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There was a time when "The Simpsons" were influencing Pop Culture. Now, it's Pop Culture influencing "The Simpsons"
I love movies that challenge my intelligence, please my eyes, and talk to my heart
Personal Top Lists:
IMDb Daily Poll Selection History :
Most classic one-word movie quote : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2009-02-27
Most classic "written" quote : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2009-04-02
Movie quote said in front of your mirror : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2009-04-15
Favorite cinematic 'Frank' : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2009-04-28
Most classic 'three-word' movie quote : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2009-05-25
Movie title best defining your life right now : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2009-06-09
"Morning" movie quote best defining your mood when you wake up : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2009-07-07
Most elaborated revenge scheme featured in a movie : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2009-08-09
Most iconic three-word movie quote (with a contraction): http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2009-09-17
Favorite pairing from the list of Best Actor nominated duos : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2009-10-11
Favorite female villain from the American Film Institute's list : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2009-10-16
Favorite Actress from the top 10 of AFI's "America's Greatest Legends": http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2009-11-09
Favorite Actor from the top 10 of AFI's "America's Greatest Legends": http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2009-11-10
Most classic 'two-word' movie quote : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2009-11-27
Movie genre matching your own resolution for 2010 : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2009-12-31
Favorite cinematic hero from a Best Picture Winner : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2010-01-05
Favorite gangster film from AFI's Top 10 : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2010-01-28
Favorite one-word TV catchphrase : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2010-03-06
Most memorable "walking" movie scene : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2010-03-14
Favorite TV Duo with names beginning with same initials : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2010-03-24
Favorite highest ranked movie by genre from AFI's Top 100 : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2010-03-25
Favorite iconic female movie quote from AFI's Top 100: http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2010-04-05
Favorite of Top 10 Voyeuristic movies: http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2010-04-16
TV show title best defining your life right now: http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2010-05-01
Favorite Harrison Ford movie nominated for Best Picture oscar: http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2010-05-04
Film icon most likely to win a staring contest: http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2010-05-15
Favorite gangster from one of AFI's Top 10 films: http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2010-06-01
Favorite movie set in a hotel (or motel): http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2010-06-03
Movie with the most claustrophobic feeling : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2010-07-01
Favorite "Flying" movie moment : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2010-07-05
Favorite cinematic pig : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2010-07-12
Favorite cinematic photographer : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2010-07-13
Favorite one-word Mystery film : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2010-07-19
Favorite TV-themed movie : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2010-08-04
Favorite actress with oscars nods in at least 4 decades : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2010-08-12
Favorite actor with oscar nods in at least 4 different decades : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2010-08-13
Favorite TV/movie cliffhanger quote : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2010-08-14
Most iconic TV item of clothing : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2010-08-25
Movie quote best defining Al Pacino : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2010-08-31
Favorite TV/Movie Butler : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2010-09-25
Favorite narrator from IMDb's Top 50 : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2010-09-27
Favorite TV large group of siblings : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2010-11-06
Most iconic four-word movie quote : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2010-11-15
Director most likely to direct a Best Picture winner first : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2010-11-26
Most enjoyed TV's opening credits sequence : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2010-12-01
Most memorable cinematic question : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2010-12-10
Most tiring ciliché movie profession : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2010-12-19
Most memorable child's movie quote : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2010-12-26
Favorite TV's male and female team : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2010-12-29
Favorite TV show that regularly broke the 4th Wall : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2011-01-05
Favorite TV's "acronym"-named character : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2011-01-08
Most memorable mystery from a TV series : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2011-02-02
Favorite 1960's tough-guy film : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2011-02-13
Best written film from Top 10 Favorite Screenplays : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2011-02-25
Favorite medical doctor from a non TV medical show : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2011-03-09
Favorite horror-themed TV series : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2011-03-11
Favorite classic sci-fi film released in 1982 : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2011-04-07
Favorite cinematic moving object : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2011-04-17
Most original cinematic deadly object : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2011-05-05
Favorite TV series with a titular setting : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2011-05-11
Most iconic TV gameshow cathcphrase : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2011-05-18
Favorite TV bespectacled character : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2011-05-25
Most deserving film-maker of a theme park : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2011-05-31
Favorite Western-themed TV series : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2011-06-08
Most iconic movie cop : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2011-06-17
Favorite Best Picture moment from Ebert's 100 greatest : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2011-06-21
Disney film that should be remade by David Lynch : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2011-06-28
Favorite oscar-winning Columbo "murderer" : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2011-06-29
Favorite 1999 existential film : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2011-07-01
Favorite TV show featuring puppetry : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2011-07-02
Favorite first performer to win Oscar twice in the same category : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2011-07-18
Favorite TV show aired during 11 seasons : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2011-07-20
TV kid best defining your childhood personality : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2011-07-23
Movies with the most nightmarish feel : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2011-07-25
Favorite character "good" or "bad" : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2011-08-14
Favorite TV character using a wheelchair : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2011-08-17
Favorite top ranked 70's one-word title film : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2011-08-30
Director that "owned" the 60's : http://www.imdb.com/poll/results/2011-09-01
Despite some similarities, genre-wise, the film couldn't have been more opposite. However, they have one thing in common besides starring Lea Thompson, they both feature two of the most cringe-worthy and disturbing romances ever.
Granted Lorraine didn't know Marty was her son and Howard was an 'anthropomorphic' duck, it's quite difficult to overlook the Oedipal and Bestial undertones of each relationship, hence the question : which of these two romances, culminating with one kiss, do you think, is the most cringe-worthy?
To date, only a few trial movies have won the Oscar : The Life of Emile Zola (1937), On the Waterfront (1954), A Man for All Seasons (1966), Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) and (to some extent) Chicago (2002)
So, from this list of Courtroom Dramas or Trial Comedies nominated for Best Picture, which one would have most deserved to beat the actual winner?
(are included all the movies in which a system of justice, of any sort, plays a significant role to the plot)
Think of your "Bruce" first, then check the list, then vote and then discuss
This is a list of 35 classic movies whose title in French is far from being a literary translation. When turned into English, it's like the title of another movie.
Which one do you think could have worked as well as the original one ... if not better?
Both actors made a spectacular come-back with these two roles, giving the performance of a lifetime, universally acclaimed by critics and movie goers, yet they both ended up losing the Oscar for more "politically correct" choices, (according to the complainers).
Anyway, which of these two performances most deserved to win the Oscar? which snub shocked you the most?
Greek Chorus : "A minor character or group of minor characters who offer commentary and/or opinions on the actions of the main characters, usually by Breaking the Fourth Wall and addressing the audience directly. [...] While a lead character can do this himself, it doesn't make him a Greek Chorus; a proper Greek Chorus differs by being removed from the action and thus able to view it with something approaching objectivity. [...] It's one use for the First-Person Peripheral Narrator. Strictly speaking, an omniscient narrator usually wouldn't qualify as a Greek Chorus. However, the lemony type who repeatedly breaks the Fourth Wall and makes asides to the audience to the point that they're a "character" unto themselves might reach the point where they overlap with it. If the narration is revealed to be by an actual main member, retroactively telling the story to someone else, it may count, but the important qualifier is that their opinions are objective and express what the audience would think (if they are retroactively self-deprecating of even their own actions, etc.)"
While a lead character can do this himself, it doesn't make him a Greek Chorus; a proper Greek Chorus differs by being removed from the action and thus able to view it with something approaching objectivity. [...] It's one use for the First-Person Peripheral Narrator.
Strictly speaking, an omniscient narrator usually wouldn't qualify as a Greek Chorus. However, the lemony type who repeatedly breaks the Fourth Wall and makes asides to the audience to the point that they're a "character" unto themselves might reach the point where they overlap with it.
If the narration is revealed to be by an actual main member, retroactively telling the story to someone else, it may count, but the important qualifier is that their opinions are objective and express what the audience would think (if they are retroactively self-deprecating of even their own actions, etc.)"
So, which of these favorite use of a Greek Chorus in a TV program is your favorite?
Mrs. Miniver (1942)
The People's War : Men on Battlefields, Women as the Sentinels of the Family Sanctuary ...
"Mrs. Miniver" is an insightful slice of upper-class life in small British towns. And Oscar-winning Greer Garson was born to play that role. She illuminates the screen with her delicate traits and her naturalness covering a wide range of attitudes (rather than emotions) from gravity and dignity to sympathy and some bits of extravagance. Of course, every now and then, Walter Pidgeon steals the show as the loving and caring husband, but the focus is clearly on the titular heroine.
And speaking of heroine, it seems like within its documentary value, William Wyler also tries to highlight the everyday heroism of women like Kay Miniver before the word would take its fullest meaning when War would be declared to Germany. Yes, it takes some moral strength, some guts, to raise a family, to make a man like Vin (Richard Ney) out of a boy, to make his involvement to defend his country going without saying, to take care of a house, man, children during a time where women were not -like feminists love to point out- slaves of men, but like the trustworthy sentinels of the family sanctuary, no less sacred than the city, whose defense relied on men's shoulders.
Men outside and women inside, this was not a denigration of women's rights but an equilibrium that every civilization had reached in a long natural process whose ultimate goal was to ensure harmony on a longer term. A film like William Wyler's "Mrs Miniver" is the perfect answer to feminism because it demonstrates the positive role played by women in the early 20th century, they weren't devoted to men, but to an order that valued men and women as well, in different yet complementary ways. And now that characters like Ellen Ripley, Sarah Connor, Lara Croft or the Bride became fashion, there is something refreshing in the more traditional form of courage and strength embodied by Garson. In her own personal way, she kicks ass.
Of course, I'm not ignoring the film's political motives. I concede a similar film could have been made with a "Frau Muller" mother a happy German family, but "Mrs Miniver" is immune against such accusations because the film clearly was made at a time where Germany had the upper hand (maybe even released before America's involvement) therefore, Britain was the hunted, the wounded one, and it's legitimate to show British people victims of a war they didn't start, well, not the civilians anyway. Later, a film would show Germany destroyed by the bombings, "Germany: Year Zero" but it was in 1947, "Miniver" is from 1942, these five years, let's just say an eternity, war wasn't over yet and Germany still could win, "God defend the 'right'" was still a prayer, and the year of the film's release makes the atmosphere of the final act even more unsettling.
And the film evokes the War's infamous 'innovation', as the vicar says at the end in the memorable speech: "it's people's war", homes became battlefields. It's very revealing of the war's barbarity that the three victims of the final bombing were a child, an old man and a young lady. Fighting became such a natural choice, the word 'hero' I mentioned lost its meaning. For us, these people are worthy of admiration, but for them, they were just doing their duty. Men were assigned to escort some ships and could not 'sail back'. Being a father myself, I hope I'll never have to cover the ears of my daughter, and pretend nothing will happen while hearing a strident whizzing getting louder. The merit of "Mrs Miniver" is to show the war from the distant perspective of civilians, working like warning for future generations. No one who lived a war can wish for one to happen, and no wonder we have so many warmongers in our politicians' baby-boom generation.
Still, "Mrs Miniver" could've been just a war picture, with an emphasis on 'picture', a story, with events working like plot devices. A brave wagon master played by Henry Travers wants to enter his beautiful rose named after Mrs. Miniver, in a contest that only Lady Beldon (a great Dame May Witty) ever participated in and won ... we know the old coot will have a change of mind (or heart, in that specific case). When Carol, her grand-daughter, played by the beautiful Teresa Wright comes to ask Miniver to convince the man to withdraw his rose, her son Vin accuses her of snobbery ... naturally, they fall in love right after. Men talk about a disappearing German pilot, and bingo, guess who finds him. It's like every chain of events works in the most predictable way, and this is why, as soon as good old Vin joined the RAF... he made his death the most predictable one.
The omen starts with his parents' concerns, the last-minute calls of duty, the reluctance of Lady Beldon to have her Carol lose her husband at war like she did at a younger age, and naturally, Carol herself, who shares her fears with her mother-in-law, and explains that she wants to make the most of life before turning into a widow. And God, I didn't see it coming ... the story's masterstroke. I don't know if it can be labeled as a twist ending, but it had for me the same shocking effect. It's an irony of fate or maybe God's response to men's presumptuousness. Tragedy struck down the Miniver family by killing off Carol, and as sad as it was, this was the highlight of the film for me, I was blown away by that ending, because all the inspirational and emotional stuff that rhymed in conventional was immediately redeemed by Carol's death, one that was true to life's unexpectedness.
Sorry to conclude with movie-geek jargon, but enough of grandiloquent words, "Mrs. Miniver" features perhaps one of the most underrated (and powerful) twist-endings, and this is why I went from liking to loving it.
Gentleman's Agreement (1947)
All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing...
I've often wondered maybe naively- why is it that anti-Semitism is always "associated with" but "never included" within racism. In these times of extreme communitarian sensitivity, I'm fully aware that these questions can hide an unconscious form of anti-Semitism but I know my conscience is crystal clear on that level.
Let's first put facts into their historical context, anti-Semitism is undoubtedly connected with an indelible stain on Humanity's soul called the Holocaust, six millions of Jews died of something that started with an individual belief, a devastating number in a dramatically short time span. The historical trauma made obvious the distinction between anti-Semitism and racism. Now it angers communities who protest against the supremacy given to the Jew suffering, above others from the past and the present, but as a retort, these protestations are liable to get the 'anti-Semite' stamp, making the snake biting his own tail.
Now it's impossible to see where and where is not anti-Semitism, the only certitude being that its injurious effect acts on a reputation like a torpedo on a U-boat. But back then in 1947, things were a bit different. Directed by Elia Kazan, and written by Moss Hart, "Gentleman's Agreement" explores anti-Semitism in post-war America. Gregory Peck is Phil Green, a noble-hearted journalist assigned to write a series about anti-Semitism to see which aspects of his life he took for granted would be affected if he passed as a Jew. And boy, no matter how confident, charismatic, and well-spoken he is, the mere mention of his ethnicity carves a sign of undesirability on his front.
And the time the film was made is crucial: 1947. Two years after GI's discovered the extents of Nazi barbarity in Death camps and one year before the creation of the state of Israel, not without American help. What Kazan's film offers is an interesting view on America's mindset toward Jewish people: bigotry, misunderstanding and defiance, remarkably contrasting with the US Foreign Policy. Basically, it's not the film that is dated, but minds. The anti-Semitism discovered by Phil is one that hasn't been confronted to its devastating effects. After all, what Nazis did, started with the way Americans thought, shocking but true.
And "that" anti-Semitism didn't wait the Holocaust; its roots are Biblical before being cultural: defiance toward people without a land, but with influence, a mix of envy and hate, an ugly feeling indeed, fueled by the certitude to belong to the right side. This is Green's subtlest discovery, there are anti-Semites and there are people guilty of silence, feeling on the safe side from the anti-Semitism they observe. To give you an example, there were three kinds of kids in the schoolyard: bullies, victims and cowards who either supported the bullies or didn't help the victims, to avoid the hits. All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.
And speaking of good persons doing nothing, Green finds one and falls in love with her. Dorothy McGuire is Kathy, his boss' niece, a divorced woman who actually suggested the theme of the series. Yet, despite her well-meaning intentions, as the romance grew, she betrayed in many occasions her unconscious bigotry. It started with her confused concern whether Green's Jewish or not (ruining a promising dinner) and culminated after Phil's son (played by a young Dean Stockwell) complained about kids attacking him because he said he was a Jew. She doesn't comfort him by saying that they were bad, but by him not being a Jew causing a justifiable anger from Phil.
She finally closes the door after a remarkable speech that says a lot about her conception of "being a Jew", it's obviously a social handicap according to her, and although she has nothing against Jews, she feels exactly like someone who's handsome, young or rich instead of ugly, old or poor. In other words, it's nothing to feel ashamed of. Phil's journey reveals the ugliest side of American narrow-mindedness, even to the point, ironic but insightful, that his Jewish secretary is part of the same conspiracy, speaking herself about 'right' and 'wrong' Jews and it's a Gentile teaching her a lesson. This is for subtleties like this that the film overcomes its self-righteous impeccability.
One can also regret that the survey didn't exceed the limits of the upper-class but maybe anti-Semitism is an educated disease, which makes it much more detestable. Could there be an uglier euphemism than "Gentleman's Agreement"? Thankfully, Green finds some strong support from Anne, a free-spirited woman played by the Oscar-winning Celeste Holm, he finds it in Dave, John Garfield as his Jewish friend who knows too well what Phil is going through, and there is Anne Revere as his loving and caring mother. It seems that despite this great casting, Kazan and Holm didn't get along with Peck, I can see why if Peck really immersed himself into his character.
And despite winning the Best Director Oscar and the film winning Best Picture, Kazan felt that the film lacked passion (indeed, Stockwell's cries said more than any Peck's speech), and that the romance was forced. Well, I think it would have damaged the film if it distracted it from its political agenda. But Green goes back to Kathy after her redemptive act showing that times have changed for the best, and making Anne Revere wishing she could live up to see how this century will evolve. But, I don't think times have changed much. Sure, anti-Semitism isn't as deep and extreme in America, but go ask the average or upper-class Americans what they think about Muslims.
Sure they'll talk about terrorism and September 11th, but remember, there's no racism that doesn't start with a belief and there's no belief that doesn't start with misinterpreted facts. Finally, I stand corrected, there's nothing in "Gentleman's Agreement" that has lost its relevance, which is good news for the film, but sad for humanity.
The Wild One (1953)
Brando be wiiiiild ....
"Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against ? -Whadaaya got ?"
This simple exchange sums up the spirit, or lack of , that inhabits the tumultuous heart of Johnny Stabler, the leader of the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club bikers riding like formerly the horsemen of the Apocalypse their Triumphs, or their triumph over a square alienating norm whose only trophy is defiance and suspicion. People see them as hoodlums, they define themselves as rebels but Johnny gives the perfect answer to the inevitable question. What have you got?
Indeed, there's nothing that doesn't invite to rebellion, it's not just being against the norm or the system but not even making a norm out of one's rebellion, the idea is simply to go, to escape from the conditioning and alienating effect of civilization. These guys aren't the baby boomers, they lived the War, they remember its effect on the elder, they inherited an America to rebuild, but the spirit was all lost in the greatest generation's souls. They're part of the rebirth of America and its conquering spirit, but only in the name of motorbikes, bottle of beers and rock'n'roll.
"The Wild One" directed by Laslo Benedek is the first of a trilogy that can be defined as the "Rebellious Youth of the 50's" followed by "Blackboard Jungle" and the the iconic "Rebel Without a Cause" (a title that could have fitted this one). James Dean's movie dealt with rebellion from an Oedipal point of view, showing the roots of the youth's unease, the absence of a true model to respect. "Blackboard Jungle" was more about the failure of education. But "The Wild One" shows the results without getting through their background, all we see is these kids in their 20's looking for vast landscapes for driving, bars where partying, and towns for terrorizing.
And the first two films have one thing in common, they start with the infamous headliners, you know these big words that don't take the viewer's intelligence for granted. Yes, we know the whole rhapsody; this lost youth is revealing of the failure of a system and let us pray for it will never happen again. Did we need that? I guess it's like the famous Cagney-Robinson movies in the 30's were people weren't used to see gangster playing the lead roles. Well, the 50's had to deal with rebellious minds, no less dangerous, except for the fact that they didn't cause trouble for money, they had no reason whatsoever to act like they did, they did because well, why not?
And the casting of Marlon Brando as the seminal rebellious kid is the film's masterstroke not just because of his iconic look, 2 years before James Dean with the leather jacket, the hat, and the Triumph, one of the most defining images of the 50's, there's more to that, there's Marlon Brando, there's this constant enigma engraved in his face. This is something I sensed in most of the characters he played in the 50's, we never exactly know what he thinks, what he feels, and most of the time, his character gets away with his secret. Johnny Stabler is no exception, he doesn't emerge from the group as a leader but as a natural outcast with one hell of an aura.
This is pure Brandonian detachment, and I love it. See how he subtly escapes from the gang as soon as he sees the beautiful Kathie (Mary Murphy), yes, it's obligatory romantic subplot but Brando elevates it to another dimension ever improving HER acting by the miracle of his presence. I suspect the moment she tried to get the capsule of his bottle and he took it away from her, was one of these improvisations he has the secrets. Brando plays everything, he's tough, sensitive, intriguing and fascinating. Ultimately, she despises his gang, but in no way, she can despise him because there is something incredibly attractive in that guy who doesn't enjoy attracting.
This is the rebellious attitude, a nihilistic escape in the world and within oneself, without coming back with no one on one's back. Stabler has no connection with the past, he never looks back, if he takes the girl, she's got to go with him, if he doesn't trust the cop, it's because he did before and it cost him a lot. Always moving forward . Is his motto, although when one of his gang friends is injured by an old man, observing the cute Kathie, he decides to stay. The townspeople try to accommodate with the gang but it's only a matter of time, and beer that the generation gap shows its limits, forcing the local councilman, Mary's meek father, to interfere. But the man is incapable to use his weapon, abandoning all the control to the angry mob lead by a local bully.
"The Wild One" isn't the subtlest script ever but I admire its straight-forward way to make its point in 80 minutes that feel longer, this is how thrilling it is. There is a bit of wilderness and soft-headedness in all of us, it's all about which button to press. Its primitive, simplistic, but for some reason it works and Brando is mainly the cause, but I wouldn't attribute all the merit to him, there is a stellar performance, from, Lee Marvin as his rival Chino, almost stealing the legend's show and an unrecognizably young Tim Carey as one of the hoodlums.
As simple as the film is, it'll be forever renowned for its iconic image of Brando and his indelible quote, enough to put it in the legendary 50's, a must-see definitely, a cult-classic
or the Easy Rider of the 50's
And Marlon Brando was born to be (the) Wild (one).
Viva Zapata! (1952)
Zapata's defiance toward power, including his own ... it built his legend ... but caused his demise ...
Surprisingly introspective and frustratingly 'quiet', "Viva Zapata!" contains more talking and less fighting than what its exclamatory title suggests. But it might not come as a surprise for a film written by John Steinbeck and directed by Elia Kazan : through the portrayal of Emiliano Zapata, the legendary Mexican revolutionary played by the no-less legendary Marlon Brando, it's the very notions of power and leadership that are questioned, much more their corruptive effect.
And the result is a strange mixture of conventional Western-like escapism with the local texture provided by sombreros, white outfits for men and black dresses for women and more ambitious attempts of a character study. I particularly like the scene where a group of peasants come to ask the President of Mexico to help them and get treated with patronizing condescendence ("my children" repeats President Diaz) until Zapata with quiet and confidence emerges from the crowd, asks the right questions, earning the attention of the elderly leader.
At first, Brando strikes as an odd choice, with this constant expression of so non-leader-like puzzlement he carries in his eyes, but that's the way Brando 'felt' Zapata, an enigmatic and somewhat tortured man. He takes a courageous distance from the archetypal flamboyant hero, illuminating his character with a very odd modernity, even at the risk of being boring sometimes, the whole "I can't read" subplot was too underdeveloped to be of any use for the film and toned down some moments of relief the film needed.
And it's not totally wrong to assume that Anthony Quinn, who was more ethnically fitting, would have made a more believable, if not better, Zapata. After watching the film for the third time, I must say that the casting of the two brothers is perfect. Brando was made to play ambiguous characters, never satisfied with any achievement because of an obsessive capability to look beyond his own existence while Quinn, with his Latin charisma had to be the Yang to Brando's Yin : a colorful, larger-than-life, more human but no less flawed character.
As Eufemio Zapata, Quinn is not just the brotherly right hand's man; he's also the counterpart to Emiliano's personality. After all the fights, and all of the corruptions' attempts, he wants to retire like a general, with all the honors and awards. He embodies the path his brother refused to take in order to let the governors govern and people being governed. Anyone with a basic knowledge of Machiavelli would know the implications of a leader bribing a general, and much more a general refusing to be bribed because it contradicts the values and ideals he stand for.
Yet the power of the film isn't to romanticize Zapata, but to assess his constant status as an outcast. During one of the film's best scene, he unconsciously dismisses peasants just like Diaz did. He doesn't "my children" them, but his "it'll take time" earned him the same answer he gave years before : you can't plant corn on patience. Zapata understands the inner corruption of power from the way he became and what his preoccupations are confirmed when he confronts his brother, a decadent 'general' outrageously spoiling people from lands and wives.
"Viva Zapata!" is never as interesting as when it questions the notion of power and its influence of men, and the interaction between Brando and Quinn, followed by another powerful moment with his wife, played by Jean Peters, reveal the true self-perception of Zapata, not a leader but more of a catalyzing force. Wealth and honor don't interest him, because he learned from the arrogance of his father-in-law that these considerations poison a man's value. What matters is that people are aware of their power, the irony is that after his death, peasants in a poetic denial still consider him as the true leader, and much alive prophet, the white horse hiding in the mountains.
That's the reality Zapata failed to perceive, people need a leader for their own good, otherwise, like Fernando Aguirre (Joseph Wiseman) warned him: someone else will come, nature hates emptiness. Many political convictions confront one another in the film, Diaz as the patronizing patriarch, the old general treating the well-meaning reformer like a puppet, while Fernando is the cunning tactician, with no roots, no other goals in life than power in the most absolute meaning. Men like Zapata and his people can only think in terms of land, of food, of survival and this attachment to the most basic values of life is their strength and their curses.
A paradox indeed, but that's what Zapata is, he strikes as an idealistic figure but like his friend Pablo says, what good can come from a man who endures such hardship, how can peace can even be salutary for such a mind. This brilliant exchange reveals perhaps Zapata's most heroic trait: his detachment. Zapata dismisses the very idea of being a strong man, for it applies that without him, people will be weak. And maybe it's this detachment that deprived the film from the required battle scenes, as if it tried to exhilarate the pride the legendary General insufflated to this people, rather than true and palpable achievements. Kazan's directing is intimate in most cases, as if Zapata himself was reluctant to forge a legend out of his character, well, he obviously failed.
My only regret is that some abrupt ellipses leave many holes in the narrative, we never know exactly what happened between scenes, or we're never sure about the people they're talking about, but Brando and Quinn's performance (Oscar-winning for the latter) and the intelligence of the script, redeems these little weaknesses, although the film isn't on the same caliber than the two Kazan's masterpieces, both starring Marlon Brando, "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "On the Waterfront" and will forever live under their glorious shadow.
Still, as far as Cinema is concerned, I would always say Viva "Viva Zapata!"
On the Waterfront (1954)
It was you, Marlon ...
Like "The Godfather" or "Citizen Kane", "On the Waterfront" can be analyzed from many perspectives yet all leading up to the same assessment: Elia Kazan's masterpiece, Best Picture winner of 1954, has changed the face of acting forever. There are times though where the film gets cinematic, stagy or preachy, but these grandiloquent flaws are curiously redeemed by the timeless quality of more ordinary moments, all featuring Marlon Brando naturally.
"On the Waterfront" confirmed what "A Streetcar Named Desire" established. Actors have been playing tormented and ambiguous characters but Brando injected his own approach to realism, something floating between expression and detachment, less playing real characters than real human beings, futilely but intensely. Take the walk scene with Edie (Eva Marie Saint in her debut, Oscar-winning, role), she accidentally drops her glove but instead of giving it back, he playfully puts it on his hand, symbolically touching her hand before feelings would do. The most benign objects become props of Brando's naturalness, adding nothing to the story except the essence of a cinematic gift that will inspire a new generation of actors, 'method acting'.
Even in "The Godfather", Brando still cared for these little touches to enhance depth, and humanity in his characters, a Mafioso with a cat on his lap, sniffing the rose on his tuxedo after saying "We're not murderers" or playing with oranges with his grandson. Being to acting what "Citizen Kane" was for directing, in "On the Waterfront", Brando displays an infinite range of contradictory emotions as Terry Malloy, the former prizefighter, official longshoreman and officious muscle-man of Johnny Friendly, the mob-connected union boss played by Lee J. Cobb. The film opens with one of these contradictions through his involvement in the murder of Edie's brother, who was about to finger Friendly to the Crime Commission, immediately followed by guilt.
Basically, Malloy didn't know they were going to kill Joey but is still unable to share his feelings, torn between his brother's status as Friendly's right-hand man Charley the Gent, played by Rod Steiger- and his growing romance with Edie, the first to see the sweet and delicate gentleness behind the tough-guy facade. But doesn't Brando's performance make it obvious? There is something in Rocky Balboa obviously borrowed from Malloy, working for a loan shark to make a living, but being constantly called a bum. Some souls believe in Malloy though: he's coerced by Edie, and Father Barry (Karl Malden) the 'Christian voice' to testify against Friendly, instead of playing "D and D" (Deaf and Dumb) but Malloy can't make up his mind. "Being a rat or a bum" is his cornelian dilemma, and the legendary taxi scene is a microcosm of his existential crisis.
Charley unsuccessfully tries to bribe Terry to get him out of trouble, but when Terry sees Charley's gun pointing at him, he has the oddest reaction, gently lowering the gun, with a smile and a "Oh Charley" speaking pain, disbelief but brotherly love saying "how could have we sunken so low?" Terry finally vents his anger on Charley who stole his chance of stardom when he told him to dive for Friendly in Madison Square Garden, "I could had class, I coulda been a contender, I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum" (apparently, Rocky Balboa is what Terry coulda been) then, with a poignant mix of resentment and forgiveness, he says "It was you Charley".
Both brothers know they're in a no-return point, mistakes have been made, and they'd never be together again, one way or another. Charley who hasn't taken care of Terry like a real brother let him go, signing his own death warrant through an act of foolish generosity. And with Charley dead, a part of his shameful past is about to haunt him forever if he doesn't act. Determined to kill Friendly, he's exhorted by Father Barry to testify. He does and becomes a rat; kids who admired him kill his beloved pigeons. But leaving the town as a pariah would keep him as low as he was before, the redemption process isn't finished yet, there's more than 'ratting', there's 'assuming'.
Terry finally confronts Friendly, shouting that he's standing, over all these years "he's been ratting on himself", and the violent brawl between Malloy and Friendly's men leaves him one inch from death, but earns him the respect of his friends. And suddenly, a Christ-like aura enlighten Terry's damaged face, he stands up and marches toward the dock, followed by other longshoremen, ignoring Friendly threats. The operatic finale is too cinematically powerful to be believable and can be belittled by any of the scenes I just described but it doesn't matter because at that moment, it's not Terry but Kazan triumphing over his own demons, Kazan who named names before the House of Un-American Activities Committee, ruining eight careers and forever dividing opinions.
From the ending, everyone understood the reason to be of "On the Waterfront", yet the film was a critical success. But how could anyone deny its influence on the field of acting, Brando but not just Brando, Eva Marie Saint, Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb and Rod Steiger (the three of them splitting the votes for Best Supporting Actor Oscar)? How could anyone deny its realism in the depiction of gangster world, the docks, cold and foggy at daylight, hostile and shadowy at night? You could almost breathe the fresh and smelly stink of sea and touch Terry Malloy's soul like he caressed Edie's glove? Kazan's work was simply pure genius deserving every award it got.
I guess people forgave Malloy because at least he ratted on criminal activities, unlike Kazan. Maybe it's poetic justice if Kazan took for himself the seal of an infamy without it tarnishing "On the Waterfront". Many great films are made of personal, even debatable purposes, but with results like that, it's definitely worth it. The rest lies in Kazan's conscience, you know conscience, that stuff that "can drive you nuts".
Will somebody please think of the children?...
Being commonly referred as the year that changed movies, it's only fitting that 1999 hasn't lost its historical significance on the field of animation.
The year saw the release of Disney's official last animated feature from the 'Renaissance' era, making a successful torch-passing to Pixar animation with the great "Toy Story 2". Although there is a natural propensity to label "Tarzan" the last classic animated film, in my humble opinion, this honor goes to the contender, the unexpected newcomer that blew me away, as a movie viewer, the movie adapted from a 2-year old TV series: "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut".
The most remarkable achievement of "South Park" is its perfect combination between a classic approach to the genre of animation with all the elements that forged the series' controversial reputation, and I'm not only referring to its use of vulgar humor and profanity but also its satirical treatment of timely issues, at a time where "The Simpsons" was starting to show a slight decline of quality. "South Park" feels like a two-part episode but with nothing to envy from Disney classic films, the plot is coherent, the film takes us in one of these unexpected climaxes like only the show has the secret, and I'll be damned if the film doesn't feature the greatest set of songs since "Aladdin".
The songs deserve a whole chapter. The first time I saw "South Park", I didn't see them coming, it starts with what I thought was a cute homage to "Beauty and the Beast" with "Another Quiet Sunday Morning in my Quiet Mountain Town", a sympathetic way to introduce to all the characters (not everyone is familiar with the show after all). Then, the story takes off when the leading quarter Stan, Kyle (and his cute brother Ike) Kenny and Cartman go to the theater to watch the movie version of Terrence and Phillip, featuring the outrageous song with the titular F-verb involving a family member not to mention a very creative use of fart as musical accompaniments.
Naturally, there is an uproar following the film's release, "South Park" prudish inhabitants, mostly mothers, lead by the dominant and hot-tempered Sheila Broflovski condemn the use of profanity, the vulg .wait, didn't I say that before? You got it, it's a self-referential plot where the creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone anticipate the reception of their own movies, something that can be summed up in a catchphrase belonging to the rival series: "will somebody please think of the children" The mothers form an association in order to protect children and since Terrence and Phillip are Canadian, they don't blame the government, nor society, nor the images of TV, they blame Canada!
And right now, I have the "Canada" march in my ears and without a doubt the song of the year (played during the Academy Awards' Ceremony) "Blame Canada", the only one to be nominated for an Oscar, which is a shame, because there was at least 2 other titles to include. Indeed, "What would Brian Boitano Do?" would have been a great second choice, an example of great writing, catchy music and surrealistic fun. If "The Lion King" had three Oscar-nominated songs, I don't see why, "South Park" didn't get the same respect. What would a good juror do? Blame the Academy!
The plot goes on and on and leads to one of these spectacularly cataclysmic twisted twists we never see coming when we watch "South Park", resolving a question many would have in mind. Indeed, I've often wondered why it took 17 years for the most successful TV sitcom of all-time "The Simpsons" to have its movie while "South Park" was still recent in mind, hell, even Butters wasn't a major player and Mr Garrison was still a man sadly, even Mary Kay Bergman, pretty much all the female voices in the film was still alive (Rest in Peace to one of the most talented female voices ever whose sudden suicide is the only veil of darkness on the film's shining legacy)
Anyway, I guess the fans will know why the show made a movie so early "South Park" plots often start with an ordinary issue and takes inevitably dramatic proportions flirting with fantasy and surreal humor, it's satire to the extreme. This is why it's not surprising that the last act features a war between America and Canada, Stan's quest of Wendy's Heart and the mystery of the G-spot, and an unexpected cameo from the devil himself and his lover Saddam Hussein well, I understand the makers won't have a soft spot for the late dictator but I give them the benefit of the doubt, this was pre-11 September era (as if it ever meant something) and not all the members are Hitler-like figures.
But the inclusion of hell is a good plot device as it allows one character to be still preeminent even after his death, you know who I'm thinking of, the one that got killed every episode because of some bastards' move. "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut" is everything a film can be : an adventure movie, a satire, a coming-of-age story, a fantasy and more than anything, a great musical, this is Golden Globe, what I'm saying, Broadway material and I hope some producers will think of an adaptation, and I'm only half-joking. Witty, intelligent, subversive, the film is perfect to the point it even questions its own criticism through the very plot it features, not "The Simpsons : Movie", no classic Disney film ever achieved this.
And for that achievement, I applaud the film, and me I don't applaud for not getting immediately the joke behind the title.
From Here to Eternity (1953)
So long as there are men ...
That's the translation of the French title, and I like it. So long as there are men there will be wars, and lives and loves torn apart so long as these things are, there will be the stuff that makes such movies as "From Here to Eternity". And getting back to the original title, in anything is to be deemed eternal in "From Here to Eternity" it is without the doubt Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr's intense and passionate kiss on a Hawaiian beach.
Sure, there have been kisses in movies before, remember Rhett and Scarlett's shadowy getting closer while war painted the background in bright tones of orange and yellow, a passion burning like the city of Atlanta yet "From Here to Eternity" surpasses that kiss thanks to two last-minute strikes of genius, earning the film its ticket to immortality : they kiss each other horizontally, lying on the wet sand, and like fire in "Gone with the Wind", natural elements interfere with the wave hitting the couple, the little touch to be parodied zillion times. It's not romantic love but nature in motion, sheer passion: he loves women and she loves men and that's that.
I knew it would be impossible not to mention this scene, but there is more in what makes the film such an endearing classic even more to be compared with "Gone With the Wind" as it was the first film to equal its record of 8 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. But this isn't any Best Picture winner, the film has a strange capability to please your eyes without trying hard, to challenge your thoughts without being intellectual, to touch your heart without being sentimental and to be erotic by only suggesting it's a fascinating and insightful gallery of character studies disguised as entertainment or what simplistic minds would call War movie or Romance.
But there isn't much war in "From Here to Eternity" and not much romance the idyll on the beach was so iconic everyone forgot that it was followed by an argument less than a minute after. After the wave-kiss, they'd never have an opportunity to be so physically and passionately in love, for there is an obstacle called duty. And there isn't much war either, only when the film culminates with the Pearl Harbor attacks that the second romance between Montgomery Clift and Donna Reed (playing a prostitute) gets overly melodramatic. By the time the film becomes more Hollywood-like, it's over, women left and wept, men died and others got ready to it.
And that sad irony is what the film carries deeply in its core, thanks to a magnificent script adapted by Daniel Taradash from James Jones' novel, it is poetically summed up in Lancaster's farewell line to a dead Clift "You couldn't play it smart". As Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt, Clift played a stubborn soldier who refused to box for his platoon because of a tragic accident, for much of Captain Holmes' displeasure who pulled the strings to get his middleweight champion. Retrospectively, boxing would have spared him months of humiliations, harassment, and so non-military treatment without the championship even happening at the end. Well, no one saw the Japs coming.
Basically, Prew was torn between his status as a soldier and his moral independence and ironically (again), that's what earned him the respect of Sgt. Warden (Lancaster) who could recognize a great soldier if he saw one. Prew represents this kind of lone wolves cherished by the director Fred Zinneman, the likes of Will Kane or Sir Thomas More. And Clift gives an intense performance as hard-nosed Prew, his piercing look threatened more than his body and defied anyone to shaken his integrity. Speaking of which I'm glad Zinneman gave the example by not surrendering to Harry Cohn's initial choices including Rita Hayworth, William Holden and Eli Wallach.
But Lancaster was the only choice they first agreed on and he couldn't have been more perfectly casted. Indeed, Warden is not your typical Sergeant, if anything, nothing is typical in the film, he's quite easygoing, getting away from every situation with his killer smile and a charisma working with both men and ladies and he's enjoying his office work without minding playing the assistant for a less competent hierarchical superior. But he falls in love with his boss' wife and only becoming an officer can solve his dilemma. But like Prew, he feels his duty is to serve the Army and not even love can change that. Even Warden is incapable to 'play it smart', because it's not about being smart, but simply about being true to your personality.
Only women are capable of changing. Kerr as Karen was a honorable woman turning into the Army slut, while Alma was a prostitute trying to become honorable, the film is a successful of fascinating contradictions, even more delightful because many actors played against types, Kerr, more used to sophisticated and distinguished ladies play a repressed nymphomaniac while Donna Reed was the eternal Mary from "It's a Wonderful Life" (she won the Oscar for that role) And how about Frank Sinatra who accepted to be underpaid to get the part (no horse-head behind a deserved Oscar) and good old Marty (Ernest Borgnine) the villainous Fatso Hudson (Ernest Borgnine).
But aren't we all against-type players? Isn't the conflict between duty and personality, the real war in the film? But you can't force people to be what they aren't and love be damned if it ever meant compromising, and this is why by the end, those who played it square didn't necessarily win the game. Neither the others, but only because the film had to sugarcoat some elements from the original novel to please the censors and the Army. Still, with such great performances (nominated in four acting categories), an intelligent script and an unforgettable kiss
well, the title says it all.
All the King's Men (1949)
Poor Man's "Citizen Kane"...
For any movie buff, the simple thought of putting "All the King's Men" on the same level than "Citizen Kane" is a blasphemy but I'm not afraid to say it: once you see both movies, you realize how much they have in common and how sometimes the humblest "All the King's Men" slightly beats Orson Welles' masterpiece in its portrayal of power's corruptive effect. So, the title might sound derogatory but it's not meant that way.
"Citizen Kane" was about a man with guts and vision, who got so alienated by his obsession to be the voice of people that he ultimately lost his touch with people and ended up miserably with no connection whatsoever with his cherished past. He was misunderstood, but he had it coming. "All the King's Men" is a character study chronicling the same psychological process but rhyming this time with success, it's about a Southern politician named Willie Stark who never forgot where he came from and never lost his touch, which made him even more dangerous.
The story is adapted from a Pulitzer-prize winning novel of the same title written by Robert Penn Warren, and based on the rise and fall of the legendary populist politician Huey Long. The ascension of Willie Stark, played by a mesmerizing Broderick Crawford, is a fictionalization of Long's life and one of the most powerful political movies ever made, for the simple reason that it hasn't lost any of its relevance, as long as politics exist, there will be men like Stark. Yesterday, France was shaken by the victory of French Populist Party in the European elections, politicians acted surprised while they could have seen it coming. Basically, the winners spoke the people's language.
It's as simple as that, you've got to put yourself in people's shoes and it's not any politician who can accomplish it. Some see their vocations as something that elevated them above the crowd, they're not leaders but prophets allowing people to embrace their own visions, but men like Willie Stark are within the crowd, not above it. The pivotal moment occurs when after failing attempts to seduce people by talking about fiscal measures and other non-inspirational stuff, good old honest Willie Stark, understands he was the puppet of his own detractors, gets drunk, tears up his paper and enraged by his own anger, gives one of these great roaring speeches tailor-made for the big screen.
And the film, directed by Robert Rossen, features the kind of editing the genre requires, crowd close-ups, big headlines, and an unforgettable gallery of flawed characters, starting with the protagonist himself, Willie Stark, who starts out as a nice and honest fellow, struggling to raise his voice, a man of the people, and undeniably for the people, a man revered by the journalist played by John Ireland, but whose rise to power's collateral damage will be a decline of honesty. Power would plant the seeds of a cynical mind. "All the King's Men" starts like a Capra film but ends in a film-noir mood. After World War II, world turned out to be more disillusioned and cynical for "Mr Smith" figures, and it's only voices like Willie Stark's that can be heard.
Indeed, good old Ma Joad said 'we're the people', but in 1949, only Stark could make this statement audible, embodying in his huge body and larger-than-life personal those "Grapes of Wrath". And once Stark realized he had a natural charisma and capability to move the crowds, it's like Forrest Gump's braces breaking, the repressed ego finally implodes to the face of the political scene and from respect, the eyes and hearts are fueled with admiration and fear, starring with his titular inner circle, Mercedes McCambridge plays a sort of Jean Hagen-like character, going from antagonist to main counselor, she delivers her first and greatest, rightfully Oscar-winning) performance as a little woman with the toughest heart, venting her lack of seducing appeal in her infatuation with Stark.
The rest of the cast includes Joanne Dru as Ireland's girlfriend, she's literally blown away by Stark's appeal and although her performance might be the one aspect of the film I disliked (God, how many times she had to turn her head theatrically!) the twist in her character in all the meanings of the words- was quite gutsy and politically incorrect for its time. And there's Broderick Crawford as Stark, in the role of a lifetime, earning him the Oscar for Best Actor. My other favorite performance from him is in Fellini's "Il Bidone" and it's quite ironic and befitting that he played a swindler in the film, while Rossen would also direct another classic and favorite of mine "The Hustler", after all, isn't a politician a kind of hustler with power as the pay-off?
But I'm still puzzled with Stark's character (this is how fascinating he is) : did he turn into a bad guy or was he prone to corruption from the very beginning, it's hard to tell, but some of his insightful thoughts say a lot about his vision of politics: "good comes from evil" "but, who defines evil ?" retorts one of the film's reasonable minds. Stark doesn't care, as long as he builds roads, schools, hospitals, as long as he puts his state on the maps, and allow people to stop seeing themselves as hicks, he'll believe in anything he says and does. Tyranny? Dictatorship? Well, we live in a Macchiavellian world where ends justify the means? But as the narrative progresses, we're in the eye of the tornado and can't see if power is an end or a mean for Stark.
And maybe this is the power of "All the King's Men", Best Picture winner in 1950, a powerful film about power
even more because it has the kind of straight-forward appeal as if it deliberately embraced the simplicity of the very people targeted by Stark, hence my title as the poor man's "Citizen Kane".
Toy Story 2 (1999)
Play with your toys, but not with their feelings ...
The first "Toy Story" was on the same historical significance than "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", it established the digital revolution that would change (literally) the face of animation, forever. This is perhaps why most of the praise was concentrated on the technological achievement, the 'toy' aspect rather than the 'story'. We were all moved by the endearing relationship between Andy and his cowboy doll Woody (Tom Hanks), immortalized in the 'You've got a friend in me' song, we also smiled at the little rivalry between Woody and Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) turning with style into a touching friendship, and we all laughed at all the secondary characters populating this great adventure, from Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles) to the cowardly dinosaur (Wallace Shawn) but nonetheless, we revered "Toy Story" for the amazing visual experience.
But in 1999, "Toy Story" was already part of history, and any similar movie would most likely be judged for its content. And being the sequel to a successful film wouldn't be enough to ensure its success or its reason to be released on the theaters. And this is where, in the case of "Toy Story 2", the writing makes all the difference. Indeed, after exploring the psychology of toys within their relationships with their owners, the second opus goes further in that existentialism by confronting the toys to both their future and past. The story starts when Woody is stolen by a guy working in a toy factory, panning to sell it to a toy collector in Japan, among other props from the same Western theme, including Bullseye, Woody's legendary horse, Jessie the Yodeling Cowgirl (Joan Cusack) and Stinky Pete, a Gold Prospector (Kelsey Grammar) still living in his package.
Like the best sequels, when you think no new character can steal the show, you have one that gets instantly stuck in your heart. Any viewer would see in Jessie, the premise of a predictable romance with Woody (well, there is some romantic vibes between the two toys) but there's more in Jessie to earn our sympathy: a wound from the past, the revelation that she too had her 'Andy' before the worst happened: she got old. Her melancholy is expressed through a touching song 'When She Loved Me", and a sad nostalgic sequence showing a little girl playing with her cowboy doll, before her main interests would become make up, clothes, phones and (ugh!) boys I love that sequence, it is as deep and emotional as the unforgettable montage from "Up" and for once, it confront teenage girls to their constant obsession to become women fast. If only because a 14-year old girl would think, "why do I want to grow up?" "Toy Story 2" accomplishes something great.
And there's more in that scene that induces this guilt, the rejection endured by toys, and the realization of Woody that the happiness he lives with Andy is only a matter of years, before hormones tickle his mind and make him think about girls. Then, Woody imagines that the eventuality of being owned by a toy collector is the only light of hope for such a dark fate, at one point, he is almost excited to know that he'll live with someone who'll value him forever. After all, wasn't he a big star who had his own Western TV show in the 50's? Why would he end up in a dump, a box of forgotten items or a dusty attic? What Woody doesn't know is that all his friends came to rescue him, lead by the real hero of the story: Buzz Lightyear. And in their perilous adventure, they discover where they come from: a toy factory, offering us a marvelous sequence whose highlights are a Tour Guide Barbie, and the magical moment when Buzz discovers the Buzz Lightyear shelves.
Basically, there are two parallel stories in "Toy Story 2". Woody discovers how valuable he became because he's getting rarer and unique, and Buzz sees how worthless he is, having so many replicas, outside Andy'house, he's not the center of the universe, and is easily replaceable. But both are wrong, because there's one thing, that puts them on the same level of worth, they have ANDY written in their feet and that's the difference, for one little kid, they are priceless. It might be temporary but the excitement is worth being lived, a toy is to be played with not to be worshiped and valued, and that's the mistake collectors commit. I am just collecting old comic books (yeah, I'm a geek) but I don't think I ever find time to read them, so where is all the fun? Stinky Pete tries to convince Woody that he's wrong, but since he's the only toy not to have been played with, his reaction is explainable, we understand his bias.
But let's not spoil the rest of the story, because beyond all this existentialism, "Toy Story" is an extraordinary adventure movie, playing with the concept of toys evolving in the real world, including their own world, allowing them to come to terms. The film is amazing for children's eyes, and insightful for nostalgic adults, it's entertaining at best, and certainly one of the sequels that almost outshine the original, to the point I wondered why it wasn't Oscar-nominated for Best Animated Feature and Best Writing. Anyway I spent a great moment watching the film. And normally, I hate the bloopers during the end credits, even for comedies, but in that particular case, I'll make an exception. The ending was hilarious, a fitting conclusion for one of the greatest animated film of the last 20 years, which is saying a lot.
Like looking in the mirror...
Well, let's face it, for all its (over)use of cases, shootouts and stunts as spectacular as they're formulaic, "Face/Off" is more than your average show-off action-packed thriller. The film stands off above all its peers thanks to one simple but genius premise, so creative and incongruous, you've got to wonder how come they waited till Cinema was 100 years to think about having the hero and the villain switching their faces, and see where this is getting, not that it would have required many special effects, right?
I can imagine, not without excitement, the brainstorm that lead to the plot genesis: the two guys have to hate each other, the villain isn't just the antagonist, he's the hero's nemesis, so a cop and a criminal isn't enough, how about making it personal like say, the bad guy accidentally kills the hero's son, the hero's got a reason to hate him and apparently the villain seems to hold some serious grieves against him, that's for the reciprocity. What next? Well, how about the big question, why would they switch the faces? Well, because the hero will have to pass as the bad guy to know a secret, what kind of secret, the kind of emergency life-and-death secrets, a code of some sort bingo, a bomb.
Now, we need someone the bad guy trusts blindly, let's give him a brother and while you're at it, give them some kind of legendary pairing names, Achilles and Ajax, Romulus and Remus or Castor and Pollux we progress. So, suppose they take Castor's face and implant it on the hero, let's call him Sean (like John but more original), everyone would know? No, it has to be a secret mission to ensure its success. Wait; will Castor remain face-less? Of course not, this is where it's getting tricky. Suppose he wakes up, he discovers the plan and ask the doctors to implant Sean's face on his before getting rid of them. Wow, talk about the perfect set-up, I can only imagine the first face-to-face between the two guys. Now, we've got our first 'great and memorable moment'.
And the creative implications of the film are countless, the immersion of the criminal within the very family he dispossessed from one son, his luscious looks on 'his' own daughter, or the bad guy having to team up with criminals. But wait, how about the initial motive, the bomb and all that stuff? Well this is the icing on the cake, Castor tells his brother who he is, he discards the bomb and he's the town hero. Now I'm sure it didn't take more than an hour to get the spine of the film and this is not to diminish its merit, but to highlight the positive effects of inventiveness. All it takes is one hell of an idea and the rest is only coverage, the writing, the spectacular effects, all the most significant departments of film-making are involved, on the top of them: acting.
It goes without saying that the film couldn't have existed if Castor was played by Danny De Vito and Sean by Arnold Schwarzenegger, although the premise of a spoof-remake would be hilarious. So they needed two actors of the same size shape and caliber, well, I guess they got it right with John Travolta and Nicholas Cage, two of the most bankable actors of the 90's, fittingly blue-eyed, hairy-chested and equally tall and strong. Well, of course, the suspension of disbelief asks more from us. Many persons would point out the possibility of the cop's wife to notice some differences in some specific parts of their husbands' anatomy. Although, it's not improbable that in the heat of the passion, a woman wouldn't notice, but then how about the hands, feet, well, it asks a lot but let's not to be too technical.
Indeed, one of the film's strengths is not to focus too much on the scientific material, "Face/Off" could easily be labeled as Sci-fi movie, but it focuses more on the change of personalities and the way too men who hate each other, learn to live in another skin. It's an insightful examination of the eternal correlation between what we are and how we look, and that the whole 'don't look at me' can't work in real life. I have one scene in mind right now, when the daughter helps Castor because she simply can't believe he is not her father. But I got so carried away by those details that I forgot I had to talk about the acting, which is the little spice the film provided, for our greatest delight, and for both Travolta and Cage who certainly took it as an extraordinary challenge.
I recently suggested a poll asking which of the two actors gave the better performance as the other's character. Now, I realize it's an unfair question, because the two actors didn't try to impersonate each other, not quite. They played their personal version of good guys and villains, and made them match. Nicholas Cage has a unique way to make his eye bulge and look demonically frightening while Travolta puts it all in that devilish smile and menacing eyes, obviously with Travolta's face, you can't mimic expression made possible with Cage's. But Cage has also an extraordinary capacity to look sad and sensitive, it's all in the eyes again and Travolta's puts it in the smile, and it works again. I rooted for Cage as a good guy equally as for Travolta and thought they were charismatic as bad guys.
"Face-Off" might be labeled as an action pop-corn movie but its power and awesomeness lies on the fact that it didn't take Woo's directing skills (indeed, it's spectacular from A to Z) for granted but involve everything that makes movies worth to watch, and naturally, it didn't make the unforgivable mistake to deprive us from a mirror-scene.