Friday, September 26, 2014

Thoughtful, Screamingly Funny Satires, 4 of Them

The Hospital, starring George C. Scott
Director: Arthur Hiller Writer: Paddy Chayefsky

George C. Scott plays a doctor who is chief of medicine in a hospital which manages to convincingly bungle everything, including killing a perfectly healthy patient. Scott is going through a midlife crisis wherein he is divorced and his children have disowned him. He is just wonderful and I do miss seeing him in new films. This is my tied favorite performance of his, along with his Patton and Strangelove ones.

A young Diana Rigg is in the film as a daughter come to take her ill father home. This was her debut American performance. Scott finds himself drawn to her although he also finds that he's got a murderer stalking the halls of the hospital and doing away with some of the staff, not that some of them don't deserve it.

This is not a farce. Everything which happens is quite believable and cumulative. The murderer is a bit of an exaggeration but even that person seems believable by the end. It is a beautifully written screenplay and that is because one of the masters wrote it, Paddy Chayefsky. So although this film can be absurdly funny, it is also thoughtful and dramatic. The things it skewers are not outside the realm of actually happening. For those of us who have spent time in hospitals, we know that they can happen.

This film was made in 1971 so medicine is quite different nowadays from then. However, the foibles this hospital experiences are all human ones so the film is as timely today as it was then. The things in the hospital which fail are all human, not the machines.

If you are a Sopranos fan, Nancy Marchand, who played Tony Soprano's evil mother, has a supporting role in this film. Also, Katherine Helmond, who played Jessica Tate on Soap, also has a supporting role.

About A Boy, directors: Weitzes; writer, Nick Hornby
stars Hugh Grant and Nicholas Hault

Hugh Grant lives the life of a rich wastrel from money his late father made after writing one world wide used Christmas tune. He has a soft posh life in London. He is such a slacker that dating single moms is for him the ideal of way of meeting his carnal needs. The boy's mother is one of those women. Unfortunately, she is also depressed and a potential suicide. Her son has been doggedly keeping her alive by wit and will power and will not let Grant get away. Although Grant tries to get shut of him, the boy eventually forces him to get involved in his life and thus his own. 

Although Grant can be screamingly funny in this as the guy who has never done a worthwhile thing in his life, his coming to care for this boy and therefore becoming a worthwhile person are a fine dramatic turn as well. That's why I consider this Grant's best film. Grant's comedic timing, always precise, is razor sharp here.

There is also a romance element to the film as he meets a character played by Rachel Weisz. Initially he uses the boy in order to convince Weisz she should consider him as a boyfriend. But in this subterfuge, he gradually does begin to care and for both.

This is based upon the novel written by Nick Hornby. Hornby is an English novelist whose books always seem to be made into quite good films. Most novelists are not this fortunate.

King of Comedy, by Martin Scorsese
starring Robert DeNiro, Jerry Lewis, Sandra Bernhard

Martin Scorsese's film stars Robert De Niro as Rupert Pupkin, a man on a mission to succeed as a stand up comic.  His plan: kidnap Jerry Lewis and demand as the ransom that he gets to do his act live on tv. Sandra Bernhard holds Jerry hostage in her apartment while Rupert performs, insanely in love with him. Lewis of course hates everything about her, finding her repellant.

When I first saw this film I thought that DeNiro would never actually do standup in the film, just instead portray someone who was horrible at it. I was wrong. Towards the end he gets up and does his act and you suddenly believe he is a stand up comic. I should have known he could do anything. Throughout most of the film he is absolutely obnoxious and he will do anything, absolutely anything to make it in standup. 

Jerry Lewis plays someone just as unlikable but for different reasons. He is a successful Tv host and off camera he is about as nasty and mean a little creep as it is possible to be. He can, of course, turn on the wit and charm on camera. This is not the Jerry Lewis you saw in all of those early funny films.

But hands down the funniest, best performance here is Sandra Bernhard's as the woman who is besotted with Lewis. She will do anything to have Jerry as her own so goes along with Rupert's scheme to get himself on tv. It is quite a feat to hold your own and then some in a film with Jerry Lewis and Robert DeNiro but Bernhard pulls it off.

Network, Sidney Lumet & Paddy Chayefsky
Peter Finch & Faye Dunaway

Sidney Lumet's film stars Peter Finch, as newsman Howard Beale, who loses his mind on air and is warmly rewarded by the network for doing so with his own show. Faye Dunaway is the network executive who lives by the ratings and feels so should everyone else. Shortly, she has Beale doing a "news show" which is today's reality tv on steroids. What this movie mocked in the later 1970s, network television became by today. This film foresaw dimwit "real" shows like "Keeping Up with the Kardashians." Dunaway likewise seriously adds Sybil the Soothsayer to Howard's show.

Peter Finch gets the ball rolling by intoning that most famous of lines on his newscast, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more." Shortly he has a goodly amount of New Yorkers throwing open their windows and howling the same into the night. He is utterly magnificent in this film. He died shortly after making it and was awarded the Oscar posthumously. Although he plays an American newscaster, he was another one of those formidable English actors.

Dunaway is having an affair with one of the network executives played by William Holden. If you can call it that as she can rarely focus on anything but shows and their numbers. Her network boss is played by Robert Duvall who is more than willing to listen to her ideas on pulling the network out of the doldrums. They run into an obstacle though. The owner of the network, played by Ned Beatty, has suddenly found God, or his idea of God, and now wants to use Beale as his prophet. 

This film was also written by Paddy Chayefsky and it shows. It is both dramatically magnificent plus stunning satire. Dunaway and he also both won the Oscar for this film.

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