Friday, April 23, 2010

Butterflies are free

Mean Streets: Early Scorscese, and as such rather unusual. The violence is there, but most of it taking place offscreen, coming out mainly in the characters' dialogue and jockeying for position, and also underlining how, in immigrant communities such as the Italian-American one depicted here, proximity to organised crime becomes a fact of life. The story revolves around (the very young) Harvey Keitel's efforts to live a respectable life as a manager/entrepreneur, thwarted by his conviction that he has to look after his wayward relative Johnny-Boy (DeNiro), both out of fraternal affection and a religious belief that taking care of him is a kind of penance imposed by God, and all of this leading inevitably to disaster. Bonus feature: normally I don't bother much with DVD commentaries, but Scorscese's commentary on this one is actually pretty interesting, as he talks about how he derived the film's plot from his own and his friends' stories.

Papillon: A tribute to the human spirit-- not just Steve McQueen's in surviving everything the system has to throw at him, but Dustin Hoffman's in adapting to the system and doing well, relatively speaking, no matter what it tries to throw at him. At the end of the film, Steve McQueen swims off Devil's Island, and Dustin Hoffman stays on it raising pigs and vegetables, and I couldn't help but feel really proud of both of them-- both system-beaters in their own way.

The Osterman Weekend: A film directed by Sam Peckinpah, starring Rutger Hauer, Dennis Hopper, John Hurt, and Burt Lancaster, and based on a thriller by Robert Ludlum. Sound great? Okay, let's qualify that a little: a film directed by Sam Peckinpah, a year before he died and when he was a virtual pariah in Hollywood, starring a group of actors who mostly only did the film because they wanted to work with Peckinpah and didn't care how they did it, plus Dennis Hopper, who was still in the career slump which wouldn't end until Blue Velvet. Add to that a pair of producers who were trying to break out of making B-movies, and what you get is 106 minutes of awful. The plot, such as it is, revolves around John Hurt as a CIA agent recruiting Rutger Hauer to "turn" a ring of KGB agents, but in fact Hurt is secretly trying to run a needlessly complicated revenge plot against his boss for getting his wife killed. There's also a lot of soft-core nudity, which unfortunately involves three not-very-attractive blondes and John Hurt, respectively, and a lot of early-eighties "ooh, look, video technology!" stuff which looks pathetically dated from the perspective of thirty years on.

Movie count for 2010: 40