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Looking for God in All the Wrong Places, by Bob Connally

15 Oct

Bad Times at the El Royale is a difficult film to review because everything we think we know at the start is revealed to be a lie before we’ve even had a chance to settle in. This is cleverly designed by writer-director Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods) and is ultimately one of the movie’s two central themes. The other is about the various ways its characters relate to God.

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Thrill Kill Cult, by Bob Connally

24 Sep

In the age of memes and video supercuts, Nicolas Cage having meltdowns and pulling freakish facial expressions has taken up roughly 40 percent of the Internet’s content. It’s a fact. You don’t have to look it up. What can get lost in that though is that when it’s in service of the right filmmaker, Nicolas Cage’s unparalleled ability to become unhinged onscreen can be so much more than an out of context joke. In the service of director Panos Cosmatos (2010’s Beyond the Black Rainbow) and his new film Mandy, Cage delivers a mesmerizing and thrilling performance as a man with a personal mission to destroy a local cult.

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Expendable, by Bob Connally

15 Sep

In the mid-‘80s, Shane Black was the Hollywood screenwriting wunderkind whose script for Lethal Weapon turned him into a hot property at the age of just 24. Around that same time Lethal Weapon’s producer Joel Silver cast Black in a small role in another film, Predator. Mainly Black was brought in to have a screenwriter on set to help punch up the film’s script mid-production. Physically he didn’t exactly fit in as a member of the military unit which featured the likes of Carl Weathers, Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura, Sonny Landham, and of course Arnold Schwarzenegger. Unsurprisingly his character, Hawkins, primarily serves as comic relief before he’s the first member of the team to be killed by the titular monster.

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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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