Tag: paul newman

Fort Apache, the Bronx

Fort Apache, the Bronx (1981)
★★ / ★★★★

Two rookie cops are killed by a drug-addicted prostitute (Pam Grier) and so the hunt is on to bring justice for the slain officers. With Captain Dugan (Sully Boyar) retiring, Captain Connolly (Edward Asner) is to take the lead of the South Bronx precinct with big plans of clearing cases even if the cops must go through extraordinary measures to do so. Officer Murphy (Paul Newman), however, doubts that any real changes can be made given that the status quo is deeply embedded in the marrow of the community.

“Fort Apache, the Bronx,” directed by Daniel Petrie, is a sometimes engaging but largely unfocused drama, weighed down by subplots that do not lead anywhere particularly compelling. The material is at its best when simply showing the lifestyles in the Bronx and how the community responds when the new captain pushes it to change with his unwavering idealism. Asner plays Captain Connolly with such intensity, one wonders the lines he might be willing to cross to prove his naysayers wrong.

The love story, which is supposed to be the heart of the picture given what each character symbolizes, between Murphy and a nurse (Rachel Ticotin) are nicely performed by Newman and Ticotin, but it is not written well enough as to create lasting impact. Perhaps Murphy and Isabella are too far in age so the effortless charm that the actors possess are not converted into genuine chemistry. Not once did I buy into them as a real couple; I was more interested in the partnership between Murphy and Corelli (Ken Wahl) either out in the field or just bantering in the car.

One of the cops in the precinct (Danny Aiello) commits a heinous crime. Although the screenplay introduces the idea of cops taking advantage of their roles as authority figures, it neither delves deeply nor asks discerning questions about responsibility, guilt, and ethical conduct. Instead, we are shown scenes of Murphy asking those he cares about, directly or indirectly, what he should do since he was a witness to the crime. It comes across very superficial, as if the screenplay were written by someone who had not seen or was not inspired by great, dramatic social pictures released in the ‘70s.

Grier is underused as the streetwalker who sets the plot in motion. She has one great scene with a drug dealer which really showcases her presence. I wished we got a chance to learn more about Charlotte’s life outside of the streets. Did she have a family? How is she like when she is not high on smack? What does her home look like? She is an important piece of the puzzle but one that is often brushed under the rug.

Written by Haywood Gould, one of the problems with “Fort Apache, the Bronx” is its lack of a defined center. On the sides are memorable faces and solid performances but the screenplay’s messages are often superficial and all over the place. For instance, the cops often turn their heads the other way even if they witness an act worthy of an arrest. From what we see here, it all works out eventually. The dramatic pull is weak.

Nobody’s Fool

Nobody’s Fool (1994)
★★★ / ★★★★

Sully (Paul Newman) seems to be an adolescent stuck in an aging man’s body. Running from responsibility has become a habit so consuming that he is unable to hold onto a steady job, has not formed a family ever since he walked out on his wife and son who was barely a year old many years ago, and finds himself living with his eighth grade teacher. When his truck gets a flat tire while on the job, he decides to hitchhike to get back to town. To Sully’s surprise, the person who pulls over is Peter (Dylan Walsh), the son he barely knows but is nonetheless friendly and willing to make a connection with him.

Based on the novel by Richard Russo and screenplay by Robert Benton, “Nobody’s Fool” has a protagonist who is not at all easy to like since he is as stubborn as a mule, but we warm up to him, at least to a degree, because the execution behind the inevitable changes he undergoes offer intelligence, insight, and sensitivity to make arc worthy of our time.

One of the characters advises another at some point that there are times when less is more. That counsel should have been applied to the picture because it is riddled with too many characters who are interesting but are not given enough time to develop. Officer Raymer (Philip Seymour Hoffman), for instance, is mostly played for laughs. We see that he is overenthusiastic about his job but we are unable to ascertain why he is so angry with Sully. Surely it is not just about Sully not paying his traffic tickets. There seems to be an untouched backstory involving the two. Also, Rub (Pruitt Taylor Vince) considers himself as Sully’s son despite the fact that they are only co-workers. What justifies him to have these feelings toward Sully? The situations are there but background information is lacking.

When the focus turns on the relationship between estranged father and son, the picture comes alive. There are very strange bonding sessions, like stealing of a snow blower, but we are able to look past them because it is clear what they both want from each other. Though they may not admit it, they want to be loved a little more, especially Sully having realized that he is getting older and Peter’s marriage is going through a rough patch. Instead, the affection that Sully wishes to have had the chance to express to his son is given to his grandson (Alexander Goodwin). Their interactions command fragility. Due to Sully’s history of irresponsibility, we anticipate for him to hurt or disappoint the child.

I craved more dialogue between Sully and Mrs. Beryl (Jessica Tandy), his former middle school instructor. Since Newman and Tandy are very good at concealing and disguising emotions, it inspires us to look closer and dig deeper into what is going on between them. Also, while the performers have the ability to put emphasis on certain words without drawing our complete attention to their techniques, they also have a way of communicating using their eyes only. Because their verbal exchanges are limited, reaction shots become key in understanding the relationship.

If there is a message in “Nobody’s Fool,” directed by Robert Benton, perhaps it is this: it is rarely too late to change the course of our lives for the better. A little bit of luck helps, too. What could have been a cheesy lesson is peppered with great performances and layers among relationships worth looking into. It inspires hope from within instead of shoving it down our throats.

The Long, Hot Summer

The Long, Hot Summer (1958)
★★★ / ★★★★

The name Ben Quick has always had a negative connotation: word has it that he has a penchant for setting things on fire. After a barn is burnt to the ground, Ben (Paul Newman) is cast out by his community—despite a lack of evidence. So, he makes his way to Frenchman’s Bend, Mississippi and is picked up by two women: Eula (Lee Remick), the lively passenger, and Clara (Joanne Woodward), the unimpressed driver. They are the Varners and Will Varner (Orson Welles), Eula’s father-in-law and Clara’s father, runs the town. Ben, tired of scrounging for money his whole life, plans to seize a great opportunity.

“The Long, Hot Summer,” based on a novella and a short story by William Faulkner and adapted to the screen by Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr., is perceptive in that it chooses to focus on the human drama rather than the plot. I expected a romantic classic picture with the usual trappings and delights. Halfway through, I realized that what was in front of me aspires to deliver beyond a typical arc. It has romantic love, true, but it is also about love among family and a deep unhappiness writhing just beneath.

Newman and Woodward share excellent chemistry and pairing them up with a script that has crackle and pop is great entertainment. The masterstroke is having Ben and Clara dislike each other for a long time—so long that three-quarters of the picture has gone by and they share no scene that is typically sweet or cute. Each scene commands a level of tension because while they look so perfect for each other, we begin to suspect that maybe, deep down, they are too different to the point where the possibility of them ending up together—and being happy—reaches improbability.

Woodward plays Clara with a level of coldness. The character is not mean or a rich snob but she knows exactly what she wants. At times that trait can be intimidating and Woodward plays it up a notch. However, she is careful not to paint Clara as unattainable. There is a complexity to her; she can be vulnerable in the most surprising ways.

Newman, on the other hand, plays Ben with a level of danger. Like Woodward’s balancing act, the actor colors Ben with just enough humanity that it becomes difficult to categorize his personality as well as his intentions. Both characters are unpredictable and that is why it is very enjoyable to watch them revolve around one another.

Rarely has the South been so alluring to me. I took pleasure in listening to the dialogue—the rhythm and poetry of it. The screenplay allows the conversation to run their course. When two characters are sharing a cup of tea, one cannot help but wonder what they are really talking about. The subject may be about loneliness or is the root of the tête-à-tête about sex? And yet there are moments when the characters surprise us by being very direct.

The film has two weak points: it does not spend enough time on the people outside the Varner family and Welles playing the tough and obstinate patriarch. To understand how the folks that surround—and worship—the Varners is key because of the lead’s reputation. Toward the end, they take on an important role but the charade bear little impact because the reaction appears to come out of the blue. Welles, on the other hand, shouts just about every line. While Will is supposed to be unpleasant, the performance need not be. There are a few moments when Welles plays it quiet. While tolerable for a minute or two, he then proceeds to pair lower decibels with yet another tirade.

Directed by Martin Ritt, “The Long, Hot Summer” has an edge: while it can be romantic, it is also savagely funny without losing grip on the basic dramatic elements. The scenes with Will’s only son, Jody (Anthony Franciosa), are almost always played for laughs but his being pathetic has an undercurrent of real unhappiness worth looking into. He wants to impress his father so much that there are moments when, arguably, he is worse than the man of the house. But he is not the only one with something to prove. Twenty-three-year-old Clara is still unmarried. Her father wants grandchildren badly. As a man of means, he usually gets what he wants.

The Hustler

The Hustler (1961)
★★★ / ★★★★

Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) and his manager, Charlie (Myron McCormick), tour all over the country to challenge billiard champions for high-stakes games. Eddie’s latest opponent, Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason), has a reputation for being one of the very best, undefeated for the past fifteen years. Things are looking up for Eddie until an observant gambler named Bert Gordon (George C. Scott), drinking a glass of milk now and then, begins to watch the match.

Based on the screenplay by Sidney Carroll and Robert Rossen, “The Hustler” is a surprise because it manages to make a very dry sport interesting. Just how does the film able to pull this off? Since the camera focuses on the behavior of the players combined with what occurs on the pool table, it is able to offer something unique.

People respond to challenges in different ways and the filmmakers are aware of this. Each time a cue hit the cue ball, there is split second in which the audiences are able to see how the balls disperse. Interestingly, there is not one complete shot of a cue hitting the cue ball until all the balls stop moving. Once a turn is over, it is almost immediate that the camera focuses on the characters’ reactions, from how proud they are of the shot to the worry that creeps in like a thunderbolt when a slight error is made.

Balls follow the rules of physics but human emotions do not. The duel between Eddie and Minnesota Fats is very involving which almost sets an impossible standard for the rest of the picture. When Eddie meets Sarah (Piper Laurie), a fellow alcoholic, at a bus terminal, I liked that it does not come across completely romantic. Their flirtation is executed with a certain rhythm, a dance which recalls the feeling of Eddie and Minnesota Fats circling the billiards table. However, when the couple end up living in the same apartment, the breezy pacing hits the break. Perhaps the screenplay wishes to make the point that not much good can come out of two current alcoholics living in the same place.

Eddie’s interactions with the woman is the antihero’s turning point, but I kept wishing for him to finally get back on the saddle and play. This is a problem because the character arc is the point of the film, not necessarily the pool matches. It is redeemed slightly, however, by scenes between Newman and Scott which contain very sharp dialogue. Gordon admits to Eddie that he believes Eddie is born a loser even though he has undeniable talent. Gordon, having a knack for business, proposes that if they worked together, the road to success would be theirs for the taking. My curiosity was piqued in terms of which man is really taking advantage of whom.

As foolish as Eddie becomes after he drinks glass after glass of J.T.S. Brown bourbon, his determination to make money remains as strong as Gordon’s. The symbiosis between the two is parasitic and the screenplay elegantly peels the layers of their motivations until the final pool match. Money is what the main characters are constantly, blindly after. The excitement of gaining or losing it paints a portrait of addiction.

Based on the novel by Walter Tevis and directed by Robert Rossen, the redemption in “The Hustler” is not only appropriate, it is earned despite the protracted middle section. While the big moments provide reference points for the drama, the small moments define them.


Hud (1963)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Homer Bannon (Melvyn Douglas) owns a ranch on a precipice of change. One of his cows died and he suspects that it might be due to disease. He sends his grandson, Lonnie (Brandon deWilde), to fetch his son, Hud (Paul Newman), for a second opinion despite the fact that he and his son never agree on anything. There is tension there because Hud believes his father has never really forgiven him for the death of his older brother, Lonnie’s father. With Homer’s declining health, repairing their relationship feels like an impossibility.

Based on a novel by Larry McMurtry, “Hud” showcases a beautiful black and white cinematography which serves as a template for the personal demons that haunt a family. There are three main relationships in the film and all are treated with equal careful attention and delivers emotional power with precision.

The father-son relationship is mostly explored through their seething anger. Since they are not willing to discuss the truth of what upsets them about each other, it seems like every interaction is an opportunity to jab at another—their more peaceful moments so evanescent, I eventually learned to expect the worst when the two begin to occupy the same room. Their arguments are appropriately painful to watch since the two characters’ emotional wounds do not get a chance to heal for having to consistently compartmentalize their frustrations.

Admittedly, I saw myself in Homer because he expects a lot out of those he cares about most. When a person exhibits a character flaw, like when Hud suggests that they sell the potentially diseased cattle to their neighbors before word gets around, though he need not say it, Homer’s body language communicates that he almost considers the suggestion as a personal affront, like he is disgusted or ashamed for being involved with, let alone be related by blood, a person with questionable morality. He has an idea of a person and for that person to deviate from the expectation equates trouble. Though I did not always agree with Homer’s decisions, Douglas’ performance is so magnetic, I ended up respecting the character.

The uncle-nephew relationship is touching because Lonnie wants so badly to have someone to look up to. Lonnie, a seventeen-year-old, is most impressed with Hud’s ability to charm women. It is heartbreaking, without relying on too obvious denouements, to observe Lonnie’s realization that his uncle’s charm is primarily on the surface… and that maybe his uncle has nothing further of value to teach him.

Eventually, he turns to his grandfather for guidance, which I found to be the heart of the picture. The scenes of them going to the movies while surrounded by couples, singing “Oh My Darling, Clementine,” and sharing a meal at a diner really stand out because such are moments that capture genuine happiness.

The feeling I experienced while watching them interact is similar to when I hang out with my best friend, laughing unstoppably, and having a good time without thinking about work, family, and personal problems. Though the images are rooted in something simple and realistic, they work as escapism. It also made me wish that I got to know my grandfather more before he passed away from cancer.

Based on the screenplay by Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr., “Hud” contains wonderful performances propelled by Martin Ritt’s keen direction. I wished the picture could have gone longer so it would have had more time to develop the relationship between Alma (Patricia Neal), the housekeeper, and the men in the house. I was so invested in the happenings within this Texan ranch, it made me want to grab a cowboy hat and soak up the sun.

The Towering Inferno

The Towering Inferno (1974)
★★★ / ★★★★

The tallest building in the world, known as The Glass Tower, is erected in San Francisco. The first eighty floors are for businesses while the rest, going beyond one hundred twenty floors, are strictly residential. A prestigious party is planned to take place in one of the highest floors. Hours prior, Doug Roberts (Paul Newman), the architect, is informed by technicians about a wiring problem. Although Roberts informs the building’s owner, Jim Duncan (William Holden), of the potential danger, the party is to go ahead as planned anyway. Unbeknownst to anybody, there is already a fire in one of the rooms. The fire detector is faulty.

Directed by John Guillermin, “The Towering Inferno” is a highly entertaining action-thriller that is willing to perform at a various levels of intensity. The fire is so ravenous that not even water, despite being under the control of experienced firemen, can stop it from consuming and spreading. As in most disaster films, the audience is required to get to know several key players with whom we can expect to get hurt really badly or die in the most gruesome ways possible.

There is Susan (Faye Dunaway), torn between accepting a job she had been hoping to get for five years and traveling with Roberts indefinitely, Lisolette (Jennifer Jones), an aging lady who lives with her cat, Harlee (Fred Astaire), a conman who seems to show genuine interest in getting to know Lisollete a bit more, and Mike O’Hallorhan (Steve McQueen), the fire chief with excellent leadership skills. There are moments when our patience is tested because the way in which the characters are introduced has an air of cheesiness and the dialogue sounds somewhat forced at times.

But when the door of the burning storage room is finally opened, it is like opening Pandora’s box. There is excitement because, for instance, we are forced to wonder how a small fire from several floors below can possibly reach the room where the party is occurring. But the picture is not just about the fire consuming its victims. The screenplay by Stirling Silliphant brings up questions about responsibility and human error.

There is Duncan’s son-in-law, Simmons (Richard Chamberlain), who knowingly deviated from Roberts’ instructions and substituted inferior wires and other equipments in order to save a couple million dollars. Naturally, choosing to save money for the sake of safety has repercussions when building the highest skyscraper on the planet. There is no doubt that he is responsible but is he the only one?

The picture is a love letter to firefighters, but the writing does not mistake bravery for invincibility, cowardice for a character flaw. There are extended sequences in which we simply observe firefighters doing their jobs. Like the men holding the hose, our attention is on the fire being extinguished. Surprises arrive from many directions which eventually create suspense and thrills. In some scenes, the ceiling collapses on the firemen, but in others, the burning room explodes in their faces. I was left consistently speechless, wide-eyed, and aghast when a logical and theoretically effective plan is rendered useless by unpredictable factors.

“The Towering Inferno,” based on the novels by Richard Martin Stern (“The Tower”), Thomas N. Scortia, and Frank M. Robinson (both for “The Glass Inferno”), plays with our expectations. It makes one think twice about staying in hotels above the seventh floor.

Cool Hand Luke

Cool Hand Luke (1967)
★★★★ / ★★★★

On a drunken night, Luke (Paul Newman) is arrested for cutting heads off parking meters. Along with three others, he is sent to a prison camp led by Captain (Strother Martin), rather small in frame and voice but whose bite stings when his authority is challenged. Luke’s term is a year, quite short compared to his fellow inmates. Every day of the week, except weekends, the prisoners are expected to trim endless weeds along roads. Initially, Luke has come to accept his reality. However, with only a few days left prior to completing his time, tragedy strikes and it triggers the rabbit in his blood.

“Cool Hand Luke,” based on the screenplay by Donn Pearce and Frank Pierson, is a prison drama that can almost be divided into two pictures and each would still be wonderful entertainment, from bets involving eating fifty hardboiled eggs in an hour to multiple attempts of escaping the camp. A smart script supported by faultless performances by Newman and George Kennedy, Luke’s rival and best friend, it is a film that asks us to think about how we live our lives as free people in our society by using the prisoners and their roles in the prison camp as a model. It is intelligent but never heavy-handed about the points it wishes to convey.

There are three succeeding scenes that I found nothing short of impressive. The first involves a boxing match between Luke and Dragline (Kennedy). Though it involves two people pounding on each other’s flesh, it is not all that exciting. However, it is the first scene that tells us what sort of protagonist we are dealing with. This is a man who refuses to give up even it means subjecting himself to humiliation. Throughout the one-sided match, most noticeable is the gradual change in the inmates’ reactions: roars of encouragement to deafening silence.

The second scene involves a card game between Luke and Loudmouth Steve (Robert Drivas). There is a calm in Newman’s face despite his character’s bruised face. This time, we observe the man being in his element. Throughout the scene, it becomes increasingly apparent that Luke is unlike the other prisoners. The other guys are in there to serve their time and get out. He, on the other hand, does not particularly care about being released. Notice the way he plays his cards and the reaction he has after the winner is revealed.

Most moving and most complex is the third scene. Arletta (Jo Van Fleet) visits her son but does not leave the car due to her condition. A cigarette is given from mother to child but not once do they touch. Neither informs the other his or her love. Luke does not even call his mother “Mom,” just Arletta—as if she were an acquaintance. But there is a sensitivity in their interaction that runs deep. The story is their eyes. Since we are not provided that story, I began to construct one in my mind long after they said their goodbyes. There is one thing that made me feel a bit sad and curious. As Luke starts walking away from the car, a man, who might be his stepfather or brother, hands him a banjo and says something like, “Now there’s no reason to come back.”

Directed by Stuart Rosenberg and based on the novel by Donn Pearce, “Cool Hand Luke” is ultimately about, I think, a determined loser. The main character continues, to my greatest frustration, to function on survival mode, just enough to get through a situation but not enough to stick with something to ensure not repeating similar mistakes.

This is why Newman is perfect for the role. He is very handsome and charming so our guard is down. But the closer we choose to look, it is clear that Newman has a created a character who is worn out and not all that trustworthy. Even if Luke made a successful escape, I was not convinced that he would or could lead a life that was happy and complete.