1960’s Louisiana District Attorney Garrison (Kevin Costner) gives one of his teammates the good old American finger and talk down. In a restaurant nonetheless, talking about issues of national gravity.
Atticus has a daughter, but what if he also has a wife (Sissy Spacek) and son? Director Oliver Stone calls JFK his The Godfather but I just brought up another comparison. Also, if this was a de Palma film, I’d be rolling my fucking eyes.
Saturday nights mean that channels compete for my attention and get me away from finishing things I need done. One channel had Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator, but nonetheless I chose a movie equally regarded as having a clown car of actors, JFK, which I caught at around the 25 minute mark. I’m probably not wrong in speculating about its reputation as ‘prestige Oscar bait,’ a label that seems weird for a film that gives a legitimate voice for what others consider a ‘tin foil hat’ way of thinking.
It’s one of those movies that make parts of me wish I was older, because the flourishes of colour between red and white should have only been experienced in theatres. But watching it at home is adequate I guess. I’ll probably have to watch Silence of the Lambs again, but unlike that film, this one is purely visual from start to finish. These switches symbolize Garrison’s awakening about the logical gaps within the Warren Commission’s report about the titular president’s assassination. The film uses different film stocks and resolutions, sometimes switching quickly from black and white to show when and where the different parts of the story happen. It’s like watching Bertolucci, as if light had its own weight.
He’s committing to the lion’s share of the research even if he has a growing and diverse team, discovering a plot involving Cubans, CIA agents covering as businessmen (Tommy Lee Jones arguably turns the clock back on gay people two decades at the most) and meddling generals.
The middle section holds a lot of the film’s flaws as it gives a few weak cast members their five minutes to shine and no, I’m not talking about John Candy, who acts as if he’s in a noir, which this movie arguably could be. But it breaks my heart to say that I wasn’t a big fan of Jack Lemmon here, that Kevin Bacon tries too hard in a bit part that Brad Pitt would have, pardon the tacky pun, executed effortlessly, that Donald Sutherland can’t pull off everything in his ‘Black Ops’ soliloquy or that Joe Pesci, despite on a good subtle start, seems to ruin all but one movie that he’s in with his overacting.
Despite of that, the movie has its victories despite the cynicism and nihilism that my generation’s attitudes have that goes against the Kennedys, violence and the film’s Arcadian view of 1963 America that the film mostly succeeds to push. That we have Southern characters who aren’t prejudiced against gays and other ‘minority groups.’ ‘That Garrison and his wife reconcile after Robert Kennedy’s assassination. Hey, it happens.
He has a rough start, sometimes going out-of-order. But Garrison eventually begins his arguments, showing the Zapruder tape (a chilling reenactment by and with Stone), the flaws and inaccuracies within the magic bullet theory (I’m pretty sure that, just like the rest of my generation, that I’ve seen the “Seinfeld” parody before the real thing) and Lee Harvey Oswald’s (Gary Oldman playing a regular person) time line and quoting Thoreau like demagogues do until we realize that this movie just made us listen to Kevin Costner for thirty straight minutes. I don’t mind, it’s relentless in a good way. Costner doesn’t change his tone for that half hour, only breaking down at the last few minutes. He instead lets the facts speak for themselves, thus giving a generous and altruistic performance. I’ve never loved him as an actor, but this last scene made me believe that the marquee should have his name back.
- Actor: Kevin Costner (americanthings.wordpress.com)
The story of Blue Sky is set in the late 1950’s but it’s set under the lens of the early 1990’s aesthetic principles, with its electric guitar and synthesizer music accompanying female eroticism. Does that sound like I have preconceived notions and biases against the movie? Because unfortunately, I do, with all the assumptions that this film is gonna seem dated.
Another disadvantage against the film is its two plot lines combined because they couldn’t stand on their own. First is the erotic wildness of Carly Marshall (Jessica Lange), a problem that’s going to get violently fixed or will bring her to her own doom. The second concerns her husband, military man Hank (Tommy Lee Jones), an insubordinate sane voice against the nuclear testing in the two bases he’s assigned in – Hawaii and Mercury, Nevada. This second plot line is the less cringe worthy yet the less interesting one.
Because Hank encourages her to do so, Alex finds a friend with Glenn (Chris O’Donnell!), Johnson’s son. She tells him about ‘noment,’ moments when nothing’s happening, and ‘slowments,’ moments when people are too lazy. I gotta bring those back. He kisses her, which is funny because I would have laughed at those dorky words, being born in the generations when I was. Their kisses are interrupted by Hank and Carly ‘kiss and make up’ after the dance, a heightened, more sexualized version of the adolescent’s innocent love.
Alex and Glenn hang out later at the ‘off-limits,’ area. They talk about the Manhattan Project and marriage in a way that they’re not seriously talking about it. Alex tells Glenn her fears of marrying a military man because marrying one might turn her into her mother. Alex hands Glenn an old grenade, he throws out the window, the grenade explodes. Glenn’s dad, army in tow, finds the two, and Alex’s hair is dishevelled and all. Her mom then throws her all these accusations, the mother sublimating her own guilty past to her daughter.
Carly supposed to be the insane one who has to be cured, but Hank actually steps on a few delicate toes. Instead of confronting his boss about the latter’s indiscretions with his own wife, actually faces him about the nuclear testing that has irradiated two people. This leads to a physical argument that gets him to prison and then to a mental hospital where he is drugged. Nonetheless, its’ her duty now in the film’s third act to defend her husband from all the lies, while I wonder how her husband would defend her if this movie took the usual path of making her the insane one.
The only ray of optimism comes from Jessica Lange’s Oscar win, and if you’re a latent completist just like I am, this film is a must watch. But is her performance perfect? There’s something performatively cunning about her pretending that her father works for the New York Times, as if she’s winking to us,blatantly pointing to her character’s delusions. There are moments, however, where Lange doesn’t use clichés. Instead of being spiteful because Hank won’t dance with her, she dances with his boss not out of spite but with a human insanity all her own.
It’s also interesting to watch Carly’s ability to make her own fictions with her frustrated life. As she tells the Johnson’s wife that ‘a woman’s charm is mostly illusion.’ She puts red cloth over the lamps and suddenly an army base living room is now a cabaret room, a place where she can teach her girls to dance. An important theme in this film is Carly dressing like movie stars because that’s apparently that’s the only way for the audience to tell eras. The film ends with Carly putting away her vulnerably sexy Monroe-Bardot-Charisse hybrid to looking like Elizabeth Taylor, to looking like a survivor.