Movie Review – Serpico

Serpico (1973)
Written by Waldo Salt and Norman Wexler
Directed by Sidney Lumet

All Cops Are Bastards. That was the commonly accepted stance in most of America for quite a while. Then 9/11 happened, and it was used as an opportunity to militarize police in America to the degree that had never happened before. That was simultaneously happening as cultural worship of first responders was seeded. I definitely think firefighters and paramedics do vital work, but they were pushed aside in the ensuing years or mashed into this current insane “Back the Blue” cult mentality. Information in America is delivered in bursts of overwhelming amounts that no average person can process & parse. This is why most Americans don’t even know about DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services (1989), where the Supreme Court ruled that “police have no specific obligation to protect.” But for people that have been awake for a while, they didn’t need that ruling to explain it to them.

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Movie Review – Dirty Harry

Dirty Harry (1971)
Written by Harry Julian Fink, R.M. Fink, Jo Heims, and Dean Riesner
Directed by Don Siegel

We are incredibly easy to manipulate. If you go up to a random person in the United States and ask them about crime in the country, they will inevitably say that crime is on the rise. In general, that isn’t true. Crime has been plummeting throughout the U.S. since the 2000s. If you narrow it to specific crimes, you’ll get spikes in thefts & robberies, but violent crime is declining. That said, the United States still ranks #1 globally in violent crime and incarcerated citizens (there’s a cyclical connection going on there). But we must also consider what is categorized as a crime and what is not. Corporate wage theft is not considered a crime, and it is rampant in every corner of the country. Police violence is placed as the opposite of “crime” when it is one of the most egregious, naked displays of state-sponsored organized crime. The 1970s was an era of high crime, and in typical American fashion, reactionary thought led to dreams of “blow the brains away” of “sniveling punks.” The avatar of this shoot first, don’t even ask questions after mentality is, of course, “Dirty” Harry Callahan.

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Patron Pick – Blow Out

This is a special reward available to Patreon patrons who pledge at the $10 or $20 a month levels. Each month those patrons will pick a film for me to review. If they choose, they also get to include some of their own thoughts about the movie. This Pick comes from Matt Harris.

Blow Out (1981)
Written & Directed by Brian De Palma

In 1966, Italian director Michaelangelo Antonioni wrote & directed Blow-Up, a mystery film about a fashion photographer who believes he may have caught a crime on film while shooting in a park. When director Brian De Palma was working on Dressed to Kill, he started to think about reframing Antonioni’s film around sound rather than images. By late 1980, De Palma was shooting Blow Out in his hometown of Philadelphia, working alongside many recurring collaborators. The result is a film made in the vein of dozens of 1970s political thrillers, wrapped up in the post-Watergate paranoia that has fueled Americans’ minds ever since. 

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Movie Review – Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)
Written by Gordon Dawson, Sam Peckinpah, and Frank Kowalski
Directed by Sam Peckinpah

The films of Sam Peckinpah are violent and coarse. They were considered so shockingly gory that it led to X-ratings and bans in some places. Although they are relatively tame on a technical level by today’s standards, emotionally, there is still a lot of pain present in the work. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia came at the end of Peckinpah’s most fruitful period, and you can see it in the production quality. Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid was a box office failure, so the budget is less. Peckinpah was also known to be an alcoholic, and while the technical filmmaking is very tight here, the anger in the script feels like a seething drunk hunched over a typewriter, dripping with misanthropy for their fellow man.

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Movie Review – The Taking of Pelham 123 (1974)

The Taking of Pelham 123 (1974)
Written by Peter Stone
Directed by Joseph Sargent

Despite the bemoaning of “high crime” in contemporary America, it’s nowhere near the epidemic levels it reached in the 1970s. New York City was one of the most significant crime outliers during that period. In 1974, NYC saw 145,000+ violent crimes, including almost 2,000 murders and over 5,000 rapes. Over 100,000 cars were stolen in the city during that year. Jump to 2019, where there were 69,000 violent crimes. Only 558 of those were murders. Rape, however, has increased to over 6,000. Car thefts dropped to over 12,000 in that year. (Source). It’s clear that, in most cases, crime is down. That rape number is alarming, though, and I wonder from a sociological perspective how it is explained. I have ideas related to a rise in right-wing reactionary misogyny, but I would like to learn more. The Taking of Pelham 123 was part of a wave of films about crime in NYC in the 1970s, a social catastrophe that had to be addressed across politics, art, and every medium.

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Movie Review – The Sugarland Express

The Sugarland Express (1974)
Written by Steven Spielberg, Hal Barwood, and Matthew Robbins
Directed by Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg’s name has become associated with the transitory period in the late 1970s as the Hollywood system went from promoting bleak & introspective pictures to escapist suburban fantasy. In tandem with George Lucas, Spielberg’s work centered on childhood and wonder, pulling audiences into theaters with the promise of amazing sights to behold. However, Spielberg followed the trends before his catapult into a chronicler of Americana fantasia. The Sugarland Express fits right in with the other American movies of the time and showcases the director’s burgeoning style, particularly his choices in using the camera to tell his stories. The film exists as such a strange anomaly that begs the question as to why Spielberg made such a marked shift in his later work (the answer is money, yes, I know).

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Movie Review – True Romance

True Romance (1993)
Written by Quentin Tarantino
Directed by Tony Scott

While this is a James Gandolfini-centric film series, I acknowledge he has such a minuscule part in True Romance. However, that two-scene appearance managed to stand toe to toe with seasoned film veterans like Dennis Hopper, Christopher Walken, and others. The film itself has not aged well, in my opinion. There’s a tasteless trans joke and multiple uses of racial slurs. The worst part is that the protagonist is a complete male Mary Sue, able to pull off some of the riskiest maneuvers despite having zero credibility in the criminal element. It’s also a film with big names in minor roles, many of whom get a single scene or just a handful. The fact that Gandolfini could stand out in a movie like this is proof of what an acting talent he was and how he was capable of such great things.

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Movie Review – The Godfather

The Godfather (1972)
Written by Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola

I would argue that Francis Ford Coppola is the most influential director of the last 20th century, not a giant leap to make, really. He pre-dated the breakout debuts of Spielberg, Lucas, Scorsese, De Palma, and more. Coppola also created a type of movie that had been endlessly mimicked and rarely matched. It’s an epic drama focused on characters and their relationships over long periods. Hollywood had been making epics for decades but not like what Coppola brought to the screen in The Godfather. This was also many people’s introduction to the specifics of the mafia. Like epics, Hollywood gave audiences gangster pictures for years but nothing that showcased the family dynamics and the importance of cultural heritage to these criminal organizations. The Godfather really does live up to its hype, unlike anything before.

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Movie Review – Azor

Azor (2021)
Written by Andreas Fontana and Mariano Llinás
Directed by Andreas Fontana

Something is wrong in Argentina. From the moment Azor begins, you feel disturbing things; the music and images hint at more sinister machinations at work. But on the surface, it seems…okay? The filmmakers have put their audience in the shoes of people attempting to navigate life under a dictatorship in Latin America. Azor is set in 1980 during the Dirty War when right-wing death squads scoured the country of anyone suspected of supporting socialism or other left-wing movements. This military junta killed between 9,000 to 30,000 people. Hard numbers are hard to get because so many of these people were disappeared overnight and never seen again, with no formal record of what happened to them. 

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Movie Review – Angels With Dirty Faces

Angels With Dirty Faces (1938)
Written by John Wexley and Warren Duff
Directed by Michael Curtiz

Recently, American conservatives voiced faux outrage over a relatively tame Super Bowl Halftime performance. Their reasoning was that elderly rappers with criminal records were the focus and encouraged moral decline. While race clearly played a part in the current blast of hot air from the right, moral outrage has existed in America since its founding. You can always count on some subgroup of people in the United States to find something to clutch their pearls over and blame it for “juvenile delinquency.” In the 1930s, gangsters were one of these cultural touchstones. For some, the criminals were seen as folk heroes fighting against the banks & powerful, while for others, they were harbingers of chaos bringing destruction to innocent lives in their wake. 

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