The Stunt Man (1980): The Show Must Go On!

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From its initiation in the opening shots, The Stunt Man is built out of a comic serendipity allowing it to execute its own sense of narrative rhythm. It leans into coincidence, cinematic logic, and what really necessitates reality. Consequently, all these themes lay the bedrock for what the film is as it blithely blends genre into a fluid creature with a penchant toward action, drama, romance, and the darkest most absurd sense of humor.

For a little bit of backdrop, Richard Benjamin was slated to direct the film in the early 1970s. Before him, two very telling directors were considered. The first was Francois Truffaut who made Day for Night (1973), a film that shares many of the same thematic elements as The Stunt Man. They both enter a full-fledged dialogue with the medium of film itself and the creative process behind it. At one time, Arthur Penn was also tapped. This seems uncanny as he would later helm Night Moves (1975) another movie involving a subplot of stuntmen flying planes and the like.

All said and done, this production was labyrinthian even by Hollywood standards. Filmed in 1978, it was finally released in 1980 at the dawn of a new decade. But given the subject matter, it somehow feels like a fitting representation of the industry.

The Stunt Man, after all, is quite simple before it gets crazy. A fugitive (Steve Railsback) flees from the police utilizing his agility and Vietnam training to evade capture. Cameron breaks himself free from his handcuffs and then tries to blend into the beach scene at a nearby tourist trap in La Jolla. The ethereal theme music hums along, “Reality is your to define” and “What good are dreams in a world where nothing is at it seems.” The lyrics prove to be a portent.

Because they also just happen to be filming a movie — a WWI period piece led by the incomparable Eli Cross (Peter O’Toole) — and it’s drawn quite the crowd. The use of blood capsules at once leaves the audience gasping with horror and then the next cheering with adulation. It’s the magic of the movies in bodily form.

Where a woman peels off her facade to become someone else — a stunning leading lady (Barbara Hershey) for the scraggly-haired young man to carry off to safety like a knight in shining armor. However, the masses aren’t privy to some of the drama behind the scenes. A stunt man was tragically killed trying to get a crucial shot.

So the fugitive becomes a convenient figure, and Eli quickly pulls him into his production in a calculated move of madness. With the local police breathing down his neck about his filming schedule, he covers up the setback, keeping the ship aloft by turning the wanted man into their perished stunt man. It serves them both, and so they agree to the ludicrous alliance.

Thus, The Stunt Man takes the themes of Truffaut’s Day for Night to preposterous ends by cultivating this illusion of a patched-together reality played out on screen. Spurred on by a maniacal director, it creates a whole plot out of a dead man who is replaced by a stand-in.

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As he fluctuates between his chopper or his levitating crane, Eli blithely proclaims, “If God could do the tricks that we can do, he’d be a happy man.” It’s true there’s something powerful and deceptive about him. If he’s not the devil’s incarnate in a helicopter, then he might have at least made a deal with the fallen angel. He is symbolic of the director as madman — someone who likes spontaneity — and he will go to great lengths to preserve his art.

To the degree possible, the picture goes through the paces of an action movie and there are stakes, just not what we normally expect. Because there are payoffs and yet we know in some self-reflexive way they are all an illusion, more so than usual. What’s not false is the threat of death.

If Truffaut was fascinated in the artifice — this sense of relishing the reflection to life itself — then The Stunt Man gives it a sick twist. Where fiction and reality are like death-defying bedfellows. We rarely know when scenes are going horribly awry or strictly according to plan.

There’s this razor-thin line between stunt and sleights of hand and then disaster. Hence the reason this fugitive got his gig in the first place. It’s utter lunacy, and yet it’s a bit like watching a car wreck. Who’s going to turn away? We want to be wowed. And yet Cameron’s life hangs in the balance. He feels trapped inside the madness and Eli’s not about to let him escape.

Initially, he is taken in out of necessity and eventually disillusioned by the monster, even as he is driven toward his fateful conclusion. It’s inevitable. In none too many words, the show must go on, and Cross will go to the greatest lengths to make darn sure that it does. The script calls for it.

The ultimate joke is how it slaloms so fluidly between the heights of chaotic drama to this kind of absurd humor, sinking back into an uneasy equilibrium once the darkest devolutions have boiled over. This is what’s the most unsettling.

How the movie can be feel-good and joyous with a stunt man and leading lady embracing in a triumphant moment of euphoria. Likewise, the irascible, gargantuan personality of the director still comes off as strangely charismatic (thanks to O’Toole), but it drips with the delusional insanity of something like Apocalypse Now. In other words, you cannot marvel at the movie without shuddering and laughing rather uneasily at what movie magic entails.

Because The Stunt Man is not just about the art of being a stand-in and doing the impossible. It functions as an extension of the moviemaking process in its most harrowing iterations. We have to be a little mad. First, to make something like this, and then to sit in the dark and let it affect us so forcibly. Regardless, it’s an evocative and deeply unnerving ride. But isn’t that what we go to the movies for?

3.5/5 Stars

The Big Chill (1983): Banking on The Nostalgia Factor

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When a little baby boy is singing “Jeremiah was a bullfrog” in the bathtub — Larry Kasdan’s son — it’s the perfect introduction to this film. In fact, you always hear rumblings about The Big Chill. It’s a touchstone for a generation: For my parents’ peers.

Moments later “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” plays over the credits as all our main characters are introduced wordlessly. They all converge at a funeral to mourn the loss of their college friend Alex, who took his own life and seemed to be on a road to nowhere. He had so much promise and then seemingly wasted all his potential.

Without trying to sound too glib, this seems an apt diagnosis for the movie itself. The premise throws together a group of friends with a storied history already set in place. There’s a troubling inciting incident to dictate the parameters of the story, providing reasons and space for characters to dialogue with their individual anxieties. Each car in the funeral procession is like a conveniently contained capsule of drama.

However, despite, the fairly high-profile cast, it merely dabbles in substantial conversations on life and the existential questions that hit us in mid-life crisis moments. Is it wrong to say we never truly get to know these people aside from a few pleasantries? Because even if they know each other so well, we are never able to break the ice in the same way. We are outsiders never allowed in from the cold.

In scenes of mild interest and concern, they never amount to much aside from detached observation. Nick Carlton (William Hurt) has become the hardened cynic in years gone by (Fortune cookies have followed suit). Sarah Cooper (Glen Close) is especially emotional when she thinks of their deceased friend. Sam (Tom Berenger), a celebrated Television actor, drudges up old feelings for the dissatisfied housewife Karen (JoBeth Williams). Jeff Goldblum — who is one the most visible still, of all the ensemble — is probably the best source of comic relief. I wish there was more to be said about their relationships, but I don’t have much.

Likewise, The Big Chill is understandably lauded for its soundtrack. It’s true the music is the perfect ambient backdrop for the storyline. However, there’s one immediately apparent issue. It has no meaning in the moment, at least in a way that we can comprehend. These iconic tunes do not create a greater appreciation for the world or complement the storytelling.

Instead, it is the ubiquitous backbeat to the Baby Boom generation — a kind of audio comfort, even now. If you wanted to be cynical like Nick, you could suggest it’s all about getting a certain subset of the viewing public into the seats by banking on the nostalgia factor. It works even in the opening moments, first Three Dog Night, then Marvin Gaye, and later the casket leaving the church to the vocals of Mick Jagger in “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

However, gradually the pervasive montages and the shameless use of music feel less and less discreet, never feigning any kind of purpose or meaning. This is fine. Still, it’s not quite a unified and eclectic wall of sound like American Graffiti, nor does it come to highlight the shared experience of the characters, like The Commitments harnessing of Wilson Picket’s R&B.

For that matter, “A Whiter Side of Pale” feels far more alive in the hands of Alan Parker. And instead of hearing “The Weight” as a sprawling road anthem in Easy Rider, it becomes kitchen table music as characters busy themselves with breakfast. Now totally rid of all its glory.

In full transparency, these are songs I adore. I’m protective of them, and I couldn’t even tell you how many thousands of times I’ve heard “Good Lovin’,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” and some of Motown’s best singles. They too are like friends and many of them feel stripped of any substance or meaning in the context of the movie.

The same might be said of the plotline. These are harsh words, but to my mind, they’re warranted. Because The Big Chill has the potential to be something of genuine heart — pregnant with meaning and lessons about life — how we band together with our friends to get through together.

But it always feels a bit like an impostor or at least a pale imitation. I don’t doubt this movie has resonance to Larry Kasdan or else, in a world of Stars Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark and Body Heat, he wouldn’t have made a movie like this.

The problem is there’s nothing left in the movie where the characters strike a chord or feel altogether meaningful to me. I would argue this doesn’t fall on not being of a certain stage in life. After all, in 5 years, maybe 10, I will be exactly like these people. That’s still a stretch of time, but I have a feeling this is not what’s getting in the way. Their issues, the malaise they feel saddled with, and any number of other issues are not my own. And so I look at them, and I see no reflection of who I am or what I care about.

My mind goes to my parents. In 1983 they were just getting married. A few years later they had their first child. Then more children. It strikes me they probably never had time for this kind of self-reflection. Maybe they would have been grateful for it. But I do know they are not people to regret the road life has led them down together. At the very least, they would not be ones to overanalyze it; this dubious honor would fall on me. They were people who were too busy living life for this to ever be an issue.

It also strikes me when Nick notes friendship is tough in the real world. It’s true. The bubble of college easily insulates you from a lot. We get busy and distracted, spread out by geography, and people change and drift away. But the inevitable — at least for me — makes it all the more imperative that I cling to the friendships that mean the most to me. And I do my darndest to invest in them.

They are imperfect, but I like to think they are genuine. I’ve had the misfortune to attend funerals of friends already, and I’ve been even more fortunate to celebrate weddings and other such auspicious events. The music was good, but the time spent with my people was far better. With or without “Jeremiah was a Bullfrog.”

3/5 Stars

Something Wild (1986): Happy is a Yuppie Word

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One of my favorite bands penned a song called “Happy is a Yuppie Word.” I never spent much time dwelling on the meaning of the statement, but as I grow older, it somehow takes on more pertinent meaning. If I remember correctly, Bob Dylan gave an interview with Rolling Stone magazine where he said essentially the same thing. In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the song took its cues from one of America’s foremost bards. I start here because Something Wild comes at us ready to bulldoze the Yuppie conventions we come to attribute with the 80s and 90s. That is Happiness as this quantifiable qualifier for the richness of one’s life.

Look at Charlie Driggs (Jeff Daniels). He’s the picture of middle-class success and respectability. He’s rising up in a formidable firm. He’s always reasonably dressed in a suit and tie. He has his pager on hand for important reminders. And yet there are inklings of chinks in his armor. After all, he is human.

He still wears his wedding ring, but his home life isn’t quite as idyllic as he would like the world to believe. Likewise, sitting at a perfectly conventional cafe, he has an urge to do something really, incredibly outrageous! He steps out without paying his check!

Except no one seems to notice…aside from one pair of perceptive eyes. They belong to the one person who will change his life forever. Meet Lulu (Melanie Brooks). Her look is unmistakable with a Luise Brooks-inspired bob and sunglasses — an air of self-assured confidence. She could rat him out. Instead, she offers to take him for a little ride.

From here on out Something Wild becomes a road comedy-screwball hurricane propelled by a giddy soundtrack and Lulu’s total rejection of Charlie’s middle-class monotony. They go careening down streets and racing down the highways and byways blasting The Troggs “Wild Thing.” What follows are scenarios replete with shenanigans, handcuffs, amorousness, and more unpaid checks.

And yet if Lulu comes off as a glitzy, laissez-faire call girl, she slowly begins to show more of herself, including her real name: Audrey. She proves herself to be far more three-dimensional and far more of an innocent human being. She takes Charlie to visit her mother where they masquerade as a married couple in front of mom. But there is no malintent. The charade is purely out of a desire to please the good-natured woman. Then, Audrey brings him to her high school reunion — celebrating the spirit of ’76 — complete with performances by The Feelies.

If anything, these series of scenes hint at where the film might be going as it slowly sheds its craziest inclinations. In fact, the film takes its major tonal shift with the introduction of Ray Liotta as Ray Sinclair — Audrey’s former love. But there’s more. Previously the movie was frisky with a dollop of lunacy. Now Something Wild stands poised to takes a bitter turn.

We suspect it from the moment Liotta enters. He’s handsome and charismatic, but there’s an instant menace to him — behind his eyes and his cajoling tone — the way he handles the part in a kind of underhanded way. Reference to his prison sentence gives a bit more heft to his reputation. But it really comes to a head when he robs a gas station.

Of course, Lulu and Charlie did much the same before. This isn’t to totally absolve them, but Ray’s brutal brand of reality plays in stark contrast to the carefree mad-dash infractions Daniels and Griffin were accustomed to before.

This is a stone-cold crime with consequences, and there’s no longer anything left to laugh at. Crime, all of the sudden, isn’t a lark; it’s something callous. And with its ugliness, all the leisure and fun is siphoned out of the picture. It’s given up its roots in pure, zany screwball to be something else — less warm and fluffy in conception.

Charlie gets shoved around, beaten up and bloodied, and Ray ultimately goes off with Audrey — to take her back as his own — threatening that he’d better stay away if he knows what’s good for him.

Even though my education in Demme is brief, my inclination is a desire for him to go toward the film’s initial tone. Because it’s the idiosyncratic touches that function best for me. They do not alienate my sensibilities. For instance, Charlie proves himself to be the most conspicuous trailer when it comes to the art of the tail.

He sets up on a street corner with a new wardrobe across from Ray and Audrey’s hotel room. For me, it’s scenes like these where Demme really shines; he has a sense of geography and how to use it to build a full-bodied world around our characters. He captures his hero in his car snoozing or peering out from behind a pair of binoculars.

But the church behind him, the store across the way, even the folks lounging at the pool make this feel like vibrant pieces of humanity albeit in a fairly relaxed town. He uses this same motif later when they finally have their fated confrontation at a genial family restaurant. The only reason Charlie gets enough gumption to actually face Ray and Audrey has to do with the reassurance that some local policemen are sitting at the table just across the way. These are the quotidian joys of the film at its very best.

However, this is a story that never quite rests on what is easy or comfortable. Because in itself this would be the antithesis of what it is looking to shoot down in the form of yuppie culture and all its signifiers. There must be another fanatical reverse in fortune. It’s genuinely terrifying. Far from spoiling it, I will leave you to it so that you might experience it for yourself.

Instead, my mind goes to this. For how merciless and scummy Liotta feels throughout the picture, Demme extends him the ultimate courtesy. The climactic moments are unnerving in a way. I hope I haven’t said too much already.

But in a single moment, Liotta is allowed to look into the camera his eyes full of surprise — a sign of weakness for the first time — and that one shot nearly single-handedly makes us feel sorry for him. It’s a hard sell, but we’re almost there: Having compassion on a seemingly irredeemable man.

The movie settles into a new normal. The moral, if we can call it that, seems obvious. To grab life by the horns — with warmth and spontaneity — within some framework of reason. Something Wild lives up to its name even tonally as it seesaws around. It wasn’t quite what I expected or what I might have wanted, but this could easily play in its favor for someone else.

Demme still shows himself to be a genuinely humane director. He likes people and with comic verve and music, he’s capable of whipping up something quite enjoyable. What is more, he shows himself willing to go somewhere else with characters.

I am slowly learning more and more about his oeuvre, but Something Wild suddenly makes a film like Silence of the Lambs feel less and less like an outlier. The jump is not too far to make, and we come to understand his movies even a little bit better. If you humanize a gangster, could it be the next step is to connect us with a serial killer? Wild Thing, indeed.

But I started out by talking about Bob Dylan, and it’s as good a place to end as any. Happy is a Yuppie word. It’s something fleeting — momentarily attainable — and then stripped away from us.

Dylan suggests a change in paradigm: between blessed and unblessed. Could it be that Charlie would agree? Because whatever assails Audrey and him, they are no longer dictated by the world’s measures of happiness. They can live by a new standard — a standard that is not dispositional or material. It’s based on us and whether or not we are prepared to search out the joys and blessings of life no matter the turmoil. That’s something wild. It can flip your world upside down.

3.5/5 Stars

Swing Shift (1984): Underrated Classic with Caveats

Swing_shiftAside from films actually produced during the war years, I’m not sure if I can think of a film that highlights the homefront to the degree of Swing Shift. The soundtrack is also perfectly antiquated (sans Carly Simon) fitting the era and mood to add another definite dimension. It effectively takes us back with the auditory cues of Glenn Miller, Hoagy Carmichael, and the rest.

We read in our history books about Rosie the Riveter and women gaining a newfound freedom as they fell into work formerly held only by men. But here this reality is put into practice in a manner that makes tangible sense.

The events of the war happen to them as they walk along the pier, sit in their living rooms, or do their work. Instantly they become current events.

We understand the certain amount of independence women would have been allowed in this time, where they were given a part to play in the struggle against the Axis powers. War can simultaneously cause deep wells of tragedy and bring us the greatest joys.

Our relationships become entrenched with a profound camaraderie and yet we can hurt the ones we love. We change and they change. Things very rarely remain the same after something so cataclysmic.

There are several intentional and formative relational dynamics in Swing Shift. It is about two working women: Goldie Hawn and Christine Lathi. They are by each other’s side through the thick and thin of friendship. Putting in a solid day’s work and then getting dolled up to go out on the town. They’re inseparable. However, sometimes it’s relationships like these that can suffer the most.

It is about a husband (Ed Harris) and a wife (Hawn): one going off to war and the other staying behind — prepared to walk alone. This isn’t what they were planning, but it’s happened and they move forward through the paces of it the best they can. And yet life gets in the way — where time and space separates them — and makes the waiting and the worry all the more difficult.

It’s about a woman and a man who cannot contain the genuine feelings they foster for one another (In real life Kirk Russell and Goldie Hawn fell in love and never looked back). Because he is present, in the flesh, good-natured and available in a way her husband never was — even when he was around. And yet Lucky (Russell), when he’s not riding his motorbike or playing the trumpet, is a wounded soul in his own right. War only works to exacerbate the clouded emotions of the day and that goes for all these relationships. They are interconnected issues.

But I think this is the best compliment that can be paid to the story. Because sometimes it looks a bit like a TV soap, and the story doesn’t always fall together, and yet there is a broader sense of what this movie is and what the focal points must be. This I believe we can attribute to Jonathan Demme. It’s meant to be more than conventional romance and we get tastes of that.

I say tastes because Swing Shift also has to be one of the most notorious cases of artistic tampering, right up there with The Magnificent Ambersons or Terminal Station. Warner Bros., at the behest of Goldie Hawn, edited the movie and reconstructed the story after Demme had finished principal photography.

Aside from story or continuity questions causing a few head scratches, the issues seem to go deeper still. I am by no means an insider, but from what I can gather, Hawn’s version tried to center the story around her and Russell. There’s an obvious reason for this. They have more than chemistry. They have romance. However, it also attempted to simplify her image and rectify any conflict we might have with her character. In essence, the goal was to make her more likable.

It causes her to maintain some sense of moral dignity and still the movie ends on an unfulfilling, empty note. It’s as if some kind of greater catharsis was possible, and we are robbed of it all with a final tear and a whimper. The resolution is not quite a cop-out as it is an exercise in indecision. The picture dissolves when something more complex, something more evocative, was probably called for and just waiting to be excavated.

Someday I hope the Demme version might go back into circulation, not just so we can see the movie as it was meant to be seen, from the untarnished vantage point of its creator. That’s part of it. But there’s also a sense Demme attempted to develop something more full-bodied and well-contoured.

Hollywood is always obsessed with primary action — the characters at the center of the story — but so often what is most interesting is what remains on the periphery. The supporting characters or the elements of the world that make it come off the screen and feel real.

One is reminded of the moment a smartly dressed soldier boy comes up to one of the swing shift members (Holly Hunter). He’s there to give her the horrible news, and she knows it before the words leave his lips. She falls onto him and he apologizes — he’s never done this before. How horrible and pitiful and lovely it is because it feels so innocent and honest.

Moments like these are a testament to a movie with so much to offer, bubbling up under the surface. It’s a shame it was so badly mangled. We must be thankful for what we have and hold out that someday we might get to see the cut that kept to Demme’s vision. Here’s to hoping. For what, it’s worth, Swing Shift might well be an underrated classic with a couple substantial caveats to include.

3.5/5 Stars

Parenthood (1989): It’s a Mess and That’s Okay

Parenthood_(film)_posterThere’s something apropos about baseball having such a central spot in the storyline of Parenthood because this is a movie wrapped up in the American experience from a very particular era. Yes, the euphoric joys and manifold stressors of parenting are in some form universal, but Ron Howard’s ode to the art of childrearing is also wonderfully indicative of its time.

What is more relatable than wrangling the whole family to go to a ball game together?  Gil (Steve Martin) and Helen (Mary Steenburgen) Buckman corral their family together, gathering all the stuff, and making sure the little ones don’t get run over by oncoming traffic as Randy Newman drawls his theme song. Piling into the family van and loading up to head home is a process unto itself. In one way, it’s a treat and an ordeal all rolled into one. A lot like parenting.

In fact, with its subject matter considered, this is not your prototypical Ron Howard movie, and by that I mean it feels more overtly personal in nature. Certainly, Clint Howard gets his usual cameo, but the story speaks more about experiences — experiences of the worries and the joys that overtake you.

They become a focal point of this story as the adults try to navigate life together with three kids and a large extended family.  To a lesser degree, Little League baseball also becomes an integral part of life with Gil coaching his son Kevin’s team. It’s a different indicator of life as his boy is constantly made fearful of messing up.

He’s hardly the next Ozzie Smith or Ryne Sandberg. And when you’re a kid, the respect of your peers makes or breaks everything. You don’t want to be the one to let your team down. Could this all be part of the issues Kevin has according to his teachers?

However, as the roving ensemble is introduced with a patchwork of interrelated stories stitched together, you begin to appreciate the problems visible everywhere. This is imperative. They are part of what makes us human, and the full-bodied cast is what makes the relational dynamics sing.

Helen Buckman (Dianne Wiest) is a single mother just trying to get close to her kids with a distant son (Joaquin Phoenix) who won’t talk to her and a daughter (Martha Plimpton) who’s gone and got shacked up with a real airhead (Keanu Reeves). It’s like her life is crumbling all around her, and she must learn to hold it together, the best she knows how. This is her life.

Nathan Huffner (Rick Moranis) and his wife Susan (Harley Jane Kozak) are raising their daughter to be some sort of savant and her IQ runs circles around her cousins. She’s also simultaneously missing out on all the joys of being a kid. Her mother becomes overwhelmed by their strict parenting regimen, and it begins to leave a toll on their marriage. It’s so very easy to forget your priorities — how you ever fell in love in the first place.

Then, there’s the rather cantankerous Jason Robards. He’s fond of his youngest child Larry (Tom Hulce), the black sheep of the family because he’s lively and fun. Even dad is surprised when his boy returns home with a young son named Cool and a raging gambling problem; it’s got him in bad with some dangerous thugs.

Can you imagine the family dinners that these people have? There’s so much going on and yet they’re probably not all that far removed from our own family holidays. At least the spirit is there — something we can latch onto — and probably relate to.

However, it’s the party scenes allowing Steve Martin to showcase his comic chops as he takes on his cowboy persona to captivate all the kids and earn their appreciation while upholding his son’s reputation. It’s an emotional high in the bipolar ride you go through as a parent. Like any parents, they dream their little darlings will be valedictorians, and other times they fear that they might just as easily turn into a shooter. Often reality strikes a middle ground.

It’s far from flawless in its narrative, but that’s the point. It gets so bad Martin is going batty lashing out at his wife and everyone else. His son’s emotional anxieties have him worried. He’s stressed by a workplace that feels totally opportunistic and callous. Now, his wife’s supposed to have a baby and the news feels more like a burden than a gift.

If life doesn’t radically change, then perspectives certainly do. Robards and Martin have a surprisingly poignant conversation while sitting in the Little League dugout. Father talks to son about how there is no end zone in life. Your children and the people around you are there for good. And you’ll love them no matter what. It’s one significant moment of sentiment among many others.

In this way, Parenthood confidently modulates between drama and pathos, humor and romance, then circling back again. If little has changed from the beginning to end, then certainly their perspective evolves. It has something to do with embracing this beautiful chaos of life. Enjoying the ride as opposed to fearing every jolt of turbulence.  Sometimes the simplest wisdom can be the most profound if you let it.

Grandma says she’s always appreciated the rollercoaster to going round and round on a merry-go-round. Parenthood is the rollercoaster and that’s a compliment. It feels alive and idiosyncratic in a way one does not usually attribute to Ron Howard’s more recent work. It’s a refreshing take and probably a high point of his directorial career. I am not a parent myself, but I can only imagine how its observations would take on new resonance after becoming one.

3.5/5 Stars

Citizens Band (1977): Radio Waves in Everywhere America

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“How can such a small mind have such a big antenna?” – Paul Le Mat is Spider

Citizens Band (also known as Handle With Care) is not about music. Instead, it documents the increasing craze during the 1970s for person-to-person radio communication. Initially utilized for emergency messages, the radio waves soon got gummed up by social calls, with every Tom, Dick, and Harry looking to get a piece of the action.

It’s illustrated in the early sequences when Spider (Paul Le Mat) picks up a message from “Chrome Angel,” (Charles Napier) who gets pinned under his 18 wheeler in a rainstorm. It’s partially due to his own negligence on the road (He got distracted by some saucy call signs). Regardless, Spider is quick to search out help for him only to get disrupted by local nuisances like the self-proclaimed “Hustler,” a bratty kid who likes to brag about his exploits. He has a blatant disregard for FCC regulations.

It turns out our trucker isn’t much of a victim. In fact, we find out his broken arm is the least of his troubles because he’s run into the same problems as Edmond O’Brien in The Bigamist: he’s been holding court with two women. Well, three. Recently he’s been getting friendly with a local lady of the night named “Hot Coffee” who uses the radio waves to drum up business.

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The only reason he gets found out is through a bizarre piece of comic happenstance. They meet on a bus. There’s the bodacious “Dallas Angel” (Ann Wedgeworth) and the more pragmatic “Portland Angel,” (Marcia Rodd), and after they get over crying about their misfortunes, they laugh, and conspire to make him pay. One bit of malevolence involves releasing his load of cattle out of his trailer hitch. There’s enough here for a raucous subplot.

Back at his home base, “Spider,” aka Blaine Lovejoy, holds down the fort as an emergency radio relay CB station with his buddy Cochise. Lovejoy lives with his father (Robert Blossoms) and struggles through his contentious relationship with his brother (Bruce McGill), the local P.E. teacher. It runs deeper. Both share a complicated relationship with the local crush Pam (Candy Clark).

Their Pops is a near-cataonic figure who is shocked back to life daily by the whizz of the radio waves and his call sign “Papa Thermodyne.” For a brief instant, he’s returned to his glory days trading words with some of his buddies. It pulls him out of his haze and the sorry existence he’s resigned himself to.

The inclusion of both Le Mat and Clark results in an unofficial American Graffiti reunion, though they hardly shared any scenes in the previous film. Even if it is set in a generation later, Citizens Band somehow maintains a similar affection for radios and automobiles. They often act as the conduits for youthful entertainment, love, and the various dalliances and diversions making life what it is each and every day.

A callow teen named “Warlock” chats up the seductive Electra over the car’s radio. Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful” briefly plays in another sequence. You also get the sense the radios allow people to live double lives, facilitating something more than what they’re usually allowed to be in the everyday.

Much of the movie’s sense of fun revolves around “Spider” laying down the letter of the law. He resorts to patrolling the neighborhood, honing in on signals before raiding the homes and putting the perpetrators out of comission indefinitely.

If it provides any indication, Citizen Band relies on a fairly lax and casual narrative with the breadth of the ensemble bringing to mind Robert Altman without the same comic barb. On its own, Jonathan Demme’s movie settles into an absurd rhythm somehow befitting backcountry, everywhere America.

“Spider” continues on his righteous crusade to rid the waves of needless vermin. His nemeses include a ragtag laundry list of whiny pipsqueaks, self-righteous bible thumpers, paranoid anti-communists, and old ladies droning on about dreary childhood stories.

Thanks to this untethered interest in all the various quirks of the community, which subsequently become some of the films most enthusiastic vignettes, it’s never quite able to pin down its more emotionally dramatic sequences.

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This involves the strained relationship between brothers or even Pam’s conflicted, on-and-off romance with Spider. Certainly, there’s more story here and there could have been greater motivation, to empathize and understand them on a personal level. This is generally absent or at least not fleshed out substantively.

But there is enough in the way of world-building, humor, and genuine characterizations by the lead performers to make it feel worthwhile, if not totally sketched out. And because the cast is protean in nature, it’s pleasant enough to follow their lead through the ebb and flow.

Finally, all the cast assembles for one sole purpose. They drive out to the outskirts of town, during another rainstorm, to perform a search and rescue mission to find a vanished Papa Thermodyne. Somehow it turns out an ending to fit the world we’ve come to experience thus far. Everyone gets their individual shoutout.

Citizens Band (or Handle with Care) is a slight film, but with the pieces it has in place and the extent of its subject matter, this is actually a worthy compliment. There’s a warmth and weirdness permeating its frames that, while engaging, also suggests the lingering specters of living in a small town. It’s both the joys and idiosyncrasies. The dark riffs of conflict, and the unifying humanity — all of us flying under the same colors.

Even at this early juncture in his career, Demme seems particularly well-attuned to this aspect of his ensemble. The best part is that he would continue down this same road with future efforts.

3.5/5 Stars

Freud: The Secret Passion (1962): Directed by John Huston

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Freud: The Secret Passion is made by John Huston’s sense of narrative posturing. In fact, he goes so far as to narrate the opening himself, relating how men like Copernicus and Darwin boldly went against the conventions of their day to help revolutionize people’s conception of the world. Into this category, he adds a third individual and with him a third frontier.

It was Sigmund Freud who effectively caused mankind to venture to “a region almost as black as hell itself: man’s unconscious.” What a bit of methodical showmanship it is and the styling is something that might only be pulled off by a man like Huston or Orson Welles. There’s a gravitas and a charisma wrapped about him that carries a certain commanding ethos. Sadly, it never has the same impact from thenceforward.

Although the subject comes with its own sense of obvious intrigue, it somehow doesn’t seem to play to Huston’s own skills, restricting his talents to a very specific arena even if it was not slated to be a straightforward biopic.

In fact, his collaboration on Freud: The Secret Passion began with a call on the talents of Jean-Paul Satre to pen a screenplay. Even though the eminent philosopher crafted the skeleton of the story, Huston ultimately parted ways with Satre because the mammoth script he provided was unshootable.

To play Freud, he brought back Montgomery Clift from The Misfits, which immediately seems a strange choice. Clift supplies a sensitivity I would have never attributed to Freud. Granted, this is based on the little I know of him from merely studying his influences on the field of psychology. That and his penchant for cigars.

Though Clift hardly seems the image of Freud nor Huston quite the man to bring the story to fruition, if nothing else, it should quash any rumors of Clift being totally sunk by the end of his career. Despite the fallow years that came following Freud, he is still the picture of distinguished vulnerability. Admittedly, the backstage complications might elucidate a different story. However, I’m not Sigmund Freud so I couldn’t tell you. I only have the film to go by.

Although the world around him appears relatively simple, the black & white baroque style accentuates the metaphors of the light and darkness at war in the human psyches. Even the eery scoring, infused with rumbling drums, denotes similarly dark caverns in the mind.

In the early years of his career, beginning in 1885, Freud starts kicking around ideas as he comes to understand the subconscious and begins to dabble in hypnosis, “a dark art” many of the most prestigious practitioners in Vienna scoff at. Their subset is embodied most obviously by Professor Meynert, who sees such ideas as being beyond the scope of their profession, “Are we theologians or physicians?”

But while Freud wants the support of his colleagues, he’s not needlessly seeking out vainglory. His research and inquisitive mind prove his guiding light. He shares a conversation with a colleague who notes what a splendid thing to descend into hell and light your torch from its fires. Thus, encouraged, Freud goes into the heart of the darkness, prepared to slay the dragons he might find there. It sounds more like witchcraft than human psychology, and I suppose in 1885 it might as well have been.

The majority of the movie is built around his work with a case study named Cecily (Susannah York); she was a patient of his esteemed mentor Joseph Breuer (Larry Parks). He passes her well-being to the care of his pupil because he has his own issues. It gets to be too much as she transfers her affection first to Dr. Breuer and then to Freud himself.

As they go deeper, Freud, using hypnosis, finds out she is infatuated with the memory of her father. Together they wade through her issues from sexual repressions, nightmares, and childhood traumas.

Even Frau Potiphar and Joseph are brought up as symbolic figures in a parable — well, it’s a case study for Freud really — explaining a bit of Cecily’s buried angst through Biblical allusion.

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However, to crack his theory, he must come to terms with his own history, and it proves a taxing ordeal for his wife (Susan Kohner) who worries she might lose her “Sigi” to his work or, worse yet, one of his patients.

And still, he keeps probing — daring to wade into his own trauma to better understand Cecily. The most telling imagery comes with Clift spelunking by rope into the depths of a cave searching out his deepest memories. Finally, there is a breakthrough. Finally, he can try and free this girl from her baggage.

He brings his latest findings before the counsel of his peers once more and is jeered for his observation on oedipal complexes and the like. What’s striking is how even today though Freud formed the bedrock of modern psychology, many of his ideas are still considered dubious. They aren’t backed conclusively by empirical findings like other scientific methods.

What’s more, he loses his greatest ally. Dr. Breuer simultaneously stands up for Freud’s brilliance and personal integrity but still cannot help but walk out the chamber doors. The greatest fault of Freud, in the end, is the fact it feels like a story of little consequence on its own. We leave the man and it feels as if very little has transpired. Only with this context supplied by Huston do we attribute any greater meaning.

Huston’s final line is meant to be a telling statement. Know thyself. Our single enemy is our own vanity. Certainly, there is truth in these words. The Secret Passion is one of the more emotionally rich films I’ve seen to deal in themes of human psychology, the subconscious, and psychosexual themes, although the landscape feels generally sparse.

I am reminded of one scene where Clift’s psychoanalyst commiserates about the innocent entering a world of sin, foredoomed to this lot in life — on this earth. We might differ slightly in our interpretations here. Our world is flawed just as we are flawed. We do not come into existence as a blank slate as Locke posited. But we are doomed. Each of us has our own private conclave of demons, and we cannot heal ourselves. Once we give up our vanity and put on a cloak of humility, we often realize we need others — we need help outside ourselves.

3/5 Stars

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959): A Venus Flytrap of a Film

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For some Suddenly, Last Summer plays like the Holy Grail of Classic Hollywood cult films. It’s a bit like seeing those old Warner Bros. Studio clips of famed actors muffing their lines and then proceeding to blurt out obscenities. It breaks all illusions for those who have a certain perception of what these old movies represent, whether it’s something twee or a sort of refreshing simplicity.

Somewhere between Tennesse Williams and Gore Vidal, we find the origins of something with the carnal instinct of a venus flytrap. Fitting, as the curious plants become one of the film’s earliest portents. One Mrs. Violet Venable (Katharine Hepburn) keeps them well-fed in her arboretum. Really, the space — like an overgrown Eden in her backyard — is in memoriam to her dearly beloved son Sebastian.

He’s never seen in the flesh, but he haunts this picture like a male equivalent to Mrs. Rebecca De Winter. The memory of him is kept alive by those closest to him almost to the point of obsession.

But to understand this we must start earlier. At Lion’s View State Asylum in 1937, a brain surgeon (Montgomery Clift) has made strides in lobotomy to provide relief to schizophrenic patients. It’s a primitive solution and his facilities are subpar at best. As a state institution, they lack the funds to take care of their growing population of patients.

Their savior might just come in the form of the same Mrs. Venable who is looking for some aid for her niece (Elizabeth Taylor), a young woman who has recently been interned at St. Mary’s hospitable. She’s purportedly prone to obscene outbursts and other unseemly behavior.

The way it’s described, she might as well be as mad as a hatter. Meanwhile, the way the lady talks about her departed son to the good doctor you would think the former poet was almost like a god. She sees both men’s art — that of surgeon and poet — as supremely powerful and grandly creative. What’s more, there’s no pretense. She’s absolutely infatuated with the memory of her dead son.

She’s further obsessed with everything she witnessed on her travels with Sebastian the year before: particularly birds devouring baby sea turtles. Nature is not known for its compassion, and we are all trapped in a devouring creation. In this world, the face of God is not a supreme being but a horrible inescapable truth. If anything, God is made in our own image and it’s a terrifying reflection.

Elizabeth Taylor finally makes her entrance, and she’s as alluring as ever. She’s hardly the world’s idea of an unhinged ward patient, done up as she is in her typical Hollywood glamor, with a slight redux free of charge.

As she meets Dr. Cukrowicz (Clift) and becomes accustomed to his calming presence, there’s an uneasy trust being formed. But if anything, it might as well play off the close friendship of Liz and Monty offscreen. He doesn’t do much — at least in a histrionic sense — and she commands most of the scenes, still, it only works if they are together. For all the struggles Clift endured after his career-altering injury, in tandem with the likes of Hepburn and Taylor, he works quite well.

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Of course, there is no real pretense to believe this story is really concerned in any regard with mental health. Catherine goes wandering around the facility only to terrorize herself. If she’s not “mad,” it might all be subjective anyway. At any rate, it feels like a high-profile precursor to Shock Corridor.

However, in that film, the shock befits the low-profile punchiness of Sam Fuller more than Mankiewicz and his A-list cast. Here it feels more than a little dimorphic, bearing two forms that don’t fit together. To be sure, Suddenly, Last Summer transcends mediocrity altogether. It’s arguably something far better or something far worse than it seems.

These long, drawn-out scenes loaded to the gills with theatrical dialogue meet their piece de resistance as Taylor goes off — divulging all the secrets she’s been holding onto. However, if any of this gives off the putrid stench of convention, rest assured the finale is as striking as it is genuinely perturbing.

It paints in oblique language, clouded images, and the drone of Taylor’s own voice as we watch her terrorized face recount the horrors she witnessed. Suddenly, Last Summer reaches the summit with clanging drums and music, cobblestone streets, and streams of lecherous feet chasing after their prize. Here again the overgrown gardens, venus fly traps, and flesh-eating birds have renewed significance.

It takes her to the brink — a cinematic equivalent to visual insanity — and the precipice of reality, leaving her all but ready to jump off. Whether it’s totally effective or not, above all, it leaves a polarizing impression. Thus, the most surprising reaction to the picture would be one of total indifference.

What sets it apart from its brethren and even other Tennessee Williams pictures is how it’s able to lay into its themes even more overtly, almost on the encouragement of The Production Codes. Because it’s preaching a message of the twisted roads humanity can take, paths that ultimately lead to destruction. And yet with all those involved, there is this subversive sense of something else — something more, its screenplay’s skin is crawling with all sorts of undercurrents.

In what universe do Elizabeth Taylor, Katharine Hepburn, and Montgomery Clift star in a picture helmed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz culminating in cannibalism and interwoven with any number of delectably salacious taboos? It happens here. And yet more perverse still is how God or hope or meaning, in any form, is absent. From a worldview perspective, there is no such thing as Truth (or is it truth serum?). Take your poison.

Either is fitfully terrifying until it gives way to a meaningless apathy. No wonder the asylums are so full of patients. It might be the safest place to be in a world such as this. Our initial fear is poor Elizabeth Taylor receiving a lobotomy. Rest assured we get something far worse: a senseless, devouring world. It’s poised and ready to eat us all up.

2.5/5 Stars

Sweet Bird of Youth (1962): Paul Newman and Geraldine Page

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“I like you. You’re a nice monster.” – Chance Wayne

“Well, I was born a monster.” – Alexandra Del Lago

In this interchange between Paul Newman and Geraldine Page, I couldn’t help adding my own connotations. Alexandra Del Lago was born a monster. Chance Wayne is a self-made one. If anything, his environment has turned him into the self-serving creature he’s become. They are both looking to use one another, and they are not alone.

Although Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is the more high-profile entry, the points of connection with The Sweet Bird of Youth are too many to ignore. It’s yet another Tennesse Williams play directed by Richard Brooks for the screen, albeit neutered by the Production Codes of some of its controversy. This is hardly a new phenomenon.

Once more we have a sweaty, hot-blooded showcase for Paul Newman playing opposite a powerful Southern patriarch (in this case, Ed Begley) and other cast holdovers include Madeleine Sherwood.

The premise is simple enough. Chance Wayne (Paul Newman) returns to his hometown of St. Cloud, Florida as a big shot. At least this is the illusion he looks to promote as he sets up in the local hotel.

His companion is a fading movie star plagued by her self-medication and neuroses as she tries to stave off the advances of a has-been career. He has elected himself her PR man — stirring up headlines she doesn’t want — to benefit his own career no less. He fluctuates between opportunism, blackmail, and virile charisma all in the name of getting himself said break.

If Alexandra Del Lago, masquerading incognito as the Princess Kosmopolis, is his Norma Desmond, he is a sleazy sellout looking to wheedle his way into any amount of fame. Chance is looking to use her clout for all its worth because her seal of approval still means something in the industry. Alexandra need only say the word to the Louella Parsons and Walter Winchells of the world, and this nobody could hit the big time.

While Del Lago is on the way out, Williams flips the script with another revelation; Chance is on the way out too — if he ever arrived at all. Because years of striving have found him little success. He believed in the pie in the sky ideas of the local institution: Tom Boss Finley (Ed Begley). Every man can hit the jackpot if he tries hard enough. He didn’t stop to consider Hollywood is a crazy land with walls all around it. All the failures are kept on the outside looking in until they grow old and undesirable.

On Sunday morning the bells ring — it’s Easter, after all — and Alexandra rises from her bedroom suite positively reborn! Chance goes off to the church. The other leg of his personal fantasy involves running off with his sweetheart, the aptly named Heavenly (Shirley Knight). But her daddy, Boss, and the skeevy Tom Finley Jr. (Rip Torn) are bent on keeping her away from Chance. They aren’t opposed to physical violence as Tom Jr. has a group of mobilized hoodlums called the Finley Youth Club at his disposal.

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Because if Boss Finley is a pillar of society and a Sunday morning Christian who promotes his virginal daughter and denounces communism and other prurient attacks on the American way, he’s cracked at the seams himself.

His own daughter is skeptical of his deep-seated hypocrisy. Even before his dear departed wife passed away, he kept Ms. Lucy, a lady waiting, well-compensated at the local hotel. It’s the duplicity of this brand of sing-song Southern hospitality with an undercurrent of venom. Although the South by no means has a monopoly on this type of behavior.

If there is anyone to feel sorry for at this point, it might be Del Lago and yet Page ultimately regains her dignity as her frailties fade away long enough for her to see Chance for what he is: Just a name with a body. She’s known many of them before. Men led by a chain for want of fame and stardom only to be kept down.

If Newman is supposed to be an archetype of a callow young man, he has far too much charm and smarts to come off as a Yokum totally duped by Boss Finley’s grandiose talk. Regardless, he and Alexandra each have their own private hell to go to. Where can this story go but down?

In a word, there is a hopeful ending for both of them. It doesn’t aim for the jugular of tragedy. It’s not aiming for the grandest heights of southern gothic melodrama, and so it settles for a minor note. If the sweet bird of youth passes you by, it’s a matter of making your peace with it — finding peace in something else.

I couldn’t help focusing on the hymn playing in the background of the final scenes. These folks have probably sung the words countless times only to have them bounce off the walls of their hearts. Its lines go like this:

Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All could never sin erase,
Thou must save, and save by grace.

Rock of Ages cleft for me
Let me hide myself in thee

3/5 Stars

The Young Philadelphians (1959): Paul Newman Takes on Family Skeletons

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What’s most intriguing about The Young Philadelphians is how it manages to be a composite of several standalone genres. It’s a rags-to-riches tale. There’s romance. Stunning courtroom drama. But the sinew holding it together are sudsy soap opera tendencies.

Like most any life, our story begins before our main character, Tony Lawrence (Paul Newman), was ever born. Back in the old days, his mother (Diane Brewster) was to have a church wedding with William Lawrence III, a man who was desirable solely due to his family name. Being attentive to such things, Kate is happy to marry him — leaving behind a lifelong friend Mike Flannagan (Robert Keith) to drown his sorrows.

What unravels in a matter of seconds is the kind of juicy drama offering up Adam “Batman” West himself in a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it debut, though he does have a crucial role in the ensuing tale. There are implied sordid details that need not be parsed through now. Regardless, Kate is left as a widow and looks to raise up her infant son to bear the reputable name of Lawrence. He doesn’t know his protective mother is sitting on a stick of dynamite for the sake of her son.

Tony grows up to be a fine, strapping young man of substance. The instant magnetism of Paul Newman is on full display. Not animal magnetism but the kind of charisma that would keep him a beloved figure long after many of his peers from the Actors Studio had mostly dissolved and given way to younger talent. The intensity comes later.

For now, he’s a Princeton boy working in construction because it pays the bills, though his ambitions are to pursue law — all in due time. What follows at the worksite is a contrived meet-cute but no less delightful do to the instant charm of Paul Newman and Barbara Rush. Not only are they beautiful people, but they have a playful rapport to back it up.

Later, he attends a high society party — his mother hopes he can make some invaluable social contacts — but he consorts with Chester Gwyn (Robert Vaughan), a prodigal rich boy with greased back hair and a penchant for getting plastered. His relatives, who run his trust fund, heartily disapprove of his carrying on even as Tony impresses them.

The other person of interest is the same debutant, Joan Dickinson (Rush), who tells them all her classmates are married to very nice young fellows, cautious prudent young men with button-down families. All and all, they are representative of the idle and affluent segment of society looking to find a nice life for themselves complete with a fine salary, a gorgeous wife, and an equally gorgeous home to boot. For those who haven’t had to work like Tony, it sounds like utter drudgery. It’s a lifestyle that has eaten many people like Chet and Joan alive as it molds them into their assigned conventions.

In their own way, Tony and Joan look to pursue their own happiness which — although it fits within the confines of society — still has a hint of the reckless, impetuousness of youth. They still have enough fervor and passion in their chests to see the world as an idealistic space meant to be conquered. However, their parents have other plans for them…

In mere moments, the entire story careens in another direction with twists and turns worthy of a soap opera. Suddenly, the romance burning between them is snuffed out and sullied by insinuations. Tony learns the rules of the game the hard way. Society, as they know it, is built on the bedrock of backroom deals, saving face, and family reputations.

He resorts to making the connections, climbing the social ladder, and running into some old acquaintances. It’s in these crucial interludes where Newman channels his youthful intensity by ripping off the band-aid of a broken relationship and charging forward with a newfound tenacity. Under the circumstances, he foregoes the law firm of the reputable Mr. Dickinson (John Williams) and makes a name for himself in the service of someone else. He lands a big fish by swiping one of his largest clients (played by the perennially bubbly Billie Burke), who literally wanders into his office.

Even as he’s driven by his own private ambitions, Lawrence never completely sheds his conscience. He rebuffs the advances of his boss’s sex-crazed wife (Alexis Smith), stomping out an affair before it can begin.

With the passage of time, we are led to ponder how these lives could have ended differently if given the chance? Tony is still unmarried. Joan found a rich money bags, who unfortunately died fighting in Korea. The war also took Chet’s arm leaving him a crippled and degenerate drunk.

In fact, Vaughan gives the final act all he has, and he is one of the film’s unsung heroes; he provides some outward manifestation of the myriad of issues conveniently swept under the rug by the city’s foremost families. When he hits the papers with a murder rap pinned on him, it rattles all the skeletons buried in the closets. His patriarch, the esteemed Dr. Shippen Stearns even says, “individuals are less important than the whole.” What matters is coming out of the mess without a scandal.

I do adore Billie Burke particularly because we never saw enough of her in this later period of her career, and she still brings the same genial energy she always had in her golden years. She’s another outlier in the film’s stuffy landscape.

However, it’s also a test of Tony’s true character as he juggles his own reservations and allegiances to people like his mother and Chet. Joan reopens wounds, now a decade old, going to the core of who they are as human beings — their ambitions and the ways that they have been changed due to the hotbed of the surrounding society.

It’s the kind of scene I wanted to playback because it feels like it comes at us out of nowhere. She wants to hire another lawyer to take him out of the grinder — fearing he may have sold out again — and he proceeds to bristle knowing he never meant to sell out. At least not really. Their fight, if we can call it that, is what spurs him on in the courtroom. However, there is something else.

We remember where this story began. His mother is forced to tell him something about his untold life and what happened before he was born. Suddenly, this isn’t just a matter of someone else’s life — that would be enough — but this holds implications for his reputation and that of his mother’s. Everything hangs in the balance.

So when he gets to the courtroom the stakes are heady. But he comes at the case with a level of acumen and genuine discernment (although the judge does seem to be giving him far more favor than the prosecutor receives). This observation is mostly immaterial. He puts the key witness, George Archibald (Richard Deacon), up on the stand and does everything he’s been training his whole life to do.

Somehow he’s never spoken a truer word when he says, “I’m not as good as I hoped I could be, but I’m not as bad as I thought I was.” Let them sink in for a moment. As we look on, we see a man who has found his happy medium as he’s slowly learned to be contented with the life put before him without any regrets. He can walk out of that courtroom, his best girl in hand, confident that his reputation is intact, but most importantly his moral conscience is as well. And we are right there with him.

3.5/5 Stars