mdewey

IMDb member since January 2002
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    75+
    IMDb Member
    18 years

Reviews

A Dandy in Aspic
(1968)

A Dandy of Spy-Schtick
Very entertaining late 60's Cold War romp through Britain and Germany. Excellent realism (Russian agent heroin user who longs for home simultaneously with the next hit!) and Laurence Harvey's cold, matter-of-fact demeanor as the disgruntled agent who is pretty much fed up with the whole political spy scene. He turned out to be a super choice for this role!

Also, Mia Farrow is excellent as the ditsy, naive "bird" who takes a fancy to LH's counterpoint character. But the real kudos go to Peter Cook, the mod devil-may-care chap who supplies to LH all the pertinent spy goings-on with a mordant, off-color humorous style. (Note his playboy flirtations juxtaposed with his serious delineations of Home Office tidbits to LH at the penthouse tower bar in Germany.) Lionel Stander gets in a good dry line or two as a Russian agent who confronts LH in Germany. Quincy Jones gets my musical kudos for the tasteful soundtrack! Finally, the ending is also tastefully done, all too apropos for LH's downward spiraling lifestyle.

Fade to Black
(2006)

You want historical facts, read a History book!!
Our subject film gets underway by showing Mr. Welles in a very inauspicious light, as evidenced by his tepid, if not sarcastic, reception at the Rome airport as he arrived at the terminal almost unnoticed and visibly upstaged by Ty Power's arrival. But what's our guy to do given his current set of circumstances brought upon him by Ms. Hayworth giving him the old heave-ho and thereby ending their marriage?

So now he's in post WWII Rome where he shall try to undergo some face saving (he hopes) by attempting to reinvigorate his career by directing his slightly convoluted version of Othello that starts to look like a comedy of errors at the immediate onset of this dubious production.

But camp turns to tragedy as one of the actors gets murdered not long into the production. The dying thespian whispers something into Mr. Welles' ear just before passing on, and now a whole new chain of events starts to take place. One mystery begets other mysteries in a sort of arithmetic progression and the serious side of this drama/mystery starts to unfold. And this part of the film shows an understated, realistic Orson Welles who stumbles about looking for murder clues amidst a truly chaotic time in Italy. No star fanfare or ballyhoo here as he undertakes this complex task.

After all, it is post WWII Italy and the country is in total upheaval as large segments of the populace live in dire poverty. Added to this is a loose but dangerous amalgamation of ex-Nazis, dope dealers, neo-Fascists, US & other Allied forces' mercenaries acting under the guise of the political umbrella called the Christian Democrats who purportedly want to democratize Italy and make it a safe haven for democracy, out of Stalin's Communist Party's reach. Welles stumbles into these characters as he proceeds with trying to find more facts surrounding the murder on his set and ends up in a bailiwick of troubling surprises in so doing. What he sees, hears and learns from one of his old friend American colleagues (Chris Walken's role) and others in the aforementioned umbrella group is what drives the latter part of the film and pieces together the political ramifications of what transpires here. Was this a true account of what actually happened in post WWII Italy's chaotic time of turmoil? As was said toward the film's conclusion: "You want facts, read a History book!" At least there you will find out one person's view of the facts...Welcome to the real world!!

The Pawnbroker
(1964)

Life in the bleak urban battleground
Might be Rod Steiger's most morose and bleakest role. As an Auschwitz survivor whose family were raped and tortured there, he feels a veritable menagerie of despair because of the guilt he feels for his inability to extricate them from the camp and for the guilt he feels because he somehow managed to make it out. His job as the titled pawnbroker does nothing but fuel more fire to his dire situation in life as he is cast among the severest cases of poverty in his store's Harlem neighborhood. Added to that, he has to front his store for a despicable vice lord (Brock Peters) so that he can at least make a modicum of income.

Sounds and is grim but is, to me, the quintessential ground breaker of the ultra-realistic urban life dramas that were to unfold in the latter 60's and early 70's. Rod plays his part to perfection as a lifeless, embittered old man who has seen too much in one lifetime. The aforementioned Brock Peters along with Ray St. Jacques, Jaime Sanchez (his apprentice) and others flavor this dramatic pot even more so with their poignant portrayals of their respective characters, each of whom has fallen victim to the scourges of his ghetto habitat.

I shall not offer up where and how the redemptive transformation occurs in our principal, except to say watch the entire movie and see for yourself how it all unfolds. Truly, a time-tested masterpiece!

The Iron Lady
(2011)

All Hail to the PM, the wife & the mum!!
I'm one of the few reviewers who enjoyed our subject film for just what it was, in and of itself. To provide a thoroughly accurate and comprehensive biography of our subject here would probably require a 10 hour or longer saga to accurately portray all the salient events of Mrs. Thatcher's expansive career/life!! What Phyllida Lloyd, Abi Morgan & co. chose to do was to capture more of a personal & introspective view of our subject without going into some dreadfully long details & analyses of a myriad of events. We see here instead the subtly imperfect Maggie juxtaposed with the stately and politically resolute Mrs. Thatcher in a host of different circumstances, from her youthful upbringings to her declining & more introspective elder years.

The entire entourage of cast & crew did such a wonderful job of setting up Ms. Streep, not only physically but also emotionally & psychologically, to Mrs. Thatcher's own persona. Ms. Streep totally absorbed her character to the point where she seemed to be a reincarnation of the actual Mrs. Thatcher herself! Jim Broadbent's role as the semi-deceased (now you see me, now you don't!) husband was spot on and chock full of incisively clever and self effacing humorous tidbits. Shout-outs are in order to the remainder of the cast & crew, too numerous to mention here!! At any rate, a great job by all, as it was most assuredly a well spent 105 minutes of my time!!

Jackie Brown
(1997)

Jackie Brown getting' down!!
It may be old news now, but Quentin T. showed out in this fast and sassy maxi-scam caper flick. He couldn't have hired a better acting ensemble to pull this off, to wit, Pam Grier, Robert Forster, Sammy J., Bobby D., Brigid F., Chris Tucker, Michael K., etc.

For starters, I think this is the best performance of Pam G's career: she exhibits a multi-dimensional persona here I have never seen her pull off before. For example, notice how she effortlessly segues from the street-savvy demeanor whilst in the company of Sammy J., etc., to the middle-class, nice girl, good-diction modus operandi when she's in the company of the the likes of Robert F. She shows how tight her game really is and isn't afraid to do whatever it takes to pull off her intended caper.

Robert F., mild of manner and well composed, is cast as the antithesis of the Sammy J. character who is a down-and-dirty, bombastic rascal. Notice how Robert F's character, a white bail-bondsman, effortlessly mixes in well with people of color without being obsequious or trying to be hip: He is merely himself and lets that fact set the tone for whatever may ensue.

Sammy J. is his usual awesome self, with great support from Bobby D. and Brigid F. That unholy trio makes sparks fly as the drama unfolds. Notice how Bobby D's character slowly shifts gears from a mellow understated ex-con to a violent shooter when he becomes unduly provoked: a nice touch from Mr. DeNiro.

Quentin T's usually crisp directorial skills are in evidence here, as his cutting in and moving back and forth in time work very well. His rewinds in time allow the viewer to see the same scenes from another vantage point so that one can see the logical progression of events from several angles. All that and an awesome, cleverly positioned soundtrack that kicks much booty! How about "Across 110th Street" at the ending? Did she "get across" or what?!

This is my favorite Quentin T. film: ya gotta check it out!

The Americanization of Emily
(1964)

...It's a 60's thing, you might not...!
A great anti-war "war" movie with some of the most articulate, dryly humorous sketches & lines ever penned. The entire cast, headed by James Garner & Julie Andrews shines in this tour-de-force revolved around a fictional story set in Great Britain during the D-Day invasion time period. Some modern audiences may eschew this triumph of substance over form due to the subtle and extremely literate bantering back & forth among the film's characters. No gratuitous sex & violence scenes here as the real meat of this picture lies in the inherent subtlety of its message.

My favorite scene, which to me encapsulates the real thread of this story, is the garden scene where James & Julie & especially Joyce Grenfell (Julie's screen mom here) totally lambast the phony pretexts of war in general in a most cutting & articulate fashion, due in no small part to Paddy Chayefsky's fabulous screenplay adaptation.

Rather than list individual names, suffice it to say (again!) that the entire cast shone here in director Arthur Hiller's masterpiece, delicately augmented by a classic Johnny Mandel original soundtrack and his timeless rendering of the film's title song. Oh well, maybe it's a 60's thing and some may not quite understand!! (LOL)

Hard Contract
(1969)

Hit man hits bottom
This is by no means a suspenseful edge of your seat offering, but it is somewhat enjoyable due to the film locations and the soul searching, quasi-existential dialog that seems to question morality, or lack thereof, in so many shapes and forms. To hit or not to hit, (another human being, that is!), is one of our tiring assassin's (James Coburn) looming questions. So much for hitting others for the so called good of freedom and democracy; our lead character is finding in himself an evolution of kindness and tenderness, brought upon in no small manner by the vivacious femme fatale (Lee Remick) who slowly but surely brings into focus things our lead character has ignored all too often during the course of his existence.

The plot works its way to a mainly Mediterranean and European base of operations and the entire cast seems to have fun in throwing their metaphorical two cents worth of philosophical rambling. Lili Palmer, Burgess Meredith and Sterling Hayden provide the best lines of the supporting crew and all provide our lead actor with plenty of set-up lines for his consumption and subsequent reaction.

Not a great movie, but a fun glimpse into a sample of the film making mode of the latter 60's. In short, a nice hour and forty-five minute escapist period piece, indeed!!

Venkovský ucitel
(2008)

Country teacher, student of life
Our teacher (P. Liska) in question leaves his prestigious job at an equally prestigious school in Prague to assume a far more mundane position in the Czech country-side. He looks lost, bewildered and reticent, speaking only when absolutely necessary. Is he hiding something, fearful of past skeletons in his closet coming to the forefront to haunt him mercilessly?

He settles in with a small farm family consisting of a woman and her son, who have their own fair share of past trials and tribulations unto themselves. An old mate of the "teach" (our title teacher) from the city finds his way out into the country to find our protagonist teacher and sparks immediately fly. Our "teach" has suppressed his homosexual orientation to all in the countryside and yet the mate from Prague, who was the teacher's former lover, is hell-bent on renewing their affair and is very demonstrative about it. "Teach" wants no part in it, as he wants a relationship based on love, not lust.

Without telling too much more of the story line, suffice it to say that the old skeletons to which I earlier referred are brought to the forefront in a very skillfully paced manner by the director B. Slama. Teach's so-called search for love degenerates temporarily into deriving sexual satisfaction from the young son on the farm. The unsolicited advances by "teach" are strongly and virulently rejected by the young boy who now hates the new guest teacher. Now the teacher, the mother and her son have to deal with this new trauma, or closet skeleton, if you will, in addition to all their prior baneful experiences.

Just how all these prior and new experiences will be met and subsequently dealt with and possibly sorted out lies in the hands of our skillful director and cast. What they do and how this is accomplished results in a tender yet forcefully portrayed set of scenes, where each of our protagonists has to deal honestly and openly with their strengths as well as their weaknesses and honestly open up to one another. What you may deduce from the movie's ending is that it is not an ending at all, but in fact a beginning, a Genesis, if you will!!

The Sandpiper
(1965)

Liz & Rich in a tender mid-60's period piece
So let me go ahead and diverge from the main body of critics who pooh-poohed this mid-60's film entry!! To me, it's a thoroughly poignant and enjoyable romp through the Monterey CA life style during that time. Opening with Johnny Mandel's haunting "The Shadow of Your Smile" and the video setting of the Big Sur coastline, you are immediately transported to another place in time and space. All the usual moral and religious challenges/ambiguities that were taking place during those pivotal years get duly scrutinized and developed here. Liz & Richard do a masterful job in their respective roles as the free-spirited artist lady and the pompous, semi-self righteous minister/dean of a prestigious religious school. After their initial ideological combativeness, they begin to absorb and understand each others' seemingly contradictory viewpoints and proceed to fall in love, in a most tender & heartfelt manner. Not so good, however, for the minister, who is already married with 2 boys. The moral dilemma that ensues provides more than ample fodder for our scrutiny.

Aside from the two aforementioned lead characters, the supporting cast including Eva Marie Saint, Robert Webber, James Edwards and Charles Bronson more than amply fulfill their thespian duties. Great directing by Vincent Minnelli and screen writing by an excellent team help in no small manner to propel the thrust of this film. My last and my most heartfelt kudos, however, are saved for the masterful work by Johnny Mandel on the sound track, in general, and on the awesomely bitter-sweet and gorgeous aforementioned theme song, specifically. Without that sophisticated and absorbing musical ambiance, the movie's impact would have been severely diminished!!

Intermission
(2003)

Intersecting Intermissions
What a truly interesting film containing several seemingly unrelated story lines that eventually intersect, physically and emotionally, toward the conclusion. We have large doses of typical urban problems such as extra-marital affairs, drug pandering, sexual, romantic and emotional conflicts, hooliganism, etc. Sounds like rather typical film fodder except for the manner in which John Crowley and Mark O'Rowe respectively execute their directorial and writing skills in putting together this tightly woven comedy/drama.

The dialog is rife with articulate and extremely witty banter in the unmistakable Celtic manner. The execution of that dialog and the intersecting story lines is carried out in grand fashion by all these extremely gifted actors. Nobody, even in the smaller roles, misses a beat in this well-timed piece. As these various story line "intermissions" come to a close, will emotions cool down and some semblance of peace and normality prevail?

Lastly, great original and pre-recorded musical tidbits are inserted deftly at the proper moments, punctuating the story line even more.

Grand Prix
(1966)

Grand Racing Epic
An entertaining, yet probing look into the world of Formula One racing and all the ancillary plots and sub-plots that embody that world. This film goes into just enough detail with such things as the technical aspects of racing, personality clashes and their resulting tensions, off the track romantic dalliances, crowd behavior and more to keep the story line fresh and flowing. The creative and unique camera work juxtaposed with Maurice Jarre's poignant score punctuates the story line with subtle skill and aplomb.

Given the above, plus a stunning cast, including James Garner, Yves Montand, Jessica Walter, Eva Marie Saint and others, which fulfills its thespian requirements with skill and sensitivity, you have a completely enjoyable cinematic offering. Granted, it will be construed by some as a 3 hour long high-end Soap Opera, but I'll spend an enjoyable evening from time to time enjoying this classic, regardless of what anyone else has to say!

Hysteria
(1965)

The "Hammer" strikes again
This is by no means an esoteric, deeply psychological thriller, but entertain it does, and well at that. Not an unfamiliar plot thesis here but it is a cleverly laid out amnesia story and suitably paced melodrama with a lot of the usual mid 60's ambiance, including a nicely orchestrated jazz score, (from Don Banks & co.), which ever so deftly weaves in and out of a given scene with subtle acuity. Special kudos to the tenor sax player in the orchestra for his gorgeous musical renderings.

It was nice to see the "Hammer" people opt for Robert Webber as the lead here, something he rarely got a chance to do stateside. The other cast members were more than competent in fulfilling the requirements of their respective roles which also helped make for a nice 90 minute flashback to an earlier time. The story itself takes a twist or two in the plot development to keep things interesting.

Thanks go to TCM for airing films like this which would probably never be shown anywhere else.

The Detective
(1968)

Cut-to-the-Chase Crime drama
Admittedly, not on anyone's list of the greatest all time crime dramas, but I'll take it any time for its down-to-earth, no-holds-barred approach to fighting crime in the Big Apple of the late 60's. No Academy Awards will be doled out for this offering, but who cares!? Frank S. more than holds his own as a tough on the exterior but a warm on the interior policeman who has to walk the metaphorical tightrope in his day-to-day dealings with criminals, political hot-shots, departmental bureaucracy, fellow officers, etc. The story is rife with allusions to societal issues that were coming to the forefront in that time period: Gay rights, Civil rights, Police brutality, Sexual liberation, to name a few. Lee Remick shines superbly in her role as Frank's estranged wife, who has her own set of personal issues to deal with.

The main plot thread of a wealthy man's son's murder potentially tied in with a prominent businessman's apparent suicide gives us a more than ample vehicle for a steady and interesting story line. The bantering between Frank's character and his fellow officers adds even more fuel to the goings-on here, especially concerning Robert Duvall's & Ralph Meeker's roles. Jackie Bisset has a more limited, yet very effective role as the deceased businessman's wife, and she carries it forward in an unobtrusive yet poignant manner. Lastly, I knew I was going to like the film when Jerry Goldsmith's introductory theme with the Bluesy, brassy New York sound hit my eardrums and literally set the tone for this fine production!

Thurgood
(2011)

Hats off to Laurence!
An unexpected pleasure awaited me as I began to view this almost two hour quasi-soliloquy about a pretty non-political guy who somehow got thrust into politics anyway, just because he wanted to see fairness and equality served and not double standard-ed. I don't know whose idea it was to portray this biographical account in this unusual manner, but it most assuredly held my attention for its duration.

Enter Laurence Fishburne, hair permed, dyed and fashioned ala Mr. Marshall, as our sole actor in this film. His chronological account of Mr. Marshall's life was rife with laid-back, humorous, yet firm depictions of events that shaped our central character's life, and to some degree, all our lives. Mr. Fishburne's demeanor throughout this piece was so comfortable and relaxed, I wondered at times had Thurgood himself crept back to Earth and infused himself into our actor's psyche to help him along with this account of his life. Also, I wondered if this show was cut and edited in a couple spots, just to give Mr. Fishburne a break in this seemingly non-stop monologue!

Credit is also due the Stevens' guys for setting the unusual tone here, with aptly placed snippets of historical dialog and subtle background scene settings to buttress these accounts that were adjunct to Thurgood's life. In conclusion, a fitting addition, indeed, for Black History month.

Boiling Point
(1993)

Slightly simmered and pretty entertaining
Unlike some of the other reviewers, I found this to be a nicely paced semi-action, semi-fantasy nostalgia movie that proved to be quite entertaining. If you're looking for a mind-blowing thriller or a rowdy shoot-'em-up, you'll be disappointed. However if you're looking for some lower key but interesting character development juxtaposed with a cops vs. hoods scenario with a fairly linear plot line, then you may like this.

The character development is done in a somewhat parallel fashion where each of the principals is shown in the light of his dysfunctional relationship with his significant other. It is in this light that we see the cops and the hoods looking not at all dissimilar with respect to their personal lives. This adjunct to the melodrama in the story, although not entirely original, embellishes the overall plot and entertains as well, as some good lines flow freely in these scenes.

All the actors render justice to their roles, especially the swaggering, high-stepping, red-headed Dennis Hopper, whose nostalgia-laced alter ego to his criminal self finds solace and peace on the "Palace Ballroom" dance floor. Also, I found Wesley Snipes to be in good form here, as he displays a nicely rounded range of emotions and the acting maturity to give credence to his character. He is mellower, yet still very cunning and direct, in this role than in many of his prior melodramatic offerings.

Lastly, I would be remiss not to include the Danny May Orchestra and singers for the lush harmonies and melodies and the overall mood that act as a fitting counterpoint to the criminal goings-on, perfectly set up in the opening sequences, where the tune "Dream" was played behind the night-time L.A. skyline. After all, we all need a little dreaming to help us escape from time to time!

My Blueberry Nights
(2007)

A sweet slice of blueberry pie
Don't bother with this if you're looking for deep existential meaning and revelation. But if you want an entertaining hour and a half story about a young woman's escape from her old life and her journey into some new horizons, then by all means give this a go. As our main character Lizzy (Norah) goes from her home base in New York, (where she cries on the diner owner's shoulder (Jude Law) about her unrequited love problems), to new horizons farther out west, she gets continually exposed to other dysfunctional relationships that actually pale in comparison to hers. The director (Wong) takes us through a couple of quasi-vignettes where our central character dons her waitress garb and meets up with an estranged and embattled couple in Memphis, soundly portrayed by David Straithairn and Rachel Weisz. This short segment of the film is deftly executed and gives our protagonist some serious food for thought.

Tragedy ensues in Memphis and prompts Lizzy to journey farther west where she runs into a fast and sassy gambling lady (Natalie Portman). A similarly poignant story ensues as her "high-rollin'" new found buddy has some skeletons in her own closet that she continually tries to suppress. Ms. Portman's characterization here is worthy of note as she shifts her metaphorical gears ever so effortlessly from the brash high-roller to the lonely daughter of the estranged father.

All through these events, Lizzy injects a subtle yet effective narrative as she sends letters of these goings-on to her old diner owner buddy back in New York. They are reflective and heart-felt and give the film a warmth and compassion that our protagonist seems to be developing on her soulful journey. Norah does well in achieving this subtle metamorphosis, especially when augmented by her lovely vocal and musical accompaniment. Other "non-Norah" sound track cuts also add emphasis and flavor to their given scenes.

However, the journey goes a full 360 degrees as she finally goes back to her home base in New York, full new found experiences and perspectives. She arrives back in the "Big Apple" just prior to the diner closing where maybe she can get time for one last healthy portion of her favorite pie...and maybe more!

The Killers
(1946)

O'Brien's movie, hands down!
Many people make a big fuss over the Lancaster/Gardner connection in this film almost as if it's the film's main draw or highlight. Granted, it is pivotal in it's importance to the overall story flow and film attractiveness, but I'll take Ed O'Brien's role as the indefatigable insurance detective/claims adjuster as the hallmark centerpiece in this film. His dogged persistence and cunning demeanor let the film take shape and keep the story buzzing along at a good clip with a solid script and story line that Ed metaphorically "eats up". Actually, without that dogged persistence, the story never gets told and all that's left is a routine insurance death benefit payment.

Lancaster does very well in his first screen role alongside the seductive Ms. Gardner and is obviously the focal character in this entry, but Mr. Ed is the definitive boss in this one. Furthermore, the whole cast shines in this landmark "film noir" piece, in no small manner propelled by the skillful directorship of Robert Siodmak. Lots of emphatic flashbacks add to the dramatic pace of this clever crime drama.

This film, along with "The Big Sleep" and "Out of the Past", ranks as a top entry in the realm of the so-called "film noir" genre.

Last Orders
(2001)

Cheers to old mates!
This stellar ensemble cast under the directorship of Fred Shepisi hits the metaphorical jackpot in this story of long-time mates disposing of one of their own's ashes. Warmth, humanity, humor et al. permeate the atmosphere of this realistic, yet sensitive story.

To me, Mr. Hoskins' role stands out just a tad from the rest, as he is, in no small part, the main facilitator in this film: he always seems to be in the right place at the proper time, especially at the track! Although not in the boys' club of disposing of the ashes, Helen Mirren's role here is more subtle and indirect, yet crucial as the deceased's (Michael Caine) wife who opts not to go along with the boys for the final ride. Her understated yet forceful portrayal here is one of her finer pieces of work, especially noted in her scenes with her mentally challenged daughter. M. Caine is his usual cad self, somewhat like an aged "Alfie" who likes his bantering with the birds at the pub (and at the hospital!), but unlike "Alfie", he won't make plays for them! The rest of the group of the boys carrying out the "Last Orders" provide more than ample thespian talent, not only in their individual roles, but also in how each relates to the group as a whole. The cast of the "flashback" scenes of yore does equally well in laying out the dramatic foundation for the modern day sequences.

Some say the total is greater than the sum of the individual parts, especially when dealing with the synergy of talents and overall heart as manifested in this production. It's all about heart, baby, and there's plenty here to go around. Cheers!

Sherlock Holmes
(2009)

Swashbuckling London Duo
I was somewhat trepidatious as I hit the "play" button on the DVR for this video entree. Would this be a Guy Ritchie explosion of madcap high-jinks with little or no homage to the old Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce style of the mid 20th century? Yet, alas, I got both: a wild and woolly Holmes and Watson, both adept martial art practitioners in our version here, and a decidedly deductive and intellectually astute Holmes, portrayed exquisitely by R. Downey, Jr. Dr. Watson's character also gets no short shrift here as J. Law adds logic, subtle wit and resourcefulness to his character, much unlike the rather bungling and shortsighted character of N. Bruce's rendition. This is neither a knock on Mr. Bruce, as his raison d'etre was precisely to be a counterpoint to the ever-so-shrewd Holmes of yore, nor on the old Sherlock Holmes episodes in general. This new version is fresh and invigorating, yet it doesn't diminish my appreciation of those most enjoyable episodes with B. Rathbone and N. Bruce at the helm.

So enter the madcap yet logical progressions of events ever so deftly conjured up by G. Ritchie and Co. A truly visual and poignant unfolding of a most clever story line mixed in with superior visual effects and creative casting make this a treat to watch. One most probably will have to view this film several times (I did!) before all the hints, tricks and flashback clues are assimilated and digested... but that's where the "Rewind" button comes in handy!

So Kudos for all, as too many names would require "shout-outs" to list here in this most captivating adaptation. In closing, my only question is: Do I see a "Moriarty" looming on the horizon?? He never seems too far away!!

Mickey One
(1965)

Surrealistic psychedelia before hippiedom
Took a couple of viewings to feel comfortable about this mid 60's predecessor to the days ahead of psychedelic imagery. But alas, it finally sunk in. Penn & Co. used a ton of artistic metaphors and graphic symbolism to buttress this supposedly straightforward plot theme. Basically, it's about a paranoid comedian (Beatty) on the run from the mob in Detroit who ends up several stops later in the heart of Chi-town. Probably the accent is on paranoid rather than comedian because he's not terribly funny, especially by today's standards. Regardless, he goes to a few bars to check out other comics and the bug bites him again and he is subsequently coaxed into doing his stand-up routine again. Beatty's erratic, hyped-up demeanor grated on me from time to time, but I have to assume that Mr. Penn had intended his lead character to exhibit these manic symptoms to blend in with the madcap sequences of events that were taking place during the course of the film.

But his journey is fraught with fear of getting discovered by the mob boys. When he first arrives in Chicago, he wanders into a scrap yard where heavy machinery smash up and compact old autos, apparently a metaphor by Penn to parallel Beatty's fear of getting smashed up and compacted by the mob! He then wanders into a salvation type mission where he encounters a stuttering evangelist who quotes Scripture, sounding like a vocal fusion of Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd. This minute or so sequence is far funnier than Beatty's "Mort Sahl-ish" dry-witted one-liners.

He meets up with a loving and sympathetic female (A. Stewart) who tries her best to keep him from teetering into the brink. On one of their walks through the city, they encounter a "mute" madcap character (K.Fujiwara) who has put together a surrealistic concoction of a Spike Jones type amalgamation of horns, pianos, drums noises, et al. It eventually blows up on him, whereupon the Fire Dept. comes to extinguish the resulting conflagration. All his work seems lost at that point except for one small gadget which still manages to work. The "mute" is delighted in saving that last gadget and is applauded by Beatty and his girl. I interpreted that to be a metaphor for Beatty's condition and how he should react to it: Whatever can happen will happen and not to worry because you never know what the end result may be, especially if you keep plugging away! Beatty then tries to find the mob guys who want him, gets his butt whooped in the process, and then finally goes on stage, bandages and all, and basically says, "I ain't scared any more, so if you want me here I am!", the final redemptive moment in the film. The ensuing fadeout is appropriately poignant.

To omit praising the likes of Hurd Hatfield, Jeff Corey, Franchot Tone, Teddy Hart, and the aforementioned Alexandra Stewart would be remiss. Their contributions were very interesting, at minimum. However, the main kudos go to Beatty, Penn and, last but not least, to Stan Getz for his masterful tenor sax interpretations. Someone needs to DVD (new verb?) this important period piece. Should be required viewing for young film makers, even if they don't like the movie!

Mystic River
(2003)

Absolvo Te
An absolute gem of a psycho-dynamic study of crime and punishment in an economically marginalized neighborhood in Boston. Although the story primarily revolves around a single grisly murder of a young female, so many tangential elements surround the case that mere cursory examinations of the so-called obvious leads will not suffice. Mr. Eastwood & co. render a deeply rooted thrust into not only the crime itself, but also into the lives and histories of so many of the characters. Rather than "shout-out" names, the entire cast shone in this urban tour-de-force, not just the usual headliners.

As good as Sean Penn fulfills his thespian requirements, I'll take Tim Robbins' character's portrayal over Sean Penn's in this one. Granted, Sean Penn always makes a good run for his money in any film, but his role, character development and persona here is much like the same Sean Penn you see in other films, e.g., "State of Grace", which is not a knock on him in any sense of the word.

Tim Robbins, however, is cast in a more abstract and complex role, with all sorts of psychological skeletons lurking about. His character is not of his usual fare and his minimalistic, aloof and introverted approach seems to help him explore the depths of his character. This approach enables him to pave the way for an eventual outpouring of pent-up emotion, made more evident as the movie approaches its conclusion. Also, he seems ever so much at home with his role as the regular guy, in a working class, mid-life Boston-Irish motif. No doubt, brother Eastwood had a hand in this developmental approach as well.

Lastly, Laura Linney, as Penn's screen wife, shines, even in her somewhat limited time allotment. Her little "absolvo te" soliloquy towards the film's conclusion could be, in fact, the dramatic highlight of the film.

Night Moves
(1975)

Checkmate
Our subject movie title is a play on words involving a chess gambit using the "knight" pieces demonstrated by our PI Harry Moseby (Gene Hackman) during the course of the film. It also reinforces the tone of the film in that the loser of the described chess game regretfully never saw that possible move, similar to our detective's plight of being blindsided by or by missing a couple of shifty "moves" as he plodded along in his current case.

Arthur Penn & co. laid out a nicely paced, well thought out story line in this captivating '70's detective period piece. The main and sub plot lines deftly intersect at pivotal points in the film, as in Harry's problems at home inter-meshing with those of his case. His "moves" in this case require him to span the breadth of the country, from L.A. to New Mexico and to the Florida Keys and back and forth, giving the film fresh geographical frames of reference to augment the film's pace and development.

The casting crew picked out an extremely capable group of actors, each of whom carried out his/her role with zest and emotion. Jennifer Warren, as Paula, the "ping-pong" talking friend of Tom Iverson (John Crawford), particularly stood out with her evasive demeanor and somewhat "psycho-babbly" dialog, like something from the late '60's and early '70's. But was this babble mere empty-headiness or was an ulterior motive lurking beneath her facade?

Kudos also to Michael Small for a most appropriate sound track and recurring theme which truly enhanced a most interesting and subtle film. Lastly, check out the film's beguiling ending for a little extra food for thought.

Mackenna's Gold
(1969)

Late 60's Western with a "plot" of gold...
One of the all-time great Westerns with solid plot, character development, unique settings and cinematic techniques, especially given the available technological tools of that time period. Starting with Victor Jory's solid, no-nonsense narrative, accompanied by Q. Jones/J. Feliciano's "Turkey Buzzard", the wheels are set in motion for a rousing good tale of greed and how it festers itself inside men of varying social and/or economic strata: everyone comes up with his/her own pattern of excuses and sanctimonious justifications for following the elusive gold score.

This film's story line develops using a fairly linear and logical plot line which is executed by a gifted and enthusiastic cast using an extremely well written script. G. Peck, as the title character, is his usual solid self with his signature stage presence, but O. Sharif steals the show with his lusty and vibrant portrayal as the film's main desperado antagonist. His scene with McKenna where he tells him about what he'll do with his share of the supposed loot (a gentleman in Paris!) is short but emphatic, as it shows the scoundrel in a much different light, adding to the film's flavor. The old guard of actors, such as R. Massey. L.J. Cobb, B. Meredith, etc. have limited roles, but make optimal use of their brief time allotments. The exception here, however, is E.G Robinson's 5-10 minute gripping soliloquy of his experience at the "canon del oro", where the whole cast (and probably the whole audience!) is engaged in rapt attention to what he says.

But the cinematic magic really takes form as the movie draws to its conclusion as the remaining gold-seekers arrive at the canyon and prepare for their mission's conclusion. The audio and visual impact of the ride to and through the canyon and what might happen at any given point in time makes for a breath-taking segment. With today's computer simulated graphics software, I wonder what a modern film-maker would have at hand to simulate the canyon scenes. But, alas, I digress. Modern technology or not, those scenes really played out well, as did the cool conclusion to a most enjoyable film.

The Long Goodbye
(1973)

Marlowe meets the 70's
As other reviewers astutely noted, this "ain't" your prototypical Phillip Marlowe. What we have is Elliot Gould cast as a semi-neurotic, fiendishly chain-smoking, loquacious quasi-private dick who nonetheless has strong a penchant for seeking out his version of truth and justice in his own eerily calculating manner. He turns out to be the quintessential Marlowe for the early 70's as he romps through the L.A. environs that are rife with trendy gangsters, semi-shady cops, topless yoga freaks, nouveau-riche Malibu jet-setters, et al. So much time is devoted to satirizing the aforementioned crowd and the overall "scene" at that time, with verbose and sometimes rambling dialogue, that the actual plot story line could have probably been wrapped up in an hour or less. But, hey, it was the 70's, and people got "buzzed" and "rapped" incessantly!

Yet Mr. Altman & Co. purposely includes this tangential plot fodder to add more emphasis on the characters, individually and collectively. By letting his characters verbally ramble, he lets us know more about each one's set of idiosyncrasies and how that inevitably adds to the overall plot scheme. For example, Sterling Hayden's verbal rantings were not just for a momentary freak-out show, but were a part of his inner frustrations that would manifest themselves more clearly as the plot unfolded. Each actor carried out the demands of his/her role in an interesting fashion, which made for an entertaining drama coupled with a solid detective yarn (and a cool ending)!

Lastly, the accompanying theme music, bearing the movie's title, added a poignant touch to the goings-on, especially since that theme was performed by 4 or 5 different groups of musicians, each with a different musical texture and apropos to its accompanying scene.

Cass
(2008)

Finally, a real man
Way more than just a football thuggery story, as our protagonist has to weave his way from being an orphaned Black kid (Nonso Anozie) raised by White foster parents in a predominantly White London east end neighborhood to being a self-respected man with a job, family and peace of mind. Along this most circuitous route, he encounters racism by both Whites and Blacks: by Whites because of his color and by Blacks because of his cockneyed "White" sounding speech patterns and by his reluctance to "go Black" to his so-called African/Jamaican roots. He is quite content to merely be himself and is fully comfortable with his Caucasian foster parents who brought him up with love and attention. He cares far more about his family and his mates than for some artificial and ephemeral political/racial cause. The jail cell scene with the back and forth dialogue between Cass and his "Rasta-ish" cell-mate bears this point out.

But his issues with the aforementioned football thuggery with its concomitant need for constant revenge through violence is keeping him from the realization of his true inner self, the real man he wants to be. The thrust of this film deals with how, over long periods of time, he must manage to extricate those inner demons in order to achieve any sort of lasting peace. And a superlative job indeed is done to portray this metamorphosis by Jon Baird & co., especially the lead role by Nonso. No fancy existential/psychological drama in this hard-hitting, straight-forward piece: just a man in search of himself with the hopes of finding some semblance of a peaceful, fulfilling existence.

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