Saturday, November 29, 2014
(June 1976, U.S.)
Tell me something? Is it just a wild coincidence that on the day I choose to write my post for Richard Donner's THE OMEN, I also start my day off by watching Johnny Carson's interview with Gregory Peck in July 1976 following THE OMEN's original theatrical release on Turner Classic Movies? Or is it something else...???
(Nah! Just a silly coincidence!)
Those of us who know our history of 1970's films, know that it was JAWS in the Summer of 1975 that officially kicked off that season as the blockbuster period of every year, though non-summer films like THE GODFATHER (1972), THE EXORCIST (1973) and THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974) had accomplished the same sort of box office business prior to the great shark fin breaking though the water. But what, other than THE OMEN, did the Summer of 1976 really offer us? Not very much, in my opinion. THE BAD NEWS BEARS was still doing very respectable business, but that had been in release since the previous April. In other words, it would seem that in between JAWS (1975) and STAR WARS (1976), summer didn't offer too much except the Devil's child himself! But if you do your research, you'll find that following the success of THE EXORCIST, Devil-oriented suspense and horror films were all the rage up until John Carpenter's changed things by launching the teenage slasher film with HALLOWEEN in 1978.
THE OMEN begins with the tragedy of the death of a new born, which in of itself, is an unsettling way (though necessary) way to start this film. Distraught father and American diplomat Robert Thorn (played by the great Gregory Peck), chooses to adopt an alternate baby boy that was born at the same moment his own child died and in the process, also chooses not to tell his wife Kathy (played by Lee Remick). It would seem that on this night, as the hospital's Catholic priest puts it, "God has blessed you with a son." We know different, of course. Still, it would appear that the first five years of little Damien Thorn's life are truly joyous ones with his loving mother and father. It's on the child's fifth birthday that things change when his lovely nanny hangs herself in front of the entire birthday party crowd. This is what will now launch the mystery of who Damien really is and what his ultimate purpose will inevitably be. The mystery, however, lies in Robert's Thorn's ability to make the crucial discoveries. Again, we as the audience know what's going on and who Damien Thorn is. Still, any mystery can be entertaining even when all we can do is sit back and take a journey with the film's protagonist and follow the trails to its final conclusion and destiny. Through a very creepy priest called Father Brennan and a committed photo journalist named Keith Jennings (played by David Warner), Robert will inevitably realize that he's raising the Antichrist and that all the so-called "accidents" surrounding his life and those he loves are no accidents at all. These accidents are the true shocker of the film that we're meant to take in with all our attention and our fears. Watch the animals at the drive-through safari break into a fit of insanity in the presence of Damien and tell me if you'll ever want to drive though one of those things in real life ever again? Watch Damien ride his tricycle straight into the table that his mom is standing on at the top of the stairs just before she falls to the floor below (resulting in a full body cast) and tell me if you won't cringe just a little the next time your small child stares at you with a real angry look? Finally, watch the decapitation of Jenning's head by a sheet of window plate glass in the city of Megiddo and then wonder if you only believe in mere "accidents"? Yes, of course we do! THE OMEN is pure devilish entertainment only, unless you actually believe in any of this Antichrist crap! By the end of the film, our hero now believe in all of what the dark side of life has shown him and vows to terminate young Damien through the use of rather special daggers he's received from Bugenhagen (played by Leo McKern), an archaeologist and exorcist who's instructed Robert on just how the child must be killed. One can't help but continuously hear his stern warning of, "This is not a human child" repeat itself in our heads. Still, Devil's child or not, it would seem that Hollywood is not about to have us witness a father stabbing his own child (sort of) to death inside the walls of holy ground (a church). Damien survives, smiles at us in front of his father's grave, and thus, a franchise and a future remake (2006) is born, like it or not (NOT!!!)...
Now returning to the subject of the Summer of 1976 for just a moment, I have to say that particular one somehow managed to pass me by in terms of movies. I was nine years-old and was spending most of my time in Manhattan and on the beach with my father. I believe I went to only one movie that summer and it was a re-release of Disney's PETER PAN (yeah, I know - real lame!). As a matter of fact, that summer, the only movie I could really think about was the color remake of KING KONG on its way for the upcoming holiday season. My father wouldn't take me to see THE BAD NEWS BEARS because of its foul language and I'd never even heard of THE OMEN. It wasn't until two years later, the Summer of 1978, that I saw newspaper movie ads for DAMIEN: OMEN II and that some level of familiarity began to creep in. Still, I kept wondering with a title like OMEN II, what was the first OMEN film called? These are the questions a nine year-old film fan asks himself decades before the convenient research of the internet is invented. I wouldn't finally see the original film until my college years, and even then, it was an edited version on late night television (I was still a few years away from an extensive movie collection of my own, even on VHS). Needless to say, it's the original film of THE OMEN that not only exceeds all of its sequels and the remake, but also launched the career of the man who would one day give us SUPERMAN-THE MOVE (1978) and the LETHAL WEAPON films (the first two being the only good ones, in my opinion!).
Favorite line or dialogue:
Keith Jennings: "But the really important items are here if we're to get to the bottom of this, we've got to start here. This first clipping is from the Astrologer's Monthly...reports an unusual phenomenon. Comet changes shape into a glowing star like the Star of Bethlehem two thousand years ago, only this one was on the other side of the world, the European continent five years ago...the sixth of June, to be exact. Does that date mean anything to you?"
Robert Thorn: "Yes."
Jennings: "Then you'll recollect this other clipping...it's a birth announcement from a Roman newspaper, also dated the sixth of June, five years ago, the day your son was born. Sixth month, sixth day. Was your son born at six am? Yes, I'm sorry, I'm just trying to work out this birthmark with the three sixes."
Robert: "My son is dead. I don't know whose son I'm raising."
Jennings: "If you wouldn't mind, Mr. Thorn, I'd like to help you try and find out."
Robert: "It's my problem."
Jennings: "No, sir, you're wrong. It's my problem, too..."
Sunday, November 23, 2014
(December 1939, U.S.)
During my middle school and high school years, I was not exactly what you'd call an enthusiastic reader of the required material given to us in English class. However, every once in a while, one of the required books would catch my attention long enough to warrant my full intention to read the entire book rather than simply skim through it just enough to enable me to pass the inevitable quiz or test on the material (that's if I passed!). John Steinbeck's OF MICE AND MEN did not impose a great demand on my reading time as it was a simple enough story contained in the limited size of a novella. Needless to say, I enjoyed the book and didn't get the opportunity to experience a screen adaptation until Gary Sinise's remake version in 1992. The original version of 1939 with Burgess Meredith as George Milton and Lon Chaney Jr. as Lennie Small, I didn't get to see until I became a subscriber and avid fan of Turner Classic Movies. And although the remake is a credible version, the classic black and white film manages to capture the experience and emotion of the Great Depression much better, in my opinion. Perhaps it's because that back in 1939, the Depression was not yet history.
Again, this is a simple story of two simple California migrant field workers just trying to survive during a time of economic turmoil. George is a quick-witted and somewhat intelligent man, while Lennie is a mentally-disabled large man of great size and strength. This is why he makes a great field worker in that he simply (I am using that word a lot, aren't I?) does what he's told to do. This is also why he needs constant tending, so to say, by George to make sure he doesn't get into trouble, which judging by the film's opening, has happened already at another job location, which is why when we first meet these two men, they're running for their lives in a forest from angry men with shotguns. So immediately, the film is about second chances and the hopes of simple-minded men who only want a chance at a better life for themselves. In a world where working another man's ranch and farmland often means harsh and cruel treatment by the bosses, it's no wonder a simple (there it is again!) dream is for one to get enough money together to buy their own house on their own farm and, as George and Lennie put it, "live off the fat of the land". For George, who's in charge of not only the dreaming, but the money, too, this requires the discipline of not blowing his wages in town on a Saturday night where the temptation of liquor and women (who also want liquor) exist. George is focused and committed, but even that can be difficult when you're constantly keeping your eye on a mentally-limited dolt like Lennie.
Even as women are a likely threat outside the ranch life, the existence of Mae (played by Betty Field) as the ranch boss' son's wife is a constant threat for not only her beauty and loneliness, but also for the jealous rage of her husband Curley (played by Bob Steele) who's constant battle in life is making sure his wife isn't speaking with or even looking at any of the other ranch hands rather than actually doing his job to tend the ranch. Still, he's the boss' son and his jealous rages can get a man fired in this place. Curley, as a secondary character, is a loathsome man who we can't wait to see get his just dues in life when he pushes someone too far. Our hopes and dreams for that fantasy come true when Lennie, under orders from George, crushes Curley's hand in self-defense after Curley repeatedly hits him for laughing at a joke at Curley's expense. It's also important to note that Curley simply hates large men in general because he himself is a short man. This particular sequence is also very noteworthy in the fact that George is played by Burgess Meredith. What do I mean by that? Watch carefully the moment that George comes up alongside Lennie's face as he's being repeatedly hit by Curley and finally tells him to fight back. Those of my generation who grew up with ROCKY films will immediately recall with great reminiscence the images of Meredith's character Mickey and his ongoing demands to Rocky Balboa to get in the ring and crush his opponent. Perhaps Sylvester Stallone was greatly inspired by this sequence in OF MICE AND MEN when casting for Mickey. How could he not be?
One question that has repeatedly occupied my mind at the end of the film is whether or not the ultimate dream does come true in the end? Shortly before Lennie gets into trouble again by accidentally killing Mae, we see George mailing a cash deposit for the house and farm he has in mind. The dream is set in motion up until Lennie is once again a scared fugitive from angry men with shotguns. It's George who finally puts Lennie out of his misery and also spares him the lynching he'd likely get from this angry mob. Lennie is dead now and George is free of the burden as his keeper. Will George eventually go on to achieve his dream of ownership and independence? We're never told and I don't rightly know if John Steinbeck ever knew himself. The film's ending is not a happy one, but in a world where optimism is sometimes very difficult, it would be nice to consider the dream's possibilities.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Mae: "Who busted your hand, Curley?"
Curley: "I told ya, I got it caught in a machine!"
Mae: "I saw that machine last night!"
Curley: "They told ya?"
Mae: "Why didn't you tell your old man, so he could can him?"
Curley: "The double crossin'...!"
Mae: "I'll tell you why! Cause you were scared, if you'd talk, they'll talk too! You were scared you'd get the horse laugh, like I'm giving ya now! Just a punk with a crippled hand!"
Curley: "I ain't even gonna slug ya! I'm going upstairs and pack your junk! You're gettin' out of here! You and me are through!"
Sunday, November 16, 2014
(July 1982, U.S.)
It's really a wonder that Taylor Hackford's AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN got any recognition or popularity at all during a summer than meant going head-to-head with blockbusters like E.T.-THE EXTRA TERRESTRIAL, STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN and ROCKY III. This type of drama would have likely fared better at the box office as a Fall release, after all the summer hype had died down. Even its star Richard Gere could not be considered a big star yet, having only a few films under his belt prior to this one. Even though the man will likely go down in history as being remembered best for films like PRETTY WOMAN (1990), PRIMAL FEAR (1996) and CHICAGO (2002), AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN is by far his best screen performance, in my opinion. When we first meet Gere's character of Zack Mayo, his appearance is that of a tatoo-wearing bum with no hope for a future in the Navy's Aviation Officer Candidate School. His father, who's not that much more of an improvement, even tells him that he's not officer material. So already, we're en route to rooting for the underdog who wants to fly jets for his country. Still, his character is that more of the anti-hero; a man whom we know to be good at heart and will do the right thing in the end, but one who will also break the rules and come into conflict with those who would make his life less than comfortable. Thus, enter drill instructor Foley (played by Louis Gossett, Jr.).
Before proceeding any further, having mentioned the character of Foley, let me share with you, for a moment, a discussion I once had about this film with a friend during the latter years of my college youth. In the Fall of 1987, some months after Stanley Kubrick's FULL METAL JACKET had been released, my friend accused Kubrick of writing practically the entire first half of his film by ripping off Foley's character and his harsh treatment of the officers candidates. At the time, his accusations may have been on target. However, after a little research (in a time before the internet), I discovered that Foley's character was not only based on, but also influenced under the consulting role of former United States Marine Corps Staff Sergeant and actor R. Lee Ermey, who also played Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in FULL METAL JACKET. So you see, even though AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN was released five years prior to FULL METAL JACKET, the character of Foley was inspired by "the man" himself who would later go on to play his own persona in Kubrick's classic Vietnam tale. And that, my friends, is how I prove my former college friend's accusation to be incorrect and, in effect, exonerate Mr. Kubrick from any ripping off of anybody or anything!
Predictably, as Zack Mayo conflicts more and more with his drill instructor and bears the butt of his "master's" rage and abuse, the more his true heart and character is revealed. Zach Mayo (ridiculed as "mayonaise" by Foley) is, at heart, a man of honor, principles and friendship. He's also a man who can fall in love, if he only gives himself the chance and doesn't run away from it's possibilities. When he meets one of the local girls Paula (played by a very young and hot Debra Winger, whom we get to see naked, by the way!), it's easy to see how quickly she's capable of falling in love with him upon first meeting him. But as much as Zack is determined to avoid the mature responsibility of love and commitment, she, too, keeps her distance so as not to turn into one of those local girl reputations, as they've been known to do whatever they have to in order to land themselves a naval aviator husband, even if it means allowing themselves to get pregnant in order to trap the poor bastard! But this, of course, is the shit that happens to "other" people and not the two we want to see come together. It happens to Zack's best friend Syd and Paula's best friend Lynette and the complications of this relationship and her false pregnancy ultimately lead to Syd's suicide. I point out that little spoiler alert only to stress the impact that this tragedy has on Zack and his feelings of true friendship toward Syd, as we've also learned that Zack's mother committed suicide when he was a boy.
Bearing in mind that in the end, like most people, I'm a real sucker for true love that rings true in the end, this full-blooded heterosexual male can't help but get a little choked up when Zack finally comes through at the film's climax and shows up at the paper factory to claim the woman he loves (AWWWWWW!!!). Those of us who remember this film well when it was new and popular in the early 1980s can clearly recall that great and final image that freeze-frames with Gere holding Winger in his arms and exiting the factory just as she puts his officer's hat on her head. We may also recall how annoyed we got having to hear Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes sing "Up Where We Belong" over and over again on the radio! AAAUUGGHHHH!!!!!!!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Emil Foley: "Now why would a slick, little hustler like you wanna sign up for this kind of abuse anyway?"
Zack Mayo: "I wanna fly jets, sir!"
Foley: "My grandmamma wants to fly jets!"
Zack: "I wanted it since I was a kid!"
Foley: "We're not talkin' about flyin' here, we're talkin' about character!"
Zack: "I've changed! I've changed since I've been here!"
Foley: "The hell you have!"
Zack: "I've changed, sir!"
Foley: "No. You just polished up your act a little bit. You just shined it up! Don't tell me what I wanna hear! I want your D.O.R.!"
Zack: "No, sir!"
Foley: "I want your D.O.R.!"
Zack: "I ain't gonna quit!"
Foley: "Spell it! D.O.R.!"
Zack: "I ain't gonna quit!"
Foley: "Yes, then you can be free and you and your daddy can get drunk and go whore-chasin' together, huh?"
Zack: "No, sir!"
Zack: "I ain't gonna quit!"
Foley: "Alright, then you can forget it! You're out!"
Zack: "Don't you do it! Don't...you...! I got nowhere else to go! I got nowhere else to go! I got nothin' else. I got nothin' else."
Friday, November 14, 2014
(June 1983, U.S.)
You know, looking back on the Summer of 1983, it's really a wonder that any other films even had a reasonable shot of competing with RETURN OF THE JEDI at the box office. I mean, there were some solid stinkers like SUPERMAN III and STAYING ALIVE (the sequel to SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER). On the other hand, others like WARGAMES, FLASHDANCE and TRADING PLACE did some real respectable performance with fans and critics. In a way, the thriteenth James Bond film of OCTOPUSSY seemed to arrive as no more than an on-schedule release, as James Bond films had become an expectation every two years during the summer blockbuster season ever since THE SPY WHO LOVED ME in 1977.
Before getting into this discussion of OCTOPUSSY, you might want to take a moment to backtrack yourself and review my post for THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987) in which I specifically discuss "the John Glen period of James Bond films" and how they specifically represented the decade of the 1980s, in general. Having done that, the relevance of OCTOPUSSY and it's story during an era when the Cold War period of the Ronald Reagan years was still in full force becomes clear. Despite being made during a period when director John Glen's Bond films could be accused of achieving their ultimate goal of cheesiness, OCTOPUSSYis still rather a very serious Cold War story, perhaps the most direct take on what was considered present day political paranoias since FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE in 1963. From the moment the film opens in East Berlin (back when it still existed before the wall came down twenty-five years ago in 1989) and an MI6 agent (dressed as a circus clown) is assassinated, the stage is set for what will appear as nothing more than a jewelry smuggling operation and inevitably lead to a threat by the Soviet Union (back when it still existed before...well, you know) that could ultimately lead to nuclear war. Thus, we're taken to exotic India where the ladies are enticing as ever for Roger Moore's 007 and the dangers are just as attractive. Like many other Bond films, the "super villain", or the criminal with an odd sense of strength and power, i.e. Oddjob and Jaws, is present in a very large Indian man wearing a turban who persistently stares at those he considers a threat and can easily crush a pair of loaded backgammon dice with his bare fist. As a classic Bond villain, it's very likely that the character of Kamal Khan (played by Louis Jordan) will not be remembered as anything particularly special. Compared to the likes of Dr. No, Goldfinger, Blofeld, Scaramanga (THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN) and even Drax (MOONRAKER), Jordan falls very short of achieving any real sense of threat or menace, despite his evil intentions of mass murder through the use of a bomb in a circus tent that would kill thousands of innocent people. Not to say that Kamal Khan is not just as suave and charming as many other Bond villains, it's just that...how can I put this without appearing too crass...the man is a pussy(there, I said it!)! But while I consider that there's always room for the good side of negativity, I do consider Khan a somewhat improvement over other villains like Aristotle Kristatos (FOR YOUR EYES ONLY), Renard (THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH) and Gustav Graves (DIE ANOTHER DAY). As for the Bond girl, Maud Adams is just fine as Octopussy herself. Fine; no better and no worse than some others.
(anyway, enough of comparing apples with oranges and Coke with Pepsi! I think you get my point and perhaps many Bond aficionados out there will agree with me.)
As a Bond film of action and suspense, OCTOPUSSYdelivers as well as many others prior to and following it. John Glen may have permitted too much cheesiness in his films, but the man knew how to deliver some solid action also. For this film, the opening as well as the final climax both offer some wild stunts in the air and conclude with the classic explosion that our hero always manages to survive. Unfortunately, I have to deduct some serious points for that silly jungle manhunt sequence (taken right off of THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME) that include Bond getting a ferocious tiger to "sit" at his command and that ridiculous Tarzan yell (oh, brother!). However, despite the Bond balance sheet of what works and what doesn't, it's important to remember that in a world of Bond films that occasionally sacrifice viable story for cheap thrills, OCTOPUSSY succeeds in staying (somewhat) true to a period of political history that still caused Americans to fear the bomb and the horrible repercussions of the nuclear threat. Of course, when it's done in the style of James Bond, it's all still a whole load of fun. And I've said before, Roger Moore Bond films may not have been as popular as Sean Connery's or Daniel Craig's, but they were, in my humble Bond opinion, the most fun!
Now, one final comment, actually question, that I need to offer. Don't you all think it's time we had another Bond girl with the word "pussy" in her name? First we had Pussy Galore in GOLDFINGER and then Octopussy herself. Don't you all think the trilogy of "pussy" Bond girls should finally be completed? I'm sure it would make Daniel Craig very happy!
What do you think, Richard K.?
Favorite line or dialogue:
General Orlov: "Who are you?"
James Bond: "I'm British Secret Service."
Orlov: "You should be more concerned about getting out of here alive."
Bond: "I am more concerned about an atomic bomb exploding on a US Air Force base in West Germany! You surely can't be inviting a nuclear war? What happens when the U.S. retaliates?"
Orlov: "Against whom?
Bond: "My God...of course! Our early-warning system will rule out the bomb having come from Russia or anywhere else. Everyone will assume incorrectly that it was a American bomb triggered accidentally."
Orlov: "Yes, that would be the most plausible explanation."
Bond: "Europe and NATO will then insist on full nuclear disarmament and leaving every border undefended for you and the Warsaw Pact to walk across at will! And I suppose it doesn't matter a damn to you that thousands of innocent people will be killed in this little "accident" of yours!?"
Orlov: "Better than letting a handful of old men in Moscow bargain away our advantage in disarmament talks!"
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
(December 2001, U.S.)
Christmas 2001 was perhaps the most fragile holiday period I'll ever recall, having just come off of the horrors of September 11, 2001. Americans needed movies perhaps more than they ever had before since the days of the Great Depression. For those who needed fantasy, there was the first HARRY POTTER and LORD OF THE RINGS films. For those who needed something deep and serious, there was A BEAUTIFUL MIND and IN THE BEDROOM. For those, like myself, who just wanted to have some fun and put a smile on his face, there was Steven Soderbergh's remake of OCEAN'S ELEVEN, one of the few remakes that I feel surpasses the original film of 1960 (there was also the re-release of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, which I went to see on the big screen twice, but that's another matter entirely!). Hell, I didn't even really like the original film. Perhaps I'm just not of the age and generation where I can fully appreciate any of those Rat Pack movies, though I did appreciate the final outcome when the money that Frank Sinatra and his crew had stolen got accidentally cremated with the body and they were left with nothing (ha, ha, ha!).
If you've seen enough heist films in your time, then it's very likely that you eventually reach a point where you're not going to be very surprised any more. As a heist film, the ultimate caper works well in that slick con man Danny Ocean (played by George Clooney) and a crew that includes the likes of Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Elliot Gould and Carl Reiner plan to knock off not one, but three Las Vegas casinos on the same night and in the process, take down the man who controls it all, Terry Benedict (played by Andy Garcia), a man who's also a personal rival of Danny's because he lost his wife Tess (played by the ever-big-teethed Julia Roberts) to Terry. As a film of surprise, it's rather minimal because instead of learning how the entire caper managed to take place at the crucial climax, we're let in on most of what's going to happen as we watch it along the way. But don't be discouraged - there's still a few surprises left at the end to tantalize you! What's really fun here is the perfect blend of snappy, quirky dialogue and chemistry between all members of the eleven. Writer Ted Griffin has crafted a script that allows each character to feed off of each other perfectly, including those that are outside the crew like Tess and Terry. From the moment the plans are made between these men, we're fully confident that they'll get away with it. The question is how close will they come to almost not getting away with it? In other words, anything that can go wrong with the perfect plan likely will go wrong, whether it's dead batteries, smudged ink on one's hand or actually getting lost somewhere in the casino. Any caper that we're invited to go along with is a step-by-step procedure that we're meant to enjoy watching and listening to. We're also meant to sympathize with those who are committing the caper, who are, let's face it, the bad guys according to the law. But again, like most caper and heist films, the bad guys are our friends who are more often than not, stealing from those who we're meant to despise as real bad guys; in this case, a gangster like Terry Benedict who stole Danny's wife.
As a film that's meant to be nothing more than light-hearted fun, OCEAN'S ELEVEN is filled with high spirits that move along well like fingers snapping a cheery tune. Like the Cohen Brothers, Steven Soderbergh is a man who, while capable of making very serious films like TRAFFIC (2000), SOLARIS (2002) and THE GOOD GERMAN (2006), can also get a bit silly and give us something to smile at. Unfortunately, like most Hollywood film makers, Steven did not know when to leave a good thing along and just walk away. I'm talking about OCEAN'S TWELVE (2004), which I saw and didn't like and OCEAN'S THIRTEEN (2007), which I didn't even bother with! Honestly, were two sequels really necessary?? I mean, not only did the entire crew get away with their elaborate theft in the end, but Danny even got his wife back. All's well that ended well and there was nothing more to tell!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Danny Ocean: "Okay. Bad news first. This place houses a security system which rivals most nuclear missile silos. First, we have to get within the casino cages which anyone knows takes more than a smile. Next, through these doors, each of which requires a different six-digit code changed every twelve hours. Past those lies the elevator, and this is where it gets tricky - the elevator won't move without authorized fingerprint identifications..."
Rusty Ryan: "...which we can't fake."
Danny: "...and vocal confirmations from both the security center within the Bellagio and the vault below..."
Rusty: "...which we won't get."
Danny: "Furthermore, the elevator shaft is rigged with motion detectors..."
Rusty: "...meaning if we manually override the lift, the shaft's exit will lock down automatically and we'll be trapped."
Danny: "Once we've gotten down the shaft, though, then it's a walk in the park. Just three more guards with Uzis and predilections toward not being robbed, and the most elaborate vault door conceived by man. Any questions?"
Friday, November 7, 2014
(July 1932, U.S.)
Alfred Hitchcock's NUMBER 17 is actually one of the more frustrating films I've ever had to watch! Don't get me wrong - it's not a bad film (I wouldn't be discussing it if it were). The problem is that the film falls into the category of Hitchcock's array of early British films that have fallen into the public domain of DVD release, which unfortunately, leaves many versions of this black and white classic very grainy and a little tough (and frustrating!) to watch, particularly in the era we presently live in where the high definition experience of Blu-Ray discs are the norm for watching films. Nonetheless, once you can settle your eyes, ears and mind on the film and take in the suspense that Hitchcock was infamous for, it actually becomes quite an entertaining experience, and all in the running time of just sixty-four minutes.
Admittedly, there is another source of frustration with this film and that's plot and characters. Again, not that they're bad in any way, they're just about as difficult and confusing to keep up with as any complex Agatha Christie agenda. Believe it or not, I actually had to re-familiarize myself with the basic synopsis on the web before sitting down to take this film in. At the heart of the story is the simple case of a jewelry heist already taken place and a group of people who are on the trail of a valuable, stolen necklace. It begins with a lone detective by the name of Barton (played by John Stuart - NOT the political satirist!) entering an ordinary London house that appears to be for sale or rent. Once inside, though, the atmosphere is dark and rather creepy, complete with the sound of howling winds and close-up shots of mysterious hands reaching for door knobs and staircases, even reminiscent of German Expressionist films. Here's a sample...
Oh yeah, and did I mention that there's also what appears to be a dead body at the top of those stairs? Enter now a very strange vagrant who's squatting inside the house by the name of only Ben (played by Leon Lion - no joke, that's really his name!). Ben appears to be a simple idiot who happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. He's a man who's clearly meant to be the film's comic relief and social lap dog as he continuously follows those who are smarter than him and repeatedly calling every other man, "Guv'nor" in that thick cockney accent of his. So what's started out as one man, leads to two and inevitably leads to a whole group of people who have entered this strange house in search of the same stolen necklace, including the thieves themselves. It would also appear that nearly everyone is not exactly who they really claim to be (I told you the characters were confusing!) and even one woman who is supposed to be deaf and dumb ends up surprising everyone (and us) by talking when the moment call for it. The thieves themselves are also not even your traditional thieves. Remember, this is an English film, so believe it or not, we're dealing with very proper, well dressed thieves who are very particular in their manners, remembering to say please when they pull a gun on their targets and also apologize for the inconvenience. Ah yes, only in Great Britain!
Despite its charm and its class, Hitchcock reminds us that this is still a suspense film with good folks and bad folks. For its time, there is violence and gunshots, but they're either very subdued or even sped up in the film to include it as almost part of the dreary atmosphere itself. Atmosphere is what Hitchcock clearly intends to give us here, nearly making the action and suspense almost secondary...in all but one sequence, though. For its getaway climax, the thieves are prepared to board and hijack a moving train out of London, and I must say, for an early black and white film of 1932, this is a better and more exciting action sequence that one might expect, particularly when the train is running out of control and inevitably crashes in the end. One can't help but wonder if director Brian DePalma was inspired by this film when he created his own speeding train climax in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (1996). The sequence is playfully frantic and can even make some of Michael Bay's modern work appear lame (I guess that's just how much I detest most of Michael Bay's work!).
Now, you remember when I previously described the character of Ben as just a mindless oaf who only appeared to be in this film for comic relief? Well, I still stand by that, but it's also important to remember that in any traditional suspense film, nothing is how it first appears. That in mind, guess who actually ends up with the stolen, valuable necklace at the end of the film! So you see - there's dumb and there's not quite so dumb!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Ben: "Ya don't have to do nothin' in this 'ere house! Ya stand still and things happen!"
Tuesday, November 4, 2014
(October 1942, U.S.)
Were it not for the 1971 film SUMMER OF '42, I might never have exposed myself to the Bette Davis film of NOW VOYAGER, as there is a movie house sequence where the young kids of a small coastal town are spending a night at the movies and watching NOW VOYAGER from the balcony while trying to get "frisky" with each other. Though, notice that the film was released in October of 1942. So how could the film be released for viewing during the Summer of '42?? This, my friends, is just one of the many film flubs that exist throughout cinema history.
And so, having been directed to NOW VOYAGER through the use of film within a film and constant exposure to Turner Classic Movies, I'm finally aware of not only a great black and white classic, but also one of the best screen love stories I've ever seen. It's a film of extraordinary transformation as we slowly watch a very drab, overweight, ugly duckling spinster in the form of Charlotte Vale (Davis) break through the barriers of ongoing repression at the hands of her brutally dictatorial and dominating mother whose verbal and emotional abuse of her daughter has contributed to Charlotte's complete lack of self-respect and self-confidence. Fearing that she's on the verge of a nervous breakdown, her sister-in-law Lisa (played by Ilka Chase) introduces her to psychiatrist Dr. Jaquith (played by Claude Rains), who recommends she spend time in his Vermont sanatorium in order to save her sanity. Charlotte blossoms away from her mother's daily control. The transformed woman opts to take a lengthy cruise rather than immediately return home. On board the ship, she meets a married man, Jerry Durrance (played by Paul Henreid), who is traveling with his friends. We eventually learn of Jerry's devotion to his young daughter Tina and how it keeps him from divorcing his wife, a manipulative, jealous woman who doesn't love Tina and spends her life promoting her own martyrism. And so, when you have two lonely people battling their own demons on board the same cruise liner...well, faster than you can say, "The Love Boat", the two become closer and inevitably fall in love, though they decide it would be best not to see each other again.
Arriving home to Boston, this is the moment where we, the audience, look forward to Charlotte shining in her new light and finally tell her no-good mother where she can go! Her mother, however, is still determined to once again destroy her daughter, but Charlotte is resolved to remain independent (you go, girl!). The memory of Jerry's endearing love and devotion help to give her the strength she needs to remain resolute. It pays off in part that she does (gently) tell her mother to back off and also in part that her mother finally dies of heart failure (good riddance, bitch!). Now with independence comes the inherited wealth that Charlotte likely deserves after so many years of emotional hell. Rather than live in spoiled fashion, Charlotte decides to devote herself to helping Jerry's troubled daughter Tina without her knowing of Charlotte's past relationship with her father. One cannot help but feel the genuine tenderness from watching a woman who has triumphed over her own feelings of self-worth pass along what she's achieved onto another young ugly duckling whom Charlotte can perfectly relate to.
Having previously mentioned that NOW VOYAGER is one of the best love stories I've ever seen, it's important to note that the love of Charlotte and Jerry never actually reaches it's full potential. For whatever reasons we're never meant to truly understand, the two of them do not "officially" come together in the end, though their love and devotion to each other through Charlotte's care for Tina is very clear. Cinematically, there is probably nothing more touching and intriguing than forbidden love, or in this particular case, love that cannot fully come together. Like I said, we may not clearly understand the reasons why not, but sometimes in life we may only reach out and achieve what is considered second best compared to what we'd truly like to achieve, or as Charlotte beautifully puts it to Jerry at the end of the film, "Oh, Jerry, don't let's ask for the moon. We have the stars." It's also noteworthy that throughout the film Paul Henreid uses the familiarity of sharing a cigarette, with a rather famous two-cigarette scene, being used as his introduction to this lonely woman...
In fact, during a time when smoking on the movie screen was not considered risky or dangerously sending the wrong message to its younger viewers, the cigarette serves as a strong tool of true sexual seduction, though it's impossible to recognize it by today's standards. You need to go back to an era of wartime and imagine a period when film censors forbade anything directly linked to sexual activity or intention. It's all subtle but clearly powerful, nonetheless. Hell, at that time, it may have been incentive enough to take up smoking!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Charlotte Vale: "Jerry, Dr. Jaquith knows about us. When he said I could take Tina, he said you're on probation. Do you know what that means? It means that I'm on probation because of you and me. He allowed this visit as a test. If I can't stand such a test, I'll lose Tina and we'll lose each other. Jerry, please help me."
Jerry Durrance: "Shall we just have a cigarette on it?"
Jerry: "May I sometimes come here?"
Charlotte: "Whenever you like. It's your home too. There are people here who love you."
Jerry: "To look at you and Tina, and share with you peace and contentment."
Charlotte: "Of course. And just think, it won't be for this time only. That is, if you will help me keep what we have. If we both try hard to protect that little strip of territory that is ours. We can talk about your child."
Jerry: "Our child."
Charlotte: "Thank you."
Jerry: "And will you be happy, Charlotte?"
Charlotte: "Oh, Jerry, don't let's ask for the moon. We have the stars."