Mother’s Day: 3 Cinematic Moms Who Changed My Life & My Mother Who Shared Them With Me

Posted in JIMMY ON MOVIES: Thoughts on Films, The Folks Who Make Them, & Those Who Love Them on May 11th, 2014 by Jim Delaney

My mom did not support my early compulsion for movie-going to the degree that my dad did, but her support was nonetheless crucial. During a very formative era for both of us, Mom used to drop me off at the movies on Sunday afternoons while she went to the library to study for her law degree. There was a brief shining period where I got to see a lot of cool movies that no one else in my family wanted to see with me, purely because I was able to hop a ride into town with Mom. Among the early 80’s gems I saw solo were VICTOR / VICTORIA, TEMPTEST, BARBAROSA, MY FAVORITE YEAR, THE KING OF COMEDY and A CHRISTMAS STORY all because Mom & I were simpatico on our need to get the hell out of the house. We also saw some great movies together under similar circumstances, including a rerelease of LADY & THE TRAMP (we had those in the pre-home video days!), THE DARK CRYSTAL, INDIANA JONES & THE TEMPLE OF DOOM, and JFK.

Mom and I saw another Sunday afternoon classic together that turned out to be a watershed moment in my understanding of motherhood and how film expresses motherhood: Steven Spielberg‘s adaptation of Alice Walker‘s novel THE COLOR PURPLE. Whoopi Goldberg made her major studio debut as Celie Johnson, who grows from adolescence to motherhood to arbiter of her own destiny, all in the deep south in the years before and during the Great Depression. Even as a kid I was aware of this film’s detractors, most of whom took it to task for blunting the edges of Walker’s novel. What these folks failed to recognize is that a Hollywood version is a perfect gateway experience for a teenaged boy who might not have otherwise read the novel. Mom and I had seen more movies than I can easily recall, but never one that made both of us cry like THE COLOR PURPLE. This was such a new experience for both of us that we both kept impossibly still trying to keep each other from knowing that the movie had made us … weak? Meanwhile we heard the sniffling and whimpering and outright sobs of dozens around us. color_purple

There was one simple thing about Miss Celie’s odyssey, that I’d never seen in any movie, that made THE COLOR PURPLE unforgettable. We follow Celie from her early teens, abandoned into a young marriage by her own family, abused by her husband, ignored by those to whom she reaches out for help. The amazing thing is that Celie does not repeat any of her past upon her children. Growing up in the 80’s, I had friends whose parents raised them with echoes of the wholesome 1950’s or the free-spirited 60’s. I imagine the same is true today, with teens being raised by parents who grew up in the Gordon Gecko/Tony Montana Generation-X 80’s or the nothing-matters-and-what-if-it-did 90’s. In all if the kids I grew up with, and kids today, you can spot echos of their parents’ past that has manifested itself in their kids. Celie does not repeat the sins visited upon her in her past, she goes the complete opposite direction, providing the compassion and discipline that were missing from her own upbringing.

Celie Johnson rejects the “I raise you this way because it’s how I was raised” school of parental thought. She becomes the mother, sister, woman, friend who had been absent in her own life. I had never seen any movie character transcend his or her past to this degree. In doing so Celie fomented a conversation that continues to this day between my Mom & me, about how she and I were raised, and which aspects of our childhood were detrimental to our own happiness and well being. Sure this conversation between Mom & me may have come about organically some day, but thanks to the push from THE COLOR PURPLE, this reflectiveness came at a perfect time for both of us. For the record, I feel like Mom did pretty damn good, though she’d probably prefer I say “pretty damned well.”

Mom and I saw another, far more fantastic surrogate movie mother a few years later: Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley in ALIENS. This was not the type on movie my mother would normally see. I saw ALIEN with my brother Ed and my dad in 1979; my first viewing of ALIENS was with Ed on opening weekend. That same night, my family watched Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert colorfully disagree over the film on their show Sneak Previews, with my folks becoming intrigued by Roger Ebert’s favorable impression. The following weekend we saw it as a family. Mom & Dad thoroughly dug it, and Ed & I found all new things to like about it.

Before James Cameron gave us ALIENS and Spielberg brought THE COLOR PURPLE to the screen, the 80’s gave us a few stand-out moms in other genre films, most notably two from Spielberg. In the Spielberg directed sci-fi themed family classic E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Dee Wallace stars as a single mom, which made her quite unusual amongst movie moms and more similar to many of the moms who brought their kids to see E.T. Wallace’s Mary was no superhuman heroine, just a doting and diligent mom in an era when single mothers were often portrayed on film as pariahs. My Mom not only took me to E.T, she also took me a second time with a few friends who’d come over to play after school. One of those friends was from a single-mom home. He had never seen a single mom portrayed in this even handed manner by a movie, which led to as introspective a conversation about Moms as a group of 6th grade boys could manage during our ride home.

In the supernatural horror film POLTERGEIST, produced by Spielberg, JoBeth Williams created in her character Diane Freeling what would soon become an 80’s cliche: the post-hippy mom facing middle-age in suburbia. Diane was only that for the first half of the film; in the second half she may as well worn a cape. In the nerdy notorious summer of ’82, we had never seen a mom do anything as brave and cool as following a rope into a spectral dimension, with the hope of rescuing her supernaturally abducted daughter.

aliens-crashHad it not been for ALIENS, nerds might still regard Diane Freeling as the most bad@$$ mom in speculative fiction. Ellen Ripley becomes a surrogate mom to Newt, a young girl who had managed to survive an alien invasion of a terraforming station on the planet LV-426. Ripley had been brought to LV-426 with a detachment of Marines to help rescue terraforming colonists, but by the time the Marines arrive, young Newt is the sole survivor. Under these circumstances, a maternal element of Ripley never hinted at in the first ALIEN film emerges, making her such a dynamic hero that she became the highest ranking woman in AFI‘s list of 100 Heroes & Villains.

Perhaps the most unexpected aspect of Ripley & Newt’s adventure is that their chief nemesis is a mother in her own right: a giant alien queen as ferociously protective of her eggs as Ripley is of Newt. Calling Ellen Ripley an ideal mom is a bit like calling the Cortez family from SPY KIDS and ideal family; no mom or dad or kids are ever going to face these situations, so it’s a little unfair to compare ones own family to these type of cinematic heroes. And yet, Ripley’s most heroic moment is how she protects Newt in that all-hope-is-lost moment that must come in all great adventures. Every parent will at some point need to explain death and all sorts of other terrible things to their children, and in those moments, moms & dads could do well to recall the resourcefulness and perseverance of Ellen Ripley.

A final movie mom who resonated deeply with me was Sarah Carraclough, played by Samantha Morton, in Charles Sturridge‘s deeply underrated 2005 adaptation of LASSIE. Most Americans know Lassie from a long running 1950’s & 60’s TV show wherein the noble collie belongs to a boy on an American farm. Few Americans under retirement age are aware that Lassie began as a 1940 novel by Eric Knight, which was set in Scotland, and previously filmed in 1943 under the title LASSIE COME HOME. The original cast featured a very young Roddy McDowall and Elizabeth Taylor, and the monster‘s bride herself Elsa Lanchester plays the same mother that Morton plays in this recent version. Lanchester’s credit in the 1943 film was credited merely Mrs. Carraclough, while her son Joe (McDowall) and husband Sam are graced with names. Sturridge’s LASSIE is notable for many reasons, including Morton’s mother receiving the name Sarah. Sarah and her family live in Yorkshire and make just enough of a living to scrape by. Another notable aspect of this film is that it remains set in the pre-WW2 era of the novel rather than being updated.

Sarah Carraclough may not be the mom Joe wants, but she is the mom he needs. Faced with the starvation during the oncoming winter, Sarah and Sam make the unhappy decision of accepting the offer of a wealthy Duke (the inimitable Peter O’Toole), who wants to buy Lassie as a gift for his granddaughter. Lassie of course rejects this arrangement and makes relentless efforts to return home to Joe. Sarah becomes the mom Joe wants when he is able to show her that Lassie is not only his best friend, but also part of their family. When Joe makes it clear that he loves Lassie as he would a sibling, Sarah revises her priorities, and does all that she can to help him. A parent cannot always be expected to differentiate between what their child really really wants this hour, week, or season … versus what they need. Children have needs that are so great that they become a part of their identity. A child who will not back down from a sport no matter how many times it knocks them on their ass is a child who doesn’t simply want to play, they need to be a part of that team. Joe Carraclough’s team is his family, of which Lassie is an inseparable member.jef3fhux2z7tuh2f

Sarah comes to understand that Lassie is as much part of Joe’s identity as his folks are, that he is as much Lassie’s friend as he is their son, and cannot fully be one without the other. We’ve seen Samantha Morton play a similar mom, coincidentally named Sarah, in Jim Sheridan‘s IN AMERICA. She was also this devoted and protective a wife as Debbie Curtis, the wife of Joy Division front man Ian Curtis in CONTROL. Morton can so seamlessly inhabit her characters that she makes a reversal like Sarah Carraclough’s expanded understanding of her son’s needs seem like the speed of life unfolding before your eyes.

I watched Sturridge’s LASSIE last Thanksgiving with my Mom and my brother Ed after dinner. My great affinity for dogs, be they biggest & most beautiful or scrawniest and mangiest, comes from my Mom. We always had a dog when I was growing up, and in recent years she’s had 2 or 3 dogs at all times. Neither Mom nor Ed would want this photo floating around the internet: watching LASSIE on the most family oriented of American holidays with my family while Ed’s pomeranian Rachel and Mom’s papillon Millie begged for pumpkin pie, and Mom’s American Eskimo Daisy reacted to every dog sound coming from the TV was the closest my family has come in years to a Norman Rockwell holiday image.

My Mom is not a huge movie fan but there are a handful of movies that resonate with her. She has shared a few with me, and I have shared as many with her as I can get her to watch.

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OUTLAND (1981)

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 March 26th, 2012 by Jim Delaney

From Tuesday, January 8, 2008.

Written & Directed by Peter Hyams, starring Sean Connery, Frances Sternhagen, Peter Boyle and James B. Sikking, and featuring a score by Jerry Goldsmith.

Connery is Marshal William T. O’Niel, the “one good space-cop” protecting a mining colony on a moon orbiting Jupiter. Previous marshals had accepted bribes to ignore crime and corruption (and a nasty drug ring), but we wouldn’t have much of a story if O’Niel continued the status quo. It’s essentially HIGH NOON in space, but if yer gonna steal, steal from the good stuff!

It’ll finish Thursday,
Love, Jim

AFTER THOUGHT from 3.26.2012

OUTLAND is, in short, one of those movies that makes me an old fashioned nerd. It is flawed, and dated, and yet I have great affection for it. If you want to focus more on the science part than the fiction in “science fiction” you could fault OUTLAND for inaccuracies of physics, like the depressurization conditions required for a human body to explode inside a space suit, or what direction blood would flow in zero gravity. If you are one of those ironic hipster nerds who think Ray Harryhausen’s work looks cheap, and the CGI Yoda trumps Frank Oz’s muppet Yoda, you might fault OUTLAND for its model and matte work. If however you’re an old fashioned nerd, a nerd who values precedent as well as innovation, you can see this movie for its unique and exciting strengths.

I suspect the same poindexters who have a problem with the liberties OUTLAND takes with gravity would also take issue with Buster Crabbe’s flame-sparking, chainsaw-sounding rocket in the 1930’s FLASH GORDON serials. “Bursts of flame could not occur in space where there is no oxygen for the fire to consume,” the disciples of THE SIMPSONS’ Comic Book Guy would declare, “nor would we hear that buzzing exhaust in a vacuum.” This is where I need to break with some of my nerd counterparts; if it makes for a more exciting story then I don’t care about that other stuff. Flash Gordon’s rocket looks and sounds cool, and when I was in 6th grade, blood floating upwards from OUTLAND’s dead body in a zero-gravity prison cell was one of the most disturbing murders I had ever seen in a movie. OUTLAND opened two years after ALIEN defined what grunt labor in space would look like, and a mere six weeks after the first mission of the Space Shuttle Columbia reignited a generation’s collective interest in space exploration. This movie may have not nailed every technical aspect, but it should be credited with imagining functions of working in space that few movies had done before, and even fewer as vividly.

#IDontHaveFactsToBackThisUp, but I suspect that no genre in film is subject to as precise scrutiny as science fiction. In romances we accept the rarity of mutual orgasm in love scenes because hell, who doesn’t aspire to that, even if it’s about as likely as the pressure conditions required to crush a body in a space suit. Cop movies and legal thrillers rarely get called out for authentic police or courtroom procedures. Word to the wise: if you’ve ever cheered for the “surprise witness” in a court movie, then you need to relinquish your credentials to criticize an imaginative movie like OUTLAND over a few technical indiscretions.

As long as I’m showing my age stripes, I need to go on record about something more expansive than model and matte work. I like any art that shows evidence of human contact: little flaws that bespeak individual experience. Some folks like seeing crystal clear digital projection of CGI generated images. Me, I just saw a print of Bela Tarr’s DAMNATION at the Harvard Film Archive. It was loaded with the kind of smudges, sound pops and platter scratches that Tarantino and Rodriguez faked to lend authenticity to GRINDHOUSE. I love that stuff, just as I love being able to spot finger imprints in the fur of Willis O’Brien’s stop-motion model for the 1933 KING KONG. I love OUTLAND’s opening sequence where we first learn about the mining operation on Io. Of course that model work will never fool anyone into thinking that Hyams & Co. actually went on location in space, but that model perfectly orients the audience for the finale.

Oops, I’ve mentioned the finale, and without making a ***Spolier Alert***! Well nevermind finale spoilers; I’m not going to tell you what happens, I’m more focused on how it happens. There is an amazing chase sequence that occurs midway through OUTLAND. Marshal O’Niel runs down one of his suspects through a multi-leveled industrial labyrinth. The editing in this chase is so intense, and the set is such a feat of production design, that some have said it undercuts the finale. I can see that point of view, but I think the finale takes a bold reversal of expectation by going in a thoroughly different direction than that chase in the middle. Rather than going bigger and bolder, they went eerier and quieter, and yes they even adhered to a few laws of gravity.

So there you have it: OUTLAND — cool cop story, thrillingly imaginative space opera, state of the art film experience of a bygone era. If you’re the moviegoer who does not fault PLANET OF THE APES for dated make-up (which was itself state of the art, once upon a time) or METROPOLIS for damn near literally wearing its heart on its sleeve (what with all that chest-clutching) then you might also be the fan who can recognize OUTLAND for its place in the nerd canon.

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THX 1138 (1971)

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 August 22nd, 2011 by Jim Delaney

From Monday, January 21, 2008.

Written & Directed by George Lucas, produced by Francis Ford Coppola, starring Robert Duvall, Maggie McOmie, Donald Pleasance, and Sid Haig.

In a bizarre future, the last remnants of humanity survive in a subterranean city. To keep the population from exceeding the limits of the city, everyone takes a regimen of drugs to control their thoughts and emotions. Keep the people doped up and thinking they’re happy and they’ll keep working rather than making more babies than resources can provide for. Wouldn’t ya know it, THX (Duvall) goes off his meds, and experiences love and sex for the first time in his life. In doing so be becomes a fugitive from an army of RoboCops.

An expansion of Lucas’s thesis film, THX-1138 was the first feature made under Coppola’s American Zoetrope banner. Coppola and Lucas created Zoetrope to counter the corporate take-over of the studio system. They made THX-1138 to counter what they saw as an impending and dehumanizing commercialization of society.

It’ll finish Wednesday.
Love, Jim

AFTER THOUGHT from 8.22.2011
The Cold War provided no shortage of post apocalyptic survival movies, from Robert Altman’s beguiling QUINTET to George Miller’s visceral MAD MAX trilogy, with a legion of forgettable exploitation movies in between. H.G. Welles’ screen adaptation of his novel THINGS TO COME remind us that tales of who would survive, and how survival would look, have been around nearly as long as the movies themselves. Modern audiences regard the epic scale modest proposal of LOGAN’S RUN as seminal. How closely these films mirror reality, when the future in which the film is set comes to pass, often becomes a chief barometer of their quality. I hesitate to support this theory since we tend to focus on minutiae rather than the soul of a story: Atari may be long gone, and I doubt we’ll have flying police cars by the end of the decade, but these minor points don’t make BLADE RUNNER any less impressive.

We are certainly not living in the underground maze in which THX-1138 is set. We are also, as recent bedbug infestations and E.coli food recalls illustrate, not living in the antiseptic environment Lucas imagined. This film is prescient however, in areas pertaining less to production design, and more to Lucas’ aspiration to examine the steady homogenizing of our existence. THX-1138 has more to say about language, how we will interact with each other and how we will see ourselves, than the vast majority of speculative fiction films. I don’t mean we are there yet, but we are on our way.

BRAVE NEW WORLD introduced us to SOMA in 1932 and the Rolling Stones outed Mother and her Little Helper in ’66. THX-1138 foresaw widespread use of stimulants and sedatives, fertility drugs and chemical castration, and anti-depressants. Lucas also imagined a society where criminal prosecution is used to enforce a drug regimen. We may be heading in that direction when paroles and probation have hinged on citizens being court ordered to accept prescriptions. Sometimes we say this practice is necessary. Sometimes we hear about drug recalls when unexpected complications arise. Daily we see drugs advertized with side effects that sound as bad or worse than the ailment which they are marketed to cure. A handful of multinational conglomerates make money faster than we can print it by selling us drugs designed to help us achieve some elusive zone of normalcy. We have not only stepped knee deep in the dehumanizing commercialization of society we are co-paying for the privilege.

The inhabitants of this particular city are know by a sequence of letters and numbers rather than traditional names. Robert Duvall is THX 1138, his lover is LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie), and LUH’s coworker is SEN 5241 (Donald Pleasance). For years I accepted fan speculation that these designations were an extension of the numbers tattooed in Nazi concentration camps. Co-writer Walter Murch has suggested that THX was chosen for is resemblance to “sex,” SEN to “sin,” and of course LUH to “love.” Lucas offers an even more mundane interpretation: THX-1138 was his phone number.

Over the last generation we have seen varying phenomena relating to names echoing those in THX-1138. The music world has given us KRS-One, O(+> and J-Lo. Supermarket tabloids attempt to make conventional names similarly unusual: K-fed, Brangelina, Bennifer. (Why is the guy’s name always first? JenniBen has a ring to it!) I didn’t pay this much mind until news reporters got into the act. Pundits hoping to appear the least bit hip will now refer to The President and the First Lady as POTUS and FLOTUS. For years the terrorist with the dialysis issues has been known simply by his last name but recently he has become OBL. If I mentioned bin Laden you would have no doubt who I am talking about; OBL sounds like a large tampon or an airport code. The final straw for me was the recent hotel sex scandal involving DSK, a French financier whose born name is far less known than POTUS or OBL. Ask someone in the street six months ago who Dominique Gaston André Strauss-Kahn was and a significant percentage would probably guess he’s a guest judge on PROJECT: RUNWAY. We’ve gone beyond hip to flat out laziness.

THX-1138 saw all of this coming, not only the manipulation of identity via the maximization of controlled moods and the minimization of our names, but even the reclassification of where we live. In the film we hear that THX works in “operating cell 94107” which is coincidentally the zip code of Zoetrope’s offices during production. People around the world recognize the zip code 90210 and the area code 212. We can identify where in our neighborhood, city or nation we live by a hand signal of three fingers representing a single letter. We live in a world that has seen borders fall by the power of LAN, 386, 486, 2.0, DSL, 3G and 4G all as fewer and fewer of us actually like to read. THX-1138 saw this all coming as far back as when IBM became HAL.

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Posted in MOVIES TO LOOK FORWARD TO: Coming Soon or Now Playing In A Theater Near You... on August 13th, 2011 by Jim Delaney

Saturday August 6, 2011 at the AMC Boston Common.

Directed by Rupert Wyatt, starring Andy Serkis, James Franco, Freida Pinto, David Oyelowo, Tom Felton, John Lithgow & Brian Cox. My favorite living film composer Patrick Doyle provides the score.

The gateway to wildly imaginative movies for most nerds in my demographic was STAR WARS. I would never deny the profound influence George Lucas’ 1977 spectacle had on my childhood, but my indoctrination into nerd-dom came in 1973, by a double feature of CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES and BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES. The Apes had been to my early childhood development what Sesame Street was to most other kids. Roddy McDowall played two of my earliest heroes, Dr. Cornelius in the first three Apes films, and his son Caesar in my double feature. I never missed an opportunity to see the Apes films on TV; a live action PLANET OF THE APES CBS TV show continued new stories through 1974, with NBC’s animated RETURN TO THE PLANET OF THE APES concluding the Apes saga in 1975. STAR WARS came along right when I needed it, though the Apes remained integral to my sense of wonder.

RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is the happiest surprise this summer. This story is essentially a bridge between ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES, which ended with Caesar’s birth, and CONQUEST updated to the 21st century.
Opening on a jungle hunt wherein Caesar’s mother is captured for lab use, RISE moves to the Gen Sys laboratory in San Francisco, where Dr. Will Rodman (James Franco) attempts to develop DNA altering treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. Will’s big-pharma supervisor Jacobs (David Oyelowo) sees Will’s lab as a potential gold mine, but Will has a more personal stake in his research: his father Charles (John Lithgow) is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Caesar’s mother undergoes Will’s latest attempt at a cure shortly before Caesar is born. The therapy alters Caesar’s DNA; since Caesar does not suffer Alzheimer’s debilitating effect on the brain, the therapy enhances his healthy brain. We follow Caesar’s formative years, raised away from the lab in the Rodman’s home, as he learns to communicate via sign language. Will’s veterinarian girlfriend Caroline (Freida Pinto) helps the two generations of Rodmans raise Caesar. Another father and son (Brian Cox and Tom Felton) who run a primate sanctuary round out the major human characters. Humans play an important part in RISE, but Caesar is front and center in this story, as he was in CONQUEST and BATTLE. Caesar’s quest takes him from birth in captivity, through education in the Rodman home, to incarceration in the primate sanctuary following a series of misfortunes. His advanced mind perceives both injustice at the abuse of his fellow primate inmates and a plan to end their suffering.

Most critics unhappy with this film cite a common (and increasingly tedious) complaint that has been aimed at genre films in general, and Apes films in particular, any time these films expand an area of special effects. Say it with me: “The human characters are not as well developed as the ape characters!” It shows a disappointing lack of imagination, and understanding of what the film medium is capable of, to assume that human characters must be the best developed for a story to succeed. Submitted for your approval, two magnificent films by Jean-Jacques Annaud: THE BEAR (1988) and TWO BROTHERS (2004). I don’t know about you, but when I went to a LASSIE or BENJI movie as a kid, I went to see the puppy not the humans.

Annaud’s films and the dog adventures show us what can be done with well trained animals, but two advances in the film medium further the notion that human actors can play powerfully evocative non-human characters. The first of these advances is motion capture technology, which allows a human actor to be filmed, and then a digital character of anything imaginable to be animated onto that human’s performance. The second, and I would suggest equally important, is an English actor named Andy Serkis. Genre fans recognize Serkis as the man who, working with motion capture technology, was able to perform the 3 foot tall emaciated Gollum in the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy as well as the 60 foot ape Kong in the 2005 remake of KING KONG. When you see rage of fear or sorrow or valor on Caesar’s face, that is not simply clever CGI, that is Andy Serkis emoting and the technology making him appear simian. Serkis is either at the forefront of something very new in acting or something very ancient. Either way he will soon be as recognized for changing the face of film acting as significantly as Meryl Streep did a generation ago and Marlon Brando did two generations ago. When I see an Apes movie, I am only passingly interested in human characters, I want more apes! Andy Serkis delivers a charismatic and intelligent Caesar that quite possibly surpasses even Roddy McDowall for creating an eager suspension of disbelief on the part of the audience. This alone is worth the price of a ticket.

RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES tampers somewhat with the chronology of the Apes canon, most noticeably in how Caesar acquired his increased intelligence, and the circumstances of his interaction with humans. Nonetheless the story embraces the entire previous saga, with bold gestures obvious to most viewers, as well as subtler references apparent only to core fans. Tom Felton gets to deliver a few cutely placed quotes from Charlton Heston’s Taylor in the 1968 film that will be caught by anyone familiar with pop culture. Devoted fans are treated to the fulfillment of a legend, recounted by Cornelius (McDowall) in ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES, to explain how apes rose to the top of the food chain. I am resisting like hell to share a Spoiler; suffice it to say that we actually see Cornelius’ parable played out, and it is even more intense than I imagined all those years ago. I nearly jumped out of my seat. With the possible exception of HARRY POTTER the normally stoic 10 a.m. Boston crowd cheered this scene like nothing I’ve heard for another film this year.

Among the recent litany of remakes (or reimagined reboots) RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is most similar to Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN. These films begin with a story with which we are already familiar, but distill the focus to a single character, treating the new film as a true biography of a fictional character. Zombie’s HALLOWEEN expands the first ten minutes of John Carpenter’s 1978 original to nearly a full hour, focusing entirely on how Michael Meyers came to be a serial killer, before condensing the bulk of Carpenter’s story into the action filled third act. The first two acts of RISE explores Caesar’s previously unseen life between the third (ESCAPE) and fourth (CONQUEST) Apes films of the 70’s, with the final act taking story liberties with the whole of CONQUEST. Inasmuch as this film alters the Apes timeline, it maintains the APES film tradition of social and political commentary. Eric Greene’s excellent 1996 book “Planet of the Apes as American Myth: Race, Politics, and Popular Culture” examines reflections of 1960’s and 70’s unrest and upheaval in each chapter in the Apes saga. RISE offers insights into the science vs. commerce equation in medicine, the marginalization of the infirm, and even prison reform via the ape sanctuary. As a lifelong fan of the earlier films I wholeheartedly enjoyed this new vision of The Planet Of The Apes. I anxiously await the next battle in Caesar’s revolution.

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BLADE RUNNER: The Final Cut (1982/2007)

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 26th, 2011 by Jim Delaney

From Friday, January 25, 2008.

Directed by Ridley Scott, starring Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Daryl Hannah, William Sanderson, James Hong, Joe Turkel and M. Emmet Walsh, featuring a score by the mad Greek, Vangelis.

Los Angeles, 2019: Androids, herein called Replicants, have taken the place of humans performing hazardous occupations. Among those occupations is the colonization of space. Four replicants mutiny in space, return to Los Angeles seeking their creator, and leave a path of violence in their quest. Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a burnt out detective who specializes in hunting down rogue androids, leaves his own pretty grim wake trying to keep the mutineers from their goal.

While BLADE RUNNER is stylistically the most fully realized dystopian nightmare sci-fi movie this side of METROPOLIS (1927), its story is pure Film Noir. It took me several viewings to get past the stunning visuals and understand that Deckard is following up real clues like a proper detective, and not merely stumbling from cool action moment to cooler action moment. After I noticed that, I started noticing other colorful subtleties (like the fact that Deckard is an alcoholic) that a lesser movie that didn’t trust its audience would have beaten them over the head with.

Why are we watching this, haven’t we all seen it already? I missed this new Ridley “Final Cut” when it played at The Landmark last November, and I dunno about you guys, but my TV at home is nowhere near as big as the one in the 8North conference room. If this version contains differences from the 1982 Theatrical and 1992 Director’s Cut versions, I want to be able to spot them on the best screen available! If you’ve wondered whether this new DVD is worth buying, come check it out.

It’ll finish Wednesday.
Love, Jim

AFTER THOUGHT from 7.26.11
I tend to prefer movies that attempt multiple levels, even if they are not entirely successful on all of them, to movies that attempt and succeed on only one level. BLADE RUNNER is a favorite among science fiction movies plus it resonates as an existential quest film. In addition to this being one of my favorite film noir detective movies it is, at least in my estimation, the quintessential Los Angeles movie. This movie fires on all burners and the end result is delicious.

I was fortunate enough to be born within the wake of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY where suddenly it was no longer enough for science fiction movies to simply be about robots and rayguns. Movies like SILENT RUNNING and LOGAN’S RUN and Charlton Heston’s trilogy of doom (PLANET OF THE APES, THE OMEGA MAN, SOYLENT GREEN) used science fiction as a framework to explore political instability, environmental degradation and nuclear annihilation. Though STAR WARS proved that it was more profitable to turn that frown upside down, this did not spell the end of future fear; 1982 blessed us with THE ROAD WARRIOR and BLADE RUNNER. BLADE RUNNER envisioned a future of of haves and have-nots where a few live in fantastic opulence, like Replicant creator Dr. Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel), and the rest exist in squalor.

This is a cautionary tale at its most pointed; virtually every promise of a “brighter tomorrow” is balanced by a glimpse at the failure of that promise. Replicants are not the only technology having the reverse effect of their intended design. Plumes of fire shoot into a permanently sooty sky as a by-product of generating the power necessary to run the city’s massive high rises. Modern conveniences in Deckard’s home, including a lightning fast elevator and voice activated amenities, do not make the place any less of a dump. Sure there are flying cars, but seemingly few for a city this crowded; most are exclusively for police surveillance.

It is rare that an existential quest is handled as directly as it is in BLADE RUNNER. Films where human characters confront their perception of their deity or search for meaning in their life tend to be ponderous, what supporters would call deliberately paced, and detractors dismiss as tedious or boring. The search of the Replicants, led by Nietzcshian superman Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), is somewhat less complicated in that they know where they were manufactured. They only need to find their chief designer, the aforementioned Dr. Tyrell. Deckard’s hardboiled voiceover in the original theatrical release explains that Batty and his crew simply want the same answers the rest of us want from life. Where human characters questioning their existence struggle to define the questions they wish to pose to their chosen higher power, the Replicants have precisely defined questions, but face the task of locating the intellect who designed their minds to find their answers.

***SPOILER: Please skip to the next paragraph if you have not seen the film*** A debate has raged among fans as to whether Rick Deckard himself is a Replicant. In Philip K. Dick’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” the novel on which BLADE RUNNER was based, Deckard is revealed to be artifical. Ridley Scott has been cagey over the years, but his answer tends to support Dick’s novel. Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer prefer to believe that Deckard is human. Such a conflict of ideologies could have wrecked the story, and allegedly did cause considerable tension between Scott and Ford, but I think it makes for a better film. Since nothing is implicitly revealed as to Deckhard’s humanity, his own spiritual identity becomes a more gnawing mystery than that of the known Replicants. The Replicants may hunt, fight, and kill their way to their maker. Deckard continues to search for the vocabulary to even question his existence, or else quiet his soul with that great melodramatic indicator of human weakness and suffering: booze.

Deckard’s alcoholism is one of the time honored traits of a Film Noir antihero but it also humanizes him compared to his virtually flawless Replicant opponents. Deckard is not one of the MAD MEN drinkers who make viewers nostalgic for frequently slurred-speaking, occasionally falling-down drunks, who barely manage to do their jobs. He is more the alcoholic typified by Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) in DOUBLE INDEMNITY; return home from work? Pour a drink. Saying goodbye? One for the road. Shot a Replicant woman in the back on a crowded street? Don’t bother phoning it in promptly like a good cop, go buy a bottle first. The very notion that the hero cop is, in his own warped way, as twisted as those he pursues makes BLADE RUNNER stand shoulder to shoulder with other 80’s noir like Kasdan’s BODY HEAT or Eastwood’s TIGHTROPE.

The production and costume design take their cues from film noir of the late 1930’s to 1950’s. Before exaggerated shoulder pads became a staple of power suits for executive women in the mid 80’s, Sean Young sported classic Joan Crawford hair and Lauren Bacall / Katherine Hepburn style as a Replicant so perfectly constructed that she does not know she is artificial. The smudged makeup, spiked hair and fetish clothing of the renegade Replicants suggests a trajectory where the L.A. punk scene, pioneered by The Circle Jerks and Dead Kennedys during BLADE RUNNER’S late 70’s early 80’s development, had continued to spawn among an angry proletariat. Beneath Roy Batty’s punk surface we find an unexpected collision of two noir archetypes: the cold and calculating villain, and the wronged man seeking revenge. While Batty toggles between punk and noir, existential and visceral, everything about Rick Deckard’s world clings wholeheartedly to noir ethos. His shadowy Frank Llyod Wright tiled apartment, the dilapidated Blade Runner department (filmed in the Art Deco former splendor of L.A.’s Union Station), and the easy going unguarded racism of Deckard’s boss Captain Bryant belie the unsupressable decay of those clinging to a buttoned up 1950’s normalcy.

The finale of BLADE RUNNER plays out within the Bradbury Building, a downtown L.A. icon that has been featured in noir classics from D.O.A. to CHINATOWN as well as multiple episodes of THE OUTER LIMITS. The Bradbury has such a signature look and name that its mere inclusion becomes shorthand for the world we have entered. When I saw BLADE RUNNER in Westport, CT on opening weekend, you could spot the true sci-fi fans in the audience by who reacted when Captain Bryant informs Deckard to continue his investigation “at the Bradbury apartments.” I had not yet visited Los Angeles, didn’t know this was a real building, nor do I expect most of the audience did either. We simply took it as an invocation of sci-fi saint Ray Bradbury. As much as a nod to Ray elicits credibility in the fantasy realm of the incredible, it also enables the film to establish its L.A. reputation, Ray’s position being as solid as Chandler’s in the pantheon of L.A. writers. The very use of the Bradbury building and its name confirms that this is not New York or Chicago, San Francisco or Off-World, this is the City of the Angels.

BLADE RUNNER is a like a snow-globe representation of the past, present and future of Los Angeles, violently shaken so that 100 years of the city collide at once. Past Los Angeles is referenced via architecture and a shared history with film noir, with the present acknowledged by massive neon advertising for Atari, RCA, and Pan-Am, which in 1982 seemed like corporations capable of global dominance. The future of Los Angeles is evinced by more than Replicants and flying cars, more than electronic music and punk rock fashion. No less than the language of the people has evolved. Early in the film we were introduced to what Deckard’s voiceover in the original cut described as “city speak, gutter talk. A mishmash of Japanese, Spanish, German, what have you.” I remember thinking this prediction of racial and ethnic mingling must strike your average Klansmen as the scariest vision of the future any movie has ever created. In 2019 there is no Chinatown or South Central or Beverly Hills, no Boyle Heights or Koreatown or Little Tokyo; every community has overflowed its banks such that the language of Los Angeles encompasses elements of every ethnicity.

BLADE RUNNER is most often regarded as science fiction, but as with the sociological implications within METROPOLIS or the spiritual secrets of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, science fiction provides the foundation on which the rest of this experience was built. Is it an existential quandary with gunplay? A pulp mystery with a Kraftwerk style groove? One of the eight million stories in the cybernetic city? It hits me differently each time I revisit it. The one constant is that the words “Blade Runner” have become as loaded as the name “Bradbury” was in 1982, summoning immeasurably more than a film that was coldly received by critics and ticket buyers, to stand for the the kind of story for which you are not prepared but should have seen coming.

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SECONDS (1966)

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 August 26th, 2010 by Jim Delaney

From Wednesday, March 17, 2008

Directed by John Frankenheimer, starring Rock Hudson, John Randolph and Jeff Corey, featuring an early score by the late great Jerry Goldsmith.

Arthur Hamilton (Randolph), an aging banker, fears his hum-drum yet wealthy life may be sputtering to an end. He is confronted by an agency that offers to give him a new face, a new identity and new youth … by murdering the person with Hamilton’s ideal life and surgically altering him to replace that man. When Hamilton awakens to find that his has become international jet-setter Tony Wilson (Hudson) he also awakens to the greater price that that the shadowy agency charges for their service.

SECONDS was the third in what is considered Frankenheimer’s “Paranoia trilogy,” after THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE in 1962 and SEVEN DAYS IN MAY in ’64. These films were in many ways ahead of their time. Paranoid political/social thrillers became a standard American genre in the 70’s, but few measured up the the hand-held camera/fish-eye-lensed nightmares Frankenheimer unleashed on an audience who had yet to learn to distrust The Powers That Be.

It’ll finish Friday,
Love, Jim

AFTER THOUGHT from 8.26.10
Aside from an intriguing story and unique photography by James Wong How, SECONDS is also a subtle and evocative study in duality. Arthur Hamilton is a Manhattan bank manager who is well regarded at his job. If he is not overly happily married, he and his wife at least seem content in their manicured Scarsdale home. One could expect a man this established in the east coast in the 1960’s to be living the Don Draper life, but he’s feeling more Bert Cooper. Having acquired just about everything a man of his stature could want, everything he’d worked for, Hamilton remains so unsatisfied that he is willing to pay $30,000 to reboot his life. Bear in mind that fee would translate to nearly $200,000 today!

The new life Hamilton receives, established artist Tony Wilson living a stones throw from the Pacific in a Malibu bungalow, fails to deliver the comfort he seeks. Tony Wilson had already earned his reputation before Hamilton assumed his life, leaving Hamilton with no sense of accomplishment for Tony’s deeds. Further, Tony runs within a circle of counter-cultural folks whose sexually and spiritually liberation outright confuses and scares Hamilton. An extended bacchanalian sequence during harvest in Santa Barbara wine country is staged as a sun-drenched nightmare for a buttoned-up gent like Hamilton.

Arthur Hamilton, the aging repressed solitary man from back east, could not be much more different from young bon vivant Tony Wilson from out west. The one thing unifying these divergent bodies is the ability for their singular heart and mind to despair. The horror of SECONDS is that you can find misery anywhere you seek it, and you cannot afford comfort. Personal note: as a devout fan of Santa Barbara wine country, since before SIDEWAYS brought the world to its door, it is really cool to see from what ragged roots that region sprung.

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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 August 19th, 2009 by Jim Delaney

From Wednesday, August 8, 2008 in 8North

Directed by Robert Wise, produced by Darryl F. Zanuck, starring Michael Rennie, Patrica Neal and Lock Martin, and featuring a score by Bernard Herrmann.

A flying saucer lands on the Mall in Washington D.C. and is immediately surrounded by soldiers and heavy artillery.  An alien ambassador named Klaatu emerges, wishing to speak to all the governments of Earth, but refusing to cooperate with any single government.  Klaatu becomes wounded and flees the capitol, hiding out with a suburban family as global paranoia erupts over his whereabouts and intentions.  Who is he?  What does he want?  And what did he leave behind in that flyin’ saucer when he fled?

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL plays a little dry and dated by today’s standards, but it was audacious and profound for its time.  The United Nations had only existed for 5 years.  Man’s ability to annihilate the Earth at the push of a button had been in an escalating race since 1945.  The U.S. War Department, engaged at that moment in the Korean War, refused to cooperate with a movie about peace ’cause it seemed unpatriotic.  Zanuck and Wise had to borrow tanks and other military equipment from the Virginia National Guard.

It’ll finish Thursday.  Love, Jim

AFTER THOUGHT from 8.19.09
We rolled this in anticipation of the December 2008 remake. In hindsight, and at the risk of sounding cliche, I greatly prefer the original. In this quieter story, I believed Klaatu had the power to both destroy and save humanity. The remake does not rely on giving you that faith in Klaatu — it simply shows his race’s strength to you, which sorta undermines his whole mission.

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