Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Kicking and Screaming Movie Review

Watching all those Whit Stillman movies a couple of months ago got me thinking again about Kicking and Screaming, a movie about four friends recently graduated from college, which I hadn’t seen since I was their age. It was Noah Baumbach’s first feature film (he shares a story credit with Oliver Berkman), made on a fairly low budget in the mid-90s when low budgets were sheik, and features the actor Chris Eigeman, whose presence is part of what connects the movie in my mind to Stillman’s work. That and similar writing styles that focus on educated characters who speak literately and engagingly on a variety of topics.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Prometheus Movie Review

Ridley Scott’s highly-anticipated return to science fiction after a 30 year hiatus turns out to be provocative, fascinating and also deeply flawed. Scott has continued to ride a wave of good will brought about by having directed two of the best science fiction films of all time. Since then, he’s unleashed a stunning torrent of fodder for the masses, the vast majority of which has been utterly forgettable – even the best among them like Black Hawk Down.

In Prometheus he returns to Alien territory in a film that takes place within the same universe, so to speak, but is really cagey about the connections until the end. It takes place about 30 years prior to the events in Alien and like other prequels made long after their predecessors, it suffers from use of technology that is far more advanced than what was used previously. Consider that in Alien a simple two-dimensional grid pattern screen is used for tracking the creature and Dallas, represented by crude dots. In Prometheus, a high tech 3D holographic image of an elaborate system of caves can indicate where ay life is. To the great credit of the production team, the design of the eponymous ship: everything including walls and corridors; doorways and hatches, is fairly consistent with the original. Considering it is still the fictional Weyland Corporation, that makes good sense.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom Movie Review

The whimsical world of Wes Anderson has returned in Moonrise Kingdom, his seventh feature film and just the latest to be populated by characters from a fantasy vision of the world that lies just beyond anyone’s actual experience of it. Anderson likes to set his films in veritable islands unto themselves: a Manhattan mansion that seems part of a fictionalized New York I’ve never seen; a private school that offers a most ambitious student a lot of leeway; a train across the Indian subcontinent; a submarine (that one offered up his most capricious film to date); and now a literal island that looks (on the map presented by Bob Balaban’s on camera narrator) a little like Fisher’s Island, NY.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Chasing Amy Movie Review: From My Collection

At some point in my adult life I had to come to the sad conclusion, completing my disillusionment, that Kevin Smith is a much better writer than director. In fact, he doesn’t make very good movies. Clerks succeeds because it was all of a time and place: a scrappy little independent low budget film that had some very funny bits. His follow up was not well-received by anyone, but in 1997 Chasing Amy was something of a revelation. At the time I thought it was just about the perfect romantic comedy. Watching it again now for the first time in many years I still think it’s got some wonderful dialogue, keen relationship insights and still sets the bar for the genre, but I recognize how shoddy the filmmaking is.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Full Metal Jacket Movie Review: 25 Years Ago This Month

Full Metal Jacket is the only war movie that has ever terrified me. When I was a kid it had virtually the same effect on me as a horror movie. That makes some sense if you think about it. What isn’t scary about war? Aren’t war movies that claim to be anti-war more than a bit disingenuous? Depicting the viscera of bodies blown apart or the heart pounding excitement of bullets flying turns war into entertainment. There’s almost no way around it. Once it’s been staged and committed to film you almost can’t avoid the accusation that you’re glorifying war.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Withnail & I Movie Review: 25 Years Ago This Month

In its first 15 minutes I half expected Withnail & I, Bruce Robinson’s semi-autobiographical tale of two unemployed actors boozing it up in the English countryside, to become a Beckett-influenced sojourn into existential trappings. While the two titular characters wallow in misery in their wretched London flat it begins to feel like two souls trapped in an endless loop. A little more happens than a bit of Waiting for Godot.

This was Richard E. Grant’s film debut playing Withnail and here he perfected his signature sneer, off-hand sarcastic remarks, and general temperament of displeasure with everything. His friend, flatmate and fellow struggling actor’s name is never spoken, although Marwood can be seen on an envelope. Played by Paul McGann he is no less a brooding personality than Withnail, although he is more replete with angst and a general queasiness about everything.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Frequency of Posts About to Decline

Now that the weather is consistently warm and my broken toe has healed, I've been getting back into my second hobby, which is running. I like to keep in decent shape and run occasional races from June - November so that is what's likely to take up a lot of the free time I've been devoting to watching and writing about films.

Also Euro 2012 starts next weekend and lasts several weeks, so that will keep me occupied when I'm not at work. Then there's the Olympics.

I will try to keep up on the 25 Years Ago This Month series, including one review along with it each month. I will also do my level best to write about any and all movies I watch at home or see at the theater, although the amount I watch will drop. It's actually been 3 1/2 weeks since I last went to the movies. I just can't work up the energy to drive to and pay money to see things that I'm only half interested in.

I'm working piecemeal on some larger projects coming up later in the year. That involves writing some reviews that won't be posted straight away.

So stick with me and hopefully come end of year I'll be back to the full swing.

The Untouchables Movie Review: 25 Years Ago This Month

In honor of this film's 25th Anniversary, here's a fresh look at a film I've seen several times before, but not in many years.

Kevin Costner was not yet a box office superstar when he landed his first big role in Brian De Palm’s The Untouchables, playing the Treasury Department golden boy Eliot Ness, the law man who got Al Capone. He was so much not yet a star that the first shot of him in the film he has his back to camera for the majority of the scene. It is his wife Catherine, played by Patricia Clarkson in her film debut, who gets all the face time in the scene. This is actually the second scene in the film following the bombing of a Chicago business establishment by one of Capone’s henchmen, the blast taking a 10-year-old girl as collateral damage.

Friday, June 1, 2012

25 Years Ago This Month: June 1987

Kevin Costner got his big starring break in Brian De Palma's The Untouchables, written by playwright David Mamet, whose own directorial debut came the same year. Sean Connery won an Oscar for playing sidekick and mentor to Costner's Eliot Ness. Andy Garcia makes one of his earliest screen appearances.

Harry and the Hendersons was a beloved little family film most of us probably remember fondly. John Lithgow is the head of a family that hits a sasquatch with his car while on a camping trip (?) and then takes the man-bear-gorilla home for a bit of light family entertainment/comedy/moralizing. Kevin Peter Hall, who played Harry, is otherwise best known for playing the Predator in both Predator and Predator 2.

Speaking of which, Predator was released the same month! Now this is a movie. Arnold Schwarzenegger (aka former California governor) gets called in for a Central American jungle mission with his elite group of commandos that includes Carl Weathers (aka Apollo Creed), Jesse "The Body" Ventura (aka former Minnesota governor), and Lethal Weapon scribe Shane Black. Then they get eliminated one-by-one at the hands of a technologically advanced alien creature. Schwarzenegger faces him mano a mano in the finale. Classic!