Days of Heaven
The tale is simplicity itself: A young man (Richard Gere), his girl (Brooke Adams), and his spunky kid sister (Linda Manz) flee trouble in Chicago and find harvesting work on a wheat farm owned by a wealthy Texan (playwright-actor Sam Shepard). The couple, who are masquerading as brother and sister, learn that the farmer is terminally ill, and the young man encourages the woman to marry the farmer so that they can claim his fortune after he dies. Confusion, suspicion, disaster of near-Biblical proportions, and tragedy ensue.
Were it not for Manz’s deadpan voiceover narration, this pictorial masterwork could almost be a silent film – director Terrence Malick’s spectacular images tell the story. Shot by Nestor Almendros, who won an Oscar for his painterly cinematography (with an assist from the supremely gifted Haskell Wexler), Days of Heaven is among the most gorgeous features ever made. Filmed mostly in twilight’s “magic hour,” the film is bathed in hues of lavender and gold. It’s a rapturous visual poem that shocks the eye with its beauty.Continue Reading
"The mountain's got its own ways." --Jeremiah Johnson
Among those who are big fans of the Western genre, I find myself having to defend this delightful movie. Aside from the repetition in the soundtrack, I couldn't come up with a single complaint. It is known and kept in high regard for its breathtaking cinematography (Duke Callaghan [Conan the Barbarian]) and for the fact that it was shot entirely on the mountains of Utah. We find Jeremiah Johnson (Robert Redford), a man fresh from a war, and set on avoiding the coming Mexican War, who also wants to make a clean break from society. He decides to learn how to become a trapper, hunting various types of game in order to survive and trading furs with local tribes. His quest was both to define himself and to break free of social constraints, and yet he discovers that every land has a law. These rules are breakable, but not excusable merely by ignorance. Soon he finds out that the mountain and its tribes intend to put him in his place.Continue Reading
Set on the cusp of the advertising revolution in 1960s Madison Avenue, Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men follows the exploits of the admen at a mid-level firm as its old-fashioned ways are being challenged by the popular onset of the counterculture. Advertising is America’s subterranean cultural history and most of the drama from Weiner’s show comes from contrasting our collective marketed images with the personal reality of his characters as this distinction begins to dissolve. As lead adman Don Draper (Jon Hamm) sits on a train confounded by the new Volkswagen Beetle ad from Doyle Dane Bernbach, you can feel the Age of Schizophrenia coming on. It was no accident that the Beetle became a signifier of the hippies.
William Bernbach’s major innovation was using the anti-consumerist rhetoric of fifties pop culture critics to sell more stuff. Where ads had previously promoted the supposed benefits of some object to the viewing subject, the new advertising began to redefine the subject through the object, emphasizing what that object says about its owner. As the potential buyer began to define himself by the connoted images of his desiderata, homo economicus gave way to homo consumens, man as consumer. That it has become nigh impossible to extricate ourselves from Madison Avenue’s Mephistophelean bargain can be seen by the way product placement serves to make the critique possible. Does it matter if the use of the VW Bug functions as sponsorship or objective correlative? The Marxist critique of capitalism has been reduced to comedic effect by this point – only, we’re the butt of the joke.Continue Reading
No Country for Old Men
A series of unfortunate events unfold in a small desert community when a drug deal near the Rio Grande goes sours, bringing a dark whirlwind into their lives.
Adapted from the novel by famed American author, Cormac McCarthy, the Coen brother’s screenplay is tight, authentic and really able to utilize a story with three leads.Continue Reading
The Conformist (Il Conformista)
I've never read the novel "The Conformist" by Alberto Moravia, but I can bet that Bernardo Bertolucci's film Il Conformista is a faithful adaptation of the story. The film explores a truly profound relationship between the individual and societal ideals, dealing with Fascist Italy in both an intellectual and artistic sense.
I'd have to say, the best way to watch this film is with your own company or maybe another if you are ready to embark on a heavy, heavy journey. The film is a mind trip - allowing the viewer to question the individual's values, society, civil responsibility, and dependence.Yet it doesn't stop itself there - the photography by Vittorio Storaro is breathtaking and true to its story. The style is so noteworthy that the film is praised in Visions of Light, a documentary honoring cinematographers as artists, and for good reason. Each moment is dedicated to the sorrow of an Italian under governmental pressures.The rich colors, camera angles, and camera movement accentuate Italian expressionism in every sense.Continue Reading
The Dead Girl
Broken down into roughly five stories, The Dead Girl is a film that intersects the lives of complete strangers in relation to the grisly murder of a young prostitute.
Toni Collette plays the unfortunate woman who has the displeasure of discovering a body on a hillside at an anonymous location. Her life is thrown into disarray as the local media and police swarm her once isolated life. As the caretaker of her extremely overbearing mother (creepily played by Piper Laurie), Collette realizes that with her new-found attention, she can move on and develop relationships with others, thus leading her into a strange encounter with a bag boy from the supermarket.Continue Reading
I will always passionately love Requiem for a Dream. I will always passionately love Requiem for a Dream more than The Fountain. But I can't really compare Darren Aronofsky's two latest releases; it simply wouldn't be fair! The Fountain is a challenge that takes on a re-definition of science fiction, attempting to span 1,000 years and intersecting three parallel stories. It is certainly a task to admire. Aronofsky searches life's biggest questions - love, death, spirituality, existence - all while trying to go beyond typical science fiction films that were plot-driven by technology and science. He notes, "the interesting things are the ideas; the search for God, the search for meaning."
The film is personal and honorable in how simple yet intricate the story is. While I found it hard to involve myself in the more ancient sections of the film, and also thought using a cancer-stricken loved one as a character seems slightly redundant, but in the end mankind (in the general sense) is truly redeemed.Continue Reading
It's fair to say that The Mission is an underrated film. Unlike Raging Bull or Blue Velvet it does not appear on many lists of the best films of the '80s (though any such list that does not have the Russian war flick Come And See on it is completely invalid anyway). The Mission doesn't even get mentioned in most Robert De Niro retrospectives. But this physically demanding, yet subtle role is one of De Niro's best. This was back when De Niro was still "Robert De Niro - all time great actor." Back in the good old days when he was still trying, before he became "That hammy actor from Meet The Parents and other comedies." The Mission was derided by most critics when it was released as overblown, as was De Niro’s performance (though the film did score a bunch of Oscar nominations thanks to a pricey ad campaign). But The Mission may actually be a lost gem that needs to be rediscovered and reevaluated; perhaps it could use the three-disc Criterion treatment.
Written by Robert Bolt (Lawrence Of Arabia), The Mission, at first glance, seems like a sweeping saga, but on closer inspection, it’s a small story with large mountains behind it. Jeremy Irons plays Gabriel, a Spanish Jesuit priest building a mission in the rain forest of South America in the 18th century. He is able to win over the natives with his groovy oboe playing. The natives become fully invested in the creation and running of the mission - it’s like a small co-op of social peace - as the natives are converted to Christians. Until a menacing slave trader, Mendoza (De Niro), arrives, ensnaring natives and selling them on the open market. Mendoza is a man with no moral center. However, later when he kills his brother (Aidan Quinn, sporting very '80s hair) in a jealous quarrel, Mendoza finds God and serves his penance by joining Gabriel’s order and hauling all his armor and weapons through the mountains. Moved by the native people's acceptance of him, he becomes a fierce protector of the mission and its people.Continue Reading