|AYN RAND - A Sense of Life
First Look Pictures [Video]
"Howard Roark laughed."
For my money, that is still one of the punchiest
three word opening paragraphs ever penned. Right up there with "Call
me Ishmael." But that is where the similarity stops. Our boy Melville
went on to write a whale of a story, pardon the pun, which became
an enduring American classic, delving into deep philosophical waters.
Ayn Rand merely went on to write another didactic primer for her philosophy,
another installment in her paean to selfishness.
Granted, I read the whole Rand canon when I was
a teenager. I ate it up. It was custom-made for a confused adolescent.
I remember reading a passage in ATLAS SHRUGGED which made me so angry
at God I shook my little fist at the heavens. Ironic, since in Ayn
Rand's cosmology, there is no one up in the heavens to be angry with.
There are only sinister ideologies: collectivism, socialism, communism.
Anything based upon "we", rather than Rand�s ideal: the almighty "I".
Michael Paxton's treatment of the life of Ayn Rand
(1905-1982), the Russian born hyphenate (playwright-novelist-philosopher),
is that of an acolyte. It is a long-winded panegyric made up from
stock footage, photos, film clips of TV interviews, and newly filmed
talking heads, all of whom are as sycophantic as Paxton,
Granted, Ayn Rand had quite an amazing life. Immigrating
to the U.S. in the 20s to escape the Communist regime. She worked
in Hollywood as an extra, a screenwriter, and for many years in the
RKO costume department while writing her first book. She became a
protége of Cecil B. DeMille, and married the actor Frank O'Conner,
and became a hugely successful novelist in her own right. Finally
founding a philosophy that would out live her. Rand's life is the
stuff of movies, but unfortunately, this movie doesn't do her justice.
Perhaps if Paxton was a little less of a devoted fan, this documentary
might have had more dimension to it. Paxton glosses over anything
which might tarnish the reputation of his heroine, such as her 14
year affair with Nathaniel Branden, the "intellectual heir" who was
excommunicated after it was discovered he was sleeping with another
Rand acolyte, or Rand's "Friendly Witness" appearances before the
House Un-American Activities Committee.
In the hands of another director we might have had
some insight or honest criticism of Ayn Rand's life and work. As it
is, we have a mediocre documentary, which is best recommended to the
unquestioning new converts who are buying up THE FOUNTAINHEAD and
ATLAS SHRUGGED. Her book are still selling at the rate of 100,000
copies a year; fourteen years after the author's death, and years
after the death of Communism in Rand's homeland of Russia.
My main reason for going
to see Fight Club in the theater was this: Any time Edward Norton
has a movie he wants to punch me in the gut with, I'm there. I have
another reason for multiple re-viewings of Fight Club. I think it's
safe to say this is the funniest fight movie you are ever going to
see. Edward Norton, narrating in the near-monotone of his insomniac
character, opens the movie with a satirical skewering of this own
life style, with the help of friendly graphics by director David Fincher.
His life has no life in it, is the problem, and he has been trying
to revive it with dead things such household furnishings. This is
where the audience began to get the idea was not the grim basher they
may have expected. The jokes are dark but very funny.
We see Edward (his character goes without a name
for the entire movie, with good reason) in his office in sleepless
torpor, and in the field inspecting car wrecks for manufacturer flaws.
It is up to him to decide if money compensations for loss of life
will get more expensive than a recall. It's a clear case of not being
able to live with himself -- he has become completely stifled to survive.
Marla, a girl he can't live with, and Tyler Durden,
everything he can't live without. In this role Helena Bonham-Carter
explodes her corsets so thoroughly that no one will probably ever
find the pieces, much less tie her back into them. Golden Globe winner
Brad Pitt, as charismatic leader and raging iconoclast, gave the best
performance of his career in Fight Club. Pitt has said Fight Club
is the best movie he will ever be in. It certainly sets a new high
water mark for him to match.Edward has been finding emotional release
in support groups for serious disease sufferers. He allows the members
to think he suffers as they do. When Marla begins touring Edward's,
not even pretending illness, Edward finds he can't fake in her presence,
and the groups no longer help him.
Fortunately, he and Tyler Durden discover that fighting
works even better to relieve the anomie; and a group grows up around
them as men rush to this successful means of feeling alive. When Tyler
takes Fight Club to another level, there are scenes of hilarious black
humor involving the mindless threat of his Project Mayhem disciples.
Some of the cinematic triumphs of this movie are only split-seconds
long. There are fight scenes with the power and passion of a Michelangelo.
Director David Fincher does not ask us to admire these, he simply
uses them to build the mood and moves on. I can't say enough for his
The art direction is one of the many elements that
deserved awards consideration: from the scene-setting, to the inner-structure
graphics, to the final apocalyptic view that still leapt into my memory
with little provocation 6 months later. There is no psychological
validity to this movie, speaking scientifically, but hey! Suspend
your disbelief & enjoy. If this still bothers you, read the book,
which is a medium better suited to the psychological part of the material.
The book also gave me an enjoyable evening.
When watching Fight Club on video, turn up the brightness
on your TV as the film lighting is dark You will still not catch the
full impact of the battered faces; that is an advantage.I hope that
Fight Club will be released for sale on letterbox. I saw a video trailer
in letterbox and it is more satisfying. By satisfying, I mean I felt
the harmony of the forms and scenes that were designed for wide screen,
and I missed them on the rented video.
I started this review by saying that any time Edward
Norton has a movie he wants to punch me in the gut with, I'm there.
Now, having seen his Keeping the Faith twice, I amend that. Any time
Edward Norton has significant input into a movie, I'm there.
|THE FLAMINGO KID
Anchor Bay [DVD]
"The Flamingo Kid," Garry
Marshall's 1984 coming of age story, is an unlikely candidate for
DVD re-issue, but the kind folks at Anchor Bay have lately been unearthing
quite an assortment of gems for which video rights were available.
This 98-minute light-hearted comedy was one of several movies which
established Matt Dillon as a versatile young actor early in his career.
Set in the 1960's, the film follows Jeffrey Willis (Matt Dillon) as
he takes on a summer job as a cabana boy at El Flamingo Beach Club
on Long Island. Jeffrey is drawn to Phil Brody (Richard Crenna), one
of the club's flashier members, and ends up caught between the influence
of his father (Hector Elizondo) and that of Brody. At the same time
he's coming to terms with his attraction to Brody's niece Carla (Janet
Jones). Marshall handles the relatively simple subject matter with
a beautifully light touch, and the film manages to avoid the easy
cliches of nostalgia. Dillon gives a nuanced performance as Jeffrey,
serving as the film's strong emotional center. Elizondo and Crenna
are superb as they demonstrate the battle between a father and a father
figure for power over a son.
The film, on the whole, is a sweet, highly evocative
yarn about family, focusing on the change in perspective toward family
that takes place in the mind of a child as he becomes an adult. Like
much of Marshall's television work, most notably Happy Days, this
movie explores a time in life when childhood wonder and innocence
are giving way to the veneer of adult life, and it does so with wide
eyes and a great sense of humor.
The disc offers both Widescreen and Full Frame versions
of the film. The quality of the video transfer is excellent, and the
disc features Dolby Digital sound, but has no special features of
any kind. And while it would have been nice to have some commentary
from Marshall, notes on the production or at least a copy of the trailer,
it is lovely to be able to see this movie again, if only as a reminder
of how enjoyable a film can be without relying on special effects,
explosions or cheap laughs. Great writing and acting go a long way.
|Reviews continued in the next column
|ROBBIE ROBERTSON: GOING HOME
An award-winning Disney Channel
documentary, "Robbie Robertson: Going Home", is a 70-minute retrospective
of Robertson's career. The documentary spans 30 years, from the mid-sixties
to the mid-nineties, and centers on interview footage with Robertson
and a few of his key collaborators over the years. After beginning
with a live performance from a mid-nineties concert, the focus reverts
to Robertson's accounts of his childhood on a reservation in Canada
and his introduction to a variety of styles of American music in New
Orleans as a teenager. A host of early footage of Robertson playing
with the Ronnie Hawkins Band proves very entertaining, and the flavor
of his early years represents well the varied career he would go on
The better part of the 70 minutes is spent chronicling
Robertson's days with The Band, Ronnie Hawkins backing group that
went out on their own in the mid-sixties. The footage of The Band
playing on their own, playing behind Bob Dylan, or just relaxing at
the house in Woodstock they called The Big Pink, is captivating. Here
are incredibly talented musicians playing music they love even when
they get booed off the stage, and recording even when they have no
record contract. But when the world was ready, crowds began cheering
and albums reached the charts. The story within a story of Robertson's
days with The Band is an enthralling capsule look at artists who stood
by their work until their work was finally recognized. This is the
main message of the documentary.
Another key revelation that comes to light is Robertson's
close relationship with Martin Scorsese. It is well known that Scorsese
directed The Band's seminal late-seventies concert film "The Last
Waltz," but here is a fuller picture of a friendship which developed
over many years. The two met at Woodstock, where Scorsese was a cameraman
on the grueling shoot. Scorsese notes, in interview footage shot especially
for the documentary, that The Band were amazing musically, but nearly
impossible to photograph well because they had disallowed all cameras
onstage during their performance. It turns out the two men actually
lived together in the mid-to-late seventies when both were on the
outs with their wives, and some wonderful stories show up here from
those years as well.
Robertson's career writing music for films is covered
quite well, as are his dabbles with acting. And there are a generous
number of selections from his live and studio solo work in the nineties
� wonderful layered and captivating music. A few faces are missing,
most notably the notoriously low-profile Bob Dylan, with whom The
Band shared many stages. But overall, the film presents a full, varied,
and quite entertaining history of 30 years of a life comprised of
music, self-expression and self-exploration -- a life that is still
churning away at these very pursuits. Even if you're not a fan, it's
great to see what Robertson's done, what he's been through, and to
get just an inkling of where he might go next.
|MINNIE & MOSAKOWITZ
Anchor Bay [DVD]
As it continues the work
of rescuing lost films, Anchor Bay has recently released John Cassavetes'
1971 effort MINNIE & MOSAKOWITZ on DVD. Cassavetes has been credited
with being one of the first directors to make truly independent movies
in the age of major studios. He has often employed home-movie-style
techniques, which convey a greater sense of intimacy, making the characters
onscreen seem more immediate. These techniques are prevalent in current
independent films, and are evident in MINNIE & MOSAKOWITZ I watched
the film, which I had not previously seen, with this historical backdrop
in mind. Still, overall, I was disappointed. A quote from the New
York Daily News, which is listed on the back of the box, reads "The
best, most charming and funniest home movie ever made!" Charming is
not a word I would use to describe this film. It's more of a misanthropic
romantic comedy, heavier on the misanthropic elements than the romance
or laughs. Casavetes' has populated the tale with greatly flawed characters.
The film seems too consciously "independent." The
storytelling style is jagged, with some scenes stopping abruptly,
even mid-sentence. The lead characters are barely likeable and none
of the supporting characters are likeable at all. At least half the
scenes in the film feature a character yelling, and at least a quarter
have physical violence. Everybody's screwed up - no one gets along
- but the title characters are given to weathering even the storms
they create themselves. Nice premise, but it he lps if you care about
the people you're watching.
Both Gena Rowlands and Seymour Cassel were consistent
and interesting in their portrayals of the title characters. Their
performances were strong and daring. Still, so much of the action
between them, and among other characters, is based solely on confrontation,
that the film bogs down in its own free-flowing anger. There is so
much yelling and hitting in the film, I didn't know who to root for,
and by the end I didn't want to root for anyone because no character
exhibited enough redeemable qualities to outweigh what bastards they're
all being toward each other. The theme seemed to be: It's a petty
world filled with petty people but love can make you see past all
that. But it's hard to make that premise work when believability is
at a premium, and I just couldn't make that trip to the angry place
into which Casavete's dropped his characters.
Technically, the DVD is quite nice. The film is
presented in Widescreen, and the picture and sound quality are excellent.
Extra features include audio commentary by Gena Rowlands and Seymour
Cassel, the theatrical trailer and talent bios. I'm certain that some
people would enjoy the film much more than I did, and I am glad that
it's made the leap to the latest video format and is, at least, still
in the world.
|TWIN FALLS IDAHO
Here on video, showing as perfectly
on the small screen as on the large, is the mystery of chemistry played
out to the ultimate. Identical twins Michael and Mark Polish, digitally
conjoined by computer magic, convey a sense of spiritual unity so
strong that it is eerie, even transcendent to watch. Other movie-makers,
perhaps with a catastrophic absence of chemistry between their current
stars, might be able to learn the key to chemistry by watching this
Here is my opinion, which any professional moviemaker
is free to disregard. No, it probably doesn't come from the fact that
Michael and Mark are twins. Twins might just as well be like married
couples, a notoriously poor prospect for screen chemistry. No, it
probably isn't because they are identical. We have seen identical
twins together on screen before, without the uncanny effect. However,
the identical faces become a factor when combined with the identical
movements. The body language and timing is without doubt used to unnerve
in the beginning of the movie, and the fact that the brothers' facial
lines mirror each other is a big contribution to that. Can this degree
of chemistry be reproduced with actors who don't resemble each other?
Try the mirroring of movement, of body language, of rhythm. Can the
actors interact with the harmony of a dance even without mirroring?
Then both together would be greater than the sum of their individual
This movie has a grim beginning, a grim story, and
a barely hopeful ending. I hope you don't let that put you off. There
are ways in which it is a miracle. The main characters pull you in.
After the first few minutes of this movie I would have been incapable
of walking away from it. I cared not only about the twins Blake and
Francis but about their unlikely angel Penny (Michelle Hicks), and
even about the doctor Miles. This script has brief lines that shoot
straight to the heart of wisdom. My favorite goes something like this:
"A book only has a sad ending because that's where the writer stopped
writing. If he had kept going it would have changed."
This is not a perfect movie. The sympathy factor
is overplayed, emphasized by the violin score. I really think the
mental indignity factor is also overplayed � speaking as a handicapped
person myself. As Francis says, they've never known anything else,
and most of the time the twins handle the shock they cause with patience
and dignity, which would cause the people around them to handle it
better as well. Of course any conjoined twin with patience and dignity
is free to contradict me at any time, but I do think how you think
of yourself determines how others think of you. There is more emotional
realism in the repeated wrong assumptions that are made about the
twins, such as the minister who says: "I like what you represent.
Two folks livin' in harmony." This is just after they have had a huge
fight. The minister wasn't at fault; he couldn't have known and he
seemed a nice person. He just jumped to conclusions, like so many
These two mostly went through life with hardly anyone
able to understand them. Also the prurient questions, that you would
think no decent human being would ask anyone, are all too real.I think
it's safe after this many months, to comment that at the end Penny
is all set to become Blake's substitute conjoined twin. No matter
the pain Blake's life has caused him, being alone is even worse. However,
accustomed to living cooperatively, he is unlikely to have to be alone.