SEA OF LOVE
© Port Whitman Times 2006
Don't you just love those titles? Don't tell me you've missed the ubiquitous TV ads where they come sliding out like a rapist materializing from behind a subway post. Well, they're the best thing about Sea of Love. Not to say the story is a slouch, its just the titles are soooo good.
Frank Keller (Al Pacino) is a NYC detective who thinks anyone who'd go to bed with someone they meet in a personals ad has to have a hole in his head, and that's exactly what happens‹three times yet! In a last ditch effort to solve the crime Frank and his partner Sherman (John Goodman) advertise poetically in the personals (The perpetrator prefers poets) and get a string of nibbles, whom they take turns meeting for a drink at O'Neal's, one playing the waiter the other the "date", collecting fingerprints they hope to match with those of the "doer."
The women turn out to be a series of oddballs, but none comes close to being suspect, until classy Helen (Ellen Barkin), a chic Fifth Ave. shoe store manager, shows up. She leaves no prints on a glass, but she does some serious etching into Frank's lonely soul, thus ensues a hot and heavy love affair which, due to Frank's mission, is an on-again, off-again nature, especially to Helen, who can't figure out what's going on with this guy. Bloodhound Frank relentlessly pursues the trail which seems to lead in every case right back to the woman he finds himself in love with, thus the conflict which makes the movie worthwhile as a story. Along with this, there's a surprise ending, plus some snappy dialog and cynically verité situations that constantly rescue the tale from being a borderline shaggy hangdog. 7 HJH
© Port Whitman Times 2006
This is not a slasher movie, although it's advertised as such. It's really a detective story, but with a switch: the detective it's about is not the one solving the crimes. Admittedly the crimes which we see face-to-face‹strangulations, mostly‹are heinous, but unlike the Freddie and Friday films, they're not the feature of the show. No, Dad is. Dad the dick (short for Detective, as Leo Rossi, our working sleuth here, explains to his adolescent son over breakfast) is.
Dad the old-time supercop, since deceased, trained his son in the fine old tradition of top copdom, via the guns and obstacle course routine only to have him rejected by the department shrink as being mentally unstable‹surely a result of all that earnest knuckling under to dad's machismo, sublimating his own desires in a futile attempt to be a chip off the old block. But dead dad can't help him through this one, and so "Buck" (Judd Nelson), as he was tagged by papa cop, decides "OK, if I can't be a dick like dad, I'll go one better, I'll outsmart the department dad represented, I'll become a supercriminal, a SERIAL KILLER!" It's sort of a variation on the old Charles Atlas "He kicked sand in my face, I'll show him" ads, except in this case, the 97 lb. is a mental weakling, though strong enough physically to choke grown men into submission, saying "Go ahead, give up, it's easy" (kinda kinky, no?), plus couple of women for good measure. That's the slasher part, but this is scarier, because it's real, no nightmare scenario to hide behind.
But there's more... The detective story behind the real detective story is the one of the newly promoted Sherlock transplanted to L.A. from Brooklyn‹one of the cops who helped solve Son Of Sam,‹a thinking man's dick, working with a magnifying glass, collecting bits & pieces of evidence along with the clues teasingly left by Buck, all the time fighting the bureaucratic waves of apathy from the LAPD dicks, eg. Robert Loggia, Leo's partner, who just want to serve out their time and retire (an overgeneralization of course, but we accept it for the story's sake). Unfortunately this rosy future is not to be for all dickdom, but in the final frame, at least our side is smarter than their side, and through excellent characterizations by all, entertainingly too. 8 HJH
SEX LIES and VIDEOTAPE
© Port Whitman Times 1990
Graham (James Spader) gets off watching videos he has taken, of women talking about their Sex lives - apparently he feels this is the only way he can have a truthful, controllable relationship with them unhampered by the seductive atmosphere of their physical presence. One can definitely see how this might be a turn-on to someone wrapped up solely in his personal gratification. Having been rejected long ago, he doesn't trust himself to give, only take. Saves the emotions.
Ann (Andie MacDowell) stunningly beautiful, has never really given, even to herself, and is married to John (Peter Gallagher) a man who only takes, and Lies, as he must, having an affair with Ann's wanton sister Cynthia (Laura SanGiacomo). Now Ann lies too, but only to herself, smothering her real fires with concern for larger "world causes" (trash disposal, starvation, world peace etc.). Cynthia takes life (especially sex) as it comes, and moves too fast to have to consider lying. Probably the most well-adjusted, if you can call it that, of the quartet.
But all are caught up in this Videotape project of Graham's - first Cynthia, who goes to him and expounds upon her sexual past, then Ann, at first reluctant, but finally giving in after discovering evidence of her sister's affair with John, then John, irate upon finding his wife had been so intimate with his friend as to discuss her (their?) sex life.
The story is about getting at the Truth, and the truth for all of them lies somewhere in the videotape, where, for some inexplicable reason, the women bare their erotic ids with no reservations, knowing that they'll only have to talk, not perform. However, the performance comes out on the tape, much to the pleasure of Graham and the chagrin of John. Thus the truth, on videotape, has a profound effect upon them all. Y'know, it's really interesting to see a movie where people, simply talking (no special effects) keeps the audience riveted; and hopefully a theater where they make the popcorn without too much salt. 9
© Port Whitman Times 2005
THE SECOND GUESSER, talks about the story to his/her partner, hasn't seen the picture, but is trying to predict everything that's gonna happen before it does. Especially annoying in mysteries, and usually wrong. This one should stick to books. With pictures.
THE CRITIC, has to cast approval or disapproval immediately, proving his/her proficiency at moviegoing. Puts himself/herself right up there with Roger Ebert or Pauline Kael, rest her soul. Thumbs down on this imbecile.
THE DISCUSSERS OF OTHER SUBJECTS, the incessant talkers who continue a previous discussion into the theater, right through the prevues and into the introductory credits and ambiance of the feature, frequently right up to when they are shushed by some brave attendee. Never should have come to the movie.
THE EXPLAINERS think so little of their partner that they have to detail each step as the plot unfolds. These sometimes arrive with an older deaf person in a wheelchair, for added annoyance. "Look, Kong is climbing up the Empire State Building." Duh, watch the picture, moron. Never should have chosen a partner for whom they have so little regard.
THE CELLOPHANE RATTLER, endlessly opening a starlight mint, usually during the most intimate scenes, never during the chase with the music going. Add to these, the box shaker trying to loosen up the Milk Duds.
THE ARMREST HOG, no consideration for the occupant of the next seat. Usually an overweight slob who takes up half of the foot room of the next seat also. Belches too. Farts silently, but pungently.
THE COUGHER/SNIFFER Adnoidah has a cold, but simply must see this film, so bothers everyone around with sniffing and snorking up. Blow your nose! Swallow the phlegm. Yuk!
THE WHEEZER/GASPER - Television was made for these poor souls, who are probably giving up several cigarettes to watch the film, and who no doubt will soon be candidates for the respirator, thankfully too cumbersome a contraption to bring to the theater. Especially bad at comedies where their laughter turns into spasms of hacking, obliterating anything for a full 60 seconds.
THE OPEN SNEEZER should be wearing a surgical mask so as not to infect the entire audience with his spray of bacteria. Hey, pal, at least cover up your mouth. Don't have a handkerchief or can't pull it out quick enough? Grasp your elbow and force your inner arm up against your mouth and nose, and sneeze into your clothing. That way you keep the germs on your person where they belong.
THE GLARER: When you ask them to pipe down or somehow correct their behavior, they look at you as though you barged into their living room. Like maybe we didn't pay and they did. I got news forya lady, we all paid the same.
THE BABY BRINGERS: Why on earth theater managements allow people with babies into theaters is beyond sensible comprehension, but they do, and the baby cries, the bringer tries to quiet the baby down for far too long before repairing to the lobby just as the infant reaches full volume. We try to understand, but silently curse them both for ruining part of the film. Yes, the baby too. Brat.
THE CELL PHONE IGNORAMUS who doesn't turn off his/her cell so we can enjoy the film without the d'd'd'd'd'd'd' of the ringer, or worse yet the jingle (Mozart's Symphony #40 or Pachelbel's Canon) programmed to get the owner's (and everybody who's within hearing distance's) attention. "Look everybody, I have a cell phone and I like classical music. Now I can blab my private trivia all over for the world to hear!" As if we care. Puleeez.
THE FINAL DECIDER Somebody who gets to the head of the line at the refreshment stand line, still doesn't know what he wants, then starts choosing.>BR> THE BEANPOLE Someone who sits directly in front of you when there are many other seats available in the row, just no consideration...
YOU WHO KNOW WHO YOU ARE. How will you know? Well if the shoe fits...
TURNER & HOOTCH
© Port Whitman Times 2005
To all trainers of theatrical children and animals: Avoid allowing your protege to be on screen with Tom Hanks. He steals every scene and the audience watches nothing but him. It's a crime how a simple human being can yank the whole show out from under a good solid acting job by a talented child or dog who spent years studying their craft. Here he comes along and makes it look so effortless, so natural. It just flags you down to see how a director can allow it to happen!
In this schizophrenic farce, sophisticated-zanic-outrageous-love story-mystery Hanks manages to waltz with and around but never into the bag of each of the characters and through being the center of attention he lights up each scene like a pinball nudging the bumpers. Thus he makes the perfect detective, one who can enter, observe, but not become part of, each crime-related scene. It's quite a dance, and this guy carries it off. Bravo!
Oh yeah, bravo to the dog, er dogs (I understand they used 3) too, though their acting is all in their facial structure and natural functions‹like, in this case‹slobbering. Hootch slobbers big drooly strings of canine saliva over everything he ruins, but we grow to love Hootch because he exhibits a wide range of emotion, from grief when his master is killed, to mischievousness on a gross scale to rage to sensitivity. Naturally when the Oscars are awarded the three "Hootches" will have to come up to give their acceptance speeches "I want to thank my agent, my veterinarian..." all in arf arf talk. Change the channel!
In all justice though, the film tells too, quite accurately of the ways in which dogs are superior to humans-the sense of smell, the sense of humor, the gift of terror. In fact, without fido, nothing would be the same, the murderer,whom we saw stab two people in the back - literally - would be running loose now. But the dog saved the day, and the picture for the star to steal.
Mare Winningham was OK too, as the veterinarian-love interest. Finally a portrayal of a woman who, though educated and intelligent, can be just as aggressive, sexually, as a man. Usually they're coy as if the writers are saying their education gives them that right. 9 HJF
This guy's a character, no doubt about it, a real live blue-collar wiseguy who takes no guff, in fact gives lotsa guff to anyone within range, right up to David Letterman. A born cynic whose life is somehow captured and captioned in cartoons by Robert Crumb among others, Harvey Picar (Paul Giamatti) somehow becomes a comic book hero, yet remains an undermensch, serialized in cartoon. Then up pops Joyce Brabner (Hope Davis), a woman who understands this quirky existentialist, takes up with him immediately, reactively, and lo & behold, the relationship blossoms! Eureka! Holy Moley, Shazam! WOW! But, hanging around is the real Harvey, and the real Joyce, just to remind us that the distinction is there, between life and the movies, er, comics. 8.5 out of 10
THE AVIATOR (PG-13) No doubt about it, this is a very striking movie. But the story, encompassing 25 years of the life of a very unusual personality, while making many points, showing many facets of what folks were fascinated with back in the 1930's and 40's, doesn't make any singular lasting impression beyond glitz and glory. Yet, maybe that's its point, that what we are in the good old USA is speed and glamour, bigness and money, all the good things for which the rest of the world envies and hates us. Well, too bad, world, so go cry in your suds, or try to be like us, but look out, this is what you'll get: a huge, complicated society where anything with a lotta cash goes. Not that Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio), rich, recklessly adventurous, amorous, dashing, compulsive, paranoid, and suspicious, is totally representative of Homo Americanus, but with this film, who's to know? And Cate Winslett does Kate Hepburn, all the way from A to B. 7.5 out of 10
STROKE OF GENIUS (PG-13) Here's a prediction forya, by Grantland Rice (Allen O'Reilly), famous sports writer: "Money will ruin sports." Well, ain't it the truth. Just look at the huge salaries today, generating huge ticket prices, huge TV profits, ugly strikes, lockouts, brawls and tasteless endzone dances. The list could go on. But Bobby Jones (James Caviezel), arguably the greatest golfer ever, sole winner of the Grand Slam of golfdom, was, alas always an amateur (from the latin "amat"), a lover of the game. He was a fierce competitor to be sure, but one who never accepted money for playing, separating him from some prima donnas whose only scorecard seems to be the balance sheet. This story is that of the man, and how he overcame his shortcomings of health and temperament to give every ounce of his energies to playing and winning the game. It's also about the support of those who loved him and how they nurtured his natural talents, helped correct his personal faults and encouraged him to greatness. 8.5 out of 10
Hank Williams said it best: "Your Cheatin' Heart will tell on you." Interesting that the "Kinsey" technique involved people baring their sex lives anonymously to impersonal interviewers, and this story, fifty years later, is about people baring their sex lives and closely held emotions to one another. Well, "Watchit before you do that" is the lesson here, ere the result may not be what you expected. That's what psychiatrists are for, so to let it out and expose the naked truth to your significant other, especially when it involves your cheatin' heart, is something that just might require close consideration before blundering ahead. In this piece, Mike Nichols has directed four characters: Alice, Dan, Anna, and Larry (Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Julia Roberts and Clive Owen, respectively), playing fast and carelessly with the truth and suffering the consequences, not always gladly. Lotta sex talk, not much actual sex, but intense relations with clothes on, drama to burn. 9 out of 10
IN GOOD COMPANY (PG-13) After walking out of "Meet The Fockers," a one-joke sequel whose stars are wasted en masse on a lame and pointless story, I wandered into this Dennis Quaid number that at least had some substance. It might not win any Oscars, but might give viewers pause to think along the lines of: "What's-really-important-in-life?" and "Are the sacrifices we make for jobs really worth the rewards?" Dennis is a middle aged sales manager for a magazine that has been acquired by a conglomerate, and he's replaced by a younger Topher Grace, a whiz-kid with no experience and less savoir faire. But the kid is a fast learner, and a fast worker too, who charms Dennis' daughter Scarlett Johansson then is subsequently seduced by her in her college dorm room. Of course daddy finds out and his kid-boss pays a personal price, along with learning fast about company politics in the big world. The ending isn't what you'd hoped, more like oh, reality, but the morals are lined up like dominoes. 8 out of 10
THE STATION AGENT
(R) Fin McBride (Peter Dinklage) is a fairly average young guy, a small (dwarf) person working in a model train shop owned by his older, and only friend Henry (Paul Benjamin). Then one day Henry drops dead, the shop closes, and Fin is left a piece of New Jersey property, which turns out to be an old train station, a life-size, habitable train station, where the trains don't stop anymore. Perfect. Fin moves into the place, to find solitude, and to continue his hobby of train watching, but alas, there's no being alone in New Jersey. Friends come at you from every direction. Joe (Bobby Cannavale), a hot dog vendor who sets up outside the train station, and Olivia (Patricia Clarkson), a local woman dealing with a personal loss, latch on and won't let go, fulfilling their needs as well as, we discover, Fin's. So he isn't so happy with alone-ness, and eventually comes around to being a buddy of someone, in spite of his shortcoming (pun intended). 7.5 out of 10
ALL THE REAL GIRLS
Talk about young love! This romance is soooo typical, not in that it's just exactly what you remember (or imagine), but that the type of heartbreak that it describes is one that would seem to happen all too frequently to you. Love thinks it sees all, but there are huge blind spots that can only be viewed from outside, and that's what we get to do, see the spots. It's a story of ingenuous trust, where two people, Paul and Noel (Paul Schneider, Zooey Deschanel) confide in each other with their own innermost uh, sanctimonia, but somehow don't recognize the needs that lay within, in this case of simple desire, and of loyalty, respectively. Then, each lover acts precipitously upon personal impulses (bad idea!), bringing on the heart-rending. Yet at the end we are left with the hope that all will be well - someday. Such a beautiful tale, a major chapter in the book of love. 8 out of 10
Think of all the things that bug you about urban living today, string them together and imagine you (Chris Ryan) are suddenly connected to a life and death emergency phonecall from a strange woman (Kim Basinger) who swears she is in the clutches of murderous kidnappers, and you're halfway thinking she's pulling your leg, yet you're trying to do the right thing by her plus her 10 year-old son, who's also grabbed by the badguys. The genre here is "Thriller" and it keeps its word with each unexpected twist where normal (for L.A. anyway) people and institutions just seem to get in the way at the wrong time, and you, the hapless viewer identifying with the you in the car on the phone with the lady and kid the cops, trying to cope with killers, can only perch on the edge of your seat throughout, at least until the goodguys (William H. Macy et al) ride to the rescue. 8.5 out of 10
First of all, "Dogville" is a challenge. It's long and ponderous, there is no scenery or set, beyond markings on a large area's floor representing a small town. All doors, windows etc. are pantomimed open and closed. What there is though, is dialog. It's really a play where the audience responds to whatever's presented by simply, ah, believing. Once that hurdle is accomplished, the story isn't all that bad. In a highly stylized mixture of genres from "Our Town" to "The Visit," we learn how a whole town accepts, and conceals a young woman (Nicole Kidman) from the mob and the police who are hunting her down. Once accepted and hidden by the folk, the woman is all but used up by every townsperson for various "services," up to and including true love, but in the end she gets to pay back in spades. Musta been quite a temptation, for lotsa big stars (Lauren Bacall, James Caan, Ben Gazzara, Paul Bettany, Blair Brown, Stellan Skarsgård, Udo Kier, Narrator John Hurt) participate. Good stuff if you can keep awake. 8 out of 10 HJH
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
Sometimes you wonder whether all the competition is worth it, that if maybe we tore down the scoreboards and ended the championship tournaments, just played to play, it might not be a better thing. A lotta people will do just about ANYTHING to win (to wit: recent election advertising), which might be forgiven if you're a player, and competition is the name of the game, but if you're only a fan, or the parent or sponsor of a player or team, it borders on surreality. Hey, it's only a game, folks. Yeah, right, and money is only cash, and life is but a dream. Unfortunately this IS life in a small Texas town, every citizen's dream is that of the local high school team winning a state football championship, and the characters, the players and especially the coach (Billy Bob Thornton), in the town dream are horses that they bet on, mercilessly motivate, and adulate when they win. But when they lose, it ain't pretty, but it's us. 8.5 out of 10
Minor movie celeb (Zach Braff) goes back to hometown after 8 years to bury his mom, only to have to deal with the life he thought he left behind. Major guilt haunts him, assuaged by drugs prescribed by his psychiatrist father (Ian Holm), over an accident he caused many years ago which left his mother a paraplegic, a contributing factor in her death by drowning in her own bathtub. But he works his way through it, through the funeral, through dealing with his shrink (Ron Liebman), through seeing all of his old friends still back in NJ working at humdrum jobs and partying on the weekends. At least he has something bigger to pursue, to go back to, even if it's only Hollywood. It's "That ratrace is better than this ratrace," I guess. Yet, along comes a beautiful young thing (Natalie Portman) with issues of her own, they repair to the figurative bushes where they rub psyches and fall in love. Ah love, triumphs over the guilt, solves the problems, eliminates the need for the drugs, even justifies one's princely existence to old friends rooted in the past. 8.5 out of 10
Two tourist divers (Blanchard Ryan, Daniel Travis) are mistakenly left out at sea, bringing a troubling resolution, especially for those of us who, sitting in our comfy seats at the movies, nevertheless empathize. For them, the choice is clear: keep hoping until help arrives, or give in to the sharks. I'm a Great Lakes person, so you couldn't get me into the ocean, especially just to ogle the wildlife. "Ooh, look at that stingray, pet that eel, see the shark devour a school of angelfish..." If you want to take those chances, okay, but if you are terrified of the deep, this movie is just too unsettling. Scary? Well, why wouldn't it be, with the shark fins cruising by, and an occasional bump by one of these monster anything-eaters, but not nearly as terrifying as "Jaws" which, granted, was contrived. This one is real - 90 minutes of two people all alone in the water being investigated by the sea creatures considering making a meal of them. It's not pleasant, and the ending: Be torn apart and eaten, or drown, is a no-brainer. 5 out of 10
SHALL WE DANCE
Sensitive Man (Richard Gere) takes up the dance. Well, maybe not THE Dance, but dancing nevertheless. Bored with his lawyer job, he wills himself, with a little help from Lonely Woman (Jennifer Lopez) who's lost her partner and looks longingly out the window, to climb the studio stairs. But waitaminute, it's not what you think. These folks are steely underneath the jello exterior, and it's only the tango they crave. No sex please, we are estudiantes del baile. So Richard goes to the class and gets Happy Feet. But wifey (Susan Sarandon) and teen kids wonder if he's running around, which in fact he is, but oh so acceptably, just troddin' the boards, ma'am. Wife has him followed and finds out that his muse is Terpsichore and not Jennifer, and that one of his office buddies (Stanley Tucci) is also into the game. Finally the secret is clumsily let out of the closet, and resolves, as we know it must, to the satisfaction of everyone, proving that sensitive man wins too, sometimes. 7.5 out of 10
SHAUN OF THE DEAD
is a cross between wronchy college humor and eighth grade slapstick, but if you can remember your brain down to those levels, and can be comfortable laughing out loud at their absurdities, it's an absolute romp. The story is something one might have dreamed up playing monster in the backyard on a summer's day, where you pretend the end of the world is at hand and the dead rise up from their graves, all their deathly throes in full array, yet walking around being un-dead, even when impaled or torn apart (all graphically presented - for laughs, of course). They just keep coming, and the danger is: they are biters who are converting the living to their state, infecting those who are bitten with un-deadness. It's campy death, y'see, at which the makeup/costume people must've had a ball, and should be nominated for oscars. Lotsa beating with bats, splattering blood and body parts, a symphony of gore. Ah, dreams, the stuff of which death is made, or is it the other way around? 8 out of 10
The spider you see outside your window or in a remote corner of your garage, weaves its web steadily, efficiently, cunningly; and when it catches a piece of prey is quick onto the quarry, wrapping it up for later consumption. Spiderman, on the contrary, is just a kind of wild man, jumping where he pleases, building to building, dropping, climbing, shooting out his webfabric, and using its fantastic powers to fly around and fight crime. The spider with human values. Oh puleez! Surely the real spider would be bored to tears, focused as it is on mere survival. Y'know, comic books are far more interesting than comic-book films. You can put them aside, they're cheap, disposable, and mercifully short. "Spiderman" the movie, goes on and on, with a junkfood story, a plethora of special effects (flying cars, octopus arms, and duh dialog made plausible only by a charming villain), and a spider more like a fly, buzzing around urban excrement. 5 HJH
THE STATION AGENT
Fin McBride (Peter Dinklage) is a fairly average young guy, a small (dwarf) person working in a model train shop owned by his older, and only friend Henry (Paul Benjamin). Then one day Henry drops dead, the shop closes, and Fin is left a piece of New Jersey property, which turns out to be an old train station, a life-size, habitable train station, where the trains don't stop anymore. Perfect. Fin moves into the place, to find solitude, and to continue his hobby of train watching, but alas, there's no being alone in Jersey. Friends come at you from every direction. Joe (Bobby Cannavale), a hot dog vendor who sets up outside the train station, and Olivia (Patricia Clarkson), a local woman dealing with a personal loss, latch on and won't let go, fulfilling their needs as well as, we discover, Fin's. So he isn't so happy with alone-ness, and eventually comes around to being a buddy of someone, in spite of his shortcoming (pun intended). 7.5 out of 10 HJH
Ahhh, love at the top of your game... Well, anyway,it can put you at the top of your game, that extra impetus to be all that you can be for the one you want to impress. It's so primitive, really, it's bring-back-the-bearskin, and say "look what I got" and she goes "My hero!" - all been done before, but here with taste, and, if you love tennis, a bit of competition other than in the restaurant or the bedroom. It's been compared to "Rocky" but I think not, for it's a tale, i.e., boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl (Paul Bettany, Kirsten Dunst) over objections by tennis daddy (Sam Neill), and boy wins championship to boot, but no blood, no violence, no art museum steps, so no "Rocky" but a touchin' good tale nevertheless. 8 out of 10
One can't help but love Cole Porter. Just listen to his songs and melodies and you'll, if not fall at his feet, at least bend a knee in deep respect. Here, with the exception of one song, they are presented with verve, obeisance to the style of the era, and talent plus. The exception is, sadly, "Begin The Beguine" which is cawed by Sheryl Crow, who never seems to settle on the melody that Porter wrote so well. The song soars. Crow shreds it. Porter, a stickler for correct interpretations of his melodies, would surely turn in his grave.
The movie has a certain gravitas, being viewed from the perspective of a ghostly theatre where Porter (Kevin Kline) sees, with the help of the grim reaper (Jonathan Pryce), his whole life, the significant parts anyway, pass before his eyes, an interesting device that works, in fact charms. And what a life it was! Anything went, as Cole the misbehaver threw caution to the winds and lived life as but a dream.
Yet, his wife (Ashley Judd) stood by him despite his many indiscretions; this is the real story behind the story, for those who might be interested in the soap-operish aspects, such as his sexuality. Unfortunately a true-to-life telling like this makes something that is nobody's business everybody's business. But then, how can an interesting tale be made out of a life lived at the top, if not to show a little of the personal, the seamy, the closeted secrets. Frankly, I could watch 2 hours of just the production numbers and songs. 9 HJH
Looked at from a "scary story" point of view, one would get a bigger jolt by someone jumping out of a closet and shouting "BOO!" But then, it doesn't take much these days, to get our hackles up, which is what this hokey yawner proposes to do and only moderately succeeds. It's a film where everybody is not only a slow talker like Jim Thome, but a slow performer too, accompanied by WAY too much symphonic mood music telling us how to feel. But waitaminute. Looked at as a political allegory The Village is bearable, even a little interesting. This little old-timey village, y'see, out in the middle of, well, nowhere, exists in the 18th century, ruled over by a group of elders that controls the couple of hundred inhabitants with the help of supposed boogiemen in the woods surrounding the town. No one goes or does anything for fear that the unknown chimera in the woods will getcha iffya don't watch out. This way everyone, right from birth, is kept away from the big city and its occasions of sin. But there are occasions where the big city's resources are necessary, and exceptions must be made. That's when we are let in on the secret. 6 HJH
PIECES OF APRIL
It's Thanksgiving and you (April) re having your family over for dinner for the first time since moving to the big city and having your own apartment. They barely approve of your lifestyle and haven't been in close touch since you moved out, just a young girl in your early twenties. Your mother is dying of cancer, your brother and sister don't get along, your apartment is located in a slummy neighborhood, your boyfriend is of a different ethnicity (surprise!), and everything goes wrong with the cooking of the turkey, it being your first attempt at preparation of the feast that everyone has come to expect. It starts out with the oven not working, and goes downhill from there. Most of the story is of the expanding of the tragedy in an almost farcical way, but, as all Holiday Tales do, it resolves in a way that makes everyone thankful, if not only for the dinner, but for one another and a supporting cast of friends. 8 HJH
THE DOOR IN THE FLOOR
In the wake of a searing family tragedy, there's always plenty of blame to go around, and utterly no place to escape the guilt. But somehow, miraculously, the family just goes on, lives with all of the emotion boiling inside, and either retains sanity or goes over the psychological horizon into other lives, to sweep the grisly images under the rug for the nonce, plunging into work, travel, pleasure, whatever. In this case, a couple, writer and wife whose twin teenage boys perished, first have another child, then live with the pictures of their sons, finally escape into escapades that soak up the emotional foam. And what better than sexual relationships (graphically presented, it must be mentioned) to involve one's very being? The pursuit, the imagining, the consummation, the concealment... Waitaminute, the concealment? Noooo, not here. In fact they are all but flaunted, and thus accepted by each, as an assuagement after a horrible lifechanging event. Of course there's more to the story than the sex, and it's layed out in the book from which this corner of the tale is taken (A Widow For One Year, by John Irving), but this treatment is plenty for a 90 minute sojourn into the tortured minds of the participants, seen from the point of view of the twins' teenage schoolmate. 8.5 HJH
THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE
It's a cynical world where money buys everything, including the mind of the prospective president of the U.S., implanted with a memory chip that makes him a virtual robot under the control of a brace of "handlers." I believe it was Mark Twain who said "We have the best politicians that money can buy," and who can deny that money has an undue influence in the highest offices of the land? Pump enough dough into the machine, and out comes what you want, like sausage, made up of the scraps of ideas blanded down to acceptability by most, and grudging tolerability by the rest, except for a few bomb-throwers who refuse to give in. This first-rate thriller requires that we suspend belief in the shining ideal of Democracy, and consider that some politicians will do anything for power, sacrificing family, honesty, integrity, conscience, killing whoever gets in the way. It asks us to accept that the mind can be controlled with an implanted computer chip and a verbal trigger employed when a certain result is desired.
More importantly, it reminds us that getting to the motives of those who control the highest seats of power requires digging deeper than the two dimensional images that the candidates show us, of themselves and of their opponents. As we well know, there are those who would conspire to do anything in their lust for power, which, in the true democratic sense, rests ultimately with the people. 8 HJH
Here's a story with a bit of everything: Immigrants (Irish Illegals, actors yet) trying to make it in the big city, death, grief, sickness, cute children shouldering burdens along with adults, heartwarming friendship, racial understanding, the city and gritty marginal existence therein, the birth of new life against medical odds, faith in one's self and one's partner, oh gosh, so much more, all packed into one movie that you would think would be just too much, but surprisingly, it works! This family that pulls together doesn't necessarily score the big jackpot, but they do survive, with love and understanding in a heartwarming tale that can't help but winya. 8.5 HJH
The spider you see outside your window or in a remote corner of your property, weaves its web steadily, efficiently, cunningly; and when it catches a piece of prey, this trapsetter is quick onto the quarry, wrapping it up and storing it for later consumption. Spiderman, on the contrary, is just a kind of wild man, jumping where he pleases, building to building, dropping, climbing, shooting out his webfabric where he wants, and using its fantastic powers to fly around and fight crime. The spider with human values. Oh puleez! All this just to make a movie. Surely the real spider would be bored, to tears, focused that it is on mere survival.
Frankly, comic books are far more interesting than comic-book films. For one thing, you can put them down. They're cheap, disposable (though I deeply wish I would have saved my old ones now that I see what they're going for in eBay), and mercifully short. "Spiderman" the movie, goes on and on, with a junkfood story, a plethora of special effects (flying cars, octopus arms, and duh dialog which is made plausible only by a charming villain), and a spider more akin to the fly that's usually the prey.
Last time I trust Ebert & Roeper ("Two Thumbs Way UP!"). Better get your thumbs checked, guys. 5 HJH
You'd think Robert Redford, with all his movie savvy, would be better able to choose a winner. This one is an interesting story out of the gate, but bogs down in implausible scenes where the kidnapper (adult-napper, actually, Willem Dafoe) becomes "human," at least for the moment a person of understanding, a softie with marital and childhood issues bearing on his criminality. Poor felon, a victim of circumstances, but then a steely man of resolve, even if the generated action is a heinous one. Bob is the nappee, bigger, more muscular, sharper, who nevertheless sits down and shares a sandwich with his captor, talking over old times while untied and the gangster's gun is laid aside. Yeah, right.
Of course Bob the niceguy doesn't try to overpower Willem the villian, choosing to talk him out of this thing he's doing, out of being a bad boy. Eyes roll, sighs issue forth as we wait and the moments amble on. Sometimes it's just better to watch TCM old-time movies, where the badguys were unrepentantly evil and the goodguys wore white hats and came out on top via the action route. Ho-hum. 6 HJH
Once upon a time there was a little bird, Birdy, we'll call him. There was also Mama Birdy, Papa Birdy, Birdy's friend Al, Papa Al, and Mama Al. They all lived in the same South Philly neighborhood. Birdy was called that because he thought, in his mind, he could fly. Like a bird. He hadn't figured out exactly how yet, but he just knew he could fly, somehow. This kid, Jughead to Al's Archie, was totally fascinated with birds, any kind, pigeons, canaries, parrots, a real bird freak y'might say, and he and Al became involved in all kinds of kids' schemes mostly revolving around birds, but reg'lar high school stuff too. It was back just as Vietnam was getting started, which the story kinda leads upto too.
Well, like I said, Birdy and Al went through a lot of the same teenage scrapes and adventures, except for this obsession of Birdy's. And they survived, as we did, or most of us anyway. Along came the war, and their lives took a rotten turn to the battlefields, thence to the hospitals...Al was wounded by an exploding land mine, Birdy by a psychological detonation...y'know, in his head. Seems to have literally flown , or thought he had, out of danger. Just decided to be a bird for awhile, as it was getting rather unpleasant being a human, to see if it really is all in the head: "If I BE a bird, then I AM a bird, therefore I can fly." Like that.
To make a long story short, it was all Birdy's big head trip, the outward signs of which we were permitted to witness, along with being privy to many of the inner visions of the airborne subject. In fact we all wondered if Birdy would just fly straight out to nowhereland, or what we suspect is that place, or whether, like a human boomerang, he'd return to reality. Al is there to help him, the Army bureaucaracy is there to hinder him, we are rooting for him, but in the end it's up to him. That's the story really, whether he'll return to "sanity" or continue to be (to behave like) a bird. Now being a bird isn't that bad, and given the option, one might just elect to start flapping and chirping. And that happens too...either he does, or he doesn't, return to civilization that is. 7 HJH
An American Excess Story
Richard Pryor is usually thought of as giving us raw life, but with a point. His monologs are a study in as much of the ghetto as we'll ever be allowed to see, the tip of the jungleberg. But he also says something in a perverse but direct way - "This is how other people think...and here it is presented dramatically for you, by me, the best MF comedian you're gonna find." Eddie Murphy seems to go a little deeper into the ghetto on short sorties, but in a less incisive way, at least in this humble opinion. Brewster's Millions is, oh, a romp I suppose, how to spend money faster than you know how, and have fun in the process. So what's the trick, who couldn't spend thirty million in thirty days? Several conditions are applied, of course, to make it harder, but spending money today is no problem. Me?, Oh, I'd buy a coupla airplanes from General Dynamics, maybe a few hundred ashtrays or wrenches from Grumman, or I'm sure GE could provide a couple of overpriced doodads. But how to spend it looking good, m'man, that stuff's up to Pryor, John Candy, the latest filmic fattyfunny, and assorted characteractors like Hume Cronyn, Pat Hingle, and a few of the brother and sister (humans), directed by Walter Hill at a pace that keeps up with the rate of spending if not with our expectations.
The point is a jive one, a fictitiously gratuitous one, of how to waste what we all don't have but wish we did. We wishfully read of people who hit the jackpot, or the lottery, or the big inheritance, and wish we were there, slim though the chance might be. This gives us the opportunity to fantasize, but leaves us $2.50 (afternoon show) poorer in the end. Ry Cooder's music score is a saving grace. 6.5 HJH
This life we live - Is it so all-fired precious that we should cling to it even after it ceases to be stimulating and fun? Should we refuse to look at obvious alternatives even after they are amply demonstrated, though not even remotely plausible in the context of our present technological experience? These questions are subtly posed, even approached in this well crafted film, but not really addressed straight on. How could they be though, as the society we live in has only been recording its history for a few thousand years, a comparatively short time in eons, which is the calendar by which the rest of the heavenly system operates.
The COCOON outerspace ET's who come here and unwittingly provide a fountain of youth for some of the oldsters in a swanky neighborhood swimming pool, have been around, historically, for much longer than we, and can do the things we dream about in terms of travel into the Great Out There and beyond, for their sciences surpass ours by thousands of years. Moreover, they can literally peel off their outer, physical layers, and get right down to the innermost shining spirit that lies within all species, life's very essence, and in that form, be at one with the total environment, any environment, even ours.
The old folks however, with their (and it is implied, our) limited experience in such matters - after all, many of them remember back even before there were cars - are naturally hesitant to accept the manna that has fallen to them, but once in the water, splash around just like the youngsters within us all, except for a skeptic or two. Coming to their senses, they realize that, faced with the alternative to what they are now seeing and hearing, they have no choice but to board the next UFO to they-know-not-where, where, they are assured by the ET's, they will survive forever. Could this be an allegory to what we now are taught is the "afterlife"? Perhaps they'll drop us a line from the wild blue yonder, and we'll understand it better. But for now, COCOON will have to do. And very well it does too. 8 HJH
Now there's no message per se in this film, unless it's an old bromide like "Use everything at your disposal" to extricate yourself from tight, life-threatening spots, but it is a finely put together piece of bloody fluff that keeps one on seat's edge from the old ultra-vi opening scene wherein machine-gun mayhem is wrought on a restaurant full of actors (some would call this justifiable homicide) to the end where justice is oddly served, and the victors literally cop the spoils.
Bryan Brown, that bloomin' Aussie, plays Mr. F/X, that's the name of his special effects unit that specializes in horrorshow gimmicks for the monsterflicks; alas he is hired by the G-Men represented by yuppie-oily Mr. Smooth (Cliff De Young) to publicly "do in" a stoolie mobster (Jerry Orbach) who shall then drop from sight into witness-protection nowhereland anonymity, ostensibly to raise tomatoes and grandchildren.
But in their bureaucratic determination to do a job with no traces, the fedcops aim to snuff him and his film unit too. Well that just won't do, and so every trick in the F/X repertoire springs forth to amaze us and the good/bad guys (For awhile you can't tell the difference - y'see, just like life eh?),to the point where the only ones who know which track is the right one are Brown and the NYPD detective (Brian Dennehy) who seems to be the only other human being not part of the deception. All in good fun of course, with realistic shootings, beatings, fake sex, real profanity, take your mind off the mortgage payments for sure. 8 HJH
FIRE WITH FIRE
Dear Don: I hope you're still at the same address, you old so-and-so. It's been so long since we've seen each other, I hope you're still alive, by God! And, to get right to the point, I hope you'll be able to help us solve a problem.
Lisa, our daughter, I mean my daughter (Debbie never really adopted her, being more Lisa's contemporary, you see) has apparently fallen in love and taken off with a young prisoner at the juvenile "honor" facility a couple of miles away from her school (St. Martha's Convent School in Oregon), and we, I mean the authorities, have completely lost track of her. The police assumed that she and the boy died in a fall and descent through the rapids of the Opaca River there just as they were about to be apprehended, but somehow we feel she's still alive, and the two of them are living out in the woods together.
We have been traveling mostly, with our home base at our digs in Luzerne, but keeping up the apartment in NYC and the beach houses in Palm Beach and Malibu just in case we decided to drop in, and so we've kind of lost track of Lisa too, but felt she'd be well taken care of at St. Martha's, and that her education would be accomplished without much in the way of eventfulness. So you can imagine our surprise and dismay at this development.
Apparently the girls at the school decided to do a good deed and invite the inmates, I mean the boys, over to the school for a dance, and you know, it was like a scene out of West Side Story, with the star crossed lovers (Lisa and Joe, his name is) destined to fall in love. No matter how the caretakers at both institutions tried to keep them apart, they met secretly and continued their love affair, sneaking out in the middle of the night to consummate their feelings in a crypt in the local cemetery. Well, they were caught, and ran away before both could be punished. I know, it sounds like a phony "B" movie plot, but right now we (Myrna and I, from different parts of the country since our divorce) are trying to locate the two and bring Lisa back to her senses. We felt you, with your woodsy experience, might give up the stock brokerage business for a while, and go out to search the woods there for our baby. Please write as soon as possible, advise us what to do, and if you can help.
Dear Frank: You're wrong, it doesn't sound like a "B" movie plot, it sounds like something you might read in a comic book. My advice to you is to forget the whole thing and stay in Europe. Lisa and Joe will probably turn up sooner or later, when they get tired of playing out characters in this tawdry, boring cliche of a plot. Meanwhile you can comfort yourself with the knowledge that they won't have to attend any inane films, or read your letters. Best, Don.
Amen! 4 HJH
I tell ya I sure would like to have the dental concession for FRIGHT NIGHT, I mean everyone in this film seems to be lured or forced over to vampiredom, and what is the first thing they do? - Why sprout teeth, of course, and not just eye teeth or fangs either. They've got bi-cuspids an molars and incisors and wisdom teeth, you name it Doctor Tooth- cake, somewhere one of these vampires got it. The problem is, unlike the greatest of the classis films (Warhol's BLOOD FOR DRACULA) once the protagonists of this epic, sink their teeth into you, they're like pit bulldogs, they won't let go. So you sit there through a buncha dumb cliches and sub-adult humor, just to see what'll turn up.
Two guys, alluded to as gay, move in next door to Mrs. Normal Divorcee and her pubescent male dependent. A few "night stalker" murders are inter-shuffled on their TV, along with Roddy McDowell doing a turn-it-off-Mabel ferschtunken imitation of Vincent Price (That's like Pee Wee doing Mr. T.). Plot development is so transparent that, though you couldn't see the vampire's reflections in the mirror, you could almost see the writers dictating the script to a snickering secretary. That is accompanied by barely adequate direction, all intended for the Fall Hallowe'en season.
Well, these two gays live there and ones' a vampire see, that's the story, therefore a few men-showing- affection-to men scenes, a lot of attractive but really unsexy females, the usual getting-rid-of the vampire stuff.
They use a lot of the old Cruifix and holy water and sunlight bits, even a new one – the "Faith" bit - Dracula crushes the Cruifix (Evil wins over Good) because the holder-upper didn't have FAITH when he held it up. Then, the next time that happens, a simultaneous conversion occurs, complete with holy mu- sic, bells, heavenly sunrays, and the convertee miraculously makes it through the attack.
To be fair, the gore is great in this film, the whole Lena the Hyena family gone bad then changing to lower beings before your eyes, with teeth and more teeth, like mouths full of icicles. –Gruesome plus, darlings, really bloodful.
Now...about the dental concession... 5.5 HJH
Cultures clash as WWII is fought again, this time in a small Pennsylvania "mill" town: the"dirty rotten Japs" of 1942 have become the austere, sophisticated, production-oriented bosses, and "our boys" have become soft, outashape good-old goodtime boys resting on their union labels, sporting bellies and good-life attitudes.
Trouble is, the good life has produced a one-factory town with a shuttered (automobile) factory. Michael Keaton brings back Tokyo's Assan Motor Co. to reopen with him as liaison between Japanese executives, and "labor," i.e., the town, the families, everyone. The Rising Sun sons try to run the factory by current Japanese standards (pride in quality, high output, devotion to company, discipline) only to find that it doesn't work that way here because we value "the individual" and his "rights" over the company, including the right to have a good time over the obligation to give a day's work for a day's pay, the right to pass shoddy work on to the dealer, thence the consumer.
Keaton tries to deal with this as one of the boys instead of one of the bosses, gets himself in a lotta trouble promising more than he can deliver, constantly spends his time smoothing over jagged edges between the two approaches, finally has to take his licks and continue. Under threat of the factory's closing, the Beerboys must knuckle under to the facts of life, that if you don't produce and compete, other countries are gonna eat you alive.
These Ugly Americans finally catch on, and embrace the new way as if their lives depended on it, which they do. The big question is: When are we gonna catch on? Are the Japanese and the Germans going to win WWII, Part II? Or are we going to learn what we can from their very advanced cultures, and get back to the work ethic? 7 HJH
How many Richard Pryors are there? The answer lies buried somewhere in this film about the ups & downs, ins & outs of "a comedian." This ficticious funnyman, whom we first discover in the trauma unit of the hospital having just burned his face off in a drug-related accident, rises up out of his scorched, dying form and plies us with a heavy trip about his drudgy trudge from childhood at less than obscurity, to fame fortune & fun, in a flimsy farce that apparently allays the guilt of having lived the dissolute life without the proper respect for the dues -- and the don'ts. His altar ego talks continuously with the various characters he finds himself playing through life to date, in a time trip where they also talk back to him, the time always being now, the scene, his mind. It's an interesting device, storywise, especially when we know that, along with these various egos, yet another is behind the camera acting as puppeteer, not to mention pushing the pen, as conceptualizer.
The Richard Pryor we have come to love, the bawdy iconoclast laying waste to false dignity with the tongue of an asp, literally makes himself scarce here, but we do get some gossipy glimpses into what, according to prior knowledge, brought him to his nadir: his childhood as the mascot of a snazzy brothel, his less than hilarious beginnings in two-bit clubs with bosses who paid on demand–their demand, his climb to top bananadom, with the good life dragging him by the nose headlong down the fast lane to castastrophe.
The decadence of Rome itself couldn't have been more forthrightly presented, and RP the storyteller has the sense to be fairly honest in his testimony, including all his women with their problems too (mostly reflections of his), as they revolve in and around his steamy life.
It's an opportunity any one of us might have indulged, to tell our story, no doubt fascinating to us, and perfectly logical from A to Now, but when laid out on the big screen in mythic proportions, grand opera it ain't, just another soapy drama, albeit with some good pointers re showbiz and the high life, what to embrace, what to avoid.
The mostly black audience seemed determined to get all the enjoyment possible out of its favorite prodigal son, but sped to the doors as soon as the credits began to run, which usually is a good indication of how well-received a piece has been. 6 HJH
LOST IN AMERICA
It's a prolific season for fantasy. This guy is a throwback to Easy Rider, and he says so right out. Trouble is, the rest of the world is going at 1985 MPH, and he's still traveling at 1968. Try passing someone with a 17 MPH advantage, and see how fast you whiz by them...
But he's my kinda guy - He tells off the boss, quits his $100K per year advertising job, and finally decides he's going to "find himself." Remember now, this is 1985. He buys a Winnebago, and he and the little woman, she having given up her (rather executive looking) job, sell everything, then take off for nowhere in particular. It's sort of The Sure Thing or It Happened One Night in reverse, years later, after the college kids have become cynical yuppies.
Out there in America, the real cynicism sets in, as they lose their nest egg, then find out what they're really up against in the world of non-yuppiedom. It doesn't look the same as it did through their computer terminals, and they have to take some pretty stiff punches, all in frantic and, to us, good humored situations that let us know just how unrealistic some of our utopialities can be in dealing with the real nuts & bolts of life.
Finally, after a couple rounds of softening up, they do what everyone save serious mavericks seem to do in the face of existence without the accouterments of high-tech, they capitulate, well, they compromise anyway.
This whole gohan was concocted by, written, directed, acted, and, from the looks of the fantastic quotes in the ads, reviewed by, Albert Brooks, a cine-wunderkind who does all moderately well, but none brilliantly. Thus the film chugs along, a tribute to him, but sometimes a bit tiresome to us. Nevertheless, an interesting ideal. 6 HJH
On the one hand she (Sissy Spacek) faces up to some very traumatic personal situations, being beat up and thrown out by her husband, confronting her little boy's imminent death, and on the other, she's asked, as a parole board member, to rule on life or death (Governor's clemency) with some dicey political considerations tossed in. In one case she barely can keep life going in her son, and in the other is "politely" requested by a smooth well-fed governor plus his oily assistant (Jeff Daniels), involved in selling clemency, to permit killers, rapers, armed robbers etc., to go free.
It's quite a confrontation betweein MARIE and the so-called "real" world of politics, where the practical foci are money and getting elected, in that order, but with the help of Lawyer Fred Thompson playing himself, she manages to confront the real issues.
There area brace of riveting scenes in this film, first a "real" man really beating up and physically throwing out a real wife as his beer drinkin' friends cheer the fights on TV, then a nine year-old boy with a larnygostomy, coming right to the rim of strangling while his family looks on, a man being garotted to death with a necktie, a violent rape. The realism is really real folks, really. The best scene, though, is Marie's slow, sinewy tour through the prison, with all the prisoners droolingly looking on, the violent rapist getting the longest look of all.
A lot of decisions being made by the viewer - Do I want to be this way or that? Serious stuff, with many levels of life leering at you for your dough. Plenty of the downfall of false dignity in a less than funny way. The images of the story grip you good and tight, maybe squeeze out a few tears, laughs (the most notable laugh coming at a grunt by Morgan Freeman. I kept wanting more of a windup ending taking my head off like a bat with a message, turning my thinking around to recognize local corruption and want to do something about it, but it just didn't turn out that way. Probably because that's not the way life is, not black or white, but gray shades. 7 HJH
Either James Garner has an instinctive knack for picking the roles that show him as a paragon, or he just is a paragon, for that's what comes across in all his work... not your mild mannered virtu-oh-so that oozes through life making minuscule adjustments to all circumstances, but a salty man of men, one who, through experience, now realizes life's pitfalls and deftly avoids them, or bravely confronts them.
Here, he's a real drugstore cowboy, a small town pharmacist in the only drugstore in Somewhere Arizona, where the only street is pulled up at 10pm, and the weekend fun is going down and putting air in his 1928 luxury sedan tires on Saturday morning. That's an exaggeration really, but the point is that this-here-life is made up of the small things, the lasting values like work, relaxation, love, security, and how one handles them. Here Mr. Garner shines, because just to look upon his personna is to become aware of those sterling attributes, admire them, and observe as he illustrates a darn fine way to live, even into "golden-age"-dom.
He makes ice cream sodas, fills prescriptions, dispenses advice when asked, issues forth with snappy patter all the time, even plays the violin at the Elks dance, and decides to buy and board a horse in his spare time. When things get tough, he's equipped to handle that too, and nearly has to, but a mere word from a large and righteous man like Jim being almost as strong as the fist it represents, mild threat is enough.
Lest we stray too far, Sally Field, really the subject of the story, is a recent divorcee come west to get away from her former life, who rents a ranch and proceeds to board and train horses. She's a hard worker barely keeping life together, a woman in a man's world that still has the taste of the old west in its outlook. Of course her first customer is guess who – that's right, the town druggist.
But suddenly her former husband, a ne'er-do-well from jump street, shows up and manages to re-insinuate himself into her rather marginal existence, unwelcome, but what can she do...(?) She's not firm enough to get him to leave, so he suddenly becomes the third wheel in a cycle built for two and up till now,cruising along smoothly. Well, ya got trouble folks, right here in river city, looking like it's going to erupt into a full scale brawl, but, as the fates would have it, a fourth wheel shows up, a child-woman with two little wheels, twins (his) and, with not-so-mild encouragement from Sally backed by big Jim, they peel off back to jump street, leaving the two main squeezes to patch up and live happily ever after.
Not that it's that pat of a story. There's a wealth of good old American clean living philosophy to be had, values galore which are put forth, and as Jim says to Sally's adolescent son at one point, "You can take after him (Dad, and his values) or not, the choice is up to you." Us too, apparently. 8.8 HJH
ONE MAGIC CHRISTMAS
Christmases seem to have a sameness lately - The same street decorations, garlands, ads, trees, music by the same groups, all with their pious vocal garb genuflecting to the spirit of Buy Buy ("If only our Christmas Album") BUY. Some are getting a little tired of it, including the main character in this film (Mary Steenburgen). As Momma Scrooge, young suburban anywife set forth by writer Thomas Meehan, she is your compleat modern cynic. Her husband lost his job, unemployment is running out, the bank's foreclosing on the house, yet the kids are hopeful about some thing happening on the big day. Hubby is a tinkerer who would open up a bike shop if he had his druthers with their last $5,000, but for now he makes bikes out of used parts in the basement. Mary's mind is a wart-farm of worries, the least of which is Santa and the Christmas Spirit.
But other forces are afoot, represented by the angel Gideon (Harry Dean Stanton), sent by the Supreme Power to rouse the Seasonal Feelings in Mary – He really whips up a good story to get to mom, going right up to violence, death, and beyond in a bad dream that will have your whole family welled up in tears, but despite the calamities (as in all good myths), the baddies are retractable as soon as the doubting one comes to believe, allowing the genuine spirit of the tale to filter through to the romantic in all of us. Miracles are wrought– truly for Christ's (and Christmas') sake.
This is not a film for vitriolic film critics, but for would-be-believers in Heaven somewhere out in the celestium, and Hell, in the bowels of the earth where the volcanoes erupt from and the earth quakes to. It's an adult's Yule-tale for the child buried deep in all of us. You'll believe, in fact you'll rush right home to write your letter to Santa, for this year OR next. 8.5 HJH
In the preview trailer, the black-suited man is seen afar in the stark white distance... Ooph, he's coming this way, "More seductive than sex..." says the caption as he gets closer, "More precious than gold..." he approaches us now "More addictive than any drug..." he becomes full screen size and stands there with his arms folded. POWER "Nothing else comes close" it says as the trailer ends.
That's just about it too, folks, in fact even the movie doesn't come close, despite Sidney Lumet's direction, and the sterling emoting of the likes of Richard Gere, Gene Hackman, Fritz Weaver, Julie Christie, Kate Capshaw, Beatrice Straight, Denzel Washington. It's a shame that, with all the Hollywood heft, we couldn't walk out of the theater feeling something beyond ennui; even in a Herculean group effort, they couldn't come close to putting this Humpty Dumpty anywhere near up on the wall.
With all its glibness, the story is so disjointed that it never focuses on the one dramatic point it's charged with making, that being that our political selection system has been almost hopelessly corrupted by the cynical maneuverings of spoon-feeding public-massaging Madison Avenue types.
Along with the lead characters, our attention is spread over too many campaigns, and so, like them, we never really get to dig deeply into the issue to come up with any kind of alternative. Perhaps this is the message then, that the pol hucksters are so paper thin, as are their candidates' promises, that they fail to focus on a democratic ideal, and without an ideal, Democracy might as well fold up into government by the best looking image.
That's why movie stars make the best candidates, to wit: Robert Redford, George Murphy, Ronald Reagan, Clint Eastwood... But then, who's to say they can't run the machine just as well as the nit-picking lawyers that seem to populate the halls of capitol-dom, USA? At least the movie stars have already been chopped up and reprocessed before they get into the game, and so their motives would seem to be more pure at the outset, plus they don't have to lie as much, their lying already part of their personnae.
At any rate, politics has always been a numbers game, and nobody studies and knows that game better than the Mad-Ave. poll-taking pencil pushers who package and pimp our prostituting politicians into the various drivers' seats that steer our multi-leveled governmental destinies.
They surgically tailor the campaigns to show off their "products" as contributing parts of the entertainment that has become the evening news, then once the dough is spent and the votes are in, win or lose, on they go to the next well-financed Mr. Slick and the distant army of gaping boobs who will see no farther than 30-second spots.
That, apparently comprises the majority of voters , if the evidence between the lines of Power is to be believed. 6 Minus. HJH
This could easily be titled THE KARATE GROWNUP, following more or less the same story line, as the "Kid" of last year. You remember, good guy wins out over bad guys with Oriental discipline, quick reflexes and rotsa rice.
It's all in the fingers you see, i.e., their poke strength, and their nerves, er, nerve, to climb statues, walk wires, dodge bullets. Now don't laugh, we're serious here – You can tell by Joel Grey's Chinaman Master... You've got to hand it to Joel though, he has the character accents down to a "T" –You could talk to this one on the phone and think you were ordering egg-foo-yong to go. But his dude- guru goes deeper y'see, maybe to the hidden powers of the will, the walk-on-water will.
Remo (not his real name, even in the film, but that's understandable after you see it) played stoically by Fred Ward, is a former Dirty Harry type, subtracted from regular cop life by a phony death & funeral plot, given a new face, fingerprints and ID, trained by Joel Chiung and Special Service types responsible to THE PRESIDENT, and sic-ed on Mr. Evil Defense Contractor selling inferior goods to our boys, plus ersatz Star Wars technology to the Prez.
On and on it goes, with great booming sound, and this equalizer enforcing the "Eleventh Commandment"(Thou shall not get away with it), the criminals "sucking wall" (Oh please). And the audience hoping that this isn't the kind of stuff our cops watch in their off hours.
The moral: "Professional assassination is the highest form of public service" (Hey, isn't that what the terrorists use as their justification?). Really, I doubt that it's true, but then, as they also point out, "Perfection is a road, not a destination." Hear hear. 6 minus. HJH
It's a shame there's no Pullman car on this vehicle, so at least we'd be exposed to some shut-eye, maybe grab a few winks even. But no, on and on (and on) it goes, hurtling down the Alaskan main track containing the antagonist and junior antagonist, escaped convicts played so broadly by Jon Voight as a totally recidivous escaped convict, and his tag-along hero-worshipping sidekick, Eric Roberts that they must have had a good smeck every night at the viewing of the rushes, if they had the guts to look.
Little do the two characters know there's no engineer (He died as the whole business rolled out of the trainyard), and they're zooming along on the last of four engines ("Units" to us Railroad Guys), controlled by a home-office computer wizard, switching them onto the fast lane...
Sort of like life, y'know folks...We're on a "unit" (Earth) with no engineer except that great computerman in the sky, no one to harm us but ourselves, and salvation only by getting to the driver's seat remotely waiting in the front car. But between here and there, there's snow and ice, women and lawmen, and death, the grim spectre lurking in the sky – and the director and writers lurking behind the camera in warm helicopters, (Cinemato-graphic "units") making up the pointless stuff as they go along.
And they do go along, 65, 75, 85, all at full throttle no brakes, on a collision course with inevitable demise, but longing to justify their existence by doing ONE good deed in life, to make up for all the murders, rapes, etc.). And it happens by Jove! John, in his farthest venture out of type yet, and Eric, whose type has yet to be defined, but who blatantly searches before our very eyes, drop their knives & guns, and play GUTS BALL (whatever that is)!
Thank you porter, that was a nice story, now where's the Pullman car? 6.125 HJH
Here's a movie for people who like to go to plays. It's trenchant yet wordy, introspective tho political, deceiving yet obvious.
In Brazil, Luis Molina (John Hurt) is a screaming homosexual jailed for child mo- lesting, his cellmate is Valentin Arregui (Raoul Julia), a political prisoner with an ardent commitment to "the struggle." The cynical police powers-that-be, thru the warden, dangle a parole before Luis if he will extract info re: his co-revolutionaries from Valentin. Thru a series of tragi-comic scenes, and kindnesses by Luis to Valentin, revolving around his telling the story of a WWII film (Kiss of the Spider Woman), Valentin is duped into coming around with some true feelings, apart from political commitment, for Luis as a human being, expressed in fairly graphic homosexual terms.
"What I did for love" could very well be the theme song for both men, much to the chagrin of the cops, who end up donating muchos priveleges, and deriving nada but aggravation in the process. We see, through the interaction of the two main characters, how two totally distinct and opposite personalities can come to a common meeting ground by sharing a couple hundred square feet of space and a few perquisites, provided by the wiles of one.
The notorious Spider Woman, (Three roles actually, by Sonia Braga), provides the imaginary link between the men, between revolutionaries and oppressors, between fantasy and reality. 7 HJH
There are a coupla nifty crashes that could win awards, and some moments that go right to your core, a gritty love story starring parts of people we all know including us, but for some reason we come away from this film still wanting.
Maybe what we want is more-of-same, because endless variations could certainly be played on the down-home country star married to good ole boy theme, and the melo- dies here are sweet, but all pre-climactic, so we must be satisfied with mere death as finis rather than resolution.
The simplicity that makes a winning country-love song- bird is inextricably linked to the stark honesty of the emotional relationships, which, by their very depth retain a common denominator that precludes the sophistication one must have to succeed in the cynical world of Showbiz. That's the story, but it lacks the windup-whipcrack of an ending that would give it dimension. But hey, that's the way it was, Patsy Cline (Jes- sica Lange), who seemed on the verge of major stardom AND personal happiness, was snuffed out in an eyeblink, cutting off everything in mid-phrase.
Her husband Charlie Dick (Ed Harris), the lovable lout stirred occasionally to drunken rage, nevertheless retained his original charm as the beneficiary of the wealth that stardom brings, a fine performance. But Harris' skill was all but overshadowed by the music of the real Patsy Cline, dubbed onto the soundtrack, and only passably mimed by Miss Lange.
The 50-60's era was recalled and recreated perfectly by the music and setting, a time for which we partly pine to be sure, but some- how we wish for more than just the pictures. 7 HJH
It seems these days, faced as we are with life in boldface cap, major scope, world class all-out megaburst imagery, we really need EVENTS, THRILLERS, CATACLYSMS to affect us intensely. Same with love too, maybe. Could be in order for two people to love and respect each other deeply, they have to go thru some really traumatic experience together, or at least something we prosaic beings can call major and soul-wrenching, such as seeing an emotionally affecting film, or watching fresh disasters daily on the tube.
This is a story of one of those experiences: Kid finds out humdrum dad the under-achiever, whose block he's a chip off of, was a 007, or a RAMBO, long time ago. Sure, doesn't every kid want his dad to be his hero? Here, it comes true as dad (Gene Hackman) learns his wife has been kidnaped & is being held hostage in Paris. Well, that's what he gets for trying to live the simple life, after giving up the old CIA spy-race.
Junior (Matt Dillon) is a virtual un- manageable until he realizes that dad DOES know what he's doing in spite of his easygoing manner, then shapes up in the interest of seeing mom alive again. Around this, and the plotted revenge of the wife-napers, the story revolves, one of those that you know will come out OK, but just how is the mystery director Arthur Penn keeps you nibbling on.
Soon junior's eyes are shining in admiration of dad, as he threads his way through a mine- field of unknowns who all want to ambush him; the film is made up of a mosaic of threatening situations ending up with some-one ELSE getting killed through dad's deft maneuvering, until the final frames when the real villain shows his hand and winds up the centerpiece of a large fireball.
Unfortunately it takes 117 minutes instead of the usual 90 to get to the denouement, but all in all it's well worth it, especially if you have a sentimental streak. 7 HJH
Morgan Freeman the actor (as "Charlie" in That was Then, This is Now), said it: "There ain't no rules. There ain't no ____-ing rules. That does seem sometimes to be what our society is coming to. Oh sure, there are rules, but we've lost so much respect for them on the whole, that it's as though they don't exist anymore, except when someone's looking. . .
I mean who in Moses' time would have thought of hijacking an airliner or an ocean vessel. A lotta people hm? Well, maybe so, but here we are traveling at the speed of TV, while lawmakers are going at horse-and-buggy rate, so we get so far ahead of them that rules lose some of their meaning, being always past tense in terms of when they were made, water already over the dam.
Moses spoke to The Lord and came away with some rules, which we still recognize and follow – somewhat – 5,000 years later. But we fudge. We lie a little, cheat a little, kill a little, covet a lot. All in all though, they've stood up pretty well.
Jesus Christ gave us one rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" that still applies, but we get so busy doing with, and for, that we hardly have time for the unto brand of doing. But hey, that's not his fault, and how can you criticize anyone on His birthday anyway? The fact that He was born, under such very unique circumstances, I mean really, can you see your 14 year-old sister coming home and telling your mom that she's pregnant, by the Spirit of God?
Some story, hmph, but those of us who have found our way to believe that that is true, celebrate a special kind of Christmas, above the Silver Bells, inside the sanctuaries that are our hearts and minds, where we're warmed by the faith that there truly is a Supreme Being, and that He can become one with us in any way He chooses, at any time, with any number of us or singly, in our souls, be us if necessary, if only we are willing for it to be so. MERRY CHRISTMAS HJH
THAT WAS THEN
THIS IS NOW
Here we have a study in opposites, a Cain and Abel story. Mark (Emilio Estevez), is a high school nogoodnik, a mischevous child who never grew up, doesn't aspire to anything beyond showing off in the worst ways, as his adolescence churns him into young adulthood. He never grows out of fighting, drinking, stealing cars as attention-getting mechanisms, your compleat incorrigible, y'know?
Meanwhile, his "brother"-best friend Byron, (Craig Sheffer), with whom he lives in a fatherless home, is going through the normal changes, meeting the right and the wrong girls & friends, more objective about his life but still attached via childhood camaraderie to Mark, AND having to handle Mark's constant problems. In fact everyone around Mark has to deal with tight situations which seem to crop up wherever mark happens to go trailing trouble behind him.
Mark's shortcomings are not your normal peccadillos, but, as written by none other than Emilio Estevez/Mark, situations that lead to serious tragedies, mainly the death of an older friend, a bar-poolhall owner "Charlie" played superbly by Morgan Freeman, seen here in an award-level performance as an innocent victim of Mark's selfish egoism.
It's interesting that Estevez would write himself a part with no redeeming value other than showing the cause of his behavior as a family tragedy-trauma he carries in a congenital salute to the unchangability of human nature. When he finally is thrown out by Byron, steals the car to ram off to nowhere, we really hope this character'll drive off a cliff, to save the rest of us the trouble of having to deal with him. No such luck, he ends up in prison, merely somewhat bowed, society's ultimate responsibility.
For a first effort at screen-writing, "Then-Now" is no small accomplishment for Estevez, albeit on a high-school level that will turn off adults sick of the antics of post-puberty, and the portrayal of HS as a sinister, tension-filled atmosphere, but remember this is a theatrical piece where everything is portrayed larger than life, at odds with reality. The fact that there are virtually NO cops around, that only the high or low points are portrayed, rather graphically (neat back-lit, extra-close-ups) gives it away as a polarized viewpoint peculiar to inexperienced youth. But that fits, strangely enough. 7 HJH
TROUBLE IN MIND
I take it back, maybe Lori Singer is the most beautiful woman in films. It used to be Barbara Hershey, but alas she's grown middle aged (See Hannah & Her Sisters). And recently Sissy Spacek (See above), but now it's Lori. Tomorrow, maybe Brooke, if they find someone tall enough to make her look delicate. Then, who knows...
Lori stars, along with Kris Kristofferson, Keith Carradine, Genevieve Bujold and Divine, in this kooky krimey kaper about Seattle's sleazy underbelly. Seems every town's sleazy underbelly is grist for Hollywood mills these days, and if your town alas doesn't have a sleazy underbelly, you can bet you'll be relegated to characterless suburbia, and dealt with on a more superficial level. Not that Trouble In Mind isn't supericial, it most certainly is, make no mistake.
Seattle seems to have it all though, sleazy underbelly, superficiality, plus Lori Singer – she's enough to make you want to move there in spite of the rain, now that Kris has helped kill off the baddies, at least the ones who made it to the movie. Kris ("Hawk") is his usual-deep-voiced leading man, hair in all the right places, Mr. Goodguy with dimension, even flaws (Former cop, did time for killing big mobster).
Keith is "Coop" a ne'er-do-well small time hold-up jerk who doesn't really know what it's all about beyond having his hair curled and buying foppy gangster-ish clothes. Really unattractive, friend, but hey, that's the role.
Genevieve is the momma figure, the aging cynic who holds the mess together like an omelette in "Wanda's," her little lunch room that acts as the underbelly-button, so to speak.
Lori is "Georgia," Keith's woman, complete with baby, her expertise consisting mainly of being ravishingly beautiful, totally untalented at waitress-ing (she succeeds), and the center of attention. Big trick.
Divine ("Hilly"), a sort of overbelly, runs the underbelly, where things are bought & sold regardless of their source, and Joe Morton ("Solo") is his henchman, a polished up Dim, foreman of the sub-henchmen who follow orders with grunts and gore.
The gore borders on, or attempts at (I can't decide which) comedy, culminating in a sham-battle climax where all the bad guys conveniently kill each other, three stooges style, and our three principals survive to run off into the sunset, their relationships altered but their beautiful bodies intact. Lori, Kris and Keith will live to do greater things. Well, let's hope so anyway. 5.5 HJH
WHERE ANGELS FEAR TO TREAD
...says something interesting about "The way the English try to impose their morality on others, which is something... they'd still like to do" – Helen Mirren, actress.
Well, you certainly have shifting sands to stand on if you oppose that point of view today; the English seem to have a good set of values going, though not as straight-laced as in 1903, when this story takes place. At that time it was simply declassé to go off to somewhere lower down on the social ladder and do anything more than have a fling with one of the locals. But Lilia (Mirren) does just that, in fact, going so far as to marry the bloke.
Having married once before, into the hoity-toity Herriton family, Lilia is sick of formalities for breakfast, longs for the romance that her 21 year-old husband can provide. He (Giovanni Giridelli) has his eye on her widow's fortune, and his other eye on a little extramarital action, as long as he can keep the wife barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. Everything goes according to (his) plan, and when she gets out of line he smacks her (remember, this is 1903, rural Italy).
Lilia's family is just mortified that she would break with tradition and enter into this relationship, and dispatches family members first stiff-collared Philip (Rupert Graves), then stiff-minded Harriet (Judy Davis), to rectify the situation somehow. Meanwhile, Lilia dies in childbirth and the problem becomes one of rescuing the baby from those dreadful Italians. This takes the bro & sis, also Caroline (Helena Bonham Carter) plus a less snooty friend who manages to ingratiate herself to Gino before the others muck up the mission. You have to have read the book on this one. 6.5 HJH
It starts out plausibly enough. These two bumblers (Joe Piscopo & Danny DeVito) are literally a couple wiseguys (mob vernacular for footsoldiers in "the organization") who do their jobs. What jobs? Well. . . they, ah, hang around the lunchroom waiting for Mr. Big, the neighborhood godfather to give them something to do. They do a lot of looking sideways, talking out the side of mouths, Mafia posturing and such, good sketch material. Finally, comes jobs.
Joe gets to test a bulletproof jacket under battlefield conditions. Danny is allowed to start the car to make sure it isn't booby trapped. Questionable tasks, yes, but they realize they're on the bottom rung and aim to work their way up, or at least make a living for the wife & kids. They run errands, they get the laundry, walk the dog, like that. All the time wisecracking with the other gang guys, but never being taken seriously because of their obvious stupidity. If you didn't get the message from the script, everyone overacts to a fare-thee-well, just to make sure. It's Abbott and Costello, but without the deftness required, and supplied by years on the vaudeville stage. This is Sitcom fodder at best. Laugh track needed.
They decide to help beyond the call of duty. Da Boss gives them $10,000 to bet on a horse, and Danny being a compulsive bettor along with a compulsive boob, persuades Joey to bet the dough on another horse. The boss' horse comes in at 25-1. I know, I know, it's a silly premise, but hey, we watch news reruns, rerun reruns, marathon reruns, so why not?
Well anyway, after lot of rerunning around to escape the wrath of the boss, which is considerable, a little drowning, a little dog-baiting, the boys are willing to do anything, even agree, under severe duress, to kill each other. But hey, they're buddies. . .
The film is about death really, how to court it by being the fool, how to avoid it by being the con man. How to seem dead but remain alive. The best of it remains in the characterizations, which in the world of small-time hoodlum dum, seem endless, and totally compelling either in vicious vendetta or slapstick comedy. 5.5 HJH
ALL THE REAL GIRLS
Talk about young love! Hey this romance is soooo typical, not in that it's just exactly what you remember (or imagine), but that the type of heartbreak that it describes is one that would seem to happen all too frequently. It's a story of trust, where two people trust each other with their innermost sanctumonia, but don't recognize the needs that lay within, those of simple desire, and of loyalty, respectively.
And each acts upon the impulses that are there in spite of the other, thus engendering the rending of the hearts. Yet at the end we are left with the hope that all will be well - sometime. Such a beautiful tale. 8 out of 10ˇ
ABOUT OLD MOVIES By Henry
© Port Whitman Times 2002
If it really WERE to be The End Of The World, and we could only save a few, who would they be? What would we do? Well, it would be a good thing to be in the capable hands of President Morgan Freeman, that's for sure. He has just the right presidential quality, even more than Ronald Reagan when he was in films, of course being older helps. This movie typifies what we MIGHT do, in the fertile minds of Hollywood script sculptors, and they probably got most of it right, especially the choosing part. We would have to CHOOSE. Yes, choose. OK, multiple choice: Who would you choose, your parents or your sweetheart? Would we choose, those of us who have the power to designate, the intelligent or the ignorant? The scientists or the farmers, the floutists or the basson players, the lawyers or the plumbers, the hairdressers or the nail sculptors? Well, one of each if possible, but what if it isn't possible? Would we choose to be heroes, giving up our seat like on the Titanic, or would we choose survival of the fittest. "Get outa here lady, that's MY seat!"
All of life, you know
Happens in your constant mind.
Not so your body
It gets down to what is in the minds of us who are going through it, life, our life, that is. We can shut down our bodies while our minds continue to probe. The soul some would call it. But then, if the most important part of us lives on, why quibble over mere mortality? Well, that's what they do, quibble, in Deep Impact - Not that it isn't good quibbling mind you, but it's quibbling nonetheless. Now World War II, that was REAL quibbling, with real quibblers, but where your friend's uncle got killed at Guadalcanal. This new quibble is only in the brains of the filmmakers, with James Horner's music to back it up, and of course with Horner's music, ANY movie takes on the aspects of "History." Here it's history BeFORE it happens. Fresh impending disasters, gruesome anticipated details. Boy, these cinepeople can really do it to you, and make you not only sit there and like it, but cry while it's happening to you, and eat popcorn and pizza at outrageous prices. Are we - LISTEN UP, I'm talking to ya here. Are we a nation or moviegoers or mere popcorn eaters?
Who on earth dressed Morgan Freeman, and let him, as the President of the U.S., go on camera with an ill-fitting jacket? UNpresidential, for no apparent reason. Or maybe that was the president's choice - to appear so at his wits' end that he didn't put on his coat right. One of those distracting little details that some actors put in to contribute to the authenticity of the character. Freeman did it in Driving Miss Daisy too, with that distracting mouth movement, like he was trying to keep his teeth in. Probably lost him the Oscar. Morgan, you don't NEED those things, you're perfect in each character just as you are.
Maybe the writers had to choose which sides of President Freeman to expose to us - and thus chose the sides they did. They showed us the formal and the informal sides, and made us slap ourselves on the wrist to even suspect that President Freeman would have had an AFFAIR! Thak Heavens it turns out the way that it does. With Robert Duvall, the cool old head in charge of his part of the problem - the President of the Space Ship that President Freeman sends to deal with the END OF THE WORLD! (sic). While Bulworth showed us a more-dimensional view, Deep Impact allows us to choose between only a couple of dimensions available to our national figures. Because when something is soon to be having a DEEP IMPACT! on Earth, we all pay attention. This is only a story though, we must remind ourselves.
Makes you think a little too, who would you want to take, your orthodontist or your poet? Your heart surgeon or your pathologist, your restaurant chef or your local "Nails 'r' Us" owner? (Silent message: Get an education - only the smartest will survive). Gee folks, just think, the government checks are gonna stop coming. Run for the hills! 8.5 HJH
© Port Whitman Times 1999
Don't people know that it's rude to rattle cellophane in the movies? I mean you're sitting there watching an especially poignant scene, and the fat lady behind (It's always a fat lady, accompanied by a King Kong lookalike who sleeps, wheezing like the death rattles, unless disturbed by cannonfire or other screen mayhem) rummages through her purse, finds the morsels at the bottom, extracts one, then spends the whole scene peeling the paper off.
Now you want to turn around and say something like "get it over with already", or maybe just glare, but realize that this whole scenario has been constructed in your imagination just from the sounds that you've been hearing. Moreover, you don't want to risk rousing Kong from his hibernative slumber, lest he become violent. Aah, saying something probably wouldn't do any good, as they're most likely TV types used to eating, and arguing about the program as they watch, probably with the volume turned up above the cellophane din. Oh yeah, arriving late, they usually bring the outside in with them too, continuing their conversation well into the settling down process, an overture to the cellophane rattling and the loud nap.
Best thing to do is just move to the other side of the theatre, if it's not too crowded. If you can't move, turn around, and in your firmest but most polite goloss, ask please if they won't stop. If the theater is crowded you'll have lots of support. I'll give you my vote, but I won't fight Kong, let him get his comeuppance later from airplanes' bullets as he climbs the Empire State Building with the fair damsel in tow. For now, let them rattle & rummage. They're only slobs, after all. At least they're not talking on the telephone. But it won't be long before they are...
© Port Whitman Times 1999
PUSHING TIN is a mixed up tale about some overwrought air traffic controllers that may well give you pause before you decide to take your next flight to anywhere. Sitting at a scope directing large airplanes containing hundreds of people is apparently an activity riddled with stress, as air traffic controllers manipulate blips representing many lives in transit. All this unbeknown to us as we sit back and enjoy the ride to anywhere we want to go. We figure the pilot, up there in front is our driver, solid sort that he is, and he will guide us through any turbulence or correct any mistakes that come up due to weather, etc. Not so in the landing and takeoff patterns. There the air traffic controller on the ground is in charge, not only of our little winged world, but of many other airplanes as well, directing them into a line or holding them at altitude depending upon their judgement and training, and the results expected by their bosses on the ground. Our pilot just follows directions, as he can only see a limited distance (sometimes VERY limited in the clouds), turning, descending, decelerating when and where he is told, finally ending up safe and sound on Mother Earth.
But what goes on in between the blips is the story of PUSHING TIN, as controllers fight the stress brought about by their jobs in different ways. One of the ways is, of course through the bedroom, where sleep and other activities occur, and that bedroom is not always one's own, which leads to the trouble ultimately impinging on the job. Ah, if we only knew... I give it a 6 on a scale of 1-10.
MEET JOE BLACK
© Port Whitman Times 1998
Hi, I'm Death, yeah, Death Death, legit. I've come to claim one of you, to accompany you to, ah, the other side. But waitaminute. This particular place on earth looks as though it could be some fun in my otherwise dreary life of coming here to confront people unlucky enough to live where disasters and famine take place, and drag them up yonder. So I think maybe I'll stay awhile, see the sights, taste the peanut butter, check out the companionship, if you know what I mean (raises eyebrows a la Groucho Marx), see what it's like to live the good life.
This guy (Anthony Hopkins) I came to take is, well, very rich, but not hoity toity, publisher of a communications network of some indeterminate kind, in the prime at 65, and along with being a mover-shaker, a pretty nice guy; plus, I find out later, with a knockout of a daughter. So I give this bloke a couple of warning shots to the chest, and then go for a little tour of the city - THE City, New York. The Big Apple.
Meanwhile, this guy's other, married daughter and her husband are preparing him a 65th birthday party, an affair on a scale with Disney World, a real lavish bash, at his mansion high on a hill so far out on Long Island that to get to work in the city he has to have a helicopter, thus two heliports, a pilot to cart him back and forth, and a thriving business to support his lifestyle, that business being a takeover target by a bigger business, and better so with him out of the way. Skulduggery is surely afoot at the office, even among his trusted board of directors and his "number one," a young conniver who's also angling to marry the unmarried daughter, a resident doctor. So in I pop to this emerald-lined empire, coming on as this hunk, you know, after scouting the area to see what might be comfortable, I spot this guy who looks just like Brad Pitt. Tall, blonde, perfect teeth, sophisticated but not snooty, and just cool and subtle enough to get the lovely daughter to have a cup of coffee. Once I'm inside this guy talking to this beautiful, rich, intelligent, well-connected babe, I realize I'm gonna hafta get rid of him, his, whatchacallit, his soul. Can't have two of us rattling around in there together. So I get him snuffed out in a ripping good traffic accident, send him off to the wherever, and now have a body I can perform well in. Now I appear to the father - the claim, tell him why I'm really here (to get him), but that I'm gonna stick around for a few days' holiday before I do, to see how he lives, observe his business, check out the scene, like that.
As it turns out, even at the top of his heap (not THE heap, mind you, but HIS heap), he's in the process of being blindsided by his closest business associate, while being attended hand and foot by a whole retinue of servants at home and assistants at the office, who make it seem like all he does is make decisions and sign checks. Then I subtly let him know that I have designs on his daughter too, maybe to bring her along. This is a lot of pressure on his 65 year-old heart. But that's the idea, isn't it? Anyway, he at least knows it's coming, so he can make a FEW decisions on that basis. Surprisingly, never once does he think of asking anyone for forgiveness, he's led such an exemplary life. Friends he made on the way up are STILL his friends, and are all coming to the party - which has gotta be costing a cool million dollars. Hey, what a way to go, eh?
But Cupid spears me, or at least the guy I'm inhabiting, the one who looks like Brad Pitt, right through the heart. I'm smitten. But she, the daughter, doesn't know who I really am, because I look like and talk like, smile like, and god knows what-else-like, well, like Brad Pitt! And I don't TELL her, I mean what do you day to a girl who adores her father (and he back), when you've come to take him away from her? "Hi, I'm the grim reaper and I'm here to subtract your dad from life." These things have to be broached gently. So we fall in love, her and I, her in her body that looks like Claire Forlani, and me inside this body that looks just like Brad Pitt. We fall in love so big that now I WANT to bring her along. But dad, the claim, having got wind of this, uses what few bargaining chips he has with me, all wrapped up in the temptation to taste the good wine and steaks for as long as possible, to let her stay and live as good a life as he has, which is pretty top drawer, I gotta tellya.
I was really in a quandary, and there had to be some solution for me, I mean I had "The Bound-To's," and that's just one step away from "The Can't-Helpit's," where you're out of control, and a great catastrophe like a war or a catastrophe could result, killing a LOT of people. There HAD to be an answer, and looking down at the audience, I realize these folks watching this are getting a little fidgety after three hours looking at me in that body that looks like Brad Pitt, so, much as I like playing inside the body of the guy who looks like Brad Pitt, against a genius like Hopkins, who always looks just like himself, which is not so bad either, and no slouch as an actor you must agree, I've gotta find a way out. Well, I found it, I'm happy to say... Hey, I'm here, aren't I, without the beautiful daughter, and in the body of this person who looks and talks, and writes just like Henry Francisco. I must say it was quite a trip, but I figured out a way, you'll be happy to know, and everyone lived happily ever after - somewhere. 8 Henry Francisco
© Port Whitman Times 1998
It might be shocking to some to see a respectable sort like Warren Beatty take on a down-home Black persona, but it's been done before - Al Jolson, Amos 'n' Andy, Gary Oldman - Gary Oldman? Sure, didn't you see his pimp in TRUE ROMANCE? White boys have been playing and playing off Blacks for decades. Nothing new there. But fact is, a lotta Black folks will be downright disappointed in Mr. Beatty's characterization of The Black Community, where he seems to say that even in respectable families... well, let me put it this way: You might shy away from inviting nice African-American families to your cookout because they might bring some of their friends, or even relatives. Well, it isn't really that way at all - usually. But the characterization of Blacks as "motherfucker" spouting dope-deal-ignorers is certainly not acceptable to honest, hard-working African-Americans.
We live in the suburbs, having paid our way out of the city. Our daughter goes to a respectably conservative suburban public school The ratio of Whites to Blacks is about 95 to 5. At least that. In other words, what a city person might call an "all white" school. The kids - all the kids - in the school, including the Blacks, "act white" - quiet and respectful for the most part - in school. How they behave at home is none of our business. These kids are being taught a nice form of behavior, and tend to adhere to it. Cut to:
The middle school talent show...
In one number, a group of white, blonde, straight-hair girls gets up and does a choreographed lip-synch pantomime to a pop recording - a nice job lip-synching the lyrics with no microphones to hide their lip movements. All blonde all tall and slender, in little frenchy performing dresses, they look sharp too.
Then a piano interlude - our daughter plays a Jelly Roll Morton Rag. Good applause, well done.
Now the Black group of girls gets up to pantomime and lip-synch to some of THEIR music. OK, fine, different style of music, of movement, even of "lip-synch" because here it's with a microphone concealing the real lip movements - a convenience for the performers, but hey, maybe that's part of the shtick - the way you HANDLE a microphone. The Black girls' clothes went more toward the purples, which tend to look good on African-American skin. So they let go with their act, and are no more than four measures into the song, when their teenaged Brother and Sister, almost in the front row of the auditorium over on the right, stand up in their seats and begin waving their arms, dancing in place to the music. Doing their thing - as if to say "Here's how we do it where WE come from," with their more sensible mother trying to get them back into their seats. They kept this up during the whole number, in effect saying "look at US, not what's onstage." The whole effect was, I must admit, enlightening to the rest of us sitting in our seats trying to watch the show onstage, though maybe not in a way that would be complimentary to Blacks - THESE Blacks. The way it turned out, we were distracted from watching the girls performing onstage by being shocked into watching the behavior of two members of the audience, and probably of their own family. It was as if someone had streaked through the audience wearing no clothes. You tend to watch the streaker. I felt sorry for the girls onstage trying to do their act.
But that's what I mean about Bulworth, which is really a political essay, with the message: "We need more Black Leaders, more Black Participation in the political process" etc. However, one comes away with the impression "These people, the ones presented, have the right to VOTE?! To determine the future of our society?!" What we need are more Black Leaders who are willing to forgo being THE FIRST mayor, THE FIRST congressman, governor, senator or president, long enough to say what needs to be said and do what needs to be done without regard to race, creed, color and all the rest. - To recognize that the problem is EDUCATION - The War is against Ignorance, right down to personal behavior. Somebody's got to teach SOME of these characters some MANNERS, and some MORALS, because we all tend to judge the many by the actions of the few, especially, in this country, if they are all the same color or complexion, so they make it seem, to those who lean toward racism anyway, that the whole "Element" is like them. Face it, we tend to watch the streakers rather than the people up there trying to do a job.
The language in Bulworth will be offensive to some. All the really verboten bad words come out; the N-word of course, plus MF, CS, et al. Somehow everything got worked in short of pederasty, and maybe that too and I missed it. Quentin Tarantino's movie Jackie Brown did the N-word thing first though, I mean the "You' MY Nigger now" said by the Black to the White. It was uttered almost contemptuously by Samuel L. Jackson to Robert de Niro, in making him his gofer. In Bulworth, it's said lovingly by Halle Berry to Warren Beatty after he has shown his true mettle by "getting down" with the Street Bro's, Ahem, as the result of a "nervous breakdown," of course, lest the uptight liberal whites in the audience become uncomfortable with the portrayal, and think he might become like Gary Oldman's pimp. Of course Bulworth ultimately comes out of his trance, comes to his senses, and gets back into his thousand-dollar suit and hundred dollar tie. But we know now that he's "Been There" (and, by the way, "Done That," as the saying goes), but we wonder, what with the perks of office so tempting, so available to a U.S. Senator, will Bulworth revert to his thousand-dollar appointment and hundred-dollar handshake, or will he remain "My Nigger now" to Halle and the respectable - and disrespectable - Black Community? This matter IS resolved at the end, and some are bound to be disappointed. "You' MY Nigger now!" Indeed.
The film is arresting though; we get a shot of some touching and grim realities. That doesn't mean we get to DO anything about them, because, short of a coup d'etat, things won't change overnight, even if everyone in the country went to see the picture, unfortunately the closest we get is our one vote, and the ability in our minds to separate the real message from the Bull-Worth. I give it an 8.5. Go, you can handle it. And go vote too, surely you can handle that.
© Port Whitman Times 1998
There seems to be no end to Mafia movies whether on the big screen or small, and thus there's always work for any actor who looks, or can be made to look, mob-Italian. Now this does not, of course mean only Italian actors - to wit Joseph Wiseman, James Caan, Eli Wallach - but one must admit there is a certain look required, and it is held mostly by Italians, and not always American-Italians. (See Anthony LaPaglia, an Australian-Italian, in 29th Street). Recently we received a letter condemning us for labeling all organized crime as Italian-American, but confronted with the endless string of mafia movies and programs portraying just that connection, what choice does a writer have?
These are not Armenians, Ruthenians or Portuguese, so if the Cosa Nostra wants to clean up its act, first thing is to clean up the movies. But then they'd be putting a lot of Italian-American actors out of work, some of whom make a good living out of portraying mafia hoods exclusively. I think secretly the real members of the mob enjoy seeing themselves portrayed in these macho-romantic roles (just look at the John Gotti cult) where death is the common denominator and retribution is sure and swift, contrasted with the wheels of American justice with its endless corners, loopholes, and final putting-out-to-pasture at the taxpayer's expense.
The Mafia has no taxpayers, no bleeding liberals with mercy for brains, thus no pastures for the guilty. This paints a certain fascistic picture that makes the trains run on time, and every actor who can look the part wants to make it part of his pictorial resume. Trouble is, the character is so well ingrained into our minds by now that anyone we see in public life who even looks the part (take Mario Cuomo for example) is presumed to have "Mafia connections," eyed suspiciously, and subconsciously cast in the role, whether he deserves it or not, while others who don¹t personify the type can masquerade as respectable, while getting away with murder.
© Port Whitman Times 1997
This film is B-movie tawdry, but intentionally so, plays at it at an A-movie level with A-technique. It's the story of a kid (Mark Wahlberg), a dishwasher in an L.A. club where an XXX Film producer (Burt Reynolds) hangs out with and prowls for bunnies, all young and delicious, AND willing, AND able, AND juicy-for action, AND into the drug of the month.
The dishwasher, Mr. NoName, fed up with his harridan mom, moves out of her house, makes contact with the producer on a purely business level, because, apparently, we learn at this point in the film, he is more than well-endowed down in the "torpedo department." One thing leads to another, and changing his name to Dirk Diggler (sounds like a snake, and onomotopaeically so), he becomes a porno star, in fact wins the award as best performer in an erotic film a few years running. But Dirk secretly yearns to be known for his "acting," which, if the story is to be believed, is one step above totem-pole, in that he talks and walks, and wiggles on his belly like a reptile, but with a 9mm Beretta and Karate choreography. Dirk conquers Hollywood, well, the XXX part anyway.
Uh-oh, video begins to replace film. 1980's, thy name is greed, and smart purveyors of porn are jumping ship, but Burt's traditional producer is not on top of the situation, sticks to film, takes a bath, moneywise. Though Burt stays away from the drugs his proteges are ingesting, his greed isn't great enough to show him the light.
But cocaine and speed use is heavy at the time among the pornorati, I mean really, how else could you perform over and over ("Want me to come again for the closeup?") with cameras and set people looking on? Dirk Diggler joins the fun, succumbs to the pleasures and ravages of drugs, ruins his career, sinks to the gutter, gets beat up bad, is even an accessory to a killing or two, alas realizes the error of his ways, and tries to get back to keeping his cool, using his tool to become notorious again.
Now, after all we've heard and seen ABOUT his God-given equipment, we are allowed a short glimpse of the prize before it pulls Dirk back to cameraland. Impressive to be sure, a cartoon really, possibly electronically enhanced for the shot, I mean this guy reminds one of the old limerick that begins "There once was a woman from Sidney," and ends with "My, he had a long one, didn't he?"
Oh well, like I said, B-movie tawdry. I'd give it an 8, anyway. HJF
© Port Whitman Times 1997
This film is really a subtle tirade against those "What-went-through-your-mind-as-you-heard-your-babies-being-burned-up-in-the-fire" interviews we all cringe at on TV.
Dustin Hoffman is an ambush interviewer in a small town, banished there by the network for mouthing off to the over-intrusive, gaping network anchor (Alan Alda) on camera while covering a grisly plane crash. Hoffman's ambushing "crosses the line" into making news instead of reporting it, so he's re-demoted to cover a meaningless filler of some kids taking a tour of the local museum. Instead he runs into a fired museum guard (John Travolta) trying to get attention and retrieve his job by 12-guage pump-action negotiation, resulting in a hostage situation, thus THE BIG STORY. Just by keeping his cool and the situation muddled, Hoffman manipulates the media and the perpetrator into national re-recognition and a chance to reclaim his rightful place at the table with the big boys. In between are the kids, who've just come to see the dinosaurs.
The hostage taker, dumber by several "duh"s than Goober Pyle, is easily manipulated by this slick correspondent, who fans the coals of the situation just hot enough, while the local police and the FBI, complete with sharpshooters, and of course the media, position themselves all around, to try to pry the guy loose, or kill him, preferably on camera, live. The longer the story can be maintained, the better, say the media people, backed up by the ad agencies counting the numbers. After all, this is "good television," and these network honchos are tickled pink that they have the exclusive inside story.
Ah, the power of the well-placed gun... The crowds gather, as Hoffman hooks up the media live, and everyone who's not at the scene can watch it all on the TEEvee. Alda's anchor is doing his best to horn in and grab the story, but Dustin has the trust of the man at the center, milking it for all it's worth. The kids are actually having fun, after all, this IS a circus of sorts. But the public, sated after two days of hype, sampled by the pollsters, turns from sympathetic to the fired employee to indifferent, then unfriendly, so The Big Story must conclude, as the honchos lose the interest of the advertisers. Meanwhile Hoffman and Alda are trying to hog all the air time they can, and dopey John, now without sleep for 72 hours, is becoming unstable. Something has to happen, and does...
One has to remember in watching this story, that it is at heart a satire, thus the characters are broadly drawn to bring home the message. In the case of Travolta, TOO broadly. You have trouble accepting that this moron could be a guard in a museum with millions invested in exhibits, control the security mechanism, yet come across to the kids he's holding prisoner as a kind of Uncle Harry, telling them stories and giving them free access to the snack bar. And come ON, the network execs controlling Alda are barely out of short pants, calling the shots of what goes out to us, the public. Hoffman strikes a nice medium, and his cute assistant, an intern, sticks it out until the going gets rough, then abruptly converts to Alda's camp.
Well, OK, in a kind of cartoon sense, it's believable. 8.5 HJF
AGNES OF GOD
© Port Whitman Times 2003
About a hundred innocences ago, before AIDS, Drug Death, Open Marriage, before spray- paint graffiti, before Rock& Roll, before TV, when we were still acting like ourselves, not some art-deco image of what we imagine ourselves to be, there was this absolute innocence, held almost exclusively by young boys and girls bound for seminaries and convents. We long to find that innocence again, if not ourselves, then through our proteges. We try to make them over to BE our image of them, not realizing neither of us can go back. Somewhere in this ever pervasive body-fluid-exchanging world, even the most undefiled are bound to have been exposed to some corruption, and the guilt will surface even if it has to spurt blood right out of stigmatic hands.
Just as we cannot totally superimpose good over bad, we cannot do the reverse, even by abusing our offspring. Neither characteristic will stay below the surface for long. Most of us strike a balance somehow; we put up with a certain amount of bad just to be able to enjoy the good. This human need to purge evil by swimming completely into good's balloon from bad's, by BE-ing completely untouched, except by God just doesn't seem to work anymore, except perhaps in our artistic ideals.
We're talking PURITY here, as opposed to the vice of IMpurity, which includes Sodomy, the parent of AIDS. Agnes, named incidentally for St. Agnes, the "purest" of the saints, is the compleat unsullied novitiate, who kills her newborn child, a real whip-you-around switch. The story revolves around her sexual innocence, and how, why, she could be led to this heinous act. Is this a virgin birth? Could she have "divided a cell" (sic)? Could Michael the Archangel have really been the father? Where did the baby come from then, and will Agnes be punished suitably for her deed? The answers are all provided, plausibly and palatably, in a bloody well-told story.
Anne Bancroft's Mother Superior, who at age 60+ can still go out behind the barn and smoke like an adolescent, Jane Fonda, a shrink leading the bull around by the nose, and Meg Tilly, the perfect cherub, pull it off well indeed, but beware, this isn't a lark or a romp. It's one of those stand-around-afterwards-and-talk-about-it numbers. 8.5HJH
A CHORUS LINE
© Port Whitman Times 2003
Along with the Actor/Dancer/Singers, we the audience walk a thin line here, not the line between being cast in the show or not, for there either you are or you're not, but between Theatre, and film. The piece is after all, film, but it's by and about Theatre people, excellently presenting Theatre on Film (Could Theatre present Film on stage? I think not.), giving us the inner feelings of the performer/auditioners, in a way that the stage version of the show simply could not. We're able, thru basic film artifice, to get down with the performers, into their souls, baby.
If you're a theatrical-type person -- and once again, either you are or you're not -- you'll really dig this pic. It's about those little secrets in the best of all of us, and how we feel about letting them out for the world to see, a kind of musical group therapy with us peering through the keyhole at a life that only a privileged few get to ogle -- the life of the real American gypsies in earnest first-ditch effort at getting work. Many of our well-known stars --Goldie Hawn, Patti Lupone, Linda Lavin to name three -- started out this very way, grinding it out for the assistant choreographer just to get the job.
There's a beautiful love story, done in now and in retrospect, between the dancer who ran away and the director/choreographer who stayed and succeeded. There's a lotta heart to go along with the soul in ACL -- people who put out onstage with absolutely everything, played on their bodies, and either "make the cut" or don't with the resultant elation or heartbreak -- about 95% heartbreak. It's not, therefore, a pleasant look mostly, but a truly fascinating one, of how we claw and scratch, give it our all, how we succeed and fail -- even with the odds against us, gambling with our lives, sometimes with not much more chance of success than at, say, the casinos.
They know it all, Broadway people, and can kid it, camp it, right down to the real violence and pain, with a wink of the eye, and a "ready - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8..." 8.5 HJH
© Port Whitman Times 1999
The wonderful thing about farce, is that its basic principles can be applied to virtually ANY aspect of life. There's the sex farce, the political farce, the drawing room farce - Here we have the Violence Farce. Unlike Rambo & Remo, which both purported to be serious, this episode, with Arnold Schwarzenegger pulling the triggers, takes the blossoming high-tech weaponry genre directly to the ridiculous, showing us the type of carnage that we saw in the WWII propaganda movies about our boys against the Nips and the Nazis, whom we hammered into submission and trained into our American Ideal: Arnie of the Grape Nuts outdoors.
Commando is a one-man walking war, sort of what you imagined your toy soldiers were as you pitted them against the armies of your fellow five year-olds. POW! WHAM! ZAP! Right out of Action Comics.
The style is not unrelated to the Japanese Samurai sagas of Kurosawa, nor to the Three Stooges, as Arnie dispatches a couple of regiments all alone, suffering only minor no-need-to-worry-mom scratches, rescuing his daughter from the likes of banana republic terroristas who would have him assasinate El Presidente to make room for their ilk. But no sir, not Arnie. He jumps out of a moving plane into a puddle, and goes back to GET these dirty rotten RATS!
Ohboyohboy, does he get 'em too, with nubile Rae Dawn Chong along to ooh and aah his every rippling move at a muscle a minute. A lotta expensive weaponry and hundreds of different death throes later he emerges victorious, if not artistically, at least militarily. If he can't shoot'em he breaks'em in half, some even in quarters (Just imagine yourself playing with your GI Joe and you'll know what I mean. Arnie really deserves better, he's not such a bad actor, y'know? 5.5 HJH
© Port Whitman Times 2003
Some psychological mavens would have us believe we don't get a large enough ration of kinky sex, and while that may or may not be true as a general statement about us as a society, it certainly is true about this film, which acts like and aims to purvey the representation of kinkiness, but never seems to arrive, so we are left to feed on mere illusion.
Our Young-Juicies (Kim Basinger & Mickey Rourke) meet by Instant-Gaze in fast foods, progress to Come-hither Looks in the Street Market, and wind up Down-to-Business in a big house at the end of a long pier, ready to consummate their relationship in the bud, long before it really begins, but sensibly draw back, until the late comers and loud talkers have settled down comfortably into their seats. After that it's wall to wall passion bub, speaking in sensuous whispertones, iterating the full repertoire of proper primordial cries in the right places, but somewhere along the way the guts have been carved out of the the story's body of ideas, leaving only a well-preserved carcass that, like most porno films (which, I hasten to add this is not), serves only as an hors d'oeuvre, leaving one hungry for the main course.
No doubt this is a torrid love affair, seeping into every well of the intimates' lives, and into some gooey wells in mise en scene too; no doubt He manages all the arrangements & emotions coolly, so that They blaze away at the leading edge of soft-core sex, R level, but no new Kama Sutra is being written here, despite expertly acted portrayals and bodies that look well in the costumes, whether those be birthday suits or not. At its best point, maybe one wonders if men and women will ever really understand each other, even on an individual level, other than sexually, if even there. Do we honestly have any idea of what the other side wants, or are we just pretending, satisfying only up to the physical limits set by our sexual proclivities? Tis a question to be pondered.
Midway through the film one somehow recalls those deathless words of Peggy Lee: "Is that all there is?" But nobody keeps on dancing, or doing much of anything except leering about attractively, expressing more or less the same slurpingly voracious emotions in different ways. Come to think of it, maybe the Kama Sutra ought to be rewritten.
There is token visual suggestion of S&M, Bondage, Menage a Trois, which glimpses alone might do to satisfy if some sort of plot were in evidence, but no follow-thru materializes, so it all comes off like nibbling at the festive turkey in a mighty hot kitchen, but no-no on a sit-down at the orgy. Nice nibbling tho. 7 HJH
OF THE LAMBS
© Port Whitman Times 2007
"Hey, Hey, Yessir step right up ladeez 'n gents, see the terrors of the era, double trouble human rubble - numbah one: Doctor Lecter, known as 'Hannibal the Cannibal' - don't get too close or he'll eat your face off (ohboy, just my kinda guy) the shrink who'll drink yer blood (Lady get that kid away from the cage) - and numbah two: Buffalo Bill, the perp who catches young girls 'n skins 'em alive - for a suit he's making - a birthday suit, heh heh. Step right up, only $6.00 to see this dastardly duo..."
But seriously folks, the stars of this picture aren't the normal people (Jody Foster, the fledging FBI agent, Scott Glenn, her boss) or even the abnormal people (Anthony Hopkins in a tour-de-face as Dr.Lecter, and what's-his-name [Ted Levine] from Crime Story in a brilliant/scary performance as Buffalo Bill), but the graphically presented egregiously monstrous acts they perform, calculated to scare the bejeepers out of the most cynical viewer. Silence is on the leading edge of what current "adult" pictures dare to show by way of real personal violence. Oh sure there's the cartoon violence of a Schwarzengger film or the cop-n-kingpin violence of any number of "buddy" flicks, but this is such intimate violence that it's sexual really, thus not so remote as we would have it in "non-fiction," but quite the titillator on film.
Yes, we do get to see Dr.Lecter hold someone by the ears and eat face, but only a lower-level policeman-guard's (not Jody's, Scott's, or even what's-his-name's), then look up at us mouth-all-bloody like a hyena feeding on a gnu; we get to see some well chosen close-ups of Buffalo Bill making and modeling his skinsuit, and a scary hi-tech scene with the stalker donning night vision glasses and the stalkee (you-guessed it - Jody) fumbling in a dark cellar (thanks to Operation Desert Storm for flakking the night vision thing), hey, howzabout metal muzzle restraints for Doctor Face-Eater, carted about on a hand truck, trussed up like cargo? The bizarre images are the stars here, the rest is basic cop-drama FBI fodder. Good grief, if we go to see this kinda stuff (in droves, I'm told) why on earth are we so skittish about sex films?
You'd think these face-eaters and skin-wearers would be concerned about AIDS. 8 HJH
This is the loser of the month, maybe several months. Great promise too, with Alan Arkin, who holds up part of the film very well, but not enough of a part high enough up to make it even moderately funny. When Alan has a good gag though, he's the tops. In BM he has a couple, not nearly enough to save the patient however.
Once again fun is made - here of a South American medical school of which AA is el presidente, the founder, le entrepreneur, with us ugly Americans lording our superiority, this time our medical superiority, over everyone else, like Nazis. Predictably the American med students rise above this dopey atmosphere, and come away with medical educations in spite of the school and the con man who runs it. Films with premises like this are hour-and-a-half long cheap shots, at who...Nicaragua, or Russia, or wherever, by the so-called American Intelligentsia. Small wonder everyone abroad wants to kick our stilts out by underselling us in our own marketplace or not paying us back what we loan them - like sucker punching the bad guy, and we are, collectively, the bad guy in their eyes.
Films ought to teach us something beyond freedom to ridicule, or even freedom to dance, namely that life is a glimmer in a millennia of darkness, where we mustn't waste a moment of our threescore and ten indulging in destroying each other, but must find solutions to mankind's perplexities by at least proposing them, in whatever way we can, mainly through our media. To satirize yourself is one thing, but to make fun of others less able to defend themselves is more than mildly reprehensible. 4.5 HJH
BEST OF TIMES
Each of us has at least one monumental life failure that creates a deep seated trauma which, if dwelt upon, creates a raspberry-seed-in-the-wisdom-tooth ache each time it comes to mind. Something we would do differently, or better, or at least over , but we learn to live with the ache, which pretty much goes away as we put our efforts to other tasks, having learned something from the bitter experience. But some of us choose to live with the constant desire to repeat the act, do it right this time.
Can you go back, change history, knowing your previous mistakes? Sure you can, why we could even redo World War II if we manipulated things just right. If you're willing to tread water in the same place, manage the small forces of life until you can make just the right moment happen along. But is it worth it? Apparently so, to this Robin Williams character, as he puts all the dominoes painstakingly in place to recreate THE BIG GAME, i.e., the High School Super Bowl in which he dropped the ball way back when; but now he'll make it all right, catch the pass and assume the hero status he rightfully deserves. To make it come true he has to do a broken field run through all the forces of small town California society, but in the end when the long bomb is thrown (by Kurt Russell) he runs down the field and... Oh, by the way, he makes good fun with our laugh/cry tracks along the way, teaches a little about love, success, failure, how we handle them. 7 HJH
The music here is By Ry Cooder, and if the rest of the film were as good as the opening song and the credits, it would be a smashing time. But, sad to say, the story is your basic Archie and Jughead clean up the town corruption and find out who killed Archie's dad, old Judge Stone, in the process. Just another tributary to the main road of "the folks solve the crimes" in spite of the bumbling police, but guess what--this time the corruption is the law enforcement mechanism. So what else is new?
Blue City's trouble is that it's not a very plausible film. Truth, or the semblance of truth, seems to elude it from the writing on, therefore all the rest can do is cope, which it does admirably, thanks to sharp directing by Michele Manning, and some good acting by Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, Paul Winfield and Especially Anita Morris, but not enough to make it anything but fodder for TV's teeny bop set.
A dumb movie well done however, is sometimes preferable to a well conceived & written piece poorly directed, as in Sweet Liberty, because one is not expecting so much. 4.5 HJH
Wanna see the movie all alone? Nobody around you for yards? Nothin' to it, just develop a cough, or at least sound like you're gonna cough all through the film by hacking away in the ticket line, then in the popcorn line too. Then as soon as you sit down in the theatre give a coupla raspy gaspers just for good measure, and you'll see, everyone will sort of gradually move away, even the twin tower types who always seem to sit right in frontaya..
STEVIE WONDER'S cinevideo "Don't Drive Drunk" 's gotta be one of the neatest trailers in the theatres today...well-produced and with a message that's put across in such a way as to be un-preachy but practical, musically on target, and with the multi-level production that's his stock in trade. The finisher is right to the point: "Look... give him the keys..."
EATING POPCORN: Why get butter all over your fingers (Why get butter at all?)? You needn't even touch the popcorn with your thorny digits actually, you can simply lap it up with your tongue directly from the box -- It will stick to your tongue -- much neater, and you hardly need a napkin. Depending upon the length of your tongue, you can only go down so far into the box, so when you can't reach the morsels anymore, simply tear off the top of the box, down to the level of the corn, and lick back into it. Do this a coupla three times, right down to the bottom of the barrel, chewing more carefully as you reach the seedy remains, lest you rupture your cusps. Of course if there's more than one of you, get separate boxes. Don't forget to pick up your pieces and "pitch in" before you leave. Now, if we can just get the cinemas to supply toothpicks...
THE COLOR PURPLE
Along with having natural rhythym, being natural tap-dancers, basketball players, track stars etc., Blacks are apparently also natural actors, storytellers, if this film is any indication. Or perhaps the story is so well conceived, based on reality, reputedly from the original letters thru the book to the movie, that it seems that the actors fit naturally into the characters. It's a "What came first the chicken or the egg?" conundrum, but the end result is surely a shining example of "activism" in an unusual context, and that's no yoke. When we as virtual outsiders are privileged to observe what amounts to a "Black show," here a sensitive portrayal of a story steeped in American Black Tradition, aimed at a Black audience without nary a reference to Whites, we find the result, if we have any sensitivity at all, to be truly astonishing, profoundly moving, and gripping through 2hrs,10 min.
It's hard to imagine one's self getting overly concerned about the lost youth of a little nobody on a farm out in nowhere, Tennessee in the early part of this century, fretting over her unfulfilling relationship with a man who treats her no better than an indentured slave, but this film deftly focuses us in on just that, and we find ourselves figuratively inside her (Whoopie Goldberg), looking out with the same yearnings as she has.
She has particularly to look out for herself, first raped by her father, then someone else, bearing two children which are taken from her and sold off, and then she is literally sold off too, to a neighboring farmer who puts her to work in his house, cuts her off from everything including contact with her beloved sister, who nevertheless writes her almost daily, over the years. He confiscates the letters before she ever sees them. She works nevertheless, having no choice, and even learns self respect at the hands of a performing female friend of her "master." We know it's just a matter of time until she emancipates herself, her spirit, from the situation.
There are no searing problems of racial conflict, no Rights being pursued as interracial stepping stones (though Human Rights are certainly an issue), but an incisive, intricate story about farm people mired in hidebound traditions in rural Tennessee. It is so deftly drawn that each of the characters stamps itself indelibly on our memories, which can later call them up instantly and remember their attitudes in relation to the isolated life they live, and the one we live here and now.
Message? Sure, there were several for me, maybe more, or different ones for you: Live Life Fully, or Fulfillment can come from what you're doing no matter what, where, or with whom, even Everyone wants to be loved, and most prominently, Change. 8.5 HJH
DOWN & OUT
The plot is older than The Hills (Beverly Hills that is): Character appears out of nowhere and changes lives of protagonists. In this case, nowhere is the gilded gutter, not such a bad place in the land of the movie stars, but still the gutter where the haute cuisine is gourmet garbage, and the mattresses are cement with famous footprints, but the freedom, ah, the freedom to do what ever one wants whenever... you get the picture. Well this one revolves around the hangups of the Richard Dreyfuss and Bette Midler family, RollsRoyceRich, but sybaritically schizophrenic, directionless, and whats more, adjusted rather pleasantly to it. Money is the balm that soothes the strains.
Out of bleeding-heart kindness they save (from drowning himself in their swimming pool) and "adopt" disgusting-street-person Nick Nolte, ne'er do well who might just as well snuff it for all the world cares. Once saved, old Nick proceeds to become an active participant in each one and collectively all of their lives, to the extent that they begin to see themselves in relation to the real world through his eyes, and find that they are indeed fortunate but shamelessly spoiling themselves with all these farchadat neuroses. That includes the dog, who is seeing a psychiatrist trying to learn to deal with all the chaserai created by the interrelationships caused by the money that buys out of every problem. The cash comes from coat hangers, the business of the daddy (Richard), and proceeds to hang-ups: mama is frigid, the son wears a dress, the daughter anorexercises herself, the maid is a shtupper, papa the shtupee. A neat little package to which everyone contributes his/her bit, yet ending up at each others' throats whenever they're all together.
Along comes Nick, cool, loose, filthy and proud of it. Y'see he's got what none of them have, a handle on those ephemeral spare parts of life that somehow go to make up the vehicle of philosophical (as in Bhagwan) satisfaction. But then, he's killing himself, not them. Oh well, after he's rescued, and scrubbed up to mensh specifications, he begins to work his wiles; soon they all catch on, to him, both sociologically and physically, if you know what I mean. The doing of it all is the fun though, with lots&lotsa laughs, fun, games and a big party with a chase scene at the end to wrap it.
The only disappointment in the story was that after it's all over, and everyone is in perfect "comm" with him/her self, Nick doesent remain the itinerant romantic wandering usefully off into the sunset, but comes back to rejoin society, prob'ly goes into the family business. Somehow I can't see him in hangers. 8 HJH
FINALLY! A goooood movie. Chevy Chase, last seen in Vacation, which left one less satisfied than small- popcorn-no-butter, has chosen a vehicle which shows off his fantastic talents as a light comedian. In this part farce part thriller part adventure part sophisticated comedy, he plays a writer (maybe that's why I'm partial) who's working on a drug expose story already pre-promo'd in his daily newspaper. His boss is leaning rather heavily on him for the copy, collected undercover as a beachy bum (Along with George Wendt, the fat guy in Cheers, who plays Fat Sam, a hustler-type), to be published under the name Jane Doe. . . But Fletch keeps stumbling upon sub-plots that seem to take him away from what he's suppos'd to be doing, and we merrily tag along with him for the ride, laughing the while, but being seduced into a nagging feeling that somehow it's all connected. Well, lo and behold, we do find that all the puzzle pieces fit perfectly in the end, but not without satiric swipes at many of our institutions, medicine, country clubs, law enforcement, insurance, airplane nuts, basketball (Kareem makes a brief appearance, if an appearance by Kareem can be called anything but towering).
It's rumored, by Charles Grodin, that Charles Grodin was initially sought for the role, and come to think of it, he would have made an excellent Fletch too, but Chevy Chase more than fills the bill, changing costumes and disguises as quick as the film can jump-cut to the next logical sequence of outrageous dimensions yet logical proportions.
The background music in Fletch, light rock, is no slouch, and with excellent film sound recording we can hear all the subtleties of the story, no matter how intimate the scene, and some of them get very intimate indeed, as this libertine pursues each hottest trail till it cools off. The theme, if a film such as this can be said to have one, is what people will do for money, and what the fifth estate will do for idealism. In our day, both go a little far, supplying the grist-le Fletch picks up for our mental mastication, to accompany our funnybone's stimulation.
Some jerk insisted on talking back to the film though. . . Now, in some cases, I don't mind this, as the films need a little talking back to, but Fletch says it all rather swiftly, and any wasted listening on our part just subtracts from the enjoyment. Unfortunately most jerks like this get carried away with hearing their own voice in a theatre, so they usually overdo it, but this jerk, fortunately only stepped over the line once or twice. Then either he began to hear himself objectively, or was warned by the management. Maybe he'll wise up and get civilized.
As for Fletch, it's a very civilized 9.5. HJH
Boys will be boys, of course, and girls just want to have fun, but here the two, being boys and having fun, are mixed together like vanilla fudge, swirling us, the audience, away in a whirlypool of intrigue.
He's (Anthony Edwards) sort of a nerd, y'see, and he goes off to Europe with his buddy, a slick ladykiller type, and while buddy is off killing the ladies with his charm, Nerdo meets Sasha (Linda Fiorentino), a Czech off on a lark in Paree. Well, the two hit it off, much to his amazement, as he knows he's a nerd. A summertime, European romance is ignited, and he changes plans to go to Berlin, East Berlin, with her to do a small courier-type "errand." Soon we're all embroiled in a plot that only the Russians could have concocted, the movie Russians that is, and he, where he only played at shoot-em-up in a college game club, is now involved with real bullets, chased by real agents of a real KGB.
At one point, echoing the thoughts of all of us, he wonders how he got involved in all of this, from a simple vacation to a spy trip, but figures its worth it for the woman he loves. We, fortunately, come to the same conclusion, not necessarily for the woman, elegant and mysterious as she is, but because the film is rather well crafted, spiriting us from one mini-adventure to the next in this mosaic that eventually winds up exactly where it started, with boys being boys and girls having fun.
We had fun too, as there's something for everyone here, a little romance, a little suspense, a little blood, a little sex, not enough to make it any more mature than PG-13, but enough to keep it skipping along. Finally the government (Oh yeah, they're in it too) agents take over, and all is resolved in true bureaucratic fashion, at least well enough to end the movie and let us all go home, better and diverted for the tale. 8 HJH
You wanna have fun? OK, plan now for next summer -- and then, craftily keep away a bucket of water, in some high place overlooking a doorway or walkway. Then at just the proper time, dump it ALL on someone passing below. Someone you know prefer- ably, who has a flexible sense of humor and wouldn't harm you even under the worst conditions.
Now when I say dump, I mean score a direct hit (This may take some practice, but that is fun too, cause even a close miss is a riot,due to the sudden surprised-ness), but a direct hair-parting hit has got to be one of the most gleeful things in all of life, as close as most of us are gonna get to the hitting-the-lottery feeling.
Now be careful of whom you do this to, dumpers, it isn't universally accepted as funny yet, but all of you with reasonable senses of humor, get ready to become dumpees.
Jagged Edge is full of such surprises, even a coupla seat-jumpers, as Glenn Close, current reigning goddess of talent apparent, gives us another ingenious invention as a high-powered corporate attorney pressed into a grudge cri- minal case, against her former DA boss, Publisher (Jeff Bridges) of a San Francisco newspapaper, on trial for ritual killing of his wife and maid, not necessarily in that order, to become scion of the "company."
Aforementioned female atty defends, vs. ambitious DA.
The point of the film is the internal manipulation of various personnel of the trial by machiavellian selves of each of the characters. A bit grim, good-grim I hasten to ad, but grim nevertheless, in comparison to Close's MAXIE, a fun dame who meta- morphoses around. Good characterizing, esp. by Robert Loggia. Everyone does a good, believable, job. Heh, heh, believable, get it? You will, but not till the end. 7.5 HJH
In Just Between Friends, we are confronted with the secrets of a womanizing Mr. Right, his lady-on-the-side, and his affair-abetting buddy; we get to snicker as the participants (Ted Danson and Christine Lahti) squirm when confronted with each other in a situation they never expected. She, you see, also unwittingly becomes friends with His unknowing wife (Mary Tyler Moore), and accepts a dinner invitation to Their home, where the Buddy (Sam Waterston) is also a last-minute guest. Fortunately the scene doesn't last too long, because you might know all the reactions would be predictable... Whew!, you know? As a result She (Christine), decides to break off with Ted, but not a moment too soon, as He is suddenly killed in an auto accident.
After the funeral, Chris and Mary become even faster friends while Mary pulls out of the gloom after the death of her husband, they even go into business together (Mary starts an Aerobics Academy, 50% financed by Chris)) until the fateful moment when all is exposed when Mary discovers a lovers' picture of Chris and Ted together. Well if that isn't enough to kill the friendship, which it does, Chris discovers she is pregnant, by Ted of course (Who else?) and they go out of business together, just in time for everyone to be totally depressed by this affair that neither of them knew would be connected to them, and it's up to Sam to get them out of the fix, which he does, more or less, by becoming friends with both of them, and a sort-of father to the baby, called Stephen. Now the kids, oh, didn't I mention them? Mary has two teenagers (1M, 1F) who are watching all of this but unaware of what really went on behind their backs too, and they think Chris, a TV Newsperson, is tops.
Come to think of it, she is tops, but Mary, shortsighted, brokenhearted, lonely and overcome with grief, can't see it for her tears. Then, when Mary finally does come around, Chris gets into a snit cause her pride is wounded; then she comes around and Mary pouts, but when the baby is born, being Ted's reincarnation of course, all becomes well, everybody makes up, Sam Falls for Mary, Chris gets the job she's waiting for, and they end up watching old Ted videotapes together.
It's a contrived sort of tale, but pleasant enough, and the actors carry it off admirably, given the soap-opera plot. One wonders if the hanky-panky between the two original cheaters was worth all the aggravation that it cost everyone involved, considering that Chris really didn't want a husband, only a baby, which she got, and Ted didn't want to split up with Mary, which he wouldn't have had to, had Mary understood friendship on a different level. If only Chris and Sam would have taken to each other at the dinner, then Mary and Chris could have continued as friends, Ted and Sam could have dealt with the conflict of Sam taking Chris from Ted as most male friends do, i.e., not let it get in the way of their friendship for long. Men know how to handle these things. Women are learning. 7 HJH
Durn! They blew it. Here they had this neat idea to make a film about this precocious kid Lucas, a 14 year-old "accelerated" into High School by virtue of his super intellect, and maybe to show how he uses his superior mental capabilities to adjust to the society of older Hardheads or Air heads whom he himself says are "superficial" at the outset, and what's he do? He joins 'em, or at least tries to play their game instead of sticking to his own. Little shrimp that he is, he goes out for the football team (!), even manages, at maybe 100 lbs soaking wet, to engineer his way into a game with all these brutes, and survives, not a winner, not a hero, not even a loser, but an object of pity, a thing. Oh, they give him a jacket in the end–with a letter, for almost getting killed as a result of a pileup with him at the bottom. The blame jacket doesn't even fit fergoshsake. And why did he do it all? To impress a girl (Kerri Green) he was losing to the captain of the football team (Charlie Sheen). Makes ya mad, I'll tellya.
When you first see Lucas (Corey Haim), you see him as he sees life in the woods, through a magnifying glass, in his element, studying biology --butterflies, locusts (It's the 17th year), nature in the raw. You see what an interesting lad he is, and hope for great things, but...soon he goes back to school, first having met Kerri, a newcomer to the neighborhood (Upper middle class & all that implies – Her dad's the philandering prez of an ad agency) with whom he communicates on the same wavelength, at least until class begins. While he's just finishing up adolescence, she's well into puberty, and the rites of cheerleadership & hero-worship. A looker tho, yaknowhatImean? Ol' captain football is a real hunk too, plus a niceguy protector of Lucas from the sadistic prussian types, and as might be suspected, she falls head over heels for him.
So, Lucas figures, If ya can't lick 'em, join'em, and in a heroic way that hardly suits him and his attitude about jocks, he ventures into hunk-dom. Well, they torture him, ridicule him, treat him like an insect, but he manages to make it, to survive, commendable considering the amount of good sportsmanship he finds it necessary to dredge up. So they dangle him awhile, he gets hurt, they all feel sorry, they give him a jacket, and he grins. End of story.
What they could have done with that story. 7 anyway. HJH
Like it or not, we can BE two people (maybe more) – OK, OK, schizophrenic if you insist–Neveretheless, two. Not only that, but two people that are both OK, and within plain sight of those we love and/or work with. We don't like to be "taken over" as Jan (Glenn Close) is in this story, possessed by another, in spirit or in body, but what if it's someone we admire that does the possessing? We just might could get into it, hmm?
Maxie, (also Glenn Close) possesses Jan, er, Jan's body, but only part time, as Jan's husband, played by Mandy Patinkin, objects to his wife's being someone else, even part time – it interferes with his job (Rare Book Specialist) and his fidelity. Then there is Jan's job, secretary to a Catholic Bishop, too. But Maxie, a transplanted flapper with a Bessie Smith Singin' style, whose body died in 1923, is havin' a ball.
It's the perfect arrangement for Him, know it or not, and he even begins to enjoy it a little, but treading on strict morality isn't his bag, so for Maxie as Jan, it's a limited engagement. Jan keeps reappearing to throw cold water on each of the adventures to which Maxie is just warming up. Dull old reality always intrudes upon fantasy, and just when it wuz gittin' fun too. Durn!
It's about the soul really, and whether we ARE beings separate from our bodies, coming up with a fairly universally satisfying answer. I mean you've just GOT to love Maxie.
Moreover, we CAN be o'ertaken by other beings besides devils, and our lives can actu- ally be improved by such an invasion. In fact, as a result of this adventure, everyone involved came off the better.
Glenn Close pulls a tour-de-force and a fer sure OscarNom, maybe even a cinch to cop... so far. She plays the frump & the floozy, like a true schitzolady, which all GOOD actors who become institutions are – consciously. No doubt about it, this is a star turn that's a double turn-on. 9 HJH
Cut right out of the heart of the depression (1935), this Disney film comes right close to cartooning the look, the helpless, innocent feeling of the era. People, on their last financial legs, make money on the street, peddling, begging; jobs are almost nonexistent where you are, but beckon the workingman to come west. WAY west.
Natty Gann (Meredith Salenger) is an adolescent of the time whose dad (Ray Wise) goes west so fast he doesn't have time to say goodbye, but he writes and promises to send her a ticket as soon as he can. She of course can't wait, and so embarks on that dream adventure of all young boys (!) of the time--she runs away– But waitaminute, she's a girl... Fortunately, she picks up a Big Good Wolf on the way, who snarls at anyone who comes near her while Natty "rides the rails" in a plot that unfolds leisurely in a series of adventures between Chicago and Seattle. Remember now, it's not today, with wierdos, serial killers, terrorists, drug addicts, etc. It's then with pre-war danger: accidents, starvation, cops, jail, orphanages, the like.
It's the story of a nice young girl and her wolf...not Lassie come home, but Natty goes west, back when you could drink from the streams, when the world wasn't waging chemical warfare on itself, when you could bum a meal from a farmer and work it off, when prisons housed good old fashioned bank robbers and horse thieves, not sexual deviates, dope peddlers and paranoid schizophrenic mass murderers, back when they were cutting down the thousand year-old redwood forests and thinking nothing of it, when you could live off the land and did, off small game and fruit trees, which abounded (Ah, what would Natty do today?), when you could walk a highway for half an hour and not see a car, when you could hide out back in a corner of somebody's barn; when people actually told other people what to do, and most of them did it!
Natty lives through it all and more, retaining her integrity, getting where she's going just in time to see her dad get... well now, that would be telling.
It's surely a young girls' picture--oh sure, there are boys too (mainly John Cusack)–about growing up then which in principle isn't too different from now, despite our high-tech world. Young love was just about the same too. It's just that times were different, yes they were. 7 HJH
You like Jamie Lee Curtis' body? You wanna see it scantily clad, moving in many suggestive directions, to music. Wanna see a lotta other lithe bodies of both sexes doing the same? Well, this may be your movie. Jamie Lee plays THE aerobics instructor of the LA scene, in which all the young upwardly mobiles are enmeshed with one another's bodies, in more ways than one. But enough of all that, on with the story (Oh yes, it has one.)
John Travolta is your standard hatchet-job writer/reporter for Rolling Stone, doing his number on the shape-up biz, which has, according to the apocryphal word, become "the singles scene of the eighties." He's also scribing another "serious" piece, about a government frame-up similar to ABSCAM, which serves to get him from home-office NYC to LA and back and forth enough times to confuse us all as to where he currently is shooting from. Jamie Lee is yet another project Johnny juggles, but not unrelated to the Looking for Mr. Goodbody article. You get it don't you? Lots of sweat and pelvic thrusting. Lascivious city.
Rat falls in love & shapes up, is the plot line, as Johnnie abandons lurid story about the "Sports Connection," at the behest, then insistence, then sabotage, of Jamie Lee, working her moves on him after hours. Finally he comes up with a no-guts pap piece that Jann Wenner (Pub. of Rolling Stone, playing himself) won't swallow, much less digest into its unique brand of excribble, so Jann & staff come up with their own XXX ration, involving a previous scandal in Jamie Lee's life.
Throughout, we don't know whether Travolta is going to take the hard road or the easy one, and Jamie Lee has her doubts too, all culminating in a trial of 1st amendment rights & values, jail, then the resolution, so we can all leave relieved. Like I said, you like Jamie Lee's body? 6 HJH
PRETTY IN PINK
Sometimes you only see half a movie–maybe you tuned in late to the TV, or have a mid-film attack of appendicitis. In this case, the listing in the paper mistakenly said 2:15, so when I arrived at 2:20, I figured it had just-now started. I asked the usher what happened in the first few minutes and he looked at me like I was a little off, which, it turned out, I was; I watched for about 45 minutes, a portrayal all seemingly in slow motion (It sure must be hard for actors to do their characters in slow motion, just as it is for, say, springboard divers, or basketball players), and then the film was suddenly over, much to my surprise, but not disappointment. THEN I found out the film had started at 1:15, the paper had been mistaken, so presented the ad to the manager & got my money back. Whew! I thought I was going to have to sit through the bloomin' beginning of this snail-pacer.
Now admittedly, Molly Ringwald is easy to look at, and not a bad actress either, but watching her go through the dewy trauma of teen-age rejection, and prom-date gut- wrenching, walking a thin story line, even for half a film, seemed a large waste of time, talent & money. OK OK, I saw the climax, the kiss & make up, the prelude to happily ever after, which I must say included my not having to sit thru any part of the film again. 4.5 HJH
Why the leading character here (Played at by Kevin Bacon) gives up a fast track life on the floor of the stock exchange to become a delivery boy on a bike is just as big a mystery as why Kevin Bacon the actor gave up those juicy kidroles to come on as an adult in this tepid vehicle.
On and on it goes, like a ten-mile-ten-speed bike ride on a roadbed of 2-inch gravel, till you want to shout "alright already, we get the point" even though there's not much of a point to get, just to get out of there with our money's worth. So we stay to the grim end, see him win out over the bad guy (a dope dealer using one of the girl messagejocks to deliver goods), get the girl (Jami Gertz), the right girl this time (thus implying the existence of a wrong girl, for him anyway), and finally, just when we thought he was lost forever to the world of Wharton grads and Harvard MBA types, he returns more or less in triumph to the floor (of the exchange) to catch some leverage he's been studying up on, using his friends' money to lean in with the winds of trade and make his pile.
Well, a small pile anyway, enough to extricate him from this sorry story. Everyone tries to cover it up with a lot of "Acting" and soulful looking around until you look around soulfully and realize that, during the endless pauses, most of the audience has left for parts unknown but surely more interesting.
Not all bad tho, the cinematography is rather striking, with many shots of Kevin et al on bikes, going thru traffic, special effects bike tricks, smashing closeups suddenly appearing to take advantage of the San Francisco look, switching to moving shots of bike pursuits, car chases, unusual looks at the usual stuff.
Surely Kevin Bacon is better than he comes off in this pic, and will choose better as he gets used to the grown-up world, with grown-up people and stories. Let's say this is just an interim miscue. 3 HJH
The Rocky films, in fact all the boxing films, even the ones that present the humdrum aspects of fighting, strike me as being a lot more interesting than the ring itself, not that this one, written, directed, and starred-in by the Italian Stallion, Sylvester Stallone, the least bit humdrum.
The new candidate to dislodge Rocky as king of the mountain is Ivan Drago, a Russian Robot nicknamed "The Siberian Express", or "Death From Above" (He's t-t-t tall), trains by machine in a scientifically measured Universal gym, with steroids injected and Drs. in attendance for every leg-lift, while Rocky trains by guts, running in the deep snow, chopping trees etc., To chop Ivan down to size, y'see. This film is WAR, or as close to it as anyone hopes we'll get, with the Russians.
But first, Apollo Creed, "The Count of Monte Fisto, The Pastor of Disaster," is pushed forth as warm-up fodder for Ivan, complete with splashy Las Vegas treatment: chorus girls dressed in naughty beads, James Brown (Mr. Dynamite, Soul Brother Number One) doing his number (Even at his fiftiesh age, this Godfather of Soul is a fantastic entertainer!). It's the glitzy commercial treatment, with Muhammad Ali-type rap at the weigh-in, a whole megilla of ring hype. Apollo gets murdered, literally, by the Russian, clubbed into unconsciousness from which he never recovers, and Rocky challenges him right there to a grudge match--NO money, just revenge.
Then there's a long section which is s'posed to turn us on to the perfectly trained athlete - yeah, yeah, OK, but on with the fight. Then scenes from previous Rockys. By the time IT comes, our mouths are watering to see the big lunk knocked down to human proportions or lower, sort of like Dempsey-Willard back in the twenties. Our sense of competition is assaulted on several levels, all but the most meaningful one, that being that "out for blood" ends up with only blood as a result...
Meanwhile, Rocky's family is suffering the residue of all this emotion, worrying whether he'll get killed, having to put up with a constant stream of reporters, (Why Rocky's wife couldn't have an automatic garage door opener and avoid being confronted in the driveway is beyond me), carrying on normally in the face of world class personal warfare, but hoping to come to an understanding in the final frame, as long as Rocky doesn't end up like Apollo.
Ivan looks like a Nazi, a black mouthpiece to contrast with his blond, prussian hair, and an iron chin. No mistaking him for a good guy in this Knock Opera; there's no dimension to this bloke, no nice boy buried underneath, just head to toe killer instinct, which he turns on R. Balboa in the big fight. Interesting that we see Russian products as either Baryshnikovs or Stalins--maybe that's just the way they're painted. Surely there's more dimension to them than that.
On the big day, everybody is there, even a Gorbachev double, without the birthmark--somehow they couldn't get a Reagan double, but no matter, as Ivan wipes up the place with Rocky for most of the fight, and I don't have to tell you the ending – You've seen it in Rocky I, II, and III; you'll enjoy seeing it again, as we all love a winner – or is it just winning we're enamored of, not that we'd want to be in Rocky's shoes, we just want to watch. That's the perfect place for us, too a good distance from the mayhem.
The movie does try to say something, and does, beyond winning is everything, and mom don't let your kids grow up to be boxers etc. It finally says what it was missing all along, that competition may not be all that it's cracked up to be, when it's sooooo serious. This is where wars come from, man. 7.5 HJH
ST ELMO'S FIRE
There are movies that make you laugh, movies that make you think or wonder, some make you mad, some make you act, but this one makes you FEEL deeply, somehow, even though the story at times seems a widely disjointed one, running into separate lives a little too deeply, like rivulets running down from a snow capped mountain, only being united by their source. Seven recent graduates of Georgetown U. try to make their ways through the starting phases of life in real times of the eighties, battling their own inadequacies as well as the forebidding world.
For beginners, they all love each other in a camaraderie that comes from going through the same battles (academic) together and surviving. They care what happens to members of the group, and this, in many cases, is what helps them to survive the new war, that of life outside the microcosm that was college. However, they don't quite divorce themselves from the campus world, all living close by so that they can play the perennial sophomores and come back to the parties, particularly at St. Elmo's Bar, a campus hangout. The fire of the title is an imaginary celestial phenomenon, simnilar in spirit to what they're all enduring as they make the transition from academia to hard knocksia.
They number some typical campus-turned-pro characters, the artistic rebel, the smooth operator, the rich girl doing social work, the career woman of easy virtue, the budding politician, each endowed with a soupcon of sensibility, some with more. They push and pull each other into a semblance of normality at film's end, focusing on saying goodbye to one of their number going off to the Big Apple to make waves in the jazz music ocean.
Meanwhile, we are treated to a few of the crises that befall each in this delicate time just after college, when the graduate is still finding out what's where and where he/she is in relation to it, but is expected to act like a seasoned adult in the process.
Well, it doesn't happen; they act anywhere from crazy adolescents to teenagers, still embarking on mad adventures, with frequently hilarious results, but as in college, they finally survive, with the help, sometimes hurtful, of their best pals. It's touching, a little foolish, but what is youth for anyway? 7.5 HJH
Poor Lilian Gish. Now that she's in her declining years (though certainly not declining mental acuity) she has to come down from giant film artists such as D.W. Griffith (in her youth), to director Alan Alda. But there are compensations – She gets to work with Alan Alda the actor, certainly one of the most charming personalities on the screen, and Alan Alda the writer, the Hollywood resident authority on the wise-guy humor genre. After all, he altered or wrote many a script for M.A.S.H., even directed some segs, but his forte has always been his pleasing, easy going personality so close to being what all of us would like to be in our better moments.
Burgess, Alda's character in the film, is torn between his mother's (Gish's) view of reality from the senility of her elder years, his genuine reality both in his life and in his meticulously accurate historical novel, a chronicle of U.S. Revolutionary events, and the glitzy fantasy reality of the screen-adapter (Bob Hoskins) of the film treatment of his piece, which doesn't even come close to the truth, especially when played through the director's schlock viewfinder. Add to this, that other world that actors thrive in, one of superficial relationships (sex) and make believe persona revolving around egos gorged on adulation, and you get a picture of the picture they're turning his history into, a mish-mosh, a travesty.
What does Burgess do? He takes some time off from real reality and joins the nuttiness, but not without his mental "beeper" to bring him back, usually in the form of Gretchen (Lise Hibodt) his girlfriend, until she too jumps into the circus of film-making in a small town by becoming involved with the leading Lothario, played by Michael Caine, who is involved with as many skirts as one could cram into a six-week location shoot.
In the end somehow everyone winds up satisfied, and though not getting what they want, exactly, at least coming away with enough to sate their appetites or leave their expectations still illuminated though slightly dimmed. The film gets made, Hoskins steals the show, Gish gets to do her classic (throwing kisses) gesture, Alda marches relentlessly on. 7 HJH
THE POPE MUST DIE
That does it—Nothing is sacred anymore. As one who grew up serving the latin mass, being taught by nuns in full habit, saying an ejaculation whenever passing in front of a church, I find the whole attitude of this farcical stew involving the Vatican to be more than offensive—it's dumb.
Oh sure, we're supposed to believe that the Vatican's cardinals are so mushy that they can be swayed by one of their own (Alex Rocco) into electing a pope they've never seen or heard of, and that the secretary of this body is so dopey that he misspells the new pope-elect's name, moreover that a computer subsequently picks out the new pope from a list of monastic priests—one (Robbie Coltrane) who plays R&R guitar, no less. Wait wait—there's more —The pope who was pushed onto the cardinal's agenda was (and thank God the spelling mistake was made) actually a thug priest under the control of a mob kingpin, Mr. Corelli (Get it? Corelli was Pope Pius XII, I think), whose operatives in and out of the church have been milking the Vatican's treasury dry. Mr.Corelli (Herbert Lom) really wants to be pope himself, although with a dry treasury one wonders why, probably just a power trip and being able to make up the rules under a blanket of infallibility.
But our nonplussed R&R priest becomes Pope Dave – for awhile, until a skeleton is dragged out of his closet, yet long enough to discover the discrepancies in the treasury and relieve the guilty prelates before the church is completely bankrupted. Of course Mr. Corelli, a killer at heart, doesn't stand still and spectate as his little empire crumbles. He orders some killings, pulls some priestly strings, moves some cash around, bribes who he can, and ka-boom, Pope Dave is out on his papal ear.
Well, at least the plot does resolve, and a new, respectable pope is installed, a surprise one at that. Oh no!—Back to the Latin mass ("Ad deum qui laetificat...") —Please! 5 HJH
Pity the reservation indian trying to maintain an "ethnic" i.e., primitive lifestyle in a time when virtual reality threatens to displace high-tech reality because the latter has bled our environment nearly dry of the resources that were freely and plentifully available to the country's original inhabitants whose natural existence made sense—then. Now however, they are, unfortunately, left literally in the dust, not yet oblivious, but functionally unaware of the progress going on around them beyond what is brought to the "rez" or what they see on TV, entertainment TV in which everything is, well, fiction.
But then, Thunder Heart presents only one side of the reservation life, surely there is more dimension, otherwise the slums of (So. African Black City) have nothing on them in terms of horrible living conditions. As in any slum (and make no mistake, this reservation is a slum) the key is education of the people, in this case interruption of the genetic line of ignorance, to force feed facts of life and prosperIty in the land of plenty. But it's non-existent and so the line pounds on, oblivious, but really just ignorant.
It is in this (environment) that they are open to being plundered by the slick who know the system on the outside and are willing to take advantage of the natives to reap large profits. But along comes Thunder Heart, a Christ figure in the person of FBI agent Ray (Val Kilmer) investigating a murder that ultimately uncovers a plot to trade some trinkets & beads for Manhattan Island, so to speak. 5 HJH
TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL
OKAY, OKAY, I love Geraldine Page, she well deserved the Oscar after so many nominations, maybe even more for some of her previous roles, or for ones she didn't get, most specifically as Alma in Summer and Smoke, or Lizzie in The Rainmaker, as whom she stood Broadway on its head, and which Katharine Hepburn did only adequately in the film. She was most certainly wonderful as Mrs. Watts in this Trip, though no Marjorie Main, but I didn't perceive the real tragedy in her character from a personal perspective. Mrs Watts should have been all our moms or grandmas, whom we'd swear to somehow be good to later, after the film. What we saw was just a poignant, touching portrayal of what one mother I know calls " a poor soul." Someone buffeted from hither to yon by a system they haven't the energy to manipulate, who just gives up and recedes to reminiscences, making them their reality.
But then it was set wrong. The story might have worked better today, as Crossroads does even though its main events also occurred back in those wartime (WWII) days when the principals were in their heydays. We only see Mrs. Watts' heyday in our minds, and then only if we grope. Too bad too, cause the contrast to a former time within a former time should have given the story the dimension it desperately needs.
Now in Crossroads we see the heydays in an emotional retrospect because they are presented to us visually, where Bountiful's are only implied, but that lends them romance against Bountiful's lack of it where we are required to strain. That's what Bountiful misses. It fails at being a film in terms of jumping through depths, or levels of reality, which are, after all, films' stock in trade. Good films have them, many layers - all fantasy of course - but AS reality.
Perhaps Horton Foote would have better served the tale's message had he left it as a play. The same electricity/intensity cannot always be generated as well on screen as on stage. I am sure G. Page was sensational as Mrs. Watts on the stage if she played the character there, where one can get away with more because theater audiences attend instead of merely viewing, but here, well let's just say it wasn't her best role, not that G. Page as an actress doesn't tower over most, it's just that she seemed to be getting caught at it, which we mightn't have noticed in a legitimate theater.
Like a painting, a story must be seen optimally from a specific distance. The film's presentation of this story didn't represent that distance, and our view of Mrs. Watts suffered because our focus was distorted by too close a viewpoint. 6 HJH
VIOLETS ARE BLUE
Does true love always triumph? Well, one would hope it does, at least as long as the lovers are together, but life's vicissitudes have a way of tearing us away from the things we want, dragging us back into the things we need. (Remember the song: "You may not get what you want...?"). Small towns are for married people; the larger, broader world is for those who can live the gypsy existence, and trying to mix the two (or four) is like asking your local yellow pages to feature a nude centerfold.
Gussie & Henry (Sissy Spacek & Kevin Klein) were lovers back in High School, but being modern individualists, went their different ways, she to the great beyond to become a famous press photographer, he by way of the great beyond in a U-turn back to the olde home town to edit the local newspaper. She's back in town now though, for a vacation away from life, or Time, whichever.
Each had found the niche that made life a whole, but incomplete somehow without the other, or so it would seem in the hot embraces of reunited lust. She the adventuress, he the rock-solid hometown burgher, exist for a time on a sizzling wavelength that obliterates the rest of the world, including career, wife/kids, society.
Somehow, Ruth (Bonnie Bedelia), Henry's wife, knows deep down that marriage stands firm just as sure as paper covers rock and scissors cuts paper, and can maintain her sanity while Henry wrestles in the pits with Gussie and his conscience simultaneously.
Yes, love/passion can make the world go away, can make the soul come to life, but to think the world will stay away or the soul remain anything but abstract, at least in this world, is pure folly. But then they both grew up on follies, she the daughter of the bumper-car operator at the amusement park, he a nature buff addicted to the fresh breezes, sailboat spray and lonely afternoons on sandy island beaches where wild horses roam forever. No way can life be this good, love this engulfing on a permanent basis in the cynical world of today.
Sissy Spacek is one of the most beautiful women alive. Kevin Klein, though this is more the story of Henry's torment than Gussie's, can only be a moon to her radiant sun, but both are slaves to the universal truth that although we may be prisoners of our emotions, we somehow remain practical, resourceful providers, true to our vows. That's what separates us from the animals, and Henry & Gussie from each other. 8 HJH
You'd hardly thing of Goldie Hawn as making a message movie, but that's really what this is... a story whereby a handicapped person gets to do what no one expects she is able to, and does it in fact better than anyone else in town. The handicapped person is, of course, Goldie, her handicap is being a woman, and what she does is coach football. Boys' varsity football.
So why not? Why can't a slender, feminine woman have the brains and subtlety to manage and engineer a bunch of sweaty jocks into a semblance of a team? Not so hard you say? Well, then also make the jocks a bunch of losers from a ghetto school, with no organization or training, who lost all of their games last year, and resent her just being there, much less telling them what to do.
It gets harder as it goes along y'see, but with Dad's old plays (He was a coach when he was alive), a little guile, a lot of guts, funky music and dancing (finally Goldie gets to show off her impromptu dance style, which is wild & crazy in life, almost so here - did you know she started off as a chorus girl?), she brings it off, much to the surprise of her competing coach (James Keach) who has a pool going as to when she'll quit, the principal of the ghetto school (Nipsy Russell in a finely tuned-in performance), and even herself.
It's a little like Private Benjamin Graduates, from tough school to really tough school, but in a way that Goldie seems to have patented a long time ago, so so what if it's a sort of re-run. The only thing she doesn't do is be overtly sexy... but then Goldie Hawn is sexy, without hardly trying, and there's enough undercurrent in the locker rooms, etc., that anything more would be uncalled for. No Oscars here, but maybe a few kudos for charm. 6.5 HJH
This is the perfect Christmas fare for the young and old teenager in us, although surging a little more into the fantastic Steven Spielberg than the ingenious A. Conan Doyle. But it surely satisfies the lust for adventure lurking just behind the fuzzy faces of maturing adolescents, as Holmes (Nicholas Rowe) the Boys Prep School student, and Watson (Alan Cox), the once and future narrator, meet to observe & befriend each other for just one more case.
This might be called The Case of the Imaginative Producer, and its wonder is that it is narrated to you, as a story, by an old man, who is reliving it, with embellishments of course, in his mind. The man is the elderly Dr. Watson, his voice over the film, telling you what happened, as we, and he, see it. The device is pure A. Conan Doyle, adding a dimension to the plot, which in this case, it sorely needs. He tells it to you in your ear, while you imagine it, describing the adventure like we all describe our youthful escapades, those of us who lived through them. "I confide these things only to you, my long lost friend" - Like that.
It's a charming piece, and in seeing it one regrets that Sir Arthur, a practicing physician who died in 1930, could not have seen the technology that gives it that special Spielberg stamp. He might have become a Spielberg himself, yeah, and Mozart would have been a Rock Star ho-ho-ho. Fortunately A. Conan remains forever in print, author of some 60 books, among them the 68 Sherlock Holmes stories.
Young Sherlock Holmes is a style show really, the narrative style with sound effects and music, similar to Amadeus, but told by someone who admires his subject, instead of a bitter competitor who hated, envied and helped to kill his out of insane jealousy. Add Steven Spielberg's magic to that admiration, and you have a pretty good yarn indeed. 8 HJH
© Port Whitman Times 2007
"Oh! Mama, this guy, he transports himself from one machine to another, with molecular whatsit, and he gets caught in one of the machines with a fly, and he starts to turn into a fly when he comes out of the other machine. Mama, did you know that flies vomit on everything before they eat it. Ugh, who wants a fly vomiting on your food!"
"I agree m'dear, but its your generation that contemplates these things. We would rather concentrate on love, marriage, faith, hope and charity... Now about the fly..."
"Mama, he walks on the walls, an' grows spiny hair all over, and his eyes bulge out and he 'ticks,' y'know, moves his head real fast like flies do. He does everything but fly."
"How so, m'dear?"
"Well, apparently flies develop their wings last, and he was. . . well anyway, before he gets his wings, sump'n bad happens. I don't wanna give it away, for when you see it on TV. But it's almost as scary as CUJO was."
"Yep. 'Cept he gets some people. Cujo didn't."
"Yeah, he spits up on 'em, and they melt like ice cream, 'cept faster. I wanteda run out an' vomit, but I didn' wanna miss any of it, y'knowhatImean? (Pause) He's a real nice guy too, a scientist who has seven sets of clothes all the same, so he doesn't hafta waste time deciding. Maybe a couple extra sets fer laundry day, and special dates. An' she falls in. . ."
"She? Who's she?"
"Ohyeah, I fergot. She(Geena Davis)'s a magazine writer, and he persuades her to do a story on him, on his invention to revolutionize time and space travel by this molecular whatsit, and she falls for him and they have an affair, but her old boyfriend (John Getz) is jealous, he's also her editor who doesn't believe her at first but he comes around. Durn! Howcome we always want to kill the things we don't understand. Flies can be nice too, y'know. Oh yeah, she even gets pregnant, an' doesn't know if the baby is gonna be part fly, she even dreams she has a big maggot, I mean a big (gestures) maggot all quivery and... yuck, I don't even wanta think about it."
"Sounds like there's enough in the film to make a body sick at their stomach."
"Yeah, but yer laughin' so hard y' don't wanna. It's like... remember Spencer Tracy in that old movie Dr. Jekyl an,' an' uh, Mister Hyde, where he changes little by little into this monster? It's like that and this guy'l get the oscar too, I betcha. Er maybe Chris Walas, the one who created & designed the fly."
"Who's gonna get the Oscar?"
"The scientist mama, er, Jeff Goldblum. He becomes the fly, well, almost. He's funnier too, the movie's funnier I mean. 'Cept for the gooey parts. Boy, I betcha he had a hard time getting back to being himself after being the fly."
"My my, I could've swatted him yesterday."
"Oh mama, don't be silly, it was only a movie." 9
© Port Whitman Times 2005
GODFATHER III No matter what you think of La Cosa Nostra, Mafia etc., you must admit the Sicilians adhere to a wonderful family structure, and no matter what the family business, whether olive oil or putting holes in each other's bodies, the tarantella of family life maintains an unbreakable rhythm, forming, or course, the basis for "the organization" - This now is the third generation of Godfathers - just the beginning of a dynasty that¹s sure to rival the Henrys of England or the Pius' of the Vatican, all in their own ways historical icons of their times. Violent times to be sure, still times where a kind of "second government" (Joe Valachi¹s phrase) exists in a pyramid descending from one boss.
This boss is tired of the game; we find him in the process of buying some respectability, where before, respect sufficed. The price is high, but the rackets have been good, and unlike the Milkins & Keatings of 1990, Michael Corleone has managed to stay out of prison while amassing a fortune in the billions. So now he spends a few hundred million to (a) receive a papal commendation, and (b) bail out one cardinal whose papal accounts have mysteriously come up short.
But Michael (Al Pacino) just can¹t seem to shake that old gang - they keep coming to him for decisions. But if not him, who? Ah, that is the question: Whether is nobler in the mind to suffer the bullets of outrageous fortune or to blast your way through a sea of trouble, and by opposing, end it (Thanks, W. Shakespeare).
This long life of Michael Corleone is just one calamity piled atop another. He's a king who wants to abdicate, but no heirs - his only son wants to be an opera singer (Haddayalikedat!), and his daughter is just too soft for the job (Women need not apply; godmothers are still relegated to fairyland).
Just in the nick of time, along comes wiseguy Vincent (Andy Garcia), son of dead bro Sonny (remember James Caan?). Wet behind he ears, eager to knock off the competition and, when the rough edges are sanded off, about right for the job. But first this business with the Pope, and Michael¹s dreams of canonization, purchased fair and square, not to mention the political infighting among the members of the Mafia high council to get the capo de tutti capos - super-padrone - job. There¹s a subtle war going on here - world governments take notice - where only a few people get killed before things are resolved - it¹s certainly more efficient to kill a few key recalcitrants than to bathe the countryside in the blood of multitudes. Ah, good honest treachery knows no limits.
Along the way some good advice, for which the cost is relatively reasonable these days: (a) Temper clouds reason, (b) Your enemies always get stronger on what you leave behind, (c) Don¹t overestimate the power (or the value) of forgiveness, (d) Never hate your enemies, it affects your judgement, (e) Politics and Crime - they¹re the same thing.
Maybe we ought to send the mob to Iraq, fight fire with fire.
DRIVING MISS DAISY
© Port Whitman Times 2006
They say you can¹t teach old dogs new tricks - but of course with homo sap it¹s a different tale, which is what makes us superior to the canines. Miss Daisy (Jessica Tandy) due to her advancing age, has to be driven, literally , to learn some new habits, but to her credit, and that of her driver Hoke (Morgan Freeman) she takes, if reluctantly, to new paths, without even realizing she's changing. What she really takes to is Hoke, who begins like a shy ol¹ hound and ends up an indispensable paternal friend to his mistress. Through the twenty-five years these two are together, the forces of the changing world swirl about them, yet they retain a Georgian (the state) stability that bespeaks American conservatism yet allows for the deepest compassion, lighting up the years with the love only long friendship can provide.
One can see and interpret a story such as this from any number of viewpoints, and therein lies its depth; one obvious facet is the amount of life each can provide for the other, not only in terms of service but from the experience they both bring from totally different backgrounds within the same geographic bailiwick, she whose idle hours are whiled away with Mah Jong at the apex of privilege, and he who bears the childhood scar of seeing his best friend¹s father hanging like strange fruit from a backyard tree. Though they are able to mix their experiences, in effect relating them to each other, they maintain a platonic physical distance, while the emotional bonding is becoming intensely intimate, as only two people who spend a lot of time together are wont to do.
While Freeman¹s dazzling character study of Hoke steals the show, it is the evolving of the character of Tandy¹s Daisy and of the relationship itself that provides the meat of the story. Not to be overlooked is the full-blown portrayal of Dan Ackroyd as Boolie, Daisy¹s loving and tolerant son. 9.5
© Port Whitman Times 2006
A story that revives the horrors of the Holocaust also begs the question: Exactly how are otherwise decent people brought to the conclusion that they are sufficiently better than other people that they can torture and kill them based solely upon some arrogant complex of superiority? Then, once having been brought to that state of mind, how can they indulge in the carnage to the point where it becomes a game - fun, if you will.
In this tale, a seemingly respectable old man, a loving grandfather, father, widower, hard worker, contributor to U.S. society etc. is brought to trial for WWII crimes, shameful acts of callousness that were personal, not institutional in nature - no paper pusher he, but a trigger puller, a child killer, a mother torturer who allegedly used his position as a Hungarian "Gendarme" to toy with and decimate the lives of innocents. There are no graphic depictions of the events, only verbal courtroom testimony focused on the stoic perpetrator who long before had locked away memories of the war, never to be exhumed. But contrasted with the evidence are the loving feelings of family and friends who know the human side of this man, and the relentless pursuit of an acquittal by his devoted daughter, a talented criminal lawyer who focuses her substantial legal talents at the accusers of her beloved dad, as his defense attorney.
The juxtaposition of the two levels of existence claimed by the prosecution is what makes the story a gripping one, but the final effect on the viewer can¹t fail to be: "Do we all possess a dormant strain of sadism just waiting to be awakened by membership in a group giving legitimacy to acts of horror upon our fellow human beings?" All our wartime actions seem to bear this out. Maybe it's time to change our moral direction. 8.5
© Port Whitman Times 2006
Richard Gere probably makes the movies' best heavy, because you like him immediately; so... if he turns out to be a rat, you derive an added dimension out of his role, because of the engaging personality he brings to it. One way or another the guy's always the manipulator tho, getting his licks in for the badguys and their boss, Satan of course. Here he's being pursued by Mr. Righteous IA cop (Andy Garcia), and his "nails" partner Ms. Sternly (Laurie Metcalf). He's slippery as a snake and twice as vicious when cornered. As you might suspect, there's lotsa gunfire since all the cops have guns, and a real hot internecine war is gonna involve life/career-threatening situations, with all protecting their slices of the pie.
Internal Affairs is a Cops 'n' Cops tale exposing the seamy underbelly of what could be any police unit where the city's finest have access to all the tools of criminal empire construction, but are pledged to ignore the opportunities and collar the perps, confiscating and turning in all evidence. It probes deeper and deeper into one example of a cop, a macho lover, a family man and peer-respected patrol corporal that has taken the downward path to total corruption, becoming involved in everything from drug dealing to prostitution to extortion to murder for money, using his knowledge and influence as a cop to lubricate his various enterprises. Hey, with four wives and eight children, he has a pretty big nut to provide to keep them in good cars and the right neighborhoods.
The good cops, investigating for IA, bound to get to the bottom of the scent they encounter in the department, find the trail always leads back to one cop. You guessed 'er, Chester, it's our boy Richie, one minute the loving daddy playfully having "tea" with his 5 year-old daughter, the next having adult fun with his partner's wife. Like that.
It's a taut well-made flick that will surely keep you wide-eyed and on the edge right to the final frame. 8.5
© Port Whitman Times 2006
In many cases, war is not a matter of what you get if you win, but of what you don¹t get if you lose. Thus for at least one side, making war is a necessity, and so justifies "feeding the battle," as von Clausewitz advocated. Glory is about the human food that satisfies the battle's thirst for blood.
It¹s hard to understand, seeing how wars up close are fought, why anyone would volunteer for, or look forward to, such an activity, to - attain glory, show bravery, like volunteering to be in a plane crash, unless to prove a point: to be willing to die for a cause greater than that of mere survival. To the US Confederacy, a way of life was that cause, to Lincoln and the States, it was the Union. To the white participants pride, honor, glory, to the blacks it was honest-to-God-survival as more than chattel.
But once in, once part of one side of the battle, the "coloreds" wanted, needed full access to every course of the meal, even in the face of high command doubts that they had the discipline to perform under fire. This is the story of how the 54th Massachusetts regiment, under the command of a boyish colonel (Matthew Broderick) came to dispel those doubts and win the confidence not only of the high muckymuck doubters, but of their own peers on the battlefields, and most impressively the enemy, i.e. their former owners. A true and gripping story taken from the letters of the young colonel, it tells of how a ragtag group whose capacities spanned the spectrum from almost total ignorance to genteel erudition came together to survive the scoffs of their own superiors develop their own leaders (Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman), and become a potent fighting unit, in the days when combatants could indeed see the whites of each others' eyes and came to personally open the flesh of those they opposed. It's not a pretty sight, this war, and if there's glory in it one wonders where, but if the cause dictates, then it must be waged. 9
WE'RE NO ANGELS
© Port Whitman Times 2006
It's back inna thoities, see, when da bad guys said dese and dose, and dey allus had t'ree-day beards, y'know? Dese two cons, see, dey exscape from da big house, wit dis udder con whose was gonna get fried, but just when de're ready to toin onna juice ta fry him anna lights go out, he grabs da cops guns, kills a coupla da bulls, den dey all t'ree exscape... Well... the death row guy goes off alone, and our two heroes, er, ah protagonists (Robert DeNiro & Sean Penn), chained together, and through a series of the dumbest coincidences since Dora mistook Western Union fer a cowboys underwear, end up under the protection, even the admiration of a group of priests in a monastery. Posing as two priests they try to bring "duh" talk to the level of high art in fooling everyone but the dogs. Doesn't say much for humans, does it? The lumberjacks in the town are sooo dumb, well, lets just say they don't know fish from foul. Bobby & Sean learn a few gestures, mutter a couple of "Ora pro nobis's" and they're in.
Lucky for them there's a weeping virgin in the place, in fact it's a shrine to the weeping virgin, a crying BVM courtesy of a leaky roof, that ultimately saves them, creates a miracle and helps them escape to the priesthood and Canada, respectively, not necessarily in that order. This one is really for the second-grade mind, and the back row at that.
There's no sex or even kissing in this film, not even between Bobby and Sean, although we do see a good bit of Demi Moore as the slatternly but delectable mother of a deaf (Lucky her‹she doesn't have to listen to the pitiful dialog) child. Suffice it to say that miracles were wrought, but nothing big enough to even approach saving We're No Angels. It worked better as a 1950's B'way play, with articulate escapees and a better plot line. 4.5 HJH
© Port Whitman Times 2006
Steel Magnolias skips from scene to scene like a rock over a pond, each a different time & place, but riding for a fall - weddings, funerals, births, deaths, growing old, little slices of life the way it isn't, ought or ought not to be, rarely the way it really is, and that's the way art should be, un-real. It's about turning on and turning off - the switch of life, and how the switch is totally out of our control. Someone else turns ours on, and if our power doesn't die out first, someone else must turn it off too. But we turn on the switches for others, doing them the favor of bringing them into and sometimes putting them out of, this world. And we love giving the juice of life to new little humans, we want to help them to turn on some more. In fact we want to turn on yet another switch in them, give them a little jolt to keep the pulse moving. Yet there are times when we want to turn it off too. This is, and isn't, one of these times.
Julia Roberts is switched on, and getting married. And despite her poor prognosis in terms of diabetes, she wants to turn on just one more life, even if it costs her her own ("I'd rather have 30 minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special") . Mom (Sally Field), says no, wanting to keep her daughter as long as possible, and you can't blame her - Julia is a wonderful, and beautiful child-woman. Mama knows, and the whole (small) town knows, from Dolly Parton's beauty parlor, of Julia's problem, yet Julia decides to have her baby anyway. OK, everybody lives happily ever -
But waitaminute, you can't just thumb your nose at fate. It won't take no for an answer, even if you pray fervently, like Darryl Hannah, or spit at life like Shirley MacLaine and Olympia Dukakis, 'cause suddenly you're in a deadly serious fight, and with family, neighbors, friends and the Lord behind you, your body won't give in. You refuse to flip your own switch. Someone else has to do it if it is to be done.
Julia Roberts should get an academy award nomination for this role, Sally Field too, but she already has one and Olympia Dukakis and Shirley MacLaine. Come to think of it they all have walls lined with awards, so Julia's in fast company. She not only keeps up, she electrifies them. Us too. 8.5 HJH
© Port Whitman Times 2006
Harlem Nights It ain't Shaw or Noel Coward, this 1938 tale, no sophisticated Cole Porter lyrical puns, but even with a sometimes simple plot the language has - ah, natural rhythm, and a quality all its own, such as you might find in the Harlem of the time. The white person gets the impression he's being allowed to look through a rather large keyhole to see black people being black for blacks, which of course, is what makes the show interesting. It's truth, raw a lá Eddie Murphy, unvarnished a lá Redd Foxx, uncensored a lá Richard Pryor and tough as a punch in the mouth by Della Reese.
It's a morality play really (Dare we speak of morality today?). Contrasted with the neat orderliness of Harlem streets 1938, is the corruption, if you can call it that, where people paid off the cops (headed by Danny Aiello) so they could drink and gamble and whore - things which are all legal today in some part of the USA - going to a candy store-fronted "blind pig" after hours to do so. This pig is run by a sleek cat name o' Ray (Richard Pryor), with his slick adopted son and partner "Quick" (Eddie Murphy) making it á go-go sure thing. The cops leave all of 'em alone, and the gangsters ditto, especially since there are so many of 'em, until it looks like they're making too much, then both sides close in for the kill and people get blood on their tuxedos. That was then - today of course everything is out in the open, the government takes its cut right off the top and Harlem is a slum.
Various people (Redd Foxx, Della Reese, et al) run different departments of "Sugar Ray's," a board of directors of immorality, so to speak, and the candy store makes money for everybody. True black entrepreneurship, in a place which, anyway you look at it, was an urban enterprise zone. Nobody was getting too too rich but all lived well, with the tailor made suits, nice cars, the works. But comes the crimeboss (Michael Lerner, the same guy who paid the Chicago White Sox to throw the world series a couple a movies back), a ruthless despot of the denizens of decadence - we know he's bad because he does the equivalent of kicking the first dog he sees - 'he breaks the fingers of a spineless underling by slamming them in a grand piano. But Eddie and Rich are not such easy marks, and after a few silk bedsheets, spray-paint bullets and dumb-bad cops, crimeboss and his henchcorps are simultaneously fleeced and sent to their devilish domain, while our side, i.e., the folks who were just making a living do the "who, me" shrug. Heh.
A point is made: does it really make sense to declare anything illegal, when such a volume of business is being done trading it on the "black market"? If business is getting so good, people aren't paying much attention to the risks of arrest, and maybe it's makes more sense to legalize and tax it and let the devil take the hindmost. Harlem Nights does give us a look at Eddie Murphy at the top of his form. 8 HJH
CRIMES & MISDEMEANORS
© Port Whitman Times 2006
Crimes And Misdemeanors One is hard put to describe this Woody Allen tour (de force) except to say that you want to sit thru the break and see it again. Two stories race side by side on parallel tracks and the viewer is transported on both, able to hop from one to the other back again and again. One is the tale of a prosperous ophthalmologist (Martin Landau) whose extra-marital affair comes to threaten his domestic and professional idyll, the other of a minor filmmaker (Woody Allen) whose budding extra-marital affair is a welcome respite to a personal limbo-life whose main rewards are innocent afternoon movies with a precocious niece.
Which is worse, the hell of being the object of the fury of the woman scorned, or, to paraphrase Socrates, to have committed the greatest of crimes and succeed in escaping rebuke, correction or punishment? Which hell is worse, that of abject obscurity in a profession where fame is the currency, or the prostitution of one's talent to obtain a measure of success - to satisfy an ambitious wife? Both problems could be solved by simply telling the truth, but neither of our protagonists get to that until the very end of this story, and then only to each other.
We call on God at the strangest times. After he disposes of his mistress, our ophthalmologist goes to view the mess he's made, and figuratively beats his breast saying "God help us." Can we really expect God to clean up after us, or is God for strength not to make the messes in the first place?
Woody Allen manufactures tension, brings us to a high emotional level and keeps us there, whether by nature of the dialog, the story, or even music. Yet his message is mostly a cerebral one, emphasized by the constant use of super-close-up cinematography, giving us the impression of watching naked talking heads, even mouths. At one point, he tells his niece, with whom he escapes to the movies "Don't pay any attention to what your teachers say, just see what they look like." Although said jokingly, he means it. Look who we emulate, who we vote for, not those we listen to, but those whose image we trust. Woody Allen's images are first rate, and you can listen to what they say. 10 HJH
© Port Whitman Times 2006
This is a touching, sometimes terrifying, but essentially true story of survival in the great northern forest. Survival of (A) the species Ursus and (B) Homo Sapiens, in a way. But in each case survival means something different: for the bears (here large grizzlies) it's living to eat berries, honeycombs, even a deer or two, lie around doing nothing productive (!), shake and scratch on tree trunks and reproduce (hardly any room for that anymore, griz,without the conservation airlift, and a supplementary support system); for man, survival comes at the cost of the other species - here the bears - whose skins he sells (or uses) in order to acquire more wealth, better living conditions we assume - i.e. capital gain. The bear is happy with what he has, man wants more, precisely because man has that ability to conjure up abstractions of what might be if he can just get a little richer. The bear can't imagine being poorer, and so simply exists in his environment, and make no mistake, when seen naked, it is his environment.
In The Bear the two lifestyles come face to face, the bear having the advantage of his natural habitat, the woods, but man having the ability to outsmart the "dumb" animal with technology (guns, traps, hounds). Normally it's no contest, but here we're presented with a scenario where a bear is instinctively sensible enough to effect a draw of sorts, having made a firm enough impression on the hunters as to who's really the boss in a faceoff, then let the matter drop saving its own nobility and man's face (not to mention the rest of him).
This is really a nature film, but the storytellers have the good sense to include human nature, and depict how we fit in, in some cases force our way in, to the natural order of things, to effect our survival, and there's no doubt about it, we are the fittest, when all factors are taken into consideration. Hey, we have hardware, putting us at a distinct advantage, except when we find ourselves without it, in which case nature has us under its thumb. Handy thing that abstract thinking.
Despite what you might think, this is not a kiddie affair, all fluff and happiness, though there are those things. It's a realistic drama of confrontation between our species and theirs, complete with fake blood and simulated suffering. If we are to believe this story, bears also have vivid fantasies and memories beyond sensual, a cute idea that supports much of the "dialog " between giant adult grizzly and nuzzly baby grizzly. Oh pshaw! Ok if you say so. 8.5 HJH
© Port Whitman Times 2006
Shirley Valentine might aptly be titled The Transformation of Shirley (Pauline Collins). She starts out as "St. Joan of the Kitchen Sink" - "lost in all this unused life," and ends up falling in love - with the idea of living. We know Shirley's an unusual sort from the gitgo, because she talks to herself, also to the wall (by name) and most strikingly, to us.
Yep, right through the camera she volunteers her innermost longings, regrets, reminiscences and dilemmas, to the point where we almost feel like talking back, but lo, she solves each conundrum just in time, so we don't have to give advice. Shirley has to be coaxed away from her drudge's life of service to mankind in the form of a little trip, Joe (Bernard Hill) her dour husband, finally giving in to a free excursion to Greece with a friend who won the tickets in a contest. But finally there, this independent thinking and talking but as yet by no means acting female sprouts and blossoms like a wild flower between the rocks, keeping us personally apprised as she discovers dreams in unexpected places, notably in her changing attitude.
No "Grab a granny" fortnight this, tho Shirley does dabble a bit in the "F plan" (sex for breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner) with Costas (Tom Conti), the vacation becomes a watershed where she stops being the person she used to be and becomes the person she's going to be. The transformation is simply lovely, in fact it's the movie, narrated by subject and performed by the object, all in one, leaving us to merely listen and gawk as the old self is discarded and the new Shirley emerges. As she had for so many years previous when she didn't do what she wanted to do, Shirley does what she has to do, and pretends it's what she wants to do, but this time it really is what she wants to do. No pretense here, just like she tells us. 8.5 HJH
Airline Terminals are like little cities; they have all the resources FOR living; check one out, you'll see. Of course, we who require the creature comforts don't consider making any long-term plopdowns in such a place. In fact we want to get through the experience of the terminal as quickly as possible, get where we're going ASAP. It's a process, not an end. But what if the terminal were an end, a destination? Could one exist there? Well, for the resourceful person, no problem.
Tom Hanks plays a traveler from Krakozhia, a former eastern bloc country, who has arrived to spend a few days in New York to fulfill a promise. Suddenly a coup takes place in his homeland, his passport is confiscated, and he's stuck without a country. Ever the optimist, he figures out how to use our system to not only exist but actually prosper, right there. He's the essence of resourcefulness, managing to work in the elements that fall through the cracks, as any good Krakozhian would do. After a year, one wishes he would stay, become a good American Citizen.
Hanks is brilliant. Oscar-worthy. The story is almost as good. 9 HJH
TOUCHING THE VOID
"What did I get myself into?" Real mountain climbing is not something everyone does, especially getting up into the ice, snow, wind and sheer rock/ice; to see why, you might want to check out this DVD. Joe and Simon have a go at Siula Grande, a yet unclimbed Peruvian peak, with plenty of equipment and experience - well-prepared. Going up is almost a piece-of-cake - to them - but coming down, on a particularly precipitous part, Joe breaks his leg. So there they at 20,000 feet, up the peak without a chopper, stuck to - and with - each other. Simon, the true partner, is responsible for getting Joe down to safety.
Inching down with Simon the anchor at the top and injured Joe clawing and maintaining a slow painful slide at rope's end, suddenly a ledge gives away leaving Joe dangling. Can't go down, can't come up. Simon sees no alternative to being pulled to both their deaths but to cut the rope, which means death to Joe. Here the tale of resourcefulness begins.
The story is told by both survivors, and acted by actors in real conditions. It's an edge-of-your-seater all the way. Not something you'd want to do, but to watch is thrilling, engrossing, and finally rewarding, touching a void deep inside us. 8 HJH
Resourcefulness: The Family. Good thing the Saud Family and the Bush family are close, eh? Else the U.S. might have invaded Saudi Arabia instead of hapless, Saddamous Iraq.
Face it, the "W" presidential personality and style has a lot of holes, but then, he IS the president, and shouldn't we stand shoulder to shoulder behind our guy? Close ranks behind the winner even if you didn't vote for him, and give him his four years to do it his way.
You wouldn't think so seeing "Fahrenheit 9/11," where as many of the Bush/Cheney faults are shown in 90 minutes as one can possibly cram in. It's a mite overdone, kinda tiresome when we get Michael Moore's message over and over that the Bush people are boobs. But from the applause at pic's end, one wonders if the current presidency will survive to serve another term. Moore doesn't suggest an alternative, just kicks the incumbents, so it's one-dimensional, but hey, this shockumentary isn't really meant to explore, only to expose. Will it be forgotten by November ? Wait and see. 8 HJH
Letter writing is so personal, just raw you, what you want to say, as it comes to you. Straight from your heart. In this case the writer, Stephen (Joseph Fiennes), knows the reader, Leo, intimately.
Quiet, thoughtful Stephen's been in prison for murder, his only outlet letters to a young boy who started writing to him as a junior high class project. The two characters are of the same mind, both readers who express themselves by acting out in print what they feel, how they go about life. Stephen looks at the relationship as a way to help the youngster avoid his mistakes, and Leo sees an outlet from a life constrained by a dissolute mother (Elisabeth Shue) racked by guilt over a sinful indiscretion.
The other facet of these two parallel stories is that of the family, if you can call it that, of the boy, his birth an accident resulting from payback for an infidelity spawned by a malicious rumor. It suddenly makes its point powerfully, right outa left field, but hey, it was right in there, in front of your eyes.
Also in the mix are a loudmouth drunken sexual abuser (Dennis Hopper), getting his comeuppance in spades, at the hands of the resident goodguy (Sam Shepard). It's an actor's movie, with top performances given by all - the director standing aside and letting them do their separate things, with cohesion coming just in time for the final credits. Shades of "Memento." 8 HJH
There's someone who needs to be resourceful. An ogre carving out a modest living in a swamp, with plump little Fiona, a chubby princess (no knockout in the looks department, but lots of personality), whom he rescued and married in "Shrek I." Fiona accepts Shrek for the kind ogre-lug he is, and they are enjoying happily-ever-afterdom in their cute little cottage.
Suddenly comes the obligatory invitation back to the kingdom of Far-Far-Away, to meet the royal parents and the cheering Far-ites; then the troubles begin. Not happy to leave well-enough alone, the couple (plus their donkey pal) journey back to this neverland, where the parents and everyone else are shocked, just shocked, that their little princess, who they were satisfied to keep locked up in a tower before, should choose this green monster. But then, they don't KNOW him like we do, and various plots surface to separate the happy couple, to hook her up with their intended prince, whose very name is Charming.
Shrek's resourcefulness is called upon in a new way, to disentangle them from the skulduggerous plots of others. And how could he fail, with the help of scores of Disney fantasy characters running, riding, flying to the rescue? Disney doesn't desert its cartoon creations, no matter how old and obscure they become, and we remember them too, in this new context. 8 HJH
Supposing your only resource for food was fast food, such as, oh, McDonalds. Hey, yummy, Big Macs, Fish Sandwiches, Shakes, the works. Could you live on it? Apparently yes, but how long? Well, that would depend...
This guy went whole-hog, and lived on ONLY Macfood for one month, accepting the suggestions of the order-takers (They are instructed to ask customers if they want the "Super-size"). No other food. Mac Sandwiches, Mac Salads, Mac Desserts, Mac Beverages. All the good stuff, and all under the care of three physicians who constantly monitored vital signs, blood content, organ condition, every physiological and psychological indicator.
Well, I don't hafta tellya, health took a nosedive, and by the end of the month, he was flirting with the grim reaper, barely attached to life, albeit The Tasty Life. Good thing he gave it up in the end, and went back to normal vittles, but then WHO lives on MacDonald's food exclusively? Nobody? Well, guess again; some people actually do, and from all evidence, they look it too. Super-sized. Smiling all the way to the graveyard. But C'mon, once in a while wouldn't killya. 7.5 HJH
THE STEPFORD WIVES
© Port Whitman Times 2004
It's a pushbutton world we live in. Push some at the ATM and out comes money, push one and the CD tray comes out, another and the TV goes on, switch the channel too, push on the gas and the car goes faster, push a few keys on the PC and there's the whole world at our fingertips, just like that (snaps fingers), to buy, to sell, to ogle. There's autoheating, autocooling, autodialing, autoflushing, spray for bathroom odor, clap, clap and the lights go off.
We don't push buttons with people, of course, but living together as man and wife, we quickly, hopefully, get on the same wavelength, and more or less automatically know what the other wants or needs; then, if we are considerate, which is how we like to think of ourselves, we provide it - somewhat automatically. Sooner or later, we come to expect that our partner will act (or react) in a certain way, given certain stimuli, but alas they're only human too, and sometimes forget, much to our dismay.
Wouldn't it be nice though, if, in certain areas, we could program our spouses to act precisely pleasantly, predictably, all the time? Push the button and know the result. No guessing, no variation, always same-same. Somehow these folks in Stepford have come up with the answer, and worked the magic, on the wives mostly, turning them into Barbies who remain always at the beck and call of their mates, ever sunny of disposition, never at a loss for how to please Mister, who, as always, has the "remote control" at hand. Ah, the perfect wife. The dreamgirl without attitude or inhibition, fully organized, the ideal cook, mother, agreeable friend in the frilly dress and golden hair, the perfect lady in the parlor and bad-girl in the bedroom. Oh boyoboyoboy!
Then durn! These new people have to move in and question it all. Like noisy neighbors, they make ripples in the domestic pond by looking skeptically at the arrangement, at the studied flawlessness of it all, and voicing reservations as to whether they would like to join the little community of masters and robots, or simply move out. Oh, yes, there's a third alternative - destroy it all. Hmm.
Now, name a man that wouldn't like to reprogram his mate to serve, to please, to agree, to cooperate, if you know what I mean, heh, heh. Think about it, men... Matthew Broderick plays the man, Nicole Kidman the wife, both freshly released from the high-powered ratrace of network TV, rich and ready to kick back... Not much guy-argument against a pliant, docile Nicole Kidman clone, therefore the temptation is almost irresistible to Matthew, especially in the environment where just about everyone else of both sexes is going along with the program. So it's happily ever after, right? The men in charge, and the women like putty formed into obsequious automatons, all under the ultimate direction of the slippery scions of this gated community, Glenn Close and Christopher Walken.
Stir the soup, and see what comes out... Finally, a movie without a lot of special effects kitsch to cover up wanting storylines. This one presents some serious discussion, in a satiric, sarcastic light, about things which matter to us all; people actually TALK in this film, and some really funny stuff comes out. 8.5 out of 10. ©H.John Henry
BACK TO THE FUTURE
One gets the nagging feeling, through all the pure entertainment that Steven Spielberg films so pluperfectly are, that a profound message is trying to break through , but the producer has such delicate sensibilities, he is prevented from using the bludgeon approach, letting us figure it out for ourselves. So Bob Zemeckis, the Writer-Director of this film neatly throws up a smokescreen of full-blast humor, through which we are poked and prodded with what must, in today's world of the vicarious, pass for truth.
This very entertaining film seems to say that we must somehow burst on through our time frame and see reality superimposed over the past, to keep calamity from occurring in the not so distant future. The ability to travel in time as the foundation, lets us view it all, laugh at it, and use it to see us as those in the future might see us.
In an ingeniously told story, Marty (Michael J. Fox, of NBC's Family Ties) gets to trip back to the time his parents met, and help them along in a fledgling relationship, so that he and his siblings can be born, over social hurdles that seem insurmountable at the time (1955), but to us now are mere stepping stones. It seems like going back to a bad dream, but, the times being so contrasting, we can recognize and address them for what they each are vis-a-vis today, and appreciate them more on a sociological level with a historical perspective.
Someday when we find out how we can really travel in time, we'll realize our bodies are just the vehicles for making our way through this life. The large question posed by this film then, is: when we can time trip to the past or future, will we be able to affect history, make it different?
The characterizations, especially Crispin Glover as Marty's superwimp dad, the comments on the twin times (how things have changed yet haven't), and Fox's easy charm, make for just great moviegoing, especially when we can laugh at our formerly uncomfortable situations, those of us who remember. Convenient. Good writing.
The only tiresome part is the almost everpresent majestic music that just gets in the way, but even that is counterbalanced by some good Rock & Roll choices with unique then/now twists.
Spielberg is going to pull us all onto the same wavelength one day, and do the world a great service. He has in abundance the one thing that separates us humans from all the other beings, that is ingenuity, alas the key to our survival. If we could somehow get back to the future, perhaps we could, as Marty did in the story, change the course of what's to come. 9+ HJH
It's no secret that Americans are sick up to here of crime. Not white collar crime, we're not well enough acquainted with that to be sick up to here yet, but we're fed up, disgusted and exasperated with any small time wimp with a weapon who thinks he can control and destroy what little of the world he meets just because he has the firepower to do it, sucker-punching a system which has to play by the "B.S. Rules" while the underworld revels in rulelessness.
It's no wonder then, that a character, or should we say the idea of a character such as The Cobra, is not only plausible as a more-than-serious object on the "entertainment" scene, but joins the list of do-it-yourself avengers such as Dirty Harry and Charles Bronson's Vigilante as executors of our inner rage against punkdom, supplied with all the high-tech equipment one could wish for to hunt down and eliminate violent subhumanity.
Marion Cobretti (Sylvester Stallone) is a Zombie, a cop who's a member of the squad that handles psycopaths, cases beyond normal police capabilities--he just goes in and wastes'em --let the crooks fall where they may, along with whatever else gets in the way. He guns down a supermarket killer-madman as an hors d'oeuvre, then proceeds to polish off a "New World" gang of madnick maniacs on motorcycles, all with multi tattoos, and lethal weapons such as axes, guns, saws, drills, whips, pokers, stabbers, choppers, gougerss, stretchers, breakers, maimers, a whole catalogue of mayhem proceeding before us just to let us know they're bad enough to be dealt with on this jungle level, justifying The Cobra's venomous strikes. Their tattoos are those little finger jobs, the home made hideous, Nazi society kind, and they are the home-made hideous variety of malchiks too, clacking axes together and vowing to "kill off the weak" so the world will be left to the "strong" (them). Hah, I can just see them taking over and running the system, doing the paperwork with their hatchets and maces, nodding off contemplating their tattoos.
Well, they chop up a few people and their cars, wreck their houses and soap their windows, not in any particular order of selection, just random gratuitous viciousness to all, and almost get Brigitte Nielsen (Mrs. SS) too, but then Sly steps in and demolishes the whole society by the end of the movie...(well, maybe a few escaped for Cobra II) which feat takes most of the 95 minutes, mainly because they have a spy right in in the police dept., who keeps the gang a step ahead of Cobra, and behind Brigitte, not a bad place to be as she looks stunning from all angles, and because SS wrote the script, a tour de forcefulness even before the cameras started rolling. He's a sly comedian this one, and his film is quite the fantasy for all the everypeople who need to see revenge being exacted with no quarter for the baddies. 7 HJH
No reason why Classical (academic) music and Blues (Soul, R&B) can't exist in the same world. After all, all music is really abstract, written down or not; only words make it concrete (Rock). But those who espouse each form seem to be truly married to their choice, to the exclusion of all other, aiming for the fame that specialization brings. Classical music, with longer "respectable" press, possibly commands more respect. But both are made up of notes, melody, harmony, rhythym, counterpoint, so why can't one just be expressing ideas one way, the other another way. They're only do-re-me after all.
Eugene (Ralph Macchio) finds, along with his talent for Classical (guitar), he has a knack and a compulsive interest in Blues, much to the chagrin of his Julliard Professor. Trying to mix the two meets with stern disapproval, both from the prof and from bluesman Willie Brown (Joe Seneca), known as Blind Dog Fulton, about whom Eugene has read voluminously, now discovering him in a hospital/prison, faking it on his last wheelchair. Willie has "lived" the blues, has only contempt for this snotnose and his talent. But everyone has his price...
Willie promises Eugene he'll help him be a bluesman too, even give him a long lost (unrecorded) song, if Eugene helps him bust out and go to Mississippi, to the crossroads where he made his original "deal." Willie's after big game you see--his soul--which he exchanged at that crossroads for his meagre ration of fame (The legend is called Faust. And has been done for centuries in plays, operas, films--The Devil & Daniel Webster, Damn Yankees--even on record--Duelling fiddles).
They "hobo" to Mississippi, they play a lotta blues (Swell music track, produced by Ry Cooder), plow thru a heap o' trouble, finally get to the crossroads and a "Head Cuttin" concert for the Devil (Robert Judd), where Blues and Heavy Metal compete, with a little Mozart thrown in when it gets down to the grace notes. Soul is hung out to dry, and we are treated to a horrorshow contest where the combatants wail for their eternal lives, before an audience of the scornful condemned, rooting for some new members in the Hades Club.
It's a hokey story that works because really, the Blues is, after all, just a musical style--maybe to sing the words sincerely you have to have lived them, and who's sincere anymore, eh? But to play the music all you have to do is practice, develop the talent, learn the licks. Oh yeah, message: take your pick: "Nothing's ever as good as we want it to be, but that ain't no reason to break a deal," (The Devil), or "Pick up the music and take it past where you found it." (Blind Dog Fulton). That's a good one for life too, i.e., make progress, not waves. 8 HJH
Amid the gambling dens of Las Vegas, Ryan O'Neal, (Steve Taggart, sports writer), finds a mistress his wife could never compete with...money, i.e., the chance to hit the big bucks on the green felt playing field. He's head over heels for gambling, and it costs him his wife, his job, his pride -- he doesn't care as long as he can keep gambling, and write about it later, (who better to cover this iniquitous activity than the reporter who covers boxing, football, baseball, hockey...?) The world is sold this bill of goods that, after all, it's a sport when reality it's...
A NATIONAL EPIDEMIC, a sickness that would be better covered by medical writers than sports scribes. The film writers estimate that all in all, $200 billion is bet annually in the U.S., taking with it heaven only knows how many cars, houses, families, lives. Money indeed makes the casino world go 'round, but turns a lot of others upside down.
Like snuff, gambling is insidiously addictive and should have warning labels that say it's dangerous to your health, and would too, if the state governments weren't so heavily involved. We are possibly just as corrupt, in this regard, as the Russians think we are.
Enough, enough, on to the music. In FP, the music leads and retreats the scenes, sometimes playing under the dialog very effectively, so much so that our Atlantic City Casinos by comparison, with their barenaked slot machine, or clicking Roulette ball sounds, seem empty, simple money extraction factories geared to mass production techniques.
LOSERS ARE LOUSY LOVERS -- A bumper sticker maybe? Nope, just one of the pearls of betting wisdom spun by the wheels of Fever Pitch, as it wends its merry way, with the kids-of-gamblers' eyes riveted on the action from balconies above, as occasional jackpot winners run their greedy hands through coin, and scores more feed the bandits' insatiable appetites--losers who figure If you gamble ENOUGH, you win. . .
It's unfortunate that this portrayal of our National Disgrace is somewhat short on impact, frequently overacted, and largely wasting of the talents of one of our finest light comedians in a role that fails to make a potent statement beyond most of the inoffensive pap the media put out on the subject, which pap comes mostly from the pens of casino flaks. The "Industry" justifies itself, its advertising almost promising bright prospects of instant riches, by saying that "everyone" gambles, "even at home" -- Give me the home variety , at least there I know where the money's going.
If there's a point to this film, it's one the Catholic Church has been pushing for decades: Stay away from sin by staying away from the occasions of sin, i.e., the gambling dens in this case. Stay home and play BINGO! 6 HJH
GINGER & FRED
It is indeed interesting that F. Fellini was not a performing artist borne of the circus, instead of the cartoonist that he actually was, because his films take on the point of view, that everything is fantasy, even reality (especially reality), for it, in our deepest minds, is the place where we delude ourselves to the greatest degree.
Back in the thirties, when we had our heads on straight, actors the world over did serious imitations of our stars, our characters, of our American indigenous character. Ginger & Fred (not their real names) played by Giulietta Massina and Marcello Mastroianni, are aging danceurs who once imitated par excellence, brought back together along with along with other impressionists, dancing midgets, and ads for edible panties (demonstrated live) for a look by gawking Italian TViewers, to imitate once again, perhaps in a longing for a time when there were legends with enough style to rate copying.
Today it's different, style's connotations are more ephemeral, characters change in the blink of an eye, and so, of course, does life. Yesterday's Ginger is today's proper, realistic grandmother, to Fred's ne'er do well bluffer who never could perform without either Ginger or a drink to fortify him, on stage or in life, yet straining now to prove his physical manhood by strutting the same feats as a young Fred, though just barely coming across. Everything in life is a miracle according to Fellini, but it's up to us to find it. To do so, we must either delude ourselves or delude the rest of our world, depending on our orientation. And theirs. In actuality it probably is a combination of both, but this is the cartoonists circus, remember. You're either a geek or a gawker. And the geeks make a living at it, the gawkers pay.
Fred is ignoring a voice calling him from beyond,by simply not recognizing that it beckons him to where the observers and the observed will share equal time as subjects and objects of ridicule... Ginger resides firmly here in the present, knowing that everything is after all just a performance, even for one's mirror image. The film has everything from dancing midgets to Italian Clark Gables saying (in English) "Frankly dear, I don't give a damn," and runs the gamut from wide-eyed wonder to abject cynicism,
See G&F alone, to perceive it to the depths that you imagine yourself capable. It's as deep as you want to go, leaving the level of descent up to you, being Fellini's version of life backstage (reality) and onstage ("fantasy" a satirical view). Which is more real? Ginger & Fred is a must-see for anyone interested in investigating, or for anyone interested in life and what it becomes when subjected to the close scrutiny of a sensitive and perceptive storyteller. 9.5 HJH
HANNAH & HER SISTERS
Woody Allen manages to work all of us into his tales - a little here, a little there, sometimes split up among several different characters, but eventually, if we see all his movies I suppose, we'll get a complete picture of ourselves, and have to laugh out loud at what we see.
This one opens up with the sweet strains of "You Made Me Love You, I didn't want to do it," (The Music in a WA film is never less than first rate) and proceeds to chronicle the affairs of Hannah (Mia Farrow), her mom, her dad, her sisters, their husbands, former & future husbands, how they all shuffle up together every Thanksgiving though they have little in common except their blood/legal relationships, but manage to muck about in each others' lives nevertheless, with things turning out in the end much as life does--loose-ended but resolved, more or less.
Nothing is more interesting than a whole family of screwed up actors, which is the soul of this family, because they come across in an almost radical way, sooo dramatic in all their actions and reactions to everyone and everything; but endearing, funny, tragic, all the trappings of the stage. One of the primary stagey but marvellously stunning effects used here by Allen the director is the Visual with Voice-under. We watch what the character is doing, a pantomime actually, but listen to him tell what he is thinking. This is especially effective/funny with regard to Mickey (Woody) The Hypochondriac, and Elliot (Michael Caine), who falls for his wife's sister (The beautiful Barbara Hershey). Allen's talent for stand-up comedy serves this device well, as he can tell jokes (a la Nightclubs), yet present first-rate visual cinema that delves into the idiocyncracies of modern Yuppie-influenced morality. Oh yes, Yuppie. Lots of BMW's in the parking lot and Docksiders standing in the popcorn line, so you know the aim has been good, the financial mainstream bullseye hit.
If there's any one message that stands out, it's that we all get our elations in different ways, some with domestic bundle-wrapping, some with amorous meanderings, some from art, some just from finding that we don't have some dreaded disease, to mention a few, but enough to get the point across that we each are many people, living our lives on many stages, playing several roles, which, when perceived through mischevous eyes, can run the gamut from ridiculous to hilarious, depending upon the focal length of the storyteller's eye. Surely Hannah and her sisters are, in many eyes, all screwed up, but no more so than a large proportion of the rest of us, it's just that we're watching them through Woody Allen's playful eye. Certainly they watch us too, through their analytical eyes, to corral material for their startling portrayals. 10 HJH
TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A.
Not, apparently, to be out-shone by Miami in the vice department, LA's seamy underbelly is presented here, in the persons of sleazy counterfeiters, their "mules," their molls, their everpresent pursuers, the G-Men. Gee, men, do we really have to idolize these cop or criminal types who risk their lives in pursuit of their version of good or prosperity, to the benefit of no one but the lawyers, who defend or prosecute as the tides of wealth dictate?
Wm. Friedkin has formed another superb annal of crimedom, with the obligatory chase scenes (one a classic up the wrong way of the Freeway), prison killing, non-prison killing, on the way to and from prison killing, with suitable language, sex and music. A very REAL (or so it would seem) presentation of the local breed of corruption, as opposed to Commando Arnie's farcical brand, with the screams and curses of the dying, the betrayed, the vengeful going full blast. The women are all stunning and willing of course, with whichever side comes around, and through them courses the info that the protagonists need to keep the pot boiling.
The head heavy, played with cold cunning by Willem Dafoe, a slender version of Arnold Schwarzenegger, is a study in impending superstardom a la James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart and that gang, and his lady (Debra Feuer) a head-turner on any street, any- where. He's a gifted painter gone bad - probably couldn't find a grant-willing non-profit corporation, so he formed his own, in the funny money game. Oh well, the government prints more money when it needs it, so why not the talented few? His mean-streak is a kill-and-maim instinct that must be stamped out, and that job falls to the T-Man (Richard Chance)whose partner he wasted, and who is gonna get him no matter WHAT or who it takes. Who it takes is the new partner (John Pankow) of this crazed lawman, swept along against his better judgement but unwilling or haplessly unable to stop the chain of events that leads him finally to a personal vendetta of his own, which he plays out almost apart from himself.
It's a tense, gripping melodrama, not unlike Miami Vice in character, but far deeper into the genre than is permitted or tasteful on TV. Gory, filthy fun for those with the face to confront it. 8.5 HJH
Hey hey, in the mood for a little of the old grim dusty anarchic adventure? Once again the bombs have fallen, the earth is wasted, and the survivors fight among themselves with remnants of technology to rule what little domains can be scraped together to suit egos that will never die. What morality we have developed over thousands of years is no more, and we revert to pre-Mosaic fight or flight behavior. The new commandments are now RAP rules such as "two men enter (the Thunderdome, a makeshift arena), one man leaves," or "Bust the deal and face the wheel (a lottery device to decide one's fate)," and "Justice is only a roll of the dice, a flip of the coin, a turn of the wheel." Simple laws that everyone can understand, even chant to music.
What they're trying to do is warn us I guess, that if we screw it up here, death would be the preferable alternative to existence on what's left. That might be true if the only movies are of this genre, but fortunately, there are no movies in the grim future that's predicted, a slow, macabre grit of life with Tina Turner as Auntie, surrounded by sundry uglies and sweaty monster types.
Frankly, Tina never rang my bells, but she somehow does fit into this implausible tale, with her brazen style and blown away mien. Mel Gibson is as comfortable in these dune-buggy dramas as Gene Autry ever was on a horse, but Gene had a life context to fit into, where poor Mel only has fantasy invented by the screenwriters for beyond the unthinkable. So they must of course be even MORE unthinkable, so as to outdo the obvious.
Really now, what's going to be left is a lot of nothing, we all know that, and so any sort of invention to make for a good story will do by comparison. Mel, here, sort of goes from place to place like Huckleberry Finn, until he finds some trouble, which he predictably wins out over. How he does it, amid the newly invented weapons and tortures, whose blood is spilled, what the "civilization" is going to come to, is what MAD MAX is all about. As one of the characters says, life expectancy is a mere three years, no more, and he expects to spend it shoveling pig manure (for methane power). Well, to each his own. 7minus HJH
There is a story here somewhere, buried under the avalanche of kartoon komedy kitsch that's smeared around like gobs of jam on mighty thin bread. Once you get past the never-ending things that go wrong with the house that Tom Hanks and Shelley Long (Man & Mistress) buy for a song ($200,000), there pops up a little lesson for the adults in all of us to take home, which is: If you trust each other and never doubt that things will come out alright, both in interpersonal relationships and in house-fixing, if you hire hordes of contractors & subcontractors, go through hellish angst while they deign to do their work, give them carte blanche with your checkbook, make a story where everything comes out just peachy in the end, and use Richard Benjamin the Director, you can usually find someone like Steven Speilberg to back it as a film. This is not real life, but exaggerated farce.
Other than that, it's a great piece to take the kids, because they'll hold their bellies laughing at slapstick people falling into cement, whole staircases coming crashing down, people sinking slowly through floors, chimneys falling down at the touch of a log, doors and windows crashing in, and on and on. And ON in a house seemingly made of cards, or at least cardboard. At first, one can tolerate a few of the olde mishap tricks, the broad humor, the Laurel & Hardy accidents, the Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton bits, but hey, this is the eighties folks, filmdom has developed since the thirties, and more meat is required by the sophisto TV-oriented folk out for the annual cinematic adventure, n'est pas? The ideas was sound, but it just gets ho-hum-ish after an endless string of nonsense, to the point where credibility in the story falls to a nearly unreviveable nadir.
That's too bad too, because Tom and Shelley, and Alexander Godunov the Russian Defector do creditable jobs in their roles, especially Alex as Shelley's soon-to-be former husband, in a fine comedy turn as a symphony conductor-lothario, and the film begins and ends well, all tied up in a pretty package, but in the middle one longs for the safety of home, any home, where the plumbing works, the roof keeps you dry, the floor holds you up. Fortunately it's only an hour or so away, but the hour could wear you out just watching. Wear you out with laughter or wear you out with impatience for them to get on with it. Take your pick. 6 HJH
OUT OF AFRICA
Robert Redford really ought to make more movies, being the big star that he is, but he apparently ascribes more importance to each "project" he does, only taking on "meaningful" films which "say" something, and that he can make with "major" co-stars, directors, etc., such as Meryl Streep and Sydney Pollack, retiring for the meanwhile to the mountaintop and his ponderous projects there.
I suppose when one has all the advantages: great looks, reasonable talent, super visuality, it's possible to get carried away with the "good" one can do by virtue one's position, and thus take on only the most appealing roles, so as to ration yourself carefully and not wear out your welcome on the public's doormat. But face it, Robert, your tools get dull on such a schedule, and you end up being mere background for the likes of Streep, superactors who constantly practice, with many roles in many media.
As often as we see Streep, in two, three, four films a year, we never tire of her because, unlike Redford who always plays himself, she assays a totally different and memorable character each time; therefore each story seems to revolve around her, through our virgin eyes, each time out. This time she gives us a woman who longs so to marry that she works her family for the money to finance an African farm, complete with husband and cows, not necessarily in that order. The cows turn to coffee beans, the husband to mush, Meryl turns to Redford, the camera turns to the scenery, the audience turns to each other and says "so what?"
There's really not much else to say during the long langorous looks at the developing romance, a very gradual seduction at the culmination of which we were itching to hit the road, but no, it goes on and on, with fresh tragedies, tired moralizing ("There is no future, only the present"), more African sunsets, etc., etc. Oh boy.
There is a little excitement: a couple of lions bagged, a devastating fire, nothing heavier than what you'd see on the eleven o'clock news, but beyond that only a few screen sparks generated by these two luminaries rubbing against each other for minimal minutes. 6 HJH
ON FILM – PEEWEE
Seeing movies such as Out of Africa, one begins to realize why, in some ways, films just don't have it anymore. The travelogue images that film delivers so well have all been seen repetitively, from Fuji at sunset, life among the creatures of the wild, on the tube. What film does best is shock us, and when it does, it's really a seat ejector, but when the same shocks, gory or sublime, are replayed like the ever-present fires, or even terrorists on the 6, 11pm, and 7am news, they just aren't shockers anymore. We're shocked out. And from the sublime, one has only one way to go, into fantasy. That is precisely why "Pee Wee's Big Adventure" gets my vote as the most memorable movie of 1985.
Pee Wee, you see, hits us with his larger-than-life portrayal of the sub-adolescent in all of us (which he never drops, by the way, in case you've seen his priceless interviews with Joan Rivers or David Letterman). We have been party to the inception of a totally new character, an original in the annals of characterdom. Not Chaplin, not Mr. T, not Liberace. Pee Wee, himself, nonpareil.
We are now a TV-oriented society however, meaning that we get our primary shock images by being witness to usually tragic events on the tube (nothing makes better copy than man's misfortunes, graphically presented), or the manufactured images of our Steven Speilbergs.
This orientation influences the ways we look at other media, shortening our reading span, spreading our cinematic shock tolerance, focusing us in more intensely on radio, zeroing us, to the exclusion of almost everything, in on our personal stereos. So a film must have something that can't be captured in its true perspective on TV, or at least which it can expand to the big screen scope. This is precisely what Pee Wee does, and in spades. You would think he would seem smaller in 35mm, but no, his character is so broadly drawn, and surrounded by what it would have, rather than what we would have it have, that the screen is more than amply filled.
Besides, we can escape just as easily into Pee Wee's Adventure about his stolen bicycle as we can into Meryl Streep's stolen heart, or Gene Hackman's stolen family life, or Rambo's stolen innocence. HJH
What you've got here is a Family Film - not the Corleone family, not the Brooklyn Bonnanno's, not your family or mine, but the Hustons of Hollywood-cum-Palermo.
There's Daddy John the Director-Don, there's renegade daughter Angelica, and don't forget her boyfriend Jack (Mr. Boyish Charm) Nicholson, plus assorted ersatz Sicilian types from central casting, all having great fun making in-jokes out of Cosa Nostra intrigue and ho-ho-ho-no-honor-among-thieves White Collar Crime in the Mafia front office, with a trolly Leprechaun as da Boss.
Papa Prizzi (Robert Loggia) the family Don, is a sometimes senile sometimes vicious, sometimes playpen-level giddy patriarch. I think he's the only notable Italian in it and very well may want to remain anonymous down at the scunjili parlor. (Respectable Italian/Sicilians tend to stay away from oatmeal pizza pap about their Little Empire).
Now the Francis Ford Coppollas, they have respect, or maybe they just know the fearsome power of the Cosa Nostra. This folksy tale, not really serious, not funny enough in style to be an honest take-off, has no respect. It makes Irish light of the Omerta conspiracy of corruption and death – all over what? A pretty girl. A lassie, a colleen. Kathleen Turner, sexy for sure but just not. . . um, sensuous, plays her as a contract killer (you never know where women will turn up these days, maybe as a deadly black widow in your bed, but they certainly do seem to want to turn up, at least for the likes of Jacky boy).
Nicholson, with a tooth piece to make his front teeth stick out like Humphrey Bogart's, whose overbite was doubtless achieved by long years of thumb sucking, takes on a thick Brooklyn accent like he'd actually spent maybe two weeks there, but his bourgeois New Jersey roots are easily detectable to the careful ear. He plays Charlie Partanna, an upper management Mafia hood with dodo bravado, becoming entangled in a non-Family romance (With Turner) that almost does him in.
Angelica, his family intended (As in life?) though, is a sleek punk, laid-back desperate hussycat who would eat your canary as soon as your back is turned. Her accent, better, seems to be from listening to Laverne & Shirley for one week. The whole story revolves around the adage that "They (The mobsters) would eat their children rather than part with money. . ." And well they might, Well they might.
As Theatre craftspeople from Shakespeare to Sheridan to George Abbott know, melodrama isn't fun unless it's played either DEADLY serious, or strictly-for-laughs. This hammy attempt at being both winds up half baked, cold-hearted, fun/grim, er. . . grim/fun, well, I mean, ah, bang, bang deadly. (Only kidding fellas, send Mario around next week for the regular payment). 7 minus HJH
Watching the recent TV screening of the old Hitchcock film Rope brought to mind a concept that might just be one that will have a great deal to do with how the world, or governments of the world, sees itself in terms of the population, within the limited natural facilities that we have as human beings.
In the film, the so-called Superman theory first put forth by Freidrich Nietzsche, that there are superior beings (Overman), and inferior beings(Underman), was used as an excuse by two young men, to murder one of their colleagues, whom they, or one of them, decided was their inferior. James Stewart, being the erudite college professor who brought this theory to their attention, was the one to figure out the answer to the mystery, and thus bring them to justice.
But the concept, that of Ubermensch and Undermensch, overhumans and under-humans, is one which is daily being decided, in who lives, who prospers, who starves, who gets the best jobs, who ends up living the great American dream.
It is being decided in the rest of the world too, but the difference is, that in countries such as ours, one can, with determination and perseverence or perhaps only unity, travel freely between the two.
One must, singularly or as part of a group, a movement, simply adopt the "master mentality" in place of the "slave mentality", Nietschian concepts too. Interesting fellow, Nietsche, too bad Hitler gave him a bad reputation. HJH
Billy Batson, the Captain Marvel of the college bed-sheets, is about to come to serious grips with none other than Miss Goody Two Bazooms the Campus Virgin, (a classic seduction scene), when he is snuffed away by an untimely auto accident. (Take my word, it's logical). He is about to be spirited off to Heaven (As he has not yet completed the dastardly sin), when he discovers that in his just-beyond-comatose state, not yet having been welcomed thru the pearly gates, he can play the invisible (or visible) man at will. Having 24 hours to wait before his heavenly dead-line (no pun intended), he is free to roam the halls and sorority shower rooms at will.
What ensues is a first-rate farce in which, without a single SHAZAM!, he brings the whole university around to his, and his "Hog" buddies' way of thinking. NO, it is not an animal house with mad cap muck scenes, but a modern day Charley's Aunt, in which the school's benefactress turns out to be young, sensuous Danielle Arnaud, just arrived from Mother France, and the false dignities of the arche-typical campus Bigmen are laid to waste, allowing Ivy-clad anarchy to cling on in spirit at least once every year, officially.
The characters are all perfectly portrayed, the story one long bullseye zinger at campus trads. Even the people who walked out of the Raptrap KRUSH GROOVE (As I did) dug it the most. School Spirit is on the same level, humoristically, as The Sure Thing and, oddly enough, Back To The Future, though not quite up to their dramatic level, being a PURE farce in concept. 8.5 HJH
DESPERATELY SEEEKING SUSAN
THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO
Interestingly enough, these two films have a great deal in common, in that they both deal in fantasy... who we are, who we want to be, where it all happens for us.
In Susan, the bored housewife (Roberta) would be the fictional/real character she reads about in the Personal Ads, whose antics and liaisons she faithfully follows until she can stand it no longer in the papers, at which point she begins tracking the subject herself. What she doesn't realize is that she is still herself, subject to all the limitations of her sheltered life. However, through a freak accident, she finds herself in the position of being thought, and indeed being (for she loses her memory for the nonce), the person she has dreamed about all these years. Not only does she, game as she is, carry it off well, she changes in the process, seeing her old life with the advantage of objectivity, and making some serious decisions about her future based on her adventure as her chosen alter ego.
Imagine being able to just change places with a romantic image, and take on her life completely, even to the point where someone who would rob and kill the other person would do the same to you. This is the nightmare come true, as circumstances lead Roberta to actually think for the moment that she is Susan, who is being desperately sought, not only by her erstwhile lover(long distance), but by a desperado who knows she is wearing a pair of priceless stolen earrings. Not only does she think she is Susan, but her lover's friend, never having seen her, also does, and proceeds to fall in love with her. Rosanna Arquette, as Roberta, is convincing both to us and to her character, and so beautiful she's almost grotesque. As Susan, Madonna the R&R singer, comports herself well, coming down from a flaky kept woman to a rather sensible state of mind in conducting a search for her #1 fan.
Now what does this have to do with Woody Allen's Purple Rose of Cairo? The fact that both films are pieces where the leading characters find themselves at odds with their fantasies provides the connection. In Rose, Mia Farrow's wimpy unliberated wife of the USA 1930's lives out her fantasies sitting in the tenth row of the movie matinee, when her dream man, noticing her for the fourth time in the audience, steps out of his movie scene and into real life, Mia's real life. The trouble is, he remains the movie character, with movie thoughts, movie money, movie morals, everything she saw he was...precisely, no more, no less.
We as viewers are confronted with the dichotomy of seeing an artistic representation try to deal with life in the raw, but as the ideal character he was written to be. It's an interesting romp, especially when the "actor" who plays our hero enters the scene, and after somewhat solving the situation, reverts to his conniving self, leaving our heroine with only her reality and her fantasies as fantasies rather than as dreams come true.
The real world is more or less represented, in spades, by her husband, a lout who treats her like an indentured servant. It be's that way sometimes, more frequently than we'd like it to be, but in the cinema we can find our escape, even if the escape we find is in the escapes that our representatives up there are making in their lives, and the fictional characters they live through.
Both of these films operate on several different levels of unreality, with more than occasional passages through gritty life as we know it, and both reward us amply by illustrating that it need not all be either. EASY 8'S HJH
It's about these kids, see, reg'lar kids who ride bikes, invent things an' use enough mild cursewords to be authentic see, an' the parents of one of them an' his big brother are getting foreclosed by the bank; they hafta move, but before they do, the one, smart-alecky, kid finds an old (1632) map in the attic where dad, a museum curator, keeps his museum stuff. Hey, keep up with the story, willya, an' pay attention, cuz it MOVES with or withoutcha.
The map is a treasure map of One-eyed Marvin, the pirate king, whose ship and vast treasure are located somewhere nearby. As a last-ditch effort at making the family financially whole again, kiddo sets out to find the treasure. It becomes a confunderated, Rube Goldberg booby-trap laden scavenger hunt similar to Raiders of the Lost Arc, but on a sub-adolescent level. That is not to say that the story is not first-rate, just that it is on that level.
So you parents who are tempted to take the kids, a temptation which, for all sakes, would be enormous fun to give in to, realize that it's on that level, and be prepared to get down with the youngsters, squeal with delight and shriek with thrills and laughter as the fortune is sought after through twists and turns of the minds of Steven Spielberg the Writer, and Richard Donner the Director.
The Baddies are not only villainous, but they are dumb too. How long has it been since we've seen really dopey, comedy villains, the underlying message being that only brainless boobs would consider a life of crime? Lately the villains are so menacing that the devil himself would carry protection. Good move too, among many in the story which has cliffhanger after cliffhanger while the urchins go through the gauntlet-ed route to the treasure, followed by the boobs, the fat kid who has been sent back for the cops, the kindly monster, the parents, and last but not least, us, the viewers.
Teen affection is well handled, from the teen viewpoint, to the extent that you can almost feel the sweaty uneasiness from one's past life coming back to haunt our now experienced, charming manners (Ho ho).
Spielberg, however, has the marvelous ability to live in adolescence completely, to remove us from the gritty present to a time when we hadn't heavy responsibilities, and could give time to just being mystified, along with shocked, kidded, purely entertained. At one point one of the youngsters says something to the effect that "Up there (in the real world) it's their time, down here it's ours." Seeing the story unfold, we begin to wish it could all be that simple again. These Goonies are the Runt Pack of the eighties, but with the flavor of Our Gang. 8.5 HJH
Movies ask more and more of us today - previously it was pure escape: a good yarn, the ingenue and the juvenile run off into the bushes to rub derierres, the thin man solves the crime, like that. But now, we're required to insert ourselves into the grain, the mood, become part of the style. They want us to inject our brains into the very level of life portrayed. Here, this level is, well, preposterous farce. It's a good season for farce, the artists having more or less concluded, apparently, that they can't really affect the world's events any more than the screen characters can, so they resign us all to joining them in various romps through fantasyland.
Two reporters, one senior (Jeff Goldblum), and one junior (Ed Begley Jr.) for the National Scandale Sheet are sent by their Editor-Publisher-Dad, to bring back a good headline and story from the title's infamous Balkan State. They arrive to encounter a whole town bent on portraying a grand theatrical production centered around putting them and any other turistas ON mercilessly, via the well-honed monster myths. The Mayor, a pillar of dignity, turns out to be a rubber faced clown (What's unusual about that, you say?) who makes his living as proprietor of "The Castle," where the spooky things happen; there are otherwise normal-acting people who jump out of corners to scare the boys, going along for all the laffs they can get. For some of the yocks they stretch far further than they ought to too.
There are genuinely funny bits though, a pratfall manservant (Jeffrey Jones) who does puppets, imitations, faces, a real vaudeville turn; there's wise-guy humor for all you M.A.S.H. fans, outrageous puns, broad slapstick, a seventh-grade level madman doctor (Joseph Bologna), who's half Nathan Detroit from Guys & Dolls, and half Dr. Sivana from Captain Marvel.
There's not much to the story though, the whole romp being a large fun house that pokes you from every which direction, cracking jokes that either make you shriek or groan. It's total escape, a nut-house that you'll enjoy only if you can jump into the adolescent level of seeing things.
Like I said, today's films ask more of you than just to show up. 7.5 HJH
TWICE IN A LIFETIME
This film really takes aim at a whole social structure in which a large portion of our society has become enmeshed, not totally to our discredit; i.e. the blue-collar, macho-man, good-old-beer-drinkin-with-the-boys & fall- asleep-in-front-of-the-TV-while-the-wife-cleans-up brigade.
This whole family setup has been sold to us over generations by the nabobs who sculpt our morality, thus mores, out of the guilts we harbor when our fantasies run slightly amuck inside our well-pressed exteriors. But with good reason, to keep families together long enough to raise the kids upright. And it works too.
The little woman who stays home, does the ironing, tends the fires, while big lug goes out workin' in the iron and steel, bringing home the bacon so's she can ladle out the seconds on potatoes at the annual get-t'gethers. But uh, oh, something goes awry, a scourge of boredom sets in, and while She (Ellen Burstyn) is content and secure just going thru the mid-life motions, He (Gene Hackman) still burns like the white-hot steel he pours, to make life do his bidding, to rip off pieces of its carcass and taste to the fullest that his creaky fiftyish teeth can chew.
Having had it all once, including love, family, home, work, kids, grandkids, he proceeds to kick it away for the wispy love of another who thinks and feels at the same level as his inner fire, so they are swept away on an emotional wave that leaves them both a little foolish, and devastates his family, at least until they can regroup and re-begin without him. He comes back for a little peek though, at the wedding of his daughter (Ally Sheedy), but, feeling uncomfortable, leaves, as well he should. One wonders if it all might have rectified itself had he been allowed the rein to run for awhile, sowing a few leftover wild oats. "This is separate" was his approach, but not theirs.
Amy Madigan, as the older daughter, at times emotionally out of control, is a standout; Hackman goes deep, rips off a piece of your heart. 7 HJH
One is reminded of the recent song, The Green Grass of Home, as Jake (Kris Kristofferson) "steps down from the train", figuratively, to encounter an America from which he has been estranged (MIA in military lingo) for twenty years, since being shot down over Viet Nam.
Everyone sure is surprised to see him, especially remarried wife Sarah (JoBeth Williams) and her husband Woody (Sam Waterston), son Tyler (Thomas Wilson Brown), and nobody more than the military in the person of the Colonel (Trey Wilson), representing the forces that would rather cover up the existence of someone who was bombing where we shouldn't have been, and who, now that the facts are known, is technically a deserter.
For ole Jake wasn't slow to figure out the futility of the war, so just lay low, living in the tropical lap of luxury, with oriental wife and children, until the whole thing blew over lo these 20 years later. Supposedly he had been wounded, imprisoned, tortured, the lot of POW cliches until accepted by the small band of natives who adopted him, but that's not this story.
We are concerned here with the effect his return has on his former family that has gone on to a life without him and the emotional, not to mention real impact of his return. Wife is torn apart with guilt and longing, son rages at him for leaving, dad (Brian Keith) is now a widower living out his golden years alone, harboring his own regrets about his WWII service, and Jake's Vietnamese wife and kids remain refugees in the old country.
There are several stories, all going to make up a moderately interesting whole, saved by excellent performances, but still only reminding us of a time and a war we'd rather forget. 7 HJH
While very well produced and manned with stars Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines, plus the startlingly beautiful Isabella Rossellini with her mother's (Ingrid Bergman) looks plus a few of her own, it does not weave as interesting a tale as "Holmes", because it merely magnifies a situation that is already internationally sore.
The Bad Guy is the Russian, the Good Guys are the Americans, who lead Isabella, the Russian, to the promised land of "Freedom." Interesting that this movie comes out at the same time as the Summit conference in Geneva, and the Russian "Style Show" ad, courtesy of Wendy's, that makes fun of what the Soviets have not provided for its people. Well, that's it for Wendy's and me.
This is the same basic story - everything in the USSR is drab, the secret police are everywhere, the art is stifled. In America everything is FREE, we tell them – Free Art, free dance, free expression. The whole polemic is the same that Wendy's is promoting, that Wendy's, i.e., and "freedom" are synonymous. Somebody should tell Wendy's that a quarter-pound of beef, juicy or not, and freedom are not always locked in partnership.
In the film, the fame and acclaim are in freedomland, but the good dancing all occurs in Russia, for audiences of one or two to be sure, but when those performances are for the likes of Mikhail, Gregory, and 'Bella, the sparks ignite the screen to incendiary level. Lotta good dancin' here, but not much real mystery. 7.5 HJH
WITHOUT YOU I'M NOTHING
... poses the age-old chestnut: How do we know a tree falls in the forest if no one is there to hear it? Or—If nobody laughs at Sandra Bernhard’s poor and pointless satires is she still a comedienne? Only TV for which this rubber-mugged madonna is vastly more suited (with the exception of one scene where she appears in pasties and postage stamp) will ultimately tell, for it is there where she comes off best; Without You only shows her as too much of an overpowering caricature for film, let’s hope it doesn’t finish her career.
The first thought one has in this abominably scripted, directed and performed piece, about ten minutes into the film is “When does the movie start?” and very quickly that feeling is overtaken by “When does this movie end?” as Sandra drags us thru skit after in-joke skit, keeping us guessing as to whether she’s kidding or not. Surely she is, as she repeatedly dares to be bad—and succeeds!
But you’ve gotta give her credit for trying—hey, she made and released a movie, even though it’s so bad it reminds you of every failure you’ve ever had. You can’t wait to see her again on Letterman or Arsenio, just to prove she still can be funny. Here she seems to be indulging in an orgy of self-loathing; and if Without You goes any further, she will surely make a lot of converts. 2 HJH