Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Recent Viewings

Thought I'd give some updates on some of the recent movies I've seen, which have shuffled through the "Last 5 watched" list on the right.

'The Osterman Weekend'
I was interested to see this as it is Sam Peckinpah's final movie. Probably my favorite director, Peckinpah's films all had the same theme of characters who were pushed to the edge by double-crosses and back-stabbing until finally they said 'screw it, I'm doing it my way.'
'Osterman' is no different in this respect and has a great cast of a young Rutger Hauer (a rare non-psycho role for him), Craig T. Nelson, Dennis Hopper and Burt Lancaster. You even get to see Meg Foster, who is best-known as one of the main characters in They Live, as well as having the freakiest eyes you'll ever see.
'Osterman' centers around John Tanner (Hauer), an investigative journalist who thinks he may have landed the story of his life when CIA agent Fassett approaches him and tells him of three suspected Soviet spies living in the U.S. Just one catch: they're three of John's friends who are coming over for the weekend. In exchange for Fassett coming on his show, Tanner must help turn his friends over to our side. What follows is a tense, emotional couple of days where the true intentions of Fassett are revealed.
'Osterman' holds up well because a large part of the plot is how television can manipulate the truth. Hauer and Nelson are fantastic, but I thought the movie was too short to really flesh out the overly-thick plot (adapted from the Robert Ludlum novel), which gets very confusing.

This movie also falls in the class of an older film that would resonate more with audiences today than when it was originally released. Peter Bagdonovich's first real turn as a director, 1968's Targets blew the doors off conservative America with a story that seems a little too realistic today.
Bobby is a clean-cut young man who, along with his wife, live at home with his parents. His existence is pure starched collar and TV dinner: he calls his dad 'sir,' is told by his mom not to stay up too late and lives in a house with nary a crumb on the floor. But Bobby also has a cache of guns in the trunk of his Mustang convertible and a brooding anger that just won't go away. One day, Bobby kills his wife and family, then heads to a water tower so he can pick people off on the freeway. His night won't be over until he heads to a packed drive-in and continues his marksmanship from behind the screen.
The other story in 'Targets' concerns the character Byron Orlock, a fictional horror actor played by Boris Karloff. Orlock is attending the drive-in that night as the premiere for his final movie and he will have a great deal to say in how Bobby's night ends.
What I liked most about 'Targets' was that there was no attempt to explain Bobby's actions. I read a synopsis that said he was a Vietnam vet but saw no evidence in the film. When he is hauled away by police, the only thing he can say is 'I barely missed!' Bagdonovich takes great care to show that Bobby appears as a wholesome person (he even packs himself a sandwich and Dr. Pepper to have on the water tower). Audiences in 1968 were probably by such a frank depiction of random violence, but viewers today would see it as reality, since such violence is depicted regularly in the media.

'Billy Jack'
This was a nice surprise for me. I had little experience with anti-authority, pro-pacifist hippie movies, but this has to be one of the best. Billy Jack tells the story of its title character, a half white, half Indian ex-Green Beret who protects an Indian reservation and a liberal school located on it. The townies aren't too fond of the Indians, and when they try and push them out of their ice cream shops, Billy Jack is there to unleash some kung fu justice on them.
While there's plenty of action in it, 'Billy Jack' is still a hardy anti-violence movie because the Indians do not fight back as they know they cannot win and while Billy kicks his share of ass, he quickly discovers that it is a fruitless fight.
The uneasy tensions in this Arizona town come to a head when a hard-ass policeman's daughter runs away to the school on the reservation and falls in love with an Indian boy. Bad news. While trying to protect their newest student, the Indian school also tries to be accepted by the square townies, who view them as long-haired hippies.
The Indian school specializes in dramatics and actually much of the film was filmed via improvisation, giving it an even more realistic feel. Look for a young, shaggy Howard Hesseman as one of the school's performers.

'The Bank Dick'
Another nice surprise, as it was tragically my first W.C. Fields movie. It's amazing to think that Fields died two years after this was made, in 1942, because he seems so vibrant and lively in The Bank Dick. .Fields plays Egbert Souse, a clumsy drinker who is reviled by his wife, mother-in-law and daughters who he lives with. Souse's daily routine is a trip to The Black Pussy Cat Cafe (you don't see that name often enough these days), where he indulges in the various adult beverages they have to offer. But today he stumbles onto the set of a movie, where he ends up directing and then catches a pair of bank robbers. Now in his debt, the bank offers him a cushy job as the 'bank dick,' which is still not cushy enough for Souse
Watching Fields, it's easy to see the comics that have been inspired by him. The most obvious is Stephen Root's character Jimmy James on the much-loved sitcom 'News Radio,' it's almost a carbon copy of Fields' trademark bumbling annoying ways.

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