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The Conversation (1974)
"The Conversation" is a film that conveys privacy, paranoia, and obsession in universal ways which do not seem dated at all when seen nearly 25 years after its release. A quarter century later, and this taut, puzzling film is still engaging, bleak but powerful. Harry Caul's perfunctory devotion to his work draws comparisons to the photographer played by David Hemmings in "Blowup", although the two men are hardly relatable socially. For Harry is a lonely man, abnegating himself love and respect. Even though his accomplishments are large, he modestly presents himself in shy ways that further alienate him from society. In 1974, in the twilight of Watergate, and the dawn of home security, came a movie dealing thematically with self-security. Harry is insecure, yet ardent in his work, so that when he is pushed to consider saving someone's life, he is blocked by doubts of his own self-worth. When he arrives at the hotel, he is not merely doing his job, he is attempting to prove himself personally. Yet both Harry and the audience are surprised by the film's ironic conclusion. A marvellous film made in Francis Ford Coppola's heyday. A must see for anyone.
Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)
I must admit upfront that I am a particular fan of John Carpenter's work. I enjoyed the zany humor of his sci-fi spoof, "Dark Star", the inventiveness of his classic "Halloween", and Snake Plisskeen must be one of the most tenaciously suave characters I have ever seen. He is primarily a horror filmmaker (he writes, directs, edits, and composes the eerie scores), but this film is indicative of his other talents. The basic premise of this movie, probably so emulated by now that it's cliched, is a group of people trapped in an inactive police station surrounded by kamikazee gang members. Earlier in the movie, some police with shotguns decimate a group of suspicious punks without cause. This signals an irrevocable uproar in the gang community, where the members will stop at nothing to kill everyone. After they kill an innocent ice cream man and insensitively gun down a young girl, the distraught father chases them down. They stop near the police station, where the father shoots the assassan, and subsequently, finds himself outnumbered by other punks. He seeks refuge in the close station, and the siege commences. This film is apparently one of Quentin Tarantino's favorites, and you can see by the relentless carnage, and bloody warfare how this is true. The vindictive violence throughout vilifies our society. However, this film is confidently assured and every shot leaves an impression: the parking lot , the punks rolling under the trees, the car POV shots. As well, the tension is strong and supported by the "tough and no-holds barred" soundtrack, this film is really quite riveting. For his second film, this was superb work done by Carpenter. It seems ostensible, perhaps, that Carpenter's best work was in the seventies. I was truly astonished by what Carpenter did with his minuscule $100,000 budget; the film's quality is strikingly contemporary. Despite poor acting (some people actually don't move and stare blankly when they're shot), this film must be seen to be believed.
The Big Lebowski (1998)
Coen brothers unabashedly out of control! A plethora of fun!
The Coen brothers are up there with my very favorite filmmakers (Scorsese, Kubrick, Carpenter). I am very fond of their work. Throughout their irreverent career, they have explored different subjects and themes. Their best stories evolve from kidnapping schemes in films like "Raising Arizona " and "Fargo", one of my very favorites. I thought that film was fervently free. I was so ever wrong. It's as if the Coen Brothers have celebrated their complete breakthrough success (Academy Award winners), and now are willing to do whatever they please. "The Big Lebowski" is a film so meandering, so wonderfully novel, that I found myself missing the many other sporadic jokes as I was heaving from laughter. The film is basically about mistaken identity, eccentric characters, and a soiled rug. This film extols the bowler, the allies, even the pins. We experience an actual bowling ball POV, as the Dude (Jeff Bridges) hallucinates. This film has nihilists, feminists, millionares, paedophiles, drugged out hippies, underachieving students, incompetent criminals, pornographers and 'Nam veterans. This movie is open to anything , anything... Some people are turned off by absurd looniness, because it's so grandiosely different. Yet who couldn't chuckle, if not explode, when a bowler dressed in a tight purple suit licks a bowling ball's finger hole, and the camera pans down to reveal his name as Jesus! I will disclose no more, but urgently recommend you to traverse to your nearest video abode and rent this true escapists' feature. Abandon all solemn inhibitons, though! One can not keep a straight face whilst watching.
The Negotiator (1998)
Not that bad!
"The Negotiator" doesn't break any new ground in the suspense-thriller genre , but it's not too shabby either. Despite the rebuke of a grandiose reviewer, this film is acutally pretty involving. I wasn't expecting the next "Usual Suspects", but the elements of an intriguing film are there. Take the opening scene, for instance, where Samuel L. Jackson risks his life cunningly by amusing a disgruntled Marine. He digresses off the subject of the hostage situation and distracts the lunatic so a gunman can maim him. Most of the movie seems cliched from there, but eventually, as Jackson becomes the vigilante defending his life, the movie's coolness increases. This sets up for some unusually superlative acting in a summer flick. This movie is tense and alive; people shout and try to outsmart each other throughout. Most scenes are well done; well, the "eye thing" revealing truth was a bit contrived. The end of the movie was fun, too, with the unexpected twists. This movie almost ends on the note of "Chinatown", but instead concludes righteously like "L.A. Confidential" with the police corruption countered. This is a very good movie; not excellent or novel, but fun.
The Evil Dead (1981)
Gory, Horrific, Acerbicly Disgusting, but all in Bad Taste, of course!
The first bane of the infamous Evil Dead Trilogy aims distinctly at disturbing and frightening the unwary audience. However, dispensable body parts flying routinely through the air under buckets of blood, as well as, a shrieking ominous-eyed zombie endeavoring to break through a locked trap door in the floor make this movie disorganized and chaotic. Perhaps this apocalyptic state of despair in an abandoned cabin is supposed to jolt us. Instead, a Romero-experienced viewer will nod in yawning recognition at this mediocre flick of tedious gore. The only marks I'll give credit to are the scenes when one unfortunate damsel is raped by tree roots, and the unique ending scene which is truly a marvel of modern camerawork. Bruce Campbell gives little comic relief as the bewildered Ash, but he gives signs of being the epitome of a horror hero: strong, tenacious, unforgiving. Take my advice, see the following two ("Evil Dead 2" and "Army of Darkness"), they are gems!
The Goonies (1985)
This may sound really puerile, but this film has been one of my personal favorites for years. Sure, it's about a bunch of obnoxious kids with perfect one-liners, a family of Italian crooks, snobby country club owners, booby (that's what I said, BOOBY!) traps, a goliath who looks like he spent the summer in a meat grinder, and more, more zaniness. This all accumulates, of course, into a plot of finding a lost pirate ship, inexiplicably trapped within a cave by the sea. The clever kids must use these jewels to salvage their small beach town from manipulative rich people. (The special effects along the way are better than the computer ones recylcled astronomically today.) I've nearly memorized all the lines, and the opening scenes never cease to appease me: THE TRUFFLE SHUFFLE! This film is resourceful if you're looking for stuff by Sean Astin ("Rudy") or the director Richard Donner ("Lethal Weapon" series). The screenplay is also by Chris Columbus, if anybody remembers who he is. For a swashbuckling morality tale, I'd recommend this to anyone with an enduring inner-child.
Saving Private Ryan (1998)
"Saving Private Ryan" is one of the best war films ever made simply because of its refusal to leave anything to the imagination. Nothing in this film is ambiguous, supported by vehement images of dismembering and dying. Whereas water drops hit the camera lens in another movie, blood splatters all over it in this one. The first 24 minutes are shot confusingly, using shaky, hand-held camera motion, ground level angle shots, numerous soldiers' POVS, as well as expert cinematography, creating a "news-reel" footage feel, gritty and fast. The war is chaotic and anything but fun.
Dialogue in this movie is succint and to the point. Most of the characters exhibit their emotions merely by staring, emaciated, into the camera. Spielberg has created a graphic, candid image of war, something unparalled but highly controversial. Many people argue that some things should be left lightly without gratuity. To get the poignant purpose across, as well as many of the themes, however, Spielberg must let the audience identify with the characters, their fears and their insanity. The human stories are bettered by the horrific images. When they lose it, we don't question them. I don't question Spielberg either for taking a great story and providing it with vivid visuals.