Friday, August 31, 2007

Offended or Offender?

About maybe two years ago, when I received confirmation that ( as I suspected) my cute little boy is afflicted with autism, the wonderful Sigourney Weaver (forget Ripley - her Tombstone will read Gwen's Galaxy Quest line My TV Guide interview was 6 paragraphs on my boobs and how they fit into my uniform!) talked to a magazine about her experience researching her role of an autistic woman for Snow Cake - and dared mention that those people are great fun to be with.

It didn't take long before someone reacted overtly and publicly with indignation. I made the unwise move of engaging via a movie message board such a person, who claimed high and dry that Mrs Weaver was a liar and didn't know what raising a "poop flinging" autistic child was like. The one thing I learned from that mostly fruitless exchange is that Autism exists on many different levels. Some need more care and attention than others. Some will seem devoid of any emotion and interest. Some are like Justin. My son. I won't launch into a psychoanalysis of the little one, but let's just say he IS great fun, and I'm endlessly proud of him.

Cut to last week. One of the very few and rare TV shows I allow myself to follow is Dennis Leary's Rescue Me, about a Firefighting Irish in post-9/11 New York. One of the many story lines in the series has womaniser Franco in love with a woman who has a mentally challenged brother. We don't know what he has exactly, we just know he's..well..slow. From my and others' point of view, "Richie" is most likely autistic.

So imagine my surprise when this little turd of a message board crusader launches into a multi-paragraphed bashing of the show for its portrayal of what he called "mentally ill" - I don't consider my son ill in any way, douche bag - as a disgusting and demeaning cliche. Richie, it so happens, has great comedic timing; he's really funny. NEVER, in any scene, did I see actor Cornell Womack fall into vaudeville and goof out in character. He shows tremendous reserve, great complexity, and he STILL manages to be funny.

Which begs the question. If Justin, whose temper tantrums can shatter nerves with the best of them, and whose constant unrelenting energy -especially when using my bed as a trampoline- would rival any Olympic athlete's stamina, were to be portrayed AS IS on television, he would be far more clich├ęd than Richie. Would the gentleman, and that lady before him, be even MORE offended??? Of course they would. But why? Because they don't know what they're talking about? Never, will they answer - everyone knows someone who knows someone who had a child with a deficiency. So again, why???

Because what offended Mr Marsh - yeah, I'm using your name dip shit - and that lady, and legions like them is SEEING a mentally challenged character on their beloved Idiot Box. No one, who was pampered into thinking that "not normal" is not good at all, wants to see that. So from the gentleman's remarks, I should be ashamed of loving and caring for my son, and publicly at that. It's what I call the Ostrich syndrome; if you hide your head in the sand and ignore it, it'll go away and can't affect you in any way.

Creating the character of Richie was a risk for Leary and writing partner Peter Tolan. But they took the risk because they believe the Ostrich Syndrome is an hypocrisy that deserves to be shattered. Leary, who cracked me up to the point of tears in The Ref, gained a few more notches in my book of respect. If you can't deal with it, don't blame the people who try to. THAT, Mr Marsh, is the greatest offense. And YOU should be ashamed.

And by the way, Snow Cake, from my hands-on experience - 90% accurate. AND it's a great movie. Beat that with a stick.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Yes, THEY almost got the part

Randal McMurphy

Before Easy Rider came along in 1969, Jack Nicholson was niched for a decade in Roger Corman-land. Four Oscar nominations later, he won the golden guy for a role that would pretty much define the rest of his career, that of McMurphy, the violently exhuberant inmate of 1975's One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. No question that even without that role, Ol'Jack would still have made it as one of Hollywood's sacred monsters. But without him for that movie, would IT have made it on most everyone's perpetual top-100 list? See what you make of who almost made the cut.

Kirk Douglas
The story goes that Kirk "discovered" the novel and had it adapted for the stage in order to play McMurphy. Owning the movie rights didn't help him much, since no studio would come near it. You'd think that having sonny Micheal take up the producer's mantle would help the old man, but ultimately THAT's what cost him the role - being too old. No one disputes the Oscar worth of Kirk, but the fact is he came from a different generation of actors, and would probably have portrayed the aggressive inmate TOO aggressively or classically- Not the establishment hating pothead who turns the asylum upside down.

Burt Reynolds
Bare in mind that in 1975, Burt was just starting to be Burt; after spending the 60s guest-starring on television, he was just just becoming a fan-favorite thanks to Deliverance and The Longest Yard. However improbable, had he won an Oscar instead of Jack, would he have strayed in the part that truly made him Burt, The Bandit? Think about it...No Smokey, no Cannonball Run and no Starting Over. On the othe hand, no Cop and a Half and a whole string of 80s cat-litter worthy B-listers that could only be stopped by P.T. Anderson and the awesome Boogie Nights. As for McMurphy...meh! He just ain't off-the-wall and wacky enough.

Marlon Brando
Don Corleone? Col. Kurtz? Terry Malloy? Forgive me for insutling the Great (big) One, but I just don't see it. Being only 33, the image of Brando I grew up with is of a fat and bitchy old Prima Dona. Granted, that's close to what Nicholson has turned into lately, but still... Jumping around, raising hell with his water canon? nah...I don't buy it.

James Caan
Now honestly, THAT I would've liked to see. Although Sonny Corleone's death is one of the more memorable of modern Cinema, we just don't get enough of him, period. I wanna see Sonny get into a pissing contest with Louise Fletcher -You get close enough and *Badaboum* you got blood all over your nurse's uniform! If they made him an offer, they should've made one he couldn't refuse...

Gene Hackman
In the words of Bill Lumberg, hum...yeaaah...Hackman is incredibly versatile. Or at least WAS back in the 70s. Now he's just overexposed, so I can't get enough perpective to envision it. Besides, Popeye Doyle was a bit of a McMurphy himself, and can provide a heck of a car chase. Although, If it had been enough to keep him from turning Lex Luthor into a spoiled brat with too much time on his hands, then maybe...

If it was made today...
On-the-nose casting would put smart money behind Sam Rockwell or Johnny Depp, although green-thinking Studio Suits would definitely push for a Frat Packer, one of Judd Apatow's buddies or -God Forbid- Adam Sandler. MY dream casting would put Simon Pegg in the rebel-rousing seat, alongside Gary Farmer as Chief Bromben and Angelina Jolie slithering her way into Nurse Ratchett's outfit. And maybe Matthew Lillard as Billy.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

10 Movies About One Plot

Volume 1- Forced Back on the Saddle

When you're done reading the following plot outline, put your reading on pause and try to think (I said THINK, not Google) on how many films you can name off the bat that follow the same general story.

A former pro, the best at what he does who unwittingly fell on the wrong side of the tracks, is forced back into the game for one more round by a shady and powerful character.

How many did you get? Okay, hotshot. Compare them to mine (in no particular order)

Hudson Hawk
A career thief recently released form prison is blackmailed by power-hungry billionaire into stealing Leonardo DaVinci's formula for turning lead into gold.
How many Hollywood studio suits still bang their heads on the wall for giving Carte Blanche to one of the day's big cash cows for his (or her) own personal vanity movie? RKO's won't, cause Citizen Kane brought them down. But whoever wrote a blank check for Fire Down Below, Harlem Nights or Waterworld must still be the laughing stock of the business. Hudson Hawk proudly joined those when Bruce Willis thought it'd be a hoot to write himself an Arsene Lupin meets Indiana Jones movie. Then cast Andie McDowell and Sondra Bernard, and gave director duties to a guy who later offered us such "gems" as My Giant and Because I Said So. The result was a $65M mess (remember, this is 1991 Dollars) that raked up $17M. THAT's why Willis never tried his hand at writing again - sometimes you have to know your place, and stick to it (I'm looking at you, Edward Norton).

The Longest Yard - and its two remakes
A fallen football star, imprisoned for a car-wrecking bender, is firced by the warden to train inmates and throw their exhibition game against the guards.

The fact that the original was released a little after my birth weights less on my appreciation of it than the fact that in those days, movies and their stars were a different kind of fun. Here we have a prime Burt Reynolds, fresh-off facing wild locals in Deliverance, who heads a story not of morality and justice but fighting the man, as America still felt the impact of the Vietnam war. Plus, you get Richard Kiel in butt kicking mode, and watch The Bandit himself total a Maserati (which was fished out and sold for $7k on the sole fact that it was in this movie). There's very little to say about the Adam Sandler remake, except that it stars Adam Sandler. Instead of Burt. *cough* The other remake, 2001's Mean Machine, is much more worth the viewing effort. Replacing football with Soccer in order to "Britify", it puts real-life former soccer player Vinnie Jones (just as Reynolds used to play Football) along then-up and coming bad ass Jason Statham in a more subtly humorous take on the story. ****/*****

Escape From New York

A special-ops veteran fallen on hard-times is forcably recruited to breal out the US president from inside the Manhattan Island prison.

In my own personal opinion, and God knows I've made many blacklists for saying so, Snake Plissken is what George Lucas didn't have the balls to make Han Solo into. Of course, Lucky Lucas ain't John Carpenter. Add a dash of Lee Van Cliff with Donald Pleasance, Isaac Hayes and sexy-as-ever Adrienne Barbeau, and you have one of the 80's finest cult classics ever to be faced with the inevitability of a crappy remake. As if Carpenter wasn't used to that by now... ****/*****

Gone in 60 Seconds (the remake)
A legendary car thief, retired at the request of his mother, has to pul-off one more huge job to save his brother from a vicious crime lord.

In a time when we weren't fed up with Nic Cage's character of Nic Cage, Dominic Sena's re-imagining of H.B. Halicki's carwreck-fest was just a complete package of guilty pleasures. You have Frank The Rabbit as a clueless geek. You have Vinnie Jones silently but efficiently putting foot to ass. Giovanni Ribisi unshaven. Angelina Jolie in leather pants. Christopher Eccleston asking if he's an asshole. The Holy Grail of cars, Eleonore herself, burning rubber like no one else's business. And Robert Duval, the only actor who could in such a film deliver the line "A Jackal tearing at the soft underbelly of our fair town" (you have to respect the guy for pulling that one off). Here's a tip from a DVD nut - the Director's cut has one simple scene switch that changes Ribisi's character dramatically, and makes him more of a bad ass than a stupid git. ***/*****


A former special-ops Marine is blackmailed into assassinating a South-American president or else lose his daughter.

One of the great personal shames of my life was that, as a young hormonal teenager, I would watch this movie over-and over again without ever getting tired of it. When I mentioned that little trivia fact to my wife later on, she looked at me funny, which I understood when I caught a late-night showing on TV not so long ago. This movie alone could serve as proof that without James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger would still be pumping iron in his basement. Bad acting is an understatement. Story is a term I wouldn't really use to qualify what ever goes on in this movie. So many goofs you actually have to wonder if anyone bothered to look in the camera while filming. AND, really, we're expected to believe that a pudgy mustachioed bad guy is a match for the Terminator? If that's not enough, why not cast Dan Hadaya as a South American dictator, or Alyssa Milano as Schwarz's daughter? Plus, if anyone can tell me where to find one of those magic Porsche that get un-dented when you flip it, I'd pay big bucks for that... */*****

Running Man

An Army veteran locked-up for a massacre he tried to stop is forced by a shady TV exec to compete in a deadly game show.

Hot on the success of the above-mentioned Commando (success is a big raked in $37M on a $10M budget) and the respectably entertaining Predator, Hollywood was stumbling on itself to cash-in on The Governator's popularity. The result is a Vintage Stephen King story (written as Richard Bachman) stripped of it's darkness and pessimism to fit the man of the hour. Aside from Yaphet Koto who always manages to amaze and Richard Dawson not shouting "Survey Said" , this is the quintessential eye-candy with little to no quality in terms of story and characters. Heck, it even had NFL great James Brown as a skunky firebug. If that doesn't say it all, what about those yellow cushy pyjamas Arny wears? It should be noted that nine years later, director Paul Glaser added insult to injury with the Shaq vehicle Kazaam. Paul, buddy, do yourself a favor and learn to spell A-L-A-N S-M-I-T-H-E-E. **/*****

Ocean's Twelve

Master thief Danny Ocean and his crew must delay their retirement when their biggest mark and a playboy rival blackmail them into a thieving contest.

Yes, I know it's the sequel to a remake. But it's still highly entertaining even though it follows the same story line as the other movies listed here - The Night Fox (a sadly underused Vincent Cassel) blackmails Danny Ocean into one more theft job, to see who's the best. Using this tired plot might be why so many people snickered at it compared to the genuine fun of the original. Still, it offers the very welcome encore of seeing 3 generations of great actors having a blast with and against one another. Besides, how can you not smile at a movie where in order to fool everyone including Bruce Willis, Julia Roberts' character has to personify...Julia Roberts! Paging Dr Freud, Dr Freud please report to Mr Soderberg. ****/*****

Blade Runner
If it wasn't for the fact that most companies who bought product placement in this movie didn't exist anymore only a few years after its release, Blade Runner would still be a very actual movie. If anything, it remains a jaw-dropping Sci-Fi thriller, complete with a dark technocratic vision of the future that puts Johnny Mnemonic and other pale copies to shame, and Rutger Hauer at the very best he would ever be. Heck, how many films can boast to have made Sean Young almost sympathetic? I have to confess I've watched the movie in its entirety less often that the one finger crushing scene, where for once Harrison Ford can't manage to overcome his adversary no matter how much he grunts and grimaces. *****/*****

Rocky V

Fallen former champ Rocky Balboa must decide between family and honor when his protege bullies him into one final bout.

Okay, So I defended Ocean's Twelve for using a tired plot in order to stretch the original's appeal. But come on - how much juice can you really extract out of the same fruit? Not much, as Sly proved when mounting a fourth sequel to what MGM proudly calls "The Greatest Underdog Story" (and I don't mean that flying pup creepily voiced by Jason Lee). Stallone tried to bring a twist to the tried-and-tested tale by having his Rocky fight the climactic battle on his own terms and turf. Did it help make a good movie? No. Do we care? Not really. Unless you shelled out to see it in theatres. In that case, shame on you, you're the reason he made a sixth! -kaboom!-

Sexy Beast

A retired safe cracker is fetched by his former boss' pitbull to come back home and perform a big one.

I am continously baffled at how Ben Kingsley manages to follow every Gandhi in his resume with four Bloodraynes. Still, when he gets the right role in the right movie as is the case here with Don, he scores right off the charts. Jonathan Glazer's feature film debut offered much more though, namely making Ray Winstone into a household name outside UK. It's a movie where humour is neatly unseperable from brutality, and where tough guys are such that the Sopranos would probably try to stay away. A very British take on the Mob world, reminiscent of The Long Good Friday. *****/*****

Those are the ten titles that jumped to mind most strongly when sitting down to write. Any other that you can think of, post them down on the comments section. We'll have a barbecue with them all.