Posts Tagged ‘ New York ’

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 Twelve

30 Day Movie Challenge:

Day Twelve: Favorite Love Story

As Good as It Gets (1997)
Directed by: James L. Brooks
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Helen Hunt, Greg Kinnear

No one ever believes me, but I happen to think I’m quite romantic. I think it’s likely that I just have a weird idea of the subject. That would certainly explain most of my relationships with women, the kind of women I tend to fall for and how my concepts of love and romance influence those things. It’s worth repeating, that I’m naturally cynical about a lot of things, but I always try to leave some room upstairs for what I think love is. It’s a perspective I’ve tried to understand in my own writing, in how I try to get around in the world and in the movies, books, music and more that speak to my perspective in some way.

It’s not a complicated perspective. Straightforward love stories usually don’t grab my interest. It could be that I’m difficult to please. With movies I think my favorite love stories, are the films that go about the whole love thing without being obvious. Strong performances and writing help considerably with that. It doesn’t have to be credible or even realistic. The best romantic films I’ve seen, are those that can yield a sincere reaction from me without some blatant attempt at manipulation. It’s also nice when a movie can bring up love, without smashing sentimentality over my head until one of my eyes is missing, and I have a concussion of some kind.

The best movies I’ve seen, usually wind up sending me into my own ridiculous past, while making me wish I was a little better at capturing love in my own stories. Love is not something I enjoy thinking about a lot. My favorite movies that feature it are able to change my mind if only for a little while.

People can do that, too, of course, but historically speaking I usually tend to wear out my welcome with most after a few hours or less. There’s typically not a lot of room in that space of time for things like love.

Favorite love story could probably be interpreted a number of ways. I’m choosing to go with the romantic one. Even though the movie I’m picking includes at least a couple different kinds of love.  As Good as It Gets made the cut over other titles (The Girl in the Cafe, Punch-Drunk Love to name a few) for that very reason. The movie is primarily about love, and the way it reveals its opinions about that (both in the writing and acting) has spoken nicely to my own feelings and ideas ever since I saw it by accident at some point in 1998. I think it’s an amiable, slightly pessimistic story that at no point makes me feel foolish for liking it so much. It’s simple but not simplistic.

It’s more than just really well-written dialogue, and it’s more than just a lot of great performances. I’m not sure anyone would agree with me, but this may well be my favorite Jack Nicholson performance (he won his third Oscar). The movie isn’t just some of the best work this cast has ever done (which is really the strongest driving point As Good as It Gets has—It’s character-driven in every sense of the word). As Good as It Gets is a love story that covers more than just the weird, constantly strained relationship between Melvin Udall (Nicholson) and Carol Connelly (Helen Hunt, who also won an Oscar). That’s the bulk of the movie, but James L. Brooks knows how to juggle more than one viewpoint, and more than one narrative. The script (co-written by Mark Andrus from his own story) gives Nicholson and Hunt the ability to create fully fleshed-out, believable characters in just a few early scenes. In the beginning their lives only intersect, when Nicholson shows up at the restaurant she works at, to order lavish breakfasts and abuse anyone who is forced to exist in the same universe as him. Circumstances force them to interact more often, and their relationship builds slowly, perfectly from there. It’s the main story arc, but there’s also just enough time and energy spent on developing their characters individually. They don’t simply exist within the confines of their relationship and nowhere else. They live and breathe in the scenes that reveal their personalities, outside of what they show each other and in their dealings with everyone else.

As Good as It Gets is not just their love story. The beginning, middle and end of their romance is not told in a straight line. It veers constantly into other directions and mediations on other kinds of love.  There’s also the beautifully-handled, beautifully-written friendship that grows between Melvin and Simon Bishop (Greg Kinnear), Melvin’s openly gay artist neighborhood who has recently fallen on hard times. It’s handled with sharp humor and fantastic performances from Nicholson and Kinnear. We don’t buy that Udall truly hates gays (or Jews, black people, cops, old people, children, women, bartenders or waitresses). He’s simply built up a good defense against ever having to deal with people, on any level that puts him at risk. (I can relate to wanting to do that). It’s obvious that he’s going to have to change in order to finally find chaotic happiness over lonely consistency. Falling in love helps him accomplish that, but it doesn’t end there. Melvin’s growth also comes about from reluctantly becoming a source of friendship and comfort for Simon, and from also taking care of Simon’s small, irritating (at least initially) dog. These are three different versions of love, and all of them succeed in telling the story and giving depth to their characters. This is done with Simon, and his friendships with those closest to him (Cuba Gooding Jr. in my favorite role of his and Yeardley Smith, with a small but memorable part). This is also done with Carol, and her family (Shirley Knight and Jesse James). The best stuff typically involves Melvin and everyone else.  It’s still impressive that so many different types of relationship are referenced and explored. All of them eventually bring us back to the main story between Melvin and Carol, and a conclusion that is constantly up in the air.

I think Nicholson is trying to decide if a weepy Helen Hunt turns him on or not. Probably did.

It’s the Melvin/Simon story that contains my favorite line in the movie, and the one I feel sums up the entire story. Simon tells Melvin that he loves him, to which Melvin wearily but touchingly replies “I’ll tell you, buddy, I’d be the luckiest man in the world if that did it for me.” There are a lot of great lines, but I think that one perfectly describes why this movie works so well. As Good as It Gets has a lot of sarcasm and bitterness going for it, but there are also moments of genuine warmth and affection. Brooks maintains a balance of these things. As you’ve probably figured out I’m drawn to things that are sweet, but manage to avoid making all my teeth disintegrate from the saccharine. This movie never even gets close to that. Brooks’ considerable career in TV and film is full of similar examples. I wouldn’t call As Good as It Gets realistic by any means, but its dysfunction underneath its varying stories, is closer to my own my idealized notion of love, than most stories that come to mind.

My other favorite exchange in the film?

Secretary: How do you write women so well?
Melvin: I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability.

I don’t necessarily agree with that (Well, maybe sometimes), but it’s easily my favorite film insult of all time. It doesn’t surprise me a bit that this movie can have a vicious line like that, only to then turn on a dime, and give us a line or scene that is the polar opposite. Brooks has always been good with stories like those. Here he has a script and cast that allows him to realize this kind of story perfectly. As Good as It Gets isn’t his only triumph, but it’s nonetheless my favorite movie of his. It’s love expressed in terms I can actually understand. If I didn’t believe in that stuff I think I’d still rate this perfectly. I can watch and enjoy this even when I deeply suspect that love is a profoundly painful, annoying waste of time. It probably won’t change my mind, but that hardly matters with a movie this good. There are so many ways to enjoy As Good as It Gets. I can think of several pretty quickly.