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Susan Sarandon

Review: Twilight

[Originally written for Mr. Showbiz, March 6, 1998]

Set the wayback machine to 1998. Parallax View presents reviews of films released 20 years ago, written by our contributors for various papers and websites. Most of these have not been available for years.

Twilight is a pretty good movie that will give steady pleasure to some viewers while probably leaving others restless for more aggressive stimulation. Put it another way: the new collaboration between Robert Benton, Paul Newman, and Richard Russo—the team behind the excellent Nobody’s Fool—is less a movie than an idea for a movie, a meditation on ways in which movies have been soothing and satisfying in filmically better times. In particular, it is a meditation on the private-eye genre, on the codes of honor and human connection that that genre has explored, even defined, and on Paul Newman himself—a solid actor for more decades than many of today’s moviegoers have lived, and a beautiful man who has, at last and inevitably, grown old.

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Review: The Meddler

Susan Sarandon and Rose Byrne

For a movie so conventional in its generational humor, The Meddler has some first-rate incidental jokes—throwaways that make its huggy conclusions much easier to tolerate. For instance, why does a psychologist have a rabbit hutch next to her office chair? It is never explained, nor even mentioned. It is just there, as it somehow must be. And in the opening montage that introduces us to the title character, we listen to sexagenarian buttinsky Marnie (Susan Sarandon) describe her new life as a widow in L.A. At some point we realize she’s leaving a typically verbose message for adult daughter Lori (Rose Byrne), which includes the news that she’s unpacking “all my artwork” (we see a painting of Kermit the Frog) and “that doll that I had made of you” (we see—wow, that looks like a humanoid toy resembling a mummified child). We never hear about that creepy doll again, but the tossed-off gag lets us understand that Marnie has a somewhat overenthusiastic concept of parental commitment.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: The Front Page

[Originally published in Movietone News 36, October 1974]

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes and Avanti! bombed. The Front Page may well make lots of dollars. I like to see Billy Wilder on top, but Sherlock Holmes and Avanti! will live through the ages whereas The Front Page, a calculated catch at prepackaged commercial success, is as mummified as the makeup-encased actors inhabiting it. It’s among the several worst films Wilder has ever made.

I must say the idea bothered me from the first. The director appeared to have come to terms with so many of his demons in those recent, mellow, glowingly personal pictures. The Front Page seemed a clear reversion to professional-wiseass territory—a country Wilder occasionally made his own, but the spoils of conquest only made him more bitter, so that he descended to the arid, tortured, unilluminating likes of Kiss Me, Stupid and The Fortune Cookie (better films than they were credited for at the time, but thrashing, ugly experiences all the same). The juicy cynicism of the Hecht-MacArthur property looked too readymade. And so, I fear, it’s proved to be, although one of the most serious faults of Wilder (and I.A.L. Diamond)’s version of the play is that it ignores so many of the gemlike facets of the play’s cynicism.

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Review: The Great Waldo Pepper

[Originally published in Movietone News 43, September 1975]

I just realized I can’t remember how the line begins, so I’m going to fake it: “Technicians provide realism—artists supply truth.” “Technicians” almost certainly wasn’t the word but the rest is legitimate as a quote. A Hollywood director says it to Waldo Pepper, who was just too late to do his stuff as an ace in the Great War and now has a job, under a phony name, as a stunt flyer for the early talkies. Pepper has just pointed out that the wrong planes are being used by the movie squadron, which happens to be reenacting the legendary air battle he knows by heart and hearkens back to in support of his personal romantic code. George Roy Hill has left himself a lot of loopholes, as usual: The director who delivers the line is, or at least would be in many imaginable circumstances, right to prefer poetic truth to the documentary variety. But he’s wrong within the emotional context of the film, and he’s pompous and defensive to boot. But Waldo’s righteousness is somewhat compromised by our memory that he more or less opened the film by laying down a verbal account of the original battle, fascinating both his immediate, Nebraska farm family audience and its counterpart out there in the darkened theater, winning them and us with a charming blend of self-effacing softspokenness and ingenuous egoism, and shortly thereafter was exposed as a fraud for having cast himself in the story at all. But Hill implicitly tipped us to that particular con by preceding his Technicolor movie proper with monochrome archive stills showing aviation heroes giving up the ghost while stunting for movie cameras; this, plus our association of Robert Redford and Hill with that earlier, supposedly pleasurable screwing-over The Sting—similarly punctuated by (painted) illustrations of a movie crew filming con artists in their maneuvers—surely constituted some kind of fair warning.

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Film Review: ‘Tammy’

Susan Sarandon and Melissa McCarthy

Melissa McCarthy has earned her moment, and it is now. After scaring up an Oscar nomination for Bridesmaids and dragging The Heat and Identity Thief into the box-office winner’s circle, McCarthy gets to generate her own projects. So here’s Tammy, an unabashed vehicle for her specific strengths: She wrote it with her husband, Ben Falcone (the talented comic actor who played the air marshal in Bridesmaids), and he directed. The movie gets a mixed grade, because it doesn’t answer the central question about her talent: Can McCarthy go beyond antic co-starring roles and carry a movie as the sole lead?

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

‘Robot & Frank’: Memory, Man and Machine

Don’t be misled by the title of this bittersweet gem. Robot & Frank may be set in the near future, but it’s no silly sci-fi fairy tale. Whimsical and poignant by turns, the film never goes gooey at its emotional center or bogs down in heavy dramatic weather. How could it, when this spare story of aging and fading memory stars Frank Langella, the old lion of stage and screen who dominates every role he undertakes in the winter of his acting career? Robot & Frank is very nearly a one-man show, a master interacting with a machine.

Robot and Frank Langella

First-time director Jake Schreier, graduating from commercials and music videos, shows surprising smarts and maturity by not getting in Langella’s way — and by celebrating, sans irony or excess of sentiment, the fundamental human need for connection and purpose.

Rusticating in a pleasant old country house, onetime ace second-story man Frank has grown so discombobulated he wakes up in the dark, burgling his own digs. Langella’s still-powerful physicality is thwarted by aimlessness: His handsome features are going a little soft, infected by terminal boredom. About all that anchors this increasingly forgetful gentleman in the here-and-now are the friendly town librarian (Susan Sarandon) and occasional forays into small-beans shoplifting. And now all his beloved books, tattered relics of the print information age, are being digitalized, while the nice lady who tracked down tasty tomes for him is being replaced by Mr. Darcy, an ambulatory talking box. (Somewhere Jane Austen giggles.)

Continue reading at MSN Movies

Watching with Susan Sarandon, star of ‘Jeff Who Lives at Home’

By her own admission, Susan Sarandon considers herself a character actor. She’s interested in being challenged by roles, in playing different characters, and in the messages of her films. After a career spanning over forty years, five Oscar nominations, and a Best Actress Oscar for “Dead Man Walking,” it’s still a challenge to find those roles. And yet she does. Case in point: “Jeff Who Lives at Home” (on Blu-ray and DVD from Paramount), where she plays the widowed mother of two estranged grown sons whose lives have gone off track.

Susan Sarandon in ‘Jeff Who ives at Home’

Videodrone talked to Ms. Sarandon about working with directors Jay and Mark Duplass, her own life as the mother of two sons, and what she’s watching when she’s not making movies.

What are you watching?

I don’t have a television set so all I watch are things I get. I just finished watching a number of seasons of “Breaking Bad,” which I thought revolutionizes television. I haven’t watched a lot of television so maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about, but I was blown away by the acting and direction. It was major for me. So I tend to get things like that, I get a lot of documentaries, I watch the TED talks and animal specials. I tend to see movies in the theater, especially foreign films that I think maybe won’t be available later. I like the experience of being with a group of people, watching movies that way.

That’s an experience that is being lost as more people watch movies at home, on disc or On Demand or streaming video. There is something special about the shared experience of watching a film in a theater with an audience.

I like that, and I like being able to lose yourself in a big, dark room. I think that films have a responsibility and have the challenge of reframing people’s perspective, even if it’s just briefly, and I think it’s easier to do when you’re outside of your living room.

Continue reading at Videodrone

Out of the Past: The Front Page

[Originally published in Movietone News 54, June 1977]

Billy Wilder’s chief motives in making the third film version of the 1928 Hecht–MacArthur Broadway smash were plain, and he admitted them: he wanted a box-office hit, badly, and this had all the elements for a 1974 killing. It’s a buddy story, a nostalgia piece, a celebration of crusading newspapermen—Woodward and Bernstein, Prohibition-style. Add leftover sets from The Sting for good measure and another re-teaming of the odd couple, Lemmon and Matthau, the latter in a role tailor-made for him. How could it fail?

But it did, thumpingly. Why? I’d suggest the very reason that made it such a good movie, so much more than the remake of the remake of the film of the hit play. Everyone said it was a perfect vehicle for Wilder—he did himself—but this is to ignore one crucial difficulty. The Front Page is a lovely old play, and it really is extremely modern. So how does an auteur as strong as Wilder adapt it with the respect it deserves without submerging his own personality? No one could want, after all this time, to see a Billy Wilder film where Billy Wilder simply translates 46-year-old jokes, however good, into celluloid terms. At the same time, no one wants to see a film of The Front Page which ignores the splendid original. The trick was to find an element personal to Wilder within that elaborate framework, and this he did. And this is why the public stayed away, just as they had done from Kiss Me Stupid and The Fortune Cookie and even The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes (which, for me, is Wilder’s masterpiece). For most of  Wilder’s later films tend to be about loneliness, despair, desperation (this is even true, to an extent, of the sunny, romantic and very beautiful Avanti!), and these things are at the forefront of his version of The Front Page.

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Review: Pretty Baby

[Originally published in Movietone News 60-61, February 1979]

As much as anything else, Pretty Baby is about the end of an era—the ragtime era. Music is so much a part of the film’s atmosphere and texture that it seems an aspect of the production design; and the music reflects that delicate transitional period in popular music when the formal, classical ragtime of Scott Joplin and Louis Chauvin began to give way to the freer-flowing “walking” sound of New Orleans blues—a step in the long process whereby African tribal chant and slavery-days work songs developed into the liberated, improvisational swing of the Jazz Age. The pivotal figure in the transition from the Sedalia sound of Joplin to the New Orleans sound that became Dixieland was Jelly Roll Morton, who for all practical purposes appears in the film as “The Professor,” a lean cathouse piano player portrayed by Antonio Fargas, who even looks a little like the old Jelly Roll. Morton did much of his best work playing nights in Storyville; and the closing-down of New Orleans’s fabled red-light district by the U.S. Navy in 1917 was both the end of an era and the reason why many suddenly unemployed musicians—playing something they then called “jass”—fanned out across the country, bringing a new sound with them. In Pretty Baby, when Madame Nell’s closes up and the furniture is being carted off, the Professor still sits, playing a last few bars on his piano as the movers pick it up; he turns quickly away with a tossed-off “Lousy old piano anyway…” to cut the pain of being separated from a part of himself. Fargas has another great moment, earlier in the film, in the close, long take of the Professor’s face, with God-knows-what-all passing through his mind, as the brothel patrons bid for the privilege of taking the virginity of the girl Violet: fleshpeddling of two different kinds meet at that moment in the pained awareness of one face that has seen too much.

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