The Right Stuff

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1983

The Ladd Company/Warner Bros.

Directed by and Screenplay by Philip Kaufman

Produced by Irwin Winkler/Robert Chartoff\

Based on “The Right Stuff” by Tom Wolfe

Music by Bill Conti

Cinematography by Caleb Deschanel

One of the reasons why THE RIGHT STUFF stands out in my memory is because I saw it during its original theatrical run in the theater. And when the end credits played, a good 75% of the sold out audience I saw it with gave it a standing ovation. And I was right with them. I’ve heard felgercarb from modern day “movie fans” who are so very worldly and sophisticated and think it’s oh so very silly to applaud a movie. What’s the point? they say. The filmmakers can’t hear your applause. But in the case of THE RIGHT STUFF that isn’t the point. That audience and I stood and applauded because we’d just seen a three-hour epic about heroism done with style, respect, humor and grandeur. And we had to show our appreciation for how the movie made us felt. And the bottom line is that it made us all feel damn good. Was a lot of the movie made up? Sure it was. THE RIGHT STUFF is a great example of that magnificent line from “The Legend of Liberty Valance”: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

I say that to let you know right up front that there’s a lot of legend in THE RIGHT STUFF. Yes, it’s based on historical events involving real people but the filmmakers didn’t let them get in the way of telling a good story. Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard) didn’t fly the X-1 on a whim as the movie would lead you to to believe but damn if it doesn’t make for a great scene. Especially when he breaks a couple of ribs chasing his wife Glennis (Barbara Hershey) on horseback in the desert surrounding the future Edwards Air Force Base and falls off his horse and still gets in the X-1 the next day to break the sound barrier.

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And it’s fun to see the friendly rivalry between Yeager and Scott Crossfield as they break each others speed records repeatedly. This is while hungry young pilots such as Gordon “Gordo” Cooper (Dennis Quaid) Virgil “Gus” Grissom (Fred Ward) and Donald “Deke” Slayton (Scott Paulin) are pouring into the base, looking to make their mark and prove they have “The Right Stuff.” Okay, maybe some of this is made up but if you want the facts, go look them up for yourself. We got these things called libraries. You might have heard of them. Make use of them.

But exactly what IS “The Right Stuff”? nobody ever says. It’s one of those grand and glorious Man Things That Cannot Be Given A Name. Chuck Yeager doubtless has it. In fact, he may have it more than anybody else even though he is deemed not worthy to be invited to join the space program. In one of the movie’s best scenes Gus Grissom is being ridiculed by the media and fellow pilots for his insistence that the explosive bolts on the hatch of his capsule exploded on their own during splashdown. The common consensus is that he panicked. But Yeager comes to Grissom’s defense;” You think a monkey knows he’s sittin’ on top of a rocket that might explode? These astronaut boys they know that, see? Well, I’ll tell you something, it takes a special kind of man to volunteer for a suicide mission, especially one that’s on TV. Ol’ Gus, he did all right.” Now, maybe Chuck Yeager said that or maybe he didn’t. But it matters in the context of the movie and the story that the movie is telling and that’s enough.

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The bulk of the movie is taken up with the 1960s Space Race, accelerated by the Russians launching Sputnik in 1957. NASA is tasked with putting an American in space and that initiates a near hysterical search for astronauts. Ironically, pilots like Yeager are excluded because he doesn’t “fit the profile” but after extraordinary grueling physical and mental tests, The Mercury Seven astronauts are chosen; Cooper, Grissom and Slayton along with John Glenn (Ed Harris) Alan Shepard (Scott Glenn) Walter “Wally” Schirra (Lance Henriksen) and Charles Frank (Scott Carpenter). But even though they are trained to be pilots, the engineers of the project (and it’s very clear that the majority of these engineers used to work for the Third Reich in WWII) see them as nothing more than passengers. You add to this is extensive publicity machine surrounding these proceedings and you’ve a situation as ripe for comedy as it is for drama.

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And one of the thing that takes people by surprise about THE RIGHT STUFF when they see it for the first time is that is a very funny movie. In fact, at times, it almost plays like a comedy, especially where Dennis Quaid is concerned. Those of you who have seen the movie know what I mean. But just about everybody gets their chance to be funny, even when they’re not being funny. If you know what I mean. Harry Shearer and Jeff Goldblum get a lot of laughs out their bit as a pair of recruiters looking for candidates for the fledgling NASA program. But that doesn’t mean that the rest of the cast don’t get their funny moments as well.

This movie may have just have the greatest cast of talent on screen since “It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World.” Here we go: Fred Ward. Dennis Quaid. Scott Glenn. Ed Harris. Sam Shepard. Lance Henriksen. Scott Paulin. Barbara Hershey. Veronica Cartwright. Harry Shearer. Jeff Goldblum. Pamela Reed. Charles Frank. Donald Moffat. Scott Wilson. Kathy Baker. Royal Dano. John P. Ryan. William Russ. John Dehner. And Chuck Yeager himself. He shows up as the bartender at Pancho’s, the joint where all the pilots hang out. It’s an utterly extraordinary cast and what’s even more extraordinary is that the script and the director gives them all a chance to shine without detracting from the overall story the movie is telling.

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And the musical score by Bill Conti is absolutely magnificent. It won the Academy Award that year for Best Original Score and rightfully so. A large part of the reason why THE RIGHT STUFF is still so highly regarded is because of that heroically soaring score. The special effects are also worthy of note because they’re practical effects, done with models. I don’t have anything against CGI and fully understand that a lot of my favorite movies of recent years couldn’t be done without them. But practical effects have a weight and realism that can’t be duplicated. When Chuck Yeager is in that X-1 and says that it’s still going up like a bat outta hell, we believe him.

Chances are that most of you reading this have already seen THE RIGHT STUFF and agree with me. But for those you who haven’t seen this movie, do yourself a favor and check it out at your earliest opportunity. THE RIGHT STUFF is one of the finest American movies ever made, period. And it’s a whole lot of fun to watch as well. Enjoy.

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192 Minutes

Rated PG

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Grand Budapest Hotel

TGBH

 

2014

American Empirical Pictures/Fox Searchlight Studios

Directed by and Screenplay by Wes Anderson

Produced by Wes Anderson, Jeremy Dawson, Steve M. Rales and Scott Rudin

Story by Wes Anderson and Hugo Guiness

One of the main characters in THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL works in Mendl’s, a bakery that is renowned throughout the fictional European alpine country of Zubrowka. The confections that come out of Mendl’s are famous for not only tasting as if the angels themselves had baked them but they are also glorious works of art for the eye as well as for the tongue that one can spend hours just looking at, debating whether or not it’s too beautiful to be eaten.

That’s kind of an apt metaphor for this movie as well. Because THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is like a very rich cake or dessert that looks absolutely amazing and goes down very sweetly. Like other Wes Anderson movies, this one is an ornate visual treat.  A Wes Anderson movie doesn’t look like anybody else’s movies and I am thankful for that. He uses practical effects in THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL such as miniatures, rear projection and matte painting. Right now some of you reading this are scratching your head and saying, “Why go through all that trouble? Why not just use CGI?” if so, then THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL in particular and Wes Anderson movies in general are not for you.

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The story of THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is told in a flashback of a flashback and while that might sound confusing, it isn’t, trust me. We meet a Young Writer (Jude Law) in 1968 staying at the almost empty Grand Budapest Hotel. This once elegant establishment is slowly and stubbornly decaying beautifully. The Young Writer makes the acquaintance the hotel’s owner, Mr. Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) who takes a liking to the Young Writer and over a long dinner tells him the story of how Mr. Moustafa came to own The Grand Budapest Hotel.

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We now go to the 1930’s where Mr. Moustafa worked as a lobby boy at the hotel. Zero (Tony Revolori) is taken under the wing of the hotel’s concierge, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) who acts like a benevolent monarch to the staff and an extraordinarily capable servant to the guests. Especially the ladies. And most especially the ones who are old and rich. M. Gustave reserves very special services for them (and a few men as well, it’s implied)

The plot (such as it is) gets going when one of M. Gustave’s conquests, Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) dies under mysterious circumstances. In her will she has left M. Gustave a priceless Renaissance Painting. Gustave’s claim on the painting is put in jeopardy by accusations from Madame D.’s son Dmitri (Adrian Brody) that Gustave himself murdered Madame D. Gustave takes the painting and goes on the run with the faithful Zero by his side, determined to clear himself and restore his good name.

And that’s really all you need to know about the plot because Wes Anderson doesn’t seem very interested in it himself. As usual, the strength of a Wes Anderson movie is the visuals and the characters. And Ralph Fiennes is indeed quite the character. Ralph Fiennes without a doubt delivers the best performance in the movie. On one level the character is totally ridiculous, delighting in his own pomposity, given to reciting or making up poetry on the spot. But on the other he’s supremely devoted to his position and his respect for the tradition of The Grand Budapest Hotel that is both endearing and in its own way, quite noble.

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His chemistry with Toney Revolori is delightful and one of the pleasures of the movie is to watch the wonderful friendship that develops between Gustave and Zero. The movie is chock full of interesting, quirky characters played by many familiar faces from Wes Anderson’s usual repertory of actors who appear in his movies such as Willem Dafoe, who is blackly hilarious as a hit man, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman and Bob Balaban. But there’s a whole host of other actors who pop up in cameos that will give you a nice thrill when you see them.

How does this stack up with the other Wes Anderson movies I’ve seen? I wouldn’t put it on the same shelf as “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” “Moonrise Kingdom” or “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou” all of which are my favorite Wes Anderson movies. But I do rate it way higher than pretentious pap like “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “The Darjeeling Limited”

It’s a luxurious and downright opulent movie that presents us with an entire world that has weight and depth and texture. I truly appreciate movies that don’t look like other movies and present stories a little bit skewed and makes me cock my head a bit to the side while watching it. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is well worth your time if you’re the type who likes your desserts just a little bit richer than is good for you. Enjoy.

Rated R

100 Minutes

Into The Night

kinopoisk.ru

1985

Universal Pictures

Directed by John Landis

Produced by George Folsey, Jr and Ron Koslow

Written by Ron Koslow

INTO THE NIGHT is one of those movies that when I describe the plot and name the actors in this movie even my highly knowledgeable friends who know their movies tell me I must be making it up, gotten two or three different movies mixed up together while whacked out on caffeine and Benzedrine or plain out don’t know what I’m talking about. I can’t blame them because it seems as if INTO THE NIGHT is truly one of those 1980’s movies that have been forgotten. Considering the cast and the director, I’m really surprised it’s not become one of those cult movies that stays alive through word of mouth. I remember seeing it during its original theatrical run and just recently saw it again for the first time since ’85. It’s a light movie, running on the slimmest of plots, quirkiness and the likeability of its two leads. There’s also a truly extensive cast made up of some really unusual actors you wouldn’t expect to find in this kind of movie and cameos by nearly two dozen popular directors and screenwriters of the 80’s

Ed Okin (Jeff Goldblum) is a man deeply depressed with his boring life, his dull job and his sour marriage. So depressed that he can’t sleep. He tells his best friend Herb (Dan Aykroyd) that his last good night’s sleep was in 1980. Herb tells Ed that he needs some excitement in his life. He advises Ed to catch a red-eye to Las Vegas, gamble, get drunk and get laid. When Ed catches his wife having sex is their own bedroom, he decides to act upon that suggestion.

At the airport Ed stumbles upon a hideously brutal murder committed by four Iranians (one of them played by John Landis) and helps the beautiful jewel smuggler Diana (Michelle Pfeiffer) get away. Diana and her now dead partner have smuggled six priceless emeralds from Iran into the United States and now an eccentric assortment of extremely dangerous individuals are after her. Diana begs Ed to help her get to one of her high-powered friends who can get her out of this situation. It’s a situation that Ed really wants no part of but how can you say no to Michelle Pfeiffer?

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The emerald plot is just a MacGuffin to introduce Ed to a nighttime world he had no idea even existed up until now. During the course of his two night long adventure he runs into a variety of oddball characters such as Diana’s Elvis impersonator brother Charlie (Bruce McGill) a charming hit man (David Bowie) and a French criminal mastermind (Roger Vadim)

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And then there are the cameos: David Cronenberg, Jim Henson, Jack Arnold, Paul Bartel, Johnathan Demme, Richard Franklin, Colin Higgins, Lawrence Kasdan, Paul Mazursky, Amy Heckerling. And that’s not even half of ‘em. You could watch the movie just for a drinking game where every time you see a director in a cameo, take a shot. Trust me, you’ll be stretched out on the floor before the movie’s half done.

Fortunately the cameos don’t get in the way of the cast that has to do the heavy lifting; Jeff Goldblum, Michelle Pfeiffer, Richard Farnsworth, Irene Papas and Vera Miles. Most of the movie is actually on Goldblum and Pfeiffer as with such a large cast, characters come and go pretty quickly but they have a nice chemistry together. And Michelle is most definitely easy on the eye. And Jeff Goldblum had the trademark on this type of role back in the 80’s: a slightly eccentric everyman who seems to be always two steps behind everybody else but once he knows the score, rises up to meet the challenge and ends up three steps ahead by the time we get to the end credits

If there’s any problem I have with INTO THE NIGHT is that director Landis tries to have it both ways: he sets out to make an eccentric, quirky comedy thriller with occasional shots of slapstick but he insists on having scenes of pretty brutal violence. There’s one really jarring scene where it takes four men to drown one woman that I really hope Landis wasn’t playing for laughs as there was nothing funny about it. And the shoot-out at the airport near the end of the movie is a bloodbath Sam Peckinpah would be proud of. But I have no problem at all with B.B. King singing a couple of great songs on the soundtrack, including a kickass cover of “In The Midnight Hour” and the theme song “Into The Night.”

So should you see INTO THE NIGHT? Sure you should. It’s an undemanding, entertaining little movie that goes down real easy. You don’t have to burn up brain cells trying to figure out the plot or delve into the motivations of the characters. Just sit back, watch and have fun with it. It would make a good Saturday night double feature with Martin Scorsese’s “After Hours” a movie it shares the same sensibility with. Enjoy.

115 minutes

Rated R

Death Wish

1974

Paramount Pictures/Columbia Pictures

Directed by Michael Winner

Produced by Dino De Laurentiis and Bobby Roberts

Screenplay by Wendell Mayes

Based on the novel “Death Wish” by Brian Garfield

Considering how ridiculous and downright cartoonish the later movies in the series were, I can easily see how a recommendation of DEATH WISH would bring snickers and outright guffaws from modern day movie fans. Hey, I can’t sit through “Death Wish 3” without collapsing into fits of laughter while “Death Wish 4: The Crackdown” and “Death Wish V: The Face of Death” are simply embarrassing. By the time Charles Bronson made those last two movies he was plainly way too old to be trying to play the action hero.

But the first DEATH WISH still holds up for me as a powerful piece of filmmaking. Maybe because I remember how the issues of urban crime, white flight, racism and vigilantism were raised, debated and discussed in magazines, newspapers and TV talk shows thanks to DEATH WISH. The movie was actually extremely controversial when it was released. Urban crime was a growing plague in American cities back in the 1970’s and there was a very real fear that the vigilantism advocated by DEATH WISH would be embraced and possibly even acted out by the audiences that packed the theaters showing the movie.

Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) is a successful architect living and working in New York with his wife Joanna (Hope Lange.) They return home after a wonderful Hawaiian vacation and resume their lives. It’s a life that is forever destroyed when three hoodlums break inside Kersey’s home. In a truly brutal and graphic scene, the three hoodlums trash the apartment, one of them (Jeff Goldblum) beating Joanna with a blackjack in bloodthirsty glee and then all three savagely raping Kersey’s married daughter Carol (Kathleen Tolan) and leaving without anybody seeing them. Paul is called to the hospital and meets his son-in-law Jack (Steven Keats) there. Carol’s mind has been shattered by the horror of what happened to her and Joanna is dead. The police are professionally sympathetic but without Carol able to look at mug shots or tell them exactly what happened there is little to no chance of them catching the criminals.

To help him deal with the shock, Paul’s boss sends him to Arizona on a working vacation to help design a residential development for a wealthy businessman, Ames Jainchill (Stuart Margolin.) Jainchill takes Paul to a gun club to unwind and is amazed that Paul is an excellent marksman. Paul reveals he was taught how to shoot as a boy by his dad. But when the elder Kersey was killed in a hunting accident Paul swore never to touch a gun again. But recent events in his life as well as discussions he has with Jainchill about liberalism, urban anxiety and where do law-abiding citizens take it upon themselves to defend themselves if the police can’t prey upon Paul’s mind. Upon the completion of the job, Jainchill gives Paul a present: a .38 Smith & Wesson.

Back in New York City, Paul begins a nightly ritual of taking aimless walks in dangerous neighborhoods and riding in empty subway cars, deliberately setting himself up as a target for muggers who he guns downs. New York City is soon set afire by the series of killings done by “The Vigilante.”

NYPD Detective Frank Ochoa (Vincent Gardenia) is assigned to the case. But it soon become apparent to him that the Powers That Be don’t really want Paul Kersey brought to justice. The number of violent crimes such robberies, rapes and muggings at night are dropping dramatically. And New Yorkers, as they are wont to do have made a hero out of The Vigilante. The last thing the District Attorney wants is a martyr for the press. But Paul is taking more and more risks and it’s only a matter of time before he’s either caught by the cops or catches a bullet.

DEATH WISH is a movie soaked in urban chaos. There’s a scene where Paul asks his son-in-law, “What do you call people who are faced with a condition of fear and do nothing about it except run and hide?” And that was a very real fear in the 1970’s when it seemed as if anarchy ruled the cities and all of our civilized institutions were breaking down. During the Arizona scenes it’s as if Paul is visiting NRA Heaven which makes his return to the concrete jungle of New York even more psychologically unsetting and helps plunge him into his nightly shooting sprees.

This is undoubtedly the best known movie and role Charles Bronson played. It certainly was the most successful and profitable of his movies. There are other movies I think Bronson has done better acting: “Once Upon A Time In The West” “The Dirty Dozen” ”The Mechanic” ”Master of The World” ”Mr. Majestyk” “Breakheart Pass” “The White Buffalo” and I could easily name half a dozen more. But you mention Charles Bronson’s name and the first movie that comes to people’s mind is DEATH WISH.

The violence in this movie is handled in a manner that I find appalling even by today’s standards. Maybe because it’s presented in an almost documentary-like, matter-of-fact manner. The movie was charged with being racist as the criminals who attack the two women were white but most of the thugs Paul kills are black, which adds another level to the horror we’re seeing on screen. And I think that’s why DEATH WISH still carries a wallop even today. Charles Bronson isn’t playing an invincible, wisecracking superman. He’s an ordinary man who deals with his overwhelming grief and rage in the only way that makes sense to him. He’s committed to his plan and he goes through with it even though it takes a toll on him. He starts drinking more. He throws up after killing a mugger. He rages at his ineffectual son-in-law because he’s got to take out his anger on somebody and the killing still isn’t enough.

But even after all that, we’re left with that final chilling, scary scene where Paul Kersey, having relocated to Chicago comes to the aid of a woman being harassing by a gang of punks. Paul points his hand like a gun  at the punks and gives them the scariest smile I’ve ever seen Bronson give on screen. It’s then that we realize that there’s a lot more to Charles Bronson’s performance and a lot more to DEATH WISH.

93 Minutes

Rated R