A gentle fable on familiar themes, lightly salted with irony by Clint Eastwood. Eastwood plays the title character, the head of a modern-day wild west show that scrabbles from town to town in the backwaters of the midwest, spreading the forgotten values of fair play, comradeship, and clean living (up to a point). Sondra Locke, as a spoiled heiress, enters via a plot device lifted from It Happened One Night. Eastwood’s performance is dense and subtle, drawing on his natural shyness and gentility, though his direction — apart from two or three creatively edited sequences — is much less distinctive than it has been before. A minor film with a good heart — if anything, it’s too lovable (1980).
A perfect film. Eric Rohmer began his series titled “Comedies and Proverbs” with this 1980 tale of romantic entanglements, disappointments, and ever fresh possibilities, all set in a verdant Paris. Shot in 16-millimeter, the film has a simple, open visual style, yet its construction is extremely complex and pointed, as Rohmer abandons the first-person perspective of the “Six Moral Tales” in favor of an elegant, intertwining pattern of shifting points of view. The title character never appears but instead precipitates a chain of events that pull a young postal worker (Philippe Marlaud), his older girlfriend (Marie Riviere), and a teenage gamine (Anne-Laure Meury) together and apart. Charming, languorous, piercing, discreet—quintessential Rohmer, and more.
John Cassavetes clearly set out to make a commercial film, but, intransigent personality that he was, he turned in a slice of pure avant-garde: this 1980 release makes use of a fascinating discrepancy between dramatic tone and visual style. It’s written as a soggy, conventional melodrama, about an ex-gun moll (Gena Rowlands) who tries to protect an orphaned Puerto Rican boy from the mob, but it’s directed in Cassavetes’s usual style of deflated naturalism. While the script pitches a series of wildly improbable events, the direction remains disruptively attuned to the dark, arrhythmic poetry of anticlimax. Heightened emotion and nagging banal reality fight each other for screen space, doing final battle in a daringly ambiguous ending. With John Adames, Buck Henry, and Julie Carmen. 110 min.
John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd star as two white boys who love nuns, blacks, and the blues. But for all of the dramatic focus on poverty, the subject of John Landis‘s mise-en-scene is money—making it, spending it, blowing it away. The humor is predicated on underplaying in overscaled situations, which is sporadically funny in a Keaton-esque way but soon sputters out through sheer, uninspired repetition. With Ray Charles, John Lee Hooker, James Brown, Cab Calloway, and Aretha Franklin, who steals the show singing a song in a diner.
I can’t pan it, but this 1980 fantasy biography of fighter Jake LaMotta seems unquestionably Martin Scorsese’s weakest work, at least to that point in his career. The central conceit—that no matter how monstrous LaMotta is to his friends, family, and self, he is still close to God and will receive his grace—is debased Bresson filtered through screenwriter Paul Schrader, and it has little or no dramatic impact. As LaMotta, Robert De Niro gives a blank, soulless performance; there’s so little of depth or urgency coming from him that he’s impossible to despise, or forgive, in any but the most superficial way. The film is told parable style, with separate episodes of moral testing—a design that tends toward the simple, the monotonous, the redundant. Well worth seeing as is any work of this breakthrough stylist, but expectations should be adjusted. With Cathy Moriarty, Joe Pesci, and Nicholas Colasanto.
For once a comedy in the Animal House school that knows what it’s about: the vulgarity of the gags matches the vulgarity of the subject, and this 1980 film becomes a fierce, cathartically funny celebration of the low, the cheap, the venal—in short, America. Most of the time, I didn’t know whether to laugh or shudder, and I ended up doing a lot of both. It was Steve Martin who said “Comedy isn’t pretty,” but it’s Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, the writer-directors here, who prove it; this is the Dawn of the Dead of slapstick. Kurt Russell, in an eloquently obnoxious performance, is the chief salesman; the supporting cast has been drawn, evocatively, from The Gong Show, Laverne and Shirley, and The Munsters.
PS: Searching for the actor who was on The Gong Show (I don’t think I’m alone in assuming he meant Frank McRae, a ringer for Gene Gene the Dancing Machine) shows that the supporting cast’s collective resume also includes Miami Vice, SCTV, Simon & Simon, The Incredible Hulk, CHiPs, Love American Style, Charlie’s Angels, Bosom Buddies, Who’s the Boss, and Private Parts.
PSS: Also a fan of Kehr
With his perfect pacing, elegant narrative design, and depth of characterization, Richard Lester has made as good a matinee movie as could be imagined: this 1980 feature is a big, generous, beautifully crafted entertainment, with the distinctive Lester touch in the busy backgrounds and the throwaway dialogue. But it’s also something more—an intelligent adult romance in the line of Lester’s Petulia and Robin and Marian, done with deep feeling and responsibility. The wit is sharp and bright, never degenerating into the facile camp of Richard Donner’s part one, and our emotional involvement with the characters is kept at a high level—Lester’s balance of irony and sincerity is impeccable. When it was over, I felt a genuine pang of regret: it was like taking leave of a friend. With Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, Margot Kidder, and Terence Stamp.