Monday, September 29, 2014

Harper (1966)

I'll take The Hustler and Hud over Harper.

American actor Paul Newman made the three films between 1961 and 1966.

Hustler offers a great cast and some fine dialogue, but its tone ranges from comedy to sadistic torture, action and romance.

Los Angeles-based private investigator Lew Harper (Newman) is hired to find a missing rich man, Ralph Sampson. Harper can thank old buddy, and Sampson's lawyer, Albert (Arthur Hill) for the recommendation. Sampson fools around on his wife (Lauren Bacall) and runs with some rough company in the City of Angels. "Water seeks its own level and that should leave Ralph bathing happily somewhere in a sewer," his wife observes. Right, so the relationship between husband and wife is strained. "I only intend to outlive him," Mrs. Sampson suggests. "I don't like him drunk on the loose."

Her relationship with her stepdaughter, Miranda (Pamela Tiffin) is lousy too. Miranda is keen to chase after whatever good looking fella crosses her path. There's Allan Taggert (Robert Wagner), Sampson's private pilot, for one. She is also drawn to Harper. The dysfunctional relationships continue. His wife, Susan (Janet Leigh), wants a divorce. Pronto. Miranda doesn't pay much attention to the middle-aged Albert. He pines for the young lady.

Harper figures Sampson is kidnapped. He tries to figure out who has a hand in his disappearance. Harper soon finds out there's a team of perpetrators who have a hand in his absence. Possible suspects include past-prime Hollywood starlet Fay Estabrook (Shelley Winters), now eager to dance and down as much booze as she can.

Newman doesn't strike me as the private eye type. Harper is cynical, smart and, with regards to his soon to be ex, cold. Leigh's character doesn't get to do much. Miranda is nowhere to be found near the film's end.

Movie special effects have come a long way since 1966. Those fake backdrops when Newman is driving his sports car are really, really distracting.

This is good, not great, Newman.

RATING: 7/10

FUN FACTS: Frank Sinatra was going to star as Harper.

Director Jack Smight also directed Midway, Airport 1975 and four episodes of the original Twilight Zone series including The Night of the Meek.

Lauren Bacall wouldn't make another movie until Murder on the Orient Express in 1974.

Arthur Hill was the narrator of Something Wicked This Way Comes.

The Drowning Pool was Harper's sequel.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010)

Reel Popcorn Junkie occasionally reviews more recent fare. This is one of those films.

I remember hearing rave reviews about Cave of Forgotten Dreams when this documentary was released four years ago. This title was quickly snapped up when I happened upon it on the shelf at my public library last week.

This film from German director Werner Herzog (Fitzcarraldo, Aguirre, The Wrath of God) is essential viewing.

A cave, sealed off for 20,000 years following a rock slide, is found by a trio of French explorers in 1994. They find the earliest known paintings, in this case wall drawings of animals, made by man. There's images of horses, bison, rhinoceros and a bird in flight.

The thought behind the art is incredible. Cave of Forgotten Dreams suggests ideas these artists had are represented in works by 20th century man, including animation. The artists from years ago considered the contours of the cave walls in the presentation of their art. Two overlapping drawings were made 5,000 years apart. Incredible.

There's related explorations of weapons used by our forefathers and early musical instruments, including a flute that can do a very nice rendition of The Star Spangled Banner. A spear launcher is an impressive example of early engineering, giving added oomph to efforts to bring home the day's dinner.

The questions raised about early man's creative efforts are thought provoking.

The crystal formations, made over hundreds of years after the cave was sealed, are spellbinding too.

Part history, art and evolution lesson, Cave of Forgotten Dreams is a great film.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Nobody's Fool (1994)

There's a lot of big problems in this small town.

Sully (Paul Newman) is cheesed off at Tip Top Construction owner Carl Roebuck (Bruce Willis) for not paying compensation after he fell from scaffolding and wrecked his left knee.

Roebuck cheats on his wife, Toby (Melanie Griffith), with a string of bimbos who work in his office.

Going back a few years, Sully walked out on his wife and son , Peter (Dylan Walsh). His offspring is still hurting from his desertion when he comes back home with his family to spend time with his mother and stepfather for Thanksgiving. Peter's relationship with his better half isn't sparkling either, with tight finances putting a strain on their relationship.

Sully rents an apartment from Miss Beryl (Jessica Tandy), his Grade 8 teacher. She misses her late husband, expects the Grim Reaper is closing in on her and is embarrassed by her son, Clive, Jr. (Josef Summer). He's keen on making money, not much else. Sully calls him The Bank.

But the dysfunction doesn't end there.

When Peter's wife leaves him, Sully's son starts working odd jobs with the old man. That rubs Sully's usual partner, Rub (Pruitt Taylor Vince), the wrong way. He wants things to be the way they were before.

Sully still seethes at how his father treated his mother. He's let the home he inherited fall into disrepair and back taxes.

Sully isn't on good terms with Officer Raymer (Philip Seymour Hoffman) either. His glove compartment is stuffed with driving infractions.

With all these scenarios in play, Nobody's Fool is at times funny, touching and frustrating look at life in a small town. I could accept director Robert Benton's celebration of the community's eccentricities for about three-quarters of the film, but boy do things start to get a little weird around the 75-minute mark. Sully's reaction to Rub getting upset over work conditions, his clash with Raymer and strange behaviour at a strip poker game test my patience.

For great dialogue like this:

"You know what mom's worst fear is?" Peter asks his dad. "That your life has been fun."

Sully: "Tell her not to worry."

Peter: "Sometimes I think you did the smart thing just running away."

Sully: "I only got about five blocks."

Audiences have to put up with this:

Sully's often saccharine efforts to make a connection with his grandson, Will (Alexander Goodwin). A scene with Will carrying an artificial limb to its rightful owner just feels phony.

Carl, for all his philandering, still has some sharp insights into Sully's life. He's still fighting the memory of his father. The rundown condition of his home may very well mirror his physical, and mental condition, after skipping out on his family.

Newman is soft-spoken as Sully, a man approaching retirement age who gets a chance to turn his life around. Tandy waits patiently for Sully's rebirth, despite her son's pleas to have the ne'er do well turfed from her home.

Nobody's Fool is pleasant, but not essential Newman.

RATING: 7.5/10

FUN FACTS: Nobody's Fool is dedicated to Tandy's memory. She died several months before the film's release.

Hoffman was in five films in 1994 including When a Man Loves a Woman.

Josef Sommer made his debut in Dirty Hary.

Alexander Goodwin's film and TV career was brief with six credits between 1994 and 1998.

Other actors making their film debuts in Nobody's Fool are Catherine Dent, as Peter's wife, and Angelica Page, one of Carl's floozies.

Newman and Benton teamed up again for Twilight in 1998.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Winning (1969)

Winning ends up losing when it comes to must-see Paul Newman films.

Reel Popcorn Junkie has featured reviews of the several movies by the late American actor in recent weeks.

The Hustler, The Verdict and Hud are all essential viewing.

Winning doesn't come close to driving its way into the championship circle.

Race car driver Frank Capua (Paul Newman) lives his life in motels as he travels to different competitions. He happens upon Elora (Joanne Woodward) working at an Avis Rent a Car agency after he wins a competition. I'm not sure how many woman would drive off with an intoxicated man they've just met late at night, but Elora does. They're smitten with each other. Elora and Frank high tail it out of town. Frank proposes. Talk about a fast courtship.

Elora's teenage son, Charley (Richard Thomas), joins the couple. He and Frank hit it off. But the wheels fall off the honeymoon period pretty quick. Elora grows weary of just how much time hubby Frank spends on his vehicle. Well, he did say he'd be really busy at the track. "He just wants to win," she laments. "He doesn't care what the stakes are." His racing partner, Lou (Robert Wanger) has an eye for the ladies. "Waking up to somebody you recognize can be too much of a good thing," Lou suggests. Not even Elora is exempt from his bed-hopping escapades. This dalliance makes Frank's life tricky. He's caught his closest racing buddy fooling around with his new wife.

Frank glares a lot, and looks intense, but doesn't say a lot about being cheated on. But he does want to beat Lou in Indianapolis. Bad.

Director James Goldstone embraces plenty of quick cuts during the film's race scenes. I found his most effective work was when hordes of well-wishers descend on Capua after he wins a race. Everyone wants his attention. The scene is crowded with many people and lots of noise. That helps make up for another scene where Newman pulls into the pit during a race and experiences a montage of crash scenes. Odd.

What's most interesting about Winning is what happened off-screen.

Newman was already a race fan prior to filming this 1969 release. But he embraced the chance to learn more about the sport and proved to be a quick learner behind the wheel, Lawrence Quirk writes in his biography of King Cool.

RATING: 7/10

FUN FACTS: Richard Thomas started work in television in 1956, but Winning was his first film role.

Maxine Stuart appears as Miss Redburne's mother. She appeared in a classic Twilight Zone episode, Eye of the Beholder.

Look for several race stars in Winning including Bobby Hunser, Dan Gurney and Roger McCluskey.

Director James Goldstone directed two episodes of Star Trek, What Are Little Girls Made Of? and Where No Man Has Gone Before.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Verdict (1982)

The Verdict is in.

This courtroom drama from director Sidney Lumet boasts one of Paul Newman's finest performances.

He's brilliant as washed up Boston lawyer Frank Galvin. This member of the bar has only tried four cases in the last three years and lost all of them. His secretary is long gone. His office is a mess. Galvin spends a lot of time in bars. He smokes a lot. Galvin makes cold calls to funeral homes during wakes trying to drum up business.

Friend Mickey Morrissey (Jack Warden) sends a case his way to help him out. Sally and Kevin Doneghy (Roxanne Hart, James Hardy) want to sue the Archdiocese of Boston. Sally's sister went into cardiac arrest while giving birth. She is unresponsive in hospital. The Doneghys contend the woman's doctors are responsible for the life-altering incident.

Morrissey figures Galvin can't lose. "I got you a good case," he tells him. "It's a moneymaker." He'll cut a settlement with the archdiocese, get a nice chunk of cash for his efforts and use the proceeds to help him in retirement.

But Galvin is struck by just how drastic his client's injuries are. He decides he'll take the case to court, even though he's offered a hefty cheque to settle. "I came here to take your money," Galvin admits during his meeting with the archdiocese. "I can't take it. If I take the money, I'm lost. I'll just be a rich ambulance chaser." The Doneghys are outraged. They want to start a new life after several years of caring for Sally's sister. Galvin struggles to find witnesses who can help him win his case. Dr. Gruber (Lewis Stadlen) is initially eager to help Galvin out, but he skips town when it's crunch time.

Galvin, working only with Morrissey, is up against a formidable opponent. His legal adversary, Ed Concannon (James Mason), has a small army of lawyers to help him win his case. Morrissey calls Concannon "the prince of f------ darkness." His firm doesn't fight fair either. Ethics is an interesting part of The Verdict. Galvin and Morrissey repeatedly lie to get the information they need. At what point is such dishonesty wrong? Is it OK for Galvin because he's trying to help a woman who's in such rough shape?

Newman is very convincing depicting Galvin's desperation, especially when Gruber disappears. The Verdict scored five Oscar nominations, but not one for Julie Bovasso. As nurse Maureen Rooney, she knows what happened to Doneghy's sister. The screen crackles with tension when Galvin confronts her. There's some good clashes between Galvin and Judge Hoyle (Milo O'Shea). Hoyle doesn't mince words when it comes to what he thinks about Galvin's performance in the courtroom. But Galvin knows a few things about Hoyle's past too.

Readers, let me know what you think about the jury's decision. It seemed hard to believe to me. But maybe that closing speech by Galvin had an impact.

Reel Popcorn Junkie has reviewed several of Newman's films in recent weeks. The Verdict is tops. See this film.

RATING: 9/10

FUN FACTS: Edward Binns, who appears as Bishop Brophy, also appeared in Patton, North By Northwest and Fail-Safe. Mason was in North By Northwest too.

Look closely for Bruce Willis as a courtroom observer. I missed him, but I thought I saw John Goodman. Internet Movie Database does not back up what I thought my eyes saw.

The Verdict was nominated for best picture, actor, supporting actor, director and screenplay. This fine drama didn't win one Oscar. Gandhi, Ben Kingsley, Louis Gossett, Jr., Richard Attenborough and Missing won.