The Rock (1996)

“I’m a vampire! I’m a vampire!” Oh yeah!…I love Vampire’s Kiss.

Whenever people look through my collection of Criterion DVDs they always stop at the mid 90s (they’re arranged chronologically) and scoff “The Rock is on Criterion?” My answer to them is always “Hell yeah it is!”. You see, our good friends at Janus films and the Criterion label have dedicated nearly three decades to making the finest and most important classic and contemporary films available for home release. Each disc is handled with absolute delicacy and passion, providing viewers with the best possible restored picture, high quality sound and extra supplementary features. To be in the Criterion collection means a certain director or actor has truly “made it”. The Criterion Collection is the home to pioneers and legends in filmmaking including Kurosawa, Bergman, Fellini, Godard, Truffaut, Renoir, Powell and Pressburger, Hitchcock, etc. They represent the finest examples of a certain filmmaker or genre. So what better way to show appreciation for the thriving business of the action genre in the 90s than the release of Michael Bay’s critically-accalimed box-office smash The Rock.

The reason one can place Michael Bay in the same category as the notable auteurs above is because Bay is a master in technical filmmaking. Say what you will about the scripts, plot holes and sometimes cardboard acting in recent films such asTransformers or Pearl Harbor, but there is no denying that Bay knows how to use a camera and use it well. The 360 degree camera angles that pan around the film’s stars, the sunset-drenched color palette, the Spielberg-esque lens flares, all the elements he is known for today (and parodied so well in Team America) were all original movements in 90s filmmaking. He has created a unique style and approach to material (whether it’s futuristic clones or asteroids heading for Earth) and every Bay film can easily be identified as a Bay film. He has a movie magic that’s comparable to Paul Verhoeven of Total Recall and RoboCop (also on Criterion) or James Cameron. The man creates master opuses in destruction. Opera concerts of violence and loud things going boom. Works of Bayhem.

Of all of Bay’s works The Rock actually is the most complete film in terms of story and acting. It features a tight, energetic and often hilarious screenplay with a killer hook: terrorists have taken over Alcatraz, captured hostages and plan to detonate deadly nuclear rockets on San Francisco and the only man ever to escape the notorious prison is our last hope for survival. The characters go deeper than you’d expect from a Die Hard-scenario like this. The villain, played by Ed Harris, is portrayed as a noble military man and his nefarious plan is actually a somewhat honorable attempt at seeking restitution for lost soldiers and their families. As the film progresses his cause becomes clearer and more amiable and we find ourselves sympathizing as the situation becomes increasingly out of control. Sean Connery as the Alcatraz escapee John Mason is like an old renegade version of his classic Bond. Still suave, still sexy and can still tear your throat out. There’s a stellar ensemble that is every action fan’s wet dream including Michael Biehn, William Forsythe, David Morse, Tony Todd, John C. McGinley, Bokeem Woodbine and Philip Baker Hall. The Six Degrees game just got that much easier.

But of course there is the classic everyman performance of Nicolas Cage as Stanley Goodspeed. Goodspeed is one of Cage’s first action performances and post-Oscar starring roles. And man is he cool. Goodspeed is a Beatle-maniac, a groovy twist on his Elvis loving characters ala Wild at Heart. His introduction features his chemical weapons specialist diffusing a nuclear bomb and nearly jabbing a needle into his heart, a device that will come into play in the final act. Goodspeed knows how to deal with life and death situations but has limited field expertise and therefore the least likely candidate to lead a team of Navy Seals into the heart of darkness. Cage’s humor and vulnerability makes the character just like its audience members, in over there head and making the most out of a deadly situation. It is because of his characters innocence and blue collar sense of humor that attracts John Mason into helping take on the terrorists instead of escaping custody.

Cage and Connery have an unbelievable chemistry topped with Cage’s keen sense of comedic timing. Just watching him switch over from sincerity to sarcasm in a second (“What’s say we cut the chit-chat A-Hole”) is the pleasure of the mind and acting of Cage. His deliveries of some lines are unlike anything you’ve ever seen. He delivers lines with such awkward pauses and emphasis on random syllables that it recalls Christopher Walken without the speech impediment

“Look, I’m just a biochemist. Most of the time, I work in a little glass jar and lead a very uneventful life. I drive a Volvo, a beige one. But what I’m dealing with here is one of the most deadly substances the earth has ever known, so what say you cut me some FRIGGIN’ SLACK?”

“You know, I like history too, and maybe when this is all over you and I can stop by the souvenir shop together but right now I just… I just wanna find some rockets!”

These are the line readings of either the greatest actor of our time or a mad genius.

-John

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Vampire’s Kiss (1988)

In the court of popular opinion, Nicolas Cage went bat shit crazy—at least professionally speaking—around 2006, the same year that the maligned Wicker Manremake hit theaters. The box office dud was quickly assimilated into pop culture, what with Cage’s character viciously punching and karate kicking women, stealing a bike (pedal not motor) at gunpoint, running around in a bear costume, and lamenting that the bees, the bees are in his eyes, you see. YouTube clips and message boards lit up the Internet in rapid succession. Where had this version of Nicholas Cage been all this time? He had kept this facet of his performances relatively reigned in for a majority of the decade; films like Matchstick Men, the National Treasure series, and World Trade Center have the actor playing his roles straight, oftentimes without a hint of the madness Cage would drop on the mainstream movie-going world just a few short years in the future. The fact of the matter still remains, Cage never tried to hide this trait. All you have to do is dig back into his work in the 80s and early 90s—before he won his Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas—to cast eyes on the groundwork Cage laid on his path to become either a cult icon or a critical punching bad—depending on which camp you reside.

For me, the best example of the young, manic Nicholas Cage performance is Vampire’s Kiss, a film that would come to be seen as a roadmap for how the actor would be allowed to create the campy, 3-ring circus performance he has become known for. There are two key characteristics to this film that would allow the actor the breathing room to do what he does best. First you have the script, one that adopts a psychologically dark comedic tone—not at all surprising since in was penned by After Hours scribe Joseph Marion—which lays the groundwork for the actor’s signature off-kilter line readings. Second, and most important in allowing Cage to create the madness residing within the 103 minute running time of this overlooked gem, is Robert Bierman, the director, who would be hard pressed to reign in the whirling dervish of over the top talent that Cage displays in his performance here. Bierman is no Spike Jonze or Oliver Stone, directors that possess strong visions for their work, and one gets the sense that Cage’s personality allowed him to steamroll the director into letting him craft a performance that was so in your face, leading to the (incorrect) argument by some that it only served to dominate and destroy the fabric of the film.

Cage plays a literary agent by the name of Peter Loew, an uptight yuppie of the highest order, one that could only be a product of Reaganomics and a stunning amount of cocaine that the New York of the 80s offered people of his ilk. Loew works hard and parties harder; the most important things in life to this suit are prestige and power, and more important, the money and one night stands that accompany these traits. Early on in the film’s run time, while carousing in a local club, Loew meets Rachael (Jennifer Beals) who he hopes will be his conquest for the evening. In a startling turn of events, the woman of his dreams turns out to be the woman of his nightmares, a vampire who seizes her opportunity with Loew by sinking her teeth into his neck shortly after their return to his apartment. Consumed with the possibility that he too is becoming a vampire, Loew’s behavior becomes increasingly (more) erratic; he dons dark sunglasses during daylight hours, inserts a set of plastic vampire teeth when trying to attack strangers, fails to see his reflection in mirrors, and in the scene that serves as the cult-classic’s standout, decides to make a cockroach dwelling in his apartment his dinner for the evening. Has Loew actually become the victim of a beautiful vampire or are these just delusions brought on by the onset of a powerful mental illness?

At the time of its release, Cage received positive reviews, applauding him for his willingness to go “out on a limb” in creating his performance. Most of these critics are the same ones who have started to look down on Cage with disdain in recent years, deriding him for the same merits that earned him praise twenty years prior. Nicolas Cage has been—and always will be—an actor of unique talents; one that marches to the beat of his own drummer, both professionally and in his personal life. He even claims to have invented a new method of acting he refers to as “Nouveau Shamanic*,” which he is on record as saying he has used throughout his career. One would have to imagine that style is on prominent display here, certainly becoming a contributing factor in the rise of Vampire’s Kiss as a well-regarded cult classic from the 80s. If you are a fan of the style of acting that only Nicolas Cage can unleash or just love outrageously overblown movie performances, Vampire’s Kiss hits the sweet spot for off-beat movie lovers everywhere.

-David

*A quick online search yields few results in terms of description of this style and what it does or doesn’t entail. Cage only offers that he hopes to pen a book detailing the method. I for one can’t wait to read it.

Oscar Recap!!!

The Oscars are the biggest event on world television that doesn’t involve a ball. The show ostensibly honors movies, yet millions of people tune in with the full knowledge that they haven’t been to a movie since that rainy afternoon in Miami three years ago when they were forced into a sequel to something or other while the rental car was being repaired. And yet they watch as a parade of largely unknown people (did you know who Adrien Brody was before he won his Oscar? Do you know who Brenda Fricker is since she won hers?) sweep down a red carpet attended by nervous press agents sweating into the earpieces of their cellphones.

The evening started with a publicity bang when Sacha Baron Cohen donning the attire of The Dictator, his forthcoming film, dumped the ashes from an urn carrying the “remains” of the late North Koren dictator Kim Jong-Il on Ryan Seacrest. The moment was hilarious for the instant displeased reaction of Seacrest but if there was any a scapegoat to pull a stunt like this on its Seacrest. The man is actually a really smart and nice guy and can appreciate a good joke.

The telecast started with the obligatory “Oscar-host-superimposed-into-the-Best-Picture-nominees. This joke has been done to death by decades of MTV Movie Awards’ Andy Dick appearances but I love Billy Crystal so it was worth while. Also the obligatory musical number involving the nominees earned a few solid laughs with Crystal serenading Scorsese with a rendition of “That’s Amore” that substitutes the lyrics with musings on how Hugo is so un-Scorsese.

The evening continues with Scorsese’s Hugo winning most of the technical awards. Hells yeah! Followed by Octavia Spencer winning Best Supporting Actress for The Help. It’s a sappy, generic movie but its performances are incredible and Spencer is a fantastic character actress I’ve followed for years (Watch her talk to dead animals through food in Dinner for Schmucks or show Cusack how to reach the 7 1/2 floor inBeing John Malkovich!). The fact that she was nominated is praise enough for her long career but actually winning will open up so many future opportunities.

Christopher Plummer taking home Best Supporting Actor for Beginners. Thank Christ! How has this man not earned one yet? I’ve been pulling for him with great dedication since 06 (Inside Man).

Hugo wins best cinematography. Personally I was pulling for The Tree of Life because the film deserves something and the Emmanuelle Leubezki photography makes it but Hey I can’ be upset over Robert Richardson winning for a Scorsese film!

Bret McKenzie for The Muppets! This is the moment I’ve been waiting for. If only Jermaine were here to see this.

Woody Allen for Best Original Screenplay. No Show as always and I love him for it. I know I’d be the same way. I love that following the Whatever Works premiere both Allen and Larry David decided “Screw this” and bailed. I’m pretty sure if I was nominated and had a good shot at winning I’d do the same.

Michel Hazanavicius wins for Best Director for The Artist. I can’t diss because I haven’t seen the film and it sounds like its right up my alley. I have, however, seen Hazanavicius’ other films; the spy spoofs OSS; and the fact that he’s come from catchy spy caper comedy to loving ode to the origins of film surely begs to be recognized.

The Artist’s Jean Dujardin wins for Best Actor. He will truly be remembered with the public along such great Awards winners as Gerard Depardieu and Roberto Benigni and…oh crap…he’s screwed.

Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady. There’s always one major upset at the Awards and this one is certainly it. Who wasn’t counting on Viola Davis, making her the 2nd African-American to win Best Actress and on the ten year anniversary of Halle Berry’s landmark win for Monster’s Ball? But I freaking love Meryl Streep and she honestly deserves the most nominations and wins this side of Jack Nicholson. I haven’t seen The Iron Lady yet but thank God they gave it to her for this and not The Devil Wears Pradaand Julie & Julia (to me, sympathy nods).

Finally, The Artist wins Best Picture. Not too surprised given the awards its acheived internationally thus far but when an award show spends most its time praising Scorsese’s Hugo don’t you think it would be the one truly deserving of the award? Its a win win because both films celebrate a long lost and truly special era of film making. Just the fact that a little seen, foreign language film has achieved the Academy’s highest of honors has not been felt since 1996’s The English Patient.

And the HOTTEST on the red carpet were Tina Fey and Kristen Wiig. I will fight you to the death in a six-sided ring of fire and spikes strewn with dead babies if you feel otherwise. I kid you not.

-John

BREAKING NEWS

From time to time here at Film’s Okay (I Guess), we will decide to run a theme week. These weeks can revolve around a director, actor or genre of our choosing. That being said, a Cage-A-Thon will commence on Monday February 27th and run through Sunday, March 4th. Possible side effects may include uncontrollable shouting at random intervals, bug eyes, and fear of bees.

Hoop Dreams (1994)


When I was younger, I had a hoop dream. My life-long love affair with the game of basketball started in 4th grade in the driveway of my neighbor Steven Davis. To the best of my knowledge, this was the first time I had actively tried to play the game; sure, there had been times in gym or during recess at school that I had flirted with the sport, but I had no earthly idea what I was doing. I do remember being rather embarrassed that everything I did involving movement resulted in my forfeiting the rock over to the other team or whomever was lucky enough to be playing me one-on-one. What the hell was traveling, I thought. Ditto for double dribbling. This pastime that I had been aware of only peripherally seemed more complicated than it should be.

Before too long, I was obsessed. Basketball had seeped into my consciousness in a way that, later in life, only film would be able to eclipse. If I was hanging out at the mall with friends, I was secretly coveting the new pair of Jordans, Barkleys, or Webbers (but never Ewings, those shoes were NAS-TAY) that were displayed in the front window at Foot Locker; I would hang out next to the jersey racks in Champs with the hope that a family member or some benevolent stranger would buy me that Jalen Rose, Denver Nuggets jersey I had my eye on (thanks Mom & Dad!), and I was even lucky enough to be so obsessed with basketball card collecting, that my Dad saw it as a bonding opportunity (it was) and willingly shuttled me to flea markets and card shops in the surrounding area, both of us being overwhelmingly giddy at the prospect of finding that last Michael Jordan insert card that had eluded us until that point.

Oh, I had grown into a pretty solid basketball player as well. I was told I had won the genetic lottery* and since I towered over most kids my age, it seemed their assessment was legitimate. I played in the best pickup games the school I attended had to offer and felt that my game improved on a daily basis. On average, I played ball around 4 hours a day; in the summer, this number probably doubled. My neighborhood friends and I regularly scheduled tournaments that would last until the street lights flickered and dusk settled in on another day. All my hard work started to pay off my freshman year, an AAU invite had come my way and elation instantaneously set in. Later that week I found out my family was moving to Asheville, making it rather hard for me to accept my long-awaited prize. Moving at any time is hard for a kid of 15 what with the loss of friends but this was the icing on the cake; I knew I would have to prove myself all over again.

For most high school athletes, there comes a time or situation in which you realize you aren’t as good as you think you are, that the dream you have had for a majority of your childhood, to play the professional sport of your choice, isn’t going to come to fruition. I was no different but I like to think that mine had a splash of irony that others’ situations may have been lacking. In high school, I was accepted into North Carolina basketball school, a week-long program where I would get to stay on the campus, play with athletes from all over the country, and meet current and former Carolina legends. I even got to play one on one with an all-time favorite player of mine, Rasheed Wallace. It was a dream come true for a life-long Carolina fan; without question, the Tarheels are the biggest sports obsession of my life—I bleed blue as they have come to say. Later in the week, in one of the evening sessions, I got repeatedly blistered guarding a small forward—who I later found out was one of the nation’s top underclassmen—resulting in a vicious dunk on the top of my crown. It was the type of throw down that got mentioned by players for the rest of the week. And it should have been, trust me, I saw it up close. My roommate even mentioned it to me that night upon my return to the dorm room that was serving as home, and he wasn’t even around when it happened. Word, it would appear, traveled fast at camp. This player, whom I had just met, had quickly managed to become my basketball nemesis. I wasn’t used to getting scorched on the basketball court all that often, and he was doing it to me on both ends of the court for the duration of the game. Considering the competitive makeup of my DNA, it would be fair of you to assume that I was pissed. Not that I got dunked on; that would be relegated to the realm of embarrassment. I was pissed that I couldn’t do anything about it. This guy was GOOD. Really good. What I found out that day was that while I may have been one of the best players in my respective middle school and high school, all that ultimately meant was I was a big fish in a small pond. In the grand scheme of things, I was an average high school player; no more, no less. It’s tough for anyone when they are confronted face to face with the very real possibility that a dream they’ve held close since childhood will not be coming a reality. I was no different from the rest; it took a prolonged amount of time for me to fully come to terms with this realization.

To me, this is what makes Steve James classic film Hoop Dreams so heart breaking. The viewer spends almost 3 hours with the documentary’s subjects—Arthur Agee and William Gates—as the film tracks these two talented hopefuls for 5 years, through high school and their entry into college. James originally intended Hoop Dreams to be a 30 minute short for PBS but it eventually grew into a 171 minute feature, cut from over 250 hours of footage. Basketball represents much more to these two young men than it ever did to me; it was their ticket out of poverty, a world that is punctuated with random and vicious violence, and rampant drug addiction. These two HAVE to make it for them and for their families to have a chance to live the life they wish they had, a life that doesn’t include worrying about which utility will be cut off today or being able to provide a better meal than ones consisting of nothing other than hot dogs. The decision to shoot as much footage as they did lead to two important factors in the level of impact Hoop Dreams would come to have on its audience. The first being that after a certain amount of time, the subjects stopped noticing the camera and all their pretenses and nervousness fell away allowing the viewer a rare and honest look at the film’s subjects. Hoop Dreams manages to stay unobtrusive and without editorial commentary; the documentary crew do a wonderful job of capturing this story while maintaining a “fly on the wall” perspective that translates to the same experience for the viewer. This leads into the second thing that Steve James was able to cast light on, a reality that had been rarely, if ever, seen in an American film—the day-to-day life of an inner city, disadvantaged African American family; one that, despite their economic standing and lack of father figures, stand strong no matter what issues life throws in their face with nothing more than the love and support they offer one another. To be able to present all of this to an audience without a whiff of judgment or grandstanding is an impressive cinematic feat indeed.

Over the course of the movie’s run time, it starts to become obvious that Arthur and William will fall just short of their dream, a tough bit of business for an audience to sit through. Even if you didn’t have dreams of playing a pro sport growing up, most of us had a dream that, for whatever reason, never came true, resulting in an identification process between the viewer and our two young hopefuls. Their pain becomes your pain; their reality may even become a cruel case of déjà vu, one that may closely mirror your own journey.

Now, being 31 years old, I have a hoop fantasy. I consume college and pro basketball with a voracious appetite and it would seem my fandom continues to reach new, epic heights with every new, exciting player that comes on the scene. When I stop and think about it, it’s sad that I have entered the spectator phase in my love affair with basketball. Sure, I still play when I can, but these opportunities come in sporadic bursts and my knees don’t allow me to get up and down the court and contest for rebounds the way I was able to 10 years ago. You can be sure of one thing though. Even though my body is on a slow decline, you can still expect to see me on my living room floor, pounding it without mercy and screaming at the television when my team is giving it their all or I feel they need my support in some intangible manner. I’m sure Arthur Agee and William Gates, wherever they are, are doing the same.

-David

*The people telling me this were all less than 6 feet tall and family members so this point is up for debate.

The Color of Money (1986)

In 1986 two film miracles occurred. Martin Scorsese delivered a sequel to a classic film 25 years after its release with enough spirit and originality to avoid ruining the flavor of the original. Second, Tom Cruise made the genius move of capitalizing on his popularity with his most hilarious, vulnerable, smug and uniquely sympathetic role to date.

The Color of Money is the amazing follow up to Robert Bresson’s 1961 classic The Hustler. Paul Newman earned an Academy Award for his reprisal of “Fast” Eddie Felson, the former pool all star who is now a run-down liquor salesman. His reputation for pool hustling returns when he becomes stake horse for a highly skilled but incredibly pompous pool player named Vincent and his girlfriend Carmen. Eddie shows them the ropes in hustling large sums of money from unsuspecting opponents but becomes increasingly infuriated by Vincent’s eagerness to show off his skills to the point of breaking any anonymity and Carmen’s manipulative sexual advances. Their road trip ends short due to an explosive falling out and the climax of the film features Eddie picking up the cue once again in a final competition against Vincent himself.

First off, I’m a huge Tom Cruise fan and I’ve never understood why people give him so much shit. Of course he’s bat-shit crazy, arrogant, toothy-grinned, Scientology babbling, nutso in his public appearance. His characters in his films have shown this side since the beginning. Remember Taps? “It’s beautiful man! It’s beautiful”. It’s not surprising to me that Cruise is very much like his character Frank T.J. Mackey inMagnolia. For some reason ever since the Oprah Winfrey-Katie Holmes debacle people only seem to see Cruise as the crazy guy who once jumped on a couch and is now forever to be known as overrated. You damn fools! Think of how powerful this man’s filmography is! How many legends he’s worked with and how many great moments he’s given us!

“Colonel Jessup, Did You Order The Code Red”

“I’m not gonna do what you think I’m gonna do and just freak out”

“Adapt, Darwin, Eching”

“Sometimes you just gotta say: What the fuck”

The man’s a genius. And his performance as Vincent just may be my favorite. It’s a character that parallels Mark Wahlberg’s Dirk Diggler. He’s at once fun and energetic (watch him twirl his pool cue to Werewolves of London) and then suddenly intense and furious (watch him rip a railing off the wall after being abandoned by “Fast” Eddie). An actor can only be so lucky to be given a role that time capsules every inch of range and emotion you have to offer. It’s the quintessential Cruise. Love goes out to the underrated lost actress Mary Elizabeth Mastrantionio. Whatever happened to this girl? She had such a great run from Scarface to Money to The Abyss. I remember her in The Perfect Storm in 2000 and she still looked good. Why doesn’t’ anyone use her? It’s not like she took the Karen Allen/Kathleen Turner route in looks.

The soundtrack is one of my favorites of all time. Scorsese’s choice in late 70s/early 80s hits is phenomenal. Eric Clapton, Warren Zevon, Willie Dixon. The music and imagery in the pool hall sequences are unmatched. You feel every collide of the cue ball. Watch out for early performances from Forest Whitaker and John Turturro. And what’s more…there’s even the great character actor Bill Cobbs.

-John

Ace in the Hole (1951)

Has there ever been a movie that wallows in its lurid, misanthropic tendencies in a prouder fashion than Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole? In retrospect, it shouldn’t have been a surprise as the ground work was in place; Sunset Boulevard and Double Indemnity established the director as one who enjoyed exploring the darker side of human nature. However, it would still be a fair assessment to say that nobody was prepared for what the director had in store for them next. Ace in the Hole is now 61 years old, and was released during a time when mainstream films didn’t typically employ the use of acidic dialogue and amoral central characters weren’t common place—in other words, the exact opposite of the cynical world view that most Americans now claim as their own. The fact that the film is now considered to be one of the best efforts in Wilder’s legendary, classic-filled cannon is more than a minor miracle, as it was derided by most major critics, ignored by audiences, and lost the all-important backing from its studio just prior to its debut.

Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) is a reporter who has effectively been banished in the newspaper game due to his unscrupulous nature. Fired from his gig at a comfy New York City newspaper, he pulls up stakes and moves out west—New Mexico to be exact—in hopes that tales of his slanderous, heavy-drinking, adulterous ways have yet to make it past the Mississippi. Chuck has been relegated to journalism hell, he knows it, and he will do anything in his power to climb out of the basement and back into the penthouse. While out on assignment covering a rattlesnake hunt, our wayward reporter learns about Leo Minosa, a local man of great misfortune who has become trapped in a cave collapse while disentombing Indian artifacts. As seen through Tatum’s eyes, this is the golden opportunity he has been waiting for. He takes charge of the situation before him, manipulates the equally amoral sheriff and the coordination of the extraction plans, effectively dragging out efforts so it gives him an opportunity for the story and himself to stay on the front page of newspapers nationwide. People from all around flock to the rescue sight, creating a media circus that would become commonplace in today’s society; carnival rides are set up, songs written about Leo’s plight, even (steadily rising) admission is charged for entry. Will Tatum’s stall tactics result in a tragedy under the hot New Mexico sun? Or will he realize the error of his ways, that there is more to life than looking out for one’s own self-interest?

The jet-black nature of the film didn’t do it any favors; Ace in the Hole would hit a new benchmark for nastiness in the director’s oeuvre. As a result, Paramount Pictures knew it had a tough sell on their hands, and in an effort to make the movie easier to market, they even went as far as changing the title—without Wilder’s consent—to The Big Carnival, a nom de plume that would stick until it was aired on Turner Classic Movies. Later in 2007, the film was finally released on home video via The Criterion Collection with its rightful name restored.  Ace in the Hole would also become Wilder’s first critical and commercial failure. He would quickly venture back to crowd pleasers like Sabrina, films that would virtually guarantee laughter and box office results. Wilder should get a standing ovation for having the gumption to release such a cynical, hard-boiled film noir, one that carries with it themes that serve to indite capitalism as being evil and has enough guts to say that the world is essentially a place where greed and selfishness reign. In addition, Wilder was able to draw out, in my opinion, Kirk Douglas’s best performance. For the most part, Douglas was a performer that had a tendency to overact, and Wilder had the vision to see this defining characteristic of the actor’s style as something that would help round out the personality of Chuck Tatum rather than acting as a detriment. To Douglas’s credit, he goes for it here in a way that most actors would be afraid to. Being a big Hollywood star, he had a lot to lose by playing a character that gives the audience no easy way out, delivering dialogue that flays the audience’s sensibilities with the precision of a perfectly sharpened knife. Wilder and Douglas essentially hold a mirror in front of their audience, inviting them to not be disgusted by what they see staring back at them. It should come as no surprise that the resulting word of mouth was terrible; Ace in the Hole was critical and box-office poison.

Flash forward to present day and Ace in the Hole has rightfully claimed its spot as one of Wilder’s true masterpieces. Gone is the viewpoint that the film is an unfair depiction of the media. In fact, popular opinion has done a 180 degree turn; it’s now looked at as prophetic in the concepts and themes that were rejected upon its release. In fact, one could argue that without Ace in the Hole, there would be no Network. In 2012, our world is one where the line between entertainment and journalism hasn’t been blurred, it’s been obliterated. It’s not bad enough that what Kim Kardashian thinks about the death of Whitney Houston not only passes for a scoop, but there are channels that are fully vested in reporting this version of the “news” 24 hours a day. Taking it one step further, Chuck Tatum may have seemed like a far-flung fantasy in 1951, but his corrupt mission statement focusing only on what course of action would benefit him the most closely mirrors the personalities that reporters and pundits such as Nancy Grace and Glenn Beck have chosen to adopt as their public persona (at least I hope its just a public one). Sadly, Ace in the Hole has one more gift to give modern audiences as it offers an eerie look at how the media and public have come to react to real-life events—the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden or the tragic events of September 11 spring immediately to mind—a fact that would even cause a hardcore-cynic like Billy Wilder to take pause.

-David