August, 2009

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Reviews by Jonathan Wallace jw@bway.net

 

Guarantee: all reviews contain spoilers

 

“Public Enemies” (2009), directed by Michael Mann, is a big, well-cast and acted, beautifully directed disappointment. Mann has gathered all the best faces of our time—Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Billy Crudup, Stephen Lang, and the list goes on—and put them in gangster costume. Every shot of the movie seems carefully planned, choreographed and lit; the editing, while frenetic, avoids the jerky-grainy thing so popular these days;  the movie is quasi-realistic, with no obvious holes in probability or narrative. Yet the whole thing lies there like a forgettable lump. Is this a side effect of seeing too many movies? Or is there a different problem?

The answer may be found in a comparison to “Heat”, Mann’s movie starring Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino as adversaries on opposing  sides of the law. “Heat”, though flawed, had dialog; glorious, memorable scenes of DeNiro and Pacino delivering their philosophies of life, first, to other people, then, in the amazing diner scene—sole one in the movie where they were onscreen together, until the denouement—talking to, at and past each other. “Public Enemies” has no dialog to speak of, certainly no scene you feel compelled to replay in your head. Can a movie succeed on the merely visual? Possibly, but this one does not.

Greenmantle’ (1917) by John Buchan is a nearly perfect suspense novel by the author of “The Thirty-nine Steps” and featuring the same hero, Richard Hannay. Picaresque and full of believable detail, it takes its hero from a hospital in England during World War I to a battle on the outskirts of Istanbul, as he pursues a secret mission to unearth a German plan to rally Turks and Arabs with a pretend Messiah. Buchan, who himself worked in espionage and lived a picaresque existence, is respectful of the other cultures he describes (in fact, he is less arrogant than Kipling).

Buchan writes very beautifully and persuasively about the spirit and beliefs of the East. Likely it is nothing more than an Englishman’s romanticized version, but one wants to believe it is true, and even relevant to today’s emergencies: “It is the austerity of the East that is its beauty and its terror…The Turk and the Arab came out of big spaces, and they have the desire of them in their bones….They want to prune life of its foolish fringes and get back to the noble bareness of the desert.”

 

I have been playing The Fiery Furnaces album “Widow City” (2007) nonstop for weeks.  Since Dylan, one mainstream trend in rock and roll lyrics has been pastiches of almost uninterpretable  images. The Fiery Furnaces do this with a particular density and purity, achieving a sort of Dada-ist word construction built around phrases like “the Philadelphia grand jury”, “Navajo basketball coaches” and the like. There is nothing there to be understood except a whiff of genre and a mood. My favorite song is “Egyptian Grammar”, in which the singer recites how she posted an image of an Egyptian hieroglyph for motorcycle helmet by the bike lock-ups at the Oriental Institute, in the hope that an other-world entity would see it and pass it on to those responsible. “That kind of thing must happen sometimes,” she sings. These lyrics are the coolest of media; you bring your own meaning.

John Wyndham’s “The Midwich Cuckoos” (1957) was one of the best and most chilling of a series of novels the author wrote which brought a wholly new formula to science fiction. Set in the present in realistic surroundings, Wyndham’s novels are typically narrated by a journalist privy to government information on strange events, which may herald an alien invasion. In this one, every woman of child-bearing age becomes pregnant the same night in the ordinary, dull town of Midwich. The children, when born, are all blonde and golden-eyed and bear no resemblance to mother or father. They prove to be two organisms—one male, one female—acting in tandem through individual bodies, like an ant colony.  And they have the ability to exert mind control over the people around them, causing one man to drive his car into a brick wall and another to shoot himself.

What makes Wyndham’s work unusual is the extent to which he chose to leave out information. Each of his novels ends without our learning who sent the intruders or what their home world is like. Most science fiction of the time explained too much. Also, Wyndham’s protagonists are largely passive observers; if the aliens are defeated at all, they are by the collective work of other people. No gee-whiz, I-made-a-ray-gun-from-a-paper-clip heroes for Wyndham. His work is reminiscent of the Strugatsky brothers and of Stanislaw Lem without the mind-games: all writers where much of the art is in the withholding of information.

Michael Chabon’s “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh” (1988)_ was an extraordinarily self-assured debut by a novelist right out of school. The big problem these face is that they haven’t experienced anything to write about. The classic problem of first novels is either that they are set in unreal worlds or describe characters about whom we don’t really care because so little is at stake. Chabon avoids these dilemmas by his compassion and by a slight tinge of magical realism which informs the story without ever becoming overt. His protagonist, Arthur,  struggles with his own sexuality—he is simultaneously having sex with a man and a woman and thinks he loves them both. The story, set in the three months of a single  summer after college graduation, involves the mafia and culminates in the death of a much-admired secondary character who is the Gatsby of the story (Chabon’s acknowledged inspiration).  Arthur’s girlfriend, Phlox, is one of the most vividly described and empathetic characters in recent literature. She is beautiful but awkward, dresses like a refugee from a 1940’s movie, is of only moderate intelligence but larger than life, generous, intuitive, attached, bemoaning her own predilection for loving “weak” men who turn out to be homosexuals. At the end, when Arthur no longer has her, he reflects that of all his friends and encounters that summer, she left the least trace on him—but at the same time, he understands that he knew her less and yet misses her more, as if he cannot really begin to trace the parameters of the thing which is gone from his life.

In a postscript, Chabon acknowledges being bisexual at a certain era, which seems courageous even today.  Chabon is the only one of the current crop of youngish American novelists (Franzen, Lethem, Eggers, etc) whom I find even slightly tolerable. He is cocky like them, but not snarky; his arrogance is more justified by his talent; his compassion is more evident than his self-love.

Jacques Tati’s “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday” is an artifact which made me wonderfully nostalgic. A physical comedy largely without dialog, it consists of a series of set pieces. M. Hulot, played by the rubber-limbed Tati, folds up in a folding kayak, and accidentally sets fire to a fireworks shack. The movie is all smiles, staring children, and sound effects (such as the “boing” of an unoiled door) repeated exactly the right number of times. There is a poignant female character—a woman who is pretty but strange, and usually alone—whom Hulot tries to romance in a series of scenes in which something always goes wrong: his car rolls away, her horse canters away while his tries to kick him, etc. They connect in one scene halfway through the movie, at a costume ball where they are the only two adults in costume. Horribly embarrassed, they make the best of it by dancing a wonderful loose-limbed dance together.

“Union Pacific” (1939), directed by Cecil B. DeMille, is a dull, wooden Western epic about the race to complete the West-bound railroad. The only actor in it with real spunk is Loretta Young, as a post-mistress who can shoot an attacker when necessary. Joel McCrea is monotonous as the white-hatted hero, and the movie, replete with spectacular train crashes, proves very anti-climactic when the hero fails to shoot either of the main villains, both of whom are killed by other people. In the background are some disturbing ethnic stereotypes: the fearful black waiter with flashing eyes; the funny Mexican. I found myself meditating on the fact that the people playing Indians in Westerns of the era all look like they were hired at a public swimming pool in the Bronx. Most depressingly, they are always flabby and lack muscle tone, while one imagines that actual Native Americans of the 1800’s probably were in excellent physical condition.

“Sanjuro” (1962), is a lesser samurai effort by Akira Kurosawa, a sequel to the more memeorable “Yojimbo”. In this one, the drunken, destitute samurai washes up in a small town where one local official is about to depose another one. Drinking sake and napping, he nonetheless guides nine disciples of the deposed official through a series of raids and tactics to free the wife, daughter and finally the official himself. The movie is made interesting by little hints of the samurai’s code: Sanjuro, handed a small sack of money, extracts a coin or two and gives the rest back; saving the lives of the nine disciples wasn’t worth more than that. In the last moments of the movie, he declines a job with his grateful client, leaves town, and encounters his now banished rival, whom he tries to talk out of fighting. The man draws on Sanjuro anyway, and is killed in a single sword-stroke. The almost despairing Sanjuro reviles the nine disciples when they compliment him on this killing, and walks off down the road, his shrugging back a negation of their friendship and the world he is leaving.

“Straw Dogs” (1971), directed by Sam Peckinpah, is part of a mini-genre from those years, of which “Joe” and “Easy Rider” were also examples, and which inspired or echoed the various series of revenge thrillers including “Dirty Harry” and the series in which thugs were constantly killing members of Charles Bronson’s family and then being killed by him. The concept was that the world is irredeemably sick and evil, that we are all just a shade away from being animals ourselves.

Dustin Hoffman, playing a small, neurotic mathematician, retreats for unexplained reasons to a town in Ireland with his Irish wife, who meets an ex-boyfriend whom Hoffman hires to complete some work on their garage. The ex-boyfriend and a cohort rape Hoffman’s wife, who in a typical seventies trope, seems to rather enjoy being assaulted. Hoffman never finds out his wife has been raped; the movie abruptly, and very insincerely, changes course, as a local sex-murderer takes sanctuary in Hoffman’s house, and he decides not to hand him over to a mob which includes the rapists. The movie, about one hour in, has now reached the set up to which what came before was prelude. Hoffman, calm if rather jumpy, shakes his head when his wife pleads for him to turn the killer over to the mob: a man’s home is his castle, and he is just not going to let those animals tromp around in his. So for the rest of the movie, he pours boiling water on them, encloses one man’s head in an antique bear trap, and beats another to death with a poker. At the end, driving away to take the killer back to the village (and remarkably leaving his wife behind, in a house full of broken windows and dead men) Hoffman has a little self-satisfied smile, like a comedian saying, “I really killed tonight.”

“Street of Shame” (1956), directed by Kenji Mizoguchi, is an episodic examination of the despairing lives of prostitutes in a not very sordid setting, a fairly clean and upscale red light district. There are no pimps, no drugs, nobody gets cut up or murdered, though one of the women is assaulted by an angry customer. Still, the pressure of life—arrested relatives to bail out, sick husbands, crying children, sons who want nothing more to do with you—drags most of these women into near-suicidal depression. In the background, the local legislature considers a law banning prostitution, and incidentally freeing the women from the debts they owe to their madam. At the end, two of the regulars have left the life—one by going crazy, the other by becoming a shopkeeper.   We watch as a virgin from the country side is made up and dressed up as an offering for the men who pass.  And the beat goes on.

“The Iron Giant”, (1999), directed by Brad Bird, is a neat little Cold War parable about a boy who discovers and befriends a 100-foot tall robot during the hysteria after the launch of Sputnik. There are federal agents and troops hunting his new friend, and a lonely pretty mom and beatnik friend defending him. The movie has the usual messages about responsibility and friendship, but transcends routine fare slightly with its rebelliousness and distrust of government.

“The Night of the Hunter” (1954),  is a famous whatsit directed by Charles Laughton, his only film as director. It has many almost laughable baroque elements, impossible shadows, flickering flames, psychotic Robert Mitchum chasing children with his hands extended as claws. But somehow the heart of the movie, despite the amateurishness, is strong. The children’s father, a bank robber, hid ten thousand dollars in the girl’s doll. Mitchum, a killer of widows and the father’s cellmate, turns up to romance and ultimately kill his widow, Shelley Winters, and then chases the kids and the doll downriver, until they wash up in Lillian Gish’s front yard. Prone to monologues delivered directly to the camera, Gish plays a strong woman who takes in the children nobody else wants, and she is the first adult in the movie to be able to detect immediately that Mitchum is not straight. She gets her shotgun as he stalks the house and there is a beautiful eerie scene where, waiting to kill one another, they sing a duet of “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms”. The movie is full of memorable, metaphoric shots of wildlife, particularly an owl which takes a rabbit in the front yard. It is also remembered for the “LOVE” and “HATE” tattoos on Mitchum’s knuckles and the little religious vaudeville he performs with them. It is a strange, unclassifiable little movie, and it probably broke Laughton’s heart very badly when it didn’t do business.

“White Heat” (1949) is a well-remembered gangster movie, the one which ends with James Cagney screaming, “Top of the world, ma!”  For most of its running time, it is a tight, tense, well acted “movie movie” with an unusual protagonist, a half-psychotic, mother-bound gangster. On my top hundred list of best movie scenes ever, would definitely be the one in which Cagney passes word down a prison cafeteria table to a new prisoner; “How’s my mom?”  You see the question pass from prisoner to prisoner, and the answer come back: “She’s dead.” Cagney begins to grunt and cry, climbs on the table, runs down it, and jumps on the bearer of bad news. By the time he is dragged out by guards a few moments later, he is screaming in a non-language, sentences of invented, grief stricken words.  Cagney’s character is brutal, but also weighed down by loneliness, and after the  treacherous killing of his mom (who helped him run his gang), trusts people he shouldn’t: the faithless wife who actually shot his mom in the back, and an undercover cop, Fallon, who infiltrated the prison to spy on him.

Unfortunately, the movie gets a little bogged down in technology that isn’t new or interesting today: the Treasury cops attach a radio signaling device to Cagney’s vehicle, then track it by triangulating its position.

The grand finale is also a little generic. We have seen a lot of movies, before and after this one, with antiheroes trapped in high places right before their immolation. “High Sierra” handled this trope a lot better. At the end, “White Heat” is just a lot of running and gunning, and I didn’t believe Cagney, crazy as he was, really thought he was atop the world, trapped on that gas tank.

            “The Razor’s Edge”  (1949), by Somerset Maugham, is a pretty good novel by a writer who leaves me cold. It is framed by a lazy device, the novelist inserting himself as a character, a la Marlow in “Heart of Darkness” and “Lord Jim”. But the people he meets and describes, at wide intervals across the years, all turn out to have a good reason to be in this novel together, which provides a satisfying click at the end: they each find a kind of satori, one by renouncing worldly things, several others by attaining them, one by getting herself murdered. Discussions about God, destiny, renunciation and Eastern mysticism go on a page or two too long; Maugham is almost entirely lacking the irony and restraint one finds even in Gabriel Garcia Marquez, though I am certain Maugham believed he had them. Nobody talks about God in novels any more, as opposed to portraying worlds in which He is present, or absent.

“The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” (2008) by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows , is a delightful but lightweight epistolary novel reminiscent of “84 Charing Cross Road”. The protagonist, a Londoner at the end of World War II, gets a letter from a resident of the island of Guernsey. She makes friends via the post, goes there and meets the locals, and her life is changed.  We are treated to a large but welcome dollop of some little known history: Guernseey and Jersey, the Channel islands, were the only British territory occupied by the Germans during World War II. The book, which is warm and humorous, avoids being forgettable by dealing well with some heavy themes. Much of the focus of the story involves discovering the sad fate of a member of the Literary Society who was deported by the Germans to Ravensbruck concentration camp. There is also romance with a stolid, shy, handsome farmer, publishing intrigues, and portraits of quirky island residents. The one unbelievable aspect, which is easily forgiven, is the choice of reading material. Each member of the Society, consisting largely of uneducated people, somehow bonds with a classic author, including Charles Lamb, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius, applying his wisdom to their own circumstances. But even this feat is handled lightly.

Two movies in which a man and woman with an addiction bounce around like pinballs in a Godless world, are “Born to Win” (1971), directed by      , and “Bay of Angels” (1963), directed by Jacques Demy.

In the former, George Segal is a charming junkie, a former hairdresser, whose habit gets more extreme, leading him to rob his dealer. His apologetic mien, whenever he commits a crime, is precious and funny. From that point, things go completely down the drain, as the dealers join forces to punish him and two undercover cops (one a very youthful Robert deNiro) lean on him to help net the top bad guy, Geek. Captured and locked up in an apartment by the dealer he robbed, Segal wins release by exposing himself to two women on an adjoining balcony; they oblige him by calling the police. Along the way, Segal “meets cute” with Karen Black—he is stealing her car and she asks for a lift in it. One problem with this, as with so many sixties movies, and probably every one in which Karen Black ever appeared, is that her character seems to have no reality apart from her reflection in his gaze—we don’t know where she came from, what she does; she seems to have materialized just to love him, and be sacrificed for him. Which she is when deNiro and partner, eager to punish Segal while leaving him on the street, plant drugs on her and take her away. In a typical downbeat seventies ending, Segal asks Geek for a hit, which is freely given, with no prospect of payment. “What are my odds,” Segal asks, that this is not a poisoned packet, intended to dispose of him for ever? Geek smiles, shrugs and says, even if it is, it will be the best jolt you ever got. And Segal walks away, down the gritty city streets, to do his “hot shot” and end his life.

“Bay of Angels” is a casino movie, like “Leaving Las Vegas” and others of the genre. The game here is roulette. Claude Mann is a young bank employee new to gambling, Jeanne Moreau the older woman who has sacrificed everything, husband and child, to her addiction. She tells him, in one poignant scene, that its not about the money, but the rush; she hates money, and spends it, or gambles it away, as soon as she has it. He offers her love and a way out; at the end, she improbably follows him out of the casino, and the film ends with a silhouetted embrace. Since roulette is, peace to those who study “systems”, a game of pure chance, the gambling scenes are boring and repetitive, and lack the excitement of those in movies about games of skill and strategy like pool and poker (“Cincinnati Kid”, “The Hustler”, “The Color of Money”, “Rounders’).  However, unlike Karen Black’s character, Jeanne Moreau’s at least is a real woman, who sweats, fusses, flirts and cries.

“Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince” (2009), directed by David Yates, is  dull for those who are not obsessive fans of the series. As the Times reviewer noted, the pretty young actors are rather inert. Since they don’t behave like there’s very much at stake, each movie becomes just one more clever magical adventure with decent special effects.

“The Spy Who Came in From the Cold” (1963), directed by Martin Ritt,  is two movies in one. The first one follows British spy Alec Leamas from Berlin back to London, where he is in disgrace for losing an agent and is given a chance to redeem himself by personally engaging in a very dangerous gambit against the East Germans. In pursuit of this operation, he quits intelligence, drinks a lot of whiskey, punches out a grocer and is sent to prison. Eventually he is recruited by East German intelligence and appears to defect to them.

This part of the film is gritty, realistic and understated. However, when Leamas gets to Germany, we transition to a different kind of movie entirely: one that is talky and static, especially during the lengthy penultimate scene of a secret political hearing, with Leamas as star witness, to determine which of two functionaries is a traitor bought by the British.

While the movie is fairly faithful to the John LeCarre novel on which it is based, it might have benefited by a little less fidelity. Scenes such as the hearing, which work well in a novel, are not as effective on film. The biggest misstep was the filmmakers’ decision to have the East Germans speaking English to one another; this choice inevitably throws me out of a film. Then, instead of action, we simply have a lot of exposition, people explaining who did what to whom, as a double and possible triple cross is revealed. The movie becomes ultimately improbable as Leamas and his innocent girlfriend, dragged in to the events as a pawn and ably played by Claire Bloom, are permitted to escape by the victors in the internal East German power struggle.  There is yet more exposition, as Leamas explains to his girl everything we have just seen and already understood. It ends with a poignant confrontation at the Berlin wall, where one more pawn is sacrificed and Leamas must choose between death and a life of ultimate compromise and failure.

“Tom Jones” (1963), directed by Tony Richardson, like so much of the director’s other work, is big, lively, funny, rebellious and resolutely non-kitschy. With elements of silent cinema and vaudeville, and meta-cinematic moments in which characters talk to and even cover the camera, it is the best imaginable translation into film of Fielding’s surprisingly modern and ironic novel. The scene in which Tom and Mrs. Waters seduce each other, eating seafood and fruit, is justly famous. Too often,films based on literary novels are inert, stultified, made with far too much gravity and respect and too little energy. This film is a joyful exception.

Dickens and other 19th century novelists knew that there is nothing so thrilling in literature as the death of a young girl. This is the motivating force of  “My Sister’s Keeper” (2009), directed by    , which portrays the final months of a teenage girl stricken with leukemia. With some unlikely plot twists (and based on a novel I haven’t read which reportedly had many more) the film, with fine performances, avoids bogging down in treacle, and keeps the story interesting and our sympathies engaged. In the most unpalatable of plot features, which however has happened before the story begins, the dying girl’s younger sister has been genetically engineered to be able to provide white cells, marrow, even a kidney. The young actresses however, are so fine and largely understated that it is easy to take this as a story of sisterly love and resentment, and secondarily of a dying girl’s arc  from denial to acceptance. The movie is more courageous than other films I remember, which deflected away from the death of a protagonist, like “Guarding Tess” and even “Dying Young”, in which no one died. There is a little too much narration at the outset—the director apparently deemed it necessary to explain the rather complicated plot—but the movie also combats sentimentality when the surviving sister tells us she derives no grand lessons, no evidence of God or destiny, from the loss of her sister. On the whole, despite its flaws, this is the best and most consistent drama I have seen in a while, produced by a Hollywood machine which doesn’t know how to make dramas any more.

“Moon” (2009), directed by Duncan Jones, is a very respectable near miss. An attempt at serious science fiction, eschewing the tentacled alien popping out of the space station locker, the film has some beautiful elements, such as views of the lunar landscape and of the Earth. However, the basic plot line, involving clones who live three years apiece and then are replaced to act as sole managers of a lunar mining station, is a little too basic to satisfy science fiction fans, and also too improbable. The clones, identical to one another, each believes himself to be a man named Sam Bell, and has nostalgic memories of a wife and child. The story gets going when two of the clones inhabit the station together, as the result of an accident.  This is a sweet, nonviolent film, other than a bit of irritated scuffling; the two collaborate to solve the mysteries of their existence. There is also a decidedly non-HAL like AI which decides that its commitment to the men’s well-being (under the venerable First Law of Robotics) outweighs its interest in the secrecy of the enterprise. And there is a poignant moment when one of the Sams is finally able to place a call to Earth, only to discover that the woman he loves but never has actually met, is dead, and that her daughter, whom he thinks is three, is really fifteen.

I wanted to love it more than I did, as years go by without an attempt at real science fiction (lacking any horror elements). However, this is a by-the-numbers clone plot, and requires a huge suspension of disbelief. Is it really cheaper to store a hundred clones in the basement and activate one every three years, then it would be to recruit indigent, desperate workers from Earth?  Do the clones have to have false memories, or couldn’t they function just as efficiently knowing who and what they are? In fact, couldn’t the station be run entirely by the AI?

Stories of interchangeable clones, each being activated when the one before is killed, have been done many times: in the novels of John Varley, and in the mediocre late Schwarzenegger actioner “The Seventh Day”. And of course, there is a much wider group of movies, not all science fiction, about people finding out they aren’t who they thought: “Impostor”, “Total Recall”,  the “Bourne” series, and so forth. Unfortunately, it is not enough for a science fiction movie to be diligent and serious: it should also be clever, and full of surprising developments. I wish “Moon” were.

“The First $20 Million is Always the Hardest” (1997), by Po Bronson is the best novel ever written in a very sparsely populated genre, the Silicon Valley novel (Douglas Coupland’s “Microserfs” and Ellen Ullman’s “The Bug” are the only others I know of). Bronson’s novel follows the adventures and troubles of a four programmer team at a thinly veiled representation of the Xerox PARC think tank. They are manipulated into working on an unpopular project, a $300 web computer that their fellow “ironmen” don’t think is sexy. Are the powers that be playing a cruel trick on the four, or are there mysterious agendas at play? The novel has scope, bringing in seed capital investors, venture capitalists, marketing types, lawyers and the CEO’s of the think tank and its biggest client, a chip company. Bronson, a reporter for Wired in the ‘90’s, is dead on with the details: the clothes everyone wore, the practical jokes they played on one another. In one enjoyable small scene, just a few lines of dialog, one programmer reports reading about the discovery of a new species of “tree bear” and the others extrapolate from the name what such an animal would look like, how it would walk, and the possibility that it inspired the Bigfoot mythos. While the novfel goes into a fair amount of technical detail, it is lightly handled and clearly enough described, you don’t need to be a techie to enjoy it.

While the tone is satirical, the book does not veer into the absurd like Bronson’s earlier, also enjoyable “Bombardiers”, about bond salesmen. One of the artifacts of the early ‘90’s, when the novel is set: it portrays no women programmers (though there are two in “Microserfs” and some in “The Bug”, set in the same era). The only major woman character in the novel is an industrial designer, and though she is dignified and a great character, there is also a certain monotony in the all male landscape. 

“Three Days of the Condor”  (1975), directed by Sydney Pollack, is an inept, slow moving suspense movie in the paranoid genre of “Capricorn One,” “Parallax View”, “Twilight’s Last Gleaming” and many others. As usual, the enemy is internal, a super-CIA within or above the CIA, and there is a bow in the direction of social relevance, with references to a war being planned to capture middle eastern oil. The movie is mainly an excuse for an unusually wooden Robert Redford to run aimlessly around town, evading assassins without ever seeming to be in great danger or doing anything really interesting. Faye Dunaway, whom he picks up along the way, is a fascinating study in ‘70’s stardom: she is a cool, beautiful woman who just isn’t there, who doesn’t seem to have any core, any personality at all.