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Moby Dick (1956)
For those folks that want great literature without having to read a 500-page tome, then this Readers Digest like condensation might be the ticket. All the high points of Moby Dick are touched on starting with 'Call me Ishmael," and so on.
As all have already pointed out, Gregory Peck has nailed the Ahab character. You got me how he managed the whalebone peg leg. The obsessive rush to take vengeance on the great whale boils in crazed Ahab's head and certainly his crew one by one catch the fever for either greed or blind allegiance. Therefore, our allegorical story full of biblical references mete out large portions of philosophical sophisms, enough for the entire Humanities Departments at fifty Universities to burn the midnight whale oil; oh, the reams of paper written about poor Moby, we're talking deforestation here.
If ever there was a story to get young men to read Lit, Moby Dick is the one.
Sexy Beast (2000)
Not Believable but Posh
Yeah, Ben Kingsley is menacing, but personally, I'd have punched his muscled-up Gandhi face early on if I were Ray Winstone.
Winstone is a retired gangster living with his ex-porn star wife and a few ex-gangster friends in a villa in Spain. Life is good, but then the feared ex-partner, Kingsley shows up to insult everybody and generally ruffle feathers, the ultimate party pooper. Okay, okay, Winstone will help with the heist after a disagreement, a serious disagreement. Back in London, Teddy, played by Deadwood's leering Ian McShane has created a plan to steal from a high security vault a gazillion dollars. The team dives into the most unlikely underwater heist scheme ever devised.
It's all very posh and not very believable, but quite entertaining.
Hard to Swallow
Charlize Theron, a very beautiful woman plays the "John Killer" as a gawky, tall retard. She wins an academy award for being consistently foul, goofy, and murderous. I'm assuming there's a certain amount of sympathy here for an abused from cradle female, but her victims were run of the mill lonely-hearts except for an occasional sadist, but hell why get angry when occupational hazard strikes. Get yourself a lawyer like any worker's occupation case plaintiff Christina Ricci, not in Ghost World, but close, plays Charlize's lover. She's rather retarded too. I can't quite place the blue collar Florida malaise that the audience is supposed to understand instinctively. Well, ah, why didn't lonely Ricci go to beautician school and meet some gals of the same persuasion on line. The whole idea that a down-and-out boozer could even interest this young mixed up girl is hard to swallow. Oh, but this is a true-life story. Never mind.
City of Ghosts (2002)
Too Long, Needs Cutting
Cambodia and Thailand, the old colonial streets still give a foreigner a dread. As one of the characters in this monsoon thriller said, "the whole country could use a coat of paint." Matt Dillon is the insurance executive caught up in a scandal that he needs to rectify, maybe, if he can locate the company chief executive, the mysterious and shifty Marvin. On the way to rain forests, Dillon meets up with pretty Natacha McEthone, a member of group of antiquity restorers. Then the usual seedy characters show up at the rancid hotel. James Caan as Marvin and Gerard Deprardieu as the indo-chin innkeeper fill out the cast. Then Dillon's passport is stolen and on and on for two hours we take a tour of the countryside, the natives, and the brothels.
Dillon directed and co-wrote the script and I think that is a problem. City of Ghosts is too long and the Dillon-McElhone romance is forced. I mean if you're afraid for your life, are you going to take the time to ask a girl out on a date? Hmmm, maybe not, so Dillon loved his directorial takes so much, he could not cut them, and some studio guy insisted on a love interest. In addition, it's weird, but Dillon as an adventurer, Bogart type in Cambodia: he still delivers some lines as though he were still in a teen rumble.
Tender Mercies (1983)
Spawned Some Knockoffs
Tender Mercies from 1983 has spawned some knockoffs, made for TV films that you see on the Country Cable station. TM is still one of the best portrayals of poor Texas brush folks on flat, flat terrain. Sometimes tumbleweed tumbles by. Anyhow, one looks at that big sky and a country song comes to your lips. Robert Duvall plays Mac Sledge stoically in tight blue jeans and cowboy boots. Duvall slips off the Godfather set and takes that Texas accent where men sort of mumble homily's at a moments notice. Ah, he can't sing, but he gets a nice voice-over during a honky tonk gig.
So former Country star Duval has fallen hard and end drunkenly ends up at a rural Austin motel to take up with Tess Harper, a widow of the Vietnam War. Her young son needs a father. The ready made family makes do with gas station revenue while Duval dries out. Local citizens, boys in a garage band lure the has-been songwriter back into the music business. Former wife Trixie still hates his drunken ways and won't let Mac connect with his young daughter, teen Ellen Barker. After that, there's a tragedy.
I watched TM with a teen daughter and we enjoyed it. We're not talking Fellini or Welles here, but it kept me interested.
Blade Runner (1982)
After his Alien success and it was a 1979 revelation in movie special effects, Ridley Scott turns it up another notch to show us what 2019 LA might look like. The art direction is spectacular all right. The concept, which influenced every sci-fi after: mix futuristic fantasy with retro 1930's Fascist architecture, and turn on the strobe lights and fog machine. Give the actors a bag lady wardrobe and a flying car with DeLorean gull wing doors: That's the future kids, well, sort off. The 1979 take on future communications, a phone booth with a TV screen, ha ha no cell phones envisioned.
Harrison Ford could give a Sam Spade Futurama performance back then. Today he sleepwalks through his lines. I have never seen a cocky actor disintegrate over time as Ford has declined. After all, Cary Grant, Clark Gable, or Jimmy Stewart played all their parts with gusto into their 70's. Ford was good in one decade.
What ever happened to Sean Young? What a knock-out with a sultry voice!
Boksuneun naui geot (2002)
Splatting a bunch of heads like a coconut was a bit queasy. Stabbings, drownings, and electrocutions were bad; yet, I handled it okay. After a while, Chan Wook Park made me feel as if I was reading an action comic book full of strange twists of fate and blood curdling gore. Our hero is a deaf mute and his girlfriend is a waif-sized revolutionary. She does him "on top" wailing in sign language. The little kidnapped girl should bring a nice ransom to get sis a new kidney, but alas, cruel Asian Fate, what horrors await.
Park holds scenes too long. He needs more discipline in the editing room. Green hair playing with the little girl for ten minutes or burying a body for another ten minutes while a very annoying device character, a retard of some sort wanders about causing mayhem, I started to look at my watch. It all comes together in a blood bath of revenge. Sympathy is a very interesting take on Korean revenge mythology and modern society. But what that take is I'm not sure. This one is necessary for film aficionados, just for the camera set-ups and stunning color.
Dirt and Crime Infested
Last of the James Dean style actors, Mickey Rourke has a star turn as the likable, well-dressed, New York City hipster. Cool Hand Luke director, Stewart Rosenberg moves Cool Hand's story north, but this one is more for laughs than drama. Despite the fact that there is a dead detective and a missing appendage in the script, there's very little blood or violence. Mostly we watch Rourke mug for the camera.
I wonder if the thin, tall Ms. Hannah is doing any work lately. She sure can't act, but she does have a good boxing jab. She leaves the story with Rourke's stolen money. Then Rourke punches out his apartment. Then he smacks around his cousin, the good-for-nothing, Paulie. The loser always gets Rourke fired or in trouble with the local crime boss. Rourke's character prefers the wacky cousin to his model girlfriend. Go figure. That never added up. Being cool, stealing, and winning a horse race is more important than sack time for eternity with the blonde. It doesn't figure.
Geraldine Page won an Oscar, which was well deserved as the tough talking, cigarette smoking, mom of a crooked cop. New York City, circa the early 80's, before Mayor Giuliani, it's dirty and crime infested. Rourke sort of likes it that way.
Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
An Excellent Murderer
Teresa Wright, innocent young woman, lives with her Betty Crocker, mom, Patricia Collinge and her bank clerk dad. He's a detective murder enthusiast, Henry Travers. Then there's Dad's creepy pal, Hume Cronvn, with various recipes for poison. A young bespectacled sister and goofy little brother complete the family circle. Indeed, Wright is just off the set from her Mrs. Miniver performance. The virginal attitudes, the very real naiveté of 1940's small town, middle class girlhood never to be seen again, contrasts with the, ah, insertion of evil.
Uncle Charlie shows up, the beloved, world traveling, younger brother of weepy mom. Actually, he's on the lamb because his apparent wealth is accumulated after affairs with wealthy widows. Since these women had ended up in the morgue, the young detective, Macdonald Carey is on Joseph Cotton's trail. To get information, Carey woes Wright to get the goods on the Uncle. Hence, a confusing romance ensues, but can she give the detective information on her mother's favorite. It gets easier as Wright starts to get the picture.
This is Hitch's first American production and he certainly seems to enjoy the more expensive production values. The town of Santa Rosa literally pulls all the stops for the fat man. In those days, folks lived a block from the town business center. This is the same area where today there are crumbling buildings and high crime rates. In the forties, the middle class lived there, wandering the streets, walking to the library, strolling to the bank, or the local bar without a look over their shoulders. But watch out! Joseph Cotton, an excellent strangler, may be behind you.
Les invasions barbares (2003)
Who is the Barbarian?
The European style Medicare system, the fair medical practice, free for all good Canadians fostered upon liberal society, it kills patients' everyday. If you learn nothing else from The Invasion of Barbarians, you will learn that Liberalism, Socialism, and Communism in every form destroy society, killing the innocent, transforming the naive into the corrupt. Am I wrong? Isn't this the lesson we learn from our dying Liberal Social Studies Professor, Remy.
Poor Remy, he's as liberal as his young piers at Berkley; yet they have won the Socialist beauty prize, The Pulitzer. He's a Canadian, so no wonder those statues go to Americans. Those ugly Americans down there take everything from the poor French speaking Quebecians. Nevertheless, if you want a brain scan on demand, cross the St Lawrence because it ain't gonna happen in the new Canada of diversity.
Remy is a child of the 60's and as an academic propagandizing to empty-headed freshmen, he like his piers hate George Bush. That is to easy to exploit for a Righty like myself. I have always understood the Liberal Elite to be contemptuous of anyone that disagrees with the geniuses of Socialism. And Remy's Liberal pals rain down Al Gore platitudes and disdain for America, those pesky, over-fed capitalists. Remy's elitist pals tell randy stories of ribald action amidst their class, the class of divorce and infidelity. They offer lovely bromides right out of a swanky yuppie magazine. Their children, well, they could turn out as genius commodity millionaires like Remy's son Sebastian, or they could be heroin addicts like cropped-hair Natalie.
I can't help but wonder if the Barbarians the director lambastes may be his own political cast.
Kiss Me, Stupid (1964)
Can Dean Act?
Kiss Me Stupid is fair, but because it has some risqué moments, 1960's wisecracking and mild female form, it is noteworthy as a predecessor to the coming sexual revolution of the late 60's. There's a mention by lovely Felicia Farr (Zelda, Walston's harried wife) of the magazine, Playboy, referring to her amorous husband. Indeed, Hefner's hedonistic philosophy permeates the film. We see actual unheard-of-before, wife pandering between Dean Martin and Ray Walston. By 1964, this was real edgy stuff. Naturally, after a dalliance with Dino, no harm done, and Zelda is back with a more sensitive husband. This is the Heffner philosophy: If it feels good with mutual consent, then no harm done. Pleasure is its own end. Hubby meanwhile, has his indiscretion with va-va-voom, Kim Novak. The 50's star is on the hefty side as her screen siren days come to a close.
Dean Martin plays his image, the freewheeling Las Vegas cabaret singer, drunk, and a womanizer. His real persona was actually the opposite. Dino was a family man. Nevertheless, audiences loved the rat-pack joker and flocked to the screens to see the swinging Dino. One can only wonder if Dean Martin could act. We'll never find out.
Le mépris (1963)
production Within a Film
When you're married to beautiful, glamorous women as our director extraordinaire, Jean-Luc-Godard, you have your moments of doubt. You are an ordinary physical specimen and she is well, Anna Karina, or in the case of Godard's alter ego, screenwriter, Paul Javal, you have many moments of self-doubt from bedroom to sound stage with the nubile Brigitte Bardot. If I give you $30,000 in 1963 money, may I sleep with your wife? Godard invents yet another, now standard film idea, the moral curmudgeon: is my significant other a commodity.
Jack Palance leers over Brigitte and certainly, he has enough Hollywood bucks to install her in his bedroom. In fact, he has enough bucks to turn a work of art into a mass produced cliché. Skin sells in Peoria. Palance is printing dollars as he screens films for rubes, but what of true artists as say, Fritz Lang, the director that made the silent classic M. Lang works around Palance's interference. He must finish what he begins. He will not work for the Third Reich, but will work for Louis Mayer.
Godard works his camera interiors for lengthy, banal conversation between husband and naked wife. Bardot is beautiful and Godard takes every opportunity to look at her, sharing with the voyeurs. The star seems quite comfortable clothed or not. She also looks fine on a Riviera mansion of the Bauhaus architecture overlooking the Mediterranean. This is the sea of the Odyssey, which is the film within a film. Alternatively, should I say there is a production within a film.
Full Moon in Blue Water (1988)
Lately I've been on a Gene Hackman 1980's kick. Hoosiers, many folks think is the best portrayal of a sports coach, maybe the best sports film ever made. Twice in a Lifetime is a middle-aged love story of betrayal in a blue-collar family and it ranks up there as the best of Hackman's work. Then there is a less successful film, Full Moon in Blue Water.
No one in the movies in the last thirty years portrays the middle-age everyman, the tough, and hard working, Joe like Hackman. He's certainly not a romantic idol, but he is manly enough to woe Ann Margaret in Once in a Lifetime and Teri Garr in Water. In addition, Garr is very good as a faded honky-tonk town girl with widower, Hackman in her sights. The trouble, Hack is still in love with his missing spouse. He spends most of his days watching old home movies of the lost wife while his saloon business goes to pieces. Also, he must deal with a stroke victim, the father-in-law, Burgesss Meredith, the quintessential old coot.
Somehow the viewer will not believe that a capable character like Hack would let a business go to sleazy Real Estate snakes without a bar brawl. The idea that Hack would moon about the ex for a year while busty Garr is all over him; well, it doesn't add up.
Depardieu is brilliant
Vatel, perhaps a weak title to a spectacular film; it recreates the excesses of the French court in its pre-off-with-their-heads-phase. In order to escape bankruptcy, the gout afflicted Viscount must entertain the King so sumptuously and so entreatingly, that the King may commission a war with Holland, thereby paying the Viscount's debts. To keep the King and his courtiers entertained, it was no small thing, so the entire countryside is enlisted in the feasts and entertainment. None will be paid unless the banquets are a success. Louis' entourage of Queen, mistresses, and waggish cavaliers run riot through the festivities. The fete is essentially an Olympic opening parade that goes on for three days in dazzling costume orchestrated by one great artist, the Viscount's steward, Vatel.
Vatel orchestrates the extravaganzas and falls for Uma Thurman, the King's new mistress. She is not yet the jaded courtesan and sees greatness in Vatel's can-do veneer. Indeed, Vatel is a man of integrity, denying the King's pedophile brother a young kitchen boy at the risk of his life. Vatel swats away meddling noblemen and women for the entire feast while making love to Thurman, star-crossed lovers though they are. Gerard Depardieu is brilliant even with his modest grasp of English.
Yi yi (2000)
kicking little men and screechy women
I'm not going to try to get all the characters names right in Yi Yi. And there are a lot of characters, an extended family and various lovers and children. Taiwan is a modern, impressive city, a place rarely seen on American television or film. I might be looking at Manhattan rather than Taipei. The computer engineer's family, the wife with spiritual emptiness, the teen daughter involved in her first serious sexual activity, the grandmother on life support, and the eight-year old son teased to exhaustion by little girls, they live in a high-rise condominium over a raised superhighway. Then there's the née-do-well brother-in-law, so superstitious that he marries his pregnant wife only on a Chinese lucky day. His old girlfriend shows up at the wedding to raise hell. She returns at the babies Chinese confirmation for more of the same. A fight breaks out, kicking little men and screechy women.
Our engineer had walked away from a young love, and while wife is with the monks, he renews the relationship on a business trip to Tokyo. He is in love. So is she, but, I can't tell you what happens without giving away this poignant part of the plot. Engineer's daughter is having a rather unusual fling as well. I've left out a ton of information as this film was close to three hours long, but watch the beautiful cinematography of Edward Yang, and his brilliant pacing. One thinks it is real life.
Hester Street (1975)
A simple plot, no, but satisfying.
It's pretty tough to build a realistic set of the Lower East Side, New York City, 1896. The Godfather films did the best they could. When directors shoot the distant past of our great grandfathers, they usually shoot in tempera hue antiquing the scenes, so we feel we are looking through a time machine. In the case of Joan Micklin Silver's, Hester Street, she shoots with black and white stock. All I'm saying, audiences won't believe it is the past without a newsreel or spooky tempera projection.
The documentary feel to Hester Street, the authentic clothing and dialect, the old Russian to English dialect fills the viewer, especially Jewish filmgoers with a weird sense of nostalgia since no one today, in 2006 is alive to tell the immigrant story. The poverty, crowded conditions, popular prejudices, and alienation were a fact of life. It is amusing that these immigrants assimilated, learning English, building jobs, and business within two generations; all hardship forgotten consciously, but I would assert, not unconsciously.
Carol Kane, Gitl, is a wonderful young country wife flabbergasted by the modern, secular ways of America. Her husband, actor, Steven Keats has left the greenhorn, religious Jew nonsense behind as he takes on a new girlfriend, a hottie for her day. His wife arrives with child unexpectedly thwarting his plans. Keats rejects her old world ways. Waiting in the wings is a boarder, a religious man that admires Gitl. A simple plot, no, but satisfying.
Auto Focus (2002)
We Don't Care
I was optimistic for Greg Kinnear once. He was very funny ragging on Soap Soup. He usually plays the nice-guy second banana in film or a man dying of AIDS. Auto Focus gave him a chance to portray a 1960's TV icon, Hogan, in Hogan's Heroes. The replication of the original cast is a bit eerie. After all, these actors dress up as German prison guards. A chill goes down my spine, but Hogan's was a comedy, which made the series kind of a curiosity beyond the silly caricatures of those funny SS guys. Anyhow, Bob Crane played Hogan for six years and Kinnear badly imitated. Yes, I'm sorry to say, Kinnear is awful as Crane, which puts a damper on the bio-flick.
Here's a disc jockey with semi-hip 60's patter on the air with an All American family, a loving wife and cute kids. They live like Ozzie and Harriet in the LA burbs, going to Catholic Church on Sunday. Crane lands his big break, falling for the trappings of fame. Most people fall for the trappings of fame. Read the supermarket check out magazine racks. So all of a sudden, Crane's garage porn collection isn't enough. Women, very beautiful, Hollywood loose-morals women find Crane and his buddy William Defoe irresistible. The birth of the video camera comes into play.
The trouble with the script or maybe it's the cardboard way Kinnear acts, we watch but in the end, we don't care.
Donnie Darko (2001)
Donnie Darko is a teen horror film. In addition, it's a teen romance. In addition, Donnie Darko is a Hamletian study in familial relationship. The viewer never really knows whether Donnie, a brilliant high school kid is wacko or completely sane while his adult world is nutty. I particularly liked the scenes with the lady-shrink where under hypnosis Donnie has a self-pleasuring moment. Things can go wrong in those shrink sessions for sure.
There are two groups of adults here, the Democrats and the Republicans. Dukakis is smart and thoughtful. Bush 1 is stammering and smarmy. The Physical Education teacher is new-age bunko, book burning, inflexible along with her idol, Patrick Swayze, as the handsome motivational speaker with one message, there's Fear and Love. To contrast, Drew Barrymore plays the really cool young English teacher that gets canned for being too Liberal. Donnie rebels and insists there is a world of grays out there, not black and white. Okay, this is relativism which has it's own critics. I'd go along with the evil Dan Quail idea if it were more developed, but good and evil in Darko is pretty cardboard.
I'm not at all sure why Kelly decided it was important to do a 1988 film in 2001. You got me on that one. There's as much political animosity and self-help gobblygook today as there was in the 80's. I can only assume that the 80's was a crucible for the director.
Finally, Darko is an incredibly creative film, very interesting to watch visually as things might fall out of the sky at any moment. Donnie walks through life in movie time, effortlessly burning down buildings while his girlfriend sleeps during a movie date. My teen dates were never like that.
Domicile conjugal (1970)
No #4 in the Antoine series, five films beginning with 400 Blows, Antoine, the dreamer, has got himself a fine young wife, his opposite really, prim and well mannered. Their romantic first year is a series of funny neighbors and comical whimsy. I learned how to die the color of flowers, more interesting than one would think. I learned about hurrying a wife along by throwing her coat and bag down a stairway. I learned that relationships go wrong when one gives in to lust. Hey, I knew that.
Jean-Pierre Leaud has a physical resemblance to Truffaut. These episodic films, the ones in color that I have seen remind one of a HBO mini-series. His autobiographical Doinel is from a broken family. In the 400 blows, a masterpiece really of the New French Cinema in the late 50's, we see the lonely kid grasping for understanding. In subsequent films, we see the young adult Doinel grasp at relationship and career. The next beautiful woman is always around the corner. In Bread and Board, the femme fatale is 70's Japanese Go Go Chick, Hiroko Berghauer. Notice the heavy eye make-up on the women that make them look like zombies.
Prefer to Remember
Here's another youth film recommended to me because I'm writing a book on the subject. Fandango is John Hughized by Kevin Reynolds seven years after Animal House defined frat life in the 1960-78 period. Judd Nelson plays the rich kid with the Flounder like Cadillac to destroy on a road trip. Nelson is a nebbish, future Viet Nam bound Officer. He's trying to improve his resume while fighting self-doubt and cowardice. Weren't we all? I liked the Texas, Austin angle in Fandango. Kevin Costner, thin and handsome with a drawling twang essentially propels himself to stardom in this vehicle as the worldly, cynical, fast talking frat boy leader. Chuck Bush is another Texas hunk who has dumped his girl at the alter although she had a fling with the Costner character sometime in the near past. Suzy Amis looks pretty, but does not have one line in the film.
These college films depict with comical exaggeration hedonistic behavior during the last period in youth where one can act like a child and it's rather expected. So while mom and dad dream of the kid's future career as an accountant, the kid is drunk with his girlfriend on top of a pile of beer cans. Ah, those formative years. The trouble is: films like Fandango are not about the choices of adulthood; these films glorify the unforgettable friendships of fleeting childhood, and that's what we old farts prefer to remember.
The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
What really bothered me about Hudsucker Proxy: Capitalism is the wonder of the world providing food and subsidence to everyone, even Communist slaves and Fascist toady's under a democratic people; yet, Hollywood insists on blasting Corporate Culture, when the overwhelming majority of businessmen are not only honest, they are exemplary.
So much Hollywood talent and money wasted on a bad idea, so what else is new? The Coen's have jumped the shark with this take off of the American Screwball Comedy of the 30's. I cringed every time Jennifer Jason Leigh tried to imitate Katharine Hepburn's classic gargle. The poor actress may have destroyed her career with this stinker.
I can't stand Tim Robbin's politics, but must admit that he is the best actor to play a fool in the movies. He almost carries this farce. Paul Newman; however, is collecting a check. He's been collecting checks since the 50's. His salad dressing stinks too.
I'm amazed at how much money the Coen's command in Hollywood on such flimsy pitches. I loved Fargo and enjoyed The Big Lebowski (not as much as some cult fans), but this film, why did they bother?
À nous la liberté (1931)
Early Talkie Comedy
It's obvious Clair is a Charles Chaplain fan. Movies had come out of their infancy with Chaplain as the comedy pioneer. Today critics are not as enamored with the little tramp as the critics from the Twenties and Thirties, but Rene Clair makes the most of slapstick comedy or should I say he subdues it just enough to find his own signature.
Clearly, the new talkies confused comedy directors. A Nous la Liberte, the story of two escaped French convicts, were conceived as a silent film. Then music, songs and spare dialogue was inserted tentatively. The actors, Raymond Cordy as the nuevo rich industrialist and Henri Marchard as the Chaplain like tramp speak sparingly, but they do gesture as silent film actors.
Much has been discussed about Chaplain's supposed rip off. City Lights was made five years later and Chaplain and all his production people swore they never saw the French film. Clair himself declared his admiration for Chaplain, his delight that his master would use Clair's material. So this is a bit confusing. The scenes of industrial automation, assembly line inhumanity, were indeed similar in both films. The 20th Century factory was a discussion of that time. Was it dehumanizing or did it provide a better life than the idealized farm memory of the fading 19th Century? Are these films declarations for 1930's Socialism or Fascism? Personally, knowing the politics of Chaplain at least, we can see that the intellectuals preferred Socialism.
Far North (1988)
Back in the late 60's I attended a college in Superior, Wisconsin. I was from Philadelphia, Pa and had never experienced the cold and long winters near the small city of Duluth, MN. I met hard drinking people there (there's nothing else to do), blond as Jessica Lange with Scandinavian or Polish accents, many of them. There were good people and bad. The men worked the port ships or the railroad yards. The blizzards were like nothing I have ever seen.
Charles Durning gets a fat man's star turn. Dunning has been thrown by his farm horse and wants the animal shot by his daughter, Jessica Lange. She protests, but agrees to shoot the animal. She's back from the Twin Cities where she works as a professional woman with one in the oven. The old man is in the hospital with wild delusions about the horse, his Alzheimer wife, and life on the farm and it's bitter cold. The drunken Uncle sidekick doesn't help either. Also, there's the younger daughter, unmarried with a teen daughter. The teen, blond as her sisters, is soon to get it on with as many young hockey players as possible.
This is Sam Sheppard's first directorial film with plenty of farce, which gets heavy handed, so the viewer never really gets a grip on the emotional lives of these crazy folks. Maybe that's it. Their lives by Lake Superior are so harsh, they cannot communicate a sensible thought. Nevertheless, Far North is a snapshot of an out of the way, beautiful place that will interest the curious.
All That Heaven Allows (1955)
Sirk Saves Bad Material
The first thing a viewer notices about All that Heaven Allows is the startling widescreen, gorgeous color of a fantasy American autumn of an indeterminate region, a 1950's Disneyland interpretation of 1955, an updated Currier and Ives back lot. I'm not sure the print is totally preserved; it seems that the reds prevail on leaf and women's hairdo. Nevertheless, for the entire production, color is the star.
The documentary about Douglas Sirk didn't say much other than the fellow ran from the Nazi's to direct Hollywood melodrama's of dubious artistic merit. If we compare the greatest film of the period by Hitchcock, Vertigo, and put it along side ATHA, there's no contest. Vertigo clobbers the melodrama in every department. The best we can say about Sirk, he has been given crummy material, and he makes something of it. Hitchcock is working with fabulous material and he makes the Mona Lisa out of it.
Cult classics connect with audiences in unintended, ironic ways. ATHA is essentially a saga of Jane Wyman's widowhood and reawakened sexuality. The object of these affections is the ultimate 1950's irony, the most beautiful virile man in Hollywood, Rock Hudson playing an Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged type of philosopher, a blue collar stud. So, we know Rock died of AIDS years later as his career declined behind a screen of clucking gay bashers. Our present knowledge ads bizarre relief to otherwise envious males or women with less confidence; they know he's a fake.
Since the original audience took this material about rigid class structures in the 50's seriously, something must be said about 50's sociology. After the disasters of Depression and War, Americans wanted to settle down, have babies, and make money, which they did. Affordable financing and the automobile made the suburban tract home dream possible. Little towns of New England, anywhere USA, were mythologized. The train ride to work in the big city, the ladies homemaking, clubbing, and for the well to do, the certainty of the country club and folks just like us, the right kind of folks, all this was coveted by all classes and curiously simulated by blacks, but that's another story. Read Ralph Ellison's, Invisible Man.
This was the hay day of Freudian influence fifty years after the old man discovered what made the noodle tick. Everyone in Hollywood was on the couch with Freud's dubious descendants. So Wyman's daughter spouts school book Freud and Wyman looks deadpan constipated through most of the film. Her Betty Crocker hairdo doesn't help. No wonder Ron Reagan let her go. Jane Wyman in the White House, ha ha. The French ambassador would be running America. Enjoy!
Cinderella Man (2005)
No Academy Award?
This film didn't get a nod for the Academy Award in 2005. The reason, many reasons, but I might sum up Liberal Hollywood's aversion to a conservative manly man, succeeding against all odds in a tough world isn't the same as two less manly men, Truman Capote, race obsessed cops, or an effeminate Transsexual whining about a tough world run by gasp, Bush!!!! Those warm sepia toned 1930's are recreated for us by Ron Howard. Not much fun starving to death is there? Yet Crowe's Braddock, an injured fighter working the docks to support his family, he doesn't cry. He does what he has to do without stealing or sniveling. He is forever optimistic despite all setbacks. He is a beacon of light for his hungry family. This is undoubtedly the Story of Seabiscuit on two legs, but because we are dealing with one of the best film actors in the world, we can empathize readily.
Forget Rocky, CM has the best fight scenes I have ever seen. Sure, they are choreographed, but who cares. We really hated Max Baer and Braddock handles the fool, no prob. Thanks for the uplifting, Conservative message, Ron Howard.