Body Double

Brian DePalma was once my favorite director. There was something so watchable about every movie he made that I was happy to see them, regardless of quality, and that means something because he made some films that are just weird. “Scarface” has a legion of cult followers but it is somewhat over the top and not my cup of tea, “Raising Cain” goes to the well a couple of times too often, and “Wise Guys” is not memorable at all, and I know I saw it. There are also the real classics “Blow Out”, “Carrie” and “The Untouchables” any of which I would sit down now and watch. I’m about to say something that may be a little blasphemous to many fans, I think “Body Double” is the most well made of his films when it comes to direction. It has story flaws and some acting weaknesses and the plot is stretched a bit here and there, but it has the most genius long takes and lighting choices and music in just about any of his films. It is a visual and directing masterpiece.

Body-Double-198 This movies camera angles and set decoration and location shots are just about visually perfect. We are going to get a tour of L.A. and the film business in 1984. It is often an ugly collection of people but the world they inhabit is made to look glorious and interesting, even when we are supposed to know that we are looking at a process shot. This movie plays with our minds by tricking us to see things from a cinematic perspective instead of a real world perspective. It is made by someone who knows how to make even the most simple things look interesting on the screen.

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Teachers

Every few years there has to be a film about inspiring teachers. “Goodbye Mr. Chips”, “How Green was My Valley”, “The Blackboard Jungle”, “To Sir with Love” ad infinitum . 30 Years ago this month it was “Teachers”, a Nick Nolte vehicle with a lot of familiar faces in it but not quite the sort of inspiration you found in the old days. The movie could have easily been parodied with a title like “Goodbye Mr. Chips With Tits”.

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This is a honest effort to portray the problems in the school system with a sincere desire to call everyone to action. The problem is that it lays it on so thick, you doubt whether it has the smell of truth to it. Everything that happens in the film happened every day in schools across the country. Much of it still happens today. It just does not all happen in the same school in the same week as is played out here. The movie is entertaining enough but it is filled with cliches and events that would spark protests and marches these days, not the kind of casual shrugging of the shoulders that seems to be standard for earlier times.

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A Nightmare on Elm Street

With nine or so sequels, re-makes, re-boots, or meta-versions, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” is one of the most prolific films in cinema history. It will be the signature film of Wes Craven’s career and it will also be the film that first starred Johnny Depp. Talking about the movie at this point may seem unnecessary, but historical context and  some personal touches might give you a couple of reasons to bother with another post on an iconic horror film.

nightmare_on_elm_streetThe horror genre in the early eighties was dominated by slasher films. Sequels to “Halloween” and “Friday the Thirteenth” came up almost yearly, copy cats like “Terror Train” or “The Funhouse” were everywhere. It’s true that occasional supernatural films broke through and grabbed some attention, but the reliable killer in a mask usually came back to haunt the teenagers of the time. “A Nightmare on Elm Street” crosses the slasher film with a ghost/demon story and then finds the perfect twist to work as the spine of the enterprise. Freddy Krueger is a slasher, but he is a dead slasher. He also has supernatural powers that he will use to take out his victims but best of all, the attacks happen in the nightmares of the kids he is stalking. This was something fresh.

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Country

In the early eighties, Jessica Lange became the darling of the film community. She was nominated for two Oscars in the same year in 1982, winning for Best Supporting Actress in “Tootsie”. Within three more years she had two more nominations for Best Actress, including this lachrymose piece of save the farm themed drama. She is also a producer on the film which makes it a little surprising that it did not get a Best Picture nomination, that is until you see the movie. Then you will understand why she is the only person given any kudos for the film, and also why the far superior Sally Field performance was the winner this year.

country This is the second of the three farm based prestige pictures of the year. It is also perhaps the dullest, with a plot driven by accounting rather than action, and a pace that sometimes feel glacial. It is a sincere effort to examine the impact of financial pressures on rural families, but the result is depressing and takes down one rising career to advance another. Continue reading