Category Archives: Black & White

Newsfront (1978)

newsfront2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Life of a cameraman.

The story centers on the men and women who worked to bring Australian film audiences the latest footage of news events of the day during post World War II. It focuses on those working for a company called Cinetone, which is run by A. G. Marwood (Don Crosby), who’s a demanding boss who expects perfection in the product that he sends out as well as footage that is brought in. The movie also looks at the private lives of the crew including Len (Bill Hunter) whose brother Frank (Gerard Kennedy) works for a competitor as well as the advent of TV news, which eventually put the weekly news reels out of business since they could show the events live as they happened.

The film is unusual in that the first 15 minutes are in black-and-white looking much like the newsreel footage that is shown during the opening credits only to shift suddenly into color. It then goes back and forth between color and black-and-white at roughly 30-minute intervals where for a couple minutes the scene shifts to black-and-white for no apparent reason that I could find and then eventually back to color. I’m not sure what the significance of this was, but it’s a bit distracting and doesn’t help get the viewer into the story, but if anything drives them a bit away.

The plot is different too as it’s made up of small personal dramas versus one big one. I didn’t necessarily have a problem with this, but I did feel the conflicts should’ve been more tied to the newsreel profession, which the majority of it isn’t. For instance the story thread dealing with Len’s opposition to having an amendment added to the constitution barring affiliation with the communist party, which goes against the sentiments of the rest of the town, has nothing intrinsically to do with his camerawork and therefore didn’t seem necessary to the story. There’s also scenes dealing with his failing marriage and love affair with co-worker Amy (Wendy Hughes), which again could happen in any work place and seemed rather pedestrian.

There’s also other threads that I thought should’ve been played-out more. Len’s conflict with his assistant Chris (Chris Haywood) over his reluctance to get married to his girlfriend after he finds out she’s pregnant had potential for strong dramatic moments and it would’ve been interesting seeing them continue to work together despite the underlying tensions, but like with a lot of things in this movie, it gets briefly introduced and then quickly resolved. The same thing happens when Len is forced to work with a new assistant after Chris dies unexpectedly. It’s obvious during the short scene of the two in a car that there’s a big generational difference between them, which piqued my interest seeing if they could forge a working relationship despite these issues, but the film never goes back to it, which I found frustrating.

Overall it manages to be compelling nonetheless and much of it could be credited to actual newsreel footage that gets shown throughout. The violent ones that get shown at the start I found particularly riveting including the one where a race car careen out of control and drives right into the spectators, where it clearly injuries and kills many. I was almost hoping for a backstory to that one, but none is given yet it skillfully illustrates how vivid some of the newsreel footage was even after all of these years, which is the best point that the movie makes. I just wished the scenarios dealt more with the work aspect. In a lot of ways my favorite character was A.G. as I enjoyed the way he fretted about every little detail, was a classic chain smoker, and seemed married to his job. It’s a shame he didn’t stay on the whole way through as he was the type of obsessive guy you could’ve really built a movie around.

newsfront1

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 29, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 50 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Phillip Noyce

Studio: Roadshow Shows

Available: DVD, Tubi

The Virgin President (1968)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: The President is incompetent.

The current President (Severn Darden) has become too elderly and can no longer handle the job, but because term limits have been vanquished he keeps getting elected anyways. His staff decide he needs to go and the only way to do it is to have him killed, but make it look like an accident, so they set-it-up to where he gets bitten by a poisonous parrot. Once he is gone his young son, Fillard Millmore (also played by Darden) takes over. Fillard has lived a very sheltered life and is not privy to the corrupt ways of Washington and his advisors try to use this to their advantage. To help improve their international relations with China they have him get married to a Chinese bride (L’nelle Hamanaka), but because he’s inexperienced with sex he is unable to please her on their wedding night, which angers the Chinese officials who threaten nuclear retaliation, but the President’s advisors plan on striking China first.

The film is a low budget effort cast with members from Chicago’s Second City Improv group that has its moments, but doesn’t completely come together. One of the main issues is that it was directed by Graeme Ferguson, who specialized in doing documentaries and the opening sequence, which shows the behind-the-scenes footage of the actors getting ready for a scene underneath the credits is quite awkward. It made me feel like I was watching somebody’s home movie and not a feature film and does not in anyway help grab the viewer. It was also filmed in black-and-white and by the late 60’s almost all movies were done in color and this one should’ve been too because it just accentuates it’s amateurish quality otherwise.

Once the film gets going with the plot it does have some inspired moments. Darden is quite funny as the old man especially his death scene. I got a kick out of the little electronic box hidden inside a cabinet at the White House that would allow any American President to dial-up any country he wanted to bomb and pick the number of casualties, including a switch for ‘bonus kills’. Darden’s attempts to ‘make friends’ with the protestors outside the White House who are against his policies is amusing too.

They are unfortunately some bits that don’t work including Paul Benedict’s character who gets sexually aroused watching flowers pollinate. The pacing is off too with some scenes going on longer than they should and too much emphasis on the actors improvising their lines with dialogue that at times veers off from the main story.

The thing though that got me most annoyed, as a person who likes to be very fact oriented, was the scene where the President and his advisors are discussing which American city to nuke, which they hope to make it look like China did it and then give them the excuse to nuke China in return. Darden says they should bomb some ‘insignificant city’ like Fargo, South Dakota, but anyone familiar with geography would know that Fargo is in North Dakota and not South Dakota. What I found even more irritating is that another character instead of correcting the President on his mistake just reiterates the same thing making me believe that the entire cast and crew didn’t know what state Fargo was really in, which I found to be rather pathetic.

While this is clearly not a perfect movie and does have its share of drawbacks I still found it a fun watch simply as a relic of its era. It’s surprising in many ways how little has changed in Washington. The politicians back-in-the-day still had American imperialism on their minds and everything revolved around how to ‘brainwash the masses’ so they could remain in power, which unfortunately isn’t any different from how it is now.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: November 18, 1968

Runtime: 1 Hour 11 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Graeme Ferguson

Studio: CMB Films

Available: None at this time.

Mister Buddwing (1966)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: He’s lost his memory.

A man (James Garner) wakes up one morning to find himself on a bench in Central Park unaware of how he got there or who he is. He finds a crumpled up piece of paper in his coat pocket with a phone number scribbled on it and when he calls it a woman by the name of Gloria (Angela Lansbury) answers, but talking to her makes him even more confused. He then spends the day wandering around the city while coming up with the name Buddwing after he spots the word Budweiser on a passing truck and then looks up into the sky and sees the wings of a jet plane. He bumps  into women who remind him of someone that he knows as Grace, but every time he meets someone it just leads to more dead ends and things get even worse when he’s mistaken as being an escapee from a mental hospital.

The film is based on a novel by Evan Hunter and initially holds some intrigue. I was impressed by the flashy camera work during the opening shot and I was hoping especially with its evocative black-and-white cinematography and jazz score by Kenyon Hopkins that this would have a strong cinema vertite feel, but any potentially artsy style gets lost by a draggy script that bogs down in Buddwing’s past romantic memories that amounts to nothing more than extended talky scenes that cripples the mystery angle until you end up not caring what the answers are.

Garner’s usual appeal gets seriously strained, which is probably why in his memories ‘The Garner Files’ he calls this “The worst movie I ever made” and then asks “What was I thinking?”. Normally I admire actors that are willing to go out of their safety zone, but his constant deer-in-headlights expression becomes tiring to see and the crying that he does while inside Lansbury’s apartment seems insincere.

The one’s that come off best are the four women that he bumps into as he wanders around. All are portrayed by famous leading ladies: the fore mentioned Lansbury as well as Suzanne Pleshette, Katherine Ross, and Jean Simmons who give outstanding performances and helps keep the otherwise rocky picture afloat. However, during the flashback sequences the different actresses all end up playing the same Grace at different times, which I found confusing and off-putting.

The explanation for Buddwing’s amnesia, which apparently ends up being just the result of having some stressful event occurring in his life, is highly suspect as I’ve not read of this happening to anyone in real-life, or if it does it is extremely rare. Not only does the credibility get pushed, but Delbert Mann’s direction, with the exception of the opening shot, lacks creativity, which makes this already flat story even more of a strain to sit through.

Released: October 11, 1966

Runtime: 1 Hour 40 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Delbert Mann

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD-R (Warner Archive), Amazon Video, YouTube

The Caretaker (1963)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Homeless man moves in.

Based on the Harold Pinter play the story centers around Aston (Robert Shaw) who suffers from an undisclosed mental illness and lives alone in a cramped, cluttered room of an abandoned home that his brother Mick (Alan Bates) is trying to renovate. Mac Davies (Donald Pleasence) is a homeless man that Aston invites to stay with him, but Mac proves to be a difficult roommate and when Aston asks him to leave Mac refuses and instead tries connive with Mick to have Aston thrown out instead.

From a purely technical standpoint this is a brilliant film as Clive Donner’s direction perfectly captures the claustrophobic setting. It can be hard to recreate a truly cluttered interior, but this room really comes off looking like a storage closet with so many items crowded into it that you wonder how the performers were even able to move around or how the camera crew could fit in to film it. You eventually lose touch with this being a movie at all, but instead start to feel like you’re right in there with the characters as the camera creates an incredible intimacy with the people on the screen until it’s like they’re breathing right on you.

The performances are impressive and the one thing that keeps the viewer captivated as there is very little action otherwise. All three starred in the stage production and basically did this for free as the budget was so low that they couldn’t be paid upfront and were promised a percentage of the profits if the film went into the black. Shaw is particularly interesting as he has played so many dominating characters in the past that watching him portray someone who is shy and unassuming and still do it with equal effectiveness is a testament to his talents while Pleasence, who wears heavy make-up to make him look much older than he really was, is almost unrecognizable.

My only complaint is that not enough happens. I’ve seen and enjoyed many of Pinter’s other plays that were turned into films and although this one is well crafted it still lacks the necessary payoff. I kept waiting for that great dramatic moment that seems from the very beginning to be just bubbling underneath the surface, but it never materializes. I wanted more of an arch that the characters and material seemed ripe for and to have it just end the way it began with not much occurring in between is a real disappointment. Again, the performance and camerawork keep you captivated, but it all adds up to being much ado about nothing and the story’s ultimate message/point being quite murky.

Alternate Title: The Guest

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: July 2, 1963

Runtime: 1 Hour 45 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Clive Donner

Studio: Janus Films

Available: DVD (Region 2)

Manhattan (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Writer has relationship issues.

Isaac (Woody Allen) is an unemployed TV writer who’s currently dating Tracy (Mariel Hemingway) a 17-year-old girl, but he feels guilty about this and thinks it’s only a matter of time before she moves on to someone else that is more her age. In the meantime he begins seeing Mary (Diane Keaton) who is the mistress to his best friend Yale (Michael Murphy). Eventually Isaac falls for Mary, but she then goes back to Yale forcing Isaac to beg Tracy to come back to him even as she’s prepares to go off to London to study acting.

Although this film became a critical darling I agree more with Allen himself who considers this to be the least favorite out of all of the movies he’s directed. The much ballyhooed black-and-white cinematography is a detriment especially when it shows the fireworks going off above the skyline, which if done in color would’ve been vibrant, but here it’s less than thrilling. The film also doesn’t give you much of a feel for the city since all it does is give brief shots of the skyscrapers and never any of its eclectic neighborhoods, shops, street life, or people. Looking at various photos of the city in Wikipedia gives one a far better visual taste of Manhattan then this film ever does and the George Gershwin score has unfortunately lost its uniqueness since United Airlines used it for many years for its ad campaign and I kept thinking of that the whole time it gets played here.

Allen’s trip with Keaton to a planetarium is interesting visually and their facial expressions during a visit to a concert is amusing, but otherwise the storyline dealing with their budding romance is boring and predictable. It’s fun to see, and a testament to Keaton’s great acting ability,  her playing a completely different type of person than the one she did just two years earlier in Annie Hall, but the character itself is off-putting and not someone most men would want to warm-up to. Maybe it’s the way she thinks that just because she’s from Philadelphia that makes her or anyone else from there morally superior, which I realize is meant to be amusing, but I didn’t find it that way mainly because I know people in real-life who are actually like that.

Allen’s visits with his ex-wife, played by Meryl Streep doesn’t jive either because I could not believe that they were ever compatible enough to ever have gotten married in the first place.  It’s also weird that her new partner Connie (Karen Ludwig) remains so civil and calm when in Allen’s presence since he apparently tried at one time to run her over with a car, which to me would make her not want to be anywhere near him, or even allow him into her home.

Allen’s relationship with Hemingway is the film’s only interesting aspect. Some of course may consider this to be controversial due to the wide age differences between the two although technically in the state of New York the age of consent is 17, so in the eyes of the law it was legal even though the characters themselves amusingly don’t seem aware of this. What I liked though was that Hemingway, despite being so young, comes off as the mature one in the relationship and when they’re shown walking side-by-side she is actually taller, which I found to be the funniest part of the whole movie. She also does a very convincing cry, which isn’t easy.

Unfortunately the relationship also leaves open a plethora of questions that the movie never bothers to answer. For instance where are her parents and what do they think of her living with a 42-year-old man? What do her friends think of Allen and what exactly does she see in this scrawny, whiny little man to fall-in-love with him anyways?

Supposedly her character is based on actress Stacey Nelkin who had a on-going relationship with Allen for 8 years starting when she was 16, but that made more sense because she was a young would-be starlet who most likely was mesmerized by Allen as a well-established director and who she probably saw as being her ticket to possibly breaking into the business, but here Isaac is an unemployed nobody yammering incessantly about things like Ingmar Bergman, which is something most teens can’t get into, so again I ask what does this Hemingway character see in this guy that would make her want to move in with him?

I’ve been a fan of many of Allen’s other films especially his comedies from the early 70’s and some of his dramas too, but this one left me cold. I felt that way when I first saw it over 20 years ago and nothing changed upon the second viewing as it seems to be cramming in three diametrically different storylines giving it kind of a jumbled narrative instead of just focusing on one.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 18, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 36 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Woody Allen

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Wild Seed (1965)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Runaway falls for drifter.

Daphne (Celia Kaye) is a 17-year-old who runs away from her foster parents (Woody Chambliss, Eva Novak) in order to meet her biological father (Ross Elliot) who resides in Los Angeles. On her journey from the east coast to the west she meets up with Fargo (Michael Parks) a drifter who teaches her the ropes of surviving on the streets. As their trip progresses so does Daphne’s feelings for Fargo who resists her advances despite having feelings for her as well.

This black-and-white mid ‘60s drama has too much of the same trappings of the teen runaway films that came both before and after it. There’s just nothing that particularly distinguishes it from the others, which hurts the ability of the viewer from getting into it because you think right from the start that you’ve essentially ‘seen it all before’. The film also has very little action and Daphne who at times acts with extraordinary naiveté could’ve had far worse things happen to her than what does giving the film a sanitized feel in regards to the runaway experience.

Kaye, who later went on to marry famous writer/director John Milius, lacks visual appeal and fails to seem all that ‘wild’ despite what the film’s title suggests. Much of the time she comes off as someone who is quite sheltered and timid about things and not anyone who would even consider going out recklessly into the world without much ‘street smarts’ to go with it. Her character shifts from being overly paternal about certain things, particularly the ‘lectures’ that she gives to Fargo, to acting incredibly naïve making her character lack any type of real center. She also fails to display a vulnerable side just a crusty defensive one. Instead of being someone the viewer cares for she replicates a pesky nag nobody would want hanging around.

Parks, in his film debut, channels James Dean a bit too much while his character remains an enigma that we learn very little about. The fact that he resists Daphne sexual advances, at least initially, was confusing as usually it’s the man that makes the first move. I kept figuring there had to be some reason for it that would come out later, like for instance he was secretly gay or insecure about his ability to perform, and yet no explanation is ever given.

The second-half improves as this is the type of film that grows on you if you’re patient. I enjoyed some of the long shots showing to the two from an extreme distance making them look like tiny little ants on the landscape, which nicely accentuates their place in the world as a whole. Bringing in the parents, both the biological and foster ones helps add to the drama and fills in the holes of the story, but having a relationship develop between the two leads didn’t seem authentic. Spending so much time trying to survive on the outer fringes of society doesn’t allow for much else most of all a romance. The film would’ve been more interesting had it expanded its timeline and shown how things ended up for the two 5 or even 10 years later and whether the relationship had remained, or whether they were even still alive at all.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 5, 1965

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Brian G. Hutton

Studio: Universal

Available: None at this time.

The Hindenburg (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Blow up the zeppelin.

Based on the 1972 novel by Michael M. Mooney the story centers on Colonel Franz Ritter (George C. Scott) who was a part of Luftwaffe, which was the aerial warfare branch of the Nazi government and was employed to protect the Hindenburg zeppelin on its voyage across the Atlantic. Rumors had swirled that hostilities towards the Nazi party could cause a terrorist attack on anything connected to them and since the airship is German made it made it a prime target. Martin Vogel (Roy Thinnes) assists Ritter in his investigation, but the two find themselves at constant odds as they must sort through a wide array of suspicious passengers all of whom have the motivation and ability to cause harm to them and everyone else.

The film of course is based on the actual explosion of The Hindenburg zeppelin that occurred on May 6, 1937 in Lakehurst, New Jersey. Although there had been bomb threats made against The Hindenburg before its flight and the theory was investigated there has never been any hard proof that is what caused its destruction. The story is completely speculative, which is primarily the reason why the film is so weak and uninvolving. Conspiracy theories can be interesting if there is some hard evidence to back it up, but this thing makes it all up as it goes along. The fact that it occurred so long ago only heightens how pointless it is. Everyone that was involved is now dead, so even if there is some truth to what it is propagating what difference could it possibly make now?

Richard Levinson and William Link who wrote the script where known for their love of mysteries and helped to create both the ‘Columbo’ and ‘Murder She Wrote’ franchises, but their character development was not one of their stronger suits. The cast of characters here are bland and cardboard with nothing interesting to say. I’m surprised that they managed to corral a decent list of big name stars to appear as they have little to do and for many of them are seen only briefly. William Atherton gives the film’s only interesting performance and I did like Charles Durning as the ship’s captain as well, but that is about it.

The recreation of the airship, which was painstakingly done by a group of 80 artists and technicians who worked around-the-clock for 4 straight months on it is impressive and resulted in a highly detailed 25-foot-long model. Watching it glide through the clouds are the film’s best moments as is the scene where Atherton’s character tries to repair a hole in the outer fabric and almost slips to his death.

(Below is a pic of the actual Hindenburg along with the model used in the film.)

The climactic explosion, which should’ve been the film’s most exciting moment, comes off instead, like everything else in the movie, as protracted and boring. Director Robert Wise decided not to recreate the ship’s fiery end through special effects, but instead spliced in scenes of the character’s trying to escape the burning wreck with black-and-white newsreel footage from the era. This results in distracting the viewer and emotionally taking them out of the movie at its most crucial point because up until then everything had been in color and then suddenly it shifts to black-and-white making it seem like we are no longer following the same movie. The actual explosion and subsequent fire happened very quickly, in less than 2 minutes, but here it gets stretched to almost 8, which makes it seem too ‘Hollywoodnized’ and not authentic or compelling.

(Below is a pic of the Hindenburg explosion along with the burned out skeleton of the ship as captured the day after the incident.)

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1975

Runtime: 2Hours 5Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Wise

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Love with the Proper Stranger (1963)

love-with-3

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: He gets her pregnant.

Rocky (Steve McQueen) is a bachelor enjoying his single lifestyle by having one-night-stands with a wide assortment of women while happily avoiding the responsibilities of marriage. Then he meets up with Angie (Natalie Wood) a woman he had sex with months earlier and who now finds herself pregnant. She comes to Rocky hoping that he can help her find a doctor to perform an abortion. Rocky at first barely even remembers her, but then agrees to help her and even offers to pay for half of the costs. Yet as things progress Rocky finds himself beginning to care for Angie and even considers the one thing he thought he’d never do, which is marriage.

The script, by the prolific Arnold Schulman, is certainly edgy for its time and seemed almost groundbreaking and I was surprised it didn’t elicit more controversy especially since it was released to theaters on Christmas day.  The film works for the most part though I was frustrated that we are never shown Rocky’s and Angie’s first meeting. It gets talked about slightly, but there really needed to be a flashback showing how it all came about especially since Angie didn’t seem like the type of woman who would go to bed with a guy so quickly.

Wood gives an outstanding performance and manages to dominate the film even when she’s with McQueen, which was no easy feat. I did find it hard to believe that such a beautiful woman would be stuck having to accept a pudgy, klutzy loser like Anthony (played by Tom Bosley in his film debut) as her only possible suitor. She had told no one else about her pregnancy, so I would think many eligible bachelors would be beating down her door to get at her. The fact that Rocky doesn’t immediately remember her is also absurd. Sure, he may have slept with a lot of women, but nobody no matter how many other sex partners they’ve had would ever forget a gorgeous face like Wood’s.

McQueen’s role almost seems comical especially with his character’s hot-and-cold dealings with Angie and his inability to ever communicate with her effectively. My one caveat was his constant wheezing after climbing several flights of stairs. I realize this was to represent his need to give up cigarettes and in turn the other ‘bad habits’ of his lifestyle, but it got annoying and even distracting to hear.

As a drama/romance it’s okay, but would’ve been better had it been filmed in color. The segments are too drawn out and quite talky, which made me believe that this was originally a stage play, but to my shock it wasn’t even though it probably would’ve fared better there. I was also disappointed at the lack of a suitable wrap-up for Bosley’s character who came off like a major schmuck at first, but then he grows on you as the film progresses.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: December 25, 1963

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Robert Mulligan

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD (Region 0), Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Persona (1966)

persona-1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two women become one.

Elisabet (Liv Ullmann) is a famous stage actress who one day decides to quit speaking. Alma (Bibi Andersson) is a nurse at a mental hospital in charge of trying to get Elisabet to talk again, but her efforts prove futile, so the hospital administrator (Margaretha Krook) offers the two her island cottage hoping the quiet, secluded locale will prove more beneficial. As the days wear on Alma begins seeing Elisabet less as a patient and more like a therapist and divulges secrets about her life to her, which causes Alma to feel quite close to Elisabet and treat her almost like a confidant. Then she reads a letter that Elisabet has written where she describes Alma in a condescending way, which creates tension between the two that eventually spills over into a long ongoing confrontation.

This film was considered for many years to be one of the most bizarre and shocking movies ever made and this is mainly due to the strange and eclectic mix of images that gets shown at the beginning. Visions of a lamb being slaughtered, a nail getting pounded into a hand and a close-up of an erect penis flash before the screen while later there is even stock footage of a man setting himself on fire and moments where the film itself gets a hole burned through it.

For me the more subtle moments is what I enjoyed with my favorite scene being the one that occurs in the early morning hours when Elisabet quietly walks into Alma’s room as she sleeps while we hear the distant sound of a boat horn blowing in the background. The shot where the left side of Elisabet’s face gets superimposed next to the right side of Alma’s is also quite amazing.

persona-2

There have been many interpretations through the years over what this film’s ultimate message is. For me it shows how we are more alike than different and how what bonds two people to each may not always be readily apparent and might be something that comes out much later after initially seeming like they are two opposites. I also think it is a great examination at how fragile and interchangeable societal roles can be where someone can seem like the stronger one at one point only to later be shown as the weaker. Alma’s emotional meltdown is the most striking especially after seeming so confident and stable at first while Elisabet’s silence is initially perceived as a rejection to the ugly world around her, but later gets exposed as being more of a rejection of herself and the selfish nature that she harbors.

Andersson, who ironically and sadly can no longer speak in real-life after suffering a debilitating stroke in 2009, gives an excellent performance and I enjoyed how her character exudes ugly emotions like jealousy, envy and even anger and yet still manages to remain likable and relatable. Ullmann has the challenge of keeping her character interesting despite saying very little, but with her ever expressive eyes she does.

The scenic locale of the Faro island where this was filmed is nice, but a patient and doctor sharing someone else’s seaside resort and treating it more like a retreat than a therapy session seemed dubious and almost enough to make anyone fake mental illness if it could get them time off to go there. There is also no explanation to Alma’s fiancée and his feelings about her staying with Elisabet and not him. The sudden arrival of Elisabet’s husband is equally confusing. I liked the scene due to the symbolism that it brings out, but I didn’t understand how he was able to find them at such a remote location especially since he appeared to be blind. The segment seems almost like a dream, which is how I had initially interpreted it when I first saw this film year’s earlier, but it’s never made clear.

On the whole though these issues prove minor and in many ways help make the film even more interesting. My only real complaint is when Alma speaks to Elisabet in regards to her child and the camera stays glued onto Elisabet’s face, which captures her increasingly pained expressions, which is great, but then the scene gets played over while showing Alma’s face as she says the exact same things again, which was too repetitious in a film that is otherwise quite brilliant and a landmark in many ways.

persona-3

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: October 18, 1966

Runtime: 1Hour 23Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Ingmar Bergman

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Criterion Collection), Amazon Instant Video

The Last Picture Show (1971)

last picture show 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: A Texas sized drama.

Based on the Larry McMurtry novel, who also co-wrote the screenplay, the story deals with the inter-workings and relationships of a people living in a small Texas town known as Anarene during the years of 1951 and 1952.  There’s Duane (Jeff Bridges) and Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) two high school seniors who are also best friends. Duane dates the highly attractive Jacey (Cybill Shepherd) who seems more geared to playing the field with every guy in town and even makes a play for Sonny, which seriously affects his relationship with Duane. There’s also Ruth (Cloris Leachman) the lonely coach’s wife who begins a brief affair with Sonny until he decides to bail-out for the more attractive Jacey. Sam (Ben Johnson) makes up part of the older generation still stuck in the dusty town and trying to make ends meet by running the local movie theater and pool hall both of which come to a halt when he dies suddenly.

I saw this film just recently outside on the big screen as part of the Texas Film Heritage and Preservation Society here in Austin. Although I had seen it before I was hit with how much more impressive and visually sumptuous it is on the big screen. Robert Surtees’ black and white cinematography is top-notch and the main ingredient to what makes it so spellbinding, so much meticulous attention is taken into each and every shot that one could almost watch this with the sound down and still find it thoroughly compelling.

Director Peter Bogdanovich takes great care to make sure that all of the elements are there and spins them together like a well-crafted machine so the viewer learns bit and pieces about these characters and their attitudes through each shot and camera angle that comes along. Filming it on-location in Archer City where McMurtry grew up helps accentuate the authenticity as does playing the country music from the period although I could’ve done with a little less of that and more of the sound of the wind and dust crackling across the barren region instead.

What surprised me most was how interesting and varied the love making scenes where and how instrumental they became to the film as a whole. One of the most memorable ones is when Sonny first tries to make love to Ruth, but is quite awkward about it. We see the pained expressions on both of their faces, hear the rusty springs of the mattress, and then finally witness Ruth’s attempts to shield her crying and frustration from Sonny. Duane’s futile attempt at sex with Jacey later on is also good particularly the fiery look of anger spewing from Jacey’s eyes when he is unable to perform. The scene involving a mentally challenged young man pushed into attempting sex with an obese and caustic prostitute inside the backseat of a cramped car is both darkly funny and sad, but the most provocative love making moment comes near the end when Jacey has sex with her mother’s boyfriend (Clu Gulager) on top of a pool table inside a dark and lonely pool hall while bracing the table’s side pockets with her hands for leverage.

The performances are all-around outstanding and both Leachman and Johnson won the Academy Award for their work here, but I still came away feeling, just like I did twenty years ago when I first saw this film, that Shepherd does the best job and leaves the most lasting impression. I love how her character slips between being insecure and indecisive to cunning and conniving and Shepherd’s facial expressions are completely on-target all the way. Her striptease done on top of a diving board is still pretty hot and my only complaint about the character is the way she elopes with Sonny and then completely bails on him the next day. I realize she didn’t love the guy and she’s just used him like she did others, but I didn’t understand what her motivation was in this instance as she seemed to get little if anything out of it.

I was also a bit disappointed that the Coach Popper character played by Bill Thurman didn’t have a bigger role in the story. The way he berates his players during practice is amusing and would most likely get coaches in today’s more sensitive world in hot water. I also found his constant spitting of tobacco juice into a cup that he carries around with him to be grotesquely amusing, but my biggest beef is the fact that we have a main character screwing his wife and the whole town knows about it, but never any reaction from the man himself. Maybe he was aware and didn’t care, but the movie should’ve made an attempt to show this, or at least some interaction between Sonny and the Coach since Sonny was at one time one of his players, which would have to make things quite awkward whenever they would bump into each other and in a small town that would most likely happen on more than a few occasions.

Overall though this is a great movie and I was surprised at how frank and explicit it was despite its 1950’s setting. Some may argue that it was done with too much of a revisionist mindset and things weren’t quite this wild, but others, like myself, will insist that it probably was, but just not talked about as much.

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: October 22, 1971

Runtime: 2Hours 6Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Rated R

Director: Peter Bogdanovich

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video