Thursday, December 8, 2011

American History X



American History X

1998

Director: Tony Kaye

Writer: David McKenna

119 Minutes

The curb scene. The scrapping of teeth on cement. A kick to the back of the head. The wide-eyed reveal of a character so hateful and unremorseful to his actions.

This is the scene most people remember from American History X. It’s a story of racism, white supremacy, and regret.

It’s a story of change.

Told in a stylistic manner, a balance between past and present, Derek (Edward Norton) reunites with his family after a short stint in prison to find his brother, Danny (Edward Furlong), following his path of foolishness.

Danny’s homework assignment is to write a paper about his Derek's release from prison for his new class American History X. In the paper, he comes to the conclusion that it wasn’t his father’s death that sparked hatred in his brother, but his father himself.

But change occurs for both bothers.

In the scene above, Derek told his story to Danny – a story of prison, hypocrisy, rape, and friendship – and Danny finally gets it. Derek showers off the night. When Derek exits and looks in the mirror, he stares at the swastika on his chest. He stares at his past. He stares at his mistakes.

In a moment, he covers it up with his hand. He regrets ever believing in such nonsense. He regrets the choices he made. He regrets a kick to the back of the head.

The opening and closing images of the ocean – one black & white and one color – says it all. The ocean has no memory (Shawshank Redemption).

In the end, this film is as controversial as they come. It’s theme is something no one cares to talk about at parties, but is on the forefront of many ideals people continue to believe.

Racism and regret.

On March 4th, 1961 Abraham Lincoln said this in his first inaugural address, which happens to be the closing voice-over to this fantastic film:

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

And as of yet, not much as changed since then in the face of racism and regret.

Not much at all.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Best in Show


Best in Show

2000

Director: Christopher Guest

Writer: Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy

90 Minutes

Everyone loves dogs. There are apart of the American culture like apple pie, baseball games, and political corruption.

Years before Best in Show was made, writer/director Christopher Guest wrote down “catalog people” on a piece of paper. This eventually became the inspiration for the characters Meg Swan (Parker Posey) and Hamilton Swan (Michael Hitchcock) who are featured above.

Meg and Hamilton are dog owners who enjoy Star Bucks, J Crew, and the Busy Bee. There are yuppies. They are lawyers. They have it all figured out, except for one thing: their dog has issues.

It once saw them having sex and was never the same.

They have tried therapy. They have tried love. They have tired toys. Nothing worked. When their dog enters the Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show, they are disqualified when their dog jumps at one of the judges.

Embarrassment cannot express their feelings, but this act made them realize their dog was the problem. Not them. Their dog was the cause of all their issues. Their dog negatively affected their lives. And their dog had to go.

In the scene above, the Swan’s are back in therapy, except with a new dog. A dog that likes them having sex. A dog that doesn’t have issues. And a dog that loves it’s mommy and daddy.

This is why people love this film: it shows how unbelievable ridiculous people can be about their dogs. It mirrors the majority of dog owners in American and throws humor at people’s obsession over their pets.

Everyone can relate, even if you've never owned a dog.

Christopher Guest has a genius way of making films. It lets the camera roll, gives small details towards the story, and lets improv magic run. He has made films about dogs, the film business, folk singers, and the greatest band in history: Spinal Tap. He is an accomplished actor, writer, director, producer, and musician.

But at the heart of his films, he realizes people can relate and laugh at themselves through characters like, “catalog people.” We all know them, shared holidays with them, and leave parties going, “are they a little crazy over their dog or is it me?”

I think we’ve all said that at one time or another and this film helps us laugh about it.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Twleve Angry Men


12 Angry Men

1957

Director: Sidney Lumet

Writer: Reginald Rose

96 Minutes

What is justice? What is reasonable doubt? What if a young man’s life hung on your decision of guilty or not guilty?

Shot in one room for twenty days for 350,000 dollars to get a film that is apart of every top 100 best film list and regarded by law and business schools as a model for conflict resolution.

But why is this film one of the greats? Why does audiences love this film?

Because the main character, Juror#8 (Henry Fonda), has honor. Because when faced against the odds and the majority of angry men, he raises his hand and said, “I don’t know.”

Because he was a hero.

His heroics were not on the battlefield or in an operating room. He stood in a room with eleven other men and dissected an open-and-shut case to prove doubt. It’s not that he thought the accused wasn’t guilty. It’s not that he had a point.

He just didn’t know.

In the scene above, Juror#8 and Juror#9 meet outside on the courthouse steps. The verdict has been returned. Case is over. And these two can leave with a clear conscious knowing they were the first two to stand up and say, “not guilty.”

But before going their separate ways, Juror#9 asks for Juror#8’s name.

“Davis”
“McCardle”

That sign of respect is the entire film.

Davis led these angry men to a not guilty verdict and saved a young man’s life. He was innocent until proved guilty, yet without Davis leading the charge, no one would have questioned it. All the evidence was against him. All the remaining jurors were ready to convict.

But it took a hero to rise up and say, “I don’t know.”

In the end, it’s that type of honor that makes this film enjoyable. It’s that type of honor that explains what is right and what is wrong, not only in the courtroom, but in life. And it’s that type of honor that can only be exchanged with a handshake and a first name.

Davis.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Annie Hall


Annie Hall

1977

Director: Woody Allen

Writer: Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman

93 Minutes

Originally, this film was called Anhedonia. It means the inability to feel pleasure, a philosophy Woody Allen related to most of his life.

Annie Hall is about relationships. It’s about love and loss and moving on.

“A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.”

It’s one of Woody Allen’s best included into a writer/director resume with such films as Match Point, Manhattan, and the recent Midnight in Paris.

In the scene above, Alvy (Woody Allen) talks with Annie (Diane Keaton) about photography. Much like a first date/encounter conversation, these two are talking about one subject, but thinking about another.

It’s all subtext, which Allen does brilliantly with subtitles.

When Annie says, “Aesthetic criteria? You mean whether is a good photo or not?” But, what she’s thinking is: I’m not smart enough for him. Hang in here.

Alvy replies, “The medium enters in as a condition of the art form itself. “ But he’s thinking is: I wonder what she looks like naked.

What we say and what we think are often two different ideas when talking with the opposite sex. We want to appear interesting. We want to appear desirable, yet we are often neither. And when conversation is pouring out of us, we often wonder what the other person is thinking, how the other person feels, or what that person looks like naked.

And Allen’s stroke of genius placing subtitles in the form of thoughts is why we love this scene.

We all have been there. And we can all relate. And no one does it better than Woody Allen.

This film, its theme, and its message cannot be explained by one scene. It’s a collection of instances and stories and ideas and feelings that make this a great film. It’s heartbreaking and cute and fun and true.

And that's why it won four Academy Awards.

But in the end, Allen leaves with you a quote about relationships that rings true for everyone who has ever loved and lost and moved on:

“After that it got pretty late, and we both had to go, but it was great seeing Annie again. I... I realized what a terrific person she was, and... and how much fun it was just knowing her; and I... I, I thought of that old joke, y'know, the, this... this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, "Doc, uh, my brother's crazy; he thinks he's a chicken." And, uh, the doctor says, "Well, why don't you turn him in?" The guy says, "I would, but I need the eggs." Well, I guess that's pretty much now how I feel about relationships; y'know, they're totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd, and... but, uh, I guess we keep goin' through it because, uh, most of us... need the eggs.”

Anhedonia means the inability to feel pleasure. But, Mr. Allen has pleased hundreds of millions of people with his films.

And he continues today.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Conversations with Other Women


Conversations with Other Women

Director: Hans Canosa

Writer: Gabirelle Zevin

84 Minutes

Two lovers who can’t be together.

We have seen this a hundred times before in every romantic film from Casablanca to Brokeback Mountain. When you have loved and lost and reunited with love, it always makes for an interesting story.

In Conversations with Other Women, they do it a little differently. They use a split screen between the two characters, interweaving dialog with past memories, and different actions each character could take.

In the end, there is love. But it’s lost love, love that cannot be had, and love that will never see the light of day.

They have one night in a hotel room.

In the scene above, Man (Aaron Eckhart) listens in on Woman’s (Helena Bonham Carter) phone conversation to her husband. Man also has a girlfriend, but she doesn’t seem much concern. Man listens in, trying to find moments of love in the conversation, but secretly searching for why their relationship failed.

He loves her. He admits it. He wants to make it work. He loved her in the past. He loves her today. He sees their future together, though it will never happen.

Her love has gone away. It’s the past. And though they have one night of romance, discussing where their lives had gone, and reliving memories of love, reality catches up and she knows their lives go in separate directions.

It’s a real movie, which could explain why so many of us haven’t seen it. The film’s theme discusses the fundamental truth of loving and losing and reuniting and ending.

This is the ending.

It could have been a second chance, but life has pasted them by. Perhaps both man and woman’s past relationship would have ended up in the same place their current relationships lye. Perhaps it would have worked out better. Perhaps worse.

But we’ll never know. These two have one night to let it out, explain their truths, and leave it on the table.

He loves her. She doesn’t love him. Or if she does love him, she settles for life without him.

When the morning comes, all they have is an empty seat in the back of a taxi and a plane to catch.

But there is a moment:

Man: Why did you come, really?
Woman: Do you want me to say I was hoping I'd see you?
Man: Yes and I want you to mean it.
Woman: You're so romantic...
Man: By romantic, you mean old fashioned?
Woman: No, by romantic, I mean romantic.

Like I said, two lovers who can’t be together. We’ve seen it a hundred times before, yet it's always going to make for an interesting story.

SKS

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Replacements


The Replacements

2000

Director: Howard Deutch

Writer: Vince McKewin

118 Minutes

In 1987, the National Football League used replacement players for weeks four, five, and six of the regular season. In week seven, veteran players crossed the line and the replacement players were let go once again. But for one night, they were heroes.

Shane Falco is a hero.

In the film The Replacements, Jimmy McGinty (Gene Hackman) is the coach of the Washington Sentinels. When his veteran players strike, McGinty hires replacement players lead by former Ohio State Quarterback Shane Falco (Keanu Reeves).

Simple. High concept. Fun.

But, there was heart to this film. There was meaning. It was a film for everyone that ever played sports and longed for their one-time shot to play again. It was a film for sports fans that wish their favorite players would play with heart instead of playing for their wallets. And it was a film for anyone who’s been apart of a great team that came to an end.

The film stars Reeves, Hackman, Orlando Jones, Jon Favreau, Rhys Lfans, and John Madden.

In the scene above, the replacement players are told the veteran players have crossed and tonight is their last night playing in the NFL. The team is down 14 to 17, with the ball, late in the forth quarter. And they have Shane Falco, who dressed during half time when their starting quarterback didn’t have enough heart.

Shane huddles the team up and says, “I know you’re tired. I know you’re hurting. I wish I could say something that was classy and inspirational, but that just wouldn’t be our style.”

He follows with this, “…Pain heals. Chicks dig scars. Glory lasts forever.”

When you know it’s over, that’s all you need to hear. It means whatever you have left should be left on the field. There is no tomorrow. There is only tonight. And tonight, we can be heroes.

This is why we love films like The Replacement and Varsity Blues. These are films of heroics. They aren't advancing on a beachhead or flying in an A-10 warthog, but they are heroes because they stand up for what they believe in and leave it all on the field.

And when given a second chance, none of them wasted it.

In the time of salary caps, lockouts, and bonuses, we need films like these to remind us how great sports can be and how at the heart of each game, there are heroes. It's not about the money. It's not about cars, houses, and girls. It's about football. And Shane Falco let them know that.

Like I said, he is a hero.

McGinty says it best, “When the Washington Sentinels left the stadium that day, there was no tickertape parade, no endorsement deals for sneakers or soda pop or breakfast cereal. Just a locker to be cleaned out and a ride home to catch. But what they didn't know, was that their lives had been changed forever because they had been part of something great. And greatness, no matter how brief, stays with a man. Every athlete dreams of a second chance, these men lived it.”

In the end, glory lasts forever.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Departed


The Departed

2006

Director: Martin Scorsese

Writer: William Monahan, Alan Mak, and Felix Chong

151 Minutes

In 1991, there was uproar in the film community about Martin Scorsese losing “Best Director” and “Best Picture” to Kevin Costner for Dances with Wolves. Scorsese admitted that Dances with Wolves was more academy appropriate, but he would continue to make films.

Fifteen years later, Scorsese took home his first Academy Award for “Best Director – The Departed.” He has had a great career full of blockbusters, presidential assignations, and a bit on Curb Your enthusiasm.

He never needed an Oscar, but it was well deserved.

The Departed is about the corruption within the Massachusetts State Police and organized crime in the city of Boston. The cast of characters includes DiCapiro, Damon, Nicholson, Wahlberg, Sheen, Baldwin, and the ever-so-sexy Vera Farminga. It was a remake from the 2002 film Infernal Affairs, which their rights were purchased for just under two million dollars.

The Departed went on to gross 289 million dollars worldwide, receiving four Oscars, and had a body count of 22 people.

Not bad, Mr. Scorsese.

In the scene above, Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) shoots Barrigan (James Badge Dale) in the head after Barrigan shot both Brown (Anthony Anderson) and Billy (Leonardo DiCaprio). It’s shit show. It’s a blood bath. It’s what wins Oscars.

Everyone dies. Everyone should die. No one is good. Everyone is corrupt. Thus, everyone dies.

But the reason why this scene is important is because you know why everyone is killed. They all had reasons. Barrigan was working for Costello (Jack Nicholson), thus he shoots Billy. Brown walked into a murder scene that had an infinite amount of questions, thus Barrigan shoots him. Sullivan shoots Barrigan because if there are no witnesses, there would be only one story to tell.

And Billy was shot because we weren’t expecting it. BOOM. I mean, who shoots Leonardo DiCaprio in the face?

Martin Scorsese does.

But it was exciting. It was a fun. And it was an entertaining film. It was jammed packed with celebrities, brilliant writing, and great direction. This film came together perfectly, which is why it received not only the Academies approval, but the box office as well.

And Mr. Scorsese, it was a long fifteen years for one of the most celebrated directors in history to gain his prize. Bravo, sir.

In the end, I leave you with this:

“When you decide to be something, you can be it. That's what they don't tell you in the church. When I was your age they would say we can become cops, or criminals. Today, what I'm saying to you is this: when you're facing a loaded gun, what's the difference?” – Frank Costello

It’s true. What’s the difference.?