Keeping Up with the Classics #4

Warner Bros.

As COVID-19 keeps all of us indoors, I've taken advantage of the time by viewing as many films as humanly possible.

These are the films I viewed for the first time over the past week:

Alice (Dir. Woody Allen, 1990) - This sweet 1990 trifle from Woody Allen found him riffing on Fellini's JULIET OF THE SPIRITS and casting the ever-reliable Mia Farrow in the lead. While not Allen's best, ALICE is worth viewing for Farrow and a few inventive touches from Allen.

All Night Long (Dir. Jean-Claude Tramont, 1981) - Rarely have two charismatic actors with four Oscars between them (Gene Hackman and Barbra Streisand) been stuck in a film as lifeless and unfunny as Jean-Claude Tramont's ALL NIGHT LONG. There's nothing kind that can really be said about this film, as it doesn't even rise to the level of so-bad-it's-funny.

Altered States (Dir. Ken Russell, 1980) - Ken Russell can always be counted on for something unusual, and on that front (and most others), ALTERED STATES does not disappoint. Telling the story of a scientist (William Hurt) who experiments with hallucinogenic drugs in an isolation chamber to find other states of consciousness, ALTERED STATES is a genuinely exhilarating and disturbing trip of a film that speaks to Russell's unique ability to make something seemingly incoherent completely coherent.

Carnal Knowledge (Dir. Mike Nichols, 1971) - Controversial in its day, Mike Nichols' CARNAL KNOWLEDGE is still frank, but its impact has been dulled. That isn't to say the film is without its merits, though, as it is well-lensed by Giuseppe Rotunno, and every actor is committed to their respective performance.

Ghost (Dir. Jerry Zucker, 1990) - Successfully blending numerous genres into one moving and funny whole, Jerry Zucker's 1990 smash-hit, GHOST, works on almost all levels. While one or two plot points are too obvious, GHOST is overall surprisingly clever, and Whoopi Goldberg's Oscar-winning performance as a medium lights up the film whenever she's onscreen.

Gone Baby Gone (Dir. Ben Affleck, 2007) - Ben Affleck's directorial debut, GONE BABY GONE, is also his best. A gritty, twisty, thought-provoking thriller in which two private detectives (Casey Affleck and Michele Monaghan - both phenomenal) are hired to find a kidnapped girl, GONE BABY GONE works best when going in knowing nothing. Every single performance is top-notch, but curiously, Amy Ryan's performance, as the kidnapped girl's troubled mother, earned the film its only (well-deserved) Oscar nomination.

The Holiday (Dir. Nancy Meyers, 2006) - A lovely dramedy in which everything gets tied up perfectly with a bow, Nancy Meyers' THE HOLIDAY is overlong at 135 minutes and not nearly as insightful and personal as her other films, but it still manages to charm largely thanks to its stellar cast led by Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, Jude Law, and Jack Black (Eli Wallach's supporting role is one of the film's highlights as well).

Insomnia (Dir. Christopher Nolan, 2002) - Immediately following his ingenious 2000 thriller, MEMENTO, Christopher Nolan directed this taut, morally complex neo-noir that features one of Al Pacino's most intense performances as a sleep-deprived L.A. cop hired to investigate the murder of a young woman in Alaska. Each set piece is stunningly executed, and Dody Dorn's precise editing deserves special commendation.

It's Complicated (Dir. Nancy Meyers, 2009) - Obviously drawing from her life as a middle-aged divorcee, Nancy Meyers created one of her funniest and most uncomfortably honest films with IT'S COMPLICATED, a rom-com about a woman (Meryl Streep) who begins an affair with her ex-husband (Alec Baldwin) while falling for her architect (Steve Martin). As usual with Meyers' films, the cast is as good as it gets, and they're all obviously having a blast with the material.

Love Story (Dir. Arthur Hiller, 1970) - Best known for its idiotic line, "Love means never having to say you're sorry," the predictable, manipulative, yet massively successful LOVE STORY isn't a hard or unpleasant film to watch, but rather a very bland one that's generically crafted. Ryan O'Neal and Ali McGraw's chemistry is strong, but her spunky screen presence is far more interesting than his (they both inexplicably received Oscar nominations, and the film itself was even nominated for Best Picture).

Mystic River (Dir. Clint Eastwood, 2003) - Clint Eastwood's devastating Boston-set tragedy about childhood friends who reunite when one of their daughters is kidnapped, MYSTIC RIVER features flawless work from its entire cast (Sean Penn and Tim Robbins won Oscars, Marcia Gay Harden was nominated, and Kevin Bacon was left out for some reason) and director. MYSTIC RIVER begins somewhat quietly before building into something so powerful that it left a sick feeling in my stomach.

The Parent Trap (Dir. Nancy Meyers, 1998) - After years of writing and producing films, Nancy Meyers stepped behind the camera herself to direct a remake of Disney's beloved 1961 film, THE PARENT TRAP, giving audiences a taste of the commercially-friendly, personal, heartwarming films that would follow. This remake is both more emotionally resonant than its predecessor and very reverent to it (the original film's writer/director, David Swift, co-wrote the film with the then-husband-and-wife team of Meyers and Charles Shyer), and serves also as a showcase for a very young Lindsay Lohan (this was her film debut) who gives two bravura performances as twins Annie and Hallie.

Parting Shots (Dir. Michael Winner, 1999) - Routinely listed as one of the worst films of all time, Michael Winner's final film, PARTING SHOTS, about a terminally ill man who decides to murder all of the people who have wronged him before his death, is certainly stupid and poorly-crafted but not quite as horrific as its reputation. What's most mystifying about PARTING SHOTS is the fact that actors like Diana Rigg, Bob Hoskins, Joanna Lumley, Oliver Reed, John Cleese, and Ben Kingsley agreed to appear in it.

Shining Through (Dir. David Seltzer, 1992) - One of two 1992 films that won Melanie Griffith the Worst Actress Razzie (the film itself won Worst Picture), SHINING THROUGH is a well-made but stupendously stupid WWII spy film in which Griffith plays a supposedly-smart (but incredibly illogical) half-Jewish American who goes undercover in Nazi Germany. None of the character actions make any sense, and Michael Douglas tries desperately to give this movie some sense of dignity but ultimately fails, largely due to the incompetence of the screenplay and his co-star.

Something's Gotta Give (Dir. Nancy Meyers, 2003) - Nancy Meyers is one of the auteurs who never gets enough credit, and SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE is prime evidence. Kindly-reviewed but not rapturously-received (though hugely successful commercially), SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE is an insightful, awkward, and broadly comedic film about finding love past middle age that feels like the work of someone who genuinely cares about their material. Jack Nicholson and an Oscar-nominated Diane Keaton lead an excellent cast and give rich, lived-in performances that complement each other wonderfully, and Meyers' script sparkles.

Star 80 (Dir. Bob Fosse) - Bob Fosse's final film tells the story of murdered model and actress Dorothy Stratten (Mariel Hemingway) and her abusive husband, Paul Snider (Eric Roberts). As with Fosse's other films, STAR 80 is an exploration of self-destruction, and the performances he gets out of Hemingway and Roberts are nothing short of astonishing. Abusive relationships have rarely been depicted with such sad, sickening accuracy as in this STAR 80.

A Stranger Among Us (Dir. Sidney Lumet, 1992) - If Melanie Griffith playing a tough NYC cop going undercover in the Brooklyn Hasidic Jewish community to solve a murder sounds preposterous, that's because it is, and it forms the premise of this misbegotten Sidney Lumet-directed would-be thriller. Griffith doesn't convince for a second (she won a Razzie for both this and SHINING THROUGH), but the laughably on-the-nose dialogue given to her by Robert J. Averch does her no favors. A STRANGER AMONG US is basically a poor man's WITNESS except with unintentional laughter.

Tommy (Dir. Ken Russell, 1975) - Based on The Who's classic rock opera, Ken Russell's surreal film adaptation winds up being too much of a good thing by its mid-point, but there's enough that's worthwhile in TOMMY to make it enjoyable on the whole. The highlight of this odd and silly musical is Ann-Margret's Oscar-nominated performance. She dives into this material like most actors do with Shakespeare, giving a performance of depth, devotion, and gut-wrenching emotion.

What Women Want (Dir. Nancy Meyers, 2000) - The only film Nancy Meyers directed that she didn't also write, WHAT WOMEN WANT is a painfully generic romantic comedy that coasts along for a while thanks to Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt's delightful perofmrnaues but ultimately buckles under the weight of its overlong running time as well as its lack of originality.

The Year of Living Dangerously (Dir. Peter Weir, 1982) - A ground-level view of the political unrest in 1965 Indonesia, THE YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY is a smart, compelling drama and a phenomenal showcase for the talents of Linda Hunt, a woman cast as a man (she won an Oscar for this performance). Her performance goes far deeper than what could easily have been dismissed as stunt casting, though; she creates a three-dimensional character that's the heart and soul of the film and steals the spotlight from her co-stars, Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver - two actors of estimable talents.