Michael Cimino

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Magnum Force Review

The first sequel to Dirty Harry proved a mildly entertaining winner, as vigilantes start offing the unconvicted mobsters of San Francisco. Harry himself isn't much more ethical, creating a moral dilemma... yeah, right! Mindless shooting and car chasing follows, along with the most-ever shots of the Golden Gate Bridge on film. Note that the cinematography is particularly awful in this movie -- most of which happens in the dark.

Year Of The Dragon Review

Very Good
Once upon a time, Mickey Rourke was a major Hollywood player, and Year of the Dragon finds him in one of his most respectable leading roles, the last film he made before 9 1/2 Weeks got everyone a little scared about Rourke's future. Here's Rourke, as well, in a prototypical role: As a hard boiled cop that will do anything it takes to bring down the new leader of New York's Chinese mafia. Rourke is like a rabid dog, and his torn-apart, hangdog performance surpasses the rest of the film, which plays like a rehash of Scarface.

Silent Running Review

Bizarre to the point of cult classicality, Douglas Trumbull's Silent Running is often so bad it's good but never quite so good that you forget (and forgive) those missteps.

Starring Bruce Dern, the film takes place in the far future, after Earth has wiped out its ecosystem and has sent its forests into space aboard enormous greenhouse spaceships. All is well until the order comes in to blow up the greenhouse and return to earth, which drives ultra-greenie Freeman Lowell (Dern) to desperate measures -- namely, killing off his crewmates and trying to escape undetected with the ship into deep space.

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The Deer Hunter Review

In his book Final Cut - the story of the infamous bomb Heaven's Gate and still the best book on Hollywood around - Steven Bach points out that Gate was so deeply reviled upon its release that the backlash extended even to Michael Cimino's previous film, The Deer Hunter. Critics stepped gingerly away from their initial high opinion of Hunter, as if Gate was so bad a movie that its taint made other movies bad too. It's rare to see film critics publicly change their opinion of any movie, but the revisionist history seemed especially odd in this case. Released in 1978 and featuring some stellar performances from Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken, it won a truckload of Oscars in 1979 and marked the arrival of a major filmmaker in Cimino. Yes, Cimino botched his career with Heaven's Gate, but that couldn't be The Deer Hunter's fault, right?

Right. But all the same, the critics were right the second time around. Time has eroded the chief power The Deer Hunter had in 1978, which was to speak to America's anxiety about itself in the wake of Watergate and Vietnam. Stripped of its '70s moment, it looks now like a film that strives for meaning but doesn't know what it wants to say. It gives us both small-town America and war-torn Vietnam, but neither convincingly. It confuses ambiguity with art, blood for drama. But before those flaws set in, it gives us the promise of a great movie about tested friendship. Set in the late '60s, the film opens on the day of a wedding in a Pennsylvania steel town, as the groom Steven (John Savage), Michael (De Niro), and Nick (Walken), all Russian-immigrant working-class stock, prepare to go to Vietnam for a tour of duty.

Continue reading: The Deer Hunter Review

Heaven's Gate Review

Heaven's Gate is not, as its reputation suggests, the worst Hollywood movie ever made. Looked at in a certain light it even has some brilliance to it, and at stray moments you can even forget that Michael Cimino's film is now a three-and-a-half-hour metaphor for the hubris of ego and the dangers of not watching your budget. (Heaven's Gate had an original budget of $7.5 million, eventually cost a whopping $44 million, took in less than $2 million at the box office, financially kneecapped United Artists, and scotched Cimino's career as a director. The gory details, wonderfully told, are all in the book Final Cut, written by then-UA production exec Steven Bach.) Strip away the behind-the-scenes story, and Heaven's Gate is an enigma, as difficult to like as it is to dismiss. It is arrogant and it is beautiful. It is thematically clever and rhetorically dull. It is sensitive and it is condescending. It has enormous ambition and winds up with nothing to say. Eventually, it's just sadly exhausting.

One thing's for certain: Kris Kristofferson is blameless. A solid if not terribly nuanced actor, he plays James Averill, an upstanding marshal who arrives Johnson County, Wyoming to investigate rumors of turmoil there. It's worse than he imagines; as the station agent explains when Averill arrives, Johnson County (not Cimino) has become "the asshole of creation," thanks to ongoing bloodshed between wealthy WASP landowners and the immigrant settlers who try to work their small parcels of land. The landowners are led by the obscenely amoral Frank Canton (Sam Waterston, razor-sharp), who draws up a "death list" of 125 Johnson County residents who are legally approved to be killed under false accusations of thievery.

Continue reading: Heaven's Gate Review

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