Sunday, April 20, 2014

Silent Sundays: Three Ages (1923)

“Through every age there has been a worshipper at beauty’s shrine.”

            Love stories are usually told in the same fashion over and over again. A boy is in love with a girl but the girl barely notices her or at least that is what the boy thinks. The girl is with another boy who is bigger, stronger, and has more money. The girl likes the regular better but she does not let him know that. The boy has to fight to be seen and get the girl’s full attention and also has to try to beat and outsmart the other boy. It is almost like a David and Goliath story. Let’s face it the formula can get extremely old and boring. In 1923 Buster Keaton put a different spin on what was even an old formula in the 1920s with his full length comedy Three Ages.
            The story flip flops between three ages: the Stone Age, the Roman Age, and the Modern Age. Each story is a David and Goliath story. In each Keaton likes a girl who barely notices him. When he tries to speak to the girl the first time another bigger man comes in and tries to speak to her as well. The parents come in and in each different period they give Keaton a test. In the Stone Age the father hits the bigger guy who does not flinch and when he hits Keaton, Keaton falls down; in the Roman Age the bigger guy outranks him; in the Modern Age his bank account fails him.
            Next Keaton tries to make the girl jealous by being seen with another girl in the Stone and Roman ages. In the Modern Age, Keaton tries to say hello to the girl as she is waiting outside a restaurant for the bigger guy. Keaton is shy and hides behind a car until the car pulls away. He follows the girl into the restaurant and sits at a table where he can see the girl and the big guy. Before Keaton sat at a table a man at a table over filled a decanter with alcohol so his girlfriend would not find out he had any on him. As Keaton sits at the table he becomes nervous and starts drinking what he believes to be water. The more he drinks the funnier he becomes and then eventually passes out. The bigger guy notices Keaton has been staring at them. He sends a letter to the man at the other table pretending to be Keaton. The man gets up and fights with Keaton who obviously has no idea what is going on.
            The next phase the bigger guy challenges the smaller guy to a game. In each age Keaton wins but the bigger guy is a sore loser and finds a way to send the smaller guy somewhere where he cannot be a bother. Again Keaton overcomes whatever obstacle is thrown at him and he ends up with the girl.
            Three Ages was very funny and sweet. My description cannot do the film and the story justice. I love Buster Keaton’s comedy because it is innocent and also because he does so many little movements that happen so quickly but when they are caught make the scene so funny. Three Ages is not the best Buster Keaton film, there is really nothing too outstanding about it but it is worth watching if you like silent films or Keaton’s films. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Heathers (1988)

“Dear Diary, my teen-angst bullshit now has a body count.”

            Heathers is a movie I have heard of over the years and seen clips of on TV. The one scene I always wind up seeing on clip shows of the 80s is when Wynonna Rider puffing on a cigarette looking like she got burned with her hair and clothes all messy and someone telling her she looks like hell and then she replies “Yeah? I just got back.” From seeing that scene over again I had to watch the movie. Also I heard it was Mean Girls in the 80s… in a way Heathers is but not as funny and not as well put together. They should not be compared though that would be wrong since they were made sixteen years apart and obviously things have changed.
            Veronica Sawyer (Rider) is a rich girl living in Ohio. She became part of a clique consisting of three other girls all with the first name Heather. Veronica cannot stand these girls whatsoever she usually snarks about them and does not tolerate most of their bullshit. The head bitch in charge of the clique is Heather Chandler. She gets on Veronica’s nerves the most because there is no reason for Heather to be so cruel.
            At lunch one day Veronica notices a new guy. She goes up to him and finds out his name is JD (Christian Slater). She likes him because he has the same sarcastic and snarky attitude like her.
            At a party with Heather Chandler at a college frat house, Veronica drinks too much and throws up. Heather is furious with her for ruining the fun. Veronica tells JD about this and comes up with the idea that she would love to make Heather throw up so she could know what it feels like to be humiliated in some way. JD wants to put the plan into action. Veronica takes him to Heather’s house one Sunday since she knows her nasty friend will be home alone. They go through the kitchen trying to think of things that will make Heather throw up. JD finds some poison. He thinks it’s a good idea while Veronica does not want to go that far. They go into Heather’s room and of course she acts like a total monster. JD hands her the cup and she grasps for air until she falls over onto a glass coffee table. He killed her. Veronica is furious and elated at the same time. She fakes Heather’s handwriting and writes a suicide note.
            The next day the whole school is upset. All the students and teachers make Heather out to be some martyr which is exactly what Veronica did not want to happen.
            Soon Veronica’s anger mixed with her love and hate for JD brings the body count and suicide rate of the school up. And then the story just starts slipping a little far from where it had started.
            Heathers started out as a darkly funny twisted comedy and then it just got weird and serious. It really is not until the last minute that the movie goes back to where it had started. The acting is not good it sounds like everyone just repeated their lines and did not act them out but at the same time it added some humor and campiness. I have to say I wish teen movies could be made like this with dark funny humor. Today teen movies are either too silly or too serious there is no in between. Most of the lingo is very eighties but I found some of it totally hilarious. I was dying with the line “Well, fuck me gently with a chainsaw. Do I look like Mother Teresa?”. I cannot tell you why that struck me as being so funny it just did. I did also like some of the costumes, most of the outfits are back in style at the time of this writing. Heathers is an eighties teen movie I recommend seeing. I feel like it is essential viewing for movie fans. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Silent Sundays: Body and Soul (1925)

“Crushed… body and soul.”

            The Code that Hollywood followed in its early days sometimes drives me nuts. Sometimes it is interesting to think where movies would be today had there been no Code enforced over eighty years ago. I think they would be a lot dirtier today but that is just my opinion. The Code really screwed up a lot of stories. I have seen a handful of films where the story was moving along so well and then the Code came in and just totally screwed it up. One such film has been Body and Soul written and directed by Oscar Micheaux.
            The film opens up on a clipping from a news paper that a “Negro Detective” named Black Carl is looking for an escaped prisoner from Georgia.
            Reverend Isaiah Jenkins (Paul Robeson) asks a saloon keeper for money as contribution to his church otherwise he will have to make a sermon about the “Dry Bones” and warn his parishioners to stay away from the saloon. Later that night Isaiah goes home drunk. The next day a stranger named “Yello Curly” Hinds comes into town. He goes to the saloon and finds out that gambling goes on in the church after Sunday services. At church Isaiah sees Yello in the front row and flashes back to when the two were cellmates in jail. After church Yello tells Isaiah that he had no idea that he (Isaiah) was hiding out in the town. The only reason he came through town was to look for a girl for a club. Walking out of church Yello sees a young girl named Isabelle.
            Isabelle lives with her mother in a small apartment. She knows that Isaiah is a horrible man. She is seeing Isaiah’s much nicer and quieter brother Sylvester (also Robeson). Sylvester wants to marry Isabelle but her mother does not like him because his brother has been telling malicious lies about him. The mother is infatuated with Reverend Jenkins and wants Isabelle to marry him.
            Later in the day Isaiah comes to the house. Isabelle had been out with Sylvester walking through town. When she comes home Isaiah tells her he wants to save her soul because, as he says, his brother is no good. When the mother leaves Isaiah hurts Isabelle. When the mother comes back she cannot understand why Isabelle is so upset. The mother goes to the store and Isabelle collapses. When Isabelle comes to she decides to leave. She leaves a note to her mother that she took the money she had been saving to buy a house. The mother runs out of the house frantically looking for her daughter.
            Isabelle is down on her luck in Atlanta. Her mother finds her. Isabelle confesses she never had the money. She ran away because the mother never would have believed her had she told her that Isaiah had taken the money. The mother flips out on Isabelle for saying something against Pastor Jenkins. Isabelle tells her mother about the time she and Isaiah had been caught in a storm and had to go to a cabin in the woods and he attacked her. She says he also attacked her at their house but that time he attacked her to tell him where the money was. He told her the money was blood money because the mother cleaned clothes for other people. Isabelle had threatened to tell everyone about him. He told her to leave for Atlanta.
            The mother thinks back to seeing Isaiah getting a ride in a fancy car being driven by a white man with Yello. She also thinks back to how distressed her daughter had been when she came home that one day.
            At church that Sunday, Isaiah gives the “Dry Bones” reading. The mother comes in and tells the congregation that Isabelle has died because she could not handle keeping Isaiah’s secret. The entire congregation gets up and attacks Isaiah. That night Isaiah comes to the mother’s house to beg for her forgiveness and she forgives him. He leaves and runs into the woods. Someone catches up to him and Isaiah kills the poor man.
            Now here is where the ending is ruined by the Code… since a priest could not be shown as being a bad man Micheaux had to go back and film an awful ending where the entire story was only a dream the mother had. Isabelle is alive and happy with Sylvester. She comes in and tells her mother that Sylvester has made something and he will be rich. They all live happily together in a nice big house.

            Body and Soul was very interesting. The story was great and the ending just blew the whole thing. There was so much anticipation to see what would happen to Isaiah and then the damn Code just blew it to shreds. Too bad a directors version will never be released it would be nice to see the real ending. Besides that the story held my attention. It is always sinister to see a supposed man of God who is one of the worst people. Micheaux’s writing and direction were great. I have always wanted to see one of his films and Body and Soul did not let me down. I am looking forward to seeing more of Oscar Micheaux’s films. Body and Soul is currently available to view in full on Youtube and I highly recommend seeing it. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Grifters (1990)

 “We are talking about breaking the law here. I just want to make sure you understand that. No one is going to get hurt, but the law is going to be broken.”
“Laws are made to be broken, aren't they?”

            I think in another life I must have been thief or a grifter. I in no way have the balls to be either a thief or a grifter but I love stories that have to do with spies and con artists and thieves. One of my all time favorite TV shows is Leverage which if you have never heard of is a group of con artists who are good guys. Two of the characters are a thief (who is one of my all time favorite TV characters ever) and a grifter (unfortunately Leverage was canceled two years ago but it is available to view on the Ion channel and on Netflix it is hysterical and perfectly written and acted definitely watch it!). I also really like the movie The Sting which is, as the grifter once said on Leverage about a job they were doing, “It’s like grifter Christmas.” So naturally when I came across a movie called The Grifters I had to see it. I did not know what I was expecting with this movie but I did not find myself liking this movie set of grifters.
            Lilly Dillon (Anjelica Huston) is a con artist. She places bets on horse races by lowering the odd of the horses that are longshots for a guy named Bobo. Lilly has a son Roy (John Cusack)  who she has not seen in eight years. Roy is also a con artist. He gets himself seriously injured when a guy at a bar figures out his game and knocks Roy hard in the stomach. Lilly finds Roy in pain at his apartment and takes him to the hospital. Roy is not too happy to see his mother and is not at all happy that she is paying for his hospital stay. To make things worse between them she tells her son that he should not be a con artist he (literally) does not have the stomach to be one. His girlfriend Myra Langtry (Annette Bening) comes to visit him. Lilly immediately does not like Myra and Myra does not like Lilly who she thought was another woman after Roy.
            Since she did not leave the hospital in time to get to LA for the races Lilly gets in trouble with Bobo. As a punishment he burns her hand with a cigar.
            Neither Roy nor Myra knows the other one if a grifter until they are on a train together. On the train Myra sees Roy playing a crooked game of dice with some sailors. At dinner Myra tells him about a long con she had pulled off with another con artist in Texas. They set up former rich oil men saying they can get their money back and that what they were doing was all illegal. When the mark started to get suspicious Myra and the other con artist would make like someone people are robbing them and she would get shot and the mark would not be able to go to the police. Roy does not want to do a long con he wants to stick with doing short cons. He also thinks that Myra may try to dupe him. Furious Myra thinks that Lilly has a strong pull over her son that is making him not want to do a long term con with her. She goes to Bobo to tell him that Lilly has some of his money hidden in her car. Myra follows Lilly intending to kill her.
            Lilly is warned by a friend that Bobo is after her. Roy is called down to La Jolla to identify the body of his mother. Her face has been completely blown off. Roy looks at the hand that should have a burn mark on it. He knows the body is Myra’s and that Lilly killed her. When he gets back to his apartment he sees his mother looking for all his hidden money. Lilly pleads with Roy to give her money so she can run away. She killed Myra but it was out of self defense and she also needs to get away from Bobo. Roy refuses to give her any money. Out of frustration Lilly takes her suitcase and hits Roy. Unfortunately Roy was holding a glass and the suitcase hits the glass and splinters it in his neck cutting his artery.
            Lilly sobs over the fact that she killed her son but that does not stop her from taking the money and Roy’s car and leaving town.
            The Grifters was a boring movie. Looking back I can see how they were all duping each other and trying to get something out of everyone and it was not too bad. I think when I started watching this I did not really pay attention and it took me a few days to get through it with my school schedule. I was hoping for more excitement. It felt like it wanted to be a modern Noir and it did start off that way but to me it fell a bit flat in the middle. I guess The Grifters is worth a try if you feel like watching it.