Tag Archives: Academy Award

A Genuine Horror Movie

Finally got to see the Oscar-winning documentary Inside Job last night. When you hear that phrase, you normally think “bank robbery”, and you’d be right on the (ahem) money if you did. The problem is that the crooks did it in broad daylight while the security guards sat on their hands…or more likely, their wallets.

I avoid politics in this blog as much as possible, so in case anyone is reading anything into my intentions let me clearly state that this is not a Democrat vs. Republican argument – clearly both sides were complicit, ignorant, or both. But it’s absolutely frightening to consider that people elected to the public trust could not figure out that this Ponzi scheme of predatory lending coupled with betting the house on its failure would only lead to the inside investors getting ridiculously wealthy on the backs of millions of people who thought they were protected by institutions like The Securities and Exchange Commission…and their own government.

Trailer for Inside Job

Simple math will tell you that if you inflate the value of a house to twice its realistic value and then let someone borrow 95% of that amount, that person only has at best a 5% equity stake in the property. Drop the house value a mere 10% – still 90% overvalued, mind you – and now the person owes more money on the house than it’s sellable for. Drop that value down 50% and the owners are in a hole they can’t escape from unless they forfeit the house and everything else they own and declare bankruptcy. And then the banks can write another mortgage on the reclaimed property and leave that owner in a grave.

That’s not to say that individual greed didn’t fuel the economic collapse. Bankers and traders funneled absurd amounts of cash up their noses and down their throats, while people barely out of college were buying homes for hundreds of thousands of dollars and living way beyond their means. A shell game is just that – there’s only one marble, and when it moves somewhere the others are left empty. If someone is raking in millions of dollars, someone else is losing that same amount. Had an accountant tried this at a small company they would be fired and jailed; a student who crafted this as their Doctoral thesis for economic solvency would flunk out of school.

The fact that no one from a major bank, insurance firm or investment house went to prison is far more frustrating than watching athletes and celebretards skate free for crimes you and I would do hard time for. Groups of people who live beyond the law brazenly raped and pillaged millions of people, paid comparatively tiny fines and were able to do so without admitting wrongdoing. Inside Job is a collection of interviews and media clips covering the global economic collapse, and who is willing to speak is almost as interesting as who isn’t. In particular, you will come away looking at Eliot Spitzer in a whole different light and start to wonder whether his fall from grace was engineered for a bigger reason than you thought.

Although the film is obviously targeting one point of view, Matt Damon’s narration of filmmaker Charles Ferguson’s script is even-keeled. There’s no need for hysterical pitch and emphasis when the horror speaks for itself.

The official website.

They shot the sherriff...

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In Praise of Peter Sellers

Hard to believe that Peter Sellers died thirty years ago today.

Harder still to realize he was only fifty-four when he died.

Sellers crammed a few spectacular movie roles into a relatively short period of time; despite a thirty year career it’s easy to see the clumps of time where his initiative and the quality of the project intersected to make movie magic. Of course, his legacy also includes his tenure as a member of The Goon Show and even hit records ( some produced by George Martin!).

His early period includes some of my favorites – The Ladykillers (one of the great Alec Guinness comedies), The Mouse That Roared and I’m All Right Jack. But his  work with two famed directors cemented his legacy.

Stanley Kubrick first cast Sellers in a supporting role (Clare Quilty) in his version of Lolita, an opportunity that gave Sellers the freedom to improvise and use disguises. This mutually trusting relationship would blossom in the anti-war classic Dr. Strangelove where Sellers juggled three separate roles. The black comedy consistently places high atop the lists of the greatest films ever made, and Sellers’ performances within became part of the social fabric.

Blake Edwards’ movie The Pink Panther first introduced the bumbling Inspector Clouseau, one of the most famous comic characters in movie history. Sellers repeated the role in four additional films: A Shot In The Dark, The Return of The Pink Panther, The Pink Panther Strikes Again and (posthumously) Revenge Of The Pink Panther.

The combination of clever wordplay, outrageous slapstick gags and dunce-like attitude enabled Sellers to put the movie on his back and run; the plots were secondary (and in some cases, contradictory across scripts). Nominated for a Golden Globe in three of the Pink Panther films, he never won.

Video: Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau

I thought one of his best performances was also one of his most restrained – Chance The Gardener (a/k/a/ Chauncey Gardiner) in 1979’s Being There. Whether you look upon that movie as a religious allegory, a fairy tale or a brilliant social satire – I think it’s all three – Sellers’ performance is almost inverted, as he allows everyone and everything to react to him.

Crazy? Or crazy like a fox? Sellers won the Golden Globe for his performance but didn’t win the Academy Award; he was nominated for Best Actor but lost to Dustin Hoffman for Kramer vs. Kramer.

Sellers was often quoted saying he did not know who he really was, that he lived through his characters and his artistic expression. If true, that’s a sad story, but supportive of many comedians who claim they have very little self-esteem. And when you crawl into someone else’s skin as often as Sellers did – and into such odd skin, at that – who’s to say he was exaggerating?

My pint glass raised to you today, Peter Sellers.

Peter Sellers filmography at IMDB.com

The Peter Sellers Appreciation Society

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T.G.I.F. – Ten for Philip Seymour Hoffman

 

Happy Birthday to one of the finest actors of his generation, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Skilled in comedy and drama, a dynamic actor, producer and director, Hoffman has forged an incredible career on stage and in film and is still a relatively young pup at forty-three. 

Capote – The perfect intersection of artist and role. 

I now live in his hometown and can tell you that the entire place went batshit the night he won the Academy Award as Best Actor for Capote, a personal project he brought to the screen with two close friends. And since my girls went through the same drama program with the same teacher at the same High School, I can play the Kevin Bacon Game and connect in two moves

With future production whiz Eli

But first and foremost as a film lover, I see what people around the world see – an actor’s actor who respects his craft and delves into his roles with complete immersion. It’s why I put any project he’s involved with on my must-see list; like Kevin Spacey or Guy Pearce, he’s versatile and usually uncompromising in his choices. (Well, okay…maybe Patch Adams was a compromise…) 

So for this week’s TGIF, here are ten great film performances from Philip Seymour Hoffman. There are many more beyond these; memorable supporting roles in Twister and The Big Lebowski; hell, his part in Punch Drunk Love made me like an Adam Sandler movie for the first time since The Wedding Singer.  There are also poignant and dark moments in Love Liza and Flawless as well as highly touted roles in Doubt and yes, some big budget cheese like MI3

He’s already worked with most of the best directors and actors of his era, and has solid credibility throughout the film and the theatre industry. You should know most if not all of these films, but if any are new to you I give you my full Prescription promise that you will thank me for pointing you to them…except Patch Adams, of course. 

 

Almost Famoussteals the movie as Lester Bangs

Owning Mahoney – like many of his roles, a double life. 

The Talented Mr. Ripley – larger than life Freddie, who sees through it all. 

Before The Devil Knows You’re DeadAndy is a bad, bad man. 

Happiness – disturbing, desperate and shattered Allen

“Sometimes it’s hard to say no. Ultimately, if you stick to your guns, you have the career that you want. Don’t get me wrong. I love a good payday and I’ll do films for fun. But ultimately my main goal is to do good work. If it doesn’t pay well, so be it.” 

Magnolia Phil Parma, porn-loving caretaker. 

State And Main – Nervous writer Joseph Turner White

Charlie Wilson’s War – rockin’ the stache as Gust

Along Came Polly – egomaniac Sandy is blind to his failures. 

Boogie Nights – the incredible, uncomfortable Scottie J

And keep your eyes peeled for Jack Goes Boating this Fall. 

 

Hoffman at Wikipedia and IMDB. Oh, and this! 

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Remembering James Cagney

Simply the best.

James Cagney died twenty-four years ago today. 

When I was a kid my Dad and I would watch a lot of movies together, and that’s where I first saw this pugnacious little punk light up the screen. It didn’t seem to matter what film he was in; when he was on camera he attracted your attention with laser-like intensity. I guess that’s what they call a movie star

The Fighting 69th

Dad loved war movies – still does – and I have vivid memories of watching The Fighting 69th several times (as Irishmen, that’s almost a requirement). Later I discovered What Price Glory and 13 Rue Madeline, which I guess weren’t in rotation on the three or four New York stations available at the time. And his performance in Mr. Roberts was also a classic, although that was a comedy. 

Angels With Dirty Faces

But it was the gangster films that were seared into my memory. Public Enemy and Angels With Dirty Faces were the two we watched most often; stone-cold classics that I still enjoy today. The latter also featured The Dead End Kids, who I would later follow through their comedic incarnation as The Bowery Boys. Two others that rank alongside them in his canon are The Roaring Twenties and the iconic White Heat; how Cagney did not win the Academy Award for the latter is still a mystery. (He eventually won for his performance as George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy, and deservedly so.) 

I learned a bit later that Cagney was constantly battling the studio system – and Harry Warner in particular –  to be able to have more control over his career. The studios treated actors like indentured servants back then, although that also meant that you were used in a lot of movies and even loaned out to other studios on occasion as a favor between moguls. If you had the magic, as they say, soon enough you’d get a chance to prove it. But Cagney was getting typecast and didn’t like it. 

Man of a Thousand Faces

As I was growing up I caught up with several that I had missed, including other genres like A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Time of Your Life (which was perhaps my own favorite moment on a college stage). His fierce performance in Love Me Or Leave Me was thrilling; he had played many bad men before but his gangsters always had some charm; Martin Snyder was an unlikeable character. And I got to see Man of a Thousand Faces again and understand what a magnificent performance it was; Cagney as Lon Chaney being other characters. There’s a wordless scene where Cagney re-enacts a brutally deformed cripple being healed and given the ability to walk; it is a master class in acting

I respected Cagney the man almost as much as I admired Cagney the actor. He fought for better working conditions for actors in general (his own behavior inspired others to stand up for themselves) and was president of the Screen Actors Guild. He was a patriot and generously devoted his time and services in support of the troops long before it became fashionable (or a savvy career move). His marriage at 22 lasted sixty-four years until his death at 86. And he avoided the hoopla of Hollywood, buying a farm first in Martha’s Vineyard and later another north of New York City. He approached life on his own terms, supported causes and people without fanfare or fear and set the bar early for the transition to a new style of acting. 

Ragtime

When Cagney died in 1986 it wasn’t a shock, as he had been in poor health for many years. He all but retired from movies twenty-five years earlier, but did return to the big screen in 1981 to play a supporting role in Ragtime as the cantankerous Police Commissioner. But thanks to my Dad and those many nights enjoying his work together, he always seemed vividly alive to me. If I’m flipping channels today and come across a Cagney movie, I automatically lock in and watch it even though the odds are I can recite every line of dialogue from memory. 

I was thrilled when Warners finally started releasing classic Cagney films on DVD (perhaps in an upcoming TGIF  I will rank my ten favorites). But one of my great thrills was being able to record the many unreleased Cagney films that TCM aired during a month-long tribute to Cagney and sharing them with my Dad. He had no idea that these had even aired, and some of them (Taxi, The Strawberry Blonde) he hadn’t seen since we watched them together all those years ago. Sometimes payback isn’t a bitch. 


March 1986 was a tough month. I lost my Mom to cancer; she had never really been sick a day in her life and was not a drinker or smoker. She felt some discomfort that January and it was determined that she needed minor surgery which was supposed to be routine. When under the knife in early February it was discovered that she had cancer. The pre-operative scans missed because it was too small, but it was scattered throughout her liver like buckshot, which meant her bloodstream, which meant it was now invasive everywhere. She never left the hospital. Every time I think of her I’m amazed that twenty-four years seems both like a long time ago and also like yesterday. 

When I think back to my childhood I remember her sitting nearby as my Dad and I watched Cagney’s movies. She probably enjoyed some of them herself, but knew that Dads and sons need to bond over certain things, and she gave us that space. (That was my Mom in a nutshell – unselfish.) So as I warmly remember the man who is still my favorite actor of all time, I do the same for the two people who always supported me unconditionally. March is a little easier to take these days. 

Thanks, Mom & Dad.

James Cagney on IMDB and Wikipedia

James Cagney Online – UK site with info and trailers

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