“A very divided reaction among the dozen or so people I’ve spoken to that have seen Blade Runner 2049. Some are saying it’s a flat-out masterpiece whereas others think it’s a beautiful but emotionally empty exercise in style. To me it felt like beautiful nothingness. I wasn’t riveted by the narrative or the performances as much as stunned by the visuals. I need a re-watch to sort it all through. I can definitely call it one of the most visually beautiful films I’ve seen this decade.” — from a critic friend who wrote this afternoon.
Bachelor #1, Lance Remmer, is too tense and guarded and conservative — because he wasn’t familiar with the name Farrah he asked host Jim Lange to repeat it. He’s basically a dick. The ridiculous yokel sideburns won by Bachelor #3, whose name sounds like Paul Knuckles, are instant disqualifiers. He picks his feet, comes from Tobacco Road. The only half-decent contender is Bachelor #2, an actor-artist named Joey Hooker with an easy way and a nice smile.
If I’d been asked what time of day I prefer, I would have said early morning and late evening, because they’re both peaceful and tranquil due to most of the people in your time zone being fast asleep and the sounds of traffic being at a minimum. I’m also a big fan of dusk.
22 year-old Farrah Fawcett, fresh from Corpus Christi, Texas, had arrived in Hollywood the previous year at the encouragement of agent David Mirisch. A contract she’d signed with Screen Gems was paying her $350 a week. She was making commercials, and would eventually break into guest-starring roles on TV serials. The famous poster shoot that launched her career wouldn’t happen for another seven years.
Everyone knows the set-up for Our Souls At Night, right? A pair of widowed 70somethings in a small town — Jane Fonda‘s Addie Moore and Robert Redford‘s Louis Walters — decide to forego loneliness and solitude by sleeping together. Not sexually but as a simple act of comfort and companionship.
Things are a bit awkward at first but not for long. They talk a bit and then a bit more, and they get to know each other, and they gradually come to everything good that you might expect to happen between two good people.
What happens doesn’t actually amount to a whole lot, but it seems like enough. The film isn’t about hanging with Louis and Addie as much as Bob and Jane, whom some of us have come to know pretty well over the decades. Louis and Addie are less wealthy and more conservative-minded than Bob and Jane, but otherwise there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of difference. Bob and Jane are good company for each other and for us.
What we get from their relationship are little comfort pills or, if you will, little spoonfuls of honey and squeezings of lemon in our tea. They speak quietly and gently to each other, never sharply or critically or sarcastically. Familiarity, trust…nobody’s in any hurry.
Our Souls At Night experiences a couple of mild downturns, mostly by way of Louis and Addie’s resentful grown children. Louis was a less-than-perfect father to his daughter (Judy Greer), and she reminds him of that for what I presume is the 179th time. Addie’s brief lack of vigilance led to a tragedy with her daughter, and so her alcoholic, occasionally abrasive son (Matthias Schoenaerts) reminds her of that also. Bluntly, hurtfully.
Schoenaerts’ character nearly destroys Louis and Addie’s relationship, and the film with it. He’s such an astonishing alcoholic asshole, and Addie, God help her, agrees with his view that she was the cause of her daughter’s death, and so Schoenharts, furious at Addie for her horrible non-error, pressures her into separating from Louis to make up for her mistake. What bullshit! Life is shorter than short, for God’s sake. If you’ve found a good thing, never let it go.
I wanted Addie to tell Schoenharts to go fuck himself, but she feels too guilt-ridden to do anything but indulge him. I wanted Schoenharts to bless his young son Jamie (Iain Armitage) by dying in a drunken car crash or slitting his wrists in the bathtub, but alas, no. Poor Jamie is living with an abuser, and is doomed to a life of anger and resentment and Al Anon meetings.
A movie that makes you wish for the absence or the death of a bad guy and then refuses to get rid of him is not, in my book, doing the right thing.
As I waited for the lights to come down and Last Flag Flying to begin, I was thinking the following: “This is a 30-years-later Last Detail sequel ** without Jack Nicholson or Randy Quaid and minus the names of the original characters, so it’s obviously going to feel hand-me-downish — not just older and saggier but lacking that Nicholsonian spark. But it still needs to deliver the spirit and character-rich humor and melancholy of Hal Ashby‘s 1973 original. And if it can’t manage that, it needs to invent something else that will work just as well.”
Well, forget all that.
Directed and co-written by Richard Linklater, Last Flag Flying (Amazon / Lionsgate, 11.3) is just a moderately passable older-guy road movie — a doleful, episode-by-episode thing about three ex-servicemen and former buddies — Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell), Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston) and Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) — assessing their lives and the world around them as they escort the casket of Shepherd’s soldier son, recently killed in Iraq, from Dover, Maryland (or Norfolk, Virginia — not sure which) to Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
This is nearly the same path, of course, that the original film followed when Badass Buddusky (Nicholson) and Richard “Mule” Mulhall (Otis Young) escorted Larry Meadows (Quaid) to the Portsmouth brig for the crime of having stolen $40 from a polio donation box. For whatever tangled reasons Linklater and original novel author and screenplay co-writer Daryl Poniscan chose to re-name Buddusky as Nealon, Mulhall as Mueller and Meadows as Shepherd. This led to ignoring the Last Detail origin story and making the trio into Vietnam vets with a shared history.
The difference is that (a) Nealon-Buddusky, as played by Cranston, is now an intemperate, pot-bellied drunk, (b) Fishburne’s Mueller-Mulhall has become a testy, sanctimonious prig with white hair, and (c) Carell’s Shepherd-Meadows has gotten shorter with age and become a quiet, bespectacled grief monkey (and who can blame the poor guy?)
The film mopes along in a resigned, overcast-skies sort of way, and after about 30 or 40 minutes you start saying to yourself, “Jesus, this thing is going to stay on this level all the way through to the end, and I’m stuck with it.”
There are two performances that merit special praise — J. Quinton Johnson‘s as a young Marine escort, disciplined but observant, who travels with the trio to Portsmouth, and Deanna-Reed Foster‘s as Mueller’s compassionate wife.
I know I’m supposed to say that Cicely Tyson‘s walk-on part as the mother of a deceased Vietnam vet rocked my realm, but it mostly registered as a “good enough but calm down” thing.
The Last Detail was based on Ponicsan’s 1970 novel. Last Flag Flying is based on Ponicsan’s same-titled 2005 novel, the main difference being that the book used the names and history of the original characters.
Here’s what I wrote to a critic friend the day after seeing Last Flag Flying:
“My instinct is not to dismiss this too quickly or abruptly. Sometimes less can be deceptively more, I’m thinking, and so perhaps I should give this meandering little film the benefit of the doubt by thinking it through a bit longer. But I can’t find anything beneath what my initial impressions were, which is that there just isn’t much here.
“I kept waiting for something truly intriguing, significant, jarring or emotionally moving to happen, but nothing ever did. It’s just a series of modest little road-trip episodes.
“The scene that pops the most, I suppose, is the airplane hanger scene when Carell witnesses his son’s dead and disfigured body and learns the truth about what really caused his death. I started to feel hopeful after this, but the film just settled back into a kind of lazy sluggishness after this, and nothing really happened.
“A very minor film, I’m afraid. If you compare it to Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail (and how can you not?), it falls short in every regard — story, dialogue, performances, flavor, humor, emotional impact.
“Remember that great marital argument scene between Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Before Midnight? I was hoping that Linklater and Ponicsan’s energy might try to go in the same direction and that something charged and confrontational might manifest at the end, but alas…no.
“I’m not calling Last Flag Flying a ‘bad’ or ineffective film, but it’s certainly underwhelming.
“What is it really saying? That it’s tragic and unbearably sad to lose a son, that official authorities are never to be trusted, that guilt can linger for decades or a lifetime, and that loyalty among men who’ve served in the military lasts forever.
“I’m quite irritated that the Last Detail character names have been changed…VERY irritated. Coarse & boozy Sal Nealon/Buddusky calls bullshit on everyone and everything. Mulhall/Mueller hobbles around on a cane, laments Buddusky’s alcoholism, and gradually lets his real self emerge. Meadows/Larry ‘Doc’ Shepherd weeps for his son and his recently deceased wife.
“I saw it Wednesday evening at 7 pm, and the after-vibe was one of vague confusion and befuddlement. The conversational huddles I heard were along the lines of ‘uhhm, what was that? Am I missing something? Did you read the book?,’ etc.
** The events of Poniscan’s “Last Detail” book, published in ’70, were supposed to be happening in ’68 or ’69, or just shy of 50 years ago. Ashby’s Last Detail film was released in ’73, which obviously makes it 44 years old. But the Last Flag Flying story takes place in ’03, or 30 years after the movie came out, which is why I used the above shorthand description — “a 30 years-later Last Detail sequel.”
I enjoyed Gary Oldman‘s heavily made-up, flamboyantly performed impersonation of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour, but in much the same way that I relished Sir Laurence Olivier‘s Muhammad Ahmad (“the Mahdi”) in Basil Dearden‘s Khartoum (’66). Different characters, same bag of tricks, aimed at the balcony. But they’re both fun to watch — spirited, thumbs-uppy.
Odd but apparently true: There’s a tracking shot in the new Darkest Hour trailer that shows a couple of British kids wearing Hitler masks. With poor England fearing for its very existence what mask-maker would be perverse enough to manufacture such things for kids to play with? And yet a photo by William Vanderson, possibly snapped during the early war years, suggests that such masks existed.