Movie Project #30: Carrie [1976]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

Carrie [1976]

Carrie [1976]
Director: Brian De Palma
Writers: Stephen King (novel), Lawrence D. Cohen (screenplay)
Country: USA
Genre: Horror/Thriller
Starring: Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving, William Katt, John Travolta, Nancy Allen
Running Time: 98 minutes

Reason for inclusion: This is one of my biggest horror blind spots.

Accolades: Two Oscar nominations (Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress), Golden Globe nomination (Best Supporting Actress), #46 on AFI’s 100 Thrills

It appears that I watched Carrie at the best possible time, and not just because we are rapidly approaching Halloween. No sooner than the very next day after finally seeing Brian de Palma’s seminal 1976 adaptation of the Stephen King novel, I was forced to watch the trailer for its upcoming remake. Not only did the trailer give away the entirety of the film’s plot (complete with multiple shots of the penultimate prom scene), but it just reinforced the idea that a remake is entirely unnecessary.

I knew the general plot going into Carrie, and I had seen clips of it over the years, but I was surprised at just how sad of a tale this is. While still a horror film, it’s not really what I expected of the genre, as it plays out as more of a drama/thriller.

Sissy Spacek (in an absolute jaw-dropping performance) stars as Carrie White, a timid and awkward 17-year-old high school student. She is an outcast at school, almost entirely due to the extreme religious views her mother Margaret (Piper Laurie) forces on her at home. Poor Carrie is forced to learn about puberty on her own (i.e. her first period, which horrifies her and is shown in the very first scene of the film), and her mother dubs her a sinner for this. The 17-year-old is constantly bullied at school, further making her life miserable.

Carrie [1976]

However, things start to look up when one of the girls, Sue (Amy Irving), has a change of heart, feeling guilty about her role in the bullying. She convinces her boyfriend, Tommy (William Katt), one of the most popular guys at school, to invite Carrie to prom. Reluctant at first, fearing this to be a joke, Carrie eventually accepts his offer. Everyone appears to be genuine in their attempts to help Carrie; well, except for two students. Chris (Nancy Allen) and her boyfriend Billy (John Travolta, in one of his earliest roles) just want to torment her some more, and they set out to ruin her evening.

Oh, and there’s one other slightly important bit that Carrie is discovering about herself: she has telekinetic powers. Her effects are subtle at first, such as moving a small object, but as she learns more about them, she begins to realize that hey, maybe she can fight back on the constant abuse after all.

Carrie [1976]

The film itself is a bit of a slow burn before reaching the chaotic final act, but it still presents itself as a fascinating character study. We can’t help but empathize with Carrie, and her character is a strong encapsulation of the life of a teenager (albeit a bit more extreme than most). All of the praise given to Sissy Spacek’s performance is well-deserved — those eyes will haunt me forever — and Piper Laurie is also terrific as her religious nutjob of a mother.

Carrie truly does stand the test of time, and while the fashion may be dated, the tale itself is not. This is a damn good horror film and one of the finer de Palma works that I have seen. It’s a shame that the remake will likely be the next generation’s introduction to this classic story.

8/10

Movie Project #29: All the President’s Men [1976]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

All the President's Men [1976]

All the President’s Men [1976]
Director: Alan J. Pakula
Writers: Carl Bernstein & Bob Woodward (book), William Goldman (screenplay)
Country: USA
Genre: Biography/Drama/History
Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford, Jack Warden, Martin Balsam, Hal Holbrook, Jason Robards
Running Time: 138 minutes

Reason for inclusion: This is considered one of the greatest journalism films of all time, as well as one of the best from the 1970s.

Accolades: Won four Oscars (Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Sound, Best Supporting Actor), nominated for four other Oscars (including Best Picture), 10 BAFTA nominations, National Film Registry, AFI’s 100 Cheers, 100 Thrills and 100 Movies lists

All the President’s Men is film that focuses entirely on one story: the investigation of the earth-shattering Watergate scandal. Everything else is trivial.

Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) are assigned to cover what appears to be a relatively unimportant news story: the burglarization of the Democratic National Committee headquarters. When it is revealed that the men — all of whom had CIA ties — had bugging equipment, it’s clear that there is more to this than meets the eye. What follows is some truly incredible journalism work, as Woodward and Bernstein go down every single possible route in order to unearth more information about this political scandal.

The two reporters call anyone and everyone who knows the men related to the scandal, they go door-to-door in hopes of securing interviews, and they search through public records, trying to find any little shrivel of information that may break their case wide open. Their attention to detail is absolutely incredible, and their persistence is admirable. Most journalists would have likely given up after reaching a dead end or two; for Woodward and Bernstein, that was even more motivation to keep going.

All the President's Men [1976]

A vital part of the story’s breakthrough comes from the mysterious figure known as Deep Throat (Hal Holbrook). This anonymous source, a senior government official, agrees to help Woodward, but only by meeting privately in an unlit parking garage. He seems to only drop hints here and there, but having an inside source is just the ticket needed to keep pushing through.

Eventually, through meticulous piecework, the two journalists are able to bust the case open, discovering a massive governmental scandal that runs far deeper than anyone might have guessed. Of course, as they say, the rest is history, with this scandal later culminating in President Nixon’s resignation.

All the President's Men [1976]

What’s most impressive about All the President’s Men is that it focuses almost entirely on this procedural gruntwork, yet it manages to remain gripping throughout. This is a political thriller where the outcome is well known, but there are still times where it’s easy to second guess what might happen. This is a testament to the excellent script, as well as the strong performances from Redford and Hoffman. These two men effortlessly gel into their roles, making them feel like bona fide newspaper reporters. Not once do they feel like actors playing journalists; they *are* the journalists. Special mention must be made of Jason Robards, who won an Oscar for his terrific supporting role as Ben Bradlee, the editor of the Post. Bradlee trusts his reporters, but he demands absolute thoroughness before their stories can hit the front page.

Now, as well-written as the film is, it can still be difficult to keep up with the investigation. Many, many names are dropped, and dozens of people are interviewed and/or called. With so many people involved, it is a bit of a struggle to tell them apart — only the important figures truly stand out.

Still, All the President’s Men is a momentous piece of filmmaking. It is especially enlightening today, as a whole new generation can look back and learn about one of the most significant news stories in our nation’s history. Watergate was a bit before my time, so I was shocked to learn just how deep the buggings ran. For its historical importance alone, this is a film that begs to be seen today, and it should be mandatory viewing in school.

8/10

Movie Project #18: Rocky [1976]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Rocky [1976]

Rocky [1976]
Director: John G. Avildsen
Genre: Action/Drama/Sports
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Carl Weathers, Burt Young and Burgess Meredith
Runtime: 119 minutes

I watched Rocky at the perfect time — I was very sick and needed to spend some time resting. What better way to get me through a nasty illness than by watching one of the most popular (and inspirational) sports films of all time?

Now six films deep, the original Rocky is still regarded as the best of the series. Sylvester Stallone, a virtual unknown at the time, wrote the screenplay and starred as the eponymous Rocky Balboa, an underachieving Philadelphia boxer who works as a debt collector on the side. He is poorly educated and fights in dimly light venues, often bringing in just a small cut of the gate revenue. Little does he know it, but Balboa is about to get the biggest break of his life.

Undefeated world heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), a flamboyant and cocky star, is coming into town for a championship bout on New Year’s Day 1976, the year of the U.S. Bicentennial. After his opponent becomes injured, Creed comes up with the idea of giving a local fighter a shot at his title. While scouring through names of those in the city, he stumbles upon the “Italian Stallion” — Rocky Balboa. It’s as if you can see the light bulb and/or dollar signs appear over Apollo’s head. This is his man.

Aided by his friend Paulie (Burt Young), his quiet-and-reserved girlfriend Adrien (Talia Shire) and his trainer Mickey (Burgess Meredith), Rocky begins training for a fight he never expected to have. Hell, Rocky doesn’t even think he can beat Apollo — he just wants to go the distance (something never accomplished against the champion).

Rocky [1976]

At its core, Rocky (the film) is a terrific underdog story. This is the stuff small-time and aspiring boxers (and other athletes) dream of — to break through and get their big moment. In a way, it is a glimpse at the American Dream, working hard to catch that big break. Of course, in Rocky’s case it was dumb luck (or rather, a catchy nickname) that got him his title match, but the sentiment is the same.

While pop culture has somewhat diluted the story of Rocky over the years, the fact remains that this is still an uplifting film. It is presented in a way that is very easy to digest, and the movie is one that most will be able to relate to. The fact that this was selected as Best Picture winner over several other greats such as Taxi Driver, All the President’s Men and Network, runs parallel to the film’s underdog story. With a classic rags-to-riches story, strong action scenes and an unforgettable soundtrack, Rocky is still enjoyable today.

8/10