Showing posts with label sidney lumet. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sidney lumet. Show all posts

23 March 2015

Blu-ray Review - Network (1976)

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Genre:
Drama, Satire
Distributor:
Arrow Academy
Release Date:
23rd March 2015 (UK)
Rating: 15
Director:
Sidney Lumet
Cast:
Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch, Beatrice Straight, Robert Duvall
Buy: Network - [Blu-ray]

Sidney Lumet is the link between old Hollywood and New Hollywood. He got his start doing live television like his contemporary John Frankenheimer. He made a splash in the late 50s with his debut film 12 Angry Men, and throughout the 60s made gems like The Pawnbroker, The Fugitive Kind, and The Hill. He is best known however, for a handful of extraordinary films he made in the 1970s, with films like the experimental police drama The Offence with Sean Connery, the taboo busting Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico, and finally the prophetic Network, which with each passing year becomes more relevant.

Network is a satire about cynical television executives who exploit a mentally unstable man Howard Beale (Peter Finch) to get higher ratings, after he states he will commit suicide on air and the ratings raise considerably. The crazed conspiracy right-wing nut job Glenn Beck recently admitted live on air that he suffered from a neurological illness that “made him look crazy”. The right-wing grassroots US movement The Tea Party incorporated the famous "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this any more!" speech by Howard Beale which is funny considering the film’s cynical leftist message is as far away from their beliefs as it can get.

Despite being a film that predicted aspects of reality television, 24-hour news and the Glenn Becks of the world; Network was actually inspired by the story of Christine Chubbuck who committed suicide live on-air. This put a seed in the mind of writer Paddy Chayefsky who wrote the screenplay (he won the Oscar for the script), and is considered one of the finest writers of his generation, both on film and on stage, however, sadly he died of cancer at a young age.

Sometimes Network is considered to be a writer’s film more so than a director’s film, which I find completely unfair to Sidney Lumet’s work. Lumet always put performance and story above everything else but in Network it’s one of his most visually inventive films, especially during the film’s last half - the “explosive” final. The performances as expected from Lumet are all brilliant. The actors completely inhabit their characters so it’s no wonder Finch won the first posthumous Oscar and Faye Dunaway and Beatrice Straight also collected Oscars for their performances as well. It’s often reported that Tim Robbins is an assassin in the film but the guy just bares an uncanny resemblance, it’s not Robbins he was still a senior in high school during the shoot.

In a decade that in retrospective is now considered by many to be the second Golden age of Hollywood, Network stills remains a high water mark. It’s shocking to think Rocky beat it for Best Picture but Americans always love a sentimental underdog story after all. Network was in good company - Taxi Driver and All the President’s Men also lost, and all stand the test of time more so than the winner.

The package from Arrow, I have to admit, falls below their normal average when it comes to special features. It has two lengthy, but overall disappointing special features; the first one is Sidney Lumet episode of The Directors series, I’m not a fan of the series because I consider them little more than puff pieces. The other, meatier, feature is a visual essay by Dave Itzkoff, the author of Mad as Hell: The Making of Network, that is more insightful and the better of two features. It’s shame due to rights issues it couldn’t use the impressive features on the US WB disc which includes a feature length documentary along with other documentaries.

★★★★★
Ian Schultz

24 February 2014

Masters Of Cinema Blu-ray Review - Serpico (1973)

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Genre:
Crime, Drama, Biography
Distributor:
Eureka! Entertainment
Rating: 18
BD Release Date:
24th February 2014 (UK)
Director:
Sidney Lumet
Cast:
Al Pacion, Jack Keghoe, John Randolph, Barbara Eda-Young
Buy: SERPICO (Masters of Cinema) (Blu-ray)


Serpico is one of the crowning achievements in two careers, which had plenty the director Sidney Lumet, and the film’s star Al Pacino. It came off the heels of Sidney Lumet’s little seen but brilliant Sean Connery cop film The Offence and Pacino’s star making role in The Godfather and his equally great performance in Scarecrow.

Al Pacino shines as the title character of Frank Serpico, who starts life out as a uniformed police officer. He gradually discovers a world of police corruption and plans to blow it open. Serpico becomes increasingly idiosyncratic such as read literature not associated with a police officer and basically becomes a hippie. His behaviour makes his partners, superiors to be suspicious of him cause he refuses to take any payoffs. They eventually start to threaten his life.

Sidney Lumet was the undisputedly the king of gritty New York realism and Serpico was the beginning of what would make his name despite working since the 1950s and making many great films by this time. It’s both a pioneering cop film and a brilliant examination of a man who is a flawed moral crusader. Serpico along with The French Connection became the blueprint for the gritty realistic cop film we now know and love today.

The film is also very much a product of the time. It’s a film made at the climax of the Vietnam War, Watergate and the death of the Hippie dream. Lumet was always a political director even though his politics never made his films inaccessible to people of the left or the right is evident in the right leaning Tea Party appropriation of the “I’m not gonna take it anymore” line from his later 70s masterpiece Network despite his liberal politics. It could also just be there were fewer films then and people of all political persuasions would see what was new.

Lumet would return to the topic of police corrupt in the New York police force in later films such as Prince of the City and Q & A but he never bettered Serpico on the subject. Pacino and Lumet really were at the top of the game; both star and actor rarely put a put a foot wrong in the 70s. The most amazing thing about the film is that Pacino and Lumet topped it with their next collaboration Dog Day Afternoon but that’s a different story altogether.

★★★★½

Ian Schultz