The “Out of Africa” theory of evolution posits that Homo sapien originated on the African continent and migrated to replace other hominid species, which is in direct contrast to the multiregional theory of human evolution (the “Multiregional Continuity Model”) positing the phenomenon of Homo sapien to be just that: a phenomenon, simultaneous across varied regions and indicative of some level of gene flow between geographically separated populations. Significantly, this gene flow would have prevented speciation after the dispersal, a somewhat unbelievable but not altogether impossible occurrence that nevertheless would seem to nudge all credibility in the direction of the Out of Africa model. Among the critical tenets of this hypothesis is the assumption that after Homo erectus migrated out of Africa the different populations became reproductively isolated, evolving independently and, in some cases — as with the Neanderthals — into separate species entirely.
Thankfully, Sydney Pollack’s Out of Africa has nothing to do with any of that boring science stuff. Two nights ago the 88th Academy Awards granted Spotlight two major trophies, one for Best Original Screenplay and one for Best Picture, and so as usual a return to the past Picture winners seemed in order to see where we stand as a cinema-appreciating public. Is Spotlight better/worse than winners past? Did you see Spotlight? Did you enjoy it? Did you enjoy it at unprecedented best-film-of-the-entire-year levels? Did The Revenant or The Big Short deserve the trophy instead? Ah, of all sad words of tongue or pen!
Continue reading Out of Africa (1985)
Motion State Face Offs pit two films, franchises, or television series against each another for no reason other than because we can.
We discussed the possibility of defining an “epic” film in our review of Ed Zwick’s Legends of the Fall, concluding that it’s perhaps more of an impossibility due to the wide range of films that fall comfortably under the genre label. Despite this, we at least sought out the notion that the scope of the idea is infinitely more important than the scope of the production budget, and Lawrence of Arabia was one of the more obvious examples of true epic filmmaking in that respect. David Lean’s biographical account of the life of the adventurous T. E. Lawrence stands as one of the greatest films of its kind because the passion of the film lives up to the passion of the man, the scope of the ideas of the film seeming to mirror and amplify the ideas of the British explorer/officer/diplomat.
Lawrence is about to be back on the big screen in a supporting role in Werner Herzog’s Queen of the Desert, a film masquerading as a worthy companion of sorts to Lawrence of Arabia at least as far as the marketing campaign is concerned. As Herzog’s film progresses past the first quarter, though, it becomes painfully obvious that Queen lies on the other end of the epic spectrum in that it fails on almost every level to convey any passion. Nicole Kidman leads the film as Gertrude Bell, British explorer/writer (/archaeologist/political officer/spy/cartographer) who spent her time across Syria, Asia Minor, and Arabia in the decades following the turn of the century. Kidman is fine in the role — but it’s not her passion that Queen of the Desert lacks. It’s Herzog’s.
Continue reading Face Off: Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Queen of the Desert (2015)
A defense of Legends of the Fall? Really? Is this really what the world needs? Shouldn’t this space be used for something more worthwhile, like an examination of Renée Zellweger’s face? Is a treatise on Battlefield Earth up next? Lest there be any doubt: Legends of the Fall is a deeply, deeply flawed movie full of stiff writing, stiff acting, and a healthy dose of that cringeworthy unexplainable badness reserved for a particular class of film (though, no, not as bad as Battlefield Earth). It’s unbearably soapy, it’s long, and we’re expected to take ridiculously sappy scenes like this with utter seriousness:
Ah, man hugs. Can we ignore stuff like this? Should we? Maybe not. But still, somehow, inexplicably, in spite of stiff writing, stiff acting, unbearable soapiness, absurd sequences like the one above – in spite of all that, Legends of the Fall is one of the most epic standalone sagas ever filmed.
Continue reading Legends of the Fall (1994)
Defiance was one of the few Edward Zwick movies I hadn’t seen, so the recent addition to the Netflix catalogue was a welcome one. Zwick – helmer of the undoubtedly great Glory and Blood Diamond and the possibly-great-but-jury’s-maybe-still-out Legends of the Fall and The Last Samurai – is a filmmaker who can balance blockbuster epicness and fragile emotional sentiment like few other directors. Defiance is no exception in this regard, although it suffers in ways that some of Zwick’s previous films do not.
Daniel Craig stars as Tuvia Bielski, Belarusian Jew and oldest brother to three youngers. The Bielski brothers flee and take refuge in the deep forest when Nazi aggression escalates and their parents are murdered. The forest hides them well enough until more and more refugees hear the tale of the Bielski camp and show up for food, shelter, safety, comfort, destabilizing the small hideout with each new hungry child. As the camp grows more rules and hierarchies must be created and maintained and enforced, and it falls to Tuvia to protect his countrymen against the German threat.
Continue reading Defiance (2008)
He’s a wolf – and not just in the bedroom! Jack Nicholson’s turn as publisher Will Randall in the Mike Nichols werewolf flick Wolf is, well, a Jack Nicholson performance. He’s sleazy, hairy, and manic as ever here, and so your enjoyment of Wolf might depend entirely upon your enjoyment of Jack Nicholson. There are other things floating around in the movie to distract you, but Jack’s at the heart and soul of everything for better or worse.
Nicholson’s Will encounters a black wolf one night and suffers a bite to his hand. He soon encounters the slinky Laura Alden, played slinkily by Michelle Pfeiffer, and the two begin a romantic relationship. Meanwhile, as Will’s animalistic tendencies simmer to a boil within him, James Spader’s office yuppie Stewart Swinton schemes viciously for Will’s job at the publishing firm. These three characters swirl around each other as the full moon rises, and eventually Joker and Catwoman and Ultron all meet for a fateful reunion.
So is Wolf actually good, or is it B-movie horror trash? Interestingly, really strong arguments can be made for both cases. The first hour of Wolf is pretty razor-sharp: Nichols delights in the blacks and yellows of a bedroom lit by the harvest moon, and the cinematography is damn-near beautiful; writer Jim Harrison (who penned Legends of the Fall) focuses as much on the back-and-forth of workplace politicking as on the back-and-forth between man and wolf, and the parallels he draws are amazing; to boot, a sparkling Ennio Morricone score doesn’t hurt. These guys make Wolf extremely palatable, and Nicholson knocks what they give him out of the park. The metaphorical rise of the wolf is handled with a subtle sophistication by the leading man, apparent only when you consider how hammy and over-the-top the entire thing could have been.
Continue reading Wolf (1994)