Category Archives: Movie Reviews

>"Network" (1976)

>I am publishing a short review of every movie I see.  There’s a lot of movies out there I’ve always meant to get around seeing, but that I keep putting off for one reason or another.  Time to put that Netflix queue to good use.

“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this any more!” – Howard Beale, UBS News Anchor and Mad Prophet of the Airwaves

“You are television incarnate…indifferent to suffering, insensitive to joy.  All of life is reduced to the common rubble of banality.” – Max (William Holden) to Diana (Faye Dunaway), his coldly opportunistic lover

 

Clip #1 from “Network” – Howard’s Announcement

I’m always a sucker for good political satire in a movie.  Dr. Strangelove is arguably the most famous, and most lasting, of these.  But Network feels more attached to the modern crisis of media exploitation and conglomeration than any thirty-four-year-old movie has any right to.

It’s the story of Howard Beale, a news anchor for a fictional fourth network in the late 70s, who’s been put out to pasture.  His on-air retirement/suicide announcement shocks the nation and renews interest in the Beale brand.  An up-and-coming, cynical producer (Faye Dunaway) sees the potential for a ratings boon, and soon the network’s flagging news division has been transformed into a for-profit, infotainment circus spectacle with a mentally-unfit Howard Beale as the paranoid ringleader.  The only problem is, his particular brand of crazy rings a little too true for the interests of the network heads…

Network is sublimely biting and over-the-top in all the right places, and theatrical and wordy like few motion pictures are (or ought to be, for that matter).  It’s amazing to watch this movie and realize that author Paddy Chayefsky gets it — He knows the Year Two-Thousand-and-Ten, even if he was speaking from across an ocean of time.

Watching this movie made me realize that our last decade has been the companion piece to the 1970s–a decade of economic malaise, frustration and mistrust of government, and embarrassing political fumbles at home and abroad.  The 1960s had lots of tragedy, sure–but there was also a list of tangible achievements, great gains made in society and technology that by the end of 1969 made it all somehow feel like the sacrifice had been in the service of something bigger.

The 1970s didn’t have that.  Neither does today.

Network is a fine-tuned, very well executed and eminently watchable movie.  Funny and ridiculously excessive exactly how it needs to be, but not so much that we lose our connection with the characters.  The movie asks the right questions, points its finger at the right entities.  The camerawork is all it needs to be, nothing more, nothing less.  The film is carried by a pitch-perfect script and a remarkably talented cast (William Holden, Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall…)

Clip #2 from “Network” – The Howard Beale Show

Some criticism has been lobbed at the movie’s use of long-form, theatrical-style monologue, often delivered by some red-in-the-face character in a moment of hotheadedness.  (Film critic Pauline Kael subtitled her review, “Hot Air.”)  But the frustration that carries through these characters is at the very essence of the movie’s spirit.  And it’s a frustration shared by many, including myself.

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>"Raising Arizona" (1987)

>Starting today, as part of the blog I will try to publish a short review of every movie I see.  There’s a lot of movies out there I’ve always meant to get around seeing, but keep putting off for one reason or another.  Time to put that Netflix cue to good use.

Raising Arizona follows a revolving-door inmate, H.I. “Hi” McDonnough (Nicholas Cage), who marries the policewoman (Holly Hunter) tasked with taking his mugshot at the onset of his every stint in the slammer.  H.I. gives up his old ways to be with his new love, and things are good until the couple discovers they can’t have children.  So…they steal one.  See, the Nadiya Suleman of 1987 Arizona is all over the papers, and the couple figure some folks just have too much of a good thing, while others have none.  When the enterprising father of the missing youngster discovers one of his infants missing, he places a $25,000 reward on the baby for a safe return.  Needless to say, hilarity ensues and everybody learns a lesson about the meaning of love.

I can’t recall exactly why this one had been on my list so long.  I think it’s because I’ve really enjoyed every Coen Brothers movie I’ve seen, so I’ve meant to go back to the beginning and catch up on their whole oeuvre.  Raising Arizona was leagues apart from what I thought it would be.  I didn’t realize how “broad” it was.  Lots of backwood hick characters and goofy humor.  A far cry from the subversive, Gen-X sensibilities of The Big Lebowski or the biting satire of Burn After Reading, Arizona‘s particular brand of laughs is more Farrelly Brothers than Coen Brothers.
Pictured: The wild Cage-creature in its natural habitat

Still, their undeniable talent as a writer/director team elevates the movie above what it might have otherwise been.  The film comes to life whenever The Lone Biker of the Apocalypse is featured.  Initially a component of H.I.’s daydreams, the Biker–looking like he just burned down Thunderdome–tears through the southwest on a hell-stallion bike outfitted with grenades and an assortment of knives.  This way in which this strange figure intersects with the plot at large, other characters in the story, and ultimately with H.I. himself, makes us question the reality of the movie’s world, and the reliability of the narrator up to this point.
In particular, one quick and ambiguous revelation near the film’s climax may speak volumes about what the character is supposed to represent in the mind of H.I.  Deeper critical readings aside, the biker figure’s scenes are always the most inventively shot, giving the writer/directors a chance to stage some elaborate fight choreography and spaghetti-West camerawork.
The actors portray their respective characters with plenty of gusto, particularly Cage’s repentant, sad-dog crook and Hunter’s heart-meltingly doe-eyed wannabe momma.  Still, I feel the film would have been stronger had the directors sought to highlight the more earthy, meaningful qualities of the underlying story by directing the performances to be a little more…nuanced, I suppose?  I just know that an hour and a half of The Flagstaff Hillbillies started to wear a little thin on me.
All in all, it’s worth a view, for sure.  The film picks up around the halfway mark, once all the teams’ motivations have been established and the film’s MacGuffin is firmly in play.  But it’s definitely a  sophomore effort that pales in comparison to their diverse body of work that was yet to come.