Monday, March 30, 2015

Film Pairings – To Die For and A Kiss Before Dying, Dillon Times Two

As I’ve mentioned too many times before, much of my youth was spent or misspent in the darkened auditorium of downtown Indianapolis movie palaces. My brother and I could catch a an early matinee double feature, then brave the blinding Saturday afternoon sunlight, walk a couple of blocks and take in another double feature. Usually the theater would show one major film, often in color. The second would be a low-budget affair with less famous actors and actresses. That’s how I feel about this pairing.  One is a nearly perfect dark comedy about murder.  The other takes itself quite seriously. Though I liked them both – I’m easy to please – if you have high standards, doing off might not be the worst thing you can do, though the film improves toward the end.

Kidman & Phoenix
Murderous comedies don’t come any better than To Die For. Nicole Kidman plays a beautiful ambitious, marginally bright woman who would do anything to achieve fame.  She marries a handsome young man (Matt Dillon). He turns out to be a major roadblock on her road to stardom. She plots his death. The film is shot in a mock-documentary style that in the hands of others might be disastrous, but with Buck Henry writing the screenplay and Gus Van Sant directing, To Die For is to die for.  Joaquin Phoenix joins the superb cast as Kidman’s lovesick puppet. Casey Affleck is a young tough. The film, based on the book by Joyce Maynard, was released in 1995.

Matt  Dillon
Whereas Kidman’s surprisingly good performance was honored with a couple of awards for playing the shallow narcissus, Sean Young had the dubious honor of picking up two Razzies, one for worst actress and another for worst supporting actress for her performances as twins in A Kiss Before Dying. A reminder:  This is the second feature. You may drift off before they roll the credits.  However this turns out to be mostly worthwhile, largely due to Matt Dillon’s solid portrayal of a man’s obsession to succeed by hook, crook or murder. This is the second film based on Ira Levin’s book of the same name. The earlier (1956) version starred Robert Wagner and Joanne Woodward. This one (1991) was directed by James Dearden, who also wrote the screenplay. The story had a Hitchcock-like sensibility, but played out even more mechanically than those by the master. There are some clever twists and it’s a pleasure to watch the young Dillon at work after his turn in Drugstore Cowboy, and especially after watching him as a more mature character in To Die For.

A white wine, bubbly or not might be an appropriate accompaniment to the first film. Step it up for the second. Or a latte followed by an espresso.

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