Lawrence of Arabia (1962): Sand, Shadow, Fire, Fable

Our Take Two column offers second opinions and alternative angles on films and TV series reviewed elsewhere on Motion State. Head here for our Face Off between Lawrence of Arabia and Queen of the Desert.

David Lean’s T. E. Lawrence film is a visual adventure boasting some of the most impressive and ingenious staging you’ll ever see. One might be tempted to test Steven Soderbergh’s theory on the removal of sound and color from Raiders of the Lost Ark, an exercise meant to highlight how well Spielberg’s film is staged and framed, although sitting through a soundless black-and-white version of the nearly four-hour Lawrence of Arabia seems an especially colossal task. So, instead, we’ll examine here a few of the visual cues that drive Lawrence the film and inform Lawrence the character, and in so doing might uncover what Lean’s epic has to say about the explorer’s fabled legacy.

One would be remiss to announce a discussion of the visuals of Lawrence of Arabia without beginning at the most famous smash cut of the film, one of the most famous smash cuts of any film:

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

This is how Lawrence gets to Arabia. Due respect to the Old-West-to-South-America-via-NYC montage of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but in Lawrence the journey to Arabia is not as significant as the journey in Arabia; but Lean’s matching of the two images does more than save time. There’s an ever-so-slight grin that Lawrence gives just before he extinguishes the match, enough to suggest a truth that he knows and we do not. Fire is one of the primary visual symbols of the film, and in retrospect the correlation between Lawrence’s ego and the story told by that single cut is highly revealing.

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The Nice Guys (2016)

The Nice Guys (2016)With The Nice Guys, Shane Black returns to what he knows best: two dudes (Ryan Gosling, Russell Crowe), a babe (Margaret Qualley), and some henchmen all tossed into a cauldron of bubbling absurdity.

Fortunately, my theater was fairly empty, because I laughed obnoxiously more or less throughout the entire runtime of this film. The humor is incredibly clever at times (Gosling takes cover behind a oscillating vehicle on display only to jump up and lay down a round of cover fire in the completely wrong direction after having been turned around) and at other times,  hilariously moronic (continuous series of Gosling falling down/high-pitched screaming).  Gosling performed at the top of his game, flaunting his remarkable comedic chops throughout, perhaps outshining the great Mr. Crowe.  As described, he hits every mark and even adds his own flair to the script (classically referring the male reproductive organ as a “schphitz” or a “schphonz”).

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Ant-Man (2015)

Ant-ManA guy becomes ant-sized and communicates with ants to…save the world? Kind of sounds like a bad Raid commercial to me. And yet, Ant-Man, one of Marvel’s most overlooked additions to the MCU, was actually pretty enjoyable — not that this should be too surprising, I suppose, since the most likable man in the world plays the movie’s lead. If you’re thinking of anyone other than Paul Rudd, you’re just wrong.

Ant-Man is the story of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his legendary invention of “Pym particles” — a type of particle that can increase or decrease the distance between atoms in order to shrink or enlarge a person or object. Pym incorporates these particles into a suit that allows the wearer to shrink to the size of an ant, while maintaining the strength of a full-sized person. This invention, however, brings danger and risk, as being able to shrink oneself is a threat to national security — if a person is too small to detect, then they can infiltrate any security system in the world. Pym decides that the risks of his suit are too big and leaves Pym Industries with his secret formula in hand. Little does he know, his young protege, Darren Cross (Corey Stoll), is intent on recreating the particles and using them for the exact purpose for which Hank Pym has shut down the program altogether.

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Eddie the Eagle (2016)

Eddie the Eagle (2016)There are two kinds of sports movies: underdog stories and everything else. The former category is vastly larger than the latter, likely because that’s sort of the archetypal narrative in any genre. The very first shot of Star Wars is a tiny Rebel ship fleeing a massive Imperial cruiser, and yet we know instantly which one we’re going to root for. In terms of sports movies this translates to Remember the Titans, The Longest Yard (not the remake), Rudy, Miracle, The Bad News Bears (not the remake), Chariots of Fire, The Hustler, A League of Their Own, Major League, Breaking Away, Slap Shot, Rocky, Hoosiers, Moneyball, and so on and so on.

One might easily claim that Jerry Maguire, Eight Men Out, The Natural, Field of Dreams, Raging Bull, and other sports movies that don’t fit comfortably into the underdog narrative are more admirable for finding a way to avoid it, but really all of the movies listed above are pretty great (but not the remakes). The question is not “in which category does Eddie the Eagle belong?” because Eddie very definitely belongs with the Underdogs; the question is whether Eddie’s story cuts it to the degree that the old hat storyline takes a backseat to the overall journey.

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Catastrophe (Seasons 1-2)

CatastropheWhile Netflix has proven itself worthy of quality television in its queue of original series, Amazon Prime still has something to prove. With Catastrophe, it gets a good start.

Catastrophe, a comedy written by Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney, stars the duo as a somewhat dysfunctional couple that gets together when Sharon (played by Sharon) finds out she is pregnant with Rob’s (played by Rob) baby after the two have a one-week stand. Catastrophe just wrapped up its second season and is getting ready for a third, so now is a great time to catch up.

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Film & TV News: May 19

News

  • Universal has announced a Robert Ludlum Cinematic Universe, an announcement which would only be more ridiculous if they retroactively incorporated The Osterman Weekend. Dwayne Johnson will star in the first film The Janson Directive, due out sometime in between Dwayne’s other fifteen in-production movies.
  • On the other end of the productivity spectrum is Terry Gilliam’s Don Quixote project, famously trapped in development hell and now (re-)reinvigorated with Adam Driver in a leading role. Stay tuned for another go at the film ten years from now.
  • Comic scribe Geoff Johns and WB Executive VP Jon Berg will be supervising DC’s Cinematic Universe post-Batman v. Superman (post-Justice League, really, as that’s already in production) and hopefully doing for DC what Kevin Feige did for Marvel. Or — here’s a thought — doing something different.
  • And in news unrelated to connected universes or massive franchises…just kidding. Sherlock Holmes 3 starts filming this Fall.

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The Firm (1993)

The Firm (1993)Just now I googled “Tom Cruise best roles”, “Tom Cruise worst roles”, “Tom Cruise best movies” and “Tom Cruise worst movies”, partially because I’m interested to see where his role as Mitch McDeere in The Firm lands and partially because my boredom has reached carrying capacity. I found, unsurprisingly, that the internet does that thing where it reaches consensus about certain things being “good” and certain things being “bad”, which in this case is sometimes inarguable (A Few Good Men = “good”, Far and Away = “bad”) but sometimes weirdly unearned, as with the endless praise heaped upon Edge of Tomorrow or Cruise’s role in Tropic Thunder. The former is a fairly fun movie and the latter is a fairly funny movie, but to say that these number among Cruise’s best seems a stretch. Again, the common consensus surrounding mediocrity doesn’t exactly come as a shock.

What was surprising, though, is that not a single article or top ten list included Mitch McDeere or mentioned The Firm at all. “Good” and “bad” are complicated, sure, and you might even suggest that the overarching opinions of the internet’s burgeoning culture commentary is at fault for this, too, as if to say “those other guys didn’t claim The Firm to be a great Cruise movie, so we won’t either.” But not a single one mentioned The Firm. No outliers buried in a list to satiate the unconfessed desire of a film blogger, no mention of Mitch McDeere even in reference to another role. It’s like The Firm never registered as a Cruise flick. Putting aside common consensus and inescapable truth (Far and Away = “bad”), that just seemed strange.

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The Gift (2015)

The Gift (2015)Oftentimes, we yearn for simplicity in movies. There should be good guys, bad guys, and a happy ending. Maybe it was all those fairy tales we heard growing up. Unfortunately, for those looking for the next great American fairy tale, Joel Edgerton’s The Gift is not it.

The first part of the movie plays out like any stalker-thriller movie does. Strange man comes along, takes an unusual interest in a woman or a couple, drops by often for unexpected visits, and is generally creepy (even when trying to help out). In this case, it is Gordo or “Gordo the Weirdo” (Joel Edgerton) an old classmate of Simon (Jason Bateman) who just can’t stay away from him and his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall) after they move back to California.

It all starts out harmless enough, despite Simon’s constant insisting that Gordo is, in fact, a “weirdo” and they should tell him off. When Simon finally does tell Gordo to leave him and Robyn alone, the situation, not surprisingly, turns from creepy to dangerous.

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The Jungle Book (2016)

The Jungle Book (2016)Today is May 11th, 2016, the 132nd day of the year. In those just-over-100 days a small little company called Disney — heard of it? — has made more money than any single company has any earthly right to make. Not since the Dutch East India Trading Company has a multinational firm held such widespread influence. Disney’s always been a successful company, sure, and even if they had fiscal years of lesser oomph they always had sheer name recognition to fall back on. In a bygone era every kid knew about Disney; today, though, we’re headed toward the era where every kid knows only Disney.

If that post-apocalyptic fever dream of a world seems far-fetched, consider how many of the blockbusters busting the block this year were preceded by that little star making an arc over the Magic Kingdom. Zootopia, for example, which is an animated film about talking animals, is currently hovering above the $930 million mark at the global box office. It is already the highest-grossing animated Disney film ever in China, surpassing even the likes of Frozen and The Lion King, and is in general doing work at the box office as few animated films have done before. Ever.

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Paper Towns (2015)

Paper Towns (2015)When the film adaption of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars went from thickly bound pages to the glowing awe of the big screen in 2014, teenage girls everywhere swooned and sighed as, “Okay,” took on a whole new meaning. Green’s other novel-adapted movie Paper Towns didn’t receive quite as much anticipatory swooning, but also doesn’t require quite as much emotional investment — and that’s okay.

Paper Towns stars Nat Wolff and Cara Delevingne as a boy in love, and the girl who steals his heart, respectively. However, this is not so much a love story as it is the story of being young, of being innocent, of making the most of the moments of youth you have left before you stumble your way into noncommittal adulthood. And it’s good, it really is.

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Frantic (1988)

Frantic (1988)Frantic is such the quintessential Roman Polanski movie that you’ll swear you’ve seen it before. As with Repulsion, Cul-De-Sac, Rosemary’s Baby, The Tenant and What? before it, Frantic subsists entirely on a sense of dread that grows steadily following an initial oddity. The tagline is “Danger. Desire. Desperation”, which could easily be the tagline for a sizable cross-section of Polanski’s filmography. That said, only one of those three words — “Desperation” — actually feels accurate within the context of the movie, and even the title Frantic is a bit misleading. This isn’t the only kind of film Polanski is capable of, but the series that do fit the mold are less frantic and more foreboding, less manic and more pulsating, less overtly dangerous and more subtly sinister.

And a lot of them concern an American Abroad, a topic which for some reason seems to lend itself particularly well to the horror genre. Films like Jeopardy, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, The Girl Who Knew Too Much and Hysteria derive a palpable sense of dread from the American Abroad in much the same way; the films based on Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley books and tense thrillers like Straw Dogs and Sorcerer benefit from the same fish-out-of-water vibe, too, while others like The Yakuza use the trope even more explicitly. Of course the whole American Abroad thing is also a hallmark of shitty potboilers like Deception or the slightly-better Lizzie McGuire Movie. Did you know there’s a movie called Shaft in Africa? There’s a movie called Shaft in Africa.

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