I hate to sound like one of those semi-pathetic folks who are always waxing nostalgic about their (alleged) glory days. Every so often, though, I get depressed when I see a really terrific movie getting little notice. Whenever this happens, it reminds me of how I used to be able to call attention to certain movies – and, yes, influence people to actually go see them – during my 13-year tenure at the Houston Post (and, for four years after that, at NBC affiliate KPRC-TV). My only hope is, maybe -- just maybe – I can do something similar on the Internet.
The immediate reason for these musings: Last spring, I saw Wim Wenders’ Don't Come Knocking at the Greenway 3 in my home base of Houston. After the first five or so minutes, I turned to my companion and whispered: “We’re in good hands.” She nodded in agreement. And you know what? The movie only got better after that. Sam Shepard (who also wrote the script) is excellent in the lead role of Howard Spence, an aging Western movie star who goes AWOL from his latest comeback vehicle. Driven by discontent (and, possibly, a vague desire to rediscover himself), he visits his long-estranged mother (Eva Marie Saint, who’s even more wonderful here than she was in Superman Returns) in Elko, Nevada. She surprises him with news of a child he fathered years earlier during a location shoot in Butte, Montana. So heads back to “the scene of the crime,” to seek reconciliation with a former lover (Jessica Lange, Shepard's off-screen longtime companion) and the adult son (Gabriel Mann) he has never known.
I know: Sounds corny and predictable. But it isn’t. The movie is by turns funny and affecting, wistful and wrenching, my favorite so far in 2006. The actors -- including Tim Roth, Fairuza Balk and the radiant Sarah Polley – are excellent. (Look for Oscar-winner George Kennedy in a wink-wink, nudge-nudge cameo as a beleaguered film director.) And the cinematography by Franz Lusting is nothing short of extraordinary: The gaudy casinos of Elko and the dreary cityscapes of Butte look almost magical.
Unfortunately, Don’t Come Knocking -- Shepard's second collaboration with Wenders, after the extraordinary Paris, Texas (1984) -- flopped resoundingly during its fleeting theatrical release. So badly, in fact, that it really came as no surprise when Wenders – who hasn’t made such an accessible film since the classic Wings of Desire (1987) – recently announced that he was leaving the United States and moving back to his native Germany. But now Don’t Come Knocking has a second chance to reach receptive audiences, thanks to the modern miracle of DVD. To paraphrase Larry McMurtry – don’t let this horseman pass you by.