Sunday, June 28, 2015
SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.
I’ve been to
in the summer, and I sweated as much as the characters in Lawrence Kasdan’s Body Heat. But I was at Walt Disney
World, so my activities were very different from the ones depicted in this
movie. The steamy Florida
locale adds to the atmosphere of this erotic film noir. The title of this film
implies contradictions. A dead “body” is cold. It represents the absence of
heat. And, murder is a calculating cold-blooded act, an unfeeling one. But, a
crime of passion is considered to be irrational, based on hot-blooded impulses.
Also, bodies involved in sexual activity create a heated encounter. A mind
immersed in sultry passion many times cannot see straight. The dark titles seen
through flitting garments at the beginning of the film emphasize the lack of
clarity that can result when a person is in heat, both physically and mentally.
The film opens, appropriately, with a fire. Attorney Ned Racine (William Hurt), looks out of a bedroom window at a burning restaurant in the distance. He shares sweat (and presumably other bodily fluids) with a woman who occupies the room with him. It is suggested that the restaurant was destroyed by an act of arson, which is a foreboding event of what is to come. At the local diner, the air conditioner strains unsuccessfully to cool the patrons. The deep fryers boil. The waitress says she’s not thinking straight because of the heat. Characters say that “when it gets hot, people start to kill people,” another foreshadowing. Someone says the heat causes things to be “a little askew,” and the usual rules don’t apply. The exchange between Ned and his friend, prosecutor Lowenstein (Ted Danson), presents Ned as a man preoccupied with sex, and who has a weakness for women. He is also defending a man in a case involving fraudulent payments revolving around toilets, which may imply that Ned’s life resides in the porcelain throne.
These initial scenes are a setup to Ned meeting Matty Tyler Walker (Kathleen Turner). He sees her at a beach concert as people fan themselves. Matty seems to be playing hard-to-get, quickly saying that she is married. However, when he starts to wipe a spill off of her jacket, she says to him, “Don’t you want to lick it?” She also says to him, “You are not too smart. I like that in a man.” Another definite foreshadowing of events to come. He says he’s not looking for trouble, but, of course he is. After throwing him off balance by alternately pushing him at a distance and then drawing him closer, Matty mysteriously leaves, but not before telling him she lives in nearby Pine Haven. He finds her there at the only night spot in town. They engage in what Kasdan said is the highly stylized dialogue of film noir. She says that she is always warm because her “temperature runs high,” which again refers to her sexual steaminess. When she complains about the local men who are always hitting on her, he says she shouldn’t wear the clothes she dons. When she says she is only wearing a blouse and skirt, Ned says, “You shouldn’t wear that body,” which implies that no matter what she does, or he does, she will be irresistible to him. She manipulates him by saying how he has made it farther with her than the other men at the bar, thus pandering to his macho competitiveness.
She invites him to her place, as long as nobody sees them leave together (which will protect her later against a conspiracy to commit murder charge), and only to hear her wind chimes (what’s that saying about “it’s an ill wind that blows no good?”). She slaps him before they leave to make it look like he is a rejected suitor. He drives his corvette (a fast car, indicating that lustful haste makes waste) to her place. Her husband, Edmund (Richard Crenna) is away often doing business. The maid is also not there, making putting a move on Matty almost irresistible. She kisses Ned, and swoons, saying she is weak (as we see, far from it), and locks him out of the house. In an act symbolic of rape, Ned smashes the French doors, and takes her in his arms. They have a torrid affair for about a month. There is an interesting scene where Ned approaches a woman from behind who he thinks is Matty. It turns out to be Matty’s old friend, Mary Ann Simpson (Kim Zimmer).
Matty starts to plant seeds (a reversal of what the male usually does) that will lead Ned to suggest killing Edmund. She calls her husband a small. mean, weak man (which we discover he is not). She will only get a small amount of money for a year if she divorces him, based on the pre-nuptial agreement he had her sign. However, she will split his fortune with his young niece if he dies. She says “I wish he were dead,” but, she plays the part of the innocent female concerning legal matters involving Edmund’s estate, saying “I’m too dumb a woman you know … we can talk about pantyhose.” When Ned meets Matty and her husband accidently at a restaurant, Edmund says that he won Matty because she was with a man who didn’t do what it takes to get the job done. In a way, this statement ironically is like throwing down the gauntlet, and eggs Ned on to take extreme measures.
When Matty shows up at Ned’s office, seemingly unable to stay away from him despite their agreement not to be seen together, he sees this act as her commitment to him. He says that they have to kill Edmund. Edmund owns an abandoned property on the beach, and Ned plans to make it look like he was killed in a fire at that location. He gets a shady character, Teddy Lewis (Mickey Rourke) to make him an incendiary device with a timer. But Teddy warns him that a genius can’t prevent himself from getting caught in a crime, and he reminds Ned that he admitted to Teddy that he was no genius. Matty says they can get all the money if Ned writes up a new will leaving everything to her and make it look like her husband initiated it. Ned says if they get greedy, they’ll “get burned” – an interesting choice of words considering the theme of heat associated with sexual passion and arson.
When her husband is home one night, Ned sneaks into the
house and clubs Edmund to death. They put the body in a rented car and Ned
dumps it at the beach property. He activates the device to start the fire. He
had checked into a hotel in Walker
to have an alibi. But, there were no eyeglasses on the body, which indicates
that Edmund was killed elsewhere. Also, Matty had the will changed and made it
look like Ned did the revised document. Since Ned had made a mistake in a
previous will, she made it appear plausible that he could do it again. The
current error invalidates the will. Edmund thus dies intestate, and Matty, as
the widow, inherits it all. There were phone calls to Ned’s room in Miami , which he did not
answer. He is now a suspect in the murder. We find out later that Matty made the calls to frame Ned. In this film
about acting in the heat of the moment, she is actually one cool conniver. We
find out that she worked in a lawyer’s office and that is how she knew about
writing up the will. Also, her father died in a fire – was Matty a budding
arsonist? Is she a woman who can figuratively and literally ignite the world
around her? Miami
There are many fine moments in this film. There is a scene where Matty (Mary Ann) looks out of the window and sees a spider web. Obviously, she is the spider weaving this story’s deceitful plan. Just before Edmund is clubbed by Ned, Matty seduces him into an exhaustive lovemaking act to prevent him from going downstairs too quickly. He says, “You’re trying to kill me.” If he only knew. Ned sees a clown driving a car. Take a good look, pal, because you are the clown in this story, and the joke is on you. When Ned drives the car with the body in it, he is riding in a literal fog, almost getting into accidents and whacking into a tree branch. But, he has been in a figurative fog, as the femme fatale in this script has completely clouded his judgment.
Next week’s movie is 3 Days of the Condor.
Friday, June 19, 2015
SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.
This Sidney Lumet cold war movie suffered from incredibly bad timing. It was released in the same year as its comic counterpoint, Stanley Kubrick’s satiric masterpiece, Dr. Strangelove. The latter received all the praise and Oscar nominations, and Lumet’s film was virtually ignored. It shouldn’t be. Despite the fact that the two motion pictures share the same basic plot, Fail-Safe focuses on a different target.
Kubrick, no fan of overreaching technology himself, centers his picture on the connection between war and the male preoccupation with sexual conquest. His General Ripper, a person, starts World War III. In Lumet’s movie, it is the over-dependence on advanced machinery that is the cause of nuclear devastation. The film opens with General Black (Dan O'Herlihy) in the middle of a recurring nightmare. He is in a stadium watching a bullfight. The bull is being stabbed by the matador. He cannot see who is the matador. When he wakes up he tells his wife that if he retires from the Air Force, he believes the nightmares will end.
General Black goes to a Pentagon briefing where a consultant, Dr. Groeteschele (Walter Matthau) is giving a briefing. His character believes that losses are acceptable in a nuclear war if it is the American culture that survives instead of that of
, which is “our mortal
enemy.” Black feels that there are no winners in a nuclear confrontation. He cautions
against putting our defenses in the hands of lightning-fast machines that can
make deadly errors which humans are powerless to correct in time. While this
discussion is going on, General Bogan (Frank Overton) goes to pick up his
second-in-command, Colonel Cascio (Fritz Weaver) on the way to The Strategic
Air Command headquarters. Bogan finds Cascio at the basement apartment of the
Colonel’s parents in a seedy location. The father is an alcoholic and Cascio is
mortified that Bogan now knows of this humiliating secret. Russia
Jack Grady (Edward Binns), is a Colonel in the Air Force, who leads a squadron of Vindicator nuclear bombers near
, Alaska. Grady and his wingman are seen playing pool before performing their flight
rotation. They discuss the younger pilots, who Grady thinks are more like machines
than the pilots that were in the Second World War. This is a revealing scene,
since it suggests that people are becoming dehumanized in an age where
technology dominates civilization. Is the story here a foreboding of our
Back at SAC, there is an impromptu civilian tour headed by a congressman. While he is being briefed, a UFO is sighted, and the defenses are placed on alert in the event of a Russian attack. It turns out that the UFO is a commercial aircraft off course. There is a statement by a civilian observer indicating that the more complex the machinery, the more it is prone to problems. What follows proves this point. A computer component malfunctions at the same time (as is later found out) the Russians initiated a new communications jamming device. While replacing the part, a signal is accidentally sent activating the fail-safe box in Grady’s plane. The crew can’t verify through verbal communication that the command is legitimate because of the Russian jamming. They must proceed as if a state of war exists, and they head toward their target, which is
The President (Henry Fonda) now becomes involved. He is accompanied by his Russian translator, Buck (Larry Hagman), and they descend to an underground bunker far below the White House. The President asks for suggestions. Groeteschele’s suggestion is to do nothing. He says that
Russia will not retaliate because
to do so would put an end to its plan of Communist World denomination. Bogan
says that belief is nonsense, and that the Russians will counterattack with
everything they have. Black and Groeteschele debate the idea of the first
strike, and the latter says that the Nazis and Japanese were right to attack
first to destroy their mortal enemies. He says he has learned from them. Black
says “you learned so well, that there is no difference between you and what you
want to kill.” Again, a timeless question is raised: Is it necessary to become
as ruthless as the enemy, who you condemn for that ruthlessness, in order to
stop that opponent?
The decision is made to shoot down
bombers to prevent a nuclear attack and subsequent armed exchange between the
two countries. This action appears ironic, since the whole point of the
military is to exact losses on an opponent. When the President gives the order,
he says he expects the SAC personnel “to act as patriots.” At first this
statement seems inappropriate. But, the President wants them to look at the big
picture and understand that they must sacrifice their fellow servicemen to
protect their country from the devastation of a nuclear holocaust. The American
fighter pilots fall to their deaths in the ocean when they run out of fuel in
the failed attempt to catch the bombers. It is then that the President contacts
the Russian Premier. He offers American help to shoot down the bombers. It is
at this point that trust becomes an issue.
Cascio is unable to tell the Russians how to detonate the Vindicator air-to-air missiles inside the planes to stop the bombers. He attacks Bogan and says he is under the orders of the President to take command. The Colonel is taken away, saying how he was better than Bogan, who looked down on him when he saw him with “those people” – his parents. Cascio’s inferiority issues turn into paranoia. He thinks the Russians are really flying under the radar, ready to launch a surprise attack. The person who doesn’t want to admit to his own shortcomings wants to blame and attack others before he is scrutinized and found lacking in ability.
The Russian military men are also suspicious. They attack decoys even though they have been told it is a waste of precious time. They are also prideful, and reject help to shoot down the bombers at first. People tend to fall back on old ways of thinking and behaving because they feel reassured with what is familiar, even when these ways are blind to the perils that exist outside their worlds. An example of this way of acting is when Groeteschele, during this crisis, analyzes Russian military hardware, and says the U.S can “compensate” to gain superiority in the future, ignoring the real possibility of no future. It appears that he, and those like him, do not learn from their mistakes. But, the President believes that they should learn from this horrible error. He tells the Russian Premier “If we do not trust each other, there may not be another time” to fix the dangers in the nuclear age. He says to the Russian, “What we put between us, we can remove.” Humanity over machines is emphasized by camera close-ups of eyes, mouths and faces. During a break in communications, the President and Buck, the translator, hold onto their humanity by talking about the weather. Bogan and his Russian counterpoint share warm memories of the times they spent in
, finishing their
conversation by saying, “Goodbye, my friend.” London
In the end,
is destroyed. The President realizes that a great sacrifice has to be made to
avoid nuclear war. He orders his friend, General Black (his name indicates that
he must take on this dark deed), to drop hydrogen bombs on New York City. The First Lady is there, and
so is Black’s family. In the beginning of the film, Black tells his wife how
much he needs his family, and now he must kill them. He tells the bomber’s crew
that he alone will fly the plane and drop the bombs. He knows that he would not
be able to endure living after doing this deed. He pulls out a poisoned needle
and sticks himself, as we reenter his dream of the bullfight. He now realizes
he is the matador, the killer, the military man, who must now take the place of
the bull and be permanently “retired” to end the nightmare of death.
The term “fail-safe” indicates an automatic device that, in the event of a system failure, prevents harm from that failure. The argument of this film is that in the age of weapons of mass destruction, there is no automatic “safety” from such “failure.”
Next week’s movie is Body Heat.
Sunday, June 14, 2015
SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.
Ridley Scott’s 1982 movie (with subsequent “Director’s Cut” and “Final Cut” editions, with a sequel in the works), explores the theme of what it is to be human. This theme, visited often by author Philip K. Dick in his writings, including in his story, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, on which Blade Runner is based, has been addressed recently in the films Her and Ex Machina, and in the television series, The Walking Dead.
Here, the eyes have it! There are numerous references to vision in the film. The android detecting test at the beginning of the film is administered by a man named Holden (Morgan Paull), a “blade runner,” who is a person who hunts down the illegal presence of replicants (synthetic life forms) on earth. The device used tests pupil dilation to see if an emotional response is elicited by the subject. (The phrase “the eyes are the windows to the soul” comes to mind). The idea behind the test is that only humans can show emotion, and in particular empathy. The fact that there needs to be an involved, one hundred question test administered by an expert in emotional detection shows how difficult it has become to distinguish real humans from artificial ones. The replicant in this scene is Leon (Brion James) who does have an emotional response, becoming agitated by the questions asked, followed by him shooting Holden.
is one of a group of advanced androids known as Nexus-6 replicants. Leon
was trying to infiltrate the Tyrell headquarters (the company that engineered
the replicants) following a rebellion on another planet.
of 2019 presents a world mostly inhabited by people from other countries, mostly
Asians. The movie implies that the original inhabitants are racists, alienated
by these aliens. The racism is emphasized by the existence of slaves in the
form of the replicants. It could be that the Americans are offered an escape to
“off-world” colonies because the “world” in LA feels “off” to them. Alienation
and racism detach us from our humanity, which relates to the overriding theme
of the movie. It is interesting that the replicants want the freedom to return
to earth. In that sense they are more human, looking to seek comfort in the
home of their origin.
Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) is the leader of the Nexus-6 group. He and Leon visit the manufacturer of replicant eyes at a place called “Eye World,” looking for ways to extend the four year lifespan of the replicants. The engineer there can only understand the androids by producing one part, the eye, so he doesn’t understand them as complete entities. He looks more like a machine himself than do the replicants in his outfit, with multiple hoses attached to him,. The man gives them a lead, telling them to seek out J. F. Sebastian (William Sanderson), a genetic designer who works for Tyrell.
Deckard (Harrison Ford), a retired blade runner, is pressed back into service by his old boss, Bryant (M. Emmet Walsh). He finds photographs at
apartment. Deckard tries to hunt down the replicants by using a computerized
picture viewer, a “visual” device, to analyze Leon ’s photos. The replicant wants
to keep his “family” pictures, because he cares about his fellow synthetics,
thus actually showing empathy. Pictures are visual, but they are not reality, only two-dimensional
representations, once-removed from actual people and things. Yet, we invest our
belief in their accuracy as a substitute for the real thing. In this world,
people have been replaced by floating billboards with pictures of people
talking to the residents. There is more interaction with synthetic life than
“real” people. Is humanity becoming extinct here? What about in our lives right
now, with streaming video and video games? Leon
The owl, a creature with large eyes, at the Tyrell Corporation appears genuine, until we see that one of its eyes does not appear lifelike in a certain light. When Deckard meets Tyrell, the latter asks him to test his assistant Rachael (Sean Young) to show the results of the test on a human. Just like the owl, we can’t trust what we “see” because Rachael is also a Nexus-6 replicant. But, she cares (emotion) for Deckard, and shoots
Leon when the
latter tries to kill him, by jabbing his fingers into, what else, Deckard’s
eyes. This may imply that Deckard is not able to “see” the whole story
involving the plight of the replicants. Deckard also finds an animal scale in Leon’s bathtub.
He tracks down its origin and finds it is from an artificial snake used in a
striptease act by another replicant, Zhora (Joanna Cassidy). Zhora says she
can’t afford a real snake. True life is becoming scarce. Again, we can’t trust
our eyes, because the animal appears to be an actual snake. When Deckard shoots
Zhora in the back as she flees, he is being cold-blooded, demonstrating a lack
of empathy. Is he becoming what is usually considered more machine-like?
There is an ongoing debate as to whether Deckard may be a replicant since his eyes glow with a red reflection, and he sounds and looks similar to Holden. Is he just another android version? He has a dream about a unicorn. At the end of the film, Gaff (Edward James Olmos), who works for Bryant, makes an origami unicorn. How would he know about Deckard’s dream of it unless it was an implanted memory, which he read about in a file. Deckard earlier asks Tyrell how Rachel “could not know what it is?” But, he may not know he is one, too.
Pris sprays paint around her eyes to pretend to look like one of Sebastian’s dolls. So, she is a mechanical creature, who is so lifelike, she must pretend to be mechanical. She is pretending this time to ambush an investigating Deckard. She attacks him, but he shoots her.
Roy arrives and shows true loss at Pris’
death. He stalks Deckard throughout the building that contains Sebastian’s
apartment. The flight is again upward in this building, but Roy’s ascent this time is spiritual. He is seen
as a Christ figure, pushing a spike through his hand, supposedly to slow down
his built-in destruct mechanism. He saves Deckard from falling off of the
building, thus forgiving the blade runner. He releases a dove (the Holy Ghost?,
his spirit?) he is holding in his hands as he dies. Deckard and Rachael are
fugitive lovers at the end of the film. Gaff lets them escape saying he didn’t
know how long they had together, but “who does?”
Are we the sum of our memories, the images that we see in our mind’s eye? Or are we are who we are because of our basic personalities, and memories are just layered onto that foundation? Rachael’s memories are implants, but don’t we all have images implanted in us by the media engulfing our lives? Whatever their origins, our memories do affect us. At the end of the film,
about the wondrous things he has “seen.” These are real events that he, as a
synthetic human, has experienced, and which have evoked true human emotional
responses. In death, whatever memories we do have are as transient as we are,
dying with us. As Roy
says, they are like tears washed away in the rain.
There are many questions in the above paragraphs. Most of the time, humans don’t have the answers.
The next film is Fail-Safe.
Sunday, June 7, 2015
SPOILER ALERT! The plot will be discussed.
Margo has been a success for quite a while in Lloyd's plays, which are directed by Margo's lover, Bill Simpson (Gary Merrill). She is a star, but realizes that she is an aging one, and has self-doubts about sustaining her success. Her best friend, Karen, encounters Eve, who says in sweet, humble, devotional adoration, that she has seen every performance of the play, and even saw Margo perform in
Francisco. Karen invites Eve into Margo's dressing
room. Eve then tells her sad tale of her poor parents and husband who died in
the war. She now occupies herself seeing Margo perform. The film says that
great actors need to be loved, and so does Margo. Perhaps this characteristic
is also a great flaw, and Margo is susceptible to it. She hires Eve as her
business secretary. She does a great
job. But, Margo's wardrobe woman, Birdie (Thelma Ritter), doesn't trust her. She
doesn't see unselfish loyalty in Eve, but rather someone who is studying Margo,
artistically stealing from her, not admiring the great actress' attributes. I
would have liked to have seen more of Birdie's candid humor in the film.
We start to see that Birdie is right about Eve wanting to replace Margo when she checks her hair in Margo's mirror, and holds up the star's dress in front of herself, taking a pretend bow on the empty stage of the theater. Eve first tries to undermine Margo by putting the moves on Bill. He dismisses her with a sports-romance metaphor by saying she made "an incomplete forward pass." Eve's true envious nature is seen when she starts to tear at Margo's wig after the rejection. She then tries to drive a wedge between Karen and her husband Lloyd, who have been having marital problems. There is a scene where Eve gets someone to ask Lloyd to see about her because she is distraught. When Karen gets the call, the audience can note problems with the marriage because she and Lloyd are sleeping in separate beds. This action occurs after Karen delays Margo's return from a countryside trip so that Eve can act as Margo's understudy. To her acting credit, she makes the most of the opportunity. DeWitt makes sure that all the critics take notice that Eve now surpasses Margo. Margo, seeing how Eve has gone behind her back, tries to get her a job with the producer, but Eve has already staked her claim.
Eve threatens Karen with revealing how she gave her the chance at being the understudy unless she uses her influence with Lloyd to cast her in his new play whose main character is in her 20's. But, Margo, happy with Bill's marriage proposal, her performance in the current play, and her friends, accepts that she is too old for the new part. In the end, although Eve's acting is rewarded, she has met her match in DeWitt, who does know all about Eve. He tells her that he found out about her lies: she was never in
San Francisco, since the theater she
mentioned doesn't exist; and she was never married. He says he found out that
she slept with her previous boss and was paid to leave town. He tells her that
they are the same – they are unable to love or be loved and share a dislike for
humanity. All they have is their talent. He has the goods on her, and tells her
that she belongs to him. In contrast, despite Eve's professional success,
Margo's life is much richer.
The film falters with its inconsistent use of the voice-overs. But, the dialogue is great. Some favorite lines: "Peace and quite are for libraries."; "Actors are like infants. They scream at the top of their voices."; "Eve would ask Abbot for Costello." And, at the end, Margo tells Eve to put her award where her heart should be. Also, the film has a great supporting performance by Marilyn Monroe, who is trying to use DeWitt to get her acting career going. Despite the talent surrounding her, she steals the scene.
Next week’s film is Blade Runner.