Lethal Weapon (1987)

Lethal_weapon1Richard Donner (Superman) has an understanding of the balance of grand spectacle and more subtle moments. The opening aerial shot and the tenuous desert rendezvous with a helicopter churning up sand capture our attention. But it’s the little bits of humor and vulnerability that make the showmanship of Lethal Weapon ultimately worth it. There’s a vibrancy that runs through Shane Black’s script in both the action sequences and character-driven moments.

It’s the quintessential buddy cop action film that in many ways defines the ’80s and that’s because it has a different slant. That’s part of the secret to its success. The main man (Danny Glover) is different and it’s not simply because he’s African-American. His family holds an important place in his life and he’s a genuine person — not an action hero. His partner in crime (Mel Gibson) also has his own deal. We meet Riggs in an abandoned trailer with bedhead, smoking and drinking a beer before he’s even awake. The loss of his wife causes him to contemplate suicide and everyone on the force questions his sanity. But when duty calls these two men are thrown together and out of their initial incompatibility comes mutual respect and genuine fun. As an audience, we enjoy watching them together.

What sets Lethal Weapon apart is how the violence is almost a side thought because what really matters are the characters and their relationships. Friends and family are important. Certainly, there are profane moments but they come in moments of extreme provocation. There’s even gratuitous violence at times but there’s consequence to it, more often than not.

Those in trouble are not simply damsels in distress because most everyone is in the same boat. Martin and Roger both are put in danger, captured and tortured. They don’t just dispense retribution. Their lives and families are put on the line too. However, it’s easy to point out the fact that some characters are killed, most notably in the opening moments, and they feel like mere plot points. For such reasons, the film’s certainly not perfect.

Also, its final moments are admittedly out there. It could be a scene out of Mad Max as Mel Gibson battles in the deluge of a spewing fire hydrant nearly to the death. The question is why, can’t they just arrest the culprit? It’s this scene that allows the character of Riggs to get his desired resolution. In fact, both he and Roger Murtaugh earn a bit of satisfaction as they rise up above the tumult. They are a pair of lethal weapons. But what matters most is that after a hard days work they can get together for a mediocre Christmas dinner. That’s true friendship.

3.5/5 Stars

Carnal Knowledge (1971)

carnalknow1“If you had a choice would you either love a girl or have her love you?”

That is the question posited to commence the daydreamy dialogue rolling over the credits of Mike Nichol’s Carnal Knowledge. The nostalgic refrains of Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade” bring us in as we begin to listen to the cadence of two voices. We’ve heard those voices before probably numerous times. One has a sneering quality, and it belongs to none other than Jack Nicholson, coming off a few early classics like Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces. He’s got the trademark snideness in his delivery. It’s all there. The other voice is more soft-spoken and calming. It can be heard on numerous folk records of the ’60s and ’70s — the voice of Art Garfunkel.

These two men play Jonathan and Sandy, two college roommates who spend their entire lives confiding in each other as they try their hands, usually unsuccessfully, with relationships. The age-old debate between looks and brains is only one major point of contention.

There are the awkward opening moments at a college mixer. The college dorm room talks cluttered with girls, girls, and more girls. In fact, they both get tangled up mentally, emotionally, and physically with a girl named Susan (Candice Bergen).

Both leave college going off in two different directions in the realm of romantic relationships. Nicholson’s character is more about the open-minded approach keeping his options open and he thumbs his nose at any ultimatums a woman gives him. He’s his own man and he’s not going to be held down — even going berserk with his longest partner Bobbie (Ann Margret), because of her insistence on wanting more. He’s not about that but ends up cycling through the women. The irony, of course, is that although he seems like a more stable, contented than his best friend, Sandy still winds up in several different marriages just the same.

Really, the film fits somewhere in there with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and The Graduate if only for the fact that Carnal Knowledge engages with broken human relationships once more. In one sense, there can be a great deal of hurt, pain, and even abuse that come out of them. But also they can be wellsprings of depth and even humor at times. What makes this film, based off of a Jules Feiffer script, is the buddy perspective. It’s the buddy perspective that you could argue that was given a facelift and re-popularized by When Harry Met Sally. And yet you can see it here as well.

There’s candid, frank, sometimes even overtly crass dialogue. And it continues through their entire lives no matter who they are with, what jobs they are in, or how their looks have changed. The conversations continue. The sobering fact is that both haven’t been able to figure things out. It doesn’t seem like they’ve come all that far from their naive college days. Jonathan now seems like a lonely dirty older man compared to a dirty young man. Sandy is enraptured by a young woman who can mystify him with her thoughts. They haven’t really changed a whole lot.

The closing moments of Carnal Knowledge are perturbing not necessarily because of what happens, but because of the realization of what these men have become (or haven’t). We see first-hand that Jonathan has fully succumbed to his own self-narcissism while Sandy tries to convince himself that he’s happy. It’s sad really.

3.5/5 Stars

In Bruges (2007)

In_Bruges_PosterNear the end of the film, one of our main characters questions whether or not being stuck in Bruges is the equivalent to being in Hell. However, far from badmouthing the Flemish city, director Martin McDonagh actually makes it a fascinating backdrop for a film. It’s a city full of history, romanticism, mystery, and even peril. It just depends on how you look at it, with eyes of reverence or general disdain.

In Bruges, the film, only happens because two men have to make a quick getaway after knocking off a target in London. That is the life of a hit man. Quick work and then long periods of waiting. That is the majority of what we witness, following the existences of Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson). Ray is a bit of a jerk sometimes and to him, Bruges is a living nightmare. Completely and utterly dull. But then he happens upon a fantastical film set starring a dwarf. There a beautiful woman Chloe (Clemence Poesy) catches his eye and then Bruges doesn’t seem so bad after all. At least for now.

Then there’s Ken. He’s not looking for casual companionship or booze. He has respect for the arts, the places of worship and the culture around him. Both men share foul Irish mouths and a general jadedness about their profession. After all, being a hitman is a living, but as Ray finds out it’s not without its stress. Shooting a little boy on accident takes its toll, and Ray must contemplate the entire framework of his morality. Meanwhile, Ken sticks by the phone and gets a call from their fiery boss Harry (Ralph Fiennes). He gets an order, and it catches him off guard. He already has his next assignment, but now he must attempt to reconcile orders with personal conviction. These are hitmen with a conscience.

Scum of the earth, yes, rough around the edges, maybe, yet somehow they still reveal their humanity. The miracle is that through the violence, we still find common ground to relate with them. We become thoroughly involved in this tale that, while darkly funny, is most certainly moving. When all the shots are fired, what we’re left with feels like a Shakespearian tragedy sprinkled with the absurdity of Bosch. Place all of this in front of the quaint Flemish setting and you have a rewarding adventure. I also recently saw Hot Fuzz and it seems that these films could almost be watched in tandem. Aside from both being British productions, they both have action, violence, and dark humor, but perhaps, more importantly, they exhibit genuine heart. That’s something not to be taken too lightly these days.

3.5/5 Stars

Copenhagen (2014)

Copenhagen_film.jpegSometimes you attempt to make a mental pros and cons list to try and convince yourself in one direction or the other after watching something. Copenhagen was such a film for me. Bike rides through the city. Pro. At times this film loses its steam and flounders a bit. Con.

In truth, the narrative does feel pretty thin when it comes to the main character William trying to track down his grandfather in Copenhagen. William for that matter is a foul-mouthed and generally annoying jerk of an American for most of the film. Also, the weird romantic tension that builds between him and Effy is obviously uncomfortable, but the will-they-won’t-they component is key to the entire narrative. Because essentially this is a film about a grown man finally coming to age, with the help of a very mature 14-year-old girl, who acts as his guide through Denmark.

That being said, the scenery in and around Copenhagen is obviously a lot of fun to partake of, and it truly is the perfect place to ride a bike around, day or dusk. Furthermore, with her husky voice, feisty nature, and winning charm Frederikke Dahl Hansen makes this film with her turn as Effy. True, she’s playing a character quite a bit younger than herself, and yet she succeeds wonderfully and really thrives as the winning force in this film. Because, if we don’t like her this film has little hope of rising above its narrative foibles and the utterly annoying nature of its other main players. Effy makes us like William at least a little tiny bit by the end of this story. And that’s a major compliment to her. To his credit, Gethin Anthony is easy to dislike, but that undoubtedly can be credited to his acting. His character does come around in the end too, not so much because of the quest for his grandpa, but he learns what it is to be a man and to treat others with the respect they are due. Namely in this case a 14-year old girl, and also is his best bud, Jeremy.

So is this a film I would recommend… Yes, but I tried to lay all the cards on the table because you could easily enjoy this film or just as easily find it disconcerting and tiresome. I fell into both categories at different times, but there were some truly entrancing moments that are hard to forget. Effy is almost hypnotic during her singing session in the bar. And traipsing through an art museum becomes a fascinatingly intimate study of the human form. Perhaps now more than ever Denmark will be on my travel radar since it looked like an absolutely brilliant place to spend a summer.

3.5/5 Stars

The End of the Tour (2015)


endofthetour1My Dinner with Andre
was a film that was interesting in conception and not quite as engaging in practice — at least for me. The End of the Tour is another such conversation-driven story with a similar promise, but by some miracle, it really seems to pay off.

The narrative actually felt rather like a stripped down Lawrence of Arabia, because we first are introduced to our main person of interest, writer David Foster Wallace (Jason Segal), following news of his death. Then, with the aid of his numerous taped dialogues, Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) takes us back to the 1990s where he had a few days to interview the accomplished author. David and Dave spend a great deal of time together, and the author willingly and openly allows the other man into his life. It’s not some monumental epic, and in that way, it parts company with Lawrence of Arabia, but it is an intimate heart-to-heart.

Furthermore, it doesn’t matter if you don’t know the man or not, because I, in all honesty, did not know him. Under Pondsoldt’s direction, however, the film is so universal — it does feel so personal — like you’re slowly getting to know Foster Wallace bit by bit as the layers come off. He speaks into so many issues of what it means to be human, though this is only a one time interaction between two men. The conversations at times become contentious and bitter as Lipsky tries to dig in more. And that’s perfectly alright.

Foster Wallace describes himself interestingly enough as a “combination of being incredibly shy and an egomaniac.” But in this paradox lies a lot of his personal insecurities as a successful writer. Truthfully, they also put the mirror up to all those listening in, because he’s not the only with anxiety, it’s just that he’s the one voicing it.

Jason Segal does a superb job of portraying someone with obviously unfathomable talent, while also being candidly vulnerable as time progresses. There’s an understated humor to this man that is somehow warm and disarming. Underneath there obviously dwells a woundedness that gives way to a plethora of issues which also consequently becomes topics of discussion. For instance, pornography, entertainment, television, depression, loneliness, fears, doubts, and a great deal more.

We return to the present as David listens to his final audio cassettes from so many years ago now. How do you try and paint a canvas of a person’s life with all the minutiae that are involved? The soda and foods they like. How they dress. The name of their pets. Where they live and so on. David delivers a beautifully evocative memo that he speaks into his recorder in order to try and capture that moment just as it is. That time and place, in some respect, feels like hallowed ground amidst a far off realm. Now, with Wallace gone it’s only a distant wisp of a memory. Therein lies the beauty of that conversation for not only Lipsky but the entire audience. That dialogue — that human interaction just as it happened — can never happen in the same way, but you can still take solace in the memories and the words that were said. David Lipsky looks back at that one time conversation with only fond thoughts.

The End of the Tour reminds us what real life can be like, and it reminds us that we are not alone — but surrounded by a wide expanse of humanity just waiting for someone to reach out and talk with them. It’s not a radical idea, but then again if David Foster Wallace, the preeminent author that he was, had such an impact with it, then maybe we can too.

4/5 Stars

“It may be what in the old days was called a spiritual crisis or whatever. It’s just the feeling as though the entire, every axiom of your life turned out to be false, and there was actually nothing, and you were nothing, and it was all a delusion. And that you were better than everyone else because you saw that it was a delusion, and yet you were worse because you couldn’t function.”~ Jason Segal as David Foster Wallace

The Station Agent (2003)

220px-Station-agent-posterLife takes all sorts of people. Otherwise, our everyday human interaction would have no meaning, no real importance. But when each person brings something different to the table, that’s when life gets interesting. We need the introverts, the extroverts, and every shade in between. That’s really what The Station Agent is about. It’s made up of a ragtag cross-section of humanity. Each one’s a different puzzle piece and you wonder how they ever got together. But they all get thrown into one box in the sleepy town of Newfoundland, New Jersey, and these people wind up living life together. Maybe it sounds rather banal, but the result is actually quite rewarding. I don’t exactly find trains exhilarating, but if you have somebody to share them with they’re not so bad.

The central character in our film is a train aficionado and reserved man named Finbar (Peter Dinklage). He’s been gifted a ramshackle shack bequeathed to him by the elderly proprietor of the hobby shop he used to work at. They both shared a contentment in silence and a deep affection for trains. Fin has seemingly lost his only friend in the world, and he resigns himself to silence because he assumes that all people ever notice about him is his size. They don’t seem to care about the person inside the body and he doesn’t want to take a chance. But that’s before he meets the genial dynamo Joe (Bobby Cannavale), who runs a coffee cart out in the boonies. It’s absolute torture for such a vibrant personality, and he jumps at the chance to have someone to talk to nearby.

The quiet little man constantly deflects any attempt by Joe to become acquainted and yet it never fazes him. First reluctantly and then wholeheartedly Fin allows Joe on his long walks along the train tracks, and Joe breaks down the barriers. The unlikely pair gets even more unusual when they add middle-aged artist Olivia (Patricia Clarkson) into their ranks after she nearly runs over Fin several times. Like her two new acquaintances, she has personal issues to work through on her own. But that doesn’t mean she has to live life alone, and with Joe being the glue, these three have something going that truly blossoms into friendship.

Two of the other pieces of the puzzle include the inquisitive girl Cleo, who shares Fin’s fascination with trains and builds an instant connection with him as children often can with other people. She’s direct, innocent, and she accepts Fin for who he is. Then there’s Emily (an almost unrecognizable Michelle Williams), the local librarian, who adds another layer to the town’s charm. She is pretty, but also very sweet and open to talking with Fin. Really she’s just looking for someone to listen since she’s going through a pregnancy with a boyfriend who is bad news.

It’s easy to respect The Station Agent because it’s not a story where romance heals all wounds. There are two such moments when the film could have easily become that, but Tom McCarthy has a greater respect for his characters than that. They don’t get caught up in needless romantic entanglements for the sake of drama. Their interactions are more nuanced and sensitive than that. Because Joe might make jokes, but behind that veneer is a deeply caring heart.

Noticeably McCarthy also has a great respect for quiet. His film is full of solitude as much as it is full of human interaction. That might be off-putting to some, but it makes the story all the more powerful, juxtaposing the idle chatter with tranquility. On his part, Peter Dinklage gives a breakout performance as a man who realizes he can let people into his life. Because in life true friendship can form between people of all colors, shapes, and sizes. We have to give out a chuckle when this unlikely trio is sitting on the porch talking about Fin’s love life one last time. Not in a million years would we expect to be sitting there with them enjoying the moment. But it happened and we do. In many ways, it’s a lot like life.

4/5 Stars

Lost In Translation (2003)

Lost_in_Translation_posterStarring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johannson with direction by Sofia Coppola, this film is set in the fast-paced, technological, and modern world of Tokyo, Japan. That is where Bob and Charlotte find themselves and they both are lost, simply going through the motions of life. He is a middle-aged, former movie star filming a whiskey commercial. She is a newly-married wife of a fashion photographer. Despite their age differences, they find out that they have a lot in common. Over the week they spend time together in Tokyo and become friends. When the time comes for Bob to leave neither one wants their time to end. They say goodbye but do not forget each other. This film was enjoyable because it portrayed two people who could be good friends without getting romantically attached, at least in the conventional sense.

I must say that this type of friendship intrigues me. It is understandable that if you go to a foreign country alone it would be nice to have someone you could at least converse with, without any barrier getting in the way. It might be at Narita airport for a moment, at a Hotel, or walking the streets of Shinjuku.  It would act as a comfort in a world like Tokyo that is so fast paced and high stress. These unusual circumstances could throw together two very different people, with little in common except the language they speak. That is something that does not happen every day.

Needless to say, after gaining the opportunity to visit Tokyo two years in a row it has given me some new insight. I can now wholly empathize with Bob and Charlotte because although I knew a few people, Tokyo is such a highly populated, fast-paced world that seems so easy to get lost and overwhelmed in. There is so much to see, so many lights, so many hurrying folks, so many subway lines, so many surgical masks, so much etiquette, and so much technology. True, some of my ancestors were Japanese but the language still baffles me, making it very easy to get “Lost in Translation.” Being in Tokyo it also helped me realize that it is not only tourists who get lost. It has been over 10 years since this film came out and a lot can happen in that time like more Starbucks and McDonalds on every corner.

Despite the westernization and technological advancement, Tokyo also has a time-worn aspect, and its people are often worn as well. They might not be lost because of a literal language barrier. However, they, like Bob and Charlotte, are often lost because they have difficulty getting close to their peers. Often they, like the two protagonists, seem to be searching for someone to talk to, but in their case manners keep others at arm’s length. Coppola’s film gained an even more personal note now that I have walked in these places and interacted with or at least walked alongside the Japanese people. They like anyone else can be “Lost in Translation,” it just might be a different type of “language” than what we struggle with. They too are humans who have their share of struggles, worries, joys, hopes, and dreams. Hopefully, this type of understanding will help us transcend any barriers so we no longer find ourselves “Lost in Translation.”

4.5/5 Stars

Drinking Buddies (2013)

fd0b8-drinking_buddies_posterHere is an interesting little film that while not great has a lot of interesting things to say. It is about relationships, friendships, and life in general. It really revolves around two coworkers who work at a brewery together and also are almost constant drinking buddies.

With this territory comes often complicated lines and boundaries because they both are invested in other relationships with a significant other. The buddy status remains only to be taxed as Kate gets dumped by her boyfriend and struggles through her coping process. The one who ultimately gets most deeply affected is Luke. For one he does not want to see his friend this way, but it probably does not help either that he has deep feelings for her, as a buddy or otherwise.

There is an insanely large quantity of beer consumed which is not surprising given the name. However, what I really found interesting about the film was the “buddies” aspect. It looked at relationships and friendship between the opposite genders through a seemingly real and genuine lens. Sometimes it can be difficult, complicated, awkward, and most definitely painful. It is not anything like a movie. I guess that’s why I was content that the film did not try to tie itself up in a neat bow.

All the matters is that Kate and Luke are buddies again. Sure, there may be some unresolved stuff for them to work out, but then again aren’t our lives always complicated like that? I know mine certainly is and I suppose I wouldn’t want it any other way. As long as I have my buddies to go through it along side of me.

3.5/5 Stars

Our Relations (1936)

405a7-l26h_our_relations_1936How can you get sick of Laurel & Hardy? Maybe it’s possible, but I always enjoy coming back to them, because they are easy on the eyes and the mind. They have the mayhem of The Marx Brothers or The Three Stooges, but they remain, perhaps, even more endearing more often than not. They may not be as witty as Groucho or as belligerent as Moe and his crew, but they have heart and every “fine mess” that they get into is usually a pleasure to watch.

Our Relations is another one of their short features and it borrows its main plot device from the long overused identical twin trope. We have undoubtedly seen it countless times on many a movie and most definitely a TV show. But before I harp on them too much, I will give them some slack because it was the 1930s, not 2014. That being said, the confusions and mix-ups that occur as a result of this situation are a segue to some fun comedy.

The story begins with a strangely well to do Ollie and Stan having a nice time with their wives. It is their two seafaring twins who cause trouble at a bar and hold onto an invaluable ring. They get more than they bargain for having to navigate two angry wives, two angry girls, an angry waiter, an angry sailor, some angry gangsters and the always miffed James Finlayson. Notice I didn’t specify which pair of twins, because each set has their share of grief.

It gets difficult telling them apart after a while as they keep playing “the shell game” and our only cues are their ties and some theme music that tips us off.  Most definitely this is a fun romp with our two…four heroes. The facial expressions of Stan Laurel always crack me up (including his sniveling), and Ollie is forever a klutz with the help of his bumbling buddy.

It culminated with the wonderfully hilarious scene in the cement that was the goofy apex of a solid Laurel and Hardy film. If you want culture or high brow humor please go somewhere else. As for me and myself, I will continue to enjoy what these two men gifted us all those years ago. It also had a moral to the story. There is nothing quite as important as our relations. Scratch that. Maybe it was just made for us to laugh, and there is nothing much wrong with that.

3.5/5 Stars

Block-Head (1938)

71c93-l26h_block-heads_1938There are short films and then there are feature films. This is your typical Laurel and Hardy short feature which falls somewhere in between.

This Hal Roach-produced comedy romp pulls its plot from current events such as WWI, big game hunting, and Middle American suburban life. But forget that, the most important part is that Laurel and Hardy are up to their usual gags playing their usual selves in this laugh-laden story with a typical bouncy score.

It starts off with an oblivious Stan guarding his trench for over 20 years as the story moves from 1917 in France to the year 1938. Don’t question it, just accept that Stan is stupid and he has a mountain of ration cans to prove it.

When he finally is brought back to civilization there’s one man who is especially surprised, his good ol’ buddy Oliver who is just about to celebrate an anniversary with his wife.

The friends finally get their reunion at the old soldiers home where Stan is laid up and the fun begins. Because Stan and Ollie are the perfect antithesis, they always lead to the greatest of guffaws.

The laughs continue to spew out whether it’s Stan’s supposedly amputated leg or a truck piled high with dirt. And that’s before they even arrive home where they must deal with 13 flights of stairs and the ever present James Finlayson ready to trade some choice words and fists with Ollie.

Ollie also has some marital problems of his own that are complicated by the pretty young wife that lives across the hall. He and Stan manage to do what they do best by completely decimating their house and blowing up their kitchen. The end title card drops as our two heroes gallop away followed by a jealous husband with an elephant gun. Sounds about right.

I dearly hope I never grow tired of Laurel and Hardy, because if I do it will almost feel like I lost just a bit of my humanity. They are often so dumb, so mean to each other and to others, but at their core, they are always a lovable duo. By now they are caricatures in appearance and for their buffoonery, but they are also so beloved by the masses. I would like to think, even to this day.

Ollie with his fiery temper and bossing of Stan. Stan with his stupidity and often surprising talents (smoking a hand-pipe and pulling down the shadow of a window blind just to name a few). I wish there had been more screen time for Billy Gilbert, but otherwise, this is a wholly worthwhile addition to the L & H legacy.

4/5 Stars