Theatrical Thursday – Big, 1988.
The year was 1988. I’d spent countless hours begging my mother incessantly in that desperate, nine year old beggary voice…begging for the chance to see Big in the theaters. I went so far as to cut the picture of it from the film section of the newspaper (it was a big, goofy picture of Tom Hank’s face), and I’d carry it around and show her with the hope of annoying her into taking me to see it. When she finally did, I loved it then and for many years to come. I’ve seen the film about 786 times to date, but seeing it again recently after a very long while opened my eyes to a few key elements that a nine year olds eyes will never see. The main character, Josh Baskin, wished ‘to be big’; he got his wish, and woke up one morning looking like Tom Hanks. Most of the movie involved Tom Hanks acting like he was twelve, but what I hadn’t noticed before was the emphasis on choices. I had no idea that the movie was so complex; taken apart, it had some very deep inner workings.
As an adult, the kid found great success working at MacMillan Toys, great love with Susan (the love interest), and a maturity that most twelve year olds don’t possess. He also earned a pretty powerful conundrum that most kids don’t have to endure; having to choose between continuing a successful adult life, or reverting back to the reality of his youth. In my opinion, the most powerful scene in the film was when he went back home, in adult form, and witnessed firsthand what he had, and ultimately would, miss out on if he chose the adult path. The ‘innocence’ of youth, friends, games, and family stared him in the face, and either decision that he made was bound to hurt someone. It showed that life revolves around choices, great or minor, and how ultimately, you have to make the best decision for you.
He followed his heart and went back to his family and his young self in the end, but his decision to do so was embedded in my head for a few days after I’d watched the movie. So many of us in life, when confronted with great decisions, freeze up from indecision, and rather than formulate a well-calculated battle plan, we end up making none and floating through life under the mercy of fate. It takes incredible character to exert the power of choice, despite the odds. Hey, if the kid in the film was able to make a sound decision that would affect the lives of everyone around him, then we should all be able to, right? Twenty-eight years after seeing Big, I finally got a sense of the soul of the movie; follow your heart, and you can’t go wrong. It’s never too late to learn that message.
Theatrical Thursday – Bad Accents, featuring Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991).
Hollywood has long been accent confused; the mere hint of an accent is meant to suffice for any nationality on Earth. Britons generally serve as the universal go to voice for any global race, as Britons have systematically portrayed German Nazis (Valkyrie, The Eagle Has Landed), Vikings (The 13th Warrior), and most recently North Africans/Egyptians (Exodus: God and Kings). We are forced and made to believe that any accent is better than no accent at all, an absurdly pervasive premise that is shoved down our movie going throats on a regular basis. It hearkens back to the days of ingorance when Laurence Olivier and Constantin Stanislavski portrayed the Moorish character Othello, and the screen was full of white men and women masquerading as Asians and Native Americans (such as Stephen Macht as Heavy Eagle in The Mountain Men), and every other non white ethnicity on the planet. Only in the very recent modern times have ethnicities been able to…shocker…portray themselves.
A classic example of accent forgiveness is Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Costner’s 1991 take on the legendary English tale. As is commonly known, Robin Hood was the fabled English outlaw of Sherwood Forest who challenged the evil authority of the Sheriff of Nottingham, robbing from the rich and winning the hearts of the poor on his way to literary glory. It would be assumed that, portraying such a well known figure of English lore, either an Englishman would assume the role, or someone that was adequately capable of producing the necessary English-ness that would make believers out of even the most discerning viewers. Instead, we got Kevin in his most typical All-American self, with zero (and I mean zero) hint of credibility that he is the famous English longbowman who made the forest of Sherwood his bitch. We got Robin of Cincinnati, who sticks out like a sore thumb as the only one sounding like he’s from Akron, Ohio while being surrounded by a largely British cast. Even Morgan Freeman got his Moor on, while Christian Slater and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio sufficiently mustered thinly veiled European impressions. I remember seeing this film in the theater as a kid, and even then thinking “what the hell”. Behold, Robin of Montana in all his American splendor.
Wisely, they kept the original trailer dialogue free, which deftly concealed his distinct American-ness. This wordless 2 minutes of trailer quite effectively duped the public.
Theatrical Thursday – A Better Tomorrow (2010).
So if you’ve ever perused this blog, you’ll by now be made aware of the fact that I am a massive fan of foreign films, be they good or bad. I’m fascinated by the similarities and differences of American versus Foreign, and how the blending of the various cultures can often create an overall appealing movie. People are generally the same from continent to continent; the same gripes, hopes, dreams, and setbacks. But the subtle cultural differences seem to pop creatively on film. My latest pick is a bad boy out of South Korea titled “A Better Tomorrow“, which is a 2010 remake of the original 1986 Hong Kong classic that featured shoot ’em up action titan Yun-Fat Chow. In short, the film centers around two brothers, separated at a young age, that end up re-connecting years down the road. One brother chose the police force and the other followed a life of crime, so we can predict the inevitable clashes that arise with that; in addition, we have the usual double crossing bad guy that you end up hating by the end of the movie. While I’m generally opposed to remakes and ‘re-imaginings’, this is a solid version of a true gem.
Below, the horribly dubbed original:
Theatrical Thursday – Glory (1989).
Period films are often challenging ordeals. Many factors come into play when transferring a fact based story to the big screen, from costumes, to historical accuracy, to the ever-present “will anyone pay to watch this” dilemma. The American Civil War stands among the pivotal moments in our nation’s history, so it stands as no surprise that there have been a plethora of flicks based on that time period made over the years, from the infamous Birth of a Nation in 1915, the legendary Gone with the Wind, and 2003’s Gods and Generals. It was 1989 when a powerful gem named Glory was released into theaters, chronicling the formation of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, an all black regiment mustered in 1863. Directed by Edward Zwick, the movie featured some serious star power in Denzel Washington, Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman, Andre Braugher, Cary Elwes, and a host of recognizable faces. Incorporating a triumphant score by James Horner, the film succeeds in painting a multi-layered picture of the trials and hurdles that had to be overcome by black and white troops in the Union Army following the Emancipation Proclamation passed into law by President Lincoln. The film carefully creates a vivid portrait of the main characters, with the simmering tensions of the war serving as a commanding backdrop. I remember getting misty-eyed in the theaters when I saw this film as a kid, and the message that it conveys holds true today. Definitely worth a watch.
Theatrical Thursday – Harakiri (1962).
Harakiri is a slice of 1962 Japanese cinematic brilliance; the story of an old ronin (masterless samurai) who falls on hard times. Samurai were the masters of their craft, skilled in fighting techniques as well as the arts; during times of peace though, the fighting skills that earned them a living were useless. They were laid off, unemployed, and cast out into a world possessing a talent that was no longer needed. We are confronted with a challenged world at the moment, and the skills that we may have earned and acquired over the years could potentially be outdated, useless, or unneeded. Like the main character’s clear headed approach to this predicament, it’s important in times such as these to keep a clear, level outlook, and to be thankful for what we have and are able to do. So in many ways, this film hits home, and the overall message translates somewhat well.
In the film, lack of employment is a major factor and the driving force behind the motives and actions of the main character. He is a widowed former warrior who is forced to construct umbrellas as a means of supporting his daughter, son in law, and grandson. He is essentially destitute as a result of repeated attempts to make ends meet; the skills that he obtained through years of training are no longer of use, as there is no need for for them in a time of relative peace. In today’s world, I see a few loose similarities between having a degree and having warrior skills during peacetime; unemployment is so strikingly severe and widespread these days, that a degree provides no guarantee of employment. It didn’t matter how adept a samurai was back then, and it generally doesn’t matter how educated a job seeker is now. In the enclosed film trailer, the main character states, “This thing we call samurai honor is ultimately nothing but a facade”; is the tradition of collecting a university certificate indicating that one has completed a series of courses also a thin facade? Again, a very loose correlation, but still food for thought! Nonetheless, Harakiri is a very weighty, masterfully directed and acted film, more than worthy of your time.
Check it out!
Theatrical Thursday – The Killer (1989).
Action and violence were hallmarks of 80’s cinema; the sweepingly realistic tone of the 1970’s gave way to the over the top action narratives of the early to mid 80’s, which in turn led to the increasingly violent tones of the late 80’s and early 90’s. Elaborately staged shootouts, the ‘one man army’ phenomenon, astronomical body counts dripping with gore, and the gritty cop theme were all huge theatrical elements that gained remarkable popularity. Hollywood films were flush with aggressive action pictures, but Hong Kong had its own thriving film industry, and its own cache of bankable stars. John Woo led the pack of filmmakers, producing such critical masterpieces as Hard Boiled, and A Better Tomorrow, and the ruggedly smooth Chow Yun-Fat, seemingly born with two guns in his hands, was his preferred leading man.
The Killer is the story of Triad hit man Ah Jong (elegantly played by Chow Yun-Fat), who accidentally blinds a singer during his final hit; afterward, he frequents the club where she performs, and they slowly develop a friendship. He eventually accepts one final job in order to cover the cost of a corneal transplant to save her eyesight. The film is riddled with thrilling car chases, brutal games of cat and mouse, ambushes, spectacularly bloody shoot outs, and the mutual respect earned by the dogged detective that is hot on Ah Jong’s trail.
Theatrical Thursday – Joe Versus the Volcano (1990).
Have you ever seen a movie six thousand times, but only gotten half a whiff of the real depth of that movie after the most recent viewing? Case in point; I’ve seen Joe Versus the Volcano at least 30 times since 1990, but only recently came to understand the immense truths contained within it. The film was always on in the background, and I’d often half ass watched it without really seeing it for what it was. The realization and understanding came slowly; a little bit here, a little bit there, until one day I said “fuck it” and sat down and really watched the film again for the first time. I took it all in with a renewed sense of awareness, and a considerably open mind. I dissected it. Don’t get me wrong, I’d enjoyed the movie time and again previously, but I’d only just seen the surface of it. And in truth, I was sincerely blown away. For all of its cheese, the movie was an acutely effective, multi-layered glimpse into a man’s thirst for knowledge, meaning, purpose, and self discovery. Looking beyond some of the dated, clunky 90’s camp, it’s quite a deeply rendered portrait of the journey that we all endure in order to accomplish whatever it is we want to accomplish with our lives. It is a great little tale about overcoming obstacles, standing up for your beliefs, and never giving up. Who can’t relate to that, right? And if you’ve ever hated your job, the “I quit” scene below is a revelation.
Theatrical Thursday – Adolph Caesar in ‘A Soldier’s Story’ (1984).
In the vein of magnificent but severely under-recognized pictures that emerge from the bowels of Hollywood, here’s another iconic performance that was more than worthy of the industry’s top honor. A Soldier’s Story was based on a pulitzer prize winning play by Charles Fuller, about the investigation into the death of a black sergeant in the WWII era south. The film’s antagonist was Sergeant Waters, splendidly played by the late Adolph Caesar; he was in fact nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar for the role, but lost out to Haing S. Ngor (The Killing Fields). At any rate, his hauntingly conflicted role of the gruff, abrasive Sergeant Waters is indeed one for the record books, in one of cinema’s finest masterpieces.
Theatrical Thursday – ‘The Quest for the Mighty Sword’ (1990).
Ten bucks certainly can’t buy much these days; a measly movie ticket, maybe a six pack, a mess of cheap tacos, or a beer at a ball game. Oddly enough, ten dollars can sometimes finance your movie. Ok, maybe this film cost twelve bucks to make. Want to be a filmmaker? Grab your beefiest best friend, a ratty blonde weave, some fur covered fruit of the looms, a few dwarves for a little “Lord of the Rings” flavor, and get to filming. That’s exactly what the makers of The Quest for the Mighty Sword did. Vomit inducing dialog? Check. Cookie cutter, fifth grade school play quality, 80’s porn-esque backdrops? Check. Absolutely, incredibly, mindbendingly ridiculous storyline? You know it. A dude with a sword that fights robots? All i can say is wow. I truly don’t think anyone ever successfully pulled off a Conan meets Battlestar Galactica mix. This flick takes you down a dark alley that you’d normally avoid at all costs, lest you get stabbed unmercifully. The film follows a guy named Ator on his journey to free his people from a magically evil dwarf troll (like you really care what this movie is about), while battling mythical creatures along the way. That pretty much sums it up; the key to watching a flick like this is keeping an open mind, and trying really hard not to take it seriously. Surprisingly, director Joe d’Amato did. All jokes aside, it’s a hilariously fun ride, and props to d’Amato for crafting a truly memorable piece of work. Also, much respect to Eric Allan Kramer, who is one hell of a talented actor, and was just the man to connect the dots and hold this thing together. Needless to say, as a true film fan, this flick is a must watch purely for the sake of an hour and a half of utter fun and a good deal of belly laughs.
Check it out!
Note – this movie scored a whopping 2/10 rating on IMDB.com.
Theatrical Thursday – Hell’s Angels (1930).
There’s nothing quite like the feel of the early classics; the attention to sharp dialogue (even if it was laced with gooey mozzarella), the richly layered intensity of the orchestral scores, and the overly dramatic stage-esque acting style combined with a precision lacking in so many of today’s films. I set my sights on Hell’s Angels this morning, the 1930 Howard Hughes masterwork. Hughes, the notorious perfectionist and eccentric in later life, directed and produced the piece at a cost of nearly 4 million dollars, which was the most expensive film production ever made at the time. But I have to say that the money was well spent; the attention to detail and the immensity and daring creativity of the aerial combat shots made for an exhilarating viewing.
The story tells the tale of two brothers, Roy and Monte Rutledge, (James Hall and Ben Lyon respectively), and their high flying exploits as pilots in Britain’s Royal Flying Corp during WWI. Austere Roy contrasted with Monte, who was quite the lecher (Monte joined the corp just to get a kiss from a girl at the recruiting post), but the two went on to serve in the conflict. Roy is deeply in love with Helen (played by Jean Harlow), who isn’t quite who she appears to be, but his love for her plays a pivotal role in the story. The production was originally filmed as a silent picture, but the advent of sound technology led the crew to re-shoot most of the movie using this new technique. Nearly 100 WWI pilots were brought in to fly the planes, with three of them crashing and dying during the filming. The film makes use of groundbreaking aerial camera work and features some of the most thrilling scenes of mock aerial combat filmed; the extent of the scenes is truly remarkable for the era, as quality WWI dogfights are a rarity. Had the film been made today, 90% of it would have been done with CGI, so it’s great to watch a picture with real guts and mechanics. An exciting film done in the old, big Hollywood style, it’s definitely worth a watch even if you’re not a fan of old war movies. If you are, you’d better get on it ASAP.