Category: Main Slate

January 25, 2010 / / Main Slate

Arizona Dream – 1993 – dir. Emir Kusturica

“But what’s the point of breathing if somebody already tells you the difference between an apple and a bicycle? If I bite a bicycle and ride an apple, then I’ll know the difference.” That’s one of the first of many philosophical musings from Axel Blackmar, the searching twenty-something protagonist of Emir Kusturica’s willfully strange 1993 film Arizona Dream. It’s a statement that prepares the audience for all that comes next. That is, at least well as the audience can be prepared for all that comes next.

January 22, 2010 / / Main Slate

By Melvin Cartagena                      

The Long Goodbye – 1973 – dir. Robert Altman

“If being in revolt against a corrupt society constitutes being immature, then Philip Marlowe is extremely immature. If seeing dirt where there is dirt constitutes social maladjustment, then Philip Marlowe has inadequate social adjustment. Of course Marlowe is a failure, and he knows it. He is a failure because he hasn’t any money…A lot of very good men have been failures because their particular talents did not suit their particular time and place.” – Raymond Chandler

In the first shot of The Long Goodbye, Marlowe (Elliott Gould) wakes up as if from a deep sleep. In time he demonstrates he is a stranger in a strange land, an intruder from a different time attempting to grok the  free-floating morality of the sprawling city of twenty-four hours supermarkets and Laundromats, and neo-flower children practicing yoga naked, and new-age healers. Marty Augustine (Mark Rydell) punctuates this temporal dislocation in Marlowe when he refers to the gumshoe as Rip Van Marlowe, the victim of a long sleep that has thrust him into a time and place that has no love for a man of ethics, a man who cares. This is more than can be said for the police, who in typical noir-pulp fashion first arrest Marlowe, then grill him relentlessly for three days about Terry Lennox’s (Jim Bouton) escape to Mexico hours after the brutal killing of his wife Sylvia, and finally cut him loose after Terry’s confirmed suicide down in Mexico. One more for the books in the precinct, but this makes no sense to Marlowe, so it’s up the world-weary knight in tarnished armor to set things right in his mind.

January 7, 2010 / / Main Slate

By Mel Cartagena

La Dolce Vita – 1960 – Federico Fellini

The first image we see is a massive statue of Christ being hauled via helicopter over Roman landmarks, to be set atop St. Peter’s Cathedral. On the way there Marcello (Mastroianni) is distracted by a trio of girls sunbathing on the rooftop of a modern apartment building. He makes miming motions to them of writing down their phone numbers, but the noise and confusion get in the way of communications. That night Marcello is on the Via Veneto, scoping out the scandals among the fringe celebrities of Rome, collecting fodder for his gossip column (this is the movie that introduced the world to the word Paparazzo.)

In the opening scenes of what becomes a sprawling visual feast, Fellini shows us the scope and brio of La Dolce Vita. From the highest, holiest towers to the lowest, seediest night clubs, over the course of seven nights and seven dawns, Marcello will scour the heights and depths of Rome for the emotional center he’s missing, and he’ll always come up empty at dawn as a result of communications breakdown.

January 4, 2010 / / Main Slate

The Philadelphia Story – 1940 – dir. George Cukor

There are few movie treasures as evergreen  as The Philadelphia Story, few movie stars as everlasting as the incomparable Katharine Hepburn. Labeled “box office poison” by Hollywood after making a string of nascent hits followed by a string of stinking bombs, Hepburn fled to her native East Coast to lick her wounds and find solace on the stage, namely in Phillip Barry’s play, “The Philadelphia Story” which became a lucky theater penny for everyone involved, Great Kate most of all.

Hepburn had the savvy to buy full film rights to the vehicle, provided she play the lead. She saw the play as her ticket-to-ride back to Planet Stardom, a kingdom she was to rule over for the rest of her life.

December 22, 2009 / / Main Slate

By Peg Aloi

The Fisher King -1991 – dir. Terry Gilliam

Filmmaker Terry Gilliam’s version of the Fisher King legend posits a Manhattan where knights joust in Central Park, a thousand strangers waltz in Grand Central Station, and courtly love lives alongside dementia, decay and death. The ancient tale has been analyzed by scholars like Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, Jessie Weston and Robert Graves, and is a central aspect of the Arthurian legend. The wounded king is Jack (Jeff Bridges), a popular radio talk-show host whose brash, arrogant misanthropy leads indirectly to a mass shooting that claims a number of victims; his ensuing guilt and shattered reputation leave him unemployed and depressed, riddled with guilt and self-loathing. In a scene slyly reminiscent of It’s a Wonderful Life, Jack meets a sort of guardian angel in Perry (Robin Williams, in one of his most enjoyable and eminently watchable screen portrayals). Perry is a former professor of medieval studies, who was personally affected by the shooting and who ends up homeless and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. When the two men cross paths several times, it seems inevitable they will both bring about the other’s rejuvenation, and the roles of wounded king and questing knight are often reversed and overlapped: which of these men is more wounded, and which one is most capable of selfless compassion?

December 16, 2009 / / Main Slate

By Andrew Palmacci

Strange Brew – 1983 – dir. Rick Moranis

When you talk about the wide-ranging genre of movie comedies, there are few sub-genres more extreme in their risibility factor than the screwball comedy. Made most famous by Blake Edwards’ series of Pink Panther films, and with a lineage traceable to Frenchman Jacques Tati’s wacky Mr. Hulot suite of pictures (if not to the silent films of Chaplin and Keaton), the screwball is an oft-overlooked and under-recognized part of the overall comedic film output in current times, though there are definitely examples thereof in today’s cinematic world. Released only a year after the last Pink Panther movie, Trail of the Pink Panther, Strange Brew (1983) could be seen as the filmic missing link between the post-war screwballs of the 50s and 60s, namely Panther, and movies of the ‘90s that were spawned from Saturday Night Live sketches (Chris Farley flics, say) or those of the Farrelly brothers. Itself a product of the Canadian sketch show “SCTV,” Strange Brew benefited from the cross-over appeal of its stars—Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis (the latter’s feature debut)—and its concept: two beer-drinking buffoons who make their way around their Toronto, Ontario, Canada-area locale, punctuating their sentences with numerous eh!’s, following hockey, and feeding their dog, Hosehead, at their parents’ house. And to under-, or over-, score the grandiosity of Thomas’ and Moranis’ vein of humor, the super-title to the movie is The Adventures of Bob and Doug McKenzie.  Oh, and there’s a major Hamlet tie-in as well. Let’s take a closer look.

December 8, 2009 / / Main Slate

By Peggy Nelson

It’s A Wonderful Life – 1946 – dir. Frank Capra

Recognized by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 best American films ever made, It’s a Wonderful Life (dir. Frank Capra, 1946) has been variously described as a heartwarming celebration of family values, an historical appreciation of vanished small-town life, “sentimental hogwash,” an indictment of centralized banking, and a communist manifesto.  It is all of these things.  And yet, it is also something more.

December 8, 2009 / / Main Slate

novdec-julie2By Peg Aloi

Julie & Julia – 2009 – dir. Nora Ephron

Julie & Julia, the popular and well-loved film about a young New Yorker’s attempt to cook her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year, would be far less entrancing if writer-director Nora Ephron had not decided to include a witty and rollicking chronicle of Child’s adventures in Paris and her slow journey towards becoming one of the world’s most recognizable chefs.

November 23, 2009 / / Main Slate

By Peggy Nelson

Casablanca – 1942 – dir. Michael Curtiz

So.  Here you are, Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), a young woman in your twenties, newly hatched and out and about in the world, meeting the usual suspects.  Among them is Victor Laszlo (Paul Heinreid); he’s handsome, passionate, committed to a good cause, the only cause: liberté, égalité, fraternité.  In fact, he’s actually the leader of the resistance!  And single.  And he singles you out.  You cannot believe your luck.  There are many late nights in the café, and then later nights at his apartment.  Your relationship is secret, this is for your protection he says, but that just adds to the aura.  There’s a lot of travel, too; it isn’t safe to stay too long in one place, especially for him.  There seems to be one “it” city every half-century, Paris is currently “it,” and you’ve arrived.

Then the Nazis pick him up.  Then you fall in love.  But not with him.

November 17, 2009 / / Main Slate

The Man Who Came To Dinner – 1942 – dir. William Keighley

We call a film ‘classic’, while sometimes forgetting why and how it came to be labeled that way.  “Oh”, we say, “The Man Who Came To Dinner. A classic movie!!” But why?

In the case of this Epstein Brothers-produced gem, the answer is easy. A super boffo comedy romp, it follows all the rules of how to make a movie that lasts, past time, past fashion: keen direction, faultless dialogue and performances, perfect pacing, plus a theme whose lessons remain timeless.