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"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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My Favorite Roger: Nell Minow

Roger's Review of "Lost Horizon"

Why did I pick this review?

To paraphrase Mae West: when movies were good, Roger was very, very good, but when they were bad, he was better. The collections of his reviews of films he “hated hated hated hated” are so delicious I carry them with me at all times, on my Kindle, in case I need a quick, refreshing look. What cheers me up is not that the hard work and high hopes of filmmakers get bashed. It is Roger’s unquenchable passion for excellence in film, so deep within him that he almost took it personally when this art form he loved so much was disrespected with trash. When a movie was honest but inept, he was patient. But when talent and time (including the time of the critics and the audience) were wasted, he was pitiless. And no one did a takedown like Roger.

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The 1973 film “Lost Horizon” was a perfect storm of awful because there was such an unfathomable gulf between its potential and its reality. It was a remake of a Frank Capra classic based on a book by the man whose novels included Goodbye Mr. Chips and Random Harvest. It featured the top talent of the day, including Liv Ullman, Peter Finch, and Sir John Gielgud. The screenwriter was "The Normal Heart"'s Larry Kramer. And the songs were by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, whose string of hits (“Do You Know the Way to San Jose?”, “I Say a Little Prayer”) dominated the pop charts in the early '70s.

I was a big fan of the original film and was really looking forward to seeing this version—until I opened the Sun Times and read Roger’s review. I will never forget that bullseye of an opening paragraph:

"I don’t know how much Ross Hunter paid Burt Bacharach and Hal David to write the music for 'Lost Horizon,' but whatever it was, it was too much. Not that the movie would have been better if the music were better; no, the movie is awful on its own. But the music is really bad. About two hours into the movie, Bobby Van has a birthday party and they sing 'Happy Birthday' to him. That’s the one you’ll come out humming."

And then he really gets tough on it, his most devastating comments just a terse, tense description of the movie’s most outrageously pretentious and downright crazy premises. He was right, of course. The movie is torture. But his review is an imperishable joy.

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