Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Plot summary (with spoilers): I'll begin at the beginning. Me, your humble narrator Alex Delarge, and my droogs were relaxing and 'aving a bit of the ol' milkplus with the rest of 'em when I decided it was time for some ultraviolence.
We beat a drunken old ded that was singing to himself and rolling around in his filth. I hate those old deds. Then we saw Billyboy and his droogs having a bit of fun playing the old in-out in-out with a pretty dama who was only struggling a little bit. So we attacked Billyboy and his droogs, beat 'em real good. That was just enough to get me charged up, so we had a bit more milkplus and drove outside of town to look for a home to have fun with. Sure enough, we found a home marked "Home" in the front, and I knocked on the door and went into it.
"Excuse me, ma'am, there's been an emergency! My friend is lying bleeding in the middle of the road!" That usually works, and it did this time, too. The dama let us in after her ded told her to. And then your humble narrator grabbed her quick, while my droogs Dim and George threw the old ded around the house for fun. And up and on the floor again, and up and back down on the floor again. Old Pete grabbed the dama and I had a bit of fun with the old in-out-in-out whilst singing a song.
I'm singing in the rain,
Just singing in the rain,
What a glorious feeling,
I'm happy again!
All the while singing, I kept beating the ded and cutting off the dama's dress whilst my droogs held them down. It was the best in-out-in-out I've had in awhile.
Then we went back to the hideout and my droog Dim got a bit mouthy, so I had to wallop him on with me baton. My droogs need discipline.
The next day, my Em tried to get me to go to skooliwol, but I told her like always that I was sick and she believed it like always. Later, the truant copper Deltoid showed up and told me I was missing too much skooliwool. He held me on the bed and grabbed my sharries again, the dirty perv. He's another one that needs some walloping, but he knows who I am and he'll report me if he finds out what your humble narrator is up to.
Then, later I saw some damas at the record store and we did in-out-in-out all afternoon whilst I played some of me favorite songs by Luddy Von. The 9th is me absolute favorite. After I finished with the damas, my droogs showed up and George and Dim tried to question my leadership. They told me the ultraviolence against Dim had to stop and that we needed to move on to bigger and better robberies. I pretended to take in what they had to say, and later when we went for a stroll, I walloped them both and sliced up Dim's hand with me knife. I told them I was in charge and no one else, and they had to eat it. They knew this was true and went along with it. But your humble narrator knows that sometimes you have to make the little ones happy, and so I asked George what his plan was for a bigger robbery. He suggested going after a rich dama who lives with a bunch of cats. We decided to go that night.
I gave the lady the old "my friend is bleeding in the middle of the road!", but she didn't believe me. Your humble narrator then decided to climb in a window while my droogs waited outside for me to unlock the door. The old bitch was pissed and she screamed at me to get out. I didn't know that she had already called the coppers. I had some fun with her, playing with a big statue she had of a cock and yarbles, She tried to go after me with a potted plant, so I had to defend meself with the cock and yarbles. I bashed her one good, then ran out. At the front door, Dim had a bottle of milkplus, and bashed me with it. I was blinded and the coppers showed up and scooped me up.
Oh brothers, your humble narrator is here to tell you it was bad. The old bitch died and they sentenced me to 14 years. They stripped me and searched me and made me call them all "sir". I did as I was told, and stayed mostly in the library, reading the bible and singing the hymns and making sure the Charlie who ran the church liked me. I had heard about the Ludovico Technique, which makes sure ultraviolent droogs like your humble narrator never commit violence again. Let them poke and prod me with their sticks, I could get out of jail in two weeks! The Charlie said I shouldn't do it, that it was against the will of Bog, and that morality was contingent upon free will, which was a whole bunch of shit. I wanted to get out and be free.
So they took me to the hospital, and put loads of drugs in me. Then they strapped me in a chair and clamped open me glazzes so I couldn't even blink, and then they showed me film after film of ultraviolence. I got sicker and sicker each time they played a film. They played music, too. It was always me favorite, Luddy Von's 9th. I complained to the doctors that the music was making me sick too, not just the ultraviolence, but they did not care.
After two weeks, they did a demonstration. The warden, the Charlie, and the doctors put on a little show. They had a man slap me and throw me on the ground, and I had to lick his shoe. I couldn't fight back because every time I did, the sickness would grow and grow. Then a naked dama came out and tried to play some in-out-in-out, but that got me sick too. Everyone was pleased except the Charlie. He said it was immoral, but the warden said he didn't care about that, and they let me go free,.
I went back home to me Em and Pa, but they had a renter in my room. He told me I was a bad son, so without thinking, I tried to pop him one, but got sick again right away. Me Em cried and cried, but Pa said I had to leave, so I did.
On the street, an old ded asked me for some change. I have him some, but then he recognized me. He was the ded I had beaten before. He and his ded friends starting spitting on me and beating me, and your humble narrator could do nothing to fight back. Finally, some coppers showed up and they rescued me. But when I looked up at their faces...it was Dim and George! They grabbed me and put me in their car and drove me out of town. They beat me silly and almost drowned me, and then left me for dead. I stumbled along the road, looking for a home, and I found a home marked "Home". I didn't know it was the home I had gone to before, I was in such a state, my brothers! I knocked on the door, and a large ded with big muscles scooped me up like a little boy. He carried me inside, where the ded from defore was sitting. He was in a wheelchair now. But I knew I'd be okay. Before my droogs and I were wearing masks, so he didn't know it was me what put him in that chair. But then he said he knew who I was! I got scared for a bit, until he said that he recognized me from the paper. I told him coppers had beaten me, and he said what the government had done to me was wrong. He told me to take a bath and his man would cook me some dinner. In the bathtub, I was so relaxed. I got so relaxed, I sang a bit. I got louder and louder, singing "Singing in the Rain" at the top of me lungs. I had forgotten that the old ded had heard me sing that song before. I didn't hear him outside, calling his friends.
I had dinner afterwards, then the ded and his servant sat next to me. The ded told me about how "someone" broke into his house two years ago and played in-out-in-out with his wife and broke him so bad and put him in a chair. His wife died soon after. I kept eating, even though he looked plenty mad. He gave me wine, which I drank up fast. His friends came and started interviewing me about me experiment, and I told them about how Luddy Van's 9th makes me sick. Then I passed out.
I woke up locked in a room upstairs. Luddy Van was playing on the speakers all throughout the room and I kept getting sicker and sicker. I couldn't escape the room. Finally, my brothers, your humble narrator was so sick and so scared I decided to rub meself out. I climbed over to the window, opened it, and jumped down three stories, hoping to splat.
But I didn't splat, I woke up in the hospital in a hundred casts. A hospital shrink did a test on me. She said they had been messing around with me brain, and wanted to make sure I was better. The test she gave me made me think of ultraviolence and how much fun it was. Then the government minister showed up and fed me and told me that the government was being criticized because of my experiment going so badly and that the Prime Minister didn't want to get thrown out in the next election. So, he offered me a job if I said I was all cured now. The press came in, and started taking our pictures, whilst they brought in some music for me. They played Luddy Von's 9th and it didn't get me sick at all. In fact, it made me think of having fun with some ultraviolence just as soon as I got out of here. I was cured, all right!
Review: Such an audacious and crazy movie made me think I needed to respond in kind, so that was that attempt. Anyways. This movie is great. Malcom McDowell is amazing, the writing is perfect, the direction is appropriately creepy. It's obviously set in some dytopian future, but usually when a movie does that, it still winds up looking quite dated a short time later. But A Clockwork Orange doesn't do that. There's nothing that sets this movie in the 70's, or in any other identifiable time. The fashion is totally random and off the wall, from the droogs crazy white outfits and bowler hats, to Alex's mom's purple wig and black leather skirt that are apparently her casual ware. There's great surreal touches all over, like the fact that the old man and wife wife live in a home that has "HOME" lit up in neon, or all the drawings of naked men in Alex's lobby. The people don't really act "normal", not as we'd expect them to, and that's another way the movie becomes timeless. (Even things like "Star Wars" and "Star Trek" come off very 60's/70's in their attitude). And obviously the made up slang, which will never become dated is a brilliant stroke as well. The surreal tone also helps gloss over some of the less realistic plot points, like Alex just happening to run into everybody's he'd wronged in the course of one afternoon.
The movie has a hard task. In the beginning, what Alex does to that couple is so horrific and is presented so horribly (with him singing a jaunty fun tune) that later when the movie asks us to feel sorry for him, they're asking a lot. But I think they succeed. Or at least if we don't feel sorry for him, we feel...something for him. Something like pity, if not actual pity. Maybe it's more like "these things shouldn't be done to a human, any human, no matter what he's done". Not sure how I feel about the ending, though. It's incredibly cynical, which normally I love, but it winds up making the whole film seem kind of pointless. What exactly is the message, here? I mean, the chaplain (Charlie, heh) spells it out pretty clearly, "if there is no free will, then there's no morality" and that's fine and all, but how do we help people like Alex? Is there any way at all? Is that the movie's message? Fuck it? Or perhaps the message is that the government has no business attempting to modify or "perfect" people's brains or behavior, because going down that road leads to places like Nazi Germany. All these things are great themes, and I guess I need to read more about the movie, and probably the book too.
Stars: Five out of five.
Next, "Tootsie" and then "Unforgiven". I've heard a lot of good things about "Unforgiven". Maybe it will finally be that elusive first Western I've ever liked.
Sunday, June 26, 2011
Sigh. Matt Damon.
Plot summary (with spoilers): An elderly man walks slowly down a gravel path, towards the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in France. His wife, children, and grandchildren follow behind him. He stops at a particular cross, and reads the name on it. He flashes back to...someone else's life, apparently. Which is a neat trick.
June 6, 1944.
Captain John Miller, the name on the cross, stands nervously on the back of a infantry boat. His hand shakes. Several other soldiers vomit nervously. The backdoor opens, and immediately the bullets come pouring in, slicing through the soldiers with bad enough luck to be first in line.
What follows is half an hour of the most jaw-droppingly realistic and horrific battle scene I've ever seen, and daresay has ever been filmed. There are many deaths; some soldiers shot up, some burned alive, some drowned. It's a masterpiece of filmmaking in every way, and will probably never be duplicated. It sets the mood for what's to come perfectly. And of course, the most astonishing part of all: it actually happened. There were men that watched other men die in front of them in the most horrific possible ways and still kept marching forward.
By the end of it, the Americans have taken control of the beach. It's then that we get the story proper: A Private James F. Ryan, youngest of four brothers, is the only surviving member of the Ryan family, and therefore is to be sent home. Capt Miller and a special squad are supposed to locate Private Ryan (who dropped somewhere in Normandy, no one knows exactly where) and give him the news and get him home. With Miller is his second in command, Sargent Mike Horvath, acerbic Brooklynite Private Richard Reiben, angry Jewish Private Stanley Mellish, sharpshooter Private Daniel Jackson, medic Irwin Wade, translator and non-combat trained Corporal Timothy Upham, and Vin Diesel.
The guys (especially Mellish) tease Upham, who is scrawny and laughable, and has a hard time even keeping up with them as they walk. Everyone gripes at Miller at the waste of time and resources this particular mission is, and Miller offers no real rebuttal. Vin Diesel tells Upham that no one knows where Miller is from, and they have a pool going to see who finds out first.
They reach a small platoon which has taken out a a bunch of Germans in a town outside of Normandy. There's an audio recording of a German propagandanist solemnly repeating over and over that "the Statue of Liberty is kaput". Heh. Miller and his men walk through the hollowed out town until they stumble across a man with two little kids. The man begs them in German to take the kids to safety. Miller says no way, they can't, but Vin Diesel takes it upon himself to pick up the young girl because she reminds him of his niece. Miller literally yanks the girl out of his stupid arms and hands her back to the father and it's that moment that Vin Diesel is shot in the chest. Everyone scrambles to find a place to hide, not knowing where the shot came from. Vin Diesel lies on the ground in the rain and mud, slowly bleeding to death. No one can come to his aid. Eventually, Jackson spots the sniper and shoots him through the scope of his rifle. Wade rushes to Vin Diesel's side, but he is already dead. He has a letter to his family clutched in his bloody hand, which Wade takes.
The rest of the men march on, with Reiben in particular pissed that they've so far lost a man for no real reason. They encounter another squad, which indeed has a Private James Ryan. Miller breaks the news to Private Ryan that his brothers are all dead. (Hey, it's Nathan Fillion aka Capt Mal aka Capt Hammer aka awesome fucking stud and nerd hero. Also, Slither was pretty good.) Private Ryan weeps and begs to know how his brothers died. In battle. But they're just in grade school! Are you Private James Francis Ryan? No, I'm Private James Franklin Ryan. Sorry, never mind. Whoopsie.
They move on, eventually reaching a mini base camp, where they encounter a group of many wounded soldiers. They ask for a Private Ryan, but no one knows that name. The man in charge tells them the story of how their plane went down because a general was inside it and insisted on too much armor, which weighed the plane down and caused it to crash. FUBAR. Totally FUBAR. Upham doesn't know what FUBAR means, and everyone just smiles at him. The man tells them they can search through the dog tags of those dead, to see if they can find Private Ryan's. Reiben, Mellish, and Jackson start digging through the dog tags, making jokes and goofing around, not seeing the soldiers walking by watching them. Soldiers whose friends are on those tags. Upham angrily hisses at them to stop, and Miller decides that Ryan's not here, and they're moving on. Just then, the guy from before approaches with another soldier. The soldier tells him he landed with Ryan ("Private James Francis Ryan?" "Yeah.") but he was picked up by a general and ordered to secure a bridge with some other troops. Miller and his men head off in that direction.
After a while, they see in the distance a machine gun operated by only a few German soldiers. Miller thinks they can commandeer the gun and prevent anyone else from being ambushed. The other men are reluctant, but follow orders. Upham hangs back as they charge, and we hear but don't really see the battle through his POV. After less than two minutes, Miller screams at Upham to get up here with the supplies!
Upham races forward, and sees...Wade, shot in the chest. They rip open his shirt, put their hands on him, trying to stop the bleeding. He's the only medic. They beg him to tell them what to do.
You could give me more morphine.
They do so, and watch the life drain out of his eyes. Miller takes Vin Diesel's letter and puts it in his coat.
Reiben races forward, and grabs the only German still alive. He mockingly calls him "Steamboat Willie" and points his gun. Miller says to make him dig a grave for Wade first. Steamboat Willie digs the grave while they others look on. Upham is cordial to him and even offers a cigarette. He tells Miller that they can't murder him. It's wrong, it's against the rules. Steamboat Willie begs for his life, desperately reciting snatches of English ("Betty Boop! What a dish!"). Miller stands him up and puts a blindfold on him. He tells Upham to tell him to walk 1000 paces before removing the blindfold. Reiben is furious. He's certain that Willie will encounter other Germans and get away, but Miller won't kill him. Reiben threatens to go AWOL, and Sargent Horvath pulls a gun on him. Everyone shouts a lot. Miller finally breaks the tension by declaring he's a school teacher from Pennsylvania, and every time he kills a man, he feels further and further away from home. If saving Private Ryan is what's required to get him back, then that's what he'll do. The other men are chastened, and stand down. Even Reiben falls back in line. Miller drags Wade's body into the grave. They bury him, and move onward.
As they march through some tall grass, they encounter a German mini-tank, I guess. They attempt to fire at it, but it blows up before they get a chance. Another group of three paratroopers had already ambushed it. The middle guy introduces himself as Private Ryan. And you know it's really him this time, because he's Matt Damon.
Miller breaks the news about his brothers, and says he's to bring him home. Ryan's shocked and sad, but doesn't want to leave his squad. They're defending a bridge, considered key in the battleground, and need to stay until reinforcements come. Ryan says he won't leave they only brothers he's got left. Miller and his men decide to stay and help. They concoct a plan to lure any German tanks into a narrow alleyway and then disable the wheels with "sticky bombs". The bridge itself is wired with explosives. The last man standing is to blow the whole thing if worst comes to worst.
The guys all sit around waiting for Act III to begin. Upham's to act as ammunition reloader, carrying necklaces of bullets around his neck. Mellish asks him if he thinks the whole thing sucks or not. Upham agrees that it does. "Kinda...Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition, wouldn't you say?" Jackson climbs a tower and waits to see anything on the horizon. Ryan and Miller sit quietly. Ryan says he can't remember his brothers' faces. Miller says you have to think of a memory. Ryan remembers the last time they were all together, when his oldest brother almost had sex with an ugly girl in a barn, and they all laughed at him, and she ran out with her shirt over her head and knocked herself out. Ryan laughs at this rather shitty story and we do too, because it's a release and we need it.
Finally the Germans arrive. Another extended and spectacular battle scene. They manage to disable several tanks, but the German forces are greater than anticipated. Jackson is blown up in his tower. Upham runs all over, supplying people with ammo. Mellish and two other soldiers shoot from the second floor of a house. Several Germans reach the house. Upham sees them from around the corner, but is too scared to move. One of the Germans is fucking Steamboat Willie himself. They reach the second floor and fire at each other. The only survivors are Willie and Mellish, who grapple and roll around on the floor. Upham rushes to the stairs, and freezes about halfway up, too terrified to move. Willie takes a knife and slowly plunges it into Mellish's chest. Upham melts into the staircase. Willie gives him half a glance and walks by, as Upham weeps in shame at his cowardice.
Hovarth encounters a German about two feet away. They both raise their rifles and fire. They're both out of ammo. They both hurl their helmets at each other. They both pull out their pistols. They both hit. The German dies, while Horvarth manages to be only grazed.
Reiben pulls Upham off the staircase and drags him into a foxhole. They fall back as the Germans approach, though Upham stays put.
Horvath is shot again, mortally this time. Miller decides it's time to blow up the bridge, but he's shot before he can reach it. A bomb goes off near his head. Silence. Miller's eardrums have been blown out.
(In the movie theatre in 1998, I watch horrified with the rest of the audience, as the audio goes out on the screen to simulate Miller's sudden deafness and then my step-father announces loudly, "He can't hear!" and I am horrified anew).
German soldiers crouch right by Upham, still hidden in the foxhole, and continue firing. Upham watches Willie shoot and kill several Americans.
A German tank rolls forward, about to roll over the bridge. Miller takes out his pistol and begins firing at it futilely. Suddenly, it blows up. Stunned, Miller looks skyward. Reinforcements have arrived. Allied forces quickly take out the majority of the Germans.
Upham stands up and holds his gun on Willie and several other Germans. He screams at them in their native tongue. Willie begs for mercy and Upham shoots him dead. He tells the others to go.
Ryan and Rieben race over to Miller, who's near death. Reiben takes Vin Diesel's letter. Miller signals to Ryan to lean forward. "Earn this" he says to Ryan. To me, to you.
Ryan watches him die.
In the present, the elder Ryan weeps over Captain John Miller's grave. His wife approaches. He begs her to tell him he's a good man and has lived a good life. She has little choice but to agree, based on the circumstances.
Review: Okay, well it's certainly a technical masterpiece, and the writing is flawless and the acting is superb. I had this in my top ten movies of the 90's. But I haven't seen it since 1998, and...I don't know. Something's missing. I'm not sure what. I still really liked it, but I wouldn't call it perfect. There's something maybe a little perfunctory about it? Manipulative, sure, but Spielberg is always manipulative. That's his strength. He manipulates you, and you know it but don't care, like an abused spouse. And I know the prologue and epilogue has its detractors, and I could certainly take or leave Old Man Ryan, but he doesn't really bother me. I think maybe it's the characters. Aside from Upham, (by far my favorite character because of the dark arc he goes on) the characters are pretty cookie-cutter and their stories are predictable. Tom Hanks does an excellent job, they all do, but the characters are for the most part only skin deep, and at times the movie feels very much of the "killed off one-by-one" variety.
But I'm being too harsh, I think. The movie's great. The cinematography's amazing, and that opening battle is perfect. And to my mind, it's Spielberg's last truly great movie. (War of the Worlds had a perfect first two-thirds, but seriously FUBAR'd the ending). It also totally should've destroyed fucking Shakespeare in Love, which is another Oscar abomination story.
Stars: Four out of five.
Next, "A Clockwork Orange" and then "Tootsie". Um..."Tootsie"? Really, AFI? Well, I haven't seen it since I was about ten, so that should be interesting.
Monday, June 20, 2011
Man, 1994 was a really great year.
Plot summary (with spoilers): Red, a prisoner at the Shawshank State Penitentiary, would like to tell you a story about a man who came to the prison one day in 1947. That man is Andy Durfresne. (Pronounced just like it's spelled). He was convicted of double homicide. His wife was cheating on him with another man, and he went to the man's house with a gun and some bourbon, to "confront" them both. He waited for a long while, and they didn't show, so eventually he sobered up and drove home, ditching the gun into a river. Later that night, someone came along and killed his wife and the other man. The D.A. didn't believe Andy's story and found it awfully convenient that they can't find Andy's gun and confirm whether or not it had been fired that night. Andy found this awfully inconvenient. He got sent to Shawshank.
Red thought very little of Andy at first, and bet that he would be the first to "break" on his first night in the cell. Another prisoner named Heywood bet that Fat Ass would be the first to break, and whispered threats through the prison bars until Fat Ass burst out sobbing. Enter Captain Hadley, the leader of the guards. He beat the shit out of Fat Ass for refusing to stop crying. The next day, Heywood collected cigarettes from the others, but learned that Fat Ass died in the infirmary the night before. Red lost the most cigarettes because he bet against Andy, and that was the last time he ever did that.
After about a month, Andy approached Red in the yard and said he heard that Red could procure things for people who needed them. Red asked what he wanted. Just a little rock hammer, to help him carve rocks. Red asked if he was going to use the hammer to dig his way to freedom. Andy laughed and said when he sees the hammer, he'll feel silly saying that.
The hammer was a tiny little thing, and Red did indeed laugh. He estimated it would take 600 years to tunnel out of Shawshank with that.
So that summer, Andy, Red, and his friends were drafted to re-tar the roof of the prison, and while up there, they overheard Captain Hadley tell some of the other guards about an inheritance he received and how upset he was about how much it will be taxed. Andy approached Hadley and opened with "how much do you trust your wife?", which was perhaps the dumbest way to start that conversation, and Hadley responded by nearly throwing Andy off the roof. He breathlessly clarified that he, Hadley, could give the inheritance to his wife tax-free. He agreed to show Hadley how to do it, in exchange for three beers each for him and his friends.
In the meantime, an inmate named Boggs and his buddies known as The Sisters, began raping and beating Andy on a regular basis. They once beat him so badly, he wound up in the infirmary for a month. However, Andy became important to Hadley, so Hadley beat Boggs so that he could never walk again, and had to drink through a straw. The Sisters didn't bother Andy after that.
Once Andy got out of the infirmary, Red surprised him with a picture of Rita Hayworth, which he hung on his cell wall. The Warden Norton heard about Andy helping Hadley and enlisted him to help other guards with their tax issues. Andy got transferred to work in the library with Old Man Brooks in order to facilitate this easily. Andy decided that the library needed to be expanded, and wrote a letter once a week to Congress in order to get funding. In the meantime, he helped the Warden launder money using a fake identity named Randal Stevens. He enjoyed the irony that he never broke the law until he went to prison. After six years of letters, the government finally broke and supplied the prison with a fancy new library. They also sent records. Left alone in the office one day, Andy locked himself in and played a record on the player, and used the prison sound system to broadcast it to the whole yard. He got two weeks in solitary for the tiny moment of humanity it afforded him. He thought the trade was worth it.
In the 1950's, Brooks was released on parole. He only lasted a few weeks on the outside before killing himself. Red declared that he had been "institutionalized", meaning he couldn't survive without the prison walls around him. Every man took the implications of that horrifying thought in.
In 1965, nineteen years after Andy first went to jail, an inmate named Tommy Williams showed up. Tommy was a young kid with hip Elvis sideburns and something in Andy inspired Tommy to try to improve his life. He asked for help in getting his High School equivalency, and after some time, Andy taught him enough to take the test. Then Tommy asked Red what Andy was in jail for, anyway, and Red told him he was in for killing his wife and some golf pro. A stunned Tommy then told both Andy and Red about the time he was in another prison, where his cellmate admitted to killing a golf pro who owed him some money, and the woman he was seeing happened to get it, too. And the best part, according the man, was that they pinned it on some banker!
A breathless Andy went to the warden to plead with him to set in motion a request for a new trial. The Warden was skeptical of Tommy's tale (which in no way would be enough evidence, in reality) and Andy countered that they could at least investigate the man who made the confession. The Warden pooh-poohed all of Andy's suggestions, and then Andy made the mistake of assuring him that he would never tell anyone about the money-laundering they both had done. The Warden lost his shit at that, and threw Andy in solitary for a month.
In the meantime, he called Tommy out to the yard for a chat. He asked Tommy if he was absolutely sure of the other con man's confession, and if he would be willing to testify in court. Tommy nodded eagerly, and said on a stack of bibles! The Warden shook his head sadly, looked upwards at the watchtower, and nodded. He walked away. Tommy looked up at the tower, and Captain Hadley put four bullets in his chest.
The Warden went to Andy and explained regretfully that Tommy was shot while trying to escape. Andy said he wouldn't help the Warden anymore, but the Warden threatened to put him down in the general population with the rapist sodomites, and also tear down the library, which really seems like the lesser of the two threats.
Andy finally got out of solitary and spoke to Red, looking despondent and broken. He asked Red to do something for him if he ever got out. Go to a town called Baxter and find the oak tree by the hayloft where Old Mrs. Krabappel used to watch the sunset while crocheting American flags (or something like that) and there he'll find a rock that shouldn't be there, and buried underneath the rock will be...something. Red agrees to do this. Andy tells Red that if he ever got free--which would be impossible, since he doesn't have the possibility of parole of course--that he would spend the rest of his days in a little Mexican town called Zihuatanejo (again, just as it's spelled). That night, Heywood told Red that Andy borrowed some rope from the library. Red feared the worst.
Andy finished up his bookkeeping business with The Warden, and the Warden told Andy to shine his shoes before going back to his cell that night. Andy nodded.
The next day, Andy didn't come out of his cell for roll call. Red panicked. The guard went into the cell and...
"WHAT DO YOU MEAN HE'S NOT THERE?!"
The Warden and Captain Handley stood in Andy's empty cell. They questioned Red, who of course knew nothing. Angrily, the Warden threw some of Andy's rocks at the poster on the wall. The rock went through the poster and fell a long way down the other side. Stunned, the Warden ripped off the poster and revealed a giant hole. It didn't take 600 years. Only 20.
Andy had it all planned. He took one of the Warden's suits, and kept it in a plastic bag. He tunneled to the sewer pipe and then crawled along for half a mile in the shit and sludge until he reached the other side. Freedom. Freedom and rain, to wash away the shit and sin. He had fashioned a fake birth certificate and social security card for "Randal Stevens", and used it to make withdrawls from several banks, taking 350 thousand dollars of the Warden's money. He then sent copies of his shady financial dealings to the press, who broke the story and had Captain Handley arrested. They came for the Warden, too, but the coward put a bullet in his brain first.
So now, Red sits at another parole board hearing, 40 years after his initial crime. The parole officer boredly asks him if he's redeemed, if he's no longer a threat to society. Red goes into his usual shtick, but then grows tired. He says he's done begging and he knows the parole officer will just reject him, anyway, and he doesn't care anymore. This...works somehow. Perhaps the parole officer has daddy issues and responds negatively to rejection. Red tries the parole route, gets tired of it quickly, brakes parole, and somehow finds the rock in Baxter. Buried down deep is a note from Andy and a wad of cash. "If you ever get out and find this, meet me in that city we talked about". Red takes the money and buys a bus ticket. He hopes he'll make it to Zihuatanejo without incident.
And so he does. He strolls up to Andy on the beach, grinning ear to ear. And their story is just beginning.
Review: I saw this for the first time about a year ago and of course it's beautiful. In these days of moral ambiguities and anti-heroes, it's refreshing and very Stephen King-like to have a story with a complete hero to root for and a complete villain to root against, and Tim Robbins here plays the part to perfection. There's very little to complain about, here. The acting is uniformly great, the writing too. The movie is only two hours twenty minutes long, but it feels much longer (in a good way), because chronologically, it spans such a great deal of time and we feel those twenty years, every day of them. We watch our friends the prisoners grow up and change and evolve. It's amazing too, that never do we get a chyron that says "Ten years later" or anything like that. The years go by simply because they must, and the story takes exactly this long to tell. I also appreciated that for much of the movie, the Warden and the Captain are bad guys, sure, but the movie doesn't let us in on the fact that they're truly monsters until the final third, when they murder Tommy. That of course propels Andy into action and begins the final act, where we're begging for Andy to get revenge somehow, but don't see how it's possible. The trick of the poster was brilliant, and the shot of Red, the Warden, and Hadley all peering into the hole, dumbstruck, is one of the finest shots in cinema. And of course it's not enough that Andy merely escapes and embarrasses the Warden, he must expose him as a fraud and a crook, too. Our thirst for revenge is throughly quenched.
Also, I haven't read the book, but apparently originally Red was an Irishman (there's even a winking joke in the movie about it, meta before meta was cool) and Frank Darabount looked at a half dozen white celebrities before finally deciding on Morgan Freeman. That set up a cool dynamic that's rarely seen in the movies. Usually it's the black character who is saintly and other-worldy and always winds up teaching the white character some important Life Lessons. And however PC and earnest and well-intentioned that instinct is, it nearly always comes off as patronizing (see Radio, The Legend of Bagger Vance, etc). It was neat to see the reverse, here.
Stars: Five out of five. Let's see, 1994 brought us Pulp Fiction, Forrest Gump, The Shawshank Redemption, Quiz Show, The Lion King, Speed, Bullets Over Broadway, Reality Bites, The Ref, The Hudsucker Proxy, The Postman, Nell, and Interview with a Vampire. I think the case can be built for the best film year of the decade, no? And probably the 80's, too?
Next, "Saving Private Ryan" and "A Clockwork Orange". I've got quite a streak going of movies I've already seen. Kind of a bummer, frankly.
Sunday, June 19, 2011
Plot summary (with spoilers): It's the late 1800's. Butch (overrated and exaggerated by others amount of hotness-Paul Newman) and Sundance (super flaming ginger-hot Robert Redford) are playing a game of poker with Buford "Maddog" Tannen and some other local cowboy ruffians. Sundance bids a lot, and Buford thinks he's bluffing. There are no cards on the river or turn, because the best poker, Texas Hold'em, hasn't been invented yet. Buford calls and Sundance has a Full House and wins the hand. Buford and his men accuse him of cheating, and Butch and Sundance quip back and forth to one another with a practiced and affected nonchalance.
Quip quip quip.
Buford reaching down for his gun, and Sundance immediately draws his and fires, shooting Buford's gun itself. Everyone gets all scared because Sundance's reputation as the quickest gun in the west precedes him. They let the boys leave.
They arrive back at their base camp, or whatever, and greet the rest of their men, called The Hole-In-The-Wall Gang. One of the other guy's in the gang has decided to challenge Butch for the leadership role. He challenges him to a knife fight. Butch asks Sundance for any advice. Sundance says to bet on the other guy and at least make some money.
Quip quip quip! Quippy quip-quip!
Before the fight can begin, Butch kicks the dude in the balls, and he goes down. This seems to satisfy everyone involved. All righty. Then Butch tells the gang of his plan to rob a train that's riding through town the next day. Their plan is to rob the train as it's heading to its main stop and then to rob it coming back, thinking no one will suspect they'll rob the same train twice. The first half of the plan works perfectly, save for one train employee who refuses to grant them access to the safe until they blow the door off that particular train car. That night, they celebrate at a local town where Sundance hooks up with his girlfriend Etta. The next morning, Butch takes Etta out for a ride on this new thing he bought called a bicycle, while the anachronistic "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" plays on the soundtrack. Hold up, according to Wiki, the song was made for this movie, so it's not anachronistic at all. Cool, I guess. It's also so far the only music at all we've heard in this movie. Etta tells Butch sometimes she wonders what her life would be like if she were with him instead of with Sundance. Butch tells her there's no difference at all between the characters so it would probably be exactly the same. No, actually he just smiles and then when Sundance comes by, he tells him that he's stealing her away. Sundance just shrugs and says "take her" and walks off. He's kidding, but it's all very weird and of course quippy.
The next day, the gang shows up to rob the train again. The same employee from before refuses to open the car, even though he's still injured from the previous blast. He's apologetic to the guys, and says they're just going to have to blow him up again. The guys don't want to hurt him again, and manage to trick him into opening the door by claiming to have a hostage. They blow up the safe, but Butch has used too much dynamite and the money goes flying everywhere. Various members of the gang all scatter, trying to pick it all up. Suddenly, another train with only one car comes racing up the track. It stops just behind the other train. Butch and Sundance stare, puzzled. The car opens up and about ten riders and horses come spilling out, guns blazing. The Hole-in-the-Wall gang immediately take off, several getting shot and killed instantly.
Sundance says "well, they're pretty rude" or something quippy like that, which seems insensitive at best, and they take off. Two men go one way, while Butch and Sundance go the other.
"How many are following us?"
"All of them."
"All of them? That's not fair!"
Quippy quip quip quip quip! QUIP.
So, this goes on for a while. Butch and Sundance manage to stay about twenty or thirty miles or so ahead of the posse, but thanks to the flat Western landscape, they can always see the posse off in the distance and the posse can always see them. They eventually reach a judge's house, who is also a friend of theirs. They ask the judge for supplies, and the judge agrees but insists they tie him up to make it look good. They then ask to judge to deliver a message asking for leniency if they turn themselves in, but the judge says there's no way that'll happen, because the guys are too famous and they're wanted dead by the law. He warns them that this movie will end up with them dead, no question.
Off in the distance, Butch recognizes the lead member of the posse's white hat, and declares that he's a famous lawman Joe Lofers. Joe is known to work with a famous American Indian, Lord Baltimore (wow, really?) who is known for his excellent tracking abilities. The guys fear the worst. This makes them ratchet up the quipping by a factor of ten. That night, the posse still continues to be able to track the guys while using torches to see. Butch and Sundance ride off. Suddenly, Butch leaps off his horse and onto Sundance's, thinking this will confuse the trackers and at least half of them will follow the other horse. Somehow, this doesn't work. The next day, they reach a steep mountainside and eventually their horse can't climb any higher so they just let him go. PETA would be so pissed! They climb to the top of the mountain and down the other side. About halfway down, they're stuck on a ledge. Down about fifty feet below is a raging river with rocks. The posse is at the top of the mountain, waiting them out. Butch wants to jump, but Sundance wants to fight it out. Eventually Sundance reveals he can't swim. Wah-wah. They jump anyway, and float down the river with highly improbable ease. The jumping part is truly awesome looking, though.
By foot they eventually reach a town where Etta lives. She hugs both the boys and brings them to her home. Etta tells him the posse is funded by the government and won't quit until they're both killed. They decide to all three go to Bolivia together.
Down in Bolivia, they attempt to rob a bank, but are stymied when neither of them speak Spanish and the bankers can't understand them. Hmm. I think a pointed gun and a gesture at the safe would be enough to get the point across. Anyway, cue some wacky scenes of Etta teaching the boys Spanish. They finally learn enough to rob the bank, though Butch must carry a cribsheet.
Burla! Burla burla burla.
They rob some more, and become famous throughout the land as Los Bandidos Yanquis. Everything's fine until Sundance one day sees Lofers lurking about asking people questions. D'oh! Etta assures them Bolivia has no extradition treaty with America, and Lofers has no authority to prosecute them for crimes committed in Bolivia. The only way to hurt them is if he catches them committing a robbery and shoots them in "self defense". They vow to stop robbing people and go straight. They get a job with a man as payroll guards for a mining company. Halfway back, they're robbed by some bandidos, finally getting a taste of their own medicine. They track the bandidos and get the money back, however, after shooting the whole gang dead. This is the first time Butch has ever killed anyone. The quips are subdued, in honor of the dead bandidos.
Lesson is not learned, however, and Butch and Sundance decide not that stealing is wrong, but that they have no business in the "straight" life, so they decide to start robbing again. Etta checks the running time on the movie, sees the writing on the wall, and declares that she's going back to America. Butch and Sundance are disappointed to see the end of plausible-deniability during their threeways.
They rob a mining company and steal a mule, but unbeknownst to them, the mule is branded with the company's logo. A boy recognizes the mule and calls the local sheriff. Or, not calls. Whatever. Contacts. Smoke signals. Whatever people did when face-to-face conversations were still necessary and desirable. Butch and Sundance are pursued by the locals and rush into an abandoned building. They manage to hold them off quite impressively, with Sundance in particular whirling around like a ballet dancer, hitting one after another. Unfortunately, reinforcements from the Bolivian military are brought in so that their forces are overwhelming. Both boys are shot. They lie in the ground, quipping some more about how they should've gone to Australia, and that will be next on the list. Are they just that at peace with dying, or have they completely cracked? Nope, it's the former. They both hold two guns each, use each other to stand, and then shuffle towards the doorway. They race out, firing wildly. The camera freeze-frames, as we hear the shots that bring them down.
Review: And utterly inoffensive and fun movie that can be best described as "cute". Most of the "jokes" didn't really work for me, but they were tossed off so effortlessly by Newman and Redford, that it almost didn't matter that they weren't funny. They just were. They best chunk of the movie was when they were being pursed by the indefatigable posse led by Lefoer. It was pretty awesome seeing them always way off in the distance, relentlessly pursuing. You don't really get to see that sort of thing very often, where the enemy is literally within sight but too far away to actually hurt you. It's pretty wild. And their seemingly super human abilities were also fun. It's rather disappointing that Lefoer wasn't in the final battle at all.
Also interesting, and I'm not sure what to make of it, is the fact that at no point did I get the sense that our leads, the criminals, were "anti-heroes" a la Tony Soprano or Walter White or whatever. They were the heroes, straight out. We where encouraged to root for them whole-heartily, without judgement, despite the fact that they stole. The movie worked hard to make them unbelievably pleasant in every other conceivable way. Kind of a weird thing to do, really. Maybe the 70's had a much stronger anti-authority streak than now? Yeah, I'm guessing that's it. Damn hippies.
And of course, Redford and Newman were great. They really sold the strong bond between the men, and created two very memorable characters, who seem completely unique to the world of the Western, or at least my limited knowledge of it. Their "cool guy" shtick is a bit wearying at times, but mostly works.
Stars: Three and a half out of five. The chemistry between the two men kept it from being a forgettable two star affair.
Next, two biggies; "A Shawshank Redemption" and "Saving Private Ryan". I'm thinking a lot of stars will be doled out.
Monday, June 13, 2011
Plot summary (with spoilers): FBI trainee Clarice Starling gets called in to see her boss, Jack Crawford. He's got an assignment for her. She's to go to the Baltimore State Hospital for the criminally insane and do a psychological profile on a prisoner there. Starling wonders if this is connected to the famous serial killer currently at large, Buffalo Bill. Why no, Starling. Not at all, as I sit here framed by Buffalo Bill newspaper clippings and crime scene photos. Run along, now. Starling travels to the hospital and is given the rundown by creepy creep Dr. Frederick Chilton, who first hits on her, then gives her the rules. Don't step near the glass. Don't hand him anything. Don't tell him anything personal about yourself. Don't take anything from him. Don't get him wet. Don't feed him after midnight.
Clarice is sufficiently spooked, and so are we, so it's time for a long walk down a hallway past a row of imprisoned weirdos and scary lighting and music, until she reaches Dr. Hannibal Lecter's cell. And he's just...standing there, in the middle of the room, with a smile on his face. Like a coiled snake, getting ready to spring. She asks him to fill out the questionnaire. He pretends to consider it. There's thick glass between them, but it feels like he could crush her dead at any time. He mocks her accent, and cheap shoes. She's practically quivering.
I ate his liver with some fava beans and some nice chianti. Phtt phtt phtt phtt!!!!
She turns to leave, and the crazy guy next door cums into her hair. You sir, are a creepy crazy guy, but I admire your ability to aim. Lecter calls her back, tells her to seek out an old patient of his. He then screams at her to go, because it's more cinematic that way.
Clarice can't find the patient Lecter spoke of, but instead finds a storage garage in his name. Inside is the man's dead body. Clarice and Crawford assist in the autopsy, and Clarice discovers a moth inside the man's throat. Clarice goes back to Lecter, who tells her that he didn't kill the man, and that Buffalo Bill probably did. He tells her he knew Buffalo Bill, and could help her find him if she can offer him a transfer to a different facility, away from creepy Chilton. Clarice learns from her boss that this was the plan all along, to enlist Lecter's help in finding Bill before he strikes again.
A pleasantly plump woman is on a walk when she sees a man with a broken arm attempting to load a sofa into the back of a van. Ah, poor guy. She should totally help him. Oh. Shit.
As it turns, out, the girl was the daughter a Tennessee Senator, and Clarice returns to Lecter with the offer of a transfer to a different prison with a view, and one week of freedom per year on an island. But Lecter wants more. Quid pro quo, Clarice. What happened to your parents? They died when I was young. Where did you go? To my uncle's ranch. How long were you there? Only two months, then I ran away. Why? Quid pro quo, doctor. Buffalo Bill is not a transsexual, but he thinks he is. Check and see who was recently denied for sexual reassignment surgery.
I think to them, this is like sex.
Chilton was secretly taping their conversation and goes to Lecter and breaks the news that Clarice was lying, that there's no offer from the senator, but if he tells Chilton the name of Buffalo Bill right now, he'll transfer him to another prison. Lecter says he'll only say it to the senator's face. Chilton orders the guards to strap Lecter down and make sure his face mask looks as terrifying as possible. Road trip!
In Tennessee, Chilton has to sign for Lecter's release to the new prison, but seems to have lost his pen. I'm sure that's nothing.
"It puts the lotion on its skin, or else it gets the hose again". You guys, I think Buffalo Bill might be a bit troubled.
Lecter tells the senator that Buffalo Bill's name is Louis Friend, and he's from Pennsylvania. He's also kind enough to compliment her suit, and inquire about her stance on nursing babies.
But what Lecter didn't count on was the Clarice was an anagram expert. She translates "Louis Friend" to "iron sulfide", also known as "fool's gold". God Hannibal, you're such a hipster douchebag.
She travels double quick to Tennessee, and bluffs her way into a visit with her hipster boyfriend. She admits to lying about the deal and apologizes, but begs him to tell her Bill's real name.
Quid pro quo. Why did you run away from the ranch? I woke up early. I heard screaming. I went out to the barn and saw them slaughtering lambs. The lambs were screaming. I took one and ran. I got about a mile down the road before I was picked up. I was sent away. You think if you catch Bill it will stop the screaming of the lambs? I don't know. I hope so.
Quid pro quo, Doctor.
No. Everything you need is in this case file.
Chilton and some guards show up, to drag Clarice out of there. She runs back for the file. Reaches through the bars. Lecter's finger grazes hers, once. It's their only physical contact.
(Unless, of course, you count the god damn fucking awful sequel Hannibal. The novel completely betrays the character of Clarice in the most despicable way imaginable, it's truly the finest example ever of a novelist spitting on his own legacy. Don't read it, ever. The film doesn't betray Clarice, but it's still pretty shitty).
Lecter sits, listens to his record. Two guards show up to feed him. They handcuff him to the bars. Chilton really should've kept better track of that pen. The guards are beaten to death, and Lecter basks in the afterglow, for a moment, savoring his refractory period.
Downstairs, the cops hear gunshots. They go up to the floor, and see one officer decoratively splayed out like he's king of the world, and another lying flat on the ground. His face is cut up and bloody. He still has a pulse! He's alive! Hang in there, buddy. Hold his hand! Talk to him. (Tell him about your childhood, he seems to like that). They sent him out in an ambulance, keep searching for Lecter. Blood drips into the elevator. The open the shaft. See Lecter a few floors below. He's been shot. Huh? When did that happen? Ooh, he must've shot himself! He's gonna wait until they get close and then strike! Oh, I'm so fucking nervous! They call out to him. He doesn't respond. They shot him in the leg. He doesn't flinch. Damn.
(Okay, so how much did the movie own you at this point? Did you A) Know it wasn't him? B) Think that the movie was being unrealistic, asking us to believe a man wouldn't flinch after being shot in the leg?, or C) sit in open mouthed awe of Hannibal Lecter, a man so badass he can get shot in the leg and not flinch? C for me. And I suspect C for most of you, too).
They open the elevator roof, the body flops down. Lecter kills some ambulance workers.
Clarice is convinced Lecter won't go after her, he would consider it rude. Heh. They really "get" each other, don't they? So cute.
After studying Lecter's annotations to the case file, Clarice finally figures out that Bill knew his first victim. She goes to the woman's house, sees pictures of her and learns that Bill was a taylor in town. She calls Crawford, excited about her new theory. Bill is making a skin suit out of women's bodies! Crawford tells her it's okay, they found the guy. They cross referenced something something hospital records blah blah his name is Jame Gumb. He's in Illinois. They're going there now. Clarice is disappointed she won't be in on the third act. She agrees to conclude her investigation by interviewing the mother of the first victim.
In Bill's lair, the senator's daughter attempts to bribe Precious with a bone, in order to knock her down the hole. Bill plays some music, looks creepy, dances around, inspires a generation of men to see what that looks like in the mirror at home in private with the shades drawn.
Ha! She grabs Precious. Don't you hurt my dog! Don't you make me hurt your dog!
Crawford and ten thousand FBI guys creep up to Bill's house. They ring the doorbell.
Inside, Bill's doorbell rings. He hurriedly climbs upstairs and puts on a shirt.
The FBI guys ring the bell again. No one answers.
Bill races to the door.
The FBI guys are confused.
Bill opens the door...to Clarice. Damn you, movie! That's twice! Clarice would like to speak to a Mrs. Something Something, but Bill tells her she doesn't live here anymore. He attempts to slam the door in her face, but she's persistent. Do you know where I can reach her? I think I have her number somewhere.
Come inside. Clarice takes a look around as they chat; she sees some sewing material, lots of fabric, a moth.
"FBI, FREEZE!" Bill slips around the corner. Clarice walks forward, gun drawn. Each step takes her closer to death, and yet the lambs compel her to keep walking. She finds Bill's underground lair. Walks down into it. She hears the senator's daughter calling for help and assures her that she's safe (my favorite laugh out loud part. "Safe"? Really, Agent Starling?)
Bill turns out all the lights, puts on night vision goggles. We see through his eyes, he's hunting Clarice, she's flailing about wildly. He's toying with her. He aims. Cocks his gun. She hears the gun, whirls around and fires! Fuck yeah!
Several months later, Clarice is promoted. She's at a party, and gets a phone call. Lecter wants to know if the lambs have stopped screaming. Clarice doesn't answer. He assures her she's safe, and that he's having an old friend for dinner. Look, it's Chilton. How nice, I guess they've made up.
Lecter hangs up and walks off into the distance with a crowd, until we can no longer see which one is him.
Review: Of course, this is one of the greatest movies ever, no doubt about it. The writing, directing, and acting were all perfect and in Hannibal Lecter, Anthony Hopkins created one of the most memorable and greatest movie villains ever. Much like Colonel Jessup in A Few Good Men, Hannibal isn't actually in the movie a whole lot, but whenever he is, he dominates the proceedings, and casts a creepy deadly pall over every scene he's not in. There's no time at all that you're not thinking about him. But consider also Jodie Foster, she had to play a woman who basically for the entire run of the movie was varying degrees of afraid. Afraid of not getting her boss's approval, afraid of social awkwardness with men hitting on her, afraid of Lecter, and at the end, terrified of Bill. She played that note throughout the movie, but always kept it fresh and interesting. 50% of why Hannibal is scary is Anthony Hopkins, 25% is Jonathan Demme, and the other 25% is Jodie Foster. Lecter could never actually hurt her, because they were always separated. But Jodie's fear spread to us as easily as if we were there in the cell ourselves. Imbuing another actor with that kind of power and status while still being three dimensional yourself is extremely difficult.
The relationship between Lecter and Starling is a perversion of the classic "Beauty and the Beast" or "opposites attract" cliche in movies. The law of movies says they're supposed to fall in love. And they do, a little. But never in a way that's lewd or nasty or insults their character's dignity. Also, ten million points for never saying "Silence of the lambs", in the movie, even though it was sitting right there. "Screaming of the Lambs" is again a delightful perversion.
I honestly don't have a single beef with this movie. I guess if there's anything, it's that at its core, it's just a monster movie, with no philosophical point of view or message. Normally I won't give a movie five stars even if it's perfect, unless it's saying something, too. But it's the classiest monster movie probably ever, and that's enough for me.
Stars: Five out of five.
Next, "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and then "The Shawshank Redemption", which I regret seeing for the first time last year, because I could be seeing it now for the first time.
Thursday, June 9, 2011
Summary (with spoilers): Poduck town in Bumblefuck, Mississippi. 1967. Deputy Sam Wood is making the rounds in his patrol car; it's late at night. It's also hot out. And Sam is in the heat. At night. Hey, wait a minute...
He passes by the a house where he can look in the window and see a beautiful woman standing naked. Then, it's off the diner to purchase some pie and coffee from the local gomer named Ralph. As soon as that business is taken care of, he nearly runs over a body in the road. He gets out, inspects the dead man, then radios for backup. His superior tells him to search the area, and Sam does so, finding someone at the train station. It's a black man, suspiciously sitting there and reading his paper, so Sam calls him "boy", and handcuffs him, gun drawn. He searches the man's wallet and discovers 200 dollars. That's enough for an arrest.
At the precinct, Sam brings the man into the Chief's office. Chief Gillespie asks the man his name. "Virgil Tibbs". Gillespie asks Sam to step out for a minute, then he softly and confidentially tells Virgil that it's okay, he can confess. Tell me why you killed that man.
Virgil says he killed no one, and that he was simply visiting his mother and now returning home to Philadelphia. Gillespie wants to know how a negro could make so much money. Virgil reveals he is a police officer. Gillespie looks at his wallet and sees a badge. He calls Sam back in, and shows Sam the badge. Sam's eyes widen with fear. "YEAH!" Gillespie hilariously bellows. "A cop!" And after laughing for about twenty seconds, I knew this movie had me.
So, Gillespie calls the Philadelphia station to confirm Virgil is a cop, and when the police chief there speaks to Virgil, he tells him to assist Gillespie on their case. Virgil is confident that Gillespie won't want help, but Gillespie does. He asks Virgil to inspect the body, and when he does, he disagrees with the coroner's findings that the body died in the last couple hours. He speaks to the coroner and deputy in the way that you speak to people you find incredibly stupid, but you have to be unfailingly polite to anyway. Virgil rattles off some theories about the murder, while Gillespie gets a call about a suspect.
He catches a man seen running from the scene, and he has the dead man's wallet in his pocket.
Meanwhile, the dead man's wife, Mrs Colbert, shows up at the precinct and Virgil tells her the news.
Gillespie shows back up with the suspect, Harvey, in cuffs. Virgil asks if he can take a look at him. Gillespie crows that it's fine, but your services are no longer needed. Virgil feels Harvey's arms up and down. He determines that Harvey is left-handed, and therefore couldn't have done it because Mr. Colbert's head wound was made by a right-handed person. (I wish I was left-handed because I would be exonerated if I was ever falsely accused of murder, according to every crime-based TV show and movie). Gillespie has had enough. He tells Virgil to get his ass back to Philly. "Virgil, that's a funny name for a nigger up in Philadelphia, what do they call you up there?"
"They call me Mr. Tibbs!"
Sidney Poitier chews up that line and spits it out, and it's so sweet. Gillespie's disgusted, but lets Mr. Tibbs talk to Harvey for a while, and he learns Harvey has an alibi. They change the charge to theft. In the meantime, Mrs. Colbert insists that Mr. Tibbs stay on the case, as he was the only one who kept an innocent man from being charged. Turns out, Mr. Colbert was from up north, and that he had moved here in order to build a factory that will employ thousands of people. Mrs. Colbert tells Gillespie that the factory won't be made if the murder isn't solved, and Mr. Tibbs must stay on the case.
Gillespie convinces a reluctant Mr. Tibbs to stay in town and help out, partially by telling him he can prove that he's better than all these dumb redneck cops. Mr. Tibbs searches Colbert's car and finds some cotton fabrics. He learns that Eric Endicott is the local plantation owner who was Colbert's enemy. Mr. Tibbs and Gillespie go to the Endicott's cotton plantation, passing by hundreds of black employees who are literally picking cotton, and approach Endicott's giant mansion. Mr. Tibbs questions the elderly, fopish Endicott, who slaps him across the face. Mr. Tibbs slaps him right back. Endicott and Gillespie are stunned, and Endicott wants to know what Gillespie is going to do about it. Gillespie says he doesn't know. They leave the mansion, and Gillespie tells Mr. Tibbs he has to leave that night, or he'll surely be killed. But Mr. Tibbs refuses. "I can bring that fat cat down! I can pull him off this hill!" Gillespie smiles in recognition. "Hey, you're just like the rest of us".
Later, Mr. Tibbs is driving by himself, and a car full of Bos, Lukes, and Cooters tries to ram him off the road. They've got a big confederate flag on their hood, natch. They run Mr. Tibbs off the road and chase him into a warehouse. Mr. Tibbs gets a big metal pipe and prepares to do battle, in a truly nail-biting harrowing scene. Gillespie shows up just in time and runs the Duke Brothers off. He tells Mr. Tibbs to leave, now! Mr. Tibbs pretends to agree, but instead goes to Sam and convinces him to take him on the patrol ride and recreate the events that led up to him finding the body. Sam agrees to do so, and eventually Gillespie joins them. The guy Ralph at the diner refuses to serve Mr. Tibbs, literally quaking with self-righteous anger. Fuck you, Ralph.
Mr. Tibbs somehow determines that Sam has gone a different route than he did the other night (still not sure how he figured that out) and calls him on it. Sam denies this, but Gillespie is suspicious. They next day, he checks Sam's bank records and learns that he deposited 600 dollars the night after the murder. Gillespie decides that Sam killed and then robbed Colbert, and arrests him. Meanwhile, a 16 year old girl and her older brother enter the precinct, and wish to speak to Gillespie privately. "It's about Sam". Mr. Tibbs insists on hearing the conversation, which makes the brother furious. He tells Gillespie that Sam slept with his sister and got her pregnant, and wants him arrested for rape. Mr. Tibbs is not buying the story, though. He learns from prisoner Harvey that there's a colored woman in town who performs abortions on the sly, and goes to visit her that night. He asks her if she has an appointment with anyone. The girl shows up and Mr. Tibbs chases after her. She runs outside and Ralph the diner guy pulls a gun on him. The girl falls into Ralph's arms, and it all clicks into place for Mr. Tibbs. The girl's brother and the Dukes show up just then. They tells Mr. Tibbs they're going to kill him, but Mr. Tibbs says that Ralph is the father, not Sam, and that the girl was going to have an abortion tonight. The girl's brother searches his sister's purse, finds the 100 for the abortion, and then points the gun at Ralph. Ralph shoots him first. Mr. Tibbs then overpowers Ralph and holds the gun on Bo and Luke and Cooter.
The case is solved, as Ralph then confesses to killing Colbert to get the money for an abortion, and it's time for a poignant goodbye. Gillespie walks Mr. Tibbs to the train, hands him his suitcase and tells him to take care. Mr. Tibbs smiles, then boards the train. Racism cured!
Review: Wow. The "murder mystery" element of the case is pretty procedural, but it's the ambiance that surrounds it, as well as the amazing acting and writing that make this movie as phenomenal as it is. The setting itself is a rich character, a dangerous world, where we feel Mr. Tibb's alienation as acutely as if we were there ourselves. Every extra, every bit player, including the black characters, look at Mr. Tibbs in his expensive new suit with suspicion and aggression. This could've very easily fallen into a preachy, after-school special place, where we learn about the evils of racism in a didactic way, but that doesn't happen. It's not just an "important" film. It's a good one, too. And we get a story we can sink our teeth into, about the relationship between to very different men who begrudgingly come to respect one another. As great as Poitier is, it's Stieger who really captivates me. He plays Gillespie as a man who has great intelligence somewhere deep inside him, but almost can't let it be shown, for fear of being shunned by the community he serves. It's simply wonderful to see him slowly come around on Mr. Tibbs, and it's never done in a "hugging, learning" type of way where you think they're going to be Facebook friends one day. There was also the danger of making Mr. Tibbs the noble saint, who suffers these fools in silence. But Poitier doesn't play it that way at all. He still knows "his place" in the sense that he can't be as free to do or say what he wants as he probably would be back home, but he has a line, and won't let anyone cross it. Apparently, in the original script, Endicott slaps him, but he doesn't slap him back, but Poitier lobbied to have it changed, and had it put in his contract that no theatre would cut it out. The character's also fallible, at first focusing on "taking down" Endicott, despite their being no real evidence of his guilt. It's also interesting to me to read that there was a lot of nervous jokes by white audiences around the country at the time of the release. The movie's unofficial nickname became "Super Spade vs. The Rednecks", even by well-meaning liberal types. Reminds me of Brokeback Mountain, the first mainstream gay movie, that broke the same type of ground that this movie did forty years earlier. For about a year, every talk show host thought that they idea of two cowboys in love was the funniest thing ever. When people are uncomfortable, they laugh. Now, I think a movie like that would come and go without comment. (Like I Love You, Phillip Morris, which also starred two big name actors).
Stars: Five out of five.
Next, "Silence of the Lambs", and then "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid". I've seen one of those before. If you can't guess which one, then you must not know me very well.
Monday, June 6, 2011
Ah, we meet again. My old nemesis. Aka--the first time I became disillusioned by the Academy Awards. You, Mr. Gump, killed the believer in me. The believer in all of us. Was it worth it?
Plot summary (with spoilers): A CGI metaphor floats down from the sky while the opening credits roll. It lends at Forrest's feet. Forrest picks it up and puts it in his Curious George book inside his briefcase. He's at a bus stop, dressed in a dapper blue suit. A woman gets off the bus and sits down next to him. He introduces himself to her, offers her chocolate and a pithy expression. She declines the chocolate, but this doesn't stop Forrest from talking. He proceeds to tell her the story of his life, and she neither tells him to cram it nor gets up and walks away, so we know this story isn't set in California.
Forrest grew up with his Momma. She put braces on his legs so he would walk straight, and insisted he go to a regular school, even though his IQ was only 75. All the kids at school made fun of him, except the pretty girl named Jenny. They were instantly in love. Well, he was, anyway. Jenny asked him if he was stupid or something, but kindly. "My momma always says, stupid is as stupid does". Wait--what the fuck does that mean? Stupid is...hold on...you mean like...how does "stupid" do something? YOU'RE MOVING TOO FAST FOR ME, FORREST.
At any rate, Forrest and Jenny grow up to high school age and look like Tom Hanks and Robin Wright. Some bullies chase Forrest and Jenny tells him to run Forrest, run. Forrest blows through the football field and the coach puts him on the team. He gets a full ride scholarship into college despite being a moron, because that's fair somehow.
The team wins the national championship whatevers and they get to go to the White House and meet the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy. Forrest tells Kennedy he has to go pee (which was in the commercial, which I repeated over and over again in 1994, even before I ever saw the movie, "I believe he said he had to go pee") .
As Forrest's life improves, Jenny's gets worse. Her father molested her as a child, and as an adult she became bitter and rudderless. She grew apart from Forrest and disappeared with the evil hippies. Before she goes, Forrest tells her he's joined the military. She warns him if there's ever any trouble to just run, Forrest, run.
Forrest goes to Vietnam, where generally things are not nearly as bad as other movies would have us believe. He meets Bubba, a fellow "slow" person, who enjoys shrimp and talks about it constantly. He and Forrest agree to start a shrimp company after they leave the war. He also meets Lt. Dan. Lt Dan's ancestors have each died in every war preceding this one, and Lt Dan expects to die here.
Eventually, some guy named Charlie attacks and men in Forrest's squad are getting slaughtered. Lt Dan calls for a retreat, and Forrest runs. He runs so fast, he's quickly out of danger, and also alone. So he runs back, searching for Bubba. He stumbles across several other men who are wounded, and he rescues them one by one. He encounters Lt Dan, who's legs have been blown to bits. He rescues Dan and goes back again, finally finding Bubba. Bubba's insides are outside, and there's nothing Forrest can do. He runs back out of the jungle, getting shot once in the buttocks.
At the VA hospital, legless Lt Dan is angry and bitter and wishes he weren't alive, while Forrest enjoys ice cream, and doesn't really seem to miss Bubba anymore. One night, Lt Dan crawls over to Forrest's bed, and pulls him to the ground, angrily cursing him out for saving his life. "What do I do now, Forrest?!" Forrest doesn't have an answer.
Forrest goes to the White House again to receive the Medal of Honor. He moons President Johnson. Also, while in DC, he stumbles across a huge anti-war protest at the Capitol. The hippies are thrilled to see a man in uniform convert to their side, so they usher him up stage to give his opinion about the war. Just as he's about to speak, someone cuts the mic, so we never learn Forrest's position on the topic. Which is more than a little cowardly, movie, but whatever. The upshot is, Jenny's in the crowd. She rushes over to greet him and the hug in the fountain while everybody cheers. That night they go to a Black Panther party, where Jenny's douche hippie boyfriend slaps her. Forrest whales on the dude, and the Black Panthers kick them both out. Forrest begs Jenny to go back to Alabama with him, but she says she can't. She leaves with the dickbag hippie the next day.
In the meantime, Forrest learns that he has a natural affinity for ping pong, just like he did for running. The army decides he's best served as PR rather than as a grunt back in Vietnam. After a game, he happens to stumble upon Lt Dan. Dan is angrier than before, with long hair and a beard. He's an alcoholic living on welfare and in squalor. Forrest takes all this in stride. He becomes the national champion best ping pong guy whatever thing, and it's time to go to the White House. Again. And meet the President. Again. President Nixon recommends Forrest stay at a nice hotel called Watergate, and that night Forrest happens to witness five men with flashlights looking for something. Wah-wah.
Finally, the war is over. Forrest goes back home to Momma, who immediately pimps him out as a ping pong paddle spokesman. He earns 25,000 dollars for the commercial, which he spends on a boat to start his shrimping company. Lt Dan shows up, to Forrest's delight, and agrees to be his first mate. They have no success at shrimping until a hurricane comes and destroys every other boat in the area but theirs. God is just kind of mean sometimes. After not dying in the hurricane, Lt. Dan and God come to some kind of understanding and Dan learns to let go of the bitterness.
Forrest becomes hugely successful as a shrimp boat captain, becomes a millionaire, goes on the Dick Cavett show with John Lennon, inspires the lyrics to Imagine, and is generally set for life. Momma dies from cancer, but has the grace to do it off-camera.
So Jenny comes back to fuck things up for Forrest again. She's utterly broken and depressed, and of course Forrest is just thrilled to see her, and invites her to live in his and Momma's old house with him. They live there for a time, until one night Forrest abruptly proposes to her. She turns him down gently, but Forrest is still depressed. To make it up to him, she sneaks into his bed, tells him she loves him, has sex, and then leaves the following morning before he wakes up. Jenny sucks out loud.
Forrest wakes up the next day, and starts running. He doesn't stop at the end of the driveway, the street, the town, or the state. He runs from one coast to the other and then back again. He acquires a following, a bunch of people who run with him, wanting to know what he's running for. He inspires one man to create the slogan "SHIT HAPPENS" and another to create the smiley-face "Have a Nice Day" T-shirts. Finally, after three years of running, Forrest has processed his grief enough and stops. He decides to go home. His fellow runners are confused, and don't know what to do.
Back at the bus stop, it's present day. Forrest is talking to a different lady than before. She's really engaged in the story. Forrest reveals that he's here today waiting for the bus because Jenny wrote him a letter saying she wanted to see him. He gives the lady the address, and she tells him it's only six blocks away, and he needn't take the bus. He runs off, thanking her.
He arrives at Jenny's apartment. She's looking quite together, and even has a job. Oh, and a kid. Named Forrest. After his dad. Forrest Gump. Forrest is stunned. His lips trembling, he asks Jenny "is he...like me...or is he...?" "He's very smart, Forrest", Jenny assures him. Forrest gasps with relief and blinks back tears. By far the most effective moment in the movie. Jenny then tells Forrest she has a virus and is dying. She needs Forrest to raise little Forrest Jr as if he were his own kid. Uh, I mean, because he totally is his own kid.
Jenny dies from AIDS and courteously as Momma died from cancer, and Forrest and his son are left alone.
Forrest takes little Haley Joel to the bus stop for his first day of school. He gives Forrest Junior his old Curious George book. The metaphor falls out. Forrest Junior gets on the bus, waves goodbye to his dad. Forrest waves back. The metaphor floats back up into the sky, and we leave this strange fever dream world behind.
Review: I didn't catch this movie at the theatres. I saw it about six months or so after, on VHS, after hearing for six months non-stop about how it was the best movie ever in the history of cinema. When I finally watched it, I thought it was fine, but was in no way bowled over. And then of course, it beat out Pulp Fiction for the Oscar, and I became enraged, and my earlier "not bad" assessment turned into "fuck that movie!". I hadn't seen it since 1994 until last night, and this time around I liked it a lot more. It really is more satirical than sincere. At first viewing, I cringed a bit at the ridiculous coincidences and the corny jokes ("imagine there's no Heaven, it's easy if you try"), and thought the movie was trying way too hard. But I see now that that was the joke. Unlike in many movies, Forrest didn't really have any special Retarded Person Magic Knowledge. He was just living his life like everyone else, and it was the other people in the story who imbued that Magic Knowledge onto him. Lt Dan screams at Forrest, "What do I do now?!" and Forrest has no answer. Forrest was asleep and just wants to go to bed. The runners at the end of the movie think Forrest is running for some deep and symbolic purpose, but he's just running because he's sad about Jenny. They're the ones who have fallen for the movie cliche, but the movie itself has not. I really enjoyed how we were always encouraged to see the world through Forrest's eyes, which is why Vietnam didn't really seem all that bad, and Jenny's father was just a little mean, and Lt Dan was just a bit grumpy, and those men in the Watergate Hotel just were playing a game with flashlights. Every horrific moment was constantly being downplayed and given a light touch.
And of course, the movie also plays it totally straight much of the time, telling just a very simple story about a simple man who accidentally inspires those around him. Lt Dan really does have it out with God and make peace with Him, and the movie doesn't wink at that.
And then there's the extremely frustrating Jenny, who uses and abuses Forrest at every turn. I hated her in 1994 and I still hate her now, thought I must admit I understand her a bit more this time around. There but for the grace of God, and all that.
I don't think the movie would be what it is without Tom Hanks, finally. He makes the movie and creates a character so indelible and perfectly realized. It's impossible to imagine anyone else doing the role better, or even half as well. Tom Hanks deserved the Oscar, and it's this movie where he cemented himself as one of the greats, I believe.
Stars: Four and a half out of five. (Can't do it. Can't give it the same rating as Fiction).
Next, "In the Heat of the Night" and "Silence of the Lambs." Yum!
Friday, June 3, 2011
Plot summary (with spoilers): Real life footage of Nixon on the floor of Congress. The entirety of the House of Representatives, his cabinet, and assembled guests rise to their feet and applaud boisterously at his entrance. Jack Nicholson's in the front row with those shades. Billy Crystal and Bruce Villanch are backstage coming up with some crazy one-liners. Nixon beams from ear to ear, even though he's even though he is a crook and a criminal, because he is a sociopath. Fade out.
Some time earlier, some hoodlums are caught breaking into the Watergate Hotel, at the DNC Headquarters. They're arraigned in court. Devastatingly handsome Washington Post reporter Bob Woodard is dispatched from his newspaper to check out the arraignment. (He would never need to offer me a million, I'll tell you what). He finds it fishy that the common criminals have a high-priced lawyer at the ready to defend them. He wonders if they're more than common criminals and perhaps they were trying to bug the DNC headquarters. Ooh. Watergategate!
A source at the jail calls Woodward and tells him that "Howard Hunt--W House" was found in the address book of one of the criminals. Sneaky. Is that a Wishing House? A Wine House? A Wintercoat House? So many possibilities! Woodward's not only prettier than me, but much smarter, and calls the White House and learns that Howard Hunt works closely with Charles Colson, Special Counsel to the White House. He calls Howard Hunt and asks him why his name was in the address book? Howard says "Good God!" and hangs up immediately. Howard shouldn't play poker. Eventually, they learn Hunt used to work for Charles Colson and also the CIA. Woodward asks the White House rep what exactly Hunt did at the White House and they volunteer that there's no way Hunt had anything to do with the break in. Sheesh.
There's a lot of investigating and names being thrown about, and then Bernstein gets involved. They Meet Cute when Bernstein takes Woodward's copy and rewrites it on some sort of computer keyboard that doesn't have a monitor. Woodward likes Bernstein's moxie and they start working together.
They go to a place with lots and lots of books and archived newspapers and stuff. Near as I can tell, it's like some kind of real-life version of google. I don't know. The seventies were weird.
Woodward then decides it's time to call his favorite source, the enigmatic Deep Throat. Deep Throat will only meet in secrets and shadows in an undercover parking garage. He asks Deep Throat to give him more info on Watergate. Deep Throat won't tell him what he knows, he'll only tell him if he's on the right track or not. He tells Woodward to "follow the money". Deep Throat is a total drama queen.
Eventually, Woodward and Bernstein do more investigating and learn that the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP. Yes, that's what they actually called it) funneled money to the accounts of the five arrested guys. They run the story, despite their editors not liking that an anonymous source tipped them off to the investigation. They also think it's silly that Nixon would break the law when he was going to easily beat McGovern anyway. Indeed. What kind of paranoid lunatic would do such a thing?
A female co-worker who once dated a Nixon staff member gives Woodward and Bernstein the names of those who worked for CREEP. They go through a litany of former CREEP employees, looking for a lead. They eventually question Hugh Sloan Jr. Sloan was the CREEP treasurer. He says he's a Republican, but that what Nixon did was wrong. He admits that he and White House Chief of Staff Halderman engaged in a "ratfucking" campaign to discredit Democratic candidates. They feared that Edward Muskie would win the Democratic primary and wanted an easier opponent like McGovern, so they published a fake letter that they claimed Muskie wrote. It was called the Canuck Letter, and it was supposedly from Muskie and in it he said racist things about French-Canadians. This lost him the nomination, though the letter was later proven a forgery. I remind you, this is not fiction.
They publish this article and the White House issues a non-denial denial, attacking the paper, but not denying the story. Woodward and Bernstein press on.
Woodward meets up with creepy weirdo Deep Throat again. He tells him about "ratfucking" and wants to know if that's all there is to the story. Deep Throat says there's more, but won't say what. But Woodward has had it with Deep Throat's stupid games, and demands answers, dammit! Deep Throat finally admits that everyone all the way up to Nixon new about the "ratfucking" campaign and the break-in and the "entire intelligence community" helped. He leaves the garage, and Woodward walks back to his car in the dark, entirely spooked and for the first time wondering about his safety. Great scene.
TV footage of the Republican National Convention blare on in the foreground of the the Washington Post as Nixon accepts his nomination. In the background, Woodward and Bernstein are working hard, typing away on their monitor-less keyboards. We see a series of typed article headlines, that catch us up all the way to Nixon's resignation. Fade out. Whatever; Gawker and TMZ would've figured that shit out in half the time, and would've been way snarkier.
Review: Okay, so...abbreviated summary this time, for a couple reasons. A) I watched the movie a week ago, and didn't get a chance to write about it, so it's not fresh in my mind and B) It was really fucking confusing and complicated and mostly just had people talking a lot. I suppose it's commendable that the movie didn't talk down to the audience, and maybe I should be a little embarrassed that I needed to be talked down to so much, but damn. I guess I needed to know more than just the broad strokes of the whole Watergate scandal before going into this. I imagine in 1976, all the names and details were familiar to most people, so a lot of hand-holding and exposition weren't required.
The movie itself was intriguing, even when I was confused. I can scarcely wrap my head around the idea of Bush or Obama standing on the floor Congress and resigning because of some newspaper reporters. That must've been mind blowing to be alive at the time and watching that shit go down. Unfortunately, the movie doesn't really linger there. The typing montage at the end briefly discusses the missing tapes, Angew's resignation, the White House stonewalling, and eventually Nixon resigning all in about thirty seconds. Those are the scenes I really wanted to see, not Bernstein manipulating some politician's wife for info on ratfucking. Though I realize those scenes probably wouldn't have much of the dashing Bob Woodward in them.
The stuff we got, while undeniably interesting, was also a bit dry, and by rote. Almost no info was provided about anyone's private life. Woodward tells an interviewee late in the movie that he's a Republican. The news comes as a surprise, though thinking about it, he may have been lying to her. Who knows? The movie doesn't seem to think that's important, but to me it would give him credibility as someone seeking the truth rather than seeking to bolster an agenda. There's also some initial lip service in the beginning to how Bernstein and Woodward have different approaches to writing, and don't really get along, but we really never even see that. In the end, save for one awesome spooky scene with Woodward and Deep Throat at the end, it was almost like a documentary with actors. I think I would've liked a documentary more.
I think ultimately, the movie is the epitome of being something that is "of its time". If I weren't in diapers in 1976, I probably would've found it to be excellent. As it is, I can at least appreciate it.
Stars: Three out of five.
Next up, "Forrest Gump", (which I still haven't forgiven for beating Pulp Fiction, so be prepared) and then "In The Heat of the Night".