For Reel

El Dorado (1967)
August 13, 2017, 1:09 pm
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Director: Howard Hawks
3.5 Stars
El DoradoThe second in a loose trilogy of late Howard Hawks films pitting a crusty sheriff against outlaws, El Dorado is a bizarrely languid western—according to TCM, when Robert Mitchum asked Hawks what the story would be, Hawks replied that the story is simply that he and John Wayne are cowboys. Indeed, that’s largely what the film amounts to, however the cast of characters is engaging enough that their interactions are consistently appealing. As is typical of Hawks, the film is about the professionalism and efficiency of its men, with James Caan’s shortcomings as a marksman being overcome with a sawed-off shotgun so as to not interfere with his heroism. Wayne’s dealings with Mitchum’s drunken behavior similarly rests on a sense of duty—the hangover concoction given to Mitchum is not so much a tool to ease his vice, but rather one to allow him to perform. The comedy is often too broad, including a shamefully outdated scene of Caan doing an impression of a Chinese man, but nonetheless the film reveals Hawks’ continued mastery of the “male bonding” genre.

Valley of the Dolls (1967)
November 21, 2016, 1:57 pm
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Director: Mark Robson
3 Stars
valley-of-the-dollsThe longevity of Valley of the Dolls‘ status as a cult film undoubtedly has to do with its tonal incongruities—while one expects a cynical exposé about women in show-biz, the consistency with which it hurls its idiosyncrasies has a magnetic appeal. As a drama, the film is a slow, often ridiculous bore. But when Patty Duke shouts the show-stopping “It’s Impossible” number, dressed business-casual and framed by a backdrop of a cystic fibrosis telethon, the film at once revels in extravagance while humorously accompany the material with a decidedly deglamorized, ridiculous aesthetic. The effect is as startling as when, later in the film, a dramatic scene involves lines such as, “Boobies, boobies, boobies… nothin’ but boobies!” Directed by a 53-year-old and adapted for the screen by women older than that, the film is at peace with old Hollywood in its sincerity, yet the contrast between that very sincerity and the inherent discomfort of witnessing the film’s ludicrous hysterics suggests something closer to the experimental modes of storytelling to come to Hollywood in the late-60s. Valley of the Dolls is too pained and knowing to rank it alongside such naive exposés such as Reefer Madness, and yet its evocation of similar over-the-top dramatizations invites that sort of cult criticism. While many “bad” films fade away in memory, Valley of the Dolls has endured because it simultaneously plays as both heartfelt masterpiece and utter farce, ultimately too provocative to disregard as trash.

Dont Look Back (1967)
January 11, 2016, 11:30 pm
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Director: D.A. Pennebaker
4 Stars
Dont Look BackIn the last shot of Dont Look Back, Bob Dylan sits inside of his car, head propped up on his hand as a cheering public reaches for the window that separates him from them. Director D.A. Pennebaker’s frame is tight around Dylan, giving him the feeling of smallness and of being curiously removed from his celebrity. Finally, Dylan begins discussing the assertion that he’s been called an anarchist and whether or not that serves as an apt description for him. This type of sequence must have been shocking in 1967–fans who were looking for an “inside look” at the artist would have surely been disappointed by not only the smallness of such scenes, but by how petty, mean-spirited, and pompous Dylan comes off as throughout the course of this portrait. The scenes in which Dylan is combative with the media side with the interviewers, who largely remain professional while being bullied by Dylan’s indomitable line of questioning and the sneering of his lackeys. If 1970’s Woodstock: Three Days of Peace & Music portrayed musicians as larger-than-life figures who were capable of bringing together the world in the spirit of free-loving harmony, Dont Look Back shows the ugliness and exclusivity of a very specific type of genius. Joan Baez, romantically linked with Dylan at the time, is nearly a nonentity in the film, and the more Dylan opens his mouth, the more the audience can hypothesize why she doesn’t seem as enamored with him as his yes-men.

La Collectionneuse (1967)
December 31, 2015, 12:54 pm
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Director: Eric Rohmer
3 Stars
La CollectionneuseReleasing his first feature at the age of 47, Eric Rohmer was the oldest of the critics-turned-filmmakers of Cahiers du cinéma. As is typical of his contemporaries in Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, Agnes Varda, et al., Rohmer deals with a young generation, however his perspective is uniquely more distant and critical, not fully embracing these characters and instead commenting about their certain narcissism. Patrick Bauchau’s Adrien is a thoroughly loathsome character, his petty hatred for Haydée (Haydée Politoff) suggesting a one-way power struggle. La Collectionneuse begins by introducing Haydée in a fetishistic inventory of her body parts, bringing the viewer into a game of seduction that will go unfulfilled in the narrative. To Adrien, her greatest offense is that she hasn’t fulfilled her end of the seduction bargain. That the film involves a brief sex scene and youthful slang (as well as Adrien’s particular venom) suggests a certain crudity that is largely unfamiliar of Rohmer’s later work, but the film can perhaps be credited with firmly establishing Rohmer’s visual aesthetic, with Néstor Almendros photographing Rohmer’s first film in color. The film’s stagings might have been due to the budgetary and time constraints, but in the limited camera movements, long takes, and the lingering shots on brightly-clothed actors framed amongst greenery and wildflowers, La Collectionneuse sets the example for Rohmer’s career to be.

The Sorcerers (1967)
August 11, 2015, 12:09 pm
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Director: Michael Reeves
3.5 Stars
The SorcerersDirector Michael Reeves’ career was tragically cut short due to a barbiturate overdose in 1969, and although he only made three films, some critics saw in him the potential to be one of the horror genre’s greats. In his second film, Reeves sets his eye on the contemporary, hedonistic sixties, where the youth culture is largely bored, overly-stimulated, and looking for the next cheap fix. Enter a pair of geriatric hypnotists (Boris Karloff and Catherine Lacey) who have perfected a mind control machine that will allow them to enter the consciousness of a subject and experience their every sensation. While Karloff’s ambition is to use the machine for humanitarian purposes and give elderly people new sensual experiences, Lacey quickly turns to theft and even murder, experiencing the thrills as a deliriously sadistic Dr. Caligari. The central metaphor seems related to the practice of viewing cinema. That is, Reeves suggests a world in which a person can see and vicariously experience great acts of violence, and how quickly that desire for perversion can warp the mind. Additionally, critic Ian Hunter has argued that the film suggests the plight of the youth up against the repressive establishment, and indeed the Cesare-like protagonist (Ian Ogilvy) is a tragic figure whose will is literally taken from him. Silly as the premise might be, Reeves’ use of cross-cutting is very dynamic, both enhancing the suspense of the picture and keenly positioning Karloff and Lacey as surrogate audience members.

Cool Hand Luke (1967)
July 18, 2012, 10:14 pm
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Director: Stuart Rosenberg

In its early-goings, Cool Hand Luke can be frustrating in its simplicity, with every sequence concluding with the recycled realization that Luke can’t be held down. It is roughly halfway through the film, however, when director Stuart Rosenberg shamelessly lays his cards on the table – after Newman has gorged on eggs, he lays back on a table, arms outstretched and feet crossed on top of each other. It’s the first time that Rosenberg wholly embraces the idea of Luke as a Christ figure, whose every action both raises the morale of his fellow prisoners and leads him to more severe mental and physical tortures. Contrarily to what one might expect, however, it appears that Luke comes to abhor the duty that’s been placed upon him. Just as Luke cannot escape from the chain gang for long, so too is he trapped in the role of leader by his own hero-worshipping disciples, whom he thanklessly suffers for only to be tossed aside the second he falters. The doubt of Willem Dafoe in The Last Temptation of Christ seems to reflect Newman’s performance – only Luke, unlike Christ, is content to stay in the escapist fantasy that he experiences during his crucifixion as opposed to fully embracing his martyrdom.

Mouchette (1967)
February 9, 2012, 12:38 am
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Director: Robert Bresson

Often spoken of as one of Robert Bresson’s best, Mouchette is among the bleakest and most cynical films that this reviewer has ever seen. Over the course of the picture, the young girl of the title is humiliated, bullied, raped, and, in the end, finally succumbs to suicide. That the film is bleak is not an issue – after all, both Bresson’s The Trial of Joan of Arc and Au Hasard Balthazar present similarly cruel worlds that thoroughly victimize the protagonist – but Mouchette‘s moral failing is that the abuse doesn’t serve any other means, whereas Joan’s faith was the subject of her film, and Balthazar serves as a subject of allegory. Misery is not an invalid curiosity, certainly, but for a narrative to read as identifiably human, one must acknowledge the capacity within man for compassion, for instance. The first third of Mouchtte is so relentless in its torture of the girl that it rings as false – one feels so pummeled by the time that she is beaten after her only moment of happiness that all that is left to do as an audience member is laugh in submission. It is a well-made picture, certainly, however Au Hasard Balthazar is a far superior film about the same subject, one that presents a bleak portrait of humanity whilst allowing its characters their dignity and the courtesy of being loved.

Le samouraï (1967)
May 24, 2011, 9:58 pm
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Director: Jean-Pierre Melville

A deliberate craftsman, Jef’s detached composure serves the film in a way that contradicts one’s expectations. Rather than divorcing the audience emotionally from the proceedings, he earns our respect and admiration – an element perhaps only possible with a lead as charismatic as Alain Delon.

Although Jef is regularly discussed in criticism as being systematic, the film also parallels Jef’s craft with the police force’s sophisticated, almost mechanical operation. The witness selection process is calibrated to perfection, and the slightest fault with a testimony is not forgiven until thoroughly investigated. Perhaps, then, one could surmise that Jef has an admiration for the law – in the end of the picture, his final decision is one which shows that he hasn’t underestimated his enemy. Melville argues, however, that despite their efficiency, they lack Jef’s honor (his code), as the superintendent is characterized as manipulative and purely perfunctory, whereas Jef eventually shows humanity if only in the situations in which he is compromised by a stronger foe.

It is unclear whether or not Jef is content. Though he lives with dignity, Melville parallels his own seclusion with a bird in a cage – one of the few decorative elements of his empty apartment (later revealed to serve a purpose as a security system). His sex life is non-descript – his one female companion seems to serve more regularly as an alibi than as a partner. Perhaps the interest he takes in the pianist can be seen as his Achilles heel, just as Bob of Bob le flambeur was ultimately undone by his own vice. Though his final action is depicted as being honorable, one must question whether or not Jef did ultimately neglect his code, effectively castrating him and leaving him with one option left.

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
April 12, 2011, 11:21 pm
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Director: Arthur Penn

While historically important for its graphic violence, Bonnie and Clyde is far removed from the similarly violent movies of today. The film’s biggest successes are in its quiet moments, of which there are many – the picnics, the bedrooms, the car rides. Like the films that would follow by Dennis Hopper and Bob Rafelson, the film incorporates a similar cynicism regarding the government and the law, depicting the titular criminals as vigilantes not unlike Robin Hood. It is not a glorification of the lifestyle, however, as this is a film of pure hopelessness. The “good” people we see in the film – the family who has been evicted from their home in the beginning of the picture, for example – go unthanked for their civility. Bonnie and Clyde, while trying to let on to the media that they’re worthy of their folk hero personae , never seem to embrace their image when they aren’t promoting it. As much as they represent a violent form of liberty, the irony is that they are just as doomed as the populous whom they so extensively impress.

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (1967)
March 15, 2011, 2:13 am
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Director: Roger Corman

As each character is introduced in The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, a narrator seals their fate with a short biographical passage. Earning a reputation as one of the more accurate depictions of the titular massacre, Roger Corman’s rare studio picture is a terrifically shot, albeit mechanical effort. The cast – filled with recognizable faces in supporting roles such as Bruce Dern and Charles Dierkop – is serviceable, however as Al Capone, Jason Robards is too ungrounded to ever establish any emotional complexities within Scarface. His interpretation of Capone is not that he has a short-temper, but that he is in a perpetual state of growling. There are few pleasures to be had, however, including one hilarious sequence in which George Segal viciously pursues Jean Hale over a fur coat. One can only wish that the rest of the film offered that level of reckless spontaneity.