As an actor and director, Robert Redford seems sincerely and deeply drawn to American mythology, from the mystic fishermen of A River Runs Through It to those western archetypes the Sundance Kid and Jeremiah Johnson to that most sacred of literary mysteries, The Great Gatsby. Every minute of The Natural oozes with the urge to create myth out of Americana, which may be why that movie feels like a Redford film even though it was directed by Barry Levinson.
As much as I appreciate the love Bill Murray gets from arthouse auteurs like Wes Anderson and Jim Jarmusch, there are times when the great man should cut loose in a big, broad comedy. Rock the Kasbah aims for that spirit, but—nope, no cigar. Murray plays an L.A. talent manager, Richie Lanz, who never made the big time but has a bushel of anecdotes about hanging out with Madonna and Jimi Hendrix. Given a shot to take his latest protégé (Zooey Deschanel, amusing before she exits the film) on a USO tour in Afghanistan, Richie comes a cropper when things fall apart in Kabul. His trust in a pair of weapons dealers (Danny McBride and Scott Caan) is ill-judged; his liaison with a gold-plated hooker (Kate Hudson) is expensive; and there’s this mercenary (Bruce Willis, grim throughout) who keeps turning up at key moments.
[Originally published in Movietone News 53, January 1977]
Silent Movieis Mel Brooks’s best film to date, and his first unqualifiedly successful movie. His earlier films, funny as they are, are hampered by unevenness and overemphasis, and by the kind of selfcongratulatory distrust of the audience that makes Brooks hold his shots too long, zoom in insistently on his sight gags, use the same joke again and again under the misapprehension that that makes it a running gag, or—when in doubt—have an unlikely person say “bullshit” or burst into Cole Porter. Silent Movie is a more personal film than the others, and—probably not coincidentally—the first in which Brooks has cast himself in a lead role. In fact, there is a sense in which Silent Movieis Brooks’s 8 1/2:The end title informs us “This was a true story,” and though we are reasonably certain that the man who made Blazing Saddles and Young Frankensteindidn’t exactly have to go through hell to convince a studio to let him do a silent movie, it must have been a daring and difficult idea to promote. (One wonders whether Alan Pakula, who once confessed an urge to make a contemporary silent film, ever made serious overtures to the studios.)