Network 1976 ****

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Way ahead of its time in terms of disaffection with the media, Sidney Lumet’s 1976 drama is still frequently referenced today; the character of Howard Beale, weatherman turned prophet, has come to stand as a symbol of social anger about the way television in particular can distort and suppress public thought. Played by Peter Finch, Beale is a force of nature, wigging out on air and challenging authorities to stop his messianic message of revolution. Paddy Chayefsky’s knowing script also takes the time to establish firmly what Beale is rebelling against; Faye Dunaway and William Holden do great, if less iconic work as the network execs who try to figure out how best to control and exploit Beale’s sudden popularity. Inspired by a real on-air tragedy, network is a monumental film in the history of media self-analysis.

Barfly 1987 ***

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Poet, author and full time boozer, Charles Bukowski’s work has, not surprisingly, been hard to adapt for the screen; this 1987 production, directed by Barbet Schroeder, features a script that could only be written by Bukowski. Mickey Rourke plays Henry Chinaski, an LA –based writer who props up bars all over the city, and who has a difficult relationship with fellow soak Wanda (Faye Dunaway). Made as part of the Golan Globus break for credibility via serious movies, partnered here with Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope production company, Barfly is a very, very dark portrait of creativity and alcoholism, rendered vividly by Rourke and Dunaway. Supporting casts don’t get much more eclectic than Frank Stallone, Eraserhead’s Jack Nance, and Alice Krige. Barfly isn’t a lot of laughs, but it’s a good introduction to Bukowski.

The Eyes of Laura Mars 1978 ***

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A pre-Empire Strikes Back Irvin Kershner directs this American giallo from a script by John Carpenter, amongst others, with Faye Dunaway as a model who discovers she has the power of remote vision. She’s able to see the actions of a serial killer as he makes them, and so inadvertently draws herself to his attention when the police fail to take her claims seriously. There’s early roles for Raul Julia and Tommy Lee Jones, plus uber-glam fashion sequences featuring contributions for star photographer Helmut Newton. Eves of Laura Mars doesn’t quite gel as a thriller, but it’s stuffed with period detail and evokes the edge of the late 1970’s NYC fashion scene in style.

Dunston Checks In ***

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Just before Babe the pig changed children’s films forever, this CGi-free monkey tale was an ideal romp for animal loving kids of all ages. Dunston the orang-utan lives an unhappy life as the sidekick of cruel owner  Lord Rutledge (Rupert Everett), who uses Dunston’s talents in scaling walls as a breaking-and-entering device. Eric Lloyd plays the hotel-based kid who befriends Dunston, with Jason Alexander and Faye Dunaway amongst thee humans. Any film in which the culprit is tracked down by discovering which hotel room has the most bananas delivered sets a mischievous tone, and with a scintillating central performance as Dunston, and a Terry-Thomas act from Everett, Dunston Checks In is well worth checking out for families.