actors, In My Opinion, music

Dark Comedy “The Professor” and Mortality Films

I heard nothing about Johnny Depp‘s recent dark comedy The Professor when I trolled through Amazon’s waters for something new to rent. It was a love/hate experience. One of those films that has great ideas and witty occasions but executed in a sloppy way that undermines the story. I really wanted to like the film. I love Johnny Depp. And I dislike much of his films. He has so much talent that shines forward in scenes, but he can’t seem to find a film that showcases him to the stature he belongs as an actor. In this film, his voice warbles and remains low and other accents from previous characters creep in. He doesn’t seem to know how to act the part. (2.5 stars) Yet, the ideas about the film come through and linger with me. 

Johnny plays a New England English academic who is diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. He decides not to seek treatment knowing he has six months to live. This confrontation with mortality alters his perception of life and his teaching style. He throws away professionalism and embarks on a journey with his English students with a carpe diem approach including partying and random sex. In short, he throws away his authority and parties it up with his students while expecting earnest conversations. Time is not to be wasted. The movie is a cross between Old School and Dead Poet’s Society. It’s profane and not too funny much of the time. Too bad, since stories with themes that include the insights to a meaningful life appeal to me, and I love a good dark comedy. Maybe you liked it?

Finally, at the end of the movie, the message arrives. Treat your days as though they were your last. Don’t be a part of the 98 percent who embrace mediocrity. Strive to be an individual and live life with meaning. Well, it’s certainly sage advice we’ve heard of before in films. Do you recognize these famous lines?

“Make each day count.  Hear, hear! To making it count.”

“Earn this.”  

“Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”

“You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”

“Life is hard. It’s supposed to be. If we didn’t suffer, we wouldn’t learn a thing.”

“Don’t look back. It drags at your heart till you can’t do anything but look back.”

It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard…is what makes it great.”

“Not all those who wander are lost.”

“A heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.”

“I do not expect us to agree about everything, but I would much rather have you believe in something I don’t agree with than to accept everything blindly. And that begins with thinking rationally.”

“Listen to me, mister. You’re my knight in shining armor. Don’t you forget it. You’re going to get back on that horse, and I’m going to be right behind you, holding on tight, and away we’re gonna go, go, go!”

Have you noticed many films with the best messages are played by a dynamic duo from the 80s and 90s? Do you think there is a correlation between the memorable lines said by the characters played by Tom Hanks and Robin Williams? That is to say, the sentimentality incurred by their famous lines made them endearing to the public. Another way of putting it — their famous lines made the actor, not necessarily their talent? I do.

What are some of your favorite lines that give insight into the meaning of life?


* * * * * * * * * * * *


Jack, Titanic; Capt. Miller, Saving Private Ryan; John Keating, Dead Poet’s Society; Abileen Clark, The Help; Jesse, Before Sunset; Scarlett, Gone with the Wind; Jimmy Dugan, A League of Their Own; Gandalf, The Fellowship of the Ring; The Wizard of Oz; Santosh Patel, The Life of Pi; Ethel, On Golden Pond. 



actors, culture, Film Spotlight, history, History in Films, movies, oscars

Film Spotlight: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close


Days that live in infamy are particular to every country. In the United States, what happened on September 11, 2001 is shelved in the mind along with the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941 and J.F. Kennedy’s assassination, November 22, 1963. On September 11, normalcy was stripped away and vulnerability and violation filled us all. Solemnity existed on multiple levels. Personally, many knew someone in the city or intimately involved with the day’s destruction. Regular time stopped and the interruption seized hold and shook hard as we stayed glued to the television for details and answers. The days and weeks unfolded and we prayed and cried and blessed the heroes and victims. Documentaries were made commemorating the efforts of fireman and doctors and nurses and policemen and military personnel and politicians. Families of those who passed shared their grief and we grieved with them. Today, a classy memorial is at Ground Zero with a saved Pear Tree, water falls, the names of the fallen, and two beams of light ascending to the clouds at nightfall.

The 2012, Best Picture nominee Extremely Loud and Extremely Close starred crème de la crème actors, Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock. The script seemed like it was in good hands. Eric Roth adapted his screenplay from Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel by the same name. I’ve been an admirer of Eric Roth as a screenwriter for a long time. Consider his track record: Forrest Gump, The Horse Whisperer, Ali, Munich, The Insider, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. If Eric Roth is involved with the project, odds are excellent the script will be intelligent, sensitive, and dynamic.  So why was this film either reviled or respected?

I have a tendency to focus on what’s great about a film and ignore as much as possible what’s annoying. If you haven’t seen Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, I would focus on the performances of the supporting cast, like the marvelous Max von Sydow, who was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Viola Davis had a  strong presence on the screen, too.

The principal child actor was eleven-year-old Thomas Horn as the grieving son, Oskar Schell. While I understand critics thought his frenetic screaming and exuberant rants annoying, I thought it was exactly the delivery he should have given if you consider the style of a Jonathan Safran Foer novel which is full of frenetic exuberant screaming. Some didn’t like the adaptation at all, but I don’t think of a book and a movie as the same story at all. They are two texts, related, but I never had a problem if the film version strayed from the book. Is Safron Foer’s book better than the film? Oh, yes. But I still enjoyed the film for more reasons than I disliked it.

The film is about the effects of a catastrophe, a day of infamy in a boy’s life, whose father dies on 9/11 and he reaches beyond the grave and inspires his son to move on. It’s not a plot driven story but rather character driven. It’s a film about the healing process of a brilliant son who can’t handle the horror of losing his idol. That’s powerful stuff. If it weren’t associated with the events of 9-11, it might have scored higher with critics who panned it for superficiality of a national tragedy. I didn’t see it that way at all. Too bad Bullock’s character didn’t have more dimension other than the mother who has to live with the knowledge if her son had to lose a parent, it would have been her in the casket rather than the father. Ouch.

I’d rate the film 7 out of 10.

Which camp do you fall in?

Is it possible you don’t know what happened on 9/11? Here’s a succinct summary.

actors, directors, movies, oscars

The Best Decade in Film: 1990s

It’s obvious to me that the 1990s were the best years in film. Drama defined the decade because of the contributions of Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, Robert DeNiro, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, and the Coen Brothers.

Tom Hanks. He owned the decade. Sure, there were mediocre choices like That Thing You Do! in 1996 or in 1992, as Jimmy Dugan in A League of Their Own. He managed to put his personal stamp on the film with the memorable phrase, “There’s no crying in baseball!”
But consider this blockbuster list:
1990, Bonfire of the Vanities
1993, Philadelphia (Best Acting Oscar)
1993, Sleepless in Seattle
1994, Forrest Gump (Best Acting Oscar)
1995, Toy Story
1995, Apollo 13
1998, Saving Private Ryan
1999, The Green Mile
1999, Toy Story 2
Many would say Saving Private Ryan is the best war film. His ability to represent the common man with simplistic charm is reminiscent of the great Jimmy Stewart. However, Jimmy only won one Oscar in 1940 with The Philadelphia Story. Of course, Tom Hanks greeted the new century with strong performances but it was the 1990s where he became the legend we know today.


Steven Spielberg
His relationship with Tom Hanks in films has served them both well. Not only is Saving Private Ryan arguably the best war film, which is a Spielberg masterpiece, Spielberg gets the credit for the best film ever made with Schindler’s List. That’s a subjective claim, but does anyone disagree that Schindler’s List is one of the finest films in the history of film making?

It happened in the 1990s.

What else did Steven Spielberg put out that decade? Two personal favorites are Jurassic Park, 1993, and Amistad in 1998.

Speaking of directors and actors teaming up, how about Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro in the 1990s? Here are the best gangster films combined with strong acting in DeNiro’s career:

Martin Scorsese                          
1990, Goodfellas  
1991, Cape Fear
1993, The Age of Innocence   
1995, Casino

Robert DeNiro

1990, Goodfellas

1991, Cape Fear

1993, This Boy’s Life

1995, Casino

1997, Wag the Dog

If you disagree that Schindler’s List wasn’t the best film of the decade, then you probably agree with a million other critics that Pulp Fiction was the best film of the decade. QT shocked with Reservoir Dogs and impressed us with Jackie Brown. If you are a Coen Brothers fan, then you probably are a cult follower of the Dude and drink White Russians as a token of homage. That was when I was snookered by Jeff Bridges as an exceptional actor in The Big Lebowski. Fargo, Miller’s Crossing, and Barton Fink solidified the Coen’s career and into the twenty-first they flew with one instant classic after another. Finally, if the above reasons don’t convince you, here are more random films from the 1990s that I favor:

L.A. Confidential, Mission Impossible, Being John Malkovich, Rushmore, Contact, Sense and Sensibility, Elizabeth, Dogma, Last of the Mohicans, Dances with Wolves, Sling Blade, The Piano, Star Trek: First Contact, and Run Lola Run.

Are you convinced now that the 1990s was the best decade in film-making history?