John Williams

There was something fitting and something discomfiting in the climactic moment of the nutty pastiche of a spectacle that Danny Boyle concocted to open the 2012 Olympic Games. Music has always played a role in the grand theater of the Olympiad, with original works typically commissioned from brand-name composers such as Philip Glass and John Williams.

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Every now and then, a film comes along that clearly demonstrates how low our expectations for the medium have fallen: Give us a few laughs or thrills and avoid abject stupidities, and we'll probably be happy. Osama, the first film produced in post-Taliban Afghanistan, is a reminder that motion pictures can do more, that at their best they can transport us, with utter conviction, to a time and place far removed from our own. In this case the "time" in question is only a few years ago, before the toppling of the Taliban, but it might as easily be millennia.

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Fervently, skillfully, seductively, Steven Spielberg evangelizes on. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (TNR, December 10, 1977) seemed to me “not so much a film as an event in the history of faith,” and that faith, I thought, was less in beings Out There than in the film medium’s ability to convince. Technology, at the behest of the culture that created it, had been called on to satisfy the culture’s deeper needs, to soothe its fears. If you discount the revised version of Close Encounters, which I hope has been withdrawn, then Spielberg’s next work in this line is E.T., The Extra Terrestria

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