Thursday, September 4, 2014

Duvall Double Feature

I have a DVD double feature recommendation for you.  Both films feature Robert Duvall, one of the best film actors of my lifetime.

My first pick is a film that, oddly, seems to be forgotten today but it was very popular in theatrical release.  Very popular and critically acclaimed.  I went to see it because Elizabeth Taylor raved about this independent film to veteran entertainment columnist Liz Smith.  Sling Blade, written by and starring Billy Bob Thornton as Karl, won a place in my heart the way To Kill A Mockingbird did.  I was not the only person in the movie audience who shed a tear over the tender friendship between the institutionalized outsider, Karl, and a lonely, fatherless little boy.
In the summertime, publications and some TV programs come up with lists of positive gay images in films because June is Gay Pride Month.  Rarely does anyone remember to include the excellent performance John Ritter gave as the protective and paternal gay schoolteacher in a small country town.  Like the Boo Radley-esque Karl, he's an outsider and he also cares about young Frank's happiness.  I loved Ritter's character and Ritter's performance.  It was some of the finest work of his career.

Lucas Black played Frank so well.  When Frank revealed to Karl that he felt "so tired" for a little kid, I knew exactly what he meant.  Not that there was a physically abusive person in my household like there was in Frank's, mind you.  But, I was about that very same age when my parents separated and eventually divorced.  Their martial unhappiness has its own thick psychic energy in our house.  There were no laughs between Mom and Dad.  Just a frayed co-existence.  I was trying to be the good student at school, the good big brother to my two siblings and be a good boy at home to lighten to mood in the house.  After a while, it emotionally drained me but I didn't let on about it.  Being a little kid and trying to deal with grown-ups on their terms, trying to emotionally navigate through their big people world with all its storms, isn't always easy.  You're so much younger and smaller than they are.

Billy Bob Thornton wrote a beautiful screenplay and did a first-rate job as director.  His film, with its Southern characters, is very touching yet doesn't have the sentimental molasses that, say, the film adaptation of Forrest Gump does.  Sling Blade (1996) deserves re-appreciation.

My other pick is a modest 2009 independent film that also goes South some decades earlier.  It's called Get Low.  In the 2-minute podcast I've attached, I tell you about the Robert Duvall connection in both movies.

On the whole, Sling Blade is a better film.  However, Duvall is in peak performance in Get Low and that makes it worth watching.

We've lost true show biz greats this year.  Mickey Rooney, Ruby Dee, Eli Wallach, Elaine Stritch, James Garner and Robin Williams are a few.  On social media, it seems like the new custom to mark the passing of a celebrity is to post YouTube clips of that person on Twitter.  As soon as news breaks of a show biz death, people search YouTube for clips.  This is followed by a certain "mourn porn," if you will.  Bloggers quickly write and promote their appreciations or obituary articles about the celebrity.  Sometimes these get posted before the celebrity's funeral service is held.

Those "mourn porn" articles are often so flattering and poignant that I wish they'd been written when the celebrity was still alive to realize the impact he or she really made in the world.

That brings me to Get Low featuring Duvall as a crusty old coot who lives in the woods.
He wants a funeral service while he's still alive.
The cantankerous recluse will get cleaned up and actually communicate with folks.

For young actors -- and not-so-young actors -- I've written that watching the work of acclaimed performers at their best is like sitting in an excellent, informative class.  Here's my short podcast review of Get Low starring master actor, Robert Duvall.

Lucas Black, the little boy in Sling Blade, co-stars as a young man in Get Low.  Look for him now as a cast member on the new CBS series, NCIS: New Orleans.

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