Amidst all of the (well-deserved) praise for Judd Apatow's recent successes as a writer-director-producer, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that he's following a trail that was pretty well blazed by John Hughes twenty years ago. Like Apatow, Hughes made a name for himself by using a tight-knit group of collaborators to make a series of comedies that were at times slapstick, at times raunchy, at times high brow, and at all times built around a strong, essentially heartwarming story of personal growth.
Uncle Buck, Hughes' penultimate film, is a great example of this. John Candy, in one of his finest performances, plays Buck Russell, a proud bachelor that has built his life around having nothing and no one to weigh him down. After a family emergency, Buck is called upon to babysit his nephew Miles (Macaulay Culkin, at his most precocious) and nieces Maizy (Gaby Hoffmann) and Tia (Jean Louisa Kelly). He quickly gains the trust and love of the young Miles and Maizy, but teenaged neice Tia is old enough to recognize Buck for the black sheep that he is, and she intends to use Buck's stay as an opportunity to get away with things her parents wouldn't allow, especially with her boyfriend, "Bug."Continue Reading
This movie is not ranked on the top of AFI’s "Greatest American Movies" of all time for nothing. Every single aspect and element of this film - from its direction, cinematography, script development, performances, editing, to its art direction - is outstanding. When you take a director such as Roman Polanski, add a writer like Robert Towne, and have actors such as Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, it’s almost a done deal. What leads this film to excel beyond excellence is its profound content and complex, multi-leveled storyline. Its underlying historical significance concerning the 1930s water rights in Los Angeles has also earned the film to be selected for preservation by the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 1991.
The story is set in the 1930s. J.J. “Jakes” Gittes, played by Jack Nicholson, is a Los Angeles private investigator hired by Evelyn Mulwray to spy on her supposed cheating husband, who is the city’s chief engineer for the water department. Soon after the initial investigation, Gittes finds that this woman is an impersonator of Evelyn Mulwray. He plunges into the case to discover the complex twists and turns of a murder involving incest and municipal corruption, which somehow all relate to the city’s water supply. How far do people in power go to keep themselves in that position? Follow Gittes’ investigation to find out.Continue Reading
Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn
Bold as it is to say, Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn is my favorite movie of all time. For me, it teeters in competition with Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. And to be clear, just because it happens to be my favorite movie doesn’t mean that I think it’s the best acted, best scripted, best directed movie ever. (Although the directing is top-notch. More on that in a bit.) Movies are entertainment; their sole purpose is to entertain us. So for me personally, in terms of sheer entertainment value, I find nothing more entertaining than Sam Raimi’s sequel to his own break out independent hit, The Evil Dead.
The first Evil Dead was the culmination of years and years of Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell and Rob Tappert honing their filmmaking skills by cranking out numerous short films together in school. Pooling together a budget from investors primarily consisting of dentists, they managed to make a little indie movie touted as “the most grueling experience ever!” An endorsement from Stephen King early on solidified The Evil Dead’s cult status. So several years later, after Raimi and the Coen Brothers had a creatively unsuccessful studio experience making the feature Crimewave, Raimi went back to the ol’ cabin and decided to sequelize his big break out movie with Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn.Continue Reading
Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy
The Earth was accidentally demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass, and archetypal English bloke Arthur Dent was left hitching around the Galaxy with just his bathrobe, a towel, and a copy of the Hitchhiker's Guide (the one that has "Don't Panic" in friendly block letters on its cover.)
Welcome to the first full-length cinematic version of this 1980s sci-fi icon. And, since author Douglas Adams himself wrote the script, there is no reason to panic! The film is mostly harmless - eh, make that mostly delightful. Special effects range from a spacecraft that looks like a cannister vacuum cleaner turned inside out, to aliens from the Hanson Workshop who look like giant beanie babies. But the tour of the "factory floor" of Megrathea, the planet that manufactures worlds, is worth the price of the DVD. Adams included many of the skids, anecdotes and one-liners which made the book so special, and had them discreetly animated as well.Continue Reading
I will always passionately love Requiem for a Dream. I will always passionately love Requiem for a Dream more than The Fountain. But I can't really compare Darren Aronofsky's two latest releases; it simply wouldn't be fair! The Fountain is a challenge that takes on a re-definition of science fiction, attempting to span 1,000 years and intersecting three parallel stories. It is certainly a task to admire. Aronofsky searches life's biggest questions - love, death, spirituality, existence - all while trying to go beyond typical science fiction films that were plot-driven by technology and science. He notes, "the interesting things are the ideas; the search for God, the search for meaning."
The film is personal and honorable in how simple yet intricate the story is. While I found it hard to involve myself in the more ancient sections of the film, and also thought using a cancer-stricken loved one as a character seems slightly redundant, but in the end mankind (in the general sense) is truly redeemed.Continue Reading
Blade Runner: The Final Cut
Based on a novel by Philip K. Dick and set in the dark, rain-soaked Los Angeles of 2019, the tale follows “blade runner” Deckard (Harrison Ford) as he pursues and attempts to terminate four “replicants” – genetically-engineered humanoids – who have violently escaped an off-world colony and returned to earth. Deckard becomes increasingly conflicted about his murderous job and doubtful about his own identity, as he falls in love with a replicant (Sean Young) and begins to realize that his prey may be more human than he believed.Continue Reading
Solaris was Tarkovsky’s first foray into Science Fiction. Tarkovsky was a big fan of soft science-fiction, the kind that deals with deep moral and philosophical questions instead of focusing on laser rifles, improbable monsters and shiny robots. The film is rather loosely adapted from a novel by Stanislaw Lem and, predictably, the end result was not to Lem’s liking, partly because Tarkovsky took the story and thoroughly made it his own while retaining aspects familiar to Lem’s fans.
The plot concerns a mission to a space station surrounding an oceanic world they’ve named Solaris. A psychologist, Kris Kelvin, is sent to assess the deteriorating situation on the station as scientists kill themselves and apparently go insane without fail. He is to return and recommend future action, possibly shooting radiation into the planet, possibly ending the experiment.Continue Reading
A Clockwork Orange
A classic tale of boy loves violence, loses violence, and reunites with violence. Alex de Large (Malcolm McDowell) is a romantic hero for a decidedly unromantic age, represented here by a Moddish parallel universe. When all things, including humans, lose their intrinsic qualities, becoming place holders in the stimulus-response equations of a totally administered world, even the most barbarous of acts, if freely chosen, can take on a heroic hue. Not exactly a comforting thought, that one. Thus, Kubrick enhances audience identification with Alex’s creative acts of resistance via a first-person voice over, visualizing his sadistic reveries (as in a masturbatory sequence involving Beethoven’s 9th), and shooting his violent deeds through an extreme wide angle lens which tends to slightly distort everything around our humble narrator.
Alex’s fun comes to an end when he’s betrayed by his droogs after having killed a lady. After 2 years in prison, Alex charms his way into an experimental procedure at the Ludovico lab, which via behavior modification instills in him an aversion to sex and violence, as well as his beloved 9th, which happened to be the background music to one of the videos he was forced to watch. He can look, but he can no longer touch, his feelings now associated with a crippling nausea. Having been turned into a normal(-ized) citizen, Alex is released back into society. The violence he perpetrated in the first act is inflicted back on him by his former victims to which he can only respond with learned helplessness. Through the repercussions of the last creative act left to him, an attempt at suicide, the world is restored of violent personal meaning to the familiar tune of Ludwig van.Continue Reading
Children of Men
As much as science fiction films are maligned for being the playground of geeks and fanboys, the genre has a pretty stellar track record when it comes to reinventing what we as an audience expect from the cinema. To those that saw them in their original theatrical release, films like Star Wars, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Blade Runner are described as "experiences" more often than as "films;" drawing out the hyperbolic sides of people, phrases like "life-changing" aren't at all uncommon.
As soon as there's a generation of filmgoers young enough to have missed it, I imagine I'll be saying the same things to them about Children of Men.Continue Reading
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
We’ll never know for sure, but audiences may have fared better last year if Harrison Ford had directed the fourth Indiana Jones movie. Why not have let Mark Hammil try his hand at helming The Phantom Menace? Most fourth installments have little cinematic merit and do dismally at the box-office (Alien Resurrection, Batman and Robin, if you needed more examples.) So, if you’re a studio executive and you’ve still got three kids from two different marriages to put through college, what can you possibly do to make your third sequel work? Have a completely inexperienced lead actor from the franchise direct it, which is what happened when Leonard Nimoy assumed directorial duties for the second time on Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, his first proverbial rodeo being Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. And here’s why Leonard could do what Steven, George, Jean-Pierre, and Joel could not: actors who are committed to the franchise have spent years reading scripts by other writers thinking, “If I was writing this, this would be so much better.” They’ve got a cache of ideas to benefit the series, rather than an interloping director approaching the project as an opportunity to put his mark on the franchise. The Voyage Home was the second highest grossing film of the series and a popular film with fans of the TV show and Star Trek neophytes alike.
The film documents a particularly bad day in the history of the Federation. Not only is the entire crew of the Enterprise on trial for disobeying orders and various assorted hijinks (plot remnants from the second and third films), the survival of Earth is threatened by a highly destructive alien probe that only speaks one language: humpback whale. Unfortunately, Earth’s largest mammals became extinct at the end of the 21st century. It looks like the probe’s unintentional annihilation of the planet is imminent, that is until Spock gets a wacky idea to time travel back in time to the 1980s and abduct some Earth whales to bring back to the future so they can tell the probe what it can do with itself, in whale song. The highly likeable middle section of the film takes place in modern day San Francisco and employs the person-from-the-future-out-of-water scenario to great comedic effect. The crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise’s talent for pitch-perfect timing and deadpan delivery is a welcome relief from the depressing eeriness of The Search for Spock. Dr. “Bones” McCoy is back to his sassy self after having spent the entirety of the previous film going crazy sharing his brain with Spock’s immortal soul and the writers allow themselves some political commentary by introducing some Cold War humor via Commander Pavel Chekov’s character. The ensemble’s ease with the material and their characters was undoubtedly facilitated by being directed by one of their own, and the atmosphere of relaxed bonhomie is reminiscent of the quality that made the Rat Pack so popular, but without the misogyny and the alcoholism. If you like laughs, good times, or both, Star Trek IV is a journey to the outer reaches of fun at warp speed.Continue Reading