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Gloria (1980)

John Cassavetes has to be one of the most influential directors in the history of cinema. From his first motion picture Shadows in 1959, he made jazzy, near free-form films that felt authentic and exciting. Working as an actor to finance his more personal directing career, he helped some New Hollywood directors (like Martin Scorsese) find their voices, and it's impossible to think of the independent boom of the '80s and '90s without acknowledging Cassavetes as its godfather. But his influence also affected Luc Besson — one cannot watch The Professional without noticing how much he cribbed from Cassavetes' 1980 film Gloria (which was remade in 1999 by Sidney Lumet and Sharon Stone). In fact, a couple of shots and scenes in The Professional come straight from this movie. Gena Rowlands stars as the titular character, an ex-moll, with the Dawn family as her neighbors. It turns out that Jack Dawn (Buck Henry) has been keeping a black book with mob numbers that he's planning to turn it into the feds, leaving him and his family marked. And when Joan Dawn (Jessica Castillo) brings over little Phil (John Adames) to be watched over by Gloria, the two don't hit it off at all: She's too old to be a mom, has no interest in being a guardian, and has nothing that entertains Phil. But when Phil's parents are slaughtered by the Mafia, Gloria's maternal instincts kick and she chooses to protect the boy. A fairly lightweight effort from the master indie auteur, Gloria is one of Cassavetes' fluffiest mainstream works. As such, it's not as memorable as his more famous endeavors, but it is his most consistent — and consistently entertaining — piece. Though the young child actor Adames is grating, at least he isn't Hollywood-cute, and one does feel sorry for the tot and his condition. But the fun of the movie is watching Rowlands taking on the Mafia (in an era that had few female protagonists toting guns) , which she does with great aplomb. And for someone known for making actorial films, Cassavetes does a surprisingly good job with the action sequences (such as they are), which are well staged, with Rowlands wielding two guns at one point (though without the swagger Chow Yun Fat gave it some years later). One of Cassavetes' fairy tale films, it's also a nice chance to watch Rowlands play lighter (one great bon mots she says to Phil: "You wanna play with my goldfish?") and kick ass. Columbia TriStar's DVD presents Gloria in a fine — though slightly faded — anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) and monaural DD 2.0 audio. Bonus trailers, keep-case.

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