Playing Catch-Up: Crisscross, The Dust Factory, Gambit, In The Arms of a Killer, Overboard, Shy People


So, this year I am making a sincere effort to review every film that I see.  I know I say that every year but this time, I really mean it.

So, in an effort to catch up, here are four quick reviews of some of the movies that I watched over the past few weeks!

  • Crisscross
  • Released: 1992
  • Directed by Chris Menges
  • Starring David Arnott, Goldie Hawn, Arliss Howard, Keith Carradine, James Gammon, Steve Buscemi

An annoying kid named Chris Cross (David Arnott) tells us the story of his life.

In the year 1969, Chris and his mother, Tracy (Goldie Hawn), are living in Key West.  While the rest of the country is excitedly watching the first moon landing, Chris and Tracy are just trying to figure out how to survive day-to-day.  Tracy tries to keep her son from learning that she’s working as a stripper but, not surprisingly, he eventually finds out.  Chris comes across some drugs that are being smuggled into Florida and, wanting to help his mother, he decides to steal them and sell them himself.  Complicating matters is the fact that the members of the drug ring (one of whom is played by Steve Buscemi) don’t want the competition.  As well, Tracy is now dating Joe (Arliss Howard), who just happens to be an undercover cop.  And, finally, making things even more difficult is the fact that Chris just isn’t that smart.

There are actually a lot of good things to be said about Crisscross.  The film was directed by the renowned cinematographer, Chris Menges, so it looks great.  Both Arliss Howard and Goldie Hawn give sympathetic performances and Keith Carradine has a great cameo as Chris’s spaced out dad.  (Traumatized by his experiences in Vietnam, Chris’s Dad left his family and joined a commune.)  But, as a character, Chris is almost too stupid to be believed and his overwrought narration doesn’t do the story any good.  Directed and written with perhaps a less heavy hand, Crisscross could have been a really good movie but, as it is, it’s merely an interesting misfire.

  • The Dust Factory 
  • Released: 2004
  • Directed by Eric Small
  • Starring Armin Mueller-Stahl, Hayden Panettiere, Ryan Kelly, Kim Myers, George de la Pena, Michael Angarano, Peter Horton

Ryan (Ryan Kelly) is a teen who stopped speaking after his father died.  One day, Ryan falls off a bridge and promptly drowns.  However, he’s not quite dead yet!  Instead, he’s in The Dust Factory, which is apparently where you go when you’re on the verge of death.  It’s a very nice place to hang out while deciding whether you want to leap into the world of the dead or return to the land of the living.  Giving Ryan a tour of the Dust Factory is his grandfather (Armin Mueller-Stahl).  Suggesting that maybe Ryan should just stay in the Dust Factory forever is a girl named Melanie (Hayden Panettiere).  Showing up randomly and acting like a jerk is a character known as The Ringmaster (George De La Pena).  Will Ryan choose death or will he return with a new zest for living life?  And, even more importantly, will the fact that Ryan’s an unlikely hockey fan somehow play into the film’s climax?

The Dust Factory is the type of unabashedly sentimental and theologically confused film that just drives me crazy.  This is one of those films that so indulges every possible cliché that I was shocked to discover that it wasn’t based on some obscure YA tome.  I’m sure there’s some people who cry while watching this film but ultimately, it’s about as deep as Facebook meme.

  • Gambit
  • Released: 2012
  • Directed by Michael Hoffman
  • Starring Colin Firth, Cameron Diaz, Alan Rickman, Tom Courtenay, Stanley Tucci, Cloris Leachman, Togo Igawa

Harry Deane (Colin Firth) is beleaguered art collector who, for the sake of petty revenge (which, as we all know, is the best type of revenge), tries to trick the snobbish Lord Shabandar (Alan Rickman) into spending a lot of money on a fake Monet.  To do this, he will have to team up with both an eccentric art forger (Tom Courtenay) and a Texas rodeo star named PJ Puznowksi (Cameron Diaz).  The plan is to claim that PJ inherited the fake Monet from her grandfather who received the painting from Hermann Goering at the end of the World War II and…

Well, listen, let’s stop talking about the plot.  This is one of those elaborate heist films where everyone has a silly name and an elaborate back story.  It’s also one of those films where everything is overly complicated but not particularly clever.  The script was written by the Coen Brothers and, if they had directed it, they would have at least brought some visual flair to the proceedings.  Instead, the film was directed by Michael Hoffman and, for the most part, it falls flat.  The film is watchable because of the cast but ultimately, it’s not surprising that Gambit never received a theatrical release in the States.

On a personal note, I saw Gambit while Jeff & I were in London last month.  So, I’ll always have good memories of watching the movie.  So I guess the best way to watch Gambit is when you’re on vacation.

  • In The Arms of a Killer
  • Released: 1992
  • Directed by Robert L. Collins
  • Starring Jaclyn Smith, John Spencer, Nina Foch, Gerald S. O’Loughlin, Sandahl Bergman, Linda Dona, Kristoffer Tabori, Michael Nouri

This is the story of two homicide detectives.  Detective Vincent Cusack (John Spencer) is tough and cynical and world-weary.  Detective Maria Quinn (Jaclyn Smith) is dedicated and still naive about how messy a murder investigation can be when it involves a bunch of Manhattan socialites.  A reputed drug dealer is found dead during a party.  Apparently, someone intentionally gave him an overdose of heroin.  Detective Cusack thinks that the culprit was Dr. Brian Venible (Michael Nouri).  Detective Quinn thinks that there has to be some other solution.  Complicating things is that Quinn and Venible are … you guessed it … lovers!  Is Quinn truly allowing herself to be held in the arms of a killer or is the murderer someone else?

This sound like it should have been a fun movie but instead, it’s all a bit dull.  Nouri and Smith have next to no chemistry so you never really care whether the doctor is the killer or not.  John Spencer was one of those actors who was pretty much born to play world-weary detectives but, other than his performance, this is pretty forgettable movie.

  • Overboard
  • Released: 1987
  • Directed by Garry Marshall
  • Starring Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Edward Herrmann, Katherine Helmond, Roddy McDowall, Michael G. Hagerty, Brian Price, Jared Rushton, Hector Elizondo

When a spoiled heiress named Joanne Slayton (Goldie Hawn) falls off of her luxury yacht, no one seems to care.  Even when her husband, Grant (Edward Herrmann), discovers that Joanne was rescued by a garbage boat and that she now has amnesia, he denies knowing who she is.  Instead, he takes off with the boat and proceeds to have a good time.  The servants (led by Roddy McDowall) who Joanne spent years terrorizing are happy to be away from her.  In fact, the only person who does care about Joanne is Dean Proffitt (Kurt Russell).  When Dean sees a news report about a woman suffering from amnesia, he heads over to the hospital and declares that Joanne is his wife, Annie.

Convinced that she is Annie, Joanne returns with Dean to his messy house and his four, unruly sons.  At first, Dean says that his plan is merely to have Joanne work off some money that she owes him.  (Before getting amnesia, Joanne refused to pay Dean for some work he did on her boat.)  But soon, Joanne bonds with Dean’s children and she and Dean start to fall in love.  However, as both Grant and Dean are about to learn, neither parties nor deception can go on forever…

This is one of those films that’s pretty much saved by movie star charisma.  The plot itself is extremely problematic and just about everything that Kurt Russell does in this movie would land him in prison in real life.  However, Russell and Goldie Hawn are such a likable couple that the film come close to overcoming its rather creepy premise.  Both Russell and Hawn radiate so much charm in this movie that they can make even the stalest of jokes tolerable and it’s always enjoyable to watch Roddy McDowall get snarky.  File this one under “Kurt Russell Can Get Away With Almost Anything.”

A remake of Overboard, with the genders swapped, is set to be released in early May.

  • Shy People
  • Released: 1987
  • Directed by Andrei Konchalovsky
  • Starring Jill Clayburgh, Barbara Hershey, Martha Plimpton, Merritt Butrick, John Philbin, Don Swayze, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Mare Winningham

Diana Sullivan (Jill Clayburgh) is a writer for Cosmopolitan and she’s got a problem!  It turns out that her teenager daughter, Grace (Martha Plimpton), is skipping school and snorting cocaine!  OH MY GOD!  (And, to think, I thought I was a rebel just because I used to skip Algebra so I could go down to Target and shoplift eyeliner!)  Diana knows that she has to do something but what!?

Diana’s solution is to get Grace out of New York.  It turns out that Diana has got some distant relatives living in Louisiana bayou.  After Cosmo commissions her to write a story about them, Diana grabs Grace and the head down south!

(Because if there’s anything that the readers of Cosmo are going to be interested in, it’s white trash bayou dwellers…)

The only problem is that Ruth (Barbara Hershey) doesn’t want to be interviewed and she’s not particularly happy when Diana and Grace show up.  Ruth and her four sons live in the bayous.  Three of the sons do whatever Ruth tells them to do.  The fourth son is often disobedient so he’s been locked up in a barn.  Diana, of course, cannot understand why her relatives aren’t impressed whenever she mentions that she writes for Cosmo.  Meanwhile, Grace introduces her cousins to cocaine, which causes them to go crazy.  “She’s got some strange white powder!” one of them declares.

So, this is a weird film.  On the one hand, you have an immensely talented actress like Jill Clayburgh giving one of the worst performances in cinematic history.  (In Clayburgh’s defense, Diana is such a poorly written character that I doubt any actress could have made her in any way believable.)  On the other hand, you have Barbara Hershey giving one of the best.  As played by Hershey, Ruth is a character who viewers will both fear and admire.  Ruth has both the inner strength to survive in the bayou and the type of unsentimental personality that lets you know that you don’t want to cross her.  I think we’re supposed to feel that both Diana and Ruth have much to learn from each other but Diana is such an annoying character that you spend most of the movie wishing she would just go away and leave Ruth alone.  In the thankless role of Grace, Martha Plimpton brings more depth to the role than was probably present in the script and Don Swayze has a few memorable moments as one of Ruth’s sons.  Shy People is full of flaws and never really works as a drama but I’d still recommend watching it for Hershey and Plimpton.

Embracing The Melodrama Part III #6: The Betsy (dir by Daniel Petrie)


“Wheeeeeeee!”

— Loren Hardeman Sr. (Sir Laurence Olivier) in The Betsy (1978)

Here’s a little thought experiment:

Imagine if The Godfather had starred Laurence Olivier and Tommy Lee Jones.

That may sound strange but it actually could have happened.  When Francis Ford Coppola first started his search for the perfect actor to play Don Vito Corleone, he announced that he could only imagine two actors pulling off the role.  One was Marlon Brando and the other was Laurence Olivier.

As for Tommy Lee Jones, he was among the many actors who auditioned for the role of Michael Corleone.  At the time, Jones was 26 years old and had only recently made his film debut in Love Story.  As odd as it may be to imagine the quintessentially Texan Tommy Lee Jones in the role, Coppola always said that he was looking for a brooder as Michael and that’s definitely a good description of Jones.

Of course, as we all know, neither Olivier nor Jones were ever cast in The Godfather.  Marlon Brando played Don Vito and Al Pacino was cast as Michael.  However, a few years later, Olivier and Jones would co-star in another family saga that combined history, organized crime, and melodrama.  That film was 1978’s The Betsy and, interestingly enough, it even co-starred an actor who actually did appear in The Godfather, Robert Duvall.

Of course, now would probably be a good time to point out that The Godfather is perhaps the greatest American film of all time.  And The Betsy … well, The Betsy most definitely is not.

The film’s German poster even gives off a Godfather vibe

Based on a novel by Harold Robbins, The Betsy exposes the secrets of Detroit.  Decades ago, Loren Hardeman founded Hardeman Motors and started to build his considerable fortune.  Sure, Loren had to break a few rules.  He cut corners.  He acted unethically.  He had an affair with his daughter-in-law and then drove his gay son to suicide.  Loren never said that he was perfect.  Now in his 80s, Loren has a vision of the future and that vision is a new car.  This car will be called the Betsy (named after his great-granddaughter) and it will be the most fuel-efficient car ever made.

Since the film appropriates the flashback structure used in The Godfather Part II, we get to see Loren Hardeman as both an elderly man and a middle-aged titan of industry.  Elderly Loren is played by Laurence Olivier.  Elderly Loren spends most of the film in a wheelchair and he speaks with a bizarre accent, one that I think was meant to be Southern despite the fact that the film takes place in Michigan.  Elderly Loren gets really excited about building his new car and, at one point, shouts out “Wheeeeeee!”

Middle-aged Loren is played by … Laurence Olivier!  That’s right.  Olivier, who was 71 years old at the time, also plays Loren as a younger man.  This means that Olivier wears a hairpiece and so much makeup that he looks a bit like a wax figure come to life.  Strangely, Middle-aged Loren doesn’t have a strange accent and never says “wheeeee.”

To build his car, Loren recruits race car driver Angelo Perino (Tommy Lee Jones).  Angelo’s father was an old friend of Loren’s.  When Angelo agrees, he discovers that the Hardeman family is full of drama and secrets.  Not only is great-granddaughter Betsy (Kathleen Beller) in love with him but so is Lady Bobby Ayers (Lesley-Anne Down), who is the mistress of Loren’s grandson, Loren the 3rd (Robert Duvall).

Because he blames his grandfather for the death of his father, Loren the 3rd has no intention of building Loren the 1st’s car.  Loren the 3rd wants to continue to make cars that pollute the environment.  “Over my dead boy!” Loren the 1st replies.  “As you wish, grandfather,” Loren the 3rd replies with a smile.

But we’re not done yet!  I haven’t even talked about the Mafia and the union organizers and the automotive journalist who ends up getting murdered.  From the minute the movie starts, it’s nonstop drama.  That said, most of the drama is so overdone that it’s actually more humorous than anything else.  As soon as Laurence Olivier shouts out, “Wheeeee!,” The Betsy falls into the trap of self-parody and it never quite escapes.  There’s a lot going on in the movie and one could imagine a more imaginative director turning the trashy script into a critique of capitalism and technology.  However, Daniel Petrie directs in a style that basically seems to be saying, “Let’s just get this over with.”

The cast is full of interesting people, all of whom are let down by a superficial script.  Nothing brings out the eccentricity in talented performers quicker than a line of shallow dialogue.  Jane Alexander, who plays Duvall’s wife, delivers all of her lines in an arch, upper class accent.  Edward Herrmann, playing a lawyer, smirks every time the camera is pointed at him.  Katharine Ross, as Olivier’s mistress and Duvall’s mother, stares at Olivier like she’s trying to make his head explode.  Tommy Lee Jones is even more laconic than usual while Duvall always seems to be struggling not to start laughing.

And then there’s Olivier.  For better or worse, Olivier is the most entertaining thing about The Betsy.  He doesn’t give a good performance but he does give a memorably weird one.  Everything, from the incomprehensible accent to a few scenes where he literally seems to bounce up and down, suggests a great actor who is desperately trying to bring a spark of life to an otherwise doomed project.  It’s a performance so strange that it simply has to be seen to be believed.

Tomorrow, we take a look at another melodrama featuring Robert Duvall, True Confessions!

 

4 Film Reviews: Bridge To Silence, The Chocolate War, Kiss The Bride, Wedding Daze


Last week, I watched six films on This TV.

Which TV?  No, This TV!  It’s one of my favorite channels.  It’s not just that they show a lot of movies.  It’s also that they frequently show movies that are new to me.  For instance, last week, This TV introduced me to both Prison Planet and Cherry 2000.

Here are four other films, two good and two not so good, that This TV introduced to me last week.

First up, we have 1989’s Bridge to Silence.

Directed by Karen Arthur, Bridge To Silence was a made-for-TV movie.  Lee Remick plays Marge Duffield, who has a strained relationship with her deaf daughter, Peggy (Marlee Matlin).  After Peggy’s husband is killed in a traffic accident, Peggy has a nervous breakdown.  Marge and her husband, Al (Josef Sommer) take care of Peggy’s daughter, Lisa, while Peggy is recovering.  However, even as Peggy gets better, Marge still doesn’t feel that she can raise her daughter so Marge files a lawsuit to be named Lisa’s legal guardian.  While all of this is going on, Peggy is starring in a college production of The Glass Menagerie and pursuing a tentative romance with the play’s director (Michael O’Keefe).

Bridge to Silence is one of those overwritten but heartfelt melodramas that just doesn’t work.  With the exception of Marlee Matlin, the cast struggles with the overwrought script.  (Michael O’Keefe, in particular, appears to be miserable.)  The film’s biggest mistake is that it relies too much on that production of The Glass Menagerie, which is Tennessee Williams’s worst play and tends to be annoying even when it’s merely used as a plot device.  There’s only so many times that you can hear the play’s director refer to Peggy as being “Blue Roses” before you just want rip your hair out.

Far more enjoyable was 1988’s The Chocolate War.

Directed by Keith Gordon, The Chocolate War is a satirical look at conformity, popularity, rebellion, and chocolate at a Catholic boys school.  After the manipulative Brother Leon accidentally purchases too much chocolate for the school’s annual sale, he appeals to one of his students, Archie Costello (Wallace Langham), to help him make the money back.  Archie, who is just as manipulative as Leon, is the leader of a secret society known as the Vigils.  However, Archie and Leon’s attempt to manipulate the students runs into a roadblack when a new student, Jerry Renault (Illan Mitchell-Smith) refuses to sell any chocolates at all.  From there, things get progressively more complicated as Archie tries to break Jerry, Jerry continues to stand up for his freedom, and Leon … well, who knows what Leon is thinking?

The Chocolate War was an enjoyable and stylish film, one that featured a great soundtrack and a subtext about rebellion and conformity that still feels relevant.  John Glover and Wallace Langham both gave great performances as two master manipulators.

I also enjoyed the 2002 film, Kiss The Bride.

Kiss The Bride tells the story of a big Italian family, four sisters, and a wedding.  Everyone brings their own personal drama to the big day but ultimately, what matters is that family sticks together.  Directed by Vanessa Parise, Kiss The Bride featured believable and naturalistic performances from Amanda Detmer, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Brooke Langton, Monet Mazur, and Parise herself.

I have to admit that one reason why I liked this film is because it was about a big Italian family and it featured four sisters.  I’m the youngest of four sisters and, watching the film, I was reminded of my own big Irish-Italian family.  The movie just got everything right.

And then finally, there was 2006’s Wedding Daze.

Wedding Daze is a romantic “comedy.”  Anderson (Jason Biggs) asks his girlfriend to marry him, just to have her drop dead from shock.  Anderson’s best friend is afraid that Anderson will never get over his dead girlfriend and begs Anderson to not give up on love.  Anderson attempts to humor his friend by asking a complete stranger, a waitress named Katie (Isla Fisher), to marry him.  To everyone’s shock, Katie says yes.

From the get go, there are some obvious problems with this film’s problem.  Even if you accept that idea that Katie would say yes to Anderson, you also have to be willing to accept the idea that Anderson wouldn’t just say, “No, I was just joking.”  That said, the idea does have some comic potential.  You could imagine an actor like Cary Grant doing wonders with this premise in the 30s.  Unfortunately, Jason Biggs is no Cary Grant and the film’s director, comedian Michael Ian Black, is no Leo McCarey.  In the end, the entire film is such a misjudged failure that you can’t help but feel that Anderson’s ex was lucky to die before getting too involved in any of it.

Film Review: Factory Girl (dir by George Hickenlooper)


Oh God.  Factory Girl.

Released in 2006, Factory Girl was a biopic about Edie Sedgwick, the tragic model/actress/artist who was briefly both Andy Warhol’s muse and one of the most famous women in America.  Before I talk too much about this film, I should probably admit that I’m probably the worst possible person to review a movie about Edie Sedgwick.

Why?

Allow me to repost something that I wrote when I reviewed Edie’s final film, Ciao Manhattan:

“In the late 60s, Edie Sedgwick was a model who was briefly the beautiful face of the underground.  Vogue called her a “youthquaker.”  She made films with Andy Warhol, she dated the rich and the famous and for a brief time, she was one of the most famous women in America.  But a childhood full of tragedy and abuse had left Edie fragile and unprepared to deal with the pressures of being famous.  She was fed drugs by those who claimed to care about her, she had numerous mental breakdowns, and, when she was at her most vulnerable, she was pushed away and rejected by the same people who had loved her when she was on top of the world.  Edie died because, when she asked for help, nobody was willing to listen.

 

Edie Sedgwick (1943 — 1971)

I guess I should explain something.  I don’t believe in reincarnation but if I did, I would swear that I was Edie Sedwick in a past life.  Of all the great icons of the past, she, Clara Bow, andVictoria Woodhull are the ones to whom I feel the closest connection. (Edie is the reason why, for the longest time, I assumed I would die when I was 28.  But now I’m 29, so lucky me.)”

(Incidentally, I wrote that two years ago and I’m still alive so, once again, lucky me.)

Anyway, my point is that I’m always going to be a hundred times more critical of a film about Edie Sedgwick as I would be about any other film.  If you’re already guessing that I didn’t particularly care for Factory Girl, you’re right.  However, there are some people whose opinions I respect and some of them love this film.

Anyway, Factory Girl is a biopic that’s structured so conventionally that it even opens with Edie (played by Sienna Miller) narrating her story to an unseen interviewer.  I can count on one hand the number of successful biopics that have featured someone telling the story of their life to an unseen interviewer.  It’s a conventional and kind of boring technique.  Anyway, the film follows all of the expected beats.  Edie arrives in New York.  Edie is spotted by Andy (Guy Pearce).  Edie makes films with Warhol.  Her famous dance in Vinyl is recreated.  Edie becomes Andy’s platonic girlfriend but then, she meets and falls in love with Bob Dylan…

Oh, sorry.  He’s not actually Bob Dylan.  According to the credits, his name is Folksinger.  He says Bob Dylan type stuff.  He rides around on a motorcycle.  He carries a harmonica.  Oh, and he’s played by Hayden Christensen.

See, the first half of Factory Girl is actually not bad.  Sienna Miller gives a pretty good performance as Edie, even if she never comes close to capturing Edie’s unforced charisma.  Despite being several years too old, Guy Pearce is also credible as Andy Warhol.  The film itself is full of crazy 60s clichés but, even so, that’s not always a terrible thing.  Some of those 60s clichés are a lot of fun, if they’re presented with a little imagination.

But then Hayden Christensen shows up as Bob Dylan and the film loses whatever credibility it may have had.  Hayden, who gave his best performance when he played a soulless and largely empty-headed sociopath in Shattered Glass, is totally miscast as a musician who once said that if people really understood what his songs were about, he would have been thrown in jail.  The film attempts to portray Dylan and Warhol as two men fighting for Edie’s soul but Christensen is so outacted by Guy Pearce that it’s never really much of a competition.  Even though the film makes a good case that Edie’s relationship with Andy was ultimately self-destructive, Guy Pearce is still preferable to Hayden Christensen trying to imitate Dylan’s distinctive mumble.

Anyway, Factory Girl doesn’t really work.  Beyond the odd casting of Hayden Christensen, Factory Girl is too conventionally structured.  In its portrayal of the Factory and life in 1960s New York, the film never seems to establish a life beyond all of the familiar clichés.  (Before anyone accuses me of contradicting myself, remember that I said that the old 60s clichés are fun if they’re presented with a little imagination.  That’s a big if.)  At no point, while watching the film, did I feel as if I had been transported back to the past.  If you want to learn about Edie Sedgwick, your best option is to try to track down her Warhol films.

Edie!

A Movie A Day #127: Brass Target (1978, directed by John Hough)


Everything’s a conspiracy!

At least, that is the claim made by Brass Target, a twisty and unnecessarily complicated thriller that argues that General George S. Patton (played here by George Kennedy, who is even more blustery than usual in the role) did not, as widely believed, die as the result of a car accident but was actually killed by an assassin using rubber bullets.  Why was Patton targeted for assassination?  Was he targeted by Nazis angered by Germany’s defeat or maybe Russians who knew that Patton had argued in favor of invading the Soviet Union towards the end of the war?  Would you believe it was all because Patton was investigating the theft of Nazi gold and his subordinates, the flamboyantly gay Colonel Donald Rogers (Robert Vaughn) and Rogers’s always worried lover, Colonel Walter Gilchrist (Edward Herrmann), were fearful that he was getting too close to discovering the truth?

John Cassevetes, who hopefully used part of his paycheck to fund either The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, Opening Night, or Gloria, plays Joe De Lucca, the burned out OSS colonel who is assigned to track down the Nazi gold but who really just wants to go back home to New York.  Patrick McGoohan, sporting an accent that is supposed to be American, plays De Lucca’s former friend and colleague, Colonel Mike McCauley, who now lives in a German castle.  Max von Sydow is the assassin, who also has a day job as the chairman of a refugee relocation committee.  Sophia Loren plays Mara, a Polish war refugee who, by pure coincidence, has slept with not just De Lucca but almost everyone involved with the conspiracy.  Bruce Davison is the young colonel who acts as Du Lucca’s supervisor.  Even Charles “Lucky” Luciano (played by the very British Lee Montague) is featured as a minor part of the conspiracy.

That is an impressive cast for a less than impressive movie.  Brass Target never provides a convincing reason as to why the conspirators would decide that killing Patton was their only option and, once the conspiracy gets underway and the movie starts to follow around Von Sydow for some Day of the Jackal/Black Sunday-style preparation scenes, the search for the Nazi gold is forgotten.  For some reason, though, I have a soft spot for this frequently ridiculous movie.  There are enough weird moments and details, like Vaughn’s twitchy performance, McGoohan’s accent, the way Kennedy blusters about the Russians being rude to him, and glamorous Sophia Loren’s miscasting, that Brass Target is always watchable even if it is never exactly good.

Shattered Politics #74: The Aviator (dir by Martin Scorsese)


The_Aviator_Poster

“The way of the future.” — Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) in The Aviator (2004)

As I recently rewatched the 2004 best picture nominee, The Aviator, I realized that, in the film’s scheme of things, Ava Gardner was far more important than Katharine Hepburn.  (Or, perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that Kate Beckinsale’s Ava Gardner was far more important than Cate Blanchett’s Katharine Hepburn.)

Over the course of the film, both Hepburn and Gardner are involved with billionaire-turned aviator-turned film director Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio).  Throughout the film, Katherine is portrayed as being flighty, pretentious, and overdramatic.  There’s a lot of dark humor to the scene where Katherine breaks up with Howard, largely because Katharine is incapable of not acting as if she’s making a film.  Her every word is so carefully rehearsed that you have to agree when Howard says that she’s incapable of not giving a performance.  Ava, on the other hand, is always direct.  She has a sense of humor.  She has no trouble telling Howard off.  Whereas Katharine put on airs of being an incurable romantic, Ava tells Howard flat out that she doesn’t love him and is only using him to forward her career.

But, while Katharine Hepburn gets more screen time, it’s Ava Gardner who actually saves Howard’s business.  Towards the end of the film, after Howard has had a nervous breakdown and has locked himself in a hotel room, it’s Ava who suddenly shows up, cleans him, and dresses him.  She’s the one who gives Howard the strength to leave his room and to face down the corrupt senator (Alan Alda) who is investigating his business.

Of course, Howard Hughes is best known for once being the world’s richest recluse.  In the 1960s, Howard locked himself away in a hotel room in Las Vegas and spent the next decade laying naked in bed and watching television.  The Aviator doesn’t deal with this period of Howard’s life but it’s full of scenes where we catch glimpses of Howard’s future.  Throughout the film, we watch as Howard obsessively washes his hands.  We watch as he gives precise instructions on how even the simplest of tasks are to be accomplished.  We watch as he grows increasingly paranoid about the germ-filled outside world.  The film suggests that Howard’s obsessive compulsive disorder both served to make him a great engineer and a great filmmaker while, at the same time, ultimately destroying him.

The Aviator was the second film that DiCaprio made with Scorsese.  And, as bad as DiCaprio may have been in Gangs of New York, he’s absolutely brilliant in The Aviator.  As a character, Howard Hughes has so many quirks and tics that it would have been easy for DiCaprio to go overboard.  Instead, he gives a surprisingly subtle performance.  And, even more importantly as far as I’m concerned, he actually sounds authentically Texan when he speaks.

In many ways, much of The Aviator reminds me of Gangs of New York.  Both films are gorgeously produced period epics that try to cover a lot of material.  Both films are absolute cat nip for history nerds like me.  But, whereas Gangs of New York leaves one feeling vaguely dissatisfied, The Aviator actually improves with subsequent viewings.  Whereas the action in Gangs had no center, The Aviator revolves around Howard and the actor playing him.

While the Aviator starts off with Howard making movies and romancing Katharine Hepburn, it’s at its best when Howard appears before a committee chaired by Sen. Owen Brewster (Alan Alda) and passionately defends both himself as an engineer and a businessman and the right of innovators everywhere to freely pursue their passion.  The film suggests that Brewster was bribed by Howard’s main business rival, Juan Trippe (Alec Baldwin, in unapologetic villain mode), and it’s hard not to applaud when Howard stands up for himself.

Speaking of which, it’s odd, so soon after reviewing Alan Alda in The Seduction of Joe Tynan, to see Alda playing a far less ethical politician in The Aviator.  That said, Alda’s corrupt performance in The Aviator is a hundred times better than his cutesy work in Joe Tynan.  If anything, Alda gives a performance here that will remind everyone of why they don’t care much for their congressman.

The Aviator was nominated for best picture but it lost to the far more low-key Million Dollar Baby.  Scorsese would have to wait until the release of The Departed for one of his films to finally win best picture.

Shattered Politics #72: Welcome to Mooseport (dir by Donald Petrie)


Welcome_To_Mooseport

The 2004 film comedy Welcome to Mooseport would probably be totally forgotten if not for one thing.  This is the film that was supposedly so bad that co-star Gene Hackman looked at the final cut and then probably looked over at the Oscars he won for The French Connection and Unforgiven and then probably looked back at the final cut and then announced, “I quit!”  There’s a reason why Hackman now spends his time writing novels and, according to most accounts, Welcome to Mooseport is that reason.

In Welcome to Mooseport, Gene Hackman plays Monroe “Eagle” Cole, the former President of the United States.  From the minute we first hear the President’s name, we know exactly what type of film Welcome to Mooseport is going to be.  It’s not enough to give Hackman’s a character a totally over-the-top name like Monroe Cole.  He also has to have a cutesy nickname.  The entire time I watched the film, I found myself wondering if Monroe Cole was listed on the presidential ballots as being Monroe “Eagle” Cole.  Personally, I always find it funny when people feel the need to include their nickname in the credits.  Is it really important for every William out there to let everyone know that some people call him Billy?

Anyway, Eagle is apparently the most popular president ever.  However, he’s also recently divorced and his ex-wife (Christine Baranski, playing the same role that she played in Bulworth) wants all of his property.  Eagle is forced to retire to one of the few residences that he has left, his vacation home in Mooseport, Maine.  In order to keep his wife from claiming that home, Eagle decides to run for mayor of Mooseport…

Now, right here, we’ve got a huge issue.  Eagle’s only motivation for running for mayor is because he doesn’t want to have to give over his vacation home to his wife.  But that could be anyone’s motivation.  One does not have to be President to want to keep the house in a divorce.  It would have been more interesting if Eagle, now out of office and struggling to adjust to no longer being the most powerful man in the world, ran for mayor because he really wanted the job.

But anyway, Eagle is not the only person running for mayor.  Hardware store owner Hardy Harrison (Ray Romano) is also running.  At first, Hardy wants to withdraw but then he sees Eagle flirting with Hardy’s longtime girlfriend (Maura Tierney) and Hardy suddenly decides that he’s going to run and he’s going to win.

I actually like Ray Romano as an actor and he doesn’t give a bad performance here.  But, at the same time, it’s obvious that his scenes were written to capitalize on his TV persona.  It’s easy to imagine stumbling across a rerun of Everybody Loves Raymond where Ray runs for mayor and has a panic attack when he loses.  The difference, of course, is that Ray Barone would not have been running against Gene Hackman (much less a former President).

Needless to say, Welcome to Mooseport has a sitcom feel to it.  After every line, you find yourself waiting for a laugh track.  Gene Hackman feels incredibly out-of-place in the film and there’s a discomfort to his performance.  Watching him in this film, you can see the wheels turning in his brain.  You can literally see Gene Hackman thinking, “I’m too old for this shit.”

And I guess he was because, in the 11 years since Welcome to Mooseport was first released, Gene Hackman has not appeared in another film.  Which is bad news for everyone waiting for Welcome to Mooseport Part II