Sunday, February 28, 2016
(May 2008, U.S.)
If this film sounds very unfamiliar to you, that's because it was not a theatrical release, but rather an HBO film, which deserves just as much recognition as any worthy theatrical release. It's about the debacle of the 2000 United States presidential election, which even after only eight short years, seemed like a period of American history already hell and gone from our memories, given all of the 21st Century world events that took place since then, including September 11, 2001, our second invasion of Iraq and our economic meltdown! Still, the event of the 2000 election stays fresh in my mind because up until then, I was very optimistic and enthusiastic that the new century would be a great one. It seems my good feelings didn't last even one goddamn year!
As a man of voting age who voted for Al Gore because I wanted to see the Clinton years (blowjobs not withstanding!) continue on some level, I remember the events of the 2000 Election very well, including the constant repeat of words like ballot punching and chads! It was on every news channel, including twenty-four hour coverage on CNN, and of course, made the cover of Time magazine...
...and so, it seems just the right material for a dramatic film, with even a touch of ironic humor. Perhaps that why Jay Roach (Austin Powers and Meet the Parents movies) was chosen to direct it. The film, which stars, among others, Kevin Spacey and Dennis Leary, chronicles the election of George W. Bush vs. Al Gore. Some of the highlighted events include Gore's early concession and subsequent retraction to Bush in the early hours of Election night, Gore's decision to bring a lawsuit for hand recounts in Florida where the Democratic voting irregularities were alleged, the Republican's pressure on Florida’s Secretary of State Katherine Harris (played by Laura Dern in a truly irritating performance) in light of her legally-mandated responsibilities under Florida law, the world's attention focused on the hand recounts by the media, the political parties, and the general public, the announcements by the Florida Supreme Court extending the deadlines for returns in the initial recount and the ordering of a statewide recount of all votes by the time the month of December has arrived and then overturned later by the U.S. Supreme Court, finally giving Gore to concede for good.
Despite an impressive cast (except Dern!), it's Kevin Spacey that truly carries the film as political operative Ron Klain who served under Al Gore. Initially, the film is not deliberately meant to take political sides, but whether the side of right and justice was for the Democrats or the Republicans, the film under Spacey's character and team of political strategists, give the Democrats the position of the underdog in the film, which I suppose is what any Democratic voter (myself included) would like to see. Whether or not every moment of the film's story is accurate or not, this is where the art of dramatization makes its point by blending the ideas of fact with some fictional versions of what really happened. As American citizens who voted, we may never really know the truth of who really won the 2000 presidential election, and sixteen years later, it likely doesn't even matter any more. Would 9/11 never have happened had Al Gore been elected? Of course not! Would we have avoided the recent recession? Very unlikely! One thing we can be sure of, however...had Al Gore taken the presidency, we surely wouldn't have gotten ourselves involved in Iraq again! I defy you to prove that opinion otherwise!
And now, here we are, people - sixteen years later and we're caught up in another debacle of presidential candidates who will very likely take the American people deeper into the shit of living in 21st Century America! Is Hilary Clinton the answer? Definitely not! Ted Cruz? Don't know. Bernie Sanders? Maybe. Is Donald Trump the answer? Well, unless we truly want to see World War III actually happen, HELL NO!!! Oh, may the powers of all that is good and just save us from ourselves on Election night, November 2016!!!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Ron Klain: "How hard is it to punch a paper ballot?"
Michael Whouley: "It's pretty goddamn hard when you're eighty something years-old, you're arthritic, and you're blind as a fucking bat! Unfortunately for us, blind fucking bats tend to vote Democratic!"
Monday, February 22, 2016
(October 1955, U.S.)
For my generation, the decade of the 1950s is generally considered one of purity, cleanliness and wholesome moral values (whatever the fuck those are supposed to be!). When I was a kid, the closest thing to rebel or "badass" I ever experienced from the 1950s was Henry Winkler as the "Fonz" on ABC-TV's HAPPY DAYS and John Travolta as Danny Zuko in the movie GREASE (1978). I suppose these interpretations were fairly accurate, but like any other period of time in pop culture history, the less-than-wholesome elements of people's lifestyles and behaviors were kept quietly hidden underground. Still, even in the 1950s, people knew things weren't perfect. They just didn't talk about it. In REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, director Nicholas Ray attempts to talk about it. The film is groundbreaking for its time in its attempt to portray the moral decay of the American youth, the critical behavior of the parents they must deal with and it also explores the differences and conflicts between those two generations. From the moment the film opens, we're immediately exposed to underage drunkenness as "new kid on the block" Jim Stark (played by the late-great James Dean) is being hauled into juvenile hall at the local police station. At the station he meets "Plato" (played by Sal Mineo) and Judy (played by Natalie Wood), who have each been brought into the station for their own individual family troubles. The three each separately reveal their innermost frustrations to the police officers trying to reach them. You see, in the 1950s, cops appear to care deeply about what happens to the youth of America! Still, by the end of this opening sequence, we're still left with the impression that we have a long way to go with these angry kids, and with that, we get a deeper look into each of them.
Jim feels experiences confusion, betrayal and hypocrisy by his constantly bickering parents, but even more so by his father's (played by Jim Back) passive and defenseless attitude and his failure to stand up to Jim's nagging and domineering mother. The moment Jim has the chance to speak at the police station in front of his parents, he screams, "You're tearing me apart!" Oddly (or perhaps predictably), his parents have the audacity to regard their son as if they don't know what he's talking about! Jim is an honest man with an idealistic regard toward his own young life and what is considered right and wrong in a decent society. While trying to prove himself worthy and not "chicken" to the local gang of popular kids (including Judy), he willingly participates in a drag race in which his opponent is killed when his car goes over a cliff. While all the other kids flee the scene and are determined to say nothing about the incident, Jim feels compelled to stand up and face the truth and consequences of what he was directly involved in. This is honorable, to be sure, but how can a young man as this take on such a burden when his own parents, supposed figures of morality and honesty to be looked up to, are outright hypocrites and would go so far as to immediately move away in order to avoid trouble and implications. Indeed, how can one be an honest man when surrounded by so much dishonesty and deceit? In an unforgettable scene, Jim grabs his own father in a violent rage and throws him to the floor when it becomes painfully apparent that his father won't stand up for his son when trying to do the right thing...
Interestingly, though, the problems of Judy and Plato seem almost common or even "textbook" as compared to the complexities of Jim's. They simply, in their own way, want to be loved. Judy by her father, who seems to believe that genuine love and affection are meant to stop once his child reaches a certain age. Judy loves her father, but can't seem to reach him any more. Naturally, she lashes out in her own rebellious manner. Plato, on the other hand, has no one in his life except the maid. His father left him and his mother is constantly travelling, seemingly not giving a damn about what becomes of her son. Plato longs for love and companionship, but fear ultimately takes over and he inevitably reacts violently with a gun when the trouble of opposing teenage delinquency finds him. Jim and Judy, even as they fall in love, befriend Plato when no one else will. But for a lost boy like Plato, friendship can only go so far, before tragedy will strike and someone will end up dead at the hands of the police (some things never change throughout the decades!). If one good thing comes out of tragedy at the end of the film, it's that Jim and his parents have a better understanding of each other. Distraught over the death of his friend, Jim's father stands beside him and proclaims that his son can depend on him to face anything that comes their way. I can't help but get a little choked up when Jim's father tells him, "Stand up, son. I'll stand up with you."
James Dead was a Hollywood legend who only made three films before he was killed in an auto crash. Much like EAST OF EDEN (also 1955) before it, his character is one who longs for love and understanding and there is an irresistible sensitivity to his persona that can't be ignored. And yet, when trouble finds him, it important to note that Jim Stark is no coward, either. He'll stand up for himself in whatever "badass" form one can derive from a period when youth was considered simple and "wholesome". Jim Backus, I have to say, as good as he is in this film, is someone I have a little trouble taking seriously behind his most infamously-silly characters as Thurston Howell III from GILLIGAN'S ISLAND and the voice of the cartoon character MR. MAGOO. This is likely a trivial matter, given the importance and controversy of the subject, but still...I notice such trivia.
When one considers an entire decade and if there could be a single film that clearly defines the youth culture of the time, it's impossible to ignore the fact that REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE is very likely that film for the 1950s. Like any other generation, teens were troubled and they had parents that had to deal with them (and vice-versa). I can only imagine that this film spoke to them on a personal level and brought their joys, their fears, their frustrations and their relationships and conflicts with authority to the life of the big screen, much in the way that EASY RIDER would speak to the youth of the 1960s, SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER to the youth of the 1970s, THE BREAKFAST CLUB to the youth of the 1980s and SINGLES to the youth of the 1990s. I haven't yet chosen a worthy film that spoke to the youth of the 2000s. Any suggestions?
Favorite line or dialogue:
Jim Stark: "You are not going to use me as an excuse again!"
Carol Stark: "I don't!"
Jim: "Everytime you can't face yourself, you blame it on me!"
Carol: "That is not true!"
Jim: "You say it's because of me, you say it's because of the neighborhood! You use every other phony excuse! Mom, I just...once I want to do something right! And I don't want you to run away from me again! Dad."
Frank Stark: "This is all going too fast for me, son."
Jim: "You better give me something. You better give me something fast!"
Thursday, February 18, 2016
(April 1940, U.S.)
First REAR WINDOW and now REBECCA! Oh man, how I do love these little coincidences that manage to create double features on my blog! This film, based on Daphne du Maurier's 1938 novel, was Alfred Hitchcock's first one to be made in America. It's a glorious black and white gothic tale of the psychological and mysterious elements of one's past continuing to haunt them. And as is the case with most Hitchcock material, it's also a fine love story. One of, if not the key element of psychological intrigue in this film is that we never get to see the character of Rebecca de Winter because she's already died before the story even really starts. Brooding aristocratic widower Maxim de Winter (played by Lawrence Olivier) is clearly haunted by his wife's passing, but we're not entirely sure why. We also don't know how she died. Clearly, though, her passing and even just the mere mention of her name has left a mark not only on the widower and the entire domestic staff at his home of the English country mansion Manderley, but particularly with his new naïve second wife (played by Joan Fontaine, whose character name, by the way, is never mentioned in the film. She's simply known as the second Mrs. de Winter) who must not only deal with the memory and reputation of the dead first wife, but also with Manderley's rather creepy head housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (played by Judith Anderson), who appeared to have absolutely adored Rebecca. Mrs. Danvers is cold, domineering and completely obsessed with the beauty, intelligence and sophistication of the eponymous first Mrs. de Winter, preserving her former bedroom as a shrine. Did I say she adored Rebecca? Adored, my ass! Although the subject of lesbianism was still considered a screen taboo in 1940, it's pretty damn obvious that Mrs. Danvers was in love with Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier was rumored to be bisexual, so the idea is not totally without merit)!
Rebecca's presence and intimidation, even from the grave, is apparent and obvious throughout Manderley. The fact that her presence is also so highly protected by the icy Mrs. Danvers makes it all the more chilling because there's nothing more challenging than to try and survive than the memory of the dead. The second Mrs. de Winter longs to belong not only to Manderley and its servants, but also longs to be the perfect wife she imagines she should be to her new husband. As the stress of belonging and the mystery of who Rebecca was and what happened to her in the end progresses throughout the film, the second wife is nearly pushed over the mental and psychological edge by Mrs. Danvers. In a particularly haunting scene, Mrs. Danvers is hardly shy about urging the second wife to jump to her death in the sea below, citing that there's really no viable reason for her to remain at Manderley or to even live, for that matter. As mentioned, there's no quiet subtlety in this action. Mrs. Danvers stalks and hovers over the second wife with piercing eyes and the strongest of will...
This bitch is definitely not someone I want working for me in my house! Still, however, we must remember that this is still a Hitchcock mystery and despite any early indications of weakness and frailty, the so-called victim eventually rises to the occasion, so to say, and not only finds a way to defend herself against the wicked housekeeper, but to also uncover the truth of Rebecca. The truth, as an element of intricate plotting, is actually far more astonishing than you might imagine. The truth, as we're meant to understand it, is that Maxim de Winter absolutely hated his wife (for specific reasons, please watch the film!)! And while it appears he had good reasons to want to murder her (he is suspected of such for a while), Rebecca's death was the result of her own hand when she learned she suffered from a terminal cancer. The film attempts to conclude itself with a sense of resolve, absolution and the triumph of love, but I'm afraid we're not let off the hook that easily. In what I can only describe as a vivid and even frightening image in black and white, we finally watch the great house of Manderley burn to the ground at the hands of the crazed Mrs. Danvers in a scathing inferno that lights up the entire night sky...
This burning house actually sets the stage for the film at the very beginning because we're first introduced to the story in the idea of the second Mrs. de Winter's dream of the once great Manderley, now a smoldering ruin of ashes and rubble..."Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."
REBECCA won the Oscar for best picture of 1940. Not bad for Hitchcock's first American film!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Mrs. Danvers (speaking of the first Mrs. de Winter) "You wouldn't think she'd been gone so long, would you? Sometimes, when I walk along the corridor, I fancy I hear her just behind me. That quick light step. I couldn't mistake it anywhere. It's not only in this room, it's in all the rooms in the house. I can almost hear it now. Do you think the dead come back and watch the living?"
Second Mrs. de Winter (crying): "N-no, I don't believe it."
Mrs. Danvers: "Sometimes, I wonder if she doesn't come back here to Manderley, to watch you and Mr. de Winter together. You look tired. Why don't you stay here a while and rest, and listen to the sea. It's so soothing. Listen...listen to the sea."
Saturday, February 13, 2016
(September 1954, U.S.)
Were the great Alfred Hitchcock alive and well today in the digital age of the 21st Century, what would he have thought of society's fascination with looking into the lives of others? In his film REAR WINDOW, Thelma Ritter says to James Stewart that, "We've all become a race of peeping Toms!", and this was the year 1954, when technology was hardly off of the ground. In the film, the hero L.B. Jefferies (Stewart), while confined to wheelchair nursing a broken leg, passes his days away by staring out his Greenwich Village apartment rear window at the neighbors, sometimes with binoculars and sometimes even with the long zoom lens of his camera. Just imagine what Hitchcock would have thought of us today, with our obsessive capabilities of looking into the lives of others through video surveillance, YouTube, video chatting, social media, etc. He would have either been absolutely fascinated or totally sickened (as I often am!)! He might have come to the psychological conclusion that the average person is either bored or unsatisfied with their own life and must try and compensate such personal issues by peeking into the lives of others, particularly if the others are unaware they're being watched. Again, Jefferies is physically confined to just one room and can't do much else with himself, so perhaps that exonerates him from his voyeuristic behavior (what's our excuse??).
And so, as we take stock of the neighbors that Jefferies watches, we have a pretty, blonde ballet dancer with a nice ass, a female sculptor, a pair of newlyweds who have the curtain drawn the entire time, a bachelor composer, an older woman longing for love and companionship (Jefferies nicknames her "Miss Lonelyhearts"), an older couple with a dog who like to sleep outdoors on their fire escape during the summer heat, and finally, Mr. Lars Thorwald (played by Raymond Burr), a traveling jewelry salesman with a nagging, bedridden wife. During Jefferies's confinement, it would seem that these people are his only solace (other than the insurance company nurse Stella), that is, until we're introduced to his socialite girlfriend Lisa (played by the absolutely beautiful Grace Kelly) who we first see in a camera shot that is done in slow motion and in an almost dreamlike state as she leans in to kiss Jefferies...
She's very real, though. She's beautiful, exotic, successful, and somewhat spoiled by her high society persona. Unlike Jefferies, whose profession of magazine photographer has sent him to some of the harshest places in the world and has also given him a rough, somewhat undignified disposition. On paper, the two of them have about as much in common as my own parents did - which is very little! When he's with her, we can tell he's enchanted by her, despite their very different worlds. Still, by the end of their first evening together, we're brought down to the reality of their relationship as it appears they'll never be able compromise their own lifestyle beliefs in order to be together. When Lisa leaves Jefferies alone for the night, the mystery of REAR WINDOW finally begins when he hears a woman scream and the sound of glass breaking. Jefferies stays awake all night and the next day watching his neighbor Thorwald through his camera and this is what he sees - repeated trips in the middle of the night in the pouring rain and thunder, knives and saws being nearly wrapped up in newspaper, a trunk tied with rope, jewelry from a handbag and the nagging, bedridden wife who's no longer there! In fact, it's during this sequence of watching that there's the first of two great visual moments in the film that I never forget. In this first one, just look closely at Jefferies' eyes while looking through his camera and then watch them slowly shift to our right...
This is the exact moment, through the movement of his eyes, that Jefferies realizes the horrific act of murder may have occurred during the night just across the courtyard, and in his own way, he's become a party to it. At this moment, simple voyeurism has become obsession because Jefferies is convinced he's right about everything he suspects, even though he can't prove a single part of it. While his nurse Stella (Ritter) appears to be on his side, Lisa and his detective friend Tom Doyle (played by Wendell Corey) think he's imagining the impossible. In fact, Lisa paints a very reasonable argument to Jefferies, stating that any sane, intelligent man who plans to murder his wife wouldn't be stupid enough to parade the crime in front of an open window for all to possibly see. Sounds reasonable, of course, but the argument is only momentary. In what I consider to be the second great visual moment of the film, stare closely at Lisa's face while she's making this argument and you'll see a sudden change in her expression...
In that single moment, even though we haven't yet seen what it is she's looking at, we know very well that something has changed about her argument and that she's about to cross over into Jefferies' world of intrigue and mystery. In this one moment, Lisa can now join Jefferies on his level, and this may be all the two of them need to make their confused relationship work. As they dive deeper into the mystery of Lars Thorwald and "did he?" or "didn't he?", we can see Jefferies' attitude toward his girlfriend change over time. Impatience and resentment are replaced with sincere love and admiration as the two of them are finally able to share an experience together on an equal level of common ground. Lisa, who started out in defiance of the entire matter, is even now more motivated to learn the truth than Jefferies (perhaps this is because she has two good legs!) as she even goes so far as to get into Thorwald's apartment when he's out to discover that his missing wife's wedding ring has been left behind, and its this ring that may be the only real evidence that will finally nail Thorwald! Of course, as is with just about any crime story, the guilty are caught and punished, and the heroes are triumphant in their deeds and get to live happily ever after (even if it means two broken legs!).
REAR WINDOW is, without a doubt, one of Hitchcock's finest films, only third to PSYCHO (1960) and THE BIRDS (1963), in my opinion. It's a simple, and yet very strange, tale of a slice of life in a small neighborhood in New York City (despite being completely shot at the Paramount Studios in Hollywood, California). Simple as it may or may not be, however, it's one of Hitchcock's most psychologically-charged films that explores the obsessive level of human nature and how people perceive the lives of others around them from the outside, looking in. As viewers ourselves, we're effortlessly drawn into the film not only as fans of Hitchcock's work, but as curious beings allowing ourselves to be trapped in a world where the act of spying into the lives of others is not only wickedly fun, but even essential to solving a murder. And despite the great dialogue and performances from all who participate in this film, REAR WINDOW is ultimately about looking...looking for ourselves and looking alongside James Stewart so we can fully understand and appreciate what's taking place before us and perhaps even share some of the guilt and terror of the consequences of seeing things that we were never meant to see.
In 1997, there was a TV remake of REAR WINDOW, which starred the late Christopher Reeve and Daryl Hannah. I watched it because I found the concept of using Reeve, who was confined to a wheelchair in real life due to his paralysis, fascinating. Somehow, using Reeve and his condition just made sense for a modern remake of such a story. Unfortunately, as with any film that attempts to remake Hitchcock, it didn't work for me. In the world of film, one should simply never try to remake the "Master of Suspense" (you listening, Gus Van Sant??)!
Now a quick personal story for you. Sometime during the very late 1990s, just before the digital technology of the world we live in now truly allowed us to look into the lives of others, I was living in a small apartment on East 86th Street in Manhattan. It was a quiet Saturday night during the winter and I was sitting at the eating table which faced the apartment building across the street. Without even giving it much thought, I found myself getting my binoculars to see what I could see. After doing some scanning, I focused on the bedroom of an apartment across the way. And while I wish I could tell you I got to watch something juicy or scandalous, all I really got to see was a married couple going to bed for the night. Still, I couldn't help but be fascinated at how I could actually watch these people and what they were doing without them being aware of it. As Stewart mentions in the film, there's an issue of ethics to such actions, but at the same time, his neighbors could also do it to him if they wanted to, as could my own. Anyway, I never did it again after that one. Truth be told, it wasn't that interesting or even that much fun.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Lisa Fremont (to Jefferies): "Tell me exactly what you saw...and what you think it means."
Friday, February 5, 2016
(December 2008, U.S.)
THE READER, based on the 1995 German semi-autobiographical best seller by Bernhard Schlink (I haven't read it), is a thought-provoking wartime, romantic drama to be taken with a respectable degree of seriousness and integrity. So you'll kindly forgive me for starting out my post by cheapening it somewhat by first mentioning that Kate Winslet appears naked in the film; not just briefly, but for some extended moments...
Sorry, but I'm a guy...and as a guy with strong heterosexual tendencies, I enjoy my more-than-fair share of tits and ass whenever I can get it...particularly if it's Kate Winslet, who, in my opinion, has still got it!
Okay, so now back to serious cinema! THE READER might have easily slipped past me if my mother in-law had not sung its praises when she saw it in the theater almost eight years ago. I was prepared for merely a simple love story between older woman and younger man, but what I got was a much more surprising tale of intrigue and twists. The film tells the story of Michael Berg (played by Ralph Fiennes as an adult), a German lawyer who as a teenager in the 1950s had an affair with Hannah Schmitz (Winslet), a train conductor who helped him home one day when he's sick. Upon his recovery from Scarlet Fever, he visits her where he's immediately seduced by her and they begin their summer long affair. While she appears to be in it for the excitement of just getting laid, he seeks a more emotional connection with her. They eventually find that connection in books when she asks him to read to her whenever they're finished making love. However, just when we may think things may get more serious between the two of them, she abruptly leaves town upon learning of her promotion at work withing informing Michael.
Cut to years later when Michael is attending law school. As part of a class seminar, the students observe a trial of several German women accused of letting hundreds of Jewish women die in a burning church when they were Nazi SS guards of a concentration camp near Krakow. We are stunned to learn that Michael's beloved and long-lost Hanna is one of those defendants. This is a startling revelation, to be sure, but it only seems to scratch the surface of Hannah's secrets. Through the course of the trial, we come to realize that Hannah is illiterate and grossly ashamed of that fact. As a result, rather than confess her illiteracy, she chooses to take the burden of the accusations by claiming she was primarily responsible for generating a report that ultimately condemned the Jewish women to death; something we know cannot be true because she cannot read and write. Although she is a former Nazi and deserves the burdens of justice, their is a strong consumption of irony present in us (and Michael) knowing of her situation and that she cannot possibly be fully blamed for what happened. Still, secrets are often kept hidden deep enough to affect outcomes in storytelling, and it's this secret that will send Hannah to prison for decades while the other women merely get a slap on the wrist with only a few years in prison. The ironic twist of THE READER is relatively simple here, and yet it's strong enough to have us scratching our heads and wondering how it can ultimately affect so many lives; Michael's, as well as Hanna's. We even ask ourselves how we, as the viewer, managed to miss all the hints and clues given to us throughout the film, i.e. Hannah refusing to read from Michael's books, the lost look on her face when confronted with a lunch menu, etc.
As a man forever changed (and perhaps even scarred) by his involvement with Hannah, Michael struggles not only with the actions of her past, but with his own soul and how he's been unable to open up to those he loves ever since knowing Hannah. As a man of compassion, he longs to help Hannah in her later prison years by sending her tapes he's recorded of every book he owns, which she, in turn, uses to teach herself to read. Yet despite his empathy for her, he cannot bring himself to reconnect with her on a level of commitment when she's finally due to be released from prison and will require someone to take responsibility for her. We know he'll always have a special connection with, but cannot allow her into his life because of her crimes against humanity. This decision results in a tragic end for Hannah (which I won't give away now). Tragic, or not, we are constantly meant to remind ourselves that she was a member of the Nazi Party, and such compassion for those people are extremely limited, at best.
THE READER is a highly engrossing and deeply emotional experience of not only a disturbing tale of the Holocaust and its horrors, but also fills us with a certain degree of pity that demands our attention, whether it feels justified or not. Kate Winslet can only be praised for an outstanding, powerful performance of a woman who, despite her destiny of punishment, we've also come to appreciate and possibly understand her fears and anxieties of illiteracy. Whether such understanding is deserved or even seems valid is entirely up to the viewer. Ralph Fiennes, though quiet and reserved, express the sorrows and regrets of his past with perfection. David Kross as a young Michael is a purely sympathetic character of teenage angst and confusion over love, sexual desire and the emotional connection to a woman, good or bad, who changed his life forever. And while SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE may have won the Oscar for best picture of 2008 (I didn't like it!), it should have been THE READER, in my opinion!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Michael Berg: "I didn't mean to upset you."
Hanna Schmitz: "You don't have the power to upset me! You don't matter enough to upset me!"
Monday, February 1, 2016
(October 2004, U.S.)
The closest I ever came to being a fan of Ray Charles was on only two movie occasions. The first is Ray's cameo in THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980) and his performance with John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. The second is the hilarious moment in PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES (1987) when John Candy is driving in the middle of the night and seriously getting into Ray's "Mess Around", which nearly results in a fatal auto accident (really, how can anyone not think of John Candy when listening to this song?)...
That in mind, one has to wonder just how interested can one be in a film biography of an artist you're not particularly into in the first place? Well, first there's the reputable film career of director Taylor Hackford that includes great films like AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN (1982) and THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE (1997). Second, Jamie Foxx. One only need watch the original trailer for RAY to see that Foxx nails it cold! So whether you're a fan of the music of Ray Charles or not, to simply watch Foxx take the character to extraordinary cinematic limits is worth the price of your time and a ticket.
To know Ray Charles well is likely to really only know his music and what it means to you. For a screen biop, we get to see his life as the child Ray Charles Robinson, raised on a sharecropping plantation in Florida and slowly going by the age of seven after witnessing his younger brother drown. Inspired by a fiercely independent mother who insisted he make his own way in the world and not be judged a cripple, Ray finds his gift and his calling at the keyboard of a piano. Like most successful artists, Ray has to pay his dues not only with the physical limitations of his blindness, but also the cheap, crooked characters that all to often corrupt artists and the world of show business. As time passes, Ray not only gains recognition and notoriety, but also develops an incorporation of rhythm and blues, rock and roll, gospel, country, jazz and orchestral influences into his unique style. As I suppose no true story about any famous musical artist is not complete without a healthy does of severe drug use and infamous womanizing (but then again, musicians do manage to get all the pussy!). Although the film only hints at two children, it seems the real Ray Charles had twelve children with nine different women (WOW!)! His addiction to heroin is made very clear in the film and one can only wonder how he managed to live to a somewhat ripe old age even after he gave up the junk. When we watch Ray the man, and not the musician, we see a tormented soul that cannot escape the horrors of watching his younger brother drown and ultimately feeling responsible for it. However, there is this one brilliant moment in the film when Ray experiences a dream in which he cannot only see, but is also forgiven by his brother and his mother for all the sins of his past. This is actually the moment where the film comes to a conclusion, as we're meant to understand that Ray Charles gave up his drug addiction upon having this disturbing dream. Whether or not it's true may almost seem inconsequential because the moment works so well on film, and as previously mention, Jamie Foxx brings it all home with amazing charisma.
One interesting fact that I learned about Ray Charles (according to the film, anyway) was his apparent refusal to play the state of Georgia or any other state that promoted segregating during the 1960s. For this act, Ray was actually banned from ever playing Georgia until the 1970s, when the act was not only rescinded, but also when his song, "Georgia On My Mind" became the official state song. I suppose all of the decades civil rights leaders would have been proud of that one!
Finally, since this was a posting of a film of a popular musical artist, let me dedicate this post to all the popular musical artists that have passed away in just the first month of this new year; they include Natalie Cole, David Bowie, Glenn Frey of the Eagles and Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship. Thanks for all that you gave us!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Ray Charles: "You're the ones who taught me that making a record is business and find the best business deal that you can. Now seventy-five cents of every dollar and owning my own masters is a pretty damn good deal. Can you match it?"
Ahmet Ertegun: "Ray, we would love to match it, but we just can't. That's a better deal than Sinatra gets. I'm very proud of you."