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Masked and Anonymous (2003)
Approach it like Duchamp's Orpheus
For those who have read or heard the various reviews calling "Masked and Anonymous" a "mess" all I can say is if you enjoy the work of Bob Dylan you'll enjoy it, and if you don't enjoy his work, you probably won't enjoy it. It's that simple really.
It's a surreal social critique of the current state of things, as well as an attempt to illustrate to the audience not only what the world looks like to Bob Dylan, but also what Bob Dylan looks like to the world, much like his music. So if you are familiar with and enjoy that about his music, you'll enjoy the film.
And also, much like his music has always done, if you're up on your historical references and cultural detritus you'll find yourself giggling a lot. The puns and inside jokes are scattered everywhere, as are his songs, not necessarily performed by him.
Just let it soak over you like a long Dylan album and you'll know what I mean.
All the reviews are basically saying "It's not like how other movies are made these days. What is this crap?" In many ways it's similar to Renaldo & Clara, but it's much more mainstream than that ever was.
There's even a few seconds of the Seattle WTO riots in 99 in the film.
I think the best way to approach the film is as if you were watching a Duchamp. I could see it on a double bill with Orpheus. There's many allusions and references to other films like a pocketwatch with a broken face.
It's not a Hollywood film even though it's got a lot of Hollywood people in it. It's more like a very expensive foreign indie film. They all do great jobs, especially John Goodman, his character not being too far a stretch from his role in Barton Fink. But the characters are caricatures, archetypes, just like in Desolation Row it imagines what the future might be like, or maybe it just looks a little too clearly at what is happening right now.
From a straight acting perspective method would be wasted on these sketchy characters, because like in a noir film, you know them enough to know who they are and what they do, but their lives are all so repressed, their dreams are all of trying to comprehend the world they live in, where there is constant revolution, either dire poverty or obscene wealth and a lot of violence lies between the two, both physically and emotionally. Even the president of the television network has bodyguards with assault rifles. Other reviews all try saying that it takes place in some Central American country, but the irony is it was all filmed on the streets on the other side of LA.
Time is played with, sometimes to make someone get something right, and the parade of faces peopling the movie are the mythological icons of not just this age but stretching back past the 20th century. Ghandi, Pope John Paul II, Abraham Lincoln, Koo Koo The Bird Girl, they're all here. The characters all have names like Jack Fate, Uncle Sweetheart, Tom Friend, Bobby Cupid, Valentine, Prospero, Nestor, Bacchus. There's as many overriding themes as there are submotifs, but it's chockfull of details, too, and the details are fast and furious. You learn just to let one drop if you don't get it because another one will be coming up soon.
Many threads are pulled together and the plot is thought through as much as anything, but Dylan has always been more about questions than about answers, so traditional expectations of identifying with a simple plot and easily sympathetic characters won't leave you very nourished, as much as if you just accepted that, like life, anyone could say anything at any time which just might not be what you expected to hear.
So you can't see the framework that the plot is on very easily because the themes and questions asked are far more interesting and ultimately more overwhelming and therefore concentrated on more than the plot. The themes are big, the questions are huge, after all, this is Dylan. Mortality, desire, loyalty, purity, confession, nurturing, freedom, imprisonment, corruption, manipulation, poverty, madness.
The camerawork is impressive because a lot of the scenes have to do with who is more powerful than the other character, and overhead shots and shots up stairs really underline a lot of the relationships of the characters to their world, their friends and their enemies.
And of course, like a Dylan song, you could watch it over and over and find new things every time, even though you'll get most of it in one viewing. Some things you immediately realize what he just got away with. Who else could put Ed Harris in blackface and have him in a scene where he's looking down on Dylan from the top of a stairwell. Then the next time Dylan looks up he's changed to a young Rastafarian janitor.
When Dylan's character gets out of jail the first song you hear as he struts along with his suit and his guitar is an Italian rap remix of Like A Rolling Stone.
The center of the film is when a small black girl sings an amazing a capella version of The Times They Are A'Changin' to Dylan and his band while they're resting on the bandstand. It sends Dylan's character inward until he finally says "It's all just ordinary things" in one of the films very effective voiceovers. If you think of the film as a new album by Dylan, the voiceovers would be the liner notes he wrote himself. Another one closes the film, and when you hear what his last words are you realize that Dylan has basically just taken the same things he always addresses in his music, as well as the way he presents such things in his music, and has simply tried to do the exact same thing in a film. If you approach the film as a set of songs it will be easier to follow. The scenes are what are important, as well as who is who to the other person. The plot is controlled by the unpredictable events of the dictatorship in power and the dying king and who is the rightful heir.
Total Eclipse (1995)
My original captivation with this film has been tempered now that I've seen it a second time. But what I originally enjoyed and also originally disliked the first time around were both confirmed when I saw it again: My initial delight was due to the fact that the portrayal of Arthur Rimbaud is as close to capturing the inner workings of the mind of an artist as any I've seen, particularly in the way that he demonstrates a very logical resistance to Paul Verlaine's amorphously fawning "love" that he offers Rimbaud. "Love doesn't exist," Rimbaud boldly proclaims. "Self-interest exists. Attachment based on personal gain exists. Complacency exists. But not love. It has to be re-invented." And reinvented it is in this portrayal of two male artists whose relationship originates out of a sort of intellectual centrifugal force. Each of them recognize the monumental talent in the other and even though they pursue the bond they share to the inevitable sexual conclusion, the word "homosexual" never really occurred to me while I was watching the film, primarily because their relationship demonstrates their symbiotic need for each other intellectually first and foremost, quite separate from their sexual needs, which never stoops to the sophomoric level of "which one is the man? which one is the woman?" designation of gender roles. One must remember, and the film explicitly points out, that although this tale is only a hundred years old, the punishment for being homosexual back then was enough to send you to prison for two years. Even though I've seen this film twice in ten days, something still needles me about the casting of DiCaprio as Rimbaud. This is the first film I've seen DiCaprio in, and I'm really starting to like him, and David Thewlis, as Verlaine, I've been raving about since his blistering performance in Mike Leigh's Naked two years ago. Perhaps it's simply my expectations. Since these two giants of poetry are strictly the stuff of history now, one can't tell how on the money their characterizations are, and they ARE able to illustrate the spirits they each had remarkably. DiCaprio's performance as Rimbaud is exact in his reading of a self-appointed genius who very convincingly illustrates the alchemical origin for any true artist: that of having a scorched earth policy, of reinventing the world on one's own terms and of realizing one needs to have the strongest of convictions about one's self and one's abilities to "originate the future" regardless of what even other artists feel about you. "Poets should learn from each other," Verlaine admonishes Rimbaud when they first meet. "Only if they're bad poets," Rimbaud shoots back. And in that refutation of what an artist "should be" is the key to why Verlaine ends up obliviously destroying not only the bourgeois life he's tried carefully to fit into to, but also the lives of those around him: By clinging to Rimbaud as a moth to light, Verlaine begins to feel an acute amount of nostalgia for his own beginnings as a major poet and desperately tries to recapture that contagious spirit of capriciousness which blooms when one's hormones are exploding and you feel invincible that Rimbaud represents to Verlaine. Verlaine, ten years older than Rimbaud, met him at a time when his fear of death had prompted him to marry a girl (six years his junior who was nowhere near his intellectual level) so he could father a child, who did turn out to be a son. Romane Bohringer, as Verlaine's long-suffering wife Mathilde, is a great casting choice because although she may not have been on the same intellectual level as her husband, she was a perfectly fine person in her own right: healthy, joyous, buxom, devoted, willing to take Verlaine back countless times. Therefore, her faith in her husband underlines just how much it was Verlaine's choice and his choice alone to decide whether he should go gallivanting around Europe with Rimbaud, or stay with his wife and help father their child. Rimbaud even tries to convince Verlaine to do the right thing and stay with his family at one point. Rimbaud's motivations seem to flutter between his desire for an intellectual equal and his need for monetary support, which, of course means Verlaine's wife because it was HE who married money, not her.
My reservations about this film are primarily because it doesn't deal with the actual poetry of the men enough. I would have loved to have heard the voice-overs of them both during the scenes where they cavort among the goats on a hillside, or as they climb around the crags of the Black Forest, and when Rimbaud mentions to Verlaine that "the writing has changed me" it would have done more of a service to the audience to let them know WHY he was having his sister burn his earlier poems.
The photography, as I've come to expect from director Agnieszka Holland (The Secret Garden; Olivier, Olivier; Europa, Europa) is stunning, particularly the shots of Charleville, where Rimbaud's family lives on a farm. Holland loves blood, but not as though you'd know it: the few instances where you see blood in this film it's used strictly as punctuation for the symmetrical balance of their cruelty for each other, or else it's photographed just to show what the concept of flow mechanics can do to red on white.
I'm glad the film chose to not end with the severing of their relationship, but to follow Rimbaud to Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) and to the end of his life, to fully illustrate that his was a spirit who was forever seeking the outer edges of experience. He lived more in his 37 years on this planet than most people do in thrice that amount and history and posterity has shown time and again that not only were his instincts correct, but they continue to be felt a hundred years later.
Mighty Aphrodite (1995)
Hot on the high-heels of "Showgirls" comes Woody Allen's latest film, "Mighty Aphrodite," named after the Greek goddess of love, another American film trying to interrogate the questionable mentality and dubious spirituality of the skin trade. A lot will probably be made of the fact that, not satisfied with merely pointing out classical references in his text, Allen decided to have a whole Greek Chorus (consisting of F. Murray Abraham, Olympia Dukakis, David Ogden Stiers and Jack Warden) filmed in an ancient outdoor amphitheater in Taormina, Italy (wearing masks, no less, in a nod to classical authenticity) and genuflect on the alter of genuine myth to underscore the tragic and comedic parts of his film. It doesn't matter how well- versed you are in the Greeks, you'll be able to enjoy what Allen has done with his approach, which is a very refreshing idea for film (bringing it all back home) and also a great surreal scaffold for the situation he presents. Purists be warned. Allen (Now 60 years old, but trying to play his role like he's not a day over 40) and Helena Bonham- Carter (29 years old) are happily married when one day Bonham-Carter's biological clock goes off and she wants to have a baby immediately. Allen hesitates so much at the thought of pregnancy that Bonham- Carter, who really can't wait, says, "fine, let's adopt, then," which of course hits the raw nerve of Allen's masculinity as he defends his genes against the idea of having someone else's child join their family.
Allen's character in this film is a sportswriter, adding another "tough" layer to his never-ending quiche of a meditation/angst-ridden search for definitive masculinity. Every scene where Allen suffers some sort of gender-related torment is set in a male arena: When he's fighting on the phone with Bonham-Carter about the decision to adopt, the backdrop is a boxing club with every ring filled with sparring partners. Another scene where he contemplates his situation shows him pacing back and forth on the sidelines watching the New York Giants scrimmage in the Meadowlands.
The couple finally decide to adopt a boy, and in one scene in particular I realized just how much Allen is stuck in a zeitgeist rut. In their uptown apartment Allen and Bonham-Carter bandy names back and forth for the new little tike as Allen, forever the cultural namedropper, comes up with the monikers of all of his heroes: Django, Groucho, Thelonius. Bonham-Carter is oblivious to his suggestions as she coddles the baby and suddenly you realize that Allen should have made this film years ago, because the conversation sounds like something that was written for what would have been the sequel to "Annie Hall." Now that he's twenty years removed from the carefree days of dynamic dialogue with Diane Keaton and the spark she brought as Allen's main female foil, Bonham-Carter seems unsure of herself, treating Allen as obligatorily as a father or uncle rather than her husband. Enter the plot.
Bonham-Carter is being chased by Peter Weller (48 years old), a seductively sleazy art gallery owner, which sends Allen's mid-life crisis into an absolute tailspin as he begins wondering if he's really happy with his wife, and as he's looking at his newly adopted "son" he wonders aloud what the mother of his adopted child is like. Enter Cassandra and...you get the picture.
One of the things I realized while watching "Mighty Aphrodite" is that Allen has spent a good portion of his career in film flagellating himself for not being the American Ingmar Bergman, when all the time he should have been luxuriating in the fact that he's the American Federico Fellini: He has an uncanny sense for seeking out ripe minor actors, ready to be picked, and then letting them find the aspect of the character they're playing that makes them Characters rather than just parts played by actors. Even though I feel as if Bonham-Carter is not given nearly enough room to fully flesh out her character (which is a shame for an actress of her caliber), the film is really about Linda, the real mother of Allen and Bonham-Carter's adopted child, who turns out to be a ditzy porn star overflowing with spunk and zeal.
Linda, played by Mira Sorvino (Quiz Show, Barcelona), Paul Sorvino's daughter, steals the film. Allen has tempted fate and defied the Greek Chorus' warnings by seeking out Linda, but since she's in the skin trade he arranges to meet her at her apartment in the guise of being merely a "john." When Allen's reticence at wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am sex gets the better of him, he finally shows the age and mindset that he really is and turns into a grandfather before your very eyes.
But, Linda is a ditz first and a hooker second in that she understands her victimization but also begins to realize that her situation is only as hopeless as her innate tenacity is boundless. In the most delicate scene in the film, and maybe the most poignant scene I've seen all year, Sorvino is in her bathtub-sized kitchen trying to defend her life to Allen, and as she keeps talking she realizes her own complicity until she finally mentions that she even had a baby once that she gave up for adoption. Allen gives her this scene by not entering the frame for what seems like a full minute. The direction in this scene alone, in Linda's chessily decorated flat complete with clocks of pigs in heat, shows just how gifted Allen is at being able to take an obscure actress, give her a two-dimensional role and have her find the heart and soul of the film on her own.
Leave it to Woody Allen to deliver a film that is fascinating on many levels and is as beautifully structured as anything you're likely to see all year. I don't believe it's Best Picture material, but it does show a very strong return to form for Allen, no matter how unsure he is of reentering the war between the sexes.
Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
Leaving Las Vegas
This is a film that is not afraid to deal with despair in the extreme. Nicolas Cage plays Ben, a movie executive who for some reason has lost his family and turns to drink, or, at least that's what he thinks. Early in the film he reveals that he's been drinking so excessively for so long that he can't remember if he drank so much that he lost his family or he lost his family so he started drinking. At the advanced stage of despair Ben is in, it doesn't matter. He is suffering so much he has decided to go to Las Vegas and drink himself to death. He crosses paths with a hooker named Sera, Elisabeth Shue, who instantly feels a bond with him. Why, she can't explain to herself, even though she realizes it IS real. It's important that he simply "crosses paths" with a hooker, because his mind is solely on drinking. It isn't until he literally runs into her that the thought crosses his mind that mindless sex could be an enjoyable idea. But Sera feels such a spark with Ben that she realizes he's not just another 'john' but a decent guy who must be in terrible pain. She identifies with him so much because she shares the same type of despair Ben does, and realizes the opportunity to save her own soul by trying to save his, as his "angel," as he constantly refers to her. Trouble is though, that even after he finds his angel, he keeps drinking. In one of the most revealing scenes, the two of them are poolside at a cheap motel and Ben is, naturally, oblivious to her presence because of his soaked mindset. She really wants him to ravish her, so she takes his bottle of booze and pours it over her breasts until, finally, he does. This scene may sound tawdry or corny, but because the two actors have successfully shown up to this point just how much of a bond their characters have, the fact that booze is used as an aphrodisiac here is a major triumph for both of them. They have reached each other halfway.
It's been a long time since I've seen two actors portray what real love and understanding looks like on screen. There is something so tangible in this film it almost feels voyeuristic. These characters love each other in such a way that since the hooker's job is, obviously, to have sex with other men, the element of "cheating" is moot for her, but when she comes home one night to find that HE has been cheating, suddenly your mind freezes up and you don't know what to think until you remember that outside of quickie oral sex you notice that they've never made love even though they are so obviously and operatically IN love. Wow.
In Leaving Las Vegas two of the most down and out characters forge the unlikeliest of bonds and for a fleeting moment experience true love in spite of the money changing hands, money which magically becomes superfluous as their guards are let down to reveal an empathetic passion so real it keeps ascending and swelling, going for a gigantic crescendo. You'll notice that at the beginning of this film you hear blues which slides easily into jazz, and by the end of the film it has transformed into opera. So the range of emotions director Mike Figgis is dealing with on his palette go from despair to sentimentality to operatic overdrive. Opera goes for big emotions and follows them straight through the end. So does this film. It doesn't compromise. It must have been hard to get a film like this made without somebody trying to soften the story or, God forbid, add a different ending. You can imagine some Hollywood producer saying that at the end they should traipse off arm in arm to the Betty Ford Clinic so everything will be all right. But because the budget of the film was what it was, not too many people had the right to dabble with the script.
This script is so good, based on the novel by John O'Brien (who committed suicide just before production on the film began) that at various times on the soundtrack when it fades out for effect you don't need to hear the words that are being said to know what's going on. I would say the only real flaw this film has is that Sera's pimp gets squeezed out of the picture in a pretty clunky way, and when he does you realize that outside of the obligatory battering about he gives her, the two characters have nothing in common. In fact even though Sera is, underneath it all, a vulnerable character, the amount of strength she has would really warrant her being a call girl rather than a hooker. But I'm nit-picking. For all you aspiring filmmakers out there, take a look at this film as a demonstration of how you can make a masterpiece with not much more than two incredible actors. Shot in Super 16mm (one quarter the cost of a 35mm film), the graininess of the image is able to evoke the bittersweet seediness of the situation and the locale, so when you do see the love that these characters share it is that much more tangible and real.
Meet Cosmo (Jason Priestley), a nerdy young bookie content with his boring life crunching numbers for the mob and living in a stark basement apartment at a senior citizens center. His only recreation is watching TV and the occasional tryst with his quirky prostitute pal, Honey (Janeane Garofalo). But one day all this changes, when the mob boss is killed and the well-regarded Cosmo is selected by the smooth and persuasive new chief, Gordon (Robert Loggia), to become a full-fledged hit man. It's an offer the reluctant Cosmo cannot-repeat, cannot-refuse, and he quickly trades in his mundane, solitary existence for a crash course in revenge under the tutelage of veteran mobster Steve (Peter Riegert), a relaxed, suburban bon vivant who relishes the job's maximum pay and minimum hours. In no time, Cosmo surprises both himself and mentor Steve by displaying an absolutely uncanny aptitude for the work. Though he's never touched a gun before, Cosmo proves to be both a crack marksman and, after an initial wave of moral hesitancy, a cool, detached killer. Soon, Cosmo is dispatching deadbeat clients with speed and style and his natural flair with a gun quickly establishes him as an invaluable addition to Gordon's mob.
Reality gets in the way though, when one night, while being massaged by Honey, Cosmo admits feeling a bit uptight and she recommends he try yoga to relax. Cosmo takes her advice and joins a nearby yoga class taught by a beautiful young woman named Jasmine (Kimberly Williams). Cosmo is instantly taken with the kind and gentle Jasmine, who soon becomes drawn to Cosmo. Now if she can just get rid of her pesky, abusive boyfriend, Randy (Josh Charles), maybe she and Cosmo can actually start something. Cosmo, using some of the "skills" of his new trade, eventually persuades Randy to disappear and his relationship with Jasmine takes off.
Writer/director M. Wallace Wolodarksy, a two-time Emmy Award-winner for his work on "The Tracy Ullman Show" and "The Simpsons", has fashioned a script fusing his three genre loves: "I like comedies, gangster movies and romances," explained Wolodarsky, "so I essentially smashed together all three to create this film." But what he's come up with is a film so disjointed and improbable that it looks just like a very long sketch on Saturday Night Live. It's monotonous tone doesn't so much match it's droll sense of humor, as underline the fact that a lot of money was spent on a vehicle for Jason Priestly to blithely shatter his nice guy image, which doesn't even fully succeed because he plays his character not as a nerd, but as a laconic zombie. A nerd may be naive, but a nerd has passion. Passion for inwardly directed things. But Priestly plays his character as mentally deficient, almost the anti-Forrest Gump. Unfortunately, "Coldblooded" doesn't have the sense of scope to actually BE the anti-Forrest Gump.
Peter Riegert (Local Hero, Animal House) turns in a fine performance as usual, and Kimberly Williams does her best with what she has to work with, but Janeane Garofalo (HBO's Larry Sanders Show) is practically wasted in her role as Cosmo's friend. Probably not for long, though. Garofalo has all the enthusiasm and charm of an apple waiting to be picked and it's just a matter of time before she'll be given a meaty role, hopefully doing a tag team thing with Marisa Tomei.
"How do you spell intangible'?"
"How do you spell intangible'?" Dora Carrington asks of Lytton Strachey midway through this film as she sits writing at her desk. How do you spell intangible, indeed. Carrington tells the story of people who tried, in their own way, and at a time when society did not encourage such experiments, to acknowledge openly what most of us are aware of but still reluctant to discuss: that a great many differences exist between love and desire.
Carrington is one of the great epic romances, but a romance where sexual congress between the two who are passionately in love with each other has nothing whatever to do with the deep wells of feeling they share with each ther. Like The Unbearable Lightness Of Being and Out of Africa, Carrington is a film that dares to examine the difference between desire and love, and looks at an adult subject in an adult way. As opposed to Hollywood's usual matter-of-fact insistence that love is a game with a win/lose dialectic simplistically painted in broad stokes, Carrington traces, rather, the fact that love is indeed a mystery which must be acknowledged and honored for the way that it can bring out the best in both people rather than a way of keeping emotional score.
Emma Thompson is able to bring out the awkward, self-effacing aspects of Dora Carrington all the way down to the pigeon-toed stance the way the real life Carrington apparently stood. With all the impatience of a little girl who wishes that one day she'll wake up and finally find herself to be a sophisticated woman, she worships Lytton for his "cold and wise" attitude, his ability to see straight through the conventions of the time, and adopts him as her emotional mentor.
She's an artist whom everyone in the Bloomsbury set knew, even though she never really considered herself a part of the circle, unlike Lytton, whom everyone swarmed around for his scorched earth policy of anti-Victorian insights and rapier wit. Carrington, it would appear, spent her whole life trying to figure herself out, like any true artist, and Thompson very ably transmits that lost quality throughout the film: even as she gains her confidence socially, sexually and artistically, the motivations of her heart she would never let be pressured, no matter how much physical affection and attention she needed. Which I think is an important distinction to make.
A virgin many years past the point of reason, it is as if Carrington bought in to the sexual revolution of the flapper era between the world wars and the way it tried to repeal the oppressiveness of Victorian morals, learning how to cultivate and appreciate the sensual needs of the body, but deep down realized that a healthy, vigorous sex life with a plethora of partners does not necessarily mean more love, but simply more sex. As Carrington points out in the film, with Lytton she was able to be herself in all her confusion and joy, and without the obligatory pressures of regular sexual performance was able to find in Lytton the only person she ever really felt emotionally comfortable with. Echoing that great line of TS Eliot's in Four Quartets, of a "love beyond desire."
Jonathan Pryce, as Lytton Strachey, has the honor of portraying one of the best screen roles of all-time. Like Rex Harrison's Henry Higgins, or Liza Minnelli's Sally Bowles, his performance as Lytton is so fully realized that his character becomes unprecedented. Incorporating the attitude of, say, a bearded Oscar Wilde, Pryce's Lytton takes no prisoners and is disgusted by what he sees around him: the behaviour of the upper classes he finds himself eventually skirting is embarrassingly inexcusable to his ethically conscientious grounding. English boys are dying, he scowls, for their right to shamelessly frolic on the lawns of garden parties.
When Lytton moves in with Carrington they both want commitment (with a small c), but also personal freedom. This ambiguity toward each other is parallel to their ambiguity toward the concept of fame, which they both courted in a very teasing way, but soon grew to realize that there is a lot more to be said for secure domesticity (no matter how loosely defined) than their behaviorally adventurous artistic peers. Because Carrington is intelligently written, directed, and acted, however, we do not see the behavior of each of them as simply willful and spoiled, but as part of the contradictions they need to stay individuals in a culture, and at a time, where the conventional notions of love and sex were strictly regimented.
Jonathan Pryce plays Lytton with a sort of detachment that is supposed to come from the character's distaste for commitment.
What's most surprising about this epic romance is that given the amount of territory it traverses (seventeen years) at an almost leisurely pace, it clocks in at only a hair over two hours, but when those two hours are over, you certainly feel as if you've been somewhere, seen something, been privy to so many more truths and realizations than you'll see in any other standard film about a romance. What we have here is a paradox: an old-fashioned story about an avant-garde arrangement. An intelligent, thoughtful love story, told with enough care and attention that we really get involved in the passions between the characters, not the algebra surrounding them.
Lost in America (1985)
Lost In America
Papa Villone asserts that "If you can manage to find more than four memorable quotes in a film, it's a classic of some sort." Well, Albert Brooks' 1985 film Lost In America is so stocked with great quotes that it's off Papa's meter: "MERCEDES leather? What's MERCEDES leather?"
"I've seen the future and it's a bald man from New York!"
"I like Wayne Newton. Are you saying I'M a schmuck?"
"You can't even SAY the word 'egg' any more. When you go into the woods you see a bird's round stick. For breakfast you have THING'S with ham."
"I'm losing my right eye." "What?" "I'm losing my right eye." "What?"
"An adult should NOT get a bloody nose."
This film is hysterical. I watched it over at Casey's house for the first time a few days ago. Casey said he'd already seen it five or six times and now I know why. Director, writer and star Albert Brooks has created the perfect yuppie comedy. An advertising executive in his thirties who is on the verge of buying a new house for he and his wife, which he's hoping to coincide with his long-awaited promotion to vice president, is called into his bosses office and learns that not only isn't he getting the promotion, all he's getting is a lateral transfer (from their LA office to their New York offices). In probably the finest job- quitting scene in the history of film, Brooks explodes in the most acerbic, articulate way everybody has always dreamed of when realizing all their years of hard work mean nothing.
He leaves his job, talks his wife (Julie Haggerty) into quitting hers, and they decide to "find themselves" on the open road "just like Easy Rider." They sell EVERYTHING, buy a Winnebago and STILL have about 150,000 dollars to their name and head to Vegas. Brooks qualifies himself every time he has to deal with someone: "Hi, uh, my wife and I have dropped out of society, and..." They have enough money, he conservatively estimates, to stay on the road for the rest of their lives. That's before she loses their nest egg at the roulette table. Brooks the adman tries to talk the casino owner (Garry Marshall) into giving back the money. It doesn't work, but Brooks keeps pushing, trying to sell the casino on improving its image. ("I'm a high-paid advertising consultant. These are professional opinions you're getting.") There are other great scenes, as the desperate couple tries to find work to support themselves: An interview with an unemployment counselor, who listens, baffled, to Brooks explaining why he left a $100,000-a-year job because he couldn't "find himself." And Brooks' wife introducing her new boss, a teenage boy.
The funniest aspect of the film, though, is the element of materialistic panic Brooks is able to squeeze out of his character. He's a typical A-type, potential heart-attack victim: he makes a lot of money (80K! ), but not enough; who lives in a big house, but is outgrowing it; who drives an expensive car, but not a Mercedes-Benz; who is a top executive, but not a vice president. In short, he is a desperate man, trapped by his own expectations.
See this with your friend from Microsoft who got hired fresh out of high school.
Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982)
Pink Floyd The Wall
As an album, Pink Floyd's "The Wall" thrust on the music world an opus with the towering angst of a burnt-out rock star cursing his environment for causing him to build a "wall" against it and its tortures, both trivial and relevant. Now, the film version provides a backdrop for the popular album as the literal adaptation by director Alan Parker assaults the senses by entering the mind of a character driven to the border between genius and madness by the pressures of reality.
Except for substituting "When the Tigers Broke Free" for "Hey You," the album's material is complete. Many of the tracks have been reworked, a tad slower and much richer than the originals, revealing all the nuances that the film's crisp sound uncovers.
Roger Waters, bass player for Pink Floyd as well as the film's maestro, knew exactly how his audience would react toward his film even as he designed the poster art, which offers vivid snatches of several scenes scattered around the autistic main character. He is right: one doesn't remember the film as a whole so much as one is more inclined to remember a bombastic series of vignettes that have somehow surrounded Pink (played by Bob Geldof, lead singer of the Boomtown Rats).
The images, however, do reflect a kind of demented poetry to them. Blood, whether it's dripping into a pool or a sink full of shaving cream, looks exquisite on film, just as light in the form of a match and a fluorescent bulb can appear to bring warmth as well as an oppressive glare to different scenes.
Reviewing "The Wall" is entirely different from reviewing other movies made from albums, like "Quadrophenia" or "Sgt. Pepper," because "The Wall" is meant as a piece of didactic art as opposed to a conventional rendition of an album, explaining the album's concept and themes rather than attempt to dramatize the 1.
The universal themes of love, sex, war and oppression link each scene as Pink attempts to provide some sort of rationale for his world. In several scenes one can almost hear Waters describing how he wants the scene shot in order to bring about this or that type of symbolism.
"In the lyrics it says 'his fat and psychopathic wife," Waters might have explained to Parker, "but that's just his warped perception of her. Actually, she is just an average wife who uses her stern facade to instill in him the perfect behavior he lacks. Get it? Okay, let's shoot it from the ground looking up so she looks bigger than life and gives her a little more respect."
"The Wall" as a story is so lyrically tight that the album by contrast can't be pinned down to an examination of definite meanings. The film maintains this cornucopia of interpretations by painting numerous layers through images that sometimes flow, sometimes collide with each other. For example, Gerald Scarfe's animations can metamorphose a dove into a symbol of Nazi Germany, the Royal Air Force and finally the ruins of England, reversing any Phoenix myths.
Scarfe also triumphs with the visual accompaniment to the lengthened version of "Empty Spaces" as the path of "Shooting superstars" is sarcastically examined. And a tender love scene between two flowers erupts into a violent rape as pistil and stamen battle each other mercilessly.
The central point of the film is that Waters, or any other rock star, has the ability to become a fascist dictator in relatively the same kind of war that destroyed his father, the cornerstone of his wall. And that rock and roll has become a religion (or Reich) that has the same hierarchy and rituals as a socialistic society. The audience, however, is oblivious to it all, even as it enjoys it, and has for thirty some years.
"The Wall" has the potential to be either a depressing hour-and-a-half of celluloid or a brilliantly colored, insightful tool to see just how far we will let out entertainers rule our lives, and vice versa. As I stepped out of the theater after viewing the film, one teenage girl remarked to her friends that it was the dumbest movie she had seen since "Altered States." Ironically, she is the audience that Waters aimed the film at.
Cat People (1982)
Have you ever wondered how it might feel to make love to a black leopard? In "Cat People," one more or less finds out. "Cat People" is one more in a series of updated horror films that have had a renaissance in the contemporary cinema. Although it boasts Malcolm McDowell and Nastassia Kinski in the starring roles, "Cat People" (a remake of the 1942 film of the same name) fails to add any original material to the horror genre.
The film suffers from a case of split personality and ends up with two half-baked versions of what it wants to be. The storyline is basically hackneyed: an unknown tribe of fanatical animal worshipers-large cats in this case-becomes extinct, except for one brother and sister separated at birth who finally meet some time in their mid-20s. Brother thinks the only way to save their dead race is by an incestuous relationship, and when his sister refuses, he goes on a rampage. Having numerous one-night-stands, he mauls his victims after transforming into a black leopard.
The plot does not twist very much and it is easy to keep one step ahead. But the director, Paul Schrader (author of "Taxi Driver" and "Blue Collar"), cares more about style than function and lets the film meander. In order to let the film fully develop, Schrader shapes it around the basic principles of a cat and lets it adapt accordingly. The scenes naturally creep by, the score glides across the action effortlessly and the chase scenes flex and retract with a grasping rhythm. With the synthesizer work of Giorgio Moroder ("Midnight Express"), an almost fluid feeling of anticipated fear is laced through each scene and very comfortably compliments the real stars of the film: the camera and the visual effects. Black and red are the two colors the camera is fond of, which intensify as soon as they are noticed. When Annette O'Toole goes for an after-hours swim at the Y and the lights mysteriously go out, the cat seems to pace alongside the pool even though it is pitch black. And when the blood flows onto the floor of the zoo, the cat claws its way around Kinski's legs. Kinski, though , is treated royally by the cinematographer. In the scenes where she removes her clothes, the outside light does not just shine off her nude body, it glistens.
Her large eyes are the key to her character, letting her slip from a look of innocence to a savage scowl in minutes. McDowell's make-up does emphasize his catlike facial structure, but in doing so reveals his age (near 40), which begs quite a bit of credibility for a supposed 26-year-old. The success of McDowell has always relied on his ability to be both charming and sinister, which is kept intact, though he comes across looking tired.
The large, black leopard winds up stealing most of the scenes and makes the cat that Snoopy antagonizes seem like Garfield. As in any horror film, the animal is as frightening a creature as one ever wants to meet, with a subterranean growl that is positively horrid. And as a horror film staple, the film is filled with the obligatory graphic violence as well as the time-lapse transformation from human to beast.
The final frame, where the head of a black leopard fills the screen, conveys what all horror films about animals hope to do: leave one feeling about that particular animal in an entirely different manner. In "Cat People," however, it does not quite know how it wants to leave you feeling.
The Exorcist (1973)
I've never really been much of a fan of horror films because I've never been able to suspend my belief long enough to let a monster scare me. To me psychological demons are much more effective than overdone makeup jobs. I prefer The Haunting with Claire Bloom, or The Shining with Jack Nicholson. But the all-time classic has got to be The Exorcist. One of the reasons The Exorcist always scares the bejesus out of me is because it treats an epistemological subject very seriously, even when the one character you'd expect to step forth willingly, young priest Father Karras (Jason Miller), does his best to dissuade Ellen Burstyn that her daughter is possessed by a demon. Of course, by that time Karras has already confessed to a fellow priest that he's started to lose his own faith because he realizes that the problems he has to deal with of his congregation are too much for one man, especially a man who keeps neglecting his own mother during the last days of her life. I think one of the reasons this is such a successful film is that the concept of a demon is treated as intangibly as our imagination's reach: How WOULD the devil deal with us if confronted? By reading each of our souls, finding whatever carefully hidden secrets there are and spewing them back in our faces as spiritual ammunition. Not only that, but when you see Regan (Linda Blair) in the opening scenes gently horseplaying around with her mother and her sister, the charm and goodness she radiates leaves you completely floored when she finally does become possessed and turns into a creature so horrible that you forget all about Regan. The lynchpin is having Max von Sydow cast as the aging priest who comes to finish off the work that Father Karras has started. Von Sydow who has been Ingmar Bergman's spiritual warrior for so many of his films dealing with the epistemological nature of the universe. And credit must go to Mercedes McCambridge for supplying the voice of the demon.
I think The Exorcist is one of the best "lit" and photographed films of all time. The use of shadow is brilliant; very low key (simple things like showing a lit hall, yet having the far stairway at the END of the hall not lit...very subtly eerie stuff) yet incredibly evocative. I mean, the shadows damn near have colors. Director of Photography Owen Roizman, whose work can be seen in "The Addams Family" and "Grand Canyon," shot "The Exorcist." Roizman's credits include such famous titles as "The French Connection," "Network," "Tootsie," "Three Days of the Condor," "The Electric Horseman" and "Havana." In a movie that took 180 days to make (three times the average), the exorcism alone took three months-and on some of those days the crew felt lucky to get one shot. That was because director William Friedkin wanted to make it visually clear that the satanic spirit inside the possessed girl had made the room unbearably cold. A refrigerated set representing her bedroom was constructed on a sound stage, and air conditioners worked all night to lower its temperature to 40 degrees below zero. "When we set up the lights in the morning, that would raise the temperature to around zero, which was necessary if we were going to be able to see the frost on the actor's breath," Roizman explained. "We also kept the humidity very high. It was an unbelievably uncomfortable way to work."
Look closely using stop-action laserdisc to reveal the flash-frames of Satan's face, which Friedkin inserted almost subliminally at two places, and to reveal a subtle double-exposure in which the evil spirit seems to peer out through Blair's eyes. There are semi-subliminal single-frame shots in this film: when the priest is dreaming of his mother coming up out of the subway, there is a single frame shot of a face (Eileen Dietz), painted black and white, grimacing. There are two other places where this image is supposedly displayed: when Regan, lying on the bed, turns to look at Father Merrin and Father Karras, and just after the head-turning scene. Do not watch this alone.