Amazon Prime review: Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather” (1972)

Following the success of his Pulp Fiction (1994), Miramax wrote Quentin Tarantino a blank check.

Using that carte blanche, he shot Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003) and Kill Bill: Volume 2 (2004), which this critic would argue are his masterpiece, even though Pulp Fiction is the more successful movie.

Paramount did the same for Francis Ford Coppola after The Godfather (1972), and that artistic freedom, so fleeting in show business, gave us The Conversation (1974), the most significant sound picture since Alan Crosland’s The Jazz Singer (1927).

And, as with Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, The Conversation is the auteur’s masterwork, even though The Godfather is the more influential.

If you don’t know what to watch next, The Godfather is available on Amazon Prime. The crime film was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, winning three, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.

The filmmaker himself cowrote the script with Mario Puzo, who originally penned the 1969 novel of the same name upon which the movie is based.

Set in 1945 New York, Don Vito Corleone (Best Actor Marlon Brando), head of a crime family, is gunned down in the street when he refuses to invest in as well as provide political protection for drug lord Virgin “The Turk” Sollozzo (Al Lettieri).

His firstborn boy, Sonny (James Caan), takes over the family business, while middle son Fredo (John Cazale) seeks shelter from Moe Greene (Alex Rocco) in Las Vegas and youngest son Michael (Al Pacino) flees to Sicily as a gang war erupts between the Five Families.

With Vito’s daughter, Connie (Talia Shire), married off to the abusive Carlo Rizzi (Gianni Russo), the Corleone power vacuum faces further destabilization.

The Godfather is popularly regarded as one of the greatest releases ever made. While its importance is indisputable, the same cannot be said about its merits.

As a three-hour intergenerational, international period piece masquerading as a pulpy gangster drama, it is mainstream claptrap for a wide audience.

Nino Rota’s romantic score, though a classic, is out of place in what ought to be a gritty crime saga, and this tonal inconsistency is what kneecaps the text’s greatness.

It belongs in the same class as Victor Fleming’s Gone with the Wind (1939) or David Lean’s Doctor Zhivago (1965), not when it should be the next William A. Wellman’s The Public Enemy (1931). It’s unethical because it quite literally romanticizes the Mafia for young men.

Pretensions aside, The Godfather redeems itself through Brando. His performance in Elia Kazan’s A Streetcar Named Desire (1950) is a masterclass in method acting, and he is iconic as the eponymous Godfather.

It’s not only his dialogue but also his delivery, that makes Vito Corleone such a moment of a character.

And Puzo and Coppola’s screenplay is peppered throughout with quotable lines. They do weave a mythological tapestry rich enough to inspire two epic-length sequels, and it could have been as genius as The Conversation if not for the commercialization of its style.

Make no mistake, The Godfather is a studio production, which is why Coppola didn’t win Best Director; as it stands, anybody else could have made it just as well, if not better.

But the film is a mile marker for Italian American representation.

It’s not altogether positive representation, but it’s a cast of Italian American actors (well… except for Caan) playing Italian American characters under an Italian American director according to a script written by two Italian Americans, and it was a cultural phenomenon.

One of the reasons The Godfather Part II (1974) surpasses its predecessor is because it unpacks the oppression Italian Americans face, as well as the extenuating circumstances that backed a slim minority of them into a corner where there was no way out but organized crime.

Without The Godfather, we wouldn’t have Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1990), HBO’s The Sopranos (1999-2007), or, for that matter, The Conversation, and, for that, it is a worthwhile piece of cinematic history, warts and all.

A mailed-in directorial style is better than an unwatchable one, and an ambitious title is always welcome in an industry that favors the safe over the gutsy.

Frustratingly, however, The Godfather is a groundbreaking work that plays it safe (unlike Goodfellas), but, then again, maybe it had to, to break new ground.

Amazon Prime review: George Lucas’s “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope” (1977)

George Lucas’s fellow movie brat, Steven Spielberg, may have invented the summer blockbuster with his Jaws (1975) two years before, but it is Lucas who’s responsible for the multimedia franchise as we know it today.

The Star Wars saga is a hotbed for sequels, merchandise, and derivative works, and it all started with a relatively modest passion project from a young auteur.

It birthed a new era of filmmaking.

And it killed the Hollywood Renaissance.

If you don’t know what to watch next, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977) is available on Amazon Prime.

The epic space opera was nominated for ten Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay, and won eight, including two special Oscars. The auteur also penned the script.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Galactic Imperial Senator Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) flees an Imperial Star Destroyer under the command of Darth Vader (David Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones) after stealing the plans to the Empire’s Death Star for the Rebellion.

Vader captures Leia’s starship, but not before she dispatches two droids, C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) to the desert planet of Tatooine bearing a message for retired Jedi Master Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi (Best Supporting Actor nominee Sir Alec Guinness).

The droids are discovered by farm boy Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), the son of Obi-Wan’s apprentice, Anakin Skywalker, who enlists smugglers Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) to fly Obi-Wan to the Death Star so they can rescue Leia.

Originally titled Star Wars, it can be an obstacle to divorce A New Hope from the mythology that is its legacy for this critic, who was born into a world already saturated with Star Wars and has no way of remembering a time before it, or experiencing it how audiences did upon its release.

Except for Irvin Kershner’s Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980), all Star Wars films are inferior to A New Hope. Knowing the downturn the saga will take before even going into the one that started it all, it can be a lot to ask to fall in love with it at first sight.

Regardless, A New Hope is an imaginative Wild West fairytale set in outer space, a prototypical hero’s journey explored through a once-in-a-lifetime creative mind.

Like the commoners in Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress (1954) and the “cripples, bastards, and broken things” in HBO’s Game of Thrones (2011-2019), the good guys here are two bickering robots, an orphan, an eccentric old man, and two criminals.

As for the villains, they are not the Emperor himself, but, rather, his bureaucratic henchmen. It goes to show even the unlikeliest person can do the right thing, and even the lowest government official can be an oppressor.

And in the hands of any other screenwriter, Princess Leia would be a damsel in distress. Instead, she is an assertive, straight-shooting leader who saves herself, and her rescuers (none of whom “get the girl” at the end).

It’s almost enough to make up for the movie’s lack of intersectional diversity.

But Star Wars is more praiseworthy than A New Hope. Unethically, Lucas has revised each rerelease of his masterpiece beyond recognition to retroactively co-opt it into the mythos he wove around it, thus bastardizing the version that his fans first obsessed over.

When you unleash a work of art into the world, it belongs no longer to you, but, rather, to the audience it inspires – otherwise, of what worth is that inspiration?

Revisionism aside, Lucas may be the worst thing to happen to his own creation, but he’s also the best, like how Star Wars is the best and worst thing to happen to cinema.

Love it or hate it, if moviemaking has always been about making money, then Star Wars is important, and Lucas was forward-thinking enough to singlehandedly anticipate the zeitgeist even as we know it today.

To all the viewers who made it one of the top grossers of all time (adjusted for inflation), A New Hope is a nostalgic, childlike dream bringing strangers together, and that is what keeps them coming back to the series again, hoping (in vain) to relive that movie magic for the first time.

Amazon Prime review: Victor Fleming’s “Gone with the Wind” (1939)

Even though 1946 was commercially the most profitable year in film history as GIs came home from the war in a celebratory mood, 1939 was artistically the richest for classical Hollywood.

Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) exemplifies filmmaking as the great American art form; Ernst Lubitsch’s Ninotchka (1939) represents all the Western culture and history European refugees brought to Golden Age Hollywood in the wake of World War II; Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz (1939) did for color film what Alan Crosland’s The Jazz Singer (1927) did for talkies.

Conceivably, it was because it was the year Adolf Hitler invaded Poland, and the world, already in the throes of the Great Depression, needed an escape more than ever, so these creatives were inspired to lead the way to a more beautiful reality through the visceral medium that is cinema.

Whatever the case may be, it was Fleming’s own Gone with the Wind (1939) which took home the Academy Award for Best Picture that year.

If you don’t know what to watch next, Fleming’s other Technicolor classic is available on Amazon Prime.

The epic historical romance is an adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1936 Margaret Mitchell novel of the same name (with scriptwriter Sidney Howard taking home the Oscar).

In addition to its ten Academy Awards, including Best Director, the film is also the highest-grossing movie of all time (when adjusted for inflation).

It’s 1861 Georgia, and sixteen-year-old Southern belle Scarlett O’Hara (Best Actress Vivien Leigh) has a crush on Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard), who, despite leading her on, has eyes only for his cousin, Melanie Hamilton (Best Supporting Actress nominee Olivia de Havilland).

As Scarlett manipulates her way closer to Ashely over the next twelve years, she encounters the Charlestonian rogue Rhett Butler (Best Actor nominee Clark Gable), who loves her as obsessively as she loves Ashley.

All around them, the American Civil War and Reconstruction take the torch to the only way of life Scarlett has ever known, until, like the passage of time, it, too, is gone with the wind.

No other anecdote from the tempestuous production better encapsulates the contradictory cinematic importance as well as intersectional regression of the feature than Hattie McDaniel’s Best Supporting Actress win for the role of Mammy, the O’Hara family’s housemaid.

Though she was the first black person to win an Oscar in the history of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (and a woman at that), she was segregated from the rest of the white attendees.

Furthermore, the “Mammy” media stereotype, named for her character, is not a positive representation.

The gender politics are just as turbulent. The iconic image of Rhett sweeping Scarlett off her feet immediately precedes a rape.

Bracketing this mis-romanticized moment in filmic history are scene after scene of the entitled leading man threatening or otherwise verbally abusing  the strong, financially independent leading lady, and worse still, it’s almost as if Scarlett deserves it because she’s such an antihero.

The nearly four-hour affair is technically dated as well. It belongs more to its producer, David O. Selznick of Selznick International Pictures, than it does its filmmaker.

Indeed, Oscar notwithstanding, Fleming’s directorial style is dwarfed next to Selznick’s megalomaniacal sweep.

Gone with the Wind is very much of its time, between its thesis that liberated American slaves were happier in subservient roles, Rhett’s spectacularized, brutal “punishment” of Scarlett, and its self-indulgent, melodramatic production value, but it is still a cinephilic must-watch.

Without it, Selznick might not have been able to recruit Sir Alfred Hitchcock stateside for Rebecca (1940), the auteur’s only Best Picture winner, and we might not have borne witness to the greatest Hollywood works ever created.

And without Hitchcock, we wouldn’t have auteur theory as we know it today.

Then again, the part the producer plays in a picture’s success is frequently overlooked and underappreciated (especially up against the director).

Darryl F. Zanuck, for instance, is the wunderkind behind many of the studio system’s early successes, such as William A. Wellman’s The Public Enemy (1931). As pedestrian as Fleming is here, Selznick’s genius makes up for it and then some.

Even under Fleming’s studio-interfered direction, Leigh delivers the first of two companion pieces which define her star persona. The second is Blanche DuBois in Elia Kazan’s A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), for which she earned her second Oscar.

Her progression from the vital, self-preservationalistic Scarlett to the poorly aged, defeated Blanche mirrors the multifacetedness of her artistry, personalized by the bipolar disorder she lived with all her life; truly, she was a worthy equal to her spouse, Sir Laurence Olivier (whose classicalism is as esteemed as Marlon Brando’s Method in A Streetcar Named Desire, and who starred in Rebecca alongside de Havilland’s sister, Joan Fontaine).

Gone with the Wind is nothing if not a technical magnum opus, even if it only redeems itself dramatically through Leigh.

Its cinematography, editing, and art direction were also showered with statuettes, and two honorary awards were set aside for the film’s use of coordinated equipment and color.

Sherman’s burning of Atlanta is an ode to practical effects – at eighty years old, the setpiece is more gracefully aged than many of the computer-generated fantasias churned out in our time.

And Gone with the Wind, as socio-politically indefensible as it is, is still a towering cinematic triumph. It is as watchable now as it was in 1939, all five acts of it, and it does illuminate how the penal code substituted slave labor for Scarlett.

Between this and D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915), another influential (and problematic) Civil War epic, Gone with the Wind and the survivalistic woman at its core marks the superior film.

It is a treasure from a lost moment in filmmaking, back when the studios were dream factories crafting fantasies with all the dependency of a Fordist assembly line, long before they became conglomerate-owned toy manufacturers rebooting and remaking focus group nostalgia.

It is a totem of a bygone era that united strangers all across the globe by the millions in a time of diplomatic and economic strife. It is a product of its time in all the worst and best ways, a filmmaking gilded age gone with the wind.

Amazon Prime review: HBO’s “Sharp Objects” (2018)

The 2012 novel Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn should have won the Pulitzer Prize, or, at the very least, a National Book Award, for its postmodern black comedy of manners on marriage and relationships.

David Fincher’s 2014 adaptation of the same title, from a script by Flynn herself, was likewise snubbed at that year’s Academy Awards.

Flynn, a hybrid between Stephen King and Sir Alfred Hitchcock, Missouri’s answer to King’s Maine, debuted in 2006 with Sharp Objects, and mainstream literature as well as popular genre fiction have found a lovechild in her, too.

If you don’t know what to watch next, HBO’s Sharp Objects (2018) is available on Amazon Prime.

Marti Nixon’s psychological thriller miniseries was nominated for three Primetime Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series of Movie for Amy Adams, Outstanding Supporting Actress for Patricia Clarkson, and Outstanding Limited Series.

Flynn herself executive produced.

Recently released out of a Chicago hospital for self-mutilation, alcoholic crime journalist Camille Preaker (Adams) is assigned to cover multiple child murders in her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri.

The visit forces her to reunite with her estranged mother, Adora Crellin (Clarkson), a small-town socialite.

As the mystery unfolds, the troubled Camille finds herself losing the battle with the demons from her past.

Camille is one of the great antiheroes in the Golden Age of Television, as desperately needed a woman for this archetype as Norma Bates.

Across a pseudo-feminist landscape of problematic superwomen who do not so much empower women with humanization as pander to their pocketbooks for corporate fat cats who run Hollywood from the other side of the glass ceiling, Adams’s turn is a breath of fresh air.

She is as flawed as any noir protagonist, but not at the expense of an ethical characterization.

What makes her a sympathetic leading lady are her faults, for she is as much a victim of Wind Gap’s violent misogyny (which is symptomatic of the slave state’s Confederate history) as the girls whose murders she’s compromising her own mental health to help investigate.

A contemporary Southern Gothic murder mystery in the same vein as William Faulkner and Daphne du Maurier, the quasi-Italian neorealistic setting calls to mind the juxtaposition of ancient Roman artifacts against postwar modernization in the aestheticism of Federico Fellini.

The production constructs a morose tone through the overexposed lighting of the cinematography and the suffocating diegesis of the soundtrack, provoking the same numbing mood as the traumatized main character between her broken interactions and dark flashbacks.

The Crellin family is the most dysfunctional this side of Tennessee Williams, even though they’re just as picture perfect. Anchoring this dichotomous image is Clarkson.

Adora recalls Blanche DuBois in the tradition of Scarlett O’Hara herself, Vivien Leigh, the aging Southern belle in a changing world, using her fading beauty to dress up the ugliness of Southern American culture in moth-eaten clothes.

Clarkson is an icy Hitchcock blonde where Adams is a psychologically tortured noir antihero.

But a filmic adaptation of Flynn’s book might have been stronger.

The episodic format of the miniseries pads some scenes for runtime until they’re filler, with subplots from secondary characters who pale in comparison to Camille’s character study and the murder mystery as a framing device.

Granted, at two and a half hours, Gone Girl still makes a meal of its source material, but not one frame of the final product belongs on the cutting room floor; the same can’t be said about Sharp Objects.

But if Sharp Objects is guilty of any sin, it’s being too much of a good thing.

Some would call it and its writer misogynistic, and the case could be made against the “false accusation” narrative in Gone Girl (though one could argue it’s a critique of “white woman gone missing” feminism), but Sharp Objects is not unsympathetic toward Camille, or even Adora.

To the critical viewer, it is more an indictment of its setting than its cast (like many Great American Writers, Gillian Flynn trained in the unsentimental, lowest-common-denominator mass appeal of commercial journalistic storytelling).

She is possessed of a Hitchcockian pragmatism for dolling up such universal themes of the human condition as sex and death with timeless craftsmanship and mastery, casting all her Tarantinoesque pulp fiction through the same literary lens as her masterpiece.

Amazon Prime review: Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” (1964)

Between Iran, North Korea, Russia, and the United States, the threat of nuclear holocaust needs to be laughed at again.

If you don’t know what to watch next, Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) is available on Amazon Prime. The political satire black comedy was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

As producer, director, and co-adapter, the filmmaker himself was up for three out of the four.

Paranoid that the Soviet Union is fluoridating American water supplies to poison our “precious bodily fluids,” General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden), the Burpelson Air Force Base commander, circumnavigates the Pentagon and orders a nuclear strike against the USSR.

In the War Room, General Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott), President Merkin Muffley (Oscar nominee Peter Sellers), and their scientific adviser, the former Nazi German Doctor Strangelove (also Sellers), scramble to stop Jack from triggering the Soviets’ “doomsday machine.”

Meanwhile, Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (once more Sellers), a Royal Air Force exchange officer, discovers the general’s code to call off the mission, but only after a surface-to-air missile destroys the radio equipment for Major T.J. “King” Kong’s (Slim Pickens) B-52.

In keeping with his style of adapting literary works, Dr. Strangelove is Kubrick’s interpretation of Red Alert by Peter George.

The Writers Guild of America ranked it as the twelfth greatest screenplay ever written, and it was among the first films selected for preservation at the United States Library of Congress’s National Film Registry in 1989.

With ninety-eight percent of critical reviews aggregated through Rotten Tomatoes praising the movie, it is Kubrick’s highest-rated title on the site.

Although this critic still regards A Clockwork Orange (1971) as the auteur’s masterpiece, Kubrick’s versatility with genres is readily apparent in this dark comedy, listed as number three on the American Film Institute’s “100 Years… 100 Laughs.”

A unifying theme throughout all of Kubrick’s works, despite their diversity, is a cerebral, pessimistic take on the human condition. The picture’s resemblance to the nuclear brinkmanship coloring international diplomacy today immortalizes Kubrick’s Cold War art.

But that he can alchemically make of it an entertainment suggests there is hope to be found, even if we must create it ourselves.

The signature Kubrickian style exists not only in the topical fabric of the text, but also in the aesthetical presentation.

The crazy-eyed “Kubrick stare” will never make you laugh more nervously than when you see Sellers construct it via the titular Doctor Strangelove, transcending across genres.

Each frame is blocked as rigidly (which isn’t to say “lifelessly”) as a painting, summoning a cold, sterile, perfectionistic mise en scène.

And the performances under Kubrick’s direction are equally controlled according to his genius; just ask Malcolm McDowell from A Clockwork Orange or Shelley Duvall from The Shining (1980) how “method” a filmmaker he was.

Neither Scott nor Pickens knew their performances were being played for laughs, conflicting a tension against the absurdity of their material, and Sellers makes the most out of his three roles, even though he was only cast in them because of studio interference and not authorial intent.

Scott refused to ever work with Kubrick again when he saw the final product.

Kubrick’s dramatic immersion could be physically as well as psychologically abusive, but it’s only because he was a creative obsessively devoted to fine-tuning his craft, with an ear for soundtracking and an eye for literature, who did so much for filmmaking with so few films.

That said, the representation in this film (or lack thereof) dates it somewhat. Buck’s secretary and mistress, the unnamed Miss Scott (Tracy Reed), is the only female character in the cast, and even then, again, she’s his nameless assistant and lover.

As the only person of color, King’s lieutenant, Lothar Zogg (James Earl Jones), plays second fiddle, too.

But not all representation is good representation, and only white men could be fragile enough to end the world over a pissing contest.

Amazon Prime review: Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” (1960)

The essentiality of this film cannot be understated.

Not only did it popularize the slasher subgenre, the 1950s gimmickry its marketing genius of a filmmaker employed to promote it also changed our theatergoing habits to what we know them as today, coming in at the beginning and taking care not to spoil the end.

It is such an unflawed project, Gus Van Sant had to reshoot it shot for shot when he remade it in 1998.

And it still isn’t the Master of Suspense’s greatest work.

If you don’t know what to watch next, Sir Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) is available on Amazon Prime. Hitchcock himself produced this adaptation of the 1959 novel of the same name by Robert Bloch.

The psychological horror piece was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Supporting Actress for Janet Leigh, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, and Best Art Direction – Interior Decoration, Black-and-White.

Marion Crane (Leigh) is a real estate secretary in Arizona who wants to marry a divorced California hardware store owner, Sam Loomis (John Gavin), but can’t because of his alimony debts.

When Marion’s boss, George Lowery (Vaughn Taylor), asks her to deposit forty thousand dollars for a client, Tom Cassidy (Frank Albertson), Marion takes the cash and runs.

During a dark and stormy night, she stops at the Bates Motel outside of Sam’s town, where the proprietor, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), lives with his mentally ill mother, Norma (Virginia Gregg, Paul Jasmin, and Jeanette Nolan).

After Hitchcock’s masterpiece, Vertigo (1958), underperformed at the box office, he filmed the far more commercial North by Northwest (1959).

Its success saw him personally bankroll the sexualized, bloody Psycho because the studios were still governed under the waning, puritanical censors of the era.

Hitch is an auteur who authors more with less, and he cut costs by using the television production crew for CBS and NBC’s Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-1965).

Resultingly, Psycho was released in black and white at a time when Hollywood was photographing its motion pictures with Technicolor CinemaScope to compete against TV, but it snagged the movie its two black-and-white Oscar nods.

Yet another reason why Hitchcock’s Psycho humiliates Van Sant’s is because Van Sant cinematographed it in color, but Psycho is a story which aches to be told in black and white, all looming shadows and German Expressionistic contrasts.

It externalizes for the viewer the antisocial psyche that the Gothic Bates Motel is a metaphor for.

And Hitchcock’s classical training in European art history groomed him to curate the iconic “shower setpiece.” It is to Western montage what Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925) is to the East.

And he did it all without one line of spoken dialogue, harkening back to his studentship in silent, “pure” cinema, visceral sight and sound, conjured through his creative partnerships with editor George Tomansini as well as composer Bernard Herrmann.

The Master’s laissez-faire direction for his actors gets Leigh to deliver a performance which speaks to her acting chops and star power.

Her false protagonist is so devastatingly characterized, so effectively publicized as the star of the show, the shock value behind her exit stage left at the end of the first act humanizes her three-dimensionally.

The bolt of lightning that is Marion Crane courses across generations.

Leigh’s own daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis, turns in the prototypical scream queen for John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) because of her mother’s tour de force, and the top-billed Drew Barrymore is killed off in the first scene of Wes Craven’s Scream (1996).

But Leigh’s lungpower is not what develops Marion into a sympathetic antihero.

The most suspenseful moments of the film are the least violent: when Marion is lying to the highway patrol officer (Mort Mills); and when Norman is fibbing to Private Investigator Milton Arbogast (Martin Balsam).

They stammer their way along their interrogations while we know what they’re trying to hide and what’s at stake for these audience surrogates if the authorities figure out what we already know.

This communal guilt between character and consumer is a verisimilitude the artist perfected in Rear Window (1954), with James Stewart’s voyeuristic protagonist caught in the act by Raymond Burr’s villain.

We all carry secrets we would die to protect, even the most polite company we would least suspect, and Hitchcock, with his well-documented phobia of authority figures, knows how to manipulate and exploit this universal right of passage for the human condition.

Psycho is even progressive for its time. Its depiction of Marion’s sister, Lila Crane (Vera Miles, who inspired Vertigo after Hitchcock’s muse, Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco, chose marriage over her collaboration with the Master), is proto-feministic.

Lila is an independent, intelligent deuteragonist who doesn’t use her sex appeal to get ahead.

Even according to queer theory, the text holds up more so than some of its genre fellows, like Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill (1980), making it clear the homicidal, perverted Norman is not “trans” just because one of his dissociative identities happens to be his mother.

But for everything Psycho gets right about its Freudian character study, that it subscribes to Freud at all counts against it. Norman’s mother is not to blame for his Oedipus complex, no matter how much she smothered him.

His personality would be much more nuanced and developed if the spoon-fed exposition delivered as dated psychoanalysis by Doctor Fred Richman (Simon Oakland) were more subtextualized.

If anything, though, it goes to show that Freudianism makes for better fiction than it does psychology.

Psycho is a study in the craft and technique that made Hitchcock’s cult of personality among the first to inspire the school of thought known as auteur theory.

The fact that Vertigo bests it is because only he could create something greater than perfection.

Amazon Prime review: HBO’s “Chernobyl” (2019)

Between AMC’s Mad Men (2007-2015) and HBO’s Chernobyl (2019), Jared Harris specializes in playing characters who meet a very specific fate.

If you don’t know what to watch next, Chernobyl is available on Amazon Prime. Showrunner Craig Mazin also wrote the historical drama, with Johan Renck directing. Both of them won Primetime Emmy Awards for their efforts, as well as Outstanding Limited Series.

The crux of the miniseries is the April 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster in Pripyat, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. The characters encompass the bureaucrats behind the scenes of the meltdown in addition to its aftermath on the ground.

First responders, volunteers, and miners digging a tunnel under the compromised reactor are all spoken for here.

This USSR fable is altogether Hollywood in its presentation, not only for its production value, but also its characterization.

It is a post-September 11 American imagery to cast the firefighters on the scene, their health forever tainted from their own self-sacrifice, failed by the very government they serve.

Moreover, such dramatic democratization calls to mind Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress (1958) as popularized through George Lucas’s Star Wars (1977), with commoners leading us across this epic narrative of institutional corruption and environmental apocalypse.

The aestheticism hums with an intoxicating foreboding as punishing as the decay which both literally and figurative eats away at the characters.

This verisimilitude bridges the temporal and geographic gulf between the Soviet Union and the contemporary United States, and, with the political and natural degradation facing us today, the themes of the show are allegorical in their implications.

Bearing witness to the ruination of these historical figures may make the audience wish to turn away, but its import to our own cultural trajectory is impossible to ignore.

It has always struck this critic as silly, though, when English-speaking actors play non-English-speaking roles (especially when it’s accented). In our shrinking world, the network had the resources to cast Eastern European players.

Modern viewers are media-savvy enough to read subtitles.

But it can be read as a textualization of the rhyme this team is conducting between East and West, between past and present, a way to set the tragedy in a world which more closely resembles our own.