Casino: Head in a Vice

Joe Pesci pretty much steals every scene in Casino, as Nicky, even though he’s a despicable sociopath who only has maybe one redeeming scene in the whole movie, which is where he is described as always, after a night of intimidation and beatings and murder, getting home in time to make his son pancakes before school.

Casino is the one where he stabs the guy with a pen, not the one where he plays nearly the same character and does the “funny how?” bit, that’s Goodfellas. In Casino, he drags a guy beaten practically beyond recognition and straps him down on a table with his head in a vice. Here, if you’re expecting yet another illustration of how awful this character is, you’re surprised. Because here his relative compassion comes out.

He’s trying to get a name out of the guy. He’s describing how tough getting a name out of him has been after days of beatings. He even tells his other guys that he knows they would have ratted by now. He admires the guy. So after he’s strapped him down, he gets real close to the guy’s ear. The guy is in a daze, so Nicky describes the situation he’s in. “Listen to me, Anthony, I’ve got your head in a fucking vice. Just give me a name.”

Then he gives maybe my second favorite line in the movie, moments before my favorite line in the movie, he says, “Don’t make me have to do this, please. Don’t make me be a bad guy.”

He doesn’t want to be made a bad guy. This guy is evil incarnate, but he apparently doesn’t know. He is operating with some sense of ethics, though it’s the first we, as viewers, would have guessed it.

“Fuck you,” the guys says.

So Nicky turns the handle of the vice, gruesomely squeezing the guy’s head. “Fuck me? Fuck me? You mother fucker, you.” Then just at the grossest crackling and popping of the guy’s skull, he adds, “Fuck my mother?”

The guy never said anything about his mother, but viciously as Nicky is cranking the handle of the vice and slowly crushing the man’s skull, he’s conflicted. He needed to find motivation to commit. “Fuck you,” was all he got, but it wasn’t enough, so he invented more. He invented that the guy said “Fuck your mother.”

Then he popped his eye out of his head.

The scene is disturbing and graphic but it’s also a great character scene. You can watch in on youtube here: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=casino%3a+head+in+a+vice&view=detail&mid=605091B6DBCED2CA150B605091B6DBCED2CA150B&FORM=VIRE

Advertisements

The Telegram, Part One

Saving Private Ryan includes so many devastating, unforgettable moments that, at least seem to, give us some glimpse into the emotional horror of war. One scene about halfway through the movie almost appears to offer a needed drop of comic relief. The small group is on a mission to rescue the last surviving Ryan son after his brothers were all killed around the same time. They think they’ve found the guy and Tom Hanks’ character breaks it to him that his brothers were all killed. He absorbs this news and then asks how this could be because his brothers are all under 14 and safe back home. This soldier’s middle name didn’t match. They had the wrong Private Ryan. The guys on the mission groan and the mix up is almost a light, funny moment, until the soldier starts asking about his brothers. Tom Hanks’ character tell him he’s sure they’re fine but he doesn’t know. And suddenly this guy is terrified that something happened to his younger brothers. They tell him, Don’t worry, it’s just a mix up, and he says, “Maybe the mix up is that this other guy’s brothers are okay and mine aren’t. How do you know?”

The focus returns to the characters resuming their search for the correct Ryan, but you still hear this soldier pleading that he has to go home and make sure his brothers are okay. You realize, here is a guy stuck in the middle of Europe surrounded by death and dying. His communication with his family back home is probably letters that find him even less frequently than my grandmother’s letters got to my grandpa who was always, at least, on the same ship. His solace must have been knowing his family was safe back home and now his trust in that has been shattered. He would have to return to the business of war with this not knowing weighing on his mind for however many weeks until another letter found him. How or if he managed this the movie doesn’t tell us.

The telegram my grandfather received on page 82 of Letters Home is meant to be the one surprise in a book I didn’t feel right about filling with surprises. The telegram, announcing his baby’s death instead of birth, “scared the socks” off my grandpa even with him knowing, because of letters announcing her (my mother’s) birth that arrived previously, that the telegram had to be a mistake. The telegram was meant to arrive weeks earlier. I don’t know if anyone else who’s read Letters Home wondered, as I did, What if it had?

The telegram would have arrived around the same time he was hit over Kure and had to crash land in the Pacific. Right during the period my grandmother refers to him as feeling “so bitter” in his letters of the 28th and 29th of July. In this “alternate history” he would have also been mourning the loss of his baby. What would have happened? I’m almost certain nothing would have changed from our perspective. He would have remained focused on his job despite mind boggling dejection and, in a week or two, would have gotten a letter that his wife and baby were both fine. He might spend another nightmarish week wanting confirmation. Which should he believe the telegram or the letter? He had a scientific mind and would likely have figured out how close “birth” and “death” are in code, as he describes in a letter home on August 30th (page 82). and believed the words in my grandmother’s handwriting. Though frazzled and dejected as he must have been feeling, how sure could he have felt about anything. He would have needed to see them, but wouldn’t have gotten that chance until the war ended and he got to come home.

That telegram arriving late is on par with the miracle he describes of surviving the explosion in his cockpit when he was hit over Kure, in my mind. I even wondered, Did they hold it up because the news was bad? A miraculous coincidence seems more likely, but I’m not sure we’ll ever know, for sure. I consider that a miracle because we know now that the trauma of war inflicts emotional damage that doesn’t vanish when the war ends. And for these men, that damage went undiagnosed, because then PTSD didn’t have a name. These men simply came home and went back to living as best they could. What they were dealing with they dealt with alone. And I don’t know what my grandpa dealt with, but my guess is that it would have been exponentially worse if that telegram had arrived on time. (Miracle #2)*

*For people who haven’t read the book, in his description of getting hit he marks the explosion breaking the lenses out of his goggles but no shrapnel getting in his eyes as Miracle #1. He doesn’t number the next events that led to him crash landing in the Pacific and being picked up by a destroyer, but he must have considered them a series of miracles.

If you’d like to read the book, you can follow the link below and purchase an Ebook or paperback from Amazon. Feel free to contact me and I’ll get a copy of either one to you. My goal is to gift copies to interested readers, and if you made it this far, you qualify. Thanks for your interest in my grandfather’s story.

http://amzn.com/1505382912

Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil: And Scene

Early in the movie, Tucker and Dale are pulled over, and the policeman asks Tucker for his license. Tucker reaches into the glove box. “I lost my license a while back and a new one is in the mail. I have a temporary.”

This odd detail has always stood out. Why? Why not simply have written it that Tucker hands over his license? The fun of movies is that someone put things in for a reason, whether they work or not to specific viewers, they were meant to accomplish something. So what was accomplished here? I think a few things.

1. It’s unexpected. As the guy in Airplane! said when asked if they should turn on the landing lights when the plane was coming in: “No. That’s just what they’ll be expecting us to do.”

2. It creates a ghost moment of back story for Tucker. Most of us know the sinking feeling of losing something as important as a driver’s license. You get over it but there is a moment of feeling distraught. Tucker had that moment and has gotten over it.

3. It acts as an intrigant. It presents questions we sit in our chairs waiting to have answered. Are we going to discover the circumstances of how he lost it? Is this lost license going to play a further role? Even though both answers turn out to be no, we’re still drawn in.

4. It helps us suspend our disbelief and creates movie magic where what we’re watching feels real when we know it isn’t. What are the chances we ran into this guy in the brief time between him losing his license and not yet receiving his new one? Too slim. It sounds too made up. Since it sounds too made up it seems more real than it would have seemed if he’d simply handed over a license, which by being more likely and sounding less made up, we would view as more made up.

5. I also think, and this one is a reach (the others weren’t???), that it catches us making assumptions about Tucker. It mirrors the scene before when the college kids first see Tucker and Dale and dismiss them as stereotypical “rednecks.” We’re passengers then. We didn’t make those judgments, we watched them make them. We even felt superior because we didn’t make them. But then we learn that Tucker has lost his license, a mistake we can all identify with, and he has followed all proper steps to get a replacement. Maybe a phone call to the BMV to find out what steps to take and then a trip down to fill out the paperwork and then he had the temporary in a designated spot in his glove box for the unlikely event that he would need to show it to an officer of the law. And aren’t we at least a little surprised by that degree of responsibility shown by a “redneck” driving a beat up truck into the woods to drink and fish? Shame on us! And that’s a recurring theme in the movie is the failure of quick assumptions based on stereotypes in getting to the truth.

6. Lastly it starts Tucker talking to the officer, which lets the next line flow more smoothly: “We’re headed up to our cabin to do some fishing. Dale here’s been striking out with the ladies, I figure a little man time might do him some good.”

That’s all I have but maybe there’s even more. Already not bad for one line.

Contagion Scene **Spoiler Alert

Major spoiler alert for Contagion, although there isn’t much of the movie you don’t probably already know being given away, just one scene in particular. Still, for me that scene was quite powerful, so Scene Spoiler Alert (Don’t read on if you haven’t seen the movie, unless you don’t mind a scene being spoiled.)

Okay, I’m a fan of spoiler alerts. (Again, I once described a movie as about a man and his dog, to keep spoiling what happened in it.) That out of the way:

A health professional during the outbreak came down with something. She noticed her symptoms and reported them to her supervisor, who had to quarantine her along with the other infected patients. She had the sensibility of a scientist, she knew she might have coincidentally caught a cold or she might have been infected by the outbreak. She grew sicker and sicker. In the scene before her death, she tried to throw her blanket to a sick, but much more vigorously sick, patient next to her who was complaining about being cold. The blanket barely made it halfway to the adjacent bed.

The scene was daring because it had the potential to seem melodramatic. I think I would have viewed it that way if not for my dad once telling me that people die the way they live. She didn’t decide to give away her blanket. She was gone already, she wasn’t acting consciously. The act was the culmination of a life where sacrifice for others had become habit. She was too gone to even feel good about doing good. Her action was rote.

People die the way the live is interesting to contemplate because it has the potential to be either depressing or uplifting, depending on how happy you are with how you’re living your life. My Aunt died the way she lived. She had terminal cancer for four years in her late sixties and spent that time travelling cross country on her motorcycle. She returned from a trip to Alaska especially tired and died a few weeks later in the care of her sons. My dad died the way he lived. He spent his last days worrying if the people he loved would be okay financially if he didn’t make it. He didn’t make it, and we were.

Periods of my life were not good times for me to die the way I was living. I get embarrassed when I think back to how much more I valued the work over doing the work in my early days of writing. I thought I’d better hurry with a long writing project because if I left something incomplete, that would be tragic. Some of that drive was necessary to keep me going, but most of it was…pretty ridiculous. Now I’m much more focused on the value I get from doing the work than on the value of the finished product. I no longer think it would be tragic if I died while in the middle of working on something, the tragedy would be if I wasn’t in the middle of working on something when I died.

Karate Kid: Movie Review

Many think of Johnny and Bobby as the villains of Karate Kid, but they were victims of parental neglect. Where was the supervision while the children of this town were sent to that over-the-top fascist, Reese, to become trained bullies? Johnny was wallowing in the throngs of unrequited love, and he still managed to hoist the trophy to Daniel after losing the final match. Who told Johnny, “He’s had enough, man!”? Bobby. (Johnny still tried to kick him again, but remember Daniel had soaked him with that hose in the bathroom. Jesus wouldn’t have done that.)

The evil character in Karate Kid was Freddy. Freddy is the sniveling sycophant who befriended Daniel when Daniel kicked the door open at his new apartment and accidentally hit him in the face. Freddy asked him how he did that, and Daniel told him he knew karate. Okay, he’d only had a few lessons at the Y back in Newark, but he wasn’t lying. He’d taken karate and he kicked open the door. Both true! Then he tries to smooth over a heated argument between Ali and Johnny and gets beaten up by the reigning, three-time karate champion of the town, and Freddy just watched and then decided he was done with him. Freddy should be the most reviled character in all of film. He gets off scot free because he’s not in the movie that much, but seriously, what a dick! And then someone decided to include him in the celebration scene at the end. No way, Freddy. Way too little and way too late. Was that supposed to add something? Daniel didn’t need Freddy’s belated approval to realize he was a good guy, after all. No one cares what you think, Freddy, you jerk.

Mr. Miyagi, of course, is the real star of this movie. There’s no mention of Daniel’s father, but Miyagi doesn’t become a father figure; he becomes a mentor. A subtle difference but I think that aspect of their relationship gives the movie its magic. The movie begins when Daniel comes into Miyagi’s custodial room and spends hours working on a “baby tree” as he calls it before Miyagi corrects him, “Bonzai tree.” But Daniel has earned Miyagi’s admiration with his patience. Daniel is nearly an adult with adult problems and Miyagi treats him like one. Like after Miyagi saves Daniel from that last kick after the Halloween party (who realized Daniel lived that close to the school, by the way?), and Daniel has recovered and Miyagi tries to say he doesn’t want to be involved. “But you’re already involved!” Daniel’s right and Miyagi recognizes that. Daniel and Miyagi are peers, one is just more experienced and sage than the other.

I was fortunate to have a relationship like that with my father. I moved back in with my dad a few years ago to work on some writing and, I suppose, figure some things out. We were both working. He had projects around the house that he would work on and think about. I was writing in the mornings and editing and submitting in the afternoons. We would meet in the garage and talk. My dad was an artist when it came to building. He got frustrated when he couldn’t find a storage shed the size he wanted, so he scaled down the measurements of the ones in stores and built his own. I’ll post pictures, one day, of the gazebo he built in the backyard with a design only in his mind and on pieces of scratch paper. That summer, he was piecing together stone to wall the back porch and fretting over how they would fit together. I think his favorite part was the fretting.

Before I mailed out a story, I would give it to my dad to read. He would read it and I would go and find him in the garage, and he would usually nod like he liked it and disappear and work for a couple hours. Then he would find me. He didn’t really have the writing experience to give a complete critique, but he would often give a thought that gave me the perspective to make a critical adjustment to a story. Far more impactful, I look back and realize now he had spent those hours deeply contemplating what I’d written.

Mr. Miyagi loved Daniel like that. A father loves a son like that, but a mentor’s love for a protege is rare, because the mentor, viewing his protege as an equal, craves for his protege better than he had for himself and that is selfless. That is why Karate Kid doesn’t end with a crowd shot of Daniel hoisting his trophy held by the crowd (including, for some reason, Freddy!), it ends with a freeze shot on Mr. Miyagi beaming with pride.