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This Mark character sure likes to talk. He likes to talk in a snappy and condescending manner, everything sped-up and supercilious. At the bar where we meet him, he asks his girlfriend, Erica (Rooney Mara), why she has to leave the bar and study — after all, she goes to BU. (Mark, you see, goes to Harvard.) And he brags about his perfect SAT score. He also lusts to be accepted into one of Harvard’s elite final clubs. By the end of this conversation, Erica will no longer be Mark’s girlfriend. Mark will go back to his dorm room, super-pissed, and begin coding a site to dominate the world. …


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Why do some films sink while others soar into the stratosphere, sky-high, where they remain as living monuments? It’s a good question, but a much better question is: Why do some films do both? I think I can be of some help in the matter, at least as it pertains to The Big Lebowski.

First off, it was marketed wrong. One of the primary trailers that Working Title Films first ran had nothing on its soundtrack but “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” (an admittedly wonderful song by Kenny Rogers & the First Edition) playing over a collage of moments from the film that do little to convey its greatest asset: the idiosyncrasies of the characters, whose attributes in the movie are conveyed mostly through the spoken word. …


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“Look, I understand that you’re nervous, all right? And I wish the warehouse had more visible windows, but it doesn’t. We have to make do with the cards we were dealt.”

That’s from a deleted scene shot for Reservoir Dogs in which Mr. Orange’s fixer, Holdaway (Randy Brooks) — a fellow cop who instructs him on how to get hired for the heist and what to do once it goes down — apologizes for the specifications of the rendezvous warehouse, which contribute to the supreme precariousness of the whole situation. …


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By the early 1940s, Billy Wilder had written several films with Charles Brackett, and he would write several more, but for Double Indemnity — a tale of murderous infidelity — Wilder would have to find a different partner to help him adapt material so unseemly and incendiary.

Originally a novella-length story by James M. Cain published in installments in Liberty magazine, the property had been knocking around Hollywood for some years, but Charles Brackett wasn’t the only one who didn’t want to touch it. …


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Taxi Driver has always worked for me primarily as a mood piece, a noirish nocturne evoking existential freedom, and the anguish that often comes as the price of such freedom. So many people contributed to the expression of this mood, even though the idea originated with a single person’s singular vision. That vision belonged to Paul Schrader, of course, the screenwriter, and we could start with him.

Or we could start with Robert De Niro. He’s the star of the piece — he’s the Taxi Driver, Travis Bickle. He’s also someone who, as strange circumstance would have it, had considered writing a similar script years earlier, when thinking of generating material for himself to play. This would be, as De Niro biographer Shawn Levy describes it, “a script about a man wandering New York City with guns and dreaming of an assassination.” …


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You can always tell the story a different way:

So there’s this guy who knows nothing about politics, right? Jefferson Smith (Jimmy Stewart). He’s recruited by the party hacks to come in and fill the seat of a senator recently deceased — basically, because the governor’s bratty kids want him to (“You’re all wet, pop!”), and because he seems both wholesome and pliable.


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Making the publicity rounds for Full Metal Jacket in 1987, Stanley Kubrick was talking with the Paris paper Le Monde about his new film and the contradictory interpretations it was bound to provoke. “You shouldn’t make a war film,” he said, “if all you have to say is, ‘There should be no more wars.’ Even the generals will agree with you about that.”

So he’d made a movie instead about what war does to people, to some people, beginning with the rigors and rituals of basic training, and then taking his examination all the way into the chaos of battle its brutal self. …


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In Cary Grant, Alfred Hitchcock certainly found the right man to be his Wrong Man. Grant wasn’t Hitch’s first Wrong Man, by any means, but he was his most debonair, his most whimsical, and, for all that, his most enigmatic. Hitch and Ernest Lehman knew going into the writing of North by Northwest that they wanted their guy to be an innocent man on the run, and that they wanted to plug in certain bizarre locales and scenarios. The rest they’d figure out on the way.

That sense of impromptu fun is evident in the movie’s spirit, and also in its incoherence. Very few seem bothered by the latter. North by Northwest stands alone among Hitchcock’s work as the sort of pure-popcorn picaresque romp that would soon become popular in the form of the James Bond pictures and then, shortly after, the Indiana Jones saga. …


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Scarface has been so much more than a movie for so long. In the 1980s the sampled dialogue of Tony Montana became — as it remains — a staple among rappers of every style and sensibility. Meanwhile, memes and posters proliferate. As for the merchandise: one hardly knows where to start. Over on Amazon, I punch in “scarface merchandise” and this is what shows up on just the first page of results: T-shirts, fleece blankets, refrigerator magnets, framed collages, flip-top lighters, table lamps, wall clocks, pillow cases, keychains, drinking flasks, and computer-tablet skins.

Oh, and a resin “The World Is Yours” statue. …


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Orson Welles sure knew what he was doing when he commissioned Norman Rockwell to design the original poster art for The Magnificent Ambersons. The same foolish, fatuous nostalgia for an era that never really existed — and that, if it had existed, would hardly be worth preserving — also pervades this work of Welles’.

But then you get to the issue of whether Ambersons is even really Welles’ work. The man himself would tell you it’s not — that the essence of his work got left on the cutting-room floor and destroyed — and of course we should take him at his word. …

About

Lary Wallace

Eccentric-at-Large. lary.wallace@outlook.com

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