I’ve wanted to see “The Conversation” for years, and with the pandemic raging I was able to catch up on a number of movies I had wanted to see. I had high expectations for this one, and frankly I came away a little disappointed.
Some movies just don’t age well, and that’s sometimes true with movies from the 70s. The decade was loaded with amazing films, and usually they live up to the billing. But some of the films that seemed ahead of their time in that decade just don’t age as well.
I was bored with this one, even though the story throws in some interesting twists.
The story behind the film is interesting, and one comes away impressed with the direction of Francis Ford Coppola and the acting by Gene Hackman and John Cazale. Roger Evert loved it, but the slow pace was too much too overcome.
I know, pretty dark headline for a post about a really fun, glamor heavy film fest. All the more so because, at least for me, TCM Fest is the kind of event that can put you in a kind of steel bubble which the daily news can barely pierce. If another Cuban Missile Crisis happened during Comic-Con, what would happen? Maybe if it ended differently this time.
Indeed, even a momentous event like the death of Osama Bin Laden could just barely penetrate TCM’s mix of Hollywood fantasy and scholarship. For me, the news first came as I overheard another filmgoer during an intermission of “West Side Story,” which I had popped in on just to see how good the 70mm print was, say to another. “No, he’s really dead.” I figured it was another classic film star gone forever. George Chakiris, who played Sharks leader Bernardo, had introduced the screening, but how were Jets Richard Beymer and Russ Tamblyn doing?
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Can you name all the major actors from the “Godfather” movies? If you’re missing one, it’s probably John Cazale. He played the initially minor character of Fredo, the tragic runt of the gangster litter who figured so prominently in “The Godfather: Part II.” An accomplished stage actor, Cazale appeared in only five moves before his death from lung cancer in 1978 at age 42, but since they also included “Dog Day Afternoon,” “The Conversation” and “The Deer Hunter” — all nominated for Best Picture Oscars — it is slightly strange he isn’t better known. It’s definitely not for lack of esteem from his peers. This short HBO documentary from director Richard Shepard (“The Matador“) proves that point with testimonials from friends, colleagues and fans including Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Francis Ford Coppola, Sidney Lumet, Gene Hackman, Olympia Dukakis, Richard Dreyfuss, Steve Buscemi, Sam Rockwell, and Meryl Streep, who was Cazale’s girlfriend at his death. It seems that, aside from his ability to submerge himself into a role and raise the game of his fellow actors, the unglamorous and good-natured Cazale also had a way with beautiful women.
Though the packaging of this DVD is first-rate if overly elaborate, it also attempts to hide the fact that “I Knew It Was You” is only 40 minutes long, not counting about an hour’s worth of special features. Nevertheless, this is a sincere, well-made, and entirely laudable labor of movie love.
Click to buy “I Knew It Was You: Redisocovering John Cazale”
In the mood for an inspirational sports story? You won’t get it in this hard-edged, documentary style 1969 sports film starring Robert Redford (a star but not yet a superstar) as a reckless Olympic-level skier who is utterly selfish and cold-hearted. A pre-“French Connection” Gene Hackman is his coach, probably a good guy and a bit off-put at having to deal with this grade-A douche who, like it or not, might be a champion.
As the DVD extras in this typically strong Criterion package inform us, “Downhill Racer” was originally conceived by Redford as a film to be directed by a hot new European director who shared his passion for skiing. Roman Polanski, however, was too busy with “Rosemary’s Baby,” so Redford concentrated his efforts on working with writer James Salter and first-time feature film director Michael Ritchie (“The Bad News Bears”) to craft this deliberately cold lack-of-character study. The ski footage is as exciting as you can imagine and “Racer” is often as intriguing as it is chilly. Still, it’s primarily a cerebral experience, hobbled by a protagonist who is incapable of changing and a bit dull. Redford and Ritchie inverted the formula in their next collaboration, placing a well-intentioned idealist in conflict with the morally dangerous world of electoral politics in “The Candidate.” That made for a much more engaging movie, but “Downhill Racer” remains worthwhile — and notable historically. Redford says the troubles he encountered making it ultimately led him to conceive of a project to help emerging filmmakers called “Sundance.” That’s more than a footnote.
Click to buy “Downhill Racer”