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Old Gringo (1989)
A Revolutionary Misfire
I watched this movie a few times trying to figure out why it left me feeling slightly let down. I couldn't figure it out. All the right elements are there. The dramatic situation is terrific, the overall story line good, the actors top-flight. The technical work is good, but somehow the movie never finds it's story. This is a classic example of a movie that misses the point. Jane Fonda plays an old maid school "marm" who decides to go to Mexico to see the world. She winds up being kidnapped by one Pancho Villa's Generals. Along the way, Ambrose Bierce(played by Gregory Peck), joins them. Mr. Bierce who has a mysterious illness, and is bitterly tired of life, more than anything wants to die a glorious death on the battlefield instead of dying in bed. He can't succeed at this no matter how hard he tries. Along the way Ms. Winslow has dalliances with both men. Gen Arroyo (Smits) and Ambrose Bierce develop a Father/Son kind of thing. With a situation like this, how could it misfire? Here's how.The story is directed as if it were about Jane Fondas relationships with the two men, when in reality the movie is about the terrible internal strife of Gen. Arroyo, and his love/hate for his father, who comes to be personified by Mr. Bierce. What adds interest is the fact that his conflict encapsulates the overall meaning of the revolution, and in an even larger sense, of Mexico. In some ways the whole scope of the history of Mexico can be seen as a working out of the Father/Son relationship. The Father is represented by Spain, the conqueror, and the Son by the people of the land. Spain, as did most European colonial powers, regarded new people and cultures as basically subhuman. The only problem is that they couldn't kill enough of the original inhabitants. They keep wanting their country back. In some ways the political situation in Mexico today reflects this dynamic. Almost all the ruling class families in Latin America trace their ancestry to Spain. The indigenous people still don't govern themselves. Harriet Winslow (Fonda) is only there to provide viewpoint. She influences none of the action and carries none of the meaning. The ideas of this movie were presented later in the Pancho Villa movie with Antonio Banderas in a much better fashion. This is worth a view, though. It's still an enjoyable movie, just one that never found it's point.
Easy Rider (1969)
Pop Existentialism in the Sixties
Hard to believe the furor this movie created upon it's original release, and for all the wrong reasons. The young bikers seem pretty "middle America" now, and the shots of Mardi Gras look like a Churh Fair. But it's a beautiful movie nonetheless. Hopper takes his time celebrating the beauty of the countryside and exploring the different characters. He also unobtrusively makes the point that some of the "seekers" are as lost as the local yokels.Perhaps the telling difference is that the seekers knew that they were lost and eschewed violence, while the "locals" felt entitled to ridicule and destroy the stranger in their midst. Because Mr. Hopper does not dogmatize, we are free to draw our own conclusions. Without making excuses for the bikers (who are, after all, drug runners), we can see that the real crime is viewing the "other" as non-human, and therefore not worthy of being treated as human. Perhaps this is a lesson to be realized more than ever now, given the crises that face our society.
surreal and poetic
this is a very special movie, driven by imagery and character rather than by linear action or even plot. Things progress along two lines which eventually converge, that of the dying child cared for by the Father, and the evacuation of the valley. The child, delirious, is pulled back and forth between two realms, while the Father waits upon his dying. Nick Nolte plays this part with enormous sensitivity and restraint. The evacuation teams seem to suggest a parallel to the Biblical flood, and eventually the two lines of action merge into a dream state, as if the flood is waiting for the child, as well. James Woods gives a deceptively simple, finely nuanced performance, providing emotional depth and focus to the story line. The question seems to be, is the flood the waters of life, or the waters of death? Or is it both at the same time? The writers seem to feel that in the final analysis, there is no difference between the two. Rather than leaving one disheartened, this film uplifts.
L.A. Story (1991)
Hope and love in the land of absurdity
Steve Martin uses L.A. as a backdrop to depict the human condition, in which our foolishness serves only to distract us from our fear of reality. When we choose to release ourselves to love, we tap into a force much greater than ourselves. Victoria Tennent plays opposite Mr. Martin, turning in an exquisite performance as an uptight writer from London. She sees the reality behind the facade, but can't bring herself to embrace it. It takes Harris' crazy abandon to reach her. In a sense, the road sign is a metaphor for God, and Harris is a metaphor for L.A.culture, and how it stands in relation to "mainstream" American culture. We the viewer stand in for Victoria's character, invited to take a chance, and step into reality.