I’m going to try something new in this review – 3 films, well 2 films and a TV episode all titled – Cape Fear. For sometime I’ve been thinking about the relationship between these horror films. Having also read that the Martin Scorsese remake in 1991 was pointless really, I need to see this for myself to understand what is actually going on here. Has Scorsese wasted a cast and crews time and a film companies money, not to mention the audience who went to see etc. I’ll finish on a more comedic note with The Simpsons spoof Cape Feare which combines the best of both films. I’m one film in – the original which I shamefully saw in about 9 parts on YouTube whilst working at a summer camp a few years ago.
The 1962 original released as part of a cycle of horror films that attempted to emulate Psycho (1960) which reshaped the genre forever, what a was expected from the genre and its very form. What followed was a series of cheap knock-offs so to speak that tried to replicate that magic for the next few years. With time for the industry to react one of the first films out using A-list actors with well established careers, such as Deborah Kerr‘s The Innocents (1961), and the cult classic of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). However Cape Fear has more in common with film noir, or the first shoots of neo-noir after it ended a few years earlier with Touch of Evil (1959). Take some of the best bits of The Night of the Hunter (1955) and repackage it into a more audience friendly film that has also become a classic.
Taking the Charles Laughton noir of a preacher who works his way into a community, marrying a Jail birds widow, in order to get his hands on the money which the dead husband has hidden. Memorably played by Robert Mitchum, whose physical presence transformed the role and the film into that of almost folklore horror. Seeing America through the eyes of an English director who gave us his vision of a country deeply rooted in its religion that could be so easily be corrupted. The Mitchum character of Harry Powell becomes Max Cady, again not long released from prison has a one track mind, not money, he has plenty of that. Its more like a destiny that he has to fulfill coming to the home town of successful lawyer and family man Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck) who had to testify against him on an attack charge against an innocent woman. After first meeting Cady we know he’s not a family man, not meant to live around law-abiding people. He’s not a gentlemen who stops to pick up papers for woman on the stairs. He’s to be avoided, even before we learn his back story.
The Cady’s live in reasonable comfort, a small lawyer whose life is about to be turned upside down, about to take him and his wife Peggy (Polly Bergen) and daughter Nancy (Lori Martin). I couldn’t help but start to draw comparisons with this to the remake, what were the new relationship that brings Cady to town. It’s more complex for sure in the remake. Back to this more straightforward film that doesn’t waste time establishing whose the good and bad guys. However it’s the law whose hands are tied, Cady’s being doing more than marking the days in his cell before being released. Reading up on the law and planning his revenge. Starting his war of terror against Bowden and his family, taking aim at the teenage daughter – Nancy whose awareness of the male gaze and sexual power is about to blow wide open.
Cady is not just a deranged criminal out for revenge he’s a sexual predator too, making Nancy his next victim. This could be where Scorsese got a bit of tunnel vision, along with changing taste and the loosening of censorship which allowed for a more adult version of the film. Nonetheless the original filmed in cheap/standard black and white adds another layer to this dark film that gets more intense scene by scene. Tying Sam in knots with nowhere to turn but to lead him into a trap on the houseboat along the Cape Fear river. The sexuality is all coming from Mitchum, even middle-aged has a decent body that added to his domineering on-screen presence. If anything I found the ending lackluster, instead of what the audience wants – and Scorsese gives us. We have the law winning out, the courts of justice putting Cady back behind bars before a swift and happy ending. It feels after all of that struggle the good and civilised in Bowden wins out, his primal desire and wishes earlier on in the film to shoot him are repressed to allow him to drag him to a prison cell before a having another trial. Hopefully leading to reform, something I really can’t see happening to Cady, whoever plays this disturbed character.
Onto the remake now, which after hearing it was pointless, I’m starting to see why after just finishing it. I first watched it at University, thinking it was a great thriller, I even used it as part of my research for thrillers and suspense. What the hell was I thinking, more to the point what was Martin Scorsese thinking. It wasn’t even a film he wanted to do, it was an assignment given to him by the Universal, for reasons I just don’t understand, I don’t think he does either. Probably hoping to get his next project The Age of Innocence (1993).
Lets take a look at the film on the face of it, a remake of the 1960’s classic thriller which saw the Bowden family being tormented by the deranged Max Cady that still remains at the core of this film. However 30 years have passed and the script admittedly needed altering in some respects. There’s far more sex on-screen, along with the usual depiction of Scorsese penchant for violence. Making it a good match, but then the same can be said of lots of directors. He’s a director for hire here. The main difference is Cady played by a hammy Robert De Niro whose clearly having a ball, glad to be working with his old pal Marty one more time. The crime committed now is, aggravated assault, essentially rape when you get to know the character. He’s come back to get revenge on his old lawyer Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) who we learn buried evidence that could have allowed Cady to go free. That facts are made clear early on away from Cady who is beginning his campaign of fear.
Originally Bowden was a witness to an assault committed by Cady, now we see that the lawyer has used his professional power to alter the course of Cady’s life. I couldn’t have seen that working in 1962, only a few years from playing Atticus Finch (Peck) couldn’t betray that upstanding heroic image. Whilst Mitchum could’ve easily played that role to the extreme without getting as hammy as De Niro. We spend more time with the daughter now named Danielle (Juliette Lewis) who is more sexually aware. Whilst the wife is pretty much unchanged, reacting instead to the plot as it unfolds. If anything she is more traumatised by the films events. So the father and daughter get the thick of it.
A memorable addition or “nod” of approval to the remake, is the inclusion of three of the original cast Peck, Mitchum and Martin Balsam each having a few scenes. Was this more a ploy to bring in the older audience to see three older actors once more, or to say that the film is not being made without their blessing. I think its more the former with a bit of promotional casting. Mitchum first appears as the detective who wants to help but is forced to not suggest to seek alternatives. Whilst Peck is clearly having more fun in his cameo as Lee Heller who is Cady’s defence lawyer. Whilst a clearly bored Martin Balsam the original detective plays the judge who rules a restraining order in Cady’s favor. The aging actor clearly underused and wondering what the hell he is doing on set.
The law is clearly not in Bowden’s side throughout, doing all he can to protect his family, being screwed at every turn by a criminal who has read his books, including the Bible and Sexus (just for added smut). There are times when you are on the Bowden’s side, then you think, haven’t we been here before, only in black and white and not for as long. Drawing out the scenes and adding new ones that only drag out this practically scene for scene remake. The religious overtones are very heavy and clearly a directorial stroke, which makes the work his – overtly.
Ultimately it’s a hammy overreacted, waste of film that sees an accomplished director scraping the barrel with sacred material that shouldn’t have been touched. He should have looked back to Dead Calm (1989) which had the boat thriller in the bag in every way. We have actors who are doing their best, whilst some are just glad for the bigger paycheck and a few days work. Lastly Scorsese only makes you think about the original more overtly with the lazy use of the original score by Bernard Herrmann, conducted by Elmer Bernstein who simply conducted it for the “new” soundtrack. There’s no attempt to be really a unique film that is about the same basic premise, its the just the same just sexed up.
Now I want to watch the far superior Simpsons parody which focuses in the best elements. The second episode of season 5 – (yes it’s that old), a longtime favorite of mine. I remember getting it on video – the murder mysteries tape. Makes me feel old just thinking about it. It’s been a while since I last saw the episode until last night. It was still as fresh and spot on with the jokes that came thick and fast. Midway through the golden age of the now long running animated sitcom, which has now become the longest running of its kind too. Cape Feare was also the third time that Sideshow Bob (Kelsey Grammer) appears in this now iconic role. Assuming the Max Cady role directly from the Scorsese’s film gave us a year before. It’s a cheeky spoof that is more entertaining that the thriller which is 6 times as long.
I think the focus was on the more recent film still fresh in the public consciousness, which is understandable, leaving the original alone. Taking the best bits of a pointless film and making fun of the rest in 20 minutes of animation. We already know that Bob has it in for Bart (Nancy Cartwright) who has twice already found him out, once for robbery, and for attempted murder. Now it’s time for revenge. There’s no need to build up that history between the two except in a few short scenes. The blood written letters and the parole hearing before Bob’s released, using his charm to gain his freedom.
Already the Simpson family are on edge, the letters and now the cinema scene which is ensures we are in for a scene for scene spoof. Of course there’s more common sense at play, the harassments taken seriously by the police instead of going down the private detective route – which leads to the fishing wire and teddy bear set-up which isn’t taken seriously. Ultimately they’re referred to the FBI who put them into the Witness Relocation Program giving them a new identity and opening titles. It’s all played fast a loose. Yet the law is on the families side, moving the spoof quickly on, there’s no time to discuss the need to use a gun or to kill Bob, it’s about hiding.
The finale is more family friendly with a Gilbert and Sullivan homage, making the most of an earlier scene in the car journey. The houseboat is loose on the water, just not out of control as Bart uses the performance to buy him time. He’s too clever to result to deadly violence to see his enemy (not Moe Szyslak (Hank Azaria) and his panda’s). The episode delivers some of the finest moments not just of the season but a collection of jokes that are better than the expensive thriller that tries to outdo the original.
So ends my first 3 (2 and a spoof) film review, attempting to find a relationship and history. I’ve chosen an easier trilogy (of sorts) to begin with a film, a remake and a spoof. I can see how it a classic (before it was more common) to remake a film. Seeing that it was sexed up, add some violence and some cheeky cameos to draw in the audiences. Whilst a controversial cartoon plays fast and loose, appropriate the events of a recent film and make fun of it, so is the nature of a spoof which in the case of this film is more entertaining, than the remake.
Admittedly this review of Westworld (1973) is timed before the UK premiere of the new spin-off TV series completed with 21st century update, I must say its one series I will be watching for sure. Now that I have seen the original film I can come into the series with a stronger context and points of reference. Much the same to Fargo (1996) and the respective series, having that richer understanding of the directors and film itself you have potentially a richer experience. Anyway enough of the hype building for the TV series, onto the original Sci-fi horror which had until recently become an obscure cult film that I had only heard snippets about. I have in-fact got a clip of the film in Cue the Lights (2014) without knowing what the film was about short of being robotic cowboys.
That was until more recently, checking out the trailer that gives more away yet not as big a plot-spoiler if it were released today. Westworld is one third of a theme-park for the rich to spend a week of escapism. Think Disney World but far more immersive, you’d be getting much closer with Itchy and Scratchy Land, visited by The Simpsons with similar consequences. So already I am finding that America wanted to escape from its own realities to it’s past, the mythical frontier space, populated by androids, operated by the Delos Amusement park. To get location that can only be reached by hovercraft, complete with advertisement to further entice the new batch of tourist who are ready and waiting for adult escapism. The focus on the Westworld, completely disregarding Roman world and Medieval world shows how much attentions put into revitalising the genre that is seriously lagging. Returning to an ideal history of that as portrayed on-screen is something I’m sure I might even consider.
As two men, John Blane (James Brolin) on his second visit and eager friend Peter Martin (Richard Benjamin) who wants to know and try out everything at Westworld. He’s like a big kid going to Disney world wanting to try out all the rides. Wanting to really play the cowboy even down to the details on his gun belt, it’s all about the authenticity of the experience for him. For John he’s more than happy to show him around. On the surface we have fun place for big kids to go and have some unadulterated fun. Even a few killings without the consequences of going to jail. When they meet the Yul Brynner‘s Gunslinger they discover how much fun then realy=ly can have. Guns that will only shoot at androids’ its like being on the holodeck with the safety mechanisms still in places.
I’m reminded of The Stepford Wives (1975) which takes the android to another level of replacing a mans wife with his ideal, pacified wife who will obey his every command. That was Women’s liberation movement in Hollywood, if you want the ideal technology can replace your wife with a better body and one that doesn’t talk back or has her own mind. I think a few of them are in Westworld when they two friends visit a hotel, however for Peter he takes a while to warm to the idea that he can have sex with a robot having no consequences, no one gets hurt at all, its all harmless escapism for the male visitor. Of course women can enjoy the same pleasures with male counterparts.
It’s a hedonistic theme park that knows no boundaries until the unknown starts to have an effect. There have already been a series of malfunctions at the park, which are overlooked by some of the scientist running it. More concern for profit than for guests safety as a series of faults become more alarming. Beginning as just a few malfunctioning robots, it’s seen across the three worlds before spreading like a virus. Something that could easily have been prevented, ignored in the name of profit. Of course we all know that it wont stop there.
With the reappearance of the gunslinger fresh from being patched up (and some clever upgrades) he is ready for a rematch with more deadly results. The safety’s are off, throwing the visitors back into reality which had escape hits them and hard. As if they are living in a film and they are allowed to be killed off. Brynner has only a few lines in this film, which makes his presence all the more felt. An aging gunslinger who can still stand his ground is not about to be messed around (for the last time). His is danger in android, he can’t be stopped, a super gunslinger complete with a sensory upgrade so he can’t miss his target. Its becomes a game of cat and mouse as technology has broken free and malfunctioned, man left powerless to their own creations. Brynner is definitely silent and deadly making for a hard nose bad guy who is the ultimate, no safety over-rides can stop him.
From Michael Crichton who I’m know mainly from Jurassic Park (1993) this plays on the same theme of complacency of technology before humanity losing control. Our reliance on it for our own amusement must be monitored. We are slowly getting to the point that Crichton has depicted, yet these are still pleasures for the rich, not the general public. In Westworld the sense of wonder is soon replaced with pure dread – 70’s style which HBO looks to have successfully updated, looking on sentience of the androids, its no longer about human pleasure. I’m looking forward to the blend of modern Western and Science fiction, how the film has been since updated and ultimately expanded.
There was once a time when I had all but one pack to complete the Indiana Jones-esque Egyptian series of Lego, the large temple to go with the sphinx that opens to reveal a skeleton. I was so close. Then came the Rock-Raiders which I had only one part of, then the game too, that was just when Lego was starting to commercialize, not that I really noticed it. Today we have everything from Lego The Simpsons to The Avengers, It feels to me that the idea of children and now adults using their imagination to construct their own worlds is being restricted by the ever-growing series of cash-in sets. Then came along The Lego Movie (2014) which seems like the biggest cash-in/sell-out of it all, with another one in the works, a Batman spin-off too. What happened to the good old fashioned Danish toy company that has been making Lego for over 50 years.
Putting my thoughts to onside about the current state of Lego which for me was so more about building house-boats and caravans as a kid (not the most imaginative for an artist I must admit, they were the best ever though) that came out of a yellow bucket with a square four block lid on top. That was were the real fun lay for me, pouring out the bricks onto the carpet and seeing what I could build. And that is the essence of this film. It pulls away all the cash-in series to go back to the roots of the company, the play-well, the imagine and create, once you’ve followed the instruction book which can be read by anyone in any country you can dissemble to create whatever came into your head.
The Lego Movie is a celebration of all that I’ve just said really, and most of the world who has seen this film will agree, anyone who has played with the toy and got a real buzz from it, playing for hours on end. As we follow what could the most generic of the City series figures, a builder Emmet Brickowoski (Chris Pratt) who has for years followed the rules, well the instructions as long as he has been assembled. Lets talk in Lego terms for this review, it just makes sense to. Not thinking beyond the page, unlike others around him who like either sausages or fries, they all have a particular passion, not one passion for everything. He’s a sheep follow the herd blindly not seeing past the end of the booklet to see what else is possible for himself. Well except for a double-decker sofa so friends can come over and watch a film with you. You’d need a super massive TV for that to work or even a projector maybe.
Emmet the bland builder accidentally gets himself involved in what could be the end of life for him and Lego-kind as we know it on meeting Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) who is on the hunt for the special one as prophesied by the great Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) as laid out in the prologue to the film. When Emmet discovers he is the chosen special one a lot of pressure is put on him to perform, to do good on his new title in front of the master builders (an array of figures from the heaps of series of Lego from Batman to Milhouse Van-Houten to the 80’s spaceman. Everyone and everyone is there, all having a moment in the lime-light. Which is part of the wider commercial universe they have created. All these can build using their imaginations, something that Emmet is seriously lacking after years of following the instructions, conforming to the society he is a part of.
I could go on about the plot, which for me spends time in the Old West for a time before darting all over the place, animated perfectly, if there was ever going to be a Lego film it would have to have this level of detail, the lightness of touch. Nothing is left to chance, even the water is made up of Lego single circles (again Lego lingo). From the same studio that gave us Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009). It’s heaps of fun with the sensibility of Lego central to the film. With the threat of the world being frozen with super-glue close at hand, to live the live of a theme-park, which would stop creativity dead in it’s tracks. We must remember the power of imagination, how it allows us to get carried away, to create and build whole worlds, even with a few bricks.
When we pull away to the real-world, which was a brave yet natural progression, to see the toy as it actually is the argument between father and son is played out, to play with the bricks, or to glue them frozen which defeats the object of toys. The danger of reaching adult-hood where we can lose that creativity, to move away from ‘childish’ things. Something I have seen before when action figures are collected in hope they stay in the packaging in the hopes that it will increase in value, we forget what toys are for, to play with.
I started off talking about how I view the current state of Lego which I feel has lost it heart with sets for every film franchise under the sun which restricts to a point imagination of the player. Yet on the other side of the argument with those figures in your hands the story continues so it’s not all bad, The Lego Movie is living proof they are thriving, even in the hands of a major film company. I just can’t see where a sequel can go, except as the ending suggests an invasion from Duplo, the film is perfect as a stand-alone for me.
- LEGO Double Feature: The LEGO Movie (2014) and Beyond the Brick: A LEGO Brickumentary (2014) (megwood.wordpress.com)
- Movie Review: The Lego Movie (2014) (artsandyouthlove.wordpress.com)
This has been sitting on my shelf for sometime now, having a massive backlog of films to get through I finally made my way to Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) which for it’s running time is surprising pack full. A cast that is brimming over too. From legendary Jack Lemmon to Alec Baldwin who makes a cameo of sorts that really stirs things up for four sales men, made to really push themselves during the midst of the last economic crash.
From the get-go we have a fast-paced talker of a film, with two men in separate phone booths, having many varied conversations in the space of a few minutes, setting up deals, calling home etc, these are men of work who know what they are doing. Driven and very tired. On returning to the office their’s and their colleagues lives are turned upside down by a successful young salesmen who could eat any of them for breakfast, coming from head-office to tell them to sell, sell, sell or be fired. Rightly sending these men four men into a state of anger and frustration. For the veteran Levene (Lemmon) who hasn’t “closed” a deal in a while is pushed to the brink. Whilst two others Aaronow (Alan Arkin) and Moss (Ed Harris) take a different route, instead of selling, have intense conversations about the situation, trying to understand why it’s happening. All being given “leads” (which takes a while to understand, turning out to be customers who have unwittingly ticked a box on a form to be harassed by salesmen for products they don’t really want) which are dead, but having to close to get the new leads on red card, gift tied, ready to be handed out to the closers (customers who sign checks and sealing the deal).
Whilst almost unaware of all of this going on back at the office, a slick salesmen is at work Roma (Al Pacino) is talking to a guy at the bar, luring him in with his soft sell on anything but what he wants to sell, once in he will pounce and lay his cards on the table to James Lingk (Jonathan Pryce). He’s the real pro of the four sales men who are otherwise finding their own ways to deal with their ultimatum.
Who you really have to look out for is Williamson (Kevin Spacey) the office manager who appears to not give a damn, just doing his job by the book, not caring to really help the men he’s paid to support. A man of bureaucracy who just files payments for the men. There’s more than meets the eye with this one who you really have to keep an eye, like most of Spacey’s roles always changing at the last minute.
I can really see where The Simpsons character of Gil comes from now the suffering salesmen who is never able to get a deal to close, always so close yet so far. An old pro who has lost his edge, in denial that his glory days are long behind him. He still has all the sales patter but something is missing, that air of confidence has been replaced with desperation. Something the others haven’t yet reached. For a time I didn’t feel comfortable hearing Lemmon effin’ and blinding every other word in office, until I just gave up thinking about it. They all do it so well, like The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) just without the drugs, the women and the money. It’s all in the language foul or not, this is a competitive dog eat dog world they are in. They know that potential customers don;t want cold callers, its how they have to get around it that makes them stand out from the crowd.
A robbery is planned on the night of the ultimatum, we believe we know who is going to commit, spoken about between two of the men. This is the real twist that makes this a great film as the conclusion draws near. We believe we know who’s done it, acting all defensive towards everyone. But in the end it doesn’t really matter, they are all screwed in one way or another, the robbery, deals falling through, some leaving the company all together. Leaving us with a look into the sales mens world, not even 24 hours really as they have to get up and become one of the arrogant hard sellers who are wearing gold watches and driving the latest cars. The language may not be as intelligent as some film, but it’s made up for in its delivery, in a mens world where sometimes all they have are words to attack with, they are their tools to sell, sell, sell.
I can imagine this plot is still going on around the world, driving people to sell products people don’t really want, by people they don’t want to be bothered by. Everyone has answered cold calls this month or last. It’s fiercely competitive working on OTE (on target earnings) doing what they can to make some money. Glengarry Glen Ross is a glimpse into that murky world where we find the human story that for 90 odd minutes incredibly engaging.
- Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) (artandcultureofmovies.blogspot.co.uk)
- GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS (1992) (claratsi.wordpress.com)
- Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) (2014afo.wordpress.com)
- It’s 1992 and it’s also the year of Glengarry Glen Ross. (jpfmovies.wordpress.com)
- Movie Retro Review: A Feminist Looks Back at “Glengarry Glen Ross” (1992) (anunapologeticfeminist.wordpress.com)
- Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) (jennitalula.wordpress.com)
- Film review: Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) (niels85.wordpress.com)
- Glengarry Glen Ross (rheaven.blogspot.co.uk)