Tag Archives: “Days of Heaven”

John Hughes (1950-2009)

First Farrah, then Michael and now John-freaking-Hughes? Jesus, my childhood is being decimated here. I know he hasn’t directed a movie since 1991’s infamous flop “Curly Sue” — which I will forever refuse to see — but John Hughes was nothing short of the cinematic voice of my generation.

Seriously, I cannot even begin to tell you how his writing influenced my own. Sure, “Star Wars” made me wanna make movies in the first place and Terrence Malick’s “Badlands” and “Days of Heaven” taught me how to write them, but John Hughes taught me everything I’d ever need to know about character.

The amazing characters of John Hughes #1

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I mean, the man created some of the most iconic, imminently quotable onscreen characters of all time and in doing so had a hand in bringing to life some of my favorite movies ever. My family and I watched “National Lampoon’s Vacation” (which Hughes wrote) so many times that we just about blew out our creaky old RCA Videodisc player.

And when he started directing, forget about it. When she was a kid, Christine rented and watched “The Breakfast Club” every day for a week and a half…a week and a half! And when “Pretty in Pink” opened in theatres, I remember going with my friends to see it every Saturday night for three weeks straight. Even cooler still was the fact that the same people from my high school were there every week too. We even sat in the same seats…it was insanity!

And though I never felt the same undying love for “Sixteen Candles” and “Ferris Beuller”, I did rediscover “Uncle Buck” and “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” in recent years and love them to death.

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I think the thing I most loved about Hughes’ writing was that his characters felt real and lived-in. And though many have tried to replicate his voice over the years — you don’t even wanna know how many times I’ve heard studio execs say they want something kinda John Hughes-ish, urgh! — no one could ever balance humor and pathos like the man himself. And the music he used…wow, I owned every one of those soundtracks back in the day!

Actually, wait, Cameron Crowe (another hero of mine!) used to do a pretty good job of that too. But Crowe aside, there was something very pure and truly original about the stuff Hughes created during the 1980’s.

Sure, he lost focus a bit when he got all kid-friendly with “Home Alone” and shit, but even that movie has that patented Hughes warmth and messiness all over it. That family wasn’t perfect, they were flawed and human and goofy and even stupid sometimes, but you loved them.

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Same thing with “Pretty in Pink”…I mean, love or hate the sell-out ending, the shit his teen queen muse, Molly Ringwald, went through in that movie was as real as real gets, baby. I mean, hello, her Dad was a lonely, unemployed loser still reeling from his wife leaving them…yikes, how much more real can you get?

And while there is a certain slick, artificial veneer to many of the greatest films of the 1980’s, Hughes films were different somehow. His movies had heart and soul and I know it sounds corny, but they were kinda timeless. And the cool factor? Man alive, his best characters didn’t follow crazy 80’s trends, they set them.

And Hughes himself didn’t just capture the zeitgeist of the 80’s, he created it on film for the whole world to see and enjoy. And for that, and so much more, I salute you, Mr. Hughes. You have left us way too soon, amigo, but your voice, your sweetly sad humor and your indelible characters will live on forever…

The amazing characters of John Hughes #9

The amazing characters of John Hughes #9

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“Days of Heaven” on DVD

Criterion Collection geeks rejoice…the company that makes excellent films even better on DVD has done it again with the lush, sprawling epic that is Terrence Malick’s “Days of Heaven”.

Though this version of the 1978 classic was actually released on DVD last year — for the first time ever in an amazing widescreen transfer — I just finally got around to watching the copy I got for Christmas and let me tell ya, it’s beautiful.

Although I still consider “Badlands” to be Terrence Malick’s finest hour as a writer/director — don’t even get me started on his more recent works, “The Thin Red Line” and “The New World” which both bored me to tears — “Days of Heaven” is, hands down, the most Terrence Malick of all of Malick’s films.

Meaning that not only is “Heaven” absolutely gorgeous to look at — with all that flowing yellow wheat, and those breathtaking magic hour sunsets — but juxtaposed against all that glistening nature is a wry, out-of-left-field voice over by the film’s pint-sized star, Linda Manz, that is vintage Terrence Malick.

Even the most jaded Malick-haters out there — and trust me, I met plenty of them when I was at AFI, Malick’s alma mater — have got to admit that Manz’s hilariously deadpan voice over is probably the finest ever put to film. And considering Malick worked similar magic with Sissy Spacek’s rocking VO work in “Badlands”, that is really saying something.

For while Manz may not have as much screen time as her co-stars — Richard Gere, Brooke Adams and a shockingly young Sam Shepard channeling Gary Cooper big time — Linda Manz and her haunting voice over are the heart of soul of “Days of Heaven”.

Opening in the fiery steel mills of post-WWI Chicago, the movie begins with Gere’s character accidentally killing the foreman at his plant in a fit of rage. Accompanied by his younger sister, Manz, and girlfriend — a positively luminous Brooke Adams — Gere sets out by train for the Texas panhandle.

Hoping to avoid the questions of prying strangers, Adams poses as Gere and Manz’s sister and the trio soon finds work harvesting wheat on a fairy tale farm owned by the handsome, soft-spoken — not to mention, terminally-ill — Sam Shepard. When Shepard falls in love with Adams — I mean, come on, who wouldn’t? She’s like, a force of nature in this movie — things get kinda complicated and quicker than you can say “biblical plague of locusts”, everything falls spectacularly apart.

And while the story itself is filled with enough juicy melodrama for ten movies, the dialog — save for Manz’s aforementioned VO — is surprisingly sparse. Malick said at one point that he wanted “Heaven” to be like a silent film for the modern-era, and that is totally what he created here.

Simple, lush, beautiful, the movie is told almost entirely through it’s visuals and they are truly amazing. You will literally wanna frame every shot of this movie. And if you think you’ve seen “Days of Heaven” on video before…well, think again. This Director-Approved Criterion print will literally knock your socks off!

And the extras are even better. Aside from a very cool audio Q & A with Gere (recorded exclusively for this edition of the DVD) and a brief onscreen interview with Shepard (from 2002), there is also a rocking feature length commentary with legendary Art Director Jack Fisk (Mr. Sissy Spacek), Editor Billy Weber, Costume Designer Patricia Norris and Casting Director Dianne Crittenden.

But the highlight for me was a pair of video interviews with the men behind the cameras; Camera Operator, John Bailey and Cinematographer, Haskell Wexler. Bailey, who went on to become a very well-known cinematographer in his own right, speaks very highly of “Heaven’s” original Director of Photography, the late, great Nestor Almendros.

Not only did Almendros win an Oscar for his work on “Days on Heaven”, but, astonishingly, he was also going blind at the time! I know, crazy…huh?

And make sure and stick around for Bailey’s demonstration of how they shot some of those super cool locusts shots like the one below. Painting peanut shells black, the crew dumped them from an airplane onto the actors, then reversed the film to make it look like the “locusts” were rising from the wheat in mass. Wow…who needs CGI when you got guys like Bailey around? Awesome!

Even more interesting than that is the truly bizarre interview with Almendros’s co-cinematographer, the notorious “mad man with a camera”, Haskell Wexler. From the get-go it’s clear that Wexler is completely bonkers, but even though everything he says is totally crazy, you will not be able to keep your eyes off him. This is probably the strangest DVD extra I’ve ever seen, but I loved it!

That said, I urge you to run down to your local video store or click on over to your Netflix queque and give this modern classic another look. Or if you haven’t seen it before, then, you know, a first look. Either way, it’s well worth the time…

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