The Twelve Tasks of the Festive Season — Task the Eleventh: The Polar Express

Murder on the Orient Express: Complete & Unabridged (Audiocd) - Agatha Christie 

– Read a book that involves train travel (such as Murder on the Orient Express).

 Well, as it happened I did pick Murder on the Orient Express for this square.  Not that I’m not intimately familiar with the story as such already — it was actually one of the first books by Agatha Christie that I ever read, not to mention watching (and owning) the screen adaptation starring Albert Finney and half of classic Hollywood’s A list.  But I’d never listened to the audio version read by David Suchet, and I am very glad to finally have remedied that now.  Not only is Suchet the obvious choice to read any of Christie’s Poirot novels because his name has practically become synonymous with that of the little Belgian himself — great character actor that he is, he was obviously also having the time of his life with all of the story’s other roles, including those of the women; and particularly so, Mrs. Hubbard, whose interpretation by Suchet also gives the listener more than a minor glance at the fun that recent London audiences must have been having watching him appear as Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde’s Importance of Being Earnest (drag and all).

 A superb reading of one of Agatha Christie’s very best mysteries and one of my all-time favorite books.  Bravo, Mr. Suchet!

 

 

Original post:
ThemisAthena.booklikes.com/post/1498329/the-twelve-tasks-of-the-festive-season-task-the-eleventh-the-polar-express

Advertisements

GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM

Wakeup Call, Williams Style

1965 was the year when, as a result of the Congressional Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, American military buildup in Vietnam began in earnest, and troop strength grew by a factor of no less than eight; from 23,000 at the beginning of the year to roughly 184,000 at the end. 1965 was also the year when a new AFN DJ arrived in Saigon, which over the course of that same year would transform itself from a sleepy French-Vietnamese colonial town into the nightmare it has since come to be in the memory of countless vets.

The new DJ in question was Adrian Cronauer; fresh from an assignment in Greece.

While the idea for a fictionalized account of his Vietnam experience was Cronauer’s own, fueled by the popularity of M*A*S*H, the script for Barry Levinson’s Good Morning Vietnam was ultimately penned by screenwriter Mitch Markowitz with only some input from Cronauer himself, who has since gone out of his way to underline the fictional nature of the account and stress that his true stance was not so much anti-military as “anti-stupidity.” Thus, the film has to be taken with a considerable grain of salt; both as far as the portrayal of 1960s’ armed forces radio and as far as the movie’s plot is concerned. But that doesn’t make it any less poignant; nor does it take away one iota of Robin Williams‘s performance as Cronauer: Indeed, the role of an irreverent, unstoppable DJ seemed tailor-made for Williams, who had burst onto the scene with his inimitable brand of lightning-quick ad-libbing ten years earlier in Mork & Mindy – and of course, all of Cronauer’s hilarious broadcasts in this movie are ad-libbed, too.

The film follows Adrian Cronauer from his arrival in Saigon in the spring of 1965 to his forced departure about a half year later (although the real Cronauer in fact stayed for a year and was not forced out but left when his regular tour of duty was over). While a comedy, and although not trying to be anywhere near the “definitive” take on Vietnam, it does take a close look at the year when the conflict escalated and, in particular, at the resulting toll on human relations. Robin Williams earned his first of to date four well-deserved Academy Award nominations for this role (the others were for Dead Poets Society [1989], The Fisher King [1991] and Good Will Hunting [1997], the movie for which he finally scored on Oscar night). And in his inimitable way he provides pointed comic relief not only over the microphone but also, and always with a unique ear for the situation’s mood, whenever the script would otherwise threaten to veer off into melodrama; such as after his discovery that his Vietnamese friend Tuan is actually a Viet Cong fighter named Phan Duc To (“It’s unbelievable. Five months in Saigon, and my best friend turns out to be a V.C. This will not look good on a resume!!”); and in scenes that would otherwise be burdened with a bit too much cliché and / or deliberately funny writing, such as the conference after Cronauer’s first broadcast, where Bruno Kirby (Lieutenant Hauk) gets to deliver such gems as “Don’t say that the weather is the same all the time here, because it’s not; in fact, it’s two degrees cooler today than yesterday” and “I hate the fact that you people never salute me – I’m a lieutenant, and I would like salutes occasionally. That’s what being a higher rank is all about.” Even if Kirby himself gets to make up for these a little later in the same scene with the comment “We are not going to escalate [Vietnam into] a whole war so we can get a big name comedian” (Bob Hope who, as the men have informed him, does not “play police actions”), it takes Williams‘s/Cronauer’s final weaving of the lieutenant’s preferred abbreviations into a single sentence to truly put the finishing touch on the scene.

Although Good Morning Vietnam is clearly first and foremost a star vehicle for Robin Williams, he is joined by an outstanding supporting cast, including inter alia, besides Bruno Kirby, Forest Whitaker as Cronauer’s good-natured sidekick PFC Montesque Garlick, the ever-reliable J.T. Walsh as his second great nemesis, Sergeant Major Dickerson (whose stock character of a straight-laced white middle class guy would probably not have come off convincingly as a villain vis-à-vis anybody but Robin Williams) and, in particular, Tung Thanh Tran as Tuan and Chintara Sukapatana as his sister Trinh: Her plea with Cronauer not (even) to seek her friendship, let alone more, because for her such an association with a man (particularly a foreigner) is culturally unacceptable, is one of the movie’s most quietly powerful scenes. Exceptional is further Peter Sova’s cinematography, which convincingly captures the daily realities of a city and a country on the brink of an all-out war, and is brilliantly complimented by the editing, which in turn also uses the soundtrack – more or less a mid-1960s “greatest hits” compilation – to maximum effect; be it in framing daily military routine, the soldiers’ enjoyment of Cronauer’s style of broadcasting or combat action: Indeed, hardly any image could make a more powerful statement on the cruel absurdity of war than seeing a village blown up to the tune of Louis Armstrong’s It’s a Wonderful World.

Thus, Good Morning Vietnam is in its own way as poignant a wakeup call as any other movie about Vietnam – or about World War II, or any other war for that matter. It deservedly netted the Political Film Society’s 1989 Peace Award, in addition to Robin Williams‘s Oscar nomination and his Golden Globe and American Comedy awards, as well as the movie’s ASCAP soundtrack award. And it certainly bears revisiting – for its overall quality, for Robin Williams‘s performance, and also for lessons learned and deserving never to be forgotten.

 

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: Touchstone Pictures (1987)
  • Director: Barry Levinson
  • Producers: Larry Brezner & Mark Johnson
  • Screenplay: Mitch Markowitz
  • Music: Alex North
  • Cinematography / Director of Photography: Peter Sova
Cast
  • Robin Williams: Adrian Cronauer
  • Tung Thanh Tran: Tuan
  • Chintara Sukapatana: Trinh
  • Forest Whitaker: Edward Garlick
  • Bruno Kirby: Lieutenant Steven Hauk
  • J.T. Walsh: Sergeant Major Dickerson
  • Robert Wuhl: Marty Lee Dreiwitz
  • Noble Willingham: General Taylor
  • Richard Edson: Private Abersold
  • Juney Smith: Phil McPherson
  • Richard Portnow: Dan ‘The Man’ Levitan
  • Floyd Vivino: Eddie Kirk
  • Cu Ba Nguyen: Jimmy Wah

 

Major Awards and Honors

Golden Globe Awards
(Hollywood Foreign Press Association) (1988)
  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical: Robin Williams
Political Film Society (USA) ( 1989)
  • Peace Award
  • Special Award
American Comedy Awards (1988)
  • Funniest Actor in a Motion Picture (Leading Role): Robin Williams
Grammy Awards (USA) (1989)
  • Best Comedy Recording: Robin Williams
ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards (1989)
  • Top Box Office Films: Alex North

 

Links

 

DEAD POETS SOCIETY

And what will your verse be in the poem of life?

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” (Henry David Thoreau, Walden.)

Hands up folks, how many of us discovered Thoreau after having watched this movie? Really discovered I mean, regardless whether you had known he’d existed before. How many believe they know what Thoreau was talking about in that passage about “sucking the marrow out of life,” cited in the movie, even if you didn’t spend the next 2+ years of your life living in a self-constructed cabin on a pond in the woods? How many bought a copy of Whitman’s poems … whatever collection? (And maybe even read more than Oh Captain! My Captain!?) How many went on to read Emerson? Frost? Or John Keats, on whose personality Robin Williams‘s John Keating is probably loosely based? To many people, this movie has a powerful appeal like few others and has proven inspirational far above and beyond the effect of an ordinary movie experience. And justifiedly so, despite the fact that charismatic Neil Perry (Robert Sean Leonard), one of the story’s main characters, tragically falters in the pursuit of his dreams, in the wake of apparent triumph. Because although Neil’s story is one of failure, ultimately this film is a celebration of the triumph of free will, independent thinking and the growth of personality; embodied in its closing scene.

Of course, lofty goals such as these are not easily achieved. Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke) in particular, the last scene’s triumphant hero, is literally pushed to the edge of reason before he learns to overcome his inhibitions. And Thoreau warned in Walden: “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; That is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” Anyone who takes this movie’s message to heart (and Thoreau‘s, and Whitman’s, and Emerson’s, Frost’s and Keats’s) knows that success too easily won is often no success at all, and most important accomplishments are based on focus, tenacity and hard work as much as anything else. And prudence, too – dashing Charlie Dalton (Gale Hansen) pays a terrible price for his spur-of-the-moment challenges of authority; although of course you just gotta love him for refusing to sign Keatings’ indictment. “Carpe diem” – live life to its fullest, but also know what you are doing. You won’t enjoy this movie if you are afraid of letting both your mind and your feelings run free.

Shot on the magnificent location of Delaware’s St. Andrews Academy, Dead Poets Society is visually stunning, particularly in its depiction of the amazingly beautiful scenery (where the progression of the seasons mirrors the progression of the movie’s story line), and as emotionally engaging as it invites you to reexamine your position in life. Robin Williams delivers another Academy Award-worthy performance (he was nominated but unfortunately didn’t win). Of course, Robin Williams will to a certain extent always be Robin WilliamsAladdin‘s Genie, Good Morning Vietnam‘s Adrian Cronauer and Good Will Hunting‘s Professor McGuire (the 1997 role which would finally earn him his long overdue Oscar) all shimmer through in his portrayal of John Keating; and if you’ve ever seen him give an interview you know that the man could go from hilarious and irreverent to deeply reflective in a split second even when it wasn’t a movie camera that was rolling. Yet, the black sheep among Welton Academy’s teachers assumes as distinct and memorable a personality as any other one of Williams‘s film characters.

Of its many Academy Award nominations (in addition to Robin Williams‘s nomination for best leading actor, the movie was also nominated in the best picture, best director [Peter Weir] and best original screenplay categories), Dead Poets Society ultimately only won the Oscar for Tom Schulman’s script. But more importantly, it has long since won it’s viewers’ lasting appreciation, and for a reason. – As the Poet said: “Camerado! This is no book; Who touches this, touches a man” (Walt Whitman, So Long!), this is no movie; who watches this, watches himself!

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: Touchstone Pictures (1989)
  • Director: Peter Weir
  • Producers: Steven Haft / Paul Junger Witt / Tony Thomas
  • Screenplay: Tom Schulman
  • Music: Maurice Jarre
  • Cinematography / Director of Photography: John Seale
  • Casting: Howard Feuer
Cast
  • Robin Williams: John Keating
  • Robert Sean Leonard: Neil Perry
  • Ethan Hawke: Todd Anderson
  • Josh Charles: Knox Overstreet
  • Gale Hansen: Charlie Dalton
  • Dylan Kussman: Richard Cameron
  • Allelon Ruggiero: Steven Meeks
  • James Waterston: Gerard Pitts
  • Norman Lloyd: Mr. Nolan
  • Kurtwood Smith: Mr. Perry
  • Carla Belver: Mrs. Perry
  • Leon Pownall: McAllister

 

Major Awards and Honors

Academy Awards (1990)
  • Best Original Screenplay: Tom Schulman
American Film Institute (AFI)
  • Top 100 Inspiring Films: No. 52
  • Top 100 Movie Quotes – 95th: “Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”
National Board of Review Awards (USA) (1989)
  • Top Ten Films of 1989: No. 6
Political Film Society (USA) (1990)
  • Democracy Award
BAFTA Awards (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) (1989)
  • BAFTA Film Awards, Best Film: Peter Weir / Steven Haft / Paul Junger Witt / Tony Thomas
  • BAFTA Film Awards; Best Original Film Score: Maurice Jarre
ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards (1990)
  • Top Box Office Films: Maurice Jarre
Golden Screen (Germany) (1991)
  • Golden Screen
Jupiter Awards (Germany) (1990)
  • Best International Film: Peter Weir
  • Best International Actor: Robin Williams
Guild of German Art House Cinemas (1991)
  • Guild Film Award – Gold, Ausländischer Film (Foreign Film): Peter Weir
César Awards (France) (1991)
  • Meilleur film étranger (Best Foreign Film)
David di Donatello Awards (Italy) (1990)
  • Miglior Film Straniero (Best Foreign Film)
Nastro d’Argento (Silver Ribbon) (Italy)
  • Regista del Miglior Film Straniero (Best Foreign Director): Peter Weir
Online Film & Television Association (USA) (2015)
  • OFTA Film Hall of Fame, Motion Picture
Artios Awards (Casting Society of America) (1990)
  • Best Casting for Feature Film, Drama: Howard Feuer
Young Artist Awards (USA) (1990)
  • Best Motion Picture, Drama

 

Links

DEAD MAN WALKING

Of Monsters, Murder and Divine Mercy

“Sister, I won’t ask for forgiveness; my sins are all I have,” sings Bruce Springsteen in this movie’s title song while the end credits roll over the screen – giving voice once more to Matthew Poncelet and the men portrayed in Sister Helen Prejean‘s nonfiction account on which this movie is based; that angry “white trash,” those men who are “God’s mistake,” as one victim’s father says, inconsolable over the loss of his daughter; those men locked up in high security prisons for unspeakable crimes which many of them claim they didn”t commit. And Matt Poncelet (Sean Penn) is just such a guy; locked in bravado and denial, he proclaims his innocence and would rather take a lie detector test on the day of his execution “so my momma knows I didn’t do this” than own up to his responsibility.

With Sister Helen Prejean (Susan Sarandon), we first learn about the crime which landed Poncelet on death row – the rape-murder of a couple on lovers’ lane – from the account she receives when she starts writing to him and eventually agrees to visit him in prison. It is, as she will soon learn, a story that anti-death penalty advocates are all too familiar with; a story of unequal access to lawyers and of two defendants, each blaming all guilt for their crime exclusively on the other, regardless what truly happened. And as long as she is assured that even if Poncelet would have a new trial he wouldn’t go free (as an accomplice, under Louisiana state law he would receive a lifetime prison sentence), Sister Helen is willing to help him find a lawyer and, when the date for his execution is set, try to obtain a reprieve.

But it does not end there, as she soon finds out; and one of this movie’s greatest strengths is the way in which it portrays all sides of the moral issues involved in the death penalty. There are the victims’ families, a stunning 70% of which break up after the murder of a child, and who are forever stuck with the unloving last words spoken to their loved ones and the memory of all the little homely details reminding them of their loss. There are the prison guards and nurses, trying to see executions as “part of their job” – with varying success. There are the politicians, barking slogans on TV; promising to “get tough on sentencing, get tough on lenient parole boards, get tough on judges who pass light sentences.” There are the convicts’ families, marginalized as a result of their brothers’ and sons’ acts, particularly if they refuse to condemn them publicly. (“Now I’m famous,” Poncelet’s mother comments bitterly on the dubious celebrity status she has attained as a result of a TV show about Matt. “A regular Ma Barker!”) And there is the death penalty itself, shown in all its chilling, graphic, clinical detail, here in its allegedly most humane form: lethal injections, which tranquilize the muscles while the poison reaches the convict’s lungs and heart – “his face goes to sleep while his inside organs are going through Armageddon,” Poncelet’s attorney says at his pardon board hearing. “It was important to us to show all sides of the issue,” explains director Tim Robbins on the DVD’s commentary track, “not to be satisfied with soundbites, and to present the reality … Ultimately, the question is not who deserves to die, but who has the right to kill.”

At the heart of the story are two radically different individuals: Sister Helen, who has grown up in an affluent, loving family; and Matthew Poncelet, the convicted killer. And their portrayal is this movie’s other great strength: without either of them, this film would not have been half as compelling. Both Sarandon and Penn deliver Academy Award-worthy performances. (Sarandon did win her long overdue Oscar, Penn lost to Nicolas Cage for Leaving Las Vegas – this would have been an occasion where I would have favored a split award.) Gradually, very gradually we see them get to know each other; and as they do, the visual layers separating them in the prison visiting room are peeled away. Yet, even after he has learned to accept Sister Helen as a human being (not without attempting to come on to her as if she were not a nun – director Tim Robbins’s way of dispelling the notion that they might fall in love, as is so often the case in the more clichéd versions of this type of story), Poncelet insists that his participation was limited to holding one of the victims down, but that it was his accomplice who raped and killed them both. And even days before his execution, he is still looking for “loopholes” in the bible, as Sister Helen admonishes him, seeing redemption as a free ticket into heaven instead of a means of owning up to his responsibility. (“I like that,” he comments when she quotes Jesus’s “the truth shall make you free.” “So I pass that lie detector test, I’m home free.”) Only in his final hour, he slowly, gradually gives up the protective layers of his bravado and lays bare his raw nerve and innermost anguish. And while he speaks, finally, in a complete flashback, we, the viewers, see what really happened that dark and lonely night in the woods, and what all the previous partial flashbacks have not revealed.

“It is easy to kill a monster, but hard to kill a human being,” Poncelet’s attorney explains on one occasion; and Tim Robbins echoes that sentiment on the commentary track. Yet, this movie is not about romanticizing a brutal killer, any more than it is about demonizing his victims. It is, first and foremost, an attempt to bring a complete perspective to one of contemporary America’s most pressing problems, and to find a way past sorrow and hate and move towards the future. And even if you’re still for the death penalty after having watched it – don’t claim ignorance as to what is involved.

 

 

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: PolyGram (1995)
  • Director: Tim Robbins
  • Executive Producers: Tim Bevan & Eric Fellner
  • Producers: Tim Robbins / John Kilik / Rudd Simmons
  • Screenplay: Tim Robbins
  • Based on a nonfiction account by: Sister Helen Prejean C.S.J.
  • Music: David Robbins
  • Cinematography / Director of Photography: Roger Deakins
Cast
  • Susan Sarandon: Sister Helen Prejean
  • Sean Penn: Matthew Poncelet
  • Robert Prosky: Hilton Barber
  • Margo Martindale: Sister Colleen
  • Raymond J. Barry: Earl Delacroix
  • Peter Sarsgaard: Walter Delacroix
  • R. Lee Ermey: Clyde Percy
  • Celia Weston: Mary Beth Percy
  • Missy Yager: Hope Percy
  • Jenny Krochmal: Emily Percy
  • Roberta Maxwell: Lucille Poncelet
  • Jack Black: Craig Poncelet
  • Jon Abrahams: Sonny Poncelet
  • Arthur Bridgers: Troy Poncelet
  • Lois Smith: Helen’s Mother
  • Steve Carlisle: Helen’s Brother
  • Helen Hester: Helen’s Sister
  • Michael Cullen: Carl Vitello
  • Scott Wilson: Chaplain Farley
  • Barton Heyman: Captain Beliveau
  • Steve Boles: Sergeant Neal Trapp
  • Nesbitt Blaisdell: Warden Hartman
  • Ray Aranha: Luis Montoya
  • Larry Pine: Guy Gilardi
  • Kevin Cooney: Governor Benedict
  • Gil Robbins: Bishop Norwich
  • Adele Robbins: Nurse
  • Mary Robbins: Aide to Governor Benedict
  • Miles Robbins: Boy in Church
  • Jack Henry Robbins: Opossum Kid
  • Helen Prejean: Woman at Vigil (uncredited)

 

Major Awards and Honors

Academy Awards (1996)
  • Best Actress in a Leading Role: Susan Sarandon
Screen Actors Guild of America Awards (1996)
  • Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role: Susan Sarandon
National Society of Film Critics Awards (1996)
  • 2nd Place, Best Actor: Sean Penn
American Political Film Society Awards (1996)
  • Exposé Award
Humanitas Prize (USA) (1996)
  • Feature Film Category: Tim Robbins
Independent Spirit Awards (1996)
  • Best Male Lead: Sean Penn
Blockbuster Entertainment Awards ( 1997)
  • Favorite Actress, Drama: Susan Sarandon
Online Film & Television Association (1997)
  • OFTA Film Hall of Fame: Motion Picture
Chlotrudis Society for Independent Film Awards (1996)
  • Best Movie
  • Best Actor: Sean Penn
  • Best Actress: Susan Sarandon
Berlin International Film Festival (1996)
  • Prize of the Ecumenical Jury (Competition): Tim Robbins
  • Prize of the Guild of German Art House Cinemas: Tim Robbins
  • Reader Jury of the “Berliner Morgenpost” Daily Newspaper: Tim Robbins
  • Silver Berlin Bear (Best Actor): Sean Penn
David di Donatello Awards (Italy) (1996)
  • Migliore Attrice Straniera (Best Foreign Actress) – “Dead Man Walking”

 

Links

THELMA & LOUISE

A Cult Classic – Not Just for Feminists

“BOOM!!” Under fire from Thelma and Louise’s guns, the tongue-wagging truck-driver’s pride and joy (and extension of his manhood) goes up in flames. Incredulous, its owner stares at the spectacle and lets off a pitifully helpless and, in its helplessness, hilariously comical tirade against the two female outlaws; whose only reason not to shoot him, too, at this point is that it is so utterly more poignant to let him sit all alone by the road side in the vastness of the Southwest, robbed of all attributes of male potency and left to the pity of whoever is eventually going to pick him up and give him a ride back to civilization.

By the time of this incident, Thelma has mutated from a subdued and insecure housewife to a self-assured, fearless queen of the highway. (“Something has crossed over” in her, she tells Louise shortly before their final encounter with their truck-driving nemesis.) Louise in turn, who had taken the lead early on in their flight from the police, has overcome her intermittent bout of despair and is back to her old self, too. Now wanted not only for questioning in connection with the death of the rapist shot by Louise but also for armed robbery in another state, knowing that being questioned by the police will inevitably add a charge of murder for the incident which set off their run (and probably also knowing deep down inside that there is not going to be a happy ending to their weekend trip anyway), Thelma and Louise have stopped to care what is going to happen next. Thus emboldened, they make a last great run for it, which ultimately leads them to the vast, endlessly deep gorges of the Grand Canyon.

Thelma and Louise is all and none of the things as which it has been described. It is about the friendship between two women, about female independence and male sexism, but it is neither a simple “chick flick” nor a monument to feminism (although I have to admit that watching it can have an almost therapeutic effect when you’ve just about “had it” again with the male slightly-less-than-half of society). Most of the men that Thelma and Louise encounter are two-dimensional cartoon characters, but Reservoir Dogs and perpetual tough guys Harvey Keitel and Michael Madsen (of all people) are cast against stereotype. The movie also features some absolutely stunning pictures of the Southwestern scenery and mostly takes place on the road, but it is not just a “road movie” (feminist or otherwise). More than anything, this is a movie about the things that shape the way we are, and about the consequences of our actions. Had Thelma learned to use her brain before and not after their encounter with Harlan the rapist, she would have seen him for what he was and avoided him from the start. Had Louise not been raped herself, she would probably not have shot Harlan at being provoked by him, after the self-defense situation was already over. Impulse? Fate? Justifiable homicide? Hardly. Thoroughly understandable? Absolutely, at least from a woman’s point of view.

It takes two extraordinary lead actresses to carry the movie’s theme, and Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis are the perfect embodiment of the characters they portray. Next to them, not even Keitel and Madsen really shine (although this may be in part due to the thankless parts they play); only Brad Pitt, in the role that made him an overnight star, briefly gets to sparkle. Callie Khourie was a deserving winner of the 1991 Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Original Screenplay, and both Sarandon and Davis would have been equally deserving of the Best Leading Actress awards. So would have Ridley Scott for Directing, Adrian Biddle for Cinematography, Thom Noble for Editing and for the movie itself, for Best Drama – in a year that produced many extraordinary films, it might have been more just to split some of the awards among several contenders, and despite the strong competition (Bugsy, The Silence of the Lambs, The Prince of Tides, The Fisher King, Grand Canyon and Fried Green Tomatoes, to name just a few), it seems sadly underrated for a movie that has long since become a cult classic to only have won one of the awards it was nominated for, both on Oscar Night and at the Golden Globes.

 

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: MGM (1991)
  • Director: Ridley Scott
  • Producers: Ridley Scott & Mimi Polk Gitlin
  • Co-Producers: Callie Khouri & Dean O’Brien
  • Screenplay: Callie Khouri
  • Music: Hans Zimmer
  • Cinematography / Director of Photography: Adrian Biddle
Cast
  • Susan Sarandon: Louise Sawyer
  • Geena Davis: Thelma Dickinson
  • Harvey Keitel: Detective Hal Slocumb
  • Michael Madsen: Jimmy Lennox
  • Brad Pitt: J.D.
  • Christopher McDonald: Darryl Dickinson
  • Stephen Tobolowsky: Max
  • Timothy Carhart: Harlan Puckett
  • Marco St. John: Truck Driver (uncredited)

 

Major Awards and Honors

Academy Awards (1992)
  • Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen: Callie Khouri
American Film Institute (AFI)
  • Top 50 Heroes – No. 24 (Thelma Dickerson & Louise Sawyer)
  • Top 100 Thrillers – No. 76
  • Top 100 Inspiring Movies – No. 78
Golden Globes (1992)
  • Best Screenplay – Motion Picture: Callie Khouri
National Board of Review Awards (1991)
  • Best Actress: Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis (tied)
  • Top 10 Films of 1991 – No. 4
Writers Guild of America Awards (1992)
  • Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen: Callie Khouri
National Society of Film Critics Awards (USA) (1991)
  • Best Supporting Actor: Havey Keitel
    – Also for “Bugsy” and “Mortal Thoughts”
  • 3d Place, Best Actress: Susan Sarandon
New York Film Critics Circle Awards (1991)
  • 2nd Place, Best Screenplay: Callie Khouri
  • 2nd Place, Best Actress: Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis (tied)
Boston Society of Film Critics Awards (1991)
  • Best Actress: Geena Davis
PEN Center USA West Literary Awards (1992)
  • Best Screenplay: Callie Khouri
London Critics’ Circle Film Awards (1991)
  • Film of the Year
  • Director of the Year: Ridley Scott
  • Actress of the Year: Susan Sarandon
    – Also for “White Palace.”
David di Donatello Awards (1992)
  • Migliore Attrice Straniera (Best Foreign Actress): Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis (tied)
Nastro d’Argento (Silver Ribbon) (Italy)
  • Best Female Dubbing: Rossella Izzo (voice of Louise)
Bodil Awards (Denmark)
  • Best Non-European Film: Ridley Scott

 

RAIN MAN

246 Toothpicks, “Counting Cards,” and Lessons in Love

Have you ever had to communicate with someone on a different wavelength as you; for example because (s)he speaks a different language and you don’t have an interpreter, or because (s)he is unable to communicate verbally at all, or maybe just because you keep misunderstanding each other? If so, you know what a frustrating experience it is to have virtually no control over the situation and over making sure that you’re actually understood. And in precisely this situation finds himself Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise), personification of the 1980s’ yuppie, a used car dealer with major money problems whose only – tentative – personal attachment is to his current girlfriend Susanna (Valeria Golino). Because having learned that except for a few rosebushes and a vintage 1949 Buick Roadmaster his recently-deceased father has left virtually all of his considerable fortune to his autistic brother Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) – a brother he didn’t even know he had – Charlie decides to kidnap Raymond from the Cincinnati facility where he lives, take him to California, and demand half the inheritance in exchange for his brother’s return.

Now, Charlie isn’t the greatest communicator himself; at least as far as listening goes; he is used to talking people down, and if that alone doesn’t do the trick, he starts to yell. This, however, just doesn’t work with Raymond, who lives in a world of his own and, unable to express emotion in any other way, falls into a nervous tic when feeling threatened. So for the first time in his life Charlie has to learn to accept another human being for what he is, and work with his bewildering methods of communication rather than against them. And subtly, very subtly, Charlie begins to change, until at last he no longer wants to relinquish custody of Raymond even after having been offered a substantial amount of money: because now money is no longer an issue at all; now it’s all about genuine love for a newly-found brother and very special person.

Rain Man is ostensibly told from Charlie’s perspective; through his, the “normal” guy’s eyes we perceive Raymond’s habits, tics and strange behavioral code. And even if Charlie is easy enough to snub for his superficiality and materialism, his frustration at his inability to communicate with his brother feels genuine and is something we can empathize with (albeit perhaps inadmittedly). Tom Cruise plays Charlie with a finely-tuned mix of audacity and reluctant emotion; turning a role that seems to start out as just another Cruise cliché into a character who hesitantly comes to realize his own complexities and shortcomings and learns to appreciate sensitivity, compassion and love – yet, without ever taking the role that treacherous step too far into sentimentality.

Still, important as Charlie’s character is for this movie’s narrative, this is from first to last Raymond’s story; and by the same token Dustin Hoffman’s, because the two individuals are in fact inseparable: as Hoffman once explained in an interview, he rejects the notion that acting is merely about playing a role, or that the term “my character” could ever appropriately describe his approach to a role; emphasizing that in every part he plays, he truly has to become the individual in question to fully be able to understand and portray him. As such, his achievement with Raymond Babbitt is breathtaking indeed; for in a role which not only imposes severe limitations on his ability to communicate traditionally but also gives him virtually no opportunity to express emotion, he conveys Raymond’s frailties, unexpected strengths and, significantly, his profound humanity in a manner that lets you forget you’re even looking at a piece of acting, thus accomplishing that rare feat only attained by the greatest of actors – and even among Dustin Hoffman’s spectacular performances, this one stands out in particular. (He did, of course, win both the Oscar and the Golden Globe for this movie; but somehow even the industry’s highest awards don’t begin to express the significance of his achievement.)

Raymond Babbitt’s character was based on several real-life autistic persons; and at a time when little was known about the condition even in the medical community, contributed substantially to a greater understanding of those afflicted with it. Not all autistic people are so-called “savants” like Raymond, i.e. possess genial mathematic or other abilities within the shell separating them from the outside world (and conversely, not with all of them that shell is as thick as in Raymond’s case; although intricate routines do tend to play a rather important role) – so don’t go rushing off with them to Vegas for an exercise in “counting cards,” at least not before you’ve verified that they can memorize entire phone books (at least up to the letter “G”), count the toothpicks in a pile on the floor with one glimpse of an eye, and determine the square root of a four- or five-digit number within a matter of seconds without so much as looking at an electronic calculator. Chances are you’d do them tremendous harm, not to mention make a complete fool of yourself.

Dustin Hoffman reportedly fought hard for this movie’s production even after several directors (including, inter alia, Stephen Spielberg) had bowed out; and in one of those rare un-Hollywood-like moments even managed to maintain the movie’s sense of authenticity up to the very end by prevailing on the writers to drop the projected ending, which would have had Raymond staying with Charlie. – In addition to Hoffman’s awards, Rain Man received the coveted Oscars for Best Movie, Best Original Screenplay and Best Director (Barry Levinson, who also played the psychiatrist called upon to evaluate whether Raymond is fit to stay with Charlie), plus a number of other American and international awards. For once, the industry collectively got it right. But even if this movie hadn’t received a single award, it would still remain one of late 20th century film history’s greatest and truly unforgettable moments – definitely, it would.

 

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: Mirage Entertainment / MGM (1988)
  • Director: Barry Levinson
  • Executive Producers: Peter Gruber & John Peters
  • Producer: Mark Johnson
  • Screenplay: Ronald Bass & Barry Morrow
  • Music: Hans Zimmer
  • Cinematography / Director of Photography: John Seale
Cast
  • Dustin Hoffman: Raymond Babbitt
  • Tom Cruise: Charlie Babbitt
  • Valeria Golino: Susanna
  • Gerald R. (Jerry) Molen: Dr. Bruner
  • Jack Murdock: John Mooney
  • Michael D. Roberts: Vern
  • Ralph Seymour: Lenny
  • Lucinda Jenney: Iris
  • Bonnie Hunt: Sally Dibbs
  • Barry Levinson: Dr. Marston (uncredited)

 

Major Awards and Honors

Academy Awards (1989)
  • Best Picture: Mark Johnson
  • Best Director: Barry Levinson
  • Best Actor in a Leading Role: Dustin Hoffman
  • Best Writing, Original Screenplay: Ronald Bass and Barry Morrow
Golden Globes (1989)
  • Best Motion Picture, Drama
  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture, Drama: Dustin Hoffman
Directors’ Guild of America Awards (1989)
  • Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures: Barry Levinson, Gerald R. Molen (unit production manager) (plaque), David McGiffert (first assistant director) (plaque), Cara Giallanza (second assistant director) (plaque) and Cherylanne Martin (second second assistant director) (plaque)
National Society of Film Critics Awards (USA) (1989)
  • NSFC Award 3d Place, Best Actor: Dustin Hoffman
New York Film Critics Circle Awards (1988)
  • NYFCC Award 2nd Place, Best Actor: Dustin Hoffman
People’s Choice Awards (USA) (1989)
  • Favorite Dramatic Motion Picture
BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.) Film & TV Awards (USA) (1989)
  • BMI Film Music Award: Hans Zimmer
Berlin International Film Festival (Germany) (1989)
  • Golden Berlin Bear: Barry Levinson
  • Reader Jury of the “Berliner Morgenpost” newspaper: Barry Levinson
Goldene Leinwand (Golden Screen) (Germany)
  • Golden Screen: 1989
  • Golden Screen with 1 Star: 1991
Jupiter Awards (Germany) (1989)
  • Best International Film: Barry Levinson
David di Donatello Awards (Italy) (1989)
  • Miglior Film Straniero (Best Foreign Film): Barry Levinson
  • Migliore Attore Straniero (Best Foreign Actor): Dustin Hoffman

 

Links

Merken

PRIMAL FEAR

Murder and Misdirection

“Fui bailar no meu batel além do mar cruel,” sings fadista Dulce Pontes in this movie’s dramatic title song Canção do Mar: “I went dancing in my little boat, beyond the cruel sea.” And it must be just like a nutshell-sized boat dancing on a stormy ocean’s waves that nineteen-year-old Aaron Stampler (Edward Norton) feels after his arrest for the savage murder of Chicago’s saintly Archbishop Rushman. Or does it?

Certainly it doesn’t help that Aaron was caught running from the crime scene, covered in blood, and with the archbishop’s ring in his pocket. Besides, who is going to believe him anyway – a stuttering, uneducated boy from rural Kentucky who was found begging by the powerful clergyman, taken in as an altar boy and made to sing in his choir – that he was present when the murder was committed but can’t remember a single thing because he blacked out? Nobody; surely not the police and ADA Janet Venable (Laura Linney), assigned by D.A. / Rushman friend Shaughnessy (John Mahoney) personally to try the case, with the express mandate to obtain a death penalty conviction. Nobody, that is, except Aaron’s defense attorney Martin Vail (Richard Gere). Vail, of all people: the flamboyant ADA-turned-private-practitioner, the star attorney not shying away from even the shadiest client, to whom TV and magazine cover interviews are as second nature as his courtroom appearances, and who cynically quotes as his mottos a professor’s maxims on his first day in law school: “From this day forward, if your mother says she loves you, get a second opinion.” And: “If you want justice, go to a whorehouse. If you want to get fucked, go to court.”

Primal Fear was adapted from William Diehl‘s like-named bestselling novel and, like in many literary adaptations, its screenplay is a hit-and-miss affair. Not successful, in my view, are those alterations that unnecessarily make Vail an even more ethically questionable lawyer as already conceived by Diehl; such as the way he becomes Stampler’s attorney in the first place (which in the movie amounts to blatant client solicitation, not to mention that no sane lawyer would introduce himself to a potential client with the words “I’m what you call a ‘big shot’ attorney”), and the circumstances surrounding the discovery of a tape revealing the archbishop’s not-so-nice private side, which in the novel isn’t found by Vail but by his investigator Tommy Goodman (Andre Braugher): of course that doesn’t eliminate Vail’s ultimate ethical responsibility, but contrarily to the movie, at least he doesn’t “borrow” the tape from the crime scene himself, and he doesn’t know in advance what Tommy is up to. Further, in the book the tape is not shown in open court and immediately introduced into evidence but viewed in the presence of only the judge and the attorneys, which given its contents seems more realistic; even if it were later introduced into evidence after all. On the other hand, particularly regarding the main characters the movie’s alterations work well: Unethical or not, Richard Gere’s Martin Vail is even more interesting than the character devised by Diehl; moreover, an unnecessarily clichéd, ultraconservative judge nicknamed “Hangin'” Harry Shoat becomes an – although still tough – overall more multidimensional and human Judge Miriam Shoat (Alfre Woodard).  Similarly, Vail’s mafia-affiliated client Joey Pinero (Steven Bauer) gains considerably in stature; and although it actually reinforces cliché to shift the love/sex relationship from the book’s present one between Vail and psychiatrist Dr. Arrington (Frances McDormand) to the screenplay’s past one between Vail and Venable (which the ADA now derogatorily calls “a one-night-stand [that] lasted six months”), thanks to Gere’s and Linney’s considerable on-screen chemistry their characters’ personal relationship adds sparks and tension to their professional rivalry that also lend greater credibility to the final courtroom scene’s powder-keg explosion.

Outstanding as all of its actors are, however, Primal Fear rises and falls with the performance of Edward Norton, and it is his breathtaking achievement that validates the movie more than anything. Then-newcomer Norton not only had to portray a boy almost a decade younger than himself (which he manages flawlessly) but also an incredibly complex character, sometimes shifting behavioral patterns, accents and manners of speech from one sentence to the next; and he delivers supremely, deservedly garnering an Oscar nomination (which in a year of extremely tight competition he lost to Cuba Gooding Jr. for Jerry Maguire), as well as a Golden Globe and several other awards; together with his roles in People vs. Larry Flynt and Woody Allen’s Everybody Says I Love You playing himself into audience awareness once and for all.

Although Primal Fear is often cited for its final plot twist, anybody who has seen more than that occasional thriller can see its end coming somewhere halfway through the narrative; and I think that’s true for both book and film, although I admit I hadn’t read the novel when I first saw the movie. Moreover, the final twist depends on a feat on the part of Norton’s character that lawyers and psychiatrists alike will find hard to take at face value. Thus, at first viewing this movie’s end may appear a bit of a let-down. But trust me: The story grows on you the more often you watch it, and in my view it actually helps to know the end, because not only does this enable you to see the many nuances you will necessarily miss the first time around; it also frees you to think about the moral issues addressed – the most glaring ones of which, with the sexual abuse scandal that the Catholic Church in over 30 years still hasn’t seemed to be able to shake off, have long since reached real life public awareness worldwide. For those reasons, and for the entire cast’s – first and foremost Edward Norton’s – fine performances, this has long become one of my favorite courtroom thrillers.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“[I believe that] things are not always as they appear, that sometimes facts can be manipulated the way a magician manipulates an audience. He distracts you with this hand, while the other hand does the tricks. It’s called misdirection.”
Primal Fear, preface: from Martin Vail’s summation in a case entitled The State vs. Nicholas Luma.

 

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: Paramount (1996)
  • Director: Gregory Hoblit
  • Executive Producer: Howard W. Koch Jr.
  • Producer: Gary Lucchesi
  • Screenplay: Steve Shagan / Ann Biderman
  • Based on a novel by: William Diehl
  • Music: James Newton Howard
  • Cinematography / Director of Photography: Michael Chapman
Cast
  • Edward Norton: Aaron Stampler
  • Richard Gere: Martin Vail
  • Laura Linney: Janet Venable
  • Frances McDormand: Dr. Molly Arrington
  • Andre Braugher: Tommy Goodman
  • John Mahoney: John Shaughnessy
  • Alfre Woodard: Judge Miriam Shoat
  • Stanley Anderson: Archbishop Rushman
  • Steven Bauer: Joey Pinero
  • Reg Rogers: Jack Connerman
  • Terry O’Quinn: Bud Yancy
  • Joe Spano: Captain Abel Stenner
  • Tony Plana: Martinez
  • Maura Tierney: Naomi Chance
  • Jon Seda: Alex
  • Kenneth Tigar: Weil

 

Major Awards and Honors

Golden Globes (1997)
  • Best Supporting Actor: Edward Norton
National society of Film Critics Awards (1996)
  • Best Supporting Actor, 3d Place: Edward Norton
    Also for “Everyone Says I Love You” (1996) and “The People vs. Larry Flynt” (1996).
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards (1996)
  • Best Supporting Actor: Edward Norton
    Also for “Everyone Says I Love You” (1996) and “The People vs. Larry Flynt” (1996).
Boston Society of Film Critics Awards (1996)
  • Best Supporting Actor: Edward Norton
    Also for “Everyone Says I Love You” (1996) and “The People vs. Larry Flynt” (1996).
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards (1997)
  • Most Promising Actor: Edward Norton
    Also for “Everyone Says I Love You” (1996) and “The People vs. Larry Flynt” (1996).
ASCAP Awards (1997)
  • Top Box Office Films: James Newton Howard

 

 

PHILADELPHIA

A Good Start

“This is the essence of discrimination: Formulating opinions about others not based on their individual merits, but rather on their membership in a group with assumed characteristics.” (School Board of Nassau County v. Arline, 480 U.S. 273 (1987) (Brennan, J.), on remand, 692 F. Supp. 1286 (M.D. Fla. 1988)).

This rule, reaffirmed by the landmark Supreme Court decision which, over the dissent of Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Scalia, first recognized the infection with a contagious disease (tuberculosis) as an actionable handicap under federal law, forms the initial bond between star litigator Andrew Beckett (Tom Hanks) and ambulance chaser Joe Miller (Denzel Washington), the unlikely team at the center of this movie. Because through these words, black attorney Miller begins to realize that his colleague Beckett faces a handicap which, in essence, is not so different from that confronted by many of his fellow African Americans. And because this is an incredibly effectively scripted Hollywood movie, we, the audience, easily get the point as well; even if we’re white, and even if we’re not gay and/or suffering from AIDS like Beckett.

Of course, the insidiousness of the AIDS virus places those afflicted with it in a class of their own, and while the movie spares its viewers the pictures of some of the virus’s most graphic effects, it does go to considerable length to show the physical decline associated with it – not only in the person of Beckett himself, for whose role Hanks literally almost starved himself. Some of the patients surrounding him in the movie’s earlier emergency room scenes really were AIDS patients, whom Hanks had approached when preparing for the movie, and who had subsequently agreed to participate; and as Hanks emphasized during an appearance in Bravo TV’s Inside the Actors’ Studio, not all of them are still alive. – Denzel Washington’s appropriately named Joe Miller, middle class everyman in everything but the color of his skin (one of the movie’s obvious bows to political correctness), displays an attitude uncomfortably familiar to many of us; shunning gays in general and the HIV-infected Beckett in particular, out of a mixture of ignorance about AIDS, prejudice against those suffering from it, and prejudice against gays. Both Hanks and Washington give strikingly emotional, profound performances that rank among the best in their respective careers – Hanks deservedly won both the Oscar and the Golden Globe for his portrayal of Beckett, but Washington unfairly wasn’t even nominated for either. Yet, neither of them would have been able to shine as much as they do without their exceptional supporting cast; to name just two, Jason Robards, commanding as ever as Beckett’s homophobic former boss (and role model!), and Antonio Banderas as his devoted lover.

By the time of Philadelphia‘s release, some of the early myths about AIDS had begun to disappear, and the yearly growing numbers of newly infected patients had brought it out of its erstwhile obscurity as “the gay plague.” But indepth knowledge was still far from widespread, and therefore the movie – which was inspired in part by the real-life case of New York attorney Geoffrey Bowers – not only brought awareness to the disease in general, but also made a couple of important points, from educating the public about the disease’s method of transmission to emphasizing that it is by no means limited to gays and can even be contracted in something as life-affirming as a blood transfusion. (Indeed, several European countries were rocked by transfusion-related AIDS scandals right around the time of the movie’s release). One of Philadelphia‘s most quietly powerful scenes is the testimony of a female witness who was infected by just such a transfusion, and who emphasizes that having AIDS is not a matter of sin or morality: “I don’t consider myself any different from anyone else with this disease. I’m not guilty, I’m not innocent, I’m just trying to survive,” she responds when asked to confirm that in her case “there was no behavior on [her] part” involved and contracting AIDS was something she was “unable to avoid.” – Moreover, four years before Ellen DeGeneres rocked the showboat with a kiss during an episode of her sitcom, and Kevin Kline and Magnum macho Tom Selleck locked lips in In and Out (the screenplay of which was inspired by Hanks’s Oscar acceptance speech for Philadelphia), it was by no means a given that a movie would get away with letting Hanks and Banderas exchange acts of tenderness from caresses and kisses on the hand to a slow dance at a gay party.

Given Philadelphia‘s fundamental message and the memorable performances of its protagonists, it is a pity that the movie doesn’t entirely avoid Hollywood pitfalls, such as its soggy ending with grease literally dripping off the screen and the undeniable taste of a sugar-coated afterthought, transmitting the message that even dying of AIDS is really not so terrible, at least for the surviving family who can still unite around the television set and wallow in their memories of their lost loved one. And while I do buy Joe Miller’s transformation from a (somewhat stereotypical) homophobic male to a reluctant supporter of gay rights, I don’t really see why Beckett suddenly assumes a cliché gay look the second he has been fired; not to mention that I suspect not everybody in his situation would have enjoyed such overwhelming support from his family.

But ultimately, it is the movie’s overarching message that counts. “Ain’t no angel gonna greet me; it’s just you and I my friend … and my clothes don’t fit me no more: I walked a thousand miles just to slip this skin,” sings Bruce Springsteen, the movie’s other Oscar winner, in “Philadelphia”‘s title song. And Justice Brennan wrote in the Supreme Court’s Arline decision that in amending federal law, Congress was motivated by “discrimination stemming not only from simple prejudice, but also from archaic attitudes and laws.” This movie goes a long way in dispelling such attitudes. It alone isn’t enough – but it is, as Andrew Beckett jokes about the 1000 lawyers chained together at the bottom of the ocean, at least a good start.

 

 

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: Columbia TriStar (1993)
  • Director: Jonathan Demme
  • Executive Producers: Ron Bozman / Gary Goetzman / Kenneth Utt
  • Producers: Jonathan Demme & Edward Saxon
  • Screenplay: Ron Nyswaner
  • Music: Howard Shore
  • Cinematography / Director of Photography: Tak Fujimoto
Cast
  • Tom Hanks: Andrew Beckett
  • Denzel Washington: Joe Miller
  • Jason Robards: Charles Wheeler
  • Antonio Banderas: Miguel Alvarez
  • Lisa Summerour: Lisa Miller
  • Karen Finley: Dr. Gillman
  • Joanne Woodward: Sarah Beckett
  • Anna Deavere Smith: Anthea Burton
  • Mary Steenburgen: Belinda Conine
  • Robert Ridgely: Walter Kenton
  • Charles Napier: Judge Garnett

 

Major Awards and Honors

Academy Awards (1994)
  • Best Actor in a Leading Role: Tom Hanks
  • Best Music, Song: Bruce Springsteen, for the song “Streets of Philadelphia”.
American Film Institute (AFI)
  • Top 50 Heroes – No. 49 (Andrew Beckett)
  • Top 100 Movie Songs – No. 68 (“Streets of Philadelphia”)
Golden Globes (1994)
  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama: Tom Hanks
  • Best Original Song – Motion Picture: Bruce Springsteen, for the song “Streets of Philadelphia”
MTV Movie Awards (USA) (1994)
  • Best Male Performance: Tom Hanks
ASCAP Awards (USA) (1995)
  • Top Box Office Films: Howard Shore
  • Most Performed Songs from Motion Pictures: Bruce Springsteen, for the song “Streets of Philadelphia”
Grammy Awards (USA) (1995)
  • Best Song Written Specifically for a Motion Picture or for Television: Bruce Springsteen, for the song “Streets of Philadelphia”
GLAAD Media Awards (USA) (1994)
  • Outstanding Film – Wide Release: Jonathan Demme, Edward Saxon
Goldene Leinwand (Golden Screen) (Germany) (1994)
  • Winner of the Golden Screen
Berlin International Film Festival (1994)
  • Silver Berlin Bear – Best Actor: Tom Hanks

 

Links

 

KNIGHT MOVES

Check – mate?

A children’s chess tournament. Two boys facing each other in the final game, intently staring at each other and the chess board between them. They make their moves and register their time. Ultimately, one of them has to concede defeat. Facing “check” twice and almost out of time, he topples his king. And assaults his adversary. A doctor recommends that he not ever be allowed near a chess board while he is treated for his “condition.”

Years later, another chess tournament. Grand master Peter Sanderson (Christopher Lambert) is in attendance, making a surprise return after three years’ retirement. He easily wins the first rounds. After dinner with daughter Erica (whose only parent he is) and a strategy session with his advisor, Sanderson concludes the evening with a few steamy hours with a sensuous blonde … and the psychopath who will soon hold the community in thrall has found his first target. When the woman is found murdered, gruesomely dressed up in death and the word “Remember” written on the wall above her in blood, Sanderson initially denies having been with her. This, and his arrogant demeanor towards the policemen investigating the crime – particularly, Detective Andy Wagner (Daniel Baldwin) – makes him an instant suspect. But is Sanderson the psychopath? Or is he, as appearances would have it, the psychopath’s true target?


Edward Fairburn: L.A. Part II / Westbound,
portrait in ink over a freeway map of Los Angeles (2015)

In a grisly game of strategy in which a city is turned into a chess board and women living in the target areas of town (attractive blondes all of them) are the chess pieces, Sanderson and the police hunt a serial killer who always seems to be one step ahead of them. While Detective Wagner never loses his suspicion of Sanderson, his newly minted boss, Captain Frank Sedman (Tom Skerritt) reluctantly comes to the conclusion that since the clues provided by the killer are based on chess references and directed to none other than Sanderson himself, they will not be able to solve the case without his help. Yet, for a long time the grand master, too, seems unable to decipher the killer’s clues, and the meaning of the words written above the dead body of each of his victims. – How many women will have to die before his identity is revealed? Will he ever be caught? Will psychologist Kathy Sheppard (Diane Lane), brought in by the police to determine if Sanderson himself fits their suspect’s profile, end up as one of his victims?

Knight Moves is a suspenseful thriller, intelligently built on the patterns of the royal game of strategy itself, and in which the audience is kept on their toes until the very end. Christopher Lambert in particular is believable as the astute, arrogant Sanderson, who hides his personal fears and insecurities under a mask of unapproachability which only one person seems to be able to pierce – his daughter Erica. His face-offs with Daniel Baldwin alias Detective Wagner, sarcastic and spewing barely controlled rage at each other, are among the highlights of the movie; in addition, of course, to the mind game itself which the killer plays with his hunters and, by extension, with the audience. While it is clear that the solution has to have something to do with the fateful game played by those two boys so long ago, all elements of the story are only connected up in the final scenes … which are, however, unfortunately somewhat overplayed and emphasize gore more than psychology and hence, are a bit of a let-down. This, and the relationship soon forming between Sanderson and Sheppard, which doesn’t entirely work for me (strangely enough, since Lambert and Lane were married at the time) are the only detractors I find in this movie. Overall, however, Knight Moves would have deserved much more attention than it has received since its 1992 cinematic release.

 

 

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: Cinevox / Republic Pictures (1992)
  • Director: Carl Schenkel
  • Executive Producers: Brad Mirman / Christopher Lambert / Guy Collins
  • Producers: Jean-Luc Defait / Ziad El Khoury
  • Screenplay: Brad Mirman
  • Music: Anne Dudley
  • Cinematography / Director of Photography: Dietrich Lohmann
Cast
  • Christopher Lambert: Peter Sanderson
  • Diane Lane: Kathy Sheppard
  • Tom Skerritt: Capt. Frank Sedman
  • Daniel Baldwin: Det. Andy Wagner
  • Katharine Isobel: Erica Sanderson
  • Ferdinand “Ferdy” Mayne: Jeremy Edmonds
  • Alex Diakun: Grandmaster Lutz
  • Charles Bailey-Gates: David Willerman

 


Knights Templar playing chess, Libro de los juegos, 1283

 

Links

 

Battle Chess (the video game that Lambert / Sanderson is seen playing in this movie)

A FEW GOOD MEN

Unit – Corps – God – Country

How much critical thought can the military allow its rank and file? Certainly most orders must be followed unquestioningly; otherwise ultimately the entire Armed Services would collapse. But where do you draw the line? Does it matter how well soldiers know not only their military but also their civic duties? Does it matter whether trials against members of the military are handled by way of court-martials, or before a country’s ordinary (civil) courts?

I first saw A Few Good Men as an in-flight movie, and after the first couple of scenes I thought that for once they’d really picked the right kind of flick: A bit clichéd (yet another idle, unengaged lawyer being dragged into vigorously pursuing a case against his will), but good actors, a good director and a promising storyline.

Then the movie cut from the introductory scenes in Washington, D.C. to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Jack Nicholson (Colonel Nathan Jessup) inquired: “Who the fuck is PFC William T. Santiago?”

And suddenly I was all eyes and ears.

Director Rob Reiner and Nicholson’s costars describe on the movie’s DVD how from the first time Nicholson spoke this (his very first) line in rehearsal he had everybody’s attention; and the overall bar for a good performance immediately rose to new heights. Based on my own reaction, I believe them sight unseen. Or actually, not really “unseen,” as the result of Nicholson’s influence is there for everybody to watch: Never mind that he doesn’t actually have all that much screen time, his intensity as an actor and the personality of his character, Colonel Jessup, dominate this movie more than anything else; far beyond the now-famous final showdown with Tom Cruise’s Lieutenant Kaffee. Nobody could have brought more power to the role of Jessup than Nicholson, no other actor made him a more complex figure, and nobody delivered his final speech so as to force you to think about the issues he (and this film) addresses; and that despite all the movie’s clichés: The reluctant lawyer turning out a courtroom genius (as lead counsel in a murder trial, barely a year out of law school and without any prior trial experience, no less), the son fighting to rid himself of a deceased superstar-father’s overbearing shadow, and the “redneck” background of the victim’s superior officer Lieutenant Kendrick (Kiefer Sutherland, who nevertheless milks the role for all it’s worth).

Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who adapted his own play, reportedly based the story’s premise – the attempted cover-up of a death resulting from an illegal pseudo-disciplinary action – on a real-life case that his sister, a lawyer, had come across in the JAG Corps. (Although even if I take his assertion at face value that assigning the matter to a junior lawyer without trial experience was part of the cover-up, I still don’t believe the real case continued the way it does here. But be that as it may.) Worse, the victim is a marine serving at “Gitmo,” the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, where any kind of tension assumes an entirely different dimension than in virtually any other location. In come Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) and co-counsels Lieutenant Sam Weinberg (Kevin Pollack) and Lieutenant Commander JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore), assigned to defend the two marines held responsible for Santiago’s death; Lance Corporal Harold Dawson (Wolfgang Bodison) and PFC Louden Downey (James Marshall), who claim to have acted on Kendrick’s orders to subject Santiago to a “code red,” an act of humiliating peer-punishment, after Santiago had gone outside the chain of command to rat on a fellow marine (none other than Dawson), attempting to obtain a transfer out of “Gitmo.” But while Kendrick sternly denies having given any such order and prosecuting attorney Captain Ross (Kevin Bacon) is ready to have the defendants’ entire company swear that Kendrick actually ordered them to leave Santiago alone, Kaffee and Co. believe their clients’ story – which ultimately leads them to Jessup himself, as it is unthinkable that the event should have occurred without his knowledge or even at his specific orders.

By the time of this movie’s production, Tom Cruise had made the part of the shallow youngster suddenly propelled into manhood one of his trademark characters (see, e.g., The Color of Money, Top Gun and Rain Man); nevertheless, he manages to (mostly) elevate Kaffee’s part above cardboard level. Demi Moore gives one of her strongest-ever performances as Commander Galloway, who would love to be lead counsel herself in accordance with the entitlements of her rank, but overcomes her disappointment to push Kaffee to a top-notch performance instead. Kevin Pollack’s, Kevin Bacon’s and J.T. Walsh (Jessup’s deputy Lt.Col. Markinson)’s performances are straight-laced enough to easily be overlooked, but they’re fine throughout and absolutely crucial foils for Kaffee, Galloway and Jessup; and so, vis-à-vis Dawson, is James Marshall’s shy, scared Downey, who is clearly in way over his head. The movie’s greatest surprise, however, is Wolfgang Bodison, who, although otherwise involved with the production, had never acted before being drafted by Rob Reiner solely on the basis of his physical appearance, which matched Dawson’s better than any established actor’s; and who gives a stunning performance as the young Lance Corporal who will rather be convicted of murder than take an unhonorable plea bargain, yet comes to understand the full complexity of his actions upon hearing the jury’s verdict.

“Unit – corps – God – country” is the code of honor according to which, Dawson tells Kaffee, the marines at “Gitmo” live their lives; and Colonel Jessup declares that under his command orders are followed “or people die,” and words like “honor,” “code” and “loyalty” to him are the backbone of a life spent defending freedom. Proud words for sure: But for the “code red,” but for the trespass over that invisible line between a legal and an immoral, illegal order they might well be justified. That line, however, exists, and is drawn even in a non-public court-martial. I’d like to believe that insofar at least, this movie gets it completely right.

 

 

Production Credits /
Cast and Crew

Production Credits
  • Studio: Columbia Pictures (1992)
  • Director: Rob Reiner
  • Executive Producers: William S. Gilmore & Rachel Pfeffer
  • Producers: Rob Reiner / Andrew Scheinman / David Brown
  • Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin
  • Based on a play by: Aaron Sorkin
  • Music: Marc Shaiman
  • Cinematography / Director of Photography: Robert Richardson
Cast
  • Jack Nicholson: Colonel Nathan R. Jessup, USMC
  • Tom Cruise: Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee, USN JAG Corps
  • Demi Moore: Lieutenant Commander JoAnne Galloway, USN JAG Corps
  • Kevin Bacon: Captain Jack Ross, USMC, Judge Advocate Division
  • Kiefer Sutherland: Lieutenant Jonathan Kendrick, USMC
  • Kevin Pollak: Lieutenant Sam Weinberg, USN JAG Corps
  • Wolfgang Bodison: Lance Corporal Harold W. Dawson, USMC
  • James Marshall: PFC Louden Downey, USMC
  • J.T. Walsh: Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Andrew Markinson, USMC
  • J.A. Preston: Judge (Colonel) Randolph, USMC
  • Noah Wyle: Corporal Jeffrey Owen Barnes, USMC
  • Cuba Gooding Jr.: Corporal Carl Hammaker, USMC
  • Matt Craven: Lieutenant Dave Spradling, USN JAG Corps
  • John M. Jackson: Captain West, USN, JAG Corps
  • Christopher Guest: Dr. (Commander) Stone, USN MC
  • Michael DeLorenzo: PFC William T. Santiago, USMC

 

Major Awards and Honors

American Film Institute (AFI)
  • 10 Top 10 (10 greatest US films in 10 classic genres) – Courtroom Dramas: No. 5
  • Top 100 Movie Quotes – 29th: “You can’t handle the truth!” (Colonel Nathan R. Jessup)
National Board of Review Awards (1992)
  • Best Supporting Actor: Jack Nicholson
ASCAP Awards (1994)
  • Top Box Office Films: Marc Shaiman
MTV Movie Awards (1993)
  • Best Movie

 

Links