Monthly Archives: March 2021

In America (2002) directed by Jim Sheridan • Reviews, film + cast •  Letterboxd

Ireland week continues in the Filmvetter household. Tuesday was Philomena. Last night, In America. Between them, I’ve crammed enough emotion in the pit of my stomach to fashion a golf-ball-sized tumor.

At least with Philomena, there were respites, where I could alleviate my welling up with some levity between Judi Dench and Steve Coogan.

Not so last night. I’ve seen many movies with incredibly poignant scenes and heartbreakingly rendered familial dynamics. There are scenes in Terms of Endearment that still create a lump in my throat. A friend, without warning, once recommended a Kevin Kline film, Life as a House, that I don’t know whether it was good or bad, but I do know it shattered me. And he knew my particular vulnerabilities. He knew I cried at Cocoon. He knew I cried harder at the Star Trek movie where Spock died, such that my wife was reduced to soothingly (no doubt, eyes rolling, as they should have been) imparting, “It’s alright. He comes back in the sequel.” But no warning was given, and Kevin Kline loses his job and gets a cancer diagnosis in the first 10 minutes, whereafter he reunites with his wayward son, and they build a house and Kline dies. Brutal. I hold the recommendation against him to this day.

I digress.

Jim Sheridan (In the Name of the Father, My Left Foot) portrays an Irish family escaping a tragedy to come to New York City in 1980. The parents, Paddy Considine and Samantha Morton, each deal with the loss in their own way; he shuts it off and turns inward, she insists the tragedy in no way hurt her daughters. They land at a run-down tenement where the drug addicts inhabit the stoop and an artist neighbor (Djimon Hounsou) screams and pounds the wall, plagued by his own tragedy. Given their innocence, their assimilation is nerve-wracking (the most harrowing scene being the playing of a carnival game) and uplifting, as they integrate into a community that is alternatively welcoming and hostile. It ends as an unforgettable fable, which allows for acceptance.

It’s the most beautiful film I’ve ever seen. I know I had seen it before, but I didn’t remember much of it, which seems impossible. I now assume it was so heart wrenching and piercing the first time that I probably wept uncontrollably and then did everything I could to ban it from my consciousness. Sheridan wrote it with his two daughters after his own personal tragedy, and their pain and tribute is stitched in the film’s marrow.

The performances are flawless (Morton and Hounsou were Oscar-nominated). The two girls who play the daughters (Sarah and Emma Bolger) give the most natural turns I’ve ever seen.

A gem.

Yaphet Kotto just died.  He had a deep gravitas, and his turns as the cynical working-class stiff (be it in Blue Collar, Brubaker or doomed on the ship in Alien) were always spot on.  His best work, however, was probably on TV in his 122 episode run as Captain Al Giardello in Homicide: Life on the Streets, where he played the rock solid center in the world of Baltimore’s murder police.    

Kotto’s first big role, however, was as the diabolical, charming Bond villain in Live and Let Die, Roger Moore’s first in the series and his best (just a hair better than The Spy Who Love Me).  Here, Moore is physical, and even has a hint of menace, as he gets to the bottom of an international drug conspiracy engineered by Kotto.  Sharks, alligators, snakes, spooky voodoo rituals emceed by the old Seven Up pitchman Jeffrey Holder (“ahahahahahahahahahaha”), high-speed boat chases . . . it’s all rip roaring fun (and ahead of its time – it’s 1973, and Bond couples with an African American fellow agent, Rosie Carver). It also features the best Bond song (which is one of the few decent songs by Wings).

But Kotto was a blast (figuratively, and at the end, indulging in a cheezy Bond quip, literally). Funny, from debonair to frightening in an instant, and playful. One of the best and more accessible Bond villains.

Because during COVID, I have some extra time on my hands, here is my list of Bond films, best to worst.    

1) Casino Royale (Craig)

2) Goldfinger (Connery)

3) From Russia with Love (Connery)

4) On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (Lazenby)

5) Skyfall (Craig)

6) Live and Let Die (Moore)

7) Quantum of Solace (Craig)

8) Thunderball (Connery)

9) The Spy Who Loved Me (Moore)

10) Dr. No (Connery)

11) The Living Daylights (Dalton)

12) You Only Live Twice (Connery)

13) Never Say Never Again (Connery)

14) Moonraker (Moore)

15) Licence to Kill (Dalton)

16) For Your Eyes Only (Moore)

17) Tomorrow Never Dies (Brosnan)

18) The Man With the Golden Gun (Moore)

19) Goldeneye (Brosnan)

20) The World is Not Enough (Brosnan)

21) Die Another Day (Brosnan)

22) Octopussy (Moore)

23) Diamonds are Forever (Connery)

24) Specter (Craig)

25) A View to a Kill (Moore)   

The Parallax View (1974) - IMDb

A regional reporter (Warren Beatty) stumbles on not so much a plot as an institutionalized corporate conspiracy of assassination.  The closer Beatty gets to the source, the more he realizes that what he initially deemed ludicrous is in fact a chilling reality.  

Alan Pakula’s paranoid thriller was probably more relevant upon its release.  With the shooting of JFK in ’63, Malcolm X in ’65, RFK and MLK in ’68, George Wallace in ’72 (a mere 2 years before the picture’s release), political assassination was preeminent in the mind of your average filmgoer.  And no one does paranoia quite a well as Pakula (Klute, All the President’s Men, Presumed Innocent). 

The picture is creepy and certainly makes the viewer feel anxious,. In particular, the movie potential assassins are required to watch in order to gauge their suitability/brainwash them is in and of itself overpowering.

But the film suffers from two significant handicaps.  First, the Beatty character is a cypher.  He is dogged and cynical, but he is invested with no backstory, motive or any other compelling feature.  Given how things turn out, this may be part of the message, but it makes for some stifled yawns as we travel his route to dawning.  Second, the plot is a mess.  Sure, I fully understand an assassination corporation maybe knocking off a true existential political threat once a decade. The Parallax Corporation, however, kills two United States senators and attempts to kill a third, in the space of three years, and even when they have done the good work of pinning it on a brainwashed loner stooge (the corporation’s m.o.), they threaten their entire operation by wiping out potential witnesses after the deed.  I’m not talking one or two witnesses.  After the film’s opening a scene (a gripping assassination on top of Seattle’s Space Needle), nine “witnesses” (it’s not clear they actually see anything) are taken out, a number extraordinary enough that Beatty is drawn in to dig deeper. In the final assassination, a sniper takes down a senator in front of an entire marching band.  That is going to be one helluva cleanup.

This is no way to run a railroad.