Saturday, 22 October 2016

Movie Review: Affair With A Stranger (1953)

A romantic drama with some touches of humour, Affair With A Stranger is an uneven film, with adequate performances and decent construction but some strange choices and mainly predictable twists and turns.

In Philadelphia, stage star Janet Boothe (Monica Lewis) throws herself all over celebrated playwright Bill Blakeley (Victor Mature), and then she spreads rumours that his marriage to Carolyn (Jean Simmons), who is back home in New York, is in big trouble. As the gossip spreads that they may be divorcing, the story of Bill and Carolyn's romance is recalled by their friends.

Several years prior, Bill was a struggling writer with a gambling addiction and grand dreams of making it big. He meets model Carolyn in Times Square on New Year's Eve, and romance gradually blossoms. They eventually get married and she supports him even as his hopes for success appear to fade and he fritters away any small amounts of cash. One of his plays finally makes it to the stage, but it bombs. When Carolyn gets pregnant Bill is forced into a humiliating job as a waiter, but the couple's fortunes are about to change, with both triumph and tragedy around the corner.

Directed by Roy Rowland, Affair With A Stranger tries hard to be interesting. Bill and Carolyn occasionally threaten to become an engaging couple, the motley crew of friends, neighbours and acquaintances who recall the story in flashback create an animated backdrop, and the struggle for success in the theatre milieu offers possibilities.

But any sense of intriguing drama is let down by a ho-hum narrative. Most of the story's potential is wasted on a romance that labours to offer anything that is new or unique, leaving the film floundering in search of a purpose and feeling quite a bit longer than the brief 87 minutes. The central relationship features a fundamental disconnect never reconciled by the Richard Flournoy script: Bill is a largely wretched character, and what compels Janet to stick with him is not convincing. He is a liar from their first meeting, a gambling addict and living a life based more on hope than conviction. She holds their couplehood together as he remains a stranger, and it's questionable whether he is worth the effort.

Victor Mature and Jean Simmons deliver reasonable performances given what they have to work with, but they are sometimes betrayed by mismatched moments that fall between the cracks of clunky romantic comedy and ineffective societal drama. A prime example is a scene involving Bill helplessly munching on fried chicken on his first visit to Carolyn's apartment. Rowland seems to go for inelegant laughs while portraying a desperately starving man callously targeting a woman as his literal meal ticket. Elsewhere, the ups and downs of their relationship offer little that is imaginative: she worries, he squanders, they stumble, rinse and repeat.

The spirited supporting cast includes Jane Darwell as a restaurant owner, while a taxi driver (Wally Vernon), a newspaper kiosk merchant (George Cleveland), a big-time theatre producer and his wife (Nicholas Joy and Olive Carey) also take turns recounting parts of Bill and Carolyn's romance in flashback. The result is episodic, but keeps the film reasonably nimble.

Affair With A Stranger hints at a better film that is unfortunately intercepted by an absence of composed crispness.

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Movie Review: My Six Loves (1963)

A family drama and romantic comedy, My Six Loves is a fluffy career-versus-family story with attempts at humour but lacking any edge or substance.

Janice Courtney (Debbie Reynolds) is a Broadway star who has just wrapped up her first Hollywood role. Extremely popular but very single, Janice wonders if she has made the right choice dedicating her life to her career and never getting married. Driven to exhaustion by her agent Marty Bliss (David Janssen), Janice is ordered to rest and retreats to her Connecticut country home for a few weeks of recuperation in the company of her loyal assistant Ethel (Eileen Heckart).

In the nearby woods, Janice stumbles on six kids and a dog living on their own after being abandoned by their parents. She takes them in and starts to care for them. She also meets local Reverend Jim Larkin (Cliff Robertson), and they start to fall in love. Janice is attracted to the life of domesticity and considers adopting the children, but then she is offered an opportunity of a lifetime to star in the latest play by celebrated playwright Kinsley Kross (Hans Conried).

The first feature film to be directed by stage legend Gower Champion, My Six Loves is a lame affair suffering from an outdated societal message and a feeble script (despite the involvement of four writers). Every moment of conflict is immediately resolved, every event and emotion is obvious, and all the characters are superficial. The laughs are often juvenile, sometime descending to the let's-all-run-around-the-bus-after-the-dog variety, targeting eight year olds.

As a pure family film aiming to entertain pre-teens My Six Loves may be relatively harmless, but the film sells an infantile solution to the serious debate about finding balance between career success and family life. The choice offered to Janice is to give up her career success entirely to adopt and look after six children she barely knows. That the domestic option comes with the love of a man of the church makes the premise more troublesome. The film avoids any astute discussion: Janice is presented with a forceful, often guilt-laden binary decision, and the film disintegrates under the weight of seeking a simplistic solution to a profoundly complex dilemma.

Debbie Reynolds does her best to capture some semblance of an internal conflict. She looks great and even gets to sing one song. The scruffy dog is adorable and emerges as the only other thing worth watching. The rest of the supporting cast members, including a too-serious Cliff Robertson and a too-glib David Janssen, are wooden, predictable and overtly theatrical. The children are saddled with an overdose of doe-eyed cutesiness and no depth.

My Six Loves has little to say, and even that comes out all wrong.

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Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Movie Review: The Spoilers (1942)

A western with an excellent cast and rich plot mixing business with romance, The Spoilers is an enjoyable story set in the madness of the Alaska gold rush.

It's 1900, and gold mining has transformed Nome, Alaska, into a bustling but lawless town. Cherry Malotte (Marlene Dietrich) runs the local saloon and presides over the town's social pulse. Her loyal assistant Bronco (Richard Barthelmess) harbours a hopeless crush on Cherry, but she is awaiting the return of her true love, mine owner Roy Glennister (John Wayne). The business of mining in Nome is in turmoil: claims and counterclaims to seize control of mines are causing rifts between miners and newcomers looking to make a quick profit. Recently arrived gold commissioner Alexander McNamara (Randolph Scott) appears to be at the centre of many of the dubious claims, while also casting an eye towards Cherry.

Roy arrives back in town but to Cherry's horror he is in the company of the attractive Helen Chester (Margaret Lindsay), the niece of newcomer Judge Horace Stillman (Samuel S, Hinds). Roy appears to want to enjoy the company of both Helen and Cherry, while Judge Stillman's arrival to bring some law and order is viewed with a mix of relief and suspicion. Roy clashes with his partner Al Dextry (Harry Carey) on whether to trust the legal process to determine the ownership of their mine, but there is a lot more going on that initially meets the eye.

Directed by Ray Enright, this was already the fourth film version of the Rex Beach novel, and one of two 1942 films to unite Dietrich, Scott and Wayne (the other was Philadelphia). With Scott sinking his teeth into a rare antagonist role as a corrupt businessman amidst a love, lust and gold story with Dietrich the centre of attention of three men, The Spoilers offers amplified versions of many traditional western elements: saloon brawls, corrupted attempts at frontier justice, and a mad rush in search of quick riches, spiced with multiple often hidden personal agendas.

The film thrives in an environment of frontier lawlessness where no one can fully claim the moral high ground. The characters start at grey and moves towards sinister. Even Cherry, conceivably the purest person in town, meddles with the paperwork at the gold claims office. Roy thinks nothing of two-timing the women in his life, while McNamara is superficially on the side of officialdom but actually seeking his own fortune. And these are just the main characters. Sidekick Bronco, ambitious Helen and Judge Stillman have their own motivations, and the film benefits by gradually establishing a reality that no one arrives in Nome seeking the greater good.

The trio of Wayne, Scott and Dietrich share the screen time equitably, and ensure a high calibre of dedicated talent in every scene. Dietrich doesn't get to sing but easily places Cherry at the heart of the film and elegantly wears several fetching dresses, while Wayne and Scott enjoy their time playing much less than perfect characters. Margaret Lindsay, Harry Carey and Richard Barthelmess offer capable and animated support.

The Spoilers suffers from a few of weaknesses. The comic elements are often overplayed, and tend to undermine what is a good drama. Many men are shot and killed in the film, the deaths are instantaneously dismissed as funny and the violence stepped over like inconveniently placed trash. An unfortunate blackface episode is also played for laughs but nevertheless confines the film to a very different era.

Enright does better in lovingly creating an engrossing aesthetic: Nome is presented as a ramshackle town heaving with activity in every corner, with a main street overrun by ankle-deep mud. Cherry's saloon is the gathering place where every seat is occupied, deals are struck, alliances are made, and disputes are settled with brawls. Fittingly, the film ends with a legendary and prolonged two-man fistfight, extending from the upper balcony of the saloon through the lower level and out to the street. Every piece of furniture and pane of glass is shattered in pursuit of barefisted justice, frontier style.

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Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Movie Review: The Accountant (2016)

An action thriller with a rich story and plenty of style, The Accountant is an intelligent and inventive addition to the genre.

Department of Treasury Agent Ray King (J.K. Simmons) recruits analyst Marybeth Medina (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) to dig into a mysterious accountant who appears to have ties with some of the world's worst criminals. Now going under the name Chris Wolff (Ben Affleck), the accountant is a mathematical savant with a high functioning form of autism. He leads a double life as a nondescript local store-front accountant while surreptitiously traveling the world and working for shady clients with major financial secrets to hide.

As Medina digs into the accountant's mysterious identity and background, Wolff's next assignment is a legitimate forensic audit of a large Chicago-based robotics company headed by Lamar Blackburn (John Lithgow), where junior accountant Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick) has accidentally stumbled upon financial irregularities. Wolff uncovers a dangerous and well-hidden secret that triggers a round of brutal violence leaving him and Dana in mortal danger from a well-armed hit squad, while Medina unearths more twists in Wolff's past.

Directed by Gavin O'Connor and written by Bill Dubuque, The Accountant surprises with a crisp introduction of a new screen action hero. With tired sequels, reboots and comic book adaptations flailing and failing to gain traction, credit to the The Accountant for venturing into original territory. The concept of an autistic mathematical genius as a conflicted protagonist, capable of untangling dense annual financial statements and disposing of ruthless killers with equal effectiveness, is a breath of fresh air. Far from a clean-cut hero, the accountant holds morally ambiguous ground, helping dubious clients while toiling towards difficult to discern ulterior motives.

The film's pacing and construction is also commendable. O'Connor displays remarkable patience, allowing the rich story to unfurl its various sails in an intriguing first hour. There are several flashbacks, some to Wolff's childhood, others to a bloody massacre at a mafia hideout, and still others to a prison stint. The exploits of Agent King and analyst Medina run in parallel with Wolff's latest investigation into the robotics company, and only deep into the film do all the pieces start to fit together, and even then there are more clever surprises to come. When the puzzle picture starts to take shape, it's a satisfyingly elegant mosaic, and a sturdy foundation on which to build a franchise.

The Accountant is weakest when it mimics routine action flicks, and does suffer from one over-the-top combat scene, a prolonged one-against-many home invasion that could have been extracted from any Jason Bourne movie. But most of the 128 minutes of running time are preoccupied with more intelligent fare, and the accountant's uncovering of financial deviousness is more thrilling than any conventional gun play. Even more captivating is his agony when his forensic work is interrupted: this is man who absolutely needs to see every task through to full completion, and can mentally fall off a dark edge in the pragmatic world of enough is enough.

Chris Wolff is an almost perfect role for Ben Affleck. Inexpressive, introspective, alone and with a lumbering gait, the actor does not need to stretch much. The supporting cast is good but predictable, Kendrick at 31 years old still able to pull off the ingenue trick, J.K. Simmons extracting maximum gruffness out of Agent King while Addai-Robinson gets a role with depth and potential as the analyst with a dark past of her own. Jon Bernthal makes for a handsome but lethal leader of an intimidation and murder squad.

Both smart and stirring, The Accountant's pen and sword are equally mighty.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Movie Review: Ninotchka (1939)

A romantic comedy with political ornaments, Ninotchka is an appealing story of love and laughter blossoming across cultural barriers.

The cash-strapped Soviet government dispatches three officials named Iranoff, Buljanoff, and Kopalski to Paris to sell a precious set of jewels previously belonging to the Grand Duchess Swana (Ina Claire). The three men struggle to reconcile their communist ideals with all the luxuries that Paris has to offer, but eventually succumb and install themselves in a lavish hotel suite. Swana calls on her suave agent and potential lover Count Leon d'Algout (Melvyn Douglas) to quickly impose a court order freezing the sale or transfer of the jewels. Leon also proceeds to fully corrupt the three Soviet officials with parties, booze and women.

Nina Ivanovna "Ninotchka" Yakushova (Greta Garbo) is the next Soviet envoy to arrive, in an attempt to resolve the thorny situation. All business and fully committed to the communist cause, Ninotchka appears incorruptible. But Leon is persistent, and gradually she capitulates and falls in love with both the Count and the benefits of capitalism. With Ninotchka overwhelmed with love, Swana moves in to try and seize the initiative, claim her jewelry and reassert her hold on Leon.

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch and co-written by a team of four writers including Billy Wilder, Ninotchka showcases Greta Garbo at her best in a role designed to tease out her talent for dry comedy and sweet romance. The film is also a prescient early salvo in the war between ideologies. And in stubbornly concluding that the charms of luxury that come with capitalism are irresistible, the story manages to look ahead 50 years to the ultimate Achilles' heel of the communist ideal.

The first two thirds of Ninotchka are sharper and more enjoyable. The stage is set in the misadventures of Iranoff, Buljanoff, and Kopalski as they wrestle between their conscience and Paris' decadence. The battle is decisively won as soon as Leon brings out the weapons of mass seduction in the form of endless supplies of food, drinks, music, tobacco and attractive servers delivered straight to the extravagant hotel suite. But this is all an intro to Garbo's arrival as Ninotchka to straighten matters out. The witty script reaches a peak in the battle of wills between her intractable, factual adherence to soulless discourse while Leon tries all he knows to touch her heart.

Once love blossoms and Ninotchka surrenders to an entranced state the film slows into a mild overdose of sentimentality, and the edge is lost. Swana swoops in to create a standard love triangle and the film becomes more of a routine struggle between two women hoping to win the heart of the same man according to their moral compass.

In her penultimate film role Garbo is as entrancing as ever, and particularly effective in her deadpan delivery of communist beliefs, dutifully stripped of any semblance of individual humanity. Melvyn Douglas provides a strong counterpart as the elegant lover with a metaphorical blowtorch patiently intent on melting the ice around her heart. Bela Lugosi makes a late appearance as Commissar Razinin, Ninotchka's fearsome boss back in Russia.

Cleverly weaving romance, politics and humour, Ninotchka is as elegant as its Parisian setting.

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Sunday, 16 October 2016

Movie Review: The North Star (1943)

A pro-Soviet propaganda film intended to whip up sympathy for the war effort against Germany, The North Star (also known as Armored Attack) is a cringe-inducing dud.

It's 1941, and the Nazis are about to invade the idyllic farming village of North Star in western Ukraine, part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Before the shooting starts, five youth from the village embark on a trip to the capital Kiev, including Marina (Anne Baxter), her would-be lover Kolya (Farley Granger), Clavdia (Jane Withers) and Kolya's older brother and conscripted soldier Damian (Dana Andrews).

The travellers don't make it very far: the Nazi's attack with bombing raids, tanks and troops. The village is occupied before it can be burned down. In the face of Nazi atrocities including forcing local children to donate blood, the villagers have to scatter to join the nascent resistance movement.

Produced by Samuel Goldwyn, directed by Lewis Milestone and written by Lillian Hellman, The North Star is unabashed agitprop. Despite the high budget and respected cast, Milestone delivers a painfully bad cinematic experience devoid of any artistic merit.

The first half is preoccupied with portraying Ukrainian villagers living under the Soviet boot as happy simple folks, and it's punctuated by ghastly singing and dancing interludes straight out of amateur high school plays. The fingers-on-the-chalkboard level of irritation is enhanced by inane nationalistic dialogue, ham-fisted delivery and enough over-sugared sentiment to kill a horse.

Once the Nazis make an appearance, the music mercifully stops and the fighting starts. The second half improves, but it's a really low bar to step over. As a story of guerilla warfare and peasants taking up arms, The North Star lacks anything resembling thoughtfulness, nuance or genuine emotion. This is an in-your-face sophomoric effort intended to rally the home front, and Milestone can't even get the basics right: the battle scenes, tactics and consequences are asinine.

Everyone from the children to the old geezers lustily and blindly buys into the die-for-your-country hokum. Given the general level of near unwatchable incompetence, the film boasts a remarkable cast collectively performing at their worst, consumed by Hellman's fatuous prose. Anne Baxter leads the way with one of the many overwrought eyes-dreamily-to-the-stars performances on display. Walter Huston is a local doctor tangling with Erich von Stroheim's Nazi surgeon, while Walter Brennan is a stereotypical crusty farmer-on-a-wagon.

The North Star is not bad because it's propaganda; it's bad because it's a wretchedly awful film.

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Movie Review: The Outlaw (1943)

A Western drama, The Outlaw is a ridiculously uneven mishmash of love, sex and violence.

In the dusty town of Lincoln, New Mexico, Doc Holliday (Walter Huston) reunites with his friend Pat Garrett (Thomas Mitchell), who was recently appointed town sheriff. Doc soon tangles with notorious outlaw Billy the Kid (Jack Buetel), who has stolen Doc's horse. But Doc and Billy strike up a friendship, much to the disgust of Garrett.

The relationship between the three men is further complicated by Doc's girlfriend Rio McDonald (Jane Russell), who would like to kill Billy because he previously murdered her brother. Instead, while Doc is away distracting Garrett's posse, Rio and Billy fall in love when she helps him recuperate from a gunshot wound. Garrett, Doc, Billy and Rio eventually catch up with each other and collectively have to survive an encounter with Mescalero Apaches.

Directed by Howard Hughes, The Outlaw achieves a level of awfulness that has to be seen to be believed. Prolonged, boring, oscillating wildly between juvenile comedy and blatant sexuality, saddled with a stupendously bad music score, featuring amateurish acting, directing, editing and lighting, Hughes' only objective in making The Outlaw was to showcase Russell's cleavage. The subsequent notoriety and censorship scandal, fanned by Hughes, turned the much-delayed movie into must-see event. By contemporary standards what appears on the screen is tame, leaving only a mess of a film splattered all over the walls.

While the censors were abuzz about Russell, Hughes slipped by them an unambiguous gay love triangle between Garrett, Doc and Billy, with Doc's abandonment of Garrett in favour of the younger Billy the cause of all the drama. Also in the mix is one in-the-dark rape scene and another prelude-to-sex scene between Rio and Billy, both creaking with melodrama and dreadful camera dynamics. The actual slow moving and repetitive story spends an outlandish amount of time rehashing arguments about who owns a horse, the film adding outright but unintended parody to its abominable genre mix. A brief, non sequitur episode with Apache Indians is thrown in just because.

Russell, in her debut at l9 years old when The Outlaw was filmed in 1940, is ironically one of the least bad things in the film, and she went on to salvage a career. Poor Jack Buetel must have thought that he was on his way to stardom after Hughes plucked him from obscurity, placed him under a long term contract and offered him the nominal lead role of Billy the Kid. Buetel wears the same expression throughout the film, and Hughes refused to allow him to act again. Thomas Mitchell and Walter Huston offer typically dependable performances that deserved a much better movie.

The Outlaw is a classic example of a more modern theme: famous for being famous, the film is lurid attention-seeking trash.

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Saturday, 15 October 2016

Movie Review: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)

A gleaming comedy, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels enjoys star power and a convivial attitude but also falls into self-inflicted traps of excess.

On the French Riviera, Englishman Lawrence Jamieson (Michael Caine) is a well-established con artist specializing in fooling women into willingly handing over their cash and jewelry. Lawrence pretends to be a suave Prince-in-hiding of a small country under siege by communists, and convinces vacationing lonely rich women to part with their wealth to aid his cause. He is helped in his ruse by local police Inspector Andre (Anton Rodgers).

Lawrence's easy life is disrupted when American con man Freddy Benson (Steve Martin) invades his turf. A low level operator, Freddy scams meals and a few bucks off women with sob stories about a sick grandmother. Lawrence's repeated attempts to bounce Freddy out of town fail. They finally agree on a bet: whoever can first fleece soap baroness Janet Colgate (Glenne Headly) out of $50,000 gets to stay in town. Freddy adopts the identity of a Navy veteran paralyzed due to psychological scars; Lawrence responds by pretending to be psychologist Dr. Shaffhausen, the only man who can cure emotional paralysis. They both play on Janet's emotions, but winning this bet will not be easy for either man.

Directed by Frank Oz, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a glossy comedy with a sly attitude, capitalizing on two stars in fine form. With vivid colours capturing the idyllic sun-drenched opulence of the Riviera, the film pops off the screen, never takes itself seriously and offers a steady stream of laughs. The script is witty and contains a healthy dose of one-liners, while Martin offers up his brand of more physical comedy, resulting in a rare combination of smart and crass.

But Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is also flabby and suffers from stretches of tedium. The running time of 1 hour and 50 minutes is a good 15 minutes too long for the material, and Oz shows no ability to end a joke at its peak. Individual scenes carry on longer than necessary, but particularly weak is a stretch where Lawrence convinces Freddy to play the role of idiot young brother to scare off women who are starting to think of seeking commitment. Encouraging Martin's worst childish tendencies, Oz stretches out the joke over several painful scenes long after the point is made. The game of devious one-upmanship between Freddy and Lawrence in pursuit of Janet's money is also stretched too thin, the battle of wits becoming predictable the more unlikely twists it takes.

Both Michael Caine and Steve Martin are good at what they do, but in the head-to-head acting battle, Caine easily comes out on top. He allows less to be more, using an economy of actions and pauses to speak from themselves. Martin is all about over-emoting and over-expressing. Both actors are consistent with their characters, but Caine's comedy comes across as sophisticated and restrained, while Martin is simply churlish and juvenile. In one of her career highlight roles Glenne Headly demonstrates clever comic timing, and proves a worthy match for her more famous co-stars.

Mischievous, frivolous, and lightweight, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a fun frolic.

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Movie Review: Places In The Heart (1984)

A feel good drama, Places In The Heart celebrates the human spirit through the simple story of a widow determined to thrive.

Rural Texas in 1935, the depth of the Great Depression. Edna Spalding (Sally Field) is suddenly widowed when her police officer husband is accidentally shot and killed by a drunk, leaving her to care for their large farm and two young children. Edna receives moral support from her sister Margaret (Lindsay Crouse), who does not know that her husband Wayne (Ed Harris) is carrying on a passionate affair with married local woman Viola (Amy Madigan).

Threatened with foreclosure by banker Mr. Denby (Lane Smith), Edna accepts help from drifter Moses (Danny Glover), a black man who claims that he can create a revenue-generating cotton plantation on her farm. Edna also takes in the blind Mr. Will (John Malkovich) as a boarder to raise some money. Despite the price of cotton plummeting, enormous pressure to sell the farm, rampant community racism against Moses, and nature's fury, Edna pushes ahead, determined to not give up on her land or her family.

Directed and written by Robert Benton, Places In The Heart is a slice of rural life, where the struggle for economic survival shatters class, race, and gender divides. The film may be a hopelessly optimistic parable in its portrayal of a woman in the 1930s staring down the depression, the bankers, the racists, physical disabilities and mother nature to turn her life around, but there is no denying the uplifting and well-intentioned energy coursing through Edna's story.

With beautiful period sets and Néstor Almendros cinematography glorifying the landscape, the film plays with themes of trust and betrayal. Once her husband is killed Edna is forced to trust first Moses, a drifter and thief, and then Mr. Will, a blind man much more likely to be a hindrance than a help. They will need to prove their worth, and the film revels in contrasting Moses and Will's contributions to Edna's life with the individuals who should be her more natural allies: healthy white men in the form of the banker Mr. Denby and the cotton merchant W.E. Simmons (Jay Patterson).

Benton's script includes a substantial subplot involving the illicit affair between Wayne and Viola, at the expense of Edna's sister Margaret. The story of a marriage under tremendous stress adds to the texture of the community and the themes of trust and betrayal, and Viola's fury at Wayne's continued affection for his wife contributes an uncommon cutting edge. But Edna's story of endurance never fully meshes with the turmoil in her sister's life, and the two plots occasionally trip over each other.

Sally Field won her second Best Actress Academy Award for her portrayal of Edna, and its a solid enough performance, more robust than spectacular. Field reaches an early highlight when Edna is forced to confront punishing her young son, a distasteful duty previously performed by her husband. Field captures the horror of a mother coming to terms with what it means to physically abuse a child, ticking off one more thing that will now change in her family's life.

Wisely, Benton is capable of removing the rose coloured glasses when needed. While Edna's journey carries an eternally positive trajectory, the film avoids the temptation to neatly tie up all the loose ends. There are troubles aplenty scattered in the unforgiving southern landscape, and the only certainty is continued interaction between what is sincerely labelled good and evil. Places In The Heart ends with a beautifully mystical moment, an unlikely gathering where human judgement is deferred in favour of a greater communion.

Breathing deeply from the complexities and mysteries of life, Places In The Heart emits a warm, soft glow.

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Movie Review: Night Moves (1975)

A neo-noir detective thriller, Night Moves is an engrossing character study ironically elevated by an almost incomprehensible plot featuring large gaps and plenty of edges.

Through his friend Nick (Kenneth Mars), Los Angeles based former pro footballer and now private detective Harry Moseby (Gene Hackman) is hired by has-been movie starlet and multiple divorcée Arlene Iverson (Janet Ward) to find her runaway 16 year old daughter Delly (Melanie Griffith). Arlene is less interested in Delly's well-being and more in need of the money generated by her daughter's trust fund. Just as he starts his investigation Harry stumbles on his wife Ellen (Susan Clark) having an affair under his nose with a man called Marty Heller (Harris Yulin). He pushes on regardless and starts to uncover the web of Delly's friends, including greasy mechanic Quentin (James Woods), caustic movie stunt director Joey Ziegler (Edward Binns) and handsome stunt pilot Marv Ellman (Anthony Costello).

Learning that Delly is an uninhibited sexpot who is sleeping her way through her mother's former lovers, Harry makes his way to the Florida keys where he finds Delly hanging out with Arlene's second ex-husband Tom Iverson (John Crawford). Tom appears to have already been ensnared by Delly's sexual charms, but his partner Paula (Jennifer Warren) is nevertheless curiously still standing by him. Harry is attracted to Paula but struggles to make sense of what is going on and is unsure if he should return Delly to her mother. A grisly underwater discovery suddenly makes the case a lot more complicated.

Directed by Arthur Penn and written by Alan Sharp, Night Moves is a beautiful mess. With some jarring editing, audacious risks and a plot that scribbles on the periphery of character disintegration, the movie could have dissolved into irrelevance. Instead Penn conjures up a companion piece to The Big Sleep, stripped of even the pretense of thorny heroism. The story of Night Moves is littered with holes, ill-defined motivations and at least one incredible coincidence. It does not matter. The focus is on Harry Moseby standing witness to his family life and career crumbling around his ears, while he intellectually believes that there is something he can do about it.

The signs are clear early on that Moseby's detective skills fall short. This is a man who could not detect his own wife having an affair, and later cannot untangle the relationship between Tom and Paula. He thinks he is saving Delly by depositing her back with her mother, but that proves to be the worst possible move. All the time he is obsessed with replaying and demonstrating a chess match where a winning strategy. involving clever knight moves, was missed and the game lost. Moseby is a man always running behind events, falling further back every time he uncovers another piece of the puzzle, and most unfortunately oblivious to his own incompetence.

Penn is not just satisfied with an in depth look at one miserable character: he surrounds him with all that the mid-1970s had to offer in terms of a dispirited society, where 1960s communal idealism crashed against Watergate and the oil crisis, triggering an era of unfettered narcissism. Arlene is a silicone enhanced has-been collecting ex-husbands and still acting the role of being interested in her daughter, while her only real desire is income continuance.

Meanwhile, Delly is not waiting for anyone: she has appropriated the sexual revolution for her selfish purpose, devouring her mother's former lovers in service of personal pleasure. At 16, she is already deploying sex as a weapon of mass escapism across the country. Meanwhile, the movie industry is a cover for illicit activities, the exportation of American culture through on-screen magic a cover-up for a nefarious scheme involving cultural imports.

Moseby walks into this cesspool believing that he is actually good, and Gene Hackman is brilliant at portraying a pathetic man catching up too late with his own incompetence. Ruffled, betrayed, and played repeatedly for a fool, Hackman ensures that Moseby is an unforgettable tragic figure. The supporting cast members share the screen time, planets circling Moseby's dying sun. Particularly effective are Melanie Griffith and James Woods, who both make strong marks in early roles.

Night Moves ends with Moseby coming to terms with the limits of his talent. After chasing after the truth back and forth across the country, his fate is simplified into small circles, so that even he can understand it.

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