Friday, June 22

Under-rated Movies

Here are five films which, for one or more reasons, were not as highly regarded as those who made them would have hoped and certainly aren't held as highly as I regard them.  I am pointing more toward the critics' reactions rather than the public but in some cases that might include the public as well.  Three of them are dramas and two are comedies.  It has not escaped me that the comedies failed, in part, because the lead actors in each are not only dramatic actors but one might call them highly dramatic.  There are those who think less of the work for such actors when they make a stab at comedy.  Too bad.  Let's see what you think.

Author!, Author! (1982) is the first of the two comedies.  One of the things I liked was seeing Al Pacino lighten up and I thought he did a good job.  Considering that he and director Arthur Hiller apparently didn't get along so well, I heighten my kudos for Pacino since it is always more of a strain when one doesn't get on with the boss.

It is the story of a Broadway playwright whose wife is leaving him and their gaggle of hooligan kids at the same time that he is putting on a new show.  I also liked seeing Tuesday Weld who is not so funny as the departing wife and Dyan Cannon, as the actress signed for his play, who, I think, is a smart comedic actress and brought much to the role.

The movie is like a zoo where the animals are running wild and the kids, most of whom seemed to have been plucked off the street for their acting debuts, and this, I suspect, is one of those things that those naysayers didn't like.  I not only didn't mind it, I thought it was all quite appropriate and provided the film with a fresh look at what life under those circumstances would have been like.  It was a lot about love and responsiblity and hanging in there. 

A Good Year (2006) is the other film starring a dramatic actor (Russell Crowe) that didn't do so well and seeing Crowe do comedy likely turned off all his little gladiators.  This often happens.  One expects a certain something from a Crowe film (or Pacino and scores of others), so we go see the newest one.  And when one doesn't get that same-o, same-o, we whine and complain that it wasn't a good film and that carries across the winds and soon no one goes to see it.  Pity.  This is a damned nice movie... well-done (although done before... Under the Tuscan Sun is not dissimilar and it was an outrageous hit) and well-acted by Crowe, the wonderful Marion Cotillard, adorable Freddie Highmore, always dependable Albert Finney, the delightful Abbie Cornish and a super supporting cast.

It is directed by Ridley Scott who has worked with Crowe countless times and the same thing could be said about him that I addressed above with Crowe and the public's expectations.

The story is about a tough London investment trader who goes to France to settle his uncle's estate.  While there he finds a special fascination has returned from the times he spent there as a child.  Those childhood times are interspersed in the modern-day story with Highmore playing Crowe's part.  He also finds love with Cotillard who makes any film worth the price of admission.

Some critics put this down as a sappy romantic-comedy and I, the severest critic of that genre, beg to disagree.  This film is stylish, beautiful to look at and has something to say about appreciating the simpler things of life, searching for and finding simplicity. 

Heaven's Gate (1980), yes, Heaven's Gate is on my under-rated list.  Don't hit the esc key.  It is wildly under-rated and has always been swept away by the avalanche of bad publicity that ensued during the filming, most of it surrounding its director, Michael Cimino, and also reports of animal abuse.  Some would consider it one of the worst films ever made and that is patently absurd... annoying, really.  For that reason alone it would make my list of under-rated films.

It surrounds a real-life incident called the Johnson County Wars which took place in 1890's Wyoming.  The county was growing significantly at that time and a feud developed between Euopeans flooding to the area and wealthy land barons over cattle.  All the characters are richly developed and no one is without flaws.  The cast includes Kris Kristofferson, Jeff Bridges, Isabelle Huppert, Christopher Walken and John Hurt and all deliver the goods.  I had not known Huppert before this film and have been a fan ever since.

There was a look of reality to the characters and topography, not like some slick western with shiny boots and saddle horns.  There is also, oddly enough, a roller skating sequence that was so charming I could hardly stand it.

A truly epic western, big and sprawling, it deserves inclusion in  the category with other huge western films.  It is a true story, elaborately detailed and something one can sink one's teeth into.  Into this paragraph must creep a fact that made this film take the blows and that is its length.  It would make Gone with the Wind seem like a short documentary.  I admit it is too long; I would have cut the Harvard University scenes in the beginning.

Home from the Hill (1960) would probably make it into my second list of favorite films.  I liked it that much.  It was directed by Vincente Minnelli and stars Robert Mitchum, Eleanor Parker and a couple of Georges, Peppard and Hamilton.  It was the story of a wealthy, often cruel Texas patriarch, his sexually-repressed wife, their mama's boy of a son whom they use as a pawn and the father's illegitimate son whom he hardly recognizes.

This film was juicy stuff and a searing look into an uncontrollably dysfunctional family with dire consequences.  Robert Mitchum has always been one of my favorite actors and this film contains one of his very best performances, unlikeable as the character was.  It was only the third movie for George Peppard and he is as handsome and sexy as he ever was.

I think the film was tossed off as just another melodrama, a soap opera that was beneath the talents of a director that brought us wonderful dramas such as Tea and Sympathy, Lust for Life and Some Came Running, comedies like The Reluctant Debutante and Designing Woman and the multi-Oscared Gigi.  To some Home from the Hill was woefully lacking compared to those films.  I found it a most compelling drama.

My own complaint was George Hamilton and I think some others shared that view.  His character was weak but Hamilton looked like a snobby rich boy slumming to me.  I thought Richard Beymer, rather hot around that time, would have been a better choice.

Ryan's Daughter (1970) was savaged by the critics and it is a rotten shame because it is a gift from an outstanding filmmaker, director David Lean.  Perhaps when one helmed Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Dr. Zhivago and others, Ryan's Daughter just doesn't hold up.  Nonetheless, it is a wonderful movie with three outstanding things going for it.  If you think I liked Robert Mitchum in the Home from the Hill, you better get ready for what I thought about him in this one.  Seeing rough, tough, manly Mitchum play a timid schoolmaster was quite astonishing to me.  Paul Scofield, who was considered for the role, seems more like the type, but Mitchum nailed it.  I think the general public was too stupified to appreciate what fine work he did.  Secondly, it is one of the most gorgeously-filmed movies I have ever seen.  Ireland should use it as a pitch to promote tourism.  Freddie Young richly deserved his Oscar.  And Maurice Jarre's lush score is nothing short of sensational.

It is the story of a spoiled country lass who marries a man she doesn't really love and in the shadow of WWI has an affair with a soldier that causes much havoc.

I think the main criticism comes out of Lean taking a rather small story and turning it into a mega film.  He had a love of the epic, to be sure, and his detractors say this film shouldn't have gone that route.  It certainly is a bit bloated, way too long.  As the title star, Sarah Miles never did much for me.  I would have cast someone else.  Was Vanessa busy?

We may visit this subject again and also discuss some films that I think are highly over-rated.

NEXT POSTING:  Favorite Movie #35

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