Monday, April 27, 2009

Review: Michael Mann's Heat


Today, I finally got a chance to watch another of my movie annuals: 1995's Heat by director Michael Mann. It may be cheating to recycle (see below) an old customer review I wrote in 2002 for Amazon of the previous barebones DVD, but let's say I'm going more green. I don't know why I watch it during the Spring, but there it is. As I write this post, I even have Heat's closing musical piece, Moby's God Moving Over the Face of the Waters, playing on the computer. Okay... I'm obsessing.

Perhaps, Mann's Best

Writer-Director Michael Mann's 1995 Los Angeles crime saga, Heat, is perhaps his best film work. Without having to worry about niggling facts and real timelines to get in the way (and cause critics to point them out) like in later films (Ali or The Insider), this creative character-driven piece of moviemaking mesmerizes through great lead and ensemble performances, direction, and storytelling. All three aspects work wonderfully in this tale of two opposing "crews" who go up against each other on the streets of L.A.: a professional group of criminals led by master thief Neil MacCauley (Robert DeNiro) and LAPD's elite Metro Robbery/Homicide lead by Lt. Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino).

Both leads, as the story evolves, are cut from the same cloth: professional and dedicated to their chosen crafts--to a fault. Everything revolves around their jobs and nothing gets in their way, including the women in their personal lives: Justine Hanna (the very underrated Diane Venora) and the soon-to-be enlightened Eady (Amy Brenneman). It's the long-suffering Justine that nails her husband's true nature with her wifely realization:
"You don't live with me, you live among the remnants of dead people. You sift through the detritus, you read the terrain, you search for signs of passing, for the scent of your prey ... and then you hunt them down. That's the only thing you're committed to. The rest is the mess you leave as you pass through."
And it's with that predator's sense that Vincent spots MacCauley's crew after the inital, spectacular armored truck robbery. He knows that a crew is in town who are good, skillful, and very dangerous ("At the drop of a hat, these guys will rock 'n roll."). Which is also the exact description of their leader. However, in this case, the master thief is also growing weary of his trade...and the emotional discipline it requires. "I am alone...I'm not lonely", he tells Eady after they first meet. His is a life that requires him be able to "walk out on in 30 seconds flat if (he) feels the heat around the corner." Neil is the moral antithesis for Vincent, but both will do whatever it takes to do what they do best. Eventually, both find out about the other half-way through the story.

The meeting on-screen for Neil and Vincent (a first for actors DeNiro and Pacino) is the movie's key dramatic sequence. This wary confrontation over coffee is one of the best moments put to film. It's not long, but it's one of those powerfully quiet scenes that resonates throughout the rest of the film. The irony of the situation is that each recognizes themselves in the other...and appreciate the professionalism they find. Both, through their conversation, also are cognizant of the fact that each will put the other down, permanently, if need be. By the time we get to the climatic sequence, with hints of Peter Yates' Bullitt airport chase, Heat's tense climax on the outskirts of LAX is another one of those great film scenes. Mann skillfully brings their chase and relationship to a poignantly moving close.

This film also has one of the best ensemble casts ever on celluloid: Pacino, DeNiro, Val Kilmer, Venora, Ashley Judd, Brenneman, Jon Voight, Tom Sizemore, Mykelti Williamson, Wes Studi, Ted Levine, Dennis Haysbert, William Fichtner, and a young Natalie Portman. All of them giving excellent performances to an equally well written Michael Mann script. Filmed all over my hometown, and in some of the best and bad spots of Los Angeles, Heat makes great use of the locales with some breathtaking cinematography. It also has one of my all-time favorite action sequences, the Bank Heist in downtown (tragically, a real-life bank shootout in L.A. of hauntingly similar proportions would happen a couple of years later). At almost three hours in length, it takes a committment, but the viewer will be well rewarded with drama highly praised for its depth in character development and exciting sequences. This was not only one of the best films of 1995, it was one of the best for that decade. Okay, I've convinced myself... it is Michael Mann's best.

Recommended "Cops & Crooks in CA" Summary



This past weekend was the annual L.A. Times Festival of Books, hosted on the campus of U.C.L.A. This year, book blogger Jen made her way out west to attend, too. Meeting her for the first time made this an even more special event. And both of us got to attend the bash I always look forward to: the yearly book panel with our favorite author, Robert Crais. It's ever growing popularity made this year's panel such a hard ticket to come by.

I was in a Ticketmaster line the previous weekend the very hour the tickets first became available--and even though I was fifth in line, they were sold out by my turn. Criminy!!! And all week, I kept striking out online in my attempts to acquire them, too. I thought we'd have to try our luck in the stand-by line. Luckily, I remembered that this book celebration event always held back some tickets. They disperse them on a first come, first served basis on each of the two days of the festival (starting at 9 AM on Saturday). I was more than fortunate in that my wife let me off the hook from our kid's social schedule (that parents seemly always orbit around) that morning so I could get there early enough to get in the inevitable long line.

And, tickets we did get! Finally (for Jen, her sister, and I). Simply, the panel was the best one ever that I've attended. RC moderated it, as part of the Mystery book panels, in the aptly titled, "Cops & Crooks in California". It consisted of himself, Joseph Wambaugh, Don Winslow, and T. Jefferson Parker. Can't remember all of things that made Jen and I laugh so hard. But, don't wait for me to tell you all about it. Thoughtfully, writer Naomi Johnson linked me to a wonderfully written summary of it all by blogger Obsessions of a Pop Cultured Nerd. And like Naomi, I highly recommend this two-part post as a read:

Friday, April 24, 2009

Demolishing an Angel

Today's Lost L.A. article (linked above) in the L.A. Times by Sam Watters was a shocker, especially for this native angeleno. Now being run by Hyatt, the Century Plaza Hotel is facing demolition in a city that has (unfortunately) a reputation for demolishing its landmarks. Designed by famed architect Minoru Yamasaki (yes, the very same person who designed the World Trade Center), it has been the cornerstone of the city within a city, Century City, since the mid-60's.


Though it wasn't the first building to be built in Century City, it soon became anchor for businesses and buildings to grow around, and for visitors (either in- or out-of-towners) to congregate within. And you could say, its birth and livelihood has been tied to the local movie industry. In fact, a case can be made that it came into being because of certain infamous movie flops (cough... Cleopatra). If 20th Century Fox studio, which borders CC, hadn't suffered losses from a string of unsuccessful movies, they may not have had to sell off 180 acres from its backlot to developers by 1961.

It's been the host to several past U.S. Presidents and foreign dignitaries who came to Los Angeles. It's been one of this city's VIP destinations for decades now. Directly across the street from this grand hotel there used to sit the ABC Entertainment Center--sadly, another recent victim of demolition. Whether you were a fan of movies or the stage, for many it was the place you'd go to enjoy a night out on westside. Many of the big movie releases were judged to be blockbusters by how long ticket-holder lines wrapped outside of the theater (they were clearly visible to anyone driving by on the main drag, Avenue of the Stars). And if you were a stage fan, the former Shubert Theatre in the same complex, was where you'd catch some of the biggest plays to make it out west. It's where I saw A Chorus Line, Cats, and Beauty and the Beast, among others.

As you can see, the place has left an impression. If you look at the second image of the venerable hotel of this post, you'll spot another famous location in the background, two buildings over. The Fox Plaza is well known to those who've seen either Die Hard, Speed, or Fight Club. I can happily recall going to the movies one weekend in Century City, ages ago with an old girlfriend who shall remain nameless (hey, give me credit for knowing how to prevent parts of my anatomy from going missing), and standing on the sidewalk while traffic was held up for one of the better action sequences filmed in our area. I speak of the spectacular night-time rotary action scene where the two FBI agents ascent up (in Huey's) to the top of the Nakatomi Plaza. Man, that was a blast to watch up close.

But, all of that fun and all of those memories don't happen if the Century Plaza Hotel didn't get built by a great architect. Luckily for the city, and those that either live or visit here, it was. Now it seems, developers are asking us to forget for their own profit. Grand structures have memory--they are a repository for them. The hotel emblematized a region and an design ideal. Since I don't Twitter (yet), I'm spreading the word the only way I have--through this blog. As well, I sincerely hope the L.A. Conservancy, which has placed this hotel on its list of endangered buildings, can save this wonderful piece of romanticized modernism. And reporter Watters, says it best:

"In December, a press release quoted Rosenfeld as saying, "The opportunity to redefine an urban center in one of the great international cities comes along once in a lifetime." What also comes along once in a lifetime is the chance to sacrifice profit to preservation. International cities become great by preserving their cultural achievements. They refurbish, recycle and expand noted buildings, creating unique urban experiences that define for the world what makes Paris Paris and Prague Prague. Great cities do not trash the past. They use it to enrich the future."

"The hotel cannot defend itself, so call the city now. If New York can keep its historic Plaza Hotel, why can't we keep ours?"
Well said, Sam. Well said.

Kudos to Steve & Lynn

Steven Hart always finds insightful posts on the web. This time he cites Lynn Viehl's post that is a brutally honest reflection of what it takes to hit the top twenty of the New York Times fiction bestseller list. Almost equally as good are some of the comments from readers of that post. It sure is an eye-opener.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Tributes and Links

I have to commend Steven Hart for Friday's post. Not only did it ask and link some interesting metaphysical questions, but it lead to the wonderful tribute to illustrator Richard Amsel. Always loved the guy's work (without knowing his name). Which of course linked to Larry Aydlette's blog of quad posters and lobby cards. And that lead to the site that abstracts/reduces movie posters to an online/ongoing contest for visitors to guess at. Of course, you'll have know how to determine what 15.30 GMT is in your time zone to play along ;-).

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Correction... Ron

In today's Top of the Ticket blog (L.A. Times), it has a post with the "darling of Libertarians everywhere", congressman Ron Paul. It highlights his idea of hiring privateers to go after the pirates using the "... little-known power written into the Constitution called marque and reprisal." Thankfully, the post also links the associated Politco.com article which cites the number of potential complications that could result when "... 100 American wannabe Rambos..." start patrolling the rather large body of water known as the Indian Ocean. Whether it gets traction with Congress or not, his lecture on the recent history of Somalia (and our involvement) that is part of his YouTube video had a glaring inaccuracy:
"... the foolish attempt... [video edit/break appears] ...and Clinton went into Somalia in the early 1990's, and a fiasco resulted. We got involved in a civil war there and supported one faction... and ah, and several of our helicopters went down and a dozen or so of our people were killed."
Too bad his memory fails here, or he mis-remembers the events on purpose. U.N. Resolution 794 is what instigated forces to intercede there. And, it was the Republican President George H.W. Bush, not Bill Clinton, who responded to that and initiated Operation Restore Hope. This is well documented in a number of historical books and web sites, as well as in Mark Bowen's excellent non-fiction book, Blackhawk Down, which includes a good chronicle of the background that lead up to the battle Paul mentions. I do hate it when politicians either screw up facts, purposely or accidentally, and the reporters fail to call them out for it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Kathryn's Back


Being one of the few female action/adventure directors, it's great to see Kathryn Bigelow back with what that looks like a good one. The Hurt Locker is one I'm looking forward to this summer movie season.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Rest in Peace Harry Kalas


Though I never listened to the games he called for the Phillies, I certainly did when I watched anything from NFL Films. Between Harry Kalas and the Voice of God, John Facenda, they narrated some of the best football games ever recorded. I'm sorry to see him go. May he rest in peace. 

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Tales from the (Movie) Theater: Part 2

Continuation of the series--see Intro, part 1:

The Owner

Getting past my brother's interview process and meeting the owner made for quite a contrast. At least with my brother, he was a known commodity -- familia -- for better or for worst. On the other hand the proprietor, Armand, he was an eye-opener. When introduced to him by my brother, one immediately felt like you were being sized up and grouped into one of two categories: those like him, and everybody else. Those who were like him were the self-made businessmen who started out with literally nothing and work/scraped whatever they achieved through their energy and ambition.

The rest of the chapter has been updated and relocated to my current blog, found here.

Next up: Projecting (Part 3)

Friday, April 10, 2009

Just a Quick Thought

Thought about this while driving home on this Good Friday: 

When was the last time you can recall you saw a properly done hand signal by a motorist*?

I'm thinking sometime in the 80's for me...


* I'm excluding cyclists because that's their only recourse to signal turns. 

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Sh*t Taco


I have to admit my favorite segment in this clip, beginning at the 2:00 mark, is Jon Stewart's summary of the previous administration's mis-steps and blatantly tyrannical moves that the wingnut rightis seeking to blame Obama for, now. But the whole clip is classic.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Tales from the (Movie) Theater: Part 1

Continuation of the series that began here.

Brotherhood

By the mid-70's, I needed a steady job to support my endeavor of higher education (and perhaps affording to have money in my pocket for dating purposes, too). Ah...youth. A college education was something my mother pushed for, and I (the surviving oldest) got that obligación. I was at L.A. City College at the time--junior college--see what mediocre high school grades get you. Now, my younger brother (by 1 year and 8 months) on the other hand sought work foremost (and had done so since he finished high school).

The rest of the chapter has been updated and relocated to my current blog, found here.

Next up: The Owner (Part 2)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Brevity's Pull

In Praise of the American Short Story
While I don't always agree with A.O. Scott, movie critic of the N.Y. Times, he always gets me to really reflect upon the subjects he writes up. And in this piece, he's drawn me in to a subject that I haven't given enough due. It's a marvelous piece of writing and praise of the short story. Outside of high school/college, I've haven't always made it a routine of reading them. And if it wasn't for authors like Poe, Stephen King, and Clive Barker, in later life, it would be an even shorter road for me. Thinking about it, I should also give credit to bloggers Jen and Corey for their unwavering reading devotion to the short form. And, to those like Naomi, Gay of Words in Place, and Nordette (aka Vérité Parlant) who practice the laconic art so beautifully. And yes, I'm attempting to get some credit for knowing of talented folks like these ;-).



Sunday, April 5, 2009

Another Ritchie for the Collection



Finally, Guy Ritchie has directed another good one worthy of holding on to. I finally took in Rocknrolla from my NetFlix cue. It is wonderful British crime entertainment, full of the usual underworld plot-twisting, vivid characters, and slow-motion/quick cut editing that are the trademarks of the newly ex-Mr. Madonna. While his films aren't in the league of hard classics like 1971's Get Carter, the director of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch is still the one I want to hear from for my London gangster fix. Likely, both his return to form and divorce from the Material Girl are valued equally here (likely correlated, too), and across the pond. Now, I can't wait for his next release later in the year: the Ritchie-directed Sherlock Holmes (with Robert Downey, Jr.).

Friday, April 3, 2009

They Sank It Themselves

10 Cars That Sank Detroit
This was a thoughtful U.S. News & World Report article that clearly answers why Detroit automakers are where they are now. And, the basis for this is decades old. But, I wonder why they didn't bother to mention my dad's Chevy Vega? I have such a fond memory of it breaking down in the desert while we attempted to cross from L.A. to Las Vegas--in AUGUST!!!

                            

Tales from the (Movie) Theater: Intro

As some of you know, I have a thing for movies --"criminy, you watch enough of them!", says my wife. I reason it was because I was influenced by the act of taking them in at a young age. One of my earliest memories was going to the drive-in with my mom and dad when I was a toddler. Later, my mother's sisters and brother would take me during my childhood (I guess any kid sitting, no matter if it was in a dark theater with strangers all about, was a good thing). Even later, during that more innocent era, we (friends and I, junior high-aged) would strike out on our own to movie halls situated 2-3 miles away to take in a flick. Usually, by walking or by bus. Do you think I'd let my 9- and 13-year old do that now? Hell, no!!!

The rest of the chapter has been updated and relocated to my current blog, found here.

Next up: Brotherhood (Part 1)