Review: Election

Election (1999)
Matthew Broderick, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Klein. Written by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor. Directed by Alexander Payne.

I first saw Election before I was aware of Alexander Payne as a director, enjoying it for what I considered Reese Witherspoon’s breakout performance and Matthew Broderick’s almost Willie Lomanesque portrayal of a well-meaning teacher who lets things get away from him. I was also only a few years into a teaching career and too green to relate as strongly to Broderick’s Jim McAllister as I do now.

What strikes me most now is how despicable each of the main characters is, with only Chris Klein’s Paul Metzler truly acting with best intentions. A football star injured in a skiing accident, his prospects for a great senior year seem wrecked until history teacher (and Student Council advisor) McAllister encourages him to run for student body president. McAllister’s reasons could pass for sympathetic and encouraging if not tainted by a dislike for the only declared candidate at the time, Witherspoon’s Tracy Flick. Tracy is the classic overachiever, driven by some desperate need to be excellent and successful according to all the usual academic metrics. She pretty much owns the student council, and Paul is reluctant to set foot in her territory, but at McAllister’s urging, he cluelessly gives it a go. Paul’s sister Tammy (Jessica Campbell) is furious with Paul because he’s dating the girl she loves, so she launches her own campaign for the presidency, delivering a speech in which she promises to abolish the student council as her first act.

Why is McAllister so resentful of Tracy? The reasons he offers—that she’s the sort who does anything to get what she wants, and that she should learn before she graduates that this is no way to behave—are weak, and seasoned educators like him should know that what he proposes never works. He’s also obviously bitter about the career-ending affair his best friend and colleague had with Tracy, even going so far as to suggest she was complicit in his friend’s downfall. She is, but she’s a child, and no reasonable teacher blames the student in a situation like this. The dismantling of McAllister’s career and marriage are not the results necessarily of bad thoughts by a bad man: I can certainly sympathize with his impulses in both areas. He is despicable because he cannot rise above these impulses and act as his better self. I imagine that in marriage, as in secondary education, one must be able to do so every day.

Payne does excellent work with this film. A lot of the playfulness is gimmicky, such as the voice-overs by multiple characters, but it works really well, especially with the freeze-frame effect he uses as his narrators break into the action to explain things. His fondness for casting non-actors in supporting roles lends super believability to the world in which the film is set. Teachers, students, and support staff move, talk, sit, and dress the way they do in a real school, and Payne’s decision to film in a real school during the school year is another plus. McAllister drives a blue Ford Festiva, a tiny car for a small man, but shoot. He’s a teacher, and that’s a reasonable car for anyone living a teacher’s life. I know, because I drove a red one.

As he does with Hawaii in The Descendants several years later, Payne offers views of Nebraska that we don’t see in most films, the everyday boringness of a strip mall or roadside motel, for example. When McAllister drives from home to work, the scenery behind him is dull, flat, and concrete, like the stuff most of us see every day on our own commutes. Black comedies tend to be somewhat outrageous, and Election qualifies, but because it’s rooted in so much realness, it feels a lot less fantastic and a lot more believable.

While it has a lot going for it, the film falls just shy of greatness because of one thing it doesn’t do well at all: sympathize with Tracy Flick. There is a short moment near the end, where during a voice-over, Tracy gives us a hint of what her relationship with her former math teacher means to her. It’s not enough, though, and through most of the film, it’s too easy to see her just as a hyper-ambitious, self-serving annoying young woman. We sympathize with everyone else throughout the film, but Tracy only gets that brief instance when she reminds us of how a grown man who was supposed to keep her safe instead took advantage of her, and how her vulnerabilities might have something to do with her behavior. Nobody seems to weep for Tracy Flick, which is how she would want it, but she is the real victim in this story full of victims.

8/10
81/100

Review: About Schmidt

About Schmidt (2002)
Jack Nicholson, Hope Davis, Dermott Mulroney, Kathy Bates, June Squibb. Written by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor. Directed by Alexander Payne.

I’ve often said About Schmidt is an utterly forgettable movie, mostly because although I saw it in the theater in 2002 when it was released, I could remember almost nothing about it. There were a Winnebago and a naked Kathy Bates in a hot tub, but if a third plot element were the question in Final Jeopardy, I’d have gone home a loser. So in my review of (and catchup on) Alexander Payne’s directorial oeuvre, I was looking forward to this one because it seemed almost like seeing something new, while also not looking forward to it because I was pretty sure my not remembering it was precisely the correct response.

I was right on both expectations. By itself, it is a forgettable film, setting up some kind of emotional equation it never solves, like those reactions in tenth-grade chemistry you have to balance, connecting this oxygen atom to that hydrogen atom and making it all even out. Examined as part of Payne’s filmography, which was my intention this time, it’s a lot more interesting. Although plot-wise it has almost nothing in common with Election, the film Payne directed just before it, or Sideways, the film he directed just after, it has interesting thematic and film-making similarities.

Primary among them is Payne’s interest in representing his home state of Nebraska in a way that seems to be uniquely his. The opening shot is mimicry of the first moments in Citizen Kane: from a distance, across a vast, flat cityscape, we see a lone high-rise. Subsequent shots bring the building closer, seen from different angles but always with the tower occupying the same place in the frame, growing larger and larger, until we are inside the building and see a bored Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) at his empty desk, watching the second-hand of the clock tick off the final moments of his professional career. Omaha is no Xanadu, and Warren R. Schmidt is no Charles Foster Caine.

Matthew Broderick in Election, Paul Giamatti in Sideways, and Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt all play small men living small lives, the first two in the middle, and the last near his end. We drop into Jim McAllister’s life just as he’s making his idiotic choices, into Miles Raymond’s sometime after, as he’s still dealing with the consequences, and into Warren Schmidt’s as he discovers that his mistakes were made long ago, without his being aware of them, as he earned professional success only to discover that a life’s work has amounted to nearly nothing. It’s a good idea, but I have difficulty understanding Payne’s intention. How am I meant to feel about Schmidt’s journey and destination, by the time this film concludes?
(spoilers in this paragraph only)

Schmidt expresses his concern about his daughter’s marriage, in a well-done scene with Hope Davis, where she says something like, “Oh, now you care about my decisions?” We don’t know exactly what’s come between her and her father, but it’s easy enough to imagine that it’s the stuff that happens to many of us in our own families. So far, so good. But then Schmidt offers a toast at the reception, at first a bit awkward, but then gracious and seemingly heartfelt. Are we supposed to take his words at face value? It’s difficult to tell whether he’s had a change of heart or is merely playing a part. Cut to the final scene, where he’s sitting home alone at his desk, certain that his life has amounted to nothing. He’s been writing letters to Ndugu, a young boy he’s sponsoring through one of those charities, and there is a letter from his teacher, telling him how much Ndugu has appreciated his gifts, along with one of Ndugu’s drawings, a crude representation of a man holding hands with a boy. Schmidt begins to sob, and the film is over.

Is this a moment of despair, or is it a moment of redemption? I could tolerate not knowing if there were evidence enough to support either conclusions, but there isn’t. I suppose the stronger case can be made for despair, but there’s been enough good interaction during Schmidt’s trip to imply that he’s got a lot of interesting living to do, if he decides to live it. Another possibility is that Schmidt is finally taking a moment to grieve properly, but I think he has his moment the night he sleeps on the roof of his RV, and our last image of him should be more positive.

Now that I’ve seen this film three times (once in the theater, twice on DVD) I’m much fonder of it than I once was, but it’s really no better a film. Seven years ago, when I first set up my Criticker account, I ranked it 66/100; I think 60 is more like it now.

6/10
60/100

Know Payne

I’m having a personal Alexander Payne festival.  Started with Citizen Ruth, which I’d never seen, and followed it with About Schmidt and Election, both of which I saw but really didn’t remember.  I’ve got The Descendants and Nebraska next, both of which I remember quite well.  I really don’t need to see Sideways again, since I’ve seen it at least thirty times, but I probably will anyway.

I wasn’t aware that Payne has a few actors he likes to work with.  They’re an interesting group.  I was aware that his home state of Nebraska is the setting for several of his films (all but The Descendants and Sideways). something that definitely contributes to his aesthetic.

He’s an interesting director, and I’m enjoying revisting all this work.  I don’t think I’ve noticed yet any signature moves, although at least three of his films ends with his main character completely alone.

I was super disappointed that About Schmidt didn’t come with a director’s commentary, but there is an extensive collection of deleted scenes, with written notes by Payne, and that helped a lot with getting a grip on his thinking.  I’m hoping I’ll find time tomorrow for the commentary on Election.

Review: Citizen Ruth

Citizen Ruth (1996)
Laura Dern, Swoosie Kurtz, Kurtwood Smith, Mary Kay Place, Kelly Preston, Tippi Hedren, Burt Reynolds, Alicia Witt, Diane Ladd. Written by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor. Directed by Alexander Payne.

Ruth is a single indigent woman, probably in her late twenties, arrested one day when she’s found unconscious after huffing paint. She’s been arrested many times, and has had children removed from her custody, and now the judge has had enough. He’s asking the prosecutor to try her for felony endangerment of her fetus, prophetically uttering, “I hope I’m not setting a precedent here.” Before she is sent to lockup, the judge tells her that he’ll reduce the charges if Ruth will abort the baby.

At her lowest moment, she asks God for help, and within a minute, she is joined in her holding cell by a group of anti-abortion protestors. They see Ruth’s plight and offer to take care of her, hoping to counsel her away from the abortion. Now Ruth is a symbol for a cause, but do her new friends care about her, or only about her unborn child and the message its birth will send to pro-choicers?

When she spends some time with the pro-choicers, she asks them a question they don’t have an answer for: do they still care about her freedom to choose even if she chooses to have the baby? As long as she’s not being coerced into having it, can she still be the symbol they wish her to be?

There’s a little bit of stereotyping in presenting the people on both sides of this battle, but darn it if it isn’t spot-on stereotyping. I recognize and sympathize with people in each of the camps, and if they seem a bit cartoonish, they aren’t really that exaggerated. The film doesn’t seem to take a position on either side of the debate, but it does make the point that Ruth, who can charitably be called not the brightest of women, knows a lot more about what she wants than anyone’s giving her credit for, and that in their eagerness to gain ground in this tug o’ war, they aren’t taking the time to understand the person they’re tugging at.

Citizen Ruth has a lot going for it: a thoughtful and creative script, some excellent acting by Laura Dern, and some really good laughs from unexpected places. Despite all this, it’s still a slightly unsatisfying film. For all its effort to make Ruth a real character among real people in a real social struggle, it doesn’t do very much to develop anyone else as more than a person serving a cause, except maybe the teenaged daughter of one of her pro-life patrons (Alicia Witt) and the bodyguard for her pro-choice supporters (M. C. Gainey), so that what’s really mild stereotyping comes across as full-blown, thoughtless stereotyping with no imagination. A film that begs its characters to get to know the person huffing that paint should make some effort to present those characters also as real people.

It’s still worth a look for its daring premise and for Dern’s very funny choices. This is Alexander Payne’s first full-length feature, and it feels like a starter kit for what came later, and it’s so far his only movie not to be nominated for an Academy Award. Not a great film, but promising enough.

6/10
62/100

Amy Adams Films Ranked

I haven’t seen as many as I thought I have.  The numbers following the release years are the ratings I gave them, if I gave them ratings.  That clump of 7s and 70s probably changes its order from day to day, although I feel pretty good about the higher 7s and the lower 7s.

For a while, I was only writing full reviews and bothering to rate films I saw in theaters, but of course now I’m doing it for everything I see.  I need the reviews to remind myself of what I’ve seen and what I thought about it.  It’s one of the reasons I sometimes rent films I’ve already seen; just to get another look so I can write a review and try to nail things down in my increasingly faulty memory.

I haven’t rated Junebug, which I only saw a couple of years ago, but it’s easily a 90+.  When I rented it, I watched it three or four times (once with the commentary) before sending it back.  Need to see it again.

  1. Junebug (2005)
  2. Her (2013), 84
  3. Enchanted (2007)
  4. American Hustle (2013), 81
  5. Charlie Wilson’s War (2007) 7/10
  6. The Muppets (2001), 74
  7. Julie & Julia (2009), 7/10
  8. Sunshine Cleaning (2008), 7/10
  9. Catch Me If You Can (2002)
  10. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), 73
  11. Trouble with the Curve (2012), 72
  12. The Fighter (2010) 71
  13. Man of Steel (2013), 68
  14. Leap Year (2010), 66

Review: Finding Dory

Finding Dory (2016)
Voices of Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, and Sigourney Weaver. Written by Victoria Strouse and Andrew Stanton. Directed by Andrew Stanton.

I can’t decide if I’m a tough audience or an easy audience for Finding Dory, Pixar’s sequel to Finding Nemo. I have an enormous bias in Pixar’s favor, but I consider the 2003 original to be the animation studio’s best work. Would my predilection predict that I would like it, or would my super-high expectations predict that I’d be disappointed?

It doesn’t matter much now, because I freaking love this movie. It’s got just about everything the first movie had. The sequel doesn’t wow me quite as much as the predecessor, but it makes up for that with an emotional punch I didn’t see coming. There’s one amazing gasp-inducing emotional payoff that comes close to the lanterns scene in Tangled or even the library scene in Beauty and the Beast. This is rarefied air I’m talking about here, a comparison I don’t make lightly.

A year after Dory helps Marlin find Nemo, she’s become something of a helper in raising the young clownfish. But with her memory problems, she’s almost as much maintenance as Nemo, ‘though she remains beloved by her community on the Great Barrier Reef. Something triggers in Dory a memory she didn’t know she had, of parents and a home. She’s determined to find her family, but she knows that without help from her friends, she can’t hope to make it any more than she can hope to remember what she’s looking for.

You would think Marlin, after everything Dory has done for him and Nemo, would be completely on board, but he’s still psychotically risk-averse, and Dory wants to go to California, so for much of her adventure, she depends on the kindness of others, mostly a seven-armed octopus who agrees to assist in exchange for something Dory can do for him.

The animation is again fantastic, although since you’ve seen a lot of it before, you’ll have to look a little harder to see where the budget went. Water is a strange, beautiful thing that behaves differently from anything else I can think of. The way it moves, the way it changes in different kinds of light, and the way other things interact with it seem impossible to represent well, so there’s a good place to start. I suspect it’s a movie that rewards multiple viewings, and I look forward to discovering more.

One of the most rewarding things about Finding Dory is how elements in this story explain some things in Finding Nemo, stuff that didn’t really need explaining but makes that movie more interesting too. This isn’t just a spin-off, continuation, or rehash, although the general story structure is very close (almost disappointingly close) to the first film’s. It’s more like the ocean is an enormous place with a million stories, and some of them have interlocking pieces which complete each other’s pictures.

I’ve never heard of a voice actor getting nominated for an acting award, and that makes all kinds of sense, but if I were part of the nominating process, I’d be tempted at least to consider Ellen Degeneres for a best actress nod. This picture could have been animated by five-year-olds, and she would have made it worth watching. This was not animated by five-year-olds, and it’s an excellent film I’d put in the lower part of Pixar’s upper tier.

9/10
91/100

Review: Star Trek Generations

Star Trek Generations (1994)
Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Malcolm McDowell, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, William Shatner. Directed by David Carson.

It was a good idea. A bridge between the Star Trek films with the original cast and a new series of films featuring The Next Generation characters should have been great. But instead of a properly nostalgic farewell to the old cast and an anointing of the new, Star Trek Generations almost forgets that it has any characters at all, and focuses instead on a lumbering, cumbersome story that sort of connects the two television series but doesn’t give us much reason to care.

The plot is so uninteresting and so horribly assembled as to defy summary, but the heart of it involves a weird extradimensional energy band—called the Nexus—that gives anyone caught within it his or her heart’s desires, a euphoria so complete that people inside never want to get out, and those who do get out yearn to get back in. One character is so obsessed with returning to the Nexus that he’s willing to destroy stars in order to shift the band’s direction so that he might get caught in it, even if doing so results in the elimination of planets and all their inhabitants.

I admire the attempt at complex story to develop complex themes. Jean-Luc Picard confronts enormous grief and the temptation of having his grief allayed. James Kirk confronts his own feelings about what he sacrificed during his long tenure as captain of the Enterprise. Commander Data is given an emotion chip so that he might be more human-like, but soon discovers that emotions are more of a handicap than a blessing. This much works, at least kind of, but it does so without real interaction among the principal characters, as if each is going through all this internal stuff alone, a construct that defies the best thing about either of these series.

Yet some of the climactic action sequences are uninteresting and too long, and we have to endure them twice for reasons best left to the viewer to discover, although I can’t really say why. Not spoiling this one element of the plot doesn’t make the film any better, but I suppose if the discover is at least somewhat interesting, I’d hate to rob anyone of that one little pleasure. Goodness knows it may be all it has to offer.

The film has one aesthetic worth examining, especially in contrast to the earliest and latest films in the canon. One of my favorite things about the reboot series is how sexy and sleek Enterprise looks. The Enterprise in this film is bulky, boxy, awkward, and graceless, and the crew’s uniforms seem built to match. They are nothing like the almost Steve-Jobs-inspired look of the unis and technology in the 2000s, a difficult thing to get used to even looking back. What a time the Eighties and Nineties were.

Thankfully, the series did not suffer as a whole because of this one subpar film. Many of the TNG films are quite good, and the reboot with the classic characters is excellent, so I’m willing to chalk this one up to a task too difficult to be completely satisfying.

4/10
48/100

Review: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009)
Voices of Bill Hader, Anna Faris, Neil Patrick Harris, Benjamin Bratt, Bruce Campbell, Andy Samberg, James Caan, Mr. T, and Lauren Graham. Written by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (based on a book by Judi and Ron Barrett). Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.

cloudy3aCloudy with a Chance of Meatballs might be the funniest movie I’ve seen this century. I have now seen it three times, and I keep finding new things to laugh about. It’s cute, smart, and clever, and its animation is sneaky terrific. It has that shiny surface a lot of recent 3D animation has, but it manages not to have just one look, at times looking like a box of Skittles and at others like a postcard from somewhere with foggy moors. I’m not exactly sure what a moor is, but I imagine a lot of damp greys.

cloudy2Like the earliest Pixar films, this picture by Sony Animation seems to be driven by a creative force that says, “What can we do that nobody’s ever done before?” This spirit permeates the animation, story, dialogue, and voice acting, as if every decision was made by a refusal to do what every audience has come to expect from any other film, or (at some of its funniest moments) doing exactly what other films do, but exaggerating them to the point of ridicule. You know those ten million other movies where a nerdy girl takes off her glasses and is suddenly stunning?  The writers in this movie do something different with that idiotic motif that makes me want to hug them.  Meatballs raining from the sky are really the least surprising thing about the movie.

The meatballs fall from the sky because Flint Lockwood, a young genius inventor, has created a machine that turns water into food. His town on a small island in the Atlantic has seen rough times after the collapse of its one-strong sardine industry. Now, since the world doesn’t like sardines anymore, the locals are forced to eat them for every meal. Flint’s idea could turn things around for his community. But as with all his inventions, something goes wrong. Unlike his previous foul-ups, this one seems pretty great. Food falls from the sky, delighting the locals and drawing the attention of a national weather channel, who sends its newest intern, Samantha Sparks, to cover the story. When things get out of hand, it’s up to Flint to save not only his town, but the whole world. He’s joined by Samantha, her cameraman, a pet monkey named Steve, and a grown man in a diaper.

cloudy1The first half of this movie is hilarious, especially for those who appreciate a clever sight gag or bit of playful dialogue. It rewards multiple viewings because there’s so much interesting stuff packed into visual and verbal presentation. I love how it doesn’t take very long to set up and gets right into the heart of the story. The second half is a bit on the wild action-adventure side, something that doesn’t thrill me much, but even in the middle of crazy stunts and heroic sequences, there is a clever, creative touch.

It’s a very good film. I wouldn’t put it up there with the greats because it either shoots for the heart and is off by a little, or it never really wants to go there. Not every animated movie can be Beauty and the Beast, and that’s okay. It’s more than enough as an exercise in super-creative silliness, and it is the first movie to make me regret not seeing it in 3D on a big screen. I’m probably going to have to buy this.

8/10
87/100

Friday 5: Celluloid Heroes

From here.

  1. What movie most recently impressed you with its score or soundtrack?
    Last year’s Oscar-winner for best score was Ennio Morricone’s beautiful work on The Hateful 8, and I was pleased that it was recognized.  I was sure Star Wars: The Force Awakens was going to get the award, and it was certainly worthy, but Morricone’s was slightly more memorable.
  2. What movie most recently impressed you with its costumes or makeup?
    The costumes in Mean Girls, which I saw recently for the first time, were really creative and interesting.  You could tell the costume designer had a lot of fun dressing up these four pretty actresses.  Honorable shout-out to Captain America: Civil War.
  3. What movie most recently impressed you with its scenic backdrops?
    Strangely, it might have to be Pali Road, a film I disliked.  It’s filmed in Hawaii, and at first the scenery is the usual Hawaii stuff.  Beaches, mountains, greenery, oceans.  But then it takes us to some less picturesque locations that residents will recognize, if not for their exact spots, for their everyday Hawaii-ness.  It’s a film that looks like home.  A pretty crappy film that looks like home.
  4. What movie most recently impressed you with its originality?
    I’m going with Inside Out, although the case could be made for Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.  The very concept of a children’s movie about emotions personified is so huge and unreal that its making it to screen is impressive enough.  But not only does it exist, it works in ways that hadn’t been invented yet.  Pixar didn’t just create a movie whose technology hadn’t been seen before (as is the case with just about every Pixar movie); it may have created a movie whose characters, themes, and plot devices hadn’t been seen before.  It’s just an amazing piece of film.
  5. What movie most recently impressed you with its dialogue?
    There’s a scene in Hail, Caesar! where Alden Ehrenreich (the future-and-past Han Solo) and Ralph Fiennes do the old “repeat after me” gag that had me nearly in tears, it was so well done.  It wasn’t the most creative dialogue — I mean, it was basically the same line said over and over — but it was so well delivered I may have sprayed iced tea all over myself.  That was just one scene, though.  For a whole movie of impressive dialogue, a recent rewatching of Chasing Amy was a nice reminder of how good Kevin Smith is.

Review: Midnight Cowboy

Midnight Cowboy (1969)
Jon Voigt, Dustin Hoffman. Written by Waldo Salt (based on a novel by James Leo Herlihy). Directed by John Schlesinger.

Before this week, these are the things I knew about Midnight Cowboy:

  • midcow1
    Hey! They’re walking here!

    Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voigt are in it, although I wouldn’t recognize Jon Voigt because I only know what he looks like today.

  • ”Hey! I’m walking here!”
  • ”Everybody’s Talkin’,” a song performed by Nilsson, is in it. And before two weeks ago, I knew the song but didn’t know it had anything to do with this film. Tony Kornheiser featured it on his podcast during the Old Guy Radio segment.
  • At the end of the Seinfeld episode with the mom-and-pop store, Kramer and Jerry get on a bus for New Jersey. Kramer’s nose starts to bleed, and he says, “Look at me; I’m falling apart here.” Jerry puts his arms around Kramer while “Everybody’s Talkin’” plays and the closing credits roll. I hadn’t made the connection between the song and this scene until last week, but I had a vague idea that this was a parody of Midnight Cowboy.
  • It was the only film rated X by the MPAA to win a Best Picture Oscar.
  • On the original (1998) AFI 100 Films list, it was ranked 36; on the updated list in 2007, it was ranked 43.
  • It’s been in the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die books; I don’t know if it’s in the most recent (2016) book.

midcow2That’s a lot more than I thought I knew about it, but for such a decorated, celebrated film, it still feels almost like nothing. I had no idea who the actors played and I didn’t know the first thing about the story. So I went in about as cold as I ever do.

I can see why it’s something that sticks in people’s brains. The performances by Hoffman and Voigt are strong. The cinematography is gritty, grimy, dark, bright, and warm, a look I associate with the great films of the 1970s. It looks like a film that should be on the AFI list.

midcow3But man, the material just isn’t good enough. It’s clear that we have a film about how two guys become friends, but there are a couple of leaps in the development of their relationship that don’t make any sense. I’d be (mostly) okay with this if there was more story, but the way the story plays out doesn’t warrant fast-forwarding through our sense of what each man means to the other. Flashbacks and fantasy shots give us an inside look at backstory and characters’ thoughts, but they don’t do anything meaningful. I’m not totally sure why the film was rated X (the rating has since been changed to R), but I suspect there are dark, sinister things going on in those flashbacks, only I can’t say what, because I don’t understand much of what I saw.

Anyway, who would have guessed that young Jon Voigt was kind of a poor man’s Robert Redford? This is my biggest takeaway: that Voigt is an actor whose early work may be worth a look. Hoffman is solid in a Hoffman-like way, but that’s no surprise, and honestly, I don’t know that I would put this in my top five Hoffman roles.

While I don’t see this as essential viewing, it’s worth checking out, if only for some cultural literacy.

6/10
60/100