Posts Tagged ‘ 1970’s Films ’

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.

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 Sixteen

I can’t believe I went a little over a week without updating. I’m pretty sure the universe continued to march along (I haven’t checked to make sure), but lengthy periods between updates is inexcusable to me. The whole point of this blog was to update it as frequently as possible. Doing so will not suddenly drop fame and fortune into my life (although I continue to dream), but I still have it worked out in my head that this blog is still a means of promoting whatever I’m up to, or whatever I want to show people.

My discipline with doing that has been lackluster. You could say that for my entire creative output in most of 2011. My heart just hasn’t been anywhere the urgency to work. I keep at creative endeavors, because it’s the one of the only things that keeps me going. Running on fumes is better than having nothing to keep you going at all. I’ll take whatever enthusiasm I can get, and I’ll almost always hope more will come along soon. Take that away, and it’s more self-loathing and despair than even I’m comfortable with.

A little of those things can be fine, but too much will reveal itself as just that almost instantly, and it can be almost impossible to pull yourself out of that particular hole.

I haven’t done another movie challenge in almost a month. Shame on me. I like writing about movies, and I want to keep writing about movies. This blog needs more than movies, fiction and poetry, but those will always be the bulk of the content here. I’m eager to finish out this challenge business (screw you, OCD), and get on to writing about films under a different theme (or no theme at all).

And then my thoughts go back over to wanting to write something more substantial. The world out there is depressing me even more than usual (and I suppose it’s a blessing that I’m in a position of being able to look at the world in the way I do), and I keep stopping myself from saying anything about it. That’s just pure fear talking. I refuse to leave my creative comfort zones, and one of the reasons behind this blog is to do just that.

I also need to get back into submitting work. That’s completely fallen by the wayside lately. Ditto for that third draft of my second shot at a novel. These are at least a couple of the things that could actually mean something to my writing in the long run. I have to kick my ass a little more about keeping up with them.

I’m terminally dissatisfied with the direction I’ve allowed my life to take. Contrary to my constant bad mood there are actually things I can do to change that. Bad luck and bad decisions be dammed.

I’ll shut up now, and refer you to the actual review.

30 Day Movie Challenge:

Day Sixteen: Favorite Book Adaptation

The Godfather (1972)
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Starring: Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan

I certainly didn’t know The Godfather films were a huge deal at age five. I just knew my parents (especially my mom) loved them. I saw references to certain scenes and characters (especially The Simpsons, which could quite possibly retell the entire first film from their jokes and references) all over the place. That didn’t mean anything to me either. The entire trilogy is just another one of those things that’s been hovering around my consciousness. One day, somewhere in my childhood they just became movies I had seen on countless occasions. I want to say I was five or six when I saw the first film. That has no choice but to be as good a guess as any.

It was definitely at a point where I was too young to fully understand it. I just liked the scope, violence and intensity of everything that went with it. This was true of the first film, slightly less true of the second film and not particularly true of the third chapter (although I’ve grown to appreciate it more, as I’ve gotten older).

I suppose the fact that I just remember The Godfather being part of my consciousness of movies and popular culture is a commentary on the film itself. The Godfather recently topped a list of movies that people have never seen, but claim to. I don’t really get why someone would lie about seeing a movie. Give up a couple nights of Dancing with the Stars, and just watch the damn thing. It occurred to me though that some people may really think, they’ve seen the movie before. Or have just seen, heard and read so much about it that it’s the same thing as having seen it.

It’s not. Finding the time for a movie this long (almost three hours) might not be easy, but it’s worth trying. I’m not so in love with the first Godfather that I can’t imagine someone not liking it. I just think it’s one of those films that everyone should see at least. Feel free to have whatever opinion you want to have at the end of it.

It’s hard to believe Paramount (which was going under at the time) wanted to set Mario Puzo’s 1969 hit novel in the present. There might still have been a good movie in there, but like anything as perfect in my mind as The Godfather is, I’d rather not imagine even one layer of this film being different. A story like this just couldn’t exist in the 1970’s. It wouldn’t even be close to being the same. At least a piece of what I love about The Godfather is its time and place. The history and culture described and created by Coppola and Puzo is part of the richness of the story and characters. Change that, and you have something else. It could wind up being better, but what’s the point in even wondering about it? I’m just glad the movie turned out as it did. I wouldn’t change a single thing.

This was an easy pick for favorite book adaptation. The secret was to not run through the list of possible candidates for all eternity. Because I probably could. There are hundreds of films I love taken from literary works. Broad categories like this one bring out the worst in my indecisiveness. Choice after choice would have kept popping into my head. The absurd mental battle royal would have never seen an end. Yet another instance where it was best to go with the first choice.

Paramount almost shut the movie down at one point. The shooting of this scene is supposedly what saved the film.
There’s not a lot I can say about this movie. Almost everyone is at least aware of it, and has an opinion whether or not they’ve actually seen the movie. I really wish I could remember, the first time I saw The Godfather. Being aware of the exact date doesn’t make much difference. It’s just been such a part of my life, the way all my favorite films are, for so long that it’d be nice to remember the specifics of seeing it the first time. A few (but certainly not all) of my best memories somehow involve the first time I saw a particular important movie. Recalling The Godfather isn’t a big deal, but I wouldn’t turn down having the whole image come back to me in a flash. Who knows what other memories would accompany it?

Dissecting this movie, going through the details of the Corleone family business and personal struggles strikes me as a monstrous waste of time. It’s one of those rare occasions, when I’m pretty sure I have nothing substantial to offer on the movie itself. All I can do is try to break down, why I love it so much. A thousand and one writers, documentarians, bloggers and more (including the overwhelming wealth of special features available on the DVD and Blu-ray) have broken the movie down in just as many ways. I can talk about the impact The Godfather has had on me, but anything further would just leave me with the notion that I’m just repeating what a bunch of other people said.

I try to avoid doing that as much as possible.

I also know it’s impossible to go more than a few months without watching it. I also know that if I happen to walk by a TV playing it, I’m going to stop, and sit down until it’s over. Some movies just get at you like that. They’re compelling, and astonishing no matter how many times you’ve seen them. I think it’s because my opinions on it changes constantly. I always love the movie, but with each viewing, it’s entirely possible that my opinion of a character or event will change from what it might have been the last time. I love that. Very, very few movies engage me on that level.

The character and eventual fate of Sonny Corleone (the all-time great performance by James Caan) is a good example. I like the character less and less. My sympathy doesn’t extend very far to his circumstances. I get that he’s supposed to be the cocky, hotheaded one, but that sometimes reaches irritating lengths with me. I like Diane Keaton for some weird reason, but her character, Kay bugs me a little more every time I see her. She seems completely incapable of a rational decision. She simply moves with whatever fate has planned for her, and then acts surprised when things take a less-than-favorable turn.

Those opinions have evolved over the years. Either or both of them could change entirely, the next time I watch it.

I also want to say that Duvall is probably my favorite actor in a movie in which everyone is brilliant. I’ll also say that my favorite scene is the hospital scene. The tension in that scene is familiar, but it’s the best kind of familiar there is with film.

Not a shred of dysfunction amongst them. Nope.

That’s usually how it works when you talk to someone about this movie. You discuss your favorite character, your favorite scene, and then you inevitably argue about the interpretation of one thing or another. I’m a geek, and that kind of thing can still appeal to me. Even if you don’t like the film (and I could count on one hand the number of people I’ve met who haven’t) it’s impossible not to at least appreciate something that’s capable of drawing that kind of reaction from people. It can also be fun to banter with someone who didn’t care for it. The best conversations I have with people about movies will always help to remind me, why I love movies in the first place.

My favorite thing to do involving The Godfather these days is to watch it with someone else. Like the movie itself, their reactions never get old.

Thirty-Day Movie Challenge: Day Four

Thirty Day Movie Challenge:

Day Four: Favorite Drama

The Hospital (1971)
Directed by: Arthur Hiller
Starring: George C. Scott, Diana Rigg, Richard A. Dysart
By Gabriel Ricard

I didn’t set out to reference black comedies yesterday and then come back to them for day four. It just seemed to work out that way. I wrote at great lengths yesterday about my ability to laugh at a lot of different things. However there does seem to be a pretty large place in my cold, nicotine-battered Canadian heart for the dark comedies. People frequently comment that the things I find humorous are sometimes quite horrifying. I don’t debate that for a second. I’m aware that they are horrifying. It might be a cop-out to deal with how terrible the world can be by immediately looking for the humor, but I’ll take the cop-out over feeling helpless and angry.

You can indeed look at The Hospital as a very, very black comedy. You can also see it as one of the most depressing movies ever made. The consensus from critics at the time of its release and people who have seen it now puts it somewhere in the middle. Personally I think the movie is hilarious, but I’m also capable of doing MST3K-style commentary for Grave of the Fireflies or Requiem for a Dream. I’m probably not the best person to consult for what the world at large is going to find funny.

Still, people who have seen The Hospital seem to consider it a pretty brilliant mix of one vicious gallows punch line after another and callous observation. The film hit its forty-year mark in 2011, but I would say a lot of those punch lines and observations are as sharp now as they were in 1971. Paddy Chayefsky would win a score of writing awards for the script (including an Oscar). I didn’t know anything about the movie before seeing it, but I wasn’t surprised when I found out later. A forty-year-old script can’t help but suffer from being a little dated as the decades wear on. Great scripts can shrug that off and still suck you in. They can stand as good a chance of engaging somebody as they did the year they were filmed. I’m willing to show The Hospital to anyone to prove that point.

There’s a lot of reasons why I won’t go near doctors or hospitals. This movie is one of them.

The acting is a big part of that enduring quality, too. The Hospital is one of my favorite films simply for the amazing performances by George C. Scott and Diana Rigg. Scott had a pretty good career being a larger-than-life, terminally brooding presence kicked in the stomach by day-to-day life and just hanging on to his dignity and sanity by a thread as large as a few inches of floss. This is my by far my favorite version of a persona he played so consistently well (but he could play other characters, too). He takes hold of Chayefsky’s great script, chews every line to pieces and spits them back out with a ferocious, career-making bark. The “We cure nothing!” speech is quite possibly my favorite rant in a film of all time. George C. Scott plays a man at the brink of self-destruction amidst absolute chaos so well that I have to wonder just how much of it was really acting. He was clearly as intense a guy as you were ever going to meet in real life (and I’ve read things about him that seem to indicate this was true).

Diana Rigg makes Scott even better. There’s no doubt in my mind about that. Her character is largely amused by the weary doom and gloom of Scott’s exhausted Chief of Medicine to one of New York’s largest, most unwieldy hospitals. Rigg was (and still is—she’s not actually dead) the kind of actress who could chemistry with anybody she was paired up with. It worked on The Avengers, and it worked with actors like Vincent Price in the phenomenal Theater of Blood. Her amusement, affection and then love (maybe, you know? Her character is clearly not playing with a full deck, so it’s difficult to tell if she really loves the guy or not) for Scott’s Dr. Bock is like everything else in the movie. It comes out of nowhere and seems to exist by its own universal set of rules. The same thought applies to the murder spree that goes on as Scott struggles to survive his latest bout of suicidal despair before falling into his bizarre-yet-inexplicably charming relationship with Rigg (it probably doesn’t hurt that she’s incredibly sexy in this).

There’s a lot going on here beyond the clearly-defined anguish, love, sex, murder, bedlam and cruel cosmic humor. The hospital itself, and by extension everything else, is falling apart under the weight of constant, Kafkaesque (I don’t like that term, but it does work here) bureaucracy, indifference (Richard A. Dysart is brilliant as the unfeeling, sadistically greedy Dr. Welbeck) and deranged, counterproductive social upheaval. It’s a pretty frantic collection of scenes, characters, motivations and events for a hundred and three minutes, but it comes together quite well when taken from start to finish. It was a forerunner of the kind of pessimism that would later be the heart and soul of TV shows like House and E.R. You should be right at home with The Hospital if you consider yourself a fan of those shows. My favorite moments in either of those shows were the ones that could be savagely funny over the bleakest of circumstances. The Hospital is one of those moments after another. It has a well-earned reputation for being a severe ride.

In the next scene, George C. Scott literally eats this man’s soul.

This was one of the first movies I ever rented from Netflix some years ago. It was appropriately a completely random choice, and I’ve always been grateful that I gave it a shot.  The Hospital turned me into a fan of both Scott and Rigg, and I’ve enjoyed several performances of their ever since I checked this out. It only takes a few minutes a day on Facebook or an afternoon in a city to remind myself that the anarchy in The Hospital is not only pretty close to the kind of thing I see in real life, but it’s probably gotten even worse since 1971. It could be that I’m just being pessimistic myself. Then there’s the Dr. Bock character. You don’t need a sprawling back story to know that the mess he’s in has come about from a combination of his own design and whatever the hell that twisted cosmic humor is doing to him. A lot of people are victims of that combination. It can exhaust you into old age long before you actually get there in years, if you happen choose to take on more than your body and spirit can handle. At times I relate to the mood of this film (and of Scott) far more than I should probably admit.