REVIEW: “Bonnie and Clyde”

BONNIE poster

The 1967 crime drama/biopic “Bonnie and Clyde” wasn’t the easiest movie to get made. There were numerous squabbles between the film’s producer and star Warren Beatty and Warner Brothers over everything from budget and shooting locations to the size of the film’s release. Once it did hit theaters it faced a new wave of controversies mainly aimed at the films depiction of violence. “Bonnie and Clyde” is said to be one of the first mainstream American films to use graphic violence therefore opening the doors for the waves of cinematic bloodshed that would follow. At the time some critics railed on the film, but it would go on to be a box office hit and it’s now viewed as a true motion picture classic.

As with many movies like this several liberties were taken for dramatic reasons. A number of people contributed to the script but David Newman and Robert Benton did most of the heavy lifting. Their script strips down the true Bonnie and Clyde story while still creating a vivid and absorbing tale. There is no backstory at all. The film opens with Faye Dunaway’s Bonnie Parker sultrily moving about her upstairs room when she notices Warren Beatty’s Clyde Barrow attempting to steal her mother’s car. She confronts him but after a brief conversation they are on the road and story of Bonnie and Clyde has begun.


Now could the story have gone deeper into their backgrounds and motivations? Probably so, but I think the film gives us what’s necessary for the type of story it’s telling. We learn that Bonnie is a waitress who is unhappy with the seemingly meaningless life she lives. She waits tables, she gets occasional dates from passing truckers, then she goes home – rinse and repeat. But you also get the sense that she is wooed by Clyde’s charms and visions of grandeur. Of the two characters, Bonnie is the most intriguing. Throughout the film you get glimpses that she does want more in life. She has visions of what happiness should be yet she has no one to cling to but Clyde.

The two Depression-era outlaws take off on a crime spree that starts with a few smalltime holdups. They pickup a simpleton named C.W. Moss (Michael Pollard) and the three begin hitting banks. This is also when their crimes go from simple bank robberies to killing. Clyde’s brother Buck (Gene Hackman) and his shrill and reluctant wife Blanche (Estelle Parsons) joins up with them and the Barrow gang is formed. Amazingly every one of the cast members I’ve mentioned so far received Academy award nominations for their performances. Interestingly enough, Parsons (in what may be the lesser performance of the group) was the only one to win. It’s worth noting that, while he didn’t get an Oscar nomination, Gene Wilder shows up in what is his feature film debut.

“Bonnie and Clyde” toys around with several other interesting themes. There are several well-placed jabs focused on how the media manipulates news stories for their own interests. This goes hand-in-hand with law enforcement who began attributing bank robberies and killings to Bonnie and Clyde even though they had nothing to do with them. This interesting little twist asks the question of who is more responsible for the pair’s dubious rise to fame? As a result their mythos grew larger and larger from town to town and much of that is due to what was being put out in the papers and by law enforcement.


When writing about the film, the great Roger Ebert noted a particular scene where an upset Bonnie is walking through a wheat field and Clyde is chasing after her. The camera pulls back and gives us a longshot of the field just as a cloud is passing over the sun. In an eerie moment of foreboding, the cloud covers Bonnie and Clyde hinting at what lies ahead for them. This is the pre-CGI era and chances are it was a freak act of nature. Still it’s a tremendous example of Burnett Guffey’s brilliant Oscar-winning cinematography. The film looks amazing and I wasn’t surprised to read that it was influenced by the French New Wave. In fact one of my favorite directors Francois Truffaut was originally asked to direct the film but declined. Arthur Penn got the job and he incorporated that slick and stylish French influence.

“Bonnie and Clyde” was a cultural phenomenon upon its release and it has earned its ‘classic movie’ title. While the supporting cast is great, the cinematography is amazing, and the bluegrass score sets a perfect tone, it’s the two leads who anchor the film. Dunaway is skittish, hopeful, and beautiful and Beatty, an actor I can generally take or leave, is charismatic and completely believable. We buy into them from the start and that is why the journey we take with them is thrilling and unforgettable.


REVIEW: “The Royal Tenenbaums”


Filmmaker Wes Anderson has always loved making movies that deal with family, family dynamics, and family struggles. They often focus on flawed relationships between brothers, children and their parents, or in the case of the 2001 film “The Royal Tenenbaums” an entire family. This was Anderson’s third movie and the first to incorporate one of his big and unique ensemble casts. It’s also the first film of his to fully utilize his peculiar comedic and visual style. You’ll notice it from the opening frame all the way to the end credits.

The story is about the Tenenbaum family. Royal (Gene Hackman) and Etheline (Anjelica Huston) Tenenbaum had three children who were geniuses at a young age. Chas was a business and financial wizard even before high school. Margot was their adopted daughter who was also a young playwright. Richie was a child tennis prodigy and aspiring artist. Eccentricities aside, the three Tenenbaum children had excelled beyond measure in their particular passions. But all of their promise of future success was dashed upon hearing the news that Royal and Etheline were separating.


The film then bolts ahead several years. The kids have all faced their share of disappointment and heartache. Chas (Ben Stiller) lost his wife in a plane crash and is now obsessed with the safety of his two young sons. Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) is unhappily married to a neurologist and author (Bill Murray) and she spends six hours a day locked in the bathroom. Richie (Luke Wilson) shocked the world by retiring from tennis at the age of 26 after a meltdown during an important match. Etheline is a successful archaeologist who is being courted by her accountant Henry (Danny Glover). Royal on the other hand hasn’t spoken with this family in several years. He’s lost his law practice and has just been thrown out of the hotel he has lived in for years. To top it off he has found out that he is dying and he decides that it’s time to make amends with his family.

A variety of circumstances brings the Tenenbaum family back together under one roof. All sorts of complicated and strained family dynamics surface. None of the family is happy to see Royal other than Richie who was always the object of his father’s favoritism. Chas hates his father. Margot and Richie have a tension that also involves childhood friend Eli (Owen Wilson). Etheline and Royal have friction particularly over Henry. I could go on and on but you get the point. This is a highly dysfunctional family that was damaged when Royal first left and is now in chaos since he has returned.


On the surface nothing about what I have described sounds funny does it? But remember, this is a Wes Anderson film. Sprinkled in between the various disagreements and peculiarities are the signature bits of dry and often absurd humor that he brings to his pictures. It’s often times seen in a bit of dialogue or some quirky visual flair. Sometimes Anderson slips his humor into the backdrop or in a particular prop or detail. Little quirks like the matching bushy hair and Adidas jumpsuits that Chas and his sons wear. The reappearing beat up cabs from Gypsy Taxi. Every small line from family friend and servant Pagoda (Kumar Pallana). There are so many bits of Anderson flavor and you’ll probably find something new with each viewing.

But as usual, Anderson mixes his humor with a darker side of the story. Royal is truly a despicable man and father. You can’t help but laugh at some of his antics. On the flipside, his character and the consequences of his actions are much darker realities. The film touches on several other gloomier themes such as depression, alienation, suicide, and drug abuse. And then of course there is the aforementioned examination of family. The film takes a look at numerous facets of family life and difficulties which I believe gives the story more weight. As funny as “The Royal Tenenbaums” is, there are layers upon layers of thematic inflections.


And a brief word about the performances. Gene Hackman is fantastic which shouldn’t come as a surprise. He dives right into the role, hamming it up and pulling it back when required. He was a bit reluctant to take the role at first but he is a perfect fit. Everyone else also falls perfectly onto Wes Anderson’s canvas. Whether it’s his reliable favorites such as Murray and the Wilsons, or others such as Paltrow, Glover and Stiller, the characters are a key component to the film and the casting of each role is spot on. Even Alec Baldwin pops up as the unseen narrator.

As you can expect there is an overload of visual style in this picture. If you aren’t keen on Anderson’s odd period style setting and unique camera quirks then you may have a hard time embracing this film. Personally I love the looks of his work. “The Royal Tenenbaums” is a little slow out of the gate but it doesn’t take long before it hits its stride. Things do tidy up a tad too much at the end, but the final scene is priceless and it leaves the movie on just the right note. I couldn’t help but laugh and think to myself that Wes Anderson had done it again.


5 Phenomenal Movies from 1986

movie_theatre - Phenom 5

It has been a while so today I’m continuing my look back at the movies from the 1980s. I grew up on these films and I’ve been making my way through them year by year. Today we stop in 1986 to look at five of the best films from that year. The mid-80s were loaded with fun movies that still stick with me today. 1986 was an interesting year. It brought unique comedies, great science fiction, corny but fun blockbusters, and much more. Now with so many great movies to choose from I wouldn’t call this the definitive list. But I firmly believe that these five films from 1986 are absolutely phenomenal.

#5 – “Top Gun”

Top Gun

When it comes to big summer blockbusters built for the masses, “Top Gun” is the blueprint. It’s a bit corny in places and it’s full of lightheaded summer time fun. But it’s also a really good movie and one that I grew up loving as a kid. Tom Cruise found himself on nearly every teen girl’s wall and many of us guys loved the military fighter pilot aspect of it. The late Tony Scott gave us exciting action, cool and pretty people, a steamy romance, and a lot of fun. Throw in a great supporting cast and an awesome 80s soundtrack and you have a fantastic blockbuster that I still enjoy.

#4 – “Hoosiers”


Sports movies are notoriously hit or miss. Rarely does a sports film hit every mark and blow me away. “Hoosiers” was one of those rare treats. Led by a fantastic performance by Gene Hackman, “Hoosiers” tells the story of a former college coach who comes to the small town of Hickory, Indiana to take over their basketball program. He wades through small town politics, a nervous school system, and anxious parents to take the team to the Indiana state tournament. Everything in the film works from David Anspaugh’s direction to Angelo Pizzo’s script which deals as much in humanity as it does sports. I love this movie.

#3 – “Platoon”


Amid the indulgences and occasional heavy-handedness, “Platoon” gave us arguably the most visceral Vietnam war film ever made. Director Oliver Stone received criticism aimed at his motivations behind making the movie. I wouldn’t completely discredit them knowing Stone’s history, but as an individual piece of cinema, “Platoon” is amazing. It puts so much focus on its characters led by pre-Tiger Blood Charlie Sheen. And then there is the great work from Willem Dafoe and Tom Berenger. “Platoon” is a movie that stands proudly on a soapbox. But it’s also an addictive cinematic experience and I have to watch it anytime I come across it.

#2 – “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”


One of the quirkiest and most infectious comedies to come out of the 80s was “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. Written and directed by the late and great John Hughes, the film has a most unique sense of humor. Matthew Broderick’s Ferris Bueller character became a cultural phenomenon and I remember everyone talking about this film. Simply put, Ferris Bueller skips school on a beautiful spring day with his friend Cameron and girlfriend Sloane. But Principal Rooney (played by the hilarious Jeffrey Jones) is hot on his trail. This is such a 1980s movie but it’s remarkable how well it holds up today.

#1 – “Aliens”


Easily, without hesitation, and without a shadow of a doubt, my favorite movie from 1986 is James Cameron’s “Aliens”. Not only is it my favorite movie of that year, it’s one of my favorite science fiction films and one of my favorite sequels of all time. This modern classic mixes horror, sci-fi, and military action to give us an amazing follow-up to Ridley Scott’s 1979 groundbreaker. Sigourney Weaver gives us one of the strongest female characters in movie history. There’s also a great supporting cast featuring the likes of Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen, and Bill Paxton. The look of the film is amazing, the action is intense, and there are so many memorable lines and scenes. I absolutely love “Aliens”.

So there are my five phenomenal movies from 1986. Did you see something I missed? Is there one you disagree with? I’d love to hear your thoughts or your picks in the comments section below.