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.
So says a fan-made poster in one of the archival shots from Bennett Miller’s Moneyball. It’s a yellow poster with green marker-drawn capital letters on it, held overhead by an unseen Oakland A’s fan. Though the film seamlessly incorporates newly-shot game footage into the ancient history of 2002, the majority of the footage in this particular montage is real. Fans hold posters, they exchange high-fives; players whack homers, they round bases, they exchange high-fives. The A’s were on an unprecedented winning streak, crushing every team they met and hurtling towards an unheard-of twenty wins in a row. The sequence in Moneyball is dubbed simply “The Streak”:
Right before Jurassic World started my seatmate turned to me and inquired after my favorite dinosaur. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I hadn’t thought about what my favorite dinosaur was for a solid few years, that despite my boyish charms I actually wasn’t in third grade. I shrugged and said Tyrannosaurus. Good ol’ T. Rex is what would pop into my head if you approached me and said “dinosaur”, so maybe that kind of bias does qualify the stub-armed carnivore as a darling dino of mine. Seatmate agreed.
The more I weighed this pressing question the more I believed answering it to be a requisite for instant peace of mind. I was, I remembered, quick to raise an eyebrow when that Spinosaurus took down a T. Rex in Jurassic Park III — can they do that? This is T. Rex, Ancient King of the World, and he gets taken out by Dinosauria threequelae? And in the sequel The Lost World, which features a Tyrannosaurus loose on the mainland in the climax, we should really be honest about who we’re rooting for in that scenario. Though it traded the color and wonder of the first film for a considerably darker tone and palette, The Lost World succeeded in taking the bull of the first film and finding a more expensive china shop.
A career retrospective on Alec Guinness runs at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston this week, starting with the Ealing Comedy The Lavender Hill Mob. There are a lot of actors and actresses today who get credit for switching between drama and comedy, and it seems there are more and more dark-and-gritty roles being taken by comedians these days (see: Jonah Hill, Chris Pratt, Jesse Eisenberg, Adam Sandler). It’s worked the other way, too, which is why Tom Cruise shows up in Tropic Thunder and ends up being the best part.
Guinness was something else. This isn’t a dramatic actor trying comedy any more than his role in Bridge on the River Kwai is a comedic actor attempting drama — it’s just Alec Guinness, for lack of a more detailed explanation, completely at home in both arenas. Granted The Lavender Hill Mob isn’t a laughfest of super-zany proportions (Guinness nailed those too, though, with Kind Hearts and Coronets and The Ladykillers), but it’s a far cry from Kwai.
Chris Pratt dominated 2014. From reprising his role as the lovable Andy Dwyer on the hit comedy Parks and Recreation to his starring roles in blockbuster smashes The LEGO Movie and Guardians of the Galaxy, which will garner the attention of this review, he seemed to be everywhere you looked. While I assert that Pratt was at his best in Guardians, his attempts at seriousness in various parts of the film felt a bit like he was trying too hard. But, his first scene in the film was absolutely brilliant, as he gets a little funky and sings into a space rat as though it were a microphone. This scene sets the stage for the tone of the remainder of the film: a collection of comical ridiculousness that you simply can’t take your eyes off of.
Guardians is a borderline Star Wars spoof, while at the same time paying all due respect to it. The genius of the film is found in the clever dialogue that evidences this point. One scene that comes to mind in particular is the one in which all the guardians decide to fight together against Ronan, all standing up to somehow state their dedication to the cause. Bradley Cooper’s hilarious Rocket comments, “Great. Now we’re all standing. A bunch of jackasses standing in a circle.” While the mocking of the cliché trope that is standing up to display emphasis is something I found to be tremendously clever, I also recognized the themes, such as devoting oneself to a just cause regardless of the dangers attached to doing so, that are so similar to those of the original Star Wars trilogy. Thus, Guardians is a sort of revitalized Star Wars reboot that stresses humor over drama but nevertheless paints a potent emotional portrait when it needs to, despite Pratt’s overacting at times. In addition, the film resolves itself in an incredibly familiar way. A band of outlaws come together to save the galaxy and are rewarded with impunity and heralded as heroes by the galactic authorities. Sounds a lot like A New Hope to me. To take it one step further, I honestly wouldn’t have been disappointed had this film instead been titled Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.
Long before James Mason was cast in the role of Stodgy Old Man in every movie ever, he once played Young Hunk in Hero’s Island. This somehow has nothing to do with his age – Mason was 53 when he played the island-bound Jacob Weber, which is far older than today’s Young Hunk standards – and instead has everything to do with Mason being one hell of an actor. In fact, he appeared as Humbert Humbert in Kubrick’s Lolita in the same year, a role which definitely leans more toward Stodgy Old Man than toward Young Hunk. One can imagine a remake of Hero’s Island casting Chris Hemsworth or Chris Evans or Chris Pratt – basically any of the Marvel Superhero Chrises – in the role of the brawny Jacob, sandy hair and strategically tattered shirt and all. This would be an entirely different kind of film (Superhero’s Island) because Mason’s Jacob is hunky, sure – but is he a hero?
Set on Bull Island in 1719, we meet the Mainwaring Family as they arrive on their new waterlocked home. The deed in Father Mainwaring’s hand entitles him to ownership of Bull Island, but standing on the dirt for the first time he states with a sense of wonder that “it doesn’t feel that I own this”. Ownership, of course, is entirely a matter of opinion – and in the opinion of the fisherman who’ve lounged around the island for years, the “right” of the Mainwaring Family’s presence is no right at all. They’re essentially Crusoe’s savages in the context of Hero’s Island, though their depiction in the opening scenes hews closer to this comparison than their actual function once the film is fully fleshed out. One of the first things the Mainwaring Family sees to is the construction of a large cross, which they kneel and pray in front of once it stands tall. The “savage” fisherman watch from afar, and before we hear them say anything more than a few words we see them bless themselves with the sign of the cross upon seeing the Christian symbol rising from their dirt.