Friday, February 26, 2010

"Get busy living, or get busy dying" ...The SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION

Hope. This word brings me back to my original inspiration for writing about film...Stephen King. A film is only as good as it's villain...and in this extraordinary film we have the most insidious bad-guy ever on the screen...DESPAIR. This is the greatest strength of Mr. King(in my humble opinion) find the hope in the create situations where the human response can only be tragic or terrified...and yet...

I had the rare privilege of a triple feature in october of '94...Quiz Show(good movie)...Ed Wood(great movie)...then Shawshank...
My friends went to see The Specialist as a fourth feature...I went to a local pub and talked about the three films I just enjoyed, and made people promise to see Shawshank(I'm pretty sure we came up with a shooter called "the hardest screw" but the details are hazy)...then met said friends who immediately declared me "smarter" than them...I just couldn't taint that experience...

And it still stands...It's a cool october day every time I watch it...and I'm alone with my own spirit.

The Shawshank Redemption is perfect. This is the best teaming of Director/Writer in the canon of SK films, and though The Green Mile and The Mist are fantastic(as are Misery and Stand by Me), Shawshank is simply in a different category. Frank Darabont seems to pull a Mike Nichols in that his director's presence feels invisible...feels more like a prism focusing the story and performances. He seems to have no need to stamp this film, like say Kubrick who destroyed The Shining then rebuilt his version...but rather subtly guiding something that has a life of it's own. Now, I'm sure Shawshank is Frank Darabont's vision but it almost feels like both he and SK were in the higher service of hope itself...that this tenet is the drive of every moment here. I love the expression on Andy's face when he answers, as though any other thought is foolish...

That there are things in this world
not carved out of gray stone. That
there's a small place inside of us
they can never lock away.. that they can never get at ..hope.

.. I do have to note Darabont's slow push on Andy as he reveals what he really is...and though Red is offended by his belief(their one and only clash) he knows that Andy is daring to look at something bigger than them all...and that dangerous pain that the knowledge of something better can carry...extraordinary. We feel Andy's leadership here and I do hope we've all had the experience of watching someone and not understanding their strength. I've had this experience...offended people who thought I should be sadder when my life was difficult... fuck-you.

This story isn't just a favorite's my philosophy...that there is something inside that cannot be taken by anyone or anything. And that true hardship...true despair...leads to the truth - to what is really important. In this, I think The Mist functions as a thematic sequel to Shawshank with the truest horror coming out of the result of true despair...the final lack of hope.
Shawshank also sums up my philosophy on suicide...this and Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes "..that's the funny thing about life, it's never so bad it can't get worse..." ..or better. I've never understood that belief that this moment is worth dying truly believe it'll never be good again...nuts to that.

Twenty people could have twenty reasons for loving this movie...
There's Tim Robbins' beautifully understated Andy Dufresne, the exceptional supporting cast, the claustrophobic stone walls of a real prison, the timeless feel, the menace of exceptional human villains(and ask yourself I take more pleasure from watching evil gets it's come-upance? ..or from watching each supporting character evolve in Andy's light)...and then there's Morgan Freeman:
We all love Morgan Freeman...he's like that uncle who always had time for you but didn't put up with yer shit...his voice has intelligence and sadness in it...and hope. This is the story that made every filmmaker on earth want a Morgan Freeman VO...

Every time I watch this I'm saddened by Brooks' death...I hope that Red will get to the rock...and I cry when he does. I used to want to watch the next 2 hours of Red and Andy's story, but in this, too, is a lesson...
As we get older there is an immeasurable value to shared experience, especially shared pain. That beautiful end shot from high up...I wanted to see them up, hug...whatever, but it took a couple more viewings to realize we don't deserve to be there on that beach with them ...they earned it. If those of us watching want a moment so profound...we gotta go make 'em...we have to get busy living...

Sunday, February 14, 2010

"Bring me the knife, Norman...bring it to me.."

PSYCHO III, yes, Three.

WHY do I love this movie? Well, there are a couple o' reasons.
1. It's insane.
2. It's funny
3. I think Alfred Hitchcock would like this film.

But most of all - it's when Mother moves and speaks independently of Norman...awesome. I so hated this when I saw it years ago..."Hitch'd roll over in his grave, etc." ..
...but I was wrong...way wrong - there had to be some pretty interesting conversations during the genesis of this story..."Are we really making Mother talk independently of Norman...what the hell are we saying here?"
I love the Mother character in this movie. This time she is far more menacing than before - finally giving us the sense that Norman truly doesn't have the strength to resist his own mind. Inevitability. This isn't simply a controlling matriarch personality but an actual monster. And that voice... malevolent and creepy...

The movie is so strange and ...I dunno - "dirty 80's", that it has an odd though Norman Bates had directed it...and not Anthony Perkins. Psycho 3's underpinnings are as much the schlock inspired by Psycho as the original film, itself...more, in fact.
But...Norman's not a bad director, as it tuns out...the film has some really good shots...and about half of it is tongue firmly in cheek. Great.
Mind you, heavy-handed metaphors abound(with a Vertigo inspired opening) ..and I can't help but guess that Perkin's hidden life might also be playing into his themes and imagery. He plays a kooky paranoid with a secret very, very well...

Like Spielberg's shark(the non-functioning Bruce that necessitated his film be suspense over action), I do believe that the imposed limitations on Hitchcock's violence lent him more class than he'd have preferred having ...again, I think he'd smile at Psycho 3. It's violence feels different than the previous two it's taking a self-aware pleasure...again, like Norman is directing a film about "Mother".
Psycho 3 also boasts one very strange bit in which we finally get to see Norman speaking as Mother...oddly edited, it ends up a spooky scene with a subtle tone of the supernatural...the place I'm surprised they didn't go with a fourth film.

...And there are those two good reasons the sequels to these films are not as easily dismissed as some other follow-ups of this calibre or better...the set and the star. The sequels all use the Universal set and the original Norman...lending a 30 year history to the whole thing - to the buildings themselves and as a cinephile watching CG replace "matter", this matters to me.
And that last shot is the antithesis of Psycho's sterile, "innocent" Mother/Norman - with a clearly mad Norman cradling the mummified hand of his dead mother - that fade on that face...good, cheesy fun.

And we all know that everybody loves at least one lousy film...this is mine.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

I too, am a Buckaroo...

...or a Blue Blaze Irregular...
On The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai across the 8th Dimension:

I've had the closing music from this film running through my head for 26 joke. Finally sat down with a friend to watch it last night, and I can honestly say neither of us expected too much.
Wow, I haven't been "instantly in-love" with a movie in a long time. The Straight Story, maybe...only a few ever worked like this. I can't stop smiling but I have no idea even how to discuss this is just so unique. Had a sense, going in, that I wouldn't "get" it at all, having not seen it younger and in that 80's mindset, but that's the thing about a clever movie - it doesn't matter at all when a clever movie was made - just that you found it. Casablanca was a great reminder of this.
No wonder Buckaroo's had a following since it's release in 1984 - I think you'd see more films like this...if they didn't cost money. It seems to be a direct relationship between the watering down process and the budget for most films being made these days, Avatar being a great example; the 2 billion dollar movie whose "originality" could fit into any 2 minutes of Buckaroo Banzai, which ironically made about 2 cents.
And originality is the name of the game here.

As I try to figure out why I liked this so much I realize I don't want to...not completely. It really seems the only way to enjoy this as much as we do, was to make The whole thing has such an honest energy, as though the world already loved this guy - this adventure, and the actors knew it(believed it). It's too bad this movie is smarter than most of the people who watch were The Thing and Blade Runner, etc...unfortunate, but at least films like Bubba Ho-tep can bridge the gap while were waiting for rare moments of genius.

It had to be Buckaroo's crazy script that got that amazing group of actors so enthusiastic, and maybe a director who knew how good it was. Buuuut, unlike say Zodiac, which really seems to be a singular director's vision, this seems to be a confluence of elements creating something far better than the sum of it's parts. There's a density to this film I didn't expect either, as though the continuing saga was guaranteed, and you just needed to hop on for this adventure and subsequent films would fill in the has an absolute confidence in itself without being pretentious or self-aware...I wish I could know more people like this film.

The scene at the end with an alien Christopher Lloyd furiously correcting the pronunciation of his name...extraordinary. This now ranks among my absolute favorite film scenes ever, standing in such company as Holy Grail and even, dare-I-say-it .. Apocalypse Now or The Godfather...because it really comes down to two great actors making a good script into a brilliant scene. Does it work?..does it entertain??

My thanks to all the boys and girls who made Buckaroo happen...
I honestly can't remember the last time I enjoyed any 2 hours this much.

Friday, February 5, 2010 the ZODIAC speaking...

Where to begin. Watched it once - good film - enjoyed it...but, like Chinatown and French Connection, it had an insidious effect...just a gentle hankering to watch it again...
..and by viewing 22 I realized I might have an obsession is a compelling story and a very true story...and I wanted to know more. No, I had to know more.
Read Robert Graysmith's book then his other book then every piece of material I could find...but it all comes back to David Fincher's Zodiac...what I consider to be one of the best American films ever made.

Jake Gyllenhall and Mark Ruffalo are great and great together.. as are the wide and varied supporting cast(led by Robert Downey jr.)... character acting that evokes thoughts of films like All the President's Men or Glengarry Glen Ross - intense and committed. Everyone looks and feels "period".
Now thanks to some of the more famous lazy directors, CG and greenscreens have become embarrassingly overused, but it's the invisible stuff I the extras to learn that 1/2 the film is trickery...brilliant - If I can't tell there's CG - it's good GC...and they do manage to stylishly re-create old San Francisco like we're dreaming about it.
The film is as much about the nature of obsession as it is about the killer...perhaps moreso. It is a drama, a thriller and a period piece that will leave you with questions despite it's "answers" and the 2 audio tracks are as good as the much information on the case and so much on making the film...
Visually, this'd be a good watch on mute - it is gorgeous...but I do believe that only a nostalgic love can generate such a singular, consistent vision of the landscape one grew up in - and that makes this a love letter to a different time - Fincher's love letter to bygone California...and, though elements of this story are icy cold, you can feel the warmth of a boy's memories throughout.
The soundtrack is perfection in its balance between the creepy and the oddly personal...and does become haunting as the interviews with the real players from the period(double disc extras) who, again, answer some questions..but inspire even more. There may be a killer interviewed on this disc.

This, along with Seven, could be the alpha and omega of modern serial killer films from the action of one versus the effect of another...with only Silence of the Lambs as a potential challenger. If I had to guess, I'd say Hitchcock would've been interested in any of these 3 scripts.

And then there's that oh-so-smart tagline:
"There's more than one way a serial killer can take your life..." ..he's claimed plenty of mine, as has David Fincher, but I'm not complaining.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Most of all...
my favorite "And then there were none" story.
I don't think I've watched any movie more times ...perhaps Blade Runner.
John Carpenter's The Thing is exceptional on so many levels; isolation story - monster movie - character study...and like Witness as 3 films in one. The Thing succeeds as everything it wants to be. There isn't a second in this story that breaks character or reality...and that is impressive in any film, let alone one about an alien monster from space.
What makes this the best of the many movies that investigate small isolated groups disappearing one by one is the ambiguous ending...genius. No happy resolution...and so completely satisfying where every other story like this one provides a concrete answer. It leaves one asking "..would I even know if I turned into something awful?..would you?"

Almost as much fun as the film is the audio track with JC and Kurt Russell, but I'm a sucker for these two together and Carpenter's early body of work is my most loved group of films next to Hitchcock's. The commentaries that blend experience with real filmmaking education are the best, and this is theirs. Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, The Fog, and Escape from NY are simply works of art Blade Runner or Star Wars I do believe that the Morricone(like Jaws, simple, scary, awesome) score, the Albert Whitlock artwork, the visual palette, and the all practical all amazing effects work bring so many accomplished artistic minds together that you have, not a singular vision but a film that has literally the best talent across the board. Throw together a dozen great character actors and I think I could watch The Thing every day.