It’s been a while since I last commented on movies, and, of course, I’ve seen a few more than usual since then. This post got out of hand in length, so I’m breaking it in half. I’m sure you’re heartbroken.
The Outfit. (1973) Chosen by George Pelecanos during his night as Turner Classic Movies programmer, the second film in which Robert Duvall received top billing. A treatment of Richard Stark’s eponymous novel, Duvall plays the Parker character—here named Earl Macklin—unapologetically straight, probably as close to how Stark envisioned him as anyone has. (I need to see Point Blank again to be sure.) This has all the virtues of 70s low-key filmmaking and few of the downsides. The excellent cast is character actor heaven: Elisha Cook, Jr., Richard Jaeckel, Henry Jones, Jane Greer, Sheree North, Robert Ryan, and Joe Don Baker were the ones I recognized. Karen Black is the girl, and Joanna Cassidy makes her debut as Ryan’s girlfriend. Pelecanos says this has been a hard film to get hold of, and he’s right: Netflix doesn’t even have a listing for it. If you have a chance, don’t miss it.
Margin Call. (2011) J.C. Chandor said that he wrote the script in just four days; it shows. The story of how a venerable investment bank can unravel over a 24-hour period when traditional controls are ignored, the film misses several bases by trying to touch them all. It’s a shame, because a great story was there to be told, had Chandor gone for something more along the lines of the excellent Too Big To Fail, told from the bank’s side. An excellent cast—including Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Simon Baker, Demi Moore, and Stanley Tucci—gives their best efforts, but there’s no there there.
Saving Private Ryan, (1998) Re-watched it on June 6, the seventieth anniversary of the Normandy landings. Loosely based on the true story of the Niland brothers. I learned all I cared to know about what it must be like to be in a war in the first 25 minutes. The battle scenes—especially the opening on Omaha Beach and the bridge at Ramelle—are graphic and as intense as anything ever filmed. Difficult to watch, even when you know what’s coming, and I can’t do it very often. Still, I’ll do it again. Congress should be required to watch it before voting to send troops into harm’s way.
Monte Walsh, (1970) Another of Pelecanos’s picks, Lee Marvin, Jack Palance, and Jeanne Moreau star in an “end of the old west” story that evokes the viewer’s empathy without creating melodrama. Another of those borderline minimalists 70s movies, Lee Marvin’s title character is sad for what he’s lost and is losing, but never feels sorry for himself. The scene of Marvin breaking a horse in the main street and destroying the town to do it is worth watching the entire movie for, but watch the whole thing. One of my favorite Marvin performances.
Pitch Black, (2000) The original Riddick movie, predating Chronicles. They should have made it more about him. Vin Diesel hits the right pitch in this Aliens knock-off about a space ship that crash lands on a planet with three suns, treading a line between the John Malkovich and Nicolas Cage characters in Con Air. There’s an eclipse every 22 years, casting the entire planet into darkness (they actually show how this would work pretty well), and they’re unlucky enough to land there just as it’s getting dark, which is when horrible creature that cannot bear light come out and eat every living thing, including, apparently, each other. The usual chase scenes, dumb choices, and bad consequences result. Could have been a lot better.
The Terminator. (1984) Happened to be the next movie on HDNet after Pitch Black, and I couldn’t resist. (I never can.) Say what you want about him, but the Terminator and Arnold Schwarzenegger is as perfect a matching of actor and role as Larry Hagman and JR Ewing or Ian MacShane and Al Swearengen. James Cameron made three of the greatest action movies of all time (The Terminator, Aliens, Terminator 2: Judgment Day) and will be remembered for that crappy thing he did about the boat and the ice cube.
More next Monday.