TIDBIT Movie Reviews:
Note: Some reviews are being moved to subject-matter specific pages. Links are provided to these reviews.
(Ratings for older films may be estimates by me)
Metropolis (1928, 1984, 2001)
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927, 20th Century Fox, dir. F. W. Murnau, story by Hermann Suderman and Carl Mayer, 106 min, Germany). An example of silent film expressionism: a married farmer goes to the city and is tempted by a mistress to try to murder his wife. Plenty of Liszt and Wagner in the score. The sets use a lot of paintings, composition and false perspective in creating a model world of country and city, with a tram connecting them, and kind of "Mall of America" effect within the "City".
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930, Universal, dir. Lewis Milestone, novel by Erich Maria Remarque. 132 min) is the famous film about teenage soldiers urged by their professor to enlist in the German Army in World War I. They soon wonder why they are pawns in games played by kings and politicians. There are early scenes of intimacy in the military units (the boys actually kiss once) and soon face the tremendous violations on their bodies -- the amputations -- brought on by war. The ending, with the cemetery on the front, is famous.
Cimarron (1931, RKO Radio, dir. Wesley Ruggles, novel by Edna Ferber, 124 min). This is the first big epic film of the "sound" era and the earlier "best picture" for which a DVD is available. It starts as a western and ends in the style of "Giant." Yancey Cravat (Richard Dix) and his wife settle in an Oklahoma town (Bixby) during the land rush of 1889. In time Yancey, a Renaissance Man (newspaper editor, lawyer) decides to move on and leave his wife Sugar (Irene Dunne) to have to make a name for herself. This became a kind of "mandatory feminism." The opening shot is stunning for its mass of people and gear in the camp scene, and there are other mass scenes showing the progress of the towns. It's hard to say of models were constructed or how these were filmed with the technology of the time. (The budget was $1.5 million.) Today, a director like Lars von Trier would put all of this on one stage. There are curious effects, such as a mock crucifixion, and then a gun fight at a church service where Yancey has preached on the ethics of publishing -- an interesting topic more than a century before the Internet. There is a still of a Western Union telegram as if to mock us with the email of its time. There are passages involving rationalizations of (and challenges to) racist attitudes toward native Americans, and a depiction of the early days of the oil boom that foreshadow "There Will Be Blood". When Sugar takes on a local madam Dixie (Estelle Taylor), the resulting courtroom trial foreshadows the modern issue of "reputation defense." The film punctuates itself with dates and the advancement of American history (as with the Spanish-American war) all the way to 1929. In the end, Sugar gets elected to Congress, remarkable and necessary for a woman, and her son marries a native American. The last scene happens in the oil fields.
The DVD comes with a couple of cute shorts. "The Devil's Cabaret" (1930, MGM, dir. Nick Grinde, 16 min) a very early color film in "Colortone" -- the Devil (Edward Buzzell) wants to increase the bottom line for "Hades" by running a Berlin-style cabaret with burlesque girls. The two colors are off-shade pink and green. Also "Red-Headed Baby" (1931, Warner Bros. dir. Rudolf Ising) sounds like it must have been made by a nitwit to be in black-and-white. Anyway, Christmas toys run the show, with great effects with a model railroad (passenger train no less) complete with tunnel.
Grand Hotel (1932, MGM, dir. Edmund Goulding, play by Vicki Baum and William A. Drake). "People come, people go, nothing ever happens." So, in a typical night in the Grand Hotel in pre-Nazi Berlin (by only a couple of years) a game of Clue erupts among the honored guests, including the crooked Baron (John Barrymore), a pathetic dying doctor Otto Kringelein, and Flaemchen (Joan Crawford). The doctor, though he grovels for his wallet as his 14000 marks are the last thing in his life, winds up with the upper hand. The shot (in bw) of the circular atrium is quite fascinating. The movie goes outside only a couple times (once a scene on the ledge), and seems like a play. When the film was made, both Hollywood and Germany were oblivious as to what was about to happen. Best Picture for 1932, even if it seems like a dinner theater game now. The script has some cute lines, like "gay old blade," and "a short life, but a gay one." The context, of course, is different.
A Farewell to Arms (1932, Warner Bros., dir. Frank Borzage, novel by Ernest Hemingway, 78 min) is the famous man's novel where a World War I ambulance driver in Italy Frederick Henry (an appropriately manly looking and "better man" Gary Cooper) falls in love with a nurse Catherine Barkley (Helen Hayes) and rival Major Rinaldi (Adolphe Menjou) tries to break them apart. This won a cinematography award, but the DVD looks dusky today. The fire scenes anticipate "Gone with the Wind." There is a lot of classical music: Tchaikovsky's early "Francesca da Ramini" in the escape sequence (I missed the bombastic f minor end that will lead the way for Eugene Onegin and the Fourth Symphony) and then the sensuous prelude to "Tristan and Isolde" (Wagner) with which the movie ends, in apparent tragedy. I wish more movie sound tracks would do this today. Their love is not to be, perhaps, even if not forbidden. See also "In Love and War" below. A longer remake was directed by Charles Vidor in 1957.
Little Women (1933, RKO Radio, dir. George Cukor) remade (1994, Columbia, dir. Gillian Armstrong, novel by Louisa May Alcott, screenplay by Robin Swicord) is an adaptation of the famous American novelist (1832-1888), who could be compared with her English counterpart "George Elliot." Women become part of a household as the adapt to conditions in post Civil War America (but the North: New England). I saw the 1994 version when it came out and am renting the 1932 version, which TCM presented as a moral lesson: one of the women thinks her writing as too selfish in a time people sacrificed for others. But Alcott gave up writing herself for a time to serve as a nurse during the Civil War. (See "Cold Mountain", below). Here is the book text: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper/ALCOTT/lwtext.html. The early part of the 1933 version deals with the writing and the stage plays, with mother resenting the girl's apparent inattention to more adaptive household matters. But the sisters always cohere, in ways that are natural to earlier generations but that seem gratuitous to the modern person. In the last scene, Prof. Bhaer tells Jo that she is published. Katherine Hepburn (Josephine), Joan Bennett, Paul Lukas, Edna May Oliver, Jean Parker, Frances Dee.
It Happened One Night (1934, Columbia, dir. Frank Capra, story by Samuel Hopkins Adams, 105 min, PG) Even 30s BW movies dreamed up screwball situations that bridge soap opera and situation comedy. Here Claudette Colbert plays the spoiled heiress Ellie Andrews, who jumps ship literally after a wedding to King Westley (Jameson Thomas), goes on the lam (that means gets on a train for its strangers) and meets a reporter Peter Warne (Clark Gable, who is in his pre-Rhett Butler form). He sees a good scoop, and on the road they share a room with twin beds and a blanket laying between them (a takeoff on movie production codes at the time). Eventually there is an annulment and the usual broken wedding at the end, and then a surprise. These films seem as inventive now as they did then; the restrictive social mores just add more opportunity for plotting.
Mutiny on the Bounty (1935, MGM, dir. Frank Lloyd, novel by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall, 132 min) is an ultimate period piece, set in 1787 when the British Navy made long voyages into the doldrums -- this time Tahiti -- to harvest breadfruit to feed slaves. The story is set so far from our own world but is classically structured. The movie follows the voyage map illustrations -- a device that filmmakers should use more often. Captain William Bligh (Charles Laughton) is a brutal skipper, and in time even his best mate Fletcher Christian (Clark Gable) leads a mutiny after the men have enjoyed the island stopovers, with the women. Roger Byam (Franchot Tome) must defend himself in British court that he assisted in the mutiny. The climatic parts of the story (Christian's running of the Bounty aground, and then Byam's pardon) seem telescoped in this version. Byam will "sweep the seas for England." The story was remade in 1962 in an extremely long film directed by Lewis Milestone. The 1935 DVD is accompanied with an MGM short "Pitcairn Island Today" (1935. MGM, 9:37 min), which documents the remains of the Bounty, as it were another Titanic. It also discusses the descendants of the mutiny, and mentions the weakness caused by their inbreeding, as well as a volunteer effort to staff a makeshift lighthouse to get attention for a sick baby. "Wireless" telegraph is mentioned, communications of 70 years ago.
Camille (1936, MGM, dir. George Cukor, novel by Alexander Dumas, 109 min) was reintroduced back in the 1950s with the ad "Garbo is back." This is an early black-and-white period piece about a socialite Marguerite (Greta Garbo) who is courted by a rich young man Armand (Robert Taylor), whose love will be tested as she falls into debt and illness (presumably "consumption.") At one point he returns her letters. But she will die in his arms. Tear-jerkie in its time. The word "gay" is used a lot in the script to characterize people (often themselves) in mid 19th Century Paris, whatever it had just been through with the French Revolution and Napoleon.
Lost Horizon (1937, Columbia, dir. Frank Capra, novel by James Hilton) Survivors of a plane crash in the Himalayas find a lost Shangri-La, a perfect world. Robert Conway (Ronald Colman) is chosen to be the new Dalai Lama, but is persuaded to leave, only to have amnesia in England. Will he find his way back and find out who he is? Later New Age books would describe such a "Hidden Valley" commune in Peru where everyone was the same, a kind of final resting place for desires with no bad karma.
The Good Earth (1937, MGM, dir. Sidney Franklin, novel by Pearl S. Buck, music by Herbert Stothart, 138 min, G) gets a lot of audience sympathy for the plight of the Chinese peasants, but now, in retrospect, it's remarkable how the dialogue (often a bit sentimental and maudlin, as well as politically correct in a collectivist sense -- like the scene where the son wants to be a soldier rather than go back to the land) tracks into the political arguments of communism, eventually climaxing the the Mao Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. Here farmer Wang (Paul Muni) takes a former slave O-lan (Luise Rainer) as a wife. They struggle, then go to the city for better luck. They eventually return to the countryside, but by then Wang is tempted by another woman. Some of the black and white photography, such as the train, or the pedicart wreck in the city, or the locust plague (both far shots and insect close-ups) is quite crisp and striking. The locust attack provides a kind of parallel for today's concerns about external environmental change and its challenge to lives of individuals, forcing them to work together. There was some controversy over Caucasian actors playing Chinese; in one early scene, Paul Muni's underarms appear to be shaved.
Hollywood Party (1937, MGM, dir. Row Rowland, 21 min) is a garish technicolor short subject (and the colors really are the primary colors) of an outdoor costume party with oriental and black these, and some degree of racial stereotyping that probably would be offputting today. It's included on the "Good Earth" DVD and seems to reinforce the controversy over racial play-acting. Rowland had directed a feature by this name (1934) as a real hodge-podge.
A Christmas Carol (1938, MGM, dir. Edwin L. Marin, 69 min, story by Charles Dickens) is effective as a fable, emphasizing the moral aspects of empathy with others as Ebenezer Scrooge (Reginald Owen) is confronted by ghosts (Leo G. Carroll) and shown his future, which sounds like the Christian prophecy of life without faith. The ghosts are gentle and not like those of Shakespeare. The black and white photography of Christmas lights is striking. A later version is (1984, CBS, dir. Clive Donner) is famous as three ghosts make old Ebenezer Scrooge (George C. Scott) a better and more organic and earthy person. This work has been filmed many times (I saw this while living in Texas, about the time I was preoccupied with buying a condo), including a TV musical in 2004. I'll check out the 1938 version, which is usually recommended.
Bringing Up Baby (1938, RKO Radio, dir. Howard Hawks, 102 min) is a loquacious (and really annoyingly wordy) comedy (about an archeological quest) where Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn bring up a cat -- actually a leopard who gets a long with a dog -- called Baby. In the final scene they climb a dinosaur skeleton. The movie is a long way from Disney, Elsa, Duma, or Brothers.
The Wizard of Oz (1939, MGM, dir. Victor Fleming, novel by L. Frank Baum) the famous fantasy where Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland) is lifted up and taken to fantasyland in a tornado. The parable of the scarecrow being torn apart has generated some sermons. This film has often been shown in its colorized version. The ABC 1990 remake is for TV.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939, Columbia, dir. Frank Capra, story by Lewis Foster, 129 min, PG). A youthful James Stewart (indeed the "Greatest Generation's" Tom Hanks) plays Jefferson Smith, appointed by Gov. "Happy" Hopper (Guy Hibbee, who looks and sounds so much like William Frawley when he played Fred Mertz on "I Love Lucy") as a replacement for a Senator who has died, at the urging of his kids and the "Boy Rangers." But the governor's political boss Jim Taylor (Edward Arnold) is already concerned about protecting his state's pork barrel projects. The state is never named, of course; as the movie progresses it takes on the character of a docudrama about civics, and legislative and personal ethics. Jefferson sincerely wants to fund a Boys' project, where the "boy rangers" will repay the government. But quickly Jefferson starts shaking other Senators as someone who will not play along with their corrupt power structures. There are newspaper headlines that Smith stands for "more common sense, less law," certainly a libertarian message that could have come from Harry Browne. Later, Smith's mentors (such as Claude Rains) are telling him the "facts of life": it isn't up to a legislator to "understand" the proposed laws; that belongs to the "experts." His enemies say "I think you're smart, not dumb" and fabricate a charge of political corruption involving the boys. His assistant Clarissa Saunders (Jean Arthur) helps him resist, and the last portion of the movie shows his filibuster, which is actually made to look interesting in the stark, black and white photography. (Smith, before fainting from exhaustion, actually refers to his own "babbling.") Taylor tries to control the press in his home state, but the boys put out a newspaper of their own to support Smith (the visual sequence of the printing presses in this pre-Internet era are quite striking as a visual metaphor for freedom of speech). Then, Taylor tries to mount a telegram blitz (email in today's world), but that doesn't stop Smith from prevailing in the last seconds of the movie. The issues posed in the movie seem quite remarkable when one considers it was made before World War II and at the end of the Depression. Curiously, the old Irish folksong "I dream of Jeannie with the light brown hair" kept playing in the soundtrack; I don't remember if composer Charles Stanford picked this tune for one of his Irish Rhapsodies.
Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939, MGM, dir. Sam Wood, novel by James Hilton, 114 min, G, UK) is based on the famous novel about a shy schoolmaster, Mr. Chips (Chipping), played by a transforming Robert Donat. Most of the movie is told in retrospect, starting in 1870 when Chips takes a job as a teacher at the Brookfield Academy, dating back to the 15th Century. He has discipline problems at once, and the headmaster almost fires him (telling him that academics isn't enough for a teacher, who must "mold men" and be a "role model" and wield "authority." Chips becomes a disciplinarian, and somewhat controversial; in time his life becomes an adventure. He meets a lady Katherine (Greer Garson) in Austria (in a mountain scene that recalls Hilton's Shangri La from Lost Horizon, below). They get married, with great celebration. Later she and her baby both die in childbirth. Chips is eventually pressured to retire as he is now seen as too old fashioned, but brought back to work during World War I (there is a shelling scene). There is a scene where he "canes" a young man who has criticized him for not fighting in the War, and there is a discussion of about the duty to serve in the military unless one is quite advanced in age. At the end, he passes away, saying he never had any children (because of the tragedy), as his younger students wave him goodbye. There is a message that teaching itself is a form or reproduction.
The Dark Command (1940, Republic/Artisan, dir. Raoul Walsh, novel by W. R. Burnett) confuses Civil War pre-beginnings with real western material, as a band of anti-abolitionists descend upon Kansas. The stakes, however, are more about being able to live in a land of milk and honey. Warner Brothers loaned Republic the director this one. TCM likes to show this sharp-looking black-and-white history film as dessert after "Gone with the Wind." This film also got John Wayne going on his career. The scenery looks wrong for Kansas; it looks more like New Mexico. Walter Pidgeon plays Cantrell. Seton (Wayne) keeps talking about his beloved Texas. The sacking of Lawrence occurs near the end as a fiery spectacle in black-and-white. (I went to K.U.). But the campus town of today is a totally different place.
The Grapes of Wrath (1940, 20th Century Fox/Zanuck, dir. John Ford, novel by John Steinbeck, adapted by Nunnally Johnson, 128 min, would be PG-13 today) is a classic about the migration of the displaced Joad family (Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell), forced off its lands by foreclosure and Dust Bowl drought, to journey to California. The film is discussed as a socialist parable made by a conservative director, although, once in California, war would change the fortunes of the family. Two homicides by Tom Joad, one before the film and one in California, frame the story, which shows the relentless hardships of the family in transit. The black and white photography is remarkable for much of it having been done on location throughout the southwest (one scene of a steam train crossing the Pecos river leads right into the transit sequences). There is some corny but telling dialogue, like "it's a nobody, because it's a company" who evicted them, and "nothing but the manager who's to blame." The basic dignity of people who could not compete in the public sphere but who live for the families that they created or belong to, is shown; the Depression followed a whole century where public and home lives had been regarded as separate moral spheres.
The Great Dictator (1940)
The Philadelphia Story (1940, MGM, dir. George Cukor, play by Philip Barry, 112 min) By today's standards, this sounds like a setup for your typical soap opera or series "busted wedding" but in its day in was a social satire. Rich heiress Tracy Lord (Katherine Hepburn) throws out her husband Dexter (Cary Grant) whom she thinks philandered (the opening scene is rather emphatic by comedy standards). Then when she plans to marry George Kittredge (John Howard), Dexter (working for Spy magazine) and a "supermarket tabloid" (a term not known in those days yet) writer Macaulay Connor (James Stewart) show up at her mansion to set up the complications. A lot of the script deals with the social expectations of upper class married women in earlier generations (one famous line -- indeed that this movie is remembered for -- is simply, "What will the neighbors think? Another good line is "I can't hate anybody, I'm just a photographer."). The black and white movie looks a little bit like a taped stage play, although there are shots of the Philadelphia museums. There are conversations about Connor's life as a writer, like writing in his own name, whether people read his books, and that if women read them, they will start to "think." The movie heads toward wedding and reconciliation, with Dexter actually prompting Tracy as to what to say in one comic scene. The basic concept of the movie echoes "It Happened One Night" (above).
High Sierra (1941, Warner Bros., dir. Raoul Walsh, novel by W.R. Burnett) This is an early WB-style classic. I never saw mountain scenery look so crisp in black and white. The film is famous for its auto chase scene up into the Sierras, and confrontation on the highest peak with the role for Roy Earle's (Humphrey Bogart) dog. Even the early car race in the desert is remembered. "Mad Dog" Earle breaks out of prison but then is recruited for a bank heist in the Lake Tahoe area, and Marie (Ida Lupino) helps him.
The Maltese Falcon (1941, Warner Bros., dir. John Huston, novel by Dashiell Hammett). In black and white, it's hard to tell the lead falcon from the gold one. It seems hard for the gangster (Sydney Greenstreet and for that matter, bow-tied Peter Lorre) to tell. The film starts when a socialite (Mary Astor) visits two estranged private-eyes (Humphrey Bogart and Jerome Cowan) and the latter winds up dead. Bogart has to set up a fall guy (or girl) and actually puts his hand on Greenstreet's knee in one scene. The Falcon statute came from Spain in the 1500s, and the story speaks indirectly to the issue of the history of the Muslim presence in Europe.
The Pride of the Yankees (1942)
Mrs. Miniver (1942, MGM, dir. William Wyler, book by Jan Struthers, 134 min). Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon play the Minivers, who must deal with homeland hardships during the Battle of Dunkirk when the Germans bomb and try to invade England. At one point, a German soldier invades her home. There is a compelling scene where German radio breaks in and tells Englishmen to get ready for change. The family is at home and in bed as the warning sirens come on. At the end Mrs. Miniver loses a daughter, and in the closing scene in a damaged church, the minister explains that women and children must share the burdens of a war like this, which is about the ability to live in freedom. There are several hymns, such as "O God Our Help in Ages Past." There is a striking scene showing a flotilla on the Thames, quite effective in black and white.
Random Harvest (1942, MGM, dir. Mervyn LeRoy, novel by James Hilton,126 min, UK) Ronald Colman plays Charles Rainier, a World War I veteran and amnesiac, who falls in love with singer Paula (Greer Garson). When hit by a car he regains his memory of his original privileged life, and Paula fights her way back into his life by becoming a secretary. I read both this and H.D. Wells 's "Meanwhile" for book reports in 12th Grade. The flashbacks of WWI give the quiet film a brief "middle". He seems to function very well for someone with amnesia.
Don't Talk (1942, MGM, dir. Joseph M. Newman, story Alan Friedman, 22 min) is a short in the "Crime does not pay" series. This WWII film demonstrates the risks when civilian munitions workers talk about their work anywhere, even in a cafe, in front of a foreign spy who works as a waitress. There is talk of "ferro-manganese" and an Elliot Ness-like car chase at the end. The word "don't" would take on a new meaning in our era. Marines in the Making (1942, MGM, dir. Herbert Polesie) shows hand-to-hand training of Marines during WWII. Some of it looks frankly homoerotic. There are some funny lines, out of context: "It is more blessed to give than to receive"... "A Marine shoots straighter than the enemy" (Barry Goldwater must have heard that) ... "A Marine protects his arms and legs" and his rifle.
The Gang's All Here (1943, 20th Century Fox, dir. Busby Berkeley) was a title of three films in the WWII period, but the best known is a kind of "South Pacific" musical -- a soldier Andy (Eugene Pallette) falls for a chorus girl (Alice Faye) and gets shipped to the Pacific theater. Trouble is, he used an assumed name. The garish film (early color) was popular at gay benefits in the 80s.
Double Indemnity (1944, Paramount / Universal, dir. Billy Wilder, novel by James M. Cain, 108 min) is a famous film noir about an insurance salesman who schemes with the wife of one of his clients to murder her husband for double indemnity. At the time, the novel was so controversial that it took nine years to get the script cleared by the production code of the day. Many leadings actors feared that appearing in a movie like this would harm their "reputations", before Fred MacMurray accepted the role of Walter Neff, and Barbara Stanwyck as the greedy wife, and Edward G. Robinson as Barton Keyes, the insurance claims investigator. There is a great scene where he "redeems" a crook and talks him out of the office. This was in an era when it was not acceptable for entertainment to come too close to reality. Much of the film is told in retrospect from Neff's confession. There are great shots of games: baseball in the driveway of a Hollywood Hills home for $30000 in those depression days, and Chinese Checkers. The simplicity of the closing scene, the simple encounter between Keyes and Neff, where Neff says "I did it for the money and I did it for the woman" is astonishing in its simplicity, as the story still had to meet production code. The train murder may have inspired Gus Van Sant's "Paranoid Park", and the film as a whole predicts "The Postman Always Rings Twice" and "Body Heat." The DVD contains an accompanying tribute to film noir "Shadows of Suspense" (2006, Universal / New Wave, 38 min, with Drew Casper).
Laura (1944, 20th Century Fox, dir. Otto Preminger, novel by Vera Caspary, 88 min) is a famous film noir where a detective (Dana Andrews) falls in love with the (image of) a supposed murder victim Laura (Gene Tierney), after browbeating the usual suspects (including fiance Shelby (Vincent Price) and writer Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb). There is a lot of flashback, and at some point we have to deal with when Laura is "real." There is a great conversation where Laura tells Waldo that his empathy for people comes through his writing "at $50 a word." Can a "corpse" become a suspect? The DVD is accompanied by two 40-minute A&E Biography programs about Vincent Price ("A Versatile Villain") and Gene Tierney ("A Shattered Portrait") who dealt with mental institutions and even worked as a sales clerk in Kansas as a kind of "occupational therapy."
The Fighting Lady (1944, 20th Century Fox/Reel/US Navy, dir. Edward Steichen, 61 min, France) is a documentary film about the experience of the Essex aircraft carrier USS-Yorktown, from its commissioning, passing through the Panama Canal to major operations in the Pacific theater. I saw this at Patriot's Point in Charleston, SC in 1993 when I was just starting researching my first book on DADT. There are some scenes with some outward tenderness among the men, and it may seem a bit surprising. That weekend I had visited the Sunfish (submarine) and several other ships in Norfolk before going down to Charleston. I was getting used to walking those painted lines. An important Movietone film in 1943 from the War Department was the graphic "With the Marines at Tarawa" showing casualties in the Pacific, dug up by Ken Burns (for "The War").
A Canterbury Tale (1944 UK / 1949 USA, MGM? / Eagle Lion / Criterion / Archers /Independent Artists, dir. and wr. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, adapted loosely from Geoffrey Chaucer (around 1390), original music by Allan Gray, UK, G) is a rhapsodic film, very much like a dream into a parallel (black and white) universe, as it mixes eras and fantasy, driven along by a passionate orchestra score that sort or resembles Malcolm Arnold. (One sequence works in the Bach Toccata in d minor.) Besides the humors Chaucer epic poem, the film has elements of Hitchcock, Clive Barker, Stephen King, and Tolkien rolled into one, and yet is gentle and was rated in the UK for all audiences. The basic story is a search for the "glue man" who pours epoxy into women's hair at night, including Alison Smith (Sheila Sim) one night when escorted by men who get off a train at a wrong stop, thinking they are in Canterbury. They are led gradually to a mysterious magistrate (Eric Portman) as they go along "The Pilgrim's Way" and approach the Cathedral as the tide of World War II turns and Britain prepares for victory. One of the characters is very curious about what his "blessing" could be if he reaches the Cathedral, and it will not be an indulgence. (It can be something as simple as a letter from a WAC.) Rather than solving the identity of the glue attacker, the "pilgrims" keep finding more mysteries that connect to one another, each little stories like the Tales. The themes of the tales -- like personal and religious exploitation, the meaning of feeling attractions, and the validity of the priesthood all wind around one another -- all connected by this Village Idiot or cobbler. In the middle of the film, there is a curious "Al Gore-like" lecture on serendipity with the shades drawn for blackout. It's easy to imagine an English teacher in AP showing the film and then asking for an essay analyzing the movie in detail with respect to the original tales (by thinking of this film as a "tale" -- especially the American version, that has a prologue to encapsulate the story; the British version starts by showing the Old English verse; the British version has a short epilogue that shows boys playing soccer as the music (by Allan Gray) comes to a triumphant symphonic close). This style of epic filmmaking (particularly British) has almost been forgotten -- where you become interested in characters through the eyes of others who must interact with them. Review of the play based on Chaucer, here. This film might be an effective arthouse re-release from MGM or United Artists, with the music score (sometimes using standard classical works like the Bach d minor Toccata, as well as original music than resembles Harvergal Brian or maybe Patrick Doyle today) restored with Dolby Digital (perhaps performed again).
The Woman in the Window (1944, RKO Radio / MGM / Independent, dir. Fritz Lang). Edward G. Robinson plays a criminology professor who gets involved in a crime himself when he visits a woman (Joan Bennet) whom he sees in a portrait. He kills her lover in "self defense" and then she is pursued by a blackmailer (Dan Duryea) known to the victim.
Sherlock Holmes: The Scarlet Claw (1944, Universal / MPI), dir. Roy William Neill, restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive, 74 min). An actor uses phosphorus to look like a ghost and then imitates different villagers to create a reign of terror. Blogger.
Mildred Pierce (1945, Warner Bros., dir. Michael Curtis, novel by James M. Cain, 109 min). Joan Crawford (Best Actress for this role) plays entrepreneur Mildred Pierce, who, to please her "selfish" daughter Veda (Ann Bltyh) starts working in restaurants and eventually builds a restaurant chain. Along the way she divorces her first (unfaithful) husband (Bruce Bennett), and through a complicated sequence marries a man Monte (Zachary Scott) connected to the restaurants. But her daughter starts an affair with Monte behind her back, setting up the confrontation that leads to Monte's death in a California beach cabin. Most of the movie is told as a flashback from the killing and the police investigation. There are a lot of interesting conversations along the way and great lines, as when the cop says "We find the man who made the corpse," and later when the realtor Wally Fay (Jack Carson) says, "friendship is much more lasting than love." There is an interesting explanation of community property and how that helps inspire divorce, and gives some insight into how the practice of no-fault divorce would later develop. The movie has some of the sharpest black-and-white cinematography ever.
It's a Wonderful Life (1946, RKO Radio/Liberty, dir. Frank Capra, G, 130 min) is played every Christmas. Two angels (appearing first as stars, as in Matthew, demonstrate to a businessman considering suicide what the world would have been like without him. James Stewart (as George Bailey), Donna Reed. Of course, when do we get to choose our goals. Lionel Barrymore is the family-less Mr. Potter, who tries to outflank Bailey and the townspeople as the Great Depression starts with a run on the banks. During The War, Potter runs the local draft board. And do you need to have a family first? Bailey gets into legal trouble and is falsely accused of embezzlement. That sets up the existential and supernatural experiment 2/3 through this long film. When he is about to jump into an icy river, a guardian angel (Henry Travers) jumps in and makes George do the saving. Inside, the angel looks rather smoothed-up. The angel is "second class" and waiting to earn his wings by following the standards for eternal life in Heaven. George then learns that without him, the town would be Pottersville rather than Bedford Falls. He sinks deeper, and finds out what it would be like if he had no identity (no whole life policy, no 4-F card for conscription, no existence, no consciousness). The world could exist without him, but then the town would be rather like "Pleasantville", maybe. It would be filled with straight bars and jitterbug dance halls, and his current wife would be an old maid. George gets a second chance even if it means accepting being led off in handcuffs. What a Christmas Eve. All's well that ends well, even if in a glittery black and white. Richard Attenborough, Dylan McDermott, Elizabeth Perkins. Cheryl Wetzstein has a series in The Washington Times, starting Dec. 26, 2006, "U.S. out of love with marriage" that starts with a mention of this film and of how important George was to his family. Link is here.
The Yearling (1946, MGM, dir. Clarence Brown, novel by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, 128 min, G). About ten years after the Civil War, a family on the Mississippi River (quite far south) struggles to make ends meet. When the father (Gregory Peck) gets bit by a rattlesnake, he shoots a deer for organs to extract the venom, and the boy Jody (Claude Jarman, Jr.), over some objection by his mother (Jane Wyman) adopts the fawn, that starts to create problems eating the food as it gets bigger. But all kinds of other issues surface: A neighbor has a disabled, crippled child who dies (he is portrayed quite graphically); a storm floods the land, and Jody is confused when he sees his mother making a coat for "Pa" and thinks it is a dress. He muses that he will never get married. Early on, there is a harrowing fight between dogs and a black bear. The movie, even compared to many other period pieces like this (such as the Hallmark "Sarah" series) really shows the social and family life in frontier society as driven by survival necessity. At the very end, "Pa" gives his briefly prodigal son a talk on overcoming adversities that life brings and that are not elected. (The earlier scene where the boy refuses to shoot the deer, and the father tells him to get "Ma" and go to his room and shut the door makes you wonder what's about to happen.) You might say this movie is a "southern" rather than a "western." The Technicolor photography is sharp, and reminds one of the effects in the earlier "Gone with the Wind." The soundtrack has music of Delius and Mendelssohn. The ending is somewhat "tragic" even as it comes to terms with the moral "aesthetic realism" of the day. The DVD is accompanied by the WB Tom and Jerry cartoon "The Cat Concerto" (7 min, G) in which "Tom" tries to play the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody #2 and Jerry throws all kinds of obstacles, including a paw trap and some jazz. The piece actually ends in F# Major -- but he was playing it in F.
The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946, Paramount, dir. Lewis Milestone, story by Robert Rossen, music by Miklos Rosza). In 1928, future heiress Martha Ivers, returned to a aunt she hates, semi-accidentally kills the aunt by striking her to fall down the stairs when the aunt is beating up a pet cat (the cat is quite captivating first). Friends Walter O'Neill and Sam Masterson witness it. The killing is covered up, and another man hangs. Years later, she (Barbara Stanwyck) is married to O'Neill who is a prosecutor (Kirk Douglas, his first film) who has become an alcoholic, and Sam (Van Heflin) comes back to town and wants to blackmail her. She has all kinds of rationalizations (the man who hanged was a criminal, and she did so much good taking over the steel business). The movie builds up to a whirlwind climax that keeps you guessing. This film noir has a real plot and sets a good example for screenwriters today.
Great train and railroad scenes, a kind of Ayn Rand look. The DVD contains a bonus 30-minute documentary from Delta, Kirk Douglas on Film, with many trailers (such as "Lonely are the Brave").
The Razor's Edge (1946, 20th Century Fox, dir. Edmund Golding, novel by W. Somerset Maughmam, 146 min). Larry Darnell (Tyrone Power) is an idealistic young man who brushes off Isabelle (Gene Tierney) and goes off alone to India (to a kind of Shangri La) where he meets a guru (played by the author) who instills him in living for ideals and thoughts. He returns, and finds Isabelle married. But Isabelle schemes to get him back (like a Scarlet O'Hara), away from Sophie (Anne Baxter) whom Darnell tries to rehabilitate.
The Big Sleep (1946, Warner Bros., dir. Howard Hawkes, novel by Raymond Chandler). A private eye (a virile Humphrey Bogart) investigates blackmail (the dying family patriarch is Charles Waldron) as the bodies pile up. He plays cop, probably illegally, and gets temped by Lauren Becall while bullets fly in all directions. Not as moody as other film noir, and it tends to pander to post war paranoia.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947, 20th Century Fox, dir. George Seaton) Remade (1994, 20th Century Fox, dir. Les Mayfield, 114 min, PG). A lawyer defends a man claiming to be the real Santa Claus when others claim he is insane. Of course, the premise raises the question of how many things we have to believe. The courtroom drama comes down to "proving" that Santa Claus exists, a curious duality. This film has always been a favorite for television replays at Christmas, but the story starts with the Thanksgiving Day Macy's parade in New York.
Out of the Past (1947, RKO Radio, dir. Daniel Mainwaring, based on his own novel, 97 min). Robert Mitchum plays a gas station attendant who once had once been hired as a private eye to chase down a gambler but was thrown off the track in Apaculpo by the mistress (Jane Greer). Now there is a score to settle in the present, and it will end up with a gangster-like tragedy. Has some of the same scenery as "High Sierra".
I Remember Mama (1948, RKO Radio, dir. George Stevens, novel by Kathryn Forbes, play adaptation by John Van Druten, 134 min, G) recounts a Norwegian family in San Francisco around 1910, a few years after the great earthquake. Mama Martha Hansen is played by Irene Dunne, and the wordsmith daughter is played by Barbara Del Geddes. The overriding theme is the sacrifices required of individual members for the family as a whole. In the opening scene, the son wants to go to high school, and other family members enumerate what they can "give up" to help their brother get an education that today we take for granted (this is a good fable to show to motivate high school students, who might appreciate free public education in a world where they are likely to have huge college debts later). Later, Katrin is talking about the joy of literature (her uncle reads to her "The Hound of the Baskervilles") and about her own writing, and she notes that a teacher has told her that it is rude to write about one's own family members. This was an era of loyalty to blood. But the movie takes turns. There is the episode of saving the life of a feisty cat, who almost becomes a human-like character. Death of a family member in the California countryside follows, and letters from the old country, about tuberculosis, even affecting the legs. The girl keeps track of these, and yearns to become a writers. She submits some stories to her teacher, and the teacher meets with Mama and (over sherry) says that the girl has talent but is limited by "paying her dues" by imitating the work of other writers and by pedantic but safe subject matter that does not lend itself to originality. The teacher finally tells Mama that the girl should write what she knows -- her family, and break a cultural taboo. The girl sells a story "Mama and the Hospital" (about an episode early in the film, when family cannot even visit easily), an idea that could challenge today's HIPAA-based concerns about medical privacy. The girl sells the story for $500 (a lot in those days), and Mama admits that she doesn't even have a bank account for the deposit.
The Woman in White (1948, Warner Bros., dir. Peter Godfrey, novel by Wilkie Collins) was actually shown on the 1963 series "Chiller" although it is more of a manored English mystery. Eleanor Parker plays the two competing women (or are they one) -- Laura Fairlie and Anne Catherick. Gig Young is the young painter who arrives to tutor Laura, and uncover the plot. Sydney Greenstreet is Count Fosco.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948, Warner Bros., dir. John Huston, 126 min) is an episodic adventure in 1920s Mexico, starting with a great shot of Tampico that anticipates the opening of "Touch of Evil." Dobbs (a virile Humphrey Bogart) and Curtin (Tim Holt), down on their luck, work on oil rigs (reminds one of "There Will Be Blood"), even having to use manly upper body strength to climb ropes on the derricks, Smallville style. Their boss McCormick (Barton MacLane) teases them about getting paid, even after they finish their work. (In a way, the setup is like that of the fishemen in "The Perfect Storm"). Then, a prospector invites them on an adventure on old Mexico to look for gold, and their "friendships" are tested. The movie is episodic, with a bit of a surprise at the end (the last shot of a bag on cactus). There are great lines, about being "pestered by conscience" and about getting by with "telling people what they want to hear." The DVD has a short with Leonard Maltin talking about how moviegoers expected full shows, including newsreels, shorts and cartoons, in the 1940s, and that movies like this were very popular as part of full "shows." The orchestral score by Max Steiner is stirring, as is the d minor climax at the end of the movie.
Force of Evil (1948, MGM, dir. Abraham Polonsky, novel by Ira Wolfert, "Tucker's People", 82 min). This crisp little film noir examples the numbers racket and makes it look like Wall Street. It opens with Joe (John Garfield) saying he will make his first million "today" on Wall Street. He is involved with "numbers banks" (or "collection offices") that accept deposits (for bets on races) but never pay back. Sounds like our investment banks throwing money into toilets. They even talk about "policy." When a brother wants to get out, the house of cards falls. A good movie to rent during the financial crisis.
So Dear to My Heart (1949, RKO Radio/Disney, dir. Harold D. Schuster and Hamilton Luske, 82 min, G) is a famous children’s film based on the Uncle Remus tales, partly animated. But the important saying from the film is socially and politically important. “It’s what you do with what you’ve got.” That was far from true in practice during the era in which this film was made.
The Naked City (1948, Universal / Criterion, dir. Jules Dassin, story by Malvin Ward, 96 min) An unusual film noir with a voice-over describing the plot in terms of ordinary summer days in the Big Apple. A socialite is murdered, and then we learn that the business where she worked fired her because wives felt their husbands paid too much attention to her. Dana Polan and James Sanders give interviews. The film explores the idea of being a fungible piece of a system, of the problems when you step out of place and attract attention.
Key Largo (1948, Warner Bros., dir. John Huston, play by Maxwell Anderson, 101 min). A man (Humphrey Bogart) visits a hotel in the Florida Keys and finds a crippled owner (Lionel Barrymore) facing a hurricane, missing natives, and a gangster Rocco (Edward G. Robinason). There is a backstory about the owner's son's war service, where the son had been a coward. The political nexus extends when the gangsters plan to escape to Cuba, but it had not gone commie yet. The movie combines a lot of ideas and still keeps a fast pace. There's great black and white imagery, including the flashlight scene.
The Third Man (1949, British Lion / Selznick (MGM?)/ Canal/ Criterion Collection, dir. Carol Reed, novella and screenplay by Graham Greene, 104 min, UK). A writer Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton), working on a novel to be called the title of the movie, arrives in partitioned post-war Vienna, looking for a friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles). He learns that Lime has died in a car accident, and gradually learns of accusations that Lime had run a black market in understrength penicillin. The ineffective medications had contributed to a meningitis outbreak in Vienna that left many children disabled. Existential conversations ensue. Martins supposedly writes pulp westerns, but he is asked about whether he embraces the writing technique of James Joyce. There is suspicion that the novel is a cover for a real crime. The film builds to a climax in the sewers that will later anticipate "Marathon Man." The film is shot in very stark and crisp black and white, and the DVD has comments by Peter Bogdonavich. There is a cynical conversation where Lime says that most people pass off on their moral values on governments. The Soviets have their "proletariat," but so do most people in their own attitudes toward other people. There's a great line where someone says to Martins that he should figure this out because "you're a writer." The American version has different narration.
Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Born Yesterday (1950, Columbia, dir. George Cukor, play by Garson Kanin, 112 min). A dishonest tycoon Harry Brock (Broderick Crawford) hires a newspaper reporter Paul Verrall (William Holden) to tutor the tycoon's silly fiancée "Billie" Dawn (Judy Holliday). He takes her around Washington, to a Beethoven (the slow movement of Symphony #2, Op. 36, plays) concert in the Watergate area before the condos that ended Nixon were built, and to the National archives to see the Constitution, Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights. He talks about a "manifesto" (the Declaration) as a set of principles to govern. At the concert he talks about music, and Billie doesn't care who "made it up." Yet, she gets smarter, sees through her beau and decides to marry the reporter. The movie has stunning black-and-white indoor shots of public buildings like the art in the dome at the Capitol. The title of the film refers to the idea that a baby is born knowing almost nothing but capable of learning. At one point, there is a joke about whether "Billie" is 30 yet and too old not to know more (no, she is 29).
The Men (1950, United Artists, dir. Fred Zinnemann, story by Carl Foreman). Marlon Brando plays a below-the-waist WWII paralyzed vet adjusting to his sacrifice, with the help of fiancee Ellen Wilosek (Teresa Wright) and Dr. Brock (Everett Sloane). Rather patronizing to the old ideas of how men were expected to prove themselves.
King Solomon's Mines (1950, MGM, dir. Compton Bennett, Andrew Marton, 103 min, PG-13, UK) This adventure story is filmed on location in central Africa and features spectacular scenes of natives, in boat regattas and in communities, and even a climb near Kilimanjaro. In 1897 explorer Alan Quartermaine (Stewart Grainger) is hired by a wealthy countess Elizabeth (Deborah Lerr) to find her lost husband, who may be held by the Watusis, and may have been looking for lost diamond mines. There is an existential conversation early where Elizabeth asks Alan what he has to live for, and what his own life is worth. The movie was filmed when much of Africa was under British, Belgian, French and Dutch colonial hands, so the real history of Africa, leading eventually to Nubia and Egypt, gets lost.
The Man from Planet X (1951, United Artists / Mid Century, dir. Edgar Ulmer, 71 min). Blogger.
The African Queen (1951, United Artists/Romulus, dir. John Houston, novel by C. S. Foreseter, 105 min, PG, UK) is a famous British classic, often shown and sold in VCR but still, as of mid 2006, not on DVD. It is your basic adventure/survival story with some socially relevant twists. Humphrey Bogart us riverboat captain Charlie Allnut in Eastern Belgian Congo in 1941 Rev. Samuerl Sayer is a missionary, and comes under attack by the Germans. He dies, and Charlie takes surviving sister Rose back to civilization in the tiny frigate. The meet rapids, mosquito swarms, and leeches (in a particularly graphic scene Rose pulls them off of Charlie's body.) Charlie has rigged the queen with torpedoes, using simple mechanics (a relevant topic today). The frigate capsizes in a storm, and the couple is captured. They ask to get married, to buy a little time, just before hanging by the Germans. Marriage can save your life, as it does when the German ship runs into a latent torpedo attached to the upsidedown frigate. The film becomes a moral fable, the sort you teach in high school.
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951, 20th Century Fox, story by Harry Bates, dir. Robert Wise) is a famous political sci-fi film in which an alien Klaatu (Michael Rennie) lands on earth (with robot Gort, maybe an inspiration for a later "Robby the Robot" in Forbidden Planet) with a warning to earthlings: stop the Cold War and make peace, or else. There's a great line "I'm uncomfortable when we substitute fear for reason." Remade in 2008, blogger.
The Prisoner of Zenda (1952, MGM, dir. Richard Thorpe, novel by Anthony Hope) may be the first movie I ever saw (with my parents). A would-be king is kidnapped and the crown will go to an younger brother, and there is a cousin around for an impersonation. This is a colorful swashbuckler. The plot was the kind that was popular in European fiction in the 19th Century.
The Blazing Forest (1952, Paramount, dir. Edward Ludwig) An early firefighting tale that would anticipate the weather problems in the West today with global warming, although the film is thought of as routine. Early technicolor. John Payne was the lead.
The Greatest Show on Earth (1952, Paramount, dir. Cecil B. DeMille, 152 min) A technicolor spectacle about the Ringling Bros. - Barnum and Bailey circus, will all the risks. Of course, the "modern" circus is the Cirque de Soleil, which I saw in Minneapolis in 2000.
High Noon (1952, United Artists/Republic Pictures/Artisan (now)/Stanley Kramer, dir. Fred Zinneman, 88 min, PG) is the ultimate black-and-white abstract western, as Gary Cooper playing a US Marshall waits out a returning gunman and enlists the help of the townspeople. There is a grandfather clock that constant ticks towards noon, in a day when towns had a noon whistle. How far the western would go from this! (to "Brokeback Mountain" today). I saw this film with my mother at the Buckingham Theater in Arlington (now a US Post Office) while waiting for father to return home at national back in the early 1950s. On Mov blog 2019/8/21
Never Wave at a WAC (1952, RKO Radio / Independent Artists, dir. Norman Z. McLeod) Jo McBain (Rosalind Russell) joins the Army during WWII to be closer to her boyfriend (that sounds like unit cohesion with heterosexuals in the military, doesn't it) and has a hard time (to say the least) with Army life. She winds up testing clothes and gets into some I-Love-Lucy like comedy.
The Pathfinder (1952, Columbia, dir. Sidney Salkow, novel by James Fenimore Cooper) was one of the first movies I saw. A white man raised by Indians spies for the British against the French in the French and Indian Wars. George Montgomery stars. Technicolor, becoming common for action movies at that time. Cooper's plots were quite intricate, even if the historical situations don't seem as relevant today.
The Importance of Being Earnest (1952, Universal, dir. Anthony Asquith, play by Oscar Wilde), remade in 2002, directed by Oliver Parker, Miramax, with Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Frances O’Connor, Reese Witherspoon, and Judi Dench. Blogger. A real satire of the Victorian heterosexual world, with situation comedy and hidden identities.
Julius Caesar (1953, MGM, dir. Joseph L. Menkiewicz, 121 min) is the famous Shakespeare play about the decline of the Roman republic, and it is usually taught in tenth grade English. The movie is a sharp-edged black and white (4:3 aspect), and probably would take most of two extended high school class periods. It starts with an odd discussion of trades and professions (previewing the modern idea of professionalism) when the Cobbler, a comic, says that his only purpose in life is to utter the truth about other people and about things. It's as if he were a modern aspie. English teachers like to make a lot of this character. The play moves quickly to its central problems about the plot against Caesar because he is not trusted, and then Marc Antony's manipulations. All of this is well known. What is so interesting in hearing the play is the existential nature of many of the speeches (especially when Antony (a young Marlon Brando) talks about honorable men as if the very concept were a dishonorable paradox. In tenth grade English in 1958, we took about five weeks on this play, had two tests on it during the first nine weeks. I don't remember much about the tests, except that the first question on Test I was to name the eight parts of the Elizabethean theater (including the proscenium doors). The second test had a lot of material about the battles. In tenth grade I don't know if we would really understand the political issues (republic v. empire, the loss of freedoms) as will soon come in later high school social studies. The final exam in June 1959 asked an essay question about Marc Antony's own motives and character, and a chum told me he put the character on a psychiatrist's couch to answer the exam. When you watch the film, you get a good preview of what the acting world is all about, as putting this on film requires mixing of stage and film acting concepts (another good exam question). Then men, in their Roman costumes, are quite striking and natural, not so buffed as in the later Fox Cinemascope spectacles. It does not seem to intimidating to act in this kind of a production. James Mason is Brutus, and John Gielgud is the lean and hingry and dangerous Cassius. Louis Calhern was Julius Caesar himself. Greer Garson was Calpurnia.
The Robe (1953, 20th Century Fox, dir. Henry Koster, based on the novel by Lloyd C. Douglas), was an important early example of the Hollywood spectacle, and the first movie ever made in CinemaScope. I saw this at the now razed Jefferson Theater in Falls Church, VA. Marcellus (Richard Burton), part of the detail to crucify Christ, is awarded Jesus’s robe after the crucifixion. He seeks the truth about Jesus and is eventually tried and executed for political crimes against the empire. I cried at the ending. Jean Simmons is Diana and Victor Mature is Demetrius.
The Sword and the Rose (1953, Walt Disney/RKO Radio, dir. Ken Annakin) was broadcast on television on Disneyland shows in the 1950s as When Knighthood Was In Flower, even though that title had been used in the 20s. The story is that of Mary Tudor (Glynis Johns), who is coerced to marry the King of France, Louis, by Henry VIII, but is rescued by her true lover (Richard Todd) on a beach battle. The film would seem interesting today because of the debate over the "meaning" of marriage as giving legitimacy to family property and reputation, and the whole code of chivalry surrounding this idea.
In the 1950s Walt Disney (and Buena Vista) made the nature documentary popular with The Living Desert, The Vanishing Prairie, and Secrets of Life. The second film showed a live birth on the prairie. These films complemented the “Adventureland” domain of Disneyland, which at the time had just opened in California.
Roman Holiday (1953, Paramount, dir. William Wyler). Audrey Hepburn is introduced as the princess who runs away in Rome for a holiday with a commoner journalist played by Gregory Peck. One of Dalton Trumbo’s pseudonymous scripts while he was blacklisted for “being a Commie”. Blogger.
Stalag 17 (1953, Paramount, dir. Bill Wilder, play by Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski). The narration says that there are few stories about Americans who were POWs taken by the Nazi's, and the Stalag was not a concentration camp. The Germans made a pretense of abiding by the Geneva Convention, which figures into the play. But when the guys try to escape, they begin to suspect that they have a mole after two guys are killed on the perimeter. Lt. Dunbar (Don Taylor) is suspect for a long time. A chessboard and a black queen chess piece figure in as the "you've got mail" device. It is Christmas season, and on Christmas day the guys do a bit of cross-dressing and same-sex dancing, and that figures in. One of the guys impersonates Betty Grable, without insuring his legs. The homosociality of the setting is apparent. One guy hides contraband in the space for an artificial leg, and when Dunbar hides in the cistern, Sefton (William Holden) has to give him a calf rub down. "Never call attention in the latrine!" In garish black and white.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953, 20th Century Fox, dir. Howard Hawks) I saw this at the Roxy in New York at the age of 10, and it was one of Fox's last big comedies not in Cinemascope. Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell play two broads on a cruise. This is pure heterosexism. But the technicolor spectacle really could have used scope.
Shane (1953, Paramount, dir. George Stevens, 117 min, novel by Jack Schaefer). Alan Ladd plays Shane, a gunslinger who tries to settle with a homesteader family (the Starretts) resisting landowners, like Ryker (Emile Meyer) who tries to buy Shane out. Much of this was filmed on location near the Grand Tetons in Wyoming, which look spectacular. Shane ultimately has to deal with the conflict that he can cause within the family, including the boy Joey played by young Brandon de Wilde.
Mr. Hulot’s Holiday (“Les vacances de M. Hulot”) (1953. J. Arthur Rank/GBD/Janus/Criterion, dir. Jacques Tati, 87 min, G) was a famous French “art” film in the days when foreign films in Washington were shown in little theaters away from downtown like the MacArthur and the Ontario. It’s an example of “physical comedy” or “comic poetry.” Tati plays Hulot himself, and everything he does turns into an accident. At the end, he sets off a fireworks attack on the stuffy old beach hotel (the black and white photography invites the imagination to fill in the colors), a gag to attack the old social order. Physical events turn on and off, even the record player. In one scene there is a radio announcement about vacation time in labor unions, and in another the American national anthem is played. In one scene Hulot peeks on another man in a privy. On the DVD the film is paired with a short “Soigne ton gauche,” a little bw comedy about boxing. There is a similar short in arthouses today called “Cheval 21” where a man imagines himself a house and admits he can become a cow.
The Glenn Miller Story (1953, Universal, dir. Anthony Mann, 115 min) is the biography of jazz musician Glenn Miller, leading to his supreme sacrifice during World War II over the English Channel in 1944. In it's day, this film was viewed as a big "musical" although the small screen doesn't work well today. James Steward (as Miller) and June Allyson, in early Technicolor, which was interesting for its day because most of the movie is indoors and on entertainment sets.
The Barefoot Contessa (1954)
Magnificent Obsession (1954, Universal / Criterion, dir. Douglas Sirk, novel by Lloyd C. Douglas). A rich playboy (Rock Hudson) accidentally widows and blinds a woman (Jane Wyman) and tries to fix his karma by becoming a surgeon. Blogger.
The Silver Chalice (1954, Warner Bros., dir. Victor Saville, novel by Thomas B. Costain, 142 min) A Greek artisan creates a controversial cup with Christ and the twelve disciples. With Paul Newman and Jack Palance. This was WB's answer to "The Robe."
On the Waterfront (1954, Columbia, dir. Elia Kazan), one of Marlon Brando's first films. Brando plays ex-prizefighter Terry Malloy, now a longshoreman, who has to wrestle with his conscience (and a questionable priest (Karl Malden)) when he is implicated in a dockside murder ordered by Mafia union boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb). The element that moves this movie along is Leonard Bernstein's methodical but ballet-like score, which choreographs the black-and-white movie, and the score ranges from late Romanticism to Alban Berg-like twelve-tone themes. The Columbia mascot comes on the screen at the end as the music rises to one last climax. There are some famous shots, like the hammock lifting the priest, and the houseboat shed the foreshadows the same image in the recent film Mystic River.
A Star is Born (1954, Warner Bros., dir. George Cukor, story by William A. Wellman and Robert Carson (1937), PG-13, 154 min) is a famous story about an aging, alcoholic actor Norman Maine (James Mason) who stumbles into a showgirl Esther Blodgett (Judy Garland) who will become a star known as Vicki Lester. His career plummets as she rises to the A-list. This early CinemaScope film was shown as an AIDS benefit in Dallas in the 1980s. The concept is of interest to me now since one of my scripts deals with a young actor making the “A List.” There is a later version of the same story (1976) directed by Frank Pierson which I have not seen.
The Caine Mutiny (1954, Columbia, dir. Edward Dmytryk, based on the novel by Herman Wouk, 124 min) had one of the longest runs at a downtown Washington theater in the 1950s. A ship captain becomes mentally unstable during WWII and the ship’s executive order takes over and later faces courts martial for mutiny (somewhat reminding one of Billy Budd). Humphrey Bogart put out the great acting performance, making a kid in the audience able to hate him.
Valley of the Kings (1954, MGM, dir. Robert Prisoh, 86 min, PG) was a "mini spectacle," not in Scope, about the same time as "The Egyptian.: Mark Brandon (Robert Taylor) and Ann Mercedes (Eleanor Parker) explore Egyptian tombs in a valley some distance from the Pyramids to look for evidence of Joseph's journey to Egypt in Genesis, with the tomb of Pharoah Ra Hotep. The tomb may already have been looted.
The Egyptian (1954, 20th Century Fox, dir. Michael Curtiz) features Victor Mature (shaved, always) Horemheb and Edmund Purdom as Sinuhe, "The Egyptian" and a poor boy turned physician in a story of intrigue in the 18th Dynasty. This CinemaScope film was a typical spectacle in the early days after "The Robe."
Dragnet (1954, Warner Bros/Mark VII., dir. Jack Webb, 88 min, PG-13) was one of those movies kids weren't allowed to see. It is based on the famous TV detective series about Sgt. Joe Friday (Jack Webb). They always started with "It was warm in Los Angeles". It had that famous c-minor theme that sounds like a super abbreviation of the Beethoven 5th. It starts when crime boss Miller Starky is almost bisected by a shotgun. The production company has a famous hammer and anvil trademark.
The High and the Mighty (1954, Warner Bros., dir. William A. Wellman, novel by Ernest K. Gann, music by Dmitri Tiomkin) was an early non-Fox Cinemascope picture, with lots of bluish Warnercolor. John Wayne, the Duke, plays hero as the co-pilot when a trans-Atlantic flight develops trouble and the pilot isn't quite up to the job. I still remember the music.
20000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954, Walt Disney, dir. Richard Flesicher, novel by Jules Verne, PG, 127 min) was an early big Disney picture, about a ship commanded by Kirk Douglas out to investigate sinkings and encountering a submarine commanded by Captain Nemo (James Mason). The picture was stunning for its time, CinemaScope, and builds up to a somewhat gory climax for Disney. And Jules Verne anticipated a whole technology, although submarines had been used in the War Between the States. There are some stirring songs (“The Wind and the Waves”) early on. Columbia would make the sequel, The Mysterious Island, in 1961 (dir. Cy Enfield) where a balloonist lands on the island with an escaped Nemo. I read the book in junior high school and it builds up slowly, with interesting chapter titles (like “Jenny”). J rented it, and Netflix sent me the (2005, Hallmark, dir. Russell Mulcahy, 172 min) film instead. Cyrus is played by David Lynch star Kyle MacLaclan, and he does escape from the Civil War, and is taken into Nemo's compound when rescued. The camp is protected by an electrified fence like in the replica of Salem in "Days of our Lives." Nemo has invented electricity from sea water, and invented nuclear weapons from the thorium on the island, that makes all the creatures grow huge and threaten the people "on the outside." Nemo (Patrick Stewart, from "Star Trek" -- I might have wanted John Malkovich for this role!) will detonate his device to warn the world to stop war. He perhaps has the zeal of a modern day terrorist, and that observation makes this film relevant today. The island also has its Dante's Peak, which could become a Krakatoa. This film was made in Thailand for television miniseries, and it misses the benefits of the widest anamorphic screen. But the film is an interesting mix of horror, history, period piece, science fiction, and very relevant modern politics.
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954, MGM, dir. Stanley Donen) is a famous early CinemaScope musical with rather artificial outdoor western sets, and a title that indeed sounds heterosexist. Indeed the story is such, lighthearted as it is. Well, it has to do with kidnapping the brides for six of the brothers.
White Christmas (1954, Paramount, dir. Michael Curtiz) was the first film in VistaVision, “motion picture high fidelity” with a more or less standard aspect ratio. (I believe the music is by Irving Berlin.) A couple of ex-Army buddies with a song-and-dance act travel to a Vermont lodge and encounter a former commander. Pure fluff, with a famous song.
The Student Prince (1954, MGM, dir. Richard Thorpe, play by Wilhelm Meyer-Forster "Old Heidelberg", music mostly Sigmund Romberg) is a fairy-tale musical about a German prince that was a bit controversial in its time because it followed World War II closely. It was one of the first movies I saw "alone" at the old Glebe Theater. Full Cinemascope.
Vera Cruz (1954, United Artists, dir. Robert Aldrich, story by Borden Chase) was filmed in SuperScope, with the unusual 2.00:1 aspect ratio, so it was an issue to show it. Mercenaries go down to Mexico in 1866, hired by emporer Maxmilliam (George Macready), to escort a countess to the port of Vera Cruz, and a lot of Sierra Madre type twists occur along the way. Gary Cooper, Burt Lancaster.
Brigadoon (1954, MGM, dir. Vincente Minnelli) was another early CinemaScope musical, where two hunters find a hidden village in Scotland, with the citizens living a time warp. In more modern times it could be the topic of horror (even my own “Baltimore Is Missing”).
Sabrina (1954, Paramount, dir. Billy Wilder, 113 min, PG) was a delicious black-and-white comedy in the 50s, which I saw with my parents on New Years Night in 1955. It is the kind of film for New Years Day. Sabrina (Audrey Hepburn) is a bit like the shy girl in Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie, and two brothers Linus and David Larrabee (Humphrey Bogard and William Holden) would make good suitors. David isn’t interested into she goes to Europe and comes back a debutante. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. However, she has fallen in love with Linus. Quite a morality parable. It was remade by Sydney Pollack for Paramount (in color, too, unfortunately) in 1995, and corporate megamergers are thrown into the plot.
Three Coins in the Fountain (1954, 20th Century Fox, dir. Jean Negulesco) was another early CinemaScope movie that showed how good a romantic comedy could look on a wide screen. This was an early example of the genre. A remember how the orange juice looks. The story concerns secretaries looking for romance in Rome after coin tosses into the Trevi Fountain. The song: “make it mine!”
Stormy (1954, Walt Disney, 40 min) is a forgotten short about a boy and a racehorse. It does not seem to be related to the Universal 1935 film about a train wreck and stampede. Perhaps these anticipate "The Horse Whisperer" (below).
Rear Window (1954, Paramount, dir. Alfred Hitchcock, story by Cornell Wollrich, screenplay by John Michael Hayes) is a famous film where a photographer (James Stewart) laid up with a broken leg and wheelchair believes he has witnessed a murder in another apartment, and eventually confronts the "suspect." The film is famous for its close-ups and intimacies (in Washington it showed at a small theater, now gone, called The Playhouse) and the real-life soundtrack of tenement buildings.
The Purple Plain (1954, MGM/UA/J. Arthur Rank, dir. Robert Parrish, novel by H. E. Bates, 100 min, US/UK, PG) was rated as "tense" in the PTA movie guide in the 1950s--this still sticks in my mind. Aviator Bill Forrester (Gregory Peck), leads his navigator and an injured bunkmate across the semi-desert in Burma after they are forced to land behind enemy -- Jap -- lines. They don't all make it.
But Forrester's will to live has been compromised by the loss of his bride on his wedding night in the London blitz, while his navigator keeps lecturing him about the importance of responsibility--having a wife and children.
The Trouble with Harry (1955, Paramount, dir. Alfred Hitchcock, novel by Jack Trevor Story) is that he's dead, and his corpse keeps popping up in different places. Your basic technicolor 50s movie with great outdoor farm-like shots. A murder comedy.
The Long Gray Line (1955)
The Man with the Golden Arm (1955, United Artists, dir. Otto Preminger, novel by Nelson Algren, 119 min) stars Frank Sinatra as a release heroin junkie (Frankie Machine) who gets as spot as a drummer and joins the musicians' union, and then slips back into pressures to use drugs. The "cold turkey" climax at the end is harrowing (with all the extreme chills -- "make me warm".). The music score, by Elmer Bernstein, contains a sustained note on B (like in Berg's opera Wozzeck) in a critical scene with Kim Novak. There is a great line at the beginning about needs a drink to start the day. As with Iceman, a man walks into a bar. Note in a late scene where he looks for a razor: Frankie already looks "shaved." Could this have inspired any of hit indie film "Brick"? Darren McGavin is the pusher.
Oklahoma! (1955, 20th Century Fox/Magna, dir. Fred Zinnemann, Rogers and Hammersten, G, 145 min) was an early Todd AO movie, and old prints are sometimes shown as an outstanding example of early widescreen cinematography, where detail stays in focus and obtains an almost 3-D effect without glasses (such as the scene where the train retreats). The film was shown in Minneapolis at the Heights Theater in 2002. Gordon MacRae sings “O What a Beautiful Morning!) all right. The best song is something like “The Cowboy and the Ploughman should be Friends!” which was a real problem in the old west. The scenery does remind one of Oklahoma along I-35 between Dallas and OKC, somewhere around the Arbuckle Mountains. Of course, tragedy has since changed the meaning of the Sooner state (it was a territory for a long time).
The Ladykillers (1955, J. Arthur Rank, dir. Alexander Mackendrick, wr. William Rose) was a “stereotyped” art film in the 50s, playing in Adams Morgan in Washington as I remember. It’s in sharp Technicolor, though, with especially handsome indoor tones contrasted with the London flat neighborhood and railroad yards complete with steam engines outside that will figure in the visual climax as the ladykillers escape. We all know the setup. A little old lady Mrs. Louisa Wilberforce (Katie Johnson) rents out rooms to five musicians (played by Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers, Cecil Parker, Herbert Lom, Danny Green), who plot a bank heist and are ready to do away with her. She outfoxes them all right with her naïve way, especially in a crowd scene where the newspaper story of the heist comes out, and later when Guinness rationalizes the crime since the insurance company will pay and the policyholders will never notice the premiums. At the end, she gets to keep the money. This film was remade by Touchstone with the Coen brothers in 2004 with Tom Hanks, where they rob a casino.
Richard III (1955, Lopert, dir. Laurence Olivier, 161 min, UK) is perhaps Shakespeare's most famous history, where Richard puts his brother on the throne and then conspires to have him killed so he can gain power, in 15th Century England. Laurence Olivier is Richard, and Cedric Hardwicke is Edward. There is a translated version to an imaginary Fascist England from U.A. in 1995 (dir. Richard Loncraine).
Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955, 20th Century Fox, dir. Henry King, 102 min) is a controversial early Cinemascope picture in which an American correspondent covering a civil war in China, Mark Elliott (William Holden), along way home from his wife, falls in love with a Eurasian doctor Dr. Han Suyin (Jennifer Jones). Interracial dating as well as unfaithfulness come into social ostracism. A daring film for its day. It has a famous title song, and argues for “private choice” in intimate matters.
Lady and the Tramp (1955. Walt Disney, dir. Clyde Geronimi, story by Ward Greene, 76 min, G) has the distinction of being the first animated feature ever in CinemaScope. It is a "love story" between two canines, an upscale Cocker Spaniel "lady" and a mongrel tramp.
Blackboard Jungle (1955, MGM, dir. Richard Brooks, novel by Evan Hunter, 101 min) offers Glenn Ford as new English teacher Richard Dadier in an inner city New York high school in the 1950s. (Think what grade school was like.) The prevailing assumption of the movie is that discipline will be a problem (despite the claims of the principal (Louis Calhern) and the teacher must assert his right to be an authority figure and role model. In his initial job interview the principal asks about his soft voice, and he responds with a loud quote from Henry V and gets the job immediately. The kids challenge him immediately. They call him "teach." "Why can't they multiply" "The only thing they know how to multiply is themselves." Later Dadier is accused of making racial and ethnic slurs when he actually meant them to be in "quotes" as he taught a lesson. The racial issues come up in a movie made about the time of Brown v. Board of Education. Then the discussion of economics happens: teachers then made $2 an hour. The movie (in black and white) has a rock and roll soundtrack that even anticipates West Side Story. Anne Francis plays The Mrs., who gets threatening letters from one of the kids. "Kids are people, and most people are worthwhile." In a climactic scene where catches kids cheating, and one of them pulls a knife, and there is a physical scuffle using the flag. Of course, teachers are not allowed to lay hands on students in the real world today.
A Man Called Peter (1955, 20th Century Fox, dir. Henry Koster, 119 min, G) is the biography of a Scottish pastor who became the chaplain of the US Senate and became the pastor of the Church of the Presidents. The story reaches a climax when Peter Marshall (Richard Todd) has a heart attack at the pulpit. His wife is played by Jean Peters.
Good Morning, Miss Dove (1955, 20th Century Fox, dir. Henry Koster, novel by Frances Fray Patton, 107 min, PG) is a big-looking film about a beloved teacher Miss Dove (Jennifer Jones) who inspires her students. One day she has a terrible back pain, which turns out to be a malignancy. In the hospital, her students help her reflect on her life. A pertinent film to see today in view of "no child left behind." Also with Robert Stack.
Marty (1955, MGM, dir. Delbert Mann, wr. Paddy Chayefsky, 90 min, PG) Marty Piletti (Ernest Borgnine) is a fat 34-year-old (Scorpio) butcher (low on the "social scale" -- "people look down on butchers") -- a "Pig in the City" (Babe?) living with an overbearing, "family first" Mother, who, along with his "friends," always bugs him about when he's going to "get married." (Well, when I was a pre-teen, I bugged an aunt and uncle about that. Eventually, they both did, but no kids.) Mother says he will die with "no son." Marty says he doesn't have what women want and feels like a "bug." (Maybe the inspiration for the gay short "Bugcrush"?) German was his best language and he was good in math. When he goes to community dances he has to be very careful about how he approaches women. (Sort of like a "Singles Social Club" I joined in 1971.) But he meets a homely schoolteacher Clara (Betsy Blair), who has similar social pressures. They were made for each other. In the middle of the Eisenhower years (there is a clip from the Ed Sullivan show), this won Best Picture and a number of other Oscars. It was reassuring in its day but seems quaint now.
The film gets pretty determined with its script lines about family values. At one point Marty thinks about opening a business, and he is told by a loan officer that he is a "single man with no responsibilities." The guy even says, "Marty, you should take care of my mother." There are lines questioning whether mothers should depend on their children for rewards in life, and there is an answer that "you need your father." At the very end, Marty realizes that he has a good time with Clara, where a friend is told, "you're 33 and still not married; you should be ashamed of yourself."
Carousel (1956, 20th Century Fox, dir. Henry King, Rogers and Hammerstein, G, 128 min). I used to think as a little boy that musicals were the most “Christian” movies. Hardly, but this was one of the first CinemaScope musicals. It starts with a most symphonic Carousel waltz, which is still a good concert piece today. The tragic story has Billy Bigelow (Gordon MacRae) on a temporary visit from Purgatory to make amends for wrong doing, with his expectant wife Julie (Shirley Jones) and rambunctious pal Jigger (Cameron Mitchell), who will get him in trouble again. The social meaning of the movie comes through the songs, such as the Soliloquy, where he sings “My boy Bill, he’ll be as strong and as tough as a tree,” and then wonders what happens if “he” is a Girl (heaven forbid). There is also a song, “You’re a queer one, Julie Jordan!” The peroration at the end is “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
The Great Locomotive Chase (1956, Disney, dir. Francis Lyon, 85 min, G) was a typical Disney “Adventureland” movie, in Cinemascope, with Fess Parker as James J. Andrews, a Union officer who leads a theft of a Confederate train intending to destroy the railway systems in the South. A true story.
The Bad Seed (1956, Warner Bros., dir. Mervyn LeRoy, novel by William March, play by Maxwell Anderson) anticipates the concept, at least, of the "omen" movies. Christine Penmark (Nancy Kelly) has the perfect life and perfect daughter, but nightmares, and the daughter starts to do very bad things, all the way to the end.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956, Allied Artists, dir. Don Siegel, novel by Jack Finney) was a famous little black-and-white horror film where people in a small western town are replaced by clones hatched from giant seed pods placed next to them. Clunky, but the film is so innocent that it is a classic. Starring Kevin McCarty, it plays on our fears of loss of personhood to disease and aging. The film was remade in 1978 (dir. Philip Kaufman, MGM) with Donald Sutherland, set in modern San Francisco, where again people are replaced by clones. In both films people complain that their close blood relatives seem distant. That’s how you “first notice.” A second remake was called Body Snatchers (1993, Warner Bros. dir Abel Ferrara) where a teenager girl and her military officer father discover clones are replacing people on a military base in the South. Helicopters get involved here, as the film is much more effective. A newer, looser remake was done in 2007 (see "The Invasion" below).
Around the World in Eighty Days (1956, United Artists/Michael Todd, dir. Michael Anderson) was, as I recall, the first film in Todd-AO, a one camer Cinerama-like process with special lenses and an almost 3D (without glasses) like clarity. The film is based on the Jules Verne novel, where Phileas Fogg (David Niven) wagers that with "globalization" and technology he can circumnavigate the planet in 80 days. Today it sounds like a parody. Famous song. There is a Disney remake in 2004 ("Around the World in 80 Days") by Frank Coraci.
Written on the Wind (1956, Universal, dir. Douglas Sirk, novel by Robert Wilder, 99 min). Mitch Wayne (Rock Hudson) has a secret affair with his best friend's (Kyle Hadley) girl Lucy (Lauren Becall) and is in turn chased by Hadley's sister (Dorothy Malone). The melodrama starts when Kyle soners up and marries Lucy and then learns that his sperm is weak (there is a great shot of a boy on on rocking bronco right afterwards) but Lucy has a miscarriage anyway. It's set in the background of the oil country but seems a bit stereotyped compared to bigger films set in the oil business. It's interesting that at one point Mitch wants to go to Iran to escape the personal conflict, at a time when no one had any idea that one day Iran would become controversial. The technicolor is perfect and this is classic 50s filmmaking,
Them! (1956, Warner Bros., dir. Gordon Douglas) is a famous early horror flick where radiation turns ants into gigantic monsters. And they are very strong!
Moby Dick (1956, Warner Bros., dir, John Huston, novel by Herman Melville (1851), wr. Ray Bradbury, 115 min, PG) is American literature's anticipation of Jules Verne, perhaps. The cetacean whale is the wondrous menace, and yet it provides heating oil for New Englanders, long before the days of Spindletop and the Arabs. Today we think of cetaceans as almost as intelligent as us, so there is a moral lesson. Gregory Peck is about out of character as the vitriolic, one-legged Captain Ahab, a lone "open water" survivor of a pervious "whale attack". The script contains many descriptive prose passages from Melville's novel. The climax anticipates Spielberg's Jaws, all right, just as maybe this novel inspired Peter Benchley (as well as Verne). The cetacean gets the last laugh. It's smarter than any giant cephalopod. Today, even some bars are called "Moby Dick." See also Moby Dick: The True Story, and Open Water.
A Kiss Before Dying (1991, R, Universal, dir. James Dearden, 93 min, recently shown on Lifetime, novel by Ira Levin) takes up where Vertigo (one of the greatest films ever made) left off. A pregnant girl (Dorothy, played by Sean Young) is thrown off a high rise into an atrium with a shot the recalls the staircase in the Hitchcock classic. Never mind that there is no atrium at the 30th St. station in Philadelphia. Her twin sister, played also by Sean Young, starts to look into the “suicide” and at the same time is dating the young hunk Jay Faraday, played by Matt Dillon. Now gradually we find out some things about the Dillon character, that he grew up poor, near a copper mine and railroad tracks. During the opening credits, there is a surreal establishing shot of a freight train coming out of the open pit mines, that John Carpenter would replicate in his 1998 Ghosts of Mars (transposed there to another planet). Dillon has buttered up Dorothy’s father, in his plan to become a Henry Reardon some day. Now, this film has a plot, all right, and a simple one to follow, even if it sounds a bit like soap opera. At a critical moment we see encapsulated television shots of the climax of Vertigo. This movie, in fact, seems to call for Bernard Herrmann’s music (the music is by Howard Shore). But most intriguing of all is the performance of the Jekyll-and-Hyde lead by Dillon, the hunk, the stud, the switch-hitter. Rarely, especially these days of post-teenage male stars, does the cinema get so much mileage out of hairy arms and a hairy chest. This is actually a remake of a 1956 film (United Artists, dir. Gerd Oswald, 94 min, PG-13, Cinemascope) with Robert Wagner as the playboy, Joanne Woodward as Dorothy, and Virginia Leith as Ellen, with a setting in Arizona, and the climatic scene spectacularly filmed in an open pit copper mine. There is a cute anti-libertarian line from Dorothy, "when you have a wife, the government sends you money!" Turner Classic Movies showed this with a 1940s black-and-white MGM short about a police academy, "Word of Mouth," that I cannot find in any online directories or on the MGM site. Though from Ira Levin, this storyline has a "Patricia Highsmith" style and the 1956 film does seem like Hitchcock, except that Alfred would not have used Cinemascope (which in this film often spaces the characters far apart on the screen).
The Seventh Seal ("Det Sjunde inseglet", 1957, Embassy / Janus / Criterion Collection, dir. Ingmar Bergman, Sweden, PG-13). A knight (Max Von Sydow) returning from the Crusades in the Swedish summer encounters Death (Bengt Ekerot) and challenges him to a game of chess. The knight plays White. There is some talk about how he will win the game, as with a bishop and knight (the minimal material that can confer mate in a lone endgame). The knight's hedonistic squire (Gunnar Bjornstrand) questions his idealism. The community around, behaving a bit like Canterbury pilgrims, convey their experience with the Black Plague, which has caused the emptying of villages in a way that foreshadows scare talk about bird flu or other epidemics today. There is an actor character, who (prodded by the squire) is confronted for offending others, and question about when acting is such or is reality. There is a "play within a play" that tests the reality of the horror around. Finally, the knight meets a young couple from a visiting troupe, with a baby, that symbolizes the carrying on of life. A kind of religious observance ensues before he continues the chess game, which symbolizes protecting the community around him from Death. Or perhaps the community can learn to accept and transcend it with grace.
Williamsburg: The Story of a Patriot (1957, Paramount/Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, dir. George Seaton, wr. Emmett Lavery, music (very much in 18th century style) by Bernard Herrmann, 34 min, G, in VistaVision) is the film about a delegate John Fry (Jack Lord) in the colonial Virginia legislature in the old Capitol, who becomes forced to deal with a crisis of conscience as the American Revolution approaches. This film is usually seen in the Visitor’s Center at Colonial Williamsburg; I saw it the Sunday before starting school at William and Mary in 1961 (when my own “story” started). The VistaVision photography is stunning. Recently, the film has been restored digitally and now it is presented in 70 mm with "ADD" Digital DTS sound. At the beginning of the film, John has to take a room in Williamsburg when he serves as a delegate at the Capitol; he has three other male roommates and even has to share a bed with someone who has "B.O." Toward the end, the asks his teenage son (Robert Striker), who will inherit his plantation some day, whether to vote to go to war, because war could ransack and destroy the plantation. The son responds by joining the militia on the spot.
Witness for the Prosecution (1957, United Artists, dir. Billy Wilder, play by Agatha Christie, 116 min, PG-13). This is the penultimate courtroom drama film, however British, yet with more plot twists than Perry Mason (with no Della Street). There is a disclaimer at the end asking the audience not to reveal the ending. In fact, heart patient (angina pectoris) lawyer Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Charles Laughton) says about bigamous wife Christine Vole (Marlene Dietrich) and "talented" playboy Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power): "she executed him." There are more plot twists in the last three minutes than any coverage agent could ask for today. The setup is that the "wife" (brought over from Germany during the War) agrees to testify for the prosecution instead of providing the easy alibi, to trick the jury. Ironically, the story fits into today's debate about the "sanctity of marriage" (even gay marriage) because we are not sure they are really married, and yet a wife is not supposed to be compelled to testify against her husband (that is one of the legal benefits of marriage). And there is no double jeopardy. But there is revenge. In delicious black-and-white. The film story seems to parallel the Scott Peterson case (see the Amber Frey film below).
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957, Columbia, dir. David Lean, novel by Pierre Boulle) is a famous World War II drama where Alec Guiness as Col. Nicholson supervises the construction of a railway bridge for his Japanese captors, while allies (Cmdr. Shears -- William Holden) plan to deep-six it. Actors in those days did have to keep up appearances.
South Pacific (1958, 20th Century Fox, dir. Joshua Logan, Rogers and Hammerstein musical, 151 min) is one of the most passionate R&H musicals, set in the Japanese theater of WWII. The first song “Bloody Mary” is a classic. “Some Enchanted Evening” and “You Have to Be Carefully Taught” (to hate) are important. Lt. Joe Cable (John Kerr) was one of the most likeable characters and meets a tragic end. Rossana Brazi and Mitzi Gaynor also star.
Touch of Evil (1958, Univ., dir. Orson Welles) is a classic black-and-white “modern western” with the famous opening scenes crossing the border where a car explodes. A young couple (a Mexican government investigator (Charlton Heston) and his new bride (Janet Leigh) encounter a corrupt border town cop (Orson Welles). The closing scenes remind one of Spindletop. The film was re-released in 2001.
Vertigo (1958, Paramount, dir. Alfred Hitchcock), is still one of the greatest films ever made. Shot in VistaVision it looks sharp when remastered today, and provides a mesmerizing score by Bernard Herrmann. (Pedro Almodovar borrowed from this style in his recent Bad Education.) In an opening shot, Det. Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart) is confronted with his fear of heights in a chase, and then the film settles to an opening exposition in a long conversation in an office (where he reveals his need to reture), a scriptwriting style not favored today. Soon an old friend Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) hires him to spy on his wife Madelaine (Kin Novak) and we are off on a romantic adventure in 50s San Francisco, which becomes increasingly layered and complex with twists and turns (and double or mistaken identities—when is a beloved just a fantasy?), leading twice to the famous belfry tower scene in the Coast Mountains. The staircase shot is famous and often used today by other scriptwriters as a reference point. For Obsessed with Vertigo (1997, Universal, dir. Harrison Engle, blogger.
The Old Man and the Sea (1958, Warner Brothers, dir, John Sturges, novella by Ernest Hemmingway, 86 min, sug. G) is a sweet and short film of Hemmingway's famous story, starring Spencer Tracy (of course) with Felipe Pazos as The Boy. This is the gentlest of presentations, and much of Hemmingway's prose is read in the background of the film. Because of the terseness of the story and narration, it is popular in English classes in teaching the fine points of descriptive writing. The scenes with the bird (is that a warbler?), the marlin, and the mako shark make this rather interesting for zoology too. There is an amusing line that men at sea should not talk to themselves too much. But why does the Old Man like to go out on adventures alone? I recall a PBS series about a man living alone in a hut in the wilds of Alaska. The film is an early example of "Warnercolor" and the DVD offers a choice between 1.85:1 widescreen or full screen.
Damn Yankees (1958, Warner Bros., dir. George Abbot / Stanley Donen, 111 min, book “The Year the Yankess Lost the Pennant” by Douglas Wallop, play and musical by Harold Lipstein). Remember how the Senators lost the last 13 in a row at the end of 1958 (five of them by 2-0), and their notorious 18 game losing streak on a “western” trip in 1959. (“A’s Hop on Pascual, too, 6-1”). I miss Griffith Staidum, with its cavernous left field and green monster in right (the opposite of Fenway). Well, Joe Hardy makes a pact with the devil and can hit a homer almost every at bat, no matter what he does, as the Senators win the pennant. Of course, now (2005) the 81-81 Nationals are held back by the ridiculous debacle over a new stadium lease and cost overruns.
The Big Country (1958, MGM / United Artists, dir. William Wyler, novel by Donald Hamilton,167 min, PG-13). The plot contains a battle over desert water rights, a reason to show this classic film in the 2008 DC Environmental Film Festival. But the driver of the plot contains western newcomer James McKay (Gregory Peck) and having to come to terms with the idea that, in the West, a man defends his "honor" and "reputation" (the precursor to "reputation defender"). (Even the women say that in one scene.) The fight over water rights is a pretext to cover up a vendetta between two old men. When the landowner (Jean Simmons) sells to McKay, a kidnapping follows and McKay's manliness is tested. Gregory Peck plays the role the same way he does in "Mockingbird" (below). The multiple duels and shootouts in the super-white "Blanco Canyon" lead for a famous, if stereotyped finish. Jean Simmons, Carroll Baker, Charton Heston, Burl Ives. Filmed in "Technirama," a kind of one camera Cinerama (predecessor to modern wide-angle Panavision).
A Hole in the Head (1959, MGM, dir. Frank Capra) has always been a popular late movie comedy about south Florida culture on TV reruns. A widower tries to use his precocious 12-year-old son to hang on to his Miami hotel, while his brother tries to make demands that he settle down. Frank Sinatra is Tony Manetta. See Matchstick Men, below.
The Nun's Story (1959, United Artists, dir. Fred Zinnemann, book Kathryn Hulme, 149 min) is a famous historical movie about Gabrielle Van der Mal's (Audrey Hepburn) life as a nun in the Belgian Congo and then in Vichy France in World War II when they could not take sides. This movie does present the Catholic church as ultimately on the side of democracy, not always true in its history much earlier in the millennium.
Anatomy of a Murder (1959, Columbia, dir. Otto Preminger, based on the novel by John D. Voelker,160 min, PG-13, black and white) A young Ben Gazzara plays a returned Korean War Army lieutenant who admits to having killed a bartender who had apparently raped his wife. Everyman James Stewart plays defense attorney Paul Biegler who takes the case and finds multiple secrets and affairs behind the Upper Peninsula. Michigan case. The town of Thunder Bay does not exist (it is in Ontario), but there is an Ironwood. The evidence takes on humorous aspects (the "panties"), and psychiatric concepts like "dissociative reaction" and "irresistible impluse." The insanity defense has become much less acceptable since the attempted assassination of President Reagan in 1981, and insanity is more a legal than a moral concept. The film anticipates the mess of the O .J. Simpson case decades later.
Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959, 20th Century Fox, dir. Henry Levin, novel by Jules Verne) seems silly now, as a Scottish professor leads an expedition through a volcano in Iceland to the center of the Earth, encountering worlds that could not exist. Remad in 1999 and 2008 for TV (Ion in 2008). Compare to "The Core".
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1960, MGM, dir. Michael Curtiz, novel by Mark Twain (aka Samuel Clemens) 107 min, G) is a stylized, family film of Twain's sequel to Tom Sawyer. Huck (Eddie Hodges) "escapes" his father (Tony Randall) with a slave Nigger Jim (Archie Moore), and while they are on the lam, the goons look for the slave. The worst thing is to be called an abolitionist. We read the book in college English, and I remember some other juicy things, like harm coming to whole families because of disloyalty (the second chapter details Tom's bizarre secret oath), or a strange line where Jim tells Huck that hairy (white) men grow up to be rich. There is a climactic scene where Jim acts as a clown and tries to masquerade. The book is famous for its pioneer form of humor (during my high school days almost a half century ago it was probably too racy), which relative to its time was a bit like our "Saturday Night Live" but the movie is too gentle and cautious to pull it off. The book (at least the Illustrated Junior Library, Gosset & Dunlap, 1948, Mark McKay illustrator) has colorful titles, like "We Ambuscade the A-rabs". Walt Disney did a remake called "The Adventures of Huck Finn" in 1993.
Louisa May Alcott tried to get this book blacklisted in Massachusetts, with a rebound that stirred public interest in its bizarre sense of humor. A challenge for a modern screenwriter could be to recapture the politically incorrect humor in a really modern remake. Perhaps the story of Clemens's "joke" publication at the San Francisco Chronicle (where he made up a story about deliberate slave breeding) could make a film.
Exodus (1960, MGM, dir. Otto Preminger, novel by Leon Uris, 208 min, PG-13) is an epic motion picture about the founding of the state of Israel. It starts when Jewish emigrants are being offloaded from a ship at Cyprus and must negotiate with the British. Later the film concentrates on the battles that they fought when they established Israel, although today there are many controversies over the takings of land, as would lead to the West Bank and Palestinian issues. The music score by Ernest Gold is famous. The parallel to the second book of the Old Testament is clear.
Psycho (1960, Universal, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) is the famous thriller that starts in Phoenix (as of 1960), with a female con artist (Janet Leigh) making a stop at the Bates Motel, where the troubled attendant (Anthony Perkins) will slash her in the famous black-and-white shower scene, and then reveal his momism and cross dressing. Gus Van Sant would reshoot this line by line with Vince Vaughn and Anne Heche in 1998. The story would inspire de Palma’s Dressed to Kill, and perhaps American Psycho.
Ice Palace (1960, Warner Bros., dir. Vincetn Sherman, novel by Edna Ferber) covers two rival families and magnates (played by Richard Burton and Robert Ryan) over a few decades in Alaskan history leading to its statehood in 1959. The movie was considered exciting, with, as a high school classmate put it, "people getting killed." Compare to Alaska, below.
The Little Shop of Horrors (1960, Allied Artists, dir. Roger Corman, screenplay by Charles B. Griffith) was a famous little comedy horror film about a geek who develops a carnivorous plant. The film has a classic scene in a dentist’s office which is the classic confrontation of the Masochist (the patient) and the Sadist (the dentist). That is, the patient is psychologically masculine. The film was remade as a musical in 1986, Warner Bros/Geffen, dir. Frank Oz, music by Howard Ashman) with the plant named Audrey.
Elmer Gantry (1960, United Artists, dir. Richard Brooks, novel by Sinclair Lewis (1927); music by Andre Previn, 147 min, PG-13) is a now treasured adaptation of Sinclair Lewis's novel about a rogue rivalist Baptist preacher Elmer Gantry (Burt Lancaster) and revivalist. At first, he seems a bit flim flam, riding freight cars and without shoes, but he meets up with evangelist Katie Jones aka Sister Sharon Falconer (Jean Simmons), and starts and up-and-down relationship, that will eventually offer the same temptations as experienced by Jimmy Swaggart. There is plenty of early religious spectacle, including speaking in tongues. Local towns resist his revival tents as threatening their Prohibition-era speakeasies; the script shows the rampant corruption in local governments, police and fire. Lulu Bains (Shirley Jones) figures into all of this as if she were the character of Alban Berg's opera. Half way through, there is a great radio debate on the hypocrisy of commercial Christianity, and the control of the local media and press and free speech become an issue. Elmer can preach that prayer answers everything even through his philandering and drinking. Ed Andrews plays George F. Babbitt, a character (real estate mogul) whose character forms the basis for another Lewis novel and satire, Babbitt (1922), which I read in high school. (I remember an odd passage about the character staring at his own legs in the bathtub.) The crowds turn on Elmer, until he is cleared. At the end, there is a great revival (with a faith healing of a deaf man), and a rogue cigarette butt starts a conflagration -- a conclusion that the movie foreshadows with constant fire department objections to the crowds. The photography is in garish Eastmoncolor, and there is a wonderful cantankerous tabby cat, who would have had to be well trained.
West Side Story (1961, United Artists/Mirisch, dir. Jerome Robbins, Robert Wise, play by Arthur Laurents, opera music by Leonard Bernstein, 151 min, PG) is the famous musical setting of the “Romeo and Juliet” story in modern Manhattan, with the feuding families represented by two gangs, the Jets and the Sharks, with the ill-fated couple crossing them as Tony and Maria (Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood). The ending is changed to be more satisfying to modern audiences. The music is haunting, and at times approaches atonality while remaining tuneful. The whole “Romeo and Juliet” story makes one ponder the dual ethics of loyalty, whether to blood or to any other group.
The Guns of Navarone (1961, Columbia, dir. J. Lee Thompson, starring Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn) is memorable to me because I saw it in downtown DC two days before beginning my 80 ill-fated freshman days at William and Mary in 1961. My high school best friend treated me to it. The story is action-packed but obscure as British and allied commandos must rescue trapped British soldiers on the Greek island of Kiros, and overcome the German guns.
Judgment at Nuremberg (1961, United Artists, dir. Stanley Kramer, 186 min) is a docudrama of much of the Nuremberg trials, in 1948. This has always been an important history lesson. Some people believe that the trials, in an international law setting, were baed on a concept unconstitutional in American law, ex post facto law. Yet the history is usually taught as a morality lesson. When do individual public officials have a moral duty to obey their country's immoral laws? At the same time, Communist tensions were increasing as Berlin was being cut off from Germany; in twelve or so years, the Berlin wall would go up and there would be a major confrontation. Spencer Tracey. Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Maximilian Schell, Judy Garland, Montgomery Clift. This movie is in good old black and white. The film notes that by 1960 none of the defendants were still in prison, also some defendants from the first trial were hanged.
El Cid (1961, Allied Artists / J Arthur Rank / Miramax, dir. Anthony Mann, story by. Frederick Frank, 178 min, UK). Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar ""El Cid"), Charlton Heston, is a knight who negotiates the political and military conflicts between Catholics and Moorish Muslims in 11th Century Spain. Sophia Loren is his wife. When Rodrigo shows some political clemency, his Moorish enemies take advantage of things. His loyalty to family and lineage will be tested. In the end, he is wounded, with a spear in chest almost impaling him, but he must ride out of his castle to prove he is still "El Cid." Shot on location in 70 mm Technirama. The music score by Miklos Rosza became famous and generated an orchestral suite recorded on an early StereoFidelity label. The music builds to a tremendous climax with organ as El Cid rides out. Much has been written about the ambiguous but tolerant treatment of dhimmi 's in early Muslim Spain (as in Cordoba), when Islam was a leading world culture.
Atlantis: The Lost Continent (1961, MGM, dir. George Pal). A fisherman Demetrios (Sal Ponti, who looks sexy as I remember) tries to return Princess Antilla (Joyce Taylor) to her homeland. Man-beast slaves toil over the crystal, which explodes. (See this for Disney film by same name.)
Flower Drum Song (1961, Universal, dir. Henry Koster, novel by C.Y. Lee, play by Joseph Fields) A woman and her father enter the US illegally to marry someone, and she falls for another man. Curiously relevant today.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962, Paramount, dir. John Ford) is a famous old western in delicious black and white, with John Wayne (as Tom Doniphon), James Stewart (as Senator Rance Stoddard), Lee Marvin (as Liberty Valance) and Vera Miles all billed. This was the first film that the University of Kansas would show in its student series in 1966. I still remember that from grad school. Senator Stoddard returns home to the western town of Shinbone to attend the funeral of Doniphon, a homeless man, recounts how he taught people literacy when living in Shinbone, and then had an encounter with the greatest bandit, Liberty Valance. The film is a technical library of old western filmmaking, with the visual contrasts between indoor and outdoor scenes in the old West. And it touches on issues like homelessness and illiteracy.
Lawrence of Arabia (1962, Columbia, dir. David Lean, based on writings of T. E. Lawrence) recounts the biographical adventures of British military officer T. E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole), assigned to North Africa during World War I. Dissatisfied with map reading, he is hired by tribal Prince Feisal (Alec Guinness) in Arabia, as the modern kingdom of Saudi Arabia is coming together. Omar Sharif is Sherif Ali ibn el Kharish. The film is famous for its spectacular wide screen shots and soaring music score by Maurice Jarre. There has occasionally been speculation whether Lawrence was homosexual.
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962, Universal, dir. Robert Mulligan, based on novel by Harper Lee, 129 min) is a “shot flat” black and white movie classic, perfect in its abstraction. Gregory Peck plays Atticus Finch as a progressively-minded lawyer defending a black man Tom Robinson (Brock Peters) against a false charge or raping a white woman. There is a great courtroom drama scream: “He took advantage of me!” (But He didn’t.) The story is told through his precocious tomboy daughter Scout (Mary Badham); the Alabama townspeople also show their prejudice against a white Asperger’s-like recluse Boo Radley (Robert Duvall), who is rumored to be a boogeyman, particularly around Halloween. The novel is popular with high school English and social studies teachers.
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962, Warner Bros/Seven Arts, dir. Robert Aldrich, novel by Henry Farrell) anticipates the modern problem of eldercare and resentment of blood loyalty in a horror setting. Bette Davis is Baby Jane Hudson, who takes care of her crippled movie star sister Blanche (Joan Crawford). Jane hates Blanche, whose incapacitation occurred in a mysterious auto wreck. It ends on the beach.
The Miracle Worker (1962, United Artists, dir. Arthur Penn, play and adaptation by William Gibson,106 min, PG, bw) is an intense account of how 20-year-old Annie Sullivan (Anne Bancroft), blind herself, taught a seven-year old Helen Keller (Patty Duke, once older) to communicate, with touch, in the 1880s in rural, post-Reconstruction Alabama. The very first words of the play are "She'll live," as she comes out of a bout of scarlet fever. But in those days the disabled were hidden away from the public by families in asylums. This family was different, dispute the ultimate challenges of caring for the most intimate needs early in life. Much of the play concerns the personal qualities it would take to do this kind of a job. The "shadow fighting" scenes become very intense. The original play had an unusual stagecraft arrangement, with part of it the house, and the outdoor area a "neutral area" as an L-shape around the house. The film has picturesque 19th century train rides and home furnishings and comes across as having a museum-like quality. Inga Swinson and Andrew Pine are Helen's parents.
Sodom and Gomorrah (1962, 20th Century Fox, dir. Robert Aldrich, 154 min, France (dubbed)) "epic" retelling of the Biblical tale of the demise of some famous cities for their "wickedness" and the pillage of visiting angels seeking hospitality. Of course, the use of the story to condemn homosexuality outright is not accepted by modern liberal scholars, only the religious right. Not exactly the best in Fox 's tradition of spectacles. Stewart Granger, Pier Angeli.
Charade (1963, Universal, dir. Stanley Donen) Audrey Hepburn plays Regina, who is chased through Europe for a fortune that her deceased husband had stolen during World War II. Great opening train scene, and great theme song. This is very much in Hitchcock style. Carey Grant is Peter Joshua, trying to woo her with deception, and Walter Matthau is the CIA agent. Great Cold War era suspense.
The Birds (1963, Universal, dir. Alfred Hitchcock, story by Daphne Du Maurier). On my first trip to the West Coast in December 1966 with some other KU graduate students, we made a point to stop at Bodega Bay, CA, site of this famous film. I would revisit the site in November 1995. We all know the story, that enraged birds suddently start divebombing people, driving them to a showdown in a dilapidated house. There is not a lot of explanation, other than that a woman Lydia Brenner (Jessica Tandy; her husband is played by Rod Steiger) insults a bird in a pet shop in San Francisco. This is one of those movies (like Pyscho) that starts in one well-known location and moves to a more rural place. There is a particularly horrific scene where a little girl is attacked, and believe it or not audiences laugh. Hitchcock did not like CinemaScope, and here, as in all of his films, he shoots flat in order to focus on close-ups. At the end, the birds go away. No explanation, other than that maybe an eager cat arrives.
The Prize (1963, MGM, dir. Mark Robson, based on the novel by Irving Wallace, 129 min, PG-13). Irving Wallace was once well known for gargantuan suspense novels in which he introduces major characters slowly with separate biographical chapters early in the book and then brings them together, often in multiple international locations. Here, Nobel Prize winners congregate in Stockholm as Cold War intrigue develops among the characters, including writer Andrew Craig (Paul Newman) and Prof. Walt Stratman (Edward G. Robinson). Literary agents rather like Wallace’s style and structural paradigm because it frees the later part of his novels for more linear storytelling, and yet he is a bit out of fashion now. Other important Wallace novels are The Plot (1968—this was supposed to become a movie but never did as far as I know), The Word, and (below) The Seven Minutes. All build up in the same way.
The Great Escape (1963, United Artists / Walter Mirisch, dir. John Sturges, novel by Paul Brickhill, 172 min, Germany) Steve McQueen plays "Cooler King" Capt. Hilts leading a group of POW prisoners to outwit their Nazi guards in the first half of the film, and then get out of occupied Europe in the second half. McQueen's performance has been the butt of jokes by Eddie Izzard.
Lilies of the Field (1963, United Artists, dir. Ralph Nelson, novel by William E. Barrett, 95 min, G) Sidney Poitier plays Homer Smith, who stops in the desert for water for his car radiator. Currently unemployed from construction work, he winds up doing sweat equity, building a chapel for six singing nuns, headed by Mother Maria (Lilia Skala), who wonder how to balance God and earthly demands while having Homer work for them. Homer then goes out and gets other part time work. In black and white, one of the most remarkable scenes visually is inside the completed chapel, with the stained glass leaving its colors to the imagination. One of Poitier's earliest roles, his race really has little impact on the story. You could imagine a story like this set in a hurricane area now. The title of the movie refers to Matthew 6:28 in the New Testament, and the question of pride in providing for oneself vs. depending on "The Lord."
Hush… Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964, 20th Century Fox, dir. Robert Aldrich) is a great Bette Davis black-and-white classic. Charlotte (Bette Davis) is still ostracized for the murder of her husband (Bruce Dern) at a party 40 years before. And the murder scene is a classic. The scene with him sitting there with the hairy wrists, the ax wielded through the air, the forearms with hands amputated, the inky decapitation, the comic book pictures later.
Becket (1964, Paramount/Hal Wallis, dir. Peter Glenville, play by Jean Anouih, UK, 148 min). King Henry II (Peter O'Toole) appoints his best frient Thomas a Becket (Richard Burton) as Archbishop of Canterbury. Becket takes his faith serious, and makes it more important than politics, loyalty, or even friendship. Like "A Man for All Seasons," this is a man standing up for what he believes in. This film is due for another run in the art-houses and repertory cinemas in 2007.
My Fair Lady (1964, Warner Brothers, dir. George Cukor, Lerner and Loewe, play by George Bernard Shaw, G, 170 min) was one of the big early musicals, where a stuck-up phonetics professor Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) takes a bet that he can make a flower girl into a debutante. Great songs were “The Rain in Spain stays mainly in the Plain,” (it doesn’t), and “I could have danced all night” (anticipating today’s night life) and most of all, “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” I saw this movie the day before traveling to Boonton, New Jersey to see a high school friend get married—a bit of personal trivia.
A Fistful of Dollars (1964, “Per un pugno di dollari,” United Artists, dir. Sergio Leone), starring Clint Eastwood, was the first so-called “spaghetti western” (or “Italian western,” actually filmed on the arid central plateau of Spain. For A Few Dollars More (1965, “Per qualche dollaro in piu”) was the sequel, and The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly (“Il Buono, il brutto, il cattivo”) was the finale of this famous franchise. For a fellow grad student at KU we called the last movie, “The Good, the Bad, and The Cave” (no relation to the Screen Gems piece in 2005), a film that had a wistful theme song.
Seven Days in May (1964, Paramount, dir. John Frankenheimer, novel by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey, 118 min) has rogue military staff in the Pentagon plotting to take over the government because they fear unilateral nuclear disarmament and an attack by the Soviets. In black and white, and a very garish Washington film. Frederick March is the president, and Burt Lancaster is General Scott.
She (1965, MGM/Hammer, dir. Robert Day, novel by H, Rider Haggard, 106 min, prob PG-13) is a cult fantasy "horror" about three adventurers who go to a lost city ruled by "She" (Ursula Andress) who can defang men like the Witch in NBC's "Passions." Peter Cushing, Bernard Cribbins, Christopher Lee, Andre Morel, and the handsome John Richardson who winds up on the block.
Darling (1965, Embassy, dir. John Schlesinger, UK) A model Diana Scott (Julie Christie) sleeps her way through high society in Europe. Dirk Bogarde (who gets surprisingly mean) and Laurence Harvey.
Juliet of the Spirits ("Giulietta degli spiriti",1965, Rizzoli, dir. Federico Fellini, 137 min) was a classic in its time, perfect for the 60s, about a woman who reaches to mysticism and sexual liberation to deal with her cheating husband. Giulietta Masina. Is this the kind of "Italian movies" that Lucy tried to get into in the famous 50s comedy?
The Bible (1966, 20th Century Fox, dir. John Huston, wr. Dino de Laurentiis, 174 min, G) is a rendition of about half of the book of Genesis. There is a saying, with Dino de Lautentiis, you never know.
Georgy Girl (1966, Columbia, dir. Silvio Narrizano, 99 min, UK) is a delicious little British black and white comedy that gave rise to the famous song about an awkward girl Georgy (Lynn Redgrave) wanting to be a mom and proper wartime (if there is such a thing) Britain and falling for Jas (Alan Bates), and dealing with the butler James Learnington (James Mason).
A Man for All Seasons (1966, Columbia, dir. Fred Zinnemann, play by Robert Bolt) won Best Picture in its year and it tells the story of Thomas More and his battle with King Henry VIII of England when Henry wanted to break church law and divorce and remarry. Should he stand up for what he believes and challenge the King, given the King’s reputation for beheading the disloyal? A lot of family men would say, no, I can't afford to. See also Robert Cassler’s Second in the Realm
The Chase (1966, Columbia, dir. Arthur Penn). I walked to the Varsity Theater in downtown Lawrence, KS from McCollum Hall on the KU campus the last night of my first semester there in graduate school, and it was the only movie I saw all that semester, I think. (I saw a lot more next year.) “Bubba Reeves has escaped.” That rattles a small southern town as he returns. Robert Redford is Bubba, and Marlon Brando is the Sheriff, with Jane Fonda as Bubba’s wife. A real 60s film, Cinemascope. Oh, a marquee for this film shows up now in a Coca Cola movie ad. Weird.
Fahrenheit 451 (1966, Universal, dir. Francois Truffault, story by Ray Bradbury) has a fireman questioning his duty to burn banned books. The story rings true today with all of the litigation over threats to free speech, like COPA. It reminds me of a town where a school library questions whether it can keep a book describing how two male penguins nurture an egg. Ideas that disrupt the power structure to rule common people are so dangerous, aren't they. See also Fahrenheit 9/11.
Fantastic Voyage (1966, 20th Century Fox, dir. Richard Fleischer, story by Jerome Bixby) anticipates the nanotechnology of "Jake 2.0" when a submarine is miniaturized and injected into the bloodstream of a diplomat. Stephen Boyd, Robert Pleasance. There is a book today that discusses this idea by Ray Kurzweil and Terry Grossman, with the societal effect that one might become almost immortal, like Methuselah.
Blow-Up (1966, MGM, dir. Michaelangelo Antonini, 111 min, sug R by today’s standards) was a famous film in which a voyeuristic photographer takes pictures of violence and sex, and finds himself involved. This film helped spur the generation of the modern rating system. Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles, David Hemmings.
The Blue Max (1966, 20th Century Fox, dir. John Guillermin, novel by Jack Hunter, 150 min). George Peppard plays a German fighter pilot in 1918 challenged to get twenty kills. Ursula Andress, his wife, demands more love than most men can deliver, and one scene in particular made the film famous.
The Sand Pebbles (1966, 20th Century Fox, 179 min, dir. Robert Wise, novel by Richard McKenna). Steve McQueen as Jake Holman, on the USS San Pablo, exploring the Yangszte in 1920s China, as the encounter the "rice bowl system.
Kaleidoscope (1966, Columbia, dir. Jack Smight, UK) was a sharp-looking 60’s comedy thriller in which handsome Warren Beatty (playing Barney Lincoln) stages a breakin to a card factory and then changes the reverse sides to a code so that he can cheat. This combines the “card counting” that casinos expel people for with “Five Card Stud.” The name of the film, of course, refers to a popular visual toy, like the old 3-D view master.
The Quiller Memorandum (1966, 20th Century Fox, dir. Michael Anderson, novel by Trevor Dudley Smith) is another handsome UK thriller that combines the Cold War with neo Nazi concerns. Two British agents are murdered in Berlin, and Quiller (George Segal) pits off against Oktober (Max Von Sydow).
Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf? (1966, Warner Bros., dir. Mike Nichols, play by Edward Albee, 131 min, R) was a big hit in the 1960s, and I saw it in the huge Granada Theater in downtown Lawrence, KS (Smallville?) near KU with a very academic crowd. Note, English teachers, the spelling of the first word of the title! Of course, the film pits Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton as the professor-and-wife (George and Martha) who insult each other constantly, and invite Nick and Honey (George Segal and Sandy Dennis) as company to enjoy the spectacle. It does not exactly foreshadow "Jack and Bobby." The film is in delicious black-and-white and was a moviegoer's movie.
The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (1966, MGM / United Artists / Mirsch, dir. Norman Jewison, 126 min) A Russian submarine runs aground on a Massachusetts coastal island, and the Russian crew walk into the town and "invade" it, trying to find a tugboat to get towed to safety before the US government finds out. But the townspeople over-react, setting up situation comedy as they are actually tied up and abused. There are some great little scenes, like the boy playing tennis alone against the side of the house as the crew approaches (we used to do that with ping pong), and then the boy's escape from the roof. The movie certainly plays on Cold War fears, and now seems like a cross between "Dr. Strangelove" and "Red Dawn." Carl Reiner, Eva Marie Saint, Alan Arkin, Theodore Bikel.
Khartoum (1966, MGM / United Artists, dir. Basil Dearden / Eliot Elisofon). Charlton Heston plays Gen. Charles "Chinese" Gordon, governor of the Anglo Egyptian Sudan (essentially Nubia) when it was part of the British Empire in the 1870s (Sir Ralph Richardson plays Prime Minister Gladstone), and he takes on the task of "protecting" the "natives" from a Muslim Army commanded by Mohammed Ahmed el Mahdi. In this day of jihad and Muslim resentment of western imperialism, the movie seems timely, but I don't know how accurate it is. This was around when I was a graduate student in Kansas (Vietnam was the preoccupation), and we had no idea then where this sort of thing would lead.
Grand Prix (1966, MGM, dir. John Frankenheimer, 170 min) Another 60s epic sometimes shown in Cinerama, this is the story of a race driver Peter Aron (James Garner) who gets fired by his team after involvement in a track accident that injures teammate Scott Stoddard (Brian Bedford), and then Aron gets involved with Stoddard's wife (Eva Marie Saint).
The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin (1967, Walt Disney, dir. James Neilson, novel by Albert Sydney Flesichman) was a wild comedy in old San Francisco, very G-rated, that made Roddy MacDowell's reputation in his day. Suzanne Pleshette and Karl Malden.
Hotel (1967, Warner Bros., dir. Richard Quine, novel by Arthur Hailey) is a famous potboiler about a hotel in post-Betsy but pre-Katrina New Orleans, with Karl Malden playing the mischevious thief, who might have known how to use bump keys. Rod Taylor is manager Peter McDermott.
The Shuttered Room (1967, Seven Arts, dir. David Green, book August Derleth, UK, 99 min) is an engaging "house" mystery with various horrific murders, leading to the revelation of a creature tied down in the bedroom. Anticipates similar stories later ("Burnt Offerings").
In Like Flint (1967, 20th Century Fox, dir. Gordon Douglas). James Coburn plays a super-sky to takes on a cabal of women trying to rule the world after one of them puts an "actor" in the White House acting as an imposter. How prescient. (Both the presidency, and the governsorship of California.)
Wait Until Dark (1967, Warner Bros., dir. Terence Young, play by Francis Knott) is a famous thriller where a woman Suzy, previously blinded in a fire, must outwit three thugs searching for a stuffed doll; furthermore, there is a body of a woman who had passed along the booty. Alan Arkin, Richard Crenna, Sam Weston.
Bonnie and Clyde (1967, Warner Bros., dir. Arthur Penn, 111 min PG-13 today) was notorious for its pseudo glorification of the boy-and-girl (Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway) western crime spree.
In the Heat of the Night (1967, United Artists/Mirisch, dir. Norman Jewison) is timely today given recent media attention (in 2005) on lynchings (as is the film, above, “To Kill a Mockingbird”). Detective Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier, one of his first big roles) returns home to a southern town and is suspected of a murder because he is black. Soon he clears himself and joins the investigation. There is a famous line about “cool marble on your body.” Rod Steiger is the police chief. There is a famous scene where Tibbs is slapped by a white man (the chief), and slaps back; Poitier insisted that his slapping back be included in every version of the movie. Poitier has a new book "Life Beyond Measure" with an excerpt here on ABC Good Morning America.
Born Losers (1967, American International – “of course”, dir. Tom Laughlin, PG-13, 113 min) was the motorcycle movie par excellence in its time, as a gang holds a town hostage. Tom Laughlin is Billy Jack. The film is ambitious, CinemaScope and all, and violent, and spectacular to watch, ever more so than Easy Rider. There is one scene where a gan member is shot in the forehead, on camera, hole in the head and all, and just falls.
The Night of the Generals (1967, Columbia / MGM / British Lion, dir. Anatole Litvak, wr Paul Dehn) Omar Sharif is Nazi major Grau who gets drawn into an investigation of a murder of a prostitue in Warsaw during Nazi occupation, and a manhunt across Europe, not resolved until the 1960s. .
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967, Columbia, dir. Stanley Kramer, wr. William Rose, 108 min). The daughter (Katharine Houghton) of a progressive San Francisco couple (Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn) challenges their sincerity by bringing home a well-educated African American professor John Prentice (Sidney Poitier).
Valley of the Dolls (1967, 20th Century Fox, dir. Mark Robson, based on the novel by Jacqueline Susann). I saw this widescreen showbiz film on a moderately cold February night in dowwtown Richmond, not far from the Jefferson Hotel (not yet remodeled), the day before I was to be formally inducted into the Army (in 1968). So the film has some infamy for me. The novel is about how showbiz changes the lives of three women, drawing them into obsessive behavior and sometimes drugs.
The Graduate (1967, Embassy, dir. Mike Nichols, novel by Charles Webb) is a now famous comedy in which fresh college graudate Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) finds himself in an affair with Mrs. Robinson, wife of his dad’s business partner (remember the famous song!), but falls for his daughter (Katharine Ross). This film will apparently have a quasi-remake called “Rumor Has It” (or “The Graduate Project”) from Warner Brothers, dir. By Rob Reiner, in late 2005. That is a rumor, spread by previews.
The Happening (1967, Columbia, dir. Elliot Silverstein, 101 min) has a famous lilting theme song from the 60s and opens with the complaint, "today nothing is going to happen" but it does, as some hippies capture a Mafia boss. The plot anticipates David Lynch's Blue Velvet.
The Flim-Flam Man (1967, 20th Century Fox, dir. Irwin Kershner, novel by Guy Owen) Con artist Mordecai Jones (George C. Scott) takes on a young protege Curley (Michael Sarrazin), who falls for the rich girl in the family they want to con. Harry Morgan is the sheriff.
If .... (1968, Paramount, dir. Lindsay Anderson, wr. David Sherwood and John Howlett, "Crusaders") has Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell) leading a rebellion at a private boys' school in England, a film with some homoerotic overtones.
Planet of the Apes (1968, 20th Century Fox, dir. Franklin J. Schaffner, novel by Pierre Boulle, sequels in 1970 ("Beneath the Planet of the Apes") and 1973 ("Battle for Planet of the Apes") was a big sci-fi hit when I was in basic training at Fr. Jackson, SC. We got post privileges from the drill sergeant to go see this at the post theater, on a pretty big wide screen. Charlton Heston is the header, George Taylor, of an expedition that lands on a planet where apes are in control, and where body hair does not mean that you are not evolved. There is no buff in this society. We all know that there is an atomic twist at the end. Tim Burton directed the total remake in 2001 starring Marky Mark Wahlberg (again, 20th Century Fox).
Charly (1968, Cinerama Releasing, dir. Ralph Nelson, written by Daniel Keyes, adapted from his novella “Flowers for Algernon”, PG, about 100 min) is a well-known and well-liked film that depicts a mentally retarded man Charly Gordon (Cliff Robertson) who gets the chance to become smart through surgery, finds out that intelligence is a double-edged sword, but then has to deal with losing it. The story has very clear beats or turning points and rooting interest. I remember seeing this film in 1968 just after a harrowing time in Army Basic Training! (By the way, the last film that I saw, in downtown Richmond, the night before my journey to Basic Training was Valley of the Dolls!) It has been shown in special education classes in school systems. But yet, in a modern perspective, the story seems manipulative and designed to exploit, with sentimentality and platitudes, what is an enormous social issue now. For some reason, I did not see this film come up on Netflix as available on DVD yet. (There are several other unrelated films with this name or with the name “Charley” on imdb.com.)
The Green Berets (1968, Warner Brothers/Seven Arts, dir. Ray Kellogg and John Wayne) was a product of WB's misconceived merger with Seven Arts, and given the rising popular resistance to the Vietnam war, this film was a big misfire for John Wayne's talents. Wayne plays Col. Kirby, who directs building a camp in Vietnam with his elite Green Berets (the most elite corps in the Army, over and above the Rangers), itself an interesting process, and then tries to capture am NVA general. The film has a famous song, but it quickly seemed out of place, however much Army brass may have liked it.
The Detective (1968, 20th Century Fox, dir. Gordon Douglas, novel by Roderick Thorpe, sug R, 114 min) features Frank Sinatra as Det. Joe Leland in one of his most penetrating roles, as he investigates the murder of a homosexual in pre-Stonewall days. The visual description of the victim (the emasculation, "... cut off") is graphic at one point, as is a later scene when Sinatra teases a gay "person of interest" by putting his arm around him and saying "What did you like about his body? ... It was soft, like a girl's." The movie panders to stereotypes but was considered effective in its day. The investigation leads to major corruption.
The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968, MGM, dir. Michael Anderson, based on the novel by Morris L. West, G, 162 min). Kiril Lakota is set free from a Soviet labor camp to become the first Russian Pope. The film contains an early sequence showing the election by the College of Cardinals with the plume of smoke. Later the story becomes political, with a crisis resolved by the Pope’s directing the wealth of the Church to feed the “starving Chinese.” I saw this with one of my best friends at the time, another math grad student from KU (his nickname was “The Cave” and he was a devout Catholic) visiting me in DC while on was on pass from the Army. The story seems completely overshadowed by modern reality, which is the trouble with political novels of this sort. The film was rated G (probably would be PG or PG-13 today). The book contains an episode with a homosexual priest, and I remember the line, “I am drawn to men.” But that episode was omitted from the movie, as I best recall. (The novel is rather like a Lloyd C. Douglas novel, but note the author.)
Ice Station Zebra (1968, MGM, dir. John Surges) Rock Hudson commands a nuclear sub (with a friendly Russian) to rescue a weather station at the North Pole, at the height of the Cold War. Ernest Borgnine as Boris Vaslov, Patrick McGoohan, Jim Brown.
Dr. Dolittle (1967, 20th Century Fox, dir. Richard Fleischer, novels by Hugh Lofting, 152 min, G, music and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse) Rex Harrison is Dr. John Dolittle, who likes communicating with animals a lot more than with people. He even admits it. There is a mock "courtroom drama" scene (19th Century England) before the intermission, after after the heroes are captured, a whale "attacks" a remote island and causes a volcano to erupt, and then they get to ride the great snail. There are plenty of animal freaks. Filmed in 70 mm Todd AO. The music by Bricusse has a lilt similar to Rogers and Hammerstein's "Sound of Music" but it is a bit less effective.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, MGM, dir. Stanley Kubrick, wr. Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, with Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood, in Super Panavision 70, often shown as Cinerama, PG) is the monumental film that outlined what we thought our future in space would be, but technology went in a different direction, becoming much more privatized (the Internet). At the time of this film, computers (like HAL, which becomes like a character in the film HAL + 111 = IBM) were seen as becoming bigger and more monolithic (even like the 360, which had been introduced a few years before), not decentralized and distributed to end users. I saw this at the Uptown Theater in Washington a few days after getting out of Army Basic Training. The screenplay is topical, starting with “The Dawn of Man,” where apes (hairy primates) find The Slab and suddenly learn to use tools. Millennia later, with the Blue Danube Playing (yes, the film starts with the famous Sunrise in Space to the opening C-major mantra of Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra) man is living in space stations, traveling to the Moon on spaceships as if they were commercial airliners (who knew then that Pan Am would go down to competition from non-union companies like Southwest) and staying in chain hotels (I think HoJo’s is gone, too.) Of course, it is the discovery of the Slab on the Moon that sends the astronauts to Jupiter (on “The Discovery”), and the two major protagonists show a certain tenderness in their relationship that still fits within acceptable military buddy-bonding. They will encounter The Slab again near Jupiter. The mind-altering special effects were, I thought when I saw the film, a vision of what it might be like to fly into the atmosphere of Jupiter, although who knows what a liquid hydrogen ocean or metallic hydrogen core would look like if you could be there. At the end, one of the men is suddenly old, lying in a luxurious bed in some extraterrestrial-built hotel around Jupiter as he points to The Slab. Strauss plays again his mantra. Unfortunately, we could hardly imagine then what the year 2001 would really bring.
The sequel to the film is 2010, (1984, dir. Peter Hyams, with Roy Scheider and John Lithgow) when Americans and Soviets form a joint expedition to find out what happened to the Discovery. We get to see Mars, and, as I remember, Io, before Jupiter turns leprous and is turned into a brown dwarf, in order to make Europa a new home of life. It is to be left alone. My feeling is that Titan (approached by the Cassini) is a much more interesting place, thiolins and all.
5 Card Stud (1968, “Five Card Stud”, Paramount, dir. Henry Hathaway, based on a novel by Ray Gaulden) “Five Card Stud” is a neat genre western based on a poker game, where the players are killed off. The payoff in the film is a great scene where a weapon is hidden inside a fake Bible, with Rev. Jonathan Rudd played by Robert Mitchum, and Dean Martin as van.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968, Paramount, dir. Roman Polanski, based on the novel by Ira Levin) is a famous claustrophobic thriller about a couple that discovers that the wife’s pregnancy (Mia Farrow) may well have been planned by Satanic forces intending to give birth to the Anti-Christ. This film occurred when the media was asking “Is God dead?” Well, no. But the ending of the film and novel is catastrophic. John Cassavetes is the husband, and the evil old couple is played by Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer.
Romeo and Juliet (1968, Paramount, dir. Franco Zeffirelli, R, 148 min), among Shakespeare’s tragedies, gets studied in 9th grade in high school these days a lot. This version is probably the one of choice for the classroom (a PG version, minus one nude scene, is available). When I was of middle school age, I wondered why tragedies have to end sadly! (I even cried at the end of The Robe, the first CinemaScope movie, which this is not.) Here, Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey play the doomed lovers, who will do themselves in at the end in the crypt, almost Poe style. The young men, as cast, look all too smooth to be believed as from feuding families ready to test their loyalty to blood. English teachers have to get around the fact that Juliet is underage by today’s standards (14), and was nursed for three years (Pat Heywood plays The Nurse). There is a 1996 version (Romeo + Juliet) with Leonardo di Caprio and Claire Danes [African-American Harold Perrinau Jr. as Mercutio] in a contemporary setting (20th Century Fox, dir. Baz Luhrmann) where the Elizabethan dialogue seems dorky (especially from news commentators on micro embedded Quicktime screens). Craig Pearce has made small modern changes, like using a pistol as Juliet’s suicide weapon; the basic tragic circumstances that lead to their demise stay intact. The play and film seem curiously timely in the backdrop of modern films about suicide. The music score by Lorenzo Mongairdino has a familiar, schmaltzy and haunting leitmotif. “Romeo and Juliet” might have been viewed as illegal child pornography by the 1996 CPPA act, which was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2002. After all, different societies had very different norms, and it used to be acceptable (even necessary) for girls to fall in love and marry and have children very early.
Satyricon (1969, MGM / United Artists, dir. Federico Fellini, book by Gaius Polonius Arbiter (the court of Nero), 138 min, Italy, R) This movie was the talk of Army guys in the barracks (most of them well-educated in my case) with its provocative and gay content. Encelopio (Martin Potter) and Ascolite (Hiram Keller) quarrel over who owns the boy Gitone (Max Born) in ancient Rome. Encelopio is saved from suicide by an earthquake (perhaps related to Vesuvius) and goes on some acid misadventures, becoming impotent and trying to be cured.
The Wild Bunch (1969, Warner Brothers/Seven Arts, dir. Sam Peckinpah, 145 min, R, 70 mm) was a western famous for its confrontational shoot-em-up violence, three scenes especially. Just before World War I, an over-the-hill gang stages a Texas bank robbery and heads south of the border, creating spaghetti western filming. William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robrt Ryan, Edmund O'Brien (who had played Wyatt Earp). I remember my Army buddy "Rado Suhl" saying, "Hollywood is going for the real violence."
The Bridge at Remagen (1969, United Artists, dir. John Guilleman, book by Roger O. Hirson). Toward the end of World War II in Europe (after the Market Garden campaign), the Germans try to blow up a major bridge over the Rhine. George Segal, Robert Vaughn.
They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969, Cinerama Releasing, dir. Sydney Pollack, novel by Horace McCoy) A wannabe director (Michael Sarrazin) and rejected actress (and lover) (Jane Fonda) bond and stage a dance marathon, and break down again.
The Great White Hope (1970, 20th Century Fox, dir. Martin Ritt, wr. Howard Sackler, based on his own play, 100 min. PG-13) presents Jack Jefferson (James Earl Jones) as a black boxer fighting to make it in a white man’s world in the early 20th Century. Though in widescreen Panavision, the film often looks like a filmed stage play, with a lot of talk that would fit well in an advanced placement English class (and I recommend the play to English teachers, as much as The Crucible, below). As cast, Jack looks “whiter” than he needs to (down to copious chest hair), to the point that the love affair with the white woman (Jane Alexander) seems like an artifact.
Zabriskie Point (1970, MGM, dir. Michaelangelo Antonioni, R, 110 min) is the name of a spectacular view in Death Valley, CA (I have visited it). This is a film about two 60s kids (Daria Halprin and Mark Frechette, not quite your usual hippies) drawn together in the desert before Mark continues his spectacular rebellion. The sexual aspect of the film is erotic because of its gradualism.
Airport (1970, Universal, dir. George Seaton, novel by Arthur Hailey) has a troubled flight with a bomb on board and a snowstorm at an airport, and a Robert Altman panoply of personal problems. Became a franchise with sequels in 1975 and 1977, and even "The Concorde: Airport 79" and there would be a real-life Concorde crash in France in 2000; the Concorde would eventually be "retired."
Mash (1970, 20th Century Fox, dir. Robert Altman, 116 min, R) is a famous anti-war film about a field hospital in Korea, graphic in its intestinal battle gore while it tries to be funny. Inspired the TV series M*A*S*H.
Patton (1970, 20th Century Fox, dir. Franklin J. Schaffner, book by Ladislas Farago and Omar Bradley) is the famous biography of the controversial general Geroge S. Patton, who believed he was a reincarnated warrior an expected the same masculinity of his men.
Love Story (1970, Paramount, dir. Arthur Hiller, novel by Erich Segal) is a famous tear-jerker about a young woman Jennifer Cavalleri (Ali McGraw) who dies of cancer after trying to conceive. This was a "story about a young woman who died." Ryan O’Neal plays her dedicated rich-boy jock suitor, who is almost disinherited for marrying her. This was a big hit about the time I started working.
Catch-22 (1970, Paramount, dir. Mike Nichols, novel by Joseph Heller, 122 min, R) is a famous war film based on a well-known political or moral phrase of intentional circularity. A pilot tries to get out of flying combat missions in WWII by acting crazy and being declared insane (a legal concept) and runs into the bureaucratic Catch-22's. Alan Arkin.
Woodstock (1970, Warner Bros., dir. Michael Wadleigh, 178 min, R) is a kind of "reality TV" film of the drug-laden Woodstock Music & Art Festival in Bethel NY in 1969. I saw it in Indianapolis in 1970, and it was in only one theater then. Rather repetitious. This is the kind of culture that led to the cries of "police brutality" and even to Kent State, which had just happened when I saw it. Cinemascope.
The Tragedy of Macbeth (1971, Columbia / Playboy, dir. Roman Polanski, play by William Shakespeare, R) is the famous tragedy (usually taught in senior English) about the overly ambitious Scottish thane and king Macbeth (Jon Finch) who, with his wife and three witches, plots and murders to defend his expansion plans. "None of women born" can harm him, but there are always the ghosts. The scene where Banquo (Martin Shaw) is dispatched is just a tad homoerotic. The atmosphere and Todd AO photography of the outdoor big scenes are stunning. But Macbeth comes across as a 12th Century Saddam. He was not the Last King of Scotland.
The Seven Minutes (1971, 20th Century Fox, dir. Russ Meyer, novel by Irving Wallace) This is a pretty good setup that anticipates John Grisham. The title refers to the time during the female orgasm. A bookstore sales clerk is indicted on obscenity charges, and the defense goes back to research the publication of the obscene book supposedly from the 1920s. (No such book exists on BN.) The story raises the point that ordinary people in low paying jobs can sometimes get in trouble with the law, as is the case now with convenience store clerks who sell tobacco or alcohol to minors. The original book went into the psychology of our sexual mores a lot, in a manner just coming into acceptance.
Vanished (1971, Universal/NBC, dir. Buzz Kulik, novel by Fletcher Knebel, 196 min) was a typical Cold War paranoia TV film that made gripping stuff, from a well known Princeton suspense novelist. A presidential advisor disappears, the president (Richard Widmark) is skittish, and the J Edgar Hoover FBI has evidence that the adviser is gay and subject to blackmail. This was a heavy thing for me at the time because I had just started a civilian job at the Navy (NAVCOSSACT in the Washington Navy Yard) and had to be processed for a top secret security clearance, heavy given my own William and Mary expulsion and "psychiatric reparative therapy" at NIH in 1962. Anticipates Serling's novel about the president's plane (next) as well as the 1987 "No Way Out" (which itself had been based on "The Big Clock").
The President's Plane Is Missing (1973, ABC, dir. Daryl Duke, novel by Robert J. Serling, 180 min) was a two part mini-series based on a Cold War novel typical of its time from a novelist. The president faces a Cuban-style crisis with China, when his plane crashes in the desert. The Vice President (Buddy Ebsen) has a totally different political agenda. But is the president really gone? This perhaps anticipates The West Wing thirty years later.
A Clockwork Orange (1971, Warner Bros., dir. Stanley Kubrick, novel by Anthony Burgess, UK, 136 min, NC-17) was a famous "trip" film following 2001 from Kubrick. The theme is anti-social. A gang of thug youths rampages London, leaves one of its members to be caught and go through aversion therapy. There is a famous shot where Alexander's (Malcolm MacDowell) eye's are held open by tweezers. In the UK, the movie was accused of enticing copycat crimes and was not shown there again until after Kubrick's death -- 2000. In the US the movie earned an "X" at first. Today, it makes a good comparison to "Natural Born Killers" (below) and perhaps, in a different sense, "Eyes Wide Shut." The movie was quoted to great effect in "Wah-Wah" because, in the language of the time, the movie was rated "X" (now NC-17, often shown in an R version).
The Devils (1971, Warner Bros., dir. Ken Russell, novel by Aldous Huxley, R and NC-17) provides a horror setting for evil Cardinal Richelieu's use of a witch hunter to destroy a priest so he can control France.
The French Connection (1971, 20th Century Fox, dir. William Friedkin, novel by Robin Moore) is a famous thriller about a drug bust with a famous car chase under the L in NYC, and European connections.
The Last Picture Show (1971, Columbia, dir. Peter Bogdanovich, novel by Larry McMurtry, 124 min, R /director's cut NC-17) is another coming of age sexual cult classic, a dreary big black and white drama about high school kids in a staked plain West Texas town, as approaching winter winds blow tumbleweeds everywhere. (The film storyboard runs from November 1951 to October 1952.) In the novel the town was called Thalia, in the movie it is Anarene. The time is 1951, between WWII and Korea. Duane (Jeff Bridges) will go away to Korea, and a handsome Timothy Bottoms is Sonny, with Sam Bottoms the retarded little brother Billy. One of the town patriarchs dies of a stroke and leaves a variety of bequeaths to deserving individuals. One of them is the Royal movie theater, and the widow cannot keep the "picture show" going. The last picture show will, in fact, be Red River (1948, United Artists), a spectacle directed by Howard Hawks with John Wayne. (Is that a good Jeopardy question?) The screen in the theater is only 4:3. Early on, there is a famous indoor swimming pool scene, with the kids totally nude, teasing one another. And older women get in on snuggling with high school men. The Last Picture Show: A Look Back (1999, Columbia, dir. Laurent Bouzerau, 64 min) is a video in which Peter Bogdanovich, Jeff Bridges, Ellen Burstyn and Cybil Shepard (all looking much older) discuss their participation in making the film.
The Andromeda Strain (1971) moved here.
Summer of '42 (1971, Warner Bros., dir. Robert Mulligan, wr. Herman Raucher). In 1942 on Nantucket, teen Oscie (Jerry Houser) wonders about his first experience, while Dorothy (Jennifer O'Neal) falls in love with Hermie (Gary Grimes) before her husband comes home from the war; anticipates the plot of "Pearl Harbor."
Carnal Knowledge (1971, Embassy, dir. Mike Nichols) Jack Nicholson and Art Garfunkel play two men from Amherst College in Mass. who have different approaches to love and women in the Eisenhower and Kennedy years.
The Anderson Tapes (1971, dir. Sidney Lumet, novel by Lawrence Sanders). Sean Connery leads a weekend burglary heist where Nixon-like tape surveillance falls apart. Blogger.
Willard (1971, Cinerama, dir. Daniel Mann, novel by Gilbert Ralston). An outcast uses an army of rats against those who torment him.
Ben (1972, Cinerama, dir. Phil Karlson) a sequel to Willard, with Lee Montgomery playing the lonely boy out for revenge, and Ben is the rat.
A Separate Peace (1972, Paramount, dir, Larry Peerce, remade for TV in 2004, based on the novel by John Knowles) was one of my favorite films as a young adult; I saw it twice. Gene (Parker Stevenson) and Finny (John Heyl) are best friends at a prep school during the World War II years. Gene gets secretly jealous of his friend, and one day when they are playing in the trees, he, perhaps compulsively, jousts the limb. Finny takes the broken thigh and “accident” in stride and makes his separate peace before a tragic end. The novel is a favorite in high school English classes.
The Candidate (1972, Warner Bros., dir. Michael Ritchiem wr. Jeremy Larner). A visible young lawyer Bill McKay (Robert Redford) runs for the US Senate against an entrenched incumbent Republican in order to bring up issues (the war between "the poor and the less poor"). As his prospects start to get serious, can he stick to his ideals? I considered running for US Senate as a Libertarian from Minnesota in 2000.
Siddhartha (1973, Columbia, dir. Conrad Rooks, novel by Hermann Hesse, Sweden/India) as a young man in ancient Hindu society goes on a long journey to find the meaning of his life. I remember seeing this with a friend on 8th Street in Greenwich Village around 1978. Compare to The Namesake.
The Godfather is a famous franchise based on the novel by Mario Puzio about a New York Italian Mafia crime family. The first film is (1972, Paramount, dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 175 min, R). The second “Godfather II” is (1974, Pramount, dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 200 min). The third “Godfather III” is (1990, Paramount, dir. Francis Ford Coppola). Marlon Brando passes the wand to Al Pacino for movies II and III. There is a great wedding scene in II, and a tremendous shootout at a turnpike entrance in film 1, as well as family restaurant assassinations. Brando has a famous speech in how he delivers “services” to the public. Well, he does. The films really argue for libertarianism.
Deliverance (1972, Warner Brothers, dir. John Boorman, with Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Romy Cox) features several mid-life adventurers taking a weekend canoeing jaunt on Georgia’s Chattahoochee Rover before it is dammed up. Well, they go astray and are ambushed by locals who torture them, and have to escape. It turns into full time horror. The film shows the men, already hitting middle-age decline, in various stages of physical humiliation, with threats of forcible sodomy, chest shaving, and much worse. A somewhat similar film is The River Wild, 1994, Universal, dir. Curtis Hanson, with Kevin Bacon, Meryl Streep as Gail Hartman. who takes on the armed killers posing as raftsmen offering to take them down river. One of Bacon's most sinister performances, with a shirtless scene noted by some writers needing to make a sociological point. A comedy on this theme is "Without a Paddle," below.
Man of La Mancha (1972, United Artists, dir. Arthur Hiller. music & lyrics Dale Wasserman) is a musical adaptation of Don Quixote based on the life of its author Miguel de Cervantes. Peter O'Toole is the famous hero who fights windmills, Sophia Loren is Aldonza and James Coco is the sidekick Sancho Panza. Quioxte's misadventures embarrassed his family, giving the story more relevance today. This seems to be the major theatrical film to date dealing with this famous Spanish literary classic. It was popular in its time. See also the documentary Lost in La Mancha.
Sounder (1972, 20th Century Fox, dir. Martin Ritt, book by William H. Armstrong) is named after a dog belonging to an 11-year-old son (Kevin Hooks), who goes on an odyssey to visit his father (Paul Winfield), an African American sharecropper imprisoned for a petty theft. Remade for TV in 2003.
Cabaret (1972, Allied Artists/ABC , dir. Bob Fosse, based on the book by Christopher Isherwood) is an unusual musical about an American singer Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli) at a German cabaret while the Nazis come to power, as she deals with several men in the establishment, including bisexual Brian (Michael York). This film was considered one of the first to present homosexuality less unfavorably. The title song is famous.
Slaughterhouse-Five (1972, Universal, dir. George Ray Hill, based on the novel by Kurt Vonnegut, screenplay by Stephen Geller, 104 min, R). “Billie Pligrim has come unstuck in time.” The famous science fiction story has Pilgrim (Michael Sacks) surviving the Allies’s 1945 firebombing of Dresden, then living simulateneously in present day and as a zoo resident on another planet Tralfamadore. One of the Back Brandenburg Concerti is played with great virtuosity. Compare to “Hitchhiker’s Guide”.
Jeremiah Johnson (1972, Warner Bros., dir. Sydney Pollack, novel by Vardis Fisher). After the Mexican war, a soldier Jeremiah (Robert Redford) goes "into the wild" and learns to live the Thoreau life from an old trapper. But he takes on a Crow wife and then becomes the object of a vendetta of the native Americans. In some different ways, anticipates both "Dances with Wolves" and "Into the Wild".
The Sting (1973, Universal, dir. George Ray Hill) was a famous mob comedy with a funky song, and Robert Redford as the young man in 1930s Chicago out to avenge his murdered partner. Also Paul Newman and Robert Shaw. Today the term “sting” refers to police operations design to entrap people, such as Internet predators. So it is no longer funny.
Westworld (1973, MGM, dir. and written, Michael Crichton, 88 min, PG) is a resort where nothing can ever go wrong because it is run by robots and computers and androids. So, something has to go wrong. I recall seeing this in the Village somewhere in NYC in 1973 with friends from the Ninth Street Center, late one Saturday night after the communal supper.
Jesus Christ Superstar (1973, Universal, dir. Norman Jewison, book Tim Rice, music Andrew Lloyd Webber) musical, actually opera, of the last week of Jesus's life seen through the lives of Judas. Today it could make an interesting comparison to "The Passion of the Christ" (and may even "Superman") but at the time it was seen as counter-cultural. Ted Neeley and Carl Anderson.
American Graffiti (1973, Universal, dir. George Lucas, 110 min). The concept of this classic would perturb Rudy Giuliani. Some high school grads (Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard) play the field of drive ins, diners, soda jerks, and the like the night before they go to college, 1962 style. A much lighter film than "Last Picture Show" perhaps. This film caught novelist John Updike's memory as he wrote the novel "Terrorist" when he talked about high school life.
Tom Sawyer (1973, MGM, dir. Don Taylor, novel "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," by Mark Twain (aka Samuel Clemens) adapted as a musical by Robert Sherman) is a rendition of the famous novel about two boyhood friends pretending to be pirates. The song goes "there is only one time in life to be free" and that is childhood, when Tom (Johnny Whitaker) and Huckleberry Finn (Jeff East) pretend to be pirates and witness a murder. Tom is challenged to tell the truth, under threat, but he also protects a "girl friend" with a little white fib in class. A major climax point is when the boys show up at their own funeral. The boys experiment with cigar smoking, and Huck says he wishes he could die, reversibly. Jody Foster is Beck Thatcher. The DVD starts out in full 2.3 : 1 widescreen but switches to full screen for most of the film, the first time I have seen a DVD do that. Maybe the full screen is viewed by MGM as easier to show in school, a likely market for this lighthearted version. In 1995 Disney released "Tom and Huck" as directed by Peter Hewitt.
Murder on the Orient Express (1974, Paramount, dir. Sidney Lumet) presents us with a westbound train from Istanbul stuck in the Carpathian snow and a rather effeminate and mustachioed Hercule Poirot (Albert Finney) solving a murder. This is a bit like a board game—not just Clue, byt Mr. Ree. At the end, when the train is free, there is joy. Compare to the beginning of Hitchcock's "The Lady Vanishes."
Blazing Saddles (1974, Warner Bros., dir. Mel Brooks, story by Andrew Bergman, 93 min, R) is Brooks's most famous spoof, this of a western. A tricky Nixon-like governor LePetomaine (Brooks) dupes a freed slave Bart (Cleaveon Little) into becoming sheriff of the southwestern town of Rock Ridge, only to find it racist. There are the usually weird setups: a conversation about slaying the first born, a bubble bath for the jail guard (Gene Wilder), cattle in the bar along side the patrons, and workmen on a handcar on a railroad as if it were a model. Pretty soon the setup becomes clear, Rock Ridge is to be destroyed because it is a movie set, and the characters live only in the imagination of a movie. You even get to see Warner Bros. studio. A great line is, "You shot the bad guy," who gets it in the crotch. Who is the puppetmesiter? (I played with this idea in "Baltimore Is Missing".) Sharp looking Panavision photography.
Chinatown (1974, Paramount, dir. Roman Polanski, 137 min, R) has Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) being hired as a private eye by a Mrs. Mulwray to stalk her husband. But then a real Mrs. Mulwray (Faye Dunnaway) shows up, threatening to sue. Gittes follows a trail of local corruption, in water management, and murder. The modern film in this mold is Black Dahlia.
The Conversation (1974, Paramount/Zeotrope, dir. Francis Ford Coppola) has Gene Hackman playing Harry Caul, a private investigator who can wiretap or spy on the phone conversations of anyone. Soon, he suspects that a couple will be murdered. The story would seem applicable today in these days of the Patriot Act and email intercepts, but this story is built on old-school technology.
The Great Gatsby (1974, Paramount, dir. Francis Ford Coppola, F. Scott Fitzgerald, 144 min, PG) The controversy here is partly the book itself. Nick Carroway (Sam Waterson) moves to Long Island --the Hamptons (Eggs End) from the pristine midwest and with a degree of self-righteousness watches the soap opera of the rich people around him. At the end of Chapter 3 in the book (in the first person), there is a famous paragraph where he says his virtue is honesty and that he is the only honest person he knows. (There are odd spellings, like Oggsford, in the book, and the word "gay" is often used in its pre-Stonewall meaning, even though the movie was a favorite with gay audiences in the 70s.) The book, which reportedly had a lot of errors when it first came out, took some doing to be published as the author intended. Robert Redford is Jay Gatsby, and Bruce Dern and Mia Farrow play the Buchanans. The film is famous for the beautiful look of the parties and schmoozing and fireworks, the life of leisure that hides its secrets. Today Donald Trump says that winning is everything. Maybe not.
Macon County Line (1974, American International, dir Richard Compton). I saw this movie in a Times Square Arcade the day after I became “human.” I’ll let you guess what that means. Three innocent teens are wrongfully accused of killing a sheriff’s wife. I finally visited Macon myself in 2004.
The Parallax View (1974, Paramount, dir. Alan J. Pakula, 102 min, R) pays homage to the idea of a right-wing plot to set up training academy to reprogram people. A Senator is assassinated, and Joe Frady (Warren Beatty) investigates, fending off colleagues, and eventually finds himself at this academy run by the Parallax Corporation. His body and self then undergo all kinds of insults, ranging from polygraphs to pupilometrics to brain measurements and then torture, in a remarkable scene for its time. An interesting idea, that one must be humiliated to be initiated.
Young Frankenstein (1974, 20th Century Fox, dir. Mel Brooks) is a delicious and spoofy comedy in black and white where Dr. Frankenstein's grandson (Gene Wilder) continues his ghastly reconstruction of the "new man." There are plenty of trap doors, Murphy beds and hidden closets (pun). I remember seeing this at the old St . Marks in the East Village in New York.
The Terminal Man (1974, Warner Brothers, dir. Mike Hodges, based on the novel by Michael Crichton, 114 min, PG) is a thriller that was impressive when it was made. Harry Benson (George Segal) has seizures so doctors plant a computer chip in his brain. This movie was made about the time semi-conductor chemistry and physics was getting well understood, soon to be applied to build a personal computer industry, but not just yet. Things do not go well, and eventually Benson smashes up some computer terminals in the room. I saw this on Times Square, but I heard about the movie all the time on benchmark trips to St. Paul MN while working for Sperry Univac (the good old facility on Pilot Knob Road in Eagan) – other SA’s (systems analysis) thought it was funny that the mainframe computer with individual terminals for users (then a bit of an innovation) could be so hated. That was when we had to process 1150 PCM benchmark transactions an hour through a Univac 1110 (under Exec 8) for a Bell Labs contract, but we kicked off the transactions from a card reader, even in front of the customer. People could see keypunch machines for a living then. Such was the technical culture of the times, so well expressed in this movie. But times have changed. Compare to "Jet Lag".
The Taking of Pelham One, Two Three (1974, MGM, dir. Joseph Sargent, novel by John Godey, 104 min, R) is an early film that predicts what could be a believable terrorist assault on a mass transit system. In this film, a subway on the NYC IRT #6 line (Lexington Ave., Pelham Bay) is hijacked for ransom; today the issue probably would not be ransom. There is an exciting sequence with a runaway old 3-door IRT subway car. I saw this in 1974 at one of the old budget Times Square theaters.
The Odessa File (1974, Columbia, dir. Ronald Neame, novel by Frederick Forsyth, 130 min, PG-13) is a big-looking Cold war era thriller that is really about hunting down neo-Nazis. A journalist Peter Miller (Jon Voigt) finds a diary of a Jewish man who has killed himself, and goes on a scavenger hunt. There is an impressive early sequence in West Berlin when he sneaks into a neo-Nazi meeting.
The Hindenburg (1975, Universal, dir. Robert Wise) is a dramatic account of the trans-Atlantic voyage of the hydrogen-filled zeppelin from Germany in the 1930s, to explode in New Jersey. The movie supposes sabotage, but high school chemistry is good enough. Of course, today balloons are filled only with noble gas helium, usually from Amarillo TX in this country. Zeppelin travel (for the rich) was an innovation before the airliner became economically practical.
The UFO Incident (1975, Universal / NBC, dir. Richard A. Colla, story by John G. Fuller, "The Interrupted Journey") Reenactment of the UFO abduction of Betty and Barney Hill (James Earl Jones and Estelle Parsons) on September 19, 1961 near Conway, NH, including their regression hypnosis of medical exams, and the star map.
Jaws (1975, Universal/Amblin, dir. Steven Spielberg) was the notorious thriller about the great white shark, based on Peter Benchley’s novel. The novel on the printed page (take it to Rehoboth Beach or P-Town, queens, for pleasant summer reading!) is even more chilling, with descriptions of a decapitated corpse of a girl in the opening scene (“the great fish….” “the corpse fell apart”) Roy Scheider plays the peripatetic police chief Martin Brody in a Massachusetts coastal town. The book tends to humiliate him, as in one scene were he looks at his “white legs with chagrin, nearly hairless after years of chafing.” He becomes all too human, vomiting in disgust when he is supposed to. The movie became a franchise with a “Jaws 2” in 1978. The film was often shown in the 70s room at the Gay 90s Disco in Minneapolis. The music score (John Williams) has the famous sawing theme.
Barry Lyndon (1975, Warner Bros., dir. Stanley Kubrick, novel by William Makepeace Thackery, 184 min, PG-13, UK) is a monumental film about an Irishman who performs "identity theft" on a rich widow's husband in order to get rich. Delicious costume drama, and I remember the baby scene.
Rollerball (1975, MGM, dir. Norman Jewison). In the future, "there will be rollerball," a deadly hockey like sport played to the death, as large corporations take over the world. Well, they have. A colorful film for its time, that looked forward to the Wall Street frenzy that would start about a dozen years later. Remade in 2002.
The Stepford Wives (1975, Embassy, dir. Bryan Forbes, based on novel by Ira Levin, screenplay William Goldman, PG-13, 115 min) was pretty effective as you gradually learn that these wives have been turned into zombies aka Body Snatchers. In the end, the women are really horrifying in their naivete about having lost their personhood. Of course, the movie takes a stab at family values. Followed by Revenge of the Stepford Wives in 1980. Remade in 2004 (dir. Frank Oz, Paramount, screenplay Paul Rudnick), and this sounds too much like the Evil Empire (Hollywood) cashing in on an easy formula. Not good for women.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975, United Artists, dir. Milos Forman) has “god damn MP” Randle Patrick Murphy (Jack Nicholson) leading the other mental patients in a rebellion against the evil nurse Mildred Ratched (Louise Fletcher). My own experience on wing 3-W at NIH after my William and Mary expulsion was not this graphic, but it seemed demeaning at the time nonetheless.
The Cassandra Crossing (1976, Embassy, dir. George Pan Cosmatos) is a studious thriller that anticipates today’s fears about bioterrorism. The film opens in Geneva, with symphonic music in the background, and settles in on a police siren. Soon, we see passengers boarding a train, and they will never arrive. We learn soon that they are exposed to a deadly disease, and the train is headed for the Cassandra bridge where it will be blown up. The cab will come off. Sophia Loren, Richard Harirs, Martin Sheen.
Rocky (1976, United Artists, dir. John G. Alvidsen, PG, 119 min) started Sylvester Stallone’s career as he played a small time boxer (Rocky Balboa) making it big. Film on location in center city Philadelphia, it has a song with a famous repetitive beat and lilt. It was a classic in the 70s, during difficult economic times for large northeastern cities. The movie became a franchise with sequels in 1979, 1982, 1985 and 1990. The are plans for a remake and even casting calls for extras. See “Cinderella Man” below, also.
Marathon Man (1976, Paramount, dir. John Schlesinger, based on the novel by William Goldman). Is it safe? Remember the scene with the dentist? (Like the “Little Shop of Horrors). Remember the White Angel of Auschwitz. The Neo-Nazi terrorists are alive and well, and it is up to Thomas Levy (Dustin Hoffman) to uncover the conspiracy knocking of members of The Division when his brother is killed. Pulp! Diamonds! (Don’t laugh. There may be whole planets made of diamond and silicon carbide, with carbon monoxide atmospheres. It is not safe.)
All the President’s Men (1976, Warner Bros., dir. Alan J. Pakula) relates the events that led to Richard Nixon’s impeachment and Aug. 9, 1974 resignation (three days before I started my first job in New York City, at NBC). The movie has become timely by the unveiling of “Deep Throat,” FBI man Mark Felt (Hal Holbrook). Dustin Hoffman plays Carl Bernstein, and Robert Redford plays Bob Woodward. The Watergate era was a time when my own personal life was expanding; I remember listening to Sam Ervin in the hearings as I drove my Pinto around the New York area before moving into the City (the Cast Iron Building).
Two-Minute Warning (1976, Universal, dir. Larry Peerce, novel by George La Fountaine, Sr). Art thieves plan a heist near a football game (the Super Bowl?) using a sniper to create mass panic. Charlton Heston, John Cassavettes
The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976, British Lion, dir. Nicholas Roeg, 138 min, T). Did British Lion become today’s Lions Gate? This is a cult movie now, with music star David Bowie as Thomas Jerome Newton, the albino alien who wakes up near an overpass in New Mexico (I have driven over it in a rental car) and starts a high tech company to find water for his dying planet. There is one scene where Newton is nude and, well, he doesn’t have quite the same parts. Rip Torn and Candy Clark star. The movie has many winsome songs in its soundtrack (“Chase the Clouds”) and is ambitious in its wide screen format.
Burnt Offerings (1976, United Artists, dir. Dam Curtis, based on the novel by Robert Marasco) is your vacation rental house ghost story. A young couple the Rolfs (Oliver Reed and Karen Black) rent a vacation home with their young son, and weird stuff starts to happen. They are supposed to keep the house up, but it seems organic: it can fix itself. There seems to be a presence upstairs, a matriarch (in the Allardyce family), and—you guessed it—Mrs. Rolf is being groomed to take over as its new sentinel. There is a great line from one of the elderly supporting characters, “I know what I do!” See also The Skeleton Key below.
Murder by Death (1976, Columbia, dir. Robert Moore, written by Neil Simon) Truman Capote, his own mincing effeminate self (called Lionel Twain in the movie), invites five detectives to dinner. Alec Guiness plays the butler Jamesir Bensonmum. Twain slowly reviews the murderous plans, which start to unfold. Soon there is a real mystery to solve. The concept of the film calls to mind 50s board games like "Clue" and "Mr. Ree." Because of Capote, the film is still popular with gay audiences. The title of the movie has inspired outhers, like "Murder by Numbers." This could have been a Hitchcock film, it just isn't. I saw this in NYC with a friend who said, yes, Truman really is "that way" in real life.
Voyage of the Damned (1976, Avco Embassy, dir. Stuart Rosenberg, book by Gordon Thomas, 182 min) is a harrowing history of a sea voyage of Jewish expatriates who left Hamburg in 1939 (on the St. Louis) believing they could settle in Cuba, which never intended to take them. FDR also refused to help them, as they returned to Europe, many to die in the Holocaust.
Logan’s Run (1976, MGM, dir. Michael Anderson, based on the novel by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson) presents the ultimate test of dedication to the right to life. In a future society, everyone must die at the age of 30. Oddly, it seems like men approaching their fourth decade are blissfully unaware of their sentences (somehow the younger people know). The executions are to be carried out by sandmen, police who capture “runners” escaping the sealed off city. Oh, some holocaust has destroyed most of civilization. The film has an interesting shot of the Zale Building in Dallas, near Stemmons Freeway. I actually worked in that building in 1979.
The Omen (1976, 20th Century Fox, dir. Richard Donner) followed by three sequels (?, 1981, 1991) starts when an ambassador finds out that his son is the anti-christ. This was a big deal when the first film opened in New York. There was a spectacular decapitation scene with a flying window pane that anticipates "Final Destination" movies. The whole concept starts over in 2006 with "The Omen: 666" dir John Moore, again Fox. Hollywood is recycling the same formula.
Taxi Driver (1976, Columbia, dir Matin Scorsese, R, 113 min) is a famous thriller about an unstable Vietnam veteran Travis (Robert Di Nero) who drives a taxi and meets all kinds of characters whom he considers scum and offensive. Of course, he goes out and looks for trouble in places like prostitution emporiums.The list includes a Senator’s campaign worker Betsy (Cybill Sheperd) and an underage pimp Iris (Jodie Foster). (Yeah, in “Hustle and Flow,” “it’s hard out there for a pimp!) This film is famous also for Jodie Foster’s role, which apparently attracted the attention of John W. Hinckley Jr., when he tried to assassinate President Reagan in 1981 to “impress” her. That is a problem, that in very rare cases movies like this can push unstable or mentally ill people over the edge.
The Message (1976, Anchor Bay, dir. Moustapha Akkad, Libya, PG, 177 min) is a famous historical account of the birth of Islam. “There is only one God, Allah, and Mohammed is his Messenger.” Anthony Quinn plays Hamza, the prophet's uncle. The director/producer was killed in the Al Qaeda hotel bombing in November 2005. The film was controversial even in production, with Muslim riots. After release, a hundred people were taken hostage in Washington DC by Hanafi terrorists, and future mayor Marion Barry was wounded. The film survived calls that it be banned, and reminds one of the cartoon controversy in 2006. Note that the 2006 novel by Dan Silva, about a radical Islamic terrorist plot against the Vatican, is called "The Messenger."
Silent Movie (1976, 20th Century Fox, dir, Mel Brooks, story by Ron Clark). Novice filmmakers approach a movie studio, about to undergo a hostile takeover, about making a comic silent movie with A-list actors. The actors start signing up. But the gekos at corporate and on Wall Street conspire to undermine the project. The first start to be approached is Burt Reynolds, and there is a bizarre shower scene where some of the male filmmakers sneak up on him and indulge in soaping his hairy chest. Later, a couple and wedding cake both get a bubble bath in full formal wear. The movie itself, of course, is a "silent film" with only one spoken word (and some man-dog growls in the Trump-like boardroom). Lots pf physical comedy here. Compare with "Scary Movie" franchise, and with For Your Consideration (2006). Mel Brooks himself plays Mel Funn; many other stars, including James Caan, Liza Minelli, Anne Bancroft, Barry Levinson, Bernadette Peters, Howard Hesseman (as the Trump-like executive), and Paul Newman and Marcel Marceau appear.
The Last Wave (1977)
Black Sunday (1977)
Sorcerer (1977, Universal/Paramount, dir. William Friedkin, 121 min, PG-13, remake of "The Wages of Fear" ("Le Salaire de la peur", (1953), novel by Georges Arnaud) has outcasts and ex-cons hired to do a run of a truck loaded with dynamite and nitroglycerin through the jungle in Central America. The title suggests more mystery than there really is. This was a high profile film in the 70s. Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer/
Julia (1977, 20th Century Fox, dir. Fred Zinnemann, 118 min, PG-13), I saw this film on the upper East Side in Manhattan, NYC that year, and the audience gave it an ovation at the end. This is the story of the relationship between playwright Lillian Hellmann (Jane Fonda) (from her memoir Pentimento) and her long term friend Julia (Vanessa Redgrave), who eventually enlists Lilian to help smuggle funds to the anti-Nazi resistance. I remember a climactic encounter in a bar in Berlin where the two friends meet near the end of the movie, when Julia then has only one leg.
Equus (1977, MGM/United Artists, dir. Sidney Lumet, play by Peter Shaffer). Richard Burton plays a psychiatrist treating a boy accused of blinding horses, and gets into existentialism. Blogger.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977, Columbia, dir. Steven Spielberg). For the uninitiated, a CE III is a personal encounter with an extraterrestrial alien. The film starts with the recovery in Mexico of the lost five Avengers from the Bermuda Triangle. If progresses from there. Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) will be attracted to the Devil’s Tower area in Eastern Wyoming (an offshoot of the Black Hills) for the final showdown. The music by John Williams has that famous GAFFC motto theme. There was a director’s cut that shows Roy going on to the spaceship. There is plenty of foreshadowing with toys early on, and even Roy playing with his food, making a Devil’s Tower out of mashed potatoes. Of course, if this really did happen publicly, it would be a civilization-changing event. I saw the film twice, the second time during New York City’s big 1978 blizzard. Spielberg’s other big ET film would be called literally that, The E.T. (1982), which, for some reason, was not made in widescreen format. “E.T. phone home” would become a famous phrase, even a sermon by David Day at the MCC Dallas in the mid 1980s.
Star Wars (1977 etc., franchise from 20th Century Fox of up to six films now), dir. George Lucas and the origination of LucasFilms. The most interesting idea is how a nice young warrior goes to the dark side and becomes Darth Vader. But the best scene of all may be in the first 1977 film, where a typical fern bar (maybe a gay bar??) on another planet is shown, with all kinds of critters congregation in a melting pot. “We don’t like your kind here.”
Annie Hall (1977, United Artists, dir. Woody Allen) has Woody playing comedian Alvy Singer, and his temptestoso relationship with Annie (Diane Keaton), a film which is supposed to heterosexual document romance in the Big Apple in the collectivist 70s; would be surpassed by Manhattan. Everybody was talking about this movie when I was changing jobs, going from NBC to Bradford.
Capricorn One (1978, Warner Bros/20th Century Fox/Filmways, dir. Peter Hyams, 123 min, PG) is a conspiracy movie that suggests that the first walk on the Moon was faked as part of a government coverup. The film is surprisingly gripping and spectacular given the absurdity and negativity of the premise.
The Deer Hunter (1978, Universal, dir. Michael Cimino, 182 min, R). I remember standing in line in a rare Dallas snowstorm at Northpark in January 1979 to see this. This is a monumental but structurally simple film about some working class, factory buddies from the Pittsburgh mills who get drafted and go off to Vietnam together, escape death and come back and try to put their lives back together, literally over kitchen tables. The film’s “middle” contains a notorious game of Russian roulette in the Vietnam rice paddies.
The Eyes of Laura Mars (1978, Columbia, dir. Irvin Kershner, story by John Carpenter) has photographer Laura Mars (Faye Dunaway, the lady on TheWB’s “The Starlet” who says, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you”) anticipating murders of a serial killer through remote viewing. This film attempts to combine “the supernatural” with commentary on the values of the New York fashion world. The film stirs a turning point memory in me: I was watching it in 1983 on TV when I noticed a lesion on my truck. No, it did turn out negative, but from that point on AIDS was a personal panic for quite some time.
Blue Collar (1978, Universal, dir. Paul Schrader) Three auto workers rob the local union's safe and then try to blackmail the union. Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel, Yaphet Kotto. The comedy was inspired by the aggressiveness of union activity and "solidarity" in the strike-ridden 1970s.
Saturday Night Fever (1978, Paramount, dir. John Badham) made disco dancing a public thing, and introduced John Travolta, then as a young attractive “stud” Italian-American male. He would not remain pretty forever. The music has all the winsome music of the Bee Gees (“If I can’t have you…” "Macho Man" "In the Navy" -- indeed looking ahead to "don't ask don't tell" without realizing it at the time) , and brings back memories of a turning point in my life when I lived in New York City myself. The movie starts with a shot of NYC from the East River, when the Twin Towers were in glory.
Grease (1978, Paramount, dir. Randall Kleiser, musical by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey) has two teens (John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John) falling in love in the summer and finding out that they are from the same high school. It's a silly, fluffy musical. But the stage renditions have led to legal controversy. According to a Feb 15 2006 New York Times story by Patrick McGeehan, a major cruise line has been accused of piracy, and a high school in Missouri has canceled production of the musical because the innocent sexual play (all heterosexual) offended conservative Christians. This is silly.
Halloween (franchise, started in 1978) moved here.
The Dark Secret of Harvest Home (1978, Universal/NBC, TV mini, dir. Leo Penn, novel by Thomas Tryon) is based on a famous horror novel from the 70s, as a young couple moves to a New England Village and finds itself threatened by satanic rituals involving human sacrifice and even male castration. The book seems like an exaggeration of the Puritan and transcendental novels and plays in classic America literature (Hawthorne, etc). Sometimes this gets mixed up with Stephen King's famous "Children of the Corn" series.
Coma (1978, MGM, dir. Michael Crichton, novel by Robin Cook) Patients start winding up in comas after routine elective surgeries and getting shipped out somewhere for nefarious goings on, like body parts. A famous novel at the time, but the subject matter has become more tragic today. Not to be confused with the HBO documentary.
Star Trek (1979 etc. franchise from Paramount, six or more pictures) is more surreal from my perspective but the most provocative film may be the first one, where they go inside the bowels of a huge alien spacecraft for a mystical experience. This is a far cry from the 15-mile-long UFO’s that hover over Earth and attack (including the White House with Bill Clinton in it—no, Bill Pullman is not very presidential) in Independence Day (1996)—those turned out to be insect hives. Star Trek (2009, dir. J. J. Abrams) starts the careers of Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto), and seems tied to this earth at first (Iowa), but shows planets imploding from injected black holes. Blogger.
The Warriors (1979, Paramount, dir. Walter Hill, novel by Sol Yurick, 93 min, R) was controversial for supposedly glorifying gang violence, possibly through its artsy setup to compare the plot to a Greek tragedy. After the film there were stories of copycat crimes, including a stabbing in Massachusetts imitating one in the film. Here a small gang is stranded in the City after being framed for murdering another gang leader, as with a Greek battle in Persia. There is a final confrontation on the beach, and many of the scenes are framed with matte paintings of the gang members in subway or other grimy New York City environments. It is definitely pre-Giuliani. Of course, we all know that the "warrior" concept is a masculine polarity value ("Warriors, come out to play!") , and goes along with controlling turf and territory. Mockingbirds have it, and they teach it in the military. Men build their whole psychic identity around warriorship. But it's odd to hear "anti-faggot" remarks in a story that reminds one of Alexander the Great. (Never mind that most of the gang, who are Caucasian, still flaunt smooth chests.) Walter Hill explains his movie in the Director's Cut DVD, and still shows Paramount as a "Gulf and Western" company. Those were the days, my friend.
Quintet (1979, 20th Century Fox, dir. Robert Altman) is a curious experiment by this director in sci-fi. In a future ice age, people live in a closed contraption that looks like a train engine. Inside they play a deadly game of quintet with real people as “just pieces.” The 5/4 time music is intoxicating.
Manhattan (1979, United Artists, dir. Woody Allen, R) is a famous comedy, in black and white Cinemascope, where Isaac Davis (Woody Allen himself) gets into a love triangle with a 17 year old high school student (barely legal in New York) and his best friend's mistress.
The China Syndrome (1979, Columbia, dir. Mike Bridges) of course means the proposition that a nuclear power plant meltdown could melt to the other side of the globe. Not quite likely, but potentially a real catastrophe. Jane Fonda plays Kimberly Wells, a reporter who investigates safety hazards at a nuclear power plant. See also “Silkwood” below. A telling concept for today’s concerns.
Alien (1979, 20th Century Fox, dir. Ridley Scott, PG-13) may be the greatest sci-fi film other, primarily because of its vision of what an alien world really could look like (Pitch Black from USA also does this), with living spaceships and egg-colonies. The screenplay delivers two big surprises that are logical in retrospect, and the exploding body is only the beginning. Sigourney Weaver and Tom Skerritt. The concept that the organism could be built right into hardware is fascinating, In one of the less impressive sequels Ripley is given “clippers for her private parts” given the infestation of the entomological alien’s world. Great monsters.
Mad Max (1979, American International, dir. George Miller) was a famous franchise of futuristic motorcycle movies filmed in Australia. Max Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) and Mad Max 3: Beyond Thunderdome (1985) were the sequels and took the motorcycle flick to new levels of imagination.
Prophecy (1979, Paramount, dir. John Frankenheimer, 102 min, PG) sounds like an imposing title, but actually it's pretty silly. Toxic wastes from a logging camp cause a bear to give birth to a mutated monster that attacks campers in their tents and tears them to pieces.
Hair (1979, United Artists, dir. Milos Forman, wr. Gerome Ragni and James Rado) Claud (James Savage) goes from Oklahoma to New York to join the hippy subculture but then gets drafted to go fight in Vietnam. Famous for war protests, and satires of Army draft physicals, which could be humiliating (as well as the barber's buzz cut in the Reception Station). Of course, in the 60s "long hair" (on the scalp, that is) was seen as a kind of superficial rebellion against gender roles, but it got more complicated than that quickly.
Caddyshack (1980, Orion, dir. Harold Ramis) Checy Chase plays in a comedy about the golfing set (where you dress for success according to Molloy) and where an underground gopher can unfix any matches. Great underground shots from the rodent's world view.
Heaven’s Gate (1980, United Artists, dir. Michael Cimino, 195 min, R) was the gigantic western that gained notoriety as a box office bomb. It cost $44M and grossed #1.5 M according to imdb. I saw it in Dallas at a UA theater and rather liked it. The scenery was breathtaking, and the story has political overtones: a struggle between established cattle interests and immigrants. Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walken, John Hurt.
Altered States (1980, Warner Bros., dir. Ken Russell, 102 min, R) relates a dangerous experiment that a Harvard scientist Professor Eddie Jessup (William Hurt) conducts on himself, starting as sensory deprivation as he lies in a tank, leading toward evolutionary regression. Quite sensational at the time, but there would be many more similar film treatments over the years.
Dressed to Kill (1980, Orion/Filmways, dir. Brian de Palma) is one of those delicious thrillers that moves from place to place (like Vertigo) .. the museum… In drag (or perhaps let’s say in women’s clothes) a transsexual slashes to death one of his psychiatrist’s patients, and we are left with a very interesting Manhattan mystery. This film got a lot of PR. Michael Caine and Angie Dickinson.
Ordinary People (1980, Paramount, dir. Robert Redford, 124 min, PG-13) was another crowd pleaser. It made the canon by baroque composer Johann Pacabel famous. Timothy Hutton plays teenager Conrad Jarrett, who is driven to despair and attempted suicide after the accidental death of an older brother. Judd Hirsch plays the therapist Tyrone Berger.
Raging Bull (1980, MGM, dir. Martin Scorsese, book by Jack La Motta and Joseph Carter, 129 min, R) was a long biographical film about the self-destructive boxer Jack La Motta (Robert De Niro). I waited to see this one, finally at the tiny Northtown Mall in north Dallas. See “Rocky” and “Cinderella Man” on this page.
Nine to Five ("9 to 5", 20th Century Fox, dir. Colin Figgins) Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton rebel, illegally perhaps but with comic indignation, against a sexist boss. Famous theme song.
Friday the 13th (1980, Paramount, dir. Sean Cunningham) followed by nine other films in a franchise, is a classic gorefest. "They were doomed. Nothing could save them" at this reopened camp. Betsy Palmer swings the ax in the climax. But this is one of those films where any girl who steps out of her gender role "is going to get it," and the series is seen as misogynistic.
Fame (1980, MGM, dir. Alan Parker, wr. Christopher Gore) is a spirited musical (with the famous theme song), about the training that kids get at the New York City High School for the Performing Arts. This would be a good time for a modern film about how a young actor makes the "A list" (and I don't mean just American Idol).
Scanners (1981, Embassy, dir. David Cronenberg, R, 103 min). Scanners, a tiny minority, can control the minds and actions of ordinary people, in asymmetric fashion. There will be a power struggle within the ranks between Revok (Michael Ironside) and Ruth (Patrick McGoohan). The story does not seem to have a lot to do with the new "A Scanner Darkly" (2006).
Outland (1981, Warner Bros./Ladd, dir. Peter Hyams) has a mining colony on Io, a volcanic moon of Jupiter, doused with amphetamines (drugs!!) illegally to make them work harder. The film is a commentary on the migrant worker problem and today seems relevant given the methampethamine epidemic.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, Paramount/Lucasfilm, dir. Steven Spielberg, 115 min, PG-13) is one of the most famous popcorn movies ever. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is hired to find the lost Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis find it. Remember the great underground mine train scenes and the rollerball. Despite the silly popularity, the ideas of this pseudo-period piece are important. The franchise sequel is Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984, Paramount, dir. Steven Spielberg) where Indiana finds a catacomb leading to a secret cult in India. Movie 3 is "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (1989). Movie 4 is "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (2008, Paramount / LucasFilm / Dreamworks, dir. Steven Spielberg) set 20 years later with the McCarthyism of the 50s, blogger review here.
Body Heat (1981, Warner Bros./ Ladd Comp, dir. Lawrence Kasdan, 113 min, R), is the ultimate modern “film noir.” Yes, it is a retelling of “The Postman Always Rings Twice.” This is the film about which they said simply, “good?” Kathleen Turner plays Matty Walker, the aspiring black widow-to-be (like Nicole in “Days of our Lives”), who traps a second-rate lawyer Ned Racine (played by a kind of childish William Hurt) as an accomplice to murdering her old fogey rich husband (Richard Crenna). This movie is loaded with great lines, like early when she says to him, “you’re not too bright. I like that in a man.” Later he says, “we know we’re gonna kill him.” Then the pleasure, after the murder half-way through, is watching him get caught and her getting away (to “Purgatory” perhaps, to soap opera fans). It all starts to unravel with a deliciously staged meeting in a real estate office in central Florida—what better place for legal documents to unravel? The music score by John Barry is particularly haunting and was popular at the Crossroads Market in Dallas (on Cedar Springs) in the 80s.
Gandhi (1981, Columbia/Carolina Bank, 180 min, dir. Richard Attenborough, PG-13) is an epic biography of Mohandas K. Gandhi (Ben Kingsley) as his non-violent resistance for India against the British after his training as a lawyer in South Africa. The film is known for its massed scenes of people toward the end. There is a tendency for a lot of pontification in the script, but some interesting conversations for today’s viewers, such as about whether terrorism is ever acceptable and how you would resist a dictator like Hitler. Some of the scenes, such as Gandhi making his own clothes, are quite touching.
Ghost Story (1981, Universal/Image, dir. John Irvin, based on the novel by Peter Straub, R, 110 min) looks smallish compared to the monumental book. Four members of the Chowder Society (played by Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., John Houseman) sit around telling ghost stories as they explore a 50 year old secret, where they locked a girl in the trunk of a car to hide a sexual assault and rolled the car into a lake. The girl, Anna Mobley (Alice Krige) reappears, particularly in the impassioned middle section of the novel. The book is really more graphic than the movie, with imagery like when Sears’s arms are yanked off and he in someone “who didn’t die while the life ran out of him.”
An American Werewolf in London (1981, Universal, dir. John Landis. 97 min, R) was a famous horror comedy that dubbed itself “the Monster Movie.” Indeed, two American tourists (David Naughton and Griffin Dunne) get bit, and their unmanly hairless bodies turn into werewolves. There is a horrific, if funny scene at the end with decapitations and heads rolling on car hoods. Some cute songs come from this movie. A replay of this franchise is: An American Werewolf in Paris (1997, Hollywood, dir. Anthony Waller, wr. John Landis, 105 min, R) where three young men touring Europe stumble into a coven of werewolves in Paris. It starts when Andy McDermott (Tom Everett Scott, who acts the part rather like Seth in "The O.C.") saves a girl Serafine (Julie Delpy) from plunging off the Eiffel Tower and gets involved with her. Her mother and stepfather are trying to overcome lycanthropy and have a serum that can convert the hairless man into a wolf at any time. Andy gets converted twice, the second time on a subway car. At least one head gets eaten. Not as funny as the first movie, although the trio (Vince Vieluf and Phil Buckman) appeals, until one of them joins the undead.
Wolfen (1981, Orion/Warner Bros., dir. Michael Wadleigh, 115 min, PG-13) is a mystery set in New York where people have been slain in what seem to be ritualistic animal attacks by wolves. Well, they somewhat are, although many environmental issues are covered along the way, including old Native American legends. The film is ambitious and covers a lot of ground. In the find scenes, there are some decapitations, and speculations that people live a few minutes afterwards “knowing that you are dead.”
On Golden Pond (1981, Universal, dir. Mark Rydell) is a sweet rustic family reunion (a la Thoreau) movie about a retired professor Norman Thayer (Henry Fonda), his wife (Katherine Hepburne) and their returning daughter Chelsea (Jane Fonda), whose liaisons may not be acceptable to her parents. The movie is very sentimental, down to the line about “suck face.”
Chariots of Fire (1981, Warner Bros., dir. Hugh Hudson, UK, 123 min, PG) was a famous feel good film about two athletes competing for the Olympics in track. One is a Christian missionary, one is a Jew. The music has a famous theme by Vangelis.
Coal Miner's Daughter (1981, dir. Michael Apted, based on autobiography of Loretta Lynn) is a biography of the famous country and western singer who went from poverty to fame. But she also supported the workers in organizing, and there a conspicuous scene where she carries the picket placard, "Union".
Time Bandits (1981, Embassy, dir. Terry Gilliam) was a cult kids classic at the time, as a young boy goes on a time travel journey with dwarves looking for treasure, a bit like goonies. John Cleese is Robin Hood, Sean Connery is Agammemnon, Ralph Richardson is God.
Reds (1981, Paramount, dir. Warren Beatty, 194 min, PG) is a biography of radical journalist Jack Reed (Warren Beatty), who will become the only American journalist buried next to the Kremlin. Journalist Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton) leaves her own husband to stay with him, and then stays with playright Eugene O’Neill (Jack Nicholson) while Reed goes to Russia for the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. The film has an intermission, with the stirring Communist hymn just before; but oddly it was not filmed full widescreen or even in Dolby (just becoming the standard at that time). This film is back in rerelease in the art houses with improved Dolby digital soundtrack.
Looker (1981, Warner Bros. / Ladd Company, dir. wr. Michael Crichton). The military-industrial complex is behind a process that transforms models who undergo plastic surgery, not knowing they are becoming subliminal spies -- only to die of overload. Remember the phrase "she's a looker."
Endless Love (1981, Universal / Polygram, dir. Franco Zefirelli, Italy) A story of a forbidden love between a 17 year old (Martin Hewitt) and 15 year old (Brooke Shields). It leads to arson and tragedy. But in Georgia this would have resulted in the Genarlow Wilson case.
Taps (1981, 20th Century Fox, dir. Harold Becker, novel by Devery Freeman). Timothy Hutton, as cadet major Brian Moreland, leads the ROTC kids in a revolt to save their military academy from condo developers, a story that anticipates the values of the real estate boom and bust 25 years later. In the early 1980s condo conversions were just getting hot in many areas, even given the high interest rates at the time, at the end of the Carter years. Yet, the concept of the story seems bizarre.
Mommie Dearest (1981, Paramount, book Christina Crawford, dir. Frank Perry) was a classic in its time, as Faye Dunaway plays Joan Crawford, who adopts children to fill her emotional life and then "abuses" them, told from the point of view of Christina (Diana Scarwid)
Southern Comfort (1981, 20th Century Fox, dir. Walter Hill) Some weekend warrior National Guardsmen on weekend maneuvers run into local "cajuns" who turn their Louisiana bayou into an echo of Vietnam. The movie has some relations to "Deliverance." Well paced, the subject matter may seem misplaced by how history has gone since.
Absence of Malice (1981, Columbia, dir. Sydney Pollack, 116 min) is a well-known story about journalistic ethics and libel and the "absence of malice" protective rule. A prosecutor suggests that Michael Gallagher (Paul Newman) is the target of a murder investigation regarding the execution of his Mafia father, and Sally Field is the quixotic reporter.
Whose Life Is It Anyway? (1981, MGM, dir. John Badham). Richard Dreyfuss plays a sculptor paralyzed in a car accident. He has to go to trial to be allowed to die. Compare to "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly."
Missing (1982, Universal, dir. Costa-Gavras, dir. Thomas Hauser, 122 min, R) Jack Lemmon plays a father and conservative who comes to a fascist South American country to look for his missing journalist son, and finds his own government may be culpable. The movie is thought to refer to the 1973 Pinochet takeover of Chile and the detention and murder of dissenters in a stadium in Santiago.
Poltergeist (1982, MGM, dir. Tobe Hooper, wr. Steven Spielberg). A family in a home over an unmarked grave is haunted, first playfully, by ghosts which almost take the daughter through the closet to the other side.
One from the Heart (1982, Columbia/Zoetrope, dir. Francis Ford Coppola), a romantic comedy from Coppola and an infamous film experiment, as it was shot on a small square frame with a Technovision lens. The story is a somewhat contrived one about a staged relationship that breaks apart on its fifth anniversary.
Tron (1982, Touchstone, dir. Steven Lisberger) abducts a hacker into a computer and lets him live out his battles on a world of semiconductor (selenium, for example) circuit boards that become the new topography. The film cleverly anticipates the technical and legal debates about hacking and Internet security today, ten years before the Internet was public. There is a famous line in the film, “Users are what our programs are for!”
An Officer and a Gentleman (1982, Paramount, dir. Taylor Hackford) has a tough guy aviator student (Richard Gere) tamed by a gunnery sergeant and a new girl friend (Debra Winger). A film that predates all the modern controversies about the military. But it does reinforce the dictom "women tame men."
The Verdict (1982, 20th Century Fox, novel by Barry Reed, screenplay by David Mamer, dir. Sidney Lumet). Paul Newman plays Frank Galvin, a lawyer seeking redemption so he takes a malpractice case to trial. Ed Concannon, the defense attorney, is played by vet James Mason and Miles O'Shea is the impeachable judge. This film probably inspired many novels that John Grisham would later write to become films. I served on jury duty in Dallas in 1986 for a medical malpractice case, got selected (I was questioned in the voir dire about my AIDS buddy volunteering) but once the jury was seated, the parties settled the next day. The attorneys said that this often happens in practice, and that real life in court doesn't follow even the best movies. (I was a foreman on a misdemeanor jury in 1982 for a weapons charge, also in Dallas, with a judge who had convicted many gay men in the police harassment stings in the gay bars, until one of the men got acquitted.)
Rambo: First Blood (1982, Orion/Carolco, dir. Ted Kotcheff) was a famous action flick with Sylvester Stalonne as the angry Vietnam veteran mounting a one-man war against the sheriff. Sequels in 1985 and 1988, this movie was seen as an exaggerated treatment of the plight of rejected Vietnam veterans. "Rambo" would become a somewhat derogatory vocabulary word for a loner vigilante. The franchise was restarted with a remake by Lionsgate in 2008.
The World According to Garp (1982, Warner Bros., dir. George Roy Hill, based on the novel by John Irving) has mother (Glenn Close) and son T.S. Garp (Robin Williams) as eccentric writers. Garp is the “serious” writer while his mother writes a manifesto for feminists. All kinds of cornball things happen, like a piano falling out of an apartment building. In the end, Garp says, what matters most is “family.” Does he really believe it? When does ego come first? The film begins with the song with lyrics, “Will you love me when I’m 64?” with an image of a baby on the beach. Youth is not forever.
E.T., The Extraterrestrial (1982, Universal/Amblin, dir. Steven Spielberg) is the classic sci-fi kids movie where some suburban grade school kids find a gentle alien (apparently young) who gets left behind, and then hide him. The scene where the kid and the ET ride a bicycle against the moon is classic. At the triumphant C-major end, the John Williams score is one of the best orchestral climaxes in all of film music. Curiously, the film was made in regular aspect ratio.
The Thing (1982, Universal, dir. John Carpenter), a remake of the 1951 bw classic The Thing from Another World, is a bit like Alien. Here, some scientists encounter a spaceship in Antarctica, with The Thing (a kind of The Blob) on it. It is really gross. It can take the shape of the people it eats. It’s asexual reproduction gives us one of the greatest horror scenes ever in it, as a “bud’ breaks off, with a head of a victim scuttling across the floor on octopus legs, screaming. Later, you don’t know who’s The Thing. If it gets into the mainstream Real World, it could infect and destroy civilization. That suggests a sequel. This film was made just before AIDS was known.
The Year of Living Dangerously (1982, MGM, dir. Peter Weir, PG, 117 min) was called “one of the great ones” by Roger Ebert. A journalist/foreign correspondent covering political upheaval in Indonesia under President Sukarno befriends a dwarf half-Chinese photographer Billy Kwan (Linda Hunt) and must extricate himself from danger. The movie may seem timely today inasmuch as Indonesia has become a major focus in the war on terror.
Tootsie (1982, Columbia, dir. Sydney Pollack, 119 min, PG-13) became the Sunday afternoon lighthearted romp. Dustin Hoffman is struggling actor Michael Dorsey, who must do anything to get a part in a soap opera, like become a woman. (Kind of the opposite of Sami who becomes “Stan” on NBC’s “Days of our Lives.”) Then one of the actors falls for him. You get it. But the film has the usual indignities. There is the famous advertising shot of Tootsie shaving his legs in a bathtub. They then bear an embarrassing resemblance to Mae West’s. The film might make a fair comparison to What Women Want (2000, Paramount, dir. Nancy Meyers) where an advertising executive (Mel Gibson) gets paranormal abilities to overhear what women want and winds up testing depilatory strips on his to-be-shiny shins. (Also, The 40 Year-Old Virgin (2005, Universal, dir. Judd Apatow) will have Andy Sitzer (playing Steve Carell) subjected to wax strips for his chest, leading to a moth-eaten effect that is supposed to be funny.)
Victor Victoria (1982, MGM, dir. Blake Edwards) is a delicious situation farce in turn-of-the-century Paris where a woman pretends to be a man pretending to be a woman, as a nightclub soprano (to get a job, of course—at least her legs should already emulate Betty Grable’s). Julie Andrews plays Victoria Grant aka Count Victor Grezhinski. She gives the penultimate drag shows. There is a wacky scene where a cockroach disrupts the restaurant into pure slapstick. An ambitious film in anamorphic wide screen.
Sophie’s Choice (1982, Universal, dir. Alan J. Pakula, based on the novel by William Styron, 150 min, R) layers a story in post WWII Brooklyn (opening with a scene where Spam – the meat – falls on the apartment floor) with the Concentration camps. Sophie (Meryl Streep), a survivor, lives with peripatetic Nathan (Kevin Kline), an eccentric young man, under the observation of writer Stingo (Peter MacNicol). The details of her survival come out, including a bloodcurdling scene where her child is taken and screams, just after they arrive at the camps.
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982, Universal/RKO), dir. Colin Higgns, 114 min, has a preacher going after a stage show that may masquerade as a house of ill repute. Dolly Parton's luscious --- made this a hit. Lavish and lilting, but made before the day Dolby stereo was standard.
World War III (1982, NBC/Universal, 240 min, TV, dir. David Green/Boris Sagal, novel by Robert Joseph) supposes that, in retaliation for an American embargo of grain shipments, Soviet paratroopers arrive to cut the Alaska oil pipeline. Rock Hudson, who then had only a few more years, is president. See also The Day After.
Annie (1982, Columbia, dir. John Huston, 125 min, PG) The musical about Little Orphan Annie (Aileen Queen) with the famous song "Tomorrow." Albert Finney is Daddy Warbucks, who has to rescue her at the end. There is some anti-Pinko lyrics, and Annie even wants to earn her keep.
Endangered Species (1982, MGM, dir. Alan Rudolph, story by Judson Klinger and Richard Clayton Woods) Bizarre conspiracy story about cattle mutilations, cattle barons and fibbies. A bit of a letdown.
Deathtrap (1982, dir. Sidney Lumet, play by Ira Levin). A playwright (Michael Caine) enlists a student (Christopher Reeve) in an authorship exercise designed to get his wife killed. Blogger.
The Keep (1983, Paramount, dir. Michael Mann, 96 min, R) A castle or citadel in Romania guards an evil spirit, and is guarded by Nazis. A Jewish man comes from Greece to solve the mystery and release the force. The movie seems to mix WWII history with mythological legend, but other films have done this better (even the little film from Minnesota "The Retreat"). Scott Glenn, Alberta Watson. Maybe "The Cave" in 2005 makes a remote comparison.
Terms of Endearment (1983, Paramount, dir. James L. Brooks, based on novel by Larry McMurty, 132 min, PG-13) is an ambitious drama about a mother and daughter (played by Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger) over the years. Aurora Greenway may be overbearing, but the daughter Emma marries a grad student (Jeff Daniels). 2/3 through the movie, tragedy strikes as a doctor tells Emma that she has a lump under her arm. Soon the movie goes the way of “Love Story.” Jacl Nicolson provides a diversion as Garret Breedlove, the astronaut who lives to go for spins on the Galveston beach.
The Dresser (1983, Columbia, dir. Peter Yates, play by Robert Harwood, PG-13, UK) a gayish dresser Norman (Tom Courtenay) gets an aging Shakespearian actor Sir (Albert Finney) through a performance of King Lear, the play about sibling rivalry, one that I remember being class reading in 12th Grade English. This movie is famous as a film about acting for its own sake.
Tender Mercies (1983, Universal, dir. Bruce Beresford, 89 min). A former Texas country singer Mac Sledge (Robert Duvall) befriends a young widow Rosa Lee (Tess Harper) who has a son (Allan Hubbard). Their relationship builds his life back, and he even has kept his glorious past as a performer a secret. Tragedy finally strikes. Critically acclaimed in its time. The film makes Texas look a bit bleak for all the gospel and country music.
The Outsiders (1983, Warner Brothers / Zoetrope, dir, Francis Ford Coppola, novel by S.E. Hinton, 91 min, PG-13) This is Hinton's most famous novel, and publishers wanted to disguise the fact that she is a woman. Two rival gangs in Oklahoma, the Greasers and Socs, fight it out, with some tragedy (and a big fire leading to burn victims). A "young" Matt Dillon, with Patrick Swayze and Rob Lowe (as Sodapop), Emilio Estevez, and even Tom Cruise.
Rumble Fish (1983, Universal, dir. Francis Ford Coppola, novel by S. E. Hinton) is a film about Rusty James (Matt Dillon), a gang member who emulates his older brother and longs to live up to his reputation. Filmed in impressive black and white with occasional splashes of red that anticipates "Schindler's List." Hinton is often taught in English classes, as she writes about disaffected teens. Though most critics took this movie, Roger Ebert did not, and I remember his really panning it as incoherent.
The Big Chill (1983, Columbia, dir. Lawrence Kasdan). Friends get together for a weekend in S.C. after a funeral, and the conflicts brew.
Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983, Universal, dir. Nagisa Oshima, based on the novel by Laurens Van der Post, “The Seed and the Sower”, UK/Japan. 124 min, R) was a controversial film about Americans in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in 1942. Capt. Yonoi (Rvuicvhi Sakomoto) questions why the soldiers surrender rather than commit suicide (remember that Japanese kamikazes forshadow today’s suicide bombers). Mar. Lawrence (Tom Conti) regarded as betraying his unit when he tries to explain the Japanese point of view. Capt. Jacl Celliers (David Bowie) is thought by some reviewers to be gay, as he seems to enjoy his brother’s (James Malcolm) strip search and torture. The music score by Sakomoto is haunting and has an oft-quoted theme.
The Right Stuff (1983, Warner Bros./Ladd, dir. Philip Kaufman, book by Tom Wolfe, 193 min, PG) is a history of the earlier days of the U.S. space program, especially the six years following Russia’s Sputnik. Sam Shepard, Scott Glenn, Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid, Fred Ward play Chuck Yeager, Alan Shepard, John Glenn (who would become a Senator from Ohio) Gordon Cooper and Gus Grissom. The early years emphasize the patriotism but don’t have the spectacle of later films involving the Moon visits. There is a harrowing scene of Glenn’s re-entry, that would anticipate Apollo 13. As I recall, the film does not cover the 1967 fire and tragic deaths of three astronauts.
The Thorn Birds (1983, ABC, dir. Daryl Duke, novel by Colleen McCullough, 477 min) was a famous miniseries based on the epic novel about the Clearly family, that comes from New Zealand to Australia to run the outback ranch of their aunt Mary Carson (Barbara Stanwyck). Rachel Ward is Meggie, and Richard Chamberlain is Ralph de Briscaratt, who breaks emotionally at the end of the series. The opening, with the music and the outback scenery behind the jeep approaching the home base of Drohega, is memorable.
The Winds of War (1983, Paramount/ABC, dir. Dan Curtis, PG-13, 883 min) followed by War and Remembrance (1988, Paramount/ABC, PG-13, 800 min) is the franchise mini-series based on Herman Wouk’s duet of mammoth novels tracing one family (Robert Mitchum as Captain “Pug” Henry) through World War II. The first novel ends with Pearl Harbor. The second novel becomes most harrowing toward the end as Berel Jastrow (Topol) and family are taken to Theresienstadt (“the Paradise Ghetto”), where Jastrow tries to go along with the Nazis, and then eventually, late in October 1944 to Auschwithz for gassing. The scenes of the final train ride East and their processing at Auschwitz are particularly horrifying. The music is memorable, with the d-minor “love theme,” as are the images displayed in the credits before every episode. The series provides a good lesson for screenwriters, in how to take a dispersed, somewhat rambling novel and tighten it up for a compelling television series with distinct episodes. I would visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau (near Krakow, Poland) grounds myself in 1999.
War Games (1983, MGM, dir. John Badham) presents teenage computer hacking fifteen or so years before its time, ten years before there was a public Internet. A preteen named David Lightman (Matthew Broderick) hacks into a military central computer and finds himself manipulating war games, threatening a nuclear showdown between the U.S. and the Soviets, during the era when Ronald Reagan was proposing a Star Wars defense. During the time this film was made, the TRS-80 was popular, as were the Osborne and the Commodore; IBM was just making headway into the PC market. Windows was some years away. The Internet was still ten years off, and buffer overflow was the stuff of sci-fi. Life imitated art here. (Do not confuse this film with the BBC docudrama).
Silkwood (1983, 20th Century Fox, dir. Mike Nichols) is the bio story of Karen Silkwood (Meryl Streep) who, working at a plutonium processing plant in Oklahoma in 1974, may have been murdered before meeting with a reporter to expose gross safety violations.
The Star Chamber (1983, 20th Century Fox, dir. Peter Hyams, R, 109 min) is a tribunal in which those who have escaped the criminal justice system through (Miranda-based) technicalities are put away. An idealistic Judge Hardin (Michael Douglas) learns from Judge Caulfield (Hal Holbrook) that a group of judges hire hit men to administer private justice. Hardin, invited to join, is particularly upset of the release of a child molester. The concept of star chamber, however, seems more general, as vigilante justice could go after anything that is technically legal but perceived as anti-social or anti-family.
Scarface (1983, Universal, dir. Brian de Palma, wr. Oliver Stone) is a film that the director says he made to show what is going on with all the cocaine dealing in South Florida. A Cuban immigrant Tony Montana (Al Pacino) tries to take over the Miami drug empire. Graphic violence.
Flashdance (1983, Paramount/Polygram, dir. Adrian Lyne) has a female welder/exotic dancer aspire to ballet. The song has a famous song with a tremendous 80s disco lilt. It was a bit smaller than a lot of other similar semi-musicals of the time. I remember seeing at Northpark in Dallas in the smallest of the four auditoriums at the time.
Mr. Mom (1983, 20th Century Fox, dir. Stan Dragoti) Michael Keaton plays a laid off breadwinner, who takes care of the kids when mom (Teri Garr) goes to work. Though 25 years after Betty Friedan, this film created a stir when it appeared.
Trading Places (1983, Paramount, dir. John Landis) Louis Winthrope III (Dan Akroyd) and Mortimer Duke (Don Ameche) set up a con artist Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) to figure his way out of securities crimes he didn't commit. Made in the days before insider trading was all the rage (although it was starting then).
Fanny and Alexander ("Fanny och Alexander", 1983, Embassy, dir. Ingmar Bergman, 170 min) is a detailed account of family life around Christmas in a Swedish household, with parents in Swedish theater, early in the 20th Century as seen through the eyes of children.
Dune (1984, Universal, dir. David Lynch) seems like an early effort by Lynch, based on Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi novel about other a quadruple-other-world system with gom jabbers and initiation rites for one charismatic Paul Altreides (Kyle MacLachlan, who would eventually star in Blue Velvet (1986) and the 1990 Twin Peaks series. The movie was panned, but I found Lynch’s vision of the different worlds fascinating, including the green worlds of Castle Caladan, followed by oil-producing Geidi Prime. The oil, or rather crack cocaine of this world is the “spice” however on the desert planet Dune, with its initiation rites like riding a sandworm. Some scenes, like the disembodied brains of the Guild floating in an MRI machine, or the Baron floating in air in what seems like a latrine, are fascinating. So is the music score.
Ghost Busters (1984, Columbia, dir. Ivan Reitman, wr. Dan Atkryod and Harold Raims, 105 min, PG) was the ultimate "entertainment" flick, as three parapsychology professors, without real jobs of course, set up an entrepreneurial business to eliminate spirits, and go around chasing ectoplasm. In the sequel, Ghost Busters II (1989) there is a river of ectoplasm.
Greystoke: The Legend of Trazan, Lord of the Apes (1984, Warner Bros., dir. Hugh Hudson, novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, 143 min, UK) This is the famous novel of an infant raised by apes when a ship is stranded in West Africa in 1866, and then brought back to civilization, one of the possibilities for a country with a huge far-flung empire. Ralph Richardson is Lord Greystoke, and Christopher Lambert is John Clayton or Trazan. During the sountrack, Sir Edward Elgar's First Symphony in A-flat Major (an unusual key), with its somber, noblimente theme, plays, at the beginning and end. The work is odd in that in the first movement the main body of music moves to the tritone key of d minor.
Purple Rain (1984, Warner Bros., dir. Albert Magnoli) with Prince (from Minneapolis) as The Kid, a singer who meets Appollonia (herself) and loses her with his own self-destructive behavior. A bit heavier than "Dreamgirls" (2006) to which it could be compared. Prince sang at Super Bowl 41 in Miami.
Blood Simple (1984/2000) moved.
Romancing the Stone (1984, 20th Century Fox, dir. Robert Zemeckis). Kathleen Turner plays romance novelist Joan Wilder, who travels to Colombia to find a ransomed sister and meets a soldier of fortune (Michael Douglas) and corrupt official (Manuel Ojeda).
Nineteen Eighty Four (1984, MGM/UA, dir. Michael Radford, novel by George Orwell) had the contradiction, "all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." Indeed, this satire seems to predict some of today's debates over the Patriot Act after 9/11. But the despotic society looking at every citizen's move never came, although in modern day London there are security cameras everywhere. I can remember an image of Communism that my father presented, that every word spoken is recorded by the government. Not quite, but someone's blog today can be read anywhere.
Red Dawn (1984, United Artists, dir. John Milius, story by Kevin Reynolds, 114 min, PG-13) proposes the nightmare Cold War scenario: an all out conventional Soviet invasion of the United States. Here it starts with paratroopers landing outside a Colorado high school, within sight of The Kids, who become the warriors to take back the country. The treatment comes across as less than compelling; the invaders apparently assembled in Nicaragua and moved north. Stories of rapes as they crossed the border are told second hand. The commies do control the town with martial law. My own imagination during that time envisioned Commies smuggled into the country with tiny dirty bombs to launch in cities. Trouble is, the modern threat of asymmetric terrorism really does suggest treatments of how American society could come apart, and they are much scarier than this movie is.
The Terminator (1984, MGM, dir. James Cameron) made Arnold Scharzenegger famous for “I’ll Be Back.” He is. It is 2029, the Year of Darkness, when cyborgs rule a decimated world. This film became a franchise with “Terminator II: Judgment Day” (1991) and “Terminator III: Rise of the Machines” (2003). The third film (dir. Jonathan Mostow) has the interesting premise that an Internet virus infects all of the nations weapons systems and leads to nuclear war and apocalypse. Nick Stahl gives a commanding performance as John Connor.
A Passage to India (1984, Columbia, dir. David Lean, novel by E. M. Forster, 163 min, PG) is an old-fashioned period piece big enough for an intermission. In colonial India, British settled, a young Indian doctor is accused of rape in the caves.
The Philadelphia Experiment (1984, New World, dir. Stewart Raffill, story by Charles Berlitz) The Navy is testing some invisibility experiments on a Naval destroyer escort in the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, and sailors on a ship time travel to 2024. A romance develops, that crosses forty years of time. How many times have I thought, if only I had been born forty years later, this person could have been right! ("He's too young for you, ha, ha."). Michael Pare, Nacy Allen, Eric Christmas.
The River (1984, Universal, dir. Mark Rydell, PG-13, story by Robert Dillon, 124 min, p-1/a-3/r-1) covers all the perils of the American farm family in the 1980s, with falling farm prices, bank foreclosure, and eminent domain -- a greedy power utility trying to flood their land. In the auction scene, early, it takes the farmers a while to figure out that all of the land has already been foreclosed. In one sequence, surviving farm owner (Mel Gibson) is hired as a scab (at $4.50 and hour for a 50 hour week) at a rust belt steel mill and told that he gets a ten minute piss break every two hours, and the men are chided that they act like "girls"; soon another scab worker is badly injured (the disfigurement on camera is pretty gross). When the strike is over, the scabs have to walk out as part of the settlement, and Gibson gets spit on by a steelworker's wife carrying a child. In the meantime his wife (Sissy Spacek) gets her arm trapped under a columbine and tricks a bull into freeing her. The movie does play on the typical moralistic argument that the well-off should be ashamed of their dependence on the underpaid less well off, an argument often advanced by Barbara Ehrenreich. There is only occasional relief from the gloom, as in a fast-pitch softball game where Gibson's character, brushed back twice, hits a triple and is out at the plate trying to make it a home; he brags to his son that he homered. The final climax is a standoff as the family sandbags the dikes to stop the property from flooding. The utility company man (Scott Glenn) actually plugs the final dike hole, but says, "someday there will be too much rain, or too much corn." The film was made in east Tennessee (in the TVA area), with the steel mill scenes shot in Birmingham, AL (my last visit there in 1989). The film does seem to make a statement about "class warfare" in a world where men have to prove themselves as providers and protectors of families. In fact, there is a bit of a humiliating love triangle involving the farm wife (Spacek) and Glenn's character. This is good viewing for high school social studies classes; it covers a lot of interrelated economic and social issues, and has a lot of detail, lending itself to typical video worksheet classwork. (Do not confuse with "The River Wild", below.)
Dreamscape (1984, 20th Century Fox, dir. Joseph Ruben, story by David Loughery) has the ultimate government plot: to get at people in the dreams, and kill them there, so you can kill them in real life. Dennis Quaid is Alex Gardner, and Max von Sydow is the mad doctor. Murder by telepathy or dreams sounded like a believable concept before there was an Internet.
Hotel New Hampshire (1984, Orion, dir. Tony Richardson, novel by John Irving) A wacky family hangs on to a hotel populated by wacky characters.
American Flyers (1985, Warner Bros, dir. John Badham, PG-13) featured Kevin Costner and David Grant as older and younger brothers (Marcus and David) in a movie about bicycle road racing, climaxing in the Hell of the West race in Colorado. (The movie title also reminds one of the model railroad company.) There is a family medical secret: which brother has the deadly brain disease? Early on, David gets the full cardiovascular workout, and then protests to Marcus that he doesn’t want to shave his legs, a line that was curiously cut out of the network TV version. No so with Breaking Away (1979, 20th Century Fox, dir. Peter Yates), where Dennis Christopher shaves over a bathtub a la Tootsie while singing Figaro. This film was slow to get going but was widely shown on PBS in 1985 about the same time as American Flyers. It’s inevitable that there will be at least a TV film about cyclist Lance Armstrong’s battle with testicular cancer. A couple years before Flyers, John Travolta (Saturday Night Fever and the winsome Bee-Gees of 1978) had introduced the world to the notion of metrosexuality in Staying Alive (1983, Paramount, dir. Sylvester Stallone) with his song-and-dance sequences (rather like his own requiem as a man) where he was totally waxed and epilated. Nobody said anything but everybody noticed. The movie title comes from the Bee-Gees song (now used as a count-step for CPR) and the film seems like a curious entry in the middle of the Reagan years (but there was little Ronnie, of course).
The Color Purple (1985, Warner Bros./Amblin, dir. Steven Spielberg, novel by Alice Walker, 154 min, PG-13) is a famous film tracing the life of a southern African American woman Celie (Whoppi Goldberg), growing up shortly after 1900 and impregnated by her own dad at 14. Oprah Winfrey is Sophia; also with Danny Glover and Margaret Avery. A long but gentle film spanning three decades. Ophray Winfrey has produced a Broadway stage version in 2005.
The Goonies (1985, Warner Brothers/Amblin, dir. Richard Donner, written by Steven Spielberg and Chris Columbus, PG) is a “family thriller” in which middle school and high school kids hunt for treasure in caves underneath their Oregon coast homes, before they are razed for developers (and overbuilding). Sean Astin got a good look in this film (anticipating LOTR). But the movie really does get too goofy to really become compelling. Some good wet monsters. The script contains a prescient warning line about terrorists.
Witness (1985, Paramount, dir. Peter Weir) brings the Amish community into contact with the outside world. A young Amish widow (Rachel McGillis) takes her son to Philadelphia, where he witnesses a murder of a policeman. Harrison Ford plays John Book, the cop who must protect them in their own community. The movie may seem timely in view of the tragedy on Oct. 2, 2006 at Nickel Mines PA. Amish culture considers the outside world a distraction from family and religious values, and it is remarkable in its discipline and absence of crime -- at a cost of what a lot of us would see as a loss of personal freedom and personal autonomy.
Lifeforce (1985, Columbia TriStar, dir. Tobe Hooper) got tremendous PR from billboards all over LA during a week that I was out there in 1985. I finally saw it my last night there. A mission to visit Halley’s comet brings back space vampires that turn people into zombies. This was marketed as an end-of-the-world movie.
Explorers (1985, Paramount, dir. Joe Dante, PG, about 100 min) Ben Crandall (a young Ethan Hawke) dreams of a circuit board, which he and his friends find to be the blueprint for a spaceship. They build it and take off as boyhood astronauts and discover an alien UFO and world above, and a bizarre world with a lot of cartoonish characters and disco music. A bizarre, comical alien movie.
Silverado (1985, Columbia, dir. Lawrence Kashdan) is one of the most famous westerns of the 80s, when a bunch of friends come together to right their town. Big cast with Kevin Line, Kevin Costner, Scott Glenn, Danny Glover.
Out of Africa (1985, Universal, dir. Sydney Pollack, book by Judith Thurman and Karen Blixen) is an epic story of a Danish baronness (Meryl Streep) and her on-off affair with a big game hunter (Robert Redford) over the decades leading into World War I, with all the ups and downs of international colonial business in Africa.
If Tomorrow Comes (1986, CBS, dir. Jerry London, 304 min, novel by Sydney Sheldon). In the 1980s heyday of literary agents like Scott Meredith ("Writing to Sell") to compelling plotting of some of Sheldon's novels (have the heroine in terrible trouble, etc)would have given aspiring novelists wise counsel. This novel starts out in downtown Philadelphia with a new attorney Tracy Whitney (Madolyn Smith-Osborn) starting out on the job and receiving an envelope with a dead mouse inside, unbeknownst to her. She passes it on, and is implicated and framed. She falls in love with the man who would prosecute her, and then goes on a worldwide hunt with Jeff Stevens (Tom Berenger) for the plotters. This was a big novel with many twists and turns and a real page turner in its day. For one thing, it shows how easily a naive person can get into trouble. The TV movie may not have the ardor of the book.
F/X ("Murder by Illusion", 1986, Orion, dir. Robert Mandel) A special effects guy is hired to stage the assassination of a mobster. Then the fibbies turn against him and he has to use his technical wizardly to get out. I saw this on a flight back to Dallas from LA, after being "served" a bizarre religious tract in the security line.
Platoon (1986, Orion, dir. Oliver Stone, R, 120 min) was a Vietnam war classic. A young recruit Pvt. Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) watches a moral conflict between two sergeants )Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe) over a village massacre. This movie has some particularly harrowing, graphic scenes when they take a hill, as one in which a lieutenant loses an arm above the elbow and doesn’t even know it until Chris says, “Sir, your arm) and gives him a sedative. You see the stump then.
The Mission (1986, Warner Bros., dir. Roland Joffe, 125 min, PG-13) provides a good example in World History classes as to how important political and moral issues that apply to us can occur in remote parts of the world. Movies can take us into a totally different world, and this is a great example. Around 1760, Spanish missionary Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons) has brought Christianity to the natives in a remote area of Brazil (near the Argentina/Paraguay border – the Iguazu waterfalls is often shown).But the church is under pressure to give the land to the Portuguese (from the Spanish) which take the natives back into slavery. Mendoza (Robert del Niro), a slave hunter appears and kills Grabiel’s brother (Aidan Quinn) but is converted to Christianity. Mendoza will organize the natives to resist the Portuguese while Gabriel wants to keep Mendoza within the vows of the priesthood. The whole story is complicated, with the European politics of the Church in the background. At the same time, the Jesuits are being driven out of this area of South America (esp. Paraguay) to satisfy the Spanish. At the confrontations toward the end the characters must consider how much of the religious establishment really exists to satisfy the political vanity of man. Liam Neeson, as Fielding, could pass for Michael Caine. The music is by Ennio Morricone and sounds familiar today.
Hamburger Hill (1987, Paramount/RKO, dir. John Irvin) is a reenactment of the single bloodiest ground battle of the Vietnam war, and it underscores the senselessness of the maimings and personal sacrifices. Don Cheadle, as Pvt. Washburn, became known from this flick.
3 Men and a Baby (1987, Touchstone, dir. Leonard Nimoy) have three bachelors (Tom Selleck, Steve Guttenburg, Ted Danson) forced to care for a baby (including Huggies) when one roommate goes filming overseas and leaves the unknown baby behind. The scenario of forced fatherhood (on non-parents) is not as compelling in comedy as it might be in real life (say a 2007 scenario of Days of our Lives).
Wall Street (1987, 20th Century Fox, dir. Oliver Stone) remains on the mind from that one phrase from Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas – who else?)—“GREED IS GOOD!” This sounds like a reincarnation of Ayn Rand. Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) will do anything to get ahead, including engaging in illegal insider trading (as in R. Foster Winans 1988 book “Trading Secrets”). This all takes place in a time of hostile takeovers and leveraged buyouts. I recall Sunday morning “Meet the Press” conversations about the job losses then in factories (like Goodyear in Ohio) due to hostile takeovers—at the time, I worked for Chilton (a credit reporting company) owned by Borg-Warner, a target of corporate raiders, which was taken private in an LBO by Merrill Lynch Capital Partners, and all that led to Chilton’s being bought by TRW (after a narrow miss by Equifax), and eventual spinoff as Experian. This was a time when people talked about mandatory national service as a way to address the ethical climate on Wall Street. Look where we are today, after Enron and Worldcomm. I recall Oct 19, 1987 when a friend picked me up at San Francisco Airport, pulled over on Highway 100, and said, “The stock market crashed today.” That was the programmed trading issue, and we all know that bust was shortlived. The bust in 2001 still affects us today.
Cry Freedom (1987, Universal, dir. Richard Attenborough, wr, John Briley, based on books by Donald Woods, PG, 157 min) is a true story of an event that help lead to the weakening and overthrow of apartheid in South Africa, a topic so often covered by Ted Koppel on ABC “Nightline” in the 1970s and early 1980s. Journalist Donald Woods (Kevin Kline) befriends black activist Steve Biko (Denzel Washington) and then investigates his death in police custody. To publish his book and expose the scandal, he must flee the country. This panoramic film produces an enormous emotional high, although some of the geography seemed inaccurate.
The Witches of Eastwick (1987, Warner Bros., dir. George Miller, novel by John Updike, 118 min, R). Three old spinsters (Cher, Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer) find a dirty old man Daryl Van Horne (Jack Nicholson) delectable, even despite his B.O. Then it's not true who really practices the most witchcraft, although this movie may have provided some indirect inspiration for the NBC soap "Passions."
Full Metal Jacket (1987, Warner Bros., dir. Stanley Kubrick, based on a novel by Guy Hasford) is a two-part military film, with the first half (Marine Corps basic training) introducing some weird characters like Private Joker (Matthew Modine) and Animal Mother (Adam Baldwin). In the second half, Joker finds out in Vietnam if he is really a killer or more of a talker and correspondent.
Predator (1987, 20th Century Fox, dir. John McTiernan, 107 min, R) was an Arnold Schwarzenegger classic, as the pre-governor chases an alien killing machine, hunting down commandos as sport, in the Central American jungle.
The Last Emperor (1987, Columbia, dir. Bernado Bertolucci, PG-13, 160 min) is a spectacular account of the last emporer of China, “Lord of Ten Thousand Years,” Pu Yo (John Lone). His progress was downhill, from a reign in the Forbidden City, to a peasant after Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution. So this is a bit of a morality play, left-wing style.
Empire of the Sun (1987, Warner Bros./Amblin, dir. Steven Spielberg, autobiographical novel by J. G. Ballard, 153 min, PG-13). Christian Bale made his debut as an actor in this film, where at the beginning he plays a 10 year old boy, British expatriate in Shanghai in 1941, which soon comes under Japanese conquest. He gets separated from his parents, and has to survive and grow into adolescence in a Jap POW camp. Basie (John Malovich) becomes a substitute father figure as he grows into adolescence, and manages to have a real childhood. The actor was 13 when he played this role, where he grows by 4 years. At the end, there are accounts of the atomic bombs, when the camps will be freed, but they still struggle in a no-mans land. He finds a can of spam in one scene, and a bottle of pop. In the war camp, he learned to do CPR.
Fatal Attraction (1987, Paramount, dir. Adrian Lyne, 119 min, R) is a famous thriller where a married man (Michael Douglas), an attorney, has an affair with a workplace colleague (Glenn Close), who then comes back to stalk him. Close is an editor whose boss (in publishing) is involved in an impending defamation lawsuit involving a New Jersey senator who believes he is portrayed in a novel. Close actually assures Douglas that the resemblance of the character to reality is coincidental (like the disclaimer at the end of most movies). There are some very explicit and brutal scenes. Douglas, however, can be particularly aggressive in movies like this. The movie has been compared to "The Bell Jar" (1979, Avco/Embassy, dir. Larry Pearce, based on the autobiographical novel by Sylvia Plath), a book that (although read in high school some times) resulted in a famous defamation suit. There is no DVD yet, possibly for these reasons (MGM would be the distributor). A new version of "Bell Jar" from Plum Pictures is due in 2008. The novel "Touching," by Gwen Mitchell, could present similar problems if ever filmed. (See Goldfarb and Ross, "The Writer's Lawyer," pp 124-125, Times Books, 1989).
The Untouchables (1987, Paramount, dir. Brian de Palma) has a stylish Kevin Costner as detective Elliot Ness in this period piece and violent story of Al Capone (Robert De Niro) with Sean Connery as Jim Malone.
The Believers (1987, Orion, dir. John Schlesinger, 114 min, R). A pyschiatrist (Martin Sheen) moves to New York and finds his kid the potential prey of a bizarre religious voodoo cult, related to Santaria. Robert Loggia is the police detective investigating child killings.
Broadcast News (1987, 20th Century Fox, dir. James L. Brooks, 132 min). Two reporters (played by William Hurt and Albert Brooks) compete while both pay attention to the producer played by Holly Hunter. The adventures, down to watch the Contras, get interesting. So do the layoffs and back-stabbing pretty well known in the media business. A kind of comic "Wall Street", typical late 80s fare.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987, Paramount, dir. John Hughes). Steve Martin plays Neal Page struggling through bad weather to make it home for Thanksgiving, the heaviest travel holiday of the year. His plane is stranded in Kansas, and he winds up in a tag team with a salesman Del Griffith (John Candy) who teaches him the rules of the road. No "100 Mile Rule" here. I've never seen auto rental clerks be as rude as this. Del and Steve become a pseudo male couple, accidentally sharing a motel bed, for purely comic effect. This comedy takes place in the era just before the Internet opened, when physical mobility was the key to freedom.
The Accidental Tourist (1988, Warner Bros., dir. Lawrence Kasden, novel by Anne Tyler, PG-13, 121 min) generated the catch phrases "professional tourist" and "accidental (anything)". A travel writer (William Hurt) is losing traction in his wife and about to split with his wife (Kathleen Turner) when a mini-affair (Geena Davis) makes him part of a triangle and brings him back to life.
Talk Radio (1988, Universal, dir. Oliver Stone, book by Stephen Singular, play by Eric Bogosian) has a vitriolic talk show host Barry (Eric Bogosian) dealing with hatred and threats from a neo-Nazi group and home problems as his radio station is about to be taken over by a conglomerate. The tagline was "the last neighborhood in America." This brings to mind the talk shows of Rush Limbaugh and Ollie North in the 90s. A tough film. See the review of Don Scime's play "The David Dance." Also my old editorial "talk radio."
Return to Snowy River (1988, Walt Disney, dir. Goeff Burrowes, Australia) is a landmark Australian western, set in the Great Dividing Range, actually in the eastern part of the country (Ayers Rock is in the middle, and there are some desert-like mountains in the west, being chewed up in open pit mines). Jim Craig (Tom Burlinson) returns to the high country, fighting for his love life and wealthier ranchers at lower elevations.
Twins (1988, Universal, dir. Ivan Reitman). Today anti-stem-cell moralists can point to this comedy as to what goes wrong when man tries to control the creation of life, as an experiment creates a perfect man Jules (Arnold Schwarzenegger, of course, and when he became governor of California, he said "no more movies" -- right?) and ultimate comic Danny DeVito as Vincent, the low life. Blood loyalty comes into play.
Dangerous Liaisons (1988, Warner Bros./Lorimar, dir. Stephen Frear, UK/France, 120 min, PG-13). Bored aristocrats play soap opera in 18th Century pre-revolution France, but movie is a classic. Blogger.
Born on the Fourth of July (1989, Columbia dir. Oliver Stone, 145 min, R) tells the story of Ron Kovic, born under the sign of Cancer all right (without Venus in Virgo), to be paralyzed in Vietnam and then deal with the betrayal by his own country. Tom Cruise gives a riveting performance, especially when he is trying to recover from his wounds and has to deal with his helplessness, particulaly and most of all where he is reduced to pathetic helplessness in the hospital scenes. An uncharacteristic role for this star.
Do the Right Thing (1989, Universal, "a Spike Lee Joint", R, 120 min) is another controversial film about race relations, and it takes place on the hottest day of the year in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Tension builds up between local African Americans (Mookie is played by Spike Lee himself) and white police and a business owner of a pizza shop for which Mookie makes deliveries. The film culminates in a couple of riots, the last started when Mookie hurls a trashcan through a window. There was fear that the film would incite similar incidents, but it did not. Washington DC had seen the worst in 1968 (along 14th Street) after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, but that seems a long way from this movie (despite the King quote about non-violence in the closing credits). The movie seems like a stage play, but the action (like the water hydrant scene) is always carefully choreographed. "You're wealthy Mookie! You're a real f___ Rockefeller!" Ossie Davis is The Mayor (David Dinkins), who would preced Giuliani, who would do the "clean up the city." There is a piece of dialogue early where the Mayor tells Mookie, "always do the right thing."
Sex, Lies and Videotape (1989, Miramax, dir. Steven Soderbergh, 100 min, R) is the kind of film you see in a motel, and indeed I say it in one in Cairo, IL. There is a fearsome foursome here played by young Peter Gallagher, James Spader, Andie MacDowall and Laura San Giacamo playing sisters involved in cross affairs. Graham (Spader) likes to videotape interviews and more, as a kind of fetish.
Dead Poets Society (1989, Touchstone, dir. Peter Weir, wr. Tom Schulman) is a touching film where Robin Williams plays English professor John Keating and helps bring Todd (Ethan Hawke) and Neil (Robert Sean Leonard) out of depressing conformity imposed on them by their families. In some ways, it perhaps anticipates "Good Will Hunting."
Glory (1989, TriStar, dir. Edward Zwick, book by Robert Gould Shaw, letters of Lincoln Kerstein, 122 min) Robert Gould Shaw (Tom Broderick) leads a black company in the Union Army; after promotion to Colonel he gets the assignment of commanding a volunteer black unit. The prejudice is on both sides, and this was quite an emotion-generating movie. Looks forward to "The Tunguskee Airmen."
The Abyss (1989, 20th Century Fox, dir. James Cameron, 146 min, PG-13) is a sprawling science-fiction epic drawing submarines, Navy SEALS, oil rig workers, the Cold War, and eventually aliens together. The payoff is a long time in coming. There is a new NBC series “Surface” (2005) with a similar pretext, and a line early one, where a girl tells a teenage brother not to take aliens too seriously because “you’re my brother.” Loyalty to blood indeed.
Henry V (1989, MGM, dir. Kenneth Branagh, 137 min, PG-13, UK) is a compelling rendition of one of Shakespeare's exercises in historical storytelling, of the events that sent Henry to France to fight the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. The issues, like taxing the church and winning the daughter of France, seem arcane today, yet the film is emotionally compelling on its own terms, especially with Patrick Doyle's Mahlerian music score. It does speak to the issue of church and state.
Driving Miss Daisy (1989, Warner Bros., 99 min, dir. Bruce Beresford, play by Alfred Uhry) An elderly Jewish woman in Atlanta in the 1950s hires an African American chauffeur (Morgan Freeman as Hoke Colburn) as her driver, and a friendship develops.
Steel Magnolias (1989, Tri-Star, dir. Herbert Ross, wr. Robert Harling,117 min, PG-13) was marketed as one of those girl-talk pseudo-comedies about six female friends (Sally Fields, Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, Daryl Hannah, Olympia Dukakis, Julia Roberts) living in pre-Katrina Louisiana. There is plenty of everyday stuff about garden parties and beauty shops, but the movie gradually gains moral momentum with the medical complications when diabetic Shelby has a baby. Later, her friends discover her arterial-venous forearm fistula for kidney hemodialysis, which she describes as driving nails up her arms (the appearance is quite graphics, and dialysis patients often wear long sleeves). The guys tend to make fun of tragic things, as early when one of the kids asks "Am I my brother's keeper" and Shelby answer, "No, but you are his warden." Another talks about "a tale of two kidneys." There are peripheral matters about gay men, as when one of the girls says, "all gay men have track lighting." The near-end is tragic, and bears comparison to "Terms of Endearment," even if this film is supposed to be "lighter." It really is not. I knew a woman who died of complications of juvenile diabetes at 36. A couple of the friends have a fight over making light of things, but at the very end there is suddenly some new life.
Enemies: A Love Story (1989, 20th Century Fox / Morgan Creek, dir. Paul Mazursky, novel by Isaac Bashevis Singer, wr. Roger L. Simon ("The Big Fix"); Ron Silver plays Herman Broder, living in 1949 Coney Island and working as a ghostwriter for a rabbi (Alan King). He writes for a living and gives other people the words they want. He has love affairs with a married woman (Lena Olin) [there's an early bizarre bathtub scene where she lathers his hairy chest], a current wife (Margaret Sophie Stein), and a wife thought dead (Angelica Houston) who actually did survive the concentration camps. Simon himself had been hidden away in a hayloft as if a kind of Anne Frank. The women live pretty much for the present. The first wife, when she suddenly appears, offers him a "deal" and wants him to do something more "real" than writing. They live in a world where they now wonder how the Holocaust could even have happened. There is a scene at a resort in upstate New York that resembles a Lake Placid resort that I visited with my parents as a child, the kind where they announce a sit-down dinner with a bong.
Goodfellas (1990, Warner Bros., dir. Martin Scorsese) is a famous cult classic now about some friends working their way up the Mafia hierarchy. With Robert Di Niro and Ray Liotta.
Come See the Paradise (1990, 20th Century Fox, dir. Alan Parker, 138 min). Dennis Quaid plays Jack McGunn, a movie projectionist who falls in love with the daughter of his Japanese boss. With "miscegenation" forbidden by law, they escape to Seattle. But she is interred with her family (with the Nisei) why Jack joins the Army during WWII, but then goes AWOL and visits the camps Manzanar ?) to see her. This politically charged film is not as well known now as "Snow Falling on Cedars" (below).
Jacob’s Ladder (1990, TriStar/Carolco, dir. Adrian Lyne, 115 min, R) presents the layering of two forms of reality: a Vietnam soldier is dying, and he is living out a whole life of mystery in New York City, eventually being chased by fibbies. Ultimately his pretend, alternate reality world has to come to a dead-end, in a subway as I recall, and he must wake up out of his near-death experience. But he may not.
The Handmaid's Tale (1990, MGM, dir. Voldker Schlondorff, novel by Marageret Atwood, 108 min, R) is an exercise in dystopia. In the ultimate extrapolation of the religious right, a girl Kate (Natasha Richardson) becomes a sexual slave to bear children because she is still nubile, in a world where having children has gotten tough. It's an all too frightening an plausible scenario, if birth rates in high income people and previously privileged races fall too fast. No, there is nothing like this in Canterbury Tales.
Awakenings (1990, Columbia, dir. Penny Marshall, based on the book by Oliver Sacks, PG-13, 121 min) has Robin Williams as neurologist Dr. Malcolm Sayer, who takes a job as a doctor in a Bronx mental hospital in 1969 after years as a researcher. He becomes “good with people” all right, as he starts treating some apparently catatonic (maybe not) encephalitis victims with L-Dopa, and they start to recover from their comatose states. Robert De Niro plays his star patient Leonard Lowe, whose life is an awakening itself, though his recovery is jeopardized as the drug wears off or becomes less effective. There are bumps on the road: are the patients’ new personalities real or the results of the medication. Sometimes the patients exhibit hostile behaviors when they had been good kids. And Was this sweet film (screenplay by Steven Zaillian) a study for Damon/Affleck’s Good Will Hunting, in which Robin Williams would also play a therapist? Ultimately, the patients slide back and Sayer has to be good with them all over again; they usually don’t get to the Outside and stay there. They have to be loved as they have become. That calls for another kind of awakening.
The Freshman (1990, Columbia Tri-Star, dir. Andrew Bergman, PG-13, 102 min) is a twos complement comedy of The Godfather. A likeable college student Clark Kellogg (note the name) (Matthew Broderick) is “drafted” through his stepfather into a Mafia family headed by Carmine Sabatini (Marlon Brando himself), to get into importing endangered species and eating them. Clark is a film student and is taunted by his professor (Paul Benedict) as well as the goons and fibbies. One subplot is to get him married off to the godfather’s daughter. He gets teased but stays above the scum and scams.
The Hunt for Red October (1990, Paramount, dir. John McTiernan, novel by Tom Clancy, 134 min, PG-13) has Sean Connery as Captain Marko Ramium, who heads his Russian submarine in unexpected directions with the intention of defection. Alec Baldwin is everyman Jack Ryan, the CIA agent who has to figure out if this is a defection or a threat.
Ghost (1990, Paramount, dir. Jerry Zucker) has Patrick Swayze as Sam Wheat, a wonderful young man killed in a mugging, His love for Molly Jensen (Demi Moore) enables him to stay on life as a ghost, but looking pretty real. See also Just Like Heaven (2005)
Flatliners (1990, Columbia, dir. Joel Schumaker, 115 min, R) covers similar territory to Jacob’s Ladder and Altered States, as medical students play with inducing “death” or at least near-death experiences. Kiefer Sutherland and Julia Roberts star, and the movie migrates into the Midwest.
The Lord of the Flies (1990, PG-13, MGM/WB/Columbia/Castle Rock, 90 min, dir. Harry Hook, based on the novel by William Golding (1954)). I recall that other students discussed this book a lot my senior year in high school (1961), and English teachers today often recommend it as a suitable choice for a book report. Teenage boys still seem interested in the way the boys in the film develop political power struggles (who belongs and who doesn’t) when left stranded on a tropical island. The trouble is, these boys are just too young for a meaningful story. They don’t look old enough to have hair on their legs yet; many of them would not even be in middle school yet. The ring leader Ralph, played by a 14-year-old Balthazar Getty (who played a major role in the identity switching in David Lynch’s Lost Highway), does his best but is hardly mature enough to offer meaningful leadership. The boys develop a legend about a “monster” and divide into opposing camps to fight their initiation rites. This whole problem makes better material with older students, say in a boarding school or college (say, The Lords of Discipline (1983)). This film has had several major distributors; don’t mix it up with the trilogy with a similar name!
Dances with Wolves (1990, MGM/Image, dir. Kevin Costner, based on the novel by Michael Blake, 180 min, PG-13) is an epic story about a Civil War Union officer, who after battlefield success (in which is gratuitously wounded, as shown) he requests a remote outpost. He befriends a native American (Sioux) tribe and finds a white woman raised by the tribe. He also befriends a wolf named “Two Socks” (remember Bill Clinton’s cat?) He gradually adopts native ways and moves toward the land. This was a spectacular film. Screenwriters talk about this film as a good example of self "windowing" since Costner's character chooses to be alone a lot.
Misery (1990, Columbia/Castle Rock, dir. Rob Reiner, based on the novel by Stephen King, screenplay by William Goldman, R, 107 min). Female coworkers used to read the book in the break room at work and scream at some of the most harrowing scenes, as when she chops off his feet. A nurse (Kathy Bates, in one of her most celebrated roles) rescues a writer (James Caan) from an automobile accident in a Colorado blizzard (sort of like the Christmas blizzard in Denver in 2006, maybe). He gradually discovers she does not have his well being at heart, as he lays in bed. In one sequence when she is out (as the spring thaw comes), he rummages the house from his wheelchair to do his detective work. He will not escape with the hair on his legs. In fact, he will not escape with his legs. .
Total Recall (1990, 20th Century Fox/Carloco, dir. Paul Verhoeven, based on the story, "We Can Remember It For You Wholsesale" by Philip K. Dick, 113 min, R) has Arnold Schwarzenegger (today it's "no more movies" as Republican governor)
as taking a virtual trip to Mars, sold by a company. People are out to kill him, and is he really there? Does he have to go there? When is a vision or a dream real? The film has fascinating visuals of what a future colony on Mars would look like. See "Doom" below.
Cape Fear (1991, Universal, dir. Martin Scorsese, novel by John D. MacDonald, 128 min, R). The name of the movie comes from an inlet on the North Carolina coast, not too far perhaps from Wilmington, a film center. In the story a defense attorney Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) is stalked by the serial rapist (Robert de Nrio) whom he had defended. The idea that someone (with his family) can be targeted for the expressive work that he does is very troubling.
The Fisher King (1991, TriStar, dir. Terry Gilliam, wr and story by Richard La Gravanese, 138 min, R) is suddenly timely in 2007 since it deals with a radio "shock jock", a topic of concern in the wake of Imus. Here, people die because of radio comments. Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges) gratuitously talks a pyscho into blowing up people in a bar, then has to quit and mope. In three years, he meets a homeless man Parry (Robin Williams), who actually intervenes when some other hobos are about to incinerate him with gasoline. In time, the befriends Parry and is taken in by his schizophrenia, which Gilliam projects with fantastic imaginary medieval horsemen, anticipating his later films. The movie takes on an almost sci-fi flavor, before Parry slips back into catatonia, whereas Jack rebuilds his radio career by covering homelessness. There is a curious scene in the Central Park Sheep Meadow at night where Parry, nude, tells the ancient parable of the "Fisher King" who found the holy grail in the simple things in life. The visions of the film (albeit through "mental illness") take it back into history, comparing the economic exploitations in our society with earlier ideas of feudalism. A bizarre film, not for everyone, but some see it as a masterpiece. Mercedes Reuhl won best supporting actress. At the film's climax, Lucas confronts Parry in the psych ward about the idea of taking responsibility for others, then makes a break-in to a museum to find the grail, which is the only object to get Parry out of his catatonic prison. The very last scene, again in the Sheep Meadow, has the two men lying shirtless next to one another, an interesting visual contrast. Great song "I like New York in June." And the closing credits rise to a great orchestral climax, logically written in musical terms, unusual in the movies today.
The Prince of Tides (1991, Columbia, dir. Barbara Streisand, novel by Pat Conroy, R, 132 min) shows Nick Nolte at the apex of his career, playing Tom Wingo dealing with all the women in his life: His mother, and his suicidal sister, and his therapist, played by Streisand herself. There are secrets to be uncovered.
Backdraft (1991, Universal, dir. Ron Howard, 132 min, R) has two feuding brothers having to work together as firefighters in a film with tremendous special effects for its time. Of course, firefighters "live together" and maintain military-like unit cohesion--a point that is sometimes made with respect to 9/11. One of this director's most famous films (until Da Vinci).
Barton Fink (1991) moved.
Thelma and Louise (1991, MGM, dir. Ridley Scott, R, 129 min) is a famous road movie with the two dames played by Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon. A waitress and housewife run from the law after quasi-accidentally shooting a rapist and become a tag team. Some see the characters as lesbians.
Hook (1991, Columbia/TriStar/Amblin, dir. Steven Spielberg, based on the book by J. M. Barrie, PG, 144 min) was well liked by families when it came out. Robin Williams is lawyer Peter Banning but has to travel to Neverland (nobody thought about Michael Jackson in those days) as Peter Pan (post Walt Disney) with Tinkerbell (Julia Roberts, hardly Erin Brokovich here) and Dustin Hoffman as the evil Capt. James S. Hook (hence the movie nomenclature). But it is disquieting to see Robin Williams here in the movie’s middle section on Neverland with his whole body shaved close, only to be hairy again back in the real world. Surprisingly, the soccer moms were too sinful to notice. So much for kids’ movies.
Fried Green Tomatoes (1991, Universal, dir. Jon Avnet, 130 min, PG-13) was a cult comedy classic at its time, as art movies were coming more into vogue. An unhappy housewife Evelyn Couch (Kathy Bates) comes to terms with her own interpersonal relations when she visits NinnyThreadgood (Jessica Tandy), who recounts the 1920s story of Idgie (Mary Stuart Masterson). A strong story of female bonding, familial and not, pampering and friendship for its own sake, common in earlier generations that did not have to cope with our overly competitive society today.
Grand Canyon (1991, 20th Century Fox, dir. Lawrence Kasdan, music by James Newton Howard, 137 min) This is an Altman-like drama (anticipating "Crash") of intersecting lives in Los Angeles about the time of the Persian Gulf War. An immigration lawyer Mack (Kevin Kline) is rescues from a carjacking by a tow truck driver (Danny Glover) whose house will later get shot up by a gang. Mack's wife finds a baby in the woods, and wants to adopt her. Teenage son Roberto (Jeremy Sisto) has it all together until he learns to drive. A filmmaker gets shot in another robbery. At the end, the family makes a trip to the real Grand Canyon, with a stunning concert overture played during the credits.
Aladdin (1992, Walt Disney, dir. Ron Clements and John Musker, G, 90 min). Who would expect an animated feel-good Disney musical to make Entertainment Weekly's 25 Most Controversial list? The story has an urchin in love with Pincess Jasmine, who can only marry royalty. It is a kid's fairy tale that hides political problems. The America-Arab Anti-discrimination Committee balked at the lyrics characterizing Arabia as a country "where they cut off your ear if they don't like your face" and that line was removed from rereleases. But the lyrics have a great deal of feel-good-about-yourself stuff.
Death Becomes Her (1992, Universal, dir. Robert Zemeckis, 104 min, PG-13) is a silly love triangle horror comedy. Helen, a writer (Goldie Hawn) and Madeline (Meryl Streep), who is actually married to Ernest (Bruce Willis), both get immortality treatments and have to deal with the consequences. There are bizarre scenes where Madeline becomes transparent and twisted like a pretzel, as in "Exorcist."
Basic Instinct (1992, TriStar/Artisan/Carolco, dir Paul Verhoeven,127 min, R) is famous because an author (Sharon Stone) is suspected of an ice-pick murder (of Johnny Boz -- Bill Cable) which imitates one of her novels. Michael Douglas plays Det. Nick Curran with his usual grabby aggressiveness towards women himself. The sequel is Basic Instinct 2 (2006, MGM/Imagine, dir. Michael Caton Jones, 117 min, NC-17) is being released immediately in DVD including HD (Sony's Blue Ray), after an abbreviated theatrical release. Novelist Catherine Trammell (again Sharon Stone) is in trouble with Scotland Yard when her imagination comes to life (but that happens on soaps like "One Life to Live") and psychiatrist Michael Glass (David Morrissey) is drawn into her web. Her book (about a shrink, of course -- and she claims to the police that it entices copycats, not her) is The Analyst, just like Shamayalan uses The Cookbook in his latest thriller. There is plenty of athletic sex and some orgiastic scenes, but they are surprisingly non-threatening and sterile--however much they speak of Masters & Johnson (the book Heterosexuality). She figures out the therapist as ruthless and uncaring, just like she is--which explains the "fatal attraction." At one point she has considered a female therapist, with hints of lesbianism; but "I could never trust a woman." The DVD commentary refers to this movies as being about "an unusual use of the truth, devoid of compassion." But that is as much the behavior of the male therapist (Glass) as her. Rosenfels would have called this "sadism," an undesirable endpoint of the subjective feminine personality.
A River Runs Through It (1992, Tri-Star, dir. Robert Redford, story by Norman MacLean) is a story of two fly-fishing brothers (Craig Sheffer and Brad Pitt) who fight each other, sons of a Presbyterian minister (Tom Skerritt) in the big Blackfoot River in Montana, a subject of a recent PBS documentary narrated by Matt Damon.
Lorenzo's Oil (1992, Universal, dir. George Miller, PG-13, 129 min, p-1,a-3,r-1) A boy develops a rare genetic disease ALD, which is so rare in his form that drug companies have done little research, so the father (Nick Nolte as Augusto Odone) does all the legwork to develop the medication himself. Susan Sarandon is his wife. The issue is "orphan drugs."
Of Mice and Men (1992, MGM, dir. Gary Sinese, novel by John Steinbeck). George (Sinese) and the mentally retarded Lennie (John Malkovich) roam the California wine country during the depression and get a job on the Tyler ranch. Lennie gets them into trouble (there is a scene were he crushes a ranchman's hand and George makes him lie that he got his hand caught in a machine). But then the boss's wife move's in on Lennie, leading to tragic end. George has to act pre-emptively to head off the vigilante justice, and he says he has never been mad in his life.
Hoffa (1992, 20th Century Fox, dir. Danny De Vito, wr David Mamet, 140 min, R) is a biography of Teamster boss and sometimes mobster Jimmy Hoffa, who would get eight years for jury tampering at one point, and then disappear from a New Jersey diner in 1975. In 2006 there were rumors that his corpse or remains could be found in Michigan.
Malcolm X (1992, Warner Bros., dir. Spike Lee, 202 min, R) is a sprawling biography of the famous black nationalist leader. The film was too long and indulgent to gain a really wide following at its first release, but it seems more relevant today. Denzel Washington plays Malcolm Little, whose father is killed by the Ku Klux Klan (run over by a streetcar). He would become a gangster, go to jail and convert to Islam in prison (by the charismatic Elijah Muhammad, played by Al Freeman, Jr.), and then eventually make a pilgrimage to Mecca. He will change his name to El-Hajj Malik Al-Shab, and lead “the Nation of Islam.” Eventually he is assassinated and dies as a Muslim martyr. The ideology is certainly collectivist, and considers the welfare of black people as a group as paramount. Theories are presented that early tribes in the Bible were black. The roles of the black woman is viewed from the point of view of overall welfare. In interviews, Malcolm talks about the paradox of the “House nigger” in the slave South, where the slave believed he had it made and bonded with his owner, not realizing his oppression. White values, including professionalism, are presented as intrinsically evil. Malcolm’s rhetoric becomes extremist, promotion “complete separation between the white man and black man.” Somehow, I am reminded of the rhetoric of Louis Farrakhan who organized the 1995 “Million Man March” on Washington in October 1995. Freedom presents its paradoxes.
Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993, Paramount, dir. Steven Zaillian) presents the story of a chess prodigy Josh (Max Pomeranc) who tears ‘em up on the chess tables in Greenwich Village’s Washington Square Park and in speed chess, but doesn’t want to become like the notorious Bobby, who back in the early 1970s, during the time of his Spassky matches, was quite a vigorous young adult. Remember Fischer’s temperament as a chess player started out with straightforward strategy but ruthless accuracy—he emphasized centrist play starting with King Pawn openings (1 P-K4 or 1 e4). Later he sometimes varied into Queen Pawn openings, often through the English. Here, Josh stays to his own character, throwing a tournament in order not to change into something else. There is one great line when he says about the chess tokens, “They’re just pieces.” See also “Knights of the South Bronx” on the /fest.htm file.
The House of the Spirits (1993, Miramax, dir. Billie August, novel by Isabelle Allende) was fascinating to watch – rural South America’s political struggles and relationship intrigues before the Second World War, would anticipate this director’s later work.
The Joy Luck Club (1993, Hollywood, dir. Wayne Wang, novel by Amy Tan, 139 min). Four young Asian women in San Francisco reconstruct and rediscover the relationships with their mothers from China, through flashbacks and reunions. Rather long and sentimental.
Mrs. Doubtfire (1993, 20th Century Fox, dir. Chris Columbus, PG-13, 125 min). Well, just like in Tootsie, the hero will do anything to save himself. Robin Williams dresses up as a woman and gets a job as a housekeeper in his ex-wife’s home to be near his kids. That’s touching. Well, Jared Price (The Journey of Jared Price) was somehow a more convincing housekeeper as a gay man. Here, of course, the man is so very straight. Even in San Francisco. The KLM flight magazine talked about how, to make Robin Williams into a woman, they shaved him every five minutes, even his fingers. They missed Hook.
Fire in the Sky (1993, Paramount, dir. Robert Lieberman) tells the story of Travis Walton (D. B. Swenney), the young forest worker in northern Arizona who claims he was abducted by a UFO in front of several co-workers in the evergreen forests near Heber, Az above the Mogollon Rim in November, 1975. I recall the National Enquirer headline, “Arizona Man Captured by Flying Saucer.” I made a trip to Arizona myself in December 1975 to look around about this story, and there I learned about Dan Fry’s organization “Understanding” on a compound of saucer-buildings 50 miles west of Phoenix in Tonopah, Az. Walton, it will be recalled, had passed lie detector tests.
Sleepless in Seattle (1993, TriStar, dir. Nora Ephron, story by Jeff Arch, 105 min, PG) is a famous comedy about people seeking relationships and family. A widower's son puts his father on national radio to get a new mother and gets interesting responses, and competition. Jonah, the boy, is played by Ross Malinger, and the dad is Tom Hanks, and Meg Ryan becomes the leading candidate. Is this about the supposed (according to social conservatives) birthright of every child to a married mother and father (now that we have since had the gay marriage debate?) The film has no such pretentiousness.
Jurassic Park (1993, Universal/Amblin, dir. Steven Spielberg) has scientists cloning dinosaurs who run amok in an offshore theme park. The laboratory battle of the velocoraptors is delicious, as is the scene where a man is eaten up off of a privy seat. Jeff Goldblum, whom some people say resembles me, delivers a gentle performance as one of the scientists. (I could have been a “theoretical scientist” according to a high school chemistry teacher.) Franchise sequels were Lost World of Jurassic Park (1997) and Jurassic Park III (2001).
The Secret Garden (1993, Warner Bros/Zoetrope, dir. Agnieska Holland, book by Frances Hodgson Burnett,101 min, G) has a little girl (Kate Maberly) losing her parents in India in an earthquake, and returning home to London to find wonders im her uncle's estate, down to the different British robins. Had been a TV film in 1987, which many kids saw then.
Grumpy Old Men (1993, Warner Bros., dir. Donald Petrie, 104 min, PG-13). Two fueding scrooges (played by Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau) up the ante when female Ann-Margaret moves in next door at Christmas time in Minnesota. "The thing you regret in life is the risks you didn't take" Jack repeats, after saying he likes being alone. Matthau: "If I knew there was a nude scene in this picture, I would have asked for another million." The Minnesota Film Commission is mentioned in the credits, but most film work from the gopher state (like Maybery award pictures) is much more original and less stereotyped than this.
The Fugitive (1993, Warner Brothers, dir. Andrew Davis, PG-13, 130 min) is a famous story by David Twohy of a surgeon Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) unjustly accused of murdering his wife. He escapes, and then must evade the Marshall Sam Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones). This movie has your classic formula screenplay with all the right breakpoints and payoff in the story. The hero is in terrible trouble and just HAS to escape. He does. There is a great train wreck scene, complete with locomotive derailment and freight cars tumbling, and other escape sequences such as a jump into a dam lake.
Posse (1993, R, Polygram, dir. Mario Van Peebles) was run on TheWB recently and attracted my attention because I know of a script now that deals with early 20th century race relations. Here, we have a strange western that makes the political point about African Americans who helped settle the west, when Europeans took land or territory away by force from native Americans. Here, a group of black soldiers fight in the Spanish American war, then eventually ride out west as a black posse to Freemanville, a black-run town threatened by “white justice” and the Ku Klux Klan. What follows is an amalgam that tries to throw together as much as possible to score political field goals than tell a compelling story. Yet, I know the problems of political screenplays myself. Here, however, is the additional challenge of adopting it to the western genre. The small screen is not enough; the scenery looks grand on a modern widescreen. (Stephen Balwin, Billy Zane, Charles Lane, Tiny Lister, Mario Van Peebles). The end credits talk about the “Grandfather clause” that kept blacks from voting and keeping their property in the west, sometimes at the cost of American Lynchings. The biggest political event that could have been appropriate was the eventual integration of the military in 1948, as covered in the 1996 HBO film Truman with Gary Sinese.
(For the in-progress American Lynchings project, go to http://www.americanlynching.com/main.html )
Gettysburg (1993, New Line/Turner, dir. Ronald F. Maxwell, with the book by Michael Shaara, 261 min, PG-13) is a massive historical retelling of the famous Civil War battle ending in Pickett’s Charge. The same story is told in the Cyclorama at Gettysburg Park itself. The film has many philosophical speeches by commanders, and a lot of homosocial bonding, and a lot of gored soldiers. The film is an expansive one from New Line that anticipates the later “Lord of the Rings” franchise.
The Three Musketeers (1993, Buena Vista/Disney, dir. Stephen Herek, novel by Alexander Dumas). This classic was a favorite of mine in ninth grade; the book is often printed in various illustrated youth editions. Aramis, Athos and Portos are played by Charlie Sheen, Kiefer Sutherland, and Oliver Platt; Chris O’Donnell is d”Artagnan, Tim Curry is the evil Cardinal Richelieu, and Rebecca de Mornay is milady. The actors all look young and in the May of life.
Groundhog Day (1993, Columbia, dir. Harold Ramis, story by Danny Rubin, 101 min, PG). A Pittsburgh TV meteorologist Phil Connors (Bill Murray) keeps getting killed on and reliving Groundhog Day over and over until he gets it right, kind of like karma and reincarnation. Maybe they want the right forecast. The tradition comes from the fact that the worst storms in winter often come late, just as the atmosphere is warming a bit, and a sunny day means high pressure and likely colder weather. Some of the scenes, like the pickup truck flipping and falling into a quarry and burning, are well done. There is the life insurance salesman who keeps trying to peddle to him (single premium, no less) -- and this was a decade before the campaign to convert people from whole life to term. It's when Connors encounters the salesman a second time in the same place that he realizes something is "wrong." It makes a point of satire on people who make a living by manipulating the demand of others -- but is that most of us?
Dave (1993, Warner Bros., dir. Ivan Reitman) A kindly man (Kevin Kline) is put into the president's place when the president has a coma, and does much better than a professional politician.
In the Name of the Father (1993, Universal, dir. Jim Sheridan, book by Gerry Conlon, "Proved Innocent", UK). A man (Daniel Day-Lewis) is falsely convicted for an IRA bombing and his father is imprisoned as well.
Little Giants (1994, Warner Bros./Amblin, dir. Dewayne Dunham, PG, 107 min) is your formulaic cash cow family kids comedy—and a feel-good one at that. Two O’Shea brothers (Rick Moranis and Ed O’Neill) conduct (sorry, coach) opposing kids’ football teams. There are the usual stunts, including pretending to throw up, but the touchdown passes at the end provide a climax. There’s no kid catching his own passes (a lot of laterals, though). I hated football when I was first made to play if in grade school – why do guys hit each other this way, I wondered.
The Mask (1994, New Line, dir. Chuck Russell, story by Michael Fallon and Mark Verheiden). A bank teller Stanley Ipkiss (Jim Carrey -- who else??) becomes an incredible super-hero when he puts on an other-worldly going-green-101 mask. Pretty good satire of other movies not even made yet.
Legends of the Fall (1994, Columbia/TriStar/Bedford, dir. Edward Zwick) is an epic story of a father Col. William Ludlow (Anthony Hopkins) and his three teenage sons (Tristan, Afred, and Samuel, played by Brad Pitt, Aidan Quinn, Henry Thomas) living in Montana in the early 1900s, and going off to World War I, and then coming back and entering into new conflicts. The really interesting conversation occurs early, where Tristan relates that he feels a patriotic duty to go to war. Selling the war was a big deal for Woodrow Wilson, who pushed through sedition laws impacting anyone who criticized the draft.
The Lion King (1994, Walt Disney, dir. Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff, 89 min) is another famous feel-good animated musical, this time about a feline who is challenged to give up his natural territorial place in the world.
Forrest Gump (1994, Paramount, dir. Robert Zemeckis) presents a much subtler and funnier treatment or fable of the differently abled (than “Charly”). It won Best Picture in 1994, and is pretty much accepted as a classic. Tom Hanks plays Forrest, to whom “Life is a box of chocolates,” for whom running is relief and energy release, and who finds it funny to get shot in the but-tocks once in Nam. He saves someone, who will come back as a maimed veteran (Gary Sinese) to start a fishing business. Maybe the funniest scenes are the meetings with Presidents Johnson and Kennedy (when he says, “I gotta pee,” in black-and-white, and Kennedy echos him like a Unix script). You really can root for this character without feeling patronizing, and the screenplay walks you through it.
Pulp Fiction (1994) moved.
Natural Born Killers (1994, Warner Bros/Alcor, dir. Oliver Stone, wr. Quentin Tarantino and David Volez) puts two notorious talents together to make a gratuitous film about a killing spree by a couple (played by Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis) avenging troubled childhoods. A greedy reporters Wayne Gale (Robert Downey, Jr.) and detective (Tom Sizemore) add to the fest. Larry King Live actually interviewed Harrelson about this film.
Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994, Warner Bros/Dreamworks/Geffen, based on the novel by Anne Rice, dir. Neil Jordan, R, 123 min) is essentially a love story of a bond between two male vampires stretching over hundreds of years. Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise play the couple (and this reminds us of Matt and Ben as two angels in Dogma). It starts with an encounter in a San Francisco apartment. Need I say more?
The Crow (1994, Miramax, dir. Alex Proyas, comic books by James O'Barr, 102 min. R) has murdered rock singer Eric Craven (Branden Lee) come back "as a crow" from revenge in a film that does rather look like a comic book.
Speed (1994, 20th Century Fox, dir. Jon de Bont) has Keanu Reeves as the young cop who must save the passengers on a bus that will explode when the speed goes over 50. More effective than speed cameras. A sequel Speed 2: Cruise Control (1997) a computer hacker has an ocean cruiser about to collide with an oil tanker, a grim possibility envisioned well before Al Qaeda's worst.
The Flintstones (1994, Universal/Ambin, dir. Bryan Levant, 91 min) is a "live action" film of a cartoon about stone age families (Flintstones and Rubbles) tranposed into the modern world, sort of. There is some playful manipulation of modern social problems, of adopting a baby, cheating on employment tests, and embezzlement. If this film were made today, it would probably use modern animation (like "A Scanner Darkly").
The Scarlet Letter (1995, Hollywood, dir. Roland Jaffe, novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne, 135 min, R). Everybody reads this novel in high school English. There are many detailed plot summaries available on line and in crib books. Here is a good one: http://www.cummingsstudyguides.net/Scarlet.html. Let alone Cliff Notes, one wonders how effective English teachers' reading quizzes (about the specific details of a story, play, or novel) are, given the proliferation of so much detailed analytical material online. As befitting the distributing studio, however, the novel, in this adaptation, has been changed a bit toward the end to provide the "Hollywood" ending. The original novel, with all of its intricacies, really makes a lot of points about our issues today, and I think it's time to make another film, literally from the book (including Dimmesdale's sermon). That might still get an "R" (and many school districts don't allow "R" movies in class below senior in high school), but think about all of the meaning (beyond what you can find in all of these crib sites). For one thing, the Scarlet Letter has the psychological effect of being on a sex offender registry. In fact, Hester Pyrene (Demi Moore) has been "convicted" of a crime of sorts, and the wearing of her "registry" in public is a kind of term for probation. In the colonial world, her crime seemed every bit as heinous. Beyond all of the puritan religious precepts (which really did drive their lives -- I do remember the colonial pilgrim sermons in junior English), the awesome code of public morality served to make performance of the of duties marital sex -- lifelong sexual fidelity -- worth it for men. In a collective society, a man's family domain was the one thing that was really his to have. Hawthorne obviously knew that. Now the movie does play with the potentially erotic nature of this staple high school core material. In the encounter between Hester and Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale (Gary Oldman) not only does he unveil her, but she undresses him, a couple of times, and his body seems to change during the encounter. Hester will get "caught" gradually as she is reported vomiting in the mornings (the script explicitly says that) just before her husband Chillingsworth shows up. But later, one of the high symbols of the novel -- the (unexplained but perhaps psychosomatic) letter "A" on a youthful Dimmesdale's chest (in addition to the "clothing article" worn by Hester -- one wonders if it gave ideas for the "S" on Superman's chest in the comic book and even Smallville series in season 2) is never shown outright in this film, although Dimmesdale refers to it (at least its being worn "on his soul") a few times. As the plot complicates with Pearl's birthmark (which husband Chillingsworth does reveal on camera), the slave Mituba (Lisa Joliffe-Andoh) and midwife, who is tried as a witch, Hester's original husband Roger Chillingsworth (Robert Duvall) builds up his revenge, at one point scalping James Bearden, using tricks he learned in a year with the Algonquins. But as preparation for that crime, he shaves his own body (which appears to have the stigmata that Dimmesdale wears), rather like a radical Muslim terrorist, and one chilling scene (when Hester is looking for Dimmesdale) shows him looking like a plucked chicken, even down to the bald legs. Before the happy ending there is a good old Hollywood Pictures shootout, with broken hangings. The movie uses the scarlet tanager as an effective symbol at several points. The DVD does not offer wide-screen, which should have been done (and hopefully a remake will be full anamorphic). John Barry's music score echoes the mood of "Body Heat". Though dated 1995, this is very much an 80s movie. See also, The House of the Seven Gables.
Apollo 13 (1995, Universal, dir. Ron Howard, 140 min, PG-13, with Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise) presents the true story of a 1970 space mission that almost ended in tragedy (and perhaps the demise of NASA) after technology failures on-board, and the heroic steps to get the men home safely. Before their possible deaths, the men are treated to seeing the Moon as the craft flings around. Much is made of the fact that Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon) is still a bachelor. Ken Mattingly (Gary Sinise) stays home after exposure to measles, as if they didn’t have the vaccine then. The computer technology, based on huge dinosaurs, makes an interesting comparison to today’s information technology. There is one bemusing scene where the men are wired up for Holter monitoring during the flight: Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks) has had a little of his chest shaved, and it is abraded and dried repeatedly for good electrical contact with the electrodes through the electrodes. You hear men cringe during that scene. There are also some weightlessness “experiments” with body functions and reverse peristalsis. I saw this film twice, the second time on a flight back from San Francisco to Baltimore when returning for an interview trip related to my first book. It is quite an inspiration.
Braveheart (1995, 20th Century Fox, dir. Mel Gibson) won Best Picture for 1995, even though it came out in the summer (like Forest Gump). It has Mel Gibson as William Wallace fighting for Scotland to be free of England. It hardly sounds relevant to us today, but the generic issue of freedom is. At the end, Wallace cries “freedom!” as he is about to be executed. It is better to be free and do what you believe you were meant to do than give in to someone else’s purposes just to live – even to be saved. But then remember, Gibson would make “The Passion.”
Get Shorty (1995, United Artists, dir. Barry Sonnenfeld, R, 105 min) is often broadcast on cable and networks these days as a film that rather equalizes Hollywood to the mafia, as a mobster finds Hollywood as much the enemy as his old profession of organized crime. Perhaps an exaggerated premise. This was nominally an “indie” film that cost 30 M. John Travolta.
The American President (1995, Columbia, dir. Rob Reiner, PG-13) has Michael Douglas as a widower president and Annette Benning as his beloved lobbyist Sydney Ellen Wade. Today we would wonder why we need K Street at all.
Casper (1995, Universal, dir. Brad Silberling). A woman Carrigan (Cathy Moriarty) inherits a rickety old abode and hires a paranormal expert (Bill Pullman) who, with his daughter (Christina Ricci) track down a gentle ghost Casper (voice - Malachi Pearson).
The Colony (1995, Universal/Kevin Brown Productions, 95 min, dir. Rob Hedden, PG-13) presents a kind of libertarian paradox. What if “rich people” just divide up the country into gated enclaves with private governments? Here, Rick, a security systems salesman, is coaxed into selling his house to this right-wing corporate group and moving into such a gated community, thinking he owns his own property still when (because of the scam) he does not. Then there are all of those deed and covenant restrictions. If you break the zoning rules, well, you could wind up dead. Then we learn that all the street crime in the big city is set up by these right wing groups. You get it, a setup for a new fourth reich. Not only are homosexuals not welcome, neither are parents who really want to raise their kids. And forget dogs that bark.
Outbreak (1995, Warner Bros., dir. Wolfgang Peterson) has a town infected with a monkey virus. The vectors were illegally imported into America. As the political climate unravels, the government contemplates obliterating the town—with residents in it—with a shock-and-awe weapon. At the same time, a TV film,. Robin Cook’s Virus (1995, dir. Armand Mastroiana, based on Robin Cook’s novek) tells a similar story, ebola virus spreads from monkeys, liquefying the organs of its victims in a story that resembles Robert Preston’s book The Hot Zone, which will become a TV film in late 2005. These films should not be confused with the clumsy effort Virus (1999, Universal, dir. John Bruno) where an electronic life form takes over a research vessel and threatens to wipe out the world (but it’s “we” who are the “virus”.)
Jumanji (1995, Tristar/Sony, dir. Joe Johnston, with Robin Williams, Van Pelt, Sam Parrish, based on the children’s novel by Chris Van Allsburg) presents the idea of living inside a board game, sort of. I explore a comparable idea in my script “Baltimore Is Missing” about living in a false world that may be a model railroad. Great stampedes of elephants, hippos, rhinos, and so forth run around, as if this were a kind of modern Jurassic Park. There is even a carnivorous flower that reminds one of Audrey from The Little Shop of Horrors (no masochist and sadist in the dentist’s office, please.) All pretty silly.
Across the Sea of Time (1995, Columbia, dir. Stephen Low) was an early film in Imax 3-D. Thomas Minton (Peter Reznick) has come to New York City on a freighter from Russia, and finds a new profession, 3-D photography (dating back to 1916) as he looks for his ancestors. Another supersized screen process is Omnimax, which fills a stadium auditorium with a half-sphere of screen.
Waterworld (1995, Universal, dir. Kevin Reynolds, 136 min, PG-13) was one of the most expensive films ever made at that time. Global warming has inundated most of the earths continents with ocean, leaving fragments of a civilization warring on deserted oil tankers. Kevin Costner is Mariner, the traveler who will help others find Dry Land. He is so adapted that he has webbed feet. Despite the big budget, the film was shot flat. There is a 176 min director’s cut.
Rob Roy (1995, United Artists, dir. Michael Caton-Jones, 139 min, R) is a Robin Hood like story set in the Scottish highlands in the 18th century, and is spectacular to watch. Liam Neeson and Jessica Lange star as the MacGregors.
Heat (1995, Warner Bros., dir. Michael Mann, 171 min, R) is a famous crime thriller pitting Lt. Hanno (Al Pacino) against gangster McCauley (Robert De Niro), who have a famous verbal confrontation in a coffee shot at a sit down two-third through this epic film. The bank robbery scene is spectacular and really sizzles. The music score includes the Violin Concerto of Gyorgy Ligeti, which, however bizarre, has shocking effect when it is played.
Casino (1995, Universal, dir. Martin Scorsese, 178 min, R) is a famous crime drama as two bosses, former friends, vie for control of mob business in Las Vegas. Robert De Niro is “Ace” and Sam Pesci is Nicky. Ace falls for a hustler Ginger (Sharon Stone) while Nicky sinks into drugs. There are a couple of famous scenes where a head is put inside a vice as a way to get someone to talk. Some pols made cameo appearances.
Twelve Monkeys (1995, Universal, “12 Monkeys”, dir. Terry Gilliam, PG-13, 129 min) has a convict James Cole (Bruce Willis) sent back from the future (2035) sent back to stop an epidemic that could wipe out most of the world’s population. The movies might seem timely now given the avian flu scare. He gets sent back too far (1990), and winds up in a mental institution where he meets Jeffrey Goines (Brad Pitt) and together they manipulate the future when the time shifts to 1996, as the virus is carried by some simians (remember, that’s where HIV came from). Stephen King’s The Stand is a good comparison. This is a gripping film.
Beyond Rangoon (1995, Columbia, dir. John Boorman) is timely know because of the oppression from the military governemtn in Myanmar (Burma) where journalists have fled, and citizen journalists carry the show. In the film, Laura (Patricia Arquette) goes to visit her sister in Burma, and falls in with resistance to the government, and has to escape to Thailand. U Aung Ko plays himself.
My Family (“Ma Familia”, 1995, New Line, dir. Gregory Nava) traces three generations of a Latino immigrant family in Los Angeles, starting in the 1930s, moving to the 50s and then the 80s, with a gradual increase in responsibility. Certainly a touching portrait of blood and kin family for its own sake, when there is nothing else.
The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996, Columbia, dir. Milos Forman, approx 120 min, R) presents the story of Hustler Magazine founder Larry Flynt, with all his legal trials and other tribulations. The film has a big look and gets you into his issues. This is a good film for more mature civics classes to watch in understanding free speech and cultural war issues. See also review of Inside Deep Throat.
Fargo (1996) moved.
Hamlet (1996, Columbia/Castle Rock, dir. Kenneth Branagh, 242 min, PG-13) is the full-blown movie rendition of Shakespeare’s play about ambition, long enough for an intermission preceded by Hamlet’s famous battlefield speech (quote) about honor. Often the film seems like a high-class horror flick, and everyone swings from the chandeliers in the tragic conclusion. The music score by Patrick Doyle is stirring, an rises to a tremendous climax at the end of the closing credits. Hamlet's aspiration engages the audience even if his desire for revenge, driven by what he thinks is absolute honor, seems misplaced by modern standards of ethics. The "play-within-a-play" ("The Murder of Gonzago" aka "The Mouse-trap") in Act II is a famous dramatic device, where Hamlet (Branagh himself) has the actors put on a play to fool Claudius (Derek Jacobi) into giving away his guilt. The famous "to be or not to be" follows. But the embedded play itself has motivational significance, and is an example today of what lawyers call "implicit content." It probably (because of the consequences that follow for the characters) provides a good example of why English common law regards a (false) unfavorable presentation of a recognizable, even though pseudonymous person, in a fictitious work, as defamatory. The "play-within-a-play" or "story-within-a-story" construct occurs elsewhere in Shakespeare and in literature (even in the recent film from India, "Yatra").
Independence Day (1996, 20th Century Fox, dir. Roland Emmerich) featured a great line on its posters as it showed our blue planet: “take a good look; it may be your last!” It started July 4 weekend, as I attended the Libertarian Party convention in Washington DC, and a lot of us (including John Galt) ventured to Union Station AMC to see it (John Galt fell asleep). You wonder what it would be like, if 15-mile-long spaceships hovered over the earth. They zap the White House with Bill Clinton in it (people actually cheered). The problem is, Bill Pullman is president in the movie, and its pretty silly when he boards fighter jets himself to invade the insect hives on the alien spaceships. A summer movie.
Executive Decision (1996, Warner Bros., dir. Stuart Baird, wr. John Thomas, 134 min, PG-13) proposes another nightmare scenario which is all too frightening after 9/11. An airliner (a 747) has a bomb attached to nerve gas intended to wipe out Washington DC and maybe much of the East Coast. They say that 9/11 represents a failure of imagination, but this film shows that the imagination was there. The other main part of the plot has Dr. Phil David Grant (Kurt Russell) and LTC Austin Travis (Steven Seagal) planning a midair tranfer of a commando unit.
Alaska (1996, Columbia/Castle Rock, dir. Fraser Clarke Heston) is a family adventure in which two boys help rescue their recently widowed bush pilot father. Perhaps a foreshadowing of Everwood. Dirk Benedict, Vincent Kartheiser. Do not confuse with some other pictures with the same name, including a History Channel film.
The Arrival (1996, Orion, dir. David Towhy) Charlie Sheen (his chest shaved) plays astronomer Zane Zaminiski, who loses his job after trying to publicize a signal that indicates aliens are landing and may be warming the earth up. A curious concept given today's "debate" on global warming. Much of the story is set in Mexico.
The Rock (1996, Hollywood, dir. Michael Bay). A disgruntled Army officer threatens to kill prisoners in Alcatraz with nerve gas, so a chemist and ex-con must break in. Sean Connery and Nicholas Cage.
The Crucible (1996, 20th Century Fox, dir. Nicholas Hytner, screenplay by Arthur Miller, adapted from his own play by the same name from 1952). This play is taught in English classes because of its relevance, especially today, to political panic: McCarthyism, fear mongering, witch-hunts, in all kinds of issues. Here it is Salem, Mass in 1692, with the witchcraft trials. The film starts in a provocative manner, with nude girls running around, and well… This was Puritanism, that hard started out as religious authoritarianism of the sternest kind, but was gradually becoming mixed with freedom, which had to test its limits. Eventually, the protagonist John Proctor (Daniel Day-Lewis, so antiseptically body-shaved for The Last of the Mohicans (1992, 20th Century Fox, dir. Michael Mann) must take a stand: confess to a religious crime that he believes he did not commit to save his own life, or die with honor. Is life more important than pride in self? Act IV of the play needles this question, and if you hear the CD of the stage-play the salt-and-pepper dialogue drives forward with great sizzle despite the moral abstractions, where in a visual medium like film the words can get in the way (although the music score helps). “The Crucible” also refers to a place where “community standards” demand the inhabitants mind each other’s business to the point of match-making, just like the Salem (and “New Salem”) of Days of our Lives. Prentice-Hall provides an anthology where Arthur Miller discusses the problems of adopting his play to film. One could visit VCU’s “Screenwriting Tips for Playwrights” at http://www.pubinfo.vcu.edu/artweb/playwriting/screentips.html (One thing about Mohicans: I remember writing a term paper in 11th Grade English on James Fenimore Cooper’s treatment of women in his leatherstocking novels, of which this is the fourth of five. A false start on what was to come. The French and Indian Wars have never seen that relevant, but we might have a very different country now without it, and it is typically covered in some detail in high school history)
Courage under Fire (1996, 20th Century Fox, dir. Edward Zwick) deals with Desert Storm. In the Pentagon, LTC Bate Sterling, fighting his own demons, investigates a posthumous award to a female officer Cpt. Karen Walden (Meg Ryan) who, stranded with her men when a chopper crashes in Desert Storm (1991) in Iraq, fights off the enemy. An underweight Matt Damon is Spc. Ilario. The film does deal with the combat capabilities of women in the military, still of controversy today. This is a good place to mention the IMAX film The Fires of Kuwait (1992, dir. David Douglas), about putting out the fires in oil wells all over Kuwait after Saddam Hussein put them on fire before he was evicted from Kuwait in the first Persian Gulf War (1991).
James and the Giant Peach (1996, Walt Disney, dir. James Selick, book by Roald Dahl, G) A boy befriends insects in a peach pit that goes across the ocean to New York. Pure animated fantasy.
Ransom (1996, Touchstone, dir. Ron Howard, 121 min. R) plays Mel Gibson as mogul Tom Mullen, whose son is kidnapped. The police cannot get the boy back, but Mullen turns the ransom money into bounty against the kidnappers. Libertarian, private vigilante justice. Compare to the NBC Series "Kidnapped" and even the Stevenson novel. Jose Zuniga appears as David Torres.
Primal Fear (1996, Paramount, dir. Gregory Hoblit, 127 min, R) got Ed Norton started on his career as a sensational young actor, playing an altar boy accused of murdering a priest in Chicago, and outmaneuvering his defense attorney played by Richard Gere with a great jailhouse surprise. The movie was made well before the scandals erupted among priests in the Catholic Church.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996, Disney, dir. Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise, animated, G, 91 min) is an animated version of Victor Hugo’s famous novel, with a deformed bell ringer Quasimodo (voice Tom Hulce) overcoming obstacles of government to help a singer. Evil government oppressing the disadvantaged is a major theme of Hugo, whose novels might be taken in a libertarian context today.
The English Patient (1996, Miramax, dir. Anthony Minghella, based on novel by Michael Ondaatje, 160 min, R), an Academy-award winning WWII drama, was a major film to present the technique of layered narrative and scriptwriting. Seeing handsome Ralph Fiennes play Almasy as a badly burned former map-maker, explorer, aviator and plane-crash victim is heartbreaking (as he is cared for by Hana (Juliet Binoche), but he spins a fascinating life as an explored of the Sahara who would get drawn into a tragic love affair during the war. A film of great complexity and intensity that would set the trend for the high-end independent market. Minghella had to struggle to get the money for this.
In Love and War (1996, New Line, dir. Richard Attenborough) has reporter Ernest Hemmingway (Chris O'Donnell) falling in love with nurse Agnes Kurowsky (Sandra Bullock) after he is wounded after risking his life as an ambulance driver. (Noah Bennett in Passions is small stuff). Very effective period filmmaking, down to the railroad cars. Cinemascope. The story parallels "A Farewell to Arms" above, with Hemingway's novel, but takes the various turns that happen when the author himself is the protagonist.
White Squall (1996, Hollywood, dir. Ridley Scott, based on the book by Charles Gieg, Jr. and Felix Sutton, 127 min, PG-13) has Skipper Chris Sheldon (Jeff Bridges) taking some teenage boys on an ocean vogage (the ship is The Albatross) to learn seamanship and teamwork, quasi-military. The film takes time building tension among the boys, and then they are confronted with a deadly freak storm. The film opens up a lot more than “Lord of the Flies.” Caroline Goodall is the doctor, John Savage is the English teacher MacRea. Among actors playing the boys is Ryan Phillippe.
Mission Impossible (1996, Paramount, dir. Brian de Palma) has Tom Cruise exposing a mole; in the sequel Mission Impossible II (2000, Paramount, dir. John Woo) he tracks down a genetically engineered disease, and there is a famous sequence (including chopper) inside the Chunnel connecting England and France, which I rode in the spring of 2001. Movie 3 is due out in 2006. Mission Impossible III (2006, Paramount/Cruise-Wagner, dir. J.J. Abrams, 126 min, PG-13) is more urgent and compelling, probably because of what history has unfolded since. Ethan Hunt wants to settle down with a nurse Julia (Michelle Monaghan -- an interest choice of first name), when he is sent on mission to chase down super villain Owen Davian (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), who functions as an intermediary among terrorists. He wants to control the device called Rabbit's Foot, which might be a dud, or it could be a trigger for a nuke from North Korea, useful to Al Qaeda or to Iran. Now Ethan does his globe trotting, encountering the enemy at a warehouse among windmills near Berlin, then invading the Vatican to steal the Rabbit's Foot by putting on a latex mask to impersonate Davian. Then "the Enpire Strikes Back" and steals it back from Ethan with a terrorist strike on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel at Hampton Roads, Va. (or is it the Bay Bridge on US 50 in MD, the movie contradicts itself). That is particularly well done. They wind up with a final confrontation in Shanghai swinging among buildings. All along, Julia is at risk and has been kidnapped. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is efficient as sidekick Delcan, and his enthusiastic vigor seems to fit the stereotype of a young adult gay male. At the beginning and again at the end of the film, there are strange references to defibrillators, which never get a chance to work right. (I used it to springboard one of my more controversial scripts, by having it actually resurrect a questionable character.) The IMF is the "Impossible Mission Force," not the "International Monetary Fund."
The Ghost and the Darkness (1996, Paramount, dir. Stephen Hopkins, 109 min). Val Kilmer is a railroad engineer (Lt. Col. John Paterson) sent to build a bridge in East Africa in 1898, and has to deal with the slaughter of over 130 natives and workers, by two man-eating lions (given the names in the title of the film). The story does not appeal to cat lovers, although as a whole, attacks on man by large cats are rather rare. When I saw this film, it was stopped by a power outage from a huge thunderstorm in October (in Va) and I had to go back the next day.
The Devil's Advocate (1997, Warner Bros., dir. Taylor Hackford, novel by Andrew Neiderman) has Keanu Reeves as Kevin Lomax, a rising young attorney who goes to work in a law firm run by the Devil (John Milton -- Al Pacino) himself. The title of the movie is a pun on a moral requirement of debate, but the story sounds like a translation of John Grisham's "The Firm."
Cop Land (1997, Touchstone, dir. James Magnold, 104 min, R) would be the first film that I would see after my migration to Minnesota, in the General Cinemas in the Mall of America. Sylvester Stallone is Sheriff Freddy Helfin, in a small northern New Jersey town, never able to pass the physical to become part of the NYPD himself. Mo Tilden (Robert De Niro) is an internal affairs investigator who will show Helfin that he may well be living his “purpose driven life.”
Contact (1997, Warner Bros., dir. Robert Zemeckis, based on a novel by Carl Sagan, PG, 153 min). I saw this film the night my first “Do Ask Do Tell” book was officially published (7/11/1997), so it was a bit of a celebration. Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) finds a message through the New Mexico Very Large Array and directions for building a spaceship. She and Palmer Joss (Matthew McConaughey) build the ship, which looks like a huge gyroscope. It blows up once, but eventually they take the ride in it, and find out what is really out there.
Gattaca (1997, Columbia, dir. Andrew Niccolm 101 min, PG-13) presents a morality tale about a society’s basic virtues. In the distant future, your assigned station in life is determined in a utopian, authoritarian culture that evaluates your DNA. Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke) aspires to travel in space but is limited by a congenital or genetic heart condition, so he takes on the identity of now disabled (but genetically intact) Jerome Morrow (Jude Law, who plays this role in a wheelchair) and carries on an affair with Irene Cassini (Uma Thurman). The whole movie has a metallic (or perhaps metalloid) look. There are bizarre scenes to make you grate your teeth, as when Freeman scrapes and brushes his hairy legs in a shower.
The Fifth Element (1997, Columbia, dir. Luc Beeson, 126 min, PG-13) has Bruce Willis as a cabbie -- driving cabs that levitate through the air in a future NYC. He needs to own quite a medallion for that. And he needs to save the world from an evil with some kind of crystal with a new element, a kind of kryptonite. Gary Oldman is the enemy Emanuel Zorg. It never seems very compelling, even if the extra dimensionality would make the geography interesting.
Starship Troopers (1997, dir. Paul Verhoeven, R, TriStar, 129 min, with Casper Van Dien and Dina Meyer), a politically important sci-fi movie based on the story by Robert A. Heinlein. Here another planet, a home for giant bugs that colonize the universe by shooting spores through deep space, becomes Iraq or Afghanistan. So we have to go there to quash the threat. The scenes on the alien planet are spectacular, and brutal, with gross amputations (legs, arms, and heads roll) and battlefield triage. But the really interesting point is the socialization of society back on earth, where military service has again become an instrument of socialization. In 1997 this might have sounded like a commentary on Israel, but today it sounds relevant as we “threaten” to debate resuming the draft with the mess in Iraq (in a sense, we already have one, in practice.) There is another line in the script that refers to the “Live and Let Live” policy, which at first glance sounds like a reference to our foreign policy, but even in the Clinton years that is hardly how we would characterize our policy in the middle East (maybe it refers to our “toleration” of Saddam Hussein for 12 years). But I called my own proposal to end the military gay ban that in my book, and Bill Clinton mentions this acronym with respect to the ban in “My Life.” It does seem that the nightmare socialization of the world in this movie had already eliminated open homosexuality.
The Relic (1997, Paramount, dir. Peter Hyams, novel boy Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child) has an ancient creature roaming a natural history museum in Chicago after a some mysterious crates, apparently empty, arrive. Compare to "Night at the Museum".
Smilla’s Sense of Snow (1997, Fox Searchlight, dir.Billie August, R) was very ambitious for independent pictures at its time, and it is based on Peter Hoeg’s bestseller. It starts with a mystery when a small boy falls off a building in Copenhagen. Soon the investigation involves a shipper doing business with natives in Greenland, and with what may have happened a century ago with a meteor strike. The movie tantalizes us with the unexplained and makes the possibility of past alien visitations seem very credible indeed.
G. I. Jane (1997, Hollywood, dir. Ridley Scott, 124 min, PG-13) has Demi Moore as "Jane," the tough Navy Seal candidate who outperforms most of the men, much to their chagrin, in the most trying circumstances. The men will do everything to keep their masculinity from being copied by females; otherwise they become redundant (unless they can become seahorses).
L. A. Confidential (1997, Warner Bros., dir. Jill Godlimov, novel by James Elroy, 139 min) is a famous crime drama about corruption and morality in the LA Police department in the 1950s. It starts with a shooting at a diner (somehow that echoes the mood of Pulp Fiction). Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce are the three cops to be tested, and David Strathairn is the corrupt ring leader running pimps through his real estate empire, in the days of "California here I come."
Amistad (1997, Dreamworks, dir. Steven Spielberg, wr. David Franzoni, [a novel was fashioned from this screenplay by Alex and Alexis Pate]152 min, R). “Freedom is not given. It is our right at birth. But there are some times when it must be taken.” This is another mutiny tale, this time about slaves on a ship in 1839, followed by courtroom drama. Alexs Pate prepared the novel based on the screenplay and spoke at work (ReliaStar) during the 1997-1998 winter. A friend of mine called the movie “libertarianesque.” The early scenes of the slaves in the galley, smooth steamy thighs and mouths sipping gruel are graphic and harrowing, as is the beginning on the West African coast. Slavery was the greatest mistake in American history, according to my own father. It still generates the divides that fuel our cultural wars today.
That Darn Cat (1997, Walt Disney, dir. Bob Spiers, 89 min, PG) gives equal time for cats, and is rather famous for doing so. A domestic is kidnapped and scratches a message on the collar of feline D.C., who then plays the critical role of transmitting the message in the physical world of feline imprinting.
Toy Story (1995); Toy Story 2 (1999), Pixar/Walt Disney Pictures, dir. John Lasseter, both present the idea of toys as creatures that inhabit their own world parallel to us. The animation is masterful, even to the point of showing body hair in one case. The second film starts with an artist’s rendition of another planet that looks like it could be Titan (we’ll soon know), after an opening shot that resembles the Smallville Pilot opening. The main story contains humorous references, like to “Chickenman” (he’s everywhere, he’s everywhere), and the quote that, for a toy, life is worth living only if there is a kid to love him.
A more grown up “Toy Story is Small Soldiers (1998), Dreamworks/Universal, PG-13, 110 min, dir. Joe Dante, with Jay Mohr, David Cross, Alexandra Wilson, Denis Leary, and Gregory Smith (as Alan Abernathy). Here a toy manufacture has put DOD chips in kids’ toys leading to—you guessed it—the War Among the Toys. Gregory Smith, as the lead, literally negotiates the path between middle school and high school, his voice deepening and his body growing rapidly during the course of the film—this is an interesting effect when a film is made with a teen actor navigating puberty. Daniel Ratcliffe is pretty much through this with the Harry Potter movies. At one point, Alan shouts, “why do you call me Ma’am” and (like Ephram in Everwood) he will prove himself a man, at least here in resolving the kiddie toy War, where they actually mention the suitcase nukes as a possibility (and the electromagnetic pulse effect, also used in Oceans 11). There are interesting shots of toys trying to wreck Alan as he rides his bike, and a very gregarious feline who only wants to play with the toys. The music and photography of the final lake scenes are striking.
A similar concept is explored in The Indian in the Cupboard (1995, Columbia, PG, 97 min, dir. Frank Oz, with Hal Scardino (as the boy Omri), Litefoot, Lindsay Crouse, Richard Jenkins, Risho Bhat) where a boy brings miniature toys to life from a magic cupboard, as Indian and settler characters from the French and Indian Wars period (before the Revolutionary War) fight but reconcile, with the right loyal interventions from Omri, living in modern New York City (pre-9/11, but not very real-feeling). In a very different cultural venue, I explore the idea of finding out that you are living as a toy in some puppetmeister’s world in my own black horror comedy script, “Baltimore Is Missing.”
Also, Gregory Smith appeared as middle-school kid Jessee Hackett in Shadow Zone: My Teacher Ate My Homework (1997, Paramount/Showtime/Artists Industry), dir. Stephen William, where Jesse buys a voodoo doll to deal with a troublesome history teacher (Shellye Duvall). Smith, perhaps 13 when this made, predicts his later self with his performance here, but the story rather drifts off. It is a bit gentler than Child’s Play (1984) with Chuckie the doll.
Con Air (1997, Touchstone/Jerry Bruchheimer, dir. Simon West, wr Scott Rosenberg) has Nicholas Cage as an ex-con, previously wrongfully jailed for manslaughter while "protecting" his family, riding home on a crude air transport, the Jailbird, when other ex-cons (from Louisiana 's Feltham Penitentiary) seize control. Cyrus Grissom is played by John Malkovich. Officials want to blow it out of existence.
The Edge (1997, Twentieth Century Fox, dir. Lee Tamahori, PG-13, 117 min). Billionaire Charles Morse (Anthony Hopkins) and his wife (Elle McPherson) are trapped in the Alaskan wilderness with a younger rival (Alec Baldwin) after a plane crash and have to get out, and escape bears and other hazards.
Mousehunt (1997, Dreamworks, dir. Gore Verninski, 98 min, PG). This film anticipates Verbinski's talent, later matured in the "Pirates" movies, a making a story out of visual concepts -- here physical comedy. In the 1930s, two bumbling brothers (Nathan Lane and Lee Evans) inherit an old house and a string factory. Remember those stocking balls that we used to play backyard baseball with? That's the kind of yarn. Their house is "infected" by a most recalcitrant mouse, who has chewed large mouse holes (I recall a mouse in my second Dallas condo and trying to get rid of it with poison bait -- it would come into the bedroom at night to chew on the blue bait.) They get a ferocious cat, but nothing works. Finally, after some creative destruction (the house collapses), the mouse gets their factory back into the black with string cheese. Abstract comedy like this (as with Hulot above) works better in a theater than with a DVD (which is cropped to full screen). "A world without string is chaos." (Randolf Smuntz). One of the loglines for "The Lot" reality directors' contest was a mouse becoming a lab rat -- maybe inspired by this film.
The Waterboy (1998, Touchstone, dir. Frank Coraci), was a tremendous box office hit in 1998 and made Adam Sandler a household comedy name (“fatter roles”?) Here, the story of a 31-year-old MR man who gets fired as a waterboy for one football team and suddenly becomes a star on another team (his age undiscovered) generates crude rooting interest but seems a bit tasteless and insensitive in these days of No Child Left Behind. (Forest Gump is much more original).
Palmetto (1998, Columbia/Castle Rock, dir. Volker Schlondorff, R, 114 min). A framed and released reporter (Woody Harrelson) tries to fake a kidnapping, and it turns real. South Carolina is the "Palmetto State" and the radio stations there really burned our minds with that in Army Basic.
Les Miserables (1998, Columbia/Mandalay, dir. Billie August, novel by Victor Hugo) is of course based on the famous story of Jean Valjean, imprisoned for stealing breadm but great things happen. Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush, Peter Vaughan, David Birkin, Claire Danes. This movie was a favorite of the college crowd in the Twin Cities that year, and the story ultimately has libertarian overtones. There is also a strong undercurrent theme about the balance between justice in the eyes of the law and mercy in more spiritual terms. (I’ve had interesting conversations about this movie, including one on the DC Metro.) There is a DVD of the musical (Claude-Michel Schoemberg) from Columbia. The music is hyper-emotional, builds to a great climax for the last ensemble, and is followed by an encore with 17 actors playing Jean Valjean (from different nations) for a final D major ensemble repeating the climax, a kind of “Hymn to the Nations.” The songs reflect an obvious concern not just for human rights but for the quandary of having to speak the truth and for the consequences of unleashing the truth when one has it. See the review of the National Theater stage performance in 2005.
Major League III: Back to the Minors (1998, Warner Bros/Morgan Creek, dir. John Warren, PG, franchise film) is the one film in which I personally appear (beside my own). I am standing in the crowd in the Metrodome in Minneapolis, holding my authored black-and-white DADT book, for perhaps ¼ second. For us 10000 extras, Morgan Creek bought us supper (it was a November 1997 Thursday evening; I walked over to the Metrodome from work at ReliaStar a mile away in downtown Minneapolis). Oh, yes, we had to sign releases. So much for my filmograpy. The title suggests the story.
The Big Lebowski (1998) moved.
Disturbing Behavior (1998, MGM, dir. David Nutter) is one of the most perfunctory movie titles ever. The plot is less silly, as former bad boys turn good citizens when they are made into lobotomized Stepford robots.
Patch Adams (1998, Universal/Bungalow78, dir. Tom Shadyac, PG-13, 156 min) is a “feel good” comedy (based on a true story that took place around 1970) where an older-than-usual medical student Hunter “Patch” Adams (Robin Williams) wants to be himself as well as become a doctor according to the conventions of the establishment. And his (subjective masculine polarity) identity is based on domain: he manipulates patients to make them feel better, where he tells them the truth or not. Some of the scenes, as with chemotherapy patients, seem off-putting (chemotherapy was just starting to be used big time then). The Dean tries to kick him out, but he always fights back, to a great speech scene before graduation. The story is formulaic screenwriting and too manipulative to say anything new. I wonder what would happen to Williams if he had to scrub for surgery.
The Truman Show (1998, Paramount, dir. Peter Weir) casts Jim Carrey as an insurance salesman living the perfect materialistic and slap-happy life in Florida, and even showing his butt to the screen, and then, whoops, he finds out his whole life is one big reality TV show. In fact, they have put allow Southeastern US under a bubble just to make this show about Truman. Likeable Truman must escape the bubble.
The Horse Whisperer (1998, Touchstone, dir. Robert Redford, 170 min, novel by Eric Roth). A teenage girl Grace (Scarlet Johanssen) is hit by a truck riding a horse. The mother takes her to Montana to work with Tom Booker (Robert Redford) the "magician," a "horse whisperer" with magical talents. When I saw the film in Minnesota, the first 40 minutes were in regular aspect, and then the film opened up to Cinemascope. I don't know it this was intentional.
The Negotiator (1998, Warner Brothers, dir. F. Gary Gray, 139 min, R). This German-made film for American audiences presents an ultimate plot problem. In the Chicago Police, one negotiator, accused of embezzlement from the pension fund (anticipating the corporate scandals to occur in a few years) seizes hostages to force another negotiator to get at the truth, in psychologically feminine fashion. I saw this on a weekend jaunt in northern Minnesota, in the town of Grand Rapids. Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey.
What Dreams May Come (1998, dir. Ron Bass, 114 min, PG-13, Polygram) presents a travelogue of dominion-hopping, what Heaven and Hell might be like. Chris Nielsen (Robin Williams) is killed in a tunnel auto accident, has a quick death experience and goes right to heaven, which is more amorphous than the New Salem of “Days of our Lives.” In fact, he lives in a landscape created by his wife’s paintings. His wife (Annie: Annabelle Sciorra) commits suicide, and is condemned to Hell (her wrist scars healed), not for wrongdoing, but for a basic transgression of nature, putting her own pride over faith (this is an automatic spiritual sentence for suicide according to the Angel Albert played by Cuna Gooding, Jr.) But love will not be denied, as Chris enlists Tracker (Max von Sydow) to take him across the dominions. Some of the imagery tells us what might be there, such as the angels preparing to travel to earth to welcome newborns, or a scene in Hell where barely bobbling heads are buried in the gray ground like eggshells in Alien. That is what is really out there.
Sphere (1998, dir. Barry Levinson, Warner Bros., based on the novel by Michael Crichton, 134 min, PG-13) with Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone (as “Beth”), and Samuel L. Jackson, presents a Naval and science crew exploring a 300-yer-old space ship found at the bottom of the ocean. It plays head trips with them, all right. The tight novel builds in layers of suspense, but rather comes apart in the film, and the ending seems like a copout. Impressionistic music score.
Dark City (1998, New Line, dir. Alex Proyas, Australia, PG13, 100 min) presents the nightmare of waking up in a strange city, in a dilapidated room, with a corpse nearby, and being hunted by police. (Sounds like it could be a beginning of a “Saw” movie.) As he explores his world of this 1940s Metropolis-like city, it seems more and more like an artificial place. He has to look for a place called Shell Beach, which is literally at the end of the world. He is indeed living in a setup, a city that is someone else’s toy. There is a bit of a similar premise in part toward the end of my own “Baltimore Is Missing” script.
U.S. Marshalls (1998, Warner Bros., dir. Stuart Baird). These are essentially the federal government's "sheriff's department." Tommy Lee Jones (as Sam Gerard) faces off against double agent Mark Sheirdan (Wesley Snipes) who has already been involved in spying on the Chinese. Things get complicated with a car crash and plane crash. A pretty militaristic, red state early-in-the-year film.
A Simple Plan (1998, Paramount, dir. Sam Raimi, 121 min, R) has two brothers and a friend finding a downed plane with drug money in rural Minnesota. All they have to do is sit on it, like a chess player with an advantage. They find themselves falling into zugzwang, however. Bill Paxton, Bridget Fonda, Lou Chambers and (of course) Bill Bob Thornton.
Elizabeth (1998, Gramercy, dir. Shekhar Kapur, UK, 124 min). A biography of Elizabeth I, starting with her imprisonment in the Tower of London. Religious history is covered, as Elizabeth was a Protestant half-sister of Mary Tudor. Cate Blanchett. A more ambitious sequel is due from Universal in 2007.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998, Universal, dir. Terry Gilliam, book by Hunter S. Thompson, 124 min, R) A gonzo journalist and his lawyer tranist Vegas in a "celebration" of the Timothy Leary drug culture that had already burned itself out. Plenty of references to Nixon. Plenty pf psychedelic monsters. You experience, you know.
Deep Impact (1998)
The Man in the Iron Mask (1998, United Artists, dir. Randall Wallace, based on the novel by Alexander Dumas, 132 min, PG-13, UK) This was the lesser known novel of Dumas that you read for a book report after going to a library and checking out a small print version. (How about Costain’s The Moneyman, which would make a great Disney-like movie—Agnes Sorel et al.). Here Leonardo Di Caprio becomes incredibly grizzled (and bearded, if you can imagine that of Di Caprio) in jail as a secret twin brother Philippe who must escape and become the real Louis XIV. There is a lot of spectacle here, including balloons, escapes, and ships. It took incredible imagination for novelists to come up with breakout novel scenarios for European monarchial society, a great subject for a fiction-writing course in college, I would think.
Shakespeare in Love (1998, Miramax/Bedford Falls, dir John Madden, R, 123 min) gives us the history of Shakespeare’s classic about forbidden love, “Romeo and Juliet” (aka “Romeo and Ethel, The Pirate’s Daughter”) through a forbidden love affair of his own (Shakespeare is played by a virile Joseph Fiennes) with aspiring actress Viola De Lessepps (Gwyneth Paltrow). In those days, women couldn’t act, and they used male cross dressers. This all brings to mind the early part of 10th Grade English, the Globe Theater—the first question on the first literature test was to name the eight parts of the theater (I remember the proscenium doors). The film recreates the look of Elizabethean London with great detail.
The Mummy (1999, Universal, dir. Stephen Sommers) Brendan Fraser is an ugly America in the French foreign legion digging up an accidental mummy at Hamunaptra. They even breed roaches. The sequel is The Mummy Returns (2001, same), when Imhotep rises from the dead from London.
Snow Falling On Cedars (1999, Universal, dir. Scott Hicks, based on a novel by David Guterson, PG-13, 127 min) is a courtroom drama set in a coastal Washington state town in the immediate postwar years, playing on the controversy originally engendered by the interment of Japanese Americans, when it appears that a Japanese-American may have killed his neighbor at sea. May Von Sydow plays Nels Gudmundsson, one of the lawyers.
The Hurricane (1999, Universal, dir. Normal Jewison, book by Sam Chaiton and Rubin "Hurricane" Carter) tells the story of the wrongful life imprisonment for boxing heavyweight champ Carter, and the racist system that he (Denzel Washington) and Chaiton (Liev Schreiber) had to face to try to overcome the conviction.
The Thirteenth Floor (1999, Columbia / Centropolis, dir. Josef Rusnak, novel by Daniel F. Galouye, 100 min, Germany, PG-13) has a fascinating premise: a murder takes place in present day LA, but the action to solve it take place in a virtual reality 1930s Los Angeles. The characters, fitting the promise of Omni Magazine, don't know they are living in what is like a dream (and neither does the audience). At the end, a character finds a "barrier" of the virtual world out in the Mojave Desert. The title reminds one of a somewhat similar premise in "Being John Malkovich." Craig Bierko, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Gretchen Mol.
Titus (1999, Fox Searchlight, dir. Julie Taymor, Italy, 162 min, R) is a less well known Shakespeare play about Roman history, the return of Titus Andronicus (Anthony Hopkins), comes to a violent and spectacular end. The film mixes ancient scenery with fake modern technology. Hopkins acts like he is in one of the "Hannibal Lecter" movies.
Three Kings (1999, Warner Bros./Atlas, dir. David O. Russell) has three soldier-adventurers (Marky Mark Wahlberg, George Clooney, Ice Cube) going after a hidden cache of gold in Iraq stolen from Kuwait before or during the first Persian Gulf War. Today this presents an analogy to looking for WMDs in Iraq. The soldiers soon find themselves protecting civilians prodded by our government into rising up against Saddam Hussein.
Angela's Ashes (1999, Paramount, dir. Alan Parker, book by Frank Court, Ireland/UK, 145 min) tracks the Irish immigrant family of a little boy Frankie (mostly Michael Legge) whose family had escaped from Limerick potato poverty to Britain. When a family member dies, they go back, and Frankie has a hard time because of discrimination against his northern Irish father. A story about family solidarity pitted against political and sectarian struggles.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1999, Muse, dir. Pierre Gang) is some horror filmmaking of an important American literary classic by Washington Irving. Icabod Crane (Brent Carver) arrives at Sleepy Hollow around 1800 as a new schoolmaster and takes a liking to Katrina Van Tassle (Rachelle LaFevre), whose suitor the blackmit Vrom Bones (Paul Lemelin) will send the Headless Horseman after him. Trouble is, the Headless Horseman may be real after all. This story actually anticipates the comic book style hero shows and movies of today. A good study for film and literature classes.
Inspector Gadget (1999, Disney, dir. David Kellogg, 78 min, PG) as a kids’ movie at least brings up an interesting technical problem, Michael Broderick must play the human being security guard John Brown and the cybernetic (or “cyborg”) Rodo Gadget. Sometimes the characters cross, even at the same time on the screen. (Compare to Nicholas Cage’s screenwriting characters in Adaptation.) The body parts (starting with a bald detached leg) vary in biological realism. At one point John is decapitated, all in good fun. These kinds of movies are, of course, all pure manipulation. A great line is “I’m not me anymore; I’m a hardware store.” Rupert Everett is the Claw.
The Last Man on Planet Earth (1999, Paramount, dir. Les Landau) A military-engineered virus has killed all men by infecting their Y chromosomes, and a young man is cloned. Women have held the planet, cloning daughters. The man has been designed not to be aggressive but his manhood is challenged at the end. Will his progeny survive?
Chill Factor (1999, Warner Bros. / Morgan Creek, dir. Hugh Johnson). Arlo and Tim Mason (Skeet Ulrich), an ice cream truck driver and convenience store clerk, act as a tag team to save the world when they come into possession of a "crystal" that become radioactive when heated to a certain point, as planted by an elaborate terrorist plot. They have to keep it cool to save the world.
American Pie (1999, Universal, dir. Paul Weitz) is a notorious comedy where four high school kids vow to loose their virginity on prom night. I saw the film in, of all places, International Falls, MN. A Roman Catholic school on Long Island (Kellenberg Memorial High School) canceled its prom for 2006 and principal Kenneth Hoagaland cited the movie as an example of what goes wrong. This film became a franchise with American Pie 2 in 2001 (dir. James B. Rogers).
Brokedown Palace (1999, 20th Century Fox, dir. Jonathan Kaplan) is a terrifying tale of two young women (played by Claire Danes and Kate Beckinsale) who vacation in Thailand and who make the mistake of trusting a stranger, a charming Australian Nick (Danile Lapaine). Attempting to go to Hong Kong, they get busted for drugs planted in their luggage and sentenced to 33 years. This can really happen to tourists abroad and is a stern warning. Compare to “Midnight Express.”
End of Days (1999, Universal, dir. Peter Hyams) The devil comes to the Big Apple New Years Eve 1999, just before the Y2K bug could be unleashed. If his chosen bride (Robin Tunney) bears a kid, the world comes to an end (rather like an Ira Levin novel). An atheist ex-cop and security chief (Arnold Schwarzenegger) must save the world. A prelim to Arnold's governorship, maybe.
Wild Wild West (1999, Warner Bros., dir. Barry Sonnenfeld, PG-13, 107 min) is the kind of comedy western that sounds like a dream, with all of its sci-fi like contraptions and mechanical monsters on a 19th Century western landscape. The steam train sequences as particularly neat. Capt. Jim West (Will Smith), a Civil War hero, and U, S. Marshall Artmemus Gordon (Kevin Kline) are two to the top guns in the West, and they are hired to protest President Ulysses Grant from the diabolical Arliss Lovelace (Kenneth Branagh). The journey goes from New Orleans through Texas to Monument Valley in Utah, where the machine look like they came from the Road Warrior movies.
The Astronaut's Wife (1999, New Line Cinema/Mad Chance, dir. Rand Ravich, 109 min) is a kind of sci-fi Rosemary's Baby. An astronaut comes back home after a bizarre encounter on a mission, and his wife, after pregnancy, fears that she will bear an alien.
Entrapment (1999, 20th Century Fox, Jon Ameil, story by Ronald Bass and Michael Hertzberg, 113 min) Sean Connery plays Robert MacDougal, an art thief (not exactly the art forger Gentle from Imajica), and Catherine Zeta-Jones plays Virginia Baker, the insurance company undercover agent sent to fall for him and entrap him. A kind of "Days of our Lives" in reverse. Set in Kuala Lumpur with great shots of the subway, and a climax where they dodge green laser beams. Eventually they have to rappel out of the Petronas Towers, then the tallest building(s) in the world.
The Thomas Crown Affair (1999, MGM / United Artists, dir. John McTiernan, story by Alan Trustman). A "professional" art thief Thomas Crown (Pierce Brosnan) meets his match with a detective Catherine Banning (Renee Russo) and the predictable happens. Armed art theft has recently become a real problem in Europe, usually as "ransom" to support other crimes.
Frequency (2000, New Line, dir. Gregory Hoblit, PG, 118 min). James Cavielzel plays Frank Sullivan, a young radio ham who, after a storm, contacts his firefighter father across time thirty years earlier, and tries to save his life across time. Of course, that presents the usual paradox, undoing reality, having consequences. The idea anticipates "The 4400."
The Patriot (2000, R, Columbia/Centropolis, dir. Roland Emmerich), came out the same weekend as “Perfect Storm” and goes at the family-first/society-first dichotomy from a different direction, personalizing war and political violence down to the family. The setting is South Carolina during the Revolutionary War, with Mel Gibson, as a widower Benjamin Martin with seven kids, shunning going to war with the British over what seems like an abstract idea of liberty. In a political meeting with his sons present, he says (to and old friend played by Chris Cooper, soon to star in Adaptation) “I’m a parent. I haven’t got the luxury of principles.” Soon his eldest son Gabriel (Heath Ledger) chides him about “hiding behind family.” How often have I written about that theme on this website! But then the middle son Thomas, a particularly thoughtful boy (played by Gregory Smith, soon to achieve stardom as Ephram on Everwood) is murdered when the redcoat British plunder Martin’s plantation, and Martin has to get political, as he no longer has a life otherwise. The British were not above plundering rebel’s families (they burned the homes of 11 signers of the Declaration of Independence).
There is also a 1998 film from Touchstone Pictures, dir. Dean Simler, starring Steven Segal and Gailard Sartain (The Patriot) with this name. In that film a right-wing extremist group in Montana releases a deadly virus. I missed this film when it first came out as I was recovering from an acetabular fracture!. The storytelling is stereotyped, but until Al Qaeda in 2001 this was the kind of threat (after Oklahoma City) that I would have thought most likely.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) moved.
Almost Famous (2000, Dreamworks, dir. Cameron Crowe) has a 15-year-old kid William Miller (Patrick Fugit) traveling with a rock band in order to write a story for Rolling Stone. The teenager turns out to be the most stable person around, and tries to keep the adults in line. With Billy Crudup, Frances MacDormand, Kate Hudson, Jason Lee.
Hollow Man (2000, Columbia, dir. Paul Verhoeven, story Gary Scott Thompson and Andrew W. Marlowe, R, 112 min) is a provocative B-movie thriller where a mad scientist Sebastian (Kevin Bacon -- who else?) finds a serum to make himself invisible and tries it on himself. It's interesting to watch him melt. Then the situations get interesting, as when he is driving and a nearby motorist sees his "hollowness." The director claims that this is one of the most physically demanding movies ever made on a leading actor. Elisabeth Shue plays the loyal girl friend.
Gladiator (2000, Dreamworks, dir. Ridley Scott) tests family values in ancient Rome when the emperor chooses Maximus (Russell Crowe) to become his heir, but of course the prince (Joaquin Phoenix) will go after his family. Maximus winds up in the gladiator pit in the Coliseum. This movie is analyzed on a screenplay-structure website at http://www.screenplaymastery.com/structure.htm
Proof of Life (2000, Warner Brothers, dir. Taylor Hackford) gives us the problem of an oil company engineer kidnapped by drug dealers/rebels and stranded when the company goes broke. It’s more complicated than that, actually. David Morse is Peter Bowman, the engineer; Russell Crowe is Terry Thorne, the negotiator, and Meg Ryan is the engineer’s wife, and a heroine. The film has spectacular footage of Colombia. (Do not confuse with “Proof” from Miramax, 2005).
The Cell (2000, New Line/Avery Pix, dir. Tarsem Singh, wr. Mark Protsevich, 107 min, R) has Jennifer Lopez as a tough forensic psychoanalyst who can go into patients' dreams. This time the challenge is to go into the mind of a serial killer in a coma to find the victim. Compare to "Silence of the Lambs" and "Dreamscape". The name of the Stephen King novel in 2006 (about a cell phone virus) is a coincidence. The imagery in the lab (the red uniforms) was striking. On a few occasions I have had dreams that materialized in the news in a few days, or even the next day.
Cast Away (2000, 20th Century Fox, dir. Robert Zemeckis) features everyman Tom Hanks as a FedEx worker downed at sea and marooned on an island, all by himself for four years, in a remarkable 56-minute sequence of filmmaking (the film is not super widescreen). He pulls his own teeth, and the volleyball Wilson becomes another character. He finally floats to salvation by a freighter. Back home, he finds out he is presumed dead, and asks “what did they put in the casket”? (Spelled as two words, not "Castaway").
The Emperor’s New Groove (2000, Walt Disney, dir. Mark Dindal) is a rather conventional animation feature with kings turned into animals—a kind of transmigration. Kuzco (the city Cuzco, Peru??) gets turned into a llama and now must get his throne back. I’m not sure that this gives credit to the richness of Inca and pre-Inca history—van Daniken territory.
The Beach (2000, 20th Century Fox/Figment, dir. Danny Boyle, based on a novel by Alex Garland, 119 min, PG-13) was supposed to announce star Leonard Di Caprio (who plays American adventurer Richard) as a player in environmentalism, which he has since developed with his own film “Global Warming.” Richard finds a treasure map in a seedy hotel in Thailand when another drug-addict guest commits suicide, and travels to the paradise, which is out at sea near a major nature preserve. He actually has to swim across a wide channel to get to it. Once he gets there, he finds something like Prospero’s kingdom in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. But heavy stuff happens as the world closes in on the guests; one actually loses a leg. Eventually Richard escapes back and he is glad to be able to get his email at an Internet café in Bangkok. A georgeous film to watch, if a bit like the Goonies.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000, Universal, Dr. Seuss, dir. Ron Howard). Color-coated rendition of the famous cartoon of an ogre stealing Christmas. Ends on a mountain.
American Outlaws (2001, Warner Brothers, Morgan Creek, PG-13, dir. Les Mayfield; Colin Farrell, Scott Caan, Gabriel Macht, Gregory Smith), a somewhat stereotyped western, presents the idea of globalization in the context of the post Civil War period, where the railroad barons constituted the extreme capitalism of the day. And the Kansas ranchers who wanted to stand up to them are the left-wing “solidarity”—except that it is more libertarian, because the government was behind the land grabbing. Colin Farrell plays Jesse James, and probably does not do him too much flattery. Interesting is Gregory Smith, who is a kind of Ephram (Everwood) with pistols instead of a piano, but the flat script make his earnest lines sound out of character. But perhaps the “American outlaws” were the terrorists of the era. The film was shot in Texas, in what looks like the western edge of the Hill Country.
Captain Corelli's Mandolin (2001, Universal, dir. John Madden, book by Louis de Bernieres). Nicholas Cage plays Captain Antonio Corelli, who holds music festivals to keep the peace on a Greek island held by Italy during World War II. Penelope Cruz is the fiancee of a local fisherman who goes to fight for Greece. When Italy surrenders in 1943, Corelli is caught in a conflict of loyalty defending against the German invasion. Another one of these historical romances that builds on rapid political change.
Rock Star (2001, Warner Brothers/Bel Air, dir. Stephen Herek). I would see this film on Sunday Sept 9, 2001, the last film I would see before 9/11 (on that night I would see a special performance of L.I.E. anyway). Chris “Izzy” Cole (Marky Mark Wahlberg) gets to be the star of the rock band that he at one time idolized. Compare to Hustle & Flow as well as Boogie Nights.
Life as a House (2001, New Line, dir. Irwin Winkler) previews Hayden Christiansen as a rather negative sixteen year old, who physically is made to look younger than even that age, whose father tries to reconcile with when the father (Kevin Kline) loses his job and gets a diagnosis of terminal illness. So the dad tries to build a dream house and involve his son.
The Man Who Wasn't There (2001) moved.
15 Minutes ("Fifteen Minutes", 2001, New Line, dir. John Herzfeld) deals with the unseamly topic of people committing murders murders in order to be videotaped and become famous. There was an arrest in a real case like this in Richmond, VA in 1989. Robert De Niro plays the detective. There was another TV film called "15 Minutes of Fame" aka "Scandal: Sweet Revenge" (2001). The topic has come up recently in conjunction with teenage "jackass" videos that present legal problems.
The Tailor of Panama (2001, Columbia, dir. John Boorman, novel by John Le Carre) A banished British secret agent (Pierce Brosnan) recruits a local tailor (Geoffrey Rush) and wind up subverting the relations between the US and Britain and Panama.
Along Came a Spider (2001, Paramount, dir. Lee Tamahori, novel by James Patterson) has Det. Alex Cross (Morgan Freeman) taking a case of a congressman's daughter (Mika Boreem) abducted from a private school, when Secret Service protection wasn't good enough.
Shrek (2001, Dreamworks, 90 min, PG, dir. Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson). Well, if you substitute teach, be warned that you may get to see kids’ movies free, and this was one such freebie for CM (“chickenman”). The animation is great (to the point of having chest hair), but the story pretty silly, until the wedding at the end with the Ogre. O, yes, you have to get married to get your throne and your inheritance, etc—such family values. Mike Myers was funnier in 54. John Lithgow (as Lord Farquaad) sounds like he comes out of The Langoliers. The cathedral scene at the end (the day of the broken glass) looks like the animated prequel to CNN’s “Millennium.” I’ve seen only the first film. Shrek 2 (2004, 92 min, same prod.) picks up the story and layers it with the idea of political marriage. One problem is the father of the bride has no idea that his daughter is an ogre, and the king hires a cat to kill the groom ogre Shrek. There are great disco songs (starting with the "Summerland" theme and later with Funkytown). The credits are, proportionally, along the longest in the business, with an embedded inevitable epilogue. The third franchise film is Shrek the Third (2007).
Sanctuary (2001, CBS/Adelson, dir. Katt Shea, novel by Nora Roberts, 85 min, PG-13) is a pretty good illustration of a commercially sellable plot about engaging characters for the pure sake of storytelling, not any autobiography or autotherapy. Jo Ellen Hathaway (Melissa Gilbert) goes back to a bed-and-breakfast house on a New England coastal island and uncovers past family secrets that lead to stalking and perhaps murder, all as a hurricane approaches. Though modest, the story reminds one of "Storm of the Century" as well as, curiously, "Amityville Horror." Nathan (Costas Mandylor, who plays Martin's military father on Seventh Heaven) is compelling as the questionable man friend. This sort of story does sell well in the supermarket checkout lines and gets easy profits for publishers. It's hard to beat.
Scary Movie 2 (2001, Dimension, dir. Keene Ivory Wayans, 83 min) the second of the franchise, starts with a prologue that recreates The Exorcist (1973), complete with carpet female urinations and reactive projective vomiting (it brings back memories of what it was like to be a sick kid). Then the main story, as four teens are hoodwinked into visited a haunted house for a project and threatened with all kinds of things like crotch shavings--but they never happen. The movie also attempts parodies of Hollow Man and Hannibal, with a little snippet of skull from the latter’s dinner party. In Scary Movie 4 (2006, Dimension/Miramax, dir. David Zucker, 83 min) Dr. Phil McGraw appears in a scene that parodies "Saw." He amputates his own leg, the wrong gam, while an image of Jigsaw watches. The movie moves on to parodies of "The Village," "The Grudge," and "War of the Worlds," sometimes rather literal. Oprah Winfrey appears at the end.
Crazy/Beautiful (2001, Touchstone, PG-13, dir. John Stockwell) presents another Romeo and Juliet, with a promising setup that doesn’t seem convincing at the rushed denouement. An outstanding Hispanic high school student Carlos Nunez (Jay Hernandez) falls in love with a politician’s maladjusted daughter Nicole Oakley (Kirsten Dunst). Now Congressman Oakley (Bruce Davison) will write a letter of recommendation for Naval Academy admission only if Carlos will stop seeing Nicole. The problem is that Nicole’s problems never seem to be clearly explained, and Carlos’s dropping all his ambitions for “love” at the end and taking stupid risks seems half-baked to me, yet this film has many followers.
Spy Kids (2001, Dimension Films, 90 min, PG, dir. Robert Rodrquez)—another kid’s movie where changing realities and going into virtual kingdoms provides an imaginary chase where kids can rescue their parents. At the end, this movie proclaims that it is about being good. But it’s just too young for me.
Don't Say a Word (2001, 20th Century Fox, dir. Gary Fleder, novel by Andrew Klavan, 113 min). A psychiatrist (Michael Douglas) must crash through the post traumatic stress disorder of a patient who has a "cracker proof" key to the location of a gem, after his own daughter is kidnapped. Sean Bean is the thief. A popular thriller at the time but seems contrived.
Ice Age (2002, 20th Century Fox, dir. Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha, 81 min, PG (really G), animated) is a story of three animaux (a wooly mammoth, a sabertooth tiger, and a sloth, who adopt a little boy and try to return him to his family as a blizzard and a sudden ice age approaches. There is certainly an environmental message, with the suddenness of the chill (backed up today by science, such as what would happen if the Gulf Stream were interrupted by a sudden glacier meltdown), and the extinction of species, reinforced at the end when the mammoth is found in a melting ice block from a former glacier. There is also some talk about adoption and family values. The 2006 sequel is called Ice Age: The Meltdown.
Windtalkers (2002, MGM, dir. John Woo, PG-13, 134 min). Nicholas Cage stars as one Joe Enders, of two NCOs assigned to protect Navajo Marines (Ben Yahzee and Charles Whitehorse) who talk in their native language as a radio cypher code in WWII in the Pacific. Since they cannot be taken alive, this adds to the risk and potential sacrifice of their protectors. For a while Enders balks at the responsibility brought on by war. One wonders if the native language is truly unique enough to be a cypher. Some of the location scenery looks more like the Southwest than the Pacific theater.
Barbershop (2002, MGM, PG-13, 102 min, dir. Tim Story) presents the African American barbershop as a social institution, expressive association to be sure, the one place where the black community used to come to talk radical politics, Rosa Parks, the civil rights movement. The story is a setup. Calvin (Ice Cube) sells his barbershop to a loan shark and then, guess what, generates comedy getting it back. Some cutting of hair goes on, all right, although it doesn’t look as sharp to me as in The Man Who Wasn’t There (2002). But the film is so self-consciously “black” that it rather brings to mind “Amos ‘n’ Andy” of the 1950s.
Mr. Deeds (2002, Columbia/New Line—this mess needed two major studios!, dir. Steven Brill, 96 min, PG-13) features Waterboy Adam Sandler in a slightly fatter role as a benefactor of a huge inheritance without the dead hand. (Shoplifting expert Winona Ryder also stars.) There is some irritating Hardy Boys type humor and gags, and old men showing off unhairy legs a la Salinger. There is a threatened corporate spinoff and layoffs—and this movie was made during the worst of the post 9-11 downturn.
Wes Craven Presents They (2002, Dimension/Focus, dir. Wes Craven, PG-13, 89 min) has a female graduate student facing the gremlins from her past. They seem to come from a nether world that can live right in her kitchen. Trouble is, she can wind up living with them in the never world. Remember, there is no “They”!
The Rookie moved to http://www.doaskdotell.com/movies/mrookie.htm
The Ring (2002, Dreamworks, dir. Gore Verbinksi, novel by Koji Suziki) is a famous horror film about a VHS video tape that seems to jinx anyone who watches it to death. A reporter Rachel (Naomi Watts) visits the Seattle area to investigate and scavenger-hunts to a horse farm, with weird stuff along the way (like a horse stampede on a ferry boat). Finally there is a well scene reminiscent of “The Silence of the Lambs.” The title of the movie, however enigmatic, has been used for numerous novels, including a 1969 British novel about the gay world as it was then. The Ring Two ("The Ring 2", 2005, dir. Hideo Nakata, 100 min) the horror follows Rachel and her young son Aidan (David Dorfman) to Astoria, Oregon. Soon the videotape leads to signs of Samara's revenge. There's a great deer attack on a car on a Cascade forest road. There is an interesting scene involving HIPAA-related privacy. Finally, the heroine has to go into the video (just as in Feardotcom). The idea that a video, movie, or piece of writing can trigger unstable people into horrible acts is itself unsettling, and might be politically relevant; but these films don't get close to exploring a potentially serious legal problem like this. "When am I my brother's keeper?"
John Q. (2002, New Line, dir. John Cassavetes, wr. James Kearns, 116 min, PG-13). Denzel Washington plays John Quincy Archibald, a dedicated dad who who thought he had adequate family health insurance. His son Mike (Daniel E. Smith) collapses playing baseball and needs a heart transplant to cure irreversible cardiomyopathy, which happens in kids rarely but randomly for unexplained reasons (like viral infection). The insurance company won't cover the transplant. When the hospital won't do it without money, he takes an emergency room hostage. Mentioned in the Sept 2007 issue of Consumer Reports, story on health care. The stakes in the screenplay are obviously high (as they are supposed to be), but the concept seems over the top. Compare to "Rainmaker."
Gangs of New York (2002, Miramax, dir. Martin Scorsese, 166 min, R) is a high-profile, ambitious, long period film about New York City during the Civil War, and the tension between native “Anglo Saxons” and Irish immigrants, as a young man Amsterdam Vallon (Leonardo di Caprio) returns to the Five Points area of New York to avenger his father’s killing by “Bill the Butcher” Cutting (Daniel Day-Lewis). The film takes us through life in that world, including scenes in a house of ill repute—until the City erupts into the draft riots—inflamed by the fact that rich boys could buy their way out of sacrifice. This was a time when blacks were pressured to join the Union Army, a subject of great controversy since they really were badly discriminated against even in the North.
Road to Perdition (2002. Dreamworks/20th Century Fox) sets up Mike Sullivan (Tom Hanks) as a Chicago mob hitman on the run with his son (Tyler Hoechlin, who would soon star as the upstanding teen Martin on Seventh Heaven), who must deal with what his dad does for a living, working for John Roobey (Paul Newman). There is a chilling scene in a rural diner where another hitman played by Jude Law goes after Mike.
Scooby-Doo (2002, Warner Brothers, 87 min, PG)—yes, a kid’s movie, silly, with a cute animated dog, and with Freddie Prinze Jr. somewhat attenuated. I’ve only seen the first one, which is filled with all those fast-moving images that they say lead to attention-deficit disorder (so make sure that the kid is over 3). Once the characters get to spring-break island, there is some interesting talk of swapping bodies or inhabiting bodies, David Lynch style. Not sure it means anything. For this is just for the kids in the multiplex. According to an NBC Today report on July 26, 2005, the film presented the dangerous practice of “puffing” with computer cleaners.
Serving Sarah (2002, Paramount/Mandalay, dir. Reginal Hudlin, 99 min, PG-13) is a situation comedy about a process server Joe Tyler (Matthew Perry) trying to serve divorce papers on a particularly elusive dame (Elizabeth Hurley). She makes a counter-offer. Joe faces a lot of pressure to make his quota of marks. Perhaps this comedy communicates what someone who expects to be sued could expect in the way he receives service of process. It’s simpler, though: it can often be done through registered mail, or even to any adult household member. Private process servers are much quicker that sheriff’s departments. Serve-em.com can provide some intriguing information.
The Time Machine (2002, Dreamworks, dir. Simon Wells, novel by HG Wells) is a slick adaptation of H.G. Well's dated but classic novella. Alexander Hartdegen (Guy Pearce) invents the time machine in a ritzy 19th Century London and travels almost a million years into the future, where man is divided between hunters and the hunted. The 1960 film was directed by Geroge Pal and came from MGM.
The Panic Room (2002, Columbia, dir. David Fimcher, R, 112 min) has a divorced woman and her kids hiding in a brownstone high tech "panic room" when her home is invaded by burglars. The film foreshadows modern police concerns about home invasions and the idea that people can be targeted. Jodie Foster is the heroine. There was a similar film in 1972 about a planned Manhattan burglarly; I'll try to find the name because I have seen it.
City by the Sea (2002, Warner Bros. / Franchise, dir. Michael Caton-Jones, 108 min, R) The title of this crime drama is interesting enough, as it refers to Long Beach on Long Island, as a kind of separate, dilapidated kingdom. When I lived in NYC I thought about Riis Park and Coney Island this way. It's also a story about something "that runs in families" -- crime. Robert De Niro plays Vincent DeMarca, whose father was executed for murder and whose son Joey (James Franco) becomes a murderer.
Killing Me Softly (2002, MGM / Montecito, dir. Kaige Chen, novel by Nikki French, 100 min, UK) This sounds a bit like "A Kiss Before Dying" (above) although the plot takes a very different twist toward the end. Alice (Heather Graham), a young advertiser in London forsakes her steady boyfriend Jake (Jason Hughes) for the celebrity and flamboyant mountain climber Adam (Joseph Fiennes), leading to a steamy marriage and sex. She thinks he has some skeletons in his closet and she is in danger, but another woman Deborah (Natascha McElhone) provides some surprises. In the end, Alice may be better off for her misadventures. Some impressive, if brief, technical mountain climbing scenes with titanium crampons and a very long fall. Somewhat Hitchcockian in mood and the story has a kind of Patrician Highsmith touch, but not as effective.
Die Another Day (2002, MGM, dir. Lee Tamahori, PG-13), the most recent Ian Flemming James Bond adventurefest as of this writing, is mentioned here because it shows how a war in Korea really could start (with a threat to breach the demilitarized zone by North Korea). Remember, Goldfinger (1964) suggested how a terrorist could cause financial collapse, and The World Is Not Enough (1999, MGM, dir. Michael Apted) presents Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum and sights of a most interesting city, Bilbao, Spain, which I visited in April 2001. In that film, the politics of oil pipelines through central Asia was explored, and there was a nuclear terror subplot. In DAD, Pierce Brosnan is teases by a female doctor in a scene that shows his hairiest possible chest, before going on the usual thrills and chills--some of them on glaciers not yet melted by global warming. (Bond, remember is the answer to what-it-means-to-be-a-man.) Dr. No, after all, was one of the first fictitious terrorists (“three blind mice”). Remember the odd man out in the franchise, Casino Royale (1967, Columbia, dir. Val Guest and Ken Hughes) where everybody and his dog plays James Bond, and you have that famous jazz-like 60s song.
The 2006 version of Casino Royale (2006, MGM/Columbia/Eon, dir Martin Campbell, 144 min, USA/UK) is supposed to be the character's first assignment, to prevent a money launderer from cleaning up at a casino poker game to fund terrorism (the superbadman is played by Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen). But here Daniel Craig looks ripened and veteran (as James Bond), and there are some curious wraparounds in the plot. M is played by Judi Dench, who rather acts like a high school administrator. The opening sequence (even the movie trademarks) is in sizzling black-and-white Cinemascope, before we get to the animated opening credits based on playing card graphics. Bond has blown someone away, and M scolds him, complaining that the trail went dead and that she can't trust him. It is fitting, then, at the end, that Bond sends a resignation email from a boat in Venice, but that is a feint before the climax. There are other curious plot elements that imitate life. For one thing, there is a masterful defibrillation scene, where heroine Vesper (Eva Greene) appears to save him with one simple act. However, it is she who may expire at the end rather than him. Then there is the "explanation." Terrorists apparently sold airline stocks short just before 9/11 (I don't know if that is really true), and they try it again before an attack at Miami/Dade airport (I don't think planes would land and take-off during a real attack attempt like what happens in the film.) The tournament is supposed to take place in Montenegro, but it probably Lake Como. The sequence where the Venice house falls into the sea is quite a spectacle, and quite a statement about the peril of the city. The torture scene uses Hitchcock's rope, rather than waterboarding (which would have invoked Langley). The 1967 song does not appear, but instead there is a new song "You Know My Name," which also fits into the imitation of life (how easily a person can inadvertently expose himself and others; I think a good song could be "Every time I Google My Name.")
Catch Me If You Can (2002, Dreamworks, dir. Steven Spielberg, book by Frank Abagnale, Jr.) is the true story of the author, who by age 19 had imposed as an airline pilot. physician, and prosecutor. Leonardo Di Caprio charms everyone. In some ways, the story anticipates the cabaret owner in Tim Roth's InVincible.
Daredevil (2003, 20th Century Fox, dir, Mark Steven Johnson) is another comic book hero movie where this time the hero was blinded as a boy in Hell’s Kitchen. Ben Affleck gives the young man a renaissance, which seems much less interesting than other films of this type.
Holes (2003, Touchstone, dir. Andrew Davis, PG, 117 min) made Shia LaBeouf a teen movie star, as he playfully pulled off the role of Stanley Yelnats IV, who is wrongly sent to a desert juvenile detention camp, run by The Warden, Sigourney Weaver, who is almost as aggressive here as she is in Alien. Yelants goes on a bizarre adventure, which is shown well visually (though the movie is not full widescreen), as with aerial shots that show the mysterious holes in the ground, around an encampment that somehow reminds one of Giant. The plot twists at the beginning and end are positively witty.
The Order (2003, 20th Century Fox, R, 97 min) features the Man Is God idea (it occurs in Imajica by Clive Barker). Here a young priest Alex (Heath Ledger) goes to Rome to investigate a series of murders and uncovers a secret “order” of men who forgive the excommunicated by “eating” their sins, literally. The Sin Eater is perhaps an angel, or, as Alex finds, like God himself when he becomes one, to save his (female) girl friend. The Sin Eater can also damn someone, when, instead, the exposed and defrocked chest caves in. The maneuvers of sin-eating start out a bit like dirty dancing.
Anything Else (2003, Dreamworks) is another Woody Allen study or vehicle. He gets a chance to spew out a lot of stuff that might be unacceptable in other hands, like his lines about anti-Semitism. His protégé is a comedy writer played by Jason Biggs. Now his character, while dealing with comical problems involving girl friends and a psychoanalyst, seems like a nice guy who wants to help people. The writing seems distant from his core personality, and a lot of his role is to keep his mentor from going over the edge (as when he buys a gun). Stockard Channing pulls an edge as one of the girl friend’s mother, reminding one of her toughness in The Business of Strangers. The scene where Biggs fires his agent, played by Danny De Vito, who with nothing to live for promptly has a heart attack, really does come off as pathetically funny.
Beyond Borders (2003, Paramount and Mandalay) presents a rather traditional love triangle in the overriding context of relief work in the Third World. Angelina Jolie plays Sarah Jordan, the UN employee who becomes drawn into jetsetting the poor areas of the world, such as Namibia, Cambodia and then Chechnya because of her attraction to doctor Nick Callahan (Clive Owen) who seems to be dedicating his life to medical relief for the poor. Or is he, as he gets drawn into local political intrigues? In the meantime, her rather plain husband Henry Bauford (Linus Roache) tolerates her jaunts in insipid fashion. (Yes, Clive Owen plays the part as a kind of what-it-neabs-to-be-a-man James Bond.) This film got widespread advertising in the early autumn of 2003, and presents a spectacular visual spectacle on a big screen. But the story and situation seems rather inert and contrived. I was not put off by the “exploitation” of poverty as other reviewers. It just seemed that the characters seem to babble a lot with left-wing polemics (especially the beginning where Nick crashes a fund raiser with a tasteless spectacle), while the movies itself came across as a right-wing statement that communism and regional or religious socialism don’t work and keep people in poverty. The investors in this movies simply had an agenda.
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003: 20th Century Fox, Miramax, Universal). Well, it took Fox, Disney, and NBC-Universal to fund and make this “swashbuckling” period piece based on two novels by Patrick O’Brien about a British naval ship (HMS Surprise) chasing a bigger French vessel (the Acheron) in the Napoleonic era. Russell Crowe as Captain Aubrey is the great box office draw, and Paul Bettany plays the intellectual scientist and ship surgeon Steve Maturin, who tends to turn a lot of the film into a kind of National Geographic travelogue. Maturin provides a caring counterweight for Aubrey, who comes across as the stereotyped masculine, manipulative personality (hence, “Master and Commander”).The last third of the film, around and on the Galapagos Islands, was surreal and spectacular; otherwise the film could have become claustrophobic, despite the painstaking recreation of early 19th Century navy life. Watch for teenage star Max Pirkis. Anyone remember the Tall Ships celebration in New York in 1976?
The Missing (2003: Columbia/Revolution, Ron Howard dir., Cate Blanchett and Tommy Lee Jones) kind of combines mysticism, a bit of X-files (particularly that 3-part series written by Duchovny where he is nursed back to health by Navajos) with panoramic psychological western. The mood of the film reminds me of the late 60s masterpiece MacKenna’s Gold, complete with “Old Turkey Buzzard.” Here, Apaches and Army deserters are kidnapping girls to sell into slavery, and one of them is Maggie’s (Cate Blanchett) daughter. Maggie is force to make some sort of accommodation with her father, who had deserted his family to do his own thing—go Apache ways and explore his own search for mysticism, with no particular explanation than that it was there, no discussion of ego. So, then, why not “family first” if you’ve had kids? Spectacular Nex Mexico scenery, some of it wintry, some of it near White Sands and some of it in the Chaco ruins of a culture that built and then dismantled its mysterious culture over hundreds of years.
Mystic River (2003) Moved to http://www.doaskdotell.com/movies/mmillion.htm
The Last Samurai (2003: Warner Brothers, R, 144 min, apparently without Roadshow or any other identifiable production company) stars Tom Cruise again as a swashbuckling hero is a kind of Russell Crowe fashion. And at the outset, that is a problem, because there is not much subtlety in the character, who plays up the old fashioned grown-up matinee idol idea. The story is a remake of the 1990 Dances with Wolves. Here, Nathan Algeron (Cruise) hires on as mercenary to help the Japanese emporer resist the anti-modernist samurai, who rather function as warlords and terrorists, but after Algeron is captured (in a scene with some spectacular decapitation) he comes to understand and integrate with samurai warrior culture. The closing battle scenes are right out of a Richard Strauss tone poem, but hard to believe. Ultimately, this movie is big Hollywood popcorn, Pepsi Cola entertainment for the malls (even if rated R).
Bruce Almighty (2003, Universal, dir. Tom Shadyac, 101 min, PG-13) has Jim Carrey as Bruce Nolan, a television announcer in Buffalo, NY (it looks like Buffalo), given a comic chance to become "God Almighty" for a week while God (Morgan Freeman) goes on vacation. That's after he loses his job and can't house train his dog. There are two rules: You can't "tell", and you can't violate free will. One of the most comic situations happens when a competing announcer is manipulated (even to the teleprompter) into baby talk while on the air. The comedy skims across the surface, though, of the deeper problems of knowing good and evil and publishing it.
Love Actually (2003: Universal, Studio Canal,Working Title), a big fully Hollywood style romantic comedy set in London, Marseilles, and Milwaukee, and actually a French production in English, so we’re getting pretty international. Hugh Grant is the British Prime Minister and Billy Bob Thornton is the president, so you can imagine the pander to conservatives, but the film doesn’t. It weaves multiple love stories in Altman fashion with a delicious counterpoint. The bedroom scene where the telephone rings broke up the eroticisim—that was classic filmmaking. Then there is the nude sex scene where the male is fattish and almost hairless, a real parody of masculinity. You don’t have a lot of heroes who can “save me” in a film like this. It didn’t buy the airport security violations at the end, they aren’t funny today. And I think if (like the residents of Dogma) they were going to visit Wisconsin, they should have been professional and shown downtown Milwaukee at Christmas, every bit as spectacular as London.
Under the Tuscan Sun (2003, Touchstone, dir. Audrey Wells, book by Frances Mayes). A writer (Diane Lane) gets divorced, gives up her house in San Francisco under the terms to get money, travels to Italy and buys a fixer upper in the countryside and populates it with people (including young sculptor played by Pawel Szadja), a cat, and a new lover (Raoul Bova). There is a wedding at the end. There is a lot of talk about the meaning of marriage, "to death do us part", etc., that would please Maggie Gallagher.
Cold Mountain (2003: Miramax/Image) moved.
Paycheck (2003; Paramount/Dreamworks), directed by John Woo, is pretty much a popcorn movie that seems to belong more at the end of January than as a Christmas Day release. Ben Affleck plays Michael Jennings, an “engineer” but the latest what-it-means-to-be-a-man escape artist. He makes his deal with the devil: if he doesn’t remember what he does, he gets a Big Paycheck. Now with computers that can be dangerous. I can remember making some commands on a terminal and then going on vacation during a production cycle, and then not being sure I remember for sure everything I did, and one wrong character could wipe out a month’s accounting. Memory is a tricky part of who you are, and you don’t want to five up two months of it, no less three years. (“I don’t remember what I did!”) Well, it seems here that the top secret gov project is a computer that can read the future, as per a story by Philip K. Dick. (Maybe it takes help from PBS/Nova’s “Elegant Universe.”) You get to see fictitious H-bombing of downtown LA, and the political statement about Bush’s preventive wars. Other than that, the movie is a That’s Entertainment, with a music score that resembles Hitchcock. Col Feore is the best villaim, you know, “Give me what I want and I’ll go away.”
Sweet Home Alabama (2002, Touchstone, dir. Andy Tennant, 108 min, PG-13) was billed as an indie-style romantic comedy and it is something like a TheWB show. A fashion designer Melanie (Reese Witherspoon) has kept her Southern “white trash” background a secret, until she returns home, to a love triangle involving a former husband (Josh Lucas) and mayor’s son (Patrick Dempsey). Candice Bergen gives an overbearing performance of the mayor. The movie will meander to a broken wedding conclusion (remember Summerland?) where the mayor gets a pow in the kisser.
American Wedding (2003, Universal, dir. Jesse Dylan) The idea of the “Tribunals” comes back as a last night bachelor party in the American Pie film American Wedding (with Chris Moore from Liveplanet—normally associated with Miramax and Project Greenlight—producing) when one of the boys has his chest and arms taped up by aggressive women, and then when Jim (played by Jason Biggs, egged on by sexually ambiguous buddy Steve Stifler, as played by Seann William Scott) shaves his own crotch (the hair-fall from the resort hotel room on camera) as a way to “peak” and announce his commitment to marriage after years of philandering.
Just Married (2003, 20th Century Fox, 88 Min, PG) features Ashton Kutcher (“The Beauty and the Geek”) as a grown man in a translation of the 50s situation comedy genre. Here, the romp starts when a dog wants to play and is accidentally killed; think of the plot ramifications. Comedy, of course, must make fun of the norms of “opposite sex marriage” in order to redeem it.
The Italian Job (2003, Paramount, dir. F. Gary Gary, 111 min, PG-13) starts with the perfect “smash and grab job” that would do the Rat Pack proud. Charlie Cocker (Marky Mark Wahlberg), Handsom Rob (Jason Staltham), Lyle) (Seth Green) and Steve (Ed Norton pulled it off, and Steve has a secret plan of his own to capture his own, by creating the largest LA traffic jam in history. (In chess, “The Italian Game” is the beginner’s Guioco Piano opening.) What is funny is nerd Lyle and his obsession with Napster, leading to a cameo appearance by Napster founder Shawn Fanning, who probably never imagined that his hours coding his brainstorm in Unix at age 18 in a Hull, MA warehouse would lead to the movies. This film is a remake of a 1969 film with Michael Caine.
Seabiscuit (2003, Universal/Dreamworks, dir. Gary Ross, based on the book by Laura Hillebrand) is the feel-good overcome-the Depression story of jockey Red Pollard (Tobey Maguire) who befriends an underweight, underperforming race horse Seabiscuit and eventually wins Pilmlico, but not without many tribulations, including severe fractures. Maguire is not always convincing as “small” enough to be a jockey, but the role certainly fits with his tender and jovial nature.
Gothika (2003, Warner Bros./Columbia, dir. Matthieu Kassovitz, 98 min, R), Start out with the video of that great song "Nobody knows what it's like to be the bad man, the sad man ... to be hated ... to be mistreated ... to be defeated." Indeed. Sung by the chest-tatooed villian Sheriff Ryan (John Carroll Lynch). There is a tragedy in the denouement, which unravels from a sterotyped thriller, ghost story. Halle Berry plays Dr. Miranda Grey, a psychiatrist who wakes up in jail, her own facility, accused of murdering her boss husband (Charles S. Dutton). Robert Downey Jr. plays therapist Pete Graham, who tries to help her unravel the mystery. The setup of the plot reminds me of "Days of our Lives" a couple years ago when psychiatrist Marlena Evans is accused of being a serial killer. The movie unwinds but remains tightly focused on thrills, as Miranda eventually escapes, after seeing repeated images of a car crash and of a little girl bursting in flames. She eventually says she is possessed, and there must be another "bad guy." There is, and he rather reminds one of the Tooth Fairy. The idea that one can wake up in a situation that doesn't make sense has been tried many times, in movies ranging from David Lynch's "Lost Highway" to the "Saw" films.
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003, Touchstone/Bruckheimer, dir. Gore Verbinski, PG-13, 143 min) has comical Johnny Depp as the swashbuckling Jack Sparrow, who must recover a ship that was stolen from him by supernatural pirates, who come out in the night as ghosts. Interesting combination of the supernatural and period piece spectacle. The sequel is Dead Man's Chest (2006, Walt Disney/Bruckheimer, dir. Gore Verbinski, PG-13, 150 min) really takes the horror biology lesson to the bank, with "sea monsters" (that was the name of one of my own horror film strips at age 11), in this case, a giant squid with infinite tentacles that can swallow a whole ship, and man/cephalopod amalgams, that is, men with faces filled with neurofibromatosis tumors that look like tentacles. It gets pretty silly, as a decapitated head from one of these turns into a real mollusk. Remember, cephalopods represent the farthest invertebrate evolution every got, and (to zoologists) represents the concept of convergent evolution. The "chest" is not a shaved body torso surface but the old fashioned teakwood trunk of Poe lore, this one containing a beating Telltale heart needing coronary bypass surgery.Orlando Bloom tries to be his usual smooth-looking self. The makeup demands on the actors (including Johnny Depp of course) would have been incredible. This shows what you can do with fantasy in a period piece world. Apparently these two films (and the franchise concept) are in litigation filed by screenwriter Royce Matthew, who claims he had registered the idea for "Supernatural Pirate Movie" properly. The imdb story is at http://www.imdb.com/news/wenn/2006-07-12/#3 This story is interesting because the film business has a "third party" agenting rule to protect inadvertent misuse of others' work (studios generally don't accept material directly and often have strict TOS disclaimers on their own websites); in the age of Internet and Google, this whole idea seems up for grabs. It's even more complicated because this is a franchise with trademarked characters. My own stuff is so eclectic that I don't see how I could be "pirated," but then, well... maybe I have been.... The III film is At World's End (2007, 168 min, PG-13, same director). Sparrow is supposedly "dead" or perhaps undead, and has to come back from the edge of the universe, which fantasy pirates can do. The first hour or so shows the bizarre phantom zone (including ice and sand) that Sparrow inhabits with multiple instantiated copies of himself. There are some green ball lightning explosions (perhaps nuclear) that can bring him back. The most interesting thing in the last two hours have to do with the goddess Calypso, who is "released" and grows to a gigantic statue, to disintegrate "Supernatural" style. Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) have a romance, taking the "death do us part" vows in the middle of the swashbuckling in a way that would make Maggie Gallagher proud (and live up to Calypso's ideals). Goeffrey Rush is the stereotyped Barbarossa and Bill Nighy rounds out the cast as Davy. The mollusk men are as slithering as ever, but can play the organ. This fantasy world would have taken so much effort even to imagine. As usual, Jerry Bruckheimer provides a "tease" at the end to make the moviegoer stay through all the credits.
Matchstick Men (2003, Warner Brothers. dir. Ridley Scott) has Nicholas Cage as the phobic con artist who sells scams to the elderly with his protégé Frank (Sam Rockwell) wheh his lost daughter (Alison Lohman) arrives on the scene and wants a reunion.
Open Range (2003, Touchstone, dir. Kevin Costner) was an August summer release but quite substantial as a big film. It was the last film that I saw before moving back “home” from Minnesota. Charley Waite (Kevin Costner) and others live a luddite life freegrazing, and run into a corrupt sheriff and other ranchers, leading to a great shootout at the end. The story may seem alien in today’s world, but then remember the battle over eminent domain.
Riverworld (2003, Sci-Fi/Alliance Atlantis, dir. Kari Skogland, novel by Philip Jose Farmer, 86 min) has the intriguing premise of people finding themselves on another earthlike world. This idea had been explored in the early 1990s with the series "Earth 2." Here, they find themselves in underwater pods but soon are reincarnated in a verdant world that looks like New Zealand, with most of civilization along one river. All the major figures from history have been brought here, including one who calls himself Emporer Nero. Early in the movie there are dialogues that show the differences in the political systems between ancient Rome and America. Some of the characters run around like Victor Mature's in spectacles. The lead astronaut Hale (Brad Johnson) encounters a masked being Monat (Brian Moore) from Tau Ceti, who claims that the Earth was struck by an asteroid in 2039. They encounter a riverboat captain ("Go For Broke") Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain (Cameron Daddo) who will take them upriver. This film was supposed to be the beginning of a series. It's always interesting to contemplate the geography and social stratification of a world similar to earth if we ever find one within a hundred or so light years from year.
Kill Bill (2004) (two films) Moved.
The Butterfly Effect (2004, New Line Cinema and Film Engine, R) presents Ashton Kutcher as a grown man, and dramatic actor and producer. The plot is a bit of the genre of Paycheck above, moving around in time, and maybe to alternate universes across the branes. Here the hero Evan (Ashton) tries to repair his life from a series of handwritten composition books (it could have been a website except, well, they have to have been written as physical originals), where he remote views back to various points and finally to some 8mm home movies. In the meantime, his experiments change the outcome in undesirable ways, sending him to prison (including a risk of prison homosexuality), then to life as an amputee, and then as a g.d.m.p. (like Lex Luthor waiting for shock treatment). The movie gets going once the setup flashback story is over, as Kutcher is compelling and charismatic enough to carry the role.
Finding Nemo (2004, Walt Disney Pictures/Pixar, G) is technically the most visually striking and life-like animated film ever made. Now Nemo is hardly “Big Fish”—the Pixar concept is a little orange goldfish who winds up in a dentist’s aquarium—but even goldfish can learn. The digital colors are perfect (especially the shades of blues and purples), the film looks like 3-D without the glasses, and the outdoor renditions of the Sydney, Australia harbor are so lifelike as to look like they were filmed. The story itself is rather mechanical children’s literature. The DV offers two discs with different formats (but has the modern anti-piracy use location flag). Widescreen is recommended. Ellen De Generes is the voice of the blue fish, who talks in one scene about his attention deficit disorder. This voice role helped her career come back. While at it, the moviegoer should check out Pixar's For The Birds (2000, dir. Ralph Eggleston, 3 min, G) where some birds have their party on a telephone wire disrupted. Is this what Respighi had in mind with his famous suite?
The Company (2004, PG-13, from Sony Pictures Classics, dir. Robert Altman) moved.
Secret Window (2004, PG-13, Columbia, 96 Min, dir. David Koepp, based on a novella by Stephen King), attracted me because it concerns the writer’s nightmare: attraction a threat. Usually one would worry about a legal problem, but here it is a physical threat to one’s lakeside retreat. Or is it? The clues start when the writer Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp) catches his wife in bed with another man at a motel in the prequel. Later, we wonder why he never kept a hardcopy of his Ellery Queen magazine story “Secret Window,” where his intruder John Shooter (John Turturro) accuses him of plagiarism (“You stole my story”) and complains about the ending. It’s a frightening scenario, though, if one is not completely sure of what one was doing. And for me, at least, it raises provocative questions about where material first comes from. But then the plot takes it to another place. I don’t think that this film is effective as Misery (James Caan, Cathy Bates)—remember when the nurse chops off his feet?
Spartan (2004, R, Warner Brothers and Franchise Pictures, dir. David Mamet) didn’t get a lot of attention at release and I thought it was supposed to be a high class “art” film. Well, it didn’t make the Christmas release but is an early year entry because it is a but short on character. The plot is formula screenwriting with genuine cliff-hanging and a provocative situation—the president’s daughter is kidnapped, and secret service agent Val Kilmer goes over the line at times, to discover a double cross within the administration. But the movie is just too formulaic. William H. Macy is creepy enough as the double crosser. I would have expected Billy Bob Thornton in a movie like this. There were some inaccuracies: Route 50 is shown, but it is nowhere close to Massachusetts, and it doesn’t make sense here to do a 2500-mile-Clark-Kent to the California Sierra foothills just because “it’s a picture.”
Taking Lives (2004, R, Warner Brothers and Village Roadshow Pictures, dir. D. J. Caruso), is a bit like a takeoff on better films like Seven and The Bone Collector. Here, a serial killer has been murdering men looking like him and stealing their identities for nineteen years. The leading protagonists are Scully-like guest FBI agent played by Angelina Jolie, and the lean artist played by Ethan Hawke, who hasn’t been able to sell his stuff to Trump’s apprentices. The end really does become too predictable, but the journey along the way is good to watch. This time, the story is presented as taking place in Montreal (rather than just being filmed there for lower costs as is common with the Director’s Guild of Canada), although some of the outdoor scenes are in Quebec City (the hotel). The Laurentian countryside is effective, although the shots are overexposed. There are some weird references to body shaving, as in the opening credits (to change appearance), taking off on Memento, and then later when Ethan Hawke pastes a microphone to the hollow of his hairless chest. In Seven, where men (Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt) were men, they had to do this and they didn’t get off easy. The plot is face-paced, with some spectacular scenes like the fireball crash on the bridge across the St. Lawrence River. Thank god, it doesn’t dawdle the way Days of our Lives does with Marlena, Nicole, and Jan. Well here the killer is a “man.” The story could have used Celeste, though.
Hidalgo (2004, Touchstone, dir. Joe Johnston, 147 min, PG-13) is a combination of western (like Open Range) and horse-racing story like Seabiscuit (2003). Well Viggo Mortensen (as Frank Hopkins) has more grizzled and sharp-edged manner than Tobey Maguire, and its necessary to deal with native American (Wounded Knee) and Arab culture in a story in which the race across the Arabian desert on Hidalgo (the horse) is sandwiched between slices of the Black Hills and Montana. Here the story is not so sweet and sympathetic; instead Hopkins is more a testosterone-laden hero who overcomes a super sandstorm, desert traps, a near castration, wild cats, and a locust storm. What is interesting, though, is the bridging or comparison of three cultures (in late 19th century context). The religious ideas in radical Islam, that Allah determines everything, are well documented, as is the status of women. I do recall that another film producer Russell Means presented his book Where White Men Fear to Tread at a Minnesota Libertarian Party convention on 2001.
The Alamo (2004, Touchstone, dir. John Lee Hancock, 137 min, PG-13) does come across as a rather straightforward and sometimes pedantic history lesson. In fifth grade, we had to write up an old black-and-white film about the Alamo. Remember, “Davy, Davy Crockett, kind of the Wild Frontier!” on the Walt Disney show in the 50s, whenever they presented Frontierland. Well, this movie does document the last chapter of his life, down to his defiance at death after defending the Alamo, and Billy Bob Thorton carries the humor well (as much as The Man Who Wasn’t There). Santa Anna (Emilio Echevarria) would become overextended, like a chessplayer overpressing an attack. The film produces interesting characters like the dying Jim Bowie (Jason Patric) and youngish William Travis (Patrick Wilson) who takes his own life so seriously. This film was originally supposed to appear for the Christmas season in 2003 and got pushed back, a sign that it may not have been in the running. I last visited the Alamo in San Antonio in 1982, and at the time there was a huge gay disco across the street. A comment on the libertarian GLIL (Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty) listserver characterized this movie as a strong libertarian film. He wrote “It shows how the principle of liberty can inspire flawed human beings to history-making greatness, and therefore puts that same greatness within the reach of flawed human beings like ourselves. Best of all, this film shows how a responsible, contemporary consciousness of history can be put to conservative use -- for that reason alone it would deserve our patronage.” True, this was a film for the little guy, yet the home team still had to work together.
Chicago (2004, Miramax, dir. Rob Marshall, book by Bob Fosse, play by Maurine Dallas Watkins) is a musical comedy about two women on death row in the 1920s. Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones play the two murderesses, and Richard Gere is the creepy lawyer, Billy Flynn. This won Best Picture for 2002, and seems to me to be an odd choice, as lively as comic as it is.
Meet the Fockers (2004, Universal, dir. Jay Roach, char. by Greg Glienna and Mary Ruth Clarke, PG-13, 115 min) is goofy heterosexual comedy where a father of the bride Pam (Teri Polo) CIA man Jack Byrnes (Robert Di Niro) travels with groom-to-be and not so virile male nurse Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) to Florida to meet the hippy Focker parents played by Dustin Hoffman and Barbara Streisand. Pretty fluffy stuff. The bride already has a little boy whom grandad is training to grow up straight and tough, and there is a cute scene where household cat lets the kid out of the playpen. Later, Ben Stiller gets truth serum in the neck. Owen Wilson plays church (pastor) at the final wedding.
10.5 (and sequel) (2004, 2006)
The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
Godsend – (2004, Lions Gate, 102 minutes, PG-13, dir. Nick Hamm) takes a socially important issue (human cloning) and turns it into a stereotyped thriller “Directors Guild of Canada” style, complete with ambiguous locations. The plot twists are predictable. That’s too bad, because Lions Gate is usually known for original, off-beat, independent releases (some of them on its Lifetime channel). Maybe this has to do with becoming a public company (AMEX), and a perception that formulaic trite treatments are better for bottom lines. They aren’t. (Greg Kinnear, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Robert De Niro as the “scientist,” Cameron Bright.) This seems like a followup of “Rosebary’s Baby” but it falls down and skins its knobby knees.
Jackass the Movie (Paramount/MTV, 88 minutes, 2002, R—a very hard R) looks more like what you expect to see at a home movie festival. Well, not quite. Sure, it’s experimental, and it purports at the start to deal with extreme sports, but it quickly becomes a scatological gross-out. No plot, just gags. Some of it is gentle enough, like an old man shoplifting at a convenience store and being run off. But it gets ugly quickly. Men initiating other men—not so much homoerotic as just a rite of passage, maybe. Several on camera vomiting scenes. Body goo (or pooh) scenes, simulated. Alligators biting a sensitive spots. One self-administered crotch shaving. Most of it looks like it was filmed in the Sunshine State, no pun intended for Sayles. Don’t imitate these stunts at home, they were performed by “professionals” (the movie credits warn us of this front and bacl). Check it out!
Shanghai Knights (Touchstone/Spyglass, 2003, 114 min, PG-13, dir. David Dobkin) – is a sequel to Shanghai Noon (2000), and gives Owen Wilson a chance to show some charisma across from Jackie Chan. The story starts with the obligatory setup in China (1887) then moves to Nevada, New York and London for comedy and martial arts sequences about a contrived murderous plot, that does not matter. The interesting lines are about whether Wilson’s character Roy O’Bannon would make a good father, whether he will get married and have his own family, and the needs of many children for parents.
Troy – Moved to http://www.doaskdotell.com/movies/malex.htm
The Odyssey - see link above.
The Chronicles of Riddick – (2004, Universal, dir. David Twohy, 118 min, PG-13, with Vin Diesel, Colm Feore, Judi Dench). Well, at least you get to see a planet covered with lava flows that looks a bit like Venus, probably. It’s called Crematoria. Funny to see the characters running around and breathing the atmosphere, even in the ash snows. Riddick (Vin Diesel) is the lead character from USA’s Australian film Pitch Black, but this film has almost nothing to do with it. It is simply a romp with little character development, although it mixes 50s ancient-history spectacle with Star Wars—and cityscapes that look Biblical. It’s Diesel’s opponent who has some of the Superman-like powers (speed or warping time-space), so the challenge is inverted. This is an example of Hollywood’s giving in to teen addiction to fast moving images, to the extent that it totally ignores characters, even on a comic book level, despite the all star cast, that gets wasted. WB actors like Tom Welling and Gregory Smith would have been way too clean cut to fit in to these worlds.
Nevertheless, the Riddick film is sometimes given in the movie literature as a "sequel" to Pitch Black (2000, USA Films/Interscope, dir. David Twohy) where passengers are marooned on a desert planet populated by vampire-like denizens at night, and with two or three gass giants visible in the sky. The Cinemascope film is interesting to watch because of the muted colors, almost down to black-and-white, making the world even more desolate. Filmed in the Australian outback.
Two Brothers (2004, Universal, 109 min, PG, dir. Jean-Jacques Annaud) presents two tiger cubs as brothers who, as the story develops in 1920s Indochina, share family values. They become attached to their human captors (starting with likeable hunter played by Guy Pearce) and learn their lessons well—their “human” training helps them escape at the end. They sometimes seem like house cats—even when grown, as they have not learned to hunt [and therefore are at risk of becoming man-eaters if released]—but what impresses is the idea that they are not so different from us humans. Our tools have made us the top predators. But they think, feel, emote, and live their own great lives—but 95% of them are gone. The film does bring to mind Elsa the Lioness of Born Free. (1966. Columbia, dir. James Hill, book Joy Adamson) where, to a famous song with the same words, indeed we all bond with the great female cat; many people do not know that lions and tigers are anatomically almost identical, with the female looking not much different from tigers; the male has much more exaggerated secondary sexual characteristics because of the social hierarchy. There was also a PBS documentary in the 90s about lions and hyenas as mortal enemies.
King Arthur (2004, Touchstone/Jerry Bruckheimer Films, 130 minutes, PG-13, dir. Antoine Fuqua) provides us with a little bit of high school English literature (Malory and Tennyson), in a rather steely and gray version, invoking a bit of LOTR. The film documents the politics of the collapse of the Roman Empire, which catches Arthur (Clive Owen) in a bind, which he resolves in the films battles—as history passes from ancient times to the middle ages. Guinevere (Keira Knightley) is a real warrior here, right out of James Bond movies, and Arthur eventually falls for her, but not after a rather David-and-Jonathan relationship with Lancelot (Ioan Gruffudd). The scene where the Saxon army is trapped on this ice is masterful, and some of the cinematography comes close to an abstract black-and-white. History, of course, shows that the amalgamation of Romans, Saxons, and later Normans (as well as Welsh and Celts) would provide the modern British people. An epic film about William the Conqueror (the 1066 Battle of Hastings, as celebrated by the tapestry in the museum in Bayeux, France, near the D-Day site, would be logical now from Bruckheimer—but if he does it, he needs to show why it is important.
I, Robot (2004, 20th Century Fox, 115 minutes, PG-13, dir. Alex Proyas, from a book by Isaac Asimov, written by Jeff Vintar and Akiva Goldsman) is a kind of mixture of A.I. and Starship Troopers. Here, robots have mixed in with life pretty well in 2035 Chicago (deliciously filmed and matte-painted), a Robotics company has become the new Microsoft, and, of course, robots are gradually becoming conscious persons. That is because of their positronic brains and nanotechnology (remember Jake 2.0?) Will Smith plays Spooner, the detective, tracking down the rogue robots but, well, what is he himself? We find out, visually. Holograms of the departed Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell) extol the virtues of the “protective circle” of the Three Laws, but the inherent contradictions of these laws are what set the robots to life. Great scenes of crashes in tunnels, of mass martial scenes of robots, almost black-and-white. At times this seems like an art film. A great cat. Shia LaBeouf appears as his usual sharp, fast-talking teenager leading the civilian resistance to martial law, and more attention could have been given to his character.
The Bourne Supremacy (2004, PG-13, Universal, 109 minutes, dir. Paul Greengrass). Okay, Matt Damon is James Bond. Well, not exactly, but his teenage boy body still comes through in a few shots, along with superhuman strength—you expect to see him do “Clark Kent” speed moves. This is What It Means to Be a Man. A “franchise” sequel to The Bourne Identity, both books by Robert Ludlum, the plot shows Jason Bourne running from a CIA double cross involving a Russian insider bank deal gone bad. You find out that the bad guy is one of the fibbies. The film has spectacular on-location shots of Berlin, Moscow, Naples and London, and even India.
The Manchurian Candidate (R, Paramount, 130 Minutes, dir. Johnathan Demme, 2004). This is a somewhat focused remake of the 1962 John Frankenheimer (United Artists) film, and right off the bat it makes the point that the extreme Left and extreme Right are almost the same, on the other side of the world. Yup, we replace commies with corporations and a right-wing plan to blend freedom into neo-Fascism. Here they talk about private Armies, mercenaries, to lower defense costs, with the Manchurian Fund as a kind of super “Handyman” company out to put pluralistic society into boot camps. Well, the 1962 film, being in a film noir black-and-white, was much more abstract and I think effective and surreal (it was out of circulation for years after the Kennedy assassination). Here, the look is garish but compressed (Demme did not use the cinemascope format). Denzel Washington plays Ben Marco, and Live Schrieber plays the Candidate Raymond Shaw, and Meryl Streep replaces Angela Lansbury as the scheming mother, and her character is really the weakest link in the story. But the background coverage of the terrorist threats is quite chilling (it talks about suicide attacks in Denver), and the scenes where the subjects are stripped and manipulated are tempting, although they could have been made more erotic and threatening (and I think doing so would have fit the theme). These two films are adapted from a novel by Richard Condon. I recall writing a high school book report on another novel, “Mile High” in which gangster conspire to create Prohibition in order to take advantage of the profits of making alcohol illegal (as with illegal drugs today) and retreat to a hideaway in the Adirondacks.
Suspect Zero (2004, R, Paramount/Intermedia, 99 Minutes, dir. E. Elias Merhige) sounds like the name of an arthouse thriller. I recall a film called Apartment Zero a few years ago. But it throws too much stuff around without a lot of focus, and tends to lose the audience (say compared to similar films like Seven and The Bone Collector). Some of this stuff is tantalizing: a serial killer of serial killers, global positioning, remote viewing (usually mentioned in connection with trying to view aliens), Project Icarus. Aarom Eckhart plays FBI agent Thomas Mackelway, who has been disgraced by an earlier scandal, and Ben Kingsley, as Benjamin O’Ryan, is his nemesis, and he is a bit of the Kingsley of Sexy Beast. The New Mexico scenery is precise and well filtered; this looks like a VistaVision movie.
Wicker Park (2004, PG-13, MGM/Lakeshore, 115 min, dir. Paul McGuigan, wr. Gilles Mimouni and Brandon Boyce) presents boyish hunk Josh Hartnett as a junior executive in what is billed as a romantic thriller. The film has been called a “remake” of the 1996 French comedy “The Apartment” with a bit of David Lynch (a ka Blue Velvet) thrown in. Now Hartnett, who (as far as I know) still lives in the Twin Cities, is somewhat accessible to the film community there for those who know the right hangouts (when I lived there it was the Bryant Lake Bowl on Lake Street, especially for IFPMSP’s monthly programs) so it’s interesting to see his quick rise to the A-list. (Minneapolis doesn’t have paparazzi like Paris, London, Rome or LA.) His best film so far is Hollywood Homicide. Yes, Josh, if Google-hacking takes you to this page, this is all just constructive “criticism.” Here, the problem may not be so much Hartnett’s performance as the murky direction. Now, I write non-linear, layered (a la “Adaptation”) screenplays like this, filled with flashbacks and hidden, freudian visual clues. (It’s impossible to get script clubs to take them into table readings.) But here the setup seems too artificial, and not compelling enough, so Hartnett really does come across as a well-dressed stalker, which is not the effect that the director wanted, I’m sure. Here, Matthew (Hartnett) catches a glance of an old love who disappeared, and tries to recreate the relationship with a woman who is apparently someone else. Well, there may be up to three women. You figure it out. Now, I’ve had the experience, on the gay side, of being under someone’s spell, expecting to use the bumping-frequency opportunity of living in Greenwich Village, in one particularly cooky episode that happened in 1978. I can imagine a screenplay on that autobiographical incident, too; but it all seems too internal, to autoerotic, and the effect wears off, it the political and historical significance (in my case, an early warning that some day there would be an epidemic) did not. Over time, better ideas come to me. I’ll say that the Panavision on-location photography looks suitably icy, metallic, and abstract (even inside the Drake Hotel)—which is another reason not to believe the story. Harnett & Co can do better than this.
Vanity Fair (2004) moved.
The Forgotten (2004, PG-13, Columbia/Revolution, 89 min, dir. Joseph Ruben, starring Julianne Moore and Gary Sinise) presents your Shyamalan-type suspense around a question-mark premise. Here, Telly finds that nobody remembers the son she lost in a plane crash. Well, there are others. It gets silly with a government-and-aliens plot to abduct children from “extended day.” A couple of “Them” (Jor-El clones, perhaps) have krypton-like ability to fly, and you wish Clark Kent would show up to save everyone. Psychiatrist Dr. Munce says “they have been doing it for years.” The opening shot, of the rooftops of New York skyscrapers without the Twin Towers, reminds one of the opening of Clive Barker’s Candyman (and maybe Nightbreed), and I thought that homeland security didn’t want picture taking of highrise building roofs anymore. Why didn’t Ruben use a full wide screen format?
Friday Night Lights (2004)
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004, PG, Paramount/Brooklyn Films, dir. Kerry Conran, 107 min). Well, with Dino de Laurentis, or his descendants, you never know. (You could say that about Francis Ford Coppola, too). Here, the concept is to recreate a 40s comic book movie with digital super Gmac technology, and make it look and sound like a 40s movie, with grainy AAD sound, abstraction, minimal detail in some scenes, sepia tones closer to black-and-white or colorized film than Technicolor, and fantastic sci-fi plots, which here show a Dr. Totenkopf, after World War I, of wanting to rule the world from his Shangir La with underground machines that show up anywhere to eat up resources. As for the techie stuff, the credits are longer here than for any film in history (even LOTR); film students will debate the film stocks used forever, and wonder why Arriflex with slightly smaller aspect ratio than usual full wide screen was used. But, for the “story”: Here, in the beginning, it is Manhattan that has to be evacuated from this fantasy Stefano or Lionel. The scenario as animated and canned is hardly frightening, like a real evacuation would be after a terrorist attack on the same scale (let alone 9-11). Jude Law (with British accent this time) is the “Sky Captain” Sullivan space cadet, and Gwyneth Paltrow is Polly. The journey into a parallel universe, more or less, on their model planes—living in a toy world, perhaps. But the mines, at one point, look like what angels might do if they terraformed Titan. Then there is Shangri La, which looks like it came out of Lord of the Rings. There is finally a bedroom scene, where Sullivan and Polly share a bed, and then Jude notices a bear (that is the gay male version of the word) to his right. Jude Law himself shows a bit of a widow’s peak in that scene; he is finally getting older. The producers boast, “if you don’t like this movie, you don’t like movies.” A bit heavy handed. This film is, after all, an experiment in “the Art of Cinematography.”
The Polar Express (2004, G, Warner Brothers/Castle Rock/Image Movers, dir. Robert Zemeckis, based on the children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg) presents a new cinematography technique, body-movement animation, to the tune of a $165 million film. A lot of the acting and speech is from Everyman Tom Hanks. A little boy lies awake on Christmas Even thinking about Santa and the Night Before Christmas when, well, he gets to travel into a parallel dimension on a steam train to the North Pole, where there is a whole Stockholm-like city (maybe it is a kind of Heaven, but the inhabitants all wear Red). The train journey is arbitrary but fascinating, skidding its way across a glacier, climbing mountains to corss a huge trestle bridge. Okay, Baltimore gets missed, all right, or Baltimore is Missing (my own take). I took the Europass train from Bergen, Norway across the Arctic Circle to Narvik in 1972, and then another train to Kiruna, Sweden. But this journey is so arbitrary that it doesn’t fit into fantasy easily, as does Clive Barker’s train in the Third Dominion of Imajica. See it for the pictures.
Alexander (2004) Moved to http://www.doaskdotell.com/movies/malex.htm
Closer (2004, Columbia, dir. Mike Nichols, R, about 110 min), features Jude Law (an obituary writer aka novelist “The Aquarium”) and Clive Owen (a dermatologist) as two hairy-chested British men competing for a photographer (Julia Roberts) and dancer (Natalie Portman) in a ménage a quatre. Unlike Portman’s original Garden State, this film just seems slick and spoiled. The scene between Owen and Portman in the bar where he teases her body parts is amusing and seems like a straight version of gay dance bars. There is an amusing scene, not very cinematic, where the two male studs share pornographic Instant Messages, each not knowing he is talking to another man. The famous song does not appear.
National Treasure (2004, Touchstone/Jerry Bruckheimer, dir. Jon Turtleltaub, PG, 131 min) is your basic “Treasure Hunt” movie, ranging from “The Goonies” to Clive Cussler’s “Sahara.” This is a popcorn-middle school kids movie that follows all the truisms of crowd pleasing, so it seems a bit lame. Never mind, my oral surgeon/dentist liked it. The story itself is a bit of a double take. Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicholas Cage), the sympathetic protagonist, steals a copy of the Declaration of Independence to protect it from another thief (in the government, of course??) but his goal is to fulfill a family legend of a world treasure hidden some of the Republic’s Founding Fathers. That contrivance seems to justify all of the cliffhanging chases (with Cage in formals) until they find the treasure in an Indiana-Jones like cave underneath a church (Trinity in New York City). Justin Bartha is wholesome enough as the nerd who stays with the tag team to the end. History and social studies teachers will admire the recitation of facts regarding the Declaration of Independence and various archives (although they omitted that eleven of the signers of the Declaration had their homes burned). But what is most interesting here is the Freemasonry issue. Many of our founding fathers were Masons, and I explored Rosicrucianism while living in New York City (between the villages) in the late 1970s. I had a good friend over in the West Village, a USCF chess player (1900+) and astrologist (he did my chart and made a lot of my “Venus in Virgo” as leading to bizarre sexual tastes).
NT II: Book of Secrets (2007, Walt Disney / Touchstone / Jerry Vruckheimer, dir. Jon Turteltaub, PG, 124 min) is the second movie of the franchise, and generated enough buzz to inspire a Discovery Channel documentary about the freemasons. This time the President (Bruce Greenwood) has a secret parchment book that holds all those national family secrets. At hand is a lost city of gold, "Cibola" (it became Las Vegas in Stephen King's "The Stand"), left by descendants of the Maya, buried in the Black Hills near Mount Rushmore (sort of "North by Northwest" without James Stewart). They (Nicholas Cage, Jon Voight, Harvey Keitel, and Justin Bartha as young author Riley Poole of the book "The Templar Treasure" that nobody seems to want until ... his final booksigning party at the end. This film was preceded by a 5-minute old style cartoon "How to Set Up Your Home Theater," with the idea that a home theater can insert you into the Super Bowl.
Spanglish (2004, Columbia, dir. James L. Brooks, 140 min, PG-13) A Hispanic woman moves in to a chef’s home as a domestic with her adventurous and ambitious daughter. Adam Sandler. Blogger.
White Chicks (2004, Columbia/Revolution, dir. Marlan Wayans, 109 min, PG-13). On one of my substitute teaching assignments in high school English class where the kids had a free day, one of the African American students insisted on showing this. It is a little movie from a big studio, announced with great bravado by Columbia’s Statie of Liberty trademark, which ought to be used more on big films. The title suggests a certain impudence and political incorrectness, as well as giving away the idea for the comic plot: two black male FBI agents (Marlon and Shawn Wayans) (defrocked) will go into drag as white women, with all the comic behaviors that ensue, all the name of protecting their protégés. But this film is very hip hop and very straight, despite the gender bending (most drag queens are straight anyway) and funny references to being lesbians. In the end, it turns to pure slapstick.
The Phantom of the Opera (2004, Warner Brothers/Odyssey, dir. Joel Schumacher, 144 min, PG-13) brings back a great movie tradition: the CinemaScope musical, this time a filmed opera in itself, music of British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber. It has been compared to Lon Chaney’s 1925 silent movie, and to bridge the gap Schumacher frames the whole story as a flashback based from a 1919 black-and-white post WWI visit to the opera house site (Her Majesty’s Theater, 1871) and graveyard. The movie proper is garish and spectacular, down to the falling chandelier. The cast is relatively less known, as they all are singers, but Gerard Butler tones down the Phantom until, well, he is revealed in his conflict with Raoul (Patrick Wilson) over Christine (Emmy Rossum). He is, after all, a bit like Quasimodo or even David Lynch’s Elephant Man (1980). The story is opera within opera—first a Mozart-like scene in Act I, and then the Phantom’s own Don Juan, which sounds more like Schoenberg than Mozart. Webber, teasing us often with the Phantom’s descending motive and then treating us with soaring tunes, bifurcates the score into two Acts, with the first Act ending with an enormous orchestral minor-key climax, finally crashing down on a D-octave, an effect that reminds one of the bombastic first movement conclusion in Tchaikovsky’s Manfred. The concluding act ends quietly, however, and somewhat inconclusively. One expects an intermission, not practical in the movies today.
The Aviator (2004)
The Grudge (2004, Columbia/Ghost House, dir. Takashi Shimizu, 91 min, PG-13, Japan, adapted from the Japanese film "Ju-On: The Grudge"). The name of the production company gives a hint for the story for this Asian horror genre classic-to-be. A man jumps off a building, so filled with hate that his grudge becomes contagious, like a virus, leaving to a lot of ghostlike entities in this Japanese house that will consume most of the people there. A nursing student Karen Davis (Sarah Michelle Gellar), on exchange and living in Tokyo with a likeable if smooth boyfriend Doug (Jason Behr) goes to the house investigate for her employer when the regular nurse doesn't show up. The family there will get knocked off by the entities, which look like the monsters composed in hateful dreams. There is a little boy with his face drawn into poster shape, and a girl with her face drawn into tatters. The course of the film gets quite tragic, as nice people go down. There is a real moral to this story. Bill Pullman does his usual. Also William Mapother and Clea Duvall. There is a sequel in 2006.
A Very Long Engagement (2004)
Ray (2004, Universal, dir. Taylor Hackford, 152 min, PG-13) presents a biography of Ray Charles up to 1966, when he completed recovering from his heroin habit. He would live to 2004. Jamie Foxx gives a stunning portrayal of the blind adult Ray, and he is likely to get a Best Actor nomination. But it is the various dramatic incidents of the biography, sometimes in flashback, that give the movie momentum. Growing up in the rural south, 5-year-old Ray watches his older brother drown in a basin and is too tongue-tied to call for his mother. Then, almost as if it were God’s punishment, Ray goes blind, perhaps from a genetic disease (not explained). His mother refuses to coddle him, warning him he can’t grow up a cripple and must take care of himself, because “that’s how things are.” He does, becoming the jazz-pianist-singer-entertainer, until becomes loyal to the Civil Rights movement and desegregation. He is banned from Georgia for 18 years for refusing to perform at a segregated Jim Crow concert, and then police in Indianapolis try to bust him for drugs for giving an integrated concert. Finally, the fibbies catch up with him when he flies in from Montreal, and he really does have to go through rehab. What is interesting to me is how he got to become a “celebrity” with all of his flaws of commission; my flaws are perhaps more of omission. Remember, also, this is a movie about music, the way Amadeus was.
Million Dollar Baby (2004) Moved to http://www.doaskdotell.com/movies/mmillion.htm
AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004, 20th Century Fox, dir. Paul W. S. Anderson, 101 min incl. 13 minutes of credits! PG-13) brings together two famous franchised monsters: the arthropod Aliens (with all of their green slobber and excrescence) and the mechanical Predator, who, when unmasked, do look kind of like primates with mean faces. Scientists find a chamber underneath the Ross Shelf of Antarctica, and when they get down there, they find an entombed pyramid complex (with elements of Egyptian, Mayan, and Cambodian civilization) with sacrificial chambers. It seems as though mortal humans were sacrificed as tribute for a war between Aliens and Predators. There is the political question: is the enemy of my enemy automatically my friend? (Was Saddam Hussein on the side of Al Qaeda?) Well, the leading scientist Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan) thinks so, as she bonds with a predator. Raoul Bova plays Sebastian. There are some short term, effective fireworks. There is one cute scene with an emperor penguin. This film was made largely in the Czech Republic. Although an August release (the rear end of summer movies) the film does have an interesting premise. The premise (of a kind of Atlantis under the Antarctic ice cap) reminds one of Clive Cussler’s novel Atlantis Found – that book ought to become a movie.
Without a Paddle (2004, Paramount, dir. Steven Brill, PG-13, 95 min) is a comedic recreation of "Deliverance" where three hetero buddies go on a treasure hunt along the Columbia River in Oregon after a friend's funeral, and run into various dangers -- Bart the Bear, a rogue sheriff, and then two hillbillies. Seth Green, Matthew Lillard, Dax Shepard are the three pals (at one point they have to snuggle together), and Bonnie Sommerville and Morgan Fairhead are the two beauties in the treehouse (one of them with unshaven hairy legs). In the end, the guys find out that the treasure is "staying alive." They wind up getting credit for busting up a drug ring, that the villains had all been in on. The DVD provided the annoyance of forcing the customer to watch five mindless previews.
Helter Skelter (2004, Warner Brothers / CBS, dir. Jim Gray, book by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry, 137 min, R) The Manson murders from the viewpoint of Manson himself. Jeremy Davies is chilling as the evil doer. Blogger.
Pompeii: The Last Day (2003)
The Terminal (2004, Dreamworks, dir. Steven Spielberg, 124 min, PG-13). This film is rather like a play, in an airport terminal that is actually a carefully constructed set, almost as for a Dogme film. Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks) arrives at the airport when his home Balkan country has had a coup, and he is a man without a country. TSA director Frank Dixon (Stanley Tucci) tries to find a loophole that will let him get some sort of asylum, and Everyman Hanks is too innocent to lie. So he makes an apartment for himself in the terminal (even a sculpture out of broken latrine pieces). The apartment is almost like an area on a Dogville stage. He makes all kinds of friends, including Amelia (Catherine Zeta-Jones). However, he unmasks problems with a lot of his other "friends" (not the Myspace kind) to the point that they will get in trouble unless he goes back home anyway. One of them would actually lose a pension. All of this until the "surprise" ending to get him to cross the line into the snowy City. This is a kind of anti-Kafka paradox.
White Noise (2005, Universal, dir. Geoffrey Sax, 98 min, PG-13) is your basic January horror film that didn’t make the Christmas season cut for awards. Sorry, but this Canadian film is too stereotyped and mannered compared to indie films in the genre. A widower architect Jonathan Rovers (Michael Keaton, who looks quite ripened in the film) wants to contact his wife from beyond the grave with EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon). An obese paranormal guru approaches him. He delves in, and his curiosity drives him to get more than he bargained for, leading to tragic results.
Hide and Seek (2005, 20th Century Fox, dir. John Polson, R, 106, min). “Come out, wherever you are.” Dakota Fanning is the child actress par excellence, with a career ahead that might be something like Gregory Smith’s and something that stirs debates about studio teachers and education for children in entertainment. (Only super-kids can do this.) Robert De Nero plays a widower David Callaway who loses his wife to a graphic bathtub suicide, when she sees things. This seems to get passed on to the daughter, played by Dakota, even after they move upstate. (The late fall scenery of the low mountain country north of New York is striking.) Of course, there are third parties interested in causing commotion. As far as imaginary playmates are concerned, I used to have one whom I called Back, and around age ten or so I was confronted with giving up Back. Maybe I never did.
Sahara (2005, Paramount/Bristol Bay, dir. Breck Eisner, based on the novel by Clive Cussler, PG-13). I’ve read Cussler’s Atlantis Found and, when subbing, actually noticed that a student wrote a book report on this book (Sahara) for a fiction project in high school English. Cussler has a way of making his exotic scenarios seem real and terrifying speculations credible, especially in a post 9/11 world so his literary value is above the pack of popular novelists. Here, the plot concerns a lost Civil War battleship that may surface like a Noah’s Ark in north Africa, and a bad-boy plot to kill all life in the oceans with an exotic Protist. Dirk Pitt (Matthew McConahuey) is the mid-30s prime-of-life unmarried Renaissance man (aka James Bond) adventurer-hero. Penelope Cruz plays Eva Rojas, who finds the toxin in Nigeria first. Steve Zahn is Al Giordino, the comic sidekick is quite competent with pink pistols himself (there is a hint that, well maybe, there is some kind of bond with Dirk, who seems not to be purely a committed heterosexual—else he would have a family by now and settle down, wouldn’t he?) Now the movie makes other exotic references, to Cold Mountain with its Civil War prequel, to both Lawrence of Arabia and Apocalypse Now with is midsection, when they go upriver into the Dark Continent. Much of the movie was shot in Morocco (like Black Hawk Down) and isolated areas of Spain, and the movie apparently had major Spanish investors. The scenery is breathtaking, as is the reconstruction of Mali. There is efficient, information-bearing narration when they show Dirk’s shipboard apartment. But then it seems to loose intensity. NUMA, as a private organization (and William H Macey as Admiral Sandecker) seems a bit of a contrivance (it is supposed to be like a private government agency, as if a further nod to libertarianism) and Dirk’s personality, if wiry and likeable, is never well developed. Indeed, his own car and other little-boy toys get in the way.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005, Touchstone, dir. Garth Jennings, based on book by Douglas Adams) starts out when a pudgy Brit named Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) is evicted from his house for a new road. Suddenly, the whole world is to be demolished for an intergalactic highway. And it is. Arthur hitches a ride for a comic ride on the spaceship. Never worry, the Universe has a planet factory, and the Earth can be replaced to order. Sam Rockwell plays the president of the Universe, elected because he is not too smart (guess who the comparison is to…), but he is attractive (the two head thing is superfluous) and gradually his tunic comes a but undone. John Malovich makes an appearance, almost being himself. At the end, Arthur has to get zapped when he gets his house back (no foreclosures here), and there is one major technical error regarding his arms (how many people notice). The mice and then the dolphins are above us in the IQ-test chain. (Stuart Little 1 and 2 kids’ movies, bring them on! Forget Snowbell.) The film is pure satire and pure spectacle.
Revelations (2005, NBC, dir. David Semel and Lili Fini Zemek, 360 min) was a six-part mini-series in Spring 2005 about the coming apocalypse. Bill Pullman (who else?) plays Dr. Richard Massey, who runs a gauntlet after his daughter is murdered by Satanists. Some heroic sequences occur near the end.
Kingdom of Heaven (2005, 20th Century Fox/ScottFree, dir. Ridley Scott) brings back the mood of the Fox CinemaScope spectacles of the 50s (this film is in Arriflex). Of course, given international politics, it can spur controversy. What makes this film work somewhat is the moral character of its young hero Balian (Orlando Bloom), a village blacksmith in France, an illegitimate son of Sir Godfrey (Liam Neeson), who encourages Balian to go to Jerusalem for economic opportunity as much as religious crusade. He does, and he will meet the young King Baldwin (Ed Norton), a leprosy victim whose face is covered with a silver mask. (Advisor Tiberias is played with characteristic flair by Jeremy Irons.) He will test Balian’s moral resolve, before he dies (his face is shown then, and leprosy normally does not cause that kind of gross facial disfigurement, although it was viewed as the AIDS of its day). Now Christians and Muslims have been co-existing in Jerusalem for a century, but some Catholics want to monopolize religion for themselves here. The battles ensue, and they are spectacular, it not on the scale of LOTR. Balian becomes a great leader, who will negotiate an honorable surrender to Ottoman Muslim military baron Saladin (Ghassan Massoud), terms that will allow Christians to continue to worship in the Holy City. There is an interesting speech where Balian criticizes the idea of ancestral guilt, an idea that seems to drive so much extremist Muslim rage today.
Cinderella Man (2005, Universal/Miramax/Imagine, dir. Ron Howard, 144 min, PG-13). At one point, hero Joe Braddock (Russell Crowe) says “people die in fairy tales.” Indeed, that is what this true story seems to be, as boxer Joe surpasses every obstacle, after losing his boxing license, gets a “change in plans” or “new opportunity” from manager Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti, from Sideways), reaches back into his manly character (to provide for his wife [Renee Zellweger] and small boys, one of whom he as falsely promised never to send away after catching the boy stealing a meat fritter during the Depression hard times) and finally wins a fight with legendary heavyweight champ Max Baehr (Craig Bierko), who had already killed two opponents. Their adaptive hardships during the Depression are well shown visually, as when his wife dilutes milk with water after they get a “past due” notice from the delivery milkman. Were these problems imposed on them by the “system” or by the greed of others? Are they, at the start of the film, “victims” of the System? That seems to be the clear point of view of Ron Howard, even if Joe is able to fight his way out of it with his own competitive physical endurance. Yes, they lived happily ever after. His various opponents appear to have polished, shaved chests, and then to look a bit artificial, even more so with their mouthpieces. We wonder, though, about the message of this Raging Bull. After all, the Depression was an era when you lived for blood family, because very likely that was all you had. And you would fight for them, even box (lauding a sport whose goal is to inflict physiological harm—a bit like 1:1 warfare. To be a man, you were validated by having kids, and sometimes that was your excuse for getting more help. Individualism, as we know it today, had hardly been discovered yet, even for those privileged “college graduates” from “better” families. You didn’t go out on your own and jeopardize family in those days; you just couldn’t. Of course, the free market gave Braddock the chance to excel, with his fists. There is no glass slipper.
Lords of Dogtown (2005, Columbia/TriStar, dir. Catherine Hardwicke, 107 min, PG-13) . Stacy Peralta had directed a documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys (Sony Pictures Classics, 2001) about how skateboarding became a legitimate gymnastic sport, and in this full studio film, for which he wrote the screenplay, he returns as a mid 1970s teen character played by John Robinson. Other characters are Skip Engblom (Heath Ledger), Jay Adams (Emile Hirsch) and Sid (Michael Angarano), who, one of the most innocent and likeable boys (almost the only one who isn’t a stereotyped Nordic blond) and comes to life in one intimate party scene, but then will be struck by a brain tumor, to pass away; in the last scene he maneuvers from a wheelchair, a huge surgical scar in his head from the operation. The film has “The Kids” running around back yards in swimming pools emptied by water rationing from an LA summer drought, as they perfect their skateboarding. The problem with filming a sport like this is that the scenarios seem self-contained, and have to be manipulated. There is a lot of tuneful 70s music in the soundtrack. There is a filmmaker in Minneapolis, Shane Nelson, who has experimented with filming extreme sports including skateboarding (even on railings); summer teen skateboarding was quite common along Washington Ave. in downtown Minneapolis (around the old Federal Reserve building) when I lived there. A note regarding about the earlier documentary: It is narrated by Sean Penn, and starts out with a history of the Santa Monica to Venice CA area (where US 66 ends – the lower income area came to be known as “Dogtown”) and shows skateboarding as an outgrow of surfing, which had boomed in the area in the 50s and early 60s, when the area died out. Some of the same characters appear in the documentary. Many of the interviews are in black-and-white.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005, 20th Century Fox, Regency/Summit, dir. Doug Liman, wr. Simon Kinberg, 119 min, PG-13) Well, what will this movie do for the institution of heterosexual marriage as described by Maggie Gallagher? In the opening scene, we see Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie on sofas, separated for anamorphic wide screen, and probably somewhat separated psychologically, too, because they are each their own person, too much so. No kids. No day care. No family bed. Both are hired assassins (maybe by the CIA), each owns a business as a front, and for a while, neither knows about the other. (They had met in Colombia on a drug bust.) Now we have all heard the story, that they wind up targeting each other, only to become so aroused that they get back together (how is that for marriage?) And, by the way, despite rumors to the contrary, Brad Pitt does have some hair on his chest, just not much. There is some ritual undressing in this movie, dirty dancing style. But there are some opposite poles. Adam Brody is the mark Benjamin Danz, who may just be a CIA plant for an exercise in the Four Corners area. But Adam really seems to be Seth Cohen (The O.C.); you want to see him color his comic books, even when he has been tied up in a scene near the end. (It’s mean, because his bare forearms appear to be taped hard to the chair.) Then there is Eddie (Vince Vaughn), another agent who lives at home with his mother, and claims his mother doesn’t check up on him all the time about staying out late. All and all, there are some pretty good subterranean references in this film.
The Amityville Horror (2005, MGM/Dimension, dir. Andrew Douglas, novel by Jay Anson, screenplay by Scott Kosar, 89 min, R) was one of MGM's last releases before it was acquired by Sony. I hope that MGM keeps its brand and trademark (the lion -- "the cat"), given its proud history of big films. This one doesn't cut it, however. It starts out with the account of a family suicide-murder in a Hampton's home, back in the collectivist 1970s. A young family buys the house a year later, and, you guessed it, the house is haunted. The dad (Jesse James) becomes a particularly obnoxious lead, daring his overweight young son to get hurt in a harrowing log splitting scene. "Burnt Offerings" (above) is much more engrossing.
Dark Water (2005, Touchstone, dir. Walter Salles, novel Koji Suzuki, 104 min, PG-13). I took the tram to Roosevelt Island, in the East River, when I was considering moving in 1976. I decided that the commute by tram would be too much trouble. The apartment buildings were luxurious, however, and it is hard for me to believe the premise of the story, that a woman Dahlia (Jennifer Connelly -- the character's name appeared in "Black Sunday" remember) in a divorce and custody dispute over her little girl would find her apartment building there dilapidated and leaking inside. What starts as a ceiling leak turns into a lot more, as there are ghosts and phantoms. The film looks sharp with its brown tinges -- all the leaking water is vomit brown. The opening scene, in a downpour in Seattle, is almost black-and-white. The end is not happy, unless you believe in imaginary universes. This is an American remake of a Japanese 2002 film, Honogurai mizu no soko kara, from ADV films, and is accepted as a genre "Asian horror" film. It runs out of steam half way through, despite the effective photography and music score.
Supernova (2005, Hallmark/Levinson, dir. John Harrison, 150 min, sug PG-13) is a TV film that speculates that the sun has a series of super corona outbursts and flares, with massive worldwide destruction. Governments have built underground “hives” (like Noah’s Ark) to carry on a small segment of pre-selected humanity (the same idea as in Deep Impact). Luke Perry, Clemncy Burton-Hill, Peter Fonda star. The film tends to lumber at an andante pace, and as in all disaster movies the script seems more concerned with imparting didactic information than it is with characters. The conclusion of the film seems to trivialize the math involved in calculating that the sun really could become a Red Giant a lot sooner than we thought; you need to be good with logs and exponents. There is an unrelated film Supernova (2000, MGM, dir. Walter Hill, story by William Malone and Daniel Chuba, 91 min, R). A star-trek-like space ship, early in the 22nd Century, answers a help call on a moon used for mining, and rescues a young man (Peter Facinelli) who has taken as a souvenir a mysterious artifact. The crew (including James Spader and Angela Basset) determine that the device encapsulates 9-dimensional strings or strangelets that, if opened, would unleash a supernova that could infect and destroy the entire universe (the shock wave would reach Earth in 51 years). Arms roll and grow back, and there is some steamy sex that doesn't quite track the story, until the end, when Spader and Basset find that their own bodies are transformed, with racial characteristics exchanged, by the act. IMDB shows that this title has been used several other times with unrelated projects.
The Skeleton Key (2005, Universal, dir. Iain Softley, PG-13, 104 min) is supposed to have a trick ending but the plot is formulaic and no surprise. The movie is timely now because it is set in pre-Katrina New Orleans and Terrebonne Parish, swampland right on the Gulf, and quite spectacular to film. Kate Hudson plays Caroline, a well-intended young woman from the Garden State (pun) who takes a live-in job in an old plantation house caring for Ben Devereaux (John Hurt) who supposedly had a paralyzing stroke. Now a live-in job is no gift—you get a nice place to live but have no freedom. We often depend on live-in home health aides (some of them illegal aliens) to deliver eldercare and allow adult children freedom to work, so this touches a sensitive issue. But this is Louisiana, with all the trappings of voodoo, Santaria, and ghosts. This movie has all of that. It seems that around 1910 an ancestor abused some servants after the servants tried to teach the kids voodoo, and preformed an American lynching, even burning them alive as they hung. Now, Caroline is not allowed to possess mirrors in the house, because they can reflect the ghosts—you get the idea. Peter Sarsgaard plays the lawyer Luke, and seems slightly emasculated until he explodes at the end, and there are reasons for all of this. You see, Caroline will become One of Them—an idea we’ve seen before, as in Burnt Offerings (above). The film has the concept of a Shyamalan film, but not quite the same subtlety.
Martha Behind Bars (2005, Paramount/CBS, dir. Doug McCollough, 95 min, TV) gives us the story of the domestic diva’s (Martha Stewart) imprisonment in Alderson, W. Va., staring, of course, with her Imclone business and then coverup. The scenes were dutiful soldier Douglas Faneuil passes IM’s to his boss at Merrill Lynch about her rudeness are cute, as is the trader himself. (He gave critical testimony at her trial.) They bring her low. Gradually, she develops empathy with the other inmates. Cybill Sheperd looks and sounds like Martha, but there is an arrogance and hardness about her delivery that doesn’t seem to come from the real Martha herself. If you go to Martha’s website, it does look she put this behind her with “finality.”
The Fog (2005, Columbia/Revolution, dir. Rupert Wainwright, wr. John Carpenter and Cooper Layne) is an overblown remake of the 1980 film directed by John Carpenter (Embassy Pictures). In that case, the zombies came from an old leper colony. Here, it is an island on the Oregon coast, with a shipwreck, and ghosts from a deserted shipwreck come back. “The sins of the fathers shall fall on their children.” The plot is the ultimate in compulsory family values. Tom Welling (Smallville) plays Nick Castle, a shrimping business owner, and he seems immune from all of the perils, probably because he is not a biological descendant. (There is one scene with what looks like red kryptonite.) Possessor of Hollywood’s most famous smooth chest (there is one scene in the bedroom of Life with Elizabeth (Maggie Grace) who, having returned, is what the ghosts want) Welling has the same gentle charisma that we see in his role as upper teenage Clark Kent. One could imagine Jared Padalecki in this role, because the movie seems like a cross between Smallville and Supernatural (sorry, Columbia isn’t TheWB).
Stay (2005, 20th Century Fox/Regency, dir. Marc Forster) is another exercise in the virtual reality of the dying process, or transition, or whatever you want to call it. This is a film where the story is embedded more in the filmmaker’s techniques than any forward plot or script. Shots dissolve into one another, and we are never sure if we are in contemporary New York City or in some dimension defined by string theory. Ryan Gosling is the troubled art student Henry threatening suicide, and Ewan McGregor is the “substitute psychiatrist” Sam who shows up for a session one day just before (or after) a horrible auto accident on the Brooklyn Bridge. Now Sam is weird, too, always dressed in business clothes but without socks. That’s conspicuous. Pretty soon Sam seems as disoriented as Henry, maybe because they share the same physical space in the universe. He talks to dead people, too. Gosling, usually a forceful performer, seems to give little of himself in this ambiguous film. The directorial style mixes David Lynch and M. Night Shyamalan, but seems less focused and a bit aimless. Jacob’s Ladder (above) is a much more forceful treatment of this concept. The look of the film, with so much orange, seems to fit the Halloween season.
Corpse Bride (aka Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, 2005, Warner Bros., dir. Tim Burton and Mike Johnson, 76 min, UK, PG) will be a favorite of film students for years, with its ménage of animation and puppetry, with an almost black-and-white view of the “real world” (with just splotches of beige and gray-blue), and then the colorful world of the undead. The story is a bit of a setup” a young man Victor (voice of Johnny Depp) messes up his wedding rehearsal – a wedding very much arranged to ease the financial difficulties of families—and heads for the woods, where he finds his bride-to-be (voice of Helena Bonham Carter) is already passed. To be wed, he must give up his own life. Now this leads us to all kinds of side questions, like the Mormon idea of eternal marriage, or what marriage is for in the first place (for love, or for social validation). The movie becomes a wonderful satire, almost a kid’s movie. There are wonderful scenes of the couple playing the piano, with animation on the keys that matches the notes being played.
Jane Doe: Now You See It, Now You Don’t (2005, Hallmark, dir. Barry Levinson, sg, PG, 95 min) gives us Leah Thompson as a motherly housewife doubling as law enforcement consultant, perhaps living a fantasy worthy of Oprah, as she tracks down the perpetrators of a heist of the Declaration of Independence from a traveling display as it was about to be presented in Los Angeles. There is the technical stuff about the digital display and the actual document (and its disappearance in front of the security guard, which explains the movie’s title). It turns out that this is a coverup for a much bigger bank heist worthy of the CBS show “Numbers”. This is a much lower key effort than Jerry Bruckheimer’s “National Treasure,” above, although both films are stylized in their own ways. Also with Timothy Bottoms and Joe Perry.
Silver Bells (2005, CBS/Hallmark, dir. Dick Lowry, Nov. 2005) is a sweet family Christmas movie that overstretches a situation of a runaway teen Danny (Michael Mitchell) while his widower dad (Tate Donovan) and Danny’s new protective friend and employer Catherine (Anne Heche) keep bumping in crowded Manhattan. Danny has taught himself photography and is already employable and wants to go to college or film school, and his father wants to keep him tied to the family Christmas tree business upstate. This sounds like a simplied “Everwood” but it seems confined in scope. Danny survives a dangerous fall into a frozen pond near the end as he keeps running from his father.
Felicity: An American Girl Adventure (2005, Warner Bros./TheWB, ex prod Julia Roberts, about 105 min, G) has a teenager Felicity Merriman (Shailene Woodley) girl living in Colonial Williamsburg dealing with conflicting family loyalties (even when she is aksed for a date) before the American revolution, when all she wants is simple things like her horse. The whole concept of loyalty comes into question. Her father is played by John Schneider from Smallville, and grandfather is David Gardner. The 15 year old apprentice Ben (Ken Zegers) seems a bit more mature than the typical mid teen, quite a common experience on TheWB. Visually the movie resembles the Patriot movie shown at Colonial Williamsburg (above). There is a bit of Mozart in the background, as well as a Virginia Reel.
Memoirs of a Geisha (2005, Columbia/Dreamworks/Spyglass/Amblin/Red Wagon, novel by Arthur Golden, dir. Rob Marshall, PG-13, 145 min) is an epic period piece depicting the biography of a girl in Japan who is first captured and made eventually a slave, but eventually becomes a geisha, in the words of the film, an “artist” to provide companionship but not sex for men. An epic spanning two decades, yet still in the style of an art film, even if it required two major studios. Of course, sometimes the rules get broken, and the appearance of prostitution has to be fought. The film is slow to move but rushes through what should be the most interesting part, the buildup and catastrophe of World War II for Japan. As with Germany, it would be interesting to know more about what life was really like for the Japanese. Another point is that the geisha does not follow her own goals, but her artistry comes out of some kind of postulated family obligation.
Walk the Line (2005, 20th Century Fox, dir. James Mangold, 136 min, PG-13) is a biography of country music singer Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) from his childhood days in the Arkansas delta farms to his concert at Folsom prison in 1968. He looks a bit too old for a teen when he joins the Air Force, and the story seems plodding when compared to Ray, above. He humbles himself with door-to-door selling in Memphis, to support a wife and babies, when one day he stumbles on a recording studio, after he has started a three-man-band. He gets a contract based on an original song he wrote in the Air Force, not on gospel music with no conviction. His career builds up in rather pedestrian episodes. He does get busted for drugs once. Compare to Hustle & Flow. Also Robert Elfstrom's "Johnny Cash!"
Zathura (2005, Columbia, dir. Jon Favreau, book by Chris Van Allsburg, 101 min, PG) is another variation of the Jumanji movie, the kind of film that substitute teachers show to students. There is some heartening talk by the father (Tim Robbins) who tries to comfort the more introverted, artistic of two brothers, who isn't as good at baseball. The boy will grow up and not have to pay his dues. The two brothers reconcile and find the board game Zathura, with its automated toys and track, and pretty soon we have the story of a model in a game matching a universe in another space. The house is attacked, and floats into outer space. We never get to see much of the wonders of other worlds, though (unlike Hitchhiker's Guide, above). Dax Shepard comes into the movie as the young adult role model, and he seems like a combo of gym and history teacher. Donald Trump assigned a marketing campaign for this movie as a task on "The Apprentice."
Doom (2005, Universal, dir. Andrzei Bartkowiak, 104/113 min, R, with director's cut) has an Frankenstein-like experiment set up on Mars, making people into gods or into something that captures their souls with extra chromosomes, and they turn into monsters. Oh, well. You travel to Mars in 2026 through a wormhole that swallows you like a box jellyfish, and drops you on the floor. You even throw up. Sometimes your body is in two parts. The good guys arrive at what was an archeological dig and they find out what was going on, and they flee for their lives. Good monsters. Very little outdoor Mars is shown, so it is disappointing as far as a sense of place. Based on the famous game. See also "Total Recall" (above) and Red Planet, etc.
Fun with Dick and Jane (2005, Columbia / Imagine, dir. Dean Parisot, 90 min, PG-13). In 2000, at the height of the bubble, Dick (Jim Carrey) and Jane (Tea Leoni) live in a $600000 house in the desert, and Dick is a high roller in business. His boss gets involved in an accounting scandal and drags Dick in. Dick loses his job, and because of the scandal housing prices crash, and Dick and Jane go on a comic career of crime. Dick even pretends to be victimized by flesh-eating bacteria. (In a Larry King interview, when Carrey was still 39, he bared his gams and said, "the hair ain't bad." A friend of mine complains that Carrey always shows his butt in the movies.) There are plenty of gags based on the 1940 Elson-Gray first grade readers. ("See Dick run!) At the end, he gets his money and pension back (how he can stay out of jail isn't so clear) and is going to a new job. Guess where. Enron! (How about Worldcomm?)
The Legend of Zorro (2005, Columbia, dir. Martin Campbell, 129 min, PG). One of the first films about this legend "Son of Zorro" (1947, Republic, dir. Spencer Gordon Bennett and Fred C. Brannon). In high school, I recall another student whose favorite slogan was "Zorg Zorro!" This legend has been remade dozens of times, as a check on imdb shows. In 1981 there was a film with a misleading title, "Zorro, the Gay Blade" (20th Century Fox, dir. Peter Medak). Here, though, is the full story, as California is nearing statehood in 1850, and an evil French Count stands in the way. Alejandra de la Vega (Antonio Banderas) has a double life as a family man, married to Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones), and wearing the mask of Zorro as a mythical hero. At one point, she confronts him with divorce papers, in an odd scene showing off his hairy chest. There is a big explosion in the desert, leading to what looks like a meteor crater, and the adventures ensue, leading to the new explosive, nitroglycerine, so familiar today (even as medication for angina pectoris). Toward the end, the Count tries to invoke the divisions within the Nation over slavery. The movie is a popcorn film, with some stylized violence, at one point of the "clutching hand" variety, and a locomotive chase at the end.
Prime (2005, Universal/Stratus, dir. Ben Younger, 105 min, PG-13) sets up a trio with Meryl Streep as the psychoanalyst, with a young painter played by Bryan Greenberg, and one of her patients, a 37-year old divorcee played by Uma Thurman falling in love with him. She guess his age as 27 and is surprised that he is 23. Then she tells the psychoanalyst that she could get arrested, but she couldn't. He is an adult by several years. The script is that silly throughout. Greenberg is gorgeous as a masculine metrosexual, though. Streep is much better in her Prada film a year later.
Shopgirl (2006, Touchstone/Hyde Park, dir. Anand Tucker, novella by Steve Martin, music by Barrington Pheulong, 106 min, R) A girl Mirabelle (Claire Danes) moves from Vermont to LA, and becomes a well-dressed but bored upscale clerk selling shoes, making customers feel good. A wealthy businessman (Steve Martin) courts her and pays off her student loan, while at the same time she meets a sexy artist/musician Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman). In their first encounter, the cat gets in the way in bed. The scenes involving Jeremy don't have the tension that they need. Martin narrates in a deliberative style that seems to recall George Gilder's 1980s scenario of a sexual princess choosing between a rich older man and a struggling but sincere young man her own age. The impressionistic music score is captivating.
Jesse Stone: Night Passage (2006, CBS, dir. Robert Harmon) brings Magnum PI Tom Selleck back early to a small fishing town, advising a local cop played by Stephen Baldwin, to investigate money laundering. There is an interesting converstation comparing “legal and illegal” to “right and wrong.” This is a prequel to Selleck’s 2005 movie “Stone Cold” based on Robert Parker’s novel.
Tristan + Isolde (2006, 20th Century Fox, dir. Kevin Reynolds, aka. “Tristan & Isolde” or “Tristan and Isolde”). So, before Romeo and Juliet there was this pair of lovers. A knight from tribal 5th Century England (a charismatic James Franco) and the Irish princess Isolde (Sophia Myles). She saves him when he washes alive on the Irish coast. When he returns on a row boat, she follows, with a marriage ending the conflict. Marriage and family values did that in this time. That’s one reason people couldn’t marry for love; they married for the right blood lines. Unfortunately, Tristan’s hairy brother (Rufus Sewell) claims Isolde, and Tristan sleeps with her. The film, bankrolled in Germany, isn’t artsy enough to work; it lacks the passion that Wagner could have given it. And why, given the spectacle, is it shot flat rather than in scope? It was distributed as a January 2006 release, which also tells you something.
The Water Is Wide (2005, CBS/Hallmark, dir. John Kent Harrison). In 1969, a young white man Pat Conroy (Jeff Hephner) takes a job teaching grade school to African American kids on a coastal S.C. island. He bonds to them and encourages more modern ways of teaching, contradicting school authority (intended to keep African Americans “in their place”) as he takes them to mainland Charleston when he gets married. In those days, corporal punishment had been acceptable, as previously practiced by Mrs. Brown (Alfre Woodard); he refuses to use it. When he marries, he expects perks, like having commuting to the mainland paid for. Toward the end, he creates a stur by trying to arrange a field trip to Washington. The school board tries to fire him by refusing to renew his contract, the students and parents start a petition to get him rehired. The psychological intimacy that he displays in connecting the the kids is more than I would be comfortable with as a teacher (or what I experienced as a substitute teacher). This was an interesting film. See also Knights of the South Bronx.
Amber Frey: Witness for the Prosecution (2005, Paramount/CBS, dir. Peter Werner, about 100 min) is a docudrama giving the chronicles of mistress Amber Frey's (Janel Maloney) relationship with Scott Peterson (Nathan Anderson, who looks a bit scrubbed)and her testimony against him at his murder trial (for murdering his wife and unborn baby). Without her testimony the case was circumstantial. There is a conversation early on where Scott says that he doesn't need kids from a relationship to validate himself. In prison (on death row) Scott refers to Rick Warren's book The Purpose-Driven Life. So, "it isn't about you." (The original use of the "witness" title was an Agatha Christie play and 1957 MGM film directed by Billy Wilder; will have a review soon.)
Must Love Dogs (2005, Warner Bros., dir. Gary David Goldberg, novel by Claire Cook), John Cusack picks up the poop. Blogger.
Firewall (2006, Warner Bros./Village Roadshow/Beacon, dir. Richard Loncraine, dir. Joe Forte, 105 min, PG-13) is not the product from Bill McAfee. Instead, it is a literal fire near the end, on Moses Lake, WA (a place I have been) in the denouement. Most of the movie is a slick thriller and Harrison Ford, now in his 60s, still has his Star Wars stuff, as bank security CIO Jack Stanfield. His family is kidnapped and he is forced to go through acting workshop charades to steal $100 million under the eyes of thieves that turn out to come from the hostile takeover company. The head honcho is young Birt Bill Cox played by Paul Bettany, out of character. "When do I get my family back?" This movie does play on the idea that high corporate position and a family can make a man a mark. Perhaps so can controversial behavior. You can imagine a story like this where the man is failing as a provider and is not blackmailed into protecting his family. I can't think of a film where that was done off hand. Outside, it is always raining (like in Se7en). There is an interesting play on the identity theft problem, when a debt collector (he certainly doesn't follow the FDCPA) shows up to collect a gambling debt, and Stanfield looks at his Equifax credit report for the false debt -- supposedly a dumpster diver. Well, the kidnapping then happens and so it goes. Warner Brothers displays this movie with pride, playing the Casablanca theme again in the opening trademark.
Freedomland (2006, Columbia/Revolution, dir. Joe Roth, novel and screenplay by Richard Price, 113 min, R) has a cocaine-snorting New Jersey detective Lorenzo Council (Samuel L. Jackson) trying to solve a kidnapping and carjacking of Brenda Martin (Julianna Moore), with the disappearance of her four year old son. Volunteers wind up search an abandoned mental hospital (itself called Freedomland) where it is rumored boys are taken. But then the plot turns suspicion to the mother, along the lines of sensational crimes in S.C. and Texas. It seems that she is a drug addict and loser, and her whole life was redeemed only by having a child (though her brother (Rom Eldard) at one point asks, "can't you even raise a child?"
Eight Below (2006, Walt Disney Pictures, dir. Frank Marshall, 120 min, PG) is adapted from the Japanese film "Nankyoku Monogatari". Three young men (Paul Walker, Jason Biggs, Bruce Greenwood) are working as scientists in Antarctica. One of them finds a meteor rock -- the first from Mercury (and this raises the memory of the meteors that had bounced off of Mars and that might contain life) and then breaks his leg in an ice accident, almost losing it to frostbite. They cannot rescue the men and the dogs at the same time, so the dogs -- carnivores -- are left to fend for themselves, into the long Antarctic night. Frank Marshall has directed many "Smallville" episodes. The movie has a middle section on the Oregon coast where the characters struggle with the idea that they need to go back. There is a gaffe of bright sun on June 21 -- midnight in Antarctica. (There is also a great photo of a "gay rainbow" aurora borealis.) There is a fascinating battle between the dogs and an eel-like seal, as they both compete for a whale carcass.
Time Bomb (2006)
The Lake House (2006, Warner Bros/Village Roadshow, dir. Alejandro Argesti, based on "Siworae" by Eun-Jeong Kin, 105 min, R) has a time-warp romance between architect Alex Wyler (Keanu Reeves) and emergency room doctor Kate Forster (Sandra Bullock). She rents a lake house in April 2006, one that he had occupied two years earlier, and they had exchanged letters in a post office box. (No email or text messages here.) The trouble is, this is an alternate reality, as he had been killed when hit by a bus in Chicago on Valentine's Day 2004, so he was rather a ghost. Is this sci-fi? Is it just manipulation? You can have narrative paradoxes as well as moral ones.
The Black Dahlia (2006, Universal, dir. Brian de Palma, novel by James Ellroy, 119 min, R) is another 1940s film noir period piece that attempts to set the mood of L.A. Confidential, with the director's slightly morbid bent. Josh Hartnett plays Dwight "Bucky" Bliechert, a young cop who, with his partner Lee Blanchard (Aaron Echkart) and girl frield Kay Lake (Scarlet Johanssen) investigate the brutal murder of starlet Elizabeth Short (Mia Kirshner) in 1947. She was sliced in half and disemboweled, the vultures pecking at her corpse, as in a typical horror or slasher film. As the cops investigate, they get closer to their own lives. They also find that the starlet had made lesbian skin flicks, a real shocker in the time. As for a starlet, "don't call us, we'll call you." Hartnett has a complex acting chore here, mixing his good All American Minnesota-nice farm boy image with a need for meanness at times, and it isn't particularly convincing. He offers plenty of beefcake in the bedroom, however. Remember that "Dahlia" was the name of a character in "Black Sunday." An interesting early plotline concerns Dwight's boxing (see "Cinderella Man" above); he fights partly in order to support his disabled father and put him in a "rest home" (nursing home in today's world). In the days before Medicare, filial responsibility laws were taken seriously.
The Departed (2006) (moved as shown)
Night at the Museum (2006, 20th Century Fox, dir. Shawn Levy, 115 min) Ben Stiller goes to work at the Museum of Natural History and finds the creatures coming to life at night. It's interesting to see model worlds (like the Maya, the Roman Coliseum, even train sets) come to life as if they were real. Owen Wilson is self-effacing in miniature; Robin Williams is the no-nonsense Teddy Roosevelt (maybe the last presidential icon of individualism), and a model baboon gives a golden shower.
Alpha Dog (2006, Universal/Sidney Kimmel, dir. Nick Cassavettes, 117 min, R, USA, p-1/a-1/r-1). This film came out the first week of 2007, a few days before the two kidnapped boys in Northeast Missouri were rescued. Maybe somehow the movie heightened awareness in the area before the rescue, as here a kid, Zack (Anton Yelchin) is kidnapped by a drug dealer's gang (sort of a pseudo-Mafia) when the kid's older brother fails to pay a debt. (In that sense, the movie plays on the theme of family vulnerability to what one member, even a kid, does.) The gang ring leader is Johnny Truelove "Jesse James Hollywood" (Emile Hirsch). The kid is entertained and treated well, taken to drug parties to get bonged, has his first sexual experience (underage), but then there is a terrible problem that he is a witness that will send about ten people to San Quentin. This will lead to a climax in the desert, somewhere around Zabriskie Point, perhaps. The film is the first major acting effort by 'Nsync start Justin Timberlake, and he plays the part of a nice sleazebag (Frankie Ballenbacher) well. But "they", in pre-production, had to shave his arms and chest and cover him with ugly tattoos (his legs already had them, as did one shoulder). You could say that's what actors must go through, even sometimes for Shakespeare. (You could also say this affects how others will perceive the actor from this point on.) Worse, after the "Onion Field" type crime, he has to disguise himself further, and in a bedroom scene, where he goes flaccid, he really looks like a plucked chicken, however colonial his facial disguise. The film gives us dates, times, places, and a running witness count, which makes it very unlikely that the kidnapping can end in anything but tragedy. Bruce Willis is boss Sonny but has little time on screen, and Matthew Barry is the media interviewer. Vincent Kartheiser (from Minneapolis) plays a cool kid at the party who wants to be nice but gets sucked in. Finally, they get caught years later, and two of them are on death row in San Quentin now. The name of the movie appears to refer to the "alpha male" of a pack of wolves. The script constantly throws homophobic slurs as a device by which gang members taunt each other.
Smokin' Aces (2007, Universal / Working Title, dir. and wr. Joe Carnahan, 109 min, R) When Buddy "Aces" Israel (Jeremy Piven) turns fibby against the mob, he holes up in a Lake Tahoe resort to be fended off against a parade of bizarre hit men. The movie turns into a parody of other violent "grindhouse" genres, including Tarantino, Kubrick and chainsaw. Occasionally there is interesting dialogue in gutter speech, such as whether aluminum causes Alzheimer's, or about the moral importance of blood loyalty. Ben Affleck seems out of character here. The movie goes into clinical details about the appearance changes (and cosmetic surgery) given to fibbies to infilitrate the mob. Finally one of the malignant infiltrates Richard (a handsome Ryan Reynolds) pulls the plug on Aces while the doors to intensive care are locked shut. It's actually funny. Also Andy Garcia, Jason Bateman, Zach Cumer.
Epic Movie (2007, 20th Century Fox, dir. Aaron Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, 86 min, PG-13) is a legally acceptable parody of epic fantasy movies from the writers of the "Scary Movie" franchise. The core story is about four orphans (one of them is a "normal" X-man) who assume a wardrobe (in a Wonka-like chocolate factory) that takes them to the land of Gnarnia, where they fight the White Bitch. The parodied fragments, ranging from "Snakes on a Plane" to Superman, get associated loosely as in a dream, with little logic. There is plenty of projectile vomiting and golden showers. There is some unappealing artificial chest hair. My own screenplay is called "American Epic" and ties together real plot ideas about sexuality and terrorism, and is unrelated to this film (I got lots of web hits on it when this film came out.)
Blood and Chocolate (2007, MGM/Lakeshore, dir. Katja von Garnier, UK/98 min, PG-13) gives us a very likeable, lanky Rennaissance man and artist/writer Aiden (Hugh Dancy), who is in Romania, running from a bench warrant for defending himselg against his father back in the U.S. His publisher even allows his use of a pseudonym, and his talents for historical drawings and stories (along the lines of Seth Cohen's "Atomic County" in "The O.C.") have made him almost famous. In a disco, he meets Vivian (Agnes Bruckner, from "Blue Car"), who works as a chocolatier, and soon she is drawn from her loyalty to her clan of werewolves, and her love for him. The clan leader is Gabriel (Olivier Martinez), and he surrounds himself with attractive young men also able to transform into wolves in ritual ceremonies. The basic story -- about creativity v. family loyalty -- seems stronger than all the mythological, Carpathian mountains stuff. The Cinemascope film really does treat us to spectacular and gritty on location views of Bucharest (a lot cheaper to buy a movie ticket than a planet ticket), which has a way to go to become a full fledged European capital, but then again, so does Warsaw (where I have spent some time). Some critics call this film "a guilty pleasure."
Pathfinder ("The Legend of the Ghost Warrior", 2007, 20th Century Fox, dir. Marcus Nispel, R, Canada, 107 min, orig. story Nils Gaup "Veiviserem") A story that bridges back to the earliest possible time in "American history," the vikings, has a Tarzan-like premise: Ghost (Karl Urban), a Norseman Viking raised by native Americans, defends his adopted people when the Vikings return. That might be hard since the people themselves look quite different. Some of the dialogue is in Icelandic. The film is spectacular in setting up an ancient, violent culture (there are decapitations aplenty) in sepia (sometimes almost black-and-white) tones (in 2.35 to 1). Russell Means, a Sioux who has been active in the Libertarian Party, plays Pathfinder himself. No relation to the Cooper novel (above). One problem is the British Columbia mountain scenery (complete with avalanche), which did not exist where the Vikings landed (except maybe a bit in Laborador). A couple of great lines: "You haven't earned the right to be here," and "You're not my kind."
Hitman (2007, 20th Century Fox, dir. Xavier Gens, France). Timothy Olymphant plays a "clone" hitman from the video game, intervening in a complex plot to depose the Russian government. I don't know about the clone idea, but the Russian politics makes sense. No relation to the Paladin book. Great line is "I am just a bureaucrat." Very stylized thriller.
The Invisible (2007, Hollywood / Spyglass, dir. David S. Goyer, novel and original film was "Den Osynlige" by Mats Wahl (Sweden, directed in 2002 by Bergvall and Simon Sandquist from American Video); Canada, 97 min, PG-13). Hollywood Pictures is one of Disney's companies, and it has been rather inactive recently. I wonder why this comes from Hollywood rather than Touchstone. In any case, this film is a genre "B movie" thriller based on a foreign thriller, and has mixed success at best (Hollywood did not submit it for early reviews). Canadian actor Justin Chastin plays Nick Powell, a soon-to-graduate likeable high school senior in Seattle (the movie was obviously filmed in Vancouver) with a gift for writing somewhat dark but interesting poetry. (Some of it is read in the film and it is nothing like the rants of the recent tragedy.) For all his charisma, he is too eager to give into temptation, taking money to provide advance tests and term papers to other students. (Hollywood can be careless in the way it dashes off academic integrity as important.) His mother (Marcia Gay Harden) is perfectionist and overprotective. When local punk girl Annie (Margarita Levieva) wrongly assumes Nick snitched on her for a jewel robbery, Nick is beaten up and left for dead in the woods. During an out-of-body experience (aka "ghost") that goes on for 2/3 of the movie, Justin solves the crime and figures out how to contact Annie to get her to save him. The OOB accounts for the title (it really isn't that much like "Hollow Man"). Chastin is quite compelling in his performance (he can be breathtaking to look at even in a hospital bed waking from a coma), and you wish he had a more believable script -- and that more was done with his poetry. A story like this really belongs in the indie, not B-movie market.
Nancy Drew: The Mystery of Hollywood Hills (2007, Warner Bros., dir. Andrew Flemming, story by Tiffany Paulsen). In a stereotyped teen movie, Nancy (Emma Roberts) plays super-girl and investigates the murder of an actress who had an unknown daughter with an inheritance. Josh Flitter and Max Thieriot impress. I'm afraid there will be sequels.
The Invasion (2007, Warner Bros. / Village Roadshow, 93 min, PG-13), a loose remake of Jack Finney's "Body Snatchers" (above) that combines (in "Andromeda Strain" mode) with the fear of an avian flu pandemic. A space shuttle, contaminated with a resilient alien virus, crashes into pieces all over the country. Soon there is a flu pandemic, but quickly a Washington DC psychiatrist (Nicole Kidman) ) realizes that a virus is causing people to become "possessed" by a group mind while in rem sleep (the skin exfoliation doesn't quite make sense). Once enough people are infected by this "communism" virus, world peace is achieved, and then, with the help of the chicken-pox-induced immunity of her own son, a vaccine is prepared to bring everybody back. Filmed in DC and Baltimore, and it has a B-movie quality that denies any sense of realism.
Evan Almighty ("Bruce Almighty 2", 2007, Universal / SpyGlass / Relativity / Shady Acres, dir. Tom Shadyac, 90 min, PG). This time Steve Carell is Congressman Evan Baxter, and Morgan Freeman ("Se7en") is still God. Carell, who couldn't keep his chest hair ("chest beard") on in an earlier Universal comedy, this time undergoes a second puberty and can't control is facial beard. (Apparently Noah, like Samson, was real virile and real hairy.) His builds an ark and God provides the floor. There is plenty of pork barrel to go around. In this monument to zoological heterosexuality, there are two of every animal, and bird pooh on good clothes. The screenplay gets traction because Baxter just has to get the ark built before the flood, when the zoning and building code people close in. This is a pretty wacky satire of evangelical Biblical literalism. "With all these species, what's being done about the feces?"
Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007, Universal / Working Title / Studio Canal, dir. Stekkar Kapur, 114 min, PG-13, UK/Spain) This is a bigger remake and continuation of the 1998 film (you couldn't call it "Elizabeth II" anyway), slightly later in time (it follows her own imprisonment, and covers the war with Spain). The look of the film is typically grand (more Hollywood-like than a Shakespeare-like history play could be, even if some indie history films today look just as grand -- why wasn't full 2.35:1 used?), with a touch of Kubirck. Cate Blancett is the ascetic looking virgin Queen, shameful to her enemies for her childlessness as well as departure from Catholicism. The film details the attempted assassination, the decapitation execution of Mary Queen of Scots, the possible love affair with Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen), and the defense against the Spanish Armada with fire ships. But "The Golden Age" really began after the events of this film. It was not a "gilded age." There is some interesting political dialogue, as when the Queen comments that native Americans discovered by Raleigh have no concept of a real ruler. She can be quite bossy, as in one scene she orders Sir Walter Raleigh to "kneel." (There is a similar but gentler scene with Tony Blair in the Miramax 2006 film "The Queen" about Elizabeth II). In most of civilized history, power structures existed by their own god-given right, with the rest of moral behavior belonging within the family. Sexual intercourse built all the bridges.
Strange Wilderness (2008, Paramount / Level 1, dir. Fred Wolf, wr. with Peter Gaulke, ex prod Adam Sandler, 87 min, R). Apparently the writer is depicting himself, as played by an athletic Minnesotan Steve Zahn, who does not yet look 40. When Peter's "Animal Planet" is going of the air for low ratings, Peter takes his "friends" on a slapstick adventure to find Bigfoot, with catastrophic accidents along the way. Things roll in this movie: arms, in one case a body is in halves, with the upper half alive (quite well done, reminiscent of "Pieces"). And Peter almost loses an essential "limb" to a turkey. The Sasquatch has hair in all the wrong places. The script is full of manipulative lines almost worthy of David Lynch and "woodchucks chuck" and some will wonder about a movie poking fun at animals after the San Francisco Zoo tragedy.
The Other Boleyn Girl (2008, Columbia/Focus, dir. Justin Chadwick, novel by Phillippa Gregory, 115 min, PG-13) takes the historical tale of the scheming Anne Boleyn (Natalie Portman), her older sister Mary (Scarlett Johansson), King Henry VIII (Eric Bana) and even brother George (Jim Sturgess) to the point that maybe the "incest" that led to Ann's beheading really happened. The audience rather laughed in the scene near the end with George (who may have been homosexual) in the desperate attempt to conceive a male heir. Visually, the scene is funny and has some subliminal clues. It's a curious irony is that the only chest you see in this movie is male, and it is comparative. (As you look back on the story, you see how the point of all political power was how upper class society regulated sexual intercourse (and it seems like an oddly appropriate movie to see in the middle of the gay marriage debate today -- to understand the "conservative" perspective. Early on, Mary is told that she should offer her "services" to the King in order to advance "her family." That's what people really believed then. Sometimes they still do.) The historical irony, of course, is that daughter Elizabeth would reign for 45 years and bring England to its glory, after Henry split with the Catholic church.
10,000 B.C. (2008, Warner Bros. / Legendary / Centropolis, dir. Roland Emmerich, Omar Sharif narrates, 95 min, PG-13) There is a line a mid-point where hero D'Leh (22 year old NYC actor Steven Strait) is told something like this by a tribal wiseman. "Men build concentric circles around themselves. For some, the circle just protects his wife and kids. For some, it includes brothers and sisters. For great men, it encompasses whole worlds." This explains how tribal thinking precedes global freedom, perhaps. D'Leh, a wooly mammoth hunter, finds his world expands as he goes on a journey for the future of his "tribe", with his grandmother tucked away in the mountains wielding a prophecy. Halfway through he finds a primitive village, burned out, where he has saved everyone from a sabre-toothed tiger by saving the tiger's life and befriending it. Eventually he finds a river (the Nile) with shipping and signs of an old civilization that is now building the Pyramids. The final "political" confrontation with the gods (wooly mammoths are used to drag the stones up the ramps, and they figure into the debacle) may not make a lot of sense today, but the scenery is spectacular, with a realistic idea of how they could have been built. The look of the scene reminds one of Mel Gibson's "Apocalypto" about the Maya. The trouble is, most scholars think they were built somewhere around 2600 BC, not 10000 BC.
Sex and the City (2008, New Line / HBO, dir. Michael Patrick King, book by Candace Bushnell, original series on HBO, 146 min, very hard R (gets close to NC-17)) comes across as a heterosexual "Queer as Folk" with pretty much the same kinds of plot lines, particularly a man who jilts one of the girls (Miranda) on her wedding day. There's a line where one of the characters says that giving yourself up for your "partner" isn't love, it's marriage, and I suppose the movie makes the case that heterosexuals can do a pretty good job of ruining marriage on their own. There's other cutesy stuff like covering oneself with sushi, rose petals that look like American Beauty, and a 1.85:1 cinematography that looks TV-like and pink but not that feminine. The men's bodies are often shaved (such as the LA stud Dante), much more so than they would be in a gay soap; in one scene there is actually a mock crotch shaving, and later, during Miranda's grief, there is plenty of discussion on the Mexican Pacific coast about female pubic hair. I saw this on a Monday night in a large AMC auditorium half full, almost all female. I think even straight men would rather see a movie version of QAF, which sounds like a good idea for Paramount (which has closer ties to Showtime). At least the personal confrontations actually make more sense in a gay context. There are at least two shots of happy gay male couples (as in "American Beauty").
Somehow, the title of the movie reminds me of the 60s song "Summer in the City."
Picture This! (2008, MGM / ABC Family, dir. Stephen Herek). A teenager senior girl Mandy (Ashley Tisdale) battles her boorish father (Kevin Pollak) to get to go to a party with the smooth-skinned swimming team star Drew (Robbie Arnell). Yes, he looks shaved or at least larval. The title of the movie comes from her dad's insistence on sending cell phone pictures proving she is not breaking his quadruple-grounding rules (in one sequence, leading to a narrow miss with a car wreck she takes the keys from the ignition of a moving car to show them to him). At one point a girl gets a cell-phone picture of her puking. The name of the movie matches the name of a well-known indie film distributor, sometimes of GLBT films.
The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008, Paramount / Nickelodeon, dir. Mark Walters, screenplay by Karey Kirkpatrick, David Berebaum, John Sayles, books by Tony DeTerlizzi and Holly Black, PG, 97 min) consolidates the four books into a fantasy in which Freddie Highmore plays two twin boys living in an estate "haunted" by goblins; the book by a patriarch contains the secret to keeping them at bay. The movie could be taken as an "existential" children's allegory on the value of knowledge for its own sake (which may be why Sayles wanted to work on it).
Deception (2008, 20th Century Fox, dir. Marcel Langenegger). Account Jonathan McQuarry (Ewan McGreggor) is met by a mysterious attorney Wyatt (Hugh Jackman) who invites him to join a "Club Sexy," and he gets drawn into a money laundering scheme involving a missing heiress. The movie movies from New York to Madrid and hints, with some prescience, at how financial markets could be undermined by short sales, swaps, and transfers. The DVD notes go into how the movie explores the need for many men to find short-term intimacy and how this can be exploited.
Mamma Mia! (2008, Universal, dir. Phyllida Lloyd, based on songs of ABBA, composed by Benny Anderssen and Bjorn Ulvaeus, musical, UK, PG) The music for this was composed in the late 60s and early 70s, and the British musical came out in 1999. The original film was Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell (1968). Here, Meryl Streep is the Mamma, who does not know which of three men is the father who should give her daughter (Amanda Seyfried) away to Sky (Dominic Cooper). Although the concept (a big fat Greek wedding) is heterosexist, the lilting songs ("Dancing Queen" etc) were common in gay clubs during my own coming out. And in some of the dance numbers, older men (including Pierce Brosnan, who looks somewhat worn and diminished) get stripped of their shirts in a way that would please the drag queens at Town DC.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008, MGM / TWC / Medoapro, dir. wr. Woody Allen, 96 min, PG-13, Spain) is a bizarre romantic "comedy" of two young women (Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson) who summer in Barcelona and get involved in a long chain of pseudo-romantic encounters. Javier Bardem is the rogue Spanish painter. Blogger review.
Swing Vote (2008, Touchstone, dir. Joshua Michael Stern, 120 min) bankrolled by star Kevin Costner, this film sets up Costner as a working class man with a daughter to gets him into a situation where his vote decides a presidential election. Blogger.
College (2008, MGM, dir. Deb Hagan 94 min, R). Three high school seniors pretend to be "adults" at college frat parties. Blogger review.
Tropic Thunder (2008, Dreamworks, dir. Ben Stiller, 106 min, R) This is Stiller's irreverant comedy about making an epic movie about the Vietnam war, when the actors get captured by drug lords and have to fight a real war. The movie is notorious for some dialogue about people with disabilities that some found offensive, despite the context of Hollywood's self parody. Blogger discussion.
Far Cry (2008, Touchstone/Brightligt, dir. Uwe Boll, 95 min, R, Canada), action film about a mad scientist making perfect soldiers. One of the films subject to litigation by US Copyright group because of P2P piracy. Blogger.
Max Payne (2008, 20th Century Fox, dir. John Moore, 100 min, PG-13). A former police detective, his family murdered, gets into hot water as he chases a rogue pharmaceutical company aimed at making hairless and tattooed “ universal soldiers” as avatars or robots to fight terrorism. Blogger.
Passengers (2008, Tri-Star, dir. Rodrigo Garcia, Canada, PG-13). Anne Hathaway, as a therapist, and Patrick Wilson try to reconstruct a plane crash that they survived from, only to find they are climbing “Jacob’s Ladder.” Blogger.
Frost / Nixon (2008, Universal / Imagine / Working Title / Relativity Media / Studio Canal, dir. Ron Howard, 122 min, R) Michael Sheen plays the foppish David Frost who brings down Richard Nixon with his 1977 interviews. Blogger. Track there also for "David Frost Interviews Richard Nixon" (1977, Liberation, dir. Jorn Winther).
Inkheart (2009, New Line, dir. Iain Softley, based on the novel by Cornelia Funke). A father, reading fantasy novels to his daughter, causes them to come to life, where as the mother has gone back into the novel. Blogger.
Taken (2009, 20th Century Fox, dir. Pierre Morel, France, PG-13). Liam Neeson plays an ex-cia agent to hunts down the slave traders who kidnap his daughter in Paris. Blogger.
The International (2009, Columbia, dir. Tom Tykwer, Germany, R) The ICCB bank is implicated in bringing down the world's economy by dealing with illegal arms and making everyone a debtor. Clive Owen, Naomi Watts. Blogger.
He's Just Not That Into You (2009, New Line / Flower Films, dir. Ken Kwapis, based on a book by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo ("He's Just Not That Into You: The No-Excuses Truth to Understanding Guys", blogger.
I Love You, Man (2009, Dreamworks, dir. John Hamburg, R, 110 min). A realtor has to learn male bonding to find a best man for his wedding. Blogger.
State of Play (2009, Universal / Working Title, dir. Kevin MacDonald, 207 min). A congressman (Ben Affleck) has to deal with the mysterious death of his mistress, as a reporter (Russell Crowe) and blogger investigate. Blogger.
The Proposal (2009, Touchstone, dir. Anne Fletcher, 107 min, PG-13) A female lead editor (Sandra Bullock) conscripts a junior editor (Ryan Reynolds) to marry her to get out of an immigration mess. Blogger.
Confessions of a Shopaholic (2009, Touchstone, dir. P. J. Hogan, 110 min). Blogger.
District 9 (2009, TriStar, dir. Neill Blomkamp, prod. Peter Jackson, South Africa, R) Apartheid with stranded alien prawns. Shartlo Copley’s manly bod gets a pummeling in this movie in his transformation to prawn. Blogger.
The Final Destination 3-D (2009, New Line, dir. David R. Ellis) fourth of the franchise. Blogger.
Surrogates (2009, Touchstone, dir. Jonathan Mostow, 89 min, PG-13, USA). Surrogates are the logical extension of the Internet. Blogger.
Up in the Air (2009, Paramount/Montecito, dir. Jason Reitman, 109 min, R, USA). George Clooney escapes real life with compulsive travel in a career firing people. Bring on Suze Orman! Blogger.
Unstoppable (2010, 20th Century Fox, dir. Ridley Scott, PG-13). A runaway train in PA. Blogger.
Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) moved to http://www.doaskdotell.com/movies/meyes.htm
The Bourne Identity (and Supremacy) are at http://www.doaskdotell.com/movies/msum.htm
ÓCopyright 2005/2007 by Bill Boushka. All rights reserved, subject to fair use.
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