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.
The Statue of Liberty has always stood as a beacon of hope, welcoming immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, promising the start of what has been billed as “The American Dream.” The allure of America is often much stronger and much bigger than the reality of most immigrant experiences. The Godfather Part II uses that image to signal the beginning of the rise of the Corleone crime family, one partially realized promise of the American Dream. Vito wanted his son to be a legitimate businessman, but once ensconced in that world of crime, Michael finds it increasingly difficult to extricate himself. The Corleone family success crumbles to pieces by the end of that movie, Michael sitting alone, full of money and power, but bereft of family connection.
Tuesday, June 17, 2014
As I rewatched Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down for the first time I more than a decade, two other war Berchtesgaden more than a year later. The similarities are numerous. Both are based on books that attempted to recount, in as much factual detail as possible, the events surrounding are large contingent of American soldiers in conflict. Both were released toward the end of 2001, coinciding with post-9/11 American jingoism. Both focus heavily on the responsibility soldiers in combat feel toward each other more than to the ideology or politics behind the war. And both unflinchingly portray some of the horrors and carnage of war. The other is the more recent Lone Survivor, whose primary focus is on the fact of soldiers in harm’s way pulling for each other. The latter film has faced criticism for being a form of war porn, which you could also say to some extent about Scott’s film. But I think the positives to take away from all three far outweigh any negative observations regarding the depiction of blood and guts in battle scenarios.
Saturday, June 14, 2014
Woody Allen’s career has been a lengthy string of annual hits or misses. Part of what makes him so compelling a filmmaker is how he dives right in and commits himself even to the ones that aren’t so great, just to keep himself working and putting out new material every year. His movies have a way of changing over time – for me at least – so that The Purple Rose of Cairo seemed a lesser effort, a whimsical throwaway, when I was twenty, but when I revisited it at about thirty-one, there was greatness I had missed. Sometimes it goes the other way, as with Everyone Says I Love You, which I liked a lot more seventeen years ago than I did the other day.
Wednesday, June 4, 2014
To grow up in a filmmaking family and be constantly surrounded by people who make it their life’s work to tell stories through motion pictures must cause you to absorb the techniques so that you end up with intuition through osmosis. The patriarch Francis Ford Coppola went to film school to learn his trade and honed his skills while making some of the great classics of American cinema. His knowledge passed to his daughter Sofia, who has made some excellent films herself. Other members of the extended family have had success as actors, writers, and producers. Now comes Gia Coppola, granddaughter to Francis, and niece to Sofia, with her directorial debut Palo Alto, which she adapted from James Franco’s story series of the same name.
Tuesday, June 3, 2014
So in 1988, I believe I saw only two films in the cinema. I quadrupled that number in 1989, two of them arriving to theaters in June of that year. I can't say for sure I saw them right away, but most likely pretty quickly after my school year ended. Remember when superhero movie franchises began once a decade? Superman in 1978, followed by Batman eleven years later, and then Spider Man thirteen years after that? Then after that it just didn't stop. Now there's a new one about every month.
The biggest release of the year, and box office king of 1989, was the Tim Burton-directed Batman starring the unlikely Michael Keaton as the caped crusader and Jack Nicholson as The Joker. Kim Basinger, being a big star at the time, was cast as reporter Vicki Vale, the journalist with the alliterative name who is not Lois Lane. Nicholson was perfectly cast as the maniacal villain and no one could have imagined a better performance of the part until Heath Ledger. Everyone was suspicious, and rightly so, of Keaton as the hero. He was known for his comic roles and he had recently been great in the title role in Burton's Beetlejuice, but I always liked him in the part. I like his aloofness, his ability to deliver the comic lines without coming down on them too hard, and then be serious behind the mask.