Friday, March 26, 2010

Dog in a Fog

White Dog (1982)
directed by Sam Fuller
rating: 3 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Netflix

The ex-newspaperman goes for a bit of yellow journalism, sending his white dog on a crime spree that would do a serial killer proud. But the anger beneath the fantastic scenarios - there's a rape attempt the first night Julie brings her new stray home? - is real enough, and Fuller was a decent, honest man. He captures that moment when a casual encounter with a strange canine can go one way or the other well, makes a heartbreaking appeal for no-kill shelters, and is matter of fact in his treatment of racism's beginnings. It isn't innate, it's taught.

The director, who filmed Boyle Heights so gently in The Crimson Kimono, is similarly discreet in the Hollywood Hills. Cars pass carefully on narrow streets, taillights wait in the dark like the next puzzle from Mulholland Dr., and cameras float on cranes to document the roaming beauty of overgrown footpaths through the canyons. But my favorite scene is Julie's confrontation with her adopted shepherd's first owner. Telling him off isn't just an emotional catharsis for the character, but an actualization of every time a woman has felt intimidated by a stranger, wanted to say something, but hasn't. You can almost hear the gears working in Fuller's head as he read Romain Gary's book about Jean Seberg. A movie about race, sure - we can do that - but why not a few screenplay pages about the casual sexism women deal with daily living on their own?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sex Stories

Overboard (1987)
directed by Garry Marshall
rating: 3 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Netflix

Goldie Hawn looks Kate Hudson-beautiful as she wanders in the prettiest, haziest daze through Kurt Russell's cute kidnapping scenario. Garry Marshall, the director of Pretty Woman and the nail in the coffin of Lindsay Lohan's career, is not surprisingly heavy-handed with the material, but America's favorite unmarried couple skates along like the lovebirds they are. It's a great, generous script, with lots of laughs at the expense of the New York end of things but no real villains. Not even the gold-digging husband is all bad. Like Dean and his four boys, Grant Stayton III knows what he wants and does his best to protect it, while amnesia makes the laughs and the romantic evenings convenient for everyone.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Snaggle Rock

Chuck - Season 2 (2008-2009)
rating: 3 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Netflix

I enjoyed the second season of Chuck more than the first, not because of Scott Bakula or because Joshua Gomez finally got his bangs off of his forehead, but because I decided to think of Chuck as the “other man” in Sarah’s unhappy marriage. Sarah, of course, is only married to the government, and only figuratively, but the on-again/off-again aspect of her longing for Chuck is too erratic to make sense within the narrative framework of the show. Either she can be with Chuck or she can’t; the logic behind their tension is untenable over the long haul. Clearly, a common criticism of Chuck is that it isn’t very well thought through, but the simple pleasure of watching Casey, Sarah, and Chuck interact – sometimes for comedy, sometimes in anger – continues to provide me with a reason to enjoy the guilty pleasures of network TV. And if I’m unhappy that Sarah is “committed” to the government when she doesn’t have to be, voila, Uncle Sam is Victor Laszlo in Casablanca.

Chuck, of course, continues to reap benefits he hasn’t earned, which is fine except that he spends so much of his time complaining about them. The disconnect between Chuck’s weekly missions and activities at the Buy More is enormous, and it seems like the show’s creators have put themselves in the position of writing an Office-like sitcom alongside a spy comedy. That’s one laugh riot too many, so now that Chuck is Neo, I can only imagine that Jeff, Lester, and Big Mike will have to be jettisoned completely. Except that I doubt it. No one wants to be the one to break up the old gang.

Even so, Chuck’s romantic. But as for that moment when they almost did have sex, but for Chuck’s incompetence with a condom - well, why wouldn’t someone as smart as Sarah practice birth control? Come on.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

For Those Who Think Young

Badlands (1973)
directed by Terrence Malick
rating: 4 out of 5 cravats
on DVD from Netflix

Holly is a girl, all of fifteen. Kit might be 25 on paper but he courts Holly like a boy in high school. And you know me; after Deadhead Miles, I thought I'd have something real smart to say about Malick's considerably less obscure directorial debut. Kit's worldview may be a lot smaller than Cooper's, but both men are wide-eyed for wonder. Kit, like Cooper, spends a lot of time in his own head, answering his own questions the moment he asks them; Kit's banter with the officers who arrest him is a one-man routine.

But Alan Arkin was 38 when he made Deadhead Miles, though he doesn't look a day under 40. For Badlands, Malick cast 32-year old Martin Sheen and 23-year old Sissy Spacek. Instead of wise, the two leads play innocent, and that's the difference. Look at the tree fort Kit builds or his shyness about sex. I'm always happy when someone like Malick mentions Treasure Island as the inspiration for a love story. No one forgets Long John Silver, I guess, who listens to young Jim Hawkins when no one else will and finds his way home against the odds to some distant corner of the sea.