Archive for the ‘Joel’s Summer Classic Series’ Category

hidden 1

The Hidden Fortress, 1958, directed by Akira Kurosawa

The Story: A samurai general guards and transports his clan’s gold and princess across enemy territory, departing from a hidden fortress in the desert mountains. Along the way there are spear duels, close escapes, pursuits through the forest mists, scrapes with the executioner, and even a paganistic wood-burning ritual around a giant bonfire. The story is told largely from the perspective of two pathetic and bickering peasants who accompany the general and the princess on their journey. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Jaws, 1975, directed by Steven Spielberg

The Story: “Sharkkkkkkkk!!!!!!”

And yet it’s so much more than that. At its heart, of course, Jaws is a fantastic monster movie, a film that plays on fears – that employs Hitchcockian suspense and haunted house surprise to hold us in the grip of masterful entertainment. It has been blamed for a dumbing-down of movie audiences, an onslaught of blockbusters concerned only with reeling in adolescents, and a retreat from the edginess and depth of 70s cinema. Yet Jaws consistently holds human figures at its center – and not only because the mechanical creature malfunctioned through much of the production, while a 27-year-old newbie filmmaker, one Steven Spielberg, had to improvise shooting around it. At heart, Jaws is a story about people more than about a shark. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Lawrence of Arabia, 1962, directed by David Lean

The Story: T.E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole), a minor British officer stationed in Cairo during World War I, is sent into the Arabian desert to “assess” the state of the Arabs’ revolt against the Turks. The revolt is a mess, but instead of reporting back, Lawrence himself leads a band of Arabs through the harshest sectors of the desert into victory against the Turks. Astonished and delighted, his superiors give him free reign and so T.E. becomes “Lawrence of Arabia,” an enigmatic, brilliant, and narcissistic guerrilla leader whose genius and bravado is matched only by his eccentricity and insecurity. (more…)

Read Full Post »

2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968, directed by Stanley Kubrick

The Story: Monkeys kill each other. Millions of years later, a murderous computer is dismantled while singing a vaudeville tune. An astronaut travels through a wormhole, ages rapidly, and is reborn as a gigantic fetus floating amongst the stars. Sleek, black monoliths appear intermittently. Lots of ships and satellites and stations floats through outer space.

The plot both is and isn’t the point of 2001: A Space Odyssey. On the one hand, its rather sketchy (and on paper, ridiculous, as the above indicates) plot is easily overwhelmed by the cosmic light shows, the long demonstrations of space travel technique and ritual, the passages featuring the apes who can’t talk and the bloodless bureaucrats who can but probably shouldn’t, and of course the lavish visual effects (which hold up so much better than CGI from two years ago – or for that matter, from this year). On the other hand, if the overarching plot seems haphazard and thin, the narrative arc – spanning millions of years as the human race progresses from a mindless ape to a cosmic star child – is all-important. Composing the arc are several generally separate stories, four in all: the prehistoric men, the trip to the moon sponsored by Howard Johnsons, the showdown with HAL, the mystical and mystifying finale. (more…)

Read Full Post »

The Wild Bunch, 1969, directed by Sam Peckinpah

Story: After being set up in a bank heist, the dwindling and aging Wild Bunch (a band of outlaws operating in the American frontier of the early 20th century) crosses into Mexico. Pursued by bounty hunters led by one of their former members, the Bunch agree to steal a cache of weapons for a corrupt Mexican warlord – but eventually, they must decide what’s worth more: his gold or their vaguely maintained code of honor.

The Wild Bunch is notorious as a subversive take on the Western genre, with the opening lines of Pike (William Holden) – “If they move, kill ’em!” – supposedly a declaration of independence from the old-fashioned sanctities of the form. And the ensuing massacre would seem to confirm that we’re a long way from the moralistic shades of High Noon (1952) and Shane (1953), what with old ladies of the Temperance Union being killed in the crossfire by careless deputies, cowering bank tellers being taken hostage and used as live bait by the titular antiheroes, and the innocent babes of the town wandering through a town square littered with the corpses of their elders as they imitate the outlaws’ gunfire. Meanwhile, other children light a bonfire over battling scorpions and red ants, piling violence upon violence in a microcosm of the film’s pathology: lethal but somehow poignant old cretins – the bunch – pitted against the ruthless, small-minded hordes – the bounty hunters and Mexican soldiers and railroad men who are just as violent as the outlaws, but somehow more petty. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Gone With the Wind, 1939, directed by Victor Fleming (with uncredited assistance from George Cukor and Sam Wood)

Story: In an age of “cotton and cavaliers,” spoiled Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) is the belle of the plantation barbecue. But then war – the Civil War – comes to her chivalric South, and her way of life is swept away, or gone with the wind, as author Margaret Mitchell put it in her bestselling novel. Soon this young beauty (who was once fanned by slaves during afternoon naps) is vowing to the angry sky, “As God as my witness, I’ll never be hungry again!” Even as she pursues the married and genteel Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard), and is alternately seduced and bedeviled by the charming anti-gentleman Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), Scarlett does her best to keep good to this promise. (more…)

Read Full Post »

by Joel Bocko

Apocalypse Now Redux, 1979 (revised in 2000), directed by Francis Ford Coppola

The Story: Capt. Willard, an increasingly strung-out Special Forces commando, is assigned a top-secret mission in late 60s Vietnam: travel up the Da Nang river to assassinate the renegade Col. Kurtz, a mysterious military genius who has set up a private empire in the wilderness. Along the way, Willard and his shipmates encounter increasingly bizarre characters and situations, and by the time they arrive in Kurtz’s unholy domain, it has become clear that the colonel is only as mad as the war around him.

When the troubled production of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now was mired for years in the Philippines, Hollywood wags dubbed the film “Apocalypse Later.” The implication, of course, being that such a crazy idea – an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, transposed to Vietnam, and shot in conditions which were themselves often warlike (literally, the crew had to negotiate with both sides of a civil war which was raging around them) – could only exist on paper or perhaps in Coppola’s crazed, grandiose mind. When the film arrived at Cannes finally, at the tail end of the 70s, it could have merely been a footnote to the legendary turmoil of its making, something like the later big-budget flop Heaven’s Gate, labeled a “folly” and quickly cast aside. (more…)

Read Full Post »