Thursday, November 26, 2015
The movies you loved as a kid sometimes turn out to be classics (i.e. Back to the Future and Star Wars) while others, it turns out, were really just not very good. Ah, the undiscerning view from a child’s perspective. When you’re a kid, a movie is good or not because it has excitement, adventures, romance, and comedy. For some adults I guess that never changes. Before Robert Zemeckis directed Back to the Future, he had a big commercial success in Romancing the Stone, a sort of Raiders of the Lost Ark knock-off starring Kathleen Turner as a dowdy romance novelist and Michael Douglas as a roughneck who saves her in the jungles of Colombia.
Wednesday, November 4, 2015
Antoine Fuqua’s Southpaw is a little chaotically scripted by Kurt Sutter with plot points that are occasionally unbelievable, nonsensical, or irrelevant, but it is Fuqua’s most restrained directing effort I can recall and contains enough moral uplift that it just crosses the line of what’s worth watching as a minor diversion.
Jake Gyllenhaal is impressive as Billy Hope, the light heavyweight champion of the world. Hope (and Gyllenhaal by extension) is physically imposing with a ripped torso and biceps. He has an anger control problem that remains mostly confined to the ring. So that he garners our sympathies, he’s got a beautiful wife, Maureen (Rachel McAdams), and daughter, both of whom he adores and dotes on. Maureen doesn’t want him to keep fighting because his style allows him to endure punch after punch until he’s angry enough to pummel his opponent. His manager (Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson) wants him to sign a three fight deal.
Saturday, October 24, 2015
I wanted to revisit The Full Monty because in my memory, it resides in a place where thruway, but well-made popular entertainments go to die. Every time I’ve considered its pace among five Oscar Best Picture nominees (competing against L.A. Confidential, Titanic, Good Will Hunting, and As Good as It Gets, it was the definition of “it’s an honor just to be nominated.”) Was it also a stroke of incredible good fortune to be nominated? Was it really that good or did it just tickle audiences the right way and have the right wards marketing team to help it fill a niche spot in the category often reserved for light quirky comedies that make a lot of money and get people talking? C.f. Four Weddings and a Funeral and Chocolat.
Alexander Payne’s second film was a brilliant little gem called Election, a satirical look at electoral process through the prism of a high school student council election. The screenplay was adapted from Tom Perrotta’s novel by Payne and Jim Taylor and is as true to high school life and character as it is cynically observant of political ambition.
Reese Witherspoon achieved major breakout success playing Tracy Flick, the little bundle of gumption and up-start attitude that comes across as admirable in a teenager, but which has the potential to transition into an adulthood of stepping on everyone to achieve her goals. Matthew Broderick plays the popular history teacher, Jim McAllister, who oversees student government elections. He teaches the students civics and about the difference between morals and ethics – a line he would do well to consider later in the film when he manipulates the election results and cheats on his wife. Mr. McAllister is one of those teachers that students remember their whole lives. He is dedicated and enthusiastic and truly a stand-up guy, even standing beside his friend and colleague Dave Novotni after it’s discovered he’s been having an affair with sixteen-year old Tracy (the one detail I find sort of unbelievable in an otherwise perfect movie because girls like Tracy are not typically sexually ambitious and aren’t targeted by men like Dave.
Wednesday, October 21, 2015
I just recently rewatched Shakespeare in Love and it was a s good, if not better than I remember it. John Madden’s film of the fictional and comic fantasy of how the greatest romantic tragedy in literary history came to be was my favorite film of 1998. I saw it Christmas Day, part of a moviegoing tradition I diligently maintained from 1997 through 2005, and then again a few weeks after. I bought the DVD in 1999 and have watched it a few times over the years and now I have the Blu-Ray (yes, I’m a dinosaur) so I can enjoy it in HD whenever I please. I was one of few people to accurately predict its victory in the Best Picture Oscar contest. In the Oscar pool I used to manage, only three people out of about thirty made that pick over Saving Private Ryan.
Saturday, October 3, 2015
The whole plot of the latest Mission: Impossible film, subtitled Rogue Nation, and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who also wrote the screenplay and is involved in one way or another in just about everything Tom Cruise stars in these days, hinges on the usual MacGuffin device. In this case it’s a cache of data that will give financial support to an international crime organization known as The Syndicate. They are essentially the anti-Impossible Mission force, comprised of agents from all over the world who disappeared, presumed dead, over the last several years. The thing is, the data can be accessed using fingerprint and voice ID of only one person – the Prime Minister of Britain! I mean, there’s security and then there’s just plain stupid and ineffective. What happens if the PM suddenly dies? What if he resigns? What if he’s revealed to be greater than Nixon levels of corrupt? Anyway, this is just a minor logical inconvenience o the way to a cleverly-crafted sequence that results in the kidnapping of the Prime Minister. And clever set pieces are the stock in trade of the Mission: Impossible series.
Tuesday, August 25, 2015
There’s a current movement in German cinema. I’m not sure if it’s acquired a catchy name yet. “The Berlin School” is the closest I can find, but that’s not descriptive in the way that “film noir, “French New Wave,” or “Italian neo-realism” were. From my own observations it’s something like neo-German historical realism. But that’s a little clunky. At any rate, the movies, which tend to focus on post-war Germany or Communist Bloc East Germany, have been making their way stateside, illuminating the ways in which a new generation of German filmmakers and their audiences are responding to the important historical markers that shaped Gemany and its people today.