Spies Among Us: Another Country (1984)

ANOTHER COUNTRY (1984) To view Another Country click here.

“And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,

Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;

We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;

Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;

And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,

And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.”

I Vow to Thee, My Country, Sir Cecil Spring Rice & Gustav Holst

In the early 1930s, a group of upper-class British university students were recruited as Soviet spies. Today they’re referred to as the Cambridge Five although it’s likely that their numbers were much larger. At the time that they became Soviet sympathizers, Britain and Russia were still allies but the United Kingdom was facing a monumental crisis. Millions were jobless and the economy was in the throes of a deep depression while imperialism and fascism were on the rise. The Cambridge Five responded by embracing Marxism, championing the working classes and opposing fascism, which was particularly rampant within the privileged social circles they traveled in. But times changed and as WWII erupted the alliance between Britain and the U.S.S.R. began dramatically shifting and morphing according to the winds of war. The spies were eventually found out and between 1950 and 1980 their crimes made headlines. The news stunned the British public and sent shockwaves through the establishment. What compelled these sons of fortune to adopt Marxism and become spies for Russia? Another Country (1984) scrutinizes the autocratic British school system that may, or may not, have motivated their betrayal of king and country. [...MORE]

The Times of Harvey Milk (1984)

Times_Harvey_Milk_1984_1

To view The Times of Harvey Milk click here.

Harvey Milk served only eleven months as the District 5 Supervisor of San Francisco but it can truly be said that his influence will outlive most politicians who have served a lifetime. In those eleven months, Milk got a gay rights ordinance through, successfully blocked the anti-gay teacher Proposition 6 and became a voice for a community that stretched out far beyond his home. In that eleventh month, on November 27, 1978, Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by another former city supervisor, Dan White. Milk’s life was over but his voice and message live on.

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Sharp as a Razor: Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill (1980)

DRESSED TO KILL (1980)

To view Dressed to Kill click here.

Today it’s easy to take for granted what a big deal Dressed to Kill was when it opened in early 1980, but I think you could argue that no other film from director Brian De Palma is more important in his filmography. That’s not to say it’s necessarily his best film – after all, you have a heavy slate of masterpieces to choose from – but this is the one that gave birth to the modern erotic thriller, kicked off the wave of unrated director’s cuts on home video decades before it became the norm, drove critics to rip out their hair and charge De Palma with flagrant Hitchcock plagiarism (mainly due to the fact that Hitch died the same year this came out), and familiarized moviegoers with the concept of the body double (a nude stand-in for an actor), which had earlier played a role in Hitchcock’s Frenzy (1972) and become the title of a later De Palma thriller in 1984. [...MORE]

The Man Who Saw the Angel

Andrei Tarkovsky

To view films within the FilmStruck theme “The Masters: Andrei Tarkovsky” click here.

The May 8th headline from the Film Society Lincoln Center Newsletter read “Stalker Makes Box Office History”. It went on to note how the restored 2K scan of Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film released by Janus Films “grossed a record-breaking $20,540 this weekend in its exclusive run at the Walter Read Theater. Not only does this mark the Film Society’s biggest re-release of all time, Stalker also had the second highest per theater average at the overall domestic box office, following Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” It would be hard to think of two films that could be further apart in style, theme, form, content or execution, and it gives me, as an arthouse film programmer, hope for the future. With numbers like that, surely some younger folks are buying tickets to see gems from the past and helping to keep cinema’s rich legacy alive. [...MORE]

A Fish Called Wanda (1988): The Greatest Modern Comedy?

FISH CALLED WANDA, A (1988)

To view A Fish Called Wanda click here.

There’s nothing more disappointing than revisiting a film that was considered great at its release, only to discover that it’s horribly dated. Many of the films that I loved as a teenager, particularly ones made in the 1980s and 1990s, don’t hold up some twenty or thirty years later. A Fish Called Wanda (1988) was one these films I loved, and I was afraid it would suffer the same fate as so many of those other films from that period. I’m happy to report that the film not only holds up, but is still one of the funniest, quirkiest comedies ever made.

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Is It Ever Really Easy? Blood Simple (1984)

BLOOD SIMPLE (1984)

It seems hard to believe, but the Coen Brothers made their debut film well over thirty years ago now. In 1984 they put together their own trailer, a trailer for a movie they hadn’t even made, and went about getting the financing to make the film come true. The result was Blood Simple, a crime thriller that was also a showcase for some of the best talent in the movies at that time, talent that, to this day, has never gotten its full due. But it also stands as a testament to how artists change, how they view their work and whether any of it matters in the final analysis.

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Eight Men Out (1988): Of Greedy Players, Wicked Gamblers and Stingy Owners

EIGHT MEN OUT (1988)

Long before there was a recognizable indie-film scene, IndieWire magazine, or the Independent Spirit Awards, there was John Sayles—the independent’s independent. FilmStruck is offering five of Sayles’s films for streaming: Return of the Secaucus Seven (1980), Lianna (1983), The Brother from Another Planet (1984), Eight Men Out (1988) and Casa de los Babys (2004). The release of these titles for streaming affords me an opportunity to write about Sayles, one of my favorite directors.

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Bill Paxton: Scene Stealer

ONE FALSE MOVE (1992)

I remember the first time I recognized Bill Paxton in a film. In Near Dark (1987) Paxton played Severin, a member of a roving band of vampires in love with the night, the nomadic lifestyle and the violence of their existence. “Turned” into a vampire decades earlier, Paxton’s character seemed a remnant of the Wild West crossed with a biker—the ultimate bad boy. Using his Texas drawl to great effect, Paxton portrayed the character as simultaneously cool, frightening and funny. I had seen Paxton in Streets of Fire (1984) as Clyde the Bartender and in Aliens (1986) as one of the gung-ho marines, but Near Dark made me a diehard fan.

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Resurrecting The Stunt Man (1980)

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The theme of this semester’s campus film series that I co-direct with my fellow faculty member and partner-in-crime is “Movies About the Movies.” So, I was excited to discover that The Stunt Man (1980) is currently streaming on FilmStruck. Directed by maverick filmmaker Richard Rush, The Stunt Man stars Steve Railsback as a Vietnam vet on the drift who runs afoul of the law. When he stumbles onto the set of a movie shooting on location, the director takes him on as a stunt man to hide him from the police. A raging egomaniac, the director is played by Peter O’Toole, who brings charm, charisma and a dark streak to the roguish Eli Cross.

I first saw The Stunt Man in Chicago in the fall of 1980 in a preview screening arranged by Twentieth Century Fox. Rush was there to introduce the film and to answer questions afterward. He had spent several months that year previewing the film on his own to prove to potential distributors that it would draw audiences. He had been to Seattle, Phoenix and Columbus, and he also arranged for test runs in Seattle and Los Angeles. Finally, Fox negotiated a deal after the L.A. run drew good reviews and packed theaters.

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Stardust Memories (1980): Looking Back, Looking Ahead

stardustmemories1980_3

There’s something really special about transitional films in a director’s filmography, and it almost always drives critics insane when those movies first open. Case in point: Stardust Memories (1980), Woody Allen’s first film of the 1980s (or last of the 1970s if that’s how you prefer to count decades) and a challenging gauntlet thrown down by the director after two of his ambitious films, the austere drama Interiors (1978) and his most iconic ode to his favorite city, Manhattan (1979). There was a lot of chatter at the time about the “Serious Woody Allen” (the name of a little retrospective running right here, by the way), with admirers and detractors alike honing in on the increasing Ingmar Bergman influence that had been dotted through several of his films before leaping to the forefront in both Love and Death (1975) and Interiors. So what did Allen do? He pulled a Fellini instead, and for years, no one knew what to make of it. [...MORE]

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