Love On The Shattered Lens: The Souvenir (dir by Joanna Hogg)

Well, here we are.  It’s the end of February and tomorrow, March begins.  That also means that it’s time to end Love on the Shattered Lens, our series of reviews of films about the wonders of love.  Tomorrow, it’ll be time to start reviewing films about Spring Break and paranoia, two topics that go together like Danny Zuko and Sandy Olsson.  Perhaps Love on the Shattered Lens will return next February.  It’s always hard to say what the future will hold but, by this time, our regular readers should know how much I love tradition.

With all that in mind, our final entry in Love on the Shattered Lens is a film that I personally considered to be the best film to be released last year, The Souvenir.

Taking place in the early 1980s, this independent British film tells the story of Julie (Honor Swinton Byne, the daughter of Tilda Swinton) and Anthony (Tom Burke).  Julie is a film student who hopes to make a documentary about a family living in a slum.  She’s very idealistic and very much concerned about the state of the world.  Though it’s not obvious at first, she’s also extremely naive and rather innocent about the world that she wants to document.  For all of her desire to capture reality on film, there’s much that she had yet to experience.

Anthony is older than Julie, though not too much older.  He’s a handsome, charming man who is always well-dressed and who has what would appear to be an exciting and interesting job with the Foreign Office.  It’s not long after first meeting that Julie and Anthony become lovers.  After her roommates abandon her, Anthony even moves into Julie’s flat.  He seems like he’s perfect, even though observant viewers will automatically have some questions about him.  For instance, if he’s so successful, why is he so quick to move into Julie’s flat?  Why is he always so vague about the details of his job?  He disappears, for one week, to Paris and when he returns, he brings the gift of lingerie.  He claims to have purchased it for her in Paris but was that really where he was?  Later, when Julie notices some strange marks on his arms, Anthony is intentionally vague about what they are.  (Of course, most people people watching the movie will immediately realize that they’re a sign that Anthony is a heroin addict.)  When the flat is broken into and Julie’s jewelry is stolen, we know what’s actually happened even if Julie doesn’t.

Just reading the paragraph above, you’re probably imagining that it’s very easy to hate Anthony but that’s not the case.  Every sign tells Julie that she should get him out her life and yet, it’s not as easy as it seems.  Even after Julie learns the truth about him, she still finds it difficult to just push him aside.  For all of Anthony’s flaws, he’s got the addict’s gift for manipulation and, at times, his love for her does seem to be real, even if it will always be second to his addiction and his need to get a fix.  Much like Julie, the viewer find themselves occasionally falling into the trap of thinking, “If only Anthony wasn’t a drug addict, he would be the perfect for her.”  Of course, the point of the matter is that Anthony is a drug addict and no amount of wishful thinking or fantasizing is going to change that.

The Souvenir is a rather low-key film.  Whenever you expect the film to go for easy drama or a showy shouting match, The Souvenir surprises you by going the opposite direction.  Instead of being a traditional “drugs-are-bad” type of film, it’s a character study of two people dealing with their addictions.  Anthony is addicted to heroin and lying while Julie finds herself addicted not so much to Anthony but instead to the fantasy that Anthony sans drugs represents.  By the end of the film, Julie is sadder but she’s wiser and, if nothing else, she’s a better artist than she was at the start of things.  If nothing else, she’s been forced to start dealing with reality.  The film’s title comes from a painting by Jean-Honoré Fragonard.  Julie thinks that the girl in the painting looks sad while Anthony says that she looks determined.  By the end of the film, Julie is both sad and determined, just like the subject of The Souvenir.

Director Joanna Hogg has described The Souvenir as being semi-autobiographical.  That said, you don’t have to be an aspiring filmmaker to relate to Julie.  Everyone has had the equivalent of an Anthony in their life, that one thing that you seemingly can’t give up even though you know that you should.  Tom Burke is both charming and heart-breaking as Anthony while Honor Swinton Byrne (in only her second film and her first starring role) gives a fearless performance as Julie.  At times, it seems like it’s impossible not to want Julie and Anthony to find some sort of happiness.  At other times, it seems like it’s just as impossible to forgive them for their flaws.  You get angry at Anthony when he falls back into his addictions and you also get angry at Julie for her inability to accept who Anthony truly is.  But, at the same time, you always feel empathy for them.  You always hope the best for them.  You always wish that they could have met under different circumstances, that things could have been different.

Though the film may be too low-key for some, the quietly powerful The Souvenir is my favorite film of 2019.

Love on the Shattered Lens: Splendor in the Grass (dir by Elia Kazan)

What though the radiance which was once so bright

Be now for ever taken from my sight,

Though nothing can bring back the hour

Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;

We will grieve not, rather find

Strength in what remains behind…

— “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood” by William Wordsworth

The 1962 film, Splendor in the Grass, takes place in Kansas shortly before the start of the Great Depression.  Deanie (Natalie Wood) and Bud (Warren Beatty) are two teenagers in love but, as we learn, youthful love does not always translate into adult happiness.

Bud and Deanie are idealistic and in love but they’re from different social classes.  Bud is the son of a boisterous oilman named Ace (Pat Hingle) and Ace acts much like you would expect a millionaire named Ace to behave.  Bud’s parents are determined that he attend Yale and that he marry someone else from a wealthy family.  They don’t want him to turn out like his older sister, Ginny (Barbara Loden), who drinks, smokes, and is rumored to have recently had an abortion.  Meanwhile, Deanie is repeatedly told by her mother that she must always remain a “good girl” and not give in to the temptation to have premarital sex with either Bud or any other boy.  If she does, she’ll be forever branded a bad girl and she’ll pretty much end up with a reputation like Ginny’s.

(Interestingly enough, Ace doesn’t have any problem with Bud finding  himself a bad girl, nor does he have a problem with taking his son to a speakeasy later in the film.  As far as society in concerned, being “good” and following the rules only applies to women.)

Needless to say, things don’t work out well for either Deanie or Bud.  Bud is so frustrated that Deanie won’t have sex with him that he dumps her and then has the first of several breakdowns.  When Deanie’s attempt to win Bud back by acting more like Ginny fails, she ends up going out with a classmate named Toots Tuttle (Gary Lockwood).  Nothing good ever comes from going out on a date with someone named Toots Tuttle.  That’s certainly the case here as Deanie and Bud both struggle with the demands of a hypocritical society that expects and encourages Bud to behave in a certain way but which also condemns Deanie for having desires of her own.  And, of course, the entire time that Bud and Deanie’s drama is playing out, we’re aware that the clock is ticking and soon the stock market is going to crash and change everyone’s lives forever.

It’s kind of a depressing film, to be honest.  I’ve always found it to be rather sad.  When we first meet them, Deanie and Bud seem as if they’re perfect for each other but, throughout the entire film, the world seems to be conspiring to keep them apart.  By the end of the film, they’ve both found a kind of happiness but we’re painfully aware that it’s not the happiness that either one was expecting while they were still in school.  The film suggests that type of happiness might be impossible to attain and a part of growing up is realizing that there is no such thing as perfection.  Instead, there’s just making the best of wherever you find yourself.

There’s a scene in this film where Natalie Wood nearly drowns and it always freaks me out, both because of my own fear of drowning and the fact that it foreshadows what would eventually happen to Natalie in 1982.  (The fact that Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner’s yacht was called “Splendour” doesn’t help.)  Natalie herself was also deeply scared of drowning and just filming the scene undoubtedly took a lot of courage on Natalie’s part.  But then again, Natalie Wood’s entire performance is courageous.  Natalie Wood gives an emotional and intense performance as Deanie, holding nothing back and it’s impossible not to get emotional while watching her.  Making his film debut, Warren Beatty is a bit of a stiff as Bud, though he’s certainly handsome and you can tell why Deanie would have found him attractive.  (In high school, you always assume that the boring, handsome guys actually have more depth than they let on.)  By the end of the film, you understand that Deanie deserved better than Bud.  Then again, Deanie deserved better than just about everything life had to offer her.  But Deanie survived and endured and made the best of what she was given because, really, what else could she had done?  What other choice did she have?

For her performance in Splendor in the Grass, Natalie Wood received her second Oscar nomination for Best Actress.  She lost to Sophia Loren for Two Women and …. well, actually, Loren deserved the award.  But so did Wood.  1961 would have been a great year for a tie.

Love on the Shattered Lens: Barefoot In The Park (dir by Gene Saks)

The 1967 film, Barefoot in the Park, tells the story of two newlyweds.

Paul Bratter (Robert Redford) may have a terrible last name (seriously, Bratter?) but he’s an up-and-coming lawyer with a bright future.  He’s a little bit uptight and doesn’t seem to have the greatest understanding of human nature but he’s handsome and he’s charming and he means well.  Paul has just recently married Corie (Jane Fonda).  Corie is a free spirit who cringes at the idea of conformity.  Having been raised by a judgmental mother who has always told her that she will never be good enough to make it on her own, Corie has decided to murder Paul and steal all of his money by insisting that they live in a drafty apartment that’s on the fifth floor of an New York apartment building that doesn’t have an elevator.  If climbing up the stairs doesn’t kill Paul, the fact that the skylight has hole in it probably will.  Helping Corie with her plan is her eccentric neighbor, Victor Velasco (Charles Boyer).  When Paul comes home one day to discover Victor lifting up his lingerie-clad wife, Victor says, “We are heating up the apartment.”  Corie assures Paul that they’re just trying to get the radiator to start working but we know the truth….

Okay, that’s actually the Lifetime version of Barefoot in the Park.  The real Barefoot in the Park is a charming, lighter-than-light adaptation of Neil Simon’s famous play.  (If I’m biased towards the play, it’s because I once played Corie in a heavily edited version of the play that we put on in high school.  I was the perfect Corie, if I may say so myself.)  As played by Robert Redford, Paul is charming but uptight and, as played by Jane Fonda, Corie is a free spirit who doesn’t really seem to have much common sense about the realities of living in New York City.  (Running barefoot in Central Park?  Probably not a good idea in 1967.)  They do end up living on the fifth floor and there are a lot of jokes (in fact, there’s probably too many jokes) about people getting out of breath from having to climb all of the stairs.  There’s also a broken skylight, which is a problem since it snows in New York.  However, Corie never deliberately plots to kill Paul.  Instead, she tries to set her mom (played, in an Oscar-nominated performance, by Mildred Natwick) up with Victor.

Barefoot in the Park is probably one of those films that seemed semi-daring when it was originally released in 1967 (“Look!  A honeymoon sex joke!  Look!  Corie’s walking around in Paul’s shirt!  Look!  Paul looks like he’s about to say a forbidden word!”) but today, it seems like an old-fashioned but likable fantasy about what’s like to be a newlywed in New York.  The city’s beautiful and full of romance.  The dialogue is witty and zippy.  (Zippy’s a word, isn’t it?)  Charles Boyer overacts in the most charming way possible and Mildred Natwick has some good moments as Corie’s mom.  (To appreciate Natwick’s peformance, it helps to imagine what the film would have been like if Shelley Winters had played the role.)  Most importantly, Robert Redford and Jane Fonda have got an amazing chemistry and, as they were both young in 1967 and considerably less weather-beaten than they are today, it’s hard to imagine a more beautiful couple.  Though Gene Saks’s direction is visually flat and, cinematically, the film never quite breaks out of its stage-bound origins, the chemistry of Redford and Fonda and Boyer and Natwick carry you through the occasional rough patch.

Seriously, I kind of love this movie!

Love on the Shattered Lens: Long Shot (dir by Jonathan Levine)

2019’s Long Shot is a film that truly took me by surprise.

I have to admit that, when I first saw the trailer for Long Shot, I had my concerns.  First off, it was an American political comedy and it’s been a while since there’s really been a good one of those.  There’s been many attempts, especially after Donald Trump was elected in 2016.  But, for the most part, the American films are always at their weakest when they try to be overly political.  There’s always a disturbing lack of self-awareness that, when mixed with the type of strident tone that can only be maintained by people who have never seriously had their ideas challenged, tends to make for a very boring viewing experience.  And, no, don’t you dare say, “What about Vice?” because Vice was freaking terrible.

Secondly, the trailer emphasized that Charlize Theron was playing the Secretary of State and that she was running to become the first woman elected President.  This led me to suspect that the film might essentially be Hillary Clinton fanfic.  Over the past few years, there’s actually been quite a few films and television show that have featured idealized versions of Hillary Clinton — i.e., all of the accomplishments without the albatross of her husband or the reputation for being casually corrupt.  (For six seasons, there was a TV show called Madam Secretary that basically only existed to present an idealized version of Hillary.)  Hillary fanfic, with its attempt to rehabilitate the image of a candidate so inept that she actually lost to Donald Trump, is always cringey.

Finally, as much as I hate to admit it, I was concerned that the film not only starred but was produced by Seth Rogen.  And don’t get me wrong.  I love Seth Rogen.  Seth Rogen is literally my favorite stoner.  I think that, with the right material, he can be one of the funniest performers around.  The problem is that, in the past, Seth Rogen has always been brilliant as long as he wasn’t talking about politics.  Whenever he started talking politics, he just turned into every other wealthy and rather self-righteous progressive.  While Rogen’s political tweets were never as banal as the thoughts of uberboomer Stephen King, there was still nothing about them that suggested that Rogen would be capable of producing one of the funniest and most good-hearted political comedies to come out in the past few years.

And so, like a lot of people, I skipped Long Shot when it was playing in theaters.  I waited until it was released on video to watch Long Shot and you know what?  It turned out that almost everything that I had assumed about Long Shot was incorrect.

Yes, it’s a very political movie but it’s also far more self-aware than I was expecting it to be.  Seth Rogen apparently knows that he has a reputation for being a very loud, knee-jerk leftie because he actually does a very good job of poking fun at his own image.  Rogen plays Fred Flarsky, a loud and crude journalist who quits his job when he discovers that the underground newspaper that he was working for has been purchased by Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis, playing a not-at-all disguised version of Rupert Murdoch).  Fred is about as far to the Left as one can be and he tends to assume that all of his associates agree with him, even though he never bothers to ask them.  One of the best scenes in the film comes when his best friend, Lance (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.), reveals to a stunned Fred that he’s not only a Republican and a Christian but that he’s been one the entire time that he’s known Fred.  Fred never caught on because he just assumed that Lance, being black, would naturally be a Democrat.  When Lance asks Fred why he thought Lance wore a cross around his neck, a befuddled Fred can only reply that he thought it was “cultural.”  It’s a great scene and one that’s wonderfully played by Rogen and Jackson and it works precisely because it remains true to what we’ve seen of both characters.  Almost everything that Lance says over the course of the movie does reflect a traditionally conservative mindset but, like Fred, we don’initially don’t notice because Lance is being played by Ice Cube’s son.  When Fred discovers that Lance is a Republican, it doesn’t change Fred’s mindset but it does teach him that progressives can be just as guilty as conservatives when it comes to making assumptions about people based on where they’re from or what they look like.  As a stunned and chastened Fred puts it, “I’m a racist, you’re a Republican, I don’t know what the fuck’s going on.”

Secondly, the film’s romance is incredibly charming.  Charlize Theron plays Charlotte Field, the Secretary of State who used to be Fred’s babysitter.  After they run into each other at a reception, Charlotte hires Fred to work as a speech writer for her nascent presidential campaign.  You would not expect Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen to have a ton of romantic chemistry but they do.  Theron is an underrated comedic actress and there’s a lot of fun to be had in just listening to her and Rogen bounce lines off of each other.  In fact, as funny as Rogen is, I’d have to say that Charlize Theron is even funnier.  One of the highlights of the film is when Fred and Charlotte sneak away to a club, where they dance and end up taking ecstacy.  Over course, as soon as the drugs kick in, a major diplomatic crisis breaks out and an extremely high Charlotte has to deal with a hostage crisis.  Theron appears to be having a ball with the role and really, this is the film for which she should have been Oscar nominated.  Theron convinces us that 1) she’s a masterful diplomat, 2) that she could be elected President of the United States, and 3) that she could fall in love with someone as messy as Fred without sacrificing her own ambitions.

Long Shot has its flaws, of course.  Andy Serkis is a bit too over-the-top in his villainy and the film has a 125-minute running time, which is way too long for what is essentially a fairly simple romantic comedy.  Some of the scenes of Fred and Charlotte traveling around the world probably could have been cut without harming the story.  There’s an environmental subplot that feels a bit too obvious and there’s a joke about Fred accidentally ejaculating on his own face that’s never as funny as the film seems to think that it is.

That said, Long Shot is often a surprisingly charming film.  (I know what some of you are saying: “Yes. Lisa Marie, Seth Rogen ejaculating on his beard sounds really charming.”  I know, I know.  But the majority of the film is charming.)  If you missed it when it came out the first time, give it another chance.

Love on the Shattered Lens: Scenes From A Marriage (dir by Ingmar Bergman)

The 1973 film, Scenes From A Marriage, is a real endurance test.

That, in itself, shouldn’t be surprising.  It’s an Ingmar Bergman film, after all.  Bergman was one of the world’s great directors but the majority of his films did not exactly focus on happy themes.  Scenes From A Marriage is a nearly three-hour film in which two people — who start out as married and eventually end up as divorced — talk and talk and talk and talk.  They talk about work.  They talk about their relationship.  They talk about their married friends who are trapped in a loveless marriage.  They talk about their unsatisfactory sex life.  They occasionally mention their never-seen daughter.  The conversations are usually friendly and semi-affectionate but there’s a hint of tension running through every single one of them.  Whenever this couple talks about anything, it’s under a cloud of disatisaction and repressed anger.  Violence always seems like it could break out at any time and, at one point, it does.  (Of course, if 167 minutes seems like a long time to watch a marriage collapse, just consider that the film was an edited version of a four-and-a-half hour miniseries that originally aired on Swedish television.)

Scenes From A Marriage is regularly cited as being one of the best films about marriage ever made and also as one Bergman’s best films.  Personally, I think it’s a bit overrated but still, no one can deny the skill with which the film was made.  Though it may ultimately just be a reflection of the film’s roots as a television series, the film is full of probing close-ups.  When Marianne (Liv Ullmann) and Johan (Erland Josephson) discuss their life, the camera gives them no escape.  There’s no sudden jump cuts or fade outs to bring the conversation to an end and, as talky as the film may be, the awkward silences often tell us even more about what’s going on between these two.  Ullmann and Josephson both give excellent performances.  There’s an honesty to their anger and their disillusionment that will often leave you cringing but unable to look away.  When Marianne and Johan discuss why they’ve never had a satisfactory sex life, it’s a crushingly honest scene and neither Ullmann nor Josephson hold anything back.  When one of their conversations suddenly erupts into a violent fight, it’s scary, heart-breaking, and expected all at the same time.  We’ve spent so much time with these two characters that we feel as if we know them.  We can see what’s coming, even if they can’t.

If I’m not as enthusiastic for Scenes From A Marriage as some, it’s because I didn’t particularly like either Marianne or Johan.  I understood them.  I felt as if I knew them.  By the end of the film’s first scene, I could confidently tell you that Johan would probably vote for Mike Bloomberg while Marianne would send money to both Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar while joking about how, if it was good enough for The New York Times, it was good enough for her.  But ultimately, both Johan and Marianne come across as being a bit too smug and safely bourgeois, even after they realize that they’re “perfect” marriage isn’t perfect at all.  This is actually something that I’ve noticed about most films about divorce.  It’s rare that you ever seen a film centered around a working class divorce.  Instead, it’s almost always the members of the middle and upper classes, people who are relatively stable financially and who have a support system of liberal and sophisticated friends and family to fall back on.  In films like this, divorce is an issue where the concerns and sufferings are almost exclusively emotional.  I think a lot of this is because most films about divorce are made by directors who have just gone through their own divorce and they basically end up telling their own side of the story under the guise of fiction.  Ingmar Bergman admitted as much when he said that Scenes From A Marriage was based on both his two failed marriages and his own relationship with Ullman.  (Just last year, we had another example of this with Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story, a film that owes more than a little debt to Bergman’s film.)   For all of the film’s technical skill and good performances, Scenes From A Marriage is still just two and a half hours of watching two less than likable people get a divorce.  By the end of the film, you’re just happy to be away from them.

Love on the Shattered Lens: Brief Encounter (dir by David Lean)

Flames of Passion is a British film from 1938.  I’ve seen the trailer but I’ve never actually seen the film and that’s kind of a shame because it’s a really good trailer.  Not only does it feature romance and adventure but it’s apparently based on a novel called Gentle Summer.  As someone who is fascinated by the power of a good title, I have to give credit to whoever changed that one.  Flames of Passion is far more intriguing than Gentle Summer.

Another reason that I want to see Flames of Passion is because it was apparently “Epoch-Making!!!”  In fact, they say so right in the trailer:

Unfortunately, I’ll never get a chance to actually see Flames of Passion.  As you probably already guessed, it’s a fictional film.  (I’m going to guess that “Epoch-Making” gave it away.)  It’s a fake film that plays a very important role in real film, the 1945 classic Brief Encounter.

Taking place in Britain shortly before the start of World War II, Brief Encounter tells the story of two people.  Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson) is respectable, middle class, and middle aged.  Every Thursday, she takes the train into a nearby town where she does the shopping and catches a matinee.  Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard) is a doctor who rides the train every Thursday so that he can help out at a local hospital.  Dr. Harvey volunteers at the hospital because that’s the type of person that he is.  He also volunteers, one Thursday, to help Laura get a piece of dirt out of her eye.

The next Thursday, Laura and Alec run into each other again.  They have coffee.  A week later, they have lunch.  A week after that, they go to the movies and they see the trailer for Flames of Passion.  Laura and Alec enjoy each other’s company and they quickly find themselves growing very close to one another.  The only problem is that, occasionally, Laura’s friends see the two of them together.  Laura knows how quickly gossip can be spread.

Actually, that’s not the only problem.  There’s actually an even bigger problem that neither Laura nor Alec know how to deal with.  Both of them are married and both of them have children.  In fact, Laura would appear to have the type of life that a lot of people would envy.  She has a nice home.  She has wonderful children.  She has a husband named Fred (Cyril Raymond) and there’s no doubt that Fred loves her.  Fred’s a good man but he’s boring, safe, and set-in-his-ways.  He’s the type who, when Laura mentions that she’s made a male friend and that she goes to the movies with him, barely looks up from the newspaper.

What is Laura to do?  She soon finds that her life is now centered around those Thursday meetings with Alec but are they worth the risk of losing her family?  And when Alec tells her that he’s been offered a job in South Africa, Laura realizes that she will soon no longer even have Thursday to which to look forward.

Brief Encounter is an interesting film.  From the minute that Alec and Laura meet, you know that they’re destined to fall for each other but nothing else about the film plays out in the way that you would expect it to.  As much as being a love story, it’s also a story about two people who have reached a point in their lives where they’ve reached the halfway mark of their lives and now they’re asking, “Is this it?”  It’s not just that Laura is attracted to Alec, though she certainly is.  It’s also that she knows that Alec represents what is probably her last chance to do something grand and romantic with her life.  Once Alec leaves, it’ll mean accepting her life as it is, with the good and the bad things that go along with it.

The film’s dialogue is as erudite and witty as you would expect from a cinematic adaptation of a Noel Coward play and David Lean keep the action moving along at a brisk pace.  Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard are absolutely perfect as the two would-be lovers, with Johnson especially giving a powerful and sympathetic performance.  (If you don’t tear up during Laura’s final scene with Alec, you may want to check to see if you have a heart.)  It helps that neither one of them was a traditionally glamorous movie star.  (Trevor Howard may have been handsome but he was no Cary Grant.)  They come across as being very real people and it’s easy to imagine them being very happy together.  They’re such decent people that they even feel guilty for walking out on Flames of Passion, which Laura apparently did not feel was a particularly good movie.  Watching Brief Encounter, you wish that Alec and Laura could have met earlier but you are happy that they at least had their Thursdays.

Love On The Shattered Lens: An Officer and a Gentleman (dir by Taylor Hackford)

Almost everyone knows that one scene from the 1982 film, An Officer and a Gentleman.  You can probably guess which scene it is that I’m talking about.  It’s been parodied and imitated in so many other shows and movies that it’s one of those pop cultural moments that everyone has “seen” even they haven’t actually watched it.  It’s the scene where….




I know, Mayo, I’m getting to that!  Let me tell everyone about the iconic factory scene first, okay?


Uhmmm …. right.  Where was I?  Oh yeah, it’s the scene where Debra Winger is working in a factory and a youngish Richard Gere suddenly shows up and he’s wearing a white uniform and he picks her up and carries her out of the factory while all of her coworkers cheer.  Meanwhile, that Up Where We Belong song starts to play on the soundtrack.  Even though, up until recently, I had never actually sat down and watched An Officer and a Gentleman, I certainly knew that scene.

Last Friday, I noticed that I had An Officer and a Gentleman saved on the DVR and I thought to myself, “Well, I might as well go ahead and watch it and find out what else happens in the movie.”  Add to that, I only had three hours of recording space left on the DVR so I figured I could watch the movie and then delete it and free up some space….


Goddammit, Mayo, be quiet!  I’m getting to it!

Anyway, I watched the film and I discovered that it’s actually about a lot more than just Richard Gere getting Debra Winger fired from her job at the factory.  It’s also about how Zack Mayo (the character played by Richard Gere) hopes to make something of himself by graduating from Aviation Officer Candidate School so that he can become not only a Navy pilot but also an officer and a gentleman.  His father (Robert Loggia) is an alcoholic, his mother committed suicide when Mayo was a child and Mayo …. well, I’ll let him tell you himself.


That’s right.  Mayo has not got anywhere else to go.


Ain’t is not a word, Mayo.

As you may have already guessed, we know that Mayo doesn’t have anywhere else to go because there’s a scene where he continually yells, “I ain’t got nowhere else to go!” over and over again.  He yells it after being forced to do a thousand push-ups and sit-ups by his drill sergeant, Foley (Louis Gossett, Jr.)  Foley thinks that Mayo doesn’t have the right attitude to be either an officer or a gentleman.  Mayo is determined to prove him wrong.


Oh give it a rest, Mayo!

Debra Winger plays Paula.  Paula is a townie.  She lives in a dilapidated house with her parents.  Her friend, Lynette (Lisa Blount), dreams of marrying a Naval officer and getting to travel the world.  Lynette gets involved with Mayo’s friend, Sid Worley (David Keith).  Foley warns both Sid and Mayo to stay away from the townie girls because they’re not to be trusted.  That turns out to be true in Lynette’s case but Paula’s love provides Mayo with the strength that he needs to believe in something more than just himself.


Yes, you do have some place to go, Mayo!  That’s the point of the whole goddamn movie!

Anyway, watching An Officer and a Gentleman, I was kind of surprised to discover that it’s actually two movies in one.  It’s a traditional army training film, one in which Richard Gere is whipped into shape by a tough drill sergeant.  It’s also a film about life in an economically depressed small town, where the only hope of escape comes from marrying the right aviation officer candidate.  As a military film it’s predictable if occasionally effective.  As a film about small town life, it’s surprisingly poignant.  An Officer And A Gentleman doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to depicting just how little life in the town has to offer to people like Paula and Lynette.  They have spent their entire lives being told they can either work in a factory for minimum wage and get drunk on the weekend or they can land a man who will hopefully take them away from all that and give them something more to look forward to than cirrhosis of the liver.  Lynette has accepted that as being her only option.  While Paula dreams of escape, she dreams of escaping on her terms.  She may fall in love with Mayo but she’s not going to pretend to be someone that she’s not just to keep him around.

Though he’s evolved into a good character actor, Richard Gere was remarkably blank-faced when he was younger and his performance as Mayo alternates between being bland and shrill.  However, Debra Winger brings a welcome edge to her role.  She plays Paula as someone who knows she’s stuck in a dead end existence.  She’s not happy about it but, at the same time, she’s not going to surrender her principles in order to escape.  She holds onto her ideals, even though she appears to be stuck in a crappy situation and that’s something that Mayo learns from her.  In the end, Paula saves Mayo just as surely as the Navy does.  And, just as Paula saves Mayo, Winger saves the movie.


Oh, shut the Hell up, Mayo.  Go pick up Paula and carry her off to a better life….

Love On The Shattered Lens: No Lost Cause (dir by Ashley Raymer-Brown and Rachael Yeager)

I’d like to start this review by quoting one of my favorite episode of King of the Hill.

Church Hopping, which aired during King of the Hill‘s 10th season, found Hank and his family searching for a new church after the reverend of their old church blows off Hank’s suggestion that seating should be assigned.  Peggy wants the family to start attending the new mega-church but Hank worries that it might be too big for him.  However, after the Hills have tried out every other church in town and found them to be not quite right for their needs, Peggy tells Hanks that they only have two options — go to the new megachurch or “live the empty barren existence of secular humanism.”  Hank finally agrees to give the megachurch a try.

At first, Hank loves the place.  He appreciates that the church broadcasts Cowboys games on Sunday.  He gets along with all of the members.  But, quickly, the church starts to dominate every aspect of his life.  As he feared, it is simply too big for him.  As he tells his nephew-in-law, Lucky, “My old church wouldn’t pay attention to me and my new church won’t leave me alone.”  When Hank announces that he will no longer be attending church and will instead look for some other way to worship, Peggy brings the church’s pastor to the house to counsel him.

After struggling for a bit to explain why he’s not comfortable at the megachurch, Hank finally exclaims, “No offense, but your church just keeps coming at you.”

Luckily, things work out in the end.  The Hills return to their old church and are spared from secular humanism.  It’s heart-warming in the way that the best episodes of King of Hill often were.  And that line about the church has always stuck with me.

I have to admit that, as I watched the 2011 film No Lost Cause, I found myself thinking about Hank’s lament.  No Lost Cause is about a young college student named Beth Ann Collins (Caitlyn Waltermire) who is paralyzed as the result of a car accident.  Making matters even worse for Beth Ann is that, after her accident, she finds herself living with her father, a farmer named Billy (Brian Douglas Baker).

Billy is an outspoken Christian.

Beth Ann is a bitter agnostic.  (This is one of those films where it’s pretty much taken for granted that all nonbelievers are bitter about something.)


No, actually, they fight a lot.  Beth Ann does not want Billy in her life and she’s not amused when he keeps insisting that she comes to church with him.  Billy is not happy when Beth Ann announces that she just wants to stay in her bedroom and work on vaguely defined college work.  I know that the film expected us to automatically sympathize with Billy but I have to admit that I was on Beth Ann’s side the entire time.  It’s not just that Beth Ann had every right to be angry about her situation.  It’s also that Billy’s church just keeps coming at her.

Billy tells Beth Ann that they’re going to the church potluck.  While everyone else eats, Beth Ann sits in a corner and does some ill-defined term paper work.  Nick (Nils Hamilton) approaches her and asks why she’s at the potluck if she’s not going to eat.  And I’m just like, “BECAUSE HER DAD MADE HER COME!  Now leave her alone and let her write her paper!”

(I also have to admit that, by the end of the whole potluck scene, I was yelling at the characters in the film, “Say ‘potluck’ one more time!  GO ON, I DARE YOU!”  Seriously, potluck is just an annoying word.)

Later, at the house, Beth Ann is again trying to get work on her paper done when Billy shows up and announces that he’s invited the entire church over for dinner.  Suddenly, the house is full of people and while Beth Ann sits in a corner and tries to do her work, people keep sitting down at the table with her and talking to her.  Beth Ann has no desire to speak to anyone and actually does have some important work to do but that doesn’t matter to the members of Billy’s church.  They just keep coming at her.

“Seriously,” I found myself yelling at the screen, “leave Beth Ann alone!  She doesn’t want to talk to you!”

(I may have been projecting because it seems like whenever I’m in the middle of doing something important, I get interrupted.)

Anyway, the film gets off to a pretty rough start but it does get better.  Beth Ann does eventually grow comfortable about living with Billy and she even falls in love with Nick.  It’s predictable but occasionally sweet and Caitlyn Watermire gives a good and sympathetic performance as Beth Ann.  Unfortunately, the film also has Beth Ann suddenly regain the ability to walk, with the suggestion being that it’s all due to her newly found faith but that only forces the audience to wonder about all of the faithful who have a better attitude than Beth Ann but still don’t get healed.  It’s hard not to feel that the film would have been more effective if it had focused on Beth Ann coming to terms with being in the wheelchair as opposed to falling back on a miracle.

As a love story, No Lost Cause works a bit better than you might expect.  Caitlyn Watermire and Nils Hamilton have a likable chemistry and you do hope find yourself hoping the best for them, even if Nick does come across as a bit pushy about the whole potluck thing.  This is one of those film’s that will probably be best appreciated by people who already share the film’s view of the world but, as far as religious-themed films are concerned, No Lost Cause is better acted than most and it features some nice shots of the countryside.  That said, it’s still hard to watch the film without feeling that Beth Ann occasionally deserves some time to herself.

Love On The Shattered Lens: Xanadu (dir by Robert Greenwald)

“What the Hell did I just watch?” I asked myself as the end credits rolled for the 1980 film, Xanadu.

Xanadu is one of those films where words just fail you.  It’s a musical and it stars Olivia Newton-John, who has a good voice even if she’s also kind of a bland screen presence.  The music is really good.  I love the main song and it’s definitely one that has gotten stuck in my head every time that I’ve heard it.  Of course, for the longest time, I thought Olivia was singing, “One-a-due.”  (Seriously, I’m the worst when it comes to mishearing lyrics.)  But no, I later discover that she was singing about Xanadu and who would have guessed that Xanadu would turn out to be a roller disco?

Yes, it’s a very strange movie.

Xanadu starts out with a mural of nine women coming to life.  The 9 women are the Muses.  You may remember them from Greek mythology.  They exist to inspire artists who inevitably end up falling in love with him without realizing that a muse is not allowed to love back.  This leads to a lot of great art but also to a lot of broken hearts.  Olivia Newton-John plays a muse named Terpsichore but she prefers to be known as Kira because …. well, wouldn’t you?  For centuries, Kira has inspired great works of art.  She’s worked with Michelangelo and probably a few poets as well.  As someone who majored in Art History, I’m thankful for Kira because, without her, my degree would be totally useless as opposed to just slightly.  In the year 1980, Kira has again entered the mortal world so that she can inspire …. a roller disco.

Yeah, okay.

Listen, I could probably go on for about a thousand words about how disappointed I would be to go from inspiring the Mona Lisa to inspiring a tacky roller disco in Malibu.  But it doesn’t seem to bother Kira so good for her!  Of course, Kira is a bit distracted because she’s broken the number one rule of being a muse.  She’s fallen in love with an artist!

Sonny Malone (Michael Beck) is a painter whose job involves painting larger versions of album covers so that they can be displayed in the windows of record stores.  Sonny dreams of being an independent artist but instead, he’s stuck recreating the works of others.  He feels like his life and his work are going nowhere.  However, once he sees a picture of Kira, he is immediately inspired.  And then, when Kira skates up behind him and kisses him, he’s in love!


The only problem, of course, is that Sonny is a human being and Kira is a mythological creature.  If Sonny was destined to fall in love with a creature from Greek mythology, I guess he should be happy that it was one of the muses and not Medusa.  But anyway, Kira says that she’s not allowed to be with Sonny so Sonny tries to talk Zeus and Hera into changing the rules.  Whether or not he succeeds is kind of left up in the air.  I think a bigger problem would be the fact that Kira is immortal whereas Sonny comes across like he’ll probably end up snorting too much cocaine before the 80s are over.  But that’s never really brought up in the film.

Around the same time that Sonny meets Kira, he also meets Danny (Gene Kelly!), who is a former big time band leader who now spends his time hanging out on the beach and dreaming about opening up a roller disco.  It turns out that, when Danny was a young man, he was also inspired by Kira.  Danny and Sonny join forces and soon, Xanadu is a reality!  Danny fantasizes about a 1940s style nightclub.  Sonny fantasizes about a generic “rock club.”  They may have two different visions but fortunately, they both agree one one thing: everyone has to wear roller skates.

Xanadu is one of those films where not much really happens but it’s still incredibly busy.  Danny keeps on dancing.  Sonny keeps on painting and bitching about how his life isn’t going anywhere.  Kira keeps on roller skating through everyone’s life.  As I said, the music’s great but the storyline …. well, to be honest, I thought the film’s story was fun as an example of something that could only have seemed logical in the late 70s.  I mean, it’s an incredibly stupid film but Gene Kelly’s in it and, even at the age of 68, he was still such a dedicated old trouper that you can’t help but smile whenever he breaks out a few moves.  Add to that, Michael Beck and Olivia Newton-John do make for a cute couple, even if both of them were reportedly miserable during filming.  They just look like they belong together, in a California beach community sort of way.

Xanadu’s a big mess of a movie but it’ll make you dance and it’ll make you sing.  All together now: One-a-due, One-a-due something want to do….*

Love on the Shattered Lens: Coffy (dir by Jack Hill)

It may seem odd to describe Coffy as being a love story.

After all, this is a film that is perhaps best known for a scene in which Pam Grier (as Nurse Coffin, a.k.a. Coffy) shoots her lying boyfriend in the balls.  Coffy is often described as being the epitome of 70s grindhouse, a film in which Pam Grier takes on drug dealers, the Mafia, and a corrupt political establishment with a combination of shotguns and shanks.  Coffy is perhaps Grier’s best-known films and it features one of her best performances.  There’s nothing more empowering than watching Pam Grier take down some of the most corrupt, arrogant, and disgusting men to ever appear in a movie.  It’s a violent and gritty film, one that opens with a drug dealer’s head literally exploding and never letting up afterwards.  There are many different ways to describe Coffy but it’s rarely called a love story.

But here’s the thing.  A film about love doesn’t necessarily have to center around romantic love.  Coffy is about love but it’s not about any love that Coffy may have for her boyfriend, the duplicitous politician Howard Brunswick (Booker Bradshaw).  Instead, the love at the center of this film is the love that Coffy has for her sister, who died from a heroin overdose.  It’s her sister’s death that leads to Coffy first seeking revenge but that’s not the only love that motivates Coffy.  There’s also the love that Coffy feels for her community.  Throughout the film, we hear about how the black community is being destroyed by the drugs that are being pushed into their neighborhoods by white mafia dons like Arturo Vitronia (Allan Arbus, who was once married to the iconic photographer, Diane Arbus).  It’s not a random thing that, for all of Coffy’s anger, she saves her most savage revenge for the members of her community who are working with the white mobsters, men like the pimp, King George (Robert DoQui), and her own boyfriend, Howard.

Throughout the film, Coffy says that she feels like she’s “in a dream” and Pam Grier gives an intelligent performance that suggests that, even after her mission is complete, Coffy will never be the same.  She’s not a natural killer.  She’s a nurse and it’s her job to save lives.  But when she sets out to get revenge on those who killed her sister and who are destroying her community, Coffy shows no mercy.  When she violently interrogates another victim of the drug trade, Coffy shows the junkie no sympathy because sympathy isn’t going to solve the problem.  Coffy is determined and the reason why she succeeds is because none of her victims realize just how serious she is.  Coffy uses her beauty to distract them and then, when they aren’t looking, she strikes.  By the end of the film, she’s walking alone on the beach and the viewer is left to wonder what’s going on inside of her head.  After all the people that Coffy has killed, can she ever go back to simply working the night shift at the ER?  After you’ve seen life and death at its most extreme, can things ever go back to the way that they once were?

And listen, I’m generally a pacifist and I’m not a huge fan of real-life vigilante justice and I’ve signed many petitions against the death penalty but it’s impossible not to cheer for Coffy.  Pam Grier gives such a committed performance that it’s impossible not to get sucked into her mission.  (It helps, of course, that most of the people who she targets are legitimately terrible human beings.)  The brilliance of Grier’s performance comes in the quiet moments.  Yes, she’s convincing when she has to shoot a gun and she delivers vengeful one-liners with the best of them.  But the film’s best moments are the ones were Grier thinks about how her life has become a dream of violent retribution and where she allows us to see the love for her sister and her community, the same love that is motivating all of the bloodshed.

Coffy is a rightfully celebrated film.  For once, a cult film actually deserves its cult.  It’s one of the best of the old grindhouse films and, in fact, to call it merely an exploitation film actually does a disservice to how effective a film Coffy actually is.  It’s just a great film period.