Dream for an Insomniac
with Ione Skye, Mackenzie Astin,
Twenty somethings in coffee shops. Day-dreaming, unemployed artists. Sounds like a typical Friends episode if not the latest slacker comedy. In a sense, Dream for an Insomniac is both. After all, it's got perky Jennifer Aniston cast opposite a slew of pretty faces and a story that's as contrived as any episode of the aforementioned "Must-See TV." The plot revolves around Frankie (Ione Skye), a San Francisco actress who can't seem to get to sleep. Although she never rationalizes that working in the caffeinated surroundings of the Blue Eyes Cafe (Frankie, Blue Eyes. Get it?) may be what's preventing her from a night of shut-eye, she wanders around in a reverie, quoting a variety of profound authors, pop stars, and philosophers. Enter dream man David (Mackenzie Astin), a babyfaced writer who seems to be the only man that relates to Frankie's kooky quotes and incessant fantasies. The trouble is, she's moving to L.A. in a matter of days and has to make David realize that he's her destined soulmate. In some ways, the film works, particularly Skye as the doe-eyed dreamer with a killer smile. In most areas, however, the unriveting Gen-X dialogue between her Astin, Aniston (as a fellow actress who obnoxiously practices dialects), and other clichéd characters (a rocker and a gay man who feigns straightness in front of his father) is quite stupid. One awful scene depicts the coffee shop buds debating the greatness of Eddie Vedder versus the greatness of Bono, even going as far as saying that Vedder is Jesus to Bono's God! In the end, the movie is great to look at (considering the Bay-area backdrop and three beautiful leading stars), but as a whole, this is above-average sitcom material without a studio audience. --Mike Emery
D: Stanley Kubrick (1956)
with Sterling Hayden, Elisha Cook Jr., Marie Windsor, Vince Edwards,
Timothy Carey, Jay C. Flippen
This early effort from the late Stanley Kubrick is a caper film about a racetrack heist in which each member of the heist team has a specific role to play, and all the roles have to be executed in exact synchronization with each other for the operation to work. Johnny Clay (Hayden), an ex-con, is the brains of the gang, rounding up a crew of non-criminals to pull off the job and split the money. The flashback is a familiar device in film noir and crime dramas; however, The Killing uses multiple flashbacks to show the role of each member (as Resevoir Dogs would later on) as the clock counts down to the crucial moment when all the winnings are in the counting room and Johnny bursts in wielding a shotgun. A shot of draught horses pulling the starting gate into position is used again and again as a time reference to illustrate how each member of the crew does his job, eventually fitting all the pieces together like a puzzle. The plan begins to fall apart, however, when Sherry Peatty (Windsor), wife of the browbeaten teller, spills the beans to her boyfriend Vic (Edwards), and he comes to the rendezvous point with his henchmen to make off with the loot and a shootout ensues. Though the movie is based on the novel Clean Break, by Lionel White, the credits read "Dialogue by Jim Thompson," and the plot certainly bears all the fatalistic earmarks of one of Thompson's novels; a ragged cast of antihero misfits who are eventually brought down by their own avarice. Kubrick's camerawork was well on the way to finding the fluid style of his later work, and the sparse, low-budget circumstances give the film a raw, urgent sort of look. As good as the story and direction are, though, the true strength of The Killing lies in the characters and characterizations. Timothy Carey plays Nikki, the weird, stoned-acting, near-beatnik sniper hired to shoot a horse during the race as a diversion; Elisha Cook Jr. uses his slightly bug-eyed, hangdog mien to great advantage as the timid teller George Peatty; Kola Kwarian is the intellectual, chess-playing wrestler who starts a riot; Sterling Hayden is at his flinty best as the ringleader of the group. Marie Windsor is purely treacherous, tempting, traitorous trouble (all with a capital "T") as Sherry Peatty (according to Marie, Kubrick saw her performance in The Narrow Margin and said, "That's my Sherry"). James Ellroy said, "perfectly planned heists go bad because daring heist men are self-destructive losers playing out their parts in a preordained endgame with authority." 'Nuff said.
Gone With the Wind
D: Victor Fleming (1939)
with Vivian Leigh, Clark Gable, Leslie Howard, Hattie McDaniel, Olivia deHaviland
Just so all you Chron readers don't think I'm a lout with no taste for the classics, I'll have you know I bought a copy of Gone With the Wind as a Christmas present for my wife. Turns out it is still as good as any four-hour movie can get. Fully restored and featuring a new six-channel soundtrack, this is a definitive collector's DVD. Extras include a trivia section (Lucille Ball was considered for the part of Scarlett) and the original theatrical trailer, which is quite a sight in comparison to today's preview reels. Oh yeah, there's a movie in there, too. It takes up both sides of the disc, and the restoration looks great. The most thrilling realization of this is during the burning of Atlanta. Today, you'd just superimpose some flames on some CGI buildings and be done with it. In 1939, you had to burn down a city (or a backlot of building, as the case was here) to get the shot, and that's what they did. It looks phenomenal. Another highlight is the aftermath of the war in the South, with thousands (literally) of wounded lying in the streets of Atlanta as a sort of makeshift hospital. Those are real extras, peppered with dummies. Again, it looks real because it is real. Someone tell Jim Cameron he's got a long way to go and a lot to learn.