For Reel

Dressed to Kill (1980)
October 27, 2014, 7:04 pm
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Director: Brian De Palma
3.5 Stars
Dressed to KillThe experience of watching Dressed to Kill can be summed up in the film’s true virtuoso sequence: a game of cat-and-mouse in the Metropolitan Museum that complicates the definitions of stalker and stalkee. A bored, sexually frustrated housewife (Angie Dickinson) sits next to a handsome, mysterious stranger on a bench and tries to get his attention by dropping her glove. When he abruptly leaves, she wonders what happened–was he offended by her visible wedding ring? She hunts him through several rooms of the museum until, somewhere along the journey, he begins following her and she grows terrified of him. De Palma’s film brings the viewer into a similar web. One is intrigued by the sexuality and the mystery and is driven to peer closer. It seems like a friendly game is being played until a climactic shot shows a group of madmen (substituting for the audience) hungrily looking down on the murder of a stripped woman. Whereas Hitchcock was plenty happy to please his voyeuristic audience, De Palma seems just as obsessed with punishing them, or at least making them feel dirty for enjoying what he puts on screen.

Gloria (1980)
March 2, 2012, 2:35 am
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Director: John Cassavetes

Following the commercial failures of the self-produced The Killing of a Chinese Bookie and Opening Night, independent maverick John Cassavetes served as a writer-for-hire and, in the late 1970s, was enlisted by MGM to complete a script for then child star Ricky Schroder. When that project fell through, Cassavetes shopped the film to Columbia under the agreement that his wife, Gena Rowlands, would star. The picture sold with the caveat that Cassavetes would also be the one to direct. The resulting Gloria is, then, the least personal of Cassavetes’ efforts – he would later admit that, “I wrote this story to sell, strictly to sell.” For what is a very tired formula, however – that of a tough gangster type in the unlikely role of babysitter – Cassavetes’ effort is thoroughly watchable, due to the gender swap, impeccable location scouting, and an ambiguous, gutsy ending. As the material is familiar, it is interesting to see how Cassavetes handles certain tropes. For instance, there’s a scene early on in which Gloria prepares eggs for the boy. Unsurprisingly, she makes a lousy cook. Such a scene would be the premise for a comedic set piece in a lesser film, but here Cassavetes empowers Gloria by having her throw out both the bad eggs and the pan with little regard. It is a quick, character-building moment that is played directly and without condescension. Though the picture may be overlong and repetitive, he is a smart enough filmmaker to make this admittedly trashy material very watchable.

Hopscotch (1980)
February 15, 2012, 6:46 am
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Director: Ronald Neame

Hopscotch, the award-winning thriller novel by writer Brian Garfield (whose Death Wish had been brought to the screen the decade previous), was adapted by the British director Ronald Neame in 1980 as a comedy vehicle for Walter Matthau. The picture’s script went through many renovations during the preproduction process, and only when Matthau was attached and the comedic elements were enhanced did Neame agree to make it. The evolving script, then, might be a good place to assign the blame for the film’s faults. It doesn’t quite satisfy in any of the ways that it intends to – as a thriller, it is immediately neutered because Matthau is always one step ahead of his foes and is never in any immediate danger, and, as a comedy, it is only intermittently funny, and that is due much more due to Matthau’s charms than any remarkable wit in the dialogue. Furthermore, it is a lousy depiction of the writing process, which is problematic as the writing of a memoir is key to the drama. Halfway through the film, when Matthau reveals that he only has one chapter left to write, it comes as a surprise. Glenda Jackson costars as the love interest, but her part is undercooked and the scenes that she does have with Matthau are largely forgettable. There’s a scene over a glass of wine that is supposed to serve as foreplay but instead invents new standards for sexless tension.