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Rumble Fish (1983)
Simply my favourite movies of all time
When chatting in a pub or at a party with friends or new acquaintances, occasionally the question, 'So what is your all-time favourite movie, then?' crops up. Expecting something predictable like 'Star Wars' (urgh) or 'Goodfellas' (queasy) or even 'The Godfather' (impressive but not lovable) the conversation usually comes to a grinding halt when I answer 'A black and white film from the early 1980's called 'Rumble Fish''. The response 'Oh, I have never heard of that,' usually follows, then 'What is it about?' This last question is a tricky one to answer. I mean, what IS it about? A boy comes back to a small mid-western town and saves his younger brother's life at the expense of his own? I mean, it's hardly 'Gone with the Wind' is it? Yet every scene in the film is beautiful to watch - and each repeat watching reveals more. I love to watch it with someone new to it and try to resist pointing out little details, like the colours (or lack of them), the clocks, the cameo roles by Tom Waits, S.E. Hinton, Sophia Coppola and Dennis Hopper. Anyone who thinks that Mickey Rourke is no better than the dreck that is 'Sin Cities' should see this and realise that there was a time when he was capable of true, subtle, low-key 'under-acting' (reminiscent of the likes of Bogart or Clint Eastwood) - a pleasant contrast to the hysterical behaviour of many of today's 'leading actors'.
Nicholas Cage, Diane Lane and Matt Dillon (in my eyes the weak link, in that I never truly believe in him - he seems too old for the part) play useful supporting roles; Laurence Fishburne is interesting (although what a guy who looks to be in his 30's would be doing hanging round with a bunch of teenage delinquents was never clear to me!) and William Smith represents the sole true 'authority' (one might also say 'normality') character in the form of Patterson the Cop.
The message put over is simple yet complex, ambiguous yet clear, paradoxical yet logical. There are aspects of both tragedy and comedy - even pantomime - about it. The opening lines, "Biff Wilcox is looking for you, Rusty James. He's gonna kill you, Rusty James!" tell you that this is not a real world - Biff is not going to actually kill Rusty James, just give him a slap - but that this world is real to the characters that inhabit it. The Motorcycle Boy has discovered that the only way that his brother can escape the constrictions of this world is to deconstruct it before his eyes, even if it means his own end.
'Rumble Fish' is a truly beautiful movie - the cinematography alone makes it worth watching for anyone with more than a cursory interest the movies - to be watched in a dark room, late at night, with a glass of something in your hand. And when you have done so come back here and tell us (me!) what you thought of it and why you disagree with everything above! June 2006
Meet the Fockers (2004)
Not really a disappointment
Before reviewing this movie, I would like to make a few points:- Firstly, I am a big Robert de Niro fan. Ten years ago I would have stated unequivocally that he was the finest movie actor ever, with a number of powerful performances to his credit. These days I still cherish him, but am less certain of his greatness.
Secondly, I am not trying to be provocative or unpleasant or offencive in writing this review, but to simply put forward an opinion for discussion. I would welcome responses, of all kinds, to my email address (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Thirdly, I have to confess that I approached this movie with trepidation, with the prejudice that I was not going to like it. Nevertheless, when the opportunity to see it came up I was prepared to take it.
The first disappointment about this movie is the juvenility of its humour (humor for the Americans!), starting with its title, which contain a word which sounds closely like a crude Anglo-Saxon term for having sex (oooh, how rude!!), but is also a genuine surname arising from the Dutch aircraft designer Anton Fokker. I wonder what the target audience for this humour is - surely only children under the age of about 12 find the hint of coarse language amusing? Or is there a vast swathe of conservative middle-age matrons who, scared of using the 'F word' themselves find the threat of it dangling before their noses dangerously exciting? There is further 'nudge, nudge, wink wink' (as we Brits say, from the Monty Python sketch) sex-related humour through Barbara Streisand's character, and the over-amorous dog, plus some (dog-down-the) toilet humour thrown in for good measure.
The second disappointment is the sheer predictability of the plot. Two very different families, in terms of personalities, careers, background etc. are linked by a single commonality - their children wish to wed. Simple movie logic suggests that the differences will cause frequent confrontation and misunderstanding as both sets of parents attempt to dominate with their preferred version of reality, but that they will come together in the end, united by the love their children have for each other. And - surprise, surprise - the movie follows that immensely predictable path to a conclusion that could have be written within five minutes of the beginning.
The third disappointment is the involvement of two giants of the screen in Robert de Niro and Dustin Hoffmann (the other actors are appropriate to this level of excrement). I realise that de Niro is a producer of the movie, so has a vested interest additional to his acting role, but he is not a comic actor and his legacy is tarnished by performances such as this.
The only aspect of this movie which was not a disappointment to me was the fact that I predicted that I would dislike it, and that it would be embarrassing and unfunny. I was not disappointed to have been proved correct - although I would have preferred to have been proved wrong.
Stage Beauty (2004)
A whimsical farce or cutting drama?
Sometimes you go to see a film expecting little and deriving far more. This was one such film for me.
Starting rather slowly in the claustrophobic confines of the backstage of 16th century English playhouse, it revealed the somewhat unusual (but true!) paradox that women were not allowed to appear on the stage (at least not in "respectable" drama), but that their parts had to be played by men. This was not out of some elevated respect for women (women were definitely treated as second-class citizens throughout the film, good as no more than prostitutes or serving wenches), but due to the archaic demands of the church.
Thus a man could make a career, and achieve popularity, wealth and power by dressing up as a woman, whereas a woman aspiring to the same would be considered perverse.
The film centres upon Maria (Claire Danes) and Ned Kynaston (Billy Crudup) and the chemistry between them as they try to succeed in the theatre - one on the way up and the other on the way down. This builds to a climax in a performance of 'Othello' that reflects the intensity of their feelings for each other. There is excellent support from English character actors such as Tom Wilkinson and Richard Griffiths, although I have seen Ben Chaplin better employed elsewhere.
A pleasant surprise was the comic timing of Rupert Everett, who I had always thought of as a rather mediocre romantic lead before, as King Charles II (with a voice that is a wonderful take-off of the current Price Charles!).
It seems a pity, to me, that it appears to be necessary to have Americans in the leading roles (a la Shakespare in Love, I suppose), but I presume this is to help 'crack' the US market. Crudup plays the complex role of Ned Kynaston well, but I thought that Danes was somewhat superficial and failed to convey her feelings convincingly.
I was also unconvinced by the way that Ned could 'pop in' and have a chat with the king (dressed in drag and alone!), whenever he felt like it!
There are a lot of (unnecessary at times) sexual references, which has resulted in the film getting a much higher rating than it deserves. As a result (in the UK anyway) you need to be 15 years old or above to see it; I think this is a shame, as I am sure that, were some of the unnecessary sexual references removed, it would be very suitable to show to a history class of 12 to 14 year olds.
Overall, this is a film that is well-acted and with some clever ideas and is worth spending your time and money on.
The Stepford Wives (2004)
Competently made, if a little self-conscious and dated
Firstly, let me just make the following points: I have not seen the original movie (or, if I have, I do not remember it), but I do know the premise of the story, as a classic science fiction thriller. Furthermore, I did not go to the cinema intending to see it, but I ended up seeing it anyway.
The makers of the movie seem very conscious of the fact that they are producing a re-make; I think that weakens it, as you cannot run forwards whilst continuously glancing over your shoulder.
Glenn Close demonstrates, once again, what a marvelous character actress she is, although as she became more and more hysterical I began to expect her stuff a bunny in a pan of boiling water. Christopher Walken barely gets out of first gear - his acting is (appropriately!) robotic. Matthew Broderick is underused; for someone who was so good as Ferris Bueller I think that he could have been more effectively employed and his character fleshed out.
There is some confusion (see the noticeboard) about whether the wives were real or robots. This arises from the original movie, in which the wives were replaced by synthetic versions of themselves (i.e. robots), which pleased their husbands as they were far more compliant, co-operative and harder-working than their live predecessors. In this version the wives (who are star women of industry etc) brains have silicon chips implanted in them that make them electronically controllable (by the husbands). So their bodies are as before, but their brains have been modified. Th exception to this is the Christopher Walken character, who really is a man-made (or actually, the Glenn Close character-made) robot!
The moral dilemma of the movie is which is better - the clean, tidy, beautiful nirvana of the electronically controlled Stepford world or the grungy, disorganised real world. Glenn's character prefers the former, Nicole Kidman's character spends the film vacillating (look it up!) between the former and the latter. It comes down to a re-assessment of the idea of beauty, which, in the days of Charlie's Angels and leggy blonde's of the 1970's, was more of an adventurous concept to debate by means of film than it is almost 30 years later. Bette Midler does her best to demonstrate the two extremes; her "real world" house is a health and safety death trap and she dresses as if dragged through a hedge backwards, but when she is transformed her "Barbie Doll" version is a scary mimic of Glenn Close's.
The ironic twist of this all is that Nicole Kidman looks incredibly sexy with short black hair at her very lowest point and similarly gorgeous as a brunette before her "transformation" into a much less attractive plastic blonde, which either undermines the argument of the film or justifies her stance, depending upon your point of view.
Whilst no-one comes out of this film looking bad, the reputations of the main characters, with possibly Nicole excepted, will hardly have been enhanced by a notion that may have seemed plausible thirty years ago, but nowadays looks a little quaint.