Any Given Sunday (1999, directed by Oliver Stone)


With Any Given Sunday, Oliver Stone set out to make the ultimate football movie and he succeeded.

Any Given Sunday is not just the story of aging coach Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino).  It’s also the story of how third-string quarterback Willie Beamon (Jamie Foxx) allows celebrity to go to his head while the injured starter, Cap Rooney (Dennis Quaid), deals with his own mortality and how, at 38, he is now over-the-hill.  It’s also about how the team doctors (represented by James Woods and Matthew Modine) are complicit in pushing the players beyond their limits and how the owners (Cameron Diaz) view those players as a commodity to be traded and toyed with.  It’s about how the Sharks represent their home city of Miami and how cynical columnists (John C. McGinley plays a character that is obviously meant to be Jim Rome) deliberately set out to inflame the anger of the team’s fans.  It’s about how politicians (Clifton Davis plays Miami’s mayor and asks everyone to “give me some love”) use professional sports to further their own corrupt careers while the often immature men who play the game are elevated into role models by the press.  It’s a film that compares football players to ancient gladiators while also showing how the game has become big business.  In typical Oliver Stone fashion, it tries to take on every aspect of football while also saying something about America as well.

In the role on Tony D, Pacino famously describes football as being “a game of inches” but you wouldn’t always know it from the way that Oliver Stone directs Any Given Sunday.  As a director, Stone has never been one to only gain an inch when he could instead grab an entire mile.  (Stone is probably the type of Madden player who attempts to have his quarterback go back and throw a hail mary on every single play.)  Tony tells his players to be methodical but Stone directs in a fashion that is sloppy, self-indulgent, and always entertaining to watch.  One minute, Al Pacino and Jim Brown are talking about how much the game has changed and the next minute, LL Cool J is doing cocaine off of a groupie’s breast while images of turn-of-the-century football players flash on the screen.  No sooner has Jamie Foxx delivered an impassioned speech about the lack of black coaches in the league then he’s suddenly starring in his own music video and singing about how “Steamin’ Willie Beamon” leaves all the ladies “creamin’.”  (It rhymes, that’s the important thing.)  When Tony invites Willie over to his house, scenes of Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur are on TV.  Later in the movie, Heston shows up as the Commissioner and says, about Cameron Diaz, “she would eat her young.”

Any Given Sunday is Oliver Stone at both his best and his worst.  The script is overwritten and overstuffed with every possible sports cliché  but the football scenes are some of the most exciting that have ever been filmed.  Only Oliver Stone could get away with both opening the film with a quote from Vince Lombardi and then having a player literally lose an eye during the big game.  Stone himself appears in the commentator’s both, saying, “I think he may have hurt his eye,” while the doctor’s in the end zone scoop up the the torn out eyeball and put it into a plastic bag.  Only Stone could get away with Jamie Foxx vomiting on the field during every game and then making amazing plays while a combination of rap, heavy metal, and techno roars in the background.  Stone regulars like James Woods and John C. McGinely make valuable appearances and while Woods may be playing a villain, he’s the only person in the film willing to call out the coaches, the players, the owners, and the fans at home as being a bunch of hypocrites.  Stone’s direction is as hyper-kinetic as always but he still has no fear of stopping the action so that Foxx can see sepia-toned images of football’s past staring at him from the stands.  Stone directs like defensive lineman on steroids, barreling his way through every obstacle to take down his target.  No matter what, the game goes on.

Any Given Sunday is the ultimate football movie and more fun than the last ten super bowls combined.

Spring Breakdown #1: Midnight Express (dir by Alan Parker)


Since it’s currently Spring Break, I figured that I would spend the next two weeks reviewing films about people on vacation.  Some of the films will be about good vacations.  Some of the films will be about bad vacations.  But, in the end, they’ll all be about celebrating those moments that make us yearn for the chance to get away from it all.

Take Midnight Express, for instance.  This 1978 film (which was nominated for six Oscars and won two) tells the story of what happens when a carefree college student named Billy Hayes decides to spend his holiday in Turkey.

When the film begins, Billy Hayes (played by Brad Davis), is at an airport in Turkey.  He’s preparing to return home to the United States.  His girlfriend, Susan (Irene Miracle), informs him that Janis Joplin has just died.  When Billy responds by making a joke, Susan accuses him of not taking anything seriously.  What Susan doesn’t realize is that Billy actually has a lot on his mind.  For one thing, he’s got several bricks of hashish taped around his waist.  He purchased it from a cab driver and he’s planning on selling it to his friends back in the United States.  Unfortunately, Billy’s not quite as clever as he thinks he is.  Because of recent terrorist bombings, the Turkish police are searching everyone before they board their plane.  Billy finds himself standing out in the middle of the runway with his hands up in the air, surrounded by gun-wielding Turkish policemen.

Billy finds himself stranded in a country that he doesn’t understand, being interrogated by men whose language he cannot speak.  An enigmatic American (Bo Hopkins) shows up and assures Billy that he’ll be safe, as long as he identifies the taxi driver who sold him to the drugs.  Billy does so but then makes the mistake of trying to flee from the police.  In the end, it’s the American who captures him and, holding a gun to Billy’s head, tells him not to make another move.

Soon, Billy is an inmate at Sağmalcılar Prison.  He’s beaten when he first arrives and it’s only days later that he’s able to walk and think clearly.  He befriends some of the other prisoners, including a heroin addict named Max (John Hurt) and an idiot named Jimmy (Randy Quaid).  Billy watches as the prisoners are tortured by the fearsome head guard (Paul L. Smith) and listens to the screams of inmates being raped behind closed doors.  After being told that his original four-year sentence has been lengthened to a 30-year sentence, Billy starts to degenerate.  When Susan visits, Billy end up pathetically masturbating in front of her.  When another prisoner taunts Billy, Billy bites out the man’s tongue, an act that we see in both close up and slow motion.  If Billy has any hope of regaining his humanity, he has to escape.  He has to catch what Jimmy calls the “midnight express…..”

Midnight Express is a brutal and rather crude film.  Though it may have been directed by a mainstream director (Alan Parker) and written by a future Oscar-winner (Oliver Stone), Midnight Express is a pure grindhouse film at heart.  There’s not a subtle moment to be found in the film.  The camera lingers over every act of sadism while Giorgio Moroder’s synth-based score pulsates in the background.  When Billy grows more and more feral and brutal in his behavior, it’s hard not to be reminded of Lon Chaney, Jr. turning into The Wolf Man.  The film may be incredibly heavy-handed but it’s nightmarishly effective, playing out with the intensity of a fever dream.

As for the cast, Brad Davis wasn’t particularly likable or sympathetic as Billy.  On the one hand, he’s a victim of an unjust system, betrayed by his own country and tortured by another.  On the other hand, Billy was an idiot who apparently thought no one would notice all that hash wrapped around his chest.  That said, Davis’s unlikable screen presence actually worked to the film’s advantage.  If you actually liked Billy, the film would be unbearable to watch.  Before Davis was cast, Dennis Quaid and Mark Hamill were both considered for the role.  If either of those actors has been cast, Midnight Express would be too intense and disturbing to watch.  For instance, it would be depressing to watch Dennis Quaid rip a man’s tongue out of his mouth.  You would be like, “No, Mr. Quaid, you’ll never recover your humanity!”  But when Brad Davis does it, you’re just like, “Eh.  It was bound to happen sometime.”

For more effective are John Hurt and Bo Hopkins.  Hurt and Hopkins both have small roles but they both make a big impression, if just because they’re the only two characters in the film who aren’t either yelling or crying all of the time.  While everyone else is constantly cursing their imprisonment, Hurt is quietly sardonic.  As for Hopkins, we’re supposed to dislike him because he’s with the CIA and he sold out Billy.  But honestly, no one made Billy tape all that hash to his chest.  Finally, you’ve got Randy Quaid and Paul L. Smith, who both glower their way through the film.  Smith is wonderfully evil while Randy Quaid is …. well, he’s Randy Quaid, the loudest American in Turkey.

Midnight Express was such a success at the box office that it caused an international incident.  There’s not a single positive Turkish character to be found in the entire film and it’s impossible not to feel that the film is not only condemning Turkey’s drug policies but that it’s also condemning the entire country as well.  The Turkish prisoners are portrayed as being just as bad as the guards and even Billy’s defense attorney comes across as being greedy and untrustworthy.  Watching the film today can be an awkward experience.  It’s undeniably effective but it’s impossible not to cringe at the way anyone who isn’t from the west is portrayed.  In recent years, everyone from director Alan Parker to screenwriter Oliver Stone to the real-life Billy Hayes has apologized for the way that the Turkish people were portrayed in the film.

Despite the controversy, Midnight Express was a huge box office success and it was nominated for best picture.  It lost to another controversial film about people imprisoned in Asia, The Deer Hunter.

 

Music Video of the Day: Drive by R.E.M. (1992, directed by Peter Care)


“It’s a subtle, political thing. Michael specifically mentions the term ‘bush-whacked’. But if you want to take it like ‘Stand’, that’s cool, too. You like to think that you can appreciate these songs on any level you want to. I have a lot of records I listen to when I’m just doing the dishes. Like Ride records. I really like Ride a lot. And I have no idea what the songs are about. And I really don’t care. I don’t even worry about it. Lyrics are the last thing I listen to, unless someone is hitting me over the head with it.”

— R.E.M.’s Peter Buck on Drive

Drive may have written to encourage young people to get involved in politics and to vote but I have always thought that the video was about the dangers of crowd surfing.  The video was filmed over two nights at Los Angeles’s Sepulveda Dam.  According to Michael Stipe, both Oliver Stone and actor River Phoenix showed up for the filming: “Oliver had been drinking and they got into a fight in my trailer. It was fun to watch. And it kind of fueled the energy that this video, from beginning to end, kind of carries through it.”

This video was one of several videos that Peter Care directed for R.E.M.  Care also directed videos for Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, Depeche Mode, and Fine Young Cannibals.  Care has also directed one feature film, The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys.

Supposedly, Adam Scott is an extra in the video.  I have yet to spot him.

A Scene That I Love: The Opening of Scarface


Produced by Martin Bregman, directed by Brian De Palma, written by Oliver Stone, and starring Al Pacino, the 1983 remake of Scarface is one of the best-known, most iconic gangster films ever made.  It opened to mixed reviews but it’s gone on to be recognized as a classic.  Everyone can quote the script:  “Say hello to my little friend!” “In this country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women.”  “Say goodnight to the bad guy!”

Scarface starts with one of my favorite opening scenes of all time.  Powered by Giorgio Moroder’s score, the opening credits of Scarface play out over footage of the real-life Mariel boatlift.  Combined with footage of Fidel Castro ranting that Cuba does not need the Marielitos, this opening gives real-world credibility to everything that follows.  We then segue from the actual boatlift to Al Pacino as Tony Montana, answering questions with that shit-eating grin on his face.

Listen to the interrogation scene carefully and you’ll hear both Charles Durning and Dennis Franz, dubbing the lines of the actors who played the immigration agents.

Here Are The Satellite Nominations!


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The International Press Academy — a.k.a. the Oscar precursor that nobody cares about — announced their nominees for the best of 2016 earlier today and it was a very good day for a film that I cannot wait to see, La La Land!

Here are the Satellite nominations!

Special Achievement Award Recipients

Mary Pickford Award- Edward James Olmos
Tesla Award- John Toll
Auteur Award- Tom Ford
Humanitarian Award- Patrick Stewart
Best First Feature- Russudan Glurjidze “House of Others”
Best Ensemble: Motion Picture- “Hidden Figures”
Best Ensemble: Television- “Outlander”

Actress in a Motion Picture

Annette Bening, “20th Century Woman”
Emma Stone, “La La Land”
Natalie Portman, “Jackie”
Ruth Negga, “Loving”
Taraji P. Henson, “Hidden Figures”
Meryl Streep, “Florence Foster Jenkins”
Isabelle Huppert, “Elle”
Amy Adams, “Nocturnal Animals”

Actor in a Motion Picture

Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”
Ryan Gosling, “La La Land”
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “Snowden”
Viggo Mortensen, “Captain Fantastic”
Joel Edgerton, “Loving”
Andrew Garfield, “Hacksaw Ridge”
Tom Hanks, “Sully
Denzel Washington, “Fences”

Actress in a Supporting Role

Helen Mirren, “Eye in the Sky”
Michelle Williams, “Manchester by the Sea”
Nicole Kidman, “Lion”
Octavia Spencer, “Hidden Figures”
Naomi Harris, “Moonlight”
Viola Davis, “Fences”
 Actor in a Supporting Role

Jeff Bridges, “Hell or High Water”
Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”
Dev Patel, “Lion”
Lucas Hedges, “Manchester by the Sea”
Eddie Murphy, “Mr. Church”
Hugh Grant, “Florence Foster Jenkins”

Motion Picture

“La La Land”
“Moonlight”
“Manchester by the Sea”
“Lion”
“Jackie”
“Hacksaw Ridge”
“Loving”
“Hell or High Water”
“Nocturnal Animals”
“Captain Fantastic”
“Hidden Figures”
“Fences”

 Motion Picture, International Film

“The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki”- Finland
“Toni Erdmann”- Germany
“Julieta”- Spain
“A Man Called Ove”- Sweden
“The Salesman”- Iran
“The Ardennes”- Belgium
“Ma’ Rosa”- Philippines
“The Handmaiden”- South Korea
“Elle”- France
“Paradise”- Russia

Motion Picture, Animated or Mixed Media 
Title of Film
“Zootopia”
“Kubo and the Two Strings”
“Moana”
Finding Dory”
“My Life As a Zucchini”
“The Jungle Book”
“The Red Turtle”
“Miss Hokusai”
“Trolls”
“Your Name”

Motion Picture, Documentary

“Gleason”
“Life Animated”
“O.J.: Made in America”
“13th”
“The Ivory Game”
“The Eagle Huntress”
“Tower”
“Fire at Sea”
“Zero Days”
“The Beatles: Eight Days a Week”

Director

Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight”
Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea”
Mel Gibson, “Hacksaw Ridge”
Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”
Tom Ford, “Nocturnal Animals”
Pablo Larrain, “Jackie”
Denzel Washington, “Fences”

Screenplay, Original

Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight”
Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”
Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea”
Taylor Sheridan, “Hell or High Water”
Matt Ross, “Captain Fantastic”
Yorgos Lanthimos/Efthymis Filippou, “The Lobster”

Screenplay, Adapted

Andrew Knight/Robert Schenkkan, “Hacksaw Ridge”
Luke Davis, “Lion”
Kieran Fitzgerald/Oliver Stone, “Snowden”
Justin Marks, “The Jungle Book”
Allison Schroeder, “Hidden Figures”
Todd Komarnicki, “Sully”

Original Score

Rupert Gregson Williams, “Hacksaw Ridge”
Justin Hurwitz, “La La Land”
Lesley Barber, “Manchester by the Sea”
John Williams, “The BFG”
John Debney, “The Jungle Book”
Hans Zimmer, “Hidden Figures”

Original Song

“Audition”- ‘La La Land’
“City of Stars”- ‘La La Land’
“Dancing with Your Shadow”- ‘Po’
“Can’t Stop the Feeling”- ‘Trolls’
“I’m Still Here”- ‘Miss Sharon Jones’
“Running”- ‘Hidden Figures’

Cinematography

John Toll, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”
Linus Sandgren, “La La Land
James Laxton, “Moonlight”
Simon Duggan, “Hacksaw Ridge”
Jani-Petteri Passi, “The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki”
Bill Pope, “The Jungle Book”

Visual Effects

“The Jungle Book”
“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”
“Doctor Strange”
“The BFG”
“Sully”
“Deadpool”

Film Editing

Tom Cross, “La La Land
Joi McMillon/Nat Sanders, “Moonlight”
Tim Squyres, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”
Alexandre de Francheschi, “Lion”
John Gilbert, “Hacksaw Ridge”
Steven Rosenblum, “The Birth of a Nation”

Sound (Editing and Mixing)

La La Land
“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”
“Hacksaw Ridge”
“The Jungle Book”
“Allied”
“13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi”

Art Direction and Production Design

David Wasco, “La La Land
Barry Robinson, “Hacksaw Ridge”
Jean Rabasse, “Jackie”
Christophe Glass, “The Jungle Book”
Gary Freeman, “Allied”
Dan Hennah, “Alice Through the Looking Glass”

Costume Design

Colleen Atwood, “Alice Through the Looking Glass”
Eimer Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh, “Love & Friendship”
Courtney Hoffman, “Captain Fantastic”
Madeline Fontaine, “Jackie”
Mary Zophres, “La La Land
Alexandra Byrne, “Doctor Strange”

A Halloween Film Review: Seizure (1974, directed by Oliver Stone)


seizure1Everyone had to start somewhere and, long before he became one of the leading political provocateurs of American cinema, Oliver Stone was just another struggling film school grad who was looking for a chance to make a name for himself.  Like many aspiring filmmakers, Stone made his directorial debut with a low-budget horror film.

Filmed in Quebec and featuring an eclectic cast that included a soap opera star, a former Warhol superstar, a faded teen idol, a past Bond girl, and a future Bond villain, Seizure stars Jonathan Frid (of Dark Shadows fame) as Edmund Blackstone.  Edmund is a horror novelist who is described as being “a modern-day Edgar Allan Poe.”  When Edmund’s rich friends get together for the weekend, they are terrorized by three maniacs: the Queen of Evil (Martine Beswick), a mute giant called the Jackal (Henry Judd Baker), and a psychotic dwarf named The Spider (Hervé Villechaize).  

All of Edmund’s guests face the inevitability of death in a different way.  Playboy Mark Frost (Troy Donahue) is too concerned with pursuing pleasure to realize that he’s in danger.  Businessman Charlie Hughes (Joseph Sirola) gets out his wallet and tries to buy his way out of trouble.  Mikki (Mary Woronov), Charlie’s much younger wife, strips down to her underwear and runs away.  Eunice Kahn (Anne Meachem) jumps out of a window after the Spider ticks her into using an aging cream.  Eunice’s husband, philosopher Serge (Roger de Koven), faces death with stoicism.  Edmund’s brother-in-law, Gerald (Richard Cox), is a long-haired hippie who accidentally gets shot in the head by Edmund and dies saying, “You bastard!”  Edmund’s wife (Christina Pickles) tries to protect her son (Timothy Ousey) and Edmund reveals himself to be the first of the many flawed father figures who would appear in Stone’s films.

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If not for the identity of its director, Seizure would be a forgotten film.  In fact, it seems to be a film that Stone wishes was forgotten.  He rarely mentions it in interviews and usually describes Seizure as being a “learning experience” and there’s really nothing about Seizure that would make you think the director would go on to win three Oscars.  It’s a slow and talky movie that is just occasionally weird enough to be interesting.  Seizure‘s philosophical digressions are pure Stone but otherwise, it’s hard to see any sign of the director that Stone would become in Seizure.

Still, what other movie features Jonathan Frid and Mary Woronov having a knife fight while Martine Beswick and Hervé Villechaize watch?

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