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Archive for the ‘Sam’s Exceptional 80s Cinema’ Category

Robert Duvall and Michael O'Keefe deliver Oscar-nominated performances in Lewis John Carlino's moving drama from Pat Conroy's novel.

by Sam Juliano

This is a continuation of a long dormant  series that will examine films from the 1970′s and 1980’s that were either forgotten, undervalued or misunderstood at the time of their release, but now seen in a far better light by critics and/or audiences.

Originally shown on HBO under the title The Ace in early 1979, what was originally seen as a conventional television drama, eventually morphed into a big-screen release re-titled to conform with the novel that spawned it.  Indeed, Pat Conroy’s autobiographical The Great Santini was an acclaimed work that expanded on an eulogy given for his own father, one that bluntly asserted that “the children of fighter pilots tell different stories than other kids do.”  But unexpectedly, and with little initial fanfare, it gave celebrated actor Robert Duvall one of the best roles of his career, one that brought him an Academy Award nomination in the year that Robert DeNiro prevailed for Raging Bull.  Duvall’s electrifying macho turn as “Bull Meechum”, a  marine-training pilot, who works out of Beauford, South Carolina in 1962 is a wholly charismatic portrayal that play’s to the actor’s strengths.  Meechum’s war-time sensibility is hardly attuned to peace time domesticity, and with a ferocious rage he treats the members of his family as if they were recruits for an exacting even oppressive commando training.  Yet, he’s an inveterate drinker and practical joker, one who’s as adverse to protocol as he is for strict enforcement of rules in the dictatorial management of his household.  But Bull Meachum is no kin to  the inhuman characters portrayed by Lee Emery in Full Metal Jacket nor Mark Metcalf as cadet commander Doug Niedermeyer in Animal House.    He’s painted by Conroy and director Lewis John Carlino as a larger-than-life mountain of hubris and twisted priority, a flawed character whose inner sensitivity is hidden behind a facade of misguided self-assurance and inflated bravado, one who calls everyone “sports fan,” issues “direct orders” and fully expects to be addressed as “Sir” at all times.  He’s a slightly altered variation of Duvall’s own Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore from Apocalypse Now. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

     Few directors in the cinema have split art house audiences and film critics as severely as Chilean-born Alejandro Jodorowky.  While his admirers have issued rapturous praise, even going as far as to declare him as the heir apparent of Luis Bunuel and the master of surrealist cinema, his detractors have condemned him as a drug-abusing pretentious hack whose work emanated from his own psychedelic drug experiences.  Jodorowsky’s career began in the 50’s with stints as a puppeteer, circus performer, a mime, a playright, novelist, comic book author and finally as a film director.  His famous early films, El Topo and The Holy Mountain were frustrating works, but they still displayed complex and inspired visuals and were impossible to dismiss. The heavily surrealist Fando and Lis again was a challenging work, but was partially ponderous.

     In the early 80’s the director studied a new kind of therapy known as “psycho-magic,” which combines Jungian psychoanalysis with varying degrees of mysticism and superstition that talk to the subjects’s unconscious.  This in turn is contingent upon the belief in a “family unconscious”  with prior familial relationships -going back a number of generations – controlling crrent relationships.  Jodorowsky stated: “If I want to understand myself I have to understand my family tree, because I am permanently possessed, as in voodoo.  Even when we cut ties with our family, we carry it.  In our unconscious, the persons are always alive.  The dead live with us.  Exploring the family tree means engaging in a fierce battle with the ‘monster’ like a nightmare.”  These new revelations would form the basis of what must now be considered as his masterpiece, Santa Sangre (1989), a work he is reputed to have directed almost for nothing in return for full creative control. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

     John Boorman’s Hope and Glory stands apart from nearly-all other World War II-themed films in that it presents an idyllic view of terrible events, seen through the eyes of a ten-year old boy.  By displaying the humor and the resilience of the boy’s family and the British people in general, the film at first broaches denial, and then segues into domestic life wrought under danger and hardship, where luck plays a large part in the survival game.  Hope and Glory is for it’s writer-director a semi-autobiographical work centering around his own experiences of a child growing up during the war, and of the psychology of a nation not yet ready for such a calamity.  When a school teacher quips “a few bombs may wake up this country” and the boy’s mother complains that they’re “starting  a war on such a beautiful day”you know that many aren’t prepared for, nor aware of the deadly battle of wills that is to soon ensue.

     Young Bill Rohan, played by a spunky young actor named Sebastian Rice Edwards, lives with his parents and two sisters in a London suburb.  His father, who is too old to serve in combat, is assigned to a military desk job early in the film, so the young boy is surrounded by females and a close friend of his mother.  His daily routine is in large measure to attend school, engage in mischief with friends, and scour through the wreckage caused by bombs that penetrate the blimp defense employed around the country.  You don’t have to be British to be stirred by an emphatic school master’s patriotic speech invoking Churchill and and the brave young warriors enlisted to defend the country, with the strains of Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” underscoring the noble defiance.  When Billy holds up the cover of a war periodical at the end of the sermon, we’re reminded that the kids think it’s a big adventure, no different that when Billy plays with his collection of soldiers before going to bed.  And few mothers won’t be able to relate to a wrenching scene when Bill’s mum breaks down a the train station, at the planned prospect of sending Billy and his youngest sister away to safer pastures until the end of the war, only to change her mind and be rejected by the officials. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

     ‘There was a real Miss Daisy.  She was a friend of my grandmother’s in Atlanta, back in the forties when I was a child.  She was a “maiden lady” as we called it then, the last of a big family, and she lived in what I remember as a spooky old Victorian house.  There was a Hoke, too.  he was the sometime bartender at our German-Jewish country club, and I believe, he supplemented his income by bartending at private parties around town.  And Boolie…well, I really didn’t know him, but he was the brother of my dear Aunt Marjorie’s friend Rosalie,  They were real people all right, but I have used only their names in creating the three characters in ‘Driving Miss Daisy….’  –Alfred Uhry, playright.

     Driving Miss Daisy was the first play that Alfred Uhry composed, and he based it on people he had known growing up in the South, particularly his grandmother and her driver.  The play’s original schedule called for it to run for five weeks at Playrights Horizon, a New York nonprofit theatre that seated an audience of seventy-four.  When the run was up, the play was extended another five weeks, and when that was up, it moved to a bigger theatre.  A year and a half later, the show was still playing in New York, and around the country, and it soon won the Pultizer Prize.

     Warner Brothers hired gifted Australian director Bruce Beresford (Breaker Morant, Black Robe) to helm the film version, which would feature Uhry’s own adapted screenplay.  While on stage the story was negotiated with minimal sets, (chairs representing car seats were basically the components) the film version allows for some lovely rural indulgence, in and around Atlanta, Georgia where the film takes place, beginning in 1948.  “Miss  Daisy” Werthan is a crotchety, parsimonious and exceedingly stubborn widow of seventy-two years, who, while insisting she can still drive, must nonetheless bow to the wishes of her son Boolie and insurance companies who are threatening to drop her after she backs the car into a sharp decline on the grounds near her home.  The alternative forced upon her is a black chauffeur named Hoke, who is known to Boolie to be a reliable and honest man.  Hoke states that he’s thrilled that the Werthans are Jewish, as from past experiences he’s found them much easier to work for than the predominant Baptists of the Deep South.  But in Miss Daisy he meets someone unlike anyone he’s ever encountered.  She’s ornery and taciturn, and wearing her down turns out to be a formidable task that requires more servitude than he would ordinarily impart.  A proud and respectful man who is about sixty years old when the film begins, Hoke is an unemployed, uneducated African American, who previously worked as a deliveryman.  His patience and loyalty eventually brings out the latent humanity in Miss Daisy, and over a period of twenty-five years in these two lives (with Boolie providing an occasional, often exasperated intrusion) the relationship morphs from discord to deep harmony and friendship.  Cynical moviegoers may scoff at the final scene, when a touching realization is vocalized, but it’s the final coda in a film that is about the intimacy and true meaning of friendship. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

                       “What you’ve got to realize is that the clever cook puts unlikely things together, like duck and orange, like pineapple and ham.  “It’s called artistry.”  You know, I am an artist the way I combine my business and my pleasure; Money’s my business, eating’s my pleasure and Georgie’s my pleasure, too, though in a more private kind of way than stuffing the mouth and feeding the sewers.  Though the pleasures are related because the naughty bits and the dirty bits are so close together that it just goes to show how eating and sex are related.  Georgie’s naughty bits are nicely related, aren’t they, Georgie?”  – Albert Spica (Michael Gambon)

     When Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief His Wife and her Lover opened in the U.S. in the spring of 1989, it fell subject to the MPAA’s then-new “NC-17” rating, which insured the avant-garde director the biggest audiences of his career.  In any case, this corrosive allegory, which contains scenes of intense and shocking brutality and humiliation, and even some cannibalism, is both Greenaway’s most famous and most infamous film.  It’s also the only one of his auspicious catalogue that rates the ‘masterpiece’ label.  As the film comes the closest of all his works to conform to a narrative structure, it’s easy to understand the film’s relative mainstream popularity, yet it’s an inordinately disturbing and revolting film that has no doubt offended as many as it’s enraptured. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

     This is the first entry in the ‘Exceptional 80’s Cinema’ series that is planned to run once every three or four days during Allan’s countdown.  Most of the choices will be films that did not make Allan’s top 50, but in my eyes deserved that lofty designation.  Branagh’s ‘Henry V’ from 1989, is the first up in the series.  Tony d’Ambra may possibly contribute to this venture as well.

            But he’ll remember, with advantages, what feats he did that day.    Then shall our names, Familiar in his mouth as household words–Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter, Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester–Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.  This story shall the good man teach his son, and Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by, From this day to the ending of the world, But we in it shall be remembered, we few, we happy few, we band of brothers…                                      

     In the pantheon of filmed Shakespeare, two versions of the rousing history play, Henry V now stand at the forefront of cinematic conscription, and in a number of ways they are like day and night.  Laurence Olivier’s wartime version was exactly what one might expect to see in 16th century Elizabethan England, where men played female roles, wore authentic period garb, and where there was an underpinning of patriotism, intended to impress the monarchy with the dramatization of English military might and bravery.   Of course, Olivier, who starred as Henry and directed the 1944 film had far more than loyalty to the Bard in mind, as Britain was engaged in World War II, and Sir Larry did his own version of a cinematic Churchill.  The set design was exquisite with the overhead pan of a Globe Theatre replica which preceeded the opening an inspired choice.  Olivier’s version was traditional, and impeccably executed in a way that would have done Shakespeare proud. (more…)

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