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    When Joe Met George

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    In 1970, two award-winning actors, both of whom paid their dues and honed their skills with hardscrabble years of stage and film work, stepped into the star spotlight in the title roles of their popular, button-pushing one-word-named movies. They also share today as a birthday: George C. Scott (1927-1999), the indelible portrayer of rip-roaring General George S. Patton (1970), and Peter Boyle (1935-2006), the unforgettable incarnation of a reactionary blue-collar bigot trying to cope with tumultuous flower-powered times in Joe (1970). Both were renegade “go-to-war” performances for the ages, and they would team together memorably eight years later in another powerful tale of culture clashes and flashpoint violence with a one-word moniker: writer-director Paul Schrader’s incendiary thriller Hardcore (1979). Their characters were a startlingly snug fit, each embodying a side of Schrader’s double-play on the title: Scott’s Jake Van Dorn is a chillingly conservative, strictly religious widower from a frost-bound Grand Rapids, Michgan, who’s come to Southern California in search of his daughter gone missing from a faith-based retreat; Boyle’s seedy, stealthy Andy Mast is a Los Angeles private investigator who serves as the searcher’s frontier scout into a soul-depleting world of pornography and exploitation. (The word “searcher” is precise: Schrader cites John Ford’s seminal Western The Searchers (1956) as a major inspiration, and Mast often refers to Van Dorn as “Pilgrim.”) It’s all the more startling when you consider that the guy who played the seething powder keg that the working-class Joe Curran became is the voice of calm who tries – ultimately unsuccessfully – to contain the hidden, unyielding rage of the calculating, patrician professional behind the righteous God-and-country personification of one of World War II’s greatest heroes. 

    Like The Searchers (1956), Hardcore is about lifting the blinders on one’s own beliefs before recovery and reconciliation can take place. The film’s most memorable sequence captures it, as The New York Times’ Janet Maslin observes in her review: “‘You like showing me this, don't you?’ snarls Jake Van Dorn, the hero of Paul Schrader's brave and chilling Hardcore. ‘I hate it,’ replies the private eye Andy Mast, with conviction. Van Dorn is a stern Midwestern businessman, whose teenage daughter has disappeared, and Mast has been hired to find her. All he's found so far is an 8-millimeter peep-show movie featuring Van Dorn's daughter and two men. There's cause to wonder why he's forcing Van Dorn to watch this abomination. Yes, the early sequence in which Van Dorn looks at only a few seconds' worth of film and then goes to pieces, makes for one of the most powerful moments in an already electrifying movie. But are there broader, less sensational reasons for Hardcore to include the episode? There are. Mast, played beautifully by Peter Boyle, may be something of a sadist, but he also senses Van Dorn's crippling inability to look at whatever he doesn't choose to see. Mast is doing more than inflicting pain: He's helping Van Dorn begin a journey that may provide him with a brutal – but perhaps necessary – education.” The path to a heaven fully attained gathers scars along the way via detours through Hell in Schrader’s hallucinatory vision, which is brilliantly shot by the cinematographer of Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980) and The Fugitive (1993), Michael Chapman. Boyle’s Mast is not the only guide on this turbulent mission: Season Hubley’s hardened yet understanding prostitute Niki takes over and provides another – if only momentary – daughter figure for the lost, unmoored Scott/Van Dorn, and serves as a potent symbol for the victimization of women by men in both familial relationships and in the dehumanizing sex industry milieu. Hardcore dares us to watch, and in the committed work of birthday honorees Scott and Boyle, as well as the other assembled on- and off-camera talents, grabs our attention and holds it fast on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray. Though this is our label’s only intersection with Boyle, more riveting work by the legendary Scott will come in the months ahead.

    Placing Benton's Story

    Moviegoers who took a chance and visited an earlier, harder time in America’s past when Places in the Heart (1984) opened 33 years ago today discovered something unexpectedly meaningful: the connections among family, to the human community outside, and to the places they called home. It’s not that nearly all who experienced writer-director Robert Benton’s autobiographical tale of Depression-era life in [...]

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    The Prides of March

    Born in Racine, Wisconsin, 120 years ago today, Fred Bickel – professional name Fredric March (1897-1975) – “is a good instance of the durable leading man, much relied upon by major studios, but never a star who dominated audiences. The bulk of his work is nonassertive: he was content to give thoughtful sensitive performances in support of either a real [...]

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    Moscow's Merits

    Last week’s announcement of the RAISE (Reforming American Immigration for Stronger Employment) Act, a Senate bill that proposed a “merit-based” overhaul of the U.S.’s legal immigration system to earmark English-language familiarity, educational and job-skills proficiency, and financial earnings responsibility as components of a “points-based” merit system to attain green card status, drew sharp and quick responses from those on both [...]

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    Natasha's Country Idyll

    Without a doubt upon marking what would have been her 54th birthday today, Natasha Richardson (1963-2009) left behind a rich legacy of vivid and affecting performances before her tragically early death eight years ago as a result of a ski accident head injury. Her Broadway work in Anna Christie, Closer, A Streetcar Named Desire and the groundbreaking revisal of [...]

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    War Dogs X 2

    American moviegoers experiencing the fierce and intelligent screen adaptation of Frederick Forsyth’s 1974 novel The Dogs of War (1980) when it opened stateside 36 years ago today saw a version of the film 15 minutes shorter than the one British cinemagoers saw two months prior. That wasn’t an impediment for admirers like The New York Times’ Vincent Canby, who pronounced it [...]

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    January Movie Memories

    He’s got another eclectic cast – Kate Winslet, Juno Temple, Justin Timberlake, Max Casella, Jim Belushi, Tony Sirico and Steve Schirripa – and the same great cinematographer, the gifted Vittorio Storaro, who did the recent Café Society, for his untitled 1950-set Amazon Studios project debuting later this year, so Woody Allen is on track to amuse or confound moviegoers with [...]

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    Historical Films on Parade

    “A first-rate historical film, as rich atmospherically as it is in action” is a critical assessment several movies will strive to claim in the oncoming rush of quality end-of-year quality theatrical releases, such as Mel Gibson’s and Robert Zemeckis’ respective war sagas Hacksaw Ridge (opening tomorrow) and Allied (November 23), Jeff Nichols’ Loving (also opening tomorrow), Pablo Lerrain’s Jackie (December 9), [...]

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    Not Your Usual Bronson Wild West

    By 1975, Charles Bronson had worked with some of the best Western moviemakers ever: Robert Aldrich (Apache, Vera Cruz and 4 for Texas), Delmer Daves (Drum Beat and Jubal), Samuel Fuller (Run of the Arrow), John Sturges (The Magnificent Seven and Chino), Sergio Leone (Once upon a Time in the West), Michael Winner (Chato’s Land) and Tom Gries (Breakheart [...]

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    The Indian Queen

    Biographical movies about the setbacks and triumphs of national folk heroes don’t get any more angry and assaultive than the controversial opus that opened in the U.S. 21 years ago today. Bandit Queen (1994), from Hindu director Shekhar Kapur (Elizabeth, The Four Feathers) and adapting a book by activist Mala Sen partly based on its subject’s own prison diaries, [...]

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