FIGHTING THE POWER

It’s been interesting to witness director Todd Haynes transition from crazy comedies like the Hangover trilogy into intense dramatic fare like Joker and the lesser seen Dark Waters. This latter film is the perfect vehicle for star Mark Ruffalo who is a true activist in real life. Here he plays hard-working corporate lawyer Robert Bilott who toils away for an Ohio legal firm protecting the DuPont chemical company from all manner of litigation. But when his grandmother’s farmer neighbor in West Virginia comes to him with stories and proof of dozens of his livestock having perished due to contaminated ground water near a DuPont plant, Bilott finds himself reversing course and wanting to take on the corporate behemoth for their heinous acts and denials. His mission initially stirs divisionism at his firm, but the moral prerogative is too great to be ignored even by his boss.

Real-life activist Mark Ruffalo stars in 'Dark Waters,' a cover-up thriller that makes a powerful statement.
Real-life activist Mark Ruffalo stars in ‘Dark Waters,’ a cover-up thriller that makes a powerful statement.

While this type of tale has been told before, and the film has that moody look with muted colors common to many modern films, Haynes, screenwriters Mario Correa and Matthew Michael Carnahan, and Ruffalo and the cast (which includes Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Mare Winningham, and Bill Pullman) still deliver a powerful statement about corporate negligence and manipulation. Just as in real life, their crusade gets messy and invokes the ire of people on all sides to the issue as well as Bilott’s own family, especially with a case that drags on for years (which is how the public forgets). When the film came out last fall, DuPont’s stock reportedly took a hit. You’ll certainly look at them differently now. Dark Waters was inspired by the New York Times Magazine article “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worse Nightmare” by Nathaniel Rich, and some of the real-life participants in this case actually play small parts in the film. They are identified in the closing credits.

IT’S A CRUEL SUMMER

It’s been over 35 years since I last saw this cute film, and despite being unrealistic, A Little Romance is still a lot of fun. Released in 1979, it is one of Sir Laurence Olivier’s later film roles (he did Dracula with Frank Langella the same year) and marks a young Diane Lane’s screen debut. She plays a bright but shy 13-year-old girl named Lauren who is living in Paris with her American parents and having trouble assimilating into that culture. After meeting an equally smart boy named Daniel who is a film buff and the son of a taxi driver, she finds some happiness. But when he clashes with her overbearing mother (Sally Kellerman) at a party, they are barred from courting. (Daniel does punch a narcissistic movie director in the stomach, but good for him. The guy flirts with her mom in front of her husband and makes an inappropriate comment about her daughter.) 

I normally find precocious screen kids annoying, yet [A Little Romance] feels more sincere and heartfelt and captures youthful idealism in a way that feels real. The beautiful, classically-influenced soundtrack from Georges Delerue enhances the playful and romantic vibe of the movie.

When her stepfather decides they should move back to the U.S. in a month, Lauren makes a desperate attempt to get to Venice with Daniel for one last tryst and idyllic kiss under an Italian landmark, and they convince a nostalgic old man (Olivier) they have befriended to help them get there (under false pretenses). Sure, it’s a little out there, but the cast is charming. I normally find precocious screen kids annoying, yet this story feels more sincere and heartfelt and captures youthful idealism in a way that feels real. The beautiful, classically-influenced soundtrack from Georges Delerue enhances the playful and romantic vibe of the movie. A Little Romance captures a period of time when kids were more innocent and also not distracted by their digital devices. In other words, they really connected.


EXTRAS: PRIMED FOR HORROR

Years ago, Netflix was a great repository of fear fare, but lately Amazon Prime Video is kicking their ass. Perhaps they are being generous during our quarantine period, but lately they have a killer collection of vintage horror available to Prime members, which allows fans to try many different films from different countries and eras. If you’re jonesing for Hammer Horror, they have titles like Twins Of Evil, Dracula A.D. 1972, and Captain Kronos, Vampire Hunter. Do you love the gory glory of Italian director Lucio Fulci? There is City of the Living Dead, Aenigma, The Black Cat, and more. Many lurid Italian giallos by Dario Argento are here like Deep Red, Phenomena, and Opera. Then there are underrated supernatural/paranormal gems like The Sender (U.S.), The Survivor (Australia), The Church (Italy), and the interconnected anthology Asylum (England). Four of the five Phantasm movies are available free via Prime. And William Peter Blatty of Exorcist fame made the lesser known classic The Ninth Configuration, a psychological thriller from 1980 starring Stacy Keach and The Walking Dead’s Scott Wilson set in an asylum for allegedly insane soldiers who have avoided service in Vietnam. (But are they really crazy?) Who knows how long this streaming bonanza will last, but if you love horror and have Prime, take a deep dive into their offerings. They’ll help you coast through quarantine a bit easier (despite a few jitters).

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