Cinema Snapshots

by Bobby Matherne

Movies we watched this past Month

(watch as soon as you can):

My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Absolutely charming movie about a frumpy unhappy thirty-year-old girl living at home and working in the “Dancing Zorba’s” Greek restaurant owned by her father, a Greek immigrant, who sent all his children to Greek schools, lives in a suburban version of a Greek palace, and knows the Greek origin of any word [and will tell it to you if you hold still long enough] except “Individuality” which he deems to be counter to his rule as patriarch of the family. He is the Head of the family as he reminds them. Of course, as his wife takes Tula the Frump aside to tell her, “The wife is the Neck, and the Neck decides where the Head will look.” Tula expropriates some Individuality, takes some college courses, and soon Tula blooms into a Tulip and meets the man of her dreams, Ian Miller. Not her father’s “suitable Greek man”, of course, not at first. Thereupon hangs a tale, a well-told, heart-warming tale from beginning to end, and the end is the wedding, btw, not the whole movie as the title suggests. Along the way we get many demonstrations of xenia by Tula's entire family.

King of Hearts

A one-of-a-kind movie from 1967: a French movie starring an English actor, Alan Bates. English speakers speak English, French speak French, Germans speak German, and thank God for the English subtitles --- they're especially helpful for understanding what the Scottish Military Unit is saying! Alan is in charge of the carrier pigeons for the Scots brigade and is volunteered to defuse the bombs threatening to destroy a town. Here’s how the volunteering happened: The Captain sends a man to see if Alan will volunteer. The man tells Alan to see the Captain immediately. When he arrives the Captain says, “Great! You volunteered.” The only information Alan is given is, “The Knight strikes at midnight.” This makes no sense, but Alan follows orders and goes to the town which has been abandoned by all its citizens when they discovered the entire town will be blown to smithereens at midnight. When Alan arrives, the Germans see him and chase him. He takes refuge in the Insane Asylum where he joins a crew building a house of cards and they introduce them as “Roi de Coeur” or the “King of Hearts”. The Germans rush out of town and leave the gates of the asylum open. The inmates flow into the town where they find new uniforms and clothes and suddenly become very sane. This movie plays out in the most delightful way imaginable and anyone who hasn’t seen this ever, should rent the tape or DVD post-haste. If it’s been twenty, thirty or forty years since you’ve seen it, do likewise — you’re in for a treat. After all, who’s crazy and who’s not is still as unanswered a question in the new century as it was during the previous one.

Absolute Power

In which Clint Eastwood plays an aging thief who watches from behind a two-way mirror as the president has sex with the wife of his biggest supporter. He tries to strangle her during the rough sex and she reaches for a letter opener to stab him and two Secret Service [note the initials are SS] men kill her. How does Clint Eastwood handle the resulting coverup? He’s not Arnold Schwarzenegger after all – he only ran for mayor. Gripping drama – one of Clint’s best.

Stuart Little II

Del asked me, “Did we watch the first one?” No, I don’t think we did. There was Michael J. Fox doing Stuart’s voice, Melanie Griffith doing the bird’s voice, James Wood doing the Hawk’s voice, and Geena Davis doing her own voice. They all did a wonderful lip-synch with their characters. A movie with talking mice, cats, birds and even humans that provides a delightful romp through one’s childhood for all who have some of the living blood of childhood yet pulsing through their arteries. There should be a psychic height limit of 2 feet, 11 inches and a sign, “You Must Be Able to Walk Under this Bar in Your Imagination to Watch this Movie and Enjoy It.”

One Hour Photo

Interesting flick with Robin Williams sleepwalking through his role as Sy — “The Photo Guy” — sort of a still-life version of Jim Carey’s “The Cable Guy.” Like an android in slo-mo, Sy produces high-quality photos for a low-quality “WalMart” — his only argument was with the Agfa tech who refused to adjust out a 3% variance in the blue range of his photo machine and which led to a scene in the store. Sy’s manager reminds Sy that the photo customers are not Sy’s customers, but the store’s customers! Gee whiz! Is this some new Harvard MBA teaching? Lower your individual expectations on a job to the level of the corporation’s? Some nefarious “Save money by lack of attention to quality” campaign? The movie works best when Sy is sharing his thoughts about photos and snapshots with us the viewers. His photo wall at home has two minor problems: 1) he didn’t pay for the prints he made duplicates of at work and 2) they’re all family photos. Of the same family. Not his family. Well, his family, but only in his imagination. A lonely man with a big heart and a big imagination adds up to . . . the rest of the story.

The Mayor of Casterbridge

A 3-hour A&E movie of the Thomas Hardy classic novel of a mayor and top businessman of an English town and the people he mowed through during his life. He sold his first wife to a sailor and never saw her and his daughter again for 18 years till the movie began and his wife and daughter show up in town. Meanwhile he’d asked another woman to marry him. He moves his first wife into town and pursues and weds her after turning down the second woman. He hires a Scotsman, Donald Farfrae, as manager who does an excellent job, but fires him because Donald questioned his boss's tyrannical tactics with his hired help. Farfrae falls in love with his daughter, but marries the second woman the mayor had turned down. The first wife dies, and now the mayor wishes to marry the second woman but she’s since fallen in love with Farfrae. More twists and turns than an English country lane, and through it all we follow the mayor in his jobs, loves, and lies. An amazing, unforgettable character — a scoundrel that one can only love all the way to the bitter end.

Lawrence of Arabia

I Watched all of this classic movie for probably the first time. Enjoyed it immensely. There was one transition that I didn’t understand --- why did Lawrence want to be picked up by the Turks at one point which resulted in his being tortured. Didn't he expect this result? At one point during the long journey through the desert aboard camels, Sharif comes up to Lawrence, hits him with a stick to bring him awake, and explains, “You were drifting.” “I was thinking,” Lawrence groggily replies. “Beware, Lawrence, you were drifting.” Lawrence’s etheric body was floating around and he was joining it and disconnecting from the reality of the moment, which on a camel can be fatal. Anthony Quinn played a tribal chieftain who only fought for pay. After telling him about a stash of gold in Aqaba, Lawrence uses the chieftain's favorite saying on him. Quinn asks why should he go to Aqaba? Lawrence says, “Quinn will go to Aqaba because it is his pleasure to go to Aqaba.” Quinn goes to Aqaba and we learn an object lesson about motivating people: wherever possible use their own favorite phrases or motivational strategies.

Misses (avoid at all costs):

Yolanda and the Thief

A Fred Astaire flick, 1945, in color, but the only thief was the movie itself who stole an hour and half of my time. Not much singing or dancing — just a ditsy script about conman Fred being an angel who let the lady he conned and wooed almost get away because he let her decide what an angel could and couldn’t do. Seems to me an angel should be a better judge of what an angel can do than a human can ever be. This important point was apparently lost on the scriptwriters. Fifty years have passed and the portrayal of angels has evolved considerably. Also, thanks to Alfred O. Korzybski, folks don't mistake the map [what she thought angels could do] for the territory [what angels can actually do] so much any more.

The Piano Teacher

Unable to remember her past, the Pianist is doomed to repeat it. Her childhood was similar to Sy’s in “One Hour Photo” but Sy tried to keep others from suffering the way he did (he remembered his past) and the Pianist tries to keep repeating hers. A disconnected story as befits a disconnected woman. Competent pianist and piano teacher by day and frequenter of porn shops by night. Soon she finds the perfect foil for her fantasties and the movie goes down the WC. How do you say stinks in French?

Bare Witness

With Daniel Baldwin and a host of other forgettable characters in a murder-conspiracy plot hampered by a lack of script. Gold-tipped bullets and dross-filled dialogue made interesting only by glimpses of slim nude bodies in sexual intercourse. Baldwin wasn’t in any of those, of course. Our introduction to him was his peeing outside the mayor’s mansion where he was supposed to be guarding the house instead of watering the garden.

Hard Eight

An experienced old gambler befriends a young, down-in-his-luck, wannabe gambler, John, and shows him the ropes. As the plot unfolds, in excruciatingly slow fashion, we learn that the older gambler shot the young man’s father back in New Jersey and is trying to make it up to him. Things swirl around John, and soon he is heading down the toilet once again, and his father surrogate has to pull him and his new wife, Clementine (Gwenyth Paltrow) out to safety — everybody lives happily ever after except Jimmy (Samuel Jackson) who never gets to spend his blackmail money.

K-19, Widowmaker

Or “Chernobyl Goes to Sea” — an aggravating movie because nothing goes right, unless you call "young sailors sacrificing their lives due to the stupidity of bureaucrats" fun. After the second sailor stumbled from the reactor room puking green stuff and dying, I was ready to turn the movie off — there were four or five more and several had to be dragged out. That this was a true story made it all the more horrible. The only story in the movie worth watching was the interplay between Liam Neeson, former captain, now first officer, and Harrison Ford, the new captain. Less emphasis on who could best portray radiation sickness and more emphasis on the healthy competition between the two officers would have dramatically increased the viewing values of this otherwise lugubrious film. Fitting that the final scene was a toast by the survivors to their fallen comrades in the graveyard --- which is where all extant canisters of the film should be buried.

Your call on these next movies; your taste may differ, but I liked them:


The Road to Perdition

With Tom Hanks and Paul Newman. You can look up “perdition” – it means “the loss of soul or loss of happiness in a future state, damnation”. [Cassell Concise] Or you can look up in an atlas and find that it’s a town on the coast. Or you can watch this movie and find out that it means both. The “Angel of Death” as Michael Sullivan was called, worked as a hit man for a mob boss played by Newman in Chicago. He kept his day job quiet at home until one night little Michael, all of twelve, stowed away in his dad’s car as he was on his way to “talk to” a recalcitrant fellow worker — played by the same actor we saw portray the Mayor of Casterbridge the night before. Newman’s son lets a bullet do the talking, little Michael observes the bedlam that ensues, and suddenly both Michaels are on the lam after Hanks’ wife and son Peter are murdered by the mob. The only relative is an aunt who lives in the town of Perdition near the coast, and they are tailed by a hit-man, the android from A. I., who played a photographer who took photos of dead people, often having to help them die on command so he could collect his commission. Will little Michael follow his father into perdition? It is the only question which pulls you through the movie with any suspense. A dark movie lit up by sparkling acting jobs by all concerned.

Holiday Inn

The original B&W movie c. 1940 with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire as competing beaus for one belle. A singer and a dancer vying to be the one to tie the knot with her. The East Coast with its real Holiday Inn versus the West Coast with its ersatz Holiday Inn. The only real thing on both coasts: the wistful background music of “White Christmas”. Worthy of a remake in living color, it got one later with Bing and Rosemary Clooney and the whole cast singing it with a full orchestra.

As Time Goes By

In which Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer have fun playing people our age, 60ish, who fell in love, married other people, and now are living together in a flat in London. Witty, humorous British sitcom on DVD. I daresay British laugh-tracks sound more intelligent than American.

Jerry Macquire

In which Tom Cruise takes on an even “Riskier Business” – sports agent. Don’t try what Tom did — give your immoral company a moral mission statement --- or you might find out just how immoral they really are. Naturally Tom, er, Jerry, is fired and takes one person from his former company with him, “Nurse Betty”, who becomes his Personal ASSistant – that’s somebody who is around to act appalled every time Tom makes an ASS out of himself, which he does every five minutes or so, usually with a lot witnesses around. Tom takes charge of two little boys: one cute little white lovable one and one cute little black lovable one. The black one is a wide receiver for the NFL Cardinals, but both Tom's charges are about the same level of mental development. Come to think of it, so is Nurse Betty's charge, Tom.


 © 2003 Bobby Matherne

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