Embracing the Melodrama Part II #85: Ghost (dir by Jerry Zucker)


Ghost_(1990_movie_poster)Along with it being a part of my series of melodramatic film reviews, there are actually two reasons why I recently watched Ghost.

First off, this 1990 film was nominated for best picture and it’s long been my goal to watch and review every single film ever nominated for best picture.

Secondly, my Aunt Kate absolutely loves this movie.  Ever since she first found out that I obsessively love movies, she has recommended that I watch this movie.  And she hasn’t been alone.  A lot of people both in and outside of my family have recommended this film to me.  And, since I tend to be a bit of a contrarian know-it-all, I originally assumed that any film loved by that many people had to be terrible.  However, because I love mi tia, I decided to watch Ghost.

I have to admit that I started to laugh when I saw Demi Moore sitting at her pottery wheel because I’ve seen that scene parodied in so many different TV shows and movies.  As soon as a shirtless Patrick Swayze sat down behind her and joined his hands to hers to help shape a ceramic phallic symbol, I started to giggle.  As Unchained Melody played in the background, I wanted to be snarky.  But then I realized something.  If you can manage watch the scene without comparing it to all the parody versions, it actually works.  Patrick Swayze looked good and he and Demi Moore had the type of amazing chemistry that more than made up for the fact that neither one of them was a very good actor.  (That said, Patrick was very good at projecting decency and Demi was very good at crying and that’s really all that Ghost required.)  And, if the scene has proven easy to parody, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a very sincere scene.  It’s so sincere that it’s even willing to risk coming across as being silly.

Of course, the entire film isn’t just Demi, Patrick, and a pottery wheel.  There’s also Whoopi Goldberg as a fake medium-turned-real-medium and Tony Goldwyn as the best friend who turns out to be a sleazy villain.  And, of course, there’s the cartoonish demons who pop up every once in a while so that they can literally drag the recently deceased down to Hell.

Sam Wheat (Patrick Swayze) is the world’s most unlikely New York City-based banker.  He owns a beautiful apartment with his girlfriend Molly (Demi Moore) but he has commitment issues.  He can’t bring himself to say that he loves Molly.  Instead, he just says, “Ditto.”  And, from the minute he first utters those words, you know that his habit of saying “Ditto,” is going to be an important plot point.  Anton Chekhov told us that any gun introduced during the first chapter must be fired by the third chapter.  Ghost tells us that any “Ditto” uttered during the first 10 minutes must be repeated by the end of the first hour.

Sam’s best friend and co-worker is Carl (Tony Goldwyn).  At the start of the film, Sam and Carl have a sweet bromance going and some of the best scenes are just the two of them acting like guys.  (There’s a fun little scene where they freak out a group of strangers on an elevator.)  Goldwyn is so likable as Carl that it’s actually genuinely upsetting to discover that he’s arranged for Sam to be murdered.  (Why?  It all involved a lot of financial stuff that basically went right over my head.  Greed is not only the root of all evil but it leads to narrative confusion as well.)  When Sam dies, he comes back as a ghost but nobody can see him but his fellow ghosts.  Vincent Schiavelli has a great cameo as a very angry subway ghost who teaches Sam how “life” works when you’re dead.

(Of course, Schiavelli isn’t on screen for too long because he’s almost too angry for the world of Ghost.)

Eventually Sam discovers that only one living person can communicate with him.  Oda Mae Brown (Whoopi Goldberg) is a fake medium who is just as shocked as anyone to discover that she can speak with the dead.  Whoopi won an Oscar for her performance here and she’s certainly does bring some needed humor and life to Ghost.  With Swayze, Moore, and Goldwyn all giving extremely and sometimes overly dramatic performances, you’re happy to have Whoopi there.

Ghost is designed to appeal to your emotions and it succeeds in doing just that.  If you look at the film logically, you’re missing the point.  In many ways, the film is undeniably silly but I still got some tears in my eyes when I heard that “Ditto.”

 

The Winners At Cannes And What It Means For This Year’s Oscar Race


poster_tn_sicario

Well, that shows you how much I know.

The 68th Annual Cannes Film Festival came to a close earlier today.  If you’ve been following news from the festival over the past two weeks then you’ve heard that Gus Van Sant’s Sea of Trees is no longer considered to be an Oscar contender.  (That’s putting it gently.)  You’ve heard a lot of acclaim given to Todd Haynes’s Carol.  You have also seen Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario and the Hungarian film Son of Saul emerge as a potential Oscar contenders.  Michael Caine’s performance in Youth was acclaimed, as was the work of Tim Roth in Chronic and Marion Cotillard in MacBeth.

One film that you probably did not hear about was Jacques Audiard’s Dheepan.  As far as coverage of Cannes over here in the states is concerned, Dheepan was ignored.  And yet — once again proving that nobody can predict Cannes — Dheepan is the film that ended up winning the Palme d’Or.  The acting prizes also went to actors who have been under the radar, with the possible exception of Rooney Mara.

(Some day, I will be able to forgive Rooney Mara for playing Lisbeth Salander is David Fincher’s insulting interpretation of Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  But not today…)

As far as what the past two weeks have meant for the upcoming Oscar race: Well, I think it’s safe to say that we can forget about Sea of Trees.  As for my insistence that Sea of Trees would be nominated … well, we’ll all have a good laugh about it someday.  Carol appears to have emerged as an early front-runner and I think that Sicario could come on strong as well, especially if one of the nominal front runners — like Bridge of Spies, for instance — doesn’t live up to expectations.  It wouldn’t surprise me to see Caine and Cotillard nominated as well.  Everyone loves Michael Caine and, as he gets older, we are more and more aware that a day is going to come that he won’t be around to appear in any more movies.  As for Cotillard, she is everything that Meryl Streep is supposed to be and more.

Anyway, here are the winners!

68th Cannes Film Festival top awards:

Palme D’Or: Dheepan

Grand Prix: Son of Saul

Jury Prize: The Lobster

Best Director: Hou Hsiao-hsien for The Assassin

Best Actor: Vincent Lindon for The Measure of a Man

Best Actress: Rooney Mara for Carol and Emmanuelle Bercot for My King

Best Screenplay: Michel Franco (Chronic)

Camera d’Or (Best first feature): La Tierra Y la Sombra

Emily Blunt in Sicario

Emily Blunt in Sicario (No, actually, that is Emily Blunt in Looper.  My mistake…)

Neon Dream #9: Air – Alone in Kyoto


Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation left a strange impression on me. In a way I can only really compare to Casablanca, it burrowed into my memory like an actual personal experience. I don’t review movies, and I am ill equipped to explain what made it such a special film for me, but the bond that Bob Harris (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) forge over a few days in Tokyo is something I’ll always carry with me and look back on fondly. That’s pretty weird, but I’m not complaining.

Music was essential to Lost in Translation, embedded into scenes as a part of what Bob and Charlotte actually experience. The hotel lounge has a live jazz band. “The State We’re In” by The Chemical Brothers plays in the club they visit. Phoenix’s “Too Young” pumps over the stereo when they go to a friend’s apartment. A woman dances to Peaches’ “Fuck the Pain Away” at the strip club. The actors aren’t just seen singing karaoke; they perform it at length. Coppola was pretty clever about extending this integration to the more traditionally situated background music. Happy End’s “Kaze wo Atsumete” enhances the feeling that Bob and Charlotte are winding down from an exhausting night, but it drifts faintly into the hallway, as if playing from the karaoke room. Charlotte is wearing headphones when we first hear Air’s “Alone in Kyoto”. The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Just Like Honey” kicks off as Bob enters his cab. The encore of “Kaze wo Atsumete” in the credits could easily be playing in Bob’s head. Almost every song in the movie functions within the environment, not just as a peripheral enhancement.

Garden State tried something like this a year later, though I don’t recall the extent of it beyond the awkward Shins sequence. The effect was a sort of garish, in-your-face endorsement of director Zach Braff’s favorite tunes. It didn’t really cut it for me, in spite of the soundtrack’s impressive cast. In Lost in Translation, Coppola was a lot more attentive to creating continuity between songs and bringing musicians on board with the film’s atmosphere. She didn’t stop at using “Sometimes” by My Bloody Valentine; she dug founder Kevin Shields out of relative obscurity to compose four original pieces. A lot of the other artists formed a pre-existing community of sorts, suited to engage the project as art rather than a quick paycheck. Soundtrack supervisor Brian Reitzell performed drums for Air on their 2001 album 10 000 Hz Legend. Both Air and Roger Joseph Manning Jr, a fellow studio musician on that album, contribute original music to Lost in Translation. Phoenix previously performed with Air, and Sofia Coppola ultimately married their singer. While their contribution was recycled (“Too Young” appears in the context of young adults who would have been familiar with obscure but up and coming artists; using Phoenix’s first single made sense), the band was still involved in Coppola’s social sphere of musicians.

“Alone in Kyoto” plays as Charlotte travels through the classic side of Japan, visiting shrines and observing ancient customs. While that could possibly put it at odds with my theme, Air’s approach keeps the feeling modern, casting tradition as a subtle, delicate element of the present rather than as a form of escapism. It also occurs in a sequence without character interaction, permitting a pure sense of exploration. Within Lost in Translation‘s soundtrack, “Alone in Kyoto” reaches closest to that Japanese dream that still permeated a lot of American subcultures in 2003. The movie itself brought many of us the closest we would ever come to actually living that dream.