Keeping Up with the Classics #7

LUST, CAUTION - Focus Features

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:

The American President (Dir. Rob Reiner, 1995) - As witty as any of Aaron Sorkin's other works, this sweet, intelligent romance about a widower president (Michael Douglas) who falls for an environmental lobbyist (Annette Bening) would make even the hardest-hearted person smile. Douglas and Bening's chemistry is wonderful, and Rob Reiner's direction keeps the film moving at a brisk pace.

Fletch (Dir. Michael Ritchie, 1985) - Chevy Chase and his disguises try hard to save this mystery-comedy, but he is let down by an unfunny, leaden screenplay that is neither quick-witted nor smart enough to really work.

Hester Street (Dir. Joan Micklin Silver, 1975) - Carol Kane earned an Oscar nomination for her performance as a Jewish immigrant who moves with her young son to the Lower East Side of New York City in the late 19th Century to join her philandering husband in this black-and-white drama that has charm to spare but not enough substance.

The Late Show (Dir. Robert Benton, 1977) - Robert Benton's oddball mystery film has curiously fallen by the wayside over the past few decades which is a shame because it's genuinely clever (its screenplay was Oscar-nominated) and features two excellent performances from Art Carney and Lily Tomlin as a tired gumshoe and a hippie who's lost her cat and draws Carney's character into the main mystery.

Melvin and Howard (Dir. Jonathan Demme, 1980) - A slight but lovely little film about a poor milkman (Paul Le Mat) who is named as a beneficiary of Howard Hughes' (Jason Robards) fortune, MELVIN AND HOWARD is ultimately worth a watch for its extraordinary performances (Mary Steenburgen won an Oscar, and Robards and Le Mat make the most of Bo Goldman's Oscar-winning screenplay).

Prizzi's Honor (Dir. John Huston, 1985) - This pitch-black comedy about an Italian mafia hitman (Jack Nicholson) who falls for a woman (Kathleen Turner) who turns out to be a hitwoman is an uproarious and well-plotted film from one of cinema's finest filmmakers, John Huston. The performances from top to bottom are brilliant (Anjelica Huston won an Oscar), and Huston's directorial hand is as sure as ever. PRIZZI'S HONOR certainly won't be for everyone what with its frequent mix of disturbing content and comedy, but it will be catnip for those who love their comedies as dark as they come.

The Pumpkin Eater (Dir. Jack Clayton, 1964) - Creatively brought to life by unsung director Jack Clayton and a titanic Anne Bancroft performance (she won the BAFTA, Golden Globe, and Cannes Film Festival Awards for Best Actress and was nominated for the Oscar), THE PUMPKIN EATER is a deep dive into a depressed woman's psyche that's both depressing and artistically exhilarating.

Still of the Night (Dir. Robert Benton, 1982) - A Hitchcock ripoff with no originality, STILL OF THE NIGHT wastes good performances from Roy Scheider and Meryl Streep, atmospheric cinematography from Néstor Almendros, and sharp editing by Jerry Greenberg and Bill Pankow.

NOTABLE RE-WATCH: Lust, Caution (Dir. Ang Lee, 2007) - LUST, CAUTION is one of Ang Lee's strongest films but has never gotten its due. With two phenomenal performances from Tang Wei and Tony Leung Chiu-wai and a meticulous attention to detail, this NC-17-rated spy thriller is a wrenching gem about the emotional cost of espionage.