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The Gatling Gun

Who's side are you on?
In many ways, this movie looks and feels much older than 1973, and I'm still not quite convinced that this is accurate. Yet, the social conscience of the 70's is there, if only in throw away lines and occasional, unexpected preachiness. The struggle for the WMD of the era, i.e. the Gatling Gun of the movie's title, involves a small band of US Cavalry, one "bad apple" (Robert Fuller playing effectively against type), and the Apaches, headed by the Spanish speaking chief "Two Knives." Thrown in the mix are the vixenish step-daughter of a self-righteous preacher (must have been a handful for that man of the cloth) and an All-American, sharp-shootin'"Annie Oakley Type" who in one brief scene appears in a dress and is described as "All Girl" (which she is!). Plus John Wayne's son, I think, and a couple of old codgers. Any and all of the characters vacillate here and there in their views on the treatment of the American Indian and their role in history but the Gatling Gun has the final word.

The Mountain

One wonders how a movie of this sort ever got made, basically a two character drama in a one-set play (although the set is rather a spectacular one, and the quality of the color of this production is eye-popping). Although Spencer Tracy more or less sleep walks his way through this film, sometimes using his "Portuguese Fisherman" accent from "Captains Courageous", sometimes not, he still would be my choice of the person to first see on opening my eyes after surviving a plane crash....he exudes character and compassion. Robert Walker's "angry young brother" character, on the other hand, is quite unbelievably unprincipled...I wish he had been given even a modicum of balance in this tale. A plodding, predictable script does pick up and turn exciting towards the end. Overall, the viewer might be left with a sense of the strangeness of this 1950's artifact.

Behind the Veil: Nuns

a cultural artifact
1980's style, "modern" (and mostly tomboyish) nuns siting around struggling with their new exposure in the world, sans the religious veil and habit, all seem genuine and thoughtful, although heavily influenced by the "Liberation Theology" (read Marxist) and activist politics in vogue in that period. This is overlayed with a stringent dose of radical feminism, goddess theory and always reliable male bashing that detracts from the more nuanced struggles expressed by these women who are interviewed. A deadpan, monotone narrator is especially irritating, as is the use of fictional portrayals of nuns at their most masochistic as fact. Still, it captures the anger and angst of the time and is best enjoyed as such.


That old "made for TV"look
It's a little disturbing to me that anyone found this movie inspiring. As conjured by Jared Leto, the character of Steve Prefontaine was an unlikeable pretty-boy SOB, who basically inspired disbelief in me...does it really require that level of narcissism to be an exceptional athlete? The guy reached out to the little kid who was ahead of him in a spontaneous race and pulled him back, saying. "its not your time, kid'" or something like that, and later after getting all high an mighty about the (fictional) Amateur Athletic Association rules, he all but shuts down the special event they finally agreed to because HE was not going to meet his match there. Yet all the other characters were always in his thrall (you'll know why at the end). I did like the "mock documentary" style, once I figured it out. The 70's style rugs on some of the "younger" male athlete's heads were pretty funny though.

Waltz Across Texas

All 'bout Oil
This was a very watcheable movie, perhaps a little more so knowing that the two leads were married in real life. Probably trying to ride the crest of "Urban Cowboy", it nevertheless has its own charm and identity. The "battle of the sexes" is gentle and convincing. Anne Archer and Terry Jastrow nearly always speak in hoarse whispers. I replayed the Texas line-dance scene and also the big slug-fest scene on the oil rig, both well choreographed and performed by competent, "physical" people. Well, being both an Anne Archer fan (she'd be my dream date from a High School reunion as in "Lifeguard") and a George W. fan from the git-go, I guess this movie pushed all the right buttons.

Angst essen Seele auf

Me want Couscous
Once you get past the "Tarzan-like" speech patterns of one of the main characters, a Moroccan man speaking German, this is a very engaging movie. The "love triangle" that Fassbinder posits seems to include the woman, Emmy, her lover/husband Ali, and the rest of German Society. When things get rough with Society's criticism of the May/December interracial romance, the twosome couldn't be cosier. However, once society opens up and starts to accept the couple, their relationship starts to crack. I think there's something to that, but this movie is one of the few that lets that happen to its characters. Another plus is the long, lingering shots, mostly framed in doorways, which advance the narrative, like a series of paintings in a gallery.

La vendetta di Ursus

A TV wrestling Romp in old Athens (or somewhere)
Samson Burke (he of "Hercules Meets the 3 Stooges" fame), lantern-jawed and broad of back, plays the mythological Ursus, a man with a past, which is only hinted at in the beginning. He now farms with his puckish little brother, Durias, until called upon to confront the evil and scheming King Zagro and his toady, Lycurgas who are plotting to take over the neighboring kingdom of Leecha, through a marriage with King Altheus' lovely (in a 1960's Italian kind-of-way) daughter, Sirah (whew). The plot has lots of action, moves along swiftly, and as these things go, is "not bad", aided by the hero's skillful execution of flying drop kicks, airplane spins, and other impressive TV wrestling moves, and ending up with an early version of an Ironman Event, to test the truthfulness of Ursus' version of events (the schemers beg to differ). One small disconcerting note: the princess' voice sounds remarkably like it is dubbed by Kathy Lee Gifford.

The Velocity of Gary

OK, but no Butch Cassidy
For some reason, I like movies about 2 guys and 1 girl....think Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Lovin' Molly, a few others. This of course had the structure but with a contemporary of the guys was on the action end of the triangle. However, the relationships never seemed convincing, the narrative was confusing (AIDS never mentioned by name), and Salma Hyack character's pregnancy was about as believable as the pillow obviously roped around her waist. Still, it was an interesting point in these actor's careers, pre-Frida etc.and one maybe worth a look.

St. Ives

A delight
This is a lighthearted, colorful romp set in an interesting historical time period....the final years of Napoleon's reign. Lively performances by all the principals, in particular Miranda Richardson's naughty but nice, "liberated" bon vivant and the wonderful comic touches of Richard Grant's character (cracked me up several times, especially the wedding scene) which contribute significantly to its overall success. Stunning, vibrant color...those British redcoats never looked so red, Flora's buttercup yellow dress, a vision. Next, I read the book and meet Robert Louis Stevenson's characters all over again.


I don't know Paul Schrader's work or reputation, nor that Elmore guy who wrote the book, just was lookin' for a decent movie to pass the time. This wasn't it, though there were moments of promise including arty credits, intensely colored rooms and a few good "throw away" lines (not to mention that Bridget Fonda did get naked and looked pretty good in clothes anyway). But the story just didn't hold together, the actors were just "acting" someone needed to direct, edit, pace, something! Had to be written by a perceptive ex-Catholic with a few axes to grind, but even that angle didn't work. Doomed to the dust bin of moviedom, I'm afraid.

Mass Appeal

a watchable but flawed take on the Catholic Church
Pity the poor congregation of St. Francis Parish, subject to "dialogue sermons" (what???), autobiographical psycho-babble and in the end, self-righteous calls to rise up against the local Church hierarchy. If things are really like this in the Catholic Church today, its enough to make this lapsed Catholic stay that way for a long time. That said, and hoping that this does not mirror reality, the movie works as entertainment, largely due to the performances of the two main characters. Jack Lemmon is delightful and convincing as a lonely priest who has found strategies (some decent ones, some hurtful) to survive who takes on the task of mentoring and tempering the well-meaning but naive passions of a young seminarian, also well played. The big casualty is in the one-dimensionality of the "heavy" played by Charles Durning, and perhaps of all of his cronies as well. Well, Catholic bashing is nothing new, mostly by ex-Catholics, but it always diminishes the dialogue such issues could provoke. However, there is more to the movie than this, especially in some very good characterizations of Catholic lay people, Louise Latham's housekeeper in particular.

Torn Allegiance

Rule Brittannia
Those imperialist Brits get a trashing again in this otherwise well paced film about the Boer War in South Africa from 1899-1902. Seen from the viewpoint of the Dutch farmers (Boers) in the area and especially centered on the experiences of one "on the brink of womanhood" character, the story unfolds with both quiet, beautiful moments and unbelievable, senseless violence, committed by the British soldiers, who admittedly "are not Sandhurst or Aldershot boys", but rather from the low life side of England. There are protracted scenes spoken in Dutch (or something) which are not captioned and one plot device- a relationship between a British general who is a brother to the wife of a Boer farmer - that goes nowhere, but otherwise this movie has merits, mostly visual ones.

Cross Creek

An unpleasant woman, this
Slow pace I can deal with, not to mention the heavy, heady atmosphere of the Florida swamps, beautifully evoked in this film. But it was harder to deal with Steenbergen's character, a woman with little tolerance for any other way but her own, stubborn, unpleasant and changeable in temper in a flash, who not incidentally seemed to hit the bottle at all times of the day and night (might explain the mood swings). The movie seemed to be championing Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings "modern independent woman" persona for a receptive 80's audience (no surprise since Hillary's pal plays the central role) and never any of the complexities of the character.

La guerra di Troia

Every horse has an opinion
As the movie begins, a small group of Trojans (or is it the Greeks) on horseback stand facing towards their beloved Troy (or maybe its Athens). As the epic story is introduced in a voiceover, I watched curiously as one of the horses raised his tail in an arc and then casually "took a dump" one might say. A comment on the upcoming tale or performance? Actually, the horse was rather too severe in his prejudgements. As "sword and sandal" epics go, this one was not too bad. Steve Reeves looked chiseled and handsome, most of the sets and costumes were convincing, and there were some beautiful horses and chariots, although way too many battle scenes, shot long range so it was mostly a blur and a lot of shouting in Italian or something. Not a bad way to brush up on your Homeric history though, with the whole cast of characters from Helen to Casandra, Ulysees to Archilles (who got killed by an arrow shot in the "you know where").

The Twilight of the Golds

Just don't expect me to march in a parade
The first and foremost thing to say about this movie is to note that it is a Fantasy! The jury is still out on the old nature/nurture debate about homosexuality, nor are we yet in the era of "designer babies." So after I got over my feelings of being manipulated by this script to consider a non-reality issue (that sneaked up on me too), I settled in to watch and listen to how it was handled.....and I have to admit, my verdict is "pretty well." The movie avoided all the stridency and preachiness which are endemic to politically correct/ disease-of-the week topics. It was painful to see Brendan Fraser's character wince as he witnessed his parent's feelings about his sexuality, but the movie allowed the parents their feelings too, and one even felt that it was courageous of them to be so honest about their own struggle. Everyone fared pretty well (except the daughter's husband, who for some reason was the "fall guy" and took the hit). The real hero in this drama was the boyfriend, who diffused some of the emotion in the family (no walk in the park). The characters were complex and believable, if the overall premise was not. But that's why we say "It's only a movie."

The Day Reagan Was Shot

Show some tact, Oliver
This made-for-TV movie, produced by the liberal's liberal, Oliver Stone is a compelling, exiting and watcheable portrayal of events which were pretty forgettable in real time. One wonders if the White House was this dysfunctional at the time....everbody behaves badly. One might expect tight-lipped shrillness (an oxymoron) from Nancy Reagan, but poor Sarah Brady, wife of wounded press secretary James Brady fares not much better as she wails "what have THEY (who?) done to you!?!?". After relentless mean spirited badgering of Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger by Secretary of State Alexander Haig, someone finally says "show some tact, Al." I think the deck gets stacked against this Republican Administration most especially in the wimpy portrayal of Bush'41, who is both clueless and deferential to a fault throuout the movie. The Gipper fares not much better. Still, its great storytelling.

Elena et les hommes

Has its (few) moments
There is one really great scene in this movie....the ocean of people at the Bastille Day Celebration and the movement of the crowd through its waves. This scene, and the overall color and details of costumes make this movie worthwhile. And of course there's Ingrid Bergman, whose beauty and poise (even when a little tipsy) is always watcheable. (She is really unique in her era.....have you ever seen or heard of her persona being vamped by any contemporary drag queens....can't be done, I'll wager). The rest of the movie tries to be madcap and michievous, but it just doesn't work. I'm amazed at reading the plot description THAT'S what it was supposed to be about! Sure lost me.

Women in Love

Substantial and thought provoking
It's a little shocking when we first see Glenda Jackson's "Gudrun"....she's a ringer for Tony Curtis in drag in "Some Like it Hot." Nevertheless, her character manages to facinate as the plot (and all the talk, talk, talk) wind on. Jennie Linden's "Ursula" only manages to be annoying with her wimpish, whiney "am I enough woman for you, my loves" and demands to be reassured. But this is probably how Lawrence wrote 'em in the book, which is as much about a man's emotional need for a male friendship as the longings of the two "women in love," a rare theme which the movie addresses well.

The Rainmaker

can't quite find its voice
There is something curiously "off"and unsatisfying about this otherwise engaging movie with its all-star, ca. 1950's lineup. It really should be a musical! There were times when the action paused and I really waited for Kate to do a song about the perils of being plain, or for Burt to sing about putting on a happy face, followed by Kate's "I feel pretty." (I think I read that it was later turned into a musical on Broadway). Trouble is the first two-thirds of the movie was a believable, non-romantasized portrayal of a likeable big family...a sort of "Big Valley" or "Bonanza" clan, who suddenly looked dysfunctional when diagnosed by "dreamer/con-man" Burt Lancaster. Over-responsible (but well-intentioned) big brother Lloyd Bridges was the character who lost the most ground as the tone of the movie veered into a non-musical "musical", but it was overall unsatisfying to be unexpectedly steep in psychobabble about self esteem and soul searching and not liking this family anymore. A movie I was loving turned into one that I thought would never end. Still, Kate did a great job, whooping and hollering with her brothers when the rain and the movies' end (finally, mercifully, blessedly) came.

Costantino il grande

In this sign thou shalt conquer!
This film must have been spectacular in its day, just like the Roman Empire. Now its saturated colors are faded, its panoramic vision compressed. Cornel Wilde is still a hunk, but an aging one, and it's hard to believe he was the educated, fluent in several languages and fussy about his roles actor from his performance here, delivering some of his lines just like John Wayne might have done. There are several hokey overview shots of Rome, which are really of the scale model version from the Museum of History of the City of Rome, but otherwise the sets, costumes and production is a lavish one. The final battle at the Milvian Bridge is endless (you know who is going to win), but thanks to this victory, Christianity directs the course of Western History.

Tucker: The Man and His Dream

Keep smilin' through
Preston Tucker (as Jeff Bridges played him and as he appears in stills during the closing credits) may have actually been an energetic, gregarious, generous, optimistic, (manic?) and loving man. There is a real pleasure in watching this persistent, lovable lug who always (always!) wears a "canary who ate the cat" expression (as his wife's character describes him) through all his many turmoils. Trouble is, liberal Hollywood gets a hold of his story, Coppola in particular with his own axes to grind, and its loses all nuance. The "sytem", the government, big business, the SEC, Truman, Detroit, the Atom Bomb, Japanese internment camps are all trashed in this sanctimonious "feel good" treatment of what might have been a more thoughtful story. But hey, the atmosphere, especially the clothes, are great, although one has trouble believing that in the late 1940's everyone's clothes, radios, furniture was all as shiny and spanking new as the 50 beautiful "Tuckers" right off the assembly line.

Summer of Sam

A Shakespeareian Tragedy in the Bronx
I was completely enthralled by this movie. It has the elements of a classic Greek tragedy, or maybe Shakespeare and even a little bit of the old Testament Book of Job going for it, all in a very dynamic, colorful, watchable way. The hero, Vinnie, descends deeper and deeper into despair, his "tragic flaw", in this case, maybe his overactive sex drive. You really gotta feel for the guy and at the same time, see that he contributes to his own fate. The movie is about loyalty in a stronger way than it is about fidelity, although fans of Mira Sorvino can't seem to get past this fact. Spike Lee recreates the mood, the character and the feel of a New York City summer exactly right. The characters behave in a very convincing way. One can feel some compassion for just about anybody in this movie since they are simply "us" at some level. I have never before seen a Spike Lee movie, but believe me, I am now a fan! In two words, this movie is f***ing great!

The Man Who Cried

Film Seminar 101 on a big budget
This movie was manipulative and about as subtle as a sledgehammer with sweet, wide eyed "Susie" vs. the big bad Cossacks, immigration officers, English step-parents and mean schoolyard kids and finally Nazis. After a ridiculous (and I'll bet expensive) mini Titanic segment with the beleaguered Susie floundering around in a golden ocean, she finally makes her way to a goal which I had not realized was the meaning and direction of the plot. And it ends (unexpectedly but blissfully). I must say, however that the cast was very well coached and performed a variety of accents very convincingly....Cate Blanchett (Russian), John Turturro (Italian), Christina Ricci (English) and Johnny Depp (silent),

A New Kind of Love

A new kind of cultural artifact
1963 lay somewhere between Ozzie and Harriet and Janice Joplin and this movie was raunchy "adult fare" for the time but sanitized. The characters couldn't say "virgin" but did say "maiden", couldn't even say "prostitute" but could say it in French ("fille de joie" or something). If you can imagine Paul Newman as a rakish cad who writes Beaudelaire verses on the bare bottoms of his nightly conquests and his real-life partner Joanne Woodward as a dike dress-designer turned tender hearted and vulnerable real woman posing as a prostitute after praying to St. Catherine, then you have a greater (much) ability to suspend disbelief than I do. Badly miscast leads, especially Woodward, despite one sexy scene in a teddy at the end. Otherwise, enjoy Paris, enjoy 60's color, and 60's sophistication and pretend that you are sneaking a look at the naughty movie that your parents wouldn't want you to see.

Strategic Air Command

Keeping the world safe for democracy
June Allyson and Jimmie Stewart are a cute, kind of co-dependent couple who live in a 1950's pastel world, but the real romance here is with the big, beautiful B-36 and B-47 bombers. The movie has a kind of "off we go into the wild blue yonder" theme music, which accompanies long shots of the plane ascending and in flight. Although it's no "Flight of the Phoenix" ordeal for Stewart, he does face his share of tribulations and close calls, only to arrive at an "everybody wins" situation in the end.

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