( Apologies for the break in the Brian De Palma blogathon, as I had to travel. Now again publishing this review on Dressed to Kill by Gill Jacob at Real Weegie Midget.
In her own words, Gill is an expat Scottish Gal, living in Finland, and blogs on Movie, TV and books. She reviews De Palma’s polarizing movie Dressed To Kill, a movie that has people either loving it or hating it)
Reading through De Palma’s filmography, I’d only seen as few of his films namely the horror Carrie (1976) – the original film – the first Mission Impossible film (1996) and Snake Eyes (1998), with Nicholas Cage. So wanting to see more of De Palma’s work, and a huge Michael Caine fan, I leapt on the chance of watching another of his 1980s movies – my favourite Michael Caine film time period – Dress to Kill (1980) for this Blogathon. So for the first time, I watched this thriller, which on its release was controversial due to the transsexual and mental health story line. Feminists claimed it was misogynistic indirectly promoting the film. It was both written and directed by De Palma. IMdb reports this the story line was based on De Palma’s early “film career” when he was asked to follow his father with recording equipment as his mother suspected he was cheating on her. De Palma appears to have used this experience and adding a female lead, played by his then wife.
To read the full review, click here https://weegiemidget.wordpress.com/2016/09/12/dressed-to-kill/
(The Brian De Palma blogathon kicks off with one of my all time favorites, The Untouchables, which was also my first Brian De Palma movie. I had posted this earlier here too at Cinema View Finder )
1988 – I was watching the Academy Awards ceremony on TV. The nominees for the Best Supporting Actor were being announced, and one of them was an actor who, to date, still happens to be my favorite Bond, Sean Connery. He was slightly older, with a salt and pepper beard, but still looking dashing enough. And then they showed the clip where he utters that dialogue,
You wanna get Capone? Here’s how you get him. He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue! That’s the Chicago way, and that’s how you get Capone!
The way Connery recited the dialogue, his expressions, his movements, were just totally seeti maar (a crowd-pleaser). I was not surprised when Connery won the award. Normally, I would give Oscar nominated flicks a big miss. Until then most of my Hollywood movie viewing was restricted to the big budget blockbusters and the slam-bang stuff. But this single clip just whetted my appetite. I had to see this movie. And when some of the movie magazines praised this as one of the best English language movies of the time, I was much more eager to see it. In the days before DVD, online movies, YouTube, and before HBO, the only way one could see a new English language flick, was to get hold of a videocassette. So we scoured the video shops, me and my cousin, drawing a blank that only increased our
1989 – Sangeet theater, Secunderabad, the watering hole for all the English language movie lovers of the twin cities. Our long wait had come to an end. I stepped into the theater along with my cousin, another movie fanatic like me. The screen went dark, and first came the Paramount logo, then the titles “A Brian De Palma Film”, and then the cast names. As each name appeared on the screen, the background was mostly dark. We just saw shadows that would lengthen, letters coming into focus, and then on the screen, The Untouchables in huge letters, a dark and yellow background, and the shadows sprawling across. Simple, minimal and yet so effective. One of the best opening credits ever, and add to it Ennio Morricone’s memorable opening theme. Then the movie unfolded. Robert De Niro’s introduction with the camera zooming in from the top, as he lies on the bed, having a shave, speaking to the media; Sean Connery and Kevin Costner meeting on the bridge; the encounter between Sean Connery and Andy Garcia; and of course the, by now, legendary “Odessa Steps”-inspired shootout scene in Chicago’s Union Station; and then the ending; we were totally hooked. I was now totally into the movie, and I saw it again and again, borrowing money, sometimes sitting even in the lowest class, which then cost a princely sum of Rs 5. I was not just hooked, I was mesmerized.
Even for a die hard English language movie fan like me, The Untouchables (1987) was a totally different experience altogether. It was not just the “Odessa Steps” setpiece, but so many other scenes; the dialogue; the tense confrontations; the way Prohibition Era Chicago was recreated; Ennio Morricone’s memorable score; the performances… everything. This started my fascination with Brian De Palma, and in Scarface (1983), it continued. I was not too impressed by Scarface when I saw it the first time. The staccato bursts of dialogue; the jerky camera movements; the not too likeable characters just put me off, and add to it a cartoonish climax, better suited to a Mithun Da or Rajnikanth (over the top) movie, where the hero goes single-handedly against a group of baddies. However, subsequent viewings have just made me fall in love with it, and to date, it remains one of my favorite films. Then followed a host of other flicks: Carlito’s Way (1993); Mission Impossible (1996); Body Double (1984); Carrie (1976); Dressed to Kill (1980); Blow Out (1981); and Snake Eyes (1998), that just deepened my fascination for him. What I discovered was a world of violent, gory, crazy, twisted characters; people who are not what they seem to be; camera angles that made me dizzy at times. It was not a feel good world, nor were any of his characters particularly likeable, but there was something fascinating about that. For me, De Palma’s movies are generally the inverse of Tim Burton’s dark, gothic tales. Burton creates a crazy, gothic atmosphere, populates it with strange characters, and then drives home the point that beyond that creepy looking weirdo is actually a nice, ordinary person. De Palma takes seemingly normal characters, in totally mundane places, and then takes us inside the person to show that inside him/her lies a dangerous secret. Burton takes the beast and tries to explore the human being in him. De Palma explores the beast within a human being.
It is quite ironic that my first De Palma film was quite different from most of his other movies I had seen. Sure, The Untouchables had a lot of gore, but nothing remotely close to the chainsaw murder in Scarface or the power-drill murder scene in Body Double. But what really strikes me about The Untouchables is the characterization. In sharp contrast to most of his other films, where characters are either cranked out, or inhabit a grey world between the black and white, The Untouchables has a clear cut division between black and white. In fact, The Untouchables is more of a throwback to Hollywood’s classic era movies, from its black-and-white characters, to the epic style of movie making, to Morricone’s thunderous music, to the panoramic shots. Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner) is the whitest of the lot, nothing seems to be wrong about him. He is an arrow-straight, honest cop; a loving husband; a doting Dad; a total family man; in total… the noble, idealistic hero. On the other extreme is Al Capone (Robert De Niro): the bad guy; the gangster who literally owns Chicago city; who has no qualms about breaking people’s heads with a baseball bat; totally ruthless and powerful. And in between there is Jimmy Malone (Sean Connery), an Irish cop, who believes that going by the book is not going to help in the fight against Capone; someone who becomes Ness’s friend, philosopher, guide, and mentor; who teaches him how to fight crime ”Chicago style”. Add rookie sharpshooter George Stone (Andy Garcia); nerdy bookkeeper Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith); and a whole host of other stereotypes… the corrupt cops; the inquisitive journalist; the vicious hit man, Frank Nitti (Billy Drago). Trust De Palma to make a classic out of a movie that is totally black-and-white in terms of characterization, and which is predictable more often than not. Even now, I don’t care if Connery’s accent is really Scottish or Irish. I just love watching him deliver that ”crime-fighting Chicago style” quote, or that kickass movement when he pretends to interrogate a dead gangster and gets the other gangster to speak up. The brilliance of De Palma’s shot setups for me begins right with the opening shot of Al Capone itself. The camera zooming in to Capone, lying on his couch taking a shave as the media persons surround him shooting questions at him.
And as Capone is speaking to the press persons, the barber accidentally nicks him. The man is terrified, afraid of facing the wrath of Chicago’s most powerful person, and begins to cower. For a minute the tension level rises up, and Capone just smirks, the barber is relieved. That one bit speaks a whole lot for the way Capone was able to wield power over so many people. Another brilliant moment is the first encounter between Malone and George Stone. The fact that Stone was really an Italian, Guiseppe Petri, and had to change his name to avoid discrimination highlights the anti-Italian bias as well as the traditional Italian-Irish animosity. Here again, I loved the way Andy Garcia was introduced, people at the shooting range, Garcia’s back to the camera. Suddenly he whirls around, bang, bang, bang, totally classic film style. Then the face off:
Malone: Why do you want to join the force? Stone: To protect the property and citizenry of… Malone: Ah, don’t waste my time with that bullshit. Where you from, Stone? Stone: I’m from the South Side. Malone: Stone. George Stone. That’s your name? What’s your real name? Stone: That is my real name. Malone: Nah. What was it before you changed it? Stone: Giuseppe Petri. Malone: Ah, I knew it. That’s all you need, one thieving wop on the team. Stone: Hey, what’s that you say? Malone: I said that you’re a lying member of a no good race. Stone: Much better than you, you stinking Irish pig. Malone: Oh, I like him.
I also loved the way De Palma sets up Malone’s death scene. The camera tracking the intruder, Malone’s back to us, when he suddenly wheels around, mocking the intruder for taking a knife to attack him, and as he comes a waiting Nitti lets out a stream of bullets. Finally, there’s the iconic shoot out scene. Again, here the setup is brilliant: Ness and Stone wait in the station looking for the gangsters. The air is thick with tension and the station is largely deserted, except for a few people. The camera zooms in onto the stairs, and then a lady wheels down the steps with her baby in a pram. Ness offers to help, and as he guides the pram down the stairs, the tension goes up further. The gangsters come in and the firing begins, shots intercutting between the pram rolling down the stairs, close-ups of the mom screaming out, and the gangsters and cops firing at each other, all in slow motion. And then the final coup de grâce, Stone, sliding to stop the pram, and throwing the revolver to Ness. Gosh, even now, a good 20 years after the movie has been released, this scene just hooks me. I mean no amount of CGI-induced stuff can hold a candle to this scene for me, one of the most brilliantly shot ever. Interestingly, for a director whose movies are often women-centric or have strong female characters, The Untouchables has no prominent female characters at all.
Also the movie is totally devoid of sex, again a surprising departure for De Palma, considering that most of his early movies were noted for their voyeurism and erotic scenes (most notably the steamy dream sequence in Dressed to Kill). It is as if De Palma was trying to prove that he could make studio friendly blockbusters too, after Scarface was roundly trashed by critics and criticized by many family audiences for its high level of violence. De Palma’s career itself is interesting. One of the 70s directorial brat pack, along with Spielberg, Coppola, Scorsese, and Lucas, he followed his own path. He was not a studio favorite as, barring Carrie, most of his other movies were not exactly huge money spinners. But what really hurt him more was the fact that unlike Scorsese or Coppola, he was never a critics’ darling either. He was quite often dismissed as a style-over-substance specialist, or a second-rate Hitchcock, and the critical bashing reached a peak with Scarface. The fact is, most of the time, critics would benchmark his movies with others in the genre, and quite often than not it would never satisfy their expectations. Many expected Scarface to be a Cuban Godfather, but it ended up something different, totally contrary to the gangster genre. It did not really go by the conventions of what critics expected from a gangster flick. But honestly does Brian De Palma really care for critical applause? I really don’t think so. This is a man who is so passionately in love with his craft, his movies, that quite often he really does not care. Nor has he ever gone down the “Dude, where is my Oscar?” path, unlike some other directors who started off with quirky indie stuff, and then quickly turned to more studio friendly, Academy-friendly stuff. Quite often he has mocked studios and critics, showing the middle finger to them, making movies the way he loves to. But then with The Untouchables, he has shown that he could make a stylish, studio friendly, gangster epic, that still is miles ahead of the standard summer blockbuster. And it’s quite fitting that he should be an admitted influence to another rebel, Quentin Tarantino. I don’t want to get into cliche territory here, calling De Palma a genius or a maverick, this series of posts is rather my take on his work, and his movies. There is still a whole lot of Brian De Palma for me to explore: his early movies with De Niro (Greetings, Hi Mom); his pre-Carrie work (Sisters, Obsession, The Fury); and Phantom of the Paradise (1974), one of his more acclaimed movies. And I sure hope I get to watch them, sometime or other.
Very few directors have been as polarizing as Brian De Palma is, you either end up hating him totally, or adoring him. It does not help that his output has been truly inconsistent, great movies, followed by equally dud movies. Maybe this is the reason, why among the movie brats of the 70s he is not as highly regarded as a Scorsese or Copolla, nor has been as popular as a Spielberg. But personally, he remains among my favorite directors. He is one of the best when it comes to shooting action sequences, be it the Odessa steps one in The Untouchables, the pool room shootout in Carlito’s Way or the ending of Scarface.
One thing for sure, subtlety is never the strong point of Brian De Palma, his movies are right in your face, often over the top, absolutely gory. But they crackle with a sort of raw energy and intensity, that keeps you hooked. And this is one director, who has made great movies across all genres, horror( Carrie), gangster( Untouchables, Carlito’s Way, Scarface), war ( Casualties of War), thriller( Blow Out). So after a long time, doing a blogathon in tribute to Brian De Palma. It would start from September 11( his birthday) to September 21st. You could contribute to the blogathon, with posts on his movies, or his directorial style, anything related to him. And yes if you are having your own movie blog, please do promote using one of the pictures below.
And yes feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in being part.
Wes Craven, the name often brings back, many memories on screen, not necessarily pleasant. It would be easy to dismiss as homes as mere gore and sex fests, but at a deeper look, he explores our own fears, our own insecurities. The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, played upon the eternal theme of civilization vs barbarism. Last House on The Left, was on what happens in you stray away, basically a kind of morality drama, where the 2 young girls who seek to have some fun on the side, have the most horrifying experience ever. Hills Have Eyes, was on a common fear, what if we are stranded in the middle of nowhere and have to face the barbarians there. One more common feature, when it comes to survival, the “civilized” are as barbaric as their enemy, be it the girl’s parents in Last House on The Left or the family in Hills have Eyes. Craven’s horror works because it plays on the viewer’s insecurity, both Last House… and Hills Have Eyes are scary, because they could actually happen to you. And this is what comes out in his iconic movie Nightmare on Elm Street, where he takes the phrase “worst nightmares come true” to a literal level. Freddy Krueger would be one of the most iconic horror movie characters in history. And Scream, literally mocked Hollywood’s various horror movie cliches.
Wes Craven is no more, passed away on Aug 30, but has left behind a great legacy in the horror movie genre. In tribute to him, organizing a blogathon, starting from Sept 15 tentatively. Like most other blogathons that have been conducted here, any articles on Wes Craven, his movies, interviews will be accepted.
You can use these images for promoting at your blog.
Just send the link to your article to my email address email@example.com
It is, I think, an indisputable fact that Americans are, as Americans, the most self-conscious people in the world, and the most addicted to the belief that the other nations of the earth are in a conspiracy to under value them.-Henry James
Disgusting three-ring circus…Johnny’s up for re-election in November. You’ve got it all figured it out, haven’t you? Johnny Iselin’s Boy, Medal of Honor winner. That should get you one of the fifty thousand votes.
Allow me to introduce our American visitors. I must ask you to forgive their somewhat lackadaisical manners, but I have conditioned them – or brain-washed them, which I understand is the new American word. They believe that they are waiting out a storm in the lobby of a small hotel in New Jersey where a meeting of the ladies’ garden club is in progress.
Do you realize, Comrade, the implications of the weapon that has been placed at your disposal?…A normally-conditioned American, who has been trained to kill and then to have no memory of having killed. Without memory of his deed, he cannot possibly feel guilt. Nobody, of course, has any reason to fear being caught. Having been relieved of those uniquely American symptoms, guilt and fear, he cannot possibly give himself away. Ah, now Raymond will remain an outwardly-normal, productive, sober, and respected member of the community. And I should say, if properly used, entirely police-proof.
John Frankenheimer, remains one of those directors, who often remains an enigma. At one time, touted as the next Orson Welles, the later part of his career, stumbled from disaster to disaster, before he redeemed himself somewhat with the 90’s thriller Ronin. Yet this man made some of the best ever Cold War thrillers, The Manchurian Candidate, about an American citizen, brainwashed by Chinese to assasinate the President, and 7 Days in May, about an extreme right wing plot to overthrow the US President. In fact some of his best output came during the Cold War era, with a series of gritty, tightly scripted thrillers. He also proved he was equally adept at the War genre, with his WWII drama, the Train, and the gritty crime drama, French Connection II. Beyond thrillers and crime, he proved he was equally good at human drama, with his tale of redemption, Birdman of Alcatraz. Technically he was a genius, check out the tracking shots and amazing camera work in the Train, or the breathless car chase scenes in Ronin.
In tribute to a director, who has really not got his due, will be hosting a blogathon from February 19- March 1. You could contribute with either reviews of his movies, or other aspects too like his collaboration with Burt Lancaster or any other aspects of his movies. And yes please do promote with one of the promo pics below.
We have also hosted blogathons earlier on Mike Nichols, Oliver Stone, Ridley Scott, Tony Scott, Michael Mann, Sydney Pollack, Howard Hawks, Roman Polanski and Steven Soderbergh, which you can check out.
It’s easy to take off your clothes and have sex. People do it all the time. But opening up your soul to someone, letting them into your spirit, thoughts, fears, future, hopes, dreams… that is being naked.- Rob Bell.
Spoiler Alert: Some key scenes are discussed in the post, readers please note.
In 1790, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote a two act opera in Italian called Cossi Fan Tute( Thus do they All), which was performed at Vienna. The plot of Mozart’s opera, centres around two couples where the guys accept a bet to prove that their respective fiancées are eternally faithful. In order to carry out, the guys will pretend to be in disguise and try seducing each other’s lover. And that sets off a series of betrayals, indiscretions, that throw the lives of the 4 characters into complete chaos and a free fall. There have been latter attempts too at exploring the intricacies in relationships between two couples, Noel Coward’s Private Lives, Harold Pinter’s Betrayal and Pierre De Laclos Les Liaisons dangereuses( Dangerous Liasions). The basic thread is the same, of two couples, where the partners are trying to cheat on each other, with or without their knowledge and the consequences that follow. Mike Nichols 2004 movie Closer, was based on Patrick Marber’s play of the same name, and while it had the same theme, of 2 couples and their partners cheating on each other, the treatment was much more contemporary and much more raw. The language is more profane, and the story in a way mocks the Internet relationships, which is pretty much a 21st century phenomenon. Mike Nichols had earlier explored the theme of 2 couples on a cross collision course, in his 1966 debut movie, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, where a young couple gets drawn into the stormy married life of a middle aged couple, and finds that their own marital life is under threat now. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, was itself considered too bold, and shocking for it’s times, with the profane dialogue and the sexual implications present at every stage in the story. Closer is about two couples here- an aspiring novelist Dan Woolf( Jude Law) and a young American stripper Alice Ayres( Natalie Portman), a photographer Anna Cameron( Julia Roberts) and a dermatologist Larry Gray( Clive Owen).
In an opening scene, that mocks at most of the staple romantic comedy clichés, Dan meets with Alice, on a busy London street, when the latter has an accident. Both the actors walking in slow motion, and Damien Rice’s The Blower’s Daughter playing in the background. It seems a scene straight out of any standard rom com, with Jude Law, looking wistfully at Natalie Portman, in a red wig, looking utterly waifish. And soon, Portman,looking all dreamy eyed, hit by a bus, falls on the road, Law rushes in to help her up.Portman looks back with a mix of innocence and coquetteishness , and in that sweet tone of hers calls out “Hello Stranger”. One of the best opening scenes ever. The following scene in the hospital, sets up the two characters well, Dan is an aspiring writer, but now consigned to writing obituaries in news papers, what he calls the “Siberia of Journalism”. And Alice tells that she is a stripper, but proves to be quite an alluring character, sweet and innocent, but curious, with a hint of mischief, under that sweet face. The opening scenes, hint at a picture of a perfect romance between Dan and Alice, as they walk around London, taking in the sights, cuddle together on bed and kiss. It just seems all so perfect, but it’s sure, there is some trouble lurking around the corner. And it arrives in the form of Anna, an American photographer, who comes to take a picture of Dan, who now is planning to launch his book, based on Alice’s life. By now Dan is in a full fledged relationship with Alice, but still does not prevent him from flirting with Anna, and they have a passionate kiss together, another well shot scene. Dan seems to want to have his cake and eat it too, he is attracted towards Anna, but at the same time, does not want to let go of Alice, whom he claims is completely lovable and unleavable.
Extraordinary thing, the internet. Possibility of genuine global communication, the first great democratic medium. -Anna
The Internet, if there was one term to define the 21st century, it would be the “Age of the Net”. Yes the first great democratic medium, that bought knowledge to the common people, and turned relationships upside down. On the Internet, you could be yourself, and you could still not be yourself. The Net was a medium, where you could be what you wanted to be, instead of what you are. You could get into an anonymous chat room, and be a stud, carrying on with 5-6 females at a time, never mind if in real life, you were nowhere close to it. Or like Dan, transform yourself into the opposite gender, and indulge in hot cybersex with the others. Which is what he does with Larry, a dermatologist, whose instincts and approach towards the opposite sex are pretty much caveman level. Larry actually believes that Dan, whom he meets in an anonymous cybersex chat room is actually a female, and when the latter asks him to meet in real, he accepts it. Nor is there any finesse in his approach with Anna, who also comes to the same place,it’s crude, he does not even bother to check with her, if she is the same person with whom he had cybersexed.
It’s a lie. It’s a bunch of sad strangers photographed beautifully, and all the glittering assholes who appreciate art say it’s beautiful ’cause that’s what they want to see. But the people in the photos are sad, and alone, but the pictures make the world seem beautiful. So the exhibition’s reassuring, which makes it a lie, and everyone loves a big fat lie.- Alice
One of Closer’s best scenes, is when the 2 couples are together, at a photo exhibition organized by Anna, on Alice. We have Alice talking to Larry, Anna taking with Dan, and the camera keeps switching back and forth, capturing the interactions between the two characters. Dan once again is pursuing Anna, he can’t get it how she has fallen for a dermatologist, as he says “can you get more boring than that”. Larry on the other hand, is quite content in his relationship with Anna, he takes pride in the fact that she is even amused by his nasty habits. Or maybe the fact that it’s the flush of the first 4 months when everything seems hunky dory. He is deeply in love with Anna, as he puts it “You are a woman”, while Alice is just a girl. It is this that makes Alice remind him “You seem more like the cat that got the cream. Stop licking yourself.”.
Oh, as if you had no choice? There’s a moment, there’s always a moment, “I can do this, I can give in to this, or I can resist it.” And I don’t know when your moment was, but I bet you there was one. I’m gone.- Alice.
Closer is Mike Nichols most dark movie, next to Who is Afraid of Viriginia Woolf? I would say. It is brutally honest, cold and cynical, sparing no punches in it’s take on modern day relationships. In a sense it is the anti date movie, that mocks at all those romantic cliches of eternal love you have been fed with. Dan is in a relationship with Alice, yet he has no qualms cheating on her, with Anna, who herself is married to Larry. Yet he can’t seem to give up on Alice, he really does not have a convincing explanation about what made him fall for Anna, when he does not seem to have any issues with her. He wants Anna, at the same he is jealous if Alice finds some one else. He loves Alice, does not want to hurt her, but at the same time he himself claims he is selfish, he feels he would be happier with Anna. At that very moment, the word “love” seems to be shallow, it just seems a matter of convenience to be used as and when needed. All that talk of eternal love, being there for another just goes straight out of the window, as we see Dan seeing love in an opportunist sense.
Don’t say it. Don’t you fucking say “You’re too good for me.” I am, but don’t say it. You’re making the mistake of your life. You’re leaving me because you believe that you don’t deserve happiness, but you do, Anna.- Larry
For a movie that explores the issue of partners cheating on their significant others, Closer does not really have any explicit scenes of nudity or sex. The sexual tension here though is more from the dialogue and the characters motivations. Take the scene, where Larry confronts Anna, over her cheating on him with Dan. It is completely dialogue oriented, yet you feel the rawness, the sexual tension, just from the words and the actions. As Larry demands Anna, to let her know what happened between her and Dan, you feel that sense of unease, the tension somewhere in the air. Larry is the other end of what Dan is, more brusque, more rough and yes quite possesive of Anna too. The very thought of Anna sleeping around with Dan, gets Larry all heated up, yet he still wants to know the graphic details of the sex they had. As he puts it to Anna “I am a fucking caveman”.
Closer is not a movie you would go out on a date with, it’s too honest a look at what we call love and relationships. It is like watching your own relationship in a mirror, with all that facade of true love, stripped away. What you get to see from Mike Nichols is a brutally honest, no holds barred portrait, and that is not a pretty picture to look at. There were many who hated Closer, as they felt it was just too cold and cynical. But that was what the movie was intended to be, to shock and awe,albeit in a more subtle manner. You see both the relationships, hurtling down a path of no return, and that makes you examine your own. When you say “I love you”, do you really mean it, or is it just an opportunist turn of phrase you are using to satisfy your lust. You hate Closer, because you know like Dan or Anna, you have used love for your own opportunistic ends. You hate Closer, because you know like Larry under all that educated, refined exterior, you are still a caveman. You hate Closer, because you find that some one like Anna, for all her waif like exterior, is actually the most sensible and level headed of the lot. Closer puts the mirror straight in your face, makes you have a re look at your own relationships, insecurities, and how shallow the concept of love is.
The movie is also helped by some splendid performances. Jude Law is first rate as usual, as Dan, who uses love for his own selfish ends. Not too big a fan of Julia Roberts, but she was pretty good as the cold and calculating Anna. Clive Owen, exudes the natural caveman like appeal and raw passion of Larry quite well, especially in the scene where he confronts Ms.Roberts. And Natalie Portman, packs in the right mix of innocence, coquettishness, impishness, with a lingering sexuality, in the right measure as Alice.
Charles Nesbitt “Charlie” Wilson (June 1, 1933 – February 10, 2010) was a United States naval officer and former 12-term Democratic United States Representative from Texas’s 2nd congressional district. Wilson is best known for leading Congress into supporting Operation Cyclone, the largest-ever Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) covert operation which, under the Carter and Reagan administration, supplied military equipment including anti-aircraft weapons such as Stinger antiaircraft missiles and paramilitary officers from their Special Activities Division to the Afghan Mujahideen during the Soviet war in Afghanistan. – From Wikipedia.
(Spoiler Alert: Some key scenes are discussed in this post, readers please note).
In the 80’s, George Crile III, the CBS journalist, began to uncover details of Operation Cyclone, while researching and reporting on the war in Afghanistan. The astounding details on Operation Cyclone, began to come out and in 2003,Crile published his findings in a book, Charlie Wilson’s War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History. This book would be the basis for the 2007 movie, Charlie Wilson’s War, written by Aaron Sorkin, directed by Mike Nichols and starring Tom Hanks as the titular Charlie Wilson.
The movie starts off showing Senator Charlie Wilson( Tom Hanks), frolicking around in the bath tub, with a bunch of other females, one of them an aspiring starlet Crystal Lee( Judy Taylor), her agent, where the talk is about her role for a TV show. In the opening scene itself it is clear that Charlie is hardly interested in legislating or governance. Coming from Lufkin, Texas, a town where people, just wanted to have their guns, and be left alone, Charlie has plenty of time on his hands to frolic around, with nubile young females, partying, sniffing coke. He has staffed his office with pretty young women, and his reason “You can teach them to type,but you can’t teach them to grow tits”. That is what Charlie was an easy going Senator, enjoying the good life, the women, the parties. I believe that the real Charlie Wilson was even more wilder, when it came to drugs and sex. It was quite interesting watching Hollywood’s Mr.Nice Guy Tom Hanks, play the role of a sleazepot, and he does it quite well. One interesting part, is when Charlie is frolicking with Crystal and a couple of other strippers in the bath tub, at a hotel in Las Vegas, the camera keeps cutting to a TV show, where Dan Rather, is speaking about the crisis in Afghanistan, and how if the US does not act, it could end up being another communist state. In a way a rather nice setup to Charlie’s character later on in the movie.
Charlie for the most part is having a good time, enjoying with the female staff in his office, who seem to love him for all his sexist attitudes( or maybe it is the bad boy persona). I did hear that Charlie Wilson’s female staff were fanatically devoted to him in real, often nicknamed Charlie’s Angels. And yes, listening to one of his constituent’s appeal for setting up a Nativity crche, at a fire station in Texas, his life is pretty easy. Until he runs into Joanna Herring( Julia Roberts, doing the icy blonde act), a rich born again Christian Texan socialite, and is the Honorary Consul to Pakistan. Herring sleeps around with Charlie when needed, disdainfully calls his female employees as sluts, and she is the one who impresses him on the need to supply asssistance to Afghanistan.
I’ve been with the company for 24 years. I was posted in Greece for 15. Papandreou wins that election if I don’t help the junta take him prisoner. I’ve advised and armed the Hellenic army.I’ve neutralized champions of Communism.I’ve spent the past three years learning Finnish! Which should come in handy here in Virginia! And I’m never, ever, sick at sea.So I want to know why I’m not gonna be your Helsinki station chief– Gust Avrakotos
And this is where the most vital character in the movie comes into the picture, Gust Avrakotos( Philip Seymour Hoffman, in one of his best performances ever). Gust is a maverick CIA agent, passionately dedicated to his job, some one who lives and breathes it 24/7. He has no patience for the file pushers, is outspoken to a fault and cares for no one. Aaron Sorkin’s strength is in the way he introduces his characters, sets up their motivations, and the interpersonal exchanges between them. Recall Jack Nicholson’s introduction scene in A Few Good Men, where he makes it clear to Tom Cruise who the boss is. And that is the main strength of Charlie Wilson’s War, the character set up, and the exchanges between Charlie and Gust. This is one of the best introduction scenes ever, where Gust has a showdown with his superior, goes around and smashes the glass window, in one of the movie’s best scenes ever. Gust in a way sums up the typical, on the ground CIA agent, who has been hands on, and has no patience for the sanctimonious file pushers.
So give an interesting premise, characters and set up, does Charlie Wilson’s War live up to the expectations? Yes and No.
Mike Nichol’s strength is the way he develops his characters, and the interpersonal relationships between them. He is not much of a visual stylist like David Fincher, Ridley Scott or Mann, his forte is characters in a suburbia or an urban world, and their interactions. Nichols works best on that level, be it Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? or Graduate or Postcards From the Edge. And that is the major strength of Charlie Wilson’s War, the interactions between Charlie and Joanna, Charlie and Gust, as they begin their mission to arm the radicals or what they call the “ultra-right” in Afghanistan, who are fighting a losing war with the Soviets. The scenes where Joanna convince, Charlie of the need for US intervention in Afghanistan are well played out. She for sure is an interesting character, rich Texan socialite, ex TV show hostess, ex beauty queen, who is now the Honorary Consul to Pakistan. In her own words other than boycotting the Olympics, which was a fairly impotent response, the US Govt was hardly doing anything to prevent Afghanistan from going under the Soviet Radar.
If this were a real war,State would issue a white paperoutlining the Communist threatthe way they did in El Salvador.
If this were a real war,there’d be a National Bipartisan Commission on Afghanistan, headed by Henry Kissinger
the way they did in Central America.
If this were a real war, Congress would authorize $24 million for covert operations the way you did in Nicaragua.
The feeling is that the US was not really considering Afghanistan a threat, the way it did with some other countries during the Cold War. And that is where Joanne impresses upon Charlie the need for arming the rebels, saving Afghanistan, defeating the Russians and even ending the Cold War perhaps. Interestingly that did turn out to be prophetic, the Soviet defeat there, was one of the factors in hastening the end of the empire. Only that reality hits Charlie in the face, when he visits Gen Zia in Pakistan( Om Puri in a neat little cameo), who complains about the inadequate funds, the equipment and the fact that he does not really trust them. As he says “You sell us planes, but not the radar,You offer Afghans rifles from WWI against Soviet helicopters”. In a rather moving scene, Charlie visits the refugee camps, and the plight of the people there moves him. Again this scene is shot quite poignantly, showcasing Charlie’s transformation, who is now fully convinced that the US needs to act fast in Afghanistan to prevent it from slipping permanently into Soviet hands.
Charlie-Were you listening at the door?
Gust- I wasn’t listening at the door.
Charlie- Were you standing – at the goddamn door listening to me?
Gust – No.
Charlie-How could you even… That’s a thick door!
You stood there and you listened to me?
Gust-I wasn’t standing at the door.
Don’t be an idiot.
Gust – I bugged the Scotch bottle.
Yeah, it’s got a little transmitter on it.
Another great scene is the first meeting between Charlie and Gust, when the former calls him to his office. Gust has an enclyopediac knowledge about the officials around, and as they discuss, Charlie asks him to leave the room for a moment, when his faithful aide Bonnie( Amy Adams, pretty much under utilized) drops in. Charlie comes to know that Paul Brown, the guy whom he had been hanging out in the bathtub in the first scene, is now wanted for a fraud. And he also comes to know that he is under investigation for alleged cocaine use, and hobnobbing with Paul Brown and the starlet Crystal. The best part is when Gust comes back into the room, and then reveals his indiscretions. Charlie is shocked, and wonders if Gust was eavesdropping. And then Gust cooly reveals to Charlie, that his Scotch bottle is actually bugged, this was satire at it’s best. Tom Hanks and Paul Seymour Hoffman are both at their best in this scene.
The Soviets didn’t come into Afghanistan on a Eurail Pass. They came in T-55 tanks.The fighters need RPG-7 anti-tank grenade launchers, Katyusha 107mm rockets, wire mines, plastic mines, bicycle bombs, sniper rifles, ammunition for all the above and frequency-hopping radios and burst transmitters so these guys aren’t so fucking easy to find-Mike
Another interesting scene, is where Gust takes Charlie to a place where a bunch of youngsters are playing chess. He calls one of the nerdy looking kids there. And then to Charlie’s utter disbelief , it is revealed that he is actually the Weapon’s expert for CIA. Charlie feels is he being taken for a ride, here, I mean how could this nerdy looking chess player know anything about strategic ops and wars. And then the nerdy kid, Mike, explains the need for RPG-7 anti-tank grenade launchers. And here again, the need to make sure that these weapons come from Israel and Egypt, an American made weapon would have escalated into a full scale war.
Charlie Wilson’s War works best in the entire lead to the mission, the planning, the strategies used, the discussions on the weapons. The way CIA makes use of seemingly normal people like Mike for undercover operations, is well shown, as are the ego clashes between various officials. Also to Nichols and Sorkin’s credit, they don’t turn Charlie’s transformation from a rake, to a man who headed one of the largest covert ops in history, into something too sentimental. Yeah the scene at the refugee camp, is a bit Hollywoodish, but the transformation of Charlie’s character is shown gradually, from the first scene where he watches the TV news about Afghanistan, to his subsequent encounters with Joanna and Gust.
So what did not really work for me in this movie?
Operation Cyclone, was not just the largest covert ops in history, it also had an impact, right after the cold war. The arms that were supplied by CIA to the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, would be used by them later on the US itself, in a series of terror attacks during the 90’s which finally culminated in 9/11. The movie does quite well, in looking at how the operation was planned out, the strategies, and the scene where Gust and Charlie meet an Israeli arms dealer, is another great one. Especially the part where they suggest a co-ordinated effort between Israel and Pakistan, Egypt, their sworn enemies, which makes it clear that the Cold War was more a struggle for power, than anything else. And this now is the problem with the movie, after setting up the premise so well, looking at the way the operation was planned, carried out, it falls flat in exploring the aftermath and impact. Operation Cyclone, was problematic, in order to overthrow one enemy, the Soviets, it ended up creating a far worse enemy, much more vicious. And the movie just glosses over the whole aspect. The brilliant tongue in cheek satire, on US policies during the Cold War, and their “fight against communism”, loses out to a series of stock montages, showing the Afghans downing some Russian helicopters. Mike Nichols works well when he is dealing with interpersonal relationships or character studies, however politics is not exactly his forte. The movie just glosses over the impact of Operation Cyclone, we just have a rather lame denoument by Charlie in the end, wondering if they had done a bigger mistake by handing Afghanistan over to the Mujahideen. Unlike Steven Spielberg’s searingly honest Munich, that explores the impact of Operation Wrath of God, on the pysche of the men handling the mission, this movie lacks the kind of introspection, that would have made it a classic. At the end of the day, it just becomes another Hollywood style, Americans get together, have fun saving the world from the bad guys, albeit written more smartly, and having a more intelligent screenplay. And that to me is where the movie falls short of being a genuine classic.