Sunday, June 28, 2015

PLACE IN THE SUN, A



(August 1951, U.S.)

Wow! Feels like it's been forever since I've written a post for a classic black and white film (the last one would have been Stanley Kubrick's PATHS OF GLORY. TCM's Robert Osborne is real pissed at me!). George Stevens' A PLACE IN THE SUN is initially billed as a romantic drama and even considered one of the best screen love stories ever filmed, though I have some real trouble seeing it that way. It's a strange love triangle, for sure, that includes the ill-educated, but ambitious social climber character of George Eastman (played by Montgomery Clift), spoiled society girl Angela Vickers (played by Elizabeth Taylor) and the incredibly irritating local factory worker girl Alice Tripp (played by Shelly Winters). When we first meet George, he's shy, quiet and not entirely sure of himself and his intentions (as it seems that was how actor Clift generally came off on screen in any of his roles). Only by distant relations is he able to secure a rather lowly position in his rich Uncle Charles' industrialist company. While there, almost out of sheer boredom, it seems, he takes up with Alice and has an affair with her, but I'll get deeper into her character later. As mentioned, George is a potential social climber, so when the opportunity knocks to hook up with Angela, he grabs it hard and fast, while still managing to maintain his somewhat distant and reserved demeanor. As a viewer from the outside, we're not entirely sure this is just his natural persona or rather a clever, diabolical cover up to his image as he slowly seeks out what he wants.

Now as with an traditional love triangle, there's who loves who, who doesn't love who, and sometimes who would like to see who disappear completely from the situation. By the time George has landed Angela and she's fallen in love with him, Alice is not only pregnant (after just one night - of course!), but is being a real persistent, unreasonable pain-in-the-ass about it, demanding that George marry her right now! What's George to do but try and concoct a plan to get rid of Alice so he can continue to climb the social ladder with Angela and her family. Murder soon follows and so does the inevitable trial and conviction. However, more questions arise about not only if it was really murder that took place, but the viewer also, in my opinion, is forced to question the real motives of love between our three characters.

Allow me to explain - actually, wait, allow me to address another issue first. As a famous actress, I have been able to recognize the natural talents of Shelly Winters. But so help me, there tends to be something persistently irritating about too many of her characters. From Kubrick's LOLITA (1962) to even THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972), she tends to constantly play a nagging, whining and downright infuriating presence in somebody's world. A PLACE IN THE SUN has got to be the all-time low for Winters' personality, because despite the fact that we are, by all practical measures of human decency, meant to feel for her character because she's been knocked up by a man who truly despises her, as well as the fact that she cannot get an abortion because this is the 1950s and these times are very different for women in such predicaments, we are, instead, in my humble opinion, on the side of George for wanting to kill her. Alice is just that annoying! Like a desperate and clinging puppy, she refuses to allow George to breathe for even a moment and is a constant threat in his life. Right is on her side, yes, but the dark side of our human nature can't help but want this crazy bitch dead! By now, it's not even about wanting George to be free so he can marry Angela and rise to the top with her rich family and friends. We simply (well, I simply) just want to see the always irritating Shelly Winters gone and out of the way! When she is finally gone, I can't help but breathe a true sigh of relief. And yet, it's important to point out that when she is finally disposed of in a rowboat out on a very isolated lake, we're still not entirely sure of what happened. Just when the point comes where she's about to go into the water (Alice can't swim, by the way), the scene changes and we're not given a very clear picture of whether she was sent into the water deliberately or if it was an honest accident, despite the fact that George wanted her dead deep down inside his mind and his heart. He may have just had a change of heart at the very last moment and couldn't deliberately go through with it. We're not sure. Still, a prosecuting attorney (played by Raymond Burr in a pre-Perry Mason role, no less) and a jury have convicted George of murder and he will die in the electric chair. There lies the human tragedy of it all where ambition, love and lust inevitably turn to murder and death (love sure sucks, doesn't it!).

But now I must also question the true motive of love in a film that sells itself as a tremendous love story. George clearly doesn't love Alice, we know that off the top. Alice may or may not love George or she simply may be confusing love with an unreasonable and desperate attachment to the father of her child. George claims to love Angela, but may only be allowing himself to be played into her hands, romantically or not, in order to hold onto and desperately protect his newly-acquired social position. Angela, on the other hand, repeatedly claims throughout the film that she deeply loves George, but I often have trouble figuring out why, as his character tends to only allow himself to be lead around by her and offers no true romantic or spiritual reciprocation with here. Does Angela truly love George or is it simply some poor little rich girl's ploy to get back at mommy and daddy for giving her too much financial and social status and not enough real love? Evidence may prove true love when Angela comes to George's jail cell to say goodbye before his execution, but I'm still not entirely convinced. Angela may simply just be doing "the right thing" as a human being and I sense she may move on quickly to the next available and eligible man as soon as he comes along. So like I said, love may not be true love in the case of this film, which still plays out as a thrilling drama, but either way, it still sucks!

Finally, one other thing I have to mention. In 2005, there was a popular Woody Allen film called MATCH POINT in which a young man socially climbed his way to the top with a rich girl and her family while having an affair with a hot, yet somewhat unstable common girl, before he inevitably kills her to get her out of the way. The film was considered quite original for Woody Allen and was even nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Okay, seriously, am I the only one on this fucking planet who considered the story a very close remake of A PLACE IN THE SUN, as well as a repeat of themes Allen had already explored in his own film of CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS (1989)??? It's absolutely astounding to me as to what and how some people will dote the honor of originality on a film, undeservedly so sometimes!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Angela: "Goodbye, George. Seems like we always spend the best part of our time just saying goodbye."

Sunday, June 21, 2015

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL



(July 2003, U.S.)

Pirate movies, if you can actually specify that as a film genre, are not very popular with me. As a matter of fact, with the exception of this film and an old black and white Errol Flynn movie called CAPTAIN BLOOD (1935), I don't own any other pirate movies and I suppose I have the legacy of PETER PAN to blame for that! Before this film, no matter how nasty and adventurous a pirate on the big screen may have been, all I could really see was a bunch of tattooed morons singing and dancing on the deck of a ship shouting, "Yo-ho-ho!" and singing "A Pirate's Life For Me". Add to the fact that as a teenager, there was a Broadway show movie versions of THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE to contend with! You see what I mean? How can one take the downright viciousness and evil of the pirate legend if they're constantly flopping about in song and dance?? Further add to the fact that Renny Harlin's CUTTHROAT ISLAND (1995) was apparently such an unmitigated disaster that I never even bothered to take an objective look at it. In fact to be perfectly honest, I had no initial interest in seeing PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL were it not for the fact that in the Summer of 2003, it just happened to be our last night in our old New York City apartment and everything was packed up in boxes (including the TV) and we needed something to do. Hence, walk down the street to the neighborhood theater and kill two hours with the latest and hottest summer blockbuster of the moment. Well, yo-ho-ho and behold...I liked it! No...I loved it!

I suppose only a combination of Johnny Depp and the infamous reputation of Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones (the one Depp based his character of Captain Jack Sparrow on), would keep me interested in any pirate story, which let's face it, almost never changes. Sea battles, lost treasures, pillaging, sword fighting, pretty damsels in distress...the clich├ęs could go on forever. As an original point of interest, I have to say that Gore Verbinski's film basing itself on a popular Walt Disney theme park attraction is not totally without merit. If nothing else, it's a recognizable and popular name with audiences. As a fantasy swashbuckling film, it has all the basic, required elements I already pointed out, but clearly distinguishes itself with the outrageous humor of Depp's Jack Sparrow, a bumbling pirate captain who doesn't always seem to have a firm grip on what he's doing. Depp is an actor that has always given everything he's got into his fantasy roles, be it Edward Scissorhands, Willy Wonka or Ed Wood himself, so it's often quite fun and amusing to watch him sink his teeth into whatever he's doing on screen. One can only sense just by looking at his character that he can truly feel the drunkenness and incoherent mannerisms of Keith Richards deep in his soul, and that's clearly what makes the character shine!

In getting back to my own interpretation of screen pirates, it's important to note that the actual curse of the Black Pearl in this film works very effectively in bringing out the dark fear in the presence of the evil pirates, lead by the very gifted actor Geoffrey Rush. We know off the top that the evil pirates are murderous thugs who will stop at nothing to obtain their goals, but it's of particular horror to see that the heart of the curse lies in a tale of the macabre from the moment the pirates are standing under the moonlight and their true physical nature is revealed as nothing short of the undead. Take a look...


Not exactly Disney family film material, is it! However, for someone like me, who's very picky about his family movie material, this dark side of the story works perfectly for me (George A. Romero would be proud!). Like any traditional summer blockbuster, there is high octane adventure, thrilling visual spectacles, and in this particular case good, solid acting from all those involved, including Orlando Bloom (my wife has a serious crush on this guy!) and the always stunning Keira Knightley...


(sorry - couldn't resist throwing a little cleavage into this post!)

Now although it's pretty obvious that the enthusiastic talents and hard, dedicated work of Johnny Depp carries this film to its end, those talents were not enough for me to hold any interest in three more PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies (a fifth one on the way!). I tried to watch the second one, DEAD MAN'S CHEST, when it came out on DVD and barely got past the first thirty minutes of it. By the time the scene came to where a bunch of men were rolling down a hill in a huge human-like ball, I knew I'd had enough! You see, this is the tragedy of a popular and successful summer blockbuster in that it unavoidably opens the door for continued Hollywood franchise greed to no end! Others may be willing to hand over their time and money to more of the same recycled contents every couple of years, but I'm not. Still, I thank Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp for at least restoring my possible faith in the pirate film; for at least one film, anyway.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Governor Swann: "Elizabeth, how's it coming?"
Elizabeth (trying to get into a corset): "It's difficult to say."
Governor Swann: "I'm told it's the latest fashion in London."
Elizabeth: "Well, women in London must have learned not to breathe!"





Saturday, June 20, 2015

JAWS 40th anniversary!



I suppose like every other movie geek on this planet, I'm just as guilty as the rest of them of being even more of a geek when it comes to film anniversaries. Today marks the exact date (June 20, 1975) when Steven Spielberg's great fin first broke through the water and thrust itself upon the entire world, not only changing the way summer movies would play out and market themselves forever, but making some of us think twice before we ever went in the water again (not me, thankfully!). So, like everybody else, I'll watch the film (again!) in honor of this great birthday and perhaps some of us will even be lucky enough to attend a special theatrical screening or two (lucky YOU, Richard K. and Steven A.!). However, to perhaps distinguish myself from the rest, which I often try to do, I have written, especially for this "biting" occasion (did I really just say "biting"??), an original poem, or ode, if you will, to honor this landmark blockbuster film and it's place in cinematic history. Yes, people, an original JAWS poem by yours truly, Eric F., and it goes something like this...

Look to the Summer of 1975
All of the ocean will come alive
Look to the water for the great white fin
And you’ll know what sort of trouble you’re in
Look at the shark’s eyes, lifeless and black
Look at the shoreline ahead and know you’ll never get back
Try to swim, try to scream, try to pray
The great beast just won’t go away
Close your eyes and hold your breath
And await the mighty jaws of death
But when you do open your eyes, that’s when you’ll know
It was all on the movie screen, just for show
So thank you Steven and Peter for forty years of great fun
‘Cause when it comes to summer blockbusters, JAWS is still the best one!


Okay, perhaps I won't go down in poetic history for this one, but hey, I don't mind giving myself a small pat on the shoulder either! And for those who may have forgotten, here's my original post for JAWS written a couple of years ago...

http://mymoviesmywords.blogspot.com/2013/02/jaws.html

Sunday, June 14, 2015

PINOCCHIO (1940)



(February 1940, U.S.)

Let's begin with a memory and a movie poster. It was during the Summer of 1976 that Walt Disney Pictures released a summer long series of theatrical double features that consisted of a classic Disney animated movie followed by a live action theatrical feature. All were rated G and all were totally safe for little nine year-old such as myself. You see, at that age, exciting blockbuster films like KING KONG, STAR WARS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND and SUPERMAN-THE MOVIE were still months or years away, so my film options (or I should say the options that my father was willing to bestow upon me, were very limited, indeed. Therefore, when a nine year-old kid sees a poster such as this in the newspaper, he's apt to get pretty excited about the summer ahead of him...


Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if parents today weren't enticed by this same schedule of double features even in today's movie market! Nonetheless, these were the objects of movie excitement before the spectacular special effects of the late 1970s came our way. I bring all of this up not so much with regards to PINOCCHIO, but rather with PETER PAN (1953). Why do I bring that movie up, you ask? Because it's the solid memory of seeing Disney's animated film of PETER PAN on screen in the Summer of 1976 with my dad's girlfriend that I was clinging to when I thought I would write a post for that film just a short time ago. Alas, though, when I sat down to watch it, I realized that solid memory or not, PETER PAN was just too damn childish for me and I, therefore, chose not to write about it (sorry!). However, PINOCCHIO, while having very similar childish elements and almost identical memories of the Summer of 1976, ends up being an entirely different issue for me. To begin with, I don't think I would necessarily have the fondness for PINOCCHIO that I do were it not for two films of Steven Spielberg. In CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977) and A.I.:ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (2001), the theories and spirits of the story of Pinocchio and his ultimate quest to go beyond his superficial being of wood and become a real boy in the human world is very clear and brings a true sense of mystical proportions to it's basic premise. Is that really true in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, though? Maybe not, but it's clear that Roy Neary's journey to go beyond what is the foundation of his own mortal being on Earth brings Pinocchio's story to a better light, as well as the fact that Roy himself has a childhood heart and fondness for the old animated film of 1940 (his three kids, however, do not!). Little David's story in A.I. speaks for itself, of course. So you see, these two films with a rather obvious adult tone to Pinocchio's original premise brings the original animated film to a better light for someone like me who generally does not have consistent fondness or patience for "kiddie" films.

As innocent as PINOCCHIO is at its surface, it's also impossible to deny that there is a dark side to the film. One can argue that the sweet, innocent son of the sweet, innocent wood carver Geppetto is essentially abducted on his way to his first day of school by two heartless con men (well, a fox and a cat, actually!) and sold off like cruel human trafficking. Still, he's just a puppet who can walk, talk, sing and dance, so perhaps the level of sympathy towards the wooden boy isn't quite there yet. However, by the time he's held prisoner in a cage by fat 'ol Stromboli, we do start to feel for the poor kid (sorry - puppet!). Later on in the film, when Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket are traveling to Pleasure Island, there is downright terror involved when all the boys are succumbed to some unnatural transformation that turns them all into donkeys. As an adult, one can only presume that the food, alcohol and tobacco they've consumed is somehow harmfully drugged. You see...this is some real dark shit we're talking about, but hardly the kind of material a child is going to understand. To the innocent child who watches this film, the simple lesson is that bad boys who skip school, smoke, get drunk and cause destruction are going to end up becoming real jackasses (at least that's the intended lesson of 1940!)! Still, the boys who have succumb to the evil transformation are not going to be saved, nor will they ever see their parents again and will eventually be sold to slavery. Again, dark and frightening stuff for an animated Disney cartoon!

Finally, there's the entire sequence of Monstro the giant whale and it's obvious homage to Herman Melville's MOBY DICK. This is a dark sequence by its own right in the simple fact that a loving, innocent family (cat and goldfish included!) are going to die in the gaping jaws of the whale unless brave little Pinocchio can save them. Of course, since the wooden boy's ultimate goal is to prove himself brave, truthful and unselfish in order to become a real boy, the final outcome hardly needs guessing. Though for the life of me, I cannot account for how Geppetto ends up at sea in the first place! We know that he went out looking for Pinocchio, but how the hell did he end up at sea while doing it?? Makes absolutely no sense to me! Even if one could argue that he was, perhaps, following the ship that took the boys to Pleasure Island, we're given no indication in the film that Geppetto is even aware of this threat. I realize suspension of disbelief is very necessary when watching any film of fantasy, but I mean, really, come on!!!

And so, now that I've broken down the legendary film of Disney's PINOCCHIO to its basic raw elements of darkness and evil, tell me something...have I fucked up your childhood yet??

Favorite line or dialogue:

Pinocchio: "I'd rather be smart than be an actor!"

Thursday, June 4, 2015

PINK FLOYD THE WALL



(August 1982, U.S.)

This is going to be one of those occasional film posts where my content relies more on my own personal experiences rather than the film itself. Of course, anyone reading this post who went to high school and/or college in the 1980s will know exactly what I'm talking about! Director Alan Parker's PINK FLOYD THE WALL is not just film, but a stunning visual and listening experience like no other. There's virtually no dialogue and the plot is very thin, if not incomprehensible. It's a full force ninety minute continuous rock video of one of the greatest classic rock albums ever written and it's probably not for everyone! You either know Pink Floyd's landmark 1979 rock album or you don't! You either understand founding band member and bassist Roger Waters' meanings and concepts behind the story of a confined and alienated rock star who's driven into insanity and self destruction while constructing a wall around his existence to protect himself from the world around him as semi-autobiographical of Waters' own personal feelings and experiences of alienation and isolation following Pink Floyd's 1977 Animals Tour or you don't! In short, you either love PINK FLOYD THE WALL or you don't! Think I'm overstating things a bit here? Well, take a look at some of these iconic animated film images by Gerald Scarfe and tell me if you think they're for everybody...





Some pretty heavy stuff, yes? And all done before the advent of computer generated imaging, and looking great nonetheless! But it occurs to me that my convictions above may not be completely carved in stone. This film can be an acquired taste if one has the patience and appreciation for the art behind it. That in mind, let's begin with personal story number one in which I first discovered PINK FLOYD THE WALL. In early 1980, when I was in the process of the seventh grade of middle school, I had no idea who Pink Floyd was. All I knew was that every once in a while I would see "Pink Floyd The Wall" written in white chalk on the red bricks of the school (I suppose that was considered vandalism?) and there was a song playing on FM radio that went, "We don't need no education!" You see, I was still in my soft rock and pop stage that included Billy Joel, Blondie and Hall & Oates, so Pink Floyd was still an alien band to me. Cut ahead four years to when I'm sixteen years-old and I finally decide to rent the VHS tape of PINK FLOYD THE WALL based on no other reason than I'd heard it was supposed to be a good movie. Ninety minutes later, I had no fucking clue what the hell I'd just watched! Nonetheless, I rewound the tape and watched it a second time right there and then! You see, for me, incomprehensibility doesn't necessarily mean a lack of brilliant art in a film. I ended up watching the movie as many times as I could before having to return the tape to my local video store. What can I say? I was hooked! My new love for this great film lead to my discovery of the album THE WALL, then THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOON, then ANIMALS, then THE FINAL CUT, and in short, I've been a loyal fan of Pink Floyd ever since, as they're my favorite rock band of all time!

In college, PINK FLOYD THE WALL was one of the most popular films ever to play the midnight movie madness circuit. When it played across the street from my dorm building, I was there every time! When I finally obtained a copy of the film for myself (by copy, I mean I'd done a tape-to-tape job using two VCRs!), I'd play it just about every weekend whenever I'd come home from a night of drinking and wanted to continue my madness (because this is what guys do at the end of a Friday night when it becomes pretty clear that they're not going to get laid!). It wasn't too long until I virtually became known on my dorm floor as the guy who was a Pink Floyd addict and loved playing THE WALL (hey, we all have our reputations!). And it's this reputation that leads me to personal story number two - it was at the end of my junior year at college and I decided I wanted to give my roommate something that he'd always remember me by because I was pretty sure I'd never see him again. What did I give him? You guessed it! A brand new, factory-sealed VHS copy of PINK FLOYD THE WALL packaged in a big-ass MGM gatefold video box. As he held it in his hand and smiled and gave me a big "thumbs up", I took a picture so I'd have something to remember him by (thanks, Scott!) and I still have that picture somewhere in a photo album. Today, I'm sure that video tape is long, but if he ever watches the film anymore, I hope he still remembers me and some of our crazy college times together!

PINK FLOYD THE WALL may be the only time a popular concept rock album has ever been put on film and succeeded. If you ever saw the film versions of TOMMY (1975) and SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND (1979), then you know very well just how awful some attempts can turn out! It also reminds me that today's world of music doesn't offer us the true rock music that once existed over decades past. It's sad to think that the musical styles of these middle school pubescent little shits have taken over the music world! Where is the true rock album anymore?? Or as Pink Floyd sings in THE WALL, "Is there anybody out there?"

Teacher: "What have we here, laddie? Mysterious scribblings? A secret code? No! Poems, no less! Poems, everybody! The laddie reckons himself a poet!"
(reading poem from Pink's book)
Teacher: "Money, get back / I'm all right, Jack / Keep your hands off my stack / New car / Caviar / Four-star daydream / Think I'll buy me a football team."
(slams the book onto Pink's desk)
Teacher: "Absolute rubbish, laddie! Get on with your work!"