Sunday, December 27, 2015
(May 1985, U.S.)
Read this very carefully, people...
Now I must tell you that the story of John Rambo, for me, begins and ends with FIRST BLOOD. Back in 1985, I admittedly got swept up by "Rambo-mania" just like the rest of the world. I went to see RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD-PART II on screen twice. I had the movie poster on my college dorm wall, and I couldn't wait to own a copy of the film when it became available on VHS. But as I got older and my film tastes became a little more sophisticated, I discovered that the flaws of the second film greatly outweighed any of the American "gung-ho" excitement that had me going all those years in the late 1980s. Bottom line is that RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD-PART II is a film with bad dialogue and bad acting, and that's enough of a reason to put me off of any film, no matter how popular it is.
These are the words that I wrote when I concluded my blog post for FIRST BLOOD back in December 2011. So here I am four years later and I'm about to do something rather unprecedented in the history of my blogging posts...I'm about to print a retraction! Yes, as sad and as hard as it may be to believe, I've reconsidered my thoughts and feelings towards RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD-PART II and am ready to give it some due consideration for the purposes of writing a completely fair blog post (Geez, I'm either getting senile or it was something I ate last night!).
So what is it exactly that I'm trying to say now? Is it that RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD-PART II is a great film? Hardly. It's not exactly an Oscar-winning story and the acting is, at best, mediocre. So what's changed? Perhaps it just a simple matter of history and pop culture mania that has managed to stick around in my brain and in my memory for the past thirty years! In 1985, the Cold War, at its own level, still existed and it seemed that Americans were still getting off on any measure of victory towards the Soviet Union. Yes, the heart of RAMBO's story and message is the patriotic rescue of American P.O.W.s still being held prisoner in Vietnam even ten years after the war was officially ended; a rescue message that, I suppose, still had its valid context even in the 1980s. However, the hostility between the Soviets and the United States still exists in the form of cruel and vicious Russian soldiers present in Vietnam. The fact that it's Sylvester Stallone playing the character of a Vietnam veteran whom we'd come to have great empathy for in the last film three years prior only made the experience more exciting. John Rambo, through all of his personal demons, is a man still hell-bent on winning a war that he wasn't permitted to win by a failed government back when he was a soldier. To rescue P.O.W.s not only completes the obvious mission at hand, but also serves to cleanse Rambo's tormented soul. Despite the film's valid message of heroism and patriotism, it's still the bloody, violent action of Sylvester Stallone, which in my opinion, is not exactly the crust of cinematic intelligence. One is forced to remind themselves through all of the mindless action and wooden dialogue that the reason we watch Rambo in this film is to not only satisfy our sense of American justice for our American soldiers, but to also excite our minds and our senses by watching the enemy get their asses kicked and blown away! And as if the enemies of Vietnam and Russia aren't enough, Rambo must also deal with the betrayal of his own American government (again!) as he's sent on this mission with the soul purpose of having him fail in order to satisfy their own corrupt, bureaucratic bullshit! Still, as the movie poster indicates, they forget they're dealing with Rambo, which means endless blood, guts and glory for everyone involved, including the audience who just love every minute of it! In the end, the forgotten American soldiers are rescued, Rambo's soul is redeemed and we, as American movie audiences, feel just a little better about ourselves as children of the kick-ass, don't fuck with America, Ronald Reagan administration! Damn, sometimes I really miss those years when nobody would mess with us!
RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD-PART II will never be a great film. I wasn't received as one by critics, but it made a shit load of money and became a strong part of our American pop culture and strength for several years to come. Perhaps it's merely those years of feeling invincible as Americans against all global enemies, even if it was through the eyes, heart and guns of just one man. This, like it or not, is the concept of the hero and how we perceive his actions and his message on the big screen. Whatever the reasoning may be behind it, it seems clear that my feelings toward this film have changed over the years and I'm willing to stick to them - be it for reasons of history, social and political message, or maybe just the fact that like most human beings, I possess an undeniable streak of barbarism within me that needs to be satisfied every once in a while by watching an American hero like Sylvester Stallone wreak death and destruction to those that deserve it...and in the process, come to possibly understand what makes a character like John Rambo tick.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Col. Trautman: "The war, the whole conflict may have been wrong, but damn it, don't hate your country for it."
John Rambo: "Hate? I'd die for it!"
Trautman: "Then what is it you want?"
Rambo: "I want, what they want, and every other guy who came over here and spilled his guts and gave everything he had, wants! For our country to love us...as much as we...love it! That's what I want!"
Trautman: "How will you live, John?"
Rambo: "Day by day."
That one heartfelt statement alone just may be worth the time and heart it takes to appreciate a man like John Rambo. Maybe that's what makes him tick!
Wednesday, December 23, 2015
(March 1987, U.S.)
The Coen Brothers' debut film BLOOD SIMPLE (1984) is one of my favorite films of the 1980s. RAISING ARIZONA, an outrageous black comedy is probably the last thing I would have expected as a follow up. It just seemed so far off the course from what I could make of them as film makers at the time. Yet, this film is consistent in its manner typical of traditional Coen Brothers fare, as it's well supplied with unconventional characters, idiosyncratic dialogue, visual gags, symbolism, flamboyant camera work, pathos and biblical references. But even if none of that sparks your general cinematic interests, it's just plain, fucking funny as hell, and it starts from the moment we start listening to the voice over narration of Nicholas Cage as "H.I." McDunnough.
Even before the opening credits start rolling, we practically know H.I.'s entire life story and how he came to meet and marry police officer Ed (short for Edwina and played by Holly Hunter)) when he was repeatedly sent back to the county lock up after many failed convenient store robbery attempts. These are not classy people, by a long shot! Let's be honest - H.I. and Ed are just about as roughneck redneck and as trailer trash as you could ever come to expect. Still, they're "people" who want to live a normal life within the boundaries of the law and who also (most of all) want to be parents, but can't because Ed's insides are "a rocky place", where H.I.'s "seed would find no purchase". In case that's not clear enough to those of you who don't get that sort of humor...she can't have children. Biology and the prejudices of others seek to keep them childless. Solution? Steal one of the newborn "Arizona Quints" because it would seem the new parents have more babies than they can handle. From the moment the two of them bring little Nathan Jr. to their home, the comedy of these two morons actually trying to be effective parents is funny in itself. They are loving, though, and it's their love in protecting their new child from those that would seek to harm them that inevitably takes over the comedic elements of the film from here on. We must remember, that loving people or not, these two are now fugitives from the law and H.I. is still a man tempted by the financial possibilities of crime. When he unexpectedly decides to rob a convenience story while his wife (unknowing of his actions inside) and child are in the car, there's a rather sick irony in watching a man commit a crime with a gun while still remembering to pick up a large pack of Huggies for his baby. His line to the clerk, "I'll be taking these Huggies and...whatever cash you got." is worth the ninety-four minutes of your time right there. And if that's not sufficient enough, you'll love it when Nathan's father is asked to describe his baby's pajamas at the time of the kidnapping and he replies, "I don't know, they were jammies! They had Yodas 'n' shit on 'em!" You see - it's little things like that coming from the mouth of rednecks and trailer trash that just make you want to split a gut with laughter (at least that's how it is for me!).
One could argue that RAISING ARIZONA seeks to achieve a more upbeat and optimistic tone than the darker, more violent film that preceded it. We may spend our time feeling a sympathetic connection for two (admittedly) low life people who just want to offer love to a baby, but in the end, it would seem that righteous acts take over as H.I. and Ed not only save little Nathan Jr.'s life from two escaped cons and a sick-ass bounty hunter who looks like he just stepped out of THE ROAD WARRIOR, but also return the baby to his rightful place at home with his parents. Optimism rings true, even when it's somewhat unrealistic. Upon returning the baby, the father (Nathan Arizona Sr.) is apparently not angered or given to revenge upon learning who took his child. He not only forgives them for their crime, but even gently advises them not to make the serious mistake of splitting up their marriage. Like I said, it's not very realistic or even believable, but when we're dealing with outrageous black comedy, particularly from the Coen Brothers, reality ain't exactly the first priority on our minds.
Nicholas Cage and Holly Hunter as H.I. and Ed are, perhaps, the most rambunctious characters I've ever seen outside of a Zucker comedy (AIRPLANE!, NAKED GUN, etc.). Cage has always shown himself to be an offbeat type, but it's in this film that he deliberately takes it to the maximum because he seems to know that's just what the film demands of him. We watch RAISING ARIZONA to laugh our asses off, and we do, but we can't ignore the look of the film, either, in that it's beautifully photographed in a way that may be actually be reminiscent of legendary director John Ford and perhaps even a prerequisite to photography we would see again in the Coen Brothers' film NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007).
Favorite line or dialogue:
Parole Board chairman: "They've got a name for people like you H.I. That name is called "recidivism."
Parole Board member: "Repeat offender!"
Parole Board chairman: "Not a pretty name, is it H.I.?"
H.I. McDunnough: "No, sir. That's one bonehead name, but that ain't me any more."
Parole Board chairman: "You're not just telling us what we want to hear?"
H.I.: "No, sir, no way."
Parole Board member: "'Cause we just want to hear the truth."
H.I.: "Well, then I guess I am telling you what you want to hear."
Parole Board chairman: "Boy, didn't we just tell you not to do that?"
H.I.: "Yes, sir."
Parole Board chairman: "Okay, then."
Saturday, December 19, 2015
(December 1988, U.S.)
(please read this post on Wednesday...definitely Wednesday!)
I've said this before...and it looks like I'll say it again, and that's that I have a real weakness for many of (but not all) Tom Cruise's films. Over the course of my writings, I've cited films like COCKTAIL (1988), DAYS OF THUNDER (1990) and FAR AND AWAY (1992) as some of his worst. Over the past few years, I've been able to add titles like OBLIVION (2013) and EDGE OF TOMORROW (2014) to the list. Yet, whenever I have to contend with crap like that, I just reach back into my mind and memory and recall his truly outstanding dramatic performances in films like RAIN MAN, BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY (1989), A FEW GOOD MEN (1992) and JERRY MAGUIRE (1996). Yes, the man can act, but for some reason, seems hell bent on doing nothing but action thrillers while he's still moderately young enough to physically do them. Still, when I watch RAIN MAN, I can somehow easily forgive him for all the crap because his role as Charlie Babbitt is, by far, still the best performance of his long career!
From the moment we meet Charlie, we immediately get the sense that there's something corrupt about him. His profession as an importer of expensive, collectible automobiles is not necessarily illegal, but there's still a quality to his business attitude and personality that would put him right up there at the level of used car salesman and criminal attorney. He's a man of charm and even a level of suaveness, but he's also clearly a man with a large chip on his shoulder. As a businessman, anger and impatience are part of his sales persona. As a lover to Susanna (played by Valeria Golino), he's a man within his own shell, unable or unwilling to open up to her. When it's announced that Charlie's father has just died, it becomes immediately clear that his estranged relationship with his father very likely plays a large role in his cynicism toward the world. Cut out of his dad's will, Charlie inherits nothing but rose bushes and a 1949 Buick Roadmaster convertible over which he and his father had previously fought over. The the bulk of his father's three million dollar estate is to go to an unnamed trustee at a mental institution in Cincinnati, Ohio, which he visits to get to the bottom of things. It's there that he learns that the trustee is his own older brother Raymond (played by Dustin Hoffman), whose very existence he was previously unaware of and who also happens to be autistic. Unmoved and uncaring about it, Charlie's initial reaction is to somehow figure out a way to get half of the monetary inheritance, which he's feels he's entitled to by rights. While not exactly kidnapping Raymond, he takes him away from the institution without permission and plans to take him back to Los Angeles so he can defend his financial intentions in a court of law.
Now, while not really nothing anything about the facts of autism (not without looking it up, anyway), the range of this neuro-developmental disorder that we're shown through Raymond is a man, who while unable to express any emotional thoughts or feelings toward those around him is also a man with strict routine and outstanding recall to the extent that he may be considered a human calculator. As Charlie and Raymond travel together in the tradition of the classic screen road trip, Charlie's anger and impatience with Raymond's condition is almost equally matched by his impressed reactions to Raymond's exceptional abilities. As the relationship between two brothers grows, it's revealed that Raymond actually lived with the Babbitt family when Charlie was very young and he also realizes that the secret comforting figure from Charlie's childhood, whom he falsely remembered as an imaginary friend named "Rain Man", was actually Raymond, who was sent away because he'd accidentally burned Charlie with hot water as a little boy. And yet it's important to note that even as Charlie is learning to becoming more human toward his brother and the world in general, he's still not beyond selfishly using Raymond's skills to help him win money in Las Vegas; money he desperately needs in order to save his business from going under. The Las Vegas sequence is amusing and entertaining, not only because it's a pleasure to watch Charlie win his money back as Raymond counts cards, but to also watch Raymond experience some of the simple pleasures of life like dancing and kissing a girl (and hey, kissing Valeria Golino in 1988 could never have been a bad thing!). By the film's end, as cliché would have it, Charlie is no longer interested in the inheritance and now wants to have a relationship with his brother and take care of him. Realizing Charlie's own limitations and the need for Raymond to have professional care, such a notion will not happen, but our hero (if we wish to call him that) has learned the value of respect, patience and the love between brothers (movie characters being what they are, Charlie Babbitt may be a much better man than I am!).
RAIN MAN takes my cinematic memory back to a time when director Barry Levinson was practically an unstoppable force in dramatic content. This film was just one of many in a long string of hits that also included films like GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM (1987), BUGSY (1991), DISCLOSURE (1994) and SLEEPERS (1996). I miss those days because even though Levinson hasn't exactly disappeared from cinema, his films of the 21st Century haven't exactly had the same juice they once had. One may consider this film a miracle to Dustin Hoffman's career because it would have been absolutely tragic if the nightmare that was known as ISHTAR (1987) had killed the poor man after winning the Oscar for best actor in TOOTSIE (1982). Again, while not knowing too much about the realities of autism, Dustin's performance brought the disorder to a new light for audiences who may have been previously unaware of it's effects and also its possibilities. Dustin also won his second Oscar for best actor for this film. Indeed, that's what I call redemption!
RAIN MAN won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1988, and rightfully so!
Favorite line or dialogue:
John Mooney: "Are you disappointed?"
Charlie Babbitt: "Disappointed? Why should I be disappointed? I got rose bushes didn't I? I got a used car, didn't I? This other guy, what'd you call him?"
John: "The beneficiary."
Charlie: "Yeah him, he got three million dollars but he didn't get the rose bushes! I got the rose bushes! I definitely got the rose bushes! Those are rose bushes!"
John: "Mr. Babbitt, there's no reason to..."
Charlie: "To what? To get upset? If there is a Hell, sir, my father is in it and he is looking up right now and he is laughing his ass off! Sanford Babbitt, you wanna be that guy's son for five minutes? I mean, did you hear that letter? Were you listening?"
John: "Yes I was. Were you?"
Charlie: "No, can you repeat it because I can't believe my fucking ears!"
Sunday, December 13, 2015
(June 1981, U.S.)
If you were to go back to the early 1990s and take a look at the back of the VHS box for RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, the first words you'd read in the plot description would be "This is it!". Nearly twenty-five years later, these are the same words that still pop into my head first when reflecting on the legend that has not only become this film, but the iconic character of Indiana Jones himself! The adventures of this archaeologist and part time college professor have become synonymous with action and adventure for nearly as long as STAR WARS has with not only my own generation of film fans, but with today's, as well. It's been a genuine homage to the great Saturday matinee serial cliffhanger heroes of the 1930s and 1940s (while never copying them!) that started on a beach in Hawaii in 1977 (just after the release of STAR WARS) between two legendary film makers you may have heard of once or twice...Steven Spielberg and George Lucas! Steven wanted to do a James Bond film, but George convinced him that he had a better idea (the rest was history!) It's one of those films you can't help but discuss with enthusiasm and yet can't imagine what you'd actually say that every fan around the world hasn't heard or discussed themselves. It's the only film that TV's Sheldon Cooper of THE BIG BANG THEORY actually stole from a movie theater because he was unable to purchase a ticket to see it himself; because if he couldn't, then no one else would, either! You go, Sheldon!
This first film in the franchise that takes place in 1936 pits Indiana Jones (played by Harrison Ford) against a group of Nazis who are searching for the ancient Ark of the Covenant, the actual chest which the Hebrews carried the stone remains of the actual Ten Commandments, which Adolf Hitler believes has extraordinary powers and will make his German army invincible against the rest of the world. Indy is joined by his ex-girlfriend Marion (played by Karen Allen), his Egyptian sidekick Sallah (played by John Rhys-Davies) and must do battle against his nemesis, French archaeologist René Belloq (played by Paul Freeman) and the rather sick Nazi agent and torturer Arnold Toht (played by Ronald Lacey). In the classic cliffhanger tradition, it's a constant race against time for our heroes to stop the forces of evil while repeatedly getting themselves into the kind of trouble that will get them killed if they're not rescued in time. Unlike an era long since gone, the audience didn't have to wait until next Saturday at their local movie theater to find out what happens. And unlike many movie heroes of the past, Indiana Jones is a bit more modern in that he's the sort of man that is flawed and vulnerable. While always ultra brave to the hilt, Indy can be easily hurt, and often is. Just watch how fast he goes down when hit with one punch in the jaw during a fight scene with a bald and muscular German soldier. Indy has his fears, too, the main one being snakes (who can blame him??). This is just what makes him more human to his audience. His adventures on the big screen before our eyes are enthralling and a non-stop, mile-a-minute journey into the unknown of not only ancient religion, but into the heart of evil and the deadly consequences against it. Like our heroes (and our enemies), we long to see the Ark open to learn its secrets. During the climactic sequence, even when it appears there's nothing but sand inside, we know better because we're in the hands of the mighty Spielberg who would never let us down at a moment like this. The Ark possesses the power and the magic to not only protect our heroes, but to violently defeat our evil enemies. For those who choose to believe in the religious aspects behind it all, I suppose it's also a message that you don't want to fuck around with God or else you may likely internally combust in the end (like I said, if you choose to believe that stuff!).
Okay, I think I've summed up a very well-known classic more than sufficiently to all who already know it by heart. So now, let me focus some of my attention at moments of the film that continue to stand out and hold a dear place in my heart (okay, maybe I'm not that sentimental about it, but these moments are pretty fucking cool, in my opinion!). There are two moments in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK that stand out in how they seem to define Indiana Jones and his bravery for me. The first is in the Egyptian marketplace when Indy is confronted by an Arab dressed in black who, through his rather majestic and fast moving sword play, one can only presume is the deadliest and most feared swordsman in the village. Indy, while clearly not afraid of him, also deduces in that one moment that he simply doesn't have time for this shit and defuses the situation the only way he knows how - by shooting the poor bastard...
Nearly thirty-five years later, I still laugh my ass off when that shot is fired and the Arab in black goes down. I can't help but think in my mind, "You're so damn stupid to bother fucking around with Indiana Jones!". The second sequence is the desert chase when Indy must regain control of the Ark resting inside a speeding truck. At a time when CGI didn't exist yet and the dependency for the expertise of movie stuntmen would make or break a truly great action sequence, I can still cite (even today) the truck dragging scene (performed by stuntman Terry Leonard) as still one of the greatest movie stunts I've ever had to pleasure of watching over and over again...
For me, it's the knowledge of knowing that this isn't CGI taking place here; it's a real man making his way under the truck and then being dragged side-to-side along the dirt road (with Ford himself in some of the closer shots). It's simple, it's real, it's raw, it's totally effective and continues to impress me still far beyond anything a computer may be able to do today in a fraction of the time! This is also the moment of the film when John Williams' score rings absolute true for me because the action is so death-defying and pulsating and the score just manages to bring the intensity of it all to a greater light. You see, there's a reason why Williams and Spielberg have joined forces on all of his films (except THE COLOR PURPLE)! The scene also simplifies Indy's bravery and hard-edged attitude toward stopping that truck, come Hell or high water, in order to keep the Ark from getting to Germany. He may be scared, but we'd never know it because it's simply what he must do to get the job done, even if he's just making it all up as he goes.
Well now, I suppose at this time, I need to dive into the franchise itself a bit. My feelings for all four films are divided evenly, fifty-fifty. RAIDERS - an absolute five-star classic! INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (1989) - a very worthy successor with action and performance to almost match its 1981 originator! INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (1984) - a film, with its bad story, bad casting (Short Round - seriously???), bad acting and unnecessary gore, that I can only describe as one of the low points of Spielberg's career (second only to HOOK!) and one of the reasons the summer of 1984 was such a disappointing blockbuster season for me. INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (2008) - a slight improvement over TEMPLE OF DOOM if for no other reason in that it's a pleasure to watch Indy and Marion reunited and bickering all over again. The rest, unfortunately, is a bad story (aliens - seriously???) with a truly waste of good talents like Cate Blanchett and John Hurt. As for TV's THE YOUNG INDIANA JONES CHRONICLES, I can't say that I ever really watched it, so I can't judge it now. So there you have it - two up and two down! Actually, I'd say that's not too bad considering my rather low threshold for sequels and franchise films. Anyway you or I choose to judge it, though, I take comfort and pleasure in the fact that a film like RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK exists and is forever immortalized in the hearts and minds of its true fans...and it also looks so fucking good on Blu-Ray!!! Thank you Steven, thank you George and thank you Harrison!
Oh, a quick personal story before I leave you. It was the summer of 1981 and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK was playing at the local theater in Westhampton Beach, where I've spent every summer of my life since the age of ten. You know how many times I got to see the movie? NONE!!! My parents were just too fucking lazy to bother to take my little brother and me to the biggest blockbuster film of the summer! I didn't see it for nearly a year until it was re-released in the theaters in 1982. Like I told way back in the beginning of this blog, when it came to movies as a kid, I swear, I was born under a bad sign!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Indiana Jones: "I'm goin' after that truck!"
Indiana: "I don't know, I'm makin' this up as I go."
Saturday, December 5, 2015
(November 1980, U.S.)
The long time collaboration between director Martin Scorsese and actor Robert DeNiro may never have been better than with RAGING BULL. I specifically use the word "may" because, honestly, it's a very close toss-up, in my opinion, between this film and TAXI DRIVER (1976). For this film, the potential superiority immediately begins with the fact that RAGING BULL is brilliantly shot in black and white to tell the true life drama of middleweight boxing champion Jake LaMotta (DeNiro), whose self-destructive personality, obsessive rage, sexual jealousy, and animalistic appetite ultimatley destroyed his relationship with his wife and family. The black and white may be easily attributed to the fact that much of the story takes place during the 1940s and such film making pays appropriate homage, but it's truly more than than. There is something in the black and white that truly brings out the violence and rage that lives within the protagonist of the film. Even the graphic images of blood during many of Jake's fight take on a unique meaning in the way it's conveyed on the screen (take not of a close up shot of blood dripping from the rope of the boxing ring). This was also an era when boxing was considered a very dark blot in the world of sports, hence the black and white photography's additional effectiveness.
The film is primarily told as a flashback because we're first introduced to Jake LaMotta as an aging, overweight would-be stand-up comic in the year 1964...
Immediately, we get the sense of a man who may have once held the world in his hands and then lost it, left now only to pick up the small remnants of what remains of his lonely life. When the film then jumps to one of Jake's bloody fights, we learn who the real Jake LaMotta is, which is not very good...
(by the way, like THE UNTOUCHABLES in 1987, this was one of those films where DeNiro gained and lost weight specifically for the role!)
Jake lives in a working class section of the Bronx, is married to a woman he despises (and who despises him, in return) for reasons as small as overcooking his steak, apparently goes for underage girl (his future wife is only fifteen years-old when he meets her) and is forced to deal with the Mafia corruption that resides behind his world of boxing (I suppose one could say that Rocky Balboa, he is NOT!). As Jake slowly rises to the top of his boxing division, his personal struggles with jealousy and paranoia get progressively worse. Jake loves his wife Vicki (played by Cathy Moriarty), but is constantly looking over his shoulder at her, believing that she's fucking around behind his back - not just with many of the local mob big shots, but even with his own brother Joey (played by Joe Pesci in their first film pairing together in Scorsese films). In what has likely become an infamous scene in itself, Jake bluntly asks his brother, "Did you fuck my wife?" Watching and listening to this, we are likely to feel shock as well as a degree of comedy in such a question put to one's own brother. On the other, one brother backstabbing another is a tale as old as time itself.
There is a true genuineness in RAGING BULL, not only in the true telling of a man's life of turmoil, but also in the realistic brutality of boxing. It's important to note that Robert DeNiro learned his own boxing technique for the film, achieving a realism that goes beyond anything Sylvester Stallone ever did in the ring. But beyond the physical characteristics brought to the film, DeNiro possesses a dramatic anger and explosive rage of his own that brings a man like Jake LaMotta to perfect form. His performance, as well as his costars, are vigorously ambitious in their own right. Each one manages to feed off the other with just the right chemistry in a world where they must all co-exist under the instability and insanity of not only the hard profession of boxing, but the prices they must all pay for not only Jake's success, but his ultimate personal failures, as well. It's one of the finest film's of Scorsese's long career and rightfully holds a valid place in cinema as an American classic! Even the sound of RAGING BULL is unique in that we are often drawn into the effects of every hard punch, every camera flash bulb and even the rage that exists within the spectators of this brutal, animalistic sport.
Robert DeNiro won the Oscar for Best Actor of 1980 and he totally deserved it, but it was not enough, in my opinion. As much as I love and respect Robert Redford's directorial debut of ORDINARY PEOPLE, it's RAGING BULL that should have won the Oscar for Best Picture of that year. It was the best film of 1980 (a year I can't help but only associate with THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, AIRPLANE! and THE BLUES BROTHERS - must be a childhood thing!), as well as one of my top ten favorite films of that entire decade (that's entertainment!).
Favorite line or dialogue:
Jake La Motta: "Did you fuck my wife?"
Joey LaMotta: "What?"
Jake: "Did you fuck my wife?"
Joey: "How do you ask me that? I'm your brother and you ask me that? Where do you get you're balls big enough to ask me that?"
Jake: "You're very smart, Joey. You're giving me a lot of answers, but you ain't giving me the right answer. I'm gonna ask you again: did you or did you not?"
Joey: "I'm not gonna answer that. It's stupid. It's a sick question and you're a sick fuck and I'm not that sick that I'm gonna answer it. I'm leaving. If Nora calls tell her I went home. I'm not staying in this nuthouse with you. You're a sick bastard, I feel sorry for you, I really do. You know what you should do? Try a little more fucking and a little less eating, so you won't have problems upstairs in the bedroom and you pick on me and everybody else! You understand me, you fucking wacko? You're cracking up! Fucking screw ball ya!"
Wednesday, December 2, 2015
(September 1994, U.S.)
I have this persistent, ongoing argument with everyone I know that watches any sort of so-called "reality TV" and it's that there's nothing real about it whatsoever; my argument being that the moment you put any sort of situation in front of a television camera, the very high probability that the entire situation is staged and scripted most surely exists. Think about it! You think those people on SURVIVOR are in any sort of real mortal danger?? Of course they're not! There's an entire television crew there to assist them should anything serious ever occur! You think those stuck-up, large-breasted, plastic surgery bitches and their ass-kissing, aggravated husbands on any of those REAL HOUSEWIVES shows are real?? They're not real, people! They're actors portraying a part for money in front of a TV camera! Okay, so what's my point? I mean, I'm referring to 21st Century programming and Robert Redford's QUIZ SHOW tells a historically-true (we presume?) tale of the popular 1950s game show TWENTY ONE and those who were involved in its infamous scandal. My point, I suppose, is that during the Golden Age of television in the 1950s, I can't imagine that anyone watching programs where any sort of reality was involved, even game shows, ever conceived of any part of it being fake or rigged. TV viewers were naive back then (as if they're any brighter today??) and were apt to cling to the sort of intelligent TV heroes that would appear on quiz shows. From the moment we meet one of the film's primary characters Herb Stempel of Queens, NY (played by John Turturro), our first thought is very likely, "Man, what a dork!" I mean, really, take a look at this sad schmuck...
Nonetheless, Herb is a national celebrity because he's been consistently winning big money by answering difficult questions based on difficult topics week after week on live television. He's the epitome of intelligence and the poster boy for furthering the value of education to all the good little boys and girls of America...and the reason for all of this is because he's actually getting the answers ahead of time from the show's creators in order to keep the show's high ratings going. Inevitably, though, even those that need great ratings realize that Herb is just an ordinary, boring beatnik and now they want someone more colorful and a whole lot better looking! They find it in Charles Van Doren (played by Ralph Fiennes), a Columbia University instructor who comes from a well-known family of intellectuals. From the beginning of his part on TWENTY ONE, we know right off the bat that Charles, like Herb, is cheating because he's willingly agreed to take part in it when the temptation of victory, money and fame because just too damn tasty! And as any film that tells the story of scandal, it's typically told in two phases - the first being where all is well with the world and the thrill of the glory overtakes our protagonist, giving him the (temporary) pleasure of what he believes he's earned, including his picture on the cover of Time magazine...
(this is the real guy, people!)
This is the great salad period for Charles Van Doren. The second phase we can effectively call the part where the whistle is blown on the entire shebang and all the shit comes crashing down hard. Herb, having been ordered to "take a dive" by deliberately missing an easy question of what was the Best Oscar Picture of 1955 (the answer is MARTY!), is now pissed off that his career as a TV celebrity is over and is threatening to bring down Charles, the quiz show and its corrupt creators, as well. Throughout the entire rise and fall of the quiz show participants, the potential scandal of the show, as well as the moral ethics of television itself, is being investigated by a young Congressional lawyer Richard Goodwin (played by Rob Morrow), who is constantly getting one step closer to the truth that will not only expose the show and its players, but the entire National Broadcasting Company (NBC), as well. Director Robert Redford, it would seem, deliberately avoids the long (perhaps unnecessary) drama of a long legal trial and manages to tighten up the matter in a somewhat brief hearing with the House Committee for Legislative Oversight. In the end, of course, everything and everyone is exposed and those who allowed themselves to trade in their morals and their honor for the fast buck and the fame end up paying the price of their soul.
Perhaps by today's film and storytelling standards, all of this scandal content seems like nothing more dramatic or serious than the average daytime TV soap opera. Perhaps, but one must bear in mind that this is not just a tale of television, but also one of a time of innocence, when those who sought the comfort and stability of their living room television set were ultimately made to feel like fools in that they could be so easily taken in by the powers-that-be and the players that occupied the big box they so needed to cling to for their daily American heroes. This was, perhaps, the power that television held over us during another era. It's quite possible, that even though times have changed drastically since those days, the tube's (sorry -flat screen's) power over us and how we interpret our own lives hasn't changed much at all. Fortunately, this is why I don't watch much television and instead focus my time, brain and efforts on film...otherwise I'd likely be writing a blog on TV instead! Oohh, let's even think of such dreadful possibilities!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Charles Van Doren: "Jesus, Dick, if someone offered you all this money to be on some rigged quiz show, instant fame, the works - would you do it?"
Richard Goodwin: "No. 'Course not."
Charles: "No? Throw the whole thing in, the cover of Time, Dave Garroway, fifty thousand a year to read poetry on television — would you do it?"
Charles: "And I would."