Monday, October 27, 2014

NO WAY OUT (1987)

(August 1987, U.S.)

For every hardcore cinematic conviction of mine, there's usually an exception or two. You've heard me rant and rave about my general distaste for remakes, and yet I can't help but confess that there do exist some remakes that I actually feel outsoar the original, though many of them fall into the genre of horror and monster movies, i.e. INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978), DRACULA (1979), THE THING (1982) and THE FLY (1986). When I went to see NO WAY OUT on screen in August 1987 before returning to another year of college, I had absolutely no idea that it was a remake of a 1948 film called THE BIG CLOCK (a film I've previously discussed, by the way). By the end of that summer, I would have seen just about anything Kevin Costner was starring in, having already been blown away by THE UNTOUCHABLES just a couple of months prior (I went to see it twice!). Besides, the trailer looked real good and Sean Young is rather sexually smokin', despite the big 1980's hairdo...

Whereas the original film of THE BIG CLOCK was more of a direct domestic crisis of murder and deception within the walls of a powerful newspaper, NO WAY OUT is more of a modern political thriller and its focus on the corrupted figures and their abuse of powers. Similarly to the original film, there is a secret, scandalous affair and a mistress who ultimately ends up dead. For this film, we have a love triangle between said mistress Susan Atwell (Sean Young), commander Tom Farrell (Kevin Costner) and Secretary of Defense, David Brice (played by Gene Hackman). While Susan is seeing both men, it would appear that sex (including some hot backseat limo sex!) and love are only being given to Tom. It's David, though, who accidentally kills her when he jealously hits her and she falls to her death. The ironic twist here is that Tom's secret identity becomes the prime suspect here and it's specifically Tom who must lead the investigation into the mystery of who killed Susan.

(you getting all of this??)

So while Tom must appear to be making progress with Susan's murder, he must also undertake the painstaking task of hiding himself from his own investigation. It should also be noted that throughout the film's story, we're made aware of a phantom character by the name of Yuri, who's been identified as only a secret Soviet Union spy within the midst of our own United States government. Remember, this is still two years before the Cold War would officially end, so this sort of threat could still hold water on the American movie screen. As the film moves forward, Tom sets about proving that David Brice was involved with Susan by searching computer files for evidence that Brice gave her a government-registered gift he received from Morocco. Tom presents the gift-registry printout to David who shifts the blame to Pritchard, his rather disgustingly loyal assistant (played by Will Patton) arguing that Pritchard was jealous of his relationship with Susan (because Pritchard is gay and probably wants David for himself!). A devastated Pritchard ends up committing suicide and is falsely exposed as "Yuri" to the police by Brice, hoping to avoid blame for Susan's death. Who Yuri really is, we learn only at the very conclusion of the film. Guessed it yet? Well, consider how easy it is never to suspect the film's hero of being something other than what he appears to be. Guessed it yet???

NO WAY OUT is one of those films that can really give you cause to miss the 1980s, in that we simply don't see much by way of the cat-and-mouse labyrinth of political thrillers and the effective use of Washington D.C. and its government corruption anymore. Those simple intriguing thrills by way of classic Alfred Hitchcock have been (unfortunately) replaced by the harsh realities of terror attacks on our government soils, which is why when we're offered political thrillers in this day and age, it's more in the form of crap like OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN and WHITE HOUSE DOWN! It's enough to make you miss the Cold War!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Schiller (speaking Russian): "We thought we'd never see you again."
Tom Farrell (speaking Russian): "So did I."
Schiller: "Couldn't you have manage this better?"
Tom: "Not so fast, it's difficult for me to follow in Russian.
(switches to English)
Tom: "It's been very long for me."
Schiller: "How thirsty you must be for the sound of our language. Yevgeny Alekseevich, wouldn't you love to hear Russian again? Imagine Pushkin, Lermontov, Tolstoy..."
Tom: "...Solzhenitsyn, Aksyonov."
Schiller: "Even them, always the sense of humor. In the Philippines, when you passed a bag of underwear, Moscow wasn't amused. I should've acted then. In any case, it's not possible for to remain in the United States. This bizarre incident has given them their Yuri. Yevgeny, think. THINK! You're a hero of the Soviet Union!"
Tom: "I'm not a hero."
Schiller: "Be that as it may, you must return!"
Tom: "I came here! I thought I owed you that, but you can't make me go back!"

Thursday, October 23, 2014


(August 1946, U.S.)

Alfred Hitchcock's NOTORIOUS marks a watershed artistic moment for the famed film maker, and represents a level of heightened thematic maturity. It's an American spy thriller and a serious love story in which three people's lives become intimately entangled during an espionage operation. For its specific genre, the film combines elements of gothic fiction (an imprisoned Ingrid Bergman), a woman's story of a love triangle with unworthy men, a spy film, and film noir with the classic femme fatale protagonist (Bergman again).

From its beginning the character of Alicia Huberman (Bergman) is portrayed as a helpless victim of circumstance, as her father, a convicted Nazi spy, has just been sentenced to imprisonment. Her shame and weakness are immediately apparent by her tendencies to drink heavily and even attempting to drive under the influence (possible suicide attempt?). However, even as we immediately get to know her personality, we're also immediately introduced to her male counterpart in the film by watching the back end of the mysterious man who sits in her chair at her party, studying her. Enter T.R. Devlin (played by Cary Grant in his second of four films with Hitchcock) who recruits Alicia to infiltrate an organization of Nazis who have moved to Brazil after World War II. When Alicia refuses to go along at first, Devlin plays a recording (on an actual vinyl record) of her fighting with her father and insisting that she loves America. It would seem that patriotic duty will win over in this situation, as well as the fact that Alicia and Devlin are slowly falling in love.

Now, if you've seen MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE II, tell me if this sounds familiar - the assignment is for Alicia to seduce and infiltrate the life and home of Alex Sebastian (played by Claude Rains), a leading member of the Nazi spy group and discover what their ultimate plot is. Alex also happens to be a former relationship of Alicia's that he took seriously, but she did not. Ringing a bell? Yes, it would seem that John Woo liked these Hitchcock elements enough to virtually duplicate them in his 2000 Tom Cruise action sequel. Even the sequence at the race track is a direct copy (or homage, if you will). Learning of Alex's previous love interest toward Alicia, Devlin puts up a stoic front when he informs her about the mission. She concludes that he was merely pretending to love her as part of his job. Maybe true, maybe not.

Love interest and spying inevitably go all the way when Alicia agrees to marry Alex. This will give her full access to the home, but clearly drive a tighter wedge between herself and the man she truly loves (Devlin). However, because this is primarily a spy film, there are key elements in both story and filming that one cannot ignore. In one of his most famous shots, Hitchcock starts the camera high and wide on a second floor balcony overlooking the great hall of a grand mansion. Slowly, he tracks down and in on Alicia and finally ends with a tight close-up of a key tucked in her hand; a key that will ultimately grant her access to a locked wine cellar where the true diabolical secrets lie. And that secret...well, let's just say by our modern film standards of today, it may seem rather lame. But bearing in mind that this is the year 1946, a time after World War II and before the Cold War, the idea of hidden mineral ore that can be used to make potential deadly weapons by our enemies, would have been considered an element of pure intrigue back during that era.

Any spy thriller also always means the danger of our hero becoming exposed. It's not too long before Alex realizes his stupidity in marrying an American agent and must now plot to do away with her, with the help of his diabolical, old mother. Slow poisoning through coffee seems to work here and it's now a race against time to see if Alicia will be rescued by the man who truly loves her. Cinematic cliché clearly dictates the answer to that question, but when it's done in the great tradition of Alfred Hitchcock, it's always just a bit more relevant and enjoyable than what the surface generally offers.

The plot line of NOTORIOUS is the old, classic conflict between honorable duty to one's country and old fashioned love. Devlin's job, in a rather strange twist of irony, is to push Alicia into Alex's arms and into his bed. So one can hardly blame him for turning bitter and resentful throughout the film, whereas Alex is rather appealing in his figure, both because of his love for Alicia and the fact that he also knows he will ultimately be betrayed by her, as well. These elements feature psychological drama that have been woven into the traditional spy story. It's key to remember, though, that Hitchcock was also a master storyteller of psychology, as well as suspense. The dramatic action is smooth and very sure of itself with its characters and the intensity of their emotional appeal towards each other. It's one of Hitchcock's best during his early period as a director in America, during a time when America and patriotic attitude toward America was about to come into question by those who occupied its soil.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Alex Sebastian: "I am married to an American agent."

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


(June 2004, U.S.)

I've said this before and I'll say it again - when it comes to the art of love on screen, I prefer a straightforward love story rather than a stupid romantic comedy that tries to pass itself off as a straightforward love story. However, when it comes to love stories, one of the greatest and often repeated clichés is that our young lovers have got the cards stacked against them from the very beginning. Perhaps it's the horrors of war (A FAREWELL TO ARMS), a complicated love triangle (CASABLANCA), or even such an "inconvenience" as the Titanic sinking after striking the ice berg (thanks, James Cameron!). More often than not, it's the complications of class status that's destined to tear our young lovers apart. In THE NOTEBOOK, based on the best selling novel by famed love story novelist Nicholas Sparks (I didn't read it), Allie Hamilton (played by Rachel McAdams) is a seventeen year-old southern society-type heiress who just happens to be at the local carnival one night in the year 1940 when she meets Noah Calhoun (played by the always intense Ryan Gosling), the local country boy who merely works at the lumber mill. Love at first sight is not what takes place here, but perhaps that's the perfect set up for what will inevitably turn into a genuine and powerful love.

Bear in mind, this story of our young lovers (I keep repeating those two words, don't I??) is being told to us through the words and flashbacks of a man calling himself Duke as he reads this romantic story from a notebook to a fellow female patient at a nursing home. And without giving away any spoilers if you haven't seen the film or read the book, the true identity of these two elderly patients should be pretty damn obvious to you from the beginning. But anyway...Allie and Noah become instantly smitten with each other and begin sharing an idyllic summer love affair. This affair seems ultimately doomed, though, because remember the class conflict taking place here, as Noah is seen as nothing but "trash, trash, trash" by Allie's stuck-up, wealthy mother (played by Joan Allen). As this unfortunate fate would have, it would seem that Allie and Noah won't make it, as she leaves for college and he enlists to fight in World War II following the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Time passes and people move on. Or do they? Allie has grown as a woman and is engaged to exactly the type of upscale gentleman (a man named Lon) her snot-nosed parents would surely approve of. Noah continues to carry the torch for his one true love and finds his only solace in restoring an old, abandoned mansion, fulfilling his lifelong dream to buy it for his departed Allie, whom by now he hasn't seen for several years. Deluded and perhaps even mad, Noah convinces himself that if he restores the old house, Allie will someday come back to him. Later, Allie is startled to read in the newspaper that Noah has completed the house, and she makes the conscious choice to visit him. Do I have to spell out what happens next?? Clearly. The two renew their relationship and finally make love (notice that because I'm discussing a passionate love story, I'm displaying a little class and saying "make love" instead of saying "have sex" or "screw each other's brains out"). So now enter the dramatic triangle of Noah and Lon both love Allie and Allie loves both Noah and Lon but can't have both Noah and Lon! What will the indecisive Allie do and who will she choose (as if we didn't already know!)?

It should be noted that by this time in the film, it's officially revealed that the elderly female patient is in fact Allie, who is suffering from dementia and can't remember any of the events being read to her from the notebook. Duke, the man who is reading to her, is her husband Noah, but Allie can't recognize him. It's also clear that this reading process has taken place between the two of them before, in which Allie's memory of Noah and their life and love together has returned, but only for very short durations. It's rather unsettling to watch the two elderly lovers dancing with each other and then Allie is suddenly panic-strickened when she can't recognize the man she's dancing with. Really, such a tragic disease in real life is totally incomprehensible to me. By the end of the film, Noah's final moments with a lucid Allie is that of a conscious decision to die together because they believe that their love is strong enough to "take them away together". That sounds wonderful on paper, but am I supposed to honestly believe that they both died together at the right moment simply because they wanted to?? As they say, love is strange. And when it's not strange, it's often filmed to the backdrop of rich, saturated effects of beautiful sunsets on the water, as in THE NOTEBOOK.

Now then, keeping in mind that I'm a full blooded, heterosexual male who, by female standards, is supposed to be insensitive and pig-headed when it comes to the sensitivity of love and romance (that's what they say, anyway!), my own personal interpretations of true and everlasting love come into play having just watched THE NOTEBOOK. Remembering that characters like Noah and Allie are not perfect by any means. While their love is strong and everlasting, their tendencies to fight and get on each other's nerves is just as apparent. We're meant to understand that true and perfect love shall always get past things like that. As previously mentioned, that sounds great on paper and on film, but can one honestly accept that as truth in the real world? I won't be so crass as to say that love fades or even dies (though everybody's life is different), but love surely changes. It changes with children and with life's routines and inevitably reaches a point where you find it's sometimes necessary to remind yourself of the love that still exists between you and your partner. It no longer exists on the level that it did when you were both still carefree kids dating for just the fun of it, but rather exists on a level of companionship, commitment and responsibility. Admittedly, that doesn't sound like as much fun as the way it used to be. It is a fact of life, though. In the end, we may not be at the level of true love's perfection as with the elderly versions of Noah and Allie (for the record, I'd like to say that my own grandparents were married for fifty-six years and the last thing my grandfather told my grandmother on his deathbed was, "I didn't have enough time with you."), but I'd like to think we do the best we can on a daily basis and occasionally remember to tell the one we love, "I love you."

I love you, Beth!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Noah (voice-over): "Summer romances begin for all kinds of reasons, but when all is said and done, they have one thing in common. They're shooting stars, a spectacular moment of light in the heavens, fleeting glimpse of eternity, and in a flash they're gone."

Thursday, October 16, 2014


(June 1929, U.S.)

Even now, as I write this post, there is currently a new film in theaters which traces the origins of Dracula called DRACULA UNTOLD. Coincidentally, F.W. Murnau's German expressionist silent film of NOSFERATU was the first time Bram Stoker's legendary vampire origins had ever been put to the screen. The film was unauthorized and therefore, several key features had to be changed. For one thing, the word "vampire" is never used and is instead replaced with "Nosferatu". Second, and most important, key character names are changed, including Count Dracula himself. Instead, he's called "Count Orlok", though strangely my particular DVD of the film released by Diamond Entertainment restores the original character names in the film's dialogue screens that we've all come to know throughout Dracula history, i.e Jonathon Harker, Mina, Lucy and Dracula himself. For those who might not know, NOSFERATU is a film that falls under the public domain (look that up!), which means any DVD company can carry it and release it and I suppose do whatever the hell they please with it.

Were it possible to write a film post using only pictures and images from a film, NOSFERATU may very well be it, as it's one of the creepiest black and white silent horror films I've ever seen and one I still enjoy watching late at night in the darkness of my living room as Halloween quickly approaches. Take a real close look at some of these iconic film images to know what I'm talking about...

Now with all due respect to some of the other men who have played the great Count before - Bela Legugosi, Christopher Lee, Frank Langella, Gary Oldman and even George Hamilton (LOVE AT FIRST BITE), study well the face of Max Schreck and tell me he isn't the most unnerving, terrifying version of Dracula you've ever seen! It's just another valid reason that classic black and white horror films should never be overlooked by the modern generation. There's no gentlemanly charm, grace or suaveness in any of the vampire's manner, but rather just the pure physical elements of terror and evil. One can't help but wonder if Bram Stoker pictured Dracula as a menacing fiend with a bald head, large ears and exceedingly long fingernails, which Max Schreck no doubt is, or was he meant to be an elegant gentleman in a long black cape with the power to swoon helpless women under his powerful spell? From my own perspective, I can't help but think that every version of Dracula's persona is a considerable step down once you've gotten past the original horror of who he is and what he lives (and dies) for.

One particular story element that tends to stand alone in NOSFERATU as compared with many other story versions is that when Dracula first leaves his village of Transylvania and travels to another land (be it London or wherever), he brings with him a terrible plague that seems to take the form of thousands of rats (Werner Herzog's 1979 color film version emphasized the same). This is a truly frightening implication of what a strange presence in a strange land can bring with him and with his evil intentions. While Bela, Christopher, Frank and Gary may terrify us (or perhaps even amuse us) with their bloody attacks on helpless, sleeping ladies, it's the creepy vampire in this film that, while bringing death and evil to an unsuspecting public, also brings a certain ambiguity of just how horrible his presence is. Perhaps now, during a time of fear and panic during the Ebola crisis, can we truly use our imagination when concluding whether or not it's the vampire himself or the evil death in the form of the plague that follows him that truly scares us.

As an original story of Dracula, NOSFERATU is pure images, atmosphere and artistry at a time before Hollywood inevitably drowned the vampire's tale in a sea of humor, clichés and teenage high school fantasies (TWILIGHT movies). Even by today's horror film standards, this is still a film that can haunt us and frighten us, provided we still have the open minded imagination that allows it to happen. That is perhaps what being scared at the movies is all about!

Favorite line or dialogue:

How's that for something a little different!

Saturday, October 11, 2014


(July 1959, U.S.)

For all that the legendary Alfred Hitchcock was associated with in his films, be it the sheer terror of PSYCHO (1960) and THE BIRDS (1963) or the psychological tensions of REAR WINDOW (1954) and VERTIGO (1958), the one element of suspense that pleased the great director most was the concept of the wrong man caught up in the wrong set of circumstances that plunged him into a world of intrigue and danger, as in THE 39 STEPS (1935) and THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1956). What makes Cary Grant's role as ordinary New York City advertising man Roger Thornhill is that his world of misunderstanding and survival originates from something as horribly simple as calling attention to himself in front of the wrong people when the name of George Kaplan is mentioned in the bar of the Plaza Hotel. With that act, Thornhill is mistaken for Kaplan and there's no shaking off the bad guys who are out to kill him (Kaplan) at any cost.

Now let's think about this for a moment - in most cases as this, logic would suggest that the wrong man would simply go to the police and the entire matter would likely be resolved for his own safety. Obviously, that's too damn easy and logical and then the film would be over. Interestingly, though, Thornhill does go to the police almost immediately after the bad guys try to drown him with forced bourbon down his throat and then set him off on the road while under the influence. Conveniently, for the sake of the audience, the police don't buy his story and the chase is on for Thornhill to not only clear his good name, but to survive the international spies (the bad guys played by James Mason and Martin Landau) who want him dead. Enter now, not only the wrong man in the wrong place, but the woman, or perhaps the femme fatale, who will unwittingly get caught up in these same set of harmful circumstances to try and help the wrong man out. For this film, she comes in the beautiful form of Eva Marie Saint playing Eve Kendall. She not only falls for Thornhill hard and fast and is easily willing to help him survive, but she also appears to be a little more than she seems on the surface.

In any thriller such as this, textbook plotting dictates that our hero (Thornhill) is meant to get into his world of danger just a little deeper, specifically in the role of the man accused of a crime he didn't commit. For this film, it's pure ol' fashioned murder and (again) being in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, Thornhill appears to be just a bit dumber than the average wrong man because he actually takes the time and energy to lift the knife out of the dead man's back and hold it in the air for all around him to see, including a man with camera for the newspapers (a sort of pre-requisite to our own current society where everyone around us is equipped with an iPhone camera, ready to nail us with video to be posted on YouTube!). Take a look at what I mean and tell me if you think this is the act of a thinking man??

No, I suppose not. But I also suppose Hitchcock is forcing his audience to accept the reality of suspension of disbelief to keep the film moving along. So now, as Thornhill runs for his life as the wrong man, the accused spy and alleged murderer, we enter the moment of this thriller where political espionage begins to take shape and we learn of all that's at stake and also all that Eve Kendall really is, mainly a "double agent", so to say, playing for the right team as a fake member of the wrong team while leading the innocent man (Thornhill) on with the usual assortment of lies and sexual deception. As a matter of fact, despite this film being a release of the 1950s, the implications of sex is very strong between Grant and Saint and the camera captures as much of it as the censors of the time will allow. We see the strong attraction between these two immediately and that their desire to lock lips and get inside the overhead sleeping compartment aboard their moving train is very clear, despite the fact that a woman like Eva Marie Saint is not about to say words like, "Take me up there and fuck me!" Still the implications are there, even for the 1950s.

NORTH BY NORTHWEST, as brilliant and classic a film as it is, is not exactly without it's very minor faults, and again, that can probably be chalked up to elements that qualify as suspension of disbelief. Hitchcock clearly asks us to get past that to enjoy a well-crafted thriller with classic elements of intrigue, danger and astonishing resolution. That resolution, by the way, is a stunning visual feast that not only takes place at the grand glory of Mount Rushmore, but also at a beautifully designed cantilevered house in the mountains specifically and purposely designed to emulate the great and talented architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. Take a look at this residential structure and tell me you wouldn't want to live there...

I have to say, for a man who claimed he didn't particularly enjoy on-location shooting, Hitchcock repeatedly makes great use of visually-stunning locales in this film, including a luxury train moving along the edges of the water and the above-mentioned house and Mount Rushmore. As a film viewer, you not only enjoy the thrills of the plot, but you also can't help but lose yourself in another world that invites visual beauty, romance, fantasy and danger. And were it not for on-location shooting, would we ever have been thrilled by this infamous sequence at the isolated crossroads and the crop dusting bi-plane. I mean, come on, even if you haven't actually seen NORTH BY NORTHWEST, you've surely seen this iconic image of Cary Grant running for his life from that plane...

NORTH BY NORTHWEST is not only one of Hitchcock's most stylish thrillers, but a film where solid performing talents and engrossing romance is successfully mixed with gripping suspense and iconic visuals. The formulas in the plot easily lay the groundwork for countless thrillers to follow over the decades. Even the style and fashion of modern society and its representation of city hustle and bustle with a hint of dread in the air is not too far off the track from a more modern form of media entertainment such as AMC's MAD MEN (a show I don't actually watch). Hitchcock would have surely been proud that his story did not isolate itself as dated material.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Roger Thornhill: "Now you listen to me, I'm an advertising man, not a red herring. I've got a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex-wives and several bartenders that depend upon me, and I don't intend to disappoint them all by getting myself slightly killed."

Saturday, October 4, 2014


(March 1992, U.S.)

I love Sidney Lumet's 1982 film version of DEATHTRAP! I don't just love it, but I consider it to be the absolute best dialogue film I've ever seen and it's highly due to not only the spontaneous wit and spirit of a great actor like Michael Caine, but also his terrific on-screen chemistry with the late Christopher Reeve. And despite the fact that Peter Bogdanovich's film version of the play NOISES OFF sports a huge all-star cast of some of the funniest people of screen and television, including Carol Burnett and the late John Ritter, it's still Michael Caine's comic genius with dialogue, sarcasm and contempt with not only Christopher Reeve (again in this film), but the entire cast as he desperately tries in vain to put together a play within a play, in this case a dreadful farce called "Nothing On" — the type of production in which many doors continually open and shut on stage for the entire theatre audience to see. The setting has been transplanted from English provincial theatre to towns like Des Moines, Iowa and Cleveland, Ohio, where a second-rate theatrical troupe is preparing to perform the Broadway-bound play under the direction of crazed stage director Lloyd Fellowes (Caine).

Among the cast members of this sorry-ass production are a hilarious assortments of scatter-brains, an insecure nose-bleeding hearthrob, a myopic leading lady, a second female lead and an alcoholic English character who everyone else is desperately trying to keep away from the bottle throughout rehearsals and the actual production. The film opens with the final dress rehearsal before opening night, with the hopeless cast still forgetting lines, missing cues, and mishandling stage props. Lloyd is reduced to cajoling, yelling at, and pleading with them to get things right, and just about everything that comes out of is mouth is something to laugh at, particularly if you can relate to having a short fuse when it comes to incompetent, stupid people (like myself!). Complicating matters further are the personal problems and backstage relationships that have fostered jealousy and petty squabbling and intruded upon any professionalism this poor crew can muster during production. In the end, it's all chaos, but of course, in the end, things actually manage to turn out alright, because as the old saying goes, "the show must go on!"

Although there is much slapstick physical comedy to enjoy in NOISES OFF, particularly from John Ritter who practically re-recreates his "Three's Company" character of Jack Tripper every time he trips and falls in the film, the true comic genius of the film is pure dialogue; quick, spontaneous and quite angry at times. Stop to breathe too long or munch away on some very loud food while you're watching and you're libel to miss a few things and believe me when I tell you that you don't want to miss even a single word at any moment as the film plays out an outrageous farce of not only the principles of a comic play on stage, but also the comic bullshit that can and often does take place backstage.

Now despite my sheer positive ravings of this hilarious film, the reviews from critics and audiences were mostly negative when the film was released in 1992. Why, oh why, I ask? What are (so-called) educated people thinking half the time? What is it movie audiences are looking for exactly when it comes to comedy? Are they so far gone in the department of intelligent wit that the concept of pure funny dialogue has completely died in lieu of nothing more than physical stupidity that can only appeal to the Hollywood marketing age department of eighteen through thirty-five?? If that's the case, then I truly don't understand films, the audience, critics or anything anymore!

Now let me tell you a little something about a woman whom I will call Ali (because that's her real name). She was (and still is, I suppose) my wife's best friend since childhood. For many years of Ali's professional career, she was involved behind stage at some of Broadway's greatest musicals and plays (she used to say that literally every stage actor in New York City had at one time in their life been a "Cat", from Andrew Lloyd Weber's CATS). I don't recall her telling too many tales of backstage antics, but I can only just imagine that she must have seen her share of craziness before everyone inevitably shouted, "Break a leg!" So it's to Ali that I dedicate this post of NOISES OFF to. If I had to guess, I'm sure she liked the film, too (I hope!)!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Brooke Ashton: "I don't understand whey the Skeik looks like Phillip."
Lloyd Fellowes: "Poppy! Bring the book! Is that the line, Poppy - 'I don't understand why the sheik looks like Phillip'? Can we consult the author's text to make absolutely sure?"
Poppy Taylor: "Well, I think he..."
Lloyd: "Uh, "What's that, Dad?' Right. That's the line, Brooke, love. We know you've worked over in London in some very classy places where they let you make the play up as you go along. But we don't want that kind of thing here, love. Not when the author has provided us with such a considered and polished line of his own...not at one o'clock in the morning...not two lines away from the end of Act One...not when we're just about to get a coffee break before we all drop dead from exhaustion. We merely want to hear the line, 'WHAT'S THAT, DAD?"!!! That's all. NOTHING ELSE!!! I'm not being unreasonable, am I?"

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


(November 2007, U.S.)

Some of my favorite laughs at the movies have come from the films of Joel and Ethan Cohen. They started with Nicolas Cage in RAISING ARIZONA (1987) and continued with Jeff Bridges in THE BIG LEBOWSKI (1998) and George Clooney in INTOLERABLE CRUELTY (2003). Through their entire film career, though, I've always preferred their cinematic themes of fate, conscience, and circumstance that have been previously explored in films like BLOOD SIMPLE (1984) and FARGO (1996). NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN seems to take said themes to its maximum level with not only violence and survival, but with an undeniable level of ambiguity at the end that left audiences stunned and puzzled.

This film may be very well identified as a neo-Western thriller. It takes place in 1980, though, so don't expect the traditional cliché of horses, six-guns, saloons and hitching posts that many classic westerns deliver along with the likes of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. This film tells the story of an ordinary man to whom chance delivers a cash fortune that doesn't belong to him, and the ensuing cat-and-mouse drama as the paths of three men intertwine in the desert landscape of West Texas; essentially it's a tale of the hunter and the hunted. Llewelyn Moss (played by Josh Brolin), while hunting pronghorn in the desert, comes across the bloody aftermath of a drug deal gone awry. He finds two million dollars in a satchel that he takes to his trailer home. After dark, for no other reason than sheer guilt of conscience, he returns to the site with water for a dying Mexican at the scene of the crime, but is chased away by two men in a truck and forced to abandon his vehicle. When he gets back home he grabs the cash, sends his wife Carla Jean (played by Kelly Macdonald) away and makes his way to a motel in the next Texas county where he hides the satchel in the air duct of his room. Unbeknownst, the money is tagged with a transponder frequency and he's being tracked by Anton Chigurh (played chillingly by Javier Bardem), perhaps the most frightening of evil men ever to grace the big screen. Anton is ruthless, violent and merciless and he does it all with this rather quiet level of charm and integrity (if its even possible for a ruthless killer to actually have any integrity!). His stone cold silence and subtlety are what's most terrorizing about his personality both as a killer and a man. As a killer, death walks hand in hand with him and he actually believes in a (twisted) set of moral standards in that when he's decided that he must kill someone, he goes through with it to the end, even if he's already achieved an alternate goal. Using a captive bolt pistol to not only shoot his victims, he also uses it to shoot the locks out of doors, gaining him access to any room he chooses. This, in fact, only strengthens the horror of simply not being safe from this man behind any locked door. As a man, there's also a strange level of reason that exists within him in that every once in a while he's willing to give an intended victim the chance to live by having them call heads or tails on a coin toss. As we watch a particular convenience store merchant win his right to life on a coin toss, only we and the killer truly know the nature of what's going on and just how lucky that man is to be alive. Even Anton tells him not to put the quarter in his pocket because it can now be considered his "lucky quarter".

As a traditional chase film of sorts, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN shows us just how scary the chase can be, on foot and on the road. We're dealing with two determined men; one who simply wants to survive and keep the money he's found and one who'll stop at nothing to kill the victim and those he loves. But even as an intended victim, Llewelyn Moss is not exactly a helpless pussy! Unlike other victims who beg for their lives by telling Anton that he "doesn't have to do this", Llewelyn knows how to fight back with both words and bullets, inflicting bloody pain of his own. It's tragic, actually, because despite the fact that we're lead to believe along the way that the victim just may survive this nightmare, it simply doesn't turn out that way in the end.

Okay, so now it's time to talk about the rather existential ending and what it all really means. As the righteous sheriff of this film, the character of Ed Tom Bell (played by Tommy Lee Jones) is the good guy lawman we get to know throughout the film and see for the final sequence, as well. Retired by the end, he shares two dreams with his wife (played by Tess Harper), both involving his deceased father. In the first dream, he lost some money that his father had given him. In the second, he and his father were riding horses through a snowy mountain pass. His father, who was carrying fire in a horn, quietly rode by with his head down, "going on ahead, and fixin' to make a fire" in the surrounding dark and cold. Bell knew that when he got there his father would be waiting. Then he woke up. So what does that mean and why does the film end there?? Well, one of the first things we can clearly see is that NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN does not give us the traditional conclusion of confrontation between good and evil. We can easily deduce that Carla Jean was killed by Anton for refusing to call the coin toss. The film makes it clear that Llewelyn is killed off-screen in an ambush with a group of Mexicans in El Paso and Anton manages to survive a terrible car accident, walking away from it injured but also not captured by the law. Perhaps it's a simple matter of fact that because we're not seeing these deaths or any sort of final confrontation on screen, we're meant to believe or presume that in the end the cat-and-mouse chase plot wasn't too relevant all along. Perhaps in the end, we're meant to understand the true meaning of "no country for old men" (taken from the opening line of the poem "Sailing to Byzantium" by William Butler Yeats) in that in order to be happy in old age one should abandon the world’s more primal pleasures and turn to the eternal and spiritual elements instead. This, then, may explain the tonal shift that occurs in the latter part of the film's story. Like a real person, as the film approaches its final conclusion, its focus changes from the external (the money and the chase) to the internal (coming-of-age humanity and significance). Yes, I think I can live with that explanation.

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN won the Oscar for Best Picture of 2007.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Carla Jean Moss: "You don't have to do this."
Anton Chigurh: "People always say the same thing."
Carla: "What do they say?"
Anton: "They say, "You don't have to do this."
Carla: "You don't."
Anton: "Okay."
(he flips a coin and covers it with his hand)
Anton "This is the best I can do. Call it."
Carla: "I knowed you was crazy when I saw you sitting there. I knowed exactly what was in store for me."
Anton: "Call it."
Carla: "No. I ain't gonna call it."
Anton: "Call it."
Carla: "The coin don't have no say. It's just you."
Anton: "Well, I got here the same way the coin did."