Tuesday, December 23, 2014
(January 1961, U.S.)
In the vast array of movies that I've been posting since launching this blog almost five years ago, there haven't been a whole lot of animated films, be they the modern musical kind, the computer-generated animated kind or even the legendary classics - top reason being, as you all know by now, that I don't particularly care for musicals. This perhaps, is why ONE HUNDRED AND ONE DALMATIANS is my favorite classic animated Disney film of all time, though it can be argued that there's a song, or two here and there. Besides, how can you resist an animated film filled with a whole bunch of cute, spotted puppies (that's the real soft side of me talkin' now!).
And yet, behind all of the cuteness that surrounds this great film is the element of pure evil in the character of Cruella De Vil who takes great pleasure in slaughtering adorable animals for the sole purpose of wearing them as coats (hey, I'm not exactly an anti-fur advocate, but even that seems totally extreme to me!). This, by the way, is one real ugly bitch with cheekbones that stick out at least ten inches from each side of her face...
By the way, she's identified as Anita's old school chum, but really, I'm seeing a major age difference here between the two women! Exactly what kind of school were they at together?? And exactly what sort of car does Cruella drive that enable her to repeatedly drive at top speed in thick snow without getting stuck or stranded?? Ah, only in a Disney movie!
Let's remember now, that this is a children's film and responsible parents don't tell their kids exactly what Cruella De Vil wants to do with all those puppies. We simply tell them that she's the bad one in this movie and she simply wants the puppies for herself (at least that's what I told my son when I first showed him this film at the tender age of two!). This also, unlike many of the other Disney animated films, is not exactly attempting to teach a valuable lesson here. It's a pure adventure film with enough laughs, excitement and rich animated colors and images to keep even mom and dad happy! Cruella is also the kind of woman you truly want to see suffer in the end because of her downright meanness! The two fools...idiots...imbeciles that she hires to kidnap and kill the puppies, Horace and Jasper, are also a treat to watch because of their downright...well, dumbness! The real pleasure for me in watching this film, though, is listening to the talents of Rod Taylor as the voice of Pongo, whom anyone of classic film appreciation, will know from great films like THE TIME MACHINE (1960) and THE BIRDS (1963), among others. All in all, this film is pure fun without having to deal with any real singing and dancing, and for a guy like me, that's what I call pure Disney magic!
Now, a few brief words about the 1996 live action film of ONE HUNDRED AND ONE DALMATIANS - I don't own it, so clearly I'm not posting it. But I'd be lying if I told you that I thought it was a bad film. Glenn Close was the most priceless choice to play Cruella De Vil and she nailed it perfectly! And if I thought all those running and jumping puppies were adorable as animation, imagine how my heart melted when I got to watch them as live animals (even if they were, at times, computer generated). Like so many others, I probably even thought it would be great to actually own a dalmatian, despite their reputation for being real wild and rambunctious. But the real pleasure for me in remembering the live action film is where I saw it - Thanksgiving 1996, I was visiting family in Los Angeles and I went to see this movie at the famous El Capitan movie theater (movie palace, actually). If you know this theater (Richard K.!), then you know why anyone would go see anything at a glamorous theater such as this. If you don't know it, here's a great image of it...
Is it possible I have more of a fondness for the 1996 live action film than I'm willing to confess to?? Perhaps I'll need to watch it again and get back to you.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Cruella De Vil: "When can the puppies leave their mother? Two weeks? Three weeks?"
Roger: "W-w-we're n-not s-selling t-the puppies. N-n-not a sing...a single one. Do you understand?"
Cruella: "Anita, is he serious? I really don't know Roger."
Anita: "Well Cruella, he seems..."
Cruella: "Surely he must be joking!"
Roger: "No, no, no. I-I-I mean it. You're-you're not getting one. N-n-not one. And that's...that's final!"
Cruella: "Why, you horrid man! You...you...all right, keep the little beasts for all I care! Do as you like with them! Drown them! But I warn you, Anita, we're through. I'm through with all of you! I'll get even! Just wait! You'll be sorry! You fools! You...you idiots!"
Saturday, December 20, 2014
(September 2002, U.S.)
This is the first Robin Williams film I'm posting since his tragic death last August. Normally, celebrity deaths don't phase me too much. Celebrities die all the time for many different reasons. Robin Williams' suicide affected me in the most unexpected way. His comedy styles and his unique ability to make us laugh meant so much to me, and despite the severe depression he was suffering from and despite the medical facts behind why he did what he did, to this day, I still can't get the idea of why he would take his own life out of my mind. I still can't wrap my head around why a man who took so much pleasure in making others laugh would want to end all of that. Like I said, I know there were complex medical reasons, but that doesn't mean I accept them, nor will I ever accept them. But that's just me.
And so it's with a small sense of irony that the first film I discuss following his death is one in which his principal role is anything but funny. ONE HOUR PHOTO was released during a year in which Robin Williams had accepted roles that explored his much darker side, including DEATH TO SMOOCHY and Christopher Nolan's remake of INSOMNIA (a great remake, by the way!). Even his look is far from the traditional and somewhat more disturbing to look at...
What's actually more disturbing about ONE HOUR PHOTO is not so much the sad, lonely and violently unstable character that Williams plays, but rather the profession he practices and the dark implications of our lack of privacy that it ultimately implies...but more on that later. As Sy Parrish, the photo technician at a local "Walmart" type establishment, he leads a solitary life outside of the hyperreality atmosphere of the department store. Every day he labors to ensure his customers get the best quality photos possible. His work is clearly his whole life, as he has no one and nothing to go home to at the end of each day. He's chosen as his favorite customers the Yorkin family of husband Will (played by Michael Vartan), wife Nina (played by Connie Nielsen), and their son Jake (played by Dylan Smith), having developed their photos for years and obsessing over idolizing their affluence and happiness, memorizing every personal detail about them through their photographs. Painfully shy and socially inept, he attempts to become closer to the family, but of course, is gently rebuffed. To the Yorkin family, Sy is just simply a nice man they refer to as "Sy the photo guy". The dangers of any idolization, however, is when you inevitably discover that those you worship as perfect are not so perfect, after all. When Sy discovers that Michael is cheating on his wife, he chooses to take the betrayal personally and reacts with unexpected actions. Despite the fact that he hurts no one, there is a frightening and violent measure to the way he simply "just takes pictures". Even so, by the time Sy has been caught and made his confession, we get a sense of who he was in his past life and the sexual abuse he endured from (very likely) his own parents. Having learned that at the end, it's perhaps no wonder Sy Parrish didn't turn out to be a full-fledged serial killer!
Williams proves he's just as versatile an actor as he ever was by taking on such a dark role. But as previously mentioned, it's the profession of his character that truly gives one pause for thought. Although we live in the digital age where many of our own photo tasks and techniques can be mastered in the privacy of our own homes with our own computers and printers, it wasn't so long ago that the art of film and the process of sending our film out to be processed and developed by others was still the norm. How many years of our lives have we been taking pictures, sending them out and getting them back (I started at the age of ten with a simple Kodak instamatic camera and the local Fotomat)? How many times have we ever really considered the fact that our private lives were being closely examined and studied by strangers on the outside before we got our pictures back? How many times have we ever really considered the possibility that maybe someone out there who was studying our lives so closely may not be altogether stable? Novelist Thomas Harris considered that question decades ago when he wrote the first Hannibal Lecter book RED DRAGON in which the serial killer was also a photo lab technician who was choosing his victims through their family photos. Sy, in a way, is a creepier notion because he doesn't keep himself so much buried in the shadows of his obsessions. He actually tries to make close contact with the family in question even to the point of feeling a lot like "Uncle Sy". The family, as expected, would never consider such an outsider as part of their own. This film also gives us pause to consider just how sloppy one can get with their photos and the secrets they willingly reveal. Remember, this is a film made before the introduction of Facebook and Instagram, where private photos are like a plague of death for those who want their secrets kept secret. As a man cheating on his wife, Michael doesn't seem to have enough brains to keep himself from being photographed in compromising positions with his mistress. He also doesn't have the brains to see to it that his mistress keeps the roll of film that those pictures are on away from the local photo developer (honestly, Michael deserves to get caught with his pants down!). The point is that our photos are also betrayals of our privacy if we carelessly allow them to be exposed to the public without any discrimination on our part - and this is coming from a man who doesn't own a smart phone and still uses an actual camera (digital) to take his photos. Perhaps this is why my photos tend to come out a lot better and clearer than those taken by people who need to have their hands surgically removed from their smart phones! Just sayin'...
Favorite line or dialogue:
Sy Parrish (voice-over): "And if these pictures have anything important to say to future generations, it's this: I was here. I existed. I was young, I was happy, and someone cared enough about me in this world to take my picture."
Thursday, December 18, 2014
Ladies and gentlemen, I interrupt my usually-scheduled blogging (again - the last time was on September 11, 2011) in order to vent out and express some particular thoughts, feelings and emotions that on this day are getting the better of me. I'm overcome with an insatiable need to discuss recent events of the last twenty-four hours and I hope you'll grant me your patience and your feedback...
So, anybody who's been following even a little bit of the news lately is no doubt familiar with the recent computer hackings that have infested Sony Pictures all due to their planned Christmas distribution of the movie, THE INTERVIEW, an American political action comedy film directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. The film stars Rogen and James Franco as journalists instructed by the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (played by actor Randall Park) after successfully booking an interview with him. The film has been subject to endless media attention due to its intentionally negative portrayal of Kim Jong-un. Threats of "merciless" action against the United States have been made should Columbia Pictures go ahead with the film's release. Last November, the computer systems of parent company Sony Pictures Entertainment were hacked by a group calling themselves "The Guardians of Peace" with suspected (and recently confirmed) ties to North Korea. After leaking emails of several other upcoming Sony films (including the next James Bond film), the group demanded that Sony pull the film, which it referred to as "the movie of terrorism". Just two days ago, the group threatened terrorist attacks against American cinemas that played THE INTERVIEW, and finally, yesterday Sony caved in and canceled the scheduled Christmas Day theatrical release of the film and stated that it has no plans to release the film in any form.
Wow! All I can initially say at first is, "Wow!" The second thing I can say (or ask) is, "What the fuck just happened?" Did WE, the free thinking, free speaking, free creative, free movie making society of the great country known as the United States of America actually allow ourselves to be dictated to by a foreign country as to what sort of movie we could and could not make and what sort of movie we can and cannot watch?? Again, by a foreign country, no less??? Granted, I have no reason to want to go and see, let alone defend a stupid, useless and mindless comedy like THE INTERVIEW, because you've been reading my blog long enough to know that I almost never support that sort of Hollywood crap. But people, something unprecedented and, indeed, tragic has taken place in our own country on December 17, 2014 and I just feel that I can't shut up about it!
Okay, so we all know it's our own government's policy to never, under any circumstances, negotiate with terrorists. However, it's pretty safe to say that our government is not going to give one rat's ass about what Hollywood chooses to do with itself. Films get shelved and releases get cancelled for all sorts of reasons, but until now, they've usually had to do with studio finances and what not. Still, as much as we enjoy picking on and targeting the moronic culture of the Hollywood studio producers, we can't ignore the the fact that these men and women are Americans also. What does it say to not only the film industry, but to the American movie going public when a film is cancelled because someone out there doesn't like it? And lets remember that we're not even talking about the average "Joe" who has a beef with a film. We're talking about a fascist dictator in a country overseas whom the United States would consider an enemy. Kim Jong-Un and North Korea have cried "foul" and "Hooray for Hollywood" has retreated in fear. Again, THE INTERVIEW as a film itself means shit to me. It's our American weakness that's really got me steamed! This is not who we are and this is not what we do!
Now let's dig back into a little bit of cinema history and ask ourselves this important question - had Charlie Chaplin and United Artists weakened and caved into political pressures and fears during a time of the late 1930s and early 1940s when Adolf Hitler was in full power and considered an enemy of the free world, would we have ever gotten the pleasure of Chaplin's film THE GREAT DICTATOR? This was the most perfect political comedy of its time that went right for Hitler's throat and summoned up wonderful laughs at his expense. Technically, we were not even at war yet until Pearl Harbor in December 1941, but we knew the power and weaponry of laughter as an attack against our enemies and against evil itself. Hell, even Warner Brothers got Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck into the act as they provided their own lunatic combat against the infamous dictator...
You go, Daffy! You see what I mean? It was fun and even politically correct to make fun of and laugh at Adolf Hitler! And when we weren't making fun of our enemies, it was Hollywood's responsibility and privilege to give us endless films in which our great American actors (usually John Wayne) went head-to-head with Germany and Japan! Yes, even when we were at war with Japan, animator Max Fleischer got involved and had Superman himself do battle with the Japanese soldier...
(I think you get the idea!)
This may have been a different age and a different era of war, but I've always believed that the spirit behind such cinematic rousing is one that should continue to live on even during these crazy modern times. We as free thinkers of creativity have every right to make movies that ultimately poke fun at the enemies and evils of the world. That is the power that movies have as a weapon for the everyday person! Where guns and violence may not be the answer at every political moment, then certainly laughter is! And now, we've tragically allowed the first instance where American laughter and free-thinking fun has been contained and repressed by a group of foreign terrorists (what have we done???) I don't rightfully know what the correct and logical answer is to all of this because I can't help but see both possible sides to Sony's final decision. Like it or not, we live in a post 9-11 world where every single threat of terrorism has to be taken seriously in order to protect human life. I get that, I really do, and I suppose the cancellation of one little movie is a very small price to pay for our safety and security. But is this just the beginning? How many more American movies will be destroyed out of fear of retaliation from those who feel they have a justifiable reason to be pissed off about it? As Americans, we love movies! They're our weapons against life's cruelties and tragedies. If we lose that weapon...what happens to us then?
Let me finally conclude all of this with what I personally think should happen next with Sony and THE INTERVIEW. Were I able to get on the phone with the CEO of Sony Pictures Michael Lynton, I would say this to him..."Mike, I can't say I fully support what you and the rest of the team have done here, but I'm hoping the ultimate reason is to keep movie patrons safe from physical harm. Okay, this all really sucks and it's a major financial loss to Sony that you're all going to have to deal with. But, Mike, you can all still come out of this winners! Do you remember what the band U2 did just a short time ago when releasing their new album? You remember how they gave it away as a free gift to all Apple iTunes subscribers? You need to do the same thing! Yes, Mike, you heard me right! I'm proposing that you offer THE INTERVIEW as a free download to all subscribers who are interested in seeing the film! Yes, you'll never see a dime on the film and yes, it's shit that you and Sony are going to have to eat! But, oh, the statement that you'll make! You will, in one brave act, declare to the world that American free thinkers, free speakers and free watchers of all movies will not be threatened by terrorists and will not be repressed from the art of cinema! We will not cave and we will not go quietetly into the night of the darkened movie theater! We will see THE INTERVIEW!"
Well, I won't personally...but I hope I've made my point here and I hope you'll all support me.
By the way, it suddenly occurs to me that if Kim Jong-Un and North Korea really wanted to start World War III over a movie, then quite frankly, they should have retaliated against George Lucas for what he did to the original STAR WARS trilogy instead of THE INTERVIEW! That would almost make sense, yes? LOL!!!
Good night and live free!
Saturday, December 13, 2014
(November 1975, U.S.)
In the Spring of 1985, I was a high school senior faced with the task of preparing and writing my term paper for English class. I was also someone who had invested a large portion of his own money to buy blank video tapes (remember those??) to record full length, uncut movies from premium movie channels so as to start what would inevitably become a long line of movie collecting. I was also still a kid that didn't want to be bothered with reading a book that didn't interest me much. So what to do? Knowing that Ken Kesey's novel was a popular and important piece of literature and also knowing that Milos Forman's ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST was one of the films I'd recorded off of Cinemax about a year prior to this task, I decided to put my best foot forward and do all that I could to cheat the system! I watched the film again and dug deep into Encyclopedia Britannica and any other pre-internet material I could find that would give me solid insight into the essence of Kesey's novel. The result was a well-crafted, multiple page paper that I actually got an 'A' on! So either my extensive methods of "faking it" were right on, or my English teacher was just that stupid! I may never know but I'd like to think it was both! It may interest you to know that four years later, I was robbing the cradle a bit and dating a high school senior who, by nothing more than sheer coincidence, had chosen Kesey's same novel for her own term paper, as well. So, what's a good boyfriend to do? Give her the paper you wrote (and saved!) and maybe she'll get an 'A', too!
Since those irresponsible high school days of mine, I can say that somewhere along the course of my life, I did read Kesey's book (at least I think I did!) and I would have to confess that it did give me greater insight to the greater meaning of the film. At first glance, it's very easy to presume nothing more than its base story of committed anti-authoritarian criminal Randle Patrick McMurphy (played by the great Jack Nicholson) surviving on his wits and his own version of insanity inside an Oregon mental institution for the purpose of professional evaluation in the year 1963. It's also very easy to not look further beyond the story of McMurphy's own brand of insanity that brings some joy and hope to a group of mentally unstable men who, otherwise, have none. However, it's my own personal opinion that the true story of ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST is that of the ultimate struggle between men and women (this, by the way, was my theme behind my high school term paper that got me that 'A'). I believe this story is just as much about Nurse Ratched (played by Louise Fletcher) as it is about McMurphy. When we first meet him, we pretty much know from the get-go that he's likely faking his mental instability in order to avoid prison work detail. Of course, we're talking about Jack Nicholson here, so how much could insanity truly be faked?? It's seems obvious, at first, that McMurphy's only real task at this place is to tolerate those nuts around him and just get through his time in order to obtain his freedom. What he doesn't expect, and can't seem to accept, is the strong psychological hold that Nurse Ratched has over the stability and confidence of these men to simply want to live their lives as men.
(so what the hell do I mean by that? Glad you asked!)
Consider that the year is 1963 and what honestly constitutes the ideas of what makes men real men (it wasn't eating quiche, I can tell you that!). Real men love to be men by watching baseball on TV, by freely smoking their cigarettes, by engaging themselves in card games, by going fishing, by drinking and by fucking! Nurse Ratched seems to deliberately go out of her way to sabotage these simple pleasures by denying the men the chance to watch the World Series and by unfairly rationing their cigarettes. What's particularly infuriating is that Nurse Ratched doesn't appear to be that evil a person. Study carefully the face of Louis Fletcher in her infamous role and you'll see that her face is quite kind, gentle and even gives a false impression of being fair and impartial. You see, Nurse Ratched isn't really mean...she just does mean things with a very pleasant look on her face...and that, perhaps, is what makes it all the more evil. It would seem the men, all except McMurphy, are so mentally fucked up that they can't even recognize when they're being played like this. Or if they do recognize it, don't have the courage or the strength to combat it. McMurphy has that courage and strength and does all that he can to break the rules and give these men the joyous freedoms to act like men, even if it means a certain degradation to women. Hell, especially if it means a certain degradation to women (we're talking about Jack Nicholson here!)! But this is not to say that McMurphy doesn't have a heart. He's particularly sympathetic to Billy Bibbit (played by Brad Dourif), a stuttering recluse who's still a virgin and is terrified of his own mother. Nurse Ratched, by the way, knows this all too well and uses every means to take advantage of that situation...but more on that later.
Okay, later just arrived now! I want to really focus on one of the final sequences that involves Billy Bibbit. His character is truly a boy among men, not just because of his virginity, but also his fear of authority, perhaps particularly female authority. As men who were once boys, we can all likely claim that one of the true rites of passage to manhood (if not THE rite of passage to manhood!) was when we finally lost our virginity. McMurphy knows this and can't help but offer his own assistance in getting poor Billy laid, even at the cost of delaying his perfect opportunity to escape from the institution. It's the morning after the men have thrown themselves a wild party with liquor and women. Nurse Ratched has returned and all hell is about to break loose. We see Billy exit the room from where he's just "become a man" and is being cheered on by his committed peers. Despite being caught with his pants down (literally) by the great woman in charge, Billy's not ashamed of what he's done and he's even proud enough to admit it. This is a great moment for a young man who afraid of his own shadow and in the blink of an instant, it all comes crashing down for him when Nurse Ratched threatens to tell his mother what he's done. The rites of manhood have just been destroyed by a woman who's sole purpose in this facility has been to persistently destroy the rites of manhood. And again, it's not even done with malicious and threatening volume, as if she were saying, "Billy, I'm going to tell your mother what you did!" No, as I previously mentioned, such acts are committed with gentle tenderness in voice and even a slight hint of regret in manner. However, to the stuttering and scared Billy Bibbit, pride and self-accomplishment (because getting laid is an accomplishment when it's the first time!) have just been replaced by fear and a sense of moral terror at the thought of his mother knowing what he just did. Before the scene is over, Billy's newly-found manhood has been reduced to that of a shameful, whining little boy begging his female authority figure for mercy and forgiveness. The entire moment is quite honestly tragic, as are the final results of Billy's bloody suicide.
Ken Kesey was a product of a simpler time and also a time when the feminist movement was on the rise when he wrote ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST. His story involves a situation where the woman is the dominant figure over the man, and remember that during that era, such a situation was not the norm. There are those who could view such a situation as just dues for all that women have had to struggle with in their competition against men in this world. There are those who could view such a situation as one where man must fight with all his strength and all his will to defend that which makes him a man against those who would deny him such matters. As an anti-hero of such, McMurphy not only stands for the freedoms and the rights of manhood, but also the dignities that stand not only behind our manhood, but our daily stability, as well. As a film that's meant to imply triumph, it's impossible to ignore the fact that the story of its characters goes horribly wrong in the end. But even though it all does go wrong, Forman's film also insists on making greater points than its story initially carries, so that in the end, the human qualities of these characters don't get lost in any of its significance.
ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST won the Oscar for best picture of 1975. Did it deserve it over JAWS or DOG DAY AFTERNOON? Honestly, even after nearly forty years, I still can't make up my mind. Anyway, it's been a pleasure more or less RE-writing the contents of my personal views to this story which don't seem to have changed since I was a high school senior in 1985. Like I said, it got me an 'A'!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Billy Bibbit (after being caught in bed with a woman): "Um, I can explain everything."
Nurse Ratched: "Please do, Billy. Explain everything."
Billy (stuttering): "Everything?"
Ratched: "Aren't you ashamed?"
Billy (NOT stuttering): "No, I'm not."
Rathced: "You know, Billy, what worries me is how your mother's going to take this."
Billy (stuttering): "Um, well you don't have to tell her, Miss Ratched."
Ratched: "I don't have to tell her? Your mother and I are old friends, you know that."
Billy (stuttering): "Um, please don't tell my moth..."
Ratched: "Don't you think you should have thought of that before you took that woman in that room!?"
Billy (stuttering): "No, I didn't."
Ratched: "You mean she dragged you in there by force?"
Billy (stuttering): "She did. Everybody did."
Ratched: "Everybody? Who did? You tell me who did!"
Billy (stuttering): "McMurphy. Miss Ratched, please don't tell my mother, please."
Ratched: "Mr. Warren, would you see that the men are washed and ready for the day."
Billy (stuttering): "Miss Ratched, please, please, please don't tell my..."
Ratched: "Mr. Washington, put Billy in Dr. Spivey's office."
Billy (stuttering): "No, no, no, no...!"
Ratched: "Stay with him 'till the doctor arrives."
Billy (stuttering being dragged away): "NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO...!!!""
Sunday, December 7, 2014
(June 1984, U.S.)
I hadn't seen Sergio Leone's ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA since I initially bought the DVD many years ago and had forgotten it was originally a summer release; this being an epic gangster film that likely would have fared better in the Fall for better box office receipts. I can't help but wonder how this film stacked itself up against summer release that involved INDIANA JONES, STAR TREK, GHOSTBUSTERS and GREMLINS.
Having originally been offered the director's chair for THE GODFATHER back in the 1970s, Sergio Leone (made famous for his spaghetti westerns with Clint Eastwood) likely had a lot to make up and compensate for more than ten years later. So the big question is how do you make a worthy epic gangster film (with Robert DeNiro, I might add) and not leave yourself open to having copied two previous GODFATHER films prior? The answer is that you do your damnedest not to come too close and specifically come up with something original in you story. Whether Leone succeeds in that task is completely up to the viewer. For starters, this is an American gangster story that originates from the poverty-stricken streets of the lower east side of New York City and contains many traditional themes such as the ambition and dream of rising to power, friendship and betrayal. Sounds an awful lot like THE GODFATHER-PART II at first glance, doesn't it? Well, let's face it - gangster films are a tough genre to change very much. Power, violence, greed, friendship and betrayal and just inevitable and unavoidable contents of the recipe. So what this films attempts to offer its viewer is an experience in non-linear, non-chronological (GODFATHER II does do that, though) and flashbacks as told through the viewpoints of one particular character known simply as "Noodles" (played by DeNiro). The other slight twist here is that our protagonists are a product of the Jewish ghetto rather than the traditional Italian origin of many other gangster films. Yes, we have a here a story of less-than-traditional Jews as told through the perspective of an Italian director. Ah, yes, ain't America grand!
Perhaps the most key word I can use to initially describe ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA is ambiguity. As the film's title would suggest, we are being offered a story of boys who grow up to be men over the course of several decades that include important pieces of American history that include the Great Depression and Prohibition. That's easy enough to understand. The classic elements of the traditional gangster film are also easy to understand if you've seen enough of them. What this film attempts to do is to deliberately not give us all the answers to some key questions as it rolls along and allow it's ambiguity to give us the option and the power to make up our own minds. For instance, what is the 1968 Frisbee scene supposed to mean when it immediately cuts to another sequence and gives no further resolution? Is it merely an establishment of the time frame and nothing more or is there a deeper threat to "Noodles" at that moment as he walks through the streets with a suitcase that we're not meant to see? Then there is the ultimate plot between "Noodles" and the girlfriend of his longtime friend and partner Max (played by James Woods) to set him up for arrest and prison in order to keep him from being killed by police in an outlandish scheme to rob the federal reserve. We listen to the plot between conspirators and we fully understand the purpose behind such a betrayal, but at no time do we get to witness the attempted crime itself or the ultimate outcome. Then there is the suitcase filled with the cash that all the film's friends and business partners agreed to contribute to and divide equally when the time came that sits quietly in a bus station locker. Even though we see the cash, there is a strange mystery to this suitcase that one can't help but wonder if it influenced Quentin Tarantino when he gave us the same mysterious suitcase element in PULP FICTION ten years later. What is the final outcome of that suitcase? We watch "Noodles" retrieve it from the locker, but does he actually get away with it safely, as the strange Frisbee scene may suggest that he doesn't. Again, we're not sure. And finally (but not necessarily limited to), there's the end resolution where we learn that Max, presumed dead for many years, is not dead and has been assuming an alternate identity as Secretary Christopher Bailey. When he and "Noodles" confront each other after years of absence and betrayal, what is Bailey's ultimate purpose? Is it to really have "Noodles" kill him and put him out of his misery or is it really to gloat to his one-time friend and trusted partner of his financial success, power and the fact that he managed to take and live "Noodles" life by stealing and marrying the woman that he ("Noodles) always truly loved Deborah (played by Elizabeth McGovern and Jennifer Connelly, respectively). Deborah, the woman "Noodles" has always loved, by the way, is also a woman he violently rapes in one scene, totally inexplicably. Again, the ambiguity and mystery of why a man like this would do such a thing is perhaps beyond our comprehension. "Noodles" is a violent man, by nature, yes, but the explanation as to why he would deliberately hurt a woman he's worshiped since childhood is puzzling to us, to say the least. As I watched that particular rape scene, I couldn't help but shake my head and ask, "Oh, man, why are fucking this all up?"
But wait, I suppose "finally" was not so final after all. What is the true meaning of the final shot of the film in which we see DeNiro lying down in an opium-soaked high with a huge smile on his face. This is how such a long film ends and we're meant to wonder why. Was the entire story nothing more than a drug-induced dream, with one man's vision's of his past and his unknown future? As I said and will repeat now, I believe that Leone knows very damn well that he cannot hope to match the artistic successes of the previous two GODFATHER films, so he offers the ambiguity of unexplained and unresolved issues of not only the boys and men in the story, but also their ultimate outcomes of life and survival. I can only say that for what is meant to be the traditional gangster film, Sergio Leone offers his own artistic poem to a classic genre...and it works for me!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Noodles: "Today they asked us to get rid of Joe, tomorrow they ask me to get rid of you! Is that okay with you? 'Cause it's not okay with me!"