For Reel

The Party (1968)
October 3, 2016, 10:27 pm
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Director: Blake Edwards
4.5 Stars
the-partyBlake Edwards’ riff on Jacques Tati’s Playtime takes most of its inspiration from the superficial elements. If each filmmaker deals with a soirée involving the social elite, rife with modern gadgets and a loosely-structured plot, Edwards is more keen to attract audiences through their association with social paranoias. Peter Sellers’ Hrundi V. Bakshi is an outsider in every sense of the word, and from the moment he arrives at the eponymous event he meets disaster on the regular—the pleasant smile he gives to mask the fact that he’s desperate to use the facilities is something audiences can easily identify with. Edwards’ sense of escalating chaos is not so much tied to the actual event itself, rather to the foibles of Bakshi’s social deficiencies. Lest the audience mistake the film for mean-spirited towards Bakshi, however, the final act elevates him to a sort of hero, inciting a grand party while protecting the honor of an elephant and a girl. To Edwards, this sense of disorder is the first time that the playing field is truly leveled, and an outsider like Bakshi can overcome the social gatekeepers that spend most of the film appalled by his antics. If Tati’s film is more loving and gentle throughout, The Party‘s finale plays like a fantastical wish fulfillment, where the socially inept Bakshi becomes the centerpiece of a party and wins the girl.

Planet of the Apes (1968)
July 30, 2016, 5:35 pm
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Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
4 Stars
Planet of the Apes“You can’t trust the older generation,” is the sentiment oft-repeated in Planet of the Apes, marking a cultural divide that feels appropriate for both the sociopolitical landscape of the time and for Hollywood itself, which was starting to see the influence of the New Hollywood filmmakers who were challenging the very idea of what a film can be and do. That Planet of the Apes is such a pop sci fi phenomenon has made many forget how radical it was—beyond providing an allegory for racism and openly criticizing organized religion, there’s an undeniable anger in Charlton Heston’s performance which goes beyond the most iconic moments. As with Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, the film involves a reversal in which the real villains of the story are fully put into focus in the closing moments. That these progressive ideas (unsurprising given the film was scripted by Rod Serling and blacklistee Michael Wilson) were incorporated into such a successful entertainment marks the great potential of the science fiction genre—the immediacy of the social landscape being made into accessible metaphors was part of Serling’s genius. If anything keeps Planet of the Apes from being a bonafide masterpiece, it is the cutesiness of some of its language (replace the word “man” with “ape” in just about any cliché and you have half the screenplay), but on the other hand the topsy-turvy conceit also lends itself to the film’s most primal, horrifying images, including a human museum.

Valley of the Bees (1968)
June 8, 2011, 8:38 pm
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Director: Frantisek Vlácil

Frantisek Vlácil’s second medieval period peace, filmed back-to-back with his oft-praised Marketa Lazarová, distances itself from Vlácil’s earlier efforts with an episodic, sprawling narrative. Rather than capturing a modestly scaled, intimate relationship between two people within a confined space of time, Valley of the Bees concerns the growth of Ondrej, a young Teutonic Knight, who, having been brutally assaulted by his father early in life, has developed his own violent tendencies. This violence is contrasted heavily with the religious zealotry that we see throughout the film – in prayer, two knights lay naked on a beach and allow the tide to torture their bodies, and later Ondrej’s step-mother is seen flagellating herself. With a reoccurring motif of dogs, who seem to represent the most carnal, uncivil desires of man, Vlácil criticizes religious doctrine as being a thinly-veiled disguise that distances us from animals only on the uppermost surface level.

Otley (1968)
May 1, 2011, 7:14 pm
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Director: Dick Clement

Playing somewhat against type, Tom Courtenay stars as the bumbling layman who finds himself entangled in an espionage conspiracy following his friend’s murder. It’s familiar material for parody – this being a clear response to the Bond phenomenon – however the needlessly complicated plot leaves no room for authentic suspense and Austrian bombshell Romy Schneider is underutilized. Although some of the jokes work, the majority fall completely flat – this is the kind of movie where a half-shaven beard is taken as wit. One car chase sequence, which occurs while Courtenay is testing for his drivers license, shows inept direction and editing in that the reaction shots, rather than amplifying the humor, rid the scene of it entirely due to their placement and the inadequacy of the performances.