Wednesday, November 27, 2013
(March 1999, U.S.)
Back in the Spring of 1999, my wife (girlfriend at the time) lived on East 86th Street in New York City within a very short walking distance of four, count 'em, FOUR movie theaters! This afforded us untold opportunities to see just about every film that was being released at the time. Sometimes we planned far in advance to see something that was real hot on our "must see" list. Sometimes it just happened to be a restless Saturday night for both of us and we were simply looking to get out and go to a movie...any movie. On those nights, anything was possible for me, particularly since I still had an open mind when it came to Hollywood mainstream movies. Therefore, when we both decided to see what looked like to be a new science fiction/action movie called THE MATRIX, it seemed that anything was possible. Hell, it practically didn't matter to me considering that the only film I could focus any concentration on during the Spring of 1999 was the upcoming return of the STAR WARS universe in a film to be called THE PHANTOM MENACE. So, really, at that point in time, THE MATRIX could have blown me away or it could have really sucked. It didn't really matter to me.
Well, in the words of Keanu Reeves' most often repeated expression of awe..."Whoah!" THE MATRIX not only proved to provide some incredible and spectacular action, but it introduced its audience to a new level of film making effects that hadn't been see before. The film's incorporation of something known as Wire-Fu techniques, including the involvement of top fight choreographers with backgrounds in Hong Kong action cinema, affected the approaches to fight scenes taken by subsequent Hollywood action films, moving them towards more Eastern cinematic styles. These sophisticated techniques from such choreographers, that also including slow motion and spinning camera work, would later influence such works of wire in other films like CHARLIE'S ANGELS and CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON (both 2000). The "bullet time" effect on the screen during a sequence of spectacular shooting is particularly noteworthy for a striking visual effect without being too cheesy. So, there you have it - the visual effects for THE MATRIX speak for themselves just by watching and appreciating them.
But what about story? Well, can we honestly claim that the concept of the post-apocalyptic world of tomorrow is anything new? No. Can we honestly claim that the world of tomorrow where human beings are dominated by artificial intelligence or machine technology is anything new. No (Hell, just look around you today and you'll see that the majority of the human race have become helpless slaves to everything ever invented by the late Steve Jobs!). What THE MATRIX seeks to introduce to its audience is the idea that our world has not only been scorched by "the big one", but that the human race is living under the influence of a computer-generated simulation (known as the "Matrix") of what the world was like before it all went to Hell! The film's hero, Neo (played by Keanu Reeves) has lived in this false world since birth. However, he is believed to be "the One" by a band of resistance fighters led by Morpheus (played by Lawrence Fishburne) who believe he's the man prophesized to ultimately end the war between humans and machines. And like any computer program that has it's bad side, glitches, or bugs, the film features dark-suited men known as "Agents", led by Agent Smith (played by Hugo Weaving) who seek to destroy the human resistance fighters. Bear in mind, that most of the action we witness in this film takes place inside the world of a computer program (think of TRON with a lot more violence and a lot more at stake for the world!). However, if you die in the Matrix, you die for real, because if the brain dies, so does the body...or something like that.
(hey, I'll be honest with you - a true sci-fi and computer geek could explain all of this a lot better than I could. I'm just a film guy, for crying out loud!)
Beyond the inevitable science fiction concept of humanity versus machine intelligence, THE MATRIX also offers high concepts in the world of dreams versus reality. As Morpheus asks, "Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?" As a man who has bizarre dreams on this planet during the present day, I can only say that such a concept is more than though-provoking, it's downright frightening! But if the world of what is approximated as the year 2199 is scorched beyond recognition by the inevitable nuclear fires, is ignorance not, indeed, truly bliss in this case?? Would we honestly choose the dark, grim and desolate world of reality's truth instead of the blissful world of the simulated? Would we honestly rather not be seated at a restaurant's fancy table eating a juicy steak and drink a fine red wine instead of fighting for our lives against the deadly machines of the underworld?? I guess what I'm trying to say is that I would have chosen to swallow the blue pill. No question!
For me THE MATRIX begins and ends with the first film. THE MATRIX RELOADED and THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS (both 2003) may have had its moments, but in the end it was just more of the same shit and not nearly as good.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Neo: "This...this isn't real?"
Morpheus: "What is real? How do you define 'real'? If you're talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then 'real' is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain."
Friday, November 22, 2013
(January 1970, U.S.)
Let me begin this post with a personal story first. When I was just a young child, roughly around seven years-old, my favorite TV night of the week was Saturday night on CBS. Those who remember it well will recall the following lineup beginning at 8 pm: ALL IN THE FAMILY, M*A*S*H, THE MARY TYLER MORRE SHOW, THE BOB NEWHART SHOW and finally THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW (if I was able to con my parents into letting me stay up that late, that is). Trouble was, I didn't like, nor did I understand M*A*S*H at the time. What I would do is watch the opening credits because I liked the instrumental theme (little did I know it was an instrumental version of a song called "Suicide is Painless") and then find something else to watch for half an hour before returning to CBS at 9 pm. Now jump ahead about two years to when Robert Altman's original film of M*A*S*H is re-released in movie theaters based on the runaway success of the TV show. My father decides he wants to see the movie (probably for the second time) and packs his two young kids up in the car and heads for the local Long Island drive-in movie theater where M*A*S*H is playing as a double feature with Mel Brooks' YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. From my child's inexperienced, uninformed and confused mind, I truly believed I was watching a movie of M*A*S*H that was based on the TV show. Hell, I even recognized Gary Burghoff who played the character of "Radar". But I was only seven years-old, so you really think I had any clue as to what I was watching on the screen in front of the car's windshield?? At that age, you're just glad to be taken to the movies! Still, now you know that one of my earliest experiences (if not THE first experience) at the movies was a double feature of M*A*S*H and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. Not too shabby, huh?
And so, with the age of the "New Hollywood" breaking out of its shell, bold and daring directors like Robert Altman chose to give the world a satirical, black comedy that depicts a unit of medical personnel stationed at a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH - get it?) during the Korean War; the subtext clearly launching a full-frontal attack on the Vietnam War at the time and the public outcry against it. It was an outrageous assault on the true absurdities of war, in general. It jolted a new generation of moviegoers with its irreverence and seditiousness. While mixing dark humor with shocking surgical realism, it also called into question issues of sexually-charged antics and underlying morality during a time of an unpopular war. It was, in a word, insanity!
The time is Korea of 1951 and the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital is assigned two (supposedly) top surgeons that go by the name of Captain "Hawkeye" Pierce (played originally by unknown Donald Sutherland) and Captain "Trapper" John McIntyre (played originally by unknown Elliot Gould). From the moment we both of them, it's clear that their sole purpose in the army, when they're not saving lives, is wreaking as much havoc whenever possible. It's a film version of the American army where the respectful are disrespected and tormented. Inferior surgeon and religious man Major Frank Burns (played by Robert Duval) and chief nurse Major Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan clearly don't stand a chance in a setting like this one. Like TV's "Seinfeld", M*A*S*H is, essentially, a non-linear story about nothing. This is a war film (or ANTI-war film, actually) that has no thrilling combat, no moral message, none of that "gung-ho" spirit that made World War II films so popular in American culture and no glorious victories. It's simply men and woman trying to survive the harsh (and bloody) realities of war by acting as chaotic as possible with each other. So in other words, war may be Hell, but M*A*S*H makes its concepts and messages wild and rather fun! One scene, in particular, is the rather infamous "Last Supper" spoof in which the entire unit is in on a gag to make one of their members think he's actually committing suicide when he concludes that his incompetence must be attributed to hidden latent homosexuality. Suicide (painless) as a solution to homosexuality may be very un-PC by today's bullshit standards, but it was funny in this film, nonetheless. That's the whole point of this film, though; to slap everything that's decent, respectful and politically correct into the face of Hollywood and its audience with a great big "fuck you"! It's also particularly interesting to note that in a film that's this non-linear, it's something as simple as a loudspeaker and a rather nervous voice making announcements that manages to put the entire film together as somewhat of a saga. By the end of the film, unlike the highly-watched final episode of the TV show in 1983, the Korean War does not come to an end. Instead, "Hawkeye" is given the green light to finally go home and simply says goodbye without any sort of sentimental emotion, and it's just the way things should be. Robert Altman's M*A*S*H does not achieve it's notoriety by being nice to us or filling our heads with war-torn emotion and drama...thank goodness!
It's curious to note that in 1970, Twentieth Century Fox also released two other war films; PATTON and TORA, TORA, TORA. Although PATTON is a great film and won the Oscar for best picture of that year, it's M*A*S*H, in my opinion, that should have taken that high honor!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Trapper John: "Look, mother, I want to go to work in one hour. We are the Pros from Dover and we figure to crack this kid's chest and get out to golf course before it gets dark. So you go find the gas-passer and you have him pre-medicate this patient. Then bring me the latest pictures on him. The ones we saw must be 48 hours old by now. Then call the kitchen and have them rustle us up some lunch. Ham and eggs will all right. Steak would be even better. And then give me at least ONE nurse who knows how to work in close without getting her tits in my way!"
Saturday, November 16, 2013
(October 2011, U.S.)
Before I even get into what may be considered the best movie about Wall Street ever made, I want you to first take a look at this picture of one of its stars, Zachary Quinto (you sci-fi geeks may know him best as Spock in the current STAR TREK movie re-boots)...
Taken a good look? Okay, now I want you to take another good look at this picture of my younger brother, Kevin...
People, I kid you not! Although one is smiling and one is not and both hair styles are a bit different, it's the same eyes, same eye brows, same facial structures, same ears, same body hair, etc.! I see it, my mother and father see it, my family sees it, my friends see it, my brother's partner sees it, my in-laws see it, my seven year-old son sees it and even fucking KEVIN sees it! The only one who refuses to see it is my wife! Somebody please talk to the woman because she damned well won't listen to me!
(okay, now that THAT'S out of my system...)
Released in the Fall of 2011, it's hard to imagine that it had only been about three years since our entire economy collapsed into oblivion in what could only be closely compared to the legendary market crash of October 1929. What MARGIN CALL forces the viewer who remembers that time well is to envision and imagine the late night meetings that must have taken place between the corrupt and not-so-corrupt "powers that be" of Wall Street just before the shit all came down while the rest of America's working class citizens slept peacefully in their beds, completely unaware of what was about to happen to them and their financial world. This film takes place over a 36-hour period at a large Wall Street investment bank (supposedly based on firms like Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns) and highlights the initial stages of the financial crisis that took place in 2007 and 2008. The film focuses on the actions taken by a small group of employees during the subsequent financial collapse and the less-than honorable action they'll take to save the future of their firm.
When the film begins, you already get that sick feeling in your senses because you're watching an unannounced mass layoff taking place at the start of an otherwise normal business day. It makes you uneasy because you already know from history what this sort of action was all about and how much worse it got after that. Perhaps you were one who got laid off yourself (I did!). Now I had to research this a bit, and I'll be damned if I understand one word of it, but as Zachary Quinto's character, Peter Sullivan, discovers it, the current volatility in the firm's portfolio of mortgage backed securities is about to exceed the historical volatility levels of the positions at the firm. Because of excessive leverage, if the firm's assets decrease by twenty-five percent in value, the firm will suffer a loss greater than its market capitalization. He also discovers that, given the normal length of time that the firm holds such securities, this loss must inevitably occur. Ultimately, the firm's plan is to very quickly sell all of the "toxic" assets before the market learns of their worthlessness, thereby limiting the firm's exposure, a course favored by all involved except by Sam Rogers (played by Kevin Spacey, one of my favorite actors of today!). He caves in though, and before the markets opens the next day, Rogers tells his traders they'll receive seven-figure bonuses if they achieve a ninety-three percent reduction in certain asset classes in a "fire sale". He admits that the traders are effectively ending their careers by destroying their relationships with their clients, but it appears that this is the only way the firm will survive this financial holocaust. And like many of us who already lived through the actual event, we know that the rich got richer and most of the rest of us got royally fucked! For myself, I was out of work for several months, but thanks to my wife's employment and non-panicking, cool heads all around, we managed to survive the turmoil without losing anything or borrowing money from anybody...thank goodness!
Getting back to something I mentioned earlier, and with all due respect to the great Oliver Stone and Michael Douglas, MARGIN CALL achieves a victory in portraying the fears and actions of Wall Street in a far superior, yet more subtle manner than both WALL STREET films. It's very smart, tightly bound, thought-provoking and solidly acted by some great talents (even Demi Moore!). As viewers, we know from history what's about to happen and how bad it really was. But as I also previously mentioned, it's strange to think about all the things we didn't know before the shit came down. How many meetings, how many discussions, how many immoral and illegal plans of action took place in the night while we remained completely unaware of what was about to happen to us? Such is history, I suppose. Such is life. It's happened before. It'll happen again. In the meantime, it's much easier to watch it on film than to experience it yourself.
Oh, and note to my brother Kevin - start taking acting classes now! Sooner or later Zachary Quinto may need an understudy or a stand-in and you'll want to be ready! Just sayin'!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Peter Sullivan: "Look at these people. Wandering around with absolutely no idea what's about to happen."
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
(October 1976, U.S.)
I was a child of the movies of the 1970s. So, like any film fan who grew up in any given decade, there was lots of diversity to be noticed and appreciated. For those who understood the decade better than I did, it was a time of the so-called "New Hollywood" dominated by new talents as Spielberg, Lucas, Scorsese, Altman and DePalma. For myself, it was disaster films, it was demonic horror films, it was science fiction blockbusters, and every once in a while, it was a solid thriller with intense performances from its stars. I'm talking about films like THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971), DEATH WISH (1974), JAWS (1975), BLACK SUNDAY (1977) and MARATHON MAN, based on William Goldman's original novel and screenplay and directed by John Schlesinger, who'd also directed Dustin Hoffman in MIDNIGHT COWBOY (1969).
Dustin Hoffman as Thomas "Babe" Levy is an extraordinarily unique role for a man who may best be remembered for more simple, subdued characters as in THE GRADUATE, ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN and KRAMER VS. KRAMER. "Babe" is a dark character, who not only possesses the instincts and convictions for revenge, but can also express deep and uncompromised fear when his life is in mortal danger (just listen to him scream for help). He's a somewhat ordinary man who's working toward his doctrine in history at New York City's Columbia University who's also living with the haunted past of his father's suicide during the Joseph McCarthy witch hunts of the 1950s, and as the title suggests, he's also training to run a complete marathon (presumably the New York City one). This is why he can run so fast in the streets when his life is in danger. Before he can even figure out what's happened to his life, he's being pursued by various bad guys who all come under the control and direction of Dr. Christian Szell (played wonderfully by Laurence Olivier), a Nazi war criminal who's forced to come out of hiding to New York City in order to retrieve a large quantity of diamonds that were in his brother's possession (also a Nazi war criminal) before he was killed in a car accident. "Babe" has nothing really to do with all of this except for the fact that his brother Henry (played by the great Roy Scheider) was involved with these guys, then got killed, and presumably said something to "Babe" before he died in his arms. We, as the audience, know that he didn't, but the bad guys don't. So all of this leads to capture, torture, escape, and the ultimate climactic revenge. Even the woman he loves, Elsa (played by Marthe Keller), is also in on the whole thing (the poor man just can't catch a break!).
Now, having mentioned the word torture, I can't discuss MARATHON MAN without getting into what can only be called the infamous dental scene. If you've seen this film, then you know damn well what I'm talking about! What is it exactly that creeps us out the most about this sequence? Is it the persistent, unreasonable repeated question of "Is it safe?" from Szell? Is it the horrible anticipation of what Szell is planning to do to "Babe" when he displays his dental equipment on the table for us to see? Or is it simply that horrible shriek that comes from sweet Dustin Hoffman when that dental pick finally finds its target inside the poor man's unwilling mouth? Whatever it is, I, like so many others shudder at the entire sequence and the horrible implications of such torture. To this day, my friends, whenever I sit in the dentist's chair, I have to literally force myself NOT to think of that infamous scene in MARATHON MAN. Shit, I think I even shared that fact with my dentist, too! He laughed because he's seen the film, too.
When considering this film and it's place in the decade of the 1970s, I'm also confronted with the memory of a decade that also gave us a number of films that very clearly depicted the grim ugliness of the city of New York. Two of them include the above mentioned THE FRENCH CONNECTION, DEATH WISH and also include other titles such as SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER and THE WARRIORS. Yes, the city was damn ugly and disgusting back then (sometimes I think it still is!) and Hollywood knew damn well how to use it to its advantage to not only give us some great thrillers, but even some great dramas, too (Hell, even Superman was flying over the city in 1978)! I've also found it particularly intriguing that during the sequence when Szell is trying to get his diamonds appraised in the Diamond District on 47th Street, it's by sheer chance and incredible memory that he's recognized by not one, but two Holocaust survivors. I don't know whether I find the recognitions more fascinating or the fact that one of them is killed (by Szell) and the other is run down by a car only moments later. Life is certainly strange, especially on film.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Peter Janeway: (in the car with Babe): "All right, things are starting to come together. Keep your head down before you get it blown off. Those two guys I just wasted work for a man named Christian Szell. Does that name mean anything to you?"
Janeway: "He ran the experimental camp in Auchswitz, where they called him "The White Angel" - "Die Weisse Engel" - because he has this incredible head of white hair. He's probably the most wealthy and most wanted Nazi alive. And he's hiding out somewhere in Uruguay. In 1945, Szell let it be known around Auschwitz that he could provide escape for any Jew who is willing to pay the price. He started with gold naturally, but very quickly worked his way up to diamonds. You heard any of this before?"
Janeway: "Szell saw the end early. They snuck his brother into America with his diamonds. They're right here in New York in a safe deposit box. Szell's brother had the key. The only other key kept by Szell in Uruguay. And now, if he has to come out of hiding to use it, he's gonna expose himself to incredible risk. Well, everything worked out fine until his brother got killed in a head-on collision with an oil truck."
Babe: "Why did you say "naturally" when you said it started with gold?"
Janeway: "Because he knocked it out of the Jews' teeth before he burned them. Szell was a dentist."
Babe: "He's not coming to America, Mr. Janeway. He's here."
Janeway: "He can't be here. We'd already know of it."
Babe: "He's here. He was the dentist that almost killed me. He kept saying, "Is it safe?, is it safe?" over and over."
Janeway: "Did he have white hair? Keep your head down! Did he have white hair?"
Babe: "He was bald."
Janeway: "Bald? The son-of-a-bitch has shaved his head! He's here! And he's panicked."
Babe: "Why is he after me?"
Janeway: "Because your brother was one of the couriers that transported the diamonds to Paris and, obviously, Szell thinks Doc said something to you before he died. Now did he say anything to you?"
Babe: "What do you mean my brother? You saying my brother worked for Szell?"
Janeway: "No! He worked for us! Everything we do cuts both ways. Szell ratted on all of his buddies. He kept track on all of the old matches throughout the world. Whenever we want to bring one of 'em in, we went to Szell. Now listen, Babe. You gotta do one thing for me, just one thing!"
Babe: "Name it. What?"
Janeway: "Quit protecting Doc!"
Babe: "I'm not!"
Janeway: "He kept himself alive long enough to tell you something! Now what did he say to you?"
Babe: "He didn't say anything!"
Janeway: "He must've said something! Tell me what he said!"
Sunday, November 10, 2013
(December 1974, U.S.)
For the absolute die-hard, no bullshit James Bond fan (like my fellow blogger and friend in California, Richard), there are, understandably, many reasons not to like the ninth Bond film, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN. To begin with, the concept of silly is definitely starting to set in here. As an example, I could likely go on forever about the Bond villain's car with wings soaring into the air, which in my opinion, is second in stupidity only to the invisible car driving on the ice in DIE ANOTHER DAY (2002). And really, are any of us supposed to take the likes of little Hervé Villechaize seriously as a Bond villain; even a sidekick Bond villain?? Finally, in terms of the ol' Bond girl-o-meter, I highly doubt that Britt Ekland as Goodnight will go down in Bond history as nothing more than an astoundingly stupid blonde British agent, and that's very likely being kind! Finally, as LIVE AND LET DIE seemed to take advantage of the popularity of 1970's Blaxploitation films, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN doesn't miss a chance to pay homage to 1970's martial arts films, à la Bruce Lee, with a sequence of its own.
(okay, I know...I'm dwelling on the Bond negative here!)
To it's credit, though, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN takes on a rather serious tone in it's mission of not only figuring out the mystery of Francisco Scaramanga (played by Christopher Lee in a villainous role he was simply made for) and his personal mission to gun down the great James Bond, but also the strong issue of the energy crisis which plagued a good portion of the 1970s. While many fans might disagree with me, this is also one of Roger Moore's strongest performances as Bond and by far, one of the more serious. This is the only Bond film of his where he actually hits a woman across the face and threatens to break her arm. Those who may remember Maud Adams better in her lead role in OCTOPUSSY (1983) can take note that she gives a noteworthy performance in a lesser role as Scaramanga's frightened mistress, who, like many other secondary Bond girls, ends up dead about midway through the film.
From Beirut to Bangkok, we follow Bond's thrills and adventures in bringing down Scaramanga's evil and dastardly plan for wealth and domination over the world's solar energy. The final duel of pistols on the beach between Bond and Scaramanga is particularly original in that it attempts to bring the good and the evil to a closer and more personal level, and you know who ultimately wins, don't you?? The exotic island serves as a lush and tranquille background for what will inevitably turn into a war zone as Bond brings his inevitable destruction with him that more often than not, ends with the sort of climactic explosion that this Bond films particularly loves to see! But I have to say, if for no other reason at all, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN pays off when we get to experience the character of Louisiana Sheriff J.W. Pepper (played again by Clifton James) from LIVE AND LET DIE all over again, though I must confess, what this redneck version of Americana is doing vacationing in an exotic land like Bangkok is beyond me! Still his racist, very un-pc character is lots of fun to watch and listen to, particularly when he refers to every man as, "Boy!" And while many may consider the scene of the AMC Hornet leaping in mid-air at 360 degrees over a broken bridge an over-the-top stunt that exploits the actions of Evel Knievel of the time, just keep in mind that the stunt was all real and all genuine performed by a real stunt man. In other words, no computers and no special effects! So stupid or not, that has to count for something, doesn't it?
So if THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN is not your favorite cup-of-tea-James Bond, you've probably got justifiable reasons for feeling that way. Look at it this way, though; if you're looking for others to compare it to in terms of "not-so-great" Bond films, just consider ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE, the bulk of Pierce Brosnan's Bond films and the tragedy that was QUANTUM OF SOLACE! Just sayin'...
Favorite line or dialogue:
Sheriff J.W. Pepper (just before Bond jumps his car over a bridge): "You're not thinkin' a...?
James Bond: "I sure am, BOY!"
Wednesday, November 6, 2013
(November 2001, U.S.)
When you seriously consider the long career of the Coen Brothers, there are some films that have achieved worldwide attention like RAISING ARIZONA (1987), FARGO (1996), THE BIG LEBOWSKI (1998), NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007), their 2010 remake of TRUE GRIT and some that just sort of get lost in the big shuffle like MILLER'S CROSSING (1990), BARTON FINK (1991) and their 2004 remake of THE LADY KILLERS. When you also consider that much of their art and material follows a classic pattern of film noir, it's a small wonder that more of their films were not shot in black and white, as THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE is. It's one that, unfortunately, got lost in the big shuffle, but it's quite an extraordinary film.
In the neo-noir year of 1949, Ed Crane (played by Billy Bob Thorton) is a small town barber who simply does his job and doesn't talk much. He and his bookkeeper wife Doris (played by Frances McDormand), who's also a drinker, are about as happily married as...well, as MY parents were when I was growing up! Ed suspects that Doris is having an affair with her loud and boisterous department store-owner boss "Big Dave" Brewster (played by James Gandolfini). In an attempt to get revenge and to also give himself a financial boost in his life, Ed deceptively and creatively seeks to anonymously blackmail Brewster for $10,000 for which he will invest in what appears to be the next big thing known as dry cleaning. Like BLOOD SIMPLE and FARGO, what starts out as a simple scheme of blackmail and extortion inevitably turns to murder. In this case, we can perhaps call it involuntary manslaughter as Ed's fatal act against Brewster is justified in self-defense. No matter, though. Before we know it, it's Doris who's being charged with his murder and Ed in a rather surprising move, appears to be coming to her aid with support and the best legal defense that money can buy. But as many of the films of the Coen Brothers, things are not destined to end well. Just when we think Doris might actually get off for a murder her husband committed, she ends up committing suicide. Just when we think Ed may come out clean from all of this by not only getting away with murder, but with also being rid of his cheating wife, we witness the offer of a blowjob from an underage girl named Birdy (played by Scarlett Johansson) inevitably result in a horrible car crash which then results in the arrest of Ed for a completely different murder that we, as the viewer, know he did not commit. By the time we've seen it all come down on this unassuming barber who's spent his life invisible to the rest of the world, he's being put to death in the electric chair.
While Billy Bob Thorton may be best remembered for his role in SLING BLADE (a film I did not like, by the way), it's his role as Ed Crane is the one I'd prefer to let stand as the quintessential role of his career. His character's affectlessness is not a quality very much sought out or prized in film protagonists, but he manages to do it perfectly in his role as nothing more than an unimportant small-town barber in an era long gone. The cinematography is straightforward and traditional for black and white. Most of the shots are made with the camera at eye level, with normal lensing and a long depth of field. The lighting can be considered rather textbook, with quarter-light setups. When Ed Crane appears onscreen, he's almost always shown smoking an unfiltered cigarette, which may be considered another detail true to the era in which the film is set. It's wonderful homage to the art of black and white film noir, and it's all Coen Brothers!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Ed Crane (narrating): "It was only a couple weeks later she suggested getting married. I said, "Don't you want to get to know me more?" She said, "Why? Does it get better?"