Keeping Up with the Classics #6

20th Century Studios - STRANGE DAYS (1995)

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:

Blue Steel (Dir. Kathryn Bigelow, 1989) - This standard-issue cop thriller is enlivened by Jamie Lee Curtis' strong performance which is matched by Bigelow's assured direction.

Body Snatchers (Dir. Abel Ferrara, 1993) - A grim, efficient remake of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS set at a military base, Abel Ferrara's BODY SNATCHERS is well-acted and highly effective at evoking the paranoia required for this kind of story. The gory visual effects are also spectacularly unnerving.

Cold Mountain (Dir. Anthony Minghella, 2003) - This fast-paced adaptation of the Civil War-set hit novel of the same name features solid performances (Renée Zellweger won her first Oscar for this film) and is immaculately crafted, but Minghella blunts the story's emotional impact by failing to bring much emotion or warmth to this tale of a deserting Confederate soldier (Jude Law, Oscar-nominated) who tries to get back home to his sweetheart (Nicole Kidman).

Coma (Dir. Michael Crichton, 1978) - Geneviève Bujold's intense performance drives Michael Crichton's eerie and weirdly believable thriller about a doctor who begins to suspect a conspiracy when she notices that far too many patients at her hospital are falling into comas. While not high art, COMA is consistently entertaining and fits nicely into the subgenre of '70s paranoid thrillers.

Down and Out in Beverly Hills (Dir. Paul Mazursky, 1986) - Paul Mazursky's best films are insightful studies of human relationships with sharp performances, and while DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS certainly has those sharp performances (from Nick Nolte, Richard Dreyfuss, and Bette Midler), they're wasted on a dull, broad comedy about class.

Ema (Dir. Pablo Larraín, 2020) - Visually striking and totally original, acclaimed Chilean auteur Pablo Larraín's latest, EMA, about a couple (a transfixing Mariana Di Girolamo and the ever-reliable Gael García Bernal) struggling with the emotional fallout of giving up their adopted child after a tragedy, is sensational, stylized, visceral cinema. Larraín has once again made something completely his own.

Freaky Friday (Dir. Gary Nelson, 1976) - The 1976 original is slight but amusing entertainment that works because of Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster, who, after their characters switch bodies, dig into their roles with gusto and look like they're having the time of their lives.

In & Out (Dir. Frank Oz, 1997) - Kevin Kline stars as a closeted Indianan high school teacher who is outed on national TV days before his wedding. An earlier-than-not Hollywood film featuring a completely sympathetic gay character, IN & OUT is a sweet, amiable comedy about self-acceptance and the value of embracing people for who they are. And, Joan Cusack's wickedly funny, Oscar-nominated performance as Kline's fiancée is worth the proverbial price of admission alone.

In a Lonely Place (Dir. Nicholas Ray, 1950) - Dark, dispiriting, and emotionally complex, Nicholas Ray's IN A LONELY PLACE is a high point for film noir that smolders with the palpable chemistry between Humphrey Bogart (possibly his finest hour) and Gloria Grahame. You'll be gutted by the time this unpredictable and tortured mystery is over.

Julia (Dir. Fred Zinnemann, 1977) - As with the rest of Zinnemann's top work, JULIA is crafted with care, performed with verve (Jane Fonda, Oscar-nominated, is the standout, and Vanessa Redgrave won her Oscar for her supporting role), and never boring. This film isn't the astonishing knockout that it could've been, but it's undoubtedly worth a look.

Liza with a "Z" (Dir. Bob Fosse, 1972) - This electrifying television concert filmed on Broadway is simple, short, and brilliant. Starring Liza Minnelli in her prime and proving once again why she is the consummate entertainer, this masterful work is just about top-to-bottom perfection.

Looking for Mr. Goodbar (Dir. Richard Brooks, 1977) - An increasingly disturbing and unpleasant story about a schoolteacher (Diane Keaton) who spends the evenings looking to pick up men in bars, LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR is an essential work of '70s cinema with a gutsy, completely committed performance from Diane Keaton.

Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound (Dir. Midge Costin, 2019) - After viewing MAKING WAVES, you'll never listen to a film the same way again. Detailed and gripping, this documentary breaks down the history of cinematic sound that provided me with a new appreciation for the art form. MAKING WAVES is as good a documentary on cinema as has ever been made.

Near Dark (Dir. Kathryn Bigelow, 1987) - Kathryn Bigelow's vampire road movie, NEAR DARK, is filled with intensity and striking scenes while never forgetting the humanity at its core. THE HURT LOCKER may have been released 22 years after NEAR DARK, but the qualities that made that Oscar-winning opus so great were evident in smaller films like this one.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (Dir. Jack Sholder, 1985) - Anyone expecting the original film was probably disappointed when they got the oddly homoerotic sequel, but if taken on its own terms, this wonderfully weird cult classic deserves much better than its reputation. NIGHTMARE 2 isn't so much scary as it is outrageous fun.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (Dir. Chuck Russell, 1987) - Light on its feet and frequently clever, this third installment in the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series is notable for being the only film until NEW NIGHTMARE starring original lead Heather Langenkamp.

Parenthood (Dir. Ron Howard, 1989) - As deft and honest as American comedies go, Ron Howard's PARENTHOOD is a caring, loving ode to the trials and tribulations of being a parent as well as a story about a father (Steve Martin) learning to enjoy the rollercoaster ride of life. PARENTHOOD is the rare film I didn't want to end.

Point Break (Dir. Kathryn Bigelow, 1991) - POINT BREAK isn't what anyone would call a work of genius, but it is hugely entertaining and features some of Bigelow's most thrilling action sequences.

Serial Mom (Dir. John Waters, 1994) - Kathleen Turner is dynamite as a serial killer suburban mom, but the rest of this satire about America's obsession with crime is tired.

Strange Days (Dir. Kathryn Bigelow, 1995) - When the violent, dazzling STRANGE DAYS bombed at the box office and divided critics in 1995, it nearly spelled the end of Kathryn Bigelow's career, which is a shame because it's one of the greatest, most prophetic sci-fi films of all time and quite possibly her best film. Individual sequences of STRANGE DAYS are mini-masterpieces in and of themselves, and Ralph Fiennes and Angela Bassett are magnetic. STRANGE DAYS will always be a polarizing film, but it's one I fell in love with and intend to view again very soon.

Wes Craven's New Nightmare (Dir. Wes Craven, 1994) - The shot in the arm that Wes Craven's long-running NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series needed, WES CRAVEN'S NEW NIGHTMARE is a meta-horror movie in which actress Heather Langenkamp (lead of the original NIGHTMARE film) is haunted by boogeyman Freddy Krueger in "real life". Filled with wild dream sequences, imaginative gore, and an intelligent screenplay, NEW NIGHTMARE must have been an influence on the many meta-horror films that followed like Craven's own SCREAM and THE CABIN IN THE WOODS.