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) →
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) →
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) →
The Peter Weir we have today is one that seems to take his time releasing new films. It’s been four years since The Way Back, more than ten since Master and Commander, and nearly twenty since The Truman Show. Those most recent films of his are pretty great across the board, and perhaps the time and care taken with each is a major reason why. This wasn’t always the case with Weir, though: he released five films in the 1980s alone (Gallipoli, The Year of Living Dangerously, Witness, The Mosquito Coast, and Dead Poets Society), all of which were fantastic, and he had a pretty productive early ’90s too.
The film that forms the divide between super-productive Weir and less-so Weir seems to be Fearless, a 1993 drama starring Jeff Bridges as a plane crash survivor. For whatever reason, Weir took more time off following Fearless than he had since he first started directing (although one might find it hard to believe it was truly “time off”). From then on, a new Weir film would be all the more cherished for the infrequency now associated with it.
Continue reading Fearless (1993) →