Spoiler Warning

Always assume Spoilers and possible profanity in context. These are often adult themed movies.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Top Ten Movie Villains

A lead character in a movie facing ethical and moral dilemmas is pretty common. A character who doesn't struggle doesn't typically serve for much drama or emotional investment in the story. It's also common for lead characters to make mistakes. Criminal protagonists require this, as they're already working outside most peoples moral code. This might us the chance to ask ourselves, is there a motive strong enough to justify, killing, stealing, or many other moral transgressions. Typically however, even a character who kills people for a living has some code to live by, and some line he won't cross. Most of all, for us to care about a character, whatever his stance, we need to see his/her humanity. A man who kills people for a living, is not necessarily the same as a man who enjoys killing people for a living, or for his own amusement. Questions of evil are often relative, and we may even cheer a character who has no choice but to kill to save his own life or those of others.  A man who commits a crime as it's the only way he can raise the money to save a relatives's life. Sometimes we can admire a character's drive or ambition, as long as innocents aren't really hurt.  A real villain however, elicits no sympathy, which is why they're rarely cast as the leads in film. They typically care about nothing and no one, and will commit whatever deed necessary to further their own ends. The best villains, make us care more about our protagonist, who always looks better by comparison. Villains make the leads more important. As the Buddhist saying says "What is a bad man, but a good man's job?" Many times it's the bad man that reminds the main character of whatever good he himself possesses.

Obviously there are many others, and I hope you feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments. I chose to stick with the fairly grounded characters, as I'm sure you could likely get another ten out of sci-fi and fantasy movies. I've also elected to only use one role per actor as many below have had other roles that would make my list. Daniel Day Lewis, for example, played "Bill the Butcher" in "Gangs of New York" but (in my opinion) Bill the Butcher never reached his villain potential as I didn't find DiCaprio a believable adversary. Daniel Plainview on the other hand feels like a more affecting monster.

10. Norman Stansfield (Gary Oldman, The Professional)

Full Review

Norman Stansfield is a powerful DEA Agent with a personal drug problem and a lucrative business based on the drugs he should be getting off the street. He has an uncontrollable temper and no tolerance for betrayal or any risk to his established position. When Stansfield kills a man for not having his money, (after discussing why Beethoven with him) he also decides to kill the whole family. He misses one the kids though, the young girl Mathilde (Natalie Portman) who is taken in by top class hit man Leon (Jean Reno) Mathilde doesn't care about her abusive father, but wants Stansfied to pay for killing her baby brother. She enlists Leon's help, but can't resist trying for Stansfield herself, only to discover, he's more formidable and twisted than she could've imagined. He effortlessly confronts her in a restroom and asks her if she likes life. When she says Yes he tells her, "That's good, because I take no pleasure in taking life if it's from a person who doesn't care about it." Mathilde doesn't have a chance, and despite Leon rescuing her from the DEA office, Stansfield is obsessed with killing Mathilde to tie up his loose ends. He sets his sights on Leon, showing how truly formidable he really is. After Leon dismantles everyone sent after him, Stansfield shoots him in the back. However, he doesn't plan for Leon being willing to give his life to save Mathilde, blowing himself up as Stansfield gloats, and fulfilling his contract with Mathilde. Stansfield is as evil as they come, thinking nothing of shooting children or innocents in cold blood if it furthers his goals.

9. Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest)

Full Review

Nurse Ratched is very comfortable as the emotionless head nurse of a mental institution. She calmly revokes necessities from patients in order to keep things orderly. She easily terrifies all of the patients, who know better than to cross her. That changes when McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) has himself admitted in a scheme to get out of serving jail time. He seems to take pleasure in challenging any rules, especially hers. More troubling to her is the fact that McMurphy inspires the other patients to stand up to her authority. Her low key manipulation quickly turns more brutal. She abuses the patients and McMurphy flagrantly in any way necessary to crush their spirits. McMurphy is as chaotic as she is orderly, and their clash has severe consequences. In a meeting with the institution head staff, she agrees that while McMurphy is sane, she will keep him there anyway to ensure that he's punished for challenging her. She doesn't blink at the thought of subjecting him to shock therapy. In a pivotal moment she brutally humiliates weak minded Billy Bibbitt to the point where he kills himself. Even this doesn't cause her to show an ounce of emotion, and McMurphy finally loses his temper, choking and almost killing Nurse Ratched (which does change her expression briefly) McMurphy is rewarded with a lobotomy, becoming a vegetable until his friend Chief mercifully suffocates him and escapes, leaving Nurse Ratched (in a neck brace) and the Institution behind.

8. Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale, American Psycho)

Patrick Bateman works on Wall Street as an investment banker and obsessing with his rich like minded associates about nearly invisible differences in business cards and other status markers. Facial cleansing masks and workout routines do nothing to quell his sense that he's empty inside. His  emptiness and drive to be noticed lead him to take up murder as a new hobby. In Bateman's world, he is indistinguishable from his associates which bothers his need to be noticed. He kills the homeless, prostitutes (after fulfilling a sexual fantasy which is mostly watching himself have sex in a mirror) and rival, Paul Allen, who had a nicer business card than him. His murders frequently involve him lecturing on the differences in Huey Lewis and Phil Collins albums, as if to educate his victims before they die. Ultimately his murders are about getting attention, but in his world this is a useless goal. Visiting an apartment where he kept bodies, he finds everything completely cleaned to avoid stigma which might complicate sale or rental. His murders are mixed with hallucinations, and everything colored by his insanity. His complete confession left on his lawyer's answering machine doesn't solve anything, as he insists that he just saw Paul Allen, revealing that Allen was as indistinguishable as Bateman, leaving him just as shallow and unfulfilled as ever.

7. Dr. Christian Szell (Laurence Olivier, Marathon Man)

Dr. Christian Szell was a dentist at Auschwitz, ruthless and skilled in torture. He would bargain with his victims for the gold in their teeth and their fortunes, preferring diamonds. Fleeing Germany with his brother to avoid being charged with war crimes, he hides out for years until learning his brother, en route to claim their diamonds from a safety deposit box, has been killed in an accident. Szell's brother was being watched by secret government agencies, most notably by Henry "Doc" Levy, who hopes that the accident will bring Christian Szell out of hiding, which it does. Szell arrives remarkably well informed and quickly kills Doc, before turning his attention to Doc's younger brother, Babe (Dustin Hoffman.) We learn that Szell has everything under control. He's in collusion with Doc's boss Janeway, who has used Szell to inform on other Nazi criminals. Janeway delivers Babe to Szell, and Babe discovers that his recent girlfriend Elsa, was working for Szell. Although Babe knows very little, Dr. Szell uses his dentistry to make sure, drilling into the nerves of Babe's healthy teeth and demanding "Is it safe?" repeatedly, referring to retrieving the diamonds, which Babe knows little about. Szell is as comforting with cutting a man's throat with a knife in his coat sleeve as he is with dental torture, but ultimately, his greed is his downfall. Babe turns the tables and tells Szell he can keep as many diamonds as he can swallow, which Szell attempts, before Babe dumps them down some scaffolding. Szell goes after them, losing his footing and finding his own blade.

6. Max Cady (Robert Mitchum, Cape Fear)

Max spends eight years in prison, for a rape which he committed. He blames attorney Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck) for his sentence, and spends his prison time learning all about the law in order to use it to torture Bowden once he's free. Cady quickly makes his presence known to Bowden obviously watching him and his family, while being careful not to break any laws. Out of legal options Bowden arranges for some thugs to beat up Max and scare him off. Max however, easily gives them a beating and knowing Bowden is behind it, threatens to use the knowledge to have Bowden disbarred. Cady makes a special point of paying attention to Bowden's daughter. Cady delights in the tension he creates, making Bowden struggle with his own principles, as the law can't help him at all. Mitchum puts a charming public face on his evil, until he's finally ready to finish his plan. He delivers excruciating tension and torment, not hiding his intentions from Bowden, as watching him squirm for as long as possible is Max's idea of fun.

5. Frank (Henry Fonda, Once Upon a Time in the West)

The epitome of the "black hat" as villain in the Western movie. Frank is established very early in a scene where his gang kills an entire family, the McBains, except for a little boy, who comes out of the house just afterwards. Rather than leave it to his men, Frank himself puts a bullet in the child himself. The now dead McBain's wife soon arrives however, ruining Frank's attempt to put the land up for grabs. We find that Frank is working for the wealthy Morton, who needs the land to continue his railroad. Morton is not pleased at the murder, only asking Frank to scare the McBains. A stranger nicknamed "Harmonica" (Charles Bronson)begins interfering with Frank's plans.  Harmonica kills some of Frank's men, but later saves Frank's life. He obviously has business with Frank which he won't reveal except "at the point of dying." a proposition Frank agrees to accept. In one of the most riveting showdowns on film, mostly comprised of Bronson and Fonda's eyes in close up, we see that many years ago, Frank hung Harmonica's older brother from an arch in the middle of the desert, propping Harmonica underneath him with a harmonica in his mouth, so that when his strength gave out, he would assist in hanging his own brother.  After the showdown Frank gets the Harmonica back.

4. Mickey and Mallory Knox (Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis, Natural Born Killers)

Full Review

Mickey and Mallory play by their own rules, killing for amusement as much as any practical purpose. Devoted only to each other, they're perfectly happy taking on the whole world. The fact that they can't get along doesn't alter their plans at all. Both of of them start out as badly damaged goods, and their first activity as a couple is killing Mallory's family, including her grotesquely abusive father.Their reckless and showy behavior gets them imprisoned and also makes them celebrities celebrated by the media and the public. They're not easily stopped however using a sleazy tabloid true crime show reporter, Wayne Gale, they reunite in a bloody prison escape, which shows that there is a life form that's lower than they are. We're left with the chilling thought that the two sociopaths Mickey and Mallory are retiring in order to raise a family.

3. John Doe (Kevin Spacey, Seven)

John Doe is a killer with convictions. He doesn't particularly care about attention or even his own life, as much as he cares about sending a message. He begins a gruesome killing spree, staging murders to illustrate the seven deadly sins; gluttony, pride, greed, lust, sloth, envy and wrath. The gluttony killing, for example, is a man forced to eat until his stomach burst, and Sloth was chained to his bed for a year.  John Doe appears completely unremarkable,but sees his actions as carrying out a holy mission. Two police detectives, Somerset (Morgan Freeman) the jaded veteran and Mills (Brad Pitt) the idealistic young achiever out to make a name for himself, are charged to find the killer. Unable to catch Doe, they're surprised when he turns himself in with two murders still undetected. They agree to take Doe out into the desert at the promise of information. Doe reveals that he himself is going to be an object lesson as he was guilty of "Envy," towards Mill's relationship with his pretty young wife, who. he claims, he has already paid a visit. Strangely, a delivery truck pulls up at their location with a package for Mills. When he realizes that the package is his wife's head, he can't help but assist Doe in his plan, executing him and providing the illustration of "Wrath."

2. Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day Lewis, There Will be Blood)

Full Review

Plainview is above all things an opportunist. Even while breaking his leg mining for silver, he doesn't pass up the opportunity to collect and sell what he's mined before draggining himself off to find help. Plainview's main motivation is to become wealthy and soon turns to oil, rather than silver. When one of Plainview's worker's dies in an accident, Plainview takes the man's infant son, referred to as H.W., and passes him off as his own, eventually making his "son" his partner, in order to present himself as a "family" oriented businessman. Plainview is given a tip about an oil rich property by a travelling man named Paul Sunday. He visits the property pretending to be quail hunting, in a ploy to make an offer for a low price. His plan is slightly disrupted by Paul's twin brother Eli, a religious scam artist in waiting, who wants money to build a church. Eli and Plainview have an immediate animosity towards each other, Plainview refusing to pray with Eli despite insistence. Plainview agrees to $5,000 down and $5,000 when the property produces. A drilling explosion costs H.W. his hearing, rather than accompany his child to get help. H.W. is sent away with an employee as his condition makes him less useful than he was before.  Plainview has several oil wells working, but when Eli demands the final payment Plainview beats him and smears him with mud, pointing out his supposed faith healing abilities have done nothing for H.W. A man shows up claiming to be a brother. He's initially embraced by Plainview, but when he discovers the man is a fraud, Plainview kills him without hesitation. Plainview succeeds in becoming quite wealthy, although he trusts no one and becomes completely isolated from the world. WHen H.W. shows up as an adult, asking to be released from their partnership, Plainview shows the depths of his spitefulness, revealing that H.W. was never his real son, taunting him as "a bastard in a basket." Eli Sunday also comes to visit, in order to offer Plainview the chance to obtain a property, that had been unobtainable for years. Plainview reveals that the property doesn't matter anymore, and demands Eli admit he's "a false prophet" Eli complies hoping for money, but Plainview can't resist beating him to death with a bowling pin.  Plainview is a man who starts out as driven, but sacrifices everything good about himself to achieve more. As he tells his fake brother. "I want no one else to succeed " Daniel Day Lewis makes Plainview's madness terrifying.

1. The Joker (Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight)

Quite a few actors have played the Joker, the character himself having a much longer history from Batman comic books. Completely insane, yet incredibly intelligent, he stands out from other Batman villains in that his motivation is not profit, but simply destruction and chaos, making him impossible to appease or truly stop, short of killing him. Jack Nicholson played him very well and entertainingly in the Batman film starring Michael Keaton, but Heath Ledger played the role much darker, showing a glimpse of true and unimaginably dangerous insanity, which is not the conventional and popular version of evil as the opposite of good. Ledger's Joker is an avatar of pain and destruction, fully realized by his role in the destruction of Harvey Dent, an idealistic figure, who is the goodness that inspires people to battle their own cynicism. The twisting of Harvey Dent into the villain Two Face paints the Joker as a figure truly beyond motive based understanding. Credit means nothing to him, he simply enjoys destroying anything he can. The more meaningful it is to others, the more thrill he takes in it's demise. Win or lose don't even matter to him, so much as the act itself. In the Dark Knight, he successfully makes Batman a supporting character in his own story.

So there you have it, my top ten villains at the moment. Feel free to tell me if I missed your favorite. I'd love to hear about it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Run Lola Run

What Happens?

Run Lola Run, opens with quotes, one from T.S. Eliot's "Little Gidding," (from Four Quartets) "We shall not cease from exploration. and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time."
and another from S. Herberger, "After the game is before the game."

We hear a ticking clock over the opening credits and a black screen which brings up an old looking gold clock with a monster head, before transition into rapid moving footage of a crowd of people, while a narrator speaks " Man... probably the most mysterious species on our planet. A mystery of unanswered questions. Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? How do we know what we think we know? Why do we believe anything at all? Countless questions in search of an answer... an answer that will give rise to a new question... and the next answer will give rise to the next question and so on. But, in the end, isn't it always the same question? And always the same answer?"

The camera stops at a man in the crowd who adds "The ball is round. The game lasts 90 minutes. That's a fact. Everything else is pure theory. So, it happens." He kicks a ball in the air which the camera seems to stay with while looking at the ground, as the crowd of people form the letters of the title. The ball zooms back down, rather than hitting the ground, it enters a cartoon of a red haired woman running through a tunnel smashing the letters in the credits and avoiding clocks and monsters. The cartoon changes into a mugshot style introduction of all the characters, before the camera zooms out to the sky again, then descends into a city, and enters the window of a building, bringing us to Lola (Franka Potente) who is on the phone with her boyfriend Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu) Manni asks Lola where she is, and she explains that she's running late because her moped was stolen, which complicated her whole day.

Manni seems panicked, and mentions that she's always on time. Manni says he's "done for." and tells her "You weren't there and I messed it up." Lola asks him to explain. but Manni says "He's gonna kill me." Manni describes an illegal transaction, first he and associates drove cars to a certain spot where Manni was paid in diamonds, and then driven across a border to meet a man who inspected and paid for the diamonds. Lola was to meet him there, but since she didn't make it he went to the subway station carrying his bag of money. There was a bum on the train, who fell down. Manni left his bag for a second to help the man when cops showed up on the train. Out of habit, Manni took off not realizing he'd left the bag. When he turned back to retrieve it, he was stopped by security. The homeless man, Norbert von Au (Joachim Krol) soon realized what was in the bag and took off. Lola asks about Ronnie (Heino Ferch) and Manni says "He'll kill me, although Lola insists he should tell him what happened. He describes getting beat up by Ronnie for keeping a carton of cigarettes from a job, and says that Ronnie doesn't believe anybody, and figures the job was a test. He tells Lola there were 100,000 marks in the bag. When Lola doesn't have any advice for him, Manni says "See, I knew you wouldn't have any ideas. I told you, someday, something was gonna go down and even you wouldn't know what to do. Not when you die, sooner! You said, 'Love can do everything' but it can't get me 100,000 marks in twenty minutes. Manni explains he needs to meet Ronnie in twenty minutes, and Lola tells him to run away, and she'll go with him. Manni doesn't think anyone can escape Ronnie, and that he'll be killed and tells her "You can't do a damn thing to change it."  Lola screams, breaking glass in her apartment. She tells Manni to stay where he is and she'll think of something and meet him in twenty minutes. Manni talks about robbing a store across the street from the payphone, but Lola tells him not to do anything and she'll get the cash.

Lola looks at the clock, and concentrates a moment. We see people flashing through her head as possibilities, before she settles on Papa (Herbert Knaup) She runs for the door, her Mama (Ute Lubosch) is chatting with a man on the phone considering an affair, and yells after Lola that she needs shampoo if she's going out. We see on Mama's television, a cartoon of Lola running down the stairs. She is momentarily frightened, running past a guy with a snarling dog, but gets down to the street. She bumps a woman, Doris (Julia Lindig) pushing a baby carriage, who yells after her. We see snapshots of the woman getting into trouble and having her baby taken away by the police, being miserable and then stealing a baby from someone else. Lola keeps running. We see Papa in his office at the bank where he works, talking with a woman, Jutta (Nina Petri) explaining that she's not happy with their situation as she doesn't want to wait for a man who doesn't want to be with her. She's tired of secrecy, lying and sneaking around.

Lola is noticed by a bicyclist, Mike (Sebastian Chipper) who offers to sell her his bike for 50 marks. Lola says No and we see snapshots of the bicyclist getting beat up by a gang, but meeting a nurse, due to his injuries who he eventually gets married to. She runs past a businessman's car exiting an alley, distracting the driver, Meyer (Ludger Pistor) who hits another car. Manni is still at the phone booth, calling his grandmother for money, but she can't help him. He leaves the phone booth and notices a blind woman (Monica Bleibtreu) standing outside. He tries to give her back her phone card which he apparently borrowed but she walks off. He notices that there are only ten minutes to go. Lola runs right past Norbert, who has his arms full of bags.

We see Papa and Jutta talking again. Papa explains that he has to leave as Meyer's on his way and wants to meet her later. Jutta asks if he loves her, and when Papa asks why she's asking know, she reveals she's pregnant. Lola reaches her fathers building and has to be let in by the guard Schuster (Armin Rohde.) He obliges entering the pass code and she runs down the hallway bumping into a female employee, Frau Jager (Suzanne von Borsody). We see snapshots of the woman in a terrible car accident, surgery, being stuck in a wheelchair and then cutting her wrists, killing herself.

Jutta asks Papa if he wants to have a baby with her. Papa says "Yes." as Lola enters the room. Papa is surprised to see Lola, as he and Jutta obviously have a secret relationship. Jutta exits awkwardly. Lola explains that she needs help and he's the only one she can turn to. Papa of course wants details. He quizzes her about Manni, who he's never met or heard of. Papa obviously doesn't realize the gravity of the situation. Lola screams again, breaking glass on the wall. Jutta is concerned and enters the room again. Papa tells Lola to come with him. He brings her down the hallway and she asks if he's going to help. He says that he'll help by walking her outside, so she can go to bed. He asks her to tell her mother that he's not coming home ever again, leaving the two of them for another woman. He complains about not being appreciated at home, yet his money is good enough for them. He ejects her, and tells her that he wasn't her real dad anyway. Schuster tells her that everyone has bad days. Lola asks an old woman for the time and seeing she only has a few minutes left, she starts running again.

Manni is making another call. We see a red ambulance pull up driving alongside Lola until the driver notices a group of men carrying a long piece of glass across the street forcing him to stop, although Lola runs past them. Manni is approaching the store with 1 minute left. We hear Lola thinking "Wait." hoping to reach Manni. Lola sees him enter the store and she yells after him as he enters. He fires a shot in the air and tells the cashiers to empty the registers. Lola calls him from outside the store, asking why he didn't wait. He turns and talks to her, explaining that she wasn't in time, and that he can't leave now as he's already robbing the place. A guard comes up behind Manni with a gun while they talk and tells Manni to put his hands up. Manni complies, but  Lola enters the store from behind the guard hitting him from behind to help Manni, and then talking the guard's gun. Lola covers Manni while he grabs the cash. They run down the street together only to be quickly surrounded by the police. Manni throws the bag of cash in the air, distracting one of the cops who accidentally fires and shoots Lola in the chest killing her. Manni drops his gun to check on Lola, now lying on the ground.

We see Manni and Lola in bed. She asks him "Manni, do you love me?" He says "Sure I do" She insists that she could be anyone and that if they hadn't met, he'd be saying the same things to someone else. Manni insists that he does love her and that she's the best, but finally when she won't be satisfied with his answers, he asks if she's "gone nuts." or wants to leave. Lola says. "No." and then "Stop."

We see the movie rewind to Manni and Lola's phone call. She doesn't stop to think this time, already having Papa set in mind. Mama yells after her for shampoo again and we see cartoon Lola running down the stairs, this time the guy with the dog intentionally trips her and she falls down the stairs hurting one of her legs. She bumps into Doris with the baby carriage quite a bit harder, and we see in her snapshots that rather than steal a baby, she'll win the lottery. She runs into Mike, the bicyclist, again turning him down, this time adding "it's stolen" We see that Mike ends up homeless and hooked on drugs. She jumps over Meyer's car this time, but he still crashes into another driver, as she still distracted him. She runs into Norbert, but of course doesn't realize that he has Manni's money. Papa and Jutta are having the same conversation they had before, but Jutta has now told him that she isn't sure it's his baby. Schuster lets Lola in again, and this time Lola doesn't bump into Frau Jager. She enters her father's office a little later than last time and we see that Jutta and Papa are arguing. Papa isn't going to leave his family claiming "I can't leave a sick wife and three kids just to please her Highness." Jutta remarks that his wife is drunk all the time. Jutta tells Lola to go away, alerting Papa to her presence. He's surprised again and doesn't feel like dealing with her, but she's insistent that she needs money. He gets angry when she doesn't leave and asks "Who's that slut?" He tells her it's none of her business. Lola can't stop sobbing and he tells her to go home. She says she can't and explains she needs money. He relents and offers her some cash to go away, not realizing the amount she's talking about. Jutta interrupts and scolds Lola for barging in. Lola calls Jutta a "stupid cow." and Papa slaps her. After throwing things at him, Lola starts throwing things from the office at Papa and then leaves crying.

On the way out, Schuster tells Lola "You can't have everything." She responds by taking Schuster's gun and entering the back offices as someone opens the door while leaving. She returns to her Papa's office, where he and Jutta are still talking. Pointing the gun at him, she tells him to come with her. Schuster has followed her and tries to talk her into giving the gun back. She responds by firing a shot into the wall to convince them she's serious, scaring Jutta. She walks him out of his office with a gun to his head. Frau Jager tries to intevene but Lola tells her to "Fuck off" We see Frau Jager's snapshots show her finding a man in the bank to play S & M games with her, ending up a happy couple. She shoots a lock to open a door, and tells a teller to bag 100,000 marks. Papa nods to do it and the teller starts bagging. Schuster is still following, trying to talk her down, telling her "You don't want to hurt anyone." She stares at him, and asks "And if I did?" which backs him off. We hear Schuster's heart beating loudly. The teller says they only have 88,000 and he has to go downstairs to get more. She tells him to hurry, leaving Lola and Papa alone for a minute staring at each other. The teller returns quickly and gives her the 100,000 in a trash bag. She runs outside and finds the place surrounded by cops, pointing guns at the bank. They don't realize she's the robber,, however and tell her to get away. She starts running for Manni again. We see him leaving the phone booth with three or so minutes to go. The ambulance pulls up next to Lola again, but this time she asks for a ride. The distraction makes him drive into the glass the men are carrying across the road, shattering it. Lola keeps running as Manni considers the store robbery. She thinks "Wait" again, and we see the clock hit the deadline. She yells to Manni before he enters the store, and he hears her and starts crossing the road to meet her. The ambulance catches up however, and speeding, accidentally runs Manni down in the road.

Lola cradles Manni's head and we see the two of them in bed again. This time Manni asks Lola what she would do if he died, insisting that she'd forget him and get on with her life, even describing a possible after death courtship. She tells him, "Manni, you're not about to die." We return to Manni lying in the road. He says "No?" and we see the rewind to the phone call again.

Lola runs immediately this time, not thinking for a moment. Cartoon Lola jumps over the guy and his dog, snarling back at the dog, frightening it. She passes by Doris without even touching her, although Doris gives her a nasty look. The snapshots show Doris becoming very religious and active in her religion. She bumps into Mike on his bicycle and this time say "Sorry." In his surprise he doesn't try to sell it to her and rides off, running into Norbert at a food stand. Norbert tells Mike "Life is really crazy sometimes." and buys Mike a drink. Mike offers to sell Norbert his bike for 70 bucks. Lola encounters Meyer again, this time falling onto his hood, stopping the car. We see that they know each other and he asks if she's alright. She says "No." and keeps running. Norbert is now riding the bike. We find Pappa and Jutta in Papa's office, as she asks Pappa if he wants to have a baby, and he says Yes. This time though, the receptionist buzzes that Meyer is there and waiting for him. Jutta says "There's something else." but he says "This is the nicest gift you could've given me." and rushes off to meet Meyer, telling her they should meet later. This leaves Jutta anxious but Pappa is in a good mood.

Papa leaves the bank and gets into Meyer's car. Meyer tells him that he saw Lola. Lola sees them leaving from a distance and calls after them, although they leave too quickly to hear her. Schuster comes out of the bank and sees Lola in front of the building. He remarks "My angel's here at last." She stares in his eyes and then runs. Manni is in the phone booth again. He gives the blind woman her phone card, which she takes, and she tells him "Wait." He stops for a moment and sees Norbert passing on his bike with the sack of money in the bike basket. He runs after Norbert who starts pedalling faster when he realizes who Manni is. Norbert and Manni run in front of Meyer's moving car almost getting hit, but instead Meyer hits a car head on, the other car is then hit by the guy who stole the moped at the beginning, who is launched from it onto the car. Meyer and Papa are both unconscious, and unmoving, while the guys in the other car start getting out.

Lola runs, asking herself "What can I do?" Praying, "Help me, just this once." She nearly gets hit by a truck in front of a casino and takes it as a sign. She has 99 marks and asks for one chip for 100. She asks the teller, "Please" and she gives it to her. She puts the chip down on Black 20 at the roulette table and wins 3,500 marks.  She puts it all down on 20 again. A bouncer asks her to come with him, but she insists on spinning again. While it spins she screams, breaking glasses everywhere. It lands on 20 again and she wins the money she needs. Everyone in the casino watches her cash out in silence. We see that there are only three minutes left.

Meanwhile, Manni has caught up to Norbert and has a gun on him. He says "That's mine." Nobert says "Fine I know." and gives it to him, but asks "What am I gonna get." and asks Manni for his gun. Manni warily gives it to him and then runs for the meeting place. Lola runs into the ambulance again, showing up just behind it as it barely stops for the men crossing with glass. She lets herself in the back and finds paramedics trying to resuscitate Schuster from the bank. Lola says "I'll stay with him." and takes his hand. We hear his heartbeat come back and stabilize, amazing the paramedics. Lola stands in the middle of the road at the meeting place and calls for Manni and looks around for him. We see Manni get out of a car with Ronnie, shaking hands and walk over to meet Lola. He kisses her and asks "What were you doing? Did you run? Don't worry. Everything's Ok." Walking together, he looks at her bag and asks "Whatcha got there?" Lola smiles.

What About it?

Run Lola Run is an experimental movie which is not very interested in conventional narrative, as much as the many possibilities present in a seemingly impossible situation. Allowing twenty minutes for a poor young woman without transportation to come up with 100,000 marks (at the time, around $60,000.00) and meet her boyfriend seems a hopeless task. Even after watching the outcomes, it never seems likely, only being achieved through extraordinary events.

This movie is very true to its title, in that most of it is Lola running, physically and against the clock. While you could doubtlessly spend a great deal of time analyzing the symbolism in the movie, I'm more interested in the characters presented and a direct reading. Tykwer creates a world full of energy and brightness, although nothing else is as bright as Lola's bright red hair. Using quick and unexpected techniques such as using cartoon's and snapshots it's clear that we have to observe this universe by it's own rules. It keeps a frantic pace, and in portions feels like a music video or a video game. Keeping up with the pace, we are given people's whole lives in seconds, via snapshots, while the clock runs. Lola's run is given it's own soundtrack, and while I'm no fan of techno music, it works here, not only for pacing but informing Lola's actions, more so because it's Fraka Potente herself delivering the lyrics, which put us inside her characters head. "

Manni's trust in Lola from the very beginning establishes her as very competent. She's normally so competent that he briefly blames her for his error, as it's so unheard of for her not to be on time. Given their meager resources, what could he possibly hope Lola could do to help him? Not much, if looking at it reasonably, but he calls her anyway and begs her to help anyway. He does give reality a nod though, by making robbing the store his back up plan. Lola is confident she can help, although she has little reason to be. From Manny's remark, reminding her of how she always says "Love can do everything." we know that Lola operates on some degree of faith. She doesn't have a plan, only the most likely person to help in mind, her Papa. After seeing their interaction we realize that this isn't a good plan at all. Her Papa is not concerned in the least about her problem, too caught up in his own interests to care. It does speak of her limited resources however, that she chooses Papa every time. From the first outcome we can gather that she doesn't have confidence as much as hope, and an unwillingness to accept her fate.
In some ways, what she does doesn't matter to her as much as the fact that she's doing something.

We skip many moral questions, given the fact that the best possible outcome is for Manni to complete his task, which is to give Ronnie, a shady criminal figure, his money and prove that he can be trusted. Presumably, Manni is trying to get ahead in the criminal organization. Lola is clearly aware of these activities and even helps Ronnie with them. This choice of occupation may be necessary for the film, as there aren't many legal ways to make 100,000 marks in twenty minutes out of nothing. Their background makes it easier to accept that Manni could rob a store, or Lola, rob a bank, without agonizing over the decisions. Lola sees just about anything as acceptable, as she's acting out of love, and dealing with a life or death situation. Still, she would rather choose the action with the least consequences, and would like to keep Manni from robbing the store. Once he begins, however, she has no qualms about helping him. What's done is done, and with only twenty minutes available, there's little point in being upset about it.

Manni's motive isn't so pure. Although he loves Lola, he is simply concerned with self preservation. This does however convey the amount of trust he has in her, as with his life at stake and a store right in front of him, he still waits twenty minutes like he promises. Manni himself is not incompetent, we see that he successfully completes some difficult transactions, stealing and delivering cars and fencing the diamonds he got as payment. Like Lola's moped getting stolen, he is thrown off track by unexpected events, her not showing up, and Norbert falling on the subway. He can follow directions, but he's not good at thinking on his feet. When he robs the store, he only succeeds because Lola shows up to help him. Moritz Bleibtreau does a great job making Manni likeable enough that we don't shake our heads at Lola's trouble.

Lola is far more comfortable with the unpredictable. Although she may not always what to do, she is committed to doing. Even when she seems helpless, Lola can scream loud enough to break glass, as if to force some action to occur. The only thing unacceptable to her is standing still. Lola's character is very much about action, whether the right one or the wrong one. Franka Potente does an amazing job with the character, making the bright haired larger than life figure very human at the same time. She's unwilling to accept defeat, but at the same time, vulnerable to being hurt by her father's revelations, forgetting her mission for a moment when she realizes he's having an affair, and even sobbing uncontrollably, when she realizes he doesn't really care much about her. In the course of her three runs, we see her show a broad range of emotion, from her first passive acceptance of Papa's rejection, to the second, angry reprisal, and the third, resigned helplessness. Potente makes the most realistic character possible for such an absurd situation.

The supporting cast adds a great deal to the movie, and due to the snapshot technique, we are able to get a great and informed glimpse at the characters Lola's run affects. Armin Rohde in particular is enjoyable as Schuster, the well meaning bank guard, who shows enough kindness in a few scenes to make us care about his character. Herbert Knaup is also great as Papa, the uncaring, self absorbed supposed father, who isn't really concerned with what anyone else wants unless it serves his purposes. Nina Petri also brings a lot to her character, her most powerful moment being her last scene, left in Papa's office, as he walks off in a great mood, tortured, that she was unable to deliver the uncertain part of her news. Her interactions with Papa and with Lola are very powerful if brief. The entire cast is superb, without a weak point.

Initially it may appear that we're given three possible scenarios, each happening differently due to Lola's interaction with the man on the stairs with the dog. Each of the interactions does have consequences for Lola and everyone she bumps into and of course, these interactions affect other interactions, most notably in the third scenario where her actions cause Mike the bicyclist to run into Norbert, who in turn runs into Manni allowing him an action other than robbing the store. I don't think that three possible outcomes is accurate though. Initially, as shown in the first run, coming up with the 100,000 marks in twenty minutes is an impossible scenario. Lola simply doesn't have the resources to do it. She's unprepared for her father's rejection and has no other plan but to help Manni. Doing this however, she learns how to use a gun. She also learns about the obstacles she'll run into, although her knowledge is limited by the fact that she loses time by being tripped and falling down the stairs. By the third run, she takes charge, leaping over the man and his dog and snarling back at them. Informed by the first two runs she deals with the obstacles more efficiently, although not realizing that this will actually prevent her from confronting her father. She has no way to know that her actions have already solved the problem, sending Norbert across town, to run into Manni, leaving her far more ahead than she realizes. Her dedication to action demands that she come up with the money, and whether through chance, or a sign from above, she ends up in the casino and her scream pays off, leaving her with more than enough money, and the chance to save Schuster's life, perhaps the only character who was consistently kind to her.

Ultimately, all three runs are necessary, the first two run being "exploration." As the Eliot quote in the title says "We shall not cease from exploration. and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time." Lola's strength is her running, her refusal to "cease exploring." and with the third run she truly "knows the beginning for the first time." Only then is she able to accomplish the impossible task, and prove to Manni that "Love can do everything." even if it means resetting the whole world to try again.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Limey

What About it?
(for a full summary of the film, scroll down to "What Happens?")

The Limey is a fascinating piece of work, as much for how it's told as the story it tells. Soderbergh, using scenes from different times in unconventional sequences, he gives a depth to the character's relationships in a very short time, that I can't imagine being possible otherwise. We realize at the end of the movie that Wilson has been on the plane ride home since the beginning, so for him what happens next is the past, although we're still seeing it as it unfolds. This allows it to be a much deeper story than a simple revenge thriller, and allows Wilson a depth of his own that wouldn't have been believable in any other way. The sequence where Wilson meets his daughter's friend Elaine shows the potential brilliantly. We get to see Wilson and Elaine at their first awkward meeting, while at the same time seeing thing sitting down at a table, and going for a casual stroll. The earlier parts inform the later parts while we watch them both, while the conversation runs at it's own pace filling in gaps, not always logically but emotionally matching the scenes we dwell on. This technique also allows us to see Wilson periodically as a young man, reminding us how far he's travelled to become the stoic and weathered warrior who refuses to be stopped. We can actually see the difference in the lines on his face, which also show us how removed he is from the world, as memories of his daughter are all from a very long time ago, as are the happy memories of himself. We witness the young adventurous criminal become the hardened ex prisoner.

This is a film that works so smoothly it's easy to forget how meticulously it was assembled. Soderbergh has complete control of the film and doesn't mind departing from "the way things are done." He uses every tool available; the obvious seperation of dialogue and scene, well placed music, aggressive or background, depending on what's needed, and of course, truly inpired casting choices. He even draws on our knowledge of the actors themselves. The directing is so obvious yet effective, and fluid in this film that it's safe to say that regardless of what you hear about it, it has to be seen to be experienced. It's wonderful to see a director not afraid to blatantly show his hand, and yet making sure his appearance is essential to our connection to the story.

Casting Peter Fonda as a corrupt music producer who continues to profit from the 60's has an interesting affect, using the actor's iconic status during the 60's, particularly from Easy Rider,  to highlight how morally bankrupt he is. Fonda's Terry Valentine is despicable but not in an actively malicious way. He seems unable to deal with any sort of crisis, and relies on his money to extricate himself from any mess he's in. Yet, despite his lack of nerve, he's a character that feels entitled to anything he wants. His first scene with young Adhara is a creepy reminder of this. It takes a certain kind of sleaziness to talk with the young woman you're slepping with about having a conversation with her parents about naming her. Valentine is able to get away with his behavior because he can afford it, relying on his security consultant Jim Avery (Barry Newman) to tie up messy details.

Avery seems like more than an employee though, not afraid to speak frankly to Valentine, and not compelled to hide his resentment for the messes he feels shouldn't have been made to begin with. Newman's character is also complex, while he tries to project an air of being able to control everything, it's clear that there are many things he's learning as he goes. His best choice for a hitman alone should make us question how effective he really is. He tells Valentine, "I have other resources" which doesn't quite paint a picture of a local thug who'll kill someone for $5000.00. His hitman is anything but professional and discreet. Avery, however, is not completely incompetent and perfectly willing to chase after Wilson himself, but competent or not, he overestimates his own efficiency, and two mistakes, his poor choice of a hitman(plus lack of secrecy from his own employees) and underestimating Wilson, come back to bite him. Barry Newman's fim history also adds to his character, particularly adding tension to the car chase scene, as Newman is very well known for starring in the classic film, Vanishing Point 

Lesley Ann Warren is wonderful as Elaine and watching her relationship with Wilson is another example of the film's willingness to not rely on convention. She becomes very close to Wilson, but never as a romantic interest. She's simply someone who cared about his daughter, and because of that relationship, the only one who knows Wilson at all. Perhaps because of that knowledge, she is never afraid of Wilson, although he looks menacing speaking to her through a gate outside her house. When Wilson muses that Jenny was embarassed about him, and she corrects him, stating that Jenny was not embarrased but disappointed, we can feel that she has some hope for Wilson, even if it's only because she really wants the sad story to improve. She holds her own, without being sexual, just through her emotional investment and knowledge.

Luis Guzman's Ed also adds a needed touch, his soft spoken support and assistance and immediate trust of Wilson tell us eve more about Wilson's character. Ed is not in the least naive, he simply sees Wilson as a guy who needs help getting justice for his daughter, who was also Ed's friend. The fact that Ed is not well off, particularly compared to Valentine adds another contrast. Ed remarks that he's "invisible" to Valentine, which makes it fitting that it's Ed who brings about Valentine answering for what he's done. He is also Wilson's natural connection to this foreign country, having also spent some time in prison, the two have shared an experience that most people have not, and was likely similar, despite being from different countries. As is true with Elaine, Soderbergh's, out of order sequencing gives Ed and Wilson an amazingly full relationship for the time actually spent on screen.

Even with such an astounding cast, the movie belongs to Terence Stamp. He makes Wilson a unique character dressed up as a character we've seen a thousand times. Stamp tells stories here with just a change of expression. Like your conventional "just got out of prison, seeking revenge." stock character, he starts out single minded, but with his own ideas about how to achieve his goal. He approaches the matter sensibly, reasoning before he acts. We see that when he investigates the shady warehouse where Ed tells him Jenny went, he's willing to try and talk first and even take a beating in order to give himself the advantage, when the thugs, content that they've established superiority, don't suspect that he'll pick himself right up off the pavement and kill them all. When Wilson first approaches Valentine, he imagines shooting the man from different distances, but not happy with the result chooses instead to make a point by tossing a bodyguard to his death. He is full of idiosyncracies and it seems he enjoys the effect of his British slang which no one understands. He's completely an outsider, and doesn't really need to be understood completely, as long as like Elaine says, we "know what he means." It's his own understanding that's important. He needs to make sense of his daughter's death and perhaps of his own life. The memories of himself as a young man, make who he and where he is now a great tragedy.

What Wilson needs to learn is something he already knows, as he tells the DEA agent, "I could have got up behind him and snapped his fucking neck, but I left it, I could've nobbled him, but I didn't, cause what I thought I wanted wasn't what I wanted. What I was thinking about was something else. I didn't give a toss. It didn't matter, see? This berk on the bench wasn't worth my time. It meant sod-all in the end, 'cause you gotta make a choice: when to do something, and when to let it go. When it matters, and when it don't. Bide your time. That's what prison teaches you, if nothing else. Bide your time, and everything becomes clear, and you can act accordingly." While Wilson is a man intimidating enough to scare people off with a look, he's also a very thoughtful person.

The final confrontation is essentially a repeat of this lesson. Finally having Valentine at his mercy, he discovers that"what he wanted isn't what he thought he wanted." When he realizes that Jenny's fatal error was a result of behavior she'd learned from dealing with him, he also realizes that her death was his fault as much as Terry Valentine's. Terry's biggest mistake was that he panicked, fearing he was about to lose everything. While Wilson was not at all afraid of facing prison or anything else as far as we know, Terry Valentine was not in the habit of facing anything himself, other than getting what he wanted. And so, faced with the truth, Wilson does something unconventional and realizes "when to let it go," as he can't entirely blame Terry. To hear him telling his story on the plane at the end, it's possible to hope that he's learned something important, and perhaps he can finally stop repeating the same mistakes. The Limey starts out as a simple revenge film, but ultimately becomes so much more, a story about making a choice, "When it matters and when it don't."

What Happens?

Wilson (Terence Stamp) snarls to a black screen "Tell me. Tell me. Tell me about Jenny." cuing the Who's song "The Seeker to play as we get our first look at Wilson, an aged but determined looking man, dressed entirely in black, who makes his way from the airport to a hotel room. He looks at a newspaper clipping about a woman's death and at a California address for an "Ed Roel" written on an envelope. He quickly finds Ed Roel (Luis Guzman)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Criminal Movies, Free Movies Contest- 3rd Winner and Update

3/7 This week's winner is J.D., who writes the blog Radiator Heaven.  Email me your mailing address and the movie you picked and I'll get it right out to you. Thanks to everyone for participating. It was a lot of fun. I do still have two five dollar certificates for The Used Book Superstores. If you have one in your area, ask and they're yours.

2/28 This week's winning commenter is Brent, who writes the blog "The Silver Screen" Check out his blog here. http://silverscreenmania.blogspot.com/ Brent, let me know which movie you'd like and I'll get it out to you! Comment below if you'd like, or email me, be sure to give me your mailing address.

I'm pleased to announce that Jan is the first winner of the free movie giveaway, for her comment on my Top Ten Heist Movies post! Once she makes her choice, I will update the list below. Jan, please email your mailing address to me at criminalmovies@yahoo.com Thank you to everyone participating so far, we'll announce another winner next week!

I just wanted to give you the details on the contest I announced yesterday on Facebook. Every week until March 6th I will be selecting a random comment from the past week, on the Criminal Movies blog to win a free movie. I'll announce a winner every Monday and you can choose the movie you want sent to you. Of course spam comments do not count and will be deleted. Feel free to comment on this post with questions, but comments made to this post will not count for the contest.

I will update this post with information and also post on the Criminal Movies Facebook page (link on the right) You can comment on any post except this one, as long as the comment is made in the comments section of the blog.

This is just a way to say thanks to everyone who reads Criminal Movies, and I'm hoping you'll have fun with it. The movies were kindly provided by "The Used Book Superstore" You can check them out here:
 http://www.usedbooksuperstore.com/ or on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Used-Book-Superstore/137362589608899

If you live near one of their locations, I also have two $5.00 gift certificates, which I'll send to the first two commenters who ask for them.

Each week's winner can pick from the list below (which will also be updated as we go.) If it goes well, I'll do it again, but in any event I hope you have fun and thanks for reading!

The movies available are:

Knockaround Guys
Knockaround Guys

3,000 Miles to Graceland
3000 Miles to Graceland (Snap Case)

A History of Violence
A History of Violence

Falling Down
Falling Down

Monday, February 14, 2011


 What About it?
(for a full summary of the film, scroll down to "What Happens?")

Goodfellas is basically a story about a "nobody" trying to be a "somebody." as Henry says, describing his younger days. In a very real way, Henry is attracted to the status and the air of celebrity that the gangsters he knew carried with them. Coming from a humble background, with everyone he knew in the same boat, being a somebody, was as unlikely to him as being President. It's a story about getting there and what you'll do to stay there. Henry has a problem accepting where he come from and who he is. He views his father with contempt, and it's telling that once he's an adult, he makes no mention of hisfamily at all. His father is just a "schnook." in Henry's estimation. Once he becomes fascinated with the power and glamour of being a gangster, the thought of living a life like his father is not even imaginable to him. To Henry, living right across the street from the cab stand where they hang out is too much enticement to resist. He sees their comings and goings for years in the most glamorous light, only the public face rather than the  complete picture, which is likely all he would see as an outsider anyway, as appearances are important to them all. The normal experience of a first job becomes his entry into the organization, and the taste of respect and celebrity has him hooked. It's no wonder that high school ceases to be a priority, when he's working with men who drop hundred dollar bills like they were nothing, and even as a kid he's making more money than most adults in his neighborhood.

He's eager to get more involved, looking up to Jimmy, who adds a style to the business. Even the gangsters celebrate Jimmy and Henry is thrilled to be working for him. From very early, Henry's morals are not fixed. We see that he quickly abandons concern for a man who runs down the street after getting shot, reasoning that Pauly wouldn't want the man dying in his place of business. He replaces conventional right and wrong with the rules of the organization. His first arrest is treated as a cause for celebration with Pauly and Jimmy actively cheering the arrest as a rite of passage. By this time, it should be clear that the organization is not untouchable, but in Henry's mind the power is more than a good enough trade off. Henry is presented as the most stable of his group. He's not as wild or ruthless as Jimmy, and not nearly as psychotic as Tommy. Henry is the "everyman" of the mafia here. although that position is certainly relative. The fact that he's telling the story, might lead us to believe that he's presenting himself as favorably as possible. But it's not unlikely that he would look somewhat normal anyway compared to his friends. who both present their own cautionary tales.

Scorsese is at his best here, successfully making Henry's world an insular one. While he drives the same streets as anyone, he and his family see nothing but their own community. As Karen points out, this makes their lives seem "normal." Rather than feeling like the outside world is foreign, they view it as unimportant, existing only to serve their needs. Even prison bends to accomodate them. Their group is the elite in their estimation, affording a life of ridiculous privelege. Karen is soon as comfortable there as Henry is, an easier adjustment as she doesn't get involved with Henry's activities, only has to act as if they're normal. Like Henry, she doesn't mind at all that "everbody wants to be nice to them." She's attracted to the dangerous lifestyle and as she says, she's "turned on" when Henry pistol whips a guy who assaulted her and tells her to hide the gun.

Goodfellas is also largely about the friendship between Henry, Jimmy and Tommy. Their association is like a group within the already closed group. Jimmy starts off as a mentor figure, but soon becomes a "peer" although more experienced, and with more clout than Henry and Tommy. Jimmy doesn't hesitate to have every member of his crew killed rather than pay them, but with Tommy and Henry, there's hesitation. They genuinely enjoy each other's company and have a lot of shared history. Henry and Jimmy might get angry with Tommy, for killing Billy Batts or a defenseless bartender, but they accept these things as part of him, choosing to help him kick the man while he's down and later to bury the body.  Jimmy is certainly capable of having either of them killed as we see when he suspects Henry might talk, but even then he's hesitant and would rather not do it himself.

Tommy is an interesting contrast to Henry. Henry considers everything while Tommy just does whatever he feels like at the moment. He feels some entitlement assuming that he's going to be "made" someday. an honor which Jimmy and Henry can never even hope for. Of the three of them, Tommy is the most cold blooded, able to kill somebody without thinking twice about it. His sense of self importance is monstrous, not allowing even the smallest slight, as we see when Spider, the mild mannered bartender, works up the courage to say "go fuck yourself" after getting shot in the foot and having his injury mocked.  Killing Spider however, is not a major offense and even "allowed" withing their rules. Tommy however isn't stopped even by their most sacred rules, and his pride is more important than the restriction on killing a Made man. The insult he feels when reminded that he used to shine shoes, especially coming from someone in a higher position than his own, is not something he can walk away from, whatever the consequence. The fact that Jimmy and Henry help him with this is, when it's an offense certain to get them killed, is another reminder that the three really do have quite a bond.

Of course the habit of breaking the rules, is one which only grows. Once you've helped kill a Made man, the idea of dealing drugs although it's forbidden, is not so intimidating. Henry sets up his own organization within the organization, using his "everyman" status to get away with it. It's interesting that Pauly warns him about getting involved with drugs and cautions him about Jimmy and Tommy's unpredictability being a source of trouble, when Henry is the architect of the whole drug operation. This is also another instance demonstrating the three's true loyalties. Henry doesn't worry about Jimmy or Tommy messing up his plan and brings them in right away. Their "society of three" is broken up however, when Tommy is whacked. The only 100% Italian of them all, Tommy was their key to fully arriving in the organization, if only by proxy. This is a stark reminder that they don't "belong" as much as they would like to, and could be eliminated far more easily than Tommy was. The true incentive against betrayal, loyalty, is removed and even Jimmy and Henry's relationship is weakened by this.  Despite their previous rule breaking, both Jimmy and Henry felt for the most part, loyal to Pauly, but this weakens that bond as well. "There's nothing we could do." Henry repeats what Jimmy was told about Tommy getting killed, which clearly both he and Jimmy resent.

Goodfellas is a masterpiece of film. Scorsese uses every element available to it's best effect, including the soundtrack as a vital piece of the story. No detail is spared, and the glamorous world that Henry starts in, devolves convincingly into a world where Henry is sweating, run down and paranoid (although justifiably) knowing that he's wanted dead, but having no idea where it will come from. We get that certain death is the only way he would ever leave. Once the decision is made, Henry shows no regret about betraying either Jimmy or Pauly. He points them out in court without hesitation. His only regret is that he no longer feels like royalty.  Henry's amoral nature hasn't changed at all, he's made the only choice he can make to stay alive. The casting is perfect, Ray Liotta is perfect as the most grounded of the three friends and the lynchpin of the story. He's the one after "the American Dream" and lacks the malice that his friends have. Joe Pesci is a force of nature here, Tommy's outbursts come across so convincingly that it's hard to decide between being entertained and horrified. DeNiro is of course, the perfect choice for Jimmy, the weathered veteran, who knows more than the others, but doesn't always feel compelled to share. He shows more menace smoking a cigar and thinking than Tommy could with all his outbursts.  Lorraine Bracco is also great, her Karen, showing us the same story Henry sees but from a different perspective. Her involvement suggests that anyone could get caught up in this lifestyle.

We also see that times change, and at the end there's no cab stand where the gangsters can hang out untouchably. That time period is over and Pauly and Jimmy, the representaives of Henry's ideal lifestyle are both in prison. Even if Henry could eliminate the threat to his lifestyle, he couldn't have that lifestyle back, only perhaps what he could manage selling drugs. In his rush to be a "somebody" he didn't realize that he only became a "nobody" in a different circle. Despite the respect given to him by people outside the organization, he was far from irreplaceable, Tommy's death proving tha the wasn't "special" and there were heights he couldn't even aspire to.  While the money made him comfortable, it became little more than a game, whatever was made being spent right away, until all that was left was a bag of cocaine, which Karen had flushed down the toilet. In the end, he ends up more restricted than his father ever was, having to live by the rules of the witness relocation program. Unlike his father, Henry has to live with what he thought he was, and the memory of living in privelege, while knowing he'll never have it again. He could also remember the fact that he was about to be killed, but his voice doesn't focus on that, the lifestyle being remembered nostalgically, in which case the negatives no longer matter, any more than they would in a dream.

What Happens?

Goodfellas starts off with the announcement that it's based on a true story, and from there takes us to "New York, 1970" and the inside of a car driven by Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) who has two passengers, Jimmy Conway (Robert DeNiro) and Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) Henry hears a banging noise and wonders if he has a flat tire. It becomes obvious the banging is coming from the trunk and the three pull over to take a look. Jimmy and Tommy hold weapons while Henry opens the trunk and they find their beaten and bloodied passenger is clearly not dead. Tommy stabs the man repeatedly followed by Jimmy shooting the man a few times.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Top 10 Dustin Hoffman Anti-heroes

When I think of an anti-hero, I first think of Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson, Lee Marvin, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or anyone in The Expendables. Some actors play these roles so well that eventually they're defined by them. Personally, I find it hard to imagine that Eastwood isn't "The Man With No Name" in real life. Many actors will play one of these parts for variety now and then but it's not how we remember them. I watched a few Dustin Hoffman movies recently, and while I knew he's played many of these characters, it occurred to me that I don't think of him as an "anti hero" type, although he is convincing every time he does it and it used to be what he was known for. He's since, had a long career playing a wide range of roles. The fact that he's convincing in "Rain Man." or "The Graduate" doesn't take anything away from these parts. Given such diversity, one thing we can't accuse Hoffman of is "playing himself" every time. So here are my ten favorite anti hero parts from Hoffman. I'd love to hear your thoughts!

10)Hero:  Bernie LaPlante

Bernie LaPlante is a small time thief soon to be looking at prison time. Despised by his wife and more distant than he'd like from his son. He catches a break, he thinks, when a plane crashes right in front of him. Thinking he'll be able to loot it, he ends up saving passengers, including Gayle Gayley, (Geena Davis) a prominent TV reporter, who is eager to thank the "hero" but didn't get a good look at him. She offers a reward, which is quickly claimed by homeless vet, John Bubber (Andy Garcia) while LaPlante is incarcerated. LaPlante simmers while locked up, and Gayley grooms Bubber into the "hero" the media would like to see. Eventually, matters are settled and they confront whether or not the truth is more important than the figure himself. A lighthearted movie really, and only a surface look at the issues of manufactured heroism and celebrity that the media provides to order.

9)Marathon Man Babe

Thomas Levy, or Babe, is a history student and runner. His brother, Doc, (Roy Scheider) is a secret agent acting like a business man. Doc visits Babe in New York, as cover for his real purpose, secretly tracking down an infamous Nazi's brother who's retrieving stolen diamonds. When the Nazi's brother is killed in an accident, complications ensue as the war criminal himself, Dr. Christian Szell (Laurence Olivier) heads to New York to retrieve them personally. Babe soon realizes that although it has nothing to do with him, he's caught in the middle of this game, which culminates in Babe, a truly unlikely hope, facing Szell, one of the most memorable and ruthless screen villains of all time (and Babe endures one of the most memorable interrogation scenes out there!)

8)American Buffalo Teach

Don (Dennis Franz) owns a pawn shop and feels robbed when he realizes he sold a Buffalo nickel for much less than it's value. He discusses this with his assistant, Bobby (Sean Nelson) the two plotting to get it back and sell it for a higher price. The plan is disrupted by the shady Teach, who lacks Don's conscience. He plays his own angle, cutting Bobby out by playing on Don's reluctance to corrupt the boy. Primarily a riveting conversation movie about motive and the way we can justify just about anything using lofty sounding goals. Ultimately Don and Teach aren't capable of much more than talk, but Teach's true nature is viciously exposed by Bobby's desperation.

7)Wag the Dog Stanlet Motss

Stanley Motss is a Hollywood producer enlisted by Conrad Brean (Robert DeNiro) a DC spin doctor, to provide a distraction for the president who is on the verge of a major sex scandal. Motss' job is to make a "war" which will only exist in the media in oder to keep the American public too occupied to care about the scandal. Using Hollywood technology, he easily comes up with war footage, war heroes to rally behind, and songs to sing, ensuring that America is united in their support. The job is very effective and the scandal is quickly forgotten. Unfortunately for Motss, that does leave a few ends to clean up. "Wag the Dog" is a chilling movie, presenting a world where the public's opinions can be shaped easily and according to plan, by a few people with the influence and desire to do so.

6)Death of a Salesman Willy Loman

A truly great performancee with Hoffman as failed salesman Willy Loman. The story, of course, is an essential piece of disenchanted Americana, and Hoffman is perfect for the role. Loman doesn't have it anymore and has little to show for the time he's spent hawking his wares, except for troubled relationships with his sons and his wife. He's about to lose his job, which was more important to him than he realized. Loman is a real salesman, and he knows his life is broken, and has little idea how to fix it, finding himself in a hole he can't sell his way out of. Willy confronts his failures the only way he knows how, but he's more lost than he realizes. His humanity with all it's contradictions makes this a tragedy of the highest order, and it succeeds if Linda Loman's thought is fulfilled "Willy Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He's not the finest character that ever lived. But he's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid."

5)Papillon Louis Dega

Louis Dega is an imprisoned  counterfeiter rumored to have a lot of money hidden. He's befriended by Papillon (Steve McQueen) a fellow prisoner, who decides to protect him and ends up saving his life a few times. Shipped to a prison island where escape attempts can lead to execution, Papillon still can't get the idea out of his mind. Degas is reluctant but goes along with Papillon's plans. They escape, although Degas breaks his ankle in the process and Papillon ends up betrayed and imprisoned again. Over five years later, Papillon reconnects with Degas on Devil's Island. He still plans to escape, although it appears impossible. He convinces Degas to come with him, but he reconsiders at the last minute, settling for wishing his friend well. Papillon is a great look at a strong and enduring friendship tested by the worst conditions possible.

4)Straight Time Max Dembo

Max Dembo is a professional thief just released on parole. Initially he makes an attempt to go straight, but an old friend Willy (Gary Busey) shoots up in his room leaving some evidence behind, which Dembo's parole officer (M. Emmett Walsh) uses to throw Dembo back in jail for a drug test. Dembo is clean, but angry at the indignity. He assaults his parole officer and handcuffs him with his pants down on the side of a highway, forcing himself to live on the run. Dembo falls in love with a girl named Jenny (Theresa Russell) and attempts to make things work while he plans a robbery, involving Willy and his old friend Jerry (Harry Dean Stanton) The job goes bad and Dembo has to flee, taking Jenny with him, although he loves her enough to consider the consequences of where he's headed. Straight Time isn't so much a critique of the system as it is a look into the mind of a career criminal.

3)Straw Dogs David Sumner

Mathematician David Sumner takes his wife Amy (Susan George) to a quiet English village where she grew up, planning to focus on his work away from the tension (Vietnam era) in America. They're soon spotted by Amy's old friends including an ex boyfriend Charley (Del Henney,) who David hires along with his group of friends to work on their house. David neglects his wife, treating her as a nuisance for keeping him from his work. He treats the workers condescendingly, having no common ground with them. It soon becomes clear that they dislike David and they begin an assault, killing a cat and leaving in their closet, and inviting David out hunting in order to rape his wife who is alone at home. The situation escalates until David feels he has to take a stand which he does finally without half measures.

2)Lenny Lenny Bruce

Lenny, is a look at the life of influential 60's comic, Lenny Bruce. Part "interview" with Lenny's associates, primarily wife Honey (Valerie Perrine) and agent Artie Silver (Stanley Beck) and part flashback. We trace his climb from mediocre stand up, to influential figure constantly arrested for and fighting obscenity charges. We also see the aspects of his personal life including the rise and fall of his marriage, his, and Honey's experience with drug addictions and the addition of a daughter to their lifestyle.  This isn't a film that paints a rosy picture, but neither does it diminish Lenny Bruce's contributions. It's interesting to see Dustin Hoffman become a character, who really existed. Although, much of Bruce's "obscenity" would be considered tame by current standards, without him who knows if that would be the case, the first amendment providing protection now that unfortunately for Lenny, took some time to sink in. The swearing was never the point.

1) Midnight Cowboy: Ratso Rizzo

Joe Buck (Jon Voight) moves to New York City from Texas, planning to make a living as a stud. Joe is very naive however, and quickly becomes desperate. He ends up befriending Ratso Rizzo, a sleazy grifter with some serious health problems. Rizzo starts "managing" Buck, for a percentage of profits. We see that Buck is much more damaged than he appears, repressing abusive memories. We see Ratso and Buck get very close, partners in the truest sense of the word, but things take another downturn when Ratso's health starts getting worse, and Joe resorts to violent means to make some money quickly, hoping to get them both to Florida, thinking this will give Ratso a chance. Midnight Cowboy is a powerful and unflinching movie, showing to friends at the the bottom of a hopeless situation in a tough and unmerciful city struggling to find their way out of it.