Logan (*****): Take a moment. Feel it.

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Logan – 2017

Director James Mangold
Screenplay Scott Frank, James Mangold, Michael Green
Starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Richard E. Grant, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Dafne Keen, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Eriq LaSalle, Elise Neal, Doris Morgado, David Kallaway, Han Soto, Jayson Genao and Krzysztof Soszynski

After grinding down so much earth into dust, they finally found a single diamond. Logan is the Wolverine our hearts always thought was there, even if we wasted many years wading through several mediocre movies to get to it. The X-Men universe was brought to a silly dead end last summer with Apocalypse. It was truly a movie that exemplified all that has been wrong with the film version of the hero troupe.

What should have been a crescendo of a decent second trilogy turned into another version of the Last Stand. Filled with colorful weirdos showing powers for no particular reason, we see parts of the planet destroyed and quickly repaired. No consequence and zero impression left.

To say that this movie was intended to counter that film would be cutting it short. Jackman has his own trilogy in the midst of the X-Men films, and in his own series, each film was better than the previous entry. It’s a sad truth, though, that many will find the entire series disposable prior to this opus.

The film starts in 2029 near El Paso, Texas. Logan is living on the wrong side of the border, mainly because he wants to stay hidden. He’s taking care of an aging and ever more erratic Charles Xavier (Stewart). Why? That’s for you to discover.

Adamantium is taking a toll on Logan’s healing powers. To the point that he carries around a bullet made of the stuff to just end it all sooner than later. He can’t end it though. One reason is Charles, who insists he’s been talking to a mutant. This is important because mutants are almost all completely wiped out.

The mutant he is talking to comes into their lives, even though the erstwhile Wolverine would prefer to just take his old friend and go out to sea. That ain’t gonna happen because X-23, or Laura (Keen), as she’s called, comes with some baggage.

Mangold and Jackman score quite a few home runs in this movie that pretends to be playing station to station. Stewart is a Godsend, as he makes even the silliest dialogue seem at once literate and heartfelt. This is nothing compared to what happens when Stewart is given some truly eloquent and memorable words to express.

As antagonist, Boyd Holbrook is an above average placeholder. There is nothing special about him, and this is a wise choice. They have other things to do in this film than to pretend that the bad guy in the ad has a chance.

I won’t say much about the other antagonists in the film, other than to say that the writers hate expositional explanations as much as old man Logan does. This is comes to a welcome relief.

Keen has an excellent, ravaging energy. She is berserk when she needs to be and definitely doesn’t waste words or screen time. Many in the theater really enjoyed her performance, laughing much and snickering as she attacked with ferocity any who crossed her. I found the performance impactful and there definitely were a few funny moments.

The key to Keen’s performance, though, is seeing how she, Stewart and Jackman play off of one another. There is little joy in Logan. For our older heroes, the entire exercise is a drawn out torture that is exacerbated when they see how easily she is drawn into conflict.

When lucid, Xavier believes she is a light in the world, capable of improving on what mutant kind was before now. Logan refuses to invest too much emotion in the little girl who so desperately needs to cling to something solid. Life is hell for her now, he knows. Why should he pretend it ever won’t be?

Clint Eastwood made a remarkable 2nd career out of playing the guy hobbled by age, injury and heartache. Hugh Jackman has always channeled a bit of Eastwood in his portrayals of Logan. This film is different. Jackman owns this version of The Wolverine and he treats it with the utmost care. His emotional range is beyond anything even Eastwood has done. One has no choice but to feel every blow Logan receives in this film. Neither his flesh nor his spirit is willing this time around. When he fights, he fights scared. But not scared stupid.

Jackman has never been better. Stewart has rarely reached this level. Keen is remarkable for such a relatively inexperienced actress. Any or all of the three deserve nominations for their performances here. I won’t hold my breath, though. If they didn’t reward Stallone for his portrayal of Rocky, the Academy will likely assume the Oscars are too good for this astounding film.

The carnage is breathtaking in Logan. There is much mutilation and severed limbs and heads. As bad as it is, it is matched unnecessarily with an over reliance on profanity. Yes, I know that is the image of The Wolverine comics, but moderation might have made a more distinct impression. I will say it does work in relation to Charles. Something must be wrong if that refined and dignified person is throwing curses like punches.

If you’ve skipped all of the X Men films after the 2nd, this might be a good place to pick up again. Heck if you skipped all of the films, but want to see an incredibly well played drama, partake in this feature. Much care went into this film, and it feels like everything is balanced on the edge of a knife. And then the knife slips and goes right through.

It’s worth all of the pain, just to know how Logan feels in the moment.

(***** out of *****)

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A Walk Among The Tombstones (***1/2): Deliberate, with a few surprises

a-walk-among-the-tombstones

A Walk Among The Tombstones – 2014

Writer and Director Scott Frank
Starring Liam Neeson, Dan Stevens, Boyd Holbrook, Sebastian Roché, Brian “Astro” Bradley, David Harbour, Adam David Thompson
Based upon the book by Lawrence Block

There is something very lived in about Liam Neeson’s Matthew Scudder, the protagonist from A Walk Among The Tombstones. Given the this story takes place in the 10th of 18 of the Block novels featuring Scudder, we get the feeling of the history that he lives with every labored step and every hesitant breath. There isn’t much that he has not seen, but that doesn’t matter much, because people end up in the same place, no matter how they get there.

This is the second Scudder novel turned into a film. The first being a labored effort starring Jeff Bridges and featuring the writing efforts of Oliver Stone and Robert Towne. It was one of the last big budgets given to Hal Ashby, and he was fired right after principal photography wrapped due to Ashby’s past erratic behavior and that he pretty much discarded the script. Having the cast shoot from the hip was a bad choice, because Block makes his characters work through dialogue.

Scott Frank has written some of the best adapted screenplays ever. Get Shorty and Out of Sight belong on every one’s top 50, while he made The Wolverine more real than he ever has been before or since on the big screen. The work he does here feels respectful to the point of being deliberately clunky. Taking place before Y2K, we see a film that would have fit in that time or even earlier. Cell phones were still used primarily for calling then, and so were pay phones. Both play a big part here, too.

Scudder is a recovering alcoholic who is fully in tune with the process. He’s made peace with who he was and who he continues to be: an unlicensed P.I.. When he is approached by an addict after a meeting, he goes to see the man’s brother, Kenny (Wilson, nothing like the guy one would remember from Downton Abbey). Kenny is a drug dealer who recently lost his wife to men who ransomed her. When he could not meet their financial demands, they literally cut a deal. Now he is out for revenge. He asks Scudder to find them and let Kenny know where they are, and that is it.

In the process of finding the men, Scudder discovers there is more to the case than anyone would have guessed. He also finds some help in the form of a homeless boy, TJ (Bradley). The relationship they strike up is near to every cliché one could think of for the situation, but Frank takes Block’s work and steers just clear of each one, leaving the film feeling fresher than it probably should.

It’s after the extortionists meet up with one of Kenny’s dealer friends that the action and Scudder’s dialogue begins to heat up. There is something about Neeson speaking frankly on the phone that gets the old engine revving. We know who’s going to come out on top, even if the person on the other end of the phone does not.

There is a lot to appreciate in Frank’s adaptation of the material here. The direction is somber, but not Se7en level despair. Scudder and TJ live in the same reality, even if TJ does not quite understand yet. He’s smart enough to survive it. The nemeses are a breath of fresh filth. Their approach to their lack of sanity works because we don’t hear them explain it, even when they try to start blabbing. Frank is smart enough to leave everyone damaged by what they’ve experienced, because, well, we were kicked out of Eden at the start of all stories.

Conversely, there is not a terrible amount of mystery to the general direction of the plot. The characters start at point A and we can tell by who they are who makes it to point B, C, or D. There is enough here, though, to call for another venture, perhaps even a series. There’s definitely more here than in the Taken ventures or the dreadful November Man. It’s the little things that make one feel the difference between an enjoyable story and one that makes you feel you just gave up precious minutes.

(***1/2 out of *****)

Cool Papa E’s Favorite Comedy Films of All Time

Anchorman2-The-Legend-Continues-2013

Live action comedy films are inexpensive to make but they are incredibly hard to master.  It’s a generally accepted axiom that there is no generally accepted axiom as to what is universally funny.  That said, most makers of comedy barely even try.  Whether it’s the rancid Scary Movie franchise, Tim Matheson’s  Animal House / Meatballs clone Up The Creek, or the recently half-assed  college movie in disguise, The Internship, most comedies have the feeling that they were written on a bender while watching better (or even poorer) films.  Most comedy films seem labored and pushy, with absolutely no flow.  They are just a movement from one set piece to the next, with scat jokes and T&A thrown in to make one feel like they have seen something.

Bachelor Party is a good simile for its counterpart in the real world.  Everyone has likely experienced it (or claim to have), and smiles about it when it’s brought up.  In the end, no one really thinks it was anything more than degrading for those who made it, those who watched it and those forced to compromise themselves for it (Zmed, anyone?).  Yet, they still happen.

Once in a while, a directorial tour de force, like Billy Wilder, Mel Brooks or The Farrelly Brothers will create a niche that others will copy (usually poorly).  More often you will see an actor or actress make a pile of films that, for better or worse, will dominate the charts for a decade or so.  Tracy and Hepburn, Wilder and Pryor, Murphy, Carrey, Sandler and Will Ferrell have made their own stamp on decades, for better or worse.

When thinking about my favorite comedies, there are a few things I need to make clear.  This is not a far-reaching list, time wise.  There is nothing older than 1974.  It’s not that there were no funny movies before then.  It’s just that I don’t find films prior to that time period all that funny.  Comedy is often a product of the times, and I just wasn’t made for those times.  Were going to go backward from 10 through 1.  Aside from the basic information and a small review, I will discuss the best lines, moments and anything else I can think of.

Airplane! – 1980airplane-movie-poster-1980

Writers and Directors Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker
Starring Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Leslie Nielsen, Peter Graves, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, Lorna Patterson, Stephen Stucker, Frank Ashmore, Jonathan Banks, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Craig Berenson, Barbara Billingsley

Review: King of all the movies that parodied movies.  Unlike many of the clones that followed, this film actually has a plot that holds together all the jokes.  It’s an important distinction to know that later, when the shit hits the fan, there is a reason for it.  Leslie Nielson found a 2nd life as a straight comic genius.  Robert Stack and Lloyd Bridges also play against type to great effect.  This film is so funny, it even survived having Robert Hays and (especially) Julie Haggerty as the leads.  Of course Haggerty’s style of never getting “it” was perfectly suited for the material, but it was the Zucker-Abrams-Zucker treatment that made the two work so well.  Without those two, their careers went exactly nowhere.  Peter Graves proves that there are some questions that are bad.  And Johnny, oh Johnny.  Has there ever been a better smart-ass?

Best Lines:

Steve McCroskey: Johnny, how ’bout some more coffee?
Johnny: No, thanks!

[All reading papers]

Rex Kramer: Passengers certain to die!
Steve McCroskey: Airline negligent.
Johnny: There’s a sale at Penney’s!

Rumack: Can you fly this plane, and land it?
Ted Striker: Surely you can’t be serious.
Rumack: I am serious… and don’t call me Shirley.

Roger Murdock: [breaking character] The hell I don’t! LISTEN, KID! I’ve been hearing that crap ever since I was at UCLA. I’m out there busting my buns every night. Tell your old man to drag Walton and Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes.

Best Moments: 

Everything with Johnny is pure gold, but when Barbara Billingsley takes over as translator for the Jive speaking duo, the material reaches another level.  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s reaction to the kid’s criticism is priceless.

Odds and Ends: 

Stephen Stucker, who played Johnny the air traffic controller, was one of the first actors to admit he was suffering from A.I.D.S. after being diagnosed on June 12, 1984.  He died from complications, April 13, 1986.  He was my first exposure to someone so completely flamboyant.  I think he may have moved the acceptance movement forward a few years with his brutally witty performance.

Bridget+Joness+DiaryBridget Jones’s Diary – April 13, 2001

Director Sharon Maguire
Starring Renée Zellweger, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Jim Broadbent, Embeth Davidtz, Gemma Jones
Writers Andrew Davis, Richard Curtis

Review: Pride and Prejudice as a modern comedy.  The lead actress, a Texas native playing a British girl.  It shouldn’t have worked so brilliantly.  Richard Curtis and Andrew Davis are a big reason it does work.  Having Colin Firth and Hugh Grant as the other two sides of her love triangle don’t hurt either.  Sharon Maguire has never shined so brilliantly, and so far, she hasn’t ever since.

The genius of the comedy is the way it trades upon the subtle frailty of one on the fringe of love.  It seems likely that it would be such a sad place to inhabit, but Zellweger makes the vulnerability hilarious.  Colin Firth, playing on his classic portrayal of the original Mark Darcy, is the perfect counterpoint to her character.    The side story of her mother and father (Broadbent and Jones) is equally poignant.

So many ups and downs commandeered with such authority and tenderness and humor, it’s the film that rightly catapulted Firth into the pantheon of romantic leading men, and gave Zellweger a similar boost which she never was able to capitalize on.

Best Lines:

Bridget: Bridget Jones, wanton sex goddess, with a very bad man between her thighs… Mum… Hi.

Mark Darcy: I realize that when I met you at the turkey curry buffet, I was unforgivably rude, and wearing a reindeer jumper.

Richard Finch: Why do you wanna work on television?
Bridget: I’ve got to leave my job because I shagged my boss.
Richard Finch: Fair enough. Start on Monday.

Bridget: Did I really run round your lawn naked?
Mark Darcy: Oh, yes. You were four and I was eight.
Bridget: Well, that’s a pretty big age difference. It’s quite pervy really.
Mark Darcy: Yes, I like to think so.

Best Moments: 

When, after reading her diary, Mark Darcy walks off, out of her apartment.  She runs him down, looking to avert the false crisis, to find that it wasn’t a crisis at all.

The Tarts and Vicars party…that wasn’t.

Bridget’s slide down the firehouse pole, right into the camera in the most indelicate way.

Odds and Ends: 

This is the movie that, upon its release, April 13, 2001, I met my wife for the first time.  It just so happened that this movie was a classic, but I have to admit, the result of seeing the film has done nothing to damage its memory for me.

Kingpin-1996Kingpin8

Directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly
Starring Woody Harrelson, Randy Quaid, Vanessa Angel, Bill Murray
Screenplay Barry Fanaro, Mort Nathan

Review: There are a few other Farrelly Brothers movies that come to mind when people discuss best of lists.  Something About Mary or Dumb and Dumber, to name a couple.  This one has everything those films do, but one extra-awesome factor.  Bill Murray as Ernie “Big Ern” McCracken.  Trying straight up antagonism in place of his antagonistic protagonism.  Every little facial tic has a wonderful, gigantic reason to be.  Murray’s smarm is right at home with the Farrelly’s unsentimental comedy.  Perhaps the best part is the big swirl of comb over in the last frame.

The rest of the story has more going for it that one look at the meager box office would suggest.  Woody Harrelson’s willingness to victimize himself for purposes of the story works, especially when one sees the way he’s fallen apart.  Randy Quaid has held no appeal whatsoever in any of his other work.  Something just feels right seeing his Amish yokel Ishmael taking a dump in the urinal while reading a paper.  Seeing Roger Clemens as the meathead everyone knows he is.

The second best thing about this movie, beyond Murray’s epically brilliant performance, is Vanessa Angel.  I never remembered seeing her before, and I can’t recall seeing her since, but she has real comic charm as Claudia.   She has a genuine chemistry with Harrelson and her looks are at once beautiful and intelligent.  It should have been a throwaway role, but her performance still brings a smile after all these years.

Even more memorable – in the most creepy way possible – is the sight of Lin Shaye demonstrating to Woody’s Roy Munson what it will take for him to pay rent.

There is some real goofball cheese going on here.  Some of the scenes travel well over the border of absurd, but in true Farrelly fashion, the characters move right through, never taking the time to admire themselves.  They believe it and it makes us believe.

Best Lines:

 Roy: Some of the dresses ya’ got, ya’ need two hairdos to wear.

Ishmael: Run for the hills everybody, there’s a giant shit-cloud coming.

McKnight Bowl Bartender: So, you two are dictionary salesmen?
Roy: You would be punctilious in assuming that.

Ernie McCracken: Hi… not you… hi.

Little boy: Sometimes when I wake up in the morning Mr. McCracken’s already there.

1979 Waitress: Tanqueray and Tab.
Ernie McCracken: Keep ’em comin’, sweets, I got a long drive. Do me a favor, will you? Would you mind washing off that perfume before you come back to our table?

Ernie McCracken: Finally, Big Ern is above the law!

Best Moments: 

This is perhaps the funniest fight scene in a comedy:

It takes courage to make a fight scene so honest.  Great punches, a nice wide foot, and superior music.

I may be the only one who notices, but Ishmael’s getting up and leaving while Roy goes for the roll of his life, all without the overly dramatic look back: that’s gold.

Nothing resonates more than every single line Murray has as Big Ern, topped with this:

Odds and Ends: 

post-elmoreleonard-getshorty

Get Shorty – 1995

Director Barry Sonnenfeld
Starring John Travolta, Gene Hackman, Rene Russo, Danny DeVito, Dennis Farina, Bette Midler, Delroy Lindo, James Gandolfini, Jon Gries

Screenplay Scott Frank based on the book by Elmore Leonard

Review: 
The tightest script and an impeccable cast.  It’s like The Player, but instead of seething behind one venomous joke, we get to see it played for a layered series of laughs in the bubble popping style only Sonnenfeld can make.  Hollywood and the mob world are both played expertly and with a lack of sentiment that is morally ambiguous.

John Travolta completely owns every scene with a joint sense of natural intimidation and a wonder for all things cinema.  Scott Frank immerses the story into Leonard’s relaxed tone, completely surrounding Travolta’s Chili Palmer with a supporting cast that is loud and idiotic or low-key and smart. Every single performance is a brilliant one.

Seeing Palmer interact with people who think they know the score is like a gift.  Characters that would normally have their way in a story like this are doormats to this low-level Shylock.  When he meets his equal, in the person of Renee Russo’s Karen Flores, both characters shine.  For Hackman, it was an opportunity to play completely against his history.  His Harry Zimm is great as a foil for Palmer, as he does his best to stay in step and constantly undermines Palmer’s attempt to turn negatives into positives.

Two other components without whom the story could not have succeeded without are Dennis Farina and James Gandolfini.   Farina’s Ray “Bones” Barboni plays the consummate tough guy.  His character is a loathsome one that would intimidate most other actors in any story.  He does some really intense and mean things here.  In front of anyone else, he would be in control.  Chili Palmer, a step removed, is unflappable.  Farina’s greatness only makes Travolta better.

As Bear, Gandolfini is allowed to emerge from the shadows of being a tough guy meant to physically embarrassed into a complex and conflicted character coming into his own.  Delroy Lindo’s Bo Catlett sees him as a blunt tool to be used and dismissed, to his eventual chagrin.  It’s perhaps the first glimmer of light in what would be a classic career.

The best two things about the film are the soundtrack and the way Travolta works with it.  It’s so perfectly synchronized it makes him seem even more stylish than he naturally is.

Best Lines:

 Chili Palmer: Look at me.

Bo Catlett: Harry called you his associate. What exactly does that mean? I mean, I never heard your name, or read it in Variety, or The Star, or anyplace.
Chili Palmer: It’s what he said, I’m his associate.
Bo Catlett: You must bring something heavy to the deal.
Chili Palmer: I do: me.

Ronnie Wingate: Excuse me bro’, but who the f— are you?
Chili Palmer: I’m the one tellin’ you how it is…

Chili Palmer: Harry, look at me. You’re trying to tell me you f—ed up without sounding stupid, and that’s hard to do.

Ray Bones: F— you, f—ball.

Best Moments: The nose punch

Who am I talking to?

Odds and Ends: The entire cast competed on a game called “Death is not an option,” during the making of the film.  In the game, one is given a choice between two people who one has to be intimate with.  They have to choose one and, you know, death is not an option.  This is a game I have played with my friends many years before and since.  It has different options, eternal purgatory with someone instead of one intimate session, but the same deal applies.

The 40 Year Old Virgin – 2005the_40_year-old_virgin

Director Judd Apatow
Starring Steve Carell, Catherine Keener, Paul Rudd, Romany Malco, Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Leslie Mann, Kat Dennings, Jane Lynch
Screenplay Judd Apatow, Steve Carell

Review:  
A movie with a great amount of heart, edgy humor and wisdom, it is the first directing effort of Apatow, whose earlier work included the unheralded television masterpiece Freaks & Geeks.  Carrell gives the performance of his life, mastering both the comic and the dramatic aspect of the character, Andy Stitzer.  While making him likeable and only slightly non-functional and having the courage to make the other characters equally flawed and real, he gives the situational comedy some grist.

It’s in the peripheral characters that this comedy becomes more than just an average comedy.  Rudd, Rogen and Malco carry a significant part of the story, existing not for one liners exclusively but they are funny none the less.  The women of this film, Lynch, Mann and Banks, were largely unknown as the men. Most worthwhile comedies made since this film have featured at least one of them.  The most consistent source of laughs, though, is Gerry Bednob’s Mooj, who almost steals the movie with his few scenes.

Best Lines:

 

Cal: You’re gay, now?
David: No, I’m not gay. I’m just celibate.
Cal: I think… I mean, that sounds gay. I just want you to know this is, like, the first conversation of, like, three conversations that leads to you being gay. Like, there’s this and then in a year it’s like, “Oh, you know, I’m kinda gonna want to get back out there, but I think I like guys,” and then there’s the big, “Oh, I’m… I’m… I’m a gay guy now.”
David: You’re gay for saying that.
Cal: I’m gay for saying that?
David: You know how I know you’re gay?
Cal: How? How do you know I’m gay?
David: Because you macramed yourself a pair of jean shorts.
Cal: You know how I know *you’re* gay? You just told me you’re not sleeping with women any more.
David: You know how I know you’re gay?
Cal: How? Cause you’re gay? And you can tell who other gay people are?
David: You know how I know you’re gay?
Cal: How?
David: You like Coldplay.

Andy Stitzer: You know what? I respect women! I love women! I respect them so much that I completely stay away from them!

David: [watching The Bourne Identity] Y’know, I always thought that Matt Damon was like a Streisand, but he’s rocking the shit in this one!

Best Moments: Mooj with Ray (not for kids) and Mooj with Andy (not for most adults).  Mooj rules…

Odds and Ends: This scene was  real (language)

blazing_SaddlesBlazing Saddles – 1974

Director Mel Brooks
Starring Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Harvey Korman, Slim Pickens, Madeline Kahn, Mel Brooks, Dom DeLuise
Screenplay Andrew Bergman, Mel Brooks, Richard Pryor, Norman Steinberg, Al Uger

Review: 
Brooks had a lot of great films in the 70’s.  For the longest time I thought High Anxiety was my favorite.  Re-watching this one, though, reminded me how beneficial it was to have Wilder and the under-appreciated Cleavon Little   Both were the second choices for their roles, but now we can’t imagine the movie without them.  Wilder, in his best roles, always seemed calm, assured and like he was savoring every moment in the environment within which the story was taking place.  Little has the presence of mind to approach the heavy material with deftness and wackiness, without being an ass in the slightest.  The most telling moment for him in the film is when he handles Mongo (Karras) with the exploding candy gram.  He is Bugs, we are all Daffy Duck.

The subject matter did not necessarily lend itself to comedy, but that did not stop Brooks from going after it anyway.   It’s one thing to lampoon something, it is something more to take firmly established prejudices and show their idiocy in the most irreverent way possible.  Once you’ve gone after Hitler, I suppose anything is possible.  Harvey Korman and Madeline Kahn were both brilliant as usual.  Each were by this point at home with Brooks style.  They helped to define the style.  Slim Pickens was never better, and Alex Karras knocked a horse out.  Cold.  Who would imagine he’d have such a nice touch with little Webster 10 years later.

Best Lines: 

Hedley Lamarr: My mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives.
Taggart: God darnit, Mr. Lamarr, you use your tongue prettier than a twenty dollar whore.

[Bart, disguised as a Klansman, describes his qualifications as a villain]
Bart: Stampeding cattle.
Hedley Lamarr: That’s not much of a crime.
Bart: Through the Vatican?
Hedley Lamarr: [smiling] Kinky. Sign here.

[to two members of the KKK, while pretending to capture Bart]
Jim: Oh, boys! Lookee what I got yuh.
Bart: Hey, where the white women at?

Hedley Lamarr: Men, you are about to embark on a great crusade to stamp out runaway decency in the west. Now you men will only be risking your lives, whilst I will be risking an almost certain Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Taggart: I got it! I know how we can run everyone out of Rock Ridge.
Hedley Lamarr: How?
Taggart: We’ll kill the first born male child in every household.
Hedley Lamarr: [after some consideration] Too Jewish.

Best Moments: Well, I quoted almost every one of Korman’s lines…but let’s go with the lead dancer saying “They hit Buddy (DeLuise)!  Come on, girls.”

Odds and Ends: Pryor was deemed too big of a loose cannon, with his rumors of rampant drug use and a lack of mental stability.  Wilder replaced Gig Young after one day of shooting.  The reason: alcohol withdrawal.

There was a television pilot made called Black Bart (one of the early titles of the film)  that was shown but never picked up.  Brooks had little to do with it.  Black Bart was played by Lou Gossett, who looked the same then as he does now.

The Big Lebowski – 1998lebowski-(2)

Writers and Directors Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro

Review: Bridges Dude is perhaps the greatest comic character of all time.  More likely the greatest duo, if you include Goodman’s Walter.  This movie is masterful storytelling.  We are lulled through the amazing story of a slacker getting his butt kicked routinely for things he should have nothing to do with.  The discussions between The Dude and his friend are a constant source of tension that is immediately alleviated when they both agree (or not) on another poor decision.

It took years for me to warm up to the Coen brothers directing style.  I still don’t like most of their early stuff  (only Raising Arizona is the only one I can stomach through Hudsucker Proxy).  Here their skill seems effortless, lackadaisical almost.  Based upon recollections of friends, and characters written for Goodman and Buscemi, they have a most homogenous style that feels like we are gazing in on the lives of those barely aware of their own existence.

This movie is perfect – pure genius – and it just gets better with age.

Best Lines:

 The Dude:  That rug really tied the room together.

The Dude: Let me explain something to you. Um, I am not “Mr. Lebowski”. You’re Mr. Lebowski. I’m the Dude. So that’s what you call me. You know, that or, uh, His Dudeness, or uh, Duder, or El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.

Walter Sobchak: Nihilists! F— me. I mean, say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.

The Dude: Walter, what is the point? Look, we all know who is at fault here, what the f— are you talking about?
Walter Sobchak: Huh? No, what the f— are you… I’m not… We’re talking about unchecked aggression here, dude.
Donny: What the f— is he talking about?
The Dude: My rug.
Walter Sobchak: Forget it, Donny, you’re out of your element!
The Dude: Walter, the chinaman who peed on my rug, I can’t go give him a bill, so what the f— are you talking about?
Walter Sobchak: What the f— are you talking about? The chinaman is not the issue here, Dude. I’m talking about drawing a line in the sand, Dude. Across this line, you DO NOT… Also, Dude, chinaman is not the preferred nomenclature. Asian-American, please.
The Dude: Walter, this isn’t a guy who built the railroads here. This is a guy…
Walter Sobchak: What the f— are you…?
The Dude: Walter, he peed on my rug!
Donny: He peed on the Dude’s rug.
Walter Sobchak: Donny you’re out of your element! Dude, the Chinaman is not the issue here!

Blond Treehorn Thug: [holding up a bowling ball] What the f— is this?
The Dude: Obviously you’re not a golfer.

Maude Lebowski: What do you do for recreation?
The Dude: Oh, the usual. I bowl. Drive around. The occasional acid flashback.

The Dude: Hey, careful, man, there’s a beverage here!

Best Moments: After getting an earful about achievement from The Big Lebowski, then, outside the room, Brandt asks what he said.  The Dude, without missing a beat, tells Brandt he was told he could take any rug in the house.

Then there is the beverage scene.

Oh, then there’s this scene:

Odds and Ends:

Dudeism.  Oh, and they are teaching college courses on The Dude and Walter.  That is all.

anchorman sex pantherAnchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy – 2004

Director Adam McKay
Starring Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, David Koechner, Fred Willard
Screenplay Adam McKay and Will Ferrell

Review:  Time has been kind to this seemingly overwrought comedy from the minds behind Funnyordie.com.  Initial reviews were mixed to the point that we have grown accustomed with Farrell films, but repeated viewings have shown a film chock full of in jokes and inspired bits.

Koechner, Rudd, Carrell, Willard and Applegate are so at home in this environment, it makes up for any seemingly out-of-place  events.  It is the oddities that make Anchorman such a delightful boon.  The street fight, the office musical number, the flute solo, Baxter, and even “milk was a bad choice,” all flow in a brilliantly incongruent way.

Even after his significant breakthrough in Elf, Will Ferrell found his best self in Burgundy.  Ignorant, arrogant and unreasonably confident, he personifies all that was so right and so wrong with 1970’s culture and media in general.  His journey is our journey to find out that it is not necessarily okay throw a burrito out of a car while travelling on a bridge.

There are so many aspects to the film that you can enjoy different things each time.  If you don’t believe me, then just see if you can find “Escupimos en su Alimento” next time you see the film.

Best Lines:

Announcer: You’re watching Channel 4 News with five-time Emmy award-winning anchor Ron Burgundy and Tits McGee.
Veronica Corningstone: Good evening, San Diego. I’m Veronica Corningstone. Tits McGee is on vacation.
Ron Burgundy: And I’m Tits… I’m Ron Burgundy.

 –

Ron Burgundy: Boy, that escalated quickly… I mean, that really got out of hand fast.
Champ Kind: It jumped up a notch.
Ron Burgundy: It did, didn’t it?
Brick Tamland: Yeah, I stabbed a man in the heart.
Ron Burgundy: I saw that. Brick killed a guy. Did you throw a trident?
Brick Tamland: Yeah, there were horses, and a man on fire, and I killed a guy with a trident.
Ron Burgundy: Brick, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that. You should find yourself a safehouse or a relative close by. Lay low for a while, because you’re probably wanted for murder.

Ron Burgundy: Let’s go to Brian Fantana who’s live on the scene with a Channel 4 News exclusive. Brian?
Brian Fantana: Panda Watch. The mood is tense; I have been on some serious, serious reports but nothing quite like this. I uh… Ching… King is inside right now. I tried to get an interview with him, but they said no, you can’t do that he’s a live bear, he will literally rip your face off.
[to the Panda]
Brian Fantana: Hey, you’re making me look stupid. Get out here, Panda Jerk!
Ron Burgundy: Great story. Compelling, and rich.

Frank Vitchard: [shouts after having his other arm ripped off by a bear]: Aw, c’mon! It’s getting to be ri-goddamn-diculous.

Ron Burgundy: You stay classy, San Diego. I’m Ron Burgundy?
Ed Harken: Dammit. Who typed a question mark on the Teleprompter?

Brian Fantana: [about Veronica] I’ll give this little cookie an hour before we’re doing the no-pants dance. Time to musk up.
[opens cologne cabinet]
Ron Burgundy: Wow. Never ceases to amaze me. What cologne you gonna go with? London Gentleman, or wait. No, no, no. Hold on. Blackbeard’s Delight.
Brian Fantana: No, she gets a special cologne… It’s called Sex Panther by Odeon. It’s illegal in nine countries… Yep, it’s made with bits of real panther, so you know it’s good.
Ron Burgundy: It’s quite pungent.
Brian Fantana: Oh yeah.
Ron Burgundy: It’s a formidable scent… It stings the nostrils. In a good way.
Brian Fantana: Yep.
Ron Burgundy: Brian, I’m gonna be honest with you, that smells like pure gasoline.
Brian Fantana: They’ve done studies, you know. 60% of the time, it works every time.
Ron Burgundy: That doesn’t make sense.
Brian Fantana: Well… Let’s go see if we can make this little kitty purr.
[snarls]

Best Moments: 

This is perhaps my favorite line of all time:

Odds and Ends: The soundtrack is an absolute work of art.   It is not so much a listing of the songs, as it is an opportunity to hear Burgundy talk about each song, which he titles Ron Burgundy, A Life in Song.  The best example of the brilliance is the song Shannon, by Henry Gross.  There is not other performance that shows the true character of Ron Burgundy.

Stripes – 1981StripesMoviePoster

Director Ivan Reitman
Starring Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Warren Oates, P. J. Soles, John Candy, Judge Reinhold, John Laroquette, Sean Young
Screenplay Len Blum, Harold Ramis, Daniel Goldberg

Review: 

The greatest slacker film, featuring the best movie comedian of his generation just hitting his stride.  It wasn’t the biggest film he would ever do, but it is still the best.  Joining the U.S. Army because you have…no other real options. The premise is lazy and really shouldn’t have worked.  It’s quite likely that had Ramis and then Murray become involved, this movie would have been long forgotten

The film is a loosely cobbled together series of scenes, most of which work really well, but all of them work  in general.  Most of the actors, outside of Murray and Oates, were no names at the time of filming.  Many of us know their names now.

It’s almost impossible for me to review this film.  I can repeat almost every line of dialogue.  I find every character easy to identify with, other than the old hag in the back of the taxi at the beginning of the story.

The only part of the film that does not work is the last act, taking place in Russia.  It’s has some funny moments, mostly by Ox. Other that and seeing Sgt. Hulka kick some ass, the whole segment is unnecessary.  The film would be perfect if they ended it at graduation.

Best Lines:

[Sergeant Hulka is on the ground after getting blown off of a tower]
Oxburger: Sergeant, does this mean we’re through for the day?

Oxburger [Talking to guy in the top bunk]: See, you gotta make my bunk. See, we’re in Italy. The guy on the top bunk…has gotta make the guy on the bottom’s bed all the time. It’s in the regulations. If we were in Germany…I would have to make yours. But we’re in Italy, so you’ve gotta make mine. It’s regulations.

Recruiter: Now, are either of you homosexuals?
John Winger: [John and Russell look at each other] You mean, like, flaming, or…
Recruiter: Well, it’s a standard question we have to ask.
Russell Ziskey: No, we’re not homosexual, but we are *willing to learn*.
John Winger: Yeah, would they send us someplace special?
Recruiter: I guess that’s “no” on both. Now if you could just give Uncle Sam your autograph…

Psycho: The name’s Francis Soyer, but everybody calls me Psycho. Any of you guys call me Francis, and I’ll kill you.
Leon: Ooooooh.
Psycho: You just made the list, buddy. And I don’t like nobody touching my stuff. So just keep your meat-hooks off. If I catch any of you guys in my stuff, I’ll kill you. Also, I don’t like nobody touching me. Now, any of you homos touch me, and I’ll kill you.
Sergeant Hulka: Lighten up, Francis.

 

John Winger: Cut it out! Cut it out! Cut it out! The hell’s the matter with you? Stupid! We’re all very different people. We’re not Watusi. We’re not Spartans. We’re Americans, with a capital ‘A’, huh? You know what that means? Do ya? That means that our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world. We are the wretched refuse. We’re the underdog. We’re mutts! Here’s proof: his nose is cold! But there’s no animal that’s more faithful, that’s more loyal, more loveable than the mutt. Who saw “Old Yeller?” Who cried when Old Yeller got shot at the end?
[raises his hand]
John Winger: *sarcastically* Nobody cried when Old Yeller got shot? I’m sure.
[hands are reluctantly raised]
John Winger: I cried my eyes out. So we’re all dogfaces, we’re all very, very different, but there is one thing that we all have in common: we were all stupid enough to enlist in the Army. We’re mutants. There’s something wrong with us, something very, very wrong with us. Something seriously wrong with us – we’re soldiers. But we’re American soldiers! We’ve been kicking ass for 200 years! We’re 10 and 1! Now we don’t have to worry about whether or not we practiced. We don’t have to worry about whether Captain Stillman wants to have us hung. All we have to do is to be the great American fighting soldier that is inside each one of us. Now do what I do, and say what I say. And make me proud.

Best Moments: Sarge, does this mean we’re through for the day?

Odds and Ends:  The script was originally written for Cheech and Chong, but when they asked for the world, he moved on.  Ramis rewrote it, with he and Murray in mind.  All of the pot jokes were then placed into Reinhold’s character.  So, yeah, this movie would have sucked if Cheech and Chong had not been greedy.

ShaunofthedeadShaun of the Dead – 2004

Director Edgar Wright
Starring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield, Lucy Davis, Dylan Moran, Penelope Wilton, Bill Nighy
Screenplay Wright and Pegg

Review: I hate British comedies.  Until 2004 I hated zombie movies.  This all changed with Shaun of the Dead.  Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright make every single move a winning one, especially with one of the best endings in cinematic history.

Nick Frost is sublime as Pegg’s lazy friend, Ed.  The relationship between the two is second only to Bridges and Goodman in brilliant comic energy.  And by energy, I mean a complete lack thereof.  These folks are like every slacker duo ever created, but with a resilience and dedication to remaining so, even while facing the end of the world.

Penelope Wilton and Bill Nighy head an effective supporting cast that helps to paint a picture of a monotonous life without being boring in the least.  Well, everyone except for that guy David (Moran), who looks a lot like a dickish Harry Potter.

Fun abounds as the group follows the lead of the hero, Shaun, back to their favorite pub.  From there we get to see nothing go the way it should.  This could have just been average, but whip smart dialogue and great acting push it into one of the greatest comedies ever.  British Zombie movie or not.

Best Lines:

 Ed [To Shaun’s Mom, Barbara]: We’re coming to get you, Barbara!

Ed [To Shayn, as he goes in to get his Mom]: Don’t forget to kill Philip!

Shaun: Do you want anything from the shop?
Ed: Cornetto. [Coining the phrase what would eventually become The Cornetto Trilogy]

Shaun: David, kill the Queen!
David: What?
Shaun: The jukebox!

Ed: [pulls the car up] What’s up, niggas?

[As they look through Shaun’s LPs for suitable records to throw at two approaching zombies]
Ed: ‘Purple Rain’?
Shaun: No.
Ed: ‘Sign o’ the Times’?
Shaun: Definitely not.
Ed: The ‘Batman’ soundtrack?
Shaun: Throw it.

Best Moments: 

The ending is perfect.  No I won’t give it away.

Odds and Ends:

If you click trhe above link, you can read all about the Cornetto trilogy.  There is no way the other two can measure up to the first film, but they are both pretty good.

Forgotten Gem: Elmore Leonard’s Out of Sight – Made of stars

Out of Sight

Out of Sight – 1998

Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Starring George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez, Ving Rhames, Steve Zahn, Dennis Farina, Don Cheadle, Albert Brooks, Samuel L. Jackson, Luis Guzman, Isaiah Washington, Catherine Keener, Nancy Allen, Viola Davis, Michael Keaton
Screenplay by Scott Frank, based on the novel by Elmore Leonard

There was a time, before I was married, when I insisted that Jennifer Lopez must be one of the greatest actresses alive.  She added an ethereal quality to Gregory Nava’s landmark film Mi Familia, made a name for herself in the otherwise mediocre Selena, and she was delightfully repulsive in Oliver Stone’s U-Turn.  Then there was this film.  Made at the start of Soderbergh’s most fruitful period (The Limey, Erin Brockovich, Traffic and Ocean’s Eleven would follow), Out of Sight is one of those rare films made post Star Wars era that proved its not always the effects that have to be specia.  Out of Sight has the gift of a powerful script, a director at the peak of his powers and an unparalleled cast each doing what they do best.

George Clooney is Jack Foley, a famous convicted bank robber.  has a thing for U.S. Marshal Karen Sisco (Lopez), and she has a thing for him.  The problem in this scenario is that they meet when Jack is in the process of escaping from prison.  Thrown into the trunk by Foley’s friend Buddy (Rhames), they strike up one of the great meetings in cinema history.  Clooney’s disarming and charming delivery work smoothly with Lopez’ though but tender Marshal.  She exhibits intelligence and sexual tension with no ambiguity.

The moment we meet her father (the brilliant Dennis Farina) we know why she is such a hard edge.  Their back and forth show a shared passion for law enforcement, but more for figuring out  anything and everything.  A big reason this movie works is for the relationship between these characters.  Leonard knows that the way one adds romance to any situation is to remove all excess from a scene.  This way, when we see her act, her actions are entirely with purpose.  The chemistry between Farina and Lopez would be the highlight of most films.  That it is not is a tribute to the director and the lead.

Clooney’s Foley is Sisco’s equal in terms of depth.  His journey of life is a labyrinth of bank robberies and prison stays, with a few escapes thrown in for good measure.  That he is capable of displaying a flawed romantic character in the classic Leonard mold is a strength.  His character melds completely with that of Lopez.  Soderbergh gives this layered performance much added depth with cuts that unravel his story as you need the information.

Rhames’ Buddy is one of his prototypical supporting roles, much like his Mission: Impossible turns along side Tom Cruise.  Steve Zahn gives one of his most memorable characters in the lightweight Glenn Michaels.  Albert Brooks is an excellent bag of sleaze as rich guy crook Richard Ripley.  Don Cheadle is so well cast as Maurice Miller that, until Hotel Rwanda, I was certain that he would pull out a shiv in every movie he was in.

Soderbergh is firing on all cylinders here.  His editing ability transcends Tarantino, given that he and Anne V. Coates cuts have exactly the feel of reading Elmore Leonard’s novels.  They are cold, precise and only containing the information needed to keep the story rolling along.  His lens work with Eliot Davis is flawless and spot on, especially in scenes like the hotel elevator / lobby  during the raid.

Scott Frank is an exceptional translator of Leonard’s words, with this film and the equally brilliant Get Shorty to his credit.  He leaves in everything that makes Leonard Leonard, allowing the characters to breathe and exude their brilliant gifts and flaws.  His most recent work, in The Wolverine, shows that he has not forgotten how to make a story flow through economy of character and dialogue.

Anyone wanting to break into the world of Elmore Leonard or Steven Soderbergh would best start here.  Once you have taken this in, you can pretty much go any direction for either artist.  Either way, this film should not be missed.

(***** out of *****)

The Wolverine: Characters will survive…

The-Wolverine poster

The Wolverine – 2013

Director James Mangold
Starring Hugh Jackman, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Famke Janssen, Will Yun Lee, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Haruhiko Yamanouchi, Brian Tee
Screenplay Christopher McQuarrie (uncredited), Mark Bomback, Scott Frank

James Mangold’s take on The Wolverine is an example of how good any film can be if one focuses on the importance of building a good story around a great character.  That character, as portrayed by Hugh Jackman, has survived 6 films and continues to grow, even if the plots for his films have not always succeeded in creating other worthwhile characters.

This story starts with Logan as a prisoner in Japan just before the end of fighting in The Pacific theater.  He saves a Japanese soldier named Yashida from certain death and that soldier is eternally grateful.  Forward to present day, Logan is living a true nomadic existence in the Yukon.  His will is broken and he promised the ghost of Jean Grey that he will never use his prodigious powers again.  Of course this promise lasts only as long as one wants the crowd who paid for the movie to wait for theatrics.  In this case the beautiful Yukio (Fukushima), the adopted granddaughter of that soldier finds him just before he takes apart some unscrupulous hunters (like is there any kind in movies).  Before one can say “I wonder if he will go to Japan?” Logan is in the air with Yukio and, just as quickly, back on the ground in The Land of the Rising Son.

Once there, he is introduced to the Yashida, now an old man (Yamanouchi) near death.  Yashida gives Wolverine an offer, trading his immortality to the old man, so he can fade peacefully into old age and someday join Jean Grey.  Logan refuses, and, after he saves Yashida’s other equally beautiful granddaughter Mariko (Okamoto) from a certain death, he has an extremely odd dream.  This dream is followed by a discovery that Yashida has been pronounced dead.  Yukio tells Logan she did not foresee this death, which is counter to her mutant ability.

The Women in the Wolverine
The Women in The Wolverine

From here, we move to the funeral, an attempted kidnapping of Mariko and to the development of multiple plots.  All the while, we see Logan’s mind and heart open up like we’ve never experienced in the earlier films.  This is genuine development of character, spurred on by the accompaniment of genuine characters (Yukio and Mariko) who have personalities, motivations and true character.  They are possibly the two most completely drawn peripheral characters in the entire X-Men Series.  Their characters help push Jackman’s performance further than ever before.

The story for The Wolverine is thorough.  It’s better than anything else the series has seen.  There are threads that run through simultaneously and independent of one another.  They still create a flow that feels organic.

Yukio - a beautifully dangerous bodyguard
Yukio – a beautifully dangerous bodyguard

Fukushima and Okamoto are fantastic.  They have a presence that does not need them to fill the screen with words.  The economy of dialogue allows for what they do say to have more weight.  This weight is something that Jackman handles with aplomb.

If there is a weakness in the film, it’s with the male characters outside of Logan.  Just about every one of them is either spineless, foolish or has whimsical motives subject to change for little to no reason.  Yashida’s Dr. Green, the intentionally mysterious until they clobber you over the head about how mysterious she is.  Viper (her mutant name), could be better.  Her character is as goofy as she is dangerous.  We even get 3 obligatory scenes where she explains who she is and what drives her.

There are several high points to the action in The Wolverine.  The flight from the Yakuza through the streets with the bow and arrow sniper and then on the train, back at the Yashida compound and then the final showdown all work within the story, and not seeming to be some sort of tacked on scene.  It’s a solid film, not just a solid X-Men film.

The-Wolverine(****1/2 out of *****)