10.29.2013

Witness (1985)

Witness (1985)

A fine movie offers many ways to enjoy it. Performances, themes, plot and cinematography are just a few. An exceptional movie like Witness makes me want to talk about them all at once. A crime drama whose centerpiece scene is an Amish-country barn-raising, a love-story where yearning is palpable in a long glance and a hard swallow, and a film equally at ease in the bliss of purring kittens and the naked hate of a killer's eyes, Witness is a movie that can be watched for the mystery, for the romance, for the director's choices, for the scenery... For all of it, all at once too.

10.23.2013

King Arthur (2004)


King Arthur - Director's Cut  (2004)

Ingredients for a modern epic: Hire male actors who look great in armor and robes and grime and a female actor who looks great in less clothing than that. Then spend lots and lots of money on locations, sets, special effects and such. Get a writer to put together compelling plot ideas about lost causes and freedom and big battles--be sure to include inclement weather. Add a director who knows slow motion, stop motion and how to catch spattering, spewing bits. Play it safe, though. Don't make up a new world, be sure to base it on something someone else already made up. But be bold! Claim your unique take is historically accurate based on "new evidence."

10.15.2013

Gravity (2013)


Gravity (2013)

Far from home, stranded, beyond reach of aid. It's a scenario that has played out in storytelling since the first person wandered away from the campfire, repeating in cave paintings, oratory, fables to frighten children, religious tracts, down through the ages and into film. All that changes is the setting. The quality of the story comes down to the empathy we feel for the person cast adrift. Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock, with George Clooney, is this story.


10.12.2013

All of Me (1984)


All of Me (1984)

I love a screwball comedy but they can be tricky fare. Too much slapstick and the story loses its sparkle, reckless pace and wit. Not enough off-the-wall antics and saccharine moments can ruin all the fun. In recent decades only a few movies have managed the kind of timeless magic that the classics like Bringing Up Baby and Some Like it Hot so exemplified. What's Up Doc? comes to mind. So does All of Me.


7.30.2013

Waiting for Guffman (1996)

Corky St. Clair: I had been living in New York and working there as an actor and a director and choreographer for twenty-five years or so and I really felt as though I needed a change. I imagined in my fantasy I suppose, that when I came here, I would have a completely different life. Perhaps a construction worker. Or one of those guys that works on those high wire things, with a hard hat, one of those sweeping sorts of hats. [Gesture with hands indicating brim the size of a Disney Princess's hairdo.] With the chaps...

The true gift of Waiting for Guffman is the dynamite combination of deadpan lines and deadpan delivery. As gifted comic actor David Hyde Pierce put it, people laugh harder when the person telling the joke doesn't laugh at all. Christopher Guest seems to understand this comic truth. He is a co-writer of This is Spinal Tap and a driving creative force of several more mockumentaries like A Mighty Wind


12.26.2011

Hugo (2011)


I know that my daughter really liked The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznik, but I hadn't read it. So I sat down to watch Hugo (the first time) knowing nothing. And waited for the story to announce itself, to tell me what it would be about. Instead, Hugo invited me to watch a world unfold, a world full of small and big mysteries, small and big tragedies, small and big dreams of a happy ending for an orphan living in a 1930s train station.

Much is made by the marketing plan of the fact that Hugo is directed by the legendary Martin Scorsese, as if the advertising folks couldn't figure out how to sell it otherwise. But the book--highly regarded and widely read--had no such name dropping power and did just fine. So in my opinion the marketing folks blew it and scared off many potential viewers with the implication that it's "arty." This is first and foremost a movie for kids and open-hearted adults. It's secondary that it is also likely to knock the socks off those who love film.