Brave Blog

Just Another Loogie Hocked On The Information Super-Highway!

Archive for the category “Movies & TV”

Reds or Of Love & Revolution

"When you separate a man from what he loves the most, what you do is purge what's unique in him, and when you purge what's unique in him, you purge dissent, and when you purge dissent, you kill the revolution and revolution IS dissent!"

“When you separate a man from what he loves the most, what you do is purge what’s unique in him, and when you purge what’s unique in him, you purge dissent, and when you purge dissent, you kill the revolution and revolution IS dissent!”

When Reds was released in 1981 I was 9 years old. I saw it in a theater with my parents. Taking a 9 year old to see a movie that is primarily about a radical journalist’s roll in The Russian Revolution is one of those things that I look back on wonder what the hell my parents were thinking. Given that also dealt with that journalist’s sexual relationship with his paramour/wife in a very frank way, I’m kind of stunned that Children Protective Services weren’t knocking on our apartment door to take me away to some foster home. I mean it wasn’t like there was explicit sexual content but the movie makes no bones about the fact Jack Reed and Louise Bryant were having sex. It is equally blunt about Bryant’s affair with Eugene O’Neil. But these are events that that help provide the overall tale of Jack Reed, an American who became a hero to Soviet Russia.

The tale of how Warren Beatty struggled to get Reds made is equally as interesting as movie’s protagonist. Beatty was looking to produce a story about Jack Reed. Beatty had been working on a script about Reed for a ten year period between 1966-1976. He brought on screenwriter Trevor Griffiths and towards the end writer Elaine May to help finish the final draft and by 1978 Beatty had taken his original title for the movie Comrades and morphed it into, what became, the final version of Reds. By all accounts, Beatty hadn’t even planned to be involved with the movie outside of producing it but trying to recruit Hollywood names to star and direct about an American Communist in a country that was on the cusp of making Ronald Reagan the 40th President of The United States. Beatty was making a movie that never would have gotten financed at any point between 1938-1975 based solely on anti-Communist paranoia, Cold War fear and a little thing like The House Un-American Activities Committee.

The thing about Reds is, you cannot take out the politics out of the movie because Jack Reed was a very political figure in both America and Russia. He went from being Journalist with pro-socialist leanings to to true believer of Communist Revolution. His friends included other socialists and anarchists like Emma Goldman and Max Eastman. It seems that Reds tries to get across the point there were to major loves in Reed’s life, his dedication to radicalism and his love for Louise Bryant. I mean Jack Reed was a man that touted some unpopular ideas, many would make the argument that his beliefs were “Un-American”. Reds does more to paint a picture of Reed as a man of principle, a man who stuck to his ideals. Not so much a total Communist as much as he was an Idealist. A man who knew that he could not remain an objective journalist if he was going to be true to himself. At the same time, the movie still manages to paint a picture of Reed as American through and through. He knew that the country of his birth was born from a revolution that shook off oppression but also understood that for there to be actual progress that a true “Revolution” is never ending because there is always some form of oppression or tyranny to rebel against. This was a man that was a man that was just as concerned with being home for Christmas as he was taking part in “the Glorious Revolution”.

Reed witnessed the October Revolution firsthand and wrote Ten Days That Shook The World so people the world over could understand the point of what was happening in Russia during October of 1917. By his own admission, Reed had ceased to be an objective reporter. His views on the Russian Revolution were not neutral and he admits to that in the preface of Ten Days That Shook The World.

“I tried to see the events with the eye of a conscientious reporter”, wrote Reed,yet in the struggles my sympathies were not neutral”. His sympathies and beliefs show that Reed tries to be honest in his chronicle and lets you know where he stood.

The first half of Reds is all about how Reed went from objective reporter to radical writer. It shows you how he met and fell in love with Louise Bryant and how both of them try to actually carve out their own little piece of the “American Dream”. Infidelities drive them apart but reporting on The Russian Revolution leads to them reuniting professionally and romantically. The first half of the movie also paints a portrait of how political thought and ideals were developing in America at the time (th early 1900s). Socialism, Communism and to a lesser extent Anarchism were still relatively new concepts that were being embraced by people from different backgrounds. These were politics that made pleas to the disenfranchised masses. Men, women, immigrants… all of them had a place for these as equals, or so they were told, with these philosophies. But Reds also reminds us that just because people may fight under the same banner, doesn’t mean they share the same ideas of how to achieve their goals. In the second half of the movie we are shown how the effects of World War I pro-war sentiment split the Socialist Party, leading to the formation of 2 different organizations seeking to be recognized as official branches of the Communist Party in Russia. We are exposed to the other truth of the Russian Revolution, about how those that took power waited for Vladimir Lenin’s physical state to deteriorate and twist the worker’s paradise into a the dictatorship it was going end being under Stalin. We see how Jack Reed, once a stalwart supporter of the Revolution, may have become disenchanted with it towards his final days. How that while the October Revolution was dramatic and important to history, what came after was not what was promised by any means.

Reds is also one of those epic movies that covers an epic series of events from history that demands it have an epic cast. On top of Betty taking up the mantle of Jack Reed there is Diane Keaton as Louise Bryant, a woman that was trying to not be hat society wanted a woman to be. Bryant as opinionated, artistic and outspoken. The fact that Keaton and Beatty were romantically involved before the movie and during its filming only adds ot their onscreen chemistry. There are stories that point to the fights between Beatty and Keaton on camera might be a bit to real, as the two split up not long after Reds was released. Then there is Jack Nicholson as Eugene O’Neill. Its one of those movies that remind you of how Nicholson can be. His O’Neill is a gruff asshole who speaks his mind, yet still a man that will help a friend when the friend needs it most. Then there is Maureen Stapleton, who plays Emma Goldman, revolutionary and anarchist, the first person to point out to Jack Reed that just because there isa revolution in Rusia, it isn’t necessarily the revolution it was meant to be. Everyone named was nominated for an Academy Award for acting, with Stapleton taking home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, but there are so many other faces that crop up. Gene Hackman as Jack Reed’s newspaper editor, Edward Herman as Max Eastman, Paul Sorvino as Labor Leader/Communist Louis Franzia. Hell if you blink then you’re probably going to miss someone. Its a loaded cast and they all come geard up with great performances.

In the end Reds is a love story. It is about Jack Reed and how he has to find balance between his wife, Louise Bryant, and his love for his own Idealism. It is abut how even a series of bloody, world changing events, cannot keep 2 people apart. Reds has one of those iconic moments in film, the train station scene between Jack Reed (played by Beatty) and Louise Bryant (played by Beatty’s then lover Diane Keaton). It is one of those scenes in movies that is etched in my mind. That image of 2 people, both in tatters, finally see each other again after the ordeals they have both been through to see one another again. The results of the Revolution around them, while important, matter less than the 2 people, embracing and holding onto one another for dear life because, at that moment, all that matters to them is each other.

Advertisements

I’m Kinda, Sorta Back… With a List No Less!

The Best Movie of 1933

The Best Movie of 1933

Hi, its been a long layoff, since last Autumn actually. I’ve been busy with “things”. Life is a tricky thing and my brain is even trickier. Between work and trying to get my life in order, blogging had to take a back seat. I still wrote, just not for my own site. Heck if you go to http://www.thug-geek.com you can check out some of the Anime articles I’ve written for that site. I’m not going to promise daily or even weekly updates to this site. Just an article now and again. I push myself to hard on the writing and my my brain goes on the fritz and then I can’t write for weeks or months at a time.

So for the first article back after a long hiatus is pretty simple. I’m a regular reader and poster at the Death Valley Driver Video Review Message Board. It’s pretty much been my online addiction since 1998. Well the other day someone asked people to post their favorite movies by year. He did so with his post and I thought it would be an interesting exersize. It wasn’t until I got to about 1937 on the list just how hard picking movies from any one year can be. Hell this dawned on me at 1937 and became damn near impossible to pick a favorite for 1939 (seriously, 1939 was a stacked year for classic cinema). So after much deliberation I got a list that span from 1939 to 2012. Some the picks are going to have you scratching your heads. Other picks you might feel are right on the money. Then there are going to be picks you probably have never heard of. Think about the movies you love and then see what year they came out and then you might realize the movie you thought was the best that year came out the same year as another great film. There are at least 2 ties for a year on this list. Seriously, those movies are so perfect that picking one over the other is simply not possible.

You’ll get my usual footnotes here but since the list works backwards from 2012, the first note comes up for 2004 and then goes backwards from there. So without further ado …

Brave Blog’s Best Movies By Year!

2012: Skyfall

2011: Midnight In Paris

2010: Inception

2009: Up In The Air

2008: Ai no Mukidashi (Love Exposure)

2007: No Country For Old Men

2006: Inside Man

2005: The Matador

2004: Layer Cake/Sideways1

2003: The Cooler

2002: Gangs of New York

2001: Spirited Away

2000: O Brother, Where Art Thou?

1999: The Iron Giant

1998: Saving Private Ryan

1997: L.A. Confidential

1996: Fargo

1995: The Madness of King George

1994: La Reine Margot

1993: Farewell My Concubine

1992: Unforgiven

1991: Beauty & The Beast

1990: Goodfellas

1989: Glory

1988: My Neighbor Totoro

1987: Moonstruck

1986: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

1985: Pale Rider

1984: The Terminator

1983: Trading Places

1982: Blade Runner

1981: Raiders of The Lost Ark

1980: The Empire Strikes Back

1979: Manhattan

1978: Animal House

1977: Annie Hall

1976: The Outlaw Josey Wales2

1975: Love and Death

1974: Blazing Saddles/The Godfather Part II3

1973: Enter The Dragon

1972: Sleuth4

1971: Shaft

1970: The Ballad of Cable Hogue

1969: The Wild Bunch

1968: The Lion In Winter

1967: In The Heat of The Night

1966: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

1965: The Spy Who Came In From The Cold

1964: Dr. Stranglove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb

1963: The Birds

1962: To Kill A Mockingbord

1961: Breakfast At Tiffany’s

1960: The Magnificent Seven

1959: Some Like It Hot

1958: The Defiant Ones

1957: The Bridge On The River Kwai

1956: The Searchers

1955: Mister Roberts

1954: Rear Window/The Seven Samurai5

1953: Julius Caesar

1952: The Quiet Man

1951: The African Queen

1950: Cyrano De Bergerac

1949: The Third Man6

1948: The Treasure of The Sierra Madre

1947: Gentleman’s Agreement

1946: Notorious

1945: Wonder Man

1944: Gaslight

1943: Casablanca

1942: My Favorite Blonde

1941: How Green Was My Valley

1940: The Philadelphia Story

1939: Mr. Smith Goes To Washington

1938: The Adventures of Robin Hood

1937: Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs7

1936: Modern Times

1935: Captain Blood

1934: The Thin Man

1933: Duck Soup

1 I adore Sideways and think it is woefully under-appreciated. But everyone and her Grandmother should watch Layer Cake. Its a great crime film.

2 Marathon Man is a very close second. Take a look at what came out in 1976 and its just a glut of great movies. You’ve got a film year that had The Outlaw Josey Wales, Marathon Man, Network and Rocky. You try and tell me its easy picking anyone of those over the other!

3 Sorry but this has to be a tie. Blazing Saddles is my favorite comedy of all time. But The Godfather Part II is like watching Francis Ford Coppola become a surgeon in the craft of cinematic storytelling. 1974 is dead heat because I will never be able to choose one over the other.

4 Look, I love The Godfather but Sleuth is a better constructed story and plays out much better thus making it more compelling to me.

5 The Seven Samurai is such an incredible movie, the fact that Rear Window came out the same year is so damn unfair!

6 I really wanted to put The Inspector General here but The Third Man is just that great!

7 Seriously, this remains the greatest animated movie ever made. The range of motion that was on display still has never been matched!

The Friends of Eddie Coyle: Because Great Movies Are Few & Far Between

A Masterpiece of The 70s!

Some Words From Brave Blog’s Chief Idiot: If you have ever checked the links I’ve provided for other sites on the right of screen you will see one for The Death Valley Driver Review Message Board. What started as a little forum for fans of pro-wrestling to congregate online and gripe about what they hated in pro-wrestling at that point in time, morphed into something so much more. Sure wrestling get talked up, a lot, but so do many other topics. Film is one of these things, from classics of the 30s & 40s, all the way to what got released last weekend. There are a lot of people on that message board that love the movies. There are those that watch and write up reviews for what has become The Death Valley Driver Video Review Movie Club. People volunteer for this and write about why the movie they selected is important to them and why why, at the very least, you should give the movie being discussed a try. I recently volunteered to write about a movie for the DVDVRMC. The movie I chose is no lightweight. So here I share with you my movie of choice

The Friends of Eddie Coyle is one of those movies that I had always heard other people talking about. Usually people slightly older than me who really liked films of the 70s. It was always on my “Must Watch List” but I never seemed to get around to it, as I can get easily distracted. Ironically what got me to finally sit down and choose to review it was the South Boston episode of No Reservations. When I was trying to figure out what movie to actually sit and talk about, that episode of Anthony Bourdain’s show was on and he adores the movie. I took that as a sign to sit and finally watch this movie. Every person who has ever mentioned the movie to me talks about how gritty it is and how it captures the feel of Boston in the 70s, especially the South Side.

The leads are guys who you can buy as being legitimately tough. Robert Mitchum has always had the tough guy aura about him dating back to the 50s He plays Eddie Coyle, a gun-supplier for small stick-up crews. The thing is, Eddie is on the verge of being sent away for a stretch for a botched hi-jacking. He is a guy that has been around the block. This isn’t “tough guy” Mitchum as you might be used to seeing. He even looks a little doughy, just further making you feel a sort of vibe that Eddie Coyle is a criminal but a working man’s criminal. Then you have Alex Rocco and Peter Boyle. Boyle is just so believable as Dillon, an old Irish fixer who sets up jobs for other low level crews. Boyle comes off as shrewd and tough, a little tough than Eddie is. Hell this movie made me scared to meet Peter Boyle in a dark alley, he just comes off so tough.

Alex Rocco is Jimmy Scalise, the leader of a crew of bank robbers that gets their gear from Eddie Coyle. The opening of the movie is Scalise essentially casing a bank for a future heist. Eddie Coyle gets the gear for the job from a local gunrunner named Jackie Brown. Jackie is played by Steven Keats, who just exudes this sort of sleaziness for the part. His vibe is totally different than Boyle’s (hard and scary) and Scalise’s (smart in the fact that he is a planner). You have all these guys all working for and against each other. Coyle pays Brown for guns, Scalise buys the guns from Coyle and hen everyone pays up to Dillon after everything is done. The thing is, everyone is looking to screw the other guy over at some point because no one trusts one another.

Why?

Because of this prick in the FBI named Dave Foley played by Richard Jordan. Foley wants Coyle to turn informer on the local Boston fixer. Coyle doesn’t know that Dillon, the fixer, is already informing for Foley. Coyle thinks he has an ace up his sleeve by being able to turn over Scalise and his crew but Dillon is already ahead of him on that. It ain’t like Foley is keeping quiet about it to Dillon for that matter. Its just a matter of who finds out they are getting fucked over first and who will pay for snitching in the end.

These aren’t spoilers. All of this is laid out in the movie. You know Dillon is informing, you know Coyle is trying to avoid going to jail so he is willing to sellout both Jackie Brown and Dillon. There I no mystery or big reveal. You are just watching it all play out and hope that somehow Eddie Coyle comes out ahead, even though deep down the odds are stacked against him.

I love Robert Mitchum in this movie so much. When he first comes onscreen and tells Steven Keats’ Jackie Brown about why he has nickname “Eddie Fingers”, you just get the vibe of Eddie Coyle right off the bat. He’s careful, but maybe hasn’t always been so. He’s on he verge of going to jail but is still gunrunning because he has a family to feed. He is a criminal but working criminal i.e. gunrunning is his forte but he really isn’t making money off of it. Robert Mitchum’s hound-dog face in this movie just sells Eddie Coyle even more. He is tough when he needs to be but he’d rather just do what he has to do and pray that the cops don’t bust him.

As much as I love Mitchum in this, the guy who just kills in this is Peter Boyle as Dillon . Dillon is a rat bastard, but his vibe is so contradictory at times. He is laid back but a hard ass. He gives Eddie an ear to bend about his legal troubles but isn’t above ratting him out to the feds. Peter Boyle comes off as tough in this because Dillon is sneaky bastard that has some authority and he didn’t get there by being nice. He is all business and his business is looking out for Dillon.

This is a movie I’m glad I finally watched. It is a true “Crime” movie, not a “Mob” movie. Hey I love The Godfather to death but it really is about how the upper crust of crime keep their hands clean. The Friends of Eddie Coyle is about people who are already too dirty simply based on their upbringing and surroundings. Eddie, Dillon, Scalise and even Jackie Brown don’t need their histories explored any further. They are South Side Boston and they know that the odds of them not being that anytime soon are against them. They just do what they do because it is what they know and to them, that is just the way it is. That’s just life.

I really loved this movie and am going to make as many friends of mine watch it as possible. Now I know why people talk about this movie. They do so because it is just that good.

“I shoulda known better than to trust a cop. My own goddamn mother coulda told me that.” – Eddie Coyle

The Steven Seagal Super Cinematic Spectacular: Out For Justice

The Horror, The Horror…

Out For Justice is probably the least of Steven Seagal’s early movies. If you stop and think about that, it really is quite the accomplishment. Seagal started fine with Above The Law and was doing fine with both Hard To Kill and Marked For Death. Those three movies form almost a perfect triangle of late 1980s action films by a rising action star. They aren’t really “great” movies but they are “good” movies given you know what you want from your low-grade action films from the time period. I mean there isn’t going to be some sudden rebirth of interest in Seagal’s early work or anything, these movies are pretty much on TV, be edited for TV broadcast or cable. The problem is after those 3 movies you get Out For Justice, which is almost the forgotten early Seagal movie. It is the movie which when you bring up Seagal movies in conversation, everyone forgets.1

Surely there has to be more of a reason than it is a bad movie. Right?

In actuality, no. It is the primary reason Out For Justice gets overlooked. It isn’t just bad, it has the distinction of being “That Bad”. Being “That Bad” is a rare feat in cinema, especially for a major release. A movie that is “That Bad” isn’t even watchable as camp. It just isn’t any damn good. I mean in all my years of watching movies only 2 other major studio releases have attained the “That Bad” status with me and both of them had Bill Cosby as a selling point2. The even more horrifying thign about Out For Justice is that it actually has a serviceable story and is chock-full of som pretty well known character actors, not the least of whom is Jerry Orbach, who obviously made this somehwere in-between taking Jennifer Grey to get an abortion in Dirty Dancing and spending 10 years delivering the zinger on Law & Order. Hell, William Forsythe is I nthis bad boy, doing what William Forsythe does best, playing an asshole you hoped gets killed off by the end of the film.

So what exactly brings this movie so far down that it has no redeeming entertainment vale? Who or what is responsible for this movie being this awful?

The answer, is… its star. This might be the worst bit of “acting” Steven Seagal has ever done. I mean like EVER!

It is one thing when Seagal plays a squint-eyed badass in Under Siege or Cop/Buddhist Monk in The Glimmer Man but when he decides to adopt a completely awful pseudo-New York Italian accent complete with Brooklyn wise-guy machismo, well then things are about as bad as you think they would be. Actually, they are much, much worse. This is compounded by Seagal speaking Italian on and off in a few scenes where he is chatting with actors playing Mafia Bosses and… man it is hard to believe that it can be any worse than it already is. Seagal’s performance feels like he hired an acting coach and the coach said “Hey, you really need to Guinea this guy up!”.

If this movie had starred anyone else, we might have gotten a half-decent police corruption movie, but instead Seagal plays Super-Guinea3 and pretty makes the movie a chore to watch. I mean it even ruins some of the better actions sequences of the movie. This might be the most violent movie Seagal had made up to this point. Hell the movie opens with him almost screwing-up an undercover operation so he can go beat-up a pimp. Yeah, Seagal is playing a cop again in this movie. This time he is playing Gino Farano, a somewhat loose cannon police detective from Brooklyn.

The basic set-up for the movie is that local hood Richie Madano, played by the always entertaining William Forsythe, guns down Gino’s partner Bobby Lupo on the street in broad daylight. Gino, Richie and Bobby all grew-up together in “The Neighborhood” but unlike Gino and Bobby, Richie opted to become a robber instead of a cop. The thing is, Richie is trying to make a name for himself in the Mafia but is totally going about it all wrong4. Hell the local “Mob Boss” pretty much wants Richie dead for being an all around douchebag, but he isn’t exactly going to help Gino find Richie either. Even the cops realize that trying to stop Gino from killing Richie is pointless, better to give him an unmarked car and a shotgun than, you know, put him in jail for his own good. Fuck one cop all but tells Gino to kill Richie “for us”. Hey, I get that any police force is a brotherhood and when one guy goes down all the cops want the killer caught but this shit is downright bloodthirsty. No wonder people living in NYC were terrified of the NYPD for so long5.

The thing is, as Gino hunts for Richie, he uncovers that his dead partner wasn’t nearly the family man and all around good cop everyone thought he was. Turns out Bobby was carrying on with Richie’s girlfriend and another woman. It gets worse as Gino learns Bobby was a dirty cop and that Richie killed Bobby after Bobby’s wife Laurie found out about Bobby’s “indiscretions” and passed the information to Richie. So basically, everyone in this movie is emotionally fucked-up on some level. You got the dead cop who wanted to be a gangster, you have a crazed gangster who is defying both the police and the mob and you’ve got a jilted wife who really hasn’t considered the consequences of her actions. This movie is the template for every episode of The Jerry Springer Show that you have ever watched, the difference being that instead of trailer park cousins having affairs with one another, it is some pretty messed Italians from Brooklyn.

Now this movie is not Infernal Affairs. Shit this movie isn’t even Police Academy6. The rest of the movie plays out exactly how you expect an action movie with Steven Seagal to play out. Gino tracks down Richie, kills all of Richie’s goons and then beats the living fuck out of him before killing him. A nice twist is that after the deed is done the Mafia shows up and Gino lets them take the credit for the kill, you know, for appearances sake. But that my friends, is not the punchline to the movie. No, see early in the movie Gino watches a guy throw a black plastic trashbag onto the street from a moving car. Gino stops to investigate and discovers a dog inside of the bag. Gino rescues the dog, while swearing that he’ll find the guy that did this terrible crime. He does this while he is on his intense manhunt for Richie. So after finding and killing Richie, Gino and his family are out in the park taking the pooch for a walk and, of course, the guy that threw the dog out of the car shows up. Gino beats the fuck out of the guy and that is that. The movie is over… well not quite, the dog gets his revenge by pissing on the guy’s face.

Classy!

Out For Justice is a movie I cannot recommend to anyone. It is a dreadful little revenge flick and the story just seems like it takes elements from other cop films and mashes them together. I mean, how could Gino not know his partner/best friend was dirty? Especially since it seems everyone else knew about it. How could the Mafia let a loose cannon like Richie operate that way? Hell, Gino’s relationship with the Mafia is downright chummy as a cop basically declares a truce with the mob to hunt down one crack smoking ass-hole that killed a cop. Gino pretty much absolves Bobby of any guilt in his own death by still going out and killing Richie in cold blood. This movie is just one giant racial slur of a movie against Italian-Americans. For fuck sake, I’m Jewish and I’m offended by the sheer stereotype of how Italians in Brooklyn are portrayed7. Oh sure, it tries to excuse its defamation by an Arthur Miller quote at the opening of the movie about how different parts of Brooklyn had their own culture and vibe depending where in Brooklyn you were but that is just a smokescreen.

Out For Justice was Steven Seagal’s last small movie before Under Siege. It was also a moderate hit, opening number one at the box office its first week of release. It was Seagal’s third straight number one. The film was originally given an NC-17 rating for its graphic violence and had to be recut in order to get an R Rating for a wide release. The movie has a lot of small parts played by actors that would go on to better things down the road, like Gina Gershon, Juliana Margulies and even Dominic Chianese before he was Uncle Junior on The Sopranos. Still, the movie is terrible. Seagal’s earlier films were just as violent but more entertaining. Hell, he was somehow more believable just being himself in Above The Law than when h tried to be a “character” in Out For Justice. But it was the strength of his first four movies hat allowed him to be cast for a real big budget action movie in Under Siege and that movie is one of the last great action movies of the glory days of action movies. So go watch Out For Justice… no wait, scrap that. Unless you rally area glutton for punishment avoid Out For Justice at all costs. Just stick with Seagal’s first three movies to see him evolve as an action star and you should be alright.

In The Criminal Justice System, The Guy On The Right Doesn’t Let The Guy On The Left Anywhere Near A Case~!

1It happens, people do casually talk about Seagal films, I promise you they do!

2The horrors of Leonard Part 6 and Ghost Dad haunt me to this day!

3Please be aware, I’ not using the term “Guinea” denigrate anyone but Steven Seagal. My use of the word is to give you an idea of just how over the top and awful Seagal is in this thing.

4What with the gunning down a cop in broad daylight and then following that up by shooting an innocent woman in cold blood at an intersection because she had asked him to move his car.

5Just ask Abner Louima about how terrifying the NYPD can be!

6If it were, the bar fight in this movie would’ve been at “The Blue Oyster” and made the movie a little bit entertaining.

7Actually I’m more offended that the movie takes place in Brooklyn and not one Jew is seen or referenced at all! If Brooklyn is one thing, it is ethnically diverse.

The Steven Seagal Super Cinematic Spectacular: Marked For Death

I Swear Seagal Has Used The “Silhouette” Movie Poster More Than any Other Star!

Marked For Death is a bit of a quandary of a movie for me. It really isn’t that horrible of a movie. In fact it is just as watchable as Above The Law, albeit for entirely different reasons. Marked For Death is infinitely more violent though and it isn’t exactly like Above The Law was exactly some G Rated Disney film. Marked For Death is also a bit more easy to summarize, since the summary is “Steven Seagal fights drug dealing Jamaican posses”. It is an insanely fun movie to watch though, as it pretty much abandons the complex, yet at times, convoluted storytelling ofAbove The Law and Hard To Kill, opting for a more straightforward action movie story. It kinda makes you wish Steven Seagal lived in your suburb so he could beat the crap out of the drug dealing Jamaicans in it1.

This is not to say that Marked For Death is not convoluted. It is insanely crazily convoluted. I mean an ex-DEA agent gets sucked into a a drug war with the local Jamaican posse. Luckily he’s got the local High School football coach, Max, backing him up. Thank God the coach is played by Keith David, giving us at least one familiar character actor to carry this thing. Well since Seagal’s ex-DEA guy, the surprisingly average named John Hatcher2, is trying to clean-up his local Chicago suburb the Jamaicans mark him for… wait for it… DEATH!

The Jamaicans don’t play fair either, like the Mafia or Yakuza would. No sir, they don’t believe in civilians and go after Hatcher’s family too, including his wife played by Elizabeth Gracen before she became the go to romantic interest Amanda on Highlander: The Series3. The death mark in question is issued by the Jamaican Posse’s leader and chief Hougan/Witch Doctor, Screwface. Screwface has seemingly started a massive push to take control of the Chicago drug trade and now all that stands in his way is Seagal and Keith David. Along the way this erstwhile dynamic duo get intel from Charles, an ex-Jamaican Cop who now plies his trade in Chicago. Screwface and his posse have been Charles’ pet peeve stretching back nearly 5 years.

So n ow, Hatcher, Coach Max and Charles buy themselves a fuckton of guns and head for Jamaica to take out Screwface. The only person who can help them is one of Screwface’s girlfriends, who tells them how to find him but to be careful “For the Screwface has two heads and four eyes”. Along the way, Max has his views on Jamaican’s changed as Charles takes him on a tour of Kingston, Jamaica to show him the poverty there. Max had only viewed the people of Jamaica as either stoned Rastas or drug dealers, but when he sees the poverty firsthand he gets a better grasp of just how little there is in the way of work there and just how many are suffering. Screwface dealing drugs in Jamaica only makes matters worse, as it creates drug addicts that won’t work even if they had jobs.

Hatcher and his boys stage a daring raid of Screwface’s estate, all culminating in a big showdown between Hatcher and Screwface and one badass decapitation. Hatcher and company take Screwface’s head back to Chicago4 and march into the local Posse’s hangout to show them proof that Screwface is dead. This backfires as a seemingly intact Screwface murders Charles. Turns out Screwface is a set of identical twins who ran their drug empire collectively, thus giving the appearance that Screwface could be in 2 places at once. So we get Hatcher versus Screwface round 2, which ends exactly how you want ti to, with a punny quip from Hatcher5. Thus ends the saga of John Hatcher, thank God!

Make no mistake, Marked For Death is totally the big dumb action movie you think it is but thee is some subtle social commentary in there and not just in the parts filmed in Kingston. Jamaican’s were making aggressive moves into the American drug trade in the late 80 and early 90s. Most police forces were having to deal with the new Caribbean gangs like the Jamaicans and Haitians, who were far more ruthless than the Italian Mafia at the time. New York and Chicago both had Jamaican Posse problems, that slowly got curtailed6. American Cops had not seen such blatant disregard for the law and that level of violence7. The Jamaican Posses got off the streets for he most part and scaled back to mostly supplying.

The interesting part of this movie really is the 5 minutes that Charles, played by Tom Wright, breaks down the social and economic plights of what seemed to be most of Jamaica. Its a shame that this wasn’t delved into a bit more, but what is provided paints a very bleak fate for Jamaica and its citizens. There is far less law enforcement can do in Jamaica because the cops either don’t have the resources to stop the drug trafficking or are just plain corrupt. At least that was case in the late 1980s. It would be interesting to see either a sequel or remake of Marked For Death now, to see if the situation has gotten any better or much worse. Believe it or not this is neither the first nor last movie that Seagal made with something resembling a political message. Above The Law was the first one as it dealt with the CIA’s connection to drug trafficking. On Deadly Ground, well that is just one giant “Fuck the oil industry” movie mixed with “Man, the white man really fucked over the Native Americans” sentiment8. I’m sure there are a few other Seagal movies out there with hidden political subtext, but honestly is anyone watching his more recent stuff to care?

Marked For Death is a pretty fun movie overall. Its worth a watch on Netflix, hell it is even worth buying out of the under $3 bin at your local Wal-Mart. Part of me really would like to see a remastered Blu-Ray of this movie, complete with a Seagal commentary track. For some reason, I want to know this guy thinks. I mean maybe he is deeper than we give him credit for, what with his being a former incarnation of the Buddha and all. But really, I want to know about his thoughts on the political sub-text of this movie. Did he, the director and the screenwriter share the same views on the plight Jamaica and the drug trade? Well shit, now I really do want a deluxe edition DVD of this movie!

Of course none of the political sub-text is needed for Seagal’s next cinematic venture. A movie that borders somewhere between a parody of cop film and revenge movie, yet simultaneously is one of the most mean-spirited, violent movies I’ve ever watched.

1Not that this is really a huge problem where I live or anything. I mean I live in an urban area and I’ve yet to be hassled by drug dealing Jamaicans. Now drug dealing white kids who are trying to be the next Eminem? Those I got in spades!

2An average name compared to Hard To Kill’s insanely named Mason Storm

3Not that is a bad thing, since Amanda was pretty much the most entertaining recurring character on that show, just not entertaining enough to carry her own show.

4Imagine getting that thing through customs!

5“I hope they weren’t triplets!”

6In no small part to the Russian Mob moving in and showing the Caribbean gangs what real ruthlessness was.

7Los Angeles might be the only exception to that, as LA was a completely different type of war on drugs than New York or Chicago. Crack was slowly taking over entire chunks of the LA ghetto one neighborhood at a time.

8I’m not saying the Native American didn’t get screwed, I’m just saying On Deadly Ground is really heavy handed about it, even more heavy handed than Billy Jack!

Next Time… Law & Order… errrr… I mean OUT FOR JUSTICE~!

The Steven Seagal Super Cinematic Spectacular: Hard To Kill

More Fun Than Bad But Still Not Good

If Above The Law was a credible debut for Steven Seagal, then Hard To Kill was the movie that made it clear he wanted to be something of a challenger to Stallone and Schwarzenegger for box office glory. There was enough buzz around Seagal because Above The Law performed so well for a movie starring a relative unknown. Above The Law opened in wide release at #8 its opening weekend. The number one movie in North America that week was Beetlejuice and the rest of the top 10 is pretty impressive featuring movies like Moonstruck, Biloxi Blues and a re-release of Disney’s The Fox & The Hound. Opening at number 8 with that kind of competition is damn impressive. Hard To Kill opened at number one at the box office the week it was released in February of 1990, supplanting Driving Miss Daisy to claim the spot1. If Above The Law was Steven Seagal meekly saying “here I am” then Hard To Kill was Steven Seagal yelling at Hollywood “HERE I AM!”.

Hard To Kill is not nearly as good as Above The Law from a story perspective. We have gone from an Ex-CIA operative turned cop getting involved corrupt CIA conspiracies to a cop who gets put in a coma by his enemies, only to wake up 7 years later wanting revenge. That right there is whole plot of the movie. Sure, there is whole thing about how the man villain is a corrupt U.S. Senator wrapped up in criminal activity but do you really care? I mean Hard To Kill is the most basic movie plot there is. It is about revenge plain and simple. T really is not complicated. Yes there are other minor plot threads to make you care more about Seagal’s ludicrously named protagonist, like dragging his now teenage son into the whole mess of revenge. Sure the kid wants revenge as well, I mean the bad guys killed his mother and sister after all. But really on the scale of ludicrous action movie stories this doesn’t rate as completely ridiculous, at least not as much as say your average Chuck Norris movie2.

The thing is Hard To Kill has such an insanely ludicrous story, that the only real reason to watch it is solely for the action sequences. Above The Law had some great action and served as a kind of introduction to Seagal’s brand of Aikido. Hard To Kill throws the low key introduction out the window and just gives us Seagal just flat out beating the living crap out of people and randomly breaking their limbs. It is a violent movie, one of those R rated action movies that people want to go see in the early Spring because by that point they are so sick of re-released Oscar contenders that watching a motherfucker break another motherfucker’s arm in 3 places is sort of a cathartic release after months upon months of movies that are specifically bred to be Oscar bait3. Make no mistake, Hard To Kill is most assuredly NOT Oscar bait. It is essentially the antithesis of an Oscar bait movie. I mean, I’m sure if they released a movie where Jessica Tandy plays a cop awakening from a 7 year coma bent on getting revenge on those who put her in that coma through the power arm-breaking Aikido during Oscar Bait Season people and critics would go see it4 and probably praise her performance for showing such depth and range.

All kidding aside, Hard To Kill is not a terrible movie by any means. It is light on story and heavy on the action, which pretty much becomes the basic formula for every Seagal movie from this point forward. The plot is tissue paper thin but as a person who has to watch the movie you don’t care. This is not Shakespeare, shit it isn’t even a bad Tony Scott movie5. You are watching this movie for the action. You are watching this movie for the violence. You are watching this movie for Kelly LeBrock!

Ah yes, Kelly LeBrock, the model turned actress that inspired many a teenaged boys first erection when hey got to see Weird Science for the first time. The thing about Weird Science was that Kelly LeBrock was playing a character that was in control. She was the one that steered the movie and really made it fun. She kind of had the same role in The Woman In Red to a lesser extent. Unlike in those movies, here she plays damsel in distress. She is the nurse that is on duty when Seagal’s Mason Storm6 comes out of his coma. She then ends up helping him with his recovery so he can get out of his wheelchair, all in the name of revenge and limb-breaking justice. Remember what I said a few sentences back about how Kelly LeBrock was the one that steered Weird Science and drove the story? This is definitely not the case here. In Weird Science she was funny and charming as hell. Hard To Kill gives a Kelly LeBrock devoid of any with or charm. She is simply a broom shaped like Kelly LeBrock, simple window dressing whose sole purpose is to be the pretty nurse that Mason Storm uses to help him get over his murdered wife. I know if I were married and in a coma for 7 years and suddenly came to that I’d spend my time grieving my murdered wife by plugging away at Kelly LeBrock. Well, Kelly LeBrock in 1990 at least. Of course the Seagal/LeBrock romance was going on during filming of the movie as well and Seagal and LeBrock ended up married for almost 10 years and 3 children.

So what exactly do we take away from Hard To Kill?

Well for starters, Steven Seagal in 1990 had officially “arrived”. He took a low grade, ludicrous action movie and turned that into box office gold. Hard To Kill gave Seagal access to better scripts and better production values. These are things that happen when you go from “Future Action Star” to “Bankable Action Star”. Its safe to say if Hard To Kill had bombed then both Marked For Death and Out For Justice would not have done as well, with latter possibly not being made at all. It is the success of Seagal’s first four movies that allowed him to get to play with the big boys when Under Siege was dropped in his lap. The thing is, of the first 4 movies Seagal made Hard To Kill has this terrible story yet somehow the movie is still entertaining and engrossing. This movie should be just Goddamn awful yet isn’t. It just might be one of the best examples of the movies as escapist fantasy I can think of. Really, no intelligent person should watch Hard To Kill and come out happy that they just sat through it but I can’t think of one person that doesn’t like it when you talk about Seagal movies. I don’t even hate this movie. It is one of those great action movies that don’t get made anymore, in the fact that Hollywood felt that action movies need to have more stuff blowing up all the time7. Here Seagal and Director Bruce Malmuth give nothing but gunplay and Martial Arts and make a pretty good little action movie out of it.

So go watch Hard To Kill. I think you’re going to realize it isn’t totally awful. Personally, I don’t like it nearly as much as I like Above The Law but it is still a movie you can sit down and watch with friends and have a good time with. Of Seagal’s first four movies it is probably my thrid favorite. When next w continue the Steven Seagal Super Cinematic Spectacular I’ll talk about Seagal’s amazingly fun and equally violent Marked For Death, a movie that is almost as ludicrous as Hard To Kill but so much more fun for all the wrong reasons!

.

Coming Soon: Marked For Death~!

1 Driving Miss Daisy reclaimed the #1 spot the following week. Hard To Kill remained in the top 10 for 7 more weeks.

2 I maintain that outside of Way of the Dragon and The Octagon, Chuck Norris has NEVER made a good movie. Hell in one of those 2 movies I just named he is in it for less than 20 minutes as basically the guy who shows up to get his ass kicked by Bruce Lee.

3 Seriously, Oscar Bait Season runs from the middle of October until Christmas Day every year. That isn’t to say we don’t get some good movies out of it but a lot of them are released at that point in the year to prime us for the onslaught of movie critics awards, the Golden Globes and then the Oscars.

4 Forget the fact that Jessica Tandy died in 1994. If she were doing violent Aikido based action movies you would totally go see it. Fuck, I’d totally go see it!

5 Make no mistake Tony Scott has made some fucking awful Goddman movies. We forgive him because he made Top Gun, True Romance and Crimson Tide.

6 Mason Storm? REALLY? Who names their child this? I mean the movies are supposed to be escapist fanttasy but this shit is inexcusable for a character in a movie from 1990!

7 Even Seagal is guilty of this as when he directed On Deadly Ground his attitude seemed to become “Bigger is better”.

The Amazing Spider-Man or Does Whatever A Spider Can

“Nobody Knows Who You Are…”

There are those times when I am determined to hate a movie before I actually see it. Most of the time it is warranted cause the movie looks pretty inane, uninteresting or just all around bad. Even if I do eventually see it after its run in theaters, rarely am I proven wrong about those movies as they are exactly what I imagine them to be. This doesn’t only apply to movies, it happens with Television shows, comic and books alike. Sometimes it is the insistence of other people telling me how great something is that leads to my not liking it even more. Insistence breeds contempt in me, it is like someone telling me I “Have” to like something and by saying that I feel as if they are trying to take away my right to decide for myself whether it is good or not1. This brings us to the reboot of the Spider-Man film franchise.

I really was predisposed to not liking this movie before I saw it. I had a genuine problem with re-booting the entire mythology after only 10 years and 3 movies2. For some reason this whole idea just made me angry and honestly, there are much more worthwhile things to be angry about. Then more details started trickling out about the reboot. The movie was going to re-tell Spider-Man’s origin, they hired someone that couldn’t be further from being Peter Parker to play Peter Parker and they hired Marc Webb to direct. The last item there shouldn’t have bothered me so much since Marc Webb directed (500) Days of Summer a movie that I absolutely loved. Yet my nerd-rage was clouding my need to be objective about the reboot. Then all the rumors about the story started to get tossed about like Peter Parker was going to be a mutant whose powers are activated by the spider biting him, the character of Dr. Curt Connors had been changed from his comic origin to being a total screwball mad scientist trying to conquer the world and even the utterly ludicrous “Spider-Man is going to be in The Avengers so they can set-up this movie”3. Then the first pictures of the new Spider-Man costume came out and I was horrified. “They can’t be serious” I thought, “This has to be a joke”. It was no joke. The Spider-Sneakers, the alteration to the line of the costume, all of it was true. After seeign that costume my aforementioned nerd-rage was going into full overload.

I saw the first trailer for the movie when I went to go see The Avengers and that did nothing to calm my fears. The trailer looked terrible. “Peter Parker is not a dark brooding skater” I cried. “The Lizard looks terrible” I bemoaned. “They made Hawkeye out to be a chump”… oh wait that was one of my major complaints about The Avengers4. The trailer was a bust. Things were not shaping-up well for The Amazing Spider-Man5. Finally the day came I went to go see The Amazing Spider-Man. I went to see it with my significant other because she really wanted to see it. I cannot say no to this girl. I mean what else were we going to see? She already saw me cry when we went to see Brave.

I saw The Amazing Spider-Man.

Shockingly, I liked The Amazing Spider-Man. To be more precise, like doesn’t really cover my feelings about The Amazing Spider-Man. I LOVED The Amazing Spider-Man. Marc Webb made a completely entertaining movie where I had little to complain about. The alteration to the costume? Spidey is moving around so much that it is barely noticeable and when he is moving around he looks like what you expect Spider-Man to look like moving around. Andrew Garfield plays Peter Parker with just the right amount of “nerd” factor, an element which never really came across in Tobey Maguire’s version of Peter. Rhys Ifans plays a very sympathetic man in Dr. Curt Connors, a man who really does want to help humanity with his ideas and research but gets put in one of those positions that any major research scientist gets put into when he gets in bed with a major conglomerate6. Then there is good old Dennis Leary, who for once decides not to play a movie character as himself. Leary is pretty damn great as Captain George Stacy, playing him as a policeman that really does believe in the law and sees Spider- as someone who is, in a way, mocking what he does for a living. I could write tomes on how great Emma Stone is as Gwen Stacy, I mean Gwen was always Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s exemplification of the perfect girl next door7 and Stone hits every aspect of that in her portrayal. All of these actors pretty much hit the nail on the head in making you relate to them. Hell all that and you get Martin Sheen and Sally field being the best damn surrogate mother and father a guy could want!

Then my friends, there is the story. This is the best “Comic Book Story” made into a movie. I mean I love The Dark Knight to death but it isn’t exactly one of those Batman stories you might pick-up written by Denny O’Neil and drawn by Neal Adams or Jim Aparo. It doesn’t have that sense of wonder and adventure. The Avengers not only doesn’t feel like a good comic book story, the movie itself spent way too much time trying to be a blockbuster it kind of forgot to have any sort of real story at all. The Amazing Spider-Man not only feels like a good Comic Book Story, it feels like a great Spider-Man story written by Stan Lee. That more than anything is what I want from a Spider-Man movie. Sam Raimi was able to do this in the first 2 movies with Spidey he made and Marc Webb does it here. You’ve got Spider-Man 8 locked in mortal combat with a crazd villain while fate of everyone living in New York City hangs in the balance. Peter Parker is doing this while dealing with the death of his uncle, trying to get along with his girlfriend’s father and trying not to make his Aunt worry about him all at the same time. That right there is EVERY Spider-Man story Stan Lee wrote for the first 60 issues of The Amazing Spider-Man9 comic book. What the fuck more could you possibly want from a movie called The Amazing Spider-Man?

This was a fun movie, you should see it. It is fun, full of action and proof that a good comic book story can be told on the screen. It made me remember that I need to stop judging things before I actually see them.10 It made me remember that I love Spider-Man on the same level that I love Superman, Batman and Uncle Scrooge. The Amazing Spider-Man is one of the reasons I love both movies and comic books and always will. Pu the Raimi movies out of your head when you see it. To compare those movies with this one is not fair at all because if you sit there and complain about how Raimi did it better you really will be missing one of the best interpretations of Spider-Man ever and one of the best movies of the Summer. Take a kid11 with you and make him fall in love with Spider-Man the way only a little boy can fall in love with a comic book character.

 

Until Next Time, Peter & Gwen Should Stay Off The Brooklyn Bridge!

1 This happens with almost every new television or movie project associated with Joss Whedon. Lord how I have come to loathe Firefly.

2 Of course after how awful Spider-Man 3 was I guess I can’t blame Sony for wanting a clean break from the Sam Raimi directed franchise.

3 I started hearing that last rumor way back in 2011 from several people and I had to explain to them that unless Paramount and Sony were giving each other some serious handjobs then there was no way that was going to happen.

4 I had one friend declare The Avengers his favorite movie of all time. My rebuttal was simply he needed to see some actual great movies.

5 Ironically, one of the 2 things about the movie I liked before seeing it was the title.

6 This only happens in comics and the movies, so this being a movie based on a comic kind of damned poor Doc Connors.

7 Smart, Sexy, Funny, Caring and Understanding: Gwen Stacy was all of these things and more.

8 The look of The Lizard might be my only gripe about the whole movie.

9 Seriously it is EVERY great Spider-Man story Stan Lee has ever written and it always works!

10 Not entirely likely, I’m an old dog and too tired for new tricks.

11 Preferably your own kid or kids but if you don’t have any kids surely you’ve got friends with at least one you can take with you!

Manhattan or Hope Through Heartbreak

[Note From The Author: I am not giving up on the Seagal movie analysis, its just man some of those movies are really brutal to sit through and I don’t mean the violence man. Some of those movies really suck. The following piece was started several months ago and I just finished it this evening. Yeah, I’m a Woody Allen fan…]

After my little headfirst dive with Annie Hall, the need to watch more Woody Allen films kind of slowly crept up on me. There was a period of a few weeks where I had no interest in watching anything by Allen for quite a bit. As much as I love most of his films, I really needed to sit back and actually not write any analysis of anything by him1. Then the Oscars happened. I say that with no real malice or anything but man seeing Allen win Best Original Screenplay kind of warmed my heart. I mean nearly 5 decades of film making and the man can still win one of those nice little gold statuettes. That is what got me wanting to not just see Midnight In Paris, the movie he won his most recent Oscar for, but to delve back into watching some of his older material, focusing on films I’ve actually never bothered to sit down and watch. This actually covers a lot of ground because this is a man who has made and released a movie almost every year since he released his first film in 19662. All told that is 44 movies he’s directed. You realize George Lucas has made six feature films and got a fucking Irving G. Thalberg Award from The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for “Lifetime Achievement”? The sad thing of those six movies only 2 of them are any good3. Allen has made 44 films to date and I’ve seen only a fraction of them, but my gut is telling me possibly 33 of them are pretty freaking great.

This brings us to Manhattan. Released in 1979, this revisits a few elements from Allen’s 1977 masterpiece Annie Hall. Those elements deal with marriage, male/female interpersonal relationships and just how great it is to live in New York City. It tones down the more fantastic elements of Annie Hall to tell a much traditional, linear story and what you get is a very funny, sweet and tender tale of man who wrestles with his own sense of morality, to find out what really makes him happy was the girl he left behind. Of course there are certain elements of the film that kind of… well… they kind of cast a new light on how Allen justified certain personal choices he made in his life regarding his relationship with both Mia Farrow and Soon-Yi Previn. But fuck it, I’m not going to make the mistake of opening that can of worms too much because the moral of that story is that love, genuine real love, is love and there ain’t nothing you can do about it.

Manhattan has some of those elements that you will find in other Allen movies, those little seemingly auto-biographical touches that help flesh out the main character. Allen plays Isaac Davis, a divorced television writer who is dating a girl of 17 years named Tracy played, by Mariel Hemingway. Hemingway was actually 18 when the movie was released so there is a good chance she was probably true to her age during filming of the movie. Allen plays Isaac as torn between the fact that he truly cares for Tracy but he finds the difference in their age uncomfortable. He is also under stress due to the fact that his ex-wife (Meryl Streep) is preparing to release a book all about their time together, including the details of why she left him for another woman. So we’ve got Isaac, dabbling in pederasty, stressed out because of his ex-wife and loathing his job. Thank God he’s got friends in the married couple of Yale (Michael Murphy) and Emily (Anne Byrne) right?

Not so fast there, Yale is having an affair with another woman, which he confesses to Isaac after a night out with their ladies. This blows Isaac away, as he always thought Yale and Emily had the perfect marriage. The woman in question is Mary Wilkie (Diane Keaton), a somewhat snobbish intellectual upon first encounter. Mary is the opposite of Keaton’s portrayal of Annie Hall simply by being intellectual and having to show that side of herself off, something Annie would’ve been completely not comfortable doing. It is only when Isaac runs into her a second time that he begins to appreciate Mary’s intelligence and finds her to be an actual nice person.

This doesn’t help his moral compass any with dating Tracy, whom he still has very deep conflicts about being with. It gets even worse for him as Yale decides to break-up with Mary and encourages Isaac to date her. Isaac breaks it off with Tracy and starts dating Mary and then we get to see how that relationship goes from start to finish. But what could have been a great romance is ruined by Mary’s own self-doubt and by Yale’s inability to let go of something that ultimately destroys his marriage. Mary and Yale never really break contact, thus leading to their reuniting, leaving poor Isaac in the cold. Isaac is left alone, wondering what it is he has done to get him to the point he is at now. In deep depression one can find oneself being deeply reflective and in turn they can have one of those life changing epiphanies. For Isaac his moment of clarity is realizing that he needs to be with Tracy because the last time he was actually, truly happy was when he was with her. So in one of those utterly romantic moments that you would find in a Megan Ryan romantic comedy of the 1990s, Isaac dashes off to Tracy’s apartment building to confess his feelings. This is where the similarity to a Megan Ryan romantic comedy ends, as Isaac arrives to confront Tracy just as she is leaving Manhattan to study abroad in London.

It is this culmination of everything in the movie where we learn what exactly Isaac liked about Tracy. It was her pure and innocent nature, the fact that she was young and had not been beaten down by life. She was optimistic, sweet and genuinely a good person. It was all these qualities that drew Isaac to her in the first place, that and the fact she genuinely cared for him. Her final lines to him in the movie “Not everyone gets corrupted. You have to have faith in people” may seem sad but actually are meant to give both Isaac and the viewer hope. The fact that Isaac’s reaction to this sentiment is to smile only further hammers home the message and wisdom she is trying to impart on him. That smile by Isaac is a sign that if this teenager can see the world this way then maybe, just maybe, Isaac can too.

So I just gave you the whole plot of the movie, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go watch it. If Annie Hall is Woody Allen’s best example of an honest romantic comedy, then Manhattan is his best example of a bittersweet one. Sure in Annie Hall Alvy and Annie break-up, but the fact that Alvy looks back on it so sweetly to the point he realizes that they are better off as friends, still has a happy connotation to it. Manhattan is different. Manhattan is about deception and lies in romantic relationships. These are not very straightforward lies either. Yale is lying to his wife about his affair with Mary which dovetails into him thinking that he can save his marriage by cutting Mary off. Yale is lying to himself with that train of thought because in truth Yale forgets 2 things, he is actually in love with Mary and that cheaters always cheat, they just can’t help it. Of course Yale screws over his best friend in Isaac to get what he wants. Isaac is also lying to himself about his relationship with Tracy. He doesn’t want to believe he is happy with a girl that is so much younger than himself. Instead, he fools himself into breaking the girls heart so he can try being with Mary, who is really just using him as a substitute for Yale. Everyone is lying to each other. Even Yale’s wife Emily, she suspects Yale is up to something but she just doesn’t come out and say it. Emily is actually the most underdeveloped character in the whole movie, which is kind of a shame because it makes her seem sort of like a throwaway piece of exposition at the beginning of the film, just to demonstrate Yale is married.

Manhattan is a funny movie despite its bitter-sweet end. Allen delivers some truly great comedy bits in the movie, including a dinner party conversation about how when dealing with Nazis, a satirical piece in The New York Times is all well and good but really, physical violence really is quite more effective in dealing with them. Ironically, Manhattan might be the last of Allen’s more optimistic films in spite of its bittersweet ending4. The close of the 1970s and shift to the 1980s saw Allen delve in to just as much dark themed comedy as slapstick. Infidelity, lies and self-delusion all crop up in movies like Crimes and Misdemeanors, Shadows and Fog and Hannah and Her Sisters. The themes of betrayal and right and wrong also get explored in those movies, especially in Crimes and Misdemeanors. But those darker themes can trace their roots back to Manhattan.

Manhattan shows the darker sides of what Annie Hall explored. Love gone wrong on all fronts and how it affects everyone in one persons life and every persons life all at once. The real zinger of the movie though is that sometimes what we really want in life is right there in front of us no matter how much we protest it being there. No matter how cynical and jaded a person is, really they want love and hope to get it in their life. It is just much harder for them to recognize it when its there. It also makes Manhattan a story of failed love. That is one hard pill to swallow, yet simultaneously, that pill fills one with hope for tomorrow. An odd dichotomy that not many storytellers can pull of so well, yet Woody Allen makes it look so damn easy.

1Hence the sudden appearance of Poetry Corner for 2 entries here at Brave Blog

2He took a 2 year sabbatical after making Sleeper in 1973 and then came back in 1975 with Love & Death. He then took a year off in 1981 and came back in 1982 with A Midsummer’s Night Sex Comedy. Every year after 1982 he has released a movie and in some cases he would make 2 movies a year. No doubt he felt guilty for taking time off.

3American Graffitti , Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back are three excellent movies. I’ll cut Lucas a little slack for his movie THX-1138 since he was remaking his short student film into a feature. The other 3 movies were the Star Wars prequels and no sane person or anyone with a sense of taste could ever consider those good films.

4This isn’t to say Allen didn’t make more than his fair share of whimsical comedies like Radio Days, Broadway Danny Rose, The Purple Rose of Cairo or Manhattan Murder Mystery, in fact many of his movies from the 80s are pretty fantastical and full of whimsy. Its just the ones that get the high praise tend to be the darker ones it seems.

Brave or On Losing My Mother

A Truly Worthwhile Movie Experience, No Matter The Language

[Editor’s Note: Why wait until Dark Knight Rises to make your editor look like a fool? Hell, we figure our idiot writer will finally have those Steven Seagal movie reviews finished by Christmas if we’re fucking lucky! Anyway, here is the review for Brave]

At the age of 16 I lost my mother to a combination of cancer and stroke. One was brought on by the other. I was away at boarding school when this event occurred. My mother had fallen ill just after Christmas break, in fact she first started feeling ill the day I left home to go back to school in January of 1988. The next 4 months were agonizing for me. I didn’t find out until after my birthday, that February, that my mother was actually even ill. It was information that my father had kept from me because he didn’t want anything to interfere with my schoolwork. Going home every few weekends to watch my mother in pain and waste away from cancer was far and away the most painful thing I ever had to experience up to that point in my life. The day she died wasn’t nearly as awful because the day before I returned to school after my Spring break, my father pulled me aside and told me rather bluntly “Spend as much time with mom between now and when I take you back, because in all honesty it is more than likely the last time you will have to spend with her” (1). The day that hurt more was my mother’s funeral. I was so shaken that day for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons was I never got to really say good-bye to her and tell her how much I loved her. It sounds so cliché to say that about a loved one but that regret is genuine and so very tangible. I’m 40 years old now and what scares me is that since the age of 20 I can barely remember my mother’s face. I have no idea if it is some kind of mental block or anything of the sort. I am actually very good with faces, it is names that that slip my mind but my mother’s face is continually hazy to me when I try to remember her. I don’t even have a picture of her in my possession. There is so much that still hurts when thinking about the loss of my mother that I honestly cannot begin to list them all.

I had the pleasure of seeing PIXAR’s Brave the other day. It was a marvelous movie that was full of action, adventure, humor and fun. It was also a movie I was not expecting to move me the way it did. Previously on this blog I wrote 3 separate movie reviews under the heading of “3 Movies That Have Made Me Cry”. I need to amend this list now because Brave moved me so, that by the time it was over I found tears rolling down my face. I have had twenty-four hours to mull over what I experienced when I saw Brave and why it moved me in such a manner. I mean this isn’t the most daring and original movie PIXAR has made (2). It isn’t even necessarily the best movie they’ve made on a technical (3) or emotional  level (4) but for some reason Brave really resonated with me. The tears I cried at the end of Brave were not tears of me sobbing uncontrollably or any sort of histrionics mind you. These were tears of a movie having touched me by stirring thoughts of my mother. The tears did not well-up in the corner of my eyes, they just flowed freely and streamed down my face.

Brave is not a complex story. It is very straightforward but not to the point where I felt that I was being beaten over the head with the obviousness of what the themes were trying to convey. The story tells the tale of Merida, a willful Scottish princess, who is at odds with her mother Queen Elinor over Merida’s right to choose her own path in life as opposed to having marriage forced upon her due to her station in life. All Merida wants to do is shoot her bow in the woods and ride her horse Angus. All Elinor wants is for her daughter to to act in a manner a princess should . In the middle of all this is King Fergus, who is the one person that seems to understand both sides of the conflict and honestly believes that if Merida and her mother would sit down and listen to what the other is saying, peace will reign at home. Of course Merida, being young and impulsive, takes drastic measures to try and change her fate and get her mother to listen to what she wants for her life. Needless to say, usually when young impulsive teenagers do this, be it in fiction or life, the results are never what they want.

The main theme of the movie is Mother/Daughter relationships, which one can easily make a case for being about all parent/child relationships. By the end of it all Merida and Elinor come to an understanding of one another. That understanding affected me in such a way that all I could think about was my mother and the things left unsaid between us. I know my mother knew that I loved her. It doesn’t mean that I felt that maybe I should have said it more often than I did. I can only remember snippets of things about my mother, little things about her that make me smile but I want more than that. There was much psychological damage done between my father and I after my mother’s death. We inflicted many wounds upon each other, many that left scars that linger to this day. I don’t know how my mother would feel about what our relationship became. I think my biggest fear is that there is the possibility that my mother never really understood me, or at least died before she had the opportunity to. It is things like this that made me connect with Brave as a movie. In the end Merida and Elinor are able to understand each other and remember that they love each other in that way only a mother and daughter can.

Brave is really a movie about all familial bonds. It is about the damage and pain those bonds go through and about the lengths those damaged and oft times broken bonds need to go through in order to be repaired and be stronger than they had been. It is a lush and gorgeous movie to behold, full of dark green trees, bright red heads of hair and amazingly blue skies. Its characters are simultaneously comedic yet almost fully conceptualized. It has the most spirited Princess that Disney has let come to the screen and actually makes it so more than just little girls can identify with her. But what Brave really has, is a depth of emotion and feeling that touched me and made me miss my mother and really want to reconnect with her in any small way I possibly can. It is, so far, the BEST movie of the summer (5). I’m in such awe of this movie, despite it not being PIXAR’s best, that it is dangerously close to entering that fabled hall of being part of my All Time Top 10 Movies (6). Lastly, it is a movie that is open ended enough for a sequel and if that happened I’d be right in the front of the line at the theater waiting to see it.

Until Next Time…

Footnotes:

(1) My father has never been one to dance around a subject delicately when bluntness is required. He knew the outlook for my mother was bleak and realized that coddling/lying to me would do more harm than good in the long run.

(2) That distinction still goes to WALL-E

(3) Again, WALL-E

(4) Come on, Toy Story 3 was such an ode to the joys of childhood and the pain of growing out of it that if you didn’t feel some sort of longing to play with your favorite toys then I sense you might be some sort of inhuman monster.

(5) I get the feeling this will not be the last time I say that in the summer of 2012

(6) I’ll have to see how it holds up to repeated viewings. If the tears flow as freely upon second viewing as they did the first it could even be in my All Time Top 5!

Prometheus: A Movie Worth Seeing

What Happens When You Look Upon The Face of God?

[Editor’s Note: It is Summer Movie Season, we warned you this might happen about the consistency of what articles get published after what happened with The Avengers. The Steven Seagal movie reviews are being worked on, our writer ASSURES us this is the case but don’t be surprised when the next article you read is for Dark Knight Rises since our knucklehead just got his tickets for that reserved. Still, this article might be one of the more evenhanded reviews you are going to read on this blog so enjoy!]  

I’ve watched a lot of movies in my short lifetime. Many of those have been in the category of Science Fiction. Now when I talk about Science Fiction, I am not talking the fantastical Lucas or Frank Hebert derived Space Opera. I am talking about hard Science Fiction along the lines of Arthur C. Clarke or Carl Sagan. Hell even Gene Roddenberry gave us a better hard Science Fiction than George Lucas ever could. I bring the subject of “Hard Science Fiction” up because I recently saw Prometheus and I really think it might be the best Hard Science Fiction movie I’ve watched since Stanley Kubrick adopted Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey to film. Director Ridley Scott has put forth a movie that asks the question “If you could confront your creator and ask him ‘what was the purpose in making man?’, what do you think his answer would be?”. More importantly, what if God’s answer is not only not what you expect but actually the exact antithesis of what you expect?

The biggest confusion about Prometheus, from the start of its concept to its final production, is whether or not it is in fact a direct prequel to Scott’s 1979 Science Fiction Horror masterpiece, Alien. There is not an easy answer to this question, because an easy answer is never “possibly”. What Scott and writers Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof have crafted is a movie that tackles the topics of the evolution of man, religion and God while leaving a message that just because Man has questions about his origins, does not mean that the answers he will find are what he wants nor will they be particularly palatable. In fact the answers to the questions of the origins of life are utterly horrific and may lead to even more penetrating questions that you really shouldn’t want the answers to either.

Even the title of the movie, Prometheus, is an allusion, using the Greek myth of the tormented Titan to draw comparison to. The irony is that in the myth of Prometheus, it is Prometheus alone who is punished for giving the gift of fire to mankind. The movie essentially shows the consequences of what would have happened if Zeus not only punished Prometheus for the gift of fire but determined that simply for having fire, mankind had to be destroyed. To put it in more Judeo-Christian terms for everyone, there is a reason one should not look upon the face of God and then expect to come away from the experience unscathed. Hell, Raiders of The Lost Ark taught us the supernatural consequences for this course of action so it only makes sense that Prometheus shows the scientific reason for why gazing upon God’s visage is beyond a bad idea.

The movie itself is what you want from Ridley Scott returning to the genre of film that made us take notice of him. The fact that H.R. Giger returns to the universe of Alien definitely gives a somewhat sense of thematic cohesion from a design standpoint. The interior shots are vast yet still give off a certain cramped and claustrophobic feeling just like they were on the Nostromo in Alien. The exterior shots are amazing and beautiful at first and as the movie progresses the elements turn the planet against the protagonists of the film. Hell everything turns against the protagonists of the film simply because you cannot expect Ridley Scott to make a thematic prequel to Alien and have things go smoothly. I mean shit, this isn’t a Hayao Miyazaki family movie, you haven’t come to watch Tonari no Totoro, there has to be conflict or else Scott would have made the dullest Science Fiction movie since Contact.

Let’s get the story of the movie out of the way. The Cliff Notes version is this, Scientists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall Green) use cave paintings to theorize that mankind may have in fact been the result of aliens manipulating DNA, seeding the planet and then leaving. All the cave paintings are spread across the Earth and all are from different time periods, but all show the same pattern on them. This actually turns out to be a star map, pointing to where our possible alien creators came from. Shaw has named these creators “Engineers”. Using the information Shaw and Holloway get financial backing from Weyland Industries to send the scientific vessel Prometheus to a moon located in the star system the maps all point to. The ship is manned and monitored by CEO Peter Weyland’s (Guy Pearce) personal android David (Michael Fassbender) for the 2 year journey. The meat of the movie is about what the crew of the Prometheus find on the surface LV-233. It is about how when you scratch the surface of the riddle of man’s existence, nothing good will come of it. The revelations come rapidly. Who the Engineers are, what their connection to Earth and humanity is and what their ultimate plan for mankind actually is. No, you will not get those answers from me, for that you need to go watch the movie. All I will say is The Engineers are awfully harsh for being such terrible absent parents.

The story for Prometheus is fascinating yet chilling as more and more questions get answered. The acting is excellent, with Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender really hitting it out of the park. Fassbender really is on the verge of being a huge star at this point based on this and his performance as Magneto in X-Men: First Class last year. He plays the android David, a being that is devoid of emotions, with a certain naivete at times and yet a certain eerieness in others. The thing is his expression remains utterly neutral and his behavior patterns only ever change in the slightest bit. Everything Fassbender does in his portrayal of David is pure body language and Fassbender is just amazing in that regard. Noomi Rapace gives yet another amazingly physical performance, like she did in The Millennium Trilogy. She really sells pain and desperation exceedingly well. The rest of the cast is solid, with Idris Elba being a fun character in the Captain of the Prometheus, Janek. Elba plays the character with an American Southern drawl, which doesn’t sound natural but isn’t exactly jarring either. I’ll praise Guy Pearce’s performance but I’m not going to tell you why exactly. When you see what was done to him you just might double take. Yes, all you Alien fans you will get what you came for but you have to be patient. This is not a movie for those of you wanting instant gratification. Ridley Scott and company make you wait for the payoff for why you came to this movie and they make you want it bad.

Prometheus is an excellent film and definitely makes up for my disappointment with The Avengers. There are parts that fill you with wonder and parts that may terrify you. It is every away mission on an episode of Star Trek gone horribly wrong and no, that isn’t backhanded praise in the slightest. It is a movie that questions whether man should even venture into deep space for answers to the myriad of questions we, as a naturally inquisitive species, all have. Its moral, however, is that all finding the answers to your questions does is beget more questions and the overall curse of humanity is that we just don’t know when to stop searching for answers, no matter how truly frightening those answers might be.

Post Navigation