‘Contagion’ Isn’t Just a Thriller. It’s a Defense of Big Government.
September 19, 2011
There is a scene in Contagion, Steven Soderbergh’s global mega-pandemic thriller, in which the scalp of a dead patient—played by one of the film’s biggest stars—is sliced open during an autopsy. A flap of marbled flesh flops limply over her forehead; in the screening I attended, this was definitely the moment that elicited the most grossed-out gasps. It wasn’t the most jarring part of the movie, however. What I found way more shocking was the notion of a film in which the good guy is played by … the government. Our times are awash in the swill of anti-government paranoia.
TNR Film Classics: ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and ‘The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ (September 24, 1939)
September 16, 2011
The Wizard of Oz was intended to hit the same audience as Snow White, and won’t fail for lack of trying. It has dwarfs, music, technicolor, freak characters and Judy Garland. It can’t be expected to have a sense of humor as well—and as for the light touch of fantasy, it weighs like a pound of fruitcake soaking wet. Children will not object to it, especially as it is a thing of many interesting gadgets; but it will be delightful for children mostly to their mothers, and any kid tall enough to reach up to a ticket window will be found at the Tarzan film down the street.
Thomson on Films: Cliff Robertson and the Sordid Ways of Old Hollywood
September 15, 2011
Cliff Robertson died the other day. He was 88, and I suppose he was what is called an establishment figure. Long ago he had won an Oscar for his performance in Charly (1968) about a retarded man who is given an experimental drug that lets him find genius (and his doctor, Claire Bloom) but then slips back to being a fool, and he was perfectly OK in the film if you can manage to sit through it now, in which case you may surmise that nearly any actor in that begging role might have won the Oscar.
David Thomson on Films: ‘The Hour’ Is the Most Complex and Absorbing Story Currently Playing on Any Screen
September 06, 2011
If you haven’t caught up with it yet, “The Hour” is halfway over. The fourth of six hour-long episodes will play on BBC America on Wednesday, September 7th. But don’t be disheartened. You don’t want to watch it in its original transmission because it is stretched out to 90 minutes with some especially egregious commercials. If you wait a day, you can pick it up on Exfiniti “on demand” without the commercials. Start now and you can catch up on the first three episodes, and get in training for the most complex and absorbing story playing on film (and in English) at the moment.
TNR Film Classics: 'The Gold Rush' and 'The Freshman' (1925)
September 02, 2011
It was asserted by the present critic, when The Gold Rush appeared last August, that the comedy of the moving pictures had come to be dominated by the school of Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton, the exploitation of comic tricks or gags. And I prophesied that Chaplin, with his finer comedy and his less spectacular farce, would not be able to hold his popularity against it. What has happened is precisely the reverse of what I predicted. The Gold Rush has had a great success; and, so far from playing Chaplin off the screen, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd have taken to imitating him.
David Thomson on Films: Skip This Remake of ‘Brighton Rock’ and Catch the Grim, 1947 Original
August 30, 2011
Graham Greene published his novel Brighton Rock in 1938 and over the years he categorized it as one of his “entertainments.” Nobody should fall for that coyness. The novel is dipped in cruelty, wrapped up in bogus debates over faith and guilt (the Roman kind), and it is about as entertaining as being trapped in a corner by a cobra and feeling you must stare it down to avoid the venomous strike. The novel was filmed in England in 1947, with a twenty-four-year-old Richard Attenborough giving one of the best performances of his life as the monstrous Pinkie Brown.
TNR Film Classic: 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' (1939)
August 26, 2011
Frank Capra’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” is going to be the big movie explosion of the year, and reviewers are going to think twice and think sourly before they’ll want to put it down for the clumsy and irritating thing it is. It is a mixture of tough, factual patter about congressional cloakrooms and pressure groups, and a naïve but shameless hooraw for the American relic—Parson Weems at a flag-raising. It seems just the time for it, just the time of excitement when a barker in good voice could mount the tub, point toward the flag, say ubbuh-ubbah-ubbah and a pluribus union?
Stanley Kauffmann on Films: Treasuring Art
August 24, 2011
The Woman with the Five ElephantsCinema Guild The FutureRazor Film Mozart’s SisterMusic Box Films The Woman with the Five Elephants is not, of course, a circus picture. The title would be too square. The five elephants are the five major works of Dostoevsky. (Listing the titles would be too obvious or perhaps too arguable.) The woman is Svetlana Geier (d.
David Thomson on Films: ‘One Day,’ A Gimmicky ‘New’ Attempt at an Old-Fashioned Love Story
August 23, 2011
The one day is July 15th, and in 1988, as they both graduate from the University of Edinburgh, Dexter and Emma have a friendly night together. There is sex and, on Em’s part, at least, there is love. This is still a movie in which the girl is reckoned to feel love sooner, and with more loyalty. Dex assumes he is handsome and commanding enough to be an adventurer and a flake, with a field to play and no urge to commitment. But I’ve only told you the half of it (or less than half).
The New-Wave classic 'Band of Outsiders' turns 50