Fast and (Not Always) Furious

I don’t “watch” TV. The last series I actually watched was the last season or two of NYPD Blue, back in the early ‘00’s. My life was just too complicated to worry about being home to catch a program, because nine times out of ten, it just wasn’t going to happen. And my life was so much better for it! Free time I never had before.

But, thanks to the availability of On-Demand programming, whether streaming Hulu or Amazon or Netflix or Hoopla, I do get to see some shows – on my time, when I’m able, and it’s no crime if today’s not one of those days. If it’s a television show, we’ll watch one episode during dinner – everyone around the table, talking and watching. That’s how I got through six seasons of Sons of Anarchy, two fabulous seasons of Penny Dreadful, a full 12-season recap of NYPD Blue, and now my husband has me watching Blue Bloods, a mild police drama starring Tom Selleck, though I still think of him as Magnum, P.I., and the original Sweeney Todd himself, Len Cariou, whom I adore in anything.

Blue Bloods is okay. It’s got good actors, it’s entertaining, but it’s not deep. Each episode is self-contained, bright and polished like an old Quinn-Martin production, and none of the gritty realism and continued drama of NYPD Blue. It’s very clean and family oriented, but the writing is not always the greatest, with occasional weak scripts and clichéd lines. Because each episode wraps up on its own, nothing can get too much meat to it.

The last episode I watched had to do with insurance fraud over a valuable car – the car allegedly from the Steve McQueen movie Bullitt, which they touted as one of the greatest car chase scenes ever.

So of course we had to watch it.

My dad’s favorite sport was cars – race cars – not the NASCAR stock stuff, but the elegant turns of the Monaco Gran Prix, the high-speed chase of Formula One, or the Holy Car Holiday in our house, The Indy 500. I thought Jackie Stewart was the greatest announcer in history. And I learned to drive stick on my parents’ automatics just by the engine sounds my dad would make when he pretended he was driving a race car – when I finally did learn stick, it was effortless because I could tell when to shift by the sound of the engine.  So I don’t mind a bit if I have to watch a car-chase movie. And I guess I’ve watched a lot of them.

Bullitt, as a movie, is typical of the late-60’s-early-70’s dark genre: a slow movie where actors must have been paid by the line, because nobody says anything unless they absolutely have to, all the actors are deadpan, and the sound quality is horrible because they really did just take a cheap microphone out onto the street, with little soundtrack, and there’s no great conclusion, they just sort of end with a “Life Stinks” blackout. What was strange was realizing not only there was Zero airport security, but no paramedics yet (1968; paramedics weren’t even an idea until 1971), rotary phones – not even push button, glass IV bottles, and no gloves during surgery. San Francisco lends itself to many great film chases (such as the comedy What’s Up Doc?), and this one does not disappoint, pitting a 1968 Ford Mustang 390 GT against a 1968 Dodge Charger 440 Magnum. That they manage to hold those corners is impressive.

Fandango listed their account of the ten best car-chase movies (a bad thing to think about as summer approaches and pavement is dry and the weather begs you to take a long drive) as:

  1. Bullitt
  2. Max Mad: The Road Warrior (still my favorite movie of all time)
  3. To Live and Die in LA
  4. Deathproof
  5. The Blues Brothers
  6. Ronin (I think this should be number 2 myself – it’s truly awesome)
  7. Smokey and the Bandit (How can you not love this one?)
  8. Gone in 60 Seconds (the 1974 original, though I like the remake better as a film)
  9. The French Connection (more famous than Bullitt, but the same era of filmmaking)
  10. Terminator 2: Judgment Day

For myself, I’d add Batman: The Dark Knight (anyone who can flip a tractor trailer end over end ranks high in my book), and the new Bourne movie, Jason Bourne, which opens with a wicked car chase through Las Vegas that got me from the first go.

Even if you don’t like car movies or car chases, I highly recommend the movie Ronin, as well as French Connection, Jason Bourne, and even Bullitt, movies where the storyline takes precedence and the chase is inconsequential and there’s no harsh screeching music track – like the Fast and Furious films, the thinking person’s car chase films; a little something for everyone.

 

Amadeus: Revisiting a Classic

“Are we going to appall you with something confidential and disgusting? Let’s hope so.”

So begins the trailer for the movie Amadeus, which you can watch here.

Amadeus tells the story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s professional life from the point of view of his rival, composer Antonio Salieri. Salieri narrates a tale that takes you through the different beginnings each man had, and how they wound up at the same palace in competing positions. This film also addresses the question of whether or not Salieri murdered Mozart.

This film is absolutely wonderful. The acting is superb, the settings are elaborate, the costumes are beautiful, and the music is, of course, top-notch. The only drawback to this film is the lack of historical accuracy. However, while this may not be anyone’s biography, it is still one of the best movies I have ever seen.

Did you know that F. Murray Abraham (Salieri) and Tom Hulce (Mozart) took lessons while filming so they could learn how to conduct and play the piano?

Also, the director chose relatively unknown actors (at the time) to play the roles because he wanted viewers to be able to think of the characters as actual people, not famous actors pretending to be characters.

Setting: The second-half of 18th-century Vienna.

Was this movie based on something?  It was based on a play, also called Amadeus. The plots of both are very similar.

What is this movie rated? R for brief nudity.

Is there any objectionable content? Yes, including, but not limited to, sexual content, crude jokes, on-screen deaths, and some violence. There are also scenes involving Salieri questioning and rejecting his religion.

Can children watch this? Not recommended for anyone younger than a teenager.

What themes are found in the movie? Religious devotion, music, rivalries, and the line between madness and genius.

Who would like this? Anyone who enjoys watching historical fiction, or who enjoys Mozart’s music. It is also great for people who love movies that have a lot of depth to them.

Rating: Five stars.

This movie is available as both a DVD and Blu-ray.  And don’t forget to check out the soundtrack!

If you’d like to know more about Mozart, click here. We have many books about the legendary composer and, of course, many CDs featuring his music.

Strong Girls, Stronger Women

stb-jaylah-3While previewing the DVD for Star Trek: Into Darkness (as if I didn’t see it in the theater and wasn’t buying it myself 5 days later), I realized that Jaylah, the lead female character, is everything I want my daughters and granddaughter to be: strong, brave, smart, resourceful, a planner, a leader, and even when emotionally wounded, she never, ever gives in. Surely one of the strongest female leads ever, without losing her femininity in the process, like Grace Jones as May Day in A View to a Kill, or Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It may even be safe to say that Jaylah’s the strongest female lead ever in Star Trek itself – and no, not even Uhura, who, although she could kick butt, was often saddled with lines like, “Captain, I’m frightened.”

And that made me start thinking on who the strongest female leads might be. By strong I don’t mean nastiest or most vicious goal-driven women, no Joan Crawfords or Cersei Lannisters or Erica Kanes. I mean women or girls who started out ordinary, but when faced with impossible odds, had the grit and determination and education and smarts to work their way into survival.

First on almost any list is Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley, from Alien. While you can say it ec93835d9542a13ce50f467297565f63already took guts and grit to be a warrant officer aboard a deep-space ship, finding out your mission was a suicide run to bring back an alien life form and you’re its food can either send you screaming in helpless panic (as Lambert did), or make you hike your bra straps and shoot first. Ripley is a real woman – no makeup, no unrealistic sexy uniforms, and not afraid to be pushy when she needs to be. And almost 40 years later (can it possibly be that long?) Alien still holds up on every level of film making; truly, a masterpiece.

katniss_prim_hugKatniss Everdeen is also a favorite for strongest female: just sixteen at the start of The Hunger Games, Katniss is already a survivor, having raised a sister and cared for a dysfunctionally depressed mother following the death of their father, in a world where people are kept in line through fear and starvation. Sacrificing herself to the Hunger Games to save her sister is just the start; surviving the Hunger Games not once but twice, surviving on luck, wits, and the smarts acquired through a lifetime of survival makes Katniss a formidable – but sympathetic and realistically feminine – heroine.

Sarah Connor of Terminator fame would round out my top three: a simple waitress who thought she was minding her own business until she’s hunted down by a terminator from the future – because when push comes to shove, Sarah will become a serious survivalist to save her son – a son who will grow up to be the leader against the machines that take over the world. Sarah is thrown into an impossible situation but comes out on top through sheer determination and a survival instinct that won’t quit.

Why so many women from science-fiction? That’s a good question. Perhaps it’s because “strong” women in literature or film are often seen as detestable power-hungry ladder-climbers who will use murder or sex to achieve their goals, and it is only in the realm of “fantasy” that women are allowed to be every-day humans, both strong and vulnerable at the same time, without boob jobs and fake nails. Yet the real world is peppered with incredibly strong women – Anne Frank, Malala Yousafzai, Margaret Sanger, Harriet Tubman, and so many more. Not one of them is sexualized by the media, either.

turn_me_loose_it_s_ashleySo, to be fair, there are literary women who also struggled against formidable odds: Scarlett O’Hara’s entire world was ripped from her by the Civil War: her income, her inheritance, her mother, her husband (whether or not she wanted him alive) wind up Gone With the Wind. She takes charge in a time and place when genteel women did not do that, and through guile and determination pulls her life and the lives of her family back together. And as the anti-Scarlett, I would include Mammy, who carried on through war and starvation, caring for former slaves and slave-owners alike, facing the same dangers as Scarlett but with even less means or social approval. In The Color sofiaPurple, yes, Celie has to survive an ugly life, but to me Sofia is far more of a tough cookie, taking her lumps and even prison because she won’t take the abuse anymore. Sofia is limited by society, but she’s every bit as tough as Katniss.

And moving further away, I would also nominate Maria, from West Side Story. She’s sixteen and stands between two warring gangs for love. The Sharks don’t frighten her. The Jets don’t frighten her. The police don’t frighten her. She gets in the face of each and every west-side-story-1961-dvdrip-moviecenter-avi_snapshot_02-16-56_2016-07-21_15-39-34one, standing up for what she believes in. No one is telling Maria what to think or do.

I could add more – Elizabeth Swan, Marion Ravenwood, Molly Weasley, Natasha Romanov – but if you’re looking for role models for girls and teens, real women who aren’t villainous or overly sexualized or vacuuous but incredibly strong and resourceful, there are plenty to choose from.

Tales of Three Chrises

befunky-collage-5-11While looking at upcoming films, I watched the newest trailer for the Wonder Woman movie (due June 2, 2017, and it looks fantastic), and was surprised to see actor Chris Pine in the role of Steve Trevor – I had no idea he was in the film. I like Chris Pine, he’s a worthy actor, and I think he’ll do a wonderful job in the role. But I can’t help but notice, he’s been cropping up in an awful lot of films lately.

Sometimes Hollywood gets hooked on a new actor and they become “hot” – in high demand because they seem to pull in audiences and thus make a lot of money, worthy or not. They may hang around a while, then fade off into obscurity when it’s realized they have no real talent, only to reappear on a C-grade cable network show pushing designer socks. Sometimes actors let their popularity run for a few years, make their money, and then get out altogether, to pursue directing, theater, music, or sometimes even a college degree.

But lately the name Chris seems to be the favorite in Hollywood – Chris Pine, Chris Pratt, and the other blockbuster, Chris Hemsworth. All are fine actors who have taken on roles that shot them to stardom, yet all have solid resumes of good films behind them even if you’ve never heard of them.

mv5bmtm4otq4ntu3nv5bml5banbnxkftztcwnjewndu0oq-_v1_ux214_cr00214317_al_Chris Pine comes from an acting family – his dad was Robert Pine, Sgt. Getraer from CHiPs, and he’s one of those well-rounded actors with actual talent. Although currently best known for taking on the iconic role of Captain James Kirk in the Star Trek reboot, he’s done an array of very worthy films, from action hero in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, to wine maker in Bottleshock (a very underrated movie with an excellent cast), to Coast Guard skipper in The Finest Hours. If you doubt his acting talent, listen to his singing voice as he belts out the tune “Agony” in Into the Woods. If he runs out of films, he can  switch easily to Broadway. If you’re of a certain age, or have daughters of a different age, you may remember him from Princess Diaries 2.  He’s not just taking on any role to make a buck.

On the other end, you have Australian actor Chris Hemsworth, who gained thirty8e289e037001b64b43665c8be542d3f9 pounds of pure muscle to take on the role of powerful comic book hero Thor in the multitude of Marvel films. But Hemsworth is not just eyecandy. His latest film was a comic role in the Ghostbusters reboot (okay, not exactly a great film, but not Thor either), but he’s popped up regularly in Snow White and the Huntsman, The Huntsman: Winter’s War, chasing Moby Dick in In The Heart of the Sea, racing cars in Rush, and escaping computer espionage in Black Hat, a worthwhile thriller though not of the same caliber of a Marvel film. He may look like he fell off the cover of a romance novel, but you can’t say he’s allowed himself to be typecast. He, too, was in the Star Trek reboot, as George Kirk, James T.’s father – a role he will be reprising in the next Star Trek film, which has not yet entered production (even though he’s three years younger than Chris Pine). If you really want entertainment, listen to him speak with his native Australian accent – you realize just how impressive his American accent is.

chris_pratt_-_guardians_of_the_galaxy_premiere_-_july_2014_croppedChris Pratt landed two franchises – starring in the latest Jurassic Park flick, Jurassic World, as well as the lead of Peter Quill in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy (and the upcoming GG2, due out May 5 of 2017, and the next Jurassic, in pre-production, and reprising his Peter Quill role in the Avengers Infinity War, currently filming – talk about busy!). AND he starred with Jennifer Lawrence in December’s new release, Passengers. Before taking over the action-hero trade, he appeared in such varied films as Zero Dark Thirty, Moneyball, and the recent star-studded western, The Magnificent Seven. Of the three, he’s also done extensive television, with recurring roles on Parks and Recreation, The O.C., and Everwood.  He’s earned the right to be exhausted!

So while the weather is less than delightful, make it a weekend of high entertainment and Chris-cross some of these films off your list. No matter what your style of movie – westerns, intrigue, racing, science fiction, comic heroes, fairy tales, covert wars, musicals or more, one of these men has the perfect film for you.

The X Factor

imagesIndiana Jones and the Temple of Doom created an uproar in the movie industry. While it didn’t meet the criteria for an R rating, the intensity of the violence and its unrelenting action and danger freaked out so many kids and parents and caused so many complaints that the PG-13 rating was born – probably the same people that brought their six year old grandchildren to see Deadpool and didn’t think twice. Before that, there were just four ratings by the Motion Picture Association of America: G (general audience), PG (parental guidance suggested), R (no one under 17 without guardian), and X (now NC-17, meaning No One Under 17 Admitted, no way, no how, this will scar you for life).

Of course, as a kid, you can’t help but wonder, what’s in an X movie? What could be more violent than people beating each other up? What could be grosser than people naked?  How many more swear words are there? And then the internet was born and we’ve never wondered since.

Surprisingly, though, some of our favorite movies DID have an X rating at the start. Film makers want to be cutting-edge and push envelopes, but an X/NC17 rating c51q55v7qvblan sink an otherwise profitable film because it cuts out the teen crowd that hangs out at theaters every week and also makes some adult film-goers leery. After repeated trips back to the editing room, most of the movies do achieve their golden R rating.

Some, however, never do. Three movies were nominated for Oscars despite their X rating: Midnight Cowboy, A Clockwork Orange, and Last Tango in Paris. Midnight Cowboy actually won the Best Picture Oscar for 1970. When rereleased in 1971, it carried only an R rating, even though not a single edit had been made. It had been given the X rating for “homosexual suggestions,” and that was no longer a criteria. Times were already changing.

Two things are usually to blame for an X rating: extreme violence/gore, or explicit nudity/sexual content. It’s hard to believe, but for all the outcry against The Exorcist (some vi51kp0kgvmdlewers were taken away by ambulance), it only garnered an R rating. (So, in 1969, homosexuality would get you a deadly X rating, but by 1973, demonic possession, gore, blasphemy, and violent sexual situations involving children would not. Go figure.) Sometimes the fix was something so banal as toning down the brightness of the blood (Taxi Driver), which makes you wonder who is actually doing the judging and rating of the films. Others, like Cliffhanger, needed adjustments to almost every single scene. Although Casino cranks in at more than 420 utterances of the Fornication word (that’s almost 2.5 for every minute of film49), it was the violence that created its problems.

Here is a list of popular films you’ve probably heard of, and probably have seen, that were originally rated X before being edited yet again (American Pie needed four tries) to win the magic R. Some of these are very good films that just happen to be a little more graphic than others. Some of them you knew were headed for trouble just by the title (Freddy Got Fingered), but others, especially twenty years later when there sometimes doesn’t seem to be a limit on sex or violence in movies or on television (Boogie Nights drew trouble for a 10-second shot of a prosthetic penis, yet Life of Brian and Trainspotting didn’t for showing a real one), make you scratch your head at what the fuss was.