Today, the Shattered Lens celebrates the 78th birthday of the iconic screenwriter and director, John Milius!
While director Francis Ford Coppola definitely put his own stamp on 1979’s Apocalypse Now, the film started life as a script written by John Milius and the film itself is full of dialogue that could only have been written by Milius. The most famous example is Robert Duvall’s monologue about the smell of napalm in the morning. Actually, the entire helicopter attack feels like pure Milius. Reportedly, Duvall’s character was originally named Colonel Kharnage but, by the time the movie was made, his name had become Kilgore. It’s still not exactly a subtle name but it’s not quite as obvious as Kharnage.
(When James Caan read the script, he loved the role so much that he was offended to not be offered it and, as a result, he turned down offers to play not only Willard but also Kurtz.)
4 Or More Shots From 4 Or More Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!
Today, we celebrate the 91st birthday of one of the finest American actors out there, Mr. Robert Duvall. Ever since he made his film debut in 1962’s To Kill A Mockingbird, Duvall has been a regular presence in American cinema. He’s an actor who has appeared in some of the best American films ever made (The Godfather, Network, Apocalypse Now, To Kill A Mockingbird, Tender Mercies, and others) and he’s played a wide variety of characters. He’s been everything from a lawyer to a cowboy to a network executive to a professional criminal to a cop and he’s never been less that convincing. He’s got a filmography about which anyone would be jealous. And, at an age when most actors have retired, Duvall is still working and taking the occasional part.
On a personal note, I have to say that, for someone who was born in California, raised in Maryland, and who started his career in New York, Robert Duvall is one of the few actors to have perfected both the Southern and the Southwestern accent. Whenever I see him playing a Texan, I always have to remind myself that he’s not actually from around here.
In honor of Robert Duvall’s birthday, here are….
6 Shots From 6 Robert Duvall Films
To Kill A Mockingbird (1962, dir by Robert Mulligan, DP: Russell Harlan)
MASH (1970, dir by Robert Altman, DP: Harold E. Stine)
Apocalypse Now (1979, dir by Francis Ford Coppola, DP: Vittorio Storaro)
True Confessions (1981, dir by Ulu Grosbard, DP: Owen Roizman)
The Apostle (1997, dir by Robert Duvall, DP: Barry Markowitz)
The Judge (2014, dir by David Dobkin, DP: Janusz Kamiński)
Last night, as a part of our attempt to make some space on the DVR so that I can record every upcoming episode of The Bachelorette and she can record the World Series, Erin and I watched the 2011 film, Seven Days In Utopia.
Seven Days In Utopia is a Texas-set (and Texas-filmed) movie about a young pro golfer named Luke Chisholm (played by Lucas Black) who has a very public meltdown while in the middle of a tournament. Feeling that his career is pretty much over, Luke jumps in his car and goes speeding around Southwest Texas. Because he’s not pay attention to the road (which, I’ll be honest, occasionally happens when you’re driving through rural Texas.), he almost doesn’t notice the cow standing in front of his car. Fortunately, Luke swerves and avoids the cow. Unfortunately, he crashes through a fence.
The fence belongs to Johnny Crawford (Robert Duvall), a friendly rancher who — coincidence of coincidences — also happens to be a former pro golfer! With Luke’s car temporarily out-of-commission, he’s stuck in Utopia for at least seven days. Johnny offers to spend those days teaching Luke everything that he needs to know about golf and about life. Luke agrees, because what else are you going to do when you’re stranded in Uvalde County?
Seven Days In Utopia is one of the few films in my lifetime to have been released with G rating and it pretty much earns that G-rating by being the most inoffensive film ever made. Seven Days in Utopia is almost aggressive in its pleasantness. Johnny is very nice. Luke is very nice. Just about everyone that Luke plays against is pretty nice. Everyone in town is pretty nice, even if they do give Luke a hard time about being a “city boy.” Deborah Ann Woll plays the nice waitress at the local diner, with whom Luke has a very pleasant romance. Woll and Black make for a cute couple and they have a nice chemistry. They’re all very pleasant.
Seven Days In Utopia is one of those films that you end up watching when you need something to watch with an older relative who doesn’t understand why “all the movies nowadays have to use all that language!” It’s an old-fashioned movie. That, in itself, is hardly a problem for me. I like old movies and, despite my love of horror as a genre, I can also appreciate movies that are not meant to traumatize the audience. For that matter, I like Lucas Black and I like Deborah Ann Woll. As for Robert Duvall — I mean, My God, he’s one of the last of the great character actors. He’s Boo Radley and Tom Hagen, for God’s sake! Of course, I love Robert Duvall and Duvall really is probably the only actor who could make an idealized character like Johnny Crawford into a real human being. That said, Seven Days In Utopia is also a rather slow film. The pacing will make you feel all seven of those days and the lessons that Johnny teaches to Lucas aren’t particularly profound once you look beyond the fact that they’re being taught by legitimate great actor Robert Duvall. It’s an nice film and the scenery is pretty but, while watching it, it’s hard not to miss the anarchistic spirit of golfers like Shooter McGavin and Happy Gilmore.
The Chase, a small-town Texas melodrama from 1966, opens with Robert Redford escaping from prison.
Redford is playing Bubber Reeves. Bubber, we’re told, has spent the last few years in a tough Texas prison, convicted of a murder that he didn’t commit. Now, he’s on the run and he’s probably returning to his hometown. His wife, Anna (Jane Fonda), still lives there, though Anna is now having an affair with Jake Rogers (James Fox). Jake is the son of the most powerful man in town, Val Rogers (E.G. Marshall). Jake also used to be Bubber’s best friend but now, he’s wracked with guilt about his affair with Anna.
Meanwhile, the townspeople are all worried that Bubber is going to seek revenge on the people who were responsible for him going to prison. Some of them know that he was actually innocent and some of them think that he’s actually the killer that he’s been made out to be but what they all have in common is that they’re worried about what Bubber’s gong to do when he shows up. Maybe they should have thought about the possibility of him getting mad and vengeful before they gave him a nickname like Bubber.
Anyway, Sheriff Calder (Marlon Brando) is convinced that Bubber is innocent but the townspeople still want him to allow them to gun Bubber down as soon as they see him. Sheriff Calder, however, is determined to keep the peace and make sure that the law prevails. He’s a man of unimpeachable integrity, working in a town full of people who are too cowardly to concern themselves with doing the right thing.
As everyone waits for Bubber to arrive. tempers come to the surface, a good deal of alcohol is consumed, and secrets are revealed. It all ends in tragedy, of course. One of the final scenes clumsily recreates the assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald. The Chase wouldn’t be an achingly self-serious film from 1966 if it didn’t.
There’s a few obvious problems with The Chase, the main one being that Robert Redford, who was 30 years-old when The Chase was released, looks surprisingly good for someone who has spent the last few years locked away in a tough Texas prison. Redford manage to escape from prison and run through a swamp without getting one single hair out of place. There’s nothing particularly dangerous about Redford in this film, which is surprising when you consider that The Chase was made just three years before Redford’s convincing turn as a laconic (if charming) killer in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. For The Chase to work, Bubber Reeves would have to be a force of nature but, whenever Redford’s on screen, you just find yourself wondering how someone who looks that good got stuck with a nickname like Bubber. The townspeople talk about Bubber like he’s a wild outlaw but Redford is just too laid back to pull it off. He comes across less like a wanted criminal and more like a California surfer who has somehow found himself in rural Texas.
As for the rest of the cast — well, there’s a lot of them. It’s a big ensemble film and good luck to anyone trying to keep track of who is related to who. Surprisingly enough, Marlon Brando is very convincing as a Texas sheriff, never allowing Sheriff Calder to turn into a stereotype. Less surprising is the fact that Robert Duvall, playing an frustrated husband, is also convincing in his role. Brando and Duvall, of course, would both go on to co-star in The Godfather. (Supposedly, when shooting of The Godfather began, Duvall was the only member of the cast with no fear of joking around with Brando, largely because they had bonded while working on The Chase.) Unfortunately, as good as Brando and Duvall are, they’re both let down in the hair department. Brando gets stuck with a hairpiece while Duvall is forced to go with a comb-over.
Some of the other performers are good and some of them are bad but none of them are particularly convincing as the residents of a small Texas town. James Fox, for instance, is very British. Jane Fonda and Angie Dickinson (cast as Calder’s wife) seem to be bored. E.G. Marshall is believably rich but never believably Southern. The other performers all tend to overact, especially once the people in town start drinking, shooting, hitting, and, in some cases, dancing. Somehow, Shelley Winters is not in the film, even though it seems like she should be.
The Chase was directed by Arthur Penn and written by Lillian Hellman. (The screenplay was based on a play and novel by Horton Foote.) Penn would follow up The Chase with Bonnie and Clyde and Alice’s Restaurant, two films that also dealt, for more successfully, with The Chase‘s themes of violence, community hypocrisy, and outlaw romanticism. Jane Fonda would go on to play Lillian Hellman in the 1977 film, Julia. For Julia, Fonda was nominated for an Oscar. For The Chase, she was not.
The Chase is one of those films that wants to say something important but doesn’t seem to be quite sure what. It’s a long and dramatic movie that doesn’t really add up to much. In the end, I think the main lesson to be learned here is not to allow your children to get a nickname like Bubber. There’s just no escape from a bad nickname.
Earlier today, when I heard that Joel Schumacher had died, I immediately thought of Falling Down.
Falling Down stars Michael Douglas as William Foster, a man who is at the end of his rope. He’s lost his job. He’s just gotten a divorce and his wife has taken a restraining order out against him. On the hottest day of the year, his car’s air conditioning has just broken down. When he finds himself stuck in a traffic jam, he impulsively abandons his car and starts to walk across Los Angeles, collecting weapons, enemies, and admirers along the way.
Almost everyone who Foster meets annoys him in some way. A convenience store clerk refuses to give him change so that he can make a phone call. In the film’s most famous scene, a fast food restaurant refuses to allow him to order off of the breakfast menu, which leads to Foster pulling out a gun. D-Fens, as he’s now known due to his personalized license plate, is making his way to his daughter’s birthday party, leaving behind a wake of destruction behind him. Trying to stop him is Detective Martin Prendergrast (Robert Duvall), who is, naturally, just a day away from retirement.
I think about Falling Down a lot. It’s always been a controversial film, with critics debating whether we’re supposed to empathize with Foster or not. The film itself often tries to have it both ways, asking us to condemn Foster’s violence while, at the same time, expecting us to cheer for him when he expresses his frustrations. On the one hand, you can understand some of his anger. Why can’t you order off the breakfast menu if you want to? Who hasn’t gotten annoyed with unnecessary road work? At the same time, it’s also hard to overlook that almost all of Foster’s victims are more obnoxious than he is. If the store clerk has been polite when he refused to give him change, would we have still cheered when Foster destroyed the store? Foster even has an encounter with a white supremacist that’s supposed to assure us that Foster might be an angry white man but he’s the right type of angry white man.
To understand why this film has always stuck with me, you have to understand that my Dad was an engineer. He worked with a lot of people who basically were William Foster, except that they never got their hands on as much weaponry as Foster manages to do. Whenever I see this movie and I see Michael Douglas with his nerdy glasses and short-sleeved white shirt and black tie, I’m reminded of visiting my father at work and listening to his co-workers complain about how much they hated the rap music that their kids were listening to. From those experiences, I can tell you that Michael Douglas perfectly nails the role of William “D-Fens” Foster. Though the film’s script may sometimes try to present Foster as simply being “a man who has finally had enough” (and that’s certainly the way that Foster would probably view himself), Douglas gives a much more complex performance in the role. He plays Foster not as being a hero or even an anti-hero. Instead, he’s a man who has realized that life is never going to be as good as he was told it would be and, watching the world change around him, he’s snapped. He’s the villain, even if he and some of the film’s biggest fans don’t realize it. “I’m the bad guy?” he asks and yes, he is. The tragedy of the film is that he can’t understand how that came to be. Neither Joel Schumacher as a director nor Michael Douglas as an actor ever suggests that Foster has become a stronger or happier person as a result of his actions. He never becomes the societal avenger that some may want him to be. Instead, he just wants to get to his daughter’s birthday party.
When Joel Schumacher’s death was announced today, most people talked about the Batman films that he directed. However, Falling Down, with its brilliant lead performance from Michael Douglas, is the Joel Schumacher film that will always stick with me.
96 years ago today, Marlon Brando was born in Omaha, Nebraska.
Unfortunately, Brando is one of those actors who, later in his life, became better known for his eccentricities than for his performances. Though Brando never stopped being a good actor, it’s undeniable that some of his later performances reveal an actor who often did seem to be a bit bored with the films that he was making. It’s sad to think that there’s people out there who might only know Brando because they stumbled across The Island of Dr. Moreau on Starz at like 3 in the morning.
Regardless of the reputation that he developed in his later years, Marlon Brando was one of the best actors of all time. His early performances are still exciting to watch and, even when his work was becoming progressively more eccentric in the 70s and 80s, he still continued to give performances that could grab your attention and leave you surprised by their power.
Of course, my favorite Brando film remains The Godfather so it only makes sense to share a scene from that film on Brando’s birthday. In this beautifully acted scene, Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) informs Don Vito (Brando) that Sonny has been killed. Of course, first, Tom has to have a drink. This scene might not be as iconic as some of the other scenes in The Godfather but it’s wonderfully performed by both actors and it reminds us that The Godfather is powerful not because it’s a crime film but because it’s a film about family.
Despite having received pardons from the Missouri legislature in recognition of their military service to the Confederacy, Jesse James (Robert Duvall) and Cole Younger (Cliff Robertson) simply cannot stop robbing banks. The James-Younger Gang has set their sights on the bank in Northfield, Minnesota, which is said to be the biggest bank west of the Mississippi. Cole arrives in Northfield before the rest of the gang and scouts the location. What he discovers is that most of the town’s citizens aren’t putting their money in the bank because they all assume that it will eventually be robbed. With Jesse determined to pull off the crime of the century, Cole and Jesse have to figure out not only how to escape after the robbery but also how to get the people to deposit their money in the bank’s vault in the first place.
Philip Kaufman is a director who made a career out of reinterpreting history (his best known film is The Right Stuff) and, when it was first released in 1972, The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid was a revisionist western that mixed moments of comedy with moments of brutal violence. Today, of course, presenting Jesse James and Cole Younger as being ruthless outlaws is no longer that daring of a narrative choice. In The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid, Robert Duvall plays Jesse as being the western equivalent of a corrupt businessman, sending others to do his dirty work and not accepting any of the consequences for his own bad decisions. Robertson plays Cole as being more a free spirit, an outlaw who is determined to enjoy himself. Both of them give interesting performances but they also seem to be too contemporary for the characters that they’re playing.
Like most revisionist westerns of the early 70s, the film is full of hints that the old west and the time of the outlaws is coming to an end. There’s a steam engine sitting outside of the bank and Kaufman spends almost as much time focusing on people reacting to that as he does on the planning and execution of the robbery. When the robbery does finally occur, it’s not an easy robbery like you might find a 1940s western. Instead, it’s a violent comedy of errors that leaves much of the film’s characters dead or wounded in the streets of Northfield. The contrast between the quirky comedy of the first part of the film and the violence of the robbery is occasionally interesting but it often feels forced. Sometimes, Kaufman seems like he’s trying too hard to be Sam Peckinpah. In the end, Kaufman often doesn’t seem to be sure what he’s trying to say with this film. He seems to be suggesting that Jesse and Cole are soon to be relics of a bygone era but why then cast Duvall and Robertson in the roles and have them play the roles like two mid-level hoodlums in 20th Century New York?
It’s an interesting but muddled film that never quite works. For the definitive film about the James/Younger Gang, check out Walter Hill’s The Long Riders.
In his memoir, Room to Dream, Lynch wrote that he was sent the film’s script while he was looking for a project to serve as his follow-up to The Elephant Man. Lynch wrote that he liked the script, which was written by Horton Foote (who had previously won an Oscar for adapted To Kill A Mockingbird), but that Lynch also felt that it just wasn’t the right project for him at the time. Tender Mercies was eventually directed by Bruce Beresford and Lynch mentioned that he felt that Beresford did a “brilliant” job.
After I posted the article, it occurred to me that Tender Mercies is not a film that’s as well-known as it deserves to be. It received five Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture. Robert Duvall won his first (and, to date, only) Oscar for playing the lead role. It’s an acclaimed film but it also plays it in a rather low-key style, particularly when compared to some of the other films that were released in the early 80s. (1983 may have been the year of Tender Mercies but it was also the year of Scarface, Flashdance, Return of the Jedi, and Risky Business.) As such, it’s a film that’s been a bit overshadowed over the years.
Tender Mercies takes place in rural Texas. Mac Sledge (Robert Duvall) is a former country-western star whose career has collapsed due to his alcoholism and his own self-destructive behavior. One morning, a hungover Mac wakes up in a roadside motel. Not having any money on him, Mac asks the motel’s owner — Rosa Lee (Tess Harper), who lost her husband in Vietnam — if he can work at the motel in return for a room. Rosa Lee agrees, on the condition that Mac not drink while he’s working.
As the days pass, Mac and Rosa Lee grow closer and Mac becomes a surrogate father to Rosa Lee’s young son, Sonny (Allan Hubbard). Eventually, Mac and Rosa Lee marry and Mac becomes an accepted member of the community. However, Mac remains troubled. His ex-wife, Dixie (Betty Buckley), has built a career on singing the songs that he wrote for her but she refuses to consider anything new that he’s written. His teenage daughter (Ellen Barkin) stops by the motel and announces that she’s running away to get married. There’s tragedy but there’s also hope and forgiveness.
Tender Mercies is a simple but affecting film about a good man who is struggling to deal with the fact that he was once a very bad man. What makes Tender Mercies interesting is what doesn’t happen. The first time I saw it, I spent the entire movie expecting Mac to fall off the wagon and break everyone’s heart. Instead, Mac manages to keep his promise to his new family but what he discovers is that being sober doesn’t automatically exempt one from pain or guilt. He still has to deal with sadness and disappointment but now, he has to do it without using alcohol as a crutch. Instead of getting his strength from booze, he now gets it from love.
It’s a wonderfully sweet movie, featuring naturalistic performances from Harper, Hubbard, and especially Robert Duvall. It seem appropriate that, after making his film debut as Boo Radley in a film written by Horton Foote, Duvall would win his first Oscar for another film written by Foote. Duvall plays Mac as a plain-spoken and weary soul who is still just enough of a romantic to find some sort of redemption in the world. It’s a great performance and it’s a good film and I’d suggest checking it out if you ever need a good cry.
Widows is one of those films that I’ve been looking forward to seeing since I first read about it. Based on a BBC miniseries and featuring an amazingly talented cast, Widows is also director Steve McQueen’s first film since the Oscar-winning 12 Years A Slave.
The film deals with four women whose husbands are all killed during a failed heist. The widows, under the leadership of Viola Davis, join together to pull off the heist themselves. That may not sound like a typical Oscar movie but Widows has got tremendous buzz. Plus, you’ve got a cast that’s full of past Oscar nominees and winners (Viola Davis, Robert Duvall, Daniel Kaluuya, Jacki Weaver, Liam Neeson) and actors who seem to be destined to be nominated some day (Colin Farrell, Michelle Rodriguez, Andre Holland, Carrie Coon, Garrett Dillahunt). All in all, there’s a lot of reasons to get excited for this one!
The 1981 film True Confessions tells many different stories.
It’s a story about Los Angeles. It’s not necessarily a story about Los Angeles as it exists. Instead, it’s a story about Los Angeles as we always imagine it. It’s the late 40s and, having vanquished the Nazis in Europe, men are returning to California and looking for a new life. Meanwhile, aspiring starlets from across the country flood into Hollywood, looking for stardom. It’s a city where glitz and ruin exist right next to each other. It’s the mean streets that were made famous by Raymond Chandler and, decades later, James Ellroy.
It’s a murder mystery, one that is based on one of the most notorious unsolved homicides of all time. The bisected body of woman named Lois Fazenda has been found in a vacant lot. When the newspapers discover that Lois was both a prostitute and a Catholic, she becomes known as “the Virgin Tramp.” One need not have an encyclopedic knowledge of unsolved crimes to recognize that Lois Fazneda is meant to be a stand-in for Elizabeth Short, the tragic and infamous Black Dahlia.
It’s a story about corruption. Crooked cops. Rich perverts. Greedy politicians. Sinful clergy. They’re all present and accounted for in True Confessions. As quickly becomes apparent, Los Angeles is a city where you can do anything as long as you have the money to pay the right people off.
And finally, it’s a film about two brothers. Tom and Des Spellacy grew up in a strong Irish Catholic family but, as they got older, their lives went in different directions. Tom (Robert Duvall) became a detective, the type who is willing to cut corners but who, in the end, takes his job seriously. Des (Robert De Niro) entered the priesthood and is now a monsignor in the Los Angeles diocese. Des is ambitious and he has a powerful mentor, Cardinal Danaher (Cyril Cusack).
Though Tom and Des have gone their separate ways, they are still linked by Jack Amsterdam (Charles During). To the public, Jack is a wealthy and respected businessman. However, Tom and Des both know the truth. When Tom first joined the department, he worked as a bagman for Jack and he knows that Jack made most of his money through a prostitution ring. Des know that Jack donates to the Church as way to cover up his own corruption but Des looks the other way. The Cardinal, after all, wants Jack’s money.
When Tom starts to investigate Lois’s death, it doesn’t take him long to figure out that Jack is probably the one responsible. Meanwhile, Jack and his lawyer (Ed Flanders) start to pressure Des to convince his brother to let the case go. Finding justice for Lois Fazneda could mean the end of both Tom and Des’s career.
Based on a novel by John Gregory Dunne, which was adapted into a screenplay by Dunne and Joan Didion, True Confessions is an imperfect but intriguing film. This is one of Robert Duvall’s best performances and he brings a manic edge to the role that keeps the audience off-balance. In the role of Jack Amsterdam, Charles Durning is the epitome of casual corruption and Burgess Meredith does a good job as an aging priest. On the other hand, Robert De Niro seems strangely uncomfortable in the role of Des and you never quite believe that he and Duvall are actually brothers. Director Ulu Grosbard does a good job of creating a proper noir atmosphere but, at the same time, he denies the audience the dramatic climax to which the film appears to be building up to.
That said, for whatever flaws True Confessions may have, it’s an always watchable and thought-provoking film.