#315. Sidney Lumet

Sidney Lumet is perhaps the best Director you’ve never even heard of. While his films have garnered almost fifty Oscar nominations, they’ve only earned six. None of these six were for Best Director, but he was nominated at least four times over his long and distinguished career. One of the reasons most people aren’t familiar with his work is that the heyday of Lumet’s best works was in the 1970’s. During this decade, his films garnered the vast majority of Oscar nominations, as well as all of the Oscar wins (in a three-year period). While his career has spanned six decades, most of his films aren’t recognizable, despite his prolific filmography. Many of these films are critically acclaimed, even to this day. This week’s two films highlight some of the best that Sidney Lumet’s directing had to offer.

                                                                          Dog Day Afternoon
Dog Day AfternoonYear: 1975
Rating: R
Length: 125 minutes / 2.08 hours

In 1974, Lumet directed Murder on the Orient Express, a film that garnered the most Oscar nominations to date for one of his films. With six nominations, only Ingrid Bergman’s performance managed to snag a win, the first for a Lumet-directed film. One year later, Dog Day Afternoon would pull the same feat, with six nominations and one win for Best Original Screenplay. One of these nominations was for Lumet’s directing, which was his second overall at the time. Many will recognize that Al Pacino helped to cement this film in the history of popular culture. Perhaps his inclusion in this film was in part due to his iconic portrayal of the eponymous Serpico in the Lumet-directed film from two years prior. If anything, Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon show that Sidney Lumet can direct Al Pacino to be on either side of the law.

While Serpico has Al Pacino portray an honest cop of the same name, Dog Day Afternoon goes in the opposite direction, allowing him to portray bank robber Sonny Wortzik. Sonny is new to this crime game and botches his first robbery at the First Brooklyn Savings Bank. Soon the cops have been called and only two of the original three robbers are left to hold the bank hostage. Sonny is able to get the public on his side by letting a security guard go due to an asthma attack but also riling them up by yelling about the recent Attica Prison riot. It is eventually revealed that the reason for the failed robbery was to pay for Sonny’s girlfriend to finish gender reassignment surgery, earning him more sympathy points. Realizing that the whole fiasco is a bust, Sonny just wants to get him and his partner, Sal (John Cazale) out safely. The negotiators oblige, but Sonny and Sal end up getting a bad deal in the process.

NetworkNetwork
Year: 1976
Rating: R
Length: 121 minutes / 2.02 hours

Right from the start, Sidney Lumet’s skill at directing was easily recognizable. His first film, 12 Angry Men (1957) is considered by many to be the epitome of the courtroom drama, even if the courtroom is rarely seen at all. Earning three nominations, this film garnered Lumet his first nod for Best Director. 25 years later, he would bookend with another courtroom drama and earn his fourth and final Best Director nomination for The Verdict (1982). His most-nominated film, however, was Network (1976), which racked up an impressive ten nominations. Lumet was nominated for Best Director, but it was the Original Screenplay and the acting talents of Peter Finch (Best Actor), Faye Dunaway (Best Actress) and Beatrice Straight (Best Supporting Actress) that brought home the gold that year.

Anger is front and center on Howard Beale’s (Peter Finch) Evening News segment after he learns that he will be fired due to poor ratings. As luck would have it, his un-anchor-like actions push the ratings of his show through the roof. Meanwhile, Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) realizes the potential to morph the “mad as hell” anchor into an entertainments show instead of a news-oriented one. Now that Beale has a new-found power as a prophet of the airways, he decides to take on the Saudi Arabian conglomerate who is poised to buy out his studio. This gains the attention of the head of the Communications Corporation of America, Arthur Jensen (Ned Beatty), who takes Beale aside and shows him the financial sense of the world. As a result, Beale is told to tone it down and this leads to a slide in the ratings for The Howard Beale Show. Only one option remains for the network, and it’s a win-win situation for them.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 stupendous Sidney Lumet movies

Bacon #: 2 (The Manchurian Candidate (2004) / Robert W. Castle -> Sleepers / Kevin Bacon)

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#314. Stockholm Syndrome

Hollywood has often been accused of glamorizing characters and plots that are downright unrealistic. Often, these characters will act in a way that is seen as completely illogical, often just to get the plot to the climax it needs. Women in romantic comedies can be found in relationships with jerks to highlight the “good guy” difference in the male protagonist. Similarly, some dramas show women in abusive relationships, unable to leave due to their illogical love for the guy. While this latter example is more realistic, it highlights something usually seen in hostage situations: Stockholm syndrome. These survival instincts may be illogical in any normal situation, but in the high-stress and dangerous hostage situation, this coping mechanism helps hostages to survive, even if the effects last long after the incident is over. This week’s two films examine some examples of Stockholm syndrome.

TangledTangled
Year: 2010
Rating: PG
Length: 100 minutes / 1.67 hours

“There’s no place like holm . . . Stockholm.” One of the negative aspects of many Disney films is that they are largely based on stories from a much different time. While the stories themselves are usually harmless, there are often boundaries and more adult concepts that need to be discussed with small children. Snow White couldn’t give her consent to being kissed, even if it would break her curse. Ariel’s relationship with Prince Philip couldn’t work because she wasn’t able to communicate, and communication is the key to a good relationship. Aladdin’s relationship with Princess Jasmine was founded on lies, which isn’t a good way to start a relationship. The only reason Rapunzel didn’t escape her captor earlier is that she grew to love her “adopted mother,” even after the verbal abuse Mother Gothel used to keep her trapped in the tower.

For eighteen years, Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) has lived in a tower with her “mother” Gothel (Donna Murphy). While Rapunzel understands the intrinsic reason for her solitary confinement is to protect her from the dangerous world outside, she still longs to see the world beyond her window. What she doesn’t know is that Gothel stole her from her birth parents because she possesses a magical power in her hair to heal; a power that Gothel has used for hundreds of years to remain young. When a thief by the name of Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) accidentally finds his way into her tower, Rapunzel sees an opportunity to escape. Unfortunately, now she is torn about going to see the annual lantern lift-off, as it could damage her relationship with Gothel. It’s not until she realizes she’s the missing princess that she breaks the “spell” Gothel had over her and truly tries to escape in earnest.

Dog Day AfternoonDog Day Afternoon
Year: 1975
Rating: R
Length: 125 minutes / 2.08 hours

If Hollywood movies are any indicator, one of the most frequent locations for a hostage situation to take place is in a bank. Bank robberies seem to be common and it’s difficult to do during daylight hours without involving a few innocent civilians. Consequently, if these hostage situations take too long, then Stockholm syndrome has more time to take hold. There are a few thought patterns that can develop into Stockholm syndrome, including the development of positive feelings toward their captor, believing in the humanity of their captor, no previous connection or relationship to their captor, and lack of cooperation with the authorities sent to help them. Any one of these ways of thinking can lead to a false sense of safety in the hands of someone who by all logical indicators is a dangerous individual.

During the dog days of summer, Sonny (Al Pacino), Sal (John Cazale), and Stevie (Gary Springer) head into the First Brooklyn Savings Bank in an attempt to rob the place. Unfortunately, their timing couldn’t have been worse. Not only is there a measly $1,100 left in the vault, but soon the police are alerted of the situation after Stevie runs away. Now Sonny and Sal have decided to sit it out in the bank, along with everyone else who happened to be in there when they started their two-bit scheme. Sonny tries to keep the hostages comfortable, allowing one of them to go when they have an asthma attack. He even goes so far as to request that the police bring in pizzas for the hostages. As the hours tick on by, everyone learns why Sonny needed the money, which helps to humanize his plight. Eventually, both robbers get their demands met and are driven to the airport, where they find one final surprise waiting.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 helpful hostages