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Sharp Wit, by Bob Connally

12 Dec

There is a different version of The Favourite that could have been made. The traditional, staid period film that would have felt like so many others. Like anything else, this can be – and has been – done well. However, it can also be the kind of filmmaking that keeps the audience at a distance and that can make the past feel like a relic even to the people we’re watching live it. But screenwriters Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara and director Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster) had something significantly more vibrant in mind. A film that despite its setting, costumes, and lack of modern technology feels as though it’s in the present. All the better because for its fascinating real life characters, it is.

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Dwelling on the Past, by Bob Connally

17 Nov

Two years ago in my review of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I wrote that, “It’s difficult not to be wary of films detailing the backstories of our favorite movies.” Thankfully that movie was a far cry from The Phantom Menace. Instead of being a direct prequel to the Harry Potter series that focuses on Dumbledore, it was a film with entirely new characters in a different time and place in the history of the Wizarding World. Its hero, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) was not your typical protagonist. Withdrawn, he isn’t yearning for adventure and he has no desire to do battle with anybody. He just wants to be left to take special care of the “fantastic beasts” he loves so much and to help the rest of the Wizarding World understand them as he does. Newt would likely be someone the hero would meet along the way in most movies. An odd but likable helper who might be there to lend a hand for a couple of scenes in the second act. Maybe he’d show up again at the end after the climactic action sequence. His being the lead gave Fantastic Beasts a unique feel.

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The Importance of Awareness, by Bob Connally

26 Oct

“If society got its ideas about people with disabilities from TV,” states disabled actor Robert David Hall (CSI) at the beginning of CinemAbility: The Art of Inclusion, “they would think that basically we’re either pathetic or superpeople.” It really only takes a cursory trip through our movie and TV memory banks to know that Hall is correct about that. Director Jenni Gold’s documentary is a thorough examination of why and how this idea has taken root. She goes back to the earliest depictions of the disabled on screen, beginning with Thomas Edison’s 1897 short, The Fake Beggar.

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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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