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.
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 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.