Tag Archives: Top 10 Lists

Creepy lodgers and seedy inns: 10 worst places to stay in the movies

By Dennis Hartley

Where the wild things are.

“People come, people go. Nothing ever happens.” So states a character in the 1932 classic, Grand Hotel. Obviously, he never stayed in any of the caravansaries on tonight’s top ten list, where the bad experiences go a bit beyond iffy room service or a fly in the soup. So on this spooky Halloween evening, I triple dog dare you to check in to any of these flops! Per usual, I present them in no particular ranking order. Um, enjoy your stay…

 

The film: Barton Fink

Where not to stay: The Hotel Earle

This is one of two films on my list involving blocked writers and eerie hotels (I’ll entertain anyone’s theory on why they seem to go hand-in-hand). The Coen brothers bring their usual sense of gleeful cruelty and ironic detachment into play in this story (set in the early 1940s) of a New York playwright with “integrity” (John Turturro) who wrestles with his conscience after reluctantly accepting an offer from a Hollywood studio to transplant himself to L.A. and grind out screenplays for soulless formula films. Thanks to some odd goings-on at his hotel, that soon becomes the very least of his problems. The film is a very close cousin to Day of the Locust, although perhaps slightly less grotesque and more darkly funny. John Goodman and Judy Davis are also on hand, and in top form.

 

The film: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Where not to stay: The Mint Hotel

Okay, so the hotel in this one isn’t so bad. It’s the behavior going on in one of the rooms:

When I came to, the general back-alley ambience of the suite was so rotten, so incredibly foul. How long had I been lying there? All these signs of violence. What had happened? There was evidence in this room of excessive consumption of almost every type of drug known to civilized man since 1544 AD… These were not the hoof prints of your average God-fearing junkie. It was too savage. Too aggressive.

Terry Gilliam’s manic, audience-polarizing adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s classic blend of gonzo journalism and hilariously debauched, anarchic invention may be too savage and aggressive for some, but it’s one of those films I am compelled to revisit on an annual basis. Johnny Depp’s turn as Thompson’s alter-ego, Raoul Duke, is one for the ages. My favorite line: “You’d better pray to God there’s some Thorazine in that bag.”

 

The film: Key Largo

Where not to stay: The Largo Hotel

Humphrey Bogart gives a smashing performance as a WW2 vet who drops by a Florida hotel to pay his respects to its proprietors- the widow (Lauren Bacall) and father (Lionel Barrymore) of one of the men who had served under his command. Initially just “passing through”, he is waylaid by a convergence of two angry tempests: an approaching hurricane and the appearance of Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson). Rocco is a notorious gangster, who, along with his henchmen, takes the hotel residents hostage while they ride out the storm. It’s interesting to see Bogie play a gangster’s victim for a change (in one of his earlier starring vehicles, The Petrified Forest, and later on in one of his final films, The Desperate Hours, he essentially played the Edward G. Robinson character). The entire cast is spectacular. Along with The Maltese Falcon and The Asphalt Jungle, it’s one of John Huston’s finest contributions to the classic noir cycle.

 

The film: The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog

Where not to stay: Mrs. Bunting’s Lodging House

Mrs. Bunting is a pleasant landlady and all, but we’re not so sure about her latest boarder. There’s a possibility that he is “The Avenger”, a brutal serial killer who is stalking London. Ivor Novello plays the gentleman in question, an intense, brooding fellow with a vaguely menacing demeanor. Is he or isn’t he? No worries, I’m not going to spoil it for you! This suspense thriller has been remade umpteen times over the last eight decades, but IMHO none of them can touch Hitchcock’s 1927 silent for atmosphere and mood. Novello later reprised the role of the mysterious lodger in Maurice Elvey’s 1932 version.

 

The film: Motel Hell

Where not to stay: Motel Hello

OK, all together now (you know the words!): “It takes all kinds of critters…to make Farmer Vincent’s fritters!” Rory Calhoun gives a sly performance as the cheerfully psychotic Vincent Smith, proprietor of the Motel Hello (oh my, there seems to be an electrical short in the neon “O”. Bzzzt!). Funny thing is, no one ever seems to check in (no one certainly ever checks out). Vincent and his oddball sister (Nancy Parsons) prefer to concentrate on the, ah, family’s “world-famous” smoked meat business. Despite the exploitative horror trappings, Kevin Conner’s black comedy (scripted by brothers Steven-Charles and Robert Jaffe) is a surprisingly smart genre spoof and actually quite well-made. The finale, involving a swashbuckling duel with chainsaws, is pure twisted genius.

 

The film: Mystery Train

Where not to stay: The Arcade Hotel

Elvis’ ghost shakes, rattles and rolls (literally and figuratively) all throughout Jim Jarmusch’s culture clash dramedy/love letter to the “Memphis Sound”. In his typically droll and deadpan manner, Jarmusch constructs a series of episodic vignettes that loosely intersect at a seedy hotel. You’ve gotta love any movie that features Screamin’ Jay Hawkins as a night clerk. Also be on the lookout for music legends Rufus Thomas and Joe Strummer, and you will hear the mellifluous voice of Tom Waits on the radio (undoubtedly a call back to his DJ character in Jarmusch’s previous film, Down by Law).

 

The film: The Night of the Iguana

Where not to stay: The Hotel Costa Verde

Director John Huston and co-writer Anthony Veiller adapted this sordid, blackly comic soaper from Tennessee Williams’ twisty stage play about a defrocked, self-loathing minister (Richard Burton) who has expatriated himself to Mexico, where he has become a part-time tour guide and a full-time alcoholic. One day he really goes off the deep end, and shanghais a busload of Baptist college teachers to an isolated, rundown hotel run by an “old friend” (Ava Gardner). Throw in a sexually precocious teenager (Sue Lyon, recycling her Lolita persona) and an itinerant female grifter with a deceptively prim and proper exterior (Deborah Kerr), and stir. Most of the Williams archetypes are present and accounted for: dipsomaniacs, nymphets, repressed lesbians and neurotics of every stripe. The bloodletting is mostly verbal, but mortally wounding all the same. Burton and Kerr are great, as always. I think this is my favorite Ava Gardner performance; she’s earthy, sexy, heartbreaking, intimidating, and endearingly girlish-all at once (“I wanna Coke!”).

 

The film: The Night Porter

Where not to stay: The Hotel zur Oper

Disturbing, repulsive, yet compelling, Liliana Cavani’s film brilliantly uses a depiction of sadomasochism and sexual politics as an allusion to the horrors of Hitler’s Germany. Dirk Bogarde and Charlotte Rampling are broodingly decadent as a former SS officer and a concentration camp survivor, respectively, who become entwined in a twisted, doomed relationship years after WW2. You’d have to search high and low to find two braver performances than Bogarde and Rampling give here. I think the film has been unfairly maligned and misunderstood over the years; frequently getting lumped together with exploitative Nazi kitsch like Ilsa, SheWolf of the SS or Salon Kitty. That’s a real shame.

 

The film: Psycho

Where not to stay: Bates Motel

Bad, bad Norman. Such a disappointment to his mother. “MOTHERRRR!!!” Poor, poor Janet Leigh. No sooner had she recovered from her bad motel experience in Touch of Evil than she found herself checking in to the Bates and having a late dinner in a dimly lit office, surrounded by Norman’s creepy taxidermy collection. And this is only the warm up to what director Alfred Hitchcock has in store for her later that evening. This brilliant shocker from the Master has spawned so many imitations, I long ago lost count. Anthony Perkins sets the bar pretty high for all future movie psycho killers. Anyone for a shower?

 

The film: The Shining

Where not to stay: The Overlook Hotel

Stephen King hates Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of his sprawling novel. Fuck him-that’s his personal problem. I think this is the greatest horror film ever made. Period. Jack Nicholson discovers that all work and no play make Jack a dull boy. Jack Nicholson discovers that all work and no play make Jack a dull boy. Jack Nicholson discovers that all work and no play make Jack a dull boy. Jack Nicholson discovers that all work and no play make Jack a dull boy. Jack Nicholson discovers…oh. Sorry. Uh, never mind…

Happy Halloween, everyone!

 

From crayons to perfume: Top 10 School Flicks

By Dennis Hartley

It’s a funny thing. I know that this is supremely silly (I’m over 50, fergawdsake)- but as soon as September rolls around and retailers start touting their “back to school” sales, I still get that familiar twinge of dread. How do I best describe it? It’s a vague sensation of social anxiety, coupled with a melancholy resignation to the fact that from now until next June, I have to go to bed early. BTW, now that I’m allowed to stay up with the grownups, why do I drift off in my chair at 8pm every night? It’s another one of life’s cruel ironies. At any rate,  I offer you  my Top 10 show-and-tell picks for homeroom:

The Blackboard Jungle-I always like to refer to this searing 1955 drama (produced in an era when ADD-afflicted teenagers were referred to as “juvenile delinquents”) as the “anti-Happy Days”. An idealistic English teacher (Glenn Ford) takes on an inner-city classroom full of leather-jacketed malcontents who would much rather steal hubcaps and break windows than, say, study the construct of iambic pentameter. Considered a hard-hitting “social issue” film at the time, it still retains considerable power, despite some dated trappings. Vic Morrow and Sidney Poitier are appropriately surly and unpredictable as the alpha “toughs” in the classroom. The impressive supporting cast includes Richard Kiley, Anne Francis and Louis Calhern. Director Richard Brooks co-scripted with Evan Hunter, from Hunter’s novel (the author is best-known by nom de plume “Ed McBain”). The film also had a hand in making Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” a monster hit.

The Boys of Baraka– Co-directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady offer a fresh take on a time-worn cause celebre: what to do about the state of America’s inner-city school system. Eschewing the usual hand-wringing about the under funded, over-crowded, glorified daycare centers that many of these institutions have become for poor and disenfranchised urban youth, the filmmakers showcase one program that strove to make a difference. The documentary tracks the journey of a group of 12-year-old boys from Baltimore who go to study at a boarding school in Kenya, staffed by American teachers and social workers. In addition to personalized tutoring, there is an emphasis on conflict resolution through communication, tempered with a “tough love” approach. Something amazing happens when these “at risk” kids find themselves in a new environment. As cliché as this sounds, they begin to find themselves, and it is wondrous to observe.  There is no pat denouement, yet the viewer is still left with a sense of hope as some of these boys are inspired to push forward and build on this momentum.

Dazed and Confused– I confess that my attachment to Richard Linklater’s vivid 1993 recreation of a “day in the life” high school milieu circa 1976 has a lot to do with the sentimental chord it touches within me (I graduated from high school in 1974). Such is the verisimilitude of the clothing, the hairstyles, the lingo, the social behaviors and the music that I went into a total-immersion sense memory the first time I saw the film (I’m guessing that the first wave of boomers born a decade before me had a similar reaction when they first saw American Graffiti). This is not a goofy teen comedy; while there are laughs (mostly of recognition), the sharply written screenplay is more about inspired moments of keen observation and genuine poignancy. Linklater would be hard pressed to reassemble this bright, energetic young cast at the same bargain rates nowadays: Matthew McConaughey, Parker Posey, Ben Affleck, Milla Jovovich, Adam Goldberg, Rory Cochrane, Joey Lauren Adams and Nicky Katt, to name but a few. I give it two bongs up!

Election-Writer-director Alexander Payne and creative partner Jim Taylor (Sideways, About Schmidt) followed up their 1995 feature film debut, Citizen Ruth, with this biting 1999 sociopolitical allegory, thinly cloaked as a teen comedy (which it decidedly is not). Reese Witherspoon delivers a pitch perfect performance as the psychotically perky, overachieving Tracy Flick, who makes life a special hell for her brooding civics teacher, Mr. McAllister (Matthew Broderick). Much to Mr. McAllister’s chagrin, Tracy is running a meticulously organized and targeted campaign for school president. Her opponent is a more popular, but politically and strategically clueless jock (why does that sound so familiar?). Payne’s film is very funny at times, yet it never pulls its punches; there are some painful truths about the dark underbelly of suburbia bubbling beneath the veneer (quite similar to American Beauty, which interestingly came out the same year).

Fast Times at Ridgemont High-Amy Heckerling’s hit 1982 coming-of-age dramedy is another film that introduced a bevy of new talent to movie audiences: Forest Whitaker, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Phoebe Cates, Eric Stoltz, Nicholas Cage, Anthony Edwards, and Sean Penn as quintessential stoned California surfer dude, Jeff Spicoli (“Learning about Cuba…and having some food!”). A marvelously droll Ray Walston plays Spicoli’s exasperated history teacher, Mr. Hand. Heckerling later returned to the same California high school milieu (updated for the 90s) for her hit Clueless. Rolling Stone reporter (and soon-to-be film director) Cameron Crowe adapted the screenplay from his book, which was based on his experiences “embedded” at a San Diego high school (thanks to his youthful looks, Crowe passed himself off as a student).

The First Grader– Even though I knew from frame one that this was one of those “triumph of the human spirit over insurmountable socioeconomic odds” tales engineered to tug mercilessly at the strings of my big ol’ pinko-commie, anti-imperialist, bleeding softie lib’rul heart, I nonetheless loved every minute of it. Beautifully directed by Justin Chadwick, the film is based on the true story of an illiterate 84 year-old Kikuyu tribesman (Oliver Litando) who had been a freedom fighter during the Mau-Mau uprising  in the 1950s. Fired up by a 2002 Kenyan law that guaranteed free education for all citizens, he shows up at his local one-room schoolhouse, eager to hit the books. The real story, however, lies in his past. The sacrifices he made are brought slowly and deliberately into focus; resulting in a denouement that packs a powerful, bittersweet gut punch.

Gregory’s Girl– Scottish writer-director Bill Forsyth’s delightful examination of first love follows gawky teenager Gregory (John Gordon Sinclair) as he goes ga-ga over Dorothy (Dee Hepburn), a fellow soccer player at school. Gregory receives advice from an unlikely mentor, his little sister (Allison Forster). While his male classmates put on airs about having deep insights about the opposite sex, they are just as clueless as he is. Forsyth gets a lot of mileage out of a basic truth about adolescence- girls are light years ahead of the boys getting a handle on the mysteries of love. Not as precious as you might think, as Forsyth is a master of low-key anarchy . You may have trouble navigating those Scottish accents, but it’s worth the effort. Also with Clare Grogan, whom music fans may recall as the lead singer of 80s new wavers Altered Images, and Red Dwarf fans may recognize as “Kristine Kochanski”.

if…. – In this  boldly anarchic 1968 class struggle allegory, director Lindsay Anderson uses his depiction of the British public school system as a microcosm of England’s sociopolitical upheaval at the time. It was also the star-making debut for a young Malcolm McDowall, who plays Mick Travis, one of the “lower sixth form” students at a boarding school (McDowall would return as the recurring character of Travis in Anderson’s  “sequels” O Lucky Man! and Britannia Hospital). Travis forms the nucleus of a trio of mates who foment armed insurrection against the abusive upperclassmen and oppressive headmasters (i.e. the “System”). Some critical reappraisals have drawn parallels with Columbine, but the film really has very little to do with that and nearly everything to do with the revolutionary zeitgeist of 1968 (the uprisings in Czechoslovakia, France, Germany, etc.). That said,  Anderson’s film could be read as a pre-cursor to Massacre at Central High, Rock ’n’ Roll High School, Heathers, (or tangentially) The Chocolate War and Rushmore.

To Sir With Love-A decade after he co-starred in The Blackboard Jungle, Sidney Poitier traded his switchblade for a lesson plan; it was his turn to play the mentor. This well-acted 1967 drama offered a bold twist on the prevalent narrative of its time period. Movie audiences were accustomed to watching an idealistic white teacher struggling to bond with a classroom chockablock with unruly (and usually “ethnic”) inner city students; in this case, you had an idealistic black teacher struggling to bond with a classroom chockablock with unruly, white British working class students. It’s a tour de force for director James Clavell, who also wrote and produced. Culture clash is a dominant theme in Clavell’s novels and films (most famously in Shogun). The film is also a “swinging 60s” time capsule-thanks to an onscreen performance of the theme song by Lulu, and an appearance by the Mindbenders (don’t blink or you’ll miss future 10cc co-founder Eric Stewart). Also with Judy Geeson (in a poignant performance) and future rock star Michael Des Barres (lead singer for Silverhead, Detective, and Power Station).

Twenty-Four Eyes-This moving drama from Keisuke Kinoshita could be the ultimate “inspirational teacher” movie. Set in an isolated, sparsely populated village on the ruggedly beautiful coast of Japan’s Shodoshima Island, the story begins in 1928 and ends just after WW 2. This is a deceptively simple yet deeply resonant tale about a long term relationship  between a compassionate, nurturing teacher (Hideko Takamine) and her 12 students, from grade school through adulthood. Many of the cast members are non-actors, but you would never guess it from the uniformly wonderful performances. Kinoshita enlisted sets of siblings to portray the students as they “age”,  giving the story a heightened sense of realism. The film, originally released in 1954, was hugely popular in Japan; a revival years later enabled it to be discovered by Western audiences, who warmed to its humanist stance and undercurrent of anti-war sentiments. You may want to keep a box Kleenex on standby.

And now to play us out of study hall, here’s Rockpile:

Class dismissed!

Eat them up, yum: Top 10 Foodie Flicks

By Dennis Hartley

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I was originally going to do a post this week about my “top 10 Thanksgiving movies”, but after pondering it for a spell, all I could come up with was The House of Yes, Hannah and Her Sisters, The Ice Storm, Planes Trains and Automobiles and Alice’s Restaurant. After that, I had nuthin’ (A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving? But TV doesn’t count.) Oh, I suppose there are many more titles out there (wasn’t there a Walton family Thanksgiving thingie?) but apparently they are not  amongst my favorites. One theme that I can easily relate to, however, are movies about food (or with  at least one memorable eating scene). Hey, everyone’s gotta eat, right? So, chew on these:

Big Night-This is one DVD that I have repeatedly foisted on friends and relatives, because after all, it’s important to “…take a bite out of the ass of life!” (as one of the film’s characters points out with great veracity). Two brothers, one an enterprising businessman named Secondo (Stanley Tucci, who also co-wrote and co-directed) and his older sibling Primo (Tony Shalhoub), a gifted chef, open an Italian restaurant but quickly run into financial trouble. Possible salvation arrives via a dubious proposal from a more successful competitor (played with much aplomb by Ian Holm). The fate of their business hinges on Primo’s ability to conjure up the ultimate feast. And oh, what a meal he prepares-especially the timpano (you’d better have some pasta and ragu handy-or your appestat will be writing checks that your duodenum will not be able to cash, if you know what I’m saying). The wonderful cast includes Isabella Rossellini, Minnie Driver, Liev Schreiber, Allison Janney, and Campbell Scott (who co-directed with Tucci). Look for a mute Marc Anthony (the Latin pop superstar) lurking throughout as the kitchen assistant.

Comfort and Joy– Another quirky trifle from Scottish writer-director Bill Forsyth. An amiable Glasgow radio personality (Bill Paterson) gets unceremoniously dumped by his girlfriend on Christmas Eve, which throws him into an existential crisis, causing him to take a sudden and urgent inventory of his personal and professional life. Soon after lamenting to his GM that he wants to do something more “important” than his chirpy morning show, serendipity drops him into the middle a of a hot scoop-a “war” between two rival ice-cream dairies. Chock full of Forsyth’s patented low-key anarchy and extremely dry one-liners. As a former morning DJ, I can tell you that the scenes depicting “Dickie Bird” doing his show are very authentic, which is rare on the screen. One caveat: It could take several days to get that ice cream van’s loopy theme music out of your head.

The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover-A gamey, visceral and perversely piss-elegant fable about food, as it relates to love, sex, violence, revenge, and Thatcherism from writer-director Peter Greenaway (who I like to refer to as “the thinking person’s Ken Russell”). Michael Gambon really chews up the scenery (figuratively and literally) as a vile and vituperative British underworld type who holds nightly court at his “front” business, a gourmet restaurant. When his bored trophy wife (Helen Mirren) becomes attracted to one of the regular diners, a quiet and unassuming bookish fellow, the wheels are set in motion for quite a twisty tale, culminating in one of the most memorable scenes of “just desserts” ever served up on film. The opulent set design and cinematographer Sacha Vierny’s extraordinary use of color combine to lend a rich Jacobean texture to the proceedings. Look for the late great pub rocker Ian Dury as one of Gambon’s associates.

Delicatessen-This film is so…French. A serio-comic vision of a food-scarce, future dystopia along the lines of Soylent Green, directed with great verve and trademark surrealist touches by co-directors Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro (The City of Lost Children). The pair’s favorite leading man, Dominique Pinon (sort of a sawed-off Robin Williams) plays a circus performer who moves into an apartment building with a butcher shop downstairs. The shop’s proprietor seems to be appraising the new tenant with, shall we say, a “professional” eye? In Jeunet and Caro’s bizarro world, it’s all par for the course (just wait ‘til you get a load of the vegan “troglodytes” who live underneath the city streets). The film’s most memorable sequence, a wildly funny, imaginatively staged sex scene, stands on its own as a master class in the twin arts of film and sound editing.

Diner– This slice-of-life dramedy marked writer-director Barry Levinson’s first feature film in 1982, and remains his best. A group of 20-something pals converge for Christmas week in 1959 Baltimore. One is recently married, another is about to get hitched, and the others are still playing the field and deciding what to do with the rest of their life. They are all slogging fitfully toward adulthood. The most entertaining scenes take place at the group’s favorite meeting place, a local diner, where the comfort food of choice is French fries with gravy. Levinson has a true gift for writing sharp dialog, and it’s all the little details that make the difference here; like a cranky appliance store customer who refuses to upgrade to color TV because he saw Bonanza at a friend’s house, and decided that “…the Ponderosa looked fake”. This film was more influential than it tends to ever get credit for; Tarantino owes a debt of gratitude (see below) as do the creators of Seinfeld. It’s hard to believe that Kevin Bacon, Mickey Rourke, Ellen Barkin, Daniel Stern, Timothy Daly, Steve Guttenberg and Paul Reiser were all relative unknowns at the time!

Eat Drink Man Woman– Or as I call it: “I Never Stir-Fried for My Father”. This was director Ang Lee’s follow-up to his crowd-pleaser The Wedding Banquet (another good food flick). It’s a well-acted dramedy about traditional Chinese values clashing with the mores of modern society. An aging master chef (losing his sense of taste) fastidiously prepares an elaborate weekly meal which he requires his three adult (and single) daughters to attend. As the narrative unfolds, Lee subtly reveals something we’ve suspected all along: when it comes to family dysfunction, we are a world without borders.

My Dinner with Andre– This one is a tough sell for the uninitiated. “An entire film that nearly all takes place at one restaurant table, with two self-absorbed New York intellectuals pontificating the whole running time of the film-this is entertaining?!” Actually…yes, it is. Director Louis Malle took a bold artistic here that pays off in spades. Although essentially a work of “fiction”, the two stars, theatre director Andre Gregory and actor-playwright Wallace Shawn are playing themselves (the pair collaborated on the screenplay). A rumination on art, life, love, the universe and everything, the film is not so much about dinner, but rather a mash note to the lost art of erudite dinner conversation.

Pulp Fiction-Although the universal popularity of this Quentin Tarantino opus is owed chiefly to its hyper-stylized mayhem and the iambic pentameter of its salty dialogue, I think it is underappreciated as a foodie film. The hell you say? Think about it: The opening and closing scenes take place in a diner, with characters having lively discussions over heaping plates of food. In Mia and Vincent’s scene at the theme restaurant, the camera zooms to fetishistic close-ups of their all-American eats (“Douglas Sirk steak, and a vanilla coke.”). Mia offers Jules a sip of her 5 Dollar Milkshake. Vincent and Jules ponder why the French refer to Big Macs as “Royales with cheese” and why the Dutch insist on drowning their French fries in mayonnaise. Jules voraciously hijacks the doomed Brett’s “Big Kahuna” burger, then precedes to wash it down with a sip of his “tasty beverage”. Pouty Fabienne pines wistfully for blueberry pancakes. Even the super efficient Mr. Wolfe takes a couple seconds out of his precisely mapped schedule to reflect on the pleasures of a hot, fresh-brewed cup of coffee. And “Don’t you just love it when you come back from the bathroom and find your food waiting for you?”

Tampopo-Self billed as “The first Japanese noodle western”, this 1987 entry from writer-director Juzo Itam is all that and more. Nobuko Niyamoto is superb as the title character, a widow who has inherited her late husband’s noodle house. Despite her hard work and sincere effort to please customers, Tampopo struggles to keep the business afloat, until a deux ex machina arrives-a truck driver named Goro (Tsutomo Yamazaki). After one taste, Goro pinpoints the problem-her noodles are bland. No worries-like the magnanimous stranger who blows into an old western town, Goro takes Tampopo on as a personal project, mentoring her on the Zen of creating the perfect noodle bowl. A delight from start to finish, offering keen insight on the relationship between food, sex and love.

Tom Jones-Do I really need to explain? Watch this morsel and enjoy:

Don’t nobody move: The Bank Job ***1/2 & the top 10 heist capers

By Dennis Hartley

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Glancing over the most recent theater schedules, it would seem that the “heist caper” is back (not that it ever really went away). As of this writing, we have the Michael Caine and Demi Moore diamond heist flick, Flawless, running concurrently in theaters and on PPV. Kevin Spacey stars in 21, which concerns an attempt to fleece a Vegas casino. IFC Films has an offering called How to Rob a Bank, which is in limited release and on PPV.

I haven’t had a chance to screen any of the aforementioned yet, but there is another new heist caper that I have seen, and would like to recommend to you. I’ll admit, I didn’t rush right out to see The Bank Job, for several reasons: 1) The generic title, 2) I usually equate star Jason Statham’s name with mindless action flicks, and 3) I had never forgiven director Roger Donaldson for spilling Cocktail onto theater floors (a pity-he had shown such promise back in his early New Zealand days with the astounding Smash Palace).

But I must say, Donaldson has redeemed himself quite well with his new film, which is based on a high-profile robbery that took place in England in the 1970s. Statham plays a low-level London criminal who is approached by an acquaintance (the lovely Saffron Burrows) with a plan to rob some safe-deposit boxes in a prestigious London bank. Unbeknownst to Statham and his gang, some of the boxes contain sex blackmail material that could potentially unseat several highly-placed members of the British government. To tell you much more would risk spoilers, so we’ll just say many twists and turns ensue.

Regardless as to how much artistic license may have been taken here, Donaldson has fashioned a terrific and surprisingly multi-layered entertainment. In fact, it not only works as a heist caper, it’s an involving political potboiler and espionage thriller as well. Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais have crafted a script that is pleasingly complex without being needlessly complicated (not an easy balance to strike). The movie is fast paced, but not in the headache-inducing flash cut/jerky cam manner that seems requisite these days; in this respect it harkens back to a more classic era of movie making.

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So, with all these heist capers in the multiplexes, I thought I’d share my Top Ten Favorites of the genre with you. As I always emphasize whenever I compile such a list, please note that it reflects my personal favorites, not the “top ten greatest of all time” or the “most influential” (your outrage at my “failure” to include The Asphalt Jungle, The Killing, Reservoir Dogs, etc. etc. has been duly noted in advance, thank you very much.)

So, in no particular order of preference, here ’tis…

Bob le Flambeur – This is the premier “casino heist” movie, as well as a highly stylized homage to American film noir from writer-director Jean-Pierre Melville. “Bob” (Roger Duchesne) is a suave, old-school gangster who plans “one last score” to pay off his gambling debts. The film is more character study than action caper; in fact its slow pace is the antithesis to what contemporary audiences expect from a heist movie. Still, patience has its rewards, and discerning viewers will find many riches here. The film belies its low-budget, thanks to the wonderfully atmospheric B & W location shooting in the Montmartre and Rue Pigalle districts of Paris. The real revelation here is 15 year-old Isabel Corey, an earthy, wise-beyond-her-years Bardot-like nymphet who had never acted before (Melville literally spotted her walking down the street and thought she would be perfect for his film). The deliciously ironic twist of the dénouement makes a great kicker.

Ocean’s Eleven (1960) – This (very) loose remake of Bob le Flambeur is the ultimate Rat Pack extravaganza. Frank Sinatra stars as Danny Ocean, a WW2 vet who enlists 11 of his old Army buddies for an ambitious takedown of five big Vegas casinos in one night. Yes, they are all here: Sammy Davis, Jr., Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop, Angie Dickinson, Henry Silva and the original “Joker” himself-Cesar Romero. Lewis Milestone directed, and supposedly Billy Wilder had a non-credited hand in the script. To be sure, it’s basically an in-jokey vanity project, and may not hold up well to close technical scrutiny (direction, set design, lighting, etc. are so-so); but every time Sammy warbles “Eee-ohhh, eee-leaven…” I somehow feel that all is right with the world. Steven Soderbergh’s contemporary franchise is slicker, but nowhere near as hip, baby.

Heat-This is writer-director Michael Mann’s masterpiece, perhaps the best “cops and robbers” film ever made. While it does spotlight the precise planning and execution of several heists, as well as some genuinely exciting action sequences, the heart of this film lies within its very deliberately paced character development. Robert De Niro portrays a master thief who plays cat-and-mouse with a dogged police detective (Al Pacino). Mann not only examines the “professional” relationship these two men have with each other, but takes great pains to show us how they each relate to the significant others in their life. De Niro and Pacino only share one relatively brief scene together in the same room, but it’s a doozy. There’s able support on hand from Val Kilmer, Tom Sizemore, Jon Voight, Wes Studi, Amy Brenneman and Ashley Judd. Those who have been anticipating another De Niro/Pacino pair-up will be happy to hear that they will be reunited in Righteous Kill, due out this fall (I saw the previews recently, and surprise surprise, its…a crime film!)

Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round – James Coburn is at his winking, rascally best as a con artist who schemes to knock over a bank located in the heart of LAX, ingeniously manipulating the airport’s own scheduled security lockdown for the visit of a controversial foreign dignitary as a distraction. The first half of the film is reminiscent of The Producers; in order to raise the money he needs to buy the schematic blueprints for the bank, he needs to patiently seduce several women and bilk them out of their bank accounts (it’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it!). Aldo Ray, Severn Darden and Robert Webber give good supporting performances. Sadly, it’s the only real film of note by writer-director Bernard Girard, but one could do worse for a one-off.

Topkapi– Undoubtedly, I will be raked over the coals by some readers for choosing director Jules Dassin’s relatively light-hearted 1964 caper romp over his much darker and more critically esteemed 1956 casse classic Rififi for my top 10 list, but there’s no accounting for some people’s tastes-eh, mon ami? The wonderful Peter Ustinov heads an impressive international cast that also includes Melina Mercouri, Maximilian Schell, Robert Morley and Akim Tamiroff. They are all involved in an ingeniously planned heist to nab a priceless bejeweled dagger that sits in an Istanbul museum. There’s plenty of intrigue, suspense and good laughs (mostly thanks to Ustinov’s presence). There’s also a great deal of lovely and colorful Mediterranean scenery on hand. Vastly entertaining fare.

The Ladykillers (1955) – This black comedy gem sits perched at the zenith of the British Ealing Studios era. A league of five quirky criminals, posing as classical musicians, rent a flat from nice little old Mrs. Wilberforce and use it as a front for an elaborate bank robbery. To watch Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers and Herbert Lom working together in the same film is to achieve a sublime cinematic nirvana. William Rose wrote the script (he also penned Genevieve, another Ealing classic). Director Alexander Mackendrick would go on to make one of the darkest noirs of them all, The Sweet Smell of Success, in 1957. The 2004 remake by the Coen brothers was a case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it.”

The Anderson Tapes– The great Sidney Lumet directed this nearly forgotten thriller, which has puzzlingly evaded domestic DVD release. Sean Connery plays an ex-con, fresh out of the joint, who masterminds the robbery of an entire NYC apartment building. What he doesn’t know is that the job is under close surveillance by several interested parties, official and private. It’s one of the first films that I know of to ruminate on the insidious encroachment of electronic monitoring technology into our daily lives and the resulting loss of privacy (The Conversation was still just a gleam in Francis Ford Coppola’s eye in 1971). Nice ensemble work from a fine cast that includes Dyan Cannon, Martin Balsam, Ralph Meeker, Alan King and Christopher Walken (in his first major feature film role). The tough, smart script was adapted from the Lawrence Sanders novel by Frank Pierson, and a typically fabulous Quincy Jones score puts a nice bow on top.

The Hot Rock– Although it starts out as a fairly standard, by-the-numbers diamond heist caper, this 1972 Peter Yates film delivers a unique twist halfway through: the diamond needs to be stolen all over again (so its back to the drawing board!). There’s even a little political intrigue thrown into the mix. The film boasts a William Goldman screenplay (adapted from a Donald E. Westlake novel) and a knockout cast (Robert Redford, George Segal, Zero Mostel, Ron Leibman, Paul Sand and Moses Gunn). Redford and Segal make a great team, and the film hits a nice balance between suspense and humor. Lots of fun.

That Sinking Feeling – Sort of a Scottish version of Big Deal on Madonna Street, this was the 1979 debut from writer-director Bill Forsyth (Local Hero, Comfort & Joy). An impoverished Glasgow teenager, tired of eating cornflakes for breakfast, lunch and dinner, comes up with a scheme that will make him and his underemployed pals rich beyond their wildest dreams-knocking over a plumbing supply warehouse full of stainless steel sinks. Funny as hell, but with a wee touch of working class weltschmertz that gives a certain sense of poignancy to the story; this underlying subtext makes it a precursor to films like The Full Monty, Waking Ned Devine and Brassed Off. Nearly all of the same delightful young cast members would return in Forsyth’s 1982 charmer, Gregory’s Girl.

Kelly’s HeroesThe Dirty Dozen meets Ocean’s Eleven in this clever hybrid of WW2 action yarn and elaborate heist caper, directed by Brian G. Hutton. While interrogating a drunken German officer, an opportunistic platoon leader (Clint Eastwood) stumbles onto a hot tip about a Nazi-controlled bank, secretly stashed with millions of dollars worth of gold bullion. Clint plays it straight, but there’s plenty of anachronistic M*A*S*H style irreverence on hand from Donald Sutherland, as the perpetually stoned and aptly named bohemian tank commander, “Oddball”. The excellent cast includes Telly Savalas, Don Rickles, Carroll O’Connor, Gavin MacLeod and Harry Dean Stanton. Mike Curb (future Lt. Governor of California!) performs the memorable theme song “Burning Bridges”.

…And just for fun, there’s this, which is my favorite short film/ music video of all time:

 

The docu-horror picture show: Top 10 Documentaries for Halloween

By Dennis Hartley

Whatever happened to Fay Wray?

In honor of Halloween weekend (we can call it that, when Halloween falls on a Friday, right?), and in a desperate search of a theme for this week’s post (heh), I thought I’d eschew the usual “Top 10 Horror Films” tact in favor of something REALLY scary-real life. Because, let’s face it. Try as they might, Hollywood can never really match the thrills, the chills and grotesqueries of, say, reading the newspaper, watching CNN, going online to look at your 401k, popping into a Denny’s at 3am, or waiting for next Tuesday’s results. Documentary filmmakers have been on to this little secret for years.

So forget the exploding squibs, the fakey Karo syrup blood and severed prosthetic limbs-here’s my Top 10 list of creepy, scary, frightening, haunting, spine-tingling tales that you literally could not make up (as per usual, in no particular ranking order). Er….”enjoy”?

The Atomic Café-Whoopee we’re all gonna die! In a big, scary mushroom cloud. But along the way, we might as well have a few laughs. That seems to be the impetus behind this harrowingly funny compilation of U.S. government propaganda shorts from the Cold War era, that were originally designed to “educate” the public about how to best “survive” a nuclear attack (all you have to do is get under a desk…everyone knows that!).

In addition to the Civil Defense campaigns (which include the classic “duck and cover” tutorials) the filmmakers have drawn from a rich vein of military training films, which generally reduce the possible effects of a nuclear strike to something akin to a barrage of shelling from, oh I don’t know… a really big field howitzer. The genius of the film lies in its complete lack of narration (irony speaks louder than words, too). This also gives the film a timeless quality; you could very easily apply its “message” to the current world stage (everything old is new again). It makes a perfect double bill with Dr. Strangelove.

Brother’s Keeper– An absolutely riveting documentary about a dirt-poor, semi-literate rural upstate New York farmer named Delbert Ward, who was charged with murdering his brother in 1990. Filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky follow a year or so in the life of Delbert and his two surviving brothers, as they weather the pressures of the trial and the media circus that surrounds it.

The clock seems to have stopped around 1899 on the aging bachelor brothers’ run-down farm, where they live together in relative seclusion in a small, unheated shack (at times, one is reminded of the family in the classic X-Files episode, “Home”) The prosecution claims that the brothers conspired to kill their ailing sibling, coming up with some rather oddball motives. The defense attorney’s conjecture is that the victim died of natural causes, and that Delbert was coerced by law enforcement into signing a written confession (admitting a “mercy killing”), taking advantage of the fact that he is poor and uneducated. He also cagily riles up the town folk to rally behind “the boys” by portraying the D.A. and investigating authorities as city slickers, out to railroad a simple farmer. Is Delbert really “simple”?

Watch and decide for yourself.

The Corporation– While it’s not news to any thinking person that corporate greed and manipulation affects everyone’s life on this planet, co-directors Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott deliver the message in a unique and engrossing fashion. By applying a psychological profile to the rudiments of corporate think, Achbar and Abbott build a solid case; proving that if the “corporation” were corporeal, then “he” would be Norman Bates.

Mixing archival footage with observations from some of the expected talking heads (Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, etc.) the unexpected (CEOs actually sympathetic with the filmmakers’ point of view) along with the colorful (like a “corporate spy”), the film offers perspective not only from the watchdogs, but from the belly of the beast itself. Be warned: there are enough exposes trotted out here to keep conspiracy theorists, environmentalists and human rights activists tossing and turning in bed for nights on end.

The Cruise-I used to hang out with a co-worker who had a bit of an enigmatic soul. He would pace about his living room, quaffing beers and expounding on the universe. Sometimes, he would stop dead in his tracks, give me a faraway look, and say, “Trust me, Dennis-you don’t want to be in here,” while stabbing a finger at his forehead. Then, he would resume pacing and pontificating. The idea of being in someone else’s head is always a bit “horror show”, don’t you think?

If you can take it, you might want to check out this one-of-a-kind doc that spends nearly 80 minutes in “here”. Specifically, inside the head of one Tim “Speed” Levitch, a tour guide for Manhattan’s Gray Line double-decker buses. Levitch’s world view is, um, interesting, to say the least. And he is nothing, if not verbose. Is he crazy? Is he some kind of post-modern prophet? Or is he just another eccentric, fast-talking New Yorker? It’s a strange, unique and weirdly exhilarating roller coaster ride through the consciousness of being.

The Devil and Daniel Johnston-The full horror of schizophrenia can only be truly known by those who are afflicted, but this rockumentary about cult alt-folk singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston comes pretty close to being the next worse thing to actually being there. Johnston has waged an internal battle between inspired creativity and mental illness for most of his life (not unlike Brian Wilson, Syd Barrett, Roky Erickson and Joe Meek).

The filmmakers recount a series of apocryphal stories about how Johnston, like Chance the Gardener in Being There, stumbles innocently and repeatedly into the right place at the right time, steadily amassing a sizeable grass roots following. Everything appears to be set in place for his Big Break, until an ill-advised tryst with hallucinogenic substances sends him (literally) spiraling into complete madness. While on a private plane flight with his pilot father, Johnston has a sudden epiphany that he is Casper the Friendly Ghost, and decides to wrest the controls, causing the plane to crash. Both men walk away relatively unscathed, but Daniel is soon afterwards committed to a mental hospital.

The story becomes even more surreal, as Johnston is finally “discovered” by the major labels, who engage in a bidding war while their potential client is still residing in the laughing house (only in America). By turns darkly humorous, sad, and inspiring.

Grey Gardens– “The Aristocrats!” There’s no murder or mayhem involved in this real-life Gothic character study by renowned documentary filmmakers Albert and David Maysles (Salesman, Gimme Shelter), but you’ll still find it to be quite creepy.

Edith Bouvier Beale (who was in her early 80s at the time of filming) and her middle aged daughter Edie were living under decidedly less than hygienic conditions in a spooky old dark manor in East Hampton, L.I. with a menagerie of cats and raccoons when the brothers decided to profile them (their halcyon “high society” days were, needless to say, behind them). The fact that the women were related to Jackie O (Edith the elder was her aunt) makes this Fellini-esque nightmare even more twisted. You are not likely to encounter a mother-daughter combo quite like “Big Edie” and “Little Edie” more than once in a lifetime. The high camp appeal of the Edies was not lost on Broadway; a musical adaptation (I think that’s a first for a documentary) ran for 2 years.

In the Realms of the Unreal-Artist Henry Darger is not usually mentioned in the same breath as Picasso, but he nonetheless makes for a fascinating study. Darger was a nondescript recluse who worked as a janitor for his entire adult life. He had no significant relationships of record and died in obscurity in 1973. While sorting out the contents of the small Chicago apartment he had lived in for years, his landlady discovered a treasury of artwork and writings, including over 300 paintings.

The centerpiece was an epic, 15,000-page illustrated novel, which Darger had meticulously composed in long hand over a period of decades (literally his life’s work). The subject at hand: An entire mythic alternate universe populated mostly by young, naked hermaphrodites (the”Vivian Girls”). Although it’s tempting to dismiss Darger as a filthy old perv, until you have actually seen the astounding breadth of Darger’s imaginary world, spilled out over so many pages and so much canvas, it’s hard to convey how weirdly mesmerizing it all is (especially if you view an actual exhibit, which I had the chance to catch last year). The doc mixes Darger’s bio with animation of his work, with actors reading excerpts from the tome.

An Inconvenient Truth– It’s the end of the world as we know it. Apocalyptic sci-fi has become scientific fact-now that’s scary. Former VP/Oscar winner Al Gore is a Power Point-packing Rod Serling, submitting a gallery of nightmare nature scenarios for our disapproval. I’m tempted to say that this chilling look at the results of unchecked global warming is only showing us the tip of the proverbial iceberg…but it’s melting too fast.

Sicko– Torture porn for the uninsured! Our favorite agitprop filmmaker, Michael Moore, grabs your attention right out of the gate with a real Bunuel moment. Over the opening credits, we are treated to shaky home video depicting a man pulling up a flap of skin whilst patiently stitching up a gash on his knee with a needle and thread, as Moore deadpans in V.O. (with his cheerful Midwestern countenance) that the gentleman is an avid cyclist- and one of the millions of Americans who cannot afford health insurance. T

he film proceeds to delve into some of the other complexities contributing to the overall ill health of our current system; such as the monopolistic power and greed of the pharmaceutical companies, the lobbyist graft, and (perhaps most horrifying of all) the compassion-challenged bureaucracy of a privatized health “coverage” system that focuses first and foremost on profit, rather than on actual individual need. Better eat your Wheaties.

Zoo-In 2005, when the Seattle press originally broke the story of a Boeing engineer dying from a perforated colon as the result of his, um, “love” of horses, that alone was weird and disturbing (not to mention the cruelty to animals angle). But when it was revealed that the deceased was a member of a sizable group of like-minded individuals, calling themselves “zoophiles”, who traveled from all parts of the country to converge on a farm where their “special needs” were catered to, I remember thinking that here was a scenario beyond the ken of a Cronenberg or a Lynch; it was horror in the most abject sense of the word. That being said, there is still a “bad car wreck” fascination about the tale, and this is an eerie, compelling and thought-provoking Errol Morris-style documentary about the darkest side of (in) human desire. To their credit, filmmakers Robinson Devor and Charles Mudede keep a sensitive, neutral tone; it’s not as exploitative as you might assume.

Get your kicks: Top 10 Sports Movies

By Dennis Hartley

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This being Super Bowl weekend and all, I figured this would be as good a time as any to trot out my top ten favorite sports films. As usual, my list is arranged alphabetically, as opposed to ranking order.

Bend it Like Beckham – Writerdirector Gurinder Chadha whips up a cross-cultural masala that cleverly marries up “cheer the underdog” Rocky elements with Bollywood-style exuberance. The story centers on a headstrong young woman (Parminder Nagra) who is upsetting her traditional Sikh parents by following her “silly” dream to become an English soccer star. Chadha also weaves in a subtle subtext on the difficulties that South Asian immigrants face while assimilating into British culture. Also with Keira Knightley and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (who plays a likable character for once!)

Breaking Away – This beautifully realized slice of middle-Americana (filmed in Bloomington, Indiana) from director Peter Yates and writer Steve Tesich (an Oscar-winning screenplay) is a perfect film on every level. More than just a sports movie, it’s a genuinely touching coming of age story and insightful rumination about the simple joys and social fabric of small town life. Dennis Christopher is outstanding as a 19 year-old obsessed with bicycle racing, a pretty coed and anything Italian. He and his pals (Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern and Jackie Earle Haley) are all on the cusp of adulthood and trying to figure out what to do with their lives. Barbara Barrie and Paul Dooley give warm and funny performances as Christopher’s blue-collar parents.

Bull Durham- Writer-director Ron Shelton really knocked one out of the park with this very funny, well-written and splendidly acted rumination on life, love, and oh yeah-baseball. Kevin Costner gives one of his better performances as a seasoned, world-weary minor league catcher who reluctantly plays mentor to a somewhat dim hotshot rookie pitcher (Tim Robbins). Susan Sarandon is a poetry-spouting baseball groupie who selects one player every season to take under her wing and do some, er, special mentoring of her own. A complex love triangle ensues. It’s Jules and Jim meets The Natural.

Downhill Racer – This frequently overlooked 1969 gem from director Michael Ritchie examines the tightly knit and highly competitive world of Olympic downhill skiing. Robert Redford is cast against type, and consequently delivers one of his more interesting performances as a talented but arrogant athlete who joins up with the U.S. Olympic ski team. Gene Hackman is outstanding as the coach who finds himself at loggerheads with Redford’s contrariety. The film has a verite feel that lends the story a realistic edge.

Fat City – This 1972 character study is one of John Huston’s lesser-known works, but I consider it one of his finest. Stacey Keach (in the role of his career) is an alcoholic, down-and-out prizefighter who mentors a neophyte boxer (Jeff Bridges). Susan Tyrrell is a real standout as Keach’s love interest (she received a Best Supporting Actress nomination for this role). I’ve always preferred this film to Rocky because there’s no sentimentality or audience pandering. The song “Help Me Make it Through the Night” haunts the film, and has never sounded so bittersweet. A downer, but well worth a peek.

Hoop Dreams – One of the most highly praised documentaries of all time, with good reason. Ostensibly “about” basketball, it is at its heart about perseverance, love, and family; which is probably why it struck such a chord with audiences as well as critics. Director Steve James follows the lives of two young men from the inner city for a five-year period, as they pursue their dreams of becoming professional basketball players. Just when you think you have the film pigeonholed, it takes off in unexpected directions, making for a much more riveting story than one might initially expect. A winner.    

North Dallas FortyNick Nolte and Mac Davis lead a spirited ensemble cast in this locker room peek at the lifestyles of pro football players and the machinations of team owners. Some of the antics are allegedly based on the real-life hijinks of the Dallas Cowboys, replete with wild parties and other assorted off-field debaucheries. Charles Durning is perfect as the coach. Peter Gent adapted the screenplay from his original novel. This film is so entertaining that I can almost forgive director Ted Kotcheff for foisting Rambo: First Blood and Weekend at Bernie’s on us a bit later in his career.

Personal Best – When this film was first released, there was so much fuss over a couple brief love scenes between Mariel Hemingway and co-star Patrice Donnelly that many failed to notice that it was one of the most realistic, non-condescending portraits of female athletes to ever reach movie screens. Writer-director Robert Towne did his homework; he spent time observing Olympic track stars at work and at play. The women in his story are shown to be every bit as tough and competitive as their male counterparts; Hemingway and (real-life pentathlete) Donnelly deserve credit for not sugar-coating their characterizations in any way. Scott Glenn is excellent as the women’s hard driving coach.

Slapshot – Paul Newman skates away with his role as the coach of a slumping minor league hockey team in this classic, directed by George Roy Hill. When Newman learns about a possible sale of the franchise, he decides to pull out all the stops and start playing “dirty”. The entire acting ensemble is wonderful, and screenwriter Nancy Dowd’s riotously profane locker room dialog will have you rolling. Newman’s Cool Hand Luke co-star Strother Martin (as the team’s manager) handily steals all of his scenes. Lindsey Crouse (in a rare comedic role) is memorable as a sexually frustrated “sports wife” . Michael Ontkean performs the funniest “striptease” bit in the history of film, and the endearingly sociopathic “Hanson Brothers” have to be seen to be believed. All in all, it’s a puckish satire.

This Sporting Life – This early Lindsay Anderson effort from 1963 was one of the “angry young man” dramas that stormed out of the U.K. in the late 50s and early 60s, steeped in “kitchen sink” realism and working class angst. A young,  Brando-esque Richard Harris tears up the screen as a thuggish, egotistical rugby player with a natural gift for the game who becomes an overnight sports star.