Tuesday, September 23, 2014
(December 1995, U.S.)
Having been born in 1967, the first United States president I was aware of in my lifetime was Richard M. Nixon. Because of that knowledge, the first major political event I became aware of (at the age of seven) was Nixon's shameful resignation from office in August 1974. Of course, at that tender age, you verbally simply an event like this by saying something like, "Did you hear that the President quit?" among your elementary school peers. Several years later, I would become aware of the film ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN (1976) and it's cinematic implications on real life political events that had only just taken place a few years prior. Some time after that, I would watch some of the infamous PBS interview between Nixon and David Frost, not understanding one damn thing I was hearing. Many years after that, I would write a twenty-one page college term paper on the Watergate scandal for which I'm happy to say I got an 'A' on (horray for me!)! So I suppose it's safe to say that while I wouldn't consider Richard Nixon himself an obsession with me, it's the latter years of his scandalous time in office that inevitably lead to his disgrace that's always been a source of fascination with me. Clearly, and to no surprise, Oliver Stone had a thing or two to say about him, too.
Having watched NIXON again for this post, I also found myself watching ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN again in order to gain some additional film perspective toward the man and his presidency. Know what I learned, or should I say reconfirmed? Anthony Hopkins looks and sounds nothing like Richard Nixon! And yet, despite these obvious flaws in physicalities and vocals, Hopkins has mastered the art of playing the man and a very lonely and isolated president whom it seems always had his back against the wall and was constantly fighting a world that hated him. In other words, Hopkins is perfect in every respect! Certainly a far cry above Beau Bridges who played Nixon in a TV movie and Frank Langella who played Nixon in Ron Howard's FROST/NIXON (2008). Like JFK (1991), Oliver Stone takes us through many of the pivotal events of Nixon life, childhood and presidency in a non-linear fashion with much of the same style of film cuts and edits. Whether you were a fan of Nixon or not, one cannot help but feel a degree of empathy for a man who was experiencing so much pain and despair, both personally and professionally. For myself, who knew only the latter part of Richard Nixon and his political crimes, the film gives a good deal of depth of who he was during his earlier years as Vice-President under Dwight D. Eisenhower and just how the assassinations of both John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy affected his political future. Just as an example, I knew nothing of Nixon's parents and siblings and that two of his brother's had died at a young age. Of course, one shouldn't take a cinematic biopic too seriously in terms of facts and accuracy, but I also have to remember that I put a certain degree of faith and confidence in Oliver Stone as a man who does his homework and is every once in a while compelled to teach us a little something about history through his films.
Now here's an interesting piece of information that I can't help but talk about. Upon the film's release in 1995, the Nixon family apparently issued a statement claiming that it was designed to "defame and degrade President and Mrs. Nixon's memories in the mind of the American public". Excuse me? Really?? You don't think perhaps Richard Nixon's illegal and shameful activities within the walls of the White House between 1972 and 1974 didn't actually accomplish that on its own?? Well, you have to figure that with every biopic, there are always those who will rise up and shout "Wrong!" and "No fair!". Regardless, NIXON does give the film viewer a fuller understanding of the life and career of a U.S. president that history may forever negatively brand. Whether you choose to view NIXON as true history is up to you, of course. Regardless, the film is, if nothing else, an outstanding achievement in psycho drama in both language and skilled performance. As a "presidential" film, it may also serve as the second act in a trilogy of such films, JFK preceding it and W. (George W. Bush) following it. Now if only Stone would do Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton (and make sure to include some good ol' fashioned cocksucking by Monica Lewinsky!).
Favorite line or dialogue:
Pat Nixon (to Richard Nixon): "How much more? How much more is it going to cost? When do the rest of us stop paying off your debts??"
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
(November 1939, U.S.)
Go ahead - try and say the name of this film correctly the first time without screwing it up...NINOTCHKA! NIN-OTCH-KA! Oh hell, it's a lot easier to watch this great black and white classic film than it is to say the name of the character Greta Garbo plays in this film. As for Garbo herself, this is the only film of her's that I own and I know virtually nothing about the woman except that she infamously "wanted to be alone". I do know that in many of her films, she was portrayed as rather serious and grim. Perhaps this is why MGM pushed the fact that "GARBO LAUGHS" in their marketing campaign for this one. I suppose to her fans at the time, her loosening up and letting her guard down on screen was considered a big deal.
Besides being a delightful comedy to enjoy when you're really in the mood to sit down and smile, NINOTCHKA also offers a look, comical as it may be, into the world and paranoia of the Soviet Union during a time when the newly communist society was still getting off the ground following the Russian Revolution of 1917 and its overthrow of the Czar. In this story, three Russians are in Paris to sell jewelry confiscated from the former aristocracy during the above-mentioned Revolution. Upon arrival, they meet Count Leon d'Algout (played by Melvyn Douglas), on a mission from the Russian Grand Duchess Swana (played by Ina Claire), who desperately wants to retrieve her jewelry before it's sold. Through his own charming corruption, he convinces the three men to stay in Paris. The Soviet Union then sends Nina Ivanovna "Ninotchka" Yakushova (Garbo), a special envoy whose goal is to go through with the jewelry sale and bring back the three men. Totally rigid and stern at first, Ninotchka slowly becomes seduced by Leon and all the pleasures and freedoms the West has to offer. Leon, upon meeting her, is immediately drawn to and seduced by her beauty, though it's difficult to conceive why. She has the charming personality of a wet mop. Perhaps this is is from a life of Soviet suppression or perhaps it's simply her nature. It's finally through a slapstick fall to the floor in a restaurant at Leon's expense that Ninotchka finally comes around and burst into an uncontrolled fit of laughter. For those who knew Garbo best through her films during that era, it's must have been a refreshing sight to see. For myself, I can't help but ask why her laughter simply erupts out of nowhere simply because she watched a man fall from his chair. Did she never witness such an accident in Russia, or is it only in the free city of Paris that she can finally let her guard down and enjoy the gift of laughter? Whatever the answer is, the film makes a real point of reminding its American viewers of the joys of laughter and the freedom of capitalism (the Soviet Union would not know these simple elements of life until the Berlin Wall came down in 1989).
NINOTCHKA is not a film Joseph Stalin would have cared for at the time of its release! Some of its sly political jokes include Greta Garbo saying, "The last mass trials were a great success. There are going to be fewer but better Russians", as well as a well-placed crack mocking the failed Soviet Five-Year-Plan (look that up!). The most noteworthy touch by the director Ernst Lubitsch revolves around a scene featuring a stag feast in a grand luxury hotel ordered by the capitalist Leon for the three grateful comrade emissaries, who can't believe their good fortune of such freedoms and pleasures. If nothing else, watching a film like this, at least during its era, would remind us Americans of just how fortunate we were to live and breathe in a free country such as ours.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Ninotchka: "Why should you carry other people's bags?"
Porter: "Well, that's my business, Madame."
Ninotchka: "That's no business. That's social injustice."
Porter: "That depends on the tip."
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
(December 1980, U.S.)
When you're a kid and you love going to the movies and you're raised by parents who won't take you that often (darn you mother and father!!!), the family picks and chooses its films that they'll put in the time and effort to go out and see. This sort of dedication was reserved for films like GREASE, SUPERMAN-THE MOVIE and even Rocky Balboa's rematch with Apollo Creed. That being the case, 9 TO 5 wasn't exactly a film we rushed to go see, despite its popularity at the time and that damned Dolly Parton song all over the fucking radio!
Wait!!! Having mentioned that song, I have to interrupt my blog and interject a quick personal story on this matter right now. In 1992, I went on a first date with a girl I'd been set up with by a another girl I was working with. Somewhere over the course of dinner, this chick casually mentions that "9 To 5" was her favorite song of all time (???)! Man, if that isn't a shallow, closed-minded, Seinfeld-ish reason to not go on a second date with someone, I don't know what is! Guys, you with me on this or what???
(sorry for disgressing, but...damn!)
So as I was saying, we didn't rush to see 9 TO 5. Instead, we waited several months until the film made it to the local neighborhood second-run movie theater where each seat was a mere one or two dollars on a day when we had nothing else to do. I suppose it was then that we saw what all the fuss was about. Whether you would choose to identify 9 TO 5 as a chick movie, a feminist statement or a perfect slice of (somewhat) realistic life in the modern office environment of 1980, the movie is just plain funny. Perhaps now it's even funnier as one could consider it a real period piece. One of the first things the modern generation will notice is that there isn't one computer screen on any of the desks in 9 TO 5. Notice also that the idea of sexual harassment is a subject that's meant to be considered humorous many years before it would be a real issue in the media and in the courtrooms. One issue that's likely not dated in any way is that many employers that we're forced to call "boss" are undeniable assholes who only seek to make our lives in the office miserable, be you man or woman. By the film's message, if you're a woman in a secretarial position (today they're be called office managers), you're constantly being screwed and belittled by the boss and you're powerless to do anything about it if you want to keep your job. But because this is comedy, and because it's decades before a film like HORRIBLE BOSSES (2011) would be created, the obvious solution is to kidnap your boss, blackmail him and enforce positive changes in the office during his (forced) absence. And all the while a twelve year-old like myself is laughing during all of this, it's impossible to recognize that this film is also meant to stand as an example of the ongoing feminist movement that had started in the late 1960s. I wouldn't know that until decades later in life when Jane Fonda spoke of it in the DVD extras. As a kid, it simply didn't occur to me.
So having reviewed whatever social importance 9 TO 5 may have stood for at the time, it's easy to see how Jane Fonda, Lilly Tomlin and Dolly Parton could generate the right comic chemistry that could make audiences laugh. Fonda, for all her seriousness in the 1970s (FUN WITH DICK AND JANE excluded), looks rather pathetically silly as a woman who appears to be afraid of her own shadow, let alone the monster Xerox machine. Take a look...
Not exactly the intense hooker in KLUTE (1971), Barbarella or the angry real life demonstrator against the Vietnam War, is she?? But under pressure, her character of Judy Bernly is actually the one with some real spunk when the shit starts to come down. Lilly Tomlin as Violet Newstead is the sturdy, solid one who actually becomes comically unravelled at times when the shit starts to come down. She's undeniably believable in everything she does, though. You can actually believe that she'd accidentally put rat poison in her boss's coffee without realizing it. The three of them, in fact, are quite believable and truly sympathetic when they're all sitting around getting high and fantasizing about the different ways they'd love to kill their boss. Because, let's face it, we've all done that! Actually, I was a lot kinder and simply wished one of my old bosses a quick, violent heart attack...the Nazi bastard!
And so...before TV's THE OFFICE...before HORRIBLE BOSSES...even before Michael Crichton's DISCLOSURE, 9 TO 5 showed us all just what a shitty place the common office was (and still is!) and all of the positive energy we could use to change all that, make it all better and go away forever! Does it ever work? Probably not.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Buffy the candy-striper: "Oh, you're a doctor! I'm sorry. I didn't see your badge."
Violet (looking at her badge and realizing the white doctor's lab coat she's stolen): "I'm a doctor. So why the hell am I talking to you? Piss off!"
Saturday, September 6, 2014
(December 1979, U.S.)
Love the great Steven Spielberg all you want (as I do!), but even after thirty-five years, it may still be unclear just how to interpret 1941 in the overall span of his long career. Perhaps it was the inevitable failure that the poor man was destined to experience sandwiched in between two back-to-back smash blockbusters (JAWS and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND in back and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and E.T.-THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL in front). But perhaps failure is a rather unfair word to use. Fact is, 1941 was, indeed, a financial success, but was generally disregarded by fans and critics. Whatever the reasons may have been, it's managed to gain a cult-status following over the decades.
Reason is, perhaps, the first element to be explored as to why 1941 didn't work for many. Is it because an outrageous comedy about the events of World War II or war in general was not meant to work (hey - even John Wayne himself tried to talk Spielberg out of making the film because he felt World War II was not a joking matter)? Could be. But then again, if that were true, classic TV shows like HOGAN'S HEROES or M.A.S.H. never would have been successful. Is it because the simple act of acting loud and obnoxious was not meant to be truly funny? Could be. But then again, if that were true, Mel Brooks films and films like ANIMAL HOUSE (1978) never would have been successful. So what's the answer? Well, to repeat my first sentence of this post...love the great Steven Spielberg all you want, but even the best of us Spielberg aficionados (that means ME and you, too, Steven A.!) have to confess that despite all his great originality and creativity, the poor man just isn't all that funny. Not to say he hasn't try, though! Look at every single film Steven Spielberg has ever made and you'll find that every once in a while he's interjected a moment or a piece of dialogue that's meant to make us laugh even in the most extreme of serious or dramatic circumstances...
"I can do anything. I'm the chief of police." - Martin Brody (JAWS)
"I don't know. I'm making this up as I go." - Indiana Jones (RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK)
"It wasn't like that, penis-breath!" - Elliot (E.T.)
Hell, even in SCHINDLER'S LIST, there's a brief moment when Oskar Schindler looks absolutely dumbfounded when the only secretary he's interviewing that has any real skills is totally unattractive. It's the most serious and heartbreaking of films, yet we're meant to laugh for just a moment because Spielberg decides he wants us to. Still, that doesn't mean he truly knows how to be funny, and even he's the first one to admit it! And so, if 1941 isn't necessarily that funny, what is the real reason to appreciate it and why is it part of my film collection and my blog? Well, in my opinion, 1941 may, at it's best, be one of the best cinematic exercises in perfect timing of popular celebrity culture. You're likely scratching your head wondering what the hell I mean by that. Let's give some serious consideration to the extensive cast of 1941 and the specific time period of the era in which they were famous in media entertainment and you may understand what I'm talking about. We have the popularity of Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi (SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE), Tim Matheson (ANIMAL HOUSE), Ned Beatty (SUPERMAN-THE MOVIE), Lorraine Gary and Murray Hamilton (JAWS & JAWS 2), Nancy Allen (CARRIE), Treat Williams (HAIR) and even that cute blonde chick from EIGHT IS ENOUGH and the geeky guy with the glasses from GREASE. Perhaps it doesn't particularly matter that a loud, insane World War II story loosely based on the Great Los Angeles Air Raid of 1942 wasn't all that laugh-out-loud funny. Perhaps it was simply enough that it was loaded to the brim with a huge assortment of popular celebrity figures of the time for 1941 to be attractive to the common moviegoer. For myself...well, let me just say that everything seems a whole lot funnier when you're twelve years-old in 1979. But the time you're a full-grown adult with a more sophisticated sense of cinema (I hope!), you still have very strong memories of sitting in a movie theater and watching all insanity break loose on the screen as a city tears itself apart over the fear and paranoia of an imminent invasion by the Japanese and actually finding it funny. But like I said, I was twelve years-old and I have a real strong hold on the concept of personal nostalgia.
Deterring ourselves from the comedy element for a moment, I can honestly say that 1941 is still an impressive film visually, with it's night time aerial shots of war planes in action and even the ferris wheel and the amusement park sequence is a visual delight to enjoy. John Williams' gung-ho and half-crazy musical score is a far cry from the traditional action or sci-fi spectacle we've all gotten accustomed to, with a real stronghold to the great big band sounds of the 1940s. It's easy to hear how much fun he's having and you get caught up listening to it, particularly during the big USO dance sequence.
As previously mentioned, 1941 contains more screaming than many slasher films combined and it's meant to be funny, if you're willing to buy that. In all likelihood, you're not. However, if you look and listen well enough, you'll find enough moments where you can't help but laughing. For myself, that moment is when Murray Hamilton and Eddie Deezen are sitting atop the great ferris wheel and a ventriloquist dummy wearing a white sailor suit and wearing glasses suddenly appears and Murray Hamilton's jaw drops causing his cigarette to fall from his mouth. I can't help but crack up at that!
And so, my great fans of Steven Spielberg, I think we can finally conclude that despite it's cinematic history, 1941 may not be remembered as the great dud of the man's career. That honor, in my opinion, belongs to HOOK (EWW!)!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Raoul Lipschitz (reporting over the radio on a riot at the USO): "Ladies and gentlemen, every where I look...soldiers are fighting sailors, sailors are fighting Marines! Directly in front of me, I see a flying blond floozy! Everywhere I look...everywhere, pure pandemonium...pandemonium!"
Wednesday, September 3, 2014
(October 1984, U.S.)
Look carefully and you'll see that I had to insert the year of this film's release next to the film's title. Looks weird when you read it, but in actuality, director Michael Radford's film is the second screen version of George Orwell's acclaimed classic novel of our dystopian future. The first one came out in 1956 and starred Edmond O'Brien. I haven't seen it.
So let me get this out of the way now and say that I did read the original novel sometime during my early years of college, though I can't remember its details very much. Regardless, it's one of those books you can't seem to get through life (or high school!) without it being a required read, along with CATCHER IN THE RYE, BRAVE NEW WORLD or any of Shakespeare's many works. It's just inevitable that you read this stuff and very likely be prepared to take an essay exam upon finishing it. Had 1984 been a required read during the Fall semester of my senior year in high school, the film's time of release would have been perfectly timed and I very likely would have been one of those kids who tries to get away with simply seeing the film and letting those nearly two hours in the movie theater pass for reading the book and trying to pass an English exam based on the book. Probably wouldn't have worked, though. Teachers inevitably caught onto that deceptive shit.
Actor John Hurt performs a very solid version of Winston Smith, a man who endures a squalid existence in the totalitarian superstate of Oceania in London under the constant surveillance of the Thought Police. He works in a small office cubicle at the Ministry of Truth, rewriting history in accordance with the dictates of the "Party" and its supreme figurehead, Big Brother, a man who stares at you like this...
Winston is a man haunted by painful memories and restless desires; an everyday man who keeps a secret diary of his private thoughts, thus creating evidence of his "thoughtcrimes". His life takes a fatal turn when he is approached by a mysterious, bold-looking girl named Julia (played by Suzanna Hamilton) and they begin an illicit sexual affair, something absolutely forbidden in this futuristic society. It all comes to an end, though, with the sudden raid by the "Thought Police". The young lovers are both arrested and we learn that there's been a telescreen hidden behind a picture on the wall in their room, and that the proprietor of a local pawn shop, Mr. Charrington, is actually a covert agent of the Thought Police. Winston and Julia are taken away to be detained, questioned and brutally "rehabilitated". Winston is brought to the Ministry of Love, where O'Brien (played by Richard Burton in his final film role), a high-ranking member of the Inner Party whom Winston had previously believed to be a fellow thought criminal and agent of the resistance movement, systematically and brutally tortures him in order to "cure" him. In the final and rather haunting moments of the film, Winston appears to be "cured" and finds himself saying "I love you" when faced with the image of Big Brother once again. Who he's actually saying these words to is a mystery. It may be to Big Brother, as he's been systematically trained to do, or it could be to Julia, a phrase that the two of them repeatedly used during their relationship, indicating the possibility that he still loves her and isn't as fully "cured" as we and the futuristic fascist government would like to believe. As cliché as it may sound, it would seem that love may still triumph in the end, even in the world of Orwell.
As a film, the photography and production design are nothing short of visually stunning, particularly in shots where any hints of comforting sunlight has been eliminated from life in this time. The entire look of the film, in general, tends to penetrate deeply into the original vision of Orwell's heart of darkness. It's a far cry from another Michael Radford film, an Italian film, that would take the world by storm in 1996 with its bright beauty and sunshine of life, IL POSTINO.
So, the big question still remains - did Orwell's vision of the future actually come true? In the real world of 1984, it did not...not yet. However, if we were to jump ahead thirty years to our current year of 2014, it's quite possible that Orwell would have seen it all happen. Not in the same dark, grim and underground fashion, of course, but rather in the form of the electronic cyber world, where our issues of personal privacy and the governmental tampering of such privacy comes into play. The difference between our world now and Orwell's version is that we, society's people of today, practically give away our privacy without even fully realizing it. Think about it! What kind of personal shit are you texting, emailing and posting on the social media networks? What kind of shit are you verbally spewing out there every time you have a personal cell phone conversation on a crowded train or bus? In Orwell's world, Big Brother was watching and society generally hated it. In our real world, Big Brother is also watching and we're all likely too stupid to realize that we're inviting him inside with a great big hug and kiss!
Think about it, people!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Winston Smith: "Look, I hate purity. Hate goodness. I don't want virtue to exist anywhere. I want everyone corrupt."
Julia: "Well, I ought to suit you, then. I'm corrupt to the core."
Winston: "Do you like doing this? I don't mean just me..."
Julia: "I adore it."