This forgotten sleeper of a character drama has been seen by very few folks since it was made in 1983. It got a VHS release, but it seems to have gotten lost in the years since it initially came out and so those that saw potbelly did so on cable at some point or during its undoubtedly brief theatrical run. It was directed by Robert Mandel who would go on to do things like F/X, BIG SHOTS and SCHOOL TIES. The most remarkable thing about it is its cast. Led by great performances from Kathleen Quinlan and David Keith, this is story of the trials and tribulations of some folks in a small town in Texas called Mercury. Kathleen Quinlan is a spunky gal photographer who has big dreams of going to school in Los Angeles. David Keith is an auto mechanic who has returned to town after failing to make it on his own away from Mercury. Their romance is one of the main plotlines, but there's also some heavier drama with David Keith's sister (played by Dianne Wiest) and her abusive husband (Cliff De Young). I've seen Cliff De Young play some scummy dudes on occasion, but this character is by far the darkest, scariest and most unpleasant in his career. De Young is a great and under-appreciated actor who did the lion's share of his most prominent work in the 1980s. He's one of those character actors that used to show up and do his thing and be solid every time. I find it intriguing that he is not all that well remembered now despite lots of great work. it might have something to do with the kinds of characters he played perhaps, I'm not sure. Dianne Wiest is also a spectacular actor and she has thankfully gotten some recognition in her time. She gives a powerhouse here and despite the downbeat nature of the movie her acting is by far the stand out of the movie. Other cast includes Richard Farnsworth, Frances Sternhagen and Bert Remsen. As much as the acting is great, I think my only quibble with the movie is that it veers so directly into the abusive husband story and kind of away from the romance. When that sort of thing enters into a movie, it can easily become the main focus and I just wish that wasn't the case here. INDEPENDENCE DAY starts out with some delightful sparks between David Keith and Kathleen Quinlan and I'd like to have seen the movie about the two of them only, but I guess that wasn't dramatic enough. The movie that we get does have some excellent tension for sure, I'll give it that. Overall, and it may be the Texas setting, this film feels of a similar nature to things like THE LAST PICTURE SHOW. This is far more sentimental in some ways, but it is a touching movie that is worth discovering.
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ONE ON ONE (1977; Lamont Johnson)
This movie resonates with me in a lot of ways, but mostly because I remember being like the young Robby Benson character at the beginning of this movie. I used to shoot baskets in my driveway for hours at a time and sometimes until it got dark. I fancied myself a decent shooter after playing three or so years of h.o.r.s.e. with my dad and relatives and friends. In or around the sixth grade, I decided to put my currency where my mouth was and go out for the basketball team. It wasn't like I wasn't going to make it on the team. Whether I would play or not was another question. That thought didn't bother me, but I soon found myself in the midst of a grueling, absolutely not-fun situation in this whole being a basketball player thing. It just wasn't enjoyable. I was in over my head. Robby Benson's character is in over his head too. He's a star high school basketball player that gets courted by a university to play on their team. He takes them up on their offer, but he discovers that college ball is not at all like high school ball and he's gonna have to really work for it. It's a touching and memorable sports movie, but part of what makes it memorable is the filmmaking. Lamont Johnson is a name you may not know, but you need to look this guy up. If you start with his movie THE LAST AMERICAN HERO, you won't be disappointed. It's a moonshiner runner turned race car driver rags to riches story and Jeff Bridges plays the guy. It's a winner and is one of my very favorite films. ONE ON ONE is among his best work and he really shows a filmmaking flair that I feel really elevates all his work. From the opening of ONE ON ONE, even under the Warner's logo, we start to hear that young kid bouncing his basketball. I loved when studios were free enough to people put music or sound under the opening logos. It helps set a tone for the movie before you've seen an actual frame of it. Throughout the film, Johnson uses sound bridges in just this way and a good sound bridge can really pull you into a movie. Think about THE GRADUATE for a minute and you'll know what I mean. It's just a very artistic and thoughtful thing to do and when done well, it can make a film very poetic and lyrical. Johnson just understands the power of a great transition and he employs tons of them in this movie. It's one of those films you watch and feel how much care has been taken in its construction. Anyway, it's kind of a story that seems familiar from the outset, but they really give it their own voice between the filmmaking, Benson's performance and that of his female co-star - Annette O'Toole. I know I speak frequently about attractive ladies in movies, but O'Toole in this movie is adorable on a whole nother level. I find her delightful in this movie. She has this incredible vivacity and a rebellious attitude here that make her irresistable. Robby Benson is an underrated actor. He's one those actors that has not only talent, but also a star-power presence that lights up the screen. There were few actors that had his kind of "aww schucks" naivete combined with a truly remarkable naturalism. Benson in his prime was capable of an on-screen vulnerability that was totally captivating. ONE ON ONE is one of his best outings and I highly recommend it. It's an early Warner Archive title, but one that is well worth getting.
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