5/3/14: Ben-Hur


On May 4, the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby took place. California Chrome took the prize. I’m not a gambling man, but I do love horse racing. Thoroughbreds: The Real McCoy! Steeplechase? Eh! And I hate harness racing. Cindy & I went to the Meadowlands for it once back in August of ’81. Our friends Joe & Mary DeVito drove. We bet on the races & we had a little side bet in the 12th. 5 Denarii each. The DeVito’s wanted the favorite, Tribune. We liked the 13 to 1 shot, Antares. The bet was head-to-head: Whichever horse finished in front, won! “’Tribune has won many times. He has 4 victories on this circuit.’, I said. ‘The odds should be in the same measure. Will you give us 4 to 1?’. ‘4 to 1 it is!’, Joe replied!” Antares came out of the gate at a steady pace. [Horse racing announcer getting progressively faster & more excited] At the first turn, “BATTLE SPEED!”. Then, at the ½ mile mark, he made his move to the inside & held the rail: “ATTACK SPEED!”. Then down the stretch: “RAMMING SPEED!”. The long shot hit his stride & took a full length lead over the field with Tribune in hot pursuit. Then, within 50 yards of the finish line, Antares pulled to the right…[Disappointedly] and let Tribune in on the rail…and he zoomed past him for the Win! [Deliberate] The fix was in! [Solemn] I went to the harnesses twice that day: For the first time; and the last time. 

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Today’s Classic Blog is of William Wyler’s 11 Academy Award Winner, Ben-Hur. It’s most famous scene is a chariot race. When it was released, Ben-Hur was the biggest budget motion picture of all-time at almost $16 million. It stars Charleton Heston as Judah Ben-Hur. It opens in 26 AD Jerusalem. Judah is a rich & religious Jewish prince who lives with his mother (Martha Scott) & sister (Cathy O’Donnell). Esther (Haya Harareet), his slave & the love of his life, is betrothed by arrangement so Judah grants her her freedom as a wedding gift. His best friend, Messala (Stephen Boyd), is a Roman who’s just arrived back to Jerusalem as the new commander the Judaean Garrison. He’s accompanied by the new Governor of Judea (the uncredited Mino Doro). As Judah & his sister are watching their celebration parade from their roof, she casually leans on a ceramic tile & it breaks free and falls to the ground next to the Governor’s horse.

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Horses are very important in this picture. As I said, its most memorable scene is the chariot race which took 15000 extras to make. And Wyler was recognized for his efforts with the Best Director Oscar in 1960 at the 32nd Academy Awards. Included in Ben-Hur’s other 10 Oscars: Best Picture, Actor; and Supporting Actor (Hugh Griffith as Sheik Ilderum, a gambler who takes a particular interest in the chariot race). It was the first movie to win 11 Oscars, still the record, though it has been tied twice – James Cameron’s Titanic in ’98 at the 70th Academy Awards, and Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings: Return of the King in 2004. Both films have horses, though Titanic only briefly & not on the ship. It’s a tough enough watch during the denouement without having to witness horses drowning. Moviemakers have always had a thing for horses. 2 of the great ‘39’s, Dark Victory and Gone With the Wind, have horse jumping accidents. The very first movie ever made, Eadweard Muybridge’s 1878 Sallie Gardner at a Gallop, is about a horse named Sallie Gardner at a Gallop. It’s a 3 second film made by splicing together a series of 24 still photographs to prove that all 4 of a horses feet are off the ground when galloping (embedded below). There’s Black Beauty and Seabiscuit; the westerns; National Velvet; A Day at the Races featuring Groucho, Chico & Harpo Marx; The Electric Horseman; Secretariat; and more than 80 others about horses, let alone including them. Crazy Over Horses…yep, that was a movie released in ’51 starring The Bowery Boys. It sucked! The chariot race in William Wyler’s Ben-Hur…does not! So, watch the Trailer at the bottom of the Blog, then add it to your Netflix Queue. 4 Stars!

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4/29/14: Jacobs Ladder (1990)


[Awakened Screaming] “AH!! Sorry. Took me by surprise. I fell asleep. I was Dreaming” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HUasl3aA4Do

“It’s all a Dream we Dreamed one afternoon, long ago!” “Have any of you ever fallen asleep on a train & missed your station? It happened to us. When you wake up, you don’t know if you’re awake or Dreaming. So you’re awake & don’t know if you’re Dreaming; yet when you’re Dreaming, it seems real, right?” The time we fell asleep & missed our station, I got off without Cindy, and a Man of Knowledge had to stick his cane in the door just before it closed in order for me to get back on with her. “Any of you ever read Carlos Castaneda? Cc1962.JPG How did you ever get through your teens without reading Carlos? It was a hippie requirement in the ‘70s. You know what he said? That Dreams are 1. Carlos; as is your perception under the influence of hallucinogenic plants & drugs. The only reason that those things aren’t real is there’s a part of you that won’t let go of your explanation life: Your memories; your attachments. Dream & drugs burn ’em all away. They Stop the World. They free your soul. See, according to Carlos, maybe you’re already dead. Or maybe it’s all been a Dream,” “a Dream we Dreamed one afternoon, long ago.” “Maybe you’re thinkin’ ‘This is not a Dream! This is my life!’ Dream on! If Dreams aren’t real, why do people try to control them? Why do we try to fly & hover like a helicopter? Why do we try to fall asleep & Dream while we’re already Dreaming” like in the movie Inception? Why do people do LSD? To experience The Deep Unreal? Or for A Separate Reality? A Journey to Ixtlan 2. Ixtlan? Why did so many people go to the Grateful Dead for all those years? 3. Jer Oh ya, him. But remember, his nickname wasn’t Captain Trips for nothin’! “Perhaps we have Another Body: A Dreaming/ Tripping/Separate Reality/Ixtlan Body…THE DOUBLE!!!4. DOUBLEAnd Dreams & drugs & meditation & music & religion & prayer & yoga & sex & all are just Paths With a Heart to The Other One!” To me, all these things are all mixed up together: Dreams; Carlos & The Teachings of Don Juan 5. Teachings; LSD6. LSD; and…oh yeah…him 7. Jerry. “Always…no, sometimes think it’s me… But you know…I know when it’s a Dream. I think I know…I mean, uh, YES…but it’s all wrong…That is…I think I disagree.”


It’s a good thing too. Otherwise, I may never have wanted to screen & discuss Adrian Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder, a disturbing, surrealistic, existential & confusing masterpiece starring Tim Robbins as Jacob Singer , a Vietnam War vet a few years after his Honorable Discharge, who’s haunted by the 10/6/71 Mekong Delta battle he was in. He lives in Brooklyn with his girlfriend, Jezebel – who likes to be called Jezzie (Elizabeth Peńa , who died on 10/14/14 of cirrhosis of the liver). She can never remember the names of Jacob’s three sons that he had with his estranged wife Sarah (Patricia Kalember): Jed (Bryan Larkin); Eli (B.J. Donaldson); or Gabe (9 year old Macaulay Culkin in a critical uncredited role) . Gabe died before Jake went to ‘Nam. Jake’s best friend is his chiropractor Louis (Danny Aiello). 

The title is a triple entendre referencing the Biblical story Ladder - Bible, the protagonist’s name, and something writer Bruce Joel Rubin made up. A little known fact about  the film is its alternate tile, Dante’s Inferno  Ladder - Dante.Having received no Oscar or Golden Globe nominations, it’s biggest accolades are its cult following & its influence on many newer psychological dramas, including M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense Ladder - Sixth, Alan Parker’s Angel Heart Angel Heart Poster, and Alejandro Amenábar’s The Others Ladder - Others. When you watch motion pictures, pay attention to the props & items you see, particularly in complex films like  in Jacob’s Ladder. They help reveal the subtext, or implicit meaning and main theme of the film. Two important symbols in the movie are the characters Louis & Jezebel. Who or what are they? And what the Hell is happening to Tim Robbins in Adrian Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder? Is his paradoxical world a dream or a separate reality? Separate/multiple realities & parallel universes are borne out by physics, specifically quantum mechanics: The study of subatomic particles. In 1935 Einstein’s EPR (Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen) Paradox Thought Experiment was followed by Schrödinger’s Cat Thought Experiment. Both discuss through thought experimentation – the theoretical result of a physically impossible, unethical or illegal experiment to it’s logical conceptual conclusion – the existence of paradoxical realities: The EPR Paradox states that exceeding the speed of light is both physically impossible & possible; and Schrödinger’s Cat states that a cat (or other living being) can be simultaneously alive & dead. Do we really know if we’re alive now? How do we know that what I see as red is not what you see as blue? A Separate Reality 1. Carlos is Carlos Castaneda’s second book. In his first, one of the main themes is observation of the world as a crow aided by smoking a psychotropic plant mixture based largely on Mexican Magic Mushrooms Psilocybe.mexicana.la.primavera.jpg (Psilocybe Mexicana). The book is a commercial presentation of his UCLA doctoral thesis for which he received a PhD in Anthropology.

Watch the Trailer below, then add Jacob’s Ladder to your Netflix Queue. You won’t regret it! Well, yes you will. It will haunt you for days! Or maybe, if you’re like me, for weeks, years, decades…The Active Side of Infinity . 4 Stars!

4/21/14: Gladiator (2000)


One of my favorite vacations as a kid was when my Dad took us to Gettysburg. We visited The David Wills House where we saw the little desk where President Lincoln finished writing his historic address; and the Round Top Museum’s Electric Map of the battlefield, obsolete even then. But the high point was the tour of the actual battlefield. I remember our tour guide, Cassius, saying, “On this day, we reach back to hallowed history to bring you a reenactment of the 7/1-3/1863 battle which would cause the fall of the Confederacy!” You’ll see it all: From the 1st shot on the Chambersburg Pike, south to Cemetery Hill; to Little Round Top on Day 2; culminating with Pickett’s ill-fated Charge on Cemetery Ridge. “Across the barren field of Gettysburg pushed the armies of General Robert E. Lee: Ferocious warriors bent on secession & conquest. Has anyone here been in the army? Then you know that no matter what comes through the gates, you’ve got a better chance of victory staying together, defending higher ground. And so General Meade did. Less than 6000 Union troops defeated more than twice that number on that hill. In all, there were 46286 casualties at Gettysburg. But I will not believe they fought & died for nothing.” For our Union was preserved & slavery abolished!

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Today’s Classic Movie Blog is also about battling for the freedom of slaves: For that is what gladiators did; they were slaves who battled to the death for the enjoyment of the masses & the Romans in power, including the Emperor. A great gladiator would occasionally be granted his freedom by the Emperor. Ridley Scott’s 5-time Oscar-winner, Gladiator, released in year 2000, stars Russell Crowe as Maximus, “The general who became a slave. The slave who became a gladiator. The gladiator who defied an emperor”: Emperor Commodus [Calm-uh-diss], played by Joaquin Phoenix. The film is a fictionialized Commodus is in line to be the heir to the throne of his father, Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris), but Marcus chooses to turn the crown over to Maximus & have him transition the Empire back to a republic under the control of the Senate. When things don’t goes as Marcus planned, Commodus becomes Emperor, the Senate remains a powerless body, and Maximus is enslaved & later sold to Proximo (Oliver Reed), who turns him into a magnificent Gladiator. Reed died of a heart attack during filming, before all of his scenes were shot. They were completed with a body double & a 3D CGI mask of Reed’s face. Reed, then 61, hated Crowe, and wanted to fight the star, 36 years his junior. Apparently, filming was challenging & Crowe had his physical problems, as well. He broke a foot, a hip, hurt both biceps; and needed stitches to his face from a spooked horse.

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Gladiator won 5 Oscars in 2001 at the 73rd Academy Awards: Best Picture; Actor; Visual Effects; Costuming; and Sound. It was nominated for another 7: Supporting Actor (Phoenix); Director; Original Screenplay (David Franzoni, John Logan & William Nicholson); Cinematography; Editing; Art Direction; and Score. The score, which is original music written for the film’s background, to complement the action & set the mood, was composed by arguably the best film composer alive today, Hans Zimmer. Zimmer, who is 56 & has composed the score to 124 features, won the Original Score Oscar in ’95 for The Lion King, and has 7 more nominations for his scores, including: Rain Man in ’89; As Good As It Gets (’98); and, most recently, Inception (’11), a score which is critical to understanding the plot. Perhaps his best is the Oscar-snubbed score to 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises. So watch the trailer below, then get Netflix streamin’ to hear Hans Zimmer’s great score & Russell Crowe’s Oscar-winning performance as Ridley Scott’s Gladiator.

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