Wednesday, April 30, 2014
(June 1942, U.S.)
While I can't claim to have seen that many war dramas (not to be confused with combat war films), the ones I have seen and loved, such as BATTLE CRY (1955) and FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (1953), tend to focus more on the drama taking place between those associated with the military (and their wives), and therefore, more directly linked to the inside events and politics of war and battle. A film like MRS. MINIVER shows how the life of an unassuming British housewife in rural England is touched by the events of World War II. Played by Greer Garson, Mrs. Kay Miniver is a simple and lovely English lady who seems to take great pleasure in some of life's simplest things. When we first meet her, she overcome with joy over the fact that the hat she admired so much in the store window was not sold. It's an extravagance in her life, but one she feels she owes to herself once in a while to keep her joy blooming. Life in England is comfortable for herself, her husband (played by American actor Walter Pigeon) and their three children.
As the threat of World War II looms somewhere in the distance, her oldest son Vin (played by Richard Ney) comes down from Oxford University and meets Carol Beldon (played by the beautiful Teresa Wright), granddaughter of wealthy and rather snotty Lady Beldon (played Dame May Whitty). Despite their initial disagreements which mainly focus on the contrasts between Vin's idealistic attitude to class differences with Carol's practical altruism, they manage to fall in love and get married, nonetheless (because that's what happens in the movies!). As the war comes closer to home, Vin feels he must do his part for King and country and enlists in the Royal Air Force, qualifying as a fighter pilot. By sheer circumstance he's posted to a base near to his parents' home and is able to signal his safe return from operations to his parents by cutting his engines briefly as he flies over the house. I point out this small piece of interest because it further serves the tools of life's moments that continue to bring a woman like Mrs. Miniver joy and security of knowing her son is safe during a time of war when life is anything but safe.
Despite all her attempts to practice the normal functions of everyday life during a time of war, Mrs. Miniver inevitably learns the harsh truth of what it means to (literally) have the enemy at your door when she discovers a wounded German soldier who intrudes into her home and demands food while keeping his gun pointed at her. Study Mrs. Miniver's face carefully during this sequence and it's impossible not to realize that while she's a woman filled with fear, she also can't help but feel empathy for a young soldier who's, perhaps, no older than her own son and requires medical attention. Even when she manages to take his gun from him and call the police, she still remembers her humanity and calls for a doctor. Are we meant to connect with a woman who would give aid to the man that history has taught us was the enemy of the world? That would depend on our own humanity. The life of Mrs. Miniver is meant to be one of simplicity and humanity, regardless of war and personal threat to herself and her family.
Keeping in mind that the film's purpose is to express the life of the ordinary individual during war, the inevitable tragedy is not presented in the death of the brave soldier (as most typical war films would do) bur rather in the death of the innocent girl Carol who succumbs to her wounds after being shot by an enemy plane flying over her car. It's Mrs. Miniver who clutches her dying body in the end and it's her who sheds the first tear for the tragic death of this simple and beautiful girl who's only previous true acknowledgment of the war was facing the fact that she could loose her soldier husband to war at any given time. It's ironic that, perhaps, her own death never occurred to her or anyone else. War is hell for those who fight it and for those innocent people who must suffer though it. And while I'm sure MRS. MINIVER is not the only war drama to address the plights of the ordinary folk during wartime, it's, by far, the most effective example I can recommend for those who wish to explore that sort of tale.
MRS. MINIVER won the Oscar for best picture of 1942.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Kay Miniver: "But in war, time is so precious to the young people."
Wednesday, April 23, 2014
(November 1993, U.S.)
Men in drag is generally considered a very comedic formula in cinema. For me, it's definitely an acquired taste depending on who's doing the female dress-up. While men like Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959) and Dustin Hoffman in TOOTSIE (1982) may have me in stitches, men like Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze and John Leguizamo in TO WONG FOO...(1995) left me absolutely cold (as a matter of fact, I couldn't even sit through the entire movie!). However, the great Robin Williams dressed as a woman? Seriously, what's not to love??
The laughs in a film like MRS. DOUBTFIRE are obvious enough from the get-go, but to truly consider Robin Williams in a role such as this, in which he plays a devoted father who goes to extreme lengths just to be with his kids during a messy divorce, is to not only appreciate the man as a comedian, but to also appreciate his tender emotions, particularly with children. We may not know what Robin Williams is like as a father in real like, but to witness his dedication to his children in this film can only serve to raise the bar of expectations of our own fathers. As a husband, on the other hand, Daniel Hillard (Williams) may be considered a true nightmare by the one who's married to him. He's constantly unemployed, never takes anything seriously and is quite irresponsible when it comes for caring for the structure and discipline of his household. His wife Miranda, however, is the exact opposite of the coin; structured, responsible, disciplined and believes in raising her their three children according to a set of rules and schedules (Holy shit - she's MY mother when I was a kid!!!). As a parent, whether you support her attitude or you think she needs to lighten-the-fuck-up, it's pretty clear that these two can't stay married to each other any longer. This, I suppose, is where not having a job costs you joint custody of your kids. And when you're addicted to your children as much as Daniel is, one Saturday a week won't be enough. What to do? Dress up as a middle-aged British woman called Mrs. Euphegenia Doubtfire! This transformation is a lot more than physical (just look at the movie poster!). As Mrs. Doubtfire, Daniel is a completely different person; responsible, disciplined, structured and one who makes sure his kids are adhering to a schedule. Clearly, he's either learned a thing or two from his ex-wife or he's treading on very safe waters in order to keep his job with his family. Fear not, though. Behind all the new responsibilities is still the classic Robin Williams insanity and wise-ass dialogue we've all come to expect from this great, funny man! One can't help but feel empathy and support when Daniel/Mrs. Doubtfire goes out of his/her way to not only discredit Miranda's new/old love interest Stuart Dunmire (played by pre-Bond Pierce Brosnan), but to also make sure that Miranda doesn't end up in bed with him. It may be the wise-old granny giving Miranda the honorable, well-meaning advice of maintaining a level of post-divorce celibacy, but we know and love the jealous ex-husband who doesn't want to see his ex-wife fuck another guy!
To day that MRS. DOUBTFIRE is heavily predictable is an understatement, but frankly, we probably wouldn't have it any other way. For as much as we know that Daniel Hillard will get away with his costumed charade, we also know that the entire scheme will inevitably come crashing down faster than you can say "classic episode of I LOVE LUCY or THREE'S COMPANY"! And oh boy, how it comes crashing down! To watch Daniel/Mrs. Doubtfire constantly and desperately run back and forth in a classy restaurant changing outfits between his family and his boss while repeatedly downing the alcohol is simply hilarious and fun to watch. In the end, of course, anger is replaced with forgiveness and a father's love and dedication to his precious children are what triumphs most. I suppose the band 10CC sang it best in 1976..."The Things We Do For Love".
Favorite line or dialogue:
Stuart Dunmire: "Your day's on me, Mrs Doubtfire. Anything you need, just put on my tab, okay?"
Mrs. Doubtfire: "Oh, thank you, dear...(to himself)...Touch me again, and I'll drown you, you bastard. Oh, I'll just sit here and watch you move in on my family. Oh, God, what am I doing here? This is beyond obsession!"
Sunday, April 20, 2014
(October 1939, U.S.)
These so-called coincidental "double features" that occasionally take place on my blog never cease to put a smile on my face. Two Frank Capra classics and two "MR's" in a row. Ain't life just one big humorous kick in the ass (and clearly I'm the only one who can get any sort of kick out of this crap!)??
So, having dove deep into the great American spirit that Frank Capra possesses in his film during my last blog of MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN, I see no need to repeat what I would call the bloody obvious for this next film; widely considered one of his most popular films of all time right next to IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. This time, however, the great courage and determination of the human spirit is up against the corrupt politics of Washington D.C., and that sort of monster hasn't changed much in many generations!
Mr. Jefferson Smith (played by Capra regular James Stewart) is about as homegrown American innocence and idealism as one could possibly find on the movie screen. He's the all-American man who's loved by his hometown, supports the local Boy Rangers organization, puts out forest fires and truly believes in his heart of the honestly and integrity of our precious American government. In other words, people, the man is a born schmuck on wheels! And apparently, it's just this sort of naïve schmuck who's a perfect candidate to take a newly-available seat in the American senate; a perfect stooge who will "play ball" and take orders from more influential and corrupt politicians who have put together the perfectly-oiled machine that run an entire state just the way they want it. Junior Senator Smith is taken under the wing of the publicly esteemed, but secretly crooked, Senator Joseph Paine (played by Claude Rains), who was Smith's late father's friend. Smith's naïve and honest nature allows the unforgiving press of Washington to take full advantage of him, quickly tarnishing Smith's reputation with ridiculous front page pictures and headlines branding him a moronic bumpkin.
For no other purpose than to just keep him busy and out of the serious affairs of corrupt politics, Paine suggests he propose a bill before the Senate. With the help of his secretary, Clarissa Saunders (played by Jean Arthur), who was the aide to Smith's predecessor and had been around Washington and politics for years, Smith comes up with a bill to authorize a federal government loan to buy some land in his home state for a national boys' camp, to be paid back by young boys all across America. However, the proposed campsite is already part of a dam-building graft scheme included in an appropriations bill framed by the corrupt Jim Taylor (played by Edward Arnold) "political machine" and supported by Senator Paine, as well. Through Paine, the machine in his state accuses Jefferson Smith himself of trying to profit from his bill by producing fraudulent evidence that Smith already owns the land in question. And so, like many other Capra characters, our hero is now up against the powerful walls of those who would seek to destroy him with seemingly no way out, and in turn, as is also the Capra way, our hero eventually lifts his head up and stands a firm ground to defend himself and the ideals of innocence he holds true. Before the entire Senate, Smith launches a filibuster to postpone the appropriations bill and prove his innocence on the Senate floor just before the vote to expel him can take effect. In his last chance to prove himself, he talks non-stop for nearly twenty-four hours, reaffirming the (so-called) American ideals of freedom and disclosing the true motives of the dam scheme. In the end, of course, righteousness triumphs over corruption and all is supposedly happily ever-after...because that's just the Capra way of doing things!
Despite Frank Capra's positive sense of morals and ideals, it's pretty clear that he frowned upon the American government as a whole. Like death and taxes, it would seem that politics and corruption were as much a certainty as they are today. For 1939, however, it came off as a much lighter load of financial greed and dishonesty as opposed to something a little more late 20th Century like secret Monica Lewinsky blowjobs in the White House or even something a little more 21st Century like secret financial dealings with foreign terrorists, both pre and post 9-11. Any way that you slice it, governments (even ours!) are corrupt to the bone and it's only in a Frank Capra film that someone is likely to stand up against it all. It's even more likely in a Frank Capra film that such a person might actually win!
By the way, speaking of Monica Lewinsky - quick story (no, I didn't come on her dress, also!). I remember back in 1998 when the entire scandal broke loose, I was having a conversation with a friend about it. My friend was not only appalled by the incident that took place between President Clinton and the girl, but was also appalled at the fact that Clinton brazenly lied about it before the TV cameras. I, on the other hand, was not only not surprised that such a thing could take place in the White House, but fully expected our dear President to lie about it! My friend was taken aback by my negative and cynical attitude, but it was my opinion that we as Americans could not afford to be so naïve and so aloof as to actually expect our Commander-in-Chief to tell the truth in the face of scandal, at least not without putting up a good fight first. Politicians lie! That's the way it is, has been, and always will be! Getting upset or trying to fight it will not change it! We, as ordinary citizens, lie, too! Are we so stupid to think that those we put in charge aren't going to do it, too?? Apparently, Frank Capra wasn't that stupid, despite his positive hopes for humanity!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Jefferson Smith: "Mr. President, I stand guilty as FRAMED! Because section 40 is graft! And I was ready to say so, I was ready to tell you that a certain man in my state, a Mr. James Taylor, wanted to put through this dam for his own profit. A man who controls a political machine! And controls everything else worth controlling in my state. Yes, and a man even powerful enough to control Congressmen, and I saw three of them in his room the day I went up to see him!"
Friday, April 18, 2014
(April 1936, U.S.)
Despite the unchallenged reputation Frank Capra held as a great filmmaker of positive American values, ideals and spirits, it still amazes even me how the tone of his films could be so promising and uplifting during the era of the Great Depression when American life all around was anything but positive and uplifting. Clearly, the man never lost hope and faith in the human race and I suppose it could be safe to say that perhaps American citizens didn't, either, or his films, particularly those of the 1930s, wouldn't have been so well embraced and cherished.
The flavor of MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN is fully laced with what would later be referred to in American cinema as "Capraesque", in that the courage and its positive effects and the triumph of the American underdog is clearly spelled out here, as it is in many of his other films. In this film, Longfellow Deeds (played by Gary Cooper) is a quirky poet of greeting cards and a tuba player who just happens to one day inherit twenty million dollars from his late uncle who's just perished in a car accident in Italy. As a small town simple man with few needs, Deeds is somewhat reluctant to even know what to do with that kind of money. However, leave it to the hustle and bustle of New York City to quickly change a man's attitude and perspective of things. The pleasures of wealth agree with Mr. Deeds and he's not too ashamed to display it. Keeping in mind that he's a simple and innocent man, one should also take note that unlike other fictional simple men of the screen like Chance Gardner of BEING THERE (1979) or the great Forrest Gump of the 1994 film, Deeds is smart enough to know when those around him with their greedy, money-grubbing hands out are trying to take advantage of him. Even the man who's supposed to be his trusted lawyer is trying in vain to secure the power-of-attorney so he can claim all that dough! But like I said, Deeds is a simple, yet smart man. Smart to himself and to those who watch him on the screen. To most of those around him, however, he comes off as quite a loon as he parades around the great city of New York jumping on the back of moving fire trucks, feeding donuts to horses and getting drunk in front of policemen. Under normal circumstances, acts such as these wouldn't even phase the typical New Yorker. But when you're out to claim big bucks from a poor sucker, these acts can be claimed as pure insanity.
Insanity is an important word here, but we'll get back to that in a moment. Even in a screwball comedy such as this, Capra inevitably reminds his audience that the Great Depression is taking place and the importance of trying to help out your fellow man. By the time Deed's shenanigans are starting to wind down, he's suddenly faced with the harsh reality of what the common American farmer is enduring at this time and realizes what the true purpose of all his money really is. That in mind, those that are now lined up at Deed's door are the poor and destitute who only seek a little financial help to get back on their feet. But even as Deeds is now portrayed as a saint and savior who's giving all his money away, those with their grubbing hands held out are still determined to get his money. This is where insanity plays its part in the film as we watch a public hearing take place to determine the state of mind of Mr. Deeds. Mounting evidence of his previous nutty actions certainly portrays a man who's not quite-all-there and should probably not be allowed to maintain and manage such a huge sum of money. This, like many other Capra stories, is where all looks hopeless for the hero and his place in society. But as is also in true Capra fashion, the hopeless man bounces back and defends himself and his actions. Through simple explanations of his own, we and those who would accuse him suddenly realize the true and innocent nature of Deed's habits and quirks because they are, in fact, not only not insane, but also ones that we, too, could be accused of doing from time to time. In other words, as the two old ladies testify, we're all just a little "pixilated", meaning odd like a pixie (but don't ask me what the hell a "pixie" is!). In the end, all false charges are dropped, the hero (also dubbed "the sanest man who ever walked into this courtroom" by the judge) keeps his money and his honorable intentions and, of course, gets the girl he loves...because all movie heroes get the girl they love, don't they??
Favorite line or dialogue:
Longfellow Deeds: "Now, uh, Jane, a little while ago you said I was pixilated. Do you still think so?"
Jane Faulkner: "Why, you've always been pixilated, Longfellow."
Amy Faulkner: "Always."
Deeds: "That's fine, hmm, I guess maybe I am. And now tell me something, Jane, who else in Mandrake Falls is pixilated?"
Jane: "Why, everybody in Mandrake Falls is pixilated - except us."
Saturday, April 12, 2014
(June 2007, U.S.)
As an American actor, Kevin Costner can more-than-often be counted on to be the good guy. Characters like Elliot Ness (THE UNTOUCHABLES), John Dunbar (DANCES WITH WOLVES), Jim Garrison (JFK) and even Jonathan Kent (MAN OF STEEL) persistently do the right thing and have the best interests of his fellow man at heart. From the moment you hear about a role like this for a certain man you know to be so damn sweet and honorable, you may approach it with some hesitation. It may not make sense at first glance, but when you truly consider it, perhaps it's the overall good guy who's best suited to play the diabolical serial killer. It's not only a great acting challenge for the good guy, but also a whole lot more fun for the viewer because we get to witness what can only be described as the flip side of the character coin.
Earl Brooks (Costner) is a wealthy, successful businessman recently honored by the Portland, Oregon Chamber of Commerce as "Man of the Year." In his secret life, however, Brooks is known as the "Thumbprint Killer." He's abstained from murder for the past two years by actually attending the 12-step meetings for addicts to cope with his killing addiction. He feels the compulsion to kill rising again, as his darker alter ego, Marshall (played by William Hurt) becomes more insistent. In fact, let me say right here that to watch these two have intense conversations with each other and laugh with each other as if there are actually two people happening here and not the same man is a real trip to watch between two very gifted actors. Anyway, to satisfy his addiction, Brooks brutally shoots a young couple while they're having sex in their apartment and, as part of his pathosis, leaves each of the victims' bloody thumbprints on a lampshade. Brooks follows his meticulous motives, including fastidious preparation and cleaning up the crime scene, even locking the doors before departing. It's only after all of that, that Marshall notices that the couple's curtains were open the entire time. Such a careless mistake is prone to an eyewitness and perhaps potential blackmail, and this, as they say, is where the real fun begins.
Having said that, we enter the man who will only identify himself as "Mr. Smith" (played by comedian Dane Cook). You can probably guess that he saw the whole thing and wants something in return for keeping his mouth shut. Money? Nah, too easy! What this guy wants is to experience the potential rush of murder by watching Brooks commit his next act. In short, what we have here is a less-than-traditional mentor/protégé relationship. While it won't bleed Brooks financially or send him to jail, it is, nonetheless, an annoying inconvenience to deal with, which ultimately opens the door for the viewing audience to expect Mr. Brooks to ultimately kill "Mr. Smith" at some point. Truth be told, when you've heard just how irritating Mr. Smith can be, you sort of want it to happen, and quickly, too.
Mr. Brooks, is, of course, the bad guys of this picture. And naturally, when there's a bad guy, that inevitably means there must be a good guy. So enter detective Tracy Atwood (played by Demi Moore), who's not only determined to get her man, but is also going through a messy divorce at the same time. As a matter of fact, Demi Moore is so surprisingly good in this role, despite having done G.I. JANE (1997), she would have made a great action hero in her younger days (hey, perhaps it's not too late. I mean, Helen Mirren did it at her age in two RED moves!). Like many detective heroes, she moves by her wits, her senses and her hunches. In a way, they pay off in the end when she thinks she's captured the "Thumbprint Killer" in the form of the "Mr. Smith". Deep in her gut, though, she knows better, and we know better because we've not only watched it all happen, but deep down, perhaps we don't want Mr. Brooks to be captured. You see, the barbaric side of our human nature is able to somehow empathize with the serial killer in this film and hope only the best will come from his sick exploits.
Notice in my first paragraph, I've used the word addiction to describe Mr. Brook's murderous impulses. That's not my own creation. The film uses the word, too. At his 12-step meeting, he stands before his fellow addicts and says, "My name is Earl Brooks. I'm an addict." That's it. Nothing more. Those around him can presume it's the traditional crutch like drugs, alcohol, gambling or even sex. Who amongst him would ever suspect his addiction is murder?? Because we know the truth, it makes the simple descriptive word of addict far more intriguing. Now, while I'm certainly no psychiatrist, it certainly gives the film viewer a moment of pause to consider the fact that serial murder can, and perhaps is, just as much of non-controlling habit as anything else we've heard of. Even Brooks himself admits that he doesn't enjoy killing, but can't help it. Consider also that life's addictions can be passed down to our children. The film offers such a consideration and asks us to entertain the notion that Brook's daughter has likely inherited her father's deadly addiction. We've already learned that she's guilty of having murdered a fellow college student (a murder which her dutiful father helps to cover up, by the way) before returning home in a pregnant state. Was her victim random? Did she kill the father of her baby? Was it the only time and will she do it again? These are questions one can ask oneself when considering the prospect of addiction. If serial murder is an addiction, how does one stop if one is not caught or killed? In the end, neither option happens to Earl Brooks, and short of a sequel or two, we're left to question just what will happen next to the life of Mr. Brooks.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Tracy Atwood (answering the phone): "Atwood."
Earl Brooks: "Why are you a cop?"
Tracy: "Who is this?"
Brooks: "You're rich, you have a good education, you could have gone into your father's business. Instead, you went outside all of that and became successful on your own. Why?"
Tracy: "If you want something from me, then you're gonna have to tell me who you are or I'm gonna hang up."
Brooks: "Did you think your husband's killing was random? And I certainly didn't have to give you Meeks."
Tracy: "Mr. Bafford?"
Brooks: "What's the answer?"
Tracy: "You don't sound like you."
Brooks: "Well, I have a little cold. Are you going to give me the answer?"
Tracy: "Where are you?"
Brooks: "I'll tell you if you can give me the true answer to my question."
Tracy: "My, my father was very disappointed that I was born a girl, and he let me know it. I've spent my whole life trying to prove him wrong."
Brooks: "Thank you."
Tuesday, April 8, 2014
(June 1948, U.S.)
In my profession as an architect, I've had my more-than-fair-share of dealing with engineers and contractors on various projects, none of which included residential housing, I must confess. However, it's my profession that gives me enough of a feeling of empathy for those who seek the American dream of home ownership and all of the bullshit that goes with it! Despite the fact that MR. BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE is a film of 1948, the madness and insanity of trying to build a home from the ground up and dealing with the inevitable mess that comes with it hardly seems dated even in the 21st Century. Real estate brokers, architects, engineers, contractors, lawyers, interior designers, painters...they'll all drive you to brink of insanity if they don't financially bleed you dry first(and they will!)!
Mr. Jim Blandings (played by the-always-funny Cary Grant) is in the advertising business and lives with his wife Muriel (played by Myrna Loy) and two daughters in a cramped New York City apartment. Muriel secretly plans to remodel their apartment. After rejecting this idea because of the enormous cost, Jim is suddenly inspired to spend a little extra and build a home of their own in Connecticut rather than just renovate a rented apartment. A brainstorm like this will naturally start out as exciting, but will surely become a whole different story once things really get started. Initially, they plan to purchase and fix up an old, dilapidated farm house. This old house, dating from the Revolutionary War-era, turns out to be very structurally unsound and has to be torn down. The Blandings hire an architect to design and supervise the construction of the new home. From the time of the original purchase to the new house's completion, a long litany of unforeseen troubles and setbacks beset the poor, hapless Blandings and delay their move-in date. Particularly amusing is the old man drilling for water for a well on the property who doesn't seem to quite know what he's doing and persistently addresses every problem and issue with a rather annoying, "Y-e-e-a-a-h." You need to watch and listen to seriously appreciate the lunacy of a so-called professional like and understand what drives us as human beings to hire people like this to provide needful services for us. Of course, we need to remember that, at heart, this is a family film that's supposed to fill our heart with warmth and happiness, and there's a real good chance that such emotions can occur, if the damn house ever gets finished! Perhaps you've tried to build your own dream house. Perhaps you and your spouse were even able to agree on one or two things during the long and painful process. In the end, though, perhaps you finally experience the joy and comfort of that wonderful word we all call HOME.
Now here's an interesting, little observation I cannot help but discuss now. You may recall I've referred to this film as undated. Well, here's one part of the film I can not only call dated, but compare it to a real life sequence of my own. As I write this post for this film, my wife and I just happen to be in the process of renovating both of our bathrooms (and so far we've actually agreed on just about everything!). In the film, there's a scene where Muriel Blandings is describing to the professional painter each color she'd like each room of the house to be done in. In rather simple, vague and primitive descriptions, she's expecting the professional to understanding what she wants by comparing colors to loose pieces of thread, dots on a wallpaper pattern and asinine color comparisons with such things as apples and bird's eggs. This is perhaps how one had to describe things in the year 1948. When my wife and I visited a lighting store to choose fixtures for the bathrooms, my wife and the sales lady were standing there with iPads in hand comparing notes, ideas and lighting choices with clear, concise descriptions in the comprehensible language of English! Well, despite the fact that I'm the first one to knock 21st Century gadgets, if that ain't real-life progress, I don't know what the hell is! So here's to all of you iPad geeks out there who actually make it all work!
And here's to all of our dream homes! Mine's in the great town of Westhampton Beach, Long Island. It's been in my family since 1978 and here's what it looks like...
So come by and see me sometime! No, just kidding! Stay away! It's mine!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Mr. Blandings (having just seen the total estimates for his new house): "Never mind, Mr. Simms. If you'll send us a bill for your services, I'll see it's taken care of. Goodbye, Mr. Simms!"
Mr. Simms (the architect): "Oh, but one moment, Mr. Blandings, in the first place..."
Mr. Blandings: "Now in the first place, Mr. Simms, I am going out to get my head examined! Then if I don't jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, I'm going to find the owner of our apartment building and sign a twenty year lease! Goodbye!"
Friday, April 4, 2014
(September 2004, U.S.)
Nearly ten years ago, I went to see the Spanish film THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES based on nothing more than a recommendation from my employer at the time, who happened to be an art film lover, as well as a lover of motorcycle riding (thanks, Mike!). I did not know walking into the theater, nor did I completely make the connection walking out of the theater that this film was the story of the early youth of internationally-known iconic Marxist guerrilla commander and revolutionary Che Guevara. Frankly, the only thing I really ever knew about this guy was the iconic image I'd seen of him on concrete walls and on t-shirts...
This film is not about exploring the life of a guerrilla commander, but rather a young man in his early twenties with an overwhelming desire to hit the road with his best friend on an old, failing Norton 500 motorcycle (christened "The Mighty One") and discover the country that is their own. This journey and narrated memoir of young Ernesto "Fuser" Guevara (played by Mexican actor Gael García Bernal) and his partner in travel Alberto "Mial" Granado (played by Rodrigo de la Serna) is quite literally a tale of boys who along the way of life on the road, become men. Travelling across South America, the main purpose is initially fun and adventure, but their ultimate goal is to work in a leper colony in Peru. They desire to see as much of Latin America as they can and learn of its people. Along the way, the bike continuously breaks down and leaves them in dire straits. After some repeated time of such failings, one can't help but wonder how these two men manage to keep landing on their feet. Their feet, actually, is where they do end up in the end because "The Mighty One" eventually sees its final days, never to be repaired again.
Traveling now at a much slower pace on foot and by hitchhiking, Guevara and Granado encounter the plight and the poverty of the indigenous peasants, and the film now assumes a greater seriousness other than a common "road movie" once the men gain a better sense of the disparity between the "haves" (to which they belong) and the "have-nots" (who make up the majority of those they encounter). In Chile, they encounter a penniless and persecuted couple forced onto the road because of their communist beliefs. In a rather intense fire-lit scene, Guevara and Granado can't help but ashamedly admit to this couple that they're not out looking for work, but merely travelling for their leisure. The men accompany the couple to the Chuquicamata copper mine, where Guevara becomes angry at the harsh treatment of the workers. Later, there's also an instance of recognition when Guevara, atop a luxurious river ship, looks down at the poor dark-skinned peasants on the small wooden rickety boat being dragged behind. These are the moments of discovery and clarity that we know will produce a man of history many years later. As anticipated, Guevara grows and solidifies as a human being. As a young doctor in a leper colony, he comes to realize the value and meaning of all human life.
By the end of the film, after his sojourn at the leper colony, Guevara confirms his nascent egalitarian, anti-authority impulses, while making a seeminly simple birthday toast, which is ends up becoming his first political speech. In it he evokes a pan-Latin American identity that transcends both the arbitrary boundaries of race and nation. It's these encounters with social injustice that transform the way Guevara sees the world around him, and by implication motivates his later political activities as the famous Marxist revolutionary. There's also a brief mention of Che Guevara's eventual 1967 CIA-assisted execution in the Bolivian jungle in the end credits. That however, is the political history of man who left behind the life of a boy and a motorcycle many years ago. To explore further the life of this man in film would require a cinematic story in a whole different direction. Perhaps if you have a great deal of time and patience, Steven Soderbergh's CHE (both Part I and Part II) with Benicio del Toro in the starring role is the direction to take.
Strictly as an art film, THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES may not provide any real satisfactory answers as to how a simple medical student went on to become arguably the most famous revolutionary of the latter half of the 20th Century. It does, however, have an undeniable charm in that it provides the memories of youth with a sense of purity and altruism, which are complemented by the open cinematography. It's an incomplete portrait, indeed, but it's a lovely depiction of two best friends unknowingly riding themselves into the books of history.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Doctor Hugo Pesce (referring to his novel): "Ernesto, your opinion?"
Alberto Granado: "He loved it."
Hugo: "If he loved it, I'd like to hear him tell me."
Ernesto Guevara: "Look, Doctor, I think you book is a bit trite. There are too many cliches, and I..."
Hugo: "Well, that's not so bad."
Ernesto: "No...the writing is basically...bad. Basically unreadable. It's a worthy attempt, Doctor, but I think you should stick to what you know best. I'm sorry, Maestro, you asked my opinion and that's it."
Hugo: "Damn you, boy. Nobody's been that honest with me. You're the only one. The only one."