Showing posts with label favorite movies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label favorite movies. Show all posts

24 July 2017

Withnail & I

by Stephen Ross

Picture this: A large, empty, cavernous movie theater auditorium in the depths of winter. I'm in a jacket and scarf, and my breath is visible. It's a matinee screening and no one else came. The lights go down and the ruby red curtains part. A soulful saxophone echoes: a four a.m. version of Procol Harum's A Whiter Shade of Pale. Up on the screen, a man sits in profile in a darkened sitting room and smokes a cigarette. He's contemplating the universe, or he's about to face a firing squad.

This is a memory burnt into my mind. And I am lately reminded that it happened thirty years ago.

Thirty years ago, Kevin called me up on the telephone. "You should go see it," he said. He'd called to tell me about a movie that had opened a couple of days earlier. I don't remember his exact words, but I remember his enthusiasm, and the movie was Withnail and I.

"What's it about?"

A couple of days later, I sat alone in that aforementioned empty movie theater: The Embassy; a cold, uninspiring Art Deco building of creams and off whites. It used to stand on the corner of Lorne and Wellesley Streets in Auckland City, and it was a proper movie palace: wide, a couple of levels, big fat chocolate leather seats (and not a darkened shoe box like most cinemas today).

"What the hell was that about?" Francine asked, two weeks later, when I suggested we go see it (me for the second time), and we did, and we sat in a café afterwards.

The movie is set in England in 1969 and it's about a lot of different things, and to describe any one of them would do disservice to the others. To my mind, it's about as close to a book as any movie has ever gotten. When I close a good book, I'm left first with a mood, a feeling; it's taken me somewhere emotionally. Remembering scenes and moments (and the plot) comes later.

Essentially, Withnail is the story of two actors. They've graduated from drama school and are looking for work. They're unemployed and the world owes them no favors. In fact, the world seems to offer no hope whatsoever. The world is crumbling.
This can be read as a metaphor, and it's the key to the movie's popularity (it flopped when it was first released, but it's since become a perennial favorite; a cult classic). We've all been there. The waiting. The what next? The what do I do now?

It doesn't matter the career or chosen path, be it actor, writer, musician, or ________ (fill in the blank). Most of us have found ourselves, at some point, standing at the crossroads wondering what the hell do we do next?

Do I wait for the phone to ring? Do I go out and hustle? How does this thing work?

And there is no right answer. And Withnail doesn't provide one.

That's the trouble with most movies today. There's always a right answer: it's provided for you, usually in triplicate, and underlined. You can watch and "understand" most movies today without almost any assistance from your brain.

I'm not arguing that Withnail & I is the greatest movie ever made, but it takes you somewhere, if you want it to. And I will argue that it's one of the more sharply written and better acted.

Withnail ends in Regent's Park, London. It's raining. It's a miserable day. One of the actors has left to catch a train; he has secured a job. The other is left drunk at the bars of the wolf enclosure, his future uncertain. He recites the what a piece of work is man? monologue from Hamlet. The wolves are uninterested.


Again, a metaphor.

Withnail & I is about whatever you want to find in it.

Withnail & I (at the IMDB)

Stephen Ross (on Facebook)

17 July 2014

The National Pasttime

by Eve Fisher

It's a golden Sunday afternoon in South Dakota as I write this, and my husband and I are headed off to a minor league baseball game later.  There's a whole bunch of reasons I love baseball.  When I was a kid, I lived in southern California, and we watched the Dodgers every chance we could on TV.  I had a major crush on Sandy Koufax.  My second favorite team, of course, was the San Francisco Giants.  And my mother and I hissed the damn Yankees every chance we got.

Now I have a theory that there is something about baseball that makes it fuel for great novels and great movies, in a way that no other sport seems to do. Granted, every sport has at least one fantastic book and/or movie based on it. And before you start screaming about why I didn't include certain movies, I know that every sport has its dying player movie (Brian's Song v. Bang the Drum Slowly, James Caan v. Robert DeNiro, for example, take your pick), and its unusual and/or unlikable and/or unbeatable coach movie (often ad nauseum, make your own list).  And the occasional one with animal players, often monkeys (Every Which Way But Loose leaps to mind).  SO:

SURFING (my second favorite sport to watch - can you tell I'm a California girl?):  Endless Summer, of course, and Riding Giants.  (And, just for a time capsule and a so-bad-its-good movie, Gidget.)

BASKETBALL:  Hoosiers, Hoop Dreams, and He Got Game.

FOOTBALL:  Friday Night Lights, book, movie and show.  But my personal guilty pleasure is, Semi-Tough by Dan Jenkins, sadly made into an incredibly bad movie in the 70's.
(NOTE to Dan Jenkins:  get Kevin Smith to direct a new version of Semi-Tough, PLEASE, because he's the only director I can think of that could do justice to your profanity-laced, sex-sodden, really f---ing hilarious take on football, rivalry, and true love.  You do that, and it might wash the taste of that Michael Ritchie version out of my mind...)

ICE HOCKEY:  Slapshot.

Now these are good, but if you want depth, I think there are only two sports that really bring it out:  baseball and boxing.

TheNaturalFirstEdition.jpgThe Natural by Bernard Malamud.  Forget the movie version, though it's good in its own way.  The novel is raw and angry and sad and an allegory of life from the point of view of all of us who have screwed at least one thing up so badly it will never come right or have had fate step in and snatch everything away just as we had it in our hand:
"Roy, will you be the best there ever was in the game?"  "That's right."  She pulled the trigger...
"We have two lives; the life we learn with and the life we live after that."
Back when I put myself through college teaching ESL, we used The Natural to teach our Puerto Rican baseball scholarship students in order to get them to read - and it worked.  It also broke (some of) their adolescent, ambitious little hearts. Great book.  Good movie.

You Know Me Al by Ring Lardner.  A collection of short stories, all letters from the road, penned by Jack Keefe, the dumbest, greediest, most cluelessly self-absorbed pitcher the Chicago White Sox ever had.  I don't think even Will Farrell could capture Jack Keefe, because he is...  just read it and laugh your head off. (NOTE:  Ring Lardner ranks as one of the greatest short story writers of all time, imho, if nothing else for these and "Haircut" and "The Golden Honeymoon")

Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella.  Read it, please.  And, yes, go get the movie.  I hold my breath through half the movie, and then cry shamelessly (usually after the appearance of Burt Lancaster) every time I see the damn thing.  



Eight Men Out by Eliot Asinof and Stephen Jay Gould.  A meticulous, well-written, time capsule of the time and events of the worst baseball scandal in history.  The movie isn't any slouch, either, directed by John Sayles with a strong, strong cast, especially D. B. Sweeney as Shoeless Joe Jackson and Studs Terkel as sportswriter Hugh Fullerton.

Speaking of baseball movies, here's a few, in no particular order:
Bull Durham
The Pride of the Yankees
Damn Yankees (whatever Lola wants...)
Ken Burns' Baseball
A League of Their Own
The Rookie
The Babe Ruth Story
Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings

Now I said baseball and boxing, and first of all, here are some great boxing movies:

Raging Bull.  Rocky.  Requiem for a HeavyweightWhen We Were Kings.  The Harder They Fall.

And I think I may have found the connection.  We all know both boxing and baseball from the inside out. Most of us have played baseball, from sandlot on up.  Most of us have either gotten into a fight or watched one, with a lot (of pride, if nothing else) riding on the outcome.  Both sports give the illusion that anybody with enough heart can do it, otherwise we wouldn't be so damned bothered by all the allegations of doping in baseball, at least.  After all, we don't mind what are essentially genetic freaks (most people aren't 7 feet tall, folks!) in basketball; and when is someone going to bring up the size of American football players, especially fullbacks?  Surfers are too cool dude; and you can't even see hockey players...

But baseball players and boxers are right out there, for us all to see.  And both boxing and baseball movies and novels tend to focus on individual heroism and/or failure.  Both sports allow an individual to take center stage, to let us get to know them, and then watch them sink or swim.  We can make emotional connections. And they can be made into allegories that almost everyone can relate to.

Or at least that's my theory.  Meanwhile, I've got to get out to the ballpark!



10 November 2012

Cowboys and Aliens

by John M. Floyd


Since it's been awhile since we've had a column just on movies, and since I love movies, and since my wife's been out of town again (during her absence, I wound up once more watching a bunch of oldies from my DVD stash and a bunch of newies from Netflix), I thought I'd spend some time talking about stories on the screen rather than stories on the page.  Bear with me--I promise I'll reprogram my GPS and get back on the mystery/literary freeway two weeks from now.

As fate would have it, I ran into an old friend from my IBM days in the supermarket earlier this week (yes, I was in there buying more TV dinners) and he asked me if I could suggest any good movies.  Movie maniacs love to hear that question, and I dutifully rattled off a few titles.  Afterward, it occurred to me that some of the films I had recommended to him might not be considered great--or even good.  They were just movies I happen to like.  Sure, sometimes the ones I like are good, in terms of critical acclaim, but sometimes they're not.  A lot of my favorites never took home an Oscar or even came close, but they remain my favorites.  Know what I mean?

I'm sure Rob and Leigh will know what I mean when I say that all this gave me the uncontrollable urge to make a list.  A list, in this case, of what I consider to be the best movies I've seen.  All are based on my opinion only; as they say on the news, this study is not scientific.  In fact, the word "favorites" here simply means "the ones I found most entertaining."  (Can you spell "guilty pleasures"?) 

Enough excuses.  Here are my thoughts regarding bests and favorites:


Mystery/Crime

Best known: The Godfather
Best crafted: The Silence of the Lambs
My favorite: Die Hard


Western

Best known: High Noon
Best crafted: Shane
My favorite: Once Upon a Time in the West


Sci-fi/Fantasy

Best known: Star Wars
Best crafted: Blade Runner
My favorite: Aliens


Romance

Best known: Gone With the Wind
Best crafted: Casablanca
My favorite: The Graduate


Horror

Best known: Halloween
Best crafted: Psycho
My favorite: Silver Bullet


If you go beyond the basic five categories and wander into the murky forest of other genres and subgenres, I like To Kill A Mockingbird (drama), Raising Arizona (comedy), The Natural (sports), Dumbo (children), Apocalypse Now (war), It's a Wonderful Life (classics), Holes (young adult), and Raiders of the Lost Ark (adventure).

And don't forget cross-genre movies.  My personal favorites are probably Blazing Saddles (comedy/western), Witness (mystery/romance), Galaxy Quest (sci-fi/comedy), Somewhere in Time (romance/fantasy), Sleepless in Seattle (romance/comedy), and yes, Cowboys and Aliens (sci-fi/western).

Taste test

What are some of your favorite films, by genre?  What are some that you consider well constructed, and/or well written?  Do you find that the ones you enjoy the most are seldom the ones that got the best reviews?  Or even the best comments by your friends and neighbors?  For some reason, everyone I know (including critics) hated Lady in the Water.  I loved it.  And everyone I know (including critics) loved the remake of The Thin Red Line.  I hated it.

I must confess that the above list would probably have been different a year ago, or even a month ago, and would probably be different next month or next year.  I change my mind more often than a presidential candidate.  But I do have a pretty reliable litmus test for which movies I think are good and which are not.  The good ones are the ones I will happily watch over and over again.  (I need to be educated--or bored silly--only once; I need to be entertained constantly.)

I feel the same way about novels and stories.  Which reminds me--

Recalculating route