Category: The Greats

Apocalypse Now

Overview:  Captain Willard travels to Cambodia in pursuit of Colonel Kurtz in Francis Ford Coppola’s definitive Vietnam masterpiece.  United Artists; 1979; Rated R; 155 Minutes We Live, As We Dream — Alone:  Coppola permits precisely one minute of calm, settled audience.  The medium long-shot stationary perspective, the frame held on unmoving palm trees.  The serene and soothing opening notes of a musical piece. Then the whirring of helicopter propellers, rhythmic white noise to lull us to our sleep and his dream.  The dust rises first, Jim Morrison’s haunted wail pronounces the apocalypse as a helicopter passes, and napalm firebombs...

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Paris, Texas

Overview:  A lost man is found wandering in the desert and returned to the family he abandoned years before. Twentieth Century Fox; 1984;  Rated R; 147 Minutes America:  In Paris, Texas, German-born auteur Wim Wenders’ indulges an aesthetic fascination with America’s landscape.  His characters here wander less than any of his previous, but still, they wander against the backdrop of vast unforgiving desserts, suburban neighborhoods, busy winding highways, broken back alleys.  Behind the human drama, the camera feels as if it’s exploring, in search of something specific.  It finds what it seeks in the film’s harshest, most illustrated landscape: ...

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Overview:  Milos Foreman’s Oscar-winning adaptation of Ken Kesey’s anti-establishment novel.  United Artists; 1975; Rated R; 133 Minutes. Pe-cul-iar:  Randall P. McMurphy is not crazy.  Erratic, reckless, and selfish, to be sure. But  Nicholson’s version of the One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’s protagonist is acutely aware, sharp and manipulative, an intelligent rebel infiltrating as a politician to challenge the status quo.  He is a keenly  observant card shark, an on-the-spot basketball coach, and a veritable revolutionary fighting for ideals of freedom and democracy within an authoritarian dictatorship.  As defined by the law he broke and by the inflexible rules...

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The Big Lebowski

Overview:  A case of mixed identity pulls a slacker and his bowling buddies into a kidnap scheme; 1998; Rated R; 117 Minutes. The Problem of Likability:  I always imagined The Big Lebowski must be a problematic film for the aspiring film critic to approach.  I’ll risk my qualifications to admit that while I can list over a dozen film techniques introduced or perfected in Citizen Kane, given the choice between Orson Wells’ seminal classic and the Coen’s befuddling cult classic, I’m choosing The Dude.  Every time.  I’ve seen and talked about The Big Lebowski more times than any other...

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In the Mood For Love

Overview: Set in 1960s Hong Kong, In the Mood For Love, directed by Wong Kar-Wai, is an examination of how the seed of romance can form and leave an indelible mark. USA Films. 2000. Rated PG. 98 Minutes. The Romance: With a delicate and natural touch, Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung bring to life the bond that their character’s form over mutual suspicion of their spouses. As the characters begin a romance, absent of sexual contact, viewers fall further and further under the influence of their organic on-screen compatibility. The Setting: The arrangement of imagery is deliberate and top-notch...

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Oldboy (2003)

Overview: A man is kidnapped and imprisoned for 15 years, then set free with no explanation. 2003. Show East/Tartan Films. Rated R. 120 Minutes. Korean Filmmaking: Oldboy is the second part of director Park Chan-Wook’s Vengeance Trilogy, and a benchmark in the history of Korean film. It brought a specific style of Korean film (films dealing with violent or disturbing subject matter) to a wider audience and served as an introduction to Korean film for many viewers (including this one). I could ask many acquaintances who aren’t avid movie-goers if they’ve watched a Korean film, and many of them...

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Alien

Overview:  A crew of space miners unknowingly allow a discourteous and inhuman passenger aboard their towing ship.  Twentieth Century Fox; 1979; Rated R; 117 Minutes. Nostromo: As is the case with so many science-fiction masterpieces, the key to appreciating Alien begins with an investigation of the ship.  The standard of the time (Star Trek, Star Wars, Close Encounters) dictated that vehicles of space travel be exhibitions of futurism, technological advancement, progress.  Ridley Scott famously contended with his design team on every aspect of this movie to prevent his movie from accepting this standard.  The Nostromo is not built in...

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Children of Men

Overview:  In 2027, a man and his ex-wife attempt to traffic an illegal immigrant in a world broken by global infertility.  Universal Pictures; 2006; Rated R; 109 Minutes. What the Camera Shows:  By now, anyone who has seen, heard of, or discussed Children of Men is well aware of its technical mastery.  It’s an easy diagnosis to make, as the first mark in favor of this reputation is established within two minutes of film time.  The tragic news on the television screen is all the exposition necessary. The empty faces staring at the news report.  The disinterested purchase of...

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There Will Be Blood

Overview: An independent oil man explores his prospects amid the backdrop of early 1900’s California. Paramount Vantage/Miramax Films; 2007; Rated R; 158 Minutes. Visual Storytelling: There Will Be Blood begins with fourteen minutes of wordless, character-building genius. Director Paul Thomas Anderson sets the stage for the compelling character Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis) with no dialogue, a few sharp notes of score, and effective visual storytelling of the origins of Plainview’s success in oil. In those quiet and deliberate minutes, Anderson sets Plainview up as a character immediately deserving of the audience’s investment and draws us in to where his...

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On the Waterfront

Overview:  A former boxer turned dock worker struggles with his involvement in a mob’s control of his community. Columbia Pictures; 1954; 118 Minutes. Everything Else:  Addressed honestly, the supporting structures set in place within On the Waterfront are most accurately measured somewhere between “standard” and “pretty good.”  The narrative of the working class heroes struggling against oppressive corrupt powers was not a fresh one then and it certainly isn’t fresh now.  The romantic pursuit feels obligatory.  Karl Malden and Eva Marie Saint (Father Baron and Edie Doyle) contribute performances that strengthen these two narrative layers.  But even at their...

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Shotgun Stories

Overview:  Tensions between two sets of half-brothers explode into a tragic family feud. International Film Circuit; 2007; Rated PG-13; 92 minutes. From the Beginning: From the very first minute, we are deafened by the quiet.  It’s in the distressed position of that long body.  That fatigued breathing.The walls of the house too low for the curtains—a woman’s touch.  The flip of the cards onto the nightstand.  The empty drawers.  The buckshot scars on his back.  This is a movie about a particular type of mean-ness. Not everyone has lived in or around places like this, but most of us...

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The Truman Show

Overview:  An insurance salesman discovers his entire life has been presented to the world as a 24/7 television program. Paramount; 1998;  Rated PG; 103 Minutes Contextualization:  The 1990s marked an interesting moment in movie history.  Studios realized the full potential of movies as magic moneymaking machines. This pre-dated the internet hitting its full potential as a chaotic war machine capable of levelling the democratic cultural battlefield.   Viewership was limited to a single voting method—the box office.  So the flood of funding produced, with few deviations, a string of safe-bet and formulaic genre exercises and what felt like monthly epics...

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Annie Hall

Overview: Woody Allen’s quirky classic follows Alvy Singer and Annie Hall, two seemingly mismatched New Yorkers, as they try to navigate their way through a young relationship. 1977; Rated PG; 93 minutes. The Opening: Annie Hall opens with Alvy Singer delivering a biting monologue on his views of life and relationships. Like much of the film, the scene is misleadingly simple. On the surface, this is just a man in front of a stark background, addressing the audience. When you dig a little deeper, it’s clear that this guy has a lot to say about the world. Singer is a cynical, educated, liberal comedian with eloquence and talent that he doesn’t seem to deserve. He shouldn’t be likable – He’s rude, impatient, selfish, a self-proclaimed “bigot for the left.” – but somehow, and I’m speaking solely toward the character, he’s easy to root for. Throughout the film we see Singer rant and rave, fumble with conversation, and generally self-destruct.  Annie Hall as a Romantic Comedy: Most would call Annie Hall a romantic comedy. There are a number of interesting humorous visual gags and the writing is filled with tongue-in-cheek humor. You’ve probably heard this film quoted, whether you knew it or not. The romance aspect is big, too. The focus of the film is the relationship between Singer and Annie, who is played with layered charm and emotional nuance...

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Adaptation

Overview: Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman writes himself into his movie script adaptation of a Susan Orlean novel about a colorful orchid thief.  2002; Rated R; 114 Minutes.   Miracle Number One:With Nicolas Cage taking on dual roles as twin brothers Charlie and Donald Kaufmann and casual collector of Oscar nominations Meryl Streep in top form as Susan Orlean, it’s almost inconceivable that any actor could steal the screen.  Chris Cooper does just that.  His portrayal of John Laroche, the eccentric collector for whom all of this exists, lends the character elements of hilarity, humanity, and heartache, and provides the viewer...

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