Cinema Penitentiary Diaries October 8-22, 2015

8.My Own Private Idaho REVIEWED

  1. True Identity I went to see this in 1991 because a friend was in it, and I hated it because he was only in it for thirty seconds. In the first scene, comic Lenny Henry is an African-American actor who resists playing black stereotypes for a white director.  He plays the rest of the movie in white face, gleefully exploiting every Italian-American stereotype in the book. Such is Henry’s hypocrisy, and his movie is a drag.
  1. At Close Range “Is this the family gun?” Sean Penn had the best line of 1986 in James Foley’s rural crime drama based on a true story about a guy who stole tractors and murdered members of his gang, some of whom were blood relations. Both Foley and Penn went into the toilet after “At Close Range,” which is still one of the best crime pictures of the eighties. That’s what happens when a woman like Madonna comes into your life.  There was always a smear of phoniness, even in Penn’s best performances, and he was best when paired with an older, more accomplished actor. like Christopher Walken here, Robert Duvall in “Colors,”  or Al Pacino in “Carlito’s Way.” But even at his best,  Penn was an irritating, self conscious, and egotistic presence.  But you can’t take “At Close Range.” away from him.  It is so good that I am  tempted to watch all his movies again to see if I have under-rated him.  But no, I haven’t. Sean Penn is truly a terrible actor.
  1. Falcon and the Snowman Timothy Hutton is Sean Penn’s opposite. His career is predicated on an uncanny ability to come across as a normal guy while playing characters who are internally conflicted. Together with Sean Penn, he turns the true story of “The Falcon and the Snowman” into incomprehensible gelatin. This ridiculous movie shakes and quakes its way from a compelling gag to a capital crime. The tale itself was unique enough to make the movie stand out from  most of the cinematic dross of 1985, but it doesn’t seem so special when watching it today.
  1. Casualties of War Sean Penn scrunches up his odd little face again as a Vietnam soldier who runs a rape squad and gets his kicks ordering the weakest men under his command to murder the evidence of their crimes. In “Full Metal Jacket,”  Kubrick investigates the moral responsibility of the soldiers who have maimed a civilian when she begs them to kill her.  The less lofty Brian DePalma is such a moral imbecile that he seriously weighs the pros and cons of murdering the victim of a gang rape in order to ensure the safety of the rapists as they venture forth in combat.  The unfortunate job of portraying the sergeant falls to Penn, who overdoes it.  As his nemesis, the disposable  Michael J, Fox comes across as a legitimate actor.

My Gun is Quick  The opening scene of this adaptation of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer thriller is so perfectly faithful to the book that, had it continued in this vein, it would have been the best off all the Hammer movies.  But the plot gets  condensed to the point where it doesn’t make much sense, and by the end, its just another cheapo quickie. Small time character actor, Robert Bray, however, is excellent in the lead, and Jan Chaney, whose career consisted of this and a few television parts, showed some real potential as Red, the prostitute who was murdered on her way back home to a decent life.

  1. The Lion in Winter This 12th Century “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” offers some entertaining performances from Peter O Toole and Katherine Hepburn, but Anthony Harvey’s amateur directing and incessant use of the zoom lens, both in and out, reduce a well mounted chamber epic to an undisciplined acting slam.

Fallen Angel “Laura” gets the accolades, but I think “Fallen Angel” is the more engaging  movie, and the best of Otto Preminger’s film noirs.  You would be hard pressed to find two such dissimilar actresses as Alice Faye and Linda Darnell, and Dana Andrews is the perfect Mr. Average to stick between the two of them. Preminger was one of the few directors who, along with Fritz Lang, utilized the noir aesthetic, not out of poverty-row necessity, but with artistic intention.

  1. Mr. Holmes It’s always a pleasure to watch Ian McKellen, but “Mr. Holmes” stinks.
  1. School for Scoundrels Ian Carmichael enrolls in the School of Upmanship to learn how to trick his dream girl into falling for him. His mentor, Terry-Thomas, also has designs on the girl.  This is not the kind of British comedy that can be appreciated only by the British.  Its hilarity is universal.  Don’t be put off by the unfortunate 2006 remake. This 1960 comedy is one of a kind, irreproducible.
  1. Another Year Leslie Manville was stuck in the BBC wasteland for the first ten years of her career. Then came a series of small roles in prestige films that included “Dance With a Stranger,” and “Sammy and Rosie Get Laid,” as well as Mike Leigh’s first feature, “High Hopes.” This was followed by three years of inactivity, then another eight years of television, during which she had a small part in Leigh’s 1996 masterpiece, “Secrets and Lies.”  In 1999, she got another  small part in Leigh’s “Topsy-Turvy,”  more television, and a larger role in Leigh’s 2002 “All or Nothing,” more television, and a supporting role in Leigh’s “Vera Drake.” More television and a few more supporting theatrical roles followed, until she finally scored her first lead as Mary in Mike Leigh’s “Another Year.”  She should have won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance, but she was little-known outside of British television and her occasional  work with Leigh, so  she was not even nominated by the Academy, even though she was honored with nominations and wins by several other groups. I’m not going to say anything about the movie or Manville’s performance.  Anybody who is interested should just rent it and enjoy the pleasures of discovery on their own.

Baron Blood Smeary television broadcasts missing half an hour or more did no justice to this Mario Bava ghost story, which turns out, in a crisp uncut print, to be scary as hell breaking up through the graves of warlocks.  One of Bava’s best.

  1. Devil in a Blue Dress Despite a few scenes that maintain the originality of Walter Mosely’s Easy Rawlins books, director Carl Franklin, who did such a fine job on “One False Movie,” drops the ball on this one. His script errs on the side of convention and Denzel Washington is all wrong for the part of Rawlins.
  1. Kind Hearts and Coronets Sure, it’s a classic Ealing comedy, with Alec Guinness playing eight roles, but I never warmed to it. The idea is good, but I find the first part of the movie rather boring, and then too many killings occurring too quickly upon one another.

21 Call Me Lucky REVIEWED

Thieves’ Highway I wonder how realistic all this sitting around waiting for someone to buy the apples is.  And then the guy who stole the apples and sold them on consignment tells the guy who brought the apples to market that he can will have to take a check, as he has only $500 cash on hand.  But all those apples were just sold for cash, so why does the guy who brought them in agree to take a check?  Lots of other stuff here doesn’t make any sense, but the idea of corruption in the produce markets is intriguing.

  1. Everest The most boring mountain climbing movie I have ever seen. A decent cast totally wasted.

3 thoughts on “Cinema Penitentiary Diaries October 8-22, 2015

  1. Ha ha! Sean Penn is a truly terrible actor. We disagree here. I like him a lot in several films, while with a long career, there’s plenty of mediocre if not bad films, too. I LOVED him in Mystic River. A nuanced delivery, believable to me. I thought he was wonderful in Milk, I am Sam, and Taps. He was perfect in Fast Times. I guess we will have to agree to disagree.
    #13, agreed.


  2. But he is a terrible actor, whether or not we enjoy watching him. Here is where I disagree with almost everybody. Art is tangible and measurable. It is not subjective and fluid. Many people would rather read Stephen King thanTolstoy, but Tolstoy is nevertheless the better writer. I loved Sean Penn so much in At Close Range that I re-watched several of his films with the intention of writing a companion piece to the one on River Phoenix. But a study of these films told me that what appeared to be good acting was just ego-bluster. I like a lot of things that are no good, but I think it important to separate one’s aesthetics from one’s tastes. One of the most depressing things I ever heard from a critic was in answer to a question I asked as to whether he would give a bad review to a movie he disliked, even though he objectively knew it was a good movie. He admitted that he would do so, and also went on to say he would give a good review to a bad movie that he liked. Back to Penn, I enjoyed his performance in Fast Times, but in the same way that I enjoy watching Jason Mewes in Kevin Smith’s movies. On the basis of a comparision with the Milk documentary, I thought he did a poor job as Harvey Milk. I dont remember him in Mystic River, and I dislike the way most actors play disabled characters, including Penn’s Sam.


  3. Good call on ‘School for Scoundrels’, Bill. One of my favourite British comedies. And Lesley Manville, currently starring an yet another police drama on TV here. She’s just great, and deserves much more attention.
    Regards, Pete.


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