Saturday, September 24, 2016
(June 2010, U.S.)
The first thing I need to say before I get started is that between the time I first saw this film in 2010 and my post for it now, RUSH is (apparently) no more because drummer Neil Peart announced his retirement in December 2015. I cannot even begin to tell you how much that SUCKS!!!
My deep love and appreciation for the rock band RUSH is not too unlike the appreciation I had for Howard Stern. Sounds strange? Well, sometimes you can spend so much of your life listening to the music and what comes over the radio, that it barely occurs to you to know much more about the artist or person behind what you've been listening to. As was with Howard Stern, what I heard on his radio talk show every day only said so much about the man. The book and film of PRIVATE PARTS (not too be taken too literally or seriously, I'm sure) opened up many of his fans to who the man was and managed to humanize his existence beyond the radio microphone. I've been a fan of RUSH's music since I was sixteen years-old and have seen them live in concert numerous time. My fan base was limited, however, because I knew nothing of the men who comprise the legendary Canadian trio.
One of the first things I learned for the first time from this in-depth look at this progressive rock band was that its front man Geddy Lee is Jewish! Whoah! Didn't see that one coming! I mean, really, not to sound too stereotypical (I'm Jewish myself), but his name hardly suggests it. We learn that both of his parents were Holocaust survivors and that (predictably), he took to the idea of music at a very early age. Geddy himself proclaims that he was a rather nerdy and nebbish kid. He and RUSH guitarist Alex Lifeson met when they were in middle school and became instant friends based on their love of music and guitar. From there, they joined drummer John Rutsey to form their band, which interestingly, did not function under any other original name but RUSH. Look into the history of some of the most popular rock bands of all time and you'll often find they once called themselves something else, i.e. Led-Zeppelin was once known as the New Yardbirds, etc. By the time they finally got their first record deal and debut album in 1974 (titled only Rush), John Rutsey was replaced by Neil Peart due to Rutsey's due to his health problems with Type 1 Diabetes, as well as musical differences with the other members of the band (Rutsey died of a heart attack in 2008).
Perhaps it's what I learned about drummer Neil Peart (the greatest fucking rock and roll drummer in the world who has, unfortunately, recently retired!) from BEYOND THE LIGHTED STAGE that I've found most intriguing. I've always known that he wrote all of the band's music; his lyrics addressing universal themes and diverse subject matters including fantasy, science fiction, philosophy, as well as humanitarian themes. However, I never knew just how well-read and how intellectually experienced the man is. The documentary also filled in the "blanks" of what happened to the band between the years 1997 and 2002; a time I thought they were merely taking a long hiatus. During that time, Peart lost his daughter in an auto accident and then his wife to cancer nearly a year later. Peart took to the road on his motorcycle on a long road trip for a personal journey of emotional healing. His written memoirs in GHOST RIDER: TRAVELS ON THE HEALING ROAD tells of his sabbatical to mourn and reflect his losses. He traveled extensively throughout North and Central American on his motorcycle, all the while, avoiding recognition and steering clear of people, in general. Like myself, he has a rather low tolerance for strange people he doesn't know (perhaps that's another reason I gotta love the guy!). It's a book that I recommend for anyone you loves RUSH, Neil Peart, or is simply a motorcycle rider who understands the power and meaning of the road.
Although recently (and finally!) inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, RUSH has long been one of those immensely popular rock bands with countless fans (mostly male) that has also never truly received the critical recognition they've always deserved. Don't look for any praise in Rolling Stone magazine by critics who consider their material too complicated or Geddy's voice too squealing. Forget about reading any positive critical reviews for some of their most legendary albums like 2112 and Moving Pictures (Fuck 'em! What do they know??). As much as I hate to label their fan base as "cult following" or any such term, they've always commanded respect and loyalty from those who love them most, even during the 1980s and early 1990s, when their sound was changing and considered questionably by their fans. The RUSH fan whose life was changed by the spectacular power and force of 2112 would hardly feel the same way about Grace Under Pressure (1984) or (their weakest album, in my opinion) Presto (1989). They'd likely even feel let down or even alienated by the band. For the true RUSH fan, there is likely no bad RUSH music - just some that's much better than others. Even if you feel disassociated by some of their (weaker) material, you can very easily bring yourself back to that special RUSH state of mind when you watch them perform their great instrumental "La Villa Strangiato" from the Hemispheres album. As a live act, take it from me - there is no other rock band like RUSH! To watch all that they do on stage and know that it's being done by just three men is simply staggering...
Like the members of KISS, they appreciate their fans and never fail to do all they can do give them their money's worth on stage. My personal discovery of the band goes back to late 1982 just after their Signals album was released. I saw the music video for "Subdivisions" on the still very new cable channel MTV and was immediately hooked by its progressive keyboard sound. I must confess that during my high school years, I was a bit of an outcast kid that didn't necessarily fit into any traditional school clique or group. So I felt that I could relate to the song and video's commentary on the (bullshit!) society pressures to adopt yourself to specific lifestyles of the "cool" suburban youth culture. Like its lyrics so perfectly suggested, "Nowhere is the dreamer or the misfit so alone." and "Be cool or be cast out." And this was all before these pressures of life became more prominent on today's social media. I saw them live for the first time in Buffalo, New York in 1986 during their Power Windows tour and six more times after that up until their Clockwork Angels tour of 2013. I've never looked back or turned away from RUSH, and "Subdivisions" remains my favorite rock song of all time.
Finally, I'd like to end this post by dedicating it to a gentleman whose name is the same as mine. This man, whom I only really know as an acquaintance, is without a doubt, the most serious RUSH fan I've ever encountered. The man has seen the band live more times than I can count and has even traveled around the country following them like a loyal "Deadhead-type". Really, you gotta respect a man who loves RUSH that much! This one's for you, Eric! I'm sorry that we may never get the opportunity to see RUSH together.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Interviewer: "This will be your twenty-fourth record? What's the motivation to keep doing it?"
Alex Lifeson: "Chicks!"
Sunday, September 18, 2016
(March 1958, U.S.)
My generation of filmgoers has seen its fair share of entertaining submarine films; from GRAY LADY DOWN (1978) to the German film DAS BOOT (1981), to THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER (1990), to CRIMSON TIDE (1995) to K-19: THE WIDOWMAKER (2002). There's way too many to cite here, and some were better than others; that's entirely up to your own opinion. My real point here is that for someone like me and the sub films I was "raised" on, watching a black and white film of the genre is, indeed, a different experience - perhaps even a better one. On the other hand, because RUN SILENT, RUN DEEP is a World War II film, the black and white factor makes sense and works perfectly. The fact that its helmed by two such classic veteran actors as Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster makes it all the more worthwhile. The story describes submarine warfare in the Pacific Ocean, and deals with themes of courage, loyalty, honor, and vengeance, and how these can all be put to their ultimate test during wartime. The story manages to combine an intriguing combination of elements borrowed from both Herman Melville's MOBY DICK and MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (the 1935 film also starring Clark Gable).
Determined to sink a Japanese destroyer, Commander P.J. Richardson (played by Gable) manages to persuade the Navy Board to give him a new submarine command under the condition that his executive officer be someone who has just returned from active sea patrol. He single-mindedly trains the crew of his new boat, the USS Nerka, to return to the Bungo Straits too seek out their enemies. Executive officer, Lieutenant Jim Bledsoe (played by Lancaster), is worried about the safety of the boat and its crew. Repeatedly drilling the crew on a rapid bow shot, the intense training inevitably pays off when such a daring shot manages to sink a Japanese destroyer. Despite this victory, the crew is outraged to discover that Richardson is evading legitimate targets in order to enter the Bungo Straits undetected in direct violation of his mission orders. When Richardson is later incapacitating in an accident, their submarine narrowly dodges what the crew mistakenly believes is one of their own torpedoes doubling back on them. By deciding to send up equipment, blankets, and dead bodies from the sub, they deceive the Japanese into believing that the United States sub has been sunk. Bledsoe uses Richardson's injury to assume command and ultimately brings victory to their mission be destroying their enemies, just before Richardson dies from his injuries. In a symbolic and poignant moment, the body of the boat's brave commander is committed to the sea.
Without getting into too many colorful adjectives or descriptions, RUN SILENT, RUN DEEP is a straightforward all-male and all-submarine undersea adventure. The showdowns between the United States and its Japanese enemies during a time of war are tense and nail-biting. In short, the film follows all textbook elements that make a great submarine film; those that came before it and those that came after (the mutiny element surely borrowed later for CRIMSON TIDE). Still, the film contains its own share of accurate depictions of torpedo attacks being arranged with periscope sightings, as well as range and bearing calculations. Director Robert Wise apparently had real submariners working with the cast until they could realistically depict the complexities of such torpedo attacks. It's been said that submarine veterans of World War II who viewed the film remarked on the accuracy of these sequences, the scenes providing modern-day audiences with a view of what life was truly like aboard submarines during the war. That sort of accuracy and its effect on those who served can only be respected and admired. Though I have to admit, I can't help but sneer and snicker when I look at what was considered to be state-of-the-art special effects of this film by using miniature submarines for certain battle scenes. The shots are cheap looking, but I suppose they couldn't be expected to do any better during the latter part of the 1950s.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Lietenant Jim Bledsoe (presiding at a funeral of the submarine commander) "It's thirty-eight days now since we left Pearl Harbor. I know how some of us felt then. I think I know how some of us feel now. But let no one here, no one aboard this boat, ever say we didn't have a captain. Unto almighty God we commend the soul of our shipmate departed...and we commit his body to the deep, in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection unto eternal life, when the sea shall give up her dead in the life of the world to come."
Monday, September 12, 2016
(June 1986, U.S.)
It would seem that during the decade of the 1980s, cop partners in the movies were meant to make us laugh. Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy, Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, Richard Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jim Belushi, Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell, Tom Hanks and Beasley the ugly and slobbery Dogue de Bordeaux (dog); really, how could you have possibly taken these men seriously (and one dog) in these specific roles? Well, I suppose that Mel and Danny got pretty serious in their work sometimes, but it was the brilliant wit and spontaneous dialogue between them (and some of the others mentioned) that held our attention during the course of these various action/comedies. So perhaps it was the (very) unlikely casting of funnymen Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines as Chicago cops that caught my attention the most when this film was released (though I wouldn't see it until months later during a college screening). Hines wasn't just funny (see Mel Brook's HISTORY OF THE WORLD-PART I), but he was an extraordinary dancer, too (his previous screen role being Taylor Hackford's WHITE NIGHTS with Mikhail Baryshnikov). So I suppose as cops with guns charged with keeping the streets safe, the pairing of these two is certainly questionable. As wise-ass and highly unorthodox cops who are constantly egging each other on in various situations of crime and danger, it works perfectly. Even the plot itself of RUNNING SCARED is pretty thin as the two of them commit themselves to hunting down and capturing kingpin drug dealer Julio Gonzales (played by Jimmy Smits in his screen debut). This narcotics case hardly has any of the complexities that were in William Friedkin's THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971). This is a cop movie of pure wise-cracking antics by two men who are looking to just get through their lives without getting shot.
The buddy cop movie, in general, is a textbook of clichés, including the police captain who's constantly chastising his men for their repeated sloppiness and overall fuck-ups, even when they result in something positive. I think it's when Danny and Ray (Billy and Gregory) finally go on their vacation to Key West, Florida that the interest level rises because we're getting a better sense of both men's characters when they're not risking their lives for a profession neither of them seem particularly committed to. The montage alone of their glorious times in the sun with multiple women to the popular tune of Michael McDonald's "Sweet Freedom" (I still love that song!) is enough to make you starting dialing your travel agent right away. And can you really picture these t-shirts on any other guys...?
I have to give them both credit for trying to look like genuine tough guys with the dark glasses and the facial hair. But I'm afraid they're both just too damn funny to be considered real bad-ass cops, in my opinion! The traditional clichés also include the textbook car chase, though I must admit this one looks better than some; it actually looks like a car was riding on the subway tracks while filming! In the end, of course, the bad guy Gonzales is killed and our two men come out heroes, though it's just too bad they decide not to go back to Key West and open up their dream bar (Danny does get his wife back, though). At the end of the film, one would have presumed an instant sequel after the antics of these two wise-asses were a good enough box office success. Alas, it never happened. I think I was actually disappointed at the time.
RUNNING SCARED may not exactly define the buddy cop movie is it's meant to be, should be or the way we wish it would be. I suppose that determination depends on who you like best in the respective roles (see names above). The film is just a whole lot of fun, considering it came from Peter Hyams who, by then, I'd come to associate more with science tales like CAPRICORN ONE (1978), OUTLAND (1981), 2010 (1984) and TIMECOP (1994). Still, fun is more than enough for me.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Ray Hughes (watching Danny and Anna kissing): "What about that dentist?"
Anna Costanzo: "Who?"
Ray (smiling): "Right!"
Wednesday, September 7, 2016
(August 1948, U.S.)
Alfred Hitchcock's ROPE is one of those shining cinematic examples of how a filmmaker can pack so much into so little; the psychological drama that plays out in this story based on the 1929 British play which was, in turn, based on the real-life 1924 murder of Bobby Franks by University of Chicago students Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, is done in just eighty minutes of film time. The film is also brilliantly edited to appear as a single continuous camera shot through the use of extended takes. It's also impossible to ignore that the film is implying very strong homosexual overtones at a time when such a topic in film was considered forbidden, but we'll get into that a little later.
Hitchcock doesn't waste a single moment of time before we're witnessing the fatal strangulation of young college man David Kentley behind closed doors in the apartment of Brandon Shaw (played by John Dall) and Phillip Morgan (played by Farley Granger) in the middle of the day in front of a large window with a panoramic view of Manhattan. Believing themselves to be a couple of brilliant intellectuals, they have murdered their fellow student as an intellectual exercise to prove their superiority above the ordinary citizen of the world by committing the "perfect murder". After deciding to hide the body in a large antique wooden chest in the living room, Brandon and Phillip brazenly host a dinner party for various guests who are unaware of what has happened, include the victim's father Mr. Kentley (played by Cedric Hardwicke), his fiancée, Janet Walker (played by Joan Chandler) and even her former lover Kenneth, who was also the victim's close friend. The most important party guest, however, is their former college headmaster Rupert Cadell (played by James Stewart). While at school, in an apparently approving manner, Rupert had previously discussed the intellectual concepts with them, of Nietzsche's Übermensch, and De Quincey's art of murder, as a means of showing one's superiority over others. As a result of this influential discussion, Brandon feels strongly that Rupert would approve of what he and Phillip have done as a "work of art" rather than a crime. As we listen to Rupert give his own philosophical views on mankind and one's ability, if not potential, to commit murder, we're almost tempted to agree that his approval is possible in a world that's meant to be rational.
The tension that builds throughout the dinner party is the ever-growing concern among the guests that David has still not shown up. It's subtle enough, but strong enough in our minds due to the psychological imprint on us as witnesses to what really happened to him and where his body is hidden. We can't help but cringe at the thought of the dinner food being served off of the very wooden chest where he now lies. Like the guests, we feel somewhat cramped in a small living room as day turns into night (again, keeping our eyes on the panoramic Manhattan skyline outside the window) and we seemingly count down the cat-and-mouse moments of drama and tension before Brandon and Phillip will inevitably crack under the mounting pressure and finally be discovered for who they are and what they've done by Rupert, who despite his own feelings of intellectual superiority, is still a simple man who condemns the act of murder and is more than willing to see the guilty get punished, friends or not. I would also call your attention to really pay attention to Stewart's face when, in a climactic act of impatience and frustration, lifts the lid of the wooden chest and finds the body of David inside. He's naturally horrified but more importantly, he's so deeply ashamed because he realizes that his own superior rhetoric was used against him by his former students to rationalize the horror of murder.
Okay, so getting back to the film's homosexual overtone that I previously mentioned; bearing in mind that the year was 1948 and the act of homosexuality simply did not exist in celluloid (yet), one cannot help but wonder just how Hitchcock was going to pull this one off. One can clearly ascertain immediately into the film that Brandon and Phillip are lovers, but the film's dialogue makes modest suggestions to try and hide this possibility, including a quick mention that Brandon and Janet had previously been a couple. I find it almost impossible that Hitchcock would insult his audience by attempting to conceal the obvious with such a cheap and casual line of dialogue. What did the audience of 1948 truly believe when they watched these two men who not only shared an apartment together, but were also due to take a trip up to the Connecticut countryside? Were they that naive or did they understand that they were being conned by the filmmaker because standards of motion picture decency would not allow the truth to be told? I don't pretend to know the answer. I'm no psychologist, nor do I pretend to be (I gave up on that subject after Psych 101 in my freshman year of college!), but the implications are there on screen in front of our face. Perhaps, if nothing else, ROPE is an effective example of the "celluloid closet" as it was in our cinematic history...and of course, it's great fucking Hitchcock!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Rupert Cadell: "Now, mind you, I don't hold with the extremists who feel that there should be open season for murder all year round. No, personally, I would prefer to have..."Cut a Throat Week"...or, uh, "Strangulation Day"