Friday, March 13, 2009

Movies I Have Never Seen, Part I

So in recent months, spurred on by a meme I did a while back, I've been trying to catch up on "famous movies I haven't seen that I really should have." Y'know, rather than watching "Drillbit Taylor" or the like. There are a lot of movies in the universe, after all, and despite having worked in a video store for a year or two I still find gaping holes in my film knowledge. Here's my quick thoughts on some of the classics I've recently seen for the first time:

Why it's famous: "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not gonna take it anymore!"
What I thought: Satire gets dated fast but this media tale still holds up pretty well; a struggling television network takes advantage of an anchorman's blooming insanity and makes him into a star. I was surprised at how dark this story got, and how Howard Beale's madman persona is less blustery bravado and more genuine mental illness. But that actually makes "Network" even more cynical than I thought; Faye Dunaway's ice-cold producer is willing to do whatever it takes, even murder, to get ratings. Great performances, particularly by Peter Finch (the only actor until Heath Ledger to win an Oscar posthumously), Dunaway and Ned Beatty.
Worth seeing if you haven't: If you ignore the dated fashion and trappings of the tale, it's as relevant today as it ever was.
Grade: A-

Why it's famous: Bizarro '60s sci-fi with an often-naked Jane Fonda.
What I thought: This is as goofy as '60s sci-fi gets, starting with Fonda's famous strip-tease in zero-gravity and her carpeted space ship crash pad. It's an absolutely oddball movie with cheesy special effects, but underneath the pleasure machines and go-go boots there's a lot of creative ideas and Fonda brings a real charm to Barbarella's bubble-headed naivete. Word is there's going to be a hip modern remake -- please lord, no. In its inane way this one is just right, although really it wears out its welcome after about an hour.
Worth seeing if you haven't: Set Camp-O-Vision Goggles to 3000 and dive in. Warning: Do not watch without Camp-O-Vision Goggles.
Grade: B

Why it's famous: Winner of a zillion Oscars including Best Picture. Vietnam. Christopher Walken. Russian roulette.
What I thought: Yeah, this is a great movie, and one that passed me by for a long time. A sprawling epic about a group of young men and their experiences before, during and after the Vietnam war, it's often called one of the best movies of the 1970s. Director Michael Cimino puts heart and soul into his American saga, and even the Vietnam segments, after acres of Nam movies since, still have a horrifying freshness. Stellar performances from the likes of DeNiro and Walken before they became ubiquitous, and one of my favorite actors of the '70s, John Cazale. It's harrowing to watch, particularly the final act, but this is a classic for a darned good reason. War is hell and all that.
Worth seeing if you haven't: Absolutely, but be prepared for intensity and a long spell on the couch (it's over three hours long).
Grade: A

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