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Fred Kaplan Posted: Jan 15, 2015 0 comments
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La Dolce Vita was Federico Fellini’s breakout hit: a critical and commercial sensation, even in America, where foreign films till then were strictly art house fare. It’s the winding tale of a litterateur-turned-gossip columnist wandering the streets, bars, and parties of newly decadent modern Rome, seeking love, meaning, and value but finally realizing their futility and wallowing in the miasma. The film coined archetypes of the era: a character named Paparazzo, a tabloid photographer who chases after sensational shots, spawned the word paparazzi; another, Steiner, a refined man of culture who commits a gruesome crime, became the prototype of the modern ineffectual intellectual.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Jan 23, 2013 0 comments
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Jean Renoir’s La Grande Illusion remains, 75 years on, one of the greatest films ever made. To some, it may seem a bit clichéd, but that’s only because so many movies since have cribbed from its plot lines. It takes place in German POW camps during the First World War and was shot on what many recognized at the time as the eve of a Second World War. One of the things it’s about is the world that vanished, for better and for worse, in the two decades between the two wars. There has been much debate over just which “great illusion” Renoir was referring to in his title. Some have assumed it’s war. But this is not a simple anti-war movie; at the end, our French heroes, who have escaped from the camp, can’t wait to get home so they can reenlist in the fighting.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Apr 26, 2013 3 comments
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Lawrence of Arabia may be the last extravagant blockbuster that was also a great film. It’s nearly four hours long, much of it consisting of men galloping on camels through the desert, shot on location with a cast of hundreds, no sex, almost no women—yet this is riveting, heart-pounding stuff, and witty, to boot. It’s based on the true story of T.E. Lawrence, the romantic British officer who led a gaggle of bedouin armies against Turkish strongholds in World War I, helped bring down the Ottoman Empire, came to believe his own myths and see himself as a demigod—and thus became a delusional monster. The film has the feel of a grand epic and an intimate psychodrama. It’s an adventure, a clash of cultures, and a tragedy.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Jul 26, 2013 0 comments
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To my mind, Lincoln was the best film of 2012. In any case, it’s a rare thing: an old-fashioned biopic, a 19th century costume drama, a “talky” set piece about a debate in Congress—and yet it’s riveting, stirring, transporting. This is a film about the struggle over the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery; but it’s also about the nature of hard-boiled politics, the tension between compromise and principle, and the meaning of leadership—and, somehow, it doesn’t come off as preachy (except, a bit, at the very beginning and ending, though what comes in between almost earns it the right of a little sentimentality).
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Jun 11, 2013 0 comments
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All of you know the taxicab scene from On the Waterfront in which Marlon Brando tells Rod Steiger, “I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am. Let’s face it.” But I’d bet not many have recently seen the whole movie—and never have you seen it looking as breathtaking as it does on this Blu-ray Disc, a wondrous collaboration between Sony’s 4K digital-restoration lab and the Criterion Collection’s special-features team.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Nov 21, 2013 0 comments
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Silver Linings Playbook is the most oddly enticing rom-com in a long time. Think Billy Wilder filtered through Martin Scorsese, which isn’t a bad way to describe the flip sensibility and kinetic style of writer-director David O. Russell at his best (Three Kings and Flirting with Disaster, not I Heart Huckabees). It’s a movie about crazy people: self-destructive and socially oblivious in various ways to varying degrees, all of them finding a place in the sun through love, family, community, music, and sports.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Apr 17, 2014 1 comments
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The Best Years of Our Lives is the best film ever made about war veterans. That’s not exactly an alluring endorsement, so let me add that it’s a nearly three-hour film without a moment of mind-drift. It’s funny, moving, wrenching—a total tear-jerker that earns its emotional wallop.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Jun 12, 2014 0 comments
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After watching The Great Beauty in a theater, I wanted to watch it again, not to catch details I’d missed (there weren’t many) but to relive the experience. I can’t remember a film that so raptly captures the flow of life, the “fleeting and sporadic flashes of beauty” beneath the “blah-blah-blah” of existence, as our protagonist, Jep Gambardella, reflects in his epiphany. Jep (played by the marvelous Toni Servillo) is the king of Rome’s high society, the author of a celebrated novel who hasn’t written one since because he can’t find “the great beauty.” But, at the end, he realizes that life is full of great beauty when mediated through art, and so begins his new novel, which, we realize, is the film we’ve just seen.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Jun 19, 2013 0 comments
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The Kid With a Bike is a heartbreaking, gripping, ultimately unsettling, but very satisfying film—an odd jumble of adjectives, I know, but the Dardenne brothers of Belgium routinely provoke these dissonances in the works they jointly write and direct. Their earlier films (The Child, The Son, La Promesse, among others) are notoriously hard to warm to: The characters are obstinate, the pace slides and rambles. The Kid With a Bike, which won the Grand Prix at Cannes, is sunnier, more kinetic, but it, too, disrupts assumptions, snaps you in unexpected directions: just like life.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Sep 23, 2011 1 comments
Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing is a nifty film noir with brisk dialogue (by noir novelist Jim Thompson) and brushstroke characters. It features a taut narrative within a daringly fitful structure (the plot starts over and over, charting the events from different points of view, leading up to the climax) and an ending straight out of O. Henry. The story line is fairly conventional—a racetrack heist, the mastermind who devises it, and the gang of misfits who try to pull it off. But the theme—human foibles trumping the best-laid plans—anticipates many Kubrick films to come, notably Paths of Glory, Dr. Strangelove, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. This is also the first film where Kubrick, just 28 years old, displays a master director’s touch: a keen visual sense, both for the composition of the frame and for the fluid camera motion (it seems to be moving almost constantly). The acting is a bit outsized, but so it is in most Kubricks, and as with most, it fits the movie’s mood. This one marks his first association with Sterling Hayden, who’s very fine as the methodical planner: mordantly witty, slow-burning with desire to break through life’s trappings, and in the end stoic about his prospects.

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