Art ages. The second a book hits the shelf, a movie hits the cinema, a painting hits the exhibit or a song hits the radio, that art is in some ways locked into that time period forever. Maybe as time passes that art ages poorly and is sentenced to oblivion — like, say, a racist Donald Duck cartoon or two — regardless of whether it was deemed appropriate or entertaining at the time of publication. Maybe as time passes that art does the opposite, somehow seems more fitting for the current time rather than the time in which it was published, which can often be a hallmark of good sci-fi art (like the original Westworld movie) or good political art (like the V for Vendetta comic) or both (like 1984). But sometimes it’s not so simple. Some art — like The Birdcage — remains both a product of its time and perfectly fit for the future.
This is not an automatic compliment, even in the case of a film as funny and as culturally significant as this one. It’s impossible to rewatch Birdcage — pitched as a somewhat innocent laugh-a-minute comedy and little else — and not think about how the same movie would be made today, what might be changed, what might be emphasized or removed entirely. Today, discussion of the movie must start and end with the way gay or bisexual characters are represented in the film.
Continue reading The Birdcage (1996)
The name “George Roy Hill” might not be a household name here in 2016, but if the man himself doesn’t ring a bell you probably still know his films. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting are his best, riding high on the indomitable pairing of Robert Redford and Paul Newman. That pair would be separated for Hill’s ensuing films The Great Waldo Pepper and Slap Shot, both of which are well-crafted if not ultimately as powerful as those other two. The one that might throw you for a loop is The World According to Garp, a film from late in Hill’s career starring Robin Williams in his first dramatic role.
…that phrase doesn’t mean what it did back then, though, because “Williams in a dramatic role” isn’t as much of a novelty nor is it even something that seems worthy of being highlighted today. Dead Poets, One Hour Photo, Good Will Hunting, Awakenings and Fisher King let Williams be Williams — not merely Comedic Williams or Dramatic Williams — and despite the films themselves being best suited to the “Drama” category at your local rental store you probably don’t think twice about the star being a guy who most consider to be one of the funniest ever to walk the planet.
Continue reading The World According to Garp (1982)
Bob De Niro always gets invited to the best weddings. Alongside all of the countless things young brides concern themselves with in the months leading up to their marriage — what if it rains? Can Trudy and Greta get along if we sit them together? Chocolate or vanilla? — there’s incredible solace to be had in the fact that De Niro will be there, in attendance and in approval. The guy clearly loves weddings. One of his first starring roles was in Brian De Palma’s The Wedding Party and one of his most recent was The Big Wedding, followed by the pre-wedding bachelor party shenanigans of Last Vegas; jury’s out on whether those movies are any good or not (wait — jury’s back — they’re not) but still, the weddings in those movies rock. Come on: Robin Williams is the presiding priest in The Big Wedding. This could be an all-divas-on-deck Kardashian wedding or some other unfathomably incestuous socialite caucus and you’d still attend if Robin Williams was the priest. So too would De Niro, apparently.
One of the better ones is the wedding from Goodfellas, in which the goodwill wishes come in a drunken torrent and the prerequisite for inclusion on the guestlist is being named Peter, Paul, or Marie. Just look at Henry and Karen — they’re perfect together. De Niro’s here, he’s having a pretty good time. But there’s something else on his mind, maybe, like whether the salami on that antipasto platter is fresh or whether he should just go ahead and whack Morrie Kessler already. Remember how he cut loose at Steven and Angela’s wedding down in Pennsylvania? That was a blast! He almost fought that Green Beret at the bar. Then he took his clothes off and ran down the street! Really, when we all invite De Niro to our weddings, the Hammered Brawling Run-Naked-Through-the-Streets De Niro is the one we want to RSVP.
Continue reading The Deer Hunter (1978)
- Matt Damon’s return to the Bourne franchise is enticing the rest of the band back, too, as Julia Stiles is now said to be onboard the 2016 release. Viggo Mortensen is apparently in negotiations to play the villain, which is an addition that would no doubt wash the taste of The Bourne Legacy away for good.
- First he says he’s down to play Wolverine “until he dies”; then, word that Hugh Jackman’s time as Logan would come to an end after the next solo film. Now rumor has it that X-Men: Apocalypse will feature Jackman in a smallish role, maybe even just a cameo, showing that they haven’t quite learned that X-Men movies sans Jackman aren’t as interesting as the alternative.
- Vin Diesel is making a Kojak movie, so. Yep.
- Hall H regulars Marvel, Sony and Paramount are all skipping San Diego Comic Con this year, presumably because leaked documents are doing all of their marketing for them. Motion State Review will be skipping Hall H, too, which is yet another crippling loss for convention superfans. Next year.
Continue reading Film & TV News: June 21
Maybe the lasting symbols of the 1990s are different for everyone, but as far as movies go there’s an uncomplicated formula: we either remember a movie because it’s great or we remember a movie because it absolutely sucks. The vast majority fall in the middle, films that might have been passable at the time but are ultimately forgettable because, hey, look, Dunkaroos. Did you see that movie? No, I was too busy trading six Warheads for a gel pen and beating the hell out of my siblings with Sock’em Boppers with a sweatshirt tied around my waist. But what a time the mid-’90s was for movies that were just straight-up fun — like Space Jam, Home Alone, Men in Black, Independence Day, Jurassic Park, Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji, Flubber, every other Robin Williams movie. And what a time it was for movies that were just straight-up awful — like Kiss of Death.
Admittedly, this is not a movie I remember from childhood as being spectacularly bad. It came and went and I never watched it or even heard of it until recently, engrossed at the time in Goosebumps books and Outkast (Say Cheese and Die! was my jam, Outkast still is). But the first ten minutes of Kiss of Death brought ’90s nostalgia rushing back — the good kind, not the O.J. Simpson kind — in such a way that it felt like this just might be one of those terrible, laughably overacted ’90s action flicks that, were I a few years older, I might have remembered as one of those terrible, laughably overacted ’90s action flicks. In lieu of entering the abyss of nitpicking that would result from a look at the entire movie, let’s just take those first ten minutes.
Continue reading Kiss of Death (1995)
Despite dealing largely with dramatic cinema, Peter Weir had the good fortune of working with two of the most gifted American comedians of this (or any) era. He drew out a defining performance from the late Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, casting him as Professor John Keating not for the simple unconventionality of Williams in a “serious” role but more likely because Williams could convey passion in a way most actors of “serious” roles rarely can. Likewise, even though The Truman Show is pretty damn funny at times, Jim Carrey’s career in comedy matters little for his role as Truman Burbank — he’s perfect for it for another reason.
I didn’t always think so. On first pass Truman seemed to have more tragedy in him than the actor was able (or willing) to provide, especially considering that Carrey’s Joel Barish from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind fought a similarly paranoid crusade and through it became a beautiful tragic hero for our modern age. In this retrospective light Truman seemed caught in the middle between Carrey the affable goof and Carrey the tragic everyman.
Continue reading The Truman Show (1998)
I would like to start off this review by stating plainly that this is my all-time favorite film. I would never go to such lengths as to suggest that this is the “best” film ever made, but rather that it contains all the things that I truly care about in a movie — simply good writing, good acting, and an enlightening theme. I put a lot of emphasis on a film’s ability to speak to me in an emotional and personal way. Good WIll Hunting brought me to tears; it wrenched my gut with laughter; it inspired me, and it made me want to go out into the world searching for something special to call my own. This film won two Oscars in 1998, one for Best Original Screenplay, accepted by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, and one for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, awarded to Robin Williams. I would like to dedicate this review to the memory of this remarkable man, whose passing, even months later, pains me deeply. We love you, Robin.
It is no surprise that this film spends a lot of its run-time focused on Will’s (Matt Damon) therapy sessions with Sean McGuire (Robin Williams), considering that a major theme of the film is about overcoming the obstacles that we make for ourselves within our own minds. Will has serious difficulty with allowing new people into his life in any real and significant way because the first people that were meant to love him, his parents, deserted him. This is why Will hangs up on Skylar (Minnie Driver) after running out into the rain to call her on a payphone; this is why he simply cannot bring himself to say that he loves her, even though he wants to, even though it breaks her heart that he won’t. This is an issue that nearly all of us deal with to some degree or another. The complete desire to do one thing, but to be so inhibited from doing so because of various psychological dilemmas is undeniably a common and quite frustrating problem. Will goes further, masking his issues by adopting the persona of an aloof, no-shit-giving punk. He’s a janitor who evenly divides his time between batting cages and bars.
Continue reading Good Will Hunting (1997)
Halfway through Ordinary People, there is a scene in which high schooler Conrad Jarrett’s parents are taking family portraits. His mother and father take turns posing with their only son while his grandparents run the camera. Conrad awkwardly folds his arms, not knowing whether to smile. Father flashes a genuine grin, truly relishing the moment. When it’s Mother’s turn, the two stand together uncomfortably. Father’s trying to take the perfect picture, but Mother doesn’t know how to show Conrad affection, and her fake smile is growing tired. Father takes too long with the camera, Mother gets increasingly frustrated, Grandparents are talking over everyone as usual, and suddenly Conrad explodes. He’s had enough. Not so much with the photo, but with his mother’s inability to stand next to him and smile. Everyone freezes, except Mother. She carries on like nothing happened, hoping to fade back into normality like another ordinary person.
It’s a perfect representation of the family’s dynamic, though not the only one. Ordinary People is made up of small moments like these where characters aren’t saying how they feel, partly to keep up appearances, and partly because they don’t actually understand how they feel. In his directorial debut, Robert Redford proves to be an actor’s director, finding the ticks and gestures that characterize these humans better than any line of dialogue would. This is a movie about a family’s lack of understanding, of each other, yes, but mostly of themselves. They fidget, they pace, they stare blankly, lost in thought. They don’t understand why they feel and act the way they do, so they look to blame each other. After all, Conrad once screams, “It’s gotta be somebody’s fault or there ain’t no goddamn point.”
Continue reading Ordinary People (1980)
This article first appeared as a part of the Brattle Theatre Film Notes commentary series, presented by the Brattle Theatre in Boston, MA, for a double feature of Dead Poets Society and Good Will Hunting. Slight edits have been made from the original posting.
Robin Williams was an actor who selected his film roles very carefully. Despite his ironclad station as the greatest American comedian of his time, Williams acted in drama nearly as much as he did in comedy. One need only look to the shy Dr. Sayer of Awakenings or to the chilling villains of One Hour Photo or Insomnia to see the acting mastery Williams commanded.
On the surface, John Keating of Dead Poets Society and Sean McGuire of Good Will Hunting are two more of these “serious” roles that broke the mold for Williams the comic. There is no doubt that both helped to establish him as a master thespian regardless of genre. He was nominated for Academy Awards for both roles and won Best Supporting Actor for the latter, beating out the likes of Anthony Hopkins and Robert Forster.
Continue reading Dead Poets Society (1989)
In many ways our Director Series on Peter Weir can be seen as an excuse to write about The Mosquito Coast, which is the logical culmination of the “early stage” of the director’s career and gateway to those brilliant films that would follow (though calling that Weir’s “later stage” makes it sound like his directing career is a slowly advancing disease). Coast would follow Gallipoli and The Year of Living Dangerously – two well-received Australian films that helped launch Mel Gibson into superstardom – and Witness, which would prove to be Weir’s first American film. The greatness of Dead Poets Society would follow. It’s The Mosquito Coast, though, that’s arguably the most ambitious of any of these films.
And that’s fitting, because although Gibson’s Guy Hamilton and Harrison Ford’s John Book and Robin Williams’s John Keating could conceivably all be described as “ambitious” in one way or another, it’s Ford’s Allie Fox that allows his ambition to get the better of him. Fed up with just about every aspect of America, inventor Fox uproots everything and takes his family deep into the South American jungle. They make a new home – “home” a term used liberally here – on the Mosquito Coast, where Allie’s latest creation provides something magical for the local population: ice. Helen Mirren and River Phoenix appear as Allie’s wife and eldest son, who essentially allow themselves to be dragged into the jungle by this iceman simply because they love him.
Continue reading The Mosquito Coast (1986)