Saturday, April 30, 2016
The sudden death of the enigmatic celebrity, the electrifying performer, the virtuoso musician Prince made me jump immediately to a movie I’d never seen before. Purple Rain was Prince’s first movie. He starred in it and of course wrote all the music that his character, The Kid (a somewhat autobiographical version of himself), performs. He won an Oscar for Best Original Musical – the last time that Oscar category was even awarded. Purple Rain has never a bright reputation. It’s no work of cinematic gold and is only remembered today because it stars Prince and his music. By most accounts, it is the best of Prince’s four films so I can only imagine just how bad Under the Cherry Moon must be.
Thursday, April 14, 2016
I’m a big “West Wing” fan, so excuse me if you don’t know what I’m referring to when I say, “Crime. Boy, I don’t know.” That is a line from “Posse Comitatus,” the season 3 finale and the lynchpin moment when President Bartlett decides he’s going to take it to his opponent in the election. Woman in Gold is the Holocaust equivalent of that sentiment, an empty gesture at acknowledging something inexplicably awful.
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
J.J. Abrams took the reins of the Star Wars franchise and reinvigorated it with The Force Awakens, otherwise known as Episode VII and taking place some three decades or so after the vents of Return of the Jedi. This new chapter is a more than welcome addition following the ill-reputed prequel trilogy and even the Special Edition versions of the original trilogy.
Friday, April 8, 2016
So here’s the thing: the Rocky franchise sequels have a truly poor reputation, but revisiting the first sequel, Rocky II, reveals a film that is not so bad as might be remembered. If it were a standalone film, it would be a moderately successful little boxing movie, probably largely forgotten by now, but decent. As the sequel to the wildly popular and Best Picture Oscar-winning first film, it had a lot to live up to.
Essentially, Rocky II follows the formula of the first film almost to the letter. It exists purely to have a rematch between Rocky and Apollo, a recreation of the sports drama of the previous film. Like the first film, this one was written by Sylvester Stallone. However, this time he took on directing duties in addition and of course starred in the film. Carl Weathers returned as Apollo, as did all the other principals: Talia Shire as Rocky’s love interest, Adrian; Burgess Meredith as Mickey the trainer; and Burt Young as Adrian’s brother, Paulie.
“That was a time when television was still a public square, when Americans gathered and saw pretty much the same thing. There’s nothing like that now.”
“The ability to talk the same language is gone. More and more we’re divided into communities of concern. Each side can ignore the other side and live in its own world. It makes us less of a nation. Because what binds us together is the pictures in our heads. But if those people are not sharing those ideas, they’re not living in the same place.”
Those quotations above reverberate for me long after hearing it in Best of Enemies, the documentary about the Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley television debates ahead of the 1968 election. Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville wrote and directed the documentary, an examination of the series of ten debates between Vidal, a liberal author, and Buckley, a conservative pundit.
Thursday, April 7, 2016
It’s easy to forget after the deluge of increasingly absurd sequels through the 80s that Rocky – the original – as not only a great film, but is raw and gritty. I guess because I grew up on the sequels, the whole of the series sits in my memory as polished Hollywood filmmaking. And I even watched Rocky ten or fifteen years ago!
The movie truly feels like something out of another era. It’s low-budget, it’s seedy and dirty. Interestingly, I watched John Huston’s Fat City for the first time last year. That’s another 70s boxing flock that predates Rocky by a few years. I remember thinking how gritty it looked and felt and was shocked to find how similar the pacing and look of Rocky (at least in the first three quarters or so is to Huston’s film. I wonder if it was viewed by director John Avildsen and cinematographer James Crabe to achieve a real brown street look.
Sunday, March 20, 2016
Documentarians who make feature-length films have become incredibly savvy when it comes to what makes documentaries sell. Many of them nowadays weave a narrative from the material they gather. What was once a rather dry art form used strictly for information dissemination has now become full-fledged entertainment in many of the same ways fictional films are. They have characters and there’s a plot and story arc. The short-form documentary doesn’t really have the time to do all that so we’re left with a purer form of art, used by filmmakers to call attention to a problem, a hero, an artist, or another work of art that maybe we don’t think about often enough. With the program of Oscar-nominated documentary shorts, you get five films that are straight-forward and to the point of their subject matter.
First up is Body Team 12, the shortest of the lot at only twelve minutes. It has little time to do much other than spend a few minutes in the horrors of the job of a team from the Liberian Red Cross whose duties involved collecting the bodies of Ebola victims during the deadly outbreak last year. They gear up with full body coverings, multiple pairs of gloves, and goggles. They go in, take blood samples, and then remove the corpse to a crematorium. One team member follows with an anti-bacterial spray to douse the site where the body was and to rinse his team members’ protective gear as they remove it. The risk of infection is terrifying enough and it’s hard not to conjure memories of the 1995 film Outbreak in which a small breach in the armor led to death. But sometimes the most dangerous part of the job is trying to convince family members to take away their loved ones’ bodies without a burial and gravesite. One group of angry men threaten to burn their car with them inside it. David Darg’s film is a harrowing look at grief that accompanies tragedy and at the unsung heroes who helped avert further spread of the disease as much personal risk to themselves.