Stop eating, watch movies

Hope everyone had a wonderful holiday, and if you’re not in the U.S., hope you had a wonderful… uh, past few days. Sorry for the paucity of posting. (Did you just stop and wonder what “paucity” meant? I don’t blame you, but you gotta admit it sounded good.)

Haven’t caught anything in the theaters lately, but I do have thoughts on two older ones I recently saw.

Love and Death on Long Island: ***

John Hurt stars as reclusive British writer Giles De’Ath, a man more or less out of sorts with the modern world. When one day he finds himself accidentally locked out of his house, he wanders into a movie theater to see an adaptation of an E. M. Forster story, only to find that the film he’s watching is really the fictional Hot Pants College II, sort of a teen romp in the spirit of such legends as Porky’s and Losin’ It.

Giles is quite a bit shocked at first at the audacious attitudes on display in the movie, and he’s ready to walk out in a huff when his eyes alight on the visage of the movie’s young, handsome hero, Ronnie Bostock (Jason Priestley). And suddenly, Giles thinks he’s found the perfect human, in body and in personality.

Giles becomes somewhat obsessed with the actor. He clips and saves articles about Bostock, watches his appearances on television shows, and even goes so far as to join a video store in order to watch Bostock’s oeuvre.

The fascination Giles has with Bostock allows him to ease into modern society a little bit; he even decides to resume lecturing. But when his lecture wanders into a treatise on the Hollywood actor, Giles’ agent asks him if maybe he’d like to take a break for a while. And so Giles does – to Long Island, New York, home of actor Ronnie Bostock, whom he eventually meets and with whom he eventually interacts.

Amazingly enough, John Hurt and Jason Priestley are wonderful together. Sure, it’s not earthshaking news to report that Hurt turns in a fine performance, since he’s been a stalwart thespian for four decades and has long been considered an eminent voice in British acting. But Priestley, of 90210 fame? Has anyone ever thought he was anything more than a dreamy hunk who sometimes was confused with Luke Perry by people who never watched the show? (Not that I’m admitting anything.) Priestley’s never been thought of as an actor, exactly, just a face. Emoting was never his strong point. And yet here, he’s dazzling, far better than he’s been in anything else. So bravo, Jason. You’re more than Brandon Walsh, you putz.

Then again, he didn’t exactly get a lot of plum roles after this movie, so it’s tough to tell if this was just a confluence of perfect circumstances or simply an overlooked performance. Whatever, he was darn good. Believable, sympathetic, engaging.

The bittersweet ending is well handled by the two leads, too, proving they had the proper chemistry for such an understated, thoughtful movie. Well done all around.

Three Days of the Condor: **1/2

Joe Turner (Robert Redford) is a reader for the CIA; that is, he reads novels and journals and other sorts of fiction in order to learn devious plots that are then submitted to the CIA as things to look out for – or try themselves. One day he returns from lunch to find everyone at his station office slaughtered. He calls headquarters to alert them, and they want him to come in from the cold. But can he trust them? Can he trust anyone?

In a typical hero-versus-everyone movie, Turner, nicknamed Condor, finds double crosses at every turn. He’s supposed to be this green employee, not wise in the ways of the CIA agent, but he’s, you know, read books, and so he knows how to do unspeakable things just to stay alive. Things like accost and kidnap an innocent woman (Faye Dunaway) for no reason other than that he needs a safe place where he can rest for a bit. So in the name of all that is righteous, he sort of terrorizes the poor woman for a little while with the excuse that he’s tired and has to think about things. I dunno, I found that a little hard to believe; I mean, I know he’s a little frazzled, but his actions were more like those of a crazed killer/rapist than an innocent man on the run from Johnny Law.

But at least it’s Redford, and he looks earnest enough, as he often did in films in the 1970s (see also All the President’s Men, The Sting, The Candidate). Dunaway is appealing as the stereotypical Woman in Peril, but she doesn’t have a lot to work with. There’s an able supporting cast in Cliff Robertson, John Houseman, and the great Max von Sydow (as a hired assassin), and they do their best to prop up a somewhat unfeasible plot that shouldn’t be scrutinized too closely. (In particular, Condor’s closing lines don’t ring true at all, although we’re supposed to believe he’s The Right Man.)

This is right up director Sydney Pollack’s alley, but perhaps the movie just hasn’t aged well. Interestingly, the movie was adapted from a novel called “Seven Days of the Condor”; I can only assume they cut it by four days to save us all from more unbelievable twists.

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