How to Steal a Million

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This Catch-Up is written by Telaina Eriksen
Year of Release: 1966
Rating: NR (G/PG—a few dammits, hells and casual smoking, drinking, and kissing)

Currently Streaming on Netflix? No (Currently available on demand for HBO Subscribers)
Spoilers: No more than the trailer

Saturday night after working at a water polo tournament all day (don’t ask) my husband and I ate too much Mexican food and watched How to Steal a Million on our bloated cable package. To me, watching older movies feels almost like reading. There is a cleanness to them, a neatness, that, if they are good, help soothe my psyche. No one is on a cell phone. There is barely mention of TV. People are wearing suits and dresses. There’s no CGI. (There are also unfortunately, no people of color.) It’s not that I idealize this time. This movie was released two years before I was born. It is older movies’ simplicity that I treasure. The box office game was perhaps, a little easier then, the formula for a hit a little less honed, making it easier to just tell a story.

Audrey Hepburn is Nicole whose dear father Bonnet (Hugh Griffith) is an expert art forger. Because of his renown as a famous art collector, no one bothers to check and see if the paintings he sells are real. Peter O’Toole plays Simon Dermott. Nicole thinks he is an expert burglar, but really he is a private detective hired to check into Bonnet’s forgeries. With unabashed optimism, Bonnet lends a forged sculpture to a famous French museum, unknowing that it will have to be appraised and authenticated for the insurance. Nicole, not wanting her father to rot in prison, “hires” Dermott to break in to the heavily guarded French museum and steal the statue back.

Simply LOOKING at Hepburn and O’Toole in this movie is a pleasure. I’ve had a thing for Peter O’Toole since the 80s when he was a hot older dude to Jodie Foster’s ingénue in the TV movie Svengali and since O’Toole’s fabulous performance in My Favorite Year. I saw both of these in my teen years and didn’t see many of O’Toole’s older movies (including this one) until later.

It is hard to remember while watching this sweet, sly performance of Hepburn’s, that she survived the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, spoke four or five different languages, won an Academy Award and went on to be a special ambassador to the United Nations.

This is a little gem of a romantic comedy, but it isn’t sickeningly sweet or syrupy. Nicole isn’t a goody-goody and Dermott shrugs off his law-abiding ways to help the woman of his dreams.

Put this one on your watchlist to enjoy after a stressful day but take my advice, and go easier on the cheese dip than we did.

 

Silver Linings Playbook

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This Catch-Up is written by Chelsea Cristene
Silver Linings Playbook
Year of Release: 2012
Rating: R for occasional sex and violence, but mostly lottttts of profanity.
Currently Streaming on Netflix?: No.
Spoiler Alert: Mild, moderate by at the very end.

Silver Linings Playbook is one of those rare movies, alongside Dazed and Confused and Clerks, that isn’t necessarily one of my all-time favorites but one that I never get sick of watching. One of my top five desert island picks, for sure, but not just because it’s a fun romp – it’s a romp with substance.

In media res takes on a whole new meaning during the first few minutes, which catapult us into Pat (Bradley Cooper)’s release from a Baltimore mental hospital. He’s up up up, as his father (Robert DeNiro) will chastise him for later, because he’s going to win back his wife, Nikki, who has for reasons not yet disclosed severed all contact with him. Armed with Nikki’s high school English syllabus, a positive new motto (excelsior), and his buddy Danny (Chris Tucker) who really isn’t supposed to be released from the hospital yet but tags along for part of the journey to Philadelphia anyway, Pat is bound and determined to save his marriage.

If all of this sounds a bit overwhelming, it is. We learn during one of Pat’s therapy visits that he was sent away for nearly beating Nikki’s co-worker-turned-lover to death after catching the two of them in the shower together, and it comes as no great surprise after his “Ma Cheri Amour”-induced freakout (the song that was playing during the attack) in the waiting room that Pat is “undiagnosed bipolar.” Pat’s bipolar episodes punctuate the early sequences of the movie (it’s hard for me to imagine a better reaction to Hemingway than Pat’s hurling A Farewell to Arms through a closed window) and intensify after he is propositioned by Tiffany, a neighboring young window.

Let’s talk about Tiffany, the role that won Jennifer Lawrence the Oscar. Tiffany is bold and brash and wears steel grey nail polish that I have exhausted myself trying to find in stores. Deep in mourning over her husband, who was hit and killed while helping some motorists on the side of the road, Tiffany dulls the pain by sleeping with a bunch of people – eleven co-workers, to be exact – and is fired for her conduct. She finds an unlikely friend in Pat, and barring a few fights (pay particular attention to the “who’s crazier?” diner scene, and you’ll see why Jennifer Lawrence easily took home the trophy), the two start to spend all sorts of time together. Tiffany tells Pat that she’ll gladly pass on a letter to Nikki via her sister Veronica (Julia Stiles), but in exchange, Pat has to train with her for an amateur dance competition.

I remember talking to a psychology major/occupational therapist friend of mine about Silver Linings right after seeing it in theaters. We had concluded that a cooperative relationship of any kind between Pat and Tiffany would never work, at least not in our universe, because they’re both so explosive and volatile and self-absorbed. Maybe it’s something about Philadelphia, I volunteered, having recently marathoned the first few seasons of It’s Always Sunny. The characters in Silver Linings remind me somewhat of A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh cast, all with different psychological disorders. Pat has bipolar disorder, Tiffany, if I were to guess, has borderline personality disorder given her issues with attachment, intimacy, and impulsive behavior, Pat Sr. exhibits OCD symptoms all over the place, and Pat’s mother Dolores (Jacki Weaver) is always anxious and on edge, though I’d argue that she’s probably just trying not to lose it most days. This is why David O Russell’s everyone-talks-over-one-another dialogue style, though it irritated me irritated me occasionally in American Hustle, worked well for Silver Linings. Every character is so consumed with internal noise that it eventually spills out in “more inappropriate things than appropriate things”: tune out for even a second and you’ll miss uncensored mumblings like Pat’s “well Tommy’s dead, so he’s not going to fucking do it [referring to the dance competition].”

Silver Linings Playbook epitomizes John Lennon’s idea that “life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans” as Pat reaches a level of clarity and wellness by the film’s end, though not in the way he expects. (This is also adorably reinforced through the soundtrack when Pat and Tiffany dance to “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” – Stevie Wonder is somehow both damnation and salvation.) Bottom line? Maybe Pat and Tiffany aren’t so wrong for each other after all. We all come with baggage, but with a little help from the right people at the right time, we’ll eventually get where we need to be.

Face/Off

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This Catch-Up is written by Telaina Eriksen
Year of Release: 1997
Rating: R (lots of rounds of ammunition and liberal use of the F-Bomb)

Currently Streaming on Netflix?: Yes.
Spoilers: Moderate

Sometimes I know I’m getting old. Like when I say or think things like, “Don’t you miss 90s movies?” or “Don’t you miss the old-fashioned trailers from the 90s where they didn’t tell you the entire story and use all the best scenes from the movie in under a minute?” I remember seeing the Face/Off trailer in the movie theater and thinking oooh, that looks good! (The Internet wasn’t a big thing yet. We were all dialing up using CompuServe and AOL. So cute.) To put the release of this movie in a time and place—John Travolta was riding a huge wave of reemerging popularity after his career-changing performance in Pulp Fiction (a scene from which gave our blog its title). Travolta hadn’t made Battlefield Earth yet–which I think we can all agree sort of closed the door on the huge wave of reemerging popularity. Nicolas Cage had just made Leaving Las Vegas and The Rock (don’t even talk to me if you don’t like that movie), so Cage didn’t suck then either. Throw in John Woo as a director, and you have a movie that many action fans could not wait to see.

If you are not familiar with John Woo’s style of directing, let me break it down for you. You need shootouts—achingly choreographed where at least one (or more) or the characters have guns in both hands. You need sunglasses, trench coats, religious iconography (covert or overt), you need characters drawing their guns at the same time and pointing them at each others’ heads and slo-mo explosion sequences. But most of all, you need doves. Birds of all kinds are acceptable–but mostly doves. (Mission Impossible II, also directed by John Woo, is currently streaming on Netflix if you want to see EVEN MORE birds than are in Face/Off.)

There are people who don’t like John Woo’s trademark style. These are probably also people who have never earnestly shook their ass to a Top-40 hit. I know many of these people and I respect their opinions. But Face/Off is over-the-top fabulous 90s entertainment.

Castor Troy (Cage for about 20 minutes of the movie) kills Sean Archer’s (Travolta for about 20 minutes of the movie) son by accident. This results in Archer willing to do anything to catch Troy. The FBI catches the wily Troy in the first few minutes of the movie, but Troy is so badly injured he is in a permanent coma. He and his brother Pollux (Alessandro Nivola) have planted a bomb somewhere in Los Angeles. The only person Pollux trusts is his brother. The FBI has no idea where they’ve planted the bomb. So Archer, for the good of all of Los Angeles, agrees to take Troy’s identity. Now I am a good sport about suspending disbelief in movies and books. But the process that follows “making” the chubby taller Archer (Travolta) into the skinnier, receding hair-lined Troy (Cage) left me thinking, “Yeah, sure. We can’t give a woman who needs a breast-reduction one without leaving a scar, but this is possible.”

But now the movie viewer has Cage playing the good guy and Travolta playing the bad guy. Troy wakes up out of his coma (surprise!) and finds his face gone. He is understandably kind of pissed by this. He calls his henchman who kidnap the doctor who performed Archer’s transformation and force the doctor to Travolta-ize Troy . (Now why these henchman don’t then go tell Troy’s other friends that hey, if someone comes around wearing Troy’s face and acting like him, it’s not him… well this is a problem with the movie. Another problem is when Troy’s former girlfriend shows up to help “him” (nee Archer) she doesn’t question why he’s not shooting his enemy’s wife. But let’s just ignore all that, shall we?)

Because the minute Troy steps into Archer’s life and Archer steps into Troy’s life, the movie becomes more than the entertaining action flick it is. Troy finds himself disarming his own bomb, as well as protecting Archer’s daughter from date-rape. Archer finds himself with Troy’s friends who, while completely violent and f*cked-up on drugs, are also fiercely loyal to Troy and defend him literally to the death.

There are also some extremely hilarious lines in the movie. One of my favorites is when Archer’s wife Eve (Joan Allen) suspects that Archer isn’t really Archer and Troy (in Archer’s body) mutters, “Lies, deceit, mixed messages… this is turning into a real marriage.”

The ending sequence is a too long (was that speedboat chase REALLY needed?) but I enjoyed the cinematography and the religious iconography (with a nod to Woo’s famous movie The Killer), mirroring and balancing our Jungian dark and light, that composes much of the movie.

But just as a reminder, if you’ve never turned up a song you’d be semi-embarrassed to sing along with in front of your peers, this movie may not be for you.