Sunday, November 23, 2008

SIDE ORDERS #7

This month, SIDE ORDERS begins with a vintage 1980 TBS late movie opening which stars my favorite theater in the United States, Atlanta's Plaza Theater (open since 1939 and still going strong). This is pure nostalgia for me, and a suitable sort of policy trailer / theater intro for the superlative movie scenes you're about to see!


While working at the Plaza, I met Patrick Flynn. An accomplished moviemaker (his color and then B&W super films are superb) and photographer (you can see some his stuff on West End ATL's Blue Tower Gallery site), Patrick worked at the Plaza for a record-breaking 15 years, also while toiling away as a bartender and waiter at other Atlanta establishments. Along with all the other idiosyncratic Plaza employees and satellites of the 1990s, Patrick and I would have incisive, insightful conversations about a whole host of bizarre, quite taboo subject matters--usually of a darker bent--while we waited for the next movies to be let in. All of us had a wonderful time working at that theater. I don't see its truly one-of-a-kind quality being repeated in our lives, but at least we were lucky to once have treasured the Plaza as our homebase. Anyway, over the years there, I found that Patrick and I shared the same passion for a key movie blockbuster from our childhoods: Ronald Neame's 1972 epic The Poseidon Adventure. I've discovered, through the years, that The Poseidon Adventure has a very rich cult following that can quote the film by heart. This doesn't surprise me a bit. If you were a kid in the early 1970s, The Poseidon Adventure was the shit! It's got a terrific cast--Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Stella Stevens, Roddy McDowell, Arthur O' Connnell, Leslie Nielsen (whose scenes are now pure folly after his precise self-spoofery in Airplane and Police Squad!/The Naked Gun). It's got Red Buttons protecting cute Carol Lynley, and bratty kid Eric Shea running around with his little chickie sister Pamela Sue Martin. Producer Irwin Allen's runaway moneymaker was nominated for Oscars for its well-crafted photography, sound, costumes, art direction, score (by John Williams), and for Shelley Winters' iconic supporting performance as the movie's lovable, heroic fat lady. And it won two awards: one for its song ("The Morning After," which my elementary school class sang on stage as part of our graduation ceremony) and for its beautiful special effects. Lemme tell ya, the movie was a bonafide phenom.

If you're a lover of The Poseidon Adventure, you naturally count the capsizing of the huge boat as one of your favorite movie moments. In his excellent DVD commentary on the movie--the only one I've heard in which a director admits his mistakes as well as his successes--Ronald Neame (at one time a close collaborator with fellow Brit David Lean) details the tremendous amount of work that went into making this sequence operate as well as it does. Neame and his editors took detailed care in making sure, camera-wise, the sequence makes sense. If you notice, the angle of the camera is always kept fully in synch with the supposed position of the boat. This make this sequence take hold of us, along with the performances of the stars as well as the brave extras (including the guy who falls at the end, which was done on the first take). Wolfgang Petersen, director of the stinky 2006 remake Poseidon failed to heed Neame's example in his doofus multi-million dollar recreation of this scene; Petersen did a supremely messy job convincing the viewer of the disaster's reality, while Neame--at a fraction of the cost--achieves brilliance. I can't count how many times Patrick Flynn and I have marveled at this scene--seriously, it must be in the 50-time range. And, still, we're positive this is one of the most exciting and significant moments in movie history.


For the tuneful portion of SIDE ORDERS, I include this scene from Herbert Ross's neglected 1981 musical Pennies From Heaven. The best scene in screenwriter Dennis Potter's incredibly downbeat Great Depression fable has Christopher Walken playing a barroom pimp who approaches the shy Bernadette Peters after she's been jilted by failing sheet-music salesman Steve Martin. Walken is slimily attempting to recruit her as a prostitute, and as a result, she joins the fantasy-obsessed Steve Martin in imagining her enemies as a singing, dancing player in a 1930s musical. This scene is sheer magnificence, with Walken delivering one of the most notable one-scene performances ever. He's an accomplished dancer, with training from the vaudeville greats; if you didn't know that by now, what with his appearance in that Fatboy Slim video, then his scene in Pennies From Heaven will clue you in. Do yourself a favor and watch the whole movie: it's filled with marvels like this.


This gear-jamming car chase from Peter Yates's 1968 film Bullitt helped the movie win Oscars for its sound and editing. Even then, moviegoers had never seen anything like it; seen now, it's still a model of the artform. Just watch the rhythm of the cuts and listen to the battling car engines and you'll realize it's immeasurably influential. It's been long noted that more hubcaps are lost in this scene than there are available on the cars in action. See if you can count 'em!


In Alan J. Pakula's The Parallax View, Warren Beatty plays a small-time journalist investigating a possibly CIA-run program designed to train assassins to kill prominent political figures. Beatty sets himself up as an entrant into this program, and he's invited to the Parallax Corporation's headquarters to test for the program. He sits down, hands in the proper place, and they show him this movie, all the while recording his internal responses. The movie that they project--that we see--is unlike anything ever witnessed in mainstream cinema. It is disturbing to the nth degree. Composed of famous photographs from movies, journalism, advertising, and pop culture, and coupled with dissonant music from David Shire, this spoiler-free montage from The Parallax View will instantly make you want to see the whole movie.


Finally, a trailer from one of my favorite movies. This time: Woody Allen's first foray into dramatic filmmaking, 1978's Interiors (with a couple of scenes that weren't in the final film).

Friday, November 14, 2008

Film #92: Reds

Still pretty charming even now, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis arrived on TV in 1959. This black- and-white sitcom revolved around Dwayne Hickman as the girl-crazy title character, smitten most obsessively with blonde high school heartthrob Thalia Menniger (Tuesday Weld). And, for six episodes in 1960, on came this handsome dude playing Milton Armitage, Dobie's alpha dog rival for Thalia's attentions. This kid, named Warren Beatty, showed little promise of his future idiosyncratic rise through Hollywood ranks. But he would himself become the film industry's top lothario -- a 1970s tabloid favorite. And he would one day surprise everyone by winning a deserved Academy Award for his direction of a contentious, touching, money-losing epic centered on an avowed American communist--one of only three U.S. citizens buried in the Kremlin. With his detailed probe into the life of John Reed (the author of Ten Days That Shook the World, a snug, blow-by-blow spin on the 1917 Russian revolution), Beatty left some agog, others infuriated and others even simply somehow unmoved. But, then, nothing--not even 1967's boundary-smashing Bonnie and Clyde, which Beatty produced while going mano-y-mano with Warner Brother Jack Warner himself (who was angrily perplexed about the film's success)--has ever gone really according to plan for Beatty's movies. But so what? Time has spoken and, viewed now, Beatty's cinematic biography of John Reed reveals itself as an ageless and unique opus.

I now recall my grandfather, who in December of 1981 was real active in the bootlegging of video and audio cassettes (I think anti-capitalist Reed would've liked this). Being an avid fan of history, my Papa nonchalantly handed me a videotape recently shot (quite well) by a theater projectionist. He knew I was a precocious 15-year-old movie lover, so he happily let me watch the tape (as well as a bootlegged copy of Pennies from Heaven, which he vehemently despised and I still think is genius). Now that I recall, I pretty sure Reds was the first movie I'd ever watched on VHS and, to boot, my grandfather had given me an expertly transferred, letterboxed version. Actually, this is how I learned what letterboxing was; Reds looked better than any movie I'd ever seen on TV and I knew and felt it was because the screen was finally theatrical-movie-shaped.


At any rate, upon giving me this ill-gotten bootleg, my grandfather sniffed haughtily and said he didn't think much of the Commie movie. But I wasn't surprised by that, because we often disagreed about films. I didn't know it then, but each generation largely fails to understand the tastes of all others. Our particular, mercifully small schizm lived in my view that Papa was early-20th- Century-born and that meant he would never really get 1970s Hollywood-Renaissance moviemaking. I, meanwhile, was thankfully growing up with 1970s movies; the only other great times to grow up with the movies were the 1920s and the 1950s (and we're still waiting for another renaissance that I fear may never come). True to form, when Reds finished, I marveled inside at how my father's father could be so intelligent, yet so unthinkingly dismissive o this passionate movie. I then knew this schizm of ours wouldn't be disappearing any time soon (it still hasn't, I reckon). Also, strangely, to this day, and -- who knows? -- maybe because of my memory of this important TV viewing is still so positive, I still haven't seen Reds unspool onto the big screen. I fervently wanna correct that.

Before I popped this VHS tape Papa gave me into the bulky top-loading machine that was state-of-the-art back then, I had become tremendously excited about Reds through my favorite publication, Variety. Outspoken anti-communist and one-time Democratic-leaning Screen Actors Union head Ronald Reagan had just been elected to the Oval Office, so 1981 was exactly the wrong time for Beatty to be hawking such a movie. For that reason, before its release, Reds was getting a lot of press in the trades. Beatty had been working on the film since 1978, when he garnered four Oscar nominations for Best Actor, Best Screenplay, Best Director (with Buck Henry) and Best Picture (he was the sole producer) for an fun, elegant remake of Heaven Can Wait (also a Beatty film ripe for re-evaluation). Remember, this was a feat that was only precedented by Orson Welles and Citizen Kane back in 1941! Plus Heaven Can Wait, unlike Welles' film, was one of the biggest box-office hits of the year. So everyone in love with the medium of movies was on the razor's edge, wanting to know all about Beatty's $35 million (now $130 million) filmic obsession. Movie watchers were almost to a man preparing for Reds to be a leaden boondoggle; in pre-release hype and upon-release acclaim, it was the Titanic of its day, but finally and immeasurably sooooooo much greater than Cameron's blockbuster, even though it took in about 1/100th of Titanic's box office cash.

I expected one thing when I took in the picture's first images. But I got something so much more. Reds begins not with a glittery image of Beatty or one of his fellow stars, but with starkly-photographed documentary footage of elderly people desperately trying to dredge up their memories of Jack Reed. At 15, I had never before seen old people look so handsome on film. And the creaking, ancient tones of their voices were so superlatively captured--my God, the feeling of first seeing Reds now once again surges through me. These seniors were, according to the final credits, The Witnesses. I now want to pay tribute to them by discovering who each of them were, to the best of my ability (thanks to the good people over at Wikipedia). Among them:

* Roger Nash Baldwin (founder of the ACLU)
* Andrew Dasburg (painter and former lover of Louise Bryant)
* Will Durant (Philosopher, historian, and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer of the 11-volume The Story of Civilization)
* Hamilton Fish III (the grandson of Ulysses S. Grant's Secretary of State and, in 1981, one of America's oldest-living Congressmen; he's the one that humorously speculates as to whether Reed was a Communist)
* Adele Gutman Nathan
* Blanche Hays Fagen (these are the two ladies filmed together who are so, SO amusing in their comments)
* Dorothy Frooks (Author, publisher, military figure and actress)
* Hugo Gellert (Illustrator and satirist)
* George Jessel (Legendary actor, singer, songwriter, radio star, movie producer, and "Toastmaster of the United States")
* Henry Miller (Writer of Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn, The World of Sex, Nexus, Plexus, and Sexus; the one-time lover of Anais Nin, he's the one that says, of course, "You know, I think there was just as much fucking going on then as there is now, only then, there was a little bit of heart to it.")
* Scott Nearing (Conservationist, peace activist, educator and writer)
* Adela Rogers St. Johns (Journalist, novelist, and screenwriter)
* Dora Russell (Feminist and progressive campaigner; second wife of Bertrand Russell)
* George Seldes (Investigative journalist and media critic)
* Jessica Smith (Editor and activist)
* Arne Swabeck (American Communist leader)
* Rebecca West (Feminist and writer)
All, and more, appear as themselves, eyes shining brightly as Beatty, behind the camera, implores them to remember anything, anything at all about John Reed and his lover Louise Bryant (their bare recollections at the beginning feel like a long-dormant engine being revved for the first time in an age). In the 25th anniversary DVD commentary (one of the best commentaries ever recorded), Beatty says that he filmed hundreds of hours of interviews with these historical figures, starting in 1979; some of them were long dead by the time his epic finally hit the theaters.

The Witnesses act as a buoyant Greek chorus for this gargantuan story that follows John Reed from his rabble-rousing as a 1913 Greenwich Village journalist to the beginnings of his love affair with ambitious Oregonian journalist Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton), whom he met upon visiting his mother in Portland in 1916. It's Reed's relationship with the insecure Bryant that's at the center of Reds, and the boundless sensitivity with which it treats this clearly passionate love affair is what makes the movie the enduring epic that it is.

Bryant, smitten with Reed, follows him to New York, where they quickly become an item among the Village intelligentsia. But, as portrayed in the movie, Bryant feels overcome by Reed's progress in this arena. The fact that she's inexperienced and barely been able to make an NY dent with her writing becomes a big bone of contention between the two, and the subject of a few monsterously raucous scenes where they literally spar about their relationship, their ambitions, and their politics, always at the same time. Reds impresses with these scenes that gallantly balance heady subject matters while driving home the enormous emotion with which these two artist/journalists were grappling (Reed once proclaims "Louise, I love you," to which she replies "No, you love yourself! Me, you FUCK!")


In New York, Bryant begins a cuttingly combative relationship with Emma Goldman (Maureen Stapleton). This stern, commanding actress delivers an astounding performance as Goldman, the avowed feminist and at one time Communist sympathizer who holds a low opinion of Bryant's intellectual abilities. Goldman, ironically against her truest personal beliefs, demeaningly and unfairly sees Louise as another of Reed's air-headed "girls," denying her the chance to excel that Goldman's long been fighting for all women to obtain. But Reed, deeply in love, sees so much more in Louise (which makes him more of a feminist than Goldman!!). Always in search of new horizons, she and Jack abandon New York and take up with a band of beach-combing artisans in Providencetown, MA. There, Bryant begins a friendship with Reed's best buddy, playwright Eugene O'Neill (Jack Nicholson). As Reed is off beginning his political "career" most of the time, much to Louise's disconcert ("Taxi's waiting, Jack..."), she turns cavalierly to the adorous alcoholic O'Neill for romantic comfort. This dynamic provides Reds with some of its most electric moments--Nicholson's few scenes with Keaton are tremendously involving (Nicholson was nominated for a Supporting Actor Oscar for his few minutes here). When Reed returns to Massachusetts, lonely and in need of his lover (who needs him, too), O'Neill is devastated, and his emotions overspill in vivid fashion. ("If you were mine, I wouldn't share you with anybody or anything," he says. "It'd be just you and me. We'd be the center of it all. I know it would feel a lot more like love than being left alone with your work.")

It's here that the marriage of Reed and Bryant takes over in Beatty's screenplay with Trevor Griffiths. Their retreat into upstate New York leads to a swell domestic life. But Reed cannot abandon his political hopes; his need to affect the world with more than his writing commands his passion, so much so that he has to abandon romance and agree to being the Communist Party's American representative on the Russian Comentern, just as the country's break from the Czar is taking hold. What he finds overseas--and what he is disappointed by, both with and without Bryant as companion / collaborator--forms the largest portion of this uncanny 3hr16min film.

After I joyfully finished with Reds that first time, I was in a cloud-touching daze, the sort of which always seizes me after seeing a monumental movie. Beatty's work instantly represented the sort of history lesson my teachers never even touched on in class, and I was immediately suspicious that much more alluring events were going on in the world than I was being let in on. It was here, I think, that I garnered my lifelong interest in REAL history--not that crap to us shoveled out of tired textbooks, but the kind of history that sparkled with humanity, love, sex, longing, and death. Since seeing Reds, I have been a voracious consumer of historical fact, which I am convinced goes in directions that no fiction can replecate (I very, VERY rarely read fiction; I get what fiction I take in from movies).


Reds, nominated in 1981 for a then Ben-Hur-tying record of 12 Academy Awards (which only Lord of The Rings: The Return of the King and Titanic have matched)--pops with mammoth factual figures. Besides the obvious, there's V.I. Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Woodrow Wilson, early Libertarian and editor of The Masses Max Eastman (Edward Herrmann), hard-hearted Bolshevik #2 man Grigory Zinoviev (played by Being There author Jerzy Kozinski, whose scene lecturing Reed while consuming a scurvy-fighting lemon and onion sticks surely in my memory), and Industrial Workers of the World founder Bill Haywood, played briefly by Dolph Sweet. Then we have Gene Hackman as one of Reed's magazine buddies, Paul Sorvino (apoplectic as a rival communist representative), the rarely-seen George Plimpton as a slimy New York editor, William Daniels as another harried communist activist, and cameos by M. Emmett Walsh, Kathryn Grody, Cheers stool-warmer John Ratzenberger, and Max Wright (better known as the dad on Alf). There are a lot of familiar faces in Reds.


Wow, there's so much I love about this movie. How Keaton, being called out on her reconciliation with Beatty, nervously pours Nicholson's O'Neill another scotch, spilling it on the floor ("Your abilities as a bartender seem to have gone downhill," O'Neill sneers). How Stapleton--1981's Oscar-winner for Best Supporting Actress--quickly reconsiders her opinion on the commitment of Keaton's Bryant upon seeing her in Russia, as Bryant lovingly comes to Jack Reed's aid (there's an on-screen embrace between Stapleton and Keaton that's unexpectedly touching). How the tipsy, red-faced Gene Hackman appears out of nowhere to give Reed hell for abandoning journalism. How George Plimpton flusters about while trying to get Keaton in the sack. How Beatty's Reed and Stapleton's Goldman have a firey debate in Russia on the worth of Communism as it's being perverted by the maniacal Lenin.

And this: I was not aware of this until I heard Beatty's rare DVD commentary, but Reds was filmed in London (and many more British locales), California, New York, Massachusetts, Finland, Sweden, and Russia; I find this spectacular (just imagine the nightmare it must have been editing this movie--I wager the original cut was six freaking hours long). I find it funny when Keaton--who, given her character's transformation, really delivers the film's most fetching performance--defiantly responds to FBI agents barging into her Croton-on-Hudson home (veteran character actor R.G. Armstrong gruffly states he's looking for "agitators," to which Keaton replies "Well, why don't you look around and see how agitated you get?"). I cherish the gentle, unobtrusive background music by Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim (his only movie score) and jazz legend Dave Grusin (On Golden Pond, My Bodyguard, The Milagro Beanfield War). And I will never, ever EVER forget how the film's final ten minutes first easily wrestled tears of romance, joy and sadness from my eyes.


And, perhaps most of all, I adore Vittorio Storaro's varied, incomparable photography--the gentle pastels of the Providencetown scenes; the harshly-lit Communist Party debates; the reds, yellows and tans of Greenwich Village; the blinding snow whites of the Finland sequences (which led to some critics unjustifyably comparing Reds to David Lean's fine-but-still-inferior romantic/historical epic Doctor Zhivago); the expansive Lean-like vistas following Reed's escape from a demolished Communist train; and especially the colorful, black-backdropped footage of The Witnesses (that's the first thing that I think of when I think of Reds, and the inclusion of this invaluable documentary footage is what provides it an edge as one of the cinema's finest products). Storaro possesses the starriest career one can hope for, acting as lighting master for Italians Dario Argento (The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, The Spider's Stretegem), Bernardo Bertolucci (1900, Last Tango in Paris, The Last Emperor, The Sheltering Sky) and Francis Coppola (Apocalypse Now--for which he also won an Oscar in 1979--and the misunderstood One From The Heart). But his first movie for Beatty--this non-Italian, for whom he also photographed the blazing colors of Dick Tracy--eclipses his stellar former works. With Reds, you get to see EVERYTHING that Storaro can do. And it is an unrivaled gallery of achievement.

I've made my case (and I could continue on and on). Even if you don't like Warren Beatty (as a lot of movie lovers say they do not, which I can understand), Reds accomplishes what few historical films do-- even the undisputedly essential but sometimes confusing and intentionally distant Lawrence of Arabia. Beatty and company take you around the world, to another time, putting you there, in the mix, while clearly explaining serpentine political notions through the prism of complex human emotions. Reds entertains with a parade of Hollywood big-shots, but not so much so you fault it. And it takes a fresh bent on history, writing large a little-known historical side-story--one that unfolded very much as portrayed (another historical film rarity). I think--I know--Reds is a masterpiece. I realize that M-word gets bandied about a lot, but here it truly applies. Even while watching it as a voracious 15-year-old, I was sure Reds deserved that prized moniker. If you haven't seen it, you really don't know what majestic things movies can do for your soul.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Film #91: The Dover Boys at Pimento University, or: The Rivals at Roquefort Hall

Warner Brothers animator extraordinaire Chuck Jones says that, after he and head animator Robert (Bobe) Cannon produced the groundbreaking 1942 cartoon The Dover Boys, he almost got fired from WB's Termite Terrace (the name for the WB animation house which included Frank Tashlin, Friz Freling, Bob Clampett, Robert McKimson and other WB-contracted animators). The wacked-out style of "smeared" cartooning he and Cannon pioneered with this 9-minute masterpiece was so ahead of its time it raised the ire of his bosses who didn't cotton to any of this new stuff. And despite being in the running for the funniest animated piece of its era, The Dover Boys' foray into a new animation form would not be properly capitalized upon for a decade or so. Even still, today, it remains a total original.

It follows a turn-of-the-century team (a spoof of dime-store novel heroes The Rover Boys) mawkishly named Tom, Dick, and Larry (given the reference of three cheeses in the film--pimento, Roquefort, and cheddar--they could each be renamed, which makes the film even funnier, in a subtle way). In their intro, we see them each jauntily yet extra-stoically vogueing on a different cornball period bi-cycle, on their way to Miss Cheddar's Home for Girls. Their scenic afternoon out playing hide-and-seek with their collective finance'--the impossibly graceful and deceptively powerful Dainty Dora Standpipe--gets cruelly interrupted by the green-skinned Dan Backslide, determined to bust up a perfectly good date. Commandeering a "run-about," he kidnaps Dora and escapes with her to his mountain lair, so it's up to the chivalrous Dover Boys to bring her back home.

You'll notice that the animation here is kept down to the very barest minimum. Much of this cartoon's beauty lies in Jones' justly excessive use of softly-airbrushed backgrounds to convey a stillness that clashes brightly with the movement of his cast. And what pixilated movements they are. Part of The Dover Boys freshness comes from the extremely fleet form of "smeared" animation that Jones and Cannon appropriated to give these characters a wild panache. Watch this frame-by-frame (as you can above) and notice the unpredictable transitions from movement to movement that, with those abnormally stretched heads and bodies, pave the way for the belly laughs the film provides. Here's another example, courtesy of animation expert Kevin Langley:


However, it's just this wry innovation which made the brass at Warner Brothers angry with Jones--so much so that this likable cartoon trio was never seen on screen again, and that smeared animation technique has still to this day been little used (though I have seen tried humorously with Bart on a few 1st season episodes of The Simpsons). Maybe Warner Brothers didn't think much more could be done with The Dover Boys. But I would've liked to have seen Chuck Jones and Bobe Cannon give it another try, 'cuz this frenzied cartoon is an absolute hoot. Hooray for good ol' P.U.!! Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Film #90: Witness for the Prosecution

Billy Wilder's Witness for the Prosecution, still remains one of the most utterly surprising and enthralling courtroom dramas ever made. Adapted from the Agatha Christie stage play by Wilder, Harry Kurnitz and Larry Marcus, the film stars a playful Charles Laughton as Sir Wilfred Roberts, a British barrister who, despite his ill health, is compelled to take on the case of a penniless drifter (Tyrone Power, in his final film appearance) who's accused of murdering a rich widow (Norma Varden). When the drifter ends up inheriting 80,000 pounds from the widow's estate, Scotland Yard comes knocking at his door, ready to detain him for the murder.

But Sir Wilfred remains convinced of the man's innocence, despite his lack of an airtight alibi (as such provided by the drifter's wife, played impeccably by Marlene Dietrich). Thus begins a series of twisty-turny red herrings that makes Witness for the Prosecution the sublime hunk of fun entertainment that it is (in one of the first examples of such, the newpaper ads implored the audience not to reveal the end of the movie to others). Believe me, you won't be able to predict what happens!

The remarkable art direction was provided by famed production designer Alexander Trauner, whose credits include Children of Paradise, The Apartment (for which he won an Oscar in 1960), Round Midnight, Luc Besson's Subway, and John Huston's The Man Who Would Be King. Trauner worked diligently on the central courtroom set which was fitted with 60 removable Austrian oak panels and a sectioned floor, all of which could be rearranged as needed for camera movement. The film itself was nominated for Oscars in 1957 for Best Picture, Actor (Laughton), Supporting Actress (Elsa Lancester as Sir Wilfred's girl Friday, performed while she was Laughton's longtime wife), Sound and Film Editing. Witness for the Prosecution stands as one of the courtroom drama genre's most beloved entries--the best film Alfred Hitchcock never made.

Film #89: Max


In this interview, conducted by the excellent Dark City Dame at Noirish City (where she's kindly invited me to discuss my thirty favorite movies of the 2000s all throughout the month of November 2008), we talk about the incredible film Max.

Dean: Hi, Dame!!

DarkCityDame: Hello! Dean, I’m glad that you’re able to join me for day 3 of our look at your countdown to number one of your 30 best films of the 2000s.

Dean: Sure. It's our little project together!

DarkCityDame: Okay! What is the name of the #28 film we're discussing today?

Dean: Well, it came out in 2002 and it's called Max. It was made by Menno Meyjes, who was the writer of the scripts for Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade and Empire of the Sun, two pretty good Spielberg movies from the 1980s. It's an incredible work and even though its subject matter sounds pretty downbeat, it's actually quite entertaining. John Cusack stars in it as Max Rothman, a German/Jewish WWI veteran living with his large family in Germany after the war. It's the 1930s and, having been an artist before he lost an arm in the service, he's now trading in modern art to the rich and powerful in Berlin. And during this time, he befriends a young starving artist named Adolf Hitler, played by Noah Taylor (best known for his role as the young David Helfgott in the 1996 film Shine). And it's this tenuous friendship that's at the center of the film. Cusack is great in it; it's his single best performance (though I love him in The Grifters and Say Anything). But he's warm, generous, funny, intelligent, tasteful and at the same time distasteful in this movie. And he gets to deliver a line I bet you never thought you’d hear in any movie: "Hitler, come on--I'll buy you a lemonade!" Noah Taylor, meanwhile, delivers one of most powerful supporting performances I’ve seen recently. His Hitler is jittery, deparate, nerdy, discomforted, lazy and driven to megolomania. He’s superb.

DarkCityDame: So, does Max center around Hitler as a young struggling artist? Or does it deal with his effort to gain power? While reading an article about the film on the blog site Blunt Review, Emily Blunt wonders if Hitler were a successful artist, would he have walked a different path?

Dean: Well, it follows Hitler, still a corporal in the German army, as he battles, really, two different urges: the urge to keep up with the changing times in the art world, and the urge to be a propagandist for the more radical, anti-Semitic arm of the Army he'd already given so much of his life to. One of the great things about Max is that it humanizes Hitler so that we can see what led him down the dark road that he eventually took. For this reason, the Jewish community blasted the movie before they saw it back in 2002. However, once they did see it, they were convinced it was a deeply moral film that wasn't necessarily sympathetic to Hitler, but does recognize that, despite his monsterous acts, he was in fact one of us. John Cusack, also a producer on the film, said it best: “By understanding somebody who is evil on human terms, you can understand evil a little bit more and how it happens, and prevent it from happening again. It's the exact opposite of exploiting mass murder and the Holocaust. Hitler was such a coward and a liar and repressed sexually, and all those things. He really wanted to be an artist but he didn't have the capacity to be honest with himself."

DarkCityDame: What do you think he meant when he said, "He really wanted to be an artist, but he didn't have the capacity to be honest with himself.”

Dean: In the movie, Max Rothman keeps trying to get Hitler to reveal more of his innermost fears and desires on the canvas—as any real artist should do in their work. But Hitler is just too screwed up inside to do it. He's completely repressed on all fronts--mostly due to his extreme anger at the lowliness of his economic position. But he's also obsessed with traditional German ideals of what constitutes great art--that means paintings of battles, mountainsides, animals, and other “traditionally” beautiful objects. However, in the time period in which Max is set, this is all extremely dated stuff--what Max calls "kitsch,” which basically means corny. Ironically, Max is ultimately most intrigued by Hitler's drawings of his ideal Germany--the Germany that became controlled by the Nazis, and ultimately resulted in Max's death. It's in these art pieces that Max sees Hitler's true creative potential. And, if we’re honest with ourselves, we have to admit that Hitler's designs--the structures, roads, uniforms and symbols of the Nazi party--ARE some of the 20th Century's most enduring artworks. We all like movies dealing with Nazis because the Nazis wore great Hitler-designed uniforms. The only problem is, of course, is that they still represent the onward march of abject horror and unwarrented hate.

DarkCityDame: After seeing Max, what do you think, Dean? Would Hitler have walked a different path if he had been successful as an artist? Or was Hitler just "plain evil?” Could anything have changed his horrid destiny?

Dean: It's hard to say. But I think it's entirely possible he would have been an acceptable man, or at least not a powerful one, had he sold a painting or two. His hatred of the Jews came from his jealousy of their deserved success in business, education, and family. Had he had a taste of achievement as a painter, I think he would have never even considered a career in politics and, of course, the world now would be a different place. One of the amazing qualities of the film is how it illustrates this so cleverly. It's the decade's greatest "What If?" movie. It totally fascinates us with the idea that, had this one little man found something to hold on to besides hate, there would have been so much misery and bloodshed averted. As you watch the movie as see, for instance, the gatherings at the art gallery Max owns, or the parties that his wealthy family throws, it's interesting to think that all the people in attendence would eventually probably be victims of this unknown artist!

DarkCityDame: Wow! That is unbelieveable!

Dean: Yeah, it's an amazingly creative movie that just had to be made. I want to point out here that the film is just as much about the intriguing, fictional character of Max Rothman as it is about Hitler. The scenes examing Max's work ethics and his masterly family life are just as riveting as anything in the film. Meyje's really get us on this man's page and convinces us to love him, with his obvious passions for modernity ("Newness really does it for me, Hitler," he says, smoking one of his many cigarettes--which if one thinks about it, is the only choice Max can make about his one-armed life on his own; smoking, drinking and thinking are the only things he can do without asking for someone's help). This is unquestionably Cusack's finest foray into film--his most complete character.

DarkCityDame: Dean, I wonder why I’ve only now just heard about this film?

Dean: Yeah, it’s very surprising that Max didn't get more notice in 2002. Not one single Oscar nomination, even though it was released in December. I think people had it out for the movie without even catching it. If they had seen it, it would have garnered a Best Actor, Supporting Actor and Screenplay nomination easily. But people largely avoided it because, again, it humanized Adolf Hitler. Then we have to recognize it’s an indie film, so maybe a lot of people just don’t know that it exists. I also think, among the ones who were aware of it, most didn't know what it was about. If it had been called Max and Adolf, then it might have made more of a splash. But then it would've sounded like a buddy movie, which in fact, it is, in a bizarre way.

DarkCityDame: Oh!

Dean: Another "what if.."!

DarkCityDame: Dean, is that it?

Dean: I think so. A good ending there.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Film #88: The Buddy Holly Story

Some people out there may see Gary Busey as a punchline these days, after his reality show appearances and much-vaunted, helmetless motorcycle accident in the late 90s. I don't because, in 1978, he garnered a well-deserved Oscar nomination as Best Actor for the unlikely achievement of embodying early rock and roll's greatest poet, and ever since, I've always enjoyed seeing him in whatever he appears in, for however long. He's always a unique presence, never more so than in Steve Rash's The Buddy Holly Story, where he donned those famous horn-rimmed glasses to play the man from Lubbock, Texas who, in his tragically short career, fooled all the radio guys who thought he was black (can you imagine that??) into putting him on the "colored music" charts.

With hits like "That'll Be The Day," "Peggy Sue," "Oh Boy," "Rave On," "It's So Easy," "Well All Right," and "True Love Ways," Holly transformed this then-young music form into something altogether more heartfelt and foot-stompin'. Though the film is not anywhere near accurate (Holly's notoriously hot-tempered producer Norman Petty never makes an appearance), it's still an enrapturing tale that takes Holly and his band the Crickets (played by Don Stroud and American Graffiti's Charles Martin Smith) from snapping out tunes at a Texas roller-skating rink to being tourmates with the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis, Sam Cooke, The Big Bopper, Richie Valens, Eddie Cochran, and King Curtis. Just look at this dynamic scene where he and the Crickets break the race barrier at New York's Apollo Theater.
There's not much of a story here; Holly's career was too short for all the normal musical bio-pic ups-and-downs (which, as unfortunate as that is, makes for a radically different film than most in the genre). Even so, Busey's ebullient aw-shucks delivery, coupled with Rash's carefree directorial style (very good period detail here, despite an obviously low budget) and Robert Gittler's like-minded screenplay, make The Buddy Holly Story one of the most watchable musicals around. It should impress any viewer that Busey, a former drummer for Kris Kristofferson, Leon Russell, Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson, plays his own guitar and sings (Stroud and Martin played their own instruments as well). The score, adapted by Joe Renzetti, took home an Oscar in 1978, too. I don't have much else to say about this simple movie--just watch it, so you can be informed on just how Busey made it up to the big time in the first place. And remember to pay homage to Holly, while you're at it. Where would rock be without him?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Film #87: Logan's Run

Yeah, it's cornball, I know. But I was nine years old when I saw it so whaddaya expect? We all like EVERYTHING we saw when we were nine. So I still like Logan's Run.



Set in the 23rd Century, director Michael Anderson's 1976 MGM sci-fi epic (MGM submitted many titles to the genre in the wake of their 2001 success) envisions a future where major cities are confined under gigantic domes because of pollution. No one is allowed to live past the age of 30 and armed security guards, called Sandmen, are assigned to snuff out anyone who bucks this rule and tries to run from their assigned fate. (I wanna note that there are some great chase scenes involving the Sandmen, where their targets are shot and converted into disappearing matter.)

Michael York, at the very height of his fame (it was all downhill from here, even if he has appeared in the Austin Powers movies and in some episodes of Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm) plays Logan 5, a Sandman who discovers the "terrible" secret behind all of this rigmarole, and is forced to run in order to survive. Jenny Agutter, the British actress who made such a deep impression as a young girl in Nicholas Roeg's wonderful Australian outback journey Walkabout, is the comely Jessica, who falls for Logan and joins him in his run. The always wild-eyed Richard Jordan is Francis, Logan's fellow Sandman who makes it his personal mission to hunt down his one-time friend. The director's son, Michael Anderson Jr., plays a crooked plastic surgeon and Farrah Fawcett-Majors, right on the cusp of her pin-up fame, plays his know-nothing assistant. In one of the most striking bits of casting, the velvet-voiced Roscoe Lee Browne plays Box, a silvery robot who lords over an icy museum filled with those who've run before (and, yes, that's Browne inside the costume, in one of the film's most memorable moments).

But the film's big scene-stealer is Peter Ustinov as Old Man, the cat-loving ancient denizen of the demolished Capitol building who quotes excessively from T.S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats ("Macavity, Macavity," he quotes, "there's no one like Macavity / There never was a cat of such deceitfulness and suavity"--the basis for Andrew Lloyd Webber's stage moneymaker Cats). Ustinov adds a salty bit of life to a movie that, by necessity, has been devoid of it until his appearance. He overacts terrifically in the role, much to my own personal joy.
Logan's Run features other joys. The Oscar-nominated art direction, by Dale Hennesy is a treat, thanks also to a lot of location work done in Texas, where director Anderson filmed the Great Hall sequences at Dallas' Apparel Mart and the climactic sequence at architect Philip Johnson's famed Water Gardens in Ft. Worth, Texas (closed since June 2004, when four people drowned in the center pool from which Logan and Jessica emerge). The Oscar-nominated cinematography by Ernest Lazlo (Ship of Fools, Judgment at Nuremberg, Airport, D.O.A., Stalag 17, Kiss Me Deadly, Fantastic Voyage, and It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World) is quite spiffy.

Special effects masters L.B. Abbott and Glen Robinson handled the miniature work, while Matthew Yuricich contributed the prismatic matte paintings that convince us of a overgrown, uncared-for Washington D.C. (the shots of the ivy-covered Capitol Building and Lincoln Memorial are supreme examples of the lost art of matte painting--in fact, matte paintings should be re-examined as one of the premier possibilities that special effects have to offer; they're so much more convincing than fakey-looking CGI). Take a look at some beautiful frame grabs at the excellent Be Still My Blog of War by Andrew Grazebrook. Logan's Run, in fact, won a special achievement Oscar--along with that year's much much-less-impressive version of King Kong--for its effects work. And, to boot, Logan's Run features the first-ever looks at holographic imagery in the scenes where Logan is being computer-interrogated! Also, we should note Jerry Goldsmith's unusual score, which strike a perfect balance between symphonic and electronic work.

You don't havta tell me. I know Logan's Run is not a great movie. But it's a fun one, and it looms large in my heart despite all its flaws (it even inspired a TV series and a comic book). Believe me, it's gonna be remade soon--but it won't have the hard-won charm of the original, I guarantee.

Film #86: Rollerball (1975)

Remakes make me so angry. Let's take the redo of 1975's Rollerball. When one deigns to mention this, yes, over-the-top but still entertaining and meaningful film to people who don't know about IT, but DO know about John McTiernan's missed-the-whole-point, Razzie-nominated 2002 remake, you inevitably hear a groan. And then you have to explain "No, not that one---the GOOD one..." I must have wasted two hours of my life saying that phrase.

Now that my rant is done, I can go on and rant about how much I love Norman Jewison's original film--it's a real memorable treat from my childhood, so I can't be swayed on this matter. Anyway, Jewison's an interesting director--the guy has done comedies (The Russians Are Coming The Russians Are Coming, Moonstruck, Best Friends), musicals (Jesus Christ Superstar, Fiddler on the Roof), mysteries (In The Heat of the Night, Agnes of God, A Soldier's Story), heavy dramas (The Hurricane, In Country), heist movies (The Thomas Crown Affair--sigh...THE ORIGINAL, withe Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway) and with Rollerball, science fiction. I can't say he has any discernible style as a filmmaker except in the choices he makes story-wise--all of his films have a certain "message," for lack of a better word--y'know, racism is bad, respect war veterans, understand each other, and so on. Sounds like I have a problem with that, but I don't; I like Jewison's liberalism. And I like that one never knows what to expect from his movies, except that they're going to be expertly produced (he often acts as his own producer, too). With Rollerball, he sends us a stark missive about the savage quality of sports and its fans that, like Dr. Strangelove and Network, is coming more true with each passing year (cage match, anyone?). James Caan stars as Jonathan E., the reigning superstar of a future sport that combines roller derby, motorcross racing, football, basketball, and all-out warfare. This X-tremely gory pastime has in fact replaced warfare between nations by slaking the bloodthirst of its maniacal fan base. So this ongoing World Cup, with games between international cities, marches on with Jonathan as its poster boy. However, what Rollerball REALLY represents is not a battle between countries, but between the omnipotent corporate entities that own each franchise (here represented by John Houseman's blustery Mr. Bartholomew).

What this ultimately means is "There is no 'I' in 'team'." Jonathan and his mates aren't allowed a personality; their job is only to win at all costs. Problem is, Jonathan is becoming a little too famous. And his best friend, Moonpie (John Beck), is letting the Dallas team's Rollerball superiority go to his head. It's Moonpie's head, in fact, that gets needlessly cracked (at Houseman's go-ahead) after he insults his boss in the locker room. With his best friend now in a coma, Jonathan begins to see the wizard behind the curtain, and it feeds into his distaste for a game he used to love.
As a person who has always been at odds with the blind love of sports to which most seem to cling, I find Rollerball's anti-sports-violence stance not only to be brave but actually singular. I can find no other movie, except for maybe North Dallas Forty (the football movie with Nick Nolte and Mac Davis) and Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday, that has such a low opinion of its subject. But Rollerball goes way further than those movies do in illustration (mainly because the genre to which it belongs allows such hyperbole). Here we have a populace that erupts into chaos with each metal-knuckled punch, hairy motorcycle wipe-out, and pointless goal (the steely 10-pound ball makes an aggressive CLANG every time a point is scored). And the film's notion of corporations taking over in the sporting world has become all too prescient. We all know who wins most of the time these days: it's the team with the most money in its coffers.

That said, there are some problems with Rollerball. For all its sports naysaying, it sure makes the game look great. The Rollerball sequences are some of the most exciting cinematic sports moments you're likely to ever see (Jewison, to his credit, does take the trouble to make us wince occasionally at the on-screen blitzkrieg). James Caan was a former college football star at Michigan State and--get this--a one-time regular on the rodeo circuit with the nickname "The Jewish Cowboy." This athleticism shows up in his committed physicality as Jonathan E. He doesn't just leave it to the stuntmen to do all this stuff; he and his "teammates" are actually skating around in the thick of it. However, how are we really supposed to eventually hate the game along with Jonathan when we're always looking forward to the next on-screen match-up? The film really wants to have it both ways, and it's a problem (though this is cleared up at the climax).

Also, though I adore way-off 1970s visions of the future, sometimes things go a little overboard here, particularly in a party sequence that pops up in the film's middle. The John Box production design, filled with billowy whites and harsh chromes, is a little embarrassing, and the Julie Harris costume design is the inevitable combo of "futuristic" spandex and gowny '70s awards show regalia. I like it, against my better angels, but others perhaps won't--though the design of the team uniforms is sharp. Neither will some enjoy Andre Previn's annoying futuremusik--electronic squeaks and squiggles done to a disco beat. (However, any movie that begins--as this one strongly does--with an organ rendition of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor cannot be all bad!) I do love that the partygoers adjourn to nature to blow up trees with a powerful, fireball-spewing gun (I'm sure if one of those were on the market today, they'd be elms bursting into flames all over the place). And there's the occasional dull moment, usually involving Maud Adams as Jonathan's opportunistic lover. But then, to make up for that, there's Houseman (always good), a fine one-scene cameo with Ralph Richardson as a brainy librarian, and an energetic Moses Gunn as Jonathan's coach. So, with all of this, Rollerball is right on the edge of being a sinful pleasure for me. But a pleasure it remains...even if I do have to sometimes remind people it's not the one from 2002.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Film #85: All The Real Girls

The following is an interview conducted by the excellent DarkCityDame on her website Noirish City as part of our examination of my 30 favorite movies of the 2000s. She's given me permission to reprint a few interviews as part of filmicability, so here's a look at my 29th favorite film of the decade All The Real Girls.

DarkCityDame: Okay! First of all, I did watch the film All Real Girls last night.

Dean: Cool. I watched it, too. It was only my second time seeing it I think I might have appreciated it even more this time. Knowing the pace and style of the movie beforehand is probably beneficial to a second viewing. Tell me what you thought about it.

DarkCityDame: It was very interesting! It really focused on life in that small community in detail.

Dean: Yeah, it’s set in a North Carolina mill town. That’s where the director and the lead actor are originally from. It's does have a wide scope in terms of its characters--there are about 10 main characters in it, and about 20 secondary ones. But its main focus is on the beginning of this romance between the two leads, Paul and Noel, played by Paul Schnieder and Zooey Deschanel.

DarkCityDame: Why did you select this film to be included as one of your top 30 films from the 2000s?

Dean: Well, I was a big fan of writer/director David Gordon Green's first feature George Washington, made in 2000. But I found that 2003's All The Real Girls touched me more deeply. In most love stories that Hollywood makes, the two characters meet and just immediately fall in love. There's no time taken to see WHY they fall for each other. It's just assumed that, because they're both so hot or whatever, that, hey, OF COURSE they'd be lovers. But in All The Real Girls, we get a captivating, very natural progression of a romance, from its initiation, to its flowering, its conflict, and its shaky but ultimately firm continuation. Let's put on top of that the incredible ensemble cast, the gorgeous cinematography by Tim Orr, and the moody score by Michael Linnen and David Wingo, and you've got quite a film. I find that to be enough for me to include it as not only one of the best movies of the 2000s, but as one of the best romances ever to hit the screen. I mean, have you ever seen a movie that treated a love affair with such attention to detail?

DarkCityDame: In a word: No!
Dean: Yeah, I mean, right from the first scene, where we see Paul (Paul Schnieder) and Noel (Zooey Deschanel) struggling over their first kiss, we know we're gonna see something special. I love how he says he's afraid to kiss her, and she says “Well I don’t wanna be with someone who’s afraid to be with me.” And then she offers her hand to him to kiss first, and he nervously looks around to see if anyone is watching and he blows on her palm, wipes it off and kisses it gently. It's so incredibly sweet.

DarkCityDame: But it seems all the characters have past issues to deal with, too…

Dean: This is true. Everybody in it carries some sort of crippling fear along with them. Paul’s afraid of commitment (he's been with every girl in town), Noel fears her inexperience, Paul's best friend Tip (Shea Wigham) fears growing up, Paul's mother (Patricia Clarkson) fears getting older and being alone, there’s a mechanic who seems to fear death. It's as much a movie about dread as it is about romance. I feel that's extremely real and creative. Again, another choice that the average romantic film wouldn’t take.

DarkCityDame: But I also wonder by the end of the film, were their problems truly addressed?

Dean: Well, the conclusion is a bit open-ended...

DarkCityDame: Yeah, I thought so!

Dean: I think the viewer has to read between the lines and come to their own conclusions as to where this relationship is going. I personally felt that it was going to all be okay--that these two characters had really clicked with each other and that they were really sincere about working hard on their faults so that their love could succeed. You know, you’ll find that I tend to like open-ended movies, mainly because life itself is open-ended. It doesn't end...until it does, know what I mean?

DarkCityDame: Oh, yeah!

Dean: So I liked that David Gordon Green didn't tie everything up with a nice little bow. DarkCityDame: I agree. People don't usually live happily ever after!

Dean: No, there's always something tough for us to work on.

DarkCityDame: Well, at least, the characters in the films certainly exhibited that!

Dean: Yeah, Paul particularly has some difficult things to deal with--his heart is pretty tender, since he'd never given of himself enough in any relationship to allow it to be broken. So when it gets taxed, as it does in the film, he has a tendency to not know how to react except through self-destruction. DarkCityDame: I noticed that. For instance, near the end of the picture when Paul dresses up nice in order to go and visit Noel and find her in a friendly situation of just cooking macaroni with one of his friends. He goes outside and smashes his hand through his car window.

Dean: Yeah, he just can't handle his own jealousy, which we have to point out, is a feeling he's never experienced before, since he's never really cared about a woman enough to be jealous over her. In a way, he's as inexperienced in romance as Noel is. Noel, on the other hand, has to deal with her lack of experience with men and the notion that she hasn't been around that much, and now that she finds herself in true love, that means she might have to give up on the kinds of wild experiences she sees her friends getting into. So they're both innocents.

DarkCityDame: I agree.

Dean: How did you like the performances in it?

DarkCityDame: I thought that they were quite natural and down to earth! Dean: Very much so. I'm a big fan of both of the two leads. I have a huge crush on Zooey Deschanel as a result of the movie. I first noticed her in The Good Girl with Jennifer Anniston and Jake Gyllenhall. I thought she was hilarious in that. And I've paid special attention to Paul Schneider since this film. He's gone on to be in The Assassination of Jesse James, Elizabethtown, Lars and the Real Girl, and he'll have two movies out in 2009, one by Sam Mendes and another by Jane Campion. And I found the film very funny at times too. One of Paul's friends is named Bust-Ass, and he's played by an actor named Danny McBride. McBride's in Pineapple Express, the comedy with Seth Rogen and James Franco (also directed by David Gordon Green), and is the writer/director of The Foot-Fist Way, a big indie hit on the festival circuit that you can probably find on DVD these days. His few scenes--he's the one Noel is making macaroni with--are, I think, quite humorous. Like, I love the one where he's trying to hit on Noel, asking her if Paul wasn't around, who would she go out with. She's like "Why couldn't I just be alone?" and he's all "Well, you can't have Paul and you can't be alone. Who would it be?" It's a very childish way of propositioning someone.

DarkCityDame: He appeared to me to be brutally honest, but in a very hilarious way!

Dean: It's true. I also liked the scene where Paul has to dress up like a clown to accompany his mother to a gig (she's a clown performer for kids parties and such). But it's Zooey's performance that really hits me in the gut in this movie. She should have been nominated for an Oscar. She's that good. DarkCityDame: It's not that I am dense, but I’m not really familiar with Zooey Deschanel’s past work.

Dean: She's definitely been underused in movies. I think the highest-profile film she's been in was The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which was, in itself, not seen very widely. She's really a cult actress, and I think she's quite choosy about her roles. But she always brings a surprising take on whatever she's asked to do in any movie. She’s got a moxie that I really like. I loved it in All The Real Girls when she's talking with Paul on the mountaintop and she stops and says "Shhhh!" and tells him that she likes to pretend sometimes that she only has 10 seconds to live. She puts her hands over her eyes and she starts the countdown, and he's like "Huh?"

DarkCityDame: Yeah! Some of their scenes together were just serene and beautiful!

Dean: Yeah, you could just feel it deep in your bones that they were perfect for each other, and not just because they were both attractive people, but because they had similar sensibilities.

DarkCityDame: Yeah! I could tell their relationship went beyond aesthetics and was more emotional.

Dean: They make each other laugh, they make each other honest, they make each other responsible, and they make each other aroused. Isn't this what we all look for in a relationship?

DarkCityDame: Well, Dean it’s really difficult for me to answer this question right now, since I’m not in a relationship at this time, but when I do find Mr. Dark City Dude, (since I am Dark City Dame—ha!), then I’ll come back and answer that question.

Dean: Hahahaha. Don’t worry—he’s out there wandering around somewhere. You’ll find him!!

Film #84: The Taking of Pelham One-Two-Three

I still remember sitting over at my friend Brian Matson's apartment, snacks in hand, as I ran across this movie's opening credits. I'd always remembered the title: The Taking of Pelham One-Two-Three. But somehow I missed this bloodcurdling juggernaut as a free-so-freeeee filmgoing child of the 1970s. But, here, in the 1990s, sitting in my friend's living room, I was struck by one thing first and foremost: the massively bombastic score by David Shire. This was a score that said, in all caps, "HERE'S A MOVIE FOR YA, BUDDY! TRY AND TOP THIS ONE, PAL O' MINE!! BETCHA CAN'T! DOUBLE BETCHA! TRIPLE BETCHA!!!"

Even Brian stuck his head around the corner and said "What the hell are you watching?" I said "I dunno, but it sounds good, don't it??!!" Needless to say, I stayed with it and I've been thanking my lucky stars ever since. If you wanna see an action film that the God's honest roadmap for every other action movie made in its wake, then look no further, Mac. Here we have Jaws fisherman Robert Shaw as ultra-calm Mr. Blue, Garry- Marshall- movie- mainstay Hector Elizondo as kill-krazy Mr. Grey, Home Improvement's barely-seen next-door neighbor Earl Hindman as the shy Mr. Brown, and A Thousand Clowns Oscar-winner Martin Balsam as Mr. Green. (So, do all these Mr. Color names remind you of anything?) Together, these guys hatch a plot to hijack a subway car for...get this...ONE MILLION dollars (hey, stop those Dr. Evil jokes...a million bucks was really a MILLION BUCKS back in 1974).

Mr. Blue contacts the subway authorities, headed by Walter Matthau (in a rare 1970s dramatic role, though he still gets a laugh here and there (like when he insults a group of picture-taking Japanese businessmen who actually know English pretty well). Just as jowly as ever, Matthau acts as a reluctant go-between for the city and the kidnappers, who've given the mayor (an Ed-Koch-like Lee Wallace) one little hour to get their asses moving on this thing. Lemme tell ya, ab-so-lute chaos ensues.

Even if you find '70s movies boring (shame on you if you do), you're gonna love this one. It's about to be remade with snoozearama veterans John Travolta and Denzel Washington in the leads, so see it soon, cause the new version is bound to blow big-time (even if it does co-star the fantastic James Gandofini from The Sopranos). If you do rent it, you'll get to see Ben's dad Jerry Stiller in a supporting role as Matthau's smart-aleck second-in-command. You'll see Matthew's dad James Broderick as a flummoxed subway driver who's let go pretty early. You'll see Woody Allen sidekick Tony Roberts as the mayor's no-shit advisor. You'll see a quick flash of Doris Roberts before she became the mother on Everybody Loves Raymond. You'll see a vast array of then-scuzzy-cool New York locales expertly captured by cinematographer Owen Roizman (who did a few other little New York films like The French Connection, Network, Tootsie, and The Exorcist).

And, most importantly, you'll actually find that--hey, my heart is in my freakin' throat--as the train chugs towards its fate. Yeah, ya don't care about any of the passengers (because they're so annoying--the movie's one fault, or its bravest choice, take your pick). But it don't matter 'cause you'll still never be able to guess what's gonna happen in this head-butt of a movie based on John Godey's best seller, and directed by Emmy-winner Joseph Sargeant. And that title theme--occasionally you'll be able to shake your fanny to it on the dance floor, courtesy of some VERY creative DJs out there. So what's not to like?

Film #83: Barbarella

Jane Fonda, then absorbed in the cheesecake phase of her career she no doubt regrets, teamed with her then-husband, overrated womanizer/director Roger Vadim, to produce 1968's campy adaptation of Jean-Claude Forest's French comic book Barbarella. Psychedelicized art direction by Luchino Visconti's house designer Mario Garbuglia (The Leopard, Rocco and His Brothers) and costume design (by Jacques Fonterey and cologne magnate Paco Rabanne) make this quirky cult film a visual treat as it follows super-sexpot Barbarella in her fight against loopy madman Durand-Durand (Milo O'Shea) who, of course, threatens peace in the universe.

Along the way, she's assisted by a blind angel played by John Phillip Law (who was himself a staple of Italian film and the star of producer Dino De Laurentiis' equally wild though much better Danger: Diabolik--the male Barbarella, as I like to refer to it, also from 1968 and directed by horrormaster Mario Bava). Barely clothed throughout (which I have to admit, is the main reason I like this movie), Fonda's Barbarella seeks advice at one point from the world's most famous mime, Marcel Marceau (in a rare speaking performance as Professor Ping) as well as from Blow-Up star David Hemmings as the suggestively monikered Dildano. Finally, she faces the lesbian Black Queen, played by a scenery-devouring Anita Pallenberg. Using her powerful sexuality, Barbarella vanquishes Durand-Durand and his Orgasmotron (the funniest scene in the film), as well as Pallenberg's memorable sharp-toothed, clothes-tearing devil dolls. As in all superhero movies, Barbarella, shall we say...comes out on top.Barbarella is a really idiotic, sloppy movie (it's ripe for a remake, supposedly to come with Rose McGowan as the lead--an idea which could do no damage to the film's worth). Despite having a script co-written by an obviously bombed-out Terry Southern (Candy, Dr. Strangelove, Easy Rider), it falls apart in its latter half, save for O'Shea's appearance as the famously named Durand-Durand (y'know...that band...in the 80s? Oh, never mind...). But I do eat up its elegant design. And it has one of the most famous credits sequences ever--Fonda shedding her space suit to the tune of that fetching title song, sung by the now long-gone Glitterboxes (60s keyboard-meisters Ferrante and Teicher did a good version of it, too). And up until about 40 minutes in, I have great affection for its goofiness. But I get real bored as it gets bogged down in a plot I hardly care about. It's only Fonda's baby-doll-with-a-hot-box that gets me through it all. But that's enough, I gotta say! Whew!! That girl was FIT!!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Alphabet Meme, filmicability-style

The idea, first proposed by Fletch at Blog Cabins: the alphabet, a to z, as represented by film titles. The only thing is: I've added numbers 0-9, too (yes, I know Fletch had a rule about this...but I ignored it--sue me). So we have:

A - Annie Hall
B - Breaking the Waves
C - City Lights
D - David and Lisa
E - Eraserhead
F - Fanny and Alexander
G - Godfather
H - Hard Day's Night
I - It's a Wonderful Life
J - Jean De Florette
K - Kramer Vs. Kramer
L - Lawrence of Arabia
M - Magnificent Ambersons
N - Napoleon
O - O Lucky Man!
P - Passion of Joan D'Arc
Q - Queen Christina
R - Rear Window
S - Sherman's March
T - Touch of Evil
U - Umberto D.
V - Vertigo
W - Wild Bunch
X - X-The Man With the X-Ray Eyes
Y - You Can Count On Me
Z - Zulu
0 - Zero for Conduct
1 - One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
2 - 2001: A Space Odyssey
3 - Three Women
4 - 400 Blows
5 - 5000 Fingers of Dr. T
6 - Six Pack
7 - Se7en
8 - 8 Women
9 - 9 to 5