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By Vernor Rodgers
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"THE LAST DUEL"

Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, who collaborated on the critically acclaimed "Good Will Hunting" screenplay in 1997, work together again, along with Nicole Holofcener ("Lovely & Amazing") in this story of France's final trial by combat in the late 1300s. It is competently directed by Ridley Scott.

Damon stars as Sir Jean de Carrouges, a knighted warrior totally loyal to King Charles VI, and whose friendship with his squire Jacques Le Gris (Adam Drive) dissolves after Jacques is recruited by Pierre d'Alencon (Affleck), cousin to the king and serving as the kingdom's financial administrator, to collect taxes, in sometimes brutal ways. Jacques is rewarded for his work, including being given property and invited as  an honored guest to Pierre's orgies -- by the way, Pierre is married and has fathered eight children.

Jean, who lost a wife and son and desperately needs an heir, marries Marguerite (Jodie Comer) although he is embittered that some of the land in his bride's dowry has been seized for taxes, some of it gifted to Jacques. Jean sues both Jacques and Pierre, a bad move because it gets him nowhere and now he is additionally deprived of inheriting  a commandership of a fort his father has led. Jacques of course gets the position.

As if that isn't bad enough, while Jean is on a trip to Paris to collect pay for his latest war activities (direct deposit still was centuries away), his wife Marguerite is visited by Jacques, who declares his love for the woman and then sexually assaults her. After this despicable act he suggests to Marguerite she not tell Jean about this incident because Jean might just kill her.

But Marguerite does tell Jean about the rape, which leads to the trial and the order by the king to have a duel to the death.

The movie is broken up into three chapters, each one as recalled by the three main characters -- Jean, Jacques and Marguerite. This is a bit puzzling because each recollection differs very little from the others, and most important, all three confirm the rape took place. However, Jacques, when informed by Pierre in private of the charge against him, admits he did it but it was consensual. Publicly, Jacques never confesses to the crime.

This is an interesting study of the mindset of the French people back then. Everything was ceremonial and there were distinct classes of people. The belief behind the duel was that God would ultimately intervene in the outcome of the fight, thus the truth and justice would prevail. It was horrifying that if Jean lost the duel, Jacques would be exonerated, even though he was guilty, and worse yet, Marguerite would be convicted more or less of bringing false charges and subsequently stripped, shackled and burned at the stake.

Marguerite is the most noble character here, devoted to her husband and courageously facing what could be dire consequences for her. Jean, while a brave warrior, has a big ego but appears to love and respect his wife, and is foolish in butting heads with powerful and corrupt people like Pierre. And Jacques is simply an opportunist, and it is Marguerite who declares wisely, "I don't trust him."

Something that has always bothered me about these European Medieval era movies: Why was the weather so crappy all the time in those days?

"The Last Duel" Official Trailer:   https://youtu.be/mgygUwPJvYk

 

"HALLOWEEN KILLS"

Never have I seen so much traffic in social media about "Halloween Kills" and the "Halloween" slashfests that preceded it. There are streams all over the place: "Halloween Kills ending explained," "Michael Myers' best kills," Retrospectives on Laurie Strode (the original virginal Final Girl) wherein she had a daughter, no wait, she had a son, no wait, yes it was a daughter; she died, no wait, she faked her death; she beheaded Michael, no wait, that was someone else; she has become an alcoholic alienated from her family and obsessed with killing Michael Myers; as well as the convoluted attempt to somehow string all the "Halloween" movies together into a cohesive plot line.

"Halloween Kills" is the second of director David Gordon Green's reboot trilogy. This one feel like an athletic contest in which the second-stringers come into the game while the starters rest a bit. In this case, Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) spends the entire movie in the hospital having been injured in her battle with Michael at her compound in the first rebooted "Halloween" in 2018. Once it is revealed that Michael survived the blaze at the compound, emerging so pissed off he kills a bunch of firefighters, the second team is called in, led by an alcohol-fueled Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall), who was the kid Laurie was babysitting when Michael struck Haddonfield in 1978. Joining him are Lindsey Wallace (Kyle Richards, now an adult, reprising her role as the other child Laurie had to protect that night in 1978); Leigh Brackett (Charles Cyphers), the former police chief of Haddonfield and now a hospital security guard whose daughter Annie was a victim of Michael; Marion (Nancy Stephens reprising her role), the nurse who accompanied Dr. Loomis to the mental hospital the night Michael escaped); Lonny (Robert Longstreet), the kid who bullied Tommy in 1978 and was dared to go inside the Myers house in 1978; and Laurie's daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak).

The results are disastrous. Chanting "Evil dies tonight" to the point it becomes annoying, Tommy incites a mob, and somewhat like the shark-hunt armada in "Jaws" in which the wrong shark is caught,  the mob screws up.

A good point was having some flashback scenes of Halloween 1978 that differ from what was portrayed in the original "Halloween." In the 1978 version, Laurie and Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) are the only non-kids who encounter Michael and survive, and Brackett as police chief is not convinced Michael is even around until "Halloween II" when he sees the body of his dead daughter. In this new flashback, police officers are seen chasing Michael and even one officer dies. These scenes also shows why Officer Hawkins (Will Patton), also injured and recuperating at the hospital with Laurie, has been harboring guilt for 40 years.

Another tweak in "Halloween Kills" is when Lonny, mapping put Michael's route through Haddonfield, theorizes that Michael is not after Laurie at all. He just wants to go home. He must have such fond memories of that place. Well, hell, now that the current residents in the Myers house, Big John and Little John, are out of the picture, let Michael HAVE his home back. He certainly would be a kick to all the trick-or-treaters each Halloween.

The final film in this series, "Halloween Ends" (but will it?) is scheduled for release in 2022. The hope is Laurie will get off the disabled list and get back in the game.

"HALLOWEEN KILLS" Official Trailer:   https://youtu.be/hL6R3HmQfPc

 

"NO TIME TO DIE"

Not much to say here except that "No Time to Die" delivers as an action-packed James Bond thriller, enhanced by some awesome heroic moves by the ladies Nomi (Lashana Lynch) as a Double-O agent and Paloma (Ana De Armas) as a crack-shot agent-to-be.

But I thought Daniel Craig deserved a better send-off as he wraps up his five-movie term as James Bond.

With all the speculation about who the next James Bond will be, I am curious as to how the Bond franchise will reconcile the conclusion of "No Time to Die." If it somehow uses the tired device of "it was all a dream," I am going to break some windows.

"NO TIME TO DIE" Official Trailer:   https://youtu.be/BIhNsAtPbPI

 

LOOKING BACK: "RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK"  
AND OTHER MOVIES TURN 40 THIS YEAR

The year  of 1981, when the world was introduced to archaeologist and adventurer Indiana Jones in "Raiders of the Lost Ark," was also one of the final years when theaters were the only source of movie entertainment.  Cable and satellite dish reception were not widely available yet, and video cassette recorders  were bulky and expensive, as well as VHS and Beta formats. But a bridge to all that was provided by ON and Select TV, the first subscription television services. They broadcast over the air in UHF but the signal was scrambled and there was no audio. Subscribers were issued a special antenna and a decoder box.

For me, 1981 was another vintage year, following 1980, in which I was attending at least one movie, and sometimes more, per week.

I was aware of the "Raiders" 40th anniversary earlier this year and picked up the special collectors' edition of The Ultimate Guide to Indiana Jones. Then, via social media posts by my friend Rutanya Alda, I was reminded that "Mommie Dearest," in which Rutanya was a co-star, also came out in 1981. This much- maligned film in which Faye Dunaway set new standards in overacting, chronicled the story of actress Joan Crawford's abuse of her adopted daughter Christina. Dunaway's acting as Crawford was cringe-inducing. Years later Rutanya had published "The Mommie Dearest Diary," her observations on the filming of that movie.

Made aware of these two anniversaries I went into research mode and discovered several other notable movies were released in 1981. Here is a look at some of them, and this also serves as an In Memoriam, as many of the actors and actresses and others involved with these films have since passed. These will be designated with an asterisk (*).

COMEDIES:

"STRIPES": Bill Murray was at his comedic best here as John Winger, a misfit and underachiever who after losing his job and girlfriend decides to join the Army and drags his friend Russell (*Harold Ramis) along. During training he butts heads with Sgt. Hulka (*Warren Oates) and pretty much becomes a leader of the platoon. "Stripes" was pivotal in making "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" a cadence song for marching now. This also was the first  real exposure of the talent of  *John Candy, who played Ox. Interesting fact: Bill Murray is an artist at improvising, which irritated Sean Young during shooting. She, along with PJ Soles, played MP officers who get into relationships with John and Russell.                                                     

Fun quote:     Cruiser: "I can't believe we're going after John and Russell. I can't believe they're Russian spies."   Psycho: "All I know is I finally get to kill somebody."

"SOB": If there is anyone who knew his way around Hollywood, it was *Blake Edwards. The man behind the TV series "Peter Gunn" as well as the person who brought us Inspector Clouseau (*Peter Sellers) in the "Pink Panther" movies, he took a shot at moviemaking with this satirical movie. SOB simply stands for Standard Operational Bullshit. This movie has a loaded cast: *William Holden, *Shelly Winters, *Robert Preston, *Robert Webber, *Robert Vaughn, Loretta Switt, *Robert Loggia, *Larry Hagman and a young Rosanna Arquette. *Richard Mulligan plays Felix Farmer, a successful producer whose latest film is a flop. Despondent and suicidal he eventually has an epiphany and decides to reshoot some scenes to create some eroticism, including a scene in which his wife, Sally Miles (Edwards' wife Julie Andrews) bares her breasts.

Edwards lampoons the movie industry, smirkingly showing its back-stabbing and ruthlessness and the adage: You're only as good (or bad) as your last movie. Preston nearly steals the movie as the self-admitted quack, Dr. Finegarten, who at a party is asked what he does for a living. I breed armadillos, he replies. Is that satisfying? he is queried. No, but the armadillos sure get a kick out of it. Edwards' final shot is the funeral service for Felix, wherein all the people who betrayed him attend the service, unaware the body in the coffin has been switched by Felix's loyal friends -- Culley (Holden), Dr. Finegarten  and Coogan (Webber) -- who take the departed Felix away and give him a Viking funeral.

Fun fact:     Director Edwards was nominated for two Golden Raspberry Awards for Worst Director and Worst Screenplay for this movie but won neither.                                                                                                   

Fun quote:     Felix: "Can she work?"     Dr. Finegarten: "Is Batman a transvestite? Who knows? I was specifically requested to alleviate her anxiety. Work was never mentioned."

 

"ARTHUR": Remember *Dudley Moore? Even though he was a child prodigy and for awhile had a comedic partnership with *Peter Cook, he was a stranger to American audiences until his role in "10," the 1979 romantic comedy featuring Bo Derek. Two years later he was nominated for an Academy Award for playing the title role in this movie. His Arthur is an alcoholic billionaire playboy set to marry the grounded Susan (Jill Eikenberry) whom he doesn't love , and things get complicated when he falls for the financially struggling Linda (Liza Minnelli). *John Gielgud, known more for his dramatic and classic roles in movies like "Hamlet," won the Best Supporting Actor for his role of Hobson, Arthur's loyal but sarcastic servant, a part Gielgud turned down initially until he got a payment offer he could not refuse. This movie also showcased the hit song by Christopher Cross (remember HIM?), titled "Arthur's Theme."

Fun quote:     Arthur: "I'm going to take a bath."     Hobson: "I'll alert the media."

 

"CAVEMAN": A silly little movie directed and co-written (with Rudy De Luca) by Carl "Jaws" Gottlieb, if nothing else led to the endearing and enduring marriage of Ringo Starr and Barbara Bach, who met on the "Caveman" set and celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary this last April. To appreciate this movie it is best to be familiar with the 1966 movie "One Million Years B.C.," starring Raquel Welch and spawning one of the first popular wall posters of her in her cavewoman attire. "Caveman" lampoons the prehistoric era genre, with Starr playing Atouk, something of a screw-up among his tribe of Neanderthals. He has the hots for Lana (Bach) who unfortunately is the girlfriend of Tonda (*John Matuszak), pretty much the big, intimidating leader of the group. Meanwhile, Tala (Shelly Long, pre-"Cheers") suffers unrequited devotion to Atouk. The movie features goofy dinosaurs and the questionable history of the discovery of fire, music and how delicious fried eggs can be. In the end, of course, Atouk turns out to be the hero and upon realizing Lana's shallowness, literally drops her. Matuszak, by the way, was a defensive lineman in the NFL, mostly with the Raiders, and proved his acting chops in the football movie "North Dallas Forty."                                                                                  

Fun quote:     Nook (Evan Kim, the only Asian actor in the cast, who utters the only non-Neanderthal word in the script): "Shit."

 

"CANNONBALL RUN": *Burt Reynolds in the midst of his "fast-cars" era. Director *Hal Needham brought together a delightful cast to join Reynolds, including *Dom Deluise, *Roger Moore, *Dean Martin, *Sammy Davis Jr., *Farrah Fawcett, Terry Bradshaw, *Jack Elam, *Peter Fonda, Jackie Chan and Adrienne Barbeau. A decent enough comedy with lots of stunt driving, but what has endured over the decades are the outtakes at the end of the movie while the credits role, clips still readily available on social media. Fun quote: Race organizer: "You are certainly the most distinguished group of highway scofflaws and degenerates ever gathered together in one place."

 

SCIENCE FICTION AND HORROR

"SCANNERS": Among horror fans, David Cronenberg is considered to be in the upper tier of directors in this genre, along with *Wes Craven, *George Romero, John Carpenter, Dario Argento, Guillermo del Toro and others. His "Rabid," "The Brood," "The Fly" and "Shivers" are among the movies he has filmed. "Scanners" had a lot of word of mouth, regarding, of course, the now iconic head exploding scene, which garnered a lot of talk 40 years ago for its explicit gore. Of course, horror fans had for years been accustomed to this kind of stomach-retching stuff, but this was quite a shock to the mainstream audience. In this movie, Michael Ironside, blessed (or cursed) with a stern and sinister look that can make him a natural as a villain or a much respected leader ("Starship Troopers") plays Darryl Revok, a powerful and evil "scanner," a person  with psychic powers that can control minds and even do fun little destructive things like blowing up heads. In order to stop him, a scanner who is down and out (Stephen Lack) is recruited to oppose Revok. All this leads to the psychic duel at the end where heads burst into flames and eyeballs pop out. Loads of gruesome fun. Cronenberg recalled this movie was very frustrating, rushed through production. Stephen Lack, now a prolific painter, has made the horror convention rounds and offers humorous insights into the making of this movie.

 

THE WEREWOLVES MOVIES

Well, there was "The Howling" a darkly humorous film featuring Dee Wallace as a television reporter who needs to chill out after covering a disturbing story and finds herself involved in a colony of, well, werewolves. She then captures the TV ratings title by turning into a werewolf on a live newscast. This movie has led to about a thousand sequels.

Then we have John Landis' "An American Werewolf in London" that propelled makeup artist Rick Baker into the stratosphere and made him the first makeup category Oscar winner. Conceived by Landis while he was a low-on-the-totem-pole production staff member on the set of "Kelly's Heroes" a decade earlier, this movie stars David Naughton as David, who with his friend Jack (Griffin Dunne) meets a grisly fate while on a walking tour of Britain. They are attacked by a werewolf, a little fact that the locals would like to keep a secret. David is injured but survives while Jack is killed -- more or less. But while David is recovering he has vivid and violent dreams and soon Jack drops in to visit from time to time, in an increasing state of decomposition. Jack has a message for David: You are a werewolf and thus you need to kill yourself to break the blood line. Otherwise those victims of your attacks are pretty much in limbo, walking dead. David's initial agonizing transition into a werewolf broke new ground in special effects. There is dark humor here and yet a sad development in that David, a really nice guy falling in love with one of the nurses at the hospital (Jenny Agutter), has to kill himself to free the people he massacred.

 

"THE FINAL CONFLICT": This was the third and final film of "The Omen" series about Damien Thorne, the Anti-Christ. The first two covered Thorne's birth and his teen years when he learns who he is. Now an adult, Thorne (Sam Neill) is a handsome and charismatic man, head of a massive corporation that has its hands dirty in manipulating devastating world events. Now Damien is ready to enter politics and kind of goes into "scanner" mode to control the United States' ambassador to England to blow his own brains out, opening the opportunity for Thorne to step into that diplomatic position. But there is a problem. The prophesies as written in The Revelation about the Second Coming of Christ are coming to fruition and Thorne needs to thwart that. Meanwhile, a group of pesky monks, led by DeCarlo (*Rosanno Brazzi),  have gained possession of the seven daggers of Meggido, said to be the only weapons that can kill Thorne. Well, he can handle them, but the birth of the Christ child is another matter. So Thorne calls a meeting of his Disciples of the Watch and issues an order: Kill every boy baby born in Britain during the time window that the Christ was born. This is a truly chilling scene as Thorne presides over thousands of people from all walks of life -- even religious leaders -- willing to do what is commanded. Thorne even demands that his loyal assistant Harvey Dean (*Don Gordon) slay his own newborn son.

 

"OUTLAND": Considered an outer space version of "High Noon," the classic Western that featured an Oscar-winning performance by *Gary Cooper, "Outland" stars *Sean Connery in the Cooper role. Connery is Marshal William O'Niel, assigned to a mining colony on the Jupiter moon of Io. When workers start dying from the use of an illegal amphetamine, O'Niel's investigation uncovers a drug ring within the colony. But not only does he not get any support -- except from Dr. Lazarus (a scene-stealing Frances Sternhagen) -- but a shuttle of assassins is en route to the colony and as the arrival time ticks down on a digital clock, O'Niel and the good doctor need to set in motion a survival plan. Peter Hyams directed "Outland," which in turn landed him the job of directing "2010: The Year We Make Contact," the follow-up to "2001: A Space Odyssey."

 Fun fact:     Connery was set to do an extended cameo in the Oscar-winning "Chariots of Fire," but had to cancel out because "Outland" shooting went over schedule.

 

"ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK:" This futuristic action movie, co-written (with Nick Castle) and directed by John Carpenter gave us Snake Plissken, one of my favorite Kurt Russell roles (also HIS favorite role). It's a dark thriller in which  New York City is now a massive prison colony where all the convicts pretty much set up their own government. When a plane carrying the President of the United States is shot down in New York, Plissken, an eye-patched rogue doing his own time behind bars, is given a chance at redemption if he can rescue the captured president (*Donald Pleasance). The Snake deals with a lot of peril and has to kick a lot of butt along the way and has an unlikely alliance with Cabbie (*Ernest Borgnine) while facing the powerful Duke (*Isaac Hayes). In the end everyone seems a littleinsane  except for Plissken, who sort of gives everyone the finger at the end.                                                                         

Fun quote:     Bob Hauk (*Lee Van Cleef): "It's the survival of the human race, Plissken. Something you don't give a shit about." 

 

ACTION FILMS

Several high-adrenalin capers hit the theaters in 1981:

"THIEF:" James Caan plays Frank, a highly specialized safecracker who targets gems. But he also hankers for a normal life and owns a bar and a used-car lot. His dealings in thievery get him mixed up with corrupt cops and a crime lord (*Robert Prosky) who is intent on exploiting Frank's skills until Frank is burned out, in prison or dead. This was an early Michael Mann directorial effort that  showcased his ability for uncompromising violence, especially in the final shootout. Excellent soundtrack by Tangerine Dream.

 

"NIGHTHAWKS:" Sylvester Stallone and Billy Dee Williams team up as elite New York City undercover cops who have to stop an infamous international terrorist named Wulfgar (*Rutger Hauer) now roaming the streets of New York. Wulfgar is ruthless and cold. In one early scene he compliments a young clerk in a department store (Catherine Mary Stewart) while sliding a bomb under the counter below her, which a moment later blows her to pieces. Stallone's DaSilva cleverly beats Wulfgar at the terrorist's own game. This movie also featured an excellent score by *Keith Emerson from Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

 

"SUPERMAN 2:" Some regard this movie to be better than the original. *Christopher Reeve's second outing as Superman / Clark Kent was filmed mostly at the same time as the original 1978 film. Superman has to go up against three of his father's former planet Krypton enemies -- General Zod (Terence Stamp), Ursa, (Sarah Douglas), and Non (Jack O'Halloran), who are released from the Phantom Zone by a nuclear explosion in space and come to Earth, which they mistakenly call Planet Houston, set to conquer it. Inconveniently, Superman has fallen in love with Lois Lane (*Margot Kidder) to the point he is willing to give up his Superman powers and live a normal life. Gene Hackman has way too much fun as the conniving Lex Luthor, switching alliances from Superman to General Zod based on who has the advantage at the time. There are some now laughable special effects during the downtown battle between Superman and the Krypton baddies, with obvious cutouts of people on the streets.

Fun quote:     Clark Kent, after gaining revenge on the diner bully Rocky (Pepper Martin), who beat him up shortly after Clark surrendered his superpowers, and upon regaining his strength trounces Rocky, then hands money to the diner owner: "Sorry about the damage...   Oh, I've been working out."

 

"SOUTHERN COMFORT:" Sandwiched between "The Long Riders" and "48 Hrs.," Walter Hill directed this movie about a squad of National Guard soldiers on a weekend exercise who find themselves in real danger when they borrow without permission a canoe from local Cajuns in the Louisiana Bayou and further complicate matters when one of the soldiers commits a stupid prank. When the squad leader, Poole (Peter Coyote), is killed, the Guard soldiers are barely equipped physically or emotionally to survive a deadly cat-and-mouse battle with Cajuns who are on their home turf. Superb cast also includes *Powers Booth, Keith Carradine, T.K. Carter, Fred Ward, Les Lannom ,*Franklyn Seales, Alan Autry (who went by the name of Carlos Brown), Lewis Smith, and *Sonny Landham and *Brion James as Cajuns, the latter who directs the only two surviving soldiers to a path to escape despite being abused earlier by the squad. A violent film that also was a good character study of weak leadership and lack of trust where it is most needed. Superb musical score by Ry Cooder.

 

"SHARKEY'S MACHINE": Burt Reynolds, in serious mode, directed and starred in this crime thriller. Reynolds plays Sharkey, an Atlanta narcotics cop demoted down to vice after a botched operation who soon finds himself and his colleagues investigating a high-society prostitution ring with international implications. Another top-line cast with *Charles Durning, *Vittorio Gassman, *Brian Keith, *Bernie Casey, Rachel Ward, Henry Silva, *Richard Libertini and Earl Holliman. A gritty and engrossing cop drama.                                                                                                                                      

Fun quote:     Sharkey: "Are you all right, partner?"     Arch (Casey): "Of course not, you asshole. I'm shot." 

 

DRAMA

Three dramas came out that centered around crime and corruption.

"TRUE CONFESSIONS": Although they were in the cast of "The Godfather Part Two," Robert DeNiro and Robert Duvall never shared any screen time in the movie. In "True Confessions" they are cast as brothers. DeNiro is Des Spellacy, an ambitious Catholic monsignor in 1940s Los Angeles who rationalizes that his dealings with powerful but corrupt people in L.A. at least yield the results in a lot of charity funds the church is able to use for community goodwill. Duvall is a cynical LAPD detective, Sgt. Tom Spellacy, who is not too happy with his brother hobnobbing with what he considers the worst of criminals -- high-profile people who operate illegally but above the law and are seen as respectable citizens. Tom is investigating the brutal Black Dahlia-like murder of a young prostitute and discovers the woman has ties to the elite people with whom is brother is linked, especially Jack Amsterdam (Charles Durning), a wealthy construction mogul seen as a pillar and philanthropist in the city. The movie is a flashback, beginning and ending with an aged Tom visiting Des, now terminally ill and exiled to a remote church. Tom has been harboring guilt that his determination to solve the murder and bring down Amsterdam also had the collateral damage of ruining the standing of Des. But Des convinces Tom that Tom's actions did provide redemption for the former monsignor.

 

"ATLANTIC CITY": *Burt Lancaster received his fourth and final Academy Award nomination for his role as Lou, a longtime numbers runner and low-level person among the organized criminals that thrived when Atlantic City was a mecca for entertainment and gambling. Lou now mostly embellishes his recollections of those good old days but currently barely makes a living as a kept man for the widow Grace Pinza (*Kate Reid). Susan Sarandon received her first of five Academy Award nominations as Sally, a native of Moose Javian (Saskatchewan). She has come to Atlantic City to train as a Black Jack croupier and hopefully become a cultured woman. The arrival of Sally's estranged husband Dave (Robert Joy) with a cache of stolen cocaine disrupts Sally's life while offering renewal for Lou. Dave recruits Lou to help him sell the cocaine but when Dave is killed, Lou enjoys an opportunity to deal the cocaine, earn some money, get a chance to be a fake mentor that leads to a brief fling with Sally and finally come back to Earth to resume his mundane life with Grace, really his comfort zone. Written by John Guare and directed by Louis Malle, "Atlantic City" picked up five Oscar nominations that included Best Picture and nods for Guare and Malle. It was a superb character study of dreams never realized as well as a warning about how fleeting those dreams can be when achieved.

 

"ABSENCE OF MALICE:" This movie was especially interesting for me because it came out when I was early in my career in the newspaper business. I was working at the Pasadena Star-News at the time and the bosses there incentivized us to view this movie, a cautionary story, by offering to reimburse us the admission price if we submitted the ticket stub to human resources. *Paul Newman received his fifth of nine Academy Award nominations as Michael Gallagher, a Miami-based liquor wholesaler and law-abiding citizen who unfortunately is the son of a deceased mob boss. When an FBI-local district attorney office investigation into a murder with mob ties is stalled, Rosen (Bob Balaban), an unscrupulous DA official, tries to break things loose. He uses Megan Carter (Sally Field), a young, ambitious but naive and sloppy newspaper reporter, to leak a story that Michael is under investigation, and possibly a suspect, in the murder. This is done in hopes of pressuring Michael to get some inside information that might help solve the case.

When the story is published,  Michael goes to the paper but is essentially told, tough luck -- absence of malice and all that. Aside from his business life going into chaos, his personal life suffers a tragedy. His best friend Teresa (Melinda Dillon, also an Oscar nominee) can provide the solid alibi proving Michael could not have committed the crime. But coming forth with the alibi could have devastating effects on Teresa's life, and she already is emotionally fragile. She foolishly meets with Megan in hopes she can get Michael off the hook with an off- the-record testimony. But Megan, more driven to get the story, reveals Teresa's story, leading the distraught woman to commit suicide.

This prompts Michael to play along with the investigation, only he sets it up to compromise everybody involved. This leads to the feds dispatching Assistant U.S. Attorney General James A. Wells (*Wilford Brimley, who deserved a nomination here),  to Miami to sort out the mess. Armed with subpoenas and with the power to jail Megan if she doesn't divulge the sources she used for the stories, Wells pretty much unravels the plot, which ends up costing Rosen and his boss Quinn (*Don Hood) their jobs, and leaving Megan, at least free of jail time, and the newspaper, very red-faced. Michael's actions, which seem illegal, really are not and he walks away, having avenged Teresa's death. After it is all over, Megan says to Michael, "You really got us." He shakes his head. "You got yourselves," he responds.                                                          

Kurt Luedtke, who wrote the Oscar-nominated screenplay, said that his inspiration for the story was from a court case that concluded that American libel laws, due to this case precedent, indicate that truth is not always necessary to journalism in situations involving public figures. Thus, a newspaper can  make a bad mistake and hurt a public figure who cannot always collect damages for it.                        

Great quote:     Wells: "Now, we'll talk all day if you want to. But, come sundown, there's gonna be two things true that ain't true now. One is that the United States Department of Justice is going to know what in the good Christ is going on around here. And the other is I'm gonna have somebody's ass in my briefcase."

 

WILLIAM HURT

Although William Hurt is no longer a matinee idol -- his most high-profile role in recent years being as Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross in a couple of the Marvel "Avengers" movies -- he was quite a hot commodity in the 1980s, nominated for Best Actor Oscars three straight years, 1985-87. He won the statuette for "Kiss of the Spider Woman" in 1985 and was nominated for "Children of a Lesser God" in 1986 and "Broadcast News" in 1987. Since then he has been nominated once, a Supporting Actor nod for "A History of Violence" in 2005.

The year of 1981 was when he zoomed into prominence with three memorable starring roles:

 

"ALTERED STATES": Written for the screen by *Paddy Chayefsky (who died in 1981) and directed by *Ken Russell ("Women in Love," "The Devils" and "Tommy" among many others), this was Hurt's first major starring role, as Eddie Jessup, a brilliant but unconventional scientist, more passionate about his work than his love and family life. Having done some experiments in isolation chambers as a student, he revisits this research later when he is a full professor at Harvard Medical School, this time enhancing the sensory deprivation experience by ingesting hallucinogens, specifically untested ones used in mystical Mexican rituals. He discovers that he can enter an alternate mental state that taps into a primitive genetic code. But then the mental aspect evolves into a physical state wherein after receiving X-rays following one of his sessions in the tank, a technician looks at the X-rays and declares, "This guy's a fucking gorilla." Of course, in this altered state he has no conscience, just a sense of survival, and acts accordingly to the peril of all creatures near him. Blair Brown, who also had a good run of movies in the 1980s, plays Jessup's brilliant wife Emily, also a scientist and ultra patient with Jessup's inability to express love.

Fun quote:     Mason Parrish (Charles Haid), a colleague of Jessup and another scientist played by Bob Balaban: "You're supposed to be reputable scientists! Not two dorm kids freaking on Mexican mushrooms!"

 

"EYEWITNESS:" Hurt co-stars with Sigourney Weaver, still riding high from her role as Ellen Ripley in "Alien." Written by *Steve Tesich ("Breaking Away") and directed by *Peter Yates ("Bullitt"), "Eyewitness" features Hurt as Daryl Dever, a janitor so infatuated with TV reporter Tony Sokolow (Weaver) that he suggests to her he has vital information about a body discovered in the building where he works, a story she is assigned to cover. He doesn't reveal much more but Tony's interest in him grows and as the investigation intensifies, Daryl and Tony soon find themselves in peril.

Fun quote:     Aldo Mercer (James Woods), a friend of Daryl's: "She's just using you. You're a janitor, you asshole!"

 

"BODY HEAT:" Writer Lawrence Kasdan was just breaking in during the early 1980s and was off to a spectacular start, having penned the screenplays to "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Raiders of the Los Ark." His directorial debut was this 1980s film noire that propelled Kathleen Turner to stardom as the femme fatale Matty Walker. Hurt stars as Ned Racine, an inept lawyer in a small Florida town near Miami. On a hot summer night he encounters Walker, bored wife of a wealthy and somewhat crooked businessman, Edmund (*Richard Crenna). A torrid affair ensues and Ned is so obsessed he starts taking literally Matty's wistful comments about how their relationship would go places if Edmund were dead. Soon Ned is planning and carrying out the demise of Edmund. Seemingly well executed, Ned sees his alibi gradually dissolving with implicating evidence mysteriously getting into law enforcement hands . Meanwhile, Matty is manipulating Ned into making some seemingly minor changes in Edmund's will, which because of some procedural errors end up nullifying the document, thus insuring Matty getting the whole estate rather than sharing it with Edmund's family. Eventually Ned is convicted of murder and while in prison he does some digging and realizes Matty has been using him from the start, a key element being she was aware of similar legal errors Ned made earlier with another client that played into the Edmund will being nullified. Hurt and Turner sizzled with erotic chemistry in this movie, and there were a couple of memorable secondary characters that stood out. Ted Danson is Peter Lowenstein, a local assistant district attorney who likes to tap dance and finds himself in the uncomfortable position of warning Ned, who is his friend, that he is likely to be arrested in Edmund's death. And Mickey Rourke, in only his fourth appearance in a major movie, steals a couple of scenes as Teddy Lewis, a client of Ned's and convicted arsonist from whom Ned seeks advice on building an explosive device. 

And speaking of Rourke's Teddy, here is a fun quote he delivers to Ned: ”Hey now, I want to ask you something. Are you listening to me, asshole? Because, I like you. I got a serious question for you: What the fuck are you doing? This is not shit for you to be messin' with. Are you ready to hear something? I want you to see if this sounds familiar: any time you try a decent crime, you got fifty ways you're gonna fuck up. If you think of twenty-five of them, then you're a genius -- and you ain't no genius. You remember who told me that?"

Hurt would work with Kasdan again in a couple years in "The Big Chill" playing Nick, an underacheiving, drug -using guy among a group of University of Michigan friends, now in middle age, who reunite to attend the funeral of another college friend who committed suicide.                                                                         

Hurt amassed a good body of work, which was why we all shuddered when we saw he agreed to star in "Lost in Space" in 1998. Alas ...

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