Saturday, February 28, 2015

PASSAGE TO INDIA, A



(December 1984, U.S.)

Despite my enormous appreciation for some of director David Lean's best work like THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (1957), LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962) and DOCTOR ZHIVAGO (1965), I'm actually ashamed to admit that I never heard of the man until 1984 when A PASSAGE TO INDIA, his first film in fourteen years since RYAN'S DAUGHTER (1970), which I still haven't seen, was released. But believe it or not, even at the juvenile age of seventeen, during a year that was filled with more blockbuster selections like Indiana Jones, Gremlins, Ghostbusters, Star Trek (Live long and prosper, Leonard Nimoy!), Dune and the sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey, I actually had a strong desire to see what was likely a very slow moving film like A PASSAGE TO INDIA. Perhaps I was still riding on the cinematic high I'd gotten two years prior when I'd seen GANDHI on the big screen. Like that film, David Lean's project, based on the E.M. Forster novel, is set in India during the 1920s and the time of the British occupation and the growing cultural influence to gain India her freedom. However, unlike GANDHI, there is only human drama and almost no political motivation behind the story. In fact, oddly enough, the name of Mahatma Gandhi and the movement for freedom that he stands behind is not mentioned even once during the story of A PASSAGE TO INDIA, not even in passing. We know from our history of the occupation that exists, but the growing struggle for India's freedom doesn't seem to be an issue here. In fact, most Indian civilians in this film appear to display a great respect and admiration for their British occupants and their Western contributions.

Simply enough, this is the story of two British women, Adela Quested (played by Judy Davis) and Mrs. Moore (played by Peggy Ashcroft) who have sailed from England to India for the first time in their lives. As if they were visiting a grand theme park, the two women have strong desires to meet and socialize with "real Indians", as if they were circus attractions, or something. They both befriend Dr. Aziz Ahmed (played by Victor Banerjee), a poor, but proud man who shares the same sensitivity and unprejudiced attitude toward life and other people as Mrs. Moore and Ms. Quested do. He seems more than willing to show these two ladies the "real" India, as opposed to the mundane environment of polo, cricket and afternoon tea these tiresome British expatriates have created for themselves. As a highlight, Dr. Aziz offers to host an excursion to the remote Marabar Caves. However, what begins as a pleasant outing somehow turns to trouble when Dr. Aziz and Ms. Quested find themselves isolated from the rest of the crowd and she has wandered into a deep, dark cave alone. As Dr. Aziz tries to find her by entering that same cave, she suddenly comes stumbling out and running for her life. What just happened? We can only presume it was attempted rape because that's exactly what the good and noble doctor is later accused of and put on trial for. Mind you, this is a man who has always looked nervous, overly-concerned and just a little sad throughout the entire film. Now, the empathy we have felt for him has now turned to possible contempt. We're not meant to be exactly sure of what happened in that cave, and as Ms. Quested finally takes the stand, it seems she may not be so sure, either. In what is concluded in her mind to have been a possible case of sun exhaustion and hallucination, she suddenly drops all the charges against her possible attacker and Dr. Aziz is freed and cleared along with his good name, even at the dismay of her British friends and bystanders who have been more than anxious to see an Indian man hang for an accused crime such as this. Still, because an effective script often provides us a main character who will inevitably experience some sort of personal change during the story, Dr. Aziz is no longer the kind and somewhat sad man he used to be. His love and respect for the British and all things of Western culture have now turned sour and for a time, he desires strong retribution. However, because a serious drama as this doesn't dwell too long on human anger and negative emotions, Dr. Aziz does find forgiveness in his heart and reconciliation in a final letter he writes to Ms. Quested conveying his forgiveness and his thanks, as well.

Like Richard Attenborough's famed 1982 film, David Lean takes every advantage of filming on location and showing his audience as much of the real India as he can. And while nothing may ever compare to those incredible wide-framed desert landscape shots that have been made so famous in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, the photography of this particular part of the world is nothing short of breathtaking. This is a provocative story filled with beauty, mystery and truly vivid, emotional characters played by gifted performers, some of whom I'd never seen or heard of before this film, particularly Judy Davis. Like other Lean films, there's a memorable music score by Maurice Jarre and even the usual role by David Lean film regular Alec Guinness (post STAR WARS trilogy), this time playing, of course, an Indian.

As mentioned before, I really wanted to see A PASSAGE TO INDIA on screen when it was released, but never had the opportunity. So it was many months later that I finally got to watch it on video tape, and this is where the personal memory of this film really comes to mind. I was watching the film with my mother and there was a point where she just practically froze with a look of wonderment and awe. It was a particular scene when Ms. Quested is riding her bicycle alone in an open part of the country in India and my mother told me that she'd once been to the same exact spot during her own trip to India many years before. Of course, many people have many stories of places in the world they've visited and their place in motion pictures. However, considering my mother was not usually the type to get over-engrossed in movies, it was a momentary pleasure for me to see a film hit her on an emotional level such as that. Not too many films have.

Finally, I just want to say that although AMADEUS may have won the Oscar for best picture of 1984 (and it was a great film!), I think it's A PASSAGE TO INDIA that should have taken home that honor. So there!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Ali: "How is Britain justified in holding India?"
Dr. Aziz: "Unfair, political question!"
Richard Fielding: "No, no. Well, personally, I'm here because I need a job."
Ali: "Qualified Indians also need jobs."
Richard: "I got here first."

Sunday, February 22, 2015

PARENTHOOD



(August 1989, U.S.)

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you now the subject of PARENTHOOD as written in two parts...

PART I - THE ORIGINAL 1989 RON HOWARD FILM AND WHAT IS PARENTHOOD?

During a summer of blockbuster films that included Indiana Jones, Batman, James Bond, Star Trek and Lethal Weapon, it's a wonder that PARENTHOOD even got noticed. Perhaps it didn't. Truth is, Ron Howard's film career was still in its stages of being either cute (SPLASH), silly (GUNG HO!) or fantastic (WILLOW - I hated that movie!). He was still five years away from Oscar-worthy respectability with APOLLO 13 (1995). But like so many film makers in Hollywood, he felt he had something of worth to say when he himself became a parent in real life. This film was also the first time that funny man Steve Martin would prove to be the ideal big screen father, as he repeatedly proved in other films that include the remakes of FATHER OF THE BRIDE (1991) and CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN (2003). While the film primarily centers around his own immediate family of the Buckman's that includes three kids, we also get to experience the stories of the surrounding family that include Gil Buckman's sisters, kid brother and parents. At its heart, PARENTHOOD doesn't offer any sort of specific plot or story line. It simply offers an inside look at what makes families tick and how they manage to get through all of life's joys, disappointments and idiosyncrasies. For those without kids (yet), it can also offer a glimpse of what to expect with as much humor as it can salvage. So what is parenthood? Parenthood is a life of "I have to" even when you don't want to in order to keep home and family functioning normally. Parenthood is dealing with a child who may be suffering from severe emotional problems and trying not to blame yourself over it. Parenthood is keeping that problem child's self-esteem at bay when he misses the pop fly ball that blows the little league game. Parenthood is the ecstatic joy and jubilation you feel when that same child catches the pop fly ball that wins the next little league game and makes him a big hero with all his friends. Parenthood is trying to keep your sanity while trying to raise two kids on your own without a father while your daughter is having outrageous sex in your home with a loser boyfriend you detest and a young son who's detached from you because he, too, is just beginning to discover a thing or two about sex, erections and what they mean to his life. Parenthood is trying to breed what you feel will be an exceptionally brilliant genius of a child and not realizing along the way that you're not only screwing up that child, but your marriage to your wife, as well. Parenthood is reaching an elderly age when you think your parenting job is more or less done but still finding that you have to make certain sacrifices (both emotionally and financially) to protect your gambling-addicted, fuck-up-of-a-grown-up-son from gangsters who want to kill him. Parenthood is constant worrying about what will happen to your kids tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, ten years from now. Parenthood is hoping your child will one day become well adjusted and maybe even be valedictorian of their senior high school class because you managed to do such a great job as their parent. Parenthood is fearing your child will one day become a crazed rooftop sniper because you manged to completely fuck up their lives as their parent! And finally, parenthood is taking it all in as it comes and just trying to survive the great big roller coaster of life as a mother and a father and hoping to Hell you manage to do a good job of it along the way. At least, that's how Ron Howard sees it. Whether or not you agree with him depends on your own lives as parents and your own kids.

PART II - PARENTHOOD AS TOLD BY THE WRITER BASED ON HIS HISTORY, PERSPECTIVE AND PERCEPTION OF THE ORIGINAL 1989 RON HOWARD FILM

My own personal history and experience with this film is best told in three parts. The first part goes back to the year 1989 when I first saw this film and took it in as just any other run-of-the-mill screen comedy. I was still in college and the prospect of parenthood was so alien to me, I actually felt that such instances and circumstances that I was watching Steve Martin and cast go through would actually never happen to me. The second part would be during the Summer of 2005 when my wife was pregnant with our son and I chose to watch PARENTHOOD alone one night. To be completely honest, it was during that viewing that I thought I was going to experience a complete nervous breakdown. Suddenly everything I was watching on screen that I'd seen before was filling me with nothing short of sheer moral terror. I found myself with the worst knot in my stomach and was actually thinking thoughts in my head along the lines of, "Holy shit! What have I gotten myself into??" and even "How the fuck do I get myself out of this??". Irrational and unreasonable it was, yes, but the prospects of fatherhood were still so new to me that my only reaction to it all from having watched PARENTHOOD was in the form of two simple words - fear and panic! Even on the day my son was born, I can't honestly say it was the happiest day of my life because I was still entertaining every possible question of "What if?" that fear and panic bring on to one's mind. The birth experience was not something I wanted to watch. In fact, when it was all over and I went home alone, I actually felt pretty freaked out about the whole thing. But then there was the day my infant son smiled at me and...well, let's just say he had me at that smile and has had me ever since! The third part can be now be attributed to just several night ago when I watched PARENTHOOD with a whole new perspective and frame of mind. It's nine years later now and the worst of my fears have subsided and I've learned to calm down a whole lot more. What's my secret? Well, I've simply weened myself to try not to worry about the future at this time. I worry about my son, of course, but I've found that there's no point in wondering and worrying about what might happen to him next week, next year or ten years from now. I've simply learned to take the roller coaster ride as it comes day by day, hour by hour. Is that the best way to embrace parenthood? Maybe not, but it's MY way and I think it's working...I hope!

So thanks, Ron Howard - for entertaining me, for scaring the living crap out of me, and eventually for making me feel just a little better about the life that is called parenthood! And thanks Sam, for being my son and my best friend in the whole world. This post is dedicated to you! I love you!!!


Favorite line or dialogue:

Larry Buckman: "Is that Grandma?"
Frank Buckman: "Yeah, she's still alive!"




Saturday, February 21, 2015

OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL



(March 2013, U.S.)

It was just last night that my nine year-old son asked me if I was planning to write about Disney's OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL because he remembered that I liked it when we watched it together. His timing couldn't have been more perfect because I had completely forgotten about this title and was about to get started on the films in my collection under the letter 'P'. So thank you, Sam, for compensating for your dad's apparent early stages of senility.

To discuss this film, however, we first have to go back in time to when I was a kid and reflect on my own experiences with its predecessor, the classic film THE WIZARD OF OZ. As a child of the 1970s and early 1980s in a time before the affordability of the video player, to see THE WIZARD OF OZ was to keep an eye on the TV Guide and look for an ad like this...


...and then make sure you were in front of your TV set at the appropriate time watching CBS. This was an annual viewing tradition during a time when people had to actually watch the television set at the right time rather than set a DVR machine to make their lives more convenient. Then, about the time I turned twelve years-old, something happened which changed everything; I suddenly "woke up" and concluded that THE WIZARD OF OZ was just too damn childish for me! Add to the fact that I was also becoming aware that I had a general distaste for musicals, the likelihood of my devoting any further time to THE WIZARD OF OZ was becoming very, very remote. That in mind, any interest in OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL was just as remote a possibility. I didn't know what to expect from a film like this. Another musical?? Not for me! My wife couldn't even drag me to see the Broadway musical WICKED! But because being a father often means compromising what you're going to have to watch with the rest of your family, I found myself with OZ dvd in hand and sitting comfortably on the living room sofa. Well, my friends, sometimes the unexpected happens in life because here I am to say that I not only enjoyed OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL, but am prepared to write about it, part in thanks to my son's reminder (thanks again, Sam!).

If you remember THE WIZARD OF OZ well enough (and I do, despite not being willing to watch it anymore), you'll remember that when Oz is revealed to Dorothy and her gang of misfits as a huge fraud, he tells her that he, too, originally came from Kansas and was also swept up into a twister and ended up in the merry 'ol land of Oz. Disney now takes advantage of that little backstory and creates a worthy prequel of events that take place in Oz before Judy Garland and her little dog Toto ever show up. Mind you, this is not your grandmother's tale of Oz. There's no rainbow, no ruby slippers, and (thank goodness!) no singing! We begin in Kansas in the year 1905 when Oz (real name of Oscar Diggs and played by James Franco) is just a magician with a travelling circus, and despite the fact that this is a Disney film, director Sam Raimi breaks down Oz to exactly what he really is; a selfish, greedy, womanizing fraud! His womanizing is exactly what sets him on the run (or in the air) in a hot air balloon that gets him caught in that twister that also lands him in the land of Oz. Once there, he meets the two beautiful sister witches, Theodora and Evanora (played by Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz respectively) who are under the impression that he's a great and powerful wizard sent to them under a foretold prophecy that he will save Oz from the wicked witch and her armies. The deception, though, is that Evanora is really the wicked witch who's only pretending to be on the good side of the people. Theodora, on the other hand, begins her tale on the side of good and righteousness, but is destined to turn to the side of evil wickedness when she suffers a broken heart after the womanizing Oz toys with her affections and misleads her along the path of love. By the way, I should point out that Sam Raimi also takes the opportunity to break down wicked witches to exactly what they really are, too - hot, young, large-breasted babes!


(I told you this wasn't your grandmother's tale of Oz!)

Wait a minute! Let me interrupt for a moment to just say that when watching this last night I couldn't help but notice some similarities between this film and STAR WARS: EPISODE III-REVENGE OF THE SITH. Think I'm wrong? Consider Evanora pretending to be the good one while, like Senator Palpatine, she secretly hides her evil identity and plots to destroy the people of her land. Consider Theodora, who starts out as a basically good person, but also has an undeniable temper issue, as well. Her broken heart and fears, like Anakin Skywalker, will take her down a path in which she will not only turn to the dark side, both emotionally and physically, but will embrace it with a hardened heart. Anyway, I had to get that minor George Lucas rip-off off my chest.

Now, it's expected, of course, that our selfish, self-satisfying protagonist will come to see the light by the end and do what's right in the name of the good people of Oz with a little help from Glinda the good witch (played by Michelle Williams who also plays an early role of Oz' love interest, Annie who's engaged to John Gale - future parents of Dorothy!). Still, we know that the simple magician from Kansas has no real powers that will defeat two wicked witches. This is where the film's story becomes very clever, in my opinion. As a magician and a fraud, Oz is a master of illusion and trickery. So it's these weapons, taken to a maximum efforts, that will create the illusions of great, unlimited power that will overwhelm and defeat the witches and drive them out of the land of Oz. Remember, though, that we expect the witches to only be driven away by the end of the film and not killed. We know that because it's not until THE WIZARD OF OZ that both of them are destroyed in their own fashion. Still, someone has yet to explain to me how the Wicked Witch of the West (Theodora), with all her magic powers, could be so easily defeated by a simple bucket of water ("I'm melting, melting, melting!"). Makes no sense to me.

And so, for a man who no longer has any love interest with THE WIZARD OF OZ, I have to say that OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL is an unexpected surprise filled with adventure and adult wit and laughs in all the right places by actors who have their own gifts of performance to offer a tale that's as old as Frank L. Baum's original stories. And like I said before, there's no singing! Well, actually, there is this one moment when the Munchkins of Oz attempt to break into song, but the film uses that rather as a moment of comic relief when Oz himself begs them to please shut up (thank goodness they take the hint because singing munchkins is so 1939!)! Still, I think Victor Flemming (director of THE WIZARD OF OZ) would have been very proud of this film.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Oz (to the monkey): "You're my new assistant. All you need to know are the three "ups". Show up, keep up, shut up!"


Monday, February 16, 2015

OUTSIDERS, THE



(March 1983, U.S.)

To reflect back on Francis Ford Coppola's film version of S.E. Hinton's classic novel about youth THE OUTSIDERS is to consider two interesting pieces of trivia. The first is that clearly popular fiction in the world of teens and pre-teens has changed quite drastically over the decades. When I was a middle school student in the early 1980s, it seemed that everybody over the age of twelve was reading books like THE OUTSIDERS, THAT WAS THEN, THIS IS NOW, TEX and RUMBLE FISH (also directed by Coppola) because, despite the fact that they often took place during an era of the past, they were considered definitive of the struggles of youth that focussed on belonging, acceptance and conflict with others (by the year 1985, one could say that director John Hughes had taken over that social responsibility with a film like THE BREAKFAST CLUB). However, it would now seem that the novels of the TWILIGHT and THE HUNGER GAMES franchises have taken over the reading minds of the young (younger!). Who can blame them, I suppose. Were I that age today, I'd probably find it a lot more fun to read about teenage vampires and fights to the death in public arenas rather than good ol' fashioned, ordinary youth and class struggles. The second consideration is to recall that in between APOCALYPSE NOW (1979) and THE GODFATHER-PART III, it would seem that poor 'ol Francis could hardly get himself arrested, which is actually unfortunate because during the 1980s he made some rather interesting period pieces, including THE OUTSIDERS, THE COTTON CLUB, PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED and GARDENS OF STONE. I didn't say they were all great movies, but interesting, nonetheless. In fact, one may note that in between THE CONVERSATION (1974) and THE RAINMAKER (1997), none of Coppola's films took place in the present day.

So now, consider THE OUTSIDERS first by looking real good and hard at the movie poster attached. Look at those up and coming young men whom would soon go on to be major motion picture stars (well, most of them, anyway). Grouped together, they're just a bunch of punk kids with faces you may or may not recognize. Still, back in the day, these young boys were the ones to put together in a project like this (were THE OUTSIDERS remade today with such a case, I suppose the first person they'd have to call is Justin Bieber!). At the time this film was cast, the only minor recognition might have been Ralph Macchio because he'd been on ABC-TV's EIGHT IS ENOUGH years prior and Matt Dillon from films like THE BODYGUARD and LITTLE DARLINGS (both 1980). Beyond them, the only star's name the film might have banked on even a little was a cameo appearance by Leif Garrett (look up who he was!). So basically, the film was taking on a very fresh start in the hands of an already worthy and gifted film maker. As previously mentioned, the story is of another era, 1965 Tulsa, Oklahoma to be exact, and the small town in the story consists of basically two kinds of youth; "the Greasers" (our heroes and outsiders of the film) and the more financially-better off, socially-acceptable kids known as "the Socs'. It's a class struggle that's carved in stone because no matter who gains the upper hand over the other, be it an act of violent self-defense or victory in the climactic rumble, each group will always have to live with the stigmata of who they are and what place they occupy in society. That will never change. Coppola knows that and doesn't deliberately try and reverse who any of these kids are by the end of the film. Like Hinton, he simply tries to evolve them along the way with a newly-realized sense of self-worth and self-respect. In that respect, it's the characters of Ponyboy Curtis (played by C. Thomas Howell), Johnny Case (played by Ralph Maccio) and Dallas Winston (played by S.E. Hinton film regular Matt Dillon). The other boys, played by the more recognizable faces of the future, are almost merely just sidekicks and cronies for our three main heroes. Ponyboy and Johnny know who they are in society and seem to accept it, but they still long for more experiences and social interactions that will perhaps take them away from their small town and maybe even hook them up with the more desirable "Socs'". While I'd hardly call Ponyboy's new relationship with Soc Cherry Valance (played by Diane Lane) a romance, of sorts, it's a new friendship that expands the level of mutual respect between both classes within themselves. Still, it's this new friendship that leads to trouble and results in the death of Cherry's drunk boyfriend (Lief Garret) when Johnny is forced to kill him to save Ponyboy's life during a fight. Simple self-defense perhaps, but situations like that are not particularly "cut and dry" in a town like this where "Greasers" are at the low end of the totem pole. So now, with the help of town bad boy Dallas, Ponyboy and Johnny are on the run and must hide out in the outskirts of town. It's now that their experiences begin, even with the simplest pleasures of watching a sunset together or reading to each other from the book of GONE WITH THE WIND. Remember also, that I've called these boys the heroes of the film and that's never more true when they choose to risk their lives to save a group of children from a burning church. But like many films, heroes die, too. For his burning sacrifice, Johnny pays the ultimate price in the end, a death which drives the already violent Dallas to further levels during the climactic rumble and then to his own death when he's gunned down by the local police. Still, with tragedy comes the clich├ęs of hope in that Ponyboy will eventually turn out to be someone special, and it begins with the simple act of writing down his experiences in an English composition notebook.

Like I said, during the 1980s, poor Coppola could barely get himself noticed anymore. It's only now, decades later, that we can look upon the entire body of work the man has given us and reflect on it with justifiable credit. THE OUTSIDERS is cerainly no GODFATHER or APOCALYPSE NOW. It is, however, a very noble and noteworthy effort to bring to the screen a period of writing by an author who had, during her time, captured the attention and the imagination of the American youth before other authors as J.K. Rowling (HARRY POTTER), Stephenie Meyer (TWILIGHT) and by Suzanne Collins (THE HUNGER GAMES) took over that task with slightly more supernatural effects. By the way, I'll mention GONE WITH THE WIND again now because it's clearly a topic and a theme that Coppola keeps on his mind during the film. Take a look at these two sunset images, the first from GONE WITH THE WIND and the second from THE OUTSIDERS and tell me that the visual image is not something that's meant to inspire and impact us...



Coincidence?? I think not!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Ponyboy (narrating): "When I stepped out, into the bright sunlight from the darkened movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home."

Sunday, February 8, 2015

OUT OF THE PAST



(November 1947, U.S.)

During the 1980s, when I was seeing many films for the first time that I considered to be original, what I should have really been doing was researching the films to see if they were, in fact, remakes. But this was before the ease of the internet, so how could I be expected to perform such a task? The point being, when I first saw the Taylor Hackford film of AGAINST ALL ODDS (1984) on HBO, I had absolutely no idea it was a remake of OUT OF THE PAST. More than thirty years later, Hackford's film is all but forgotten by me and the original film of OUT OF THE PAST is what reigns true as the genuine film noir classic. To be fair, though, I still love the Phil Collins song, "Against All Odds". Heard it lately?

Broken down to its bare textbook elements, OUT OF THE PAST has everything that black and white film noir is expected to have, including the antagonistic hero private "dick" (detective) as played by Robert Mitchum, the deliciously-tempting femme fatale as played by Jane Greer, the secondary policeman who tries to keep things in order, the "bad guy" sitting way on top and controlling all things, as played by Kirk Douglas and of course, the bad guy's gun-toting goon squad for necessary tough support. Visually, the film is also filled with the elements of light, shadow and darkness that make film noir an irresistible genre for those of us who love classic cinema.

As Jeff Bailey, Mitchum plays the character with the traditional self-assured toughness one would expect, and yet displays a certain sensitivity and vulnerability in the presence of the femme fatale he's fallen in love with. Though I've always questioned just how seriously the word "love" can be taken in these sort of cinematic relationships. Yes, this is the 1940s, so the sexual temptations of the hot woman (or "dame", as they were called) involved is governed by its limitations of the era's film sensors. Still, when your dealing with a female character that's all about pure sexual gratifications, emotional deceptions and good 'ol fashioned back stabbing, one can't help but wonder exactly what there is to fall in love with. For our own generation, we may recall Michael Douglas claiming that he'd fallen in love with Sharon Stone in BASIC INSTINCT (1992). Really, though, did he fall in love with the woman herself or as his detective partner in the film called it, "That magna-cum-laude pussy on her that done fried up your brain!" Yet, like Douglas decades earlier, Mitchum simply can't help but fall deeper into the emotional and sexual pit he's in with this woman, despite that fact that he knows damn well she'll very likely screw him (not in a good way) or kill him in the end. This is simply the rules, if not the sacred pleasures, of film noir!

In its simplest terms, OUT OF THE PAST is just how it sounds - the story of a man trying to break free from his unpleasant past and start over in a new town with a new love interest. As expected, though, the past comes looking for him and brings inevitable trouble with it. Robert Mitchum, with his trademark sense of indifference toward unpleasant circumstances, reveals himself as the perfect, traditional archetypal noir actor. One can truly believe that no matter how much we long to empathize with his character and his destiny, ultimately Mitchum will embrace whatever the future holds for him and at whatever the cost may be, even his own death. And speaking of death, you've perhaps heard the old saying, "They all die in the end."? Well, let's just say that by the time OUT OF THE PAST is concluded, the only ones left standing are the new girl in the new town who had never-ending faith in our hero and the somewhat secondary policeman who tried to keep things in order. We're finally left to believe that it's just these two that will have some sort of hopeful future in the end, because no one else in the film ever stood a chance!

Oh, and one final thing to point out about this film - though we live in a time where cigarette smoking is considered a taboo to be issued with a warning in its rating system, there was a time, especially during the dark film noir era, that smoking was all the cool, all the glamour and all the sexiness of motion pictures. That being said, OUT OF THE PAST may well be considered one of the best "smoking films" ever made! That may sound quite un-PC today, but fuck it, it still looked real damn good on film!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Kathie Moffat: "Can't you even feel sorry for me?"
Jeff Bailey: "I'm not going to try."

Sunday, February 1, 2015

OUT OF SIGHT



(June 1998, U.S.)

In the mid and late 1990s, the novels of the late Elmore Leonard made for some of the best crime comedy entertainment on the big screen, including GET SHORTY (1995), JACKIE BROWN (1997) and OUT OF SIGHT. Like Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro (and Leonardo DiCaprio, for that matter), the team of director Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney has proven to hold a successful track with many memorable films. Memorable, at least, in my opinion, because I suspect films like the remake of SOLARIS (2002) and THE GOOD GERMAN (2006) didn't prove too popular with critics and audiences.

As a career bank robber, Clooney fits the role perfectly for Jack Foley, as he effectively maintains an ongoing "anything goes" and "I don't give a shit!" attitude that perfectly sets up the character for the danger and fun that will ensure when he's nearly captured by and appears to be falling for U.S. Marshal Karen Sisco (played by the ever-desirable Jennifer Lopez). As a woman of the law, she ultimately has a job to do, but it would appear she's falling for him, too. I mean, come on, as confident a heterosexual male that I am, even I have to admit that George Clooney is totally charming and irresistible! While Jack is basically a small time crook, he and his right-hand partner Buddy (played by Ving Rhames) have their minds set on stealing a bunch of uncut diamonds hidden in the large home of the crooked businessman (played by Albert Brooks) they once did jail time with. Trouble is, there's competition for those diamonds and the other crooks are not nearly as fun to be with as Jack Foley. They mean dirty business and they'll kill to prove it.

At the heart of its story, as a crime thriller, the crime itself is, admittedly, not all that spectacular. It's a simple robbery that we're not meant to get too excited about. What OUT OF SIGHT offers us under the fine direction of Soderbergh is the interactive, twisted dialogue and fun situations between somewhat ordinary people on both sides of the law. There's also an undeniable fantasy taking place here when we watch Jennifer Lopez in action. Sure, being locked in the trunk of a car with a woman packing a gun would not be all that fun. But if you're locked in the trunk of a car in a snuggling position with the always sexy J.Lo like this...


...you're not exactly going to complain a whole lot about the bumpy ride or the gun! You see, crime is not just the thrills of the action in process. Crime, under the right direction of creative imagination, is also the fantasy of how you (or the person you're watching) is going to get away with it and who he or she is going take along with them or seduce along the way. It's almost unfortunate that the always politically correct message of crime not paying has to take place here when Jack Foley is finally caught by Karen in the end (shot in the leg) because we've come to really like Jack and his fun-loving intentions of breaking the law and it would be nice to see him and Karen get together. But Karen, being the righteous and gritty law person she is, will finally pursue Jack for justice more than her own romantic interludes. Even with the right final message in play here, OUT OF SIGHT can hardly be considered an important or profound film, and it doesn't try to be. It's all just a wonderful series of very satisfying pleasures of crime, human interactions, love and sex. And seriously, any moment on film where we get to see J.Lo do a little of this...


...is nothing to complain about, even if it's brief! So tell me, is it just her perfectly-sculpted tan body we're all drooling over, or is it the perfect combination of that perfectly-sculpted tan body and the perfect city skyline outside the window behind her with the perfect falling snow in the foreground that makes it all just so damn perfect?? Hell, after a moment like that, from now on I may only have sex while it snows outside (yeah, right!)!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Jack Foley: "I know a guy who walks into a bank with a little glass bottle. He tells everyone it's nitroglycerine. He scores some money off the teller, walks out. On his way out, the bottle breaks, he slips on it and knocks himself out. The "nitro" was Canola oil. I know more fucked-up bank robbers than ones who know what they're doing. I doubt if one in twenty could tell you where the dye pack is. Most bank robbers are fucking morons!"