While Andy Wahol can’t be credited (or condemned for) with the creation of pop culture, there is no doubt that he was its biggest fan and supporter. He was born to poor Czech immigrants, raised Catholic and grew up a fan of American film stars. He started out as a regular artist trying to find his niche in the art world, and when none appeared, he created one. This documentary covers over 25 years worth of film clips and interviews with Wahol and his family, friends and fellow artists. Amazingly, even though it covers so much in so little time, it gives you a good feel for Warhol, his vision and the time (and frame of mind) he lived in. Highly recommended for anyone who has an interest in Warhol or wants to find out what everyone thinks is so interesting. The DVD quality is a bit hobbled by the source materials (video footage, etc), likewise the sound, but still a good catch.
GONE IN 60 SECONDS (2000)
Domnic Sena, director
Touchstone Home Video
Why would we review such a corporate piece of low IQ, high budget dreck? Why for the great car chases of course. There is dialogue in this film uttered by great actors like Robert Duvall and Giovanni Ribisi that I wouldn’t make my worst enemy sit through, and the great thing is, through the miracle of DVD you don’t have to either. Just got to special features and cut to the car chases. Shot on location with incredible cars and lots of special equipment, anyone who likes to drive fast will be impressed with them. Of special interest is the climactic chase on the San Pedro pier. While they cheated a bit with digital tampering, it all comes together like an adrenaline sandwich. Yummy.
THE HOUSE OF GAMES (1987)
David Mamet, director
MGM Home Video
An educated audience can be a writer’s worst enemy. Ergo: the less you know the easier you are to entertain. Most viewers aren’t aware if there’s a Brechtian distance between an actor and the character they play. Pirandello’s ideas about how every persona, real or imagined, is the manufacture of a myriad of chosen behaviors aimed at a conscious representation of self would hardly be recognized by the casual viewer. In the HOUSE OF GAMES, writer/director David Mamet presents con-men possessed of Brechtian distance, leading their victims into behaviors that will separate them from their money. The victims, for the most part, want to be perceived as being good people- just like everyone else. Mamet’s con-men turn human decency into a flaw, and excuse themselves because the victims let it happen. Ignorance is not a defense. As Lindsay Crouse’s character, Dr. Ford, is told by her mentor, “The way to survive committing an unforgivable act is to forgive yourself.” This idea is key to the film, and has worked it’s way into contemporary society as a justification for rudeness, freeing people from accountability.
Mamet’s favorite actors are all present: Joe Mantegna, William H. Macy, Mike Nussbaum, not to mention the late J.T. Walsh and Mamet’s ex-wife, Lindsay Crouse in the best role of her career. Um, so far.
Crouse plays successful staid therapist, Dr. Margaret Ford. In an effort to help a compulsive gambler/patient out of jam, she goes to see Mike the bookie to clear up her patient’s debt. Joe Mantegna plays Mike. The moment the characters meet, Dr. Ford is drawn into the circle of Con-men, imaging herself as Dian Fossey. She sets out to write a book about Con-men and what their games reveal about human nature, but things slowly get out of control and every sequence in the story is like the flip of another card in a tense game of poker. While Crouse’s character may have been unaware of David Maurer’s classic book, “The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man”, clearly Mamet was familiar with it. Or maybe Ricky Jay told him about it. Mamet’s story concludes with a classic ‘cackle-bladder’. I’d tell you what it is, but someone would have to die.
Although Crouse’s acting is stiff and the structure of Mamet’s script requires a specific almost stilted style of delivery, Dr. Ford comes across as an impressively intelligent female character for a 1987 film from a writer occasionally accused of misogyny. Dr. Ford may in fact be the precursor to the rarely seen tough intelligence of such characters as those portrayed by Jodie Foster in “SILENCE OF THE LAMBS”, and Jennifer Lopez in “OUT OF SIGHT.” It’s a mark of fine writing and directing when a character’s smarts not only fuel the plot, but become an integral element of the story.
If cinematographer Juan Ruiz Anchia’s undistinguished career has a peak, this is it. The clarity of the DVD shows the precision of picture composition directed shadows. The lighting in this film is a cool blend of glaring shafts and dark corners, perfect for the diversion needed in a con.
The DVD contains no special features beyond the original trailer and a wide screen format, but the movie is definitely worth seeing or revisiting. If the HOUSE OF GAMES is any gauge, most of Mr. Mamet’s films will be standing the test of time.
JESUS’ SON (2000)
Alison Maclean, director
Lions Gate Films
This was hands down one of the top five films of the year 2000. If we are all children of God, therefore children of Jesus, how hard would it be to live in the shadow of our father. This is a brief section of the life of Fuck Head, FH to his friends, (of which there are few and those few are very fucked up), one of Jesus’ sons who is having a hard time living in the world. The story follows his confused meandering life from his first encounter with the love of his life Michelle (a magnetic Samantha Morton), through his heroin addiction and leaves him skirting the fine edge of grace and recovery. Along the way he meets an amazing assortment of characters like his coworker (Jack Black), a hospital orderly who sneaks pills and pulls a butcher knife from a man’s eye when the doctors are non committal. Other great cameos are Dennis Hopper, Denis Leary and Holly Hunter, none of which are made to keep the film interesting. Billy Crudup is amazing to watch, seemingly born to play the role (as he has been every role I’ve seen him in). The film straddles commitment to an answer for anything and exists somewhere between dream and reality where all answers are intuitive. The film is a living entity showing us its inner life in the form of the characters. Transformational, mesmerizing, full of meaning and beauty with an ending that is perfect zen, I can’t recommend this film enough.
Michael Mann, Director
Anchor Bay Entertainment
In this first installment of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal series FBI Agent Will Graham, barely recovered mentally and physically from capturing Hannibal, is called upon to find The Tooth Fairy, a killer of pretty middle class families. Directed by Michael Mann, this is a film unlike either of its follow-ups. Absent are the lush interiors with their warm earth tones as well as the sexual tension between agent and killer. The most interesting thing that is missing is the vague suspicion that Hannibal isn’t so bad because he only kills rude people. This is probably a result of the cultural romance we are currently having with serial killers, but that is another article. Instead Mann gives us stark white, harshly lit interiors and characters that exude tension rather than telling us how tense they are. The only remotely warm location in the film is the killers home which is an almost comical omage to the seventies complete with an In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida soundtrack.
I, like a lot of people, recently made the obligatory trip to the theater to see HANNIBAL, the follow up to SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. I couldn’t help but notice that Dr. Lector had been airbrushed even further away from monsterous than he had been in SILENCE. True, we hear horrible traits attributed to him, but when all is said and done, he is the hero of both films. When Clarice first met Lector, he was scary because we were told he was, and because the instructions given to us to keep him from eating our faces seemed scary. In truth, however, most people found Lector to be reasonable in that he only attacked those who attacked his sensibilities where manners were concerned. He liked Clarice because she was honest and polite, so since most of us consider ourselves to be honest and polite, a corner of our egos believed we had nothing to fear from Lector. He might, we let ourselves believe, even consider us one of the good guys, because, hey, we don’t like rude liars either. All this might be true of course, for the Hannibal Lector in the latter movie versions of Thomas Harris books, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and HANNIBAL, but not for the Hannibal of MANHUNTER. While Cox’s Hannibal has the same smooth English exterior that Hopkins has in the last two films, he also has a raw, animalistic edge of rage that was missing from Hopkins’ performance and lends an air of darkness to this Dr. Lector that makes him truly scary. No amount of politeness or honesty will get you anything but dead with Cox’s Lector. If Clarice had met up with this doctor in HANNIBAL, she would be so much entrée. By following this link you will find a post for the new releases in metal music.
The interesting thing about MANHUNTER is that Dr. Lector is a mysterious secondary character rather than the focus of the film. We know vague details about his crimes. Due to the timing of the movie he is relegated to Ted Bundy territory with the statement that he killed college girls. FBI Agent Will Graham was the guy who caught Hannibal and in order to catch a new serial killer he decides to see Lector again to get “the scent” back. He is always referred to as Dr. Lector by everyone, except Dr. Chilton, who calls him Hannibal as a sign of disrespect (academic competition, it seems, has no bounds. (It is also interesting to note that Harris stooped to naming his third story Hannibal and then went on to disrespect all the characters he had built up so well in his previous novels…but maybe that’s just me.) Lector is also still allowed to write for prestigious medical journals, which, for some reason, see no moral problems with publishing the works of a cannibalistic genius. This is something that is lacking from the last two films that makes MANHUNTER superior as a film: a discussion, through the actions of the players, of the moral ambiguity concerning Dr. Lector, our secret love of violence (when we deem it fit) and the world at large.