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Archive for the ‘Vietnam War’ Category

Streamers

04 Apr

Streamers – directed by Robert Altman. Drama. Six soldiers search and weigh their sexuality. 113 minutes Color 1983

★★★★★

Robert Altman became known and remained successful for big cast movies such as M.A.S.H., Nashville, HealtH, Gosford Park, Short Cuts, Ready-To-Wear, and A Wedding. He is less well known for his filming of stage plays.

These are not records of stage productions, although sometimes they involve the original casts and usually involve small casts. They are renderings of the theatre pieces, but are as a rule shot on sets made and lit for filming. If you like Altman’s touch and are interested to witness the sort of performances actors rejoiced to be able to achieve in his pictures, then (apart from  Beyond Therapy, which he confessed not to relate to), these stage versions are entertainments well worth your attention: Secret Honor, A Prairie Home Companion, The Company are some of them.

Another is Come Back To The Five And Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, which was a big hit on the stage where he directed it and because Cher was in it and because it concerned itself with the last days of James Dean and maybe also because it dealt with cross-gender. The cast was brought over into the movie and it was an even bigger hit. Immediately after it was made, Altman filmed David Raab’s Streamers.

Various descriptions of this film refer to it as a Vietnam War piece, which is strange, since its subject from beginning to end is homosexuality. It takes place in a sparsely inhabited barracks where three rookies in the Air Force await their next assignment, which might be Vietnam. Around them cavort their sergeant and his comrade in arms on an epic bender.

The three men are young and their concern is their sexual relations to one another, but they are too young and too callow to do anything more than approach the subject and circle around it. Is that guy who is so fey actually a sexually active homosexual, or is he putting on a show? Is that other man, or is he not, willing for me to broach the topic of my feelings for him? What does it meant that I am so homophobic?

Playwright David Rabe has captured a perfect moment in the career of male sexual identity: the inchoate moment. All these young men seem to be virgins, unwittingly announcing their inexperience by the center fold pinups inside the doors of their lockers. None of them wish to be labeled as queer. They may wish to dabble. They all are curious. They are all afraid of being labeled, and they are also afraid of being curious.

The force-field of these tensions build to a point of ignition which is set off in all three acts by the intrusion of a black madman in their midst, someone crazed by his self-pity for his doom as unemployable and unlovable. The explosion ensuing is stunning.

The cast won the Golden Lion at The Venice Film Festival. I give it a Golden Lion here.

 

 

Crash

15 Nov

Crash — Directed by Paul Haggis. Detective Story. A fender bender leads to a web of universal bigotry. 112 minutes Color 2004.

* * * *

Anger is an emotion easy for actors to access, and this film registers as blatantly misdirected from so much of it being allowed them, anger, anger, anger, Venetian-blinded with tears, another easy access for actors. This is too bad, because it makes the film hermetic, self-congratulatory, and monotonous, or rather bi-tonous. Thandie Newton is clearly an excellent and well-trained actress, but she is allowed both expressions to a degree which cancels out her role quite nicely; fury added to the lachrymose equals nothing, because either one subtracts the other, either concurrently or sequentially, that is, either in a given scene or in scene by scene. Crash is written and directed by white males, who seem mightily pleased with themselves for having essayed the subject of bigotry out loud, and I do not know whether this causes the picture’s scenes with the black actors to fail, but they do —with the one exception of Terrence Howard’s, and for a very good reason, that being that he allows his character to bring a degree of modulation into the playing. There is only one actor who should be allowed tears in this film, and that is Beverly Todd, playing the mother of a slaughtered son. And there are only two characters who should be allowed out-and-out anger in this story, and neither one of them are angry because of bigotry but because they were born angry. The second of them is the storeowner played by Shaun Toub who is brilliantly horrible as a stupid berserk patriarch illiterate. The first is Sandra Bullock whose rage should set a tone which should never be duplicated again in the picture, but modulated and pulled underground by the actors, to make visual what the story actually tells which is that everyone is overtly or secretly a bigot. The scene in which the Don Cheadle character is offered a job in return for shutting up about a certain cop-slaying is a scene played with an excellent actor, William Fitchner, who simply is misdirected to play for excitement or insensitivity, whereas something else would be much more interesting, sympathy, for instance, o=r “Will you offended by what I am about to say?” As it is, we immediately take sides against him, which loses the conflict and thus loses the scene. Over and over again the direction causes the material to fall back in on itself, no more noticeably than when the music stoops to soften us up at the end with a dictatorial sentimentality. Because the film is essentially well written, the execution needed to be more subtle than glaring – after all, bigotry has already been put forth: Elia Kazan made Pinky way back when – and so all we get as our allowed response is “Aint it awful,” but, in fact, sadness and sympathy are not enough. Everyone’s done good? Nah. They have, but smugness is the wrong thing to end up with. Sandra Bullock’s playing is a miracle of impenitence, but she ends up in the arms of her Hispanic maid, saying, “You’re my only friend,” when the fact is that the maid would have many friends, of whom the Sandra Bullock character still knows and wishes to know nothing, while Sandra Bullock’s character unbeknownst to Bullock, is not one of the maid’s friends at all. It won Oscars that year for Best Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Film, and many other awards from other awarders. Matt Dillon did not win best supporting actor Oscar, but his moments while saving from a burning car while he’s lying on top of her a woman whom he has molested are remarkable in this actors long, underestimated, and remarkable career. Michael Peña is excellent as the locksmith whom Shaun Toub is too incensed to make sense of.  The picture is worth seeing for its diction and for the modesty of most of its cast, insofar as they were allowed it: Brendan Fraser, Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Ryan Phillippe, Michael Peña, Matt Dillon, and many others.

 

 

Who’ll Stop The Rain

14 Dec

Who’ll Stop The Rain – directed by Karel Reisz — action adventure drama about a man entering into a drug deal out of loyalty to his best friend – 2 hours 6 minutes, color, 1976.

* * * * *

I wanted to turn this off several times at the start. Drugs. I don’t take drugs and am fed up with the subject in films and won’t see movies about people dealing with them. And the reason is that Drugs steal the drama. They supplant the tensions, difficulties, and cross-purposes between people that make drama happen. But, I saw Kazan’s The Dark At The Top Of The Stairs on Broadway when Tuesday Weld was young. And something simple and straightforward in Nolte’s technique caught my attention. And eventually I saw that this film was not about slick crime but the reverse: about the tragedy of human professional ineptitude. Weld, like many Method actresses, suffers from failed vocal production, which makes her mousy and weak, where she needs to be in agony. Otherwise, she is fascinating. Michael Moriarty, playing her husband, is glassy-eyed and elsewhere, with a flat vocal affect that gives you Out To Lunch. He plays an ex-Marine gone back to Viet Nam as a photographer, and, though a clean cut chap, decides to export a load of smack to be carried by his best friend from the Marines, now a merchant seaman, played by Nick Nolte. They don’t know it, but they are out of their shallows as professional drug runners. And they come up against a series of similar incompetents. The story revolves around the mortal peril incompetence leads to, and the script brilliantly expands on this to give us a world run by inept decisions. Nolte is alone the warrior professional. The difficulty is that his main enemy is a Three Stooges trio whose slightly overplayed comic folly over shadows their ineptitude, resulting in a failure of tone. The motto is: If you can’t get anyone better, make do with what you’ve got, and then watch it kill you.

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