Havana (1990)

Havana (1990)Any cook will admit that having delicious ingredients doesn’t necessarily make for a delicious meal, even if you are faithful to the recipe. The most masterful chef can combine a snazzy main course with cool, exotic sauces and side dishes, pepper in some flair, and tie it all together with pristine presentation — but if the temperature isn’t just right, or if just one of the ingredients has started to turn, or if the sous-chef finally makes his move by sabotaging his tyrannical chef’s best meal, well, at least those would be reasons. Sometimes it just doesn’t taste good. Questions arise: why didn’t the dish work? Didn’t we follow the recipe to the letter? Did you freeze that thing overnight like I told you to? When does one traditionally bring their extended metaphor to a close? Now?

Havana had all the ingredients. Sydney Pollack’s previous film Out of Africa walked home with Best Picture and a cartful of other Academy Awards; Robert Redford, longtime Pollack collaborator, was back for his seventh (!) go-round under Pollack’s guidance. Right there you’d think success would be imminent. Of all the famous Director-Actor partnerships, Pollack-Redford is perhaps the most dynamic, the most unexpected, the one that results in classics that span more than one genre. The pair met as actors on the low-budget 1960 film War Hunt, as recounted by Redford in his tribute to Pollack in Time following the latter’s passing, wherein Redford uses the term “kindred spirits”. The success of the adventurous Jeremiah Johnson, the thrilling Three Days of the Condor, the intimate Electric Horseman and the epic Out of Africa would all support that claim.

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Film & TV News: May 5

News

  • The Director’s Guild of America has named the 80 Best-Directed Films of All Time in honor of the Guild’s 80th Anniversary. In an era when any sap with a WordPress account (ahem) can make a Best of All Time list, the rationality of this one is actually impressive. And major respect for including Birdman.
  • In sad Director-Actor news, AvaDuVernay-Lupita Nyong’o won’t be happening on Intelligent Life due to the former dropping out; in happy Director-Actor news, Andrew Garfield has joined the new film by It Follows director David Robert Mitchell.
  • Kudos to anyone who followed up salutations of “May the Fourth be with you” not with today’s expected “Cinco de Mayo” but instead with “Revenge of the Fifth”. Solidarity, people. Solidarity.

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Disorder (2016)

It would have been a bummer if a woman with a large hat had been seated in front of me at the IFFBoston screening of Disorder. I regrettably do not speak French (working on it!) and so Disorder‘s English subtitles are pretty vital to the enjoyment of the film. If a lady with a large hat, perhaps inspired to wear such a thing by The Great Train Robbery or that episode of Sesame Street, were to get comfy in the seat in front of me, there’s a chance that those subtitles might have been obscured. I’ve yet to develop social courage or an extendable giraffelike neck (working on it!) and so, yeah, that would have been a bummer.

But, actually, no: Disorder would have been every bit as powerful without the words. Plot-wise there’s nothing too out-of-the-ordinary, and in fact the synopsis runs the risk of sounding heavily clichéd when it’s written down on paper. Vincent, a French soldier fresh back from Afghanistan, has taken a job at a private security company and been tasked with protecting the beautiful wife of the shady rich magnate. His PTSD interferes with this, but when the beautiful wife becomes a target it’s up to Vincent to save her. This admittedly sounds uninspired, but thankfully Disorder is crafted with care and creativity such that synopsis takes a backseat to style.

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My Girl (1991)

I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m a sucker for movies that I watched as a kid. You can tell me as many times as you want that Matilda and Harriet the Spy are half-assed attempts at cinematic okay-ness, and I’ll still argue with you that they’re some of my favorite movies ever. I’ll also be the first to admit to you that, despite knowing that My Girl is one of the movies that fits into this 1990s kids-classic genre, I’ve never actually seen it until this week. Sure, sure, I knew the basics — romance between children, tragedy strikes when child dies, etc. — but I’d never actually watched the film. However, when it popped up on my Netflix queue this week I thought, “You know what? Let’s give it a shot.” Turns out a shot was all the kid would have needed to survive the damn thing.

Before I get into this review, let me preface it by reiterating this: I understand that it’s nostalgic. I understand that people love it because of its emotional resonance, because it brings you back to your youth, to a simpler time when movies didn’t have to be elite, they just had to be entertaining (and hey, what’s wrong with that, really?).

But let’s talk about it.

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High-Rise (2016)

Having just finished and thoroughly enjoyed The Night Manager, I thought I’d know more or less what to expect from High-Rise. This is due largely in part to the sexy sexualization of Tom “Sexy” Hiddleston, who stars in both and is also sexy. I assumed his character in High-Rise to be the sterling yuppie with the isn’t-it-perfect life structured in service of the concealment of darker, truer impulses. In Night Manager Hiddleston’s attractiveness is essentially made into a plot point; so too, probably, would High-Rise note the perfection of the specimen before delving into a personality far less desirable. A six-pack and a violent extreme, per American Psycho, per marketing stills like this:

High-Rise (2016)
Exhibit A: Sexy

But High-Rise isn’t sexy for very long. The prologue is a glimpse of the messy future, wherein Hiddleston’s Doctor Laing seemingly resorts to making food out of the dog, making paper airplanes out of the electricity bill, and making a ramshackle life in the husklike ruins of the tower block. It is suspiciously unsexy. Then again, though, resorts isn’t the right word: Laing has very definitely chosen this. He’s in a sort of hell and is more or less enjoying it.

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Look Who’s Back (2015)

Hitler is back. This is the premise, plot, and entirety of Look Who’s Back. There is essentially nothing else — certainly no explanation of why or how the actual Adolf came to awaken in a playground in modern-day Berlin, certainly no plot wherein he has to find his way back to the ’40s or continues time traveling and attempting to conquer Future Berlin after Future Berlin. He’s just back.

This, of course, is elementally terrifying. The man is known worldwide as the incarnation of Evil, as a man intent on power and privilege, as not a man at all. The Return of Hitler is actually not an uncommon film narrative, admittedly not usually depicting the literal return of the human being but his figurative return in one form or another. American History X and any other neo-Nazi-led drama inexorably deals with the resurgence of Hitler’s ideals; it’s not just drama for the sake of drama, either, as documentaries like Skokie: Invaded But Not Conquered prove. The subject of that film is a guy named Frank Collin, but he’s really a thinly-veiled pipsqueak version of Hitler himself. These unfortunate reincarnations are very real, and they are very dangerous, and they are very scary.

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The Phantom (1996)

My favorite movie in the Mummy franchise is The Phantom, but hardly anyone else seems to agree with me. “Nay,” says Naysayer, “you’re mistaken — Phantom is a superhero movie.” Though Naysayer’s rationale is increasingly appropriate such that one can visit a cinema and blindly say that’s a superhero movie and usually be correct, the film adaptation of the long-running Phantom comic strip seems much more at home in a category with The Mummy, Pirates of the Caribbean, Tomb Raider, Romancing the Stone and all of the other Indiana Jonesey flicks that muster at least a small degree of fresh fun. When asked to think of a superhero movie, it’s doubtful The Phantom leaps to mind. Is archaeology adventure an acceptable genre label? We know Naysayer’s answer.

But this was 1996, long before the homogenization of the superflick under the all-encompassing tyranny of the Shared Universe Model. Maybe in 1996 there was nothing at all to blink at: Phantom, a comic-strip costumed vigilante, is up on the screen saving people and slamming evil. This is a superhero. Maybe today there’s just a more rote formula for such a thing, and maybe calling Phantom otherwise is an act of desperation.

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Film & TV News: April 24

News

  • Inhumans has been unceremoniously yanked from the upcoming Marvel Cinematic Universe slate, which means essentially nothing when all is said and done. Instead of waiting five or six years for the Inhumans movie, we’ll just have to bite the bullet and wait six or seven.
  • The 2016 Independent Film Festival Boston begins this week. Stay tuned for reviews of Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise, the delightfully odd-looking Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and many more.
  • A drove of new trailers premiered this week, which is great news if you’re a lazy Motion Stater who can’t be bothered to assemble an actual News post. Check out our formidable copy-and-pasting below.

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Midnight Special (2016)

At one point Jeff Nichols was slated to direct Aquaman. Let’s let that oddity sink in for a moment, try to picture a big-budget superhero tentpole in the hands of a small-scale operator, compare it to that one time Edgar Wright was going to direct Ant-Man. Oof — too soon. If you don’t know Jeff Nichols (or just confuse him with Mike Nichols) then there are two movies you have to see. The first is Take Shelter, about a family man plagued by apocalyptic visions. The second is Mud, starring Matthew McConaughey in one of his McConaissance roles, about a backwoods constellation of intersecting characters. If you’re sensing that neither of those exactly scream underwater trident-wielding badass, don’t panic! This indicates only that you are still sane.

One commonality between the films is Michael Shannon, a forceful actor who’s risen to prominence with the likes of Boardwalk Empire and Man of Steel, and yet still the kind of guy who seems underrated.  Nichols certainly doesn’t make that mistake, recognizing his talent to such a degree that he can’t seem to make a movie without him. He’s something of a bit player in Mud, but Shannon leads Take Shelter and returns to the fore in Midnight Special, Nichols’ latest film.

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Face Off: Othello (1952) and O (2001)

Motion State Face Offs pit two films, franchises, or television series against each another for no reason other than because we can.

In sharp contrast to the veritable torrent of Hamlet adaptations, it’s somewhat surprising that a Shakespeare tragedy as popular as Othello has so few major film versions. The first is Orson Welles’s 1952 adaptation, featuring the man himself in both the title role and the director’s chair. The most recent, oddly enough, at least as far as explicit-made-for-film versions, is 2001’s O, a modern update that you may or may not consider a true film adaptation of the play. Sure, there are a ton of films that fall in the middle ground. Do filmed theatrical productions count? Do modern updates like O count, and if so, do we consider films that have an even more tenuous link to the play?

Why do we care? might be the actual question on your tongue right now, but if you’ve ever enjoyed Shakespeare at all you’re probably aware of the fact that no two adaptations of the same play are ever the same. How has Othello changed from the first film adaptation to the most recent version? Is there anything that remained from the Welles version, working its way in to the Shakespeare tale such that O becomes an adaptation of both? If this is interesting to you, then this article will explore all of that; if you’re not interested, this article will still explore all of that.

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