These are movies from the past I’m seeing for the first time. We all can’t be the 2000-year-old man, can we? That’s what this page is all about.
Lust for Life
I should have seen “Lust for Life” before I saw “At Eternity’s Gate,” because this is a ravishing and emotionally-packed biopic on Vincent van Gogh, the artist, whose work was ahead of his time.
He’s best known for his oil paintings like “Starry Night” and his self-portrait, and he’s also known for his delusions, which lead to him cutting off part of his left ear. If a man can paint such radiant portraits of life, then he’s a genius. And I’m not just saying that, because I’m in this generation. I’m saying that, because portraits are crafted from passion and thought.
The late Kirk Douglas explodes with great intensity as Vincent, who begins as a would-be minister like his father, and ends up as a painter with mental instability. His vulnerability, hairstyle, and dialogue help resurrect the painter, and he’s believable as him. This is why he won the Golden Globe for Best Actor
Director Vincente Minnelli and writer Norman Corwin both bring out the best of Irving Stone’s novel by allowing us to see van Gogh’s passions, delusions, and persistence. The paintings are shot so beautifully, it’s almost as if the filmmakers were studying the rules of art-how they must be shown and studied. Credit for that goes to cinematographers Russell Harlan and F.A. Young, and art directors Cedric Gibbons, Hans Peters, and E. Preston Ames.
The locations, costumes, and sets are just as lovely as the paintings, because they match the tone and consistency of the time period. Credit for that goes to Edwin B. Willis and F. Keogh Gleason.
The cast also includes Anthony Quinn (who won the Oscar) as French painter Paul Gauguin, whom van Gogh becomes friends with on his travels, and James Donald as his art dealer brother Theo. Both these supporting actors are convincing in their opinions of the artist and their connections with him. And I especially love the moment when van Gogh is painting in the wind, and Paul tries to talk some sense into him.
But really, it’s Douglas who saves the show, and I’m not just saying that because we lost him, but because of his convictions and feelings that he puts inside van Gogh. You can call this painter crazy all you want (I’m talking to the past and present), but he still has delivered some of the best works of art I’ve ever seen. And the movie “Lust for Life” is one fo the best biographies I’ve ever seen.
Penny Marshall’s “Big” is the iconic comedy about a boy who makes a wish in a fortune teller machine at a carnival about being big, and the next morning, he wakes inside a grown-up body in the form of Tom Hanks. This is a movie you should have seen, instead of that reversed plot in “Little,” which you may remember with Regina Hall turning into the child actress Marsha Martin. That movie was a lazy downer, compared to a sweet-hearted comedy like this.
The boy is Josh Baskins (David Moscow), and he turns into Tom Hanks, thanks to the wish. The most frustrating part of that, at least to me, is the formulaic rule that not even his own mother (Mercedes Ruehl) believes the grown-man is her own boy. In fact, she thinks he’s his kidnapper, and that’s why he has to hide out from New Jersey to New York with the help of the only person he’s able to convince he’s Josh-his best friend Billy (Jared Rushton).
He ends up working for a toy company (run by Robert Loggia), where his inner-child makes him the company’s most popular guy, much to the chagrin of a rival (John Heard) and his ex-girlfriend Susan (Elizabeth Perkins), who ends up falling for him.
“Big” allows Hanks to portray a kid in an adult body without over-doing the kid bit, and he’s able to add a sweetness to his character. He has to make a choice between being a kid or staying an adult, and that brings tears to your eyes. He also has a tender relationship with his best friend Billy, nicely played by Rushton, and Susan, charmingly portrayed by Perkins. Both sides are conflicted, and that’s understandable.
And it’s also whimsical in its comedy and fantasy. The best scene, in particular, is when Josh and his new boss dance on a giant keyboard, performing “Heart and Soul” and “Chopsticks.” And when Josh buys a fancy apartment, he and Billy buy video game consoles, a Pepsi machine, and all the toys and games they can play. These elements aren’t labored; they bring out the kid in everyone.
Again, I was aggravated by the cliche that nobody would believe a kid turned into an adult, because they live in reality. That applies to the mother and the would-be girlfriend. I acknowledge that’s how things are, but still, it annoys me.
Aside from that, “Big” is lovable and entertaining, and it’s all thanks to director Penny Marshall, writers Anne Spielberg and Gary Ross, and Tom Hanks’ lively performance.
Coming on the success of his writing for “Taxi Driver,” “Rolling Thunder,” “Obsession,” and “The Yakuza,” Paul Schrader made his directorial debut of “Blue Collar.” Made in 1978, the movie splices two different races to fight a broken system, and allows comedian Richard Pryor to use his material to represent the real-life drama and vulnerability.
Listening to the dialogue is poetic, seeing the risks and challenges here is bold, and acknowledging the reality of it all is unique.
We meet three labor workers-Zeke (Pryor), Jerry (Harvey Keitel), and Smokey (Yaphet Kotto)-who are at their wits end with the mistreatments they receive from the auto shop job and their union. Their boss is an unfair and pushy racist, and they’re all in financial debt. Zeke cheats money out of the IRS, Jerry needs to give his girl braces, and Smokey is in debt to a loan shark.
They all devise a plan to steal money from the union headquarters, until they may have found a better opportunity for revenge. They have proof of the union’s corrupt practices, and decide to blackmail them. But as time goes on, things begin to change for them for either the better or worse.
“Blue Collar” isn’t your typical crime drama; it’s a film about even a broken system can still corrupt a good person, make him an enemy to others. It’s riveting and passionate with its words, and how the characters express them. Pryor, Keitel, and Kotto all deliver the goods with their poetry, ambition, and revelations. They’re different people from the same universe, and they all acknowledge the reality around them.
The best moments in the movie include co-worker Jenkins (George Memmoli) grabbing a forklift to destroy a crappy soda machine, our heroes wearing joke costumes as disguises during their robbery (pop-out eye glasses, buck teeth, and an arrow), Smokey telling his friends they can only talk on the phone, because the authorities know that two African-Americans and one white were the robbers (an Oreo), and how the relationship between Zeke and Jerry changes.
Schrader co-wrote this with his brother Leonard, and this film marks a time in his career when he suffered a mental breakdown on set, based on his tension between himself and the actors. This is also when he was reconsidering his career choices. And since we all know he made more movies later on, I’m glad he got himself back together. And he and his brother have both done a fascinating job expressing labor treatments and racism during their current late 70s time.
This is one with plans and features you won’t know what to expect.
Kramer vs. Kramer
I just saw Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story” at the New York Film Festival, and I wanted to share with you my opinion of “Kramer vs. Kramer.” They’re both set in New York City, and they both deal with an honest nature of divorce, consisting of child custody and chemistry.
Joanna Kramer (Meryl Streep) leaves her advertising executive husband Ted (Dustin Hoffman) to find herself, and because of the ways he’s been working too much and for not giving her the respect she deserves. While he’s up with a major task, he’s has to take care of their little boy Billy (Justin Henry).
The most iconic scene, in my views, is when Billy rejects his father’s Salisbury steak dinner, and goes to the fridge to get some chocolate chip ice cream. He tells him not to eat it, and goes ballistic as a result of his anger. The kid isn’t a brat; he just misses his mother, and wants everything to be okay. The reaction between the father and son is just so touching.
After over a year, Ted reunites with Joanna, who decides to take custody of Billy. The custody battle begins, and the courtroom scene isn’t as easy as you’d expect. I was starting to think that the minute it began, but I discovered the analysis aimed at both parents. Joanna is judged for leaving her family behind, while Ted is chastised for letting his son get in a jungle gym accident that gives him a face cut.
“Kramer vs. Kramer,” directed by Robert Benson and based on Avery Corman’s novel, has more reality than an NBC family drama. It offers sincerely tender moments, and it never takes the easy way out. It gives us undeniable proof about why or why not the divorced parents would be fit parents, and it’s able to change their perspectives on life. Hoffman, Streep, and Henry are all emotionally true, and the supporting work from Jane Alexander (as a neighbor and good friend of Ted) is helpful.
It won 5 Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Hoffman), Best Adaptive Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actress (Streep). It deserved to win those awards, because of how humanity has an effect on people, and how these people represent that.
Baumbach’s “Marriage Story” will be out in theaters in November, and Netflix in December. So, if a new generation of movie-goers has yet to see “Kramer vs. Kramer,” then you should see it now, so you can compare and contrast. You won’t find much of a difference, because divorce tends to have their own strengths and weaknesses. These two films acknowledge that.
A friend of mine’s favorite movie is Roman Polanski’s 1974 neo-noir classic “Chinatown.” Being a curious young film critic, I’ve decided to view it for the first time.
The year is 1937, and the city is Los Angeles. Jack Nicholson stars as detective J.J. Jake Gittes, whose latest client, Evelyn Cross Mulwray, asks him to investigate her water and power chief engineer husband Hollis (Darrell Zwerling), who may be fornicating with another woman. He publishes photographic evidence in the paper, however, the woman who asked him to it wasn’t the real Evelyn Mulwray. Ergo, the real one (Faye Dunaway) threatens to sue him.
He knows Mr. Mulwray is being set-up, so he intends to get to the bottom of this. That is until he’s found dead-drowned to be exact.
And yet, it’s not enough. Someone has been dumping water in the reservoirs in the middle of a drought, and Mrs. Mulwray might know something about this.
And what wouldn’t be a neo-noir film without a fling between Gittes and Mrs. Mulwray? You know something’s going on with her, and you’re interested to know her true intentions.
“Chinatown,” also written by Robert Towne (the Oscar winner for Best Original Screenplay), has a sense of style and chills, and solves the puzzle on its own level. It keeps us guessing the minute each twist unfolds. Roman Polanski guides Nicholson and Dunaway with the right intentions. Nicholson keeps his cool, even in his most tragic moments, like when his nose gets sliced by a Polanski cameo or when he survives a reservoir flooding. And he’s able to use his sharp dialogue to keep going down the rabbit’s hole. And Dunaway has a seductive charm all her own, especially when her character becomes suspicious.
And John Huston has a minor, but fine role as the girl’s father, and her deceased husband’s old business partner. He has such a great voice, convincing us he’s playing a powerful businessman.
The movie also acknowledges a stereotype that Chinese people have their own way of sleeping with people, by screwing, stopping, screwing, and eventually gaze at the moon. That would make that person a Chinaman. Hence the name “Chinatown.”
There’s something about these New Hollywood detective movies that keep you entertained. They’re sharply written, intelligently told, and well-acted. You’re introduced to such risky characters, who are bold enough to keep the mystery balanced. And based on the tone and consistency, they live up to the 40s and 50s, even if this is a 30s period film.
And the last 20 minutes is so shocking, it’s almost as if Alfred Hitchcock gave Robert Towne a friendly piece of advice. It rolls the dice, assembles all the pieces together, and dazzles us at every turn. This is a mystery film that deserves to be seen in any generation.
Lawrence of Arabia
Looking at “Lawrence of Arabia” in a different generation, I have to compare and contrast the patience and majesty between New Hollywood (1960s-1980s) and Modern Hollywood movies.
Back then, the longest ones were given intermissions, unlike most movies today when they basically cram everything in a short amount of time, just to please people who want shorter things. The only ways for them to get intermissions, as far as I’m concerned, are to either watch a long movie-half now and half later-or pray for the fire alarm to go off.
But for these type of classics, some of which ran between 3 and 4 hours, there’s something magical in these movies that most today can’t seem to grasp. They have beauty, majesty, patience, and style; and they’re drawn with a certain kind of complexity.
Hailed as one of the greatest films of all time, “Lawrence of Arabia” tells the true story of Thomas Edward Lawrence, better known as T.E. Lawrence, and his collaboration with the Sinai and Palestine Campaign and the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire in World War I.
Peter O’Toole was nominated an Oscar for his portrayal of Lawrence, and he’s did it with intelligence, charisma, and persistence. In his Arabian travels, he’s had victories, guilts, persuasions, and ambitions. The screenplay writers, Robert Bolt and Michael Wilson, have given him a egotistical personality, and some have complained about the height difference between O’Toole and the real Lawrence. Regardless, O’Toole is a marvel.
Also in the cast is Alec Guinesss as Prince Faisal, a leader in the Arab Revolt; Anthony Quinn supplying his own make-up as the sheikh Auda Abu Tayi; Omar Sharif as the fictionalized Sheriff Ali; and Arthur Kennedy as Chicago journalist Jackson Bentley, who’s eager to find a story on Lawrence. O’Toole has the charms and emotions as Lawrence, Guinness has the bravery and grace as Faisal, and Quinn is perfect as the main sheikh.
Why is “Lawrence if Arabia” still a classic today? Because it resonates with the time periods, the true nature of it all, and how O’Toole has proven himself to be the greatest actor to portray T.E. Lawrence. It’s a Hollywood production with more faith and courage than most modern day reenactments. It makes its choices, and whether or not we agree with the writing and casting, we still see a magical spark in the actors and the writers.
I absolutely love every shot of the horses, camels, authentic locations, and people. The wars are so pure and sincere, you have to appreciate how Director David Lean guides everyone on set. It’s always amazing to see how filmmakers have taken these kinds of risks and constituencies. This was way before CGI has taken over the cinematic universe, and you must acknowledge that.
There are many great challenges in the film that keep you glued. There are good characters who have to die; supply trains that have to be blown up; the hero taking an emotional trek; and the historical war that stays in the books, even if characters and certain elements are embellished.
“Lawrence of Arabia,” like many other original masterpieces, will always be with us. Don’t you forget that.
I’ve finally been given the opportunity to gaze upon Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window,” a thriller that uses time and patience to examine whether or not a crime is taking place.
It was made in the 1950s, a time when movies weren’t commercial objects, and barely relied on the same formulaic characters and drama. It takes its baby steps in order to allow us to meet the people and their environment, which happens to be in the form of an apartment complex.
We meet Jimmy Stewart as a newspaper photographer named L.B. Jefferies, anxiously waiting for his leg cast to come off. He wears his blue pajamas, spends all his time starring at his whimsical neighbors’ apartments in his wheelchair. For instance, some play music, a woman (Georgine Darcy) dances in her underwear, a couple (Sara Berner and Frank Cady) sleep on the fire escape, while the wife lowers her dog in a handbasket to do his business.
He has two visitors: the insurance company nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter), who wants him to make better choices, and his beautiful girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly), whom he’s reluctant about popping the question to.
He starts to suspect that his jewelry salesman neighbor Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr) is a murderer, because he finds him with a knife and a saw, and his wife hasn’t been home in a while. He calls his NYPD detective friend Doyle (Wendell Corey) to investigate the house, but he tells him it’s all probably a mistake. And so, he enlists Lisa and Stella’s aid in getting to the bottom of this.
“Rear Window” is another Hitchcock gem that doesn’t jump to conclusions and gives the main protagonists his concerns and ambitions. Based on a short story by Cornell Woolrich, the screenplay by John Michael Hayes balances mystery and terror with romance and drama. Each scene is drawn with such complexity and style, that you want to get involved with the main characters and their aspects on life. A perfect genre movie, no more or less.
Stewart is flat-out perfect in the role of a photographer, trying to unfold a mystery, and keeping his timing straight. His chemistry with Kelly, Ritter, and Corey is also charming on their own respective terms. And basically, every scene with Burr is provocative, making me say “Oh, crap.” Well, once we get to the final confrontation that is.
Most thrillers these days could use dramatic music and flashy shots to keep the thrills in line. Again, this was from the 50s when movies were movies. Never once was I irritated and that’s quite relaxing. The score composed by Franz Waxman isn’t used very much, but it keeps the best thrills in line; and the editing by George Tomasini keeps things looking entertaining.
This is a mystery thriller for the ages, in any generation, and you don’t know how lucky you are to find one like “Rear Window” in the movie history books.
I used to own a pair of Ray Ban sunglasses, and at that time, some people compared me to Tom Cruise’s iconic character Joel Goodson in “Risky Business.” I’ve never seen that movie at the time, but I’ve finally been given the opportunity. Released in 1983, this was one of Cruise’s earlier films, before he became the blockbuster action star we know and love today. Well, most of us, depending on our beliefs and perspectives.
Joel is a young studious man, who worries about his future: that if he screws up on his S.A.T.s, then he can kiss his Princeton University dreams goodbye. He also wants to live a risky life, and in order to survive, his friend Miles (Curtis Armstrong) tells him to say “What the F.” When it comes to classic coming-of-age hits, movies have their own artistic ways to representing teens in their views of life. In “Risky Business,” writer/director Paul Brickman represents the adolescence and maturity here.
His wealthy parents (Nicholas Pryor and Janet Carroll) are away on business, and they trust him to take care of the house, and not to use their best car: the 1979 Porsche 928. One night, he calls a pleasure hotline, and manages to score with a hot blonde named Lana (Rebecca De Mornay). She charges him a hefty price, and when he leaves to get the money, she steals his mother’s prized glass egg. She actually has money issues with her manager Guido (Joe Pantoliano), and that’s why she and her tramp friend (Shera Danese) resort to crashing at Joel’s house until they settle their affairs.
A relationship develops between Joel and Lana, but the young man develops other problems, ergo, making this challenging, but effective film. He has car trouble, his education is at risk, and his life is on the line. This is difficult elements we’re seeing here.
And to fix everything, he has to enter the prostitution game, by turning his house into a brothel for the night. That’s when we really get to see the Ray Bans kick in. Wasn’t Tom Cruise perfect in this role or what? He’s provides the goods, by portraying character who struggles to balance his joy and future. And Rebecca De Mornay has grace, charm, and seduction-a woman who isn’t stupid, but lives her life in her own unique ways.
The music in “Risky Business” is eclectic-matching the tone and consistency of an R-rated coming-of-age flick. Most of the music was composed by Tangerine Dream, and we even get hits like The Police’s “Every Breath You Take,” Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight,” and Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll,” which made one of the most iconic cinema moments. That would be Joel dancing in his underwear and pink dress shirt.
This is one of the best movies of its kind I’ve seen in the past and present.
The Matrix Reloaded
Like the original movie, “The Matrix Reloaded” is a visual extravaganza. The Wachowskis are both filmmakers who take risks by expanding the Matrix world, and testing our I.Q. with its dialogue, characters, and storyline.
As I said for the first movie, “This is a complicated movie, the kind with the IQ of a computer hacker. In fact, it’s about computer hackers and anyone inside the internet. But it’s complicated in a fun and visually stunning way.” That’s exactly what this is.
In “The Matrix Reloaded,” the city of Zion is threatened by the Sentinels, who are en route to attack its inhabitants. It’s only a matter of time before they can reach to them, but Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) believes a prophecy can end it. The questions here are “What if he’s wrong?” and “What if he’s right?.” At this point, it’s difficult to say.
Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) are both in love, and he fears of losing her after a nightmare he has of her dying on a virtual mission. Their story rolls the dice on whether or not their relationship can continue. There’s no company policy, rest assured; it’s all based on this future war and the game designed for them.
The bad guy Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) is back in the game, unplugged to be exact, and is able to make avatars of himself. That’s why we receive a beautifully choreographed martial arts battle between Neo and Smith’s clones.
There’s also a long highway chase that balances every skill and memory. I admire how Smith is able to turn random people into his subjects, and watching Morpheus fight one of them on a moving truck is so damn fun.
Also new in this franchise is Agent Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith), who questions Morpheus’ beliefs; Link the fellow hacker (Harold Perrineau); the Keymaster (Randall Duk Kim), who obviously becomes useful with his keys and knowledge; Seraph (Collin Chou), the Guardian of the Oracle; and two white-haired henchmen, known as Twins (Neil and Adrian Rayment). Hell, there are lots of new characters in this sequel.
“The Matrix Reloaded” continues the massively prominent performances of Reeves, Fishburne, Moss, and Weaving, as well as a number of dazzling special effects. Kudo to the Wachowskis for introducing us to worlds and characters, inspired by the likes of “Star Wars” and “Blade Runner.” Even if the story gets a bit too complicated to grasp, nothing is dry, and everything is intelligent.
And I think it’s a wise choice to continue this story in “Revolutions,” in the same year 2003, because of how it prevents any dyspnea in the time and narrative. Like and intermission, you need to take a quick break.
The Matrix Revolutions
Allow me to acknowledge the “To Be Concluded” title. “The Matrix Revolutions,” the finale to the “Matrix” trilogy, came out the same year as “Reloaded.” I’ve stated that it was a great way to allow fans to take a breather, months apart that is.
This is not full throttle like the last two entries, because there is a boring segment where the Zion warriors battle the sentinels (squid-like machines), but it does conclude the story about the war. The Wachowskis allow their actors and. characters to take risks and expand their elements, thus making “Revolutions” entertaining.
As the film begins, Neo (Keanu Reeves) finds his way into the Matrix, much to the surprise of Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), who both believed he was in a coma. They travel inside the virtual world with Seraph (Collin Chou), where they come across some enemies: the French programmer Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) and the hobo-disguised Trainman (Bruce Spence).
Let’s not forget Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) and his army of copies. And about Bane (Ian Bliss), the man Smith took control of, he’s now gone psycho. None of these villains last very long, but they still work on their own terms.
Back to the sentinel attacks, I was more bored than interested, because of how crazy the special effects get, and how they threaten to consume the movie. Somethings, they’re impressive, and other times, they’re kind of cheesy; but this segment allows the supporting characters to have their pay-offs.
Reeves, Fishburne, Moss, Weaving and Jada Pinkett Smith (as Niobe) all never cease to amaze me with their dialogue, providence, and serenity. The filmmakers have given them their due, whether or not we agree with their outcomes. I can’t believe they gave the choice to make Neo blind after a violent attack from the possessed Bane. It nearly reminds me of Tom Cruise when he got his eyes replaced in “Minority Report.” And there’s even a very sad moment during the last half hour that really wins our attention and hearts.
And there’s a final battle between Neo and Agent Smith that stretches from Point A to Point B. They fight on the rainy streets, duel inside a building, and levitate all around the virtual city. The stunt work and visuals are just dazzling here.
“Revolutions” is neither the first nor “Reloaded,” but because of the stars, characters, and their ambitions, it closes the trilogy nicely. It wants to accomplish something, and it does.
Cameron Crowe has made his directorial debut of “Say Anything,” following his first screenplay for “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Before “Almost Famous” and “Jerry Maguire,” he’s made an iconic teen romantic comedy that resonates in any generation. Released in 1989, it reminds us of earlier films of its kind like “American Graffiti” or “Sixteen Candles.” They’re all about teenagers, who reveal themselves in such fascinating ways.
We meet Diane Court (Ione Skye), a valedictorian high school graduate, who wins a fellowship in England. She worries about being a priss, but her loving, divorced father Jim (John Mahoney) convinces her otherwise.
The guy who likes her is an underachieving optimist named Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack), and he persuades her to go on a date with him. His father is in the army, and wants him to follow in his footsteps, and he hasn’t decided on any career opportunities. In the meantime, he teaches kickboxing, and he’s willing to keep seeing her, before she heads off to England.
Since Diane can’t be social, Lloyd decides to make themselves “Friends with Potential.” She does admit to her father that she feels safe around him because of his chivalry. And Lloyd’s lady friends Corey (Lili Taylor) and DC (Amy Brooks) convince him to take their love tale to the next level.
Cameron Crowe writes these two characters with love and honesty. They aren’t formulaic; they’re characters with ambitions and choices of their own. John Cusack and Ione Skye are both fabulous as Lloyd and Diane, and they’re studied ideally and sympathetically.
Besides these two lovestruck characters, the film also sometimes deals with Corey, who had previously tried to off herself because of a guy named Joe (Loren Dean), and Jim, who is under investigation from I.R.S. He still wants Diane to go to England, while being cautious about her relationship with Lloyd. These two supporting characters aid the main characters in such moving ways, they’re deemed worthy. Kudos to Mahoney and Taylor for respectively keeping us interested.
I love how the soundtrack keeps “Say Anything” on a steady and lovable mood. The best in particular would be Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes,” which plays when Lloyd and Diane have sex in a car, and when he holds a boombox outside her window. That little scene there has made the books, and became one of the most iconic shots in cinematic history. I love looking at what pop culture is talking about. And when it comes to movies with songs, Crowe doesn’t just pick them at random. He studies them, and matches them at the right moments.
Women are given brains in movies most of the time, as long as they’re given potential material, and they don’t deserve to be treated like pieces of meats. Nobody in “Say Anything” is a piece of meat, and everyone associated with the movie acknowledges that.
Swimming with Sharks
“Swimming with Sharks” begins with movie mogul Buddy Ackerman (Kevin Spacey) being held at gunpoint by his assistant Guy (Frank Whaley), who wants him to reflect on all the years of torment he’s endured on him. And even in his dark times, he still toys with Guy on his choices and intelligence.
This black comedy from writer/director George Huang represents the dangerous side to the cinema, and the performances from Spacey and Whaley are believable and sometimes wickedly funny. It’s a small movie, so you probably haven’t heard of this; but I think in certain aspects, it goes a bit too far.
The story flashes back to the past, when Guy, a young wannabe writer, enters the studio office, as the new assistant. The abuse begins when Buddy scolds him for getting an “Equal” packet, instead of “Sweet’n Low” for his coffee, and calls him stupid. That when the outgoing assistant Rex (Benicio Del Toro) warns hum about the big game ahead of him, and when the wisecracking producer Dawn Lockard (Michelle Forbes) tells him that taking crap from Buddy makes him look like a schmuck. He even develops a relationship with her, but it doesn’t really seem to take off for me.
What wouldn’t be a Hollywood crime movie without publicity? Time Magazine posts about Buddy’s movies resorting to violence, and that he is “a blight on society.” He’s so aggressively mean that he forces Guy to find and destroy every copy within reach. And in the big money business, they manage to pull off a screenplay.
There are moments I dislike in “Swimming with Sharks,” which deteriorate my enjoyment for it. I didn’t like the scene when Guy tortures the injured Buddy by throwing sauces and spices on him, and giving his tongue a paper cut from an envelope. I thought that was a bit too harsh. And I was uncomfortable when Buddy makes him hold it when he needs to go to the bathroom, because he wants him to be on the phone. I even dislike imagining that.
And the story of the studio’s big plans gets so convoluted, I can barely tell if I’m supposed to be enjoying it or not. And I’ve seen entertaining movies of its kind.
Most of the time, I did enjoy the comedy for having a dark tone, and charismatic performances from Spacey and Whaley; but it’s not a small film I’d want to see again and again.
Before I review “Key Largo,” a 1948 film noir from director John Huston, I want to share my love for the people affected by Tropical Storm Dorian. I’m watching it just as its pouring on the East Coast, and I’m thinking of the places and victims. This might be a coincidence, I don’t know.
Based on Maxwell Anderson’s 1939 play, the movie has a mood and tone that makes it an interesting neo-noir drama. It doesn’t rank with the best classics, because of how the story gets dull, but it still has intentions and dangers, both enough to keep the story afloat.
Humphrey Bogart stars as Major Frank McCloud, who arrives at Hotel Largo in Key Largo, run by James Temple (Lionel Barrymore from “It’s a Wonderful Life”). He served with his son George, who died in battle, and meets his young wife Nora (Lauren Bacall). Both relatives are honored to meet him, and they offer him a room to crash in during his visit.
The hotel is closed, but there are guests including dapper Toots (Harry Lewis), alcoholic Gaye Dawn (Claire Trevor, who won the Oscar for her performance), and gangster Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson). He is a persona non grata, who holds the guests and owner hostage, and intends to return to the states. In the meantime, he lives under the name Howard Brown.
“Key Largo” isn’t as iconic as “Casablanca,” because of the storyline and development but it wisely chooses to have a hostage story in the storm, and keeps the characters at bay. The black and white scope is dazzling, matching the thrills and drama, and keeping you at the edge of your seat. And there are also shots of the docks and boats, and the storm that shakes them up. I admire these kinds of settings.
Director John Huston guides Bogart, Robinson, Bacall, Barrymore, and Trevor on the right path. Bogart has his complexity, Robinson is dangerous, Bacall is peaceful, Barrymore is wise, and Trevor has a memorable scene. She wants a drink, against Rocco’s wishes, and so she sings “Moanin’ Low” in order to get one. These stars never jump to conclusions.
Unlike most hostage thrillers these days, things back then weren’t as haphazard or loud. It’s more patient and stylish, especially with the actors and tone. The story is not inspiring, but it is thrilling and provocative at times, both enough to deem “Key Largo” enjoyable.
The King of Comedy
Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy” from 1983 stars Robert De Niro and the King of Comedy himself Jerry Lewis, although it bombed at the box office. Despite the financial crisis, it still entertains us with its views of television hosts and the would-be stars intact.
De Niro stars as struggling comedian named Rupert Pupkin (not Pumpkin), who finally seizes the opportunity to meet the talk show comic Jerry Langford (Lewis), in hopes of catching his big break. He isn’t just saying he wants to enter the big leagues, because he knows he does, and he even has fantasies of them being friends. He keeps calling him, and popping by his office, hoping he can get put on his show. He even takes his bartending friend Rita (Diahnne Abbott) to his weekend home, much to his chagrin.
So, when any chance of earning the guest stop is out of the question, Pupkin teams up with a fellow stalker (Sandra Bernhard) to kidnap the comedy star.
“The King of Comedy” has a broad sense of humor and a likable style all its own. It starts with the autograph hounds (which I originally called “The Memorabilia Squad”), continues with the King of Comedy’s stress and attitude, and delves with how a schmuck decides to jump off the deep end in order to get what he wants. De Niro is brilliant as that nobody, who wants to be somebody, and he seems to have a fun time doing so with his verbal gimmicks and tone. And Lewis is patient and wise as that comedy star, and I admire how he keeps his cool, even in his most aggravating situations.
There are some negatives, tough. The stand-up sequences go on a little long, losing my interest, and the Bernhard character has gotten exhausting with her crazy behavior. She does have a funny scene when she chases Jerry with her bra and panties on.
Still, the film has an energy that keeps you going, and Scorsese is able to use his filming techniques to show us his views of the comedy universe. And he also does a perfect job casting De Niro and Lewis in roles that help you stay interested.
And for a short while, I felt that I could relate to Rupert Pupkin, because of how he wants to make it to the big leagues, despite some people telling him he’s not ready for that. I’m a young film critic, who wants to live up to Roger Ebert, Gene Siskel, and Richard Roeper’s expectations, and yet, I acknowledge that I have a lot more movies to view.
“The King of Comedy” speaks my language in that notion of course.
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Movies can politics can have their own issues, depending on current events and issues, as far as I’m concerned. For instance, “The Hunt” was scrapped by Universal Pictures for allegedly depicting liberal elites during the Trump Era. And “Gangster Squad” was pushed back and edited, after people were murdered at a screening of “The Dark Knight Rises.”
In “The Manchurian Candidate’s” case, the movie was released in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and a year before John F. Kennedy’s assassination. It was rumored to be removed from distribution, but really, there was less public interest. And yet, it takes greater risks.
The movie takes place following the Korean War, when we meet two characters: the war hero Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey), and the PTSD-stricken Major Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra). For some reason, Marco has been saying these exact words about Shaw: “Raymond Shaw is the kindest, warmest, bravest most wonderful human being I have ever known in my life,” when in actuality, he’s a prick. Even he admits he’s not lovable.
Shaw is set to travel to New York to work for communist journalist Holborn Gaines (Lloyd Corrigan), while the Major has been suffering the same nightmare involving his men on patrol, the Chinese, and a Russian general. And apparently, he’s not the only one to suffer that.
Despite their differences, Marco and Shaw agree to get to the bottom of this. And it turns out that Shaw has been brainwashed by Chinese and Russian communists into killing people.
The movie’s cast also features Janet Leigh as Eugenie Rose Chaney, a woman named Marco meets on a train, who was in the railroad line; Angela Lansbury (nominated for Best Supporting Actress) as Shaw’s mother Eleanor whom he’s always loathed for her anti-communist views which cost him the love of his life (Leslie Parrish); James Gregory as the candidate Senator Iselin, who married the cold-hearted Eleanor; and Henry Silva as a communist spy who has a well-choreographed fight with Marcos.
“The Manchurian Candidate” resonates with the crimes and monstrosities inside the political world-the communists, the enemies, the traitors, the PTSD, the publicity, and the dangers of all of them. Based on Richard Condon’s novel, and directed by John Frankenheimer, the movie balances that notion with current events and biases. Given the brainwashing and nightmare circumstances, it’s often difficult to balance reality with fantasy, and it’s all clear to me.
Sinatra is brilliant as the major, and Harvey is bold and brave as the main soldier, both of whom are victims of evil. And I especially admire Lansbury as the mother, who exploits her son’s heroism, and has big plans for the election, even if she and Harvey were almost the same age in real life.
The score was composed by David Amram, even if there isn’t much of it, the cinematography was done by Lionel Lindon, and the editing was crafted by Ferris Webster. Today’s movies have to be given the cliched epic appearance, looking at its early 60s scope, it really has a looser feel to it.
I’m not just praising “The Manchurian Candidate” for its looks; I’m praising it for never underestimating the evils inside America.
Life is Beautiful
Roberto Benigni’s “Life is Beautiful” has been criticized by some for giving the Holocaust a comical spin, and I really don’t blame them, given the horrific circumstances. But nonetheless, I found the movie to be wacky, sweet, and lovable. It starts off as a romantic comedy-a fairy tale love story if you will-and finishes as a family drama-one that takes place in a concentration camp. It’s a movie that transcends from one genre to the next, and both sides are equally mesmerizing, thus making “Life is Beautiful” a miracle of a film.
Benigni directs himself as a Jewish charmer named Guido, who arrives in Tuscany to work in his uncle’s restaurant. Upon his arrival, he falls for a beautiful school teacher named Dora (Nicoletta Braschi, Benigni’s real-life wife), who is set to marry the same man who refused to give him a loan for his book shop. Matter of fact, he’s a pompous man, who always gets his comeuppance by Guido’s goofy encounters. Despite this minor set-back, he manages to rescue Dora, like a real Prince Charming, and they live happily ever after.
They have a son named Giosue (Giorgio Cantarini) and Guido opens his book store, but as World War II hits, the family is taken to a concentration camp in separate groups-male and female. Guido must prevent his boy from learning about the true horrors inside, and so, the only way is to tell him it’s all a big game. And the alleged prize is a real army tank.
At the same time, Guido must keep his love’s spirits high. An example is when he serves at a party, and has a loudspeaker play their favorite song “Bacarolle” to her cell.
“Life is Beautiful” is not as graphically serious as “Schindler’s List,” given its PG-13 rating. It’s dark in a more humorous way like Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator,” and Roberto Benigni allows his character to be flexible and honest. He’s a love bird and a committed father, and we love him in both aspects. We also have the radiant Braschi as the damsel in distress and loving mother, and it’s wonderful how the two keep their love pure even in their darkest times. And Cantarini is cute as the main little boy.
The movie, based on Benigni’s father’s Holocaust experiences and the book “In the End, I Beat Hitler,” is about keeping your spirits high, and never losing faith in yourself. It’s a fairy tale adjusted for reality during World War II, and it delights you with its heart and humor. If Charlie Chaplin could make fun of the Holocaust, then Benigni was able to do it, too. It’s not a spoof, and it’s not a history lesson; it’s a kind and colorful movie.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Ang Lee has lost his way ever since his acclaimed masterpiece “Life of Pi” in 2012 earned him the Best Director Oscar. He made two bombs: “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” which I skipped, and “Gemini Man” with only Will Smith’s double role being the bright spot. So, given the circumstances, the only way for me to really see the visionary filmmaker’s craftsmanship, is to travel back in time to see his one of his masterpieces, and that would be “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”
This is a martial arts movie with one of the most dazzling stunts and special effects I’ve ever seen. There’ no CGI intended, but computers are able to remove the safety wires of the flying fighters. Each flying moment has left my mouth opened with awe and excitement. And I’m pondering on why Ang Lee can’t go back to his roots. He’ll have a comeback hit one of these days, but until he does, we need to see more of his classics to find that magical spark.
We meet Jen Yu (Zhang Ziyi), the daughter of the rich Governor Wu (Li Fazeng), who’s set to be married, but wants excitement in her life. That’s why she’s been secretly studying the Wudang fighting skills to be a warrior, and not the boring wife. She also is taken under the wing of the evil Jade Fox (Cheng Pei-Pei), who wants the Green Destiny sword, and she takes it.
A flashback reveals a love story she was given. She pursued a desert bandit named Lo (Chang Chen), better known as Dark Cloud, who took her comb. They start off fighting, and they end up falling in love with each. They promise they’ll be reunited after they settle their affairs.
And we also meet Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh), the head of a security company, and Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-fat), the devoted Wudang swordsman. They both have a forbidden love, and they intend to give the sword to their benefactor Sir Te (Sihung Lung) in Beijing. That it until, Jen Yu, disguised as a ninja, takes it.
What I really adore about “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” is its breathtaking ability to combine martial arts with independence. The women here refuse to be treated like dolls, and Wang Hui-ling, James Schamus, and Tsai Kuo Jung all write them with courage. Yeoh and Ziyi are both radiant in their own respective ways, while Yun-fat has poignant skills, and Pei-Pei’s villain is persistently riveting.
I also want to bring up the stunt work and visual effects, because they are unique. At times, we can tell wires are being covered, but we still love the direction Ang Lee gives the heroes and villains. The best scene, in particular, is when Jen Yu and Li Mu Bai battle in the trees, and they’re balancing themselves on thing branches. And every time we see the young girl prove her full potential, we should never underestimate her.
This is an epic martial arts movie that needs to be seen by any Bruce Lee fan or anyone who loves to see something new.
Roman Polanski’s 1968 horror tour du force “Rosemary’s Baby” comes from a time when horror movies were works of art, and not just people screaming their heads off or dealing with demons who do so. The best nightmares in cinema today are produced through artisan cinema like “Midsommar” or risk-takers like Jordan Peele’s “Get Out.” And it’s always refreshing to travel back in time to see classic horror movies scare the living daylights out of you.
In New York City, Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavetes) arrive in their new apartment. Guy is a struggling actor, who finally gets a new role, while Rosemary is hoping she can become a mother. Even though he hasn’t been focusing on her that much lately, Guy agrees to start a family with her.
The impregnation scene is pure virtuoso, as Rosemary dreams of being raped by a demon in a cult, when in actually, Guy took the opportunity knocked her up in her sleep.
They’re both greeted by an elderly couple, Minnie (Ruth Gordon, the Oscar Winner for Best Supporting Actress) and Roman Castevet (Sidney Blackmer) who are both getting over the recent death of a recovering drug addict they took in from the streets. They also appear to be too helpful towards Rosemary’s early pregnancy stages by recommending to her a doctor (Ralph Bellamy), who turns out to be no good.
After suffering through great pain, Rosemary learns that Roman Castevet is an anagram for Steven Marcato, whose father, the owner of the apartment, was accused of being a Satanist. That could mean the Castevets are evil, and have big plans for her unborn baby. And Guy is somehow involved.
The real question is: is it real or just in her imagination?
Based on Ira Levin’s novel, “Rosemary’s Baby” starts off as a marriage story, then a psychological thriller, and its last 20 minutes provide evidence of whether or not Rosemary is crazy. Farrow gives an electric performance, as her emotions transcend from one problem to the next, and therefore, she ranks with the best horror actresses. You also have Cassavettes delivering some charismatic work as her somewhat prick husband, and Gordon and Blackmer both deliver the goods as their seemingly nice neighbors without providing any dead giveaways.
Give it up for Roman Polanski for adapting the book into an iconic nightmare by pacing the characters and their intentions. This is a movie that must be seen by a new generation of movie goers, so they can compare and contrast to what’s in the cinemas today.