Babel, the third and probably final collaboration between director Alejandro González Iñárritu and writer Guillermo Arriaga, is a well-acted, beautifully shot film that somehow manages to hold you at arm’s length for more than two hours. It is frustrating because you do want to know these characters better but the movie never lets you get close enough.
The Big Red One, Samuel Fuller’s fictionalized retelling of his own experiences as a member of the 1st Infantry Division in World War II, is a particularly effective grunts-eye view of the war, despite its somewhat meager budget. It follows an unnamed Sergeant (Lee Marvin) and four soldiers of his “first squad” who manage to survive the war with him. They join him as inexperienced “wet-noses” before the invasion of North Africa and follow him to the very end of the war, when they liberate a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia.
After doing for heavy metal what Blazing Saddles did for westerns, This Is Spinal Tap also managed to spark a minor cottage industry known as the Christopher Guestmockumentary. Now, Tap was hardly the first fake rock documentary, since The Rutles had been around for several years. Eric Idle’s spoof of Beatlemania, however, never got near the National Film Registry as did Rob Reiner’s affectionate yet lacerating take on head-bangers.
Plato believed that everything in the world has an “ideal universal form” that represents the perfect example of the imperfect things in the real world. For many, The Maltese Falcon is the Platonic ideal of the hard-boiled detective story. True, it’s not the earliest example of the genre, the original novel already having been adapted twice for the screen in the previous decade, but it still contains classic examples of what we consider the basic elements of that genre of film. Most of would now be tired clichés of detective films were either established or popularized by this classic version of Dashiell Hammet’s novel.
As a standalone movie, judged apart from its lesser sequels, Raiders of the Lost Ark is a pure, unfiltered dose of joyful escapism. Rarely has the medium of film been so successfully used for the purpose of pure entertainment. Free from director Steven Spielberg’s tendency for suburban navel-gazing, cute kids and distant parents, as well as producer George Lucas’s later bloated mythic pretensions, Raiders tosses overboard every piece of narrative flab as the story hums along like a well-tuned V-8 engine.
Patton is a bigger-than-life film about a bigger-than-life figure and it will be remembered for a bigger than life gesture by its star when George C. Scott refused to accept a Best Actor Oscar for his performance. Scott didn’t believe he deserved this award. The rest of the civilized world, with good reason, begged to differ.
Original Theatrical Cut: ★★★★★[/types]]
’92 “Director’s” Cut: ★★★★★[/types]]
Final Cut: ★★★★★[/types]]
Blade Runner is the exception that proves the rule that filmmakers should not be allowed to revisit their earlier work, like George Lucas did with Star Wars. Unlike Lucas’s popcorn trilogy, Ridley Scott‘s visionary adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electic Sheep has always seemed like it really was only partially finished.
Francis Ford Coppola’s feverish anti-war epic Apocalypse Now actually began its journey to screen in the late sixties when Über-macho filmmaker John Milius attempted to meet the challenge presented to him when he was informed that no one had successfully adapted Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness, although several had tried, including luminaries such as Orson Welles. His original screenplay was true to Milius’s conservative, pro-military outlook, containing a great deal of praise for the warrior lifestyle and nothing but contempt for the hippies he saw protesting against the Vietnam War.
It’s no accident that the moral center of this movie, a kindly rabbi named Ben (Sam Waterston), is in the process of going blind. Woody Allen’s bleak comedy takes a piercingly cynical look at the notion that punishment for the guilty is any kind of a certainty. In the world of this film, power, privilege and luck have more to do with justice than any kind of moral virtue.
Sometime during the last thirty years, Network has gone from an outrageous, absurdist comedy to almost a documentary. Almost. While some of its points about reality television, media consolidation and news-as-entertainment seem eerily prescient, fortunately not all of it has come true. Dan Rather was not gunned down during his last broadcast and, to the best of my knowledge, the Communist Party never had its own network series.
Even after three decades, this movie is still one of the most intelligent, biting indictments of television excess ever produced. The sharp, literate, Oscar-winning script by Paddy Chayefsky still has the power to stoke your anger even while it sends you dashing off to find a thesaurus.
In Sidney Lumet‘s gritty heist drama, Al Pacino hadn’t yet become a parody of himself. He’s still a great actor but in some of his recent films, like Heat and The Devil’s Advocate, his acting has taken on a broad, over-the-top quality not found in his earlier work. In Dog Day Afternoon, even standing on the sidewalk, chanting “Attica! Attica!” Pacino never oversells the performance, making Sonny a nuanced and sympathetic character.
I first saw Schindler’s List in the theater a few months into its initial run and just days before its sweep at the Oscars. When it was over, I witnessed something I’d not seen much in years of movie going. As the credits rolled and the lights came up, the audience filed out in an almost reverent silence, like mourners leaving a state funeral. Clearly, the film had the same impact on everyone else in the theater that it had on me.