Minor Characters

You know how sometimes in a play or movie there are these characters with minor roles that greatly enhance the show?

On a recent business trip to NY I encountered three people who struck me in an odd way.  I was overcome with this sense that in the movie of my life, or more appropriately the movie that is my life, in a two-day period I happened upon three people who would have made the final credits though towards the bottom of the list.  More than  extras but less than leading or supporting roles.  They all had small speaking parts in scenes that helped the audience, if there had been one, understand me as a person and added more than mere plot.  Let me present them in order of appearance.

The first is “Elevator Man”. As the scene opens I am in my hotel room dressing for dinner with clients at a nice restaurants. Though I am a blue jeans and T Shirt kind of guy I need to be in a suit for this event.  As I wait for the elevator i lament that I need to be dressed in more than business casual attire.  As the elevator door opens I smile and shake my head. The only other passenger is a guy in his 50s (I am guessing) medium height, thinning dark hair, with the air of an executive but the clothes a casual m. He was in a V neck sweatshirt with a deep V and no shirt underneath, a running jacket and blue jeans  (OK the jeans were designer and probably cost more than several pairs of my Levis). I had to say something. “That is how I wish I was dressed.” He glanced over at me and said, “I was dressed like you all day. You must still be on the job. ”  “Yeah. Business dinner.” As the elevator reached the lobby we exchanged, have a good nights and he headed to the door. I met my client in the lobby. The screen goes dark.

Next meet, Young Italian Lawyer.   In order to get into the place we wanted to have dinner that night we needed clout. Clout came in the form of the law firm that hosted my client’s meeting those two days. Three of us walked out of our hotel and headed to the law offices in order to meet Joseph, the young lawyer who was low enough on the totem pole that he got assigned to walk the clients to the restaurant , flash the firm’s special membership card and then leave. We joked that this would be the easiest chargeable hour he had in a long time.

To our pleasant surprise “Joe”, not Joseph, was personable and interesting. He shared stories of how his firm was representing NBA players in the lockout and that in his prior job he had assisted in negotiating the contract of some famous NY Jets player. He was tall, slender, good-looking and dressed like a fashionable young lawyer. He was not the least bit down at having this menial late night task. We had a modestly long walk together and he both entertained and listened.  We offered to at least share a drink if not dinner but he politely excused himself.  His job was done and he would not intrude.  The restaurant was fun, the food good and the wine excellent. Yet Joe was the hit of the night.

On the plane ride home the odds rolled in my favor. Not only did i get on an earlier flight but so did my client and by the longest of odds we found ourselves seated next to each other on the plane. At this point I need to mention that she is one of my favorite clients. Both good at what she does and fun to be with. We were in the window and center seats which left the aisle seat to be filled. Let me introduce Aisle Guy.

This client and I regularly joke back and forth. Aisle guy jumped right in as if we had known him for years. If this had been a serious private conversation that might have been annoying and a bit rude. I suspect Aisle Guy only took the initiative because the conversation was light and barbs were being tossed right and left.  By the end of the flight we knew that he was in sales, the company he worked for, what part of NY he lived in and lots about his twin girls. Pictures were shared.

Over the years i have interacted with hundreds if not thousands of these minor characters. I am not sure why these three brought this theme to my mind. All I can say is that they made the movie better.

Advertisements

Toy Story 3

If I had a vote with the Academy I would nominate this for Best Picture. Not Best Animated, Best Picture.

So many movies today are bout the technology (e.g. 3D and/or computer enhanced action scenes) or about stars. Most of these movies forget the basics of a great  script, interesting characters you care about, and the right combination of storytelling combined with acting and cinematography.

Toy Story 3 has all the good and none of the bad movie stuff. By bad stuff I mean wacky or stupid characters put in for an attempt at a few laughs unconnected to the main story, at best one or two good lines, a few weak themes repeated throughout the movie, characters that bore you to tears and a plot that is totally unbelievable and not in a Sci-Fi.

I just watched a story about the secret life of toys and the plot was soooo much more believable than that of “Management” with Jennifer Aniston that we rented last night! This was a movie with a “star” but had all of the bad movie stuff referred to above.

Toy Story makes you laugh; provides action, suspense and excitement;, has multidimensional characters; pulls at your heartstrings; demonstrates values and just plain makes you feel good. The characters (toys remember) face problems with courage and cleverness, good triumphed over evil and all was right with world at the end. This was a great movie that was modestly enhanced by 3D, not a movie that succeeds because of the technology.

Unlike other late entries in movie  series,  TS3  improved upon while paying homage to the first two. The characters added new facets (you MUST see Spanish mode Buzz Lightyear). It provided a clean ending to the series without shouting to the world that there would be no more unlike another animated series.

It was such a sharp contrast to Management which we had just watched the night before as well as so many movies that have made in the past several years.

The ultimate tribute to this movie is that my 19-year-old son went with us. It was his second time in less than a week.

Toy Story 3, you got a friend in me.

Pirate Radio

Fun, funny, quirky and a soundtrack of some of the best songs of mid-1960s rock and roll.

A big smile just when I needed some upbeat entertainment.

Go see it NOW!

pirate-radio-poster

Groundhog Day: A Classic

Not the holiday, the movie!  To quote a line from the movie, the actual Groundhog Day is “A thousand people, freezing their butts off waiting to worship a rat.”

The 1993 movie on the other hand is a masterpiece of romance, comedy and philosophy with the emphasis on philosophy.

I have no idea how to organize a description of this classic movie so I am going into stream of consciousness mode. (This technique was first employed by Édouard Dujardin (1861-1949) in his novel Les Lauriers sont coupés(1888) and was subsequently used by such notable writers as James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and William Faulkner.  So stream of consciousness is a valid literary technique. I am sure most regular readers are trying to figure out when I use any other technique. But I digress.)

To me, Bill Murray is Cary Grant without the devastatingly good looks. Both have brought broad and dry comedy as well as dramatic acting to their work.  Murray has the relative disadvantage as a leading man in that he does not look like Cary Grant. Therefore he needs to work harder to make it believable when he  wins over the beautiful woman as he does with Andie MacDowell’s character.  He has to transform that man-child cuteness into a beautiful soul. Harold Ramis, the c0-writer-director, provides the dramatic technique of repeating  the same day over until the transformation occurs.

Is there humor? Mais oui. It is a Bill Murray vehicle. The humor though is generally dry and does not overwhelm the movie. This is not a joke-off. For me this is the type of humor Murray does better than almost anyone. It manifests from his vocal tone and  facial expressions.

But it is the philosophy combined with the humor that makes me love this movie. How would you react if you were doomed to repeat the same day over and over and over again never knowing if there is an end? What would you do if you had one day to do anything you wanted to do? Would you use the time to become a better you?

Ramis and Murray take us on a magic ride of emotions. First, disbelief. Next annoyance. Then the  first major breakthrough. Phil, Murray’s character, realizes the sense of freedom that comes with knowing there are no consequences to what you do today. This leads to wild risk taking. However after several days even the thrill of car chases and death defying stunts becomes ordinary.

Phil moves on to excess for the sake of excess. There is a great scene where he has platefuls of food in front of him and he stuffs pastries in his mouth between puffs on a cigarette. Worried about cholesterol? Of course not.

Next comes days of anger, in which a montage of alarm clock destruction occurs. Then comes the second breakthrough. While the rest of the world resets, he remembers what he has learned. Knowing that he can use information learned on the last repeated day to your advantage in the next one first leads to the equivalent of parlor tricks by an amoral man. He picks up an attractive woman, he allows someone to step into a deep puddle he had been stepping in, and then finally tries over days to win over Rita, Andie MacDowell’s character.

Phil sincerely wants Rita but he is still an amoral jerk above all else. Each day uses something he learns about Rita to make it further with her but ultimately his lack of true sincerity means that every day ends with a slap in the face. Slap after slap after slap.

Next comes the suicides. electrocution, jumping off a building, being hit by a truck and the piece de resistance. He steals Punxsutawney Phil, the official groundhog and after a long car chase does a Thelma and Louise off a cliff–and gets a laugh.

The final breakthrough is when Phil finally pays attention to an old beggar man that he had passed every day. After an act of charity, his first, the man dies. For several repeat days Phil tries harder to avoid the death but to no avail. This seems to set him off on a quest of self improvement and helping others that leads to the final Groundhog day. I will not attempt to describe all that happens that day other than to tip my hat to Ramis and Murray. This day needs to be seen. I guarantee many smiles. At the end of the day Phil’s transformation is complete.

Beyond the philosophy and humor, Ramis brings several cinematic structures to the film that demonstrate advanced movie making. There is the quick cut repetition from day to day that strings together days into a single scene. There is the filming of the digital alarm clock as the numbers turn from 5:59 to 6:00 am signalling to Phil and to us the rebeginning of another Groundhog Day.  He also makes each day seem the same and yet just a little different. You begin to feel Phil’s personal hell.

Andie Macdowell is attractive as always and her minimalistic acting style is the perfect counter to Murray. My favorite Andie MacDowell moments are when she begins to smile, pulls it back and then smiles again.  

Clearly in 1993 Bill Murray is somewhere as an actor between Meatballs/Stripes/Caddy Shack and Lost in Translation. This is some of his best work as an actor and comedian.

It is a movie that you can enjoy watching over and over and over again.

4 Stars.

The Swimmer

In 1968 “The Swimmer” was a movie starring Burt Lancaster  as a man who swam to his suburbia home from a party by swimming though all the swimming pools lined up one after the other in people’s backyards. This was all I had know about the movie last week before googling the movie and finding more.

A summary of the movie taken from the NY Times has this to say:

John Cheever’s “misery in suburbia” short stories, brief and to the point, have always proven excellent TV fodder. Director Frank Perry’s The Swimmer, adapted for the screen by Perry’s wife Eleanor, is a rare, and for the most part successful, attempt at offering a Cheever story in feature-length form. Dressed only in swimming trunks throughout the film, Burt Lancaster plays a wealthy, middle-aged advertising man, embarked on a long and revelatory journey through suburban Connecticut. Lancaster slowly makes his way to his split-level home by travelling from house to house, and from swimming pool to swimming pool. At each stop, Lancaster comes face to face with an incident in his past. Informing Kim Hunter that he once harbored a secret love for her, Lancaster is mildly upset by Hunter’s indifference. Elderly Cornelia Otis Skinner is incensed at Lancaster’s intrusion in her backyard and orders him to leave. At the next home, Lancaster tries to seduce the nubile Janet Landgard, who’d once baby-sat for his daughters, but she regards him as a silly old man. And so it goes: as each subsequent suburbanite peels off his self-protective veneer, Lancaster grows more and more disillusioned with what he thought was his ideal lifestyle. 

Excerpts from the the 1968 NY Times movie review written by Vincent Canby adds:

Neddy Merrill, an aging country club Lothario, decides one afternoon to swim home across the county. As he makes his way through one friend’s pool and then another, portaging across lawn, garden and highway, it becomes increasingly apparent that gung-ho Neddy is a failure, a man whose vision of life has always been slightly bent, as if refracted through water. Neddy is swimming through his past to the nameless horror of an unrefracted present….

It’s too bad that—because of factors over which he has no control—Lancaster is not better in the role. He does have the physique of the aging athlete who has kept his form, if not the youthful texture of his skin. However, try as he might; he simply can’t project Neddy Merrill’s vulnerability as a foolish, ridiculous WASP.

Why my fascination with a 40 year old movie I have never seen? Last week in Punta Cana in a very small way I emulated the physical aspect of the movie by swimming from near the lobby of the resort to the beach by swimming through the various pools. My trip had more to do with being able to say I did this than any concerns about the failure of my middle class suburban lifestyle. I would not mind, however, being referred to at least once as an aging Lothario or having the physique of an aging athlete.

I made my way top the furthest corner of the furthest pool and quietly slipped into the water. I began. I am not a swimmer by training but made it through the first pool with minimal stops to catch my breadth. After climbing out and diving into the second pool I was starting to breath heavily and my stops became more frequent. 

As I stood at the edge of the third and last pool I contemplated the gulf between the middle middle class and the upper middle class. This last pool was technically off limits to me because though part of the same resort I was illegally about to enter the Club section. I think the people in this section had a special lounge to go to,  additional amenities of various kinds, and certainly their private pools. (The only amenity I coveted was that they had beds lining the pool for lounging in the sun. These were tres cool.) The other thing about the people in this section is that they hardly moved. They used their expansive pool as a large wading area if they ever got out of their outdoor beds at all.

Anyways, nothing was going to stop me from completing my mission. Well, almost nothing except the resort employee who came over as I was 3/4 of the way through this pool to let me know that I was not welcome. I am guessing that the splashing noise made by my swimming disturbed the sensibilities of the Clubbies and they sent for security to remove the trespasser. The employee was actually quite nice and apologetic. I did not even look around to see the reactions of the suburbanites Clubbies. I was not going to give them the satisfaction. Let’s see them swim the resort end to end. Of course they wouldn’t. Then they would have to mix with the masses.

Enchanting

I bring home take out for D and two friends. I can tell they are about to put on a movie. An action flick? Some sophomoric comedy, perhaps?

No. The Disney movie Enchanted! And this is not the first time.

I asked D why that movie. “Never underestimate the power of a beautiful movie.”

I do not understand 17 year old boys.

 

Iron Man Is Fiction? No Way.Way!

Just came back from the movie Iron Man. Nice way to end a hard work week. I sat through the credits because I had a haunting suspicion that I should.  (I was right but I will get to that later.)

At the end of 5 minutes of credits, long after the best boy and key grip, came the standard disclaimer that the characters are fictional and any relation to actual persons is purely coincidental. No S__t. How often do you see men in metal suits flying through the sky and shooting energy bolts from their hands. Does our society really demand such a disclaimer. What does that say about us?

Much has been written about this movie. Even so I will through in my 2 cents. it actually had a story line. Robert Downey, Jr. was tremendously enjoyable to watch in this role. He handled serious, light comedy and droll playboy with equal aplomb. The action scenes were well done, the pretty girls were pretty. Terrence Howard’s skills were dramatically underutilized but even great actors should have the opportunity to make a ton of money in a big blockbuster now and again. Gwyneth Paltrow was a yawn. Too bad. Shakespeare In Love was on TV recently and I thought she positively glowed in that movie.

Stay for the end of the credits. The set-up for the next movie is there.