Saturday, January 31, 2015
(December 1985, U.S.)
Sidney Pollack's OUT OF AFRICA may be one of the most challenging films I've ever had to write about because, to be perfectly honest, I'm not absolutely, one hundred percent sure I even like the film that much. Okay, so you're thinking, "Why waste time blogging it?" Well, here's a little back story to try and explain myself...
At the beginning of the year 1986, I went to see OUT OF AFRICA with my parents while on Christmas break from my first year of college. I went to see it eagerly because I was willing to see anything that director Sidney Pollack was doing back then, having been totally blown away by TOOTSIE three years prior. So I'm watching it and my feeling toward the film is only, well...lukewarm. Not a bad movie, but not that great, either. So the film ends and then I generally forget I ever saw it. Clearly, not a very lasting impression. Then, on March 24, 1986, what I considered to be the absolutely unthinkable, happened...the 58th Academy Awards! OUT OF AFRICA, in my humble and angry opinion, quite literally raped what I considered to be (and still do!) a far superior film, THE COLOR PURPLE, by taking home every worthwhile Oscar and leaving Steven Spielberg's film twisting in the wind with nothing but its balls hanging out! To say I was really pissed off would be a gross understatement! I not only blamed the Academy for being totally brainless morons (oh hell, they still are!) but I also chose to blame OUT OF AFRICA itself for its part in things! I chose to literally veto that film for the rest of my life because my young and inexperienced brain (at the time) concluded that would be the best solution for such a cinematic injustice! Real mature, right??
Okay, so now let's jump ahead to the present day. OUT OF AFRICA is part of my DVD collection, but the disc really belongs to my wife because she loves the film. Because the title was next in the letter 'O' series, I decided to try and be fair and impartial toward the film nearly thirty years later and give it another look. So what's the verdict? I'm really not sure. Let's start with the positive, though. The film is quite literally a camera's dream come true! This is some of the most stunning and spectacular cinematography of the great continent of Africa that I'm ever likely to see on film! Pollack's work here can easily rival some of the visual content we've ever seen in some of David Lean's greatest motion pictures. We don't just watch OUT OF AFRICA, but are rather transported to a world of imagery and beauty, both on land and up in the sky through the eyes of a World War I biplane. As friends and lovers during a time of the turn of the 20th Century, Robert Redford and Meryl Streep give their own winning performances, as we'd expect such veteran actors to. There's also a very moving score by John Barry that's just as signature as DANCES WITH WOLVES (as an example). Now to the negative - this true story of Danish aristocrat Karen Dinesen (Streep) entering into a marriage of convenience in East Africa and starting a coffee farm while falling in love with big-game hunter Denys Finch Hatton (Redford) is, how shall I put it, BORING, to say the least! Not to say that very slow moving stories are bad stories (some of the best films ever made are slow movers), it's just that the predicaments and circumstances of OUT OF AFRICA truly fail to inspire my emotions and my connections with the film's characters. Even still, Karen exist to discover Africa and its marvelous wonders and that is what enthralls my attention because we get to experience everything she does through the above mentioned visuals and cinematography.
So, again, what's the verdict here? Does a slow moving, boring story mean I don't like OUT OF AFRICA? Well, consider some classics sci-fi films like 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968), STAR TREK-THE MOTION PICTURE (1979) and BLADE RUNNER (1982) - slow moving stories with incredible visual images that have made them worthwhile (though I suppose the first STAR TREK film is debatable!) and worth experiencing every once in a while. Perhaps that's the simple legacy OUT OF AFRICA will have with me in that I can take some time to experience it every so often for it's visual beauty, which I would consider enough of a reason to show it some simple appreciation and even a little respect. Still, even thirty years later, how in all that is sane, reasonable and rational, could that film have beat out THE COLOR PURPLE??? Perhaps I just need to get over it and stop being such a fucking baby! I'm working on it.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Denys: "I'm with you because I choose to be with you. I don't want to live someone else's idea of how to live. Don't ask me to do that. I don't want to find out one day that I'm at the end of someone else's life."
Saturday, January 24, 2015
(May 1981, U.S.)
Since it's original release in 1981, Peter Hyam's sci-fi film of OUTLAND has consistently received the same single, ongoing criticism in that it's plot is a direct replica of the classic western HIGH NOON set in the future of outer space; whether that's a positive point or a negative one is strictly up to the viewer. My only response to such an accusation is this - SO WHAT! To begin with, Hollywood has been ripping itself off so many times in so many recycled versions of itself that it's almost impossible to continue to go on bitching about it (though that hasn't stopped someone like ME yet!). Secondly, if you've done your reading over the years, then you know exactly how I feel about westerns as an overall genre. So if OUTLAND is truly ripping off HIGH NOON and we all know I don't particularly care for westerns (there are a few exceptions, of course!), well then, bring it on, baby! I'm watching and I'm listing!
Released only two years after ALIEN (1979), one can see much of OUTLAND's cinematography and visual images replicating that of Ridley Scott's classic, specifically in its use of dark, isolated and claustrophobic deep space industrial environments and also its direct representation of so-called "mega-companies" as ruthless, profiteering monsters who would consider the lives of their employees to be expendable (which, of course, we all know to be true in real life!). Both films also feature the soundtrack score of Jerry Goldsmith. The isolation, however, really lies in the vastness of outer space at Jupiter's moon of Io. Unlike ALIEN, which features only seven crew members, the mining outpost of OUTLAND is that of an entire community with workers, families, watering holes and even hookers. When worker deaths by mysterious circumstances start to rapidly pile up, newly-arrived Federal Marshal William O'Niel (played by Sean Connery) is determined to do the effective job he was hired to do and find out what's behind the deaths. We know the company behind the mineral ore mining to be evil right off the top; there's no secret in that. We also know early on that there's illegal drug trafficking taking place under the company's nose, of which they likely know about. The drug's initial positive effects are that workers who take it become much more productive in their work, which brings in more employee bonuses and higher company profits. The negative result is that in a few months's time, those that take the drug go completely insane and (of course!) the company, headed by Io's general manager Sheppard (played by Peter Boyle) is doing all it can to cover it all up. Typical, indeed, but it's, perhaps, the most noteworthy form of originality as a subplot in a film that's overly accused of being HIGH NOON in space, in my opinion. Hey look, it could have been worse! They could have called this film HIGH MOON!
(sorry about that!)
For just about any role or character that film makers can dream up, one has to give it a certain degree of additional credibility when the role is taken on by Sean Connery. I mean, how else would one explain being able to actually sit down and watch a disaster film like METEOR (1979), for crying out loud?? And to the best of my knowledge, I cannot account for any western that has featured Connery in it. So in other words, for the so-called HIGH NOON role of the good sheriff that stands alone against those who would seek to do evil in "his town", it all works perfectly well for me - not only because of Sean Connery, but also because of its effectiveness in an outer space setting. Although Peter Hyams has made a variety of films in his career, I'd say he definitely has a certain knack for the science fiction genre, particularly in its visual images (he also made the sequel 2010 a few years later). OUTLAND also manages to show us that even in outer space (as the movie poster indicates), man is just as evil and corrupt as he ever was and will be, and that the miracle and glory of the outer heavens does very little to change who and what we really are as human beings...which isn't saying very much!
It's unfortunate, though, that in a world today where science fiction means computer generated images that invade your senses as fast as they possibly can, small and relatively quiet sci-fi gems of another era like OUTLAND get lost in the shuffle. ALIEN, while it didn't move too fast, was a major hit upon its release. Others like 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968), BLADE RUNNER (1982) and even STAR TREK-THE MOTION PICTURE (1979), very slow moving films, have required time for their acquired tastes and cinematic followings. Perhaps a little more time is what a film like OUTLAND requires. Perhaps also the next sci-fi film that resembles a classic western will now be criticized as "OUTLAND in space...again", or something like that.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Marshal William O'Neil (aiming a gun at his enemy): "Think it over!"
Sunday, January 18, 2015
(March 1995, U.S.)
Re-watching Wolfgang Peterson's OUTBREAK for the first time since I initially bought the original "snap case" dvd more than ten years ago has managed to prove three things to me. The first (and most important) is that no matter how many times you've lived through real life events during the course of your existence, watching similar events on the big screen can be twice as frightening. You see, even at the mildly young age of forty-seven, I've lived to see such real life medical outbreaks as they've unfolded in the media. I was there when AIDS was new and meant to scare the living crap out of us. I've seen (not literally, you understand - I mean second-hand, as a media witness) the Sars virus, the Bird Flu, the Ebola crisis and just about any other late 20th Century and 21st Century public scare that would give one pause concerning just how close we get to people and the strict warnings we give our kids. The second is the uncanny issue of timing in my blog posting. I mean, here I am, about to discuss a movie called OUTBREAK during a time when the Ebola crisis is still with us and there's just about every strain of flu virus on the war path right now even when we're being told that this year's flu shots are likely only about twenty-three percent effective. Is that just twisted irony and coincidence or am I just some sort of sick, morbid son-of-a-bitch?? The third (and least important) is that a high-intensity thriller released in the spring can be just as effective as your typical summer blockbuster.
For this film, like in so many real life cases, the deadly virus known as Motaba, a fictitious illness with the same flu-like symptoms of the present-day Ebola, originates in Africa and somehow, through unknowing victims traveling by ship and by plane, manages to find its way to the United States and a small California town called Cedar Creek. The host for this virus is an adorable little monkey (the same monkey, it turns out, that belonged to Ross Geller in the first season of FRIENDS) that not only carries the deadly disease, but also the antibodies that can make a cure possible. All the while, while the CDC (Center for Disease Control) and the Army Medical teams headed by divorced couple Sam Daniels (played by Dustin Hoffman) and Roberta Keough (played by Rene Russo) are scrambling to figure out what's the hell is going on and to locate the host, people are dying faster than they can be bagged and burned! This is where fiction based on fact can be truly frightening, even if you've heard about real-life cases on TV. You know it's fake on screen, but if it's done effectively enough, it turns your stomach and the ongoing question of "What if?" in life becomes all the more clear. Remember also, that OUTBREAK is a thriller with its "bad guys" to hate; this case, being the Army generals (played by Donald Sutherland and Morgan Freeman) who run the show and are secretly withholding the truth and the cure in order to maintain the virus as a viable biological weapon against unknown enemies who would seek to attack our country with their own germ warfare. Is that a noble cause in that name of national security or just the typical evil corruption that repeatedly lies at the heart of our American military and government (you decide!)? Still, in the end, it's the President of the United States (Bill Clinton himself, we presume, because it's his actual picture we see on the wall during a moment of the film - look closely) that gives the final authorization to literally wipe out the town of Cedar Creek with a self-imploding bomb in order to contain the virus and keep it from spreading to the rest of the country and the rest of the world. Not to worry! The good doctors, our heroes of this film, will successfully save the day and the town by getting all the answers and stopping the bomb just in the nick-of-time. Yes, it's all wonderful cinematic cliché as thrillers go, but dammit, it works, and if it works, you don't complain. You just sit back and enjoy the thrills of a deadly virus (oh man, that sounds sick, doesn't it!)!
Now that I think about it, there is a fourth thing that watching OUTBREAK has managed to prove to me, and it's this - there's nothing on screen that can't seem even more thrilling if you have the right actor to back it up. What do I mean by that? Those of us who know Dustin Hoffman best will associate him first with some of his best work that include THE GRADUATE (1967), ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN and MARATHON MAN (1976), KRAMER VS. KRAMER (1979), TOOTSIE (1982) and RAIN MAN (1988). What I'm saying is that as good as OUTBREAK is, it's likely not what he'll be best remembered for. However, because he's such a wonderful actor, to watch him in this film constantly running around, yelling, confronting people with the harsh truth and generally looking very tense and scared, you're willing to believe any and all levels of this screen medical crisis with a great degreee of dread and fear. That, I suppose, is what effective (I've used that word a lot today, haven't I!) acting is all about.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Chief of Staff: "This is the Constitution of the United States. I've read it cover to cover. I don't find anything in it about vaporizing twenty-six hundred American citizens. But it does say, several times, that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process. So, a couple of things before Clean Sweep is even considered. One: unanimous, unwavering support for the president on this. And I mean, public. You're going to stand there shoulder to shoulder with him. He goes down, you go down. And the second thing is, I want an army of experts citing hundreds and thousands of lab experiments telling any idiot with a camera that there was no other way! Got that? Hmm? No member of this government is going to go sneaking off to the Washington Post, telling them how they were the "sole voice of opposition"! If there is a voice of opposition out there, I want him in here, now!"
Thursday, January 15, 2015
(August 2001, U.S.)
It's (practically) a historical fact that during times of national crisis or tragedy, one of the first things (if not the first thing) that Americans do to forget their troubles is to go to the movies. We did it during the Great Depression, we did it during World War II and we did it immediately following the tragic events of September 11, 2001. In fact, one of the first things Rudy Giuliani, mayor of New York City at that time, told New Yorkers to do to try and return their lives to normal was to go to a movie, to a show or just out to dinner. I, among many others, heeded our Mayor's words and went to a movie a couple of days later, as I was unable to immediately return to work because my office was below 14th Street, which had been declared closed. Most people went to see comedies to raise their spirits a bit. Hollywood was keen to this and re-released all comedies by all major studios that had been previously released that summer (this was, perhaps, one of the few admirable things Hollywood has done during this entire century, in my opinion!). Now in order to temporarily forget my troubles, I didn't necessarily require a good laugh. I needed my mind and my imagination to be stimulated and taken on some sort of journey, even for just two hours. So I walked down 86th Street to the local quad movie theater and paid my money to see THE OTHERS. I knew from a trailer I'd seen months earlier that this was a horror film, but I didn't know what sort of fears to expect. Hauntings? Ghosts? Intruders? Exorcisms? Monsters? Anything was possible and I was ready, willing and able to open my mind and take anything inside just to forget for a small part of my unexpected day off from work.
THE OTHERS, like any horror story of a haunted house, follows a traditional line of textbook elements that make it so. Mysterious noises, whispers, slamming doors, ominous heavy fog, strange music - you name it, it's likely there. Whether you've seen this sort of stuff repeatedly or not, it's the sort of haunted clichés that one should expect if the genre is going to work at all. Where this film differs from countless others (no pun intended) over the decades is in its stylish acting and intelligent screenplay. These are not silly, mindless characters that we have no intention of caring about or taking an interest in. Nicole Kidman plays a devout Roman Catholic mother who loves her two children, but is overly strict and protective of them. This family - mother, boy, girl and three servants (the father has never returned from the fighting front of World War II) live as shut-ins in a remote British mansion, apparently having survived the entire war in England without a Nazi once setting foot in their house. By all accounts, the house appears to suddenly be haunted by uneasy spirits who have just recently intruded on their home and their lives. The little girl also appears to have had physical contact with a mysterious boy named Victor who may or may not be one of the intruding ghosts. Like I said, all seems to following the traditional cinematic trail of haunted house rules and regulations. And yet, as the story progresses, one can't help but feel that there's something going on that we're not entirely sure off that's not in the haunted house rule book. Surely, the servants appears to know more about the house and what's going on than their employer and her children do. They even claim to have previously worked there years earlier for prior owners. True or not true, it almost doesn't matter. We know they know something that we don't, and that makes the mystery of horror and haunting all the more intriguing.
Now as haunted clichés dictate, we're required to inevitably be provided with clues that will start to unravel things before our eyes. For this film, it's a 19th Century "book of the dead"; a photo album of mourning portraits of recently deceased family members. Morbid, indeed, but not without purpose and history, according to what we're told by the servants. We're also informed that "sometimes the world of the dead gets mixed up with the world of the living". Ah, now things are starting to take shape here and we're at the pivotal point of learning the truth, which is this; the mother, the two children and the three servants are themselves the actual ghosts of this story! The mother is believed to have killed her own children in a fit of psychosis before taking her own life. In a frenzy of denial, the mother insists that they're not dead, actually shaking a séance table seated by the living occupants of the house (the ones we thought were the real ghosts, including the boy Victor)! You get it? And like THE SIXTH SENSE (1999), the big revelation at the end is the almost classic, "Oh, my God, they were really dead the whole time!" Whether you consider that sort of surprise, shock ending an ongoing repetition by now is entirely up to you. The fact that THE OTHERS uses it, but manages to literally switch the living and the dead to their opposite purposes works very well for this film. It's shocking, it's surprising, it's terrifying, and yet it's very simple. Simple works...less is more...and even when the rest of the world felt the need to watch crap like LEGALLY BLONDE for the second time in order to laugh a little following 9/11, this guy chose a few thrills, chills, and pure shock value in order to get his entertainment during a time of national crisis. Hey, to each their own!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Grace Stewart: "At first I couldn't understand...what the pillows where doing in my hands and why you didn't move. But then I knew. It had happened. I killed my children. I got the rifle...I put it to my forehead...and I pulled the trigger. Nothing. Then I heard your laughter in the bedroom. You were playing with the pillows as if nothing had happened, and I thought...the Lord and his great mercy was giving me another chance. Tell them, don't give up, be strong, be a good mother. But now, now...what does this all mean? Where are we?"
Bertha Mills: "Young Lydia said the very same thing when she realized the three of us were dead...and that was the last time she ever spoke, but I couldn't tell you that before now. Shall I make us a nice cup of tea? The intruders are leaving. But others will come, and sometimes we'll sense them. Other times, we won't. But that's the way it's always been."
Saturday, January 10, 2015
(September 1980, U.S.)
You've heard me talk about how the year 1990 was the worst year (so far) of my adulthood! Well, in case I haven't mentioned it before, the year 1980 was the worst year of my childhood, for a multitude of reasons that I won't get into now (I must have had back luck with years that ended in zero!)! On the positive side, though, the year was filled with a lot of great movies. Only problem was that I was still too young (only thirteen years-old) to see many of them, including THE ELEPHANT MAN, RAGING BULL and ORDINARY PEOPLE. Truth be told, however, had I been old enough to see ORDINARY PEOPLE, it would have likely depressed me ever more than I already was and perhaps would have even caused me to fear the oncoming adulthood of my life. What would I have feared? Marriage, professional career, child rearing, the thought of losing a child, the thought of surviving and recovering such a loss, losing the love of my spouse, the ability to love again - all of it!
By the time I was old enough to finally get around to seeing this film, I had already read Judith Guest's original novel for eleventh grade English class and I actually managed to stick with it to the very end. It was a great book and I still own a paperback copy somewhere on my book shelves. One can surely understand why famed actor Robert Redford would choose this story to breakout in his directorial debut. It's a depressing and heartbreaking story of an ordinary family living on what could be considered an ordinary house on an ordinary street in an ordinary suburb of Illinois. To the outside world, all seems to be functioning normal. Look deeper, though, and we realize everything is not in its proper place, especially the tragic past of this family the Jarretts (just like the movie poster says). Calvin (played by Donald Sutherland) is a traditional hard working, caring and loving husband and father who struggles on a daily basis to keep his family afloat (no pun intended!) following the tragic death of one of his sons (Buck) in a boating accident. Beth (played by Mary Tyler Moore) is...well, how can one put it...a lot like my own mother! Beth is incredibly structured to the point where she is grossly overcompensating her own fears and weaknesses. Everything must be neat and tidy, and I don't just mean the house, but in life, too! When things in life get messy, she hasn't the patience, the time or the strength to cope with it on any mature level.
(Wait! Am I discussing Calvin's mother or my own?? Hmmm...)
To be completely fair, I, myself, have been accused of such emotional characteristics, as well, particularly by my own wife (also named Beth, by coincidence); the difference being that in the end I always roll up my sleeves and deal with the problem like a man!
The real story of ORDINARY PEOPLE, though, is of surviving son Conrad (played by newcomer Timothy Hutton in what inaugurated a very brilliant acting career!) and how he must battle surviving the boating accident, the loss of his older brother, a previous attempted suicide, alienation from friends and family, an over-protective father and a mother incapable of showing him any real love and affection. That's a whole lot for a young high school kid to take on at once, even for screen fiction. Enter psychiatrist Dr. Berger (played by Judd Hirsch fresh from TV's TAXI) to help Conrad get through the rough edges. The character of Dr. Berger, in fact, is one that shows the profession of psychiatry in a rather different light than previous film efforts, in that his professional attitude is not so one dimensional. He's a no-bullshit man who's not willing to allow his patient to wallow in any self-pity or blame. Through their sessions (though not immediately), Conrad slowly begins to understand not only what it means to survive such a tragic loss in his life, but to also forgive himself and those around him who may not have lived up to his expectations. As children, we all want the proper love and affection we feel we deserve. As Calvin's mother is unable to dote such affections on him (though she could very easily with Buck when he was alive), he must learn to forgive her limitations and accept her for who she and always will be. Yeah, right - that's sounds great on paper and on film. But I suppose the reality is that when our parents don't live up to what we want them and expect them to be, such automatic forgiveness is not that simple, especially when our parents don't even bother to ask for our forgiveness in the first place!
As a relevant token of triumph for the film, Conrad is, indeed, saved in the end and it appears he will go on to live a better and healthier life thanks to his new friendship with Dr. Berger. The price, however, may be his parent's marriage as they are seemingly at the end of their line together, and by all accounts, the loss of love between them appears to be Beth's fault. You see, it's very easy to repeatedly say, "I love you" to others like some sort of machine, but there are, in my opinion, daily practices, routines and functions of that love that must take place or that love will inevitably not be enough to sustain itself. For some, it may be sex. For others, it may be the simple act of nurturing attention that serves to reassure and validate us of who we are in the eyes of those we've chosen to spend our lives with. That sort of attention may sound a bit petty to some, but I believe it's part of the daily survival of marriage. If we're too afraid, too weak or just too bogged down in our daily personal rituals to remember such attentive acknowledgments, then love and marriage have the potential to die. And that's exactly what happens to Beth and Calvin at the end of ORDINARY PEOPLE. Still, there's a glimmer of hope for this family because not only has Conrad survived his demons, but it appears that the bond between father and son will now grow stronger...and it all ends with the simple words of, "I love you."
ORDINARY PEOPLE won the Oscar for best picture of 1980. It's an extraordinary motion picture, but for my money, Martin Scorsese's RAGING BULL should have won instead (it's also one of my top ten favorite films of the 1980s). But have you noticed that it's film of supposedly ordinary, yet emotionally unstable families that takes home the big Oscar prize? Remember KRAMER VS. KRAMER (1979) and AMERICAN BEAUTY(1999) also??
Favorite line or dialogue:
Calvin Jarrett (to Beth): "You are beautiful. And you are unpredictable. But you're so cautious. You're determined, Beth; but you know something? You're not strong. And I don't know if you're really giving. Tell me something. Do you love me? You really love me?"
Beth Jarrett: "I feel the way I've always felt about you."
Calvin Jarrett: "We would have been all right if there hadn't been any mess. But you can't handle mess. You need everything neat and easy. I don't know. Maybe you can't love anybody. It was so much Buck. When Buck died, it was as if you buried all your love with him, and I don't understand that, I just don't know, I don't...maybe it wasn't even Buck. Maybe it was just you. Maybe, finally, it was the best of you that you buried. But whatever it was...I don't know who you are. I don't know what we've been playing at. So I was crying. Because I don't know if I love you anymore. And I don't know what I'm going to do without that."
WAIT! I'm not done yet! Are you ready for a real interesting piece of personal trivia to go with this post? By the time I'd read the book and seen the film of ORDINARY PEOPLE many times, I actually felt a strong yearning to know what would inevitably become of the Jarrett family. So what did I do about it? Well, in March 1999, I actually sat down to write a synopsis of a continuing story of the Jarrett family which I called ORDINARY PEOPLE - 20 YEARS LATER. The title speaks for itself and my ideas incorporate the same principal characters. Guess what became of it? Nothing! Time moved on, I wrote other things, I got married, became a father and the principal actors of the original film got too damn old! However, I would like to take the opportunity to share that synopsis with you now and perhaps you'll tell me if you think it would have made a worthy follow-up (especially you, Robert Redford, if you're reading this!). Now obviously, my idea is based on a story that I don't own or claim the rights to, so I suppose I'm making myself vulnerable by sharing a story idea like this on the web. But since it's an idea that could never see the light of day because too much time has passed and the actors are too old now, I'm probably safe in doing this. Besides, if you're unethical and criminal enough to blatantly steal my story idea after I've publicly announced that's it's my own right here on my own film blog website, then frankly, be my guest (I hope North Korea hates you for it! LOL!!!)!
That being said, here it is...ORDINARY PEOPLE - 20 YEARS LATER introduced for the very first time right here, right now before your very eyes...
It is 20 years after the events of ORDINARY PEOPLE…
CONRAD JARETT (Timothy Hutton) has long forgotten the pain and turmoil surrounding his brother Buck’s death and his own attempted suicide. He is now a successful architect with his own practice. He has a beautiful wife and two eith year-old twin boys. CALVIN JARETT (Donald Sutherland) continues his life as he always has; his professional career the same, living in the same house he raised his sons in and he has never remarried. BETH JAREET (Mary Tyler Moore) never returned home after leaving her family that morning twenty years ago. She now lives in London and is married to a wealthy diplomat, living the life of luxury, privilege, style and grace she has always truly dreamed of. She’s had almost no contact with her son ever since.
The story begins with Conrad returning alone to his home town of Lake Forest, Illinois to attend the funeral of DR. BERGER, the psychiatrist who saved his life when he was a boy. While staying with his father, he accidentally discovers one day the he (his father) is terminally ill with prostate cancer. Putting his family and business on hold for a while, he stays at home to see his father through the rough times ahead. Living in the old house, wandering through his old home town, Conrad is constantly visited by old ghosts (inserted flashbacks from ORDINARY PEOPLE), including a chance-run-in with his old high school girlfriend, JEANNINE (Elizabeth McGovern), who apparently never left her home town. All of these reminders constantly revert back to one thing; his unresolved relationship with his mother.
Acting on nothing more than impulse, Conrad flies to London to see his mother. Once there, he’ll not only tell her of his dying father, but will also attempt to put back together the broken pieces of a relationship discarded long ago. Reunited, Calvin and Beth are just as awkward and tense with each other as they ever were. Beth still cannot show him affection and Conrad does not try to get any. Upon hearing of her ex-husband’s illness, she is reluctant to return to the United States because her former life and marriage are long forgotten. Returning to them (even temporarily) is considered too disturbing and too “messy” in her eyes. Conrad and Beth talk, they argue and they fight. Conrad pushes whatever buttons he feels are necessary to save himself and his mother from destroying each other, including confronting Buck’s death once and for all.
In an unexpected twist to his visit, Conrad asks his wife to join him in London with their two sons, in the hopes that when Beth meets her daughter-in-law and grandchildren, she may finally break free of the icy emotional shell she has long been a prisoner of. It works. Upon meeting her twin grandchildren for the first time, the first thing she notices is that they both have Buck’s eyes. She is unexpectedly and miraculously overcome with feelings of love and affection, and in that moment, while on her knees embracing the boys, she looks up and for the first time and really, truly sees her son; her beloved Conrad.
Beth returns home to Illinois with her family to find Calvin confined to a hospital bed. During the short time she and her ex-husband spend together, there is resolution and forgiveness. The story ends with Calvin’s funeral. Beth and Conrad embrace each other like they never did before. Similar to the end of ORDINARY PEOPLE, Conrad tells her, “I love you, Mom.” Through her tears, she replies, “I love you, too, Conrad.”
- Eric F. (March 1999)
Hell, I think it would have made a great movie!
Saturday, January 3, 2015
(July 1977, U.S.)
For those of us who remember the Summer of 1977 well enough, when we weren't concerning ourselves with the infamous fears of the "Son of Sam" serial killer or the equally infamous New York City blackout, it was quite simply the summer of STAR WARS, as if no other movie in America existed at all...and really, they didn't. At the tender age of ten, I was a late bloomer to George Lucas' new sci-fi thriller, not seeing it until August of that year (and only one damn time, to boot!). So up until that time, my parents deemed it fitting and proper to take me and my younger brother to safe family films that included FOR THE LOVE OF BENJI (yeah, seriously!) and THE BAD NEWS BEARS IN BREAKING TRAINING (still not a bad movie, actually). Taking us to see ORCA-THE KILLER WHALE was an interesting decision in itself. Though not exactly a wholesome family film by any nature, it wasn't exactly filled with the same terror as JAWS two years prior. And speaking of JAWS, seeing ORCA was about as close to seeing Steven Spielberg's killer shark classic as my parents were ever going to let me get at the time. Like I said, I was only ten years-old and my parents were conservative drags when it came to movies (darn them!)!
Continuing with my citing of JAWS, it should be noted that ORCA was released during a time when Hollywood was quick and eager to capitalize on the new monster-in-the-water genre as much as possible with silly rip-offs like TENTACLES, UP FROM THE DEPTHS, PIRANHA and even something called GRIZZLY which was in a sense, "Jaws with paws". ORCA, for whatever faults it may posses as a film produced by Dino De Laurentiis in a long line of critical bombs, does have to its credit the concept of Herman Melville's MOBY DICK told in reverse and noteworthy performances by credible actors such as Richard Harris and Charlotte Rampling. And hey, it also features sexy Bo Derek in her pre-"10" glamour and glory. I suppose also, for those who support world bans on whaling, it sends the proper message to leave those beautiful mammals of the world to themselves. Captain Nolan (Harris) is not an evil man who seeks to harm creatures of the sea for sport or greed. He only seeks to harmlessly capture a killer whale in order to sell to an aquarium in order to get just enough money to pay off the mortgage on his fishing boat. Good intentions, however, can still lead to tragic results. During his sea hunt for a killer whale, he unintentionally winds up killing a pregnant female in a rather horrific manner. The scene where the unborn fetus fall to the deck of his boat during its mother's capture is particularly disturbing, even to a ten year-old boy watching a PG-rated movie. While Nolan and his crew appear to deeply regret their actions against the whale and the family she leaves behind, they seem determined enough to stay away from the sea in order to avoid conflict with the whale's surviving mate, who managed to get his fin nicked by the fatal dart that killed his wife. This is where vengeance, an ugly emotion that had long been reserved for human beings, takes over in the whale's mentality, as he's determined to make Nolan pay for what he's done to his family.
This is also where the debate of fact versus fantasy may come into play here. I know nothing about whales except what I may hear on TV or the movies. By the accounts of this film through Rampling's character of Rachel Bedford, the whale's intelligence is described as superior to man's, possessing also the instinct for profound vengeance. Is the vengeance element fact or fiction? I know not such matters without further research, and were I here to discuss the practices of mammals, I might actually look it up. But since my purpose here is films and fiction, I must suspend my disbelief and takes the whale's action into account as something that's very possible. Still, I can't help but wonder just how far the whale's intelligence is taken for the purpose of a thrilling story. In the film, Rachel speaks of the whale saying, "We know very little about the whale's intelligence except that it exists and is powerful." I accept that, but to what limit? Consider the reality and questions of some of these scenes from the film...
- Is the whale really smart enough to know that when terrorizing Nolan's village (somewhere in Canada), he's intentionally severing a gasoline pipe to purposefully cause several massive explosions?
- How exactly does the whale ascertain which specific house Nolan and his crew are occupying before slamming into the underwater supports that will inevitably bring it crashing down just before he chews up Bo Derek's broken leg?
- Why does the whale choose to lead Nolan and his crew all the way to the icy regions of the North Pole before striking when he could have just as easily sunk their boat and killed them as soon as they were put to sea?
- Why does the whale choose to spare Rachel in the end? We presume it's because she was not on the boat when Nolan attacked and killed his spouse and therefore he doesn't recognize her. But by that account, why does he choose to kill Rachel's lab assistant Ken (played by Robert Carradine, before he had his own revenge as a nerd) when he was not aboard Nolan's boat at that fateful time, either?
Honestly, am I asking too many pointless serious questions about a film that's only meant to be pure entertainment?? Perhaps, but hey - that's what I and many of us do!
ORCA-THE KILLER WHALE is not a perfect film, by any means, especially when it's initially labeled as nothing more than a JAWS rip-off. It is, though, by its own accounts, a haunting story that depicts the love of family and the act of vengeance in the name of that family through the eyes and the emotions of a killer whale, whom most people will only get to know at a close-up distance when they choose to visit Sea World or an equally engaging theme park. And let's be honest here - my precious childhood memories as a ten year-old boy who was finally getting a small big screen taste of the JAWS mania nearly three years before he'd see the actual movie carries a lot of weight in my appreciation for this film (I actually saw ORCA twice on screen!). A film, by the way, made by English director Michael Anderson. However, look carefully at the rest of the film makers and you'll see that ORCA is practically an Italian film; from its producer to it's screenwriter to it's musical composer. Really, all it needs is Federico Fellini and Italian subtitles and you've got the perfect underwater JAWS rip-off foreign film! Ciao bella!!!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Captain Nolan (to the whale): "You revengeful son-of-a-bitch! You win! You want revenge? Well, you'll have it! I'll come out and fight you! I'll fight you! You revengeful son-of-a-bitch! You win! Do you hear me? You win!"
Thursday, January 1, 2015
(July 1954, U.S.)
Ironically, despite my overwhelming love and knowledge of classic black and white movies, it's notable how many of them I discovered (or at the very least first heard about) through other movies, i.e. watching scenes of NOW VOYAGER in the 1971 film SUMMER OF '42. I first caught (or heard, I should say) glimpses of Elia Kazan's ON THE WATERFRONT during a monologue by Robert DeNiro in front of a mirror in Martin Scorsese's RAGING BULL (1980). That's all it takes sometimes. You hear a little, you see a little and then suddenly you're standing at the checkout counter at Blockbuster Video with videotape in hand (how '80s does that sound??).
For its era, ON THE WATERFRONT may have been one of considerable social and political relevance, as it depicts the corruption and inner city violence amongst the waterfront longshoremen of New Jersey. One of its dock workers Terry Malloy (played by the once great Marlon Brando) enjoys the privilege of a very cushy job for no other reason that being the younger brother of the mob boss' Johnny Friendly (played by Lee J. Cobb) right-hand man Charley (played by Rod Steiger) while the rest of his co-workers struggle daily just to be able to work and put food on their family's table. Some years earlier, Terry Malloy had been a promising boxer, until Friendly had Charley instruct him to deliberately throw a fight he could have easily won, so that Friendly could win a lot of money betting against him, and it appears that he still feels the sting of that act today as he considers himself no more worthy than a waterfront bum. Most recently, he's overwhelmed with guilt in having been used by his mob bosses to lure a good man of the neighborhood to his death atop a building roof. But like all corrupt neighborhood situations, there are always those who want to and try to do good; in this case the local waterfront priest (played by Karl Malden) and the young sister of the rooftop victim Edie (played by Eva Marie Saint in her film debut). Cliché, no doubt, takes over for this film as the protagonist's awakening heart and conscience gives into the acts of righteousness and the tenderness of smitten love. Despite his somewhat lack of intelligence and dim-wittedness, we can count on Terry Malloy in the end to do the right thing and stand up against the crime bosses who have taken over the good people of a decent community with its fear and its corruption. Like the first ROCKY film (for which this film would later be of mild influence), a final brawl takes place between the evil crime boss and the once-potentially great boxer. It won't end with a traditional knockdown of sorts, but rather with the pride and strength of one man who can stand alone and stand tall amongst his peers and face the enemy with his own bloody (literally) dignity.
Despite its violence and final message of righteous victory, the part of ON THE WATERFRONT that I really want to focus on is what has become the most defining moment of the film in which Terry and Charley share a taxi ride together and the nature of their entire relationship comes full circle and becomes very clear. Many would consider the love story element of this film to be the obvious choice of Terry and Edie, and why not? Man and woman are the traditional features of any classic love story. However, look closer and you'll see the real love story here is between two brothers. Terry, in his innocence, is just like any other young man who needs his older brother to look up to and to guide him through life, and it's areal tragedy when that model figure lets you down. Recall earlier when I mentioned that it was his own brother Charley who instructed him to throw the fight that he could have easily won and would have made the difference between him being a success and being a bum. Face to face now in the taxi, the two brothers are forced to confront the nature of their relationship and how it's managed to all go to Hell. In an unforgettable moment when Charley is trying to determine if Terry will "rat" out the crime bosses to the Waterfront Commission, he pulls a gun on his own younger brother. Any other scene in any other film by any other actor would have likely shown Terry to react in a typically defensive manner or even start a brawl right there in the cab. Brando, however, in what I've come to understand was an act of pure ad libbing and improvising, merely pushes the gun away with a gentle gesture, almost as if he was tenderly taking a woman's hand, and bestows a look of shame and regret to his own brother, saying only, "Charley...Charley." Charley's face, as a reaction to that gun gesture, is one of shame and regret, as well. In the end, despite a history of disappointment and betrayal, brothers remain brothers and cannot hurt each other, even if it means that one of them will die as a result of not following through with orders from the crime boss.
This in one of those film stories that I love to hear - in 1952, director Kazan identified a number of Communists before the House Committee on Un-American Activities during the era of "McCarthyism" and he was heavily criticized for that act. ON THE WATERFRONT was considered a true answer in return and retaliation to those criticisms in outlying its political context. As for Brando, it's one of his defining film roles and displays human endurance and triumph at its best by an actor who could always find the enduring and triumphant part of himself in any of his film roles, from Terry Malloy to Vito Corleone in THE GODFATHER (1972) to Jor-El in SUPERMAN-THE MOVIE (1978) to Col. Kurtz in APOCALYPSE NOW (1979).
ON THE WATERFRONT won the Oscar for best picture of 1954.
Favorite line or dialogue"
Charlie Malloy: "Look, kid, I...how much you weigh, son? When you weighed one hundred and sixty-eight pounds you were beautiful. You coulda been another Billy Conn, and that skunk we got you for a manager, he brought you along too fast."
Terry Malloy: "It wasn't him, Charley, it was you. Remember that night in the Garden you came down to my dressing room and you said, "Kid, this ain't your night. We're going for the price on Wilson." You remember that? "This ain't your night"! My night! I coulda taken Wilson apart! So what happens? He gets the title shot outdoors on the ballpark and what do I get? A one-way ticket to Palooka-ville! You was my brother, Charley, you shoulda looked out for me a little bit. You shoulda taken care of me just a little bit so I wouldn't have to take them dives for the short-end money."
Charlie: "Oh, I had some bets down for you. You saw some money."
Terry: "You don't understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am. Let's face it. It was you, Charley."
(November 1996, U.S.)
Oops! I really did it this time and I have no one but myself to blame for it, so please bear with me! I now revert back to the last thing I said when I posted my blog for the original 1961 animated Walt Disney classic ONE HUNDRED AND ONE DALMATIANS and that's this - is it possible I have more of a fondness for the 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. Well, that's just what happened to me and that's just what I did and it turns out that despite not owning the film on DVD at this time, I'm ready willing and able to discuss and post this big budget Hollywood holiday remake that took the holiday season of 1996 by storm and me along with it.
Refer to my previous post on the animated film to also know that one of my main reasons for a genuine fondness for this live action version is the experience I had in seeing it at one of the most famous movie palaces in Hollywood, California known as the El Capitan (see original post for a beautiful photographic sample) back when it was first released. But as much as my strong memory for that geographical setting is in place here, I can't deny that Glenn Close chosen as Cruella De Vil was absolute genius! Really, with a slight possible exception of Meryl Streep, I can't imagine anyone in this entire world who would have been built for the role better than Close! She was made for the evil of De Vil and it's very clear when watching the film that she was having the time of her life playing the part. Unlike the disgusting, long cheek-boned creature of the animated film, Cruella has some degree of beauty, grace, charm and perhaps even a touch of sexiness for this woman (remember, this is still Glenn Close who was pretty hot in FATAL ATTRACTION!). Her wide eyes and bright teeth speak of evil doings to poor animals all over London which she's determined to capture and slaughter for the purposes of her love of fur. Jeff Daniels, Joely Richardson and Joan Plowright as Roger, Anita and Nanny play their parts just fine and they're more than suitable for their respective roles (they even bare good resemblance to the original animated characters), but again it's Close who totally carries the film.
But wait - is that really true?? Should credit not go to where it's really do? Let's face it - we're talking PUPPIES, lots and lots of puppies and even the most manliest of men can't resist that tremendous level of cuteness! Yes, real life dalmatians may be wild and totally rambunctious, but they're just too irresistible to ignore, particularly when they're running around in masses. Hell, even when they're computer generated to do stunts that no real puppy could likely do, they're still too cute for words.
(Yes, I'm obviously either part gay, part girl or part both because I clearly can't resist cute puppy movies when I'm not watching something a lot more hardcore!)
Even more than the animated film, this update uses the concept and possibilities of animal instinct and communication to a much greater degree. Despite being a fun family film, one can't help but wonder what the animals of the world (not counting whales and dolphins) can truly say to each other when they really put their efforts into it. For this film, it would seem that all animals of England come together to try and rescue the stolen puppies by the hands of Horace and Jasper (played by Hugh Laurie and Mark Williams). And speaking of those two imbeciles, the slapstick comedy that they entertain us with as the animals are getting the best of them will remind you very much of Harry and Marv in the first two HOME ALONE films as they endure a whole lot of pain and never seem to truly get hurt (or freeze to death!).
Okay, so 101 DALMATIANS is a remake, a reboot, a re-whatever, call it what you like and generally goes against all that I believe in when making original films, but it's irresistible fun that I needed to remind myself of during the course of my writings. Now all I have to do is find a suitable DVD copy to own which will be more difficult than it sounds because I believe it's currently out of print. Don't worry, though - I'm pretty resilient when it comes to inevitably finding what I want. That's why they invented eBay for a guy like me!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Cruella De Vil: "Alonzo. The drawing. (screaming) Take the drawing from Anita, and hand it to me!! Is that difficult!? Thank you. Now go and stand somewhere until I need you."