Friday, February 28, 2014
(December 1988, U.S.)
Every once in a while, Hollywood gives us a film that reminds us of just what sort of ugly, inhuman beings we really are throughout American history. Racial bigotry is an ugly thing, and it was never more ugly than in the South during the Civil Rights movement. Not that I would ever claim to be at perfect harmony without everyone I meet in my life, but if I choose to hate someone, it's got nothing to do because of their race, color or creed - it's because they're assholes (but that's neither here nor there)!
This film by Alan Parker (who also showed us the ugly side of Turkish human beings in MIDNIGHT EXPRESS) is loosely based on the real-life murders of civil rights workers in Mississippi in 1964. After the three are reported missing, two FBI agents Rupert Anderson (played by Gene Hackman) and Alan Ward (played by Willem Dafoe) are sent to investigate the incident in rural Jessup County, Mississippi. The two of them take rather completely different approaches toward their investigation: Agent Ward, a young liberal northerner, takes a direct, by-the-book approach things, while Agent Anderson, a former Mississippi sheriff himself who understands the intricacies of race relations in the South, takes a more subtle tack. The local white folks, needless to say, are less-than-cooperative and very hostile toward the FBI invading their tight-knit community; a tight-knit community where many members are secretly linked to the Ku Klux Klan, including members of the so-called town's law enforcement. The local black community, needless to say, are too scared to talk to the FBI in fear of violent retribution from the white community, which manages to happen anyway. Their terrorist violence comes in the form of many fires to churches and private homes. Even when several accused white supremacists are brought to trial, the judge is contemptibly lenient towards their sentence. Justice, of course, is served in the end when the good of the FBI prevails and those who are responsible for racial murder are sentenced (even that only comes to about ten years!). But we who know just a little bit about 20th Century American history know that such a little victory was hardly the end of the problems of racial bigotry in this country, and (frankly) still is. Today, we manage to capture more of it on video and we continue to express shock and horror that such acts can take place in this century; a century where most people are only capable of relating well to others through electronic, hand-held devices.
MISSISSIPPI BURNING, of course, makes its valid, social points by expressing not only the evil, but the good in people. However, it's hardly the solution to the big problem, even by motion picture standards. By the end of 1988, the racial incident in Howard Beach had taken place two years prior and the Rodney King Los Angeles police beating of 1991, as well as the Abner Louima police beating of 1997 were still yet-to-occur. On screen, Spike Lee would teach us to DO THE RIGHT THING only a few months later. You see, even in the 1980s, Hollywood knew how to send us a clear message every once in a while. Will we ever get the message? My ongoing pessimistic attitude toward life says that's a great, big NO! But who knows...sometimes life finds a way.
Finally, just a small, personal memory. I have an interesting memory of this film being immensely popular with very young audience members for a one that was dramatically serious. I remember all of my friends in college going to see it with eagerness and I even recall watching it on video months later with a younger girl I was dating at the time and her younger friends, as well. Rather admirable, I must say, for a generation of kids who was likely too busy being weened at the time on the spectacular action of DIE HARD and the outrageous comedy of A FISH CALLED WANDA.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Agent Ward: "We'll go after all of them! Together!"
Agent Anderson: "You wouldn't know how!"
Ward: "You're going to teach me how!"
Anderson: "You don't have the guts!"
Ward: "Not only do I have the guts I have the AUTHORITY!"
Saturday, February 22, 2014
(May 2000, U.S.)
One of these days, one of or many of my readers are going to stand up and call me for being the occasional movie hypocrite that I clearly am! What am I talking about? You've read countless times how I'm constantly slamming remakes and sequels and Hollywood's inability to avoid recycling their movie material over and over and over again. And yet with all of my verbal convictions, every once in a while I come up with something that completely goes against such convictions. Well, I'm about to do it again, people, because John Woo's sequel of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2, in my opinion, not only completely outdoes Brian DePalma's original 1996 film, but is also one of the greatest action films I've ever seen in my life. If fact, I proudly label it as my second favorite action film of all time (the first one comes much later)!
And so, with this second installment in the franchise, it's very safe to say that Tom Cruise and his character of IMF agent Ethan Hunt grows up a little. His hair is longer, his fashion is darker, his demeanor is more serious and his action is a lot more kick-ass! John Woo takes the story element to a much darker level, as well. The stakes are at their worst when a new deadly virus known as Chimera is developed in Sydney, Australia as well as its cure known as Bellerophon. With such new deadly evils in the world, there's also the evil terrorist who'll stop at nothing to own its secrets, its powers and its global financial potentials. The plot is definitely more involved and more intricate, but it can hardly be accused of being totally original. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2 clearly borrows elements from Alfred Hitchcock that include TO CATCH A THIEF (1955) and particularly NOTORIOUS (1946) in which a young woman (a thief!) Nyah Nordoff-Hall (played by Thandie Newton) must infiltrate her way back into her ex-lover's life, that man being our movie's villain, rogue IMF agent Sean Ambrose (played by Dougray Scott) in order to gain secrets in the name of global justice and her love for Ethan Hunt, who's recruited her for this mission. From then on, the film is almost fully dedicated to the the action styles of James Bond, particularly GOLDENEYE (1995), in which two former partners of good are now deadly adversaries. I have to also point out that this sequel, as well as the two that would follow it (two films I didn't care for, either!), also treats us to the impossible mission of penetrating another heavily-guarded superstructure from the air, and unlike the cable suspension suspense of the first film, this raid from the top moves faster and makes your heart jump just as Ethan gets through the roof of the building just as the air conditioning vents open in time.
Where as DePalma's style for the first film was more subdued, John Woo's style is pure, unrefined, undisturbed, in-your-face, kick-ass action filled with sound, fury and movement that grabs you by the balls and doesn't let go. If for no other reason, the climactic sequence on motorcycles is about as explosive as such a sequence can get. Honestly, I don't believe Hollywood should ever do another motorcycle action film again, because this film nails it to the bone and there's no room for improvement! Just picture in your mind, for a moment, what you've likely memorized in your head from watching this film; picture the hero who must save the world, dressed in black, wearing dark sunglasses behind a face of deadly force, riding for his life on a motorcycle while fleeing a massive explosion. THIS, in my opinion, is one of the greatest motion picture depictions of the classic hero in action that I'm ever likely to see...
Seriously, do I lie??
Okay, now you're heard me shameless confess before of my pathetic weakness for many Tom Cruise films. I'm about to make it worse by stating that MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2 is, without a doubt, my favorite Tom Cruise film! Speaking from a perspective of a completely self-confident heterosexual male, Tom Cruise is at his physical best in this film, where action is key and dramatic performance, perhaps not so much. Don't get me wrong - the performances by everyone in this film are just fine, for an action film, but it's hardly definitive of such a film with a good story. Here, though, Cruise is at his toughest and his most bad-ass character, and he's doing it with long hair, black attire and slow-motion skills with a gun that are just too irresistible to ignore! Yes, it's safe to say that were I a much younger man who still fantasized about actually becoming just like his motion picture or television heroes, I would definitely want to be the character of Ethan Hunt in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2! I'd say that comes a long, long way from the kid of the 1970s who originally wanted to be Col. Steve Austin (that's THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN for those who don't know!) and Han Solo!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Ethan Hunt: "You made it sound as if I was recruiting her for her skills as a thief."
Mission Commander Swanbeck: "Well then I misled you, or you made the wrong assumption. Either way, we are asking her to resume her prior relationship - not do anything she hasn't already done...voluntarily, I might add."
Ethan: "No. She's got no training for this kind of thing."
Swanbeck: "What? To go to bed with a man and lie to him? She's a woman - she's got all the training she needs."
Ethan: "I don't think I can get her to do it."
Swanbeck: "You mean it'll be difficult?"
Swanbeck: "Well, this is not "mission difficult", Mr. Hunt, it's "mission impossible". Difficult should be a walk in the park for you."
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
(May 1996, U.S.)
When my mother's (second) husband went to see MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE in Los Angeles upon its release, his reaction was nothing short of furious! Apparently, he's a real fan of the original TV show and simply could not accept all of the new film changes implemented into the story, particularly the death of character Jim Phelps (played by Jon Voight) after being revealed as a traitor. Well, all I ever knew of the TV show was the iconic opening and it's musical theme by Lalo Schifrin. In other words, I never actually watched the show so I had no basis of comparison to the film. That accompanied by the fact that I have a rather shameful weakness for many of Tom Cruise's films (but you already know that!), I was very quick to get on line to see Brian DePalma's film version and get in some of that new Tom Cruise action hero flavor!
Many of those who saw this film could not quite get the plot line straight in their head, and I was likely no exception. It took a second viewing as soon as it was released on VHS (remember those??) to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. Cruise plays IMF (Impossible Mission Force) agent Ethan Hunt who's the only survivor of an ambush that takes out his entire team during a failed mission at the American Embassy in Prague. As a result, Ethan is considered suspect in their murder and a vital piece of information known as the NOC list (a fake one, actually) is out in the open; the result potentially leading to the execution of many IMF agent by enemies around the world (actually, what's so hard to understand about that??). So now he's got to clear his own name as well as find the real "bad guy" responsible for all that's happened. By all accounts, such a plot line doesn't sound all that unfamiliar on screen. We've seen it before. However, unlike a rogue cop who must seek and fight for justice, Ethan employs additional team members that include actors Ving Rhames and Jean Reno, and it's here where things start to get interesting. The team must successfully infiltrate CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia and steal the real NOC list in order to draw out the enemy in question. This heist, as we'll call it, is, in my humble opinion, is nothing short of brilliant and nerve-wracking under DePalma's direction. Particular reasons for this are not only the camera shots and angles but the non-use of any musical score. In fact, I've often thought that if the film had used nothing more than a human breathing soundtrack for this sequence, it would have been a wonderful homage to 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968). And hey, let's not forget this iconic image of a dangling Tom Cruise that's been parodied more times than I care to count...
Like his film version of another popular TV show, THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987), DePalma doesn't seek to overload our eyes and our brains with endless in-your-face action, but rather give us assorted thrilling moments with a chance to actually think about a plot that isn't quite that simple. Remember - I'm a man who enjoys a good reason to think about what he's watching on screen, and unlike too many audience members, I don't throw a damn fit the minute a story becomes just a little bit challenging! And yet despite what I've just described, there is that awesome climactic speeding train and helicopter sequence taking us through England's Channel Tunnel at top speed and finally the helicopter blade that stops just short of Cruise's throat (damn!!!). Regarding that final scene aboard the plane, though...well, somebody's going to have to explain that one to me! Ethan has already revealed that he's out of the game, yet he's given a new mission on board the plane. His final facial reaction appears to be that of puzzlement and surprise. Is he accepting a new mission or does he, like too much of the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE audience, not know what the fuck is going on??
Now here's a story...at the start of the Summer of 1996, I reopened by beach house in the Westhampton Beach, Long Island after a three year absence due to compromising conditions of natural beach erosion and severe seasonal weather. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE was the first summer film I saw that year after once again, breathing life again into my beloved home. That's it. I said I had a story. I didn't say it was a big story!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Eugene Kittridge: "I understand you're very upset."
Ethan Hunt: "Kittridge, you've never seen me very upset!"
Kittridge: "All right, Hunt. Enough is enough! You have bribed, cajoled, and killed, and you have done it using loyalties on the inside! You want to shake hands with the Devil, that's fine with me! I just want to make sure that you do it in Hell!"
Saturday, February 15, 2014
(February 1961, U.S.)
I'll be the first to admit that I know almost nothing about Marilyn Monroe, perhaps the most iconic movie star of the 20th Century. In fact, this film and SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959) are the only two of her's that I own in my collection. Sure, over the years, I've heard all of the sensationalized stories and folklore about her life and her death, but hardly a thing on who she was as an actress. Frankly, if you were to really watch much of her material, it's doubtful that the woman even could act, but was rather just the glorified sex symbol society made her out to be and nothing more. However, when watching her performance in John Huston's THE MISFITS, it's impossible to ignore that the girl was definitely coming into her own. This was Monroe's last completed film before she died of a drug overdose in 1963. As her swan song, it's perfect because it may have finally proven to the world that she could be taken seriously as an actress. At the same time, it's tragic, because having never had the chance to perform again, we'll never truly know what she might have been capable of had her film career continued.
THE MISFITS was not only the final film for Monroe, but for its leading man Clark Gable, as well, who died of a heart attack after filming wrapped. The story centers on recently divorced woman Roslyn Tabor (played by Monroe) and her time spent with cowboy Gay Langland (played by Gable) and friends Perce Howland (played by Montgomery Clift) and Guido (played by Eli Wallach) in the Western Nevada desert of the 1960s. Each of these lost, misfit characters appear to be running away or seeking to forget a painful past, as well as an uncertain future. Their time together is spent drinking, dancing, driving, roping stallions and losing themselves in the vast open plains of the great desert around them. Like John Ford's outdoor filming style, director John Huston beautifully captures the beauty of the isolated American landscape in glorious black and white. It's an environment like this that one can escape the pressures and pains of the outside world. This film, perhaps, attempts to show that when you're escaping in the company of other people who are as lost as you, there's the hope of being saved.
Now, Marilyn being, of course, Marilyn, is beautiful and outrageously sexy in whatever she does, so she's naturally a desirable catch for all three men who share her time. Because her character reveals that her father wasn't around much when she was a child, her "daddy issues" naturally draws her closer to the aging cowboy of Gable's character. Gable, by the way, was a movie star Marilyn had worshiped her whole life, so it's easy to see how enthralled she is to be close to him in this film. While we're meant to get involved in the lives of all these characters, it's primarily Roslyn that we can't seem to let go of. She's a woman who hurts deeply, and yet still strives to find positive beauty and joy in all things around her. She hurts for others who hurt, both mentally and physically. She hurts for the horses that are chased and roped by her cowboy friends. But even as she hurts this much, we remain unclear as to whether or not she can be saved by the end of the film and learn to be truly happy.
I'd like to take a moment now to focus on Monroe's character a bit more and express my deep appreciation for how she appears phystically in this film. To have grown up seeing countless images of her means having seen sensationalized pin-up photos of her that looked like this...
In THE MISFITS, that entire public images persona seems to have been stripped down to a very natural, undisturbed beauty that also hides a great deal of pain and suffering. Study carefully this image of Monroe and you can see not only a pain that's portrayed in the film's character, but a real pain the great movie star must have been struggling with right up until the day she died...
I'd also like to bring to your attention the stallion roping sequence by the film's end. Aesthetically, it's a beautifully-shot sequence, but it's message is clear to Roslyn who hurts for all those around her, including stallions. To watch the torture of these animals that are meant to run free across the land is a stake through her own heart because she ultimately yearns for her own unobstructed freedom. To watch these animals get roped and tied down is a physical torture for her and these men in her life actually come to understand the metaphor in the end because by releasing the horses, they not only release Roslyn's pain and anguish, but come to realize the potential for their own happiness and freedom, as well. We're also reminded that in the end, the great open plains of the desert hold enough space for all human freedoms concerned.
And that, my friends, is about as deep as I thought I could ever get about a Marilyn Monroe film. You see? Anything's possible!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Roslyn Tabor: "If I'm going to be alone, I want to be by myself."
Thursday, February 13, 2014
(November 1990, U.S.)
Once again, coincidence and circumstance are ever-present in my blog writing. As I sit here writing my post for Rob Reiner's film adaptation of Stephen King's MISERY, whose premise is ultimately provoked by a raging Colorado snow storm, a nor'easter is blowing right out side my window here on Long Island. Certainly sets the mood, doesn't it?
I read the original novel of MISERY when it was first published in 1987. From the moment the rather oddball character of heavyset nurse Annie Wilkes was introduced in the story, the first person that came to mind to play here in a movie was a woman named Nancy Parsons. "Who the fuck is Nancy Parsons?", is what you're probably asking yourself right now. Well, remember the movie PORKY'S (1982)? Remember the character of fat, mean 'ol gym coach Beulah Balbricker; the one who grabbed Tommy Turner's dick in that famous shower scene? Ah, starting to remember her now? Starting to get the picture of what my brain was thinking in 1987? This was just the physical type of woman I could picture as the diabolical "number one fan" of writer Paul Sheldon's "Misery" novels who would just be kooky enough to keep him bed-ridden and drug-dependent against his will. So cut to three years later when I first see the poster announcing the film version and my immediate reaction is surprise that a comedy man like Rob Reiner is the director. But on the other hand, he did bring justice to STAND BY ME (1986), another Stephen King adaptation, so perhaps anything was possible. James Cann as Paul Sheldon - why not? Great actor. But wait, who exactly is Kathy Bates? I was sure I'd seen her before, but couldn't quite remember where. Then it hits me - that terrible sequel to ARTHUR where she played an adoption agent. So I look at her again and discover that perhaps she's not such a bad pick to play Annie Wilkes. She's sweet, yet sinister and the physical proportions appear to be just right. So there you have it.
If you've never read the book, the story follows famed writer Paul Sheldon, a writer of a successful series of novels featuring a character named Misery Chastain. Wanting to focus on more serious novels, he writes a manuscript for a new unrelated novel. When finished, he departs from Silver Creek, Colorado to head to his home in New York City, but is unexpectedly caught in a raging blizzard. His Mustang goes off the road, and he's rendered unconscious and smashed up. Paul is rescued by Annie Wilkes who brings him to her remote home in the Colorado mountains. Regaining consciousness, he finds himself bedridden, with both his legs broken as well as a dislocated shoulder. As a reward for saving him, Paul gives Annie permission to read his new manuscript which she'd saved from the wreckage and it's here, perhaps, that the trouble begins. Annie reads it, but confesses she dislikes the use of the excessive profanity. Later, when she reads the latest Misery book and discovers that the character of Misery Chastain has been killed off, she flies into a rage and the nature of her true obsessive character is revealed. Paul, at this point, is no longer a recovering patient of Annie's, but rather her prisoner, with no hope of escaping her will. First he's forced to burn his untitled serious novel in order to "rid the world of this filth" and then is coerced into writing a brand new Misery novel in order to bring the character back to life and satisfy the irrational whims of Annie's sick mind. During this time, whenever Paul manages to get out of his room, he discovers the hidden truth of Annie's past in which she was arrested and accused of murdering newborn babies back when she was, indeed, a registered nurse.
Now despite Annie's rather twisted frame of mind, there is something rather irresistibly fun about her nature. She's sick, but rather cute and lovable, too - kind of like getting a kick out of a giant, fat Winnie the Pooh stuffed bear that has a few tears in it. This feeling last for a while, at least until the infamous hobbling sequence is which Annie smashes both of Paul's ankles as punishment for escaping his room. I swear to you, I can't keep my eyes open during this scene. The thought of that sledgehammer making contact with Paul's feet is far worse than watching a character like Jason Voorhees hacking up a bunch of young virgins! By now, Annie Wilkes is nothing more than what Paul calls her by the end of the film, a "sick, twisted fuck!" By the time Paul's new and forced Misery novel is completed, he takes sweet revenge on Annie by doing to it exactly what she forced him to do to his serious work - he burns the book right in front of her! Annie, who now seems to sport the mind of a deluded child, attempts to save the burning manuscript as if it were Misery Chastain herself, and this is when we get to enjoy watching Paul Sheldon defeat and kill his captor. Fame, in this case, has, indeed, been a real crutch!
Kathy Bates may be forever known as Annie Wilkes, and it certainly justifiable because she truly nails the part and even earned an Oscar award as Best Actress of 1990 for it. MISERY is a frightening, grabbing film with standout performances by all who occupy it and even manages to employ some of that Rob Reiner wit we'd become accustom to by that point. It's just too bad I haven't particularly cared for any of his films since THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT (1995). Perhaps another Stephen King adaptation is the answer!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Annie Wilkes: "It's the swearing, Paul. There, I said it. It has no nobility."
Paul Sheldon: "These are slum kids. I was a slum kid. Everybody talks like that."
Annie Wilkes: "THEY DO NOT! What do you think I say at the feedstore? "Oh, now Wally, give me a bag of that F-in' pig feed, and a pound of that bitchly cow corn"? At the bank do I say, "Oh, Mrs. Malenger, here's one big-bastard of a check, now give me some of your Christ-ing money!"
Saturday, February 8, 2014
(May 1947, U.S.)
A Christmas movie released in May??? Seriously??? What kind of holiday spirit is that?? Hey, what do I know? I don't even celebrate the season. However, I can't help but notice that ever since this blog took off in 2010, every once in a great while, my posts have coincided well with actual dates or events pertaining to that film. I wrote about THE EXORCIST on Halloween. I wrote about THE IDES OF MARCH on Election Day. I wrote about KING KONG (1933) on the date of its 80th anniversary release and just recently, I wrote about Disney's MIRACLE on the eve of the Sochi Winter Games as well the movie's own 10th anniversary release. But never, never have I been able to coincide a post for a Christmas film anywhere near or on the actual holiday of Christmas. Coincidence and their place in my alphabetical collection just don't seem to want to allow me that sort of good timing. And so it happens again...I present to you MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET in February, six days before Valentine's Day!
One of the first things I should mention about this classic black and white Christmas tale is that I rarely associate it with Christmas for my own personal viewings. You see, over the years, I've come to enjoy watching this film on Thanksgiving Day. Yes, you heard me correct. Although billed as a Christmas tale, a good portion of the film's beginning takes place on Thanksgiving Day, including a rather detailed account of the famous Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and all its morning preparations. That alone has kept my viewer's brain focused on a very specific association and I've never let go of it. So there you have it. Once again, I break the rules of holiday tradition and do things in my own ass-backwards manner!
Now given the fact that I'm Jewish and I was raised much like the little girl character of Susan Walker (played by the child Natalie Wood) in which I had no belief in fairy tales or myths, I had more of a chance believing in Edmund Gwenn playing a Macy's Santa Claus than I ever would believing in the real thing. Look well at his kind, gentle face and the well-detailed costume and beard and you'll see why it's so convincing...
The film's purpose, though, is not so much to get its characters and it's viewing audience to believe so much in Santa Claus himself, but rather the spiritual essence that Christmas is meant to promote between people every year. Yes, our hero in this film believes himself to be the real Santa Claus and even goes by the name of Kris Kringle when filling out job applications and greeting people. By all practical accounts, however, he's just a sweet old man with convincing white whiskers. Particularly unconvinced are little Susan and her hard-as-nails-realistic mother Doris Walker (played by Maureen O'Hara). Doris works for Macy's and it's her job to promote the idea of Santa Claus to sell toys to customers with money to spend, but that's where it ends. In mentioning Macy's more than once, it's interesting to note that this film also takes its time in not only promoting the legendary department store on 34th Street (as well as another store known as Gimbels that's been defunct since 1987), but also the entire department store shopping experience during the holiday season, something that's kicked off every year in our country on "Black Friday".
So, the ultimate question here is, "Is Kris crazy?" Does a man walking around claiming he's the real Santa Claus have all of his marbles in a six pack (or something like that?)? Most folks in the film think that's a definite yes! In particular is the Macy's psychologist Sawyer (or a man who acts like one!) played by Porter Hall. This is a man we come to view as despicable in every fashion. Because of his own insecurities and high-end ego, he's more than willing to send up a kind old man like Kris to Bellevue Hospital simply for refusing to go along with society's norm and act normal (whatever the fuck that is!). But when you have a "bad guy" like that, you're destined to have the "good guy" who will make things right, and that guy is Fred Gailey (played by John Payne), an idealistic lawyer who strives to defend the little guy against all of the injustices of the world. So now his task is to not only free Kris from a mental institution but to also get those around him (including Susan and Doris) to genuinely believe in this man's claim to be Santa Claus. At a formal hearing before a New York Supreme Court Judge, arguments are made as to whether Kris is crazy and as to whether there is such a person as Santa Claus. In the end, we have to remember that this is a holiday family film, so no such film is about to send Santa Claus up the river, right? With the help of the United States Postal Service, a recognized official American government agency, Kris is legally proven to be the one-and-only Santa Claus. Does that make it real, even by the film's expectations? Of course not! The film's point is not to prove the existence of such a man, one way or another, but rather to promote the belief in the man's mythology and spirit of the season's good will. Well, at least that's what this Jew has come to understand over the years! Don't forget, my idea of Christmas Day is bowling with my family and then partaking in a Chinese restaurant. It used to mean spending the day on the ski slopes, but that's when I was younger with more funds to spend. It used to mean going to the movies, but that was before the rest of the audience became too intolerable for me!
And so, my friends, unless something new rears its way in my viewing appreciation, MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET appears to be the last Christmas film in my collection. So with that, I'll say for next year...HAPPY HANUKKAH!!!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Fred Gailey: "Look Doris, someday you're going to find that your way of facing this realistic world just doesn't work. And when you do, don't overlook those lovely intangibles. You'll discover those are the only things that are worthwhile."
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
(February 2004, U.S.)
Once again, outrageous coincidence takes form on this blog of mine. The first is that Disney's MIRACLE was released ten years ago this month (tomorrow's date, actually). The second is that with the 2014 Winter Olympics ready to kick off (also tomorrow) in Sochi, Russia, what better way for us to get into the spirit of things than to discuss a film that glorifies the United States gold medal victory in men's ice hockey over the Soviet Union during the Winter Games of 1980 in Lake Placid. That great victory was dubbed the "Miracle On Ice". For those who are too young to be familiar with this piece of sports history, it was highly significant because at that time the Soviet Union was being heavily criticized for its recent invasion of Afghanistan. The United States was also suffering the pain and anguish of the recent American hostage crisis in Iran. So while victory and justice may not have always seemed within arms reach in the world of politics and war, it was something a little more attainable in the world of international Olympic competition.
Kurt Russell plays the late Herb Brooks, head coach of the men's hockey team that took the gold medal. Even before getting into this wonderfully motivating sports film, I have to say that Russell nails this role perfectly with the spirit and mannerisms of Brooks himself. Sadly, his performance was ignored for an Oscar nod, and quite frankly, it shouldn't have been! From the very beginning, the story almost plays out like the premise of THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967), in which a hard-ass leader is faced with the task of putting together a team of fighting men from a group of mere unknown misfits. Like just about any other role of coach in any sports film, Brooks wants to see his team win, and win big. However, in a rather interesting twist, he makes it clear to his men that he's not there to be their friend. He's a motivator, a pusher, a dictator, and in some cases, a real asshole! Just watch how he continuously pushes these would-be champions to the brink of madness when in a fit of discouraging anger, he forces them to skate at top speed from one line to another, constantly lecturing them and shouting "Again!" in the process. It would seem that a victory we already know will happen (based on history) doesn't come without a painful price.
Beyond the point of cliche in which sports films play out in similar fashion, it's almost critical to take serious note of just what sort of hockey film MIRACLE is. I mean, let's face it - hockey hasn't exactly been covered too heavily on the big screen. Sure, maybe you're seen SLAP SHOT (1977) enough times to quote just about every dirty line that comes out of Paul Newman's mouth and perhaps you've even watched a MIGHTY DUCKS movie with your kids. Director Gavin O'Connor stays dedicated to the spirit of the sport, first by casting hockey players who can act and not the other way around. Sure, Paul Newman might have skated well back in '77, but would that have been particularly realistic by today's standards? And unlike watching a professional hockey game on TV where the cameras are positioned outside of the game, this film puts you right on the ice with the players with cameras that are right on the ice with them. One can only picture in their minds the tedious effort required keeping a camera moving in excess of thirty miles an hour to keep up with a professional hockey player.
For myself, as one who has grown up with his fair share of inspirational sports films that include baseball, football, boxing and even bicycle racing (BREAKING AWAY), I can only say that MIRACLE achieves a spirit unlike other films because ultimately the victory is not about personal achievement, but one that brings an entire team of men and the country they represent together as one. Like any other country, Americans love to win the big one at the Olympics. As a viewer of film, I still can't help but put a big smile on my face when watching the American team defeats a country that was once our enemy and listening to the voice of Al Michaels of ABC Sports immortalize these words, "Five seconds left in the game! Do you believe in miracles?! YES!!!"
It's moments and words like that, that keep the spirit of American Olympic victory fresh in our minds and hearts and what makes MIRACLE one of my favorite sports films of all time.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Herb Brooks: "One game. If we played 'em ten times, they might win nine. But not this game. Not tonight. Tonight, we skate with them. Tonight, we stay with them. And we shut them down because we can! Tonight, WE are the greatest hockey team in the world. You were born to be hockey players. Every one of you. And you were meant to be here tonight. This is your time. Their time is done. It's over. I'm sick and tired of hearing about what a great hockey team the Soviets have. Screw 'em! This is your time! Now go out there and take it!"