Sunday, September 29, 2013
(November 1992, U.S.)
Like BASIC INSTINCT earlier that year of 1992, Spike Lee's film of MALCOM X was deeply marred in controversy even before filming began. And like BASIC INSTINCT, all of that controversy and outrage just fueled my resolve to get in line to see the film as early as possible. The crux of the controversy, it seems, was Malcolm X's inflammatory and very often angry denunciation of whites before he undertook his hajj. He was, arguably, not well regarded among white citizens of America, by and large; nonetheless, he rose to become a national hero in the black community and a symbol of blacks' struggles, particularly during the era of the turbulent 1960 and the fight for equal rights.
Like many other film biopics before it on well-known figures, Lee begins the film showing us the character in his earliest years with flashbacks to a rough childhood in which he was separated from his family after his father was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan and his mother was deemed unfit to raise him and his siblings. From the very beginning, Malcom Little faces life with racial prejudice from all sides of the white person's world who would seek to keep him down in life and not allow him to chase his true potential. As a child, when he announces that he wants to be a lawyer, he's immediately shot down by his (white) teacher, claiming that such a career for a black man is unrealistic and that a carpenter would be better suited for him. Manhood brings on thievery, hustling and running number for the local boss (played by Delroy Lindo). Interestingly, when he and his accomplice in crime "Shorty" (played by Spike Lee himself) are arrested for their burglary crimes, it's the true crime of sleeping with white woman that earns them much extra jail time.
And so, as cliché often dictates, prison life is where a man usually comes to terms with himself and changes his outlook and actions towards life. Malcom embraces the practices and faith of the Nation of Islam and is immediately delegated a speaker and representative to the people upon his release from prison. Here, I might add, is where the stellar performance of Denzel Washington truly unleashes itself on the screen. In a film that tends to rely primarily on stirring dialogue through repeated speeches during a time of struggle, it's impossible to feel even a shred of boredom or impatience when you're listening to Denzel speak the words of his cause and purpose. Unlike Gandhi and Martin Luther King, though, Malcom X was not a believe in passive or non-violent resistance. For a black person to not exercise his or her right to defend themselves when faced with aggression or violence, he deemed totally unintelligent, and he was right! And like all great men who dare to stir the shit storm of society's balance, Malcom X is gunned down in a brutal assassination by his own people. Like all great men, history often doesn't fully appreciate and understand their greatness until after they're dead. That seems to be how history works.
As a non-prejudice white man who only knows a certain amount of American history, I can only claim that my knowledge and experience of who Malcom X was comes only from Spike Lee's epic film. How much was accurate? Who can say? There are people on both sides of history who can likely argue two different sides of what's historically correct, or not. Knowing Lee's true passion to have this film made and the fact that it's based on Malcom X's own words as told to author Alex Haley, I'd like to think that we're watching the story of a man's life in its accurate form. If that's true, then it becomes painfully obvious just how sick with racial hatred America was during the decades before I was born. Did it ever really improve? Spike Lee didn't seem to think so at the time of making this film. Just watch the opening credits accompanied by the amateur video footage shot the Los Angeles police beating Rodney King; an incident that had taken place only about a year and a half before the release of MALCOM X.
This film has, and will continue to be, the acting performance of Denzel Washington's long career; one that I feel he served the best actor Oscar even more than the one he inevitably achieved for TRAINING DAY eight years later. And as much as I like later films like PHILIDELPHIA, CRIMSON TIDE, THE HURRICAN and TRAINING DAY, they will likely never measure up, in my book, to the obviously difficult task of portraying a man who helped to change the course of America and our attitudes toward the oppression of blacks in our society. We would probably all agree that there's still a long way to go. Malcom X would have, too, had he lived this long.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Ossie Davis (voice-over of the actual eulogy he gave at the funeral of Malcom X in 1965): "Here, at this final hour, in this quiet place, Harlem has come to bid farewell to one of its brightest hopes. Extinguished now, and gone from us forever. It is not in the memory of man that this beleaguered, unfortunate, but nonetheless proud community has found a braver, more gallant young champion than this Afro-American who lies before us unconquered still. I say the word again, as he would want me to: Afro-American — Afro-American Malcolm. Malcolm had stopped being Negro years ago; it had become too small, too puny, too weak a word for him. Malcolm was bigger than that. Malcolm had become an Afro-American, and he wanted so desperately that we, that all his people, would become Afro-Americans, too. There are those who still consider it their duty, as friends of the Negro people, to tell us to revile him, to flee, even from the presence of his memory, to save ourselves by writing him out of the history of our turbulent times...and we will smile...they will say that he is of hate; a fanatic, a racist who can only bring evil to the cause for which you struggle! And we will answer and say unto them: Did you ever talk to Brother Malcolm? Did you ever touch him or have him smile at you? Did you ever really listen to him? Was he ever himself associated with violence or any public disturbance? For if you did, you would know him. And if you knew him, you would know why we must honor him: Malcolm was our manhood, our living, black manhood! This was his meaning to his people. And, in honoring him, we honor the best in ourselves. However much we may have differed with him or with each other about him and his value as a man, let his going from us serve only to bring us together, now. Consigning these mortal remains to earth, the common mother of all, secure in the knowledge that what we place in the ground is no more now a man, but a seed which, after the winter of our discontent, will come forth again to meet us. And we will know him then for what he was, and is: a prince! Our own black shining prince who didn’t hesitate to die, because he loved us so."
Monday, September 23, 2013
(December 2001, U.S.)
Director Frank Capra was considered a film maker who greatly personified the "American dream" greater than any other of his era...and he was Italian! His films often carried a clear message about basic goodness in human nature, and showed the value of unselfishness and hard work. His wholesome, feel-good themes inevitably led some to term his style as the term "Capraesque". Since then, film critics, scholars and fans have looked for that "Esque" in as many modern film as we could identify. A prime example from the last twenty years would be Rob Reiner's THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT (1995). At the time I originally saw that film, I personally thought the "Esque" that so many speak of would never be repeated that well again. I was wrong. The next effort (and superior to the previously mentioned example) came from two unlikely sources; Frank Darabont, whom as director had more-than-proven he could tackle the stories of Stephen King successfully with THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994) and THE GREEN MILE (1999) and Jim Carrey who had yet to prove that he could continue to offer dramatic performances beyond THE TRUMAN SHOW (1998). This film was also released three months after September 11th of that year, so it's quite safe to say that a feel-good movie with that "Capraesque" flavor was just what American filmgoers needed...well, at least that's what I needed.
THE MAJESTIC, set in the year 1951, not only exemplifies a period of the Golden Age of Movies, but also the period of "McCarthyism" blacklisting of those in Hollywood who would not cooperate with the Congressional Committee on un-American activities. When we meet Peter Appleton (played by Carrey), he's young, in love and successfully working in the movies with his first screen credit for a new "B" movie just released in theaters. Almost overnight, however, he learns that he's been accused of being a Communist because he once attended an antiwar meeting in college years before, a meeting he claims he only attended to impress a girl. In that instant, his new film is pushed back for months, the credit is given to someone else, his movie star girlfriend leaves him, and his contract with the studio is dropped. So what to do? He gets drunk, drives up the California coast and accidentally drives his car off a bridge, into a river and is knocked unconscious. When he wakes up, he's on a beach in a small town called Lawson and can't remember his identity or his past. Lawson, I might point out, is the perfect little hamlet by the sea where everybody knows everybody and kindness is spread around like a bad disease...almost like being a guest at Disney World! Immediately Peter is believed to be a long-lost World War II soldier missing in action for over nine years called Luke Trimble, particularly by Luke's surviving father Harry (played by Martin Landau in a wonderful performance). Not knowing or remembering any better, Peter has no reason not to believe that he's Luke, as well. The town needs Luke to be alive and Peter needs to reconnect with a past and people, so the unbeknownst hoax continues to take its toll as time goes on.
But let's get to the real focus of the film and that's the Majestic movie house. Here's what it looks like...
This great theater not only gloried the social essence of the town of Lawson, but also the glorious magic of the movies and what they exemplified for those who needed the escape of great motion picture entertainment. Upon Peter/Luke's return to Lawson, the Majestic theater is reopened and through a wonderful montage, we watch not only the dilapidated and decrepit building come to life again, but we also watch the people of this wonderful town come alive again with the spirit of hope for their community and for what the movies means to them. By the time the Majestic opens again, classic films of the 1950s like AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE and THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL have brought life, love and fun back to the town of Lawson. What, I ask you, could be more "Capraesque" than that?? In fact, when we listen to Harry verbally describe and glorify what the Majestic once meant to Lawson and himself, we truly believe the genuine history that Martin Landau is sharing with us because we know the actor is old enough to have lived through the experience that was once the magic of the movies, as well as the pain of loss from World War II.
Ah, but wait! If you know the work of the great Frank Capra well, then you know that the good things that make up the lives of his films don't last very long. Trouble brews, trouble strikes and for a time, all hope and goodness seems lost. This happens when not only Luke Trimble suddenly remembers that he's really Peter Appleton (by seeing his name on the poster of his own movie, for Christ sakes!), but also when the federal authorities finally catch up with him and serve him a subpoena to appear before Congress. Lawson is broken all over again and Peter must decide what he'll ultimately stand for in the end. The true "Esque" comes full circle to true form when in the great spirit of James Stewart in MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939), Peter holds up the Constitution of the United States and Medal of Honor that belonged to Luke Trimble to the very unfriendly Committee and impassionately declares that as a true American and patriot, he will stand by and uphold his ideals as a free human being. Victory is won and Peter turns his back on Hollywood forever to return to Lawson (as a hero) and the great Majestic movie palace. As a lover of the movies, the old movie palaces of yesterday and small towns by the sea, no ending could have been more perfect for someone who was trying to get over 9/11.
Now, on a very personal note, let me share with you my own personal Majestic. If you've been reading my work for a long time, then you've probably read that I've spent every summer since the year 1978 in a small seaside town known as Westhampton Beach on Long Island. This town actually had two movie theaters, but the one I want to call your attention to is this one, now known as the Westhampton Beach Theater of Performing Arts. Take a look at this great night time picture...
If one can claim to have a favorite movie theater (complete with upper balcony that still exists today) from either their childhood or in the present day, then it's THIS theater that's always held my most precious movie going memories. It's here that I saw childhood favorites like STAR WARS (1977), JAWS 2 (1978), ROCKY II and MOONRAKER (1979) and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981). It's here that I saw some great films as a young adult like WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (1988), BATMAN (1989), DIE HARD 2 and GOODFELLAS (both 1990), TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY (1991), THE FUGITIVE (1993) and INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996). It's here that I saw some real stinkers, too, like COBRA (1986), JAWS: THE REVENGE (1987), THE FLINTSTONES (1994) and BATMAN FOREVER (1995). Finally, it's here that I saw the last film the theater would ever show, THE FAN (1996) before shutting it's doors for what seemed like forever and then miraculously re-opening as a live performance theater. Today, this theater still shows independent art and foreign film on the occasional night that there's no live performance. The last film I saw here was a one night revival of Fellini's LA DOLCE VITA in 1997. Still, though, I'm very glad the theater is still standing for me to look at and remember some wonderful, glorious memories of my own movie going magic. Like I said, it's MY Majestic and I love it!
One last thing...I'd like to share a wonderful website with you that celebrates and glorifies all the movie theaters of the world; past and present, open and closed. Perhaps you have a favorite of your own...www.cinematreasures.com. Check it out! It's worth your time!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Harry Trimble: "That's why we call it The Majestic. Any man, woman, child could buy their ticket, walk right in. Here they'd be, here we'd be. "Yes sir, yes ma'am. Enjoy the show." And in they'd come entering a palace, like in a dream, like in heaven. Maybe you had worries and problems out there, but once you came through those doors, they didn't matter anymore. And you know why? Chaplin, that's why. And Keaton and Lloyd. Garbo, Gable, and Lombard, and Jimmy Stewart and Jimmy Cagney. Fred and Ginger. They were gods. And they lived up there. That was Olympus. Would you remember if I told you how lucky we felt just to be here? To have the privilege of watching them. I mean, this television thing. Why would you want to stay at home and watch a little box? Because it's convenient? Because you don't have to get dressed up, because you could just sit there? I mean, how can you call that entertainment, alone in your living room? Where's the other people? Where's the audience? Where's the magic? I'll tell you, in a place like this, the magic is all around you. The trick is to see it."
I have to say that's it's very sad to have to come to terms with that fact that the magic the character of Harry Trimble shares with us simply doesn't exist anymore. The great movie palaces of America have been replaced with amusement park-style multiplexes that serve cold, stale popcorn! The so-called "gods" of the big screen have been replaced with underage idiots that can't act worth a damn! Even television, which once replaced the experience of going to the movies so many decades ago, has turned to total shit with nothing but reality TV at every turn. In other words, Olympus has truly fallen!
Friday, September 20, 2013
(December 1973, U.S.)
Is it me or is there something just a little sick and perverted about a violent Dirty Harry film opening on Christmas Day?? I don't know. Maybe it's just me.
You have to figure that after the huge success of the original DIRTY HARRY two years prior, a franchise was only inevitable. I suppose any film franchise is only as worthy and as viable for as much as you're willing to accept of it. That in mind, MAGNUM FORCE, in my opinion, is not only a worthy (there's that word again!) successor to the first film, but is also far superior. It's not only my favorite Dirty Harry film, but also the last one in my heart and my film collection. The three that followed, THE ENFORCER (1976), SUDDEN IMPACT (1983) and THE DEAD POOL (1988) simply didn't maintain worthy (again!) story lines. And since story is my main focus here, MAGNUM FORCE actually maintains a more intriguing twist in the plotline than most other hard-ass cop and crime thrillers. In this film, the cream of the cop of San Francisco's criminals, including mob enforcers, pornographers (be sure to keep an eye out for a young, uncredited and topless Suzanne Somers during the pool massacre scene), and pimps, are being sadistically gunned down in cold blood by traffic cops. We know this immediately as the audience watching the action on screen. The mystery here is watching the police force lead by maverick cop Harry Callahan (played by Clint Eastwood again) try to figure things out along the way and inevitably conclude who the bad guys are. But can we, as citizens of the world who despise crime, actually consider the justice of vigilante cops who go outside of the law to clean up the city as criminals themselves? Did we not root for Charles Bronson when he shot New York City muggers to death in DEATH WISH (1974)? Are any of you readers old enough to remember the initial public reaction of support for Bernhard Goetz when he shot four muggers on a New York City subway train in 1984? Harry, of course, is meant to be the hero of the film and by the time we reach its climax, he's fighting for his life against the underground "society" of traffic cops who are trying to kill him to protect their cause. We also learn, as a startling surprise twist, that the "organization" is secretly lead by none other than Homicide Lt. Neil Briggs himself (played by Hal Holbrook is one of the more impressive roles of his career along with "Deep Throat" in ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN). In the end, of course, Harry wins the day, says a great closing line like, "A man's got to know his limitations", and proceeds to walk off into the sunset of San Francisco's less-than-attractive areas; much like he did in the first film after he killed the serial killer "Scorpio".
Let me talk for a moment about some of the cast the comprises the vigilante force of traffic cops. As I watch young men like David Soul, Robert Urich and Tim Matheson in these roles, I can't help but reflect on what would follow in their careers in the 1970's with TV shows like STARSKY & HUTCH and VEGA$ and the outrageous comedy ANIMAL HOUSE (1978). But perhaps more than considering the many tough cop films that a character like Dirty Harry helped to inspire throughout the decades to come, I find myself reflecting more on the "flavor" of the many cop dramas and thrillers that were on television in the 1970s. Were it not for the first two Dirty Harry films, would we not have enjoyed shows like the above mentioned STARSKY & HUTCH, CHARLIES'S ANGLES, S.W.A.T., THE ROOKIES, BARETTA and KOJAK? I'd like to think not.
And so, like I indicated before, MAGNUM FORCE ends the story of Dirty Harry for this viewer. Got a problem with that? Well...go ahead, and MAKE MY DAY!!
(oh man, did I actually just say that??)
Favorite line or dialogue:
Harry Callahan: "You heroes killed a dozen people this week. What are you going to do next week?"
Officer Davis: "Kill a dozen more."
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
(July 1942, U.S.)
Perhaps one of the most dangerous elements of creating a debut motion picture that many consider to be the best film of 1941 (and later considered the greatest American motion picture of all time by the American Film Institute...I'm talking about CITIZEN KANE, people!) is that you quite possibly risk the rest of your entire career if you're unable to follow up with equal or greater success. Just consider the career of M. Night Shyamalan after THE SIXTH SENSE (1999) and you'll know what the hell I'm talking about! So, with THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS, Orson Welles really had his hands full. Like the preceding film, all of the classic film making elements of overlapping dialogue and perspective of foreground and background that have come to define the work of Orson Welles, including much of the cast that made up his Mercury Theatre group like Joseph Cotton, Agnes Moorehead and Ray Collins. Welles himself this time, sits this one out as actor and serves strictly as narrator, even up until the end when he's narrating the end credits to the audience that's just sat through the film.
This is a period piece about the declining fortunes of a proud Indianapolis family and the social changes brought on by the age of the automobile at the turn of the 20th Century. The Ambersons are by far the wealthiest family in the city during a life of peacefullness. An inventor known as Eugene Morgan (played by Cotten) courts (that's what they used to call dating) a woman called Isabel Amberson (played by Dolores Costello), but is rejected by her despite the fact that she truly loves him. Isabel instead marries Wilbur Minafer, a passionless man she doesn't love, and as a result they have a child called George whom she spoils absolutely rotten and who, in turn, becomes the royal terror of the town. By the time George is a man and returning home from college, very little has changed about him. He's still a spoiled, rotten little prick who's managed to convince himself that those around him and the world in general revolve around him. When asked what he'll do for a career, his simple-minded and inexperienced answer is, "A yachtsman." Those who know him wish nothing more than to see great misfortune bestow itself on George, or as is the term during that era of history, his comeuppance. George also instantly takes a real fancy to the beautiful and charming Lucy (played by Anne Baxter) but finds that he has a general dislike to her father (Eugene) because he's made his love for his (George's) mother very clear.
(are you following this little soap opera so far?)
I mentioned briefly before that this is a tale during the age of the automobile. This is important because it not only serves as the force behind this period in American history, but also serves as a vehicle (no pun intended) as to how Eugene gains his wealth and respectability. These assets don't influence George's negative opinion of the man who loves his mother, who's pure and innocent name he's determined to protect at all costs, even if it means confronting any and all town's folk who would dare to smear it behind his back. It's rather compelling to watch the character of George throughout the film because it's difficult to believe and accept that a supposedly grown man would behave in such a childish and arrogant manner during the course of his life. Those that love him in his family, particularly his annoying Aunt Fanny (played by Moorehead), consider his attitudes as just a manner of his general character. It isn't until his mother dies of an undisclosed illness and the family fortune and house and soon gone that he finally realizes the demands life is about to make of him and those he considers himself responsible for, mainly the annoying Aunt Fanny. It's important to mention once again the age of the automobile because it's this new and great invention and the multitude of auto accidents that it causes during a time before required seat belts that finally brings George to meet his fate. No, he doesn't die, but he does finally get what many who wished for it would consider his comeuppance. However, in the traditional of the classic Hollywood happy ending, forgiveness is bestowed on those who have done wrong to others and all seems to be right with the world and happily ever after.
As compared to CITIZEN KANE and TOUCH OF EVIL, Orson Welles' second feature may be considered one of the lesser efforts. It's important to note, though, that this film is famous for its infamy in how Welles lost virtual and total control of it to the studio of RKO. His original film running time of over two hours was brutally stripped down to a mere 88 minutes after the Hollywood butchers got hold of it. Because Welles was supposedly out of the country at the time, he had no way of protecting his work, nor was he able to stop RKO from burning the extra footage that was cut out of it. So as fans of Welles' work, we'll never know what the artist's true vision was to be with THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS. However, we can be grateful for 88 minutes of pure Orson Welles film making at its best.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Narrator: "Something had happened. A thing which, years ago, had been the eagerest hope of many, many good citizens of the town, and now it had come at last; George Amberson Mainafer had got his comeuppance. He got it three times filled, and running over. But those who had so longed for it were not there to see it, and they never knew it. Those who were still living had forgotten all about it and all about him."
Sunday, September 15, 2013
(April 1979, U.S.)
Were it not for the immense popularity of THE ROAD WARRIOR (1982) and the multiple times I watched it on HBO in 1983, I might not have ever discovered its predecessor, MAD MAX. In fact, at the young age of sixteen, I had no idea that THE ROAD WARRIOR was a sequel at all. While it's opening sequence featured a narrated backstory and black and white images from the first film, I still didn't seem to possess enough film smarts at the time to put the two together. Were it not for the sequel and its opening narration, I might not have ever even surmised that MAD MAX took place in a dystopian future where fuel and gasoline are in major exhausted supply because the film itself doesn't make that one hundred percent clear. Regardless, this vision of the future set just "a few years from now" has created lawlessness where psychotic motorcycle gangs have taken over the highways and prey upon innocent citizens. And so, enter MAD MAX, our hero and protector.
Max Rockatansky (played by a very young and still unknown Mel Gibson) is a Main Force Patrol officer fighting for peace on the roads of a Australia. Max is quiet, rarely speaking to any great extent, and never paying much attention to his steadily increasing violent reputation. He shares his life with his wife, Jessie (played by Joanne Samuel) and their infant son. Though clearly the best officer on the force, he secretly worries that he's becoming as cold and heartless as the criminals he pursues. He reaches a breaking point when a gang of bikers known as the Zed Runners attack his partner, Goose, and burn him alive. Max announces that he's quitting the force and goes on holiday with his wife and son. The bikers, however, in their random rampage, encounter Jessie and her child. She's able to fend them off however the bikers eventually catch back up, and Max is unable to prevent Jessie and his child's murder. Now overwhelmed with grief and rage, he systematically pursues and kills the gang members that are responsible. Max is injured in an ambush set for him by the Toe-Cutter (played by Hugh Keays-Byrne), but still manages to shoot his enemies through sheer violent hatred and willpower and inevitably chases the Toe-Cutter to his death before hunting down and killing the last remaining gang member, Johnny the Boy (played by Tim Burns, whom you may recognize as the desperate jumper in the first LETHAL WEAPON film). Max is last seen driving out into the wasteland, leaving the fading remnants of civilization behind him, and setting up premises for what will become THE ROAD WARRIOR.
At the time of its release, it's easy to see how the violent contents of MAD MAX could ultimately become an ugly special favorite of rapists, sadists and child murderers, perhaps not too unlike A CLOCKWORK ORANGE eight years prior. However, when one considers the many post-apocalyptic visions of the future that have been depicted on screen since 1979 (and even some before), the idea that our human society is likely to become a race of sadistic animals has become such a common norm of fiction, that to look back on the violent characters and implications of MAD MAX and take it with any degree of true seriousness becomes considerably more questionable. In other words, what I think I'm trying to say is that I don't believe it will require global apocalypse to bring out the truly ugly side of human nature. Just look up some of the more unpleasant events that took place after Hurricane Sandy and the gas shortage that followed in October 2012 and perhaps you'll see what I'm talking about!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Max Rockatansky: "I'm scared, Fif. It's that rat circus out there, I'm beginning to enjoy it. Look, any longer out on that road and I'm one of them, a terminal psychotic, except that I've got this bronze badge that says that I'm one of the good guys."
Sunday, September 8, 2013
(May 2005, U.S.)
One of the rather interesting bonuses (if not PITFALLS!) of raising a boy of only seven years-old in the 21st Century is that you're constantly exposed to (very often against your will) to the ongoing onslaught of computer animated films released by Disney and DreamWorks. They can be counted on throughout every summer blockbuster season and sometimes during the Christmas holidays. If you're like me and take all sorts of films seriously, then you really have to carefully pick and choose what can be appreciated by your own distinctive cinematic tastes. For most of these films, by the time they've gotten to the first sequel, they've lost my attention and my interest and then it's simply a matter of my tolerating whatever my son begs me to take him to see in the movie theater. Example? I had to sit through DESPICABLE ME 2 (it sucked!) over this past summer while he had himself a great time. However, every once in a while something original and fresh comes along that I'm willing to embrace and take the time to post on my blog. So that being said, enter MADAGASCAR.
This film tells the story of four Central Park Zoo animals who have spent their entire lives in blissful captivity. Alex the lion (voiced by Ben Stiller) couldn't be happier with the situation as he's constantly fed thick, juicy steaks and enjoys the attention of the people who come to visit the zoo and treat him like a celebrity. Marty the zebra (voiced by Chris Rock), on the other hand, longs to break free and see the wide open spaces of the great wild. So Marty decides to just leave the zoo one night on his tenth birthday and somehow make it to the wild via Grand Central Station. Alex and two other friends, Melman the hypochondriac giraffe (voice by the obnoxious David Schwimmer) and Gloria the hippo (voiced by Jada Pinkett Smith) are very quickly hot on his trail via the New York City subways along with its everyday straphangers. They're all eventually sedated by tranquilizer darts (to the tune of Sammy Davis Jr's "The Candy Man" - very funny!) when Alex's attempt to communicate with humans is mistaken for aggression. The zoo (under pressure from animal-rights activists) is forced to ship the animals, by sea, to a Kenyan wildlife preserve. During their travels, the crates containing all four of our animal friends accidentally off the boat and wash ashore on the island of Madagascar. Once in the wild, the four "city slickers" have to adapt to new animals, new experiences and new dangers, including the temptation of survival of the fittest (that's mostly for Alex who suddenly starts interpreting his best friend as a great big steak).
For kids, of course, it's computer-generated animals who act silly and nutty and that's always fun for them. For the moms and dads, it's adult wit and humor spoken by animals living the life in the modern world that often comes with harsh wit and wise-ass cynicism that only we can understand and laugh at. For myself, it's amusing movie homages to classic favorites like PLANET OF THE APES (1968), SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (1977), CHARIOTS OF FIRE (1981) and AMERICAN BEAUTY (1999). I also have a particular fondness for the beaches, the ocean and the blue skies as cinematography. Watching it in the form of computer animation isn't too terrible, either. As a film, MADAGASCAR proves it can be fun and fresh as we keep up on a crazy adventure around the globe with four rather kooky zoo animals. Unfortunately, though, like every other fresh idea that makes Hollywood some money, it eventually suffers from greed and overkill in the form of sequels. My son may not care about that, but I'm a completely different story!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Alex the Lion: "Did he just say "Grand Central Station," or "My aunt's constipation"?"
Tuesday, September 3, 2013
(December 1970, U.S.)
By the first year of the 1970s, movies were forever changed and the traditional formats, practices and films of the big studios were virtually dead. The revolution of the late 1960s saw a new breed of film that meant more edge, more risk, more blood and more guts! Films like THE GRADUATE (1967), BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, EASY RIDER and THE WILD BUNCH (all 1969) were gearing up toward the younger, angrier and more rebellious film audiences spawned by the outrage of America's involvement in the Vietnam War and the general distaste and distrust of American government. On top of all that, Paramount Pictures was in deep financial shit. So, it's quite easy to ask how in the midst of such angry films and a major motion picture company on the brink of disaster did a pure and simple film like LOVE STORY save the day and become the highest grossing film of 1970?
Well, perhaps the answer is as simple as the simple consideration of simple simplicity? Did I just lose some you? Consider that when you live in a world filled with multiple forms of chaos and anarchy, it's the downright simple things that just might pull you out of it. In the year of 1970, when films like M.A.S.H., AIRPORT and even PATTON were expressing the grim and rather negative side of things, a melodrama like LOVE STORY came along and showed movie lovers that good old-fashioned love and romance had not died with the like of legends like Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Our lovers in this film are simple college kids played by the likes of Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw as Oliver Barrett IV and Jennifer Cavalleri who very quickly appear to meet, dislike each other, like each other, date regularly, make love, fall in love, get married and build a life together through struggle, poverty, conflicting social and financial backgrounds and even parental disapproval (on the rich preppie Oliver's side).
But wait...even the most tender of love stories is not without its dark side. Consider for a moment some of the most popular love stories you've ever seen on screen, like CASABLANCA (1942), AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER (1957), A STAR IS BORN (any version) and even TITANIC (1997). What do they all have in common? They all end with some form of difficulty or tragedy that doesn't allow the wonderful couple you've been watching on screen to truly make it in the end. In the case of LOVE STORY...well, Oliver Barrett's voice-over says it best when he opens the film with, "What can you say about a twenty-five year-old girl who died?" So already we know this film ends in tragedy. But like it or not, tragedy tends to constitute the best love stories, don't they? Would we, as film lovers, felt the same way if Bogart had managed to hold onto Bergman instead of letting her go at the airport? If DiCaprio and Winslet had actually survived the iceberg crash and gotten off the big ship together? No, my friends, it would seem that it isn't merely that "Love means never having to say you're sorry", but rather, "Love means not getting what you want in the end...mainly each other!"
Now let's take a brief moment to examine that small piece of dialogue that's become so famous from this films..."Love means never having to say you're sorry." Seriously?? Who exactly, in their right mind came up with the validity behind THAT one?? As a married man of nearly twelve years, I can tell you first hand that love has meant my having to say I'm sorry more times than I care to admit! And sometimes I even MEANT IT (just kidding, Beth)!
Here's one more interesting little anecdote that I have to make about this film and it feels very true, particularly when you study Ali MacGraw on her deathbed; in Roger Ebert's glossary of movie conventions and clichés, he defines "Ali MacGraw's Disease" as a "Movie illness in which the only symptom is that the sufferer grows more beautiful as death approaches." What can you say about that, Ryan?
Favorite line or dialogue:
Jennifer Cavalleri: "Screw Paris!"
Oliver Barrett: "What?"
Jennifer: "Screw Paris and music and all that stuff you thought you stole from me!"