Movie Project #5: The King of Comedy [1982]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

The King of Comedy [1982]

The King of Comedy [1982]
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writer: Paul D. Zimmerman
Country: USA
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Starring: Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Diahnne Abbott, Sandra Bernhard
Running Time: 109 minutes

(This post contains possible spoilers.)

“Better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime.”

So says Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro) in his fame-making monologue near the end of The King of Comedy. In many ways, Pupkin is right. Many people would likely trade a life of unimportance for one night of fame and possible fortune. Rupert’s problem, however, is that he goes about his night as a “king” in about the most ridiculous way imaginable.

The 34-year-old Pupkin is a fame-seeking, wannabe comedian who worships the late night talk shows. His dream is to be the next Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis), the successful host of one such show. Rupert is determined to get his “big break” into showbiz, but he is completely devoid of a portfolio or any sort of real experience. He stays at home, seemingly in his mother’s basement, studies the talk shows and acts as if he is already a famous comedian.

The King of Comedy [1982]

Rather than start off doing small gigs while working his way up like a normal comedian, Pupkin decides he’s going to talk to Langford directly. While waiting outside of the TV studio, he manages to finagle his way into Jerry’s car and even get a ride from him. It’s an incredibly awkward encounter — Rupert just doesn’t know how to end a conversation — but Jerry is surprisingly tolerant. Their encounter ends with the talk show host vaguely suggesting he would check out Pupkin’s tape at a later point.

That’s all the incentive Rupert needs to keep bugging Jerry. He shows up at the TV studio, refusing to leave the waiting room until he gets to talk to Jerry. He shows up over and over again, as annoying as a mosquito that just won’t buzz off. Eventually, when Jerry’s secretary turns him down after finally listening to his recording, Rupert gets the hint. He’s not wanted there, so he’s going to have to take matters into his own hands. Together with the help of his friend, the equally deranged Masha (Sandra Bernhard, playing another celebrity-obsessed fan), the two of them kidnap Jerry and hold him hostage until Rupert gets to be on the talk show.

The King of Comedy [1982]

As Pupkin continues to grow more and more desperate to get his big break, the film often verges into uncomfortable territory. Pupkin is just such a gauche individual (perfectly played by De Niro, by the way), and some of his interactions are just unbearable. There were times where I wished I could just reach in and pull him away before he could embarrass himself even more. The problem there, however, is that he simply has no shame. He is determined to the point of exasperation. Perhaps most amazing is that Rupert’s obnoxious behavior makes it easy to empathize with Jerry Langford, even though the host is pretty much a smug asshole.

It’s clear that Rupert is delusional and suffers from some type of mental illness (in addition to his extravagant narcissism). He is constantly drifting in and out of daydreams; some are obvious fantasies, whereas others could go either way. If taken in its literal form, The King of Comedy appears to be well ahead of its time. The film shows the depths that someone will go to get famous, and it offers an equally important glimpse at how our society is apt to reward criminal behavior. In the end, Pupkin got the fame he wanted, much like Jordan Belfort in Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. And we, as a society, are eagerly there to soak it all up.

9/10

Advertisements

Movie Project #5: The King of Comedy [1982]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

The King of Comedy [1982]

The King of Comedy [1982]
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writer: Paul D. Zimmerman
Country: USA
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Starring: Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Diahnne Abbott, Sandra Bernhard
Running Time: 109 minutes

(This post contains possible spoilers.)

“Better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime.”

So says Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro) in his fame-making monologue near the end of The King of Comedy. In many ways, Pupkin is right. Many people would likely trade a life of unimportance for one night of fame and possible fortune. Rupert’s problem, however, is that he goes about his night as a “king” in about the most ridiculous way imaginable.

The 34-year-old Pupkin is a fame-seeking, wannabe comedian who worships the late night talk shows. His dream is to be the next Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis), the successful host of one such show. Rupert is determined to get his “big break” into showbiz, but he is completely devoid of a portfolio or any sort of real experience. He stays at home, seemingly in his mother’s basement, studies the talk shows and acts as if he is already a famous comedian.

The King of Comedy [1982]

Rather than start off doing small gigs while working his way up like a normal comedian, Pupkin decides he’s going to talk to Langford directly. While waiting outside of the TV studio, he manages to finagle his way into Jerry’s car and even get a ride from him. It’s an incredibly awkward encounter — Rupert just doesn’t know how to end a conversation — but Jerry is surprisingly tolerant. Their encounter ends with the talk show host vaguely suggesting he would check out Pupkin’s tape at a later point.

That’s all the incentive Rupert needs to keep bugging Jerry. He shows up at the TV studio, refusing to leave the waiting room until he gets to talk to Jerry. He shows up over and over again, as annoying as a mosquito that just won’t buzz off. Eventually, when Jerry’s secretary turns him down after finally listening to his recording, Rupert gets the hint. He’s not wanted there, so he’s going to have to take matters into his own hands. Together with the help of his friend, the equally deranged Masha (Sandra Bernhard, playing another celebrity-obsessed fan), the two of them kidnap Jerry and hold him hostage until Rupert gets to be on the talk show.

The King of Comedy [1982]

As Pupkin continues to grow more and more desperate to get his big break, the film often verges into uncomfortable territory. Pupkin is just such a gauche individual (perfectly played by De Niro, by the way), and some of his interactions are just unbearable. There were times where I wished I could just reach in and pull him away before he could embarrass himself even more. The problem there, however, is that he simply has no shame. He is determined to the point of exasperation. Perhaps most amazing is that Rupert’s obnoxious behavior makes it easy to empathize with Jerry Langford, even though the host is pretty much a smug asshole.

It’s clear that Rupert is delusional and suffers from some type of mental illness (in addition to his extravagant narcissism). He is constantly drifting in and out of daydreams; some are obvious fantasies, whereas others could go either way. If taken in its literal form, The King of Comedy appears to be well ahead of its time. The film shows the depths that someone will go to get famous, and it offers an equally important glimpse at how our society is apt to reward criminal behavior. In the end, Pupkin got the fame he wanted, much like Jordan Belfort in Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. And we, as a society, are eagerly there to soak it all up.

9/10

Movie Review: Silver Linings Playbook [2012]

Silver Linings Playbook [2012]

Silver Linings Playbook [2012]
Director: David O. Russell
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Romance
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver and Chris Tucker
Running Time: 122 minutes

Silver Linings Playbook is a romantic comedy by definition, but it is presented in a way that most in the genre are not.

Bradley Cooper (in a surprisingly subdued performance) stars as Pat Solitano, a former high school teacher diagnosed with bipolar disorder. After an eight month stay in a mental hospital, Pat is released into the care of his parents, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) and Dolores (Jacki Weaver). The only thing on Pat’s mind is a desire to reconcile his failed marriage with his ex-wife, Nikki (Brea Bee), who now has a restraining order against him due to a previous violent outburst.

Silver Linings Playbook [2012]

While having dinner at a friend’s house, Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young woman who is going through a very rough patch as well (her husband just passed away in Iraq). They begin a peculiar relationship in which Pat attempts to communicate to Nikki through Tiffany. She agrees to help him if he will enter a dance competition with her, something she never got to do with her late husband. This shaky agreement works as a sort of therapy for both of them, as both seem to come to grips with their respective mental illnesses at the same time.

Familiar conventions of the romantic comedy genre eventually arise, particularly in the film’s final act, but the journey to this point is anything but conventional. Director David O. Russell’s inclusion of mental illness as an integral part of the storyline is a bit of a ballsy move, but he manages to portray both characters and their traits in a sensitive light.

Silver Linings Playbook [2012]

The chemistry between Cooper and Lawrence is electric, with both turning in what may very well be the best performances of their careers. It’s shocking that Lawrence is just 22 years old — she has the presence of a seasoned veteran in this. Perhaps most exciting is seeing Robert De Niro return to relevance with one of his greatest roles in years. His take as the OCD diehard Eagles fan shows glimpses of just how Pat Jr. began struggling with his own mental issues. Chris Tucker even has a small role that is worthy of a mention, largely because he is not as obnoxious as usual.

Silver Linings Playbook deserves credit for bringing something new to a tired genre, and even though it falls back on familiar tropes, it’s still a strong effort with a likable set of characters.

8/10

Movie Project #33 and #34: The Godfather: Part II [1974] and Casablanca [1942]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

The Godfather: Part II [1974, Francis Ford Coppola]
The Godfather: Part II [1974, Francis Ford Coppola]
Starring Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall.

As part of our traditional Thanksgiving movie marathon, my girlfriend and I opted to watch the first two Godfather films back to back, as well as a couple of other classics. I had seen the first Godfather before, but that was many years ago. The Godfather: Part II is a fantastic followup to the original, this time focusing on Michael Corleone as the new Don. Michael is an intriguing figure who clings to ideals that are starkly different from his deceased father, and many of his actions make him out to be a cold-hearted bastard. In fact, it was almost hard to watch the film at times simply because Michael was a complete asshole to everyone involved in his life. A phenomenal piece of acting from Al Pacino, but man, what a dick.

There is also a parallel storyline in Part II that shows the early life of Vito Corleone, this time played by Robert De Niro in one of his finest performances. I found this story to be the more fascinating of the two, as it showed Vito’s evolution from a young immigrant arriving on Ellis Island to his rise as the Godfather. The two unique storylines in the film are masterfully connected, culminating in an epic saga that never has a dull moment. Not enough can be said about the all-star cast (Pacino, De Niro, Duvall, Cazale, Keaton, etc.), and the ending is just as powerful as the original’s unforgettable conclusion. It’s not often that a sequel can be considered as good as its predecessor, and many even consider this to be the best of the trilogy. I still prefer the first film, mainly because I actually liked Brando’s Vito Corleone, but there is no mistaking that Part II is another masterpiece. 9/10

Casablanca [1942,  Michael Curtiz]
Casablanca [1942, Michael Curtiz]
Starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid.

I don’t know what is more shameful to admit: that I hadn’t seen Casablanca before this, or that I had never seen a Bogart film period. It’s easy to see why both Casablanca and Bogart are held in such high regard. The film is such a classic love story, and Bogart is just the man to play the cynical lead, Rick Blaine. Tough on the outside but broken hearted on the inside, Blaine is certainly a memorable character, and the chemistry between Bogart and Ingrid Bergman (as Ilsa Lund) is off the charts. The love triangle between the two of them, and Ilsa’s current husband, Victor Laszlo (Henreid), is brilliant in that all three characters are immensely likable.

One can only imagine how difficult of a decision it would be for all parties involved in this triangle. Will Ilsa run away with her long lost flame? Will Rick help Ilsa and her current lover escape from the Nazis, even though there is clearly still a spark between the two of them? It’s one of those great moments in film where the story could result in a number of endings, but I was very pleased with the final conclusion. It took some major cojones to not go with the typical Hollywood ending, and for that I am very grateful. I liked the movie well enough after watching it, but I just gained a whole new appreciation of the film after sitting down to gather my thoughts and write about it. Simply wonderful. 9/10

Movie Review: Machete [2010]

Machete [2010]

Machete [2010]
Directors: Ethan Maniquis, Robert Rodriguez
Genre: Action/Crime/Thriller
Language: English
Country: USA

Originally introduced via a fake trailer for the 2007 double feature, Grindhouse, Machete was turned into a full-length film last year. With Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis at the helm, this had all the makings for a riotous throwback to the old-school exploitation flicks.

Machete stars the always badass Danny Trejo as Machete Cortez, a former Mexican Federale who has been double-crossed by corrupt politicians while working as a hitman. In his quest to get revenge, he becomes entangled in an intense conflict involving illegal immigration. The whole storyline is pretty ridiculous and probably too spread-out for its own good, but it sets the tone for gratuitous violence and all-around trashiness.

Machete [2010]

If you’re offended by gory deaths, excessive blood spray, and full-frontal female nudity, then obviously Machete is not for you. This is a film that revels in its excess, and loves every second of it.

For an exploitation flick, Machete has a pretty impressive cast. Steven Seagal is a brutal drug lord who killed Machete’s wife three years before the film’s events. Robert De Niro plays Senator McLaughlin, a corrupt politician who is vehemently against illegal immigration, often resorting to violence against those trying to cross the border. Jeff Fahey is his right hand man, filling in with the same role he had in the faux trailer. Jessica Alba is an Immigrations Officer who is trying to crack the underground immigration network. Michelle Rodriguez probably does the best job overall as the sexy “taco truck lady” who also happens to be leading the revolution. Throw in some hilarious bit roles from Cheech Marin (Machete’s priest brother), Don Johnson (a border vigilante) and even Lindsay Lohan (a junkie rich girl, not far from Lohan’s reality), and you have quite the eclectic cast.

And of course, it’s good to see Danny Trejo get his first lead role after countless small parts over the years.

Machete [2010]

Machete is good for what it is, no doubt, but it felt like something was missing overall. It almost seemed like the movie tried to do too much at once, and lacked some overall cohesion. It’s still a lot of fun with some great action scenes and hilarious one-liners, but I can’t help but feel it could have been even better. It will be interesting to see what Rodriguez comes up with for Machete Kills, the inevitable sequel.

7/10

Heat [1995]

Heat [1995]

Heat [1995]
Directors: Michael Mann
Genre: Crime/Drama/Thriller
Language: English
Country: USA

Heat is an epic crime film in every sense of the word. Michael Mann really went all out with this blockbuster, cashing in on his $60 million budget and getting the most out of the nearly three hour runtime. This Los Angeles-set movie is mainly focused on two men: Lt. Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino), a veteran LAPD homicide detective, and Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro), a lifelong criminal and expert robber. Both men live for one thing — the rush they get from their jobs — and their personal lives suffer from it. Once Hanna gets wind of McCauley’s criminal escapades throughout the city, he becomes fascinated by him and tracks him on his way to his biggest heist yet. The character development for these two characters is outstanding, and it is easy to become attached to both, even though one is clearly “good” and the other is “bad.”

The movie is aided by an unbelievably strong and star-studded cast. Seriously, this is a who’s-who of popular actors from the 90’s (although not restricted to that decade, obviously). De Niro frequently shares screen time with his group of thieves, which includes Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, Danny Trejo and Kevin Gage. There are also small, but important, roles from Jon Voight, William Fichtner and Dennis Haysbert. Even a very young Natalie Portman is in this movie. Each of these characters has a fleshed-out storyline to make the viewer care about them, and that is impressive even with the movie’s extended running time.

And yeah, about that length. It took me a while to get around to this movie due to its prolonged running time. This is a long crime saga, and you have to be prepared to sit down for the full three hours to get through it. Is it worth watching all the way through? Yes, absolutely! While there are a number of subplots weaving in and out of the main storyline (some that probably could have been omitted), this is still very much an exceptional film due to excellent acting, a strong script and some downright badass scenes.

There are two scenes in particular that everyone talks about whenever Heat is brought up. One is the bank heist/shootout, an elongated gun battle that is quite possibly one of the best firefights ever recorded in film. The other is a sit-down scene where Pacino and De Niro have a cup of coffee, the very first time the actors have appeared together on screen. Much was made of this encounter when the movie came out, and it is still interesting to see it today. Both scenes are phenomenal, albeit in very different ways.

Some will cry that Mann went overboard with this movie, trying to cram too many stories into one film. I agree that a little probably could have been trimmed off the top, but I still very much enjoyed Heat. This is one of the best crime sagas that I have seen, and its frequent praise is well-deserved.

8.5/10