Wednesday, May 25, 2016
(October 1992, U.S.)
I'd like to begin by actually telling you about the circumstances under which I saw A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT because it's what I think about most when recalling this film. It was a cold Saturday in December 1992 and I was in Westhampton Beach, Long Island checking on the family beach house with a friend of mine who also happened to be an ex-girlfriend from college. Because we were in a beach town during the off-season, everything around us was very quiet. Having no further tasks or plans after checking the house, we decided to catch the movie at the local neighborhood theater, where it was still going strong after being in release for two months already. The peaceful serenity of Robert Redford's film and the way it beautifully captures the waters and the mountains of Montana are exemplary of the picturesque serenity of a simpler life at the turn of the century...
Not exactly a film filled with excitement or speed, but it was just the perfect way to cap off an afternoon in a small, quiet town with a good friend and I'll take that any day of the week.
Narrated by Redford himself, this is a simple coming-of-age tale of two Montana brothers. One of them studious, Norman Maclean (played by Craig Sheffer), of whose family the film and novella are based on, and the other rebellious, Paul Maclean (played by Brad Pitt), both of them sons of the local town Presbyterian minister (played by Tom Skerritt). It's a life where the religion of the church and the passion for fly fishing are practically one and the same and we're witnesses to how fishing impacts their lives. As the boys grow into manhood, they both evolve into their own lives, loves and passions, while still never losing their love for fishing. Norman goes off to college to study and teach literature, while Paul remains at home to become a journalist for the local newspaper. Being the rebellious one who's never afraid of a confrontation, Paul finds it easy (if not fun) to stand up to issues of the era, including racism against the American Indian and the violent trouble that Prohibition, illegal liquor and gambling bring. It's impossible not to watch this film and wonder to ourselves just when and where Paul is going to meet his fate if he doesn't quit pushing his luck with certain people (were told near the end of the film that he's been beaten to death). Norman, on the other hand, is always playing it safe and even manages to fall in love with the first beautiful girl he lays his eyes on at the town dance, Jesse Burns (played by Emily Lloyd). Despite the great personality differences between both brothers, it's the art of fishing and the love of home, the land and the waters that always keeps their relationship strong. It's actually one of the rare movies I've seen where two brothers are also best friends (just doesn't happen that often, in my opinion). The film ends beautifully with the last scene of Norman Maclean as an old man, back in the Montana river where he used to fish with his family many years ago. When I first saw the film, I was convinced that the old man was the real Norman Maclean, but the man died in 1990, two years before this film was released, so I'm guessing that was wrong.
While the performances in A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT are strong enough, particularly that of Brad Pitt in a groundbreaking role, the film is more of a visual experience in the heart and beauty of America's landscape and Redford's best directorial work since ORDINARY PEOPLE (1980), I think. One can't help but feel enthralled by the power of the rivers and the life in it and around it. We're meant to bring ourselves closer to nature and her possibilities while, perhaps, reaching down into our own souls to find meaning with the visuals we witness. It's just fishing, yes, but it's the pure simplicity of life's pleasures that take us to another place in our minds and our hearts. Just as Redford narrates as the last line of the film, we are haunted by waters.
By the way, when you watch the film, keep your eye on a ten year-old Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a young Norman Maclean.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Older Norman Maclean (narrating): "Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters."
Saturday, May 21, 2016
(August 1983, U.S.)
By the time RISKY BUSINESS was released in theaters, I was sixteen years-old and had a better access of going to the movies on my own or with friends and without the constraint of my parent's supervision regarding what movie content I saw and what I didn't. My access to the local movie theaters was also convenient in that those that operated the places were not particularly hard-ass about entry to R-rated movies for kids under the age of seventeen without being accompanied by an adult. This was also the time of the great American teen sex comedy of the 1980s, with former titles like PORKY'S (1981), FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982), SPRING BREAK, MY TUTOR and CLASS (all 1983) already paving the way for many more years of horny high school antics to come. At the time, having absolutely no concept of who Tom Cruise was or would one day become, RISKY BUSINESS seemed merely just another apple in the lot; just something I could have easy access to and perhaps even come away feeling a bit more adult (and a bit more obsessed with trying to lose my own virginity, too!).
Well, as it turned out, while RISKY BUSINESS was everything that I would have expected from the traditional '80s teen sex comedy with its tale of coming of age and loss of sexual innocence, it also covered relevant themes of the decade including materialism and capitalism. Tom Cruise plays normal, all-around good boy high school student Joel Goodson, who lives with his upper-middle class parents in suburban Chicago. His father wants him to attend his alma mater Princeton University, so to better his academic record, Joel reluctantly participates in the school's Future Enterprisers program, an extracurricular activity in which students work in teams to create small businesses and sell their created product. When his parents go out of town for the week, opportunity arises for Joel to say "What the fuck!" and take some chances in life that may bring him much needed experience and, perhaps, even some pussy...if he has the balls to go through with any of it. For starters, it seems good enough to just let loose and play his father's stereo real loud while dancing around to Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock and Roll" in his pink dress shirt and underwear...
...(a scene which would already make Tom Cruise famous before moving on to TOP GUN and an entire illustrious career!) and, of course, to take the forbidden ride in his father's Porsche 928 (which later accidentally ends up at the bottom of Lake Michigan after he gets stoned!).
Bearing in mind that Joel's top priority is to get laid during his time of privacy, he meets call girl Lana (played by Rebecca De Mornay) who surprises Joel with a service "bill" of three hundred dollars the morning after they've screwed all night long. And really, what could be more American than a scene like this...
After returning from the bank with her money, he finds her gone and so is his mother's expensive Steuben glass egg. In an effort to get the egg back, Joel is now deeply involved in Lana's world of a call girl, including her crazy pimp Guido (played by Joe Pantoliano) and her friends in the business also determined to break away from Guido. Allowing Lana to stay in his house, the two of them come to realize that if they put their heads together, they have the opportunity to make some real cash in just one night (Joel will need it to get his father's Porsche fixed before they get home from their trip). Lana has the friends to provide the services and Joel has a lot of rather horny (and pathetic) friends with cash to spend in order to finally get laid! And so, the respectable high school kid with a bright future has now, for one night, turned into a high profile neighborhood pimp running a popular brothel out of mommy and daddy's suburban home (you seriously gotta love the guy!). The next morning, Joel finds his entire house has been ripped off, furniture and all. When he tries to reach Lana, Guido answers instead and tells Joel that he'll let Joel buy back all of his belongings, including the expensive glass egg that started all of this. Fortunately, Joel has the money from the night before and manages to get everything back and moved back in just as his parents walk in after returning from the airport. And then, as bad luck and seriously-twisted irony would have it, his mother casually notices a small crack in her egg (I've always hated that bitch for completely crushing Joel's efforts and adventures with such a ridiculous observation!). Still, Joel appears to have a bright future ahead of him as a business man because it looks like he'll get into Princeton. Nothing, it seems, effectively seduces a man from the college admissions department like a houseful of beautiful hookers and a young high school kid wearing a pair of shades and lighting up a cigarette who's actually ballsy enough to say "What the fuck!" and make his movie...
(Yes, it would seem that Princeton can use a guy like Joel!)
Though the film was clearly released during the era of the cheap teen sex comedy, I would hardly classify RISKY BUSINESS as cheap. On the contrary, the film carries with it a certain style and intelligent sense of satire. The character of Lana plays out more as smart college girl rather than hooker. The relationship between herself and Joel could quite easily be comparable to that of THE GRADUATE (1967). Paul Brickman's dialogue is highly credible in setting up scenes and the background for relationships and circumstances to come, as well as the laughs the film requires. Tom Cruise was off to a very promising start with the level of energy and enthusiasm he brought to many of his roles in the decades that followed. I cannot help but notice and reflect up a scene at the end of the film where Joel and Lana are sitting in a restaurant wondering where they might be ten years from now, Joel in particular with his head and desire for business. It's interesting when you realize that ten years after RISKY BUSINESS, Tom Cruise starred in THE FIRM (1993) in which he played a successful man in the world of law and business. Now just imagine if Rebecca De Mornay had played his wife in that film instead of Jeanne Tripplehorn. Wow!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Joel Goodson: "Some of the girls are wearing my mother's clothing."
Lana: "What's wrong with that?"
Joel: "I just don't want to spend the rest of my life in analysis."
Wednesday, May 18, 2016
(August 2011, U.S.)
Although they each contain a worthy moment or two, I have no great affection for the four PLANET OF THE APES sequels of the 1970s that followed the classic 1968 original with Charlton Heston. And Tim Burton's 2001 remake...well, let's not even talk about that worthless dud! That in mind, I was none too enthusiastic about another attempt at a reboot of this legendary film franchise. But because I try to be fair whenever possible, I gave RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES a look when it became available on DVD. The result? Well, here I am!
Despite my traditional prejudices against Hollywood remakes and reboots, I give this film credit for genuinely going back to the beginning to create an origin for a new story built on the foundation of a former tale. The story of how humankind came to be dominated by apes begins right here in the present day with the development of a new drug called ALZ-112 that could very well be the cure for Alzheimer's disease. The drug's creator Will Rodman (played by James Franco) believes in the drug's ability to not only cure the dreaded disease, but also in its ability to increase greater intelligence in the subject. The subject, an ape (of course) named Caesar, starts out as a household pet of Will's when he brings him home as a baby to save him from certain death by the California biotech company he works for. As the years progress, so does the relationship between man and ape, and with it, evidence of severe aggression by Caesar when he nearly kills an irate neighbor who threatens Will's gentle father (who appears to have been temporarily cured of his own Alzheimer's disease with the miracle drug, by the way). The terrible side effect of the drug, by the way, is that while it benefits the ape, it appears to kill humans when they're exposed to it and anyone else who has come into contact with the contagion. After the attack on the neighbor, Caesar is consequently locked away in a primate shelter where he is treated cruelly by the other chimps and the chief guard. As a result of his heightened intelligence, however, Caesar learns how to unlock his cage, gaining free access to the common area. With the assistance of a large gorilla, he not only confronts the other apes giving him trouble, but also claims position as leader of the entire bunch. Intelligence leads to anger, which leads to aggression, which leads to revenge and this is the moment where not just Caesar, but all the apes in all of San Francisco rise up against mankind. And very much like the original premise in CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (1972), it all begins with one ape (Caesar) declaring a single word against his enemy..."NO!" (this after being called a damn-dirty ape and told to take his stinking paws off the abusive guard - sound familiar?) The rising is followed by an awesome battle as the newly-freed ape army fights their way through the city of San Francisco and takes over the Golden Gate Bridge to make their way into the nearby redwood forest that they will inevitably call home. When the apes have finally arrived in the forest, there is an effectively-dramatic moment when Will arrives and begs Caesar to return home. In response, the ape hugs his former master and speaks to him for the first time, declaring, "Caesar is home." The look on Will's face when he comes to realize the total potential and consequences of his experiment-gone-wrong is astounding. The apes are free, but this is only the beginning. For it takes just one contaminated human being flying to another country to ultimately spread a deadly disease throughout the world via international flying routes that will one day bring the end of the human race, which is what we as the viewer are informed of as the end credits roll, setting up the premise for what will be the next film in the series. And so, unlike the climax of 1968 original, we do not "blow it up" in this film. Our final demise begins with the simple act of a human sneeze.
But wait, on the other hand...pay close attention to the film and you'll find two very quick moments suggesting that somewhere out in space, events are taking place that will eventually play out as part of the grand destiny of things to come. A quick flash of a television news broadcast shows us a glimpse of the Icarus space flight taking off and also of its crew inside the ship. Later, a headline in the San Francisco Chronicle adds that the ship has been "Lost In Space". There's no doubt that this is clearly a reference to the space flight that the original 1968 film began with, commanded by Colonel George Taylor. So what does this mean? Is one of the inevitable PLANET OF THE APES chapters of this modern reboot going to bring us right back to where we all started nearly fifty years ago? We can only hope that this newest franchise will not be so brazen as to try and copy (or re-copy) the original classic; that's pointless! There is no reference to the Icarus flight that I can recall in the film that followed, DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (great film, too!). We can only wait to see if things change in the next film due in July 2017, WAR OF THE PLANET OF THE APES.
Besides solid performances by all those involved, the special effects and the extraordinary contributions by actor Andy Serkis as Caesar truly make the film special. Caesar's prison conversion from passive house pet to violent revolutionist is an interesting exercise in filmmaking that is damn near silent, with simple and precise images depicting Caesar's commander-like personality and his organizational skills of a repressed group of primates from chaos to absolute order. As human's, we can't help but consider our tragic doom due to our ignorance of science and our stupidity in the mistreatment of animals. Did we deserve what we got in the end? Maybe. Either way, we've seen the apes rise and take over this planet before and now it's happening all over again.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Will Rodman: "Caesar, I'm sorry. This my fault. This has to stop. This isn't the way. You know what they're capable of. Please come home. If you come home, I'll protect you."
Caesar: "Caesar is home."
Thursday, May 12, 2016
(October 2002, U.S.)
For nearly twenty years, somewhere between POLTERGEIST (1982) and THE SIXTH SENSE (1999), the horror film or any sort of scary movie, practically didn't exist for me. In fact, the only film during that period of time that really haunted or scared me in any way was Adrian Lynne's 1990 film JACOB'S LADDER, with it's frightening and creepy images of life, death and the possibility of alternate realities between them. Most of the 1980s and 1990s seemed to be dominated by a continuation of slasher films that went far over the top of what had originally started out as viable scary films, such as HALLOWEEN (1978), THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979) and FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980). I found it impossible to feel any sort of fear while watching Jason Voorhees or Freddy Kruger do their thing while they were accompanied by excessive (and unfunny) humor and even rock music. How is any of that scary?
Then, almost as soon as the new century began, somebody got the idea of getting back to the basics of scary movies which does not necessarily have to involve excessive blood, violence or profanity. What truly scares us? I believe it's the things we see that we don't understand and the impressions they leave on our minds and memories. Think of THE EXORCIST (1973) and the momentary images we see of the demon in white makeup during Father Damien Karras' nightmare. Despite everything we experience with Linda Blair and her little experience with the Devil, this is the image most fans of the film remember first. So with the new century came a new series of psychological and visual horror trips that included this film, THE GRUDGE, PULSE, DARK WATER and a bunch of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies (I only saw the first one and it was creepy!). When THE RING (based on the Japanese horror film RINGU - I haven't seen it yet. I promise, I will!) first begins, I must confess, I find the entire sequence of the two teenage girls and their discussion of the urban legend of the videotape that kills you seven days after you watch it not only a throwback to cheaper horror material that was provided by men like Wes Craven, but even juvenile. I suppose the film really begins when we only get a brief glimpse of the horror of the death of one of those girls, killed by the effects of the cursed tape, and the investigation of what really happened to her is conducted by her aunt Rachel Keller (played by Naomi Watts), a Seattle journalist who is seemingly perfect for a task that required a lot of questions. Like POLTERGEIST, the TV is our dreaded enemy, and as Rachel watches the videotape, we watch it, too, and taking in its disturbing images and its haunting sense of atmosphere is what's meant to get under our skin throughout the story, without relying on gore (no pun intended to director Gore Verbinski) to deliver the scares and the jumps...
Get the idea?
(Oh, wait! That last one of Naomi Watts in her black underwear is a good image and is likely to stay in your memory for a while, as well!)
SO faster than you can say high school audio-visual squad, the tape is meticulously examined by Rachel's ex-boyfriend Noah (played by Martin Henderson) and the father of her little boy Aiden (played by David Dorfman). They discover hidden footage on the tape of a lighthouse. Further research reveals the identity of a woman on the tape as Anna Morgan, a deceased horse breeder from Moesko Island who killed herself after her beloved horses all drowned from a mysterious ailment. It isn't long, though, before Aiden has watched the horrifying tape and the focus of all intentions is now to save his young life. Rachel travels to Moesko Island to continue to get her answers as time runs out for her, because remember, she apparently is destined to die seven days after watching the tape. The searching inevitably comes to an old well buried under the floor of a rustic cabin where they believe the body of the little girl Samara, the adopted daughter of Anna Morgan, lies. Samara was murdered by her own mother because she (and possibly the rest of the small town) believed she was the evil cause of all the death around them. We believe Samara is simply the innocent victim of a mother gone mad, even until the very end. But the accusations of evil against her are real...and she never sleeps!
In the end, Rachel and Aiden do not die, and the reason I find a little disappointing, if not a cheap cop out - apparently if you personally make a copy of the videotape after watching it, your life is spared because it seems the tape must always be copied and passed on to ensure the survival of the viewers. Whether you buy that one is up to you, but I suppose something had to ensure the survival of mother and son so they could continue things in THE RING TWO (it sucked!).
Favorite line or dialogue:
Aidan Keller: "What happened to the girl?"
Rachel Keller: "Samara?"
Aidan: "Is that her name?"
Aidan: "Is she still in the dark place?"
Rachel: "No. We set her free."
Aidan: "You helped her?"
Aidan: "Why did you do that?"
Rachel: "What's wrong, honey?"
Aidan: "You weren't supposed to help her!"
Friday, May 6, 2016
(September 2008, U.S.)
Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro, in my opinion, are two of the best screen pair-ups since Robert Redford and Paul Newman, and neither team actually did more than two films together (Pacino and DeNiro were in THE GODFATHER-PART II, of course, but never appeared in a scene together. The chemistry that Pacino and DeNiro have together, both in dialogue (especially dialogue!) and in physical action, well...frankly, I'd spend two hours listening to them both read the damn phone book aloud, if that's what they chose to do. Most fans of both actors feels as I do. Unfortunately, many fans and critics did not welcome RIGHTEOUS KILL very warmly, which really puts me in the minority of this one. I suppose every one but me else would have actually preferred the phone book.
Pacino (known as "Rooster") and DeNiro (known as "Turk") are New York City police detectives and long-time partners (this would be Pacino's sixth time playing a cop, by the way. The man is good at it!) in search of a serial killer known as the "Poetry Boy" killer. The killer has earned this title for his modus operandi of murdering scumbag criminals who have beaten the justice system and leaving short poems that rhyme with their dead bodies. While working with a pair of younger detective (played by Donnie Wahlberg and John Leguizamo), the evidence of each murder inevitably leads the team into believing that the killer is an ex-cop. As the bodies continue to pile up, and they include a Catholic priest and child molester, tensions build between the cops, and the younger team begins to suspect "Turk" as the ex-cop killer, while "Rooster" is determined to defend his partner's innocence. When "Turk" finally stumbles upon and reads a journal that "Rooster" has been keeping, it's revealed that "Rooster" is the killer as he takes the life of a drug dealer while "Turk" is there to witness it. "Turk" is then forced at gunpoint to read "Rooster's" journal in front of a video camera as if it were his own. The reading of the journal serves as the film's narrative in which, up until this point, we were lead to believe that "Turk" was actually the killer offering his confession. The truth inevitably brings both partners and friends to face off against each other. As one might expect, the good shall prevail...though good may be considered from one's point of view in this film.
While the final twist ending may be considered a satisfying one that keeps us off guard (or at least one that doesn't cheat us too badly), the bulk of the film's plot line and action is rather predictable. In fact, much of the action and drama we see may be highly comparable to, say, a two hour episode of LAW & ORDER. But since I don't watch LAW & ORDER (or much of any TV, for that matter!), I can be a little more open-minded with what this film has to offer. Because it seems that RIGHTEOUS KILL is not offering its audience much of anything new, I suppose it's easy to understand the negative reactions toward the film, despite the re-teaming of two major stars like Pacino and DeNiro. This is perhaps where I'm just more of a die-hard fan of these two legendary actors and am willing to accept whatever they choose to do together. Still, it's always exciting to see these two play tough guys in just about any movie, Pacino especially, being my favorite actor, and all. Despite my appreciation for RIGHTEOUS KILL, I hope it shall not be the swan song for a Pacino and DeNiro screen partnership. The two are perfect together, and despite the negative reception of this film, I believe they still have much to offer us while they're still tough enough to offer it. Keep it going, boys!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Dr. Prosky: "How do you feel when You've fired your weapon?"
Turk: "Dirty Harry said there's nothing wrong with a little shooting, as long as the right people get shot."