Monday, February 16, 2015

Movies Since Last Time

Recent movies have run the gamut, from two of my all-time favorites to one that didn’t hold up as well as I thought it would, to one that was new to me that I would have been happy to have left undiscovered.

The Cheap Detective (1978). The gold standard for affectionate satire, regardless of genre. Screenwriter Neil Simon and director Robert Moore don’t
miss a beat or an opportunity as they weave together elements of The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca, with a bow toward Chinatown. Peter Falk is flawless and hysterical as Lou Peckinpah, channeling Bogart throughout. The stellar cast—Ann-Margret, Eileen Brennan, Stockard Channing, Sid Caesar, James Coco, Dom DeLuise, Louise Fletcher, John Houseman, Madeline Kahn, Phil Silvers, Marsha Mason and others—are not only perfectly cast but all know the best way to get real laughs from such a project is so play everything straight. Visual gags, one-liners, and set pieces abound. To say this is a laugh a minute is to damn with faint praise.

Reasonable Doubt (2014). About a year ago I wrote a post about the value of execution in any project, using LA Confidential as an example of how to do it
right. Reasonable Doubt is the counter-example, a movie with such poor execution its potentially excellent premise is left crying beside the road in the rain. DA Mitch Brockden hits a man with his car, calls 911 and flees the scene. When the man is found later and someone else is charged with the crime, Brockden throws the trial only to learn the man he hit may have been fleeing from the man Brockden just let go. A lot could have been done with this but the filmmakers took the easy way out at every opportunity. Filmed in 27 days, and it shows. Holes about, continuity errors are obvious, and, despite the Chicago el and skyline used in establishing shots, it’s obvious from the spear carriers’ accents this was filed in Canada. Nothing wrong with that, but, damn, if you’re going to use B reels to set a location, at least make an effort to help us suspend disbelief about that location. We worked hard enough to swallow the story.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969). Possibly my favorite comfort food
movie. Watched it with The Beloved Spouse for my birthday and loved it as much as ever, even though I knew everything that was going to happen. For younger readers, if you haven’t seen this, do so. You’ll thank me. It’s a delight.

A River Runs Through It (1992). I didn’t enjoy this as much as I did twenty years ago, in large part because I know a lot more about writing. If ever a
movie was undermined by telling rather than showing, it’s this one, and that’s no mean feat in a visual medium. The opening expository voiceover goes on too long, and the ending is too abrupt, using the voiceover to tie up all the loose ends. Beautifully photographed and acted, and what story director Robert Redford and screenwriter Richard Friedenberg deign to show us is well done,  but we got to the end and thought, “and?” Not a waste of time, but not a movie that you’ll discuss much afterward, either. 

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