Towering Inferno, The (1974)
★★★ / ★★★★
The tallest building in the world, known as The Glass Tower, is erected in San Francisco. The first eighty floors are for businesses while the rest, going beyond one hundred twenty floors, are strictly residential. A prestigious party is planned to take place in one of the highest floors. Hours prior, Doug Roberts (Paul Newman), the architect, is informed by technicians about a wiring problem. Although Roberts informs the building’s owner, Jim Duncan (William Holden), of the potential danger, the party is to go ahead as planned anyway. Unbeknownst to anybody, there is already a fire in one of the rooms. The fire detector is faulty.
Directed by John Guillermin, “The Towering Inferno” is a highly entertaining action-thriller that is willing to perform at a various levels of intensity. The fire is so ravenous that not even water, despite being under the control of experienced firemen, can stop it from consuming and spreading. As in most disaster films, the audience is required to get to know several key players with whom we can expect to get hurt really badly or die in the most gruesome ways possible.
There is Susan (Faye Dunaway), torn between accepting a job she had been hoping to get for five years and traveling with Roberts indefinitely, Lisolette (Jennifer Jones), an aging lady who lives with her cat, Harlee (Fred Astaire), a conman who seems to show genuine interest in getting to know Lisollete a bit more, and Mike O’Hallorhan (Steve McQueen), the fire chief with excellent leadership skills. There are moments when our patience is tested because the way in which the characters are introduced has an air of cheesiness and the dialogue sounds somewhat forced at times.
But when the door of the burning storage room is finally opened, it is like opening Pandora’s box. There is excitement because, for instance, we are forced to wonder how a small fire from several floors below can possibly reach the room where the party is occurring. But the picture is not just about the fire consuming its victims. The screenplay by Stirling Silliphant brings up questions about responsibility and human error.
There is Duncan’s son-in-law, Simmons (Richard Chamberlain), who knowingly deviated from Roberts’ instructions and substituted inferior wires and other equipments in order to save a couple million dollars. Naturally, choosing to save money for the sake of safety has repercussions when building the highest skyscraper on the planet. There is no doubt that he is responsible but is he the only one?
The picture is a love letter to firefighters, but the writing does not mistake bravery for invincibility, cowardice for a character flaw. There are extended sequences in which we simply observe firefighters doing their jobs. Like the men holding the hose, our attention is on the fire being extinguished. Surprises arrive from many directions which eventually create suspense and thrills. In some scenes, the ceiling collapses on the firemen, but in others, the burning room explodes in their faces. I was left consistently speechless, wide-eyed, and aghast when a logical and theoretically effective plan is rendered useless by unpredictable factors.
“The Towering Inferno,” based on the novels by Richard Martin Stern (“The Tower”), Thomas N. Scortia, and Frank M. Robinson (both for “The Glass Inferno”), plays with our expectations. It makes one think twice about staying in hotels above the seventh floor.
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Two charismatic strangers named Bonnie (Faye Dunaway) and Clyde (Warren Beatty) teamed up and decided to rob banks in the Depression-era 1930s. Their adventures eventually led them to take in other people including C.W. Moss (Michael J. Pollard), Buck Barrow (Gene Hackman), and Blanche Barrow (Estelle Parsons). I’ve heard a lot about this movie via references from other pictures and television shows so I expected a lot from it. I have to say that it more than impressed because although it was initially about criminals who simply wanted some sort of excitement in their lives, we eventually really got to know them such as how they felt toward each other, their own insecurities and their realization that they wanted to leave the life of crime and start over. In under two hours, Arthur Penn, the director was able to helm a movie with sympathetic characters (when they shouldn’t be because they’ve killed people, especially considering when the film was released) and come full circle when it comes to the story. I also liked the dialogue and the passion in the body language of the actors, notably Dunaway. At times, I would pay attention more on what she was doing instead of what she was saying–something that I often catch myself doing when I’m conversing with someone. So I consider that a very good thing because it means she’s established a bridge between the character and the audience. Lastly, I enjoyed that this picture tried to be more than a series of action sequences. It actually had humor–especially when Gene Wilder appeared on screen–and real dramatic weight, which adds another layer to its substance. I think “Bonnie and Clyde” is rightfully considered as one of the greatest American films because even though it was undoubtedly violent, it really was more about the drama in wanting to escape situations with increasing amount of gravity. Pretty much every minute was efficient and I was fascinated with what was going to happen with the characters even though I knew of their fates. If one hasn’t seen “Bonnie and Clyde,” one should make it a priority. My only regret is that I hadn’t seen it sooner.
★★★ / ★★★★
I was deeply touched by this biopic about a supermodel named Gia Carangi (Angelina Jolie) back in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Throughout the picture, I felt that her story was very personal because we got to see her evolve from a rebellious kid who was abandoned by her mother to a stunning supermodel who everyone wanted to worked with. At the same time, we also got to see her cocaine addiction, failed relationships and connection with others, and the eventual decline of her health because of AIDS. I’m glad that this film did not particularly glamorize the fashion world. In fact, I got a feeling that it was almost against it–as if it was one of the main reasons to blame that finally drove Carangi over the edge. Gia was far from a perfect person and therefore not free from blame but she had crucial moments when she took responsibility because she really did want to change. I admired the scenes when Jolie was posing in front of the camera looking extraordinary but such scenes also had voice-overs of what the photographers, the crew, and the other models’ real thoughts about Gia. It shows that something beautiful on the outside doesn’t necessarily reflect what’s on the inside, which I thought culminated when one of the women confronted Gia with such anger during one of the drug addiction sessions concerning the lies–on how to look like, how to act, and how to live one’s life–presented by the glossy fashion magazines. I also enjoyed the fact that Gia’s relationships were highlighted throughout the film: the mother who uses her as an accessory, who’s always there when things are good but almost never there when things are bad (Mercedes Ruehl), the loyal friend she met right before she was discovered and was there with her until the end (Eric Michael Cole), the agent who she saw more as a mother-figure (Faye Dunaway), and her on-and-off girlfriend who always wanted Gia to be the best she could be (Elizabeth Mitchell). While most people I know chose to see this for the nudity by Jolie, I have to say that this film goes beyond issues of the flesh. There’s a very real story and powerful lessons to be learned here; in fact, to be honest, the “sex” scenes are not that shocking to me because I’ve seen all kinds of movies with all kinds of sexual acts. For me, the sole purpose of watching this picture for the nudity is a sign of disrespect for Jolie’s acting abilities and Gia’s memory. Directed by Michael Cristofer, “Gia” is a triumph on multiple levels (especially Jolie’s acting) and should be seen with an open mind and sensitivity.
★★ / ★★★★
I thought the best part of this critically acclaimed film was the way it set up the behind-the-cameras drama among Faye Dunaway, Peter Finch and Robert Duvall. I had major problems with this film’s pacing because once it passed the one-hour mark, each storyline began to slow the picture’s momentum. This could’ve easily been a ninety-minute feature and it would’ve been leaner and meaner. I understand that the story is supposed to be satirical. That’s why each of the main character is yelling pretty much all the time, trying to express his frustrations because his avarice is often at odds against another. But I found the scenes when particular characters would get angry to be extremely repetitive because the topic that they address are the same: the current times are bad and people must take an almost anarchist approach to solve their discontent. I think this would’ve been so much stronger if there was only one or two of those over-the-top scenes and the rest were subtle. In fact, to me, this film truly shined when a particular character would sit in a corner and think about what his or her next move should be in order to outsmart the others. Those moments are so small yet they managed to make me think more than the over-the-top scenes when a character would lecture another (and since this is a satire, those lectures are also directed toward the audiences). I get that this film was released back in 1976 and it predicted today’s trashy reality shows and “news” programs that claim to report the “facts.” But I can’t quite recommend this one because I lost my interest about half-way through. But the one to see here is Dunaway because she has the knack for being a complete monster who cannot get any lower from one minute and be almost human and relatable the next. I liked its ideas but the execution was too weak and all over the place for me.