September 2009 - Posts
Hal Ashby was not someone that studio executives were jumping up and down to
work with, even as early as 1971. He already had a reputation of distrusting
authority and being incommunicative. Yet his next project was to direct a
Robert Towne screenplay called The Last Detail. While location scouting in Canada for the film he was busted for
marijuana possession. Somehow he was not fired and went on to make a great film
and my favorite by Mr. Ashby . Unlike the broad humor that characterized the
social commentary in Harold and Maude, The Last Detail
questions the lives of it's protagonists with subtlety and even affection.
The film opens with a couple of sailors, "Bad Ass" Buddusky (Jack Nicholson)
and "Mule" Mulhall (Otis Young), being called in to hear they've been
assigned a shore patrol. They'll be transporting a young seaman named Larry
Meadows (Randy Quaid) up the coast to Portsmouth Naval Prison. He's been court-marshaled for stealing $40 from the favorite charity of the
"Old Man's wife." Since this isn't going to be too dangerous of
a task, the two "lifers" plan to get Meadows to Portsmouth as quickly
as possible and use the rest of their time and per diem to have some fun in
Boston and New York. After meeting Meadows, a large and awkward kid, it seems
like it will be easier still.
But as they set out and start talking to Meadows they begin to like the kid
and feel that he deserves a good time before he goes away.
"Bad Ass" feels especially strongly about it and explodes when a
bartender refuses to give Meadows a beer because he's too young. The
bartender says he's going to call the shore patrol, to which he famously pulls
out his firearm and says, "I am the *&%^! shore patrol!" Early on
we realize that "Mule" isn't against a good time but he just wants to
do his job and "Bad Ass" isn't against his job but he just wants to
have a good time. He takes Meadows under his wing and basically forces him to
experience what he sees as all the essential rights of passage. The trip is an
eventful one and reveals a lot about each character.
If you enjoy character-driven road movies then you will really like The
Last Detail. Movies where you virtually "hang out" with characters
are amongst my favorites. The acting is excellent and brings these well-crafted grunts to life from a wonderful script by Towne. When asked why there
is so much profanity in the dialogue, Towne responded that these guys were
virtually impotent to make any change in their circumstances. As mentioned
before, they are "lifers" existing in a rigid military existence that
they both need and hate. So the only power they exhibit is in their language,
in the colorful way they complain about or object to most everything. The journey they experience forces them to react to situations familial, religious and political. The
cinematography is bleak and beautiful and I really think the editing is
great. The slow fades between actors during a conversation on a train particularly stick out to me. This movie is first rate and
well worth seeing for a young Nicholson working at the height of his ability.
The disc was released in 1999 and gives both widescreen and fullscreen options for viewing. The sound is in Dolby Digital 2.0 and there are no extras of note.
Wes Anderson and Judd Apatow have each discussed their fondness for Mr. Ashby's movies and they've both referenced The Last Detail in their own films (The Royal Tenenbaums and Funny People). A fairly recent road movie that also has the characters getting to know each other while on the move is the enjoyable Almost Famous by Cameron Crowe.
Neil Patrick Harris hosted, had a great opening number
, and also made an appearance as Dr. Horrible
(featuring Nathan Fillion as Captain Hammer).
won for best Comedy, and
won for best drama. Two of my favorite shows getting the recognition they deserve.
Individual winners include Bryan Cranston for best lead actor in a drama for
(which is an amazing little show on AMC). Michael Emerson won best supporting actor in a drama for his creepy
role as Benjamin Linus on "LOST"
. And, no surprise, Alec Baldwin won best supporting actor for "30 Rock". The guy is such a pro
Most people have heard the news, but for those who don't know, Patrick Swayze died Monday
. He was 57. To honor him, I've compiled a list of my top five Swayze movies.
This movie is now so deeply rooted into our pop culture that to leave it off the list would be a sin. While I didn't have the time of my life, I definitely earned major chic points watching it. I also regularly use the phrase, "No one puts baby in a corner."
To Wong Foo
Described to me as a drag queen road trip, I was initially uninterested. I was later proven wrong by this funny and touching flick. Plus it takes a guy who is extremely comfortable in his manliness with some serious balls to wear a dress.
Yeah, I liked it. So what? It's Ghostbusters meets All My Children. It's a paranormal love story. Plus, when you think about it, it was actually Whoppi Goldberg and Demi Moore making out with each other in the famous sculpting wheel scene. Try to get that picture out of your head.
Swayze plays a self-help guru who's got all the quick fix answers to your social and mental problems. The man is clearly full of it and totally sells the performance. Minus the cult following, it's a very underrated movie.
To this day I still do know how this film got made. The plot is ridiculous, and Keanu Reeves and Gary Busey are terrible in it. It's clearly a case of "so bad that it's good." Swayze plays a surfing, thrill seeking, bank robber named Bodhi. I always love the ending when Bodhi goes out to grab that one last monster wave. What a way to go.
If little green men land and request a human representative to explain American cinema, we would send them Martin Scorsese. He is an enthusiastic student of the medium as well as a true master. Suffering from asthma as a child, he spent more time watching movies than playing outside. After deciding against the priesthood, he enrolled at NYU film school graduating in 1969 with an MFA in film directing. After editing work on Woodstock, directing B-movie Boxcar Bertha for Roger Corman and a frank discussion with mentor John Cassavetes, he was ready to make his first personal film, Mean Streets.
The film opens with Charlie (Harvey Keitel) waking in a cold sweat. Mr. Scorsese himself narrates Charlie's thoughts on sin before we hear "Be My Baby" by the Ronettes usher in the credits. Contemporary rock music began transforming film soundtracks with Easy Rider, but there is something different going on in this film. Mr. Scorsese has the uncanny ability of marrying sound and image in such a way that each are heightened. It is fascinating to see what has become one of his signature talents in its infancy.
We learn that Charlie has a consciense and frequents confession, yet he also wants to move up in his neighborhood's underworld heirarchy. Making things more difficult is his longtime friend Johnny Boy (Robert DeNiro), who flies off the handle and owes money to several creditors. We follow Charlie and Johnny Boy and an interesting cast of Little Italy goons. They fight, they steal, they go to the movies. Johnny Boy is like family, yet Charlie is faced with tough decisions as his behavior becomes more self-destructive and endangers Charlie's own ambitions.
This is a great "first" film. And as I mentioned, it is wonderful to see Mr. Scorsese's cinematic signatures present early in his work. The camera moves all over the place. There are moments that remind me of similar shots in Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Casino or The Departed. Keitel and DeNiro shine, and Amy Robinson is also good as Charlie's girlfriend Teresa. The casting was spot on and gives the film a very naturalistic quality. If you liked any of the above mentioned movies, you should give this a look.
A version was released in 1998 but was replaced by a special edition in 2004. The picture has been ehanced in the transfer and looks great. Sound is in Dolby Digital 2.0 and does a fine job with the pop tunes and terse dialogue. Extras include commentary by Scorsese and Robinson as well as a featurette.
The movie I find has the greatest connection to Mean Streats is his 1990 film Good Fellas. They'd form a great double bill. Spike Lee's signature shot of an actor traveling on a dolly with the camera is an homage to a shot in Mean Streets and can be seen in nearly all his films. And in the Sam Mendes film Jarhead, we see a red-lit bar scene that clearly evokes the ones in this film.