I promised that my hiatus from this series would only be a few weeks, and I was almost right. It has been a couple of months. But in the meantime I have been working on some things (not all published yet) that God had been tugging at me to focus on, so it’s all good. Once again today’s group of five is an incongruent mix of comedy, drama, and action, with a little romance thrown in. Release dates range from 1964 to 2000.
35 Scent of A Woman
When we looked at Cast Away I mentioned that sometimes a single performance is so good that it carries the film and makes the whole thing seem better than it probably really is in reality. Such is the case again with Scent of A Woman. I am a huge Godfather fan, but even I think this is Al Pacino’s best role. Is it subtle or nuanced?? No. Pacino is 100% all out, full throttle, balls to the wall…and that’s okay. In my opinion he never crosses over into caricature, though some may disagree. The plot itself is rather flimsy. Chris O’Donnell stars as Charlie, a soft spoken prep school student who needs to earn some cash to pay for his cross country trip back home to Oregon for Christmas break. To that end, Charlie takes on a kind of babysitting gig over Thanksgiving, keeping an eye on a blind retired Army colonel whose family is not taking him with them wherever they are going for the holiday. Colonel Frank Slade is a real pill…angry, bitter, obnoxious, and a heavy drinker. The weekend doesn’t go according to plan right from the very beginning, when Colonel Slade drags the reticent Charlie to New York City, where he plans to “to eat at an expensive restaurant, stay at a luxury hotel, visit his big brother, make love to a beautiful woman, and then blow his brains out”. The Colonel apparently wants to go out in a blaze of glory, and has a few fun adventures, like doing the tango with a lovely and accommodating stranger, test driving a Ferrari (getting pulled over by a clueless policeman…who doesn’t catch on that Slade is blind…in the process), and ambushing his unsuspecting brother’s family on Turkey Day. Meanwhile, Charlie has his own issues. He and a buddy witnessed a few of their classmates vandalizing school property, and the school’s headmaster has bribed a reluctant Charlie to snitch on the perps by guaranteeing that he can singlehandedly get Charlie into Harvard. Maybe it says a lot about my moral fiber or lack thereof, but I’d take that deal in a heartbeat. But Charlie doesn’t want to be THAT guy, so he is conflicted. It is rather weakly constructed drama and definitely takes a backseat to the main story, that of Colonel Slade. Pacino plays Slade in such a way that one dislikes him, feels sympathy for him, and is kind of rooting for him all at the same time. I especially enjoy when Charlie and the Colonel visit Slade’s brother’s family on Thanksgiving. We learn more about Slade’s backstory and how he ended up blind. We begin to understand why he acts the way he does, and somehow we end up cheering him on as he faces off with his prickly nephew (played by a pre-West Wing Bradley Whitford). Gradually Charlie and Colonel Slade form a respectful bond, and the movie culminates with the Colonel defending Charlie against a disciplinary committee at his stuffy prep school. Pacino’s soliloquy rivals anything Shakespeare ever wrote and is one of my favorite movie scenes of all time. He won the Oscar for his role in Scent of A Woman, and rightly so. Sometimes I think maybe it would have been a better movie if someone else besides O’Donnell would have portrayed Charlie, but I suppose it was necessary for Charlie to fade to the background so Colonel Slade could be what anyone who watches this film will remember.
34 A Shot in the Dark
There were a total of 9 Pink Panther films (I am not counting the recent remakes starring Steve Martin), 6 starring Peter Sellers as the hilarious Inspector Clouseau. Made in 1964, A Shot in the Dark is the second in the series, and in my opinion the best. Clouseau is charged with solving the murder of a chauffeur in a very wealthy and large household. The prime suspect is one of the maids, Maria Gambrelli, who was sleeping with the chauffeur. Despite the fact that all the evidence undeniably points to Maria, Clouseau will not arrest her because he has instantly become smitten with the undeniably beautiful woman. He bumbles his way through the investigation, getting himself arrested several times and driving his boss, Commissioner Dreyfus, absolutely mad. Several more murders are committed as well, but Clouseau refuses to believe Maria is guilty. A subplot involves Clouseau’s servant, Cato, whom the inept detective orders to attack him “whenever and wherever he least expects it”, a command that Cato follows in hysterical fashion. The relationships between Inspector Clouseau and the Commissioner and Cato, respectively, are laugh-out-loud funny, the very best parts of the film. Those relationships and the antics of Clouseau in general make the particulars of the whodunit plot relatively insignificant. Like any film series The Pink Panther became more and more ridiculous as the powers-that-be tried to squeeze more money out of the franchise, but A Shot in the Dark is a true gem and not to be missed.
You’ve seen it…don’t even try to tell me you haven’t. Men especially seem unwilling to admit they have ever seen 1997’s Titanic, an epic blockbuster about the infamous “unsinkable” ship that sank on its maiden voyage on April 14, 1912. I have never really figured out if this reluctance is because in essence Titanic is a romance, or just some sort of ode to nonconformity in refusing to acknowledge that they saw what everyone else saw. All I know is that the film made nearly $2 billion and was in theaters for 10 months (over 3 of those were spent at #1 among the competition, which included such films as Good Will Hunting, Men in Black, Liar Liar, and Batman & Robin) in an era where most movies are gone within a month or two…so somebody watched the damn movie, and the law of averages would point to just about anyone and everyone. Personally I believe Titanic is a very well written movie with great performances and tremendous effects. I had been fascinated with the tragic story of the Titanic long before the movie was made, and I think the tale is told well. Some may say that real life, historically accurate characters should have been the focus and the movie about them. I understand that point, but I also see what James Cameron was trying to do and why he did it. The characters of Jack and Rose, as well as some of the other supporting roles, were meant as tributes to all 1500 passengers that perished. The “rich girl falls for a guy from the wrong side of the tracks” motif may be a bit cliché, but it works. The framing plot of the old lady who essentially tells the story as a flashback allowed Cameron to use actual footage captured on a dive in a submersible to the actual wreckage, which is pretty ingenious. If you really are one of the handful of people who has never seen Titanic, quit being a stubborn jackass and rent it. It’s a timeless narrative that I believe will stand up well for decades to come.
32 Back to the Future Trilogy
Yes, I know…this is technically a tie. But I maintain that it really isn’t. Though these three films were released over the course of five years, the story is continuous. Home base, so to speak, is 1985. In the first film Marty McFly is accidentally transported back to 1955 in his pal Doc Brown’s newly invented time machine (which is in the form of a DeLorean). There he meets his parents and inadvertently changes history by altering the moment the future Mr. & Mrs. McFly first make googly eyes at one another. So he has to fix that little problem before he can worry about getting back to his life in 1985. Needless to say the mission is accomplished and all is well. The second film sees the wacky Doc Brown take Marty and his girlfriend Jennifer 30 years into the future…2015…to help their misguided children. Marty must save his son and daughter from the nasty grandson of his father’s nemesis, Biff Tannen. We know from the first film that Biff has bullied and mistreated Marty’s father George since high school, but that Marty changed the course of that relationship for the better when he was in 1955. Unfortunately Biff has discovered the secret of the time machine and went back in it himself to once more alter 1985 so that he is a wealthy and powerful tyrant that has killed George and forced Marty’s mother, Lorraine, into marriage. So Marty and Doc have to go back to 1955 one more time to fix the damage. They do and all is well…for a brief moment. Lightning strikes the DeLorean, Doc disappears, and Marty is stuck in 1955. We have a cliffhanger. The third film has Marty, stuck in 1955, receive a letter from Doc, who has been transported back to 1885. Marty finds a way to have 1955 Doc get him to 1885, where he meets up with Doc and some of his own ancestors as well as forebearers of the Tannen clan. Marty saves Doc’s life, which is the reason he went back to 1885. He then finds a way, with the help of a steam locomotive, to get back to 1985. Doc is once again inadvertently left behind trying to get to his 1885 girlfriend Clara. At the end though, Doc and Clara arrive in 1985 via a wicked cool souped up train that has been converted into a time machine. The first Back to the Future is the best, and the third film the weakest. But it’s another case where a trilogy really needs to be treated as one entity. Time travel is almost always an awesome movie device, and these movies do it really well. We see what was at the time modern day, the 1980’s…go back to the 1950’s…go forward to a technologically advanced future in 2015…and go back to the 19th century Old West. It is the very definition of escapism. I haven’t done it for awhile, but it is a lot of fun to spend a rainy day watching all three movies consecutively. I have heard rumors for years about plans to revive the franchise, and I am sure at some point it shall be so, albeit with a whole new cast and likely nothing more than a cameo from Michael J. Fox. If and when that day comes I will judge the new film appropriately, but I will say this much…it’d have to be pretty special to live up to the original trilogy.
31 The Perfect Storm
I have tried very hard to dislike George Clooney. He is a pretty boy liberal who I would just love to bitch slap…but I’ll be damned if he isn’t a pretty good actor. There is no doubt that he is charismatic and charming. Here he plays the down-on-his-luck captain of a Gloucester fishing boat. Captain Billy Tyne and his crew…all of whom have lightly touched upon subplots…decide to go out on one more trip before the season ends in an effort to make more money. Unfortunately they get caught in a “perfect storm”, the convergence of three storms in the same place. I am not usually a fan of action films, but in this case the action is so well done…plus it’s unique, i.e. not the usual guns ablazing and mindless explosions but instead a fishing boat and its crew fighting horrendous weather. Even if considered alongside natural disaster flicks like Twister, Deep Impact, and Dante’s Peak, The Perfect Storm stands out due to excellent performances and good writing. The first time I ever watched the film I was not aware that it was based on a true story. I kept waiting for the heroic rescue and the happy ending. When it did not happen and I realized that it was a factual account, I almost cried because it was so sad. Subsequent viewings, with full knowledge of the real life tale, has only deepened my appreciation.
- Funniest Movies of All Time (mrmovietimes.com)