NETWORK (1976)

Posted in THE LUNCH MOVIE CHRONICLES: The original e-mail announcements that were sent through our office the evening before we rolled a Lunch Movie on July 31st, 2010 by Jim Delaney

From Friday April 4, 2008
Directed by Sidney Lumet, written by Paddy Chayefsky, starring Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch and Robert Duvall.

It wouldn’t be Pilot Season without the most vicious comedy ever made about the Television business. The News Division has become an albatross around the neck of the floundering UBS Network. The solution devised by network chief Frank Hackett (Duvall) is simple: fire their over-paid anchorman Howard Beale (Finch) at week’s end, and fold the News Division into the Entertainment Division. Complications arise when Beale announces his firing on-air, and says he will commit suicide on live television at the conclusion of his final broadcast.

It’ll finish Wednesday,
Love, Jim

AFTER THOUGHT from 7.31.10
The television business in the 1970’s, and to a large extent today, has four seasons. They are not called winter, spring, summer and fall. They are called development, pilot, staffing and hiatus. Development roughly coincides with what the rest of us call fall. As new shows air, some under perform and others flat-out fail, networks begin developing new shows for the fall a year away. Pilot season is when a few hundred scripts are bought out of the thousands of stories that get pitched to network development executives. From those few hundred scripts, a few dozen pilots are shot, all in an effort to decide which stories might make a show on which companies will gamble their advertising budget. A lot of hurry up & wait happens during these two seasons, until sometime (it shifts every year) in what the rest of us know as spring, when each network announces next fall’s schedule and staffing season breaks loose. Many young folks working in their first entertainment job find themselves pulling 70-80 hour weeks during pilot and staffing season. They try to hire the best crew they can before another show steals away the person their show’s entire success hinges upon, and get them all working so at least a few episodes are in the can come … whatever the hell the next season is. Each year in that frenzied pace, we would watch NETWORK to remind us that we did not cause this insanity, it is simply the nature of the beast.

NETWORK is a great movie because it is of its time, ahead of its time, and for all time. Virtually nothing in this movie looks artificial; it feels so New York in the 70’s that when Howard Beale hails a cab, we could expect Travis Bickle to show up. Rather than building a set for the UBS News control room, they went to Toronto to shoot in a real control room. NETWORK is so ahead of its time that, as Bob one of my agent mentors pointed out, it was created as a satire that today plays like drama. Among the current phenomena that NETWORK warned us about in sharply witted barbs: the rise of sensationalism, the muddying of objective and subjective analysis, in our nightly news and television in general, and the decline of the position of journalists to challenge their audiences with facts rather than comforting the audience’s own social and political sensibilities. The conundrum of the UBS board’s duty to shareholders, advertisers and other investors versus responsibility to their audience, existing in radio even before television, now rears its head in the digital media world as some try to figure out how to monetize Twitter tweets to advertise Tatter Tots.

All that aside, if you really want to see what makes NETWORK impressive and vital, take a glance at the IMDB message boards. I challenge you to find another film with so many people whining about characters’ use of — no joke — “big words,” “esoteric words” and “long diatribes.” Sadly there is more than one thread devoted to people clamoring for their perceived right to be entertained without needing to “reach for a thesaurus.” NETWORK is a primal scream against illiteracy and willful ignorance. I did all that I could to bring its message to as many would-be television execs as possible.



Posted in THE LUNCH MOVIE CHRONICLES: The original e-mail announcements that were sent through our office the evening before we rolled a Lunch Movie on July 27th, 2010 by Jim Delaney

From Friday, April 11, 2008
Directed by Roland Joffe, written by Robert Bolt, starring Jeremy Irons, Robert DeNiro, Aidan Quinn and Liam Neeson,and featuring an epic score by Ennio Morricone.

In the 18th century Spain and Portugal vied for land in South America. Father Gabriel (Irons) a Jesuit missionary from Spain, ventures deep into the Amazon rainforest to convert Indians and protect them from Portuguese slave traders. One of those traders, Rodrigo Mendoza (DeNiro) is an outlaw unable to return to Portugal. Mendoza is offered asylum and salvation by Father Gabriel if he will lay down his sword and help build a Mission in the jungle. When Spain loses the Mission’s land to Portugal, Gabriel and Mendoza defy the Church and both their nations over the fate of the Indians.

Never mind Christopher Menges’ Oscar winning cinematography. Never mind Morricone’s BAFTA and Golden Globe winning score. Never mind the litany of other nominations or that THE MISSION won the Golden Palm at Cannes. 41 minutes into this film DeNiro captures, without a line of dialogue, a true spiritual epiphany. It’s exhausting and beautiful and I promise you will never see anything like it in any other movie. Even if the rest of the movie sucked, this moment would justify its existence … but the rest of it is pretty impressive too!

It’ll finish Wednesday,
Love, Jim

I am not a Christian. I am a hopeful agnostic who’s faith has long been shaken more by men who claim to speak for God than by anything I read in The Bible. The story of THE MISSION is an experience that strengthens my faith by helping me define it in a more positive and less judgmental way. There is a sparseness to the filmmaking that aids the audience’s focus on the story. Joffe refrains from elaborate camera set-ups, allowing the beauty of the Brazilian and Argentine rivers and forests to appear as they would to anyone entering them for their first time. Though Morricone’s score occasionally soars with a full choir, it is rendered most often with an oboe and a pan flute. The presence of those two simple instruments is so natural that one could be forgiven for thinking “yes, of course, this must be what the wind sounds like there!” It is through having all these elements in such perfect concert that moments like Mendoza’s personal enlightenment can become a transcendental experience for the entire audience.


Independent Film Festival Boston: SOUL KITCHEN (2009)

Posted in FESTIVAL NOTES: Dispatches from the front lines. on July 24th, 2010 by Jim Delaney

Saturday April 24, 2010 at the Somerville Theater, Somerville, MA.

SOUL KITCHEN Directed & Co-Written by Fatih Akin, starring Adam Bousdoukos, Mortiz Bleibtreu, Anna Bederke, Pheline Roggan & Birol Unel.

Within the past year or so, I don’t recall if he was on a talk show or a stand-up special, Robin Williams recounted a conversation with a German interviewer. When asked his thoughts on why Germany does not have the comedic culture of some other nations, Williams answered “Maybe it’s because you killed all the funny people.” After I stopped laughing it occurred to me that I have not seen many German comedies. I hope this is due more to their thin distribution in the U.S. than a lack of any good German comedies. Fatih Akin, the writer/director of SOUL KITCHEN, was born in Hamburg to parents who had emigrated from Turkey in the 1960’s. If this film is any evidence, Germany has a joyful mine of multigenerational and multiethnic culture waiting to be explored.

SOUL KITCHEN follows the comical daily grind endured by a young Greek immigrant named Zinos. Soul Kitchen is a broken down cafe Zinos runs out of a freight warehouse on the wrong side of the train tracks from Hamburg. If it weren’t for a small group of regulars (including one friendly drunk living as a squatter in the warehouse’s loading dock) Zinos would barely be able to keep his doors open. Zinos’ girlfriend suddenly decides to move to China, his recently paroled brother shows up on his doorstep looking for a zero-responsibility job to satisfy a parole work requirement, and a chance encounter with an old friend has him pondering selling his property to satisfy his debts. A lesser man might give up his dream of running a great restaurant, but Zinos makes a last ditch effort at that dream when he hires an enigmatic knife-throwing chef with a questionable past.

If it sounds scattered, it isn’t really. This is the same motley-crew-banding-together-to-save-a-place-they-love story that has been the subject of good movies (THE BLUES BROTHERS) and not so good movies (HARLEY DAVIDSON & THE MARLOBORO MAN). Put this one in the same column with Jake & Elwood. Avoiding stereotypes of Germans, Greeks or any other nationality, Fatih Akin and co-writer Adam Bousdoukos (who also plays Zinos) populate their movie with an eccentric crowd of thugs and foodies, clubbers and rockers, land schemers and unqualified providers of holistic medicine. A movie with such character diversity often becomes about the forces that divide them. Bousdoukos heads a pitch perfect cast from across eastern Europe, playing characters united by the same thing everybody in our current global economic crisis wants: the ability to earn a living by your own work and ingenuity.

I’ve read some IMDB comments written by Europeans who suspect that some jokes may get lost in translation. If that is true, then I would probably have a heart attack from laughing if I got every single joke. I laughed more in SOUL KITCHEN than I did in any movie in recent memory, and even when I wasn’t laughing, I had a big dopey smile on my face. This is a film made by people who love their city, their countries, food, rock-n-roll, and the intrinsic joy of surviving another day against a sea of troubles. It seems ripe for an American remake, but I hope this does not happen; rather than straining and pouring it into a weaker concoction, this sort of lightning in a bottle is best passed around and shared at full strength.