It’s been a busy month here, but that hasn’t stopped me from checking out a bunch of DVDs recently, new and old:
The Conversation — Released in 1974, this masterpiece was written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola between The Godfather and The Godfather Part II. Gene Hackman stars as twitchy, secretive surveillance specialist Harry Caul, whose life is up-ended by a seemingly-innocuous conversation that he is hired to record. Confidently directed by Coppola at the height of his abilities, the film is a perfect study of a slow burn as we watch Hackman’s character gradually fall to pieces. This is Hackman’s film, without question, but it’s also fun to see the great John Cazale (Fredo in The Godfather) and an incredibly young Harrison Ford in supporting roles. The film is also notable for the contributions of master editor Walter Murch (American Graffiti, Apocalypse Now) who created an incredible sound-scape that plays with sound and dialogue in some incredibly inventive ways. The bravura opening sequence, in which Caul and his team records the titular conversation, is staggering — like Caul, we attempt to follow the couple and their conversation, but keep getting distracted by people talking, music playing, and a myriad of other background noises, with the conversation itself flittering in and out of our perception. It’s really quite astonishing. Everybody loves The Godfather these days, but I feel that The Conversation is a film that has fallen out of the popular consciousness. Do yourself a favor and help remedy that by checking out this brilliant film!
Band of Brothers — Speaking of masterpieces, there is this 2001 HBO miniseries executive produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. Adapted from the book by Stephen Ambrose, the series follows the men of Easy Company (of the US Army 101st Airborne Division) from their training in 1942 through to the end of the second world war. I have watched this series through four times now since it was released, and each time I watch it I am just as over-come by the power of the story of these extraordinary heroes. The production quality of this mini-series is unbelievable — each episode is really its own mini-movie. The vistas are stunningly beautiful, and the action is gut-wrenchingly intense. There are few movies. let alone TV shows, that are able to stage combat sequences with as much ferocity. Over the ten episodes we follow and grow to love an enormous ensemble of characters: Damian Lewis as Richard Winters, Ron Livingston as Lewis Nixon, Donnie Wahlberg as Carwood Lipton, Scott Grimes as Donald Malarkey, Michael Cudlitz as “Bull” Randleman, James Madio as Frank Perconte, Neal McDonough as “Buck” Compton, Frank John Hughes as “Wild Bill” Guarnere, Peter Youngblood Hills as “Shifty” Powers, Rick Gomez as George Luz, Robin Laing as “Babe” Heffron, Nicholas Aaron as “Popeye” Wynn, Ross McCall as Joseph Liebgott… I am barely scratching the surface. (Just typing out those names gives me a bit of a chill, as I consider the real young men who were so potently depicted by these actors… and also brings a smile to my face as I consider these great characters who I grew to love so much over the course of the series.) Band of Brothers is brutal at times, make no mistake. It is unflinching in its depictions of the horrors of war. But it is also unflinching in its depictions of the remarkable heroism of these men. It is an important work of television, and one of the most compelling mini-series I have ever seen.
High Fidelity — What a marvelous little movie. John Cusack plays Rob, a listless, thirty-something owner of a small record store. When he gets dumped by his girlfriend, he begins a winding self-examination of his life and all of his failed relationships. The central conceit of the film, that it is basically structured as a series of Rob’s musical top-five lists, is inventive and clever. This is one of my favorite Cusack man-boy roles. He’s sort of the “straight-man” here, at least when compared to the two fellows who work with him in his store (played by Jack Black and Todd Louiso), but he’s still plenty messed-up and funny to watch himself. Speaking of Jack Black, this is the film that introduced me (and, I think, a lot of people) to his work. A quick glance at imdb reveals that he had a pretty lengthy filmography prior to appearing in this film, including quite a few things that I’d seen him in (one early episode of The X-Files, Mars Attacks!, and Enemy of the State), but nothing that really left an impact on me until seeing him in this. Black is a manic live-wire here, absolutely hysterical, and he is beautifully contrasted by the quiet, introverted performance of Louiso. Joan Cusack, Tim Robbins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Lisa Bonet all shine in supporting roles. (Especially Tim Robbins, who is marvelously bizarre — what the heck is he even doing in this movie??) This is one of those films that I watch every few years, and it’s just as funny every time I see it.
There’s a lot of other fun stuff that I’ve seen recently, including the first season of Mad Men, DC’s new animated Wonder Woman film, and the final Futurama adventure, Into the Wild Green Yonder. I look forward to telling you all about them next week! See you then.