Month: March 2011

Bringing Down The House

2003
Touchstone Pictures

Directed by Adam Shankman
Produced by Ashok Amritraj
Written by Jason Filardi

Right off the bat I guess I should tell you my first impression after the first ten minutes of my watching BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE: it’s a pilot for a sitcom.  And Patricia agreed with me 100%.  But you know something?  The right elements are there and it’s entertaining enough that by the half-hour mark I didn’t even care.  The cast is obviously having fun with what they’re doing and that fun comes across so well that I sat back with a goofy grin on my face and waited for the next outrageous situation and enjoyed the belly laughs as they came.  And the movie does have quite a few belly laughs and more than a few quieter chuckles.  It’s nowhere near in the same league as Blazing Saddles or Porky’s but it is a very funny movie and does the one thing I absolutely demand from a comedy: it made me laugh.

Peter Sanderson (Steve Martin) is a corporate lawyer struggling through a separation from his wife and trying to stay two jumps ahead of the younger, more aggressive lawyers at his firm looking for his slot.  There’s a major client who has inherited a multi-billion dollar corporation and Peter is in charge of the account.  If he lands it, he’ll be made a partner and set for life and if he loses it…well, there’s always ambulance chasing.  Meanwhile, Peter has been having chat room conversations with a young lady named Lawyergurl since the separation from his wife and they agree to meet at Peter’s house for a date.  Imagine his surprise when instead of the tall, willowy blonde he was expecting, he gets the full-figured, more-bounce-to-the-ounce chocolate goddess Charlene Morton (Queen Latifah) who claims she was framed for the armed robbery rap she served time for and wants Peter’s help in clearing her name.  And that’s the set-up for the movie’s plot, thin as it is.  If you’ve seen the trailers for this movie, they tell you all that right away in 45 seconds.  Toldja it was a thin plot.

Peter and Charlene go through the usual conventions of this kind of material where they argue and fight and bicker. They seem more like a old married couple halfway through the movie than most RealLife married couples I know, especially in the scenes where Charlene helps Peter’s kids through their various problems (kinda reminded me of that old Nell Carter sitcom Get A Life) and I had hopes that the screenplay would take the daring step of actually having the two characters fall in love, which would seem to me to be a natural outcome of them spending so much time together.

But no, the movie takes a different angle and has Charlene helping Peter get his wife back while Peter’s partner, Howie (Eugene Levy) falls mad hard for Charlene.  He actually becomes Charlene’s romantic interest while Peter and Charlene remain friends.  Peter goes undercover at a hip hop club in the last half hour to find out who really framed Charlene for the armed robbery rap.  And that’s where the movie makes a serious misstep.  I’d have liked to see the movie go for broke and have Peter and Charlene actually find themselves falling in love with each other and having to deal with their feelings for each other.

I haven’t seen Steve Martin have this much charisma and energy with a female co-star since Bernadette Peters, who he co-starred with in “The Jerk” (one of The Ten Funniest Movies Ever Made) and “Pennies From Heaven”.  It would have been really interesting to have seen the movie explore a romantic/sexual relationship between a man and woman from such radically different backgrounds and I think that would have raised the movie out of the TV Sitcom-On-Steroids feel BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE has and made it into something truly special.  The relationship between the two characters is so entertaining and intriguing that by the halfway point of the movie, you are hoping they’ll get together and have a real relationship.

But let’s deal with the movie for what it is.  It’s honestly and truly funny.  Steve Martin has long been one of my favorite actors and here he shows why he’s been around this long.  He’s terrific when he has to be funny and in the quieter scenes he’s a seasoned pro. This is material he’s been doing for a long time now and he knows what he’s doing.  One of his big scenes comes during his infiltration of the hip hop club and it’s a scene that had me holding my sides from laughing so hard.  He and Queen Latifah look great together and make a wonderful comedy team.  I wouldn’t mind seeing what they could do in a dramatic movie together

Queen Latifah walks off with the movie and it’s cool to see a full-figured woman looked upon as a sexy object of desire.  Patricia wondered where her character got the money for all the outfits and many different hairstyles she was wearing during this movie, but I didn’t care a lick.  As long as she was looking great.  And as she’s proved in many other movies she can act.  She looks wonderful in this movie and her sense of comedy timing is impeccable.  Her scenes with Joan Plowright (an accomplished English actress) are really terrific and Queen Latifah more than holds her own with an actress who was doing Shakespeare before Queen Latifah was born.

The rest of the cast has their moments except for Jean Smart.  Every time she’s on the screen, the movie slows down because there’s a boring subplot where’s she’s dating a young man that goes nowhere and does nothing but eat up screen time.

Eugene Levy is a standout as Howie, Peter’s best friend who falls hard for Charlene. Howie’s cooler than Peter and knows all the hip-hop slang and lingo and one of the funniest things in the movie is his delivery of that slang in straight-up lawyerese.  He has a wonderful scene where he first sees Charlene in slow motion that I think is a parody of those scenes with your typical willowy blonde-haired, blue-eyed, Katherine Heigl types and it worked for me.

And I can’t finish this review without mentioning Missi Pyle, who plays Ashley, the sister of the Jean Smart character.  She’s one of the villains of the piece and she’s so good because she turns out to be just as bad as Charlene in her own way.  They trade wicked insults back and forth with style and bear-trap wit and they have a fight scene you have to see to believe.  Imagine the female equivalents of Mike Tyson and Stephen Chow going toe to toe and you’ve got an idea of what I’m talking about.

So should you see BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE?  Yeah, you should.  Hey, we’re not talking high art here or Academy Award winning performances.    It’s a standard sitcom plot but the cast makes it work and they gave me my money’s worth, no doubt.  You wanna laugh for 105 minutes?  BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE will make you laugh.  Enjoy.

105 min.

Rated PG-13: The language, drug references and sexual stuff in this movie are so mild I can’t imagine anybody getting offended or bent outta shape.  You’ll find more racy scenes and harsh language in an episode of “Nip/Tuck”

Sucker Punch

2011

Warner Bros.

Directed by Zack Snyder

Produced by Deborah Snyder

Screenplay by Zack Snyder and Steve Shibuya

Based on a story by Zack Snyder

Zack Snyder has provided me with two of my favorite movie watching experiences of recent years.  “300” which I fell so in love with the first time I saw it, I wanted to marry it and take it home to meet my mother.  And “Watchman” which I thought was a brilliant adaptation of the graphic novel and actually improved upon it in certain areas, particularly the ending.  Upon hearing that his new movie SUCKER PUNCH was based on an original story by Zack Snyder I was really pumped to see it as I could imagine what his extraordinary visual style could do when applied to characters of his own creation.

I should have listened more closely to my friend Jason who upon seeing the trailers opinioned that any movie with trailers that kick-ass couldn’t live up to the promise they were making.  Know what?  Jason was totally correct.  SUCKER PUNCH isn’t as kick-ass as those trailers promised.  But neither is it the complete and total disaster some would have you believe.  At most, it’s an interesting experiment by a still young filmmaker who I think was trying to tell a story too ambitious for his still growing talents.  But we’ll get back to that in a bit, okay?  Right now, the obligatory story synopsis…

Baby Doll’s (Emily Browning) life is about as bad as it can get.  Her mother has died, her sister killed in a tragic accident and her stepfather has had her committed to a mental asylum.  The stepfather has bribed the head orderly Blue Jones (Oscar Isacc) to arraign for Baby Doll to be lobotomized.  This way, he can keep control of the vast fortune left to Baby Doll by her mother and she will unable to tell anybody the true circumstances of the death of Baby Doll’s sister.

To cope with her horrific situation, Baby Doll’s mind creates an elaborate fantasy world where the asylum is now a strip club/brothel where Blue is the owner.  The asylum’s chief therapist Dr. Gorski (Carla Gugino) is now the madam.  Baby Doll becomes friends with the club’s top dancers; Amber (Jamie Chung) Blondie (Vaneesa Hudgens) Rocket (Jena Malone) and her older sister Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish).  Baby Doll is informed that in five days she is to be given to ‘The High Roller’ which is paralleled in the real world by The Doctor (Jon Hamm) coming to give her a lobotomy.  Baby Doll plans to use those five days to escape and enlists the aid of the other dancers to do so.  This involves Baby Doll creating yet another fantasy world where she and her friends, guided by The Wise Man (Scott Glenn) have to collect five objects to aid in their escape.

That sounds pretty simple and straightforward, right?  Well, it isn’t.  There’s an added dimension to this in that apparently Baby Doll can mesmerize everybody in a room when she dances.  We never see what the dance is but when she does, she and her friends are transported to the world where they have to gather the objects.  That’s at around the point you’ll probably start scratching your head.  I know I did.

Let’s get the good out of the way: I liked most of the performances.  Scott Glenn looks as if he’s having so much fun I was having fun watching him.  Jon Hamm is only in the movie for a few minutes but he really makes the most of his brief screen time to really bring an added note of horror and pathos to the movie’s bleakest moment.  And Carla Gugino is amazing as always.  Why this woman doesn’t have a bigger career infuriates me to no end.  Jena Malone I really liked in this one.  She’s got an 80’s Meg Ryan vibe going here I found appealing.  Abbie Cornish I don’t recall seeing in anything but I’m going to be looking for more from her.

The best part of the movie?  Undoubtedly the absolutely incredible action sequences where Baby Doll and crew acquire the objects they need.  I especially loved the World War I sequence with automatic weapons, steampunk battle armor, great big honkin’ zepplins porcupined with weapons and clockwork German soldiers.  You see those sequences and you mightily wish that Zack Snyder had built a better story around them.  He’s got an astounding eye for detail that is truly gifted and visually, SUCKER PUNCH is a treat.

The bad?  There was one too many realities to deal with.  Unlike “Inception” which was painstakingly clear about the rules concerning dream worlds, SUCKER PUNCH isn’t.  I took the movie to be an homage to “The Wizard of Oz” more than anything else since it starts off with a very dull gray look to everything but once Baby Doll starts her fantasy in the brothel, the movie switches to vibrant, eye-popping color.

But once I realized that the action sequences were little more than glorified cut scenes from a videogame, I got bored.  Because I knew they weren’t going to last.  And what I wanted to see was a whole movie with these five fightin’ females boppin’ around these incredible worlds kicking every ass in sight.  And I was frustrated because I wasn’t getting it.  I did find it amusing that Baby Doll apparently has learned Jim Kelly’s trick of switching footwear in mid-fight and that kept me active looking for when she would switch from high heels to flats and back.

So should you see SUCKER PUNCH?  See, that’s a tough one for me to call.  Let me put it to you from both sides of my movie persona:

The cheap-ass, misery, grinchy Derrick Ferguson says: even though I’m a Zack Snyder fan,  there were parts where I was bored so if you’re not a fan, I can’t see where you’d want to see this.

On the other hand…

The artistic, compassionate, film nerd Derrick Ferguson says Zack Snyder has given us something interesting that isn’t a remake or a reboot or dragging out some moldy old franchise, slapping a new coat of paint on it and going “Ta-da!”  He’s done his best to give us something original and he’s to be commended for that.  He stretched himself and didn’t play it safe and I respect that.  I’m willing to give him a pass for SUCKER PUNCH because this is only his fifth film and he’s still growing as a filmmaker.  This one got away from him because I don’t believe he’s built up enough directorial muscle to successfully pull off telling a story like this.  If SUCKER PUNCH is a failure it’s an honest one motivated by creativity and a desire to communicate with a unique storytelling style.

109 minutes

Rated PG-13

Better In The Dark #104

Episode 104: THE RIVALS OF BOND–DR. GOLDFOOT and DIABOLIK

The Boys Outta Brooklyn return to their survey of the people who tried to give 007 a run for their money with not one, but two spy series connected by the participation of a great, great man, Mr. Mario Bava. First they’ll examine a pair of film featuring a peculiar, robot-making mad scientist played by Vincent Price as he menaces a pair of former teen idols. Then Tom and Derrick will talk about the wild adaptation of a French comic featuring John Philip Law’s eyebrows and what may very be the single hottest woman in the history of cinema. Plus the Boys read listener mail, try to figure out why evil masterminds always want Australia when they outsource, and how we would change the Super Bowl halftime show! It’ll explode with a kiss, so get to clicking!

BETTER IN THE DARK
Two Guys Outta Brooklyn Talk Movies
DJ COMICS CAVALCADE
Silver Age Comics Through Modern Eyes
Join us now at www.earth-2.net!
Tom and Walter Bonham tackle the comic book issues of the day at BURNING COMICS! http://tschamp.podomatic.com

How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying

1967

MGM/United Artists

Directed, Produced and Written For The Screen by David Swift

Based On The Novel by Shepherd Mead

Adapted From The Broadway Play by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert

Original Music by Frank Loesser

I once received an email from a reader who wanted to know why I had reviewed “a corny old movie nobody is interested in” like the 1966 BATMAN instead of reviewing the Tim Burton version.  The reader went on to suggest that if I wanted people to read my reviews, I should spend more time reviewing “movies people want to see” instead of “all that old crap”.

I sent the reader a pleasant enough response, informing him that the reason I was doing this was to review movies I liked and the movies I like cover an enormous expanse of territory and I don’t like to limit myself to whatever happens to be the hottest movie in the Cineplex this weekend.

I went on to further explain that one of the many reasons I love movies is that in their own way, they’re time capsules that can tell you a lot about the fashions, slang, attitudes and customs of the time period that movie was made in.  My feeling is sometimes you can get more out of understanding the ‘60’s from a movie like HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING than you can from a History Channel documentary of the same period.  HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING was made back when musicals didn’t have to have a reason for why the actors were singing, unlike modern musicals such as “Pennies From Heaven” or “Chicago” where a considerable amount of screen time is used to explain why everybody’s bursting out into song.  It never fails to amaze me how people can go see a movie where a guy in red underwear climbs up walls and swing from webs or an eccentric billionaire clones living dinosaurs from cells that have been sealed in amber for millions of years and they accept it with no problem.  But let ‘em go see a movie where someone suddenly starts singing and they start asking; “where’s the music coming from?”

J. Pierpont Finch is a window washer filled with ambition and bursting to make his mark in the business world.  One day he picks up a book entitled “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying” and armed with the advice the book provides, starts a meteoric rise from mail room clerk to Chairman Of The Board Of World Wide Wickets, a company so huge that nobody is sure of exactly just what a wicket is.  Finch is helped along his climb up the corporate ladder by Rosemary Pilkington, a secretary who is convinced Finch needs her help and tries her best to get him to see how much she loves him but Finch is too interested in brown-nosing the top executives or pulling underhanded tricks to get promotions.  Finch’s main rival is Bud Frump, the nephew of J.B. Biggley, President of World Wide Wickets and much of the movie has Finch and Bud trying to double-cross and backstab each other while they jockey for promotions that quite frankly neither one of them deserve.

Now, when I lay out the story like that, you would think that it sounds like a pretty grim story of corporate greed and bitter rivalry.  But remember, this is a ‘60’s musical we’re talking about.  Everything is in glorious Technicolor and the songs are big, beautiful numbers with lots of lavish dancing (the original choreography was done by Bob Fosse) There’s a ton of laughs as Finch charms and bullshits his way around the company, making friends through song and dance and seeming to extricate himself from one crisis after another with a cheerful, gap-toothed grin.

I like the cast in this musical a lot.  Robert Morse plays J. Pierpont Finch with loads of energy and vitality.  He’s  one of the few actors to have won a Tony for both a musical role as well as a dramatic one playing Truman Capote on Broadway.  If you only know Robert Morse from “Mad Men” you really ought to see this one when he was in his incandescent prime.  Watching him in this movie, he reminded me a lot of a ‘60’s version of Michael J. Fox.  He may be playing a sneaky, manipulative double-crossing weasel with two faces and a forked tongue in both of them but dammit, he makes us like J. Pierpont Finch and we find ourselves rooting for him.  Michelle Lee is endearing as Rosemary Pilkington and she gets to sing the big romantic number ‘I Believe In You’.  Rudy Vallee is J.B. Biggley and there are a lot of funny bits with him and Morse as Morse worms his way deeper and deeper into his confidence.

A lot of the humor in the movie comes from Anthony Teague as Bud Frump, who looks like he could be James Coburn’s sneaky kid brother and Maureen Arthur as Hedy LaRue, the cigarette girl who blackmails J.B. Biggley into giving her a job at World Wide Wickets.  Maureen Arthur is hilarious playing a drop-dead gorgeous bimbo who is hopeless at anything else except for Finch using her as a lure to trap other company executives into situations where they’re caught with her by J.B. and summarily shipped off to Venezuela.

And as for the songs, I like ‘em all and much as I like musicals, I find that there’s one or two clunkers except for this one and “Guys And Dolls” where I look forward to each and every number.  Especially the show-stopping ‘Brotherhood of Man’ number near the end.  It’s probably no coincidence that both musicals had songs written by the same man, Frank Loesser.

By the time it’s all over, Finch has achieved his goal of rising to the top (and if I’ve counted right, it only took him six days…allegory anyone?) married Rosemary and even made friends with Bud Frump and the last scene of the movie shows that Finch has set his sights even higher.

HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING probably looks clunky, old-fashioned and plodding to modern day audiences who insist on more razzle-dazzle and MTV style editing in their movies nowadays.  But this was a musical that was made when they knew how to film one so that you could see that it was the actual person you paid to see singing and dancing actually doing it.  It’s a movie musical that has nothing but charm, good songs, good performances and a lot of laughs.  It demands no more from you that you sit back and let yourself be entertained.

121 minutes

Broadway Danny Rose

1984

Orion Pictures

Written and Directed by Woody Allen

Produced by Robert Greenhut

BROADWAY DANNY ROSE starts off with one of the best opening sequences I’ve ever seen in a movie.  A gang of old school, Borscht Belt comedians (real life comedians such as Sandy Baron and Jackie Gayle playing themselves) are hanging out at The Carnegie Deli just kickin’ the Willie Bobo, telling stories, drinking coffee and having laughs.  They’re entertaining each other with outrageous stories about various actors, agents, comedians and club owners they know when the conversation turns to the legendary Broadway Danny Rose (Woody Allen) who after failing at his own stand-up comedy career becomes an agent.  But not just any agent, mind you.  Danny specializes in the acts that nobody wants, like the one-legged tap dancer and the blind xylophone player.  And then Sandy Baron tells the other guys to sit back and get comfortable because he’s going to tell them The Greatest Danny Rose Story.   This is the one with Lou Canova (Nick Apollo Forte) and Tina Vitale (Mia Farrow) You get the feeling that these guys have heard this story many times before but it’s so funny, so outrageous and so downright goofy they don’t mind hearing it again.  And with good reason.  It’s a great story.

Lou Canova is a has been lounge singer with an ego the size of an earthquake who made some noise with a hit called ‘Agita’ back in the 50’s and now, in the 80’s, there’s a big nostalgia boom that he’s riding.  Danny gives him a lot of personal attention because Lou is his most successful act and he’s come to the attention of Milton Berle who wants Lou for a television special.  If the special goes over big then he’ll hire Lou for his opening act in Las Vegas.  Danny books Lou for a show at The Waldorf where Milton Berle will come check him out.  It’s the biggest night in the lives of both Lou and Danny, especially for Danny who has essentially brought Lou from obscurity to the brink of stardom.  Lou likes to pull a cork and that’s more than enough to keep Danny up nights trying to keep Lou sober enough to make the gig.  The situation is complicated when Lou asks Danny to bring his girlfriend Tina to the show.  This is a bad idea, Danny says.  What about Lou’s wife?  She’s going to be there.  Lou insists that Danny can be the beard and pretend to be Tina’s boyfriend.  He just wants her there.

Then Lou and Tina have a major fight and she tells Lou to go to hell.  She also goes back to her old boyfriend and Danny is forced to follow her to Long Island where he finds out to his dismay that the ex-boyfriend is a member of a Mafia family and there’s a series of events that end up with Danny going on the run with Tina as the ex-boyfriend has brothers with baseball bats and tire irons they’re eager to use on Danny.  Danny’s got to try and dodge the crazy Rispoli brothers as well as keep Lou sober to get him to the show.  All this while fighting with the tough-as-nails Tina who finds herself having strange feelings she’s never had before and it takes her a long time before she realizes that Danny is the reason she’s having these feelings.

I’ve been a Woody Allen fan for a long time.  “Sleeper” and “Love And Death” are two of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen and “Manhattan Murder Mystery” is the best blend of mystery and comedy I’ve ever seen since the classic “Thin Man” movies.  “Shadows And Fog”is like if Fritz Lang and Kafka collaborated while on crack.   Woody Allen is consistently one of the most entertaining filmmakers of our time.  His movies are always interesting to watch and occasionally very funny if not downright hilarious.  In BROADWAY DANNY ROSE the humor comes right from the characters and the bizarre situations they find themselves in and the story gets increasingly more complicated and funnier as Danny hyperactively tries to make everything come out right and just get his client the stardom Danny honestly believes he deserves.

Woody Allen plays the same character here he plays in all his movies: the nerdy, neurotic intellectual who talks faster than a used car salesman and is desperately trying to convince everybody he’s on top on things.  I once watched an interview with Woody Allen who revealed that in all his movies he’s doing Bob Hope and I can see it.  The rapid one-liners thrown off in a seemingly careless manner, the coward who is forced to rise to the occasion and be heroic, the insecure little kid with a huge ego who thinks he’s the world’s greatest ladies man, it’s all there and Woody plays it to perfection in this one.  Mia Farrow is the real acting surprise in this movie.  Who knew she could play a loud-mouthed, ill-mannered cheap blonde so well and so hilariously?  Nick Apollo Forte apparently plays a character that is a lot like him and mirrors his actual career in Real Life.  He has a couple of scenes in this movie that are really nice and you get to like this big stupid lug whose talent is nowhere near as big as his head but he’s so likeable you can even forgive the dirty trick he pulls on Danny near the end of the movie.

So should you see BROADWAY DANNY ROSE?  Yes.  If you’re a Woody Allen fan you’ve probably seen it already so I don’t have to convince you.  But maybe you’ve never seen this one and only checked out Woody’s earlier movies where he depended more on physical comedy.  BROADWAY DANNY ROSE is an excellent comedy built on a bedrock sound foundation of wonderfully eccentric, quirky characters and a solid, entertaining story.  Definitely worth a look on Netflix or if you get Turner Classic Movies via your cable/satellite provider wait for it to show up there.

Rated PG

84 minutes

Barton Fink

1991

20th Century Fox

Directed by Joel Coen
Written by Ethan and Joel Coen
Produced by Ethan Coen

Joel and Ethan Coen are quite simply masters at what they do; which is making entertaining movies that have a lot more going on than you see the first time. They’ve made some of my favorite films such as “Raising Arizona”, “O Brother Where Art Thou?”, and the magnificent “Miller’s Crossing”, which is one of the best gangster movies ever made. If you haven’t seen any of their movies, you need to rectify that error and Netflix them.

BARTON FINK was written when the Brothers Coen suffered writer’s block while working on the screenplay for “Miller’s Crossing” and all I can say is this: if this is the kind of story they came up with when they were blocked, they oughta get blocked more often.

Barton Fink is a New York playwright enjoying success on Broadway with his latest play in the year 1941. His agent wrangles a deal for Barton to go work in Hollywood. Capital Studios is offering Barton $2,000 a week to write movies for them. And back in those days, $2,000 a week was a fortune. Barton doesn’t want to go but his agent wisely advises him that if he takes the deal, he can put food on his table and keep a roof over his head while Barton writes the stuff he really wants to write. Barton finally accepts and goes out to Hollywood where he takes a room in The Hotel Earle, a really odd establishment that seems to have only two employees; a decrepit elevator operator who appears to be nearly ossified and the cheerful desk clerk Chet (Steve Buscemi)

Barton immediately catches writer’s block since he’s never written a movie script before. Hell, he doesn’t even go to movies and his first assignment is to script a wrestling movie starring Wallace Beery. Barton seeks help from a variety of characters such as the alcoholic writer W.P. Mayhew (John Mahoney) and producer Ben Geisler (Tony Shaloub)

Part of Barton’s problem is that his thinking too much is getting in the way of his job. You see, he claims he wants to write about the common man but he actually knows bupkis about his intended subject. This is pointed out in a series of scenes with the producer Ben Geisler who replies to Barton’s dilemma with exasperation: “What do you need to know? It’s a wrestling picture! It’s not  Hamlet!”

Geisler has a terrific scene where he takes Barton to lunch and advises him to talk to another writer and Barton asks where does he find a writer in Hollywood. Geisler replies with one of my Top Ten Favorite Lines Of All Time; “This town is lousy with ‘em…throw a rock and you’ll hit one. And do me a favor, Fink…when you throw that rock…throw it hard.” I watch Tony Shaloub in this movie and in “Monk” and it’s amazing to me that it’s the same actor playing these characters.

Barton has a next-door neighbor in the Hotel Earle, an insurance salesman named Charlie Meadows who tries to help Barton out with his writer’s block. Hell, Charlie figures that you can’t get more common man than him, but he soon finds that Barton is more interested in ranting about his own theories on what the common man wants than actually finding out what the common man thinks. The theme of Barton’s ignorance about what he thinks writing is supposed to be runs through the entire movie and is handled in some very funny scenes. There’s one in which Barton having a picnic with Mayhew and his secretary and Barton is spouting hyper-intellectual felgercarb about writing and how it’s this divine calling and he cannot separate himself from his art. Mayhew gives him this really pitying look and says;  “I just like making things up.”

But BARTON FINK isn’t just about a writer’s trials and tribulations in Hollywood. It’s also about a grisly, horrifying murder and a frightening revelation concerning the jovial, amiable Charlie Meadows that just may have infernal origins. If you’ve seen BARTON FINK then you know exactly what I’m talking about and I wouldn’t dream of spoiling it for those of you who haven’t. But at the same time BARTON FINK is also a very funny movie and sometimes you don’t know if you should be laughing or not. And indeed, there are scenes where Barton himself doesn’t know if he should be taking the people he’s talking to seriously or not.  Such as two police detectives who appear to take a perverse delight in the way they verbally ping-pong their interrogation of Barton back and forth like Abbott and Costello doing “Who’s On First?”

One of the fun things about this movie is that there’s always something new I see every time I view it (which is about once a year) and I delight in the performances of John Turturro, John Goodman, Judy Davis and John Mahoney (who delivers the funniest rendition of ‘Old Black Joe’ I’ve ever heard) as well as the way the story is told. Jon Polito is also on hand playing the virtual slave of a fierce studio boss (Michael Lerner) And if anybody can figure out just what the final scene of the movie is about, email me and give a brother a clue, wouldja?

116 minutes
Barton Fink is rated R for language and mature themes. There’s no graphic sex in the movie and the implied violence is more grisly than any violence we actually see.

Full Metal Jacket

1987

Warner Bros.

Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Written by Gustav Hasford and Michael Herr

Based on the novel “The Short Timers”

Occasionally the subject of Vietnam war movies will come up when I’m having one of my well known heated discussions about movies with friends and family. Everybody will start slinging around their candidate for best Vietnam war movies and while everybody knows and loves “Platoon” “Apocalypse Now” and “The Deer Hunter”, you don’t hear many people today mention movies like “Hamburger Hill” (which has some excellent work by Dylan McDermott and Courtney B. Vance) or “Who’ll Stop The Rain” or even the movie that was billed as “the best war movie ever made” when it first opened in 1987, Stanley Kubrick’s FULL METAL JACKET

Now saying that FULL METAL JACKET is “the best war movie ever made” is really stretching a point as far as I’m concerned. It’s not even the best Vietnam War movie ever made. That honor most certainly has to go to Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” And if you really want to be blown away, watch the Redux version. Yeah, it’s a whole hour longer and some may say that the French plantation sequence isn’t necessary but screw ‘em, I enjoyed it anyway. And as far as pure story goes, “Platoon” and “Hamburger Hill” have FULL METAL JACKET beat. But you really should see it because Stanley Kubrick made it and it is a remarkable vision of The Vietnam War. In fact, if you’re in the mood for a Vietnam War movie marathon, rent all the movies I’ve mentioned so far and watch them in this order:

The Deer Hunter
Platoon
Full Metal Jacket
Hamburger Hill
Apocalypse Now Redux
Who’ll Stop The Rain

Trust me on this, it makes sense to watch them in this order because by watching the films that way you get a sense of how the madness of the war exponentially increased and how it infected the American consciousness thereby causing the collapse of the diehard values of the 50’s and 60’s held onto by The United States. It was painfully obvious that everything was changing day by day and nobody was really all that certain of what was going to happen tomorrow. But that’s enough of my half-assed social commentary. Onto the movie review….

FULL METAL JACKET begins with one of the most brilliant and profanely hilarious sequences in movie history as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) addresses his raw recruits on Parris Island, which is where The Marine Corps trains their troops. R. Lee Ermey actually was a Marine Drill Instructor for thirty years and it was a stroke of genius on Kubrick’s part to have Ermey basically play himself since Ermey brings an outstanding level of realism to the role. And at the same time, he’s as funny as Richard Pryor on his best day. He seems to have a bottomless well of profane insults and obscene descriptions for his men that are at the same time outstandingly creative and yet mind-numbingly hilarious in their dehumanizing effect and he never repeats himself once as far as I could tell. One of the recruits actually has to pay a pretty stern price for laughing while Hartman is berating another recruit and I couldn’t blame the guy one bit ‘cause if I’d been standing there, I’d have been laughing my ass off. Ermey is simply wonderful in the role and he has a scene where he finds some contraband food in the footlocker of one of his recruits and the cat just simply loses his mind. The scene has even more power if you do your research and find out that R. Lee Ermey’s dialog is this movie was actual things he used to say to his real-life recruits. Suddenly it doesn’t become so funny.

Hartman in particular latches onto one overweight recruit he names Gomer Pyle (Vincent D’Onofrio) since the poor slob can’t even tie his shoes right and heaps a whole bunch of abuse on the hapless bastard.  Hartman ruthlessly drives the recruit to the breaking point in his efforts to turn him into a soldier worthy to serve in Hartman’s beloved Marine Corps with horrifying and tragic results.  The conflict between Hartman and Gomer Pyle is witnessed by one Private Joker (Matthew Modine) who is there to become a journalist.

Joker confuses his superior officers because while he claims he is a killer and fully intends to be “the first kid on his block to get a confirmed kill” also blatantly wears a peace symbol on his helmet. Joker is the character we follow through the movie as he goes through basic training and eventually sees combat along with his buddy Rafterman (Kevyn Major Howard) who is a photographer but also is insanely hot to see his share of the action. Rafterman’s constant mantra to Joker is: “I wanna get in the shit.” The two men hook up with a platoon that is involved in The Tet Offensive and this leads to the last third of the movie where the platoon engages in a bloody confrontation with a sniper in the flaming ruins of Hue City. And by then, Rafterman, Joker and the platoon are most certainly all in a world of shit.

FULL METAL JACKET isn’t a movie with a straightforward plot or story and it feels very loose to me as a result. There’s no sense that we have a story that we’re following from beginning to end and in fact, some scenes don’t really end. They just fade out and go to the next one and maybe that’s what Kubrick was trying for in order to make us feel that The Vietnam War didn’t have a beginning or end. It just went from one outrageous horror to the next. And Kubrick isn’t known for being a director who concentrated on his actors anyway. Despite this, there are some great performances in the movie, especially from Ermey and Vincent D’Onofrio who plays Gomer Pyle. In fact, the first hour of the movie is so dominated by their performances that after we leave the Parris Island training sequence, the movie loses some of its energy since there’s no actor in the movie that comes close to the level D’Onofrio and Ermey achieve in the beginning. Although Adam Baldwin as a half-crazed M-60 machine gunner and Dorian Harewood as a member of the doomed patrol come awfully close as you can see that they’re acting their asses off. They’re both very good actors and their roles are solid pieces of characterization. I especially liked how even though Baldwin’s character shows blatantly open racist attitudes toward Harewood, he’s the first one to object when Harewood’s character is shot and the platoon leader orders that they leave Harewood behind.

But even flawed Stanley Kubrick is way better than most directors at the top of their game and FULL METAL JACKET is a five star package of entertainment on a lot of levels. The dialog is simply great and I love the look of the film. It’s simply amazing to me that Kubrick filmed this entire movie in England (Kubrick hated to fly and he insisted that he film his movies in England and he got what he wanted) The combat scenes in Hue City give the movie a very distinct look from other war movies that are usually filmed in the jungle since combat in a city is waged in a radically different manner from combat in the jungle.

So should you see FULL METAL JACKET If you’ve seen it already, you’re probably a rabid fan of the movie and don’t need any further convincing. But if you haven’t, by all means, rent the sucker and enjoy. As I’ve said, the first hour with Ermey and D’Onofrio is absolutely riveting and even though the rest of the movie doesn’t measure up to the beginning, it’s a classic war movie that I recommend highly.

116 minutes
Rated R. And it deserves it. There’s no sexual scenes in the movie but these are guys in the middle of a war and they speak like guys in the middle of a war so if you have sensitive ears, be warned. And when there is violence, it’s graphic. How many times I gotta tell you? It’s a war movie.