Casablanca (1942) starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid & Claude Rains

Here’s Looking At You, Kid… & Immigrants & Refugees

This (classic) film LOVED all over the world wouldn’t have been made w/o immigrants and refugees (MANY of whom were fleeing war). The ONLY woman that Rick (Humphrey Bogart) loved- Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman)- was Swedish; her husband/freedom fighter Victor Lazlo was Austrian. Capt. Renault (Claude Rains) was British, as was Sidney Greenstreet. Director Michael Curtiz was an immigrant from Hungary; the cast/crew sometimes had a difficult time understanding his accent. Ugarte (Peter Lorre) was also Hungarian; he who fled to London in 1935 before coming to the U.S. Yvonne (Madeleine Lebeau), the young woman dumped by Rick early in the film, and her husband (Marcel Dalio- he plays the croupier), fled Paris before the German occupation in 1940. The Nazi officer, Maj. Strasser (Conrad Veidt), was actually a German w/ a Jewish wife. Carl (S.Z. Sakall), the jovial/elderly waiter, was Jewish and came from Hungary. There are MANY others; Warner Bros. claimed that 34 nationalities worked on Casablanca.

With the coming of the Second World War, many eyes in imprisoned Europe turned hopefully, or desperately, toward the freedom of the Americas… Here, the fortunate ones through money, or influence, or luck, might obtain exit visas and scurry to Lisbon; and from Lisbon, to the New World. But the others wait in Casablanca… and wait… and wait… and wait. -Excerpt from the opening narration

An Unique Love Triangle: Rick, Ilsa, & Victor

No one is the baddie (or malicious) in this trio- VERY rare for a classic Hollywood film! At first, Rick is “neutral,” just content to run his business. Then he sees Ilsa again (after perhaps 2+ yrs, if you’re going by historical events); they met and fell in love in Paris. Ilsa (who is Norwegian) is married to Victor, a Czech man who survived being imprisoned in a concentration camp, BUT still sticks to his values. Victor (who is tall, blonde, and VERY composed/gentlemanly) is portrayed as a natural leader. He loves Ilsa and relies on her for support, incl. in his work. In one pivotal scene, he inspires nearly everyone in the Rick’s cafe to sing the French national anthem.

Don’t you sometimes wonder if it’s worth all this? I mean what you’re fighting for. -Rick asks

You might as well question why we breathe. If we stop breathing, we’ll die. If we stop fighting our enemies, the world will die. -Victor replies

Rick (who is short, dark, and moody) is the reluctant hero. He also loves Ilsa; he never sticks w/ one girlfriend for long (as Renault comments). Seriously, WHO could compete against Bergman!? In the flashback scenes in Paris, we see a different side of Rick- he’s charming, relaxed, and optimistic. Once Rick realizes the difficult situation that Ilsa and Victor are in, he starts thinking what he can do to help (though he doesn’t reveal it to anyone- TOO dangerous). Rick makes it so the young Hungarian man wins at roulette, so he can fly to America w/ his wife. This pleasantly surprises his employees (and even the VERY cynical Renault); thus, love is a force for change in this film.

Play It, Sam: Friendship, Music, & Race

For this time period, it was a VERY bold move to have Rick’s BFF (and also employee) be played by a African-American man. Dooley Wilson was a singer, NOT an actor or pianist; he did a great job w/ his role. We don’t know how he and Rick came to be pals or why they’re so loyal to each other. Sam plays the (iconic) song which reflects Rick and Ilsa’s love story- You Must Rememer This. When Rick gets drunk/mad, he tells Sam to go away, BUT Sam refuses (b/c he is a supportive friend). The filmmakers received MANY positive comments/letters from black viewers who were happy to see such a prominent/developed character. There is an unfortunate line where Ilsa refers to Sam as “the boy”- cringeworthy to modern audiences, yet probably NOT rare in the ’40s.

The Beginning of A Beautiful Friendship: Rick & Renault

Renault gets a LOT of the best lines in this movie; he is cynical, opportunistic, yet NOT necessarily a villain. We learn that Renault served in WWI. The Nazis are the big baddies, though Renault operates in the gray areas of society. He gets a part of Rick’s gambling proceeds to look the other way. If a woman happens to be pretty, Renault will listen to her concerns. There is chemistry between Bogie and Rains; they banter w/ each other in a fun/quick way.

You give him credit for too much cleverness. My impression was that he’s just another blundering American. -Maj. Strasser comments re: Rick

We musn’t underestimate “American blundering.” I was with them when they “blundered” into Berlin in 1918. -Renault replies

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Ben is Back (NOW PLAYING) starring Julia Roberts & Lucas Hedges

NOTE: This is a SPOILER-FREE review.

I went to see this film w/ a gal pal who knows a LOT re: the main issue involved; she is one of the MANY lawyers working on an opioid class action lawsuit against big pharma. (From Wikipedia: Opioids are narcotics that act on opioid receptors to produce morphine-like effects. Medically they are primarily used for pain relief, including anesthesia.) For fans of Julia Roberts, you’ll see a VERY different side of the actress (who many dubbed “America’s Sweetheart.”) For those of you who aren’t such big fans, IF you watch this performance, you MAY change your mind! Lucas Hedges (whose father wrote/directed this indie) continues to grow (physically, as well as an actor). This year, he is also in the lead in Boy Erased (which I haven’t seen yet); leave me your thoughts (in comments below) if you have anything to share on that film.

Though Ben is Back deals w/ MANY of the same themes as Beautiful Boy, it’s more focused on a mother’s perspective. (Roberts is also a mom, and her older brother- Eric- suffered MANY years w/ alcohol addiction.) This is also a smaller, yet more urgent story, b/c it takes place just over 24 hrs in the life of its characters. This was shot on a small budget (looks like a documentary at times), BUT there are tense moments that pack a big punch. You can’t really see the acting; Roberts inhabits the role of a concerned, sensitive, and protective mother!

I felt like Hedges was more like a regular (though troubled) teen than Timothee Chalamet. Maybe it’s b/c Hedges has the appearance of your “average” kid and tries hard to hold in his emotions (as young males tend to do). Chalamet has more delicate features and can come off as aloof. Well, BOTH of them are getting meaty roles and a LOT of critical acclaim. I was also VERY impressed by the teen actress who played Ben’s younger sister. The two half-sibs did really well also; they were cute, energetic, and had great chemistry w/ the teen and older actors. Ben’s African-American step-dad, Neal (Courtney B. Vance), doesn’t get much to do; I was disappointed b/c any actor could’ve done this role. You can see the trailer below.

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) starring Rami Malek

Bohemian Rhapsody is a foot-stomping celebration of Queen, their music and their extraordinary lead singer Freddie Mercury. Freddie defied stereotypes and shattered convention to become one of the most beloved entertainers on the planet. The film traces the meteoric rise of the band through their iconic songs and revolutionary sound. They reach unparalleled success, but in an unexpected turn Freddie, surrounded by darker influences, shuns Queen in pursuit of his solo career. Having suffered greatly without the collaboration of Queen, Freddie manages to reunite with his bandmates just in time for Live Aid. While bravely facing a recent AIDS diagnosis, Freddie leads the band in one of the greatest performances in the history of rock music. Queen cements a legacy that continues to inspire outsiders, dreamers and music lovers to this day. -Summary from Twentieth Century Fox

NOTE: This review contains MAJOR spoilers.

This is one of the MUST-SEE movies of 2018 (even if you know VERY little re: this band)! Of course, you’ve heard some of their songs, even if you didn’t grow up listening to (classic) rock. My good friend and I went to see it this past WED at our local (Regal) theater; our audience had folks ranging in age from 20s to 70s. This film succeeds b/c it takes you on a journey w/ the members of the British rock band, Queen, lead by Freddie (Rami Malek- in a star-making role). Before this, I ONLY knew Malek, who is Egyptian-American, from The Pacific (a WWII HBO miniseries produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg). There is an energy that propels this film forward, mainly thanks to Malek and the (iconic) music!

The still baby-faced American actor, Joseph Mazzello (now 35), who plays bass guitarist John Deacon, is best known as the kid from Jurassic Park; he co-starred w/ Malek in The Pacific and they became friends. British actor Gwilym Lee is lead guitarist Brian May. Ben Hardy, an up-and-coming Brit, plays drummer Robert Taylor. Lucy Boynton, also a young Brit, plays Freddie’s girlfriend of 6 yrs turned close friend- Mary Austin. Game of Thrones fans will be pleased to see Aiden Gillen; he plays manager John Reid. Mike Myers (of SNL fame) has a small, yet pivotal, role as the music producer who let Queen get away- Ray Foster. Tom Hollander, a veteran Brit who has worked in both comedy and drama, plays lawyer Jim Beach.

The real-life May and Taylor served as executive producers; they had approval over the script, director, casting, etc. Thank goodness they got rid of Sasha Baron Cohen! There was an extensive search for the lead; MANY critics thought that Malek was wrong for the role. If you compare photos, Malek doesn’t resemble Freddie much, aside from the strong/square jawline and similar skin tone. However, as we’ve seen in other movies, it’s NOT merely re: looks; it’s about who can inhabit the real-life character. Freddie’s younger sister (who consulted on this film) was even impressed! After seeing the actual Live Aid performance (thanks to YouTube), I can say that Malek has transformed himself (voice, posture, body movements, etc.) The singing in the film is that of Freddie, a Canadian male singer, and Malek’s voice all mixed together.

The chemistry between Malek and Boynton is terrific; they are currently in a relationship off-screen. Freddie and Mary have a strong friendship and deeply love each other, BUT he reveals that he is also attracted to men. We also get to see a few of the men in Freddie’s life, incl. the opportunistic asst. manager, Paul Prenter (Allen Leech- a long way from Downton Abbey), and down-to-earth waiter, Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker). I wasn’t sure at first, BUT there is a brief cameo from singer Adam Lambert (one of the winners of American Idol).

We get to learn re: Freddie’s family (Parsis of Zoroastrian faith expelled from Zanzibar, Tanzania), how the band got together in the early ’70s, the evolution of some (VERY famous) songs, Freddie’s love of cats, and more. Each band member has his own hairstyle, fashion sense, personality, and songs he writes for the various albums. They eventually call themselves “family,” BUT no family is w/o its problems. While the other men marry and have children, Freddie continues w/ his hard-partying lifestyle. Mary gets involved w/ another man. In the early ’80s, Freddie goes off to Germany to work on two solo albums. When the call for Live Aid comes, he doesn’t realize (at first) how important it could be to the band. Freddie knows that he may NOT have much time left, as he is experiencing symptoms related to AIDS.

Vice (NOW PLAYING) starring Christian Bale, Amy Adams, & Steve Carell

NOTE: This review contains MILD spoilers.

One of my good friends/nabes (along w/ her old college pal) had tickets to this new film at AFI on Christmas; I joined them b/c was VERY curious to know more re: Dick Cheney. Also, I don’t think I’ve seen anything by the director- Adam McKay- who has worked w/ BOTH Bale and Carell in The Big Short (need to check it out on Netflix). McKay’s directing style is NOT very subtle! There are touches of humor though, BUT don’t expect a multi-layered biopic of Cheney. Also, don’t expect to root for anyone here (IF that’s what you usually look for at the movies). McKay is uber-liberal and doesn’t care who knows it; in fact, there is a mid-credits scene that explains this (my friend LOVED that). If you’re also liberal, keep up w/ the news, and LOVE Bale- this film is for you. Otherwise, you can watch it out later (NOT necessarily on the big screen).

Bale (one of my faves since Little Women) is completely transformed- weight (he gained about 40 lbs), hair, posture, and voice! He really commands the screen w/o saying TOO much or making many gestures. Amy Adams (as usual) does a fine job; I learned new things re: Lynn also, NOT just the former VP. Bale and Adams have great chemistry, so make a believable long-term couple. There is even a brief Shakespearean scene. Is it over the top and unexpected? Yes, BUT I (along w/ a few others in my small audience) were amused by it.

Speaking of screen presence, Steve Carell is getting better and better w/ age; he does a great job as the tough-talking/scheming political animal- Donald Rumsfeld. Did you know that Rummy was a mentor to Cheney starting from when he was an eager-to-please young intern? I was surprised by this, as well as their (evolving) relationship over the decades. Dubya is played (for laughs) by Sam Rockwell; he’s NOT one of my faves, BUT does OK w/ what he has been given. He does get Dubya’s facial expressions and confusion right. Just HOW MUCH power did Cheney have as VP? You MAY be shocked (or NOT) to find out!

Die Hard (1988) starring Bruce Willis & Alan Rickman

I saw this (VERY well-known) action movie on Christmas Eve w/ a Meetup at AFI (I live across the street). I liked it a LOT more than I expected! And yes, it’s meant to be comedic and campy (esp. to young/modern viewers). Who wouldn’t love the dry “ho-ho-ho” spoken by Alan Rickman (as the villainous Hans Gruber)!? While the film was released in Summer 1988, it has since evolved into a Christmas movie (it takes place on Christmas Eve).

NYPD detective, John McClane (Bruce Willis), flies to LA to spend time w/ his estranged wife/business exec, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), and their two young kids. The family has been separated for several mos; Holly took a job (promotion) w/ a Japanese company, Nakatomi Corp, and John stayed back to wrap up some outstanding cases. Unlike many action movies, we get some time to learn re: the hero; John is nervous re: flying, hasn’t ridden in a limo (which Holly sends to pick him up from LAX), and is worried re: where his marriage stands. He carries a (comically) large teddy bear wearing a red bow- a gift for his kids.

On the 32nd fl. of Nakatomi Towers, Holly fends off advances from her egotistical/lecherous colleague, Harry Ellis (Hart Bochner); this is the type of scene you wouldn’t see in 2018. When John arrives, he meets the president of the company, Mr. Takagi (James Shigeta), and Ellis (while he’s brushing away cocaine from his nose (yet another thing NOT seen today). Holly eventually comes in; she’s wearing a watch (Rolex) which was given to her by the company. Holly shows John the executive washroom, where they argue re: her moving to LA and using her maiden name- Gennero.

It’s scripted so that the two of them end up talking over each other about what McClane’s idea of their marriage is, and it’s such an honest depiction of estranged spouses that I find myself forgetting what movie I’m watching when I get to that part. -Excerpt from IMDB review

Holly gets called back to the party by her (VERY pregnant) secretary. While John takes off his shirt and shoes and washes up, a dozen men (incl. some speaking in German) armed w/ an assortment of weapons, infiltrate the building. What do these men want? Are they terrorists? Everyone is rounded up in one spot, except for John, who peeks out after hearing gunshots and screams. There is an “EXIT” sign across the hall above a door, BUT (of course) he doesn’t take it to escape. He’s a cop; he has to get help and save Holly (along w/ the others), w/o being discovered.

[1] One could claim that “Die Hard” is one of the most influential action movies ever made, because it basically revolutionized one of the most copied (but never matched, at least in terms of quality) formulas: a loner, by some unique twist of fate, battles it out with an “x” number of terrorists [villains] in an enclosed environment.

[2] I always love when McClane talks to himself whenever he was about to do something crazy. 

[3] Die Hard even succeeds as a knowing commentary on the action film genre, dropping references to other action heroes, and exemplifies Bruce Willis as a new type of hero. One that can get hurt, one that feels pain, and one that actually has ties to the world.

[4] Rickman was amazing and it is one of the best bad guys performances and the one scene when we snaps at John’s wife is priceless.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

It’s a great pleasure to me to work on film now as well as on the stage. But it is no soft option. It isn’t easier. It’s in many ways more difficult, and it’s a different kind of a challenge. You have to think a lot quicker and be a lot more immediate. -Alan Rickman

Some Trivia Behind the Film

In the spring of 1987, producer Joel Silver and director John McTiernan attended a performance of the play Dangerous Liaisons, in which Alan Rickman played Valmont. They realized they had found Hans Gruber.

According to his German co-stars, Rickman did an excellent accent after researching German speech. English is a second language in Germany; Rickman even got the dialect of German correct. When Hans tells Takagi that he enjoyed making models as a boy, he says: “I always enjoyed to make models when I was a boy” (the correct German way to say it in English).

The scene in which Gruber and McClane meet was inserted into the script after Rickman was found to be proficient at mimicking American accents. The filmmakers had been looking for a way to have the two characters meet before the climax. This scene was also unrehearsed.

Die Hard: Hans meets McClane

For the shot where Hans falls from the top of the building, Rickman was actually dropped by a stuntman from a 20-foot high model. The stuntman dropped the actor on the count of two, instead of 3, so that shocked look on his face is real.