Yesterday, I mentioned this lineup of films includes works from four of my favorite directors - all-timers, the best of the best. I'm sure many of you can guess, but let me know which films/directors you think I'm talking about. And please - join in the convo! What do you think of these flicks? Seen them? Love them?
A Question of Silence
Three women, total strangers to each other, murder a man none of them have met before; as they await trial, a female psychologist attempts to figure out why. Dutch film. Was first exposed to it in college, during a week where we studied feminism in cinema. I think I fell asleep, but that was 15 years ago by now and fortunately it's on TUBI (what isn't?). Anyway, how is it? The movie shows each woman in her environment where she is ridiculed, harrassed, ignored, taken for granted, belittled, by bosses and husbands and customers and children. How does the male the shopkeeper finally, shockingly, trigger them to commit murder? The movie's thesis is that a woman would know, while a man...a man would ask the wrong questions. It's a challenging film, one that invites repeat viewings and long, long discussion afterwards. I quite enjoy anything that's this provocative, this furious. What an ensemble!
Dennis Quaid has some psychic ability that may allow him into people's dreams, a gift that may be used to manipulate the President of the United States! A bit of sci-fi, a bit of fantasy, a bit of political conspiracy thriller. Max von Sydow and Christopher Plummer get to play off each other! It's a bit of fun.
Clint Eastwood investigates a series of brutal murders targeting the city's prostitutes; along the way, he takes advantage of the victims' friends and colleagues, becoming an easy target for the killer's machinations and linking himself to subsequent victims. Meanwhile, he romances a rape prevention counselor and tries to raise his two girls single-handedly. Eastwood produces (and apparently ghost-directs?) in a film directly addressing not just male attitudes towards women, but police officers' attitudes towards women and crimes against them. Very sweaty, very well-shot, the romantic subplot is a bad idea, the casting of Regina Richardson a sublime one.
Night of the Comet
This was that rare thing: a rewatch! I adore this movie, loved it from the moment I set eyes on it. A comet obliterates most life on Earth, leaving two sisters alone in Los Angeles. Oh, sure, there are plague zombies to battle and a mysterious organization of scientists that wants them for mysterious reasons and other surprises, but they also get to hang out and go to the mall and get a department store montage. It's Valley Girl meets The Last Man on Earth, and if that's a pitch that works for you, you need to see this movie. Stealth Christmas flick, too. Honestly, there's not enough praise I can heap on this one.
The Brother from Another Planet
An alien arrives on Ellis Island in the guise of a Black man and, though unable to speak, makes a home for himself in Harlem. Early John Sayles. Compelling central performance from Joe Morton. Often funny. Bill Cobbs, Minnie Gentry, Caroline Aaron, and Olga Merediz all make appearances, and I think we can all agree that their presence is always welcome. I don't know that the film's specific observations on assimilation, immigration, and exploitation justify the runtime, but its depiction of the sprawling community existing within a few blocks and how they all relate to and come through for each other does.
Nixon, alone, pleads his case. An adaptation of an LA-based stage show starring Philip Baker Hall - when I first saw it at the Cinefamily ages ago, Hall said in a post-film discussion that the original play ran three hours without breaks (if I recall correctly). The film is about 90 minutes, directed by Robert Altman, the crew made up of his film students at the University of Michigan, where it was also filmed. Just one man for an hour and a half, and thanks to Altman's confidence and staging, thanks to the sweaty, nothing-left-to-give performance by Hall, it works, despite the gloopy conspiracy stuff concerning Bohemian Grove and the Committe of 100 (Nixon's excuse-making? the playwright's genuine theories? fanciful bullshit conjured up to, as the insistent prologue states, "attempt to understand"?). It's an odd experiment, not for everyone but an Altman flick starring Hall as Nixon is absolutely for me.
All of Me
Steve Martin is a rising lawyer whose firm represents eccentric wealthy invalid Lily Tomlin, one thing leads to another, her spirit winds up in his body and we get a buddy-romantic-comedy. Again, not entirely sure about the romantic bits, but otherwise they're a trip to hear play off each other, and Martin's physicality depicting the battle between himself and Tomlin for control of his body...oh my goodness, stitches, I'm talking abdominal cramps, I was laughing so hard! I liked it.
Stranger Than Paradise
I don't know, man, I don't always find other people's malaise all that interesting to watch.
The House by the Cemetery
Lucio Fulci invites you to explore a cursed property with rotting, maggot-ridden zombies and mysterious nannies who both enable the spirits and are...decapitated...by...them...? Love a lot of Fulci, but it winds up a bit of a poorly-paced letdown, gore and narrative both lacking in chills, thrills, overall interest. A disappointing revisit, though I have always been more of a City of the Living Dead/New York Ripper guy.
Stop Making Sense
Concert film! Jonathan Demme directing Talking Heads! Hard not to get caught up in the whole thing, especially when they're all running in place without missing a breath. It's that joyous, infectious energy that you recall long after the novelty of That Suit wears off. Oh, my gosh, and the Tom Tom Club!
Crimes of Passion
Director Ken Russell and screenwriter Barry Sandler offer an examination of American attitudes towards love and sex, from the high-powered executive who moonlights as a messy call girl to the cop who enjoys getting sodomized by his own baton to the faithful wife who sees sex as an obligation to be endured and not enjoyed to the priest who sees his own desires as symptoms of a disease that must be eradicated. Does a great job, I think, of depicting all the forms of sex work: as theatre, as a safe place for expression of desires, as a realm of control, and as work where the only thing pleasurable is knowing you'll get paid. Kathleen Turner gives us all of that in her portrayal of (bear with me) China Blue, who gets one of the most unforgettable character introductions in cinema.
Struggling actor witnesses murder while house-sitting. Brian De Palma once again wants to talk violence and sex, cribbing from his own Dressed to Kill for an extra-long "chase" sequence that takes us from Beverly Hills to Santa Monica. But if you are gonna watch sex and violence, isn't De Palma the person you want offering it to you? His mid-film take on Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "Relax" is legitimately transcendent, his observations on Hollywood actor culture genuinely funny, his continued collaboration with composer Pino Donaggio inspired. Still don't remember the main guy's name without looking it up, but he's good. A thrill, a ride, a great piece of cinema.
Did every '80s classic come out this year? I assume most of you know this one: killer robot from the future comes to our present to kill the mother of a future freedom fighter leader before she can birth him. Of course, since none of the threats that make freedom fighting necessary are around yet, our heroine does a lot of "AAAAA WTF WTF WTF" but with her eyes. Yes, Arnold Schwarzenegger's towering physique and expressionless threats are effective, but Linda Hamilton's performance makes this movie soar, as witness her scenes with Michael Biehn's Kyle Reese: she's listening, taking in what he's saying, but she's also coming up with a plan for escape or delay without trying to trigger a violent attack. Great stuff. Also great stuff: the effects work, the explosivene and bloody kills, the ominous score, the weary Paul Winfield. It works!
Oscar-nominated films released during this period: The Bostonians and The Woman in Red in August; A Soldier's Story, Amadeus, and Country in September; Places in the Heart, Songwriter, and The Times of Harvey Milk in October.
Tomorrow: wrapping up week one with the holiday film slate!