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  • March 8, 2010

    Best Movies by Farr: Isolation

    by John Farr

    Three films on loneliness and isolation.

    Umberto D. (1952)


    An aging pensioner struggling to make ends meet in inflationary post-war Italy, Umberto D. (Carlo Battisti) is a despairing man who faces an uncertain future. Receiving threats of eviction from his cold, uncaring landlady and desperately seeking to raise the needed money to no avail, he can only rely on his one remaining friend, a small dog named Flike.


    Portraying the plight of the elderly dispossessed in an acknowledged masterpiece of the neorealist style, De Sica’s “Umberto D.” may surpass his own “Bicycle Thief” for heartbreaking poignancy. What in less skillful hands could have been treacly melodrama becomes instead a wrenchingly honest tale about a forgotten human being searching in vain for some shred of human kindness. Half a century later, “Umberto D.” remains a monumental achievement of simple, eloquent storytelling.

    The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1968)


    Left on his own when a close friend is institutionalized, deaf-mute John Singer (Alan Arkin) moves to a small town in the Deep South, where he soon befriends a troubled adolescent girl, Mick (Locke), and a colorful cast of misfits, including an alcoholic ne’er-do-well (Stacy Keach) and an embittered black doctor (Percy Rodriguez). Spilling their secrets to the equable Singer, the townsfolk take for granted this saintly mute’s presence in their lives-until it’s too late.


    Based on Carson McCullers’s bittersweet novel, and gorgeously lensed by famed cinematographer James Wong Howe, Miller’s “Hunter” is the affecting tale of a man who enriches the lives of everyone around him without (quite literally) asking for anything in return. The interactions between Oscar nominees Arkin and Locke (just 20 at the time) are particularly touching (they bond over classical music), but the film is also notable for fine early performances by Keach and Cicely Tyson, playing Rodriguez’s estranged daughter. Delicately grappling with poverty and all forms of intolerance, this “Hunter” has got a lot of heart.

    Taxi Driver (1976)


    Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), Vietnam vet turned Manhattan cabbie, is an angry, forgotten man, and he’s about to break. His work takes him into the cesspool of the city, in contact with various lowlifes, including a pimp named Sport (Keitel), who protects child prostitute Iris (Jodie Foster), whom Travis befriends. He then takes one last stab at a better life, courting lovely campaign aide Betsy (Cybill Shepherd). But it’s soon clear he doesn’t belong in her world, and Bickle’s final disintegration is at hand.


    Scorsese’s dark vision of human alienation in an urban wasteland captures the seaminess of pre-Giuliani Manhattan, and De Niro’s career-making performance as Bickle is haunting, recalling those real-life outcasts who have used violent crime to tell an oblivious world: “I was here!”. Stunningly directed and acted, this picture is every bit as disturbing now as when released.Brilliant, but not for the faint of heart.

    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

  • March 4, 2010

    A Scouting Life: Viva

    by Sam Hutchins

    I was planning on dinner at Nobu, but Kar Wai surprised me by asking for a steak. Very uncharacteristic of him. Fortunately my friends at The Palm were more than happy to oblige. Rare strip steaks, trays full of oysters and many glasses of cold vodka laid the base for a great night. Fully sated, we stayed at Caesar’s for a few drinks and some more uptight white cover band music at Cleopatra’s barge. More white, uptight cover songs and some dry-ice smoke made nice accompaniment for a game of guess which girls are working. As usual at Cleopatra’s Barge, the answer was “all of them.”

    From there the evening went rapidly downhill, and I mean that in the best possible way. We headed over to The Wynn and scored a table in the little basement nook overlooking the private lagoon. Darius graciously bought us a lovely bottle of Champagne to share. Many glasses were raised and smiles exchanged. Darius taught Kar Wai the proper French way to toast. Getting into our cups a bit we headed to Circus Circus so we could drink at the Carousel Bar. We meandered ever deeper into the gutter, eventually throwing down shots with an Elvis impersonator in a punk bar downtown. My mission to entertain Wong Kar Wai was more than successful.

    Late in the evening I remembered a place I needed to take them. Jumping a cab, we headed up the strip to The Peppermill. If you have never been, all I can do is urge you to do so. The Peppermill is many different things, all of them fun when the sun is down. At heart it’s a diner, but calling it that is like describing the Taj Mahal as a nice gravestone. While it is at heart one of those diners with a twenty-page menu, the décor is astounding. Neon lights run floor to ceiling and everywhere else. The waitresses are all showgirls and the uniforms emphasize their best assets. It has a full bar and if you order a drink it comes old Vegas style. That is, in a large and very full glass. They do not stint on the alcohol. The perfect place to finish an evening.

    It was many hours since we had dinner, so we ordered some food to go with our cocktails. Kar Wai was swooning over the place, and went to town with his camera. While he wandered around grinning and shooting pictures, Darius worked his magic on the waitress. Amazing how good this guy is. If he weren’t married he would be damned dangerous. Before long we were a foursome in the booth, laughing, drinking, and about as far away from the previous evening as it was possible to be.

    I saved the best for last, however. Finishing our snack we took our drinks mobile and headed for the fireside lounge section of the establishment. You may have seen it in the opening of the film “Casino”. Right there, on the seedier end of the strip, in a diner wallpapered in neon, is a pit in the floor. The pit is ringed by upholstered sectional seating like you would find in an Aspen lodge in the 70’s. The seating wraps around…wait for it…a flaming fountain. God I love that town. Drinks in hand, seated by the column of fire, I was just drunk enough to tell them about a recent experience I had in that very spot.

    When I was first called to do the job I was in Vegas for the weekend. I had gone there with a crazy, curvy Swedish gal I met in New Orleans. Feeling lonely in New York, I arranged to meet her at Caesar’s. An exceptionally fun evening was wrapping up at that very fountain. We were drunkenly making out fireside when our waitress arrived with another round. She did that classic “Bunny Dip” they first taught at the Playboy Club in Chicago, easily lowering herself almost to the floor to serve us our drinks in our little sunken bunker. While doing so she made a dangerous comment.

    “Well now, that certainly looks like fun.”

    Bound by no sense of propriety, I engaged.

    “Why don’t you join us then?”

    With a smile and a quick glance around she leaned in and kissed my date. More than casually. Now here’s a story I’m familiar with. Leaning in, I gently separated them and tried to get involved. In my mind the three of us started an increasingly heated makeout session that ended with us all skinny-dipping back at Caesars. The reality, alas, was slightly different. What actually happened was that my move caught them both off-guard. The waitress yelped briefly as she lost her balance and tumbled ass-over-teakettle, doing a complete flip before landing screaming in my lap. The drinks flew off her tray and shattered against the wall and her leg briefly lingered in the fire. Not long, but long enough for the smell of burning nylons to fill the air.

    Pressing what I perceived as my advantage, I attempted to continue the kiss. Somehow my perceptions differed from everyone else’s, a fact made clear by the waitress’ crying, the managers’ yelling, and the security guard bouncing my head off the floor as he dragged me out to the parking lot. Needless to say, there was no threesome happening that night.

    Finishing the story, I had Kar Wai and Darius absolutely tearing up with laughter. Glad to be of service. What I had forgotten was Kar Wai’s deep perverse streak. The laughter trickling off, he turned on me.

    “You think you really had a chance at both?”

    “At the time I certainly thought so.”

    “Interesting,” he nodded at a passing server. “Was that her?”

    Despite my assurance that I had been drunk and could not pick her out of a lineup he proceeded to ask the same about every waitress that we saw. Being well into the evening, he asked about a few of the women several times. At that point I was realizing just how lit up I was as well. With my wealth of experience in the area, if I notice that I’m drunk that means I have really, really drank a lot. I decided it was time to wrap it up.

    “Guys, it’s almost three in the morning. We should call it a night.”

    Kar Wai flat-out giggled.

    “Oh boy, is Stephane going to be mad.”

    “Yeah, he missed a good night.”

    “No, not that. I promised him we would leave early.”

    “What time is early?”

    “Five A.M.”

    “Are you crazy? I can’t leave in two hours. I’m wasted.”

    “Don’t worry, Stephane will drive.”

    He couldn’t stop laughing as we crawled back to the Luxor. I set my alarm for two hours in the future before the bed swallowed me whole.



    Sam Hutchins has been working in film production for twenty years. He started as overnight security on the set of “Working Girl” while attending film school at NYU. Since 1995 he has been a location manager for some of the top names in the business. He’ll be blogging from a unique insider’s perspective on the filmmaking process, as well as speaking to his colleagues in the production community to share their experiences with you.

  • March 2, 2010

    A Scouting Life: Whiskey & Trouble

    by Sam Hutchins

    Checking in was a nightmare. I had spoken to our office and asked that they put us in Caesars but rooms were once again too expensive. I could have called my rep there and gotten my suite comped and discounts on the other rooms had I known, but no one thought to ask me. Instead, upon hearing the rack rate at Caesars, they had booked us into the Luxor. I had stayed there before when it first opened and had a good time but that was twenty years ago. What had been a suitably fun and kitschy pyramid and tower had added several new buildings. Ancient Eqypt suffered from urban sprawl. The injury of waiting forty-five minutes to register was compounded by the insult of then walking approximately thirteen miles to find our rooms.

    I quickly rebounded once I had a nice hot shower and a massage. A few phone calls to arrange the evening later, I was sipping from a water glass full of Stoli on the rocks in a lounge. Waiting for a local friend to arrive, I lost myself in the combo playing the room. Vegas is full of acts like this, talented musicians who have smoothed all the edges off their performances. They still bring the energy, but in the safest and most acceptable way possible. Hearing stuff like this anywhere else in the world would horrify me, but in Vegas it is exactly right. I wasn’t embarrassed in the slightest to be rocking out to a soulless, ultrawhite cover of Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration” when my guy showed up.

    Visit concluded, I was reaching lofty heights when Stephane showed up and seriously brought me down. Just seeing him angered me, as he had not cleaned up or gotten dressed. He looked nothing but annoyed as he joined me at my table.

    “What are we doing here? This place is terrible.”

    “What are you talking about? This is great. Get your ass cleaned up, we’re hitting the town.”

    I signaled the waitress who came right over. The tips I was throwing around guaranteed that. Stephane didn’t even register her presence.

    “Hey, buddy, snap out of it. What are you having?”

    “Nothing,” he said petulantly, “There is nothing here that I want.”

    I rolled my eyes at the waitress before draining a few gulps of icy cold vodka and raising my empty glass. It went down well.

    “Well I could use another.”

    She headed off to fill me up and I turned back to my companion.

    “Quit getting all French with me. Kar Wai wants to blow off a little steam. Fucking relax and enjoy yourself.”

    Then the volcano erupted.

    “I will not relax! I will not have fun! You can’t make me! This hotel is terrible. I hate this city. My bed was dirty and I want to leave. This isn’t the movie I want to make. This isn’t the movie I signed up to make. I’m going to find Kar Wai and get us out of here.”

    I felt my insides tightening up as he stormed off. Life is hard, and I’ll take a break when it comes my way. Yet some people just refuse to enjoy themselves. I felt pretty certain that Stephane would happily join in the festivities were it his town, or he were somehow the center of attention. Not having the spotlight really bothered him. Wherever we go in life, some of us are still fighting for Daddy’s attention. Me, I’ll take my therapy in a rocks glass.

    My fresh drink arrived, and I signed it to my room while checking to make sure I still held the valet ticket. I did, indeed, so no one was going anywhere without me. Let him have his little tantrum. He already pissed all over another city I love when we were in New Orleans. I wasn’t letting him ruin another good time. Soon enough Darius and Kar Wai joined me.

    “Guys, you see Stephane? He’s pretty upset.”

    Kar Wai waved me off.

    “Yes, he will not be joining us tonight. Now I need a whiskey and some trouble.”

    Coming right up, my friend, coming right up.



    Sam Hutchins has been working in film production for twenty years. He started as overnight security on the set of “Working Girl” while attending film school at NYU. Since 1995 he has been a location manager for some of the top names in the business. He’ll be blogging from a unique insider’s perspective on the filmmaking process, as well as speaking to his colleagues in the production community to share their experiences with you.

  • March 1, 2010

    Best Movies by Farr: Parents and (Grown) Children

    by John Farr

    John Farr’s picks for films about the relationships between elder parents and their adult children.

    Tokyo Story (1953)


    Frail, elderly couple Tomi and Shukishi (Chieko Higashiyama and Chishu Ryu) set off from their rural village to visit their children in the hustle-bustle world of modern-day Tokyo. But when they arrive, doctor son Koichi (So Yamamura) and beauty-salon proprietor Shige (Haruko Sugimura) are too busy to visit and send the disappointed old folks to a health resort. Only their daughter-in-law Noriko (Setsuko Hara) takes time to show them the highlights of the city. Yet later, an unexpected illness leads the elder children to regret their selfish inattention.


    One of the enduring classics by celebrated master Ozu, this melancholic dissection of family dynamics in postwar Japan may sound simplistic, but “Story” packs an emotional punch as it observes the erosion of traditional values in modern lifeways. Among a uniformly strong cast, Higashiyama and Ryu give low-key, heartbreaking performances as the jilted parents-who seem bewildered as much by the clamor of the city as by their children’s inhospitable behavior. “Story” may be understated, but Ozu’s quiet, immobile visual style and deft direction reflect the nuances of everyday existence like no one else.

    The Graduate (1967)


    A model son and newly minted college graduate, Ben Braddock (Dennis Hoffman) is proudly paraded around his parents’ friends, who congratulate him heartily. But inside, Ben feels numb. He soon gets involved with his mother’s sexually frustrated best friend, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), then creates a combustible chain reaction by falling for her daughter, Elaine (Katherine Ross).


    One of the signature films of the 1960s, this feature introduced the world to Hoffman and gave Bancroft a racy role she played with marvelous feline cunning. This sublime black comedy transcends its period, speaking to new generations of alienated youth beginning to navigate a discordant, dysfunctional adult world. The supporting cast, including deft character players William Daniels and Murray Hamilton, are note-perfect, and that Simon & Garfunkel score still stirs the soul. A must for repeat viewings.

    Lovers and Other Strangers (1970)


    The occasion of Mike and Susan’s wedding (Michael Brandon and Bonnie Bedelia) is pretext for examination of love via their relationship and those surrounding them, particularly his brother’s failing marriage and the dysfunctional but enduring unions of their respective parents (his: Castellano and Arthur, hers: Young and Leachman). The result is a farcical glimpse into the infinite variations on the necessary but complex mess we call love.


    Cy Howard’s knowing, often side-splitting ensemble piece benefits from stand-out turns by Gig Young (as the bride’s philandering father), Anne Jackson (as the object of his adulterous affections), and Richard Castellano as the groom’s awkward but well-meaning Dad. Bob Dishy almost steals the movie as a would-be Casanova. Wonderful early “70s flavor, and look for a young Diane Keaton as the groom’s unhappy sister-in-law.

    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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