Friday, January 4, 2013

Film Pairing — Breaking Up May Be Hard To Do, But Murder Might Speed Up The Process

Oliver Stone, unlike such directors as Spielberg or Capra, has nearly as many detractors as fans.  I’m a fan.  And as such, I understand that I will not necessarily get an uplifting message in the end.  I also understand I might get a flawed film. However, I am pretty much guaranteed a film that will keep me glued to the screen until the credits start rolling.

Some writers have said this was Stone’s homage to the genre, and I’m guessing that U Turn fits the strictest definition of “noir.” Stone manages to turn blinding sunlight into noir.  And you don’t know what having a bad day is compared to these couple of days in the life of small-time operator Sean Penn on his way to pay off his debt to some gangsters.  He cruises down a desolate Southwest highway in his 1964 and1/2 red Mustang convertible.  Penn’s punk character, under a deadly deadline, gets stalled in Superior, Arizona.

The film is based on a book by John Ridley who, along with Stone, wrote the screenplay.  The film is inhabited by an incredible collection of characters — a most disgusting mechanic played almost too well by Billy Bob Thornton, an abusive husband played by Nick Nolte, a game-playing siren embodied by a sexy, sultry Jennifer Lopez and the town tough-guy wannabe, played by Joaquin Phoenix.  John Voight, who was skewered by the critics in this one, plays the wise (or crazy) possibly “blind” Greek chorus in Native American clothing — a kind of “artistic” flourish, possibly. With all the other strange characters, I would ask, “why not?”

We witness greed, betrayal, violence, murder and a whole lot of bad luck. U Turn was released in 1997 to mixed reviews.  I say go for it.  Next time I think I’m having an unbelievably long run of bad juju, I’ll think of Mr. Penn in U Turn, yell an obscenity at the universe and count my blessings.

Body Heat (1981) is modern noir as well.  There is also less disagreement among the critics about it being a genuinely good film.  While not based on a book, the film has its roots in the classic novel and legendary film Double Indemnity.  Fortunately, Body Heat stands on its own with extraordinary performances by Kathleen Turner and William Hurt.

Both U Turn and Body Heat are steamy films and not just because they are in Arizona (not a dry heat in this case) and Florida, respectively, but because the sex approaches soft porn.  You may not want to watch either of these with your kids. 

Again, in Body Heat, we have a nasty, wealthy husband (Richard Crenna), a sex-hungry wife (Kathleen Turner) and a horny man (William Hurt), not tethered by responsibility, who has a compromised sense of morality that is easily tempted into further compromise.  A young Mickey Rourke and a young Ted Danson have supporting roles in this excellent film, written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan.

In both films, killing the spouse, seems to be the expedient solution.  So take a few hours off from winter and enjoy the sweaty bodies dealing with lust and greed.  If you turn the heat up at your place, maybe you can make one of those drinks with umbrellas in it to enhance the dark fantasy.

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