Pick of the Week: The Swimmer
In the first ten minutes of most movies, we learn everything we need to know about the main character. Occasionally, there will be a surprise, a "reveal" somewhere in the latter half of the movie, but usually in American cinema, the background is revealed in the opening pan across the character's house as the alarm goes off, or the kids are being rushed off to school, in a image overload of Photoshopped family portraits and exposition heavy dialogue. We learn that the main character is not only a single mother but an important executive who gets it all done somehow, or that the character is an unkempt bachelor cop who plays by his own rules and still has been burned on love in the past.
Rarely a script comes along that plays against convention so radically that it's a wonder it was made. The Swimmer is one such movie. While at first appearing to be a light hearted pool "party in the suburbs" type film, the story gets progressively darker as the sky blackens. Burt Lancaster plays the role of an idealist in a state of denial. The mood is upbeat as he decides to swim across every neighbor's pool in the county on his way home. But as he approaches each neighbor, we learn a piece more of the back story, and the mood deepens.
I saw the last half of this film some years ago on TV, but when I re-watched it from the beginning, widescreen, with no commercial breaks, and ten years older, it hit me in the gut. The Swimmer is like Old Yeller for adults. If I saw this at 18, I'd probably think Burt Lancaster is an old jerk, but at 36, I was deeply moved.
Week in Review
Who doesn't like a good sniper? In film, anywayÂ…they're dramatic, tense, suspenseful plot subjects. When all the other theme columns this week look at Easter movies or San Francisco Earthquake anniversary movies, I'm bringing you a list of maniacs with high-powered rifles.
The Manchurian Candidate
I love watching Denzel Washington, but I haven't brought myself to watch the remake. The original, directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Frank Sinatra, is brilliant. Sinatra plays a veteran whose mind may not be completely his own.
Roger Corman gave Peter Bogdonavich his first big break to make this film. Bogdonovich had already done some AD and second unit work for Corman, prompting the producer to give him four weeks to crank this film out. Watch this one twice, the second time with the commentary track on. It's one of those films with a great back story.
Dirty Harry is one of my favorite San Francisco films, as well as one of my favorite Clint Eastwood roles. Eastwood's titular character has been mimicked so many times by now, a few times by Eastwood himself, that it's lost a little of its power, but still outdoes almost every rogue cop movie that came after it.
The Parallax View
Warren Beatty investigates the strange world of assassin recruitment, and the film asks some heavy questions along the way. Very paranoid, and good to the last shot, pardon the pun.
The Deadly Tower
Sadly, this one is not available on DVD yet. Kurt Russell, after playing mostly goofy kid roles in Disney films, made this movie for television in 1975. It's the story of real-life sniper Charles Whitman, who shot over 40 people from a bell tower at the University of Texas, Austin campus in 1966.
Liberty Stands Still/Phone Booth
These two films are pretty much the same film. One is on a cell phone and the other is in a phone booth. A sniper has called someone and will shoot him/her unless his wishes are carried out. Phone Booth was written by Larry Cohen, an underappreciated American writer/director of various genres.
John Singleton followed up Boyz in the Hood with this message-heavy stuffed sack of stereotypes, archtypes, and clichés. Michael Rappaport plays a sniper skinhead. Yep. The cast is amazing, but appear to be in some kind of parody. Singleton's script is horrible. He was 25 by the time of the release, and it does sound like a screenplay written by a college student. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I do like Boyz in the Hood, Baby Boy, and Poetic Justice. If you haven't seen one of those, then give Singleton a chance.
Tom Berenger is a lonely, misunderstood retired Marine sniper. Why aren't there any good jobs stateside for a sniper? Really, we're supposed to feel sympathy the same way we do when an American's job is outsourced or antiquated. For real unintentional humor, however, check out The Substitute.
This is only on the list for technical reasons. Nothing to see here. Move along.
Quote of the Week: "You are my possession and I own you like I own every toilet in this god damn house!"Â—Philip Baker Hall to Charles Busch, from Die, Mommie, Die!
I knocked down 11 this week Â– my target. I have 259 days left to watch the remaining 374 DVDs in my queue. That's a weekly total of 10.1 per week. I need at least 11 again this week to gain ground. I'd really like to get this number to an even 10 per week.