Saturday, July 31, 2010

Movie night

Chris Matthews wrote a whole book on movies he thought were important to America. I can't go that far. I love movies, but I'm just not the type who can say that movies or music changed my life or are of great importance. Some books, yes, but they are few. However, I can squeeze a blog post out of it. 
There are lots of movies I loved that just didn’t have anything larger about them. Take last years Hangover. That was one funny movie. Or Judd Apatow’s movies like Superbad or Knocked Up. Loved all three of the Bourne movies, but, they didn’t really mean anything. I pretty much only go see comedies and action/adventures these days.

I feel there is something special about the following movies . Most of them are celebrated.


Maybe the greatest movie I’ve ever seen. I’ve never watched Gone with the Wind or Citizen Kane, the former because of its length and the latter because I just feel I would be bored beyond my desire to live, and those are two which are often ranked up there with Bogey’s best.

What’s great about Casablanca? First, the writing. Pre-computer days I sat in front of the television once and wrote down every great line in it. It was exhausting. These are my favorites:

Ugarte (Peter Lorre): You know, Rick, I have many a friend in Casablanca, but somehow, just because you despise me, you are the only one I trust.

Captain Renault (Claude Rains): Rick, there are many exit visas sold in this café, but we know that you've never sold one. That is the reason we permit you to remain open.

Rick: Oh? I thought it was because I let you win at roulette.
Captain Renault: That is another reason.

Rick (to German officer): Well there are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn't advise you to try to invade.

Yvonne: Where were you last night?
Rick: That's so long ago, I don't remember.
Yvonne: Will I see you tonight?
Rick: I never make plans that far ahead.

Captain Renault: What in heaven's name brought you to Casablanca?
Rick: My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters.
Captain Renault: The waters? What waters? We're in the desert.
Rick: I was misinformed.

Major Strasser: What is your nationality?
Rick: I'm a drunkard.

Captain Renault: Ricky, I'm going to miss you. Apparently you're the only one in Casablanca with less scruples than I.

There are other great lines that are much more famous (“Here’s looking at you, kid,” “this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” “Of all the gin joints . . .,” “I stick my neck out for nobody,” “Round up the usual suspects,” and “We’ll always have Paris,” which tells you why the movie is so renowned and at least two of the writers (the ones who got the credit and certainly deserve a lot of it), the twin Epstein brothers, won the Oscar. But, none of these lines make my list. Of course, the most famous line, “Play it again, Sam” was not in the movie. Go figure.

So, a few “did you knows.” Did you know -

. . . that Dooley Wilson, who played Sam, couldn’t play the piano? He was an actor (grossly underpaid compared to everyone else) and a singer/drummer. He merely imitated the hand motions of a real piano player, Elliot Carpenter, who played off camera while he sang. Originally, the role was to go to a woman – probably Ella Fitzgerald.

. . . that Joy Park, who played the young Hungarian bride willing to sell herself for exit visas, was Jack Warner’s step daughter? Her first role. Hollywood and nepotism are synonymous.

. . . that one of the quintessential lines – “Here’s looking at you, kid” was long in circulation in Hollywood before Bogey ad-libbed it for Casablanca? It worked, though.

. . . that Bergmann was taller than little Bogey? The first time they really spoke, at a lunch during the filming, they both bellyached how bad the movie was, especially the writing, and that they wanted to get out of it, according to actress Geraldine Fitzgerald. It was the only movie the two made together.

The Outlaw Josey Wales

Raise your hand (if you are a guy) and you think Josey Wales is the greatest Western ever made. It is for me. In fact, I think it was one of the best written and acted movies I’ve ever come across, period, end of story.

Here’s the plot. Don’t worry, it won’t spoil it. Josey is a farmer when his wife and kid are murdered by Union troops (“Red Legs”). He becomes a famous guerrilla fighter, and when the war ends, refuses to surrender and  is tracked by the Red Legs and his former leader. Josey kicks everyone’s ass.

But, the plot is meaningless as to why this is such an endorphin producing movie. I put the acting and direction even above the writing. Every actor, from Eastwood down to the smallest bit player, made the characters dramatic and eccentric and real. The kid who accompanies Josey in escaping from the murderous Red Legs at the beginning, the tough southern woman, Granny Hawkins, Chief Lone Wattie (played by Chief Dan George), their young Indian sidekick, Little Moonlight, who adopts Josey as her savior, the Commancheros, Grandma, the denizens or Rio Rancho, Ten Bears, the Carpetbagger, the bounty hunters, the endless trash who repeatedly try to capture him. For goodness sake, even Sondra Locke was perfect in the roll and I pretty much can't stand her. If there was a way to give out 20 academy awards that year for best supporting actors, his cast deserved them. But, this was before the academy would give Oscars to a Clint Eastwood western, a custom he broke with the far inferior Unforgiven (which, I have to admit, has grown a little on me, despite my initial disappointment – Gene Hackman and Richard Harrison were both wonderful in it – but Josey Wales deserved the Oscar).

There’s not a single boring second, not an unused moment to move the story along and show off the great characters. Okay, I had to struggle through the one love scene between Eastwood and Locke, which lasted a minute or so, but that’s me. I hate the mushy parts. Most people seem to like them.

This was another film of which I once tried, pre-internet, to copy down the great lines. Unlike Casablanca, where there is something about the writing that jumps off the page, in Josey Wales, it is the deliveries that make them remarkable. If you have seen this movie (again, you just might have to be a guy) you will hear these lines being said in your head as you read them. If you haven’t seen the movie, you must someday, preferably when your wife or girlfriend is out. Rent and watch it uninterrupted (unless, you are a complete nerd and don’t like Westerns – I’ve met a few). But, then, you will come back here and see exactly what I mean.

Here we go. Wait, I started out and then froze with indecision. There are too many great lines. Maybe even more than in Casablanca, which before Josey Wales I would have said was impossible. So, I’m going to webcheat and give you this site - - where they list many of them. I’m just going with my three favorite here:

The first is when Josey and a few of his friends are holed up in a ranch expecting an Indian attack. Josey has to try to explain to some genteel folk exactly how tough they are going to have to be. This is one of my favorite lines in any movie ever:

Josey: Now remember, things look bad and it looks like you're not gonna make it, then you gotta get mean. I mean plumb, mad-dog mean. 'Cause if you lose your head and you give up then you neither live nor win. That's just the way it is.

This next one is by the Commanche chief, Ten Bears, played by Will Sampson (also the chief in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest). Josey has ridden alone, armed to the teeth, to confront the tribe over their capture of two of his friends, who are buried up to their necks. Josey doesn’t beg, he doesn’t threaten or cajole. He just lets the chief know he’s there for life or death, one or the other, whichever the chief chooses ("And I'm saying that men can live together without butchering one another.")

The chief makes up his mind:

It's sad that governments are chiefed by the double tongues. There is iron in your words of death for all Comanche to see, and so there is iron in your words of life. No signed paper can hold the iron. It must come from men. The words of Ten Bears carries the same iron of life and death. It is good that warriors such as we meet in the struggle of life... or death. It shall be life.

And this one just before (one of the many) gunfights with a young bounty hunter whose been on his trail.

Bounty Hunter: You're wanted, Wales.
Josey: Reckon I'm right popular. You a bounty hunter?
Bounty Hunter: A man's got to do something for a living these days.
Josey: Dyin' ain't much of a living, boy.

The bounty hunter leaves and Josey's friends get back to celebrating. But Josey waits quietly and sure enough, the bounty hunter returns.

Bounty Hunter: I had to come back.
Josey: I know.


Trust me, if these lines seems hackneyed and melodramatic, they're not delivered that way. Performance can mean everything. And these last few lines (I’m calling an audible and throwing them in), won’t mean anything to those who haven't seen it, but much to those who have:

Lige (a bushwacker who gets the drop on Josey): Benny! Come out! We got us the Josey Wales.

Granny Hawkins: So, you’ll be Josey Wales.

Captain Terrill (the captain of the Red Legs): Not a hard man to track. Leaves dead men wherever he goes.

You're not impressed, huh? Wait until you see it (guys).

Groundhog Day

When this movie came out, I was floored. I couldn’t believe it didn’t get top reviews. On the one hand it is a simple little comedy, with Bill Murray playing Bill Murray (the snarkiest of snarkies), Annie McDowell playing Andie McDowell (if humans were angels) and Chris Elliot playing Chris Elliot (maybe the closest thing we have to Jerry Lewis in this day and age).

Three questions come to mind with this movie. One, what’s so special about this movie? Two, why do men love this movie so much and not women. Three, how long was Bill Murray’s character in a time loop? ? Unfortunately, I don’t have answers.

Here are my best guesses:

What's so special about it? Wish I knew. Not that the writing wasn’t good - it was great, but it’s no Casablanca or Josey Wales. Not the delivery either. I mean, they acted just fine, but it’s a romantic comedy. And, a time loop isn’t exactly a unique plot device.

I could just tell you that so many people I have met have told me that this is a great movie and means a lot to them, but that would just be anecdotal (convincing to me – we all believe anecdotal evidence when it supports our opinions). But, I’ve heard people talk about it many times on television too (which, was the greatest authority known to man until Wikipedia).

Once, Charles Murray, a sociologist (mostly famous for the controversial The Bell Curve)  who elevates ivory tower seriousness to an art form, was being interviewed on C-Span when he casually mentioned that Ground Hog Day was an important movie culturally. The straight laced interviewer (who I’m guessing never saw it) was baffled. I wish they had spent some time on why, because I just can’t figure it out myself.

Stanley Fish, another man so pompous he probably uses the word "methinks" seriously, and a New York Times columnist, put it on his top ten list (although, I have to admit, I think his list otherwise sucks). AFI made it number 34 funniest comedy ever, but readers of Total Film magazine said it was number 7.  AFI also made it the number 8 fantasy film. The Writer's Guild ranked it the the 27th greatest screenplay ever (not a bad list as these things go - Casablanca was number 1).

Dan Rubin, a Harvard screenwriting professor who wrote the movie, says he had 50 meetings during at which everyone said they loved it, but they wouldn’t make it, until Harold Ramis, Bill Murray pal, decided to do it. I can understand why. A movie which has the premise of repeating the same day over and over again, just seems like it would be dull.

I took this from an interview of Rubin on He mentions how it got so-so reviews at first, but then he started hearing that people in Europe thought it was fantastic. Then . . .

“And Harold Ramis was also getting letters and notes and the two of us would compare things and say, “Wow, this is really interesting.” And then, at some point, I guess Roger Ebert wrote, not a retraction, but a new review that sort of said, “I think we should revisit this movie. I think this is a little better than I thought.” And I know at the end of the year that it came out in’93, William Goldman, the screenwriter, was reflecting on movies of the past year and he was the one who wrote, "I think 'Groundhog Day' is the one that will be—of all of the movies that came out this year, it’s the one that will be remembered in 10 years,” and perhaps that gave it some street cred or got some people thinking.”

For some reason, television producers seem to love the concept. Wikipedia has a whole article on time loop television plots and most of them are just rip offs of GD, one way or another.

 Everyone I’ve ever met who loves the movie was a man. I honestly don’t know one woman who liked it. Why do men like this more than women? I think I might know, but this is purely anecdotal too.When I ask, why not? – the answer is always the same. It’s so boring. It’s just the same thing over and over again. And, apparently, even with character development, that bores them to tears. May be a gender thing that will baffle scientists for centuries.

How long did Murray’s character spend in the loop doing the same day over and over? Good question. Lots of answers. Harold Ramis says ten years on the DVD commentary. But, responding to a blog post ( which does a great job on the subject, Ramis said that 10 years was too short and it had to be 30 or 40 years.

I don’t think so. If I may be so bold as to enter this debate against the director, I would say that by really focusing on ice sculpture (learning to carve one face) and piano playing (learning two songs), say three hours a day each, he probably could accomplish what he wanted in four years. It would take far less than that for his spirit to change, the real point of the movie. Nothing succeeds like failure.

Love, Actually.

Look, I know some of you are going to say – What? A stupid romance movie? Starring Hugh Grant? Get out of here. In fact, that’s what I said when my daughter, then a teenager, told me about it. She insisted I trust her, and I did. Blew my mind. I’ve seen it at least seven times. Maybe more.

First, it’s a comedy; not a love story. The movie subtly weaves together nine story lines with inspiring music and quick cuts and pacing. Each story is worth a movie itself. Each story has great music that I can hear playing as I think about them.

And, as I endlessly lecture people, there’s a great theme which is narrated by Hugh Grant, who plays Britain’s lovesick prime minister right at the beginning of the movie, and which people should listen to a lot more:

Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there - fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge - they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I've got a sneaking suspicion... love actually is all around.

And then you dissolve into the first story – an aging rock star re-recording one of his big hits and making it into a Christmas song.

For whatever it’s worth, here are the nine plots:

Will the rock star’s (Bill Nighy) new horrible song make it to number one for Christmas, and why does he torment his loyal but fat manager so? This plot actually helps tie the entire movie together.

The new prime minister falls for his pretty, but overweight servant, and then screws it up. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl . . .

Poor Liam Neeson plays a widower who is left with his wife’s son. They’re both sad about her death, but the kid has a worse problem – the absolute agony of love. It’s a problem they have to crack. Hint, it's really about the father and son, not the girls.

In my second favorite plotline, Harry (ladies and gentlemen, the incredible Alan Rickman), a stodgy if loveable manager, starts to crumble under the advances of his sexy secretary, while his frumpy wife (Emma Thompson), who happens to be the prime minister's sister, and the widower's best friend, holds the family together.

In my favorite plotline, a heartbroken writer (Colin Firth) travels to a country house on a lake in France to write a novel. He falls for his temporary maid, a quiet Portuguese woman. They can’t even understand each other, and then, they both have to go home. The music for this storyline is among my favorite music from any movie.

One of Harry’s employees (Laura Linney – Abagail Adams in the tv movie, if you saw that) is in love with the firm’s designer, which everyone else knows too, including the designer. It looks promising. Trouble is, her brother is mentally ill and constantly calls her.

A homely but inspired waiter/gopher who fails to find love with every woman he pathetically hits on, decides to go to America where he is sure that all he has to do is go to a bar and women will fall all over him. An inspired performance by a not so well known actor.

A couple of stand-ins for a porn movie nervously chat with each other while they are performing. Probably my least favorite of the story lines, but it is still charming.

An art gallery director is best man at his best friend’s wedding. Why he doesn’t seem to like his friend’s wife (Keira Knightley) is a mystery. She’s beautiful and really sweet. Probably my third favorite. If you don't fall for Keira, guys, you may want to consider a sex change or an alternate sexual lifestyle.

There are many more connections between these characters than I have space to cover and they all will not come out like you think. Maybe it sounds like a Love Boat marathon to you, but they can’t be compared. Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean) playing a secondary role in two storylines, is hysterical. They even found a way to stick in Claudia Schiffer, Denise Richards, Shannon Elizabeth and a few other gorgeous women. Can’t hurt.

And, now, as usual, I’ve exhausted everyone’s ability to keep reading, and must finish this another day.


  1. Love,Actually??? Love.... actually?Love, Actually! Did you say Love, Actually?? Okay, to re-cap: Casablanca, Outlaw Josey Wales, Groundhog Day, and, wait for it...LOVE,ACTUALLY.

  2. The answer to your question is, in the words of an English challenged character in one of the movie's highlights - "Yes is being my answer. Easy question."

    But, your cynicism (you didn't say if you've actually seen it) is much alike that of the host on C-Span when Murray praised Groundhog Day.

    There is only so much I can do to educate you all in the classics. Sometimes you have to contact Netflix and just watch the movie. Then, again, you hated ET and refused to even watch it for years (God knows why; it was a GREAT movie). AND I STILL HAVEN'T FORGIVEN YOU FOR MAKING ME WATCH CINEMA PARADISO!!!

    But, very funny. Thanks for joining in with a cerebral comment.

  3. Well you know even without this comment that I'm totally on board with Josey Wales. I also love Groundhog Day though its not my favorite comedy of all time (but it'sup there)
    But I'm with Bear when it comes to Love, Actually.

  4. He who loveth Love, Actually, is in turn loveth'd by the world.

    Leviticus: 18:12

  5. Thank you Rabbi Eisenberg


Your comments are welcome.

About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .