Monday, March 17, 2014
THE QUICK AND THE DEAD. It had been even longer than that since I had sold him a copy of the paperback of the novel “A Simple Plan” by Scott Smith at a bookstore I was working at I Brentwood back in those days, as I’ve written about before. THE QUICK AND THE DEAD was not a box office success and this return to directing (the intervening years saw him working in television including executive producing the HERCULES and XENA shows) was a drastic departure from his previous films, dialing down the stylistic extremes of his visual style known from the all-holy EVIL DEAD series to practically nothing, essentially plunking the camera down on sticks and simply photographing the actors.
Thursday, March 6, 2014
SWITCH starring Ellen Barkin as a male chauvinist turned into a gorgeous blonde. While it’s easy to imagine that the worldwide success of LA CAGE AUX FOLLES at the time helped to get VICTOR/VICTORIA green lit, the film (based on the 1934 German film VIKTOR AND VIKTORIA written by Reinhold Schunzel—Edwards wrote the screenplay for his version by himself) feels like the director’s own ultimate examination of sexual identity and just about every shot, every line of dialogue, seems to address the thesis somehow. One musical number in particular speaks to this, a line of four dancers at the Chez Louise nightclub, all appearing as men on one side and women on the other with every other dancer the ‘real’ male or female version. The music changes tempo continually through the routine, fast to slow, manic to serene, in a way that makes it an encapsulation of the very film it’s a part of, complimenting the farce in just the right way. Coming immediately off of S.O.B., which even now plays as one of Edwards’ most bitter films (in all the best ways, of course), VICTOR/VICTORIA is one of his most completely endearing, displaying a true love for the characters who are involved in their own version of this nightclub dance routine. Even with the continual appearances of physical humor that are fully expected from this director (“That stool is broken.” “It is?”) it has a true lyricism not often found in his films, BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S aside. Warner Archive) features Blake Edwards as writer and director at his very best. Upon release it was one of the most acclaimed films of his career and the seven Oscar nominations included one for his screenplay, the only one he ever received in his career. Julie Andrews was also nominated as were Robert Preston and Lesley Ann Warren but in the end the only Oscar it won went to Henry Mancini and lyricist Leslie Bricusse for the song score. One of the other films that year of course was Sydney Pollack’s TOOTSIE, a very different cross-dressing farce made by a director not exactly known for comedy but in some ways on both a thematic and dramatic level it does stick the landing that VICTOR/VICTORIA doesn’t quite nail. Again, I suppose this is a minor issue considering how much joy VICTOR/VICTORIA continues to provide to this day. In his beyond ecstatic rave in the New York Times Vincent Canby stated that the film is “so good, so exhilarating, that the only depressing thing about it is the suspicion that Mr. Edwards is going to have a terrible time trying to top it.” His immediate followups were both TRAIL and CURSE OF THE PINK PANTHER, so, well, yeah, and nothing else over the following decade approached the level of acclaim that this film received (this also included directing a stage version of VICTOR/VICTORIA on Broadway starring Andrews which opened in 1995) although I am on record already as liking a few of them, maybe more than the rest of the world does. So while the likes of S.O.B. might be the sort of Blake Edwards-infused whiskey that I prefer downing on more occasions than not and while everything in VICTOR/VICTORIA isn’t as good as its best moments it has still aged absolutely beautifully which stands as a testament to the talents of its director, talents which maybe still aren’t as appreciated as they should be. But I suppose that’s the way it sometimes is in such a crazy world.
Thursday, February 27, 2014
ANOTHER 48 HRS. directed by Hill on which Matthew F. Leonetti also served as director of photography relies more on close-ups than Hill had done earlier in his career. When Sunny and Rafe reenter the story in the second half it’s frankly a joy to watch them and I certainly wouldn’t mind a few more scenes of just the two actors playing them snarling at each other but in keeping the pace going the film doesn’t waste time moving towards the second big heist either. More than anything it’s hurt by how the final section post-heist feels like a process of moving chess pieces into place more than telling the story of the title character since while things should barrel forward at this point there are the issues of laundering the money and certain people learning Johnny’s true identity and getting everyone to the same place for the climax. If it could have accomplished all this sooner while paying attention to the arc of the title character and run only 75 minutes, like the mythical black & white verison I mentioned, it might have been better than just another cool Walter Hill film. It might have been a minor classic. DESPERATE HOURS and HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN came after, followed by oblivion for a few years). It’s an unusual close to that period if that’s the case considering how much the character is supposed to be a blank, with his most emotional moments coming before his face changes. At first speechless at the sight of his new face, afterwards it’s as if he allows the blank of his new face to work for him, to play off of the much bigger performances around him and it’s continually fascinating to watch. Ellen Barkin (in one of two films released in September ’89—the other was SEA OF LOVE which also starred, what do you know, Al Pacino and was directed by Harold Becker) is phenomenal here, ferociously and terrifyingly sexy, fearless, grabbing hold of every scene she’s in and biting off every last ounce of meat she can find. The name Sunny couldn’t possibly seem less appropriate for her character and Barkin plays it as if she thought Marie Windsor in THE KILLING was too nice and sweet—when she tells Rourke, her old DINER co-star, that he’s giving her bad thoughts one can’t help but wonder what sort of thoughts she’d been having beforehand. She’s absolutely fearless here, taunting Johnny with a cry of “geek” like the kids who teased him when he was a kid, and the way her voice goes down on the word ‘gave’ when she says, “Either that or I gave it away” to Henriksen makes me think statues should be erected in her honor.
Monday, February 10, 2014
THE LONG GOODBYE (and if you haven’t seen their first, CINDERELLA LIBERTY, go and take care of that) and also features Sharon Stone right in the middle of her post-BASIC INSTINCT hot streak, presumably trying to play against type by taking the role of the unhappy wife instead of the flashier part of the other woman. But ultimately INTERSECTION (screenplay by David Rayfiel and Marshall Brickman based on the 1970 French film LES CHOSES DE LA VIE) is a movie where not very much happens, as indicated by the synopsis above, and even what does occur onscreen never has the metaphorical significance that the film clearly is going for.
Friday, January 31, 2014
HOPSCOTCH directed by Ronald Neame and starring Walter Matthau & Glenda Jackson which begat FIRST MONDAY IN OCTOBER directed by Ronald Neame and starring Walter Matthau & Jill Clayburgh. Well, I guess Glenda Jackson wouldn’t have been ideal casting to play a Supreme Court justice. Released in August 1981 (same day as AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, speaking of films you’d think I would have written about by now), FIRST MONDAY IN OCTOBER had its release apparently pushed up several months when the selection of Sandra Day O’Connor as the first ever female Supreme Court justice rendered its storyline somewhat out of date or at the very least fortuitously timely. Based on a stage play which was first produced at the Cleveland Play House in 1975 starring Melvyn Douglas and Jean Arthur (“Within the province of dramatic jurisprudence it is a draggy, flaccid unconvincing brief” so said the Time Magazine review) the film followed a mere six years later yet it feels like a case of an adaptation that was already a little behind the times. The result is 98 minutes that feel sporadically engaging yet I wish it were sharper, I wish that its characters had more interesting and clever things to say during their bickering when the points being made should have all the fire imaginable. When the play premiered on Broadway in 1978 it starred Henry Fonda and Jane Alexander but didn’t run more than a couple of months and hasn’t been revived very much since. It’s not exactly a dinner theater-ready evergreen like a few of the Neil Simon adaptations Matthau starred in during this period and it’s also very much a product of its era, just barely anyway—this film could be the answer to a trivia question, ‘Name another Paramount release that opened the summer of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK’ and that right there is maybe an indication of how this sort of thing was quickly going out of style as the 80s progressed. Like HOPSCOTCH, which came out less than a year earlier, it manages to be pleasant but is also somewhat strained, never as much of a smoothly enjoyable easy listening piece of music the way that earlier Matthau-Neame collaboration is. GAMBIT) is polite and workmanlike but aside from knowing how to frame all this for 2.35 in a way that makes what comes from the stage as visually active as possible (points to veteran cinematographer Fred J. Koenekamp as well) there’s really not much to be done to make it a movie since it really is ultimately a play. It’s the sort of film where with little else to think about I find myself paying attention to what a bad job Clayburgh does parking a car in one scene, shades of Janet Maslin’s negative review in The New York Times in which for some reason she complains about a film that opens in August being set in the winter. It’s like the film rubbed her the wrong way but since it’s not quite a ‘bad’ movie per se she couldn’t quite pinpoint exactly why (going along with their review of the original stage production, Time Magazine didn’t like the movie much either). Featuring a moment where Matthau high-fives the sole African-American judge on the court, the film doesn’t seem to have much of an opinion about anything that gets discussed beyond the pomp & circumstance of the traditions of the Supreme Court along with playing variations of “Stars & Stripes Forever” over establishing shots which feels like a way to somehow try to open things up. trailer which I vaguely remember from way back then) and never saw because they were rated R or simply not for kids in general so for reasons that I could never possibly explain I’ve always been curious about them. More often than not they’re the sort of films that aren’t made by major studios anymore but I get to finally seek them out. On principle, I’m fine with something like FIRST MONDAY IN OCTOBER (available now from the Warner Archive if you're so inclined) and I don’t mind at all that I saw it, not one bit. But even if its premise is dated it still doesn’t have the snap that the best possible version of the storyline might have had. As a movie it’s pleasant but unmemorable and that’s really about it. So I just need to move onto the next film I’ve always wondered about, whatever that is. And it may be better, but most likely it won’t have the glorious sight of Walter Matthau fumbling with chopsticks and if nothing else at least FIRST MONDAY IN OCTOBER has that.