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Month: January 2023

Women in Revolt (1971)

Women in Revolt (1971)

“Men – I hate men! You – I hate you!”

Synopsis:
Three New York women — a nymphomaniac (Holly Woodlawn), an aspiring-actress heiress (Candy Darling), and a man-hater (Jackie Curtis) — form an unhappy feminist group called the PIGs (Politically Involved Girls).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Feminism and Women’s Issues
  • Paul Morrissey Films
  • Satires and Spoofs
  • Strong Females

Review:
Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey co-directed this tedious spoof about the women’s movement, starring three trans-females who are pretty unlikable: when allowed to improvise, they simply whine and act insufferably. Cult star Jackie Curtis, for instance, mercilessly abuses and ridicules her man-slave hippie:

… while Woodlawn mostly writhes around uncontrollably like an animal in heat, lashing out in lust at just about everyone around her.

Candy Darling is the most relatively appealing and intriguing — though she’s ultimately not interested in much more than breaking through as an actor and impersonating Kim Novak (which she’s reasonably good at).

While I’ll admit to getting weirdly caught up in the shenanigans of the protagonists in Morrissey’s earlier Flesh (1968) and Trash (1970), the appeal of this one eludes me completely.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Candy Darling as Candy

Must See?
Nope; you can skip this one. Listed as a Cult Movie and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

Links:

Siddhartha (1972)

Siddhartha (1972)

“There’s nothing wrong with the Buddha’s teachings; it’s just that I must go my own way.”

Synopsis:
A spiritually-seeking young Indian named Siddhartha (Shashi Kapoor) goes on a trip of self-discovery with his friend Govinda (Romesh Sharma), eventually falling in love with a beautiful courtesan (Simi Garewal) while learning that spiritual enlightenment can’t be taught.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Character Arc
  • India
  • Religious Faith

Review:
This adaptation of Herman Hesse’s 1922 novel of the same name was written and directed by Conrad Rooks, whose only other directorial effort is the GFTFF-listed Chappaqua (1966). Sven Nykvist’s cinematography is exquisite throughout:

… but there’s not enough to this simple storyline to hold our interest. Siddhartha gives up his worldly comforts, follows the Buddha for awhile, tries a life of sensual pleasure:

… and eventually realizes that the only truth in life is what one experiences internally.

This was all very much of its time back in the early 1970s, when so many were on similar paths of spiritual seeking — but it will likely only be of interest to modern-day film fanatics who happen to be curious about how Hesse’s novel was translated to the screen.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Sven Nykvist’s cinematography

Must See?
No; you can skip this one unless you’re curious.

Links:

Man of Flowers (1983)

Man of Flowers (1983)

“Would God approve of someone who found flowers as sensually arousing, tender, loving beings?”

Synopsis:
An eccentric elderly man (Norman Kaye) with a fixation on flowers and his dead mother pays a young model (Alyson Best) to come to his house and undress for him, and soon finds himself caught up in Best’s troubled relationship with her drug-addicted artist-boyfriend (Chris Haywood).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Artists
  • Australian Films
  • Models
  • Nonconformists
  • Werner Herzog Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary is a big fan of this “marvelous, richly-textured, award-winning film about a lovable, rich, middle-aged eccentric (Norman Kaye)” who is “haunted by his sad upbringing” and “spends his time battling the mediocrity that characterizes the modern world,” “seeking out and nurturing its rare forms of beauty.”

He describes Kaye as someone who “writes daily letters to his mother although she is long dead, has regular sessions with an incompetent therapist:

… and mails himself letters so he can engage in meaningful conversations with his mailman.” In addition, “He paints, plays the church organ, listens to classical music, collects art and sculpture, and once a week pays a beautiful artist’s model (Alyson Best) to strip to the love duet from Donizetti’s Lucia de Lammermoor” — though he never touches her “as his intentions are honorable.”

Peary argues that “director Paul Cox smoothly blends wicked, offbeat humor with sad, penetrating looks at nice people who have really been clobbered (in more ways than one) in life.” He asserts that Kaye — “who was terrific in Cox’s Lonely Hearts, is even better here, playing a triumphant character instead of an insecure loser” — a “wonderful, original film character whose unique perspective on life has helped him overcome every roadblock to happiness” and who “is the ideal protector of the much younger Best” given that they “each can provide the other what they need most at this particular time in their lives.”

However, I don’t really agree. While Kaye certainly shows unique agency in the final portion of the film, he is far from a “triumphant character,” but rather a sad, haunted man whose flashbacks to his past (including Werner Herzog playing his disciplinarian father):

… show how deeply wounded he was and remains. Sure, he gets by (he’s inherited plenty of money), but he’s deluded, lonely, misunderstood, and in some cases blatantly taken advantage of. His noble desire to help Best is laudable — though Peary weirdly ignores the fact that Best actually takes up a new lesbian lover (Sarah Walker) who seems equally interested in rescuing (and seducing) her.

Peary does point out that “since this film is about a lover of beauty, it’s only fitting that Cox’s film is beautiful to look at and has a sumptuous classical score to listen to,” and I agree with this; the sets, cinematography, and score are noteworthy.

On a personal note, I recall watching this film years ago in an evening class on Australian Cinema. Our instructor insisted on replaying the final, slow-moving, enigmatic shot — of Kaye on the beach, surrounded by other figures and birds — for a second time:

… and I remember feeling like this was cruel and unusual punishment at the end of a long day.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Atmospheric sets and cinematography

Must See?
No, though anyone interested in Australian cinema will certainly want to give it a watch.

Links:

Last Detail, The (1973)

Last Detail, The (1973)

“This ain’t no farewell party and he ain’t retiring, understand? He’s a prisoner, and we’re takin’ him to the jailhouse.”

Synopsis:
When two lifelong Navy men — Buddusky (Jack Nicholson) and Mulhall (Otis Young) — are asked to accompany a young sailor (Randy Quaid) to a naval prison in Maine, they find themselves trying to give him a few memorable experiences along the way.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Carol Kane Films
  • Coming-of-Age
  • Hal Ashby Films
  • Jack Nicholson Films
  • Michael Moriarty Films
  • Military
  • Nancy Allen Films
  • Prisoners
  • Randy Quaid Films
  • Road Trip
  • Sailors

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, this tale about “career sailors” who see that Quaid (a kleptomaniac) is “a nice guy” — and “decide to give him his first sample of life before he’s put away” — represents the “sad, naïve young sailor’s rite of passage” and “results in the return of humanity to the two cynical sailors.”

He notes that “during the entire film you can sense that as the three men learn about life, an explosion is building” — and you definitely find yourself wondering what (if anything) will happen during the final tense moments. Peary points out that this “film is known for its rhythmic, realistic, salty, wryly written dialogue by Robert Towne” and “a great, swaggering, angry, rebel-without-a-cause performance by Nicholson (as ‘Badass’ Buddusky).”

Indeed, Nicholson’s Oscar-nominated performance is among his best. Meanwhile, Peary notes that “Quaid is quite touching”:

… and points out there are “small parts” by Michael Moriarty:

… Carol Kane (“memorable as a prostitute”):

… Nancy Allen:

… and Gilda Radner.

Towne’s Oscar-nominated script — based on a 1970 novel of the same name by Darryl Ponicsan — is leisurely yet incisive, offering us seemingly realistic glimpses into what such an unconventional road trip might look and feel like. We watch young Quaid as “he drinks, visits a prostitute, is in a brawl, [and] has adventures”:

… and we are confident that his life has been changed for the better by spending time with Nicholson and Young, despite the bleak trajectory of his next few years.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Jack Nicholson as Buddusky
  • Randy Quaid as Meadows
  • Michael Chapman’s cinematography
  • Robert Towne’s screenplay

Must See?
Yes, for Nicholson’s performance.

Categories

  • Noteworthy Performance(s)

Links:

48 Hrs. (1982)

48 Hrs. (1982)

“We ain’t brothers, we ain’t partners, and we ain’t friends.”

Synopsis:
A white cop (Nick Nolte) joins forces with a black prisoner (Eddie Murphy) on a 48-hour pass to help hunt down a sadistic criminal (James Remar) who has escaped from a chain gang.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Detectives and Private Eyes
  • Eddie Murphy Films
  • Ex-Cons
  • Nick Nolte Films
  • Race Relations and Racism
  • Search
  • Walter Hill Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this film about a “racist San Francisco detective [who] springs black thief-conman Eddie Murphy” (in “his debut”) “from prison for 48 hours to help track down Murphy’s former partner” is almost as if Rod Steiger and Sidney Poitier from In the Heat of the Night became partners without resolving their differences or hiding their hatred for one another.” He points out that “their ‘hip’ verbal battles are continuous (and eventually annoying) and they even come to blows” — but “of course, since they are both misfits with singular talents, they come to respect one another.”

He notes that while “brawny Nolte and skinny Murphy work well together,” “Roger Spottiswoode’s dialogue is too calculated for audience response [and] laughter.” He argues that the film’s “best sequences are those with violence and action.”

This “mismatched buddy cop” flick is notable as one of the first of its kind (or at least the title that seriously sparked the subgenre), and it’s held up reasonably well despite its flaws. Hill’s direction is confident as always, and good use is made of location shooting in San Francisco (and Los Angeles).

While it’s not must-see viewing, this remains worth a look for its historical significance as Murphy’s breakthrough cinematic role.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Eddie Murphy as Reggie Hammond
  • Nick Nolte as Jack Cates
  • James Remar as Albert Ganz
  • Ric Waite’s cinematography
  • James Horner’s score

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended for its status as an ’80s buddy-cop classic.

Links:

I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978)

I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978)

“If I’m gonna get caught, I want to be as close to the Beatles as I can!”

Synopsis:
A die-hard Beatles fan (Wendie Jo Sperber) hoping to see the band drives to New York City with a boy (Mark McClure) who has access to his father’s hearse, an aspiring-photographer friend (Theresa Saldana), a young woman (Nancy Allen) about to be married, a folk music snob (Susan Kendall Newman), and an obnoxious Beatles-hater (Bobby Di Cicco).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Historical Drama
  • Media Spectacle
  • Nancy Allen Films
  • New York City
  • Obsessive Fans
  • Rock ‘n Roll
  • Teenagers

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that “if you were in the New York area back in 1964, you know that this sadly neglected film perfectly captures the lovely hysteria surrounding the Beatles’ arrival in town, their stay at the Plaza Hotel, which was besieged by fans, and their historic appearance on the The Ed Sullivan Show.”

He notes that this comedy “about a funny group of kids, mostly out-of-towners, who try to break into the Beatles’ hotel suite and to rustle up tickets to the Sullivan show” is “like something out of a time capsule”:

… with “the characters, clothes, dialogue, [and] New York environment/atmosphere… exactly as [he] remembers.” He argues that “there was something wonderful in the air back then that’s impossible to describe,” yet “somehow this film re-creates that feeling.”

He further notes the “splendid comic performances by the young cast — particularly Nancy Allen as a girl who suddenly becomes an obsessed Beatles convert”:

… and “Eddie Deezen as a nerdy chatterbox who is a Beatles trivia nut… and hawks memorabilia.”

Peary points out that this film was “a difficult, unusual project, particularly when you consider that the real Beatles and Ed Sullivan weren’t available for the finale, which was nevertheless cleverly handled by director Robert Zemeckis (then Executive Producer Steven Spielberg’s protégé.)

He concludes his review by noting that “this sleeper’s a lot of fun; and smart, too.” I agree completely. I was pleasantly surprised to revisit this smartly scripted, well-acted comedy which manages to cover a brief but potent moment in history from numerous angles. Sperber is hilariously invested as a young woman in love with Paul (but willing to call Deezen her boyfriend given how much they obsessively have in common); and the subplot about a young fan whose father refuses to give him his tickets to the show until he cuts his hair is nicely handled.

This one remains well worth a look.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Wendie Jo Sperber as Rosie Petrofsky
  • An impressive recreation of a specific moment in pop culture history

Must See?
Yes, as an all-around good show.

Categories

  • Good Show

Links:

Enter the Dragon (1973)

Enter the Dragon (1973)

“Your skills are now at the point of spiritual insight.”

Synopsis:
A martial arts expert (Bruce Lee) and his two American partners (John Saxon and Jim Kelly) are sent to infiltrate the lair of an evil drug-pin (Shih Kien) whose henchman (Robert Wall) killed Lee’s sister.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Bruce Lee Films
  • John Saxon Films
  • Martial Arts
  • Revenge
  • Spies

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this final completed film with Bruce Lee (who died unexpectedly a few weeks before its release) is “arguably the most entertaining, colorful, and spectacular kung fu film ever made” and was “an enormous money-maker worldwide.” He notes that while the story — about a “kung fu master [who] arrives on the island owned by… an evil Dr. No-like figure with an attachable iron hand” — is “on a comic-book level,” the “production values are high, the action is nonstop and consistently exciting, and the atmosphere is rich,” and an “all-star cast of sorts” join “the incomparable Lee, whose feats seem impossible.”

Peary’s review of this flick in GFTFF is directly excerpted from his lengthier Cult Movies essay, which I’ll quote from here. He contextualizes the film by noting that “between 1972 and 1975, the talk of the film industry (in addition to [adult] films) was the martial arts movies — ‘chop sockies,’ as the genre was dubbed — that were being churned out in Hong Kong… and were inundating international markets.” He describes them as “influenced by ritualistic life-and-death combat found in such diverse forms as ancient Chinese drama, opera, folklore and fairy tales, Jacobean revenge plays, American pulp fiction and superhero comics, Japanese samurai pictures, Italian muscleman epics, European-made westerns, and Hollywood fantasy films.” (That’s quite a list of influences!!!)

Given that most of these imported flicks were “assembly line jobs,” he points out that Lee’s films “gave the genre a touch of respectability.” He adds that “while other heroes won their fights with the help of special-effects men, Lee refused to use gadgetry such as pulleys, trampolines, and fake props, bragging that he was the only fight choreographer who showed only what was real or at least possible.” (Indeed, the black flip occurring just 2.5 minutes into the film is impressive enough to sell you immediately on Lee’s skills.)

In describing more of Lee’s work, Peary notes that “his fight with Oharra [Wall] is particularly stunning,” given that he “does flip kicks and several of his infamous lightning one-inch paralyzing punches while his opponent looks nailed to the ground.”

He adds that “an incredible close-up in slow motion of Lee’s face allows us to see his face muscles quivering like waves in the ocean: he is killing the man who caused his sister’s suicide, and rarely has such pure emotion — ’emotion, not anger,’ Lee tells his pupil — been captured on a screen character’s face.

Peary also makes note of challenges with the film, including the fact that Williams — “a black who fights racist cops in a flashback set in America” — is “never really seen together [with Lee]” and the two don’t “talk to each other.”

This stresses that Lee is more of “a James Bond figure, just as the iron-handed Han is a Doctor No rip-off:”

… and Lee “has come to Han’s island primarily to do secret-agent work” — “not, as is always part of the kung fu film formula, to avenge his sister and temple.”

Meanwhile, the film’s “worst mistake is that there is an absence of a time element in the script” — meaning, “there is no bomb about to explore and no intended victim… about to be tortured — [and] consequently, there is little of the suspense or sense of urgency so necessary to adventure films.” However, Peary ultimately points out that “while the flaws are abundant, they are trivialized by the spectacular kung fu sequences that take place every few minutes,” making this “great entertainment” that remains noteworthy for starring “the finest action hero in cinema history in one of his few roles: the one and only Bruce Lee, at his remarkable best.”

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Bruce Lee’s stunning martial arts moves
  • The remarkably filmed “room of mirrors” fight sequence
  • Fine sets and production design

Must See?
Yes, for its cult status.

Categories

  • Cult Movie

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

Links:

Eddie and the Cruisers (1983)

Eddie and the Cruisers (1983)

“You don’t understand: the night Eddie died, the Cruisers died with him.”

Synopsis:
When a high school teacher (Tom Berenger) is asked by a journalist (Ellen Barkin) to share what he knows about the mysterious disappearance of his former band leader (Michael Paré), Berenger goes on a trip down memory lane, reflecting back on the sexy singer (Helen Schneider) he had a crush on and the missing tapes Eddie (Paré) may have hidden.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Amateur Sleuths
  • Flashback Films
  • Journalists
  • Rock ‘n Roll

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary notes that although it was a “flop when released, this weird little film has become a cult favorite due to cable television” (and maintains that status today after an ill-fated sequel in 1989). He writes that this “combination of sixties nostalgia, music extravaganza, and creepy mystery is not altogether successful, but, thanks to [the] music (provided by John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band), a solid cast, and an interesting premise (inspired by rumors that the Doors’ lead singer, Jim Morrison, still lives), it is far better than most unimaginative pictures thrust at youth audiences.”

That’s faint praise, but is fairly accurate. The mystery of whether Eddie is actually still alive — and, even more importantly, whether fans will be able to hear his final “concept album”, which never saw the light of day — propels the narrative and keeps us in suspense, tapping into the appealing notions that: 1) our favorite musicians never really died (Elvis anyone?), and 2) more of their amazing music is squirrelled away somewhere, simply awaiting discovery. It’s pure fantasy, and will likely appeal to those nostalgic for this era — but it’s not must-see viewing.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Tom Berenger as Frank Ridgeway
  • Some fine musical performances

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look for its cult status.

Links:

Blood Wedding (1981)

Blood Wedding (1981)

“Wake up the bride with the green bouquet of flowering love.”

Synopsis:
A dance company rehearses Federico Garcia Lorca’s tragic play “Blood Wedding”, in which a bride (Cristina Yoyos) runs away with her married lover (Antonio Gades), who soon faces her angry new husband (Juan Antonio Jimenez).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Dancers
  • Love Triangle
  • Spanish Films
  • Weddings

Response to Peary’s Review:
In describing this unusual movie of “what is supposed to be a dress rehearsal of [Antonio] Gades’s flamenco version of Garcia Lorca’s passionate tragedy Bodas de Sangre,” Peary writes that “Spain’s celebrated director Carlos Saura joined forces with Antonio Gades, famed classical dancer, to show how film could bring intimacy to and enhance the excitement of dance.”

He notes that because “Saura wants us to feel the importance of what we’re about to see — and have us feel it’s more than a rehearsal — he pulls a couple of tricks,” including taking “us into the dancers’ dressing rooms so we can get to know them personally” (though this is limited to light banter, guitar warm-up, and dancers putting photos up on their mirrors).

Peary writes that given that “the rehearsal takes place in a large, bare rehearsal hall,” “Saura and Gaudes attempt… to make us become so involved with the dancing and the characters that we forget about he minimal set and perhaps imagine that the light filtering through the background windows is Lorca’s moon.”

He adds that “the dancers perform with passion… and Saura moves his camera among them, floating into a close-up or waiting for a dancer to spin toward him and stop dramatically right before the lens.”

He notes that he finds “the setting distracting” (I don’t, given the context) but concedes that the “film isn’t boring, even for those who don’t like dance.” Indeed, at just 72 minutes, this first of four flamenco-themed movies Saura would make — including the GFTFF-listed Carmen (1983) — is short enough to hold interest throughout. I always appreciate behind-the-scenes looks at art being crafted, and consider this to be a worthy entry in that sub-genre; however, it’s not must-see viewing for all film fanatics.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • A creative cinematic rendering of dance

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look.

Links:

Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings, The (1976)

Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings, The (1976)

“You only gotta pretend! And they don’t know we’re pretending, so we’s one up on ’em!”

Synopsis:
After being pushed around once too often by their controlling manager (Ted Ross), baseball player Bingo Long (Billy Dee Williams) and his teammate Leon (James Earl Jones) convince a number of other colleagues to join a traveling team of their own making — but can they survive when Ross is determined to sabotage their efforts?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • African Americans
  • Baseball
  • Historical Drama
  • Race Relations and Racism
  • Richard Pryor Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, this “flavorful, spirited period piece” about a group of “malcontents” who “barnstorm around the country, playing local teams and really putting on a show” is “full of nice moments, including the final scene between Bingo and Leon, which leaves viewers feeling good.”

He argues that while “it starts out as an interesting look at exploitation of blacks by blacks and a sharp leftist political satire (‘Seize the means of production’ is Bingo’s motto),” it “unfortunately dissolves into a familiar farce” — though I don’t quite agree with this assessment. Rather, director John Badham — working from a script by Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins from a novel by William Brashler — affectionately but incisively shows the resilience and creativity of those forced to play for the Negro Leagues (which finally folded in 1948, more or less, due to integration).

According to one historian in a fascinating short documentary on the topic:

“In a period when cinema was still in its infancy, and there really wasn’t radio — and there certainly wasn’t television — it was things like the circus and the carnival and these road shows coming to town that was everybody’s entertainment. So it wasn’t just a baseball game: the players also played musical instruments, or wrestled, or put on comedy routines… This was a three act show, that the baseball game was just part of.”

This film most certainly gets that playful and creative energy across. Williams and Jones are both excellent in leading roles, and Richard Pryor has fun in what is essentially an extended cameo role as a player determined to convince the White leagues that he is Cuban so he can play with them.

Note: Be sure to watch director John Badham describing the film in his appearance on Trailers from Hell.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Billy Dee Williams as Bingo Long (loosely based on “Satchel” Paige)
  • James Earl Jones as Leon Carter (loosely based on Josh Gibson)
  • Fine cinematography and production design

Must See?
Yes, as an enjoyable historical flick.

Categories

  • Good Show

Links: