Birdman: the Torture of Creative Integrity

Review of Birdman, Directed by Alejandro InarrituOscars are useful as cultural barometers. They say much about what we think is excellent--and, thus, about ourselves. While the Academy was crowning Alejandro Inarritu’s Birdman Best Picture of 2014, I was watching the film itself, suspecting it was about to win the laurels, wondering what its canonization said of its votaries.Birdman is a clever parable. It stars Michael Keaton as a washed-up old actor named Riggan who once played a famous s … [Read more...]

Ben-Hur Discovers the Epic Epicness of Grace

Ben-Hur, directed by William WylerBen-Hur (1959) is the epic to end all epics. The most expensive movie of its time, the production hired 100 people just to make the wardrobe and 200 to build its massive sets. Ten thousand extras filled in the background. It cost one-hundred and thirty million dollars to make (in today’s dollars). It received twelve Oscar nominations and was coronated as the best picture of 1959 by the Academy, the Golden Globes, and the BAFTAs, and is counted the 100th g … [Read more...]

The Godfather’s Justice

The Godfather, directed by Francis Ford Coppola“For justice, we must go to Don Corleone.”The appeal of Vito Corleone is his love of family, his passion for justice, his hard work and up-by-your-bootstraps ethic, and his dislike of unnecessary murder. The Godfather is a kindly uncle, a benevolent papa who showers his closest family with his protection, with gifts, and with the wit and charm of his presence. We love Vito because we want to believe he is, at heart, just a lovable big daddy.We … [Read more...]

Perseverance Leads to Payoff with ’12 Years a Slave’

Review of 12 Years a Slave, Directed by Steve McQueenAt the time of Northup’s kidnapping in April 1841, he was exactly 33 years old, the same age most assume Christ was when he carried his cross up to Golgotha. Unlike a God humbling Himself in the form of man, however, Northup was a man forced into the life of a slave, and the prospect of his resurrection was more elusive than three days.—Henry Louis Gates, Jr., from the press notes for 12 Years a SlaveDirector Steve McQueen’s (Hunger, Shame … [Read more...]

When Mocking Jews Was Cool

Gentleman’s Agreement, directed by Elia KazanI hate political correctness.  It is illiberal to police what people think and say, to judge what sort of opinions are acceptable in polite company: who is to saythat the sensibilities of polite company are all that refined?  Who wants their approval anyway?My dislike of political correctness is the luxury of living in an era awash with it. Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) is a reminder that in other eras—including, roughly, all of them before … [Read more...]

Here’s Looking at You, Casablanca!

Review of Casablanca, Directed by Michael CurtizIt’s December of 1941 in sunny, depressing Casablanca, where refugees flock in an attempt to flee the ravages of Nazi-infested Europe. They flock to Vichy-controlled Casablanca, and there they stay—unless Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains) cares to bestow upon them the coveted exit visas that will allow them to catch the plane to Portugal and thence to freedom. These visas are a precious commodity, and Renault is careful only to trade them for … [Read more...]

Argo: A Hollywood Feel-Good Fantasy

Argo, directed by Ben Affleckby Paul D. MillerNo wonder Hollywood loves Argo.  It is a movie about how movies save the day.Argo has already won Best Picture at the Golden Globes, the Producers Guild, the BAFTAs, and the Critic’s Choice--and probably the Oscars, by the time you read this.  All for good reason:  it is an excellent film--funny, suspenseful, intelligent, and thrilling in fine balance.  But is it really better than Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty?Hollywood seems to think … [Read more...]

Gonna Fly Now; Or, the American (Non)Gospel

Review of Rocky, Directed by John D. AvildsenBy ALEXIS NEALI feel a little silly describing the plot of Rocky (1976). Still, I know there may be a few young whippersnappers out there who never sat around on Saturday afternoons watching old action movies on TNT and who thus don’t know who this Sylvester Stallone guy is or why people get so excited when he pops up on their movie screens in otherwise unremarkable films like The Expendables (2010) or the much improved (if unimpressively n … [Read more...]

Lord of the Rings: A Timeless Trilogy

Review of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Directed by Peter JacksonBy PAUL D. MILLERIt is hard to remember how firmly entrenched the conventional wisdom was that The Lord of the Rings was unfilmable. A disastrous animated attempt in 1978, stuffed full of 70’s cheese, covered just half the story. The film only made $30 million, studio executives refused to fund the planned sequel, and a generation of children were condemned to confusion when the film ends and the ring has not been d … [Read more...]

The Slavery of Spite

Review of Rebecca, directed by Alfred HitchcockBy PAUL D. MILLERRebecca (1940) is a creepy film. From the opening shot of trees in the mist to a key sequence in the fog to the closing shot of a mansion engulfed in smoke, the film is pervaded with wisps of the gray stuff, a visual analog to the murkiness of the world in which it takes place. Unease and anxiety build through almost three-quarters of the film—without any clear reason why. There isn’t even a living antagonist until the very e … [Read more...]