Archive for the ‘ Essays ’ Category

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Twenty-Five

I don’t feel like I’m rushing through these, but it may seem that way to anyone paying attention to these. I’m still giving these the reviews the same attention. It’s just apparent that getting close to the end has buoyed my enthusiasm, and that I’m ready to finish up this self-imposed project, tell myself that I can still see things through to the end and move on to next thing.

Can the next thing have a few bucks somewhere at the end?

Maybe so. It would seem that it depends mostly on me, and at least a little bit on good luck.

My luck has been better lately. We’ve been over this a few times now. I’m looking to take that luck into larger areas. It’s just a question of finding a way to get out the door.

Out the front?

That might work. I’m more of a kitchen window kind of guy, but I can be a gentleman once in a while.

Five more reviews. I hope everyone’s having as good a time with film reviews as is possible.

Hopefully, there will be a non-review between this and day twenty-six. We’ll see how things go. I’ve got a little bit of travel coming up, and that sometimes distracts me from active, responsible endeavors.

I’m getting better about that though.

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30 Day Movie Challenge

Day Twenty-Five: Movie with the Most Beautiful Scenery

Manhattan (1979)
Directed by: Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Michael Murphy

It’s a good thing the entire run of Woody Allen’s classic Manhattan is so perfect in every way. It would be a shame to have nothing to look forward to after those glorious, moving first few minutes. There are numerous stellar qualities to Manhattan, but it just wouldn’t be possible to enjoy them quite as much without those opening moments. This is my favorite Woody Allen movie, and there are at least partially ridiculous reasons for that. In just five minutes, Allen created the clearest, most stunning visual definition of New York that I have ever seen. It works beautifully as an opening to the movie itself and nothing more, but its personal meaning to me is greater than that.

And in terms of building on that initial image of the city Manhattan gets better and better as it goes on.

When I was little, I had serious doubts that I would ever get to see New York City for myself. Lake Cowichan, British Columbia was a long way indeed from many of the cities I saw in films and dreamed of one day visiting myself. Not one place fueled those dreams more than New York.

Yeah, I totally do idolize it all out of proportion.

I guess that makes sense considering Ghostbusters was the first movie I ever remember seeing. Big was another film that I saw around that same time, too. Both movies presented a view of a city that not only seemed limitless in its fantastic possibilities and history (I was a weird kid) but were also supposedly very real. I wanted to know for myself. I wanted to stand amidst an ocean of noise, and look up at buildings that were taller than what I was actually capable of seeing.

I probably saw Manhattan when I was seven or eight, so it came a bit later in my early and continuing love affair with New York. It’s one of my mom’s favorite movies, so I’m pretty sure she rented it at some point in that time period. It wouldn’t have been the kind of movie I would have gone after on my own at that time. My mom has a deep love of movies, too. She’s not as hopelessly and pitifully obsessive about it as I am about it, but it was through her that I discovered a great many films as a kid that I still love to this day.

It doesn’t really matter when I found Manhattan. Strictly in terms of presenting the city at its most electrifying, most extraordinary and most romantic, Manhattan blows Ghostbusters, Big and just about anything else out of the water. It sends them somewhere in the neighborhood of a million miles into the sky.

It’s all that gorgeous black and white set against beautiful shot after shot of the city. I don’t think it has ever lost its potential for being whatever a person wants it to be. Tourist talk? Possibly. It might be easy for me to say all this, because I don’t live there, but I’ve been there a few times. Enough to at least be aware it’s nothing even close to perfect. It doesn’t have to be. Everything I’ve ever experienced in my few trips to New York still equals out to the most amazing city I’ve visited so far. The “So far” part is my favorite. Because New York reminds me that it’s impossible to ever see and do everything in this world that you would ever want to do. That can be alarming to some. It can even be depressing. It doesn’t worry me as much as it used to. This knowledge is not a big deal. The fun is in trying. New York is a perfect representation of that.

Of course you can’t forget that George Gershwin score. “Rhapsody in Blue” is unrelentingly gorgeous. Along with Allen’s voiceover that opening sequence is one of my favorites of all time. It sets a standard that only a truly perfect film could meet.

Thankfully, Manhattan is indeed quite perfect in every sense I can think of. The story leisurely moves us around the city, but it’s a good, funny, well-written and constantly entertaining story. It’s a story that is populated by the very best of Allen’s creativity. As both an actor and a creator of strong characters that are all at once capable of being amusing, neurotic (there’s a word that never, ever appears in an Allen film), annoying, petty, strange, moral, pathetic, hysterical and a thousand other traits and quirks that vie to be at the surface of everything going in their world. These are characters that could only exist in a story about New York, and it’s even possible that they could also only exist in a Woody Allen film. They are as much a part of the city’s constant, frantic heartbeat as the buildings, bridges, pollution and all the rest of it.

This is my favorite Allen performance, but more often than not, he’s overshadowed by what may well be the best assortment of actresses that can be found in any of his films. Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep and Mariel Hemmingway are all fantastic as three completely different women from three completely different ideas of what Allen’s character (not to mention his mostly useless friend, played quite well by Michael Murphy) thinks he wants. Each of them is worth their talent in gold for what they bring to the story. In a lot of ways they define the story. Between Allen’s writing and their performances I can’t imagine anyone else playing them. Allen’s best films, and I’d say there are quite a few that qualify as great, are examples of casting a movie to perfection. He has rarely taken a misstep in this area, and Manhattan is one of the best examples in his work. Even brief, supporting roles from Wallace Shawn and Michael O’Donoghue have a necessary place in my feelings on this film.

What amazes me is how much Allen supposedly hated Manhattan when he completed it. He even went so far as to try and have the film kept from release, in exchange for making a different movie for free. We’ll probably never know what his problem was with it. It’s well-established legend that he’s his own worst critic (or at least he wants us to think he is–Who knows?). None of that really matters. My ability to love a film is not contingent upon whether or not the people involved liked it, too. I consider Woody Allen to be a genius in his field. He’s entitled to think whatever he wants to. I’m not a genius in even the most kind-hearted sense of the word, but I still think I’m entitled to my opinion. People agreeing with my opinion is not essential, but it’s a nice plus that by and large, the general consensus on Manhattan is that it’s a pretty wonderful movie. Too bad Allen doesn’t seem to agree. It does make you wonder what would have been different from what we have, if he had been able to make the movie to his complete satisfaction. Maybe, it wouldn’t have been nearly as well-received. Maybe, it would have been even better. It’s not like we’re ever going to find out. Do you care? I sure don’t. Any change to this movie would be a small, film-related tragedy.

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Twenty-Four

The home stretch continues, even with my temptation to write several lengthy rants about Christmas.

This is probably better. You’re just going to have to trust me on that.

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30 Day Movie Challenge

Day Twenty-Four: Movie with the Best Soundtrack

Clerks (1994)
Directed by: Kevin Smith
Starring: Jeff Anderson, Brian O’Holloran, Marilyn Ghigliotti

It’s possible I’m being way too literal, but I kind of wish this category had been a little less specific. I’m probably wrong, but I do tend to differentiate between a soundtrack put together for a film as opposed to a score created for a film. Literal is probably not the right word for this. Insane, asinine are probably better ones.

Nonetheless I’m going with soundtracks that were culled from previously crafted material. I’m at a loss to explain why I’m interpreting the category this way. We’ll just pretend we all understand the reason. It could be that I just like playlists more than scores.

I’m not taking that second group into consideration, but I’m still pretty sure Clerks would come out on top. It was one the first soundtracks I ever went out of my way to buy, and the one that has probably spent more time on my playlist than any other film soundtrack. Every scene with one of these songs is enhanced because of that song. It’s impossible to imagine any of them not being there.


It’s pretty impossible to imagine these guys not being there either.

Music is the first thing that really gets the ball rolling in the film. Silence can be wonderful in a movie, and I can think of countless films with scenes that would have been ruined by music. Of course, there are just as many with scenes that are unforgettable. In part because of the song being used (Martin Scorsese movies have a lot of those scenes). Clerks sets a fantastic tone for what we’re about to watch. It’s an energetic theme song for Dante’s introduction ad half-dead morning routine. Bringing all these elements together instantly infuses the film with a personality that appealed to me even more than the first Kevin Smith movie I saw, Mallrats several months earlier (I was ridiculously pleased to learn that Kevin Smith had made other movies). From there it only gets better. Of course, we’re paying attention to Kevin Smith’s phenomenal, breezy dialog, the seemingly laid-back pace and style, the amazing, natural performances by Jeff Anderson, Brian O’Holloran, Jason Mewes, Marilyn Ghigliotti, Lisa Spoonhauer, Smith himself and numerous smaller roles filled by Smith’s friends, family and local actors. I saw the movie in 1996, and the impact it had on me was immediate and tremendous. It had never truly sunk in before that point that a movie could be so strong on pretty much dialog alone.

Things do happen in Clerks, but it’s generally nothing significant. This is a day in the lives of these characters, and there’s certainly a plot to be found, but in the end the appeal for Clerks as a film (besides the music) comes down to that dialog. Credit Smith’s screenplay, but also credit the actors. Could someone else have played Dante and Randal? Maybe. Possibly. It’s certainly not worth putting a whole lot of thought into that. O’Holloran and Anderson are not only solid actors, but the chemistry they create from Smith’s script is some of the best in all of Smith’s movies. The formula of two buddies rambling largely about nothing in particular as they go about their day is a staple found in many of Smith’s movies. Jay and Silent Bob make their first appearance here, and they certainly qualify as two buddies rambling largely about nothing particular (in spite of the fact that Silent Bob, obviously, rarely opens his mouth to speak), but my favorite pairing in all of Smith’s movies remains Dante and Randal. In Clerks, the tone of their friendship is established as soon as Randal wrangles into the store. O’Holloran and Anderson from the first moment on deliver some of the greatest casual conversations I’ve ever heard in a film while simultaneously building on that relationship. Watching them banter is as funny to me now as it first was nearly sixteen years ago. I never get tired of it, and therefore I never get tired of the movie itself. This is a critical aspect of why I love Clerks.


I’ve come to appreciate the inner workings of a facial expression like this.

But at the same time we’re also aware of the music. At least I know I was. I read somewhere once that Clerks has a soundtrack that can be best summed up as “The Golden Age of Grunge.” I guess that works, but I don’t think that term should be applied as a means of dating tracks like “Kill The Sex Player” (there is not a better song out there to introduce us to Jay and Silent Bob for the first time) or “Leaders and Followers” (which fits perfectly with the moment where Dante and Randal’s visit to a funeral parlor goes horribly wrong). It’s always been my assertion that good music in your opinion is good music in your opinion. Changing tastes of the world have no say in the matter. You don’t have to take into consideration the year the song might have come out or whether or not people still view it as relevant. All you have to do is enjoy the song.

There isn’t a single track in Clerks that I don’t enjoy. As both a part of why Clerks remains one of my favorite films of all-time, and as music I enjoy in general. I don’t even like Fleetwood Mac all that much, but I can’t help but dig Seaweed’s cover of “Go Your Own Way”. Maybe, it’s because for the better part of fifteen years now I’ve come to associate the track with a guidance counselor smashing eggs (and that’s an image that eerily matches the personality of my old high school guidance counselor). The same thought goes for Golden Smog’s cover of Bad Company’s “Shooting Star”. I actually like Bad Company a lot, but this is one of those rare times when I’ll take this cover over the original any day. Good luck listening to it, and not bringing to mind the hilarious tragedy of Randal’s poor, idiot cousin. Thinking about it even now makes me smile. Very few things as simple as that have kept up such an act in my life for so many years and counting.

“Chewbacca” is the best song I’ve ever heard about Star Wars. I refuse to consider any opposing arguments (and I know at least what some of those arguments would already be, and I still stand by this opinion).

I also don’t think any song could have better ended the movie than “Can’t Even Tell”. The music video is a worthy companion to the film, and it’s worth watching a couple of times. The song ends the film on a flawless note, and the video itself jams a good deal of the movie’s humor into a song that’s over in less than five minutes. Watch the video after the movie, and you may even want to go ahead and watch the movie itself all over again (if you’re evening social calendar is looking kind of sparse). You probably won’t, but you’ll be tempted to. It’s a classic movie besides, but the soundtrack is an absolutely essential part of that. Something vital would be missing otherwise.

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Twenty-Three

30 Day Movie Challenge

Day Twenty-Three: Film That Inspires You:

Slacker (1991)
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Starring: Richard Linklater, Stella James, Marc Weir

Slacker was another one of those glorious accidental discoveries. I couldn’t sleep, I switched on what I believe was IFC, and there it was. The movie had just started. Had just opened on that wonderful, completely random scene of a man (writer-director Richard Linklater, who has almost always managed to blow me away) getting in a cab, rambling through some story about how he should have stayed at the bus station. There’s more to it than that, but I won’t go into it, if you haven’t had the distinct pleasure of seeing it for yourself. Describing and much of the movie is difficult. Impossible in the sense that it’s immensely tricky for me to relate with words what you should see for yourself.

For example, wouldn’t you like to know which one of these guys has probably been drinking a bit too much coffee?

Obviously, I’m going to try and relate my love of this independent (back when that meant something, or at least back when it meant more than it does now), but I’m just saying that it’s going to be difficult. It might help if you take my word for it now, see the movie and then get back to me.

Maybe.  It couldn’t hurt. This is one of those times when I feel as though I can only write for the people who have already seen it. I’ll try to keep the rest of you in mind.

Anyone who has ever successfully managed to listen to me for more than five minutes without running me over knows that the eventual goal of all this writing I do is to eventually get a chance to make a film. Hopefully, you’ve been paying attention to these rambling thoughts on films, but if you haven’t it might be worth noting that my greatest creative passion through the years has been filmmaking. I’ve never been to college (and there’s a good chance I probably never will get to go), so I’ve tried to give myself the best education possible with the vocation I’d like to spend the rest of my life in. Acting is fun, but I want to put the whole thing together. I watch movies for pure entertainment, but I also try to pay attention to the ones that really blow my hair (what little of it there usually is) back. Should I ever get an opportunity I want to at least have a rough idea of what I need to do. It’s an overwhelming, intimidating vocation. I barely know where to begin. Just writing the scripts I’ve written has had a difficult learning curve going for it.

Film inspires me for all kinds of different reasons. Some encourage me in the whole ridiculous thing of making a movie. Slacker has been a fixture on that last since seeing it in on TV that night. It was around 1999, and it’s unreal how much time has just flown past me since. The film is certainly a product of its time in certain ways (the way Austin was at that time, the whole Generation-X vibe), but in its most important ways, it doesn’t seem like something that belongs in a time capsule. This is largely due to the fact that I know people like this still exist. Slacker captures a long-gone time and place, but people like the character’s of the film’s world haven’t gone anywhere. Take out the inspirational aspect of the film, and it’s the characters that I love the most about Slacker. I know people along those lines. I’ve known a couple of guys like the Kennedy fanatic. I’ve seen friends compel a buddy to hurl something that belonged to his ex-girlfriend over a bridge (it was a moving car in my experience). I’ve run into people trying to sell things eerily similar to a piece of Madonna pap smear.

I’ve encountered dozens of real-life counterparts for the wide array of wonderful, believable and engaging personalities that make up Slacker. They’re one of my favorite things about traveling so much. Linklater uses non-actors and unknowns to bring them to life. That helps considerably with the realism and strength of their portrayals. Almost every performance here gets me in some way. A few are more interesting than others, but all are memorable.

Slacker is one the films I’ve paid the most attention to as an on-again, off-again unofficial film student. It’s also served as a long-standing influence on not only the few screenplays I’ve written but also on a great deal of the other things I write. It’s living proof of function winning out over form. At first glance it looks like a two-hour vacation film. Everything about the movie suggests a concept that just barely managed to be realized. Linklater is still going strong as a filmmaker. He would use this loose, multi-character story structure again in Dazed and Confused. He then moved from that to make a startling range of films. His resume includes the surreal adaptation of A Scanner Darkly to the straight-forward, commercial remake of The Bad News Bears. Slacker is still the reigning champion for my favorite of his filmography. It was not the first film to use this kind of wandering structure, giving us one character’s life for a moment, and then switching to another when they pass someone on the street. Not the first, but it’s one of the best. I think that’s because Slacker represents a mindset and culture unique to not only its era but to the city in which it was filmed. There aren’t twenty or thirty films exactly like Slacker (although I know there are numerous films and documentaries that certainly seek to evoke a similar spirit).

As far as I know, this is the only one.

That doesn’t automatically grant it greatness, and there will always be some who just can’t get into a movie like this. Slacker feels like the sort of thing in which a camera just happened to be around by coincidence. That kind of thing can annoy tastes that prefer stories to be a bit more linear and focused. Slackers is pretty easy to follow, and it has a linear form of sorts, but it’s not the kind of linear everyone tends to expect from their movies. To some Slacker may just seem like a whole lot nothing. Nothing in the way of the point and nothing in the way of a real story or meaningful, deep characters.

The structure, story (such as it is) and characters work just fine for me, and it seems to work pretty well for a lot of others. Slacker opts for a far-less traditional breed of storytelling and filmmaking at almost every turn. Less-than-traditional, but it works as both a compelling, funny and strange story, and as a lesson to anyone who wants to make movies on their own time. It proves that a good story, a great cast and an endless amount of creative enthusiasm can potentially override anything else that might be working against you. There isn’t a suggestion of a guaranteed artistic victory, but at least it conveys the fact that it can be done.

Slacker comes out of a different filmmaking era. This is very true. It’s also true that a whole lot more has to happen than what I listed above for a movie to go from idea to finished cut. I keep this mind, and I still choose to consider Slacker an inspiration.

I’ll watch Slacker because it’s just a great movie. My favorite scene remains the one in which a young man (Michael Laird) has his life changed by breaking into the home of an old anarchist (the great writer and Philosophy teacher, Louis H. Mackey). It’s the most appealing scene in the film, and one that had a tremendous impact on me. That kind of thing can indeed happen in the real world, and it perfectly illustrates a fundamental about Slacker that nothing in its celluloid world is artificial. Coincidence can change someone’s life, and we are sometimes most altered by the random. I’d love to know what happened to that burglar the next day.

I love this movie, but I continue to pay the most attention to its biology. Hopefully, I’ll get a chance someday to see if I can create something worthwhile out of what’s available to me. Filmmakers are out there doing that right now. That gives me a steady line of hope. It reminds me that it’s not easy, but it’s not impossible either.

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Twenty-Two

Think we’ll get to thirty before the end of this year?

That’s the plan, so be kind enough to forgive a little repetition. I’ll try to break things up with a poem.

2012 is breathing down my neck, and I’m not going for a mixed bag kind of year (like this one). I hope that will be most strongly be reflected in what I do creatively.

We’ll see. I’m vicious and optimistic these days, or at least I’m more of those two things than I have been for a long time.

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30 Day Movie Challenge

Day Twenty-Two: Film You Wish You Could Live In:

Blade Runner (1982)
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Starring: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young

Blade Runner is a great movie. I want to say I first saw it on TV as a kid, but the truth is that I just can’t remember the time or place. I don’t know the time or place matter to me. I guess I just like to trace the chronology of when I first saw a movie to what I think of it now. That’s the only explanation I can think of. People love to define things, create timelines, and I like doing with even the most casual or mundane things.

I don’t remember the where and when of Blade Runner (as is the case with a good portion of the movies I’ve chosen for this list), but I remember being sucked into the world of this film about a minute in. I think the biggest reason why I’ve seen it so many times over the past twenty years is because of that strange, beautiful, terrifying and contradictory city. It’s a weird, chaotic mash-up of film noir, futurism, New York, Gotham City, Hong Kong, Hell and probably a wide array of other influences that are lost on me. I’m not shocked that the famous “Nighthawks” painting was part of that visual influence on the film. I’ve spent most of my writing career trying to recreate. I don’t think I’ve ever come close. I don’t have the budget, but it also doesn’t help very much that I also don’t have the imagination. That’s not meant to be a self-deprecating comment. It’s just a question of limitations. I can only watch a movie like Blade Runner, be completely spellbound by its universe and then carry that over into my own creativity as best I can. I don’t mind failing. Being engaged that strongly by sometimes is enough for me.

Don’t  worry. There’s still Build-a-Bear Workshops.

Blade Runner is quickly approaching its thirty-year anniversary.  It will have passed the mark by this time next year. I don’t see those thirty years as much as I possibly should. It could be a bias on my part that I’m rarely aware of what age may or may not have done to my favorite films. Is that a bad thing? Does it hurt my opinion to see a movie the same way I saw it ten, fifteen or even twenty years ago? I really can’t say. That’s likely a question I should try to answer through the essays and reviews I write about film, but I’m not sure how to go about that. All I can do is watch something again, and see what parts of my standing opinion have held up, it and what might have changed.

This one is no exception to that, and very little about it has changed for me. I don’t think it’s shown very much age at all, if any. That could be due to the noir plot, one of the more enduring story arches out there. It’s been said that Robert Mitchum was originally the guy in mind when the script was being written by co-author Hampton Fancher. I don’t have a lot of trouble believing that. Mitchum was a legend of the noir films. The fact that the script was written for that kind of actor and persona reflects not only the casting of Harrison Ford (who is phenomenal) but of the film’s grim, rainy atmosphere as well. It’s also reflected in the other characters represented throughout. The movie is, of course, tied pretty strongly to science fiction roots as well, and those two genres exist in almost every character. Science fiction has leant itself well to noir on many occasions. Strong supporting performances from Sean Young (as the noir dame in distress), Rutger Hauer (who doesn’t need to work very hard at making me believe that he is at all times moments away from a killing spree), Daryl Hannah (the hard-luck gal for this story), M. Emmett Walsh (as the sleazy cop), William Sanderson and Joe Turkel round things out. Style aside, it just wouldn’t be a great movie without their performances with the support of a great screenplay. I’d probably still watch it though. Having these other things just enables me to love it on more than one level.

It’s not a detriment that the great screenplay comes from an even greater story, by the iconic Phillip K. Dick, whose stories continue to find relevance long after his death (and Dick reportedly approved of the script before passing) constructed the blueprint for everything this film is. The heart and humanity within his story survived to make its way into the movie adaptation, and that has helped Blade Runner be more than just a dated science fiction movie.

The cast (especially Ford) and writing have large roles in Blade Runner’s endurance. I’m grateful they exist to give the movie depth and soul, but I suppose I always come back to the city. The tone and visual impact of the movie is the biggest reason why I can be pulled into this turbulent weirdness as though it’s the first time. I occasionally feel like we’re beginning to see little bits of pieces of Blade Runner in the world today. I know, I know. We still don’t have those cars, but I do feel like we’re getting closer to this kind of cold, garbled and confused reality. We’re not too far off from having cities that match Blade Runner in terms of size, scope and dangerous eccentricity. I’ve kicked around the country enough to have the suspicion fueled and inflated. Travel is one of my great passions. It’s on that small list of things I’m relatively good at. Getting lost in the shuffle of the film’s neon dementia would be a hell of a fun way to spend a few years. I might want to leave after that, but I kind of doubt it.

The fact that this is such an amazing film in every regard helps watching it for the twentieth or thirtieth time considerably, but the infinite potential for imagination that can be found in its backdrops would keep me watching even if the rest of the movie failed to compare. There isn’t another movie I can think of that has so beautifully captured the contradiction of a city that is both a technological marvel and a hopeless throwback all at the same time. Those familiar with my writing know it’s my kind of town.

Reportedly, director Ridley Scott is at work on a sequel. That’s fine. I’m sure today’s technology could take what Blade Runner showed us and multiply that dazzle by a thousand. It might be a worthy successor, or it might not be. I’m sure I’ll go see it, and I’m sure I’ll hope that it’s a successful continuation of not only Blade Runner’s great writing, directing and acting, but of this universe that is critical to my own creative leanings as ever before. I can still be amazed.

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Twenty-One

I can definitely promise that my next non-movie review will not be poetry or short fiction.

Or it definitely will be.

I haven’t decided yet. We’ll see how that tricky mood thing is treating me in a few days.

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30 Day Movie Challenge

Day Twenty-One: Movie with Your Favorite Actor:

Lost in Translation (2003)
Directed by: Sophia Coppola
Starring: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi

Really, I could have gone with just about any Bill Murray performance. Certainly he’s lent his talent to some awful movies, but I would argue that he has never once failed to deliver a memorable performance. In some cases he’s been the sole saving grace of an otherwise disastrous couple of hours. The consensus amongst a lot of people I know seems to be that Murray made his big comeback with Wes Anderson’s brilliant Rushmore (a movie I don’t think I will ever get tired of). Certainly, Rushmore was the first movie in years to showcase Murray’s comedic genius under the best circumstances possible (and the whole movie itself is wonderful, too). I would venture to say that you can find brilliant gems from Murray in lesser vehicles like Larger than Life and The Man Who Knew Too Little. You can even find great moments from the man in questionable choices like Space Jam or Wild Things (okay, well, besides the other reason why some people still remember that movie).

The later-career classics though have come in the years since Rushmore. His association with Wes Anderson has proven to be very good to him, but arguably his biggest success since Rushmore is Lost in Translation. I don’t mind that. It’s probably not my favorite Murray film, but it’s pretty high along the list. Lost in Translation will always be one of those rare films in which my expectations were met and even succeeded. I wouldn’t be unhappy if that happened more often.

It was also difficult to choose just one actor. I have quite a few favorites that seem to be perennially tied for first. Bill Murray gets the nod. Simply because he was the first actor I ever remember really, really liking, and this was roughly twenty-two years ago, after seeing Ghostbusters for the first time (it’s insane what I remember sometimes–I can’t tell you what I did for Christmas five years ago, but I can vividly recall the first time I saw Ghostbusters).

I’m going with Lost in Translation because to me it’s the definitive Bill Murray movie. In the sense that it’s the one I would likely to show to someone who had never seen one of his movies before. My favorite Bill Murray movies are not necessarily the ones I would try out on someone straight away. It cemented that late-90’s comeback, and it gave him one of the most compelling roles of his career (so far, because he’s still surprising me even now).

I’ll never understand the opinion that this is simply a typical Murray performance. It’s true that a lot of what people like about the guy as an actor can be found throughout, but I’ve always believed his performance went a little deeper to display a subtle but profound range, within the general sort of character Murray most often plays. Murray’s character, Bob Harris, is very much in the vein of those personalities he played throughout the 80’s and early 90’s. A lot of that is very much in place, but I would suggest to anyone who either hasn’t seen the movie or hasn’t seen it in a while that they maybe pay a little more attention.


Those who do pay attention will receive a Japanese plush toy from Murray himself.

Bob Harris is older, far less manic and far more aware of how quickly everything has passed him by. His jokes in Lost in Translation come with a great sense of weariness, of realizing that very little of what he’s done in his life up to this point has come to mean much of anything. Humor can save your life on many occasions. It can lend something very essential to getting through the day in one piece. Unfortunately, that particular type of salvation can become more and more difficult to revisit as one gets older. That has always struck me as the heart of Harris when we first meet him in the film’s opening moments. It’s still funny, but in a quiet, minimal sort of way. There’s also a lot going on beneath the surface of that humor. That’s true of Murray’s performance, and it’s true of the film in general.

Sophia Coppola proved without question here that she’s a much better director than she is actress. She doesn’t strike as being as aggressive a director as her father. For the most part she simply hangs back, and lets the gorgeous Tokyo backdrop (I love movies that effortlessly romanticize the possibilities of a seemingly endless city of lights, buildings, people and thousands of sounds crashing together at once) and a terrific cast do what they do best. That’s not to say she doesn’t deserve credit. Someone still had to direct the kind of movie where the scenery is breathtaking, the pacing perfect and performances fantastic.

Nobody move, or they will become alert, and they will most likely flee into the woods.

Lost in Translation may star Bill Murray, but it’s not just his movie. This is still far and away my favorite Scarlett Johansson performance. She strikes a perfect balance with Murray, and the result of that is one of my favorite love stories. You can also just look at it as a depiction of a great, multi-layered friendship. Coppolla’s direction and Murray and Johansson’s performances leave plenty of room for ambiguity and interpretation for what exactly Murray and Johansson’s characters are thinking, and what they take away from their time together. Murray is an actor in Tokyo to shoot a whiskey ad. Johansson is a newlywed desperate for purpose. Everything else is a leisurely, wandering bit of storyteller that comes together at the end as something that only answers its questions if you look at the movie that way. You might not. You may just feel that things wandered around, characters interacted, nothing really changed and the movie came to an end. If that’s how you look at it, that’s fine, because you may still love it. The story doesn’t pound out plot point. It’s a style perfectly to actors like Murray and Johansson. Anna Farris (who I actually do like sometimes) and Giovanni Ribisi (as Johansson’s stunningly oblivious husband) round things out quite nicely.

Lost in Translation is likely to be the only time Murray ever scores an Oscar nomination. That’s too bad, but it’s certainly not the end of the world. It’s not going to stop him from lending something brilliant to anything he happens to appear in. I have a feeling that when it’s all said and done, people will be more apt to remember actors like Bill Murray, and not necessarily the guys who got the accolades he should have received. I could be wrong, but it already seems like more people remember Murray in Lost in Translation than Sean Penn in Mystic River. That’s just how it looks though. I guess history will have to pick up the slack. Something tells me history will be kind to Murray, and they will be especially kind to a role and movie as phenomenal as Lost in Translation.

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Twenty

The upshot of a slow weekend?

I get more work done than usual.

It’s still just a lot of running in place for a few hours (while simultaneously dicking around on Facebook), but I’d like to think I used the fact that I didn’t go anywhere or see anybody to pretty good ends. I probably could have gotten through the day just watching Batman cartoons and bothering people at random, but I probably wouldn’t have been as satisfied with the end-result.

I feel like I used to be a lot better about time management, but I don’t know if that’s really true. I wrote a journal entry, edited five pages of that second novel and wrote the below review. That strikes me as a pretty good output for work. I may even try to knock off a poem, and read some more of a book I’m planning to review for Unlikely Stories. I guess we’ll just see how the evening goes. I’d sure as hell rather be irresponsible, but then I remember that this is how I’m trying to make a living (it’d be awfully nice to sell that book, when the son-of-a-bitch is finally finished), so that keeps the motivation to actually do something my time running pretty high.

Being creatively pleased with what I do is iffy. There are fantastic days, and then there are many, many, many days when I wish I taken up that offer from Satan to sell my soul in exchange for a degree with some kind of theoretically useful potential behind it.

Yeah, I know, the economy is a fiendish orgy of despair, but I still wish sometimes I could go to college.

I’m fortunate. I get to concentrate on artistic gigs, but I don’t always derive any personal pleasure from them, and I rarely feel like I’m doing something useful with my life. When I do it’s magic, and I guess that’s one of the big things that keeps me alive.

Reckless misadventures keep me alive, too, but we already knew that.

You know, I don’t set out to write mournful, depressing introductions. I really don’t.

I’m just saving my knock-knock jokes for the next time I go out.

People love those.
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30 Day Movie Challenge

Day Twenty: Movie With Your Favorite Actress:

Bandits (2001)
Directed by: Barry Levinson
Starring: Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Cate Blanchett

There’s nothing really remarkable about the 2001 movie Bandits. It’s immensely enjoyable (Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton together can sustain even the weakest plot), but it’s not a classic by any means. Director Barry Levinson does have a few films under his career that many would consider classics. Diner might be one (I’m inclined to think so). A lot of people hold The Natural in pretty regard (I’ve honestly never seen it). His career is one that’s included films like Tin Men, Good Morning, Vietnam, Rain Man, Toys (I still think that movie is an underappreciated gem), Sleepers (the one movie I used to win every single Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon challenge, ever), Wag the Dog and several others. His last movie, the HBO original You Don’t Know Jack has one of Al Pacino’s best performances in a decade. All in all it’s an interesting, diverse filmography. You have some great films, some dreadful ones and a few that are solid, forgettable ways to deal with a couple of empty hours the easy way.

Bandits is a decent, little movie, and it’s not much more than that.

This isn’t about Barry though. He’s a talented filmmaker, but he wasn’t the reason why I watched this, and he certainly wasn’t the best thing I took away from it.

I don’t even think this is my favorite Cate Blanchett performance. I could probably make a case for any number of brilliant performances she’s given over the years. After all, she’s got a few Oscar nominations going for her, has already picked up one Oscar, and will probably win another, is enough of a star to carry a movie on her own, and never seems to settle into just one type of character.

Even so, I thought about it, and still chose Bandits over anything else.

Hear me out. I think there are two reasons behind this. At least, two reasons that I’m aware of.

This was the first movie I had ever seen her in, and I was struck by her performance more than anything else. It stood out. An actress of lesser talent wouldn’t have done anything significant with the role of kidnap victim-turned-accomplice. On paper it’s not the most exciting part in the world. Blanchett is the kind of actress who can take on any role and make some memorable of it. I figured this out after Bandits, and she’s reminded of this in roles since. She’s done this with difficult characters, weakly written ones and roughly everything else from one end of the character spectrum to the other. There’s little for her to do in Bandits beyond playing off Willis and Thornton. She does that, and it’s quite wonderful just how far she goes and how frequently she upstages them.

That’s not easy. Willis and Thornton are good actors, and they tend to dominate the scene when around. They’re also pretty good at taking some bland material, and making it several times more enjoyable and interesting. Both are fine in this. Willis is a badass, and Thornton is the eccentric with hypochondria and a host of other low-grade mental illnesses. They’ve made a good team before, and this is the most fun of their appearances. They break out of prison together, go on a series of clever (within the context of the movie) bank robberies, pick up Blanchett along the way, fall for her, fight over her and spiral on down towards one last, desperate job. It’s good, and they’re good, but none of it amounts to anything you absolutely must see.

I think Cate Blanchett is the exception to that, and that’s a huge reason why Bandits wins out.

And the other reason?

It’s purely cosmetic, and it’s as simple as that entire sequence where she’s lip-syncing to Bonnie Tyler, dancing and cooking dinner all at the same time. It’s not some great moment of intense, powerful acting (she’s got a lot of those). It’s a few moments in the movie, and it doesn’t mean much to the overall film. It was just a gorgeous woman in a nicely-shot sequence.

I also blame that red hair. After seeing Bandits, it finally made sense to me, why so many think she could double for Tori Amos. If you believe that, then this movie will probably help your argument.

Seriously, I actually rewound the movie, the first time I saw it. I might have been even lonelier than usual at the time, but it still made that kind of impression on me. Sexiness in movies is hard for me to find, so I tend to be mildly, briefly obsessive about the scenes, actresses and even characters, who send my jaw to the floor, and then pour cement in my mouth to keep it there for a while.


Other people are in this movie, apparently.

But gorgeous actresses are pretty common-place. Porn has a ton of them. The overall package for unbelievably sexy actresses isn’t complete, until you throw in the fact that they’re unbelievable at their craft. Cate Blanchett is that entire package. She makes even a relatively minor movie like Bandits better. Very few people can single-handedly enhance a movie like that for me.

Bandits is worth mentioning again, as a movie that is not going to be some kind of life-changing experience. But it’s good enough. A good cast can always go a long way with an average story, and Levinson knows how to wrangle a few surprises and nice touches (Dylan’s “Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum” over the opening credits being one of those nice touches) out of things. You’re probably going to feel like you had a pretty good time, but it’s also unlikely, you’ll be demanding Criterion give it a corner spot in their hall of fame. Everything in the movie is just fine, and nothing more involved than that. Except of course, Cate Blanchett. You could do a lot worse than watch this on a rainy afternoon. It probably should have been better with this much talent involved, but we won’t dwell on that.

And that red hair.

My goodness.

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Nineteen

Is it completely unfair that I’d like to get some more comments?

I’m not begging. It’s just a thought that’s occurring to me. Part of me is deathly afraid of feedback. That’s natural. No one wants to work forever at something, and then find out everyone hates it. All the acting, writing, performing stuff I do firstly for myself, but I also like to know sometimes that other people are enjoying it.

That’s natural, too.

Has this been the theme of another blog opening already? I don’t remember. I write these in about ten minutes, because I guess I feel like some kind of introduction is always in order, and I’m usually at a loss for anything interesting to say.

I’m finally circling the wagons on some more variety for this thing, but I think it’s gonna wait, until this movie review series is finished. We’re getting there. Just eleven more to go.

What’s in a Friday night? I wish I had plans. I wish that “Tonight, I’m gonna burn this town down” as Springsteen puts it. That’s not in the cards. It’s going to be one of those many lonely nights I seem to be entertaining these days. I’m going to work for a while longer, eat dinner and run movies from now to three or four in the morning. Having no choice but to spin your wheels in the middle of nowhere doesn’t leave you with a lot of options sometimes. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done alright for misadventure over the years. The problem is that I’m selfish for that kind of thing. And a quiet Friday night in a quiet room is a quiet, miserable prospect every single time.

I’m not particularly depressed though. No more than usual. I’m just restless, and that continues to become a stronger and stronger feeling.

I’m ready to go, and I’d give anything to be out in the larger world right now. There’s all kinds of trouble I could be getting into.
**********

30 Day Movie Challenge

Day Nineteen: Movie That Made You Cry The Hardest:

Rocky (1976)
Directed by: John G. Avildsen
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Carl Weathers

I didn’t actually see the first Rocky until I was about fourteen. In my childhood I had managed to see II, III and IV, but for whatever reason I didn’t get around to seeing the first (and easily the best of them) until I was well into high school. Who knows why. I’m not going out of my way to be stubborn about seeing one movie or another. I’m sure I had plenty of opportunities to watch the first Rocky. I might have even caught it on TV as a little kid. I don’t remember actually watching it until I bought it at a yard sale. The sequels had things like giant, Russian steroid monsters, Hulk Hogan and Mr. T. I guess those were just more memorable things to me.

I still dig the sequels, but I’m more apt to watch the first, if I’m in the mood for one of these movies .

I can’t say this movie has ever left me sobbing at the end, but I’ve gotten pretty close sometimes. Getting a strong emotional reaction from me isn’t impossible for a movie to do, but crying tends to be a different matter. I don’t think I’m above it. I just don’t express sadness with tears very often. The ones that do manage to draw that response from me are pretty strange when grouped together. I can’t say there’s a pattern. Sometimes a movie just has the power to kick me in the stomach (in a good way) over and over again. That kick can be pretty severe. So much that crying is just a matter of time. The reason for why a movie can accomplish this seems to vary wildly from film to film.

With Rocky I suppose my reasons for responding to it the way I do are the same as a lot of people’s. There’s a good love story (keeping in mind we’ve established the fact that my idea of love is hopelessly weird, and should not be held as a reasonable example for all humankind). You know it’s there from the moment Stallone meets Talia Shire’s mousy, painfully shy Adrian at the pet store we know he visits every day (under the guise of buying food for his turtles). The love story of Rocky is not some kind of wild ride. It’s not going to have a lot of surprises. Those are not requirements to be unforgettable though. Some of my favorite love stories succeed through simplicity in story and likable, memorable characters. Rocky gives me that story and those characters. Stallone is never going to be in my top-ten actors list (but I do think he’s a lot better than he gets credit for), but his chemistry with Shire is perfect. It sells the romance, and makes it absolutely impossible for me to think of its execution as anything less than perfect.

There are memorable, classic performances from everyone involved. I couldn’t pick a favorite secondary actor in a million years. Carl Weathers is obviously channeling some Ali here (and there was even a mock showdown between Stallone and Ali at the Oscars, when Rocky took home the Best Picture prize), and he’s fantastic at it. Rocky is largely about strong performances and chemistry, going back to the love story between Rocky and Adrian, and I’m glad Weathers was worked into most of the sequels. He plays off Stallone as a definitive rival and later friend. Burt Young and Burgess Meredith are two of my all-time favorite character actors. They played well off just about anyone (and Burt Young still does). In Rocky they’re as memorable to me as Rocky, Adrian or Apollo Creed. Meredith should have won something just for the sheer power of the scene, in which he all but begs Rocky to take him on as a manager.


I have to wonder how many people broke their hands trying this.

The build-up to that big championship fight between Creed and Rocky would never be done so well again. Is it ridiculously corny that Rocky knows his chances of winning are nil, and that all he wants to do is go against Creed from opening bell to last? Yeah, but I’ve never had a problem with it. Maybe, that’s because the fight is loosely based on a Chuck Wepner/Muhammad Ali bout, which saw an unknown Wepner survive an entire fight against Ali. That might be part of it. I also like how much of Rocky’s desire to succeed with such modest, almost pathetic dreams mirrored Stallone’s own life. He was a bit player before Rocky. Everything he hoped to accomplish in his career rode on his determination to play the character, and be an integral part of the movie’s creation (the studio that finally accepted the script, saw it as a possible vehicle for someone like James Caan or Robert Redford). It worked, but the success of Rocky remains one of the most unlikely success stories in film history.

I’m sure the guy who hands out those Golden Raspberry awards is still bemoaning that fact. I think this aspect adds a nice layer to the movie.

All of Rocky culminates in one of the most emotionally satisfying endings I can think of. It gets me every single time, and I love how that never gets old. Again, it’s a pretty simple story, but as Stallone would prove later on it wasn’t so simple that it could easily be duplicated. None of Rocky‘s many sequels would even come close to resonating with me as strongly as that first one did. The last one came close though.

It’s not just the movie itself. Too many scenes stand out, and kick around my head even when I haven’t seen it for ages. These scenes inevitably bring me into my own thoughts and memories, because the kind of movies that draw this kind of emotional response me usually do so by means beyond just the story and characters. All of that in Rocky can still work its charm on me, but it’s always more than just the specifics of the movie itself. There’s always some kind of memory to contend with, or some weird, seemingly random thought that occurs to me every time I watch that particular movie. I won’t go into the memories and thoughts unique to my viewings of Rocky, but I will say they’re potent. Enough that I can be drawn to the film by merits other than the fact that I think Rocky is beautifully done in every way.

What makes Rocky the clear-cut winner in this category? Other movies have that one scene that completely destroys me, breaks down any and defenses and gets those stupid eyes misting up. Some might even have two or three of those scenes. Rocky has several. I don’t want to be such a sucker for easy sentiment, because Rocky is not necessarily the absolute saddest film I’ve ever seen, but it’s pointless to pretend I’m invulnerable. Rocky is my emotional kryptonite, and I’m okay with that. I guess there are worse things to be than an easy target for a certain kind of movie.