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post #451 of 452 Old 06-03-2019, 12:35 PM
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Conan the Destroyer (1984), directed by Richard Fleischer.

I remember feeling let down by this sequel to Conan the Barbarian (1982). We get a semi-comic magic quest adventure that seems cheap and unworthy. What to do? Not every movie can be an origin story and the original had its own problems in tone and plot, but it also had a surprising depth of emotion and glimpses of mythical power in its storytelling.

A PG sequel to an R original always seems like a bad idea. PG13 came in shortly after; that might have been a more accurate rating. But swapping humor for seriousness is a bad trade, in my view.

Give credit to the cast: all are willing to do both the action and the comedy sides. Tracey Walter gets the clown burden; I think his bits could have been better written.

I miss Sandahl Bergman but the women we do have make the most of their roles. "Evil Queen" is kind of a thankless job -- and a small one here -- but Sarah Douglas gives her some life. Olivia d'Abo is both fetching and funny as the loosely-clad magic Virgin Princess. "Knowing" playing "innocent" is great fan service.

Grace Jones is the truly remarkable cast member: muscular and proudly just-about-naked, a fierce warrior woman. The character is easy to lampoon but hard to perform. I knew someone who did DJ work in Chicago who had met a lot of celebrities and he said Jones was one of the most charismatic people he had ever met. David Bowie was another.

Arnold Schwarzenegger: I love him but he seems to be coasting. To be fair the script doesn't require anything else from him.

Genre fans are hard to please. We want more of the same and then complain that it is the same thing over and over. In this case I would have been happy with more of the same. Still: I'll watch this from time to time.

Basil Poledouris conducts his own score, reusing the music from the previous film, slightly reorchestrated. I love the music but hearing it here I think: that was a better scene in the other film.

Photographed by the great Jack Cardiff -- Black Narcissus (1947), The African Queen (1951), Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951).

Filmed in Mexico rather than Spain this time. They make good use of the mountains, plains and forests. Again, they seem hard on the horses and camel.

Available on Blu-ray.



-Bill
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post #452 of 452 Old 06-27-2019, 07:40 AM
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Personal Best (1982), written, produced and directed by Robert Towne.

Women's track and field is the subject and this is a lovely presentation of the sweat and endurance of a team training for the Olympics, using actual events and the real athletes.

The foreground story is the relationship between Mariel Hemingway (age 21) and Patrice Donnelly, 11 years older. Young love is intense and disruptive, but also temporary. Someone is always hurt.

Hemingway trained for months and she plausibly belongs with the team. It helps that her character starts timidly ("no speed, no guts", says the coach), acquiring confidence with time. Hemingway had not been acting for very long and her natural style might seem amateurish in other films, but it works here.

They were fortunate to have Patrice Donnelly, an athlete of amazing grace, and rather good in her first acting role. To be blunt: not all actresses can be convincing lesbians, but she's got it.

Scott Glenn is the coach, a colossal jerk but getting his athletes where they need to go.

The film has a split personality of sorts: although a celebration of women's athletics it also features full nudity and many shots of lithe women's bodies. The director was unapologetic: bodies in motion -- particularly slow motion -- are sensuous. (The right bodies with a good photographer, I might add). In a notorious segment, the slow-motion camera isolates on a series of women's crotches as they go over backwards in the high jump.

A bit of male nudity, too. He said the movie convention of people wearing underwear when they get out of bed after sex is ridiculous.

This was Robert Towne's first film as director. He was a renowned screenwriter, known for The Last Detail (1973), Chinatown (1974) and Shampoo (1975) among others, and he was an uncredited script-doctor for a huge list of other famous films. It is odd that his own script for this film seems a bit slack to me. It is a good story and is well presented, but maybe the non-actors in the cast and use of real competitions impeded the dramatic flow.

As it turned out, the US boycotted the 1980 Olympics. This is used in the film, but almost in passing. You would expect more dramatic trauma from the team. On the good side: the actual athletes were then available to be in the film.

Available on DVD with a commentary track by the director, Scott Glenn and Kenny Moore, another first-time acting athlete who plays the second love interest.



-Bill

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