Network (5/29/12)

NetworkMovie One Hundred Thirty Two

Network centers around the decisions of a TV network after a news anchor threatens to kill himself live on the air and the ratings spike.

After learning that his career as a news anchor will be coming to an end due to poor ratings, Howard Beale (Peter Finch) goes on the air and announces that he will kill himself live on the air. The network executives freak out, but eventually agree to let Beale get one more carefully scripted time on the air before being fired. Beale uses this time to rant about the state of the world and calls his life bullshit. Once the ratings see a noted spike, the executives, spurred by Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway), decide to not only keep Beale on the air, but to highlight his now public meltdown.

It’s amazing how poignant and true to life Network is, even nearly 40 years later. I feel that the only satire that does everything better is Dr. Strangelove, which is saying a lot considering the amazingly high regard I hold that film. Since Network, we have been inundated with “reality” television and an increasing movement in a very similar brand of shock television that is cultivated in Network. While we haven’t reached the levels of mania depicted in this stunning Lumet film, it is not that far-fetched today.

While Network is a film that has a dark sense of humor, mostly due to the writing of Paddy Chayefsky, at times it is also very serious. I suppose that part of the humor is the absurdity happening, but also because it wants to be so ridiculous that there is an underlying humor there. Even when discussing alongside Dr. Strangelove, there really are no other films quite like Network. Sidney Lumet has directed yet another wonderful film that is absurd and thought-provoking. I’m not sure if I would recommend Network to everyone, but I’m sure almost everyone watching will have a slightly different takeaway from it.

I give it 4 “I’m mad as hell and I can’t take it anymore”s out of 5.

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Dog Day Afternoon (4/23/12)

Dog Day AfternoonMovie Ninety Four

In simple terms, Dog Day Afternoon is a film about a bank robbery. When the layers start peeling back, however, we see a much bigger picture. Truly one of the great films by the master, Sidney Lumet.

Dog Day Afternoon is a film without a backstory. It opens with the bank robbery and unfolds from there. Things do not go as planned from the start, which is actually riveting. As we learn more about Sonny (Pacino) and his accomplice, Sal (John Cazale), the more we root for them. I don’t wish to spoil a major portion of the plot, but the reason for Sonny’s robbery was enormously progressive for 1975 and would still make headlines today. In fact, the story is based on real events taken from a Life magazine article from a 1972 bank robbery

What is undoubtedly his best performance in my eyes, Al Pacino carries Dog Day Afternoon to great heights with the assistance of Lumet and the rest of the cast. He is charismatic, smart, charming, and keeps a mostly cool head while things crumble beneath him. Considering how much goes awry from their plan, I was rooting for his escape even though I feared it was unlikely. The ending keeps you guessing until the very end, though.

In Lumet’s book, Making Movies, he states that much of the dialogue is improvised and in certain scenes I think that shows more than others. Particularly the scenes between the negotiator and Sonny, we rarely see movie stars fumble words but in this context it’s an added sense of realism and humanity to the characters.

Dog Day Afternoon should be the movie people look to Al Pacino’s career for, not Godfather or Scarface, though he is excellent in both. Pacino IS Sonny in this film. When a performance that great comes along, it ends up being the rest of the movie that has to play catch-up, and Dog Day Afternoon keeps the pace.

I give it 5 “Attica!”s out of 5.

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