I’m constantly being surprised by What Lies Beneath. On first viewing it surprised me that Robert Zemeckis, the Spielberg acolyte behind feel-good romps like Back to the Future and Forrest Gump, would direct this self-contained horror flick. Years later, I was surprised to learn that Clark Gregg — Agent Coulson himself — wrote the screenplay. When I revisited Beneath a few months ago, the thing that surprised me was how good it was, how it does a lot with fairly little, how the straightforward nature of the plot obscures nuances that you wouldn’t catch the first time through. And then, of course, I was surprised a final time to learn that I am not in a majority here, that the film received mixed reviews upon release and currently has a dismal 47% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and that the Pantheon of Horror Flicks may not hail What Lies Beneath as a genre masterpiece after all.
Doubtful, of course, that Beneath would ever really slip down the precipice into the Abyss of Forgotten Horror Flicks. It’s got Michelle Pfeiffer and Harrison Ford, and they and Zemeckis secured their places in film history long before 2000. And no, it’s not an outright masterpiece; it probably does little that Hitchcock didn’t do decades earlier. But one feels the need to defend it all the same, no? If not to reinstall it in the Pantheon or rescue it from the Abyss, perhaps just to feel better about being so endeared to it, as I am. We could touch on the film as a whole or dig into some of those criticisms from the mixed-review crowd…or we could sorta just talk about one single scene.
Continue reading What Lies Beneath (2000)
Just last week, 30-year-old Alyssa Nakken became the first woman to coach on the field during a Major League Baseball game. It’s a noteworthy milestone for its empowering inclusivity, and Nakken acknowledged that her role forever means that “girls can see there is a job on the field in baseball.” It’s also noteworthy, of course, that things like this shouldn’t have taken the better part of a century to come about in America, though that unfortunate reality shouldn’t overshadow the positive progress inherent in Nakken’s achievement. The glass ceiling is still intact, perhaps, but there’s a meaningful new chip in it.
When — not if — that ceiling is finally good and shattered, we might also look back on Penny Marshall’s A League of Their Own, which brought to light the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League of the ’40s and ’50s. Now recognized as the forerunner of women’s professional sports leagues in the U.S., the AAGPBL was conceived as a societal distraction, more or less, while a sizable number of male American ballplayers were off at war. Four teams were formed, which eventually expanded to ten teams, and what might have been a single-season distraction grew and grew to a legitimate sport.
Continue reading A League of Their Own (1992)
In Big, 13-year-old Josh Baskin wishes his way into a 30-something-year-old grownup version of himself. The trope of a mind-body mismatch was certainly nothing new in 1988, and in fact the late ’80s had a whole slew of movies featuring this exact same plot. These are heedfully chronicled by Mike Ryan here and include the likes of Vice Versa, Like Father Like Son, 18 Again! and Dream a Little Dream, all released within the approximate span of a single year; the other point of commonality those films share, of course, is that they’re all pretty crappy. Big is the outlier in that regard. I was about the same age as Teen Josh when I first saw the movie, and I found myself enamored with the possibilities of instant adulthood, getting a job with a toymaker and renting a sweet NYC penthouse and flirting with someone who would eventually and inexplicably agree to become my girlfriend. Teen Me was most likely motivated by this last point.
Today I’m closer in age to Adult Josh, and now Big almost seems like an entirely different movie. From a kid’s point of view, looking forward to finally attaining that brand of independence reserved for grownups, Penny Marshall’s sophomore directorial effort rings true in almost every frame. It has the wide-eyed wonder and the sentimental disillusionment that all kids experience to some degree. In a sense all movies are accelerated versions of life experiences, condensed down to two hours and designed in an arc so as to bring the viewer along for the ride with the characters on the screen. From a kid’s point of view, Big works because that acceleration is literally a part of Josh’s experience: he goes from kid to grownup and back again in a short amount of time, and so do we.
Continue reading Big (1988)
Spending my junior year of college abroad in Ireland has given me the incredible opportunity to travel across Europe fairly cheaply. I recently visited Paris for 67 euro. While I was there, of course, I visited the Louvre, the most famous art museum in the world, home to some of history’s greatest masterpieces, including Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. This surreal experience inspired me to read Dan Brown’s own masterpiece, The Da Vinci Code, knowing that nearly the entire first act of the novel takes place in the Louvre and employs a massive conspiracy theory involving Da Vinci’s work as a vehicle to drive the narrative. Having been abandoned by my friends — who had early flights the morning of our last day in Paris — and approximately 14 hours of alone time before my own flight, I sat down in a Parisian café and read the first 400-odd pages.
As far as Ron Howard’s film is concerned, I would like to dedicate this review to explaining how it so stupidly and unnecessarily diverges from the novel that it actually pisses me off. To better capture the tone of my rage, I will examine each moronic decision to veer away from the book as it pops into my mind, rather than going in chronological order according to the film.
Continue reading The Da Vinci Code (2006)
Hands down, the best movie theater experience I’ve ever had.
Sci-fi royalty Ridley Scott’s’ latest space voyage did not disappoint. The Martian — starring Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Peña, Sean Bean, Kate Mara, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Donald Glover (holy shit) — epitomizes the term “modern classic.” It gets its two major themes of unrelenting determination and human bravery across gracefully and without any integrity-damaging clichés, an accomplishment that continuously eludes many filmmakers who embark upon such a journey. That’s the difference between this film and Independence Day, for me (that’s not to say that the latter doesn’t hold a special place in my heart).
I left the theater with the stupidest grin on my face. The film’s humor was the beautiful element that made it exceptional, not only in the simple sense of making the film more enjoyable, but also in the sense that it unquestionably aided Damon’s performance — otherwise, I doubt his sheer optimism would have been nearly as believable. The humor lightened the mood for us and kept us believing that Mark Watney was going to do the impossible. Far from falling into the category of comedic-relief-humor, The Martian might actually get nominated for Best Comedy or Musical at the Golden Globes next year. When Watney practically blows himself up and goes I flying across the hab, I cried with laughter. When Watney intentionally goes to town with expletives in an inter-planet online chat that is being streamed worldwide, I cried with laughter.
Continue reading The Martian (2015)
One of the most egregious snubs in the history of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences concerns last year’s Best Actor trophy, and no, it has nothing to do with Leonardo DiCaprio. Eddie Redmayne walked away with the Oscar for his turn as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, and indeed his performance was groundbreaking and heartfelt. But it pales in comparison to the tour de force delivered by Body, the Hungarian star of Kornél Mundruczó’s White God, in his role as the tortured, tragic, life-loving, revenge-seeking, slobber-mouthed Hagen. Due respect to Redmayne, but Body’s performance is simply one of the most emotional and drool-covered performances in years.
As a young actor Body was met with obstacle after obstacle as he tried to make ends meet while pursuing his craft. He auditioned for some of the most iconic roles of our time and even received a callback for The Beast from The Sandlot, but the dude who played Mr. Mertle claimed Body was “impossible to work with” and cited the Hungarian-English language barrier as a primary qualm. He was an extra in Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch but soon disowned the film and distanced himself from the creative vision of the entire Air Bud series. Body struggled to be taken seriously as an actor, forced to take work in Iams commercials and as a busboy of sorts in the alley behind an L.A. hotspot.
Continue reading White God (2014)
Calling Daniel Day-Lewis the greatest cinematic actor of all time certainly isn’t a stretch, and his performance in Jim Sheridan’s My Left Foot is the reason why. Day-Lewis plays Christy Brown, an Irishman born with cerebral palsy. The only control Brown has over his body is his left foot. However, he uses this one appendage to achieve fame as both an artist and a writer. Throughout the film and in real life, Brown works through the adversity of his condition as well as the poverty of his large family. The movie is set mostly as a flashback; Christy’s life unfolds as his nurse, Mary Carr (Ruth McCabe), reads his autobiography while at a charity event with him.
The decision to set the movie as a flashback was a solid one as it shows the progress Christy makes in so many regards to arrive to the fame that lands him at the charity event. Also, the film does not focus much on the actual writing of the autobiography. Rather, the focus is more on his art. Thus, seeing his life through his own writing highlights his talent as a writer while also providing an appropriate backdrop for his story.
Continue reading My Left Foot (1989)