With Paul Newman playing Fast Eddie Felson, a young, swaggering hot shot, The Hustler is more about character than competition. At the start of the film, Eddie strolls into a dive pool hall looking for Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason). Fats is the champ of champs in pool. He agrees to play Eddie who in a marathon session has won $18,000. Fats is ready to call it a night, but Eddie, who’s been guzzling whiskey, insists on continuing the game. By the next morning, Fats has defeated intemperate Eddie, who leaves in shame. Observing all this is Bert Gordon, gambler and manager who knows it all. Before Eddie’s out the door, Bert imparts some pearls of wisdom about character. As Bert sees it Eddie’s got talent, but that doesn’t make you a winner, strong character does.
The Hustler isn’t so much about pool as it is about character. We don’t see as many great shots as I expected and often the score isn’t clearly stated. What we’re to watch for is Eddie’s character.
The middle of the film centers on Eddie meeting the equally melancholy drifter Sarah (Piper Laurie), who drinks too much and hangs out at the bus station where she isn’t judges and where she can get a drink at all hours. Sarah is pretty but sad. She’s a habitual liar without direction. She’s lame, but has pride. She’s very hurt and damaged by life and so is Eddie. Water seeks its own level and their love is based on sharing the pains that come with getting kicked around and lacking the wisdom from a mentor, parent or worldview that helps a person weather life’s storms and accept responsibility.
After a kind of honeymoon period, Eddie returns to the pool halls where his talent gets him victory and his bravado gets his thumbs broken. He heals under Sarah’s care, but is drawn back to hustling. Burt lures him to Louisville where Eddie believes he can win big. Burt offers wisdom, but he’s essentially a serpent whose main concern is his own wallet.
The Hustler is a dark film full of melancholy, but gripped me. Newman, Laurie, Scott and Gleason all put in excellent performances, which garnered four of the film’s nine Oscar nominations. While it’s a dark film, it wasn’t too depressing. Still you might like some lighter fare during the quarantine.
When she was a teen, Turquoise Queen won the Miss Juneteenth beauty contest. Now she’s a single mom and her daughter is old enough to compete in the contest. The high point of Turquoise’s life, which hasn’t turned out how she expected. She had such promise, but here she is approaching middle age, working at a restaurant, cleaning toilets, no glamor, no excitement.
If her daughter were gung ho about the pageant that would be one thing, but Kai doesn’t care that much about becoming Miss Juneteenth and she’s outright against her mom’s idea for the talent portion of the competition.
The film is a slice of life and offers a touching, geniune relationship between a mom and a daughter. I saw the film at Sundance. You can find this film on Amazon Prime. It’s great for family viewing.
Lost Girls resembles a made-for-TV-movie more than a feature film. Working class single mom, Mari Gilbert, played by Amy Ryan of The Office, tries to reach out to her estranged daughter. The girl goes missing and when numerous bodies are discovered in Long Island, Mari presses the police to find her daughter. The first officer in charge sees Gilbert as an annoyance. He’s got a smarmy demeanor and seems fishy. Gilbert’s only help is the Police Captain played by Gabriel Byrne, yet Gilbert doesn’t trust anyone.
Based on a true story, Lost Girls is a moving story, but there’s nothing that distinguishes it from say a Law and Order: SVU.
Seen at Sundance
On a family ski vacation in the Swiss Alps, Ebbe, Tomas and their two children Harry and Vera. They’re a young, attractive family with what people’d expect is a wonderful family. As they’re eating lunch after a morning of skiing. As they take in the view, an avalanche, a controlled avalanche moves down the mountain. Soon the avalanche doesn’t look so controlled and viewers panic. While Harry and Vera scream for their parents, Ebbe protects them while Tomas grabs his phone and seeks to save his own skin. All this is captured on video.
The avalanche doesn’t hit the deck. No one’s really hurt — except Ebbe’s trust in Tomas and their marriage.
The rest of the film explores Ebbe’s new distrust of Tomas and his coping with crumbling self-esteem. Every time they share a meal with another couple Ebbe must retell the story and each time Tomas comes out looking like a horrible man.
The film looks at what it means to be a real husband and father and how distrust cuts to the quick. It’s a fascinating exploration of marriage and masculinity. Can this marriage be saved?
I found the film absorbing and didn’t know what to expect. I’m not sure what I think of the end, though I would call it a satisfying conclusion. My only criticism of this quiet, intense film is that the children were so on the sidelines. Perhaps they just are in Swedish families, but while Harry did have moments of realism, Both children’s characters could be more developed.
I don’t know the director’s intent, but Cuties, a French coming-of-age film, was sad and disturbing. The heroine, 11 year old Amy has come to Paris with her mom and two younger siblings. Her mother is devastated to learn that her husband, who’s still back in Senegal, has chosen a second wife. It hits Amy hard, but her reaction is far more self-destructive than she knows.
At her new school, Amy becomes obsessed with joining a mean girls clique, who’re preparing to dance in an upcoming competition. That sounds a bit harmless, though sacrificing your self-respect to befriend people who mock, humiliate and hit you, is not a good choice. I cringed when the girls kick out their lowest status member and Amy strives to get accepted by a group of misguided, powerful jerks.
Amy and her new “friends” get way over their heads in social media and sexy dancing.
Continue reading “Cuties”
Starring Greta Garbo, Queen Christina shows a woman who became the leader of Sweden as a child when her father died, lead like a man. Garbo captivates. I don’t think I’d seen her in a movie, just in photos. My, was she compelling. Her magnetism keeps all eyes on her. This strong, passionate queen had no qualms about leadership. Her problem is the nagging requests for her to marry the King of Spain.
In the beginning of the film she had no desire to marry. When she gets fed up with the wheedling to coax her into the King of Spain’s arms, she bolts from the court. Dressed as a man, followed by her mentor, she encounters the Spanish envoy whose carriage falls into a rut. She teases and mocks him and his retinue. When she overhears the envoy’s plan to take a room at a nearby inn, she beats him to it and takes the last room for miles. Incognito, the queen teases the envoy when he arrives at the inn. Yet he gets the last laugh when the innkeeper, who’s swayed by the envoy’s higher offer, convinces the disguised queen to share the room with the envoy.
It isn’t long before the queen’s gender is revealed to the envoy and before you know it, they’re madly in love. Of course that presents problems because 1) the envoy’s mission is to convey his King’s proposal to Queen Christina and 2) he’s bound to discover his love’s true identity.
Garbo gives a strong performance and the story offers a surprise ending. The costuming was elegant and arresting. I’ve got to see more of Garbo’s films. You should too.
Note: There was a Queen Christina, who ruled Sweden in the 17th century, but I can’t find any evidence that this film isn’t more than conjecture.
PBS/BBC’s Masterpiece drama Sanditon just hasn’t grabbed me. Based on an unfinished Jane Austen novel, it actually seems like a phlegmatic version of one of Austen’s masterpieces. The cast features Charlotte, a bright heroine who to me seems like a cross between Lizzy Bennett and her drab sister Mary with a mix of her friend Lydia. There’s an arrogant hero, who I expect will change after learning from the heroine. There’s a strict, rich widow and a fop or two. The only new character is a woman from Antigua who’s Black. There’s a possible injection of orignality, but like the others this character doesn’t do much for me.
The story starts with a couple getting stranded by Charlotte’s house and when this real estate developer invites Charlotte to his seaside development for an unknown period of time, her parents agree even though Charlotte’s father is wary of the wild ways of seaside villages. I couldn’t believe that even if it was the norm to let your young daughter go off with strangers, that this father wouldn’t have. Of course, money’s a big issue and the developer’s out of cash and his business is in peril.
The woman from Antigua, though an heiress, is treated with prejudice by all the social set she encounters. Her family has died and she’s under the supervision on her guardian, but she has a fierce desire to return home.
All in all, I think the story is predictable and I miss Austen’s perfect wit. To me the show doesn’t measure up to Poldark, Victoria, Mr. Selfridge, or The Paradise. I wish they’d add a season to either of those shows than mess around with an unfinished Austen novel.
For my Great Books Book Club, I read and watched Shakespeare’s Henry V. I saw the 1989 film directed by Kenneth Branagh, who also adapted the play and starred in it.
Filled with intrigue, camaraderie, betrayal, battles and even wooing, Henry V is compelling. The best speech is this “We few, we happy few” band of brothers speech. It’s right at the climax of the film as the Brits are about to battle the French who far outnumber them. Like many speeches in Shakespeare it’s stirring and wise.
I did fast-forward through much of the battle scenes because they were authentically brutal, but at the same time true to life. While the film doesn’t contain every line from the play, it’s a faithful version and still packs a wallop and ends with a cute flirtation between Henry and the French princess. The end does have a very different tone than the main part of the film. Is that an error?
If so, I’ll forgive it because it gave another facet of Hennry’s personality.
I was surprised that Katerine Hepburn could bore me. In Davide Lean’s Summertime (1955) she did. Hepburn plays Jane, an American secretary on her dream vacation in Venice. She’s dreamed of this trip for years and has a lot of energy and high expectations. Soon Jane’s pouting because her trip isn’t as idyllic as she hoped. She doesn’t have any horrible mishaps like getting robbed or sick so to me she just needed to look for some alternatives. Maybe she should go out for a day with the American couple who seemed a bit corny, maybe she should go to a different city or get a tour guide over the age of 10 instead of the urchin who looked about 6, had no shoes, spoke English better than a lot of Italian university students and who spoked cigarettes, which Jane gave him. (That was something you wouldn’t see today. Jane didn’t spoke on screen ever, but had a pack and bargained with this ragamuffin for.)
Jane does bump into an handsome Italian, Renato in the Saint Marco’s Square and the next day happens to go into Renato’s shop. There’s clearly some attraction, but Jane’s awfully standoffish despite her severe loneliness which makes it impossible to enjoy Italy.
About half of the film consists of Jane moping, which made it drag. Eventually, Renato pursues Jane, who soon discovers he’s married. At that revelation, Jane wants to end things, but she’s so lonely.
Jane had built this trip up in her mind so much that it was destined to disappoint. When she talks of home, it’s not as though she hates it. We’re not sure why she never married. She does mention going to a real ball as teen so she’s had opportunities for romance apparently.
Renato continues to pursue her and responds with pat answers to questions about his wife and children. Jane could do better. I hoped she’d end things with Renato.
All in all, I found the film dull despite Hepburn’s ability to be clever and energetic.
Part of a DVD set with three great British thrillers, The Upturned Glass stars James Mason as an ultra serious neurosurgeon who tells a college class about a case of a sane man murdering in cold blood. We soon figure out that Mason’s Dr. Michael Young is the “sane” murderer he believes exists. Dr. Michael Young meets Emma Wright whose daughter has a condition that will lead to blindness unless this talented surgeon can operate right away. As the case progresses and the girl improves, Michael and Emma grow close. Both have spouses far away and they continue seeing each other after the girl’s treatment ends. Of course, they fall in love.
So why the need for murder?
Emma is found dead and Michael attends the inquest. He can’t believe it’s an accident. He notices some strange glances between Emma’s daughter and her jealous, greedy sister-in-law, who learns that Emma has cheated on her brother. The two were never close and this was the sister-in-law’s reason to get even.
This superstar surgeon is soon taking matters into his own hands.
The film had lots of unpredictable turns and kept my attention from the first scene. Hitchcock drew upon it for some of his later films. It’s sure to entertain.