Tuesday, July 29, 2014
It’s sort of a rite of passage of being a teenager that you think you’ve got the world figured out, have everyone’s number, and believe your own views to be absolutely right. I suppose it takes most people until sometime in early adulthood to realize that you didn’t know half of what you thought you did when you were seventeen. Some teenagers (I might have been one of them) take it a step further and believe there is an authentic way of living and that just about everyone walking this earth is a big phony. Think Holden Caulfield. It should suggest something important that he was my hero at fifteen and then a sad tragedy at thirty.
Saturday, July 26, 2014
I really liked Garden State ten years ago. At the time I was still very much into a certain indie sensibility that rejected the mainstream for its own sake and expressed the ennui of being in your mid-20s and without direction, feeling like your parents’ completely screwed you up. Over the years as I thought about the movie – and I’ve begun thinking about it more recently because it’s ten years old and Zach Braff’s follow-up has finally arrived in cinemas – I thought of it as annoyingly precious, too perfect in its indie romantic sensibility. But watching it again I found it really holds up well. I was remembering it all wrong. Braff is a romantic softy at heart and the sappy feel-good ending is a little tacked on in the interest of living out some romantic fantasy, but all in all, Garden State works.
Friday, July 25, 2014
My memory of watching The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly the first time was that it was long and good, but felt more like work than enjoyment. Fifteen years later my view is completely different. This is a masterful piece of filmmaking, a movie that plays with genre expectations and is humorous, violently playful, serious, and all-around entertaining. I’m not sure what didn’t strike me about it the first time.
Sunday, July 20, 2014
Lethal Weapon 2 was the big release of the month, a sequel to the successful buddy cop film starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. The sequel added Joe Pesci for some truly annoying extra comic relief, but continued to tackle important topical issues. This time it was South African apartheid. Basically Riggs and Murtagh get to take down the racist institution all on their own. Or at least the criminal diplomat in Los Angeles running a major drug ring.
Friday, July 18, 2014
There are great parallels between the 19th century American West with its lawlessness, gunslingers, and vigilante justice and feudal Japan and its share of samurai warriors. Codes of honor are similar as are the general sense of open and unconquered land, small villages vulnerable to the strength of an oppressor, simple farmers trying to scrape by. The Japanese samurai films of the fifties borrowed and lifted tropes from the American western genre. Then a funny thing happened and the westerns started mimicking the samurai films. Seven Samurai was and still is one of the greatest of its kind. It was popular (as much as foreign films could be popular at the time) in the U.S. and it was ripe for picking by a Hollywood studio. And so the 1960 semi-classic The Magnificent Seven came to fruition.
Thursday, June 26, 2014
From the writers of (500) Days of Summer I expected much better in a romance film involving two teenage cancer patients. The Fault in Our Stars, directed by Josh Boone, is not cloying or mawkish, but it is oh so precious – relentlessly so. It is constantly aware of how perfect a movie it’s so desperately trying to be. I can even sort of tell from this movie that the source novel is likely similarly insistent on its sense of perfection in its characters and plotting.
The story is narrated by Hazel (Shailene Woodley), a seventeen-year old with stage four cancer that has left her with a lung ailment that demands twenty-four hour attention from an oxygen tank. Woodley is a talented actress whom I have greatly admired and here she really holds the movie together. Without her performance, exuding youth along with naturalism and a realistic outlook on her situation that you wouldn’t expect from a girl her age, the movie doesn’t work. But Marc Webb’s and Scott Neustadter’s screenplay pushes too hard on those buttons that make Hazel seem too intelligent, too over it, too cynical to go in for the platitudes and clichés associated with her disease.
It’s been many years since I watched Airplane, that crazy comedy film from the ZAZ team of Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker, and David Zucker. They mastered the art of goofball parody comedy and made my youth more enjoyable than it otherwise would have been. Airplane was the one that started it all. It’s possible to point to John Landis and Kentucky Fried Movie, but that’s more akin to sketch comedy – a bunch of funny ideas loosely tossed together around a larger centerpiece parody of Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon. But as an outright genre parody, Airplane set the bar, a bar that unfortunately has been lowered as the years have gone on.