Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Film Rolls, Round 3: Lorenzo's Oil, Perfect Strangers, and Come Drink with Me

Bruce has a slight lead over Mookie, 11 stars to 10¾, and it's a race.

Mookie rolls first:

A three, which gets him back into recent Western movies and Lorenzo's Oil

And how does Bruce respond?

A 20! Per the totally arbitrary rules, this means the next thing watched from the "new arrivals I've seen before" gets credited to his score, and that turned out to be the new Arrow Blu-ray of Come Drink with Me, but only after I finally get to see the original Perfect Strangers.

So let's see how they did!

Lorenzo's Oil

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 11 March 2022 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Blu-ray)

Lorenzo's Oil sticks out in George Miller's filmography as his only feature that is not a fantasy of some sort, although it's paradoxically a film that he is particularly suited to make as a trained medical doctor. The end result is in some ways surprisingly conventional but also unique, a tightly-internal story that benefits greatly from the meticulous attention Miller otherwise brings to large-scale action and animation.

It's simple enough - Italian-born diplomat Augusto Odone (Nick Nolte) and his Irish-American wife Michaela (Susan Sarandon) learn, upon returning to Washington from an African posting, that five-year-old son Lorenzo has a deadly neurological condition, eventually narrowed down to be adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), which is so rare that not only is it often misdiagnosed, but there is little serious work being done on treatment. Lorenzo is not expected to live to see his tenth birthday and the community around the disease is mainly focused on palliative care, but the Odones choose to immerse themselves in research, with a sympathetic researcher (Peter Ustinov) assisting with science and Michaela's sister Deirdre (Kathleen Wilhoite) offering support on the home front.

On the one hand, a viewer wouldn't necessarily recognize this as being from the man who made the Mad Max series, but it's surprisingly of a piece: Miller makes sure that the viewer can feel the wheel turning, grinding the Odones down, with every time the film fades out and then in with a new date listed on screen playing like an ominous countdown. It's a long-ish movie but one that is good at increasing the weight by steadily piling pebbles on the viewers' backs rather than large weights that require a large shift in storytelling. There are moments of tension in the based-on-facts story that sometimes seem designed for a film, but others that are random enough to feel like details of a life that doesn't have to fit the script.

What's often most interesting is the way that Miller and co-writer Nick Enright handle the concept of citizen science, even if they don't ever actually use that phrase. Stories like Lorenzo's Oil are often formulaic in how they tell tales of an uncaring medical/scientific orthodoxy and parents who know best because of their gut instincts, but this one takes care to show that the Odones are meticulous on top of being emotional and personally invested Miller may not have practiced for a decade before making this film, but he seemingly the material enough to not take shortcuts or to depict being methodical as inherently cruel. Without making the comparison directly, it becomes very clear that the Odone's are not the same as people who go in for anti-vaccine woo, even if they do seem relatively reckless compared to the establishment.

Nick Nolte and Susan Sarandon hold the movie down well. It's a bit odd to hear Augusto's Italian accent coming from Nolte, but there's something Socratic yet humane about the way Nolte delivers his lines, where you can recognize the diplomat and the father in conflict, laying things out for both the folks sharing the screen and the audience. Sarandon has the more conventional mama-bear role, but handles it well, and I love the devotion Kathleen Wilhoite gives Deirdre, a heightened riff on someone who loves her sister and nephew dearly even though siblings can often be more hurtful than strangers. It doesn't hurt at all that there are a couple of folks who will become stalwart supporting actors in the cast of fellow parents of ALD kids - Margo Martindale, warm and empathetic but well aware that this ends in heartbreak, and James Rebhorn, precise and involved as an activist leader because it gives him some measure of control over something devastating.

So, no exploding vehicles or talking animals. But still a precision-crafted George Miller film, and as such pretty terrific.

Perfetti sconosciuti (Perfect Strangers)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 March 2022 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Hong Kong Blu-ray)

I've effectively already reviewed this film twice, back in 2018, when Korean remake Intimate Strangers (here's the rest of the review on the Wayback Machine in case EFC never comes back) and Mainland Chinese version Kill Mobile hit theaters. I was expecting to see more, but the Mexican version never played Boston-area theaters and neither the Spanish version directed by Alex de la Iglesia nor the French version from Fred Cavayé that interested me are easily accessed, before you get to any of the 17 other adaptations made in the six years since this received its Italian release in 2016. I strongly suspect that the only reason we haven't seen an American one is that it landed with the Weinsteins just before that empire collapsed.

After three of these, I find myself a bit sad that the movies don't seem more localized, beyond China erasing one character being gay and Samsung dropping some hefty product placement into the Korean one. It speaks a bit to the sturdiness of this original script that there wasn't really a surprise to be found here on my third go-round, even three-plus years since seeing the remakes. It's a solid premise and has plenty of soapy twists that make for a good split of comedy and melodrama. Interestingly, my favorite characters remain the same across versions - here, Benedetta Prcaroli as the youthful newcomer to the group and Giuseppe Battiston as the genial but closeted bear - and I can't deny that that the gags still work even if you know what's coming. The eclipse still seems like an element that the movie doesn't really need.

I'm glad to have seen the root of this, although I do hope that I find de la Iglesia and Cavayé have put more personal stamps on it when I see their versions. Heck, I'd still like to see an American one, or some where they've got reason to take even greater liberties than they did in China.

Come Drink with Me

* * * (out of four)
Seen 17 April 2022 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, Arrow Blu-ray)

Huh, I appeared to enjoy this a lot more when I saw it at the 2014 Films at the Gate (full review on The Wayback Machine in case eFilmCritic is gone for good), which just goes to show you what sort of a boost this sort of high-energy action movie gets from being seen with a crowd who's into it versus at home when it's kind of late, even with the new Arrow disc probably looking better than whatever the folks in Chinatown were projecting.

Perhaps this also indicates that this sort of Shaw Brother action movie, with its formality and dance-like action, is a bit less of a novelty for me at this point. It is, nevertheless, still a lot of fun, with Cheng Pei-pei an arresting star with a bit of chip on her shoulder and somewhat aristocratic bearing and Yueh Hua a nice complement as a more earthy potential ally, facing off against a brace of enjoyably cruel villains. And even if Hong Kong and director King Hu would build upon this in terms of technical proficiency and slicker choreography, Hu and company can still stage a heck of an action scene.

… And where does this leave us after Round 2?

Mookie: 14 ¼ stars - not bad at all.

Bruce: 17 stars - that second film keeps it from being as tight as it could be.

Reset the board, and here's the sitch:

Bruce has taken the lead in more ways than one, and it looks like it might take multiple rounds for Mookie to make up the difference.

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