The Rookie is one of my favorite male-weepie sports films. Sensitively directed by John Lee Hancock and passionately written by Mike Rich, the film stars Dennis Quaid as real life baseball legend Jim Morris, who had a brief but phenomenally glorious career as a MLB pitcher. His claim to fame: Entering the sport at the tender age of 35, a time in life when most players are having early thoughts of retirement. I adore this film – it just flat-out works on every conceivable level. The performances are note perfect, the writing is top-notch, the baseball footage is some of the absolute best ever captured for a Hollywood production, and when that moment of supreme personal triumph arrives as Quaid trots out from the bullpen when he makes his debut – I dare you not to cry. Captured in a long tracking shot by the incredible cinematographer John Schwartzman, making excellent use of LENS FLARE POWER, the camera glides out to the pitcher’s mound, and then goes into full-on swirling mode as it begins to settle in on Quaid just exactly what he’s accomplished. I’d honestly have to check to see if you have a beating heart if this moment doesn’t make an impact on you as a viewer. A superb supporting cast including Rachel Griffiths as Quaid’s supportive wife, Angus T. Jones as their son, and master scene stealer Brian Cox as Quaid’s father all deliver finely etched performances which strengthen the overall narrative, giving it weight and honest family dimension that feels real and true. Schwartzman’s warm and beautiful 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen cinematography captures all of the action, on and off the field, with subtle style and loving affection for the rural landscapes and working class environs that the story trades off of, while also splendidly capturing a timeless sense of baseball love. And in tandem with Eric Beason’s fluid and steady editing and Carter Burwell’s sweeping yet net overbearing score, the film hits repeated grace notes without ever losing its full head of steam, all the way up until the potent finale, which hits both small and large notes of emotional satisfaction. Honestly, Quaid has rarely been better than he was here, in a role tailor made to his inherent charm and likability – he should have gotten an Oscar nomination.
Innerspace is a film I watched repeatedly as a kid, and there’s just so much gee-whiz charm about this film that I can’t stop grinning while watching it to this day. Joe Dante has always been a favorite filmmaker of mine, someone with that Spielberg touch for tone and spirit, as so many of his efforts have left me enchanted that I’ll never forget the importance he’s had on my cinematic upbringing. Explorers, Gremlins, Gremlins 2, Small Soldiers, The Howling, The ‘Burbs, and Matinee (damn I love Matinee!) – it’s just an insane list of genre-defying entertainment, with Innerspace ranking near the very top of his output. Starring Dennis Quaid with that mile-wide smile and Meg Ryan in the prime of her filmic cuteness, this sci-fi-romance-comedy centers on Quaid’s Marine who is miniaturized in a government experiment and is then accidentally injected into Martin Short, playing a massive hypochondriac who feels that he’s become possessed. Short is an utter pisser in this film, and the way he bounced off of Quaid was absolutely perfect, offering up any number of hilarious moments of character interplay. Ryan is Quaid’s love interest, and the chemistry they shared together is bonkers to witness. This film is one laugh after another, one scene of inventive plotting after another, with some truly wonderful (and practical) special effects that never feel dated in a now modern context. Jerry Goldsmith’s score is sprightly and catchy, and one must never underestimate the talents of cinematographer Andrew Laszlo, who also shot First Blood, Streets of Fire, The Warriors, and Southern Comfort. The freshly released Blu-ray has a commentary track with Dante and key craft contributors – can’t wait to give that a listen! Also, it goes without saying, MASSIVE Robert Picardo POWER.
Steve De Jarnatt’s cult classic Miracle Mile has just hit Blu-ray thanks to the lovely people over at Kino, and it’s about damn time this terrific little gem had its high-definition day of reckoning. Starring Anthony Edwards and Mare Winningham as two potential love birds whose romantic date-night is cut short thanks to the alarming notification of the end of the world (nukes have been launched…!), De Jarnatt’s exciting, heartfelt, and totally unique tale of desperate romance hits all the right notes of 80’s tonal shifts and scrappy whimsy. Edwards is great in the rare lead role as drifting musician Harry Washello, who immediately becomes smitten by a waitress name Julie (Winningham), who he meets at a downtown LA diner in the Miracle Mile district. They make plans for a date, but things get complicated when Harry runs late, and then answers a ringing pay phone where he hears on the other line the wild rantings of a supposed government worker exclaiming that the end of the world is near. The rest of the film unfolds more or less in real time, as Harry attempts to traverse the rapidly crumbling city in an effort to find Julie and spend the last remaining moments of life together and happy. That is…of course…if the caller on the other end of that pay-phone was telling the truth. Without spoiling the film for anyone who hasn’t see it, there’s a conviction to the storytelling, especially in the final act, that feels alive and bracing, and the film serves as a unique precursor to stuff like Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (very underrated) and any number of end-of-times thrillers that have been released over the years since Miracle Mile’s low-profile theatrical release. The film has become a massive favorite with at home viewers throughout the years, and it’s easy to see why: there’s not much else quite like it and few films dare to pack as much in as this one does into its slim but engrossing 90 minute runtime. De Jarnatt created a lively cross-section of distinct characters who all feel oh-so-Los Angeles, and I loved how the film’s narrative swerved back and forth between comedy, romance, surprisingly dark and violent action, and pointed social commentary which still feels relevant to this day. Clearly shot on a low budget, the film feels much bigger, with slick and stedicam-dominated cinematography from Theo van de Sande, who was making his English language debut as a cameraman. There are some brilliant long takes that boggle the mind and I loved how De Jarnatt and de Sande captured the restless spirit of both Harry and Julie’s characters. This is a movie that meant one thing to me as a teen while watching it and a totally different thing when recently revisiting it. This is a goodie that too many people may be unfamiliar with.
Podcasting Them Softly is extremely proud to present a Special Edition CINEMATOGRAPHER’S CORNER POWERCAST with director of photography Salvatore Totino. For the last 16 years, Salvatore has been shooting films for an extremely impressive roster of filmmakers. Oliver Stone drafted him for his big-screen debut on ANY GIVEN SUNDAY, which catapulted him into the top ranks of working cinematographers after he displayed an aggressively visceral camera style on Stone’s gridiron epic. He was then scooped up by Ron Howard and over the years he’s shot seven films for him, including all three Robert Langdon adventures – THE DAVINCI CODE, ANGELS AND DEMONS, and next year’s INFERNO, as well as the historical drama FROST/NIXON, the revisionist western THE MISSING starring Tommy Lee Jones and Cate Blanchett, and the relationship comedy THE DILEMMA. Other credits include moody and stylish work on Roger Michell’s underrated drama CHANGING LANES, and later this fall, he has two big films coming out in theaters – the star-studded mountain climbing adventure EVEREST and the NFL brain-trauma expose CONCUSSION, which stars Will Smith, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alec Baldwin, David Morse, and Albert Brooks. Welcome to the show Salvatore, it’s an honor to get a chance to speak with you!
The Missing is one of Ron Howard’s best, most underrated efforts. I typically love his films when he goes with R-rated material, and this one has edge, intelligence, fantastic performances from Tommy Lee Jones, Cate Blanchett, and a roll-call of terrific character actors, and an extremely impressive visual atmosphere courtesy of cinematographer Salvatore Totino, a dynamic cameraman who I’ve been impressed with for years. This is a unique, revisionist Western that plays on old-school genre touchstones within the classical narrative while also allowing for a modern sensibility to creep through, in terms of the attitudes and aesthetic. There’s a directness that I admired about this film, with Howard steering clear of overt and sappy sentimentality, and allowing for the desperate, rugged qualities of life in the old West to shine through. Blanchett cut a convincing portrait of a woman pushed to her mental and physical edge, with the production going to great lengths to show how hard life would have been during that time period. Jones is fantastic as her spiritual and literal guide to revenge and redemption, and it’s yet another performance where he’s able to do so much with that weathered face and amazing voice beyond the dialogue that he was given. Howard and Totino opted for a washed out, de-saturated color palette; we might be in John Ford territory but this doesn’t look and feel like your grandfather’s Western. The Missing feels cold and forbidding and dangerous and lawless, all attributes of that life and time, but what’s so special about this film is that it never feels softened at any point. This 2003 release flew under the radar with critics and audiences and deserves a higher profile, and it more than qualifies as overdue for a Blu-ray release, especially considering how well appointed the production was on a visual scale. And as usual, James Horner’s score popped in all the right ways, adding heft and dimension to the action on screen. A terrific roll-call of supporting actors are on display, including Clint Howard, Evan Rachel Wood, Aaron Eckhart, Val Kilmer, Eric Schweig, Ray McKinnon POWER, Jenna Boyd, and Max Perlich, who is always terrific.
TRUE DETECTIVE 2.7 BLACK BLACK MAP AND MOTEL ROOMS
So much happened in this weeks episode. A tease to who the identity of the killer, Crow Head might be. Frank engaging in a full-out POINT BLANK mode, Ray and Ani transition their brooding rage and anger into intimate feelings for one another, and Paul is dead.
Let’s start with Frank. I am so completely satisfied with the transgressive story arc of Frank Semyon. Anyone who continues to ridicule Vaughn’s performances is now, undoubtedly an idiot, and has no idea what they’re talking about. Semyon rose to a successful gangsterless business man before we saw the first episode, and from that first episode we slowly watched Frank lose everything that he built, and now it’s time from him to rise like the phoenix from the ashes and completely obliterate anyone who has wronged him. The escalation of the last scenes with Frank were a direct homage to the epic preamble of the climax to THIEF. Remarkable writing. I truly hope that Semyon makes it out alive, out of all the characters that we’re given this season, Semyon is the most pure hearted one. He didn’t choose the life he has, it chose him, and he did his best to shake it. I can’t imagine a better thematic end to Semyon than to get LONG GOOD FRIDAY’D.
Ray and Ani’s final scenes in the episode together were beautifully poignant. They are two people who are completely burnt out by their lives. They are dead inside, partially from where they came from, but particularly the choices they made in the past and how they’ve dealt with their lives splitting. Whether or not if Ray and Ani are good people is irrelevant. They are good with each other, and trust and embrace each others shadows. They are the only ones that can ever really understand and accept one another.
Then there’s Paul. Wow. I was legitimately sadden by his fate. What made it even worse was cutting to his fiancée laying in bed, watching that old movie with Judy Garland embracing the baby. Wow. Just…wow. Out of all the characters, I think Paul was the one who had the hardest time coping with life. He was a killer, who lived the life of who he thought he should be. He hit a breaking point of either ruining the life of his beautiful fiancée, Emily, or trying to make it work. Maybe he couldn’t have, but he was going to try. And now, now it’s all over. He’s dead. And his baby is inside of a pure hearted good woman who is stuck in a hotel room with Paul’s awful mother. That might even be more profound and sadder than Paul’s death.
As for Crow Head. So, cult killings are out. Blake fessed up to killing Stan, giving Frank a glorious scene to showcase his well warranted brutality. My guess is Crow Head is either Tony, the Mayor’s son, or the girl from the diamond robbery where Caspere was the sole proprietor of. Maybe that little girl was the one who worked at Caspere’s office and was seen in that photograph from the party with him. Maybe she isn’t, and maybe it’s something bigger and/or completely different. All I know is that next week is the finale, and they have not announced a director yet. One can only hold out hopes for the likes of William Friedkin or HBO player Timothy Van Patten. Or, maybe, just maybe Nic Pizzolatto will direct it. That would be worth it if only to see all the rage hater’s heads explode. Either way, I am counting down the days and cannot wait for the conclusion of what I still say is, the best show on television.
All director Roger Michell has done throughout his career is make one terrific, underrated film after another, and one of his absolute best is Changing Lanes. Feeling like a movie from the 70’s in many respects, this is a thoughtful drama about personal morals and business ethics, and while it was well-received by critics (Ebert notably flipped out) and did solid box-office (close to $70 million domestic), I feel that this one qualifies as terribly under the radar, deserving of far more praise and reassessment. Starring the surprisingly combustible duo of Samuel L. Jackson and Ben Affleck as two men pushed and stretched to their respective breaking points by one another’s selfish, potentially dangerous behavior, Changing Lanes is ALL about character, motivation, decisions, and a constant sense of inner turmoil for everyone involved in the narrative. Jackson and Affleck both deliver excellent performances, with Jackson getting the chance to play sensitive which is a rarity, and Affleck doing some of his most effective dramatic acting as a young man who seemingly has it all figured out, but quickly realizes he’s swimming in a sea of vipers. The screenplay by Chap Taylor (an ex-assistant to Woody Allen) and Michael Tolkin never goes over the top even though at times you feel it might; everything stays believable within reason and I loved how there was never the thought to inject a phony action scene or shoot-out or something conventional into an otherwise unconventional (in many respects) piece of studio filmmaking. The film truly feels like a complicated exploration of the human condition, a lost relic from a different era.
The action centers on two men having a bad morning, which gets even worse when they’re involved in an traffic accident on the highway outside of NYC. They’re both late for court (Affleck is a lawyer; Jackson is going through child custody hearings) and Affleck flippantly dismisses the accident and throws a blank check at a dismayed Jackson, who wants to do things by the book. What Affleck doesn’t realize is that he’s dropped sensitive and super-important documents in the street, which Jackson snags after Affleck drives away. From there, the film becomes a desperate story about Affleck needing to retrieve the documents, and going to psychological war with Jackson, who is dealing with his new-found sobriety (William Hurt turns up for a great cameo as his AA sponsor) and the deep love for his children. Affleck is also forced to contend with his conniving father-in-law and boss (the perfectly smarmy and vicious Sydney Pollack) and his ice-cold wife (Amanda Peet, nailing her one big seen with pointed line delivery and casual, deceptive sexiness). And then there’s the subtly stylish cinematography from Salvatore Totino Asc Aic, which goes a long way in shaping the emotional textures to the characters and the story. It’s constantly raining in Changing Lanes – both outside and inside, literally and metaphorically – and the way Totino’s slippery camera moves captured water and its reflective quality brought an introspective level to the visuals that amps up the psychological and dramatic tension all throughout the film. I also loved the close-up on the back of Affleck’s head towards the film’s denouement; you feel like you’re travelling directly into his thoughts as his makes up his mind on how to handle the situation he’s found himself in. David Arnold’s moody and ambient score is also first-rate.