Category Archives: 1970s

Political Movies

Like many Americans, I am watching the primary races with a keen eye. Unfortunately, that has taken much of my time that I would normally watch movies. I want to share some of my favorite political movies.

Immediately, I think of movies like V for Vendetta as well as The Last King of Scotland but if I am going to look at American politics, there are two movies that stand out head and shoulders above the rest.

pres31All the President’s Men – I referenced this movie just a few weeks ago when I looked at Spotlight because of the parallels that I saw in the two movies in terms of journalism. But All the President’s Men shows not only the journalistic side but also the political side of the Nixon Watergate scandal. It is seriously compelling and is well worth the time to watch it.

james-stewart-mr-smith-goes-to-washington-2Mr. Smith Goes to Washington – I’m surprised that Marco Rubio doesn’t use this film on his Campaign trail. If you are unfamiliar, it tells the story of a man who is set to be a senator by the spineless governor of his state. He is a naive and idealistic and he wants to change everything starting from the building of a camp for children but his plans promptly collide with political corruption and there the true fight starts.

I enjoyed this movie because it addresses what we all know but never want to believe or talk about. How political corruption influences all of us and our lives as politicians and leaders just want to earn more and more wealth and power. But, this movie also shows us the other side of the story: a decent man who believes in something, and fights for his beliefs until the end. I might just write Jefferson Smith on my ballot.

Tell me what you think. What is your favorite political movie and why?

Alien (1979)

Ebert – Great Movies Review – 2003

Ebert – 30th Anniversary Review – 2009

Alien1In Alien we follow a seven man crew en-route to earth on board the huge space freighter “Nostromo”. The crew is in cryosleep, but the on board computer interrupts the journey when a foreign radio signal is picked up. It originates from an uninhabited planet and the crew lands to investigate. There they make contact with an alien life-form…

What makes Alien so great is the constant feel of uneasiness. Right from the beginning you have a feeling that something is wrong. The crew is not particularly friendly towards each other, and you truly feel all the in-group tension. The ship itself is a huge worn out industrial-style maze of halls and corridors, and it feels more like a prison than a place to live. It is as if not only the alien but also the ship itself is against the humans. The alien itself is the scariest monster in history because it is a ruthless, soul-less parasite completely devoid of any human or civilized traits. alien3The design of the monster is a stroke of genius. Sure it has a humanoid form, but it has no facial traits or anything else which could give away emotions or intentions. Its actions reveals no weaknesses nor civilized intelligence. The alien is more or less the opposite of everything human and civilized, plus the creature is more well-adapted to the inhumane interior of the ship than the humans who build it. To sum up, you then have a setting where the humans are caught in a web of in-group tensions, an inhospitable ship and the perfect killer which thrives in the ships intestines. You almost get the feel that the humans are the ones who are alienated to each other and to their own ship.

Ridley Scott tells the story with a perfectly synchronized blend of visuals and sounds. The actors do a superb job, portraying their characters in a subtle but very realistic way. The seven man crew is not a bunch of Hollywood heroes. They are ordinary people with strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes. In this way they all seem so fragile when confronted with the enemy.

alien6As mentioned the ship is very claustrophobic and Ridley Scott adds to the eeriness by using camera movement, lights and shadows in an effective way. The living quarters are bright and should be comfortable to the crew, but there is something sterile about it all. The rest of the ship is basically a huge basement. The music by Jerry Goldsmith underlines the eeriness so well, and the movie wouldn’t have worked without his score. Combined with the sounds of the ship it all adds to the uneasiness.

alien4This is not a story about heroic people who boldly teams up against evil. It’s a story about ordinary people facing true fear, which is the fear without a face. The fear we can’t understand and can’t negotiate with, because its only goal is to survive on the expense of us. It’s a story where some people bravely fight back whilst others are destroyed by the terror. It’s a story where people are killed in a completely random way. There is no higher-order justice behind who gets to live and who dies. All seven characters are just part of a race where the fittest – not necessarily the most righteous – will prevail, and all seven characters start the race on an equal footing. None of them are true heroes, and none of them are true villains.

alien5All the above makes Alien so great as a horror movie. The terror isn’t just the Alien itself, it’s the entire atmosphere which gets so effectively under your skin, that you just can’t shrug it off after the end credits like you can with so many other Hollywood horror movies. The title “Alien” doesn’t just refer to the monster, it is the theme of the movie and it is the feeling you have during and after the movie.

Chinatown (1974)

Roger Ebert Original 1974 review:

Roger Ebert Great Movies Review – 2000:

Based on a script by Robert Towne, directed by Roman Polanski, and starring Jack Nicholson, 1974’s Chinatown takes place in 1930s Los Angeles. Private Investigator Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is hired by a woman who claims that her name is Evelyn Mulwray. She wants Gittes to follow her husband, Hollis, and discover whether he’s having an affair. Gittes gets some pictures of Hollis with a young woman and hands them over to Evelyn. The next day, the pictures are published on the front page of the newspaper and Gittes is confronted by another woman (Faye Dunaway) who explains that she — and not the woman who hired him — is the actual Evelyn Mulwray. Gittes then learns that Hollis has turned up dead, drowned in a reservoir.

chinatown3Gittes suspects that Hollis was murdered and launches his own investigation. This eventually leads Jake to Hollis’s former business partner, Noah Cross (John Huston). Noah also happens to be the father of Evelyn and he offers double Gittes’ fee if Gittes will track down Hollis’s younger girlfriend. As his investigation continues, Gittes discovers that Hollis’ murder was connected to both the continued growth of Los Angeles as a city and a truly unspeakable act that occurred several years in the past. Nobody, it turns out, is what he or she originally appears to be. I really can’t say anything more without spoiling the film for those who haven’t seen it before. Continue reading Chinatown (1974)

Day 29 – 30 Day Movie Challenge

A Movie From Your Childhood – 30 Day Movie Challenge

I could pretend that I had great taste in film even as a toddler, but that’s no fun. I do remember watching movies like Jurassic Park as a kid, but one that I come back to over and over again is Disney’s Robin Hood. For some reason, this treat tends to get the cold shoulder from animation purists whenever it comes up in conversation. For the life of me, I just don’t understand the hostility to this cozy, endearing adventure/comedy.

Released while the studio was still recovering from Walt’s death, this was one of the first Disney productions that didn’t benefit from his personal touch. The studio was still jittery when it came to artistic direction now that their greatest supporter was gone. It’s unusual to Disney films because it stays very tight on its characters. This leaves the plot winding a bit aimlessly at times, so there’s not a big payoff in the end, but the care with which the characters are handled grows on the viewer as the film strolls along.

Looking back, as an adult and a film snob, I can see that the picture is notorious for its corner-cutting animation, it simply doesn’t have the sparkling hand-drawn detail of earlier Disney masterpieces, or the glitzy sheen of the latter ones. It’s certainly one of the more crudely-drawn productions of the company. But even when you stack up the complaints lobbed at this incarnation of the Robin Hood tale, they really don’t matter, because in the end we get a richly entertaining good time, and I’m glad to say that this film is just as captivating to my children as it was to me.

What movies do you remember fondly from your childhood? What do you think about Robin Hood? Let me know in a comment below or on Twitter or Facebook.

Day 28 – 30 Day Movie Challenge

Favorite Movie From Your Favorite Director – 30 Day Movie Challenge

While my first instinct when going for my favorite director is to answer with Hitchcock, I don’t want to tread familiar territory. I already discussed my love for North By Northwest which is my favorite Hitchcock Film, although Rear Window could easily slide in there, but alas, I already discussed it too. So instead of pouring more deserving adoration on a director that everybody knows, I will extol the works of a lesser known director that I adore.

 

Sidney Lumet directed such an impressive string of movies that I am surprised that his name isn’t as familiar as Scorsese or Hitchcock or Spielberg. I think the reason behind this is the variety and style of his movies, There is no such thing as a Lumet type movie. He was diverse in his style, genre, and topics and yet he brought such a passion for the art and coaxed from his actors some of the best performances I’ve ever seen. This list speaks for itself: 12 Angry Men, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Fail-Safe, The Hill, and who can forget The Wiz. But his greatest film (that’s right, even better than 12 Angry Men which I love) is Network.

When I watch Network, I shake my head in wonder and think, “Lumet was not only an artistic genius but a fortune-teller!” He saw the future of television and its influence on popular culture and society. I wonder if Lumet and the rest of the players involved fully grasped how truly prophetic this movie would be. Network was intended, for all purposes, as a satire but in hindsight it was actually an oracle; a crystal ball super imposed on the big screen.

Peter Finch (who won a posthumous Oscar for Best Actor) plays Howard Beale, the nightly news anchor at UBS. A one time big shot journalist, his ratings have been in decline for some time now. Beale announces on air that he’s being forced to retire in two weeks due to low ratings and that he will commit suicide live on the air before then. Naturally, a media frenzy ensues with network heads demanding Beale be fired immediately but up and coming network executive Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) only notices the sharp increase in ratings. The beautiful, ambitious and amoral Diana is the future of television. Everything and Everyone is reduced to ratings. Howard Beale’s breakdown as well as a bank robbery by a quasi marxist terrorist group simply serves as inspiration for her unending quest for ratings. The ideas cooking in Diana’s head are what we now know as “reality tv”.

Frank Hackett’s (Robert Duvall) character is also the future of television. He could not care less about the news division or even the quality of the network for that matter. He is a CCA (The Communication Corporation of America) man. This is the company that has purchased UBS and as far as Hackett is concerned UBS exists to serve the interests of CCA and it’s shareholders. And to that end he approves of Diana’s programming schemes once he sees the ratings skyrocket. Mind you, this film was made in 1976, years before all the cable “news” networks even existed and way before we had people willing to give up their privacy and what little dignity they have left on national television just to be recognized and become reality show “celebrities”.

The performances are all powerful and magnificent even the brief on screen time by Max Schumacher’s wife is gut wrenching. Beatrice Straight won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in what is arguably the shortest time on screen for any winner previously or since. Faye Dunaway also won for Best Lead Actress as did Paddy Chayefsky for Best Screenplay. I think it’s a testament to a real actor’s talent when they can make the audience forget the movie star who’s interpreting a role and focus on the character. As I watch Network, I don’t see the movie star Faye Dunaway. I only see Diana Christensen. The same is true for Holden, Duvall and Finch. This is what masterful acting and movie making is. The film’s best known scene is known for a line that is repeated over and over again, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

So, What do you think of Lumet’s body of work? Do you have a favorite Director? Perhaps Steven Soderbergh, Spike Jonze, or Darren Aronofsky? I’d love to hear your comments on Network or hear your pick for this challenge. Leave me a comment below or on Twitter or Facebook

Day 19 – 30 Day Movie Challenge

Favorite Movie Based Upon a Book

This category is very close to what could be another category. It would be a similar category but I think the results would be very different. That category would be looking for the best book that has been adapted to a film. Since this is a movie challenge, it is only right for the questions to focus on a film instead of a book. My favorite book that has been turned into a film is the Lord of the Rings, but my favorite film (that happens to be adapted from a novel which I have never read) is One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975). It was the first film to sweep the 5 major awards at the Oscars: Best Picture, Actor, Actress, Director, and Screenplay since Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night did it 41 years earlier.

The film is based directly upon Ken Kesey’s novel of the same name. The film asks a profound yet difficult sociological question. What is the proper balance between freedom and order? Randall P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) is being transferred to a mental facility for evaluation from the state prison where he is serving his time for statutory rape. This transfer is coming after complaints of aggressive behavior. Once on the ward, McMurphy makes it his goal to upset the status-quo. He butts heads with his head caretaker Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) and provokes rebellion among the other patients. This rebellion is at times uplifting and we cheer as we see these patients grow, but at other times it’s destructive especially during the ending of the film. Nurse Ratched is often portrayed as an unflinching power hungry authority figure. But in her own way, she does seem concerned for the well being of her patients.

I don’t want to spoil the ending which will leave you weeping while you grin from ear to ear, because I know that this is a treasure that far too few people have seen. But I can say that both sides of the original question of freedom and order are balanced out. The film inquires about how much individual freedom is necessary, and how much social control is necessary. But it doesn’t give any answers to these questions. On the other hand, George Orwell’s 1984 raises this same issue, but the answer is clear in that classic, whereas here Director Milos Foreman lets us decide for ourselves. It also differs from 1984 in its modern-day setting, as opposed to the future of 1984. This makes the question more timely and realistic as opposed to the more speculation of Orwell’s work. Foreman expects us to exercise our freedom and bring our own assumptions, feelings and thoughts to the film, so that we may interpret it according to our values instead of having another view thrust upon us

As I said before, I have not read Ken Kesey’s acclaimed novel, so I cannot judge the film as based upon the book. In my opinion, it is a fruitless endeavor to compare a film and a book, they are distinct forms of art and have their own advantages and drawbacks. That being said, one way to judge the quality of an older film is to look at some of the supporting cast that Found their fame by using the film as a diving board. This one produced a few, namely Danny Devito and Christopher Lloyd. Do you have a favorite film that is based upon a book or some other form of literature? I’d love to hear your picks or you can comment on One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest if you have seen it. You can leave your comments below or on Twitter or Facebook.

Day 14 – 30 Day Movie Challenge

A Movie That No One Would Expect You To Love

I was interested in this topic from the first time I read the challenge because of the way it is worded. It is asking for a movie that no one would expect you to love. This doesn’t imply that you actually do love that movie. It forces you to put yourself in the shoes of those that know you. You have to inspect your own preferences. If the challenge was asking for a film that you actually liked, then it would say, “A movie that people would be surprised to find that you loved.”

I am running short on time because this weekend is my son’s 8th birthday and my aunt and uncle just came into town tonight so I have been entertaining this afternoon. But I must not neglect in my duty to the challenge. I think that people would be surprised to know that I actually like The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I think it is a lot of fun, and the musical numbers will be stuck in your head for days. Tim Curry as the transvestite from the planet of Transylvania is funny, creepy, and campy all at once. This is my favorite movie to watch on Halloween.

But I don’t think that anyone would expect me to like just about anything in the horror genre. I don’t particularly enjoy being scared. I only watch horror movies on my own terms. I can think of a few enjoyable horror movies that I’ve seen in the past few years, namely The Strangers and Insidious. But there is no way I would ever be caught dead watching the latest incarnation of the Saw franchise, Saw V. I actually loved the first Saw movie. I thought the twist at the end was fabulous and I didn’t see it coming at all.

So what about you? What do you hate so much that everybody knows it and what would people be shocked to know that you love? I want to share in your love and hatred of cinema. Leave me a message in the comments below or on Twitter or Facebook.

Day 03 – 30 Day Movie Challenge

A Movie That Makes You Really Happy

I didn’t want to cheat on this one like I did on day one, so I was struggling between two films that really make me happy. The Princess Bride and Blazing Saddles. However in my wrestling between these two choices, I realized that each of these films makes me happy for a different reason. Looking deeper, I found that I have at least two categories that I use to classify happy movies, those that are ridiculously funny and those that are heartwarming. Therefore, I’m not cheating by putting forward a selection for each of these types.

If we’re going off of pure funniness, then the winner would be Blazing Saddles. I must admit that I saw this movie at much too young an age. I was a latch-key kid, spending several hours alone at home every night after school before my Mom and Dad got home from work. That gave me time to explore my parent’s collection of films. I probably saw this before I turned 12, but growing up in a town that is still to this day visibly divided by the railroad tracks, I understood the racial dynamic. I probably shouldn’t have been allowed to see it till High School, but I don’t think I was irreparably damaged. This is one of those films that has entered my vocabulary, one that my dad and I quote back and forth… “What’s a dashing urbanite like you doing in a rustic setting like this?”… “They darker than us!”… “Oh, lordy, lord, he’s desperate! Do what he sayyyy, do what he sayyyy!” Even though this film contains innumerable racial slurs, I think the point (if it has a point) is really about racial equality. The film is also quick to make references to other films and actors to make some of its gags. And since this was one of the few comedies in that home video library, I would watch it over and over again and was forced to do research on some of the jokes (Hedy Lamar, Randolph Scott, Cecil B. DeMille). Because of that, I owe a great deal of my love for film to this movie because it started me digging into the film industry.

Standing in stark distinction to Blazing Saddles, I didn’t see The Princess Bride until I was in college. It is a movie that my kids have already seen and is also tremendously quotable. It has everything; action, adventure, humor, pirates, torture, and of course, true love. Cary Elwes delivers the most outstanding performance of his career as Westley, the love-struck servant to Buttercup (Robin Wright), a beautiful woman living in a misty romantic fantasy world. She also gives one of the best performances of her career in her film debut here as Princess Buttercup. The thing that makes this movie so great is the quality of comedy relief of the entire supporting cast. Wallace Shawn is absolutely hilarious as Vizzini, the bonehead villain who is completely convinced that he has the whole world figured out, Andre the Giant delivers a lumbering but highly impressive performance as Vizzini’s enormous, idiot sidekick, and my personal favorite, Mandy Patinkin creates one of the most entertaining and likeable characters to ever see the screen. “My name is Inigo Montoya! You killed my father! Prepare to die!”

What movies make you happy, however you define that? What do you think is the funniest movie you’ve seen? Leave me some comment love below, or on Facebook or Twitter. This is all more fun when you join the discussion. And if you decide to take the challenge, let me know so I can follow your choices.