The Color of Money (1986)

The Rules of the Game

I’ve never been more aroused by a film’s editing and cinematography than that featured in The Color of Money, a film which I ultimately enjoyed more than it’s predecessor The Hustler. It just so happens I first watched The Color of Money during my time as a film student and attempted to replicate many of the film’s shots and edits for a music video (and  an intentionally 80’s music video at that) as I studied the cuts present in the film frame by frame. Needless to say I was not entirely successful in my endeavour.

The Color of Money has the fast pace and rhythm of MTV music videos but still with a sense of old school class and sophistication; right from the opening credits I can tell this would be a movie dripping in atmosphere. A movie so snappy, fast paced and full of quick edits, many of which come unexpectedly along with many unconventional camera movements yet it never feels disorientating or distracting as the scenes glide with such fluidity and ease. The cinematography on display here isn’t that of a David Lean production, no this is a movie which largely takes place in bars and pool halls yet it still has a sense of majesty and scope even if the shot in question is a close up of drinking glass. Really the only edit I can fault is the very cheesy freeze frame of Paul Newman jumping out of a swimming pool. On the other hand nobody uses licensed soundtracks better than Martin Scorsese. I get the impression scenes in the film where shot with the music in mind and not as an afterthought. With the opening scene it feels like Phil Collins’ One More Night was specifically composed to fit the mood and tone of the scene.

The Color of Money however is not style over substance. I love the intriguing character triangle of a trio of hustlers as well as the harmony of two generations coming together. Tom Cruise is an actor I only like in certain parts but in roles such as Vincent, a cocky, male fantasy indulging character who embodies the entrepreneurial and capitalistic spirit of the 1980’s (like his character in Risky Business), I simply revel in – as Eddie puts it “a natural character”. Just as impressive are pool shots done by Cruise himself (he performed all but one of his own trick shots); makes me energised to play some pool myself.

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The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)

The Sweet Smell of Success

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

The Coen Brothers are hit and miss with me (I tend to have a preference more towards their comedy then their drama) but The Hudsucker Proxy is by far my favourite movie of theirs, a film which feels like it was tailor made for me. The Hudsucker Proxy takes place in its own unique universe; the acting style in the film is reminiscent of the 1930’s yet the film is set in the 1950’s. Likewise there appears to be a clash of fashion; the outfits are from the 30’s yet the cars or the beatnik coffee house which Norvillie visits are unmistakably 1950’s but I like this combination of two eras, two distinct time periods of Hollywood’s golden age wrapped into one. The Hudsucker Proxy is a movie with so many layers and homage’s to other movies (Sweet Smell of Success, Metropolis, The Apartment, The Producers, various Frank Capra movies); I’m sure with future viewings I will unlock even more secrets the movies holds.

The Hudsucker Proxy is a love letter to anyone who loves the aesthetic of classic Hollywood movies with set designs to die for such as Paul Newman’s office, an art deco fantasy land; yet the movie even injects some Terry Gilliam-esque cinematography with the scene in the mail room feeling like the world from 1985’s Brazil. Likewise this is a movie of drawn out colours, mostly greys in what I feel is an attempt to emulate the appearance of black & white.

What happened to Tim Robbins? He was on such a hot streak of films during the first half of the 90’s, just after this he was in The Shawshank Redemption (one of the best two film streaks ever?); since then, not so much. The character of Norvillie Barnes is a Preston Sturges hero trapped in a Frank Capra story; although due to Robbin’s resemblance to a young Orson Welles the character comes off to me as someone who has the look of Welles but has the personality of Gary Cooper; a young entrepreneurial go getter with a wide eyed innocence who is not fully in tune with reality, or at least hasn’t been subjected to it yet. When he first arrives in New York and tries looking for a job, the word “experience” is plastered all over the frame, oh the reliability.

Jennifer Jason Leigh is a revelation here; channelling Rosalind Russell, yet I can still detect elements of Katharine Hepburn, Barbara Stanywck and Jean Arthur in there. The coordination of her gestures is perfect and I’m also fascinated by her character dynamic in which she becomes insecure about her femininity or lack therefore off at Norville’s comments of her trying to be one of the boys. Although it’s never resolved, this still gives her character another layer of depth. Paul Newman on the other hand rarely ventured into comedy but he pulls of the cigar chomping, “you’re fired!” type boss with ease.

The film’s combination of numerous elements from various genres is also carried over in its humour, from dry jokes to more overt, fast talking screwball antics. The gag with the circle drawn on the piece of paper followed by the uttering of “you know, for kids!” never gets old, even if the movie’s poster somewhat spoils the joke. While the sequence detailing the creation and distribution of the Hula Hoop, I don’t think I could you ask for a better fast paced quirky montage. Likewise the (almost literal) Deus Ex Machina ending could have easily come off as a copout but I feel is rescued from being so from the plot element of the blue letter; I completely forgot that even existed until the angel of Warren Hudsucker reminds a suicidal Norville about it; now that’s a sign of an engaging film.

Sometimes a Great Notion (1970)

Sometimes a Great Motion Picture

***This Review Contains Spoilers***

There is no over arching plot in Sometimes a Great Notion yet I was still engaged with the life of this family with their ongoing effort to try and make a living and their own family dilemmas all occurring among the beautiful forest scenery of Oregon. This is a man’s movie reminiscent of the male bonding films from Howard Hawks such as Only Angels Have Wings and Tiger Shark.

Henry Fonda plays a character called Henry so I like to imagine his interactions on set with Paul Newman occur just like they do in the movie. I’ve also often championed Henry Fonda’s unsung abilities as a comedic actor and here he provides the film with some great moments of comic relief. Michael Sarrazin gives the most interesting performance though as the girly man Leeland Stamper who doesn’t fit in with the rest of the men largely due to his long hair. There’s a quiet confidence to his character though as he is unbothered by the remarks of the other men and eventfully wins their respect, by how? Winning a game of the ever manly sport of football.

The logging scenes themselves are actually quite suspenseful, seeing men who are putting their lives in danger in order to make a living, you’re expecting someone to get injured or killed at any time and that beings me to scene in the film which left the greatest impression on me. There are two death scenes towards the end of the film. First there’s Henry Fonda’s death which is sad, itself but that is but nothing compared to the death of Richard Jaeckel; I was thinking about this scene for days after watching the film and it’s even more powerful watching it a second time as I’m waiting in dread for the scene to arrive. For starters the character is trapped under a log while the tide is slowly rising and he spends the whole time joking about it and when he is eventually submerged in water he can only stay alive thorough constant mouth to mouth resuscitation until help shows up to move the giant log. I can’t imagine a more terrifying situation a person could be in; you can possibly get rescued and live but in order to do so you must remain completely calm; one mistake and you’re a goner. This one of the most harrowing things I’ve ever seen in a film. I doubt I will ever see a more intense death scene or one so difficult to watch.