Friday, July 31, 2009

Dez's Top 50 Movies, #'s 15-11

It's the end of the week, so as usual I'll give you a double shot of the movies list. After today we are down to the Top 10. This batch spans almost 50 years.

15. Goodfellas (1990), dir. Martin Scorsese
Strange as it may seem, I didn’t really like this film when I first saw it. Don’t know why, because it has become my favorite Scorsese film (which says a lot, I really like most of his movies). Yes, it is a mob film, but it also presents a way of life through several decades. Scorsese became famous for dramatic, unbroken camera shots (much imitated), and that is really because of this film. It is the peak of the “Scorsese style.” Robert De Niro is predictably great, but Ray Liotta’s mob everyman Henry Hill and Joe Pesci’s psychopath Tommy DeVito really steal the show. Scorsese was one of the pioneers of using pop music in his movies (all the way back to Mean Streets in the early 70’s) vs. a traditional musical score, and he is masterful here (the cocaine-fueled scene of paranoia near the end done to The Rolling Stones’ “Monkey Man”? Oh man, that is so brilliant.) This is all based on a true story too.

ABOVE: Want to see masterful cinematography? This is one of Scorsese’s most famous shots in any movie; a thrilling three minutes where there is not a single cut. It is all done in one shot.

14. The Graduate (1967), dir. Mike Nichols
This is deservedly a watershed film. Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin Braddock represented a generation’s rejection of its parents’ values. Benjamin wasn’t a 60’s radical or hippie, he was a person who still maintained all outward appearances of a clean cut young man on the rise. But inside, the type of life his parents and their friends found fulfilling (or did they really? Just ask Mrs. Robinson) cannot satisfy. He wants more, but crucially he has no idea what that “more” really is. Telling is the final scene in the film, where Ben seemingly has what and who he wants; he and Elaine (Katherine Ross) are riding off on the bus laughing at what just happened. But the last shot is not Ben laughing and smiling, the shot stays on Ben just long enough to show his smile fade a little bit, as if to ask, “now what?” Quite apart from all of the deep meanings, The Graduate is also very funny and revolutionary in its visual style and wonderful use of the Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack. I think all modern young people go through a Ben Braddock period (well, maybe not the sleeping with Anne Bancroft part) where despite outward success, they still feel unfulfilled in some way.

ABOVE: The generation gap is represented here in this famous scene.

ABOVE: "Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me. Aren't you?"

13. Raising Arizona (1987), dir. Joel Coen
This is still the greatest of all Coen Brothers triumphs. One of those movies where every line is funny to me at this point. For once, the awkward goofiness/sincerity of Nicholas Cage is perfectly suited to a role. This is here on my list purely for the writing, some of the sharpest and funniest dialogue I’ve ever come across.

ABOVE: Siskel & Ebert disagreed over Raising Arizona's merits. I obviously agree with Siskel

12. Casablanca (1942), dir. Michael Curtiz
What is interesting about this undeniable classic is that when it was put together, nobody thought that they were making a lasting piece of art. It went through several writers, sometimes writing and changing scenes on set on the day of filming them. At the time Humphrey Bogart himself dismissed what would become his most iconic character as just another forgettable film hero among many. But somehow the stars were aligned and a classic film was born. Bogart is at his swarthy best, but all of the characters are great, even the minor ones. Claude Raines is wonderful as the opportunistic French chief of police who seems to have loyalty to no one but his own pocketbook. What strikes me is that the dialogue still holds up today as witty and fast. Most films of that era do not age (dialogue-wise) this smoothly. The funny parts are still genuinely funny, and the touching parts are still genuinely touching. And you can understand why a man would lose his way after letting Ingrid Bergman slip through his fingers. Finally, the film captures the exciting, corrupt, seamy atmosphere of a place like Casablanca during World War II.

ABOVE: "I'm shocked! Shocked that gambling is going on in here."

11. The Empire Strikes Back (1980), dir. Irvin Kershner
It is no coincidence that the best of the entire Star Wars series was one of the two films not directed by George Lucas. He may be good with the big ideas, but he is a horrible director, and writes the clunkiest dialogue imaginable (just watch the recent trilogy for evidence of what too much Lucas can do). Empire was the middle episode in the original trilogy, so it served as a bridge between the beginning and the end. It was the darkest of the originals, and the one where Darth Vader became one of the greatest villains in film history (before he was revealed to be a whiny child in the new trilogy). Yoda first appears here, pre-CGI and pre-jumping around with a lightsaber. Can you tell I have a problem with the newer Star Wars films? Yoda, the Hoth ice planet, Boba Fett, asteroid field chase, killer lightsaber duel (pre-CGI), the best Han Solo scenes, smooth as a cold 40 Lando, carbonite, one of the most shocking revelations in all movies (which was rendered impotent by showing Luke’s birth in Revenge of the Sith…argh!) This one was the best.

ABOVE: I always liked the Empire Strikes Back film poster (original)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Dez's Favorite Flicks, #'s 20-16

This batch has the last of the horror movies, I promise. Francis Ford Coppola is well represented here.

20. Night of the Living Dead (1968), dir. George Romero
Years ago I would have picked the sequel Dawn of the Dead as my favorite of George Romero’s epic zombie series, but of late I’ve grown to really appreciate the first. Afficianados know that Romero uses his zombie flicks as social and political commentary, and this one looks at both racial issues in the United States at the time and Cold War tensions. This (along with John Carpenter’s Halloween) may be the ultimate low budget flick that had a surprising cultural impact. Romero was bold in 1968 to cast a black actor (Duane Jones) as his heroic lead, especially when Jones basically takes charge in a group of frightened and largely incompetent white men, women and children. Larger social commentary aside, this is also top notch horror thrills and chills, and the stark black and white is brilliantly used as the tense siege plot unfolds as the group of survivors hunker down in a remote farmhouse to fend off the zombie attack.

19. Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), dir. Tobe Hooper
In my humble opinion, this is the greatest horror film ever made. The low budget was a huge asset, making the more intense moments so up close and personal that it comes uncomfortably close to feeling like a snuff film at times. Many critics have commented that one of the things that makes Chainsaw so effective is that it come across as a low budget documentary. What a wonderfully twisted “family” we have here in the three generations of cannibalistic murderers that cross paths with, of course, the group of unwitting teenagers who can’t escape. While Leatherface has become the most famous, I love the Dad, played with sadistic glee by Jim Siedow. Both number 20 and 19 prove that sometimes low budgets can be a blessing, unleashing the human imagination and creativity when those are your only assets in your arsenal.

ABOVE: Leatherface has a thing for power tools

18. Apocalypse Now (1979), dir. Francis Ford Coppola
I watched this again recently and was surprised by the power it still has over the viewer. The opening alone is worth the price of admission, a genius mixture of music (The Doors’ “The End”) and visuals (napalm bombing and Martin Sheen going crazy). Most of you probably know already, this was a film adaptation of the Joseph Conrad novel 'Heart of Darkness,' but Coppola brilliantly changed the setting from colonial Africa to the Vietnam War. As legendary as the film itself are the stories of its troubled production: Sheen’s heart attack, the typhoon in the Philippines destroying the set, Coppola throwing his life savings into the production and having a nervous breakdown, Marlon Brando showing up (being paid $1,000,000 for a week’s work) overweight, uncooperative and not having even read the script, calmly telling Coppola that he would prefer to improvise. All of these hardships, funny enough, help the film with its manic, feverish quality. Sheen, Dennis Hopper, Brando and the others are not just acting crazy. They were all going a bit crazy in the tropics on this shoot. Sheen later admitted that he did not think he would live through the end of production. In a film about men who, out of necessity, must ignore the rules of civilized society and embrace savagery in order to survive, Col. Kilgore’s (Robert Duvall) famous quote below makes perfect sense.

“I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”

17. Ed Wood (1994), dir. Tim Burton
Edward G. Wood, Jr. has been long acknowledged as the worst filmmaker of all time (his opus Plan 9 From Outer Space is thought by most to be the worst movie ever made). So what an odd subject for a loving, quirky biopic, but Burton and Johnny Depp (as Wood) put together a wonderful tribute to a type of fearless (or clueless) filmmaker and a bygone DIY era of filmmaking. This is more than a tribute to a man, it is a tribute to the b-movie world of 50’s and 60’s Hollywood, far away from the big studio backlots. Depp and his ragtag outcast group of friends lie, cheat and steal in order to get the meager resources to make their shlock. But in Wood’s own mind he is the next Orson Welles. And, in a sense, Plan 9 is the Citizen Kane of bad movies. The true highlight is Martin Landau’s stunning performance as an elderly, morphine-addicted, down-on-his-luck Bela Lugosi. Landau does more than merely portray Lugosi, he becomes Lugosi. By the time Lugosi started appearing in Wood’s crappy b-horror/sci-fi flicks, it was a long way from his Dracula heyday. Landau plays Lugosi with sympathy, anger, spunk and wisdom.

ABOVE: A great scene showing the true nature of a b-movie shoot. Here Lugosi (Martin Landau) must fight with an octopus, but they have no motor for the beast, so he must also throw its tentacles around to make it look as if it is killing him. The story he tells, by the way, about Lugosi turning down Frankenstein because he didn’t think it was a good part, is true.

16. The Godfather Pt. II (1974), dir. Francis Ford Coppola
Whereas the first Godfather film tells an epic tale, the sequel tells two epic tales. We are already familiar with the Corleone family dynamic, but GII bookends that first film, going both back in time to before the first film, and also picking up and moving forward from where the first film ended. We get the juxtaposition of a young Vito Corleone (Robert de Niro brilliantly taking Brando’s portrayal from the first film and transforming him into a young man) and a wiser and colder Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) trying to secure his family’s criminal empire. I love how the de Niro scenes in a bustling, turn of the century Little Italy in New York are full of life and optimism, whereas the 1950’s Corleone empire is much more powerful, but also devoid of joy and corroded. It is an ambitious and complicated film about power, politics and family (I had to watch it several times to fully understand all of the byzantine plot twists and turns), but it is fascinating. The rare sequel that is equal to its predecessor. And one of my all time favorite scenes is Tom Hagen's (Robert Duvall) talk with Frank Pentangeli (Michael V. Gazzo) about the old days and the Roman Empire. Both men know what Pentangeli must do, but it is never stated directly, only hinted at through their discussion of the Roman ways. (I tried to find the scene on YouTube, but to no avail. They had it in Spanish, but not English!)

ABOVE: "It was you, Fredo! I know it was you. You broke my heart."

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Insanity On Full View: Starbury TV

I'm not sure how many of you know about this by now, but NBA nutjob Stephon Marbury has decided to stream access to himself 24/7. This has been going on for several days now, and you can watch Starbury do his thing around his house. This is Marbury, mind you, so it is not just watching an ordinary dude. He will break down in tears, then five minutes later he will rap. My friend Walter Evans alerted me to this fascinating breakdown, and I've been tuning in sporadically for three days now. I enjoy his philosophical rants. I was fortunate enough last night to watch him eat vasoline. This very moment he is dancing in his bedroom, doing a pole dance. Check it out here.

Here's Starbury gettin' real emotional with ya'll...

But there are happier times as well. Here he is dancing...

The New Look

My old friend JMW complained recently that the black background with white writing hurt his eyes. In order to help my elderly readers, I decided to shake things up a little bit and change the backgrounds and general colors. Don't worry, it is the same quality content that you've come to expect from GNABB, just a new look. Do you like it or would you prefer I go back to the old look?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Price of a Typo

I saw this news blurb today and thought it was funny. I found the story on Reuters of a haplass Swedish couple driving in Italy who wanted to get to the resort island of Capri. Unfortunately for them they typed in "Carpi" instead of "Capri" into their GPS system in their car. This small typo took them 400 miles off course and to the opposite end of Italy. Upon arriving in the industrial city of Carpi, they stopped at the tourist office and asked for directions to the famous Blue Grotto in Capri. Once they were informed that they were at the wrong end of Italy, they calmly left and drove South.

ABOVE: Carpi, Italy

BELOW: Capri, Italy

Monday, July 27, 2009

Dez's Favorite Movies, #25-21

What the hell, I’ll give you a double shot of the Dez Favorite Movies. No horror or sci-fi in this batch. This one is dominated by historical epics. I’m a sucker for well done period pieces; unfortunately, they are rarely done well. #25-23 are exceptions to that rule. Two take place in the latter part of the 18th century, one in the palaces of Europe and the other in the south Pacific. Then the third one jumps to the 1970’s. I round out this batch with a documentary and a concert film/documentary, both covering events in the 1970’s. Not only is there a variety of time periods covered, but one film was made in the 70’s, two in the 80’s, one in the 90’s and one in the 2000’s.

25. Amadeus (1984), dir. Milos Forman
Mozart as rock star. I love many things about this film. First of all, it takes arguably the greatest music composer in history and humanizes him. It takes him out of the museum and concert hall and breathes life into him. Classical composers and musicians were the pop music artists of their day, yet they are rarely viewed in that context. Tom Hulce infuses his Mozart with an irresistible charm and self-destructive, carefree attitude. From what we understand of Mozart’s life, this was probably an accurate portrayal. The hard partying Mozart would have been at home hanging out with Keith Richards. It deals wonderfully with the maddening fact that, as the inferior composer Salieri seething with jealously notes, God decided to give this divine talent to a hard drinking, womanizing manchild. Hulce is wonderful, but it is F. Murray Abraham’s portrayal of the jealous Salieri that really makes this film. Salieri is a man just talented enough to realize the genius of Mozart (Mozart died in obscurity, he was only revered after his death), and how mediocre he and almost every other mere mortal composer is next to the godlike Mozart. As he proudly proclaims near the end “I am the patron saint of mediocrity!” The Salieri character is crucial, because he is us. We cannot understand or fully connect with Mozart himself, these people are rare indeed. But we all can understand the jealousy and desires of a Salieri, watching other people do what we wish we could do. The film is most likely not historically accurate as far as the Salieri/Mozart plot is concerned, it is a fringe conspiracy theory at best that the film presents as fact. Mozart was most likely solely responsible for his early demise. Makes for a great story, though.

24. Boogie Nights (1997), dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
A sprawling epic that uses the porn industry’s golden age to present the decadent side of the 1970’s and self-destructive early 1980’s. Mark Wahlberg’s Dirk Diggler was loosely based on porn legend John Holmes. Anderson put together a hell of a cast for his film, including Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Don Cheadle, William H. Macy, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, Alfred Molina, Heather Graham and Luis Guzman. But it is Burt Reynolds’ career resurrecting performance as the fatherly porn king Jack Horner who really stands out. Some might say the film is a bit long and unfocused, but it serves as a study of 70’s California culture and less a traditional film with a plot. The favorable review in the San Francisco Chronicle sums it up very well, and is worth quoting: "Boogie Nights is the first great film about the 1970s to come out since the '70s ... It gets all the details right, nailing down the styles and the music. More impressive, it captures the decade's distinct, decadent glamour ... [It] also succeeds at something very difficult: re-creating the ethos and mentality of an era ... Paul Thomas Anderson ... has pulled off a wonderful, sprawling, sophisticated film ... With Boogie Nights, we know we're not just watching episodes from disparate lives but a panorama of recent social history, rendered in bold, exuberant colors." Anderson handles these disparate lives and stories with Robert Altman-like skill.

ABOVE: Burt Reynolds is so great in this. Here Reynolds resists the change from film to videotape in the porn industry in the early 80's. "You know, if it looks like sh*t, and it sounds like sh*t, then it must be sh*t."

23. The Bounty (1984), dir. Roger Donaldson
Considered a failure upon release (mainly because it went grossly over-budget), this dramatic retelling of the mutiny aboard the H.M.S. Bounty holds up extremely well. Based on the actual mutiny, it is a film that becomes a battle of wills between two titanic personalities. One is the volatile Captain William Bligh, played with manic intensity by Anthony Hopkins; the other is the mysterious and equally volatile First Mate Fletcher Christian, played by a ridiculously gorgeous Mel Gibson. (Yes, I called him gorgeous). While the acting may be over the top at times, the film captures the tropical beauty, madness and lust of Englishmen visiting Tahiti. The collision course that former friends Bligh and Christian are on is fascinating to watch, and you can understand and sympathize with both sides. With beautiful locales, dramatic scenes that are historically pretty accurate, a lush musical score from Vangelis; The Bounty is worth seeing. Look for Liam Neeson and Daniel Day-Lewis amongst the Bounty crew.

ABOVE: This is right after Christian and his allies take over The Bounty and set Bligh and his loyalists adrift. Again, this is a true story (largely based on Bligh's log and the testimony at the inquiry), and it remarkable that Bligh and his men were set adrift in the South Pacific and Bligh was able navigate from memory to safety. Whatever his faults, Capt. Bligh was a remarkable seaman.

22. Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple (2006), dir. Stanley Nelson
The Rev. Jim Jones of the Peoples’ Temple was one of the worst mass murderers in history outside of wartime, yet many people don’t look at what happened in Jonestown, Guyana in 1978 as murder. I have studied Jonestown and what happened there for many years; there is a cottage industry of books, research, studies and commentary on Jonestown, and I’ve probably read most of it. The people/victims of Jonestown were not simply brainwashed crazy cult members. Peoples’ Temple and Jones started out as a bold, racially integrated, charitable christian Church that accomplished a great deal. Over time, Jones changed the message from one of Christianity to Socialism, with Jones at the center of its universe. This was not a fringe group out the mountains. At the peak of his power, Jones was chairman of the San Francisco Housing Commission, he was responsible for electing SF mayor Muscone, and he was personal friends with everyone from the governor of California to First Lady Rosalind Carter. But once a small group of journalists started to look a little more closely into the church operations, they found tales of rape, embezzlement of members’ property, and a military-like structure with Jones at the top. That was when he took 1000 of his followers and started a utopian civilization in the jungles of Guyana. After Jones murdered a U.S. congressman who was visiting Jonestown to investigate reports of people being held there against their will, over 900 Americans died in the jungle, half of them children, when Jones ordered the mass suicide (although many people resisted and were forced to drink the poison). All of this and more is captured brilliantly in this documentary featuring footage, interviews and analysis. Crucially, the people of Jonestown are presented as good people who thought they were creating a better world. Instead they found themselves in a jungle hell. Since Jones recorded all of his sermons, you can also hear the harrowing audio of the actual suicide/murders, his Last Sermon. Gripping stuff, and a fascinating study of a complex story.

21. The Last Waltz (1978), dir. Martin Scorsese
You know this is not going to be your run-of-the-mill concert film when the director is Martin Scorsese. The Band was a hell of a band, making a couple of absolute classic albums in the late 60’s and maintaining a worshipful reverence from their peers throughout the 70’s. By the late 70’s leader Robbie Robertson decided to call it quits, but he wanted to go out in style. Organizing the ultimate farewell show, they invited friends like Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Van Morrison, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Joni Mitchell (even Neil Diamond) to join them onstage. The concert footage is thrilling as expected, but Scorsese does more. He captures the Bands’ perspectives and thoughts in sometimes profound, sometimes incoherent, sometimes funny (in a Spinal Tap kind of way), but always interesting interview and documentary segments. The Last Waltz becomes more than a concert film, it is a document of an era in music.

ABOVE: Here's Van Morrison with The Band in an exuberant performance of Van's "Caravan." Love Van's 70's jacket!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Dez's Favorite Movies, #'s 30-26

We are here at the halfway point. Quite exciting. While the last batch was eclectic, this batch is not. I have always loved horror and sci-fi, so I guess this group reflects that.

30. tie: Frankenstein (1931), dir. James Whale and Young Frankenstein (1974), dir. Mel Brooks
Yeah, I know this is kind of a gimmicky entry and a way to get an extra flick on my list, but so what. They belong together. I’ve always been a huge classic horror film fan, especially of the Universal monster movies. The best out of the bunch for me is the original Frankenstein, featuring Boris Karloff’s iconic and sympathetic turn as the monster, really one of the better performances in American cinema history (especially considering the make-up and costume he was dealing with). Most critics pick the sequel Bride of Frankenstein as the peak of classic horror, but I go with the original. Frankenstein suffers from some plot deficiencies in the second half, but it is gothic classic horror at its best. What Brooks, Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle did with their parody Young Frankenstein was astounding. Not only is it Brooks’ funniest film, but it lovingly pays homage to classic Universal horror, down to using the original laboratory sets from the 1931 Frankenstein.

ABOVE: I love the bookcase sequence from Young Frankenstein. "Put ze candle back!"

29. The Thing (1982), dir. John Carpenter

Ostensibly a remake of Howard Hawkes' 1951 The Thing From Another World, Carpenter’s apocalyptic version goes for claustrophobia and gore. A scientific investigation team in Antarctica comes across an astonishing find; alien life crashed here and was frozen for millions of years. Somehow it has thawed, and it ain’t friendly. You could argue that this is a rehash of Alien, and in many ways it is. But man is it fun and gruesome, and although it didn’t do well when it was released, it has since gained a substantial cult following. Led by Kurt Russell’s badass R.J. MacReady, the team desperately tries to battle the aggressive alien life form that has the ability to absorb and replicate other life forms. They understand the implications for humanity if this creature were able to get off the Antarctica continent. Speaking of Alien

28. Alien (1979), dir. Ridley Scott

Alien broke some ground in several ways. Instead of the largely glistening and sterile image of space projected in Star Wars, Star Trek or even 2001, Scott decided to portray life in space just as dirty, grimy and gritty as life on earth. The sense of claustrophobia Scott creates on this space frigate is unmatched in movies. It is a basic the-hunter-and-the-hunted premise, but expertly executed. Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley is the prototype for tough babes who can kick just as much ass as the dudes. One of the first roles for a female in distress where she was not reduced to merely screaming and waiting for the men around her to save her. She can take care of herself. The film really does turn gender roles on their head, as is also demonstrated by the film’s most famous scene featuring John Hurt. Alien finally serves as a bridge between films like 2001 and The Terminator in its wariness of technology so advanced that that same technology can turn on its creators (and tie that theme also all the way back to my 1931 pick in #30). This is just moving Frankenstein themes into the modern age and into space (I am speaking specifically of the subplot involving Ian Holm’s Ash, not really the alien itself). While the sequel Aliens was loads of fun and excellent, it failed to recapture the terror of the original.

ABOVE: This probably the subject of a whole other post, but Hollywood has really lost the art of making a trailer. Above is the trailer for Alien, and it is the most effective trailer I’ve ever seen. After watching this trailer, if you love horror and sci-fi, you can’t wait to see this. If you hate horror and sci-fi, there is no way in hell you would see it. Not a word of dialogue is spoken in the entire trailer, and no plot points are really given away at all. Pure terror and image. “In space no one can hear you scream.” The trailer would be an adrenaline shot to this day if they showed it in a theater.

27. The Hustler (1961), dir. Robert Rossen

Paul Newman may be my favorite actor, and this is definitely his greatest performance in a career packed with great performances. With his looks, Newman could have sat back and taken easy heroic roles. Instead he dove into talented but fatally flawed losers like Eddie Felson. I talked a lot about Newman and this film in particular in my obituary for Newman that I posted here when he died, so I suggest revisiting that for more detail. The chemistry between actors of the caliber of Newman, George C. Scott and Jackie Gleason is something to behold. I will repost the great clip here that I used in my Newman post, though. Worth watching again.

ABOVE: Check this scene out. Newman and Gleason (in the unforgettable role of Minnesota Fats). Beautiful. (I apologize for the poor quality of the video, The Hustler is available on DVD in a gorgeous remastered version). One of the best exchanges ever: (Felson) "I didn't leave you much..." (Fats) "You left enough." Yes!

26. The Terminator (1984), dir. James Cameron

I don’t really need to say too much here, I assume most of you have seen this? I will say one thing, though. It is funny that a movie like this, in comparison to the latest sci-fi/action blockbusters, seems downright streamlined and low budget in comparison. And it is more effective and interesting too. While its sequel was an excellent action film and great in its own right, this was the only time that a terminator was actually scary. Much parodied, Ah-Nuld actually did a wonderful job portraying this unstoppable force. If only the Governator could be this effective and ruthless when dealing with California’s budget troubles.

"You will sign dis budget. You will cut dese programs and you will raise dese taxes. Do it now for Caleeforneea."

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Ego and the Corporate Image

ABOVE: "You can't do that...I'm Lebron James!"

I used to have a lot of respect for Lebron James. While I still think he is the most talented player in the NBA, I don't have as much respect for him as a man. I’m not even talking about refusing to shake hands with Dwight Howard and The Magic after they beat Lebron and the Cavaliers handily in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals. That did show poor sportsmanship, but I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. He was so committed and so crushed that he couldn’t face defeat; or perhaps it was a strategic move to show the Cleveland ownership how pissed he was that they did not surround him with more help. To be generous to Lebron, maybe it was "strategery" to get the Cleveland brass to make some good moves in the offseason in order to keep Lebron happy and therefore stay in Cleveland next summer when his contract is up.

But after the season ended, Lebron was often seen around town with his posse haughtily decked out in their New York gangsta gear. The rumors were already flying around the Mistake by the Lake that Lebron was seriously considering bolting for the lights of Broadway. (I’m not sure why anyone would want to be a part of the Knicks organization, but that's another discussion). No class.

And now comes The Dunk That Didn't Happen. At Lebron’s skills camp that he and Nike sponsor, Lebron played in a pick-up game with various college and high school stars. One college player was Jordan Crawford of Xavier. In the game Crawford allegedly slammed a two handed dunk on King James. I say allegedly because soon after the alleged dunk occurred, Lebron ordered the Nike stormtroopers at the game to confiscate all video evidence of said alleged dunk. Nike and Lebron initiated a media blackout, there is to be no video anywhere…not on ESPN, not on YouTube. The King cannot be seen getting stuffed by a college kid. Is Lebron so humorless, so beholden to his own image that he can’t even laugh off a dunk in a pick up game? What a douche. I did not realize just how much Nike owned Lebron.

But living in the technological age in which we live, there is footage that has leaked out. The Nike Gestapo let one recording slip through the cracks! If you go to they have footage from some dude’s cell phone who was watching the game. The footage is from a distance and grainy (and the dunk is not that impressive anyway), but there is the evidence that it did occur. First breaking the death of Michael Jackson, and now Lebron Stuffed. Impressive, TMZ, impressive.

As usual with cover-ups and conspiracies, the story is much bigger now that Lebron and Nike tried to get their goons to destroy all of the evidence vs. just laughing it off. It would have been a hot YouTube video for about a day and a half and then forgotten. I can't believe I'm saying this, but Kobe Bryant looks downright mature in comparison. You can add this story to the growing mountain of evidence that King James may not be fit for the throne.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


This is the most amazing thing I've ever seen. Mindblowing. Thanks to JMW over at ASWOBA for posting this.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Want a Supergroup? Try The Dirty Mac

ABOVE: After a surreal interview by Mick Jagger of John Lennon, watch The Dirty Mac hit the stage for a rendition of The Beatles' "Yer Blues." Who's the Dirty Mac? A one-off supergroup comprised of John Lennon (vocals, guitar), Eric Clapton (guitar), Keith Richards (bass) and Mitch Mitchell of the Jimi Hendrix Experience (drums).

Dez's Favorite Flicks, #'s 35-31

I had a phone conversation last night with my friend JMW. We discussed the trials and travails of creating movie (and music) lists. He had an interesting idea. Noticing that there are some evergreens that appear on every list for me or for him, perhaps those should be "retired" to make room for some newer or more off the beaten path picks. Perhaps one could segregate the all time favorites, like "these 20 films are in the Hall of Fame", list them real quick, and then move on to discussing some different but still great picks. This might serve one of the goals of listmaking, the one of suggesting interesting choices for the reader to check out that they might have missed. But at the same time, I countered, when you assemble these periodic lists, you want them to be comprehensive and accurate. You know, "these are my favorite 50" with no caveats. Ah, such is the dilemma of listmaking. JMW did, by the way, admit to me that he did not think he had actually ever seen First Blood, even though he commented on that pick in my last batch. mmm-hmm. He assures me that his own list is coming soon over at ASWOBA.

The five below are an eclectic bunch. A bit heavy on the 70's, but that was a hell of a decade for great moviemaking.

35. Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), dir. James Foley

David Mamet dialogue is always distinctive with its rapid fire, sharp exchanges. This film adaptation of one of his best plays works so well in part due to the superlative cast that Mamet and Foley pulled together: Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Kevin Spacey, Alec Baldwin, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin and Jonathan Pryce all dig their teeth into this material with gusto. It is the story of a group of desperate real estate salesmen competing with each other to not get fired after the hatchet man (in a hilarious tirade of verbal abuse given by Alec Baldwin) announces that the salesman of the month will get a Cadillac, second place a set of steak knives, and the rest will be fired. My favorite exchange in a movie full of memorable exchanges: Lemmon is excitedly detailing to Pacino a big sale he just closed at the home of some buyers, and both men savor each moment of the hunt. Lemmon tells of how the woman of the house served him a piece of pie as they were negotiating. Pacino: “Homemade?” Lemmon: “No, store bought.” Pacino: “F*ck her.”

ABOVE: Alec Baldwin's famous inspirational speech to the sales force in Glengarry Glen Ross

34. Gandhi (1982), dir. Richard Attenborough

This historical epic film is a fairly accurate telling of the life of Gandhi and the history of India during his time. While historians can nitpick certain scenes or argue fairly about how certain events were portrayed or what was omitted, Attenborough and his team did a good job overall. Ben Kingsley made his name with his phenomenal portrayal of one of the most revered figures in human history. While enjoyable as a film, this movie also serves as a fantastic educational tool. When I was teaching Geography to 9th graders, I used this film in the Indian unit. Not only does it chronicle India’s fight for freedom from the British, it also explains the civil war that erupted within India soon after independence and resulted in the creation of Pakistan.

33. Dog Day Afternoon (1975), dir. Sidney Lumet
Based on an actual robbery, this is the story of what should have been a simple 10 minute bank job turning into a 12 hour ordeal and media circus. Al Pacino was at the top of his game in the 70’s, and this may be his best performance. Pacino plays Sonny, a hapless bank robber who tries to steal enough money to pay for his gay lover’s sex change operation. He is accompanied by the simple Sal (Sonny: “They’re gonna get us an airplane. What country do you want to go to?” Sal: “Wyoming”), played by John Cazale. What starts out as almost a comedy becomes an exhausting and intense standoff.

ABOVE: Now this is the way to do opening credits. I love the opening of Dog Day Afternoon, the perfect use of image and music to set the mood. Using the best Elton John song you've never heard, "Amoreena," Lumet presents a series of images of a hot, steamy, bustling, 70's New York City that sets the stage perfectly for what is about to happen.

32. Deliverance (1972), dir. John Boorman

Ever wonder what the big deal was about Burt Reynolds? Check this movie out. This is an action thriller about a group of cocky city slickers who go out into the wild for a weekend of hunting, fishing and general manliness. They run into problems when they cross paths with some murderous backwoods, inbred kooks. The movie builds slowly with some genuinely creepy scenes. #32 has several iconic moments, such as the “Dueling Banjos” scene and of course the brutal sodomy rape scene where the unfortunate Ned Beatty gets the honors (“squeal like a pig!”) It is a taut thriller with great performances from Reynolds, Beatty, Jon Voight and Ronny Cox. One of the best action thrillers ever made.

ABOVE: Some creepy folks that our four city slickers encounter in Deliverance

31. Star Wars (1977), dir. George Lucas

Try and forget for a moment, if you can, the heinous Star Wars films of the last decade and a half. Pretend that they never happened. OK? Perhaps you can now remember what was so charming and fun about the original films. The Star Wars universe was practically religion for kids of my generation.

Monday, July 20, 2009

40 Years Later

It was 40 years ago this month that we first sent men to the moon. Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first human beings ever to set foot on the moon, and what is NASA trying to do now? Figure out the best ways to get back there. Once the Space Shuttle gets mothballed next year, NASA's next generation of spacecraft will look an awful lot like what we used in the late 60's. We are going back to huge rockets with capsules on top. My wife and I visited the Johnson Space Center (aka Mission Control) in Houston last year. It was an exciting visit, because on the tour they showed us a prototype of the next Orion capsule. The idea is to get back to the moon, and then use the moon as a staging ground to eventually send men to Mars by 2037.

The next series of rockets are the Ares series. The Ares I through V are already being designed, and Ares IV and V will dwarf even the Saturn V, which to date is the largest rocket ever used and is what was used for the Apollo moon missions. What's cool about the new missions is that the Ares I and the Ares V will be launched pretty much simultaneously. The Ares I will have the crew aboard, and the larger Ares V will have the larger equipment and vehicles that will be used on the moon (and eventually Mars.)

ABOVE: The Ares I (left) and Ares V (right) rockets and Orion capsules. This is the next generation of human space travel

I've always been amused by the conspiracy theories that insist that we never really went to the moon. You know, that the pictures were all faked on a Hollywood back lot. In an excellent article today at, reporter Jay Barbree debunks the conspiracy theories and looks back on Apollo 11 generally. Setting aside the fact that thousands of NASA employees would have to remain silent and that the Russians even accepted that we were there, let's look at the conspiracy claims...

1. The famous photos of Armstrong's footprints in the moon dust are not possible, because footprints like that require moisture in the soil, and the moon has no moisture. Wrong. There may be water at the poles. But water is not why the footprints were so distinct. The soil particles on the moon still have their sharp edges, because they have not been eroded by wind. This makes them cling together as if they were moist.

2. Why are there no stars visible in the photos? First of all, if that were an issue, it would have been pretty easy to fake stars in the photos. But the reason there are no stars is due to the film and cameras used by NASA. They needed to use short exposure times to capture the detail on the surface and the white space suits. The stars were too faint to be captured with such short exposure times.

3. In the film footage when the astronauts plant the American flag, the flag appears to move as if hit by a breeze. That would be impossible on the moon. When Armstrong and Aldrin planted the flag, the ground was very hard. They basically had to jam it in there with all of their might. An object forced into motion in a vacuum will move longer than if there was an atmosphere. Therefore, the flag was moving from the when the astronauts jammed the pole into the surface, and the vacuum of space allowed it to move back and forth even longer than it would have on earth.

4. There are laser reflectors on the moon's surface that were placed by Apollo 11's (and subsequent) astronauts that are used to this day by scientists on earth in many countries for research and measurements.

It is interesting that just days ago, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter returned photos of the Apollo landing sites where the lunar landers can be seen sitting in their landing spots, frozen in time.

This is a time to reflect on our great accomplishment 40 years ago, and also to look forward to the space exploration of the future.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Classic Albums series (Dez Hall of Fame, v.5)

Some of you may have stumbled upon an episode or two of this amazing documentary series on a BBC-related channel or one of the VH1 channels. The Classic Albums documentary series is put out by the BBC, and it takes an important record from a certain group and analyzes it from all angles. The series does not pick a record without the full participation of the (still living) band members, their producers, studio engineers and managers. While the series does an excellent job covering the significance, influence and historical context of the recording, what really sets this series apart is the unfettered access to the actual creators of the record and the wonderful technical detail in each episode.

There are 32 episodes of the venerable series so far (I own every one of them on DVD, of course). The spectrum of artists covered is impressive, from early rock and soul artists like Elvis Presley and Stevie Wonder, to classic rock vets Cream, The Grateful Dead, The Who and Jimi Hendrix through the Sex Pistols, Nirvana and U2 to pop like Phil Collins and Duran Duran to metal like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden to rapper Jay-Z. Even if you are not a fan of the artist or record covered, the series is so captivating and well done that you still want to watch and learn about the record. The oddest entry I've come across is Simply Red's Stars, hardly a "classic album," but it is actually one of the more interesting episodes due to the candor of the band members. Much depends on the candor and intelligence of the artists involved. While you may not respect Phil Collins' music too much, he is a really bright and witty guy, therefore his episode for Face Value is one of the best of the series as he really breaks down the entire record for you in a thoughtful and interesting way.

As a songwriter and sometimes tinkerer with recording equipment, I love this aspect of the series. A hallmark of the series is the engineer from the original session sitting side by side with the artist(s), and discussing how the songs were recorded and constructed. They are often seated in front of a mixing board, where they will isolate parts of the song and reconstruct the song before your very eyes and ears, all the while discussing decisions that were made and why they were made. I've always been interested in the technical side of making music (one of my greatest memories is spending the full day in a real studio with my musical partner Dave and our producer Kyle recording our album that we made about a decade ago. I loved sitting in the mixing room with the engineer and creating the final mix of the songs. That was more fun for me, actually, than playing the tunes. So much of how a song turns out depends on what is done after the instruments are set aside.)

Another regular part of the series is that the artist(s) will sit down with their instruments and discuss the songwriting and playing of key tracks. For instance, in the Cream Disraeli Gears episode, Eric Clapton plays on his guitar and discusses how he came up with the riff from "Tales of Brave Ulysses," shows the viewer how it is done, then shows how the wah-wah pedal works within the song, and finally candidly admits that he stole the entire riff from The Lovin' Spoonful song "Summer in the City"!

ABOVE: This is a great example of the strengths of the 'Classic Albums' series. Above is an 8-minute clip from the Sex Pistols Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols episode, where they break down the creation and impact of "Anarchy in the UK." You have insightful (and often funny) discussion from band members, producers and management. You've got great stories about the writing and recording of the song. The engineer sits down and breaks down the song, part by part, isolating each instrument in turn from the mixing board so you can get a better understanding of the song's construction. And finally there is discussion of their disasterous appearance on British TV with priceless archival footage. Even a seemingly spontaneous shouter like "Anarchy in the UK" actually has quite a bit of structure to it.

I highly recommend any episode in this series. For a list of all episodes, go here. Be careful, there are some pretenders out there. Some other series like the crappy "Classic Albums Under Review" try to piggyback on the success of "Classic Albums," but a sure way to tell whether you are watching the real deal is to look for the logo at the top of this post. It is on all of the DVDs and at the beginning of each episode.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Raw Memories

A good friend and frequent commentator here at GNABB just started a photo blog that promises to be interesting. Around these parts he goes by "Walter Evans," but his friends and family call him Kyle. It is a brand new site, so give him some time to fill it up with content. The link is here, and the site is called Memory in the Raw. I have also added the link to the list of blogs that you should check out at the top right of GNABB. I have seen many of his photos in recent years, and they are quite good.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Dez's Favorite 50 Movies, #'s 40-36

Time to get back to the flicks after my Maui excursion. (You probably haven't heard the last of Maui, I've got a couple more things in the works. Also some politics on the way.) In case you missed #'s 41-50 (or just want a refresher), check out 50-46 and 45-41. I think there are some surprises in these next five. #40 is more of an experience than just a mere film. Unless you go to a theater and participate in the midnight ritual, it is hard to really understand why the film has lasted. Because if you just sit down and watch it conventionally on a Sunday afternoon, that doesn't really cut it. Here we go...

40. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), dir. Jim Sharman

The cult movie of all cult movies. I have fond memories of going down to the no-longer-existing Bellaire movie theater in Houston late on Friday or Saturday nights to participate in the odd ritual that has risen out of this film. I also went more recently to a showing on Halloween night in Austin which was a blast. Wicked fun, sexually playful, catchy musical numbers, engaging performances from everyone from Tim Curry to Meatloaf and a winking tribute to both classic horror and B-movie sci-fi make for a film that is best when communally experienced, not merely passively watched.

ABOVE: Tim Curry is the "Sweet Transvestite," Dr. Frank N. Furter

39. First Blood (1982), dir. Ted Kotcheff

This is a film whose reputation has been unfairly tarnished by the terrible Rambo sequels that followed. But if you can take this movie on its own terms, it is a top notch action thriller. Stallone gives an excellent performance, from a purely physical standpoint but also from an emotional angle as well. It is also the best of the thousands of cop roles played by Brian Dennehy. Dennehy is superb as the headstrong Sheriff Teasle, a bigoted good ‘ole boy sheriff who thinks he’s keeping his town clear of the riff raff by harassing a drifter passing through. Teasle soon realizes that he has unleashed a hurricane upon his sleepy Northwest town when he and his deputies push Rambo too far; but he is equally determined to bring Rambo to heel, no matter the cost in human lives or property damage.

ABOVE: Sheriff Teasle (Dennehy) harasses Rambo (Stallone) (this is before he realizes that pushing around a former Green Beret who has frequent ‘Nam flashbacks is a bad idea)

38. Capturing the Friedmans (2003), dir. Andrew Jarecki

A fascinating documentary film about the nature of truth. Jarecki initially set out to make a film about birthday party clowns (really), but once he learned of the dark and controversial family history of clown David Friedman, Jarecki wisely changed course. The facts as we know them: family patriarch Arnold Friedman and son Jesse Friedman are accused of pedophilia on a pretty massive scale. That is all that we know for sure. Facts, perspectives and accusations fly wildly from and in all directions as Jarecki chronicles the case. Some people are clearly lying, but it is near impossible to figure out whom, because everyone seems to sincerely believe what they are saying. In the midst of it all, we are privy to the painful but mesmerizing unraveling of the Friedman family itself. This is intense and bold documentary film making.

37. The Limey (1999), dir. Steven Soderbergh

This quirky noir-crime revenge film benefits from unorthodox editing and directing, as well as excellent performances from its leads. Retired criminal/convict Wilson (a supercool Terence Stamp) investigates the suspicious death of his daughter. The quest takes this very British man to the slimy and dark underbelly of L.A. Peter Fonda is also excellent as a cynical, former hippie turned sleezeball record producer who was Wilson’s daughter’s boyfriend at the time of her disappearance. (I love the scene where Fonda tries to tell Wilson’s daughter about the wonderful 60’s, and then wearily admits that “it was only really good for a couple of months in the summer of ’67…that’s it”). TL is a perfect balance of style, suspense, action, humor and interesting characters. Soderbergh employs a great trick of using scenes from Stamp’s 1967 film Poor Cow as flashbacks of Wilson’s own past, and weaves the flashbacks into the story of TL.

ABOVE: Wilson (Terence Stamp) will kick your ass

36. Witness (1985), dir. Peter Weir

I think this is Harrison Ford’s best performance. Ford plays cop John Book, who must protect an Amish child who was a witness to a brutal murder of another cop. The plot unfolds to where Ford has to go into hiding with the boy and the boy’s mother (an excellent Kelly McGillis) out in Amish country. Much of the film centers around the fish-out-of-water scenario of Ford’s hardboiled city cop coping with Amish life and trying to blend in (as their lives depend on it). Weir is one of my favorite directors, and he wisely takes his time here. The relationships and story unfold leisurely, but you become emotionally invested in these lives. There are several gorgeous sequences where Weir takes full advantage of the beautiful landscape, such as the somewhat famous barn raising sequence. When the violent climax finally comes, you had almost forgotten why Ford was originally there because the viewer has become so involved with the characters and relationships quite outside of the original crime plot; so it is a jolting and well earned payoff that caps a wonderfully moody picture. (You will also notice early appearances from actors who later become quite well known, such as Danny Glover and the film debut of Viggo Mortenson).

Monday, July 13, 2009

Maui '09

ABOVE: Yes, that is a real sunset that I photographed at Lahaina in Maui

Having resisted my wife's entreaties for a Hawaiian vacation for years, I finally relented and we spent the last 10 days exploring the wonderful world of Maui. I don't take vacations to relax, so we filled those ten days with snorkeling, hiking, helicopter rides, charters to surrounding islands, driving to every corner of the island, beaches, luau, etc. First things first, I ate snow cones (sorry, "Hawaiian shaved ice," please notice blue color) almost every day:

It is a cliche to say, but Maui is a fascinating, fun and beautiful place. For such a small island, the variety and microclimates are astounding. Perfect beaches (of course), rainforest, desert, volcanoes. It is hard to summarize the trip, but some highlights include...

* We took a daylong snorkel trip out to the neighboring island of Lanai on a catamaran. On the way back, a pod of dolphins decided to swim along with us. As we were cruising back, I got on my stomach and leaned over the front of the boat and took this shot, mere feet away from the dolphins.

* While snorkeling at Napili resort beach (the thing about resorts in Maui: the security is not very tight. My wife and I stayed at a reasonable hotel in South Maui, but we were able to stroll into several Maui resorts and used their facilities mostly with ease, we only got caught once in our ten days over there). Anyway, while I was snorkeling at Napili, I was swimming over some nice coral and looking at the fish, when this very large shape swims right under me. Once I realized that it wasn't a shark, I saw that it was a huge sea turtle. I followed her for what seemed like 30 minutes. She was unafraid, and I got about two feet from her (but did not touch, sea turtles will allow you to touch them but you shouldn't, because they can get very sick from human disease from just a touch).

* The road to Hana town is one of the more famous drives in the world. A gorgeous drive down a winding road through Hawaiian rain forest, it is the best example of "it's about the journey, not the destination" that I can think of. Pull off the road virtually anywhere along the way, and you can hike into the rainforest and find a cool waterfall to take a swim in. On one of our hikes, we went into a bamboo forest that was gorgeous. It is a wonderful and haunting sound of the wind blowing and the bamboo creaking all around you.

* If you drive past Hana, there is a beach on the southern tip of Maui called Hermoa Beach. The best, most intense waves I've ever been in. My wife and I did some body surfing and boogie boarding there, and it is not for the faint of heart. Freaking amazing.

* Of course, I had to explore some Hawaiian music while I was there. My wife and I discovered the music of Israel Kamakawiwo'ole (or "Iz" for short). He is deceased, but he was a Hawaiian national hero of sorts. A huge man, known to most of you probably for his popular ukelele rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" that has appeared in several movies. I highly recommend his album Facing Future from 1993, the highest selling album in Hawaiian history. It features "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," of course, but is beautiful from start to finish. Other highlights include the romantic "White Sandy Beach of Hawai'i", the fun "Maui Hawaiian Sup'pa Man" (in Hawaii, rap boasts center around fishing prowess) and the haunting "Hawai'i '78", which is an anthem of sorts for the still potent Hawaiian sovereignty movement.

ABOVE: Here is the cheesy but touching music video for Iz's "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," near the end is footage of his funeral celebration and his ashes being dumped into the Pacific

Lots more to tell, but those were some highlights. My wife and I had a fabulous time.

ABOVE: Dez with some lovely Polynesian ladies (wife of Dez took the photo)

ABOVE: Here's a shot of the Maui coast that Dez took from a helicopter tour. Not a highlight of the trip, because Dez sometimes gets motion sickness.

ABOVE: Dez, Wife of Dez and the supercool John, our kayak guide. John took us out in the waters off of Wailea. We came across about 10 sea turtles, so we anchored the kayaks, put on the snorkel gear and dove in with them.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

I Shall Return

I've been quite busy this week and will continue to be for the rest of the week, but I promise to be back in the swing of things with plenty of posts next week. Until then, be reassured (just like the Filipinos were by Gen. MacArthur's promise when the Americans abandoned the islands to the Japanese for several years in WWII): "I Shall Return."

Friday, July 3, 2009

Bad Time To Be a Rockets Fan (and other NBA off season moves)

The "Big Three" experiment in Houston is officially a bust. Perrenial selfish baby Tracy McGrady is not even tradeable at this point; brittle china plate Yao Ming may be out all of next season as he recovers from his 237th foot injury; and Ron Artest is about to sign with The Lakers. Hard to blame Ron Ron once the Yao news broke. It looks like Ariza is on his way to Houston. The Rockets have to dump McGrady and start rebuilding. The problem is that they can't go full rebuild with Yao still hanging around. Sucks. They've got some promising talent, but not near enough to seriously compete for a championship.

The San Antonio Spurs continue to impress me. A+ for the Spurs front office. Giving up virtually nothing, they pull in Richard Jefferson to join Duncan and Parker, making Ginobili no longer such an issue. If Manu comes back relatively healthy, the Spurs compete. If he doesn't, they still compete. They also did very well in the draft considering their picks.

The East will be fun. Gordon and Villanueva in Detroit; Shaq with Lebron in Cleveland; Vince Carter joining Orlando. Of course, if Orlando loses Turkoglu, which it looks like they might, that is bad news for them. He was integral to their success.

Already looking forward to next season.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

John Cazale (Dez Hall of Fame IV)

In the midst of my Top 50 Movies List, I thought a film-related induction into the Dez Hall of Fame was appropriate. The name John Cazale may not immediately leap out at the average person, but fans of 70's era cinema certainly know who he was. And even casual fans would recognize the face. The sad sap, forlorn face of Fredo Corleone is one of many indelible images from The Godfather series.

Here is a remarkable statistic: EVERY single film that John Cazale appeared in was nominated for Best Picture. Every one of them. Granted, he only appeared in five films before his untimely death from bone cancer (and one posthumously through archival footage), but each of those six films were nominated (and two of them won). If I am not mistaken, that is a unique feat.

Cazale came up through the New York theater scene along with good friend and frequent stage partner Al Pacino. Cazale didn't start small in the movies. His film debut was as the meek Fredo Corleone in The Godfather. Cazale was brilliant at portraying this lamb in a family of lions. He was even better in the sequel Godfather II, where his desire to be respected like younger brother Michael (Pacino) has disasterous consequences.

ABOVE: Michael (Pacino) and Fredo (Cazale) discuss Fredo's betrayal and other family issues in The Godfather II

Cazale also appeared in Coppola's The Conversation alongside Gene Hackman, as well as with Pacino again in Dog Day Afternoon. He died just after he finished filming his scenes for The Deer Hunter alongside fiance Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro. (Cazale finally appeared in archival footage during some scenes for The Godfather III.)

Cazale was never the leading man, but his contributions were always crucial to the fabric of his films. His best characters (Fredo and Sal in Dog Day Afternoon) were men in over their heads and displayed heartbreaking vulnerability at times. As one critic commented, "he was the walking embodiment of the aphorism acting is reacting, providing the perfect counterbalance to his recurring costars, the more emotionally volatile Al Pacino and Robert De Niro." Pacino simply said: "All I wanted to do was to work with John the rest of my life."

There is a documentary about Cazale that came out this year called I Knew It Was You that is supposed to be excellent, although I have not seen it. If you are going to have a relatively short film resume, you can't do much better than John Cazale's.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Dez's Favorite 50 Movies, #'s 45-41

Well, since the response to my first batch of films was overwhelming, I thought that I would hurry up and give you the next five. As #45 shows, I do include documentaries. In case you missed the first five on the list, see the post immediately below.

45. Inside 9/11 (2005)

A riveting 3-hour documentary detailing the defining event of our time. The first half covers the rise of Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda, while the second half is a moment by moment account of the day itself. Gripping personal accounts, fascinating factual detail and harrowing footage make for the definitive account of 9/11. I show parts of this to my U.S. History class at the end of the year, and it leaves an incredibly strong impression on them.

44. Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) (Italy), dir. Sergio Leone

Although I probably enjoy watching Leone’s Man with No Name trilogy more, #44 is Leone’s masterpiece. The incredible opening sequence is Leone style at its peak, almost 15 minutes of visuals without a word spoken. The plot deals with a vicious battle for a piece of land where a railroad is destined to cross (thereby making the land more valuable than gold), as well as a revenge tale. A stoic Charles Bronson (never better than here) takes the place of Clint Eastwood as Leone’s shady hero, and he matches wits and gunplay with a fantastic Jason Robards and Henry Fonda, in a ruthless turn as the sadistic Frank. The lovely Claudia Cardinale plays the woman who finds herself in the middle since she controls the rights to the coveted land in question. With all due respect to the fine performances, it is Fonda who steals the show. One of the most revered heroic leading men in movies boldly turns his reputation on its head and gives us one of the all time great cold-hearted villains. OUATITW serves as a metaphor for both the end of the wild and open West (and the type of men who populated it) and an end to the Western film as we know it. I was watching a documentary recently on this film, and a critic made the interesting comment that it was the first music video. Leone had the incomparable Ennio Morricone write the score before the film was shot, and Leone choreographed the action to the music, even insisting that his actors walk in rhythm to the music.

ABOVE: This may be my most favorite scene in any movie. Leone is at the top of his game, just watch the cinematography, choreography and style here. This is typical Leone, in that he uses waist shots sparingly (the most common shot of a person for most directors), and instead prefers either facial close-ups or long body shots, but not much in between.

ABOVE: Fonda on why he was cast and about that scene.

43. The Wizard of Oz (1939), dir. Victor Fleming

Ever heard of this one? 60 years on, it still retains all of its charm and wonder. I don’t think that I really need to explain anything here.

42. Point Break (1991), dir. Kathryn Bigelow

Perhaps I do need to explain this pick, though. I’m a sucker for a great action flick, and perhaps I am partial to great action flicks that came out when I was at my most impressionable age…but PB offers superior thrills and excitement. Definitely Patrick Swayze’s finest hour as the seductive surfer guru Bodhi, and even Keanu Reeves is tolerable (which he usually is not). Throw in Gary Busey and you’ve got 2 hours of dumb action-packed fun. It has held up over the years, and is now viewed as a minor cult classic in some circles. Replace surfing with street racing, and you can see how The Fast and The Furious shamelessly lifted PB’s plot, point by point. A superior action thriller.

41. The Breakfast Club (1985), dir. John Hughes

None more 80’s than this one. While the stereotypes perhaps haven’t aged so well and are so neatly drawn as to be caricatures (and Judd Nelson’s juvenile delinquent is about as dangerous as today’s average 3rd grader), the film still has a lot of heart and scenes and moments that are ingrained in the conscience of people of my generation. If I had to pick the ultimate John Hughes 80’s film, I’d have to go with TBC. Can you say enough about the comic genius of Paul Gleason as Principal Richard “Dick” Vernon? Every scene he’s in cracks me up. Working in education, I know some Dick Vernons.

“Don’t mess with the bull, young man, you’ll get the horns.”