Child-Like Wonder at E.T.

E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial, directed by Steven SpielbergThe only thing better than watching E.T. when you are five years old is watching it with a five-year-old. Rewatching Steven Spielberg’s tale of a gentle alien trying to get back home with the help of a fatherless boy and his friends--some three decades after I had last seen it, this time with my kids--was movie magic.Here is a rough transcript of my son’s running commentary.“What’s this movie? Is that a spaceship? Is this Star War … [Read more...]

Blade Runner’s Vision of Hell

Blade Runner: The Final Cut, directed by Ridley ScottWhat is hell like? The Bible gives us images of unquenchable fire and a smoke that goes up forever. But C.S. Lewis opted for a different metaphor in The Great Divorce: a drab town where it is always dark and mostly empty. Hell, in Lewis’ depiction, is a failed city: a place of crowded loneliness and frustrated aspirations.I thought of Lewis’ hell as I rewatched Ridley Scott’s 1981 dystopian masterpiece, Blade Runner. The film takes plac … [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...]

A Vertiginous Horror

Review of Vertigo, Directed by Alfred HitchcockAlfred Hitchcock made famous movies, lots of them. Four of his films are on the American Film Institute’s list of greatest movies of all time; five on BFI’s list, six on Roger Ebert’s, and nine on’s. Volumes have been written about the man and his movies, and a movie has been made about the man making his movies. His stuff has become so iconic that it has entered into the cultural atmosphere. Even if you have never seen it, you know the … [Read more...]

No Savior for the Raging Bull

Review of Raging Bull, directed by Martin ScorseseIf tragedy is the story of a noble man undone by a singular flaw, Raging Bull is no tragedy: Jake LaMotta is ignoble--obsessive, jealous, mean, petty, insecure, violent, and ungrateful. His downfall--the story of Raging Bull, based on his true-life memoir--is the simple function of what a terrible person he is, not of a tragic flaw in an otherwise admirable character. That such a film could be made and be so universally admired suggests that … [Read more...]

City Lights: Seeing Past the Surface

Review of City Lights, Directed by Charlie ChaplinThere are two kinds of great movies. There are really old movies that were great in their day but are today museum relics admired by film snobs and nobody else, and there are the kind that people actually enjoy watching. It is the difference between Birth of a Nation (1915) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). It is a rare film that was great in its day and still holds attention decades later.Is City Lights (1931) one of them? It is, … [Read more...]

Touch of Depravity

Review of Touch of Evil, Directed by Orson WellesOrson Welles started strong. His first movie, Citizen Kane (1941; reviewed here) is sometimes hailed as the greatest movie ever made. Welles, only twenty-six years old when Kane was released, could have enjoyed four or five decades of productive work in Hollywood, akin to the careers of John Ford, Howard Hawks, or Steven Spielberg. Instead, Welles did a handful of documentaries and TV movies accompanied by fewer than a dozen full-length, … [Read more...]

Tyranny and Ranching on the ‘Red River’

Review of Red River, Directed by Howard HawksHoward Hawks was one of the most prolific and famous of the early Hollywood directors. He made some great classics, but not many of them were westerns. He didn’t specialize in westerns the way, say, John Ford did. He only made five films with John Wayne (one of them set in Africa), compared to the fifteen or so Ford made with him (not counting the dozens of films from the 1920s in which Wayne had bit parts). And while the Ford-Wayne collaborations … [Read more...]

Christ on Kane: On the Meaning of Rosebud

Review of Citizen Kane, Directed by Orson WellesTo write about Citizen Kane is to invite scorn for one’s ignorance and presumption.  How can anything new be written about this film?  How can I presume to have something to say?  Don’t you know this is the greatest film ever made?According to the American Film Institute, it is indeed the greatest.  And it was the greatest on the British Film Institute’s decennial poll for 50 years, until unseated last year by Hitchcock’s Vertigo.  It stands … [Read more...]

Wall-E: Pixar’s Sanctimonious Jerk

Review of Wall-E, Directed by Andrew StantonI hate Wall-E. I hate the cloying romance. I hate the mawkish sentimentalism. I hate the sanctimonious environmentalism. I hate the open contempt for suburban America. But mostly I hate that everyone else loves it.Wall-E was ranked the best movie of last decade by Time. It won the Oscar, the Golden Globe, and the BAFTA for Best Animated Film. It’s #59 on IMDB’s list of the greatest movies of all time. It won the Golden Tomato award—an award … [Read more...]