#332- Atlantic City

Quick recap: An aging gangster tries to continue being relevant. He helps a woman with her estranged husband’s funeral, sells coke and gets into a turf war with mobsters.

And starring Susan Sarandon , who likes to take lemon baths

Fun (?) fact: For a movie about gangsters, there’s a surprisingly sparse amount of trivia on IMDb. The best fact I can find is that shortly after filming the movie, Burt Lancaster nearly died from a gall bladder operation.

I spent a good chunk of time thinking Burt Lancaster was Matlock. Turns out that was Andy Griffith, so I guess I can’t tell my old white guys apart.

My thoughts: Hey! It’s good to be back, or something like that. I’ve had a couple of months of constant sickness, including losing my hearing for two weeks so you’d think I would’ve chosen a stronger film to celebrate my return to hearing. Unfortunately, that’s not how life goes.

I actually started Atlantic City with high hopes. The beginning was engaging, although Sarandon felt out of place. That could just be because I’ve seen her in so many other roles. In this one, she plays the estranged wife of a drug dealer who apparently knocked up her sister and then took off with her. While I wasn’t too keen on her placement, the guy who plays the deadbeat husband is SPOT ON:

 

Like, so spot on I could imagine what he smelled like. So anyway, Dave (pictured above) comes back with the knocked up sister to sell drugs. From here, a whole bunch of plot stuff happens that I don’t want to get into because a) there’s too much and b) everything plays out how you expect it to, once you know the characters. The other important character is Lou, the aging gangster. He is introduced in the first scene, secretly spying on Sarandon giving herself a lemon bath. She later claims this is to get the fish smell off of her, but I’m pretty sure soap does that. The next scene is of him taking orders from an old lady and running errands for him. So, early on I got the idea that he has a hear of gold but also a streak in him. Or maybe just a thing for lemon baths.

Skipping ahead to the ending (because I can), Lou eventually shoots and kills two mobsters whom Dave stole coke from. It is revealed that he has a habit of skipping out on friends when their life is in danger, so this is some sort of breakthrough I don’t think most psychologists would endorse. Honestly, the only redeeming part of this movie was the actual setting- Atlantic City. The buildings seemed to have so much character to them and I could perfect imagine this rundown resort city, past its prime but ready for its moment. There’s a scene when Robert Goulet drops by to croon and if I didn’t know better, I would’ve thought this was a Lynch film, it was so surreal. There was a part of me that wished I was still deaf so I could just watch the scenes and not have to deal with the wacky plot and subpar characters.

Final review: 2/5.

Up next: Le Samourai

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#331- The King of Comedy

Quick recap: Aspiring comedian Rupert Pupkin wants nothing more in the world than to be on the Jerry Langford Show and will do anything to secure his spot.

Fun (?) fact: Robert De Niro, a method actor, said anti-Semitic remarks to Jerry Lewis to get a rise out of him during the scene when he crashes his weekend home. It worked.

My thoughts: This movie was a total surprise- from the time I learned it was directed by Martin Scorsese to my first glimpses of Robert De Niro to the ridiculous ending. And I loved it all, even if the embarrassing moments made me want to hide forever.

With a name like The King of Comedy, I expected something hokey and I was a little disappointed that Scorsese would go for such cheap comedy. But from the very first scene as Jerry Langford tries to exit his building through a mob of rabid fans, I knew I was in for something dark. De Niro is perfect as Rupert Pupkin. I found myself constantly wavering between feeling sorry for him and supremely annoyed. The same with Sandra Bernhard as Masha, although she made me cringe much more than have empathy for her. Rupert and Masha are in this microcosm of fans who are obsessed with a celebrity and they feed off of each other. Rupert, as mentioned above, is an aspiring comedian but about the only practice he does is make tapes of himself pretending to be on the Jerry Langford Show. He is so determined to be there that this becomes his focus, instead of actually honing his craft. And Masha is just in love with Jerry and is convinced they deserve to be together.

Rupert’s fantasies of a relationship with Jerry Langford are confusing because they blend in so well with the actual plot. The first one is of Langford begging him to take over the show because he needs a break for a few weeks. It’s very obvious this is a figment of his imagination but the end of the movie has Rupert actually becoming a star because he kidnapped Langofrd and I can’t tell whether this really happened or not. There’s a point in the film about how obsessive the public can be with celebrities and how fleeting that love can be, so it would make sense Rupert lives in infamy just as much as it makes sense he is completely forgotten. Not knowing somehow makes this movie even darker and more sad. And speaking of which, Rupert’s set on tv is so self-deprecating that it physically hurt to watch but the audience loved it. Or did they? I kind of love that I don’t know for sure.

Final review: 5/5

Up next: Atlantic City

#327- Drugstore Cowboy

Quick recap: Bob (played by Matt Dillon) and his crew spend their days getting high and robbing pharmacies. It’s all fun and games until dogs are mentioned a someone puts a hat on a bed.

subtlety is overrated

Fun (?) fact: I couldn’t find much trivia for Drugstore Cowboy, unless you are into which celebrities love this movie. I did learn, however, that a hat on a bed as a sign of bad luck is totally a thing and has been for awhile.

also starring Baby Heather Graham!

My thoughts: Movies about drugs educate me in a way the DARE program did not. I always expected saying no was going to be a bigger deal than it actually ended up being. That’s two years of my life spent on learning how drugs are bad when someone could’ve just shown me the toilet scene in Trainspotting or the arm in Requiem for a Dream and would’ve been scared straight. And if I’m being completely honest, that Muppet All-Stars special was pretty damn terrifying.

I’d never want to disappoint ALF

Until Drugstore Cowboy, I never realized how much work was involved to stay high. That was literally all Bob and his crew did: rob pharmacies and get high. And sometimes they got high in order to rob more pharmacies. At one point in the film, detectives get wise as to their illegal operations and so the crew sets out on a cross country trip in order to-you guessed it- get high and rob more pharmacies. But they couldn’t just stash their….stash, so they bagged it up and sent it ahead of them so that there would always be plenty of drugs when they needed them. Director Gus Van Sant never makes a morality call about the crew’s life choices and instead leaves the audience to draw their own conclusion. Once Bob decides to get clean and get a real job, it’s not clear whether his life has improved. The same can be said for his former crew. I appreciated this perspective because I could focus on the characters rather than whether or not doing drugs was a good idea or not.

That being said, for no reason in particular, I just didn’t really like Drugstore Cowboy. The music was good, acting was good, the storyline moved at a reasonable pace, but I never really got into it and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. At times it felt like van Sant was trying too hard to get into the indie market with his film, but that’s also just who he is as a director. I wish I had better reasoning as to why this film rubbed me the wrong way, but sometimes that just happens.

Final review: 2/5

Up next: Umberto G

#324- The Big Chill

Quick recap: A group of former college friends reunite at a funeral for Alex, a friend who committed suicide .

starring Jeff Goldblum!

Fun (?) fact: Kevin Costner was cast as dead guy Alex and he originally filmed some flashback scenes. Most of it was cut  by the time the movie was released So all that’s left is a few seconds of Alex’s corpse being dressed for the funeral.

such a performance

My thoughts: Remembering my experience with Diner, I was reticent to watch The Big Chill. I knew it had something to do with the 60s and I wasn’t in the mood for a bunch of flashbacks and nostalgia porn. I mean, I get it. I love the 90s and I would totally be down for a movie with references I personally know. But someone else’s nostalgia just isn’t the same. Luckily this movie does a great job staying in the present but dropping little reminders, like the music, to set the tone.

My initial lack of enthusiasm for The Big Chill stemmed from the large ensemble cast. A large group of characters who shared a long history meant that I would have to sit through each backstory and ‘connect’ with each person. Thankfully, that’s not what happened. There’s never an explanation how everyone met each other but there are a few clues about the various relationships. One thing I disliked was how the women were welcomed into the group but their relationship to the men was mostly a previous or current romantic one. The men were successful- a businessman about to go big, a journalist, a movie star and a radio psychologist. But the women mostly just talked about various relationships and kids and subpar husbands. Seeing as how I never really had a huge group of friends I hung out with in college, maybe that’s just how it goes. And maybe there wasn’t enough time to flesh out all the characters. Either way it just felt like the women got the short end of the stick in this group of friends.

Despite the premise of friends reuniting at a funeral, The Big Chill isn’t as sentimental as it could’ve been and I appreciate that. There’s the usual mix of montages and heartfelt discussions you find in these kinds of movies but it never goes full on schmaltzy. Alex’s suicide weaves in and out of conversations and it all felt so genuine, as if these were a real group of friends. In the end, as everyone began to depart it was nice to think of them all staying in touch after such an emotional meeting but there’s a hint that things might’ve just gone back to the way they were, much like real life. I prefer that ending over a definite answer that everyone’s life had changed.

Final review: 4/5

Up next: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance