Wednesday, April 27, 2011
I've seen this as a play, and part of an 80's TV Movie with Jack Lemmon. But I hadn't seen this version before, of course. The black and white kept me away. Let's see if it was for a good reason.
Plot summary (with spoilers): A bored judge instructs a jury of twelve not-really-all-that-angry men about the seriousness of the crime alleged (murder), the severity of the penalty (death) and the need for their verdict to be unanimous. He's got his fist propping up his head, and can barely stay awake as he recites his jury instructions from memory. The twelve men nod dutifully and then get up to begin deliberations. We see a shot of the accused, a young kid, only eighteen, who looks to be Latino or perhaps Middle Eastern. (The play I saw never showed the kid, which I think is a better way to go).
In the jury room, the men futz around for a bit; one man tries to plug in a fan that doesn't work, several talk about how damn hot it is, a few others mention the waste of time the trial was and comment on the obvious guilt of the defendant. The Jury Foreman (# 1) finally calls everyone together and suggests everyone sit down and begin. Someone suggests they sit down in order of their numbers, which was very helpful for me, since none of them get names. (It also reminds me of the Cylons, of which there were also twelve. Ooh, that's fun. Imagine the Cylons as you read this. Henry Fonda is number 8, same as Boomer. So go ahead and feel free to imagine Henry Fonda as a hot Asian chick). Very quickly, slick # 7 mentions he has a ball game he's planning on attending that afternoon, and suggests they take a quick vote and get this over with. No one seems to have any objections. #1 (Brother John Cavill) calls out a vote for guilty. Many hands shoot up. He counts. "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven. And, uh...not guilty? Ah, just the one". #8's hand is the only one to go up. Several others express annoyance at this, but #8 quite reasonably says he's not sure yet, and before one sentences someone to death, there ought to be at least a little discussion. #1 comes up with the idea to go around the table and say why you think the kid is guilty. #2 (Leoben) thinks he just seems guilty. (Awesome, thanks for coming). #3 (D'Anna Biers) has got a notebook out. He mentions the fact that the downstairs neighbor heard the boy arguing with his dad hours before, and then heard the kid say "I'm gonna kill you!" then heard a thump. Then the old man ran to the doorway and fifteen seconds later saw the kid running down the fire escape. He also mentions that a woman who lived across the street saw the boy stab his father with a knife through the windows of a passing L train. #4 (Simon) chimes in at this, and points out that in addition, the kid offered an alibi of the movies and when questioned later, but couldn't say what movie he saw or what stars were in it. #5 (Doral) adds that they also had a history of fights and that the kid admitted that the dad had punched him earlier that day. #6 (Caprica) throws in that the knife found in the dad's chest was the same kind of knife the kid had bought from a shop just a couple days earlier, and that the kid himself said he lost the knife. #3 talks out of turn and reminds everyone that the shopkeeper also said that the type of knife was one-of-a-kind.
Well shit, I think we're done here. What's the hold up, #8?
#7 (Starbuck's Daddy Daniel) has nothing more to add and just wants to go to his ballgame. The Foreman wants #8 to talk, but he says he thought it was the other people's job to convince him. They insist he go anyway, so #8 says the first thing that bothers him is the knife. He doesn't know if it's as rare as the shopkeeper says. The Foreman asks the bailiff to bring the knife into evidence, and after he does, #3 angrily declares that the shopkeeper says it was one-of-a-kind and that's good enough for him. He slams the knife into the wooden table (which has GOT to be super against the law) and points to the distinct markings on the handle. Suddenly, #8 reaches into his pocket, and produces the exact same knife and also drives it into the table. Dudes, seriously! That is government property! #3 asks just what it is he's trying to prove (um...I think that's clear) and a lot of others raise a fuss as well. #9 (Let's say Tory) defends #8's actions, while #10 (Anders) starts sputtering that you know what they're all like, let's not kid ourselves, this kid is a menace! He said with his own words "I'm gonna kill you". #8 says people say that all the time. #3 says not when they're this angry. When they're angry, they mean it.
#8 says he has a proposition. A secret ballot. He'll abstain. If there are eleven guilty votes, he'll switch his vote. If there aren't, they'll all keep talking. Everyone agrees with this. The ballots are casts and the Jury Foreman reads off ten "not guilty's"...and one "guilty". Everyone groans. #3 randomly starts yelling at #5, accusing him of flipping. Finally, #9, the old man, says it was him. He says he's still not convinced of the boy's innocence but he definitely wants to hear more.
So we hear more. Next up is the lady across the street's contention that she saw the murder take place through the last two cars of a passing "L" train and the old man's testimony that he heard the kid yell "I'm gonna kill you" right before the body hit the floor. #8 asks if anyone knows how long it takes for an L train to pass a given point. About ten seconds. Has anyone lived near one? #5 has. Aren't they loud? Yes, very. So...if the murder took place about eight seconds or so after the L train had been passing the old man's window, how did he hear the kid scream "I'm gonna kill you" or hear the body hit the floor? #5 and #6 are gobsmacked. That's a really good point. Some of the others are less impressed. #10 says this is all just gobbledygoop and you can't trust these people. #11 (Saul Tigh) expresses disgust at that sentiment.
#5 flips his vote. #3 is thoroughly pissed and starts ranting again, #10 joins in. Some of the others stick up for #8 and #5, but aren't interested in joining them. Now #8 wants to go over what the old man said about running to the door in 15 seconds and seeing the kid flee. They decide to act out how that must of taken. The agree to time how long it would take #8 to walk around the room with a limp (the old man had a limp), approximating how far the old man's bedroom was from the front door. #2 agrees to time this, and cutely wants to wait until the second hand is on 12 before beginning. They time the walk and it takes 41 seconds. #3 angrily says this proves nothing and why would the old man lie anyway? #9, an old man himself, says he could tell by the way the old man dressed that he was pathetic and lonely and testifying today was basically his one chance to get out of the house and feel important. He may have even convinced himself that what he said was true. #3 is apoplectic with rage and incredulity. "We're letting this kid slip through are fingers!"
Everyone's horrified by the comment. #8 says he clearly cares nothing for justice and merely wants to watch someone burn. He's a sadist. #3 lunges at him, and is held back by #4. "I'm gonna kill you!" he shouts. "Now, you don't really mean that, I'm sure". Ooooh...burn!
Another vote is called. #11, #2, and #6 have also flipped. The vote is tied, 6-6.
They're at an impasse. Everyone is sweaty and pissy now. Several people want to tell the judge it's a hung jury, but the Foreman says not enough time has passed. #7 is furious he's going to miss his game. #12 (Chief) , is super douchey, and regals others of his past success stories in sales. No one seems to want to keep deliberating. Finally, they get going again. #2 wants to talk about the knife, and how it entered the father's body. He wants to know if it makes sense. The knife was driven down into his body, even though the son was shorter. #3 says that makes sense. He grabs the knife and walks up to #8. He lowers himself to #8's chest level, and mimes stabbing downwards. "See, it works." Suddenly, he really stabs downwards, stopping just before hitting #8's chest. Everyone cries out. "We're just messing around here" he says, chuckling. "Calm down, everyone". Well, that definitely would've been one way to get a mistrial. #5, having earlier established himself as having grown up in the slums like the defendant, says that that's not how you stab people with a switchblade. You do an uppercut, like this. He acts it out. The Foreman seems impressed by this, and after a bit, changes his vote. At this point, 7, the ballgame guy, switches his vote as well. He says there's no real reason for it, he just wants to get out of here, and knows which way the wind is blowing. (7 is played by Charlie Bucket's Grandpa Joe, about twenty years younger. He and Henry Fonda are the only two people I recognize. And hey, why isn't Willy Wonka on this list?!) #11 says that's unacceptable and starts berating him until 7 finally admits that he really does think the kid is innocent. That leaves just #4, #3, #12 and #10. #3 says he'll never ever ever times infinity change his mind so they might as well call a mistrial now. #4 suggests another hour max of deliberations. He outlines his main reason for saying guilty. The shaky movie alibi, and that the woman saw the murder take place. #8 quizzes him on the last movie he saw and who was in it, and #4 doesn't do so well. #12 flips his vote. Now #10 has had enough. He stands up and goes into a long-winded rant about what animals "they" are, and how he shouldn't have even gotten a trial, and they all need to be locked up forever, etc. As he does this, a perhaps too on-the-nose scene takes place, where all the other jurors stand up and literally turn their backs to him, until he's just sputtering like a lunatic to an empty table. I don't know. It was well acted, but so damn corny. He ends with "you've gotta listen to me". #4 snarls "I have. Now shut up, and don't talk again". Okay, that was awesome. And #10 doesn't talk again in this movie.
#4 tells #8 that the movie stuff was impressive, but he's still not convinced. #3 isn't either, of course. #4 takes off his glasses and rubs his nose. #9 says he noticed that #3 has those little indentations in on his nose from his glasses, and the lady witness had them too. Yet she wasn't wearing glasses in the courtroom. Because she wanted to look pretty, and guys don't make passes etc. They conclude that there's no way she had on her glasses when she was in bed looking out the window, and therefore her testimony is suspect. #4 flips. #3 is out of his head. This isn't right! You know he's guilty. "You're alone now", says 8. I have a right! Yes, you do. So let's talk about it. 3 rehashes all the now-debunked evidence until finally taking out his wallet, staring at a picture of his son, crumbling it, and weeping. "Not guilty", he says. "Not guilty!"
Hmm...I think #3 has incorporated his personal life into the case a little bit.
They file into the courtroom to give their verdict, and justice is served.
Outside the courtroom, #9 asks #8 his name. "I'm Davis" says 8. "I'm McCardle". They shake hands and smile. Then, they part ways, walking down the courtroom steps.
As Davis goes around the corner, the kid approaches him. "Hey, vato! That was so awesome how you helped me get away with killing my dad! High five!" They both laugh evilly as ominous music plays. The moral? Always follow the crowd.
Review: Okay, that last paragraph didn't actually happen. But it would've been awesome. As for the movie, it was originally a play, and feels like a play, but Lumet does all he can do bring great cinematic energy to the whole thing. There are lots of sweeping long shots in the beginning that go on for six or seven minutes, before a quick cut, and then another long shot. The camera bobs and weaves through everyone as they chat with one another. Then, by the end, when tensions are high, there are nothing but quick cuts and lots of extreme close-ups. A very engaging contrast that really sets the mood. Also, by 1957 there were in fact color movies, but I suspect that they were seen more as gimmicky, like 3D is today. I'm kind of glad they didn't employ it, here. And by 1957 it seems that the old-timey bad acting bullshit is finally a thing of the past, with everyone here giving a nuanced and realistic performance, even angry #3, who could've easily gotten melodramatic at the end. One of my favorite trashy movie genres (second only to body-switching movies) are movies where a ensemble cast is trapped somewhere and getting killed off one-by-one. This is like the classy version of that, where instead of getting killed off, people where getting "turned" by Henry Fonda over to the good guy's side, one by one. Not that all the people who thought the kid was guilty were bad. That was another great touch. The only flat-out villain was #10. Even #3 had some residual humanity and #4 was an entirely reasonable man who held onto his beliefs until they ceased to be reasonable. We should all be so lucky. Although, even though the actors were all great, I have to admit, I found myself more engaged in the mechanics of who would get "killed off" next and why, rather than really embracing the emotional aspect of the story. #3 revealing his own problems with his son at the end of the movie rang especially "who the fuck cares" to me. But that's minor. The actual plot was easy to follow, too. When we first hear the evidence, we agree with the eleven that it's pretty open-and-shut. At what point the individual viewer "turns" probably says a lot about them, as well. All in all, a great flick.
Stars: Four out of five.
Does it deserve "Best 100" Status: Like I said, I'm getting stricter. Only five star movies get the honor. So, no.
Next, "Platoon" and then "A Night at the Opera". Both are new to me, entirely. I'm not sure how I'll be able to take Sheen seriously, but I'll give it a shot.
Sunday, April 24, 2011
Oh, great. Another movie from the Olden Times. Sigh. Let's get this over with.
Plot summary (with spoilers): David Huxley is a paleontologist, which is like a dinosaur guy. He's futzing around his...lab, I guess, putting together the bones of a brontosaurus. He announces to his comely assistant that he needs one more bone--the intercostal clavicle--to complete the dinosaur, and it's arriving by mail later that day. He tries to kiss his comely assistant, Alice Swallow, but she demurs. It's true they are to be married the next day, but she lets him know that their marriage is one of convenience at that there will be no Honeymoon, because he has work to do with his brontosaurus. David's disappointed, but agrees that it's for the best. Alice further exposits that he has an important golf date that very afternoon with a lawyer named Alexander Peabody, who is considering giving David's museum a million dollar grant. David allows himself to be led around by the nose by this chick.
While golfing, David keeps hitting up Peabody for the cash until Peabody first tells him that A) You don't discuss business during golf and B) He personally doesn't have any cash, he's just a lawyer who advices his client, Mrs. Random (heh, "random") on how to spend her money. David hits his ball, and then notices up ahead that someone is trying to play his ball as their own. He runs up to the comely young woman (Susan Vance) and sputters "now see here!" and all that, and the comely young woman basically ignores him and continues playing through after shushing him. David insists that the ball is his, and tries to prove it by pointing out the markings on it. Susan says she's done golfing for the day, and heads over to the parking lot. David goes back to Mr. Peabody, but then notices Susan is getting into his car. He runs back over in time to see Susan pull out, cut the turn too close, and crunch into the car next to his. He flips out, does the "now see here!" thing again, but she smiles the whole time and acts like he's the crazy one and eventually drives off with David in pursuit.
At a restaurant, later that night. Susan is at the bar, flirting with the bartender. She's got these really weird ribbons in her hair that stick way out in front of her on either side. She's attempting to catch olives in her mouth (a trick the bartender taught her) and drops one. Of course, David happens by at that moment, and slips on the olive, crushing his hat. Susan apologizes, her laughter undercutting any expression of remorse, and David harumphs and continues on his way. Susan follows him for a bit, then stops in front of a table where a man is eating olives. She tries to catch several in her mouth, to his bewilderment. Then she sits at his table and asks his name. It's Dr. Fritz Lehman, a psychiatrist. "Oh, you mean for crazy people!" Not cool, Susan. Susan asks Lehman to psychoanalyze a man who is obsessed with a woman he just met, even though he's constantly fighting with her. Lehman says "the love impulse in men frequently reveals itself in conflict". Susan lights up. "The love impulse!" "Yes, and further studies show..." "No wait, I can't remember any more than that!" She dashes off, and races over to David, who is waiting to meet with Peabody. She tells him that his love impulse frequently reveals itself in conflict and that's why he's following her. David is flabbergasted, due to her being totally wrong on all counts. Susan looks at the purse she's holding. She says excuse me, hands the purse to David, and runs away again.
At the table, Dr. Lehman's wife returns from the powder room and discovers her purse is gone. David walks by to pursue Susan, and Mrs. Lehman exclaims, "that's my purse!" and tries to take it from him. David thinks it's Susan's, and won't budge, until finally Susan comes back from the bar with her own purse and angrily chides David for stealing Mrs. Lehman's. David hands the purse to Mrs. Lehman, and stomps off. Susan tries to stop him and accidentally rips his coat. He tells her to scram, and when she does, she doesn't notice he's standing on her dress. It rips and then it's up to David to walk right up behind her as they quickly exit the restaurant. Of course, Mr. Peabody arrives right then, and sees them both marching out.
It's the next morning, and David is getting ready for his wedding. The phone rings. It's Susan. Dear God, why did he give her his number? She explains that she recently came in possession of a leopard named Baby. (Uh...) The leopard was sent to her by her brother Mark, who lives in Brazil. She says that since he's a zoologist, he should come and pick it up and study it. David says he's not a zoologist, and please stop calling! Susan trips on the phone cord and cries out. David asks if the leopard is attacking her. Susan says yes, that's totally what's going on right now, and then runs the phone along the vent on the floor, which is how you simulate a leopard attack. She then screams and hangs up the phone.
David races over to her apartment and she lets him in. Are you okay? Where's the leopard?! I'm fine. David thinks there's no leopard, but sure enough, there is one, who is quite tame and takes an instant liking to David's pantleg. The freaking leopard is real, no CGI obviously. I'm sure they are breaking a ton of union laws. David stomps off again, telling her not to bother him anymore, and he's got to get married. Susan's next big plan is to have Baby follow David on the street, while she drives along side him in her car. When David sees Baby walking next to him, with Susan threatening to drive off, he realizes he has no choice but to get in the car with her and Baby. (Yeah, that makes zero sense, anyway you slice it. Let's just go with it). Susan wants to drive Baby to her aunt's house in Connecticut. David says okay, but he need to hurry back blah blah married!
On the way to Connecticut, they stop off to buy Baby some raw meat. David buys the meat, and then Susan gets hassled by a cop for parking at a fire hydrant. She says that's not her car and then proves it by stealing the car next to hers and then picking up David in front of the butcher shop. Susan is a straight-up sociopath, you guys. I love it. Once they get to the farm, Susan convinces David to take a shower before he leaves. She steals his clothes while he's showering and gives them to her aunt's maid to take into town and have them cleaned and pressed.
Oh yeah, and David also has his intercoastal clavicle bone that he got in the mail earlier that day. Susan opens it up and asks about it when he's in the shower. Then she leaves it on the bed.
David realizes his clothes are gone and puts on a frilly nightgown that's in the room. He calls out for Susan, who barricades herself in her own bathroom and starts showering, to avoid a confrontation about the clothes.
Just then, Susan's aunt arrives home, with a little yapping dog. She demands to know who David is and why he's wearing her nightgown. He ignores her questions at first until finally he shouts "Because I just went gay all of a sudden!"
(In 1938, holy crap. Coincidence? Did he mean "happy"? Wiki says that gay men were using the term "gay" to mean "homosexual" as far back as the twenties, but most other people didn't know about that meaning for another fifty years. However, Cary Grant has been rumored to be gay, and he reportedly ad-libbed the line, so...who knows? Reminds me of this Seinfeld clip from September 1993. The date's important. The setup is that Elaine is dating a man who has the same name as a famous serial killer, Joel Rifkin, and she's trying to get him to change his name. Here's her suggestion: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YZx3xYwb64Q Ahem. Anyway).
Aunt Random continues haranguing David and the dog George keeps yapping. Susan runs out of her bedroom and lies for no reason to her Aunt, telling her that David is a crazy man whom she met recently and she's trying to convince him to get help, and also they're going to get married. At that, David has had enough! He demands that Aunt Random find him some male clothes, and she responds that the gardener Aloysius Gogarty (oh, fuck me!) sometimes leaves clothes here to change into in that room over there. David goes into the room, with the dog George yapping very loudly this whole time. George then races into the bedroom where the intercoastal clavicle bone is, grabs it, then heads outside. Once David changes clothes, he realizes the intercoastal clavicle bone is gone! Susan suspects George took it, while David quite reasonably suspects Susan took it. At any rate, they go outside and begin following George around the yard, waiting to see where he might have hidden the intercoastal clavicle bone. It is then that Susan takes the opportunity to inform David that her Aunt Random is the very wealthy socialite that the lawyer Mr. Peabody works for. The one whom David needs a million dollars from. David is stunned. He realizes he's made too bad of a first impression and orders Susan not to tell her aunt who he really is. Aunt Random goes out into the yard with them. As David runs off after George, she asks Susan what his name is and what he does for a living. Susan responds that his name is David...Bone. And he hunts. What does he hunt? Well, animals I'd hope!
David gives up on George for the time being and goes inside to call Alice and explain the wedding will have to be postponed. Susan gets on the other line and starts talking to Alice. David barks at her to get off the line! Then she pretends that she's the automated time lady (?!?!) and starts melodically saying "at the tone...the time will be...seven fifteen and twenty seconds...ding" and so on. She's by the window in the living room as she does this, and suddenly a man's head pops up and says, "excuse me, it's actually ten after eight!" Susan adjusts the time in her next go round, then hangs up. She calls to her Aunt who hurries into the living room to greet their new guest named...wait for it...Major Horace Applegate. He's there to have dinner, because why the fuck not? Horace is a friend of Aunt Random's and also a...yes...big game hunter.
Later that night, the four of them are having dinner. David barely tracks the conversation, and keeps watching George. Every time George runs out of the kitchen, David excuses himself and follows. Aunt Random asks Susan if she really wants to marry a man who wanders about like Hamlet's father. Zing!
At this point, Aloysius Gogarty shows up, and starts tooling about in the barn. The barn where Baby is currently being held. Very quickly, Baby escapes. Aloysius sees her running, and is gobsmacked.
The quartet eating dinner hear Baby howling outside. Aunt Random wonders aloud what that could be, and Susan blurts out "a leopard!" Maj Applegate assures her that that isn't possible because the howling is all wrong, and he proceeds to do several quite hilarious leopard impressions while the rest watch. Aunt Random says that her nephew Mark was supposed to send her a leopard from Brazil, but it hasn't arrived yet. George leaves the kitchen again, David excuses himself and follows, and this time so does Susan. They race out of the house together. Maj Applegate suggests that perhaps dinner is over, and would Aunt Random like to go for a walk? She would. "Shall we run?" "Of course!" They also race out of the kitchen, in perfect imiation of David and Susan. This makes me giggle way too much.
Outside, David has lost track of George. Susan suggests they team up to find Baby and George, before they find each other and there's no more George. They go off into the woods together, and wind up falling down a little hill after getting caught in poison ivy. Being a sociopath, Susan can't stop laughing. Meanwhile, back at the house, Aloysius tells Maj Applegate that the leopard is real, and Applegate grabs his shotgun. They also go off into the woods, without telling Aunt Random.
David and Susan see Baby and George on the other side of a stream, wrestling and growling at each other. It's totally real, and damn that leopard must be well trained. David asks how can they get around the stream, and Susan assures him it's shallow and they can just wade across, so they march into the stream and...of course, under the water they go. By the time they've swam ashore, Baby and George are gone. After they dry off, they happen upon a truck in the road. The truck belongs to the circus that's in town (of course) and they're transporting a leopard to the circus right now (of course) and David and Susan think the leopard they have is Baby (OF COURSE THEY DO). David distracts them with bad directions, while Susan frees the leopard in the back of the truck. She tries to put a collar on it, but this leopard is not tame like Baby and snarls and growls at her. It runs away. She chases him, calling David to follow her. They run through the forest together, until Susan trips over a log. She jumps back up, but her heel is broken. This is what she says as she limps around in a circle: "Side of a mountain. Side of a mountain. I was born on the side of a mountain". OMG. Susan is KILLING me.
Gunshots. David and Susan run to the source of the shooting, and confront Applegate and Aloysius. Susan asks what they're doing. Applegate says he saw a leopard in the distance. Susan shouts that the leopard is tame and it belongs to Aunt Random. Don't kill it, capture it! She and David go off in one direction, while they other two go off in another. They happen upon the circus leopard and when Applegate tries to capture it, it growls at them both and chases them off screen. Again, no CGI. I hope these people were paid a lot.
David and Susan finally find George, and David scoops him up. They stumble upon a house and see Baby on the roof. Susan suggests they sing to her to make her come down. She and David harmonize together while George howls. David decides this isn't working and runs off to climb up on the roof. A man opens the window to his bedroom and peers out at Susan. "You there! Why are you singing?" "I have to sing to catch the leopard." The man says there's no leopard. She says there's one on his roof, and when he pshaws at that, she rolls her eyes and says "okay", like he's a nut or something. It is then that they recognize each other. Because yes, it's Dr. Fritz Lehman, the psychiatrist from Act One. Dr. Lehman disappears into the bedroom, and moments later he and his wife have come downstairs. He forcibly grabs Susan while telling his wife to call the police. As soon as they're in the house, David comes creeping around the corner, looking inside the house for Susan. A police car happens by at that exact moment. The cops see David looking inside, think he's a Peeping Tom, and arrest him on the spot.
At the local jail, David refuses to give his name, while Susan says she's Mrs. Random's niece. The police chief...Constable Slocum (you kind of punted on that one, movie, if the goal was to make the names more and more ridiculous) calls Mrs. Random, but she tells the police that her niece is in bed and not to bother her again. The cops then suddenly drag Aloysius into the cell next to Susan and David. They say he was with another man firing a shotgun in a residential area, but the other man ran away. And after some unfortunate bad old-timey movie acting from the Constable, (the only one in the whole movie who talks too fast, mugs, and generally acts like a guy from shitty old movies) Mrs. Random and Maj Applegate show up at the jail, after Applegate got home and explained what happened to Aloysius. The cops say he was the second guy who was shooting earlier, and they grab him as well. Mrs. Random starts hitting the cop with her purse, and boom! You guessed it.
Now with all the main characters in jail, the Constable starts questioning them. Every time someone brings up a leopard, he shuts down the conversation, not believing that such a thing is possible. And THEN, Susan starts talking like an old timey mob crook, like the ones in the "movie picture shows", according to David. Everyone is stunned. She tells the Constable if he takes her somewhere private she'll tell him about all the dirty mob dealings they're involved in. The Constable immediately believes her and takes her into his office. They're full-on parodying all the other shitty movies of the time. It's awesome. Anyway, Susan tricks the Constable into opening a window and when his back turns, she escapes.
More people arrive at the jail. It's Mr. Peabody and Alice Swallow, who were supposed to be late dinner guests at Aunt Random's house, and were directed here by the maid. Alice is shocked to see David there and asks what he's done to be locked up? "You name it, I've done it". Following Alice and Peabody into the jail are Baby and George. Everyone is scared of Baby except David, who announces that it's tame, and that it belongs to Aunt Random. Then the two guys from the circus show up to report their stolen leopard. Yes, that's right, the entire cast is now at the jail. LOVE IT. The guys accuse David of stealing their leopard, but David says they stole it first. The guys clarify that their leopard is not a tame Brazilian leopard, but a wild circus leopard, and no one could possibly catch it or steal it.
CUT TO--outside the jail, Susan is dragging the angry, snarling circus leopard on a leash. "Come on, Baby" she rolls her eyes. "What's wrong with you?"
She enters the jail and the shit hits the fan. EVERYBODY; the cops, the Constable, Major Applegate, Aunt Random, Aloysius, Mr. Peabody, Alice, and the circus workers freak the fuck out and start screaming bloody murder and running around like a bunch of nuts. Even George and Baby sprint away in fear. Susan doesn't know why everyone is so scared until she sees Baby running away and realizes the truth. David steps up with a chair. He stands in front of Susan as they back away. Susan blurts out, "I love you!" This scares David more than the leopard. David's able to coax the leopard into a cell. They lock him in. Crisis averted.
A week later, David is working on his bronto. He's up a scaffold high in the air, brushing the bones with that archeologist bone brush thingey. Susan enters. She has a surprise for him. It's the intercoastal clavicle bone, finally dug up by George. She tells David that she also got Aunt Random to agree to the million dollar grant. She climbs a ladder to hand David the bone, and he remarks on how it's taken him years to build this dino model. The ladder shakes. I think you can guess the rest.
Review: Well shit, that was a pleasant surprise! With the lone exception of the Constable, everyone in this movie said their lines in a natural way, and let the absurd situation and dialog get the laughs, instead of pushing for them. Katherine Hepburn was especially great. Her strange, somewhat robotic voice (even pre-Parkinson's) works perfectly here, and makes her lines seem very deadpan. Even the editing, while not excellent, if very sharp for an old movie. There's no weird pauses from the actors who think they're on stage rather than being filmed, or long static shots because they couldn't afford a lot of close-ups. I feel somewhat vindicated after reading about this on wiki, however. It seems the movie bombed when it came out, and was only appreciated for the classic it is decades later. This movie was way ahead of its time, both in the sophistication of the writing and acting. It only came out two years after the dreadful Swing Time, but it feels like a movie from a different planet. The audience didn't know what to make of it, and Katherine Hepburn was pronounced "box office poison" for years afterwards. It's basically as if every other TV show was Everybody Loves Raymond, and nobody was interested when something like Arrested Development came along. Fortunately, modern audiences would never be that undiscerning. That's why Community is the number one show in America and Two and a Half Men is always languishing at the bottom of the Nielsen ratings. Oh, wait. Also, because there's nowhere else to subtly name drop, I'll do it here. I was once in an improv class with Jennifer Grant, Cary's daughter.
Stars: Four out of five.
Does it deserve "Best 100" status: I need to be a little bit harder on these movies. Only Five Stars should get you "Best 100", no? While I liked this movie a lot more than I expected to, it wasn't really perfect. I think I would have a hard time giving any straight-up farce five stars. So, no. It doesn't deserve "Best 100" status. But I'm not angry that it has it.
Next "12 Angry Men" and then "Platoon". Winning!
Saturday, April 23, 2011
There was a time when Y2K was a legitimate concern. When a BlackBerry was a fruit and an iphone was a typo and a droid was a golden robot with an English accent. When the President lied about BJ's instead of WMD's. When my friend Aaron Pierce was childless and would think nothing of running out and seeing a movie neither of us even knew anything about. And when a wunderkind director with a funny name came out of nowhere and made one of the best movies of the decade. His talent seemed unbreakable, and all signs pointed to him overtaking the village known as Hollywood for decades to come. He was the shark, and the lady in the water was the old Hollywood ruling class. The hip and the happening would defeat the old and the stodgy. Avatar.
Plot summary (with spoilers): Dr. Malcolm Crowe and his wife Anna are drinking wine by the fire; cozy and lazy and luxuriating in one another's company. Anna quickly and admittedly a little clunkily exposits that they've just returned from an evening out where Dr. Crowe has just won an award for outstanding achievement in child psychology or some such, and then the two of them wander upstairs to the bedroom for some post-awards show banter, and by that I mean sex. Anna discovers the window has been broken. They see a shadow in the bathroom. Malcolm cautiously creeps forward and is treated to the sight of an emaciated member of the Funky Bunch in his briefs. Malcolm doesn't recognize him, but the man tells him he's Vincent Gray, a child who used to come to Malcolm years ago for therapy and he's angry Malcolm didn't help him. Malcolm lamely offers to help now. Quivering, Vincent reaches behind him on the bathroom counter, and produces a gun. He shoots Malcolm in the gut, then turns the gun on himself.
"The Next Fall"
Malcolm has fortunately recovered from his gunshot wound (phew!) and is sitting outside an apartment building. He has a ton of notes, detailing his new client, a nine year old boy named Cole Sear, who is emotionally disturbed. Malcolm sees Cole leave his apartment, and hug his mother goodbye. He sees Malcolm, and quickly dashes away. Malcolm follows him into a church. He speaks to Cole briefly, then Cole leaves without saying goodbye. "Am I going to be seeing you again?" he says, resigned. Malcolm says yes.
We meet Cole's mother, Lynn. She sees Cole's tie for school is dirty, so she quickly dashes into the laundry room for a replacement. When she comes back into the kitchen, every drawer is and cabinet door is open. She lets out a startled yelp. Cole sits quietly at the table, his hands pressed against the wood. Lynn wills herself to be calm and asks him if he was looking for something. Cole says no. Cole leaves for school. Another boy, Tommy, meets him at the corner outside the apartment, but abandons him and calls him a freak as soon as they're out of range of Lynn's view.
Malcolm arrives at a restaurant, late for his anniversary dinner with Anna. He makes a bad joke about not knowing which restaurant to go to, then explains about Cole and how concerned he is and how much he wants to help him. Mean old Anna just ignores him the whole time, and even grabs the check before he does. She looks up in irritation at him once, at the same time someone behind him laughs obnoxiously. Then she sarcastically says "Happy Anniversary" and leaves. Damn, what a bitch. Am I right, fellas? High five!
A new scene. Lynn and Malcolm are in Lynn's house, sitting across from one another. From the look on Lynn's face, Malcolm has just told her something about Cole she doesn't want to hear. Cole arrives home from school, and is scared to see Malcolm there. He ignores him and speaks to Lynn, who jokingly invents a story about how she won the lottery and quit her job today. Cole responds that he was picked first for kickball and got a grand slam. Lynn seems to regret starting a game where she learns that her son's wildest fantasy is to do well in kickball. She excuses herself to make dinner, and leave Malcolm and Cole to talk alone. (I mean, that part's implied, of course). Cole is clearly still scared of Malcolm and won't sit down. Malcolm assures him he can read minds. He says that if he can guess what Cole is thinking enough times, Cole must sit and talk to him. He makes three right guesses ("You don't think I can help you. You have a secret. You're afraid of people finding out") before running out of tricks and flailing wildly. It ends with Cole leaving.
The next day at school, the history teach tells the class that the school used to be a courthouse. Cole adds that people were hung there. Criminals hung from the rafters. The teacher says that's wrong. Cole calls him "Stuttering Stanley" over and over again, as a taunt, while covering his eyes, until Stuttering Stanley says "S-s-s-s-s-hut up, FREAK!" Where's Geoffrey Wright when you need him?
Emergency shrink session. Malcolm's been called in. He claims to be a magician, and does a bad trick with a penny that he doesn't actually make disappear. Cole's deadpan "I didn't know you were funny." makes me laugh out loud.
Malcolm at home. He tries to get into the basement, but the door won't work. He feels his pockets for a key.
He's suddenly down in the basement. A man comes to the door, and clumsily asks Anna about on a date. She turns him down gently. Malcolm mumbles that he's a "cheese dick", but otherwise doesn't confront him at all. I wonder what that's about?
A kid's in Cole's class is having a birthday party. Cole climbs the stairs to get a balloon and hears a slave in the crawl space. The slave wants to be let out, and is sorry for injuring the master's horse. Two other kids see Cole trembling in fear at the doorway, and shove him into the crawlspace. By the time Lynn investigates and breaks him out, he's passed out.
Lynn's called Malcolm to the hospital, apparently, because they're both there next, listening to some doctor talk about the scratches on Cole's back and arms and suggesting Lynn speak to a Child Protection agent. Both Lynn and Malcolm are disgusted.
Malcolm's in the hospital room, talking to Cole. He tells him that he's sorry he's not helping him. Cole has a secret to tell. He sees dead people. Malcolm leaves, more disturbed than ever.
The next night, Cole is back at home. He has to go the the bathroom in the middle of the night. He hears his mom walk by into the kitchen. He creeps out to see her and instead sees a woman who shouts at him and thinks he's her husband. She threatens to kill herself, and brandishes her already deeply cut wrists. Another boy asks Cole if he wants to see his dad's gun, before turning and exposing the back of his head is blown off. Cole's having a rough night.
Anna's working at the jewelery store, trying to get a sale. The groom-to-be wants a ring that's a little less pricey, but Anna's pushing hard for the expensive one. She waxes on a bit about wedding rings and how important they are. The guy who hit on her earlier arrives at the store and flirts some more. Anna leans in to kiss him. The harlot! They hear breaking glass and walk over to the door. Malcolm has seen them and angrily stomps away before they say anything. He goes back to Cole and says he can't help him anymore. Cole angrily says that he didn't even try because he doesn't believe him.
Malcolm goes down the the basement again, after struggling with the door. He listens to old tapes of his sessions with Vincent, and with the volume all the way up, he hears a spanish man talking to Vincent, saying yo no quiero morir, I don't want to die.
Malcolm believes Cole now, and suggests to Cole that he try listening to the ghosts to see what they want. The next ghost Cole meets his a young girl. Cole runs from her at first, but when he doesn't chase him, he goes back to her and finds himself asking what she wants.
What she wants is justice. She leads Cole and Malcolm to her funeral, where she points to a box under her bed with a video tape in it. She tells him to give it to her father. Cole does so. On the video, the girl is filming a puppet show. Her mother interrupts the show to give her daughter soup. The girl says she's feeling better now, and can she go out later? We'll see, her mother says. First have lunch. She puts the soup down right in front of the camera, and puts some kind of cleaner in the soup.
The girl's father watches on video, stunned. He confronts his wife, who barely reacts.
The next day at school, a woman is calmly chatting with Cole and helping him apply makeup for the school play he's in. Stuttering Stanley enters and asks who he's talking to. Cole says no one. The woman casually gets up and walks away, revealing half her face is burned off. She was a ghost, no longer spooky or alien to Cole. After the play, Cole tells Malcolm he's helped him, and thank you. Malcolm suggests he tell his secret to his mother now. Cole says that they won't be seeing each other any more, will they? Malcolm says no. On the way home, Lynn and Cole are stuck in traffic. Cole tells Lynn his secret. Lynn doesn't believe him until he mentions her mother, and that her mother said that when they fought years ago and Lynn thought she had not attended her dance recital, her mother had watched from the back in secret.
Malcolm goes home. He sees Anna, asleep on the couch, watching their old wedding videos. He approaches her, whispers that he's sorry he's been ignoring her. Her hand which was clenched, falls open. A ring falls out and lands on the floor. Malcolm looks at his own hand. His ring is gone! He looks down at his shirt. Blood pours out from everywhere. Cole's words echo in his head, "They don't see each other. They see what they want to see. They don't know they're dead". Malcolm's terrified at first, then at peace. He needed to seek out Cole and fix him, to atone for Vincent, and now that that task is complete, he can leave in peace. And so he does.
Review: As flawless and tightly plotted as I remember. It's really quite ingenious the way the story justifies itself and makes the "twist" seem organic and even vital to the story, rather than just a "hook". The writing here is pretty good, although the dialog is sometimes a bit dicey. Even in this first movie, Night tends to make each line sound a little fakey, a little bit too much like Holy Writ. But the direction is...I'll just say it, Hitchcockian. We don't actually see a ghost (aside from Malcolm) until about an hour into the movie. Before then, it's all shadows and sounds. And Haley Joel Osment! My God! I remember boldly pronouncing to anyone who would listen that this kid was the next DeNiro and Nicholson rolled into one, look out world, here he comes! I've honestly never seen a child performance this good in my life, and very few adult ones. He's really amazing, the boy version of Dakota Fanning. It's heartbreaking to me that his career has fizzled. The Puberty Tree that smacked him in the face a few dozen times is partially to blame. The rest...I dunno. Bad management? Imdb says there are a couple movies coming down the pike. Maybe he's have a resurgence in his 30's or 40's when he becomes a character actor on par with Phillip Hoffman or William Macy. I think this movie goes from good to great because of the twist and great to damn near perfect because of little Haley Joel. He's so vulnerable and so scared throughout the movie, that every scene is terrifying. We're not scared for ourselves, though. We're scared for Cole, and wondering how he's going to make it through this. Probably my favorite scene, only a about a minute long, is when Toni Collette (also flawless) and Osment are leaving the grocery store. Lynn is pushing Cole in the cart and both look glum and preoccupied. Suddenly, Lynn breaks into a run. Cole turns and looks at her, delighted, then raises his arms and looks up at the sun. When they reach the car, she slows down. They look at each other and smile. Then a beat. Then, individually, their smiles fade. Back to reality. It got me in 1999 and it got me today. Man. Anyway, great movie. Made me think warmly of M Night again, if only for a moment. Then, my smile faded. Back to reality.
Stars: Five out of five. I'd say tied with Pulp Fiction for my favorite on the list so far.
Does it deserve "Best 100" Status: As Night might say, oui.
Next, "Bringing Up Baby" and then "12 Angry Men". Great. More old stuff.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
I don't "get" the Olden Days. I really don't.
Plot summary (with spoilers): John "Lucky" Garnett is in some dancing/performing troupe with a bunch of other dudes, and they're dancing around on stage. The show's over, the audience applauds, and Lucky races offstage. Some stage manager or someone tells Lucky to get back out there for an encore, but Lucky says he can't because he's got to hurry up and get to his own wedding, which is later that day. Lucky has an amazing work ethic. The other guys get offstage and they grouse about how Lucky is leaving them and he's their star performer and without him they'll all suck and what not. They hatch a plan to make him late to his own wedding so that the bride will refuse to marry him and he'll be forced to still be in their shitty little dance troupe. This is an excellent plan, obviously, provided all parties involved are incredibly stupid. Lucky gets dressed in his tux and then says "so long, fellas, wish me luck!" One of the guys says that his pants don't have cuff links, which they tell him is a huge fashion no-no. All the other guys chime in, saying he'll be the laughing stock at the wedding. Kudos to the writers for making the entire male dance troupe into a bunch of gay men. Very progressive. Lucky believes them, despite the fact that they all keep looking at each other and winking and nudging and one of them has a sign that says, "WE'RE TOTALLY FUCKING LYING, DUMBASS" that he keeps waving around. The phone in the other room rings, and one of the guys answers it. The other guys take Lucky's pants, and give them to non-dancer "Pop" to take them to the costume tailor and apply the cuff links. On the phone is the bride's father, who is bitching about the fact that the wedding is starting (so even without the guys' interference, Lucky would've been late) and he says to tell Lucky that the minister is leaving soon and Lucky needs to hurry! The dancer tells the father he'll pass on the message, but--get this!--when he goes back into the room he tells Lucky that the minister is late and Lucky should take his time. And he yawns when he tells Lucky this, to make his story seem more believable, obviously.Pop takes the pants to the tailor, who refuses to add the cuff links, saying they'll look horrible. The dude playing the tailor wants to make the best of his part, so he literally screams his refusal and knocks a bunch of shit over, like he's Chris Farley or something.
Pop brings the pants back to Lucky after some time has passed, and then one of the other guys tells Lucky he doesn't think he'll get married today, after all. Lucky is so sure he'll get married that he bets all the money he has (except his lucky quarter) that it will happen today. The guy smirks and shakes on it. Lucky notices nothing and puts on his pants. The big joke at the end is he notices that the pants still don't have cuff links. Sigh.
Lucky arrives at his bride's father's house. Everyone's gone home except the father (Mr. Watson) and Lucky's betrothed, Margaret. They yell at Lucky and he stammers apologies and Mr. Watson officially denies Lucky permission to marry his daughter. He says he wouldn't change his mind even if Lucky gave him 10,000 dollars. Lucky says how about 15 thousand? Watson says that's still a no. What about 25 thousand? Watson says maybe, but where would you get 25 thousand?
Margaret says, excuse me assholes, why are you talking about me like I'm a car you're haggling over? The idea that I can be bought is extremely sexist and degrading!
No, just kidding, she just stands there looking pretty.
Lucky says he's not a dancer anymore and he has a brand new job where he could earn 25 thousand easily. In fact, he made over 200 dollars just today!
Mr. Watson says you've got yourself a deal! Come back with 25 grand and you can buy my daughter. Isn't it great that we live in these wonderful simpler times? Trump/Bachman 2012!
Lucky kisses Margaret goodbye (without paying) and then promises to return in three months with the money.
Lucky is at the train station, determined to buy a ticket to New York and gamble until he wins enough money to buy his wife. Pop and a few of the other dance troupe guys show up a the train station because they somehow knew he would be there, I guess. As Lucky is about to buy a ticket, the guy reminds him that Lucky owes them all his money. Lucky sighs, and hands all his money over. All of it. Which was not in a bank, I guess. The guys snicker and leave. Wasn't the goal to keep Lucky dancing in the troupe?
Lucky only has his lucky quarter, which is not enough to buy a train ticket, so he jumps on a cargo train as it's departing when no one's looking. Pop follows him and also jumps on. No idea why.
They arrive in New York, and Pop wants a cigarette. He also has no money at all.
THE ONE ACTUALLY FUNNY PART
Pop: Don't worry, I'll get us a cigarette. (to passerby) Excuse me sir, do you have a match?
Passerby: Here you go.
Pop (searching his pockets): Oh, you know what? I seem to have forgotten my cigarettes.
Passerby: Guess you don't need a match then (snatches it back).
THIS CONCLUDES THE ONE ACTUALLY FUNNY PART
Pop tries to use a button from his shirt in the cigarette machine, and when that doesn't work, a beautiful blonde woman passes by and tells him he'll need a string, too. Lucky recognizes her from all the other movies they've done together, and is instantly smitten. He asks her for change. She gives him two dimes and a nickel in exchange for Lucky's lucky quarter. Pop feels bad that Lucky lost his quarter, but still uses the dime to get a pack of cigarettes. Pop is jonesing bad. The dime gets stuck, and when Lucky bangs on the machine, it releases several packs as well as a bunch of coins. They grab the loot and race off to the blonde woman, in the hopes of getting her to return the lucky quarter in exchange for some of their other change. Lucky tries to engage in conversation, but she thinks he's just hitting on her, and blows him off. She's crossing the street and accidentally crashes into someone, dropping her purse. Pop picks up the purse and steals the quarter while Lucky helps her up. Lucky gives her back her purse, still trying to get her to give him the quarter. She looks in her purse, sees the quarter is gone and accuses him of stealing it. He denies it, while Pop stares at the ground, rolls his eyes, puts his hands in his pockets, looks super guilty, auditions for the next Farrelly Brothers movie. The blonde (Penny) calls a policeman over and tells the cop that Lucky stole her quarter. But she is just a stupid woman, and the cop doesn't believe her and literally shoos her away. Pop then tells Lucky he took the quarter. Lucky feels awful, and sees Penny walk into a dance studio. He and Pop follow.
He tells the receptionist that he wants to take a dance lesson, and asks if he can request a teacher. A flaming Hayes Code Approved homosexual man appears and introduces himself as the owner of the studio, and lisps around for awhile about how his "girls" are the best instructors in town. He takes Lucky to Penny, who is appalled to see him, but says nothing. The super gay man tells Penny to teach Lucky how to dance, then swishes away.
Meanwhile Pop bothers the secretary (named Mabel, natch) who is brusque and way fatter than Penny and doesn't take his guff. Pop asks if he can eat her sandwich. (Possibly a metaphor).
Penny tries to teach Lucky to dance, and he acts like he can't, and keeps falling over. Oh, the hilarity! Penny tells him she can't teach him and he might as well just leave. Fussy Snagelpuss McGaydude overhears this and fires Penny on the spot. Then he hears Mabel tell Pop to buzz off, and he fires her as well. Lucky protests and says she's an excellent teacher. Why, look at what she's taught him. He grabs Penny and they begin to dance. It's a big number, they dance all over the room, etc. Gay Dude is super stupid and thinks Penny just now taught him how to do that. He rehires Penny. But Mabel is still fired. Wah wah.
Some time later, Lucky has gambled enough to get a hotel room and lives with Pop in it. They go out on a double date with Penny and Mabel (even though Pop and Mabel just bitch at each other) to some big nightclub where a band leader named Ricardo Romero is performing with his band. Pop learns from Mabel that Ricardo has tried on several occasions to date Penny, but she's always turned him down. Lucky asks the owner of the club if he can audition to perform there. The club owner says yes. He asks Ricardo to play for him during the audition, but Ricardo, jealous of Lucky being there with Penny, refuses, saying that his contract doesn't require him to play if he doesn't want to. Lucky decides then and there to gamble for ownership of Ricardo so that he can force him to play during his audition. Seriously movie, what the fuck? What the fuck. He gambles at the casino, winning a bunch of money, until the club owner gets nervous and tries to get him to stop gambling. Lucky says he'll give back all the money he's won if he can win ownership of the latin crooner. The club owner says no way. Lucky suggests they gamble for it, the club owner agrees, saying they should pick a card and see who gets the highest. Lucky agrees. The club owner gets a King of Spades. Lucky gulps and goes to pick. Pop buts in, and asks if he can pick instead. Everyone says that's fine. Pop picks...an Ace of Spades. Lucky wins!
He orders Ricardo to play, Ricardo does, Lucky dances, blah blah blah blah blah.
Okay, so later on Lucky tells Pop he can't be alone with Penny because he likes her, and obviously he totally wants to fuck her brains out, but they're not married, and will Pop please run interference and keep Lucky from totally fucking her brains out? Also, Lucky almost gambles enough to win 25 grand, but stops himself just in time because if he wins 25 grand, he'll be required by law to leave NY and go back to wherever the fuck and marry the chick in the beginning of the movie. Because that makes sense somehow.
The four of them go on a trip to the mountains in the snow, and Penny keeps wanting to go off with Lucky alone and fuck his brains out, but Lucky keeps begging Pop to watch them. At one point Lucky almost gives in to his sinful urges and tries to kiss Penny, but Pop throws a snowball at them. Lucky throws a snowball back, but hits Mabel. He runs over to Mabel to help her wipe off the snow or whatever, and Pop runs over to Penny at the same time and totally spills the whole "Lucky's trying to win 25 grand to buy a woman" thing to Penny. I guess he does this with good intentions, knowing it will keep them apart. Lucky comes back from helping Mabel, intercepts Pop, says "never mind, I totally want to fuck her brains out after all, stop following us", and then goes back over to Penny. Pop goes "oy" and pulls at his imaginary tie and feels stupid. He leaves with Mabel. Of course, now Penny wants nothing to do with him, and runs off. Lucky's just confused.
A long LONG song and dance sequence comes next, with Lucky in blackface, dancing with his shadows, and I'll admit that my finger may have hit the FF button a couple times.
Finally, the performance is over, and Lucky notices Margaret, his future property, sitting in the audience. She's applauding exuberantly. Lucky's upset. She approaches him backstage with hugs and kisses. Penny walks in on them, and then rushes off. Lucky stays with Margaret, out of a sense of duty. She asks if he has the 25 grand, and he reluctantly says yes.
I guess time passes or something.
Meanwhile, Ricardo sees Penny all sad and proposes to her. Jesus. She immediately agrees.
Margaret stammers around Lucky, clearly wanting to say something, but not getting the nerve. She finally blurts out that while Lucky's been gone, she's fallen for someone else. Lucky says that's great, because so has he! They laugh delightedly, happy that no one has to be bought today. Mabel and Pop show up, and warn Lucky that Penny's getting married right now. Oh, for fuck's sake.
They rush off to stop the wedding. The bridesmaids won't let Lucky see Penny, so Lucky and Penny break into Ricardo's room, running past his colored servant Jar-Jar, who stammers protests while offering them syrup. Ricardo asks them what they're doing here. Lucky says they've come to wish him good luck on his impending marriage. But wait a minute...you're not gonna where those pants, are you? There's no cuff links! HA HA HA HA HA HA HA LULZ!
Penny and Mabel are waiting on stage for someone to tell them the wedding is about to start. Lucky and Pop show up and Lucky says there will be no wedding. Penny asks why. Pop pulls a pair of pants out from under his jacket and starts laughing like a crazy person. Lucky laughs, too. Soon, Mabel joins in, leaving only Penny to act like a normal human. All three of them are laughing and laughing and waving the pants around. Suddenly, Ricardo shows up with his servant's pants, which are too big on him. He's holding them up with one hand. Suddenly, Penny laughs as well. Ricardo sensibly asks what is so funny? Penny says the wedding's off, them they continue to wave around the pants like it's the funniest fucking thing ever and I swear to God this is beyond stupid and couldn't possibly get any stupider.
Ricardo sees his pants, and starts laughing too! He then walks over to his band and starts leading them to play, while trying to hold his pants up. Mabel and Pop find this hysterical. Fred and Ginger then dance around and we're out. Christ.
Review: Old does not mean good! OLD DOES NOT MEAN GOOD! Basically, the only conclusion I can arrive at is that in 2060, Ernest Goes to Camp will be on the AFI list and the thirtysomethings of that era will accept it blindly, just as I am expected to do so now. Well I say balderdash and poppycock to that!
Stars: Zero out of five.
Does it deserve "Best 100" status: OLD DOES NOT MEAN GOOD.
Next up "The Sixth Sense" and "Bringing Up Baby". Oh no.
Sunday, April 10, 2011
It's the "feel horrible" movie of the century. Come one, come all.
Plot summary (with spoilers): The weirdo European dude from Ghostbusters II announces through some slightly overwrought narration that his name is Stingo, and he's a twenty-two year old farm boy from Virginia, who has traveled to big bad Brooklyn to find himself and gain an education in life. It's 1946, just a year and a half after the end of the Second World War. Stingo arrives at a large pink house that serves as an apartment complex of sorts. He meets the landlady, and moves in downstairs. There's one other neighbor upstairs. When he gets inside his room, there is a note there from the upstairs neighbors, Sophie and Nathan, who welcome him to the neighborhood. That night, he hears loud arguing, shaking his chandelier. He opens his door and looks outside. Sophie and Nathan are on the stairway. Nathan is screaming at Sophie, calling her a disease, and saying he wants nothing more to do with her. He turns to leave, and sees Stingo standing in the doorway. He sneers at Stingo for "eavesdropping", then makes some dumb Southern hick jokes and tells Stingo that he's not pleased to meet him, and thrilled that he will never see him again. He exits the building.
Stingo asks Sophie if she's okay. She mumbles yes, then runs upstairs. The next day she appears at his door with a tray with dinner on it. She offers it to him as an apology and stammers that Nathan is not normally like that. He asks her about her accent, and she says she's Polish, and he notices a tattoo with a number on her arm. So I guess she's a real rebellious type of woman, then, to get a tattoo in 1946? Stingo invites her in, but she declines, leaving the dinner.
Later that night, Stingo walks upstairs with the tray, and leaves it on her doorstep. The door is ajar, and he sees her sleeping inside. Suddenly, Nathan comes home. Stingo hides and watches Nathan come upstairs, and curl up at Sophie's feet. She awakes, and he mumbles apologies and they get all kissy-kissy and all that. Stingo shuffles back downstairs.
The next day, Nathan and Sophie arrive at Stingo's window, waking him up. Nathan apologizes for the other day, and says they want to make it up to him with a night on the town. Stingo is quite happy to join them. Stingo needs to watch more Oprah and learn how to recognize the signs of an abuser. Stingo meets them later up in the apartment, and they are dressed up with silly hats and canes, and Sophie's got a fur. Someone throw some red paint on her! Nathan explains that they like to dress up silly from time to time. Farm boy Stingo is utterly enchanted by the two of them and their total trying-too-hard bullshit. Nathan says he is a biologist working on a big secret project. Sophie explains that she knows multiple languages, because her father taught her them growing up in Poland. She says she and Nathan met a year ago when he saved her life, shortly after she was liberated from a concentration camp in Poland. Stingo assumes she is Jewish, but she reveals that while Nathan is Jewish, she is not and is in fact a Catholic. Stingo's dying to ask how a Catholic ended up in a camp, but remembers that Miss Manners says concentration camp inquires during lunch are rude until after Labor Day. We see a flashback of Sophie arriving in America and learning English. The professor reads to her a poem, by Emily Dickinson, and she goes to the library the next day to read more. She's very weak and her English is poor, and she asks the writer for a book of poetry by "Emil Dickens". The librarian is a total dick and says there's no such name, and then she passes out. Nathan rushes to her side, commenting as she lay there about her beauty. He takes her back to his apartment, and says his brother is a doctor and will check her out. It turns out she had a severe iron deficiency, and Nathan slowly nursed her back to health.
Montage of the three of them spending several days or weeks together, laughing at the park, riding a roller coast at the fair, sitting in a hammock together or lounging on the roof of the apartment complex. Stephen Baldwin, Josh Charles, and Lara Flynn Boyle, eat your heart out!
One night, Nathan is late coming home from the lab. Sophie is worried and calls Stingo to come over and wait with her. She considers calling the police, but Stingo talks her out of it. She asks him about the novel he's writing. He says it's semi-autobiographical, about a boy who's mother dies when he's twelve. She says it's always hard to lose people you love, and he asks her who she's lost. She reveals that her father and husband were killed by the Germans when they invaded Poland. She and her mother were allowed to live in their home, but her mother was sick and malnourished and needed meat. Unfortunately, only Germans were allowed to eat meat, but Sophie's big plan was to steal a ham, stick it under her dress and pretend she was pregnant. Unfortunately, a German solider caught her on the train and arrested her, and that's how she ended up at the camp. The Germans were quite tough on crime.
During the story, Stingo wipes her tears and strokes her face to the point of annoying distraction. Nathan arrives home, unseen by them. He's acting creepy and cold, and is clearly suspicious of Stingo's motivations. Sophie scolds him, and says she invited Stingo over because she was wondering why he hadn't come home yet, and was worried. Nathan eventually calms down and seems to buy the story.
The next day, Nathan visits Stingo and asks about the novel he's writing. Stingo shows it to him. Suddenly, Nathan gleefully grabs the manuscript and races out of the room, laughing. Stingo playfully chases him. Sophie intercepts Stingo at the door and explains that she will spend the day with him while Nathan reads the novel. Stingo thinks this is a fine deal, indeed. When they return home that night, Nathan links both their arms and runs them out of the apartment. They go running through the streets until they reach a bridge. Nathan reveals he has three glasses and champagne, and the three of them toast to the brilliance of Stingo's novel and his inevitable success as a writer.
Another scene, Stingo and Sophie are at the park, lying around and eating. Nathan comes running up with several boxes, and says he has amazing news. He grabs them both and dances around. He gives them each a box, and inside are fancy dinner outfits. He says that his lab made an incredible amazing breakthrough at work today, but he can't tell them what it is yet! He instructs them to wear those outfits and meet him tonight in the apartment. That night, Stingo and Sophie excitedly prepare for their three-person romantic evening, cooking dinner by candlelight in their fancy new digs. Sophie reveals that she bought Nathan an expensive pocket watch that she really couldn't afford, but hey, Nathan's worth it. You might have an inkling where this is going.
Nathan arrives home, looking disheveled and moving slowly. The other two don't notice at first, and pop the champagne. Stingo wants to know what the biology breakthrough was at work. Nathan snarls, and tells him his book is shit, and then accuses Sophie of cheating on him with her boss. He leans over her, slobbering and sweaty, and says it's very suspicious that she, as a non-Jew, was sent to the camps, and somehow was the only one in her family who lived. She begs him to stop, and finally (FINALLY!) after several minutes, Stingo tries to get him to do just that, grabbing at Nathan. Nathan pushes him off, and throws him out of the apartment, while Sophie stammers apologies.
The next day, both Sophie and Nathan are gone. Stingo asks the landlady where they went, and she says she doesn't know, but they left separately. Stingo goes to Sophie's work at the library. The boss there says she isn't there. Then, in a weird bit of really shitty and clunky exposition, volunteers that he's from Poland, and that he knew who her father was. Turns out he was a racist and Nazi sympathizer and academic who wrote at length about the Jews and how they were destroying Europe. Stingo is stunned. He wants to know how it was that the father was killed. The boss speculates that sometimes academics were killed without regard to their affiliation.
Stingo returns to the apartment. Sophie is there. She apologizes for Nathan the night before. He gently confronts her with what he learned, and she invites him to watch her flashback story. It seems she worked for her father helping him write speeches about the "evil" plague of Jews in Poland. She was shocked at the terrible speeches he made, but helped write them anyway. Unfortunately, after he was killed, she was sent to the camps for the ham incident. She adds to the story this time, admitting that she had two children. Her daughter was "exterminated", and her son was sent to a camp for children. We see her at the camp, broken and limping and barely walking upright. They learn she speaks perfect German, so she is brought in from the prison part of the camp, to the Commandant's house. The German solider walks her past the enslaved and dying prisoners and into the house just a few hundred yards away, where children are dancing and carefree. She is cleaned up and takes dictation for the Commandant. She reveals to the Commandant that she's not a Jew and says who her father is, and speaks perfect German to him as proof. She begs him for mercy. He is unmoved, saying that even if she's not a dirty Jew, she's still a dirty Pol, and what's the difference, really? She attempts to seduce him. They are interrupted by another solider. After the Commandant gets rid of him, he tells her that she's very beautiful and German-looking, and that he might have been moved to help her if he weren't shipping out the next day, anyway. She tries a different tact, mentioning her son at the children's camp. She says he's innocent, and looks German like her, and even speaks it. She begs the Commandant to at least free her son and allow him to grow up a young boy in Germany. The Commandant says he will do it. She goes back to the camp the night, elated.
Outside of the flashback, Sophie tells Stingo that in fact, the Commandant did not keep his word and she never saw her son again. She says that's when she first tried to kill herself, and she would be dead now if Nathan didn't need her to live for him. Stingo holds her in his arms and asks her to live for him, too. Sophie sees Nathan sitting outside in the yard, and she races out to see him.
All is forgiven yet again, and another quick montage of the three of them playing around fills me with anger. Nobody seems interested in telling Nathan to fuck off. One night, Stingo gets a phone call from Nathan's brother, the doctor, asking to see him. Stingo meets the man, who reveals that Nathan isn't a biologist at all, and is in fact, insane and a drug addict. The "job" he stays at late at night is actually a "funny farm". Stingo is floored. He asks Stingo to keep an eye on his brother. Okay movie, this is the second time you've had random characters jump in and reveal key info. Not cool.
He returns home, and finds Nathan and Sophie there, all decked out in Southern apparel. Nathan tells Stingo they're dressed that way in his honor and they're going to all take a vacation together in Virginia as a honeymoon after he and Sophie get married. Sophie turns to him in surprise at this, and Nathan proposes. Sophie expresses reluctance at this step, and Nathan gets upset and storms out.
The next day, Sophie and Stingo await his return anxiously. Nathan calls Stingo and screams at him awhile, Stingo just wants to know where he is. He says he's in a neighboring town, then there's the sound of a gunshot. Stingo and Sophie go to the town and get a hotel to sleep for the night. They're unable to find Nathan. At the hotel, Stingo blows Nathan's spot re: the biology lie, but Sophie is unsurprised. Stingo proposes to her, and asks her to go down to live with him on a farm in Virginia (way to ride Nathan's coattails, dude). She agrees to the farm, but not the marriage. Stingo says in Virginia they won't abide by a man and a woman living together without being married (behind the curve as always, eh, Virginia?) She says she can't because she would not make a good mother, and can't give him any children. He confidently says she'd be a great mother, which prompts Sophie to offer compelling evidence to the contrary.
One last flashback. She lied before about her kids. She stood in line, with hundreds of others, carrying her daughter while her son stood clutching her side. The guards walked by her, sneering. One made eye contact with her, said something snide. She responded in German, said she didn't belong here, it was all a mistake, she's not one of them, she's pure, please help. The guard asked if she was Christian. Yes, devout Catholic. Did not Christ say "suffer the children"? Choose one. What? Choose one child. One will live, one will die. No, I can't. Choose! Or they both will die. Please don't! Guards! Take her children! My daughter, take my daughter! Her daughter was ripped out of her arms and she screamed so loud and so high, the others winced. The guards whisked her away in a flash, leaving Sophie gasping and sobbing and clinging to her son.
Back at the hotel, Stingo and Sophie make love. I would've thought that story was the ultimate boner-killer, but Stingo is twenty-two and a virgin, so what're ya gonna do?
The next morning, Sophie's gone. Stingo returns to the apartment in Brooklyn. The police are there, as well as a crowd of lookey-loos. Stingo fights his way inside, and is taken by a detective up into Nathan and Sophie's apartment. He sees them laying there on the bed in each other's arms, dead from cyanide. She made her choice.
Review: There's a lot of movies where the eccentric couple seduce the young newbie into their seemingly carefree and happy life, and soon learn that all is not what it seems. This movie has that, but manages to put such an incredibly unique and dark spin on it, that it almost completely transcends the subgenre. I knew about the "choice" ahead of time, again through pop culture osmosis, and didn't think I would be anywhere near as shocked and sickened when the time came. The movie surprised me throughout, the reveal of Nathan's insanity was one of those great movie reveals, the ones where you are simultaneously surprised and smacking yourself on the head for not realizing. Very well done. Peter MacNichol and Kevin Kline are superb, with gravitas to spare, but of course the film belongs to Meryl. It's of course technically proficient and an accomplishment in it's own right, to speak English with a flawless Polish accent, as well as both fluent Polish and German with what I'm gonna assume is also no accent. But leaving all that aside, the performance is totally raw and believable. If she were an unknown, I would be convinced she was really a foreigner.
That said, the movie did drag a little in a few parts, and the brother and Sophie's boss were such obviously clunky Exposition Fairies, that it irritated me a lot. But I can't be too hard on a movie that was trying to tackle such a huge story like the Holocaust and make it so personal and intimate. It very mostly succeeds.
Stars: Four out of five.
Does it deserve "Best 100" status: Yes, Meryl's performance puts it over the top.
Next up, I see dead people. "Swing Time". Oh, and also "The Sixth Sense".
Friday, April 8, 2011
I only saw this one for the first time a year ago, so it counts as one of my 31 previously viewed, but only just.
Plot summary (with spoilers): All his life, Henry Hill wanted to be a gangster. He began working for gangsters as a kid at the cab stand, parking cars while guys like Timmy Two Times and Bobby No Nose would gather at the local watering hole and chat about the daily ins and outs of mob living and how glamorous it all was. The leader was Paulie Cicero, on account of him being the fattest, but Henry idolized Jimmy Conway the most because he was always flashing the dough around and got respect from everybody he met.
One day, Henry's Irish father got a letter from the school saying that Henry had been truant for three months and so Henry's dad beat the shit out of him. (Shockingly, Henry had an unpleasant home life). In response, Jimmy and some of the other nudniks threatened to kill the mailman if he ever delivered any mail from the school to Henry's house ever again.
A short time later, Henry got pinched for a minor crime, but even though the cops pressed him, he didn't snitch on anyone, he was no rat, and the guys got him acquitted anyway. This was his unofficial initiation into the life full-time.
Cut to twenty years later or so, the 70's, Henry now looks like Ray Liotta, back when that actually meant something. Henry's at the watering hole with a bunch of good guys, including the diminutive Tommy Devito, who is in the process of telling a really funny story. Funny how, you may ask? Aw, it's not important. Boring scene, moving on.
Tommy wants Henry to go out on a double date with him, with some lady named Helen. Henry goes, but is extremely uninterested in his date, and she in him. Tommy pressures them to agree to all go out again next week. Henry agrees, but then stands her up when the time comes. Helen drives around the neighborhood like a crazy person, looking for Henry. When she finds him, she bitches him out for standing her up, and because fictional men (or in this case "fictionalized") in movies always find shrill and unpleasant women appealing, he is suddenly in love.
He takes her on a date to a club to see the hilarious stylings of Henny Youngmann. It's one of those thrilling long shots as they enter the kitchen and walk through the whole club, that always take me out of the movie due to their showy, high-wire act nature, but I love them nonetheless. Yes, Henry is living the good life on top. And when you're on top, there's no where to go but...higher? Is that the expression?
Henry, Paulie, Jimmy, and Tommy pull off a robbery that nets them $400,000. In the meantime, Helen's neighbor tries to sexually assault her, so Henry beats the shit of out him in his driveway with a gun. He then later asks Helen to hide said gun. That's when she knew she was in love. Soon after, they get married.
Search warrants become a regular part of Helen's life as a mob spouse, as well as lots of women named Marie. She's totally fine with it all, even offering the cops coffee when they come over.
At the bar, another mobster named Billy Batts just got out of prison. He's chatting with Tommy, Jimmy, Henry, and some other guys. He mentions that the last time he saw Tommy, Tommy was a shoe shine boy. Tommy thinks he's getting mocked, but Billy assures him that he's just being jovial. Tommy accepts the half-apology, then--pause. "Now go and get your fucking shine box!" Tommy's livid, and has to be pushed out of the bar by Henry. Jimmy says to Billy that he "insulted him. A little bit. A little bit," doing his best Robert DeNiro impression. But Jimmy wants to make it all better with another round on him. Jimmy and Billy talk all night until they're the only two left in the bar. Suddenly, Henry and Tommy come rushing in. Tommy and Jimmy beat the shit out of Billy while Henry stands guard. They dump his body into their car, and then stop by Tommy's mother's house to pick up a shovel (???). She is awake, and invites them in for dinner. After long and filling meal, they then continue on with the murdering. They bury Billy out in a field somewhere after shooting him a few times, and then pose for a Norman Rockwell painting.
Paulie is asked by the Gambino mobsters about the disappearance of Billy. Paulie has no answer for them, but is suspicious of his boys. Six months later, they learn that the land where they buried Billy is going to be renovated and turned into an apartment complex, so they dig up Billy and move him.
Alas, poor Spider. Spider is the innocent who is too slow to get Tommy a drink one night when they're all playing poker, so Tommy playfully shoots at the ground by his feet. A bullet playfully rips through his metatarsal and Spider must playfully be taken to the hospital. A couple weeks later, Spider is limping around, still serving the boys. Tommy mocks him for limping, and Spider respectfully tells him to go fuck himself. Bye, bye, Spider.
Because his life is not nearly interesting enough, Henry begins cheating on Helen with a girl named Janice, and even gets her an apartment. Helen learns of this and first goes to the apartment building, children in tow, and sanely and rationally buzzes the intercom of every resident in the building, screeching to every one of them that Janice is a WHORE. She later pulls a gun on Henry while he's sleeping. He wants out, but Jimmy and Paulie convince him that he can't divorce her without the risk that she'll turn him in to the feds, and to be much more careful when cheating in the future. Paulie assigns them to go down to Florida and beat on some guy that owes them money. Unfortunately, the guy in question turns out to be the brother of a woman who works as a secretary for the FBI, and when she learns out what happened, she turns everyone in, even her own brother. Henry winds up with a several year sentence. However, when you're a made man, prison life isn't so bad. Paulie cooks dinner for them every night, and there's always music and soft lighting. You need only bring good conversation. After several years in jail, the Hills are more or less temporarily cut off from the rest of the mob family. Helen's panicked because they're getting low on funds, but Henry assures her that this is temporary until he gets out of jail. He decides to sell drugs, because why the fuck not? Even Paulie thinks this is a bad idea, so Henry does it on the sly. When he gets out of jail, he continues to sell drugs, and secretly brings Tommy and Jimmy in on it. Together with a bunch of other mobsters, they plan the Luftansa Heist, and steal about three million from the JFK airport. However, the guy that was supposed to hide the truck afterwards was late, so Tommy shot him. The completely unforeseeable consequence to that is that the truck is discovered by the cops. Jimmy in particular becomes paranoid when this happens and eventually murders each and every mobster involved in the heist (besides his BFFs Tommy and Henry) to prevent the cops from catching them. Meanwhile, words comes down from the mountaintop that Tommy is going to be into a boss himself. All three are elated, knowing that they'll be on easy street after that happens.
Two goombas take Tommy into a room and...oh, that's not good.
Sometime later. Henry is now sampling the merchandise far too often when he goes on drug runs, and is a paranoid wreck, convinced a helicopter up in the sky is following him and the cops are listening to his every world. This fails to stop him from selling drugs, though. And indeed, he is caught on that very day. When the police show up at the house to arrest him, Helen hurriedly flushes 60 grand worth of cocaine down the toilet. Henry gets out on bail, and goes back to the house, telling Helen they need to sell the rest of the cocaine and then get the hell out of town. Helen breaks the news that she flushed the cocaine. He screams at her for a while, and then together they collapse onto the floor, clutching each other and weeping uncontrollably. She doesn't say, "where is your Janice, NOW?", but I might have. Henry goes to Paulie for some money. Paulie is furious at Henry for selling drugs, and even more angry at him for getting caught. He gives Henry 3200 dollars and tells him to get out of his life forever. Henry is even more despondent, as 3200 won't get you to be able to spend the rest of your days on an island in the south pacific. He sees Jimmy. Jimmy is warm and friendly to him, and Henry interprets this as a bad sign. Jimmy wants Henry to come with him on a job in a couple days. Hmm...
Henry's no fool, and knows Jimmy's gonna whack him. He goes to the cops and offers to do what he refused to do as a kid...snitch on his friends. The feds offer Henry and Helen immunity and entry into the witness protection program if they squeal on Jimmy and Paulie. They do so.
As Paulie and Jimmy are hauled off to jail, where they would eventually die, Henry bemoans his new life as one of the average joes, the square, the chump. But Henry's still young, maybe there's a chance he'll turn his life around? Ah, fuggetabouit.
Review: As I said before, the first time I saw this was about a year ago. I remember enjoying it quite a bit, but regretted that most of the best bits ("funny how, like a clown?" "Go and get your fucking shinebox!" etc) had long since been spoiled for me and rehashed and parodied on every other movie and TV show in the last twenty years. I had seen half the movie through osmosis, and it cheapened it a bit. This time around however, after having seen the whole movie through actual watching, I enjoyed it a helluva lot more. I could appreciate the utter hypnotic insanity of Joe Pesci as Tommy, one of the greatest characters in all of film. Was the "am I a clown to you?" scene merely Tommy just having fun with Henry, or was there something darker and grosser there? An assertion of dominance that, when acknowledged, turns into "oh, I'm just fucking with you!" He's this incredibly powerful mobster that's so insecure he must kill a waiter for talking back to him. A waiter, by the way, who had every right to be a little bit peeved. The relationships in this movie are all incredibly strong. Ray Liotta really can't quite compete acting wise with DeNiro and Pesci, but that actually works in the movie's favor, too. The overriding theme is that Henry, the half-Irishman, never really did quite fully fit in with these people, even though he spent his life trying. The bond between Tommy and Jimmy was always stronger than his bond with them. It made sense, ultimately, that his last act of betrayal confirmed that all the intervening years had just been desperate playacting. And Lorraine Bracco, who I always thought was pretty weak and bland on The Sopranos, is more than awesome here. So often the token girl in these types of movies is either a vapid slut or a saint, and Helen is just a dirty, desperate, and unhinged whirling dervish of a mess, who never stops being fun to watch.
The whole movie clicks nearly perfectly on every level; writing, directing, and acting. It's a fucking masterpiece, and I'm gonna slide it in there right under Pulp Fiction as the second best movie on the list so far. It's another one that needs to move way up.
Stars: Five out of five.
Does it deserve "best 100" status: Fuck you for even asking.
Next up, "Sophie's Choice", and then "Swing Time", which already makes me want to cry.