Monday, April 27, 2015
(December 1993, U.S.)
I suppose after you've just made a very scary and controversial thriller that also wins best picture of the year (SILENCE OF THE LAMBS), then perhaps the only logical continuation is to continue stirring the shit storm! Taking on the subject of AIDS, homosexuality and homophobia all at once is a sure-fire way to do just that. To soften things up just a bit, you add the likes of Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington and even a slow ballad by Bruce Springsteen. Makes for a great Oscar contender during the holiday season.
This film is based on a true story (because it seems that every worthwhile story is!) of a real life gay lawyer who was unjustly terminated from his law firm because it was discovered he had AIDS and subsequently won his lawsuit against his firm before succumbing to the deadly disease and is meant to stir our emotions and conviction of not only law and justice, but of our personal feelings toward AIDS and those who carry it. As Andrew Beckett, Tom Hanks is our protagonist and hero who's fighting for his legal and human rights in the face of prejudice and bigotry. And although many might attribute Tom Hanks' breakout performance in BIG (1988) after many years of cinematic stupidity, it's PHILADELPHIA in which he truly shines for the first time on screen. Denzel Washington, a solid and gifted actor by his own right, seems perfectly fit somehow to play lawyer Joe Miller, a man who's first purpose is to defend the law (despite advertising himself as an injury ambulance chaser!) that's been broken and still battle his own demons of homophobia and bigotry. I should also note that I can't help buy wonder if it was an intentional piece of casting to make this character a black man. Perhaps it's meant to further stress the implications of oppression from one man to another and the ultimate aid (no pun intended) and support they're finally able to bring to each other. As the story line would predict, Joe is a man who starts out as a closed-minded man of ignorance and prejudice and eventually comes to realize the importance of the human being he gets to know as he defends him in a court of law. And by the way, if I have to get negative about casting, Mary Steenburgen is rather irritating as the lawyer for the attorney's who are considered the "bad guys" of this film. A reasonably pleasant actress in general, her character comes off as nothing more than "textbook", particularly in the way she keeps repeating the word, "Fact" before giving every...well, fact, about Andrew's homosexual life and supposedly incompetent work habits. Very frustrating!
When the case does go before the court, the partners of the firm that fired Andrew take the defense in which they all claim that he was incompetent and that he'd deliberately tried to hide his life-threatening condition. The defense repeatedly suggests that Andrew had "invited" his illness through his reckless homosexual acts and was therefore not a victim (sounds a lot like the Ronald Reagan era!). But as the law and personal feelings of social anxiety towards AIDS and homosexuality come to pass during the trial, Andrew triumph over those who wronged him becomes clear and ultimately the truth to the jury that will find for Andrew. Unfortunately, as justice progresses and prevails, Andrew's health deteriorates and he ultimately ends up in the hospital where he dies by the end of the film (hardly a spoiler alert! Really, how did you think a story like this would end??). Our hero is dead, but his spirit of the big fight is meant to live in our minds and hearts forever. As a final sequence that's meant to be a good ol' fashioned tear-jerker, director Jonathan Demme really knows how to tear at our hearts! What could choke even the toughest person more than watching a video of the beloved deceased when he was just a little, angelic boy running along the beach with his family? Add the sweet soft voice of Neil Young with all of that and even the most cynical motherfucker such as myself can't help but shed a tear. My wife says she's never seen me cry. Perhaps she should watch more sad movies with me!
I suppose this post needs to finally conclude with my own personal feelings about homosexuality because such a question seems inevitable given the subject of the film. How shall I answer this? If there's been one consistency in my writing, it's that I've never held anything back with regard to my true feelings and opinion...never until now! As a man and a human being of this great country, I don't believe that anyone has the right to tell anyone else how to live their own lives, whatever those choices may be. However, that admirable conviction and my own personal feelings about homosexuality are not necessarily one and the same. That's all I'm willing to say, I'm afraid. To proceed any further at any level of true honestly is to likely offend a few, some or many of my readers. And while I generally don't give a flying rat's ass about what strangers think of me, I don't want to alienate my readers by saying anything offensive. Just know that, like it or not, popular or not, I'm still human, which means I'm loaded to the brink with faults. As for AIDS itself, I can only say that I'm old enough to remember its history and the talk that surrounded it when it first emerged to the public around 1981, or so. I remember Eddie Murphy's jokes about AIDS during his 1983 HBO Delirious show! I remember coming of sexual age during a time when extreme caution and protection was all I ever heard about. Today, I can only feign a certain degree of ignorance about AIDS. I know it still exists and I know there's no cure yet, but appears to be under control a lot more than it was back in previous decades. You just don't hear about it so much anymore. This is what I know and perhaps all I'll ever know, as such matter have never hit home on a personal level for me. So be it!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Judge Garrett: "In this courtroom, Mr.Miller, justice is blind to matters of race, creed, color, religion, and sexual orientation."
Joe Miller: "With all due respect, your honor, we don't live in this courtroom, do we?"
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Holy crap on a cracker! Have I really been doing this for five years?? Seems like only yesterday that I finally decided to give a little piece of my movie mind to anyone who would be willing to read and relate. Well, in the words of the Grateful Dead, "What a long, strange trip it's been!"
Writing this blog has been, without a doubt, one of the most challenging and fun tasks I've ever undertaken in my life. It's not only broadened my horizons in both writing and film appreciation, from my own perspective, as well as others, but it's also deepened some of my most thought-provoking film memories and how they have affected me as a person.
And so, it's with sincere appreciation and gratitude that I say THANK YOU! Thank you to all those who have read my work for the last five years. Thank you to all those who have left their comments and opinions. Thank you to those who will continue to read and support my work. Thank you to those who have persistently asked me the same question about my blog, which is, "Are you getting paid for this?" Most of all, thank you Richard K. in California who continues to show me that movie blogging doesn't just improve our words and our knowledge, but inevitably makes certifiable film geeks of us all (LOL!!!).
Thank you all so much. And now, we continue...
Saturday, April 18, 2015
(May 2001, U.S.)
Over the course of my blog, I've come to learn that several things are certain. Coincidence is certain, irony is certain, and the ability for me to take occasional exceptions to some of my most hard-ass rules of thumb when it comes to film and film makers is certain! That being the case, you've likely read in previous posts of my very low opinion and utter disrespect for a film maker (and I'm using that term very loosely here!) like Michael Bay, who, in my very strong opinion, has proven to a man like me that his true talent lies in his ability to blow shit up! Strong words, indeed, but what else could I possibly feel for a man whose only cinematic efforts over the last eight years has been four TRANSFORMER movies (for myself, I couldn't even sit through the entire first one!). However, (and this is where the certainty of irony first comes into play) if you're an expert at blowing shit up on the big screen, then perhaps the story of the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor serves as no better arena for one's expertise in demolition. So now, here's where rule exception is certain - despite the negative reactions from audiences and critics alike, Michael Bay's PEARL HARBOR is not only a good film, it's actually one of the best air combat war films I've ever seen. Yes, I've said it and it's out there now. Shake your heads in disbelief and disgust, if you must, but hey, it's MY opinion that counts here, right??
Much like Oliver Stone's JFK (1991) or even James Cameron's TITANIC (1997), you need to take matters of fact versus fiction on a somewhat light account when committing yourself to three hours of historical drama that is ultimately supposed to be pure entertainment and perhaps nothing more. I would like to think that any film maker (even Michael Bay!) who sets out to put a historical event on the big screen would have the good and responsible sense to do their proper homework to at least get most of the historical facts accurate. After all, unless you're watching a Quentin Tarantino movie for nothing more than the pure fun of it (think INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS and Hitler's final outcome!), you expect as much historical accuracy as possible. The first fact that anyone who knows their history is that on the morning of December 7, 1941, a surprise military strike conducted by the Imperial Japanese Navy and their fighter planes against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii took place and the attack led to the United States' entry into World War II. This attack, like it or not, was a destructive and explosive cataclysm on our American soil in which a lot of shit blew up! I purposely simplify this historical event into rather juvenile words to make a point and that's this - when you're portraying a piece of history that was in itself a very visual and destructive event, then perhaps a demolition expert like Michael Bay is just the man to pull it off! And quite frankly, in his defense (can't believe I'm actually doing this!), the man does nail the attack's visual feels and sensations right on the head. Let me prove it to you. Take a look at a couple of real black and white archival photographs from the attack as it happened on that fateful day in 1941...
...and now take a look at these recreated color images from the film...
...and I defy you to tell me that Michael Bay didn't do his homework when attempting to accurately portray the correct visuals of the attack and the battles that followed. And as far as the attack is concerned, it's my honest opinion that PEARL HARBOR produces the most spectacular battle sequence (any battle sequence of any film genre!) I've seen on the big screen since RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983)! Think I'm reaching a bit here? Think I'm crazy? Perhaps, but there you have it. For the military characters and the events that inevitably lead to Pearl Harbor, the case includes solid actors like Dan Aykroyd as Captain Thurman, Colm Feore as Admiral William Halsey, Alec Baldwin as Major Jimmy Doolittle, Mako as Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto and Jon Voight as Franklin D. Roosevelt himself giving his famous "Day of Infamy" speech following the attack. Both sides, American and Japanese play their parts well enough. Their historical accuracy may not be as easy to ascertain as the visuals of battle, but I can say that I've seen similar stories and performances in another film about the attack on Pearl Harbor called TORA! TORA! TORA! (1970), a superior film on this specific subject, I might add. Still, many real Pearl Harbor survivors dismissed the film as grossly inaccurate and pure "Hollywood". I would hardly think to debate the real people who were actually there, but still, my purpose in films such as this is not that of a historian, just a lover of film. Perhaps one can appreciate a film like PEARL HARBOR when comparing to something high octane like Tony Scott's TOP GUN (1986) rather than something more viable and serious like Steven Spielberg's SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998).
And so the real big question now for PEARL HARBOR is this - are actors and overall "nice kids" like Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett and Kate Beckinsale worth a damn in the love story element of this film? I suppose. Why not? Let's be honest, here - I don't think anybody came in with great expectations of cinematic love that would compare to the likes of Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh (GONE WITH THE WIND), Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman (CASABLANCA) or even Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet (TITANIC)! But again, in defense of Michael Bay, I think he does a far better job at directing actors and their emotional complexities far better than someone like George Lucas whose best efforts brought out very "wooden" performances from his actors in the three STAR WARS prequels. And although a love story against the backdrop of a world event or tragedy seems commonplace enough throughout the history of movies, such a love story in PEARL HARBOR was not the first thing I was looking for to satisfy my curiosities and desires for a great combat war film. So like I said...I suppose. Why not?
Thinking back now on the Summer of 2001 calls upon very serious memories of before and after - before September 11, 2001 and after. I saw PEARL HARBOR on screen twice in the early part of that summer and back then I deemed it as an entertainingly worthy film that would pay homage to the actual event that would turn fifty years-old that coming December 2001 and nothing more. To think back on the film since 9/11 only brings chills to my mind in considering that we were only just a couple of months away from another day of infamy in American history that would change our world forever. This is perhaps where the irony of film and, indeed, life is certain.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Admiral Chester W. Nimitz: "So, sir, you would have us mobilize the entire fleet, at the cost of millions of dollars, based on this 'spine-tingling' feeling of yours?
Captain Thurman: "No, sir. I understand my job is to gather and interpret material. Making difficult decisions based on incomplete information from my limited decoding ability is your job, sir."
Saturday, April 11, 2015
(September 1997, U.S.)
THE PEACEMAKER following PAY IT FORWARD is what we would call a Mimi Leder double feature, I think. Coincidence is a funny thing, ain't it!
Any film that takes on the subject of terrorism, particularly on American soil, seems a completely different experience for me ever since September 11, 2001. Before that fateful date in history, films of terror like THE PEACEMAKER, THE SEIGE (1998) or even DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE (1995) were simply great thrillers or action films that dealt with a realistic subject that American citizens had yet to actually experience for themselves. Since that fateful date in history, the subject of terror is a whole lot more tangible and something we can actually wrap our minds and hearts around, particularly if you were someone who happened to be in New York City on that day in 2001 (as I was!) or at the Boston marathon on that day in 2013. The look on my face while I'm watching American characters like George Clooney and Nicole Kidman go after the bad guys has changed from cinematic excitement to that of deep thought and tension because I now know the true realism of what they're dealing with. And yet, it's important to remember that when this film was released in 1997, the thoughts and ideas behind it's terrorist concept and attacks among the innocent may have still been conceived as nothing more than outrageous fiction. Still, there are those who believe that violent stories of fiction dealing with acts of terror as in THE PEACEMAKER, as well as other violent American films, may have contributed to the inspiration behind terror attacks against Americans. That's a debatable point, indeed, that may or may not have a justifiable answer.
For the purpose of this film and it's story, what actually seems most fictitious to me is the fact that our enemies still involve the so-called fanatical Russian military figures, as if the Cold War were still in progress (that idea doesn't work too well for me even in James Bond films anymore!). Still, it's a high-ranking Russian general that's behind the theft of nine nuclear warheads that are amongst a series of ten. So what happened to the tenth warhead? That's what we're meant to be very afraid of because behind the ultimate act and threat of that one nuclear warhead is a Yugoslav extremist that blames other countries, particularly the United States, for supplying weapons to all sides in the Yugoslav Wars that took the life of his wife and daughter. This is a man filled with hate and rage and wants to make others suffer for it in a film that was released during a time when movie terrorists may have still had a list of demands in their pocket! But of course, with the bad guys are always the good guys who work together to track them down. White House nuclear expert Dr. Julia Kelly (Kidman) works side by side with U.S. Army Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Devoe (Clooney). And as he puts it, he's always letting "his enthusiasm get the best of him" in his work, which makes for some great action and thrills, including a pretty awesome Mercedes car chase. As any movie good guy, there's just something about George Clooney that makes him completely believable in anything he's after, whether it's his righteousness behind going after the bad guys or even when he's playing a would-be presidential politician in THE IDES OF MARCH (2011). Kidman holds her own in this action thriller, proving she's capable of a variety of characters, whether it's this, a crappy Batman film or a piece of British literature.
To get back to the tension of realism one can feel when watching THE PEACEMAKER, it's impossible to deny that even though one clearly expects the good guys to triumph in the end, the down-to-the-last-second sequence of terror and suspense that Mimi Leder creates during those final moments just before the bomb explodes in the heart of New York City can leave you with chills in your stomach. Those chills were likely there back in 1997, as well, but as I've already mentioned, my own interpretation and reactions to films of this sort are forever altered since 9/11. Still, thrills, excitement and good ol' fashioned American heroes are good for some of us some of the time and THE PEACEMAKER delivers that...George Clooney style, which I have an undeniable heterosexual weakness for!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Thomas Devoe: "Doctor, you can run your charts and your theories all you want. In the field, this is how it works: the good guys, that's us, we chase the bad guys. And they don't wear black hats. They are, however, all alike: they demand power, and respect, and they're willing to pay top dollar to get it. And that is our highly motivated buyer.
Julia Kelly: "What about other motivations?"
Thomas: "Not important to me."
Julia: "Whether it's important to you or not, there are people out there who don't care about money, who don't give a damn about respect. People who believe the killing of innocent men and women is justified. For them it is about rage, frustration, hatred...they feel pain and they're determined to share it with the world."
Thomas: "Okay, that does me no good. Now let's deal with the facts at hand. Twenty-three hours ago, General Alexander Kodoroff stole ten nuclear warheads.
Julia: "He's just a delivery boy. I'm not afraid of the man who wants ten nuclear weapons, Colonel. I'm terrified of the man who only wants one."
Saturday, April 4, 2015
(October 2000, U.S.)
Can I start off by getting a bit personal for a moment? I went to see PAY IT FORWARD with my wife (girlfriend at the time) at a multiplex at Disney World in Orlando, Florida right smack in the middle of our vacation in October 2000! Yes, it would seem that in that right in the middle of all the mindless fun we were having with the big mouse and the big duck, it was time to just chill out one evening and perhaps take in a serious screen drama. Sounds nuts, but there you have it. Second, have you all seen what Haley Joel Osment looks like these days? Here's a 2014 picture of him...
Okay, so the man (and I'm using that term very loosely with him) is twenty-six years-old now, but underneath all the facial hair, I'm still seeing the sweet little child of Forrest Gump and the terrified little boy who saw dead people in THE SIXTH SENSE (1999)! I suppose I'm just picking on the poor bastard, but let's face it, the man's (there's that word again!) been an easy target ever since he hit puberty! Anyway, I've gotten than out of my system now, so let's move on...
Mimi Leder's PAY IT FORWARD may be one of the most optimistically fantastic films I've seen so far during this century! I use the word "fantastic" because it boasts human ideas of faith, charity and positive change; ideas that too many people (including myself) refuse to believe in anymore while we try to survive in this rather sick post 9-11 world! To begin with, we're introduced to the idea that our seventh grade middle school social studies teacher is going to have a great impact on our young lives. Sure, as a kid, I'm sure I would have loved to have a man like Kevin Spacey as my teacher, but the reality is that when you're all but twelve years-old, you don't have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for your teachers. At that age, they're more like adult authority figures who are put on this earth to irritate and complicate your life (at least that's how it was back in 1980 for me and those I went to school with). Next, Spacey's character of Mr. Eugene Simonet proposes a year-long assignment in which his students will need to come up with an inspiration to try and change the world. Bear in mind, the purpose of changing the world for these twelve year-old is merely an idea to inspire them. The realistic point of the assignment is merely to get them to think and put in a viable effort to somehow make a difference. However, Trevor McKinney (Osment) takes the assignment seriously and manages to come up with a solid idea filled with merit and very real possibilities. The concept is simple enough in that starting with Trevor, he will do a difficult favor for three people. Those three people, in turn, will do a difficult favor for three other people and the idea is that the favors will continue to grow and spread outward until masses of people are helped, changed, healed or fixed. A fantastic idea, indeed, and when it comes to fiction (book or screen), such a prospect grows into positive human drama and accomplishments. In real life, unfortunately, such positive human responses generally happen only after horrible tragedy has struck first. Sounds real cynical, I know, but life is just that way, I'm afraid.
Even during the midst of this great movement that's spreading from Las Vegas, Nevada to Los Angeles, California, there's still time for an old fashioned love story here. Mr. Simonet is a rather tight and vulnerable man, whose permanent burns on his body and his fear of losing control of his strict, daily routines prevents him from opening his heart to love. And quite frankly, Helen Hunt's character of Trevor's big-breasted, trailer-trash, cocktail waitress mother is perhaps the last woman I'd expect Spacey's character to fall for. But film doesn't always bear itself to logic and common sense, so there you have it. The positive energy and message of hope, understanding, patience and love seem to be paying off for all those who are willing to pay it forward. And then, just when you think all will be happily ever after and right with the world, unthinkable tragedy strikes and an innocent child is dead from the school violence of a knife! In case I'm not being obvious enough, that child is Trevor, and even after seeing the film numerous times, I still find myself sitting there watching it all unfold and actually hoping to myself that perhaps this time Trevor will survive (that final candlelight vigil in his memory still gets to me!). Movies are funny that way, in that even when you know damn well what's going to happen, you keep hoping and praying (I don't pray, actually!) that all will still turn out well in the end. Still, I suppose good drama is never always pretty, even when you're experiencing it in the middle of the happiness in the magic kingdom of Disney World!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Eugene Simonet: "I know what I'm talking about, Arlene! My father got down on his knees and begged my mother! And my mother always took him back! I never understood it! She'd cover up the bruises and the cuts and she'd take him back! And now you ask me, you ask me what happened after he came back!"
Arley McKinney: "I..."
Eugene: "No! Go on! You said you wanted to know what happened to me, now ask me!"
Arley: "I don't like this."
Eugene: "Did he hurt you, Eugene? Ask me!"
Arley: "Did he hurt you?"
Eugene: "Not for long. By thirteen, I was gone. I ran away. But I missed her, so...I had to go back and see her. So one night I did. Now, ask me what happened. What happened that night you came back, Eugene?"
Arley: "What happened?"
Eugene: "He was there! Drunk! As usual! Only this time I wasn't the same! I was sixteen years-old and I was no longer afraid of him. And when I looked him in the eyes and told him if he ever touched her again I would kill him, and he knew...he knew that he would never exist for me again. And I'm standing in front of the house. I'm yelling, screaming for her to come out. I'm telling her she doesn't have to take it anymore. She really doesn't. She can come with me now, and I don't even see it. He hits me in the side of the head with a two-by-four and I'm bleeding from my ear. And then he's dragging me. He's dragging me behind the house into the garage. And then he's gone. A minute, five minutes, I don't know. And then he's back, and he's wetting me down. He's wetting me down and I don't understand. I don't understand why water...should smell so bad. I don't understand. And then I see it. I see...this...this gas can. This red gas can from his truck. And he looks at me one last time...and he lights a match. And the last thing I remember, I'll never forget it, were his eyes. His eyes because they were filled with this immense...satisfaction. '
Arley: "I'm so sorry."
Eugene: "Don't! Don't! Don't tell me how sorry you are for me! Tell me how you're going to stop that happening to Trevor!"
Arley: "Ricky would never do that."
Eugene: "Oh, Jesus, Arlene! He doesn't have to! All he has to do is not love him!"