The Shelf: SOPHIE’S CHOICE, ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW, RISE AND FALL OF THE CLASH
By Kyle Anderson on April 29, 2014
Incongruous weeks are my favorite weeks on the Shelf. We’ve got a super-weird guerrilla indie film, one of the saddest movies ever made, and a documentary about the self-proclaimed “only band that matters” and how that went to their head. There’s also some television, some monster movies, and the like.
Some movies just become references in the lexicon, and while I’ve often tried to watch these touchstone movies if for no other reason than to be part of the filmic zeitgeist, there are still quite a few that I’ve missed. One of those was Alan J. Pakula’s 1982 film Sophie’s Choice, which for some reason I always got confused with Silkwood, another film starring Meryl Streep around that same time. They are not like each other at all, by the way. Sophie’s Choice is a slow and deliberate drama that never stops being interesting, not leastwise because of the outstanding performances from its three leads, Kevin Kline, Peter MacNicol, and Streep, who won an Oscar for her performance as the titular Sophie.
The film takes place in 1947 Brooklyn, where a young Southern wannabe novelist named Stingo (MacNicol) moves into a room in a house which also happens to house Polish emigre Sophie and her volatile biologist lover Nathan (Kline). After beginning on entirely the wrong foot, witnessing one of Nathan’s verbose and hateful outbursts, Slingo becomes a third member of a strange triumvirate in which he becomes their dear friend while falling evermore in love with Sophie. Throughout the film, Slingo slowly learns things about Sophie’s past, in which she, despite being a very Aryan looking Polish Catholic, was a prisoner of the Nazis at Auschwitz. These are told through flashbacks and become steadily sadder as the film progresses, leading ultimately to the Choice I’d heard so much about for my whole pop-culture-knowing life. Things aren’t easy in the “present” either, with Slingo also learning troubling things about Nathan and his mood swings.
I can honestly say Sophie’s Choice is not a movie I would have normally chosen to watch if left to my own devices. I tend to avoid straight dramas in favor of, admittedly, livelier genre fare. However, it’s a movie I’m very glad to have now seen, some 32 years after its release, and one that I will heartily recommend to anyone wanting to see three actors being excellent and a director, who also gave us All the President’s Men, working as full of passion as is possible to be.
The new Blu-ray release from Shout! Factory has an audio commentary by Pakula recorded before his death in 1998 as well as a newly-recorded roundtable discussion of the film featuring Streep, Kline, and several people involved closely with its production. Couldn’t recommend the movie higher to fans of solid movie making.
I firmly believe some people see movies based on how f-cked up they are, either in concept or execution. Did anyone actually think Alien vs Predator would be a good movie? No, but they thought, “That looks f-cked up; I’d like to see that.” I can think of no other reason for people to want to watch Randy Moore’s film Escape from Tomorrow. When you see the film’s trailer, and learn that it was filmed in the Disney theme parks without sanction from anyone involved, that it was allowed to come out in theaters and, further, that it was allowed to be released on DVD now, it’s impossible not to be intrigued by the sheer f-cked-uppedness of the whole thing and the dark visuals that pervert the “Happiest Place(s) on Earth.” I was interested to see it, but the premise and guerrilla nature of the production only went so far.
The film follows a family man Jim (Roy Abramsohn) on vacation with his family at the unnamed but clearly Disney theme parks. As the film opens, Jim is told over the phone that he is fired but that he should enjoy his last day with his family. This proves difficult, of course, as everything about the parks now look mocking and evil to his middle-aged malaise-ridden eyes. On the monorail that morning, Jim becomes fixated on two young girls, who look like they might be 17 but only just barely. Underage is the point. He keeps crossing paths with these girls, either by accident or design, throughout the day as well as several other incredibly strange and disturbing characters while his oblivious wife, vindictive little boy, and pleasant little girl enjoy their time. Things get even more troubling when it becomes clear that something sinister is lurking behind the parks’ happy faces.
Here’s the problem with the movie: once you get past how weird and novel it is to have filmed in the Disney parks without permission, and to make it look as good as it does in the process, and just the general sick pleasure one gets from seeing the traditionally cheerful images exploited to such a degree, there’s nothing there but low-rent David Lynch weirdness and acting that’s more suited for a college sketch comedy group. It’s a shame, really, because the punk rock nature of the thing and the gusto with which some of the cinematography was achieved are so worth talking about, but the overall effect of the film is more of a shrug than a triumph.
The Blu-ray features a brief making-of which sheds a good deal of light on the way the film was produced, and two commentary tracks, one featuring writer-director Moore and director of photography Lucas Lee Graham in a chuckle-filled 90 minutes, and the other featuring Abramsohn and his onscreen wife Elena Schuber in character watching the movie like it really happened, which is all the stranger.
In 1982, there seemed like no one on Earth could touch The Clash. They’d just opened for rock gods The Who at New York’s Shea Stadium and were poised to make a run at being the first of the punk bands to fully crossover into mainstream success. This is when it all began to crumble, and this is where Danny Garcia’s film The Rise and Fall of the Clash begins. It’s much more fall than rise. As the band became more popular, their internal strife became larger and frontman Joe Strummer began falling under the spell of their fame-hungry manager Bernard Rhodes.
It’s not a story that’s particularly new in the music world; If you’ve seen an episode of Behind the Music, you’ll pretty much get it. What’s interesting about this film is the access to never-before-seen footage and audio recordings, as well as new interviews with ousted guitarist Mick Jones and the guitar players and drummers who were brought in at various points to fill out the band. Bassist Paul Simonon is conspicuously absent from any interviews in the film, which is quite interesting. If you like The Clash or just stories about rock musicians who go off the rails, this is a very engaging film.
Hill Street Blues The Complete Series – Get all 7 seasons of Steven Bochco and Michael Kozoll’s iconic ’80s cop procedural, which told everyone to “Be careful out there.”
Enterprise Season 4 – The final season of that show people like to forget about.
Mr. Selfridge Season 2 – Jeremy Piven’s in a show that’s on PBS. This is the second season of that.
Gamera Collections – Eight Gamera movies in two sets! That’s a lot of the turtle not-Godzilla fighting other Kaiju. The first volume contains Gamera, Gamera vs. Barugon, Gamera vs. Gyaos, and Gamera vs. Viras, and the second volume contains Gamera vs. Guiron, Gamera vs. Jiger, Gamera vs. Zigra, and the remake Gamera: Super Monster. I also hear he’s made of turtle meat.
Salem’s Lot – Tobe Hooper’s 1979 made-for-TV miniseries adaptation of the Stephen King novel about vampires in a small town. It’s scary as sh-t, you guys.