Then Playing — Stop-Loss; Gilda Live; Winter Meeting

Stop-Loss (Kimberly Peirce, 2008). There was nearly a ten-year gap between Kimberly Peirce’s sensational feature debut, Boys Don’t Cry, and her follow-up, Stop-Loss, which is presumably indicative of the ridiculously difficult time female filmmakers have bringing projects to fruition. Stop-Loss draws on the experiences of U.S. soldiers who were continually re-upped for service in the protracted military messes in Iraq and Afghanistan. Staff Sergeant Brandon Leonard (Ryan Phillippe) is still reeling from a mission gone sideways when he’s told he’s be reassigned to the combat zone instead of getting his promised ticket home. He snaps and goes on the run, even as his closest pals, including characters played by Channing Tatum and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, deal with aftershocks of their own. Peirce’s film, which she also cowrote with Mark Richard, is laudable in its intention and flaw in its execution. As valuable as it is to draw attention to a military practice that is largely unremarked upon in the news media, the drama often feels rote, lacking the intricate insights of Peirce’s earlier film.

Gilda Live (Mike Nichols, 1980). Between the fourth and fifth seasons of Saturday Night Live, Gilda Radner took many of her characters to a very different New York City stage. Gilda Radner – Live from New York ran for several weeks at Broadway’s Winter Garden Theatre and film version followed a few months later, directed by no less formidable a figure than Mike Nichols, returning to screen work five years after flopping hard with The Fortune. His extensive experience with directing stage productions serves Nichols well, especially in the few documentary-like insertions of backstage wrangling to rapidly get Radner from one costume to another. Gilda Live is more a useful relic of the era than an enduring entertainment, but there’s a tremendous value to capturing Radner at the peak of her talent. Her range across the characters is remarkable and looks absolutely effortless, the natural expression of a performer who knows how to channel her charm and magnetism into deeply rendered character work.

Winter Meeting (Bretaigne Windust, 1948). Based on a 1946 bestselling novel by Ethel Vance (a pen name used by Grace Zaring Stone), Winter Meeting starts in lively fashion. Susan Grieve (Bette Davis) is lured away from preparation for the release of her new book of poems for a night out with her catty chum Stacy Grant (John Hoyt). They attend an event to honor war hero Slick Novak (James Davis), who quickly engages in ardent pursuit of Susan that results in couplehood with similar speed. The first portion is filled with snappy repartee, most of it lobbed back and forth by Bette Davis and John Hoyt, the latter of whom comes close to George Sanders levels with his wry judgments. Then the the film progresses to the doomed-romance melodrama at its core and the whole endeavor grows stiff. James Davis is particular adrift, unable to get below the surface level of the character, which then prompts Bette Davis to overcompensate with sweeping emotion to fill the scenes. Bretaigne Windust’s direction is capable enough, but lacks verve or creativity.

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