Saturday, September 25, 2010

Man on Wire

In 1974, Philippe Petit and 5 accomplices snuck into the World Trade Center towers 1 & 2. Under the cover of darkness they strung a cable between the two buildings. After the morning light of dawn arrived Petit began walking on that wire. He proceed to wirewalk, at over 1,300 feet, between the buildings 8 times. Upon returning to the roof of tower 1 he was promptly arrested. This documentary is the story of his life and of the planning, staging and results of this daring adventure.

Film maker James Marsh does a wonderful job of weaving interviews, home movies, recreations and home movies to tell this fascinating tale. The film that Petit and his team took from the top of the towers is worth the price of admission alone. Marsh and editor Jinx Godfrey do a wonderful job of weaving this tale for our benefit. But it is wirewalker Petit that is, of course, the star. He tells the story with a joy that was gained by being free from the Earth as he walked that wire.

Man on Wire won the Oscar for Best Documentary in 2009. Deservedly so! Petit wrote an intriguing book, 'To Reach the Clouds', upon which much of this film is based. If you find the documentary interesting, which I most certainly did, then I suggest you obtain the book as well.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Street Fight

This is a fabulous documentary about the race for Mayor of Newark, New Jersey in 2002. The election pitted City Councilman Cory Booker against the 4 term, incumbent Sharpe James. As this documentary shows, James headed a powerful and corrupt political machine that brought to bear its full weight in an effort to defeat Councilman Booker. It is amazing to see such corruption and election distortion in modern America. At one point the film shows an editorial from a newspaper entitled 'Newark, Zimbabwe'. While I know that all kinds of intimidation and distortion happen in all elections, to see it, on video, happening in New Jersey is quite enraging. I found myself surprised, angry and disappointed that such things still occur. When city workers, on the taxpayer payroll, use city equipment to remove and destroy the Mayor's election opponent's signs and billboards I was quite disturbed. That they did it in front of cameras and in spite of a court order made it enraging.

Film maker Marshall Curry does a fantastic job of removing himself from the documentary. He was threatened, repeatedly, by police and city officials for videotaping the Mayor (in public!). Yet he continued to keep the focus of the film upon Booker, James and the election itself. He was nominated for an Academy Award for this outstanding film. I believe that you too will be amazed, and a little outraged, at the unbelievable lies, corruption and intimidation that occur. One element featured is the black-on-black racism. Mayor James repeatedly attacks Councilman Booker for not being black enough. Although Booker is African-American, he is light-skinned and educated at top universities. This makes his "street credibility" suspect and, therefore, open to attack by the darker-skinned Mayor. Street Fight is one fantastic documentary!

Look for quick cameos by Bill Clinton, Spike Lee, Al Sharpton, Bill Bradley, Chris Christie, Cornell West, Jesse Jackson and other politicians and celebrities as the local election gains steam and national attention.

Filmed in 2002, written, filmed and directed by Marshall Curry.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Murphy's Romance

Murphy's Romance is a wonderful romantic comedy. Sally Field plays Emma Moriarty, a woman that moves, with her adolescent son, to a small town in Arizona. She is looking for a fresh start on life. She rents a horse ranch and attempts to rebuild her life and herself in this most rustic setting. James Garner plays Murphy Jones, the town pharmacist and philosopher. He has a prosperous business and is settled in this small community. While there are many bumps along the way, Emma and Murphy belong together. Can they each overcome their baggage and be together?

This film is charming and sweet without being syrupy. It is written for adults. People who have experienced some of life's successes and failures. Who have loved and, perhaps, lost. The script, written by Harriet Frank and Irving Ravetch, is intelligent and entertaining. I deeply appreciate writers that respect the viewer and who write for film goers who are able to follow a plot.

Director Martin Ritt does a fine job supporting two great actors. Under his direction 13 different actors received Academy Award nominations. Ritt allows the story to unfold and for us to get to know, and like, Emma and Murphy. James Garner received his first Oscar nomination for Murphy's Romance. It is well deserved. Garner does a terrific job. He is attractive and personable, while still seeming reserved. Sally Field's acting is also superb. Her ability to be both a weak and strong woman in the same film is not easy.

This is a terrific date movie. It has strong leads and an interesting story line. Murphy's Romance should bring a sense of romance to any viewer.

Filmed in 1985, directed by Martin Ritt, written by Harriet Frank, Jr. and Irving Ravetch, starring James Garner, Sally Field, Corey Haim and Brian Kerwin. If you are ever in Florence, Arizona, look for the lunch counter. It is located near downtown.

I wrote about my appreciation for James Garner in an earlier blog about 'The Americanization of Emily'. You can read that entry here.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


After watching this fantastic film, again, yesterday, I had to write about it today!

Overwhelming tension builds throughout this intense tale of the Cold War during the 60's. Henry Fonda portrays the President of the United States. He is faced with the very real possibility of the end of life on Earth. Through a series of mistakes, a group of American bombers are sent on a mission to nuke Moscow. Fonda must make immediate decisions on how to save humanity, speaking with the Russian Premier on the "hotline" while the minutes to nuclear annihilation speed by.

The final decisions and actions are monumental. You must watch Fail-Safe to its last gripping minute!

Based on the bestselling novel by Eugene Burdick and Henry Wheeler. Walter Bernstein does a terrific job of transferring the tension from the pages to the big screen. Director Sydney Lumet has the difficult task of creating drama with dialogue. He conquers this task admirably. Lumet also uses lighting and camera work to aid in creating drama.

Henry Fonda does his usual fine job as the President. All the pressure that comes with the job is apparent. Fonda uses not only his voice, but body language and facial expressions for maximum effect. Larry Hagman, of 'I Dream of Jeannie' and 'Dallas' fame, does a wonderful job as the translator. Walter Matthau is featured as a "hawk" pushing the President to "finish the job".

Fail-Safe is a dynamic metaphor for the Cold War. Two nations each intensely afraid of the other. Two sides within each nation arguing over peace vs. war. Most of humanity having no idea how close we came to a nuclear end. Perhaps we don't know how close we are today.

Filmed in 1964, directed by Sydney Lumet, written by Walter Bernstein, starring Henry Fonda, Walter Matthau, Larry Hagman, Fritz Weaver and Dan O'Herlihy.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Ace in the Hole

The 1950s could be called the decade of Billy Wilder. The Polish-born director started the decade with an Oscar for 'Sunset Blvd.' went on to more Oscars and nominations for 'Stalag 17', 'Sabrina', and 'Witness for the Prosecution'. He ended the decade with the film that AFI voted the best comedy ever, 'Some Like it Hot'. In between those revered films, he made wonderful movies like 'The Seven Year Itch' and 'The Spirit of St. Louis'. Few individuals in the history of cinema have had such a decade. As both a director and a writer he created films that were popular upon their release and cherished today. However, one film that he wrote and directed in the 50s was not well received and few have seen it since. Ace in the Hole.

Released after his monumental box-office and critical success 'Sunset Blvd.' this film flopped at the box office and was denigrated by the critics. It did so poorly financially that after his next film, 'Stalag 17', made millions for the studio his profits were docked for the failure of Ace in the Hole. But I believe that the critics and movie-goers missed one of his best films. Kirk Douglas stars as a down-on-his-luck reported that is stranded in New Mexico with car troubles. He begs the local paper for a job. After languishing there for a year he stumbles upon the story of a lifetime. A local man is trapped in a cave-in in a small, tourist-attraction of a mine. Douglas immediately sees the potential for his return to big time news reporting and begins to manipulate everyone around the story. From the trapped miner, to his family, to the sheriff and on to the national press, everyone is taking their cue from Douglas.

Ace in the Hole is a cynical look at the power of the media. Today, we are aware that much of the press/media has their own agendas. And profit is often at the top of the agenda. Those agendas control/distort they way they tell each story that they cover. In 1951 that was not common knowledge. People thought they could trust the newspapers, radio stations and tv to provide them with information without bias. Wilder's exposing of that manipulation of the public was not well received. Moviegoers did not want to see Kirk Douglas as the mastermind of a massive deception. And they did not want to believe that their beloved information sources could be so corrupt.

This movie is dark and cynical. But it also tells a fascinating story. In many ways it reminds me of another fantastic film 'Network'. This film's message is more subtle, but it is just as powerful a look at the power of the press and its ability to manipulate our society. I highly recommend obtaining a copy of this terrific film ASAP.

Filmed in 1951, directed by Billy Wilder, written by Wilder, Lesser Samuels and Walter Newman, starring Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling, Lewis Martin and Porter Hall. This film was initially released under the title 'The Big Carnival'. In that version the studio made many changes. Please obtain the proper Ace in the Hole version as Billy Wilder intended it to be seen.

Many of the films referenced above have been looked at, in-depth, in other articles of mine. Here are links to those articles:

Stalag 17
Witness for the Prosecution
Some Like it Hot

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mrs. Miniver

This is a moving drama about the trials and tribulations of a British family faced with the onset of World War II. Greer Garson, in the title role, portrays a strong woman who leads her family through a most difficult time. She won, and deserved, the Academy Award for her perfect performance. This film won 5 other Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director. This is a touching film that will tug at your heart, but, thankfully, it lacks the syrup of so many films that attempt to be moving. Mrs. Miniver feels honest. Because of that honesty the viewer can't help but be emotionally tied into the events portrayed.

This film receives a lot of credit for helping to move American attitudes towards supporting the British people. It was released in 1942 just as America was joining the war. The U.S. had been a country that was torn about becoming involved in another "foreign war". America had been attacked by the Japanese, but our national emotions were greatly moved towards supporting the individuals living under attack in England by this tale of strength and heroism under fire.

Filmed in 1942, directed by William Wyler, written by Arthur Wimperis, George Froeschel, James Hilton and Claudine West, starring Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, Dame May Whitty, Teresa Wright and Reginald Owen.