True Grit [1969)

To get through life, you need grit.

Toughness.

I know of no tougher people than my parents.

And they have been an infinite inspiration to me.

So it is a pleasure to review what is one of my dad’s favorite films.

He always told me to watch this, but I guess I had some subliminal aversion to Westerns.

Well, dear friends, this here is a masterpiece.

I haven’t written much about Westerns (aside from the three Clint Eastwood spaghetti Westerns I reviewed long ago).

I know the genre is not everyone’s cup of tea.

Jean-Luc Godard commented once that his soulmate Anne-Marie Miéville really couldn’t stand this genre, whereas Monsieur Godard has been open about his admiration for John Ford and other directors of the American Western.

But here we have a film by Henry Hathaway.

Sure, John Wayne is in the movie (big league!), but it was Hathaway behind the camera ostensibly calling the shots.

You might know Hathaway from the film noir Call Northside 777.

Or perhaps The Desert Fox:  The Story of Rommel (starring the inimitable James Mason).

But he also directed Rawhide and The Sons of Katie Elder (another flick starring The Duke).

But let’s bring out the big gun.

John Wayne was born Marion (!) Robert Morrison in Winterset, Iowa.

That’s right.  Not Texas.  Not Oklahoma.

Iowa.

So how did John Wayne become such a badass?

Much of it might be attributable to his attention to detail.

And just what (or who) was he paying attention to?

Wyatt Earp.

That’s right.

Deputy sheriff of Tombstone, Arizona.

But let’s get on to this fantastic film, shall we?

The real surprise is Kim Darby.

Sure, Glen Campbell is great here, but Darby is sensational!

And though this might be thought of as Kim Darby’s only significant film role of her career, it is timeless.

She knocked it out of the park as Mattie Ross.

All our actors are gritty, but the real toss-up is between Kim Darby (who was 22 at the time) and John Wayne (who was 62).

Toughness is the theme of the movie.

He or she who is toughest will overcome.

Sure, some obstacles are insurmountable.

But GRIT will get you through some harrowing situations.

It’s almost funny when a film (like this one) includes minor roles for the likes of Dennis Hopper and Robert Duvall.  Duvall’s role is a bit more substantial, but the main focus is on the troika of Campbell, Darby, and Wayne (particularly the latter two).

Fans of the recent film Sicario will notice precursors to “rough justice” present all throughout True Grit.

But director Hathaway manages to make a G-rated film.

For that and other reasons, I am recommending this as a family film (though it may be unsuitable for particularly young ones).

The narrative device which keeps the film “all ages” is that Mattie is supposed to be 14 years old (though, as stated, Kim Darby [Mattie] was actually 22).

The action of our film centers around Fort Smith, Arkansas (at first) and later in the “Indian Territory” around McAlester, Oklahoma.

The film features prominently a Colt Model 1848 Percussion Army Revolver a.k.a. Colt Dragoon Revolver (.44 caliber).

Firearms aside, John Wayne is magnificent in the denouement when he takes on four armed horsemen.

That said, a Sharps rifle comes in particular handy for Wayne in a near-death imbroglio.

Glen Campbell’s greatest moment is just getting on the horse and setting the beast in motion.

It is this scene in which Campbell proves himself to be just as gritty as Darby and Wayne.

But the film is not over yet.

And we see John Wayne take action:  as a leader!

Doing what needs to be done!

But the scene which brought tears to my eyes was when John Wayne bet on the toughness of Kim Darby.

And that is the message.

What great encouragement it is when people have faith in us!

When they say, “I know you can do it!”

We may not believe it ourselves, but their faith lifts us up.

We think, “Maybe they know something I don’t.”

When we’re at our lowest point.

Those who stand beside us with compassion are displaying that priceless characteristic of true grit.

The very end of the film is quite touching as well.

We see an actor 40 years younger than her leading man offer a hand of friendship with an act of love.

It’s not even romantic.

It’s just classy.

Humane.

In truth, very poetic.

I wholeheartedly recommend this film for all doubters of John Wayne and the Western genre in general.

Yee-Haw!

-PD

Všichni dobří rodáci [1968)

I did the best I could.

Tired.

We try and take the right road.

Or the left road.

But not the wrong road.

We want to be correct and offer our best service.

And we depend on our bodies.  Our eyes.  Our minds.

So I come back to Czech films tired.

Directed by Vojtěch Jasný.

This is All My Good Countrymen.

It rambles.  It woos us from slumber.

It progresses to higher levels of sublimation.

It doesn’t make sense.

But makes just enough sense.

We appreciate, but don’t fully understand.

We do, however, recognize Radoslav Brzobohatý from the wonderful Ucho.

There is just enough contrapuntal organ to shake the foundations.

You push on tired and forget about the guns.

The land mine.

It seems (to put it lightly) not a ringing endorsement for communism.

Just like any political system.

The people get fed up.

And which system has the flexibility to survive upheaval?

Tired.  Tired.

Farm collectivized.  A land owner is dispossessed.

Move out of your house, please.  We need your land.

Tired.  How did the merry widow get so?

Lehár.  Her red hair.

It took me a long time to get to omega from alpha.

You bet!

It would seem that Vladimír Menšík dropped acid.  On his foot.

Or poured.

A little bit of Amarcord magic…or Zéro de conduite (depending on the weather).

Icy peacock.  And the feather blossom tree pollen.

For a humorous confession.

You can’t break a law you don’t understand.

Even with a mere 10.

Refer to my previous answer.

And again.

Think of the Le déjeuner des canotiers of the Renoir we talk least about here:  Pierre-Auguste.

It is a shot of vodka perched on bottom lip.

A swig.  A slug.  In purgatory.

Resting because the boaters must be immortalized.

In their Italian boater hats.  And de Nîmes denim jeans.

Pamplona by delivery.

School districts in debt.  More prodigious than the municipalities in which they are located.

This would be lived out…this rebellion…”No.”–by our good director Mr. Jasný.

The good man starts over.  Like Sisyphus.  Camus’s best writing.

The people of the world.  They amaze me.  Every day a miracle.

Finding little motivations to care for their loved ones.

It is not cowardice.  It is compassion.

It is submission to love.  And the God of chaos has many wonderful things for us.

A daughter on a magical mystery tour.

We will get to the animal farm.  And the propaganda waiting.

But now we sing of Cardiff and Dublin.

When will the music come back?

We preserve it like a relic.

A holy repetition.

Spin that record again and make those sounds which speak to us of other planets.

This is a masterpiece of Eastern European cinema which is essential to a comprehensive understanding of the field.

I’m guessing multiple viewings are necessary.

 

-PD

 

Twin Peaks “On the Wings of Love” [1991)

From the depths of great exhaustion.

Driven by integrity of purpose.

Not to take for granted.

Opportunities.

Researching in the basement of the Pentagon.

Or at least a basement.

Somewhere.

A very tough time with being strange.

And behind.

Building compassion.

But now in the land of no chances.

It felt more like another concatenation.

But this was perfect.

An episode of redemption.

Simulated.

In real life.

We are curious to know the truth of the numbers.

Interpretation.

Failure and success and failure.

And success?

Good God…

Such stewardship as to be rewarded for all eternity.

I lost my place.

When the ground yields nothing but weeds.

Rocky soil.

Luck would have it.

Futility.

Her beauty graces the shore.

The mountains.

Ignorance.

I am on and then off.

Switched on.  And powered down.

I don’t have the answers anymore.

Is the answers.

Hard and beaten by the city.

What can possibly happen.

Study hard.

Take pains.  Be perfect.

Yale.

Intelligence cycle.

Gathering.

An old alley.  Blind.  Not deaf.

Jeff mute.  Jute.

I don’t know the mystery of this progression.

Scriabin.

I am the branches.  You are the vine.

Powdered mustache.

Nothing makes sense at a certain point.

At which you are cork light buoyant.

I have given the full measure.

 

-PD

Moartea domnului Lăzărescu [2005)

They say the British have a peculiar sense of humor.  [Or humour, rather.]

I am beginning to wonder whether Romania has its own brand of comedy which has yet to be fully appreciated by non-Romanians.

That to which I refer is a bit of writing on the Tartan Video box which encases this film The Death of Mr. Lazarescu.

The line in question reads, “THE MOST ACCLAIMED COMEDY [sic] OF THE YEAR”.

Think of the saddest film you’ve ever seen.  Dying Young?  Schindler’s List?

Ok.  Now, tack on the above.  [the most acclaimed comedy of the year]

I’m beginning to wonder if someone at Tartan Films has their head screwed on backwards.

But let’s be fair:  Tartan Films released one of the most important films of the century so far (12:08 East of Bucharest).

Whatever the case may be, let me be clear that The Death of Mr. Lazarescu is (in my book) by no means a comedy.

When I first saw this film it struck me as that which I still regard it:  a sad, sad film.

However, I must point out that this mini-masterpiece from director Cristi Puiu has aged extremely well (unlike the lead character).

The reason this picture is so good is really the immense contribution of Ioan Fiscuteanu and Luminița Gheorghiu.

The late Mr. Fiscuteanu (God rest his soul) gives one of the finest performances in the history of cinema as the titular Dante Remus Lazarescu.  The symbolism of the names should be noted.  Rings of hell.  Ineffective medical systems at the state level.  Heartless bureaucracy.  Song of the South.  Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.  Mr. Bluebird on my shoulder.  And finally, Jesus wept.  Or Jesu swept.  Arise, Lazarus.

The smell…  Ugh.  Yeah…

This film packs a punch.  It is realism.  If you had a hard day at the office, don’t watch this.  Hard day at the coal mine?  Not recommended viewing.

But if you want to see the golden nugget at the center of humanity’s inextinguishable heart, then watch as Luminița Gheorghiu goes beyond the call of duty as nurse Mioara.  She is a paramedic with gall bladder problems.  She and the driver of the ambulance which carts around Mr. Lazarescu make “less than nothing” (to quote the subtitles).

Yes.  You will see the saddest shit imaginable.  You will see an acting tour de force by Ioan Fiscuteanu as what?  An ordinary man.  Age 63.  Headache.  Stomach ache.  Something is wrong.

And.  You will see the real eyes of compassion.  Not too much.  Not too little.  Luminița Gheorghiu.  The nurse who respectfully disagrees.  The nurse who takes insults all night long.  Just to save one man.  Lazarus.

She.  Has to go smoke a cigarette in the kitchen.  The paramedic.  In Russia, every part of the plane is the smoking section.  That was the quote from the inimitable Genghis Blues.  And so.  Romania.  We are not given a year.  A left-running TV offhandedly mentions Timișoara.  Is it the revolution?

What is the ambulance delay?  An hour response time.  In Bucharest!  Pre-Revolution or post-Revolution?

We don’t know.  I don’t know.

Maybe it is left vague on purpose.

In closing, this is a very (very) important film.  It’s like a slap of cold water in the face.  It ain’t pleasant.  This isn’t a fun movie.

But it is wholly worth seeing.  Lead actor Fiscuteanu would be dead within two years.  But you know what?  He did it.  He succeeded.  This is a timeless testament.  Line up Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Dustin Hoffman…all of them together (at this time) are shit compared to Fiscuteanu’s performance in The Death of Mr. Lazarescu.  Only Hoffman has the chops to challenge.  Dustin, it would have to be even better than Rain Man.  Ready thyself if you want to compete with Ioan Fiscuteanu.  It’s gonna take every pitiful cell in your body.  You can do it.  It might do you in.

-PD

Sudden Impact [1983)

This is not a popular time to have sympathy for cops.  That’s too bad.

This is not a popular time to have sympathy for the FBI.  That’s unfortunate.

Not a popular time to champion the CIA.  Pity that.

No love for the NSA.  Shame…

We get one version of events.  So much so that we chase after an alternative version.  Which is credible?

Police have a very sacred trust.  Once upon a time it was phrased as “to protect and serve.”

Abuse of power disgusts us.  The pendulum swings to the other end.

Jingoism breeds contempt.

détournement

There are several wars on in the world.  The U.S. is involved widely.

It’s not a popular time to say something kind about the military.  Bummer.

What is at issue in all of these parallel phrases?  Justice and compassion.

Efficacy.  Human rights.

Right and left.  Conservative and liberal.  Even the widely disparaged neoconservative movement.

I have been quick to find fault with the so-called neocons.  But there is an interesting fundamental point about them that perhaps few know:  they used to be liberals.

I am reminded of Realpolitik.  Kissinger.

The tendency creeps in to apologize for the shameless.

An apologist, after all, works in myriad ways.

It is good that all of these thoughts come to the surface upon viewing what many “serious” film critics would consider to be sub-par pulp.

Let me start (continue) by saying that Sudden Impact is a brilliant film.

There are moments when the balance between directing and starring (acting) seem to be too much for Eastwood, but those few moments are mostly on the front end of this picture.

Though it be, perhaps, sacrilege to suggest such, this is probably the best Dirty Harry movie.

The reason is directly attributable to Eastwood’s auteurish guidance.

Though the setting of San Paulo somewhat mirrors Bodega Bay from Hitchcock’s The Birds, it is mostly the same director’s Vertigo which provides a wellspring from which Eastwood draws liberally for the symbol-laden mood of this affair.

Sondra Locke is formidable as the Kim Novak character.  Though Callahan himself never succumbs to catatonia, Locke’s sister in the film does.  It reminds us of Jimmy Stewart’s incapacitation after seeing Madeleine “die” the first time (again with the Vertigo references).  Of particular note is the camera work which follows Locke’s first killing in Sudden Impact.  The circular, woozy pattern makes us think of Novak’s plunge into San Francisco Bay.

And that’s just it:  Eastwood had the balls and brains to drag Hitchcock into the Dirty Harry series (itself set in San Francisco).

What this film achieves is imparting humility to armchair DCIs (like myself) who think we have it all figured out.  Sometimes distance is good…for planning.  Sometimes you need to hear a few bullets buzz past your ears to realize that a hot war is on.  It’s not always easy to know who’s shooting…and from where.

There are multiple fronts.  I often ponder my own mental weakness.  Ultimately, no one has died in vain.  The challenge is for us as a nation and a world to get better…quickly.  It ends up sounding meaningless, but it’s about all one can say about this spinning globe of chaos on which we live.

-PD