Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is in A Lonely Place

Movies watched:  Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, In A Lonely Place,  I’m A Stranger Here Myself  (condensed version).

Where watched:  Regal Auburn Cinema 17, Home

Movie times:  103 minutes, 94 minutes, 41 minutes

Total elapsed time:  2 days, 3 hours, 39 minutes

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Every month, TCM sponsors a re-release into theaters of a classic film.  Generally they choose movies from the golden age of Hollywood, although some are more recent.   The offering for May was Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,   I was a bit surprised by this at first, until I realized it was the 30th anniversary of the film’s original release.  Wait a minute.  Thirty freaking years?  Is that possible?  I remember seeing this in the theater.

1986 was a tough year for me. I had been uprooted from my hometown, and forced to move with my mother to a new town, in a new state.  I missed my friends, I missed my grandmother, and I hated the weather.   Things would get better the following year, when we moved again, and I had a chance to settle in and make some friends.  At the time though, I saw no hope.  Music and movies became my consolation.  And this movie spoke to me, as it did to every teenager who saw it.

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What was it about John Hughes that allowed him to tap into the teenage experience in a way that few other writer/directors ever have?   He didn’t pander, or condescend.  He created teens that were fully fleshed-out characters, dealing with real situations, and responding to those situations with real emotion.  That isn’t to say his movies didn’t have stereotypes.  Ben Stein, Edie McClurg, and Jeffrey Jones’ characters were caricatures on the page;  they became so real, and so memorable, because they were portrayed brilliantly.

So this is one of those rare movies that plays well today despite a visual aesthetic and soundtrack that ground it firmly in the 80’s.   There is a bit more of a melancholic feel for me watching this film on the big screen 30 years later,  mostly because John Hughes is no longer with us.   It was great to see it in a theater that was more than half full, with a crowd that was boisterous and lively, quoting lines and singing aloud to “Twist and Shout”.  It was also great to experience it in the theater with my son and his girlfriend.

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“I was born when she kissed me, I died when she left me, I lived a few weeks while she loved me.”    Was  ever a better line of dialogue uttered in any film noir?   How fitting that it is uttered in a movie about a Hollywood screenwriter.  It’s hard to imagine a more disparate pairing of movies, watching this after Ferris Bueller.    

In A Lonely Place stars Humphrey Bogart as down-on-his-luck screenwriter Dixon Steele.  Dixon is one of Bogart’s greatest performances, and one his least likable characters.   Dix Steele is intelligent and principled, but has a temper, and this temper causes him to cross a line.

Bogart wanted his wife Lauren Bacall to play the romantic lead, but Warner Bros. would not release her, so Bogart ended up acting opposite Gloria Grahame.  While it would have been nice to have one more Bogie/Bacall pairing on the big screen, it is hard to imagine anyone improving on Grahame’s performance in the role.   Gloria Grahame was married to Nicholas Ray, the film’s director.  At least she was when production began.  Their marriage was rocky from day one, and during the production of this film they reached the breaking point, and actually separated during filming.  To their credit, they were discreet and professional on the set;  there was not a hint of what was happening in their personal lives.

Although it’s impossible to avoid the parallels in the Nick Ray/Gloria Grahame relationship, and that of the characters onscreen.  When Bogart walks away at the end of the movie, moving slowly like a wounded animal, and Grahame watches, with genuine sorrow in her eyes, it’s hard not to imagine that she is thinking about her own collapsing relationship.

This is a fantastic movie, quite different from the standard fare of the day.  There is a murdered girl, and Bogie is suspected in her murder.  That sounds like a very typical set-up for film-noir.  But in this movie, the murdered girl, and the hunt for her killer, are treated almost as an aside.  The real story is about the relationship between Bogart and Grahame.

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Dixon Steele is a difficult character to figure out.  He’s hard to like.   There are moments when the audience is with him.  But just when we start to admire him, he does something completely self-destructive.  We certainly never stop rooting for him.  I think the key to understanding his character is his experiences during the war.  This is referenced multiple times, the fact that Steele hasn’t written anything good since “before the war”, that he hasn’t been the same since “before the war”, the implication being that the war changed him.  Not only has he struggled as a writer in the years following, but he’s struggled with his temper, which costs him quite a bit.

This movie is a must-see for fans of Humphrey Bogart, who will surely add Dixon Steele to the list of great Bogie characters, right along side Rick Blaine, Philip Marlowe, Fred Dobbs and Charlie Allnut.  The Criterion Collection did a fantastic job with the blu ray release;  here is hoping that they will release more titles from Nicholas Ray, an underrated director who has a lot of noteworthy and influential movies to his credit.

Included on the Criterion blu ray is a truncated version of a documentary film about Nicholas Ray.   I’m including it here because it did debut on the big screen, albeit briefly.  Why was it trimmed by 20 minutes by Criterion?  Probably because they couldn’t clear the rights to all the footage.  Or else they just didn’t feel the remaining portion was necessary.  Regardless, we see here the image of Nicholas Ray in the last years of his life, looking very haggard, older than his years, but still passionate about film.   It is sad to see him in an on-set spat with a girl several decades his junior, who was apparently also his lover at the time.    He looks like a broken man, but the passion for movie-making lasted as long as he did.  One of many times I’ve been reminded of the words of Pete Townshend:  “After the fire, the fire still burns.”

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A John Williams double feature (the actor, not the composer!)

Movies watched:  Sabrina, Dial M For Murder

Where watched:  Home

Movie times:  113 minutes, 105 minutes

Total elapsed time:  1 day, 23 hours, 31 minutes

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Sometimes only an Audrey Hepburn movie will do.   Have you ever been to a really good massage therapist, one who knows exactly where that troublesome spot in your shoulder is, and soothes the pain away?  Audrey’s movies have that effect on me.  She can smooth over the rough spots.  Not all of her movies;  Lord knows she was in her fair share of crap.   But most of her performances are great.  Roman Holiday, Funny Face, and my favorite, Sabrina.

Sabrina has two of the greatest leading actors of all time in it:  Humphrey Bogart and William Holden.  Holden was at the peak of his career here, while Bogart was only a couple of years away from his sudden and far-too-early death from cancer.  There was tension on the set;  Bogart, who was a consummate professional for most of his career, could be petty and petulant when things were not going his way.   He felt like an outsider on this film, not part of director Billy Wilder’s sanctum sanctorum.  The off-screen tension does not appear on-screen, but there is no real chemistry between Bogart and Hepburn.   This is a typical Billy Wilder movie in that it mixes tone, and does so very well for the most part.  But most of the scenes that feature Bogart and Hepburn alone have a palpable melancholy undertone.  Is it a perfect film?  Far from it.  But overall, it is delightful, and charming, and it is a thousand times better than the remake.

In addition to the leads, there are a lot of great character actors in this movie.  Nancy Kulp (who would stake her claim to fame as Miss Hathaway in TV’s Beverly Hillbillies) plays a servant in the Bogart/Holden household.  Francis X. Bushman also has a small role.  Also featured in this movie is the fantastic character actor John Williams, in the role of Thomas Fairchild, Sabrina’s father.

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John Williams is one of the most trustworthy and stalwart character actors of all time.  He was so reliable that Alfred Hitchcock and Billy Wilder both used him multiple times.  He is the epitome of British charm and class.  After re-watching his brilliant performance in this movie, I decided that I wanted to see some more of John Williams, so I decided to re-watch Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M For Murder.  

I have already written two detailed entries on Dial M For Murder on my other blog, dedicated to Alfred Hitchcock.  If you would like to read those entries, please look here and here.

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John Williams does not even enter this movie until the 55th minute, almost the halfway point.  But his character is arguably the  most important in the entire movie, for he is the one that unravels the mystery, and saves a life.  John Williams won a Tony award for playing the role of Inspector Hubbard in the Broadway performance of this play.  He was one of only two actors from the Broadway performance who reprised his role in the movie version.

John Williams appeared in 3 Alfred Hitchcock movies and 2 Billy Wilder movies.  He also appeared in 9 episodes of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV series (the most appearances by any actor), as well as appearances in The Twilight Zone,  Family Affair, Night Gallery,  and several other TV shows and movies.

Sabrina may be the most memorable performance of John Williams’ entire career.  His affection for his daughter Sabrina, and his sense of obligation and duty to the Larrabee family, are so believable   If you have not seen actor John Williams before, you owe it to yourself to watch these movies.  He is unique, eminently talented, and unforgettable.

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Find The Wrong Man? Sounds like a Mission Impossible.

Movies watched:  The Wrong Man, Mission: Impossible, Mission: Impossible 2, Mission: Impossible 3, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Where watched:  Home

Time:  105 minutes, 110 minutes, 123 minutes, 125 minutes, 133 minutes, 131 minutes

Total elapsed time:  1 day, 19 hours, 53 minutes

I watched Alfred Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man so i could post a rather detailed analysis on my alfredhitchblog site.  When watching the Hitchcock movies, I often watch the films (or at least sections of the films) multiple times.  So I wondered, should I count multiple viewings of the same movie in my cumulative time total?  I decided against it.  At any rate, The Wrong Man is a very good, and very underrated Hitchcock movie.  If you want to learn more about it, check out my alfredhitchblog review here.

I then watched all 5 Mission:  Impossible movies in a row.  (Not all in one day, but over the course of a week).   This is my favorite action movie franchise, by far.  Each movie has a different director, each one has it own look and feel.  And there are no duds in the series.  So here are some random observations on the movies in the series.

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The original Mission:  Impossible is often mentioned as the slowest-paced entry in the franchise.  Yet it set the template that has been followed in every successive film.   There is a break-in, or heist, at a high-security facility, and there is at least one high-speed chase.  I’m a big fan of Brian DePalma, and although he is often guilty of the style-over-substance claims made about his movies, he often has a style worth watching.  Someone who saw the later entries in the franchise first would probably be bored with this movie, because it is a bit slower paced.  But the story never lags, and the characters are all interesting.

The head of the IMF changes in each movie.  In this entry he is played (quite well) by Henry Czerny.

I won’t say who the “bad guys” are in this one, in case someone hasn’t seen it, because identities are not what they seem.

Team members:  Tom Cruise, Jon Voight, Emmanuelle Beart, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emilio Estevez, Ving Rhames, Jean Reno.

As the franchise-launching movie, this film made almost half a billion worldwide (big money in 1996), and while not perfect, it is Mission:  Enjoyable.

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Mission:  Impossible 2 could not be more different from the first film.  John Woo has a very distinct aesthetic, and it is all on display here:  the doves flying in slow motion, the two-fisted handgun shooting, the balletic motorcycle chases.  The first movie was shot in a cold, muted color palette.  The sequel has a deep, rich tone.

The plot of this movie owes a nod to Alfred Hitchcock.  The idea of a woman seducing a bad guy to obtain information is borrowed directly from Notorious.   On the movie’s commentary track, John Woo also says that the car chase sequence between Tom Cruise and Thandie Newton was inspired by Hitchcock’s To Catch A Thief.  

The head of the IMF:  Anthony Hopkins

The bad guys:  Dougray Scott, Richard Roxburg

The team:  Tom Cruise, Ving Rhames, John Polson, Thandie Newton

Crazy stunt actually done by Tom Cruise:  rock climbing, high-speed motorcycle chase

This is the lowest-rated movie in the franchise on Rotten Tomatoes, currently sitting at 57%.  While Woo’s slo-mo shots and flying doves get old in a hurry, the movie is engaging, and actually better than I remember it.   This is Mission:  Congenial

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It’s kinda weird to think of Mission:  Impossible 3 as J.J. Abram’s directorial debut.  Who would’ve believed that he would go on to revive the two most popular sci-fi franchises in movie history.   He definitely has a sure hand here.   Ethan Hunt, the IMF agent played by Tom Cruise, is married in this installment, to the beautiful Michelle Monaghan.  She thinks he works for the Dept. of Transportation.  Boy, is she in for a surprise, when Hunt’s professional and personal world’s collide.   The stakes are much higher when Cruise is fighting to rescue his wife.

The head of the IMF:  Laurence Fishburne

The bad guys:  Philip Seymour Hoffman, Eddie Marsan

The team:  Tom Cruise, Ving Rhames, Keri Russell, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Maggie Q, Simon Pegg, Billy Crudup

This movie is currently rated at the very modest 70% on Rotten Tomatoes.  I think were it made today it would be rated higher, because it is a very good movie.  Philip Seymour Hoffman is the best villain in the franchise to date.  The relationship between Ving Rhames and Tom Cruise is solidified with the banter they have during the mission.  The film looks great, and the stunt sequences are fantastic.   It also has a very high re-watch value.

Mission:  Rewatchable

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Brad Bird was a bit of a shocker to direct this movie.  He had only directed animated movies up to this point.  Granted, they were all fantastic (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille), but handing him the reins to this franchise was still surprising.  All he did was direct the best movie in the franchise to date.  This time around, the IMF is disavowed, and a handful of “ghost” agents must try to prevent a world catastrophe, and clear their names.   This is the longest movie in the franchise, but doesn’t feel like it.  It is engaging from the first minute to the last.

IMF director:  Tom Wilkinson

Bad guy:  Michael Nyqvist

Team members:  Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton

Crazy stunt actually done by Tom Cruise:  Climbing, and hanging off of, and running down the side of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building.  This sequence, shot in 70mm, is one of the greatest action sequences ever filmed, and is beyond breathtaking on the big screen.

My only (very minor) quibbles with this movie:  Ving Rhames character Luther appears only in cameo.   I also thought it was a missed opportunity not bringing back either Maggie Q or Jonathan Rhys Meyers from MI3.  That being said, this is an incredible movie.

Mission:  Exceptional

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I went to see this movie with some trepidation.  It seemed like Brad Bird’s installment could never be topped.  Also, Christopher McQuarrie was known more as a screenwriter than director.   Would he be able to handle it?  Yes, he would.  This movie has the most repeat characters of any movie in the series.  Basically Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, and Ving Rhames are the team now.  This time Cruise is after the Syndicate (who was mentioned at the very end of MI4), a creation of the original TV series.

McQuarrie quite rightly realized that he couldn’t top the Burj Khalifa sequence from the last movie, at least in terms of spectacle.  So he didn’t try.  He went in a different direction.    Of course Cruise does some crazy stunts.  But the centerpiece of this movie takes place in the Vienna Opera House, and it is one of the best sequences of the entire franchise.  Sean Harris, in the role of Solomon Lane, the head of the Syndicate, is a great villian, arguably the best in the franchise.  Hopefully we haven’t seen the last of him.

This film has the best look of the series.  Academy Award-winning cinematographer Robert Elswit lit this film brilliantly.  It doesn’t have the look of a “typical” action movie.

IMF head:  Alec Baldwin (he’s actually the CIA director, but the CIA absorbs the IMF in this movie)

Bad guys:  Sean Harris, Jens Hulten

Team members:  Tom Cruise, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Ferguson

This movie does not surpass the last entry in the franchise, but it does not try to.  Christopher McQuarrie has made a movie that is as exciting, and entertaining as any other in the series.

Mission:  Spectacular