‘Rain Man’ bats for our hearts

At one point in “Rain Man,” a famous Abbott and Costello bit takes center stage: “Who’s on first?” — a comedy sketch about two men speaking the same language, but not quite understanding each other.

The same analogy can be applied to the film’s two central characters: Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise) and his older brother, Raymond (Dustin Hoffman).

The brothers, although foils for each other, share more than a family name. They both possess a madness. Charlie has an obsession with money; his eyes gleam with jealousy when he learns that his father cut him out of his will. Raymond, on the other hand, is more conventionally mad — muttering the same refrains over and over to himself, banging his head on the wall and shrieking.

Written by Barry Morrow and Ronald Bass and directed by Barry Levinson, “Rain Man” (1988) mirrors the conventional storyline of “Beauty of the Beast.” It acknowledges the characters beastly attributes while humanizing them over the course of an hour and a half.

On the road to redemption is Charlie Babbitt, a monster of a businessman. He’s a fast talker who shouts rather than listens, often cutting corners and driving over curbs. As the film opens, we see him towering over us with Ray Ban aviators and Lamborghinis shielding him.

He’s the type of guy who would speed past Raymond and the Walbrook Institute without even looking back.

But when Charlie’s father dies and leaves a $3 million fortune to a mysterious benefactor, Charlie’s life slows down.

He discovers that he has an older brother named Raymond Babbitt — who is 15 years his senior and also the sole benefactor to his father’s fortune. They’re from different worlds.

Whereas Charlie dons tailor-made suits, Raymond prefers K-Mart. Whereas Charlie is handsome, Raymond looks average. Whereas Charlie’s life moves fast, Raymond’s is slow.

Raymond is a highly functional autistic savant, Dr. Bruner (Gerald Molen) explains. Someone who wouldn’t know the value of $3 million dollars. His life revolves around a carefully constructed routine: pancakes on Tuesdays, fish sticks on Wednesdays, 15 cheese balls as a bedtime snack, and every single episode of “Jeopardy,” “Wheel of Fortune” and “People’s Court” in between. 

Hoffman, who won an Academy Award for best actor for his role, is extraordinary as Raymond. With his head tilted to the side and his eyes staring either up at the sky or down at the floor, Raymond resembles an alien creature whose undeniably human.

Take the scene when the brothers are first introduced. Hoffman launches into the Abbott and Costello sketch, parroting the lines to himself while pacing anxiously around the room like a caged animal. His hands twitches as he mutters to himself.

“It’s his way of dealing with you touching things,” his caretaker, Vern (Michael D. Roberts), explains.

Hoffman’s Raymond may look frightening when he’s throwing temper tantrums on strangers’ porches, but beneath his roars is a confused man-child — whose none the wiser for repeating “who.”

While “Rain Man” isn’t as funny as Abbott and Costello’s skit, it does what comedy often succeeds at: it forces us to take another look at the ugly truths in life. In doing so, we reach an understanding and start seeing life in another way.

Levinson’s film sheds insights on the frustrating realities of caring for an autistic individual, and in doing so, his triple play of double entendres gives you a warm feeling of home.

“Rain Man” was directed by Barry Levinson and written by Barry Morrow and Ronald Bass. The film won the 1989 Academy Award for best picture, best director and best original screenplay. Hoffman also won best actor for his role as Raymond Babbitt. 


Defining the ‘Terms of Endearment’

The terms are tough love. The kind where you wake up your baby because you think she’s dead. The kind where you tell your daughter that it’d be a mistake to marry her fiancee the night before her wedding. The kind where you complain that you can’t be a grandmother when your daughter says she’s pregnant with her first child.

But even when those are the terms, it’s not hard to see the love between Aurora Greenway (Shirley MacLaine) and her daughter Emma Horton (Debra Winger).

Written and directed by James L. Brooks based on Larry McMurtry’s novel, “Terms of Endearment” (1983) is a wonderful film about life and love. At the heart of the film is a mother and daughter duo.

Aurora’s a surly Texas widow who spends her pastime complaining to her daughter and entertaining boring gentlemen suitors.

Her daughter Emma, on the other hand, is full of youthful optimism. When Emma marries her husband, Flap Horton (Jeff Daniels), and moves away to Des Moines, Iowa, their relationship evolves from that of a mother and daughter to that of friends. Emma begins settling in her role as a stay-at-home mom of two boys and a girl, while Aurora begins eying her neighbor, a promiscuous drunken astronaut by the name of Garrett Breedlove (Jack Nicholson). As distance makes the heart grow fonder, they become each other’s lifeline, trading gossip, advice and insults over the years.

MacLaine and Winger are wonderful as Aurora and Emma, reflecting the natural animosity between a mother and daughter. “I always think of us as fighting,” says Aurora.

And sure they fight — as most families do, but love powers each punch.

Aurora’s hard frown and cold stare are met with Emma’s open admiration and search for approval.

“Get yourself a decent maternity dress,” Aurora fires when Emma catches her mother letting go of their hug first.

Despite the underhanded comments, there’s a natural symbiosis in their relationship. Emma is the first person Aurora calls when she wants to talk about her next-door neighbor. Emma stays at Aurora’s house for a couple days when she encounters marital problems. And most importantly, when there’s a common enemy, they’re batting for each other.

“Terms of Endearment” is a sentimental film that will make you both laugh and cry. Perhaps you see yourself as the mother or daughter. Or perhaps your dad challenged with you a similar tough upbringing. Whatever the terms are, Brooks’ film will make you want to hold your loved ones just a little tighter as you go to bed tonight.

“Terms of Endearment” was written and directed by James L Brooks based on Larry McMurtry’s novel. It won the 1984 Academy Award for best picture. Shirley MacLaine won best actress for her leading role and Jack Nicholson won best actor for a supporting role. Brooks was best director and best screenplay based on another medium. 



Hard not to fall in love with ‘The Last Five Years’

It’s hard to make a relationship work when both parties are traveling in opposite directions. That’s the case for Jamie Wellerstein (Jeremy Jordan) and his wife Cathy Hiatt (Anna Kendrick), whose tragically failed marriage is the subject of Jason Robert Brown’s autobiographical 2002 off-Broadway musical and Richard LaGravenese’s subsequent adapted film.

“The Last Five Years” starts at its ending: a dark, mostly empty New York City apartment where Cathy is reflecting on her failed marriage and her plateauing acting career. As Cathy is moving backwards in life, Jamie is moving forward. At age 23, Jamie’s debut novel, “Light Out of Darkness,” is picked up by Random House and becomes an instant bestseller.

Told through alternating point-of-views which are mostly sung, Cathy’s story is told in reverse while Jamie’s starts at its beginning. Their story meets at the middle with their marriage in Central Park (“The Next Ten Minutes”).

Perhaps intentionally, that number — like the marriage’s foundation — is particularly shaky. The camera (held by cinematographer Steven Meizler) uncomfortably wobbles as the couple circle through Central Park.

But the symbolism doesn’t affect the actors’ voices. Jordan and Kendrick are pitch perfect, playing charismatic leads. “The Schmuel Song,” a silly little ballad that will appeal to any writer’s heart, is absurdly cute and it makes us fall in love with Jordan. Meanwhile Kendrick’s stream-of-concious asides in “Climbing Uphill/Audition Sequence” are refreshingly sincere.

But those aren’t “The Last Five Years'” only high notes. The ending duet, when it inevitably comes, is surprisingly poignant.

“The Last Five Years” was written and directed by Richard LaGraveness based on Jason Robert Brown’s musical.