“Against All Odds” (1984) starring Rachel Ward, Jeff Bridges, & James Woods

Certainly, we’ve tried to retain certain qualities from the original film [Out of the Past], mainly the electric, dangerous interaction of the three main characters. However, the story itself, the background of the characters and the setting are very different. I think we’ve come up with a film that deals with the unique nature of power in Los Angeles and how that power consumes and almost destroys the three main characters. Years from now, I can see theaters playing this version and the original on the same bill and the audience seeing two very different films. -Taylor Hackford, director

Reluctantly, broke/injured football player- Terry Brogan (Jeff Bridges, at age 34)- accepts the job to track down Jessie Wyler (British actress Rachel Ward), the ex-gf of old friend/nightclub owner, Jake Wise (James Woods- always a believable villain). On the beaches of Cozumel, Terry NOT only finds the elusive woman, BUT unexpectedly falls in love w/ her. Soon, Terry finds himself trapped in a web of passion and intrigue, as Jessie starts to feel the burden of choice in this dangerous love triangle. Can they have a future together?

I saw this movie last week after learning it was a remake of one of my fave noir films- Out of the Past (1947) starring Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas, and Jane Greer (who plays Jessie’s controlling mom/wealthy land developer, Mrs. Wyler). You can read my review here. It was V cool to see veteran actor Richard Widmark (looking fit at age 70); he plays Ben Caxton (Mrs. Wyler’s top lawyer/old friend). Woods and Bridges both loved working w/ Widmark, and remembered his love of pancakes. He used to have a plate waiting for him while shooting a scene, and Woods and Bridges would often hide it. Widmark refused to go back to shooting before the cakes had been recovered- LOL!

Terry: So what is it you don’t like exactly, football players, tacos, or beer?

Jessie: I like tacos and beer.

Bridges was Hackford’s 1st choice for the lead (played by Richard Gere) in An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), but Bridges had a packed schedule then (appearing in 3 movies). Hackford kept Bridges in mind when creating the character of Terry. Ward got top billing above her male co-stars; she was well-known at that time (after her work on the hit miniseries The Thorn Birds). For Bridges, this was his 1st lead role in a commercial film; he was more of a supporting actor before. The helmets and uniforms used by the football team Terry is playing for were from the (defunct) USFL’s LA Express. As a wide-receiver, his main role was to catch forward passes from the quarterback. He’d have to be fast, as on just about every play, the wide receiver needs to run at full speed.

Well, I consider myself a character actor, and leading man is a character that you play. -Bridges, when asked re: playing a leading man

Terry is cut from the team; he thinks it’s b/c of his recurring shoulder issue (though the team has been doing well). However, his friend/conditioning coach, Hank Sully (Alex Karras- best known as the dad in Webster), says that Terry is too expensive to keep on. Terry goes to see his long-time lawyer, Steve Kirsch (Saul Rubinek), but he refuses to help. Steve’s secretary, Edie (Swoosie Kurtz), has a bit of a crush on Terry. He seeks out Jake, who’s desperate to find his ex and know she’s safe. When Terry was getting started in his pro career, Jake helped him out (watch too see exactly what happened). Though they share a past, there is (underlying) tension between the two men’s interactions. Early in the film, they have a car race which is V tense/potentially dangerous. Jake’s black Ferrari 308 and Terry’s red Porsche were specially modified for high-speed driving w/ special onboard camera mounts. Bridges and Woods commented that many viewers went back to theaters to re-watch this scene.

There are millions of dollars in production values on the screen that one could never create in Hollywood. It’s exciting to think that many moviegoers will be seeing these fantastic locations for the first time. Stylistically, I wanted to contrast these rough, ancient Mexican textures with the cold, modern surfaces of Los Angeles. Often, L.A. has been used in films as a kind of lotus-land… people waking up in the morning, saying, ‘God, I can’t believe those palm trees’. But people from L.A., especially those who wield power, don’t feel or act that way. It’s not that the absurdities are lost on them; they’ve simply made their peace with the city and attend to business. That’s the point of view I’m taking in this film. Jeff Bridges and Rachel Ward are both fugitives from the corruptive power and manipulation of Los Angeles. The romantic, other-worldliness of the Yucatan provides a setting for them to find each other… something that would never have been possible in L.A., because of their respective’ emotional baggage and class differences. -Hackford re: the importance of shooting in Mexico

We got along right away! It could’ve been awkward… […] It went smoothly. -Bridges, when asked re: shooting steamy scenes w/ Ward

Bridges looks gorgeous w/ his thick blonde mane, w/ or w/o full beard, and 6-pack abs (yowza)! He gets to wear some cool outfits, for those of you into fashion. There is much more to like about this movie, incl. the romance between Terry and Jessie. The actors have good chemistry together. Ward was newly married to Aussie actor Bryan Brown; they co-starred on The Thorn Birds (playing a married couple). Bridges was awaiting the birth of his 2nd child; he carried a beeper b/c it was tough to call LA from some of the shooting locations.

[1] Parts of “Against All Odds” are absolutely magnificent. The Mexican location photography is terrific. Rachel Ward looks great, as does Jeff Bridges.

[2] Bridges plays his role quite convincingly as a wounded man, a naive guy who put his foot in a place he never should have been in from the beginning. The man has a heavy burden on his shoulder and he succeeds very well in carrying it. […]

Though the story has its share of lopsided scenes, it is still one worthy enough to enjoy. For Jeff Bridges fans, who have overlooked this one, should see him in his prime. He brings his charm and personality here like he’s done in almost 45 years he has graced the silver screen. It will surely please everyone who enjoys romance, suspense and action.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

This is a good movie. The plot can be confusing. You may have to see it twice. -Gene Siskel

I agree, it’s good. Bridges is good in everything I’ve seen him in. -Roger Ebert

“Sudden Fear” (1952) starring Joan Crawford, Jack Palance, & Gloria Grahame

HEARTBREAK… Poised on a Trigger of Terror! -A tag line for the film

Actor Lester Blaine (Jack Palance- his 1st lead role w/ Oscar nom) has almost landed the lead in Myra Hudson’s (Joan Crawford- in her 3rd/last Oscar-winning role) new Broadway play. However, Myra (a writer/patroness of the arts) vetoes the director and producer b/c she doesn’t think Lester looks like a “romantic leading man.” On a train from NYC to San Fran, Lester and Myra meet again by chance; he sets out to prove her wrong- by romancing her for real! Later on, we meet Irene Neves (Gloria Grahame), who has recently been dating Myra’s friend/young lawyer, Junior Kearney (Mike Conners- a former football player). Another long-time pal/lawyer of Myra’s is Junior’s older bro, Steve (Bruce Bennett- also Crawford’s no-good ex-hubby in Mildred Pierce).

Lester [after being rejected for the lead role]: Miss Hudson, in your own native city of San Francisco, there’s an art gallery in the Legion of Honor in which there’s an oil painting of Casanova. It’s quite obvious that you have never seen this painting. For your information, Miss Hudson, this is what Casanova looked like: he had big ears, a scar over one eye, a broken nose, and a wart on his chin, right here. I suggest, Miss Hudson, that when you return to San Francisco, you visit this gallery and see this painting!

Crawford was a “boss lady” BOTH in front of and behind the camera, as many of y’all classic fans know! As the executive producer (EP), she was heavily involved in ALL aspects of the production. Crawford hired Lenore J. Coffee (screenwriter), David Miller (director), and suggested using Elmer Bernstein (composer). The music score comes partly from Igor Stravinsky’s ballet Rite of Spring. She insisted on Charles Lang (cinematographer) and personally cast Palance and Grahame as co-stars. Crawford’s 1st choice for Lester was Clark Gable; Brando was offered the role also.

Lester: [quoting Myra’s play] When I wake in the morning, when I go to sleep at night, I think of you. You’re like the air which surrounds me, the sky which spreads above me, the earth beneath my feet. When I hear music, when I see beauty, when I breathe in the sunlight, I think of you. You are the sister I never had, the mother I have almost forgotten, the wife I have always dreamed of. There isn’t a relationship you can name which exists between a man and a woman of which I wouldn’t say let it be you. Let it be you.

On the train, Lester tells Myra he was born in Pittsburgh and spent some of his early years as a coal miner. In real life, Palance was born in Lattimer (in the eastern part of PA), and he did follow his father (an immigrant from Ukraine) into the anthracite coal mines for a time. Lester also mentions being in the Army during WWII; Palance was in the Air Force during the war. Palance (just in his early 30s) is a great match for Crawford both w/ his acting talent and physicality (height, severe cheekbones, square jawline, and intense gaze). Grahame’s character is more clever, nasty, and take-charge here (than in other roles); she looks a BIT fragile in scenes w/ Palance (w/ an imposing physique).

[1] This is a real edge-of-your-seat nail-biter. David Miller did a terrific job of directing this one, and the cinematography is spectacular by Charles Lang. Some of the shots are as inspired as anything ever seen in Hollywood…

[2] The three leads, Joan Crawford , a wealthy lady getting old and thinking she ‘s found true love, Jack Palance, not the romantic lead of her play but a disturbing character, and Gloria Grahame at her bitchiest are terrific.

[3] Truly thrilling in places and just plain classic Crawford. Watch for the moment when Joan embraces her love interest Palance and asks, “I was just wondering what I’d done to deserve you.”

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

“Side Effects” (2013) starring Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Channing Tatum, & Catherine Zeta-Jones

One pill can change your life. -A tagline for the movie

Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) has just been reunited w/ her loving husband- Martin (Channing Tatum- at 33 y.o.)- who served a 4 yr. jail sentence for insider trading. However, the 28 y.o. graphic designer becomes V depressed (even attempting suicide by crashing her car into a wall). At the ER, Emily convinces the consulting psychiatrist, Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), to release her instead of hospitalizing her for observation (as is commonly done). Emily explains that therapy was helpful for her in the past, and becomes his regular patient. Dr. Banks gives her some meds, BUT none of them are working for Emily. After conferring w/ her former psychiatrist, Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones), Dr. Banks prescribes an experimental new medication- Ablixa.

Director Steven Soderbergh considered casting Lindsay Lohan for the role of Emily and he auditioned her 3x; however, producers felt that her ongoing legal issues would disrupt the production process. Blake Lively was originally cast as Emily, BUT the production company dropped out after learning of her casting; they returned after Mara took over the role. Law (then 41 y.o.) admitted that he felt insecure playing the lead role, as it was his 1st role as a husband/ father (as in real life), the 1st time using his real accent, w/ no hair/makeup changes. Soderbergh said that one of his biggest influences making the movie was the work of Adrian Lyne, esp. Fatal Attraction (1987).

If the character should be nude in the scene and it makes sense and I trust the person making the film, then I don’t see a problem with it. I certainly don’t want to be involved in anything that is gratuitous, but I don’t think the human body is something to be ashamed of. Every other person on the planet has the same parts as I do. So seeing them shouldn’t be a huge shock to most people. -Rooney Mara

The less you know about this movie, the more you will enjoy it. I learned about it from the most recent ep of Fatal Attractions podcast. As several critics have noted, Soderbergh (who also operates the camera) doesn’t stick to just one genre in his work. Here, the viewer thinks it will one type of movie, but then it takes a different turn after about 40 mins. The screenplay (by Scott Z. Burns) is V well-written. I wasn’t a fan of the lighting that was chosen for some scenes; the yellow/green tint doesn’t look appealing. The production design was well done; most of the interiors are apts and offices of modern-day NYC. The acting was strong, aside from some of the line readings/mannerisms of Zeta-Jones; she and Tatum have appeared in other of this director’s films. The supporting cast (incl. veterans of the NYC theater) add to the story. If you enjoy thrillers and don’t mind characters who operate in the “gray area,” check this out.

[1] There are surprises (one of them hinted at in the opening scene) and then further and further twists.

[2] The screenplay is incredibly well-written, creating characters that amaze us, disappoint us and deceive us all the while being a part of an interesting and complex story. […]

It’s more of an edge-of-your-mind thriller rather than an edge-of-your- seat thriller. Never really scared, always questioning the moral and psychological behaviour of these characters.

[3] For half of the movie, it is a persuasive indictment of the pharmaceutical industry and its crass behavior toward its patients; for the other half, it is a three- cornered mystery/thriller, with double crosses and framings galore.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

Quick Reviews of Recent Views (2021-2022)

And Just Like That (2021): HBO Max

This is the much-talked about (and criticized) sequel to SATC; writer Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), lawyer Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon), and stay-at-home mom Charlotte York-Goldenblatt (Kristin Davis) are now in their mid-50s. Of course, publicist Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall) is NOT on the show; many fans objected to how her character was handled. At the start of the show, ALL the pals seem happily married; we see John AKA Mr. Big (Chris Noth), Steve (David Eigenberg), and Harry (Evan Handler). Anthony (Mario Cantone) and Stanford Blatch (Willie Garson) are married, BUT don’t look too happy. As for the teens, they’re annoying AF; Miranda’s 17 y.o. son Brady behaves V disrespectfully; Charlotte’s kids- 14 y.o. Lily and 12 y.o. Rose- are spoiled and uncompromising. Why spend SO much time on kids- it’s supposed to be about adults!? Carrie is one of the regular guests on a podcast hosted by a bisexual/non-binary comedian, Che Diaz (Sarah Ramirez).

I mainly tuned in to see Carrie’s realtor-turned-friend, Seema (Sarita Choudhury) who appears starting in E4; she’s mainly a theater/indie film actor; I saw her at a play reading in NYC in 2008 (and she is gorgeous IRL). Choudhury starred opposite a young Denzel Washington in Mira Nair’s indie/drama/romance Mississippi Masala. Seema’s mom is played by veteran/international actor/chef/author- Madhur Jaffrey. Miranda’s prof, Dr. Nya Wallace (Karen Pittman), and her jazz musician hubby, Andre (LeRoy McClain), are trying to have a baby w/ IVF. Lisa Todd Wexley AKA LTW (Nicole Ari Parker) is the mom of 3 young kids; Charlotte becomes her friend (after they meet while organizing school events). LTW’s hubby Herbert is played by Hamilton actor Chris Jackson; he (sadly) doesn’t have much to do. Where is the fun (I barely cracked a smile; don’t recall LOLs), fashion (Miranda’s wig and outfits don’t suit her at all), and romance!? IF you’re a fan of the original series, I suggest avoiding this one!

Bridgerton (Season 2): Netflix

Everybody (and their mom) has an opinion on the show- LOL! Almost ALL my friends (IRL/online) were talking/messaging/tweeting about it (some more than 2 wks before S2 dropped). Since I’ve gotten a LOT more active on Twitter lately (and have some new connections), I couldn’t avoid the jokes, memes, etc. You have to shut-off your brain to enjoy shows like this (NO offense); it’s been compared to Jane Austen fan fiction and an alternate universe (AU) of Regency era England. MANY women of color (of all ages) esp. liked seeing the Indian (South Asian) representation in the Sharma sisters (played by Brits: statuesque Simone Ashley and petite Charithra Chandran)! I liked the “slow burn” romance (Anthony and Kate), the fam scenes of the Bridgertons (who all have great chemistry together), and (light-hearted/funny) scenes w/ the artist/bohemian bro, Benedict (Luke Thompson). I think the acting is stronger in this season; S1 didn’t impress me that much. There is one V powerful/emotional scene (S2 E3) that is unlike ANY I’ve seen in a period drama!

The Chair (2021): Netflix

This show was tweeted about by MANY women/POC/academics I follow, so I watched it when it came out last Fall. Dr. Ji-Yoon Kim (Sandra Oh) is the new Chair of Humanities at a small/fictional university (Pembroke); she is the 1st woman and person of color (POC) to hold this post. Ji-Yoon is single (by choice) and the adoptive mom to a bright/challenging young daughter, Ju-Hee. The “old guard” at this school are played by veteran actors: Bob Balaban, Holland Taylor, and David Morse. Ji-Yoon’s closest friend/potential love interest, Bill Dobson (Jay Duplass), lost his wife a few years ago and his 18 y.o. daughter leaves for college in the 1st ep.

This comedy/drama series (6 eps; 30 mins/ea.) was filmed on-location in Pittsburgh and nearby areas. To create Pembroke’s campus, the show used Washington & Jefferson College and Chatham University. Annie Wyman (co-creator/co-writer) was actually an academic in an English department; she earned a PhD in English Lit from Harvard). David Duchovny (playing a version of himself) earned a Master’s in English Lit (Yale); he started (but didn’t complete) his PhD. If you (or your fam/pals) have connections to academia, you’ll esp. relate to this show!

The Gilded Age (2022): HBO Max

This is the show for ALL you Downton Abbey fans; it was also created by Julian Fellows, BUT he had several others collaborating w/ him (incl. prof/historian/co-executive producer- Erica Armstrong Dunbar). Another producer (who also directed some eps) is Salli Richardson-Whitfield; most will know her from her acting days. The setting is NYC in the 1880s where “old money” (the Van Rijans/Brooks) and “nouveaux riche” (the Russells) are nabes, BUT def NOT pals! There are MANY theater actresses (over the age of 40) who appear on this show: Cynthia Nixon, Christine Baranski, Audra McDonald (who I saw once on Broadway), Celia Keegan-Bolger, Debra Monk, Kelli O’Hara, and Donna Murphy. We also see more well-known movie actors (incl. Jeanne Tripplehorn and Nathan Lane) in small (yet pivotal) roles.

In his January 2022 NYT article The Gilded Age’ Finally Arrives on HBO, Dave Itzkoff reported that the long filming hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic allowed actress Denée Benton (who plays Peggy Scott) “to seek refinements of [her role] to better reflect [her] understanding of history. Benton said she urged the creative team to provide more ways to show that there were Black people like her character, Peggy, who lived in their own affluent and educated communities. I didn’t find Louisa Jacobson (who plays Marian Brook; one of Meryl Streep’s daughters) that compelling; MANY viewers agreed w/ me on this point. Peggy is much MORE interesting than Marian. I thought that George Russell (Morgan Spector- husband of actress Rebecca Hall) was better written than his wife Bertha (Carrie Coon). Coon was written as TOO strident (as some viewers noted online). George’s full beard was quite popular on Twitter- LOL! This is a period/costume drama, BUT it also has some brains (and is somewhat educational also).

Mare of Easttown (2021): HBO Max

If you like domestic drama mixed w/ a cop/mystery show (such as Happy Valley or Broadchurch), then check this out! A detective, Mare Sheehan (Kate Winslet in an Emmy-winning role), in a small Pennsylvania town investigates a murder of a teen girl while trying to keep her fam/personal life from falling apart. I thought almost ALL of the actors did a terrific job; they seemed like real/unglamorous/flawed people. There was even a (spot-on) sketch about the show on SNL. Much has been talked about re: the complicated relationship between Mare and her funny/acerbic mom (played by veteran actress Jean Smart); these ladies had great chemistry together! I was also impressed by Evan Peters (who plays the naive/younger cop- Colin Zabel); it’s rare to see a police officer w/ doubt and vulnerability. You can also check him out in S1 of Pose. Guy Pearce (who acted w/ Winslet in HBO’s take on Mildred Pierce in 2011) plays Mare’s love interest; he is a writer-turned-prof who is in town as an adjunct. The creator/writer of this show, Craig Zobel, also wrote the recent movie The Way Back (starring Ben Affleck); it received some critical acclaim also.

Spoiler-Free Review: “Nightmare Alley” (2021) starring Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Colette, & Rooney Mara

In the late 1930s, Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) buries a body and burns down a house in a rural area. Stan gets a job w/ a traveling carnival, after helping the owner- Clem (Willem Dafoe)- capture one of the escaped performers, a “geek.” This term comes from the German word “geck,” meaning fool/simpleton; it “geek” was used around circuses/carnivals to describe a wild man/woman. A typical geek show in the mid-19th c. would have a person on stage biting the head off of an animal (a chicken is seen in this case) and drinking its blood. Stan is silent (Cooper doesn’t speak until 11 mins. into the movie) and observant for a time, taking in the new environment and its inhabitants. He starts working w/ clairvoyant act of “Madame Zeena” (Toni Colette- who I wanted to see more) and her older/alcoholic husband, Pete (David Strathairn- always great in any role). He has his eyes on a young performer, Molly Cahill (Rooney Mara), and approaches her w/ the idea of a 2-person act (away from the carnival). An older strongman, Bruno (Ron Perlman), is suspicious of Stan and protective of Molly.

I saw this move last week on HBOMax; it’s a mix of noir and horror (w/ a few gruesome images which may turn off sensitive viewers). Director Guillermo del Toro noted that this is NOT a remake of Nightmare Alley (1947) starring Tyrone Power, BUT a re-adaptation of William Lindsay Gresham’s novel. However, several critics/viewers commented that they saw callbacks to the original. Leonardo DiCaprio was originally picked for the lead, but when negotiations fell through, he was shortly replaced by Cooper. As one movie podcaster said: “I hope DiCaprio didn’t turn this down for ‘Don’t Look Up,’ b/c that isn’t a good movie.” I’m NOT a fan of Cooper or a hater; I don’t see the big appeal. I get the sense that his skills are suited to lighter (comedic) roles; Cooper lacks the gravitas of someone like DiCaprio. In his characterization of Stan, Power is more compelling; he’s able to convey the dangerous/dark side to his character.

I was impressed w/ the supporting actors, though Mara should’ve gotten a BIT more character development. In the original, Coleen Gray’s Molly exuded innocence/positivity; here, she is morose/jaded. Do you think Stan loves Molly or is he just using her b/c she is young/impressionable? Dr. Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett) is a fascinating/mysterious character; she fits into the femme fatale role (a few critics were reminded of Lizbeth Scott re: her look). I enjoyed Blanchett’s scenes w/ Cooper, BUT it’s obvious who’s the more stronger/charismatic performer. The wealthy/powerful businessman, Ezra Grindle (Richard Jenkins), makes a more formidable adversary than in the original.

I wanted to love this movie (as a big fan of noir), BUT this is a case of style over substance. There are some good scenes, so it’s worth a look. Del Toro creates a world that is visually V interesting. The cinematography, musical score, production design, costumes/hair, etc. suit the story well. There are a few (creepy) people and props in the carnival that will stay in your mind- yikes! There is a B&W version; I’d be interested in seeing that sometime. Like MANY recent films, the running time is TOO long. It takes more than an hour to get out of the carnival atmosphere. There are a few elements which will remain a mystery, such as Lilith’s past and her motivation for what she is doing. I just expected more from such an ambitious film!