Thursday, March 31, 2011

Birdy

Nicolas Cage and Matthew Modine (Full Metal Jacket) play Al Columbato and the movie's namesake Birdy, two unlikely high school friends brought together by lost baseballs. Al is the outgoing social type while Birdy is quiet and introverted. Both of them are drafted into the Vietnam war after highschool and the movie flips back and forth between their pre and post Vietnam relationship. Birdy seems trapped by his psychological wounds and is threatened with the possibility of being institutionalized for life. Al, physically wounded in a explosion, is trying to save Birdy by revisiting their past.

As we watch the two teens grow up in South Philadelphia, it becomes apparent the strength of their friendship lies in shared trauma: Birdy falls off the roof while collecting pigeons, both have run-ins with Al's abusive father as well as Birdy's antagonizing mother. Present-day Al refuses to give up on Birdy, insisting his friend is still there, even when threatened with being taken away himself.

I remember seeing this when I was younger and enjoying it. This was the first movie I was really looking forward to rewatching as part of the 365 Days of Cage experiment. This is also the first movie where I thought Nic Cage wasn't half bad but that could be because of the fact I was mesmerized by Matthew Modine's performance. The movie won the Grand Prix at the 1985 Cannes Film Festival and Roger Ebert gave it 4/4 stars. The film's soundtrack was written and performed by Peter Gabriel. Definitely worth watching.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Rich’s Late Analysis of The Cotton Club

Just because this blog hasn’t been updated in a month doesn’t imply that Alex and I have given up on this project. It just signifies that we have underestimated the amount of effort that we would need to exert to properly analyze Nicolas Cage’s film catalog. I know some of you may be looking at this blog and say, “Hey, didn’t you put up a calendar on the side that would show a weekly list of what movies you are doing?” And my official response would be “Let’s pretend that the calendar is more like a guideline than an actual set schedule…”  The past is the past and what’s done is done. But, baby, I’ll do better. So don’t worry about that other woman and let’s just talk about the Cotton Club.

Robert Evans is an eccentric and sometimes polarizing Hollywood producer (The movie The Kid Stays in the Picture is based on his autobiography) and was the studio head behind the Godfather. Sometime in 1984, he gets the brilliant idea that if he hires the writer from the Godfather (Mario Puzo), he will be able recapture lightning in a bottle and create a mob movie masterpiece that is even better than the Godfather. He wants to recreate the Godfather – WITH MUSICALS. Well, besides these massive delusions of grandeur, Mr. Evans also had a slight cocaine addiction and may not have known the meaning of the word restraint. But, DAMN IT, he had a plan and he wasn’t going to let a little thing like reality get in his way. So, he borrowed money from the studio. And then he borrowed some more money from Las Vegas casino owners. And then he borrowed even more money from drug traffickers and an alleged arms dealer. And then one day, he woke up and he realized that the script he had sucked. So, while most normal people would realize they are way in over there head and ask for mercy, Robert Evans is no ordinary man and came up with a brilliant idea to save his movie. He’ll just hire the director of the original The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola) and give him complete control. What could possibly go wrong?

The answer to that question is everything. One of the financiers (and alleged drug traffickers) was murdered by his partner. Chris Evans was fired as producer and eventually arrested for buying large quantities of cocaine. And his replacement, Joey Cusomano, was an alleged “made” mafia member that used the film production to launder mob money. And this movie became one of the most expensive Hollywood productions ever made. I guess making movies can sometimes be difficult.

During this time, our plucky hero Nicolas Cage was coming off the disappointment that was Racing with the Moon. He was attempting to emulate his film heroes of James Dean and Marlon Brando and create a bit of a mythology around himself but felt that he was unable to find the proper roles. So, when Francis Ford Coppola offered him the meaty role of Vincent Dwyer, Nic jumped at the chance. But what was supposed to be a quick three week shoot turned into a six month nightmare. And Nic’s frustration with this production led to bouts of rage with various pieces of furniture. One popular anecdote during this period of time talks about how Nic went up to a street vendor, grabbed all of the remote control cars from his kiosk and then smashed them underfoot while laughing manically.

Ok, so some of you may actually came here for a movie review. And, well, I’m getting there in my own round about way. As Alex mentioned earlier, the movie starts simple enough. Richard Gere plays a musician that saves a mobster’s life. In gratitude, the mobster puts the musician to work for him. The musician falls in love with the mobster’s girl. The girl doesn’t want to return that love in fear of what her mobster boyfriend will do to them. And then the musician talks to another mobster and moves to Hollywood to become an actor for the next four years.  WAIT, WHAT? Reread that last sentence again. The movie starts out real strong and straight forward but by the beginning of the second act, the story just starts to wander aimlessly. Example: the beginning of the second act has the protagonist leaving for California for four years. And what does he do while in California, he becomes an actor that specializes in playing Mob Bosses. And then he doesn’t show back up until there is like 20 minutes left in the movie. WHAT THE FUCK?

There are other problems with this story as well.  Charles “Lucky” Luciano shows up in the last 20 minutes of the movie and becomes the most important character in the story as all the other characters in the movie are trying to gain his allegiance. The only problem is that the movie never explains WHY he is so important and I’m not even sure if he was even given any dialog that was in English. Another weird storyline out of nowhere has Laurence Fishburne’s character, Bumpy Rhodes expressing his love for Gregory Hines’ sister. Bumpy Rhodes’ love for her is so great that it results in him almost drowning another mobster in a toilet. And then that entire love story is never brought up again. And finally, the ending is a complete disaster. I have never seen a mafia movie that attempted to be a drama, fantasy and a comedy all at the same time. And it fails at all of them.

Most of the movie’s failings could be directed at the film’s scatterbrain script. Francis Ford Coppola supposedly wrote the script while filming the movie. And it shows. It doesn’t matter how good the cinematography is or how talented the cast are, if there isn't a story, the movie will most likely suck.

But there are a lot of bright spots in this film. Fred Gwynne, playing the gentle giant mob enforcer, Frenchie Demange, steals absolutely every scene he is in. He is at times hilarious and other times absolutely terrifying and he communicates both of these emotions mostly with facial expression and physical gestures. Another highlight is everything that involved Gregory and Maurice Hines. Besides the musical and dance numbers being absolutely fantastic, I kind of wish that Francis Ford Coppola had cut out the whole mob/musician love story and concentrated on the Hines brothers. I found their story to be much more engrossing and believable than Richard Gere playing a cornet player. Also, Laurence Fishburne once again shows why is he is a complete and utter bad ass. And finally Nicolas Cage plays up the deranged thug that terrorizes Harlem absolutely beautifully. This is the first time that we see Nic’s crazed, bug nuts gaze that will become the hallmark of a lot of his later works.

And finally, I must express my appreciation for Diane Lane. Between this film, her role in Rumble Fish, and masterful performance in Streets of Fire, I think I’m starting to develop a bit of a crush on her. Not only is she sexy, but she is talented and she totally did not deserve a Razzie for her performance for this role.

In conclusion, this movie is a train wreck. Stay for the musical dance numbers and watching the Hines brother work. Run every time Richard Gere is on screen.



Fun fact: Sylvester Stallone was originally cast to play the part of Dixie Dwyer, but he dropped out because he thought the script sucked. I think this movie would have been exponentially better with Sylvester Stallone in the lead.