an over-the-top performance by Ruth Chatterton, I've always felt that Dodsworth was one of the finest American
movies. William Wyler's simplicity, Sidney Howard's language, and, above all,
Walter Huston's and Mary Astor's performances result in one of the most mature
and powerful movies in my memory. The glory and debasement that love can bring
into one's life have never been explored so tellingly. In fact, because of our
sentimentality about love, rarely do we consider its destructive power. Dodsworth plunges into this world
unhesitatingly with art and power and subtlety. In my view, a great film.
One needn't be a Pauline Kael wannabe, a New Yorker intern, or a Truffaut-quoting NYU film-schooler to know
that the Coen brothers are among our era's wittiest filmmakers. But is it my
imagination, or has the genius of The Big
Lebowski slipped through the cracks? I saw and enjoyed the film in the
theater (on opening day) but dismissed it as "a lesser Coen." It was fun maybe,
but coming on the heels of the wood-chipper-sharp black humor of Fargo, it somehow registered as a
disappointment. Until a colleague showed me his tattoo.
This colleague is no slouch; he's a successful movie producer and
a man I respect. He rolled up his sleeve, and I saw, across his bicep, Jeff
Bridges's final words in The Big Lebowski:"The Dude Abides." Tattooed across his
arm. Permanently. I decided to give the movie another look.
The Big Lebowski is a Coen take on the L.A. detective
story, with the gumshoe character replaced by the Dude, a hapless, aging hippie
bowler. True to genre form, he's beaten up by bad guys, beaten up by cops,
slipped a mickey by the rich thug, and seduced by the society dame, and he ends
up essentially unchanged. But within this structure, the Coens subvert
everything familiar. The "artists" care about nothing, the "nihilists" complain
that things aren't fair, the rich heiress just wants to get pregnant, and the
hot-tempered Polish Vietnam vet is Shomer Shabbos. The only sacred thing seems
to be bowling (penance for Fargo's
Midwest bashing?), and those oiled lanes have never gleamed more radiantly than
for Roger Deakins's camera. The cleverness, humor, and beauty are no surprise;
these elements exist in every Coen brothers' movie. But Jeff Bridges's Dude
pushes this film to another level. Like the rug that holds the room together,
he takes an archetypal character and makes him human enough to recognize and
care about and yet doesn't rob him of his essential dudeness. When he says,
"The Dude abides," I let my guard down. I believe the Coens are serious. It's a
life lesson worthy of a tattoo. Or at least a nice embroidered throw pillow.
Now that Jeff Bridges has received official recognition for the wonderful actor he is, please check out playright and screenwriter Kevin Wade's recommendation for Against All Odds directed by Taylor Hackford.
Need to Escape not only drives the action of many movie stories, it can also
drive us to the movies-whether it's
to fool loneliness with a love story, trick boredom with a thriller, or duck
the blues with a bright comedy. One of the best ways to take a two-hour
vacation is with Against All Odds,
director Taylor Hackford and writer Eric Hughes's loose remake of Out of the Past, a 1947 RKO film noir
that starred Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, and Kirk Douglas.
story, now featuring Jeff Bridges, Rachel Ward, and James Woods, serves up some
of the genre's standard characters-the weak-willed Handsome Man, the reptilian
Nightclub Owner, the sultry Femme Fatale-in a story of corruption, murder, and
betrayal interwoven with a couple of decent twists and a satisfying ending. But
the plot is not why we're here.
Against All Odds may be the most sun-drenched film noir ever made.
From its opening shots in Mexico, over the wonderfully languid guitar score of
Michel Colombier and Larry Carlton, the screen shimmers in the heat like an
airport tarmac in the tropics. The story moves from Los Angeles (featuring a
Sunset Boulevard game of chicken between a Porsche and a Ferrari that's among
the best car chase sequences ever filmed) to various locations in Mexico
(including two weeks of sex, sand, and tequila in the beachfront shack of your
dreams) and back to L.A. in a haze of brutal sun and turquoise waters with
barely a breath of breeze.
lust between Bridges and Ward is convincing, adding to the general humidity.
The supporting performances are uniformly good, especially Saul Rubinek's
sweaty turn as a duplicitous sports agent and Swoosie Kurtz as his pining
assistant. And, in a nice tip of the hat to the original film, Jane Greer
returns as the picture's viperish Mrs. Big.
films of this kind, the characters are usually in dire need of money, guns, or
a second chance. In Against All Odds,
everyone also needs a cold beer. And watching it, even on a long winter's
night, so will you.
Author of the plays Key Exchange, Mr. & Mrs., and Cruise Control and the screenplays for Working Girl, True Colors, Junior, and Maid in Manhattan. He also co-wrote the screenplays for Mr. Baseball and Meet Joe Black.
Patrick Bachau, who plays
Adrian, looks so great in this movie: tall, lanky, long-haired, wearing an unbuttoned
shirt, black pants, black boots. Adrian takes a vacation on the Riviera with
his friend Daniel and he wants to do absolutely nothing-even thinking is too
much. To his dismay, a stunning woman named Haydée joins them. Adrien worries
she'll be a distraction-but a distraction he also craves. Bikini-clad Haydée is
amazing-and director Eric Rohmer gives us tantalizing close-ups of her crotch,
breasts, neck, and back.
In La collectionneuse, Rohmer reveals the discrepancy between who we
are and what we want to be. We're left with a sense of longing and missed
opportunities, reminding us of our maddening inability to change course.
I think about this movie
often. And for all its sadness, I wish I could climb inside it and live there.
John Huston had already made
some pretty good films (The Maltese
Falcon, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The African Queen) by the time he got
to Fat City, his ballad of
down-and-outers set in Stockton, California. In collusion with writer Leonard
Gardner, designer Richard Sylbert (who clearly studied his Hopper paintings),
and the great cinematographer Conrad Hall, Huston creates an extraordinarily
moving film without much use for the director's usual best friend: a plot.
Redolent of Steinbeck's novels
or The Time of Your Life, William
Saroyan's barroom classic, Fat City reeks
of the physical and spiritual exhaustion of its characters. Hall's remarkable
juxtapositions of California's glare and its darkest bars are a constant treat.
Huston's impending old age and
illness hang over the film, but never intrude. As you'd expect from him,
compassion for his characters never spills over into sentiment, and the film
sneaks right up on you. See it in a theater if you can, if only for Hall's
extraordinary nighttime work. Otherwise, grab a drink, turn out the lights, and
city needs its cinematic love letters. New York, Paris and Rome, for example,
have them in spades. No curveball there, the cities have all spawned
generations of great filmmakers. I can't say as much about my hometown, New
Orleans. Most of the best films shot there (and all of the worst) were made by
tourists-and Yankees at that. One theory holds that you really have to have
your ducks in a row to get a movie made, and most people in New Orleans are too
busy dancing and drinking in the street. That's certainly the impression you'd
get from watching documentarian Les Blank's Always
for Pleasure, my favorite New Orleans movie. Blank may live in Northern
California, but he's as New Orleans as an outsider can get. I'll put it to you
this way: more than half of his movies are about music and food. This one takes
us through the city's major festivities of 1977, a glorious season of Afros and
knee-high tube socks. Dancers buckjump on the hoods of cars as nearby cops suck
their lollipops; clown faced carnival revelers drink beer straight from the
pitcher; a local chef upends a gallon jug of hot sauce into his crawfish boil.
We witness a jazz funeral, Mardi Gras Indian practice, St. Patrick's and St.
Joseph's Days' observances, and the stewing of a pot of red beans, all of which
seem to inspire a street parade. In between, locals explain their traditions,
employing as much street jive as they mean to translate. My favorite moment is
this unnamed black woman's interpretation of Mardi Gras: "If you wants to be
white today, you can be white today. Superman, Batman, Robin Hood . . . you can
be anything you want to be today. But, now, tomorrow? You got to be a nigger
tomorrow, 'cause that's what you is." With the exception of one word, that
applies to just about everyone in town. It's a hard film to categorize. Not a
full feature, not narrated, not a biography or a history. It doesn't even try
that hard to tie all its elements together. Taken as a whole, it comes off like
a recipe (one of Blank's favorite subjects): Play dress up. Dance whenever you
get the chance. Eat well. Enjoy yourself before you're in the ground. Make sure
to have a good band at your funeral. Then chill. Serves everybody.
You've never seen anything quite like this astonishing,
completely unpredictable comedy about comedy. Its hero is a failed Vegas
stand-up (Oliver Platt) living in the shadow of his famous funnyman father
(Jerry Lewis). To learn the tricks of the trade, Platt goes back to his
birthplace in Blackpool, where he discovers a brilliant but unbalanced physical
clown (Lee Evans) and some dark secrets from the past. This synopsis makes
director Peter Chelsom's 1995 movie sound straightforward, yet it is anything
but--it veers from piracy at sea to Leslie Caron in a Cleopatra costume to some
of the wildest vaudeville acts you'll ever see. Evans is a sight to behold: he
does with his body what Robin Williams does with his brain. Funny Bones is a high-wire act from start
to finish, and quite unclassifiable: its U.S. distributor, Disney, hadn't a
clue what do with it. But if ever a movie deserved a cult following, this one
John Guare has never led me wrong. In Movies he recommended Trouble in
Paradise, a fast moving, quippy romantic comedy directed by Ernst
Lubisch in 1932. I was watching it the other day and kept moving closer
and closer to my TV so that I wouldn't miss one second of it. Every
shot is perfection itself.
If you've ever heard of the phrase "the Lubitsch touch" you know it
refers to the most elegant and raucous amoral comedy, all done by
indirection and suggestion. Ernst Lubitsch's Trouble in Paradise
is the tale of two thieves who fall for each other. The moonlit dinner
where they meet and pick each other's pockets is one of the greatest
love scenes in any medium. "I hope you don't mind if I keep your
garter," he says at the end of the scene...and she hadn't even missed
it. Then they team up, and he falls for their intended victim.
Screenwriter Samson Raphaelson was a Broadway playwright whose tearjerker The Jazz Singer
was made into the first talkie, with Al Jolson. But Raphaelson had
nothing to do with that film and everything to do with this one and
with his next collaboration with Lubitsch, 1940's charming Shop Around the Cornerwith
Margaret Sullivan and James Stewart. That one takes place in a more or
less recognizable world filled with earnest working people. But Trouble in Paradise floats
in a parallel universe of romance and style that you feel must exist
somewhere--if you could only meet the right person. It's the
high-water mark of cinematic wit.
The Salesman 1969
David Maysles, and Charlotte Zwerin
The Maysles brothers' brilliant 1969 documentary, The Salesman, provides a riveting view of
the American dream, a place where commerce, faith, hucksterism, and despair
collide. It is the story of four Bible salesmen trudging through working-class
America, preying on its broke (and broken) families. While hardly unheralded, The Salesman is remembered more as a
vital moment in the history of documentary film than as a great film in and of
But look again. It is a prescient, haunting piece of art. The look
of it, in black-and-white 16 mm, is unmistakably 1968. Yet, with the Christian
Right currently ascendant in American politics, The Salesman seems weirdly revelatory.
Ironically, the audience that attended the sensational New York
opening in 1969 considered the film nostalgic, thinking that the era of
church-bound Americana was on the wane. But boy, were they wrong.
The Salesman is more than a portrait of class and
capitalist culture. It's a strong film, with drama at its center. It revolves
around Paul Brennan, a weary salesman whose touch is fading as he battles
despair and loneliness. Paul's dwindling sales spark his increasingly anxious,
darkly funny reveries. At the same time, his fellow salesmen treat him with the
growing silence and cramped discomfort worthy of a distinctly modern leper: the
Throughout this film, the Maysles brothers let the camera roll and
the audience watch, leaving the moral ambiguity of the salesmen intact. The
final impact, then, is all the more powerful, stark, and universal.
There are lots of great William
Powell movies, but the one I have the most fun with is My Man Godfrey. It has a great cast starring Powell, Carole
Lombard, and Eugene Pallette. It also has a fantastic screenplay, and Gregory
La Cava's direction seems effortless. The Depression-era plot involves a
skid-row bum, Godfrey (Powell), who is snatched up by a spoiled rich girl,
Irene (Lombard), as part of a scavenger hunt. Irene decides Godfrey would make
a good protégé so she takes him home and he becomes the family's butler. Mix in
a few horrified, snobbish family members and the superb Pallette as the father
at his wit's end, and you have My Man