Sunday, May 14, 2006


Directed by
Daniel Petrie
Written by Lewis John Carlino
Starring Ellen Burstyn, Eva La Gallienne, Sam Shepard
IMDB Entry

The obscurity of this film is purely due to the deliberate sabotage by its own production company.  That's a little surprising, but then, this is Hollywood, and if you'd rather lose money on a film than have it succeed, no one thinks you're nuts. 

It garnered a couple of Oscar nominations (for Burstyn and La Gallienne), a Golden Globe nomination (Burstyn) and was among the top films of 1980.  Yet now it seems to have been forgotten.  If Burstyn had won, things might have been different, but the film deserves to be mentioned with the best of the 80s.

Despite the title, resurrection really isn't the theme of the film.  Burstyn plays a woman who "dies" in a car crash, but who is revived after a brief time of being clinically dead (sort of like Buffy).  But she comes back with a new ability:  her touch can heal the sick.

She returns to her family, who try to understand what's going on.  They are religious, but Burstyn refuses to ascribe her ability to God; she doesn't want to give it any supernatural explanation.  This causes a great deal of conflict with her family.

Burstyn has explained why the film did so poorly.  Universal, who produced, wanted Sissy Spacek to win the Oscar for Coal Miner's Daughter that year.  When Burstyn got great reviews, the company pulled the movie from the theaters so she wouldn't compete with Spacek. I don't know how true this is, but it may explain why the film had a weak box office.

The film was written by Lewis John Carlino, who had scored renown a couple of years later with the screenplay to The Great Santini (which he also directed).  Carlino practically vanished after this, though, another talent who deserved more of a chance in Hollywood.

And Eva La Gallienne was a major Broadway actor, producer, and director (and translator of Ibsen) who made far too few movies.  Her performance as Burstyn's grandmother is a wonder to behold.

What really makes the film is the final scene.  It is one of the most beautifully heartwarming scenes in the history of cinema and deserves to be a film icon.  Alas, that sort of thing is not popular any more, but it leaves you feeling just plain good.

Friday, May 5, 2006


Directed by Ron Shelton
Written by  Ron Shelton, from books by Al Stump.
Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Robert Wohl, and Lolita Davidovich
IMDB Entry

I've always been a fan of Ty Cobb.  Oh, sure, he was nearly psychotic,
but his record on the baseball field was unsurpassed.  Cobb was a nasty racist bastard, but a fascinating character.

And Cobb does him justice.  It's a fascinating film.  Shelton (best known for Bull Durham) had an interesting take:  he would show Cobb at the end of his life, when he was writing his autobiography a few years before his death.  Cobb chose a sportswriter Al Stump to work with him — even though he had never met Stump (it's believed he chose him because Stump was a top writer at the time).  The early part of the movie is based on one of Stump's articles, describing a terrifying drive from Cobb's mountaintop home to visit Reno, Nevada.

Tommy Lee Jones is superb as Cobb.  The character is essentially a bastard to everyone around him.  But he's a funny and entertaining bastard.  In a way, he's like Gregory House (from the TV show), though he is far less likeable. 

Still, at odd moments, little hints of humanity are shown.  The scene with Lolita Davidovich starts out frightening, and becomes sad and pathetic.  As portrayed, Cobb is aware of what a jerk he is at times, but can't behave in any other way.  And he does have a positive side, like what he does to help Mickey Cochrane.

Wohl is also great as Stump -- a man fascinated and repelled by Cobb, and who discovers he's becoming like him.

The movie went nowhere.  I happened to see Ron Shelton at a showing of the film, and in the Q&A session afterwards, he was asked why.  He couldn't explain it.  The film opened to great reviews, had a recent Oscar winner in Jones, and was quite entertaining.  But it's likely the subject matter was the issue.  Cobb was unpleasant, and there were too many people who had never heard of them (alas, baseball is no longer the national pastime: a loss for the nation, but I'll write about that at another time).

What was also interesting was Shelton's answer to another question.  In the movie, Stump is secretly making notes on Cobb — writing down the truth that couldn't be put into the biography. Someone asked Shelton if the film was accurate (a concern that I find completely stupid, but that's another essay).  Shelton said it was — except for one thing.  In the movie, Cobb found these notes; in real life, he did not.  And Shelton said, "Once the notes were introduced, I couldn't go without Cobb finding them."  The perfect answer, and one more reason why being accurate is not the point.

But, in any case, even if you like accuracy, give the film a shot.

Monday, May 1, 2006

Hearts of the West

Hearts of the West(1975)
Directed by Howard Zieff
Written by Rob Thompson
Starring Jeff Bridges, Andy Griffith, Blythe Danner, Donald Pleasance, Alan Arkin
IMDB Entry

Howard Zieff is a director who never quite reached his promise.  He started out with a funny road picture called Slither (No, not the more recent horror film of that title), about search for a missing fortune, then went on to direct several successful and easy to like comedies:  House Calls (with Walter Matthau and Glenda Jackson -- a big hit in its time), The Main Event (Barbra Streisand and Ryan O'Neill) and Private Benjamin(Goldie Hawn), and My Girl (Macauley Culkin, which he was still big).  Then, his career came to a halt:  nothing since the early 90s. 

It's a shame.  Zieff was able to create quirky and interesting characters, and certainly seemed to have a commercial touch.  I don't know what happened to him, but I wish he did more.

Hearts of the West is my favorite.  It's set in the 1930s, where Lewis Tater (Bridges) a wide-eyed farmboy with dreams of being a writer of westerns, leaves home for Hollywood.  Without planning it, he ends up being a western movie star and wooing Blythe Danner.  Andy Griffith (an actor I didn't care for previous to this*, but the role made him a favorite) was an older, more experienced movie cowboy who turns out to be Tater's hero.

It's a move that loves moviemaking.  Bridges makes some rookie mistakes, like volunteering for a stunt without asking for more pay and suffering the consequences, and getting involved in a couple of crooks.  And it's also about one of my other favorite subjects:  writing.  It does contain one of my favorite movie lines of all time:  "Anyone can say he's a writer. But when someone else says you're a writer, then you're a writer."  Very true, not only in the context of the movie, but in writing overall.

*No, I don't like The Andy Griffith Show, thank you.  Too bland.