Ride in the Whirlwind (1966)

Ride_in_the_Whirlwind_(movie_poster)Anyone who takes the time to search out this movie whether the reason is a young Jack Nicholson who wrote, helped finance, and starred in this western or because it’s directed by cult favorite Monte Hellman,  they probably already know it was shot consecutively with The Shooting. Whereas the first western has an unnerving existential tilt as the plot takes us through an endless journey across the oppressive desert plains, you could make the claim that Ride in the Whirlwind is a more conventional western.

However, it’s still highly intriguing for its main premise and the dilemmas that evolve as a result. But that’s enough with the big picture. Here are a few more details to fill in between the lines. The action begins with a holdup, a true western staple. True, a pair of men get injured but it’s about what you expect from such a skirmish. In the end, the stage rides off generally unimpeded and the bandits retreat to their lair up in the nearby mountains to wait it out for a while. Maybe they know a posse is on their trail and maybe not.

Either way, they’re mighty careful when a trio of riders make their way through the main pass. Of course, they don’t know that these are only a few cowhands making their way to Texas and they’re looking for a place to bed down for the night.

Both sides have a general sense of the other but rather than make waves they do the mutually beneficial thing and everything goes about their business nice and easy. There’s no need for guns and no ones looking for any trouble.

But the next morning a posse that means business rolls in and they’re not about to wait and ask questions. They set up posts to pin down their adversary and they hardly discriminate between who was a bandit and who is innocent. That’s not the way their righteous form of justice works.

Rather like the early Hollywood Classic The Ox-Bow Incident, they are searching for the men to lynch and it hardly seems to make any difference if the men are innocent or not. They shall be avenged. However, an interesting observation is that in once sense this does not seem like mob rule. The posse is calculated and cool in executing their objective although that’s no comfort to those who are actually innocent.

In the ensuing standoff, one of the ranch hands, caught in the crossfire gets it and the two bandits who come out with their lives get about what we expect. The second half of the film follows the two men who were able to escape and they just want to find a pair of horses so they can ride away from the whole business.

Their quest on foot leads them to a nearby homestead and this latter half of the story brings to mind earlier pictures such as Shane or Hondo where families are seen trying to make a life for themselves out on the plains.

Wes (Nicholson) and Vern (Cameron Mitchell) are desperate to get away yes, and they sneak into the families home but what makes them so different is the very fact that they are not real criminals. They are only doing this out of necessity. They treat the womenfolk respectfully including the ranchers taciturn daughter Abigail (Millie Perkins) but they’re also bent on taking for themselves a pair of horses.

First off, Evan ain’t so keen on having his home invaded or his family held hostage and he’s especially not obliging that they’re going to run off with some of his stock because they’re his after all.

This is in itself another brooding film like The Shooting but for different reasons. It’s filled with genuine tension because the irony of the situation is that we know these men are innocent and yet in order to survive in some ways they must take on the mantle of criminals just to live another day. There’s no space for a rational third way. There’s no grace or any type of understanding and so they’re forced to play by the rules already set up by the posse that’s pursuing them. That’s the moral conundrum at the core of this tale.

Ride in the Whirlwind has the dismal type of ending we expect with a bit of a silver lining but it’s that very shred of hope that makes it an affecting western. It feels right at home with the sentiments of the 1960s where the world is not as innocent as it used to be and the world often does not function by the most equitable standards. Some would say that’s why the western fell out of favor because in the classical sense, it no longer reflected the perceived world at large like it once did.

3.5/5 Stars

The Shooting (1966)

ShootingHellmanCrime films, westerns, and horror. It’s easy to see why these genres make arguably the best B-pictures, all things considered. It lies in their ability to deliver thrills with minimal capital and a bit of inspiration. Film Noir is by far my favorite but a film such as The Shooting makes me love shoestring westerns too. Except that’s just an initial gut reaction. What happens over the course of this film truly plays with our preconceptions. Its ambitions being rather curious.

The players are set fairly early on.  The cult favorite Warren Oates is cast as the laconic Gashade who however indifferent he might seem has some shred of decency in him as signified by his friendship with Coley (Will Hutchins) a needy and rather dimwitted miner.

His genial personality makes the addition of our third player all the more important. She’s a woman (Millie Perkins) who comes upon them unannounced and generally unwanted by Gashade. But she also comes with a proposition and money to boot.

Our protagonist is lukewarm to the whole undertaking but for some inexplicable reason agrees to become her guide in tracking someone. He wins a spot for Coley in their caravan as well and it’s easy to see Coley is very much taken with the lady to make up for his buddies complete lack of interest.

The acerbically biting Millie Perkins rivals Jane Fonda and Raquel Welch in the pantheon of cinematic Western women as she verbally spars with her fellow travelers. While the ever-leering Jack Nicholson, here in a very early role as a hired gun robed in black, adds another layer of tension to this extremely peculiar western exercise.

Monte Hellman follows a script penned by Carole Eastman that leads us through the blistering deserts of Utah on a very certain quest that nevertheless becomes increasingly vague and ambiguous as the film progresses. The very fact that The Shooting takes one of the archetypes of a man with a burning vendetta (for example The Searchers or The Bravados) and subverts it so completely denotes how unique this film manages to become.

It’s all orchestrated with a certain idiosyncratic paranoia both musically and otherwise. The opening moments prove just how effectively a score can impart a level of anxiety into a film without anything of much consequence actually occurring. It complements the slow burn that follows for the next hour — slow, brooding, perplexing, all those things — as we wander along with them like the Israelites in Exodus. But there’s an underlying goal to it all, the resolution that we expect to bring everything that has happened thus far to fruition. There will be a cathartic showdown where all is revealed if not made right.

Hitchcock’s long since overused quip that I will nevertheless mechanize one more time goes something like this and seems apt for this film. There is no terror in the bang only in the anticipation of it. That’s the key here. The “bang” as it were, comes but it comes in such a way that we were never quite expecting. The sequential narrative points that we are used to traversing are never quite passed in the succession that we are used to.

There’s a penchant for throwing out names that feel vaguely relevant such as Beckett or Kafka but not being literary enough I will forego such pieces of analyses to simply state in many ways The Shooting feels perfectly at home in the 60s. It’s a real trip and not simply on horseback. More in a precursor to Easy Rider sense. I believe the coined term is an Acid Western.

Paired with another Hellman-Nicholson collaboration backed by Roger Corman and filmed consecutively, The Shooting is made for a double bill with Ride in the Whirlwind. This number, in particular, proves just how mind-bending a western can be. There are no small films only small budgets and with enough vision, not even that can inhibit a truly inventive endeavor like this.

3.5/5 Stars

A Few Good Men (1992)

A_Few_Good_Men_posterUpon watching A Few Good Men for the first time, it was hard not to draw parallels with An Officer and a Gentlemen for some reason and it went beyond some cursory elements such as both films involving branches of the military. Perhaps more so than that is the intensity that manages to surge through the plot despite the potentially stagnant battleground like Cadet Schools, Courtrooms, and the like. And that can in both cases is a testament to the stellar performances in front of the camera.

Instead of a seething Richard Gere, we get the smart aleck wunderkind Tom Cruise as Daniel Kaffee. The full-throttle turn by Lou Gossett Jr. is matched in this film by another sneering tour de force from none other than Jack Nicholson as Colonel Nathan Jessup. Most refreshingly of all we trade out the heartfelt yet admittedly schmaltzy romance of Gere and Debra Winger for the professional tension that underlies Kaffee’s relationship with his colleague Joanne Galloway. Demi Moore, surprise, surprise, is more than a love interest even if Cruise is in the driver’s seat and that is a commendable creative decision by screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. Because their characters have two feet to stand on without having to dive headlong into a full-fledged romance. There’s already enough at stake without having to enter any further into melodramatic territory.

The men involved are two young U.S. Marines stationed in Guatamano Bay who are charged with the murder of one of their compatriots, one William Santiago. Galloway is eager to play point on the case, only to get passed over for Daniel Kaffee a plea bargain king who nevertheless has little courtroom experience or passion for his work. His stint in the navy seems only to be in respect to his late father, who was one of the preeminent judges of his day. Daniel will forever live in his shadow and instead of taking his work seriously, he devotes his efforts to the company baseball team.

Still, joined by Joanne and the veteran support of Lieutenant Sam Weinberg (Kevin Pollak), he begins to realize that there is more at stake in this case even if he doesn’t want to deal with it. As the young marines constantly beat into his skull this isn’t about getting the cushiest deal, it’s about their very honor, the code that they live by as united states Marines.

While hesitant Kaffee agrees to bring the case into the courts realizing what is at stake but it’s also in these precise moments that he realizes the need to man up instead of taken the path of least resistance as has always been his M.O. But of course, doing such a brazen thing has consequences for the young Lieutenant bringing him up against people much bigger than he is, namely the aforementioned Colonel Jessup. Because there is something running down the line of command that simply does not add up going from Jessup, to his Lt. Colonel Markinson (J.T. Walsh), one Lt. Kendrick (Keifer Sutherland), down to one of the accused Lance Corporal Dawson (Wolfgang Bodison). Kaffee takes a chance on the truth and that’s where the film blows up.

In our sound byte culture “You can’t handle the truth” has been perfect fodder for parody and the like. But doing so we take it out of context and as a culture we seem to be very adept at doing that. Misconstruing information and ultimately succeeding in draining words of all their impact. But when Colonel Jessup lets the words fly under tense interrogation from Lt. Daniel Kaffee there’s so much rooted in those words.

The film probably does not dig into this issue enough but it does imply something. As Americans who take pride in our freedoms, in our very Americanism, are we so naïve as to believe that it does not come without a cost? Not simply of human life but of perhaps darker realities that are kept under wraps for the good of the people, for the betterment of society. It’s a cliché saying, but the old adage goes that you cannot make an omelet without breaking a few eggs and I know that’s a rather callous statement, how far from the truth is that actually?

I’ve heard a quote attributed to Winston Churchill something to the affect that Truth is so precious she should be protected with a bodyguard of lies. And if this film is any indication, not only truth but our very freedoms or the things we use to define freedoms like honor and codes are indubitably hidden away and swept under the rug.

So A Few Good Men ends on a poignant note because at the very basic, ground level it is an underdog story played out in a courtroom. It has Tom Cruise playing the young Tom Cruise character we know (and maybe love). And that brings me to the final general parallel I found with Officer and a Gentlemen. Both films are invariably predictable and they play to our sensibilities as an audience, yet despite those very things, they manage to be moving and strangely compelling human dramas.

Rob Reiner might not be called an auteur and we unfortunately, are still waiting for his next great picture but his string of modern classics during the 80s and 90s are a joy for the very qualities mentioned above. Everyone can enjoy them and A Few Good Men is yet another example of that.

4/5 Stars

 

Terms of Endearment (1983)

terms_of_endearment_1983_film

I owe a comedic debt to James L. Brooks and that’s for the basic fact that he’s made me laugh countless times, namely because of his work with sitcoms. The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Taxi are two prime examples. The casts he brought together and the writing, the writing is just absolutely superb, orchestrating that tricky balancing act between humor and heart.

When I look at Terms of Endearment from a purely objective perspective it looks like a wonderful picture. James L. Brooks, the mastermind of so many great projects is writer, director, and producer. It’s his first time behind the camera for a film and his cast is what most others would only dream about. Looking down the cast list is like a hit parade.

Shirley MacLaine as the widowed Aurora, the quirky mother who is strangely difficult, looking for love and still somehow detached — with both her daughter and a plethora of male companions. The always spirited Debra Winger as her daughter Emma. Her husband, the fresh-faced lawyer, Flap is played by Jeff Daniels. The always devilishly grinning Jack Nicholson plays the washed-up astronaut next door who makes the strangest and somehow most viable of suitors for Aurora. And the other nooks and crannies are filled in by the likes of Danny DeVito and John Lithgow. So with such a rank and file, there’s no question that this film should be remarkable.

But for some reason, it just doesn’t come off. It’s not that it doesn’t have its moments or that it’s not intermittently funny, romantic, and moving. There are tinges of those qualities that this film is undoubtedly looking to elicit. But for some reason, one that is somehow difficult to articulate, Terms of Endearment never brought me in like the truly great films have a habit of doing.

Was the plotting too slow? Were there too many characters? Was it due to the fact that I have never been a huge admirer of Shirley MacLaine’s work? To each of these, I would have to give a fairly decisive “No.” In fact, for me, this is one of MacLaine’s finest roles (along with The Apartment) to date. She’s somewhat perturbing, inscrutable you might say, but that also makes her the most interesting character. Watching her cold maternal figure evolve is one of the interesting aspects of this story.

Because she is trying to learn what it is to love and in a sense what it is to show that affection which comes second nature to most. Over time I’ve become increasingly impressed with Debra Winger because there’s always something so dynamic about her — a certain vitality that allows her to do comedy and tragedy equally well.  Both are on display here but for that same unknowable reason, Terms of Endearment did not move me as much as I expected. That’s no criticism just the simple, honest truth as clearly as I can lay it down.

But I respect this film because any film about people, their relationships, and how they navigate the tragedies of life is worth at least a little bit of trouble. Parsing through those very relationships is what this story cares about like Brooks’ earlier works. Maybe it did not affect me as much as I might have expected but that does not take away from the fact that mother-daughter bonds are worth exploring as are marital turbulence and personal tragedy. Because each of these is a very real circumstance and there’s something incredibly honest in trying to examine such things. For that, I commend Brooks as well as his film.  I will not be singing its praises necessarily but we all can respect Terms of Endearment for the very fact that it’s sincerely trying to dissect our world with wit and grace. Whether it succeeds is very subjective indeed. But then again, that’s part of the magic of the movies. At their very core, they are subjective.

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

The Shining (1980)

Statheshining3nley Kubrick is not generally known as a horror film director. His impact was far broader than solely one genre. How is it then that he made one of the enduring canonical films in the horror genre? It’s been over 30 years and people are still talking about The Shining — still using it in every kind of parody and homage imaginable. Like a Hitchcock or a Spielberg, he’s one of those directors with an eye for what’s thrilling as far cinema is concerned, but perhaps more so Kubrick deals in complexities. Ambiguity is his friend as much as the beautifully shot interiors of The Shining. He builds and constructs the perfect scaffold to work off of, and it’s full of tension and shock value, but it leaves the audience with questions. I watched Nosferatu recently and what I came out of it with was a conviction that it was not your typical horror film — it seems to follow you and haunt your thoughts in a sense. The Shining is a little more like a modern horror with frightening images, and yet it shares that same quality. You cannot help but ruminate over it or think about what you just saw and what it really means. Truth be told, I don’t know what to think about the cryptic ending and, in all honesty, I don’t care too much, although it makes for interesting discussion.

theshining1This film found its source in Stephen King’s novel (which I have not read). For the life of me, I had never thought of the significance of the title, but Scatman Crother’s character explains it in the same way that his mama had before him. “Shining” is being able to talk without your mouths. The little boy Danny Torrance has such an ability, and it proves to be the entry point into this film’s conceit. Not only is he able to say things without talking, but he sees things, horrible things, that other’s cannot — rather like The Sixth Sense (1999).

His father Jack (Jack Nicholson) and mother Wendy (Shelley Duvall) take him to a Colorado mountain getaway for 5 months of isolation, because it seems like a good deal. After all, Jack wants to get some work done on his book and he could use the unbroken solitude,  but of course, there’s an underlying tension that slowly builds as their time alone draws nearer. It’s done through the foreshadowing of cryptic images, violent tales of local folklore, and of course, a score that is constantly ringing in our ears. That’s the best way I can describe it. We know something is up.

So what does Room 237 mean? What about Grady and the bartender who serves Jack his drinks at the bar? They’re just as perplexing as Danny’s ability or the sudden change that seems to come over Jack. There are these perplexing moments that are difficult to account for whether it’s the initial introduction of the Chief (Scatman Crothers) and Danny, who he telepathically communicates with. Then, Jack Nicholson carries such a genial quality, and yet underlining all those Cheshire cat smiles is something deeply troubling.

theshining4Amidst the dreams and haunting images that blur the line between fantasy and reality, past and present, there is a strange fascination that develops for The Shining. Almost a morbid fascination, because we know something is wrong, but we keep watching anyway. We want to know what happens and furthermore, Kubrick’s visuals are often mesmerizing, although they remain indoors for the most part. His camera often trailing characters as if they are prey.

He pays his audience the final respect of not giving us everything and not tying up all the loose ends. We are left with images and photos ingrained in our mind’s eyes. Admittedly, Shelley Duvall is not an actress I usually pay great attention to, and certainly, this is Nicholson’s film along with Kubrick. He was made for such a twisted, layered role, that overflows with a certain level of affability and then becomes completely psychotic. It makes him far creepier than any villain clothed in black because Jack Torrance will openly kill you with a sing-song voice. That’s pure evil.

4/5/5 Stars

Review: Chinatown (1974)

chinatown1Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown

The more you watch movies like Chinatown, the more you realize how much you’re still learning. I saw it the first time and I naively thought I knew everything about it. After all, it seemed fairly cut and dry. But the beauty of this film is a labyrinth-like story that can still keep me engaged after multiple viewings. There are things that I missed, things that I have to piece together once more, and more often than not details I simply forgot. Robert Towne’s script has an intricacy to its constantly spiraling mystery plot that remains powerful and Roman Polanski — with cameo included — directs the film with a sure hand as well as a cynically bitter ending worthy of his work. At that point, he was returning to the same city where a few years prior his wife Sharon Tate had been brutally murdered and that certainly had to still be heavy on his mind.

Throughout, Chinatown has elegant visuals of a desert dry Los Angeles circa 1930s, and it is aided by a smooth Jerry Goldsmith score made for such a period crime film as this. Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson), is the smooth-talking, smart-aleck P.I. with a penchant for trouble, but that goes with the business. In the tradition of all his heirs like Spade and Marlowe, the whole story is told from his point of view and we get the details at the same pace as him. That means a lot of the time we are just as confused as him, trying to pick up all the pieces.

Aside from Nicholson, Faye Dunaway’s performance is an interesting reworking of the archetypal femme fatale, because she has a different side to her. Also, John Huston’s performance is wonderfully nefarious, because he plays Noah Cross with a top layer of geniality that is ultimately undermined by his base nature. It’s wonderfully wicked.

In the story’s first few moments of being in his office, we begin to learn a little about the means Gittes uses to appease his clients. Then, his newest client walks through the door, a Mrs. Mulwray, who wishes for him to tail her husband. And so he does, just like that, and he’s pretty good at it too. Hollis Mulwray (an anagram for Mullholland) happens to be an integral part of the L.A. Department of Water and Power as the chief engineer. From what Gittes sees, the bespectacled Mulwray seems to have his scruples, but he also has a secret girl, who the P.I. is able to snap some incriminating photos of.

chinatown2Back at the office, another woman shows up, a Mrs. Mulwray, but this time the real one. She wants to slam J.J. with a lawsuit, but he realizes he got framed, and in the end, she quickly drops her case. Pretty soon Gittes former colleague Lt. Escobar digs up Mulwray’s body and the cause of death is the height of irony. He drowned during a drought, a cruel demise, and his body is joined by that of a drunk, who also was wandering around the local reservoir. It’s time for our nosy P.I. to do a little more snooping, but he is scared off by two security guards from Water and Power who give him a deadly nose job.

None worse for wear aside from a small cast, J.J. knows the department is diverting water. It’s more than a little runoff like they contend. He gets lunch with Noah Cross (The great John Huston), who is the father of Mrs. Mulwray and the former business partner of the deceased. Like J.J., he’s curious about finding the mysterious girl, and he sweetens the pot for the P.I.

A bit of detective work takes Gittes to the hall of records and then a vast acreage of orange groves where he is mistaken for a member of the Department of Water and Power. They aren’t too happy to see him, but Mrs. Mulwray is able to bail him out. They check up on an assisted living home and tie it into the whole conspiracy. Someone is buying up land under the names of the unknowing residents.

chinatown3But as it turns out, Mrs. Mulwray is hiding a major secret of her own that she’s been keeping. Another girl is murdered and since he’s found at the crime scene, Gittes is in a tight spot with a police and so he wants to get thing straightened out. But he doesn’t quite understand what he’s gotten himself caught up in. At the last minute, he decides to take the heroes path, but it’s to no avail. The good is snuffed out, the bad walk away free, and corruption still runs the streets of L.A. There’s not much the cops can do about it either.

chinatown4So many people remember the films final words which epitomize this place of confusion, corruption, and helplessness. The final words of Jake are just as illuminating, however, because he repeats the words he spoke to Mrs. Mulwray earlier when she asked what he did when he worked a beat in Chinatown, “As little as possible.” It’s so pessimistic and yet it’s the truth that everybody knows. He must resign himself to doing nothing because there is no way he can win, no way to overcome the forces that be. It’s a haunting conclusion, but ultimately the most powerful one we could hope for.

Earlier I alluded to the fact that every time I watch this film I pick on things that I missed before. For instance, within Robert Towne’s script are some interesting instances of foreshadowing. The first comes in the form of a pun uttered by the Chinese gardener who is constantly muttering, “It’s bad for the glass/grass.” Then, while they are in the car Mrs. Mulwray dejectedly drops her head on the steering wheel and it lets out a short honk. This acts as an important portent to the end of the film along with the blemish in her left eye. If you have not seen the film yet, this might sound very cryptic, but if you keep your eyes open these little details are rewarding. Chinatown is a fascinating place to return to again and again after all.

5/5 Stars

Broadcast News (1987)

4392b-broadcast_newsI didn’t laugh at James L. Brook’s Broadcast News like I would your typical comedy (This is no Anchorman). However, I did find myself chuckling, in spite of myself, because these characters are humans and as humans, they are screw ups, petty people, and have errors in judgment. The humor comes in the everyday occurrences of working with a news station. There is constant chaos paired with egos butting heads and somehow the news still  gets reported.

At such a news station there are three seemingly everyday people who form a triangle of sorts. First off there is Tom Grunick (William Hurt), a handsome anchorman who is often sincere but lacking in the smarts and experience of others. Then, you have Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks), an experienced reporter with a gift for writing and a dream to be an anchorman as well. Finally, caught between the two fellows is manic producer Jane Craig (Holly Hunter) who excels in her career.
Aaron is a longtime friend and partner of Jane who secretly loves her. Tom comes into the picture as the inexperienced one, and it looks like he won’t be going anywhere. However, he gets his chance with a special report and thanks to Jane he hits it out of the park. It so exhilarating and all of a sudden he feels a lot closer too. That’s what Broadcast News does to these people. It makes them feel that much closer and it begins to make it difficult to filter their feelings. That’s how Jane finds herself caught between two men who both seem to love her.
It takes a major layoff to shake up the status quo and it reveals a bit more of the pettiness that exists within the industry (reflected some by Jack Nicholson’s evening anchor). Aaron quits his job, Tom gets promoted to a post in London, and Jane gets the position of her old boss who receives the boot. Aaron is jealous of Tom and his goodbye to Jane is a rather sour one. Jane, on the other hand, has some choice words for Tom when she finds out how he manipulated one of his news reports. That’s the way life is. It might be set up like a perfect love triangle initially, but then no one seems to win in the end.

We come back to the three individuals a few years down the road and they have all moved on with their careers and their personal lives. Not everything is patched up and they hardly have much in common anymore, but they can still talk and continue living their lives as before.

This film did not strike me as laugh out loud funny or remarkably spellbinding, but it was a truthful look at life at a news station. That in itself is a compliment to the film even if it is not altogether extraordinary because it seems genuine. I will certainly always be a fan of two of Brook’s other creations for the small screen, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Taxi. He has a great breadth of work to be proud of.
3.5/5 Stars

The Departed (2006)

Directed by Martin Scorsese and starring an all-star cast including Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCapprio, Jack Nicholson, and many others, this is a crime thriller with an interesting concept. The plot has to do with two young men who were in the Massachusetts Police Academy. One is tailored by the Irish mobster Frank Costello to become a mole within the police. The other is called upon to infiltrate the mob before he graduates. Thus begins their dangerous assignments as each tires to find the rat in the other organization while also working to stay out of reproach. Costigan is able to get close to the vile Costello while Sullivan is part of the Special Investigation Unit and also begins a relationship with a psychologist. They must secretly keep contact with the other side but it becomes increasingly treacherous with one encounter leading to a chase and another in the death of a police captain. The heat is on as both men try and reveal the other mole. During a cocaine pick up Costello is traced to the spot and a chaotic shootout ensues. Everything seems calm again and yet Constello’s mole is still around and bent on erasing Costigan from record. They agree to meet on a roof top and from that point on the film moves so rapidly it is almost impossible to take in what happens. Everything seems confused and corrupted but ultimately it does not pay to be a rat. This film has a lot of coarse language and violence but in Scorsese’s hands it is still an intriguing film to watch.

4.5/5 Stars

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

This is a powerful film from the 70s that has such an intriguing conflict between Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher. There have been many chilling villains in the annals of cinema, but Nurse Ratched was arguably the coldest and yet understated of them all. She makes this a true battle for supremacy. Nicholson is supported very nicely by the rest of the cast who he helps to rile up.

*May Contain Spoilers

Originally adapted from the novel by Ken Kesey, the film tells the story of a criminal interned in a mental hospital, because he thinks it will be “life on easy street” with a bunch of crazies. Jack Nicholson plays this Randle McMurphy, who goes in ready to live easy and challenge authority whenever he can.

Meanwhile, the doctors observe him seeing if Randle really belongs. As he grows accustomed to the institution, he becomes the instigator of the other patients. Whether they are playing cards, talking with the group, taking medication, getting their exercise, or taking a fishing trip, he always looks to get his way and have the other patients rally around him. However, he must deal with Nurse Ratched, a cold and iron-fisted woman, who keeps everyone at bay believing it is for their own personal well-being.

In fact, she chooses not to send McMurphy away because he is their problem and Ratched is ready to deal with him in the way she sees fit. Not even McMurphy seems able to prevail over Ratched and her tactics in the end. He starts a riot in the ward after they are not allowed to watch the World Series, and as the final straw, he holds a wild Christmas party with girls and alcohol. He plans to get away in the aftermath with his new-found friend “Chief,” only to wake up in the morning to a very displeased Ratched. Her pressure causes one unstable young man to commit suicide, and with the opportunity to escape right in front of him, an enraged McMurphy strangles the nurse, only to be subdued. Things quiet down and the patients revert back to their old ways with “Mac” nowhere to be seen.

One night he is returned and in a Deja Vu moment, the Chief goes to talk to Randle, only to see a blank look on his face. Ratched’s methods have seemingly won. However, Chief is able to use Randle’s plan to escape and keep the hope alive. Nicholson was backed by a stellar cast including Louise Fletcher, Danny Devito, Christopher Lloyd, Brad Dourif, Will Sampson, Sydney Lassick, and William Redfield.

Although this film is rougher around the edges, it reminds me of the earlier dramatic classic 12 Angry Men, because both films have wonderful casts that are able to create such tension through their collaborative performances. Much like Henry Fonda, Nicholson is the undisputed star, but all the other players make this movie truly extraordinary. Early on there are some definite comedic moments, but the film begins to get darker as the story progresses, and Ratched gets more and more strict.

Furthermore, this film is shot in a realistic almost bleak documentary-like style that really adds to the film. It is almost difficult to watch the scene where Randle chokes Ratched because it is up-in-your-face and graphic. Despite, the fact that the ending is depressing, there is still a hint of hope. It is one of the things that makes One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest so riveting. Much like many of the patients that inhabit the facility,  the mood constantly swings like a pendulum from humorous, to calm, to bleakness, and finally hopefulness.

5/5 Stars