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last update 9.Nov.11
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The Conversation
5/5   MUST must see SEE
dir-scr-prd Francis Ford Coppola
with Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Allen Garfield, Harrison Ford, Frederic Forrest, Cindy Williams, Michael Higgins, Elizabeth MacRae, Teri Garr, Mark Wheeler, Robert Shields,Phoebe Alexander
hackman release US 7.Apr.74
remastered UK 31.Oct.11
74/US Paramount 1h53
The Conversation Every element is combined to perfection in this taut, slow-burning thriller that Coppola slipped in between the first two Godfather movies. With its resonant characters, riveting direction and shocking plot, it's arguably his greatest film.

Harry Caul (Hackman) is famous in the surveillance business, but would rather remain under the radar. His latest challenge is to record a conversation between two people (Williams and Forrest) walking around San Francisco's bustling Union Square. But as he filters through his recordings he finds a chilling reference to murder and begins to wonder what his client's up to. Especially when a young goon (Ford) starts threatening him. Meanwhile, his East Coast rival (Garfield), in town for a high-tech convention, wants to steal Harry's secrets.

While the eponymous conversation is the film's ostensible plot, the story is more about Harry's growing paranoia. Comments on the recordings suggest that something awful is about to happen, echoing an earlier job that built his reputation but ended with a pile of bodies. And then there's his girlfriend (Garr), who feels like Harry is locking her out of his life. Indeed he's holding everyone at bay while he deals inefficiently with his inner demons.

Hackman gives an astonishingly internalised performance that lets us see everything without it being spelled out for us. Little touches tell us more than the dialog does, like his solitary saxophone playing or reluctance to admit he has a phone. And everyone around him creates vivid characters, often in short scenes that bristle with underlying energy: Cazale (as Harry's sidekick) and Garfield are funny and suspicious, Ford has never been this menacing, MacRae and Garr are complex women who are both strong and needy.

Coppola orchestrates everything with a light touch, constantly revealing character details, plot secrets and red herrings. The photography (by Haskell Wexler and Bill Butler) is simply stunning, finely edited together (by Richard Chew) along with a staggeringly detailed sound mix (by Walter Murch). Watching it again all these years later in a newly remastered print, it feels an example of the lost art of filmmaking. It's also bracingly undated, like an impeccably rendered 1970s period drama with a story that's eerily prescient. And when the plot's final shoe falls, the jolt is still staggering.

15 themes, language, violence, drugs
revisited 4.Nov.11
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Heavenly Creatures
dir Peter Jackson
prd Jim Booth
scr Frances Walsh, Peter Jackson
with Melanie Lynskey, Kate Winslet, Sarah Peirse, Diana Kent, Clive Merrison, Simon O'Connor, Jed Brophy, Peter Elliott, Gilbert Goldie, Geoffrey Heath, Kirsti Ferry, Ben Skjellerup
lynskey and winslet
release NZ 14.Oct.94,
US 16.Nov.94, UK 10.Feb.95
remastered UK 12.Sep.11
94/New Zealand 1h39

Heavenly Creatures After a series of snappy horror romps, Peter Jackson broke into the big time with this riveting, stylised teen drama, based on a shocking true story. Now digitally remastered, it also introduced us to Kate Winslet.

In 1952 Christchurch, 14-year-old Pauline (Lynskey) finds her miserable life spiced up by the arrival of cheeky new classmate Juliet (Winslet) and tales of her world travels. They spark each others' imaginations, creating a fairy-tale alternate reality that helps them get through the horrors of everyday adolescence. Pauline strains against her restrictive mum (Peirse), while Juliet's wealthy parents (Kent and Merrison) are leery of their friendship. And eventually Pauline and Juliet plot a course of action in their desire to stay together.

Jackson tells this haunting story based on Pauline's actual journals, so we see everything through her eyes. To these teens, adults are terrifying creatures who are always either demanding or prohibiting something. So the girls' fantasy castle with its clay-moulded inhabitants is a place of peace and joy, even if it starts turning a bit sinister. Yes, serious currents run through this imaginary paradise, including their burgeoning sexuality.

Like most of the drama, the real nature of their lesbian romance is somewhat underplayed, leaving motives open to interpretation. Instead, Jackson focusses on the growing intensity of the situation, as Pauline and Juliet feed each others' need for love and freedom, leading each other over the brink in the process. And each scene is beautifully played by the expressive Winslet and beautifully internalised Lynskey.

Meanwhile, the settings are delicately rendered, with a strong attention to period detail that makes us vividly feel this time and place (indeed, it's shot like a late-50s drama). And eye-catching special effects are intriguingly woven into the fantasy sequences, as the girls escape into their mythical kingdom or as their fictional characters come to life to intervene on their behalf in this world. It's a simple gimmick, but it so cleverly takes us back to puberty that, without ever resorting to overwrought terror, the film leaves us deeply shaken.

18 themes, violence, language, sexuality
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One from the Heart
4/5   MUST must see SEE
dir Francis Coppola
scr Armyan Bernstein, Francis Coppola
prd Gray Frederickson, Fred Roos
with Frederic Forrest, Teri Garr, Raul Julia, Nastassia Kinski, Harry Dean Stanton, Lainie Kazan, Allen Goorwitz, Jeff Hamlin, Rebecca De Mornay, Edward Blackoff, James Dean, Tom Waits
forrest and garr release US 12.Feb.82
remastered UK 7.Nov.11
82/US Zoetrope 1h47
One from the Heart It's hardly surprising that Coppola's foray into the musical genre is a bold, fantastical film that refuses to play by the rules. So even if it flopped commercially, it's so stunningly original that it's a must-see.

In Las Vegas, Hank and Frannie (Forrest and Garr) have reached a point when they seem to be out of sync with each other. After a fight on their fifth anniversary, they break up. Frannie moves in with her friend Maggie (Kazan) and soon meets the smooth-talking Ray (Julia); Hank hangs out with his pal Moe (Stanton) and starts seeing the sexy circus performer Leila (Kinski). But they are clearly still in love with each other.

Bluesy and moody from the opening moments, the film's highly stylised visuals create a beautiful parallel reality with vivid settings, colour-drenched lighting and an almost overwhelming sense of physicality. Coppola completely recreates Las Vegas on a soundstage with the help of cinematographers Vittorio Storaro and Ronald V Garcia. Scenes drift in and out of each other with a real sense that both Frannie's and Hank's separate experiences are happening in the same time and space.

And Coppola isn't worried at all about letting us see through his illusion; the stagey touches actually add to the mood, using scrims and reflections to full effect. Each scnee has a remarkable fluidity, lightly carrying us through what's actually a very dark story. Songs by Tom Waits, which he performs with Crystal Gayle, play like internal monologs, separating the music from the lead actors. Of the actors, only Julia and Kinski break into song, although everyone dances, beautifully evoking the glitzy, dreamlike Vegas setting.

Forrest and Garr give heartbreakingly honest performances, filling each scene with personality, humour and raw, earthy emotion. Perhaps the film's lack of commercial success is due to its downbeat storyline, honestly exploring the gloomier side of relationships amid a bright and colourful musical setting. But that's clearly Coppola's point. And no one else has ever cut through the Las Vegas fantasy with quite so much verve and skill. This is a funny, sexy, wrenching and thoroughly engaging film. And it's essential for any movie fan.

12 themes, language, some sexuality
revisited 5.Nov.11
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The Outsiders
4.5/5   MUST must see SEE
dir Francis Ford Coppola
scr Kathleen Knutsen Rowell
prd Gray Frederickson, Fred Roos
with C Thomas Howell, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Tom Cruise, Diane Lane, Glenn Withrow, Leif Garrett, Darren Dalton, Tom Waits
howell, swayze and cruise release US 25.Mar.83
remastered UK 31.Oct.11
83/US Warner 1h55

london l&g film fest
the outsiders Based on the SE Hinton novel, this earthy teen drama introduced audiences to a group of young actors who would own the next two decades of cinema. Set in 1961 Nebraska, the film is thoroughly involving, even as Coppola indulges in 1950s-style filmmaking.

When Ponyboy (Howell) is bullied by a gang of privileged teens, his working-class Greaser pals leap to his rescue. But Ponyboy is more thoughtful than his big brothers Darrel and Sopdapop (Swayze and Lowe), who think about little beyond girls and cars. Their friend Dallas (Dillon) is just out of jail, and they roam around town playfully tormenting people they meet. Everyone sees them as troublemakers, but a "Soc" girl (Lane) sees something different in Ponyboy. Then his friend Johnny (Macchio) uses a knife in a fight, and things turn terrifyingly serious.

Coppola captures the dead-end life of these kids with remarkable honesty, and through the down-to-earth performances we understand who these kids are beyond the way people look at them. Sometimes this complexity is unnerving, as the Greasers' antics seem pretty annoying. But this reveals a complexity we don't expect. And the newcomer actors give performances that are earthy and natural, revealing the inner yearnings in boys who have never had a chance to really live their lives.

With the roughhousing, flick-knives and clashing social groups, the film has distinct similarities to Rebel Without a Cause and The Wild One. Coppola even shoots it with the same period-style mix of gritty violence and glossy drama. But the mid-America setting and ensemble cast give it a distinct slant that makes it feel even more relevant now than when it was first released. And Ponyboy's soulfulness adds an intriguing wrinkle to the relaxed physical camaraderie between the Greasers.

The plot takes a few literary turns, but is impossible to predict as it moves from one severe incident to another, undermining our expectations at every turn. Yes, things are clearly building to a huge confrontation between the Greasers and the Socs (a brilliantly staged sequence), as well as some soft sentimentality. But each scene plays out in ways that are full of character-based drama and unexpected spark. It's also easy to see why this film launched so many stellar careers.

12 themes, language, violence
revisited 7.Nov.11
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© 2011 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall