Thursday, August 23, 2012


Written and Directed by Kenneth Lonergan
* 1/2 (one and a half stars)

"Márgarét, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for."
-"SPRING AND FALL" Written by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1880)

There is a part of me that wishes to blame NPR "Fresh Air" radio hostess Terry Gross but I do realize that act would be wholly irrational.

I originally carried no interest or desire to screen "Margaret," the second film from Writer/Director Kenneth Lonergan, who previously captured strong critical acclaim and Oscar nominations for his debut feature "You Can Count On Me" (2000). I had nothing against the film or towards Lonergan himself as an artist. It was just a situation where Lonergan's first film was simply one that had passed me by. Since I really had no plans to play catch up with that film, any attention his subsequent film would possibly garner just did not register with me and probably would continue to not register unless for something of a more dramatic nature.  And here is where Terry Gross comes into the picture.

While driving home from work one evening very recently, I typically turn my radio dial to "Fresh Air" to hear who Terry Gross' guest of the evening happened to be. On this fateful evening, Gross' guest was Kenneth Lonergan himself, as he was making certain promotional rounds for the DVD release of "Margaret," a film I quickly discovered had garnered quite the reputation through its extremely troubled history. For you see, "Margaret," starring Anna Paquin and the likes of Matt Damon, Mark Ruffalo, Allison Janney and Matthew Broderick, was actually filmed six years ago over the course of three months. Where the trouble began was during the editing process as Lonergan struggled to piece his film together to suit his artistic vision as well as satisfy the business end of the project and meet his 2007 theatrical release date. From what I could gather from veiled remarks during the interview and some articles I have found throughout cyberspace, art and commerce reached an impasse as Lonergan found himself unable to edit the film to his creative desires, including making the film reach its final running time, which was contractually obligated to not exceed 2 1/2 hours but Lonergan felt his film functioned better running a hair over three hours. This unexpectedly extended and increasingly expensive post-production process has led to a series of lengthy lawsuits, which in turn has held up the theatrical release of the film until this past fall/winter when "Margaret" was given a tiny, token distribution to theaters. Now, "Margaret" has reached DVD/Blu-Ray status where viewers are now able to see both/either the theatrical 2 1/2 hour edit or Lonergan's 3 hour plus version. 

What I heard of the interview plus some audio clips from the film intrigued me tremendously and I had hoped that one of the very few brick and mortar video stores remaining in my city would indeed carry the film upon its shelves. Thankfully, the good folks at Video Station did indeed have the film, albeit one, solitary, difficult to obtain copy as it has been consistently checked out for the past several weeks. But, at last, I obtained the copy this past weekend, and finally, I was able to view the entire experience. And...oh boy...dear readers...

While I did not hate the film, "Margaret" is absolutely and undoubtedly terrible. I will say that the film's failure is not due to the actual storyline nor for any conceptual and thematic qualities whatsoever. In fact, those elements are more than compelling and riveting enough where I could easily see the great movie that lurks somewhere within the major disappointment I witnessed. For me, the failure of "Margaret" lies firmly within  its construction and overall presentation. So much so, that I feel that this film is the perfect example of what can happen when a filmmaker is just too close to his own material and artistic vision that he loses all sense of perspective. With "Margaret," Kenneth Lonergan was hopelessly lost in the cinematic weeds.

"Margaret" stars Anna Paquin as 17-year-old Lori Cohen, an insufferably precocious student at a wealthy Manhattan private high school, which seems to function with an extreme child directed curriculum as most classes solely exist as vehemently exchanged debates laced with rampant profanity and very little adult guidance, if any. Lori lives with her younger brother and carries a fractured and turbulent relationship with her Mother, Joan (played by J. Smith-Cameron), a stage actress who just may be on the cusp of a newfound notoriety as her new off Broadway play is set to open. Her laconic Father, Karl (played by Kenneth Lonergan himself), a commercial producer, lives in California with his new girlfriend and communicates with Lori via telephone calls, effectively keeping her at arms length.

At school, Lori is experimenting with a newly discovered sense of sexual power, as she dresses somewhat provocatively, toys cruelly with the affections of one young suitor (John Gallagher Jr.), casually loses her virginity with another classmate (Kieran Culkin) and flirts shamelessly with her Math teacher, Mr. Aaron (Matt Damon). 

One day, while shopping for a cowboy hat to wear on a proposed trip to visit her Father, Lori catches the eye of the cowboy hat wearing Gerald Maretti (Mark Ruffalo), a Metropolitan Transit Authority bus driver. As Lori runs alongside the bus, attempting and succeeding to garner the bus driver's attention, the bus accidentally runs a red light and hits a pedestrian (Allison Janney), whose leg is severed and soon dies in Lori's arms on the New York streets. The remainder of "Margaret" depicts Lori's crushing guilt as she not only wrestles with the responsibility of her actions but also her mounting rage and emotional despair as her developing world view is severely tested when confronted with a morally ambiguous adult world.

As I have previously stated, when I watched "Margaret," I could easily see exactly how a great movie existed within the proceedings as the actual storyline and themes contained therein could make for an absorbing and devastating drama. There are many sequences throughout the film, the bus accident scene and its immediate aftermath, most notably, that indeed carried a supreme weight and strong sense of dramatic power. All of the actors are game to give their respective roles, no matter how large or small, their very best shot and Anna Paquin in particular, is obviously trying to swing for the fences with a fully engaged performance that possesses a hefty amount of passionate gusto.

In Kenneth Lonergan's favor, I have to admit that I truly appreciated his conviction with the character of Lisa Cohen. Like Director Jason Reitman and Writer Diablo Cody's excellent "Young Adult" (2001), it is indeed a remarkably risky move to create an unlikeable character and ask your audience to hang onto them and their tribulations and even ask for you to try and understand them for any stretch of time, let alone an especially lengthy stretch in the case of "Margaret." Lisa Cohen is an extremely difficult character to embrace, if at all. She is so astoundingly narcissistic and downright mean to her family and schoolmates during the film's first half and then she even plummets to even more astounding levels of self-congratulatory anguish and self righteous piety during the film's second half when she essentially leaves adolescence behind and becomes immersed in the adult world. This aspect actually works to the film's advantage as I felt "Margaret" existed in some universe where the disparate works of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment and John Hughes' "The Breakfast Club" (1985) met somewhere in the middle and shook hands. Please allow me to explain...

As you may have gathered by this time, there is no one in the film named "Margaret." The title of the film comes from the poem I have attached at the beginning of this review and is included during one short moment in Lori's high school English class as her teacher (played by Matthew Broderick) reads it aloud to the students. Without going through any sort of massive poetic analysis for those of you who still may be planning to view this film anyway, just try to think of the poem and how it relates to Lori's life as an exploration of one's emotional state as one grows older. If you recall the "group therapy sequence" at the climax of "The Breakfast Club," the so-called "basket case" Alison Reynolds (Ally Sheedy) uttered the iconic line of dialogue, "When you grow up, your heart dies." In that one line, Alison unearthed a universal teenage concern regarding the world at large as she essentially wonders aloud, "Why are adults not as empathetic as I am?" 

In "Margaret," we do have such a similar scene set during yet another rancorous classroom debate which featured the question "Should teenagers rule the world?" In the case of Lori Cohen, I would gather that she would strongly feel that teenagers should rule the world as her dealings with more and more adults frustrates her endlessly as she runs into all manner of adult world brick walls making her question everything she ever thought or felt about the world at large in the first place. In her mind, no one else seems to be as torn about the death of the pedestrian as she feels that she is. Her emerging viewpoints of justice and fairness are indeed quite black and white which contrasts dramatically with the moral grayness of how the world really works. Her views also clash desperately with the level of guilt she carries throughout the rest of the film. Yet even then, Lori never really quite owns up to her responsibility and even transfers her guilt into a ferocious crusade against the bus driver as she hopes to have him fired but is unaware of the greater political landscape of even attempting such a move and how her passion may appear to be grotesquely disingenuous to the deceased pedestrians next of kin and close friends. In one of the film's very best scenes, one adult figure tongue lashes Lori for incorporating everyone and everything into her own personal sense of drama and self-involved crisis. "This isn't some play!! This isn't some opera where we are supporting players to you!!" the adult admonishes to Lori's complete incredulity. 

These are the qualities and moments that made "Margaret" a film that I wanted to keep with even as I was growing increasingly tired of the experience as a whole. Lori Cohen fascinated me because in addition to functioning as a more in depth version of her character from Spike Lee's beautifully mournful "25th Hour" (2002) , Lori is essentially a post 9/11 teenaged Roskolnokov roaming through a horrific inner world of torment, mortality, remorse and consequences and Anna Paquin, to her credit played this girl as if her life depended on it.  

And even so, the film's largest problem lies in the fact that at three hours plus, "Margaret" is disastrously interminable due to its construction and editing. Its sense of pacing is so poor that viewing the film often became excruciating and despite the presence of people like Matt Damon, Mark Ruffalo, and Matthew Broderick, Lonergan saddled them with a film that wastes every single one of them in roles that felt to be either underwritten, severely edited, ill conceived, non-sensical or completely and flat out superfluous. 

Broderick only appears in perhaps three scenes and I truly had no idea of why he was even in the film to begin with. There is one strong scene set in his English class where he engages in a debate with a student over Shakespeare but it amounts to absolutely nothing to the film in its entirety. The great Jean Reno also appears in the film as a Colombian businessman who courts and falls for Lori's actress Mother. Yet, he also felt to be shoe-horned into the experience, showing up here and there without rhyme or reason and disappearing from the film altogether in a most arbitrary fashion. Plot elements of heart attacks and one abortion also felt to be terribly contrived. Scenes begin and end abruptly. Some drag on and on. Some grow increasingly histrionic. Others even felt to be complete throwaways, edited into the film without any sense of building connective tissue from one moment into the next. Simply stated, "Margaret" is a giant sized mess of a movie tat maybe needed a pair of eyes completely removed from the project in order to fully connect the dots and weave together the stunning tapestry that is indeed hiding in that mountainof footage somewhere.

Maybe "Margaret" was just one of those projects that was not quite meant to be. Or it was one where the stars were just not aligned properly. Or it was one where the process just got away from Lonergan's best artistic intentions. Maybe Lonergan was attempting to make a film that worked more like a novel.

And maybe that is the key. Perhaps, if Kenneth Lonergan doesn't quite have "Margaret" out of his system as of yet, perhaps he could re-write the film as a novel. There is GREAT stuff rummaging around this story and film. But sadly, Lonergan was just not able to find it.

Sunday, August 12, 2012


Written by Zoe Kazan
Directed by Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris
**** (four stars)

Dear readers, I was not prepared for this one. And happily so.

In a year filled with one cinematic surprise and example of filmmaking excellence arriving rapidly after another, "Ruby Sparks" is an especially exceptional marvel. It is the type of film that truly seems as if it just appeared out of thin air, fully formed, untainted by hackneyed screenwriting and storytelling rules and exhaustingly well worn movie cliches. It is a film that soars on its own unabashed sense of creativity while also plunging deeply into darker thematic waters as it wrestles with not only with hard fought relationship issues, but also with the dangers of the crumbling male ego, the devastating effects of writer's block, and the intense pressures of living up to past successes, whose grand shadow grows only more powerful the longer one does not create something new.

In regards to creating that elusive second work of art, "Ruby Sparks" marks the return of Directors Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris, former music video directors (they created The Smashing Pumpkins' iconic "Tonight, Tonight" video among others), who are just now arriving with their second film, six years after their hugely successful debut with "Little Miss Sunshine" (2006). And even beyond that, "Ruby Sparks" also presents itself as existing as one of the year's best written films as Zoe Kazan, who also gives a tremendous performance as the titular Ruby Sparks, announces herself as a creative force to be reckoned with. As I often say, when it comes to the overall quality, originality and diversity of what films are being made, we truly owe it to ourselves to head out and support those films that would otherwise be swept aside over the major, big budget releases. It has truly saddened me that Writer/Director Lorene Scafaria's boldly haunting, darkly comic and intimately romantic "Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World" sank like a stone at the box office, as I strongly feel that film is one of the best releases of 2012. "Ruby Sparks" is another film in that company and I URGE YOU to go see it immediately.

As with some of the very best films I have seen this year so far, the less I inform you about the film, the better. "Ruby Sparks" stars Paul Dano as Calvin Weir-Fields, a lonely, depressed, profoundly introverted 29-year-old novelist struggling heavily with not only producing that difficult second novel but also living up to his ever growing reputation as a literary genius as his first novel, published at the age of 19, was a resounding success. He is friendless, aside from his coarser, more pragmatic brother Harry (an excellent Chris Messina), has not dated since a painful breakup, gains continuous counsel from his therapist Dr. Rosenthal (Elliot Gould) and struggles with caring for Scotty, his small, skittish little dog.  

Calvin miraculously finds inspiration after waking from a dream in which he meets a girl in the park. He begins to write feverishly and constantly, bringing to literary life the girl from his dreams, an act that only serves to confound him further as he feels himself falling in love with his creation.

And then, the girl named Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan), suddenly appears in his apartment, very much in the flesh.

Everything that I have described to you essentially appears in the film's trailer and believe me, I strongly feel that this is as far as I can go with any sort of plot description. But, if you do check out the film's trailer on-line, also believe me, "Ruby Sparks" may seem to be a sweet, literary based romantic fantasy but the film as a whole is a much broader, deeper, painful, perceptive, wrenching experience than it seems to be. "Ruby Sparks" is the very kind of sumptuous experience that you want to race out of the theater and tell your friends about immediately but you also don't want to say anything terribly revealing about it either. If it assists you, I feel that "Ruby Sparks" belongs confidently within a small class of films that are as creatively confident as they are also precisely existential. I am thinking of films like Peter Weir's "The Truman Show" (1998), Marc Forster's "Stranger Than Fiction" (2006), and essentially every film written by Charlie Kaufmann (which includes 1999's "Being John Malkovich," 2002's "Adaptation," 2004's "Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind," and 2008's "Synecdoche, New York," which he also directed).This is the company with which "Ruby Sparks" keeps and it is without any sense of hyperbolie when I say that it has magically earned its right to be joined with those incredible films.

"Ruby Sparks" succeeds so wonderfully on a variety of thematic levels, which makes the storytelling efforts of Kazan's screenplay and Dayton and Faris' direction and presentation even more impressive. As a story about writer's block and creative pressures to return to former glories and fulfill everyone's expectations, most notably your own, the film felt note perfect to me. I have to say that even as I produce a mountain of words on Savage Cinema, I do hold deep creative writing aspirations as well, aspirations I have barely shown to anyone else out of nothing more than fear. I will tell you that I have been writing my own book for many years now, off and on, and the creative dance I have with my own sense of inspiration is a tenuous one at that. When I find myself able to create, I can often find myself in a world of amazement that so many words could arrive out of me, or through me at all. When the writing is moving along at its best, it sometimes feels as if the characters themselves are nearby, guiding me along, whispering in my ears, informing me of what feels true to their behavior and inner lives or not. And then, life responsibilities arrive, forcing me to put things aside for a bit and then, doubts, intimidation and that ever present sense of fear arrives again to make me feel as if that creative window, once so beautifully open, has now closed for good. I have even questioned if writing these reviews are actually a source of distraction from forcing myself to write more creatively instead of focusing my attention upon art created by others. So, my inner voice asks me, why bother? 

That sense of crippling self-confidence rests at the core of Calvin, even moreso as with each person who continues to tell him how much they loved the novel he wrote 10 years prior, those words do not fill him with energy and confidence. They leave him horribly stagnated. And that level creative stagnation leads to an emotional stagnation when it comes to the relationships he shares with others, especially when Ruby magically appears out of his dreams and from his written pages. His creative impotence fuels his emotional impotence and the ways his relationship with Ruby rises and descends through levels of control or even Calvin's lack of control definitely packed a most powerful punch. I have also often said that I am usually not very affected by movie love stories and that I tend to gravitate to love stories that are more hard fought. The love story of "Ruby Sparks" is not only emotionally honest, it is at times, uncomfortably brutal as it depicts the ebb and flow of an affair at its most floating as well as despairing. For all of us who have ever asked of their romantic partner, "Why can't you just be what I want for you to be?," Dayton, Faris and Kazan have fashioned an even more provocative question: "What happens when your partner is exactly what you wish for them to be?" This question is what transports "Ruby Sparks" brilliantly from sweet fantasy into a very real cautionary tale.

I cannot tell you how much I appreciated this sense of emotional reality that grounded this fantastical story so skillfully. This is a quality that just eluded me in "Little Miss Sunshine," a film I have seen several times but have never found an appreciation for as the film itself and all of the characters within it, felt to exist inside a set of quotation marks, hipster irony and dangerously copious amounts of the dreaded self-conscious, self-congratulatory quirk that derails so many independent films. This time, and with extreme thanks to Zoe Kazan's screenplay, Dayton and Faris strike a tremendously impressive sense of tonality which is then further assisted through a propulsive score by Composer Nick Urata and including classical pieces from Mozart that at times, makes "Ruby Sparks" function as a psychological thriller in which we just might have a front row seat to a not-so-young writer's mental breakdown. 

Paul Dano, to me, has never been more impressive as he holds the screen with quiet power as he is a person we root for and simultaneously condemn the further the film moves ahead and all the while, he is completely understandable. Zoe Kazan's performance is one that I wish is rememebred during awards season as she just nails the emotional truth, and wild, creatively driven mood swings of Ruby Sparks as if they are spun and ceased on a dime. One furious sequence near the end of the film is an astonshing display of inner and outer emotional physicality. You cannot take your eyes off of her and still, the soft spoken Dano more than holds his own. Kazan and Dano's relationship dance is one of the year most compelling on screen duets for certain.  

Look...let me explain my feelings to you this way. When I entered the theater this afternoon and was asked by one of my young friends which film I was seeing, I told him and he responded with only a sly smile, as if he knew the priceless secret to which I would soon find out for myself. After walking out of the movie, I strode over to my friend and said to him with a goofy smile plastered upon my own face, " weren't playin'!"

Allow this review to serve as that sly smile, dear readers, for I wish you to also bask in the glowing greatness that is "Ruby Sparks" as it truly deserves to be fully embraced and not remain as any sort of cinematic secret.

"Ruby Sparks" is one of 2012's very best films.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

THE QUADRIPLEGIC & "THE MAGIC NEGRO": a review of "The Intouchables"

Written and Directed by Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache
*** (three stars)

It never fails. There will always, always be someone to rain upon someone else's parade. 

This review arrives to you with a healthy amount of impassioned incredulity, a feeling which I will fully explain shortly. "The Intouchables," from filmmakers Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache, has already gained an enormous reputation from the international film community as it has become France's second highest grossing film in its history, just nine weeks after its November 2011 release. The film has also garnered significant major awards as well, as "The Intouchables" has received the Tokyo Sakura Grand Prix award for Best Film at the Tokyo International Film Festival. Additionally, leading actor Omar Sy has even received France's Cesar Award for Best Actor earlier this year, besting Jean Dupardin's masterful performance from "The Artist" (2011)! While I will admit to carrying a natural aversion to films that are described and even advertised as "feel good," and I was not as overwhelmingly swept away with the film as others have been, I will happily say that "The Intouchables" is indeed a most agreeable, congenial, sharply comic and often razor sharply hilarious, supremely humane and highly entertaining and effective film. It is a film I am pleased to recommend to you and it is also one that I could easily find myself watching again in the future.

My problem at this time does not concern the film itself but some of the reaction that has been launched against it by some so-called "well meaning" film critics who seem to be harboring a desire for stirring up a healthy dose of non-controversy instead of viewing the film as it obviously is. My concern lies deeply within the title of this piece, one that may carry a bit of a jolt to some of you and your sensibilities but I assure you was not designed for shock value.

For those familiar or not with the disparaging term, I will explain. "The Magic Negro" is a pejorative describing the unfortunate storytelling device of a seemingly saintly and almost supernaturally insightful black person who mysteriously enters the lives of white people and exists, not as a three dimensional human being, but solely as a conduit to effect change in the lives of those aforementioned white people. This term has been hurled at "The Intouchables" from several critics upon the film's American release regarding the character portrayed by Omar Sy and the role he plays in the lives of the film's white characters. But after having seen the film, that description baffled me at best and is profoundly insulting and offensive to me at the absolute worst in more ways than one. Dear readers, it's about to get savage up in here!

Before I take off my cinematic gloves, please allow me to first provide you with a brief overview of the film itself. "The Intouchables" stars Francois Cluzet as Philippe, a quadriplegic aristocrat who owns a vast mansion in Paris, occupied by himself and his bratty teenage daughter Elisa (Alba Gaia Kraghede Bellugi) and operated by his staff, including his assistants, the saucy Magalie (Audrey Fleurot) and the warm Marcelle (Clotilde Mollet).

One day, as Philippe and Magalie are tiredly interviewing candidates for a new, live-in caretaker, the two are surprised, to say the least, by the arrival of Driss (Omay Sy), a brash, brazen, impatient force of a young man from the Parisian projects. To Philippe's initial confusion, which eventually leads to a keen interest, Driss boldly expresses his disinterest in the position of becoming Philippe's caretaker and that he solely wants a signature, proving that he has been interviewed and ultimately rejected for employment, a status that will ensure he can continue to receive welfare benefits to assist his family. Philippe informs Driss that he may be able to return the next day to receive his signature yet when Driss arrives at the arranged time, he soon discovers that he has actually been hired on a trial period basis.

Driss is immediately given his own room which he sloppily occupies. He flirts shamelessly with Magalie, begins a gradual friendship with Marcelle and all the while stumbles and fumbles, in an extremely cavalier, careless and non-compassionate fashion, with Philippe's care giving services. Yet, a friendship between the two men begins to slowly emerge, as Philippe clearly enjoys working with a man who, while inconsiderate and completely unprofessional, never treats or sees him through the eyes of pity. Driss soon begins to understand the fullness of his newfound responsibility as he becomes a diligent caregiver over time and most importantly, a much needed confidant and treasured friend to Philippe.

"The Intouchables" is indeed a type of film that typically wins me over as it is not a film about a plot but a film that is entirely about the characters, their relationships and behavior while presenting a semblance of life as it is truly lived. Yes, the credits of the film announce that it is indeed yet another film "based upon a true story," but these days, I tend to not place terribly much credence with that particular descriptive. Whether "The Intouchables" follows the lives on which the film is based to either the veritable letter or just barely, the success or failure of "The Intouchables" lies completely within the relationship between Driss and Philippe. For me and my sensibilities, this cinematic relationship is one that felt to be authentic, as all of the drama remained inherent and unforced. The three dimensions of both men unfolded and were revealed with skill, respect, a tremendous sense of heart and humanity and as I have stated previously, this film is often, and unexpectedly, funny as hell!

The humor of "The Intouchables" is something that I do wish to touch upon as the levels to which the film brought me to loudly enthusiastic laughter was truly remarkable as the comedy never unseated the drama of the piece whatsoever. Much like Director Jonathan Levine's strong "50/50" from last year, I felt that the comedy actually enhanced the drama. I found myself laughing in "The Intouchables" so frequently that when the dramatic sequences occurred, the film reached a level of poignancy that nearly upended me with its heft and soulfulness. Toledano and Nakache quickly and very effectively established that difficult, sometimes elusive yet always essentially proper sense of tonality that allowed the true rhythms of life and interpersonal relationships to inform any sense of cinematic formula on display.

Through humor and drama, the relationship between Philippe and Driss is the key to the entire experience of "The Intouchables," as I have previously stated. While I won't get into any specifics, as to not produce spoilers and to allow the film to work its magic over you in the same way it did for me, I found this film to exist as an eloquent duet of two angry, sad, damaged men who not only see and fulfill the missing pieces within each other, but discover new levels of potential for themselves to lead richer, fuller lives. And to think, Toledano and Nakache achieve this feat without utilizing any maudlin or disastrously cloying storytelling devices. They just allow Philippe and Driss to speak, live and breathe for themselves, allowing the audience, for the most part, to connect any emotional dots for themselves.

I have absolutely no idea if Francois Cluzet is truly paralyzed from the neck down or not. And in many respects, despite my curiosity, I do not think that I even really want to know. As Philippe, Cluzet is outstanding as he is able to convey a completeness of a life lived with only the usage of his face and voice. His emotional state, during all stages of this film, are crystal clear and go a long way with enlightening those of us who are completely able bodied, to an aspect of a paralyzed person's physical existence and emotional inner life. His resentments, disappointments and rage are certainly evident. But, when we have the opportunity to become privy to Philippe's insecurities, his hopes, exasperations, to even his sexual habits and desires, that is where "The Intouchables" rises to a stronger level than most films of this sort would ever begin or even attempt to reach.

But, now I must turn my attention to Omar Sy who is undeniably an astoundingly magnetic and supremely charismatic on-screen presence. You simply cannot take your eyes off of this man due to his attractiveness, and physicality certainly, but his strengths as an actor cannot be denied in any conceivable way. While for my money, I would never unseat Jean Dujardin's exraordinary performance in "The Artist" with Sy's work in "The Intouchables," Sy does elicit a marvellous performance that is more than deserving of any accolades it has already received and will hopefully continue to receive.

And here is where my cinematic gloves need to come off...      

The outcry of racism directed towards "The Intouchables" is completely asinine and frankly, unfounded as there is absolutely nothing in this film, as far as I am concerned, that felt to me to be false, offensive, or remotely stereotypical as far as the character of Driss is concerned. In fact, and without any knowledge of the real world circumstances that have inspired this film, I even felt the character of Driss (despite a key line of dialogue here and there) could even exist as race neutral, a person that could have even been portrayed by a white actor. Yes, Driss is from the projects. Yes, Driss has had some run ins with the law. Yes, Driss listens to 1970s funk music, with Earth, Wind & Fire as a personal favorite. But, if "The Intouchables" were a film that could be classified as racist, then those elements would be the only things we would ever know about Driss. But, Toledano, Nakache and the wonderful Omar Sy wisely understand that these elements are aspects to this character not binding definitions about his behavior and overall humanity. Simply stated, the projects, a criminal past and funk music are all elements about Driss but they do not define who he is as a black man or as a human being.

But even so, some critics have cried foul and have branded Driss as "The Magic Negro" of "The Intouchables" as he is not only able to utilize his insight to enact a sense of change in Philippe's life but also the lives of his daughter and his assistant Marcelle as well. But, again if that were the sole thrust of the film, then those critics would have a leg to stand upon...and firmly so. But, I vehemently disagree with those critics wholeheartedly because as Driss does indeed enact change for several of the film's white characters, he also gains new insights about himself and discovers moments of change through his interactions, new experiences and most certainly, his building friendship with Philippe. Yet, do not think that "The Intouchables" is a situation like some misbegotten, severely misguided "Diff'rent Strokes" fantasy where the rich white people teach and show the poor black man a better way of life he could never obtain for himself. Quite the contrary, Driss is defiantly his own man, with his own world view, hopes, fears, outlook and design for his existence at the forefront of his being. The way the character is written and performed, I easily had the feeling that Driss would have possibly arrived at many of the same crossroads and revelations in his life whether he had met Philippe or not.

Even so, Driss' evolution in "The Intouchables" is firmly linked with Philippe's evolution, making the events of the film a shared journey and not a film where the hapless, shiftless negro learns valuable life lessons from the advanced, wealthy white folks who simply know better due to their race and level within the social/economic hierarchy. In turn, Driss' sense of insight towards Philippe's life is not at all based in the supernatural world of 'The Magic Negro," but completely in being a completely fresh set of eyes in a world where all of the internal issues and tensions have stagnated due to the act of living with them for so long. Anyone could have entered Philippe's mansion and arrived at the exact same conclusions as Driss. The fact that Driss is black has nothing to do with it.

Even one line of dialogue in the film has raised some critics' ire as well. At Philippe's birthday party, an evening classical music themed event at the mansion, which Philippe's morosely attends himself, Driss arrives, soemwhat reluctantly, in mostly formal dress. After he makes more playfully suggestive remarks to Magalie, she then makes a quip about Driss' resemblance to President Barack Obama. This line, and Driss' response to it (which is hysterical) was obviously designed to satirize the white characters while also being delivered in flirtatious jest and not racial comeuppance. To me, that tiny bit of film was one that did elicit a racial component but not in the way it has been criticized. For me, this is an example of Driss understanding how the rich, white world works in regards to how some people within that world view a person like himself. Driss may have his faults but he is nobody's fool, nobody's toy, pet or plaything as he completely spins the event to his advantage. And most of all, and exactly like Philippe, Driss is nobody to be pitied. 

Dear readers, these critics who have claimed that "The Intouchables" is an insensitive film based upon those aforementioned characteristics is indeed a hyperbolic non-controversy that has shown to me that their criticisms say much more about them than they say about the filmmakers and the film itself. A wonderful test to give those critics who have branded this film as racist would be the following: Imagine "The Intouchables" in exactly the same way, but with Driss as a poor white man from the projects, a criminal past and a love for 1970s funk music and tell me if it would be racist then?And beyond that, why don't these same critics say something, anything when cinematic white characters enter the world of black people and enact change through their specialized brand of insight?

Honestly, where were these self-righteous, self-congratulatory purveyors of cinematic racial injustice when films like that arrive in our movie theaters. There are great films, like Director Joe Wright's "The Soloist" (2009), which like "The Intouchables" took those particular conceits and presented them as a shared journey between the white and black characters as portrayed by Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx, as well as being highly critical of Downey Jr.s' character's intents and motivations.

But, what about movies, and OSCAR NOMINATED films at that, like "The Blind Side" (2009) and for GOD'S sakes, "The Help" (2011) ?! Both of those films contains stories about African Americans, but those characters were completely sidelined within their own stories in favor of the Caucasian characters who exist to save them as African Americans are obviously not able to save themselves. What is this need and apparent desire to view black people as endlessly noble silent suffers who need saving by the hands of wealthy, well-meaning white people? Why do these films exist that never portray black people as members of the human race but completely as objects for liberal white viewers to feel good about themselves over and alleviate any sense of white guilt some may harbor? What problem is it that these critics have with the sight of a young, attractive, intelligent, sharply articulate, three dimensionally presented black man who drives his own life story that they feel the need to tear the image down under the guise of protecting viewers from cinematic racism?

If a critic did not like "The Intouchables" for its storytelling, filmmaking or just did not respond to it emotionally, then of course, speak your mind and take it apart. If the film were legitimately racist, then I would indeed be there bashing away with them. But, when these critics, these writers create controversy and end up writing for other writers, their actions serve absolutely no one but themselves and continue to denigrate the black audience, black filmmakers, black actors and even black characters who are branded with ugly terminology like "The Magic Negro" because they have had the audacity to enact profound change in the white world.

How come white characters do not hold a similar moniker when they perform the exact same storytelling devise over and over and over and over again and get nominated for awards over their actions to boot? Oh yes, how could I have been so negligent? Of course, those white characters posses a name that envelopes their cinematic good deeds to the endlessly noble, silently suffering black community whom are all just obviously, collectively and desperately waiting for a savior.

Those white characters are called "heroes."

Monday, August 6, 2012


A John Hughes Production
Written and Produced by John Hughes
Directed by Howard Deutch

I love the above photo! While the image is not taken from an actual scene and is more promotional, I believe that it fully captures the essence of what I am about to describe to you.

One of my favorite moments from any John Hughes film occurs near the conclusion of his euphoric "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (1986). It is a very short moment where Ferris (Matthew Broderick) and his girlfriend Sloane Petersen (Mia Sara) are about to bid farewell at the end of their day long high school truancy, downtown Chicago joyride and selfless aid to perpetually depressed friend Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck). The scene is set on Sloane's front lawn with the Spring time sunshine glowing softly over Ferris and Sloane as The Dream Academy's "The Edge Of Forever" plays as underscore. The two declare their love once more and as Ferris races home, Sloane breathlessly sighs to herself, "He's gonna marry me!" The warm romance of that seemingly small moment spoke volumes to my heart when I first saw it so many years ago at the age of 17, near the end of my Junior Year of high school. And I have to say that it still warms me to this day.

When I think about "Some Kind Of Wonderful," Hughes and Director Howard Deutch's second collaboration, the first after their wildly successful "Pretty In Pink" (1986), it feels to me that the lives and aching love triangle of shy, introverted artist Keith Nelson (Eric Stoltz), the beautiful and seemingly unattainable Amanda Jones (Lea Thompson) and the inimitable Watts the Drummer Girl (Mary Stuart Masterson), is essentially a full length, feature length film version of that very wistful, bittersweet moment from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."  As I stated in my introduction, this realization is not one that I fully noticed when I first saw "Some Kind Of Wonderful." It was a realization that arrived to me considerably later as this was the first film from John Hughes that really needed to sink in. It was a film I felt I needed to sit with, ruminate over and ultimately, grow with. "Some Kind Of Wonderful," through its muted tone, subdued manner, emotional urgency and even through its supremely warm, sun-soaked cinematography, was a film that truly captured the entire mood of existing on the cusp of leaving high school (as I was about to do just a few months after the film's initial release) just as Hughes' "Sixteen Candles" (1984) carried that wild, excited energy of high school's earlier years.

John Hughes once spoke of his films existing as stories focused upon "benchmark moments," the point where a person's life is set to make a dramatic change. For me, as I would eventually realize, "Some Kind Of Wonderful" is a film that perhaps illustrates those benchmark moments even more explicitly than Hughes' five other teen films. All of the film's four major characters are Seniors and are all about to exit the high school bubble to enter the next phases of their respective lives with new, crucial lessons they have each learned about themselves regarding friendship, love, jealousy, beauty, self-respect, self-reliance, sexual identity and the pressures of discovering and maintaining a sense of personal individuality and integrity, especially if you exist within a world that doesn't care a whit if you possess those qualities or not.

When the film was released in February 1987, I expected it to receive a large level of critical indifference, which aside from some good reviews, that indifference did indeed occur. What I absolutely did not expect was to see and hear the large sense of dismissal and even downright rejection from Hughes' target teenage audience. Over and over again I heard one classmate and eventual college acquaintance remark that "Some Kind of Wonderful" was the point where John Hughes had completely sold out his audience with an uninspired, unoriginal idea which was nothing more than a retread of "Pretty In Pink" with the gender roles reversed.

I was absolutely stunned to hear those remarks, as they all seemed to be too easy and completely unrepresentative of the movie I had seen and was slowly beginning to love as much as the rest of Hughes' output at that time. I began to defend the film as passionately as I was able and in some ways, here I am, 25 years later, still defending this gem of a movie which I feel is actually even better than "Pretty In Pink." I feel that out of the three films Hughes and Deutch collaborated on (the third being 1988's wildly uneven "The Great Outdoors"), "Some Kind Of Wonderful" represented both men in peak form. It is a lovingly conceived, presented and beautifully acted film filled from one end to the other with great sensitivity and the fullness of respect for its characters as well as its intended audience. I just do not understand how anyone could potentially watch this film and feel that it is nothing more than a disingenuous attempt to cash in on past glories. As vehemently as some viewers rejected the film with the "Pretty In Pink In Reverse" admonition, I reject that notion wholeheartedly and again profess that "Some Kind Of Wonderful" is so much more than what it has been given credit for. In fact, "Some Kind Of Wonderful," especially after 25 years, reflects and elicits a level of sincerity, innocence and cinematic purity that is in extremely rare supply these days. A trait which is even more remarkable considering the film's turbulent genesis and production. In fact, I am surprised the film was even made, let alone turned out as well as it did.

Believe it or not dear readers, "Some Kind Of Wonderful" had its beginnings as a very broad based romantic high school comedy that would potentially star Jon Cryer, who had nearly stolen "Pretty In Pink" out from under all of his co-stars. Hughes had also offered either one of the two female leads to Molly Ringwald, who eventually turned them down as she wanted to move onwards from the "John Hughes Universe." Hughes, who was not intending to direct the project himself, had offered the project to Howard Deutch to direct, but depending upon whom one would ask, Deutch either exited the production on his own terms or was ejected by Hughes, who was not pleased that he was forced to change his original ending of "Pretty In Pink" to the conclusion that has now become iconic and he grudgingly had to agree that Deutch was correct. Hughes soon hired Director Martha Coolidge (1983's "Valley Girl"), who was riding a nice, critical wave after the release of "Real Genius" (1985), in Deutch's place. After hiring both Eric Stoltz and Mary Stuart Masterson, Coolidge then cast Kim Delaney as Amanda Jones and Kyle MacLachlan as Amanda's boyfriend, the cruelly insensitive rich kid Hardy Jenns.

While Coolidge continued to fully set up the film's production, she and Hughes experienced a disconnect with the film's overall direction. While the film's tone changed from the original, antic feeling to the one described as "darker," Hughes still felt that his vision was not being appropriately represented by Coolidge. With a scant amount of time before actual filming was set to commence, Martha Coolidge was abruptly fired from the film, along with Delaney and MacLachlan, and Howard Deutch was re-hired, much to the resentment of the remaining cast who had already bonded with Coolidge. During a table script reading with the bulk of the cast, the scene grew intense as the cast presented their reading in a lifeless tone, perhaps in protest of Coolidge's firing. John Hughes, confused and enraged that his vision was not being treated respectfully, then reportedly picked up his chair and hurled it across the room to which Eric Stoltz, confused and enraged by Coolidge's firing, responded by picking up his own chair and hurled it across the room. Hughes and Stoltz began to have an extremely heated argument which Hughes' wife, Nancy mediated and eventually found Hughes, Stoltz and Deutch calmer and agreeing to work together as best as possible for the betterment of the film.

As Deutch re-took the directorial reins, the tone of the film changed once more from "dark" to the one associated with the final version. He re-cast the parts vacated by MacLachlan and Delaney with Craig Sheffer and Lea Thompson, who had originally turned the role of Amanda Jones down but completely reconsidered when Stoltz, a friend, asked her to join the project and showed her the completely re-written script that revamped and deepened the character of Amanda Jones. And to think all of that was just the pre-production!

The filming of "Some Kind Of Wonderful" was no less stressful. Aside from long, intense days and nights of shooting, Deutch and Stoltz clashed often. This friction was mostly due to Stoltz's "method actor" tendencies (and maybe even some residual resentment from Coolidge's firing) combined with Deutch's almost obsessive process of filming seemingly endless takes. Throughout the production, the tension was consistently smoothed over by Masterson and Thompson.      

Yet, despite all of these roadblocks and potholes, what is clear from all of the interviews I have read over the years plus the accounts detailed in Author Susannah Gora's excellent book, You Couldn't Ignore Me If You Tried, is the utmost seriousness and professionalism everyone involved brought to "Some Kind Of Wonderful." No one was trying to just get rich from this film. No one seemed to be utilizing this experience as an impersonal stepping stone. The people associated with this project seemed to truly care about the work they were doing together plus the relationships they had with each other. Stoltz and Thompson were already friends and they each desired to see the other succeed. Stoltz also took actress Maddie Corman, who portrays his sharp tongued younger sister under his wing. Deutch clearly had a crush on the then unavailable Thompson (they have since married and remain together to this day). And the entire cast could easily see the genuine affection held between Howard Deutch and John Hughes, whose mutual respect for each other and strong conviction in the material made for a powerful guiding force for the project.

But, what of the finished film itself? After opening triumphantly with a beautifully conceived and edited fanfare of a sequence set to Propaganda's percussive track "Abuse," "Some Kind Of Wonderful" tells the story of Keith Nelson, an introverted and outcast high school Senior, artist, and afterschool gas station attendant and mechanic. Keith is the oldest child of three in a working class family featuring his sassy, smart mouthed sister Laura and his hard nosed Father, Cliff (a very memorable John Ashton), who severely wants Keith to be the first member of the family to go to college, preferably majoring in a "good business program." Keith has other ideas about his future, many of them starring the girl of his teenage dreams, Amanda Jones, the most gorgeous girl in school. While from the same economic background as Keith, Amanda Jones runs in the loftier circle of the rich, powerful and popular student body and is currently dating the mean, duplicitous and philandering Hardy Jenns. Keith's best friend is Watts the Drummer Girl, an androgynous "tomboy" struggling with a sad, empty home life, her classmates' assumed impressions concerning her sexual identity and an intensely powerful yet painful love for Keith.

When Amanda, frustrated with Hardy's mistreatment of her reaches a breaking point, Keith throws caution to the wind and asks Amanda out for a date, who impulsively agrees in order to spite Hardy. This one decision builds throughout the week at school to the pivotal Saturday night date where Keith, Amanda, Watts, Hardy and even Keith's Father all arrive at their respective "benchmark moments," the forks in the road that will determine if they will enact forward moving changes in their lives or just remain stagnated.

As with all of John Hughes' teen films, "Some Kind Of Wonderful" is a deeply perceptive, empathetic, unapologetically romantic and hugely entertaining work, which I previously mentioned featured Hughes at his most gentle and tender. Hughes' peerless dialogue remains masterfully on display and the film also features his impeccable taste in music, which was always ahead of the curve. (I especially liked Hughes' clever nods to The Rolling Stones with the names to his three main characters: "Keith" for Keith Richards, "Watts" for Stones drummer Charlie Watts and of course Amanda Jones, one of their song titles, a song which plays in the film several times.) "Some Kind Of Wonderful" is a film designed to resonate with teenagers of any era while it also mines Hughes own teen years, as he was also an artist in high school, whose family also preferred him to pursue a respectable business career instead of something artistic, who was an art major during his brief time in college at the University Of Arizona and who spent considerable time during his youth roaming around the Art Institute Of Chicago. As Keith says to Amanda as they walk around an art museum while on their date, "This is my church. I can come here and what anybody says about me doesn't matter." It is that merging of the universal and very personal that has continue to endear John Hughes so many young viewers throughout the years.

While there are elements of comedy throughout the film, Hughes and Deutch have downplayed those moments. Instead of being crowd pleasing, it seems as if they both decided to be concerned with and emphasize the emotional truth of the piece, therefore making "Some Kind Of Wonderful" exist as something more soulful.

So, let's address the elephant in the room. Is "Some Kind Of Wonderful" nothing more than "Pretty In Pink" in reverse? Even watching the film at the age of 43, I will offer you the exact same viewpoint I have had of the film ever since I first saw it at the age of 18. In terms of structure and basic plot line, yes, the film contains more than its share of similarities to "Pretty In Pink." But that said, structure is not story and structure is not character and that is where the two films divide for me as well as being linked.

Like the character of Andie Walsh from "Pretty In Pink," Keith Nelson is from the same economic class and both characters literally live on the "wrong side of the tracks" from their rich counterparts (in fact, Keith, Amanda and Watts' respective locales are augmented by an oil refinery in the background!). But, where Andie possessed a laser like intensity and focus concerning her future, Keith Nelson, however, is somewhat lost in the clouds. His particular tunnel vision seems to exist at the expense of anyone else's desires. Not that he is intentionally selfish. He isn't. But, his actions are sometimes misguided and do contain some unintentional consequences of hurting those closest to him.

While Blaine from "Pretty In Pink," is a sensitive rich kid who succumbs to peer pressure, the kind hearted Amanda Jones is more complicated, as she is also from a working class background yet is allowed to join her school's wealthy social circle due to her physical attractiveness; a fact her rich friends lord over her constantly with an attitude that states, "You can be with us but you're not one of us...and you never will be." her desire to be accepted and her resentment against the ones who have more than herself lead her to make drastic social compromises that have made her sell out her better instincts, values and ultimately, her dwindling self respect.

These situations come to a head during their date, an event which takes up the film's final third, unlike the prom sequence of "Pretty In Pink" which functions as a climax. Both Keith and Amanda each have to come to terms with how they have exactly used each other to arrive at this particular moment, their own sense of self-loathing and anger against an unfair social hierarchy and whether either of them deserve each other's affection and love at all.

And then, there's Watts, one of my favorite Hughes creations out of his entire oeuvre. She spoke tremendous volumes to me when I first saw her and not just because she plays the drums. She is forthright and steadfast. She is rock solid in her convictions and her integrity and self-respect is unshakable. She knows exactly who she is even with everyone around her proclaiming that she is sexually "confused." But even so, she houses some doubts, as exhibited in a great sequence set in the girls locker room as Watts gazes at Amanda's seemingly perfect womanly physique as she herself stands near the showers wearing boy's boxers. Watts treats every day of her life as if she is heading into battle, wielding her drumsticks as if they were her shield and sword. And who could possibly blame her for doing so as there is no one in her home life looking out for her. Watts is a character who is entirely on her own in the world, with only her drums and her friendship with Keith as solace, but even that friendship is beginning to show some strain as Keith's infatuation with Amanda Jones takes center stage, threatening Watts' place in Keith's heart. Watts' vulnerability affords her the most empathy of all of the film's characters as you desperately do not want to see her hurt and you wish that Keith will once and for all realize that the love of his life is standing in front of him and has been for all of this time.

Watts' behavior throughout the film is a most sympathetic and aching ode to the perils of falling in love with your best friend and the lengths to which she will go to tell him she loves him while also arming herself with self-protection. During the first half of the film, she tries to push Amanda out of Keith's mind by stressing how unattainable she is. By the middle of the film, she is willing to push Keith away entirely by first revealing herself at her most insecure ("Do you miss me Keith?"), and then, standing her ground and stating, "I think we'll get along much better if we don't spend so much time together anymore. Because I'm driving you crazy and you're driving me crazy, and I'd rather have you think good things about me and not see me than see me and hate me. I can't afford to have you hate me, Keith." 

By the time she and Keith reconcile and face the night of the date, we see Watts at her most selfless, to the point of being masochistic, as she volunteers to chauffeur Keith and Amanda around, with each moment killing her inside. It is as if she is telling Keith, "I love you so much that I will do everything to give you all that you want...even if it is not me." By the film's most tearful final climactic moments, Hughes and Deutch perform a masterful job of balancing teen dreams and wish fulfillments with real world realities as they, plus the incredible performance by Mary Stuart Masterson, show us all how to stand up and soldier onwards with your self-respect fully intact, especially when your heart is breaking into pieces and with no knowledge if your affections will ever be reciprocated. "Some Kind Of Wonderful" is a film that teaches, depicts and values the process of being alone and knowing yourself before plunging into becoming a member of a larger group. All of those elements make "Some Kind Of Wonderful" exist as so much more than a simple love triangle story and also a film with more maturity than most film romances that are being released in the 21st century.

I also have to make special mention of John Ashton's performance as Keith's Father, Cliff, another area where Hughes and Deutch effortlessly blended teen fantasy and reality. Unlike Hughes' Dads of films past who are either loving and befuddled ("Sixteen Candles"), loving yet hapless ding-dongs ("National Lampoon's Vacation," "Mr. Mom," "Ferris Bueller's Day Off"), menacing or absent ("The Breakfast Club" and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off") or even loving but dilapidated ("Pretty In Pink"), the character of Cliff Nelson was Hughes' most authoritative Father construct, which leads to an explosive confrontation between himself and Keith; a sequence which instantly placed me emotionally back into conflicts between myself and my own Father, who is and will forever be a formidable presence. Cliff Nelson is a lion of a man who loves his son passionately and wants the best for his future but is conflicted with allowing Keith to follow a path he wants for himself. Their confrontation is an eternal right of passage for most people as that sequence states firmly, "Do I want to live the life I wish for myself or the one that others wish for me?" Again, provocative material for a film and film genre that typically receives short shrift.

Now while I am more than certain that this was most likely not John Hughes' creative intention, I feel that this observation may merit mentioning. The plot similarities between the two films may have considerably less to do with creative recycling  and perhaps, much more to do with creating a film universe that is truly indicative of the teen experience as a whole. The adventures, concerns, hopes, fears, desires and overall emotional landscape of Hughes' characters are not simply relegated to his mythical Chicago suburb of Shermer, IL. As "Some Kind Of Wonderful" takes place in California, featuring California teens, families and schools, the similarities suggest to me that what we are witnessing are the adventures and concerns of teenagers everywhere and how these are the stories that play out among all adolescents.

That is what I am getting at with this very lengthy installment of "Savage Cinema Revisits." While it may seem to be quite foreign in 21st century Hollywood, where filmmaker's personal visions are considerably fewer and much farther between, "Some Kind Of Wonderful" represents a film where all of the artistic principals involved, from Deutch, to the actors, to John Hughes himself, placed all of their personal issues completely aside and collectively decided to serve the art itself. Like Deutch explained on the DVD commentary track, "John didn't write these characters for business. He wrote them because he loved them and because he had to. I watched him write and he'd laugh and he'd cry as he wrote."

Much credit must be given to Howard Deutch for helming this project with increased confidence, skill and no less of the genuine emotion and strict attention to the sense of truth that marked John Hughes' most artistically successful projects. Unlike "Pretty In Pink," where Hughes was reportedly on the set daily, providing assistance and guidance to Deutch whenever needed, he was rarely on the set of "Some Kind Of Wonderful" as he was busy in Chicago directing and prepping two new films ("She's Having A Baby" and "Planes, Trains and Automobiles"). While he was always available to Deutch and provided him with continued support and advice, Deutch truly came into his own with this effort and I strongly feel that the success and longevity of "Some Kind Of Wonderful" is an accomplishment equally shared between himself and John Hughes.
Dear readers, it would have been so easy to sit back, create "Pretty In Pink 2," and count the box office receipts but that was clearly not what Hughes had in mind. John Hughes, Howard Deutch and their collaborators conceived of a film that was considerably much more thoughtful and representative of real people and their very real issues than most films that are typically released...then and now. If "Some Kind Of Wonderful" was such an afterthought, such a trifle, something as disposable as "Pretty In Pink In Reverse," something so creatively and artistically empty, would this even be a film even worth discussing 25 years later? Of course not.

I would like to end this with a little story for you. Some time ago, and a short time after Hughes' passing, I was stumbling around Facebook and happened upon the name of "Maddie Corman Alexander." Taking a chance, I wrote her a note asking if she was indeed who I thought she was, the actress who portrayed Eric Stoltz's younger sister, and if so, I thanked her for contributing to this lovely film that has meant so much to me. Time passed and then, I received a short message in return which stated the following:

"Dear Scott...
you were right... it's me! I loved getting your letter... what a beautiful, thoughtful writer you are. Indeed, I forwarded it on to Eric Stoltz (still a close friend of mine) and he too was very touched by your words. Making SKOW was an incredible experience and I will never forget John and the many wonderful people that I met all those years ago... I still see Eric and Mary Stuart and we all agree that the movie has held up and that we are so lucky to have been involved. Thanks for your sweet words.
Be well,
maddie corman"
I never heard from her again and I certainly do not have a need to either as she provided for me all I could have wished for. "Some Kind Of Wonderful," for me, is exactly as its title states and I feel that it is a testament to the creative life of John Hughes that its beautiful, bittersweet afterglow has continued to shine brightly after all of these years.
Thank you, John.  Oh, how I miss you.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


I still cannot believe that he is gone as the age of 59 was just too young.

Three years ago, on August 6, 2009, Writer/Producer/Director John Hughes passed away unexpectedly from a fatal heart attack while taking a morning stroll in Manhattan. As his creative life seismically influenced and inspired my own life, and most particularly in my life as a writer, I feel that it is my duty and extreme honor to take some time and pay homage to John Hughes on Savage Cinema each year on and around this date. While I am certain that I would have discovered this creative piece of my life in some way anyway, I cannot, and will not, ever deny the power Hughes' creative life had upon me and my continuing journey of self discovery. I just wish that I had been able to tell him somehow. But, in some inexplicable cosmic fashion, perhaps he can hear it and know it now.

This year, I celebrate John Hughes by focusing my attention upon a film that has received its share of short shrift from the time of its release to this point in time where its existence has been ignored and in some ways, forgotten save for some very rare airing on obscure cable channels. It is a film Hughes wrote and produced but chose not to direct himself, giving the directorial reins over to his collaborator Howard Deutch. Obviously, the film in question is not the now iconic "Pretty In Pink" (1986), the first collaboration between Hughes and Deutch. Dear readers, at this time, I am so happy to revisit "Some Kind Of Wonderful," the early 1987 release that would mark Hughes' final effort that exclusively explored the lives and dreams of 1980s teenagers.

I first saw the film at an advance sneak preview screening in my Senior year of high school. It was a night I would absolutely never forget as my excitement was palpable to anyone that knew me, especially my frustrated parents who had endured all things John Hughes from me for three years by that time. During that particular phase of Hughes' film career, and most notably during his five film tenure at Paramount Pictures, Hughes had begun the practice of crafting coming attractions trailers for the follow up film to the film you were just about to see. So, as I sat at an advance screening of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (1986), I was amazed to watch the preview featuring a girl, whose face was obscured, sitting behind and playing a drum kit, with a stunning red heart splashed across her snare drum. The preview was for "Some Kind Of Wonderful," a film that had not, at least to my knowledge, even been cast yet, let alone even filmed. Yet, the preview announced that it would be ready for release the following February, approximately the same time of year during which "The Breakfast Club" (1985) and "Pretty In Pink" had previously been released.

By the time of the advance screening of "Some Kind Of Wonderful," my excitement was at a fever pitch and was amazingly increased as I entered the Ford City movie theater in Chicago and the usher handed me a promotional vinyl 45 single of Flesh For Lulu's "I Go Crazy" b/w The Apartment's "The Shyest Time," two songs featured on the official soundtrack album which was the inaugural release from Hughes' record label Hughes Music. I was indeed ready for the John Hughes magic once again but as I left the theater, I realized that I did not feel Hughes' unique brand of cinematic pixie dust as I had felt five times before with "Sixteen Candles" (1984), "Weird Science" (1985) and the aforementioned "The Breakfast Club," "Pretty In Pink" and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."

When I exited all five of those efforts, I found myself and my spirit floating highly, as if on top of the loftiest cloud, filled with joy, inspiration, romance and laughter, ready to re-enter my high school world with rejuvenation. The overall effect and impact of those films were powerfully immediate. Yet, when I exited "Some Kind Of Wonderful," the impact was not immediate, to say the least. While I knew that I had enjoyed what I had seen and what I felt wasn't disappointment at all, my emotions felt muted. 

First of all, "Some Kind Of Wonderful" really wasn't very funny. Even "The Breakfast Club," as emotionally wrenching as it often is, very frequently provided sequences and crackling dialogue that elicited explosive laughter. While "Some Kind Of Wonderful" was certainly one of Hughes more dramatic efforts, the proceedings felt to be considerably understated in comparison to "The Breakfast Club" and "Pretty In Pink."

It was not until I returned home and listened to my spanking new vinyl 45, and even perhaps a week after I had seen the film that I realized that the John Hughes magic was indeed very much present but it affected me in a completely different way. The magic of  "Some Kind Of Wonderful" was subtle, it lingered and it took time to resonate. I saw the film a second time during its brief theatrical run and it was on that second viewing where the full impact of the film had taken hold of me. This film was bittersweet. It was wistful. It was tender and pensive. Overall, "Some Kind Of Wonderful" featured John Hughes at his most gentle and empathetic, and thoughtful. To utilize a musical comparison starring his beloved Beatles (and mine as well), if the rambunctious "Sixteen Candles" was Hughes' "A Hard Days Night," then the more calming yet romantically urgent "Some Kind Of Wonderful" was Hughes' "Rubber Soul."

Although the film did receive some good reviews, especially from Roger Ebert, I had expected the film critics to be dismissive...and they were. What I had not expected was that the film would be somewhat rejected by even Hughes' fan base who mistakenly admonished the film with the too easy and utterly false description, "It's just 'Pretty In Pink' with the gender roles reversed." Oh dear readers, "Some Kind Of Wonderful" is so much more than that. So very much... 

For the next edition of "Savage Cinema Revisits," I will honor and take you through John Hughes and Howard Deutch's "Some Kind Of Wonderful." It is a film which I feel is one of Hughes' most unfairly underrated efforts especially as it is generally a quieter affair and one so kind hearted, so romantic, so understanding of peer pressure, class distinctions, the slow discovery of one's sense of self-worth and building self-reliance and certainly, the tenuous push/pull of the deepest friendships especially at the very point where life changes are just around the corner.

And what is even more amazing is that the film even turned out this well at all. But, I am getting ahead of myself...

Dear readers, I sincerely hope that you accompany me upon this journey as I celebrate John Hughes once more. if you have never seen "Some Kind Of Wonderful," then I hope that I am able to encourage you to seek it out. If you have seen it, I hope to encourage you to revisit it for yourself. And for all of you, especially now that John Hughes' work is being re-evaluated after his passing, I hope that all of you will be able to see what I see and realize above all else, just how special a film this is and how unique a talent John Hughes was.

And how there is absolutely nothing like this film right now, especially for teenagers.


July was certainly one highly productive and most enjoyable cinematic month overall. And now, we head into August, often the part of the summer where less giant sized films are released and some sleeper surprises make their presence known.

At this time, I am feeling my attention turn to more independent films that will hopefully reach my Sundance Theater very soon.

1. "The Intouchables," apparently the highest grossing film ever in France, is now playing in town and the trailers have intrigued me enough to want to give it a whirl.

2. "Ruby Sparks," a literary, romantic fantasy from Directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, marks their filmmaking return, their first since their debut "Little Miss Sunshine" (2006). Admittedly, I was not a fan at all of that film and I am just hoping that they dial down the self-conscious quirk factor waaaay down for this new film. But, as with "The Intouchables," the plotline and trailer has intrigued me.

3. And for major releases, I am very curious about "The Campaign," the new comedy from Director Jay Roach and starring Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis. It has been quite some time since I have found a strong comedy and I am hoping that this one can potentially deliver the goods.

Also, I will make my annual tribute to Writer/Producer/Director John Hughes who passed away unexpectedly three years ago this month. As I have said many times before and will undoubtedly say many times again, the work of John Hughes has enriched and inspired my life in countless ways. I feel it to be my obligation to honor this man's career as my own life as a writer would not exist if not for him. This year, I will pay tribute through a two-part feature culminating in a new installment of "Savage Cinema Revists," as I look back upon a film released during his prime creative period but I feel has not been properly appreciated and therefore, sadly ignored.

All of that feels to be enough for this month but I will certainly allow myself room for any surprises.

As always, I will see you all when the house lights go down!!!