By Christian Gay
“Joey, do you like movies with gladiators?”
For gladiator movies, none can compare to Stanley Kubrick’s 1960 sweeping epic starring (and executive produced by) Kirk Douglas. The film assembled some of the most talented men working in Hollywood to transport audiences into two male-dominated social worlds of the first century B.C.: The Roman Senate, and a school where slaves are trained to be gladiators. Homosexuality was a common practice in ancient Rome, but the production code enforced by the Hollywood studios during the time of Spartacus’ production presented an interesting challenge for Kubrick and infamous screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. How might these artisans tell a story of the political and physical power of men, stay true to the times they sought to capture, and evade the wrath of the censors? Kubrick and Trumbo met this challenge admirably and artfully, creating one of the most homoerotic studio pictures of all time.
By Brandon Irvine
If you look at the biggest neo-noirs of the aughts and squint, you can almost see a series of controlled experiments, each taking the noir concept in a new-ish direction. Memento filtered the grit of the genre through non-linear storytelling; Sin City was Grand Guignol, a comic book come to life; Mulholland Drive was a baffling art film; Brick was half farce, half tragedy and set in high school; and The Man Who Wasn’t There was, well, a Coen brothers movie.
By Shayna Murphy
Who is the real Samantha Caine? It’s the question that looms over The Long Kiss Goodnight, the 1996 shoot-em-up written by Shane Black and directed by Renny Harlin. For eight long years, Samantha (Geena Davis) has wondered this every time she looks in the mirror and sees a body riddled with scars she doesn’t remember getting. Is she just another mousy, small-town schoolteacher and mother who heads the PTA or was she once another kind of woman entirely?
With the help of a private eye (Samuel Jackson) — the cheapest one her money can buy — she hopes to finally learn just who that woman was that she kissed goodnight all those years ago. Only now, she doesn’t have much of a choice: she has to figure it out fast, because the clock is ticking and her dark past is about to determine the outcome of her future.
By Justin LaLiberty
Tony Scott’s The Last Boy Scout is book-ended by scenes of violence taking place in football arenas, time-honored spaces of an American pastime. In the opening sequence, a young player walks onto the field and opens fire – an ominous opener that seems especially bleak this far removed from 1991. In the showstopper climax, a sniper stationed high above the action on field is attacked by one of our leads, eventually gunned down by the police and – in the film’s Grand Guignol moment – then falls into the spinning rotor of a helicopter, rendering his body into a mere splatter of blood. In these moments, The Last Boy Scout feels most like Scott’s film, yet everything in between is explicitly from the pen of its writer, Shane Black. Only this time, Black’s war isn’t on Christmas. It’s on America.
By Violet Acevedo
There are only a few films that can be easily called a Christmas classic. They’re those stories that fill you with the appropriate warm and fuzzy feelings associated with twinkling lights, pine trees, and a jolly fat man. They are feelings that seem to embody the notion of peace on Earth and goodwill towards men and inspire love and hope during the coldest time of the year.
And now one of the seminal classics is celebrating its 70th birthday this month. Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life premiered in 1946, and in the decades since it first graced the silver screen, it has become a holiday favorite of the critics and public alike.
By Chelsea Spear
In 1987, Prince was coming off a three-year creative high. His feature film debut Purple Rain was a critical and popular success, and the film’s title track became a rock standard. In the wake of Purple Rain’s runaway success, Prince recorded two albums with his backing band The Revolution; wrote, directed, and starred in the ambitious narrative feature Under the Cherry Moon; and mounted a pair of world tours. Not all of his brainchildren endured, however. Under the Cherry Moon lost money at the box office and was nominated for several Razzies, and The Revolution were starting to experience some internal tension. After disbanding his legendary Purple Rain ensemble, Prince put together a supergroup of friends and associates, recorded an album that would be the best LP of any lesser artist’s career, and directed a concert film featuring music from that album.
By Selin Sevinc
Polish master filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Dekalog is a unique film project based loosely on the Ten Commandments. Kieslowski’s dramatization of the ten religious ideals owes its success to his keen understanding of the complexities of human nature and morality. While the films speak volumes about the human condition and the moral structures we live by, they also refrain from judgment, preaching and dogmatism.
By Greg Mucci
First published in 1623, Shakespeare’s Macbeth has seen a myriad of adaptations, stemming from its cultural relevance within political history. The great Orson Welles, a decade before turning to the silver screen, directed Macbeth for the Negro Theatre Unit in 1936, which stirred controversy within the black community of Harlem, accused of mocking black culture. Though on a grander scale, Welles’ production can be viewed as a telling tale of evil abroad, as Europe became engulfed in strife with the rise of Hitler’s regime, it quickly became an imperative reflection on the duality between reality and fantasy–how difficult it must be to sympathize with a character that so greatly reflects a tyrant’s hysteria.
By Jessie McAskill
Raiders of the Lost Ark is at once timeless and transient. Directed by Steven Spielberg and released in 1981, there is something specific to the styling of the film that makes it inextricable from the time period in which it was produced. Like many other pre-millennial Spielberg action films, the current of adventure in Raiders is traversed by a rugged male lead who forsakes convention and assistance. He is motivated to embark on his journey by self interest, but ultimately he embraces the role of hero. In 2019, we’ll have the opportunity to witness Spielberg and Disney again revive the franchise for the contemporary audience, but part of what makes Raiders of the Lost Ark distinctive from its counterpart productions is that it strikes a chord that balances the seriousness of a formidable, realistic enemy against an almost juvenile insistence that the romp will be fun in spite of its gravity.
By Victoria Large
When the twentieth anniversary of director Baz Luhrmann’s audacious Shakespeare adaptation Romeo + Juliet recently arrived, people took notice. Articles popped up in publications large and small, and fans reminisced and celebrated on social media. Like Scream and Trainspotting – two other youth-oriented films from 1996 – Romeo + Juliet, which relocates the classic play’s action to a surreal, contemporary urban landscape while retaining an abridged version of the Bard’s original text, is iconic and epochal. There are images from it that are not only instantly recognizable for swaths of filmgoers, but also powerfully evocative of an era. So why, on this auspicious anniversary, am I feeling a bit defensive regarding the film?