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The Fountainhead (1949)
Worst dialogue ever?
This movie gets my vote for the most unbelievable dialogue ever in an A-list Hollywood movie. From the opening words, spoken by an architecture-school dean (or rather, a cardboard caricature of a dean), there is not one sentence that could ever be delivered in real life. The whole movie is as schematic and unreal as the old Red agitprop plays. Appropriate, in a way, since Ayn Rand, too, was a propagandist for ideas rather than a real novelist or screenwriter. And what ideas! Individualism is crushed in America, but the idealistic architect will fight to produce--second-hand Mies! This individualistic architect is fighting to get buildings made that were exactly the kind corporate America was building after the war. He is shown as fighting against the old Beaux-Arts style at a time it had been dead for decades, and championing a style that had been in vogue for years.
Maybe the drawings can't be blamed on Ayn Rand, but the ludicrous dialogue can. Poor Gary Cooper. I see he gets blamed in other posts for not acting the part well. Next time you see this movie I suggest you try saying to yourself any one of his speeches in a believable way. She must have had an ironclad contract not to have been replaced by a Hollywood hack. Maybe a hack could have made a decent movie of this dog, but I doubt it.
Bad Lieutenant (1992)
Dope, Booze, and Scenery-chewing
This film was highly recommended to me by a couple of ex-doper friends (and I'm not too sure of the ex status of one of them), as the most realistic depiction of a dope binge on screen. If they say so. Watching an irresponsible cop destroy himself with ingestibles (and smokables, snortables and shootables) while he ignores the crime all around him has a morbid appeal, for a while, but I got bored.
But wait! even such a man can be redeemed by the example of a saintly nun, with the help of Jesus Christ, who climbs down from his crucifix and watches Harvey Keitel whimper, cry and groan, demonstrating what a lost soul he is, and generally chewing the carpet like a ham actor possessed.
To be fair, he was doing only what the wretched script required, and much of his performance was brilliant. (Either that or he really was doping up a storm, as my friends insist.) But his bravura performance doesn't come close to making this film worth watching.
Air Force (1943)
"Fifth Column" Propaganda
Like many of the other commentators I wasn't much bothered by most of the Japanese-bashing--it's only to be expected in wartime--but I am curious about one aspect: The movie makes it appear that the Pearl Harbor attack was actively aided by a "fifth column" of Japanese Hawaiians. The plane and crew are sniped at on Maui, and the commander at Hickham Field says "Jap vegetable trucks" rolled down 3 lines of P-40s knocking off their tails. Any American watching at the time could only be led to believe Japanese in America were an active threat. Is it any wonder California interned all their Japanese, citizens or not? Did this movie specifically lead to such actions? We like to think we have learned from history, but even now there are hundreds of Arabs jailed in this country since 9/11/2001 without right to counsel, or even the minimum protections of habeas corpus--the government won't officially state whether or not it is even holding particular individuals. Fear and anger, the sense that the country is in danger, and the sense that in war all is fair, lead us to act in ways not very different than the ones most agree were mistaken in the 1940s. Something to think about.
Brideshead Revisited (1981)
Great start, disappointing finish
I just watched most of Brideshead again the other night (2 hours on WGBH Boston, the rest on tapes) and was about to write a brief review when I read lefreak-5's, which said exactly what I was thinking. The first parts ARE more interesting and affecting than the later, and for the reason he mentions--Sebastian crashes and burns, while Charles and Julia get world-weary and cynical. The idyllic tone of the first 2 episodes is gone, to be replaced by a mood of languid disquiet.
I also liked Jeremy Irons less this time than when I saw Brideshead last, a decade or so ago. He is as responsible for the feeling of weary unease as is Waugh's novel or John Mortimer's script. Granted, he has an ungrateful role. It is never easy to put the narrator of a novel into a movie, because it is the narrator's nature to see actions, rather than act, and to hear dialogue, rather than take full part in it. So the actor who plays Charles Ryder pretty well has to do most of his acting with his face. But Irons has a limited repertoire of facial expressions, and all of them give a feeling of restraint, of holding back. The tired languor of his character is not easily to be distinguished from the tired languor of Charles Smithson in the French Lieutenant's woman, or indeed from just about every other character he has played.
Nevertheless, the first 2 episodes, at least, are among the peaks of television drama, and if I am disappointed with the later episodes it is only by comparison with these. The cast is strikingly good, Irons apart, John Gielgud (in his few comical minutes as Charles Ryder's father) standing out as the best of many fine actors, in a series of beautifully written character roles.
The Deer Hunter (1978)
As great as ever
I've now seen this film three times with a decade or more between viewings, and every time I see it I come away feeling that movies can't get any better than this. People always comment on the Viet Nam scenes, and it's true that they are as powerful and intense as any war scenes ever filmed. The Russian-roulette betting game, in both its up-river and Saigon venues, may be the most riveting, shattering plot device ever invented, as measured by the pounding of the heart.
But it's the 'home front' scenes that stick with me through the years. I think all the steel town scenes are nearly perfect, untoppable. And that very much includes the Eastern Orthodox wedding and its sequel. When anyone tells me they were bored I just shake my head. There's no arguing with short and shallow attention spans. You're either capable of appreciating art or you're not.
I do have a quibble or two. The deer-hunting scenes looked like nowhere I've ever seen in Pennsylvania, or anywhere else East of the Rockies. I think Cimino deliberately picked an ethereal location above the clouds as a contrast to the steel town. When John Cazale and the others get loaded and act like jerks it jars on Michael, because they have brought the stupid distractions of ordinary life to an extraordinary place. This would matter less if the 'genius loci' were not so strongly present in the other home front scenes. I wish he had used the soft, green forested hills of Pennsylvania for the hunting.
And some of the dialogue--Meryl Streep's in particular--wouldn't work on the page, and only first-rate acting by an inspired ensemble--has there ever been a better cast of young actors?--pulls it off. But these are forgivable errors in one of the finest films ever made.
One of the best of its genre
TV churns out dozens of true-crime movies every year. You can see 3 or 4 every Saturday on Lifetime, and Court TV can be relied on for a few every weekend. So I started watching The Morrison Murders thinking I knew very well what to expect: a more or less competent retelling of a real-life family murder. What I got was a subtle, beautifully acted drama that engrossed me from start to finish.
Both the brothers were totally convincing, and Jonathan Scarfe was perfect in the challenging role of Luke. The look and feel of Georgia was in almost every frame. If I had any complaint, it was Gordon Clapp as the sheriff. He just doesn't look or act like a small-town Southern lawman named Byron Calhoun. He looks and sounds like Medavoy, and Medavoy is not right for this part.
But this is a minor quibble: The Morrison Murders is well worth watching, and not just on a rainy Saturday afternoon. If you're going out, tape it. You won't regret it.
One, Two, Three (1961)
I saw this movie after reading Leonard Maltin's four-star rave, and couldn't believe I was watching the same movie. Now I read the equally enthusiastic viewer's comments on IMDB, and I'm bewildered. 'Fell out of my seat laughing', 'witty', 'uproarious', etc. Well, it's uproarious in the sense that Cagney roars out most of his lines as if he were yelling them, unamplified, in the Berlin Olympic Stadium, and wanted to make sure those in the back rows could hear. And it's as witty as most Billy Wilder movies--not very, in my book. It's loud, vulgar in a very careful, 'inoffensive' way, and every 'topical' joke was recycled from the topical jokes of the previous couple of decades.
It is the sort of movie that made a lot of us cringe about the quality of American movies in the late fifties and the sixties, and it's just as cringeworthy now as then.
Several months ago I came across Belly by accident, on late-night TV. It stuck with me for weeks, while many "better" movies faded from memory. Then last night I saw it again. The world it portrays, of a group of black drug dealers and their girlfriends, could not be more different than my own, and it is presented in such a surreal fashion that the story line is hard to grasp. But its settings of spacy, glossy drug-luxury, its emptiness of heart, its sudden bursts of vicious mayhem, all add up to something a lot more impressive than this description suggests.
I recommended this film to a couple of friends of mine, and after they both watched it last night one loved it and the other hated it. Judging by the IMDB voting others are similarly split. The only number that had more votes than 10 was 1 (I gave it an 8). Truly, a film each must see for himself to decide.
Mamet dialogue too stylized, similar
I found the film as riveting and disturbing as most of the other reviewers, but I'd like to comment here on David Mamet's writing style. As one of the earlier reviews points out, Mamet is much admired by the literati, and as another says, he is studied in film schools. So I may be going out on a limb, but I am a lot less impressed with his writing than most.
David Mamet started as a playwright, and he still writes with the theater in mind, even when he writes for movies or TV. I first noticed this a year or so ago when watching a rerun of Hill Street Blues for which he'd written the script. The show had many first-rate TV writers, and there was nothing incongruous in the idea that a celebrated playwright would write an episode. But his episode, while intense, involving, and philosophical in the approved Mamet style, proved out of place as an episode in a long-running series with established characters. Mamet's Hill Street bunch lost familiar character traits and gained others common to nearly all the dramatis personae of his plays. The cops all talked like Mamet characters, had macho-philosophical Mamet dialogues, faced Mamet moments of truth.
Well, here is Homicide, another cop show in full length movie form, and once again his puppets talk like Mamet characters, rather than like distinguishable individuals. These roles are his own creations, so he isn't confronted with a series-watcher's expectations, but that hasn't made them more believable as people. His dialogue has a sameness about it that suggests he doesn't really listen to the way people talk. (Again, I realize this is a minority view: critics are always writing about the "gritty realism" of his characters' speeches.)
Listen to the dialogue from one of the NYPD Blue episodes written by David Milch. (I choose Milch not only because he's one of Blue's best writers [and co-producer, of course] but also because he wrote many of the best Hill Street Blues episodes around the time Mamet wrote his contribution.) The characters are varied, and their choice of words tells the listener more about them as individuals with every line they speak. Mamet characters tend to tell you, not what they are like as people, but what Mamet wants you to think about them. Again and again during Homicide I found myself thinking: "no, he wouldn't say that", or even "does anybody really talk that way?"
Am I saying David Milch is a better writer than David Mamet? I think I am, for realistic media like TV and film, anyway. The theater, as an inherently artifical medium, can absorb and even thrive upon artificiality in its dialogue. But TV and movies have different demands, and I don't think David Mamet meets them very well.
Night of the Demon (1957)
First-rate horror, marred by Dana Andrews drunken acting
I caught this film on AMC in the middle of the night, and was surprised and delighted at how good it was, belying its catchpenny title. I then reread the MR James short story it is based on, and was impressed at the way Tourneur and his writers managed to retain the essence and the mood while altering all but the basic premise of the story. But Dana Andrews was a dud. His role was an ungrateful one--the skeptic who knows less than every member of the audience-- but it was his line-delivery that bothered me. He was half-lit in half the scenes! I couldn't believe it, so I read his bio on IMDB, and sure enough, he probably was drunk on the set. As one of the British commentators has mentioned above, it was a fatal habit of English productions to bring in an American "name" to more easily sell US distribution rights. I suspect that is how this otherwise satisfying movie got lumbered with its drunken star.