Keeping Up with the Classics #5

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. This past week brought a Peter Weir marathon as well as a glut of Woody Allen films. Weir's filmography is one of the strongest in modern cinema, so if you haven't explored his films, I strongly suggest you do so.

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

The Accused (Dir. Jonathan Kaplan, 1988) - A generic "issue" movie with an Earth-shaking Jodie Foster in the lead (she won her first Oscar for this performance), THE ACCUSED is more an important film than a great one, as its treatment of the subject of rape victims is didactic and unsubtle. There's no overstating just how brilliant Foster is though.

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 1974) - Ellen Burstyn won a well-deserved Oscar for her sharp and emotional performance as Alice, a recently-widowed single mother who goes on a road trip with her precocious son trying to find some stability in her life. Finely-observed and empathetically-written, ALICE is a film that earns its ultimate uplift and takes us on a rewarding journey to get there.

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (Dir. Paul Mazursky, 1969) - BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE examines two couple's relationships and sexual attitudes at the height of the sexual revolution and provides a remarkably positive view of open relationships, making it feel decades ahead of its time. This film wouldn't work though without the incomparable talents of its leading four actors: Natalie Wood, Robert Culp, Dyan Cannon, and Elliott Gould. They bring Mazursky's material to rich, palpable life which makes this dramedy feel as relevant and fresh today as it must have felt in 1969.

Body Heat (Dir. Lawrence Kasdan, 1981) - BODY HEAT is a scintillating directorial debut for Kasdan that's full of atmosphere and eroticism. William Hurt and Kathleen Turner's chemistry ignites the screen, and Kasdan's screenplay (inspired by DOUBLE INDEMNITY) spins a clever tale that always has a trick up its sleeve. BODY HEAT is pure entertainment and cinematic pleasure.

Circus of Books (Dir. Rachel Mason, 2020) - Rachel Mason's loving portrait of her parents, a straight Jewish couple - Karen and Barry - who owned a gay porn shop in Los Angeles, is sometimes messy but always fascinating and eccentric. Karen and Barry are hugely likable subjects, and the story that their daughter tells through this film is both intimate and epic.

The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing (Dir. Wendy Apple, 2004) - An invaluable documentary about the art of film editing, THE CUTTING EDGE features interviews with numerous top film editors (and directors too) discussing their contributions to many of the classic films that they helped to craft. You'll leave with a new appreciation for the art of editing.

The Day of the Dolphin (Dir. Mike Nichols, 1973) - The fact that this cinematic turd was written by Buck Henry and directed by Mike Nichols is astonishing given how dull it is. Led by George C. Scott as a scientist teaching dolphins English, THE DAY OF THE DOLPHIN completely wastes him and gives the audience very little narrative to grab onto until 15 minutes before the end. Its "big reveal" is so preposterous, though, that it makes the preceding 85 minutes even more infuriating.

The Delta Force (Dir. Menahem Golan, 1986) - It's not what anyone would call "good," but schlockmeister Menahem Golan's Chuck Norris-starrer, THE DELTA FORCE, about the titular group saving passengers on a hijacked airplane is ridiculously entertaining cheese.

Everyone Says I Love You (Dir. Woody Allen, 1996) - This overstuffed but amusing Woody Allen musical is sometimes joyous, sometimes creepy, but always watchable. The plainly-staged dance numbers are genuinely joyous.

Fearless (Dir. Peter Weir, 1993) - One of Peter Weir's finest films, FEARLESS, adapted by Rafael Yglesias from his novel of the same name, tells the story of a man (Jeff Bridges) who miraculously survives a plane crash, leaving him a changed person without any fear. Jeff Bridges and Rosie Perez (Oscar-nominated) bring their characters to life with psychological astuteness and deep emotion, and Weir's typically-inventive visual style meshes beautifully with the material. FEARLESS is a profound gem about the effects of incredible circumstances on the human psyche and how hard it is to live normally again.

Gallipoli (Dir. Peter Weir, 1981) - An anti-war film about two Australian runners who enlist to fight in WWI at Gallipoli, this early effort from Peter Weir is visually gorgeous and wrenchingly performed by Mark Lee and Mel Gibson. The last shot will stay with you.

Green Card (Dir. Peter Weir, 1990) - A rare comedy from Weir, the amiable and sweet GREEN CARD coasts along on the immense pleasures of watching Andie MacDowell and Gérard Depardieu fall for each other. Hans Zimmer's eclectic score is one of his finest.

Heartburn (Dir. Mike Nichols, 1986) - Another misfire from Mike Nichols, this Nora Ephron-penned semi-autobiographical film about her tumultuous marriage to Carl Bernstein should have been brilliant, especially with Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson in the leads, but it settles for being pointless and lifeless. Ephron was too close to her material to give it the proper perspective it needed, and the result is a film with two good performances and not much else.

The Last Wave (Dir. Peter Weir, 1977) - Peter Weir managed to stretch a very low budget admirably with THE LAST WAVE, and Richard Chamberlain is strong in the lead, but the rest of this mystery is too narratively muddled to fully engage.

Manhattan Murder Mystery (Dir. Woody Allen, 1993) - While it may have been released in 1993, MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY feels like a vintage Woody Allen film, likely because it is based on the original idea that turned into ANNIE HALL. Woody Allen and Diane Keaton's neurotic energy and chemistry has never been better, and watching them bicker as a married couple turned amateur sleuths is delightful.

A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy (Dir. Woody Allen, 1982) - Most notable for Gordon Willis' warm, evocative cinematography, Woody Allen's A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S SEX COMEDY may not have the weight of some of his other films of this period, but it is a nonetheless enjoyable farce with winning performances from its cast.

The Mosquito Coast (Dir. Peter Weir, 1986) - THE MOSQUITO COAST is yet another Peter Weir film that's devastatingly underrated, exploring what happens when humans try to play God. Harrison Ford gives quite possibly his best performance as an inventor who moves his family to the Amazon to create a utopian society after becoming fed up with America. He captures his unlikable character's flawed psyche and humanity fully and carries much of the film on his shoulders. Paul Schrader's screenplay is provocative and thought-provoking, and the filmmaking craft is stunning.

Panic Room (Dir. David Fincher, 2002) - PANIC ROOM is as meticulously-crafted as Fincher's other work but is let down by a generic home invasion plot that's rarely thrilling or surprising. That being said, Jodie Foster, Forest Whitaker, and a young Kristen Stewart give the film their all, grounding it in a humanity that goes a long way.

Picnic at Hanging Rock (Dir. Peter Weir, 1975) - Peter Weir's PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK is a triumph of style and atmosphere, detailing the mysterious disappearance of a few young women while on a school picnic in rural Australia at the turn of the century. PICNIC is narratively sparse, but Weir's tremendous control over his haunting tale leaves a lasting impact.

The War of the Roses (Dir. Danny DeVito, 1989) - Danny DeVito's stylized and savage dark comedy about a happily married couple whose marriage sours is deeply demented but always hilarious, largely thanks to Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas' committed, perfectly-calibrated performances. As the stakes get higher, the film becomes increasingly outrageous and intense, culminating in an insane climax for the ages.

The Wedding Banquet (Dir. Ang Lee, 1993) - THE WEDDING BANQUET is an early work from Ang Lee that showed audiences what they could come to expect from the acclaimed director later on, namely sensitive and poignant stories filled with empathy and love. Oscar-nominated for Best International Feature, the film tells the story of a Taiwanese man living in New York City who decides to marry a woman to hide the fact that he's in a longterm relationship with a man from his traditionalist parents. Unpredictable and emotionally honest, THE WEDDING BANQUET is, at its core, a moving depiction of gay love that's positive, thoughtful, and uplifting.

What's Up, Tiger Lily? ("Aided and Abetted" by Woody Allen, 1966) - Woody Allen took a Japanese film and dubbed it with English-speaking actors, creating a ridiculous new plot and characters for his first film. While undoubtedly a funny premise, the execution is so slapdash that it makes the 80 minutes of WHAT'S UP, TIGER LILY? insufferable.