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Barabbas Review


Good
Any good Christian or Jeopardy! fan knows that Barabbas was the murderer that the Romans chose to free rather than Jesus when Pontius Pilate asked them to pick someone to receive a pardon. The film (based on the novel of the same name) imagines -- with minimal attention to anything that is historically known -- what might have happened to Barabbas after he was freed, tracking him back into a life of crime, a decades-long sentence of hard labor, and a stint in the gladiator pit, all before he's eventually redeemed through the message of the man who hung on the cross instead of him. Barabbas, in keeping with the Biblical epics of its era, is overwrought and overlong, but Anthony Quinn is memorable in the leading role, even when the script is derivative of everything from Spartacus to Ben-Hur, films which were still fresh in the public's mind. Barabbas has aged poorly in comparison (though Spartacus isn't the masterpiece many wish it to be, either).

The Professionals Review


Very Good
This classic but largely forgotten Western is pretty risque for its time, offering not only brief nudity but a damsel in distress who may not be as dainty and innocent as she makes herself out to be. Hired to rescue this "kidnapping victim" from the clutches of evil Mexicans (led by Jack Palance!), a gang of four war veterans (including Burt Lancaster and Lee Marvin) head to their compound, encountering misadventure along the way. It's a little dated and has a few shot-on-bad-studio-set moments, but on the whole it's an impressive film, even if you don't normally care for Westerns.

Shane Review


Excellent
When a reformed gunslinger looking to mend his evil ways stumbles upon a conflict between peace-loving sodbusters and ornery cattle ranchers in the middle of the old old West, trouble is bound to happen. And trouble is what Shane gets, as our title character (played by Alan Ladd) soon finds out as he returns to some of his rough-and-tumble ways as he tries to defend the homesteaders. Earnest and exciting, even if it's a bit white hat/black hat (Jack Palance even makes an appearance here as an evil gunman who wears, you guessed it, a black hat), Shane is one of the great westerns, a film that inspired many which would follow it.

Panic In The Streets Review


Excellent
In swampy New Orleans, a harried government health officer (Richard Widmark) tracks down two thieves (the inimitable Jack Palance and Zero Mostel) who are carrying a form of bubonic plague. A series of encounters lead our hero closer to the duo while facing increasing resistance from every side -- as no one wants the titular panic in the streets. Noir has been grittier (Mostel lends an inevitable humor to everything he touches), but this comparably early Elia Kazan movie indicates just how prodigious his talents behind the camera could be.

Marquis De Sade: Justine Review


Bad
Of all the films I've seen based on the Marquis de Sade's literature and life, Justine comes the closest to being an Emmanuelle sequel. It's also the only one that I know of to star Jack Palance and gives us none other than the glorious freak Klaus Kinski as the Marquis himself. The story involves a young virgin's sexual awakening -- and willing subjection to humiliation and light torture -- and is in keeping with de Sade's work. Still, though it's rather awfully made, it's somewhat tame by today's standards, which also makes it more than a bit humorous.

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Contempt Review


Excellent
Contempt (or Le Mépris, for you purists out there), directed by Jean-Luc Godard in 1963, is a superlative film about many things, including the making of a film, the break-up of a married couple, and the parallels between the contemporary New Wave world (of 1963) and the classical (Old Wave) world of Homer. The basic story, based on novel by Alberto Moravia, is this: Director Fritz Lang (playing himself) is in the process of directing a film version of Homer's Odyssey. Lang has already shot some scenes, but his boorish film producer Jeremy Prokosch (Jack Palance) is upset with the results so he has fired most of the crew and hired a playwright named Paul (Michel Piccoli) to do some rewrites. Paul arrives in Rome with his beautiful wife Camille (Brigette Bardot) and over the course of a couple of days - in which they travel to Capri - everything goes wrong for Paul, who loses Camille to Prokosch and who decides that rewriting the Odyssey is too big a task considering that his own life has taken a heartbreaking turn. Contempt, however, is not a movie about making a movie as much as it is a movie about a disintegrating relationship. The center piece scene is a 30 minute passive/aggressive marital fight between Paul and Camille that takes place in a small apartment. The scene is a very economical piece of filmmaking that unfolds in real time. On first viewing this scene can be maddening because it doesn't seem to go anywhere, and it's difficult to figure out what Camille and Paul are fighting about. Their grief seems to come from someplace else. And maybe there is a past we don't understand, but what Godard is presenting us with is a failed relationship in the modern world: One where gallantry, romanticism and, more importantly, communication have failed. On the surface the film also shows how difficult it is for an art house director to get a film made with a Hollywood film producer: especially if the film is based on such a classic as Homer's Odyssey. Jack Palance gives a very funny performance as the egomaniacal film producer who can only see profit in the venture. He also gets a few humorous lines: When Lang comments on a Greek story, Palance reaches into his coat pocket and says, "When I hear the word culture I get out my checkbook." There is an irony also to Palance's character because it was well known at the time that Godard was having trouble with the film's real producers: Carlo Ponti and Joseph Levine. They insisted that Godard include a nude scene with Bardot so he went back and shot a scene with color filters in which she talks to her husband in the nude. It's a much more intellectual scene than a sexy one and, if anything, it clearly shows that Godard won the battle on that issue. Unlike almost all of Godard's film in the 1960s, Contempt is much more heartfelt than intellectually removed or self reflexive. No doubt, some of this can be attributed to Godard's split from his then wife Anna Karina, which had to have some kind of personal affect on him. But part of the reason too is because of Georges Delerue's distinctively melancholic score, which consists of two mood-setting pieces that are shuffled and repeated seemingly at will about 20 times throughout the film. Still the film does have some self reflexive moments. In many instances Godard comments upon many things in literature from Dante to romantic poetry and films that have influenced him like Roberto Rossellini's Voyage in Italy and Howard Hawks' Hatari!,as well as nods to his own films. Best of all is the gorgeous color Francscope (similar to CinemaScope) cinematography done in anamorphic 2.35:1 aspect ratio by the legendary D.P. Raoul Cotard and the slow burning pace, which is a desirable quality missing from cinema these days. The images are so seductive, in fact, that viewers may miss some of the complexity and issues about the classical versus the modern world. The Criterion Collection DVD is exemplary in all categories. There is an informative commentary track by film scholar Robert Stam and a second disc full of all kinds of goodies. The two best are a 53-minute conversation between Godard and Lang titled The Dinosaur and the Baby and a 10-minute interview with Godard in which he stands at a microphone with sunglasses on and tells an interviewer what he thinks of critics. There is also a short doc on the difficultly of dealing with Bardot's fame during the shoot, a short on Fritz Lang, and a recent interview with Raoul Coutard. There is also an enlightening five minute comparison between the inferior full-frame 1.33:1 transfer of the film (long available in video) versus the widescreen letterbox transfer, which mirror the director's true intentions. All in all this is a stunning DVD and is not-to-be-missed by any Godard fan; something we should all be by now.

Young Guns Review


Bad
Remember the Alamo, and remember the '80s. Young Guns supposedly takes place in the old west, but it actually takes place in front of the cameras. If you use your imagination, behind the impeccably coiffed brat pack (Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland, Lou Diamond Philips, Charlie Sheen), you can almost see their hairdressers, lint removers, personal assistants, entourages, and playmates. Young Guns doesn't have a good reason to exist besides an excuse for these hot young Turks to look good onscreen, pop off their guns, then mosey off the set and indulge in stardom. It might seem unfair to judge the movie this way, but damn if that isn't the way it feels -- an excuse for preening.

Fifteen years later (as the film is reissued on an indulgent Special Edition DVD set, complete with commentary track from three of the less-busy stars), everything in Young Guns feels wrong. The cheap sawdust sets, the dust-free costumes (except for tobacco chompin' Dermot Mulroney, who is "Pigpen" to the rest of the Peanuts Gang cast), the barely awake performances by Yoda-like mentor Terence Stamp and bad guy Jack Palance, and the flat-out arrogance of some of the cast members. At the time, they may have been the masters of the universe -- emblematic success stories of the Reagan era. Now, Emilio Estevez's Billy the Kid is a cute nihilist, a maniac winking at the camera to let us know deep down, he's really svelte Emilio.

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Steve McQueen Becomes Youngest Recipient Of BFI Fellowship

Steve McQueen Becomes Youngest Recipient Of BFI Fellowship

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'Mulholland Drive' Named By Critics As Greatest Movie Of The 21st Century

'Mulholland Drive' Named By Critics As Greatest Movie Of The 21st Century

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Green Man 2016 - Live Review

Green Man 2016 - Live Review

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