Saturday, November 3, 2007

Days of Wine and Roses

I often have a problem watching films about addiction and recovery. Even in the best ones there seems to be some sort of artificiality I can not get past. In The Days of Wine and Roses Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick are great, but there comes a point in the film where it gets preachy and we can see the ending coming 45 minutes in advance. Worse, to me, is Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend. Milland set the standard for the bad drunk, but the D.T. scene is laughable- did they spend any money on that fake bat attack? Yet, the film won Oscars and for years was the touchstone for films about alcoholism.

Films just about addiction are no good. I like Leaving Las Vegas and really appreciate the director Mike Figgis, but I don't need to see Nicolas Cage drink himself to death. I get it already. The typical film is this: I am a junkie, it's fun for a while, it gets out of control, I leave a wake of destruction- physical and emotional- in my path, then I die miserably. In other words see Keith Moon, Jimi Hendrix, Sid Vicious, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, ad. nausea.

Films just about recovery are perhaps worse because we see none of the fun and we get preached at for two hours. These films actually make me want to drink. More. Right there in the theater. Where is the Martini concession? Is there a Pinot Noir vendor anywhere?

Take a pass on Clean and Sober (though I like Michael Keaton) and especially When a Man Loves a Woman a Meg Ryan/Andy Garcia film. A good idea by Al Franken gone bad through a series of unfortunate filmmaking events. (No one knew the film they were trying to make.) A far superior film written by the same Al Franken is Stuart Saves His Family. Franken knows something about alcoholic families and co-dependency and Stuart is a surprisingly nice film.

All of this brings me to two films I saw recently that have a different take on addiction and recovery, but to me were maybe the most valid of all the films. Interestingly they both deal with killers, but in very different ways.
You Kill Me stars the always terrific Ben Kingsley as a hit man for the Buffalo, NY Polish mob who is sent to San Francisco to dry out. In S.F. he gets a job in a funeral home, where he meets Tea Leoni (who also produced the film. I wonder what attracted her to the material?) and goes to A.A. He gets a sponsor and gets his life together. There are several scenes in the A.A. meeting and several more with his sponsor, Luke Wilson. Though it is a dark comedy it touches on issues about addiction and recovery that those other films don't.

The other film is Mr. Brooks starring Kevin Costner and William Hurt. Costner is Mr. Brooks, Portland, Oregon's man of the year and a serial killer. (Where do they come up with these ideas?) He wants to stop killing but his alter ego, William Hurt, won't let him. He goes to A.A. meetings where all he says is that he is an addict and leaves it at that.

The thing that struck me about both these films is the power of the anonymous group and how people could sit and talk or not, but it was clear recovery was a process they were all going through. Very interesting, though a little thin on the fake bat attack scenes.

Peter H

Thursday, November 1, 2007

A victimless crime?

Years ago a made a film called Victimless Crimes. It was about a pair of art thieves who stole paintings with the theory that no one got hurt. The gallery owner got his insurance money, the artists had already been paid, so why not rip them off. See, a victimless crime. Aren't I clever.

While I enjoy referencing myself and my work, I am bringing it up because of the issues I recently blogged about- file sharing and file stealing. I wouldn't steal a library book or a computer. Why would I steal a computer file? Why would I take something I know has been stolen? Just because the software company, or Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington in the case of American Gangster. Aren't physically around as one takes their property does not make it OK.

On one of my first posts I wrote about You Tube and how much I disliked them. The main reason was because of all of the illegal work up there. At the time I mentioned my own work with Denny Dent was available on You Tube because someone had taken a copy and posted it. While they did it as a tribute to Denny, and at first I was flattered, now I am greatly bothered.

fEERtherepEER, the person who posted it, needs to know that what they did was wrong. And while I appreciate the 47,851 views (minus my two viewings) you do not have my permission to use it. It is my work, my property. Stop.

This is not a victimless crime.


Monday, October 29, 2007


Regular readers of this page know my fondness for The Marx Brothers and Groucho in particular. Those readers should also know of my affection (addiction? disease?) for the Boston Red Sox. At school this afternoon I had students congratulating me on the World Series victory as if I was the Red Sox bullpen. I blame my Great Aunt Amy for this Red Sox affliction, but that is another story for another time. Check out the Soxaholix link to the right to see the depths of this condition. However, as this is a blog about film I'll bring it back to Groucho.

As I kid my parents showed me classic old films. Sometimes my dad would bring home a film print of Laurel and Hardy or the Marx Brothers and we would project it on a wall in our living room. The screenings were infrequent, but wonderful. More often we would watch on TV a Charlie Chan film or some other relic that most readers of this page will have no idea what I am referencing. (Once on TV there used to be something called The Late Show where old movies would be screened. Now there is You Tube- see below.)

To me Groucho is the best. For pure anarchy and zaniness nobody can beat him- a raised eyebrow, an eye roll and a leer can get more laughs than a thousand stand-up comedian monologues. But Groucho hard a dark side. He, like many geniuses, was depressed. He lost a fortune in the 1929 stock market crash, married badly and had more personal failures than one would wish on your worst enemy. And, unlike the rest of us, he didn't have a Groucho Marx in his life to make him laugh. If anyone needed a Groucho it was Groucho.

So for everyone who reads this page and needs to smile here is Groucho as Captain Spaulding almost 80-EIGHTY!- years ago in Animal Crackers.

Now I must be going.