March 2010

"Frost/Nixon" (part 2)

While Frost/Nixon focuses so heavily on Sheen's Frost and Langella's Nixon, the supporting cast are the engine and the frame for a very intense and well-focused story. They also provide welcome moments of comic relief in a dramatic minefield: Zelnick's impression of a JFK-hating Nixon; Reston being dumbstruck upon finally meeting a man he detests both professionally and personally; and a classic minute of awkward silence when the grunts of Team Frost and Team Nixon encounter one another.

 

"Frost/Nixon" (part 1)

Based on Peter Morgan’s play of the same name, Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon brings the actors who played David Frost (Michael Sheen) and Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) together so well, so brilliantly and frighteningly well, you’d think you were watching the Nixon Interviews themselves. Along the way, the superb supporting cast helps add dimensions and depth to what ultimately is a conversation between two men.

Pixar and Parenting

When Pixar released their whimsical darling of a feature Up, there was no question that it would grab the Oscar for Best Animated Film. For years now, no other studio has been able to hold a candle to Pixar in terms of visual style and strong writing. I'll happily go on record as saying that Wall-E is the best animated feature to hit theaters in the past decade and even some of their less stunning projects (Cars and Monsters Inc come to mind) are still better than most movies produced for the pre-teen demographic. Nonetheless, I found myself feeling ambivalent about Up. It was a perfectly serviceable kid's movie and it had a unique premise, but it just didn't thrill me the way Wall-E did the previous year. Though I do recognize why Up wasn't a cinematic highlight for me. Plainly, because I don't have any kids.

"The Godfather Part III" (part 2)

The pure, undeniable strength of The Godfather Part III is its acting and its characters. You have guaranteed winners like Al Pacino, playing the older, wiser Michael Corleone, alternatively compassionate and ruthless - he feels overwhelming guilt for his crimes, but yet commands an unshakeable grip on his family's actions and  future. Diane Keaton returns as Kay, the perfect foil for Pacino's modern day cross between Macbeth and Hamlet. Keaton matches Pacino scene for scene, and seeing those two work off each other more than makes up for a teetering plot (and Sophia Coppola's acting).

 

"The Godfather Part III" (part 1)

The Coppolas and the Corleones return for the final chapter in the Godfather saga. I had held off on seeing this movie - many of my friends (and indeed, many people who have seen The Godfather Part III) all said the same thing: that it was not as good as the first two movies in the series; that it was a good movie in its own right, but couldn't compare to its predecessors; that the plot was complicated and implausible, and that Sofia Coppola's acting is worth a mob hit on its own.

 

"Star Trek" (part 2)

Interestingly, Star Trek contains a healthy dose of science fiction: not so much in Nero's plans (anyone knows "red matter" and "black holes" are not good things), but in the introduction of time travel; first, as a way to get Leonard Nimoy's Spock to interact with the (new) crew of the Enterprise, but secondly, also to free the (new) crew of the Enterprise from the constraints of canon and let them boldly go etcetera, etcetera. It's a bold move, presenting ontological paradoxes to an audience that may be unfamiliar with time travel in a science fiction context (or indeed, any context), but it works well - time travel is an unbreached frontier in the timeline of the (new) Enterprise crew, and casual audiences will relate to Kirk's skepticism and goggle-eyed wonder. Those used to Star Trek and science fiction concepts will observe with a smile on their face and a twinkle in their eye.

"Star Trek" (part 1)

Let me get the joke out of the way - J.J. Abrams boldly went where no director or producer ever went before, and made Star Trek "cool". There, I said it. Not only is the obligatory cliché out of my system, but it's the truth. Star Trek (the 2009 movie) is a snazzy, sexy, cool, fun romp through time and space; it will entertain new fans unfamiliar with the franchise's history, and (pleasantly) surprise older fans all-too-familiar with the franchise's history.

So 90's It Hurts: American Beauty (part 2)

In re-watching American Beauty for the first time in several years, two things struck me. First, that Alan Ball is not a subtle writer, and second, the memory of just how much of an endless retrospective so much of the 90's really was. Especially in the latter half of the decade, a lot of pop culture concerned itself with what came before. Or rather, condensed versions of what came before. With the baby boomers officially taking the top seat in society, a great deal of the stories aimed at their demographic seemed designed to pat them on their backs and assure them that they weren't like their parents. American Beauty, as the ultimate boomer crisis film, is as much an indictment of the 1950's as it is a promotion of thoroughly 90's ideals.

So 90's It Hurts: American Beauty (part 1)

I've written several times about my borderline perverse fascination with the 1990's. Looking back, it was such a strange, unique time that seems all the more naive and full of tragically unrealized potential as each year passes. I'll contend that the most important documents we have to encapsulate and describe that decade are the movies that were made then. The films of any given decade reflect the values and aspirations of the culture that made them, grabbing their audiences' attention by simultaneously referring to their common experiences and showing them a fulfillment of their fantasies. Whenever I think of the attitudes of life in the United States in especially the late 1990's, I think of one movie: Sam Mendes's American Beauty.

"District 9" (part 1)

Neill Blomkamp's District 9 (based on the 2005 short Alive in Joburg) is one of the more legitimate cinematic first contact films to have come along in a long time. It's a gripping, fast-paced story that plays to all our expectations of what real human-alien interaction might look like, while sidestepping many of the clichés that have relegated the genre to "fun but by no means serious" status among popular films.

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