“It’s a lack of imagination” – Donald Rumsfeld goes before the Interrotron in Errol Morris’ The Unknown Known

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unknown known - poster

I will admit that when I read that Errol Morris was going to do a movie on former Secretary of Defense in the George W. Bush administration, Donald Rumsfeld, I was perhaps more excited than usual. Morris had not only won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for his interview of former John F. Kennedy/Lyndon Johnson Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara in The Fog of War, but he also tore into the Bush Administration and their handling of the Abu Ghraib scandal in his stunning documentary, Standard Operating Procedure. So here, I thought, would be his chance to really hammer Rumsfeld on what he covered in Standard Operating Procedure and take shots at the ill-conceived Iraq War that he presided over before being sacked in December 2006. And so we are presented with The Unknown Known, whose name was taken from an enigmatic statement Rumsfeld made at one of his many entertaining press conferences : “…because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things that we know that we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

Rumsfeld, the stoic.

Rumsfeld, the stoic.

To my surprise, Morris took a different approach. Morris (well, his voice) is far more present in this documentary than maybe any of his others. He walks Rumsfeld through his early days as a congressman and working in the Nixon and Ford administrations including even some unflattering audio recorded by Nixon and H.R. Haldeman about his ambitions and inability to be a team player. We even get Rumsfeld talking about his wife and the impact she has made on his life. Pretty flowery stuff, really and somewhat unexpected. As the narrative moves along and we get to the Iraq War and the justifications made for it when it was repeatedly shown that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks, we don’t see any of the contrition we saw from McNamara in The Fog of War, one of the key elements that film is so powerful. What we do get the same smarmy sheen complete with snarky grin that we have seen from Rumsfeld in prior years. Morris peppers him with questions and counters his answers with other facts or statements, but Rumsfeld always has a response, going so far as when challenging Morris on a question, that he literally and proudly chalks one up for himself.

Morris and his subject

Morris and his subject

While to me watching Rumsfeld is fairly difficult, he does make for a fascinating character to watch, even through his patented squint and his puckered face looking like those old Looney Tunes cartoons where the characters swallow a mouth full of alum powder. He sticks to his convictions, be they good or bad and is never rattled by Morris or his line of questions. While a great amount of the film is centered on the tens of thousands of memos he created and sent in his tenure as Secretary of Defense, many of which Rumsfeld reads aloud. Morris pounces on points from these from time to time and we see the few back-and-forths between the two occur within semantic arguments of what was and is and might be somewhere down the line. I can’t imagine that Rumsfeld was an easy nut to crack. After all, Morris had already done a whole movie questioning the key policies and strategies he was responsible for as Secretary of Defense. And at the very end of the film when Morris asks him, “Why are you doing this, why are you talking to me?” he responds nonchalantly, “I don’t know.”

I'm coming for you.

I’m coming for you.

Believe me when I say this, I never in a million years thought that I would say that I am thankful that someone did a feature-length film starring Donald Rumsfeld. Errol Morris has the uncanny ability to take something that you think you would never see or would want to see and make it so fascinating that you not only watch it once, but you watch it multiple times, looking for nuances in questions and manipulations in his responses, besting his subjects or at least getting more out of them that even they might suspect that they are giving.

The Unknown Known is not Morris‘ strongest work, but when you put that in perspective alongside the rest of his ouevre, that is still speaking volumes about the quality of this film. Read: it’s still fucking amazing. Morris is the finest documentarian working in film in my opinion (and I’m not sure you would find many who would argue). His films are exceedingly compelling and his patented flourishes – using reenactments, the scores of Philip Glass, John Kusiak and Danny Elfman and his wonderful creation, the Interrotron – create some of the most unique film viewing experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of being a part of. This film is no exception and is worthy of everyone’s attention. Watch two masters of their craft go head-to-head and see who comes out the victor.

Dedicated to the memory of Morris‘ good friend and revered film critic Roger EbertMorris created a film that Ebert likely would have heaped praise and many a thumbs-up for. This film is out now in stores on DVD and Blu-Ray. Don’t miss your chance to see something that is layered and thought-provoking. Far too few films are these days.

Here’s a clip of Errol Morris talking about Rumsfeld and the film:

Here’s the trailer:

God damn it – 1981 soccer classic Victory getting the remake treatment.

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victory posterSince Hollywood likes to remain topical (what with the World Cup and all), it was announced today that Swingers director Doug Liman is taking on the newest unnecessary remake to be announced – John Huston‘s WWII POW/soccer/prison break drama starring Michael Caine, Pelé, Max von Sydow and Sylvester Stallone (of course) is up for duty now. The basic premise of the film is that a mixed soccer team of POWs are forced to play against the Führer’s racially and athletically superior team as a show of good will. So, let’s think about this – a film that takes place in a POW camp behind enemy lines during WWII where a large portion of the prisoners happen to be all-world soccer players (there are representatives from Ireland, England, Poland, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Scotland and Norway). What possible reason can there be to update this film? It can’t be transferred to another, more recent war. Does this work in Iraq, Afghanistan or even Vietnam? Not a fucking chance. Even with Gavin O’Connor writing the script, I just don’t know how this works.

The wall with Stallone at the helm. Germans beware...

The wall with Stallone at the back. Germans beware…

This is just so fucking pointless, it makes my damn head hurt. Liman has had a decent career doing some fairly original material. Why does he have to stoop to this? The almighty dollar prevails, I guess. And how many people can ever live up to Pelés delivery of the all-important “You can do it, Hatch” line? This is wrong on so many levels. Sigh.

So, once again, Hollywood execs – you and your sequel/remaking asses can suck it. Somewhere out there, there is an original, thought-provoking script just waiting to see the light of the big screen and you deal us this shit. Bah. If I didn’t love the movies so much…

End rant.

Here is the trailer for the original and triple awesome film:

P.S. I will admit I don’t appreciate that it’s the Irishman whose arm is broken so that Stallone can join the team. Always the Irish…

And better yet, here is Pelé doing what he does best:

“I know that babies taste best” – Bong Joon Ho’s stark dystopian thriller Snowpiercer kicks many asses

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snowpiercer

I’m a sucker for dystopian and/or apocalyptic films. Perhaps that’s the product of being a child who grew up in the 70s and 80s with the ever present spectre of possible nuclear annihilation hanging over our heads like the Sword of Damocles. I can’t say for sure. What I can say is that films like Nicholas Meyer‘s The Day After, John Hillcoat‘s The Road (based on the fucking amazing novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy) and especially Alfonso Cuarón‘s recent Children of Men hit a spot where others cannot. Bong Joon Ho‘s Snowpiercer gives them all a run for their money because it shows something that none of the other films like it – utopia and dystopia working in conjunction with one another to balance what is left of the human race. The juxtaposition that this creates is unexpected and powerful. Based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige written by Jacques Lob, Benjamin LeGrand and Jean-Marc RochetteSnowpiercer gives us the action film that most summer blockbusters attempt to achieve but rarely deliver. 

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The film’s opening hits home as details are given about a substance, CW7, that has been introduced into the atmosphere to combat global warming. What scientists didn’t expect was that it would act to cool the Earth so much that introduced an ice age that could not be stopped and caused the near extinction of all life on Earth. Had it not been for the foresight of an inventor named Wilford (played by Ed Harris), humanity would have died out. How did he save humanity you ask? Well, that’s a good question. He created a self-sustaining train with a perpetual route circumnavigating the planet that housed the last of the human race.

Curtis (Chris Evans) and security expert Namgoong Minsoo (Kang-ho Song).

Curtis (Chris Evans) and security expert Namgoong Minsoo (Kang-ho Song).

Flash forward 17 years…the train is still going. However, as we immediately are place in the tail of the train, the “back of the bus” in the future, life is not so good for those who live there. Filthy, emaciated, stacked on top of one another and threatened by armed troops, life really couldn’t be any worse. It is here we are introduced to our protagonist, Curtis (Captain America himself, Chris Evans). He is disillusioned about the station of life of everyone in the tail section. He is vocal and pissed and he has a gang of like-minded people surrounding him.

Gilliam (John Hurt), sage of the tail section.

Gilliam (John Hurt), sage of the tail section.

However, Curtis and everyone else are led by a hobbled, one-armed, one-legged man named Gilliam (John Hurt). It is daily that they plot the uprising that will break them free of their oppression at the hands of Wilford and his goon squad. But waiting for that right moment has them all on edge. When the opportunity presents itself after two of the tail-riders’ children are stolen from them, Curtis and company incite an epic battle for control of the train. Flanked by his best friend Edgar (Jamie Bell), and the mother (Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer) and father (Trainspotting‘s Ewen Bremner) of the two boys taken, Curtis must make careful choices balancing his own thirst for revenge and his mindfulness to protect his mentor in Gilliam and the rest of his fellow tail-riders.

Mason (Tilda Swinton), caporegime of Wilford, scourge of the tail-riders.

Mason (Tilda Swinton), caporegime of Wilford, scourge of the tail-riders.

Along the way, Mason (Tilda Swinton) does her best to shut down the revolt by reinforcing to Curtis and company that Wilford loves them and takes great care of them. After all, they could be outside in the cold freezing to death (a careful reminder is shown later in the film of several escapees who made it only 7 steps from the train until the froze to death). Slippery as any dictator’s right hand is, Mason becomes a coveted target of Curtis and his fellow revolutionaries. After her capture, she agrees to aid them in their journey through the train to the sacred engine. As Curtis and his band migrate ever closer to the front, they are able to see just how wide the division of class is on the train and it makes the slum-like conditions that they’ve been forced to live in all these years all the worse providing more and more incentive for them to carry on.

Let's dance, bitches. A battle for the ages ready to begin.

Let’s dance, bitches. A battle for the ages ready to begin.

This film is as stark and claustrophobic as it comes. The tight spaces that confine what’s left of humankind constantly squeeze the characters until they nearly burst. Bong‘s superb direction keeps the audience engaged and invested and the script’s twists and turns are certainly enough to keep attention focused on the narrative, which keeps you guessing literally until the end of the film. While it is hard to believe that a scenario like this could actually happen (come on, a train that never stops and can produce its own food enough for all of the people riding it?), Bong sells it and I’m buying. This is one of the five best films I’ve seen all year and I think if people give it a chance, they might get something out of it. I will say this – there’s a reason that Harvey “Scissorhands” Weinstein wanted to cut 20 minutes out of this film – most Americans aren’t prepared for what’s depicted in this film (hint: shit is real and it isn’t designed to give you a happy bullshit resolution).  thaAnd we all know that Harvey is willing to take some chances (see Troy Duffy). Lucky for us, the film we will see if the director’s cut and frankly, I can’t imagine 20 minutes being excised from this film. I love that this is being released smack in the middle of tentpole, mindless summer movie season. It’s nice to have an alternative this time of year. And the performances are incredibly solid – Evans picks up where he left off in Sunshine, one of the most underrated films of the 2000s and Swinton is a knockout. The supporting cast is everything you’d expect. This is a just a finely crafted film from top to bottom. So get out there, bitches, and check this one out. It will leave you thinking after its over. That’s certainly a rarity in the May-August film window at the multiplexes.

Here’s the trailer:

Kino! Festival of German Films review of Nan Goldin – I Remember Your Face

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nan goldin - poster

Capturing the essence of an artist seems to me to be one of the hardest things to do. So much of what makes one an artist (I assume) happens in one’s head, an interior monologue that Terrence Malick would be jealous of utilizing. Sabine Lidl‘s entrancing documentary, Nan Goldin – I Remember Your Face, seems to get pretty close to doing so.

nan goldin - pic

The film obviously follows Nan Goldin, the world renowned photographer, as she negotiates time in Paris and Berlin, meeting with friends and colleagues, old and new, talking us through her trials and tribulations as a woman in the world she has chosen to inhabit. She lives up to the perception many might have of what an artist of her stature is like -an eccentric who details her  obscure tastes in the art she collects (Catholic in nature), tells tales of wild times living in squats with 40+ people, describes her spiral into drug addiction and subsequent drying out as well as the numerous people she has fallen in love with only to have that love unrequited, all of which is included in or fueled her work. And its her work that is foremost in her mind. Books to publish, narrated slideshows to produce, new style collage combining themed work juxtaposed with famous art works by masters – all of it consumes her and occupies her every moment (at least as laid out in the film).

Goldin is an extremely mesmerizing character and I was all too willing to let her be my guide into this world. With her shock of curly red hair and her Janis Joplin-like voice (created by the enormous amount of cigarettes she smokes, no doubt), Goldin walks us through 40+ years of her own history in places like New York City and Berlin and captivates the entire time. Her energy is infectious and palpable even through the screen and it’s obvious that the people around her feed off of it as well.  Even though the film runs barely over an hour, I couldn’t help but to get the sense that I really a chance to see what make Goldin tick, even through her quirks and foibles.

nan goldin - pic 2

Almost episodic in nature, director Lidl shuttles us between many different places and people in Goldin‘s life, but keeps the viewer grounded in Goldin‘s journey without leaving us wondering where the hell we are and, most importantly, why are we there.   To me, it’s as rare to see an artist like Goldin doing what she does to make it all happen as seeing a komodo dragon in its natural habitat, unmolested by the forces that surround it. I found this film to be deeply satisfying and completely engrossing and its short running time left me wanting more. Lidl‘s handheld camerawork allowed her to be present in the tale being told, not just existing as an observer and that is incredibly key to painting the portrait of Goldin laid out in the film. None of it seems contrived or manufactured and what we get is Goldin distilled into a 62-minute block. If art/artist/artistic process interest you, then this is a film you should see. This film is being screened daily at the Quad Cinema June 13-19 as part of the Kino! Festival of German Films in New York City.

Here is the trailer:

Quick note on Don Peyote and interviews with writer/director/star Dan Fogler and actor Wallace Shawn

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It’s inconceivable (get what I did there?) to think that on a blustery Indiana spring morning that I would have the pleasure of speaking with Wallace Shawn, the Wallace Shawn of infinite stage fame and hero to many for his roles in films like The Princess Bride, the Toy Story trilogy, Vegas Vacation, My Dinner with Andre and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, The L Word and Clueless on the small screen. And a pleasure it was. And what were we speaking about, you ask? That would be Dan Fogler and Michael Canzoniero‘s Don Peyote. So when Wally (as he’s more affectionately known) called me from NYC, we had a quick chat about the film and a few other things as well.

don peyote - posterFirst off, let me describe the film so you have a frame of reference. Warren (played by Fogler) is a graphic novel writer who is about to be married. He has some trepidation about the way his life is going and how to proceed. When he gets knocked down by an End-of-the-Worlder (you know, the guys who carries signs around sandwich boards stating that the world is going to end?), a drip of his sweat falls onto Warren and he is instantly changed, as if he had ingested 3,000 tabs of acids. His mind scrambles and he dives deeper and deeper into his own consciousness trying to figure out everything means. He begins to make a documentary about the end of he world, employing real-life conspiracy theorists and apocalypse believers to speak about their beliefs. This pushes him further into his own mind and makes him reconsider everything he has ever believed. Needless to say he passes through some pretty heavy shit and in the process alienates his fiancee (Kelly Hutchinson), ends up in a mental institution and in the end, assumes the role of the Apocalypse Predictor holding the sign warning everyone of the End Times. Along the way, he meets many crazy characters (usually played in surprise cameos by very recognizable faces like Anne HathawayJay Baruchel, Abel Ferrara, Topher Grace, Josh Duhamel and of course, Wallace Shawn). The descent into the mind of Warren is scary at times, inexplicable in others, and downright confusing most of the time. But that’s neither here nor there.

Wallace Shawn, doing the mental gymnastics with Warren (Dan Fogler).

Wallace Shawn, doing the mental gymnastics with Warren (Dan Fogler).

So back to Wally

I was curious how he was cast in the role of the inattentive psychiatrist to listens to Warren detail his predicament:

I have no idea. I suppose those guys [Fogler and Canzoniero] had watched too much television. I wonder who that old bald guy is and if he’d be good (laughs).  I was available and I’ve played quite a few psychiatrists in my day, so it made sense. In fact, when I was thirteen I wanted to be a psychiatrist. Why? It’s easy to sit in a chair and listen to people. It’s an enjoyable way to spend time.

What interested you most about the film?

I thought the writers came up with some really interesting characters that were brought in and then whisked away. I couldn’t really tell if it was all a joke or if maybe [Warren] was actually right, that the world was coming to an end.

This of course led to me to ask about the ideas of multiple conspiracy theorists that appear in the film and occurrences like Superstorm Sandy that hit New York in November of 2012.

Extinction of human beings on planet earth is a very real possibility. If everything goes on as it is now, there might be some superstitious or preposterous ways of thinking, but I think what they’re sensing is something that is absolutely undeniable.

It was hard to speak with Wally and not ask him what his favorite film role he’s had is. Of course, I fully expected him to say Vizzini from The Princess Bride as it is his most memorable role, although I’m sure there are many that would argue otherwise. He did not say this, however.

The film I’ve just finished with Jonathan Demme and Andre Gregory, The Master Builder based on the Ibsen play. It’s a character (Halvard Solness) that I’ve worked for 30 years to perfect.

And we finished with a quick convo about how he and Demme are supposed to be bringing that very film to the Indiana University Cinema where I live at some point in the future.

I would certainly love to come there. I have family in Illinois and have a fondness for the midwest.

And with that, Mr. Shawn was whisked away to another interview and I bid him adieu. A pleasant conversation and one that I’m terribly excited to have had.

Warren has snapped...

Warren has snapped…

The next day, I was fortunate enough to get one of the brains behind this film, writer/director/star Dan Fogler, to chat with me about the evolution of this project and  his intentions when he set out to make it. Fogler is more known for his brand of Chris Farley-esque physical comedy in films like Fanboys, Take Me Home Tonight and Balls of Fury. He steps outside of that zone and inserts himself into the self-penned and directed role of Warren.

My first question was what was it like to work on both sides of the camera?

I had done a horror/slasher/comedy film called Hysterical Psycho (on VOD now) and I caught the bug. I envisioned a scene in [Don Peyote] and pitched it to Christopher Walken who I wanted to take the role. He was busy, though. It kind of grew from there. It was an organic process. I wanted to employ the same philosophy I used on Hysterical Psycho – working with my friends, not worrying about budget, ask a lot of favors and just shooting it. If you let people play, you can find something in the editing. You can create a whole new film in the editing room and that’s what we did here.

After mentioning that I had just seen Roger Corman in person when he showed his film The Trip, I asked him if there were any films or directors that influenced Don Peyote:

Movies of 60s and 70s were influences. Happy and peace type shit. Easy Rider and [John] Cassavetes were big influences. Run and gun, point the camera and just film what happens. Being There with Peter Sellers, genius idiot savant that changed the world is another film that was an influence. Another was Dr. Strangelove – films with a message at the core. [Stanley] Kubrick, Annie Hall (breaking the fourth wall), Alice in Wonderland…down the rabbit hole – all of those. I wanted to do an homage to Wizard of Oz with the first part of the movie then change it into a [Terry] Gilliam film.

Since Warren is kind of a slacker and is prone to getting stoned all the time using an apple as his delivery mechanism, I assume there was symbolism there, yes?

The apple is a multi-layered metaphor – his fiancée doesn’t want him to smoke, but he can get rid of the evidence quickly if needed. Also, I look  at the apple of as the apple of knowledge, information taken in through a new way. Warren is searching (like in high school and college) for new information.

After seeing the film, I looked up a few of the people appeared in it as “experts” on end of times scenarios/conspiracies and such. Were they apprehensive about appearing in the film?

Some experts had trepidation – some people wanted to be blurred, some didn’t want their real names used. Some loved the idea of being in a movie. The majority were excited to be a part of the film.

And to finish up, I asked him about any future directing projects he has on the horizon:

Hysterical Psycho/Moon Lake – like Twilight Zone on THC. Trying to build a TV show out of that. A few other ideas kicking around as well.

All said, Don Peyote is a big change in direction from prior films Dan Fogler has been involved with. There is still sophomoric humor, yes, but at a different level. And by different I don’t necessarily mean good. Warren’s best friend in the movie, unfortunately named Balance (played by Yang Miller), ironically fails to provide what his namesake is for his friend, absent at times when he is needed and when he is present, he is not needed. This lack of equilibrium is what tips Warren further and further into the abyss, never to return. As stated above, there are various asides and dips into and out of consciousness, but they are so haphazardly stitched together that the film lacks any kind of cohesive shift from one to the other which weighs down the pacing to the detriment of the film as a whole. While it is nice to see actors like Fogler step out of the arena he’s known for, I’m not sure this film works. He was extremely personable in the interview and I think he has found a niche in film. I think this one might have been too big a stretch, however. Ultimately, you need to decide for yourselves if Don Peyote is for you. Maybe you’ll find something in it that I didn’t. That’s why we go to the movies, I suppose.

Here’s the trailer:

Seen first on Cinemit.com

When “Somebody’s Baby” by Jackson Browne plays in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, it only means one thing…

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fast times - posterSome movies are inseparable from songs that appear in them. Think “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” by Simple Minds from The Breakfast Club – when anyone in my generation (and those that come after me I would presume) hears that song, I would guess that they immediately think of this. The song is almost completely inseparable from the film. In the same vein, it’s hard to separate Jackson Browne‘s “Somebody’s Babyand the essential role it plays in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. For those of you who don’t know what the film is about, it follows the trials and tribulations of a set of early 1980s high schoolers at Ridgemont High in Ridgemont, California, as they navigate life situations. Somewhat centered on brother and sister combo Brad (Judge Reinhold) and Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) Hamilton, we see their peaks and valleys as the cast of splendid characters swirl around them, floating in and out of their lives. With arguably the most memorable stoner role of all-time, Sean Penn absolutely shines as surfer and general nuisance Jeff Spicoli. With all-star cast that has some of the first appearances in film by people like Nicolas Cage, Eric Stoltz, and Anthony Edwards, this film is hard to forget. That it was the first film (based on his own novel) written by Cameron Crowe makes it all the better.

Linda and Stacy - maneaters of Ridgemont High.

Linda and Stacy, maneaters of Ridgemont High.

“Somebody’s Baby” plays a fairly crucial role in this film and applies almost exclusively to Stacy Hamilton. A freshman, Stacy is intent on learning the ways of beguiling boys. Under the tutelage of her best friend Linda (the unforgettable Phoebe Cates), Stacy sets forth on a mission to not only secure a boyfriend, but to lose her virginity and blossom into a fully operational sexual being as well. It all starts while working at the most hopping pizza place in the Ridgemont Mall, Perry’s, a hot customer named Ron Johnson (D.W. Brown) comes in. The girls at Perry’s fight over who gets to be his waitress. It’s Stacy’s section, so she’s the one. Being the slimy kind of guy he is, Ron immediately hits on her and of course gets her phone number (she’s 15 even though she tells him she’s 19 and he’s 26). So when they make a date for later, what can they actually do together? Ron immediately suggests going to  “The Point.” One knows from so many other teen movies that any place called “The Point” can only lead to one thing – SEX. He clearly had one thing on his mind from the outset. And that’s precisely what happens – Stacy loses her virginity that night. To a 26-year old. In a little league baseball dugout. But here’s the first time we hear Browne‘s “Somebody’s Baby,” which was written specifically for the film.

Ron and Stacy on arguably the worst first date ever.

Ron and Stacy on arguably the worst first date ever.

This song immediately becomes the cue for us to know Stacy is going to get freaky. And this scene with Ron basically plays out over the course of the song: “‘Cause when the cars and the signs and the street lights light up the town/She’s got to be somebody’s baby/She must be somebody’s baby/She’s got to be somebody’s baby.” To me, this covers their trip motoring to “The Point” in Ron’s cherry Datsun (pre-Nissan) 300zx, which was hot stuff back in 1982, cars passing, streets lights illuminating their way. At the first appearance of the chorus, Browne tells us: “She’s probably somebody’s only light. Gonna shine tonight/Yeah, she’s probably somebody’s baby, all right. She might well have been his only light…for that night, and she certainly shined. Of course neither she nor we ever see Ron again, the closest thing being some roses he sends Stacy afterwards. Who says chivalry is dead?

In the scene where Stacy and Linda discuss sex and other variables when they are at the lunch table being surreptitiously listened to by a table full of guys, it’s easy to see where these lyrics came from: “I heard her talkin’ with her friend when she thought nobody else was around/She said she’s got to be somebody’s baby/She must be somebody’s baby.” So it’s plain to see this song is incredibly integrated into the fabric of the movie.

So when Stacy starts giving signs to her exceedingly shy biology nerd classmate Mark Ratner (Brian Backer) that she is interested, we expect something similar to happen. These lyrics clearly outline Ratner’s feelings for Stacy (he tells Damone that he’s already in love with her, but he doesn’t even know her name): “I try to shut my eyes, but I can’t get her outta my sight/I know I’m gonna know her, but I gotta get over my fright/We’ll, I’m just gonna walk up to her/I’m gonna talk to her tonight.” Stacy now occupies the role of the experienced one and has somewhat of an appetite for sex (once again encouraged by Linda). However, Mark is timid and doesn’t want to be the guy only out for sex.

Mark and Stacy: young love (lust?) personified.

Mark and Stacy: young love (lust?) personified.

He wants a relationship and the two seem to connect when Ratner finally gets the stones up to ask her out. After a long dinner, where he has to wait for his friend Mike Damone (Robert Romanus) to bring him his wallet he forgot at home., they adjourn back to Stacy’s house, where her brother is out with friends and her parents are out of town. Stacy changes into something more comfortable (her robe…what’s she thinking about?) and they begin to make out. We think this is going to lead down the same path as it did with Stacy and Ron, but…no “Somebody’s Baby” to give us the clue that Ratner is going to get his and Stacy is going to get hers. Ah, wait we must.

Mike Damone, romeo extraordinaire.

Mike Damone, romeo extraordinaire.

And we don’t have to wait long. When Stacy confides in Mike, after he plays it cool with her, that she likes him, he walks her home. She invites him in after, in his cool sort of way, makes it known that despite that fact that his friend is VERY interested in her, he is too. So when the suggestion is made that they go out back to swim in her pool, they adjourn to the cabana where…we get “Somebody’s Baby.” We now know that they are going to get busy, and that they do.

This song embodies the trio of “relationships” Stacy has in the film. It is a perfect accompaniment and tells us her basic story in about 4 minutes. Without this song playing at key times, this film wouldn’t be nearly as lush as it adds another dimension/layer to the film, something not really done in teen comedies at the time. Director Amy Heckerling gets all the credit for its usage. And I also appreciate that she never judges Stacy (or Linda for that matter) as being slutty. I think that this film treats females discovering their sexuality quite naturally, albeit awkwardly in Stacy’s case. It also covers the dangers of not being careful when Stacy gets pregnant after her tryst with Damone. And without this song being used, we who grew up in the 80s wouldn’t have “Somebody’s Baby” as shorthand to reference a time when someone is about to get busy.

Here is the song performed by Jackson Browne:

This song is pure 1980s wonderful. It is the centerpiece of a pretty solid soundtrack, which includes The Cars‘ “Moving in Stereo” which immediately triggers memories of another scene for most boys who grew up in the 1980s. Google it…

And I would be remiss if I didn’t at least add a picture of Spicoli and his friends drinking Hamm’s in a sweet ass van. Feast your eyes:

M8DFATI EC006Here’s the trailer:

 

First Images of Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard in Macbeth

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macbeth - fassbenderYES FUCKING PLEASE. I’m so pumped about this movie. Michael Fassbender is the finest actor working today (RIP, Philip Seymour Hoffman) and anything that he does is worthwhile viewing. Last year’s criminally underrated The Counselor was amazing and Fassbender was a big part of why it was. According to master filmmaker Monte Hellman: “Except for one serious flaw, which I won’t discuss publicly (and which becomes less and less important the more I watch the movie), it’s so far superior to every other American movie last year, it makes me wonder about the level of eye care and vision in my fellow passengers.” I love it, too, Monte. His turn in Best Picture-winning 12 Years a Slave was nothing short of mesmerizing. He plays a bastard as well as he plays the hero/anti-hero. And his unforgettable turn as Irish hunger striker Bobby Sands in Steve McQueen‘s first feature Hunger is what I would call the best performance of the 2000s thus far. This guy brings it every movie.

Marion Cotillard is no slouch herself, having already won an Oscar for her portrayal of Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose and has captivated in everything from Inception to The Dark Knight Rises and Rust & Bone.

macbeth - cotillard

Macbeth is directed by Justin Kurzel, whose critically acclaimed first feature The Snowtown Murders seems like a solid precursor to a screen adaptation of the Bard’s Scottish play. Plug co-stars David Thewlis and Paddy Considine, and you have the makings of something special. I can’t wait for the trailer to drop.

Soundtrack Perfection – “Where Is My Mind?” by The Pixies in David Fincher’s Fight Club

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fight club poster 1Most of the time, I don’t really notice music in the movies. Since awful pop music tends to be what is featured in movies to drive soundtrack sales, it’s all the more reason to ignore it. From time to time, there are songs featured in movies that add just the right note to the film, capping some essential moment, shedding light on an aspect that might have otherwise gone unnoticed or tying the whole film together in a neat little package.When revisiting David Fincher’s Fight Club a few nights ago, I found that as the film drew to its climax, I was anticipating when The Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?” plays, not just because it plays over the a significantly important part of the film, but because the song adds so much to moment when it plays.

By Justin Reed.

The players by Justin Reed.

There will be spoilers here if you have not seen Fight Club – BEWARE.

For those who went into Fight Club without having first read the book by Chuck Palahniuk, they might have been incredibly surprised when our unnamed protagonist, who is sometimes referred to as Jack (Edward Norton), is revealed to also be Tyler Durden (played by Brad Pitt), the madman part of Jack’s ego that runs an revolutionist army built from underground fight clubs. At the beginning of the film, Jack tells a doctor that he can’t sleep and hasn’t for months, wakes up in places and doesn’t know how he got there. Jim Uhls, the writer who adapted this film, did a great job selling this conceit in the structure of the film. The success of the film, much like The Sixth Sense, hinges on whether the audience sees this coming too early in the film. Since there are numerous spots where the truth could be found prior to the reveal (“I know this because Tyler knows this”, “If you wake up at a different time, in a different place, could you wake up as a different person?”, etc.), Fincher’s deft direction begs you to not only ask whether Jack really is Tyler, but also to dismiss it impossible. As we viewers take this journey with the two parts of one personality, we too are as confused as Jack as to what’s going on around him. His/Tyler’s relationship with Marla Singer (played by the smoky Helena Bonham-Carter) only adds to this mystery – “Except for their humping, Tyler and Marla were never in the same room. My parents pulled this exact act for years — one came in, the other disappeared.” Tyler explicitly tells Jack to never mention him in her presence, and they dance around the possibility that Jack will mention Tyler to her on at least three occasions before he actually does. The vertigo caused by this dance further discombobulates our brains.

Marla and Jack...an odd couple?

Marla and Jack…an odd couple?

And all of these details tie back to the song that plays out the movie’s end – The Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?” One can’t help but to ask this same question after having slogged through 2+ hours identifying with Jack, no Tyler, no both of them? Black Francis’ lyrics seem so apt as Jack sticks the gun in his mouth and literally blows Tyler away: “Your head will collapse\But there’s nothing in it\And you’ll ask yourself\Where is my mind?” The song may well have been written about a scuba diving experience, but it feels like it was destined for a film like this. And would the film’s ending be as strong had, say, Pink Floyd’s “Brain Damage” or another song been used? Not a chance, and that’s what makes this song essential to the film and the perfect capper to what my sister-in-law once called “the feel good movie of 1999.” Few songs ever capture the essence of film, especially those not written specifically for the film. “Where Is My Mind?” does that and more. Its sentiments parallel the frustrations of Edward Norton‘s character attempt to figure out his own predicament and echo those that we as viewers of the film or readers of the novel also undergo as we try to piece together the story and form a coherent narrative. Needless to say, this is a tremendous addition to the film. It’s a shame that is has been used in similar fashion in lesser films like 2011′s Sucker Punch.

Here’s the trailer for those of you who may not have seen this fantastic piece of cinema:

“If our guys had sneakers like that there’s no telling what they could do” – Teen Wolf and One of 80s Cinema’s Greatest Characters

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teen wolf poster 2

In 1985, no one was hotter than Michael J. Fox. From starring in the classic TV show Family Ties to doing TV movie Poison Ivy (no, not the sexy movie with Drew Barrymore, you dirty-minded fools) to launching the smash first installment of the Back to the Future trilogy, Fox could do no wrong. Which brings us to Teen Wolf, where Fox plays Scott Howard, your typical average American Joe who finds out that his family has a little secret…he and his dad are werewolves (his mother was as well, but she died).

Scott all wolfed up.

Scott all wolfed up.

But before we get to that part, we have to start at the beginning, Scott is a middle of the pack guy – not popular, not unpopular. He plays point guard on the basketball team, but it’s a shitty basketball team coached by a terrible coach (more on him later). His best friend, Stiles (Jerry Levine), moves in and out of the popular circles and is known for his wild antics and schemes. Basically, not the guy you want your kids hanging out with. He has the hots for the class actress Pamela (Lorie Griffin) who doesn’t really notice him and has a big boyfriend on the rival basketball team (Mark Arnold), but is adored by Boof (Susan Ursitti), his best girl friend, whom he ignores with hopes of bagging Pamela. Your standard high school tale, truthfully. Complicated relationships that really shouldn’t be complicated at all.

"I want a keg of beer": Wolf Power on display.

“I want a keg of beer”: Wolf Power on display.

When he finds out he’s a wolf, he’s scared but is told by his father that with being werewolf comes responsibility and also enhanced powers. Scott, being the insecure 17-year old that he is, struggles with his wolf side unsure of how to handle it as well as what to do should he turn into the wolf in front of people unexpectedly.

Stiles upon learning about Scott's wolf-dentity.

Stiles upon learning about Scott’s wolf-dentity.

He “comes out” as the wolf, so to speak, to Stiles who isn’t put off by it and can immediately sense an opportunity which to exploit, which doesn’t make him feel any better about his situation. What Scott fears most about being exposed as a wolfman finally happens in the middle of a contested play during one of their hopelessly awful basketball games. At first people are stunned, but when Scott takes over the basketball game and starts playing like Magic Johnson, John Stockton and Michael Jordan all wrapped up in one person, people LOVE it. Check it out:

So Scott’s fears are assuaged immediately and takes on the persona of the Wolfman almost full-time, much to the chagrin of Boof because Pamela actually starts to pay attention to him. He becomes the “it” guy at school – people love him and want to be around him. Stiles starts a budding wolf souvenir business and is making money hand over fist. The basketball team is on an unprecedented run, but the players resent Scott for basically making every play. Scott has drawn the ire of Vice Principal Thorne (Jim McKrell), who was once a wooer of his mother who lost out to Scott’s father and he still carries a grudge, not unlike the relationship Marty McFly and VP Strickland (James Tolkan) have in Back to the Future. So as Scott spirals into a routine that creates more loathing than love, he realizes he has to stop it all. So when the Beavers make it to the big championship basketball game against the rival Dragons and Pamela thug ass boyfriend Mick, he decides to play it straight, as Scott not as the Wolf. As you can imagine this ruffles the feathers of the fans who came to see the spectacle, but Scott and his fellow Beavers don’t disappoint. The ending is as you would expect – Scott’s move makes everyone happy after the team wins, he bypasses Pamela who for some reason remains interested in him and finally gets with Boof and all is right. A nice tidy ending to your standard 80s teen comedy.

Boof and Scott together at last.

Boof and Scott together at last.

This is all well and good, but behind the scenes is a character on the periphery, an unsung hero remains…and that is basketball coach Bobby Finstock (Jay Tarses). A man of philosophical depth that few movies in the 80s ever saw and few have since.

The IRS is coming down on me like it's some personal vendetta against Bobby Finstock.

The IRS is coming down on me like it’s some personal vendetta against Bobby Finstock.

While he may appear aloof and uninterested in the students, his players and really the game of basketball itself, Bobby Finstock is really a motivator and his techniques were way ahead of their times. Only now are we realizing what a genius this character really was. His three rules to live by are as follows:

  1. Never get less than 12 hours of sleep
  2. Never play cards with a guy who’s got the same first name as a city, and
  3. Never go near a lady who’s got a tattoo of a dagger on her body

Rare is it that nuggets such as these are dispensed, free of charge no less. These are rules that can easily be applied to this very day. And the story he tells about the kid who needs to quit the basketball team to help his family out with money is poetry, pure and simple and I think really touched Scott in a way he wasn’t expecting. If you haven’t seen the film, feast your eyes here and soak up everything the man has to say:

Bobby Finstock is one of my favorite 80s movie characters, up there with Charles De Mar (Curtis Armstrong) in Better Off Dead,  Chris Knight (Val Kilmer) in Real Genius and Gary Wallace (Anthony Michael Hall) in Weird Science, which is some testament because he leaves as lasting of an impression as many of the main characters have.

If you mix all of this up with the fact that Francis from Pee Wee‘s Big Adventure (Mark Holton) is also in this, you have the recipe for a fairly satisfying 80s comedy. That this has been re-appropriated by shitty ass MTV and made into a TV show is not surprising given their trend of taking something that has name recognition and whore it out for a new generation. While I haven’t seen the show, if MTV has anything to do with it, you can be sure it falls somewhere in between a pile of shit and a herpetic sore. Not a gamble I’m willing to take.

See how fun this movie is? Wolves, beers and  babes - what more do you need?

See how fun this movie is? Wolves, beers and babes and sagelike advice – what more do you need?

Teen Wolf isn’t the strongest of the 80s teen comedies, but it is still fun. It apparently translates fairly well to newer generations as my sons both adored it when they saw it. In thinking about it, a basketball dunking werewolf is pretty much in their wheelhouse, so it’s no surprise. I hold out hope that Bobby Finstock’s words of wisdom embedded themselves deep within their brains, available for recall when they most need them. And if you are curious where the cast has ended up, check this out.

Here’s the trailer:

 

 

Best soundtrack inclusion ever: “Ooh La La” by Faces in Wes Anderson’s Rushmore

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rushmore - poster 2I am a shameless fan of Wes Anderson and his quirky films and have been ever since my older brother recommended that I watch his first feature, Bottle Rocket. I loved it and eagerly awaited his next release, Rushmore, which happened to hit the theaters when I was living with said brother in Boston. On a frosty February evening the two of us along with my sister-in-law ventured from our living quarters on Dudley Ave. in Cambridge to the Kendall Square theaters and caught a screening. It quickly became one of my favorites films, where it still remains easily in the top 15 or 20 (depending on the day, of course). The ending was/is the clincher for me and remains my absolute favorite ending to any film I’ve ever seen. There are a number of reasons for this, which I will illuminate, but the single biggest factor is The Faces song, “Ooh La La” accompanying the denouement of the picture. This song brings up so many memories for me that when it played, I was just overwhelmed with happiness and nostalgia. This is why I love the movies.

 

Le enfant terrible, Max Fischer.

Le enfant terrible, Max Fischer.

In comparison to Bottle Rocket, Rushmore is a polished film without the edges that Anderson‘s first feature has. With an increased dose of eccentricity, at least on the part of the main character, Max Fischer (so ably brought to life by Coppola family member Jason Schwartzman in his first film role), Rushmore sails. The story of Rushmore follows Max as he attends Rushmore Academy, a private school for children of the local and international elite. Max’s father is a barber and normally wouldn’t be able attend; however, when he was young, Max wrote a one-act play about Watergate that netted him a scholarship to the topflight academic institution. Max takes his involvement at Rushmore very seriously, enlisting himself in a plethora of clubs and activities and largely ignoring his studies, eventually finding himself on sudden death academic probation and facing expulsion. In the meantime, he befriends local steel magnate and father to twin classmates, Herman Blume, played by Bill Murray in what I believe is his finest performance. Herman takes Max under his wing and as they both fall for widowed Rushmore teacher Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams), tensions and rivalries get the better of them…until the ending of the film.

Take dead aim on the rich boys. Get them in the crosshairs and take them down. Just remember, they can buy anything but they can't buy backbone. Don't let them forget it.

Take dead aim on the rich boys. Get them in the crosshairs and take them down. Just remember, they can buy anything but they can’t buy backbone. Don’t let them forget it.

And this is precisely why “Ooh La La” works so well in the context of the triangular relationship of Cross, Fischer and Blume. The lyrics of the song have meaning for each of the characters. Blume looks at Max as the son he wished he’d had instead of Ronnie and Donnie, the twin nightmares. In looking at Max and what lays ahead for him, Herman reflects on his own journey. The chorus to “Ooh La La” fits so perfectly here: “I wish that I knew what I know now/when I was younger/I wish that I knew what I know now/when I was stronger.” Had Herman known before what he knows now, would he have married his ungrateful, cheating wife? Fathered his two bonehead sons? Would his life be as miserable? After the fledgling relationship with Miss Cross fails, largely due to interference by Max, and his wife sues for divorce (once again caused by Max), Blume finds himself having to start over again. Check the lyrics: “they come on strong and it ain’t too long/for they make you feel a man/but love is blind and you soon will find/you’re just a boy again.” Just perfection.

Max Fischer, renaissance man.

Max Fischer, renaissance man.

These words, however, are equally as applicable to Max, who, even though he is a young man not even 18, can take something from them. The entire first verse could easily be words of warning in reflecting on Blume’s experience: “I thought he was a bitter man/he spoke of women’s ways/they’ll trap you when they use you/before you even know/for love is blind and you’re far too kind/don’t ever let it show.” But the big difference for Max is he can heed these words, weave them into his forward trajectory, something that could be too late for Blume or even Miss Cross.

Max, Blume and Miss Cross - strange bedfellows indeed.

Max, Blume and Miss Cross – strange bedfellows indeed.

When Miss Cross removes Max’s glasses in this scene, she is reflecting back on her husband, Rushmore-alum Edward Appleby, who passed away and is the reason she is teaching at Rushmore. Earlier in the movie, she tells Max, “You remind me of him, you know?” And here it’s come full circle. She looks at Max like we assume she looked at Edward Appleby, whom she knew her whole life. The chorus also applies to Miss Cross here – if she knew what she knows now when she was younger, would she be so sad? Would she cherish the moments she had with him more? This is a contemplative moment that’s very powerful, because the basic notion contained within it transfers to us as viewers, causing us, perhaps, to undergo the same reflection each of these characters is undertaking. Without this song playing, I don’t know if that would happen. That the song plays out over the credits, not just over the scene alone, allows us to consider it and the film in context as it plays out over the plain black and white words on-screen.

rushmore - ooh la la

Growing up, my father played Ooh La La the album a lot. Many good memories are attached to listening to this song and playing with the album cover (yes, we listened to it on vinyl) – the mouth opened and the eyes went from side to side when you pushed the top of it. So when Ruben, the DJ at the cotillion, spins it and the first guitar chord hit I was already in love. As the camera pulls back to capture Max and Miss Cross enter the dance floor, Anderson employs his signature (well, until Moonrise Kingdom) move of having the final scene of each of his films in slow motion. The song coupled with this technique is why I think this is the best ending to a film of all-time. For the first time, we see all of the major players of the film – Max, Blume, Miss Cross, Max’s father Bert (played by Seymour Cassel), Max’s new girlfriend Margaret Yang (Sara Tanaka), best friend Dirk Calloway (Mason Gamble) and headmaster Nelson Guggenheim (Brian Cox) – in the same frame, happy. By using slow motion, Anderson allows us to linger in this moment with the characters, to leave behind the viciousness with which the characters set upon one another leading up to this point and creates one of the most cathartic film moments I’ve ever witnessed. Part of me wishes it lasted the entire song.

Here is a clip of the ending:

Enjoy it. Watch it several times. Let the song wash over you. And if you haven’t watched Rushmore in its entirety, do so at your earliest convenience. It truly is fantastic.

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