Friday, May 26, 2023


 "The art of film can only really exist through a highly organized betrayal of reality." 
François Truffaut  

For reasons obvious, the years 2020 and 2021 are largely a blur to me. The pandemic and subsequent lockdown of 2020 turned time into a literal ontological abstraction; with yesterdays feeling as remote and irretrievable as dreams, tomorrows never actually seeming to arrive at all. Only the tail-end of 2021 stands out in my mind. And that's chiefly because I associate it with those snail-pace early days of life in Los Angeles stumbling towards a return to something resembling "normalcy." And not a minute too soon. 
For the close of 2021 is also burned into my mind as the days when the American populace—vacillating between being independently suicidal or societally homicidal over having to endure even one second more of inconvenience—seemed hell-bent on making real the allegorical nightmares of Goldman's Lord of the Flies (1963) and Buñuel's The Exterminating Angel (1962). 
I was so hyped to see this movie; every time I saw a billboard or poster I, practically gasped
Happily, I also associate the waning days of 2021 with the off-the-charts excitement I felt about the movies slated for holiday release (Nov/Dec). A roster of titles that featured four -count 'em, FOUR!- movies I anticipated with the eagerness of a kid on Christmas Eve. A rarity of sensation that had me remembering how, when I was young, it felt like every month yielded at least a minimum of two or three movies I convinced myself I couldn't live without. Now, in advanced adulthood and during this, Hollywood's Theme Park Ride era of moviemaking (thank you, Mr. Scorsese), I feel fortunate if a calendar year yields even one movie I can get worked up about. 

To look forward to something is to foresee a tomorrow. So, at the time, with a new year on the horizon and the world emerging from beneath a devastatingly dark cloud, it was all too easy to take my enthusiasm for this uncommonly rich cinema bounty as a glimmer of post-election hope and reminder that the arts endure. 
The Big Four: The Power of the DogNightmare AlleyWest Side Story, & The Tragedy of Macbeth. 
Like many, I leaned heavily on the magic of movies to get me through the darkest days of the pandemic and the death throes of a certain political hellscape. At the close of 2021, the impassioned artistry of these four films lifted my spirits in ways you can't imagine. Each in their individual brilliance buoyed my certainty that art always has and always will surmount chaos and ignorance.   

As badly as I wanted to see these films, only West Side Story had me seriously considering leapfrogging over the recent spikes in COVID outbreaks and seeing it in a theater. Ultimately, cooler heads prevailed (one, actually, my partner's) and I kept my ass at home. But thanks to the swift turnaround from theatrical release to streaming, postponing my cinema gratification to early 2022 proved hardly the hardship I'd imagined it would be. 
Indeed, the decision to wait only served to feed my already keen excitement. Plus, streaming these films from the comfort of home brought with it the bonus of being able to savor each of these outstanding movies multiple times at my leisure. A perk I'm afraid I indulged to a fault. Particularly as pertaining to The Tragedy of Macbeth, which I rapturously watched five times.  
Denzel Washington as Macbeth
Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth
Brendan Gleeson as King Duncan
When it comes to the works of William Shakespeare, I'm hardly an aficionado and more the type to be seen bolting for the exit the minute someone uses "Shakespearean" as an adjective (calling to mind as it does images of capes, tights, and over-orating hams). But of all the Shakespeare plays I've read, tragedies and comedies alike, Macbeth has always been my favorite. An opinion underscored by measure of the sheer number and variety of film, television, and stage adaptions of "The Scottish Play" I've enjoyed over the years.
Bertie Carvel as Banquo
Corey Hawkins as Macduff
Alex Hassell as Ross
Macbeth, Shakespeare's blood-soaked tragedy of a nobleman brought low by ambition and a waning conscience has captivated me since it was required reading in my high school English class. As poetically engrossing on the printed page as it is emotionally absorbing when given visual dimension on the screen, I've always loved Macbeth’s heady potion of history, the supernatural, melodrama, prose, fatalism, swordplay, guilt, ambition, free will, madness, and psychology. It’s got everything! And at the center, two incredibly dynamic, complex, and grievously-flawed characters. 

But it's never been a mystery to me why Macbeth stands out from the pack. Classical in structure and (to my way of thinking) often needlessly formal in presentation, Macbeth, as the stuff of movies, is right up my alley in being precisely the kind of dagger-sharp evisceration of the dark side of humanity that characterize a great many of my favorite films. It's a theme I tend to gravitate to and for which (as this blog has revealed to me) I clearly have a decided preference.
Indeed, for me, one of the most mesmerizing things about this, director Joel Coen’s "Dreamscape meets Theater-of-the-Mind" conceptualization of The Tragedy of Macbeth is the degree to which it evokes the very essence of what my sweetheart might label as "Typical Ken Movies":

Even the Macbeths wouldn't mess with this duo
I'm crazy about Martin Scorsese. Particularly the operatic scope he brings to movies full of psychological and criminal intrigues like Raging Bull (1980), Casino (1995), and The Irishman (2019). Like The Tragedy of Macbeth, many of Scorsese's films are about violent people with Goliath-sized dreams who meet tragic ends due to their inability to get out of the way of their own inherently Lilliputian natures. 

Sly Vince Edwards (and his eyelashes) & scheming Marie Windsor in The Killing
A favorite subgenre of mine is the thriller where a meticulously planned "foolproof" crime goes stupendously off the rails due to weak wills and flaws of character. Lord and Lady Macbeth's grandiose plans are felled by picayune things like jealousy, greed, guilt, and fear. Collapse-points echoed in best-laid-plans favorites like Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964), A Simple Plan (1998), Before The Devil Knows You're Dead (2007), and Stanley Kubrick's The Killing (1956). 

"I say 'we,' Mr. McCabe because you think small." - McCabe & Mrs. Miller
Movies of the '70s challenged cinema's masculinity myth (and its unwaveringly sure heroes) by giving us dimensional, vulnerable males who experienced self-doubt and were not always dispositionally up to the tasks they set for themselves. A characteristic the vacillating murderer Macbeth shares with the antiheroes of Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation (1974) and Robert Altman's McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971).  

"When you durst do it, then you were a man!" - The Tragedy of Macbeth
Where my partner and I truly part ways in our taste in films is my weakness for movies in which a certain emotional brutalism is used to train a spotlight on aspects of the human condition polite society usually prefers to keep relegated to the shadows. For me, Mike Nichols is a master of this: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), Carnal Knowledge (1971), and Closer (2004). Where Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth won me over is that it feels wholly uninterested in the violence of swordplay and battle, but, via the extraordinary performances given by the entire cast, goes in really hard when it comes to the emotional and psychological violence the characters inflict upon one another.   

Macbeth 1971:  For Those Who Think Young
"All youth are reckless beyond words." - Hesiod
Jon Finch (28) & Francesca Annis (25) in Roman Polanski's Macbeth 
For the longest time, Roman Polanski's sprawling and horrifically naturalistic film held solitary sway as my preferred screen adaptation of Macbeth. But Joel Coen's extravagantly stylized The Tragedy of Macbeth (an interpretation so utterly different in every aspect, no rational comparison between the two can be made) has joined it in an equal-esteem partnership. Two entirely different experiences. Two magnificently realized artistic visions. 
Macbeth 2021:  No Country for Old Men 
Frances McDormand (63) & Denzel Washington (66)
In 1971, Polanski's Macbeth collaborator Kenneth Tynan famously remarked that the idea of a Lord and Lady Macbeth in their 60s was "nonsense" because "It's too late for them to be ambitious."  What an absurd statement! As anyone familiar with American politics will tell you, folks over 60 are dangerous as fuck.  

Kathryn Hunter as The Three Witches & The Old Man
I'm not going to embarrass myself and tell you how many times I watched The Tragedy of Macbeth without realizing the phenomenal Kathryn Hunter played that fourth role!

As a film fan enamored of the emotive movie experience, Shakespeare – associating it as I do with Mr. Koller's English class – tends to present a challenge, as my knee-jerk impulse is to approach it academically. 
When I watch a screen adaptation of a Shakespeare play, particularly if I'm unfamiliar with it, my mind feels like it splinters off into three channels. One part focuses on the performances, eager to latch onto something I can psychologically or emotionally identify with in these long-ago-created characters. Another gets absorbed in the period detail and recreation of another time and place (Castles! Crowns! Courts! Capes!). And the third part has me wanting to connect to the language, trying to follow the plot while keeping an appreciative ear open to the rhythms of the words (Blank verse? Prose? Iambic pentameter?). Yet, for all these attempts to engage with the material, in the end, I usually wind up just being overly aware of how effortful it's all been.
I enjoy dissecting and analyzing movies, but AFTER I've seen the film, not WHILE I'm watching it.
To Kiss - To Kill
Mirrored framing captures the opposite ends of passion's spectrum

Because I always overthink everything, my cinema ideal has always been the movie that encourages me to turn off my mind and surrender to the sensory, visceral experience. (That I'm free to pick apart to my heart's content later.) The Tragedy of Macbeth—an aesthetically astonishing interpretation that envisions Macbeth as a noirish, metaphysical thriller —gave me just such an experience.  
Joel Coen (in his first solo effort after making 18 films with his brother, Ethan) is staggeringly successful in realizing his expressed desire to make a film of Macbeth that doesn't "hide the play." And indeed, The Tragedy of Macbeth's melding of hyper-cinematic mise-en-scène to an aggressively stylized theatricality creates a world dynamically "untethered to reality." As a more cohesively realized example of what Francis Ford Coppola strove for in One From the Heart, The Tragedy of Macbeth achieves what Truffaut called "the betrayal of reality"… film's canny ability to make use of artifice to reveal truth.
Moses Ingram as Lady Macduff

As an adaptation of Macbeth that I feel prioritizes the internal and interpersonal struggles of the characters, the lack of ornamentation in The Tragedy of Macbeth's stark visual style extends to its performances. Words are spoken rather than orated, and as there is none of that "In the Grand Shakespearean Tradition" kind of acting on display (except, provocatively, as a signifier of Macbeth losing his mind), it felt like I was given greater access to the pitiable humanity behind Lord and Lady Macbeth’s desperate ambition.
The use of close-ups in The Tragedy of Macbeth forces
a sometimes discomfiting intimacy with the characters. 
Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel's camera seems to exalt (as I did) in letting light and shadow play across the cast's intelligent eyes and expressive, lived-in faces. To watch a contemporary American film is to be bombarded by so much botox, fillers, and tightly-pulled flesh, discerning the display of emotion becomes a game. The facial wrinkles and furrows on glorious display in The Tragedy of Macbeth have poetry.

The Kid Who Would Be King
Banquo and his son Fleance (Lucas Barker)

There's an exchange in the neo-noir thriller Black Widow (1987) where investigator Debra Winger asks serial widow Theresa Russell why marrying even one wealthy man wasn't enough to make her rich. Russell responds: "Rich is hard. You never really figure you're quite there."
Swap "power" for rich, and you've got Macbeth in a nutshell. 
The Tragedy of Macbeth taps into a characteristic I've observed in very ambitious people: the joy of attaining an objective always seems so short-lived because there’s no distinction between greed and growth. There's never any arrival point for satisfaction because "having a lot" still doesn't mean "having the most," so there is always more to get. Inevitably, ambition, when unmoored to the spiritual overseers of morality and ethics, creates an internal void. A void that comes to be bridged by that ruinous, self-serving philosophy of the power-hungry…" the end justifies the means."  
" 'Tis the eye of childhood that fears a painted devil."   /   "Yet, here's a spot."
Lady Macbeth, scoffing at the aftermath of violence, is later haunted by its phantom. The mirroring of shots in The Tragedy of Macbeth infers that despite the exercising of free will, events follow a predetermined pattern. 

Ignoble Denzel Washington is my favorite Denzel Washington.
His riveting performance as Macbeth totally overwhelmed me. It's a thing of beauty

Casting Shakespeare with two top-tier American Oscar winners known for their straightforward, naturalistic acting styles sparked all kinds of "Consider the possibilities!" excitement in me. My curiosity about what qualities Denzel Washington (with his unassailable gravitas) and Frances McDormand (she of the stripped-down emotional bluntness) would bring to The Tragedy of Macbeth was rewarded tenfold.  
It plays no small part in my adoration of The Tragedy of Macbeth that Washington and McDormand's riveting, poignant performances single-handedly elevate the emotional stakes of this tale like no other I've seen. This is the first adaptation of Macbeth to give me waterworks. 

There's no end to the accolades I heap upon every member of this assured, accomplished cast. Standouts are Bertie Cavell's Banquo, with his sad eyes and heroic eyebrows. Moses Ingram's regal Lady Macduff. And then there's that flawless changeling, Kathryn Hunter. But a particular favorite is Alex Hassell as the sly Ross, whose role is amplified here and is costumed in a way that fittingly and amusingly has him resembling a male Morticia Addams. 

A parting shot of appreciation for the absolutely breathtaking beauty of The Tragedy of Macbeth. Exquisite Expressionism in a barren, storybook nightmare. 
Cinematography: Bruno Delbonnell -  Production design: Stefan Dechant

Sparse brevity is not only a visual characteristic of The Tragedy of Macbeth. In a Coen Brothers interview about their process adapting Cormac McCarthy's 2005 novel No Country for Old Men for their 2007 film, they remarked that they don't edit so much as compress. 
I'd say that perfectly describes how Joel Coen delivers a traditionally 2 ½ hour Shakespeare work (Polanski's Macbeth runs 2 hours 20 minutes) in a bare-bones 105 minutes.
The paring down of the original text is so judicious I never felt I missed a thing. Indeed, I had to re-read Shakespeare's Macbeth with a copy of Coen's screenplay at my side to even know what was excised. 

January 2021: In a world emerging from darkness, The Tragedy of Macbeth made an indelible, enlivening impression on me, for it's sometimes too easy to forget the transcendent power of art. I think it's a genuinely masterful film of astonishing beauty that made real for me, the catharsis of tragedy.  

See a clip from The Tragedy of Macbeth on the Cinema Dreams YouTube channel

Copyright © Ken Anderson     2009 - 2023

Saturday, April 22, 2023


What The Hell Did I Just Watch?
Silent Scream, Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, Wanted: Dead or Alive, Amityville 3-D, The Nesting, and Dead & Buried. Even when presented with evidence that I actually saw these "classics," it's still news to me. 

"Movies are the memories of our lifetime." Martin Scorsese

The Fabelmans (2022) - Steven Spielberg

Except when they're not. 
I've loved movies all my life. And of all the things that make film the art form that speaks to me with the most eloquence, my favorite is its magical ability to feed dreams and create memories. Indeed, the miracle of making lasting memories is so much a part of what I associate with movies that I seldom consider when it's not. Which is most of the time. 

Not every movie can, nor needs to be, the kind of movie we never forget. But I'm always amazed how some films, through no effort on my part, practically fuse themselves to my psyche on contact, while others slide off like Teflon.
Which brings me to the subject of this post. 

To Movies I Forgot I Ever Saw
(Something tells me I'm not the only one who doesn't remember seeing this
 1987 comedy starring Shelley Long and Corbin Bernsen)

A recent spate of hysterical weather here in L.A. left me with plenty of time and zero excuses not to give my apartment a thorough cleaning. While clearing out a particularly Fibber McGee-ish closet, I came upon a box crammed with old movie reviews I'd written between the years 1976 to 1990. (Since my teens, I'd gotten into the habit of taking a pen and pad with me to the movies, scribbling notes in the dark to be later transposed into reviews written for my eyes only.) The discovery of this stack of files, containing roughly some 600 typed (my Wite-out® addiction was out of control) and handwritten reviews, mercifully put an end to cleaning for the day as I immersed myself in reading about all the films I'd seen during that time.

Even the oldest of my essays felt familiar after a paragraph or so; my feelings about the films reviewed not really having changed much over the years. What surprised me was when I came across several reviews of movies I would have sworn I hadn't seen at all. Reading them failed to jar a single memory. No bells rang. No flashes of recognition. No memories retrieved. A complete blank. An entire experience vanished. 
I certainly don't expect to remember every detail of every movie I've seen. But at the very least, I DO expect to remember that I saw the damn thing.  
Michael Douglas and Sharon Gless in The Star Chamber - 1983
Did I see this crime thriller? Yes. Do I remember seeing it? No. Allow me to volunteer an "Ode to Cinema" quote they can maybe try out on the next Academy Awards Broadcast: "Some movies stay with you for a lifetime. Some movies stay with you for the time it takes to walk from the theater to your car." 

That this "Lost Movie" phenomenon can be ascribed (in varying degrees or combinations) to: 1) The sheer number of movies I've seen in my life, 2) My age, 3),  the "forgetability factor" of the films themselves (virtually all are escapist genre films), and, perhaps most significantly, 4) the advent of Cable TV (which introduced me to movies I would never have paid to see)—only adds to its fascination.

So, as a change of pace from posting about films that are meaningful to me and that I've never forgotten, I thought it'd be nice to give a shout-out to the movies I've completely erased from my mind. For this reason, the critiques and comments will come from reviews written when I first saw them. There are 20 films in total, the uniting factor being that had you asked me if I'd seen any of them, I'd have said, "Definitely, not!"


Andrew Stevens-Derrel Maury-Kimberly Beck-Robert-Carradine-Steve Bond
A bullied teen exacts bloody retribution on his tormentors in this cynically prescient High School horror film /social allegory.

What I wrote in 1982:
"As there is not a single authority figure or teacher to be found anywhere on campus, my lingering thought was that the titular massacre must have happened before the opening credits. A shade more ingenious than your average teen horror flick, but hands-down the worst-acted, 'Massacre at Central High' is an odd mix of astute and tacky. But by the end, I'm not sure which won out." 

Carol Lynley-Wendy Hiller-Edward Fox-Honor Blackman-Olivia Hussey
Playwright John Willard's influential 1922 murder mystery (big house, reading of the will, unsavory would-be-heirs, mad killer on the loose) receives its 6th screen iteration in this 1978 UK release that didn't cross the pond until 1981.

What I wrote in 1982:
"Enjoyable in its old-fashioned familiarity, the film's somewhat shapeless execution (I can't tell if it's supposed to be a gentle spoof or intended to be taken seriously) prevents it from being entirely effective as either. Still, it's fun to simply watch the interplay of the film's better-than-it-deserves cast. I know 'The Cat and the Canary' is intended to be a bit of escapist fluff, but even lightness doesn't have to be this weightless."

Lee Majors, Robert Mitchum, Valerie Perrine-Saul Rubinek 
A hotshot advertising whiz discovers his agency is using subliminal advertising to influence a political campaign. This 1980 Canadian production was released in the US in 1981, almost simultaneously with the similarly-themed Albert Finney sci-fi thriller Looker.

What I wrote in 1982:
" 'Agency' misses the mark by failing to find a way to make the danger potential of subliminal advertising even remotely exciting. Not to mention cinematic. Lee Majors is as stiff and inexpressive as ever; lovely Valerie Perrine is wasted; and not even Robert Mitchum…oozing reptilian menace from every pore…is able to pump some juice into this suspense-free, anti-thriller."

Caitlin O'Heaney-Don Scardino-Tom Hanks 
Undistinguished slasher flick about a spurned bridegroom who flips his lid and homicidally targets brides-to-be. Notable only for being the film debut of Tom Hanks.

What I wrote in 1982:
"A tiresome excursion into the well-traveled territory of psycho-killer on the loose. No attempt is made to make us understand the killer or care about the victims, so the whole affair takes on a rote, shooting ducks in a gallery feel. The nondescript and interchangeable victims are lined up solely for the purpose of being picked off…as regular as clockwork."

Petula Clark- Cathleen Nesbitt-John Castle 
Actress Diane Baker (Marnie, Strait-Jacket) produced this family drama about a girl from a broken home who copes by retreating into fantasies fed by the Peter Pan book she's always reading.

What I wrote in 1982:
"Cathleen Nesbitt is very charming as a former actress fallen on hard times in this sweet, sentimental movie about the validity of found families and the unavoidability of growing up. Though it plays out like one of those Afterschool Specials on TV--its 60 minutes of plot pulled like taffy to extend to a 90-minute running time--it's a movie with its heart in the right place. And it's nice seeing Petula Clark in a movie again."

Edward Albert-Erin Moran-Ray Walston-Grace Zabriskie-Sid Haig
A Roger Corman-produced Alien rip-off that was, at a budget of $5 million, the B-movie King's most expensive film. The movie's oh-so-familiar plotline recounts the horrific fate that befalls the members of a rescue vessel dispatched to a distant planet in search of survivors of a marooned ship.  

What I wrote in 1982:
"This motley group of rag-tag rescuers couldn't get a kitten out of a tree. Certainly not with pint-sized Erin Moran on hand as a kind of fire-sale Sigourney Weaver. Gore and gross-outs stand in for suspense and character development in this imitation-is-the-sincerest-form-of-flattery knockoff that hews so closely to Ridley Scott's infinitely superior film, it could have been made on a faulty fax machine."   

Rachel Ward-Leonard Mann-Drew Snyder
A mad killer on a motorcycle terrorizes students at a Boston girls' school. Notable for being the film debut of Australian actress Rachel Ward and the ignominious final film of British director Ken Hughes (Casino RoyaleChitty Chitty Bang Bang). 

What I wrote in 1982:
"This instantly disposable entry in the shock/shlock horror race is so similar to a host of others that you'll swear you've seen it before. In other words, it's one of those movies where all the women know a mad killer is about, yet insist on venturing out alone or seeking refuge in places that offer no escape. The appearance of the stunning Rachel Ward is the film's sole note of distinction."

Nell Schofield-Jad Capelja-Jeffrey Rhoe
Australian coming-of-age comedy about two teen girls desperate to be accepted by the in-crowd of surfer boys. A 1981 release, this early effort from Bruce Beresford (Tender Mercies, Crimes of the Heart) opened in the US in 1983. 

What I wrote in 1984:
"A teen beach movie with a feminist perspective sounds like a great idea. Too bad the perspective of the two girls at the center of this authentic-feeling look at adolescent peer pressure is roughly level with your average doormat. Realistic perhaps, but 80 minutes of boorish chauvinism hardly makes up for 5 minutes of triumphant female rebellion just before fadeout."

Johnny Yune-Margaux Hemingway-Raf Mauro  
The late Korean-American comic Johnny Yune lends often wince-inducing old-school brand of stand-up humor (all one-liners & obvious setups) to this Jerry Lewis-style vehicle about an innocent who gets mixed up with the Mafia.

What I wrote in 1984:  
"'They Call Me Bruce' is a road-movie comedy that's funny in the offbeat, low-budget, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink way that 'Airplane' is. The idea of Margaux Hemingway as a villain is promising, but she remains the most well-known, least well-used member of the cast."

Linda Blair-Stella Stevens-Sybil Danning-Tamara Dobson-Nita Talbot-Edy Williams
A women's prison film starring Linda Blair. Now you know the entire plot and premise. What gets me is how I could ever forget a movie with a cast as camp-tastic as this. 

What I wrote in 1984:
"It takes place in one of those prisons where false eyelashes and blow-dryers are more plentiful than shivs and cakes with files baked into them. The cast alone is a hoot: prison warden Stella Stevens barks all of her lines; Linda Blair (who must have a patent out on these kinds of roles) goes topless; Tamara' Cleopatra Jones' Dobson leads 'the sisters' in a riot, and eternal starlet Edy Williams is on hand as an extra. "

Samantha Eggar-Linda Thorson-John Vernon
A Chorus Line meets Friday the 13th in this casting couch slasher about a cattle call audition that has wannabe actresses vying for a role to (literally) die for.

What I said in 1984:
"Samantha Eggar, who really must have had some mortgage payments to meet, easily outclasses her co-stars in this contrived-yet-derivative slasher flick that should be a lot more fun than it is. Also, there's something perverse about making a movie about actresses, yet failing to cast any. And whose idea was it to cast the monumentally colorless John Vernon as a dynamic, sexually dangerous movie director?"

Teri Garr-Michael Keaton-Martin Mull-Christopher Lloyd-Ann Jillian
Husband is fired from his job, so wife becomes the breadwinner. Call the Press.

What I wrote in 1984:
"The comedy in this movie feels as fresh and up-to-date as an episode of Ozzie and Harriet. Keaton and Garr are as charming as all get-out, but the entire film feels like one of those TV commercials where a grown man has no idea how a refrigerator works… dragged out to 90 minutes."

Maggie Smith-Michael Palin-Denholm Elliott-Liz Smith
The class-conscious wife of a small-town chiropodist in postwar (meat-rationing) England hopes to gain a cultural leg-up by stealing a pig intended for a banquet celebrating the Royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth to Prince Philip.

What I wrote in 1988:
"This very British comedy about class, social climbing, and bodily functions is a delight from start to finish. Maggie Smith is probably the screen's most gifted vocal gymnast. She can wring more comedy and pathos out of the simplest line of dialogue than any actress I can think of. Michael Palin wisely bows to her clear comedic domination of their scenes together." 

Jane Alexander, William Devane, Lukas Haas, Kevin Costner-Mako
The threat of nuclear war was on everybody's mind in the early '80s, spawning several films (The Day After -1983 [made for TV], Under Fire - 1983, and Silkwood -1984). This particular plea for disarmament was initially conceived as a PBS American Playhouse TV exclusively production and humanizes the political argument by focusing its lens on a northern California family.

What I wrote in 1984:
 "Achingly painful depiction of a nuclear holocaust that hits so much harder because there's not a trace of 'disaster movie' spectacle or sensationalism. And precious little sentimentality. That the annihilation of mankind is viewed from the perspective of one unexceptional family seems to drive the nightmare of it all straight to the heart."

 Annette O'Toole-Martin Short-Paul Reyser
The all-important "third date" is the subject and setting of this comedy about two people single burdened with too many fronts they're trying to keep up.

What I wrote in 1989:
"An uneven but thoroughly delightful romantic comedy of the '80s that manages to be both charmingly sentimental and touchingly straightforward in chronicling the self-inflicted pains and humiliations of the modern dating scene. Ten years after 'Annie Hall,' it's nice to know the 'nervous romance' is still good for a laugh or two."

Rita Tushingham-Jackie Burroughs
When I wrote about Claude Chabrol's film Le Cérémonie (1995) on these pages back in 2017, I'd completely forgotten that I'd actually seen this artless Canadian adaptation of the same source novel
(Ruth Rendell's A Judgement in Stone – 1977). Tushingham plays a mentally fragile housekeeper with a guarded secret in this psychological thriller that's also something of a family affair: It's the directing debut of Tushingham's then-husband, cinematographer Ousama Rawi, and her daughter Aisha portrays Tushingham's character as a little girl.

What I wrote in 1988:
"A thriller that really struggles to find its footing. The idea of Rita Tushingham as a homicidal housekeeper is distinctly irresistible, but the result is a jumble of missed potential. Hampered by the flat look of a made-for-TV movie and a tone that careens recklessly from character study to exploitation horror, not even Tushingham's considerable talent can salvage this pedestrian handling of a not-uninteresting premise."

Melanie Griffith-Tommy Lee Jones-Sting-Sean Bean
A thriller set in Newcastle, England, that has American Tommy Lee Jones and expatriate Melanie Griffith somehow getting embroiled in money laundering, shady land deals, and romantic triangles. All set to a sax-heavy jazz score. Directing debut of Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas). 

What I wrote in 1990:
"Curiously affectless romantic thriller full of mood and atmosphere and a lot of posturing by its pretty cast. At least the dull action is intermittently enlivened by Melanie Griffith's scary punk haircut. Behind the MTV music video lighting and smoke effects are one very good actor and three OK ones in search of a movie."
Whoopi Goldberg-Sam Elliott-Ruben Blades-Jennifer Warren-Brad-Dourif
A Los Angeles detective is on the trail of a drug kingpin pushing a particularly potent strain of cocaine with the street name…you guessed it, fatal beauty.

What I said in 1988:
"Whoopi Goldberg, the actress Hollywood hasn't a clue as to how to use, is cast in a routine cop flick that clutches its pearls like a Southern white lady every time Goldberg has a scene with love interest Sam Elliott. Better than 'Burglar' (1987) but a long way from 'The Color Purple' (1985)." 

Eric Stoltz-Judith Ivey-Jennifer Jason Leigh
The arrival of a stranger threatens the close relationship of two sisters bound by a scandalous secret. 
The directing debut of Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters, Dreamgirls).

What I wrote in 1988:
"In a nutshell: Snidely Whiplash comes between Polk Salad Annie and Cracklin' Rosie. A tense & exciting third act is the payoff for making it through this swamp & sweat bayou thriller about a mysterious 'handsome stranger' who disrupts the lives of two sisters who run a hotel out of their decaying Louisiana mansion, yet still find time to harbor a dark secret." 

Diane Lane-Michael Woods-Cotter Smith-Tyra Ferrell
A department store window designer is stalked and terrorized by a man fixated on the provocative content of her window displays. This erotic suspense thriller had the ill fortune of opening the same day as Fatal Attraction

What I wrote in 1988:
"Behind that awful, Barbara Cartland-type title is a fairly effective, if derivative, suspense thriller. Diane Lane plays a department store window dresser who lives in what looks to be Jennifer Beals' loft apartment from 'Flashdance,' and whose sexually overheated, Laura Mars-style widow designs attract the attentions of a loony out to make her life pure hell." 


I guess movies are no different than all of life's experiences; we don't get to decide which will be the ones that stay with us for a lifetime. But while a past experience can never be relived, movies are forever. Maybe I'll rewatch one of these forgotten gems and see if this time anything "sticks." 

Be sure to check out the Companion Piece essay to this post:  

May all your movie experiences be more memorable.

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