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Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Good Intentions

Foiled again!  I had planned to write a learned dissertation on John Huston's 1970 flop, "The Kremlin Letter", which has only now belatedly been released on DVD.  All that I could recall of my television viewing of this movie some many years ago was that George Sanders appeared in drag.  Well, yes he does -- very briefly -- before reverting to a somewhat camp character in what is actually a throwaway role in his penultimate film.  However having seen the film again yesterday, I am at a loss to frame a positive review.  It is a very dense, nearly literal interpretation, of Noel Behn's political Cold War thriller, very hard to follow, understand, or get caught up in.  You might think that with a cast that includes Max von Sydow, Orson Welles, Bibi Andersson, and a bleached blonde Richard Boone, to say nothing about Nigel Green, Dean Jagger, Lila Kedrova, Raf Vallone, Michael MacLiammoir, and nominal leads Patick O'Neal and Barbara Parkins, that the acting alone might redeem this movie.  Unfortunately it doesn't, with few of them given the opportunity to shine.  Perhaps it is one of those films which demands another viewing to start getting into the hopefully involving intrigue, but I can see it being a while before I can face this dense screenplay again.

Something's Gotta Give (2003):  So once again for a change of pace I shall revisit this Diane Keaton/Jack Nicholson rom-com.  I would have taken bets that I had reviewed it previously in my old blog -- but can't seem to find it; nevermind, let's look at it afresh.  This confection from writer/director Nancy Meyers, a follow-up to her 2000 breakthrough "What Women Want" and a precursor of 2009's charmer "It's Complicated" is not just a movie for the 'older woman' but more generally a rib-tickler for mature viewers of either sex.  Keaton is a divorced, self-sufficient, and highly thought-of dramatist whose 30-year old daughter, Amanda Peet, turns up with her latest beau, a 63-year old Nicholson -- playing the perennial bachelor well-known for his flings with young women.  When a near heart attack lands him in Keaton's care at her beach house, sparks begin to fly and they end up in bed together. However after a few days' idyll, Nicholson returns to his erstwhile life as a swinger in the Big Apple, and Keaton having found room in her life once again for both sex and love, reacts like a heartbroken teenager at his apparent rejection.  If anything she over-reacts and therefore slightly over-acts.  In the meantime the young heart surgeon played by a relatively mature and non-doofus Keanu Reeves is smitten with Keaton and makes his move, despite the vast difference in their ages.  Without going too far into spoilers (although it doesn't take much nous to guess how things resolve themselves), one actually begins to feel sorry for nice Doctor Keanu and his puppy-like devotion.

Keaton's next Broadway hit is a 'comedy' about the disastrous results of a woman falling for her daughter's boyfriend, killing off the swine at the end of the second act. Nicholson realises that he has become a mockable figure of fun and that his has been a full but unfulfilling life, causing further medical 'episodes'.  His new doctor tells him to avoid stress and to re-evaluate what is really important. Part of the denouement revolves around his seeking out old girlfriends to discover what has gone wrong with his life (a plot device stolen in toto by Jim Jarmusch's 2005 showcase for Bill Murray, "Broken Flowers".)  His growing insight into what really matters is handled both cleverly and skillfully by the actor, even while it plays upon Nicholson's own playboy rep.  Apart from Keaton's brief OTT heartbrokeness, her comic timing remains superb, and there are also some nice turns from Jon Favreau, Paul Michael Glaser, Rachel Ticotin, and Frances McDormand, but the acting honours belong mostly to Nicholson.

One small detail that puzzles me.  When I first saw the film, in the scene where Nicholson inadvertently wanders into Keaton's bedroom and finds her in the nude, the focus of his attention was her unmaintained and bushy lower parts -- a symbolic difference between many older women and the bimbos that he has been dating.  In the version I just watched, this is missing and the emphasis is on her bare breasts -- almost certainly a body double's.  It seems a strange bit of re-editing! But if Spielberg can delete the guns from "E.T.", all sorts of political correctness can abound, most of it for no good purpose.
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