Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Forced Perspective Episode #41 - Home Alone with a Forced Perspective 2: Lost in Edmerica

Back by popular demand…

… proudly presents FORCED PERSPECTIVE, Episode 41 – “Home Alone with a Forced Perspective 2: Lost in Edmerica.” Join SportsGuy515 and Adolfo, along with special guests MR. EDDIE and HAMZA, as they record a commentary track for the beloved(?) Christmas film Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. Throw in your copy of the film on your Blu-ray or DVD player and follow along with them as they watch (and comment) on what is unfolding onscreen. MERRY CHRISTMAS and a HAPPY NEW YEAR from all of us here at FORCED PERSPECTIVE and SUPERFRIENDS UNIVERSE! DOWNLOAD/STREAM NOW!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Forced Perspective, Episodes #39 & #40 - Adolfo & Sportsguy's Deadly Festivus

Your favorite movie podcast returns to the airwaves, just in time for the holidays! On this VERY SPECIAL episode of FORCED PERSPECTIVE, join SportsGuy515 and Adolfo as they interview the co-producer of Caesar and Otto’s Deadly Xmas, the great JOE RANDAZZO. Then the duo begin to play catch-up with the Fall movie releases, beginning with Prisoners and Don Jon.

In Part 2 of “Adolfo and SportsGuy’s Deadly Festivus,” SportsGuy welcomes special guest BIG D in Adolfo’s absence to discuss the FORCED PERSPECTIVE DVD OF THE WEEK, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie. But, as usual, the duo go off on a whole range of topics including Power Rangers, childhood memories, classic ’90s Nicktoons, why Zyuranger was always better, pro wrestling, and MORE! ALMOST 2 HOURS OF NOSTALGIA!


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Citizen Kane (1941)

Orson Welles
1941 • 119 Minutes • 1.37:1 • United States
Black & White • English • RKO

Cast: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Dorothy Comingore, Agnes Moorehead, Ruth Warrick, Ray Collins, Everett Sloane, George Coulouris
Writers: Herman J. Mankiewicz, Orson Welles
Producers: Orson Welles, George Schaefer
Cinematography: Gregg Toland

Awards & Honors

Academy Awards:
Winner: Best Writing, Original Screenplay – Herman J. Mankiewicz, Orson Welles
Nominated: Best Picture
Nominated: Best Actor in a Leading Role – Orson Welles
Nominated: Best Director – Orson Welles
Nominated: Best Cinematography, Black and White – Gregg Toland
Nominated: Best Art Direction/Interior Decoration, Black and White
Nominated: Best Sound, Recording
Nominated: Best Film Editing – Robert Wise
Nominated: Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture – Bernard Herrmann

American Film Institute:
AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movies – #1
AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movie Quotes – “Rosebud…” #17
AFI’s 100 Years of Film Scores – Nominated
AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – #1

The Essential Films:
100 Greatest Films of All Time – #6
The 85 Best Pictures to Never Win Best Picture

National Board of Review
Top Ten Films
Winner: Best Film

National Film Preservation Board
1989 – Inducted into National Film Registry

You know Mr. Bernstein, if I hadn’t been rich I might have been a really great man.

WARNING: Spoilers Ahead
(Originally Published at Superfriends Universe)

Citizen Kane, Orson Welles’ magnum opus, examines the life of Charles Foster Kane, a wealthy newspaper baron who is heavily based on contemporary media mogul William Randolph Hearst. Kane, alone in his palace which he has named “Xanadu”, dies in his sleep, uttering one word before he passes: “Rosebud.” After leading such a public life where he accomplished many great things, the significance of his final word remain a mystery. Told through a series of flashbacks, a newspaper reporter tracks down key figures of Kane’s life to try and unravel the enigma that is Charles Foster Kane.

In 1938, Orson Welles produced a controversial radio broadcast of HG Wells’ science fiction classic, The War of the Worlds. The radio play was staged as if it were a real broadcast with a reporter live on the scene as Martians invaded and destroyed the Earth. The broadcast holds the notoriety of causing widespread panic, and the stunt elevated the stage actor’s presence to the point that George Schaefer, an RKO Picture executive, offered him an exclusive motion picture contract. The contract was unheard of in Hollywood, especially to a relative newcomer like Welles. Welles would be allowed to develop a film, by himself, with no studio interference, cast his own actors (of which he borrowed heavily from his Mercury Theater), hire his own crew and would final cut. After some false starts, including a point-of-view adaption of Heart of Darkness, Welles decided to write his own story with partner Herman J. Mankiewicz. Wanting to develop a script where the story was told from multiple viewpoints by the people that knew the protagonist, Mankiewicz and Welles wanted to use a public figure and eventually settled on William Randolph Hearst. Hearst was a newspaper magnate of the time that was known for using his newspapers to influence public opinion (to put it nicely.) Mankiewicz used to frequent Hearst’s Xanadu-esque parties and had plenty of inspiration and first-hand knowledge to draw from. While Kane does include elements of other notable figures like Howard Hughes and even Welles himself, the character’s foundation is clearly Hearst. There are many comparisons to be made between Hearst and Kane that are better explored in the documentary The Battle Over Citizen Kane and the dramatization of the making of the film, RKO281. Needless to say, Hearst did everything in his considerable power to prevent the film from getting released, including planning a smear campaign on all of Hollywood, the goal being to get the studio heads to kill the film themselves. The top leaders of all the major studios at the time were shown a cut of the film with the idea that if they (or more accurately, their lawyers) saw anything that could be blatantly linked to Hearst, they would collectively reimburse RKO to shelve the picture forever. After negotiating with the studios to cut about 3 minutes out of the film, Citizen Kane was released to the general public in 1941. All of Hearst’s worries were for naught, however, as the film bombed at the box office and came and went without any real impact. The impact Hearst had was considerable, however, as even though the film was nominated for multiple Academy Awards the following year, it was roundly booed by the audience anytime it was mentioned.

“Ahead of its time” is a term often applied to films that push the cinematic envelope, but there is no film Citizen Kane. Almost everything about the film defied convention. As we’ve covered already, the pre-production for this film was unheard of. Welles had a unique contract that allowed him autonomy to do basically whatever he wanted, from story to production. He hired his own crew. He cast his own mostly unknown actors out of his Mercury Theater company. The set was completely closed, even to RKO studio heads. Legend has it that when said executives tried to visit the set, Welles would have his crew toss a baseball around and would tell the execs that if he wanted them to stop wasting time and money they’d have to leave the set. When watching the finished film and comparing it to other Hollywood productions of the era, the difference is astounding. Everything from the story structure to the editing to the cinematography was just not standard Hollywood filmmaking.
of which the term is more appropriate than with

The story starts with the famous “Rosebud” sequence; somber, melancholy, mysterious. The story begins with the main character’s death. It then jump cuts abruptly to the “News on the March!” newsreel that depicts Charles Foster Kane’s entire public life for the audience. What some biopics do for their central character in 2 hours, this fake news reel accomplishes in about 5 minutes. So in the first 10 minutes of the film, the audience see the main character’s death and then learns about all the major events in his life. What is left? Well… plenty. The film is told in a fragmented style. A news reporter tries to unravel the mystery of Kane’s final word, “Rosebud.” He tracks down all the major people in Kane’s life and each person tells him a different part of the story. What makes it unique is that it all comes from that person’s perspective. Sometimes we see Kane as a young man, then as a boy, then as an old man, then a middle aged man. The story jumps around depending on the viewpoint of the narrator and it is up to the audience to make sense of it all. An underlying theme in the film is jigsaw puzzles. Kane’s second wife Susan is seen putting them together to pass the time in the palatial Xanadu. But this is what the film is… a jigsaw puzzle. When one does a jigsaw puzzle, they see what the finished product is supposed to look like from the picture on the box. In this case, the “picture on the box” is the newsreel footage at the beginning and the multiple viewpoints from the different narrators are the puzzle pieces. But in the end… do we get exactly what we expected? Or is it a different picture altogether?

At various stages of pre-production the film had different names such as John Citizen, USA or The American before finally settling on Citizen Kane. Those names are very telling as the story of Citizen Kane is an examination not just of the title character, but the American Dream as well. The story of “rags to riches” success is the myth the many strive for, yet this film destroys. While Kane becomes a great man, his idealism doesn’t allow himself to be seen as one because in his mind he didn’t achieve everything he wanted to. He was never satisfied and he knows that the presence of his wealth destroyed the idealism. He even expresses this resentment towards money late in his life this to his former guardian, Walter Parks Thatcher:

Charles Foster Kane: You know, Mr. Bernstein, if I hadn’t been very rich, I might have been a really great man.
Thatcher: Don’t you think you are?
Charles Foster Kane: I think I did pretty well under the circumstances.
Thatcher: What would you like to have been?
Charles Foster Kane: Everything you hate.

The missing piece to all this, “Rosebud,” Kane’s final word, illustrates the concept of his lost idealism. More than just a plot device to move the story forward, it offers a great deal of symbolism. The mystery of Rosebud is as well kept a secret as who the killer is in Psycho or who Luke Skywalker’s father is or the twist at the end of The Sixth Sense, which is to say it isn’t a secret at all. But if for some reason you do not know, you were warned at the top of this article that there would be spoilers on this 70 year old movie. Rosebud, as we find out in one of the final shots of the film, is the name of Kane’s sled when he was a boy. We see the sled early on in the film when Kane, as a boy, is playing in the snow while his parents and new guardian, Walter Parks Thatcher, are deciding his future indoors. It is the first and last time the audience sees Kane as a pure innocent. The sled symbolizes his innocence, his lost childhood, what he spends his entire life trying to recapture but never again will.

Citizen Kane is an exceptional production on all fronts. We’ve talked at length about story but let’s examine other elements. Welles is most famous for directing this masterpiece, but it’s common to neglect his performance as an actor. We would see Welles’ brilliance in later films such as Touch of Evil and The Third Man, but in Kane he delivers an iconic performance as one of the screen’s greatest characters. His supporting players, specifically Joseph Cotten as Jed Leland and Everett Sloane is Bernstein, bring fully fleshed out characters to life as well. Robert Wise’s, the same Wise who would go on to become the Academy Award winning director of West Side Story, editing is amazing, considering a fragmented, multiple viewpoint story was certainly not the norm for classic Hollywood pictures, yet the film flows smoothly. While I won’t make the claim that Kane as the first film to feature this type of storytelling and editing, it certainly blazed the trail for films like Rashomon and Pulp Fiction. Kane also featured the first film work of legendary composer, Bernard Herrmann. Herrmann was a close friend of Welles and was hired because of his work for Welles’ Mercury theater as well as his radio broadcasts. Herrmann’s motion picture score debut was successful and catapulted him into becoming one of the greatest composers of all time going on to write scores for Vertigo, North by Northwest, The Twilight Zone and Taxi Driver.

Perhaps the greatest creative contribution to the film, aside from the story and direction, is the absolute gorgeous cinematography by Academy Award winning Director of Photography, Gregg Toland. Toland’s work on Wuthering Heights earned him the coveted Oscar, but also photographed The Grapes of Wrath, The Best Years of Our Lives, Song of the South, The Little Foxes and Ball of Fire. Besides Mankiewicz on the screenplay, Welles collaborated with Toland the most on this film. Welles clearly trusts Toland’s instinct and what resulted on film is one of the most beautiful and uniquely shot films in the history of cinema. The famous post-election scene of Kane and Leland was shot so low, to emphasize Kane’s emotional rock bottom, that the audience can see both the ceiling and the floor while the camera looks up to the characters. This was accomplished by literally digging a hole in the studio floor and putting the camera (and camera man) in the hole to be able to capture the shot. The film’s use of deep focus is also legendary and results in breathtaking visuals.

The film was nominated for nine Academy Awards, but lost to How Green Was My Valley for Best Picture. Valley, in years since, has been unfairly criticized as an inferior film, when in fact it’s actually quite a good film but receives a lot of critics who are incredulous that Kane could have lost. Forrest Gump suffers a similar fate due to the passionate fans of The Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction, both nominated in the same year. Kane only won 1 Oscar, for writing, which was seen as an award more for Mankiewicz than it was for Welles. After its initial theatrical run, the film disappeared from the public consciousness until the 50s when RKO sold rights to its movie library for television broadcasts, where Kane resurfaced. Due to World War II, many 1940s Hollywood features weren’t released in Europe, and, after the war was over, Hollywood films, Kane among them, came flooding into France sparking the movement that would become the French New Wave. François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard in particular have spoken about their love of the film. All of these factors plus articles by film historians slowly but surely led to the film’s rediscovering. In the half-century since, the film is now widely considered to be the greatest film of all time. It topped Sight & Sound’s Top Ten films of all time list regularly until it was finally displaced in 2012 by Vertigo. It still sits in second place. The American Film Institute has voted it twice as the #1 film of all time and the Library of Congress has inducted into its National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically and aesthetically significant.” Is it the greatest film ever made? That’s for you to decide. After all you love film on your own terms… and those are the only terms anyone ever knows.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Essential Films of Joan Fontaine

Just one day after Peter O'Toole's death, Academy Award winning actress Joan Fontaine has passed away at the age of 96.  Fontaine was best known for the Alfred Hitchcock films Rebecca and Suspicion as well as other classics like Letter from an Unknown Woman and Ivanhoe.

Fontaine's first onscreen appearance was in the film Warner Bros. film No More Ladies starring Joan Crawford and Robert Montgomery. She went on to star in a number of classics in the 30s and 40s such as Gunga Din (1939), The Women (1939), Rebecca (1940), Suspicion (1941), Jane Eyre (1943), Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948) and Ivanhoe (1952). With the advent of television in the 50s, Fontaine had a successful career on the small screen as well making appearances on "Four Star Playhouse", "Ford Television Theater", "The 20th Century Fox Hour", "The Joseph Cotten Show", "Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse", "One Step Beyond", "Checkmate", "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour", "The Bing Crosby Show", "Ryan's Hope" and "The Love Boat." Her last work was as a voice actress for the animated television movie Good King Wenceslas (1994).

Fontaine's work as Lina, a woman who's convinced her husband may be a murderer, in Alfred Hitchcock's Suspicion earned her an Academy Award for Best Actress. She was also nominated for the title role in Hitchcock's Rebecca in 1940 and again in 1943 for The Constant Nymph. She was also nominated for a Daytime Emmy for her work on the soap opera, "Ryan's Hope."

Joan Fontaine

Her Essential Films:

Alfred Hitchcock

Fontaine plays Mrs. De Winter, the new wife of Maxim de Winter, a charming widower. But she soon learns that she is living in the shadow of her husband's late wife in the halls of the mysterious Manderlay.

Alfred Hitchcock

Lina, a shy young heiress, becomes increasingly suspicious of her new charming husband, Johnnie (Cary Grant), of which she knows little about his past. Soon the suspicion turns into a paranoia that Johnnie is only out for inheritance and is plotting to kill her. Is she mistaken or is Johnnie planning a murder? The role that won her an Oscar for Best Actress.

Max Ophüls

Stefan Brand is forced into a duel, but he has no intentions of going through with it... instead opting to flee the city. However he notices a letter from a mysterious woman of his past that he has know memory of. Fontaine plays Lisa Berndle, who once had a fling with Brand that he can no longer remember. When she sees him again years later, Lisa is prepared to abandon her family for Stefan, but at what cost?

Fritz Lang

Author Tom Garrett and his publisher Austin Spencer concoct a outlandish plan to demonstrate weaknesses in the justice system by framing Garrett as a murderer. The plan all along is to have Spencer exonerate him in the end. Fontaine plays Susan, Garrett's fiancé, who is in the dark about the entire plan. The trial does not go as expected, and suspense and intrigue follow.

Robert Stevenson

Fontaine plays the title role in this adaptation of the renowned Charlotte Brontë novel. Jane Eyre, orphaned as a young girl, raised in abusive home, only to rise above and become a governess at a stately manor. While there, she falls for the older master of the house, Edward Rochester (a young Orson Welles).  Readers of the book will know how this mostly faithful adaptation explores a love with a multitude of obstacles... not the least of which is the specter of Rochester's wife.

Other Notable Films:

GUNGA DIN (1939)
THE WOMEN (1939)
IVANHOE (1952)
OTHELLO (1959)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Peter O'Toole Passes Away

Peter O'Toole, one of the greatest actors of all time, died today at the age of 81.  O'Toole's most famous role was unquestionably one of the greatest films of all time, Lawrence of Arabia, in which he played TE Lawrence.  O'Toole was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor 8 times:  Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Becket (1964), The Lion in Winter (1968), Goodbye Mr. Chips (1969), The Ruling Class (1972), The Stunt Man (1980), My Favorite Year (1983) and most recently in 2007 for Venus.  In 2003, The Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences awarded him an honorary Oscar for his entire body of work. Initially he refused as he still felt he had many years left, but eventually graciously accepted the award on the Oscars telecast that was presented to him by Meryl Streep.  

O'Toole's first screen work was in an episode of "The Scarlet Pimpernel" in 1956. From there he went on to a legendary career that included: Lawrence of Arabia (BAFTA for Best Actor), Becket (Golden Globe Best Actor), Lord Jim (1965), What's New Pussycat? (1965), The Sandpiper (1965), How to Steal a Million (1966), The Bible (1966), Casino Royale (1967), The Lion in Winter (1968, Golden Globe Best Actor), Goodbye Mr. Chips (1969, Golden Globe Best Actor), The Ruling Class (1972, National Board of Review Best Actor), Man of La Mancha (1972, National Board of Review Best Actor), Caligula (1979), The Stunt Man (1980, National Society of Film Critics Best Actor), My Favorite Year (1982), Pygmalion (1983), The Last Emperor (1987), Joan of Arc (1999, Emmy Best Actor), Troy (2004), Venus (2006) and Stardust (2007). He also played the Pope in a recurring role on "The Tudors" and was the voice of snooty critic Anton Ego in the Pixar film Ratatouille

Peter O'Toole

His Essential Films:

David Lean
Role: T.E. Lawrence

An epic about British officer T.E. Lawrence’s mission to aid the Arab tribes in their revolt against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War.

Peter Glenville
Role: King Henry II

King Henry II of England has trouble with the Church. When the Archbishop of Canterbury dies, he has a brilliant idea. Rather than appoint another pious cleric loyal to Rome and the Church, he will appoint his old drinking and wenching buddy, Thomas Becket, technically a deacon of the church, to the post. Unfortunately, Becket takes the job seriously and provides abler opposition to Henry.

William Wyler
Role: Simon Dermott

A woman must steal a statue from a Paris museum to help conceal her father’s art forgeries.

Anthony Harvey
Role: King Henry II

1183 AD: King Henry II’s three sons all want to inherit the throne, but he won’t commit to a choice.

Richard Rush
Role: Eli Cross

While on the run from the police, Steve Railsback hides in a group of moviemakers where he pretends to be a stunt man. Both aided and endangered by the director (Peter O’Toole) he avoids both the police and sudden death as a stuntman.

Bernardo Bertolucci
Role: Reginal Flemming Johnson

A dramatic history of Pu Yi, the last of the Emperors of China, from his lofty birth and brief reign in the Forbidden City, the object of worship by half a billion people; through his abdication, his decline and dissolute lifestyle; his exploitation by the invading Japanese, and finally to his obscure existence as just another peasant worker in the People’s Republic

Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava
Role: Anton Ego

Anton Ego is the snooty food critic that receives a shock when he sees who is truly cooking his food.

Other Notable Films:
TROY (2004)
VENUS (2006)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Jonathan Demme
1991 • 118 Minutes • 1.85:1 • United States
Color • English • Orion Pictures

Cast: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Anthony Heald, Ted Levine
Writers:  Ted Tally based on a novel by Thomas Harris
Producers:  Ron Bozman, Edward Saxon, Kenneth Utt
Cinematography: Tak Fujimoto

Awards and Honors:

Academy Awards
Winner: Best Picture
Winner: Best Actor in a Leading Role - Anthony Hopkins
Winner: Best Actress in a Leading Role - Jodie Foster
Winner: Best Director - Jonathan Demme
Winner: Best Writing, Screenplay based on Material Previously Produced or Published - Ted Tally
Nominated: Best Sound
Nominated: Best Film Editing

American Film Institute
AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies — #65
AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills — #5
AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains:
•  Hannibal Lecter — #1 Villain
•  Clarice Starling — #6 Hero
AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes: 
•  "A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti." — #21
AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) — #74

The Essential Films

Golden Globes
Winner: Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama - Jodie Foster
Nominated: Best Motion Picture, Drama
Nominated: Best Director, Motion Picture - Jonathan Demme
Nominated: Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama - Anthony Hopkins
Nominated: Best Screenplay, Motion Picture - Ted Tally

Winner: Best Actor - Anthony Hopkins
Winner: Best Actress - Jodie Foster
Nominated: Best Film
Nominated: Best Screenplay, Adapted - Ted Tally
Nominated: Best Cinematography - Tak Fujimoto
Nominated: Best Direction - Jonathan Demme
Nominated: Best Editing
Nominated: Best Original Music - Howard Shore
Nominated: Best Sound

Director's Guild of America
Winner: Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures - Jonathan Demme

National Film Preservation Board
2011 - Added to the National Film Registry for Preservation as a historically significant film

Writers Guild of America
Winner: Best Screenplay based on Material from Another Medium - Ted Tally

- Is it true what they're saying? He's some kinda vampire?
- They don't have a name for what he is.


This is the greatest serial killer movie of all time.  The film has everything: Scares? Check. A great villain? Actually, TWO great villains. Double check. A sympathetic hero? Check. A phenomenal story? Check.  The Silence of the Lambs is so good, it was the first, and so far only horror film to ever win the Academy Award for Best Picture (three others have been nominated: The Exorcist, Jaws and The Sixth Sense.) Not just that, but it hit a grand slam with awards for Director, Actress (Foster), Actor (Hopkins) and Writing.  Foster stars as Clarice Starling, a fledgling FBI agent on the trail of a serial killer known as "Buffalo Bill." She thinks she can get some information from his former confidant, psychiatrist/cannibal Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Lecter spends his sessions with Clarice analyzing her and playing a chess game of wills, meanwhile the clock ticks away on if the feds will over catch up with Bill.  Is he trying to help Clarice? Or does he just enjoy toying with her psyche?  

Few films have managed to grab "The Big 5" nominations at the Academy Awards, and even fewer have actually won all five. Lambs sits in exclusive company with It Happened One Night and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.  You'd have to be brilliant to accomplish those wins, and Silence is most definitely absolutely brilliant.  Taking a look at it as a whole, there is nothing in this film that does not work. Firstly, the acting.  Obviously you have Hopkins and Foster in the leads, but more on them later. Often overlooked are the exemplary performances from the supporting cast.  Scott Glenn plays the veteran FBI officer that is mentoring Clarice Starling in her first major assignment. Glenn is always solid, but his performance helps ground the film. Anthony Heald, one of the few actors besides Hopkins himself to appear in Lambs, its sequel Hannibal and its prequel Red Dragon, is fantastic as the smarmy Dr. Chilton - the self-serving psychologist that runs the psychiatric institution in which Lecter is imprisoned.  And finally, you can't talk supporting actors without mentioning the menacing Jame "Buffalo Bill" Gump, portrayed by Ted Levine.  Levine is a chameleon. It's hard to believe that this is the same actor that appeared for many seasons on the television show "Monk" as the gruff but loveable Captain Stottlemeyer.  Buffalo Bill is overshadowed by Hopkins' Lecter, but he is a true villain. There is few things more unnerving than "it puts the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again."

A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.

A little piece of knowledge for the next time you are at trivia night... Anthony Hopkins, despite winning an Oscar for Best Leading Actor, was, in fact, only onscreen for a total of 16 minutes of the film's 2 hour running time. Yet his performance was so powerful that it seemed longer. Hopkins' Lecter is a living presence in the film, even though the film's narrative isn't even really about him. After all, the story is about Starling attempting to catch a completely different killer. But Lecter is what everyone remembers because his presence is so strong.  Not only strong, but terrifying.  Hannibal Lecter is universally recognized as one of the greatest screen villains of all time. Hopkins imbues Lecter with an unmatched sinister intelligence that continues to frighten audiences over 20 years later. It's not just that he's a serial killing cannibal, but add to that the fact that he is a brilliant psychoanalyst. There are few shots when he is addressing Clarice that he stares unblinkingly into the camera. This is a nice bit of direction from Demme as well. Lecter isn't just talking to Clarice, he's staring into the soul of the audience as well. He's trying to get under your skin... before he eats it.  Late in the film, when Lecter finally does become a physical threat, the audience is completely sold on the danger he represents. You know exactly what's about to happen when he breaks free from prison and it does not bode well for anyone.  Hannibal Lecter is such an amazing villain and could not have been brought to life by anyone other than Anthony Hopkins.

Well, Clarice - have the lambs stopped screaming?

Jodie Foster scored her second Academy Award for her portrayal of FBI Agent in Training, Clarice
Starling.  Starling is inexperienced and thirsty to prove herself. Not only is she academically intelligent, but as the film progresses, she demonstrates her ability to follow leads and clues and solve puzzles. Yet her desire to prove herself is a mask for her vulnerability. A vulnerability that Lecter is able to spot and exploit for his own pleasure.  Starling is haunted by the death of her father and a traumatic childhood memory involving the slaughter of lambs.  Could her father's death, who was a lawman himself, and the killing of the symbolically innocent lambs have lead her to the path of law enforcement? Is Lecter, recognizing her desire for the father figure that's been missing most of her life, sadistically filling that role?  But her vulnerability does not define her. Foster plays Starling as a vulnerable rookie, but, most importantly, a competent rookie.  In a world with countless male screen heroes, Starling is one of the most exceptional screen heroines.  Her "hero moment" at the end of the film will invoke cheers from any audience member.

Yes or no, Clarice? Poor little Catherine is waiting.

Speaking of the end of the film, it is during the climax that Demme's direction pays off.  Demme masterfully built an atmospher of suspense all through the film. Starling and Lecter's "therapy sessions" as well as Buffalo Bill's abduction of Catherine Martin, played off each other well. You knew Martin is in danger while Lecter analyzed, and yes, mentored, Clarice. The clock is constantly ticking away on when the FBI will catch Gumb.  This culminates when Scott Glenn's Jack Crawford tells Clarice that he and a team of agents are about to take down Gumb. Meanwhile, Clarice is still doing some legwork on the case.  While Gumb is threatening to kill Catherine Martin, a doorbell rings. We cut to the FBI agents ringing a doorbell, waiting to take Bill down. When it rings again, Gumb reaches the door and reveals... Clarice.  At this point the audience fears for Starling's life as she is alone with the killer. Inevitably, when the showdown occurs it's in the basement in complete pitch black. We are able to see Starling through Gumb's night vision goggles. The audience, as Gumb, knows what he plans on doing to her. It is one of the most suspenseful scenes in cinema.  A great climax to a great movie.

 I do wish we could chat longer, but... I'm having an old friend for dinner.

As stated earlier, everything about The Silence of the Lambs works in perfect synchronization.  Demme's expertly crafted suspense combined with Howard Shore's score is the perfect vehicle for Hopkins, Foster, Glenn, Levine and others to deliver Ted Tally's brilliant script.  The Silence of the Lambs is not just essential horror, it's one of the greatest films ever made and should be seen by anyone that appreciates or wishes to craft a perfectly executed story.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Christopher Nolan
2012 • 165 Minutes • 2.35:1 • United States
Color • English • Warner Bros.

Cast: Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anne Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Matthew Modine
Writers: Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan (Screenplay) based on the story by Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer based on characters created by Bob Kane
Producers: Christopher Nolan, Charles Roven, Emma Thomas
Cinematography: Wally Pfister

Awards & Honors

American Film Institute
Official 2012 Selection

The Essential Films
2013 Essential Film Awards
• Official 2012 Selection
• Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Tom Hardy
• Best Stunt Choreography: Stunt Coordinators – Sy Hollands, Tom Struthers

- What does that mean?
- Rise.


(Warning: This Entry Contains Spoilers)

And here we come at last. The final entry in our Batman on Film Series. Best for last? Maybe. Maybe not. After all, this film remains incredibly controversial amongst fans of not just the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy, but fans of Batman as well. Some find it a fitting end to an epic trilogy. Others find it a disappointment after the high achievement of The Dark Knight. And even others just down right hate the film.

In the opinion of your humble narrator: This is an epic achievement in the superhero film genre, action genre and Batman franchise. Is this film flawed? I cannot lie. Yes. It is flawed. There are plot holes and contrivances that, honestly, are hard to overlook. However, the truth of this film cannot be denied. It pays off one of the most sprawling and epic superhero tales of all time, bringing in elements from throughout the franchise to tie into a climactic conclusion. The conclusion to this trilogy delivers on such an emotional level that those plot holes, tropes and contrivances can be forgiven. That is a rare feat for a film to accomplish.

Our story starts 8 years after the conclusion of The Dark Knight, Gotham City, is safer and relatively
crime-free due to the passing of the Dent Act, which was created after Harvey Dent’s death, which denies criminals parole hearings and keeps them locked up. With most of Gotham’s underworld locked up indefinitely, Bruce Wayne retires the mantle of Batman, while Commissioner Gordon turns Dent into a martyr who died for the city, when in fact his final hours were spent in a murderous rampage. The appearance in Gotham of the hulking mercenary, Bane, and the sexy cat burglar, Selina Kyle, as well as the hospitalization of Gordon, draws Wayne out of retirement and soon The Batman is back on the streets of Gotham City, much to the distress of the ever faithful Alfred. After a brutal fight with Bane leaves Batman physically broken, he is sent to a hellish prison while Bane holds Gotham City hostage with a nuclear bomb.

Batman comic fans will notice the similarity of many Batman stories. Among them is the obvious Knightfall which features Bane’s first appearance in the comics and the breaking of Batman’s back. The Nolan brothers also drew inspiration from The Dark Knight Returns with the story of an older Bruce Wayne coming out of retirement to once again become Batman and the devastated Gotham landscape invites comparison to the No Man’s Land story arc.

You are as precious to me as you were to your own mother and father. I swore to them that I would protect you, and I haven’t.

It seems odd that while this is the final film in the trilogy, this is the story of how Batman truly becomes a hero. The first film, gives the audience the backstory of Bruce Wayne’s tragic past and his drive to avenge the deaths of his parents. While the second film focuses on Batman’s race to end The Joker’s chaos, he makes selfish decisions that lead to tragedy. When faced with the choice between saving Harvey Dent, the man who in turn could save Gotham City, or save his beloved Rachel… he chooses Rachel. And the universe repays him by both killing Rachel and deforming Dent into the maniacal Two-Face. The quote that rings through that film (and the trilogy) “You either die a hero, or live long enough to become the villain” is especially poignant as Batman ends the film, in the eyes of Gotham, as a villain while Dent dies a “hero.” The Dark Knight Rises is the story of Batman’s redemption and his final rise as the hero he was always meant to be. When he is drawn out of retirement, Alfred can see right through his motivations. He knows that Bruce is willing to lay his life down, not for the greater good, but because he feels he has nothing left to live for since Rachel’s death.

How can you move faster than possible, fight longer than possible without the most powerful impulse of the spirit: the fear of death.

This is why he ultimately fails in his fight with Bane. This is why he fails when he tries to escape the pit. His motivation is flawed. Years ago his father asked him “Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.” The message is clear. You don’t give up. You pick yourself and keep fighting. This is why when he makes the climb out of the pit the third time, without a rope to keep him safe, he learns to fear death, but he successfully escapes. The juxtaposition of the imagery of Bruce’s childhood trauma and the image of him climbing out of the pit are masterful. Bruce finally becomes the hero he was always meant to be when he climbs out of the pit. He has learned to pick himself back up and keep fighting. This is the reason he is able to defeat Bane in the second confrontation. He is driven and is motivated as the hero of Gotham. Once again those words ring true, “You either die a hero…” After Bane is defeated, Batman only sees one way to save the city: take the bomb over the Bay in his aircraft and let it detonate. He knows the sacrifice he must make. He doesn’t hesitate. He doesn’t question it… and in the one of the most emotional moments of the entire franchise, he sacrifices himself for the good of the city.

A hero can be anyone.

Of course, as we see in one of the last shots of the film, Bruce Wayne fixed the autopilot on his “Bat” and survived the explosion. He left a legacy of Batman that will resonate with the citizens of Gotham forever. But, as literlaly the last shot of the film shows, he also left John Blake clues to allow him to take the mantle should it be needed. Because a hero can be anyone. The Batman is a symbol, and, echoing Batman Begins, it’s not who you are underneath, but what you do that defines you.

I’m so sorry. I failed you. You trusted me, and I failed you.

Michael Caine returns as Alfred, in a somewhat diminished role than the previous films. However, his emotional impact can’t be denied. The purpose of his character this time around is to deliver some heart-wrenching dialogue that pleads with Bruce to end his seeming quest to die. Eventually he realizes he can longer be a part of this and leaves. Bruce dismisses his oldest companion and the closest thing he has to a father figure without heeding his advice. But perhaps that what Bruce needed all along? To lose everything, not just his money, but his surrogate father, his city, his control… to realize that he indeed does fear death and loss. Caine’s delivery at Bruce’s funeral is one of the most devastating moments captured in superhero cinema to date, a genre that is filled with tragedy and loss.

There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.

The final film introduces two major new characters. The first of which being Selina Kyle, whom most
comic book fans will recognize as Catwoman. The film never officially calls her “Catwoman,” but makes certain the audience is aware that she is a “cat burglar” and the way she wears the goggles of her outfit on top of her head certainly make it look like cat ears. As Halle Berry found out in the catastrophic spinoff adaptation of the character, the mantle of Catwoman is a hard one to fill. Julie Newmar christened the role in the 1960s “Batman” TV show, Michele Pfeiffer brought it to a dark place in Batman Returns while Anne Hathaway did more than fine job filling out the catsuit this go-round. The role requires sex-appeal, danger and shovelfuls of attitude, and Hathaway held nothing back looking sexy and lethal simultaneously.

You can watch me torture an entire city and when you have truly understood the depth of your failure, we will fulfill Ra’s al Ghul’s destiny… We will destroy Gotham and then, when it is done and Gotham is ashes, then you have my permission to die

Of course, it is impossible to talk about The Dark Knight Rises without talking about the terrifying awesome portrayal of Tom Hardy as the monstrous Bane. Batman Begins‘ Scarecrow focused on fear while The Joker in The Dark Knight was all about wreaking chaos out of order. Bane is neither of those things, he is just a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut. Nolan has said for the character of Bane, he imagined a classic movie monster with an impressive brain, and that is what he and Hardy deliver. Improving on his 1-dimensional comic book counterpart, Bane is a man whose intellect defies his massive size. In previous films Batman may have met his physical match in R’as al Ghul or had his intelligence challenged by The Joker’s insanity, but Bane matches Batman intellectually AND overpowers him physically, making him perhaps his greatest challenge in the series. Tom Hardy gained 30 pounds of muscle mass to play the role and adopted a posh, cultured accent that adds to the menace.

Ah yes, I was wondering what would break first. Your spirit… or your body.

The most memorable scene in the film is the breaking of Batman by Bane. What makes this all the more memorable is the fact that while Hans Zimmer composes a magnificent score that resonates throughout the entire film, this scene is completely without music. All you hear is the awesome sound effects of Bane’s steps (they practically thunder when he walks), the wet smacking punches of Batman’s futile strikes, the devastating blows by Bane, the screams of Batman in agony and Bane’s constant running commentary. Never has there been a hero/villain fight with SO many quotable moments. Even more chilling is the fact that Bane’s henchman are just standing around without interfering. They know their leader has this well in hand, and he does. Batman’s fall is inevitable. Much has been made by critics that the reveal of Miranda Tate being both R’as Al Ghul’s daughter and the ultimate mastermind of the villainous plot reduces Bane to a henchman role. To that I say: then doesn’t that make Darth Vader a “henchman”? Yet he remains probably the most recognizable screen villain of all time. This reveal doesn’t diminish Bane’s effectiveness, yet adds a layer of complexity (the fact that he did it all for the love of Talia) to the monster. This is an empty criticism. Bane has cemented himself as one of the greatest villains of all time.

It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.

The Dark Knight Rises for all of its flaws, delivers on such an emotional level, that any sins, legitimate or exaggerated, should be forgiven. An emotional climax to a phenomenal series with a now-iconic villain and a masterfully told tale of a hero’s redemption. The Dark Knight Trilogy has replaced Star Wars as this generation’s epic saga.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Paul Walker's Essential Films

1973 - 2013

Action star Paul Walker, best known for his role in the Fast and the Furious franchise, died yesterday in a single-accident car crash, unrelated to filming.  Walker started his career as a teenager in the 80s on television shows like "Highway to Heaven" and "Who's the Boss" before making his feature film debut in Tammy the T-Rex in 1994.  He broke out in Pleasantville in 1998 and other teen films like She's All That and Varsity Blues. After The Fast and The Furious opened in 2001, Walker became an action star and never looked back.  Listed below are his best and most essential films.  RIP

1998 • Gary Ross

Role: Skip Martin, star basketball player in the fictional TV town of Pleasantville.

2001 • John Dahl

Role: Lewis Thomas. In this modern day update of the 1970s classic Duel, Lewis and his friend Venna and brother Fuller are on the run trying to escape a murderous truck driver.

2006 • Wayne Kramer

Role: Joey Gazelle.  Present during a drug deal gone wrong, Joey spends the night running from various threats including the mob, corrupt cops, pimps and child molesting serial killers.

2006 • Clint Eastwood

Role: Sgt. Hank Hansen.  Walker's Hansen leads the platoon of marines that climbed Mount Suribachi to plant the American flag in what would be one of the most iconic images of World War II.

2011 • Justin Lin

Role: Brian O'Conner.  The former FBI Agent has turned rogue and is now working with Dominic Toretto's outlaw crew of street racers. This time, the crew plan a magnificent heist in Rio de Janeiro in what is now the film franchise's best film to date.

2013 • Justin Lin

Role: Brian O'Conner.  Government agent Luke Hobbs tracks down the Toretto crew. This time to work for the government to take down Owen Shaw, a rogue British ex-Special Forces agent.

Other Notable Films:

2 FAST 2 FURIOUS (2003)
NOEL (2004)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Steven Spielberg
1981 • 115 Minutes • 2.35:1 • United States
Color • English • Paramount

Cast: Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, Ronald Lacey, John-Rhys Davies, Denholm Elliot
Screenplay: Lawrence Kasdan based on a story by George Lucas, Philip Kaufman
Producers: Howard Kazanjian (executive producer), George Lucas (executive producer), Frank Marshall (producer), Robert Watts (associate producer)
Cinematography:  Douglas Slocombe

Awards & Honors

Academy Awards
Winner: Best Film Editing - Michael Kahn 
Winner: Best Visual Effects - Richard Edlund
Winner: Best Sound - Roy Charman, Bill Varney 
Winner: Best Art Direction/Set Decoration - Norman Reynolds
Winner: Special Achievement - Best Sound Effects Editing: Ben Burtt, Richard L. Anderson
Nominated: Best Picture
Nominated: Best Director - Steven Spielberg
Nominated: Best Cinematography - Douglas Slocombe
Nominated: Best Music, Original Score - John Williams

Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films - Saturn Awards
Winner: Best Fantasy Film
Winner: Best Actor - Harrison Ford
Winner: Best Actress - Karen Allen
Winner: Best Director - Steven Spielberg
Winner: Best Music - John Williams
Winner: Best Special Effects - Richard Edlund
Winner: Best Writing - Lawrence Kasdan
Nominated: Best Supporting Actor - Paul Freeman
Nominated: Best Costumes - Deborah Nadoolman

American Film Institute
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies - #60
AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills - #10
AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains - Indiana Jones, #2 Hero
AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes - "Snakes! Why did it have to be snakes?" - Nominated
AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores - Nominated
AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) - #66

BAFTA Awards
Winner: Best Production Design/Art Direction - Norman Reynolds 
Nominated: Best Film
Nominated: Best Supporting Artist - Denholm Elliott 
Nominated: Best Cinematography - Douglas Slocombe 
Nominated: Best Editing - Michael Kahn 
Nominated: Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music - John Williams 
Nominated: Best Sound - Roy Charman, Ben Burtt, Bill Varney 

Director's Guild of America
Nominated: Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures - Steven Spielberg 

The Essential Films
100 Greatest Movie Heroes - #3, Indiana Jones

Golden Globes
Nominated: Best Director - Motion Picture: Steven Spielberg 

Grammy Awards
Winner: Best Album of Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or Television Special - John Williams 

Hugo Awards
Winner: Best Dramatic Presentation - Steven Spielberg (director), Lawrence Kasdan (screenplay), George Lucas (story), Philip Kaufman (story) 

National Film Preservation Board
1999 - Entered National Film Registry

People's Choice Awards
Winner: Favorite Motion Picture

Writer's Guild of America
Nominated: Best Comedy Written Directly for the Screen - Lawrence Kasdan, George Lucas, Philip Kaufman 

Oh, yes. The Bible speaks of the Ark leveling mountains and laying waste to entire regions. An army which carries the Ark before it... is invincible.


Boasting an impressive list of filmmakers and artists that were at the height of their careers, Raiders of the Lost Ark is perhaps the best pure adventure film ever made. The film was directed by Steven Spielberg who was in the midst of a string of successes like Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and, following Raiders, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. His longtime friend, George Lucas produced the film and received a story credit while John Williams added another notch to his legendary film music achievements that already included Star Wars and Superman by scoring the picture. Of course, it's all topped by one of the most iconic actors of the modern, Harrison Ford, who turned Indiana Jones, with his fedora and bullwhip, into a pop-culture phenomenon that still resonates today.  The film also kicked off a series of adventures, spawning three sequels and a rumored fourth.

The film, set in 1936, follows the adventures of Dr. Jones, or "Indiana," an archaeology professor as he hunts the world for rare treasures. After his most recent South American excursion is thwarted by rival archaeologist, Rene Beloq, he returns to the United States to two government agents inquiring about his old mentor, Abner Ravenwood.  Indy soon realizes that Ravenwood could have discovered the location of the Ark of the Covenant, said to house the remains of the stone tablets in which the Ten Commandments where inscribed.  Fearing the Nazis are using Ravenwood to retrieve the Ark for nefarious means, the government funds an expedition for Jones to intercept the Ark and bring it back to the States.  While trying to hunt down Ravenwood, Jones finds his daughter Marion instead, with whom he once had a tumultuous romantic relationship. The two head to Cairo together to retrieve the
Ark from the Nazis' grasp but encounter danger at every turn.

George Lucas had, much like Star Wars, conceived of the idea for Indiana Jones long before the film was ever released. Originally titled The Adventures of Indiana Smith, the character and story was inspired by the 1930s and 40s film serials that Lucas was so fond of. Collaborating with Philip Kaufman on the story, they came up with the concept of using the Ark of the Covenant as a plot device. When Kaufman bowed out of the production plans to work on other projects, Lucas moved on to produce his other serial-inspired epic adventure, Star Wars.  Years later, when speaking with his friend Steven Spielberg, who had supposedly expressed interest in directing a James Bond film, Lucas convinced him to take on a project with a hero who was "better than Bond." Spielberg was on board, and after a quick name change from "Smith" to "Jones," Raiders of the Lost Ark was on its way to becoming a classic.  Lucas and Spielberg collaborated with screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, brainstorming visual ideas like a boulder chase and the stealing of the idol (ideas, Lucas later admitted, were lifted out of Uncle Scrooge stories.) Comic book and storyboard artists created the look of the film and due to all of this, the film was rejected by almost every studio until Paramount Pictures finally agreed to finance the film.

It's hard to imagine Indiana Jones played by anyone other than Harrison Ford.  But that's almost what happened as Lucas initially shied away from casting Ford due to his association with the Star Wars brand. Lucas was wary of having a "guy I put in all my movies" much like Robert DeNiro and Martin Scorsese.  Tom Selleck was initially offered the role, but had to turn it down due to his commitment to the TV show, Magnum PI. Lucas was finally convinced by Spielberg to cast Ford after producers were impressed by his performance in The Empire Strikes Back, which had been in theaters during the Raiders pre-production.  A good thing too, as Ford's portrayal of Jones as a skeptical intellectual who can throw a good punch and isn't afraid of anything (except snakes) is as close to perfect as you can get.  While it was too early to tell in 1981, Ford had a hand in creating two major pop culture icons that shaped the lives of children everywhere with Han Solo and Indiana Jones.

With such a powerful lead character, the rest of the roles had to take a back seat. However, some of the performances by the supporting players still bring a lot of energy and fun to the film.  Karen Allen plays Marion Ravenwood, the fiesty, hard-drinking ex-lover of Indy, who can give as good as she gets.  Marion's character is at once hard-edged but delicate. Resenting Jones for the end of their relationship, but clearly happy to have him back in her life to go on an adventure (after cathartically punching him in the face.)  Paul Freeman is the self-centered Dr. Rene Beloq, Indy's rival and chief antagonist, who seems to always be able to snatch the victory out of Jones' hands at the last minute.  Freeman is fun to watch as the slimy Beloq who intends to find out what's in the Ark before Hitler gets his hands on it. John Rhys-Davies plays the leader of a digging team named "Sallah," a close friend of Indy's and a valuable resource. While the film is generally light-hearted, Rhys-Davies' chief responsibility is the role of comic relief, which he fills out nicely. Ronald Lacey, Denholm Elliot, Wolf Kahler and a young Alfred Molina round out the cast of characters that populate this world so uniquely.  

Of course you can't talk about Raiders without talking about the magnificent score by John Williams, who is responsible for some of the most memorable movie themes of all time.  From Jaws to Star Wars to Superman to Jurassic Park to Harry Potter, Indiana Jones' famous Raiders March is just another iconic theme in his memorable resume.  Right from the get-go, the theme invokes a sense of adventure and excitement that a lot of modern films can't quite capture.  It's a theme that instantly invokes nostalgia and recognition and will stand the test of time.

Raiders is, as stated before, perhaps the greatest pure adventure film of all time. The hero is someone men want to be and women want to be with, rugged and handsome and a little dirty. He's the smartest guy in the room, but he also knows how to handle himself in a fight.  He dodges danger at every turn and has the narrowest of escapes as he races to reach his desired goal, in this case, the Ark of the Covenant.  Raiders is also one of the greatest summer blockbusters ever, offering everything for which audiences escape to the movies: adventure, excitement, a great hero, nasty villains, a love story, chase scenes, crazy stunts and a slam-bang ending.  The film has so many memorable moments that entrench themselves in the viewers minds from the boulder chase to the snake pit in the Well of Souls, from Indiana Jones holding for dear life to the back of speeding truck to the face-melting finale of the film.  But what's wonderful is that all the "stuff in between" is still so much fun that one can't help but have a smile on their face as they watch the adventure unfold.  All of this makes a great blockbuster adventure film without sacrificing the quality of acting or story. (I'm looking at you, Transformers.)

Raiders of the Lost Ark is the essential adventure film, mixing a great character with a fun story and thrilling action to create one of the greatest blockbusters of all time.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Blue Jasmine (2013)

Woody Allen
2013 • 98 Minutes • 2.35:1 • United States
Color • English • Sony Pictures Classics

Cast: Cate Blanchett, Alex Baldwin, Sally Hawkins, Andrew Dice Clay, Bobby Cannavale, Louis CK, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg
Writer: Woody Allen
Producers: Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum, Edward Walson
Cinematography: Javier Aguirresarobe

Anxiety, nightmares and a nervous breakdown, there’s only so many traumas a person can withstand until they take to the streets and start screaming.


Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen's 2013 re-structuring of A Streetcar Named Desire, proves that the constantly working writer/director still has plenty left in the gas tank.  While some of his more recent films have failed to connect critically, the success of films like Midnight in Paris, Match Point and Blue Jasmine, more than make up for the shortcomings of other films.  

As mentioned, the similarities between  Jasmine and Streetcar can't be ignored, nor do I think, where they intended to be.  In this updated version, the titular Jasmine fills in for the Blanche Du Bois archetype. She has had a complete mental breakdown after her philandering husband committed suicide after being sent to prison when he was exposed as a corrupt financier.  Her wealth taken by the government, Jasmine moves out to San Francisco to live with her sister Ginger, who it turns out was also left broke due to her and her now ex-husband investing in her brother-in-law's financial schemes.  Ginger, much like Streetcar's Stella, is romantically involved (though not married to) with a blue collar oaf by the name of Chilli, who is none too pleased about Jasmine's sudden intrusion into his life.  Slowly but surely, Jasmine's prospects start to look up when she begins to date an aspiring Congressman, who knows nothing about her past.

Cate Blanchett is the reason to watch this film. She gives an amazing performance that is sure to garner her attention during awards season.  While there are the obvious "raw performance" (i.e. screaming/crying) scenes that critics and audiences equate with good acting, it would be criminal to reduce the performance to just that. Yes, she does have those kinds of scenes, but Jasmine is a much more layered character than that.  Blanchett displays a broad emotional range for the character. In the flashback sequences where she is living the high-life as an entitled society wife to her millionaire husband, she pretends not to notice Hal's shady business practices or his obvious infidelities. She's comfortable and she's happy in her deliberate ignorance.  In the San Francisco scenes, where she has moved in with her sister, her resentment and disgust is not even remotely hidden by her phony gratitude. She is here because she has no choice, and regardless of whether or not Ginger is her sister, there are many other places she'd rather be. To her, family doesn't matter. Status does.  Even when, in a flashback sequence, her sister comes to visit her in New York, she is embarrassed and ashamed of her. She buys her things and tries to bring her to her level. The act of having her and her then-husband Augie invest in Hal's scheme was not an act of charity or sisterly goodwill, it was a selfish act. Perhaps if Ginger and Augie were wealthy, she would no longer be ashamed of them.  It's much the same later in the film when she begins her courtship with Dwight, the handsome politician. Up until this point, Jasmine had half-heartedly been trying to better her life with a menial job as a secretary and by taking a computer class. She throws it out the window the second a successful man shows interest in her.  She lies and manipulates Dwight so she can once again achieve the status she once had and she so desperately craves.  The entire film Blanchett's Jasmine is on the very precipice of a complete and total mental snap, and when it finally happens, it's quite haunting. The last image of the film, with Jasmine, completely devoid of make-up, sitting on a bench muttering to herself and recalling her past life is all at once pathetic and sad.  As she has the entire film, she retreats back into what made her happy, what made her comfortable, by reliving her past experiences once again. The film is bookended by her telling the same story: in the opening scenes she is nostalgic where as towards the end of the film she is defeated.

Blanchett is bolstered by a wonderful cast of supporting actors.  Woody Allen has always had a good eye for casting, and this film proves to be no different.  Alec Baldwin is Hal, Jasmine's ex-husband. On the surface this may seem like a natural fit for Baldwin, who has portrayed similar characters in the past Glengarry Glenn Ross and 30 Rock.  Sally Hawkins as the put-upon Ginger is also quite good and with a "working-class" American accent so convincing you can't tell the actress is really from the UK. Bobby Cannavale has big Brando-sized shoes to fill in the Kowalski role from Streetcar, but he makes it his own. The character does have the brutish quality of Kowalski, but with a much lighter twist on it. Chilli, while obnoxious, crass and hot-tempered, he's much more likeable.  Cannavale is joined by some Boardwalk Empire companions in Max Casella and Michael Stuhlbarg in small but memorable performances. The cast is rounded out by fine performances by Peter Sarsgaard and comedians Louis CK and Andrew Dice Clay. Clay, in particular, delivers a surprisingly strong supporting performance as Ginger's ex-husband. I know, I couldn't believe it either.

Blue Jasmine is Woody Allen at his best and proves that at almost 80 years old and over 40 years of directing, he knows a thing or two about making movies.