The Graduate is 40 years old. That means I'm awfully close to 40 years old. Dammit.
While he had been kicking around off-Broadway and on TV, Dustin Hoffman had yet to make his big-screen debut when Mike Nichols took a gamble and cast him rather than Robert Redford in the tale of Benjamin Braddock. During the opening credits--as Benjamin rides a conveyer at an airport to the sounds of Simon and Garfunkel--it's already apparent that Hoffman would be a star.
Hoffman was 30 years old playing a college graduate in his early 20s. In a film that was quite controversial for its time, his character would be seduced by an older woman, Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft, who was only six years older than Hoffman), and would also romance her daughter Elaine (the oh-so-beautiful Katharine Ross). The final scene, where Benjamin raids a wedding and traps the congregation by jamming a cross in the church door, will always be a classic.
This is one of Hollywood's first true art films. Nichols doesn't waste a shot in the movie; his cinematography stands as trailblazing. Using Simon and Garfunkel on the soundtrack instead of strings and pianos was a masterstroke that paved the way for pop artists to make their mark in movies. This film is damn near perfect.
Hoffman was impoverished when he made this movie. Life magazine even managed to snap a picture of him waiting for his check in an unemployment line when the movie was in release. That wouldn't last for long. His role in Midnight Cowboy two years later would cement him as one of Hollywood's most important stars, a role that he maintains today.
Special Features: In one of the better DVD commentaries you will ever hear, Hoffman sits down with Ross to comment on the entire film. It's one of those remarkable moments that make DVDs God's gift to movieheads. Extensive, newly produced retrospectives intertwine with archival documentaries (including a 25th anniversary sit-down with Hoffman) to make this one of the year's better releases. Icing on the cake: The DVD I bought contained not only a four-track CD of Simon and Garfunkel music, but the entire film of their concert in Central Park.
While many might cite John Woo's Hard-Boiled as his best film, I tend to lean toward this ludicrous masterpiece from the action maestro. Crazy in the head and beautifully filmed, this is an action movie with everything going for it, including two stellar performances from actors at the height of their careers.
John Travolta plays Sean Archer, a terrorist-tracking government agent who is undyingly dedicated to taking down arch-criminal Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage). After his arrest leaves Troy in a coma, Archer has no way to get information that could prevent a nerve-gas bomb from going off in Los Angeles. At least that's what he thinks.
It turns out a secret government program will allow Archer to trade faces with Troy and allow him to enter prison to extract important info from Troy's brother. He has the operation, and everything is going to plan--until Troy wakes up and steals Archer's face. This essentially leads to Travolta playing Cage, and Cage playing Travolta.
In the acting contest, Travolta wins, hands-down. He captures the essence of Cage so well that it's almost as if Cage is wearing terrific Travolta makeup. Cage has the more melodramatic performance, and while he fails to capture Travolta's mannerisms, he does manage to be very off the wall and sometimes hilarious.
Woo's Hollywood career peaked with this one. He would go on to make the successful Mission: Impossible II, but the stinky Windtalkers and Paycheck would lead to his retreat back overseas. It's a shame, because his trademark slow-motion gunfight sequences are a kick, and he proved he could get great acting out of his performers. Perhaps the right project will return him to Hollywood greatness someday.
Special Features: There's a Woo commentary, and a series of lengthy making-of and retrospective documentaries that make this a very worthwhile disc.
This just won an Emmy, and the film deserved it. It tells how Native Americans were forced to turn over their lands and go to reservations in the late 1800s. Events in the film lead up to the occurrence named in the title, a massacre of Indian men, women and children shortly after the killing of the legendary Sitting Bull.
Performances are all first-rate, especially Adam Beach as a college-educated Sioux doctor that the Americans exploit, and August Schellenberg as Sitting Bull. Also good is Aidan Quinn as Henry Dawes, a conflicted figure who helped organize the takings of Indian land.
The film stands as solid entertainment and an important encapsulation of history.
Special Features: Audio commentaries with director Yves Simoneau, Beach and Quinn, along with well-produced features on how the book was adapted to film, and a behind-the scenes look at the making of the movie.