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Hard Times (1977)
This is the best film adaptation of Dickens' best novel. You can't go wrong with this one.
The production is low budget, but that actually works in its favor. The film has a grittiness that is entirely appropriate.
The script is first-rate and the actors are virtuosos across the board. There is not a note in it anywhere that rings false.
If you're tired of the sentimentalism and cartoonish characters usually associated with Dickens, you will be pleasantly surprised. There is none of that here. This is a story about real people. There are no saints, except for Rachel and she's a minor character, and no devils. Even the ostensible villain, Bounderby, is humanized.
Dickens on film doesn't get better than this.
Almost Famous (2000)
William and the Groupies
This is a very powerful movie, in one way, at least, perhaps more powerful than the filmmakers intended.
There is a moment where the hero, William, is taken up by three groupies. They decide it's time for him to lose his virginity. They're bored and can't think of anything else do. So they go at him, one at a time.
In the next scene, William is shown sitting alone, weeping, with his face in his hands.
The first time I saw the movie I didn't fully understand why the tears.
I've just realized that he is crying because he was raped -- worse than raped, gang-banged.
I know a lot of people will think this is crazy. We live in a society that believes it's impossible for a male to be raped by a female. After all, males are always willing, aren't they? Doesn't the presence of an erection prove it? And besides, the feminists have us believing that females are always victims, never perpetrators.
It ain't so, and I think this sequence in the movie shows it beautifully.
Overall, I give the movie an 8, but this part gets a 10+.
Short Cuts (1993)
It's a Good Thing Ray Carver Didn't Live to See This
Any resemblance between "Short Cuts" and the work of Raymond Carver is purely accidental. The stories which form the basis of this film are as powerful as any in American literature, yet in Altman's hands they turn to dust. They say nothing, add up to nothing, mean nothing. To call the film's vignettes caricatures of the originals is to give them far more credit than they deserve. Carver's stories are populated with real people who struggle. They aren't pretty, but they're not low-lifes, either. They inhabit a moral universe. You won't find among them any sadistic ex-husbands or artists who walk around naked from the waist down. The stories are masterpieces of coherence and integration. They don't contain pointless helicopters or earthquakes or suicides, or any of the other gratuitous stuff this film serves up. If you want to know the difference between art and Hollywood, read Carver and then watch this movie. That should do it.
A Great Day in Harlem (1994)
Best documentary about jazz ever
The best documentary about jazz ever. If you want to know what jazz performers are like, you will learn more from this one hour film than all the hours of Ken Burns' documentary put together. It makes Burns' film insignificant by comparison. Jazz performers shine in this work because Jean Bach is such a skillful interviewer. You can tell the musicians all like her, and since they are always shown talking to the camera, not to her, it comes across as if they all like you, too, the viewer. The film makes you feel very privileged. I own this film and I watch it over and over and never get tired of it. Who could get tired of hanging out for an hour with Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Bud Freeman, Art Farmer, etc. and listening to the excellent narration of Quicy Jones?
The Way We Live Now (2001)
Like Fingernails on a Chalkboard
Trollope's novel is filled with wonderful dialog and marvelously complex characters, but don't expect to encounter any of that here. It's all been thoroughly dumbed down, thanks to scriptwriter Andrew Davies who somehow got the idea he was capable of improving upon the original when he sat down to do the adaptation. There are so many places in this film which must leave a Trollope-lover gasping in disbelief, but I can mention one them without spoiling anything for those who haven't seen it. Davies' interpretation of the title phrase, "The Way We Live Now", which is twice forced into the mouths of characters in the film, though it appears not at all in the novel, does not refer to the corruption of nineteenth century English society, but simply means that relationships are difficult and things are complicated. Please.