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The Towering Inferior, by Bob Connally

17 Jul

As I write this it is 30 years to the day since the release of the definitive shoot ‘em up action movie, Die Hard. Anyone who remembers the period between its release on July 15, 1988 and the arrival of The Matrix 11 years later is well aware of the effect that John McTiernan’s masterpiece (yes, I’m going to use that word) had on action cinema for the next decade. Seemingly every American action movie of the ‘90s was “Die Hard in/on a blank.” Even 1990’s Die Hard 2: Die Harder was a shameless knockoff of its predecessor, only set at an airport. Perhaps this is why putting Die Hard style movies on a plane was such a popular choice (Passenger 57, Executive Decision, Turbulence, Con Air, Air Force One, etc.). There was also a bus (Speed), a ship (Under Siege), a hockey arena (Sudden Death), and even Alcatraz (The Rock), and that doesn’t even come close to naming all of them. So pervasive was this trend that it gave birth to one of my favorite may or may not be true Hollywood stories. It is the tale of a man who sometime during the ‘90s pitched an action film premise as, “It’s like Die Hard…in a building!” Now 30 years later, long after the trend has died we get Skyscraper which is like Die Hard…in a building… A really tall building… thaaaat’s… on fire! Yeah, that’s it!

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“A Laugh Can Be a Very Powerful Thing”, by Bob Connally

22 Jun

On a Saturday afternoon during the summer between kindergarten and first grade, my dad took my brother and me to the Oak Tree Cinemas in north Seattle. Thirty years later I still remember sitting in a packed theater that afternoon, watching Who Framed Roger Rabbit? for the first time. Thirty years later I still love Robert Zemeckis’ groundbreaking film, for a few of the same reasons that I loved it then, but for many others as well. Almost all of us who love movies refer to the films we, “grew up on,” but the best movies that we love as children grow up with us. Few movies grow up as well as Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

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A New Adventure, by Bob Connally

17 Jun

It seems hard to believe that 14 years have passed since Pixar released Brad Bird’s animated masterpiece The Incredibles. In fact, at least some showings of Incredibles 2 are preceded by a brief message from Bird and the main voice cast thanking the audience for their patience. It’s somewhat jarring then when the film picks up right where the first one left off, with the Parr family donning their costumes and masks to take on the Underminer (Pixar staple John Ratzenberger). Bird uses this immediate continuation of the story to his advantage giving this sequel a sense of instant momentum.

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Recognition, by Bob Connally

3 Jun

“The brains of people are more interesting than the looks, I think.” – Hedy Lamarr, 1990

One of the fascinating aspects of loving movies from Hollywood’s “Golden Age” is noticing how certain stars of the past are widely remembered today while others go largely forgotten, even if they were huge in their time. Even people who have never seen a Katherine Hepburn movie could probably tell you she was a popular actress of the 20th century. It’s likely they’ll have at least heard of Bringing Up Baby or Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Throughout the 1940s, Hedy Lamarr was considered by a great many people to be “the most beautiful woman in the world.” However, films such as Algiers, Boom Town, Ziegfeld Girl, and Dishonored Lady are really only known today by the most dedicated classic film aficionados. Lamarr herself is no longer widely known as a classic film star. But based on Alexandra Dean’s new documentary, Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, the Austrian woman born Hedwig Kiesler would probably be delighted to know that she is now remembered for something far bigger. Something for which she was denied recognition during her lifetime.

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Maximum Effort, by Bob Connally

22 May

Two years ago much was made about the surprisingly massive success of Deadpool. Many attributed it to the film being a highly irreverent and decidedly R-rated superhero comedy that subverted expectations. This somewhat reductive view made me concerned that we would begin to be inundated with knockoffs made by people who didn’t really understand just what it was that made Deadpool work. I could practically hear studio heads saying, “A superhero who swears a lot and makes pop culture references?! That’s gold, baby! We gotta get us one of those!”

On top of that, Deadpool wasn’t even the first highly irreverent, decidedly R-rated superhero comedy that subverted expectations. It wasn’t even the first this decade. Both Kick-Ass and Super (which was directed by a pre-Guardians of the Galaxy James Gunn) had gone that route relatively recently. What made Deadpool special and such a wildly funny and entertaining movie was the passion and personality that star Ryan Reynolds brought to it.

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Classics Through the Cracks: Hud, by Bob Connally

2 May

Citizen Kane. Casablanca. Lawrence of Arabia. Dr. Strangelove. Films considered by virtually all movie buffs to be amongst the greatest ever made. Classics. But there are so many wonderful movies that for one reason or another have fallen through the cracks and don’t get the recognition they truly deserve. In this series I will be writing about and hopefully encouraging people to discover the classics that they’ve been missing. Movies like Real Life, Bad Day at Black Rock, and L.A. Story just to name a few. I’ll be looking at the film, the era in which it was released, and other popular movies released in that era. For my third entry in this series I will be writing about 1963’s Hud, directed by Martin Ritt.

Through its opening shots, Hud conveys the stark, dying West that its characters inhabit. While the film was set in the present (1963), it is the story of people either hanging onto, kicking against, or simply existing in a corner of the world that has been left behind by the rest of it. While Hud Bannon (Paul Newman) is the movie’s titular character, Martin Ritt’s film is really concerned with the heart and mind of Hud’s 17-year old nephew, Lonnie (Brandon De Wilde) and what path he will ultimately choose.

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Next in Line, by Bob Connally

2 Apr

In March of 1953, the Soviet Union had been gripped by the Great Terror for two decades. With each new enemies list, Premier Joseph Stalin had more Soviet citizens exiled, arrested, or executed without trial. With even the most conservative estimates suggesting that Stalin was responsible for the deaths of 20 million people, there’s a sense that the opening sequence of Armando Iannucci’s new satire is not as outlandish as it may seem.

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Good Boy, by Bob Connally

1 Apr

I remember my excitement when I found out how much my little nephew loved 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. Not only because it’s such a wonderfully fun and delightful movie but because it meant that I could say that my nephew and I were both Wes Anderson fans. Even if he was far too young to see- let alone understand- any of the director’s previous five films. I just assumed he would come to see and love those in due time.

It has been nine years since Anderson’s first stop motion animated film and with two more live action movies under his belt in that time- Moonrise Kingdom and my favorite film of 2014, The Grand Budapest Hotel– he returns to a format that he is uniquely suited for amongst today’s auteur filmmakers. No one is expecting or needing Paul Thomas Anderson or Christopher Nolan to delve into stop motion. (Though I wouldn’t say no to one from the Coen Brothers now that I think about it.)

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Extra Life, by Bob Connally

30 Mar

In 2011, author Ernest Cline’s highly entertaining science fiction adventure novel, Ready Player One became a modern day pop culture sensation. The book’s popularity was due in large part to Cline’s affinity for the pop culture of the 1980s. The wave of movies and TV shows either set in or heavily influenced by the ‘80s had barely gotten going yet but seven years later the film adaptation of Cline’s novel joins what has become, for better or worse, a tidal wave. 

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Classics Through the Cracks: Bad Day at Black Rock, by Bob Connally

14 Mar

Citizen Kane. Casablanca. Lawrence of Arabia. Dr. Strangelove. Films considered by virtually all movie buffs to be amongst the greatest ever made. Classics. But there are so many wonderful movies that for one reason or another have fallen through the cracks and don’t get the recognition they truly deserve. In this new series I will be writing about and hopefully encouraging people to discover the classics that they’ve been missing. Movies like Real Life, Hud, and L.A. Story just to name a few. I’ll be looking at the film, the era in which it was released, and other popular movies released in that era. For my second entry in this series I’m writing about a film that balances multiple genres while addressing racism in a far more thoughtful and nuanced way than many movies which address it today. From 1955, Bad Day at Black Rock.

In its opening shots, Bad Day at Black Rock introduces us to a speeding locomotive roaring through a desert. It is a simple but incredibly effective way to get the audience’s attention while indicating that this is a movie that will waste no time. Quickly, this opening credits sequence gives way to the sights of the small western town of Black Rock. There are seemingly few residents, none of whom appear to have done much for a long time other than to sit outside and peer into the desert. Even before a character explicitly states it on screen it’s clear from the reactions of the townspeople that the train hasn’t stopped in Black Rock for years. Despite not cutting an imposing figure, the man who steps off the train, Macreedy (Spencer Tracy) fills the citizens of this town with trepidation.

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