Saturday, November 05, 2011

The "Tower Heist": Does Ben Stiller know how to play the Marshall Gambit in chess? Did Bernie Madoff?

I generally expect movies set in specific buildings to be limited and claustrophobic, or at least manipulative.  But we have had “Grand Hotel”, and simply “Hotel”, as well as “The Towering Inferno” and even “The Panic Room”.  And look back a few decades to a particular caper  about eventual vulnerability of high rise living in NYC, “The Anderson Tapes” (Oct. 7, 2009 on this blog).

Brett Ratner’s new film, with cast headed by a very assertive Ben Stiller, “Tower Heist”, is indeed manipulative situation comedy, but we see people get what they “deserve”.  In a high rise tower on Central Park (actually filed in a building developed by Donald Trump), the residents pay top dollar for their condos to be babied and indulged by the “staff”, of which Josh Kovacs (Stiller) is in charge. Of course, they expect unbreachable security, too.

Problem is, a Madoff-life character Shaw (Alan Alda) lives there and gets brought down one morning by the fibbies (especially Tea Leoni).  After Shaw has tossed all the Tower's employees' pensions in his Ponzi scheme, Josh throws a temper tantrum and hacks up a gold De Lorean in his unit.  Josh and several of his buddies (high-pitched Casey Affleck) get fired, and joins the company of other dispossessed (Eddie Murphy and Matthew Broderick, the latter of whom was to be evicted by a foreclosure).  Josh’s plan to get back at Shaw by burglarizing his unit is certainly improbable but makes fr great situation comedy, almost 50s style.

The movie becomes an exercise in film school technology.  The outdoor shots center around the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which is “coming at you”.  The floats, like one of Mt. Rushmore, look existential, and depict threatening characters.  Indoors, we learn a lot about elevators, wenches, the weight of gold (remember “Goldfinger”), safes, lock picking (“bump keys”), and see some displays of lesbian upper body strength in middle-aged straight men.  (That’s one thing: these characters are no longer at their permanent biological solstice, like the adorable young men of “Judas Kiss”.)

I saw this in an ETX auditorium at the AMC Tyson’s. near sold out ($16 a ticket), and the audience loved it. This movie is a raunchy comedy, despite its nearness to grave issues like Wall Street swindles and the recent Occupy Wall Street movement. 

The movie opens with a computer chess game between Kovacs and Shaw, and the script makes a lot of a metaphor about queen sacrifices in queen sacrifices in chess mating attacks. The script mentions American master Frank Marshall (remember the Marshall Chess Club in NYC), known for his winning games against other grandmasters with swindles in lost positions. The script could have mentioned his notorious opening, the Marshall Gambit in the Ruy Lopez, a countergambit by Black that apparently is not doing so well today (although, look at this ).

Universal’s site for the film is here.  Universal did not play its trademarked “Wagnerian” music, but allowed the jazz-like spoof score to start immediately.

Donald Trump ought to consider having a school chess tournament as a sponsored event for a future "Celebrity Apprentice". 

An Artisan News Service video calls this “the quintessential New York movie”.

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