The Wrong Man (1956)
Written by Maxwell Anderson & Angus MacPhail
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
You know something is immediately different when Alfred Hitchock himself appears on the screen, in the shadows, to tell us this film is based on actual events, unlike his other pictures. The picture is in black and white and, while the credits tell us the score is by Bernard Hermann, the music is more sedate than we expect from that composer. Events happen on screen in almost methodical fashion, people walking from one place to the other, little emotion. The first display of emotion by a character, fear, leads to everything falling apart for one person whose life ends up in tatters by the end of our tale.
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Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Written by Robert Bolt & Michael Wilson
Directed by David Lean
In the 19th century, Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle gave a series of lectures positing the great man theory. This belief is that history is simply the impact of a series of great men who were highly influential and better than the ordinary person. This was attributed to some innate superiority or divine providence. This has become a well-deserved point of contention in modern history discourse as it’s become clear that white men did a very efficient job of suppressing the accounts and perspective of women, black people, and other non-white, LGBTQ+ people that lived alongside them. T.E. Lawrence was definitely seen as a great man, but David Lean’s controversial film about the historical figure explores that the myths and stories did not match the reality.
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Written by Jack Fincher
Directed by David Fincher
Jack Fincher died in 2003. He was a screenwriter and journalist out of Texas who married a nurse after serving in the airforce. Eventually, he would come to serve as the San Francisco bureau chief of Life magazine and pen a script that would be merged with others to make Scorsese’s Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator. After a year-long battle with cancer, Jack Fincher passed away at the age of 72. His son, David Fincher, had become a critically acclaimed director by Jack’s passing. David had wanted to adapt his dad’s script about screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz and the development of Citizen Kane, but the insistence on shooting in black and white led Hollywood to balk at the idea. It would be seventeen years after Jack’s passing that David would finally release his dad’s movie through Netflix.
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Erin Brockovich (2000)
Written by Susannah Grant
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Steven Soderbergh had quite a year in 2000. In March, he released this film, and in December, Traffic came out. In both these films and others, Soderbergh focuses on themes centered around working-class/poor people being victims of a cruel, uncaring system. Even Ocean’s 11 is about an ex-con with nothing trying to screw over selfish, evil, wealthy people. Magic Mike is all about people struggling to make ends meet and raise themselves out of the poverty they seem stuck in while being exploited. Soderbergh doesn’t make traditional advocacy films and is more interested in telling character-focused stories that touch on economic struggles & hardships.
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Written by Stephen J. Rivele, Christopher Wilkinson, and Oliver Stone
Directed by Oliver Stone
I’m never sure how I feel about Oliver Stone, and he seems to be a polarizing filmmaker for many people. His particular style of storytelling grates on me, and I think he slips into maudlin melodrama and absurdity way too quickly. There seems to be a lack of cleverness or subtlety in his work. I believe early pictures like Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July are okay. I have never really been able to get my head around Natural Born Killers. His George W. Bush film was a complete disappointment for me. I think JFK is probably his best work because the paranoid conspiracy focus matches Stone’s manner of directing best. Then we come to Nixon, his three hour plus presidential epic.
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Written by Sarah Gubbins
Directed by Josephine Decker
This is not a biopic about Shirley Jackson. This is an adaptation of a novel that is, in turn, a fictionalized version of Jackson’s life. In particular, it focuses on the tension between Jackson and her husband Stanley Hyman, a literary critic and professor. The film attempts to tell this story in the style of the writer’s gothic psychological short stories, with lots of people descending into a realistic form of madness. There’s no homicide involved, just humans breaking down and resisting saying the most horrible things to each other. On paper, this sounds fantastic, but something happens in the translation that renders the film lacking in the emotional impact I believe it should have had.
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Dead Man Walking (1995)
Written & Directed by Tim Robbins
In the last couple of weeks, I have felt so much anger & hate towards the police. I won’t repeat things I’ve said in the privacy of my home with my wife, but they have been rancorous things I never thought I would say about anyone. There is a part of me that knows this depth of hate isn’t good for the human psyche, and yet it is so easy to give in to these violent thoughts. I’ve watched over 300 videos of police brutality done on protesters, which has had a powerful effect on me. The police shouldn’t be let off the hook for a single act of cruelty and murder, but I think I needed to see this film right now to help temper my justified outrage.
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Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985)
Written by Leonard & Paul Schraeder
Directed by Paul Schraeder
I don’t know much about Yukio Mishima, and after watching Paul Schrader’s film, I still can’t say I developed a vast knowledge of his history. My comments in this review on Mishima come from additional research I did to try and give myself a context for what happened in the film. This adaptation of the Japanese author’s work and life is aesthetically brilliant. I particularly love Paul Schraeder’s choice of colors and cinematography to differentiate the past, present, and the dramatization of Mishima’s novels. However, he doesn’t provide the needed history and context for a Westerner to fully understand what is happening. I don’t like overly expository films, but I think just a bit might have been needed here.
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The Hours (2002)
Written by David Hare
Directed by Stephen Daldry
A single day in the life of a human being can shake the foundations of the earth like an earthquake. The Hours takes place at three points in time following three women, each on a day that alters the course of their lives. Suicide is an element in each of their days, but not all attempts are successful; however, the suicides ripple through their world, much like that earthquake mentioned above. And always the interminable hours, time continues to tick by so slowly, making them feel each moment they endure life.
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Lorenzo’s Oil (1992)
Written by George Miller & Nick Enright
Directed by George Miller
In the 1980s, young Lorenzo Odone suddenly began having strange fits and seemed to be gradually losing his faculties. His parents Michaela & Augusto, were baffled and went to numerous medical experts. Eventually, they discovered Lorenzo suffered from adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), a condition where a build-up of fatty acids damages the myelin sheath on the nerves and results in seizures & hyperactivity. There were no cures, treatments, or effective therapeutics, and the Odones were offered only hospice to ease Lorenzo’s death. They didn’t settle for this and began teaching themselves everything there is to know about the condition and the brain. Eventually, they discovered that extracts isolated from olive and rapeseed oils would stop the deterioration.
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