Thursday, February 16, 2023
GIRLFRIENDS but the cult seems to have grown since that time which likely comes from airings on TCM which is where I first saw it, rep screenings at places like the New Beverly in L.A. and Metrograph in New York, a Criterion Blu-ray loaded with special features as well as every time someone on Film Twitter discovers Stanley Kubrick was a big fan. This newfound rep is well deserved, since GIRLFRIENDS is a wonderfully insightful look at female friendship and having to sometimes keep going on your own that still feels relatable forty-five years after it was released. See it if you haven’t. So far there hasn’t been the same level of appreciation for IT’S MY TURN, the one and only other feature directed by Claudia Weill which followed in 1980 and is probably now best known for giving the world the adult contemporary staple that is the Diana Ross song of the same name. In the years following, Weill continued to work in television and theater along with teaching at various universities but there haven’t been any other features, which seems at least partly due to a horrible experience with producer Ray Stark on this film, as discussed by her in the 2021 Vanity Fair article “Promising Young Women”. This of course is unfortunate for all sorts of reasons, not the least that it would have been nice to get more films along the lines of GIRLFRIENDS if on a larger scale and while IT’S MY TURN never becomes as effective as that debut, it does display its own kind of potential in a lightly enjoyable way that now plays as an early version of the sort of thing the likes of Nicole Holofcener would go on to do. The difference is this one was made by a big studio and produced by people who would maybe be more at home with, say, a plot driven script of the sort someone like Ray Stark was probably used to. As a result, the film that came out of this feels like it’s fighting against any semblance of high concept in the story line and maybe plays as most comfortable when it’s in no rush whatsoever. Running only about ninety minutes, the film never quite surpasses the feeling of being a little too slight but is still quietly satisfying in a modest, hopeful way. ROMANCING THE STONE, matches up well with her playing someone equally at sea in his own life—we don't know the full extent until near the end—looking for something that makes him feel as good as when he played ball. He brings a welcome energy and you can always feel Douglas trying to make the scenes work, as if trying to needle Clayburgh in character to add chemistry to their relationship. This is especially spotlighted during a stretch of the film that goes on for roughly ten minutes with the two of them in her hotel room, doing little more than flirting, kissing, talking, bickering, then agreeing to table things and the patience the film displays at times is admirable with a flow to how these moments are just allowed to happen. If it had kept this going for much of the running time, maybe even turning that one night into the entire film like the Richard Linklater BEFORE series did much later on, instead of getting bogged down in side issues and characters who get introduced then disappear, it might have been something really special. Some of those scenes end practically before they’ve even begun, abruptly cut short before there can be any real emotional effect, making one wonder why the film bothered with them at all unless it was simply to get the movie to feature length. It’s the inner workings of the chemistry between Clayburgh and Douglas that the movie feels like it wants to explore, one which is worth exploring with a tension to it all as he challenges her but it still feels effortless and could likely support the entire movie if it wanted to spend that much time with them. SIMON can be spotted playing at Cinema II across the street from Bloomingdale’s) is an extended sequence set at Yankee Stadium where Ben takes Kate to what turns out to be an Old Timer’s Day featuring the likes of Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Whitey Ford among many others which would likely be a treat for any longtime New Yorker/Yankee/baseball fan--according to imdb, filmed at the actual old-timers day on June 21, 1980 when I was likely across town being taken to see the Broadway musical BARNUM for my birthday. The ex-ballplayer played by Michael Douglas is right there alongside them, of course still looking pretty young and trim (a shoulder injury ended Ben’s career, so we’re told). Kate asks someone how old you have to be to be an Old Timer and she’s told, “Not old. Just finished,” which is a little on the nose but still a reminder of how you have to decide if you want to be finished or not. The sequence goes on much longer than necessary since it doesn’t really serve any real purpose past a certain point—again, it feels like stretching things out to get to the 90-minute mark—but it does tie into the overall theme of Ben being someone who was forced to give up his career but still has to live the rest of his life. It all doesn’t necessarily have to be etched in stone for Kate who still has the power to change things. What’s missing is a way to somehow firm down the concept beyond various scenes that serve as little more than casual get-togethers and dinners where people get acquainted. In spite of what the basic logline sounds like it might be it never becomes a movie centered around a wedding or even the weirdness of two kids of an older married couple falling for each other. “I love you, sis,” is a pretty good line that goes by fast so the whole thing is basically a nonissue and even when the actual ceremony comes the sequence is over with pretty quick. The film is more about the chemistry that quickly develops and the question of whether their lives will allow it to keep going. Through all this, moments of sensitivity stick out even if they don’t feel quite connected to the whole, like Steven Hill and Beverly Garland excusing themselves from their wedding when she sees he’s feeling tired, a small moment where something goes unspoken that becomes much more effective than all the conversations whether it’s not entirely clear what dialogue is specifically referring to and what we’re supposed to take from it. AN UNMARRIED WOMAN and STARTING OVER but even during moments where the plot seems to be straining to explain her feels she always feels so relatable that it elevates things closer to where it needs to be. Even when a scene doesn’t quite click what’s always most important is that sense of yearning in her eyes. Some of Michael Douglas’ character almost is played between the lines or in asides meant to explain him a little too easily, how he is looking for something to care about now since baseball is no longer there, while Charles Grodin in a more relaxed mode than he often is paints a fleshed out portrayal of someone who simply wants to be comfortable. The always dependable Steven Hill and Beverly Garland aren’t quite around as much as you’d expect them to be but they bring some added gravitas to the family relations. There’s also early appearances by Daniel Stern (like in the previous year’s STARTING OVER, playing a student in a classroom) and the recently departed Charles Kimborough (also briefly in, what do you know, STARTING OVER) plus Dianne (spelled Diane) Weist in her first film, introduced as a close friend and is allowed to make a nice impression but not much more than that, really one moment where she offers some boilerplate advice then that’s about it.
Saturday, November 19, 2022
CISCO PIKE which at a certain point became another one of my obsessions. Soon after the place reopened in 2021 post-lockdown there was another viewing of TWO-LANE BLACKTOP, this time paired with COCKFIGHTER which also was directed by Monte Hellman and starred Warren Oates. But deep down I was there to see TWO-LANE BLACKTOP again. It’s a film I still think about and seeing it after a year of being stuck at home was a reminder of what it can be like to get lost in such a movie when it’s there in front of you, to dream of being that free along with the limitations of that freedom which eventually become clear as they always do. Hitting the road without a care of where I’m going still sounds nice but it’s not going to happen right now. Maybe watching this film late at night, because this is a perfect film to put on late at night, helps me do it in my dreams. But where do I go next? Is there an answer? Maybe I’m searching for that too. Searching for why I still do certain things. EASY RIDER period the film still manages to feel outside of the time it was likely meant to capitalize on while still fully a part of that, more about people drifting away from the mainstream than heading towards the counterculture who may have been attracted to it. And even though I wasn’t around at the time to speak to how all this might have felt, right now when TWO-LANE BLACKTOP plays the reaction I always have feels like the real deal as I drift along like these people in my own form of isolation. Only, like I already said, I’m not going anywhere right now.
Thursday, September 8, 2022
MODEL SHOP. But it’s FIVE EASY PIECES that she’s known for which among other things plays now as one of the definitive portrayals of the onscreen Jack Nicholson persona and all the possibilities of what could really be done in a movie found in the glory days of ‘70s cinema. MAN TROUBLE doesn’t really have much to do with any of those things and even after several recent viewings part of me is still trying to clarify just what it is beyond an attempt at a light, goofy comedy that contains traces of what could be a more intricate character piece if you peer close enough, made by people who are probably more at home with much darker material. At the very least there’s a specificity to the dialogue at times that helps it seem like it’s coming from a personal place, at least on an observational level for the screenwriter, along with a certain low-concept vibe to the setup which at times approaches being charming in a zero stakes way. THE PLEDGE) have a little more edge to them, somehow preventing him from falling back on his usual tics but this film doesn’t do much to help that theory. Still, you watch him for a few isolated minutes here you might think it’s a better movie than it is, the way he always seems ready to dive in and look like a crazy person if need be with undeniable glimmers of that sharp coming timing when you least expect it. There are also such glimmers in Ellen Barkin, at her best here when she’s relaxed but at times feeling like she’s not getting the right direction. Revisiting THE BIG EASY recently was a reminder that Ellen Barkin in that film is one of the reasons the motion picture camera was invented in the first place and getting her in another romantic comedy should be flawless but the film around her doesn’t offer the support that she needs. Beverly D’Angelo, another personal favorite now and always, has moments but they seem isolated, never giving her enough of a chance to take over a scene the way her character seems to want to. Maybe the film just needed more of those moments and figure out how to use them, like the way everything stops to let Harry Dean Stanton’s lawyer played by Saul Rubinek compliment Barkin on the time her saw her perform the Battle Hymn of the Republic at the Hollywood Bowl and when he begins singing it himself it feels like the sort of effortless digression the movie could use more of. Paul Mazursky turns up too and, like a number of other actors in the film who maybe aren’t always seen at their best, at the very least it’s nice to have him around for a few minutes.