Say Anything…but another romantic comedy

We’ve all seen it…the iconic image of a young John Cusack holding a boombox above his head. This image has burned in the collective consciousness of anyone over 17. So annoyed by this image in my head I decided to finally watch the film from it sprung – Say Anything.

Say Anything poster

John Cusack plays the completely directionless Lloyd Dobler who at 19, has returned to America after spending the last couple semesters over seas. He kickboxes and has a fetish for trench coats. He lives with his sister (played by his real sister Joan Cusack) and his nephew. His home life contrasts sharply with his love interest Diane Court, played by Ione Skye, whose Father and her future is her world. Diane is an over-acheiver who has everything going for her – she’s the class valedictorian, a dedicated worker at her Father’s senior home, and to top it all off is drop-dead gorgeous. Her parents are divorced (Apparently she had to choose between the two of them in court at 13. No wonder she’s so responsible.), and her Father offers her the love and stability that her Mother could not. Besides that Diane is so wrapped up in her future, pleasing her Father, she has in many ways neglected simply being a teenager.

Mahoney in the middle.

Diane’s father played by John Mahoney (also seen in the 1987 film Moonstruck) is everything a parent should be – sensitive, supportive, and proud. However as the film progresses we see his fragile facade crumble, as it is revealed he is not so righteous a man. The IRS pursues Diane’s father on suspicion that he has embezzled money out of the senior’s at his home.

Ione Skye and John Cusack

Through a stalkerish phone call, mildly charming rambling, and a few chivalrous gestures, Lloyd manages to snag a date with Diane at a graduation party. Despite his over-protectiveness Diane’s father, James allows her to go out on a date with determined Lloyd. They attend their graduation party together where Lloyd serves as the “key-master” looking out for young drunkards, most notably a young Jeremy Piven, who repeatedly tackles Lloyd out of sheer joy.

Hey it's that guy from Entourage!

Through the party we also come to understand the source of Corey Flood’s pain, and why she bitterly trashes her ex-boyfriend Joe, who took her virginity then left her for another girl. She wines about him throughout the entire film. This entire pointless vignette did nothing to serve the direction of the film, and was forgotten as soon as it over. They film honestly could have done without 2/3 of Lloyd’s friends too…Corey’s pointless subplot was enough to make me reconsider watching Say Anything altogether.

Corey needs to build a bridge and GET OVER IT.

From here the movie progresses with astounding predictability. Montages of Diane and Lloyd necking underneath trees ensue, bringing us to the moment that they consummate their two-month-long relationship in a car by the beach. Diane has such a close relationship with her father that she actually tells him the truth of her whereabouts the night before. I found the most interesting aspect of this movie not to be Lloyd and Diane’s predictable boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl-back-plot, but John Mahoney’s crumbling from a respected member of his community and proud father. To the grey-haired, cigarette-smoking, embittered man we meet at the end of movie. HE ALMOST CRIES IN A BATHTUB FOR PETE’S SAKE. He gave the most emotionally-solid performance in an otherwise flimsy film, with a few endearing moments. (Although I will say I enjoyed the film’s iconic boombox scene in which John plays the song that he and Diane first made love to…Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes”.)

JOHN MAHONEY IN A BATH TUB!

All-in-all, if you’re up for big hair, some memorable lines rambled by John Cusack, this scene in particular, and buckets of teen angst, I encourage you to tune in to Say Anything. If you’re not in the mood for adult-decisions made by inexperienced teens, then opt for the more-adult Moonstruck.

So young...so dumb.

“It’s dangerous for a woman like you to play it safe.”

Moonlight. Family. Love.

Moonstruck

There is something enchanting about Moonstruck. It is not found in high production values, or crazy special-effects. Slapstick-y jokes. But there is a substance in the script, and a poetry in the language and themes of this film. A chemistry and intimacy found in the cast, that makes you draw nearer to the screen. Moonstruck manages to capture the animal-craze found in new love and slap it on screen, while bringing attention to themes of loyalty, true love in the face of obligation, and the ways in which we block ourselves from the things we desire most.

“The moon brings the woman to the man.”

A big, fat, moon and Loretta (transcendentally played by Cher) are some of the first images to grace the screen. Loretta at age 37 shares a passionless relationship with her boyfriend Johnny. We see her staring off in the distance with a rose resting on her graceful neck. There is no doubt that behind her vacant stare she yearns for more than the life fate has given her. Since the death of her first husband via bus (which she discusses quite honestly), Loretta has concluded that her “lack of tradition” was the missing link. So with the hapless Johnny she has concluded the only way to avoid disaster is for them to abide by tradition as much as possible. Johnny proposes, to which Loretta says yes. She likes him and that’s enough for her. They agree to be married. However, fate has a different plan.

Johnny (Loretta's fiance)

Johnny must leave for three days to attend to his dying Mother in Italy. Johnny has a tendency toward losing what’s dear to him; everything from his luggage, to Loretta who falls in love with his estranged brother Ronny – played by the then up-and-coming Nicholas Cage. Bristling with anger and heartbreak, Ronny lashes out at everyone and mourns the loss of his fiance and his hand.

No one stands up to his anger or bothers to point out how misplaced it is – Ronny blames Johnny for the loss of his hand – but Loretta. Perhaps in Ronny, Loretta has finally met her match. For every blunt word she tosses at him Johnny returns with an equally adept observation of Loretta’s character.

Loretta and Ronny bond over steak.

Loretta: “That woman didn’t leave you, ok? You can’t see what you are and I see everything. You’re a wolf. […] That woman was a trap for you, she caught you and you couldn’t get away so you chewed off your own foot. […] And now you’re afraid because you know the big part of you is a wolf that has the courage to bite off your own foot.”

Johnny: “He made me look the wrong way and I cut off my hand. He could make you look the wrong way and you could lose your head. […] A bride without a head.”

Loretta: “A wolf without a foot.”

Passion

Ronny: “SON OF A BITCH…I can’t believe this is happening.”

Loretta: “Where are you taking me?!”

Ronny: “To the bed.”

They make love. Sensuous, passionate love…who knew Nicholas Cage was once more than a joke? Dare I say, vaguely attractive? (Watch the infamous scene here.)

Nicholas Cage was attractive once?

“I was dead”, confesses Ronny to Loretta in the throes of passion. Moonstruck is ripe with dialogue with the ability to make one swoon or giggle, and actors who deliver without a wink to the audience. What appealed to me about Moonstruck was each actor’s ability to give a solid, character-centered performance while remaining firmly rooted in the ensemble. Never once did someone’s performance overpower the rest of the cast. Each actor from Olympia Dukakis, whose performance as the Matriarch of the Castorini family won her an Academy Award, to Cher who also carried home an Academy, to the subtle characterization of her adulterating father Cosmo Castorini played by Vincent Gardenia stands solidly on it’s own and cohesively as a whole. This was an ensemble film done right.

Olympia Dukakis and Cher

Vincent Gardenia and Cher

Moonstruck cast

Rather than focusing on young, stupid people in love. Moonstruck alternatively focuses on older people…who in some ways are just as “stupid” in their love, but have the several decades of life experience on their side. This life experience allows them to explore the more philosophical side of love, allowing us not only to ruminate on why we desire love, but why we chase it, abandon it, and remain by the people we believe capable of giving us it. Or even why we commit to those people long after the passionate love we once had is gone.

Anyone who is a fan of love, idiosyncratic dialogue, Cher, Italian families and culture in general, and the opera La Boheme should surely tune-in for this gem of a film.

School Daze

School Daze debuted in the year 1988, to an audience already acquainted with Spike Lee’s theatrical, bullhorn-to-the-ear, way of relaying messages to an audience. The film takes place on a Historically Black College campus, in the late 80’s, in the midst of Africa’s  apartheid. This film is significant it presents young black people at an interesting revival of black pride, and the ways that pride manifested itself and affected the various social groups of the fictional “Mission College”.

School Daze Poster

Like every college film there are social groups, and of course a hierarchy of those groups. Greek life reigns supreme on campus, as pledging minions carry out the (at times evil) wishes of their superiors. The leader of Gamma Phi Gamma – Julian (played by Giancarlo Espositio – a staple of Lee’s films), galivants on campus, displaying his “superior status” at every turn. The Greeks are constantly at odds with the politically inclined students, led by a young Lawrence Fishburne (another staple) who plays Dap. These two represent the constant conflict within the Black-American community at large of hair texture and skin-complexion.

Lee’s choice to use a college campus (especially as in the late 80’s/early 90’s black college campuses were gaining popularity with shows such as “A Different World” that reignited an interest in a HBCU education) as a microcosm for the Black community at large was a brilliant choice as black sororities have historically used “The Paper Bag test” as a qualification for membership. (For those unaware the Paper Bag test is a test of skin complexion – if you were as light or lighter than a paper bag, in addition to meeting the requirements of a sorority/fraternities, then you gained entry.)

This conflict is displayed in the huge musical number where the “Wannabes” and the “Jiggaboos” duke it out through jazzy melodies and fantastic choreography. The Wannabe’s representing the lighter, curlier-haired sisters, and the Jiggaboos representing the darker, kink-inclined women on campus. The conflict being played out in the song “Straight and Nappy” represents the eternal conflict African-Americans face with staying true to their roots and rejecting White ideals of beauty that the majority of us cannot reach, or conforming (and in that way losing a part of ourselves) to that standard to be successful in White world, but at the cost of losing ourselves. Here Spike’s Broadway influence is made apparent. Interestingly, I found upon further research the Spike Lee heightened tension between the actors by putting the Wannabe’s and Gamma Phi Gamma into hotels with better conditions than the actors playing the Jiggaboo’s and the activists. His strategy was so effective that the fight that breaks out during the step show was not planned, or acted at all. What we see on-camera are the real tensions between the actors bursting at the seams and exploding. Spike’s treatment of the lighter-skinned, curly-haired actors is interesting in that it parallels how life truly treats those on the lighter-spectrum of the skin color scale. The privileges afforded to them and the simultaneous scorn they received from the darker-complected blacks during filming are an unfortunate and realistic product of light-skinned privilege.

Another disturbing facet of Greek life is the male dominance, and sexual abuse that happens within this band of brothers. Statistically, women in college are more at risk for being raped and/or sexually assaulted at this point in their life than ever before. This becomes apparent when Julian makes his girlfriend Jane Toussaint have sex with Spike Lee’s character “Half-Pint” who must lose his virginity in order to attain “real manhood” and become a member of Gamma Phi Gamma. This sequence in which Jane has sex with Half-Pint then emerges tearfully afterward, while Half-Pint is cheered on by his friends, is a prime example of the masculine ego-stroking that goes on, and the manhood that constantly must be proven, not to women, but to other men within fraternities. It is ironic that the same privilege that Jane is afforded because of her light skin (and the perceived beauty that accompanies her complexion  that puts her on the top of the social hierarchy she is placed on, is also what qualifies her as top-pick for being sexually objectified and raped. In instances of colorism such as this, I think Spike Lee shows that no one really wins. Not until we embrace all the textures of hair, and the variations of pigment in the African-American diaspora, will we reach unity, and move beyond the original “massah’s” original divide and conquer tactics.

Sadly these same conflicts of hair texture and color, are still relevant today. Though particularly dated in it’s fashion and musical styles, School Daze holds up as a testament to the progress we’ve yet to make, and the many things African American society has achieved since the year 1988…and also how little some things have changed. On a positive note the sense of community, and black pride have seen an upswing in recent years.

All in all, Lee’s brave script, symbolism, and ambitious musical numbers create an entertaining 121 minutes.

When Harry Met Sally

Image

The charm of “When Harry Met Sally” is not in the obviousness of their relationship –  we know the fate of these two from the time we read their names in the title – but more in the journey that Harry and Sally make to becoming a couple, or at least giving their “non-relationship” a name.  This prolonged journey follows the title characters through years of acquaintance-ship, fashion, hairstyles, and relationships, and allows us as the audience to acclimate ourselves to the idiosyncrasies of their personalities.  These factors and the thoughtful detail written into the characters Harry and Sally (thanks, Nora Ephron), along with fantastic performances, have created the classic that has passed the test of time.

Harry’s character is beloved because he simply is not immediately that lovable.  Our introduction to Harry shows him making out with his girlfriend, who is obviously far more into him than he is to her. Does this make him a bad person? No, however it does make him an irritating one.  When he first jumps into Sally’s car, he begins eating and spitting the seeds of gargantuan grapes onto Sally’s window. He is abrasive and arrogant. Claiming he has a huge “dark side” and bragging about how he broods about death, Harry basically holds this superiority over Sally’s head. His character is allowed room to grow over the years, though he still retains many of his “bad habits” – namely diving into relationships and sleeping with women without hesitation, while still not over his ex-wife Helen. He is also incredibly honest and observant, delivering the majority of the film’s classic musings on relationships. In some ways you could say Harry is our stereotype/archetype for the every man in a relationship. He is sexually unrestrained, operates with little emotion, and is, as Sally describes him, “an affront to all women”. Simultaneously, Harry is anything but a stereotype in that he is sensitive and intuitive toward Sally and her needs. He is emotional and owns that emotion, rather than stuffing it down like Sally, who by contrast denies her feelings to everyone including herself.
Sally is not free from fault here – she is painted as uptight, impatient, controlling, and in Harry’s words “high maintenance”. Not only is she stand-offish toward Harry’s persistent attempts to get to know her, but she is stand-offish in general toward love. Though she has a brief monologue where she describes wanting a family, all of her actions work against that notion. We can also think of Sally as the archetype for the every woman – she is family-oriented and by contrast to Harry is far more sexually conservative. This character trait is contradicted however in the famous faked orgasm scene, where she proves to Harry that women are capable of faking orgasms, while also mildly squashing his male ego.  Sally also breaks with her stereotype by being far more removed from her emotions than Harry.  It takes until the second to last scene of the movie at the New Year’s party, a span of over twelve years for Sally to admit to Harry that she loves him, and even then she whispers this inaudibly as they embrace.
Harry and Sally are interesting in that they are nearly perfect opposites, but are also the same in that they continually block themselves from the relationship and lives they desire. They go as far as setting each other up on dates with their best friends Marie and Jess, who end up marrying each other. Both Harry and Sally are emotionally detached, and fear a real commitment because of the risk of losing that investment. Harry fears repeating his mistakes with his ex-wife Helen and once again having his heart broken, while Sally wants a marriage and family, but fears the rejection she received from Joe whom she presumably wanted to marry.
I believe we all know a Harry and a Sally – those two great “friends” who maybe hooked up once, or perhaps hug a few seconds longer than any platonic relationship permits. They tap-dance around their emotions, date other people, and fulfill the major duties of most significant others, but they never quite “hook it up”. Harry and Sally is the story of the friends that manage to “hook it up”.  Yes, the friend-zone is possible to escape, and according to “When Harry Met Sally, we can escape it in a mere twelve years!

Raising Arizona

The Coen Brothers always pack a punch. Though some would critique Raising Arizona as lacking in depth, it has plenty to offer in the areas of cartoon-violence, exaggerated characterization, quirky dialogue, and tricky camera work.

H.I. McDunnough and Ed(wina) played respectively by a young Nicholas Cage and Holly Hunter, are an unlikely pair who meet in prison. H.I. being the convict and Ed being the police officer. Smitten with Edwina from the moment she takes his first mugshot, H.I. continues to hold up gas stations, maybe in an attempt to satisfy some wreckless ambition, maybe because getting in trouble is the thing H.I. feels he does best, but most likely because its the only opportunity he gets to see Ed. H.I. proposes to Ed on his third incarceration, and upon entering the hole finds he actually has something to look forward to. H.I. and Ed soon marry.

Fast forward to the first year of their relationship, and H.I. and Ed  desperately try to conceive for months only to find Ed is barren. The news is broken in a pastel green Doctor’s office, who breaks the news while Ed wails. All goes silent for H.I. except for the sound of wind scraping a dusty, sad, desert. The effect is comedic, while still effective in that it lets us know that there is something beyond H.I.’s seemingly vacant stare. They try adoption, but due to H.I.’s convict past, can’t even get past the application process. When they return home they see news on television of Nathan Arizona’s quintuplets. Nathan Arizona is the owner of a huge Unpainted Wood store. Not only has Nathan been blessed in the area of material goods – which he values highly – but he has been blessed in progeny. With the logic that Arizona and his wife received five beautiful boys and couldn’t possibly handle all five themselves, H.I. and Ed hatch up the brilliant plot to one of their babies and raise him as their own.

Though Ed and H.I. appear disgruntled enough to fit the archetype of someone who would steal a child, they are written endearingly. H.I.’s internal conflict between wanting more than a life of crime and prison for himself and becoming a family man is apparent. As an audience we can sense his growing sense of overwhelming claustrophobia. Maybe the majority of us desire more for ourselves than a life of chasing behind children, and working a nine-to-five. We begin to understand H.I.’s overpowering urge to escape from the time his boss Glenn enters H.I.’s trailer with his five terrible children in tow; vandalizing and abusing everything in sight. The irony of this script is that, although the most economically dispossessed couple of the entire film, the least knowledgeable, and the most likely to be seen as “unsuited” for parenthood, H.I. and Ed are the most qualified, loving, and doting parental units of the entire film. They love the baby they steal with the passion of parents who have been denied a child of their own, and show the baby the most care and protection, perhaps even more than Nathan Arizona himself, who seems to care more about his material possessions than anything else.

WARNING: SPOILER:

What I found most interesting in the movie, was that by H.I.’s defeat of the “Lone Rider of the Apocolypse” who bears the same Woody the Woodpecker tattoo, H.I. squashes his instinct of rebellion and destruction. Irresponsibility and crime seem to no longer compute after he conquers the Lone Rider – a personification of H.I.’s yearning beyond the the prison of everyday life. After conquering the Lone Rider, H.I. conquers a peice of himself, and matures. As he dreams that night with Ed by his side, he no longer sees visions of a violent outlaw, with a taste for blood, but sees a future for he and Edwina where not only are they parents, but grandparents. A nuclear-family and it’s subsequent generations flood the doors of H.I. and Ed’s tiny trailer. In H.I.’s dream “All parents are strong, wise and capable.” And all children are “happy and beloved”. In this way I believe H.I. will be a good father someday. He must first however, stop stealing babies.

SPOILERS OVER.

H.I.’s environment is one of paradoxes and corners. There is no in-between for a man who can choose between the imprisonment of a dead-end job, and an actual prison. H.I. feels regardless of what he does he is doomed to fail. Will H.I. return his stolen son to Nathan Arizona, return to a life of crime, or give-in to America’s idea of a nuclear family?

An interesting point of The Coen Brother’s film is also that the camera work employed throughout. Frequently the film’s camera takes on a seperate entity unto itself, immersing the audience in whatever P.O.V. the Coen Brothers feel is necessary to understand the scene. At times in the movie we are in the position of an newborn crawling on the ground and conspiring against H.I., while in others we see the film’s “Lone Rider of the Apocalypse  from the P.O.V. of an innocent lizard…that is soon to be blown up.

Slap-stick violence, quirky dialogue, masterful camerawork, and cartoon-esque characters make Raising Arizona hilarious, charming ride.