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Barry Levinson's directorial debut, working from his own original
script, is one of those movies that examines a group of friends at a
significant moment in their life. Diner focuses itself on several
college-aged boys in 1959 Baltimore, caught in that awkward stage right
on the cusp of manhood. Each prominent member of the group is stuck at
a crossroads between life as a carefree teenager and having to move
into the adult world; Eddie Simmons (Steve Guttenberg) is days away
from his wedding, Shrevie Schreiber (Daniel Stern) is in a young
marriage to Beth (Ellen Barkin), Boogie Sheftell (Mickey Rourke) is a
playboy working at a beauty shop, Timothy Fenwick (Kevin Bacon) is a
developing alcoholic living off his trust fund, and Billy Howard (Tim
Daly) has just come home for Eddie's wedding.
Levinson takes on a slightly non-traditional structure here, as the film occurs almost in a series of vignettes as opposed to a typical narrative. He made the wise move to get the actors acquainted with one another before shooting began, so when it came time to start rolling on the film he was able to build conversations through improvisation and the actors own relationships, as opposed to forcing them to read strict lines off the page. It has a free flow to it all, wisely directed by Levinson and marvelously acted by the young cast of fresh actors. You can feel that camaraderie in their chemistry together, you can really feel all of those years of building relationships between them.
Some of the actors do shine individually; Rourke in particular steals the show, coming onto the screen as if he were a born star. He has the kind of natural charisma and compelling presence that the young Paul Newman and James Dean had, drawing your eyes towards him instantly whenever he comes on screen. There's a soft, sincere man inside that casually flamboyant shell, the kind of guy who wants you to think he's something that he really isn't, and Rourke plays it with such wonderful nuance. It's an impressive performance on it's own, but the real treat of the film is seeing the whole ensemble of young stars working together.
Diner is a story of boys who have to finally make the decision to become men and I think this is an interesting part on the development of men. Over the years there have been hundreds and hundreds of films about adolescence, about boys half the age of the ones seen here, but not enough about this stage in life, one that I find infinitely more interesting. I think any man who is in this stage of their life, or has already passed it, can find a lot to relate to in these characters and the fact that I'm currently in a similar stage surely helped me admire the film even more. It takes place in 1959 but the themes of maturity and morality speak to any generation. They're all caught right in this area between boy and man and it makes for several interesting contradictions within the characters.
Bacon's Fenwick is developing a severe alcohol problem and spends most of his time clowning around and pissing away his life, but we can see that he is an extremely intelligent guy who is wasting his potential. Rourke's Boogie is two thousand dollars in debt from gambling, but he still finds time to get a girl to touch his erection through a popcorn box. Guttenberg's Eddie is getting married in a week but instead of finding the courage to be a responsible man he puts all of his insecurities about taking the plunge into whether or not his fiancée can pass a silly test about football. These guys are all right on that edge and the film centers around them having to own up to where they are in their life and realize that it's time to stop being boys goofing around at the local diner and move onto becoming men.
A lot of films that work with this kind of theme tend to force too much development into such a short time period, to the point where it becomes clear fiction. Levinson wisely avoids this, developing ideas that we don't see the full result of. The alcoholism of Bacon's character is an issue that comes into play for certain, but as the film closes it's still one that exists. It's still one that will impact him for years to come and we don't see the final completion of it. There's a scene early on where Shrevie and Beth go to get in their car and she stands there, waiting for him to open the door, but he doesn't do it. It's a small moment that keys into the discourse of their marriage, a discourse that is developed within the context of the film, but you know when it's over that they still have a long way to go.
Levinson doesn't concern himself with trying to work these characters through their entire life in a two hour period. Instead, he foreshadows events that will come to pass later in life, realizing that this is just a small moment in the grand scheme of it all. It's a shockingly realistic and non-exaggerated approach that I found very impressively done on his part. The film opens up on Christmas of '59 and closes on New Year's Eve the same year, an appropriate time for where these men are in their life. As one decade ends, another begins and they have to evolve themselves just as the year is evolving into a new decade. It's another relatively subtle touch on Levinson's part, but it adds another nice metaphor to where these guys are at and where they are headed to.
After the roaring success (including an Academy Award for Best Picture)
of Annie Hall, Woody Allen decided to take his career in a sharp turn,
or rather a giant leap to a new field. After a decade of dealing in
comedy for his first decade as a filmmaker, Allen presented the world
with a new side of him by giving them Interiors. A lot of fans and
critics of his met the film with a sharp tongue, seemingly offended by
him not offering up another charming, easy-to-swallow comedy as they
had come to expect. I, for one, am delighted that he challenged himself
in such a way, and the result is anything but delightful. After the
wonderful comedic work of Annie Hall, his Interiors is a delicately
observed exploration of a trio of sisters who are impacted deeply by
It's true that he takes a lot of inspiration from Ingmar Bergman in his style here, but it also has that unique touch that only Woody can give a film. He strips it of the enjoyable charm that most of his films contain, but you can still very much tell that this is a Woody Allen film. Allen made some very interesting choices in casting the film, combining regulars of his such as Diane Keaton with newcomers like Mary Beth Hurt and heavy dramatic hitters like E.G. Marshall and Geraldine Page, but the end result is a fluid and fully realized portrait of this family. The family of intellectuals is fractured by their own fragile egos, a discord which is only further cemented when patriarch Arthur (Marshall) announces his plans to move out of the house to live alone for a while, separating from wife Eve (Page). The decision practically cripples Eve, who insists that she can't be left alone and as a result spends her time butting into the lives of her three daughters, played by Keaton, Hurt and Kristin Griffith.
Allen, in a lean 90-minute running time, is able to give the audience his usual league of well-rounded and layered characters, all crafted to work out these themes of familial bonds and conflicts. Allen's ability to write strong, developed female characters has always impressed me and this is perhaps the finest display of his talent for it. These women are honest, aggressive and loaded with faults. He isn't afraid to show the bitter, angry and resentful side of women and he casts his films with actors who are able to properly display that facet of them without turning them into the one-note bitches that often litter mainstream cinema.
Women are often written either as the sexy slut, the adorable girl-next-door, or the annoying bitch, but Allen is able to write them so true. It's long been a shame that females aren't given more opportunities in cinema, but at least there's some small consolation in a male writer like Woody Allen being able to present them so honestly. He's working at the top of his game here as a writer, made even more impressive by the fact that there isn't a drop of humor in the thing at all. He doesn't let you take a pause for a laugh every so often but instead brings you deeper and deeper into the melancholy of these broken lives. The cast is one of his finest ensembles, particularly when it comes to Page and Hurt.
Page, as the incredibly overbearing Eve, is given a character who could have easily been unbearable (and was, for me, at first) but she brings this vulnerability to the role that I found heartbreaking. You can feel the influence of this character in every moment of the film, every tick and emotion that her daughters have, yet she herself is so fragile and alone. It's an absolutely devastating work that resonates deep. Hurt and Keaton play off each other so well, bringing out the faults of each character, the bitter sisterly resentments and attempts at loving that are distracted by their own egos. In a family of intellectuals, it takes the smallest word to break a heart, and this entire cast pulls off that atmosphere with remarkable skill. Interiors is surely one of Woody Allen's best films and such a strong departure for him as a filmmaker. I'm glad that he didn't let the backlash dissuade him from making more films like this in the future, I think this is an excellent display of his range and talents.
What is there to say about one of the funniest movies ever made? John
Cleese and Charles Crichton have combined forces to create a riotously
funny crime comedy about a group of criminals who are filled with bad
luck and bad ideas. It takes a little long to establish the characters
upon the opening, but I loved how quickly it got to the point with the
robbery taking place within the first ten minutes. The laughs didn't
really get started for me until twenty or thirty minutes in, but once
they did they did not let up. The plot concerns four unique people who
team up in England to rob some diamonds and then spend the rest of the
film trying to stab each other in the back, get the loot and get away.
Jamie Lee Curtis leads the foursome as the minx Wanda Gershwitz, along with Tom Georgeson's Georges Thomason. Coming in on them are the stuttering lackey Ken Pile, played by Michael Palin, and the Nietzsche-reading buffoon Otto, played by Kevin Kline. Thomason gets pinched early on, one of the first of many double-crosses, and so the film concerns itself mostly with Otto and Wanda trying to find the diamonds while making sure that Thomason stays behind bars and doesn't give them up. To do this, Wanda gets herself close to Archie Leach (John Cleese), a lawyer who has been tasked with clearing Thomason's name.
A Fish Called Wanda flies around wildly, yet somehow Cleese and Crichton are able to give it this rhythm that flows so well. It never gets too far ahead of itself but it doesn't drag for a single moment either. This is the rare pure comedy that is wickedly funny while also being incredibly intelligent in it's writing and directing. A lot of comedies act as if the audience has a short attention span and so they try to cram as many jokes as possible in the first hour and then leave the audience yawning through the final act. Here though they know that the audience wants to laugh more as times goes on and they spend their time building jokes that will pay off even stronger in the later scenes.
There are so many recurring bits, like Otto's blind rage over being called stupid or Ken's inability to murder an old lady, that only get more and more hilarious as they go on. Somehow these jokes never feel like they're hitting the audience over the head or being used too much, but instead just get better and better. The cast is certainly worth noting, as all four of the main characters provide great ingredients for the laughs. Cleese is the perfect straight man for the wild antics of the rest, Curtis is whip smart and an alluring sex kitten, Palin is so damn likable that you just want to make all of his bad luck go away and Kevin Kline steals the show completely.
Kline takes on Otto with a skill that is almost unmatched in comedic cinema. This is a guy who is always the stupidest person in the room but always thinks that he is the smartest by far. He puts himself on a pedestal and it could have been a role that was done with disastrous results, but Kline takes his craft so seriously that Otto never feels like he's in on the joke that the audience is. This is an actor who has made a career out of mixing comedy and drama, and here is the highlight of his work in the former field. It takes a little bit to get going, but once it does this is easily one of the most delightfully hilarious films I've ever seen and Kline got me laughing harder than I have with a film in a long while. In Denmark a man died while seeing this film in theaters because he literally laughed himself to death. It's easy to see why.
As someone who has never particularly been a fan of the western genre,
I'm sure that I don't fit much into the demographic for Once Upon a
Time in the West. Still, I was able to find enough to admire here.
Sergio Leone is a director who, if nothing else, knows damn well how to
stage a scene. The first hour is basically a combination of extended
introductions to our main characters, but each one is incredibly tense
and memorable. We meet the mysterious Harmonica (Charles Bronson)
gunning down those who were out to kill him, the villainous Frank
(Henry Fonda) as he shoots a child, the mischievous Cheyenne (Jason
Robards) as he escapes custody and the beautiful Jill (Claudia
Cardinale) as she arrives off her train.
Each sequence is drawn out but doesn't feel overlong, giving us a first look at the characters that sticks with the viewer until long after the credits roll. That opening hour doesn't delve into the plot much, or the characters themselves, but it's easily my favorite area of the film as it shows a lot of what Leone is best at doing. In these scenes Leone shows his gift for building suspense, utilizing silence when it's appropriate as opposed to trying to ratchet up the tension with directorial tricks. He lets the silence build it all, giving an eerie calm so that when the violence occurs it startles you, shakes you up. In a time so desensitized to graphic violence on film, Leone knows how to make his bullets matter.
The four main characters are all memorable and solidly well-acted, potentially with the exception of Harmonica. I found Bronson serviceable in his role, but the role itself wasn't one that I cared for; the whole mysterious stranger playing his harmonica because he's a badass thing was something that I found laughable almost immediately and it was hard for me to take seriously throughout the film. Bronson allowed me to get over it after a while, along with lessened use of his theme that I found incredibly grating in the opening act, but I still had a hard time not laughing at the basic idea of the character. The other three were sources of great enjoyment for me, though. Fonda goes against his persona and plays a vile bad guy, which is a genius bit of casting on Leone's part, and he uses those baby blue eyes to penetrate you so he can rip out your heart. I think it's one of his finest performances, seeing someone so adored for being wholesome take on such a cruel bastard.
Claudia Cardinale is stunningly gorgeous here, but she also brings a lot of womanly fire to the boy's club. Working against people like Fonda and Bronson, it could have been easy to fall into the role of the helpless woman, but Cardinale makes Jill McBain maybe the most aggressive character in this show. She's got a ton of passion and refuses to let the men push her around. Cardinale may be my favorite performance in the film, but I'd have to say that my favorite character belongs to Jason Robards' Cheyenne. While the feud between Frank and Harmonica rages on, battling with each other while Jill is caught in the middle, Cheyenne is just a wild outlaw having fun in the midst of it all; and oh what fun Robards makes him. You can tell that Robards had a great time shooting this, and seeing him in this character brings a levity to the film that is a welcome relief.
There are definitely a lot of things that I liked about this film, but for everything that I liked there was something that I disliked as well. As great as Leone is at crafting individual sequences, the film became rather tiresome once it tried to actually start doing something with it's characters and narrative. The first hour is exciting and the final half hour or so was a nice conclusion, but everything in the middle dragged on and on. I enjoyed the characters but I didn't particularly care about them, and the script writes them all so thin.
Everything is too black-and-white, with a meaningless plot that was clearly created around the individual scenes. It's like they were writing their cool characters and cool sequences but then realized they had to actually make a narrative to have them exist in so they just tossed something together. It doesn't have a drive at all, despite such excellent moments. Once Upon a Time in the West is a film with a lot to admire, but for me it ended up being less than the sum of it's parts.
I've long been a fan of Richard Gere, with his strong jaw, gorgeous
eyes and winning smile, so watching him play the dirty cop Dennis Peck
was a startling experience. I love when actors like him play against
type, taking their incredibly likable charm and turning it on it's
head, making you regret falling for them when they turn out to be as
bad as the dirtiest villain. Internal Affairs is a tight crime thriller
that pits him against IAD officer Raymond Avilla (Andy Garcia), as the
two engage in a roller coaster of hits and misses to bring the other
Avilla goes after Peck's finances and the cops he takes care of, trying to turn them against their intimidating leader, while Peck goes after Avilla's wife to try to rip him apart from the inside. Peck is one of those guy who is always in control, or always appears to be even when his house of cards is crumbling down. Gere gives one of his finest performances, making Peck the kind of man who draws you in and then throws you out when he doesn't need you. He's a slick, calculated, incredibly intelligent villain in blue and he utilizes every skill he has an actor. Garcia counters perfectly as the more emotional Avilla, a man whose pride won't allow him to let Peck get off clean and whose temper often gets the better of him.
Mike Figgis directs Internal Affairs with a solid vision, knowing when to key up the dramatics and when to slow things down properly. There's nothing particularly new about this cop thriller, but it does all of the old tricks right. The showdown between the two of them is intense, building to a great climax, and there are several action sequences throughout that get the blood pumping. This is a solid thriller in every way, highlighted by two very fine performances.
Affliction, written and directed by the great Paul Schrader from a
novel by Russell Banks, starts off like a story you've heard a thousand
times. Wade Whitehouse (Nick Nolte) is the sheriff of a small New
Hampshire town. He's also a heavy drinker with an ex-wife who can't
stand him and a daughter who spends her time pouting and asking to go
home to her mother. One day a hunting "accident" leaves a wealthy
businessman dead, and Wade sees this as his opportunity to prove his
worth to his family, his town and himself. Under the hands of Schrader
though, someone who has never taken the safe road as a filmmaker, this
small town neo-noir thriller turns into a wrenching study of a deeply
What began as an intriguing mystery instead takes a descent into madness, unraveling this man and exposing the brutality that has long been dormant, waiting underneath the surface for the right circumstances to come about. Whitehouse is subtly picked apart by small disturbances, like a gnawing tooth ache and his ungrateful, unloving daughter, that Schrader intelligently weaves into this building sense of aggression and frustration. By the time his daughter refuses to get a Big Mac because her mother says it's bad for her, the audience is down to their last nerve the same way that Whitehouse is. It's an incredible display of bringing the viewer into the mind of it's main character, which builds to a final act that is shattering and terrifying.
Schrader's script is immaculately staged here, the kind of intelligent writing where there isn't a single wasted moment. The first hour of the film is almost all character development, which services everything perfectly. It's all building the sense that things are coming to a dramatic climax, where every path, no matter how large or small, ultimately leads to one destination. As these minor distractions plague on him, Whitehouse continues his investigation into the death, but what takes a more center stage as the film progresses is his chaotic relationship with his father, portrayed by James Coburn. We start to see that it's this father/son dynamic that has made Whitehouse such a disturbed individual, his father being a terrifying bastard of a man who abused him as a child while he drank himself into short-tempered rages.
In this dynamic, Affliction starts to become a study of what kind of impact that relationship can have on the development of a person, that can grow inside of him and change the course of who he is to become. Is Whitehouse a bad man at heart, or was he made that way by his father? He seems good when we first meet him, trying his hardest despite his character faults, but as he goes down this descent the audience is left to wonder if the father makes the man, if a different patriarch could have led him down a path much less dark. Coburn is a terrifying force here, a man who makes you uncomfortable from the moment he steps into the room. Even when he's not in a rage, you can feel it in the air, the fear that it can come at any moment. It's a palpable sensation that anyone with a short-tempered father can immediately relate to. Casting this man was a hard task for Schrader, as he had to find someone who could make the intimidating Nick Nolte quake in his boots, and there couldn't have been anyone more suited for the job than Coburn.
Nolte's performance likewise is a work of art and takes us so thoroughly down this road to darkness that Whitehouse experiences. He makes you sympathize with him, perhaps even empathize as I most certainly did, which makes his explosion, his unbridled descent all the more wrenching. There's a scene where he lets loose, completely explodes on a tirade about how this town needs him, that is one of the most shockingly chilling moments I've experienced in some time. It leaves you unable to move, a towering display of machismo in the face of potential emasculation. This is what the film boils down to in a lot of ways, the things that make a man and what being a man really means.
Interestingly, the story is told from the outside perspective of Whitehouse's brother Rolfe, played by the always great Willem Dafoe. Instead of having the story told through the eyes of Wade, instead we see it all as Rolfe looking back, filled with an eerie sense of remorse that he wasn't able to stop what was coming. Dafoe only appears physically on screen for about ten or fifteen minutes, but you can feel his presence looming over the picture the whole way through, as we occasionally hear him through voice-over. His intriguing voice captures the audience, giving Affliction a troubling, almost poetic neo-noir feel that broods while the characters explode. It's the perfect contrast to the towering work delivered by Schrader and his actors on screen. This is a shattering picture.
The Martin Scorsese/Robert De Niro team usually doesn't do much for me
(and usually turns out something I loathe), so going into The King of
Comedy I wasn't expecting to be impressed. To my surprise, I was not
only impressed but came away thinking it was the best work they had
ever done together. Working from a superb Paul Zimmerman script,
Scorsese and De Niro combine their efforts here to create a satire on
the price of fame and what it takes to get there, which also serves as
an absolutely hilarious comedy.
Robert De Niro is an actor I was never able to develop a fondness for, almost always finding him to be one of those people who is never able to shed themselves and dive into a role full-on. With rare exception, it always seemed like it was De Niro playing a part rather than the character just existing in it's own accord. Here though, I was amazed by how well he shed his own skin and dove into the role of Rupert Pupkin, an aspiring stand-up comedian who utilizes a forced encounter with talk-show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis) as his way to make it into show business. Pupkin is an excellent character to play, filled with narcissism, delusions of grandeur and an absolute blindness to his wealth of personal flaws, and De Niro nails every tick of him.
It's interesting in a lot of ways how the character draws from De Niro's incarnation of Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. This is a man who constantly believes that he is doing no wrong, set in his ways and determined to make his plan work. He's a dangerously psychotic man, perhaps even more dangerous than Bickle himself because Pupkin is doing it purely with his own self in mind. Pupkin gives off the idea that he idolizes Langford, but really he idolizes no one but himself and is using this kiss-ass routine to further his own success. He wants to become Langford, to have Langford kissing his toes the way that people do his, and through several fantasies we see those desires play out in Pupkin's mind.
De Niro plays this character brilliantly, taking him on the same way that he would take on Vito Corleone; he never plays Pupkin as a lunatic, never as a moron who the audience is supposed to laugh at. At all times he is believable in the skin of this character and it's a large part of what makes the film work overall. His Pupkin is unsettling more than he is humorous, a grown boy turning into a man who is fascinating and potentially terrifying. I think it's easily De Niro's finest work, but he's still upstaged by the miraculous Sandra Bernhard, who portrays a fellow Langford-obsessed fan that eventually teams up with Pupkin in their big scheme.
Bernhard is a force of nature, getting more laughs in her screen time than most films are able to pack into an entire picture. She is seductively psychotic, absolutely deranged and howlingly hilarious. It's one of my favorite performances, period. She devours this role and her scenes at the dining table with Langford produced some of the hardest laughs I can ever remember having. The film comes around full circle to a final sequence that is intriguing in it's ambiguity, along with it's parallel to the ending of Taxi Driver. Pupkin gets everything he ever wanted, all of the praise and adoration, but as an audience we're left wondering; is it real?
I'm not too sure what I was hoping for going into Awakenings, but it
turned out to be the worst case scenario. Written by Steven Zaillain
and directed by Penny Marshall, it tells the true story of a doctor who
uncovers a miracle drug which he uses to heal a ward of comatose
patients. The narrative awkwardly splits itself into focusing on the
doctor, played by Robin Williams who you can tell is in a dramatic role
because he has a beard and is wearing a leather jacket, and one of the
patients named Leonard Lowe, played by Robert De Niro.
The focus is split between the two of them, but not in a very cohesive way at all. Instead, we open up focusing entirely on Doctor Sayer, after a brief look at Lowe's beginning of his disease, and spend the entire first half of the film just with him. Then, as the drug is introduced to Leonard we change the focus almost entirely to him and Sayer becomes a background character instead. It's a really jarring shift in character and the change was hard to adjust to. The focus of the film becomes how someone reacts to the world after decades in a comatose state, which is obviously where they were headed all along so certainly there could have been a more fluid way to transition into that.
Marshall never establishes a proper tone, constantly in this limbo between comedy and drama that feels awkward, inappropriate and ultimately just falls flat. At the start it wasn't that hard of a film to watch, but around the halfway point it began to become increasingly dull until the last half hour was almost unbearable in it's tiresomeness. Zaillain's script never takes on the real issues that these characters would face, taking the heavy themes and glossing over them aside from a few scenes of apparent emotional manipulation.
Williams gives a serviceable portrayal but his character gets tossed aside once the "more interesting" one comes along, and De Niro gives maybe the worst performance of his career. He got an Oscar nomination for it which is just a hilarious display of their tendency to throw any kind of award to a popular actor playing a disability, because this performance is so absurdly hammed up it's borderline appalling. His whole display is laughable and every time I was supposed to feel for this character (as I was so unsubtly told by the writer/director) I ended up laughing.
Toss in an unnecessary and dismally undeveloped romance subplot for each character and this is a film that doesn't know what it's doing but makes sure it ticks all of the boxes this kind of wreck is made to be. Awakenings is the worst kind of exploitative garbage and it does a disservice to the real-life people it's portraying.
I don't think my disdain for Martin Scorsese is much of a secret for
anyone who knows my taste in film, so it came as a welcome surprise
when I found myself being moved and impressed by his 1974 film Alice
Doesn't Live Here Anymore. Telling the story of a recently widowed
woman (Ellen Burstyn) who takes her son on the road, this was a
touching study of a woman struggling to find herself in a time when
many women determined their worth based on the man who was at their
side. In a lot of ways it takes an interesting look at the era in which
it was made, but even today it stands strong as a look into this woman
being stripped bare of the things she thought were important and being
forced to find out what really matters to her.
She finds a few romantic partners throughout the film and it starts to get an "all men are evil" theme going on which I was getting worried about, but Robert Getchell's script ends up coming back around full circle to an ending (that was created by actor Kris Kristofferson, who plays one of her lovers, the day before they shot it) that was touching and spoke to the journey this character was brought down. There's a Wizard of Oz metaphor that bookends her evolution, which I found touching without being poured on too much.
Scorsese, known for his gritty approach, was surprisingly adept at bringing this woman's story to the screen. This is a film that could have easily gone down the saccharine, cheesy Lifetime route if it was handled improperly by it's director, but instead Scorsese is able to make it feel shockingly genuine all the way through. There are moments that are incredibly uncomfortable, such as Burstyn making her way around town desperate to find a job to support her and her son, along with ones that are genuinely terrifying, like when Harvey Keitel's character punches through a glass window in order to break into her hotel room in a brutal display of male aggression.
There's a shift in this character that occurs over the course of the film, slowly developing from a woman who lets men control her into a woman who isn't afraid to stand up for herself and her son, that is portrayed brilliantly by Burstyn. She won an Oscar for her role and it was incredibly well-deserved, along with the fellow nomination that came to Diane Ladd, who steals all of her scenes as a waitress at a diner where Burstyn's character eventually begins to work at. I think it's the mother/son dynamic that made the film work the most for me though, as I found a lot to personally connect to in it.
As an early child of divorce, I spent a lot of time growing up with just my mother and myself, and the relationship between them in this film felt so true in regards to my own experience. The way that the two would drive each other mad one second, but the next they would come back together and be laughing or supporting one another. I felt a deep connection there that touched me a lot. Ellen Burstyn's character here reminded me a lot my own mother, and watching her evolve on this path to finding herself meant quite a bit to me. Solid work by everyone involved here.
After finding Martin Scorsese to be a perpetual disappointment, I have
to say I was quite pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed After
Hours. Coming off one of my favorite comedic scripts I've encountered,
written by Joseph Minion, this is a wild romp of an experience that
didn't let up much at all. I've often found Scorsese's films to be
loaded with pacing problems and while the final half hour or so here
does drag a little bit it wasn't nearly as what I usually experience
with his work.
The trim 97 minute running time flies by in a breeze, piloted by Griffin Dunne as a mild-mannered word processor who meets an attractive girl in a coffee shop (Rosanna Arquette, aptly matching that description) and experiences the worst night of his life when he goes to see her at her place. After Hours is quite possibly the ultimate late night comedy, loaded with eccentric and hilarious characters whose quirks are always entertaining rather than grating. Dunne's Paul Hackett falls down a descent into the madness of late night New York, the city which Scorsese earned his reputation depicting.
The director took on this film after his first attempt at The Last Temptation of Christ fell apart and you can really tell that he just wanted to let loose and have some fun, a feeling that translates easily to the audience. It's nice seeing him stretch himself into the comedic world and he succeeds to a point where I really wish we could see him attempt it more often. There's a rhythm to this film, a real pulse that drives it so well. Special note should be given to Howard Shore's really tremendous musical score, which plays such a vital role in giving the film it's simultaneously exciting and terrifying atmosphere.
As I said before, the time flies by and it's in large part due to how Scorsese orchestrates Hackett's mad journey. Watching it very late at night certainly only helped in increasing my strong enjoyment of the picture. I think that After Hours is most certainly the director's most underrated work, and as of now it's also my favorite of his career. Which was a welcome delight since to this point I had never come across a film of his that I was comfortable saying that in regards to.
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