Movie of the Week: A Perfect World (1993)

Clint Eastwood directs Kevin Costner, himself and Laura Dern in this 60s set road drama about a fugitive who kidnaps a young Jehovah’s Witness, and treats the boy to some of the freedom and fathering he feels they have both missed out on.

I must have watched A Perfect World over a dozen times as a teenager. I owned it on VHS. And then when my video collection gave way to moving out of my family home and the ascension of DVD, it just got lost in the shuffle. It went from being a cherished regular in my viewing habits one decade, to being nothing but a fond memory for the last two. You always worry such a film won’t live up to immature nostalgia… might prove to be a rose tinted dud. No such problem here.

This is a film as macho and as sensitive, as richly composed and gently entertaining as Clint’s Unforgiven or Mystic River. He’s a deceptively unfussy director, at home with a simple joke as he is with allowing his actors to inhabit parts without monologues or grand standing. The great thing about a Clint directed movie is, no matter how dark the subject matter or important the themes, he shoots it like a western or cop drama, populates it with solid talent. You could show one of his better slow, thoughtful dramas to your Dirty Harry loving grandpops and he could access the old school pleasures therein. You could let your most pretentious arthouse loving friend in on a viewing, and they’d struggle not to see the same morally ambiguous exploration of humanity and society as a Bergman or a Tarkovsky would lend their drier, more high faultin’ fare.

Costner, here, benefits the most. The star at his career peak delivers a layered performance as a bad man with good in him, even if his severe judgment of others is often intimidatingly off. You never fear or doubt his protection of the child caught up in his escape, yet you can’t help but think his kindness to him either betrays a suppressed infantilism in the brutal man or a desire to gift the child with the fathering he craved before he went off the rails. What makes good fathering is the thesis of the film. Costner’s Butch’s Dad was a ne’er do well. Clint’s authorarian Ranger Red thought the state farm would straighten the young Butch out and get him away from his father’s bad habits. Young Philip’s father is long gone and his life is dictated by his mother’s strict beliefs. A grandfather who takes the runaways in for a night is callously violent to his grandson who he looks after… Costner responds with murderous threat in the film’s most nail bitingly intense sequence. America is about to lose its innocence as their current paternal figure, President John F Kennedy, is fated to be shot and killed in the very state and very month our tale is set in.

Clint doesn’t offer easy answers… by his measure no alternative to a good, loving father is offered. Much affection and respect passes between Philip and Butch, and as much as we enjoy seeing their mismatched relationship flourish, you can always see the bad example our protagonist sets our cloistered boy. Clint presents a view on parenting that is down on interference, down on corporal punishment and down on religious prescribed morality. Kids need love and space to work on who they are. A very libertarian attitude.

The only flaw that holds A Perfect World back from a perfect score is the final stand-off. Though gripping and in keeping with the pace of the whole relaxed road movie project… it just outstays its welcome. Even if it drags a fair bit, the slow drip rhythm at the very least matches our investment not to see the conclusion suddenly rushed or stunted.


My Top 10 Kevin Costner Movies

1.Dances With Wolves (1990)
2. Field Of Dreams (1989)
3. The Untouchables (1987)
4. JFK (1991)
5. Open Range (2003)
6. A Perfect World (1993)
7. Bull Durham (1988)
8. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
9. 13 Days (2000)
10. Hatfields & McCoys (2012)

How To Steal A Million (1966)

William Wyler directs Audrey Hepburn, Peter O’Toole and Eli Wallach in this romantic caper where a hobbying art forger’s daughter employs a strange fellow she finds robbing her mansion to recover an incriminating work of fakery from a museum.

The stars have fizzing chemistry, Hepburn’s Givenchy wardrobe is divine and the daft plot keeps them in near constant proximity to take full advantage of these strengths. A sugary lark, powered by well-matched stars and picture postcard perfect Paris location work.


Stan and Ollie (2018)

Jon S. Baird directs John C. Reilly, Steve Coogan and Nina Arianda in this biopic looking at the legendary slapstick comedy duo as they slum it through a final tour of UK.

Sweet, funny but mechanical in its manipulations. Reilly is fantastic as Babe, the make-up pleasingly lacks that rubbery obviousness of Oldman’s Churchill last year. Coogan isn’t quite as convincing as Stan Laurel but hits the right note when he is mimicking the on-stage comedy persona. Both wives (Arianda and Shirley Henderson) prove vital to us understanding their personalities and get as many laughs themselves. The film itself is generally unchallenging, a mid afternoon love letter to comedy icons you already adore. Soooo… the reality of their final days together are a little grimmer, less triumphant. You don’t mind them getting a happier ending when they still continue to spread so much joy with their brilliant cinematic legacy. But equally the imagined conflict that arises between them seems in bad taste. If there was real life resentment between the pair it was uncharacteristic to the personalities they, and even this film, presented. So to lob it like a hand grenade into the third act for a bit of tension feels like a betrayal. Especially one as fluffy and undemanding as this is in the main. At its best though, Stan and Ollie makes you hanker to open up that L&H boxset and get your Laughing Gravy on again.


Return of the Hero (2018)

Laurent Tirard directs Jean Dujardin, Mélanie Laurent and Noémie Merlant in this period romantic comedy where an uptight lady begins forging love letters from the cad soldier who abandoned her distraught sister, only for the scoundrel to turn up to take advantage of the ruse years later.

Very funny and immaculately made. The witty Dujardin and resplendent Laurent have great chemistry. If this came out in the 1990s you could easily see Kevin Kline and Meg Ryan leaping into their respective parts yet I doubt even they could pull off such a luxurious comedy coup. The whole cast gamely lean into the broader farce but the story actually works best as a charming ‘will they, won’t they’ between the two loveable humbugs.


Haywire (2011)

Steven Soderbergh directs Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor and Michael Fassbender in this espionage chase movie that acts as a showcase for MMA female powerhouse Carano.

Let’s get this straight. Gina Carano looks fantastic, utterly convinces when she kicks ass and is adequate at acting. Her debut lead role easily sees her match Arnie’s charisma after he mastered English or Jean Claude Van Damme’s thespian talents. And when she takes a motherfucker down, it is bone crunchingly realistic, excitingly aggressive. Whether big name star or stunt stooge, I could watch her do it for days. Hand men their ass, crush their necks between her stacked thighs, put the hurt on Channings and Ewans. The tense sequences where she narrowly evades closing nets or drives and leaps into danger have the same thrill of a Jason Bourne blockbuster. Only Carano doesn’t need epileptic editing to convince she is at the centre of the action. Somehow this great little thumper of a movie only got her foot far enough into Hollywood’s door to be last billed in franchise-fare like Fast and Furious or Deadpool. A crime. Soderbergh brings playful editing, jazzy camera moves, crisp shot compositions. David Holmes’ score is cool as fuck, and yet sometimes the impending doom laden silences are the best moments on the soundtrack. Plot wise you’ve seen it all before. It has a dynamic cast but does nothing dynamic with them outside of the kills and the pursuit. So the script is basic…I think that’s kinda Soderbergh’s intention. This is boring world of desk bound suits deciding who gets tied off and nondescript military trained automatons switching off their personalities then letting their tradecraft take over. I love Tarantino dialogue and James Bond excess… but not every action film needs that. Soderbergh plays with the form, Carano delivers the goods. Haywire is one of the most glamorous direct to video B movies ever made and Carano just simply deserves another shot at stardom. Whether the cold, stark, beautiful black ops world of Mallory Kane is revived or she gets a new franchise starter that holds us into a killer lock this time.


My Top 10 Action Movies With a Female Lead

  1. Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)
  2. Aliens (1986)
  3. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
  4. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
  5. Ghost in the Shell (2017)
  6. Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004)
  7. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
  8. Run Lola Run (1998)

9. Battle Royale (2000)
10. The Quick and the Dead (1995)

La Pointe Courte (1955)

Agnès Varda directs Philippe Noiret, Sylvia Montfort and the people (and cats) of Sète in the south of France for this drama where a couple return to his hometown to consider a separation, while the earthy locals have to deal with a bureaucratic ban on them fishing in their waters while their unique traditions play out.

Three intertwining films for the price of one. We get the couple working through the existential problems of their marriage in walking and talking conversation. These playfully staged sequences have seemingly influenced not just the approaching French New Wave but Bergman and Richard Linklater. In fact if you imagine Before Midnight directed by old Swedish Ingmar you’ve pretty much captured the spine of the narrative. From this throughline plot, we also observe a De Sica style neorealist exploration of the dying fishing culture which occupys the working people of La Pointe Courte. These sequences are natural and playful. Varda brings a documentarian eye to the social structure, working day and festival celebrations of this locale. We see modernity encroaching on the simple lives, not always for the worst. The third thread is the oblivious play of the cats that populate and interrupt any shot they can. These scene stealers care not about whether Him and Her can make their love work or if the fishermen should be working poisoned waters. They just observe or cut across the lives of the humans with nary a thought nor intervention. Beautiful.


Overboard (2018)

Rob Greenberg directs Eugenio Derbez, Anna Faris and Eva Longoria in this class war romantic comedy where an heir to a building supply fortune, washes ashore with no memories so a working mom who he recently wronged cons him into thinking he is the father of her children.

As proven above, there is no way to write a one sentence synopsis of Overboard (the original or this gender switch remake) that in any way covers all the ground of its pitch, nor makes it sound in any way tasteful. The Eighties Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn version was a childhood mainstay in our VHS, silly larks for the whole family powered by two top of their games stars, who were in love in real life. You overlooked the sexism and the kidnapping / brainwashing / gaslighting exploitation of the concept. The remake doesn’t have that crutch to lean against. I’ve always felt Anna Faris has deserved a slightly bigger profile, more lead roles, but here she just exists to power the plot, essentially playing a foil that positions Eugenio Derbrez into various situations. He makes for a blunt meat and potatoes comic lead, he isn’t reinventing the wheel comedically… And I doubt that will ever be his intention. This leaves the few jokes that do land to be the graft of the strong, deep, pleasant ensemble. The whole thing is a colourful frippery, much like the original, if you leave your brain in another room it passes the time with no foul and no harm. You just kinda wish Anna Faris was given a lead where she could leave a more lasting impression or at least be given the material to generate a few big laughs out of.


Roma (2018)

Alfonso Cuarón directs Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira and Diego Cortina Autrey in this love letter to the director’s childhood maid and nanny.

Poor old Cleo has a tough time of it in 1970s Mexico. She endures Kung Fu love rats, real tragedy and stifled depression while spoilt kids buzz around her, her employers go through relationship woes and Mexico faces escalating civil unrest. These threads jut into her life in unexpected ways. Meanwhile she stoically soldiers on, marching into waves she is unprepared for, waves bigger than her deceptively small stature should be able to navigate. Cuarón’s opus is a visual marvel, keeping the family she loves in the details-free midshot, keeping her deeply touching trials and tribulations in cold, matter of fact monochrome. As a watcher, it is hard to say if this a celebration of subservience or an apology for the pressures rich people put on those who wait on them hand and foot? The unevenness of the emotional attachment that comes with raising others’ children? That unintentional ambiguity robs Roma slightly of its strength. You love Cleo long before the end of this film but you could hardly say the woman we grow so near to is allowed a complex representation of herself as a human being. She is shown as a mere martyr who must endure purely, rather than a human with weakness as well as strength. Cuarón can still only view this person as a voiceless saint, with no thoughts of her own nor autonomy of spirit. That’s troubling and distasteful. But I may have misread a very well made work of art. It is a film that made me feel; affection for its lead and distrust in its auteur.


The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970)

Dario Argento directs Tony Musante, Suzy Kendall and Eva Renzi in this giallo mystery where an American writer interrupts a murder in Rome and finds himself heading the investigation into the crime.

A real joy of a thriller. The mystery has quirky red herrings, obtuse clues and alluring victims. The subversive set piece where we are trapped in a glass airlock helplessly watching a murder unfold. The thrill of our protagonist being chased by an weathered old assassin in a custard yellow sports jacket. The oh-so Argento moments where we ogle a stunning nameless lady, knowing full well her diverting introduction to the movie exists only for us to see her stalked and killed. That urgent, manic Ennio Morricone score. The killer revealed, long after loose ends seem all tied up. A rustic painting of a sex crime. Cat meat. This is Hitchcock with the brakes cut. This is Agatha Christie or Patricia Highsmith’s worst nightmare. It works as a camp artefact, just as much as it grips as a genre highpoint.


The Stunt Man (1980)

Richard Rush directs Peter O’Toole, Steve Railsback and Barbara Hershey in this action comedy drama about a director who traps a fugitive into being his new stuntman in a risky production.

Every scene and sequence is a con. Tricking us the audience, or the characters themselves so often and relentlessly, until no one, real or fictional can tell what is artifice and what is reality. As a celebration of the flim flam of movie making this is a complex post-modern piece, worth unpacking on repeat visits I’d wager. Yet it is no cold, dry exercise. We get those incident packed stunt sequences, the sneering wit of O’Toole’s manipulative tyrant of a director and the alluring beguilement of Hershey’s leading lady. Her romance with Railsback really pops. The film works best though as a love letter and showcase to stunt performers. Even when we know what we are watching is rehearsed and planned, the risks and injuries feel real. Similar to the point made in Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, this story shines a light on the pain, damage and stress a physical performer puts themselves through “faking” danger and conflict. A strange movie, difficult to get a satisfying handle on, but one that is unique for all its tonal shifts.