only yesterday? Yesterday, Dr. Humbardz, you and I were high school chains and we vere carrying little high school chains' school books. You remember dose days, ah?"
Humbert: "Uh, in point of fact, Dr. Zemf, I am a lecturer in French literature."
Dr. Zemf: "I have, uh, not made my point quite clear. I have some ozzer details vhich I vould like to put to you, Dr. Humbardz. Here...she is defiant an' rude. Sighs a good deal in ze class. She sighs, makes ze sound of ze...hehhh. Chews gum verimently. All ze time is chewing zis gum. Handles books gracefully. Zis is alright, doesn't do any matter. Voice is pleasant. A little dreamy. Concentration is poor. She...she looks at ze book for a while and zen she gets, eh, fed up wiz it. Has private jokes of her own which no one understands so we can't enjoy zem wit her. She either has exceptional control or she has no control at all. Ve cannot decide vhich. Added to dat, jus' yesterday, Dr. Humbardz, she wrote a most obscene word wit' ze lipstick, if you please, on ze health pamphlets. So in our opinion, she is suffering from acute repression of ze libido, of ze natural instincts!"
And as Dr. Zemf goes on an on and on, you can clearly see the tension and the fear in Humbert's face. You can sense that James Mason must be doing his absolute best in trying to control himself and not burst into laughter from having to sit there and play straight face to Peter Seller's outrageous comic genius!
Saturday, July 20, 2013
(June 1928, U.S.)
To reflect on the great work of Alfred Hitchcock is to traditionally consider his great works of films like PSYCHO, THE BIRDS, VERTIGO, REAR WINDOW and NORTH BY NORTHWEST, to just name some. To reflect even further, one might consider his great early British works of films like THE 39 STEPS, THE LADY VANISHES and SABOTAGE, to just name some. So what's my point? My point is that I suspect that even the most die hard Hitchcock aficionados don't always take the time to consider that the man started out in silent films just like many of the other classic directors of the day. I must confess, though, despite this small bit of preaching, THE LODGER is the only silent Hitchcock film I've ever seen. Shame on me!
This film tells the story of the hunt for a "Jack the Ripper" type of serial killer in London. As the fair-haired female victims of a killer who calls himself "the Avenger" are increasing, the city is on alert and women are taking precaution my wearing dark colored wigs to protect themselves (fifty years later in real life, New York City women would do the same thing during the "Son of Sam" scare of 1977). Meanwhile, late one foggy night, at the lodging home Mr. and Mrs. Bunting, a new tenant, a lodger (played by Ivor Novello) arrives at their house inquires about the room they're renting. Mrs. Bunting takes him to the room on the top floor of her house which is decorated with portraits of beautiful young women, all blondes, which make him uneasy. The man is rather reclusive and secretive, which immediately puzzles Mrs. Bunting. However she doesn't complain after he willingly pays her a month's rent in advance and asks only to be left in peace. From the audience's perspective, we're very likely to just presume that this mysterious man of the night is the serial killer that is terrorizing London. The lodger begins to develop a romantic relationship with Daisy (played by an actress simply called June), a blonde model, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Bunting and also the love interest of the policeman heading the search for "the Avenger". It's just all so "convenient", ain't it??
Murders continue and the police slowly deduce that the pattern of attacks is working its way towards the Bunting neighborhood. Suspicions slowly arise and actively work their way toward concerned citizen believing that the lodger is the wanted killer. As previously mentioned, we are immediately conditioned to believe that this is so and mounting evidence supports this case. But as in any murder mystery, one of key rules, if not THE key rule, is that the person you suspect the most throughout the film will very likely turn out to be the innocent one by the end. Hitchcock clearly understood that fact and ignore it here. With warrant in hand, law arrive to search the lodger's room. In the locked cupboard they find a leather bag containing a gun, a map plotting the location of the Avenger's murders, newspapers and a photograph of an attractive blonde woman. Taking the lodger's emotional reaction as an admission of guilt, the police surmise that this woman was "the Avenger's" first victim. The lodger is arrested despite Daisy's protests, but manages to escape and runs off into the night. Daisy follows and finds him, still handcuffed, coatless, and shivering in the fog. The lodger explains that the photograph found in his room was his sister, a beautiful debutante who was murdered by "the Avenger" at a dance she had attended with her brother. He vowed to his mother on her deathbed he would not rest until he had brought the killer to justice. By the film's conclusion, a virtual lynch mob is after the lodger until it's revealed that the real "Avenger" has been captured. Justice is served, the innocent is exonerated and love (presumably) has conquered all.
This was one of the first times Hitchcock revealed his psychological attraction to the association between sex and murder, between ecstasy and death. This is a theme that would pave the way for much of his later work. THE LODGER also introduced the theme of the innocent man on the run, hunted down by a self-righteous society, and a fetishistic sexuality, another trademark of his later films. Hitchcock shows us ominous camera angles and claustrophobic lighting that help create the perfect mood of a murder mystery in the heart of the London fog.
I have to say that I've watched this film a few times and every time it's rather difficult to watch all the way through. Not because it's not a worthwhile film. It's because it's a very old and grainy public domain print and when you're watching it late at night in the dark, that sort of black and white picture plays hell with your eyes and makes you sleepy. It happens to me, anyway.
Favorite line or dialogue:
The Lodger: "I know it looks ugly, but they got on my nerves."
(Sounds like my feelings for many of the people I encounter in my everyday life!)
Wednesday, July 17, 2013
(March 1999, U.S.)
When watching LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS, I honestly can't decide whether the greater challenge lies in trying to keep up with and properly understand the rather thick Cockney accent of all the players involved or trying to keep up with and properly understand who owes who money, who's stealing from who and who wants to kill who and why.
This British crime story by Guy Ritchie (the EX-Mrs. Madonna!) is a heist film involving a self-confident young card sharp named Eddy (played by Nick Moran) who loses £500,000 to a powerful crime lord named "Hatchet" Harry Lonsdale (played by P.H. Moriarty) in a rigged game of three card brag (whatever the hell THAT is!). With virtually no hope of being able to pay off such a hefty debt, Eddy returns home and overhears his neighbors, a gang of thieves planning a heist on some marijuana growers supposedly loaded with cash and drugs. Eddy relays this information to his group of friends that include Bacon (played by newcomer Jason Statham before he became an action star), intending for them to rob the neighbors as they come back from their heist. They cleverly install taping equipment to record the conversations of their neighbors. Meanwhile, one of the friends Tom (played by Jason Flemyng) acquires a pair of antique shotguns from an underground dealer, known as Nick "the Greek" (played by Stephen Marcus), who also strikes a deal with Rory Breaker (played by Vas Blackwood), a rival sociopathic gangster, to buy the stolen drugs. Some time previously, Nick had purchased the guns from a pair of bungling small-time criminals, Gary and Dean (played by Victor McGuire and Jake Abraham), who had stolen them from a bankrupt lord as part of a job for Harry Lonsdale, not realizing that of the entire stolen firearms collection, his only desire was the two antique shotguns.
(okay, this is the part where I traditionally ask...are you following all of this so far??)
Right about now is where cliché and predictability take over. Just about every heist involved in this film goes horribly (and sometimes comically) wrong and by the time all the bullets are done flying, just about every character in this film is dead or on his way to bleeding to death. Except, of course, for our four friends that we've come to know and appreciate throughout the film because it all gets to a point where, despite their criminal intentions, they end up being the good guys. In the end , the four of them are arrested, but declared innocent after a wrongful identification by a traffic warden identified one of the other dead gangs as the prime suspects. The four reunite at Eddy's father’s (played by none other than Sting himself) bar and decide that Tom should dispose of the antique shotguns, which are the only remaining pieces of evidence that links them to any of these crimes. However, upon receiving an antique guns catalogue, it's revealed that the antique shotguns were each worth a great fortune. They frantically try to call Tom, and the film ends in a both literal and figurative cliffhanger when Tom’s mobile phone starts ringing as he hangs over the side of a bridge, preparing to drop the shotguns into the river and he has to pathetically decide whether to answer his phone or drop the guns into the river, as he was originally ordered to. My written description of this conclusion may not do enough justice here, but take my word for it...when you're watching it happen, it's funny (ha, bloody, ha!).
As a rule, I personally feel that most heist films don't differ very much from each other. We know the heist will go wrong, we know many will die and we know the better people will survive the entire ordeal. What's key in Guy Ritchie's film here (as it is in his follow-up, SNATCH) is dialogue; dialogue that quick, snappy, vulgar, entertaining and admittedly hard to follow if you're not paying attention to every bloody word! And I might add that there's enough of the word "fuck" and "fucking" in this film to make Dennis Hopper's character of Frank Booth in David Lynch's BLUE VELVET (1986) real fucking happy! One walks away from LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS wanting more because it's been so much damn fun to watch some of the best British screen hooligans I've seen since Stanley Kubrick's A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971). I can't help but wonder how strongly Guy Ritchie may have been influenced by that film. If not that one, then certain the 1979 film version of The Who's QUADROPEHNIA comes to mind...with Cockney dialogue just as challenging to understand!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Eddie: "Alright, we hit 'em as soon as they come back. We'll be prepared...waiting...and they're armed."
Soap: "What was that? Armed? What do you mean armed? Armed with what?"
Eddie: "Err, bad breath, colorful language, feather duster...what do you think they're gonna be armed with? Guns, you tit!"
Soap: "Guns? You never said anything about guns! A minute ago this was the safest job in the world! Now it's turning into a bad day in Bosnia!"
Sunday, July 14, 2013
(June 1987, U.S.)
Ladies and gentlemen, I'm proud to bring you the return of the great James Bond double feature! The last time this happened was GOLDENEYE (1995) and GOLDFINGER (1964). Now it's LIVE AND LET DIE (1973) and THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS. Seriously, you just gotta love this shit!
When I posted my blog for LICENCE TO KILL (1989) some time ago, I reserved much of my opinions and observations of Timothy Dalton's takeover of the legendary character because I specifically wanted to hold out for what was his premiere performance in the role. Although back in 1985 I seem to recall A VIEW TO A KILL being a somewhat popular film with fans, it seems that in retrospect, it generally failed at the box office and as a longstanding example in the Bond franchise. Roger Moore was now out as Bond after twelve years, the reasons being dependent on whom you'd ask; Moore or United Artists. Anyway, the search for the new James Bond was underway and the only reason we didn't see Pierce Brosnan in the role much earlier was due to his commitments to TV's "Remington Steele" (a show I've never seen). So...enter Timothy Dalton. Who the fuck was Timothy Dalton?? I'd never heard of the guy, despite a rather extensive career up to that point. Had I remembered the totally cheesy 1980 film of FLASH GORDON, I might have remembered him as Prince Barin, but alas...no. I was about to learn, though, that unknowns in familiar roles are sometimes a great blessing. But I'll get a little deeper into that later.
The film's title was the last one to use the title of an Ian Fleming story until the 2006 film of CASINO ROYALE. The opening sequence of the film resembles Fleming's short story, in which James Bond acts as a counter-sniper to protect a Soviet defector, Georgi Koskov (played by Jeroen Krabbé). He tells Bond and the heads of MI6 that General Pushkin (played by John Rhys-Davies), head of the KGB, is systematically killing off British and American agents. When Koskov is seemingly snatched back only hours after his defection, Bond follows him across Europe, Morocco and Afghanistan to uncover the truth. Along the way he teams up with and falls for Russian cellist Kara Milovy (played by Maryam d'Abo) who's also Koskov's girlfriend. I might add, at this point, that this is the last Bond film to make a point and storyline of the Cold War still in existence at the time. This is also the only Bond film where the so-called "super-villain" is not particularly clear. We have Koskov and his American partner in arms dealing and narcotics, Brad Whitaker (played by Joe Don Baker), a fanatical and self-styled general who's character comes off as a combination of George S. Patton and Napoleon. Both men are clearly the bad guys here, but neither one of them is truly identified as head of any evil organization, domination or plot. And like most other Bond films, the formula is still packed perfectly with all the charm, action, thrills and suspense you're come to expect from the franchise, and lets also not forget the return of a great new version of the Aston Marin! Only now, after nearly two decades of Roger Moore's rather "extra British" style of fun, Dalton shows us a darker, more serious James Bond; a Bond whose anger is very clear and whose dark side you very likely don't want to be a part of. And yet, unlike Daniel Craig, Dalton knows when to put an irresistible smile on his face once in a while. It's a shame that he made only two Bond films, because I rather preferred him a great deal over Pierce Brosnan, who while making a great Bond debut, failed to truly keep the character where he belonged in films that followed. Sadly, though, this is also the last James Bond film to feature the great quintessential music of John Barry, something I still truly miss from the franchise even today.
Interestingly, the debate of who is the best James Bond and why is one that can likely tangle up the minds and opinions of fans for years to come. Myself, I don't always find myself considering the period of Bond films by who played the character at the time, but rather the era in which many of them were made. In this particular situation, that is, the James Bond films of the 1980s, I don't pay too much attention to either Moore or Dalton, but rather I find myself considering this time being the John Glen era of Bond films. Consider for just a moment; all Bond films during the 1980s were directed by the same man, John Glen, and it's impossible not to consider and appreciate the changing times the man must have had to take into account to try and keep Bond as up-to-date as possible with modern times and modern audiences. For the first year of the 1980s with FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1981), Bond was still practically coming off of the tail end of an era dominated by disco music and the flashy excess of Lewis Gilbert's previous two film efforts (THE SPY WHO LOVED ME and MOONRAKER). It's almost no wonder Glen felt the urge to completely start over and bring Bond back to a much simpler level. By 1989, the same director was taking on a new Bond in a new period of a decade that had seen the years of Ronald Reagan, MTV, the Aids disease and the beginnings of the end of the Soviet Union. In a ten year period, Bond had to change and so did his film makers. This is why I always take into consideration, the "John Glen" period of James Bond film. Think about it. It does make sense. As for THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS, it may less popular than other choices by fans more serious than myself about their Bond films, but I personally consider it one of my top five favorite Bond films of all time. That's a pretty heavy honor, I'm sure, but I feel it deserves it.
Wonder what Richard K. thinks??
Favorite line or dialogue:
Linda (into the phone on her yacht): "It's all so boring here, Margo. There's nothing but playboys and tennis pros. If only I could find a real man."
(James Bond suddenly lands on the boat with a smoldering parachute)
James Bond: "I need to use your phone." (grabs the phone) "She'll call you back."
Linda: "You are who?"
James: "Bond, James Bond." (into the phone) "Exercise Control, 007 here. I'll report in an hour."
Linda (offering a drink): "Won't you join me?"
James (into the phone): "Better make that two."
Yes! That's the James Bond I know and love!
Thursday, July 11, 2013
(June 1973, U.S.)
(This movie poster's for YOU, Richard K. I know it's your favorite!)
Okay, so now it's the year 1973 and I'm quite sure fans of the James Bond franchise were scratching their heads and asking "WTF??" I mean, first Sean Connery is out, then some guy no one ever heard of named George Lazenby (ON HER MAJESTY"S SECRET SERVICE) is in, then he's out, then Sean Connery is back (DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER) and then he's out again! Like I said, a great big "WTF??" It was time for a fresh Bond reboot, and this time, perhaps one that would actually WORK, because frankly, the two Bond titles I just mentioned did not work at all, in my opinion. Enter Roger Moore, formerly of TV's THE SAINT, who fills in the shoes very nicely. In fact, I'll confess to you right now, that despite the fact that Connery is consistently considered the best Bond by fans all over the world, I've always felt that Moore delivered a more charming, stylish and sophisticated, classic English approach to Ian Flemming's character and thus, has always been my favorite Bond player since I first saw him in MOONRAKER as a kid. Yes, I'll say it again to all of you Bond fanatics who possibly think I'm just a little crazy...Roger Moore is my favorite James Bond (please don't kill me!).
Actually, since I've mentioned MOONRAKER, there's something I should bring to your immediate attention because it's this particular film that's always gotten a lot of negative flack because of it's rather "sell-out" approach to cashing in on the runaway success of STAR WARS just two years prior. That accusation may be very well justified, but let's consider for a moment that LIVE AND LET DIE sold it's soul first by cashing in during the height of the blaxploitation era of the early 1970s. Never before (and never since) had a James Bond film been filled with so much soul and so many derogatory racial archetypes and clichés. It departs from the former plots of the Bond films about megalomaniac super-villains, and instead focuses on drug trafficking, depicted primarily in said blaxploitation films. In this film, a Harlem drug lord known as Mr. Big (played by Yaphet Kotto) plans to distribute two tons of heroin free to put rival drug barons out of business. Mr. Big, however, is revealed to be the disguised alter ego of Dr. Kananga (also played by Kotto), a corrupt Caribbean dictator, who rules San Monique, the fictional island where the heroin poppies are secretly farmed. Bond is investigating the death of three British agents, leading him to Kananga, where he's soon trapped in a world of gangsters and voodoo as he fights to put a stop to the drug baron's scheme. Also included is an incredibly awesome boat chase sequence in the waters of New Orleans with the very comical redneck Sheriff J.W. Pepper (played by Clifton James) and an alligator sequence that still gives me chills when I watch it. It also has the ever-so-beautiful Jane Seymour in her debut role as Solitaire who is...how shall I put it...the most sexually delicious-looking Bond girl I've enjoyed looking at since Claudine Auger's character of Domino in THUNDERBALL (1965)! Unlike many (not all) of the other Bond girls, she's completely helpless and dependent on Bond and even looses her virginity to him, but I suppose political correctness and anti-sexism is the last thing I care about when I'm watching her on screen.
Despite it's immense popularity and some great action sequences, I can't claim that this James Bond film is one of my top favorites. There are, however, some very unique elements that make this one stand out from the others. Consider these film facts about LIVE AND LET DIE:
1. This is the first Bond film to finally feature an opening song by a rock band with Paul McCartney & Wings (no intended disrespect to Shirley Bassey).
2. This is the only Bond film in the entire franchise to ever feature on-location shooting in New York City.
3. This is the only Bond film in the entire franchise to feature an African-American Bond super-villain.
4. This is the only Roger Moore Bond film that pairs him with his CIA colleague Felix Leiter. Felix is not in any of the others.
5. This is the only Bond film where we actually get to go inside Bond's primary residence. Think about it...he's always staying in hotels in every other film.
Now here's another fact about James Bond that LIVE AND LET DIE brings to my attention. In every situation, Bond is predictably fearless, as he should be. But it's pretty obvious that he's scared shitless of lethal animals. In this film, it's a snake and alligators. In DR. NO (1962), it was a hairy tarantula! In OCTOPUSSY (1983), he's highly startled by a tiger (though he ridiculously gets him to "Sit"!) I suppose we can't blame the guy for getting the "heebee-jeebees" over certain things in life. Nobody's perfect...not even Bond.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Sheriff J.W. Pepper (to Bond): "What are you? Some kinda doomsday machine, boy? Well we got a cage strong enough to hold an animal like you here!"
Felix Leiter: "Captain, would you enlighten the Sheriff please?"
State Trooper: "Yes, sir. J.W., let me have a word with ya. J.W., now this fellow's from London, England. He's a Englishman workin' in cooperation with our boys, a sorta...secret agent."
J.W.: "Secret agent?? On WHOSE side??"
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
(January 1931, U.S.)
Before I entered my college years and began discovering the great classic black and white films of cinema's history, I'd really only had two glimpses of actor Edward G. Robinson. The first was as Dathan in Cecil B. DeMille spectacular 1956 version of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS because I would watch it every year on ABC-TV's annual broadcast. The second was...well, take a look at this picture...
Get the idea? This is what happens when you spend the bulk of your childhood (and adulthood, admittedly) watching Looney Tunes! So like I said, as I discovered classic films, I came to realize that those great Warner Brothers cartoon images of Robinson were a consistent homage to his character in the gangster film LITTLE CAESAR. Now by today's moviegoing standards of excessive violence on screen, this little film would be practically unwatchable for those who crave that sort of crazy excitement. However, keeping a very open mind that this was the year 1931 and both the Great Depression and Prohibition were in high gear, the violence the film depicts, as well as the studio's message to stand against the very violence it depicts, becomes very clear in its relevance. You see, people? You have to open up your mind, your imagination and your appreciation to fully understand and enjoy films of eras long since past.
Robinson's character of Caesar Enrico "Rico" Bandello is a very obvious tribute to the legendary gangster Al Capone and is the film that would inevitably inspire many gangster films of the 20th Century, including Brian DePalma's SCARFACE (1983) and THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987). Rico starts off as a mere small-time criminal but moves to Chicago to seek greater fortune and glory in the criminal underworld. Interestingly, despite the fact that this film takes place during the era of Prohibition, there is surprisingly no mention or reference made to the transaction of illegal liquor, but rather traditional gang robberies instead. Rico slowly rises in the ranks of his gang and eventually takes over as leader with hardly a conflict or standoff with the gang's previous boss. Rico is a dangerous man who's never afraid to let his gun (or his "rod) do the talking. He takes what he wants and expects all those under him to follow his commands without question, including the man who is supposedly his best friend, Joe Massara (played by Douglas Fairbanks Jr.). Yet despite all of this viciousness, there's a moment one cannot ignore when Rico's human conscience gets the better of him and he backs away from actually shooting his best friend. For just one brief moment, loyalty and friendship take over and expose his weak side. When the law does finally catch up with Rico, he's forced to flee and lay low for months. The man's rise is immediately flanked by his fall when we find him later living in a flophouse and becomes enraged when he learns that he's been dubbed a coward in the newspapers. Foolishly, he telephones the cop who's been hunting him down to announce that he's coming for him. The call is traced (didn't know cops could do that in 1931), and he's ultimately gunned down in the name of American justice. During the era of Prohibition-related crime and violence, it was likely very important that movie studios show the bad guy getting his just dues in the end. Hey, whatever worked!
So let me just say a heartfelt thank you to Bugs Bunny because if he hadn't matched wits with Warner Brothers animated version of Edward G. Robinson, I might never have had any interest in watching LITTLE CAESAR. Funny how things come about!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Caesar Enrico Bandello (to Joe Massara): "You didn't quit! Nobody ever quit me! You're still in my gang! You got that? I don't care how many fancy skirts you have hanging on to you! That jane's made a softy out of you!"
Sunday, July 7, 2013
(November 2007, U.S.)
I am of the opinion that history has shown a rather gross inconsistency regarding the timing of war-related films. Almost immediately following the United States' entry into World War II in 1941, combat films and war dramas (many of them starring John Wayne) were in the highest demand to keep the war effort and the spirit of America moving forward. The Korean conflict was virtually overlooked and despite the overwhelming popularity of films like THE DEER HUNTER (1978) and APOCALYPSE NOW (1979), it wasn't until the mid-1980s when films of the Vietnam War gained a general acceptance with the American moviegoing public. And like Korea, the first Gulf War of 1991 was virtually overlooked on film (COURAGE UNDER FIRE with Denzyl Washington and Meg Ryan being the only one I can come up with). So here we are, twelve years passed since September 11, 2001 and the United States' war on terror and the small group of films that have strongly addressed the subject seem to have been met with less than strong enthusiam and acceptance. Why is that? How does our American spirit against our enemies of the world differ from wartime eras long since vanished? Why were we so gung-ho to watch John Rambo destroy outdated enemies of Vietnam back in 1985 but seem to have less of that gung-ho spirit to watch American soldiers kill memebers of the Taliban on the big screen during this past century? These are questions that, perhaps, film scholars much brighter and more experienced than myself can answer. I can only say for LIONS FOR LAMBS that director Robert Redford makes a strong attempt to show American audiences exactly where we were in the midst of the second George W. Bush administration and what we needed to force ourselves to think about.
This is a thought-provoking film of three simultaneous stories that very likely take place in the span of merely one hour. At a West Coast university, two determined students, Arian (played by Derek Luke) and Ernest (played by Michael Peña), at the urging of their idealistic professor, Dr. Malley (played by Redford himself), attempt to do something important with their lives by making the bold decision to commission themselves in the U.S. army to fight in Afghanistan after graduating from college. Dr. Malley is also attempting to reach talented and privileged, but disaffected, student Todd Hayes (played by Spiderman's Andrew Garfield). He's is naturally bright but has apparently slipped into apathy upon being disillusioned at the present state of affairs of our country. Dr. Malley tests him by offering a choice between a respectable grade of 'B' in the class with no additional work required or a final opportunity to re-engage with the material of the class and "do something." Before Todd makes his choice, he must listen to Dr. Malley's story of his former students Arian and Ernest and why they are in Afghanistan. Myself, I probably would've taken the 'B' without the work, but anyway...
So manwhile, in Washington, D.C., a charismatic Republican presidential hopeful, Senator Jasper Irving (played by Tom Cruise), has invited liberal TV journalist Janine Roth (played by Meryl Streep) to his office to announce a new war strategy in Afghanistan that involves the use of small units to seize strategic positions in the mountains ("forward operating points") before the Taliban can occupy them. This, by the way, is the exact mission that will inevitably involve Arian and Ernest and carry them to their destiny as American soldiers (I won't give their fates away!) The senator hopes that Roth's positive coverage will help convince the public that the plan is sound and just. But Janine has her doubts and fears she's merely being asked to become an instrument of government bullshit propaganda. Near the end of the film, she informs her commercially-minded boss of her plans to call out the senator's new strategy for what she feels is nothing more than a ploy. Ultimately, Senator Irving's version of the story is run without the critical interaction. Whether Janine gave in and toed the company line or quit her job is not clear, but Cruise's portrayel of a smooth-talking, snake-charming politician who would make a used car salesman seem ethical is just dead-on perfect in my book. I also have to point out that one of my favorite moments of Janine's examples of pointing out just how persistently corrupt the politics of our government are, are when she cites specific song lyrics of The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" that goes "Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss".
Unfortunately, LIONS FOR LAMBS was not a box office or a critical success and it absolutely puzzles me as to the reasons why. Are we still unwilling to truly embrace the harsh realities of the war on terror in film? Have we all just become too brainwashed and enslaved by the latest comic book franchise sequel that we're unwilling and unable to just stop for a moment and consider some hard, controversial issues in film? Not speaking for myself personally, I would normally go for the latter. In this case, however, I'm just not sure what the answer is. I believe that LIONS FOR LAMBS just might have had to potential to change the minds of people, even for a mere ninety minutes, if they'd simply allowed it to. Who knows. Or as Ayn Rand might have put it, who is "John Galt"?
Favorite line or dialogue:
Janine Roth: "Why did we send 150,000 troops to a country that did not attack us, and one-tenth that number to the one that did?"
Senator Jasper Irving: "How many times are you people going to ask the same question?"
Janine: "'Till we get the answer."