Movie Review – Psycho (1960)

Psycho (1960)
Written by Joseph Stefano
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Psycho is, without a doubt, one of the most iconic films ever made. Even people who have never seen the movie have likely seen it parodied, especially the infamous shower scene. It’s interesting to note how mixed initial reviews of Psycho were. Hitchcock directed Vertigo and North by Northwest, very classy, glamorous thrillers in the two years prior. Psycho is definitely sleazy in comparison, especially the exploitative nature with which is approaches sex and violence. Hitchcock had to restrain himself to a degree, but he definitely gets away with a lot because of who he was.

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TV Review – The Best of The Twilight Zone Part 3

Person or Persons Unknown (Season Three, Episode Twenty-Seven)
Original airdate: March 23rd, 1962
Written by Charles Beaumont
Directed by John Brahm

The Twilight Zone could really delve deeply into some intimately existential fears. In this episode, we meet David Gurney, a man who wakes up after late-night drinking. His wife reacts with horror, claiming she doesn’t recognize him and has no idea who he is. David thinks she’s playing a prank on him and leaves for work. But once he arrives at the bank, he finds his coworkers are in the same boat as his wife. They have never seen or heard of him before. Eventually, David ends up in a mental hospital where his doctor tries to convince him he never had this life; he seems to remember so vividly.

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TV Review – The Best of The Twilight Zone Part Two

Eye of the Beholder (Season Two, Episode Six)
Original airdate: November 11th, 1960
Written by Rod Serling
Directed by Douglas Heyes

Janet Tyler lays in a hospital bed, her face covered in bandages. When a nurse comes to check on her, the patient laments about her hideous visage, the problem that brought her here. The doctors have done plastic surgery, but everyone is worried that Janet’s disfigurement is so severe there is not much they can do. This is one of those episodes that you’ll likely know the twist for if you are pop-culture savvy, but it doesn’t diminish the impact of the story. 

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Movie Review – Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte

Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964)
Written by Henry Farrell & Lukas Heller
Directed by Robert Aldrich

The box office success of 1962’s Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? was a complete surprise to producer-director Robert Aldrich. Upon seeing those returns, he decided a follow up needed to be made, another picture pairing Bette Davis & Joan Crawford. This time around, Aldrich switched the roles with Davis playing the invalid and planning on Crawford being the conniving villain. However, the rivalry between these two women kept going into the filming. Crawford filmed her on-location scenes, but when production returned to Hollywood, she claimed she was sick and dropped out of the film. This led to Olivia de Havilland being cast as Crawford’s replacement and many scenes being reshot.

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Movie Review – 2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Written by Stanley Kubrick & Arthur C. Clarke
Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Film does not work without images. In the same manner, music does not work without sound, and comics do not work without illustration. With 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick dove deep into the very heart of what gives cinema form. The result is a movie that is actually an incredibly traditional narrative, shaking off all the unnecessary exposition and focusing its lens on movement, space, both the presence & absence of sound, color, lighting, every essential component of the craft. I get entirely if someone doesn’t like 2001, and the first time I saw it, I felt very dissonant with the picture. It took some additional viewings, reading & hearings others’ thoughts, and forming a picture of what the movie represented for myself.

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Movie Review – Dr. Strangelove

Dr. Strangelove (1964)
Written by Stanley Kubrick, Terry Southern, and Peter George
Directed by Stanley Kubrick

There is comedy in the horror of humanity destroying itself. That is what Stanley Kubrick realized while penning the script for Dr. Strangelove alongside Peter George. Initially, they planned to make a serious film about a nuclear accident based on the simmering Cold War fears of the day. The more Kubrick delved into the policies surrounding mutually assured destruction, the more he found it all to comically absurd. Once Kubrick realized he was making a comedy about nuclear annihilation, he brought in writer Terry Southern who had written the comic novel The Magic Christian, which the director and Peter Sellers both loved. Southern punched up the story using real scenarios and protocols for comedy, and thus we have the dark humor of Dr. Strangelove.

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Movie Review – Lolita

Lolita (1962)
Written by Vladimir Nabokov (but really by Stanley Kubrick & James B. Harris)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick

As both the film’s trailer and poster asked, “How did they ever make a movie about Lolita?” To say this is an extremely controversial book is an understatement, but also to say that the controversy surrounding the book is overblown would be as well. Lolita is sometimes categorized as an erotic novel, and, as someone who has read Nabokov’s book, I didn’t find anything erotic in the whole text. It’s a first-person narrative told by an unreliable narrator whom the author has called “a vain and cruel wretch.” The novel Lolita is a literary text dripping with irony. There’s a bizarre penchant for modern American culture to assume “protagonist” is equivalent to “hero,” and I guess our popular media has pushed that paradigm aggressively. I don’t think that is the case, and often the most interesting stories are the ones told from a villain’s point of view, which does not mean we are expected to agree with the narrator.

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Movie Review – Spartacus

Spartacus (1960)
Written by Dalton Trumbo
Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Spartacus helped to end the Hollywood blacklist. As a result of The House Un-American Activities Committee beginning in 1947, radical right-wing legislators sought to root out Communism in the nation, and this led to artists working in the film industry to be placed on a blacklist. Being placed on this list meant you were considered unhirable because your presence would lead to suspicions of Communist sympathies. 151 American entertainment professionals were put on this list and suffered greatly as a result. Dalton Trumbo was one of those people, and the combination of Kirk Douglas getting Trumbo hired to write Spartacus and director Otto Preminger doing the same for Exodus was a signal that over a decade long blacklisting was over. President John F. Kennedy crossing the picket lines of anti-Communists to view the film further spread the message that this horrible period should end.

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My Favorite Screwball Comedies

The Palm Beach Story (1942, directed by Preston Sturges)

From my review: This is the ur-text of screwball comedies, every core element boiled down to its purest essence. There are pratfalls galore, windows getting smashed, and people confusing each other for others. It exists as both an ode to the comedies of mixed-up identities from Shakespeare and commentary on the late stages of the Great Depression. This film will inspire future pictures like Some Like It Hot and Intolerable Cruelty, but it doesn’t put on airs of being profound or world-changing. This is a pure character-centered comedy that understands how important it is to have a diverse variety of roles.

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Movie Review – The Apartment

The Apartment (1960)
Written by Billy Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond
Directed by Billy Wilder

As we come to the end of this Billy Wilder retrospective, we get to what might be the most excellent comedy of his later years. It’s so interesting how we began with the dark & bleak Double Indemnity and come to this comedy-drama. That isn’t to say that The Apartment lacks maturity. It’s a finely developed and sensitive picture about adults and the complexity of relationships & sex. The two films have more in common than what you might think at first glance as they are both about the darker side of adult relationships, one more outlandish than the other.

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