I’m thinking of a movie. It came out in 1991. In this movie, a young hotshot investigator is faced with a particularly gruesome series of crimes. Stumped, the investigator seeks the help of a criminal already incarcerated for similar but unrelated crimes. The criminal is clearly a devious maniac, and his help is contingent on a cat-and-mouse game of psychological cabaret. He helps solve things in a roundabout way, but only after the investigator gives up personal feelings about the crimes. This movie features Scott Glenn in a fairly major role.
If you hadn’t seen Backdraft as the header for this review, you might have said The Silence of the Lambs. Either way, you’d be right — all of the above criteria fits with both films, strange as it seems. There’s no shortage of suspiciously-timed blockbusters that have a great deal in common — see Illusionist/Prestige, Tombstone/Wyatt Earp, Truman Show/EdTV, Antz/Bug’s Life, etc. — or just operate on a similar premise or gimmick, like the one-man-in-one-location flicks Buried and 127 Hours. But while Backdraft and Silence of the Lambs operate in fairly different territory, the similarities are far more numerous than those of the kindred spirits listed above. This can only mean one thing: an unfathomable conspiracy, deadly and ancient, marshaled and brought to bear for the purpose of ending civilization as we know it.
Continue reading Backdraft (1991) →
Parenthood might be the first time Ron Howard really showed his talent as a director. Grand Theft Auto and Night Shift were passable as Howard found his directorial voice, and Gung Ho and Willow were larger productions that achieved different levels of success as Howard matured. I’d entertain an argument for Cocoon as the first glimpse of the great director Howard would one day become, mostly for the subtle mix of fantasy, sentimentality, humor and drama. But Parenthood, although admittedly very different, is the better film. With a burgeoning cast that can only be described as an ensemble, Howard’s brilliance lies in making that ensemble feel more like — oh no, he’s going to say it — a family.
There are the young ones — Kevin, Taylor, Justin, Patty, “Cool” and Garry (a pipsqueak Joaquin Phoenix) — each content in their kid ways to run around with head-in-bucket (in Justin’s case) or figure out the square root of 8,649 (in Patty’s case [it’s 93]). There’s Garry’s older sister Julie and her boyfriend/husband Tod. There’s the next generation, the brunt of the Buckman clan led by Steve Martin’s Gil, and the spouses of each Buckman sibling. And then there’s the patriarchal generation, with Grandpa Frank played by the great Jason Robards, utterer of the greatest line in cinema history (from Once Upon a Time in the West — either ya knowhadimean or ya don’t).
Continue reading Parenthood (1989) →
Sometimes timing is everything when releasing a major studio film. That’s why we get The Prestige and The Illusionist one after the other, Antz and A Bug’s Life, Dante’s Peak and Volcano, The Truman Show and EdTV, all released within a month or two of a very similar counterpart. Is that good timing or bad timing? If the subject of these films is “in”, then it hardly matters. People suddenly like period magician dramas, so they want both Illusionist and Prestige. They suddenly like animated ants and volcanic destruction and reality TV heroes, so they want multiple movies about them. One can imagine a studio holding a film they find to be strikingly similar to one that just came out, hoping to distance this from that, only to be accused of copying the success of the first.
Whatever the studio machinations, sometimes the relevance of a movie is just plain dumb luck. Hacking and cyberterrorism have been in the news quite a bit lately, what with the November data leak at Sony and subsequent hullabaloo surrounding The Interview only just starting to get pushed to page two. Michael Mann’s globetrotting hacking drama Blackhat addresses that current fear, but unfortunately it doesn’t manage to extract a very good story out of the headlines.
Continue reading Blackhat (2015) →