Network (1976), or Syndicated Madness

2 12 2009

Thanks to Jason for recommending this film to me! It was a joy to watch this, and it’s always good to know you’re not the only one out there who has seen something. Even though it’s considered a classic, that doesn’t mean anyone in your town has seen it!

Sidney Lumet’s classic look into the executive mindset of 1970s television begins with a firing. Howard Beale, long-running anchor for UBS television network. He’s been loyal to the network for decades, but none of that seems to matter to the executives. Depressed and angry beyond consolation, he spouts out angrily at the end of a broadcast that he will commit suicide live on camera. The execs decide to pull him from the line-up immediately, but not before one final broadcast so that he might leave with some dignity. Beale’s last night on the air, though, is far from dignified, however, as he spews an angry rant at his bosses, the network, and society in general. While the executives are outraged, they soon find that the ratings have skyrocketed, and Beale’s vitriol seems to be just what America is looking for. One young producer named Diana Christensen, sees Beale’s antics as a chance to change the face of the network by merging entertainment with news. She starts planning a new show with real political extremists to hype up ratings while simultaneously building up Beale to be something gaudy and psychotic. They give him his own show and bill him as a mad prophet, allowing him to vent his psychotic frustrations on the air for all his new-found fans to eat up. Will Christensen succeed with her plans to turn the media into even more of a spectacle? Will Beale go too far with his diatribes? Will any of this insanity ever stop as long as the ratings are good?

Network is an eerie forerunner to the future. In a day and age where entertainers like Glenn Beck, Jon Stewart, and Rush Limbaugh steer the news like oarsmen on an unmoored boat ride to Who-Knows-Where, Network seems even more relevant than ever before! It’s a story about the lunatics running the asylum, but the administrators still come by to watch the insanity and reap their reward from the duped and the swindled. Written by Paddy Chayefsky, Oscar-winning writer of The Hospital, it’s a hilarious, frightening, and completely unpredictable look at the world of the modern media machine, and how news quickly turns to firebrand tactics at the flick of the switch, and how ratings are the bottom line in American broadcasting. Well written, punchy dialog takes this film from great to excellent, and with legendary lines like, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore!”, its a story that’s cemented in the annals of cinema forever.

A fantastic cast gives Network its real power. Peter Finch is the spirit behind this film. He plays Howard Beale to uproarious effect, the news anchor who totally loses it and becomes beloved by America for it. This was his last role before his death, and he remains only one of two people to ever receive a posthumous Oscar for acting. He really sells himself as a man pushed over the edge. He seems so normal in the beginning, but perhaps he was crazy the whole time, because the utter strangeness in his performance during the clip above really makes me question who this character is. Faye Dunaway is delightfully campy as Diana Christensen, the producer from hell who is determined to shake things up in UBS. She has an agenda, she has a plan, and even though at times she gets in over her head, she is one vicious lady. Dunaway plays her rough, mean, and close to the chest, frightening any man in the scene with her a little bit. I like it. I also enjoyed William Holden as Schumacher, the news division President of UBS. He’s the reliable old guard character that Holden played so well in his later years. Holden makes him brazen, unshakable, but emotionally genuine, especially when it comes to the treatment and exploitation of his old buddy Howard Beale. And remember how Jason mentioned a young Robert Duvall in this when he recommended this? He’s here, and he’s damn good as Christensen’s boss, Frank Hackett. He was authoritative even back then! He’s a pushover for Dunaway’s Christensen, but I wouldn’t want to disobey an order from him, because Duvall looks like he would bust someone’s jaw in his sprightly youthful frame and his character’s rough demeanor.

Damn it, watch Network! I think it’s definitely top-notch, a true American classic that has grown even more relevant as time has gone on. The madness inherent in our 24-hour news networks resembles all-too vividly Howard Beale’s shock-value entertainment news, and so hopefully the prophetic ending of Network, while highly unlikely, does not come to resemble our present in any day and age. It’s exceptionally acted, well-written, and immaculately shot, and for that I give Network 10 Mad Prophets out of 10! My highest recommendation!

Stay with me, folks! The Machinist is coming up!

P.S- On a side note, I like Jon Stewart, and think he’s hilarious. But he is not a real news outlet, so I felt compelled to use him as an example.

THX 1138 (1971), or Whatever Happened To THX 1137?

25 11 2009

Can you imagine a world without George Lucas? I imagine there are some people who try to envision that scenario every day, but it’s not easy. George Lucas has changed the face of cinema forever, and while it’s debatable whether we’re much better off for it, I think it’s important to acknowledge all that he’s done. American Graffiti, Star Wars, Indiana Jones… okay, that’s pretty much it, but Star Wars is big enough for 10 movies. His influence is undeniable in the annals of the modern day mainstream action or sci-fi film, and he’s world renowned for his innovations in make-up, special effects, and sound design. But long before any of that, Lucas was just a struggling nobody, looking to make a buck off one of the ideas he had in film school. THX 1138 is George Lucas’s debut as a filmmaker, and it showcases what might have been if he had directed more than 6 movies in a 40 year long career. It’s daring, insightful, and, for all it’s faults, it’s entertaining, the real mark of a Lucas film.

It’s, yet again, THE FUTURE!!! Man has screwed himself yet again by creating a society where emotions are strictly controlled and obstructive rules crush originality and individualism. Underground, they work and toil in total seclusion, away from the possibilities and wonder of nature and the beauty of the sun. One of these poor dopes of the future is named THX 1138, and he works in a nuclear production line of some sort, and his life is misery. He does the same thing day in and day out, and his entire life is controlled by the drugs he is indoctrinated into taking and the propaganda that plays on the overhead 24 hours a day. It’s a depressing outlook for him, and it seems he’ll spend the rest of his life in a boring jumpsuit doing the same activity over and over until he dies, until one day his female roommate decides to stop taking her meds. Her entire life changes, and she decides that THX needs to feel this as well, so she starts feeding him placebos to ween him off the emotion-dampening meds. When he finally awakens from his self-imposed coma, he begins to have real zest and desire again. He and his roommate begin talking of escaping the underground to go live away from the oppressive society, as well as their baser desires for one another (i.e. they have dirty 70s sex off-screen). But almost immediately after all this coitus and crazy talk, they’re arrested for their heinous crimes against the state. Thus begins THX’s breaking away from the status quo. After his arrest, he begins a transformation that will see him through the labyrinth of underground tunnels all the way to his escape. He cannot handle the underground society and needs freedom. But what will the government be willing to do to keep him from seeing that freedom he craves?

Robert Duvall IS THX 1138. What a total shift from everything he’s ever done. Take a moment to look at his filmography. Go ahead. No, seriously, go look.



You back yet? Okay, did you see any other sci-fi films? And those TV shows from the 60s don’t count! This is Duvall as you’ve never seen him before; he’s fit, he’s young, and he’s ready to stop taking his future meds!!! THX is Lucas’s ultimate symbol of artistic expression, and his vision of how the artist should react in modern Hollywood when demands are made of their work. Duvall slyly understands this, and makes the character something that anyone can relate to, by reminding American audiences of their innate desire for freedom. It’s a good move, and it works well in this case.

Lucas, on somewhat of a shoestring budget, crafts a rather terrifying future that we are forced to consider. It’s not overpowering, and it’s not even that original, but Lucas does one thing well despite it all, and that is make the movie look good. The effects have a lot of thought put into them, and they border on the disorienting. Lucas’s dystopia is filled with disembodied voices commanding many things from its inhabitants, so there is a lot of chatter in the air that you’ll have to get used to. The city looks pretty good for ’71, and the sets are depressingly claustrophobic, which I’m sure was the desired effect. My favorite set piece though is the Sanctioned Deity. It’s Hans Memling’s Christ Giving His Blessing, and it’s had a particular resonance with me. Here’s the image:

Christ Giving His Blessing

Christ Giving His Blessing

Kinda freaky, huh? Jesus, Caucasian for some reason, staring at you like he wants to eat you. It weirds me out a little bit, I won’t lie.

So if you want to watch a movie with your family this Thanksgiving with Donald Pleasence as a vengeful techie reciting speeches from Richard Nixon, Robert Duvall as a guy who just wants to roll around in the grass and get laid, and George Lucas with a passion you’ve never seen him with before, THX 1138 is your best bet, you upstanding family man, you. It’s not very long, the message isn’t very crisp, and the final sequence can get a little repetitive, but it’s decent entertainment that has something to say, and there’s never really enough of that nowadays. It makes me want to see more of this guy’s filmography, but unfortunately I think I’ve seen the rest of his films about 5000 times over by now. Oh, well. Check this out if you want something new and technically innovative for its time. I give THX 1138 7 1/2 disarming Jesus portraits out of 10.

Tomorrow’s Thanksgiving! Give me a good recommendation, and I will watch it! Goregirl gave me a fantastic one, but I still need more movies to see before the end of the year!

Falling Down (1993), or Schumacher’s Silver Lining

6 11 2009

While I don’t have the deepest respect for Joel Schumacher, the man who put Batman in a coma, everyone always reminds me of Falling Down, his one free pass movie, the movie that everyone loves him in, and the one movie where he didn’t seem to fuck it all up with his odd sensibilities. It’s a cult classic, a searing indictment of American values in the 90s, and I can’t think of anybody who hasn’t loved it to death after they saw it. So, after watching it again after quite a number of years (that’s the unofficial trend of the week, I see), I can say that I appreciate Falling Down, and I think it’s one of Schumacher’s best, but I don’t think it’s the best thing since sliced bread.

As with many stories of its ilk, Falling Down begins with a day that might not be as bad as any other day, but it sure feels like shit when you’re living it. A fellow named William Foster has had a really bad day. His ex-wife had a restraining order put on him, his job has let him go, it’s the hottest day in what seems like forever, and he just can’t take it anymore. He walks out of his car, leaving it behind, and makes a journey across LA to break the restraining order and attend his daughter’s birthday. Along the way, he will will violently break all the rules that his life has been held up by, and he will oppose with some heavy-duty firearms anyone who stands in the way of a hot LA day redeemed. Simultaneously, we find ourselves with only one real hero in the town, a barely standing old cop who is the only real thing willing to put an end to William’s pissed-off nerdy tirade. Will our police officer hero be able to stop him in time, or is William going to get what he wants? And is the police officer even our hero?

It is an emotionally complex film, more so than it perhaps even realizes. There’s something very melancholy about the pathetic Foster, from the moment he steps out of his car and you see him abandon the constraints of normal life. It’s a joyless spree of violence that offers not even the illusion of happiness or euphoria that proceeds any act of self-liberation. His acts are not acts of anger, these are acts of acute confusion and disbelief that life can steer so wrong. And his rival in this blind struggle is Prendergast, an officer belittled by the force, his superiors, and even his wife for his old age, his refusal to curse or lash out, and his tendency towards patience. He also has an emotional struggle throughout the film that is far from Danny Glover’s close-to-retirement Murtaugh in Lethal Weapon. This man is beat down, struggling to maintain a feeling of potency even as everyone around him mocks his zealotry towards this mysterious crime-wave. There’s more to this than meets the eye, and if anyone is willing to look past the slightly-worn “fuck society” sentiment used here as some sort of knee-jerk reaction to 90s ennui, then you’ll find that these characters are, if anything,  fresh and lively.

And the acting is pretty good for a Schumacher film. Michael Douglas is a wonder as William Foster. His maniacal intent is cloaked behind a deep emotional connection to his daughter and a stinging regret of a failed marriage. Even during his violent assault weapon-fueled soliloquys, he is tinged with something that really approaches empathy with me. It is a tribute to Douglas’s ability that he can make a man like Foster not only likable but charismatic! We want him to succeed; almost. And Robet Duvall is amazing as everyone’s favorite put-upon officer, Prendergast. I remarked in my Colors review what a pro Duvall was, even with his patented Poker Face on. Here, he arguably does even better as Prendergast, a character with a little more depth. He’s truly one of the best, and this is another good performance from a man I’ve gained a lot of respect for this past year. Barbara Hershey is the weakest link of the three leads as Beth, Foster’s ex wife. She’s a bit too soft for what I think the character calls for. She needs more fire under her feet, a little temperature boost to make her really shine. Compared to Duvall and Douglas, Hershey doesn’t really carry all the weight she should, and she should be carrying quite a lot as the caretaker of Foster’s daughter, who is the linchpin to the whole thing.

There are some flaws. it’s not exactly consistent. The message has an opacity that is either all-encompassing or lazy, and I don’t think this is terribly intentional. Some of the settings are unnecessarily harsh towards Foster, especially the breakfast scene shown above (like a fast food restaurant manager wouldn’t let you tea-bag him for a positive review on your comment card!) and I often get the feeling that LA was a pathetic parody of itself rather than the semi-realistic mirror it should have been. But it’s still good. It’s an exceptional movie with some real power behind it. A lot has to be said for the lead actors, and even the near-graceful approach Schumacher uses for such a bold indictment of society. It’s got a lot going for it, and while I won’t go to sleep tonight with visions of Foster dancing in my head, I’m still surprised and found it to be a little better than I remember it. I give Falling Down 8 1/2 tea-bagged fast-food restaurant managers out of 10!

Stay up with me as I cram in a review for one of my favorite films of all time! Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade!

The 6th Day (2000), or GET TO DA FUTURE CHOPPA!

9 09 2009

Oh, Arnold. You always know just what to do to get me smiling again. Only a mere couple months ago, I stated in my review of The Running Man that they didn’t make movies like that anymore, namely the preposterous action flick. All the movies he made in the 80s and 90s were so larger than life and so out their own minds that the believability was a little on the low side. But I preferred that to today’s action flick, the kind that takes itself too seriously and only stops to deliver some trite innuendo or a one-liner that has no place in the serious dramatic situations they’re alleging to be in. I don’t like today’s action, and it’s not a matter of nostalgia to posit that action today has lost the edge of wonder and imagination that the action flicks of yesteryear helped to establish.

Luckily, before Arnold got out of the game of acting and into the game of being a Republican waste-monger, he left us this little nugget at the doorstep of the new millennium, entitled simply The 6th Day. It’s a movie about the distant future, 2015, in which a man is unknowingly cloned and replaced in his day-to-day life, and seeks to regain his life back as well as to seek vengeance against those who wronged him. And considering what year it is right now, I have no doubt in my mind that this was not only a harbinger of the future but a documentary sent from the year 2015 itself! What with the XFL being so popular right now, America at the forefront of cloning research, and with lasers being issued to almost every rank and file officer nowadays, anyone can see how, in a way, Arnold predicted the future here!

In all seriousness, it’s a clunky sci-fi thriller about the dangers of corporate science and illegal cloning that was set just a little too soon into the future to be anywhere remotely viable. Its efforts to tie in the then-present with the future don’t come off as very serious, though, which allows for some hearty laughs to be had at all the harsh anachronisms. I mean, come on; the XFL are still playing games in 2015? Who thought that was going ANYWHERE? And lasers by 2015? That’s a little much! And cloning is used in that old 1980s idea that a clone will look and act exactly like you, and that there will be absolutely zero differences between the original person and said clone.

But that means some great scenes for Arnold, who plays the cloned man in question, Adam Gibson. He not only gets to play his usual All-American hero (imported from Austria), but he gets to act with his favorite leading man; himself! There are so many split-screens of him acting next to himself that it borders on parody, but it somehow still plays like your everyday action movie, now with DOUBLE the Arnold! It’s one of the many perks Arnold got for appearing in this film, which included a $25 million check and the chance to add a scene where he smokes some cigars on screen, a favorite pastime of his! And not only that, but he gets to dominate the screen without expending too much effort! Michael Rappaport is in here to add some comic relief, Robert Duvall is there a bit to add a modicum of gravitas, and there are some sexy ladies like Sarah Wynter to keep the movie from becoming a sausage-fest, but it is almost 100% Arnold here, and it’s really not as bad as it sounds.

There’s not really a lot to add here. The special effects are good for 2000, but not great. Keep an eye out for the freaky genetically altered dolls throughout the film; they’re pretty impressive, as well as pretty freaky. Director Roger Spottiswoode directs this affair like a commercial, and that’s actually a good thing for a slick sci-fi thriller. And there is a lot to laugh at in this pseudo-serious message movie about man’s imminent fears of cloning. It’s fun, it’s fast, and it’s a product of a bygone age, the last hurrah for big, dumb, spectacular, imaginative action flicks. I enjoyed it as an experience, and although it’s nowhere near the heyday of Arnold’s The Running Man glory, it’s good enough for me to for me to award The 6th Day 5 1/2 XFL leagues out of 10 (and those’ll be worth a lot more in THE FUTURE!)

Tomorrow check in for my Night Out segment, where I’ll watch the new animated feature 9! Until then!