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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: Apr 01, 2016 0 comments
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Mulholland Drive is a wild and woolly movie, rife with swooning mysteries, esoteric clues, red herrings, black swans, and, even if the whole mélange remains a puzzle to you, it tosses up some of the most haunting and sensual images and sounds ever to come out of Hollywood. It begins with heavy breathing and soft focus on a red sheet, your first signal that what you’re about to see is someone’s dream, though how much, and at what point things flit back and forth from nightmare to reality (or, simply, to random jetsam from writer-director David Lynch’s own weird dreams and fantasies) is up for grabs.
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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: May 20, 2016 0 comments
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The Graduate is one of the great American films. It captured a spirit of the 1960s at its cusp, marked the screen debut of Dustin Hoffman (clearing the way for a new, more inclusive type of movie star), altered the nature and function of a movie-music soundtrack—and it’s just damn fine filmmaking. It’s the shrewd mixing of dissonant elements that made the movie so head-spinning in its day and so appealing still—a fairly conventional formula, sly angles on modern themes (empty materialism, alienated youth, sexual license), and raucous comedy done up in a stark, surreal mise-en-scène: Antonioni channeled through Second City, but deeply funny, not just satirical, and oddly moving, too.
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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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