Wednesday, September 30, 2015

PRINCE OF THE CITY



(August 1981, U.S.)

First impressions are everything, especially when you're just fourteen years-old and don't fully understand everything! That's how old I was when I first saw the movie poster for PRINCE OF THE CITY in the New York Times. The tagline, as you can see for yourself, reads - "A cop is turning. Nobody's safe" with the back end of a policeman overlooking the entire city of New York at night. Honestly, I thought the movie was about some maniac killer cop during a time when New York City was still a violent, scum-filled shithole (really, what did I know??)! Years later, when it was on TV and I managed to sneak a peak at bits and pieces of it, I not only realized that my initial take on the film was wrong, but I also had a small sense of the dramatic take on cops who broke the law and the good cops who chose to speak out about it. Mind you, I hadn't even seen SERPICO, Sidney Lumet's other great film of police corruption yet, so it was this film and Treat Williams' performance that gave me my first taste of the subject. And what a performance it is! I'd only seen him twice prior in the film version of HAIR and Steven Spielberg's 1941 (both in 1979); light roles, to say the least. As the character of Daniel Ciello, it's based on real-life NYPD Narcotics Detective Robert Leuci and Williams approaches it with such an intensity that's impossible to ignore.

In this film, Danny has been involved in some questionable police practices over the eleven year course of his detective career, including handing out drugs to addicts who have served as informants for him. He's approached by internal affairs and federal prosecutors to participate in an investigation of police corruption. In exchange for him potentially being let off the hook of his past deeds, Danny is instructed to expose the inner workings of illegal police activity and corruption throughout the department. Danny agrees with only one real hardcore condition - he will not ever turn against his partners under any circumstances, and throughout most of the film, it would appear that he may just actually stick to that conviction. But as he becomes increasingly nervous, fearful and paranoid, he soon learns that he cannot trust anyone and must then decide whose side of things he's really on, and who he'll have to take down in order to stay there...even his partners. In fact, it's the issue with his partners that manages to become a central theme and outcome of the film because as he continually reiterates his vow never to turn them in, it becomes almost inevitable that that's exactly what he'll end up doing when the pressure becomes too much for him to handle.

Sidney Lumet, despite a wide range of stories that included NETWORK (1976), DEATHTRAP (1982) and even a movie musical of THE WIZ, has never been a stranger to the streets of New York. Like SERPICO (1973) and DOG DAY AFTERNOON (1975), he approaches the streets with emphasis on its toughness, its grittiness, its corruption, its sophistication, its beauty, its ugliness and the diversity of its many ethnic neighborhoods that include its art and especially its crime. And very often with the theme of the streets also comes the theme of family and its relationship to people's actions in a city that demands one's ability to survive. The cops and their partners in PRINCE OF THE CITY, good or bad, are family. As Danny puts it himself, "I sleep with my wife, but I live with my partners!" And like so many families, there is loyalty and their is betrayal. Like the mafia, family and oath are intertwined in the world of cops. When one of them finally decides to turn on the others, it's then the dominoes will fall where they may. When they do fall, tragedy very often strikes those we may have come to care about. Some will end up in jail. Some will commit suicide. If all this sounds like something you may have seen on any number of LAW & ORDER spin-offs, you're about several decades too late to consider any of it really original. Sidney Lumet knew how to bring this sort of drama to the big screen in his own fashion...and it was the best way!

Like many films of this sort, the subject of the story's authenticity is unavoidable. While many cops may have criticized the film for painting too heroic a portrait of a cop who turned on his fellow officers, others like the Drug Enforcement agency (DEA) considered the film authentic enough to even display it during their training program. It's the sort of police drama that isn't made for the big screen too much anymore, in lieu of more violent fare. Perhaps the genre died when Sidney Lumet did. If so, then it went with the master of the tale.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Detective Stern: "What did you say your name was?"
Danny Ciello: "Ciello."
Stern: "Are you the Detective Ciello?"
Danny: "I'm Detective Ciello."
Stern: "I don't think I have anything to learn from you."

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

PRINCESS BRIDE, THE



(September 1987, U.S.)

It was 1987 and director Rob Reiner was on quite a roll with his second career (the first, of course, being his role as "Meathead" on CBS-TV's ALL IN THE FAMILY). THIS IS SPINAL TAP (1984), THE SURE THING (1985) and STAND BY ME (1986) were already solid hits, and THE PRINCESS BRIDE continued the great progression forward. If absolutely nothing else, it was already proving that Reiner was a film maker that could offer his audience a wide range of subjects and stories. Like Lucas and Spielberg, Reiner proved that his imagination could run wild by adapting William Goldman's tale of fantasy, adventure and comedy. Granted, we're not talking about aliens in a galaxy far, far away, but in its own simplest manner, Reiner gives us a sweet story that's as memorable as your favorite children's bedtime story.

And so, speaking of bedtime stories, as a method of frame narrative, the story begins in the present day when a grandfather (played by Peter Falk) reads THE PRINCESS BRIDE storybook to his sick grandson (played by the child Fred Savage). Because this is the style of the film's storytelling, there are frequently scenes of the reading that are occasionally interrupting the main story when the grandson finds himself confused or bored by certain moments (like grown ups kissing!). And so, as we all sit back to listen to a bedtime story together, we enter the tale of true love between country girl Buttercup (played by Robin Wright) and the farm boy she loves Westley (played by Cary Elwes). Sounds simple enough, yes? Simple, though, inevitably turns to drama and intrigue (in a funny way, of course) when Westley leaves Buttercup to seek out his fortune in life. From there, we jump ahead five years when Buttercup, believing Westley to be dead, is set to marry the heir to the throne Prince Humperdinck against her will simply because he's legally and rightfully chosen her as his bride. Enter now the "Man in Black" or the Dread Pirate Roberts or, to anyone with two eyes and a brain in their head...Westley! Because true love rules all, Westley is determined to get his precious Buttercup back before she marries an evil Prince who plans to kill her on their wedding night in order to start a much-desired war between two lands. Along the way, he'll have the help of several sidekicks, including the late Andre the Giant and a very charming Spanish fencer (played by Mandy Patinkin) whose sole purpose in life is to seek out and kill "the six fingered man" who murdered his father when he was just a boy. As you might expect from a fantasy fairy tale, there's the traditional sword fighting, horse chases, dark forests, ROUSs (Rodents of Unusual Size!) and the battle of wits between men challenged over all things in life that may or may not be "inconceivable"! Danger and drama lead the way to an ultimate (and predictable) conclusion where good will triumph over evil and true love will win the day with a beautiful closing kiss between two heroes and lovers. And of course, it'll all be real damn funny along the way! Honestly, if Errol Flynn had lived long enough, he would have loved THE PRINCESS BRIDE!

Like so many films we've come to cherish, this film was only a modest success at the time of its release (I saw it on a date!). Time and the video tape market of the era turned it into an inevitable cult classic. It's one of those comedies like ANIMAL HOUSE (1978) or CADDYSHACK (1980) that's filled with classic quotes that many of us can remember and repeat when the moment presents itself. If you're a fan, I'm sure you've found yourself at least once doing your best Wallace Shawn impression when you scream, "Inconceivable!" or your best old man Billy Crystal impression when you suddenly say, "Have fun shtormin' the cashle!" Some of us, however, love this film more than others. I refer now to my cousin whom I shall call Nanci (because that's really her name!). She loves, worships and can easily quote THE PRINCESS BRIDE on demand like a paid circus performer! She's been waiting for years for me to write my blog on this film and now it's finally happened. And so, it's to Nanci that I dedicate this post. Hope you're not disappointed, Cuz!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Vizzini: "He didn't fall? INCONCEIVABLE!"
Inigo Montoya: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

Wonder what Nanci's favorite quote is?

Friday, September 18, 2015

PRINCE OF TIDES, THE



(December 1991, U.S.)

In my entire film collection, I own only two...count 'em, TWO Barbra Streisand films, and I assure you, they are NOT FUNNY GIRL and YENTYL (as if!!!)! Musically, Barbara and I don't agree with my tastes (do you know I had to spend the entire Summer of 1981 listening to her "Guilty" album with Barry Gibb because my mother was just so totally in love with that record???), but I can confess to you now that she has often impressed me on screen, both as actor and director. Though not in my collection, the 1976 version of A STAR IS BORN and NUTS (1988, directed by her) were not entirely bad films. I've found her to be often quite funny in some comedies she made in the early 1970s (i.e. WHAT'S UP, DOC?). So when you finally add up the little bits and pieces of Barbra that I've enjoyed here and there, it's almost no wonder that THE PRINCE OF TIDES comes full circle with me for her both as an actor and director. Call it a "chick flick" if you will, but it's one of the most extraordinary dramas and love stories I've ever seen on screen. It's also the only film that I went to see with my mother in the year 1991 when I saw just about everything that was released in theaters! I point that out only because the story is in part of a man's strained relationship with his mother.

The pairing of Nick Nolte with Streisand is already a point that caught my attention at the time. Nolte, for me, was a man who dove the deep sea with Robert Shaw and shot up San Francisco with Eddie Murphy for forty-eight hours. In other words, a man's whose manner and voice were so rough and scraped, I just couldn't picture him in bed with Barbra (not that she isn't a sexy woman...for a Jewish woman, that is!). And yet, as a story of a man from the South and all of its traditions, quirks and the so-called "Southern ways", Nolte manages to fit the bill perfectly. In fact, as he personally narrates, his life is constantly dictated by the women in his life; a wife, three daughters, a sister, and a mother he still hasn't resolved his relationship with (when is that ever easy??). Tom Wingo (Nolte) is forced to go to New York City against his will when he learns that his sister Savannah (played by Melinda Dillon) has attempted suicide once again. She's alive, but he must now meet with her psychiatrist Susan Lowenstein (Streisand) to try and fill in the missing gaps of Savannah's memories of childhood and the traumatic experiences that have brought her to her depressed state of mind. Tom is reluctant to share because where he comes from, people either bury their painful troubles or laugh them off with cheap jokes, which is what Tom has become quite proficient at. Of course, as one would rightfully expect, what begins as reluctance and mistrust inevitably turns into a situation where Tom will not only open up about the tormented family history, but his own demons as well, which actually involve a brutal rape of him and his entire family (seriously, why is it that in just about every story, the great big shocking secret is very often rape, molestation or incest??). Oh, yes, and let's not forget that Tom and Susan fall in love, too. I mean, come on! You had to expect that to happen even if you didn't take a good look at the movie poster!

Returning to Nick Nolte's rough-edged character for a moment, it perhaps makes complete sense that he is the way he is because it makes the softened, evolved character that comes to take shape all the more accepting and engaging. Were he the same cynical bastard he starts out as in the beginning of the film, then the story would likely not follow it's proper and expected course of action. Dramatic characters are meant to change, and change drastically. And even while the two we've come to care about throughout the film fall deeply in love with each other, it's still important to remember that very often in life, some things will never change at all, most commonly a man's commitment to the family he holds very dear. Tom's marriage may be troubled and he may be in love with another woman from New York City, but even as he evolves into someone new, it would seem that you still can't take a Southern man away from his beloved South. We are ultimately the product of our physical environment, as well as the family we're a part of...like it or not!

When you consider that during the holiday movie season of 1991, when this film was up against family fluff like HOOK, Disney's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and the Steve Martin remake of FATHER OF THE BRIDE, it's no wonder that THE PRINCE OF TIDES became such a critical and Oscar-nominated success and rightfully so! Nolte and Streisand give the best performance of their careers, in my opinion! Even Jason Gould (Barbra's real-life son) gives an impressive performance as Susan's son who (rather expectedly) resents his mother's position in his life, which is pretty much what we would expect from any snot-nose, modern teenager, yes? In the end, the film explores not only character change and love, but also the way we ultimately relate to all the women in our lives from the moment we enter this world. As such, I can't help but take a moment to examine my own female-related situations in life. I'll get back to you as soon as I've figures them all out!

And so, to Barbra Streisand, I say thanks for finally impressing me with your talents that don't involve your musical vocal cords. THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS may have taken home the big best picture Oscar for 1991, but in my opinion, it should have been THE PRINCE OF TIDES. As Mike Myers once said on Saturday Night Live, "It was butta!"

Favorite line or dialogue:

Monique: "Susan, I can't believe you'd let Bernard play a game that might hurt his hands."
Susan Lowenstein: "And I can't believe you'd come to my house when everyone knows you're fucking my husband!"



Saturday, September 12, 2015

PRIMARY COLORS



(March 1998, U.S.)

Despite the fact that the next Election Day is not for another two months, the Republican presidential hopefuls have been in the media quite a bit lately, with Donald Trump leading the way in the category of most significant loud mouth and Hillary Clinton leading the the way in the category of most significantly-suspicious emails. Whether or not a prospective voter chooses to take any of this crap seriously is up to them, but it's enough to make one actually forget or ignore any other potential candidates and what they're capable of, good or bad. Still, the timing seems mildly right for discussing a politically-motivated film like Mike Nichols' PRIMARY COLORS, based on an original book documenting Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign and written (at the time) by one simply known as "Anonymous", though has since been revealed to be journalist Joe Klein who had been with Newsweek Magazine at the time.

Note the timing of the film's release, just less than two months after the real life Monica Lewinsky scandal broke the nation's headlines. However, it's important to note that the film's principal shooting was already completed before the scandal surfaced. Which leads us to ask ourselves the question if the allegations made by the film (and the book) on the fictitious Southern governor Jack Stanton (played by John Travolta who performs more than an adequate version of Bill Clinton) are meant to be taken as true or false? Did Bill Clinton really fuck around before and during his 1992 campaign or not? Did Hillary Clinton (played as Susan Stanton by Emma Thompson) really just take it all in and bear with it in order to see her husband reach the White House so she could take her place as First Lady? Well, let's examine the film's content and see how it compares to the real (or not so real) history that we may or may not recall...

Jack Stanton is a pure idealist who has the capacity to make others, voters and his own campaign staff included, truly believe in what he says, thinks and feels about our world and our future. Like John F. Kennedy decades before him, he makes us believe because we want to believe! We want to believe that tough times in our economy and in our lives can be made better by the efforts of one man! We want to believe in bullshit that is endlessly spewed about good old fashioned family values and ethics that come complete with harmonizing group songs of love and Thanksgiving turkeys that are shared with the homeless. We want to believe in love, honor and the possibility that all is well and we are safe on our own home front. Well, guess what, people...it ain't like that! Jack Stanton, as he demonstrates, believes in the power of saying "YES!" to all the good things in life that will assure us of peace and serenity, but like most people, cannot say "NO!" to all of life's ultimate temptations, whether they're mild issues like extra Krispy Kreme donuts or the more serious stuff like the dirty backstabbing of politics or indulging in underage sex with a teenage girl and falsifying the results of a pregnancy test that would ultimately determine that Jack is the father. It's delightful fiction that's fun to watch and listen to, but it's impossible along the way not to ask ourselves, "Did Bill Clinton really do all that?" As a general cynic of all politicians (Republicans and Democrats!), I have no reason to doubt that any of it is false, even if it is dressed up a bit for the benefit of Hollywood storytelling. But still, when one considers the fact that Bill Clinton did, in fact, confess to receiving multiple blowjobs from Monica Lewinsky while he was in the White House, it's more than plausible to believe that he managed to score some pussy outside of his marriage while he was running the big race.

True or false, believable or not, PRIMARY COLORS can be considered a more than fair and viable look inside the world of American politics and all the ugliness that goes with it and makes it work. Travolta and Thompson, in their portrayals of more than obvious real life figures (the Clintons) take their respective roles and have fun with them, particularly Travolta. Just look at that boyish smile on his face and tell me he's not indulging himself in the opportunity to lend his own creativity to the ultimate public figure, perhaps even a man he admired himself. And while our politicians and would-be presidential hopefuls are making spectacles of themselves in public and in private life, there are those who support their journey with all of their very naive innocence, only to be ultimately disappointed and let down in the end...always! That's just how the world of politics works!

Still, if we look back on the era when Bill Clinton was President of the United States, one can't help but consider that the only real life-changing event that occurred during those eight years was a series of blowjobs by an overweight White House intern and the cum stains that ultimately ended up on her dress. When we consider how the world has gone straight to Hell ever since George W. Bush took office, it seems that blowjobs and cum stains were not such a bad thing, after all. And hey, I suspect that being married to Hillary Clinton doesn't exactly mean a wide range of sexual excitement in the bedroom! Who could really blame ol' Billy for getting his knob polished by anyone of the female species who was willing to do it to him! Perhaps even a good blowjob or two produces a more relaxed President...and a more relaxed President can do a better job for the people. It's a theory, anyway!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Libby Holden: "You know what? I'm going to blow your nuts off! Yes, I am a lesbian! I do not mythologize the male organ! Now, you tiny scumbag, I know you did it! You' re on retainer to the Flash! And you, you stupid shit...the crap Jack actually did wasn't enough, you had to embellish it! Mister, you' re about to become Missus!"



Tuesday, September 8, 2015

PRIMAL FEAR



(April 1996, U.S.)

The legal/crime thriller is a particular genre I've always admired in film and one that's almost guaranteed to offer the surprising shock in the end. By that same token, it's very often that the surprise end may not be that much of a shock, after all. More often than not, we'll learn who really "done it" when we actually thought someone else really "done it" or perhaps we'll already know who "done it" and we'll be surprised by finding out the real reason they "done it". My point, I think, is that when it comes to the legal/crime thriller, I've always held the idea that the true thrills come from watching, listening and in keeping up with the point-by-point chapters of the trial itself as it's taking place before us. In the world of law and order, one must decide which rings true in terms of genuine, attention-grabbing thrills. Thrills, mind you, not action, are what I believe constitutes a film (or original William Diehl novel) like PRIMAL FEAR, in which the traditional high profile, money-hungry, less-than-scrupulous criminal defense attorney Martin Vail (played by Richard Gere) is almost textbook in displaying everything we've come to hate about criminal attorneys and why we take such immense pleasure in every lawyer joke we've ever heard in our life!

For what I suppose is meant to be pure shock value, the murder victim which shall come to outline the entire plot of the film is the city of Chicago's Archbishop; shock in both how he's murdered and the secret sexual skeletons he had buried in his closet (at a time, mind you, before the subject of pedophile priests became the subject of countless and endless news items at the beginning of the 21st Century!). The alleged murderer is none other than one of the Archbishop's own victims in his sexual videotape indulgences, Aaron Stampler (played by Edward Norton), a simple-minded teenager who appears to suffer from a bad case of stuttering and chronic blackouts in which he loses time. This, of course, is the perfect set up for wondering whether or not this mindless boob really committed such a horrible mutilation. Despite the fact that Martin believes in never asking (or caring!) if a client is guilty or not guilty, he truly believes Aaron to be innocent of the crime and explores the possibility of another person who may have been in the room at the time of the killing (very convenient!). Again, where one chooses to accept the real surprise shock value of any legal/crime thriller is up to them, but the film makes a solid point of revealing specific points of defect in Aaron's character and personality, mainly the fact that he suffers from a split personality and that his alter ego Roy, a harder, more intelligent, non-stuttering redneck type, is very likely the one who actually committed the crime. By this time, even this sort of surprise may feel redundant of past thrillers and one we can almost readily and willingly accept as the final outcome of the trial and Aaron's ultimate fate.

And yet still...it ain't over! Only at the last moment, mere minutes before the film is coming to an end, do we learn the real truth of not only who Aaron and/or Roy actually are, but we must also indulge ourselves in the fact that the high and mighty Marin Vail, the all-incredible lawyer who thought he knew every trick in the book, suddenly realizes he's been very badly duped during the entire course of not only the trial, but his own faith in a client he believed to be innocent. Yes, despite the fact that murder has been committed against a religious man of the cloth who very likely deserved what he got, we can't help but feel for the poor bastard lawyer who just received a really horrible wake-up call in the game known as life and law, and the man who ultimately got away with what he did, which I must admit, turns out to be a rather interesting feel good moment for the viewer. You see, like it or not, human beings carry an undeniable streak of barbarism within themselves that's wonderfully put to the test when we get a thrill watching the bad guy get away with it...at least on film, anyway!

As performances go, everybody, particularly Gear, carries their weight wonderfully in a film that requires solid attention to plotting and dialogue. Admittedly, though, I can't say I've always been a true fan of Laura Linney, both in her looks and her acting, which I often find to be quite morose. However, in this particular role, she is striking to look at. This particular moment, however, I finding physically alluring in her firm, yet attractive face, her hair style and that smooth, (almost) naked shoulder with the black dress strap...


Yes, I think it's safe to say that if I were trying a case against her and she looked at me just like that and perhaps even winked and licked her upper lip, my defense would concede to the prosecution! But that's me!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Janet Vanable: "Do you know what I would do if someone did that to me? I would kill him, I wouldn't hesitate! I would stab him seventy-eight times! I would chop off his fingers, slash his throat open, carve numbers in his chest, gouge out his eyes, I swear to God...but that's me!"