Archives for category: The films of our lives

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Note: This review was written over a decade ago for Legal Times. But the Blu Ray of this great film was released last month, and so….

Ordinary noises, human sounds dominate The Verdict, the greatest courtroom drama ever filmed. Whether they are the bells of a pinball machine, the hiss and hum of a hospital respirator, or the clink of ice cubes in a whiskey glass, they serve a far more important function here than mere aural landscaping.

Director Sidney Lumet drapes his film in a shroud of stillness of grief, of regret. It’s dark. It’s Boston. It’s winter. There is no soundtrack in the movie to speak of — and extended sequences where no one talks. So that when we hear something as benign as the bumper of a pinball machine as the movie opens, we welcome the comfort it provides.

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Is love difficult for Hollywood to capture because it isn’t real?

Okay, let’s try not to be so existential. I’m not looking to be cute. Love, or at least what we think as love, we experience in various forms, to varying degrees. It assumes the shape of loyalty, attachment, desire, inspiration, lust, warmth, friendship, empathy, commonality, electricity. It lasts lifetimes. Or it atomizes in three hours. Or two weeks. Or five years.

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Every generation gets its “coolest teen” picture. This was ours. And in a strange way, it presaged the geek, individualistic culture so dominant now. Ferris is entrepreneurial, anti-establishment, anti-institution. He seeks his own path, as they say. That’s what made the commercial during his year’s Super Bowl so disappointing. The mere suggestion that Ferris Bueller would grow up just to be another suburban, Honda-driving schmoe was a bridge too far. Too might light was let into the fantasy. What else? Sloane’s on her third marriage, addicted to Oxy or Jesus? Cameron’s a reality-show producer?

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Emotions in motion

Magnolia is a movie stuck in overdrive.  It’s been years since I’ve screened it, but watching it again was a reminder of how Paul Thomas Anderson doesn’t simply show you his story, he hurtles it at you at Strasbergian speed.

To watch it is to witness a filmmaker giving license to all of his ambitions at once—and it’s both a good and bad thing in this case. It’s why writers need editors and directors need producers (and editors). Magnolia has been called a beautiful trainwreck and that’s a good way to think of it. It overheats and then melts down. Read the rest of this entry »

In an effort to jump start this blog, I’m committing to watching 30 films in 30 days, chronicling them as I go. There’s no plan, no agenda. I watch whatever appeals to me at the moment. First up: One of the immortals—and one of the, uh, mortals.

I didn’t intend for Casablanca, of all films, to be the one that launched this project, but the Blu-ray (the 2008, not the new 2012 restoration) arrived in the mail and I thought, why not? It’s only fitting. I was first exposed to this landmark as a teenager at the Drexel Theater on the east side of Columbus. And have likely watched it two dozen times since.

To me, it’s neither the greatest film ever made nor my own personal favorite (although I’m not sure I could easily come up with better candidates on either score). Rather, it’s that Casablanca to me encapsulates every reason to go to the movies. I have a bias toward what I might call high-end popcorn films and nothing has ever delivered sheer entertainment quite as effectively as this wartime thriller. Read the rest of this entry »

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I’ve meaning to write about these two movies, which I viewed on consecutive evenings, for weeks, but the post was OBE, as they say, overtaken by events. A new job, for one thing– one that may even incentivize me to become more prolific in my uneven film-blogging.

So what does a high-society comedy from the golden days of the Hollywood studio system share in common with a modern European film made by an Iranian director? More than you might think.

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Take the Monet and run?

A lot of critics are praising Midnight in Paris as a return to form for Woody Allen, but it’s hard for me to get behind that assessment. The new release, which I saw last week in New York, is a flight of fancy about an American who journeys back to the Paris of the 1920s. The film was enjoyable enough, but only reinforced in my mind how far Allen’s stature has fallen.

As with many, my entry point with Allen was first Annie Hall, a film I used to show to prospective girlfriends as sort of a test (this may partially explain why I am single), and then Manhattan.  By those lights, Midnight in Paris is a minor work, a toss-off. From what I have read, Allen would likely disagree, but mainly because his view of his process, and of his films themselves, comes off as rather workmanlike.

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“We’ve been coming to the same party for 12 years now, and in no way is that depressing.”

Way, way, way behind so I won’t spend a lot of time talking about two movies that don’t deserve much in the way of substantive criticism.

Blake Edwards’ 10 was my inaugural choice for watching Netflix on TV through my Wii. (Hell, “wii” sounds a little dirty, so why not watch a film that shoots for same level of adolescent naughtiness.) And with Edwards recently passing away, it seemed like a good time to revisit a film that, while not among Edwards’ best work, served briefly as a cultural touchstone, one to which my 13-year-old self (with cable TV no less) keenly paid attention.

They don’t really make American sex farces like 10 anymore; they’re a victim of altered sexual politics. We’ve grown up a little. Dudley Moore’s George seems a bit bemused and befuddled, even on the cusp of the 80s, to discover young women who seem to be in charge of their own sexual appetites and whose definitions of monogamy are as flexible as his.

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Directed by Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson

Based on the play by J.M. Barrie

Starring Bobby Driscoll, Kathryn Beaumont

My daughter Kate, who is five, says near the end of the movie: “Why do they want to grow up? All grown-ups do is work.”

“We shall make a new start. A fresh beginning. Here the blessings of the earth are bestowed upon all. None need grow poor. Here there is good ground for all, and no cost but one’s labor. We shall build a true common wealth, hard work and self reliance our virtues. We shall have no landlords to wreck us with high rents or extort the fruit of our labor.” — John Smith, paddling upriver in the New World.

Written and Directed by Terrence Malick

Starring Colin Ferrell, Q’orianka Kilcher, Christian Bale

The first time I saw Terrence Malick’s The New World, I denied it my full attention.  I had my computer in my lap, watching the film with one eye.

Then, about a half hour into the film, I felt myself choke up, out of nowhere. It was affecting me, even at a distance, for reasons I didn’t understand. From then, it held me. So much so that when it was over, I sat down and watched it again. I can’t remember the last time I did that with a DVD.

The New World is like no movie I’ve ever seen, I think. Not even like Malick’s own The Thin Red Line. It’s a towering achievement, a powerful experience, one that is felt on an almost unconscious level.  The film is one of the most gorgeous ever shot, delivering images of such concentrated beauty that they’ll take your breath away.

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