GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS (1992) – I’d go for the steak knives myself

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The following is my entry in the Workplace in Film & TV Blogathon, being hosted by Debbie at her blog Moon in Gemini from Aug. 18-20, 2017. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ takes on movie and TV depictions of the things people do for a living!

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(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

The next time your best friend whines about his job, show him Glengarry Glen Ross. Believe me, he’ll shut up fast.

The script’s stage origins are obvious (David Mamet wrote the play and adapted it for the movie), but nobody will mistake this for just a photographed stage play. It involves some of the sorriest real-estate salesmen in Chicago, fully embodied by Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, and Kevin Spacey as the office manager.

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In a bravura opening sequence, Alec Baldwin, the downtown higher-up, brusquely issues the latest sales challenge for the month. First prize gets a Cadillac, second prize gets a set of steak knives, and third prize gets a pink slip.

As if that wasn’t incentive enough, the sales guys are given “leads” (potential customers to call) that are like “I Love Lucy” reruns: decades old, and seen a thousand times before. With this minimum of exposition, we watch the guys at what could be called work — their suit coats dripping with flop sweat, varying their phone calls between telling loved ones that they’ll be late again and pursuing old leads to share a “marvelous opportunity” with them.

Compounding the frustration are the “good leads” that Spacey keeps locked in his office, “for the sellers.” Suddenly it dawns on a couple of the guys: What if the office was burglarized and the good leads stolen?

Of course, the stupidity of this situation could be argued in a second: Wouldn’t anyone who made a sale from the good leads be caught red-handed? But then again, the leads, like the MacGuffin in Hitchcock movies, are beside the point. It’s really an excuse for David Mamet to throw a bunch of frantic old men together like cattle heading for slaughter, each not listening to the other guy, but waiting for that other guy to stop talking so that he can be heard. None of them exhibits the slightest joy in life. Even Spacey, the office manager with a loving family at home and an office full of great leads, can’t find it in himself to wallow in his superiority.

As simplistic as the movie’s set-up is, it’s some kind of career high point for everyone involved. (My only warning is to watch out for this R-rated movie’s generous use of the F-word — when asked, Baldwin even claims it’s his first name.) “Weepie” movies come with the advice to have your handkerchiefs ready. Anyone who watches Glengarry Glen Ross should be prepared with a good stiff drink in front of him.

For the “Against the Crowd” Blogathon: CAST AWAY (2000) and FLUBBER (1997)

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The following is my entry in the Against the Crowd Blogathon, hosted by the blogs Dell on Movies and KG’s Movie Rants, with entries being accepted through Aug. 20, 2017. You can click on the above banner to read more about it, but here are the blogathon rules:

1. Pick one movie that “everyone” loves (the more iconic, the better). That movie must have a score of at least 75% on rottentomatoes.com. Tell us why you hate it.

2. Pick one movie that “everyone” hates (the more notorious, the better). That movie must have a score of less than 35% on rottentomatoes.com. Tell us why you love it.

3. Include the Tomatometer scores of both movies.

Here are my entries.

  1. Cast Away (2000)

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(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

Cast Away is one of those movies whose little epiphanies are better than the sum of its parts. When director Robert Zemeckis and producer-star Tom Hanks aim for profundity at movie’s end, the whole enterprise threatens to flitter away like the feather in their previous collaboration, Forrest Gump (1995).

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Hanks plays Chuck Noland, an officious Federal Express executive who is the embodiment of the maxim “Time is money.” (By the way, FedEx gets product placement in this movie like you wouldn’t believe.) Helen Hunt plays Kelly Frears, Chuck’s long-suffering girlfriend, who has to coordinate her and Chuck’s schedules just to spend New Year’s Eve with him.

On the way to one of his FedEx flights, Chuck discreetly passes an engagement ring to Kelly, asks her to think it over, and tries to understate his latest mission by telling her, “I’ll be right back.” Forgive me for revealing that Chuck’s last statement is incredibly wrong.

The middle third of the movie is ostensibly about Chuck getting stranded on an island, being humbled by forces of nature, and having to reinvent himself. And for the most part, Tom Hanks carries off this scenario quite admirably. Yet I never completely got engrossed in this adventure, as I would have if Robert DeNiro had done a similar outing. In the back of a viewer’s mind will lie two questions:

(1) How much of this story’s appeal is in watching Tom Hanks pull off an actor’s coup?

(2) Would we be as willing to watch such a tour de force if this was an independent production with some no-name actor, instead of Hanks with all of his Hollywood clout behind him?

To be sure, Hanks’ more interesting moments show his skills at subtle physicality. Witness his first act after washing up on shore — he collects the FedEx packages that wash up with him, ever the dutiful company man. And the uses he makes of the contents of those packages are refreshingly unpredictable.

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But then there’s this business with the volleyball. In his desperation for companionship, Chuck takes a wayward volleyball, uses his own blood to paint a face on it, names it Wilson, and takes this ball to the very limits of a platonic relationship. And you begin to wonder how much of this is truly a commentary on man’s need to connect, and how much of it is Tom Hanks trying hard to get nominated for another Oscar.

(Also — MAJOR SPOILER!! — how is it that the movie makes so much of Chuck’s “friendship” with Wilson while he’s on the island, and then we never hear about this later? You’d think there’d be at least one throwaway line about it: “Y’know, I was so desperate for communication on that island, I made friends with a volleyball!”)

And without giving away the ending, let’s just say that Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump and Contact took similarly far-out premises and developed them to far more satisfying conclusions. By contrast, the ending here promises far more than it delivers.

Overall, the movie is worth perhaps one viewing for its little surprises and for Tom Hanks carrying the major part of the story. (And most of the minor stuff, too, because Helen Hunt’s Kelly has a Memphis accent that comes and goes with the breeze.) But when Tom Hanks tries to wax philosophical about the tide on Chuck’s remote island, one gets the feeling that he and Zemeckis are trying for more mythmaking along the lines of Forrest Gump’s “Life is like a box of chocolates.”

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2. Flubber (1997)

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From the smarmy tone of reviews for Flubber, you’d think The Disney Co. had tried to remake Gone With the Wind as a comedy. Was the original Absent-Minded Professor treated with as much reverence in 1961 as it is now?

Granted, the remake (scripted by Home Alone vet John Hughes) hasn’t updated the story much, and the villains and the slapstick are as corny and one-dimensional as in the first movie. But that seems a blessing in an era where gas-passing is considered the height of children’s comedy (see Disney’s Rocketman).

As the professor whose obsession with the rubbery creation Flubber is literally single-minded (three times, he forgets to attend his own wedding), Robin Williams is even more straitlaced than Fred MacMurray was. But that might be a blessing, too. Williams gets so caught up in his character’s attention to minutia that it mellows his own rhythms. It’s a nice change to see him play a recognizable, faulty person instead of trying to charm us with his crazy-pixie routine.

Ironically, the movie’s weakest moments are in the nods to ’90s movie technology. The most annoying addition is the professor’s computer, Weebo (voiced by The Little Mermaid‘s Jodi Benson), which exhibits film clips on its screen to express its feelings. That might have been a cute gimmick, if the clips weren’t mostly of old Disney cartoons. And strangely enough, Williams’s most emotive moment is when he cries over the machine’s demise.

There is also a scene where the Flubber goes into a manic dance that is supposed to bowl us over with laughter (the number even gets a credit at the start of the movie). Having seen a whole movie of this kind of stuff (Toy Story) where it worked much better, it’s hard to get worked up about this single scene.

But whenever inspiration starts to flag, there’s usually a nice moment of physical comedy to carry the day. And perhaps I’m thankful for small favors, but I was gratified to see a John Hughes-scripted movie whose comic climaxes didn’t involve kicking a villain in the crotch.

 

 

 

 

NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) – Alfred Hitchcock thumbs Lincoln’s nose at the censors

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The following is my entry in The Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon, being hosted at the blog Coffee, Classics, & Craziness from Aug. 11-13, 2017. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ critiques of their favorite films by the famed director!

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Great entertainment and cinematic art happen so rarely in the movies that we’re usually grateful to get just one or the other. But after over thirty years in the business, director Alfred Hitchcock seamlessly combined both, in a little number called North by Northwest (1959).

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This movie also combined two of Hitchcock’s favorite motifs, the innocent man in dangerous circumstances and the cool, icy blonde. Cary Grant plays Roger Thornhill, an advertising executive who is constantly on the go between martini sessions. One day at a restaurant luncheon, he makes the worst move of his life, simply by summoning a bellboy to send a wire to his mother. This gesture is misinterpreted by some very bad men who are on the lookout for a CIA spy named George Kaplan.

With that fatal gesture, the bad guys abduct Thornhill, and against his loudest protests, he becomes George Kaplan. Along the way, Thornhill/Kaplan is helped (or at least he thinks he is) by Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint), a certain female of platinum hair and behavior.

To tell any more would spoil the fun for any first-timer. Just be on the lookout for some of these signposts: An opening sequence (featuring great titles by Saul Bass and a memorable theme from Hitchcock vet Bernard Herrmann) that gets your blood pumping before the story kicks in. Hitchcock’s inevitable cameo appearance (shortly after his credit). A drunk-driving scene that ought to be shown in every driver’s-ed class through eternity. A man and a knife. A man alone in a field, save for a crop-dusting plane. The most intense auction scene ever filmed. A trip across Mount Rushmore, literally. And oh, that glorious closing shot, putting one over on the 1959 movie censors.

Here are a few more kickers to amaze your friends at trivia time. The movie’s screenwriter, Ernest Lehman, came up with the movie’s famous high points first and then worked with Hitchcock to build a movie around them. Cary Grant, whose role was that of a fairly youthful bon vivant, was 55 years old when he made this movie. And the woman who played his mother (brittly witty Jessie Royce Landis) was 10 months younger than Cary Grant.

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Finally, let us not neglect two of Hitchcock’s most slithery villains, fey Martin Landau (with his “woman’s intuition”) and droll James Mason (whose dialogue fairly swan-dives off his tongue). All of these elements make North by Northwest a delight, either to study in film class or enjoy with other moviegoers.

Here’s a terrific trailer for the movie, narrated by The Master himself:

Announcing IT’S JUST A JOKE: THE MOVIE PARODY BLOGATHON

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We could all use a good laugh right about now. Hence, we announce the opening of

IT’S JUST A JOKE: THE MOVIE PARODY BLOGATHON

Rules for the Blogathon

Write a blog about one of your favorite movie parodies. It can be from any era (remember that Chaplin, Keaton, Stan Laurel, and The Three Stooges did various film parodies). It can be a single film parody or a series (such as the Austin Powers trilogy). Or, if you enjoy a movie director or team that is famous mostly for parodies (Mel Brooks, Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker), you can write about either a single movie parody they did or about their complete filmography of parodies.

Since there are plenty of blogging possibilities, I ask for no duplicate entries in this blogathon. However, refer to the variations above. (For example, if someone has already chosen Blazing Saddles, you could blog about all of the movie parodies that Mel Brooks has done.)

As entry requests come in, I will continually update the listing of them on this blogathon announcement — so before you enter, look below and be sure your request isn’t already taken.

How Do I Join the Blogathon?

In the “Comments” section at the bottom of this blog, please leave your name, the URL of your blog, and the movie parody you are choosing to blog about. At the end of this blog entry are banners for the ‘thon. Grab a banner, display it on your blog, and link it back to this blog.

The blogathon will take place from Friday, Sept. 1, through Sunday, Sept. 3, 2017. When the opening date of the blogathon arrives, leave a comment here with a link to your post, and I will display it in the list of entries (which I will continually update up to the beginning of the ‘thon, so keep checking back!).

I will not be assigning particular dates to any blog posts. As long as you get your entry in by the end of the day on Sept. 3, I will be satisfied. (That said, the earlier the better!)

Again, be sure to leave me a comment and grab a banner, and have fun with your blog entry!

Here’s the line-up so far, in chronological order:

That William Powell Site – Bebe Daniels and William Powell in Senorita and She’s a Sheik (both 1927)

Silent-ology – Show People (1928)

The Dream Book Blog – Smile (1975)

The Wonderful World of Cinema – Airplane! (1980)

The Midnite Drive-In – This Is Spinal Tap (1984)

Moon in Gemini – Soapdish (1991)

Realweegiemidget Reviews – Team America: World Police (2004)

Movie Movie Blog Blog – Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical (2005)

Dell on Movies – Black Dynamite (2009)

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The Beatles in LET IT BE (1970) – And in the end…

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The following is my entry in The 4th Annual British Invaders Blogathon, being hosted by Terence at his blog A Shroud of Thoughts from Aug. 4-6, 2017. Click on the above banner, and read blogs about a wide variety of British-based and -themed movies!

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I’m really glad that most of our songs were about love, peace and understanding.” – Paul McCartney, The Beatles Anthology, 1995

“This is what we are like with our trousers off, would you please end the game now?” – John Lennon’s take on Let It Be, 1970

There are several good reasons that Let It Be has not been released on DVD or other recent home viewing formats.

One is that it’s a just-plain-sloppy documentary. You have to be at least an intermediate Beatles buff to understand or have any perspective on the movie. Initially, it was to have been made as a TV documentary that would accompany a live concert. When the Beatles then nixed the concert idea, the movie’s format was changed to theatrical so as to become the final film required under the group’s contract with movie studio United Artists.

The movie shows the band rehearsing songs at both Twickenham Film Studios and their Apple Records studio, and the film ends with their performing the once-requisite live concert during a London lunch hour on the rooftop of Apple. But again, you have to be a Beatles buff to know any of this.

The film does nothing to identify any of the surroundings, or even The Beatles or others within the movie. Songwriter/performer Billy Preston performs with the group throughout the movie, and the soundtrack album took the unprecedented step of crediting him along with the group — but the movie does not. We also see Yoko Ono (then a fairly fresh presence in John’s life), Paul’s adopted daughter Heather, and the group’s music producer George Martin, all unidentified. It’s as though they were merely movie extras flitting around the Beatles’ orbit.

The movie’s biggest debit, though, is that it fairly justifies John and George’s later complaints that, after their manager Brian Epstein died in 1967, the other group members spent much of their time serving as “sidemen” for Paul. The movie’s first third shows the group rambling through early rave-ups of songs from this movie’s soundtrack and Abbey Road, as well as some rock-and-roll chestnuts. And they perform so lackadaisically that, if you didn’t know that these were the famous Beatles, you might wonder why they were even the subject of a documentary.

The group finally manages some solid performances, but mostly of songs by Paul. Other than a duet with John on “Two of Us,” the middle section is Paul’s show all the way, with him lovingly performing “Let It Be” and “The Long and Winding Road” to the camera as the other members drudgingly provide backup.

John finally gets some wind in his sails (literally — it looks awfully cold on that rooftop) during the final concert, as he rips through “I’ve Got a Feeling” and “One After 909” (both with Paul) and a soulful “Don’t Let Me Down.” But even that concert feels strange. Considering, in the late 1970’s, how hopefully anticipated a Beatles reunion concert had been, here most of the public onlookers seem to regard these guys as freaks who are simply being rude to interrupt local business.

As always with The Beatles, their music is enough to carry the show, half-baked as some of it is. (The movie won the group a “posthumous” Academy Award for Best Original Song Score.) But if A Hard Day’s Night depicts The Beatles at their sunniest and most vibrant, Let It Be makes everyone but Paul look as though they’re ready to be somewhere else.

MY FAVORITE MOVIE THREESOME BLOGATHON – Da Big Finish

Since the remainder of our blogathon entrants have now submitted their entries, we won’t give you a big song-and-dance — it’s time for

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Day 2 was a no-show, but everyone rallied for the ‘thon’s final day. Click here if you want to read Day 1’s entries. For those below, click on the individual blog’s name to read the entry.

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Anybody Got a Match? watches sparks fly between married couple Myrna Loy and Clark Gable, and Gable’s secretary Jean Harlow, in Wife vs. Secretary.

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Anna Karina is torn between boyfriend Jean-Claude Brialy and platonic friend Jean-Paul Belmondo in Jean-Luc Godard’s meta-romance A Woman Is a Woman. (Don’t worry, Cinematic Scribblings will sort it all out for you.)

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The Dream Book Blog chronicles the fireworks between beauty-pageant contestant Holly Hunter and her cousins Mary Steenburgen and Tim Robbins in Miss Firecracker.

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And last but hardly least, Moon in Gemini just dropped in to check on dude Jeff Bridges, enigmatic Steve Buscemi, and Vietnam vet John Goodman in the Coen Brothers’ cult classic The Big Lebowski.

We’d like to thank our enthusiastic blogathon entrants as well as the readers who followed this ‘thon over the weekend. We hope you enjoyed our little trio excursions and hope that all of your threesomes will be, er, thrillsomes!

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