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Fred Kaplan Posted: May 19, 2017 1 comments
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McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Robert Altman’s best film by far, has often been called an “anti-Western,” but that’s a bit off. The plot is pure Western: A stranger comes to a frontier town, builds it up; bad guys come to kill him and take it away; he tracks them down on the street and kills them first; and oh, yes, there’s a whore with a heart of gold. The difference here is that the plot is infused with circa-1900 realism: The stranger’s a bit of a dunce; the town is a muddy mess; the bad guys are corporate poachers; our man kills them by shooting them in the back, and afterward he dies in the snow from gunshot wounds while the townsfolk put out a fire in an unused church; and, oh, the whore is also a shrewd merchant with an opium habit.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: May 05, 2017 0 comments
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Jerry Maguire is the middle work in writer-director Cameron Crowe’s trio of deeply pleasurable movies, flanked by Say Anything and Almost Famous (after which…what happened, man?), and it holds up very well. Tom Cruise plays the title character, a callow sports agent, incapable of alone time or failure, who suffers a brief bout of conscience, bats out a moral manifesto, and loses his job, along with all but one of his clients, as a result. As Crowe explains on the commentary track, it was co-producer James Brooks who came up with the idea of starting the movie where most rom-coms end (selfish go-getter has his wee-hours epiphany), then following our anti-hero’s glide to the bottom before carving a new path of success that enshrines intimacy and commitment as well as ambition. It sounds corny, but Crowe and his ensemble cast (at the time all unknowns, except Cruise) pull it off.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Mar 24, 2017 0 comments
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I was thrilled with Punch-Drunk Love when it came out: such loopy energy, zigzag surprises, so preposterous but insouciantly so oddly appealing—a mess but a dazzling mess, like most of P.T. Anderson’s movies. A decade-and-a-half later, it’s lost a lot of its punch. I don’t know if I’ve changed, if imitations have sucked out its novelty, or what, but its shortcomings now shine too clearly. Adam Sandler plays a plumbing-parts salesman who’s out on the spectrum (a bit of Benjamin Braddock crossed with Rain Man), who’s never traveled or had a girlfriend, who’s always been tormented by seven playful sisters who don’t know the madness they’re inflicting.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Oct 14, 2016 2 comments
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Dr. Strangelove is one of the great American films: not just a savage anti-war satire but a jeremiad against the mechanization (and resulting dehumanization) that spawned the nuclear-war machine and might turn a burst of insanity into the death of all life on the planet. (The film’s subtitle: “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.”) It was an amazingly daring movie for its time: early 1964, the peak of Cold War tensions, barely a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis, on the eve of escalation in Vietnam—and here’s Stanley Kubrick, joined by Terry Southern, author of Candy, The Magic Christian, and other naughty novels, portraying the top brass as mentally off, our political leaders as feckless, and the holy of military holies, the nuclear deterrent, as a Doomsday Machine. And it’s funny as hell!
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Aug 12, 2016 0 comments
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Phoenix was one of the best films of 2015 (the U.S. release date): taut, nerve-racking, gorgeous in a lurid way. It has a Vertigo vibe, leaning heavily on Hitchcock’s German Expressionist influences, but marked with Angst of a more sociopolitical nature, as if the likes of F.W. Murnau and Fritz Lang had shot films just after WWII instead of the two decades before. It begins with a woman, an Auschwitz survivor (played by Nina Hoss), entering a hospital for facial surgery to repair the damage done by brutal guards. She wants to look the way she did before, so her husband can recognize her. After the operation, she finds him waiting tables at a nightclub called Phoenix.
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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: 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: Jan 22, 2016 0 comments
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A Room with a View is one of the most romantic films of all time—a funny, leisurely, unabashed, but also ironic celebration of “beauty, joy, love,” (as its youthful hero shouts from a flimsy treetop in the Italian countryside). Based on E.M. Forster’s novel, it remains the most successful film by Merchant Ivory, the enterprise consisting of producer Ismail Merchant, director James Ivory, and screenwriter Ruth Prawler Jhabvala. I’d found (and still find) many of their other movies dull, so what jelled with this one? The infectiously gorgeous setting—Florence, its surroundings, and the estates of southeastern England—must have played some role. The actors are as fine an ensemble as any assembled (besides the three listed below, Denholm Elliott, Daniel Day-Lewis, Judi Dench, Simon Callow, Rupert Graves).
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Jan 15, 2016 1 comments
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Timbuktu is a film of soaring beauty, sly humor, and urgent sorrow. An Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film, it should have won if the actual winner, the Polish masterpiece Ida, hadn’t. Shot in Mauritania, which stands in for Mali (of which Timbuktu is capital), it unspools the tragic ways in which a peaceful village is robbed of family, tradition, and the stuff of a full life when occupied by armed jihadists bearing the black flag of ISIL. At first, the dissonance seems comical: clueless outsiders, proclaiming a ban on music, soccer, and exposed female flesh, while camels block the roads and the locals lounge indifferent.
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Fred Kaplan Posted: Jul 16, 2015 2 comments
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Are you curious? Really? OK then. Yes, Fifty Shades of Grey is a lousy movie, every bit the stinker that you probably expect: dull dialogue, vapid characters, no chemistry either from or between the actors. Here’s what you really want to know: Is the movie hot? Is it at least a little bit funny? And (since you are reading Sound & Vision) how does the Blu-ray Disc look and sound? Here’s the skinny, in that order. The actors who play Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele (the most improbably famous S&M couple on the planet) are very attractive; Dakota Johnson, as Ana, is hot; but their sex is pretty tame soft porn, even by Cinemax standards. (Showtime’s Masters of Sex is way sexier.)

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