Lisa Reviews a Palme d’Or Winner: Scarecrow (dir by Jerry Schatzberg)


With the 2021 Cannes Film Festival underway in France, I thought this would be a good opportunity to spend the next few days looking at some of the films that have won the Palme d’Or in the past.  As of this writing, 100 films have won either the Palme d’Or or an earlier version of the award like the Grand Prix du Festival International du Film.  Some of those films — like Parasite, The Tree of Life, The Piano, Pulp Fiction — went on to huge box office success and Oscar renown.  Others, like 1973’s Scarecrow, did not.

Scarecrow is an example of a type of film that was very popular in the 70s.  It’s a road film, one in which two or more people take a journey across the country and discover something about themselves and, depending upon how ambitious the film was, perhaps something about America as well.  Scarecrow centers on two drifters, who just happen to meet on a dusty road while they’re trying to hitch a ride.  Max (Gene Hackman, fresh off of winning an Oscar for The French Connection) is an ex-convict with a bad temper and a huge chip on his shoulder.  Lion (a young Al Pacino, fresh off of The Godfather) is an ex-sailor who views the world with optimism and who appears to be sweet-natured but simple-minded.  To be honest, it’s a little bit hard to believe that the perpetually resentful Max and the always hopeful Lion would ever become friends but they do.  They travel around the country, talking about their dreams of opening a car wash together.  They meet up with ex-girlfriends and ex-wives.  Eventually, they even end up in a prison farm together, where Lion, temporarily estranged from Max, is taken advantage of by a sadistic prisoner named Riley (Richard Lynch).

Scarecrow is an episodic film, one that moves at its own deliberate pace.  (If that sounds like a polite way of saying that the film is slow-moving …. well, it is.)  Director Jerry Schatzberg was a photographer-turned-director and, as a result, there’s several striking shots of Max and Lion standing against the countryside, waiting for someone to pick them up and give them a ride.  Whenever Max and Lion end up in a bar, the scene is always lit perfectly.  At the same time, Schatzberg also attempts to give the film a spontaneous, naturalistic feel by letting scenes run longer than one would normally expect.  There’s several scenes of Hackman and Pacino just talking while walking down a country road or a city street.  On the one hand, you have to appreciate Schatzberg’s attempt to convince us that Max and Lion are just two guys with big dreams, as opposed to two Oscar-nominated actors pretending to be societal drop-outs.  On the other hand, Schatzberg’s approach also leads to an interminably long scene of Gene Hackman eating a piece of chicken and if you think that Gene Hackman was the type of actor who wasn’t going to act the Hell out of gnawing on and gesturing with a chicken bone, you obviously haven’t seen many Gene Hackman films.

The main appeal of the film, for most people, will probably be to see Gene Hackman and Al Pacino, two of the top actors of the 70s, acting opposite of each other.  Reportedly, both Hackman and Pacino went full method for the film and spent their prep time on the streets of San Francisco, begging for spare change.  The end result is a mixed bag.  There are a few scenes — like when they first meet or when they’re in prison — in which Hackman and Pacino are believable in their roles and you buy them as two lost souls who were lucky enough to find each other.  There are other scenes where they both seem to be competing to see who can chew up the most scenery.   Sometimes, Pacino and Hackman are compelling acting opposite each other.  Other times, it feels like we’re just watching an Actors’ Studio improv class that someone happened to film.  Too often, Hackman and Pacino seem to be so occupied with showing off their technique that the film’s reality seems to get lost under all of the method showiness.  In the end, neither one of the film’s stars makes as much of an impression as Richard Lynch, who is genuinely frightening in his small but key role.

Scarecrow is an uneven film, one that is occasionally effective but also a bit too studied for its own good.  It wears it influences — Of Mice and Men, Midnight Cowboy, Five Easy Pieces — on its sleeve but it also fails to exceed or match any of those previous works.  That said, the film does have its fans.  (Schatzberg has been working on a sequel for a while.)  Certainly, the 1973 Cannes Jury (headed by none other than Ingrid Bergman) liked it enough to give it the Palme.

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Cleaning Out The DVR: Class Action (dir by Michael Apted)


Sometimes, it takes a really good actor to give a really bad performance.

That’s what I found myself considering tonight as I watched the 1991 film, Class Action. I recorded this film off of Starz a few months ago, mostly due to the fact that I usually enjoy legal dramas. Class Action is about a father and a daughter, both of whom are attorneys, who find themselves facing each other in court. Gene Hackman plays Jedediah Ward Tucker while Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio played Maggie, his daughter.

From the very first scenes, Jed Tucker is portrayed as being a firebrand, a crusader who stands up for the little guy against big corporate interests. (“Jed Ward is a great man!” one his clients exclaims while the other lawyers nod along in agreement.) Tucker is flamboyant, loud, perpetually outraged, in love with attention, and determined to make the world a better place. This is the type of role that would probably encourage any actor to overact just a bit. However, when you cast someone like Gene Hackman in the role, the performance becomes a masterclass in overacting. Gene Hackman was never a particularly subtle actor to begin with and casting him as Jed Tucker guarantees about two hours of Hackman bellowing, smirking, occasionally flirting, and basically coming across less like Gene Hackman and more like someone doing a particularly antic impersonation of Gene Hackman. Hackman goes so over overboard in the role that it becomes rather fascinating to watch. You watch and you ask yourself, “How much louder can he get? He much more obviously can he telegraph his intentions? Just how Gene Hackmanish is Gene Hackman going to get in this film?” Don’t get me wrong, Gene Hackman was a great actor. (He famously retired in 2004, after the indignity of appearing in Welcome to Mooseport.) One need only watch Bonnie and Clyde, The French Connection, Unforgiven, and The Royal Tennenbaums to see that Gene Hackman was a great actor. But sometimes, it takes a great actor to give a memorably bad performance.

Gene Hackman’s performance, as overbaked as it may be, is actually the only interesting thing about Class Action. It’s a well-made but ultimately rather silly mix legal maneuvering and family drama. Jed was a terrible father so Maggie becomes a corporate attorney in order to spite him. Class Action so embraces the idea that all professional women are motivated by daddy issues that even Aaron Sorkin would probably look at it and say, “Whoa, that’s really demeaning.” At one point, Maggie says to her father, “Have you ever considered that I might be a good attorney?,” just to have her father smirk and say that’s only because he’s her father. Jed’s response is to be expected, as he’s kind of an arrogant windbag. The problem is that the movie itself doesn’t seem to be willing to consider that Maggie could be a good attorney.

The other problem, of course, is that Class Action makes its good guys and its bad guys so painfully obvious that it’s hard to take any of the conflicts seriously. Of course, the big corporate law firm is going to be evil and of course, Jed Ward’s associates are going to be saints even if Jed isn’t. Laurence Fishburne plays Jed’s protégée and he gets stuck with all of the worst lines. Far more entertaining is future U.S. Senator and presidential contender Fred Dalton Thompson, playing a doctor who explains why it actually costs less for a car company to settle a lawsuit than to fix a design flaw.

Class Action is a forgettable film, not so much terrible as just bland. That said, if you want to hear some vintage Gene Hackman-style yelling, this might be the film for you.

Spring Breakdown: Eureka (dir by Nicolas Roeg)


 

In this 1983 film, Gene Hackman plays Jack McCann, a prospector who is determined to either get rich or freeze to death as he wanders around Alaska in the 1920s.  When he’s not having sex and philosophical discussions with the local witch, Freida (Helena Kallianiotes), Jack desperately searches for gold.  Jack is convinced that gold is all that he needs to be happy, though Freida counsels him that it’s also important to pursue more Earthly delights.  Everywhere Jack looks, he sees people dying in the snow.  In fact, Jack nearly dies himself until he stumbles across a mountain full of gold.  As gold dust pours down on him, he celebrates while having flashbacks to Freida writhing in ecstasy.  It’s just that type of film.  When Jack tells Freida about his claim, he asks what’s going to happen next.  Freida tells him that it’s both the end and the beginning.  Once again, it’s just that type of film.

At this point, Eureka jumps ahead 20 years.  The year is 1945.  World War II is coming to an end.  Jack is no longer freezing and starving to death in Alaska.  Now, he is one of the world’s richest men.  He even owns his own island in the Caribbean.  Jack has a huge house, a beautiful view of the ocean, and all the money in the world.  One could even say that his life has become an exclusive beach vacation, an eternal Spring Break, if you will.  And yet, even with all of his money, Jack has fallen victim to ennui.  He was happier when he was poor and starving and seeking warmth from Freida.  Now, he’s got an alcoholic wife (Jane LaPotaire) and his daughter, Tracy (Theresa Russell), is in love with a dissolute aristocrat named Claude (Rutger Hauer), to whom Jack takes an instant dislike.  Claude claims that Jack has stolen his wealth from the Earth.  Claude is the type who eats gold and then promises to return it to Jack as soon as he can.  That’s something that actually happens.  It’s kind of silly but Rutger Hauer is such a charmer that he nearly pulls it off.

Claude and Tracy aren’t the only thing that Jack has to worry about.  An American gangster named Mayakofsky (Joe Pesci) wants to take over Jack’s island so that he can build a casino on it.  However, despite the best efforts of Mayakofsky’s attorney (Mickey Rourke), Jack is still not willing to sell.  When hitman Joe Spinell shows up outside the estate, are Jack’s days of ennui numbered?

Of course, they are!  That’s not really a spoiler.  Eureka is (loosely) based on the real-life murder of Sir Harry Oakes, an American-born prospector who was thought to be one of the world’s richest men when he was brutally murdered in the 40s.  Jack is, of course, a stand-in for Oakes while Mayakofsky is based on Meyer Lansky, the mobster who many people suspect ordered Oakes’s murder.  Lansky was never charged with the crime.  Instead, Oakes’s son-in-law, Count Alfred de Marigny, was arrested and charged with the crime.  After a trial that made international news and was described as being “the trial of the century,” de Marigny was acquitted and the murder of Harry Oakes remains officially unsolved.

It’s an interesting story and it seems like one that should perfectly translate to film.  Surprisingly though, Eureka doesn’t really do it justice.  The film was directed by one of the masters of cinematic surrealism, Nicolas Roeg.  Roeg, of course, is probably best remembered for films like Performance, Don’t Look Now, Walkabout, and The Man Who Fell To Earth.  As one might expect from a Roeg film, Eureka is visually stunning but, as a director, Roeg can’t seem to decide whether he’s more interested in Jack’s ennui or in all the soapy melodrama surrounding Jack’s murder.  As such, neither element of the film gets explored with any particular depth and the resulting film, while always watchable, still feels rather shallow and disjointed.  (After taking forever to reach the end of Jack’s story, Eureka then turns into a rather conventional courtroom drama.  Theresa Russell does get to utter the immortal line, “Did you cut off my father’s head?” but otherwise, it’s kind of dry.)  The film is at its strongest when Jack is just a prospector in Alaska.  The harsh landscape and the crazed dialogue is perfect for Roeg’s dream-like style.  Once the film moves to the Caribbean, it suffers the same fate that befell Jack when he become rich.  It loses its spark.

That said, Eureka has its moments.  Any film that features Gene Hackman, Mickey Rourke, Joe Pesci, Rutger Hauer, and Joe Spinell all acting opposite of each other is going to have at least a few scenes worth watching.  I particularly liked Pesci’s surprisingly subdued performance as Mayakofsky.  With everyone else in the film chewing every piece of scenery on the island, Pesci wisely underplays and is all the more menacing for it.  While Eureka ultimately doesn’t add up too much, it’s worth watching at least once for the cast.

Finally, my personal theory is that Harry Oakes’s murder had more to do with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (formerly King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson) than it did with Meyer Lansky.  (The Duke was the governor of the Bahamas at the time of Oakes’s murder.)  But that’s just my opinion.

Marooned (1969, directed by John Sturges)


Imagine The Martian or Apollo 13 without any humor or narrative momentum and you’ve got an idea what Marooned is like.

Three American astronauts (played by Richard Crenna, Gene Hackman, and James Franciscus) are returning to Earth after serving on an experimental space station when the engine to their spacecraft fails.  Now stuck in orbit around the Earth, they only have two days before they run out of oxygen.  While flight commander Crenna tries to keep everyone calm and make sure that all the proper procedures are followed, Gene Hackman yells at NASA and demands to be rescued.

Down on Earth, the head of NASA (Gregory Peck) says that there’s nothing that can be done.  There’s no way to get a rescue mission set up quickly enough to save the lives of the astronauts.  Both the President and David Janssen disagree with him.  Janssen demands to be sent into space immediately, regardless of the dangers, so that he can bring America’s astronauts home.

Marooned is a painfully slow movie that went into production at the height of the space race and which was released just a few weeks before the first successful moon mission.  Because it was made at a time when there were still many who claimed that NASA was a waste of money, the movie goes out of its way to explain that, even though the astronauts are probably going to die in space, NASA is in no way to blame.  Richard Crenna absolves NASA of blame after being told that a rescue mission isn’t feasible.  Gregory Peck holds a press conference, where he gives a lengthy speech about why space exploration is still important.  The movie is very detailed in showing that NASA is staffed by personality-free professionals, which might have boosted confidence in NASA but which also leads to a dull story.  You’ll notice that I haven’t referred to anyone in this film by the names of their characters.  That’s because their names don’t matter because, other than Gene Hackman and David Janssen, none of them is really distinguished by any sort of identifiable personality.  Hackman chews the scenery while Janssen plays another surly character who seems like he has a permanent hangover.  I wouldn’t trust Janssen to pilot a spaceship.

Marooned won an Oscar for its Special Effects, which were probably impressive back in 1969 but which are dull by modern standards.  Winning that Oscar meant that Marooned would eventually earn the distinction of being the only Oscar winner to be featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000.  On MST 3K, it aired under the title Space Travelers, which is a perfectly generic name for a perfectly generic film.

 

18 Days of Paranoia #8: The French Connection II (dir by John Frankenheimer)


The 1975 film, The French Connection II, opens up three years after the downbeat conclusion of the first French Connection.

Having escaped from the police at the end of the first film, the wealthy and suave Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey) is still smuggling drugs and living his best life.  He goes to parties with wealthy people.  He has lunch dates with important businessman.  Even though the French police are keeping an eye on him, Charnier seems to be virtually untouchable and he knows it.  If Charnier seemed impossibly smug in the first French Connection, he’s even worse in the second one.

Charnier may be enjoying himself in Marseille but what he doesn’t know is that there’s an American tourist in town.  He’s a very loud American, one who insists on trying to speak to everyone in English and is shocked to discover that most of the French natives don’t have the slightest clue as to what he’s talking about.  He’s shocked when he goes into a bar and fails to impress two young French women.  He also doesn’t seem to understand that even French people who speak English are not going to appreciate being called a “frogs.”  He wanders around town in loud shirts and with a fedora sitting rakishly on his balding head.

Yep, it’s Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman).  The anti-hero from the first French Connection is still on the case and he’s now come all the way to France to help track down Charnier.  The last time we saw Doyle, he had just accidentally killed a cop and was running through a dark warehouse, firing his gun.  In fact, the first film ended with the suggestion that Doyle was such a loose cannon that his career as a narcotics detective was probably over.  Instead, in the sequel, we learn that Popeye is still working in narcotics and he’s still just as much of a loose cannon as he ever was.  If you thought people in New York found Popeye to be obnoxious, just you wait to see how the French react to him!

What Popeye doesn’t know is that his superiors in New York have only sent him to Marsielle so that he can be a target.  They know that Popeye will never be able to blend in.  Charnier will spot him and, hopefully, Charnier will panic and make some sort of mistake that will finally allow the police to capture him.  French detective Henri (Bernard Fresson) goes along with the plan, despite his own moral objections.  Henri can’t stand Popeye but he doesn’t want to see him killed either.

It doesn’t take long for Charnier to notice Popeye.  After Popeye is captured by Charnier’s man, they inject him with heroin until soon, Popeye is an addict.  Before Popeye can finally get his shot at Charnier, he’s going to have to overcome his own drug addiction….

The French Connection II starts out well, with Gene Hackman wandering around Marsielle and acting like a stereotypical ugly American.  Director John Frankenheimer does a good job of keeping the action moving at a steady pace during the first half of the film and there’s a lot of great scenes involving Popeye being followed around town by not just the police but also Charnier’s men.  The first half of the film does a great job of establishing an atmosphere of paranoia, which is not surprising when you consider that Frankenheimer’s other credits included The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days In May, and Seconds.

Unfortunately, once Popeye is captured and gets hooked on heroin, the action not only comes to a halt but the normally reliable Gene Hackman starts to act up a storm.  When Popeye, while going through withdrawal, starts talking about how he used to play baseball and how he once has a try-out with the New York Yankees, the scene seems to go on forever and Hackman’s performance becomes so histrionic that you basically just end up feeling like you’re watching someone auditioning his heart out for a spot in the Actor’s Studio.  Gene Hackman was one of the world’s great actors and Popeye Doyle was a great role but, in The French Connection II, we’re reminded that even a great actor occasionally needs to have his performance reined in.

Eventually, after Hackman’s had his big Oscar moment, the action kicks back in and the film kind of regains its momentum.  There’s a big action scene towards the end of the film.  (Ironically, it’s the type of big, good guys vs. bad guys shoot out that the first film deliberately avoided.)  The film ends with a literal bang that’s abrupt yet undeniably effective.

As far as sequels go, The French Connection II is good.  It’s not great and, not surprisingly, it doesn’t come anywhere close to matching the power of the first film.  But it still has enough effective scenes to make it worth watching.  You just might want to hit fast forward whenever Popeye starts talking about baseball…..

Other Entries In The 18 Days Of Paranoia:

  1. The Flight That Disappeared
  2. The Humanity Bureau
  3. The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover
  4. The Falcon and the Snowman
  5. New World Order
  6. Scandal Sheet
  7. Cuban Rebel Girls

Behind Enemy Lines (2001, directed by John Moore)


When hotshot Navy flight officer Chis Burnett (Owen Wilson) is shot down while doing a reconnaissance mission over Bosnia, he finds himself stranded behind enemy lines.  While Burnett tries to avoid being captured by a Serbian general and find evidence of illegal military operations in yje demilitarized zone, Admiral Leslie Reigart (Gene Hackman) tries to mount a rescue operation.  Standing in his way are the NATO bureaucrats who would rather just leave Burnett to his fate than run the risk of disrupting the peace process.

Behind Enemy Lines was released early in Owen Wilson’s acting career and, after years of watching him in buddy comedies and eccentric character roles, it can be strange to see him playing a traditional leading man, much less an action hero.  Burnett has his goofball moment but, for the most part, this is probably as dramatic a role as you’re ever going to see Owen Wilson perform.  Once you get over the fact that he’s Owen Wilson and still speaking in the same stoner cadences that he’s used in everything from Bottle Rocket to Inherent Vice, Wilson actually gives a decent performance as Burnett.  The fact that he’s not a traditional leading man actually makes the film’s action scenes more exciting.  If Burnett had been played by someone like Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise, you would never have any doubt about his survival.  With Owen Wilson in the role, you’re no longer quite as sure that he’s going to be able to make his way to safety.

Gene Hackman also gave a good performance, even if he didn’t really do anything with the role that he hadn’t already done with all of the other authority figures that he played from Unforgiven on.  Hackman’s intimidating as Reigart.  When Burnett says that he wants to retire from the Air Force, Reigart looks like he’s about to reach over and rip off his face.  But Hackman has so much natural authority that you understand why his men automatically respect Reigart and follow his every order.  Burnett is lucky to have him on his side because there’s no way Reigart’s going to let someone from NATO push him around.

When Behind Enemy Lines first came out, it was not loved by the critics.  They complained that the movie was heavy-handed and predictable.  They were right but it really didn’t matter.  Behind Enemy Lines made a lot of money because it was a legitimate crowd pleaser.  I remember seeing it when it first came out.  This was less than month after 9-11 and the theater was packed with people who, like me, were still dealing with the greatest national trauma of our lifetime.  When Owen Wilson killed the men who were trying to kill him, the audience cheered.  When Reigart said that there was no way he going to abandon an American behind enemy lines, the audience applauded.  By the time the film ended, everyone was on their feet and chanting “USA!  USA!”  (At least, that’s the way I remembered it.)  Critics be damned, at that time, Behind Enemy Lines was the movie that we needed.

Behind Enemy Lines was a huge box office success so, of course, it got a sequel that wasn’t as good.  I’ll review Behind Enemy Lines: Axis of Evil tomorrow.

A (Not-So) Brief Note On WELCOME TO MOOSEPORT (20th Century Fox 2004)


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Sometimes while scrolling through the channels one come across a pleasant surprise. So it’s Saturday afternoon,a thundershower has cancelled my plan to hit the beach, the Red Sox don’t start for awhile, and I’m clicking the old clicker when I land on WELCOME TO MOOSEPORT. I wasn’t expecting much, just a way to kill time; instead, I found an underrated little gem of a comedy that kept me watching until the very end.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying WELCOME TO MOOSEPORT is an undiscovered classic or anything like that. It’s just a solidly made piece of entertainment about small-town life starring Ray Romano (riding high at the time thanks to his successful sitcom EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND) and Oscar winning Gene Hackman. Romano uses his nebbishy TV persona to portray Mooseport, Maine’s local hardware store owner “Handy” Harrison, who gets involved in a mayoral campaign against Hackman’s Monroe “Eagle”…

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40 Years of SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE (Warner Brothers 1978)


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Unlike today, when superheroes dominate at the box office and your local multiplex, costumed crusaders were dead as the proverbial doornail in theaters of the 1970’s. The last was 1966’s BATMAN, at the height of the camp craze, but after that zer0… zilch… nada. I didn’t care; my comic book reading days were pretty much at an end by 1978, driven away by other distractions, like making money, girls, beer, and girls. I had moved on.

But when Warner Brothers announced they were making a new, big budget Superman movie, I was intrigued. I’d always loved the old 50’s TV series starring George Reeves as the Man of Steel, corny as it was, and with a cast featuring Marlon Brando , Gene Hackman , and Glenn Ford , not to mention that girl from Brian DePalma’s SISTERS as Lois Lane, I wanted to see this new version. I also wanted…

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An Olympic Film Review: Downhill Racer (dir by Michael Ritchie)


For the past few days, like all good people, I have been totally obsessed with the Winter Olympics!  Last week, I asked my friends to suggest some Winter Olympic-themed movies that I could watch and review.  More than a few of them immediately recommended that I check out a film called Downhill Racer.

First released in 1969, Downhill Racer tells the story of David Chappellet (a very young and very handsome Robert Redford).  When we first meet David, he’s just arrived in Switzerland.  An alternate to the U.S. ski team, David has been summoned by Coach Eugene Claire (Gene Hackman) to replace an injured skier.  From the minute that David arrives, it’s obvious that he’s not interested in being anyone’s friend.  He’s upset that he was an alternate.  He’s upset that he’s going to be skiing so late in the competition.  He’s upset about … well, almost everything.  Unlike the rest of his teammates, he’s a loner and he rarely has much to say.  He cares about one thing: winning championships and being recognized as the best.  David is not a particularly likable character.  However, the fact that he doesn’t seem to care what anyone thinks about him is one of the things that makes him compelling.  Add to that, David quickly proves himself to be one of the best.  He may be arrogant but, more often than not, he can back up his pride.

Why is David so driven?  We get some clues when David returns to his hometown in Idaho.  Even though everyone in the town knows him and he doesn’t have any trouble convincing a former girlfriend to go off with him, David still seems out-of-place.  When he visits his father, the taciturn man is not impressed by David’s success.  As his father puts it, the world is full of champions.  Why should David deserve any more praise than anyone else?

Standing in contrast to the reservered David is Coach Claire.  Whereas David is reserved, Claire is passionate.  Whereas David is an unapologetic loner, Claire is willing to fight for every member of his team.  Whereas David reacts to a crash by refusing to accept that he made a mistake, Coach Claire is always brutally honest.  David couldn’t be a champion without Claire’s help but, in the end, the Coach is destined to remain in the background while David signs lucrative sponsorship deals and becomes a hero to television viewers everywhere.

It’s a familiar story, though perhaps it wasn’t as familiar in 1969 as it is today.  Today, we’ve grown accustomed to the idea that celebrities can be jerks and that “heroes” are often just manufactured idols.  (Downhill Racer has a good deal of fun with the shallowness of the media’s coverage of David Chappellett’s career.)  That said, familiar or not, there’s a good deal of authenticity to be found in the performances of both Redford and Hackman.  It takes a bit of courage to play a character who is as narcissistic and arrogant as David Chappellett but, even more so, it takes talent to make that character compelling.  As for Hackman, he’s the ideal coach.  He knows both how to get the best out of Chappellett but also when to call him out on his crap.  From the minute we meet the Coach, we knows that he cares but we also know that he’s seen a lot of David Chappelletts come and go over the years.

Of course, the main reason to watch Downhill Racer is because of the racing scenes, many of which were filmed as a point-of-view shot, putting you in the skis as the frozen landscape flies past you.  They are amazing to watch.  I’ve never been skiing, which is probably a good thing when you consider that I’m a bit accident-prone.  But the skiing sequences in Downhill Racer left me breathless, shaken, and exhilarated.

Downhill Racer is definitely one to watch, during the Olympics or any other time.

Recipe for Disaster: THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (20th Century-Fox 1972)


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Although 1970’s AIRPORT is generally credited as the first “disaster movie”, it was 1972’s THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE that made the biggest splash for the genre. Producer Irwin Allen loaded up his cast with five- count ’em!- Academy Award winners, including the previous year’s winner Gene Hackman (THE FRENCH CONNECTION ). The special effects laden extravaganza wound up nominated for 9 Oscars, winning 2, and was the second highest grossing film of the year, behind only THE GODFATHER!

And unlike many of the “disasters” that followed in its wake, THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE holds up surprisingly well. The story serves as an instruction manual for all disaster movies to come. First, introduce your premise: The S.S. Poseidon is sailing on its final voyage, and Captain Leslie Nielsen is ordered by the new ownership to go full steam ahead, despite the ship no longer being in ship-shape. (You won’t be able to take…

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