My weekly movie reviews. You can also read these on letterboxd.
The Catcher was a Spy (2018)
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Moe Berg, the subject of The Catcher Was a Spy, is as much a mystery as the reason why this fascinating film did not get more attention. Even reading the reviews on here baffles me. I found it to be a thrilling war film inspired by a real life character, handsomely produced in an old Hollywood kind of way, and full of thought provoking questions.
I suspect it’s the latter which prevented most critics and viewers from appreciating the film. Unlike most biographical pictures, this one does not seek to wrap everything up in a nice package. It leaves us with as many questions as answers about Berg, his sexuality, his motivations. I loved that. It’s the portrait of a truly enigmatic, flawed, and amazing person.
Paul Rudd is perfect in the role. Back in the 40s or 50s, Rudd would have been another Jimmy Stewart, an actor who could dance between genres, from comedies to war pictures and serious dramas. I’d love to direct him in a Western one day (fingers crossed). Sadly he has been underused in modern cinema. He’s surrounded by an ensemble that alone makes the film worth watching: Guy Peace, Jeff Daniels, Tom Wilkinson, Mark Strong, Connie Nielsen, Paul Giamatti, and Italian legend
Giancarlo Giannini. Some ensembles like this prove distracting for the viewer but each of this terrific performers blend into the fabric of the film and serve the story.
It’s not flashy enough for most people to appreciate but it’s a hell of a movie.
Watched on Tubi
Alone in the Dark (1982)
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Wow. This is such an under-discussed gem from the early 80s. I got turned on to Jack Sholder recently after watching his sci-fi film The Hidden but his earlier effort is far superior.
Boasting a great cast of Hollywood veterans from Jack Palance to Martin Landau and Donald Pleasence, Alone in the Dark is a smart thriller filled with plenty of scares and some fun tongue-in-cheek moments. Palance especially steals the show in an atypical performance as the nutty military veteran. Landau is also frightening as the psychopath preacher. Sholder takes his time setting up the story and characters. Midway through the picture, I was engaged but unimpressed and then the final act arrives. The last twenty minutes of this movie are wild, an explosion of violence and mayhem with some great surprises and an unforgettable ending.
This is a good film for independent producers and directors to look back on and I hope it one day gets the attention it deserves.
Watched on Shudder
Where the Rivers Flow North (1993)
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
I’d never heard of this film before I saw it pop up on rarefilmm.com and was surprised to see Rip Torn and Michael J. Fox in the same picture. A relatively lost film which belongs in the American folk country genre (my own label for films such as Get Low, Heartland, and A River Runs Through It), Where the Rivers Flow North isn’t great but it’s worth a look for hardcore moviegoers.
Torn gives another good late career performance, though not quite as effective as that previously mentioned Montana story. The best parts of the film show him in his physical element, working in the Vermont landscape. A sequence near the end where he and a stunt double run on river logs is quite breathtaking. The movie is also at its best in moments of violence, such as when Torn approaches the corporate representatives on the water or attacks one of their men in a restaurant. All this hints to a darker and perhaps more interesting movie. The rest of the film is a sometimes successful, often meandering folk story. The supporting performances from Michael J. Fox and actors like Treat Williams just don’t have enough meat on the bone for the actors to chew. They come off as glorified cameos.
I don’t know if the rarefilmm.com presentation is the unintended aspect ratio but there’s also boom mic all over these shots. It’s a truly weird experience since the boom creep into so many scenes. Still, I am curious to see director Jay Craven’s other adaptations of this writer’s work.
Watched on rarefilmm.com
The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars
I finally caught up with George Miller’s late 80s comedic horror romp. Like the rest of the filmmaker’s world, it’s lavish and visually arresting. However, it doesn’t have a strong script and the results are one big mess. Yes, it’s enjoyable to watch Jack Nicholson act like a maniac but I’ve always been more of a fan of his subtle work (Chinatown, The Border) than his scene-stealing performances. The trio of women are just all right but with so much talent in the room, I found myself wondering why this film floats when it should soar. I also kept asking myself why this literary property hasn’t been adapted into a series only to learn later that several attempts have been made. All of them failed. Maybe this is just one of those stories that doesn’t work on screen.
Watched on Tubi.