Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Secret Lives of Dentists (2002)

RATING: 7/10

Here's a film with some bite.


But viewers be warned. This 2002 effort from director Alan Rudolph (Songwriter, Breakfast of Champions) isn't your typical straightforward narrative.

Dentist David Hurst (Campbell Scott) regularly slips into some type of dream world, or alternate reality, as he ponders the likelihood his wife of 10 years, Dana (Hope Davis), is having an affair.

David isn't the most animated chap. Maybe that's why he gravitates to Slater (Denis Leary), a cranky musician who has had his fill of dentists, pardon the pun, and has just been shown the door by his wife.

THE STRAIGHT, UNVARNISHED TRUTH Slater doesn't sugercoat things. He calls out Hurst when he sees him at a concert. His filling, recently put in by Hurst, has fallen out. Slater's more than happy to highlight the failing to the well-heeled crowd.

That turns out to be a less-than-stellar night for Hurst. Before the concert, he spots Dana getting a little too close with a man whose face he can't see.

But Hurst is reluctant to confront Dana about what he saw. If the marriage ends, that means heading to the lawyer's office and hammering out child custody and other unpleasant details he'd rather avoid.

It's Slater who keeps showing up in Hurst's subconscious. The realist to Hurst's status quo stance? The one who'd like to do what Hurst fears?


The slow pace of The Secret Lives of Dentists may irk some. A good chunk of the final third of the film centres on illness hitting the Hursts and their three daughters.

Is it the flu or is everyone taking an ill turn because their bodies are reacting to the chill in relations between husband and wife? Dana noted earlier her world seems to have grown smaller since tying the knot. Spending five days throwing up in her house offers ample proof of this observation.

Much is made of the resiliency of teeth at the film's start. Can a marriage last as long?

FUN FACTS: Hope Davis made her film debut in Flatliners with Kiefer Sutherland in 1990. She appeared as a ticket agent in Home Alone the same year.

The Hurst children are played by Gianna Beleno, Lydia Jordan and Cassidy Hinkle. The Secret Lives of Dentists was the only film role for Beleno besides two television credits. The drama marked the debuts of Jordan and Hinkle.

Alan Rudolph hasn't directed a film since The Secret Lives of Dentists.

Both Scott and Leary will appear in The Amazing Spider-Man.

The film is based on Jane Smiley's book.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Petrified Forest (1936)

RATING: 8/10

The Petrified Forest breathed life into the-then sagging careers of Humphrey Bogart and Bette Davis.

The mid-1930s was hardly a highpoint for either legendary performer, as the film's accompanying documentary, The Petrified Forest: Menace in the Desert, explains.


Bogart, 36, was running out of chances on the big screen after about a dozen roles, inluding appearances in Three on a Match and Midnight, did little to help his chances. Davis was also making little headway five years into a career that began with The Bad Sister in 1931.

Bogart appeared in the stage version of The Petrified Forest. Leading man Leslie Howard (Alan Squier) was adamant Bogie be cast in the film directed by Archie Mayo (Black Legion, A Night in Casablanca).

Howard's stubborness ignited Bogart's career. He'd go on to star in a string of classics including Key Largo, Casablanca and High Sierra. Midler's career would stretch for another 50-plus years ending with her final screen appearance in 1989.

Bogart's a treat to watch in this screen adaptation of Robert Sherwood's play. He's Duke Mantee, a feared gangster with a very bloody past. He's on the run from the law, and bound for Mexico, when he turns up at a restaurant and gas station in the desert.


The desolate business is owned by Jason Maple (Porter Hall), a First World War veteran who's chided by his father, Gramp Maple (Charley Grapewin), for serving behind the lines as a mechanic.

There's a lot of that disillusion in this 1936 drama. Squier is the intellectual who was supposed to be a great writer. He wrote one book and it sold dismally. His wife left him. Squier discovers the restaurant as he hitch-hikes across the United States.

Jason's daughter, Gabrielle, is itching to get back to France where she was born and her mother still lives. She wants to paint. While gas jockey Boze Hertzlinger (Dick Foran) tries to woo Gabrielle, she's more interested in Squier. A former college football star, Boze is far from the glory he enjoyed on the grid iron.

Mantee and his gang hijack a vehicle occupied by banker Mr. Chisholm (Paul Harvey) and his long-suffering wife (Genevieve Tobin). The gangster and his crew end up at Maple's restaurant during a sandstorm. Mr. Chisholm is more interested in business succession than his wife when the bullets eventually start flying.


Will they make it to Mexico ahead of the law? Will Boze and Alan square off over their affections for Gabrielle? Will she see her dream of a life in Europe come true?

The Petrified Forest offers viewers a strong cast and an early look at just how good Bogart and Davis are on the screen. Bogart is a menacing bad guy, speaking slowly and delivering most of his lines seated in a chair. He doesn't make his first appearance until about 30 minutes into the film, but he's riveting for The Petrified Forest's final hour.

More gangster roles would follow for Bogart, including The Roarding Twenties. This is where he started.

FUN FACTS: Director Mayo and Bogart teamed up for Black Legion in 1937. Foran was in that film too.

Genevieve Tobin's last film credit was No Time for Comedy in 1940. She married director William Keighley in 1938. They'd stay together until his death in 1984. Tobin died in 1995 at age 95.

Charley Grapewin was Uncle Henry in The Wizard of Oz and Grandpa in The Grapes of Wrath.