Archive for the ‘Wilford Brimley’ Tag

Absence of Malice (1981)   2 comments

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Elliot Rosen (Bob Balaban) has a problem. A year into his strike force’s investigation into the disappearance and probable murder of Joey Diaz, a popular Miami union leader, Rosen has no leads. To shake things up, he decides to pressure local liquor wholesaler Michael Colin Gallagher (Paul Newman) into telling the feds what he knows. The trouble is, Gallagher doesn’t know anything. Gallagher’s deceased bootlegger father and his uncle, Malderone (Luther Adler) have mob ties, but not Gallagher. He’s an honest businessman. That doesn’t stop Rosen from leaking a story naming Gallagher as a suspect in the Diaz case to Megan Carter (Sally Field). Carter, a reporter for the Miami Standard newspaper, writes the story and her paper publishes it on page one.

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Then, it begins. The accusation slowly begins to destroy Gallagher’s life. His workers strike. His customers cancel their accounts. The IRS dissects his finances. His business falters.

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“Why no Ziggy this week?”

Gallagher asks Carter where she got her information, but she won’t reveal her source. The newspaper staff stonewalls him and he gets no answers from the feds. Frustrated, he continues to dig into the matter and keep his business afloat until a tragedy forces him to act. When the controversy hurts his close friend Teresa (Melinda Dillon), Gallagher gets angry. He’s a smart man so he exacts a thinking man’s revenge.

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Director, Sydney Pollack and writer Kurt Luedtke get the plot humming along nicely, then it stalls. You’re sucked in from the beginning and then Sally Field shows up and puts the brakes on. In this strong ensemble, she’s miscast. I can’t buy her hard-boiled reporter any more than I can buy her romance with Paul Newman.

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“You say the nun FLEW?”

They have no chemistry and her jaded journalist has no credibility. I wonder if their romance was an afterthought added by producers to appeal to a wider audience. Anyway, the rest of the cast works a treat. Newman does a fine job as a gruff good guy who gets screwed and fights back. We like him. We’re outraged when he’s attacked and cheer him on when he reacts. Melinda Dillon is absolutely brilliant. Her voice, carriage, and even the way she holds a cigarette tell her story.

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It’s a beautiful and poignant performance. She deserves her Oscar nomination. Then there’s Bob Balaban. He does weasely like no one else. Rosen, his self-righteous, arrogant federal prosecutor, worms his way onto your bad side and his quirky elastic band wringing is inspired.

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“It’s my ball and if I can’t pitch I’m going home.”

I can’t think of this film without picturing Rosen’s odd little habit. Luther Adler as Gallagher’s mobster uncle is a lot of fun too. He clearly enjoys his role. I saved the best for last. Wilford Brimley as Assistant U.S. Attorney James A. Wells makes this movie. He has about eight minutes of screen time, but commands your attention for every second of it. His straightforward and logical approach to the case along with his homespun manner and way of speaking renew your faith in the justice system. Wells doesn’t listen to any excuses or rationalizations. In this world of half-truths and shades of gray, he’s a black and white breath of fresh air.

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“Dammit. This courthouse has no Quaker Oats.”

The idea that a federal agency can rip an honest man’s life apart on a whim is scary. Add in a little sloppy journalism and it’s a nightmare. ABSENCE OF MALICE exposes the ‘ends justify the means’ mentality in our judicial system. It also shows the press’ desire to get to print first despite little proof a story even exists. Absence of malice, by the way, refers to the public figure doctrine in law. To win a libel suit, the plaintiff must prove the defendant knows the statement is false, but prints it anyway with reckless disregard to the truth. Without that proof, the plaintiff is powerless.

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The fine acting, relevant topic, and fleshed-out characters make ABSENCE OF MALICE an entertaining and thoughtful film. I recommend it.

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The Thing (1982) 31 Days of Horror: Terror-Thon at the Somerville Theatre   Leave a comment

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The men at a remote arctic outpost have a stranger in their midst. Based on John W. Campbell’s 1938 novella Who Goes There?, The Thing shows how this stranger affects the men and how they deal with it. The simple plot works because of its cast of talented character actors and skillful direction by John Carpenter. Starring Kurt Russell, Keith David, Wilford Brimley, Richard Masur, David Clennon, Richard Dysart among others, the film has a fast pace and crackling dialogue thanks to screenwriter Bill Lancaster and we get to know each man in only a few lines. The set-up reminds me of Alien with Antarctica standing in for the Nostromo.

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Howling winds and music by Ennio Morricone add to the eerie atmosphere and the special effects rule. Rob Bottin and his crew made most of the creatures with Stan Winston doing some fantastic work on the dog. The film is unpredictable and scary. You really get a sense of paranoia. My heart was racing for two hours and I’d seen it before. This is definitely one of those films in which you want to yell, “Look behind you!” The overall quality of the acting, writing, and effects make this one of the best horror films of the 1980s. I’m glad I got to see this on film in the theatre.

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Trivia: Kurt Russell plays computer chess with the lone female (voice only) in the cast. She is actress Adrienne Barbeau, director John Carpenter’s wife at the time.

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