Saturday, December 8, 2012

Cool World

In July & August, PFA presented a series called Cool World which was programmed as a result a poll held by PFA.  As the program notes state, "Cool World looks calmly at four decades of cool, trying to determine with indifference just who is chillin’ in American cinema."  The coolest actors were Paul Newman, River Phoenix, Pam Grier, Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Edward Norton, Dennis Hopper, Jane Fonda, Sidney Poitier, Clint Eastwood, Tuesday Weld & Matt Dillon.

I had seen most of the films in the series but was able to catch a few I hadn't seen in many years.

Foxy Brown starring Pam Grier; directed by Jack Hill; (1974)
Heathers starring Christian Slater & Winona Ryder; directed by Michael Lehmann; (1988)
Thunderbolt and Lightfoot starring  Clint Eastwood & Jeff Bridges; directed by Michael Cimino; (1974)
Klute Jane Fonda & Donald Sutherland; directed by Alan J. Pakula; (1971)

The series consisted of 12 films.  Of the eight I missed, I most regret missing two Gus Van Sant films - Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho.

I had never seen Foxy Brown but its reputation proceeded it.  The film did not disappoint.  Wearing (and not wearing) an impressive array of hip 1970s fashion, Pam Grier kicks ass on a number white people throughout the film.  She even gets revenge on the the two white crackers get her high on junk and take turns raping her.  If Pam Grier met my expectation, Kathryn Loder exceeded them.  Playing the ruthless pimp/drug boss, Loder lets go of any sense of propriety in her performance which culminates in her identifying her dead boyfriend by his severed penis which Foxy presents to her before killing her.  If that's not cool, I don't know what is.

I hadn't seen Heathers since it first came out.  I recall comedians making fun of Christian Slater for essentially doing a Jack Nicholson impersonation but I never thought it was so obvious.  Now I understand.  Slater mugs it up as he given directions to impersonate Nicholson.  It was very distracting but his performance threw off the balance of the film which was nicely balanced between Winona Ryder and the three Heathers (Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falk & Kim Walker).  Heathers is a fun black comedy as Slater's sociopathic character takes Ryder along a murderous teen adventure.  It's a silly film (with some harsh commentary at its core about the cliquish nature of high school) so it's tough to criticize Slater's performance as between too hammy.  I was more distracted by the Nicholson sounding voice.  I laughed at many parts so that must be some sort endorsement.

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot was a hybrid buddy film/caper film.  Lightfoot (Jeff Bridges) is the "cool" one here.  Laid back, a little goofy and good natured, Lightfoot may as well be called The Dude.  Thunderbolt (Eastwood) is more serious as an experienced bank robber whom Lightfoot looks up to.  They have some quirky adventures with women and a guy with a trunk full of rabbits who tries to gas them.  Eventually teaming up with the foul tempered George Kennedy and pea brained Geoffrey Lewis, they plan a bank robbery which takes up the last third of the film.  Bridges even dresses in drag.  Ending on a downbeat note, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot has a 1970s feel but is still an eminently watchable film in 2012.

Klute is flat out a great film.  John Klute (Donald Sutherland) is a Pennsylvania police officer who investigates the disappearance of a friend in New York City.  The evidence leads him to Bree Daniels (Jane Fonda won an Oscar for the role), a high end prostitute.  He begins by surveilling her movements and tapping her phone.  Klute becomes obsessed with the sexy Bree but he has to take because there is a killer stalking her.  As Klute & Bree investigate the disappearance of Klute's friend, they encounter the demimonde of New York including Bree's former pimp (Roy Scheider) and drug addicted prostitute.

There are a lot of scenes from the perspective of Klute or the stalker/killer which adds to Bree's sense of paranoia.  The final showdown in a garment district sweatshop is a classic.  Although Jane Fonda is the "cool" one, her Bree has a practiced nonchalance which she uses to keep men at a distance.  If Hanoi Jane is cool, Klute doesn't show it.  Maybe Barbarella or Barefoot in the Park would have been a better choices.  Cool or not, Fonda, Sutherland & director Alan J. Pakula created a tremendous film.

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