If beginnings and endings alone made a great film, then Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity would shoot to the top. The opening’s breathtaking—in beauty, intricacy and duration—long take not only marks a quantum leap in CGI (computer-generated imagery) but also, in its glorious wedding of cinema and outer space, reminds us how the two were made for each other from the start. (more…)
“Even the news needs a little showmanship,” the television producer in the movie Network proclaims. And, within bounds, the same opportunistic dictum applies to historical writing—no more so, perhaps, than in our publishing-challenged times. Ben Urwand thus can partly be forgiven for the sensationalism of the title, and thesis, of his new book The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler. Partly forgiven, that is—not completely. Thomas Doherty’s similarly themed Hollywood and Hitler: 1933 – 1939, meanwhile, by channeling showmanship into style rather than content, fares much the better for it. Both books are well worth reading, however, for the gaps in one that the other fills, and for the cautionary tale each provides—on confronting fascism and rewriting history.
Spoken by the young child Tatiana Grant at the end of Ryan Cooglers’s Fruitvale Station, “Where’s Daddy?” is destined to join “Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown” as one of filmdom’s most memorable concluding lines. Indeed, Fruitvale’s dramatization of an actual, quite recent incident—compared to Chinatown’s allegorical compositing of several disparate and distant events—renders its “message” even more topically resonant.
Before we enter the theater (or view the film in any format), we all know the immediate answer to Tatiana’s query: her 22-year-old black father, Oscar Grant, was shot in the back and killed by a white BART police officer in the wee hours of New Year’s Day 2008 as Grant lay face down on the concrete floor at Oakland’s Fruitvale Station. Tragic enough, on an intensely personal level—so intense that one patron at the screening I attended actually shouted “No!” when the deadly shot rang out. Compounding the tragedy and worthy of another “No!” was the reduced 11-month sentence for involuntary manslaughter that the officer, Johannes Mehserle, received, based on his claim that he thought he had fired his taser, not his real gun.
Once the screen goes black, however, the larger, collective tragedy of “Where’s Daddy?”—and Fruitvale Station—begins to emerge. (more…)
Spoiler alert: plot details of the movie follow
Flawed films are often the most interesting, even—or especially—when they bomb at the box office or drive critics to distraction. Blade Runner, which neither the masses nor the pundits initially took to, has attained cult and classic film status since its release. Citizen Kane, which lost money in its original run, and the critical and financial flop Vertigo have long since entered the cinematic pantheon, with Vertigo last year knocking Kane off its perennial “greatest film” pedestal in British journal Sight & Sound’s decennial survey. This is not to suggest that Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger will be making anyone’s all-time top 10, or even top 100, list anytime soon. It is to suggest that the film deserves more credit—and more thoughtful analysis—than it generally has received.
The second major motion picture based on the 1950s television series targeting young and perpetually adolescent males (two 1950s B-movies were made with the TV cast), the latest Lone Ranger both acknowledges and attempts to transcend its boyish roots, with mixed but ultimately rewarding results. (more…)
Hollywood long ago traded in perfect Father Knows Best-style parents for the grungier Married with Children variety. Divorce was granted pride of place some time ago as well, in 1979’s Oscar-winning Kramer vs. Kramer. But as dysfunctional as the parents of these shattered domestic idylls may have been, they still, if not smelled like roses, didn’t stink up the place either.
Recent films have begun giving older moms and pops especially a much rougher time. Viagra and increased longevity are partly to blame, as is Woody Allen’s You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. In this 2010 London-set comedy of ill manners, Anthony Hopkins’s sixtysomething husband and father parodies Allen himself by starting afresh with a twentysomething hottie (played by Lucy Punch), whom his sex pills give him at least the potential to satisfy.
Judd Apatow’s This Is 40 (2012) took Allen’s premise to its logical, more darkly comical conclusion, not with its midlife-crisising lead couple (Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann) but with their fathers (John Lithgow and Albert Brooks), both of whom have started second families with young wives and children, the latter younger even than their first-family grandchildren.
Last summer I decided to indulge in some non-academic reading after a year of intense graduate film study. The endeavor involved several Joyce Carol Oates tomes, the Hunger Games series, and Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. While all of these books were indeed escapist indulgences, and more than one had by then already been adapted for the screen, I found myself particularly engaged in a complex web of attraction/repulsion with EPL. While I appreciated the book’s frank portrayal of its protagonist’s struggles with depression, I also had serious problems with it.
I’m not the first to read Ms. Gilbert’s book from a critically detached perspective. Indeed, as I read, I became increasingly flippant and dismissive of Ms. Gilbert and what I saw as a lack of self-awareness on her part in writing a book about self-discovery through a kind of touristic imperialism, establishing a binary that posits non-America as an array of exotic locales rife with “authenticity” in which a white, privileged, upper-class, slender, heterosexual person can “find herself.” Many critics have already pointed out the same issues—inherent to her colonialist, globetrotting, and rather essentializing “journey.” Numerous articles, blog posts, and online forums have delved into these issues admirably, and Wendy Molyneux’s comedic parody “Brag, Build, Banana” in The Rumpus’s “Funny Women” series manages to embody them hilariously. Sandip Roy’s Salon article “The New Colonialism of Eat, Pray, Love” also does an excellent job of highlighting some of the most overt and problematic issues and contradictions in the film. (more…)