All posts by One Guys Opinion

Dr. Frank Swietek is Associate Professor of History at the University of Dallas, where he is regarded as a particularly tough grader. He has been the film critic of the University News since 1988, and has discussed movies on air at KRLD-AM (Dallas) and KOMO-AM (Seattle). He is also the Founding President of the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics' Association, a group of print and broadcast journalists covering film in the Metroplex area, and was a charter member of the Society of Texas Film Critics. Dr. Swietek is a member of the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS). He was instrumental in the creation of the Lone Star Awards, which, through the efforts of the Dallas-Fort Worth Regional Film Commission, give recognition annually to the best feature films and television programs produced in Texas.

WHERE THE MONEY IS






The mere presence of Paul Newman in the cast elevates what
would otherwise be a modest, TV-movie-of-the-week-standard
caper flick to a higher level of interest. In the picture by
the none-too-prolific Marek Kanievska (“Another Country,”
“Less Than Zero”), who directs here in an amiable, unforced,
almost shuffling style, the aging but still remarkably charismatic
star plays Henry Manning, a legendary thief who feigns a
stroke to get transferred from prison to a nursing home, from
which he intends shortly to escape. He’s eventually unmasked,
however, by saucy rehab nurse Carol Ann McKay (Linda Fiorentino),
who effectively blackmails him into masterminding an armored-
car heist which would profit her and her husband Wayne (Dermot
Mulroney), a brawny but not awfully brainy sort, as well as
Henry himself.

What follows is a genial but extraordinary gentle, almost
placid geriatric version of “The Sting,” so predictable and
unthreatening that it almost seems to come out of another era.
Compare “Where the Money” is to an characteristically edgy
modern robbery tale like “Reservoir Dogs” and its old-fashioned
quality is immediately apparent. There’s no nasty language,
to begin with, and violence is kept to an absolute minimum.
There are a few sexual allusions, but apart from one rolling-
around-in-bed sequence between Fiorentino and Mulroney–done
in a style which, by today’s standards, can only be described
as chaste–nothing is explicit. Even the obligatory vomit
scene–which seems for some reason to be compulsory in
contemporary cinema–occurs discreetly off-screen, heard but
not seen.

On the other hand, there’s much sweet, calculated nursing-home
humor, complete with a bevy of colorfully eccentric old ladies
playing bingo and engaging in wheelchair exercises to elicit
warm chuckles (and occasionally showing signs of a wink-and-nod
sexual interest in men for an easy laugh). When the actual
robbery occurs, moreover, it’s portrayed in such a laid-back
fashion that it engenders only the mildest of tension. And, of
course, there’s a cute twist at the end designed to elicit a
universal “Aw!”

One can imagine that if this stuff were done in the ham-
fisted way one usually sees on television (on a Sunday night
“Hallmark Hall of Fame” special, for instance) it would have
been pretty much intolerable. Henry, for one, might have
become an insufferable figure. But Newman plays him without
sentiment or overstatement, using the wonderful stillness
he’s mastered to make the character charming–a bit gruff,
of course, but also enormously attractive and likable. It’s
hardly one of his greatest performances, but managing to make
what’s basically a cantankerous old coot something less than a
caricature is a considerable achievement (Newman didn’t manage
the feat in “Message in a Bottle,” for instance.)

As for Fiorentino and Mulroney, they’re capable enough, but
nowhere in the same league. Neither character is particularly
well written, so their motivations (and even their relationship)
never seem real. And while Fiorentino is still a lovely,
exciting screen presence, she doesn’t bring Carol alive as
fully as she did the siren of “The Last Seduction,” to use
but one example. Mulroney is handsome and gets Wayne’s
bluffness across, but beside Newman he fades into the scenery.

“Where the Money Is,” with its leisurely pacing, inoffensive
manner and spotlighting of Paul Newman, should appeal especially
to older audiences, and if they can be lured into theatres
from their comfortable living-rooms, they’ll enjoy it. Even
the employment of a couple of tunes by The Cars to juice up
the soundtrack, however, won’t make it any more exciting to
the younger crowd, who will probably find the picture, despite
its short 89-minute running-time, distinctly pokey.

EAST IS EAST






Rarely has a film blended earthy humor with powerful drama as
effectively as this marvelous filmization of Ayub Khan-Din’s
semi-autobiographical play by the young Irish director Damien
O’Donnell. The story is a conflict-of-generations tale, set
in a London suburb in 1971, and centered on a Pakistani
immigrant, George Khan (Om Puri), who has married a British
wife, Ella (Linda Bassett); together they run a small fish-
and-chips shop. They’ve also managed, over the years, to have
a large brood of children, from the eldest son Nazir (Ian
Aspinall) down to the youngest, Sajid (Jordan Routledge),
who’s apparently Khan-Din’s surrogate.

The difficulty that the close-knit but frequently battling
family members face, at a time when anti-immigrant feelings are
growing in British society as a whole (a phenomenon exemplified
in the rise of Enoch Powell to prominence), is that George is
determined to maintain Pakistani customs, especially when it
comes to the futures of his sons, whom he intends to marry off
in traditional arranged marriages. It’s the rebellion of his
children against his dreams and desires that acts as a
catalyst for the comedy and the drama of the piece. Much of
the film is decidedly funny, as George’s expectations come up
against the realities of swinging London in the seventies. Some
is poignant, as the children seek to find ways to get around
him. And, especially toward the close, there are incidents
that are shockingly harsh, especially when the patriarch turns
violent as his family opposes his plans.

What’s astonishing about “East is East” is how beautifully all
this material hangs together, despite the enormous variations
in tone it entails. Much of the credit must go to the fine
cast, especially Om Puri and Linda Bassett. The former brings
George to life with extraordinary skill; the father becomes
a figure whom a viewer can sympathize with while still
understanding the fear and resentment his children feel toward
him. Bassett is equally amazing as his long-suffering spouse
(he never neglects to remind her that he still has a first wife
in Pakistan he can go back to). Her attempts to mediate
between her husband and her kids are expertly caught, and when
at the end Ella must suffer George’s wrath and defend the
interests of her children against him and the in-laws he would
bring into the family, the effect is both very funny and
remarkably real. The young actors playing the Khan siblings
are uniformly appealing and capable; if one singles out
special praise for Routledge, as the tyke who insists on
perpetually wearing a hooded parka (probably as a shield
against the inevitable family quarrels), that shouldn’t be
taken as a slight to the others.

“East is East” will probably be a fairly hard sell to American
audiences, who will be mostly unfamiliar with the English
historical context and, with their love of big-budget action
flicks, are never inclined to embrace smaller films that have
the courage to be more complex than the feel-good foreign
pieces of whimsy that usually succeed on these shores. One
can only hope that it will buck the odds and gain wide
acceptance; it’s both an exceptionally funny and quite
affecting film.