THE FABELMANS

By Marc S. Sanders

Often, coming-of-age stories are narrated through the eyes of the child on the cusp of becoming a teenager or a grown up.  It’s important you realize that I say through the eyes, however.  It’s what the protagonist observes that allows him or her to appreciate, and comprehend.  Steven Spielberg will tell you he came of age by learning how to make movies.  It stands to reason however, that he did not come of age by looking with just his eyes, but rather with his 8mm and 16mm cameras.  The Fabelmans is a fictionalized, loose interpretation of how the celebrated filmmaker transitioned from adolescence into young adulthood with dreams of telling stories with movie making inventiveness.

Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel LaBelle, the older version; Mateo Zoryan, the younger version – both performances are magnificent) is escorted for the first time to the movies by his parents Mitzi and Burt (Michelle Williams and Paul Dano) on a wintery New Jersey night in 1952, where he sees The Greatest Show On Earth.  For eight year old Sammy, what starts out as nervous fear of what to expect in a dark theater with a giant screen turns into exhilaration as a car does a head on collision with a locomotive.  Shortly thereafter, a series of eight Channukah gifts assemble a Lionel train set for Sammy.  It’s exciting to see it go around on an oval track.  It’s more electrifying to preserve it on film with a toy car driven by a Mordecai figurine crash right into the steam engine and the boxcars hitched to it.  That was Mitzi’s idea to capture it on film.  That way Sammy can get a thrill out of watching the accident over and over again without causing any further damage.

Sammy only progresses from there.  When Burt gets a job promotion, the family moves to Arizona.  The desert allows a teenage Sammy to continue with his love of filmmaking by shooting his family during the cross country trek and then making westerns and war films with his Scout Troop pals as the actors.  He sets up tracking shots by propping his camera on a baby carriage rolling along cardboard laid out on the ground.  Ketchup becomes blood.  Sammy is even inventive enough to poke holes in the actual film strip at precise moments when his sheriff and outlaws fire their six shooters.  Now it really looks like the cowboys are shooting real rounds of gunfire.  Mom and dad, his sisters, his teachers, and friends are all impressed. 

His Uncle Bennie (Seth Rogen) is also dazzled by Sammy’s natural talent.  Bennie is Burt’s best friend and co-worker, and per Mitzi’s insistence he moves to Arizona with the family.  By use of his camera and editing machine, Sammy will soon learn that Bennie actually means more to Mitzi than he does to Burt. 

With a script that Spielberg constructed with Tony Kushner, the director/writer depicts a kid, much like he was, who expressed his honesty and learned the truth about the people around him when his projector was on.  The camera doesn’t lie, ever.  A motion picture camera will even hold on to the final beats of a person’s pulse before they finally expire.  That one moment in time where there’s life and then suddenly there’s death can be eternalized on film, forever.  It’s through this storytelling device that allows The Fabelmans to stand apart from other coming-of-age films like Rebel Without A Cause or Splendor In The Grass or any of the John Hughes brat pack films.  The childlike quality yearning for adventure and fantasy shines through with Sammy’s westerns or John Wayne inspired war pictures.  Sammy also realizes though that he can pick up on real life and emotion with his 8mm, like on a family camping trip.

Michelle Williams gives an outstanding, sometimes ethereal performance.  It’s real.  She’s not doing fantasy.  Yet, she lives for the fantasy and adventure.  I recall a well known anecdote of Spielberg where he described in his youth, his father woke up the family in the middle of the night to watch the skies for a meteor shower.  (Watch The Skies was the original title for his film Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.)  In The Fabelmans, Mitzi enthusiastically takes her children in the car to pursue a tornado.  Later moments will have her dancing freely in her nighty in front of the car headlights while the family is camping; uncaring over the fact that her dress is see through.  Sammy will notice how awkward his father Burt feels, while at the same time seeing how enamored Bennie is at the sight.  Williams has a beautiful balance though of a woman trying her best to appear happy and collected for the sake of her children and husband, but not living the story she wants.  This will influence Sammy as he maps out his own future.  He’ll live the life he wants.  Learning the merits of algebra will never hinder his destiny to make movies.

Later occurrences will show evidence as to how well Sammy can capture reality with his camera.  Following a series of bullying and antisemitic teasing after the family transitions to northern California, Sammy is welcomed to shoot the senior ditch day at the beach.  A telling moment occurs when the film is shown at the prom.  The taller bully is overwhelmed by how championed he’s depicted in the film.  He’s bordering on furious with Sammy, though.  The mean kid knows he’s cruel to the scrawnier, Jewish Sammy, and it immediately eats away at him with guilt over his past treatment.  Sammy’s film has changed and disrupted this kid.  Another kid bully is shown to look like the jerk he is and nothing else.  He walks alone on the beach.  He’s not an athlete.  He’s nothing but a no talent, unlikable antisemitic jerk.  This kid is also changed because now he can see what he truly is as the viewer looking at his own cruel behavior shown on film for the whole world to see.  Movies will bring out what we harbor deep down, inside. 

Ironically, Sammy is so well versed with camera work and follow up editing that he is practically unaware of how durable his theme of honesty through the lens truly is.  What Sammy captures comes without even trying and it sends a raw emotion to the viewer, whether it’s a mean-spirited bully or even his own mother watching.

Steven Spielberg could never be anything else except a movie maker.  Yet, after over five decades he’s still introducing audiences to new kinds of accomplishments.  He started as a director with adventure and fantasy on his mind with the likes of monster trucks, killer sharks as well as swashbuckling treasure seeking and visitors from outer space.  Later, he had to reinvent his craft and think outside his fanciful dreams to show brutality and hope through horrifying moments in history like the abuses endured by black southern plantation dwellers, slavery, the Holocaust and the unglamorized harshness of war, political unrest, and terrorism.  Further on, he carried out the romance of stage musical performance and even learned to poke fun at his own past accomplishments.

In the short period of time that we get to know Sammy Fabelman, we see transfers of perspective in this young boy’s outlook through a camera.  Sammy goes from making silly mummy monsters of his sisters to intimate hand holding shared by his unhappy mother and the man she truly loves, a man who is not his father. 

Whether he is watching his own films, or it is his friends, or his mother, his father or even his tormentors at school, Sammy realizes that a film will always do one thing and never falter away from that one thing.  His camera will always, always, always tell the truth. 

Thankfully, a truly inspired epilogue moment, which left me with a big, enthusiastic grin, has Sammy still learning that as frank as his filmmaking may be, it’s important that it is also never boring.  I don’t think I have ever been bored with a movie made by Steven Spielberg.

THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD (Norway, 2021)

by Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: Joachim Trier
Cast: Renate Reinsve, Anders Danielsen Lie, Herbert Nordrum
My Rating: 9/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 96% Certified Fresh Fresh
Everyone’s a Critic Category: “Watch a Film with Subtitles”

PLOT: The chronicles of four years in the life of Julie (Renate Reinsve), a young woman who navigates the troubled waters of her love life and struggles to find her career path, leading her to take a realistic look at who she really is.


I love “what-if” scenarios.  There is a whole line of comic books, Marvel and DC, dedicated to intriguing “what-if” questions.  What if Peggy Carter took the super-soldier serum instead of Steve Rogers?  What if Bruce Wayne’s parents had not been killed?  And so on.

Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World is a what-if scenario for film geeks.  What if…Woody Allen wrote a romantic comedy about a woman in her 30s on a road to self-discovery?  And then what if Ingmar Bergman took a crack at the screenplay and decided it was too happy, so he added some material about death?  And then…what if David Fincher directed it on 35-mm film with the bare minimum of CG effects?

Julie (Renate Reinsve, who won Best Actress at Cannes for this role) is a 30-something woman who cycles through career paths before finally settling on photography.  She meets, falls in love with, and moves in with Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), a comic-strip creator and author in his 40s.  They are happy together, share deep conversations, discuss kids (he wants them, she doesn’t), and spend time with his family at their lake house.

But then one night Julie walks home from a business function with Aksel and, for reasons she doesn’t quite understand, crashes a fancy party.  Here she meets Eivind (Herbert Nordrum), a charming fellow with a broad smile.  They talk.  There is a clear connection, but they are both in committed relationships.  They decide they will not cheat.  But…what defines cheating?  Does drinking from the same bottle of beer constitute cheating?  What about sharing a secret?  What about smelling each other’s sweat?  How far this little game goes, I will not reveal, but it did not end where I thought it would.  Their meet-cute ends with them walking home in opposite directions, neither giving the other their last names so they won’t be tempted to search for each other on Facebook.  Will they meet again?  Don’t make me laugh.

The Worst Person in the World is brain candy.  I am on the record as stating that I have been, somewhat unsuccessfully, avoiding films with heavier subject matter over the years.  (I can think of no situation in which I would willingly sit and re-watch The Conformist [1970], for example, to see what I missed the first time I slept through it.)  However, over the years I have seen and reviewed some heavy films that were highly rewarding: Amour [2012], Incendies [2010], and Nomadland [2020], to name a few.  The Worst Person in the World is not quite as gut-punching as those other films, but it was intelligent and funny and startling in all the right places, and what more could you ask for in a romantic comedy/drama?

The David Fincher element I alluded to earlier comes from the visual style of the film.  Director Joachim Trier loves to include primary colors, especially white, in his compositions, which is apparently a big no-no when it comes to cinematography.  The result of this choice is that anything containing colors of any kind really <pops> on the screen, while lending a kind of antiseptic feel to some of the scenes, as well.  For some reason, I associate that combination of clinical distancing with popping colors with Fincher.  (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo [2011] comes to mind.)

There’s also a celebrated sequence in which Julie, still in a relationship with Aksel but unable to stop thinking about Eyvind (especially after bumping into him again unexpectedly), conjures a fantasy in which she runs to meet him where he works while the entire world around her remains frozen in place.  The effects in this sequence are flawless, especially when you realize that the only CG effects were those removing visible supports that kept a couple of bicycles and human limbs suspended in midair.  Everything else was done 100% real, in-camera, with real people simply frozen in place.

The effect of this scene is magical.  It evokes that giddy period we (hopefully) all remember when a brand new love has taken hold of us, and the rest of the world goes on hold while we hold hands and kiss and share a sunset and talk and walk and kiss again and time stands still, or goes too fast, depending on your point of view.  The brilliance of this movie is that it evokes those glorious feelings…and the whole time, in the back of the viewer’s mind, is that reminder: “But they’re cheeeatiiiing…”

The movie’s title immediately made me think Julie was the titular “Worst Person”, and for a while it seems to be true.  She can’t decide on a career, she knows she doesn’t want kids with Aksel but can’t really explain why, she impulsively flirts with Eyvind, she writes an internet-famous/infamous article wondering how a woman can be considered a feminist if she engages in oral sex.  But after watching the movie, I don’t believe that’s the movie’s intent.  I think we’re supposed to see how other people, including myself, might make the mistake of thinking Julie is a terrible person.  On the contrary, she’s just as confused and inarticulate about relationships and feelings as I am, as any of us are.  As she breaks up with someone, she makes what might sound like an emotionally cruel statement: “Who knows?  Maybe we’ll get back together again in the future.”  But in reality, she’s just refusing to rule anything out.  Badly phrased?  Perhaps.  But she is being as honest as she knows how to be.

(I haven’t even discussed the sequence where Julie ingests some “magic” mushrooms and goes on a drug trip for the ages, involving cartoon characters, aging, a touch of body horror, and the kind of face painting you’ll NEVER see at a theme park.  The movie even pokes fun at the shock of some of this imagery by inserting a shot of a movie theater full of people visibly cringing…a neat bit of meta-humor/commentary on the value of shocking your audience.)

The Worst Person in the World is worth your time if you’re a fan of love stories that don’t pander in any way, shape, or form.  Director Joachim Trier has gone on record as saying it’s a “romantic comedy for people who hate romantic comedies.”  That’s about right.  Don’t look for a conventional happy ending or a conventional main character.  These are just people searching for connection, who even when they’ve found it, never stop looking.  For better or worse.


QUESTIONS FROM EVERYONE’S A CRITIC

Best line or memorable quote?
JULIE: If men had periods, that’s all we’d hear about.

How important is it to you to watch a film in its native language?
Very. But not always. For example, I would not have wanted to watch a dubbed version of The Worst Person in the World. However, I have no issue with watching a dubbed version of something like Akira [1988] or Spirited Away [2001]. It comes down to the medium. For live action, I feel it’s most important to know the precise meaning behind what the characters are saying, and it’s difficult to get that from watching someone’s lips not moving in synch with the sounds coming out of their mouths. However, with animation, I want to drink in the visuals as much as possible, and that’s not as easy to do when you’re trying to read subtitles.

Do you feel subtitles lessen the overall movie experience?
Not at all. Look at Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds [2009]. In that film, subtitles were absolutely essential to the plot, especially the opening sequence at that French farmhouse. There are those who disagree, but that’s my opinion. (But don’t get me started on those who insist on watching English films with English subtitles on…that’s another story.)

THE USUAL SUSPECTS

By Marc S. Sanders

There’s something inviting – or maybe intriguing – about seeing a person in a hat with a dark trench coat on.  Just the person’s silhouette will leave you asking for more.  What is it to this guy?  Steven Spielberg does that in the first few minutes with Indiana Jones in Raiders Of The Lost Ark.  Before Indy, there was Orson Welles as Harry Lyme in The Third Man.  Guys like these have a danger to them, and we can’t look away.  In The Usual Suspects, one of many variations of a legend called Keyser Soze has a dangerous reputation that carries him, and we want to know more about the figure in the hat and coat.  In the first few minutes of the film, we see this mysterioso extinguish a kerosene flame by urinating on it.  Who is this guy?  Maybe we, as the viewers, are Icabod Crane looking at an updated inspired spawn of The Headless Horseman.  Perhaps, we are actually catching a glimpse of that boogeyman who hid in our closets or under the beds.

Bryan Singer’s modern day film noir, masterfully written with inventive riddles by Christopher McQuarrie, works towards its ending as soon as the opening credits wrap up.  Each scene hops from a different setting or time period and as a viewer you feel like you are sitting at a kitchen table turning puzzle pieces around trying to snap them together.  Not all of it makes sense by the time the picture has wrapped up.  That’s okay though, because one of the players in the story perhaps played a sleight of hand and we can do nothing but applaud when we realize we’ve been had.  Magic is fun when you never quite realize where or when the deceit began.

A scenario is set up early on that assembles five different kinds of criminals in a police lineup.  It works as a device to team these guys together to pull off additional heists.  A prologue to the film depicts the aftermath of their last job together.  One holdover, a hobbled cripple named Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey) is brought into a police precinct to be interviewed by a determined detective named Kujan (Chazz Palminteri).  Verbal might ramble on endlessly in circles about nothing, but Agent Kujan is going to get to the bottom of what happened the night prior on a shipping dock that turned up several corpses.  How did it all go down, and where is the money and cocaine that was expected to be there?

Verbal was one of the five in that lineup, along with McManus (Stephen Baldwin), Hockney (Kevin Pollack), Fenster (Benicio Del Toro) and Keaton (Gabriel Byrne).  Each carries a different specialty or personality, but Keaton is the guy that Kujan is really after.  He’s a master criminal who’s been known to fake his own death, supposedly turn legitimate while dating a high-priced lawyer, and now may be the lead suspect in an armored truck heist.  On the other hand, maybe it was one of these other four guys. 

Amid all of this back and forth and side stepping stories, there is mention of a name – Keyser Soze.  Whenever he comes up in the vernacular of the script, the mood seems to change.  These criminals, usually comfortable in their own cloth of transgressions, get noticeably frightened and concerned if there is even a remote possibility that this Soze character is the engineer behind what follows them. 

It’s fun!  The Usual Suspects is fun.

McQuarrie’s script will toss out names of people we never meet.  It will quickly imply an anecdote from another time.  It’ll share a bunch of short stories with how these five guys work together, like upending a secret criminal sect of the New York City police force while robbing them of their fortunes. Yet, a tall tale of lore will intrude on their typical heists to derail what we may normally be familiar with in other crime dramas or noir films.   

Spacey is the real star of The Usual Suspects.  He earned the Academy Award for Supporting Actor because Verbal Kint is so well drawn out as a weak, unhelpful, and frustrating man.  Often, you ask yourself what the heck is this geeky looking crippled guy even talking about. 

On other occasions, I’ve noted that sometimes with movies I can not determine if I just watched a superior film or dreadful nonsense until I’ve reached the final five minutes.  The final five minutes of a movie can be the verdict.  Sometimes you’ll claim the journey getting there was great, but the conclusion was a big letdown.  If you have never seen The Usual Suspects, then you likely won’t know if the path towards its end is good until you’ve reached the culmination. 

Roger Ebert couldn’t stand this picture, and I’m not going to say he didn’t know what he was talking about or that he was wrong.  Bryan Singer and Christopher McQuarrie’s assembly of scenes don’t make for a well-defined picture, even after the movie is over.  Ebert was less than fond of that technique.  I think that was their intent, though.  Everything you have seen doesn’t have a suitable answer.  Certain parts don’t link well with others.  However, the director and screenwriter were always working towards an ending while piloting the film in swerves and unexpected knee jerk turns.

Unlike Ebert, however, I’m wholly satisfied with the film.  In fact, the first time I saw the movie, I cheered for the conclusion that got more than just one over on me.  On repeat viewings, knowing how the picture wraps up, I treasure the path towards its finale. 

If you study Verbal Kint, you’ll realize that he doesn’t offer easy answers and explanations for what’s occurred, thereby lending to the frustration of Agent Kujan who only demands cookie cutter, fall-into-place arrangements. What can I say Roger Ebert?  How else should I lay it out for you Agent Kujan? Life is messy with no easy answers sometimes.  Especially, in film noir.  

Ironically, one of Ebert’s favorite cinematic characters is Harry Lyme.  So, I guess Keyer Soze couldn’t live up to that threshold or repute.  If that’s the case, then I forgive you Roger.

THE CONVERSATION

By Marc S. Sanders

To watch Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation from 1974 is to feel the paranoia of what Harry Caul, the protagonist played by Gene Hackman, endlessly feels as a surveillance expert. Harry is so skillful at his job and yet so modest, that he only believes someone may actually be better. Even he doesn’t believe he’s that good. Still, his own expertise can drive him to insanity.

Coppola opens the picture on a wide lens that gradually zooms in, looking down on a sunny afternoon in a crowded park. There are musicians and mimes. Bums that sleep on a park bench and food vendors, and then there is a couple (Cindy Williams, Frederic Forrest) who we are drawn to to get some sound bites of their random conversation. Their voices are muffled at times. Feedback and background noise interferes as well. Harry is spotted trying to keep within a perimeter to allow his hardware to function and get every tidbit of the conversation.

Following this sequence, Harry is back at his fenced in warehouse operation that he shares with a loudmouth partner named Stan (John Cazale) attempting to clean up the recording for his client, only known as The Director. It’s a skill that only Harry has the means to do. Hackman plays the part as a quiet and reserved man, unlike his competitors who proudly boast of their next, great invention to eavesdrop and capture the actions and discussions of any subject. With an awareness of what he’s capable of, I’d argue he trusts no one, even when he’s being praised. Does he even trust Stan, who he works with?

To be good at this kind of work requires the ability to separate yourself from the content of what you’re listening to. Just get an audible recording and move on. The content should be for someone else to stew over. For Harry, this becomes a challenge. He uncovers a hint in the couple’s exchange that suggests perhaps their lives are in danger. When he goes to drop off the recordings and collect his fee, he is not met by The Director. Instead, he comes across a lackey (Harrison Ford) who insists that he was instructed by the client to make the exchange. His paranoia sets in, when the lackey keeps on appearing at random, unexpected moments with Harry. None of it feels right for Harry. So he violates what should be his own rules and investigates further. The risk is whether his own capabilities will undo his sense of humanity and decency, including his connection with God.

Coppola, who also wrote the script for his film, puts Harry to the test in nearly every scene. He writes Harry to be the best at what he does, and yet that doesn’t prevent failure from occurring. He even fails to recognize when he’s being victimized and listened to. A midway point features a party among the men who specialize in surveillance. Harry quietly flirts with a girl only to feel embarrassed when his East Coast competitor reveals that he recorded their conversation from across the room. Seems like a harmless prank, as sophomoric as playground or locker room teasing, but it’s enough to maybe drive Harry into madness.

Harry Caul is one of Gene Hackman’s best roles. It stands apart from other films he’s been in. Harry is very much a three dimensional character who values his religious connection and his sense of morality. The problem is that Harry is a specialist in something that’s really not very moral or ethical. His Catholic beliefs might suggest what he does is sinful. Sure, he goes to confession, but he still pursues actions that are deemed inappropriate in the eyes of God.

Francis Ford Coppola depicts a very telling moment as Harry tries to find a listening device in his apartment. He takes apart everything in the place by either breaking it or unscrewing it. What do you think he’ll do when he comes upon his figurine of the Virgin Mary? Is there anything left to trust? Anything of value or purity in Harry’s world? He doesn’t trust others. He doesn’t trust himself? Does he trust a higher power that he’s leaned on his entire life?

Because The Conversation does not delve too much into the now dated-very dated– technology from the early 1970s, it is a film that is especially relevant in today’s age of cell phone recordings and devices that are relied upon for everyday use. While Harry is possibly thinking he’s on a noble pursuit with his means to eavesdrop, either by servicing a client or even rescuing someone from what appears to be imminent danger, is this the right way to go about it? What will it cost Harry? As well, what does it cost our society to embark on the convenience of what we are now capable of? Does the ability to record someone’s actions contain absolute merit, or are we violating a civil mentality within ourselves and among our fellow human beings?

There’s a lot of hard questions to answer in The Conversation. I think that’s why especially now it’s an important picture to see.

BULLITT (1968)

By Marc S. Sanders

The car chase with the movie attached to it is Bullitt from 1968, directed by Peter Yates, featuring Steve McQueen in the title role.  Why do I phrase it that way?  Well, as far as I can tell in the three or four times that I’ve seen the movie, the main attraction is the well-known, and pioneering, car chase at the crux of the film.  Otherwise, the plot is very thin, with characters that have next to no complexity or dimension.

Frank Bullitt has been summoned on a Friday afternoon to the home of a prosecutor/politician named Chalmers (Robert Vaughn).  He’s been requested to guard a key witness over the weekend ahead of giving a deposition on Monday morning that will expose “The Organization.”  Frank lays out the shift schedule with his precinct partners, and soon after the witness is gunned down and sent to the hospital with life threatening injuries.  Now it’s up to Frank to find out how the organization located the witness and who is behind the conspiracy. 

Bullitt moves at a slow pace.  There are some foot chases through the hospital.  Chalmers gives the standard frustration with how the protection assignment has fouled up, and plenty of close ups are given to the marquee actor, McQueen.  For some sex appeal, Jacqueline Bisset appears as Bullitt’s girlfriend offering up a speech that shows resentment for his occupation amid a world of death and violence.  A better monologue of this sort would come later in Michael Mann’s Heat with Diane Vinora expressing her disdain for Al Pacino’s determination as an obsessed detective.

Nevertheless, Bullitt is an important film to watch, if for nothing else then to see what it has inspired since its time.  The legendary car chase between Bullitt’s dark green Ford Mustang and the silent villains’ black Dodge Charger is nearly ten minutes long, and still holds as one of the greatest ever filmed.  The fact that the film takes place in San Francisco only lends to the scene.  The best car chases take place among the sloping streets of San Francisco.  Fortunately, the chase is not accompanied by music, but rather by well timed sound editing of burning rubber and screeching tires, revved up engines, side swipe banging and chassis slams on the hilly pavements. Yates also includes good close ups of McQueen and the villains in the Charger.  They were not always driving the cars.  There were stunt doubles, but I’m not seeing the difference while I’m watching.  I might see the cars pass by the same green VW Beetle three times, but the editing is so perfectly assembled here that it is fair to argue this is one of the greatest scenes in film history. 

In later years, directors would pull moments from Bullitt to use in their own films like the Dirty Harry pictures, The Seven-Ups, and Heat.  One moment during a foot chase in an airport seemingly inspired moments for later films like The Fugitive and Skyfall.  The hero is looking amidst a sea of crowds for the antagonist.  Peter Yates films bystanders in this moment going from one walking face to another.  He cuts back to McQueen moving his eyes from left to right and back again, looking and looking.  The bad guy that Bullitt is trying to find is just an ordinary white guy with brown hair; no discernable features like you might notice in an Alfred Hitchcock movie or a James Bond entry.  So how do you find the guy who just looks like everyone else?

Bullitt sets up a twist or two.  Honestly though, I can’t recall where those moments are resolved.  The witness being protected undoes the chain lock on the door just before he’s gunned down.  Why?  What was the exact purpose to do that?  As well, who exactly gave away the secret location of the witness, and again, why?  These questions weigh on my mind after watching the film.  Bullitt is not a confusing or multi-layered movie.  It’s pretty simple with very minimal dialogue and works like a showpiece for scenes.  So, I have yet to uncover where I got lost or what I missed that could answer those questions.

Best I can say is that if you’re a film buff seeking out where certain standards started, it’s best to watch Bullitt.  After you watch Nicholas Cage supposedly drive a yellow Ferrari through the streets of San Francisco in The Rock, you’ll at least say, “Uh uh.  Bullitt did it better the first time.”

BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER

By Marc S. Sanders

Marvel does it right.  DC doesn’t.  Black Panther: Wakanda Forever  is not a perfect film, but it’s not Black Adam.  The latest Marvel production offers sharp visual effects and action scenes, along with thought provoking moments that reflect on loss.  Black Adam offers a crusty, yellow lightning bolt on the chest of The Rock.

Director Ryan Coogler was faced with a terrible challenge to make the follow up to his smash hit, Black Panther.  The star at the center of the film, Chadwick Boseman, unexpectedly passed away from colon cancer.  A screenplay for the film’s sequel had to suddenly be rehashed.  A unified cast had to work with a hole in its structure.  Coogler opted not to recast the role of T’Challa, the King of the fictional African nation, Wakanda.  That was a smart choice.  Boseman’s portrayal was so embraced in that film, as well as three other Marvel chapters, that he was seemingly irreplaceable.  T’Challa was not just another James Bond or Batman.

I liked most of Wakanda Forever.  First and foremost, the primary cast is mostly female and Marvel’s early reputation with female characters left a lot to be desired when all they would do is flirt with the action star and scream for help.  As well, none of the women characters were very diverse.  The African influence of the Black Panther characters demonstrate that the Marvel universe is unlimited in appearance and style.  (Star Wars productions of late prove that as well.) 

The design of the picture is also gorgeous.  I still yearn for Wakanda to be a real locale that can be toured.  I’m sure Disney is already giving this some thought.  At times, it was hard to know what overhead locations were mere CGI and what was real.  The backdrops are seamless.  The whole movie is gorgeous. 

The sensitivity to the loss of Boseman is especially handled beautifully.  The opening sequence is a ceremony we have all been waiting for since the actor’s death two years prior to the release of the film.  Some of the customs and practices might be fictional, albeit inspired by what has been researched in other factual nations and observances, but it is also endearing.  The silence of the Marvel logo montage will especially grab you.

Wakanda Forever is carried primarily by Letitia Wright as Shuri, T’Challa’s sister.  The film takes place one year after T’Challa has passed away from a disease and she is not ready to burn the funeral garb she wore when his soul was sent off to the ancestors.  However, while Wakanda was once thought to be the sole resource of Vibranium, the most powerful element in the world, a new character is introduced from under the ocean.  Namor (Tenoch Huerta) is the mutant who leads a nation of underwater dwellers with their own source of Vibranium.  He proposes that his nation works in conjunction with Wakanda to protect what they possess from other nations (like the United States and France; though why must Marvel show these countries in a bad light?) who could potentially use this commodity for nefarious purposes. 

From this seed in the storyline, subplots are branched out.  They just don’t work, though.  Wakanda’s American ally, Agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman), is brought back into the fold.  He only adds unnecessary running time to a very long film.  First, he provides a lead on to a new character, that’s expected to fill the hole left by Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man.  A character named Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne) who I have learned becomes the super hero Iron Heart with a new Iron suit.  After that Ross is left to watch Anderson Cooper on CNN as we have already seen the plot unfolding for ourselves, and have conversations with a character named Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis Dreyfus, looking at her most uninteresting and boring).  I know. This character serves as teaser fodder for what the MCU promises in future installments, but why is it necessary?  I believe this is her third appearance between the films and Disney + shows.  All she does is drag the stories down.  Wakanda Forever is a 2 hour and 40-minute film, that could have saved thirty minutes without the characters from Freeman and Dreyfus, and likely Thorne as well.  Let’s just stick with the Wakandans and forget about advertising what’s coming next from the Marvel factory, please.

Another issue with the film is the delay of showing the new Black Panther.  That’s what we ultimately paid for.  The middle section of this long running time had me yearning for when I could see the new suit in action, and who was going to wear it.  When it finally arrives in the third act, I gotta say I was let down.  While there’s a newly inventive design, like each time there was with Iron Man, we don’t see much of what’s new in action and there’s hardly anything that’s novel about it.  Does this Black Panther suit offer any new tricks? 

What’s fortunate for the film is the cast.  Letitia Wright has a good balance of youth segueing into maturity as she toils with loss.  I love this angle in the same way I appreciated the cancer storyline written for Natalie Portman in Thor: Love And Thunder.  Superpowers do not shield us from what slowly dwindles our lives away.  Angela Basset remains a very strong actor after an over forty-year career as the surviving Queen of Wakanda.  She commands a powerful presence of authority.  Danai Gurira as the spear wielding acrobatic Wakandan warrior Okoye is absolutely cool in action scenes.  She also has well written scenes to perform with the other two leads, as her character’s commitment to country is tested. 

Ironically, the Namor character is one of the oldest Marvel characters in print, introduced long before Spider-Man or the Hulk came on the page.  I was never a fan of the character though.  He just didn’t have a cool enough costume for me as it was only a bathing suit and he had wings on his ankles.  Meh.  I feel the same way here.  The back story of the character is altered to fit the mold of the script, and that’s okay, but I didn’t feel for this antagonist’s plight.  In the prior film, I was more on the side Eric Killmonger’s (Michael B. Jordan) cause than I was on T’Challa’s.  In this film, Namor is just a guy to do battle with while he flies and swims.

Ryan Coogler is a detailed director.  When I’m in Wakanda, I want to explore every building and hop aboard each vehicle that hovers overhead.  He leaves no stone unturned.  I would have chosen for some of the action scenes to be shot in the daytime so I could get a better look at what goes on.  I feel that way about all action and adventure films.  However, a darkened action scene in nearly any Marvel film is much more articulated than any scene, daylight or otherwise, in Black Adam from DC.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is a good film, but not great, mostly due to its overstayed running time.  What should have been cut from the final reel is obvious.  Yet, good writing and acting allows for the film that many Marvel fans needed after one of their heroes left us.  Losing Chadwick Boseman likely equates to how we lost our Superman, Christopher Reeve.  It seemed so unfair that someone who offered such heroic optimism and joy could be taken from our reach so early in life.  At least, the loss of Boseman was thankfully not washed over with a replacement that could never fill his void.

GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS

By Marc S. Sanders

The characters in David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross are under terrible pressure.  They are salesmen who are consistently chasing insurmountable sales goals in real estate properties.  One of them has an ill daughter in the hospital.  Another has a temptation to rob his office as a means of earning some fast cash.  Another is in despair of his self-worth.  To be a salesman, of any kind of commodity, is a tough life to lead.  The payoffs can be enormous when a sale is successful.  However, once a transaction is complete, the response is often “what have you done for me lately?”  These guys are never happy.  However, they are also some of the cruelest, most insensitive, and thoughtless people you will ever meet.  They have no other choice but to behave that way.  It’s the nature of the business.

The film adaptation of Mamet’s Pulitzer Prize winning play contains a collection of outstanding actors doing some of their best work.  They embrace the brutal dialogue the screenplay hands over to them with relentless cursing and flaring tempers.  Glengarry Glen Ross has you believe that you run your sales career on your own with little help or encouragement from the people you slave for. 

Early in the film, Alec Baldwin, known only as a man named Blake (based on the end credits) visits the office where these salesmen are based out of.  He delivers an unforgiving and harsh reality of what these men must do.  They either get their sales numbers high on the board, where they can win a new Cadillac, or they settle for a set of steak knives for second place.  After that, they are fired.  Regardless of where they currently stand though, they should not even be pouring themselves a cup of coffee.  Coffee is only for closers.  The office manager, known as Williamson (Kevin Spacey), only provides the men with sales leads that have already been exhausted with rejection and hang ups. 

Director James Foley does a wise technique with color.  The first half of the film appears in drabs of greens and greys amid an evening of torrential rain downpour.  Before Blake finishes his threatening presentation, he dangles new leads, the “Glengarry Leads,” in front of the men saying these are not for them, because they are only for closers.  The old leads that Williamson hands out are on green index cards, nothing flashy.  Blake’s leads are bright pink with a gold ribbon tied around them.  Foley makes sure that even a prop tells a story.

The salesman that gets the most attention is perhaps Shelley “The Machine” Levene played by Jack Lemmon.  He’s elderly and past his prime with no numbers currently on the sales board.  Frequently, he is making calls to the hospital for an update on his daughter who is due for surgery, but if he can’t make a payment, then the procedure is likely not to happen.  Lemmon is fascinating in maybe the best performance of his career.  Many of his scenes are toe to toe with Spacey as he shifts from pleading to demanding to disingenuously threatening and ultimately bribing Williamson for the new leads. Levene is so out of touch now that he can’t even sell Williamson on helping him out.  Spacey as Williamson is terrific in his defiance to not lend any sort of aid to Shelley.

David Mamet added additional material to the script, not found in the stage play.  The Blake character is new to the film, for example, and I think it is a better, more fleshed out story because of it.  As well, Foley is able to go outside of the reserved settings of the bar and office, as he follows Levene making a knock-on-the-door sales call in the middle of the rainy night to a family man.  This may be Lemmon’s best scene of the film as he weasels his way into the home to quickly get his raincoat and hat off and get a seat on the sofa as he begins his “once in a lifetime” opportunity that the potential customer may miss out on.  It’s a sales pitch, despite Lemmon’s charm, and the patron can see right through Levene’s performance.  As the door closes on Shelley, you’re terribly sad for his desperation and failure.

On the other end of the spectrum is the current, most successful salesman named Richard Roma.  He’s played by a showy looking Al Pacino who initially doesn’t perform in the broad strokes he’s become recognized for as an actor.  Pacino does a quiet, delicate approach to his character’s sales presentation as he shares a table with a sap (Jonathan Pryce) who is weeping into his liquor glass.  Roma stretches the rainy evening out in the bar with this guy, talking about vague anythings, until he can subtly pounce on him with a brochure that’ll get his signature on a contract. 

Two other salesmen, Moss and Aaronow (Ed Harris, Alan Arkin) vent their frustrations elsewhere in the bar as they eventually segue into an idea of burglarizing the office for those tempting new leads.  However, are they working together as a team on this idea, or is one working something over on the other?  Mamet’s dialogue is chopped up perfectly with utterances and interruptions, that before a character reveals his intentions, you are left flabbergasted.  What is demonstrated here is that a skillful salesman is also an efficacious manipulator.

The second half of the film is set on the following morning where the sunlight has come through.  New revelations following the stormy night from before will present themselves as the men gradually arrive at the office to find it actually has been robbed.  The obvious of circumstances are there.  However, Mamet sets up an ending that’ll leave you breathless.  It did for me the first time I watched the film.  Just when you think you are watching a protagonist throughout the film, something else entirely comes up.

Glengarry Glen Ross has been regarded as a modern-day Death Of A Salesman.  Maybe it is.  I’ve worked in this kind of field before. There were months where I was good at it, and like everyone else, I would brag about my success with recaptured anecdotes and celebratory curse words flying out of my mouth.  There were also months where I would gripe about how uncompromising this life is. When I didn’t want to do sales any longer, I spent twelve years as an assistant to sales representatives.  They are not your friend.  They are only focused on the next contract to be signed and booked before month end, and they will ask anything of you with a seething f-word attached to their request.    Are we so terrible if we can not make an unreachable goal with tools that offer no help and supervisors that lend no encouragement or forgiveness?  To be a salesman means that any of your past accomplishments or education do not define you.  You are only identified as the one who must acquire the next thing, and then the next thing after that.  It will change your attitude about yourself and how you treat others.  It’ll alter your dialogue which is so vitally apparent in Mamet’s story.  It will even influence you to take measures you never thought you’d be capable of.

James Foley enhanced an already electrifying script from David Mamet.  He knew that if he was going to show how hard and challenging it is to be a salesman of boring, uninteresting, and practically intangible parcels of land, then he was going to have to be relentless in the art direction and settings contained in the film.  The first half of the film never, ever lets up with the rain storm going on outside in the city street.  The evening is as black as can be, and yet Williamson casually will ask Levene if he is going out tonight. Who in the dead of night in the rain is going to want to talk to a droning salesman about anything?  Yet, that’s what is expected of this life.  The office setting is unfriendly, decorated with ideals that hang from the walls with phrases like “A man must embrace further than what he can reach.”  Little touches like this only add to the uncaring and selfish nature the men really have for one another. 

Glengarry Glen Ross depicts a hard life for the man in a suit.  You may dress like what is expected of a professional, but you are also always scraping the bottom of another bottom.  The cliché that money can’t buy happiness is personified in a film like this.  You may get to the top and score a nice commission, but it’ll soon be forgotten and nothing you’ve done before will lend to your current state.  Next month, someone else will be standing where you are standing.  Worse, you may never be standing on top again, and then what will you do?

Sadly, I believe that Glengarry Glen Ross reflects what many people experience at least at one point in their lives.  We are all salespeople to a degree whether we are doing a job interview or even trying to impress the parents of someone we are dating.  It doesn’t always work out.  The question is where do any of us go from that point.

Q & A

By Marc S. Sanders

Sidney Lumet is a favorite director of mine.  Maybe it’s because I simply get caught up in good crime dramas and legal thrillers, like Dog Day Afternoon, 12 Angry Men, and The Verdict.  Maybe it’s because I appreciate the genuineness of Lumet’s technique.  The man’s career seems to follow a documentarian theme throughout New York City’s boroughs, politics, courtrooms and especially the various precincts of its police force.  Corruption is the angle that Lumet looks for, and Q & A from 1990 is another such example.

The title refers to the routine transcript that a district attorney will ask a witness following an incident.  So, after the first two minutes of the picture have concluded with New York cop Mike Brennan (Nick Nolte) shooting a Hispanic at point blank range, execution style, outside a seedy nightclub, a fresh-faced D.A. named Al Reilly (Timothy Hutton) is recruited in the middle of the night to collect Mike’s statement on the incident and wrap it up quickly, as his supervisor Kevin Quinn (Patrick O’Neal) strongly urges.

Mike is a celebrated cop with tall tales to share of how he strong arms suspects.  Everyone seems to like his relaxed way of tossing around racist vulgarities in his anecdotes.  No demographic is left out with how he speaks.  In fact, the name calling is shared among the whole precinct in a very casual way.  The two detectives assigned to the shooting that Mike was involved in, Sam “Chappie” Chapman and Luis Valentin (Charles S Dutton, Luis Guzman), seem to take it in stride as well.  They guffaw with the rest of the crowd when Mike describes how he roughs up street hoods who don’t cooperate. 

Al was once a cop as well, and his father before him was a “hero cop” to the boys in blue too.  He’s more than willing to let this incident go the quick routine, but then he soon realizes how corrupt Mike is and how much of a stronghold he has on the precinct and the various walks of life within the city from the Italian mob, to the Hispanic drug runners, to the transvestite hookers and the Jewish lawyers.  They all fall under his thumb.  Nolte’s stature and bombastic voice tell you that Mike carries a large thumb no matter how blatant his crookedness may appear. 

“Chappie” may be regarded by Mike as the “whitest n—er” he knows, but he’d never even think of turning his colleague in.  That’ll be the day he quits.  He proudly announces he’s blue first and black second. Luis, the Hispanic partner regarded as a “n—er with straight hair, is scared to move forward.  He’s got kids.  Kevin Quinn needs this to just move on.  The shooting of a lowlife Hispanic is not worth risking his advancement in politics.  Al is challenged and turns to his Jewish mentor, Lee Richardson (Leo Bloomfield) for guidance, who can help him get this pushed up the ranks and nab Mike for his atrocities, while circumventing the racist and antisemitic nature of Deputy District Attorney Quinn. 

It gets more complicated for Al, as his ex-girlfriend, Nancy (Jenny Lumet, Sidney’s daughter) is now attached to an important witness to the crime.  Bobby Texador (Armand Assante) is a Hispanic drug dealer who can not only pin Mike for the crime but also incriminate others within the system.  He’s just not so willing to sing.  Al is in a difficult quagmire that circles back to pension left for his mother per his father’s prior service.  He’s also wracked with how to handle Nancy.  They broke up simply because his reaction upon learning that her father was a black man did not go so well.  Even Al, born of virtue, is corrupt of prejudice.  Perhaps Lumet’s screenplay suggests the message that intrinsically we are all at least a little too stereotypical or partial for our own good.  It comes with our sensibilities and maybe it’s a mindset we best unlearn.  The most obvious challenge for Al is that he is subjected to intimidation from his boss Quinn, and especially Mike.  You don’t want Nick Nolte in your face.  That’s for sure.

I can’t lie.  Having watched the film for the first time, I was only looking at the plot and story development of Q & A.  I wasn’t seeing the bigoted culture sewn in among the masses.  Afterwards, I watched Siskel & Ebert on You Tube and they focused on the racist themes and casual name calling among the characters.  It never occurred to me while I was in the moment of watching the movie.  I don’t know what that says about me.  Maybe I’ve grown as comfortable with racist name calling as these characters have.  I don’t talk this way.  I may laugh at Cards Against Humanity or Family Guy.  For these cops to talk among themselves, casually using prejudiced connotations for African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Homosexuals, Transvestites, Jews and Italians within the melting pot of New York City with such nonchalance is more telling of Q & A, than the corruption that unfolds over the course of the picture.  Understanding what Siskel and Ebert found within the script granted me much more appreciation for Lumet’s film, because the twists of the plot and the overpopulation of characters was becoming too convoluted for me.

The strengths of the movie come from the cast performances, especially Nolte and Assante.  Nolte has played many roles where he’s the brute.  Here though, he’s downright despicable with his slicked back hair, tall stature, his thick “I’m your buddy” mustache, and his Irish Catholic character background that announces his superiority to all others.  Armand Assante is an unusual kind of drug kingpin.  He plays Bobby Texador with much self-awareness knowing he can be killed not only for what he knows about this particular shooting but other inside information he can share as well.  He’s a guy who will rise above any threat though.  This guy might be a criminal, but he hardly needs an attorney to negotiate on his behalf.

The trio of Nolte, Assante and Hutton works because each of the men are so different from one another.  These guys wouldn’t work well on a baseball team together.  They wouldn’t even socialize at parties.  Lumet writes these characters so far apart from each other, that loyalty can’t exist between any of them.

A lot of the characteristics of the film are consistent with many other achievements within Lumet’s repertoire like Night Falls On Manhattan and Serpico.  Those are better films.  When plot details reveal themselves in Q & A, I found myself rewinding to the beginning of a few scenes to fully comprehend what was just said. After a while, I gave up interest in the twists.

There was a choice of musical style that left me unsure as well.   Ruben Blades conducted the score for the film and a pop/rock song follows the prologue over the opening credits.  It later resurfaces as things are coming to a head near the end of the film.  Especially for the seedy and unglamourous approach that I love in Sidney Lumet’s films, I wasn’t enthusiastic on this style to heighten the dramatic crescendos.   It felt a little too Miami Vice, when I believe Lumet was aiming for his audience to get mad at the corruption that overtakes a system grounded in law and order. 

Q & A is a must see for fans of Sidney Lumet.  I’m glad I finally saw it.  It’s been on my bucket list for quite a while and I could not find it anywhere on any platform or medium.  (At the time of this writing, it’s available for free on Hulu.)  It’s definitely raw in its character creatures of a New York City from the 1990s, and it’s honest how the rite of passage to be a cop is to roll with the punches of racially lampooning your ethnicity.  It’s the only way to survive among the masses.  Fortunately, the cast plows through with that ugly nature to deliver something authentic.  When the film dives into its conspiracies for the sake of the plot, however, it’s a little too muddied for me to appreciate.  Watch the film for the characterizations.  Heck, watch it for the plot developments because if you can make out everything that’s happening and why, I’d love for you to explain it to me.

HALLOWEEN (1978)

By Marc S. Sanders

Finally, I saw it.  I had never seen any of the Halloween movies.  At last, considering the time of the year, I chose to watch the original John Carpenter classic slash fest from 1978.  Granted, I believe I have seen every scene of this picture by flipping channels or watching Netflix documentaries.  I have just never stopped to watch the film from beginning to end.  So, if the surprises didn’t grab me as much you, when you first watched, well my apologies for having an advantage.  Let’s just say I can see why the picture is still regaled so much, nearly fifty years later.  Nevertheless, I think Halloween is full of plot holes and short sightedness.

Understand reader, I know what to likely expect when I watch a slasher flick.  Man in a mask who walks at even pace while the girl victim sprints as far away as possible.  Still, the girl can’t get away, right?  Well, normally she would be able to.  This is a horror movie, though.  The suspense is heightened in any film if the storyteller elongates what you fear as much as possible.  So, yeah, it is much more effective to show the ominous killer as far away as possible while the camera cuts away to a helpless Jamie Lee Curtis fumbling with the lock on the door.  Even more effective is if you have a pulse pounding soundtrack to get you fidgeting in your chair while you bite down on your last fingernail.

I think Carpenter’s film stands as the granddaddy of the modern-day slasher film (though not besting Hitchcock’s Psycho) because of the methods he adopts with his camera work and editing.  The opening sequence is skillfully executed as we watch one Halloween night unfold in 1963 where a six-year-old Michael Myers, dressed in a clown costume, takes a kitchen knife to his naked older sister in her room upstairs.  Carpenter gives us the literal point of view from the killer kid.  We watch through his eyes from the outside of the Myers’ home, then as he enters, he picks up a kitchen knife, dons a mask and heads upstairs.  Now we are looking through eye slips in the mask. Then he moves down the stairs and out on to the sidewalk.  Carpenter then reveals we’ve been watching through the eyes of a child with murder on his mind while he holds a bloody knife by his side.  For me, one of the scariest things I can think of is a murderous child.  Children are made up of innocence, devoid of corruption.  When you poison the mind of a child, it seems like the most heinous act a writer can take with a character.  Look at The Exorcist and The Omen, as perfect examples in addition to Halloween.

Fifteen years go by to present day 1978, and Michael has escaped from a mental institution on the night before Halloween.  This is where I lose my suspension of disbelief.  He terrorizes his psychiatrist, Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) and a nurse driving in middle of a dark and stormy night and steals their station wagon.  Michael is now driving back to Haddonfield, Illinois where he committed his first crime.  You know I would have dismissed this trope of Michael being able to drive had I never seen the car again.  However, Carpenter uses the car as a character itself, much like the rampaging truck in Duel.  For the first half of Halloween, this car drives up and down the Haddonfield neighborhood stalking three high school girls as they walk to and from school.  Where did Michael, who has been institutionalized since age 6, learn to drive a car?????  The movie even asks the question at one point and I don’t recall getting a satisfactory answer.  Every time I see this car, slowly keeping up with the girls walking the sidewalks or riding in their own car, I can’t help but ask how Michael so skillfully pilots this station wagon.  I’m teaching my 15-year-old daughter how to drive right now.  Maybe Michael should give me some pointers, because it isn’t going so smoothly.

The structure of the film centers on three teen girlfriends, two of which are babysitting on Halloween night across the street from one another (Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Kyes).  The third (PJ Soles) is out and about with her boyfriend, ready to get laid.  What’s appreciative of Carpenter’s craft is that the film is not occupied with buckets of blood spilling all over the place.  Instead, the audience is repeatedly teased in a dark neighborhood, where trick or treaters appear on occasion, and these girls are being looked at from different angles.  We all know Michael is there.  His heavy breathing under his mask tells us that he is hungry for death.  What messes with our senses is figuring out when he’s finally going to strike.  Will it be when one of the girls finds herself clumsily stuck in a window?  What about when a couple is having sex upstairs?  A quick trip to the kitchen, maybe?  New tricks are pulled with each attack and Carpenter wisely stretches these episodes of terror out. 

Michael Myers never speaks.  Other than at age 6, he is masked the entire length of the film.  We really never get a sense of his physicality either.  We don’t know why he has the urge to kill.  The best we can count on is Dr. Loomis.  Donald Pleasence does a good job of heightening the terror.  He is not forgiving with his patient as he simply describes him as the worst kind of evil imaginable.  He describes the black eyes that Michael has, and I couldn’t help but think of Captain Quint describing his experience with a man-eating shark in Jaws.  The worst kinds of monsters are the ones you can’t beg and plead with; the ones who have no comprehension of compromise.  If you are caught in their sight, you will be killed.  That’s it. 

Now, I’ve already discussed the deal with the car?  I’ll never get past that.  Never.  It’s ridiculous.  There’s also the fact that the parents/homeowners these girls are babysitting for seemingly never come home.  This is one long night.  Where the hell are mom and dad, already?  I have to give up my grudge with these oversights.  It’s not fair to the strengths of Halloween

A magnificent third act involves Curtis’ character taking it upon herself to seek out what she fears may have occurred.  She goes across the street to the dark house where her friends are supposed to be.  Carpenter takes his time with his protagonist walking deeper and deeper into darkness, calling out her friends’ names.  I’ve seen things like this before, but it works all the better, the longer the sequence plays out, sometimes in silence and sometimes with music cues from Carpenter’s synthesized soundtrack.  What she finally uncovers is more terrifying than the killer we know has always been there. 

When the chase picks up from that point, a horrifying moment with Curtis taking refuge in a closet is likely the scariest moment of the film.  Carpenter focuses on the interior of the closet with the fragile wooden folding doors violently rattling and getting torn apart by the killer.  When he’s able to reach inside fumbling with the light bulb, darkness is disturbed by intermittent light to toy with your senses.  It shakes up your nerves.  How does a helpless victim escape a narrow closet with a faceless killer standing in the way?  An absolutely unsettling scene.

Michael Myers is referred to as the “boogeyman” in the film.  We all have our cognition of what a boogeyman is.  He hides under our bed or in our closet or maybe behind a bush or shrub.  Carpenter’s film works like Spielberg’s Jaws where the environment is what is really terrifying.  The ocean water is the first unsettling element before we encounter the monster that occupies it.  In Halloween, a dark neighborhood with a haunted past keeps us at bay before it comes alive with a killer in its shadows.  We know there’s a shark somewhere.  We know there’s an evil, murderous presence somewhere too.  When is it going to come out, and attack us already??????  This is where Halloween succeeds.  Imitations that were made afterwards only set up the moments, one kill after another.  Carpenter wasn’t setting up kills so much as he was preparing mood and darkness.  There’s nothing to gain symbolically from Halloween.  It’s three girls, with one having a sneaking feeling that something doesn’t feel right, a killer, and a man who dreadfully knows what’s to expect.  John Carpenter assembles the elements together and we see what’s to come of it from there. 

I’ll likely not return to Halloween anytime soon.  Slasher fests are not my style.  Yet, if anyone asks for the best of the best, I’m going to highly endorse Psycho first, and then I will turn their attention to the original Halloween.  There have been gorier releases since.  There have more jump scares since.  All of that is nothing but cheap tactics lacking imagination. 

Halloween chills you with its menacing approach.

WHEN HARRY MET SALLY…

By Marc S. Sanders

Two years after my family and I moved from New Jersey to Florida, I was age 16 and still felt lonely. Very lonely.  I was not prepared for the culture shock of leaving a primarily Jewish community and transitioning into a mixed bag of different cultures and mentalities.  I couldn’t adjust and the only people I could understand in 1989 were Batman, Indiana Jones and Harry & Sally.

The script written for When Harry Met Sally… focuses on the title characters adjusting to life in the decade following college graduation, where their paths cross periodically and they debate the aftermath of Casablanca, as well as what it means to sleep with someone or not.  More importantly, they are often returning their attention to whether a man and a woman can be friends without any temptation for love or intimacy, no matter how attractive they find each other to be.  Boy oh boy, that’s a loaded observation, isn’t it?  It is so consuming that as close as Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) become with one another as best friends, no matter how many people they date, they still couldn’t be any lonelier.  At the time, I could understand their dilemma.  I had a terrible crush on a girl at school. We were close friends who could laugh with each other.  Yet, I never took it to the next step.  I should have asked her to the homecoming dance in our sophomore year.  I really should have.  The risk, though, is the change in the comfortable dynamic we had.  I didn’t want to lose that.  Harry and Sally are attractive to one another.  Rob Reiner includes great close ups of the two actors looking at each other, wondering who is going to make the first move.  Will they bring this relationship to a new level?  It may never happen.  It didn’t for the girl I thought I could fall in love with.  At least Harry and Sally had each other’s shoulders to cry on. I adore this film, directed by Rob Reiner, because I yearned for what they had in friendship first, and as a relationship second.

Sally and Harry couldn’t be any different.  He is of the mindset that any woman he encounters is destined to be slept with, or more simply put, men and women could never be friends because at the bare minimum, men are thinking about sleeping with every woman they come across.  Sally can’t understand that, but when Harry shares his philosophy with her the first time they meet, while on an 18-hour drive from the University of Chicago to New York City, she can’t help but suspect that it just might be possible.

The two depart from one another to start their new lives in the big city, and come across each other five years after that on a flight they inadvertantly share, and then another five years later when they are given an opportunity to catch up on their relationship status.  In present day, 1988, Sally has just broken up with her longtime boyfriend.  Harry has gotten a divorce.  Ephron has written these characters to ultimately need one another.

When Harry Met Sally… is certainly a comedy, but more than likely it’s because Billy Crystal’s quick wit and delivery comes off familiar from his other career accomplishments.  Meg Ryan works beautifully as a scene partner that debates Harry’s cynical view of people with Sally’s natural positivity.  Their mentalities go in opposite directions, but the film continues to imply that these two couldn’t be more perfect for one another.  Chalk that up to Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal’s chemistry.  They are one of the all-time great on-screen couples.  These two actors are my friends.  I want it to work out for them.  When I saw the film three times in the theatres, I wanted to experience what they experienced.  Their story has bumps in the road.  They get mad and upset with each other.  They debate with one another, but they amuse one another too, and what a romantic adventure they share together.

A terrific novelty of Reiner’s film is when he cuts away to elderly couples with rich histories of how they met and stay together for decades after.  We weren’t there to see these wonderful people kindle their relationships, but we’ll see how Harry and Sally come together.  I remember long ago, that my father told me that when you get married, make sure you are marrying your best friend.  He said love is important, but you have to like each other first.  I did marry my best friend and I like her.  I love her too.  We drive each other crazy.  We have very different interests.  We even live in our home differently, that we share with our daughter and dog, but we want to be with each other and no one else.  No one else factors.  When you watch When Harry Met Sally… you see why two people continue to be with each other, first as friends, and maybe as lovers later.  When you have a best friend in your life there’s no one else you want to laugh with or cry with more often than that person.  There’s no other hand you want to hold.

A brilliant midway scene in the film occurs when Harry and Sally have the misguided idea of setting up their other best friends with each other.  Harry’s buddy Jess (Bruno Kirby) may be a good fit for Sally.  They are both writers, after all.  Sally’s girlfriend Marie (Carrie Fisher) has a keen interest in conquering married men, not far off from how Harry routinely proceeds with one relationship after another by sleeping with the women he dates.  He’s not in love with them, but of course he’ll sleep with them.  The irony comes when both Harry and Sally could never fathom that Jess and Marie find each other attractive, not the ones they were originally intended for.

There’s much heightened romanticism to When Harry Met Sally… I won’t claim it to be very realistic with how life works out for many of us.  Look at the famous deli scene where Meg Ryan demonstrates for Crystal’s character that a woman can convincingly fake an orgasm.  It’s a hilarious scene.  One for the ages.  However, a scene like that wouldn’t happen.  If a scene like that did occur in real life, the woman would be asked to leave the premises immediately.  It’s not the point though. 

Love and happiness should consist of elevating ourselves to a delightful fantasy of joy, affection and laughter.  Love should also guide us to carry our best friends through sadness and frustration.  We can’t survive this challenge, we call life, alone.  I realized that first hand when my innocent, naïve and unsure teenage self watched the movie for the first time all those years ago at the Mission Bell movie theatre in Tampa. 

People need someone to grow with.  We need someone to continue to teach us while we teach them in return.  Most importantly, as it becomes a running theme in When Harry Met Sally…, we need someone to kiss at midnight every New Year’s Eve.