Rating: The Good – 75.8 Genre: Romantic Comedy Duration: 113 mins Director: Mike Nichols Stars: Melanie Griffith, Harrison Ford, Sigourney Weaver
Of its time but in the best ways possible, Mike Nichols’ Working Girl is a superior rom-com starring Melanie Griffith as an ambitious secretary who, on discovering that her ruthless boss (a delightfully obnoxious Sigourney Weaver) has stolen her idea for a lucrative merger, assumes the role of an executive to close the deal herself. Along the way, she inevitably falls for the man helping her to put it together (Harrison Ford in top comedic form) while evading any and all situations that might disclose her real identity to him and everyone else. Working Girl achieves that priceless balance between the drama and romance by laying out a well developed plot and seamlessly weaving it with the various romantic angles. Nichols compensates for Griffith’s acting limitations by setting a comedic tone just wacky enough to forgive her flat delivery but not so much that it detracts from the relative sophistication of the story. Ford greatly assists him in this endeavour as he demonstrates, yet again, his impeccable timing and instincts for light comedy while Weaver proves equally critical with a brave and perfectly judged turn that she uses, like Ford, to coax the best out of Griffith. Nichols composes the entire thing with polish and remains master rather than victim to the business and fashion cultures from which so much of the humour is derived but the jewel in the movie’s crown is undoubtedly Kevin Wade’s witty screenplay that Ford in particular has a ball with. All that plus an electric Alec Baldwin as Griffith’s old squeeze, and some glorious cameos from Oliver Platt and Kevin Spacey ensure that Working Girl sits right at the top of that era’s genre offerings.
The Conversation is a dark and introspective study of a private surveillance expert, Harry Caul (Gene Hackman), whose private life becomes increasingly infected by those traits his profession requires, namely, paranoia and anonymity. When Caul comes to believe that his latest subjects’ lives could be in danger due to his recordings, past anxieties emerge to ultimately tear down the fragile order he has created in his life. Hackman is superb in the lead role and gives a breadth of reality to the deeply idiosyncratic Caul. Furthermore, he is well supported by John Cazale, Harrison Ford, and Robert Duvall. Coppola’s taut direction is at its best here as he assembles and disassembles reality primarily through his use of sound but also through his use of darkly lit interiors and ambiguous dialogue. And it is this ambiguity that dominates the film’s theme as Caul’s overconfidence in words and voices become a lesson in the subjectivity of life. The influence of Japanese cinema is all over this film, particularly in the dream sequences and that memorable final scene which strongly echoes the extraordinary ending to Okamoto’s The Sword of Doom.
Rating: The Good – 79.8 Genre: Drama Duration: 110 mins Director: George Lucas Stars: Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Paul Le Mat, Harrison Ford
For those who (somewhat understandably) used the most recent Star Wars films as reason to doubt George Lucas’ talent as a director, this is one of two films they should watch that will assuage any such doubts (the other being THX 1138). An ode to the 1950-60′s cruising generation, American Graffiti follows a group of friends the night before two of them are due to head off for college. Lucas knits each of the scenes together with a medley of era-specific rock and roll hits which are intermittently punctuated by local radio pirate Wolfman Jack and he quite brilliantly uses the radios of passing cars, restaurants, gas stations, etc to ensure the soundtrack is a constant feature of the background. The fun of the evening’s adventures are had in a series of cracking set pieces ranging from drag races to that now classic liquor store robbery. On the acting front, all acquit themselves admirably with Richard Dreyfuss and Paul Le Mat scoring particularly well. Dreyfuss brings a lot of depth to his character and taps that ever present ability to strike up immediate chemistry with a variety of on-screen partners. On the other hand, Le Mat quite simply gives us one of cinema’s coolest characters as king of the strip John Milner. Unmissable.
Peter Weir’s thriller is a case of a standard enough plot elevated by superb direction and strong central performances. Harrison Ford plays John Book, a Philadelphia detective investigating the murder of a police officer where his only witness is a young Amish boy. When that boy identifies another policeman as the murderer Book is injured in a shoot-out with him and is forced to flee with the child and his mother to their Pennsylvanian community until he recuperates. Witness is a unique looking film which offers a subtle meditation on the wonder of the unknown and Weir captures it flawlessly. The tempered pace at which he develops the characters combined with Maurice Jarre’s gorgeous score and John Seale’s majestic cinematography results in an enchanting movie experience. He balances the explosive action sequences with the explorative dramatic scenes so well that each complements the other. For his part, Ford gives us a thoroughly interesting performance as the tough city cop out of his element and he is matched by Kelly McGillis who is quietly exceptional as the recently widowed Amish mother of the young witness. She brings just the right amount of innocence and undiscovered strength to the part which more than anything else sets the tone of the romantic relationship that develops. Lukas Haas does very well as the boy while Danny Glover and Josef Sommer are great as the nasty bad guys.
Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness switches the action from Africa to Vietnam to telling effect given the reverberations the East Asian context would have with an audience of the late 70’s and beyond. Thus, in Apocalypse Now, Martin Sheen’s Captain Willard journeys up the Nung River with a boat full of assorted and richly drawn American GI’s to deal with Marlon Brando’s Col. Kurtz.
The stories behind the film’s making are legendary (a typhoon destroying the helicopters being used on the film, Martin Sheen’s health troubles, etc.) but the end product is a mesmerising and reflexive exploration of the dark side to humanity. Brando makes a brief but arresting appearance as the disturbed but magnetic leader of a rag-tag jungle army which includes Dennis Hopper in one of his more deranged roles (and that’s saying something!). However, Sheen’s contribution is just as important as Brando’s, if not more, as the film rests on his shoulders for the vast majority of its long duration. It’s a powerfully tempered performance that encapsulates, more than any of the others, the fragile and disturbing yet steely nature of man.
The last word, of course, should be reserved for Coppola for Apocalypse Now is a sublime piece of film-making. From the very opening sound that phases between the sound of helicopters and that ceiling fan to the illuminating shots that followed it to the audacious La Cavalcata Delle Valchirie sequence now immortalised as perhaps the most famous movie sequence of all time, the level of inspiration and innovation demonstrated here, both technical and from a purely artistic point of view, is simply spell-binding. It was also arguably Coppolla’s last truly great work and given that it was capping films like The Godfather Part I and Part II and The Conversation, he certainly seems to have burned twice as bright as practically every other director working at that time. And if Apocalypse Now really was his denouement as a genius director, it’s an utterly unforgettable piece of work to sign off on.
Rating: The Good – 90.5 Genre: Science Fiction Duration: 117 mins Director: Ridley Scott Stars: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young
Few films can be truly described as seminal and Ridley Scott’s science fiction classic would intuitively seem like a prime candidate given the fact that it has become a landmark in science fiction. However, truth be told, it is such a singular achievement that nobody seems to have known how to pick up where Scott and company left off. Though many would argue that Alien is Scott’s crowning achievement, many directors proved capable of at least emulating the industrial sci-fi vibe which he forged in that film, resulting in a traceable sea change right across the genre. Blade Runner had no such obvious effects and when one takes in the breadth of both its technical and conceptual complexity one begins to suspect that it is because nobody knew how Scott did exactly what he did.
Based on a Philip K. Dick story, Blade Runner is set in a future when evolution in robotic technology has produced genetically engineered robots or ‘replicants’ which are almost completely indistinguishable from humans. When four of the most advanced and dangerous replicants escape their enslavement and make it to Earth, one of the few crack investigators (called ‘Blade Runners’) who can identify them is forced out of retirement to track them down and eliminate them.
Blade Runner is a spectacular film graced with sublime production design, unrivaled visual effects, and that mesmerising Vangelis score. However, it’s the qualitative experience of Scott’s futuristic vision that is so utterly captivating and such an experience can only be achieved when every aspect of the film-making process is pitch perfect. The actors from Harrison Ford as the Blade Runner to the improvisational Rutger Hauer as the nastiest of the replicants are totally in tune with the proceedings and provide that final touch of mastery to what surely must be one of the most impressive science fictions films ever made. It’s not always an easy watch because this is a darkly heavy and profoundly existential film. But stick with it and you’ll never forget it.
Rating: The Good – 68.2 Genre: Mystery, Thriller Duration: 127 mins Director: Alan J. Pakula Stars: Harrison Ford, Raul Julia, Greta Scacchi
One of the very best courtroom dramas of the 1980/90′s, this film is populated with some of that era’s best scene-stealers and Harrison Ford in one of his best performances as a hot-shot prosecutor on trial for the murder of a colleague. Director of such greats as All the President’s Men and The Parallax View, Alan J. Pakula allows the drama to unfold at a steady pace moving it forward by interlacing the murder investigation with a series of conservative flashbacks which successfully tell the back story without overly intruding on the present. Brian Dennehy, John Spencer, Paul Winfield, and Bonnie Bedelia are all on hand to offer great support. However, great as the aforementioned are, it’s the arch scene stealer, the late great Raul Julia, as the suave and erudite defence attorney who gives this film its defining touch of class.