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     Given the fact it's now the longest running show in Broadway history, it would seem 
I'm among the last people on Earth to have known next to nothing about The Phantom of the Opera prior to watching this film.  And, of course, if you've been keeping up with my other reviews on this page for the past few years, you may already be aware of a comment I made regarding Moulin Rouge -- one which, to be honest, is quite characteristic of my usual opinion of the musical theater genre.  In it I said, "I always find the unnatural vehicle of almost solely musical speech a bit off-putting", and I will without hesitation tell you that for at least the first half-hour or so of this (to me new) example of the form, it proved by no means an exception.  In fact, I was so thoroughly frustrated with the "unreal seriousness" of the whole thing at the point wherein the heroine is shown kneeling to light a candle in remembrance of her late father -- her billowing hoop skirt so meticulously arranged without the slightest wrinkle of disarray, every perfectly coiffed tress intact as it falls against her powdered porcelain skin...despite the fact this all follows a performance one can't help realizing would most certainly have at least worked up a bead of sweat or caused one or two of those angelic strands of ringleted gossamer to blow astray -- that I have to fess up to the fact my hand started wandering toward the remote beside me in a plea to end once and for all this groan-inspiring assault on my reason.  However, always hopeful things might improve with perseverance, I managed to successfully contain that urge, and soldiered on.  And, once the title character showed up to balance out the hard to swallow milktoast Raoul we're expected to believe is Christine's once childhood crush (and now potentially great love...?!&*^&*?) -- indeed things began to (quite literally, as it often happened throughout the rest of the show) look up.  
     I've read reviews criticizing the production for its casting of a far from grotesque figure to portray what was apparently in the original novel by Gaston Leroux a hideous and loathsome creature.  Given the simplistic plot and dramatic appeal of the modern version, however, relies primarily on a love triangle between the Phantom, Christine and Raoul, it would hardly seem plausible that this lovely, talented young woman might be romantically drawn to something with bulging eye sockets in excess of 60 years age.  In light of the aforementioned assessment of Raoul's own questionable appeal, however, it becomes pretty easy to believe that a patron of the arts with excellent taste and a fair bit of talent in his own right -- albeit with a bit of (disguisable) facial deformity --  could prove a worthy contender in wooing the lass. And, so at last, we have a film.
     And, of course, if one adds murder to the mix, the ever looming sense of tragedy lurking just around the bend, and the genuine uncertainty as to where it all may lead, the overall spectacle becomes a rather engrossing one.  What's more the skillful use of lighting effects, color blooming from black and white transitions, and sets that are truly breathtaking in their beauty and atmospheric qualities as metaphor, one can't help but marvel at the visual as well as emotional artistry of the production as a whole. 
     Be that as it may, I suppose in the end it all comes down to the fact I'm eternally a sucker for hopeless romanticism, whatever the contrivances used to tug at those heartstrings.  And, in the case of Phantom of the Opera, the primary reason I'm ultimately championing it here is the frame tale in which its set...a tale which occupies only a tiny fraction of the film's more than two-hour running time, but which creates a snow and dust-filled world of shadows that contain the brightest colors of the entire "show".  And, indeed, in a fine example of saving the best for last, it is the final silent image we are left with that speaks the loudest.  For, although the "words" of that image are undeniably bittersweet, yet they also serve as a most eloquent reminder that "silence is the perfectest herald of joy"...and that the beauty of enduring love remains endlessly -- and timelessly -- appealing.

 

 

 

 

      

NEW!!! State of Grace (1990)

     Before getting to the actual "review" of this particular film, I have to explain briefly a couple of related points.  First, it may seem extremely odd that I'm only now discovering a film that's been around for a decade and a half -- one, incidentally, I'd first heard of several years back from an acting teacher/friend (from Brooklyn) who referenced it upon learning of a job I'd landed at the time, which required rehearsals in Queens (and if you haven't yet seen the film to catch that reference, yes, that means Queens is a place of which he was less than fond).  Second, I have to myself reference a more recent film, (covered a bit further down this page), Ash Wednesday.  At the time I first ran across this later work, I found it curious that Ed Burns had departed so completely from his usual fare of contemporary relationship explorations to return to the 1980's and New York City's Irish mob for this particular effort -- and wondered as I watched what might have inspired such a drastic change.  
 
   Not long after the ending credits had rolled on State of Grace, however, I realized it was very possible Burns had been as taken as I by what transpired in the 2 hours leading up to them.  And, it's therefore likewise possible his own tale of two brothers in Hell's Kitchen might have sprung from the words "what if" regarding certain aspects of this one.  
     Be that as it may, it certainly seems likely Burns has at some point seen this film...which is more than I can say for the "professional" critics whose reviews I looked into after seeing it myself -- the most glaringly inaccurate of which labeled one of its main characters "psychotic".  Interestingly, that character -- Jackie Flannery (impeccably played by Gary Oldman) -- while indeed quite possible "crazy" (as he himself professes) -- is the one whose actions are almost invariably followed by the assumedly sane "lead"Terry Noonan (played by the likewise excellent Sean Penn).  Interesting as well is the fact that a major component of psychosis is said to be a lack of real attachment to other people, along with which goes an inability to relate in any real way to their feelings, feel compassion for them in return, etc.  Yet, it is arguably the fact this particular character feels too much that proves his greatest "weakness", and indeed which makes him dangerous -- though it's likewise arguable it makes him the most dangerous to himself       
    I suppose one can follow the logic of the critics, however, if one merely takes at face value all events as they unfold, and if one merely dismisses Jack as one of the stereotypical, murderous miscreants that populate so many "run-of-the-mill" crime dramas.  Of course, such "logic" completely ignores the myriad of scenes in which the character appears, the bulk of which are constructed to portray an irrepressible individual whose generosity, caring and steadfast friendship quickly thwart the "best laid plans" that have suddenly brought Terry home.
     Make no mistake, however; Jackie Flannery is no saint.  He himself states at one point that, as a part of his "job", he "hurts people" (another interesting irony to which, however, is that throughout the first half of the film he invariably approaches physical combat in a strictly hand to hand manner; it is the supposedly more "controlled" Terry who repeatedly pulls a gun.)  After all, Jackie is a product of a culture steeped in blood -- both shared and shed -- and he clearly accepts the violence and death that are a part of his survival. Yet he also clearly retains an uncharacteristic level of respect, compassion, and almost childlike joy in living for what one conceives of as a "thug".  As the saying goes, "Love covers a multitude of sins", and it remains an undeniable fact of Jack's character that this sinner is above all else a creature filled with love.  
     What's more, a major driving force behind this love seems an astonishing level of hope -- a hope so herculean in its strength, it's also quite possibly the single greatest element separating State of Grace from the "run-of-the-mill" crime dramas noted above. And, it's both the characterization and importance of both Jackie's love and hope that the aforementioned professional critics have failed to understand.  Roger Ebert, for example, so completely missed the point that he described what is arguably the key scene depicting the fiercely determined nature of these qualities with the words, "[Jackie's] idea of making arson into fun is to pour the gasoline between himself and the door, and then see if he can run through it without killing himself."  Not exactly.
     Rather, when Jack breaks Terry in on his first "assignment" (working for Jackie's older brother Frank, the Irish mob's current leader) he likewise attempts to share with him the belief there are possibilities beyond their life of crime -- and offers this belief as an invitation, patiently awaiting Terry's assent before creating a mock "hell" of very real flames, from which he and Terry escape via a fiery "hundred yard dash".  And, in so doing, it seems very likely that Jack's mission is not merely to create "fun", but much more, to offer Terry the seeds of his own faith in one day escaping -- together -- the greater Hell that is at present their real life in Hell's Kitchen.  
     Again, in fairness to the critics, though (as the above scene indicates), so many of the film's most meaningful themes are presented metaphorically -- no one is hit over the head with directly idealogical dialogue by any means....which is a part of what makes this film deceptive in its lasting appeal.  One is simply on the edge of one's seat as tensions mount and actions build, and it's only as bits and pieces settle into one's consciousness over time that the enormity of what has been experienced is permitted to seep in.  As a result, it's debatable whether the entirety of the arson scene's meaning is clear even to Terry at the time its taking place, as the reasons for and implications of his return to the neighborhood after a twelve year absence (which are not revealed until much later) necessarily provide a somewhat different perspective -- at first.  As time goes on, however, the lasting truth that seeps into Terry's consciousness is one described in the Proverb, "there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother".  And, it's the bond of Terry's and Jack's friendship that ultimately defines Terry's character...eventually leading him to conclude there may be no such thing as the state of grace he'd once conceived, and lending him the courage to seek out his own form of redemption.

 

 


     
     

 

What's more, it's actions stemming from the love of this "brotherhood" that lead Terry

 


     Among the most fascinating film characters I've ever encountered, Jackie is a product of a culture steeped in blood -- both shared and shed -- which has arguably contributed to the hardening of many a Hell's Kitchen soul -- including Jackie's older brother (and as head of the Irish mob, also Jackie's boss), Frank. Oddly, though, in Jackie's case, it becomes increasingly apparent this has merely limited his options rather than truly shaped his character.  For, while he clearly accepts the violence and death that are a part of his survival, yet he retains an uncharacteristic level of respect, compassion, and almost childlike joy in living for what one conceives of as a "thug".  
     For example, one of the scenes that most certainly contributes to that aforementioned misconception of psychosis is the manner in which Jackie chooses to exit the scene of an arson (he and Terry are committing) -- and while I won't spoil the surprise of that here, 

Before getting to the actual "review" of this particular film, I have to explain briefly a couple of related points.  First, it may seem extremely odd that I'm only now discovering a film that's been around for a decade and a half -- one, incidentally, I'd first heard of several years back from an acting teacher/friend (from Brooklyn) who referenced it upon learning of a job I'd landed at the time, which required rehearsals in Queens (and if you haven't yet seen the film to catch that reference, yes, that means Queens is a place of which he was less than fond).  Second, I have to myself reference a more recent film, (covered a bit further down this page), Ash Wednesday.  At the time I first ran across this later work, I found it curious that Ed Burns had departed so completely from his usual fare of contemporary relationship explorations to return to the 1980's and New York City's Irish mob for this particular effort -- and wondered as I watched what might have inspired such a drastic change.  
 
   Not long after the ending credits had rolled on State of Grace, however, I realized it was very possible Burns had been as taken as I by what transpired in the 134 minutes leading up to them.  And, it's therefore likewise possible his own tale of two brothers in Hell's Kitchen might have sprung from the words "what if" regarding certain aspects of this one.  
     Be that as it may, it certainly seems likely Burns has at some point seen this film...which is more than I can say for the "professional" critics whose reviews I looked into after seeing it myself -- the most glaringly inaccurate of which labeled one of its main characters "psychotic".  Interestingly, that character -- Jack Flannery (impeccably played by Gary Oldman) -- while indeed quite possibly "crazy" (as he himself professes) -- is the one whose actions are almost invariably followed by the assumedly "sane" Terry Noonan (played by the likewise excellent Sean Penn).  
    I suppose one can follow the logic of the critics, however, if one merely takes at face value all events as they unfold, and if one merely dismisses Jack as one of the stereotypical, murderous miscreants that populate so many "run-of-the-mill" crime dramas.  Of course, such "logic" completely ignores the first half-dozen or so scenes in which the character appears, all of which are constructed to portray an irrepressible individual whose respect, caring and steadfast friendship quickly thwart the "best laid plans" that have suddenly brought Terry home.
     Make no mistake, however; Jack Flannery is no saint.  He himself states at one point that, as a part of his "job", he "hurts people" (another interesting irony to which, however, is that throughout the first half of the film he invariably approaches physical combat in a strictly hand to hand manner; it is the supposedly more "controlled" Terry who repeatedly pulls a gun.)  But, as the saying goes, "Love covers a multitude of sins", and it remains an undeniable fact of Jack's character that this sinner is above all else a creature filled with love.  
     What's more, a major driving force behind this love is an astonishing level of hope -- a hope so herculean in its strength, it's also quite possibly the single greatest element separating State of Grace from the "run-of-the-mill" crime dramas noted above. And, it's both the characterization and importance of this hope that the aforementioned professional critics have failed to understand.  Roger Ebert, for example, so completely missed the point that he described what is arguably the key scene depicting the fiercely determined nature of this quality with the words, "[Jack's] idea of making arson into fun is to pour the gasoline between himself and the door, and then see if he can run through it without killing himself."  Not exactly.
     Rather, when Jack breaks Terry in on his first "assignment" (working for Jack's older brother Frank, the Irish mob's current leader) he likewise attempts to share with him the belief there are possibilities beyond their life of crime -- a part of which (as has already been established) is indeed death.  By himself creating a mock "hell" of very real flames, from which he and Terry escape via a fiery "hundred yard dash", Jack's mission is not merely to create "fun", but much more, to offer Terry the seeds of his own faith in one day escaping the greater Hell that is at present their real life in Hell's Kitchen (...and proving in the process he's by no means a person to seek the "easy way out" of a difficult situation). 
     Again, in fairness to the critics, though (as the above scene indicates), so many of the film's most meaningful themes are presented metaphorically -- no one is hit over the head with directly idealogical dialogue by any means....which is a part of what makes this film deceptive in its lasting appeal.  One is simply on the edge of one's seat as tensions mount and actions build, and it's only as bits and pieces settle into one's consciousness over time that the enormity of what has been experienced is permitted to seep in.  As a result, it's debatable whether the entirety of the arson scene's meaning is clear even to Terry at the time it's taking place, as the reasons for and implications of his return to the neighborhood (which are not revealed until much later) necessarily provide a somewhat different perspective -- at first.  As time goes on, however, the lasting truth that seeps into Terry's consciousness is one described in the Proverb, "there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother".  And, it's the bond of Terry's and Jack's friendship that ultimately defines Terry's character...eventually leading him to conclude there may be no such thing as the state of grace he'd once conceived, and lending him the courage to seek out his own form of redemption.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course, what's interesting about that misnomer is the fact that a major component of this condition is a lack of real attachment to other people, along with which goes an inability to relate in any real way to their feelings, feel compassion for them in return, etc.  Yet, it is arguably the fact this particular character feels too much that proves his greatest "weakness" -- and at the same time serves as a catalyst for bringing out those who love him's greatest strengths.
     To back up a bit, however, I should probably first explain that the film centers around Terry Noonan (Sean Penn), who has returned to his old haunt of Hell's Kitchen after a twelve year absence.  And, while much has changed during that time, it quickly becomes apparent that still more has stayed the same -- including the deep and lasting bond between Terry and his best friend, Jackie Flannery (Gary Oldman), to whom Terry turns for assistance in finding "work".  Of course, since the mob in this case is a true "family" affair, it turns out to be Jackie's older brother, Frank, who is 

 

 

Be that as it may, the character in question (played to heartrending perfection by Gary Oldman) is a product of his environment.  Steeped in a culture of blood -- both shared and shed -- 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


      

 

 

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View Sympathy For The Devil Clip (Navy Pier Grand Ballroom, 12-31-04)

 

 

 

asfunction:nt_connect,0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 (making theaters seem more like "home" to me)

 

 

 

 


     

 

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