Category Archives: ★★★★

The African Queen (1951, John Huston)

As I started The African Queen, I wondered what the hell John Huston ever did to earn him such a good rep. Maybe it was The African Queen.

Besides the amazing cinematography, the film’s laid out beautifully. Get Bogart and Hepburn in a boat together, in WWI Africa, and see what happens. The film starts looking like a documentary. I can’t think of any other Hollywood production that treated native Africa with any regard and I think it threw me off a little. Jack Cardiff’s cinematography and the British accents–Bogart seems kind of like guest-star in the first bit, doesn’t he?–also threw me. Then, about thirty-six minutes in, I started to get it.

The ending, of course, makes the film. Most films are made by the ending, no matter when they were made. Kind of like how a novel sort of needs a kick-ass close too. Well, not sort of at all. The most interesting aspect of The African Queen is the romance. Besides that Bogart was probably closer in age to Hepburn then he was to any previous love interests (except maybe Mary Astor) sets Queen apart. While, yes, younger female actors could hold their own against older men, somewhere after Faye Dunaway (and Michelle Pfeiffer?) they’ve lost that ability. A point that has nothing to do with The African Queen.

It’s a great film. I can’t believe Vivien Leigh (for Streetcar) beat Hepburn for this one. Wow. Vivien Leigh beat Eleanor Parker for Detective Story that year too. You know, I remember when I used to (this is the early-to-mid 1990s) get pissed when someone good lost the Oscar to someone bad. How bad must it have been when four good people lost to one ham? I suppose people didn’t care that much back in 1952, but still….

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Huston; screenplay by James Agee and Huston, based on the novel by C.S. Forester; director of photography, Jack Cardiff; edited by Ralph Kemplen; music by Allan Gray; produced by Sam Spiegel; released by United Artists.

Starring Humphrey Bogart (Charlie Allnut), Katharine Hepburn (Rose Sayer), Robert Morley (Rev. Samuel Sayer), Peter Bull (Captain of the Louisa), Theodore Bikel (First Officer of the Louisa) and Peter Swanick (German Army Officer).


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Night Moves (1975, Arthur Penn)

I have a confession to make with Night Moves. I first started watching it when I was fifteen and home sick from school. I wanted to see Knight Moves with Christopher Lambert and I got this one instead. I liked Gene Hackman (or said I did) so I started watching it and I turned it off. Why?

Because fifteen-year olds are stupid.

I don’t know how I rediscovered it. I had the old Warner Home Video laserdisc, pan and scan from the early 1980s with the bubbles around the picture on the cover (f you know, you know). That must have been before film classes at college, so the only thing I can think of is Arthur Penn. I saw an Arthur Penn film on AMC (back when it was good) and went after his other stuff. At this period, I was buying laserdiscs film unseen. Blind buying. People do that with DVDs and DVDs cost $10. LaserDiscs cost a lot more. It’s possible I got the Night Moves laser on sale somewhere….

Night Moves is probably Arthur Penn’s best film, unless The Missouri Breaks is better than it looked from the moments I saw (I have it coming, right now, from Nicheflix, actually). That’s a big deal when you directed Little Big Man. I just realized I have watched Night Moves lately (2001). But this time is the first widescreen. Oh, so beautiful.

In the old days (2001), I’d have to tell you to find a good video store and still hope they stock Night Moves. With DVD, I don’t have to. You can just see it.

I’m still trying to figure out what happened to Jennifer Warren. She was in Night Moves and Slapshot and then did TV movies. She’s not particularly good looking, but she’s a great actress. Odd to appear in two of the more important films of a decade and then nothing. Susan Clark’s in Night Moves too. Susan Clark is really good (no, I never watched “Webster.”) And as for Eugene Hackman. He’s become–edging out Dustin Hoffman–my choice for the finest actor the 1970s ever birthed. I know it’s cheating, I know Hackman and Hoffman started in the 1960s, but still….

He’s simply astounding. See Night Moves.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Arthur Penn; written by Alan Sharp; director of photography, Bruce Surtees; edited by Dede Allen and Stephen A. Rotter; music by Michael Small; production designer, George Jenkins; produced by Robert M. Sherman; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Gene Hackman (Harry Moseby), Jennifer Warren (Paula), Susan Clark (Ellen Moseby), Ed Binns (Joey Ziegler), Harris Yulin (Marty Heller), Kenneth Mars (Nick), Janet Ward (Arlene Iverson), James Woods (Quentin), Melanie Griffith (Delly Grastner), Anthony Costello (Marv Ellman), John Crawford (Tom Iverson) and Ben Archibek (Charles).


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Thieves Like Us (1974, Robert Altman)

Altman never does a film half-assed. Either it’s great or it’s shit. How one of his films can be shit is varied, but the shitty ones are always just plain… shitty. There’s no formula to figuring out how an Altman film is going to be–usually, if Altman thinks it’s shit, it’s good (M*A*S*H, The Player). Thieves Like Us is small, the big cast doesn’t occupy the running time. The main characters really are the main characters. I’ve been dreading Thieves for a few weeks now and I’m sorry I did. I probably should have checked the screenwriters. I would have felt better. Calder Willingham wrote Little Big Man, The Graduate, and Paths of Glory. I don’t know how you can get safer than him….

It’s not just the writing or the direction–Altman really likes setting a film in the 1930s, it lets him use radio programs instead of a score. That method seems very Altman-like. The cast, as they used to be in Altman films, is impeccable. Keith Carradine means little to me except his 1990s schlock work and Shelley Duvall has always just meant bad. Their romance holds the film together and it’s a wonderful little gem of a movie romance. You enjoy watching them fall in love. John Schuck and Bert Remsen are the other titular thieves and both are excellent. A pre-Cuckoo’s Nest Louise Fletcher shows up… It’s just a fantastic cast, great acting.

Of course, Thieves Like Us is not available on DVD in the US. I rented it from Nicheflix. It’s another title waiting for the rock stars at Sony to decide what to do with it (however, if they cancelled special editions of A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More, how high a priority is Thieves going to be?). It’s no fair, of course, since there should be at least six good Altman films available on DVD and I doubt there are….

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Altman; screenplay by Calder Willingham, Joan Tewkesbury and Altman, based on the novel by Edward Anderson; director of photography, Jean Bouffety; edited by Lou Lombardo; produced by Jerry Bick; distributed by United Artists.

Starring Keith Carradine (Bowie), Shelley Duvall (Keechie), John Schuck (Chicamaw), Bert Remsen (T-Dub), Louise Fletcher (Mattie), Ann Latham (Lula) and Tom Skerritt (Dee Mobley).


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Sea of Love (1989, Harold Becker)

So, I was worried about Sea of Love. After all, the last movie Richard Price is credited with writing is Shaft (though I realize it was changed from what he wrote by Singleton, who’s just a screenwriting dynamo). So, I was worried. Sea of Love was a film I loved–absolutely loved–when I first got into film, when I finally decided I needed to sit and watch a film, not read at the same time, not sit in the room while it played. Frighteningly, this evolution was late in life–it was 1994 or so, when I was sixteen, the Robocop Criterion laserdisc. I sat and watched it.

I’ve seen Sea of Love since, of course. Universal was a great laserdisc company in the 1990s and I had the Sea of Love laserdisc (I still might, in storage, since I never got around to selling M-Z). The first DVD release was pan and scan, so I missed that, but Universal did a widescreen edition and I rented it from Blockbuster–Netflix is no good if there are two versions.

Sea of Love is a great film. Richard Price’s writing is beautiful. For the first three quarters of the film, until the mystery takes over for a half hour, the nuance is unbelievable. Characters saying things, the meanings involved, just beautiful. Sea of Love is, I think, the last film written by the novelist Richard Price, everything after was by screenwriter Richard Price, who was still good, but reserved the good stuff for his novels (Clockers, incidentally, came from the research he did for Sea of Love).

It’s one of Pacino’s two or three best performances. I actually don’t know, off the top of my head, what I’d assign to the other two slots, because you have to decide between Pacino the star (as much as he is–Pacino is a star in The Godfather, Part II and Heat) and Pacino the regular guy. Pacino’s a regular guy in Sea of Love, when he’s in a fight, there’s a chance he might not make it. Sea of Love is from the era before the happy ending… Though Price would argue otherwise (sorry, I’ve read his collected screenplays and the studios always changed his downer endings).

It’s Ellen Barkin–I never realized how much I miss Ellen Barkin. I’m aware of how much I miss actors like Madeleine Stowe and (good) Elisabeth Shue, but Ellen Barkin’s from before that era of recognition. Barkin’s someone who should have transitioned to some great TV in the early 1990s, she should have gone to “Homicide” or something (damn you, Barry Levinson, you know her!).

I really need to see Night and the City now. I actually probably ought to see both of them, but I was thinking the DeNiro/Lange version.

Anyway, if you haven’t or if you haven’t for awhile, see Sea of Love. It’s New York City when that actually meant something, when it was actually a place that changed people, when the city was still alive. I went to New York City, the first time, in 1987 and it was scary. I didn’t leave Manhattan, so it wasn’t quite Fort Apache, the Bronx, but it was ominous. The second-to-last time I went there, maybe third to last, actually, was in 1999, to see a Broadway Show (“The Wild Party”). It wasn’t scary anymore, it was Disneyland. It doesn’t change people anymore….

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Harold Becker; written by Richard Price; director of photography, Ronnie Taylor; edited by David Bretherton; music by Trevor Jones; production designer, John Jay Moore; produced by Martin Bregman and Louis A. Stroller; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Al Pacino (Det. Frank Keller), Ellen Barkin (Helen Cruger), John Goodman (Det. Sherman), Michael Rooker (Terry), William Hickey (Frank Keller Sr.), Richard Jenkins (Gruber), Paul Calderon (Serafino), Gene Canfield (Struk), Larry Joshua (Dargan) and John Spencer (Lieutenant).


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