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...]

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...]

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 IMDB.com’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...]

Easy Ride, Awful Film

Review of Easy Rider, Directed by Dennis HopperI wrote earlier of my shameful admiration for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. That movie, released in 1969, is a classic of the era, a milestone of subversive cinema, a major way-station on the road to counter-cultural celebration of anti-heroes. It won lots of awards and adorns the lists of greatest movies. It is also hilarious and awesome.Easy Rider was also released in 1969, is also a classic of the era, is also on the American Film … [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...]

The Lion King: Disney’s Almost Christian Tale

Review of The Lion King, Directed by Roger Allers and Rob MinkoffAs my kids continue to grow up, my wife and I continue to revisit our youths and indulge in a little nostalgia by popping in another Disney classic every few weeks. Then I blog about them. I previously found Snow White lacking, Bambi interesting, and Beauty and the Beast weird. The Lion King (1994) stands head and shoulders above the rest. This is probably the best movie in the Disney opus (not counting Pixar).The Lion King … [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...]

Mary Poppins and Saving Mr. Banks: On Loving Imperfect Fathers

Review of Saving Mr. Banks, directed by John Lee Hancock, and Mary Poppins, Directed by Robert StevensonWhen I was a kid we owned the laserdisc of Mary Poppins (1964) and we would watch and rewatch our favorite tunes again and again. The songs are catchy, Dick van Dyke’s energy is infectious, and the movie has just the right amount of magic and whimsy to hold a kid’s attention. But I always got bored and slightly frightened near the end.Rewatching the movie again recently with my kids, I … [Read more...]